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It wasn’t an unusual sight, that of Mark Wallace and Sandy Rogers rolling around on the ground, limbs flailing, fists connecting with flesh and resounding with sickening smacks and thuds. Their friends were quite used to it by now and so they waited until the first sign of blood on someone’s face or knuckles to attempt to break them apart. Of course they never dared to get too close or they might end up on the ground too, with two boys rolling around on top them.

That was how things worked with Mark and Sandy: the rest of the world appeared to turn invisible when they caught each other’s eyes or started spitting insults across a room.

John sighed as he leaned against the fence near the school’s entrance and watched his best friend try to shove dirt down Sandy Rogers’ throat. His arms were crossed loosely over his chest and he wished he wasn’t so cheap and would buy gas for his car instead of having to wait around until Mark was done trying to imprint Sandy’s face onto the hard concrete of the entrance’s stairs. He wished the same thing almost every afternoon – gas prices were scandalous.

He watched, bored, how Sandy sat on Mark’s stomach, the front of Mark’s T-shirt clenched in tight fists. Mark was hissing something near his face, his hands on Sandy’s chest, like he was going to push him off any minute now. Maybe when he was done hissing, John guessed. Sandy knocked his head against the ground every so often, hissing his own response to whatever Mark was saying and John cringed every time. He was the one who would have to hear Mark complain about the bump on the back of his head and how “that stupid asshole should get over himself and go die in a pit” on his ride back home.

A small audience had gathered around them and John wondered if he was the only one already bored out of his mind about this. He glanced to his left where Sandy’s friends were waiting and he stared openly, since it was still warm and they were wearing short shorts and John loved short shorts on Sandy’s leggy friends. They didn’t notice him; they were too busy waiting for one of those moments when Mark and Sandy broke apart to catch their breath or scream into each other’s faces. One of those moments when they weren’t grabbing or pushing or punching so they could wiggle their way between them and drag Sandy away. John liked to watch Sandy’s friends walk away very much.

Sandy was an okay guy most of the time, as long as he wasn’t in direct contact with Mark. John didn’t like that he was always, always the first one walking away while Mark stood behind and panted and cursed. It annoyed him, even though he knew who was always staring the fights. He felt it was his duty as best friend to be on Mark’s side no matter what. No matter that Sandy Rogers and Mark Wallace had been fighting since, probably, they could remember. And no matter that John was almost sure Mark had started their very first fight too. He hadn’t known them back then, but he knew Mark well enough by now. John just wished Mark could learn to ignore Sandy Rogers.

Their fights usually followed a pretty simple pattern. The scenery changed but the facts were the same almost every time. One of them would walk by, glance into the other’s direction and spit some insult or inappropriate comment, usually not directly aimed at the other but loud enough for him to hear (sometimes even a look was enough). This could go on for a while, depending on Mark’s tolerance level that day, then he would throw the first punch and they would end up like they were now, tangled together in the dirt and with a few more bruises to add to their collection. Mark had one on his left temple since the beginning of summer break that hadn’t entirely faded yet because Sandy knocked his fist on it every other day.

John glanced over at them again. Mark was gripping Sandy’s hair and pulling his head back in an obviously painful angle while the other boy was still straddling his waist and trying to pry his hands off. John saw, out of the corner of his eye, how one of Sandy’s friends fell back against the fence with a tired huff.

“Hey, Spot!” she called in a fed up tone and John closed his eyes, this was just going to make everything worse. “Think you’ll let go of my friend any time soon? I have a curfew!”

John opened his eyes just in time to catch Mark throwing one last punch at Sandy’s face that ended up landing just short of his jaw as the boy backed away and rolled off him. Mark’s face was dark red as he stood up and he was glaring at the girl who had yelled at him. John was almost sure that if Sandy hadn’t pushed him out of the way that moment, making him lose his footing and almost fall back down, he would have leaped at her. After all, she had called him That Name. No one was allowed to do that. The only one who used it on a regular basis (and probably had been the first to come up with it) was Sandy, and it always ended up badly. 

John really needed to buy gas for his car.

As predicted, Sandy walked over to his two friends as if nothing had happened while Mark stood in the middle of a retreating crowd, panting and still very red in the face, his eyes narrowed to thin, silver slits. His clothes and hair were almost entirely covered in dirt as he watched fixated, his gaze never wavering, at how Sandy reached his friends and then walked away towards the bike racks, one girl on each side. John kinda, almost felt sorry for him. He always did after these situations. He waited, knowing better than to try to approach him right away, until Mark started to slowly make his way towards him.

He was looking down, his hands shoved deep in his pockets and shuffling his feet, making dust cloud up.

John didn’t understand Mark’s weird complexes. He also didn’t really know his history with Sandy Rogers, since bringing him up to Mark was a stupid, suicidal idea and no one he knew was sure how it had all started either. Most of the time he thought it was ridiculous, but Mark took it so seriously he found it hard not to kinda hate Sandy too, sometimes. Especially when he walked away like that.

Mark finally made it to where he was standing and John tossed him his backpack without saying a word. Mark caught it and threw it over his shoulder, a puff of dust falling from his sweatshirt.

Mark growled what could have been either a thank you or a curse, his face furrowed and angled down and to the side. John rolled his eyes. Mark’s overly freckled face was still red and his dark hair looked grey and dull, covered in dirt. John resisted the weird urge to ruffle it; he didn’t want his hand bitten off.

“Let’s go.” Mark said.

John sighed again. He’d much rather have the angry, bitchy Mark driving him than the gloomy, quiet one.

He really needed to buy gas for his car.   

 

 

Mark was seething as he dropped John off at his house. His knuckles were white as he gripped the steering wheel but he tried to keep his face emotionless. His brow was only slightly furrowed; his mouth was firmly set but not scrunching up on itself. And his teeth and jaw weren’t even hurting that much from clenching them. He was getting better at this acting nonchalant thing Rogers seemed to be so damn good at.

“Don’t do anything stupid,” John said before stepping out of the car.

“What,” was Mark’s distracted response as he reached out to close the door before John could slam it. Then the words registered and he looked up. “What would I even do?”  

“I don’t want to give you any ideas. Just, just go straight home.” he said, sticking his head through the open window and leaving smudges on it. Mark resisted the urge to close it over his neck.  

“I’ve enough with one mother, John,” he grunted instead.

“No, I really don’t think so.” As if on cue, the bump on the back of Mark’s head throbbed. He narrowed his eyes, his upper lip curling up in annoyance and John backed off, his hands in front of him, pacifying. “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

“Yeah.”

Mark waited until John had closed his front door behind him to drive off and let out a string of curses. Now that he was finally alone he pressed two fingers to the stupid bruise on his temple, keeping one hand on the wheel. It was hurting again. He traced a path to the back of his head and touched lightly where the flesh was swollen and warm. He cursed again when a shot of pain burst through his skull but at least his fingers had come off free of blood.

That was one small victory, last week he had managed to make Rogers’ nose bleed so bad that one of his friends had actually slapped him. Aside from his sister, Mark had never been so overwhelmed with the desire to hit a girl. Not since the third grade, at least. But before he could even open his mouth to snap at her, Rogers had tackled him to the floor and he had forgotten about the girl until that afternoon, when she had called him that.

Mark stopped at a red light, silently cursing the genius that had bothered to put traffic lights in this part of town, probably just to piss him off further. He stretched his arms before him and made a face at his stupid freckles. His skin wasn’t even light enough to have so many. Rogers’ skin was light; hell, he had been practically translucent when they were kids. He spent plenty of time out in the sun, riding his stupid bike all over town, so why didn’t he have any freckles? All Rogers got was that damned tan... It wasn’t fair. Mark was going to run that bike over one day. Hopefully with Rogers still on it.

Movement in his rearview mirror made him snap his head up and – as if Mark had actually conjured him – there was that idiot Rogers, pedaling towards him with one his friends sitting on the handles. Mark started to feel his rage from earlier bubble up from deep within him. His whole body started tensing up and if his knuckles had been white against the wheel before, the skin could actually tear now.

He thought about stepping on the gas and leaving but he didn’t want to give Rogers the satisfaction. Besides, John’s words were dancing in his head. Mark was practically an adult; he didn’t need his friend to go around acting like a mother hen every time Rogers stepped into the picture. This was a good time to practice the nonchalant thing.

He watched as Rogers advanced slowly, the bike wavering a bit under the girl’s weight. Mark hoped they toppled over. Maybe Rogers could crack his skull against the curve and see how he liked it. They didn’t fall, though. Instead, Rogers turned into a driveway that Mark assumed was the girl’s. He hunched over the car door to watch trough the side mirror. A moment later Rogers appeared on the road again. Okay, now Mark would straighten up and keep his eyes ahead. He wouldn’t say anything or even acknowledge Rogers’ presence. He would stay cool.

Well, he got to the straightening up part alright. Just as he was sitting again Rogers went by, leaving him behind, confused and pissed all over again.

“What the-?” He snapped his eyes up just in time to see the light change from green, to yellow to red. Exactly how many times had the light changed while he had been watching Rogers? And what the fuck? He had completely ignored him, he hadn’t even looked his way. Fuck, Mark hated him.

He didn’t bother to wait this time; he yanked the car into motion and turned to the left the first chance he got. He wasn’t going to risk running into the stupid asshole again; he might end up really running him over. Not that he would feel terribly bad about it. Or at all, really. Okay, maybe he could try and drive by him. Maybe Rogers would give him an excuse – any excuse. Or maybe he could find him off that damn bike some day and just run over his feet. Crutches would slow him down the next time he tried anything with him.

He was driving up his street and, in his defense, he was pretty distracted picturing Rogers’ pained expression to notice he was passing by Mr. White’s house. He saw the dog when it was too late – the crazy Pit-bull that liked to run after him every time he drove by. The dog threw itself at the car and Mark veered out of the way just in time. Half a second later and that stupid dog would have been history. Then he heard the bump and the screech, like metal scraping against metal, and he saw, flicking his eyes to the right, a mop of golden curls disappearing out of view.

An under the car.

By reflex he stepped on the brakes and didn’t even care about the horrible sound the poor engine made. The car jerked and stopped and Mark wasn’t sure if he had actually ran something or (fuck, no) someoneover. He sat still, his heart hammering in his chest and his hands still clenching the wheel. With his neck stiff and his head craned to the right he sat waiting for something to appear in the window. A few horrible seconds passed and Mark gulped and tried to relax. He didn’t dare stick his head out to see. He slowly opened the door and, even slower, got out of the car. He couldn’t even hear the dog barking in the background since his ears were humming so loudly.

His breathing was rough and his throat was closing up, God, he hadn’t just-

He rounded the still running car and peered around it, holding onto the warm hood and for a second he thought his legs were going to give out. A few feet back, thrown across the pavement were a now useless blue bike and a very unconscious Sandy Rogers. 



Chapter Text

John was surprised when he checked his phone's caller ID and read Mark's name on the screen. He sat up and moved his books to the coffee table with one hand while he accepted the call and pressed the phone to his ear with the other.

"Mark?" He said, uncertain. It was unusual for him to call, since his much preferred method of communication tended to be texts, if that. John was the one regularly starting conversations so he couldn't help but think something wasn't right. Mark didn't say anything at first, all John could hear was some dog barking in the background, though definitely close. "Mark!"

"Yeah, I'm here," he finally replied. He was almost whispering and John could hear his breathing louder than his voice, rough in his ear.

"What's wrong?" John asked since apparently Mark was having trouble getting words out. "What did you do?" he asked, a bit urgently as he remembered Mark’s dark mood when he’d left.

He usually would have laughed at Mark's attempts at revenge or whatever he thought they were but he sounded so serious right now that maybe something had gone wrong. He hoped he hadn't done anything totally crazy.

"I- Hey! Why d’you assume I did something?!” He exploded and John moved the phone away from his ear, now sure Mark had done something stupid. “I didn't do anything, it wasn't my fault! It was him, I didn't see him, it was the dog and-"

"What happened?" John cut him off, getting up from the couch. He heard Mark take a breath and then another while the dog still barked.

"I…I might have- It wasn't my fault, it wasn't on purpose but…I-" He sighed, "I kinda hit Rogers with the car." He rushed it all out and John was left staring at the wall in front of him, jaw slack and eyes wide, unbelieving.

After all those times Mark had sworn he was going to run Sandy over with his car, all those threats…. John had never thought he'd actually do it!

"Are you completely insane?!" he snapped, glad that he was alone in his house.

"It wasn't my fault," Mark all but growled.

"Oh, right. So, what, he threw himself in front of your car?" John gestured wildly with his free arm as he started to pace.

"John, you fucking asshole, I didn't see him! I didn't want to hit the fucking dog, he appeared out of nowhere!" Even though Mark sounded completely pissed off at him and he was glad there was actually distance between them, John knew his friend was probably scared shitless too and he wasn't really helping.

"Okay, okay, you can tell me later. Where are you now?" John was already making his way to the driveway, fully aware he didn't have a working car but pretty sure one of the bikes thrown around the lawn would be good enough.

Apparently Mark had attempted murder not three blocks away from his own home, wonderful, at least John wouldn’t need directions and-

"Wait." John stopped in his tracks, "Is he- How bad is he?" There was silence from the other side of the line, only the dog’s barking signaling Mark hadn't hung up already. "Mark."

"I don't know," he managed to get out. "Fuck, John, just get over here."

"At least tell me he's breathing." John closed his eyes. "Please tell me he's breathing." He heard some fumbling from the other side.

"I didn’t check."

"Well, fucking check!" This time John snapped as he jerked his front door open.

"Don't yell at me!" John could picture Mark in his head, head bowed as one hand held the phone tightly to his ear and the other tugged at his hair, as he did when he was nervous. Well, John hoped he would get a bald spot. "Fuck," Mark whined.

"Okay, okay." John sighed. "Stay there. I'm on my way." He ended the call and slipped the phone in his pocket as he eyed the front lawn and rushed down the stone steps in search of one of the bikes his father and brother always stashed there. He found a medium sized one (his brother's) half hidden in some bushes and yanked it up with a curse. What had Mark gotten himself into? And why the hell was he getting involved anyway?

Even though he knew it was a terrible idea, John hopped on the bike and took off, nearly getting run over himself in the process.

 

 

Mark heard the line die and lowered the phone to his side. He was facing away from the car, his back stiff and his legs trembling slightly while his stomach did weird flip-flops that threatened to make him loose his lunch. He stood like that for a moment, not moving, barely breathing, before snapping out of it and turning around. He threw the phone through the still open car door; it bounced on the passenger's seat before dropping to the floor.

"Okay," he muttered and closed the door. He slowly walked around the hood, choosing the way that left him further away from (the body, the corpse) Rogers. He took a shaky breath and held it while he leaned to peer, once again, around the car. And once again he was granted the sight of a battered bike and a seemingly battered Rogers on the side of the road, this time with the addition of a dog smelling what Mark really wished was still his face.

Rogers had his back to him; one arm sprawled to the side while the other was under his body. His legs were bent at the knees, one shoe was missing. For a second Mark thought he saw blood on his hair but it was just the fucking dog's shadow.

He looked around; no one was out, not even Mr. White, the dog's owner, but he wasn't surprised. Most of the people around worked in the city and they didn't come back until dusk and Mr. White wasn't getting up from his chair just because he heard his senile dog barking. He was probably sleeping anyway. Most of the kids from his school lived on the other side of town, in the area he had dropped John off. If this had happened over there, there would be a crowd already forming around (the body, the corpse) Rogers.

Mark dried his sweaty palms against his jeans and took a step forward. He had to make sure Rogers was still breathing – that he hadn't killed him. He had to make sure the asshole hadn't died, because he would, he would just to make Mark’s life miserable.

He reached Rogers, eventually, and towered over him with the sun hitting his face and making him squint. The dog was growling at him and Mark wished he hadn't left his phone in the car so he could have something to throw at it.

Rogers' hair was on his face but Mark couldn't see blood on the asphalt. He crouched down; he would have to touch it, him, to see if he was breathing. He gulped and closed his eyes tight, reaching out to feel the pulse on Rogers' neck.

"Fuck," he whined as his hand got closer and closer, his fingers grazed Rogers' shirt and he blindly followed a path from his side to his shoulder. "Fuckfuckfuck."

"Mark?"

Mark squeaked, jerked away and promptly fell on his ass as he scrambled to get up. His heart was pounding in his ears and the dog was barking again. He clutched the front of his shirt with a now scraped hand, panting.

"Mark?" Rogers said again. Mark opened his mouth to answer but no words came out. His legs felt weak as relief flooded him and he let himself fall onto his back with a loud sigh. "Are you there?" Rogers spoke again. He sounded like he was in pain but it just managed to annoy Mark, just as every other time the other boy opened his mouth.

Slowly, the relief made way to anger and now his hands were shaking in a completely different way. He wanted to grind his fist into Rogers' face; he wanted to kick him until he passed out again. He stood up in one fluid movement and stalked around him. Mark stood over Rogers feeling the kind of thrill that came over him after he had just won a fight and he allowed himself a small smile.

Rogers’ hair was still on his face but he could see a shinny eye trough the messy strands. And it was staring right at him. Mark's smile fell off his face.

"I thought you left," Rogers said, his voice sounded strained and, for some reason, it made Mark extremely angry.

"I thought you were dead," he replied and looked away. He eyes fell on the bike, the crooked back wheel and the green sneaker lying under it. "Get up," he barked, eyes flying back to Rogers.

"I can't," Rogers snapped. Mark felt that the "you fucking asshole" was implied. He used his foot to move Rogers' hair out of his face, sure that if he had been able to move he would have bitten it off. Rogers was pale – his face looked grey and sweaty and he was looking at Mark like he wanted to murder him but was restraining because he needed his help first, clenching his jaw and everything. Mark had finally managed to make Rogers look at him like he really hated him, instead of looking like a condescending prick as usual. Rogers was looking at him the way Mark had always done at him.

And it had only taken nearly killing him to get it.

Mark’s eyes drifted downwards and his satisfaction disappeared when he took on the hand peeking out from under Rogers' body. It was bloated and so red it was nearly purple and it made Mark sick to look at it. And then it sank in: if Rogers had fallen on his side then his other half was probably-

"I think I need a doctor," Rogers ground out through gritted teeth and Mark agreed but his mind was completely wiped blank by his sudden panic.

Then John appeared next to him.

“God, Mark,” he groaned. “I told you not to do anything crazy.” He sounded out of breath.

"I told you, it wasn't my fault." Rogers made a sound that was probably meant to be a scoff. "You shut the hell up!"

John elbowed him on the side. "Look at his hand…." he said almost to himself. “We have to take him to the hospital.”

"I don't think we're supposed to move him," Mark replied. "Can you get up?"

Rogers closed his eyes and his brow furrowed. Mark was about to snap at him when he saw his legs were moving. He planted one foot flat on the concrete and turned slightly onto his back. He groaned, low and strained and opened his eyes to stare at Mark. They were shiny and wet.

Mark was taken aback; no way was he going to cry. Not in front of him, not fucking ever. The thought made him uneasy. He was pretty sure if Rogers started crying he would have to punch his face in out of principle.

"A-are you going to fucking help me?" Rogers' voice cracked and Mark took a step back. John was the one that crouched down and helped him sit up and as soon as his side was exposed the three of them cursed – Rogers more in pain than at the sight, since his eyes were shut and his pale face was turned away.

The arm was hanging limply on Rogers’ side, his hand, dark and puffy, resting in a weird angle on the ground. The arm looked like it had fallen out of its socket and was also darker than usual, but not as bad as the hand. There were ugly, bright red scrapes all through Rogers' arm, jaw and cheek, bleeding slightly. The blood on his face had smeared over his ear, or at least Mark hoped it had and that it wasn't his actual ear that was bleeding.

"Shit." John broke the silence as he stared wide eyed at Rogers’ arm. Rogers himself looked like he was swallowing his screams, biting his lips and looking to the side with an anguished expression on his face that was now, all of a sudden, almost as dark as his hand. "Come on, Mark. Help me get him in the car."

"What?" Mark directed his attention to him, horrified. His car seats and Rogers’ blood were not an acceptable combination. In fact, they were a ridiculous combination and John was high if he thought he was going to allow it.

"What? Do you suggest we drag him there?" John glared at him, still holding Rogers up. Mark didn't understand why he was mad at him if it hadn't been his fault. He turned his own glare to the dog now sniffing near Rogers’ messed up hand and his eyes glued themselves to the swollen fingers. Rogers’ fingers were, normally, long and bony and hurt like hell when connecting with Mark’s ribs. Mark was sort of sorry Rogers wasn’t left handed because he was not going to be able to use those for quite a while.

Then Rogers made a sound that was half moan, half groan and Mark rolled his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest.

"Fine," he said. "But if you get blood on my seats, I swear-"

"Mark, shut up. Unless you just got ran over by a car, you're not allowed to complain," John cut him off and Mark spluttered.

"I didn't run him over! I just…hit him."

"Doctor, now, please," Rogers interrupted whatever John was going to say with a voice that was barely above a whisper. John immediately grabbed his good arm and put it over his shoulder, then slung his own arm around Rogers' waist and slowly started to get up.

"Mark, help me get him up, come on."

Mark did not want to touch Rogers unless he was inflicting some sort of pain on him, so he stood back, his arms still firmly crossed. Rogers groaned again.

"No, I can- It’s okay," he said and, with John's help alone, pushed himself to his feet. He was supporting his weight on one leg, the one whose foot still sported a green sneaker and Mark noticed for the first time how his pants’ left leg was ripped on the side that had hit the ground, stained dark red with blood.

John started to help the limping Rogers to the car while Mark walked ahead of them and picked up the shoe left forgotten, as well as Rogers’ bag a few feet away.

"What about the bikes?" he asked, looking behind him and spotting the one John had used to get there.

"Throw 'em over there. We'll get them later," John replied, jerking his head towards Mr. White's front lawn.

Mark's mind was blank as he scooped one bike up and then the other to throw them carelessly over the dead looking grass. Now that he was certain Rogers was not going to die or anything ridiculous like that, he found that he didn't much care what happened to him. In fact, he was sorry he had called John over in his panic. Without John to boss him around he would have left Rogers to pick himself up and limp his way to the hospital. He hated the thought of having him in his car, staining his seats with his blood and grime from the street.

He was startled out of his thoughts when John decided that the only way to get his attention was to lean on the horn until Mark was back inside the car, where he smacked his hand away.

"Back off," he nearly barked and caught himself before he could slam the door shut. It wasn't the car's fault. Rogers was sitting stiffly in the back seat, his right hand clutching at the hem of his shirt and his head thrown back, now pale again. He was awfully still and Mark couldn't see his eyes. He got a bit of that dreadful feeling back from before.

"Still alive?" He asked over the sound of the engine starting up again. There was the slightest twitch of Rogers' leg that told him he had heard and so he turned around and left Mr. White's house behind, the mad Pit-bull running along side him until he turned the corner.

 

Chapter Text

At about the same time Sandy Rogers was being sent flying in a heap of pain and hard cement and Mark Wallace was just starting to feel the panic rising, Dana Saunders was making herself a grilled cheese sandwich, with grilled ham, tomato and mayonnaise to add a bit of flavor.

As she sat at the kitchen table nibbling on her snack, she wondered if Sandy and Emily had made it back okay. It wasn’t every day that someone decided to play pranks on Emily; in fact Dana didn’t think she’d ever been the receiving end of any, at least not since they’d known each other. But the slashed tires, quite obviously, hadn’t been an accident.

Dana wondered who could have anything against her friend. She refused to believe that that boy Mark Wallace was responsible since, first of all, it wasn’t his style. And besides, his attention was always focused on Sandy and no one else and the only reason he ever turned his head towards Emily was because she couldn’t keep her temper in check.

Dana understood.

It was a bit unsettling the way Sandy reacted to the other boy’s silly taunts. Especially when Sandy was usually so calm and at ease about everything else. Dana understood that Emily got angry and she understood that she could get a bit jealous sometimes. After all, it wasn’t a secret she had liked Sandy for quite a while now, even if the boy refused to notice and paid more attention to what Mark Wallace had to say than to his friend.

Sandy had told Dana once that he had been fighting Mark since they were kids but he never gave her a reason. Of course, over the time she had known him, Dana had witnessed more than a few reasons why they could hate each other but she knew it had started way before she had met them.

Still, even if sometimes they could be horrible with each other, Dana didn’t see anything wrong with a little competition; boys will be boys and all, though she thought they could do without all the punching and rolling around…. Emily reacted particularly badly when that happened (and it happened quite often).

Dana sighed as she picked her plate up and carried it to the sink. Maybe if they weren’t so high strung everything wouldn’t be so difficult. Mark Wallace’s flaring temper didn’t help either, that boy needed to calm the heck down. She had lost count of the times she had stepped out of the way from his surprise tackles just in time and she was fairly sure they had been completely unprovoked.

Not that Sandy was a saint or anything. He did his fair bit too, but he was never, ever the one to throw the first punch. Of that she had no doubt.

Dana walked out of the kitchen, debating whether she should call Emily or not. She probably needed to vent, but that could take a while and it was her turn to make dinner. So, as Mark Wallace was reluctantly agreeing on taking Sandy Rogers to the hospital in his car, Dana grabbed her bag and made her way upstairs to start on her homework, letting her thoughts drift away from her friends.

 

 

“Name?” John asked, reading the form in front of him.

“You know his fucking name.” Mark replied from the chair across the empty waiting room. John rolled his eyes. Mark had been sitting there, in the same position, since they had taken Sandy away. He had thrown a tantrum when they told him they were calling all their parents over and had scared off anyone who tried to ask him about the fresh bruises on his face. John had tried to persuade him into having someone see the back of his head, since he kept poking it and he knew the bump there was probably the size of a grapefruit by now. Mark had merely glared at him until he shut up about it.

“Okay, date of birth.” John looked up and promptly decided to shut the hell up. For real this time. It wasn’t a secret that Mark and Sandy Rogers shared the same birthday; Mark had made it tradition to mope about it, complaining every single year about Rogers throwing a party, and Rogers getting presents and Rogers this and Rogers that. Now Mark looked murderous, more so than usual, and John knew he was pushing his luck.

He scribbled the date on the sheet.

“Um, type of blood?” he ventured after a while. He had filled in every bit of information he knew about the boy and that was limited to his name, birthday and address (it wasn’t a secret that Mark and Sandy Rogers were practically neighbors, either). Mark fidgeted in his seat.

“How should I know?” he muttered looking away and something told John that he knew and he just didn’t want to admit it. He rolled his eyes again and set the clipboard and pen aside, Sandy’s parents could fill it when they got there. He was just bored, they had been waiting for at least forty minutes now since they had led a stumbling Sandy away and they hadn’t even told them how he was. Mark had tried to make a run for it as soon as they had been left alone but a stern looking nurse wouldn’t let them go; they had to wait for their parents and that was that.

Mark’s phone started ringing and John looked up to see him reaching for it in his pants’ pocket – John had found it on the car’s floor when they were driving Sandy Rogers to the hospital. Mark made a nasty face as soon as he glanced at the screen before answering.

“Hi,” he said, tone flat but expression wary. There was a pause and John stared as color started to creep up his friend’s neck and his eyes narrowed, angry. “He’s fine!” He snapped, “It was his fault, it’s not like I- No! No, I don’t want to-” Another pause as Mark sighed in annoyance and his face got darker. “Hello. No, he’s okay. Yes. I’m…sorry. I didn’t- It was an accident.”
John did all he could to try and stop the bark of laugher that erupted from him as soon as he saw his friend’s face as he was forced to say he was sorry. Mark’s head shot up and he threw him his most horrible glare yet, promising revenge for later. John shrugged it off and allowed himself to laugh openly, he was already screwed anyway. Mark flipped him off and started pacing the room, talking in more subdued tones, rare even in his good, Sandy Rogers-free days, unusual as they were.

It was nice to know Mark could actually act decent once in a while and John felt a little jealous of whoever he was talking to on the phone. When had been the last time Mark hadn’t been pissed off about something or other, after all? Granted, no one was forcing him to be Mark’s friend, but he still thought it would be nice not to be yelled, glared, or growled at for a day.

Mark could still be hilarious in his rage, though, so John didn’t dwell on it.

After a while Mark stopped walking in circles and sat back down with a grunt, lowering his phone to his lap and looking bitter.

“They’ll be here in five,” he informed John, who assumed he was talking about his parents. But almost ten minutes later Mark’s whole family plus a woman John recognized as Sandy Rogers’ mother came barreling in through the clinic’s double glass doors.

Mark was on his feet in a second, shoving his hands in his pockets while the mob of people surrounded him, asking him questions. John sat there and smirked to himself, enjoying the awkward little moment his friend was suffering, having to re-tell what he had already told the nurses, the doctor, and whoever had called him earlier on the phone.

It didn’t take John very long to realize that the only person in the group Mark was half civil to was Sandy’s mother and he figured she was the one that had made him talk like a normal person before. John knew Mark and Sandy’s parents were close but he had never witnessed any interaction between the two families. That was probably because Mark avoided anything related to Rogers like the plague (except, maybe, Rogers himself) and preferred to spend his time away from everything that reminded him of him, like the few classes they shared and Mark was failing. 

He saw Mark pointing at him and the strange woman turned around and asked John for the form to fill with Sandy’s information. She looked a bit like her son, something around her eyes or her mouth, John mused while he handed the clipboard over. And she looked nice enough; she had to be to have Mark talking to her like that.    

“Thank you,” she said in a pleasant voice. She looked anxious as she sat and started writing her son’s medical history down. Well, it was understandable but John still thought she was taking everything rather well. She had been awfully nice to the boy that had landed her son in the hospital, after all.

Not much longer after Mark’s family had settled down and Mark had sat back down looking angry, John’s father entered the waiting room. He looked around, nodding in Mark’s and then John’s direction and approached the rest of the adults.

John wanted to leave already.

He tapped his fingers against his knees and watched as his father talked with Mark’s parents and Sandy Rogers’ mother. Next to them, Mark’s siblings were skimming through some old magazines. John felt a little left out.

Eventually, his father started saying good-bye and John got up with a grateful sigh. Right at the same moment the doctor that had taken Sandy away walked in and told the room in general that they could come in. Mark jumped to his feet.

“I’ll go home with John,” he said, already walking towards him. His mother stood up with a frown.

“No, you won’t.”

“But-”

“You’re staying here and you’re going to make sure your friend is alright,” she went on. Mark looked outraged.

“He’s not my-”

“Do you ever stop whining?” Mark’s sister spoke up; rolling her eyes as she stood next to their mother and Mark went red and clenched his fists.

John waved at him as he left the room next to his father, trying his hardest not to smile, though Mark wasn’t paying any attention to him. He was too busy yelling at his sister where exactly she could shove her opinions. 

 

 

At first the doctor had been unsure whether to take all six of them to see Rogers or not and Mark had hoped he would make him stay behind. But of course, his mother had to step in and convince him, in some cunning way only mothers possessed, and he had led them through a long hallway and to a large room filled with beds.

Mark looked around. Only a few of the beds were occupied and there were curtains drawn over a couple others. The doctor stood next to one of those, talking quietly to Hannah Rogers while she wrung her hands and nodded along. Mark felt a pang of guilt hit his chest and quickly forced it down. It hadn’t been his fault. He had nothing to feel guilty about and he had already said he was sorry even though he most certainly wasn’t.

He still looked away, not being able to stare at her worried expression anymore, and his eyes fell on his own mother. She was obviously avoiding looking at him, glaring ahead with her arms crossed firmly over her chest. God, he was never going to hear the end of this.

A few years back, Rogers had fallen from a tree in their backyard. Mark had been climbing, minding his own business when he’d heard Rogers approaching and start to climb after him. Mark had yelled at him to get down, this was his tree, it was his turn so go away and had kicked down blindly, not expecting to actually hit him, but to just scare him off.

His foot had connected right between Rogers’ eyes and he had gone down hard. Lucky for him they hadn’t been that high up and Rogers had merely started screaming bloody murder and threatening to get him when Mark came down. Mark’s parents had come running outside, seen a muddy footprint on Rogers’ face and had started delivering their own set of threats.

Mark hadn’t come down of that tree until well passed his bedtime and when he had stepped inside the kitchen, freezing and hungry, his mother had been waiting in the dark. She could never let things go. To this date, a week didn’t pass without her bringing up at least one of the ‘accidents’ he and Rogers had had over the years. She just didn’t remember Rogers’ part in them, except that, in her mind, he was the victim every single time.

Rogers had landed him in the hospital once, too! That time he had passed him the chicken pox…. And Mark could very well start telling his mother how he probably had a fractured skull right now but he wasn’t a crybaby like Rogers, who told on him all the time and set his family against him.

He turned away with a huff, which his sister imitated mockingly and had their brother laughing along with her. Mark glared; they always paired up against him, the assholes. 

Then, just as he was distracting himself staring at an old guy lying on one of the beds across the room and beginning to realize what the tube coming out from under his scrubs did, he heard the swish of the curtain being pulled open and everyone starting talking at once.

Mark closed his eyes and prepared himself to face Rogers’ mother and his parents, all staring at him accusingly. But when he looked over, everyone was fussing over Rogers. He wondered if he could slip out of the building unnoticed. He’d knock over that damn nurse if he had to. 

Everyone was asking Rogers what had happened, wanting to get his side of the story. Mark couldn’t quite see him – just the top of his head and his eyes every time he looked up, the rest of him blocked by the concerned family. Mark rolled his eyes as his anger started to burn again. He could never control it and always ended up lashing out one way or another. He knew it and he wanted to leave before he found himself in even more trouble.

The doctor was talking now and Rogers said something that had every head turning in Mark’s direction. He immediately took a defensive pose, crossed his arms more firmly over his chest, and stood straighter, glaring at every pair of eyes.

“It wasn’t my fault,” he growled and he had lost count of how many times he had said that already today; the words were starting to sound way too familiar. No one looked particularly convinced. The doctor was giving him a look over his glasses that was unnerving him and his mother looked like she was trying hard not to snap at him in front of a room full of strangers. Frankly, Mark thought everyone in this room had more important things to worry about than a hysterical woman yelling at her son. Especially the guy with the tube between his legs.

“It never is according to you, Mark,” his father said softly and Mark felt betrayed. His father was never one to take sides.

Rogers spoke up before Mark could start yelling.

“It wasn’t. He didn’t see me,” he said it as if it was causing him actual pain to stand up for him. Mark didn’t need him to do it and he wasn’t going to acknowledge him, even if everyone was now looking at Rogers as if he had sprouted tentacles out of his ears. The doctor was looking back and forth between Mark and everyone else with raised eyebrows. He cleared his throat and opened his mouth to continue with his explanation but Rogers wasn’t done talking. “Though I didn’t hear him apologizing, either.”

“He did, honey,” Rogers’ mother said mildly.

“He didn’t to me.”

“Why do I have to apologize for you getting in my way and getting knocked out?” Mark dropped his arms to his sides, his fists clenched and every muscle straining to jump at Rogers and bash his face in.

I didn’t get in your way!” Rogers spat viciously, to everyone’s horror. Rogers was the poster boy for calm, grace and kindness and he usually reserved this bit of his personality for when there wasn’t an audience.

“Why aren’t you apologizing for leaving my back seat all bloody and disgusting?” Mark actually regretted saying that when he caught Hannah Rogers’ face going pale. 

“Okay, boys….” The doctor tried to cut in but they weren’t listening. Mark stomped his foot on the floor and then flushed at his sister’s laughing face. Seething, he walked towards the small crowd and pushed his brother out of the way, he wanted to be able to see Rogers properly.

He was stopped short by the sight of Rogers’ arm. He didn’t know what he had been expecting, perhaps something more dramatic than a sling. Okay, so it covered most of Rogers’ left side and he could see a green (of course he had to choose the flashiest color possible) cast peeking out of it along with a couple of limp fingers, but his arm had been messed up. Surely this wasn’t it.

“What-” he started to say but caught himself in time.

Rogers answered anyway. “Dislocated shoulder and broken wrist, thank you very much.” Mark looked up. Rogers had a little blue band aid on his chin but the scratches on his cheek were left uncovered. They weren’t bleeding anymore. “And I got nine stitches on my knee.”

“It wasn’t-”

“Your fault, we got it.” His sister’s voice was enough to make him look away and turn around to continue with the glaring. The doctor took advantage of the moment of quiet to resume with his explanation.

“Well, anyway, Mrs. Rogers. I apologize again for making you wait so long, Sandy here threw quite a scene.” Mark’s interest picked up as he felt Rogers fidgeting behind him.

“Oh?” He smirked.

“The nurses told me how calm he was when they brought him in, but as soon as I-”

“Mom, can we go already?” Rogers asked and Mark started to feel better. He turned to give him a mocking look and found himself staring into his puffy, red eyes. Rogers had waited until Mark was out of hearing range to start wailing. This was just perfect.

“You cried,” he said with a smirk, voice quiet enough so no one else could hear.

Rogers jumped onto the floor and towards him, his left leg buckling and almost making him loose his balance. Mark stepped back instantly as everyone came to stand between them.

“That’s enough, Mark,” his father warned.

“What’d I do?!” he cried.

“Drive your brother and sister home. Straight home, the three of you.” He eyed them quickly to make sure they were all listening. “And stay there. We’ll talk about this when your mother and I get back.”

Mark stared at Rogers’ flushed, angry face for a moment longer before turning to leave. He heard his mother apologizing for him right before he went out the door. He didn’t have anything to be sorry for.

“Way to go, stupid,” Dan, his younger brother, muttered as they were making their way through the parking lot.

“What’s your problem?”

“Now we’re in trouble, too. You always do stuff like this.”

“I never thought you’d actually hit him with your car, though,” Jessica piped in. “What did he do? Got a better grade than you? Won a baseball match?”

“Shut up and watch the door!” Mark hissed after she had already slammed the passenger’s door closed. “And you, feet off the seats.”

“I don’t see the blood. Where’s Sandy’s blood?” Dan asked from the back.

“Stop saying blood, you sicko. And he probably already cleaned it; you know he likes to keep his girlfriend spotless.” They grinned at each other and Mark gritted his teeth, looking down at his arms and his stupid, stupid freckles.

“Shut the hell up,” he said and started the car.

 

 

They had been arguing for over an hour. Jessica leaned against the threshold and bit into her apple. Mark’s voice was loud and came all the way from the sitting room, two doors away.

I’m not doing it!” he was yelling. Jessica shook her head and re-entered the kitchen. Dan was sitting at the table, his chin on his closed fist and eyes strained on the small TV on the counter.

“What do you think they want him to do?” he asked, not turning away from the screen. Jessica shrugged and sat across from him.

“What was last time? Everyone’s chores for a month?”

“It hasn’t been a month.” her brother replied quietly, distracted by his cartoons. Jessica snorted.

“It hasn’t been a week.”

There was more yelling from their brother.

“I can’t believe him.” Jessica shook her head, “It was the first thing he said, when he got that stupid car. If Rogers gets in my way…. What an asshole.

“I don’t think it was on purpose. He said it wasn’t his fault.”

“He always says that.”

“Sandy said it too.”

She didn’t have an answer to that, so she just rolled her eyes. Mark was crazy; that was all. This impulse, to always have the last word, to throw the first punch, to stand taller than Sandy fucking Rogers all the time, was stronger than him. He couldn’t help it anymore. Their parents should have done something earlier on when he was still planning water balloon battles – not when he was trying to kill the guy.

A dislocated shoulder- Jesus!

“They always get into fights. Mark can’t start them all,” Dan said during a commercial.

“We’re talking about Mark here.”

“He’s angry all the time lately….” Dan muttered with his cheek now on the table and his arms folded on his lap; his show started up again. They heard the loud bang of a door slamming and not two seconds later, Mark burst through the kitchen door. His face looked furious; he went straight to the fridge and took out a chocolate milk carton.     

“He lost his mind,” Jessica said as she and Dan watched how their brother gulped the whole thing down. Mark had the tendency of stuffing himself sick when he was really angry. Jessica thought it had everything to do with his mild weight problem when he was little. She laughed at her brother’s pathetic…everything. “You’re such a loser.”

Mark gave her the finger and slapped the empty carton on the table. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and went for the box of Twinkies on the top cupboard.

“You’re gonna make yourself sick,” she warned him just as their mother appeared in the kitchen.

“That’s the idea,” he said and started munching.

“Mark, put that down,” Mom ordered, her finger raised and pointing. Dan turned away from the TV completely and settled down to watch this show instead. God, but Jessica’s family embarrassed her.

Mark was downing the box fast, keeping his eyes on their mom, challenging her to try and stop him.

Mark.” Dad walked in next. Jessica was sprawled on her chair, watching in despair as her idiot brother dug his own idiot grave. Dan had a pained smile on his face; he was obviously torn between cheering Mark on and making a grab for the box.

“You’re going to school tomorrow, Mark, whether you’re puking your guts out or not.” Mom still had her finger out, her chubby hand shaking in exasperation.

You can’t make me,” Mark replied, spraying crumbs and spit all over Jessica.

“Ugh!” She stood up, making her chair screech back. “What’s your problem now?!”

“Jessica, stay out of this.” Dad put a hand on her shoulder and she shrugged him off with a jerk and stepped into Mark’s space with her arms out and nearly flailing.

“Why do you have to be so –fuck – so irritating?!”

Jessica!”

“Can’t you cool it down, for once?” She shoved him back and he hit the counter. Mark’s face was red, either in shame or anger or maybe he was just choking on the Twinkies. Jessica couldn’t tell and she definitely didn’t care at the moment. She saw him swallow - her eyes came up to his throat when he stood this close - and prepare himself to answer but she shoved him again, hard, on his chest and his face looked outraged once again. “Save it. Crazy asshole,” she muttered as an afterthought and turned away.

Everyone was quiet as she left the kitchen. She dared a glance in Dan’s direction and caught him staring at her, wide eyed, but his gaze dropped to the table as soon as their eyes met. Jessica stomped up the stairs and made sure to slam her door hard enough for her family to hear from downstairs. Then she realized she was acting like her brother and cursed.

She was tired of the world stopping every time Mark threw a tantrum. Everything seemed to revolve around him in this house. Middle child syndrome her ass. Mark was either spoiled rotten or all the thumps to the head Sandy had given him over the years had finally taken effect.

She couldn’t wait until next year to leave. The idea of college had never seemed as appealing as it did now.

 

Chapter Text

The next morning, Mark was sitting in his car. His stomach felt wretched and his head was throbbing. He had woken up earlier than usual, thinking he had a chance to sneak out before his mother woke up, but she had been in the kitchen with Mark’s car keys in hand, waiting for him. She said she had called Hannah Rogers the night before and she was making sure Mark stopped over her house in the morning. Mark had started a screaming match again, hoping that maybe she would give up. He had argued until he started to feel nauseous but his mother had stayed firm on what she had said the night before:

“I don’t care if you’re feeling sick, I warned you yesterday. You’re driving Sandy to school even if you have to drag yourself out of this house and that’s final.” Mark had sat down a moment because he really didn’t want to risk throwing up all over his car seats.

Now he was parked across the street, and he could see his own house behind him, hidden by the trees through the side mirror. The Rogers’ front door was only a couple of steps away and he couldn’t (wouldn’t) bring himself to walk there and ring the doorbell. He knew his mother was watching him, somehow. He could feel the stare on the back of his neck and he rubbed at it, only managing to make his head hurt more when he grazed the bump there.

He knew it was getting late, and he had to pick up John after this but, dammit, Rogers could damn well get out himself without making Mark humiliate himself any further, couldn’t he?

Of course he couldn’t.

Cursing, Mark stepped out of the car, stomped to the wooden door and rapped his sore knuckles against it three times, loudly, so he wouldn’t have to do it again. Rogers took his sweet time answering. Mark heard voices inside, then nothing and just when he was preparing himself to knock again without losing his temper, the door opened.

Well, at least Rogers looked about as pleased as Mark was about the turn of events. His left arm was covered and secured against his body with the sling, no fingers visible. He was wearing a green zip-up jumper over his shirt that matched his cast, the left sleeve hanging limply on the side. Mark wondered for a moment how he had even gotten into his shirt.

Rogers’ face was a mask of cold anger; he didn’t even look at Mark when he pushed his way past him. Mark returned the push just as forcefully.

“To the back,” he grunted when Rogers made for the passenger’s door.

“What?”

“To the back, I’m picking someone else up.” Rogers moved away, mumbling something and that’s when Mark saw it, just as Rogers got out of the way, the big, ugly scratch on the side of his car, blue paint scrapped off and ruined.

His wounded cry alarmed Rogers and made him turn around as Mark kneeled down and placed his hands on the door. How had he not noticed it? How hadn’t he checked before slamming into the house the nigh before? He had heard the screeching noise Rogers’ bike had made against the car, how could he have forgotten?

“No,” he moaned. “Shit. How-” He looked up, making his neck pop, and glared at Rogers, who was staring at him oddly. “You’re paying for this,” he told him.

Rogers actually laughed.

Sure, like you’re paying for my bike, right?” 

Mark stood up and took a step towards him. Rogers closed the car door and turned to face him properly, prepared to fight back if Mark threw himself at him, but Mark wasn’t that thick. He wasn’t going to jump at someone with an immobilized arm – at least not for the moment. Besides his mother could be watching and this was exactly the excuse she needed to- Well, actually Mark was already living his worse nightmare so he couldn’t think of another punishment for his mother to give him that would really get to him.

Forcing him to spend time with Rogers was the worst, most terrible thing anyone could make him do and now he was completely unafraid of what else his mother could come up with.

He still wasn’t going to give in; he was going to hold back for as long as he could since he was sure Rogers was provoking him on purpose and he wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction.

“You’re the one that bumped into me and you’re the one the one that scratched my car. If-”

“I was driving in a perfectly straight line. You are the one that went insane and threw his car against me!” Rogers was suddenly in his face, close enough Mark could see in perfect detail the little cuts on his face and the bruises forming under them. He noticed that the band aid on his chin was yellow today, instead of blue. His hands itched to crack Rogers’ nose under his knuckles; Rogers was begging for it and if he didn’t back off right now– “My bike is useless and now I’m being punished because you tried to kill me!”

“I thought it hadn’t been my fault,” Mark said, forcing his voice down (act nonchalant, dammit.).

Rogers snorted and drew a bit closer. Mark was tense from holding back; he was probably never getting a chance like this one ever again. Rogers was throwing all his anger at him now, and later, after he’d vented, his defenses would be up again and the only reason for him to be this close to Mark with a messed up arm would be to pass him in the school halls or something. Rogers wasn’t expecting a punch – not next to his house and definitely not just out of the hospital – and Mark was doing his fucking best to keep his hands down.

“I was high on pain killers; I had no fucking clue what I was saying.” And he smirked, the smirk he saved for when no one but Mark was watching and if this had been any other day, Mark would have blackened his eye.

“Get in the fucking car,” he ground out instead. Rogers’ smirk slipped off his face and he frowned, backing away. He looked at Mark as if he couldn’t believe he had let go of the chance to smash his face in. Mark was very proud of himself and he walked around the car and got inside without sparing the guy another look.

It wasn’t everyday that he backed off of a potential fight with (a handicapped) Rogers. John would be proud.

 

 

John could’ve died from the shock.

At first he thought he was seeing things. Certainly that wasn’t Sandy Rogers in the back of Mark Wallace’s car. Besides, Sandy couldn’t still be breathing since Mark had probably already seen the giant scratch on the side of his car and had murdered and buried him in his backyard.

After a closer inspection, it turned out he wasn’t hallucinating and it really was Sandy Rogers sitting there, looking annoyed. Mark, to John’s surprise, was actually in a good mood. John sat close to the door in case he needed to jump out of the moving car when things finally blew up.

“Hi,” he said, almost a question.

“Hey,” Mark replied lightly. Sandy grumbled something and John was now almost sure he had stepped into a parallel universe.

“Um, what’s going on?” A shadow crossed Mark’s face when he began to explain. He told John how their parents had made arrangements for them to drive to and back from school together since Sandy’s bike was busted and Mark was crazy and everything. They thought – and Mark practically spat the words out – that it would make them get along. Well, now this was the Mark John knew. At least having to spend time with Sandy without lashing out hadn’t melted his brain into goo or anything.

They drove mostly in silence, John wasn’t sure about turning on the radio, afraid that even a little change in the tense atmosphere would make things come crashing down. He could tell Mark was trying really hard to stay in this weird, calm mood of his; his hands were clenched tight on the steering wheel. Sandy was slumped against the door on his good side. John couldn’t see how bad the other arm was. He cleared his throat.

“So, Sandy, how’s the arm?” He turned almost all the way around, the seatbelt digging into his side, as he looked Sandy in the eye. Sandy returned his friendly look with a tired, moody one.

“Useless,” he said in a low voice. John made a sympathetic face.

“What was wrong with it?” Sandy raised his eyebrows at him, still in his slumped pose, his chin raised as he rested his forehead on the window. “I mean, um, technically?”

“Dislocated.” He glared at the back of Mark’s head and Mark continued to pretend he wasn’t listening. John hissed. “Thanks for dropping the bike off yesterday,” Sandy sighed.

“No problem, I had to pick mine up anyway.”

His father had driven him all the way to the house with the dog to grab his brother’s bike the day before and he had taken Sandy’s too so he could give it back on their way home. As John put them in the trunk, his father had talked to the owner of the dog about what had happened and apparently had warned him to keep the dog on the leash or they were going to call the authorities or something. The man, who looked like he shouldn’t be allowed to stand up on his own, had waved a thin hand around and slammed the door shut. The dog had started barking from inside the house and his father had told John to check in a couple of days and to let him know if the dog was loose.

“Thanks for helping me, too.” John smiled at him – Sandy was okay sometimes.    

“He cried,” Mark said when John turned back around and Sandy reached out a leg and kicked the back of his seat hard. “Hey! What-”

Watch the road.” John pushed at his shoulder. “Two car accidents in two days, Mark? No, thank you.”

“What’s your problem?” Mark snapped at Sandy, glaring at him on the rearview mirror and ignoring John.

“You,” Sandy snapped back.

John knew it had been too good to be true. Still, ten minutes without fighting? It had to be a record.

They arrived at school just as the last bell rang and the gates closed behind them while they walked the stone path in silence. Mark walked ahead while Sandy dragged his feet at the back, limping slightly and John was stuck in the middle, not wanting to choose a side. Sandy wasn’t his friend but John didn’t want to shut him out by walking alongside Mark and turning his back on him. And if he walked with Sandy, Mark would probably take it as a betrayal.

He was also biting his lips in order to avoid offering to carry Sandy’s bag, not only because Mark would wring his neck for it, but also because, well, asking that to a guy was just not on. But it had to be uncomfortable, maybe even painful, and that bag looked heavy and John felt guilty on Mark’s behalf.

Right in the middle of John’s internal struggle, when they were walking down the main corridor to their lockers, a teacher intercepted them.

“Stop right there,” he boomed and walked over to them, managing to look down his nose at every one of them even though Mark was about two heads taller than him. “You two,” he gazed between Mark and Sandy, not pausing on Sandy’s sling even for a second, “are supposed to be in my classroom right now.” 

John didn’t know the teacher’s name and the teacher clearly didn’t know who he was either since he looked him up and down and asked gravely, “Do you go to this school?”

John didn’t even blink. It was a big school and the teachers couldn’t possibly know all the students’ names and faces by heart. Mark and Sandy were special since every teacher had had the pleasure of breaking them apart on more than one occasion and they’d lived in this town all their lives. John was sure there wasn’t a single person in the whole building who didn’t know who they were, at least by name.

“Yes, sir,” he replied.

“What are you two still doing here? To class, now!” The teacher ordered and then looked back at John. “You, too,” he said, his voice still stern but softer, in a way. He was probably used to yelling at the other two.

Mark and Sandy continued walking in the same direction they had been going.

“I believe you missed your exit, gentlemen. The classroom is this way.”

“I need to get my books,” Mark snapped, turning around. Sandy stopped but kept his back to them. John could swear he heard him sigh. It struck him as weird since he was used to them using every comment the other made as an excuse to jump at each other’s throats.

Watch your tone, Mr. Wallace,” the teacher said slowly.

There was a long pause and eventually Mark said, “I need my books.” He made a weird face, like he had just swallowed a fly or something. “Sir.”

“Very well, you have five minutes.” Then he turned around and went back the way he’d come from.

 

 

Mark stomped over to his locker, annoyed by the ever-present presence of Rogers at his back. He could hear the guy’s sneakers squeaking against the tiled floor and he gritted his teeth, knowing he had no other choice but to suck it up since their lockers were in the same hallway.

Mark knew the universe had something against him.

He had known ever since they were kids and their parents made them celebrate their birthday parties together and everyone ate Rogers’ mom’s cake and Mark was the only one eating the low fat carrot one because his mother wouldn’t let him eat chocolate. Rogers had been skinny and tanned and blond, while Mark was fat and covered in freckles (so much worse than now) and had very few friends. Almost every kid at those parties was Rogers’ guest. They’d shared practically every event of their lives together since they had been born and Rogers had always been the main character in them.

Mark was sure, somewhere, someone was laughing at his expense.

Mark had hoped he would grow out of his freckles and someday he would be thin and athletic like Rogers and he would show him. Late into his eight grade, he’d finally had his growth spurt and was now gangly and awkward (all elbows, his mother said) but he was taller than Rogers (taller than everybody he knew except his father) and he was going to take up a sport and beat him at everything. Instead he ended up picking fights all the time and getting kicked out of the track team, then the baseball team, and finally the swim team.

He had gotten up early for a year to run around the neighborhood, had begged his father to buy him weights to keep in the basement, had used the tree on his backyard to do as many pull-ups as his body was capable of.  

Jessica didn’t leave him alone about it and mocked him every chance she got. He gave it up, eventually, and found himself fighting Rogers even more often without an outlet. These days Mark couldn’t help it. Every little thing set him off and the fact that Rogers egged him on didn’t help. Rogers never backed away. Once Mark had thrown the first punch they were done for.

He was almost failing two classes, classes he avoided as much as he could in order to prevent detention. Showing up meant he would end up yelling something at Rogers, who was tapping his pen against his desk or talking with someone and making him lost concentration or something. Everything that Rogers did bothered him ten times more than anyone else ever did because he knew that everything Rogers did was done to annoy him.

Today he had left his bag at home. It had slipped his mind because all he could think of when he was leaving his house was a way of getting out of driving Rogers to school. As he yanked open his locker and started to search for the books he needed for Mr. Leander’s class, Rogers was fumbling with his lock and attempting to keep his own bag on his shoulder at the same time.

Mark tried to ignore it; it wasn’t his problem. Rogers could manage, it wasn’t that hard. Yet seconds seemed to drag by, Mark with his face buried in his locker in order to control his temper and Rogers clinking the little combination lock against the metal as he tried to open the door without dropping anything. Mark slammed his door shut and locked it again in jerky motions, gripping the text books to his side. He walked past Rogers, bumping his shoulder by accident, for once. He was just in a hurry to get out of there before his self control snapped.

Rogers let his bag fall to the floor with a thump and whirled around.

“You could help me, you know!” He yelled and Mark turned around to face him. There was a moment of stillness when neither of them seemed to know exactly how to proceed. They just stared at each other until Mark backtracked and pushed Rogers away, making him slam his back against the lockers. He straightened up awkwardly, stumbling under his left leg and using his good arm to balance himself and got ready to jump into action if Mark happened to decide he was done playing nice.

Mark walked past him and, without even looking at him, opened his locker door with a quick jerk. Rogers didn’t say a word. He was either shocked or mollified by the action – Mark wasn’t sure and he didn’t really want to find out. He had actually helped Rogers when he could have just walked away. It wasn’t like he was that big of a threat with that useless arm and still he had turned around and helped him. He wasn’t even going to think about that sick feeling he’d gotten when Rogers had snapped at him, the same one he’d had when he’d faced Hannah Rogers at the hospital. Like he actually felt sorry for him.

Like he felt guilty.

He strode down the hallway and to his class in a rush and heard Mr. Leander halt on his explanation when he almost tripped inside the room.         

“Where’s Mr. Rogers?” he asked. Mark only shrugged and walked over to his desk just as Rogers, much more calmly, appeared at the door.

Mark hunched over his desk – it was a habit born out of the constant complaints of the person sitting behind him – at the front of the class. He could feel everyone’s stares even though he knew Rogers was the centre of attention. A murmur started rising as he walked all the way to the very back of the classroom to take his seat and people started asking him what had happened to his arm.

“Quiet, now,” Mr. Leander said in a much calmer tone than the one he’d used with Mark. “You can talk after the bell rings, people. Eyes back on the board.”

Mark opened one of his books to a random page and it took him three full minutes to realize it was a Biology textbook and this was History class. With growing irritation, he read the spine of the other two books on his desk that turned out to be a Spanish-English dictionary and the novel he was supposed to read for English. Mr. Leander stared at him as if he were stupid for a little while and then made him pair up with the boy next to him. The day had begun crappy and seemed to be turning more and more horrible with every passing second.

Mark hunched down in his seat and blamed Sandy Rogers.

 

Chapter Text

Dana Saunders got a text message from Emily during second period but didn’t get a chance to read it until lunch. By then it didn’t really matter anymore, since she could see what Emily had probably told her about for herself. She met her friends near the cafeteria like everyday and didn’t notice anything strange at first, except that Sandy wasn’t wearing his jacket properly and that Emily was in a bad mood.

Then, Sandy turned around and Dana saw the sling covering his arm. She ran the rest of the way, getting a glimpse of Sandy’s scratched face before reaching him.

“What happened?!” she asked and her hands went up to her friend’s face, freezing midway there.

“Mark Wallace happened, sixteen years ago,” Emily replied (well spat, actually, all over Dana’s blazer). “I’m going to kill him, I swear.”

There was a green cast under the sling and Sandy’s fingers curling out of it looked a little swollen and red. 

“Mark did this?” Somehow she couldn’t picture him breaking someone’s arm. That was a bit much, even for the guy that had made Sandy’s nose bleed so bad she would have slapped him if Emily hadn’t. “How?”

“He ran him over!” Her hands were flying as she gestured madly. Dana’s eyes widened even more. “With his car! He tried to kill him!”

“He didn’t-”

“He did!” Emily was hysterical, her face flushed and angry. Dana, even while she was trying to digest the news, wondered how Sandy couldn’t see how Emily felt about him.

He rolled his eyes but his mood was pretty sour, too. He turned to speak to Dana, leaving Emily fuming by herself for a moment.

“I know it’s hard to believe, but it was an accident.” And Dana believed him because she knew if it had been on purpose, Sandy would have jumped at the chance to frame Mark Wallace. Emily snorted and crossed her arms over her chest with a scowl, but she didn’t try to argue.

Sandy told Dana what had happened the day before as they walked the rest of the way to the cafeteria. Usually, Dana would describe the boy as soft-mannered, pleasant, and just plain nice. She wasn’t counting, of course, his interactions with Mark. Today Sandy was acting different. She had seen him get mad or in a bad mood, but he was one of the few people she knew that would act angry only with the person that deserved it. He didn’t lash out at other people who had nothing to do with the issue, and every time he got into a fight with Mark Wallace, his mood and the cutting language was left behind when it was over.

Now she could see him holding back; she could tell he didn’t feel like talking about his arm or what had happened or anything concerning Mark.

Once in the cafeteria and seated at their usual table, Sandy did something he almost never did: he scanned the room and located Mark Wallace. Then he glared and didn’t stop until Mark turned around and caught him. He glared back and, to Dana’s further surprise, didn’t say anything. Didn’t scream, didn’t curse at him, or jump to his feet and stalk over. They just stared at each other and then – and Dana almost chocked from the surprise – Mark was the first to look away. Sandy looked down at his food; he seemed angrier. Dana almost believed he had wanted the other boy to start a fight.

They were so weird.

Sandy stared at his food for a few seconds before he pushed the tray away, making Dana jump as his bottle of juice to topple over.

“I can’t fucking cut this,” he muttered and slammed his good elbow on the table, put his cheek on his fist, and sulked. Next to him, Emily was glaring daggers at Mark Wallace’s back, but apparently her gaze wasn’t strong enough because he didn’t turn back around once.

Dana watched all this in thoughtful silence. When she realized there really was nothing she could say to help, she bit into her food and officially tuned out.             

 

 

Now, despite what most people could say about Mark Wallace, his whole life didn’t revolve around Sandy Rogers. There was a girl Mark had liked for a while; he had liked her all through sophomore year. He only saw her at lunch, because she was a year older than him and they didn’t share any of their classes. She was one of Jessica’s friends, one more of the giggling group of bubbly girls that sat at a table right in the middle of the cafeteria and talked about things Mark had no clue about.

She came to his house sometimes, usually when Jessica thought Mark was going to be sleeping over at John’s. Her name was Mary and she was small, curly haired and blond, she played lacrosse and had a really quiet voice.

Mark had liked her since he’d first seen her. It had been raining and he was on his way to John’s house. At the time, he didn’t have his own car and had gotten tired of waiting for his father to drive him, so he had stolen one of his raincoats (they were almost the same size) and was walking to John’s when Rogers appeared around a corner. They had both halted mid-step, Mark’s hair dripping over his eyes. Rogers was using a girl’s umbrella and Mark probably said something about it – he didn’t remember what later – and before he knew it, they were rolling in the mud.

Mark had come back home a little while later, soaking wet with ditch water and covered in mud with a split lip. He’d gone straight to the kitchen to get something to eat and get rid of that weird emptiness he always felt after a fight, when he saw her. 

She was sitting at the kitchen table, nursing a mug in her small hands and listening as Jessica rambled on about something or other. Mark stood at the door for a moment, because her hair reminded him of Rogers’ and he had been close to shouting something at her but then she had turned around and looked at him through thin, wired-rimmed glasses and Mark temporarily lost the power of speech.

“What the hell happened to you?” Jessica had butted in. “Oh, wait, never mind. Like I need to ask.” 

Just for that day, Mark didn’t bother to answer her.

After that, Mark started to look for Mary during lunch period. Or when he spotted Jessica’s group in the hallways at school, he searched for her hair and felt all warm and fuzzy for a little bit. She always went silent when Mark was around and Mark could never think of anything to say to her.  

Then, right on the last week of school, just before summer break, he had made up his mind and was going to talk to her. See if maybe she wanted to go out sometime or something. He just needed to find her alone. Or more specifically, without Jessica. He searched for her at lunch one day and didn’t find her, though Jessica’s group was there. 

Thinking this was his chance, Mark went outside and rounded the cafeteria (people ate lunch outside sometimes) and that’s when he saw it. An image that would haunt his dreams for the entire summer. Sandy Rogers leaning down to kiss the girl Mark had pined for for an entire year.

He watched as Rogers lowered her glasses and slipped them off her face, tilted her chin up with the other hand and pressed his lips to hers. His eyelashes lowered but his eyes still stayed open.

And all Mark could think was: Of course he had to kiss someone first.

Then Rogers looked up and met his eyes. He didn’t stop. If anything, he was more eager about it and Mark probably made some kind of noise because Mary jumped and turned around, her face flushed. Mark barely registered it; he was already charging, running head first into Rogers and knocking him down. Rogers let himself fall as if he had been expecting it and returned every punch with the same blind hatred Mark was feeling.

Mark could hear Mary’s small voice begging them to stop and he no longer felt warm at the sound. Now it made him feel angrier.

Rogers cracked her glasses against his temple, apparently having forgotten they were still in his hand, and Mary made a dismayed sound and then ran off. Mark heard her footsteps against the grass.

He didn’t feel bad about it. He didn’t even remember until later what he had been doing outside in the first place. He just knew he had to bash Rogers’ face in.

Then people were pulling them apart and Mark was yelling and cursing and John was between Rogers and him, saying something he couldn’t hear over the sound of his blood rushing in his ears.

Rogers was wiping his mouth and looking to the side, ignoring Mark like he always did after a fight. It made Mark boil.

He stopped liking Mary after that. Just the thought of having his mouth where Rogers’ had been made him feel ill. And she was weird around him now; she looked at him as if he could explode in any second. She wasn’t with Rogers either. Mark didn’t know what to think of that. Except that Rogers had done it on purpose. Somehow he had found Mark wanted something and had decided to take it away, just to screw Mark over.

Now, almost four months later, Mark sat in his car and waited for the asshole to show up after school. He kept telling himself that he would wait only five more minutes and then he’d leave him.       

The bruise Rogers left on his temple still hadn’t healed, even after the summer had gone by. It was a reminder that Rogers always got what Mark couldn’t have. The friends he’d wished for, the toys he’d watched on TV, and even the girl he’d wanted. Mark poked at the bruise and waited. John, sitting next to him, sighed and leaned against the door.

“Maybe something happened to him,” he said, as if expecting Mark to jump up and go find out.

“Good,” Mark replied and pressed his index finger against his temple. See, Mark’s entire life hadn’t revolved around Sandy Rogers until people started forcing them together in every damned possible aspect of their lives. There was no safe place left.

Mark counted five minutes three times before Rogers appeared next to the car. He opened the door and got in, not saying a word.

“Next time I’m leaving,” Mark said and started the car.

“I can walk home. It wasn’t my leg you broke, you know,” Rogers snapped. He was in a foul mood and Mark really couldn’t care less.

“Could have fooled me, since it took you half an hour to get here.”

“I’m sorry I have a social life, Mark. I didn’t mean to make you late. Who’s expecting you? Your mom? Or maybe…no, it’s your mom isn’t it?”

Mark only restrained himself from jumping to the backseat because that would’ve entailed letting go of the wheel, and probably crashing into a lamppost. Though the worries about his car seemed more and more unimportant as Rogers kept talking.

“I keep forgetting how busy your life is. So many people to see, so many things to do…. I’m sure sulking in your room alone already takes up half your day.”

“So!” John jumped in just in time to cut Mark off as he was opening his mouth to retort. “I saw some people signing your cast before.” He turned around in his seat. “Can I see?”

Mark kept his eyes on the road. He heard some shuffling and John (the traitor) babbling about whatever was written on the bright green cast and Rogers’ quiet and short replies. Mark wasn’t used to Rogers being so talkative. Their conversations often included only a couple of words before they moved on to insults alone. And Mark admitted they weren’t the clever kind. They’d been the same since they were about eleven and stopped caring about saying certain words around their parents. Rogers going on and on trying to make him mad was new, and it had started that morning when he had tried to make Mark punch him right in front of his house.

He was probably late on purpose too; he was planning something to get back at him for messing up his arm (which hadn’t been his fault, no matter what everyone thought).   

“I don’t even know half these people.” He heard Rogers said in an annoyed tone.

“Well, aren’t you Mister Popular,” Mark muttered and turned on John’s street.

Another thing about Sandy Rogers was that even his silences were provoking. Maybe even more so than his remarks. For every second Mark waited for a reply, he could feel his anger steadily increasing. Rogers acted like no one had said anything, though Mark knew he had heard him. He kept talking to John with that oh-look-at-me-I’m-so-miserable tone that made Mark want to reach back and snap his arm around all over again.

Instead, he settled with making the car jerk forward when he stopped right in front of John’s house and Rogers cursed when he hit his face against the back of the passenger’s seat.

“Fucking ow.” He glared at Mark as he clutched the loose sleeve of his jumper. “Watch it!”

And Mark felt a little bit warmer when Rogers’ voice cracked. This was probably the highlight of his day. Being able to get under Rogers’ skin (even if the only way was to inflict physical pain) always left him pleased with himself. He had tried to stay out of his way the entire day, not trusting that he could prevent himself from losing it, which would make everything worse at home.

“Whoops.” He met Rogers’ eyes in the rearview mirror. Rogers shook his head.

“Asshole,” he muttered.

“Okay,” John said weakly. “Um, Mark, come outside for a second.”

“What is it?” Mark snapped.

John only sighed.

 

 

Mark could be intolerant, moody, and downright violent sometimes (okay, most of the time), but he was a good guy. John didn’t mind that Mark was constantly angry because, even at his bitchiest, he was a decent friend. He got out of his way to drive him when John had told him he couldn’t afford gas for his car, and kept driving him even after he got his allowance. Hell, he kept driving him even after he was forced to share his precious car with the guy he hated the most. John supposed Mark was lonely. He was pretty sure he was Mark’s only friend and maybe driving him to school and back was something he enjoyed, just for spending time with someone he wasn’t related to, or someone he could hold a conversation with.

That’s why, when John told him he didn’t need Mark to drive him anymore and he saw – just for a fraction of a second – Mark’s face fall, he felt a small pang of guilt and was really close to taking it back. But then Mark’s eyes drifted to the back seat and his expression hardened again. He looked at a point over John’s shoulder with a scowl.

“I can drive you. I don’t mind,” he muttered.

John looked back at Sandy Rogers, who was pretending to be looking out the window, but whose eyes kept coming back to them in quick movements.

“I don’t want to keep bothering you; you circle half the town to bring me here.”

“But I don’t mind,” he repeated.

“Besides, my car has been sitting in the garage the entire summer; my dad is talking about giving it to my brother.” This was only half the truth. His father had asked about the car but his brother was still three years away from even thinking of driving it.

Mark was quiet for a moment, probably thinking of a way to convince him that didn’t include shouting how he didn’t want to be left alone with Sandy Rogers.

The car was still running and the radio was playing softly in the background while Mark slowly came to terms with the fact that there wasn’t a dignified way out of this and he’d have to suck it up. John could see the moment when he gave up. His shoulders slumped and his bottom lip stuck out a bit.

“Fine,” Mark said sullenly. “Okay.”

“I’m sorry,” John said, he couldn’t stop himself, “I-”

“Don’t. It’s your money.” Mark turned back to stare to the front and put his hands back on the wheel.

That was that, apparently.

John sighed and stepped out to the sunny street and stood there for a moment, the open door still in his grasp. He wanted to say something. He wanted to tell Mark how this was supposed to be for his own good. How he had to grow up and start talking instead of shouting and how Sandy Rogers was just a guy, not an evil being sent to torture him.

But somehow he knew he would end up under the car if he said any of that, so he settled with a mild: “See you tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” Mark replied but didn’t meet his eyes. He kept staring ahead and didn’t even try to stop John from slamming the door. But John closed it softer than ever and watched as his friend drove away. Sandy was staring at him with his head against the window and a blank expression on his face and, just for a moment, John’s dislike of that face matched Mark’s.

Then the car turned the corner and the moment was over. John sighed again and went inside to look for his car keys, all the while thinking that if Mark had asked to drive him instead of playing the tough guy, he would probably have said yes.    

 

Chapter Text

Mark had paid for his car himself. Not in actual cash, but by doing chores and working around the neighborhood whenever school was out and giving his earnings to his father for the symbolic Car Fund. He started during summer break before ninth grade and finished right around the time Rogers had used his face to break Mary’s glasses, at the end of tenth. In fact, his temple and knuckles were still throbbing when he and his father went over to the city to Loony Lou’s Motor Shed to pick his car up.

The blue paint caught his attention immediately. Most of the other cars in the lot were clean but had the paint chipped off and were rusty with time, even though you could tell they were pretty much well cared for. This car – his car – wasn’t newly painted or anything, but it certainly looked like it. It shone like new and made all the other cars look like a pile of old metal.

Inside, the seats were cream colored and clean, and everything in it seemed to shine. From the unscratched dashboard to the silver rearview mirror. Mark would have to get rid of the pair of plushy dice hanging from there, though. The tires were pumped up and looked pretty new, all the lights were in place and, when Loony Lou opened the hood, Mark could see it was as pretty on the inside as it was on the outside.

Loony Lou let him take it for a test ride and Mark fell in love with it as soon as he heard the engine start.

He could admit he had taken care of the car a bit obsessively; his siblings didn’t get in it unless it was absolutely necessary, and even then he put up a fight about it. His mother had lectured him about not wanting to drive them to school with him, but eventually his father had stepped in, saying it was on his way to work anyway and that he had already been doing it for years and that, if anything, it was Mark who was missing out.

Mark quite fervently disagreed. How could he be missing out on anything when he’d be driving to school the way he was meant to? In silence, with no fights over who called shotgun first, no coffee spills on his lap (because no one was going to be drinking or eating anything in his car), and with the music of his choice on the radio.

But his mother wouldn’t drop it and they argued until they were the only ones still up. When he finally made his escape, not having convinced her yet, he went to bed thinking that that was the first time they’d argued so much about something other than Sandy Rogers.

The next morning he had slipped out of the house before she got up and drove to his last day of school before summer vacation feeling content, like this would prove to his mother that he would do whatever the hell he wanted because it was his car.

On the way there he drove by Rogers who was pedaling away in his still fully functioning bike and he couldn’t help but grin and speed up, passing by so close for a second he thought he’d knock him over. Sandy Rogers stopped and was left staring after him and Mark wished he had driven a bit closer; he would have loved to see the little asshole with his face smashed on the curb.

Mark tiptoed around his mother for a month after that. Everything he did set her off, especially after a fight with Rogers, which were things he couldn’t help, so he had to suck it up when she went into lecture mode for two hours straight. He had to if he wanted to get away with the car business.

Then John came one day and asked if he could drive him because he was broke and out of gas. Mark had thought about it and came to the conclusion that if John had a car of his own, he would understand when he explained the rules. But John was a brute. He slammed the doors and ate Doritos inside and put his filthy feet on the seats. Mark almost choked him the first time.

As summer dragged by, Mark slowly (there was a lot of shouting and smacking involved) trained him to behave in his car. John still slammed the doors but he didn’t bring any food inside anymore, not since the Slurpy Incident.

Mark would never say it out loud, but he tolerated the company. On an off day he could almost admit he enjoyed it. Sometimes. And that night his parents had come back from the hospital and told him about their little arrangement, the only thing that didn’t completely suck about it was that, at least, John would be there to distract him from the thought of Sandy Rogers’ cooties infecting his seats.

But that was the thing about Rogers: there was no way to tune him out. He was there, in his face, all the time. The way he breathed bothered Mark, the way he stared out the window like he was the picture of misery, and the way John kept talking to him, like they’d been friends forever. And Rogers talked back.

Since when did Rogers have conversations?

Rogers screamed and cursed and punched, he didn’t talk around Mark unless it was in front of their families or to say something that would make Mark snap. It unnerved him that he had chosen to learn in his car with his friend. Everything Rogers did was done to screw with Mark. It wasn’t fair.

And then, to put the cherry on top of the ice-cream that was the worst day ever, John bailed on him. Just like that. After one day. Mark had had to stand Sandy Rogers’ crap for over sixteen years and John didn’t last a day. Mark wanted to ask John to let him keep driving him. He would even let him eat inside. But Rogers was there, and he would hear him beg like a pathetic idiot, and that was not happening.

So now he was reduced to being Rogers’ chauffeur, because that’s what it felt like with him sitting in the back and Mark in the front, alone. He wanted to scream, like when he was younger and his mother would send him to his room to scream into a pillow every time Rogers and his parents came to dinner and no one would believe him when he said Rogers was kicking him under the table. Because God help us if Sandy Rogers was anything but perfectly polite at the table.

Mark slapped the radio off, sick of John’s music. The only noise around them was the engine running and his teeth gritting painfully together. Every rustle of Rogers’ clothes or sigh or blink (because Mark swore he could hear him blink in the chilly silence) made his muscles tense and harden. His hands were hurting; he was griping the wheel so hard.

Mark always knew fighting with Rogers was stress relieving, but this was ridiculous. It had only been a day. One would have thought hitting him with his car would maybe help him last a week without needing to release somehow.

What he would have given to have had the balls to punch Rogers right then.

Or trip him or throw him out of the moving car or anything. A little crack in his voice because he had slammed his arm against the front seat was hardly enough.

“Mom told me to tell you,” Rogers spoke so suddenly Mark jumped and cursed himself for doing so, “to come over after school.” He sounded like those were the last words he wanted to be saying. They sure as hell were the last words Mark wanted to be hearing.

He didn’t answer, didn’t open his mouth or look anywhere but ahead until he was pulling over at Rogers’ house.

Neither of them moved or said a word for a while until Rogers sighed and grunted, “Are you coming in or what?” and stepped out of the car. Mark was expecting him to slam the door and give him an excuse to snap at him. Rogers didn’t, but Mark snapped anyway.

Watch the door,” he hissed as his feet touched the ground.

“Bitch,” Rogers muttered and if this had been any other time, Mark would have been on top of him, digging his knees into Rogers’ stomach and forcing him to eat gravel again.

Instead he swallowed down the urge (he could feel an ulcer coming on) and opted for the only other way to vent, though it was much less satisfying.

“Dick,” he shot back. Name calling had always been the other option. Either because they were in separate cars as kids and glaring through the windows, or because people were holding them apart (though they had to be restraining both of them, because the free one would always take the chance to land a few blows to an easy target).

But apparently Rogers wasn’t in the mood, because he cut to the chase and said the thing that always made Mark completely lose it.

“Shut it, Spot.” Mark could swear he heard something pop, either a blood vessel or a finger when his fists curled so tight he dug his nails into his skin. He was walking so stiffly that, by the time he made it to the front door, Rogers was already inside.

Mark stepped into the house and closed the door behind him. Rogers’ bag was near the base of the stairs, along with his sneakers (the entire upstairs floor was carpeted and no one ever went up with their street shoes on). Downstairs the hardwood floor glimmered like the first time Mark had been there. He walked slowly towards the kitchen, down the small hallway to the left, and was overwhelmed by the smell of fresh coffee. Hannah Rogers’ kitchen always smelled like coffee, no matter the time of day. She was sitting on a stool by the counter island, going over some papers with her hair up in a bun.

She smiled up at him when he crossed the doorway.

While growing up, Mark used to wish she were his mother. When he and Rogers fought, she got mad at both of them, not only Mark. She always had candy at her house and she seemed to like him better than his siblings, even cute little Dan, who everyone was crazy about when he was younger. She didn’t call Mark stupid names, like Freckles, unlike the other grownups, and she always told off Rogers when she heard him calling Mark Spot. When his parents were out of town and they all slept over at Rogers’ house, she always let him have a glass of water before bed, unlike his own mother, and she didn’t make him sleep in the same room as Rogers, like when he spent the night at Mark’s house.

She was kind and pretty and Mark now could admit that he’d had a bit of a crush on her while growing up. He liked her, and he hated the expression she’d had at the hospital, when he’d nearly killed her only son. And yet she was the only one that hadn’t jumped at his throat about it.

Until now, at least.

Mark was sure she had called him over for that, and his mood was already dark enough without adding that to the equation.

“Hey, sweetie. Want something to drink?” she asked, pleasant as always, as she took her glasses off and placed them on the counter.

“No, thank you,” Mark replied and sat across from her. “Rog- Sandy said you wanted me to-” He gestured with his hand instead of finishing the sentence. Rogers’ first name left a bitter taste in his mouth.

“I just wanted to see how you were doing; we didn’t get the chance to talk yesterday.” Mark gulped down the lump in his throat and rubbed his hands against his pant’s legs. His eyes were fixed on the pair of glasses resting on the counter; he didn’t dare meet her eyes. “Look, I know it was an accident. Even Sandy said so when we got back. Everyone was just nervous. After that call, I thought the worse. But I knew you wouldn’t do anything like that, Mark. I’m sorry it even crossed my mind, even if it was only for a moment.”

That stung, but he couldn’t expect anything else. Hannah Rogers was a practical woman. She said what she had to, even if the other person was better off not listening. She got things off her chest easily, throwing them at you even if they hit you like bullets. Mark had heard her in real arguments a few times. He knew she could be bolder if she wanted to.

“I’m sorry.” Shit, those words tasted bad. He never, ever meant them when Sandy Rogers was involved. He was usually forced to spit them out. This time he felt like he was maybe actually being truthful and it stung his tongue.

“It’s okay, Mark. We were all just very nervous.” She was apologizing for Rogers too, and possibly his own family. She did that a lot, and it pissed him off.

Then Rogers stumbled into the kitchen, looking red in the face and with a giant scowl on his face that made his mouth twist up. He limped past them and was out the back door before Mark had time to blink.

Hannah Rogers sighed, “Oh, sh- crap.”

And then the only other person that could make Mark’s blood boil in fury came in.

Sandy Rogers’ father.

 

 

Frank was a cocky, loud, and extremely annoying guy. Mark had disliked him forever and, except for that fact, he couldn’t imagine how he and Sandy Rogers could be related. Not only did they not look anything alike (Rogers sometimes looked so much like his mother it was scary) but they were also different in every other possible way. Both made Mark lose his temper in a second, though, which was the only thing he thought they had in common. 

“Acting like a pansy as always, I see,” was the first thing Frank said when he walked into the kitchen, staring after Rogers. Then his eyes landed on Mark and Mark’s self control began slipping away as soon as he spoke to him. “Hey, Frecks.”

“Frank,” Hannah Rogers warned and started gathering her papers up from the counter.

“What? Still bothers you, Frecks? Are you ever going to grow up?” He smirked, his eyebrows raised and Mark’s legs tensed, ready to jump up.

Frank.” She always sounded weak and quiet when this guy was around. “What did you say to Sandy?”

“I just asked him what happened to his face. He looks like he tried making out with sandpaper. And his arm is busted. I don’t suppose you have anything to do with that, Frecks?”

Mark’s stool screeched back as he slid off it and landed on his feet on the tiled floor with a smack. Frank looked amused and ready to catch whatever Mark decided to throw at him. Mark’s rows with him had never gone down well. He’d never dared to actually touch him, but Mark had screamed his lungs off at him once or twice when Rogers’ father got too annoying. Frank always had a comeback ready and Mark always ended up steaming while the other guy laughed.

“Mark, please.” Hannah Rogers touched his arm. “Go out back and check on Sandy.” Mark’s head snapped around, his eyes wide and betrayed. Check on Sandy? What the hell? “Please, I want to keep talking with you. Just wait outside for a while.” She gestured with her arm towards the back door Rogers had disappeared through earlier.

Mark looked back at Frank one last time before stomping away.

Outside, it was quiet and empty. Rogers was nowhere to be seen. The wide yard was trimmed, as always, and free of fallen leaves. At first Mark had made fun of Sandy Rogers being forced to care for his garden. He had rolled around laughing on the floor when he’d caught him once, years ago, crouching down planting flowers with his mother’s purple shovel (that shovel hurt like hell connecting with his forehead), until his mother threatened to make him do the same with theirs.

Mark started walking towards the tree right at the centre of the yard, taller than the one he’d been up on when he kicked Rogers in the face when they were little. It was perfect for climbing, but Mark hadn’t climbed a tree since he was twelve. Besides, as he made his way there, he caught sight of Rogers’ bare foot behind it, followed by a sprawled, denim-clad leg. He slowed. He didn’t want to be alone with Rogers again. They were both high-strung and it probably wouldn’t take much to find an excuse to start throwing punches. Mark really couldn’t hold back anymore. 

He heard some rustling and Rogers peeked his head from behind the tree. His scowl only hardened.

“What?” he snapped. Mark mimicked his expression.

“What yourself,” he muttered and turned to go back inside. If Rogers’ parents were still arguing, he’d just slip out the front door and go home. He felt like he needed to lie down. But when he neared the screen door to the kitchen and heard Hannah Rogers raising her voice, the way he had only heard her when she was arguing with her husband, he hesitated.

Frank spent most of the time out of town, traveling for work, Mark had heard. He had also heard it wasn’t exactly working he was doing when spending weeks abroad. Mark didn’t think he had ever seen Frank at this house for more than three days in a row.

He didn’t want to walk by them when they were fighting, and Hannah Rogers had told him to wait and he could never say no to her. Seriously, for all he fought with his own mother he was exaggeratedly nice and polite with Rogers’. The same applied with his own mother. She annoyed him and argued with him, but was all smiles and pats on the head with Rogers.

Mark stood by the door for a moment and then turned around, only to stumble into Rogers, who had sneaked up behind him. Rogers clutched at the loose sleeve of his jacket and glared at him, letting out a hiss. “Watch it!” he snapped, his voice hushed.

“What the hell are you doing standing there?” Mark muttered back, and pushed past him, away from the door and the rising voices. He turned around when he reached the tree again and Rogers was still standing near the door, apparently trying to listen in. He was still grabbing at his sleeve, frozen in place, as if even breathing would mean missing whatever was being said inside.

Mark watched because he still wasn’t used Rogers letting his guard down for so long near him. He even had his back to him like he was absolutely sure Mark wouldn’t jump at him. And it was tempting. From were he was perched against the tree he couldn’t see the sling or the scrapes on Rogers´ face. He could almost forget why he was at his house; it could be like any other day where he didn’t have to think before acting because who the hell cared anyway? It was everyday’s business – Mark Wallace and Sandy Rogers are at it again, big surprise. Should we go split them up? Nah, let them blow up some steam.

But today at school he had felt everyone’s stares and heard what they were talking about when he walked by, that he had issues, that he had tried to kill Sandy Rogers, that he was insane. And the bruise on his temple throbbed and the bump on the back of his head stung and what about Rogers? Mark wasn’t the only one, he wasn’t, he wasn’t, he fucking wasn’t. What about his face that, every other day, had a new cut or a new bruise? Mark wasn’t doing that to himself. He wasn’t the only one throwing punches, and it had been a fucking accident. He hadn’t tried to kill Rogers. Granted, Rogers could die any time he wanted and Mark would dance on top of his grave, but no one was going to be pointing any fingers at him.

There was a loud bang from inside the house, like a door being slammed shut, and Rogers finally turned around. He stared directly at Mark, and Mark stood straight as he waited for Rogers to get to him. Rogers walked slowly, a fist clenched shut at his side.

“You know,” he said when he was standing in front of Mark, his face set and angry, “the last two guys I want to be like are him,” he jerked his head towards his house, “and you.” And he rammed his finger against Mark’s chest, making him stumble slightly backwards. Mark was up and fuming in a second, his nostrils flaring and his teeth clenched. “So, I’m sorry for acting the way I did today. And thank you for helping me with my locker, though it took you long enough to do it.”

He was mocking him. Sandy Rogers was mocking him; he was still trying to make Mark punch him. He wasn’t apologizing, he wasn’t thanking him, he was putting him in the same bag as Frank because he knew Mark couldn’t stand the guy. The fucking masochist really wanted Mark to kill him. “And, Mark, I’m sorry I got in your way yesterday. Forget about my bike. I saw your car and it looks pretty beaten up, too.”

Mark’s hands shot up before he could even think to stop them. He grabbed Rogers by his collar and brought it up so they were face to face, his fingers white and his face burning.

“Shut the fuck up,” Mark growled the words and Rogers’ glare hardened. 

“You’re always the one to hit first. I hate that about you.”

“You’re making me.” Mark breathed on his face and Rogers scoffed.

“How much of an idiot would I be if I started a fight with my arm like this? Let’s leave the stupidity to the expert here. How long are you going to hold up until you crack and bash my face in? We both know you were dying to this morning. You’ve been dying to all day.”

Where the hell was everybody when Rogers acted this way?

He had never heard him sound this calm and pissed off at the same time. It was making him see red. Screw what Hannah Rogers might think, he was going to break Rogers’ other arm.

A moment passed and neither of them moved. They never broke eye contact and, after a minute, they heard more loud voices coming from the house.

Hit me already!” Rogers barked and Mark saw for a second what he was trying to do, though it slipped away from his mind as soon as Rogers opened his mouth again. “You useless shit, your only friend can’t even stand you, you-”

And Mark buried his fist in Sandy Rogers’ mouth.

 

Chapter Text

Jessica got home to find her brother sitting at the kitchen, the place where he usually sulked at. And that was precisely what he was doing, a half full bowl of cereal his only company. She stood by the door for a moment and stared in annoyance until her message got across.

“You’re pathetic,” she said anyway – Mark really couldn’t hear it enough times.

“What’s your problem?” he snapped, color and temper rising.

“Your face,” she replied and stepped inside. She dumped her bag on the counter and went to the fridge. “Where’s everybody?”

She had spent the afternoon at Mary’s; it was a closer walk home from there than from school. She refused to take the bus along with Dan, all because their brother was an anal freak when it came to his car. She turned to him with her eyebrows up and a milk carton in hand when he didn’t answer.

“Across the street.” He said it like the words tasted bad in his mouth. Jessica rolled her eyes. “Frank’s back, they wanted to have them over for dinner.”

“Who did?”

“Mom and Dad.” He sighed, “They’re coming over tomorrow.” His arms were on the table and his hands next to the cereal bowl, fingers curled in loose fists. The scrapes on his knuckles looked pretty fresh, but she really couldn’t tell anymore.

Jessica poured herself a glass of milk.

“D’you see him? Frank?” she asked with her back to her brother. Why Mark was this way with Sandy, she couldn’t totally understand, but she knew Frank was an asshole. To his wife, to his son and, for some reason, to Mark, too.

Apparently Mark was beyond answering more than two questions in one go because he got up and left without saying another word. Jessica heard his footsteps dragging up the stairs.

Not ten minutes passed and her parents and Dan where back.

“Where is that boy? I’m going to throttle him,” Mom said. She was the only one that had made it to the kitchen; everyone else seemed to have scrammed to their bedrooms.

“What did he do?” Jessica asked with a resigned sigh.

“Figured we’d go over there to say hello to Frank – Frank’s back for a couple of days, they’re eating dinner here tomorrow – all three of us completely clueless and then Sandy comes in with his mouth the size of a tennis ball, I swear. The worst is we don’t even have to ask anymore, and Hannah never says a thing, either.” Mom sat down across from her. “I don’t know what to do anymore, hon. I honestly didn’t think we needed to worry with the boy’s arm that way, I didn’t think he would–”

“Mom, he’s a psycho.”

“Do not say that about your brother.” Jessica sighed again.

“Leave them at it, Mom. Sandy can’t be a saint either. Even if Mark is crazy, I doubt he’s doing anything unprovoked.” 

“How can it be? Sandy is such a sweet boy….”

“Just look at his father.”

Jessica! What’s gotten into you lately? You can’t talk that way about adults and certainly not my friends.”

Jessica rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over the table, “So?”

“So nothing. We stayed for a bit, drank a cup of coffee and headed back. You could’ve cut the tension in that room with a butter knife, I swear. I’m going to have a talk with Mark right this second.”

“Mom, I don’t think-”

“Now you’re defending him?”

“I am not defending anyone! But why would you assume Mark’s to blame for anyone’s mood but the guy’s whose face he broke?” Mom looked at her the same way Jessica usually looked at his brothers when they were being particularly idiotic.

“Are you seriously asking me that, Jess?”

“You know what I mean! I’m pretty sure the Rogers’ have other things on their minds besides whatever stupid fight their kid gets in. I’m sure no one’s shocked by them after all this time.”

“I don’t know what you think you’re implying here but half of this boy’s body is immobilized and my kid took advantage of it. I’m going to talk to him and I’m not interested in hearing your opinion about it.”

God, she didn’t believe she was about to say this….

“Mom, seriously, let it be. At least until tomorrow, I- Crap, I think he’s got enough for today.” Jessica’s face was probably one of disgust since she was pretty sure Mark deserved any and every thing their mother could say to him right now. Still, she felt she had to step in to make up for the thousand of times she hadn’t in the past, if for no other reason. If she had been stressed these last couple of days, about the hospital and seeing Sandy all scrapped up and wearing a freaking sling, she knew Mark had to be a wreck.

In fact, perhaps it was a good thing he had punched Sandy today. He could have chosen to lash out any other way, like throwing him out of the car or something.

Mom stared at her, considering. She looked almost touched and for a second Jessica thought she had convinced her. But then again, Mark hadn’t turned out like he had for having calm, normal parents. Mom stormed up the stairs. A second later her and Mark’s voices could be heard all through the house.   

 

 

Dan was sprawled on his bed going through an old sports magazine he had found near his bed when his mother slammed into the room. He jumped about a foot in the air, even though he knew it was coming. He watched as she stomped to Mark’s side and tangled herself in the Pokemon blanket, as she always did, and started telling him off for hanging it there, the same way she did everyday.

Dan thought he already had little-to-no privacy with his room being the pass-way to Mark’s, he felt that at least they should have a sort of proper door in between them. Their room was the biggest in the house, and their parents had put two big bookcases – each facing a different end of the room – right in the middle, as a dividing wall. Dan’s part had the door, Mark’s the window. They had chosen sides back when Dan was still a little scared of the dark and liked the light that slipped in from the small space between the door and the floor, though he would never admit it. Mark refused to change now, even though it was fair that they took turns, and as a sign of protest Dan had climbed on one of the bookcases and tied up a string from a loose screw on the top and a big nail on the wall (Dad almost killed him about the nail) and hung the Pokemon blanket up, because he knew Mark hated Pokemon.

And, boy, had Mark bitched about it. Dan had been very amused.

From the other side of the blanket, Dan heard Mom start fighting with Mark. As always, Mark was quiet at first, until Mom said too much, too loud, and made him explode. Dan snickered because their voices sounded alike high pitched like that. He closed his eyes and pictured Mark’s face, nearly purple with anger and embarrassment (because he knew how his voice sounded like when he argued with Mom), his freckles almost invisible against his darkened skin.

If Dan scowled and sneered in front of the mirror he looked almost like his older brother. When he wasn’t watching television, or playing videogames, or sitting at the computer, sometimes Dan liked to walk up the stairs and through the upstairs hall, with its walls covered in photographs. He had to study some of them closely, because when Mark was smiling he looked just like him and Dan wanted to make sure. Besides, he liked to see pictures of times when Mark wasn’t always angry. He often forgot they used to play together and laugh until their stomachs cramped. But that was before the first real fist fight with Sandy and before Mark had convinced their parents to separate the room in two.

But even after staring at the pictures for a while, he still couldn’t be sure if the memories were real or if he was just putting a soundtrack to the images he had memorized.

He thought he remembered Mark’s eleventh birthday, when their parents had gotten him a new bike but he was pretty sure there had been some sort of trouble about it. Something about Sandy also getting a bike – only a cooler color – and a fight. Still all he could remember was Mark testing his gift around the yard, because the picture showing it was hanging near his bedroom door.

Thinking back, he recognized most of his childhood memories from pictures, with big chunks of them missing. Usually fights and arguments and everything he guessed no one wanted to take a picture of.

Unluckily, there weren’t many pictures of the last couple of years hanging around and sometimes he felt like he hadn’t seen his mother and brother smile since they had divided the room. But that couldn’t be true. He remembered laughing a lot since then and he couldn’t have been the only one.

Someone slammed their hand against one of the bookcases from the other side and it rattled loudly, Dan jumped a bit again. Earlier, when they had gone across the street and they had seen Sandy and his swollen mouth, Dan had thought his mother was going to lose it right there. Even he had been surprised Mark had done it, for about three seconds until he remembered this was Mark and he was crazy.

Or so Jessica said.

Sometimes Dan could hear his sister’s voice in his head instead of his own, usually when he was thinking something nasty about their brother. 

He always felt a bit guilty afterwards, especially because he knew Mark wasn’t crazy, he just had a really short temper. And, to be honest, their family didn’t help matters with all the teasing and fighting, and Dan included himself there, but he couldn’t help it if making Mark stomp his feet on the floor like a little kid was the most hilarious thing ever.

On the other side of the blanket, Mark’s and Mom’s voices were starting to tangle up together, making it very difficult for Dan to figure out who was saying what. They grew louder and louder and if this was a cartoon, a dog would start barking and howling outside and the scene would end and it’d be tomorrow already.

Dan buried his face in his pillow and wondered if it would be quite as effective if he started howling.

The argument wavered and died, eventually. It felt like hours later when his mother was tangling herself in the blanket again, rushing to get out and slam the door. It was hard to get the last word with Mark and a door slam worked better anyway. It ended the discussion, instead of starting it again.

It was quiet for a while.

Dan twisted his face off the pillow to get some air and tried to listen in on Mark. He heard nothing.

Then he twisted some more and saw that Mark was standing by the Pokemon blanket, staring at him. Dan stared right back. He stared a long time until he started to feel weird about it and Mark’s face started to change before him, finally settling on an expression completely alien on his face.

“He made me.” He sounded pleading and looked wide eyed and hopeless.

“O-Okay….” Dan replied and sat up.

“No, not okay. Not okay!” He stomped his way to Dan and Dan wondered wildly if he was going to punch him too. “He made me, okay? He wanted me to- He asked for it. I mean-”

“Are you talking about…about the car?” Dan guessed and watched Mark’s face change back to the usual scowl and glare.

No.”

And the expression melted away.

Dan’s eyes were darker, he was about a foot shorter, and his hair was actually well cared for – not the ugly, out-of-style way his brother kept it in. But if Dan shared the nasty line between his eyebrows and the fierce, guarded way he looked at everybody and everything, Mark could have been almost his twin.

Dan was awed. It had been too long – way too long – since he had seen Mark look anything but murderous.  

“You mean…you mean,” he pointed at his own face vaguely, “you punched him. In the mouth, today. You mean that?”

Mark’s lack of violent reaction was answer enough.

He said, “He asked me to punch him. Him.”

“O- Um, right. So, why did you?” Dan was freaking out inside, because his brother, Mark, crazy Mark, was actually trying to talk to him.

“I-” He frowned again and looked to the side, “I doesn’t matter! No one believes me, it’s always my fucking fault and I’m sick of it.”

“I-”

“She’s always going on and on about sweet, sweet Sandy and telling me off because I’m such a fucking mess, but it’s not my fault!”

“Er-”

“And Frank was there and they were fighting and she said to check on Rogers. Check on Rogers! And he asked me to! He said, hit me already. He said it!”

“Um-”

So, okay. Apparently Mark didn’t want to talk, exactly. He wanted to vent with someone who wasn’t going to shout right back at him. That was fine with Dan. Once it was over it would be quiet for a while. He remained silent as Mark went on, repeating himself a million times and cursing every two sentences. Eventually he shut up. Dan didn’t know what to say and Mark scoffed and threw his arms up in the air, turning around.

“Why the hell do I bother with you? What do you know….”

“Why did you punch him, if you knew this would happen?” Dan asked quickly. He didn’t want Mark to be angry at him as well. He had to say something and that question was the only thing he could think of.

Mark had a fist closed tightly around the blanket and his face was starting to pale again, his thousands of freckles standing out on his cheeks, nose and forehead like little spatters of mud. He looked back at him.

“Because his face annoys me,” he said with hardly any force left, all malice drained out of him.

Then he disappeared behind the blanket.

Dan, slowly, very slowly, lowered himself back on the bed and turned around. With his back to the bookcases he squashed his face against the pillow again and tried to hold in the snickers. He bit at the fabric and clenched his fists as his eyes watered with restrained amusement.

God, he thought, things would be so much calmer once Mark and Sandy ended with the foreplay once and for all and got a room already.

 

Chapter Text

Yes, Rogers’ face annoyed him. His hair annoyed him, his clothes, the green jacket that hid the sling and the band aids on his chin that changed color every day. The way he sat still in the car, next to him on the passenger’s seat every morning and every afternoon.

Still Mark drove him, everyday, and didn’t say a word. Kind of.

“To the front,” he said the day after he had punched him in the mouth. “I’m not your driver.”

Rogers got down from the back and opened the passenger’s door, “Yeah, you kinda are.”

“Shut up and get in.” Mark was this close of slamming the door; he stopped himself in the last second and drove in silence. Not even the radio was on. He cursed John, the traitor, again for abandoning him.

(Still, after a few hours of ignoring John at school, he decided to forgive him and they were back to normal instantly. Except for the fact that John made a point of not mentioning Rogers to him in any context and Mark, for the first time in who knew how many years, managed not to end up tangled in a painful knot with Rogers for three days in a row.

To say that their classmates were shocked and incredulous was an understatement.)  

The week went by, oh so slowly, and yet Mark thought he was doing an excellent job on keeping control.

“Friday, finally,” he muttered in the car that afternoon, wanting Rogers to hear him.

“Yes, two days without having to see your ugly mug. Fantastic,” Rogers said dryly. Mark bit his lip and forced himself to shut up. Ten more minutes and he would be Rogers-free.     

On the last couple of days, Rogers had been in a crappy mood. It was almost as if their roles had been reversed ever since the car accident. Rogers was the one picking fights now, scowling all the time, even when he was with his friends and Mark was on the other side of the room at school. He kept clutching at the sleeve of his jacket and glaring off into space.

Mark was kind of proud about being able to make Rogers look like that without having to touch him. But he still had a hard time restraining himself. His head had been hurting him non-stop, and the bruise on his temple didn’t seem to be fading even though Rogers hadn’t even touched him there in almost a week.

“Maybe if you stopped pocking at it all the time,” John helpfully advised at lunch one day. Mark lowered his hand from his temple.

“I’m not.”        

Now it was Friday (God, yes) and he was about to be free for the weekend.

“You’re lucky I’m not planning to do anything this weekend, though,” Rogers said after a few seconds of silence.

“Why do I care what you’re doing on the weekend?” Mark scoffed.

“Well, you are my driver, since you destroyed my bike and all, I don’t know if you remember.”

“I’m not. And that’s only for school.”

Rogers only looked smug and didn’t say anything. Mark fidgeted and clenched the wheel harder.

“It is,” he repeated and tried not to let Rogers get to him.  

Mark parked the car in his driveway; Rogers’ legs worked just fine, and he could cross the street on his own. They didn’t move. Mark was waiting for Rogers to leave. Rogers was staring ahead, looking glum again, and didn’t seem to have any intention of getting the hell out.

A couple of days back, Rogers and his parents had come over for dinner. It had been as horrible as Mark had known it would be.

The first thing he didn’t like about having people over for dinner was having to eat in the dinning room. With the stupid dim lights and soft music his mother insisted on to “build a mood.” Then was the loud talking, every conversation overlapping the next, the clinking of silverware against plates and glasses against the table. They had taken the kiddy table away years ago, but the big table was still separated by an invisible line right at the middle, parents on one side and everyone else on the other.

The seating arrangement went like this: Mark’s father at the head of the table. Mark’s mother to his right and Hannah Rogers to his left. Next to her Frank and next to Mom Jessica. Then Mark, across the table from Rogers and finally Dan at the other end.

Rogers always, always across from Mark.

Everyone was talking while Rogers stabbed his food with his fork and Mark downed his at an impressive speed, in order to get out of there as soon as possible. The conversation stayed on safe topics for most of the night – work, school, vacation plans, weather, home improvement. No one mentioned the car or Rogers’ arm. No one except Frank who, just when Mark was on his last mouthful, spoke up and made everyone else stop talking.

“No one actually explained to me what happened to my kid,” he said, loud enough so everyone across the table would hear him. There was a moment of tense silence and then Rogers dropped his fork with a clatter.

“I already told you

“You didn’t tell me the truth,” Frank cut in.

“I did–

“It’s never anyone’s fault, according to you.” Frank was looking around the table, but his eyes stopped on Mark when he reached him. Mark hackles were up in a second.

“What,” he began but Hannah Rogers beat him to it.

“Frank, this is not the time,” she said softly and Mark hated her tone and the way she spoke to him, as if she was a little thing, afraid of being stepped on.

Mark’s eyes fell on Rogers; he was glaring at his father as if he could set him on fire with his stare. Mark kinda wished he could. Next to him, Dan was looking at everybody with that half amused half wary expression he always wore in these situations. Jessica was leaning back on her chair and Mark heard her huff, he was sure she was rolling her eyes too.

Mark was glad he wasn’t the only one that disliked Frank. Unlike Rogers, Frank didn’t try to fool everyone acting like a saint one minute and like an asshole the next, when they were alone. He was an asshole the year round.

“Well, when’s the time? Because I’ve been asking for two days and I still haven’t gotten a proper answer.”

“I already told you what happened,” Rogers muttered. It still sounded loud in the silent dinning room. Even the stupid music seemed to have drifted away to a dull hum.

“It’s a very unbelievable story.”

“So?”

“Guys,” Hanna Rogers tried again.

“So, you told me you didn’t see the car.”

So?” 

“So you’re telling me you didn’t see the giant piece of crap sitting out there

“Hey!” Mark slammed his hands on the table and jumped up.

until it was practically on top of you?” 

“I think this is not the place,” now Mark’s father was trying to stop him and Frank appeared to have turned conveniently deaf.

“What are you trying to say?” Rogers snapped. Everyone but Mark looked surprised at the outburst and Mark would have yelled “See?!” if he hadn’t been so busy hating Frank to bother.

“You tell me.”

“Frank, come on. It was an accident. Everyone’s okay. Let’s drop it.” Dad started getting up from his chair. Frank glanced at him and raised his eyebrows.

“Everyone’s not okay. I have a boy with a useless arm and messed up face and the one responsible for it only got a slap on the wrist for it.”

“We all agreed on how to deal with it, Frank.”    

“I didn’t agree to anything.”

“You weren’t even here!” Rogers almost shouted.

“I still have a say on this. I’m still you father.” Mark hated that Frank was able to stay calm, seem almost amused, even when everyone around him was seething because of him. He didn’t even need to raise his voice.

Rogers scoffed, “Right.” His voice sounded oddly squeaky.

There was a long, awkward silence. Then Rogers slowly got up.

“I’m going home.” Then to Mark’s mother, “Thanks for dinner.”

Mark didn’t watch him leave; he was already making his way up the stairs when he heard the front door click shut. He didn’t hear anyone start talking downstairs until Dan was back in their room and Jessica had slammed her door across the hall. Then the voices downstairs started rising gradually, until they sounded angry and not holding back anymore and it was Frank against everyone else.

Frank, whom Mark had thought was only going to stay for two days tops, was still at home almost a week later and now Sandy Rogers wouldn’t get out of the car.

“Are you leaving anytime soon or should I set up camp?” Mark mumbled into his hand as he leaned against his window and looked out. Rogers said nothing. Mark could feel the anger rising, making his fingers curl and his throat itch. He wheeled around on Rogers ready to drag him out by his hair if he had to.

Rogers was looking at the dashboard as if in thought. He looked up at Mark and then his eyes fell past Mark’s ear. The band-aid on his chin was orange today. It moved down when Rogers opened his mouth to say something and jerked back up when Rogers snapped his mouth closed.

“What?” Mark barked.

“Can I” Rogers’ face flushed. “I want to come in.”

“What?” Mark repeated.

“I want to come in.” Rogers looked him in the eye this time, talking slowly as if Mark was stupid or something. “Your mom’s in, right? Or Danny? He has to be getting back by now.”

Mark’s mouth worked but he couldn’t find the words in himself. Finally his brain caught up with him and he frowned and spat, “Why?”

It was Friday. He was supposed to be Rogers-free by now.

Rogers shrugged and looked away. Mark glared at his profile.

“You can’t.” And then, “Get out.”

He saw Rogers’ fist close around the sleeve of his jacket and his flush darken.

“I’m going in,” he said and was out of the car before Mark could say anything else. It took two seconds for Mark to react and dash out of the car and after him. He ran in long strides and, in his outrage, was about to tackle him before he saw a flash of green and thought of the cast and the sling and Rogers’ arm lying limply on his side in the middle of the road. Instead, he reached out and tried to get a hold of the sleeve flying behind Rogers like a flag.

Rogers sped up and Mark’s fingers barely brushed the fabric. And then, over the sound of their footsteps on the grass he heard Rogers was actually laughing. A puffy laugh that could be mistaken as harsh breathing, except Mark was disgustingly familiar with both Rogers’ breathing during a chase and his mocking laughter to tell them apart, and he knew Rogers was enjoying making Mark look like an idiot right now.

He still didn’t stop chasing him.     

They rushed around the house and through the back door that was always unlocked during the day. It banged against the wall as Rogers burst inside and Mark was at his heels, grabbing at his good arm as soon as he stopped.

“I said you can’t,” he panted and doubled over a bit.

Christ.” Mark’s head snapped up and he met his mother’s wide eyes staring at them. “You scared me to death. Mark! I expect the same care you put in that car of yours inside the house, too.”

“I didn’t

“There are enough dents on that wall already. Sandy, honey, came over for snacks?”

“Y-yeah.” Rogers was out of breath, but he still managed to sound triumphant. He was favoring his left leg, which made Mark feel at least slightly better.

“Mark, let go of him and come sit down.”

Mark jerked his hand away (he hadn’t realized he was still touching him) and pushed past Rogers towards the kitchen table. Rogers followed him and sat on the chair opposite him, a satisfied smile playing on his lips. Mark glared.

“How was school?” His mother asked as she rummaged through one of the cupboards for tall glasses. Mark kept his mouth shut as Rogers answered her questions, sounding cheered up. He was telling her about something that had happened during one of his classes and Mom was smiling and setting the table.

Mark downed his cocoa in two gulps and reached for the cookies.

“Easy on those, Mark. You’re not skipping dinner.”

Mark scowled as he munched on his second one. Rogers hid a smirk behind his glass.

“Is your father still at home?” Mom asked. Rogers face fell and he set the glass down with a clink.

“Yeah.” He grabbed a cookie and started picking the chocolate chips out and making a small pile in front of him. “Says he’s staying for a week or two this time.”

He was almost pouting; the side of his mouth was still a little swollen. Mark looked away.

“Oh, that’s…nice,” Mom said, unsure. Then she patted his arm. “You can come stay here any time you want, hon.”

Mark almost choked on his cookie.

“I said go easy on those,” his mother reprimanded and took the plate off the table. Rogers was eating the chocolate chips he had picked out, one by one.

“You don’t want to fall off the wagon, after all this time,” he muttered, so only Mark heard. “I still have nightmares about that time you fell on me.”

Mark felt his face start to burn. “Fuck you,” he snapped and bit a chunk off the cookie in his hand, crumbs falling on his lap.

Mark!” Mom exclaimed. “How many times

He started

“I don’t ca

“Hey.” Dan was coming through the door, cheerful as always. “Oh! Hi, Sandy!”

“Hey, Danny.”

“Um, what are you doing here?” Dan asked and laughed. 

“Don’t be rude,” Mom said mildly. She seemed to have forgotten about the argument as she turned back to the counter.

“I thought you could show me that new game you told me about the other day.” Dan’s smile widened. He turned to their mother. “Can we?” he asked, pleading.

“Alright, go ahead.” Dan waved Rogers over into the sitting room, all excited and jumpy. “Only for an hour and then you’re doing your homework!” Mom called after them. She shook her head in good humor while Mark sulked, hunched over on his seat. “Maybe I should invite him to dinner,” she said.

“Not if you want me to keep my food down,” Mark muttered.

“Oh, stop it.” She turned to the stove. “He needs some time out of his house.”

It was true that, back before the car thing, Rogers was always on his bike when Frank was in town, riding back and forth, and only went home when it was already dark. And Mark only knew that because Hannah Rogers had told him, once. Rogers didn’t have a bike anymore and Mark doubted he could even ride one now and risk falling on his arm. There wasn’t anywhere close by to walk to around there, either, apart from Mark’s house.

Still, he hated that that was Rogers’ only option. He had his own friends. But, obviously, he would do anything to piss Mark off.

“Out of his house doesn’t mean here.”

“Well, you are not the only one living here, so stop complaining.” She paused and the added more softly, “You could go play that game with them.”

“No.”

She sighed, “Fine, Mark. Do whatever you want just…get out of the kitchen; I have to start on dinner.”

Mark went up to his room and lay on his bed for the rest of the afternoon, listening to the explosions and screeching tires of Dan’s game right below him.

 

 

Mark woke up the next morning with a grunt and a full bladder. He had forgotten to turn off the alarm the day before and it was blaring next to his ear. He slapped it off and sat up.

Sunlight pooled at the foot of his bed: he had forgotten to shut the blinds, too. He had fallen asleep wearing his clothes on top of the covers. One of his socks was missing while the other dangled from his toes. Someone must have come to get him for dinner last night and taken his shoes off. He kicked his leg until the remaining sock flew off and lowered his feet to the ground, running his hands from his hair to his eyes.

He pushed his way past the Pokemon blanket and started when Dan gave a loud snort and rolled over. Half of him was hanging off the bed. Mark dragged himself to the bathroom, bumping his shoulder against the threshold and cursing out loud.

He was brushing his teeth when he realized. At first he froze, toothpaste dripping from his chin onto his hand. Then he spat on the sink and smiled at his reflection, his mouth still smudged in minty white.

It was Saturday.

 

Chapter Text

John liked to go out on Saturdays. He usually used his Friday nights to finish up his homework, so he wouldn’t have to do it during the weekend, and then slept until his back throbbed the morning – or afternoon – after. He’d spend the day lazing around his house, or around town if he felt like changing his clothes, and when the sun was already setting he would try to convince Mark to go to a party.

John loved that about the suburbs. There was so little to do at night that someone was always throwing a party nearby.

The excuse he had been using to convince Mark during the last few months, during summer, was that he needed a ride. It usually didn’t take much nagging to wear him down, so John was almost sure Mark liked going to the parties and was just playing hard to get.

Now the problem was that John didn’t have the car excuse anymore because he had finally bought gas for his and Mark hadn’t driven him anywhere for a week, not since that awkward day with Sandy Rogers sulking in the backseat. And besides, Mark had been on edge since the hospital and John was afraid that if he knocked on his door and asked him to go to a party Mark would throw a lamp at him or something.

So he was surprised when that Saturday afternoon, while he was lounging around on his couch in his underwear, Mark called him and asked him if there was anything going on that night.

“What?” John sat up, smiling a little, bewildered smile.

“You heard me.” Mark sounded like he was in a good mood, and John smiled wider.

“I don’t know, let me get online and check.” He did just that while Mark hummed an off-tune melody from the other side of the line. During the school year, Mark’s mood usually improved on weekends, but this was too much.

John shooed his brother away from the computer and quickly checked his inbox before the little demon could get their dad. He had two invites.

“Okay,” he said, “a group from my English class are going to try to get into a club in the next town over, and,” he scrolled down to the other one, “Brian from PE is having a “wild rave at his place” at ten tonight.”

Mark scoffed, “Wild rave? What the hell?”

“It still sounds better than the clubbing attempt,” John laughed.

“Yeah. Okay, I’ll pick you up at nine.”

“Oh, I can drive there. Bought gas, remember?” John wrote Brian’s address on his arm as he heard steps coming down the stairs. He hurried to sign off.

“No, I want to.” Mark said, sounding uncomfortable, “Besides, Brian’s place is closer to your house.”

“Okay.” John smiled again, feeling stupid about writing on his arm when Mark already knew where this guy lived. He heard a ring go off from Mark’s side and a muffled Mark, get the door!

“Wait, I have to get the door.”

“It’s okay, I’ll see you later,” John said but apparently Mark had the phone away from his ear, because his voice sounded far away when he spoke again.

“What the hell do you want now?” And then the line cut off. John didn’t have to try very hard to guess who was at Mark’s house and he sighed, wondering if it would change their plans.

“John, stop bullying your brother,” Dad said from behind him. “And put some clothes on, it four o’clock already.” Which was rich coming from the guy in his boxers, who was just out of bed. 

 

 

At quarter past ten, John heard the honk of Mark’s car from his driveway. One long honk that meant he was either in a hurry or pissed off. John bet on the latter. He realized he was right when he stepped outside and saw Sandy Rogers moving from the passenger’s seat to the back. A feeling of dread filled him as he thought of the lovely twenty minutes of angry silence that would follow.

“Hey,” he said when he got in the car. “Hey, Sandy. Coming to the party?”

“Mark invited me,” Sandy said, sounding amused. John really didn’t want to ask but….

“Really?” He turned to Mark as Mark snapped his head around to glare at him.

No. They made me.”

“Really.” John started to make plans to get a ride back home from someone else. “You know Brian?”

“Oh, why don’t you go back there with him if you want to talk so much?” Mark snapped and John flinched and turned to stare at the front.

“A bit whipped are we?” Sandy muttered from the back and John turned a glare his way. “Sorry,” Sandy said, sounding like he meant it.

Good, because John didn’t want to be dragged into whatever weird thing these two had going on. Mark was his friend, and if it upset him so badly if he talked with Sandy Rogers, then he wouldn’t talk to Sandy Rogers. He didn’t care about him, he just felt bad about the whole deal with his arm.

No one made a sound the rest of the way, but Mark didn’t stop him when John reached out to turn on the radio. It wasn’t that horrible. Once there, they parked behind a long line of cars and Mark turned on Sandy with a menacing air about him.

“We leave when we want to; you don’t have a say in it. And if I can’t find you, we’re gone. I’m not looking for you.”

Sandy rolled his eyes. Mark stared at him tense and ready to snap.

Fine! I get it; I’ve to follow you around until you say it’s time to go.”

No. I don’t even want to see you there.” Mark turned around and got out of the car.

“How do you stand him?” Sandy asked, sounding honestly curious, if not a little moody.

“He’s not so bad when you’re not involved.” John turned to face him with his eyebrows up, trying to make a joke of it. But Sandy hadn’t taken it like a joke; he was frowning with his mouth set in an angry line.

“And what the hell did I ever do to him in the first place?” He asked no one in a low voice and got out of the car.

John liked things simple and easy, and Sandy and Mark were anything but that. For example, why had Mark said he didn’t want to see Sandy during the party if all he did once they got there was glare across the room at him, following with his eyes as Sandy moved among people and tried not to bump his arm against anyone? Why had he said he wasn’t going to look for him if that was all he did? They acted like a bickering couple, jealously making sure the other one didn’t talk to anyone else.

John snorted to himself. They could barely speak three words without shouting. Mark and Sandy touching without hurting each other would probably be a sign of the apocalypse or something.

Brian’s house was packed with people; loud music was thrumming all around him. It wasn’t exactly a rave, John didn’t think Brian even knew what a rave was, or if people even threw raves outside of movies, but it was the best they could get around here.

John took a sip from his plastic cup and let his eyes roam around the room. A pair of pretty eyes and nice legs caught his attention and he walked over, forgetting about any crazy boys he might know for the rest of the night.

 

 

Mark didn’t realize he was staring at Rogers until he crashed into a side table and made a picture frame crash to the floor. He picked it up and put it back on the table, the front down so no one would see the cracked glass. When he looked up again, Rogers was nowhere to be seen.

He told himself he was not going to look for him when it was time to go, but he knew he would have to or his mother might actually kill him.

“I’m not asking you to hold his hand and keep him with you the entire night,” she had said while Rogers talked with Dan in the living room and Mark had blushed in anger at her actually putting the image of him holding hands with Rogers in his head. “Just drive him there and bring him back. He should have some fun, the poor thing.”

Yes, poor Rogers, traveling all through town for free and allowed to get as drunk as he wanted because he didn’t have to drive anywhere. Mark was crushed for him, really, he was.

He gulped down what was left in his cup and left it next to the picture frame. That was the last he was drinking tonight. He looked around a bit, not looking for Rogers but for John, but he was chatting up some girl near the staircase. Everyone was either playing drinking games or making out in corners, the music blaring from the sitting room.

Mark wandered around, thinking that Rogers had probably met someone he knew, since he had so many friends, and that maybe he would get a ride from someone else. He walked down a hallway, heading back towards the front door and the stairs. Couples were grinding against each other; some girls had their hands full with a guy on each side of them. One guy, right in the middle of the sitting room, looked beyond himself as two girls sandwiched him as they danced with their hands on every bit of skin they could find. The guy, who turned out to be Brian from PE, looked like he couldn’t decide where to put his own hands. They were everywhere at once.   

Mark was staring their way when a girl bumped into him. He looked down, startled, and helped her gain her balance. He was awkwardly grabbing her upper arms, not really sure how much he was allowed to touch her. He wasn’t used to just grabbing people, unless it was to push Rogers down. The girl smiled drunkenly up at him.

“You’re tall,” she slurred, just a bit, and pressed herself to him. Her face was buried in his chest and he was still grabbing her arms to keep her up. He looked around to find a place to help her sit down on and caught Rogers staring at him from the other side of the room. He was leaning against a wall, a red plastic cup in his hand. Mark saw his eyes go from the girl back up to his face and his expression remain completely blank. He wasn’t mocking him or glaring. He wasn’t trying to piss Mark off but he still managed to do it.                              

Mark was still looking at Rogers when the girl’s hands found their way up his shirt. He looked down at her. She was smiling up at him and she didn’t look half as drunk as a second ago when she stood on her tiptoes and pressed her mouth to his. Mark could still feel Rogers’ eyes on him when his hands lowered to the girl’s waist and they both opened their mouths at the same time to deepen the kiss. He may have been in a crappy mood but he wasn’t going to reject any girl practically throwing herself on his lap.

She pushed him against a wall and made him bend his knees so she wouldn’t have to stretch up and he complied. Her lips were sweet with lip gloss and her tongue bitter with the taste of beer. She sighed into the kiss and pressed her breasts against him and yet all Mark could think of was that the fact that Rogers, still watching them, made him feel strangely exposed.

He could feel the burn of Rogers’ eyes on the top of his head as he leaned down on the strange girl. One of her hands was now on his hair, pulling and scratching at his skull with sharp nails.

The small sting of pain made it all the better.

Then he opened his eyes for a second and caught Rogers’ gaze, still perched against that wall, still looking and still expressionless.

Mark had a quick moment of elation. He felt good because there was a girl wrapping around him trying to suck his teeth out of his mouth and Rogers was alone and miserable in a corner. He smiled into the kiss, it was meant to be a smirk directed at Rogers but the girl smiled with him and their teeth clinked together. He caught her mouth again and pressed her harder against him. She made a small sound and Mark looked up at Rogers again, wanting him to see.

Rogers’ stare sent a weird jolt through him and suddenly he was not okay with him looking, after all. Mark turned them around so now the girl was against the wall and his back was to Rogers. The girl laughed and licked his bottom lip.

Rogers’ eyes were burning holes on Mark’s back.

“Upstairs,” he grunted. Anywhere away from Rogers, he thought.

“The rooms are all taken,” she panted.

Upstairs.” He would kick whom he had to out of a room if it meant getting away from there. They stumbled up the stairs as she giggled and Mark avoided looking anywhere but ahead.

The first door they tried turned out to be the bathroom, he was about to move on when she pushed him in and closed the door behind her.

“This is okay,” she said and licked her lips. Mark’s blood was thrumming in his ears as he brought her closer to him and kissed her again.

For a while there was nothing on his mind but harsh breaths and hands and tongues, and not another thought made sense in his head. A couple of times people stumbled inside and then quickly shut the door. One guy used the toilet as if they weren’t even there. But other than that, he didn’t notice anything but the noises the girl was making. Then someone opened the door and lingered, Mark saw through heavy lidded eyes that it was the guy that had come in to pee before.

“Hey,” he said. “Hey, is any of you Spot?” The guy laughed and Mark’s blood was suddenly coming back up to his face.

Hey!” The girl cried out, annoyed, and Mark hastily let her go. He had accidentally tightened his hands too hard. The guy peered closely at him and then started snickering.

“Spot…I see what he meant.” He was still snickering the way only someone who had too much to drink could.

“What is it?” Mark snapped at him, suddenly cold with anger, he knew this was just Rogers trying to ruin his fun. The girl had sat down on the edge of the bathtub and was straightening up her clothes.

“This guy’s passin’ out outside. He said to find Spot.” The guy looked behind Mark and leered, “You better go then.”

Mark looked down at the girl; she didn’t look like she minded who was in there with her. He didn’t want to find Rogers but he didn’t feel like being in that bathroom anymore, either. Whatever he had felt with this girl before had vanished after the mention of Rogers, number one mood killer.

He stepped outside, pushing the guy back and closing the door behind them with a firm click. Mark had half a head on him, and the guy stumbled away after staring him down for a couple of seconds. Scrubbing at his mouth with the back of his hand, Mark made his way down the stairs.

 

Chapter Text

Mark found Rogers sitting on a garden bench out in the back yard. Further into the garden there were still people drinking and laughing. Rogers was slouching with his elbow against his knee and his hand dangling between his legs. His eyes were half closed but he looked like he was trying hard to keep them open. Mark stood over him and said nothing.

“A girl fell on me,” he said suddenly and Mark clenched his fists, even drunk out of his mind Rogers was throwing punches, trying to rub in the fact that Mark wasn’t the only one whom girls fell on top of. 

“Good for you,” he said dryly.

“She hurt my arm, so I drank until it went away.” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Now I can’t walk or I’ll hurt it again.”

“And why do I care?”

“You hurt it first.” Rogers sat very still, his voice dragging a bit. Mark wondered if the arm was still hurting now and raised his hand to his temple, bumped the bruise there with his finger, and didn’t feel guilty at all.                          

“What do you want, then?”

“I’m here. For when…when we go back. I can’t go look for you so I’m telling you where I’ll be, and all, you know.”

Mark stared at him for a moment, angry and tense, and then turned around.

“Fine.”

“Wait,” Rogers called, his voice cracking a bit, as if it hurt to talk loudly. “John left. Check your cell.”

“Don’t you take pain medication or something?” Mark asked as he took his phone out of his pocket and found a text from John, telling him to leave without him. He had left with a girl.

“Doesn’t seem to work when someone almost breaks your arm again.” Rogers smiled a bit, his eyes still closed.

“I didn’t” Mark cut himself off. He didn’t mean that, he meant to ask if Rogers was supposed to be drinking while on meds. But Rogers was a big boy, he didn’t need Mark to say anything at all.    

“Wake me up when we leave.” Rogers was slurring for real now, his voice sleepy and low. Then he leaned to the side and almost fell off the bench. If Mark hadn’t been expecting it they might have had to make another trip to the hospital. He caught him with a palm on his chest, so he wouldn’t touch his bad arm. Rogers was out cold and Mark was left holding him up.

He straightened him and shook him a bit. Rogers didn’t stir. Fear started setting in his stomach, and he shook harder.

“Rogers,” he said, “Wake the hell up.”

This was reminding him of what he had felt that day, when he was reaching out to check Rogers’ pulse in the middle of the road.

Mark grabbed his shoulder and squeezed.

Rogers cried out and his eyes snapped open. Mark started breathing again. “What the hell?”

“Get up. We’re leaving.” Mark took hold of Rogers’ good arm and yanked him up.      

“Already?” Rogers asked as he stumbled and Mark had to grab him again.

“You can’t sleep here. Someone is going to walk on you and everyone’s gonna blame me.” Rogers clung to Mark, dead weight on his arms as he tried to drag him to the car. “At least try walking,” Mark huffed.

Rogers attempted to get on his feet and stumbled again. He laughed into Mark’s neck and slung his good arm around his shoulders. Mark grimaced at the closeness. He saw some people from school pointing over at them from the other side of the garden, making a show out of squinting at them as if to make sure they were not seeing things. Certainly those two weren’t Mark and Sandy Rogers wrapped around each other like they hadn’t been trying to kill one another two weeks ago. Mark glared at them all.

“I can’t.” Rogers laughed again. Mark had to use every bit of self control he had not to throw Rogers off him so he would stop breathing all over his face.

“Come on,” he said through clenched teeth. Rogers tried again and slowly they managed to set up a pace. Slouching, Mark was holding onto Rogers’ wrist on his shoulder and had an arm around his waist. He could feel the sling under Rogers’ jacket. His side felt warm where Rogers was leaning into him and his neck was tingly where Rogers’ nose was brushing it.

Mark could hardly believe his night had begun with a girl’s mouth all over him and was ending with Rogers and him practically getting to second base without meaning to. He readjusted his grip on Rogers’ waist that had been slipping way too low.

Slowly, they made their way around the house and into the front yard. More kids were lying on the lawn. Beer bottles and shirts were scattered around them and Mark kicked a sneaker out of the way before Rogers tripped over it, only because it would slow them down. In any other circumstances he would have loved to see Rogers fall on his face.

Rogers’ feet were moving but Mark was pretty sure he was asleep, snoring lightly near his ear. Mark suppressed a shudder at the alien feeling, remembering only one time when Rogers had been this close without being in the middle of a fight.

It had turned into a fight soon enough.

When they reached the curb, he lowered Rogers to the ground and left him sitting there, half asleep, as he hurried to get the car. It would be faster than stumbling to the end of the street.

Getting the unconscious guy in the car was the trickiest part; he couldn’t hold him up, sit him inside and keep his arm from hitting anything all at the same time, so he woke him up to let him sit on his own.

Mark enjoyed slapping Rogers’ face until his eyes snapped open.

Rogers blinked at him and reached a hand to Mark’s mouth and Mark flinched but didn’t move back as not to drop him against the asphalt. 

“You’ve got lipstick….” He mumbled and wiped clumsily at his mouth, eyes narrowed in concentration. Mark moved his face away, feeling that weird jolt again that was just the shock about this whole situation and how completely backwards it felt. Surely that’s what it was. 

“Get in the car. Come on.”

Rogers did so, taking his time about it too and five minutes later they were ready to go. Mark was sitting at the wheel and Rogers was leaning against the passenger’s door with his eyes closed, but Mark wasn’t sure he was asleep this time.

The ride home was quiet and by far the weirdest and most confusing of Mark’s life. At one point, when they had stopped at a red light, Mark turned around and looked at Rogers. It startled him how much he looked like Hannah Rogers with his face relaxed like that. Still, staring at his profile, he found a bit of Frank there too, in the straight nose and pointy chin.

Mark frowned.

Everyone loved Sandy Rogers; he was friendly and popular with their classmates. He did well in school and was good at sports. He could even give Mark bruises that didn’t fade for weeks. And on top of that he had to be pretty too.

And Mark hadn’t just thought that.

He froze in his seat, not sure what exactly was wrong with thinking that. He had always thought Rogers was good looking, it was another thing to hate about him. He was slender, he was blond, and he didn’t have one single ugly freckle on him. Still, thinking Rogers was pretty while he was passed out next to him in his car and when Mark wasn’t feeling particularly angry was…strange. 

Not feeling angry while Rogers was this close to him was also horribly wrong.  

Mark stepped lightly on the gas and they started moving again. He didn’t look back at Rogers until they were parked in front of his house and he was wondering how he was going to get him out. The sight of him, sleeping peacefully while Mark was left with the job of carrying him around, made his anger flare back up. He thought about opening the door, letting Rogers drop to the ground, and leaving him to pick himself up whenever he decided to wake up.

He considered the consequences of leaving Rogers to sleep in his front yard.

After all that had been going on the entire week, Hannah Rogers upset, Frank floating around making things worse and his own mother not letting him get a word in to explain anything, he didn’t think it was worth the trouble.

It was already way past one in the morning (damn Rogers for making him miss half the party), and Hannah Rogers wasn’t one to stay up to wait her son to come back. She trusted him, she said. Everyone trusted Rogers not to get drunk at parties and have people who hated him drive him back safe. Besides Frank was inside, and Mark didn’t want to wake him up and have him get mad about him dropping his son at his door, half unconscious with his breath reeking of beer. He would surely find a way to blame the whole thing on Mark.

On the other hand, the last thing Mark wanted to do was to drag Rogers to his own house. He didn’t want him sleeping just a few rooms away (or worse, in his room), he didn’t want to wake up and find him having breakfast in his kitchen the next morning. He had seen enough of him for a week.

Keys! He thought suddenly. Rogers had to have his keys on him; Mark could open the door and drop him on his couch before anyone woke up. Then no one would have to see him with his arms around Rogers or how he had helped him and he could forget it had ever happened.

Mark rummaged through Rogers’ jacket pockets, careful with the left side, and came up with Rogers’ cell phone, some change and a gum wrapper. He put everything back but the money; he placed the wrinkled bills and few coins on the dashboard, Rogers’ kind contribution for gas money, thank you very much. Then he stared at Rogers’ legs for a while. He had to search his pants for the keys. They were a bit baggy, fortunately, which meant he wouldn’t have to really touch much of Rogers, just the fabric of the jeans.

Mark chewed at his lip. This could look really, really wrong if anyone happened to go by and glance through the window. But no one was out at this hour, not in this neighborhood. Maybe Jessica but, if she had gone out after him, she wouldn’t be back until later. He wiped his hands against his own legs and then went for it.

The left pocket was first. He held it open as much as he could with one hand and stuck the other one as deep as it went. Like ripping off a band-aid: fast and painless. The pocket was empty, but unpleasantly warm. Mark got his hand out and wiped it again. Okay, on to the next.

He leaned over, again careful not to touch the bad arm, and put his hand over Rogers’ leg.

“What are you doing?” Rogers mumbled and Mark’s back hit the door behind him.

“Keys!” he cried. “Keys, I was- I was looking for your keys!” His face was burning and the hand that had been on Rogers’ leg was suddenly damp with sweat.

Rogers still had his eyes closed and didn’t say anything. Mark wondered if he was talking in his sleep, but then he saw him reach into his jacket and take out a single key between two fingers.

Why the hell had Mark gone straight to the pants instead of the inside pockets?         

“I- I checked the jacket first…,” he choked out, all the blood in his head apparently blocking his throat.

“You probably got distracted when you were stealing my money,” Rogers mumbled again and Mark sat up.

“I didn’t steal it,” he snapped. “You owe me for gas.”

Rogers turned to him and opened his eyes. His face tired but his expression saying don’t fuck with me right now.

“You took” He paled suddenly; even in the dim light of the car Mark could see it, “Shit,” Rogers said as he closed his eyes and leaned back against the seat.

“What? What?” Mark steeled himself in case Rogers decide to hurl all over the car. He would push him out, for real this time. “I swear if you get sick in here I’m making you eat it.”

Rogers’ face scrunched up and he put a hand over his tightly closed eyes. Mark thought he wasn’t really helping with the not throwing up thing. He’d meant what he said, though.   

Then Rogers burst out laughing.

It lasted probably three seconds; the sound came out and cut off just as abruptly. Like he had been trying to hold it back. Mark glared at Rogers, who still laughed at him even when he was obviously at disadvantage.

“What’s so funny?” he grumbled.

“Nothing,” Rogers replied quickly. “I’m drunk, is all.”

Mark was starting to think it was all an act, but Rogers did look pale and he had seen him drinking too much. Mark could smell it. He hoped the stink wouldn’t stick to the car.

“Well, get out, come on.” Mark sat properly, facing ahead, and waved him away. Rogers didn’t move. “I’m not dragging you anymore. You’re awake.”

Rogers snorted. “You grope me while I’m unconscious and then kick me out? What would your mother say?”

Mark’s face burned again.

“You weren’t unconscious,” he said through his teeth. “And I didn’t grope you.” If Rogers had still been at arm’s reach, Mark would have cracked his head against the window. Luckily for his precious car, he had stumbled out while Mark had been processing what he’d said.

He closed the door softly and then leaned against it for balance.

“Thanks for dragging me, Mark,” he said through the window. “I…don’t really remember getting to the car. I thought you left, at one point.” He smiled all drunk and cheerful, apparently forgetting they didn’t talk. They didn’t say thanks to each other when people weren’t around. And they didn’t smile like that while doing it.

“I should have,” Mark said.

Rogers let out a long breath as he moved away and turned to walk towards his house. Then, before Mark could start the car again, Rogers was back at the window. “Fuck you, Mark. This time I didn’t do anything.”

Mark stared at him for a moment before he snapped back, “Oh, so you didn’t make my mother force me to take you to that stupid party?”

“No, I didn’t! And you were already going anyway! What difference did it make?” He was leaning inside the car, static making his hair stick to the roof.

“I had to pick you up and drag you out of there!”

“Whose fault was that?!”

Mark’s mouth fell open in outrage.

“Yeah, whose?” he spat. “I didn’t-”

“You! You, you, you.” Rogers’ hand was clenching the lowered window, his knuckles white. His jacket was falling off his shoulder and the sling was exposed. Mark’s eyes were drawn to the bright green of the cast peeking from under it. There were scribbles made with black sharpie covering the whole thing. “You complain about everything so much you don’t see all you fucking have. What the hell do you have to be angry about?”

Rogers’ voice was a shout, and Mark wanted to scream right back at him you, you, you, too! because it was Sandy Rogers who made him angry, furious, even when he wasn’t trying to, dammit.

His phone started buzzing in his jeans pocket. Mark dug it out and flipped it open.

“What?” he almost yelled.

“Everyone can hear you,” Dan said, laughing. “Shut up and come home, you’re gonna wake Mom up. Ask Sandy if he wants to come ov” Mark threw the phone into the back seat.

“Get out,” he said to Rogers, who was still leaning in through the window. “You’re drunk, you asshole.”

“Look,” Rogers said, ignoring him, “I’m sorry about the other day, okay? I didn’t mean that about your friend. And I’ve been an asshole, I know

“You’re always an asshole. Just because everyone thinks you’re so good doesn’t make you

“I am not the one tackling people out of nowhere or, or hitting them with my car.”

“You would have if you had one!” Mark tried to keep his voice down. “And that wasn’t on purpose.”

“Jesus, I know,” Rogers huffed as if annoyed. “That’s all you’ve been saying for a week. I got it already.”

They were quiet for a moment, and then Rogers started backing away again.

“Whatever, I said sorry.” He stumbled backwards and fell ass first onto his front yard. “Ow. Shit.”

Mark didn’t even have the strength to laugh at him. He wanted to go to sleep. “Get inside, for fuck’s sake!”

“Aw, you’re waiting on me?” Rogers said from the ground.

Mark could see his floppy curls swaying slightly from the window. He tore out of there and made a u-turn back into his driveway. Rogers was waving at him from his front door when he got out of the car, his stupid smile mocking.

Mark flipped him off.

 

Chapter Text

It was the third week after Mark had started driving Sandy Rogers around when their mothers cornered them after school.

Rogers had become used to spending the afternoon at Mark’s, playing video games with Dan or doing his homework in the kitchen. After ending up hoarse from arguing with his mother about it, Mark had let it go. Of course he had thought it would last only until Frank left again, but he had been gone for three days and Rogers was still trailing behind him and into his house as if it were perfectly normal.

Mark had bitten his tongue and said nothing about it. Mostly because his throat was still sore, but he still knew it would be pointless.

It was Thursday and Mark walked through the kitchen door with Rogers a step behind him, talking about a TV show.   

Since the day of the party two weeks ago, Rogers seemed to try and do everything he thought would make Mark snap at him. Not punch him – he had given that up after the drunken apology that day – but his face still lit up with amusement every time Mark yelled at him.

And they called him crazy?

“And the guy was actually her father so they didn’t think he could have killed her, you know?” Rogers was ranting in a cheery voice.

“Shut up,” Mark whined tiredly and rubbed his face in impotence. He missed the days when a shove came naturally to him and had no consequences other than, well, more shoves. 

Mom and Hannah Rogers were sitting in the living room drinking coffee, and Mark stopped short when he saw them. Rogers bumped into him but his arm was already better and it didn’t hurt much – according to what Rogers had said that morning when he didn’t shut up about how itchy his skin was under the cast for the whole ride – so all he did was look over Mark’s shoulder to see what had made him halt.

“Hi, guys,” Mom greeted. Hannah Rogers nodded at them with a smile and Mark instantly knew something was up. And if Mom had called Hannah Rogers over for backup then it was not something Mark was going to like.

“What is it?” Mark asked and was annoyed when Rogers said the same thing at the same time. He stepped forward to get further away from the warmth of other boy pressing against his back.  

“Actually, I had a favor to ask you, Mark,” Hannah Rogers said. She looked better now that Frank was gone, more at ease and less tense. Her voice was back to its normal volume, pleasant and firm like always. Mark would probably say yes to anything she asked.

“Come on, sit down,” Mom urged, patting the arm of the couch. Mark stood his ground, but Rogers walked around him and kneeled in front of the coffee table. Mark glared at him as he took a scone and bit into it. “Mark, come on.”

“Tell me what you want first,” he said, but the scones looked good and Rogers was going to eat all of them in a blink if he didn’t stop him now. He waited until his mother asked him to sit again to comply. He elbowed Rogers out of the way and snatched a handful of scones. Instead of snapping at him like she normally would, Mom looked away and let Mark stuff himself.

“What is it?” he repeated in between bites.

Hannah Rogers smiled at him.

“You can say no if you want to,” she began, “but I would like to ask you to do something for me.” Mark fidgeted; he knew saying no wasn’t an option when she talked like that. “I know that after what happened the last time we never got to finish our conversation and I know this whole business with Sandy isn’t something you’re thrilled about….”

Mark snorted, little crumbs flying from his mouth to the table. He saw Mom tense with the need to say something about manners and keeping his mouth closed when he ate. He chewed nosily and tried to enjoy the fact that she wanted something from him and she’d have to wait to scold him. But the whole situation was making him wary and his eyes went back to Hannah Rogers. She seemed to be searching for words, like she knew Mark would tip the coffee table over as soon as she asked whatever she wanted to ask.

Mom spoke up before she could continue, “But we know you are aware that you did something wrong, Mark, and you have been making up for it, I’ll give you that. Not that I’m saying you did it quietly and were respectful and understanding about it, but you’re still doing it and that’s something.”

“And I’m grateful. We both are, Sandy and me,” Hannah Rogers said and looked at his son, who shrugged but didn’t say anything. He was waiting along with Mark; he didn’t seem to know what this was about either. “After…the accident, I know we didn’t handle things like we should have. I told you before, we were all very nervous and I know that you

“Tell me what you want,” Mark interrupted, and then added for Hannah Rogers’ sake, “please.”

Mom pursed her lips but didn’t yell at him for being rude. Instead she said, “It’s not like we’re asking for a lot here, Hannah. And I don’t think he has any right to complain after what happened. Things could be worse for him.”

Mark glared at her and she returned it, forgetting she was playing nice.

“It’s just…well, nothing really. Sandy was supposed to do these exercises for physical therapy. See, the doctor said that under normal circumstances he could start after a couple of days of having the arm immobilized.” Now Rogers was fidgeting, Mark saw his fist clench over his lap. “But since his wrist was also hurt and he has to wear that cast, the doctor told us to wait a week or two, because it could be more painful.”

Mark had the feeling he was being guilt tripped and his eyes fell to the crumb-covered table, he was hanging onto the thought that he had absolutely nothing to feel guilty about.

“But he’s been lazy and I’ve told him, over and over, Sandy, that if you didn’t do them on your own I would send you to a physical therapist. Over and over, Sandy.”

“But- lazy? What” The words stumbled out of Rogers’ mouth in a jumble and his fist was on the table now, as leverage as he started standing up.

Mark couldn’t even enjoy Rogers’ distress because he could see now what they wanted from him. He opened his mouth to protest, because no fucking way, but caught his Mom staring at him. She was waiting for him to snap. She was expecting him to yell and throw things and stomp around saying that no, no, no just so she could force him to do it in the end. Mark was aware that he only managed to embarrass himself every time he threw a tantrum. It never, ever worked and it just made his siblings laugh at him and his father shake his head and his mother feel like she had all the power over him. Because he was that predictable.

He closed his mouth with an audible click as Rogers talked in a hushed fury to his own mother, leaning over her so no one could hear. Mom stared down at Mark, her chubby arms crossed over her chest tightly. She was ready to fight; she had been ready since they’d walked in.

Mark was sitting stone still, deliberating.

He still couldn’t stand Rogers; he still couldn’t wait to be away from him every day. He had to fight down the urge to punch him every time he talked. But he didn’t punch him and if someone had told him a month ago that one day he would be able to sit next to Rogers for weeks and not knock his teeth out, he would have laughed. And then punched them.

Besides, he thought suddenly, Rogers had been sitting next to him a second ago. Mark had gone and sat next to him. He had wanted the scones, yes, but a while ago nothing would have made him willingly sit next to Rogers.

He could do it. He would do it, just to prove to his mom that he could. And then maybe, with the sling and cast gone along with the order of driving him around, Mom would see him in a different light and they wouldn’t force Rogers and him together anymore because they could stand to be together. They were actually, physically able to, they just didn’t want to.

“Okay,” he said, and then louder because the only one paying attention to him was Mom. “Fine, I’ll take him.”

The Rogers’ bickering stopped abruptly and Mark looked over at Hannah Rogers and forced himself not to let his eyes drift over to Rogers’ shocked face.

“Mark, that’s sweet of you.” Hannah Rogers smiled like he had offered to do it unprompted. “Thank you.”

“Yes, I’m…glad,” Mom said, a little stunned and at a loss of words, and Mark felt triumph run through him in a rush. He felt warm all over.  

“Wait.” Rogers’ voice was like a bucket of cold water. “I didn’t say I was going anywhere.”

“Sandy, please.”

“No, I said I wasn’t going there!”

“Why not?” Hannah Rogers looked angry and helpless and she sounded like she had asked this a million times and had never gotten an answer.

“Because,” Rogers said. “I’ll do the stupid exercises; just don’t make me go there.”

Hannah Rogers turned to Mom, who gave her a look. She looked over at her son with renewed force.

“I warned you, Sandy.” Mark recognized the tone and speech from his own mother. “I don’t want your arm to heal the wrong way. You saw the pictures.” Rogers visibly stiffened at that. “You heard the doctor. It could pop right out again!”

Rogers looked down at the sling with his face suddenly pale.

“It won’t if you do this right, honey.” Hannah Rogers patted her son’s good arm. “Please.”

There was a really long, really awkward silence after that. Rogers never answered; he just sat back down next to Mark and stole one of his scones.

“The sessions are two days a week over at the hospital. Tell me which days are better for you and I’ll arrange it. I’m really grateful for this, Mark. This is actually my last afternoon off for a while and I’m glad someone’s going to be looking after Sandy.”

Mark nodded. There were millions of things he wanted to say right then that he was manfully holding in, even though they were probably showing on his face. But Hannah Rogers kept smiling. Rogers was quietly munching on his scone.

“Well!” Mom said suddenly and everybody jumped. “That settled, keep telling me about that man at your office, Hannah. What did you do?”

Mark and Rogers sat in silence while their mother chatted like this hadn’t all been a setup. Still, Mark felt like he had won. He never felt that after an argument. Then Rogers had to push him off his cloud by finding his tongue again.

“I thought you couldn’t stand me,” he muttered.

“I can’t,” Mark muttered back.

“Why so eager to drive me then?”

“None of your business.” There was a pause.

“It’s because of her, isn’t it?”

Mark didn’t like Rogers talking about his mother, even less if he sounded that grossed out while doing it.

None of your business.” His mutter was angrier now.

“That’s so…gross.”

“What’s your problem?” Mark jumped to his feet.

Mom and Hannah Rogers stopped talking but didn’t try to get between them.

My problem? You’re gross, doing everything she asks all the time.” Rogers was slower standing up but every word he spat came with venom strong enough to keep Mark still until their eyes were more or less level.

“I

“Don’t try to deny it; everyone can see you act like you’re almost fucking in love with her!

“What the fuck?” Mark jumped back in horror and just as he heard Dan and Jessica’s hysterical laughter coming from the other room he realized Rogers wasn’t talking about his mom, he was talking about Hannah Rogers. He flushed. “I am not!”

“Boys, language!” Mom’s voice was tinted with amusement. Hannah Rogers’s face was pink. Mark’s siblings sounded like they were choking. Mark was going to kill Rogers. And for the looks of it, Rogers was planning to kill Mark, too.

“That’s No, what the hell? I’m not,” Mark spluttered.

Hannah Rogers was like his aunt. He was Rogers’ fucking mother, goddammit! He might have had a crush when he was, what? Eight? That had been a long time ago, and besides…no. Just, no.

Rogers snorted, but a smile had begun tugging at his lips. Mark was blushing so hard he was almost dizzy with it.

“Kids, come have some scones before they run out!” Mom called, now openly laughing.

Rogers, after humiliating Mark and making him unable to look at Hannah Rogers in the eye ever again, sat back down.

Mark stole the plate of scones and stomped up to his room before Jessica or Dan could stop him.

 

 

Mark didn’t use to stuff himself sick when he was a chubby little kid. In fact, back then Mark wouldn’t have been caught dead stealing a plate of scones just to himself. Mom would have smacked them out of his hands in a second.

Jessica was still stifling sudden fits of giggles as she remembered Mark’s outraged scream not ten minutes ago. Her and Dan’s eavesdropping was supposed to go unnoticed, but as was usual, they couldn’t help but burst out laughing every time their brother made a fool out of himself.

It hadn’t always been like that, they had been good friends once.

Back then Mark was still her little brother. He was small and round and his freckles were the cutest thing. Jessica used to pinch his cheeks all the time. He fought often with Sandy, but they usually just called each other names or knocked shoulders and that was it. Jessica and Dan were usually on their brother’s side, but Sandy was like Jessica’s little cousin, and he’d had that white-blond hair that she found precious and she always ruffled it when she walked by.

They were short back then, way shorter than her.

Then, one New Years eve, Mark and Sandy had their first real, roll-around, nose bleeding, knuckle splitting fistfight and the cute little brother image shattered into pieces. So did the little cousin image, but the fact that eleven-year-old Mark knew all those curse words was much more traumatic for Jessica than Sandy knocking a milk tooth loose.

Mark began growing distant from her after that. He asked Mom and Dad for a room of his own and they split his and Dan’s in two. Dan came to sleep with her every night for weeks after that. Everyone got used to the fistfights eventually. They were weekly events back then instead of almost daily. Mom was horrified at first, furious and sick of them after the first couple.

Then one day, shortly after Mark had turned thirteen, he was suddenly almost Dad’s height and his weight had kind of accommodated and now he was all bony and lanky and hilarious. His voice cracked all the time and his freckles looked ridiculous on his skinny face (or at least weird for Jessica after seeing them on those chubby cheeks for years). He slouched a lot and glared at everyone. She tried hard not to laugh, she really did, but it always just burst out. And Dan had always laughed when she did, so now every time Mark did something stupid it looked like they were both mocking him when half the time Dan didn’t even know why he was laughing.

And Jessica had found everything funny back then. She couldn’t help it.  

Mark had become something Jessica had never thought he would. He was a teenage boy. Her classmates were teenage boys, the guys she wanted to date. They were gross but intriguing and fun and Mark just looked stupid as one of them because he was her brother. So she laughed and hoped Mark could see how funny it all was, but he never did. He remained angry at her ever since.

Eventually Jessica kind of forgot he used to be little. Now he was just her crazy, sulky brother and Dan became the little one (only at home, of course, the three of them pretended they didn’t know one another at school). Mark grew out of the awkwardness, he stopped bumping into furniture and his voice stopped being funny, but he was still a brat. And there were still a lot of things Jessica couldn’t help but mock him about, like his stupid haircut or his ugly clothes.

Or how much of an idiot he was around Sandy Rogers.       

As for Sandy, some of Jessica’s friends started to notice him after his own growth spurt. He was a bit shorter than Mark, but then again, she didn’t know that many guys taller than her brother. His hair had gotten a darker shade of blond and he was tanned and athletic. She guessed he was cute, but she just couldn’t see him that way. He fought with Mark and called him all sort of things, but he was nice when the dolt wasn’t around.

Jessica hadn’t forgotten he used to be little, and she still got the urge to ruffle his hair sometimes.  

Now Jessica sat between Dan and Sandy in front of the coffee table and a bowl of crackers. She bit into one as she listened halfheartedly to Hannah’s story about some guy hitting on her at work. Behind her Dan was trying to get Sandy to talk about some videogame without much success.

“Mom,” Sandy called. “Mom.”

Hannah stopped mid-sentence and turned to her son.

“I’ll go to the sessions,” he said, tapping his cast with his index and middle finger, “if Mark stays with me through them.”

Hannah’s face – that had brightened considerably at what Sandy had said first – suddenly crumbled as she frowned.

“Sandy, I think that would be pushing it a bit.” Sandy didn’t reply. “I can’t ask that of him.” 

Sandy had never acted like Mark. Mark had always been the one starting everything, even before the fistfights. Still, Jessica knew he had his own subtle way of making Mark snap without anybody else really noticing. She hadn’t believed it at first; she had just thought Mark looked for any excuse to fight. But since the accident she had seen enough of what Sandy could be like when he was pissed. Though during the last week or so, she had started to think Sandy enjoyed having Mark screaming at him without being able to throw a blow.

He didn’t look like he was enjoying his situation right now, though. He looked more embarrassed than anything and his eyes were fixed on the table in front of him rather than on his mother.

“I’ll tell him,” Mom jumped in. “He’ll stay with you, honey. Don’t worry about it.” 

Jessica wished she felt a stronger desire of stand up for her brother then, but she wanted to be there when they told Mark what Sandy was asking for. She was sure his reaction would be enough of a show to amuse her and Dan for a while.

 

Chapter Text

Mark parked the car in the same spot he had the last time he had been at the hospital. Next to him, Sandy Rogers sat uncharacteristically quiet. Considering he had been talking nonstop for the last few weeks, Mark thought he should be glad he didn’t have to listen to him now, but this kind of silence made him uneasy.

Rogers looked pale, his jaw was set and he was staring ahead with a determined look on his face. He made no move to get out of the car until Mark almost pushed him out.

They walked inside and into one of the elevators without saying a word until Rogers pressed the wrong floor three times like an idiot and Mark snapped at him. Rogers’ wasted time was Mark’s wasted time. Then Rogers showed how much of an ass he was by smiling and pressing the wrong floor again.

“What’s your problem?” Mark grunted, the old woman next to them was glaring and sighing loudly.

“Why’re you in such a hurry to get there?” Rogers asked and Mark hurried to stop him before he could lift his hand again.

He grabbed his arm, curling his fingers around Rogers’ wrist, sure Rogers would have red finger marks there later.  “Stop it,” he said and squeezed harder.

Eventually they reached the eighth floor. Mark dragged Rogers out of the elevator before the old woman could hit either of them with her purse and walked towards the reception desk. The receptionist looked up from her computer monitor and stared at them over her glasses.

“Yes, can I help you?” she said after no one had made a move to talk.

Mark looked at Rogers, but he was staring to the side still smirking like a little kid playing difficult. Mark felt stupid just standing next to him.

“He has a physical therapy…thing,” Mark said, gesturing to the sling with a jerk of his head.

“Which group?”

The only response was the ding of the elevator’s door closing behind them.

Which group?” Mark squeezed Rogers’ arm again. 

“Ow. Six, group six, I think,” Rogers muttered and jerked his arm out of Mark’s grip.  

The receptionist started clicking away on her computer. Mark looked around him, bored. This floor was bright, all the walls looked like big windows and Mark could see people in mats or hanging onto bars to stay standing. They all wore sweatpants and t-shirts like Rogers. The hospital was the tallest building in this part of town and they were almost at the top floor, the window behind the receptionist looked out to small houses and green roads.

“Your name, please.”

“Sandy. Um, Rogers,” Rogers said, sounding strained. The receptionist typed it in and looked up to Mark.

“Are you going inside with him?” she asked and Mark started to refuse when Rogers cut in.

“Yes,” he said.

No,” Mark snapped. Mom hadn’t said anything about being in there with him. Just to stay until it was time to go.

“Then I won’t go in, either.”

Mark opened his mouth to say exactly how little he cared before he realized that anything going wrong today would be his fault in his mother’s eyes. He had promised himself to show her she had him wrong and that he could do this. He clamped his mouth shut and ground out a “fine, you chicken shit” through gritted teeth.

The receptionist gave him a reproving look – Mark ignored it – and clicked one more time on her computer before she wheeled around on her chair and grabbed some papers coming out of a printer.

“Sign here and go to room eight-one-six,” she said placing two sheets of paper on the counter. “It’s just an attendance slip,” she added when they both hesitated. The slip read Rogers, Sandy and escort, which made Mark gag. He signed and wrote his name before the woman in front of him snatched the paper away. “Room eight-one-six,” she repeated and pointed down a bright hallway.

They trudged towards the room, Rogers looking like he was walking to his own execution and Mark dragging his shoes on the cream colored carpet. He cursed when he accidentally grazed Rogers’ jacket with his bare arm and got a nasty shock of static. He started lifting his feet then.

They turned two corners before they found the room. Mark saw through the glass a small group of people already inside talking, gathered in an uneven circle. Among them, there was a guy in a wheelchair.

Wheelchair guy saw them looking and said something to a big guy standing with his arms crossed next to him. The guy waved them in with a smile. Mark elbowed Rogers to get him to open the door. It was his session…thing and Mark wasn’t going in first. Besides he didn’t want to touch the metal doorknob and get another shock. 

Rogers sighed and walked inside. Mark followed.

“Hey, there,” the big guy greeted. “We were just starting. Come in, don’t just stand there.” Everyone moved to make room for them in the circle. Rogers dragged himself in there like he had no other choice and Mark stood by the door and felt uncomfortable. “You too, come on.”

“But I

“If you’re gonna be inside you’ve got to participate, buddy,” the big guy pressed, his grin not faltering a bit.

Mark looked around him. There was the guy in the wheelchair, a girl standing like she couldn’t hold her full weight on one leg and hanging onto a single crutch, and a couple more with slings or different orthopedic pieces on their necks or legs. Mark felt completely out of place there.

“Come on,” someone snapped and Mark instantly glared over at Rogers, but he wasn’t even looking at him. “You’re wasting everyone’s time here, Freckles.” It was the wheelchair guy. Mark transferred his glare to him and then quickly looked away because, well, he was glaring at someone in a wheelchair.

He walked over and stood between Rogers and the big guy, who clapped his shoulder in greeting.

“I’m Duncan,” he said to Mark and Rogers and then turned to the rest of the group. He was as tall as Mark, though he probably doubled him in size and weight, and Mark wasn’t used to having people staring at him at eye level. Even Rogers, who was only one or two inches shorter, always craned his neck up a bit. “We were right in the middle of introductions, so I think we should just start over again.”

The guy in the wheelchair sighed and threw his head back.

“We’ll just say our names and why we’re here, okay? If someone thinks they can’t share, we can meet after class and talk in private, but try to make an effort. Maybe you’ll find someone you have something in common with here.” Duncan turned to Mark. “We’ll start with you.”

“Um, no, I

“Come on, everyone’s gotta talk eventually.”

Mark frowned but wasn’t able to meet anyone’s eyes, so he looked down and grumbled out his name.

“Good.” Duncan clapped his shoulder again. “And why are you here, Mark?” 

“I was forced to.” Mark glared over at Rogers.

“Good enough.” Duncan smiled again. “Next.”

“Er, Sandy,” Rogers said and Mark heard the guy in the wheelchair snort.

“And why are you here, Sandy?” Duncan asked with a patient tone, sending a warning look to his left.

Rogers scratched his chin (all the scrapes on his face had already healed but the one on his chin had left a small scar) and looked around. 

“Mark hit me with his car.” He hid that smirk that was pissing Mark off so much lately behind his hand. “It was an accident.” Rogers added, but everyone was already looking at Mark like he was responsible for their injuries, too.

“Huh,” Duncan said.

“Asshole,” the girl with the bad leg muttered.

Duncan put up his hands. “I think Mark’s very brave to come here to support his friend.”

“He just said the guy forced him,” Wheelchair piped in.

“We’re not friends,” Mark grumbled.

“Asshole,” said the girl again, a bit louder.

“Guys!” Duncan took a step forward. “Let’s move on.” 

Everyone in the circle calmed down and said their names and reasons to be there. The girl with the bad leg spat in Mark’s direction the story about how some drunk driver had left her lying on the street until someone had heard her screaming.

By the time it was wheelchair guy’s turn, Mark felt sick and even more out of place than before.

“I’m Steve,” was all he said and Duncan didn’t push him to say anything else.

“I think that’s it, then.” Duncan clapped his hands once. “Let’s get down to business. Everyone knows why they’re here, you all want to go back to live your normal lives. You will, with hard work and determination everyone in this group can achieve it.”

Mark looked around him and saw everyone avoiding everyone else’s eyes. Rogers was tapping his cast with his fingers and looking out one of the giant windows looking out to town. Mark didn’t know how this worked, but he thought it was odd to put a guy with a sling on his arm in the same group as someone in a wheelchair. Rogers would have to suck up some discomfort, but eventually he’d be able to move his arm like before. Steve, on the other hand, didn’t look all that hopeful.

“Here we’ll help you in any way we can,” Duncan continued. “We usually have more volunteers but today Steve and I will try to divide our time to guide everyone through this.”

They all looked at Steve, who frowned and turned defensive in a second.

“Luckily we have Mark here that I’m sure we’ll be happy to assist us,” he snapped, “since you all seem to think I’m not good enough.”

“What?” Mark gaped.

“That’s enough, Steve.”

“Wait

“Mark, you can help Sandy with the exercises.”

“Since you’re the reason he’s here,” Steve muttered.

“What’s your problem?” Mark snapped and felt his face going red instantly. Now he was yelling at someone in a wheelchair, for fuck’s sake.

“Mark, please don’t raise your voice here.” Duncan let his big hand fall heavily on Mark’s shoulder again, this time as a warning. “Steve, you cut it out.” 

“I was stating a fact.” Steve sniffed and Duncan sighed.

“Maybe it’s better if you wait outside for today,” he said to Mark and he was about to say that hell, yes, and run out of there when Rogers stepped up and ruined everything. As usual.

“I’m not staying if he leaves,” he said.

“Aw, your boyfriend’s gonna miss you, Freckles,” Steve mocked.

“Shut the fuck up!” Mark roared.

“Stop shouting at him, murderer,” the girl in the crutch said.

“My earring’s stuck in my collar!” another girl cried.

“Give me patience,” Duncan muttered as everyone in the rooms around them watched the scene through the glass walls.

 

 

Rogers’ exercises were repetitive and boring. But worst of all, Mark was used as a prop in them.

Duncan had gone by every person in the group explaining what they should do, some were paired up and some used different kinds of equipment from the room. Steve rolled around and checked on everyone slowly, looking annoyed and saying nothing helpful. He would stop next to someone, watch them struggle for a while, and then roll away to the next person. It didn’t seem to bother anyone but Mark, though he felt Rogers tense up the few times he had been staring at them.  

Rogers had removed the sling with a wince and handed it to Mark, who had tossed it to a corner. Duncan had asked Rogers if it was the first time he took the thing off, but Rogers said he’d done it to shower and dress, too. Mark had stood aside while Duncan explained what they were doing.

He hadn’t said a word of protest when Duncan had grabbed him and told Rogers to push him. He hadn’t even opened his mouth when Rogers actually did it.

One of the exercises consisted of Mark being still while Rogers stood in front of him and pushed at his side with the back of his hand and then his palm. Rogers didn’t have a palm at the moment, since it was still covered with the cast, and that was a small comfort for Mark. It meant less actual touching.

Rogers had to hold each position for a couple of seconds, ten times. By the fifth time Mark was ready to snap. He had his arms crossed tightly over his chest and his jaw set painfully. He was staring over Rogers’ head at one of the girls, whom Duncan was instructing on different ways to adjust her body weight off the bad leg but disguising the limp. The pressure of Rogers’ push on his side was becoming more and more annoying as the seconds dragged by, and his head was starting to hurt again.

No matter how much he wanted to show his mother he wasn’t as predictable as she thought, Mark still didn’t think he deserved to be stuck here surrounded by people who clearly didn’t want him there and having to take crap from them. Posing as a damn wall and letting Rogers do whatever the hell he wanted with him.

The more he thought about it, the angrier he got. He knew it wasn’t a good idea to let his thoughts run free like that when he was trying to control himself. He knew it wouldn’t take long to finally snap. And yet, he couldn’t help but think of every little thing that bothered him about Rogers or his mother or that hospital. His nails dug into his arms and he clenched his teeth, fighting the urge to step back and let Rogers fall down.

Rogers must have seen something in his face because, just as Mark was starting to cave, he removed his arm and glared at him.

“What?” Mark barked.

Rogers was rubbing the cast on his arm, a fine sheen of sweat was covering his forehead. There were dozens of little drawings and messages on the bright green cast and Mark glared at them.

“What’s with you now?” Rogers asked, sounding a lot less angry than he looked. He sounded tired, and all for a couple of minutes of holding his hand up.

Around them everyone was still staggering around or holding balls above their heads. Duncan was talking quietly to a girl that stood unnaturally straight and Steve was rolling Mark’s way.

“Bickering again?” he asked. “You need to work on your marital problems at home; this is not that kind of group.”

Neither of them answered. Mark was afraid that if he opened his mouth he would start screaming at him again, and he already felt guilty enough about before. It was a weird sense of guilt, though, because he knew for certain he hadn’t done anything wrong this time, but he just couldn’t stand the thought of being forceful with someone sitting in a wheelchair.

Steve looked back and forth from Mark’s set face to Rogers’ averting eyes and sighed.

“Are you done with the exercises?” he asked in a flat tone. “You can rest if you’re too tired. Ask your boyfriend to get you something to drink.” 

Mark opened his mouth but Rogers spoke before he could.

“He’s too much of a lazy bum to get up and do it,” he said and Mark’s mouth was left open, no sound coming out. “I guess I’ve lost my charm over the years.”

Steve whistled.

“How do you put up with it?” he asked, smirking and the same smirk started tugging at Rogers’ lips.  

“It’s the freckles – I just can’t resist them.”

Mark felt himself flush, overwhelmed by the urge to kill Rogers. His mouth opened and closed, and his fists clenched and unclenched. He knew there was no way he was making it out of there alive it he punched either one of them. So he turned around and stomped out of the room.

Behind him, Steve was laughing.

Mark stalked through bright hallways, fuming. He didn’t want to be there. He wanted to leave. He didn’t want to be locked in a room where he was the only healthy one, where he couldn’t feel angry without feeling guilty. He hated feeling guilty. He had enough with the sight of Rogers’ arm every day, a constant reminder of how much of an idiot Mark could be sometimes. Now he had to stand a sulky, paralyzed guy that, of course, got along with Rogers and enjoyed mocking Mark, and he couldn’t even tell him off properly.

Why was he even there? If Mark were paralyzed for life, the last thing he would want to do was spend his time helping people that could eventually get better. People that came to him to help them hide their limp or move their arms again. He guessed he would be as bitter as Steve, if not worse. He guessed he would look for the only one there not looking for help, the one that could have been responsible for someone’s death, and make his life hell, too.

During the last couple of weeks, Mark had discovered something about himself. Since he could remember, he had always snapped fast. Had acted first and asked questions later. He had never taken a minute to think things over, he just let his anger fill him until he couldn’t even think and it was either punch something or combust. But now, after having to sit with Rogers and hold himself together for so long he had learned that, given a little time to cool down, his anger dissipated.

Not entirely, but at least it wasn’t an invisible force making him want to strangle someone anymore.

Walking through the halls of the hospital and getting lost in the maze of glass walls, Mark found himself calming down. Thinking things over, attempting to understand someone that had mocked him for no reason at all.

Then, he shocked himself further by stopping at a bending machine and buying a bottle of water. For Rogers. If John had been there, he would have probably fainted from the shock. Or his mother. Walking back to the room, Mark fantasized about Mom’s face when Rogers told him about it.

Bet she wouldn’t think he was predictable anymore.

Mark smiled to himself, thinking about how ashamed and sorry his mother would be for treating him like he was a psycho. If he could learn to be nice to Rogers – ugh – on his own, without someone forcing him to, he bet even Jessica would apologize for laughing at him all the time and calling him crazy.

He could do it. He was convinced he could.

Of course, it only took one look at Rogers’ face to have his resolve crumble and fall into a dusty pile at his feet.

Back at the room, Mark hesitated near the door. He could see Rogers through the glass, hugging a cushion to his chest every few seconds while Steve talked to him. They both looked in good moods, laughing even, and Mark was suddenly sure they were still laughing at him. He squeezed the bottle in his hand, the plastic crumbling loudly. He couldn’t do it after all.

His mother’s approval apparently meant less that the possibility of looking defeated in front of Rogers. How had he even thought that he could walk over to him and hand him a bottle of water? Who the hell was he all of a sudden? He was not only Rogers’s driver, but now he was his butler too!

Rogers was in there, looking at ease instead of the tense wreck he had been with Mark. Why the hell had he insisted on having Mark there if he looked so relieved when he left? He was only acting difficult; he was enjoying having Mark as his damn slave. Mark was sure he didn’t even want his arm to get better. He knew Rogers would rather be crippled for the rest of his life if it meant having Mark at his service forever.

And what the hell were they talking so cheerfully about?

Steve was sitting there, all smiles like he hadn’t been an asshole ten minutes ago. And Rogers was smiling with him because, of course, everyone who was an asshole to Mark was suddenly his best friend.

Mark tried to stop himself, he really did, but letting his thoughts run free like this only fuelled his anger and it wasn’t long until he couldn’t even see straight. He was clutching the bottle so hard he thought it was going to burst in his hand, but he still couldn’t loosen his grip. His headache suddenly got worse and hurt even behind his eyes.

Realizing he was starting to loose it, Mark counted to ten three times and then entered the room. He was determined to keep a low profile, just sit in a corner and wait until the session was over to get the hell out of there. He willed himself to stay calm.

Roger turned to him with the cushion still pressed to his chest and asked lightly:

“Where’d you go?”

None of your fucking business!” Mark yelled – which wasn’t exactly staying calm or keeping a low profile – and threw the water bottle at his head.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?!” Steve shouted while Rogers nursed the side of his head with his good hand, leaning down a bit and looking at Mark with wide eyes.

Mark felt guilty for about half a second before Steve was roaring about how much of a crazy fuck he was. He looked back up at Rogers and silently agreed. The hand that had been holding the bottle was trembling slightly and oh, dammit, what if it had been a glass bottle? He hadn’t planned to throw it; it was flying through the air before Mark could even think about it. He could have cut Rogers’ face in half and he hadn’t even meant to do it.

A picture of Rogers’ scratched up face and limp, bloody arm came to mind and Mark felt sick. He remembered the way his head had snapped back that time he had punched him in the mouth in his backyard and he’d never wanted to apologize so badly in his life. He had never even wanted to apologize before, and now he found the words were stuck in his throat, wanting to get out.

“I,” he began, but was cut short by Duncan towering over him. He wasn’t actually taller than Mark, but it felt that way right now. Mark had never felt smaller.

He threw him out, simple as that. With all kindness drained from his voice, he coldly said that Mark should wait outside.

“Asshole!” The girl with the bad leg that had been left lying on the street for hours, shouted from the back, her voice breaking. Mark didn’t say anything, there were only two words wanting to escape his mouth and he wouldn’t let them. He turned around with the glares of everybody on his back and walked out the door.

 

Chapter Text

Mark sat in his car with his forehead pressed on the wheel for what felt like hours, but when he heard the knock on the glass and checked the dashboard clock, it had only been twenty minutes.

He unlocked the doors and Rogers got in quietly. The sling was back on and he had a small ice pack in his hand, his jacket under his arm. Mark turned on the engine and drove away from the hospital.

He had been expecting an argument, a reason for him to shout he was sorry and make it seem like the words had been forced out of him, and not that he really meant them. But Rogers just sat there, his silence not cold but distant and calm, and Mark was biting his tongue so hard he was sure he was going to cut it in half. 

It wasn’t until they were parked in front of Rogers’s house that he spoke up.

“Listen,” Rogers said, “I don’t know what happened in there, but I thought things were kind of…getting better.”

Mark could see Rogers looking at him out of the corner of his eye. There was a small pause, in which any other time Mark would have said something like that things would never be better between them. Right now Mark kept his mouth shut and Rogers went on a little more heatedly, like Mark’s silence was some kind of incentive or worse, agreement.

“The last few weeks were okay, after that stupid party and everything, it felt…well, at least I felt something had changed. For the, um, better.”

Mark was probably imagining Rogers’ face going pink. If not, then this was all very unfair because he didn’t feel like making fun of him at the moment.

“Okay, maybe it was just me, then!” He snapped when Mark still failed to say anything. “But I don’t see why you had to throw a bottle at me! Everyone in there thought you were crazy, I mean really crazy, Mark.”

Right, like Rogers didn’t think so, too.

“And now I don’t know if they’ll let you back in. I’m not going back there on my o

“Don’t you have friends of your own?!” Mark suddenly exploded, kind of glad he was able to force the apology down. “You make them force me to stay in there with you and then act surprised when I’m not all smiles and fucking sunshine like you! What difference does it make whether I’m in the room or not? You looked so damn happy when I left, bonding with Steve, laughing at me and

“Oh, come on! How can someone not laugh when you act like a two year-old all the time? What, would you rather I yelled at you? Because I don’t miss that, I really thought after that party

“Stop bringing up the fucking party! Nothing happened, nothing changed except that somehow you became even more annoying than before.”

They were quiet for a moment, tense and avoiding each other’s eyes.

“We weren’t even laughing at you. Not the way you think, anyway. Can’t you take a joke?”

No,” Mark said and Rogers sighed.

“Anyway, I’m not going back.”

Mark thought about his mother and Hannah Rogers and how anything that went wrong that day would be, no, was his fault.

“Why not?” he asked, defeated. Rogers could ask one of his friends, so why was he doing all this? It drove Mark insane not understanding what was going on.

“Because! Because I don’t want to be there and – with – shit. Some of them can’t get better, okay? I will, eventually, and I can’t stand there and have a guy practically my age in a fucking wheelchair help me move my arm!”

“And what about me? At least you have a reason to be there!”

Rogers looked like it hadn’t crossed his mind that Mark was actually the one out of place in that room. He stared at Mark for a moment and then looked at his lap with a frown.

“I can’t ask anyone else.”

“Why not?” Mark’s very, very limited patience was coming to an end.

“Because everyone else would act weird. At least you can talk to Steve like you talk to everyone else. Though that’s ruined now, so I don’t see why we’re arguing about it.” 

Mark didn’t get Rogers at all.

“Thanks for the water by the way.” Rogers took the bottle from where it had been hidden between the folds of his jacket. It was half empty.

“I’m sorry,” Mark blurted out and then wanted the earth to open up and swallow him, car and all. He looked away, out the window so Rogers wouldn’t see how much he was blushing.

“Whatever,” Rogers said, with that annoying talent of his of making something Mark thought important into no big deal at all.

“I’m sorry about the other thing, too. And this is the last time I’m ever saying this, because it wasn’t my fault, but whatever, right?” Mark turned back to stare at the front.

“Okay,” Rogers said and Mark could hear a smile in his voice. The bastard sounded like he had won something.

“And don’t think this means anything, I still can’t stand you.”

“Okay.”

“And when that thing gets taken off I don’t want to see you again, let alone have you in my car. So stop saying okay and get out.”

Mark half turned, he wanted to see Rogers’ expression falter and wipe that smile off his face. Instead Rogers rolled his eyes like Mark was just a difficult child and smiled wider.

“That didn’t have half the spite it would’ve had two months ago.”

“Get out.”

When Mark was back in his house, eating a snack and waiting for his mother to find out about the session and come looking for him, Rogers’ words were still echoing in his head. He realized something had changed, he had noticed before and he had hoped it was just him learning to control himself. And now it turned out that Rogers wasn’t even trying to annoy him when he talked nonstop or mocked him, he was just acting like he did with everyone else.

It made Mark uneasy not knowing for sure if that bothered him or not.

 

 

Dana waited by the school gate, looking out at the parking lot for Mark Wallace’s blue car. She stood chewing on an orange slice and wondering where Emily was, since it had turned into their routine to wait for Sandy before entering the school.

Sandy had been going to his physical therapy sessions after school for two weeks now and the time they had to hang out together was pretty scarce.

Across from her, Mark Wallace’s friend was staring her way, leaning against the metal gate. Dana had waved at him when she got there and he had smiled a flirtatious smile – or an attempt at one, at least. She liked him enough, she guessed. He wasn’t anything like Mark and he seemed to have enough patience with him to find it admirable. Still she wasn’t going to go over there. If he felt like saying something, he could come over himself.  

Dana perked up when he saw the car rounding a corner and stopping at its usual space. Sandy was talking when he got out, even though Mark was still inside and probably couldn’t hear him. It still threw Dana a bit that Sandy was acting normal with Mark. He wasn’t in that awful mood anymore and Dana couldn’t even remember the last time they had fought (except she could, it had been the same day Mark had hit Sandy with his car and someone had slashed Emily’s tires, but it was just an expression).

Sandy spotted her and started making his way to her, sending a wave behind his back to Mark. Mark glared and ignored him, but Dana was surprised – and a bit pleased – that the glare wasn’t hateful, just exasperated.

“Hey, what’s with that face?” Sandy asked when he reached her and Dana realized she was smiling at Mark Wallace.

“Nothing. How are you?” Dana eyed the sling that Sandy refused to take off even though he had told her he could already.

“Pretty great, actually.” Sandy smiled down at her. “Where’s Emily?”

Dana shrugged.

They walked together to school, while Mark and his friend walked behind them. Dana was in a good mood, no fights, no arguments, it was a good day. Then they turned a corner and saw Emily and a guy they Dana didn’t know talking awfully close to a wall. Emily looked cornered and Sandy rushed to them. Dana didn’t understand what the heck was going on until the guy had run off and Emily was looking up at Sandy with so much feeling on her expression that it was unbelievable he couldn’t tell she was head over heels for him.          

 

 

Mark was a bit shocked when he found out not everybody in the world loved Sandy Rogers.

According to John, now that Mark and Rogers weren’t jumping onto each other’s backs all the time, some people that weren’t really fans of him had turned out. John wasn’t sure if they had always had problems with Rogers or if it was something developed since the accident. Mark could see that. Rogers had been irritable for a while after it, so maybe he had pissed off the wrong people.

But John told him that one of those guys had been bothering one of Rogers’ friends for a while and that maybe it had something to do with that. He said he had seen Rogers pushing a guy out of the way that morning because he had been talking to one of his friends or something, after Mark had split to go to class. 

Mark didn’t much care, though he couldn’t deny he was curious. 

Rogers talked about it on the way to the hospital, on the second week of therapy. After Rogers hadn’t told on him for throwing the bottle and making a scene the week before, they had made a sort of silent truce: Mark would drive him and wait outside for him. Meanwhile their mothers thought Mark was spending his afternoons inside the room, helping Rogers with his exercises.

The drive had turned into something tolerable for Mark, and Rogers had kept acting like they were on good terms and talked his ear off whenever he felt like it. That day he got in the car in a foul mood.

“D’you know that Ted guy a year ahead of us?”

Mark didn’t really know that many people in school, but he thought Jessica had mentioned a Ted a couple of times.

“He’s this skinny, redheaded idiot that’s always standing around in the parking lot.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen him around.” He had yelled at him a couple of times for standing too close to his car around the time someone had been slashing people’s tires about a month ago.      

“He cornered Emily today and freaked her out.” Mark had learned that Emily was the girl with the short brown hair that had slapped him that one time, and Dana was the quiet one with dark skin and long legs John loved to stare at. “It isn’t even the first time. He’s been harassing her since last year and she didn’t even tell us. I caught them by chance in the hallway this morning.”

Mark made a noise that meant he was listening but didn’t really have anything to say.

“I couldn’t even do anything thanks to this stupid thing.” He waved his arm around. He was wearing the sling less often these days, and he had told Mark the cast was coming off sometime soon, but that his arm still hurt sometimes and didn’t have the strength it used to. Though, for some reason, he still wore the sling to school.

“Isn’t he really small?” Mark asked flatly, trying to hide his interest. Rogers usually talked about TV shows or told stupid anecdotes Mark had already heard from Dan anyway. This was new.

“That doesn’t mean he can’t…head-butt my shoulder or something.” Rogers had mentioned once how he was afraid his arm would pop out of its socket again. “I just yelled at him and he scurried away.”

“Mhm.” 

“I can’t wait until this thing is healed,” he said but didn’t sound very convincing. He looked at Mark then, as if waiting for him to say something.

“Right,” was all Mark could think of saying, which didn’t seem to satisfy Rogers. 

They reached the hospital and Rogers went inside while Mark made himself comfortable for an hour of waiting and started thinking. Even though the urge to punch Rogers still appeared sometimes, it was a bit less intense with every passing day. Mark wondered what would happen when Rogers’s arm healed. Would they start acting like they did before? Would Rogers stop spending the afternoons at his house?

Mark hoped so on the latter, but he wasn’t always sure if he wanted to start fighting with Rogers again. He couldn’t wait until he wouldn’t have to restrain himself from shoving him or stuff like that. But he didn’t feel like rolling around in the dirt throwing punches anymore. Besides, he hadn’t argued with his mother or siblings for over a week now and it was actually nice to be in his house without counting the minutes until someone burst through the door and started yelling about something Mark had done.

Resting his head back on his seat, Mark fell asleep without meaning to, and when he opened his eyes, Steve was staring at him from outside the window.

Mark gave an inarticulate cry and threw himself back against the seat before regaining his composure. Steve, whose chin barely reached the edge of thewindow, laughed at him. Mark glared at him as he rolled the glass down.

“Yes?” He asked and had to wait until Steve stopped laughing. He checked the clock and found that they still had half an hour of session and a weird churning feeling hit him when he wondered if something had happened with Rogers.

“I need a word with you,” Steve finally said and Mark waited for him to talk. Steve’s eyes hardened gradually while seconds dragged by until he snapped, “Would you get out of there? I can’t talk like this.”

Mark stepped out of the car and leaned against the closed door, careful not to scratch it. Steve looked at him angrily.

“Duncan asked me to ask you for something,” he said and waited again.

“Okay.” Mark crossed his arms over his chest; he wasn’t going to make anything easy to the guy that didn’t miss a chance to laugh at him.

Steve rolled his eyes.

“Apparently, Sandy isn’t doing his homework.” He scratched the bridge of his nose to hide a smirk. “He’s supposed to have his sling off most of the time and he refuses. And he doesn’t do the exercises Duncan gives him to do at home. So, since you’re his escort and you spend so much time together, he asked me to tell you to

“We don’t spend time together,” Mark cut him off, annoyed but, surprisingly, not angry. Something was wrong with him. He was probably still half asleep.

“Right, sure. Anyway, help him with the exercises. They’re the same you saw him do that first time. And make him take that smelly sling off. It’s disgusting.” 

“Wait, why do I have to do all this? What about his mom?”

Steve shrugged. “I have the feeling he’s around you more often than with his mom or whatever.”

Mark opened his mouth to deny it, but it hung open when he realized it was true. He felt his face heating up and he closed his mouth and looked away, not really sure why he was embarrassed.

“You’ll do it? If you do, we’ll let you back upstairs.”

“I don’t want to go up there,” Mark said in a low voice.

“Fine, if you do it...I’ll tell you what Sandy has been saying about you.” He smirked again.

“I don’t care what he’s saying about me.” Rogers had probably been complaining about him or telling a stupid story that made Mark look bad. “It can’t be anything new.”

“Don’t be so sure.” He looked at Mark with raised eyebrows and a weird smile.

Mark really didn’t want to know what Rogers had said.

“Fine,” he said, because his mouth never listened to his brain anymore.

Steve smiled wider. “You’re sweet,” he said and turned his chair to leave.

“You didn’t tell me

“You have to get Sandy off the sling and doing the exercises first, Freckles.”

“Asshole!” Mark yelled at Steve’s back, feeling his neck go warm. Steve flipped him off over his shoulder, his chair barely even stopping.

Mark cursed and got back inside the car.

 

Chapter Text

It was stupid, he knew it. And yet, he was so incredibly curious he didn’t care. He couldn’t help it, he wanted to know. Even if it was something he already knew, he wanted to hear what Rogers thought about him now that things had (according to him) changed for the better or whatever between them.

Over the next couple of days Mark wondered how he was going to suddenly start helping Rogers without ending up looking like an idiot, or even being suspicious. Even though Rogers seemed to feel at home at Mark’s house, it wasn’t the same for him. Everyone would find it weird that Mark wanted to go over there, and there was the chance that Rogers would try to kick him out when he found out why he wanted to in the first place.  

Mark didn’t understand why Rogers was so reluctant about getting better, he was always saying he wanted his arm to heal but he had refused treatment and he didn’t even take that smelly sling off. Steve was right: it stunk. Mark had started noticing recently in the car.

So he told himself he was going to help Rogers because the sooner he was healed, the sooner he and his stinky arm would be out of his life. Not because he was letting Steve manipulate him.

So this is what Mark did: on Saturday morning, he got up and had breakfast. He got dressed and crossed the street slowly, thinking that every step closer to Rogers’ house was one step closer to freedom, even if it didn’t feel like it. It’d be worth it.    

Once at the door he stood still for a minute, preparing himself and going over what he was going to say to Rogers when he saw him. He rang the bell once and waited and that’s about when things started going wrong.

Frank answered, wearing a t-shirt and boxers and looking annoyed.

“What is it, Frecks?” He said and Mark was so worried about why he was there that he didn’t even react to the name calling or to the fact that Frank was back so soon. Rogers was going to be in a foul mood, that was for sure. 

“Is Rog- Is Sandy up?” He asked, looking over the shorter man’s shoulder.

“Since when are you two friends?” Frank asked and leaned against the doorway, blocking his way.

“We’re not friends,” Mark said with a glare.

Frank raised his eyebrows, amused. “Really? I’ve heard you’ve been spending an awful lot of time together for two guys that aren’t friends.” He sneered. “Unless, wait don’t tell me, you’re secretly dating. That’s it, isn’t it?”

Mark flushed dark red as he spluttered in outrage.

“It wouldn’t surprise me of him,” Frank went on with a bitter edge in his voice. “He can act like a right pansy. I’m sure you agree, Frecks.”

Well, Mark didn’t like being on Frank’s side, but.

“Come on, get in. You shouldn’t stand in the sun with your condition.” Frank went inside and Mark reluctantly followed him, rubbing a freckled arm with an equally freckled hand. Fucking Frank.

“Is he up?” He asked again.

Frank shrugged with his back to him. “Go check,” he said and disappeared inside the kitchen.

Mark flipped off the place where he had been standing and then looked up the stairs. It was quiet and dark, like they hadn’t opened the hall’s drapes yet.

Mark kicked his shoes off with a sigh and went up, cursing everything and everyone – especially Steve – for making him do this and ignored the voice in his head telling him no one had actually forced him.

Rogers’ room was the last to the left, while Hannah Rogers’ was the last to the right of a long and narrow hallway. Mark looked both ways in search of some sign someone was up but saw nothing. He dragged himself to Rogers’ door and knocked.

Growing annoyed because nine-thirty in the morning was a perfectly good time to be up and about on a Saturday, Mark knocked again. There was no answer. He rubbed his eyes and concentrated on not losing his temper. He counted quietly to ten, something everyone had always told him to do and he had recently picked up, finding it kind of worked sometimes. Then he opened the door and peeked in.

It was dark inside, the drapes were shut tightly and the only light in the room was a little red one blinking on top of the desk from Rogers’ cell phone charger. Mark could hear Rogers breathing but even squinting, he could only see a big lump of covers on the bed.

“Rogers,” he called in a loud whisper. “Rogers.”

He didn’t even stir. Mark looked back to where he had come from. If Hannah Rogers or Frank saw him like this he thought it might look weird. He deliberated for a second before ducking inside the room and closing the door behind him. It was stuffy inside and warm, in a kind of disgusting way. Mark stood near the door. He hadn’t been there in years and though he couldn’t really see, he noticed a few differences.

Rogers had moved his bed under the window and his desk on the wall opposite. It was the other way around when they were little. Hannah Rogers had told them she didn’t want any of them jumping on the bed and falling out the window, which had left Mark a bit traumatized for years. Also he couldn’t see any of the posters that used to cover the walls. They were pretty bare now.

There was a bookcase where a trunk of toys used to be. Rogers always got the coolest toys on his – their – birthday and he never even played with them. Mark had looked inside that trunk once and found some of the remote control cars and action figures were still in their boxes.

As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw papers and random pieces of clothing scattered on the light carpeted floor. He squinted and managed to make out a sports magazine half under the bed, a muscled guy holding a football staring at him from the cover. Rogers used to play sports, but Mark never thought of him as a fan. 

Rogers grunted suddenly and Mark looked up with a start, sure that the boy would be sitting up and watching him like he was crazy. But all he saw was the same lump of covers, now moving slightly. There was a rustling sound now accompanying Rogers’ breathing and a muffled curse. The movement was repetitive and the breaths soon turned shallow, though still low and almost inaudible.

Mark thought Rogers was dreaming at first. He walked closer to the bed to shake him awake and was already reaching out when he let out what sounded like a short, raspy moan and Mark froze with his fingers grazing the covers.

His whole face burned, his ears felt like they were smoking up. Rogers made more of those sounds, and every one of them seemed to freeze Mark in place a bit more. He wasn’t even breathing. He couldn’t move. What if he stepped back and Rogers heard him? What if he thought he was listening in on him on purpose?

The room felt suddenly very small and was filled with grunts and that familiar wet sound no one was supposed to hear other than yourself. Mark was just about to move his hand off when Rogers turned and something under the covers – an elbow or a knee – bumped into Mark’s fingers.

Gwha!” He jerked away and fell back on his ass when his feet tangled with themselves.

There was a terrible silence.

Mark’s heart was racing and the lump of covers was very still. Then a messy mop of hair popped up. Even in the dark room, Mark could see Rogers’ wide eyes and the way his face went dark. Mark was probably purple by now.

Neither of them said anything, and Mark swallowed with a bit of effort. His palms were sweaty.

“What are you doing here?” Rogers said very, very softly and the rasp on his voice only managed to make Mark think about the sounds of before. He couldn’t even remember what he was doing there.

“Um,” he said.   

Then Rogers snapped out of it and sat up.

“Don’t you know how to knock?” he demanded, voice wavering slightly with embarrassment. His tone made Mark get a hold of himself.

“I did knock!” He hissed back. “I knocked forever and you didn’t answer!”

“And why the hell did you come in?”

“Because! Because, um.” He couldn’t remember, but it had made sense at the time. Now it felt like he hadn’t been out of that room in ages. His eyes were adjusting more and more to the darkness and now he could clearly see Rogers’s mortified face framed by his curls. “I don’t I” 

“What’s going on up there?” Frank’s muffled voice cut between them and they both jumped. Rogers clenched the covers with his free hand, turning from embarrassed to cold and serious in a second.

“He’s here?” he asked.

“Yeah.” Mark breathed again, glad for the change of atmosphere, even if it was frostier than it had been a moment ago. Maybe they could both pretend this had never happened and Mark could bury those sounds in the deepest corner of his mind and never think of them again. 

Of course, now he thought he would never be able to jerk off without the picture of Rogers’ flushed face appearing in front of him. He always ruined everything.

Footsteps were coming up the stairs and Rogers scrambled about, arranging the covers in front of him like he wasn’t almost entirely buried under them. Mark just sat there, slightly bothered by the sudden ease of Rogers’ movements and still poised to stand, as Frank opened the door and turned on the lights.

Brightness enveloped them and Mark was blinded for a few seconds as his eyes adjusted again. He blinked a couple of times, annoyed at Frank for doing it without warning. Mark looked everywhere but at Rogers, the sudden light made what had happened before more real and the last thing he wanted was to look into the guy’s face and imagine the expression that came with the noises.

He looked at everywhere else instead. The walls were bare, like he had guessed before, except for a few post-its taped to the wall at the foot of Rogers’s bed. His bag from school was on the desk, open and spilling with papers. There was a mosquito resting next to the light switch.

“What’s going on here?” Frank said slowly, looking back and forth between them with a suspicious frown on his face. They probably looked pretty guilty; Mark sprawled on the ground like he had thrown himself off the bed and blushing so hard he was probably tanning and Rogers looking like a giant, sulky ball of fabric.

“Nothing, he came to wake me up,” Rogers said.

“What for?”

Mark looked over as discreetly as he could and saw Rogers had opened his mouth to answer and halted. He turned to Mark. Embarrassment still lingered as he sent him a questioning look.  

 “Um, I came to…go over some exercises. For the arm.”

It was then that Mark noticed that Rogers wasn’t wearing the sling. His bare left shoulder was showing between the covers and the green cast was peeking from down below. He hadn’t looked pained or uncomfortable when he was covering himself. Granted it had been dark, but he had moved quickly and hadn’t made a sound of protest.

Rogers nodded slowly and fidgeted under Mark’s stare, coloring again. Frank wasn’t convinced. He looked around, like he hadn’t seen the room for some time and his eyes lingered on a spot on the floor near Rogers’ bed.

“Weren’t you going to the hospital to do those?” He asked, looking back up at Rogers. The air had gone chilly since Frank had appeared and as he took a few steps inside, the temperature seemed to drop even more. Rogers looked like he was restraining himself from throwing his father out and Mark still couldn’t move from the floor, so Frank walked around him and towards the bookcase.

“Yeah,” Rogers said, “but you’re supposed to do them at home, too.”

Frank pulled one of the books out, opening it at a random page and inspecting it as Rogers made a sound of protest like he was clearing his throat.

“Your mother didn’t mention that,” Frank said and there was an awkwardly charged moment of silence. Then Mark surprised himself coming to Rogers’ aid.

“He’s been doing them at my house,” he lied and saw Rogers turn to him out of the corner of his eye. Frank still looked far from convinced. His eyes went back to the floor as he walked around. Mark followed his line of sight and saw he was looking at the magazine under Rogers’ bed.

He had to snatch his hands off the floor before Frank could step on his fingers and, as soon as he moved, he felt his whole body unlock itself and he hastily got up, needing to feel taller than Frank. Rogers’ room was about the size of Mark’s before they divided it with the bookcases so Frank had a lot of space to walk around and try to intimidate them.

“Is that so?” he mumbled absently.

Mark shot Rogers a questioning look before he could stop himself. Rogers was still staring at him and he jumped a bit when Mark turned his way.

“What are you two blushing about?”

They both turned sharply to Frank, who was now standing on the other end of the room, near the desk with his arms crossed over his chest.

“I’m not blushing!” Mark said a second too late, feeling his ears burn again.

“Tell that to your face, Frecks,” Frank replied and then looked at Rogers. “Were you smoking something? Whatever it was, hand it over.”

“We weren’t smoking anything,” Rogers grunted with a roll of his eyes, like this was something he was accused of often. “He…tried to scare me and I pushed him off.”

“I’m sure that’s what happened.” Frank’s tone was flat. “I wasn’t born yesterday, boys, and you are lucky your mother is asleep just across the hall because

“Because what? What would you do if she wasn’t?” Rogers threw the covers away and jumped to the floor. Mark noticed the waistband of his boxers was turned in at the front and quickly looked away. Frank dropped the cool act and let his arms fall to his sides.

“Listen now

“What do you really think was going on? Why don’t you just ask?”

“That’s enough!” Frank was halfway across the room with his fits clenched tight when Mark stepped in his way. Frank bumped into him and had to crane his neck completely backwards to look into his face. There was a vein sticking out on his forehead.

Move, Gigantor.” It sounded slightly like a threat but Mark had never really been intimidated by them.

He stood there and thought about how much he hated the man in front of him. He could always make Hannah Rogers quiet and Sandy Rogers angry out of his head, which was only okay when Mark did it, otherwise it was annoying.

“Oh, this is nice. First you try to kill him and now you defend him. You should make up your mind, buddy.”

“I don’t need him defending me,” Rogers said from behind Mark. Frank tried to push Mark out of the way and Mark steeled himself and grabbed at his arm before he could. Then Hannah Rogers appeared by the door.

“What is going on here?” she asked, tense and wary. All three of them turned at the sound of her voice. She was wearing a green robe over green plaid pajamas and Mark found himself wondering what was with this family and the color green. “Frank?”

Mark felt naked standing there, with his hand still around Frank’s upper arm and a boxer clad Rogers behind him. He wondered what it looked like from her point of view and thought he should probably let go, but Frank hadn’t eased up or made a move to step away, so he held on.

“Frank,” Hannah Rogers said again, more firmly this time but still a whisper compared to her usual tone, “come out here and explain, please.”

Frank jerked away from Mark and walked out of the room looking irate. Mark had seen him mad a thousand times, but he always acted like he was above every situation. He had never seen him losing control, even less for such a little thing. Mark’s father got angry all the time, but it was always Mom who yelled and argued. Dad always stayed back and nodded along, his serious-business face intimidating enough. Neither of them had ever raised a hand to Mark or his siblings. Frank had looked close to just now, and even though Mark was pretty sure Rogers would have hit back or been able to defend himself, he still, for whatever reason, couldn’t let it happen in front of him.

Sure, Mark could push Rogers around or dislocate his shoulder and it was (sort of ) an everyday event, but letting Frank walk past him and do whatever he had meant to do wasn’t the same somehow. 

Hannah Rogers looked at them for a moment before closing the door. Mark listened to their footsteps go down the stairs and he didn’t relax until he heard they were down in the kitchen.

He didn’t want to turn and face Rogers. In fact he wanted to be out of that room and that house as soon as possible, but now he could hear an argument coming from below. He sighed and put his hands in his pockets, just so he could do something with them.

He could feel Rogers breathing behind him and neither of them said a word for a while until Mark heard a thump and turned to see Rogers lying backwards on his bed.

“What do you want?” he asked tiredly. There was a pause in which Mark was about to ask him what the hell had all that been about but backed off, because Rogers wouldn’t answer and he didn’t want to know anyway. Rogers could very well take care of himself. 

“I already said.”

“The arm thing? That was for real?”

Mark just stared at him.

“I’m not doing them here. That’s why I started going to that damn place to begin with.” Rogers sat up and, even puffy and disheveled with sleep, managed to send Mark a pretty effective glare.

“At this rate you’re gonna have that smelly thing on forever,” Mark said and glared back, ignoring the fact that Rogers wasn’t wearing the sling right at that moment. He tried not to think about the bed and the covers and what had been going on there just a few minutes ago.

“Why do you care?”

“I told you, I don’t. I just want to stop driving you around.”

Mark realized this wasn’t the right thing to say when the guy was already shaken up because of Frank and…what had happened when the lights were still out, because as soon as the words left his mouth, Rogers jumped to the floor and advanced on him like he wanted to fight him. Mark had no intention of doing so, but he knew the slightest provocation would have him shoving magazine pages down Rogers’ throat anyway.

He took a step back when Rogers stood too close and kept his hands firmly in his pockets.

“I’m not doing them,” Rogers said and pushed past him to start rummaging in his closet for clothes. “They said they weren’t mandatory. It’s enough if I do them at the hospital, so back off and leave me alone.”

“But it takes longer that way! And Steve said

“When the fuck did you talk to Steve?” He took a pair of sweatpants out of the closet with a particularly vicious yank that made the hangers rattle.

He came to talk to me,” Mark said. “And what does it matter? He wants you to do the fucking exercises so they can get rid of you so quit whining and do them!”

“I don’t want to.”

“What are you, five?” Mark threw his arms in the air. “What’s wrong with you?”

Rogers scoffed and smirked, angry and fierce. “You did not just ask that.”

Mark glared at him. “I’ll tell your mom you’re faking about the arm.”

“I am not faking!” Mark raised his eyebrows and stared at Rogers’ shoulder. The whole arm did look skinnier than the healthy one and had raised, red lines from when Rogers tried scratching under the cast. All this time Rogers had walked around his room he had kept the arm close to his body, which – Mark was just noticing – was shirtless and pant-less and his eyes went immediately to Rogers’ right hand, the one he had

“I’ll tell her you don’t want to get better!” He burst out as he looked away, sure his face was dark red and when he dared a look at Rogers’ face he saw he was blushing too because he had caught him staring.

“That’s not true.”

“Right.”

Rogers attempted another smirk, thought a still embarrassed one.

“I’ll tell her you like spying on people’s…private moments,” he said in a low voice, as if afraid someone outside the room could hear.

Mark’s face was suddenly very hot once again. “That was a mistake, I thought you were dreaming or something,” he muttered and Rogers laughed, blushing and averting his eyes. 

“Then I’ll tell her about the bottle.”  

Mark’s frown deepened. It had been nice kind of getting along with everybody for a while and not argue every ten minutes. Mark knew that was going to end as soon as his mother heard about how he had thrown a water bottle at Rogers’ head in front of his physical therapy group after they had all heard how he had hit him with a car. He still wasn’t backing off.

“Fine. It’s not like they’d be surprised.” He shrugged and was pleased to see how Rogers hesitated, his smile faltering. “Besides, maybe that’ll show them things aren’t working out and someone else can take you everywhere from now on.”

Rogers seemed to be regrouping. He took a deep breath and Mark thought he was going to jump at him. But he only exhaled loudly through his nose and started tapping his cast with his fingers, the sweatpants still in his hand instead of over his legs where they belonged.

“Okay, fine, I’ll do the stupid exercises. With you.”

Mark’s triumphant smile was not as heartfelt as he hoped because, well, he had caught Rogers with his hand down his underwear and Frank was going to be around all the time and he wasn’t sure spending more time with Rogers was such a good idea after all.

 

Chapter Text

Well, at least Mark had been right, it was a bad idea. They were both jumpy and in edgy moods and all the while they could hear Hannah Rogers and Frank fighting below them. Every time they heard Hannah Rogers raise her voice, they both flinched and became a bit angrier at everything. It didn’t help that they had to touch each other for most of the exercises and it wasn’t like Mark could turn and walk away now that coming over had caused a sensation.

He could hear his and Rogers’ names come up in the argument every so often, and his anger was mixing with guilt. But how was he supposed to know Frank was going to be there, acting crazy and violent for no reason at all? Mark could hear Jessica in his head, laughing at the irony of Mark calling someone else crazy and violent. 

And, on top of all, he couldn’t look at Rogers without recalling before and the darkness and the sounds. The room was hot and stuffy and Mark wanted to leave. Rogers was doing that pushing with the back of his hand thing, and Mark was standing as still as he could and resisting the push. Rogers was looking down, his face shinny with sweat, his cheeks alight with the effort. He was frowning as if in deep thought. He hadn’t said a word in a while.

As Rogers pushed him, Mark looked around him, inspecting the room again. He wondered if it was true that Rogers smoked pot in here, or Frank was just being paranoid. Or perhaps it was like Rogers had said and Frank wanted to accuse him of something else but he didn’t dare say it out loud. Mark looked at Rogers again and wondered what it could be.

Rogers looked up suddenly and Mark, startled, lost his balance and stumbled under Rogers’ weight on his side. A hand came up and stopped him from falling on his ass for the second time that day.

Rogers’ right hand was touching him. The same one that had been moving under the covers and inside his boxers. Mark slapped it away.

“Get off!” He snapped just as Frank said something loudly downstairs. His voice was muffled but the force behind it was unmistakable. Rogers glared at him and pushed at his chest, hard. Mark stumbled again but managed to stay on his feet without assistance.

It was like this again. Rogers asked him for something and then acted like he didn’t even want Mark there and Mark was tired of it. He didn’t understand what went on in the other guy’s head.  He was tired and this had definitely been a bad idea.

“I’m going,” he said in a low, barely held together tone.  

“We’re not done yet.”

“Yes, we are.”

Rogers grabbed his arm as Mark was turning away. They glared at each other, all the tension from before focused and doubling around them. Mark could hear his heart pounding in his ears, could feel it in his jaw, and hated that it reminded him of the old days, right before a fight. He looked up. Rogers was staring at him like he did before, like all he could see was Mark and all he could do was hate him.

“I need your help,” he muttered.

“Let go,” Mark grunted. “You can do them alone.”

“No, I can’t!” 

“Let go! What’s your problem?” Mark tried to jerk his arm away, to no avail. “Frank is right after all, you are a fucking pansy!”

It was entirely the wrong thing to say.

Rogers bared his teeth and his other hand — the bad one, the weak one — came up and grabbed the neck of Mark’s t-shirt and jerked him forward. The cast stunk but Rogers’s fingers – that had been immobilized for such a long time – were surprisingly strong. It was the first time in months they were this close to fighting. Mark mimicked Rogers and clenched his fists on his shirt. 

“Take that back,” Rogers growled in his face and Mark glared at him and shoved him back. But instead of stumbling backwards, Rogers held on and sent them both crashing against the wall. Mark’s entire body jolted as he bumped against the other boy and Rogers only tightened his grip, pressing them so close together he could probably count every fucking freckle on Mark’s face. “Take that back.”

Mark’s fingers were digging into Rogers’ shoulders, trying to keep him back but Rogers’ neck was craned forward and he was breathing harshly over his face. Mark couldn’t think clearly, they were too close, way too close. He wondered how he could stand it before, because now it was driving him mad. And he kept thinking about the sounds.

“Let go,” Mark choked out, his arms tense and his knuckles white. Rogers held on tighter.

“First take it back,” he said, but he sounded distracted, the venom that had been dripping from his voice had vanished. Mark looked him in the eye and was horrified to find Rogers quickly looking down. At his mouth. Sandy fucking Rogers was staring at Mark’s mouth with glazed eyes while having his arms practically around him. It sounded like the beginning of a nightmare.

Mark squirmed to get away, starting to panic.

“Get off!” He snapped and clenched Rogers’ left shoulder as hard as he could. Rogers didn’t even blink, the big fucking fake, and instead moved his own hands to Mark’s arms. Mark tried to take advantage of the change of balance to run away, but as soon as he softened his grip, Rogers pulled him closer.

Mark made a wounded sound, wanting to escape. But Rogers was angry, angry like he used to be, only this time Mark wasn’t angry with him, he was just plain scared. This was different, this wasn’t about being close to hit, it was an odd sort of closeness and Rogers’s expression was all wrong. Mark’s hands were sweating against Rogers’ t-shirt and his breath hitched, he had suddenly lost his strength.

“I didn’t mean it,” he said, not really remembering what he had said in the first place but desperate to get away. “I didn’t mean it.”

This was just like that time, years ago. Only now Mark definitely didn’t have the upper hand. He was the trapped one this time and punching Rogers in the face didn’t seem like a solution anymore.

Mark’s throat clicked when he swallowed and he licked his dry lips before he opened his mouth to speak again. He never knew what he was going to say, though, since as soon as he breathed in, Rogers made an odd wounded sound of his own and slammed his face against Mark’s. 

Or at least that’s what it felt like at first, until Mark realized what was actually happening. Breathing loudly through his nose, Rogers was…was kissing him.

Mark’s head reared back as far as it could, and Rogers gave a low growl and followed it. It hurt his nose and his lips and then Mark’s anger was catching up with him and he kissed back, just as hard and sharp as Rogers, wanting to hurt back. He licked and bit and yanked at Rogers’ stupid curls while the other boy clenched the fingers of his good hand behind Mark's neck to keep him in place. 

Mark’s own hands tangled themselves in Rogers’s hair like they had a life of their own and had wanted to be there for a long time. Teeth cut and lips sucked as adrenaline ran through his blood, roaring.

Their chests were pressed tightly together, thanks to Rogers’ grip, and it was odd not to have something soft in the way, only ribs and hard flesh. Rogers moved his bad hand to Mark’s collarbone and then even lower as the other refused to leave his neck alone.

He was making those sounds again, and Mark, whom felt hardly able to keep a grip on whatever sanity his mind had left, had joined him.

Rogers shuddered when his hand reached Mark’s side and he drew back a bit to catch his breath. Mark looked at his eyes, heavy lidded and darkened with want. The sight was all it took for him to freak the hell out. 

“W-what the hell are you doing?!” He screamed, taking several steps back and forcing Rogers’ hand away from his neck. He started rubbing at his mouth with the back of his hand until his lips started stinging.

Rogers just stared at him, flushed and with swollen lips. Mark’s face burned at the sight, because he probably looked the same. They were both panting a little, Rogers leaning against the wall and Mark ready to bolt.        

And he was hard, painfully so. 

He paled when he saw Rogers was too, thanks to the thin fabric of his sweatpants. It was so wrong to see Rogers in that state, and because of him. Oh…oh, this was too much. Too confusing. Mark couldn’t form a whole thought. He noticed how Rogers’ hair was sticking up because Mark’s hands had been in there, oh shit, and how red his lips looked because Mark’s mouth had been there and this couldn’t be happening

He was going to be sick.

He needed to get away because something was wrong with him and if he didn’t turn and run now he would walk back over to Rogers and do what he'd just been doing to him all over again. 

“Who’s a pansy?” Rogers rasped, “Who’s the pansy now, Mark? You hypocrite asshole, you liked that, didn’t you?” Rogers’ face was dark red and he looked just as on the verge of completely losing it as Mark was. 

“Y-you started it!” Mark yelled at him, eyes wide and body tense. He touched his mouth again, growing more and more panicked by the second. The magazine under Rogers’ bed, those muscles, it was all starting to make sense. This was what Frank had been talking about. All those jokes about them dating and — oh, shit.

“You liked it,” Rogers repeated and his eyes darted down to Mark’s mouth again. And for some inexplicable, insane reason Mark couldn’t tear his own eyes away from Rogers’ lips.

“I’m not” Mark began, but Rogers was in front of him with two long strides.

“You’re not what?” He growled and his hand shot up and grabbed at Mark’s crotch. Hard.

Mark’s legs nearly buckled as sudden, sharp pain shot from his groin up to his belly and down to his knees. He doubled over and Rogers leaned down so he was talking into Mark’s ear.

“Because this begs to differ,” Rogers sounded shaky and, looking up, Mark saw an odd, urgent look on his face. He wanted to push him away, but waves of pain were making his eyes water against his will and he only managed to clasp Rogers’ arm.

He was going to come in his pants.

Rogers was going to make him come in his pants.

“Let go,” he choked out. Rogers loosened his grip but didn’t let go. Mark kept staring at his face, waiting for his expression to change back to the furious one, so he could feel he was standing in firm ground again. 

“You liked it, and you’re not going to deny it,” Rogers said. It was almost a whisper but the words had a finality to them that made Mark start breathing again. With his strength returning to him, he pushed Rogers away.

“S-shut up. I’m not”      

There was a knock on the door and they both jumped. Mark was starting to worry about his racing heart. In his head, he could hear Rogers’ words over and over again: you liked it, you liked, you liked it. He could still feel the ghost of Rogers’ touch all over him. It was…it was something.  

“Is Mark still here, honey?” Hannah Rogers said from the other side of the door, and Mark didn’t know if he was relieved it wasn’t Frank or not. Would she be able to tell? Would she see it plastered all over their faces?

“Yeah, he’s here,” Rogers said, voice a bit hoarse.

Hannah Rogers opened the door, peeked inside, and smiled at Mark. He looked away, keeping his back to her so she wouldn’t see. Behind him, Rogers fumbled with his t-shirt.  

“I’m making you lunch, I won’t take no for an answer,” Hannah Rogers said with her cheerful smile, as if she hadn’t been fighting with her husband for the last hour.

“No, I can’t, I” Mark searched in his mind for an excuse, anything to keep him from spending another second in that house.

“Come on, stay,” Hannah Rogers pressed. She didn’t sound suspicious at all about the state they were in, so maybe they didn’t look as bad as Mark thought. He rubbed his mouth again before nodding, looking as far away from Rogers as he could. He trained his eyes on the magazine still on the floor. Oh, god, it wasn’t even a sports magazine. Some very male model was staring up at him from the cover, a football covering his naked crotch.

“Okay,” he mumbled into his hand. So used he was to saying yes to Hannah Rogers that he did it without thinking. But then he did think for a moment and shook his head. “No, no I really can’t.”

“Oh, why?” She sounded like she needed Mark to stay, and that was probably the case. Mark would definitely be a distraction.

As the air in the room cleared and Mark started to think properly again, all of him calmed down. He felt the burning of his body leave him to be replaced with cold and goose-bumps. His erection had started going down almost as soon as Hannah Rogers had peeked her head into the room.

Mark brushed his hair away from his eyes and turned around to face her. Sandy Rogers was staring at him out of his mother’s eyes. Mark felt himself pale as realization after realization hit him like a shovel to the head.

He really was going to be sick.   

“I have to go,” he said before he could change his mind and practically ran past her. He hurried down the stairs and had to restrain a despairing moan when he heard the footsteps coming down behind him. Rogers was walking close to him, fumbling with the sling as he tried to put it back on. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Mark snapped, picking up his shoes from the floor.

“I’m not staying here,” Rogers muttered. His feet were bare.

“You’re not coming with me,” said Mark and blushed for what felt like the hundredth time that day. Rogers colored slightly but otherwise ignored him as he beat him to the door. Frank stared at them from the kitchen, Mark saw him as he was stepping out of the house. He had his arms crossed over his chest and he held his gaze until Mark was outside.

Refusing to think about Frank or Hannah Rogers’ eyes or everything that had happened that morning, he raced Rogers across the street. He planned to lock him out but they reached his front door together and when they bumped shoulders Mark jumped back with a yelp. They stood panting for a moment, glaring at each other.

Don’t think about it, Mark kept saying to himself. Do not think about anything.

“Mark, I,” Rogers started to say, his expression changing to the urgent one from before. But Mark didn’t want to listen; he just wanted to get away. Something must have shown in his face, because Rogers sighed and stepped inside the house without another word. 

Dan and John were in the sitting room. They took one look at them and burst out laughing, like they knew, and Rogers didn’t even flinch as he joined them in front of the TV.

Mortified and confused, Mark escaped to his bedroom.

Chapter Text

John drove by Mr. White’s house on the way to Mark’s and checked to see if the dog was loose. Ever since the accident, every time he passed by he would glance over and, until now, every time the pit-bull had been barking from inside, John would see him jumping up and down through the window. 

Today, though, he veered out of the way just in time. The dog dashed out of some bushes and threw itself at the car, barking like crazy, and John cursed as he nearly ran it over. One block down the road he stopped and peered back. The dog trotted to the bushes and lay down behind them, as if waiting for another person to scare the shit out of. 

His father had told him to let him know if he ever saw the dog loose again and John made a mental note to call him from Mark’s place. Mark had probably hit Rogers just like this; that dog was lucky Mark had quick reflexes, even if Sandy Rogers wasn’t.

Once at Mark’s house, he rang the bell and waited. It was nearly the middle of the day already and he hoped no one was still sleeping. John was only up because his brother had made it nearly impossible for him to sleep with his computer games and his childish curses blaring from down the hall to his bedroom and no matter how much he threatened him, he wouldn’t quiet down. So he got up at ten thirty on a Saturday, for the first time since he was about nine years old and still didn’t see the beauty of sleeping in late.  

Dan, Mark’s younger brother, answered the door wearing a ratty Pokemon t-shirt a size too small and shorts. He had a videogame controller in his hand.

“Hey, Mark’s not here,” he said, looking back towards the sitting room, where John knew the TV was.

“Really? Where is he?” He asked, surprised that Mark had gone out without him. He had no idea where he could have gone alone.

Dan shrugged.

“I think he’s across the street because the car’s here and he never walks anywhere.”

“At Sandy’s?” John asked, incredulous, glancing behind him. Mark had been a bit less hateful lately, but the only weekend he’d spent with Rogers had been that time at Brian-from-PE’s party.

“Sandy’s here a lot lately,” Dan said, “He’s good competition.” He smiled, lifting the controller in his hand.

“I’m good competition,” John smiled back and Dan stepped back and opened the door further, making way.

“We’ll see.”

John liked Mark’s brother because he was as friendly with people as Mark was rude. His own brother usually shied away from his friends, but Dan joked around with everyone not caring about the age difference. Jessica was also nice, but as he only saw John as his younger brother’s friend who couldn’t help but stare at her legs all the time, they had never spoken much. John couldn’t understand how, out of a family like this one, could Mark be so…Mark.

“I’m getting something to drink; you want some juice or something?” Dan asked over his shoulder as he walked into the kitchen.

A while later they were both sprawled on beanbags in the sitting room. Dan was punching away on his controller, twisting and yelling excitedly at the TV as John laughed at him.

“Kill him!” Dan laughed, “No, to the right!” 

“You’re dead,” John said in a sing song voice.

No!” Dan, who had stood up at the end of the fight, dropped backwards onto his beanbag chair and threw his arm over his eyes, laughing.

“Told you I was good,” John smiled into his orange juice glass.

“Best two out of three?”

“You’re a masochist.” John picked up his controller.

They played until John’s fingers started to ache, and he let Dan win the last couple of matches, causing the other boy to protest loudly. They were making their third trip to the fridge when Jessica came down the stairs and into the kitchen.

“Oh, hey,” she greeted John. “Mark’s not here?”

“We think he’s across the street,” Dan replied and Jessica made an incredulous face.

“Why?”

They both shrugged. All three siblings looked alike, all thin with their freckles and dark hair, but John thought Jessica was definitely the prettiest. She was tall and curvy, not as tall as Mark but about John’s height. Her hair was usually up in a long pony tail and she liked to wear skirts and dresses that practically forced John to gawk.

He was lucky Jessica had never actually caught him at it, since he was pretty sure his balls wouldn’t survive the experience.

“Let’s play, come on.” Dan patted his arm and went back to the sitting room. John followed him.

They were still setting up the game when Dan spoke up:

“You have a girlfriend?” He asked suddenly and John was startled for a second.

“No,” he said, “I used to, back before we moved here.”

“I figured, I’ve seen you stare at girls at school.” He sipped at his glass.

“Yeah. Girls are…nice?”John offered. Maybe Dan wanted to ask him a personal question he didn’t feel comfortable asking to Mark or their father. John hoped not, he could barely answer these kind of questions to his own brother.

“Does Mark have a girlfriend?”

“Er, no,”John said.

“Did he use to have one?”

“Not since I’ve known him, no.” 

Dan was staring at the screen as he picked a car model for the race game they were playing next. “You know, the bike Sandy used to ride was blue. Like Mark’s car. I always thought that was funny.”

John was confused.              

“D’you think…” He paused and bit his lip to hide a smile. “You think Mark wants a girlfriend?”

“He was really into this girl last year. She’s your sister’s friend.” John thought for a moment. “Mary? I think.” 

“Yeah, I know her.” There was a pause as John picked his car model. “Mark used to look at her a lot. She has curly hair, like Sandy’s. Isn’t that funny?”

John glanced at the boy out of the corner of his eye. He sounded serious but he was trying hard to hold back a smile.

Mark’s car was blue and he had liked – or said he liked, anyway – a girl with hair like Sandy Rogers’, so what? 

“Um, sure. Pretty funny.”      

But it was like a door had been opened in John’s head and he was wondering about things he hadn’t thought about twice before. Mark and Sandy’s relationship had always been odd to John, all those fights and no one knowing the reason for them had always made John curious. But what was Dan implying here? Was he saying what John thought he was saying?

It couldn’t be. Sandy Rogers just had weird tendency to get under Mark’s skin. It didn’t have an explanation, a hidden meaning; it was just the way things were. Like John feeling euphoric before a basketball game or sick before Math class, it was just his body’s natural reaction to certain situations, he couldn’t help it. Mark had a hard time suppressing his urges and a…strong way of showing his dislike for Sandy. There was nothing behind it, Dan was just messing with him.  

“Mom always tells me about when I was in preschool and I pushed a girl off the swings. She says I liked her. I always thought that was a funny way of showing someone you liked them, but kids are always doing stupid things like that when they don’t know how to show what they’re feeling.” 

John was growing more and more uncomfortable as Dan kept talking. He kept his eyes fixed on the screen and listened almost against his will.

“And I always thought Mark was like a little kid that didn’t know how to express his feelings, so that’s pretty funny.”

“Yeah.”

They played their race game and minutes dragged by and there was still no sign of Mark. John kept trying to imagine what he was doing at Sandy Rogers’ house, why he was there and why he was taking so long and for some reason he was having trouble keeping his thoughts G-rated. 

Then, about an hour later, they heard the front door open and they both turned towards the sound. John felt his eyes widen when Sandy Rogers stepped into the sitting room, his face flushed, followed by a sour but equally flushed looking Mark. He was staring at the back of Sandy’s head like he was hoping to set it on fire, tense and angry.

Dan burst out laughing and John followed, because it was just too ridiculous.

Mark really was like a little kid, not knowing how to voice what he wanted. Or not really knowing it himself and acting on weird impulses instead. John laughed and saw Mark blushing deeper — a shocked and embarrassed expression crossing his face — and then tuning angrily away and stomping up the stairs.

Rogers went red too, but sat next to them and snatched Dan’s controller away as the boy clutched his stomach. They laughed and laughed and Sandy beat them at the race game even with the cast on and Mark yelled at them from upstairs to shut the hell up. John wiped his eyes and wondered how he had never noticed before and if Mark knew how obvious he was.

He forgot all about Mr. White’s dog.     

 

 

On New Year’s Eve, the year Mark and Rogers were twelve, their families decided to spend what was left of the holidays together. They were going to have dinner at Rogers' house and then go up to the roof to see the fireworks. Dad had promised that, if they behaved, he would let them fire up a few. Mark was the only one protesting when they were making their way across the street, making the rest of his family groan in annoyance every time he opened his mouth. Mark had glared up at them (back then only Dan was shorter than him) and sulked all evening. 

A while after dinner, the kids had gone up to Sandy Rogers’ room to play some games before midnight, mostly to keep ten-year-old Dan awake, all of them buzzing with excitement. They had argued about whether to play video games or a board game or races with Rogers’ toy cars and robots.

What Mark really wanted to do, though, was to look inside the toy trunk Rogers had forbidden him to even touch. His eyes kept darting towards it as he waited for the moment Rogers went to the bathroom or something to run and open it. Then Jessica sat up with a smile and pointed to a box peeking out from under Rogers’ bed.

“Let’s play that,” she said and Mark groaned.

“You just want Rogers to see your panties,” he groaned, making his sister blush.

“Fine, I’ll spin the arrow and you boys can play.”

She got up, holding her skirt down for good measure and smacked Mark on the back on her way to get the box.

Twister,” read Dan over her shoulder, “the game that ties you up in knots!”

Roger agreed and they all turned to Mark, expecting him to be the only one opposed. Rogers was looking at him with an especially ugly stare, the way he only looked at Mark and that bothered him so much.

Fine,” he sighed, rolling his eyes.

As they set up the game, Jessica explained the rules to Dan. Mark spread the mat in the middle of the room as Rogers moved stuff out of the way. Mark was dreading the time when he ended up tied in a knot! with Rogers – he was going to trip him as soon as the chance showed up.

When they were done, the boys stood while Jessica sat cross-legged on the bed and spun the arrow.

“Left foot, yellow. Who’s going first?”

Mark and Rogers stared at each other, but Dan slapped his bare foot on a yellow circle before anyone could speak. Mark was second, after pushing Rogers out of the way, and the game went on peacefully for a while. It wasn’t long before Dan lost his balance and fell on his face, laughing. They kept going anyway.

Mark kept trying to ignore how close he was to Rogers, something he had always avoided, and he whined about Rogers’ hair being on his face every five minutes. Jessica was starting to lose her temper, and Dan kept giggling and making jokes about the poses they were forced into to reach the colored circles.

And then, Mark put his hand on a green circle and he found himself face to face with Rogers. He had each of his hands on either side of Rogers’ head and his feet on either side of Rogers’ legs. Rogers was in a weird, crab-like position under him and he was breathing on Mark’s face. Now it was Mark’s hair getting into the other boy’s eyes.

Dan was laughing and running around them.

“Sandy’s gonna fall!” he sang.

Mark’s legs were trembling with effort and he could see Rogers’ arms were too. He looked at Rogers face and hated him for having no freckles and being thin and stupid and taller and so, so close. His hair, still a light blond then, was sticking to his temples with sweat and his eyes, that were the color of honey, were staring back at him. 

Mark felt his cheeks burn right at the same time he saw Rogers’pink up.

“Right foot, red,” Jessica said, “Your turn, Sandy.”

Rogers’ eyes flicked down, and Mark felt his knee graze his stomach. His shirt had ridden up during the game so he felt the leg move to his side slowly, brushing his skin as he looked at Rogers’ concentrated face from under his fringe.

A baby face on a man’s body, his mother always said. Rogers’ legs were already covered with light but thick, curly hair, and Mark had seen he had some under his arms, too. He was tall and long for his age, the tallest of their year, and Mark still had what his mother called baby fat all over him. The hairs on Mark’s legs were thin and barely visible among the freckles. 

When Rogers finally reached the red circle, he looked up at Mark. Mark had been thinking about how unfair everything was, and how great would it be if Sandy Rogers was fat and short when he realized the boy under him was pretty for the first time. It was like an electric shock, all of him jerked in surprise and his arms gave in. With a surprised squeak, he fell forward and landed on top of Rogers, hitting him in the eye with his chin in the process.

Dan and Jessica squealed with laugher as the two boys lay frozen in the middle of the room. Mark felt the warmth coming out of the body under him, a strange feeling he had never experienced before. Blushing, he didn’t dare move. He had butterflies in his stomach and when Rogers shifted his hips slowly they both gasped, their wide eyes meeting.

Then Mark punched Rogers in the face for the first time in his life.

He hit the side of his jaw, just an inch away from his ear. It hurt his knuckles more than it hurt Rogers. 

Everyone in the room stood still for a second, before Rogers reacted and returned the punch. It was a fury of fists and kicks after that. Dan was half screaming and half laughing and Jessica was trying to pull them away from each other, calling for their father. Mark felt tears of pain and shame gathering in his eyes as he swung over and over again and called Rogers every name he could think of. Rogers wasn’t far behind, and he managed to kick a tooth loose when someone grabbed Mark from behind and yanked him up. 

They were both crying and trying to hide it as the adults asked them what had happened in loud and angry voices. It was the first time Mark felt this enraged; his body was all locked up and stiff, his still chubby fists clenched hard. He had blood in his mouth that was dripping down his chin (Rogers would later find his milk tooth and give it to Dan a few days after). Rogers rubbed under his nose with the back of his hand to check for blood of his own as Frank and Hannah Rogers tried to coax him to talk and Mark wished for the first, but not last, time that he had managed to break his nose. He wished he had hit him harder and that they hadn’t interrupted them. He glared at Rogers and Rogers glared back, with a force then new.

Later that night, in his bed and grounded for life (according to Mom), Mark lay on his back and thought of everything he hated about Sandy Rogers. He made up a list in his head that he would repeat every time he saw him, adding things as time passed. He put everything in that list except what had happened earlier that night.

In fact, Mark would forget about the reason the fight had started until, years later, Rogers would remind him in the worst possible way.

 

Chapter Text

Mark slammed his door shut and stomped to his side of the room, yanking the Pokemon blanket off the wall on his way. He heard it rip as the fabric got caught in the nail it was hanging from, and the sound only made him angrier. He wanted to break something. No, he needed to. He threw his shoes to the opposite wall, but didn’t feel any better.

What the hell had happened? His mind couldn’t get around it. Rogers had kissed him. He had kissed him and Mark hadn’t killed him for it. Quite the contrary, actually, and it couldn’t be possible. And why? Why had Rogers done that? How long had he wanted to?

Mark thought about all the times he and Rogers had rolled around on the ground, hitting each other. Had Rogers secretly gotten off on that? Had he gone back home and jerked off over it? Over him? No, no, no, it couldn’t be.

He could hear Dan and John still laughing downstairs and he yelled at them to shut up.

The thought of whatever Mark had felt earlier — the roughness of Rogers’ chin against his own, his hair tangled in his fingers, his chest pressing Rogers to the wall — now left a bitter taste in his mouth. Mark threw himself on his unmade bed and closed his eyes. He remembered Rogers’ heart beating against him and his demanding grasp on Mark’s neck. He remembered opening his mouth, feeling anything but disgusted as he tasted Rogers’ tongue.

Mark buried his burning face in his pillow. Why, why, why had he done that? Why hadn’t he beaten Rogers senseless the second he drew his face too close? And what was Rogers’ problem? He wasn’t– Rogers wasn’t gay, he had seen him kiss Mary right in front of him.

Mark went cold.

Since when had Rogers wanted to kiss him? Did he kiss Mary because…because he knew Mark liked her and he wanted to take her away or because he wanted to take Mark away?

The magazine cover. The muscles, the naked man. All swirled before Mark’s closed eyes.

No, what was more important, why had Mark kissed him back if he wasn’t gay? Because he wasn’t. He had never even looked that way at a guy before. Nor a girl, his mind helpfully supplied, which wasn’t true, he had looked at Mary. And he had kissed and touched girls after that, too, and liked it very much. But it was different. All those girls were different from what he had felt with Rogers. Not worse (or better), just different.

And even if he was gay, which he wasn’t, why Rogers? Why, of all the guys in the world, did it have to be Rogers? Why not John? The thought made him flinch. He didn’t think guys were attractive, especially not John. The only guy he had ever thought handsome was Rogers, which wasn’t helping his case right now.

He felt like crying, which made him madder, because he hadn’t cried because of Rogers in years. He didn’t want to think Rogers was attractive but it was just something that popped up every time he looked at him. And up until now, that had always made him angry and jealous, at the moment it was just making him uncomfortable.

Mark punched his pillow and pressed his face harder against it. What the hell was wrong with him?

“Mark?” John said behind him and Mark stiffened, his heart pounding.

“What?” His voice sounded choked up and was muffled by the pillow. He could feel a lump in his throat that wouldn’t go away and his face was still hot.

“Are you okay?”

“Are you done laughing?”

“Sorry about that,” John said. “I wasn’t laughing at you, though.”

“Sure.” Mark rubbed his face against the pillow before sitting up. It probably only made it look redder. John was standing where the blanket used to be, his hands in his pockets.

“You went to Rogers’?” He asked. Mark had a brief, horrible second in which he couldn’t remember why he had been at Rogers’ house and all he could see was the kiss. Then his mind cleared.

“I went to go over the arm exercises,” he said, relieved. John made an incredulous face.   

“Why?” 

Mark didn’t feel like explaining himself or about Steve and wanting to know what Rogers had said about him (especially now that he had a pretty good idea of what, exactly, Rogers had been saying about him). He didn’t want to think about Rogers anymore. He narrowed his eyes.

He snapped, “I just did, okay?" He looked away from John. "I want him off my back. As soon as fucking possible,” he mumbled.

John walked over and sat at the foot of the bed, looking down at his feet.

“You know, Mark, if there’s something you have to tell me…you know...” He said, “I’m not going to think it’s weird or anything. You can tell me.” John didn’t turn around to catch Mark’s murderous look, but he could probably feel it burning through his skull because he shut up and didn’t say anything for a while.

Mark stared at his friend’s back and, gradually, started to relax. He knew he could tell John and he wouldn’t run away screaming. But he still couldn’t even understand it himself, and he didn’t want to say it out loud, it would make the entire crazy situation real. In fact, Rogers was probably as confused and embarrassed as he was. He probably wanted to forget about it, too.

“Any parties tonight?” He asked and John turned around, smiling.

“At Brian’s,” he replied.

Good. Maybe the girl from last time would be there. Mark could find her and get rid of all these questions. He and Rogers had been tired and angry, that was it. Mark hadn’t enjoyed kissing him any more than he would have anyone with a pair of lips, male or female, in the state he had been in.

“I’ll sneak out and pick you up at ten,” he said. “So they don’t make me baby-sit Rogers again.”

“Okay.” John stared at him for a moment, and then said, “You can really tell me anything, Mark. Anytime.”

Mark smiled weakly. “I know,” he said and felt a little better.

Rogers grabbed my dick, he thought suddenly, his brain betraying him. It was like a scream in his head, he hadn’t thought about that part of the encounter until now. He had been focused on Rogers’ mouth. He almost ripped my balls off.

And then Rogers’ words came back to him:

You liked it.  

And Mark felt sick again.

 

 

Dan didn’t know what, but something had happened between his brother and Sandy Rogers. As Sandy awkwardly played video games next to him, Dan stared at his profile and wondered if it was a good or a bad thing. He wanted to ask him, but he didn’t know how Sandy would react.

Sandy’s friends were mostly girls and he lived with his mother and, sometimes, a father that didn’t seem the tolerant type. Dan hoped he knew he could tell him stuff he couldn’t tell any of them.

“What were you guys doing at your house?” Dan asked and then stifled a laugh as Sandy blushed, a troubled look crossing his face.

“We were doing the exercises. For the arm,” Sandy mumbled, then cleared his throat and spoke louder, “He came over early in the morning. Dad thought we were smoking pot or something.”

Dan laughed. “Were you?”

“No,” Sandy said with a smile and a sideways glance. “He’s just paranoid.”

“Well, you probably gave him a reason for him to think so.” Dan leaned with his elbows on his knees and his palms under his chin. “Maybe Mark raided your fridge when you weren’t looking.” 

Sandy scoffed. “I think he wants me to be smoking something, instead of what he really thinks I’m doing.”

“What’s that?”

Sandy shook his head, put the controller down and flattened his hair down with his good hand. It was messier than usual. Mark had probably kicked him out of bed that morning and he hadn’t brushed it. Or something.

“Nothing. It’s stupid,” he said, looking back at the screen.

“I like stupid,” Dan insisted.

Sandy shook his head again.

Dan decided he wasn’t going to ask. If Sandy needed to talk to him, he would. At least Dan hoped so.

A while later, Sandy’s mom called and asked him to go home. Dan felt bad for him when he saw his face fall and his reluctance to leave. It was always like that when his father was in town, but this time it seemed worse than usual. That only convinced Dan further that something had happened.

Sandy wasn’t gone very long, though.

That night, Mark left in a hurry, barking at Dan to tell their parents — that had been gone all day — that he was at John’s. Jessica was also away, so Dan was left alone, which he didn’t particularly like. He kept all the lights on and stayed in the sitting room, curled up on the couch watching cartoons. It wasn’t fair that his parents didn’t let him have friends over when they weren’t home only because of a little fire in the kitchen over a year ago. This was torture, every creak in the house made him jump.  

His heart nearly flew out of his mouth when the doorbell rang.

Dan peeked through the window and sighed, relieved, when he saw it wasn’t some maniac in a trench coat and a hook for a hand. He opened the door to an angry looking Sandy. His shoulders were hunched and he was scowling at the floor.

“You ran into Mark?” Dan asked, thinking maybe they’d had a fight when his brother went out. Sandy looked up sharply and Dan was taken aback. He wasn’t used to Sandy’s glares being directed at him.

“No,” he said. “He’s not here?”

Dan shook his head. “He left earlier. He went to his friend’s house.” Sandy sighed, looking tired.

“Can I stay here for a bit?” He asked and Dan practically jumped for joy.

“Yes!” He cried, “I was freaking out, I hate being here alone.”

Sandy smiled a little and walked inside. They drank chocolate milk and watched all the cartoons Dan wanted. They didn’t talk much; Sandy didn’t look like he was in the mood. But after a while Dan couldn’t take it anymore and, during a commercial, turned to him and asked him what was wrong.

“Did you get into a fight with your parents?” Sandy was startled for a second.

“Yeah,” he replied. “Well, with my dad.”

“You can tell me, if you want,” Dan pressed, leaning in. Sandy was like his adopted big brother and he got along with him much better than he did with his real brother. He didn’t like to see him upset. But Sandy shook his head.

“No, it’s okay, it was a stupid fight,” he said, “And I should…I should talk to someone else about it.”

There was a long pause as they both got lost in their thoughts. Dan wanted to ask Sandy if Mark had done something. He wanted to tell Sandy not to listen to his father, that he could come live with them if he wanted. That his father didn’t matter because he was never around and he didn’t know him like Dan or Dan’s parents did. That Mark was an idiot but he wasn’t a bad guy and that he would come to his senses, eventually. Even if it took him years to do so, he would.

But Dan didn’t’t know how to say all those things aloud and, honestly, it sounded stupid even to him, so he just punched Sandy’s leg again. Sandy smiled tiredly.

“Wanna stay over?” Dan asked him and Sandy nodded. “You can sleep on Mark’s bed,” he grinned and Sandy blushed, but didn’t protest.

 

 

John looked through his phone’s contacts until he found Mark’s brother’s cell number. Next to him, Mark snorted in his sleep. John would have found the situation funny, if he wasn’t so annoyed at having to leave the party early. With his friend, instead of the cute brunette he had been eyeing all night.

The phone rang a couple of times before Dan answered sleepily.

“Mmhyeah,” he mumbled. 

“Dan, I’m driving your brother home, he’s smashed. Are your parents home?” John held the phone between his shoulder and ear while he drove Mark’s car down the street. He was dreading the next morning, when Mark found out, but he didn’t really left him any choice, did he?

“…John? What.” Dan was still half asleep.

“Yeah. Are your parents home?” John repeated. There was a pause and some rustling from the other line.

“No, no. They called before, they’re staying at my aunt’s for the night,” Dan explained, sounding more alert now. “What happened?”

“I’m driving Mark over there; he’s passed out in the car.”

“His car? You’re driving his car?”

“I know, I’m dead. We’ll be there in ten.” John was grateful he had decided not to drink that night. He was still driving slowly, just in case.

“Wait, but Sandy….”

“What?”

“No, it’s okay.” Dan laughed a bit. “I’ll open the door.”

When John turned into Mark’s driveway, Dan was already standing there, wearing the same ratty t-shirt and shorts he had that morning. He trotted to the car and laughed at the sight of his brother, sprawled on the passenger’s seat. John got out and rounded the car.

“Is he okay?” Dan asked.

“He just drank a bit too much,” John replied with a sigh.

“Should we wake him?”

“Unless you want to carry him upstairs….” Dan looked down at Mark, his smile turning into a small smirk.

“Let’s try carrying him.”

And so they did. Stumbling with the sleeping boy’s feet, they walked up the stairs and into the room. He was way too big to be dragged like this, and yet they somehow managed. Dan kept snickering under his breath and John kept thinking about taking Mark’s car and going back to the party. It wasn’t until they had dumped Mark into his bed that they talked again.

“What time– Wait, is someone else there?” John did a double take at the lump lying next to Mark. It seemed to be breathing. Dan snickered again.

“Sandy stayed over,” he said.

“Are you hoping they kill each other in the morning?” John looked closer and, in the darkness, caught a bare leg peeking out of the blankets. Mark sighed in his sleep and rolled over, throwing an arm over where Sandy Rogers’ head should be. “Seriously, this can’t end well.”

“That’s not our problem anymore,” Dan replied with a grin and walked to his side of the room, John at his heels.

“What time you think he’ll be up tomorrow?” He asked.

“Mark? Not too late. Around ten? And probably hung over as heck.”

“So it’s probably not a good idea to take his car and bring it back in the morning, huh?” John scratched the back of his neck, annoyed again.

At the party, John had been planning to walk up to the pretty brunette just when he caught sight of Mark nearly rolling down the stairs. He had been in a shitty mood for most of the night, going back and forth from angry to anxious and it had tired John out. He knew it was something about Sandy Rogers, but it always was and today was Saturday. John wanted to have a good time. And besides, he had insisted Mark to talk to him about what was bothering him for half the night and Mark had only gotten more defensive each time. John was a bit scared of what Mark was hiding, but he had promised himself to handle whatever it was like a good friend. Just like he had stuck with Mark when he was acting like a murderous lunatic, John would stick with him no matter what.

Mark had gone straight to the kitchen, grabbed a plastic cup and then disappeared in some room or other, saying he was looking for someone. Every time John caught a glance of him, he had a newly filled cup in his hand so he’d decided to leave the drinking part to Mark. He didn’t realize he would be responsible for him afterwards. It had been a challenge to take Mark’s keys from him. And even worse to convince him to sit in the passenger’s seat, but after that, he’d been out cold.

Now John still needed to be out, his nights didn’t usually end this soon. He cursed himself for taking a ride from Mark when his own car was working perfectly fine. But old habits die hard, he guessed.

John probably looked down, because Dan said:

“You really need to go? If it’s an emergency you can take the car.”

John hesitated. “It’s not an emergency,” he said.

“You can stay over, too. Or just take the stupid car. I can tell Mark that someone else brought him home and that you kept it for the night.”

John thought about it. He knew Mark would be intolerable tomorrow, hung over and tired. And, on top of that, he would wake up next to Sandy Rogers.

But the girl…the girl was waiting.

“Screw it, I’m taking the car,” John snapped and Dan smiled.

“Have fun.”

 

Chapter Text

Sandy woke up slowly, and it took him a moment to remember where he was. When he did, he exhaled loudly, relieved he wouldn’t have to deal with his father right away. Just thinking about the “talk” they’d had the day before started to irritate him, before he took a deep breath and told himself his father wasn’t even there now, so it wasn’t worth it to get worked up about him.

What was currently bothering him was that his arm itched so he tried to scratch it under the covers, barely managing to squeeze a fingertip inside the cast. That’s when he realized he wasn’t alone in the bed. He turned his head slowly and, for a second, didn’t recognize the boy in front of him. The face he was staring at was so calm and peaceful it couldn’t possibly belong to Mark. But then Sandy started noticing all the little things he knew so well, his eyebrows, the shape of his nose and all those freckles Mark hated so much but Sandy found he liked looking at. He looked nice without the scowl and the frowns, with his mouth relaxed and slightly open, his eyes closed and his expression soft.

Too bad he didn’t usually look like that when Sandy was around.

Sandy had been happy – and mildly surprised – when, after the party weeks ago (where he had watched Mark kiss a girl and practically shook with anger at the fact that all he could was stare), Mark had started acting different. He had stopped snapping at everything Sandy did, and he seemed to have lost the urge to fight. Sandy had been calmer, too, his anger finally fading after having been eating him up for so long. With his arm hurting non-stop and their families tense not knowing what to think of Mark, it had been hard to act cheery.

Sandy knew Mark hadn’t hit him on purpose, but a selfish, slightly twisted part of him enjoyed hearing him defend himself over and over again.

Then the whole PT fiasco had begun, making Sandy regret not having at least pretended to exercise like the doctor had said, for his mother’s sake. And Mark had surprised him once again by agreeing to take him to the sessions without a fight. And even though he nearly cracked his skull with a water bottle and proved himself unable to behave like a normal person no matter the setting, Sandy found himself enjoying being with him more and more.

Mark was closer to him on the bed than Sandy had thought at first. He could feel his leg brushing his over the covers. His arm was on Sandy’s side. He tried to tell himself that he was surprised, but he had known there was a chance of Mark coming back the night before.  

He held still and stared. Mark’s hair was falling on his forehead in floppy strands and Sandy resisted the urge to brush it away; he wanted to have this for as long as he could. 

He could hear Mark’s siblings moving around downstairs, talking loudly over the noise of the TV. Sandy wished he could wake up to this kind of sounds every morning. He had always wanted something like this, having people that were his around, all in one house, none running away on what they claimed were business trips or drowning themselves in work. Mark was lucky he had all of them caring for him no matter how much of a dumbass he was most of the time.

Sandy stared at Mark for a while, trying to remember exactly when he had started to look at him this way. During the last year Sandy had been especially annoyed at him, provoking him more often than before. He didn’t get why, at least until he had been forced not to fight with him because of the arm. That’s when he realized he was too used to touching Mark to stop so suddenly. And that’s when he started to think of other ways he wanted to touch him, ways that weren’t particularly harmful.  

But that’s not when he started looking at him different.

He had stared at him a lot the year before. That’s how he’d noticed Mark spent a lot of time looking at one of Jessica’s friends, and that weird nagging feeling had started. Sandy had seen this Mary girl a few times at Mark’s house. She was nice enough, so Sandy convinced himself that he had a crush on her and was jealous of Mark looking at her all the time. And that’s why he had approached her that day during lunch time. He had been half expecting Mark to show up, and when he did and Sandy saw his face he understood that Mary didn’t matter to him in the least. Not compared to what it meant to him having Mark there when he kissed the girl he liked, anyway. He remembered the strong pounding in his ears as he felt her intake of breath against his lips, but nothing could beat the odd feeling of accomplishment that enveloped him when Mark charged into him and sent them both crashing to the ground.

He missed that. After months of barely any contact at all, Sandy missed the way Mark’s skin felt against his hands. And what had happened the day before in his room only sharpened the feeling, made him more aware of what he was missing. Of what he actually wanted.

And more aware of how fucked up he was, too.

He rubbed his eyes tiredly with his good hand. He was sick of the cast and the sling and the whole hospital business. He knew he could have taken the sling off weeks ago, but that would mean that the end of the rides school would be closer. And he liked having an excuse to be at Mark’s house or in Mark’s car. Not only because for some demented reason he liked Mark, but because it was an escape from his own house.

Mark made a noise — a sleepy moan that made Sandy smile helplessly into his pillow — and shifted a little. Fuck, Sandy didn’t know why he wanted the stupid idiot, but he had no doubt that he did. And though he had said to himself not to get his hopes up, he couldn’t help but think over and over again that Mark had kissed him back.

Before freaking out and making Sandy almost lose it completely, that is. And before running away and denying the whole thing had ever happened. But, honestly, Sandy would have been surprised if Mark hadn’t done any of that.

Now Sandy couldn’t help but think that if Mark hadn’t actually meant any of it, Sandy would be completely exposed. This thing that he had been keeping to himself, keeping even from his friends, was out there now, in the most dangerous mouth possible.

Sandy snorted to himself, not believing he had actually thought that. The most dangerous mouth? What the hell? Besides, if Mark ever decided to tell, Sandy would tell exactly how Mark had found out. He would tell about every little noise Mark had made against him, the way he had held him closer and the way he had looked at him and….

And he really should stop thinking about it if he didn’t want another incident like the day before.

He wondered how Mark would react if he caught him with his hand down his pants now, after Sandy had grabbed Mark…well, now he couldn’t believe he had done that. He kind of regretted that part, actually. He knew his lack of control was a problem. He knew that he couldn’t completely excuse what a shit he had been the day before. He just couldn’t stand his father. Couldn’t stand the way his mother catered to him and acted like she didn’t have a voice of her own when he was around. And he hated Mark being witness to it.

Sometimes Sandy’s head felt too full and Mark was so good at making him get everything out. Had always been.

If Mark told about what had happened, it would probably reach Sandy’s father. That was something Sandy didn’t even want to consider. He didn’t know how his father had noticed or what Sandy had done exactly to out himself to a man that saw him about three times a year, but somehow he had found out. And he hadn’t liked it.

He would have to go back home eventually, though. And face his father and get yelled at for things he didn’t even knew for sure and he’d have to stare at his mother making attempts to say something to stop him and then back out. There was something about his father that made people back off. Normal people, at least, since Mark had never had any problem telling him what he thought of him.

Sandy’s father had the talent of always thinking the worse of people. He didn’t believe in accidents and he didn’t believe in Mark helping him with his arm just because he felt like it (though Sandy had also been suspicious when Mark had showed up at his house the day before). So fights were a common thing when his father was around. He questioned everybody and had no problem throwing jokes only he thought funny around, no matter how close to popping a vein Sandy came every time his father called Mark Frecks. Comments about Mark’s freckles were okay only when Sandy made them, mostly because he actually liked them.

Mark made another noise next to him, and Sandy looked up in time to see his eyes fluttering open. His trademark scowl was almost instantly in place, even before he saw he wasn’t alone, so Sandy had only a second to see Mark’s face soft and relaxed with his eyes open. He looked nice, and it made him feel bad all of a sudden. He didn’t think Mark would ever look like that around him.

“Shit,” Mark whined and screwed his eyes shut with a pained expression.

Sandy hesitated before speaking, deciding it didn’t make a difference if it was now or in three seconds, when Mark realized he was there.

“Head hurts?” He asked and felt Mark tensing up all around him. He didn’t lift his eyes to Sandy’s, but slowly moved his arm and leg away, and turned onto his back. When he spoke, he sounded surprisingly calm.

“Get the hell away from me,” he said. Sandy took a breath – he was determined to talk things over. He was going to push his temper down for as long as he could, no matter how difficult Mark made it for him. 

“I stayed over last night,” he said and saw Mark grimace and press his fingers to his closed eyes.

Sandy shifted to lay on his back, making Mark grunt. Sandy was startled when he felt Mark’s hand suddenly grip his arm to still him.

“Don’t,” he rasped and covered his face with his free arm. Sandy settled softly back on the bed. Now that Mark was awake, he looked a bit sick, skin clammy and too pale. 

 “Are you hung over?” Sandy asked after a while. His voice sounded quiet and slightly hoarse and startled Mark out of the doze he seemed to have drifted into.

Mark lifted his arm away from his face and finally looked at him. The state of his hair made him look like he was resting his head on a bird’s nest. Sandy was waiting for the moment when Mark finished understanding what was going on and pushed him out of the bed. He still looked a little lost, or maybe he was still drunk.

He should have guessed Mark was going to do exactly what Sandy had done the last time he had been at a party: drink until he forgot why he was so upset.

“Are you?” Sandy pressed when Mark didn’t answer. “Because your breath stinks.”

“You stink,” Mark grumbled with little venom in his voice. He was still holding onto Sandy’s arm but he didn’t seem to be aware of it. “Go away,” he whined.

Sandy knew Mark could see how his eyes flickered as he took on every detail of his face. Usually when they were this close, they were in the middle of a fight. There was little time to stare. And even though Mark’s face wasn’t exactly as calm as it had been when he was sleeping, it held less contempt that usual. He was probably still half asleep, but Sandy couldn’t help but feel a pang of hope hit him.

Mark blinked once before turning his head to look at the ceiling.

“I said go away,” he grumbled. Sandy felt himself starting to tense in anger, his throat constricting, ready to start arguing. But he swallowed his words and sat up. He disentangled himself from Mark’s grip, watching him snatch his hand to his chest like he hadn’t realized he’d been holding him all this time, and put his feet on the floor.

“I’m going to the bathroom,” Sandy said. Mark ignored him, rolling over and hiding his head under his pillow. Sandy considered smothering him with it, but walked out of the room in silence.

In the bathroom he washed his face and used his finger to clean his teeth as best as he could. He stood for a moment in front of the mirror. The eyes looking back at him were circled by dark skin, and his hair was sticking up to the right. Sandy tried to scratch under his cast again while convincing himself to talk to Mark instead of leaving or fighting with him again. He wanted to set things right, as right as they could be when it came to them. He didn’t want to act like nothing had happened the day before. Deep down, that little glimmer of hope was still burning, but he ignored it, thinking he would consider it a success if he could finish the day without a trip to the emergency room. He wasn’t expecting Mark to throw himself in his arms, unless it was to knock him down and beat him to a pulp after he brought up the kiss.

Sandy tried to smile. Then checked his reflection and schooled his face back to seriousness. His smile looked slightly off.

Trying to look as blank as he could, he rummaged through the cabinet in front of him for aspirin. He dropped all the toothbrushes out of their plastic cup and into the sink and then filled the cup with water.

When he stepped back into the room, Mark was sitting up and staring at the wall in front of him. He looked worn out, still sick. Sandy kicked a blanket out of the way and walked to the foot of the bed. Mark was following him with his eyes, but he didn’t seem to be really looking at him.

“Here,” Sandy said and held out the cup. Mark blinked, hesitating only for a second before taking it from him. “I found these in your bathroom.”

Sandy held out his bad hand with two small pills pinched between his fingers. Mark stared at his hand for a moment before taking them. He still appeared to be waking up, a frown slowly growing on his face. He gulped the pills down and drank the rest of the water, taking his time about it. The silence in the room was awkward, only interrupted by Danny and Jessica’s muffled voices coming from below. When Mark was done, he held the cup on his lap and stared down at it, refusing to acknowledge Sandy at all.

“Feel better?” Sandy asked, mostly to break the tension.

“It doesn’t work that fast,” Mark helpfully replied and then added: “And I told you to leave.” His voice sounded so quiet, Sandy hardly recognized it. If he hadn't been looking at his mouth move, he would have thought someone else was speaking, because Mark never sounded anything but loud and angry.

Sandy sighed. It wouldn’t be easy to get anything out of Mark while he acted like this. He hoped to keep calm until at least they’d talk a little, but he wasn’t sure he’d be able to.

He sat down with his back to Mark, thinking of a way to start but coming up with nothing. He felt Mark’s stare behind him, like heat spreading all over his back, his neck tingling. He scratched at it.

“I don’t know what to say,” he burst out finally. His voice didn’t sound his own either. He couldn’t remember ever feeling this embarrassed and lost before, which was making him more nervous.

“There’s nothing to say,” Mark snapped and Sandy turned to look at him. Their eyes met and their cheeks burned at the same time. Sandy’s self-control was slipping, and, if he knew Mark at all, he was barely holding himself back from throttling him.

“You’re going to pretend nothing happened?” He asked, the words coming out clipped.

“Nothing happened, it was a mistake,” Mark said and Sandy felt something twist inside of him. For a moment he was sure it showed on his face, because Mark looked taken aback. Sandy quickly frowned and glared at him.

“A mistake,” he said. “What, you thought I was someone else? Do I look like that Mary girl? Do I look like a girl at all? What d’you mean a mistake?” His anger seemed to be transferring onto Mark, because his shoulders were rising, and his face was scrunching up more and more as Sandy talked. Sandy turned around completely and looked at him square in the eyes.          

“You know what I mean, asshole.” Mark said. “You…you kissed me. You caught me off guard.”

“I caught you off guard for five minutes? At least try to think of a decent excuse.”  His face was rising in color, he could feel it. Mark drew his legs under him and knelt in front of him, his own face now the familiar mask he wore every time they fought.

Sandy tried again, “Look, I’m not…I’m just….”

You look,” Mark cut in, “I…um.” But he was having the same trouble speaking as Sandy was.

Looking down, Sandy felt like anything he said would be taken the wrong way, just like every time they fought. He didn’t want this to end in punches, but he was realistic enough to prepare himself for it anyway. They had a history, after all. A pattern. That’s how they worked.

“I won’t say anything to anyone,” Mark mumbled. “Just forget about yesterday and–”

“I don’t care about that. I just want to talk about this.” Sandy rubbed his forehead with the back of his good hand. Mark scoffed.

“Since when do we do that? There’s nothing to talk about, anyway.”

“Stop trying to deny it!” Sandy snapped. “I don’t care what you want to tell yourself, I kissed you because I fucking wanted to, okay?”

He felt like dying as soon as the words were out of his mouth. That wasn’t how he had wanted that little bit of information to come out. He was almost afraid to look Mark in the eye after that, but he did and found him blushing so hard he could hardly see his freckles. His mouth opened and closed a couple of times, nothing coming out. Meanwhile, Sandy bit his lip and mentally kicked himself.

“No, you didn’t,” Mark mumbled at last and Sandy’s anger clouded his mind again.

“Don’t tell me what I want or not,” he got out through his teeth. “I wanted to for a while now. That's what my dad thought we were doing when you…woke me up yesterday.”

“Frank?” Mark asked. “What– why?”

Sandy shrugged. “He doesn’t know, he’s just paranoid.”

A muscle in Mark’s jaw twitched. 

“Paranoid?” He lashed out, clenching his hands on his bed covers. “You keep pictures of men under your bed! You sleep on other guys’ beds! He’s not paranoid, he’s just paying attention!” He took a breath. “And what do I care what you wanted, I didn’t want any of it.”

“Well, you didn’t sound like you were having a bad time either!” Sandy snapped back, stung at the reminder of his father seeing that stupid magazine. Sandy hadn’t known he was in the house, so he hadn’t been careful enough. He was also still embarrassed about Mark seeing it, but the last thing he would have imagined was that the guy was going to be in his room when Sandy woke up, practically on top of him. 

With a groan, Mark threw himself forward and grabbed Sandy’s shirt in his hands. He froze there, maybe remembering that this had been how everything had started the day before.

“Mark,” Sandy said more calmly, “I don’t want you to admit anything more than the fact that it happened. I’m not planning on using it against you.”

Mark’s fists clenched tighter for a moment before going slack again.

“There’s nothing to admit,” he said, staring right into Sandy’s eyes. Sandy gave Mark a narrow look, a wave of heat running through him, and before he could tell what he was doing, he had pushed Mark back onto the bed with his bad hand.

The impact vibrated up his arm to his elbow, reminding him of the pain of that day and how awful it had looked, hanging there like it wasn’t his. His arm didn’t hurt anymore, no matter what he wanted to make everyone else believe.

Mark fell backwards and blinked up at Sandy, who was hovering over him, not sure of what to do next. Sometimes Sandy didn’t understand why Mark was the only one everyone called crazy, when he found it just as hard to control himself.

Taking Mark’s lack of reaction as a good sign, Sandy straddled his lap. It was a position they had ended up in thousands of times before, but felt completely different now. He was too worried about which parts of his were touching Mark.

Mark flinched like he was expecting a punch, but Sandy only leaned down, placing his forearms on either side of his head.

“Is this nothing?” He asked. Then he lowered his head and, for the second time in as many days, crushed his lips against Mark’s. He kissed him and Mark clenched his hands around his arms, as if he wanted to throw him off, but brought him closer instead. They kept their eyes and mouths open the whole time, and when it was just too much, Sandy bit down. He buried his teeth on Mark’s lower lip and tasted blood.

Mark grunted under him and pushed him away. Sandy rolled off the bed before Mark could land a blow. He watched Mark sit up and lick his lips clean, glaring at him while blood bubbled upon the little cut on his bottom lip. Panting, Sandy attempted a smirk he wasn’t really feeling.               

“That was for splitting my lip in my back yard,” he said.

“You asked for that,” Mark replied, wiping his face with his hand and leaving a pink smudge on his chin. “You begged for it.”

“It’s been too long since I hit back.”

“You bit me.” Mark’s ears went red. Sandy felt like biting them, too.  

“You loved it.” He said.

They stared at each other in silence, both humming with something like anger but not quite.

“I don’t love anything about you,” Mark said after a while. More blood splattered his bed covers and he wiped at his mouth again. “I told to get the fuck out. I don’t want anything to do with you. I’m sick of you.”

Again, that ugly twisting feeling surprised Sandy, yet this time he didn’t let it show.

“Well, I’m sorry but you’ll be seeing a lot of me until this thing’s off.” He lifted his left arm in the air. “Perhaps in the mean time you can grow some balls and admit–”

Get out!” Mark, pale and now bruised, made to get up. Sandy stepped back and flipped him off.

“Fuck you, Mark.” He turned to leave but halted on the way to the door. Still beyond furious, he walked back to Mark’s side of the room. Mark was still sitting on his bed, his hand on the side of his face. “I don’t care what you think you want, but you didn’t sound half that needy when you were with that girl at the party.”

He dodged out of the way when Mark hurled the plastic cup at his head and left before he found something bigger to throw.  

 

Chapter Text

Jessica only heard the last part of the conversation before Sandy was stomping out of the room and down the stairs without even noticing her. What she had heard had been enough for her to realize something had happened between them. 

Either they had messed around or Sandy had given Mark a really good back massage.

She was betting on the former, only because she couldn’t picture her brother laying motionless while Sandy had his hands on him. But the image of them messing around was just as surreal. Partly because she couldn’t imagine her little brother having a sex life, but mostly because she was picturing all the kind of masochistic things they would probably like doing to each other.  

Shaking those thoughts out of her head, Jessica walked into her brothers’ room. She immediately noticed the Pokemon blanket was gone and saw it crumpled on the floor on Mark’s side. She tried to walk making as much noise as she could. She didn’t want to walk in on Mark doing something she didn’t want to see, but the socks on her feet muffled any sound she could have made. So Jessica knocked on the bookcase three times and counted to five before peeking her head around it, one hand near her face in case she needed to cover her eyes.

Mark was kneeling on his bed with a pillow thrown over his lap, his knuckles white from grasping it too tightly, and blood on his mouth (You bit me, she had heard). He seemed to relax a little when he saw Jessica, but he still scowled at her through the hair falling over his face.

Jessica stood still for a moment, not really sure why she had walked in. Mark had sounded off before and it had made something in her stir, it had been a while since she had heard his voice without a hint of anger in it. Mark was usually either neutral or enraged, the latter being the most common, and whatever had happened with Sandy had wiped the anger away and replaced it with something trembling and upset.

Neither of them said a word as Jessica walked over and sat at the foot of the bed, facing him. His weight on the mattress shifted as he sat properly, crossing his legs but leaving the pillow on his lap.

“What is it?” Mark asked, his tone weary and slightly shaken. The fact that he hadn’t lashed out at her told Jessica that, perhaps, Mark needed to talk about it. It was a little awkward; Jessica had lost practice over the years. Once she had tired of hearing Mark go on and on about Sandy, she had stopped doing this. She had stopped coming to him when he stormed up to his room to sulk or fought with their parents or came back from school with a new bruise over his face.

“What’s with you?” She countered and saw Mark’s face redden.

It had never, ever crossed Jessica’s mind. Never had she imagined that there could be something behind all the fighting and grabbing and punching. Now that she knew something had happened, it made sense in a backwards, totally Mark way, and she felt a bit stupid for never realizing it.

She didn’t know how to start.

Did Mark need her to comfort him? To listen to him? To tell him she didn’t mind and that everything was going to be okay? If this were Dan instead, she would know how to go about it. It was easier to talk to him. He made it easy. Mark had so many issues talking about things that it made it hard for everyone else, too.

As they sat there in silence, Mark’s eyes fixed on his hands, Jessica allowed herself to look at him and notice Mark had not only gotten tall over the years, but was almost a grown up. She was probably feeling a bit nostalgic. With the school year breezing by and College coming up so quickly, she felt as if she was always down about something or other. Still, she looked at Mark and could barely see her little brother anymore.

His jaw, which had squared without her even noticing, was darkened by stubble, stubble on her brother’s face. She could hardly believe it. His hands looked just like Dad’s, maybe even larger. His long legs were hardly chopsticks anymore; it seemed like yesterday she was teasing him about it, right after the stupid growth spurt that had ruined their relationship.

She was going to miss him when she was gone. Everything from the fights to the few nice memories she had of them getting along some time, long ago. Even finding the toilet seat up every single time she went to the bathroom. Or his dirty socks between the cushions of the couch. Never finding snacks in the kitchen because he was always eating her stuff. She thought she was even going to miss listening to him complain about Sandy.

“What’s wrong?” His voice startled her. She jumped and looked up to find Mark staring at her, his expression almost worried.

“Nothing,” she replied and found her voice choked up. She swallowed and tried again, “Nothing.”

“You’re not going to cry, are you?” Mark said, and his knuckles went white again.

“Why would I?”

“Because…because you heard.”

Oh.

Jessica laughed, making Mark blush and start scowling again. She had forgotten for a moment why she had come in here in the first place. Mark and Sandy, sitting on a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g. It was just one more thing she would miss teasing him about while being away. Or even helping him with, if she could.

“I’m just glad you’re not really a psycho. I always wondered why he could get a rise out of you so easily,” she said, rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand. She was lightly horrified by this new-found, emotional side of her.

“It hasn’t been…yesterday he….” Mark’s face kept on darkening. It was odd to see him like this, wondering instead of jumping up and punching everything on his way. Jessica was actually surprised he was the one bleeding instead of Sandy, who had gotten out of the room (and apparently Mark’s bed, oh man) unharmed.

It took two tries and a really awkward moment for her to ask him what had happened. And then, like an open faucet, all that had been on Mark’s mind for the last couple of days spilled out of his mouth, with his fists clenched and his eyes everywhere but on her. He spat everything out fast, mostly rambling about how stupid the whole thing was, how much of an idiot Sandy was, lots of excuses and curses, but Jessica got the general idea.

Sandy liked Mark. Why, she couldn’t even begin to imagine, since all Mark had done since they were kids was make his life impossible, but there it was. Mark was basically freaking out about not having killed him the second he realized. Jessica wondered how ruined the moment would be if she told Mark what she thought. That Mark had wanted Sandy since forever and had been too thick to know it. That Sandy was just more honest about it. That he was at the very least lucky the person he wanted felt something back for him, even after being an ass to him all his life.

“I’m sorry I didn’t know sooner,” Jessica said. She didn’t know what she could tell him to help, except to get over it and do what he really wanted. Mark sucked on his cut lip.

“How could you have helped?”

“I don’t know.” She shrugged. “Maybe if I’d known, you could have handled it better.”

He glared at her.

“I don’t want to handle it better; I want this all to be a stupid nightmare.”

Jessica pinched his leg between two long, sharp nails and Mark kicked out with a yelp.

“Well, it isn’t and you’re being an idiot.” She tried to pinch him again but he scrambled to the other end of the bed.

“Stop it,” he said, “And how would you want me to react if he suddenly–,” he cut himself off.

Jessica rolled her eyes.

“So, tell him you're not interested. Why would anything have to change?” Mark said nothing. “He gave you the chance to talk about it, you’re just running away from it.”

“I’m not,” he mumbled.

They were quiet for a moment while Mark pouted, his lip still between his teeth, until Jessica mustered up the courage to say what she really wanted.

“Look,” She began, “maybe you’re not interested…and maybe you are. Just sleep on it and…just be nice to him when you tell him. Try, at least. He had to stand you being a complete asshole about this for a day too long already.”

“He was the one

“I heard the story, Mark. He shouldn’t have tried to…to grab at you the way he did after you told him to stop, but I think we can both agree he’s not the most emotionally stable person. Except maybe when compared to you, sometimes. You still don’t know what he has to say. He’s not a bad guy.”

Mark kept quiet. After a moment, Dan’s voice came from below, yelling at them that Mom and Dad were home. Jessica sighed.

“I didn’t think so a couple of months ago but…I’m gonna miss you next year,” she said, now blushing herself. She watched his freckled face, so much like hers, grow even more embarrassed as he only nodded and looked to the side. “I hope you work this out, a few of my friends are going to be disappointed when they hear, though.”

“You won’t tell!” He snapped his head up in panic. Jessica laughed and reached out to pinch his leg again.

“I won’t need to.”

 

 

It was the last part of their conversation before Jessica left his room that stuck to Mark the most. That knowing glint on Jessica’s face and the teasing “I won’t need to” that felt too much like a prediction to leave Mark completely reassured.

He had been calmer since the talk, though. For some reason, knowing that someone knew everything that had happened and had accepted it made him feel…lighter. He still felt terrible, though, like someone was stabbing him behind the eyes while kicking him in the stomach. It took a while of lying on his mess of a bed until Rogers’ pills started to take effect, and his headache slowly receded.

During that time, he willed himself not to think. He concentrated on the pain, on the walls, on the ceiling, but Jessica’s voice was still echoing around in his head.

Maybe you’re not interested…and maybe you are.

What a stupid thing to say. As if there were any doubts. Of course he wasn’t interested. He had kicked Rogers out, hadn’t he? He had told him he wanted nothing to do with him. He had gone to a party for the sole reason of finding a girl with whom he could forget all about Rogers, and the way his hair had felt between his fingers.

Of course, the girl hadn’t been there, or at least not where Mark could find her. He’d walked around and looked, but he wasn’t like John, not everything that walked around on two legs turned him on. He didn’t find everybody in a short skirt attractive. He didn’t like anything in particular, things just happened. The last time, the girl had fallen on top of him and things had happened. Easy as that. Except maybe it had to do with the fact that Rogers had been looking and he had wanted to show him…something. He didn’t even know what. He was completely pathetic.

Then the thing with Rogers; even that he hadn’t started. Rogers had been suddenly there, too close and touching too much and why Mark hadn’t pushed him away

He was completely clueless.

Mark had no idea what he wanted, what he liked or why the hell he liked it. Why did he like Rogers kissing him? Why was it so hard to push him away? And why did he still make him so angry? At least if he didn’t, Mark could handle it. Maybe. But it wasn’t like Rogers stopped being Rogers after what had happened. No, he was still his little, perfect, injured, infuriating self and it drove Mark mad.

Dan called him from downstairs again, yelling that Mom and Dad had brought lunch.

Mark rolled out of bed and made his way to the bathroom – his bladder couldn’t wait any longer.

Something that Mark tended to do in the mornings was stare at himself in the mirror for a while. As he washed his hands or brushed his teeth, he would usually look at his own face, trying to make out what it would look like without the hundreds of freckles covering it. It was no exception today, and he stood in front on the mirror for longer than usual, frowning at his reflection.

He was pale, the skin under his eyes darker that the rest of his face. There was a nasty cut on his lip that had swollen slightly and his hair was sticking up to the left. His freckles stood out on his cheeks, nose and forehead in ugly, little dots that traveled down his neck and inside his shirt. They were even on his ears, a couple of them scattered under his chin, too.

And as Mark sneered at himself in the bathroom, a sudden thought hit him.

Sandy Rogers had kissed him.

Even though he and Rogers had never gotten along before these last couple of months, never said anything nice to each other that wasn’t forced or had a conversation that lasted more than five minutes and didn’t end up in a fight, they were close. Mark was closer to Rogers than to John and Rogers definitely knew him better. In a way, Rogers knew him better than Dan and Jessica, too, and that alone was scary. So what threw him off was that even though Rogers knew him better than anyone, he had still kissed him.

Mark made a noise that could have been a whimper and sat at the edge of the bathtub. He didn’t know what to think of it, especially because everyone who knew him always made a point of telling him how hateful he was. Now perfect little Rogers, who had spent half his life fighting with him and was familiar with Mark’s worst side, had kissed him and slept next to him and looked at him in a way no one else ever had before. Because it was one thing to fool around with someone you hardly knew, like a girl at a party, and another completely different thing was to have someone who knows you practically inside and out want you. Want him. Want Mark.

Mark felt an odd tugging inside his chest, right at the pit of his stomach, and convinced himself he was going to be sick. He had drunk to much last night and now he was making himself sick by thinking stupid things.

Mark!” Dan called again, “I’m eating your sandwich!”

“Leave him alone!” Jessica called back from her room and his conversation with her came back to him.

Mark had no idea about anything; he didn’t know why he had kissed Rogers back or why he hadn’t killed him by now. He didn’t know why the thought of Rogers actually liking him, liking Mark Wallace, was so overwhelming. What he did know, and he realized now with a start, was that he had never thought someone would like him enough to put up with him. To try to convince him, to try to talk with him. To kiss him again after he had been an ass to them.

To kiss him at all after hitting them with his car

 

 

After lunch, when he stepped out of his house, Sandy Rogers was sitting in his front yard across the street. After a small hesitation, he lifted his casted arm up at Mark. Mark lifted his hand up by reflex and then reached back to scratch his neck, wanting to kick himself. He was not waving at Rogers, dammit. Rogers had probably just been fighting with Frank. Or maybe his parents were fighting inside. And yet he hadn’t come back to Mark’s house, not even to play video games with Dan.

Well, Mark had told him to get out enough times, it took a while but apparently he had finally understood.

Or maybe he was embarrassed. Jessica had said that Mark had been an asshole to him, which wasn’t new, but he could see that this time it was serious and this time Rogers was the one with his…feelings or whatever all out in the open. He felt only a little guilty, but that was soon replaced with dread as he turned to the drive way and found it empty.

Mark’s stomach dropped.

How had he gotten home last night? He couldn’t remember a thing after walking up the stairs of Brian’s house in search of the girl. Had he left his car there? All night? He looked around him, dazed. He spotted Rogers standing up, staring at him. Mark’s fingers were suddenly very cold.

Then John drove his car around the corner.

Mark felt boneless with relief. He saw John mouth a curse when he parked in front of him and he got out as if the thing was on fire, walked to Mark and shoved the keys in his hand.

“I’m sorry, Mark. I’m sorry. I needed to go yesterday and you were passed out and there wasn’t another choice. I’m sorry.” He took a few steps back, his hands up.

“It’s okay,” Mark heard himself say. And it was. After the days he’d had, this seemed like no big deal. The car looked fine, its only flaw the scratch from Rogers’ bike and not even that could make his mood worse than it already was. The only thing bugging him was Rogers, standing alone in front of his house, staring at him.

“It is?” John asked, lowering his hands.

“Yeah. Get in.” Mark rounded the car and stepped into the driver’s seat. John hesitated a second before following.

“You’re not taking me out to the country to kill me where no one can hear me scream, are you?”

Mark didn’t answer, just started the engine and drove down the street. Although he tried not to, his eyes flickered up and he looked through the rearview mirror. Rogers watched them drive away until they turned a corner and their street was left behind.

“What’s wrong?” John asked after a few minutes in silence. Mark gripped the wheel.

“Rogers kissed me,” he said. It was harder than it had been with Jessica. Maybe because with his sister, he had needed to blurt it out before he exploded. He didn’t need to tell John, he just wanted to.

John didn’t punch him or jumped out of the car before Mark could try something on him or anything stupid like that. He didn’t even say a word until a full minute had passed.

“Oh?” He said.

“Yeah,” Mark replied.

“I’m surprised he’s still walking around,” John went on. “Did you, um, want him to kiss you?”

Daring a glance to his side, Mark saw John was blushing slightly.

“No.” Mark gritted his teeth. “I didn’t.”

John turned his way. “Really? Why not?” He asked, his eyes wide. Mark made an incredulous face.

“Because he’s Rogers,” he cried. “And I’m not gay.”

“Is he?” John could hardly keep the laughter out of his voice and Mark glared at him.

“Well, I’m hardly a girl, am I?” He snapped. “He’s Rogers and he kissed me.”

“What d’you know,” John mumbled, looking out the window and ignoring the way Mark’s voice had cracked on the last sentence.

When the silence had grown unbearable for Mark, he spoke again.

“Did you know he had? K-kissed me, I mean.”

“No.” John smiled. “I’m glad you told me, though.”

“You don’t think it’s weird?”

“Only because it’s you and Sandy,” he said after a pause. “Not because, you know….” 

“Yeah.”

Mark drove in circles around John’s neighborhood, he felt there were more things to be said, but he could not think what they were for the life of him.

“What- I mean, how…. Geez, this is awkward.” John rubbed his chin with a laugh. “Did you talk about it at all? With Sandy?”

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Mark grounded out.

“Um, there’s a pretty big something to talk about.”

“No, there’s not.”

“Why’d he kiss you, then?” John asked, amused and patient, like he was dealing with a little kid.

“He said he wanted to,” Mark replied.

“Why?”    

“How should I know?” Mark snapped.

“Well, talking about it, basically.”

Why couldn’t people understand that Mark didn’t want to talk to Rogers? That the last two times he had been close to him they had ended up all over each other? Mark didn’t want that to happen again, no matter how strongly he could still feel his hands and his lips and everything about it. This was Rogers, dammit.

Why, on top of everything he had, did he want Mark as well?

Right now, it didn’t matter what Mark did or didn’t want for himself. It didn’t matter how it had felt or if it had been enough or not. He wasn’t going to give more to Rogers, he had enough already.

“What happened to your mouth?” John asked, “No, wait, don’t tell me….”

“Rogers punched me,” he half-lied.

“Oh,” John laughed again, “Because you were being an ass about the kiss?”

“That’s the popular opinion, at least,” Mark mumbled.

Mark was in his right to freak the hell out. He didn’t think he deserved a bloody lip just because he had reacted like anyone else would have. No matter how Rogers had wanted him to handle it, how everyone wanted him to handle it, he wasn’t just going to sit down and let Rogers, of all people, tell him how he felt about anything. He knew how he felt, and it was fucking confused.

“I want you to be okay, Mark,” John said. “I like you, even though you’re moody and snap easily and have a bit of a violent tendency to deal with things. You’re my friend and you should talk about this and feel better, it’s really not the end of the world.” 

Mark was blushing, mostly because he was embarrassed about how much of a sap John was, if not because he was a little touched, too. He had already told him he could talk to him about anything, and Mark had known it was true. Still, it was nice to have proof of it.

“I just wanted to tell you,” he said, turning on John’s street. “And that’s the last I’m going to talk about this, ever.”

Chapter Text

Dana had known it was going to be an odd day since she had woken up and found she had overslept. She had a schedule, and she stuck to it. But last night she had been unable to fall asleep for a long time, imagining conversations in her head that she would never have.

She had imagined herself planted before Emily, her hands on her hips as she told her to shut up.

It was a good way to start.

She would tell her to shut up, that it had been months already and that she was tired of listening to her complain about Mark Wallace. She would tell her that it didn’t matter that Emily couldn’t afford to replace her tires because she had spent her savings on something else, because even if Emily could fix her car, Sandy would still ride to school with Mark. Because he wanted to. This part she would emphasize with a poke of her finger to Emily’s shoulder for every word.

After this outburst, Dana’s mind couldn’t help but show her all the possible outcomes. Emily could start crying, and that opened up more possibilities as Dana could comfort her or continue to yell at her or walk away. Or Emily could shout back and Dana could stop or go along. Or, and this was Dana’s favorite, Emily could turn around, look at Sandy standing behind her, and realize it was true and leave it alone. Then Dana’s life would be free of conflicts.

She didn’t know what time it was when her brain finally shut off, but the next time she opened her eyes she was half an hour late.

As she hurried to get out of bed, she rearranged her schedule in her head. She would skip her shower and instead brush her teeth, grab an apple and eat it on her way to school. She would walk slower than usual and she would be in time. Luckily, she always prepared her clothes for the day the night before.

She wasn’t entirely comfortable walking to school knowing her hair wasn’t clean, but she forgot all about it when she reach the school’s gate.

The first thing she noticed was the small crowd. Their enthusiasm resembled the one her schoolmates showed every time Mark and Sandy fought in the past. She was scared for a second, because she had been sure those days were over, and she quickly looked through the iron fence and found Mark’s car in the parking lot, and Mark walking away from it.

She sighed, relieved until she heard Emily’s voice above the chants, yelling at someone to stop. Then Dana was running, which she hardly ever did, towards the crowd and pushing her way to the centre of it, where Sandy and someone she couldn’t place were locked in a painful-looking knot on the ground. Emily was the person standing closer to them, still shouting for them to stop. Dana was frozen in place; the picture was so bizarre that she didn’t know what to make of it. Had this been Mark and Sandy, she would have been disappointed, but not all that surprised. But Sandy didn’t behave like this with anyone else, he got along with everyone. Except…except this was the boy! This was the boy that had been bothering Emily. The one Sandy had chased that one time.

Dana looked up at Emily. Had he done something to her? Why had Sandy reacted like this? It was all so strange and so startling that Dana couldn’t move to ask Emily if she was okay.

Then she looked further away, towards the school, and saw Mark and his goofy friend John were looking toward the scene. John was talking and he pointed at the crowd and then Mark was running this way.

It was all so very weird – Dana was dizzy.

Mark ran so fast, it seemed like Dana had just blinked and he was there, pushing people out of his way, cursing. When he got to the middle of it, he stopped short for a moment. Dana looked down to see what he was seeing. If the guy hadn't been a redhead and half as tall as Mark, the scene would have been familiar enough. Sandy was on his back while the other boy kneeled over him, each leg on either side of him. They were both grabbing at each other’s clothes and each other’s faces, only Sandy couldn’t do it right because of the cast, and every time he managed to get a hold of him, the boy jerked away with ease.

Then the boy punched Sandy in the face, right under his eye. Dana could tell he wasn’t used to it because he hissed like it had hurt his hand, too. Besides, it didn’t sound as bad as when Mark did it.

It was then when Mark reacted. With a really strange and low sound that seemed to come from deep within him, he grabbed the boy by his shirt and threw him off of Sandy and onto his back. He quickly fell on top of him, as Sandy struggled to sit up, and Dana was afraid for a second Mark was going to do something serious to the boy.

But he didn’t do anything. He lay there, looking as surprised as everyone else about what he’d just done. Everybody around them was suddenly very quiet and Sandy was looking at Mark in a very inappropriate way.

Then someone at the back yelled, “Hit him!” And everybody was chanting again. Mark scowled and stood up, beating the dust off his jeans. He looked down at Sandy, who snapped out of his trance and hurried to stand up as well. The redheaded boy followed, much more slowly. He looked angry and before Dana could warn them, or before Mark could look away from Sandy, he had thrown himself at him.

Mark only stumbled backwards a little, he was big enough (and experienced enough, Dana guessed) to avoid falling back down. The boy punched Mark and Mark pushed him away, only to have him ran back at him with a growl.

“What the hell is the matter with you?” Dana heard Mark grumble as he tried to pry him off. Then he jerked back, as if startled, and knocked the side of the boy’s face with his closed fist. It sounded bad this time (it was the sound Dana had expected to hear when the boy had punched Sandy) and the boy fell to his side.

“Mark.” Sandy’s voice was a hoarse whisper.

“The crazy fuck bit me,” Mark snapped and lifted his t-shirt to check. There was a small wound below his chest, a little to the side, and a trickle of blood dripped down to his freckled stomach. Someone at the back whistled, Sandy flushed and Emily started crying.

Dana was still standing there in the middle of it when a teacher finally came.

What he found was: half the school running away from the scene, a nearly hysterical girl in tears, Sandy covered in dirt and with a blackening eye, a lithe boy lying on the floor, probably half conscious, another girl watching everybody with a half eaten apple gripped in her hand and Mark, towering above everyone and still holding his t-shirt up.

The teacher, wide eyed and speechless, looked around him as if he couldn’t understand why anyone else besides Mark Wallace and Sandy Rogers were involved in this. When he spoke, he told Dana to help Emily to the girl’s room and then meet them in the principal’s office. He snapped at Mark and Sandy to help the redheaded boy up and follow him. Neither of them made a move to touch him.

“Mr. Wallace,” the teacher said in a warning tone, “nobody wants to see that. Please cover yourself, pick that kid up and follow me. Now.”

Mark dropped his shirt and grabbed the boy’s arm, pulled him up and half dragged him behind the teacher as the boy attempted to keep his pace, holding his head with his free hand. Sandy looked at Dana, then at the still sobbing Emily, and opened his mouth to speak.

“Mr. Rogers, I said follow me,” the teacher boomed.

“I’ll see you at the office,” said Sandy and hurried away.

Once alone in the restroom, Dana helped Emily clean up as she cried. It wasn’t until then that she asked what had happened. She told her, water and tears dripping from her face, that she had found Sandy when she had gotten to school. She had seen him getting out of Mark Wallace’s car and suddenly gotten angry at him. He spent all his free time with him now, even when he didn’t have to. He had asked Mark to go with him to physical therapy and he had gone to a party with him. He only saw Emily at school now; they were hardly speaking on the phone. Emily had found out Sandy’s father was back in town only because he had answered the phone one day. And on top of that, he had told her that Sandy was at Mark’s house.

When Emily had seen Sandy that morning, all of this had blurted out of her mouth. Sandy had listened to her and then said he was sorry, but he hadn’t said he would stop being with Mark all the time. Sandy said that he wasn’t with Mark all the time. Then Emily said that she loved him. 

At this part of the story, Emily burst out crying again, her face going red.

Sandy hadn’t said anything back at first, he had only looked surprised. Then it had turned awkward because no one was saying anything, until Sandy said:

“He said, he said he’s sorry and that he doesn’t love me like that,” Emily sobbed.

And so she’d said she didn’t expect him to, even though she had expected him to, and that was when that boy, Ted, had come running and tackled Sandy down.

“He’s crazy,” Emily said, “He’s been following me everywhere since the year started. He’s the one that slashed my tires.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Dana asked, hurt and worried. She felt guilty for ever being angry at Emily, for picturing yelling at her.

“I didn’t tell anyone,” she sniffed. “You think Sandy likes you?”

“What?” Dana grabbed some paper towels and began drying her friend’s face. “Of course he likes me. He likes both of us.”

“I mean…like I like him.”

Dana burst out laughing before she could stop herself and Emily frowned, new tears threatening to spill from her eyes.

“Of course not!” Dana exclaimed.

“How do you know?”

“Because….” Well, because Dana was sure Sandy was crushing pretty badly on Mark Wallace, but she couldn’t say that to her. “I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do,” Emily insisted, and there was something in her eyes, in her expression, that made Dana think maybe Emily knew, too. She just wished really hard it wasn’t true. “Tell me.”

“Well, we are his friends, for a start. And that’s never a good idea. Besides, besides we are clearly not his type.”

“What’s his type?” Emily asked, leaning forward.

“Well, tall. And with dark hair. And…loud? With a lot of freckles and anger management issues.”

Emily laughed a little, startled. And then stared at Dana as if she was expecting (hoping) it was all a joke. When Dana didn’t say anything, she sighed.

“I suppose a dick’s in that list too.”

“I should…hope so.” Dana shook the mental image of a naked Mark Wallace away. Emily laughed again.

“They’re both crazy,” she said. 

“Yes.”

“It can’t last more than a week,” Emily went on.

“I can’t even see it beginning at all,” Dana encouraged her, silently apologizing to Sandy.

“They’ll kill each other…,” Emily muttered, sullen but not bitter. And then, as if the thought had struck her suddenly, asked, “Did Mark just help Sandy out there?”

Mark had helped Sandy. Dana wasn’t sure why and different possibilities came to mind. Maybe Sandy was territory, or something ridiculous like that. Maybe Mark didn’t want Sandy’s arm getting worse because then he would have to keep driving him. Or maybe he just didn’t want to see Sandy get hurt.

Dana sighed. If there was something she was never going to completely understand, it was how a guy’s mind worked. 

 

Chapter Text

Mark dropped the crazy leprechaun onto one of the office’s plastic chairs and then plopped himself two chairs away. His wound stung, some blood had smudged through his shirt and the fabric was now plastered to his skin, it itched like crazy. Mark watched Rogers standing in the middle of the small room for a moment before he sat next to him, leaving Mark in the middle.  

“I missed you, boys. I was starting to think you had grown up,” Mrs. Devon, the school’s secretary, said. “What’s this?” She pointed her pen at the guy sulking where mark had left him.

“Is he in, Joan?” Mr. Leander asked her before anyone could reply to her question.

“He’s in a meeting, I’ll let him know there’s been…a situation.” She smiled at Mark. Mr. Leander nodded, glancing back at the redhead.

“I have to go back to my classroom; would you be so kind as to ask one of the girls that should be joining these gentlemen soon to get some ice packs for them?” He said and Mrs. Devon nodded with another smile. “And don’t let Mr. Wallace go anywhere. You two make sure he stays awake.”

Mark and Rogers nodded, both looking at the tiled floor. Mark could feel one of his knees bleeding from when he had fallen (thrown himself) to the ground.

“What have you two been up to?” Mrs. Devon asked when Mr. Leander left as she dialed her desk phone. She held up her pen. “Sandy Rogers and Mark Wallace are here. Yes. About two months, I believe. Yes. Very well.” She hung up. “He’ll be out in a little while. So, you were saying?” 

Mrs. Devon was probably the only adult that had known Mark and Rogers for years and had never scolded them. They didn’t see her that often, as since the staff had finally learned not to bother because it would never help, they didn’t get sent to the office every time they fought. In fact, the only teacher that still bothered to punish them was Mr. Leander. He didn’t miss an opportunity to lecture them.

“What happened to him?” She nodded towards the little guy.

“Mark knocked him out,” Rogers replied, and Mark glared at him.

“And what happened to you, darling?” She asked him.

“That guy punched me,” Rogers said, raising his fingers to his bruising eye.

“I see.” Mrs. Devon smiled again. “What about you, Mark?”

“I may have rabies,” Mark muttered.

“He bit him.” Rogers sounded way too cheerful about what had happened. Mark couldn’t even look at him anymore.

“He bit your mouth?” Mrs. Devon’s eyes widened.

“No!” Mark spluttered. “No, that wasn’t– No, he bit my, um, arm,” he lied, feeling a blush spreading on his face and hoping the blood wasn’t noticeable on his shirt. Having some random guy bite his chest was a bit too much for Mark, especially after all that had happened lately.

“What happened to your mouth, then?”

Mark only shrugged, looking away and officially shutting up for the rest of the conversation.

“So, what have you been up to all this time? I haven’t heard a complaint about you two in a while,” she went on. As Rogers told her about his arm, the guy next to Mark started fidgeting in his seat. Mark looked over and saw his temple and cheek were starting to darken in an ugly bruise. His chin was scrapped, too, probably due to Rogers. He looked scared, his eyes going back and forth between Mrs. Devon and the exit.

Sensing Mark’s stare on him, he turned and caught his eyes.

Mark wanted to tell him he was not going anywhere. He was going to sit there and take whatever they threw at him because this was entirely his fault in the first place.

It was odd not to think something was Rogers’ fault for once. 

The guy looked away, shrinking in his seat. Just then Rogers’ friends came in.

“Oh, dear, what happened to you?” Mrs. Devon asked when she saw Emily’s puffy, red-rimmed eyes. No one answered and the two girls sat next to Rogers. “It’s crowded today. Oh, honey, could you please get some ice packs from the infirmary? Thank you.”

Dana got up and, after sending Mark a look, disappeared through the door.

Mark looked down at his lap. There was a long, very awkward silence that even Mrs. Devon didn’t try to fill. He was sure everyone in that room was staring at him; the back of his neck prickled. He prodded at a tear on his knee, wincing when he poked the cut below.

“Maybe I should have asked her to get some band-aids, too?” Mrs. Devon said. Mark looked up to catch her staring at his leg.

“It’s okay,” he mumbled.

The air in the room was tense and everyone’s attention felt focused on him. He looked around and, indeed, they were all sending him sidelong glances.

What?” He snapped. 

“So, Sandy….” Mrs. Devon ignored his outburst and turned to Rogers with a smile. “When are they taking the cast off?”

Rogers wasn’t wearing the sling today, his scribbled cast was in plain sight, the color at the edges fading. Mark hadn’t asked why he had suddenly decided to stop wearing the thing when he had seemed so determined to leave it on for as long as he could. In fact, Mark hadn’t said a word to Rogers since the day before when he had chased him away from his bedroom, not even to warn him not to slam his car door that morning – Rogers hadn’t anyway.

“Sometime this week,” Rogers replied and Mark stopped himself before he could turn in surprise. Rogers’ cast was finally coming off. He saw him turn to look at him out of the corner of his eye, but kept his gaze locked on his knee.

“That’s great,” Mrs. Devon went on. “Are you excited?”

Rogers shrugged and everyone felt silent again. When the phone rang and Mrs. Devon answered, Rogers turned to Emily.

“Are you okay?” He asked her in a quiet voice. She didn’t open her mouth. “I’m sorry, Em.”

“What for?” She muttered.

“Come on, Emily. You know what I mean, don’t be mad about this. I–”

“I’m not mad about that. I just wished you told me sooner,” she sighed.

“Tell you what? I didn’t know you–” And he stopped short. Mark looked up as discretely as he could. Emily was staring at him, glaring at him, from over Rogers’ shoulder. Rogers’ ears were red. “I–”

“Dana had to tell me. Since when has it been going on?”

Mark’s head was spinning. What the hell were they talking about? What had Dana told her? What had Rogers told Dana? There was nothing going on!

“There’s not–” 

“Don’t try that. It’s written all over your face. Both your faces,” Emily said with a final look at Mark. She turned to stare forward and Mark lowered his gaze again, not trusting his expression. Rogers was left spluttering.

Just then, Dana came back with two ice-packs in hand and John at her back. 

“Where did you disappear to?” Mark asked him.

“I went to find a teacher,” he replied from the door. A look from Mrs. Devon — still on the phone — warned him not to go in. “I thought you’d be at the infirmary.”

“I’m okay.”

“Is that guy okay?” He nodded his head towards the guy that had thought it was a good idea to jump at Rogers. He didn’t look okay at all, actually. His face was far too pale while his temple kept darkening (Mark was never going to hear the end of this once his mother found out).

Mark reached out a few seats to slap his arm. He jumped and jerked it away.

“He’s fine,” Mark said, straightening up.

Dana walked over to the guy an offered the ice-pack, her face stern. He snatched it out of her hand and pressed it on the side of his face, a low, pained hiss escaping his lips. Rogers was playing around with his, holding it over his lap.

“Put that over your eye,” Mrs. Devon said before Mark could snap at him. Rogers obeyed with a wince. “Are you hurt, darling?” She asked Emily and she shook her head no.

“Okay, I’m glad everyone’s alive and all but I have to get to class, I’ll see you later.” John waved and walked away with a smile in Mark’s direction. Mark wished he had something to throw at him. Traitor.

Once again the room was silent. It was a loud silence, every squeak of a chair or tapping of Mrs. Devon’s pen on her desk was a hundred times louder than normal, thudding hard against Mark’s ear drums. He still felt like he was being studied. And he knew what everyone was thinking about.

Why the hell had Mark Wallace helped Sandy Rogers?

Well, apparently Rogers’ friends had drawn their own conclusions. And he didn’t know what Rogers thought about it, except that he was pleased. Mark himself was determinedly not thinking about it. He was not trying to analyze reasons or impulses or stupid feelings. He was not trying to work out why he suddenly hated this new guy almost as much as he did Rogers. He was not aware of what Emily meant about what was going on, or of Rogers’ glances or of the reason why he wasn’t as angry at him right now as he should be.

He wasn’t even trying to think of excuses as to why he had done what he did. He was not thinking, period.

“Mr. Rogers?” Mrs. Devon said into the phone and Mark felt Rogers stiffen next to him.

Oh, great. They were calling their parents. When had been the last time they had done that? In the eighth grade? But now more people were involved. Crying girls were involved. Mark guessed this time it was serious. He still had no desire to see Frank, and his mother would be a pain to deal with. He didn’t need this right now, his head was screwed up enough and it was only Monday.

Mrs. Devon talked to all their parents, only telling them they needed to come to the school for a meeting with the principal involving their kids. Rogers looked paler after she was done and Mark felt his face draining of color, too.

He rested his head against the wall and closed his eyes, tuning everyone around him out. 

 

 

Thursday afternoon found Mark driving Rogers home from the hospital for the last time.

They hadn’t exchanged a single word in days, and though Rogers wasn’t the tense wreck Mark felt, he still seemed set in keeping the silent treatment for as long as he could. Mark could tell he wanted to say something; he had caught him looking over at him enough times in the last couple of days. But whatever he wanted to say, Mark didn’t want to hear. 

If things had been awkward before, they were unbearable after what had happened on Monday.

The meeting at the principal’s office, bizarre as it had been, had gone better than he had expected. For once, not all the blame had fallen on him. Rogers and his friends all stated that Mark had only been there trying to stop the fight and the only reason he had punched the guy (Ted something) nearly unconscious was because he kept trying to attack him.

Then it turned out this Ted guy had more issues than everyone had thought.  He had slashed Emily’s tires the day Mark had hit Rogers with his car (so in a way, it was his fault that Rogers had taken her home that day and that he had been on the road next to Mark in the first place).  He also had a history of harassing behavior from previous schools. They suspended him and arranged for him to start counseling as soon as he got back to school in a week’s time.

Mark’s parents were shocked speechless that Mark had actually fought in Rogers’s defense and Hannah Rogers was so pleased she actually hugged him when they left the school. Frank had only been there to try and make everything worse than it was, acting in disbelief when he saw the size of the guy that had given his son a black eye (“Frecks, I can understand, but him?”).

All in all, it hadn’t gone that bad, but everyone was giving him looks now. Some questioning, some knowing, but no one asked anything. Mark knew Rogers was dying to ask him why he had helped him, but he probably knew that, if he dared to ask, Mark would most likely choke him.

Rogers hadn’t tried anything weird with him since Sunday when Mark had thrown him out of his room. They hadn’t spoken or even directly looked at each other since Monday and Mark was glad. He really was. He hadn’t thought about what had happened between them in all this time, pretending that weekend hadn’t even ever happened.

Rogers had even stopped spending all his time at Mark’s house and Dan had spent the last few days continuously asking when was Sandy coming over and what had Mark done to him, smiling in a way that told Mark he knew perfectly well what had happened and exchanging those looks with Jessica. 

There was one thing Mark was worried about. This last week he and Rogers had been pointedly not interacting with each other; Mark had started feeling that weird itch he used to get when he just needed to punch Rogers’ face in. Suddenly, especially now that the cast was gone, Rogers wasn’t this untouchable thing anymore. He was back at being Rogers, the guy that had all Mark wanted and did everything to fuck with him.

Mark could feel himself starting to loose his patience. Just twenty minutes ago, when he saw Rogers coming out of the hospital cast-free, his vision nearly blurred with this throat-constricting emotion so much like hatred. He couldn’t control it; he had never been able to. And now he had more reasons to want to kill Rogers. For one, he hadn’t had a good night’s sleep since Saturday and that alone was making him more annoyed at the world than normal. And Rogers had made him remember and question and become conscious of things he didn’t want to think about. 

But everything had been okay for a while; he was getting along better with his sister and his mother was actually proud of him for something and Mark didn’t want to go back to before. He was tired of all this. He wanted Rogers to disappear and stop the cloud that seemed to obscure his mind every time he looked at him. But his fists clenched on their own. His jaw set, his entire stance turned defensive when Rogers was around now.

He had thought, just for a moment, that all that was over, and then Rogers had to go and mess things up as always. 

They weren’t even insulting each other, they weren’t saying anything. Just accidentally catching each other’s eyes from a distance and fuming. Or at least Mark was fuming — Rogers just stared at him with that infuriating, you’re-being-an-idiot expression on his face.

Mark sighed, ignoring when Rogers turned to look at him.

He couldn’t believe it. Every time his mind accidentally went back to that day, Mark was still shocked and incredulous. The thought of Rogers kissing him, him Mark, still made him uneasy, suspicious. Even flattered, and he hated it but couldn’t help himself. He had accepted Rogers was good looking long ago, even if it bothered him. He had accepted Rogers was good at sports and got along with people (most people, anyway) way better than mark ever would. And so he still couldn’t accept that he would want him even if he had said so to his face.

But Mark was definitely not thinking about that.

He was mad and he was tired and he wanted Rogers to go away. That was all he was thinking about.

The streets were empty, as usual. Mark was barely paying attention; every bit of him was focused on Rogers. It had been like this the last few days; it was like he was preparing himself in case Rogers decided to jump him again. So when Rogers spoke, the small fraction of his mind that had been aware of the road instantly turned to him.

“Mark–”

And then Mr. White’s dog jumped out in front of the car.

Mark felt a really strong sense of déjà-vu as he veered the wheel to the right with a sickening lurch, all the while waiting for the bump and the sound of metal scraping against metal. But all he heard over the roar of his heart in his ears — apart from his poor tires screaming in agony — was the dog barking and Rogers’ surprised yelp. The car jumped onto the opposite sidewalk and nearly into someone’s front yard before Mark stepped on the break. They jerked to a stop and the engine died with a coughing sound that Mark barely registered.

Both boys sat in silence for a moment, recovering from the shock before Mark burst into a rather long stream of curses, punctuating each one with a smack to the wheel or a knee to the underside of the dashboard. He could have gone on for hours if he hadn’t been interrupted by Rogers laughing so suddenly it stopped him mid-sentence.

Rogers was holding his just-healed arm as he doubled over, guffawing like a maniac. Mark rested his forehead on the steering wheel and closed his eyes, willing himself to calm down. His heart was pounding and the damn dog was still barking, running around the front of the car. Mark wanted to come out and step on it until it stopped breathing altogether. He wanted to go over to Mr. White and shove the remains of his dog under his nose so he could understand why he had to put a leash on the fucking thing.

Rogers laughed and laughed until he ran out of breath and had to stop or choke. Mark opened his eyes to watch him put his face against the window and sigh with a smile.

“Imagine how ironic it’d have been if we had to get back to the hospital now,” he said. “I’m going to kill that dog.”

“Not if I catch it first,” Mark muttered.

Rogers looked at him then, a little startled by Mark actually talking back. Mark turned his face into his hands and took a deep breath. They could have driven into a lamp post. He could have run someone over.

He really was going to kill that dog.

He nearly screamed when Rogers put a hand on his shoulder.

“Are you alright?” Rogers asked, sounding too close. Mark couldn’t answer through the knot in his throat, so he just nodded. Rogers’ fingers dug into his flesh. “I’m going to take it inside the house.”

There was a hesitant pause.

“Don’t go anywhere,” he added, as if Mark would be able to drive right now. The sound of the dog’s barking increased as Rogers opened the car door and was muffled again when he closed it. Mark turned towards the window, his head still on his hands, and watched him walk to Mr. White’s front door through the side mirror, the dog biting his heels.                      

Stupid Rogers, he thought. I hate you, I hate you.

Mark watched him knock on the door. It was a few long minutes later when Mr. White opened up, his old self standing unsteadily on skinny legs. The dog ran inside and Rogers gestured to it, saying something Mark couldn’t hear, and then pointed to the car. Mr. White looked confused, looking back and forth between Rogers and the street. Rogers pointed at his left arm and again at the dog, apparently growing irritated. Mr. White shook his head and kept shaking it as he closed the door on Rogers’ face.

Rogers stood there for a moment before turning around and stalking over back to the car.   

Mark hated him so, so much. He hated his voice, his face, his stupid, stupid hair. The way his eyes flickered over him, the way he had sounded when Mark was pushed against him.

“He wouldn’t listen to me,” Rogers said once inside. “Actually, I’m not sure he could hear at all, but he’s still a stubborn, old– Are you really okay?”

“I’m fine,” Mark groaned and sat back.

“Listen, I–”

“Don’t,” Mark snapped. “I don’t want– There’s nothing…. Just shut up, okay?”

Rogers glared at him, his mouth thinning into a pale line.

“I just want–”

I don’t want to!” Mark cried. “Is it that hard to understand?”

“You also said you didn’t want to have anything to do with me and the next day you were jumping the guy…. Why did you even…” Rogers exhaled loudly, growing frustrated with himself. “You make no sense.”

You’re the one who doesn’t make sense,” Mark shot back. 

“You’re not letting me! I just want to know why you did it. I told you why I did what I did, but you’re just…. You kissed me back, you know?”

Mark cringed, feeling his face starting to burn.

“Twice,” Rogers went on. “And then you kicked me out and the next day you got bitten by some crazy guy because you were helping me!”

“I wasn’t helping you!”

“Oh, no? Then what the hell was it?” They were eye to eye now, both spitting words at each other’s faces.

“I…your arm….” Mark trailed off, looking away. He hadn’t tried to figure out the impulse he’d had to just get between Rogers and the other guy. He had been walking towards the school when John had told him Rogers was fighting someone and he’d just ran. He didn’t think about it. And when he saw them, tangled up like that, Rogers barely able to fight back because of the arm, Ted or whatever hitting him in the face, he’d just reacted.

Rogers looked ready to fight him when Mark looked back up.

“Which is harder to admit? The fact that you helped me or that you got hard kissing me?” 

Mark’s intension was to punch him in the mouth, really, it was. Except his hand went to Rogers’ hair instead. He buried his fingers in and grabbed fistfuls of curls, yanking Rogers’ head back and his body down. His eye was still slightly bruised, though his face was so red right now that Mark could hardly see it.

“Mark,” he breathed and Mark hated his voice. Especially that raspy tone that seemed to shoot right down to–

He hated his voice.

“Shut up,” he said and Rogers’ hand went to his thigh. It was strange having Rogers submit like this. Not trying to fight back, simply waiting, his throat a tense line curved backwards. Mark hated it. He pulled harder at his hair, making Rogers’ eyes close for a moment as his neck strained. His mouth was relaxed, slightly open and Mark hated it too. Hated it so much he wanted to bite it off. “Just…”

He didn’t know what to say. He wanted to curse Rogers to hell and back. All this was his fault, whatever it was, because he had started it and Mark wanted it finished. Gone. Forgotten. The world had stopped making sense since the day Rogers had kissed him and it was probably never making sense again. 

Mark.” Rogers’ brow furrowed as Mark’s hands tightened their grip and that tone was really not helping right now. He sounded breathless, his voice practically a sigh. His fingers were high on Mark’s thigh, burning trough his jeans.

Feeling detached from everything, Mark let his hand slip away from Rogers’ hair and grip his jaw instead, his thumbs pressing into heated skin. He was awed by the way his pale, freckled skin looked against Rogers’ tanned, smooth cheeks. Rogers’ fingers twitched on Mark’s leg and Mark was overwhelmed by how much he hated him.

Rogers looked at him then, his eyes still half closed, his mouth still half open, and Mark hated that he could look at it and know what it tasted like.

He hated wanting him so fucking much.

 

Chapter Text

Sandy was sure there had to be something wrong with himself if he found this arousing at all, but he couldn’t help himself. It was disconcerting to be this close, Mark’s hand gripping his face like a vice, his own hand on Mark’s leg. And besides, the look on the guy’s face, grey eyes narrowed, jaw set, mouth so very, very close. His breath hitting Sandy’s face in soft, warm puffs. It was all he could do not to lean forward and finish the wait.

He nearly groaned when Mark pulled away, his hands going back to the wheel, probably leaving red finger marks on Sandy’s face.

They sat in silence a moment before the car started again and Mark drove them off the curb and down the road to his house. Sandy kept his eyes staring out the front window, but he could swear Mark kept darting glances at him. He rubbed his arm for the hundredth time that afternoon, still getting used to the feel of his too skinny wrist, and tried to ignore him.

He wished Mark would grow a backbone already. Okay, Sandy had said he wanted Mark in an outburst he later regretted, but he wasn’t taking it back now. Mark’s constant denial was starting to seriously bug him. A lot. He had kissed Sandy back twice. He had come to his defense twice, too. Once with his father and then with that Ted guy. Sandy didn’t want to hope too much, but lately, every time Mark did something that pissed him off, he then did another thing that had the completely opposite effect. Like right now, one second they were fighting and the next Mark was looking at him like he wanted to eat, holding his face in his hands.

Sandy didn’t know what to believe anymore, except that whatever came out of Mark’s mouth was bullshit. What he did, on the other hand, struck him as more truthful. Or at least that’s what he wanted to believe.

When they parked in Mark’s driveway, Sandy glanced at him out of the corner of his eye.

“Mom said to come over after the hospital,” he said and watched Mark scowl as he took the keys out of the ignition. 

“I’ll be there later,” he replied and started to get out of the car.

“Why? I promise I won’t jump you,” Sandy said in a mocking tone, rolling his eyes with a scoff. Mark shot him an angry look. “Come over now, she’s there, we won’t be alone.”

“I’m not scared of you.” Mark sneered and then looked over to Sandy’s house. Sandy turned too and saw what Mark really wanted to avoid. His father’s car was there, which meant he was home and Mark was not going in until he left.

“Are you scared of him, then?”

No!” 

Sandy smirked – Mark was too easy sometimes.

Mark slammed his car door shut and then cursed aloud. Sandy got out and closed his door as softly as he could, trying not to let his smile show. When he looked up, Mark was already stalking across the street.

“I’m not doing this for you,” he muttered when Sandy caught up with him.

“I didn’t think you were.”

Mark didn’t say anything back, just stood aside so Sandy could open his front door and then, after kicking off their shoes, followed him towards the kitchen. 

Sandy’s father was there, standing next to the gurgling coffee pot. He turned to look at them, a frown settling on his face when he spotted Mark. Sandy started to backtrack when his voice stopped him.

“If it isn’t the lovebirds,” his father said in a dry tone. Sandy could just picture Mark’s head exploding with heat. “The cast’s off?”

“Mom’s not here?” Sandy asked, playing dumb. His father raised his eyebrows and looked around him with exaggerated slowness.

“Well, I don’t see her,” he said. Sandy stopped himself from rolling his eyes.

“Is she in the house?”

“She’ll be here in an hour.”

Sandy sighed and turned around. Mark was gone. He rushed to the front door in time to catch him stepping outside.

“Wait,” he called.

“I’ll be back in an hour,” Mark said, his back to Sandy.

“No. Stay.” Sandy felt pathetic. It was embarrassing to ask because he didn’t want to be left alone with his father. What was worse was that the only thing he was afraid of was his words, since, despite of his less than gentle manners, he would never raise a hand to Sandy.

“I don’t have to. I’m not your butler anymore,” Mark said, voice bitter and shoulders tense.

“You were never my butler,” Sandy argued, trying to keep his voice down. He noticed Mark’s shoes were still on the floor; he was trying to leave in his socks.

“It felt like it.”

“And I’m not ordering you to, I’m asking you. Please.” Sandy felt himself blush. It was ridiculous to what he was reduced to. He saw Mark falter. “It’s only an hour.”

“What is it, Frecks? Are you dumping my son?” Sandy’s father’s voice cut between them and Mark whirled around.

“Shut the fuck up already,” he growled and there was a short moment of shocked silence before the older man was walking towards them.

“You don’t talk to me like that in my house. Is that clear, Freckles?” His tone was serious, a threat lingering in it. Mark clenched his hands in fists and didn’t say anything. “I said, is that clear?”

“Dad,” Sandy gritted out, embarrassed for his father as he tried to look intimidating while being a whole head shorter than Mark.

“You stay out of it.” His father didn’t turn away from Mark, and Sandy started to grow angry himself. He hated that his dad always got to pick on Mark and no one could stop him; he hated that Mark always held himself from snapping when Sandy knew he wished nothing more that to break his nose. And Sandy was almost sure he wouldn’t mind if he did. “Freckles, I asked you a question.”

Mark walked past him without a word, grabbed Sandy by his good arm and started dragging him up the stairs.

“Only an hour,” he muttered and Sandy couldn’t help but smile. But then his father snatched his other hand and jerked him down, sending a stab of pain up to his shoulder.

“Ow!” Sandy cried. “Fuck, let go!”

“You’re not going upstairs with him,” his father said, loosening his grip slightly as a regretful expression crossed his face. It was gone in a blink.

“We’re just going to wait for Mom,” Sandy muttered, looking down at his wrist and remembering the swollen fingers and the limp arm and he wasn’t sure if he was imagining the pain or not.

“Do you think I’m an idiot?”

Then Mark was standing between them. Again. He towered over his father, his height seeming more impressive because he was two steps above him. Sandy tried to ignore the rush of satisfaction that ran through him then. Mark did things like this that made Sandy forget all about what an idiot he could be.

“Let go,” Mark said and took a step down. The man had no choice but to back off, releasing Sandy’s hand.

“You’re waiting for her down here.” He was practically looking up Mark’s nostrils. Sandy would have found it funny if he wasn’t suddenly so worried Mark was going to push his father down the stairs.

“We’re waiting upstairs,” Sandy said and his father looked at him from around Mark.

“You’re not doing any of that under my roof,” he warned.

“We weren’t–”

“Why not?” Sandy cut Mark off and saw him turn around in shock. “It’s my roof more often than yours.”

“Easy, Sandy,” his father growled. “I don’t want to have to smack you.”

“Hey!” Mark snapped back around.

“You shut up, Sasquatch.” Mark’s face darkened. “This is between me and my son.”

Sandy, his wrist and shoulder throbbing, attempted to stand between them but Mark slapped his hand on the banister and blocked him.

“We’re not doing anything,” he choked out, obviously trying hard to control himself. “Just waiting.”

“Sure you are. Just like you didn’t do anything last weekend, right?”

Mark and Sandy tensed, Mark’s mouth opening and closing at a loss of words, his grip on the banister tightening visibly.

“I’m not going to let you turn my son into a pansy.”

“Fuck you. I’m not the one–”

And Sandy snapped. His father’s accusations, Mark’s constant denial and their voices rising and echoing in the hall got the better of him, and with a grunt he pushed Mark out of the way and stood face to face to his father.

“I already am a fucking pansy,” he all but screamed in his face and everyone finally shut up. He started regretting his words even as he was saying them. “Nobody turned me into one and if Mark wasn’t so much of a coward I’d let him screw me into my mattress, under my roof and under your fucking nose all the times he wanted.”

Time seemed to stop for a few endless seconds as everything sunk in, before Sandy realized what exactly he had just said and to whom. He felt cold running up from his toes to the top of his head in a single, chilly wave. His father’s face lost all the color it had gathered while he was yelling at him, leaving him pale and wide-eyed, his mouth open and his words dead inside it. Sandy jerked around and dragged a shocked and completely mortified-looking Mark up to his room, tripping over his own feet all the way there.

Sandy locked his door behind them before his father could react and then sat against it while the man yelled at him from the other side. Mark stood in the middle of the room like an idiot and Sandy was too ashamed to look up at him. He put his forehead on his knees and tried to stop blushing and to forget that he had just told his father he wanted Mark to fuck him before dragging him into his bedroom.

It’s not like it was a secret between them anymore, that Sandy wanted Mark that way, but he hadn’t planned on saying it out loud again. Certainly not in those words and definitely not in a ten-mile radius of his father. What now? He would tell his mother. They would tell Mark’s parents. And Mark would only deny the whole thing and Sandy would be the one…. Mark wouldn’t drive him anymore. Not that he had expected he would after the cast was gone, but he had hoped things would go a bit more smoothly than they were turning out to.

He heard the floor creak and looked up to see Mark was still standing on the other end of the room and was staring at him, blushing harder than ever. Sandy opened his mouth to say something, anything, just as his father started pounding on the door. Mark’s attention flew to it; a new scowl settling on his face, his whole stance defensive, and Sandy clenched a fist and slammed it on the hard wood behind him. Once more, pain shot up his arm and Sandy banged his head against the door, biting his lip to keep himself from whining.

A moment later, his father stopped. Sandy heard his footsteps fading into the other end of the hallway and a door close. He had gone to his bedroom, probably to call Sandy’s mom. He sighed and looked back at Mark. He was still staring at the door, but the stern expression had fallen from his face. He lowered his eyes to Sandy.

“How’s your hand?” He asked. Sandy was startled into silence, but he recovered a second later and lifted his hand near his face. It wasn’t swollen or red, but it throbbed in time with his heartbeat.

“Okay,” he replied. The doctor who had taken the cast off had said his hand was going to be tender for a while, but it would go back to be what it was in no time. Of course, he had also advised not to strain it.

He heard Mark take a slow breath but he didn’t look up. Sandy had said all he needed to already, he was shutting his mouth until the other boy dared to speak, even if it took forever, like it probably would.   

 

Chapter Text

Mark decided he needed to sit down. The bed was abso-fucking-lutely out of the question, so he settled for the floor, as far away from Rogers as he could. They ended up on opposite walls, Mark still on guard while Rogers stared at him and blocked the door. Looking miserable because he had said he wanted Mark to fuck him.

He wanted Mark to fuck him.

Not just to kiss him, not to fuck Mark, but Mark to fuck him. Actually let him–

Mark fidgeted and lifted his knees up to his chest with a grunt. Where the hell did Rogers get off saying stuff like that in front of Frank? Did he want the man to murder them? Did he want Mark to murder him?

This was getting completely ridiculous. More and more people were being dragged into the whole thing (not that there was a thing to begin with) and Mark wanted out. As always, as fucking always, it was all Rogers’ fault. Rogers and his big mouth. Always saying stuff that got Mark…mad. Angry. Furious. Nothing else. Because what he had said downstairs hadn’t affected him in any other way.

Shit, he needed to eat something. Punch something. Scream. Anything but stay there, sitting in Rogers’ room, trapped.

The stupid dog had thrown him off balance. Next time he wasn’t veering away, he was running over the damn thing again and again until there was nothing left, he swore it.

Mark got up and started pacing, Rogers’ eyes trained on him. He walked to the bookcase and pretended to be looking at all the crap there, went to the desk, looked out the window, kicked Rogers’ bed. The silence was starting to eat away at his nerves and he ran his hands through his hair, pulling at it. Taking a long, deep breath, he turned around to stare at the boy still sitting against the door, looking at him, saying nothing.

“What the hell was that about?” Mark finally snapped, but instead of calming him down, it only tensed him up more. He was afraid of the answer.

Rogers looked at his lap for a second before meeting his eyes again, and smiled a little.

“What was what about?” He said. Mark could have killed him right then and there, but that would have meant getting too close. And besides, he didn’t want to touch him.

“Stop fu– Stop playing around!” He took a step forward, then two backwards, unable to stay still. “Why did you say that in front of him?”

Rogers seemed to consider the question. “Would you’ve rather we were alone when I said it?”

“I would have rather you shut the hell up,” Mark spat, balling his hands into fists.

“Then stop asking me questions!” Rogers threw his arms up in mock outrage. He was doing this on purpose; Rogers really was trying to drive him crazy, Mark knew it.

“What do you want from me?” Mark whined and then lifted his hand to his mouth; his fingers traced the small cut on his lower lip. Rogers stared at him in silence, his face serious and his hands clasped together.

They both looked away at the same time.

“Don’t answer that,” Mark muttered. 

This was messed up. Mark didn’t want Rogers to want him. He didn’t want to want Rogers. He wanted to be away from him, but it was as if Rogers knew the exact way to draw Mark in every time he managed to step back. Today was the last time he was supposed to drive Rogers, and here he was, at his house, locked in his room. And all because he didn’t want to admit that he hated being around Frank. And Rogers knew that, and he had used it to get him to come over.

Mark wasn’t wrong when he’d thought Rogers knew him too well.

“You did it again, you know,” Rogers said then, gazing at his bad hand with fake indifference. Mark didn’t want to ask, but….

“What?”

“You helped me again, after you had said you didn’t want to.” Rogers’ eyes flickered up and then down again. “Not that I needed your help.”

“You so did,” Mark scoffed. “And I didn’t help you, I just can’t stand him. And I didn’t want to have to go back to the hospital because he pulled at your arm too hard. Wimp.”

Rogers encircled his wrist with his fingers and looked at it closely, lifting it at eye level.

“Look how skinny it looks,” he said. “It’s crazy.”

“Don’t change the subject,” Mark grunted. Rogers looked up.

“I thought you didn’t want to talk.”

“I don’t!” Again, Mark started to walk over to him but stopped. He had learned that being too close wasn’t a good idea. “I just- When is your mom coming over? I want to get out of here.”

Rogers’ expression darkened for a second, and he let his hands drop back onto his lap. Leaning against the door, he got to his feet.

“My father already called her, I bet,” he said, voice low, and walked to his desk. Meanwhile, Mark felt himself grow pale. Everyone would know. Frank, the asshole, was going to tell everyone. And all because Rogers couldn’t keep his stupid mouth shut.

“Fuck, this is all because of you!” He wheeled around to face the other boy, who was standing against the desk with his arms crossed over his chest. “Why did you have to say that?”

Blushing, Rogers answered, “Because it’s the truth. And he has no business telling me what I can do in my house when he’s hardly ever around.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?” Mark snapped, ignoring the first part of Rogers’ answer. “He’s gonna tell my parents.”

“So? I never said anything about you.” Rogers shrugged, but he looked far from nonchalant.

“But he knows!”

“What does he know?”

“He knows about…the last time.” Mark couldn’t say it. Rogers was just there, not four steps away, and Mark couldn’t fucking say it.

“He doesn’t know anything,” Rogers replied. “He’s just guessing. If anyone’s in trouble here it’s me and I don’t think I care anymore.”

Mark didn’t know what to say to that. It was true, Rogers was the one exposed and it was his own fault. Mark hadn’t started anything, he was just dragged along, it was all Rogers’ doing. And what could they say to him, anyway? Hannah Rogers wasn’t going to disown him or anything. And Mark’s parents would find a way to make it all Mark’s fault. So what exactly was the problem here? Even Rogers had said he didn’t care. So why did Mark feel….

“Why are we in here?” Mark asked.

“What?”

“Why are we locked in here?” Mark asked again, more forcefully.

“We’re waiting for my mother,” Rogers said, sounding puzzled at Mark’s change of tone. He disentangled his arms slowly and rested his palms on the desk behind him instead. He looked ready to jump and block the door again. And that’s exactly what he did when Mark made a run for it.

“Why the hell am I still in here?” Mark grunted as he tried to push Rogers away without touching his left arm. “You don’t care, I don’t care and no one cares. Why are we hiding in here like a couple of idiots? Move, I’m going home.”

But Rogers wasn’t moving. He’d planted his bare feet on the carpeted floor and grabbed at the doorknob, pushing Mark off with his side. They scrambled against the door like little kids that didn’t dare to throw a real punch. Slapping hands away and knocking shoulders with their teeth clenched.

Then Mark started pealing Rogers’ stiff fingers from the knob while he held him back with his other arm and Rogers lost it.

“I care, I care,” he ground out, pressing against the door so Mark wouldn’t open it. “I fucking care. I couldn’t stand it anymore, and I wasn’t thinking and you kissed me back! But now they know and you’re acting like it never happened and it was all for nothing.”

Rogers was panting, his eyes closed tight and his head against the door. Mark didn’t move. His hand was on the knob, Rogers’ fingers against his own, and the lock was off but Mark had forgotten he’d been trying to leave a moment ago.

“I never thought you would kiss me back, I wasn’t even planning on doing it. And I don’t care that they know about me, I care that I’m getting nothing out of it! You don’t want to talk; you can’t stand being near me. Every time you do something close to nice, you ruin it a second later by being yourself. And I know I was never nice to you before either, but I didn’t start this. I tried to talk to you it and you wouldn’t let me.”

Rogers opened his eyes and glared. Mark didn’t look away, he felt like he was burning up.

“I don’t know what I did in the first place; I don’t think either of us did anything. But you just won’t let it die. I don’t know why you hate me so much. I don’t know why I hated you so much either, but I don’t anymore. I hate that you won’t admit what you did, but I don’t hate you.”

“Why did you kiss me if I ruin everything just by being myself, then?” Mark’s voice was a murmur, but he talked before Rogers could go on.

Rogers’ glare melted into a surprised look and Mark realized he had just acknowledged the kiss without slightest hint of anger in his tone.

“I told you,” Rogers said. “I wanted to.”

They stood quietly against the door, against each other. Rogers’ hand felt hot on his fingers but Mark didn’t move away. He leaned his head to the side, rested it on the door like Rogers was doing and exhaled through his nose. Outside, he heard a door down the hall closing and footsteps going down the stairs.

“Are you going to say anything at all?” Rogers asked a moment later, when the silence had grown too heavy.

“I’m not gay,” Mark said.

Rogers’ face fell, his mouth actually curving downwards. He rolled his eyes and started to turn around.

Before he could step away from the door, though, Mark tightened his grip on his shirt and stopped him because…well, because he wasn’t done thinking about things. Rogers glanced at him with his eyes narrowed and his lips set and Mark couldn’t look away. After Rogers, damn him, had spewed that little speech at him, he felt like he had to say something. But his throat was closed up.

Mark wasn’t gay. He wasn’t. He had never even looked at another guy, only Rogers. He had never wanted to kiss another guy, only Rogers. Always, always Rogers. The thought alone of being this close to any other guy sent a small shiver of displeasure through him, and yet here he was, practically holding Rogers’ hand. A part of him hated that he was considering this. Considering giving Rogers something he wanted. The rest of him was thinking that for perhaps the first time in their lives, wanting the same thing wasn’t a problem.

“What is it?” Rogers asked, his tone impatient, and Mark had no idea. But Rogers’ hand was warm and he was standing close. So close that it barely took a light tug on his shirt to have him too close.

Mark looked down at him, one hand clenching the shirt and the other now around Rogers’ wrist. The top of his head was just on Mark’s eye level, but he didn’t lean forward, that would have been too…not something he wanted to do to Rogers. What he did want to do to Rogers, he wasn’t exactly sure.

Touching him, having him in his space, still sent a warning signal to his brain that urged him to push or punch or kick him away, but it was a distant nagging now. His arms twitched, but he held his breath and stood there until Rogers, in one tentative motion, placed his hand on Mark’s, over his own chest. He grabbed too tight as well, and didn’t even look up, just waited. 

Waited for Frank to come and start knocking on the door again. For Mark’s parents to call from downstairs and stop them before it was too late. But nothing happened, and when Mark looked down into Rogers’ eyes he saw a question there, in his mouth an invitation, on his hand a fucking demand, and it was already too damn late.

Rogers pried Mark’s hand off his shirt with a jerk – making him snap out of his trance like he had been slapped – and stepped away from him with an angry huff. Mark stood against the door a moment before he reacted. Just like he’d jumped towards the door before, he hurried to grab Rogers now and was met with the same resistance.

“Make up your fucking mind,” he growled as Rogers pushed him away.

Me?” Rogers cried. “Are you serious?!”

“What?”

“You always do the exact opposite of what you say; I’m getting pretty fucking tired of it,” Rogers said and braced himself when Mark made to move in again. But Mark stopped himself and rubbed weary hands over his face.

“Don’t be such a –”

“Such a what?” Rogers cut in, glaring. “If you say pansy, I swear–”

Girl. Don’t be such a girl.” Mark was glad Jessica wasn’t around to hear him.

Rogers spluttered and, after getting a hold of himself, stomped back to Mark. He pushed him, and Mark allowed him and stumbled backwards.

“I am not a girl. That’s the whole problem, isn’t it? Neither of us are girls.” Rogers pushed him again. “You wouldn’t be so afraid if I were, I bet.”

“I’m not afraid,” Mark grunted. He clenched his hands into fists when Rogers shoved at him over and over, and didn’t push him back.

“You are. That’s why you keep denying everything; you’re scared people are going to call you a girl, aren’t you?”

“No,” Mark replied, angry but puzzled, because that really wasn’t it. It was about Rogers, not about people. About giving in to Rogers. About him winning again.

“Then why?” Rogers snapped and Mark was backed against the door again.

“Maybe,” he said, careful to speak slowly and right into Rogers’ face, knowing that it always set him off, “because everything I do is more about you than it is about me.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Rogers’ chest was almost, almost pressing against Mark’s. He was as close as he could be without touching him, and Mark suddenly couldn’t take it anymore.

As kisses went, it wasn’t what Mark had been expecting. It didn’t have the immediate effect the other two had had, but maybe that was because, unlike the last times, they were both wary about it, they both knew it was coming and it was Mark the first one to lean in. It didn’t feel like a punch in the nose, or like a thousand insults rolled into one single action. It was more like a test. A forceful peck that lasted less than a second before Rogers was pulling back to stare at Mark as if he had violated him. As if Rogers hadn’t done this twice before.

Mark only had time to take a breath before the other boy was all over him.

This was much more like that first time, except the element of surprise was missing. This time, Mark didn’t hesitate to grab at Rogers. He clutched the front of his shirt in his hands and lifted, bringing him as close as he could. Rogers put his hands on Mark’s neck and let him.

There was only a small part of Mark completely against this decision, but the little voice telling him to get the fuck away was rapidly fading. His brain was starting to go numb, all he could hear was Rogers’ humming noises, all he could feel was Rogers’ hair in his fingers as his hands traveled upwards and gripped at his curls and all he could see were Rogers’ eyelashes, laying against his flushed cheeks. Then Mark closed his eyes, and saw nothing but black.

This time, when Rogers’ hands started to roam down, Mark didn’t freak out. Instead, he felt every nerve-end in his body standing up to attention as the warmth of Rogers’ fingers went by, first over his chest, then the sides of his ribcage and finally settling over his hipbones. Mark brought him closer and couldn’t remember what was so wrong about this. He turned them, so that Rogers was the one digging into the door, and kissed him even though the cut on his lip was starting to hurt.

They broke apart for a moment to catch their breaths, and when Mark saw the look on Rogers’ heavy lidded eyes, the way his mouth had darkened and the flush over his cheekbones, he knew this time they definitely wanted the same thing. Somehow, there was still enough blood not pooled in his groin to make his face feel like it was on fire.

Mark leaned down again, more eager, and was met halfway by an equally frantic Rogers. He felt the hands that had been on his hips start moving again, getting under his shirt and around his back, and then pushing. He let out a grunt without meaning to, and didn’t have the mind to be embarrassed about it. He had less than a second to think Rogers’ hand is on my ass before he was grinding as well, not needing another push to get the hint.

He used his leg and his grip on Rogers’ shirt to try to bring them both up to the same level, but he lost his balance and stumbled and Rogers leaned back.

“Wait,” he said in a husky voice and brought Mark down. He buried his face in Mark’s neck and moved his body just right, and Mark’s hands tightened on their own accord.

“Fuck,” he muttered, breathless, and closed his eyes again.

As they moved and Mark panted against Rogers’ head, he felt one hand leaving the small of his back and then sneaking up his chest to rest against his collarbone.

“Is this,” Rogers muttered. “Is this about you or about me?” 

“Fuck off,” Mark replied, voice muffled, and pressed harder, making Rogers writhe between him and the wooden door. His breath was hot and damp against Mark’s skin, one hand digging into his hipbone while the other clasped at his collar. Mark’s were on Rogers’ waist and he clenched them hard enough to hurt.

As the rhythm picked up, Mark found himself remembering walking in on Rogers. The noises he had heard him making, that were a lot like the ones he was doing now, but so much different. The way the waistband of his underwear had been turned in later. He looked down and thought that this would be a lot better if there weren’t two pair of jeans in the way, but just then Rogers’ arms went around his neck as he gave a shaky groan and Mark forgot to think again.

It wasn’t too long after that that they were both still and quiet, their ragged breathing the only sound in the room. Downstairs, though, Mark could hear Frank’s voice rising as he argued with someone. He pulled away and ran his hand over the back of his neck, the front of his jeans felt cold and his boxers were sticking to his skin uncomfortably. Rogers slumped back against the door with a sigh, his forehead shiny with sweat and his mouth still very red.

“So,” he said after a moment, his voice catching a little.

“Yeah,” Mark replied and wondered if they meant the same thing, whatever that was.

 

Chapter Text

With a sheepish shrug and a smile, Rogers changed his clothes before going downstairs. Mark refused to borrow something to wear, not only showing up wearing Rogers’ clothes would have increased the level of awkwardness in the sitting room, but everything was still weird and putting on Rogers’ underwear would not have made things easier to digest.

So Mark sat in front of Hannah Rogers, on her couch, unable to look anyone in the eye because the reason his crotch felt disgusting and uncomfortable was sitting next to him.

While Mark was tense, his back straight and his knuckles white over his knees, Rogers was sprawled on his side of the couch, his previously fucked up arm thrown over the back, right where Mark would have been leaning if he’d been as relaxed as him. The worst part was that Rogers, though he seemed to be attempting to keep his face blank, broke into a stupid little grin every few seconds and Mark wanted to kick him.

Everyone was there. Frank had made a big show of calling his wife and Mark’s parents, who had gotten there thinking he had killed Rogers or something and were now looking confused and pissed that Frank had made them leave work when everybody was in one piece. Even Dan and Jessica had tagged along when they had seen the cars stop in front of Rogers’ house from across the street. They were on the arms of the couch their parents were occupying, Dan smiling and Jessica reaching out to smack the back of his head once in a while.

Hannah Rogers sat, pale and quiet, in a position resembling Mark’s and for a moment Mark wished he were the sort of person that knew what to say to make her feel better.

“I’m waiting,” Frank said and everyone turned to look at him. He was standing behind his wife, facing Mark and Rogers. “I’m waiting for you to tell me what was going on up there.” 

“Nothing,” Mark muttered, but he didn’t think anyone heard him.

“Frank, what is going on? Please, this is getting ridiculous,” Mark’s father said with a sigh.

“They’ll tell us what’s going on.” Frank waved a hand in the air, his face darkening slightly. “What were you doing in your room?” He stared directly at Rogers, who shrugged.

“It’s private,” Rogers said, and everybody heard his answer. Dan laughed and Jessica snorted and Mark’s parents looked at him with wide eyes, alarmed. Mark let himself fall back, burying his chin on his chest and crossing his arms, wanting the couch to swallow him. Hannah Rogers was scowling to the side, her mouth set, and she looked so much like Rogers had earlier that day that Mark started blushing for no reason at all.

“Like hell it’s private,” Frank barked. “As long as it happens in my house, I have the right to know about it.”

Mark glanced at Rogers, who had folded his arms over his stomach and was looking at his wrist again, one finger poking at the bone underneath too-thin skin. He was expecting Rogers to say something about how this was not Frank’s house or that he had no rights here or something along the lines of what he had said before, but he looked calm. He looked like he wasn’t even listening to his father lash out at him. Frank noticed it and spoke louder, snapping his fingers in front of him to get Rogers’ attention.

“I’m talking to you,” he said. “Look up right now.”

Rogers did.

“Answer my question.”

“I already did,” Rogers said.

“Try again, kid. You’re not getting away with this, neither of you are. You’re gonna tell everybody here what you were doing up there.”

Mark kept sliding further and further down the back of the couch and soon his knees were practically above his head and they blocked his view of Hannah Rogers. 

“Frank, for the love of God. If it’s so terrible just tell us. Please!” Mark’s mother said, exasperated.

“I want them to say it,” Frank replied, not even glancing away from his son.

“Mark, please tell us what’s going on.” She turned to Mark, her glare softening slightly.

Everyone, even Rogers, looked at him then, and all of Mark burned.  His hands were clenching into fists and he didn’t know how long it would be until he snapped.

“He,” Mark began, cleared his throat when he found it too dry to talk, and tried again. “He said his mother wanted to see me after we went to the hospital so we were waiting for her upstairs.”

And?” Frank asked.

“Nothing,” Mark muttered. “Except that you went crazy and nearly popped his arm right off again.”

It wasn’t exactly true, but it got the attention away from him. Now everyone was staring at Frank, even Hannah Rogers, who had been staying out of the argument, twisted around to glare at him.

“Oh, please, I barely touched him.”

“Frank,” Hannah Rogers said, but he cut her off.

“You know what your son said to me?” He burst out. Mark felt himself pale, Rogers stiffening next to him. He caught his parents staring at him, worried, and looked away, hoping that Frank didn’t say it but knowing he would. “You want to know what he said to me, right to my face, standing on my staircase? Do you?”

“No, Frank, I don’t,” Hannah Rogers said, but Frank ignored her. He looked around at the rest of them instead. Not even Dan was smiling now; he was looking at the floor while Jessica glared into space.

“Why don’t you tell them?” He said to Rogers. “Go ahead.”

Rogers was glaring at his knees, blushing probably as much as Mark was, but he looked up and opened his mouth. Mark felt his stomach drop.

“I told him this is my house more than it is his, and I told him we were just going to wait for mom upstairs and that I was gay. Or something like that.” 

Mark wanted to put his shirt over his face just so he could pretend he wasn’t there. He looked around and the only ones that looked surprised at all were his own parents. Everyone else was sending Frank dirty looks. After a few seconds of silence, Mark’s mother spoke up.

“Is that it?” She asked. “I mean, a lot of girls are going to be very disappointed, Sandy darling, but is this why I was dragged out of a meeting, Frank? So you could force your son to tell us something he obviously wasn’t ready to?”

“This is very inappropriate, Frank. What did you want to get out of this?” Mark’s father asked.

Frank looked taken aback. He was expecting a stronger reaction, apparently, and Mark almost smiled, but he knew it wasn’t over.

“That is not all you said and you know it,” he snapped at Rogers, pointing a long finger at him. “And don’t tell me all you were doing up there was waiting, dammit, because I could hear you all the way from down the hall.”

Mark wanted to be dead. Right now. Or even better, kill Frank and then die, even though he remembered very clearly having heard Frank go downstairs before anything started happening.

“Tell them, Frecks. Go ahead.”

“You don’t force my kid to say anything, Frank.” Mark’s dad sat up, his hands on his knees, ready to stand.

“Okay, then you tell them.” He looked at Rogers. “Come on.”

But Rogers didn’t open his mouth this time. He sent a sideways glance at Mark, who most likely looked like he was a bout to blow up, and crossed his legs – ankle over knee.

“Mark,” his mother called and Mark looked at her. “Were you doing something dangerous? Did you hurt him or yourself? Did you set the curtains on fire, did you break something, did you kill a small animal, did you try to jump out a window?”

“No,” Mark replied.

“Good enough for me,” she said and leaned back. Jessica and Dan did the same, smiling.   

Their father, though, stared at his hands with a frown on his face.

“What is this about, Frank?” He asked, not looking up. “For once in their lives they’re getting along and you have to go and try to crash everything to pieces. I know you never…agreed on Mark befriending your son, but–”

Befriending? Since when are they friends?” Frank scoffed and Mark had to, at least, agree with him on that. “Do I need to remind you of the time your son kicked mine off a tree? Or the time he almost broke his nose? Or the time, I don’t know, when he almost killed him with his car?”

“I’m not defending any of that, Frank,” Mark’s dad went on, his voice only a little strained. “But you have to admit things have changed these last couple of months.”

“Yes, because they’re sleeping together!” 

“We’re not!” Mark jumped to his feet, arms stiff at his sides. He felt Rogers looking at him, he felt the front of his jeans stick to his underwear, and heard the words fucking hypocrite very clearly in his head because he damn well could be sleeping with him and he knew it.

Frank rolled his eyes. “If you’re not then you will be soon enough.”

Mark, without any idea of what to say to that and no chance of getting away with punching Frank in the face, was left standing there, waiting for someone to fucking wake him up because this couldn’t be happening. He looked down at the coffee table, his teeth actually hurting from clenching his jaw so hard.

“You can’t deny that, can you, Frecks?” Frank gave a dry laugh.

“What’s it to you?” Jessica snapped.

“Yeah,” Dan backed her up and then chuckled like he couldn’t help himself. “What she said.”

“Come on, we’re leaving,” their father said and started to get up.

“No,” Hannah Rogers spoke in a clear voice, surprising everyone in the room. “I think you should leave, Frank.”

“What?”

“I agree,” Rogers grunted.

“What the hell? I’m not getting thrown out of my goddamn house!” Frank went very red in the face.

“Okay, then. We’ll leave, all of us.” Hannah Rogers got up and walked out of the room.

Everyone stayed where they were for a stunned moment before following suit. Rogers brushed behind Mark as he passed by, making his back heat up, and let his hand trail on his shirt, as if to remind him to walk away. Mark followed him to the hall, where Hannah Rogers was grabbing her purse from the coat rack.

“Sandy, grab your school bag and a change of clothes. I don’t think we’ll be coming back tonight,” she said. Rogers hesitated, looking between his mother and Mark, before walking up the stairs.

Mark stepped outside before anyone else – he couldn’t stand the way they all looked at him. It was already dusk and it was still warm, so he didn’t realize he didn’t have his shoes on until he stepped onto the damp grass.

“Idiot, you forgot these,” Jessica said when she walked outside, and handed him his sneakers. Everyone spilled out of the house in silence, Mark’s mother with her arm around Hannah Rogers’ shoulders and Dan and their father walking with Rogers between them.

They all crossed the street and went right into Mark’s house, heading into the kitchen in a group. Everyone but Mark, who stood by the foot of the stairs and looked up, wondering if he could get away with going to his room and never talking about what had happened today, ever.

“Mark, get in here,” his father called from the kitchen and Mark cursed under his breath.

There wasn’t enough room for everybody at the table, so Jessica and Dan were leaning on the counters while the rest sat on the chairs. There was a free one next to Rogers, and Mark’s father motioned for Mark to take it. He did slowly, not looking anyone in the eye. Rogers had his arms folded on the table, his chin resting on them. Mark leaned back on his chair and waited.

“I wish you’d said something, Mark,” his mother blurted out. “You know I wouldn’t have, we wouldn’t have….” She didn’t say that she wouldn’t have done what Frank had, just left the sentence hanging there. Mark kept his mouth shut.

When the silence stretched for a few seconds too long, Mark’s mom got up and put a kettle on the stove. “Hannah, I’ll make you some tea, okay?”

Hannah Rogers put his index finger and thumb over her eyes and, with a small, shuddery intake of breath, started crying quietly. Mark looked away and saw that Rogers, after seeing his mother, looked close to breaking down, too. Only his expression held more anger than anything.

“Oh, no, honey.” Mark’s mom said and hugged Hannah Rogers. Everyone else – or at least Mark – felt very awkward. Mark couldn’t stand seeing Hannah Rogers upset, like she had been when he’d hit Rogers with the car and everyone went to the hospital, and he couldn’t stand the way she usually acted around Frank, quiet and weak. He had never seen her crying, though, and he felt as bad as if he’d caused it himself.

On top of that, Rogers’ silence and lack of reaction was bothering him a little too much. Why didn’t Mark’s father come and put an arm around his shoulder or something? Or Dan or Jessica, they were the ones that wouldn’t look weird doing it. Not that Mark wanted to put an arm around Rogers, especially not in front of his whole family, but someone fucking had too, didn’t they? Hadn’t both of them just walked out of their house? It hadn’t been just Hannah Rogers who had to take all that crap from Frank. Rogers had been there, too.

The water on the kettle boiled and Mark’s mother made tea, and someone had yet to comfort Rogers.

 

 

There were too many troubled people in the room, and Dan hated looking at them. Especially when a well placed joke could do nothing to lighten the mood, because that was Dan’s specialty and without it, he felt awkward and useless.

Biting his lip, he lifted himself up to sit on the kitchen counter, sure that his mom wouldn’t scold him for it today. It was a sad sight, the quiet little group sitting in his kitchen. Sandy’s mother’s shoulders were shaking slightly, and Dan guessed she was crying while his own mother hugged her. Dad had his hand over his mouth and he was staring into space, sighing once in a while with a look in Mark’s direction. Dan could tell what he was thinking: It has to be one extreme or the other, isn’t it? Either you want to kill him or you want to have sex with him. Jesus, Mark.

Jessica was pretending to be inspecting her nails, but Dan could tell she was searching for something say, too. And finally Mark and Sandy. They both looked like they were far away. Mark sat straight and scowling down at the table, while Sandy rested his head on his arms and gazed at his mother with a small frown.

Dan was still a little shocked at what Sandy’s dad had done, though he wasn’t really sure what had happened, exactly. He had tried to make a big deal out of Mark and Sandy, and it had backfired. He kept saying Sandy had said something horrible to him, and Dan still didn’t know what it was. And then he had…well, no, he hadn’t thrown Sandy and his mom out, but they had left and Dan had the feeling they were not going back any time soon.

Was Sandy moving out? Were his parents going to get a divorce? And what if his father decided to come here and he got into a fight with his dad? What if he tried to kill Mark? He pictured giant Mark standing in front Frank, who was a bit taller than Dan, and had to hide his smile on his shoulder. Jessica mouthed at him to stop it, and Dan shrugged, but she was right. This was not the time to be laughing.

The kettle started whistling next to him and Dan reached out to turn off the stove. Mom poured the water into a cup and made tea for Mrs. Rogers in silence. Across the table, Mark looked more and more flushed by the second, his hands clenching in front of him. His eyes darted to Sandy every once in a while, but Sandy looked lost in thought, if not a little too pale.

Dan wished someone would talk. He didn’t know what to say that wouldn’t sound stupid right now, but why wasn’t his dad saying anything? Dan didn’t think he was mad at Mark and Sandy, but the day had already been full of surprises.

What wasn’t a surprise was when Mom asked Dan and Jessica to leave so the rest could talk, but Dan was still disappointed. He started to protest when his sister half-dragged him off the counter and outside the kitchen, muttering something along the lines of ‘gladly’ and closing the door behind them. Dan watched her flop onto a couch in the living room, taking up the three seats, and sighing.

“God,” she muttered. “One drama after the other.”

Dan agreed, and then he pressed his ear against the door.

 

 

When Dan and Jessica left the kitchen, Rogers sat up against the back of his chair. Mark took a breath and prepared himself for an interrogation, but no one said anything. Hannah Rogers had calmed herself down, but Mark was more aware of Rogers’ silence than of her quiet sobs, and he didn’t like it one bit. His father hadn’t said a word either; he only turned towards Mark’s mom when she started talking.

“This is what we’re going to do,” she began. “Hannah, we’ll set you up in Jessica’s room and Sandy in one the guys’. Jessica and whichever of the boys is kind enough, preferably Mark, will take the cots in the basement and set them up in the sitting room. It’ll be just like camping.” She turned to Mark, trying to sound cheerful. Mark looked back down at the table.

“You don’t have to do this, Jane,” Hannah Rogers said.

“Nonsense,” Mom went on. “You’ll…talk things over with Frank when you’re ready.  In the meantime, you can stay here for as long as you need.”

“Thank you.”

Mark wondered what was going to happen with Frank now. He was hardly ever in town, Mark didn’t think Hannah Rogers would have too much trouble getting her house back if...if they didn’t work things out. Two months ago Mark would have loved Frank to disappear forever, he still did now, but he was starting to see that he wouldn’t just vanish, not without a fight.

“As for what happened earlier, Mark,” his mother turned to him again, “I…well, is it true?”

“Which part?” Mark asked, because he wasn’t going to say it out loud. His mother actually blushed, her cheeks going pink and her eyes flickering to Rogers for a second. Then she frowned.

“Are you and Sandy…are you…. Boys, are you?”

“Are we what?” Mark nearly snapped. He didn’t know what she was asking and he wasn’t going to answer to anything unless he was sure what he was saying.

“You know where I’m getting at, Mark,” she scolded him.

“I don’t,” Mark muttered. He crossed his arms over his chest, fidgeting in his seat as he felt Rogers’ eyes on him.

“Sandy,” she used a more gentle tone with him, which made Mark’s shoulders relax a little. “Are you?”

“Are we what?” Rogers asked.

Mark’s father slapped his hand on the table and everyone jumped. He visibly tried to calm himself, his slightly freckled face strained and paler than usual. Mark gripped his forearms until they started hurting, and then his father spoke.

“Are you sleeping together or not?”

“No!” cried Mark.

“No,” said Rogers.

“Are you…planning to?”

“W-what?!”

Mark’s father put up his hand to stop their stuttering. Mark didn’t dare look at Rogers, how could they ask if they were planning to? Like he and Rogers would sit over coffee and discuss the subject. It had been Rogers’ admission that he wanted to that had started all this, that had made him and his mother walk out of their house.

“Are you two going out?” Mark’s mom asked.

“Of course not,” Mark replied, cutting, before he could think about it, and Rogers scoffed.

“Gee, way to make me feel wanted, idiot.”

Mark felt his face heat up and actually felt bad (which was a clear sign his brain was starting to malfunction), because Frank had been an asshole and Rogers had walked out of his house.

“We aren’t,” he said.

“Still–”

“You can argue all you want later, now you’re answering to us,” Mark’s father said, knocking on the table to get their attention.

“Mark, darling…are you gay?” Mom asked. Her eyes were wide and set on him, she didn’t look anything but curious and yet Mark’s throat closed up. He clenched his teeth and he swore he heard someone’s hurried steps from the other side of the door. “Mark.”

“I, no…I don’t–” It was very hot in the kitchen all of a sudden; it was like all of them were bearing down on him. He had never felt so small; like everyone was towering over him and he was left looking up, his tongue tied in a knot.

“No,” he said, because he wasn’t.

“I wonder what gave Frank the idea you two were having sex, then,” Dad snapped.

“Tom, ease off,” Mom said, distracted, staring at Mark.

“What happened today could have been avoided if he talked to us once in a while, Jane.” He ran a hand through his face and looked back at Mark. “I don’t care if you are. Neither Mom nor I care. As long as you’re happy,” he said it like a happy Mark was more bizarre than a gay Mark, “and healthy, we are okay. And we haven’t been okay in a while. If this is going to make me stop worrying about you accidentally killing someone, then I’m all for it. Sandy’s a good guy, and I can’t say I’m surprised….”

He trailed off as Hannah Rogers started sobbing again. They all looked at her, Mom patted her shoulder.

“It’s okay, Hannah,” she whispered and Mark felt Rogers shift next to him.

“I’m just sorry. I’m sorry for what Frank said, Mark. Sandy, I’m sorry I didn’t talk to you sooner. I…It’s not like I couldn’t see it – I was just waiting for you to come to me. And he had to go a make a s-scene….”
“It’s fine,” Mark said, taken aback. Rogers nodded and looked away.

Everyone was quiet for a moment, then Mom said, “Why don’t you stay here and talk, we’ll get the rooms ready.”

Once outside the kitchen, having left Rogers and his mother behind, Mark’s parents cornered him before he could go up the stairs.

“It’s going to get some getting used to, but I meant what I said, son,” Dad said and Mom nodded.

“I know,” Mark replied. “But I–”

“It’s okay,” Mom squeezed his shoulder, and behind her, Dan and Jessica spied at them from the sitting room. “Now go get those cots, make sure you dust them first.”

 

 

Mark was sprawled on his bed wearing a fresh pair of boxers and sweatpants when he heard Dan from the other side of the bookcase.

“Hey, Sandy,” he said in a soft voice, as if he thought Mark was sleeping and didn’t want to wake him. “Are you okay?”

Mark didn’t hear Rogers’ reply before Dan was speaking again.

“I think he’s asleep. You can take my bed and I’ll sleep downstairs.”

Mark closed his eyes and heard the rustling coming from Dan’s closet and a bang when he dropped something followed by a hushed curse. He turned to his side, his back to the bookcase, and waited. It wasn’t a minute after he heard the click of the lock when the mattress dipped behind him and he felt Rogers lay down next to him.

He didn’t speak to ask him what the hell he thought he was doing, and he didn’t move to push him off. Mark stayed perfectly still and listened to Rogers’ breathing. His bed wasn’t that big, but somehow Rogers was not touching him, though he could feel warmth seeping into his back.

Minutes dragged by before Mark dared to turn around. Slowly, careful to move only what was necessary, he looked over his shoulder and saw Rogers was on his side, his back to him. His hair was almost in Mark’s mouth.

He turned onto his back and put his hands over his stomach. Rogers didn’t move. Was he asleep? He didn’t think so. His shoulders looked tense, his breathing wasn’t heavy enough. He was too still. Mark wondered if he had fought with Hannah Rogers or if it had gone well. Then he thought it didn’t really make a difference, because they had walked out of their house (Mark’s head still couldn’t get around that) and Frank hadn’t tried to stop them.

Mark remembered his mother, patting Hannah Rogers’ shoulder and telling her it was okay, and reached out.

It was probably more like a slap, or four, right on Rogers’ ear. And he probably pulled out a couple of hairs in the process, but Rogers didn’t seem to mind.

"It's, um," Mark choked out, trying to sound like he went around patting people's heads and comforting them often, but found he couldn't finish the sentence. He heard Rogers snort.

When he didn’t know what else to do, Mark turned onto his side again and closed his eyes. A few minutes later, when he was already falling asleep for real, he felt Rogers shuffle closer, pressing their backs together. Maybe he was too tired to, but Mark didn’t really care, and he fell asleep anyway.  

 

Chapter Text

 

It wasn’t an alarm that woke Mark up the next morning, but Rogers, snoring lightly straight into his ear. He was almost on top of him, head resting next to his on the pillow, and an arm thrown over Mark’s chest.

Mark blinked at the ceiling. He waited for the moment he started to get angry. Waited for his body to lock up, his teeth to clench and the need to hit Rogers overtake him. It didn’t come; he was probably still too tired to muster up the strength anyway. So instead he rolled out of bed and onto the floor. He landed on his feet and Rogers curled himself into a ball, taking up the space Mark had been occupying, and didn’t wake up.

The underside of his eyes looked a little red, his face worn out, and Mark suddenly remembered why he was there. He remembered Frank going crazy, Rogers and his mother leaving their house. All the talks, fuck, how was Mark going to face anyone today after everything that had been said yesterday?

He tore his eyes away from Rogers, afraid that he would wake up and find him staring, and turned to the window. It was late, of that he was sure. No one had woken him up for school, and he had slept through his alarm. It had to be near eleven, he searched the floor for his phone to check. But apart from his shoes and socks, the floor was bare. He found it on the bed, half hidden between the covers next to Rogers’ chest. He had three text messages, all from John.

On the first one he asked if he was skipping class. On the second one, he said that Rogers’ friends where asking if he knew where he was. And the third one read: hope u 2 alive.

He punched in a reply, annoyed that they had all assumed Rogers and him were together (and gotten it right) and sent it before throwing the phone back on the floor. Mark looked down at himself and thought he should really start taking his clothes off to sleep. Then he looked at Rogers, all comfortable and cozy and stupid in his bed, and thought that maybe he needed to wear more clothes to sleep instead. He had woken up next to the other guy a few times too many already.

Downstairs was empty. Mark went to the kitchen to make himself some breakfast and found a note from his mother telling him that Hannah Rogers was sleeping in Jessica’s room and not to disturb her. She and his father had gone to work; Dan and Jessica were at school. Mark wished he’d gone too, anything so he wouldn’t have to be locked in the house with Rogers and his mom. They were in his home, and yet he felt like he would be the one imposing.

With a bowl of cereal in his hands, he walked to the sitting room, where the cots he had gotten from the basement the night before were set against the back of one of the couches, folded up and ready to be put away or used again. He glanced at the window that looked out at the front of the house and made his way there.

Rogers’ place was across the street and a little to the left, half hidden by trees. It looked empty; all the windows were shut with the curtains drawn and there wasn’t a single light on, which wasn’t odd, it was midmorning after all. Frank’s car was in the driveway, as it had been the day before and Mark wondered if the man was staring over like he was, hiding behind the drapes.

He stepped away quickly, turned around and yelped when he saw Hannah Rogers standing at the threshold, spilling half the milk in the bowl all over his front. 

Fu– uh, shoot,” he stammered, darting a look in her direction. She was wearing one of Mom’s nightshirts and a pair of Jessica’s pajama bottoms. She looked like someone else, especially with the weary and tired look on her face. Her light hair was down, for once, and tangled over her shoulders. Her smile was small, but it didn’t seem forced and Mark stood there plucking his soggy shirt away from his skin and waiting for her to say something.

“Do I look that awful?” She asked, and her smile widened when Mark spluttered.

No! No, I wasn’t– You didn’t…scare me,” he mumbled.

“That’s some serious bed head,” she said, looking up at Mark’s hair. “Do you want to show me where everything is so I can make us some real breakfast?” Her voice was a lot like her real one and not the one she used around Frank, the one she’d been using for weeks. Her tone was sure and firm again, despite the way the rest of her looked.

Mark nodded and they both walked to the kitchen in silence.

“I feel like pancakes,” Hannah Rogers said. Mark sat at the table and placed the bowl down.

“Top cupboard,” he replied.

Twenty minutes later there was pile of thin pancakes sitting in front of him, and Hannah Rogers wasn’t stopping. After she had made the first batch, Mark had told her it was enough for both of them. She had just nodded and kept on pouring the mix in the pan. Mark was almost ready to go upstairs to get Rogers when she finally turned the stove off and, bringing another, smaller pile with her, sat down across from him.

“I think I overdid it a bit,” she said.

“It’s fine.”

He served himself at least four pancakes, stacked together and still steaming, and poured honey over them while Hannah Rogers cut into a single one, dry and thin. He hoped she wasn’t expecting him to finish off both piles alone.

“How did you sleep? Those cots don’t look too comfortable,” she said. Mark wasn’t the best at small talk, but Hannah Rogers brought out in him the need to at least try.

“I slept upstairs,” he told her between bites. “Dan took my place.”

“You slept upstairs,” she repeated. Mark nodded. “With Sandy.” 

Mark choked on his pancakes. He coughed, and punched at his chest, his eyes watering, “N-no,” he managed to say.

“I’m okay with you two…well, you know. But I don’t think I like the idea of you sleeping in the same room just yet. And I don’t think your parents would, either.”

“No, but we didn’t–”

“I’m just letting you know how I feel about it, Mark,” she explained, cutting her pancake in smaller and smaller bits. “I don’t expect you to–”

“But we didn’t,” Mark interrupted her, his face burning. “Really.”

Hannah Roger stared at him, her eyes also looked red, like Rogers’ had, and her mouth was turned down at the corners. She looked older than the day before.

“I know,” she murmured and started eating. Mark was chewing when she spoke again. “I’m really sorry about yesterday.”

“You didn’t do anything,” Mark said when he had swallowed.

“I’m sure it’s not pretty to watch a grown woman cry.” She set her fork and knife down. “And anyway, I’m sorry for everything that happened yesterday.”

Mark wanted to ask her what was going to happen with Frank, what had she said to Rogers last night when they were alone. Or better yet, what had Rogers told her. But he finished his breakfast in silence.

“I also wanted to thank you,” she said as she pushed the food on her plate around with her fork. “For helping Sandy out all this time. With the rides and everything. I know he isn’t, wasn’t your favorite person in the world.”

Mark almost choked again, “He still isn’t.”

“But your father’s right, you’re getting along better. I’m glad.” She looked up at him. “I always thought he was a little too…aware of you.”

Mark lowered his gaze and grabbed another small pile of pancakes. If anything, so he wouldn’t have to answer to that.

“Anyway, that’s why I asked him to tell you to come over after the hospital. To thank you. Which reminds me, he told me about yesterday –” Mark was going to kill him. “–about the dog. I think I’m going to go down there to have a talk with that man today. It’s going to get my head off work and everything else for what’s left of the morning.”

“Okay,” Mark replied, relieved and not thinking about being home alone with Rogers and definitely not starting to freak out. Not even a little.

When he stood to get more milk, Hannah Rogers began gathering their plates.

“Why don’t you go change your shirt and tell Sandy there’re pancakes down here? They’re his favorite.”

Mark nodded, “Yeah, okay.” 

 

 

When Mark went back into his side of the room, Rogers was still curled into a ball on his bed even though the sun was already glaring right onto his face. He stood staring at him, his fingers scratching lightly at his freckled neck.

On one hand, Mark wanted Rogers off his bed right that second. He didn’t want to smell him on his pillow the next time he went to sleep, and the sooner he left, the less Mark would have to look at him and the less time the picture of Rogers wrapped up in his bed sheets would have to be permanently engraved in his head.

On the other hand, Rogers looked exhausted and there was something about the way he had come to him the night before that told Mark things hadn’t gone well with his mother, either. And for some reason, Mark didn’t want him to wake up and remind him of it.

A part of him told him Rogers was a big boy and that his personal life wasn’t Mark’s problem (no matter the part he had played in it yesterday), but it wasn’t that big a part. Actually, it seemed to be getting smaller by the minute.

So Mark didn’t wake him.

He sat on the edge of the bed and sighed. He was tired, too, and he wished he could also be asleep and oblivious to the world. But he was awake, calm and alone with his thoughts for the first time since he didn’t even know when. He could take this time to think about everything with a cool head, but he didn’t want to. He wasn’t sure he was going to like whatever he’d figure out. No, he was sure he was not going to like it. Or he wasn’t going to like that he liked it. Or something. This was exactly why he didn’t want to think about it.

With another sigh and a soft curse, he buried his face in his hands.

“What is it?” Rogers’ voice came from behind him, raspy and low. Mark ignored him. A second later he felt him move and then he was kneeling next to him.

“There’re pancakes downstairs,” Mark said. “Your mom made them.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“She said they’re your favorites,” Mark insisted. He wanted to lie down without ending up on top of Rogers.

There was a pause that lasted a little too long, and then Rogers sighed.

“Actually, she always burns them. But it’s not like she makes them often, so I don’t mind.”

“Then go and eat them. She made like a hundred.” Mark lowered his hands to his lap and glanced sideways at Rogers, who was scowling at his knees. The hair on the right side of his head was flat against his skull.

“I said I’m not hungry,” he muttered.

Mark rolled his eyes as he looked away. Then he felt like a dick (he had definitely gone mad) and turned back to him.

“She’s going out. You can wait until she’s gone if you don’t want to see her.”

He was about to get up to go throw himself on Dan’s bed when Rogers’ forehead fell on his shoulder.

“I think they’re getting a divorce. D’you think so? She didn’t say but I’d never seen her cry before,” Rogers mumbled. “She kind of implied it but she mostly sat there and…nothing. She mostly just sat there.”  

Mark had no idea what to say, so he kept his mouth closed. Then Rogers reached between them and grabbed Mark’s wrist. He lifted Mark’s arm up and around him and made his hand land on Rogers’ shoulder. Mark felt himself start to blush but he looked away and squeezed a bit so Rogers’ could see he got the hint, subtle as it was, and he wasn’t going to let go.

“I think I want them to get a divorce. But not because I’m…not because I’m gay,” Rogers went on as Mark kind of awkwardly hugged him or did whatever he was doing. “Just because they’re awful together, and no one’s happy when he’s around. Not even him, I think.”

Rogers moved so it was his cheek on Mark’s shoulder, and waited. After an embarrassingly long silence, Mark took an unsteady breath.

“Yeah,” he said and felt Rogers smile.

“You’re so helpful,” he said. “No wonder you love to talk so much.”

“Fuck off,” Mark grunted. He felt that, as long as they were bickering or fighting, he was in safe territory.

“And so sensitive, too.”

Rogers sighed and slipped away. Mark was able to breathe for a second before he had a lapfull of blond curls. His thoughts did a dangerous u-turn; suddenly he was very, very aware of where Rogers’ head was. Mark fidgeted and he realized that, now that Rogers wasn’t sitting anymore and was on his back instead, Mark’s hand was on his chest.

“She said she knew about me forever,” Rogers said, seemingly unaware of how tense Mark was. “And that she was worried you were going to kill me for real if you found out.” He looked up and Mark almost did something completely ridiculous, like leaning down and kissing him. Almost.

Rogers must have seen it all over his face, though, because he gave a crooked smirk and looked away, blushing.

There was a knock behind them and Mark turned to see Hannah Rogers standing near the bookcase, her fist on the dark wood. He got up so fast Rogers rolled onto the floor with a thump. For no reason at all, Mark held his hands up, as if to show he was not touching anyone.

Hannah Rogers looked like she didn’t know whether to smile or be embarrassed for him.

“Relax, Mark,” she said and Rogers kicked him from the floor. “I’m going over Mr. White’s house. I’ll be back in a while, I...maybe you should stop by home, Sandy.”

“Why?” Rogers asked as he got up, sounding wary.

Hannah Rogers looked between them and Mark remembered what she’d said. That she didn’t want them sleeping in the same room together. Mark wanted to throw himself out the window. She rested his eyes on Mark for a moment, and then shook her head.

“Nothing, never mind. It’s better if you stay here anyway. I’ll stop by the store to replace what we used for breakfast, Mark.”

“You don’t have to.”

She waved a dismissive hand at him and turned to go but stopped after the first step. “Don’t let Frank in, just in case. Not until there’s someone else here,” she said with a look over her shoulder. “Just in case.”

They both nodded and she left. 

 

 

“See? They’re so thin they always get burned,” Rogers said as he held a cold pancake up with his fork.

“Shut up and eat them,” Mark mumbled from his spot near the window. They were in the sitting room, Rogers on the couch with a plate full of pancakes on his lap and Mark acting like some kind of guard dog, checking the house across the street every two minutes. He didn’t think Frank would come, but he didn’t want to be caught off guard if he did.

It was almost one o’clock, Hannah Rogers had left half an hour ago and everyone else wouldn’t be home until at least five. Mark needed something to do.

“You could get me some milk or something. I’m gonna choke on these.”

“Then choke,” Mark muttered with no real feeling behind it. When Rogers didn’t say anything back, Mark looked at him as discretely as he could. He saw his arm, now thinner that the other one after not using it in so long, resting on his side. And he saw his mouth set in a determined line as he stared at his plate.

“What now?” Mark asked with a sigh. It wasn’t like he meant to act like an asshole, not right now anyway, but he didn’t want Rogers getting the wrong idea. Or the right idea. Or any idea.

“That’s what I’m wondering,” Rogers replied, looking up at him. It was a strange feeling, wanting to go over and do something, and knowing he most definitely could, but not wanting to want it. Dammit, he’d been through this.

And what was with Rogers looking like a kicked dog all of a sudden?

“Wait…what?” Mark said after the words hit home. “What are you…?”

Rogers sighed and started rolling up his pancake.

“Nothing, I don’t even know.”

Mark looked at him with narrowed eyes, somehow feeling like he had just dodged a bullet and not even sure why he felt that way.

“Sit down, will you? You look stupid standing there,” Rogers snapped. “He’s not coming over. Why would he?”

Mark could think several reasons why, all of them including some sort of physical damage to his person, but didn’t say anything and walked over to sit across from Rogers, whom stared at him as he chewed on his breakfast.

“You could sit here,” he said and motioned to his side with his head. “There’s a better view of the window.”

Mark scoffed and leaned back on his seat. Rogers shrugged and kept eating. They sat in silence for a few minutes, Mark’s eyes going from the window to Rogers and back. He realized he was clutching at the arm rests when his fingers started hurting and he let go and put his hands on his lap. His foot started tapping the floor. He brushed his hair back and rolled his shoulders. Something inside of him clenched and unclenched with anxiety.

Finally, he got up and walked to the kitchen. He threw open the fridge and poured milk in a tall glass, all the time thinking of how big of an idiot he looked like, once again Rogers’ butler for no reason at all.

When he handed the glass over, Mark sat down next to Rogers because…well, there really was a better view of the window from there.

“That was fun to watch,” Rogers said.

“Shut up.”

In his defense, Mark didn’t lean in to kiss Rogers until after he had finished both the milk and the rest of his pancakes, so it wasn’t like he couldn’t control himself. He didn’t even know he was going to do it until Rogers had his arms around his neck and Mark was already half on top of him. So, yeah…whatever, it wasn’t like Rogers didn’t want it too and he had to make the most of every time they wanted the same thing, didn’t he?

They were Mark and Sandy fucking Rogers, after all. Who knew how long this could last?

 

Chapter Text

John started to notice a change in things that weekend when, after not seeing Mark (or Sandy) at school on Friday, he decided to drop by at Mark’s house. Jessica opened the door in shorts and a tank top and John smiled a slow smile at her.

“Please,” she said, rolling her eyes in good humor. John shrugged. Not only would Jessica never go for him, but she was his friend’s sister, and he had a rule about trying to score with girls whose brothers could beat the crap out of him. It didn’t mean he couldn’t look, though, so he did as he followed Jessica to the sitting room.

Sandy and Dan where playing videogames sprawled on the two beanbag chairs near the TV while Mark watched from one of the couches. John did a double take.

“Hey, you’re up early,” Mark said. And he sounded pleasant. For a moment John thought he was dreaming; it happened sometimes. He would dream he got up and brushed his teeth and had breakfast only to open his eyes again and still be in bed. It had been a mistake to try to get up this early on a Sunday. He waited a moment by the door, staring at the scene in awe. Jessica sat next to Mark and looked at him, eyebrows up. John sat down.

“So,” he said to the room in general. “What’s with the cots?” He gestured behind the couch, where two folded cots rested against its back.

“Sandy and his mom are staying for a couple of days,” Jessica explained. He told him quietly about Sandy’s dad having some sort of fit and them walking out of their house. John gaped at her.

Dan got up and handed his controller to Mark, who sat next to Sandy Rogers and started playing against him, which was sort of interesting because the last time he had seen them they were not even looking at each other.

“Mom got mad because they slept in Mark’s room the other day and now Mark sleeps down here,” Dan whispered, sitting on the coffee table and leaning in towards them.

“Why did Sandy’s father freaked out?” John asked, pointedly ignoring the sleeping together part, there was something called too much information, and as supportive as John was of the whole thing, he didn’t want to hear the details.

Dan and his sister exchanged a look and then started telling John about how Sandy had told his father he was gay and then locked himself in his room with Mark to do who-knew-what and about how his father called their parents and did some sort mock trial trying to get them to admit what they had done.

John could feel his eyes widening more and more as they told him in hushed voices how, after Mark denied there was anything going on between them, Sandy’s mother had walked in on them making out the day before after going over to Mr. White’s house and how Mark had spent the rest of the day locked up in his room out of embarrassment.

“It was so funny,” Dan said, stifling a laugh. “I saw him when I got home and his face was still purple, I swear.” 

That was about when Mark and Sandy started arguing about something going on in the game and after a moment they were pushing at each other, and then Mark was stomping away and up the stairs. John had less than two seconds too feel right, because this was who they were and what he was used to, before Sandy was following suit.

Once his footsteps had vanished above them, John turned to Jessica.

“They’re kinda obvious.” She shrugged and then told him that everyone knew, but since they (Mark) didn’t want to admit it, they all pretended nothing was happening.

“I promised Mom to keep my mouth shut, but I don’t know how long I‘ll last,” Dan whined. “They’re so obvious it’s painful.”

“So, even though they caught them at it-” John started, but Jessica laughed and cut him off.

“This is Mark, even if we had pictures as evidence he’d still deny everything,” she said with a sigh. “Sandy’s gonna get tired of it soon enough, you’ll see.”

 

 

During the following week, Mark drove Sandy to school; they avoided each other during the day, and then met by Mark’s car when it was time to get home. Curiosity was eating at John’s insides, but he kept his mouth shut. He had the feeling everything was still kind of fragile and he didn’t want to be the one to cause Mark’s meltdown.

It was Friday when things sort of blew up. John wasn’t there to catch the start of it, but when he saw the crowd gathered in the school’s entrance hall, he knew what was happening. Well, not exactly. Mark and Sandy weren’t really punching each other or rolling on the floor. They were pushing, and knocking their shoulders and hissing furiously near each other’s faces.

It looked like everyone was there to witness it. It had been a long time since so many people had been interested in one of their fights, but this was a novelty: Sandy finally had free use of his arm, and John knew every kid around him was waiting for the first punch after Mark Wallace and Sandy Rogers had acted nearly decent for months.

Two teachers turned up to split them apart and took them to the office. Mark trashed around in Mr. Leander’s grip as Sandy kept whispering to him. They still drove home together at the end of the day. As John watched them go, Sandy’s pretty friends walked up to him.  

“They’re so stupid,” Emily said, tossing her short hair back and crossing her arms over her chest.

“I don’t really understand what’s going on yet,” John muttered back and then offered to give them a ride home.

“I heard Sandy’s already back home,” said Dana later from the passenger’s seat. “His dad’s out of town, I think.”

“What do you mean you think?” Emily asked from the back.

“Mark’s younger brother told me earlier.”

John heard Emily huff, “He’s still not telling us anything. Don’t they realize how fucking obvious they are? I should start it as a rumor, that way they would get over their stupid…fear or whatever it is.”

“Don’t you dare, Emily,” Dana snapped, turning around to face her friend. John cleared his throat.

“Why not? He’s got it coming, he’s the one that just upped and started ignoring us!”

“He’s not ignoring us. We just spent the whole day with him,” Dana said, calmer now. John was uncomfortable.

“You know what I mean,” Emily muttered.

“Um,” John tried. “Mark’s not telling me anything either.”

Both girls turned to look at him, John could feel their eyes on the side of his face like heat rolling up from his neck.

“I just bet this is all his fault,” Emily said. “He doesn’t want to tell so he’s making Sandy shut it all up.”

“I can’t argue with that,” John replied and smiled at her through the rearview mirror. “It’s nothing personal, though. I mean, it’s not like he has something against you, I don’t think….”

“Whatever.” Emily scowled out the window.

“The last thing I heard about it was that Mark thought Sandy’s parents were getting a divorce,” John went on. “He didn’t say more than that.”

“Mark’s brother said Sandy’s mother had been trying to reach him for the last couple of days,” Dana said. “He called last night, Sandy’s dad I mean, and he was two states over. Mark’s brother, what’s his name, didn’t know what they talked about.”

“Dan,” John replied in a soft tone. He considered driving all three of them to Mark’s place, only for a moment before he scratched the idea as stupid and kind of suicidal. After the fight that day, even though they had driven away together, John was sure Mark was not going to be exactly easy to deal with. But apparently his thoughts were showing all over his face, because a second later Dana spoke again.

“Maybe we could stop by, see how Sandy’s doing.”

“Shake some information out of him,” Emily muttered.

“I don’t know if that’s such a great idea,” John said, but he was already searching for the next left turn.

 

 

Even though Mark’s car was parked in his driveway, Dan told them that he was over at Sandy’s. John instantly proposed to abort the plan. If he was home alone with Sandy, then they were probably doing something John didn’t want to walk in on. But Emily and Dana shrugged and walked across the street, leaving John really no choice but to follow, he had to be there to prevent Mark from killing anyone – and besides they were wearing very nice-fitting jeans and John enjoyed walking behind them.   

It took a couple of minutes for someone to answer the door at Sandy’s house, but just when Emily was turning to try the back door, Sandy appeared. John felt inexplicably uncomfortable standing in front of him. He hadn’t let himself think about what the two of them could be doing when alone together (other than beating each other senseless), but Sandy put too many unwanted images in his head when he opened the door that obviously…debauched.

“Hey,” he said, sending a quick look behind him. He was bushing slightly. There was a short but extremely awkward pause before Emily sighed and put her hands on her hips.

“Can we talk?” She asked and pushed inside the house. Sandy didn’t have time to protest.

“Come in,” he said and opened the door wider for John and Dana to enter. They trailed after Emily into the kitchen, where Mark was sitting on a stool, arms resting on an island counter. John had never been to Sandy Rogers’ house, so he looked around instead of staring at his extremely embarrassed-looking friend.

When he glanced back at the rest of the people in the room, he found there was some sort of staring contest going on between Mark and Sandy’s friends, and neither looked amused. Sandy stood by the door and ran a hand through his mess of a hair to try and flatten it down.

“Anything to drink?” He asked the room in general, and only Dana answered she wanted some orange juice, if he had some.

She was in the middle of drinking out of a big plastic cup when Emily said, “So, we know you’re screwing,” and Dana started choking.

Mark looked like he would have been too if he had been drinking something, but for once, didn’t jump to deny it. Even Sandy, who had turned instantly to him, looked surprised and pleased and John looked away.

“Right,” Sandy said, sent Mark a glance as if to check something, and went on. “Yeah, right, okay.”

Dana was still coughing and John went over to place his hand on her back. Emily scowled.

“Yeah, right? Why didn’t you say anything then?” She snapped.

“You said you knew before, I thought it was kinda obvious….”

Emily looked surprised, then outraged, then visibly calmed down and took a deep breath.

“You’re supposed to talk about these things with your friends. Or are we not your friends anymore now that you’ve gotten yourself a boyfriend?” 

Sandy, Mark and even John blushed at this. John felt his cheeks burn as Mark’s flush spread under his collar. He opened his mouth but Sandy beat him to it.

“He’s not my boyfriend,” he said and Mark glared down at his hands on the counter. “And I didn’t tell you because…because you, I didn’t know you wanted to hear about it.”

Emily hesitated a second, “I don’t, but you could have mentioned it. You can tell us, I just don’t want to hear the specifics.”

John agreed completely. He had already told Mark that he could tell him anything that was on his mind, but they could keep their…intimate stuff to themselves.

“I’m sorry, Emily,” Sandy said in a quiet voice, keeping his back to Mark. “It’s not even…um.”

“And I’m not only talking about Wallace over there, all that stuff about your dad….”

“He’s not coming back,” Sandy cut her off. “Not for now, at least. There’s not much more to say about that.”

John caught the long look Mark gave Sandy then, he didn’t seem like he realized he was doing it, like he was lost in thought.

“We can talk about it later,” Dana piped in. “When there’re less people around.”

“Sure.” Sandy smiled a little. Mark snapped back to reality and sulked on his stool. John was sure he wasn’t happy about people knowing and talking about them, but he was going to have to get over it.

John was also pretty sure that had been why he and Sandy had gotten into that fight earlier, and he promised himself he would find a moment to talk to him again.

“Anyway, we could like, watch a movie or something.” Emily sat on another stool. “Since we’re here and all.” 

“Rogers doesn’t have any good ones,” Mark muttered. It was the first thing he’d said since they had gotten there. John sat down next to Dana and Sandy perched himself against the counter next to Mark, who didn’t flinch, sneer or walk away. It was going to take some time to get used to it, but John was getting there. 

“Are you ever going to call him Sandy?” Emily snapped as she started pulling her hair up into a tiny ponytail.

Mark made a face and looked sideways at Sandy.

“No,” he said and rested his chin on his hand. “That’s stupidest name I’ve ever heard.”

Chapter Text

It had turned into a routine, Rogers coming over to watch TV or play videogames for a couple of hours after school. Mark knew that they weren’t exactly fooling anyone every time they went upstairs and into his room, but he liked to pretend everyone thought all they were doing up there was sitting in silence, preferably four feet apart. Or better yet, not even in the same room together.

Of course Jessica always found an excuse to mock him, or throw little comments that made Mark’s face burn and Rogers smile all embarrassed and obvious. And of course Dan would stifle a laugh every time they made up some pretext as to why they both had to leave a room at the same time. But Mark was working on not caring.

It’d only been about a month since the whole scene with Frank and his parents and Rogers outing himself in a fit, and Mark knew no one had a real problem with them…with them being– Well, basically Mark could do whatever the hell he wanted as long as he didn’t land another person in the hospital (although his mom had a new set of rules involving Mark’s bedroom). 

But even though he knew everyone was okay with it, he was still working on fighting this urges to smack Rogers’ hands away, or flinch when they stood too close to each other in public. Sometimes Rogers was so infuriately stupid (like when he called Mark cute in front of his siblings and they wouldn’t stop laughing for ten minutes straight, or when he went home with his friends instead of letting Mark drive him) that Mark had to bite his lips to keep from yelling something at him that would probably earn him the silent treatment for two days. Or a punch in the face. And, as much as it pained him to admit even to himself, Mark could handle the punch in the face better. 

He thought it was unfair that nobody realized just how hard he was actually trying, and it pissed him off.

He was starting to wonder if it would be easier just to tie his hands behind his back, just so he wouldn’t push Rogers away when he didn’t really mean to.

Of course, tied hands and Rogers in the same train of thought led to a string of pictures in his head that included Rogers in ways that made Mark kinda dizzy and uncomfortable. It had been happening a lot lately.

They were sitting in his living room one afternoon, side by side on the couch and watching some cartoon Dan had chosen. Mark was only half listening to the television. He was more focused on Rogers’ profile. Mark knew Rogers’ features by heart, but lately…well, they looked sort of different. It was weird to know what Rogers’ cheek felt like under his fingers instead of his knuckles. To know that his mouth was actually a lot more interesting when it wasn’t spitting insults or twisting up into a sneer. That his hair was rougher than it looked and Mark was disgusted with himself. He was staring at Rogers like a little kid with a crush.

Rogers was talking about something with Dan, probably about the stupid show they were watching, and he was waving his hands around, punctuating his words with every flourish. Mark was counting the minutes until they were free to go upstairs – they usually waited until whatever they were doing was over before one of them got up and the other followed pretending it was all a coincidence.

But then one of Rogers’ hands dropped and landed right on Mark’s knee and Mark’s heart attempted suicide by nearly jumping out of his throat.

Rogers didn’t seem to notice, he kept talking while his fingers squeezed Mark’s leg lightly. He probably wasn’t even aware that he was doing it, but Mark was too aware and Dan was right in front of them, pretending like he was listening to Rogers’ babble when Mark could see he was trying to hold back a smirk.

This was one of those moments when Mark’s temper got the better of him and those old urges came back with a vengeance. When Rogers’ fingers squeezed again, he all but punched his hand off.

“Get off me already, you…” he trailed off, realizing he was looking down at Rogers from a distance. Mark had jumped off the couch and to the other side of the room while he was still processing having punched Rogers’ hand.

Dan’s eyes were everywhere but on him. The living room was probably the last place he wanted to be in at that moment. Rogers looked shocked for a fraction of a second before he was glaring fucking daggers at Mark.

“Um,” was all Mark got out before Rogers told him to go fuck himself and stomped out of there without sparing him a second glance.

There was a moment of silence when Mark could feel anger starting to bubble up inside of him because this was obviously Rogers’ fault somehow, before Dan said: “That was not cool, Mark.”

There was little amusement in his tone, but it was there and Mark wanted to shake it out of him.

“I didn’t—”

Dan scoffed, “Don’t even.”

Mark glared at him, his jaw tensing at the phrase stolen from their sister. What did Dan know, anyway? It was all a joke to him. Mark wouldn’t have been forced to react that way if his brother hadn’t been watching them in the first place.

It wasn’t until he said that out loud that he realized how much like a whiny asshole he sounded. But at least now he realized it, okay? Wasn’t that proof enough that he was trying?

“Stop pretending that nobody knows,” Dan said with a roll of his eyes. Then he looked at Mark with a small smile on his face. “Jessica says that if you don’t let up a little he’s gonna find himself some who does.” 

And Mark knew Dan was teasing him and being the annoying little brat he always was, but the comment made something ugly twist inside of him and he saw red.

Rogers wouldn’t. Not after turning Mark…not after everything. Mark could kill him if he found out he had.

“I don’t think he will, though. Not yet anyway,” Dan said with an awkward smile and a shrug while looking at his feet. “So don’t look like that.”

Mark was about to snap and demand what exactly he looked like, but he closed his mouth with a loud click. He wasn’t so sure he wanted to know.

 

 

Mark still drove Rogers to and from school almost everyday. They hadn’t really talked about it, Rogers just kept showing up at the parking lot every afternoon and okay, maybe Mark didn’t take off right away, either. And maybe he stopped in front of Rogers’ house every morning, so what? No one said anything about it. Rogers’ friends usually waved goodbye from the bike racks and John sometimes even tagged along for the ride. Other times he brought his own car, and about once a week, Mark saw him walk home alongside Dana and Emily.

Rogers said he was trying to hit on his friends, and Mark didn’t really give a crap as long as John didn’t do anything stupid that could come around and bite him in the ass later. They were Rogers’ friends after all, and John was Mark’s friend, so it was kind of his responsibility, he guessed. Except lately he was starting to think John wasn’t just his friend anymore. Mark saw him sometimes hanging around Rogers and his group at school, even though Mark never exchanged more than two words with Rogers until they were on their way home.

It was especially awkward during the couple of classes they shared.

Sometimes Mark could swear he felt Rogers’ eyes on the back of his neck all through a lesson, only to turn around and find he wasn’t even looking up from his books. Mark didn’t know what bothered him the most: that Rogers could be staring at him in front of everybody or that he wasn’t.

Sometimes Mark crossed him in the hallways and he felt the stupid need to say something, to make Rogers stop in his tracks. And Rogers always looked at him as he passed, eyebrows up as if waiting for Mark to open his mouth. He never did. He didn’t even know what he could say now that petty insults were out of the question, so he just nodded at him and kept going.

The morning after Rogers had stormed away from his house, Mark stopped his car in front of Rogers’ place just as he was stepping out the door. He saw Rogers freeze and glare at the car, his door still open behind him. He seemed to consider what to do for a second before he walked over and got in without a word, dumping his bag on the floor between his feet.

Usually, this and the drive back home were the times when they spent talking. Or rather, when Rogers liked to shoot his mouth off and Mark listened and, occasionally, said something back that wasn’t an insult (he was trying, okay? It wasn’t his fault Rogers never shut up).  

But today Rogers didn’t utter a word. Mark could feel anger radiating off of him and he silently cursed because, if his bitchy mood was anything to go by, Rogers wouldn’t go up to his room today either.

They drove by Mr. White’s house and they both looked over to see the dog-free front lawn. Since Hannah Rogers had gone over to talk to the old man, they hadn’t seen the little monster outside once. Rogers usually said something when they passed, accompanied with a smile and an squeeze of his hand on Mark’s shoulder or something, but this time he stared out the window in silence and didn’t speak up until they were parking in the school’s lot. 

“You’re not going to say anything?” Rogers asked with a serious sideways glance.

“Like what?” Mark asked, playing dumb. He really had nothing to be sorry for, Rogers shouldn’t be so damn touchy-feely when other people were around and that was it.

Rogers’ eyes narrowed further, his mouth going thin. His hand went to his left wrist, now back to its normal size and not as pale as before. He tapped his fingers against the bone there, like he used to do when the cast was still on. Mark wondered if this would end in a fist fight and was mildly surprised that he didn’t want it to.

Lashing out at Rogers had stopped being satisfying after they’d found better ways to waste time with.

“Like why the fuck you’re still freaking out if I so much as lay a finger on you when someone’s in the same room,” Rogers said, turning his eyes to look ahead. Mark stared at the line of his neck, tanned and really, really close.

“I’m not freaking out,” he argued, but half his mind was up in his bedroom and his tone lacked the conviction Rogers was apparently looking for. He reached out and put his hand on Rogers’ shoulder, his fingertips against Rogers’ neck. “See?”

Rogers sighed. “That doesn’t fucking count.”

Mark slid his palm to grasp the back of Rogers’ neck. He could feel the muscles tense under his touch, the brush of Rogers’ curls tickling his skin.

“Still doesn’t count,” he muttered, but he didn’t sound as pissed as before. “Look, I just think we should—”

“Talk, yeah, that’s why you’re the girl in this relationship.”

Mark, honest to God, meant it as a joke. He was very well aware Rogers wasn’t a girl, even if he had an unhealthy (and unmanly) fixation with talking things over.

Rogers didn’t catch on and didn’t find it funny, though. He jerked out of Mark’s grasp and snatched his bag from the floor. Before getting out of the car, he turned to Mark with a mean glare on his face.

“You’re such a fucking asshole sometimes,” he said, vicious, and stomped away towards the school, leaving the car door open – probably to keep himself from slamming it and thus making Mark have to kill him.  

Mark was left cursing at himself and his fucked up brain-to-mouth filter.

Chapter Text

Mark was sure that, if he would have bumped into Rogers during the day, he would have stopped him and said something. But it was as if Rogers had hidden from him on purpose, because no matter how much Mark looked for him in the halls that morning, he didn’t see him once until lunch time. 

When Mark stepped into the cafeteria behind John, there Rogers was, sitting on a table with his friends and looking all happy like nothing had happened between them. Mark had a weird flashback of before, back when, after a fight, Rogers would act normal while Mark was left fuming. Except Mark was sure Rogers was fuming, somewhere under his cheerful façade, he was just very good at pretending he wasn’t. Probably years of practice and loving to see Mark spit fire helped him get so good at it.

“Did something happen?” John asked once they had sat down. “It’s been a while since you two looked like you wanted to kill something.”

Mark chewed on his sandwich as he watched Rogers doing the same. Mark’s mother had gotten it into herself to make Rogers’ lunch the couple of times a week she did Mark’s and his siblings. She said Rogers looked down since his parents had started with the whole divorce ordeal and, really, Mark didn’t need her to tell him that. Mark could see for himself.

“Rogers’ being a pain in the ass,” Mark muttered, embarrassed at the way he lowered his voice, as if Rogers could possibly hear him all the way from across the room. And besides, since when was Mark afraid of Rogers’ reaction to anything he said?

“Yeah?” John said, “What’d he do?”

Mark glared at him for the way he smiled when he asked it, like he was just humoring Mark.

“None of your business,” he replied and stuck the rest of the sandwich in his mouth.

Mark was honestly trying, so he hated the way Rogers seemed to do everything he knew would set Mark off. He touched him when people were looking or said stupid things that were maybe, barely okay when they were alone but definitely forbidden when they weren’t, and then he ignored him when Mark tried to apologize for flipping out.

Okay, he got that Rogers was upset or whatever about his parents, but he’d known from the start Mark wasn’t exactly the best at comforting people. Hell, the few times he’d tried he’d felt so awkward it was painful. And this wasn’t even about Rogers’ parents. This was Rogers angry because Mark wasn’t comfortable with…touching in front of his little brother.

“I didn’t let him hold my hand, okay?” Mark said, making John start. It was half a lie, but it felt safer than telling him about Rogers grabbing his leg, for some reason. “How much of a baby he’s being?”

John narrowed his eyes a little. “You didn’t let him or you freaked out?”

“Both, I guess,” he mumbled, scratching his neck and sending a glance Rogers’ way. He was still talking with his friends, not a hint of anger in his expression.

“And you were alone?”

Mark fixed his eyes back on John and saw the amused tilt of his mouth.

“Fuck off, you know the answer,” he said. John laughed a little, low and short.

“What the hell are you trying to hide, Mark? Everybody knows you two are—”

“I know that,” Mark cut in before John could say anything that would make him have to punch him. “But there’s no need to throw it at everyone’s faces.”

John raised his eyebrows. “Taking the guy’s hand is throwing it at everyone’s faces?”

“Yes…no, whatever, he walked off before I could say anything, anyway.”

“You drove him today?”

“Yeah,” Mark popped his soda can open and took a swig. “I tried to…um, explain or something.”

“Sure you did.” John shook his head, smiling down at his food. “How’d that go?”

Mark glared at him – he knew the answer to that, too. Then someone put a hand on his shoulder, and Mark turned to see Rogers towering over him.

“Hey,” Mark said, pointedly not looking at the hand still touching him in the middle of the cafeteria. Rogers removed it anyway and put it in his pocket, without acknowledging Mark’s effort at all.

“Hey. Hi, John.” Rogers looked over Mark’s head and then back at his face. “Listen, I’m gonna walk home with the girls today.”

“Oh.” Mark frowned, not pleased. “I can drive all of you, if you—”

“Nah, I’m stopping at the hospital on the way,” Rogers explained.

It felt awkward talking like this, acting like their interactions stopped at the rides home and knowing it was because of Mark that Rogers pretended it was true. It made Mark feel defensive and angry, so he snapped.

Why?” He asked with more force than necessary. “I can take you.”

Rogers stared at him, and Mark fidgeted after a moment because he was used to having a couple of inches on the other guy and he didn’t like to feel small. Rogers grinned suddenly, and Mark froze in his seat, sure he was about to say something embarrassing.

“You want to drive me?” He asked.

“What?”

“You heard me.” Rogers leaned down a little. “You wanna drive me, don’t you?”

Mark flushed mostly because Rogers was making the whole thing sound…sexual, but he was also a little uncomfortable at having him this close in the middle of a crowd. He couldn’t help himself.

“I didn’t say that,” Mark replied, scowling.

“You’re thinking it, I bet,” Rogers teased, but something in his tone was dead serious and made Mark meet his eyes.

It was moments like this when Mark was really surprised at how fast everything had happened. He could still feel Rogers’ teeth against his knuckles from the last time he had punched him in the mouth in his back yard, and yet he could find no trace of that impulse inside him anymore. Instead, he wished they were anywhere else, just so that Mark could lean in and—

“Mark,” Rogers breathed and Mark snapped back into attention. He realized he had been staring at Rogers’ mouth and felt his face burn.

Then he noticed Rogers was closer than before, still moving in, his hand reaching out and Mark flinched and jerked away before he could touch him.

“What’re you doing?” Mark asked, shaky panic in his voice. He saw Roger’s eyes harden again as he dropped his hand and his shoulders slumped in disappointment or anger or something. But, for fuck’s sake, didn’t he know by now he couldn’t just do those things without a warning?

“I’ll walk there,” he said, already turning away.

In a whim, by reflex and nothing else, Mark’s hand flew to Rogers’ arm and stopped him.

Rogers looked down at him, obviously pissed again, and Mark had nothing to say. They stared at each other until it felt weird and Mark dropped his eyes, angry at being bothered by Rogers’ shitty mood swings.

“I’ll pick you up,” he said between gritted teeth, looking at Rogers’ sneakers. “Afterwards.”

“Fine,” Rogers said and snatched his arm away. “I’ll be in the parking lot.”

He walked away and Mark didn’t watch. He turned back on his seat and faced John, who couldn’t quite meet his eye.

“Well,” he said, “you couldn’t expect it not to be a little awkward at first. Right?”

Mark considered it. It was true, he guessed, Rogers couldn’t expect him to act like it was natural for them to be like this in school. Or around their families. Or their friends…. Why the hell was it so easy for him, then?

“Still,” John went on, “you could try.”

“I am!”

He fucking was, couldn’t anyone see?

“To tell you the truth, it looks from here like he’s the one who’s trying,” John said, really quiet and looking up at Mark with trepidation. “No one cares if he puts a hand on your shoulder, why d’you act like he’s going to attack you if you let your guard down?”

“I don’t,” Mark said, his tone letting John know they were done talking about it. Of course John played deaf and kept talking.

“Yeah, you do,” he argued.

Well, it wasn’t easy to go from one extreme to the other. Rogers needed to see that there had to be a middle ground, somewhere where Mark could relax, stop wondering about what Rogers was going to do next, if he was going to say something stupid, if he was going to lean down and kiss Mark in front of every-fucking-body. How did he expect Mark to react?

 

 

It didn’t occur to Mark to wonder why the hell Rogers had to be at the hospital until he was halfway there. His arm hadn’t bothered him in weeks, or at least he hadn’t told Mark about it and Rogers was always telling him useless stuff like that.

Mark knew Rogers was a little freaked out about it popping out of its socket again – he saw him avoid bumping it against people at school and hold it close to his body almost all the time. But Rogers had admitted he was overreacting when Mark had called him on it once, when he had let Mark be as rough as he liked when they were alone in his room – not that Mark was rougher than Rogers was with him. Even though the things that got them off were not something they discussed once said things were over, neither of them had ever complained.

So, yeah, Mark had no idea why Rogers was at the hospital.

He was driving slowly, because he wasn’t eager to be there or anything. He had planned to get there at the same time the physical therapy sessions used to end, even though he knew Rogers didn’t plan on stepping into one ever again if he could help it.

When Mark realized what he was doing (checking the time, trying to be punctual, thinking about Rogers’ reasons) he made a hasty left-turn onto a side road that took him practically all the way around town. It was the longer way there.

He had to remind himself he was the one who had offered to pick Rogers up this time just so he wouldn’t feel like his driver again.

Only now, instead of feeling like his driver, he was feeling like an idiot.

So he got there fifteen minutes late, or at least fifteen minutes later than the time Rogers used to end with the sessions. He parked in his old spot, the one he had claimed as his own back when he had to sit in his car for an hour after being (gratefully) banned from the building. He killed the engine and, well, sat there, not sure of what to do next.

Rogers had said he’d be at the parking lot, but Mark couldn’t see him anywhere and he was not going to go look for him. He turned the radio on – it was tuned to Rogers’ favorite station – and rested his head back.

He absently remembered the last time he had sat there, waiting for Rogers to come out of the hospital with his arm finally healed. He remembered being pissed and horrified at what had happened in Rogers’ room the weekend previous to that, and now, a month later, Mark was a little dismayed to find a bit of that feeling still in him.

Everything was still new – Mark had yet to accept the whole thing. If he didn’t want it so fucking much, he would not have been bothering to learn to have patience with Rogers. He wouldn’t have been trying as hard as he was.

Still, he had to admit to himself that not everything was difficult. There were some things that came surprisingly easy to them, and not just what happened up in his bedroom. Mark might've had problems being around Rogers when people were looking, but once they were alone, things just all kind of fell into place.

And yes, Mark realized he was the one with the problem in that area and he hated that everything appeared to be so simple to Rogers. Everything was always easy for Sandy Rogers. And there the guy was now, coming out of the building next to Steve, laughing at something he was saying.

Mark frowned. He wasn’t very fond of Steve, something about the guy rubbed him the wrong way. Besides, it had been his fault that Mark had gone to Rogers’ house that day, all because Steve had filled his head with ridiculous questions and he had wanted answers he never even got.

Now, if only he could find it in himself to resent that….

Steve looked around and spotted him first, Mark could see his smirk all the way from where he was hiding in the car. He saw Steve nod towards him and Rogers turn and give a smile of his own, only his held no trace of mockery (because apparently hanging around Steve put him suddenly in a good mood or something). Mark quickly looked away.

God, he was embarrassed of himself.

He looked over again a second later and saw the two guys talking, Rogers leaning down slightly. It was seriously useless to feel threatened by Steve, Mark knew it was, but still. The guy was always too fast in making Rogers laugh and Mark was sure they were laughing at him, which was something he was also trying to work on. Rogers had told him he couldn’t take a joke, and Mark could. The fact that he was still sitting there, watching them get all close and comfortable together and probably talking about him and not stalking over or leaning on the horn to get Rogers to hurry the fuck up was proof enough.

But why the fuck did they have to stand so fucking close?

Just when he was starting to lose it, Mark saw Rogers straighten up and wave Mark’s way. Then he turned on his heel and walked back inside. Mark was still scowling at the glass doors when he saw Steve rolling his way.

He considered only lowering the window, but ended up getting out of the car with an aggravated sigh.

“Well, aren’t you a ray of sunshine,” Steve said when he reached him. “Don’t look so happy to see me, Freckles, you’ll hurt yourself.”

Mark’s scowl deepened and he leaned against the car door with his arms crossed, not bothering to answer the guy.

Why, hello, Steve!” Steve said in a high voice, “You’re looking as dashing as always.”  

Mark’s entire body tensed, his fingers clamped around his biceps and then relaxed. He took a deep breath and fucking tried.

“Hey,” he said and then shut up before he could blow it.

Steve’s smile widened.

“Your boy forgot his bag, he’ll be right out,” he informed Mark, who was busy spluttering.

“He’s not my—”

“He said you’d say that.”

Mark stopped talking, taken aback. A second later he was outraged, but quietly so, because he was still trying and besides, he had already been thrown out of that place for making a scene before. Once in a lifetime was enough, he thought. 

“Did he?” He asked, managing to keep his tone to a normal volume. “What else did he say?”

Mark fucking knew they talked about him. What the hell had Rogers been saying to this prick?

“Oh, you know. Stuff.”

What stuff?” Mark grounded out but Steve dismissed it with a roll of his eyes.

“I never got to congratulate you,” he said instead of answering Mark’s question. “About getting Sandy to do the exercises. You never came back, though. I thought you wanted to know what he’d say about you.”

“I want to know what he said now.”

Steve stared up at him for a moment, his gloved hands closed loosely around his chair’s wheels.

“He says a lot of things,” he replied at last. “I don’t think he’s got anyone else to talk about this…. He says his friends are a little touchy about it. And you’re obviously about as good as talking to a tree, so.”

Mark was probably more than a little out of sorts because he didn’t instantly take any offence to that. In fact – for one tiny second – he agreed with Steve, and then remembered himself and got angry. Steve went on before Mark could snap at him.

“Anyway, he’s basically still saying the same as before.” He gave Mark an amused look. “You know, when the subject of conversation strays to you, which I gotta say is rare.”

Mark wasn’t sure if he was imagining the sarcasm in his tone or not, it was hard to tell with Steve, so he ignored that last part.

“Why is he here anyway?” He asked, hoping he sounded uninterested. Going by Steve’s annoying smile, he failed.

“That was a smooth change of subject right there,” Steve mocked. “He wants to volunteer.”

“What?”

“He wants to volunteer. Help out with the guys upstairs.”

“But—”

But Rogers hated it there. What the hell was he doing asking to be let back in?

“Yeah,” Steve cut him off and sighed. “What does that tell you about how much of an asshole you are?”

Fuck you. What’re you talking about?” Mark barked, temper going up and up and up.

“He’s having a crap time at home and you’re too worried about acting like a tough guy to notice,” Steve said, tone even and hard. The amusement and the smile on his face were both long gone. Mark stood there for a moment, looking down at him and not knowing what to say. 

Then he glanced up and saw Rogers coming out of the hospital, making his way towards the car. Something swelled in Mark’s chest (what, he had no fucking clue) and then he turned away before it could show on his face.

“Just…cool it,” Steve said in a quiet voice. “You’re probably too thick to even realize what you’re doing wrong, but his patience is limited.”

Mark stared decidedly to his right.

“It doesn’t matter how much he wants whatever it is you’ve got going to work, it won’t if the two of you don’t manage to fix some things.”

Steve sighed again, an exasperated sound that made Mark’s fingers twitch.

“Do you even want it to work?” Steve asked and Mark didn’t answer because Rogers was close enough to hear. Steve pretended he had and said, “Then start fucking showing it.” 

Ten minutes later, Mark was driving back home, Rogers sitting next to him in silence. He looked calmer but Mark could tell he was still pissed. He hadn’t tried to start any kind of conversation since they had left the hospital behind, not even to ask what he and Steve had been talking about. Mark was clutching at the steering wheel, doing his best at holding his tongue.

Then he thought of what Steve had said and cleared his throat.

“You’re volunteering,” he said, not managing to make it into a question. Rogers looked at him, Mark saw out of the corner of his eye, and shrugged.

“Just once or twice a week.”

A beat and then, “Why?”

“Just wanted something to do in the afternoon,” Rogers said, slow and cautious. If he thought Mark was going to react badly to that, well, he was right. But Mark didn’t let his anger show.

“Oh,” was all he said and gripped the wheel tighter.

There was another long pause in which Mark chewed at his lips too keep himself from yelling something he would regret later.

“You mind?” Rogers asked and Mark snorted, gave a jerky, one-shoulder shrug.

“You can do whatever the hell you want.”

And then Rogers laughed, because he was the best at bringing out Mark’s murderous side.

“Who’s being a girl now, Mark?” 

“Oh, come on. Who’s the one running away to hide?” Mark cried, finally turning to Rogers.

“Um, not me,” Rogers laughed again. “All you’ve done since…since all this started is hide.”

“Why didn’t you say—” Mark stopped mid-sentence, he was about to step out of the well known useless-fight zone and into the personal one. He turned back to stare at the road ahead off him, they were only a block away from their street.

“What?” Rogers pushed. “Say what?”

“That you were…that it wasn’t good. At your house.”

“What?”

“With your mom and Frank,” Mark muttered as he parked the car in his driveway. He took the key out of the ignition and leaned back against the seat. Rogers didn’t answer for a long time, and when Mark finally looked at him, he was glaring.

“Are you fucking joking?” Rogers snapped. “Every time I tried to talk you—”

“So, what? Now you’re gonna run to Steve because he listens to you?”

“No, you asshole,” Rogers lashed out, his face red and an inch away from Mark’s. “I’m going there because maybe I don’t like that you’re only half decent when you want to get off. Or that you can’t even look at me in public, let alone say a fucking word unless we’re shut out from the whole fucking world. Maybe I talk because is what normal people do, okay? How else would you find out about my parents and about the hospital and about everything else, huh? Tell me.”

It had been a long time since Mark had seen Rogers this wound up, and he remembered it being more satisfying that this. Now he just felt wretched. And guilty, and he hated feeling guilty.

“Look, I’m trying here—”

“Really? ‘Cause I don’t fucking see it,” Rogers spat, settling back down.

“Well, I am.”

“You’re awfully good at pretending you don’t give a shit, then.”

Chapter Text

Mark wished he could say he was using Rogers for sex, but that comment about only being nice when he wanted to get off had hit him, so there was no point in lying to himself. He was with Rogers. He was with Rogers because there was something about being with Rogers that…soothed him. Granted, Rogers could annoy the hell out of Mark, but overall, it wasn’t that bad. In fact, lately the only times when it had been bad was when they fought. And yeah, it was usually Mark starting those fights, but old habits die hard. 

Somewhere deep down, Mark liked Rogers talking his ear off about stupid shit and he sort of liked sitting around watching TV or playing videogames. And, yes, what they did up in his bedroom was great. But it wasn’t the only reason Mark still picked Rogers up and drove him to school and listened to his ramblings. 

Maybe, under torture, Mark could admit he sort of…liked Rogers. Sometimes. Okay, most of the time, except when he was being an insecure dick.

And Rogers liked Mark. Mark still wasn’t sure just how messed up Rogers was for liking him even during all those years they were leaving their fists printed in each other’s faces, but he really wasn’t one to talk. Though he had waited until Rogers had started being something close to nice to even think about wanting to stick his tongue down his throat.

Because, despite what people may or may not think, they didn’t get off on punching each other bloody.

So, and Mark could feel himself blushing in mortification even thinking it, they liked each other. It was just fucking unbearable how hard things could be between them sometimes. 

“Your head looks ready to explode,” Jessica said from across the table. “Thinking about something naughty?”

And then she blushed, too, when she seemed to remember this was his younger brother she was talking to.

“Shut up,” Mark grumbled, pushing his food around in his plate. 

He had let Rogers go without even trying to stop him. And Rogers had gone into his own house, even though on Thursdays he usually ate dinner at Mark’s. It was another thing that had turned into a routine in the last month. Now Mark’s parents were sending him questioning looks and Dan was complaining about Rogers not being there to watch a show on TV later that night, and Jessica was smirking to herself, even though she was still a little pink. 

Mark was in a bad mood, and what was worse was that he was feeling an invisible pull in his chest telling him to get the fuck up and go explain himself to Rogers. But Mark still had some dignity left – he wasn’t going to grovel for Rogers. 

“Is everything okay with Sandy and Hannah, Mark?” His mother asked. “Should I go check on them?” 

Mark frowned and then felt worse thinking about Steve saying that Rogers was having a crap time at home. 

“They’re okay,” he replied, not being able to keep his voice from trailing off slightly. Rogers hadn’t talked much about that.

“I talked to her this morning,” his mom went on, “Frank is making as much a mess as he can. He’s not going to let go easy.” 

“What a shame,” Mark’s father said, his tone quiet and regretful. “He used to be a decent guy.”

When? Mark wanted to ask. All his memories of Frank (the few he had, Frank was never at home much) were of him fighting or mocking or scolding. Or of Hannah Rogers’ mouth set in a thin line and Rogers glaring and miserable.

Mark felt his stomach roll a little and then his father asked, “Where are you going, Mark?” And then Mark realized he had gotten up.

“Um,” he said. 

Everyone stared at him, and Mark could swear they were holding their breaths. He scowled and crossed his arms over his chest, but didn’t sit back down. Rogers was mad at him and would rather be alone in his house surrounded by bad memories than with him, and all because Mark got understandably freaked out about certain things. Okay, he would show Rogers. Mark would show him that he wasn’t a fucking coward.

“Rogers and I are….” He stopped. What the hell were they doing? Mark didn’t know how to put into words. Dating? They hadn’t gone out anywhere that wasn’t school or, well, the hospital. Sleeping together? Not really (not yet).

“Yeah?” Dan was grinning, all teeth and freckled cheeks. Mark felt his face heat up even more.

“Seeing each other?” He finished, averting everyone’s eyes. His parents had the decency of acting surprised, though no one bought their fake gasps. Jessica and Dan burst out laughing. 

“Sorry, now you look ready to explode,” Jessica said. 

Refusing to answer, Mark left. He could still hear them laughing from the front lawn. He stalked across the street and stood outside Rogers’ door. He waited only a second to take a breath and then knocked before he could lose his nerve. 

He was expecting Hannah Rogers to answer – he imagined Rogers locked in his room, sulking in the dark or something. So when the door opened and it was Rogers standing in front of him with a frown on his face and his mouth half open to say something, Mark just reacted. He threw caution to the wind and moved before the guy could say something that would piss him off.

He clasped a hand behind Rogers’ neck and brought their mouths together. 

Right there, in front of the world. 

Rogers made a noise that may have been a protest, but gave up and kissed Mark just the way Mark liked, with a little teeth and a lot of tongue. When they broke apart, Mark spoke before Rogers could.

“I told my parents about us. You. This. And I’m not…like, um, using you to get off or anything like that,” he said in a rush, stumbling a little on the words, his voice rough. 

Rogers looked up at him, mouth dark and wet. Mark saw him lick his lips and felt heat gather low in his belly. Rogers had always had an instant effect on him. 

“And look,” Mark continued, “I kissed you outside, see? I told you I could.” 

He thought he saw Rogers bite down a smile, but he was still frowning. 

“Yeah, but the whole thing kinda loses its purpose if no one’s around to see, don’t you think?” 

“I saw,” Hannah Rogers said and Mark looked up as Rogers twisted in his grasp. She was standing in the middle of the stairs, smiling a little awkward smile. Mark’s first impulse was to let go. Quickly. Instead, he tightened his grip on Rogers’ neck and ignored the small spark of embarrassment he felt when he imagined what he looked like right then, and realized Hannah Rogers had heard them.

Rogers turned back to him, face red.

“Still doesn’t count, she already saw us once.” But his voice was soft, so Mark didn’t think it mattered if people saw them or not, what mattered was that Mark had finally taken a step in the right direction.

“Is this a game?” Hannah Rogers asked as she came down the last steps. She smiled at Mark, her eyes tired. 

“Sorta,” Rogers replied. “Can we go upstairs for a while?” 

She made a face, looked from Mark to Rogers slowly. “Leave the door open,” she said. 

 

 

No matter what Hannah Rogers thought, Rogers and Mark hadn’t had actual sex yet – yet being the important part of that sentence. It wasn’t that Mark didn’t know the mechanics of the act. And it wasn’t that they didn’t want to, it was just…complicated. Not just because it was difficult to find a place they could be alone without risking someone walking in on them, but also because only thinking about it made Mark freak out. After the first time Mark had touched Rogers without jeans or underwear in the way, all he could do was stare at his hand and think I touched Rogers’ dick, over and over again, half excited, half appalled at himself. 

Only the thought of having real sex with Rogers was enough to make him have to adjust the front of his pants. At the same time, though, the little part of him that still flinched when Rogers came too close was screaming to get the fuck away while he still could. 

He thought about doing that to Rogers, and absolutely loved the idea. Then he thought oh, God, doing that to Rogers?Actually pictured himself and Rogers and, fuck, he couldn’t look anyone in the eye for a bit, he was too busy trying not to let his nerves make him lose his lunch.

And what about Rogers doing that to him? Mark was horrified the first time he thought about it and his dick jumped in anticipation. He didn’t want that.

Except that sometimes he did.

And when he was crushed under Rogers’ weight on a bed, legs tangled together, rutting and kissing and panting, Mark just wanted to get off. He didn’t care how. He didn’t even care if Rogers’ door was half open, or that his mother would be able to hear them if she came up the stairs. He needed a little more friction and a little more force, and he needed Rogers’ mouth over his own. 

“So,” Rogers said close to Mark’s ear as Mark pulled his hips down, for fuck’s sake. “Not in it for this, are you?” 

“Shut up,” Mark muttered and tried to catch the other guy’s mouth, but Rogers laughed and leaned his face away.

“What, you were so romantic down there,” he laughed again. “Where’s that guy now?” 

Mark bit his shoulder.

It was moments like that when Mark knew they were going to have sex soon. And it was moments like that when he didn’t care who did what to whom, he just wanted it too much. 

 

 

“I didn’t really mean it,” Rogers said afterwards. He was lying next to Mark, head on a pillow and looking up at the ceiling. “It just feels that way, sometimes.”

“I wouldn’t put up with you all the time if I only wanted in your pants,” Mark replied and then marveled at how he could say that out loud without choking on his own spit. 

“Why don’t you talk to me at school?” Rogers grimaced after the question was out of his mouth, but Mark didn’t mock him for sounding like whiny idiot. He didn’t even think Rogers had sounded like one, but it was the principle of the thing. Anyway, he didn’t call him on it. He just shrugged, which was awkward while lying on his stomach and feeling like his body was made of sand.

“You can say hi or something,” Rogers muttered and scooted closer to him, turning to rest on his side, face an inch away from Mark’s. “You care too much about what people think.”

Mark frowned. “I don’t.” 

“You do when it comes to this.” A pause and then, “Also, I think that if you call me a girl one more time I’m gonna rip your balls off. Just so you have no right to say that to me ever again.” 

Mark scoffed, “Yeah, you can try, Sandy.”

“Fuck you,” Rogers laughed and reached out. Mark grabbed his wrist before he could get anywhere near his crotch. 

“I can take you, Sandy,” he teased, his thumb rubbing little circles over Rogers’ knuckles without his consent. 

“I really don’t like it when you call me that,” Rogers said, moving a little closer. 

“A girl? Yeah, I got that.”

“No. Sandy. Though if you try to use girl as an insult again I’m telling your sister.” 

Mark flinched. 

“Please don’t,” he said. “You really don’t like me to say your name?” He asked and was about to do it again, just to see Rogers frown, but thought better of it. “Good, because I don’t like it either.” 

They lay on Rogers’ bed until they heard Hannah Rogers climb up the stairs and go into her bedroom. Then Mark sat up, letting go of Rogers’ hand. He swung his bare feet to the carpeted floor, and was about to stand to leave when he thought of something.

“Frank,” he said. “How’s that going?” 

He turned to look at Rogers over his shoulder. The only light in the room came from a lamp on the desk, on the far wall, so it took a moment for him to see Rogers’ face clearly. He was serious, eyes half closed and looking down at the bed. His lower lip pulled slightly up. Mark leaned down so Rogers would meet his eyes.

“So?” 

“I don’t know, Mom won’t say much about it,” Rogers told Mark, his voice quiet and angry. “But I think it’s pretty bad.” 

“Has he been up here?” 

“No,” Rogers smiled a little. “That you’d have found out.” 

“Yeah?” 

“You wanna stay over?” Rogers asked, this time his voice was barely audible. Mark could have easily flopped back down and stayed, but he thought of Hannah Rogers at the end of the hall.

“Your mom wouldn’t like it,” he said. 

“You could leave before she wakes up.”

As tempting the idea of Rogers’ bed was, Mark didn’t want to have to wake up at five so he could sneak out of the house and into his own. He knew somehow, his own mother would be waiting there. 

It wasn’t until Mark was already standing back in his yard, his house dark and silent in front of him, that he thought of Rogers’ tone and his hand on Mark’s hand and the way he had looked at him when he’d asked him to stay over. 

He was such a fucking idiot.

But at least Rogers couldn’t say all Mark thought about was sex anymore.

Chapter Text

Time alone with no chance of someone walking in on them was rare. When it happened, Mark and Rogers usually didn’t waste a second of it because quick hand-jobs in Mark’s room might have been fun, and grinding against each other on Mark’s bed might have been nothing short of amazing, but there was a lot more they wanted to try before they turned sixty.

The thing was, even when they got time alone, they were paranoid and quick about everything. Too many people lived at Mark’s house, people that had their own, ever-changing schedules and could knock on the door or peek through the blanket separating his side from his brother’s at any minute.

After getting caught making out a hundred times too many, Mark had gotten used it. He had no problem doing that with other people in the house. But he had no intention of letting Dan hear them doing anything else from the other side of the room.

Rogers’ house was off limits ever since the divorce process had officially started. Hannah Rogers worked a lot from home and, on top of that, she spent at least an hour a day talking to lawyers on the phone or sighing down at papers or talking to Rogers in a quiet, tentative way that made Mark sort of want to drag Rogers to his house and let him live there until all that crap was over and done with.

All this left them with few options. So little options that Mark was starting to consider driving his car to the off-skirts of town, park it on the shoulder and just see what went on from there.

He was pretty sure Rogers wouldn’t be offended by the absence of tact, if the looks he sometimes gave Mark were anything to go by. Looks that felt like a prelude to something, a question or a demand or whatever, and that always melted away before Mark could find out what they meant.

Mark knew he sometimes clung to Rogers longer than necessary, too. He sometimes wanted to tell Rogers to go on, to let Mark go further, do something else because this was starting to feel like not enough.

He was sort of comforted with the thought that if Rogers had been a girl, the whole privacy problem would have still been there. He was not comforted by the thought of preparation, and how little he would have needed with a girl, and how complicated and long and embarrassing it sounded with a guy.

Which was another thing: where the hell were they supposed to get supplies? Because Mark was not about to go to the drugstore, where his mother shopped, and get condoms and lube to have sex with another guy. The people that worked there knew him. They could tell his parents. Mark panicked with only the thought of how that conversation could go.

So, he was feeling a little frustrated.

In addition, Rogers – who was already strung tight because of his mother and Frank and all the drama they caused and that Mark had never heard the details of because Rogers didn’t seem to want to talk about it – was moody half the time, and the other just horny. And being horny without the chance to get off properly made him moody. So basically he was moody all the time, making Mark feel like killing something whenever they ended up screaming at each other.

Mark and Rogers had had a miraculous first couple of months of doing…this thing they were doing, and in those months they had not had a real fight that lasted more than a day.

They argued and they spat insults at each other and they ignored one another for a bit, in order to cool off. But it appeared that their famous screaming matches and rolling-on-the-floor fights that used to leave Mark strangely unsatisfied were a thing of the past.

They had gone on a date a few weeks ago. They had both been happy to pretend it had been a spur of the moment thing, Mark in gym shorts and Rogers in the same jeans and sweatshirt he had been wearing for two days. The two of them were careful not to think too much about what they were doing and take it like something so normal and not at all out of the ordinary that they didn’t even bother to dress up for it. They went to see a movie and spent the duration of it making out in the darkened theater.

They had even spent their birthday together in January. They had gone to a party with their friends the night before and found each other at midnight, only to be found making out by most of their classmates a few minutes later. Word had gone around school fast enough.

So, yeah. They hadn’t been fighting much.  

Mark hated that he knew it wasn’t really Rogers’ fault that first-in-a-long-time fight, because he could understand that snapping at him after Rogers had been on the phone with Frank was a bad idea, but he couldn’t help himself.

He saw Rogers face, angry and pale, his lips curling up and his fists clenching and he hated it and he just…couldn’t help but to tell him to suck it up, just so he wouldn’t look miserable anymore. It made Rogers draw back for a moment, surprised, before yelling at Mark where to stick his pissy comments. Which just led to a loud argument and a shove or two and then Rogers didn’t set foot in Mark’s house or car for the rest of the week.

Compared to what they used to be, that first one was a mild one. It still felt worse than all the old ones put together, because this time Mark didn’t want Rogers to stay away. Mark actually wanted to hear about what Frank had said, and what was going on at Rogers’ house and in his head. Rogers could rant for two days about Mark’s moods or Dan’s games or the shows they watched on TV, but if Mark dared to bring up his latest conversation with Hannah Rogers then Rogers always found ways to distract him.

Ways that usually involved Rogers’ mouth and hands on him and that – going back to the subject of Mark’s frustration – were a bit of a double-edged sword. Sure they had fun for a little (little) while, but then they both ended up wanting more and being pissed about it all over again.

Mark was pretty sure calling it a vicious circle would have been appropriate, but lately not enough blood was finding its way to his brain, so he didn’t trust himself too much.

Still, there was something about Rogers that Mark absolutely loved, and that was his total lack of shame when it came to Mark’s dick.

Rogers had been the first to grab Mark through his jeans (even though that first time didn’t count because there had been nothing pleasurable in the gesture), had been the first to drag Mark’s zipper down some time after that, and the first to slip warm, sure fingers inside his boxers.

Mark had taken longer to plunge in, to get used to the feeling of having someone else gripped in his hand. Had fumbled trying to get the moves right backwards and had had a silent freak-out after it was done, when he was wiping sticky fingers on his sheets.

Though mostly, it was the fact that he wasn’t freaking out that had freaked him out the most. Because even if he had done it because he felt a little bad about Rogers always being the one doing it, even if there had been no conscious thought of actually wanting to do it, if only just to hear Rogers make those noises that were half gasps, half grunts, even if Mark had first done it to avoid an inevitable argument about reciprocity, it had been fucking great.

And, despite the initial fumbling, Rogers had definitely loved it, too. Then again, Mark was pretty sure he would have to have had needles growing out of his palms for Rogers not to like a hand around his dick, but still.

After a couple of weeks, Mark couldn’t believe he had been reluctant about it. He loved having that kind of control on Rogers, loved the way Rogers wet breath hit his neck like he was having trouble finding air, the way Rogers’ hand lost its rhythm when Mark twisted his the right way.

But that had been at the beginning, before it stopped being everything and started being the only thing they could do.

 

 

It was Sunday morning, three or four days after that first-but-not-really fight, when Mark went downstairs and found Rogers having breakfast in his kitchen.

“Hey,” Mark started before he remembered they were supposed to be ignoring each other. Then he sort of stumbled as he quickly changed directions and went for the fridge instead of for Rogers.

“Hey,” Rogers replied quietly. Mark watched him sip at his mug (his as in Mark’s, as in the one Rogers’ knew Mark used every morning) and felt his resolve not to be the one who started a conversation begin to crumble. He looked away and concentrated on pouring himself a glass of apple juice.

He didn’t sit at the table but instead leaned against the counter, glass in hand, and pretended not to be watching Rogers pretend not to be watching him.

He could see Rogers’ leg jerking as he tapped his foot against the tiled floor, nervous or something. Or maybe just impatient. Maybe he was waiting for Mark to talk.

Mark drank from his glass and could have sworn the noise of the juice going down his throat was heard in every corner of the – strangely silent – house.

“Is there anybody even here?” He asked, because it really was very quiet, and Rogers looked at him properly.

Mark was suddenly very aware that he was in boxers and a t-shirt when Rogers’ eyes instantly dropped to his bare legs. He resisted the urge to shift his weight from foot to foot like this was the first time Rogers decided to stare.

“Your parents went out earlier.” Rogers’ gaze was slow as it moved up Mark’s body. “I saw them from across the street.”

“Creep,” Mark said and then remembered Jessica and Dan hadn’t slept at home. Which meant they were alone and how had Rogers even gotten into the house? 

Something must have shown in his expression, because Rogers was on his feet and across the room in a second, standing right in Mark’s space.

“What?” Mark asked, looking down at him when all Rogers did was stand there, not even touching him a little bit. He set the glass on the counter behind him and crossed his arms over his chest.

“You’re an asshole,” Rogers said then, and Mark tensed, getting ready for a repeat of the week before.

“Yeah, I got it the first billion times, thanks,” he replied, his voice strained. “You’re not—”

“Just,” Rogers cut him off. “I’m still fucking pissed, okay?” He snapped, looking seriously angry for a second, eyes flashing just before he yanked Mark down with a hand on the back of his neck and kissed him.

A furious sort of instinct took over from there and Mark wrapped himself around Rogers, suddenly all eagerness. Everything got put on pause when they had time alone to spend doing this – even fights and Rogers’ stupid moods and breakfast in stolen mugs.

But Mark could still tell Rogers wasn’t letting anything go, not even for a moment, from the way his hands slipped under the hem of Mark’s t-shirt and his fingers dug into his skin, pressure bordering on painful. And the way he dragged his teeth over Mark’s lips, sharp and unapologetic.

And maybe Mark yanked at Rogers’ hair (how his hands always ended up there, he had no idea) harder than necessary, whatever. He wasn’t just going to let Rogers get away with being a prick.

The edge of the counter was digging into Mark’s ass as Rogers pressed himself against his front, chest over chest and a leg between Mark’s parted thighs. There was really no mistaking where this was going, and Mark didn’t intend to let it happen in the kitchen, with a most likely unlocked backdoor not ten feet from them.

He tightened his grip on Rogers’ hair and pulled him away just enough so he could speak against his lips.

“Let’s go upstairs,” he rasped.

Rogers kissed him again, eyes closed and hands climbing up Mark’s back, making his shirt ride up and Mark slip down, aching to be a little closer. The counter was cold and made a shiver run through Mark when it came in contact with his skin. He returned the kiss with a muffled groan, his hands sliding to cup Rogers’ face, thumbs on warm cheeks. 

“Come on.” Mark broke off, urgent, and stood straight – pushed Rogers towards the door. “Upstairs. Bedroom – not here, come on.”

Rogers kept a firm grip on Mark’s arm as they tripped up the steps, and Mark stared at his back, the line of his shoulders, at his hair flopping up and down and had to make an effort not to stop there and grab him again.

He waited until his room’s door was closed behind them to push Rogers up against it, hands scrabbling for Rogers’ fly as if Mark had never had a problem with it. As if he had never panicked at the thought of even grazing the front of Rogers’ pants, as if he had always been as impatient to get the damn thing open as he was then.

Rogers’ mouth was hot on Mark’s neck as Mark eased him out of his jeans, breath harsh and loud as Mark pulled, slow, and ground against Rogers’ hip.

But suddenly Rogers was hooking a leg behind Mark’s and making his knee buckle, making him have to lower himself to the floor or fall on his back under Rogers’ weight and crack his skull open or something. He went down with a curse, Rogers with him, Rogers pushing his back onto the ground, Rogers running trembling palms down his stomach and over his boxers, face hovering close to Mark’s.

“I shouldn’t even–,” he said as he gave Mark’s dick a slow stroke through thin fabric. He paused for a second – a second that felt like a fucking year to Mark with Rogers’ hand pressing down, unmoving – and then shook his head, suddenly looking like he had made his mind up about something. “You don’t fucking– but if I don’t I…I think I’ll go crazy or–”

“What–”

“Let me…I’m just gonna try.” Rogers’ voiced dropped along with his gaze, which landed on Mark’s lap. Mark stared as a violent blush covered Rogers’ face as he looked down at his own hand curved around him. He gave a squeeze that made Mark’s hips jerk and then (and Mark may have made some sort of embarrassing sound at the sight) licked his lips like he was wetting them to– like he was getting ready to–

Mark barely had time to process it, though he was sure he got a little harder just watching Rogers’ tongue swiftly peeking out of his mouth, before Rogers was slipping down his body, one hand still around him and the other pressing his hips against the hardwood. Mark held himself up by his elbows, eyes growing wider as Rogers’ mouth came closer to the strip of skin showing beneath the hem of his shirt.

Then he went lower, nuzzled Mark through his boxers, ran his tongue flat along the length of him once and Mark’s head hit the floor and he came in his shorts with a gasp, hips jumping.

It could have been mortifying how fast it was except that he didn’t really give a fuck because that…that beat Rogers jerking him off any time.

“You didn’t even let me finish,” Rogers said, close, and when Mark opened his eyes all he saw were Rogers’ pupils blown wide. He felt him hard against his stomach, skin on skin because he was still where Mark had left him earlier, hanging out of his jeans.

Mark didn’t know what to say – what could he say to that? – so he just kissed Rogers, short of breath and thinking about where Rogers had been planning on putting his mouth before – where he did put it, God. He let Rogers rock his hips and wrapped his arms around him, put his hands on his ass and pushed down, arching up to meet his movements halfway.

Rogers went still – lips pressed to Mark’s, eyes screwed shut – when he came all over Mark’s stomach.

They kissed again afterwards, coming down. Mark’s hands went to Rogers’ neck where he could feel Rogers’ heartbeat gradually slowing, could feel that the tension from before had melted away, leaving them both lazy and content as they lay there, neither fighting to gain control.

Then a door slammed somewhere downstairs.

It was sort of amazing how quickly they both stood up, pulling at their clothes (both their shirts were ruined, along with Mark’s boxers and his ability of ever standing in Dan’s side of the room again and not thinking of Rogers going down on him) as they hurried through the Pokemon blanket and to Mark’s territory.

Rogers’ face was dark red when Mark dared to look at him again, and he was frowning, body angled away as he tucked himself back in. Mark felt pretty gross, but there was still an electric hum running through him, his limbs still felt a little shaky. He didn’t think he could muster up the energy to have a fight at the moment, but Rogers always brought up that side of him. Always with almost no effort at all.

“I—”

“What now?” Mark cut in. “What the hell’s wrong now?”

Rogers sent him a glare. “I was going to say I needed a shirt, but I guess you don’t care if your mom or whoever sees me like this, do you?”

Mark threw his hands out in exasperation – Rogers could be such a bitch – and went to his dresser. He rummaged inside until he realized he was actually looking for a shirt that would look good on the other guy, then cursed and tossed him one at random.

Instead of staring as Rogers changed, Mark took his own shirt off and wiped at his stomach with a grimace he was about seventy-nine percent faking. It was scary how little he cared about Rogers coming on him.

“I’m going,” Rogers said, pulling Mark out of his thoughts.

“Huh?” He said and looked up to see Rogers standing in the middle of his room, face still pink, wearing his shirt. Whatever the hell that needle in the pit of Mark’s stomach was, it couldn’t be healthy.

“I said I’m going,” Rogers repeated, still just standing there.

“Wait,” Mark said, as if Rogers had made a move to go anywhere. “I…I’ll pick you up tomorrow. Okay?”

There was pause and then, “Yeah, okay.”

“Wait,” Mark said again, like he was a moron because Rogers was still there. He took the three steps separating them and leaned down to peck him on the lips, a little roughly and lingering just a second too long. “That was…that was nice. Great. Awesome, it was awesome.”

Mark knew his face was as red as Rogers’, but cared about it as much as he cared about the come that had been on his stomach.

“Yeah?” Rogers asked, a smug smile pulling his mouth up. “You should try it next time.”

Mark gulped, mouth suddenly dry. “Weren’t you going or something?” He asked, which was neither yes or no. Rogers obviously noticed and smiled wider as he started walking away.

“See you tomorrow, then.”

Chapter Text

“You didn’t,” Dana said, aware that her smile was completely inappropriate but it wasn’t every day that Sandy decided to share this kind of thing with them – she wanted to be supportive.

“I didn’t want to know that,” Emily muttered, her face a mix of disbelief and distaste that Dana didn’t think was very supportive at all. “God, I really didn’t.”

Sandy shrugged, showing that sweet smile that was going to get Emily to forgive him in a second, his face going a little red. Emily visibly softened at the sight, Dana knew her so well.

“What about him?” She asked, still defiant because she was probably never going to like Mark Wallace. Apparently, she’d rather ask an awkward question than to pass up the opportunity to make him look bad. “Did he…return the favor?”

 “Um.” Sandy’s face went a shade darker.

“Because that’d be so like him, to make you do everything while he sits back and–”

“He didn’t ask me, I wanted to.”

Emily made a noise like a balloon deflating, a sort of angry hiss that meant ‘I don’t believe that’ in Emily-speak.

“And besides, he–”

“Wait, stop, no more details. Please,” said Emily, his hands flying up to cover her ears. “Enough visuals for one day.”

They were standing in line at the cafeteria, which wasn’t the ideal place to be talking about this, especially since after Sandy’s birthday, when they had gone to that party and half the school had seen Mark and Sandy kissing in one of the rooms. Dana had started to feel like people were always eavesdropping on them since then. She might have been imagining it, except that the whole room seemed to be filled with noise but for the people closer to them, who were uncharacteristically quiet.

She had asked Sandy about it, but he apparently didn’t care enough to stop talking about personal stuff in very public places.

Dana guessed it was healthy not to be checking your words every two seconds or be embarrassed about who you were. But she also got the feeling that Sandy sometimes acted bold in Mark’s behalf.

It wasn’t that Mark hid his relationship with Sandy – he was just more conservative about it. And not only when they were at school: Dana had seen them interact at their homes and they were pretty much the same. Maybe Mark was just private like that.

The line moved, and Dana and her friends moved with it. Sandy had his hands in his pockets as he bickered good-naturedly with Emily. His eyes kept sliding towards the tables and back, and Dana looked to where Mark and John were sitting, waiting for them.

Her stomach did a little flip at the sight of John saying something that was making Mark squirm in his seat and she smiled to herself, averting her gaze.

“Why do we have to buy his lunch?” Emily was asking when Dana tuned back in.

Sandy rolled his eyes. “He’s saving our seats. And he gave me money.”

“Stop trying to make him look good, we all know he’s an asshole.”

Dana was surprised then, when Sandy frowned and all the playfulness seemed to vanish out of his eyes. He turned to Emily properly, and she closed her mouth instantly, sensing the mood change.

“Stop it already,” he said, gentler than Dana had been expecting.

“You’re always saying it,” Emily argued, because she never gave up when it came to Mark Wallace and proving how much she disliked him.

Sandy hesitated before answering, “I’m allowed to say it.”

“And what, you’re forbidding me to call your boyfriend names now?”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Sandy muttered, “And yeah, I don’t like it when you call him names.”

“Just like when you don’t like it when I tell you what a sleaze-ball your brother is, Em,” Dana cut in. “But it’s okay when you say it, just like that and look! Our turn to order, come on.”

“That’s different,” Emily argued. “He’s my brother and Mark’s not even your boyfriend, according to you.”

“He stopped fighting you,” Sandy said.

“It’s true.” Dana could feel this quickly escalating into a real argument. “He even smiled at you the other day.”

“He was making fun of me because I tripped.”

“But he didn’t…say anything,” Dana offered. She sometimes wondered if Emily realized how her temper resembled Mark’s. Or maybe she did realize, and that’s what bugged her so much.

They got their food in silence. Dana saw the group of girls behind them sending looks their way and sighed.

“What does he have to do for you to stop?” Sandy asked a moment later, holding Emily’s lunch as well as his.

“Disappear?” Emily said, all spite.

“He’s not going to.”

“Don’t be so sure.”

Sandy stopped walking and turned to her, his face darkening.

“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”

He wasn’t as tall as Mark (who was?) but Sandy was nowhere near short. He towered over Emily in a way that he never did before. Dana didn’t know what to do to defuse this.

Emily shrugged, or rather jerked her shoulders in an angry manner, before replying, “I mean that he’s waiting until you two fuck to dump you on your ass.”

Both Sandy and Dana reared back in surprise. Sure, Emily was usually straightforward, but Dana was sure this crossed some sort of line.

“What–”

“After everything…you can’t seriously believe he’s there for the long run. He’s probably– He probably wants to take it out of his system before he goes looking for some girl.”

Silence followed the outburst and, after a moment, even Emily looked a little shocked at herself. Her face smoothed down, paling as her mouth went slack.

“Emily,” Dana started, voice faint, but was cut off when Sandy placed Emily’s tray on the table closer to them and walked away without another word.

Dana looked at the tray, at her own lunch in the bag clutched in her hands and at Emily, who now looked angry again, tears filling her eyes.

Before Dana could say anything, Emily stalked out of the cafeteria, leaving the tray where Sandy had left it. The people at the table were looking up at her. Dana hated the way she felt lately, like everyone was staring at her every time she stood with Sandy for too long.

She felt a little like crying, which was a novelty for her.

At their table, Mark’s head was bowed while he talked to Sandy, and John was waving her over. She bit her lip and glanced towards the exit. In the end she figured Emily deserved a little time alone, only a little, and joined the boys.

 

 

“Maybe you should like, go to a motel or something,” John said, not sounding half as uncomfortable as Mark felt. “Maybe you could scare the manager out of asking for your ID?” 

“Maybe you could shut the hell up, what the fuck?”

When Mark had first brought up the whole blue balls deal, he hadn’t been expecting John to start handing out stupid suggestions. He had been expecting an ear to listen to him rant about how much he wanted to have sex. He’d wanted to complain – he wasn’t really looking for a solution.

“You know,” John went on, ignoring him. “People shop for more embarrassing stuff than condoms. I mean, how are condoms even embarrassing in the first place?”

“That’s not….”

The condoms weren’t the fucking problem, the problem was that Mark was convinced people would take one look at him and know what the condoms were for. Or rather whom the condoms were for. The thought of people picturing them…of people assuming things, it freaked him out.

“It’s not just condoms,” he said instead of explaining, because that was another issue.

“People buy lube for other things. Like, for themselves and stuff.”

Mark did not want to be having that conversation, not with John, not at school, not surrounded by people, not ever.

“I’m sure there’s a special kind–”

“God, shut up,” Mark finally cried, burning face buried in his hands. They were in the cafeteria, and Emily, Dana and Rogers were in sight, waiting in line to get their food. Mark wanted all this talk about lube over and done with before they were within hearing distance.

John ignored him again, “Seriously, I bet you can even order it online, no one’d have to see your face.”

Mark stopped wishing to be dead for a second to consider the idea before he shot it down.

“Don’t have a credit card,” he said. “And I won’t use my parents’, so don’t.”

John closed his mouth with a click, only to open it a second later to take a big bite out of his sandwich. Up until Mark’s birthday, John had always acted at least a little unconformable every time they talked about him and Rogers. Mark was afraid he had done something while drunk that night that had cured John of his awkwardness.

(He had a faint memory of Rogers’ climbing into his lap in the backseat of Mark’s car, John at the wheel. Mark had been so mortified when he realized the amount of people who had seen him sucking Rogers’ tongue into his mouth that he had drank enough to leave him sick over the toilet for most of the following day.)

Mark missed the awkwardness.

Really, anything was better than discussing types of lube at the lunch table.

“Hey,” John said and Mark glared at him.

“No more ideas,” he warned but John wasn’t even looking at him.

Mark followed his gaze to find Rogers and his friends standing in the middle of the room, the three of them huddled up together. Rogers’ back was to him and he was blocking Emily from view, but Dana’s face told him they were not having a friendly chat.

(Also, Rogers seemed to be standing way to close to Emily, which Mark did not like for reasons he was not completely sure of because this was Emily and, last time he checked – like when his face had been between Mark’s legs, for example – Rogers didn’t care much for girl parts.)

“What’s going on?” He asked.

“Dunno,” John was helpful to reply around a mouthful of beef, lettuce and bread.

They watched Rogers leave a tray perched on a random table and storm towards them, his expression hard. He sat next to Mark with a clatter and dropped the other tray he had been carrying in front of them.

“What happened?” Mark asked, leaning down so that Rogers could meet his eyes. His neck was flushed an angry red, his brow furrowed. He looked like he was trying to set the table on fire with his eyes. Mark curled a hand on Rogers’ chair, his knuckles against Rogers’ leg but didn’t really notice until he realized Rogers was staring at it with the same focused intensity he had when glaring at the table.

“She’ll get over it, Sandy,” Dana said, now sitting across from them, next to John.

“I’m not so sure,” Rogers replied, looking up at her.

“What happened?” This time it was John asking. Dana gave Mark a weird look before answering.

“She’s just a little sensitive.”

“Isn’t she always,” Mark said. Rogers glanced at him for a moment before he reached out and took the orange soda can from the tray. He twisted open the tab and sipped at it. Mark wasn’t staring – he was just waiting for him to talk, really.

But Rogers didn’t talk. He just set the soda can on the table in front of Mark and started in on his food.

“Did you guys have a fight?” John asked, and Mark was about to tell him something like to mind his own business, when he looked up and realized he was talking to Dana.

Sometimes Mark forgot about the new group dynamics and the way John and Dana had fallen together so quickly. Then again, it was easy to forget when half the time Emily was standing around looking bitter and drawing all the attention to herself, making things even more awkward.

“Something like that, yes,” Dana replied, eyes darting quickly to Mark before landing on Rogers. “She said something pretty mean.”

“What?” Mark blurted out and then wanted to bite his tongue out. He sat up straight and moved his hand away from Rogers’ chair. He took a swig out of the orange soda and began eating the hamburger Rogers had offered to get for him.

“Nothing.” Rogers’ tone implied severe consequences if anyone dared to pry further. Mark didn’t like that tone, didn’t like the feeling he had that Emily had said something about him (though he did like that Rogers was angry with her about it) and didn’t like that Dana knew what it was and he didn’t.

He leaned back in his chair, staring at Rogers’ profile – something he did way too often and would have to stop soon.

“Mark and I were talking about shopping,” John said then and Mark nearly spat the bite he had taken out of his hamburger. Instead, he choked on it.

Rogers patted his back as he spluttered and coughed while John looked smug and Dana just stared, a forkful of salad halfway up to her mouth. Eyes watering, Mark flipped John off and downed half the soda in one go.

“What the hell kind of shopping were you talking about?” Rogers asked quietly, amusement soft in his voice and his warm hand clasped around the back of Mark’s neck. “The naughty kind?”

Mark looked at him knowing his face was darkening against his will and saw that the good humor wasn’t showing in Rogers’ eyes as clearly as in his tone. His smile was strained, but his hand was still warm on Mark’s neck, his whole body still turned towards him, so Mark played along and pretended he didn’t know Rogers well enough to tell when he was faking it.

“Don’t act like you’re so clever,” he said, leaning his head back slightly.

“Who’s acting?” Rogers asked and Mark felt his thumb brushing the hair at his nape, one, two, three times before he thought of replying.

“You couldn’t even tie your shoes until you were like twelve.”

There was a second of unease at their table – Mark wasn’t sure if it was because he was baiting Rogers when he was upset or because of the obvious lack of bite in his comment. Mark was willing to bet on the latter when Rogers’ answer was:

“Yeah, just around the time you took the training wheels out of your bike.”

That startled a laugh out of Mark, partly because he had forgotten about it but mostly because he didn’t know Rogers knew. 

“Fuck you, I didn’t even use that bike while it had the wheels on.”

“Yeah, because you’re a big baby and couldn’t stand that mine was cooler than yours.”

Mark took a second to absorb the comment and wait for the anger to flare up inside his chest, but it never came. He was still getting used to that.

“Nothing about you is cooler than me,” he said and continued eating his lunch.

“That broke the tension,” Dana observed quietly after a moment and Mark almost started coughing again. Dana was eating her salad, oblivious, and John was staring at her. He looked almost fond.

“Yeah,” Rogers mumbled and his grip on Mark’s neck made Mark turn to him. “I’m gonna get going. Meet you later by the car?”

“You want me to go with you?” He wanted to know what Emily had said to make Rogers look like that. He wanted to grab Rogers and demand to know everything that was making him look so down all the time lately.

Instead of answering, and because he enjoyed making Mark uncomfortable the asshole, Rogers crushed their mouths together. Mark opened his to tell him off, but found himself kissing him back. He thought of pushing him away, but gripped the edge of his chair instead. It was quick and a little painful and then it was over and Rogers was getting up.

“See you at the car,” he said with a smile that looked honest enough, at least compared to the one before, and walked away.

Mark collected himself before looking at the two in front of him. They were both staring pointedly at their food.

John was the first to glance up, and he sent Mark a smirk that made his ears burn.

“You act so tough but you’re really such a sweetie, Mark,” he mocked and Mark kicked him under the table.

Chapter Text

Sandy put the phone down and cursed at the empty kitchen. He was almost ready to get up and go across the street – he needed something to take his mind of off a few things – but he thought better of it. He enjoyed being at Mark’s house most of the time. But sometimes, especially after a phone call from his father, being surrounded by Mark’s family only reminded him what a crappy time his own family was having.

And he had a family of his own, he had to remind himself. One that was going through a rough patch and needed his support and he couldn’t spend all his time hiding with the neighbors.

The phone calls had started around the time Sandy’s mother had told him about filing for a divorce – about a week after outing himself and causing the fight that had made them move out for a couple of days. His father always called at a time he knew Sandy’s mom was out, so if Sandy was home and not at Mark’s or at the hospital, it was always him picking up.

His father was trying to convince him to go live with him. He told him that he had to get away from ‘certain bad influences’ – as if Mark had been the one who had practically tackled Sandy against a wall that first time. His father told him there was still time to turn his life around and meet new people and all in all, his father sounded like a really pissed off pamphlet.

The speech was pretty much always the same, and Sandy endured it only because he felt it was the least he could do – his mother was buried in paperwork and he knew that if he hung up on his father enough times, she would be the one receiving the calls instead.

The thing was that there were some days when his father’s little speech made Sandy want to say fine, okay, whatever partly to make him stop and partly because sometimes – just sometimes – he sort of managed to convince him. Almost.

The fact that Mark still snapped at the little things, or that Emily was sure he was just getting something out of his system before running off to find himself a girlfriend – some days those thoughts stayed with Sandy when his father was ranting in his ear. It was then when lines like ‘Staying with someone that’s spent their whole live looking for ways to hurt you, that’s what screwed up people do’ hurt a little more and made a little more sense.

But then Mark did something, something like letting Sandy kiss him in the middle of a crowd, in the middle of the cafeteria and in front of their friends, and Sandy wanted to yell at his father to fuck off and that if he was screwed up, then Mark and him were a perfect pair because Mark hadn’t been the only one picking fights during all those years.

He cursed again, leaning down to put his forehead against the kitchen counter. Even though his mother didn’t talk about it much, Sandy knew his father was doing everything he could to stall. Sometimes Sandy was sure he was just waiting for him to give in and agree to move out to end with the whole thing, and the thought made his stomach sink.

Sure, sometimes he was almost convinced, sometimes he wanted it to just be over already, but he didn’t want to go away. He didn’t want to leave his mother and his friends and…no one. He didn’t want to live with a guy who had stopped saying nice things to him when he had realized maybe Sandy wasn’t the kind of son he’d wanted to have.

Sandy couldn’t wait until that particular thought stopped hurting.

The phone ringing startled him.

He raised his head and looked at the cordless for a moment before he realized it was his cell phone.

Emily, read the display, and Sandy hesitated. He wasn’t in the mood to deal with her, it had been a long time since he’d been in the mood to just shrug off some of the things she said.

He picked up anyway, because he was weak like that.

“Hello,” said Emily and her voice sounded rough and spent and Sandy softened a little.

“Hey,” he replied and then waited.

It was hard to shake off what she’d said to him earlier that day, though. It hadn’t been something Sandy had never wondered. But having it said out loud had rattled him and just thinking about it made him want to kick at walls or go shove Mark a little, just because he knew he could get away with it.

There was a second or two of silence before Emily started talking again.

“I’m sorry about today,” she began. “I really don’t like him–”

“Emily,” Sandy cut her off, but she kept going.

“I don’t, but you shouldn’t have to hear about it.”

“I don’t want you to like him,” Sandy muttered. “I just don’t want you to hate him just because I, um.”

“It’s not that,” she snapped. “This isn’t a rebound thing. I just think you deserve better. He’s got all these issues and you–”

“Issues,” Sandy repeated, tone flat.

“Normal people aren’t angry all the damn time, Sandy.”

“Because you’re a ray of freaking sunshine, right?” He said before he could stop himself, knowing every word that left his mouth was just feeding the fire.

“I don’t want to fight anymore.” Emily sounded like she was biting the inside of her cheek to keep from snapping again. “I meant what I said, though.”

“Which part?”

There was another pause.

“About what he’s doing. With you.”

“You really think that he’d do all this just to have sex?”

“No,” Emily replied and Sandy allowed himself to smile a little before she went on. “I think he’s doing it to have sex with you.”

Sandy’s smile fell off his face.

“I mean,” she started to explain, “I just don’t understand how— He hit you with his car. You’ve been at each other’s throats since forever.”

“I thought we were over the whole car thing,” Sandy said, trying to keep his temper in check.

“Maybe you should consider the possibility that it doesn’t mean the same to him as it does to you, okay?”

Sandy was too tired for this.

He wanted to have sex with Mark. He wanted it so much that sometimes (just like he sometimes was convinced by his father’s speech) he didn’t care for reasons or feelings or whatever. It couldn’t be healthy, the way they were holding back. Sandy wasn’t sure what was going on in Mark’s head all the time. He was aware that he had sort of pushed Mark into this at the beginning, but Mark had had a lot of time to back away since then and he hadn’t.  

Just thinking about the day before, the way Mark had looked underneath him, red faced and panting, was making Sandy a little hard.

Which, with Emily on the phone, was just plain wrong.

Sandy knew Mark wanted to get it over and done with just as much as him, but Emily was right on one thing, at least: Sandy didn’t know if it would be a one time thing or not.

They had talked about it, sometime at the beginning. When Mark was still freaking out every time Sandy so much as brushed against him in front of people. And they’d had a fight and then Mark had assured him he wasn’t in it just for sex.

Besides, deep down, Sandy was aware that he knew Mark better than that and that he wouldn’t have lasted all those months just to get to fuck once. He wouldn’t have endured people at school asking him about it or his friend teasing him all the time. He didn’t have the patience for it.

Mark had stuck around and Sandy needed to remind himself of that every time he started to doubt and to consider his father’s words seriously.

But maybe the reason it was taking them so long was because Mark wasn’t sure he wanted it. Maybe once they did it, it wouldn’t be good or it wouldn’t be what Mark was expecting and that would be the end of it.

“Sandy?” Emily called, and Sandy realized he hadn’t answered in a while.

“I know what I’m doing,” he said, only sounding a bit unsure of himself. “And I…appreciate you being worried but maybe you could show it in a way that doesn’t piss me off as much.”

Emily didn’t say anything for a moment. Knowing her, she was trying really hard to keep her tone calm and Sandy couldn’t help but forgive her, even if he knew it wouldn’t be the last time he heard about this. 

“Do you want to come over?” She asked instead of replying. “We can call Dana and watch a movie or something. You don’t have to be at the hospital today.”

Sandy looked around at the empty kitchen. His mother wouldn’t be home until seven – he could do with the distraction. Besides, he would have an excuse to go across the street. He wanted to sit next to Mark for a bit.

“Sure.” He wandered further into the house, heading for the stairs to get a jacket from his room. “I’ll see you in a little while.”

 

 

Mark was staring down at his phone when he got a text from Rogers that read drive me to emily’s?

He sighed, relieved that he had been spared the embarrassment of being the one texting first, and sent a reply: meet me by the car.

It wasn’t that Mark was worried or anything stupid like that, but Rogers hadn’t come over after school and it was the first time it wasn’t because of a fight between them or because Rogers had to be at the hospital that day.

Rogers – and Mark knew this all too well – liked to talk about things. It had been weird not having him ranting about Emily on the drive back from school. Instead, he had been quiet and the trip had felt awkward and Mark had stared ahead and hadn’t asked because he knew he would make the words sound too harsh and Rogers would surely punch him this time.

He walked outside, reaching into his pocket for his car keys and looking over just in time to see Rogers cross the street.

He smiled at Mark, “Thanks.”

“You made up?” Mark asked as he rounded the car to get into the driver’s side and Rogers opened his own door.

“Something like that,” Rogers said once Mark was inside and turned on the radio, the volume low.

Mark looked at him as he turned on the ignition. Rogers met his eye and smiled again, a little off.

“What?”

Mark wanted to know but he wasn’t sure how to ask. He started the car instead, and pulled out onto the street.

All the tip-toeing was bothering Mark more than he could admit to himself. It was obvious that something was wrong, so why didn’t Rogers tell him already? What did he think Mark was going to do? He didn’t care what Emily had said about him, she had said too much to his face over the years for him to be surprised. And really, Mark hadn’t been much behind.

But this wasn’t just about Emily’s big mouth.

Things had started getting weird before today, and Mark would bet his car it had something to do with Frank.

Rogers was taping his fingers against his knees and Mark was starting to lose his temper.

He stopped at a red light and turned to Rogers again, determined. He figured that, the less words he said, the less chance he had of screwing this up.

“What?” Rogers asked, fingers going still. “The light’s gonna change.”

“Why the hell won’t you tell me?” So much for that plan.

Rogers’ face shut off instantly.

“What do you want me to tell?” He snapped, but he looked away and he damn well knew what Mark was talking about.

“I know it isn’t just about Emily,” he said and started the car again as the light turned green. “You’ve been weird for a while.”

If he muttered the last words, it was because he wasn’t used to being on this side of the conversation. Rogers was usually the one who complained about Mark’s behavior, not the other way around. And Mark would have thought he would feel smug if the roles were ever reversed, but he didn’t. He just wanted Rogers to explain and then stop being upset about whatever the hell Frank had done this time.

(And if it wasn’t about Frank – if it was about Mark instead and he had done something wrong the day before, or Rogers was still angry about Mark snapping at him even though he had acted like he had forgotten already, then Mark would fucking fix it.)

Rogers slumped against his seat, looking out the window with a scowl.

Mark had to force his next words out of his mouth, “Did I– is it about me?” As always, it came out more like a bark than a question, but this was ridiculous. Mark hated that he had to ask, and hated that he fucking cared about the answer.

He didn’t look to see what kind of expression Rogers made, instead listened to the short pause before he replied.

“No, Mark.”

And Mark could tell he wasn’t scowling anymore.

“Is it Frank?”

This time the pause was longer. Mark waited it out, his eyes still on the road.

“Yeah,” Rogers finally replied and Mark relaxed slightly before he tensed all over.

“What about him?” He asked, glancing sideways and catching Rogers looking at him.

“I haven’t told anybody.” Rogers tone was a little defensive, but Mark could tell he was about to give in. “Not even my mom.”

“Why?

“Because it’s something between my dad and me,” Rogers explained, his voice going quieter. “And she’d freak out.”

Mark was starting to freak out himself.

“What is it?”

“We’re here.”

At first Mark didn’t understand what he meant. Then he looked properly and realized they were on Emily’s street. Mark could see her house ahead, and she was sitting on the curb, waiting. Mark slowed the car, hoping Rogers would tell him before they got there. 

“I’ll explain later,” Rogers told him and, as soon as the car stopped, started to get out. “Thanks for the ride.”

Mark reached out and grabbed the front of his shirt, stopping him.

“You’ll explain later,” he repeated, forcing Rogers to look at him. “I’ll come over. What time are you going back?”

Rogers hesitated, staring at Mark for a moment before sighing.

“Seven or something.”

Mark didn’t fool himself believing he would be able to help Rogers with this, but he wanted to know what it was. He wanted it to be out in the open – the thought of Rogers keeping quiet about something for so long unnerved him.

“It’s ridiculous,” Rogers snapped, voice suddenly back to normal volume. “I’m not even taking him seriously.”

“Right,” Mark said.

“Yeah, right.”

“So what’s the big deal? If it’s so ridiculous, then fucking tell me.”

Rogers looked outside, to where Emily was waiting with her arms crossed.

“Later,” he promised.

Mark wasn’t convinced, but he let go anyway. Rogers smoothed down his wrinkled collar as he opened the door. Outside, Emily uncrossed her arms and said something Mark couldn’t hear that made Rogers shake his head.

“Thanks,” he told Mark before closing the door between them. 

Mark watched them walk into the house and refused to be worried about the fact that Rogers hadn’t touched him once since lunch.

 

 

When Mark went to Rogers’ place later, Hannah Rogers was already there. She opened the door still in her work clothes and smiled, a little distracted.

“Sandy’s not here,” she said after asking Mark how things were and offering him something to eat. “He’s staying over at Emily’s.”

Fuck him, Mark thought and didn’t even dwell on the double meaning of his words.

Rogers wanted to be difficult? He wanted to act like he was alone in the world and hide with Emily, who was a bitch most of the time, just so he wouldn’t have to talk to Mark? Fine. Mark could do the whole wounded soul bullshit, too.

Fuck him very much.

Chapter Text

Mark waited until he saw Rogers walking towards him to tear out of the school’s parking lot.

He didn’t look in the rearview mirror, though. He wanted Rogers to see him leaving, but he didn’t want to see him…seeing him. Mark didn’t trust himself lately. He was pretty sure watching Rogers getting left behind might make his resolve crumble and that was already embarrassing enough – he didn’t think his ego could handle actually turning back around.

He was pretty sure Rogers had broken his brain sometime in the last couple of months, because he had never had trouble getting mad and staying mad before. Now his anger had morphed into something he couldn’t name. He felt he had the right to be angry, but didn’t want to be. He wanted Rogers to acknowledge he had done something shitty, but that was it.

He didn’t want to rub it in Rogers’ face – he just wanted it to be over.

But like hell he was going to be the one to approach the other first.

Mark had offered the day before, and Rogers had blown him off. It was his turn to make a fool out of himself, Mark was done groveling.

“Are you going to tell me what happened?” John asked and Mark nearly swerved the car right into a light post. He had forgotten there was someone sitting next to him. “Everything was okay yesterday.”

“Apparently not,” Mark replied. He was sure he had misread some of the stuff that had happened in the last couple of days. Rogers was sending too many mixed signals.

They had fought one day and the next Rogers had nearly sucked Mark off in his bedroom – maybe he got off from their fights. Maybe he was loosing his mind. Maybe he had been replaced by an alien. Maybe he needed to stop messing around with Mark before Mark decided he was too tired to keep doing what they were doing.

“He made up with Emily?”

“Fuck if I know,” Mark muttered. He had seen the trio back together at school, but had turned and walked the other way as soon as he’d spotted them in the halls, John following after a confused moment.

“Dana told me about yesterday,” John went on and Mark sat up straighter, attention perking up. He didn’t press for details, though. He didn’t want to seem eager to hear, and he knew John would tell him anyway. “It sucks that she thinks that.”

Mark bit his tongue. Apparently John was sure Rogers had told him, which made him angrier. He managed to keep quiet for about four seconds before he blurted out, “What?”

John gave him a sideways glance.

“You don’t know?”

“Does it look like I do?”

“I don’t know if I want to tell you while you’re driving,” John trailed off and Mark took a breath.

“Tell me,” he said, as calm and collected as he could. “I won’t flip out.”

There was a moment’s pause and then John sighed.

“The thing is…Sandy and Emily had a fight because Emily I sound ridiculous.”

Mark waited.

“Anyway, Emily said something like, like you were like….”

“Spit it out already,” Mark grumbled. He could already feel his face heating up, his teeth were clenching together, his fingers squeezing the steering wheel.

“She’s sure you want to…sleep with Sandy and then like, dump him or something,” John finished in an offended tone.

Mark’s first reaction was of rage, it was half a second of heat and adrenaline rushing up his body, making his head feel light, before it left him just as quickly, and all of him went a bit boneless. Or boneless enough to feel loose but still manage to keep the car moving in a straight line.

“Oh,” was all he said.

He could feel John’s surprise in his silence.

“I thought you’d blow up,” he said and Mark shrugged. 

Mark’s feelings about Emily didn’t go past the Rogers’ Friend zone. He didn’t care what she thought about him. And besides, the idea that Mark was only in this for a fuck – Rogers didn’t think that, did he? – was ridiculous. As if Mark would waste his time, wait all those months, talk to Rogers, drive him everywhere, have him for dinner, go to the movies with him, spend his birthday—

Okay, Mark didn’t need to think about all the time he had been spending with Rogers. He was aware of it, he didn’t need to analyze the details or else he’d die of embarrassment.

“Did you think it over and now you’re about to blow up?” John asked.

“No,” Mark replied. “It’s stupid. And it’s not true.”

“I know.” John sounded like he was smiling. Mark grimaced. “Why did we just ditch Sandy then?”

“Because.”

Rogers had fought with Emily after she’d said that about Mark, so he probably hadn’t thought it was true. But he had stayed with her the night before, hadn’t he? Mark bet they had been talking about it. Rogers was an idiot if he believed Emily. Fuck, he wanted to turn the car around and go yell at Rogers until he felt less like someone was twisting a knife in his gut.

 

 

A couple of days went by and Mark kept ignoring Rogers and Rogers kept staring at him from afar and never approaching.

Mark kept telling himself he wasn’t disappointed, but he damn well was and he had the right to be. This was all Rogers’ fault (for once) and he was the one who was supposed to be crawling back to apologize.

Besides, Mark was starting to feel all those days without touching Rogers or having Rogers touch him and it was making him snap at everybody more than usual. Or rather, more than what was usual since he and Rogers had started getting each other off regularly.

Then, by the end of the week, Mark woke up from an accidental nap to a missing call from Rogers on his cell phone. He shoved the phone under his pillow in a fit, a call wasn’t going to cut it. A call wasn’t crawling back to Mark to apologize – a call was the coward’s way.

He stumbled down the stairs and found Dan watching TV in the kitchen.

“Sandy called,” he told Mark as soon as he saw him.

Mark made a noise at the back of his throat that meant he had heard him as he rummaged through the cupboards.

“I told him you didn’t want to talk to him,” Dan went on. Mark’s hand froze around a cereal box, but only for a moment. It was true – he didn’t want to talk to Rogers, so it was okay that Dan had said so.

“What’d he want?”

Dan shrugged but he was looking at Mark instead of the TV now, like he wanted to say more but didn’t quite dare.

“What?”

“When are you going to stop fighting?” Dan asked with a whine in his voice.

“What do you care?” Mark said, looking for a bowl.

“He stopped coming over,” Dan replied, now sounding wounded. “He won’t come over until you make up.”

Mark froze once more, this time while opening the fridge to get milk.

“He said that?” he asked and Dan shrugged again. “You can go across the street anyway.”

“No, I can’t.” Mark wanted to smack the pout out of Dan’s face – he wasn’t four years old anymore. “It sucks over there.”

Mark closed the fridge door, the milk forgotten. He started to walk out of the kitchen, his appetite ruined.

“I’m not going to tell him to come over,” he told Dan as he passed the doorway.

You suck.”

Mark made his way up to his room with the words it sucks over there dancing around in his head. His stomach felt like it had turned over. He had to remind himself that he had given Rogers the chance to talk about it, and Rogers hadn’t taken it. This wasn’t Mark’s fault, if Rogers wanted to fix this, he would have to do more than just call.

When he walked past the Pokemon blanket, the sight of his unmade bed made him halt. He stared at his pillow, with his cell hidden under it and closed his hands into loose fists.

If he had been awake, Mark probably would have answered it. And now Rogers was out there thinking Mark had ignored both his calls, and Mark hated it when Rogers got things wrong.

So he dug his phone out with a sigh and dialed Rogers’ number. He would just tell him that he had been asleep, and that if he wanted to say something to Mark, he would have to come over. That wasn’t telling him to come and get out of his house. That was giving him the choice to.

The phone rang two times before it went to voicemail and Mark saw red.

So now Rogers was screening his calls? Fuck if Mark was attempting to talk to him again. Two times Mark had tried and two times Rogers had given him the metaphorical finger. Mark was done trying.

It really was sad how unashamed he was of being at Rogers’ front door ten minutes later.

He was just raising his fists to pound on it when it flew open and Hannah Rogers gasped in surprise.

“Mark,” she said, a little breathless. “You scared me.”

“Sorry,” Mark offered, looking over her shoulder and into the house.

“I was just leaving. I have a meeting in twenty minutes.” She sounded rushed and Mark stepped aside to let her hurry down the little path that led to the driveway. “Sandy’s on the phone with his father, I think it’ll be a while.”

Mark waved absently at her and then looked inside again. It was silent, dimly lit, but Mark had seen the lights on in the rooms upstairs when he was crossing the street. Behind him, Hannah Rogers drove away with a soft honk as her goodbye.

Rogers was on the phone with Frank and Mark figured he would be in his room. He walked inside and closed the door behind him, careful not to make a sound – if Rogers didn’t want to talk to him, then Mark would find out what was happening on his own.

 

He walked down the hallway to the kitchen and found the downstairs phone sitting on the counter. He only felt slightly guilty about clicking it on and putting it over his ear. It wasn’t like he was sneaking around.

Well, he was, but he would tell Rogers about it later so it didn’t really count.

“—about it,” Frank was saying. Hearing his voice again after so long made Mark want to hang up. The last time they had crossed words wasn’t Mark’s favorite memory. “I can hold this thing off for as long as I want.”

“What do you want me to say?” That was Rogers, sounding tired and pissed off. “I’ve already told you a thousand times.”

“Explain to me why you want to stay there when you could travel the country, get away from everything.”

“I don’t want to get away from everything,” Rogers said and what was going on? What the hell was this about?

“Really, because you sound really happy,” Frank mocked in his most annoying I-know-better-than-you tone.

“I just don’t want to be having this conversation again,” Rogers mumbled.

“I want what’s best for you,” Frank said. “And what’s best for you right now is to meet new people.”

Mark was biting his lips into his mouth so as not to start asking for clarification – not that he needed someone to explain what Frank meant with ‘new people’, but still.

“What’s best for me is to keep away from you,” Rogers snapped and Mark’s shoulders went slack with something that felt a lot like relief.

“You don’t mean that.”

Rogers didn’t reply and Mark tensed again.

“You could come in the summer.” Frank’s tone didn’t make it into a suggestion, more like something that was already decided, and Mark waited for Rogers to snap again. To tell him off. To hang up on him.

“Fine,” he said instead and Mark couldn’t suppress a quick intake of breath that sounded too much like a gasp. He pulled the mouth piece away from his face and kept listening. “Whatever, fine.”

There was a second of silence, like Frank was just as surprised as Mark by Rogers’ answer, and then he said, “Really?”

“You’ll stop calling every day if I do.”

“Yes–”

And that’s when Mark stopped listening.

He threw the phone onto the counter and turned away, towards the door, no longer caring if Rogers heard him. He was heading to the front door, he was leaving, he was going back to his house and punch a hole through a wall or something and he would feel better because he didn’t give a shit if Rogers went away with Frank for the summer or for a year or forever.

He didn’t care that Rogers hadn’t told him or that he probably wouldn’t tell him until he was on a plane or a bus or a train halfway across the country already.

Fuck him fuck him fuck him, he chanted in his head and then stomped up the stairs and burst into Rogers’ room.

The door flew open and bounced against the wall behind it with a bang, nearly hitting Mark in the face on its way back. He stopped it an inch away from his nose and then slammed it shut behind him. 

Rogers was leaning against his desk, the phone pressed to his ear and his eyes wide and set on Mark. They stared at each other for a moment before Rogers seemed to snap out of it and started talking back to Frank. 

“Nothing, no one,” he said but he was still looking at Mark and his cheeks were starting to go pink.

Mark barely managed to keep himself from ripping the phone out of his hand and throwing it out the window. He stood there in the doorway until, finally, Rogers hung up and set the phone down on the desk.

“You think I just want to fuck you?” Mark snarled, the words felt like they were being torn out of him. His chest was closing up with anger. “That’s why you’re going away? That’s why you’re going to live with fucking Frank? You believe the crap Emily’s been telling you– I thought you had balls, couldn’t you ask?”

Rogers’ face was getting darker and darker as Mark rambled on – his eyes narrowing as he stepped away from the desk and stood straight, his arms crossed in front of him.

“Was it really so hard? If you cared so much—”

“I don’t care,” Rogers cut in, his voice as loud as Mark’s. “I don’t care, I don’t even think it’s true.”        

Mark chose to ignore that in order to keep yelling.

“What the hell is this about Frank and you going away? What about your mom? What about school and, and everything?”

“I’m not going anywhere! I just said that so he’d shut up.”

Mark kept quiet, hoping Rogers would go on on his own because he didn’t trust his voice to get lower any time soon. Luckily, Rogers did.

“He’s been nagging me forever – he wasn’t going to stop until I told him what he wanted to hear.” Rogers tone had dropped, but he still sounded strained.

“What the fuck?” Mark kicked back, leaving a print of his sneaker on the white door. He had forgotten to take his shoes off. Somewhere in the back of his head, he was aware of the fact that Hannah Rogers was going to kill him. “You could have fucking told me.”

“I–”

“And don’t even try to make up excuses because I asked you and you still didn’t tell–”

“I didn’t want to!” Rogers yelled and Mark stopped talking to take a breath. “I told you I didn’t want to talk about it. Why the hell did you suddenly choose to start to talk now?”

“Because you looked miserable.” Mark threw his arms out. “Your mood swings are worse than my sister’s! I thought you wanted to talk.”

“I told you—”

“I fucking know you told me,” Mark practically growled, “and I didn’t fucking care.”

Rogers glared at him from across the room and Mark wanted to shake him until he started making sense again.

“Who told you about Emily?” Rogers asked after a tense moment.

“What’s the difference?” Mark shot back. “It’s bullshit, and if you bought it–”

“I said I didn’t.”

Mark had been scowling at the floor by then, but he looked up when he heard Rogers’ tone. He saw, with growing bewilderment, how Rogers seemed to be biting back a smile. Okay, Mark didn’t want to shake him, more like pound his head against the floor for a little bit, because what.

“What’s so funny?” He asked and Rogers shook his head. “What?”

“My dad’s been asking me to move in with him,” he said, completely out of the blue, and Mark was left shocked silent until he got it together and snapped.

What?”

“I don’t want to go—”

“Damn straight—”

“—and I’m not going to. But I think he’s been stalling the whole…divorce– Look, I don’t know how it works, okay? Mom’s not talking about it much, but I think he was waiting for me to agree to move things along.”

Mark had crossed the room and was standing directly in front of Rogers now, feeling like he wanted to reach out but not sure what he would do once he got his hands on him. So he kept them at his sides while he listened and let the knot in his chest loosen a little.

“He started calling a while back. I didn’t feel like talking about it.”

“When’s a while back?” Mark asked.

“I’m sorry about the other day,” Rogers said quietly, ignoring Mark’s question. “I…I don’t know, I didn’t want to talk and I didn’t want to fight.”

Mark raised his eyebrows – what did Rogers think would happen when he didn’t show up? – but said nothing.

“I don’t know!” Rogers laughed, looking pained, like he could read Mark’s mind or something. “Don’t give me that look, I fucking taught you that look.”

“You always do that,” Mark said and Rogers glanced up at him, confused.

“What?”

“You’re always misunderstanding everything I do and then apologizing about it.” It was true, and Mark could maybe understand it at first. Rogers had maybe been right to react the way he had at the beginning, but lately. Well, lately Mark hadn’t done anything worth getting pissed about, he didn’t think.

Mark’s anger was lying just under the surface, he felt like any word out of Rogers’ mouth would break his control but then he saw Rogers’ face. It was priceless.

He looked blank for a second after Mark finished talking, like he had no idea what Mark was saying, before something seemed to dawn on him. His eyes widened and he looked truly, honestly sorry. Mark wanted to feel smug about it, but he regretted saying anything instead because he hadn’t meant for Rogers to look like that.

He wished he could pin down the day in which he had stopped feeling triumphant every time he managed to win one over Rogers.

“I’m sorry,” Rogers said again and slumped back against the desk behind him. “I’m sort of still getting used to this you.”

Mark didn’t have to ask what Rogers meant. He himself was still getting used to this Mark, too, so it made sense that Rogers was unsure.

Mark shrugged, willing the frown away from his face.

He wasn’t a fan of talking – saying important stuff out loud. It made him uncomfortable and irritated but he’d rather feel like that for a while than the alternative (which apparently was to have screaming matches and Rogers consider going away to live with his fucking father).

“It’s okay,” Mark said.

“It’s not, but I won’t do it again.”

“I’ll just…I know I’m not–” Mark cursed under his breath. “I’ll try to talk…nicer or something.”

“I like the way you talk,” Rogers said. “When it doesn’t make me want to kill you, I like it.”

“Good to know.” Mark felt his chest swell a bit, like it happened every time Rogers said something nice about him or looked at him a certain way – a way that usually led to fun, exciting things.

“You didn’t take off your shoes.” Rogers’ tone was low. He put a tentative hand on Mark’s hip – fingers brushing his shirt – and Mark let out a breath and allowed the tension to wash off him.

He kicked off his sneakers, his own hands already pulling Rogers in and away from the desk and this part was easy. They’d never had trouble with fitting together, finding the right way to be even closer, not even at the beggining.

“You could take your shirt off, too,” Rogers suggested into Mark’s neck a while later and a wave of heat rushed trough Mark, warming him down to his toes.

They ended up on Rogers’ bed somehow, shirtless and breathing into each other’s mouths while they fumbled with their flies.

“D’you want to,” Rogers started to ask but Mark cut him off, kissing the words from his mouth, finally managing to zip him down.

“Want to what?” Mark asked against his temple as Rogers blindly dug him out of his jeans.

“Try and do this…right.”

Mark stopped everything. Stopped moving, stopped breathing, stopped feeling Rogers’ hand around him.

But only for about a second – even less – and then he was letting his weight press Rogers further onto the bed, breathing a ‘yes’ into Rogers’ ear.

Rogers kissed him, looked him in the eye and kissed him again before pulling away and twisting around to grab something from his nightstand. Mark sat back, thighs bracketing Rogers’ sides. His dick twitched when Rogers lay back down with a couple of condoms and a small plastic bottle in his hand.

“Where d’you get those?” Mark asked. He could feel his face heating up as he took them from Rogers’ offering hands – this was the way they were doing it, this time at least, this was the way it felt it had to be.

Rogers gave him a look, “I bought them.” Like the thought of being embarrassed about it had never crossed his mind.

Right.

Mark looked down at the stuff he was holding, felt their weight and said, “We should…take our pants off.”

Rogers laughed – maybe nervous? Mark hoped he wasn’t the only one – and started pushing Mark’s jeans down, but Mark scrambled off of him and rolled onto the floor. Before Rogers could make a sound, he clutched the waistband of his pants and pulled them down his legs. Underwear came next, and Mark didn’t let himself think about what he was doing, just stripped Rogers naked for the first time and then slipped out of his own clothes.

He was still holding onto the stuff Rogers had handed him, and he set the condoms on the bed before climbing back up.

He kneeled between Rogers’ legs, both of them panting. Rogers was flushed down to his chest, one hand on his stomach and the other at his side, holding onto the bed sheets with a white-knuckled grip – much like the grip Mark had on the small bottle in his hand, which would make a mess if he squeezed too hard.

It was the first time they were seeing each other fully naked and Mark was too drunk on the sight of Rogers sprawled underneath him to feel self-conscious about anything (like his freckles and his inability to get a tan). Somehow he hadn’t pictured this with the lights on, while the day was still bright outside.

He looked down Rogers’ body, at his dick – hard and dark and curbing upwards – and then lower. Rogers, following his gaze, spread his legs a little wider and then almost instantly closed them back so that his knees were touching the sides of Mark’s ribcage.

Mark swallowed down the sudden lump in his throat, ignored the way his own dick swelled and the terrible feeling that he wouldn’t last long enough to make anything of this.

“Are you sure?” He asked, trailing off when he saw the way Rogers’ eyes widened slightly when Mark started to slick up his fingers.

“Yeah,” he replied a moment later, voice hoarse.

Mark’s hand was trembling a little when it closed around Rogers, but he only paid attention to the way Rogers’ breathing went uneven, fast-paced at Mark’s touch.

“Mark,” he grunted and grabbed Mark’s wrist to stop him.

Rogers’ cheeks were flushed when Mark glanced up to his face, and his eyes had gone a couple of shades darker and Mark just had to lean down and kiss him. Rogers’ mouth was wet, lips swollen and warm under his. With a sigh, he dropped the bottle he was still holding onto the mattress and brushed Rogers’ hair away from his damp forehead. He kissed Rogers and let him guide his other hand lower.

It was weird because he had never thought of Rogers as fragile – especially not all those times he had been attempting to knock out a couple of teeth from his mouth. But now the last thing he wanted was to anyone to get hurt during this, and he felt like he would rip Rogers apart just by twisting his hand the wrong way.

Rogers seemed to sense Mark’s hesitation, because he forced his hand to stay in place as Mark pushed one oiled up finger inside him.

Mark was awed, staring at Rogers’ face as he worked him looser, his other hand holding onto one of Rogers’ knees so hard it had to hurt. He licked his lips, feeling how dry his mouth was.

“Have you done this before?” He asked and his voice sounded like he had never heard it, rough like he had been screaming for hours.

Rogers opened his eyes – he had closed them around the time Mark had added the second finger, when he’d started making soft noises that didn’t seem like he could help.

“Yeah.” He nodded quickly and closed his eyes tight again, breathed hard through his nose when Mark accidentally went too deep, too fast when he pictured Rogers doing this to himself.

(When he had imagined this, it had always been Rogers doing this part himself in his head – Mark hadn’t thought he would ever willingly put his hand where it was now.)

“Sorry,” Mark muttered, slowing down. He pried his other hand off Rogers’ knee and grabbed the bottle again. He poured more lube onto his fingers, his entire hand was soaked with it, and wondered if he could get Rogers off just like this. He couldn’t imagine how good it could actually feel – he hadn’t tried it on himself – but Rogers seemed to be enjoying it. And Mark was certainly enjoying watching his face flush, his mouth parted and his lips bright red from kissing and biting down on them.

Then Mark crooked his fingers a bit and Rogers nearly jumped off the bed. His hips jerked up and his eyes snapped open. Mark was starting to panic before he noticed Rogers’ legs were spread a little wider now, and then Rogers said:

“Mark.” He swallowed and reached out to grab Mark’s free hand. “Come on already.”

Mark…well, Mark was leaking onto the bed sheets. He wasn’t at all confident that he would be able to finish this properly, but he nodded and pulled slowly out, staring closely at Rogers’ expression of discomfort.

“That hurt?” He asked as he fumbled with one of the condoms, which slipped from his slick fingers when he tried to open it. Rogers shook his head and snatched it away before Mark could pick it up again. He ripped it open with trembling fingers and handed it back.

Mark took a ridiculously long time rolling the condom on and then was careful to lube up as best as he could, stealing glances at Rogers now and again, like he would get tired of waiting and walk away or something. But Rogers just lay there, head lolled back and breaths still coming out strong. Mark watched his hands twitch where they were resting high on his stomach, probably longing to touch himself but restraining.

Mark had to bite down a smile and then threw the bottle aside and scooted closer to Rogers.

“Ready,” he said and knew it was unnecessary and that Rogers knew he was ready, but he wanted to make sure that they both were.

Rogers licked his lips and Mark took it as his cue and kissed him for a long time, rubbing himself against Rogers’ leg and feeling him on his stomach, hard and wet. Then he lowered his hips a little and found himself pressing at just about the right spot, and Rogers lowered his hands to Mark’s arms, bracing himself.

Mark paused – he was about to have (actual, real) sex with Rogers. There was no going back from here.

He looked down at Rogers’ sweaty face, eyes open and staring right at him. 

“What’re you waiting for?” He asked, breathless and voice wavering. “Are you chickening out?”

“Fuck no,” Mark grunted, his own voice less than steady, he took a breath and started pushing in.

Rogers went stiff all over, short nails digging into Mark’s arms, and Mark stopped moving completely.

“Okay?” He asked when Rogers’ breathing evened out.

“Yeah, just,” he took a breath. “Okay, go ahead.”

Mark went in another inch and stopped. He ignored how good it felt to be surrounded by tight heat and waited until Rogers’ face went smooth again, until the pained frown disappeared. And then he moved a little more.

Mark lost track of time – he was only aware of the pressure and the need to come and of telling himself not to move, not to lose it too soon.

Rogers was breathing heavily and, Mark was horrified to notice even in the haze he was in, his erection was wilting.

He leaned down as far as he could, rested his weight on his elbows on either side of Rogers’ torso, and nuzzled Rogers’ neck. He wanted to say something, something that would make this better, but even if he had been in complete control of himself he knew he wouldn’t be good at that.

So he sucked a mark onto Rogers’ skin until his grip on Mark’s arms loosened and he was running his hands up and down Mark’s back. They kissed and then Rogers pushed up and, suddenly, Mark was in as far as he could go.

He couldn’t help the groan that escaped him.

“Fuck,” Rogers mumbled against Mark’s lips.

Mark couldn’t move. He was already way too close and Rogers’ dick was fucking soft. He was not going to come before Rogers.

This time he waited a longer time, just resting his forehead on Rogers’ chest and feeling it rise and fall over and over again. And then Rogers touched the top of his head, burying his fingers in Mark’s hair, and Mark didn’t have to look up to know to start moving again.

He moved as slow as he could, rolling his hips gently. He latched his mouth to Rogers’ collarbone and tasted salt on his skin. When Rogers made a light sound, he sneaked a hand between them and took Rogers in hand, felt him grow in his palm and grinned against him.

Then Rogers was moving with him, lifting up every time Mark pushed down, and Mark’s breathing was so heavy he sounded like he was grunting with every thrust.

He tried to mimic his movements with his hand, but it wasn’t long before he lost control of it and he must have hit the right place, because the next thing he knew, Rogers was coming all over Mark’s hand and his stomach. Mark felt him tighten around him and followed with a broken curse, surprised by the suddenness of it.

 

 

A while later, Mark looked up from Rogers’ chest and the first thing he saw were Rogers’ eyes, looking down at him.

“Comfortable?” he asked, smiling. His face was still flushed, but it was different now. He looked shy – which was odd in Rogers. There were two splotches of red on his cheeks, and his hair was sticking to his forehead and neck with sweat. His lips still looked wet and inviting, and Mark wanted to kiss him so bad he was sure this time whatever Rogers had broken in his brain was beyond repair.

“Yeah,” he said. “Very.”

But he had to move away after a moment, and get rid of the condom. Watching himself slipping out of Rogers was almost enough to make his dick twitch back to life, though it didn’t sound pleasant on Rogers’ end. Mark tossed the condom in the little paper bin near Rogers’ desk and then hurried back to the bed, where Rogers’ was using the sheets to clean himself up.

“Classy,” Mark said. He felt better than he had in a long time – like the tension that had been stringing him so tight for that last couple of weeks had finally loosened. Rogers looked exactly like Mark felt, and he guessed he hadn’t been the only one needing to do this.

He stretched out next to Rogers (his bed was bigger than Mark’s and they were still touching from shoulder to toes), who was still on his back and moving as little as possible.

“Does…does it hurt?”

“Not really,” Rogers replied. He turned his head to look at Mark and then corrected, “A little.”

Mark rolled onto his side and put a hand on Rogers’ thigh. He had this impulse of letting his hand drift down and around, to feel where he had been only a few minutes ago, but he tamped it down.

“If I call you a wimp, are you gonna kick me off the bed?”

Rogers laughed and punched Mark’s arm, “Yes.”

They dozed off after that, or at least Mark did, and when he opened his eyes again the room was much darker and Rogers was getting dressed.

Mark sat up, disorientated, barely registering he was still naked on Rogers’ bed.

“Mom’s home,” Rogers said softly as he slipped his shirt over his head.

Mark scrambled up, one of his feet getting tangled in the blankets.

“Wait,” Rogers stopped him with a hand on his shoulder – he looked worried. “Stay. I’ll be up in a second.”

“I–” Mark started to protest, and then something made him reconsider. Rogers’ tone? His almost pleading look? The warm (worrying) feeling spreading in Mark’s chest? “Okay.”

Rogers smiled at him and hurried out of the room. He closed the door behind him and Mark quickly started looking for his clothes. He didn’t want to be naked in the same house as Hannah Rogers.

Rogers took more than a second. He took almost twenty minutes, in which Mark pulled the sheets off the bed and made a ball with them that he then threw near the door and opened the window because the room sort of stunk. Then he sat on top of the bare mattress and thought I just had sex with Rogers over and over again, wrapping his head around it. Waiting for a freak out and just felling that warm thing again.

By the time Rogers came back, Mark was lying down, and he didn’t notice he wasn’t alone until Rogers was climbing on top of him.

“What happened?” He asked against Rogers’ hair.

“We fucked,” he replied and Mark choked on his own spit. “And my dad called Mom and told her I was going to stay with him in the summer.”

Mark’s arms were around Rogers by then, because they didn’t have a better place to be, apparently, and he tightened his hold unconsciously.

“She’s upset,” Rogers added.

“You’re not going, though,” Mark muttered and wasn’t able to keep the sulk away from his tone.

“She didn’t know about all the calls and everything,” Rogers explained.

They stayed quiet for a few minutes, listening to Hannah Rogers moving around downstairs, until she called Rogers over and they had to get up. Her face when she saw them come down together was knowing and sort of disapproving and made Mark squirm. Then she saw Mark’s sneakers in his hand.

“Oh, Mark,” she sighed. “Tell me you didn’t drag those upstairs.”

“Sorry,” Mark said, looking everywhere but at her.

She hummed something, and then turned towards the kitchen, “Do you want to stay over for dinner?”

“Um,” Mark looked at Rogers and saw him smiling down at his feet.

He knew it was impossible and stupid and everything, but Rogers looked…good. Better. Different. And it was such a sappy thing to think Mark wanted to kick himself.

Rogers caught his gaze and the smile in his face turned into a smirk.

 “Like what you see?”

Yes, Mark though, mortified, but pushed at Rogers’ shoulder and walked towards the kitchen.

Chapter Text

Mark was sitting on the couch next to Sandy, watching TV as Dan watched them. They sat closer than normal, he thought. They usually kept some inches between them but now their shoulders were touching. Dan didn’t know what to think. Last he’d heard, they were fighting and Sandy was refusing to come over and Mark was refusing to talk to him.

And now this.

“Hey, Sandy,” he said, testing.

Mark and Sandy looked up at him and didn’t spring apart, didn’t blush, didn’t start stuttering excuses. Sandy smiled and said hey back. Mark turned to stare at the TV. They were still leaning against one another.

Dan was confused.

 

 

Jessica came home late after spending the day at Mary’s house, studying. She found that was the best for everyone: her house was chaos more often than not, and she would end up fighting someone (Mark) eventually when they didn’t let her read in peace. So she had been staying at her friends’ houses for most of the last couple of weeks, stressing over finals with people who understood what being in senior year meant.

So she hadn’t been home a lot lately, but she still could tell something was different as soon as she walked into the living room and saw how close Mark and Sandy were sitting.

Dan looked up from his place on one of the bean bags and gave her a look – he had noticed too.

“Hey,” she said, testing.

Only Sandy turned to her.

“Hi,” said Sandy. “I haven’t seen you in forever.”

“Did you bring chips?” Asked Mark, eyes still on the TV.

They didn’t seem to notice they were acting weird. It freaked her out.

“Buy your own chips,” she replied. “And what’s this about?”

“What?” Mark asked.

This,” Jessica gestured to their touching shoulders until they both looked. “It’s nearly indecent for you two.”

To their credit, they did look awkward, but when Mark only shrugged and didn’t move away, and Sandy smiled at her like he had this big secret he wasn’t going to tell, Jessica got it.

And then was completely grossed out.

“Oh, don’t be so fucking obvious about it!” She snapped at them and walked off to Dan’s shout of What?!

 

 

Mark was talking to Sandy, which wasn’t weird anymore. What was weird was the way in which they were talking. Standing in line to get their lunch, Mark’s elbow on Sandy’s shoulder, Sandy’s fingers playing with Mark’s sleeve. They were completely ridiculous and completely unsubtle. 

“Is anyone else seeing this?” John asked.

“Yes,” Dana replied, sounding like it would take a lot more than mild flirting to unsettle her.

“I wish I wasn’t,” Emily grumbled, stabbing at her food with a plastic fork. “They’re gross.”

Both John and Dana looked at her and she blushed slightly, frown deepening.

“I’d find anyone rubbing their sex life in people’s faces gross, not particularly them,” she said, rolling her eyes.

“I don’t think they’re doing it on purpose.” Dana offered John an orange slice, which he took even though he hated oranges. “At least they’re talking again.”

“Oh, joy,” Emily muttered.

To her credit, though, once Mark and Sandy were back at the table and respecting each other’s space, she didn’t say anything cutting. John thought this was a big step forward.

“So,” he said, because someone had to, “what’s this all about?”

“What?” Mark asked.

“The total loss of decorum, man.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

John gave Mark a look, and when it didn’t seem like Mark was going to own up to his actions, Emily cut in.

“He’s saying that you’re all over each other and to stop it.”

Mark’s face went almost purple in under a second.

“I’m not saying to stop it,” John corrected.

“We’re not–”

“You are,” Dana said. “It’s sort of adorable.”

Emily and Mark looked horrified.

“It isn’t, believe me.” Emily shook her head.

“But it’s nothing personal,” Dana explained. “She doesn’t think anyone who rubs their sex lives in people’s faces is adorable.”

“Right,” Mark said, a little faint. He dropped back on his chair and rubbed a hand over his face.

Sandy was eating his lunch, avoiding everyone’s eyes.

Then Dana started talking to Emily about homework and Sandy asked John about a show that was airing that night and John figured it was enough torture for one day and left Mark alone.

 

 

For the next couple of days, Mark felt as if he had a sign hanging from around his neck, reading I had sex with Rogers in bold letters.

When he was at home, maybe having dinner with his family, the sign turned neon green and blinked in time with the pounding of his stressed-out heart.

At school, it added a wailing siren that made him feel everyone was turning towards him when he walked down the halls.

It wasn’t that he was embarrassed about it or anything…it was just that it wasn’t anyone’s business.

When he was with Rogers, though, the sign vanished. Instead he felt as if it turned into a blanket that wrapped around him and made him feel all warm and stupid and horny.

It was like the beginning all over again, with his hands moving towards Rogers without his consent. Only this time, it wasn’t that he couldn’t keep his hands off him or anything corny like that, more like he felt like he wanted to be touching him all the time. Which wasn’t the same, no matter what that little voice in his head told him. It was even worse than before because he had all these new ways he wanted to touch him and there was nowhere to do it.

That time in Rogers’ room they had been lucky, but they hadn’t found more than ten minutes to be alone since.

It didn’t frustrate him now, though. Each time they got interrupted it didn’t feel like the last time they would have the chance to do anything, or that Rogers didn’t really want to, or that it would be impossible to ever go past a hand-job.

It was just annoying, but Mark knew there would be another chance soon.

(Except sometimes knowing what he was missing out on made being interrupted ten times worse.)

Rogers didn’t seem that bothered by it either – not like before. At least they hadn’t had a serious argument ever since. The subject of Frank hadn’t come up again, Mark didn’t think he was still calling. He had wondered a couple of times what was going to happen in the summer, if Frank was going to turn up at the Rogers’ doorstep and stay there until Rogers caved and went with him.

His thoughts didn’t go past that, because for some reason he was sure Rogers wouldn’t be able to hold his ground long enough for Frank to give up.

And what would happen if Rogers went? He’d be gone for almost three months. What then?

But Mark didn’t think about it. Summer was still months away, and Mark wasn’t about to ruin everything by asking Rogers about it.

During the week that followed that day, not even Emily had been able to burst their bubble. Though Mark had to admit it didn’t seem like Emily was even trying very hard. She didn’t say a word to Mark, which was odd, and the few times she had slipped and acknowledged him, she had checked herself before an argument could break loose.

He wondered if Rogers had told her. He wondered if she had found out on her own. Except, no, that couldn’t be. Apart from the lack of fights, Mark didn’t think they were acting any different from before, no matter what everyone said. At least not in public.

Before, Mark could pretend that he didn’t want to pin Rogers against a wall as soon as they were alone. They could have an entire conversation before one of them finally caved and made the first move. Now, though, they were at each other even before Rogers’ door room was entirely closed, or they were all the way into Mark’s side of his room. It was as if they were trying to see how far they could go before someone was calling from downstairs, or someone was walking down the hall outside, or Dan had to come in to look for a book or something.  

Mark had the terrible feeling Hannah Rogers had talked with his family and told them about Rogers and him having sex at her house. He was sure they were all plotting to keep them from doing it again until they were thirty. Or until they had moved out.

“Hey,” Mark said to Rogers once, “What are you doing after school’s over?”

They were on Mark’s bed and Rogers’ chest was pressing down on Mark’s in a way that he would have found intimidating not that long ago. Rogers’ elbows were resting on either side of his head, and he could feel Rogers’ fingers tugging at his hair.

Rogers was still flushed, his breath coming in harsh pants when he looked up from Mark’s neck, suddenly looking wary.

“This summer?”

Mark, just now starting to feel uncomfortable and cold in his jeans, shook his head.

“After next year,” he clarified and started to sit up. Rogers drew back and sat on Mark’s legs, giving him room to push up to his elbows.

“I’m still thinking about it,” he said, brushing damp hair out of his eyes. “But I’m not…staying here, you know.”

Mark snorted, “Who is?”

Rogers looked at him for a moment.

“Where’re you going?” he asked.

Mark shrugged as an uneasy feeling swept over him. This was a subject that had been coming up a lot ever since Jessica had started going crazy with College Talk. Now they were only a few months away from ending the school year, and after Jessica was gone (two states North to study Journalism) their parents’ eyes would land on him, the next one up to have to make a decision.

Mark still had no idea – but he knew he was going somewhere.

He felt Rogers’ arms go around his neck and realized he hadn’t said anything yet. He started to open his mouth, drew a blank, and shrugged again.

Rogers smirked.

“Are you worried you’re gonna have to stay home forever?” he mocked. “I’ll come visit you every chance I get, but I’ll probably be very busy being important and stuff.”

It was clear Rogers was less eager to talk about the future than Mark was, which was really not eager at all. But it was something that was eating up Mark’s insides more and more as the summer grew closer.

“Fuck off.” He pushed Rogers away, but he only tightened the grip his legs had around him and scooted closer.

“I’m sure your parents will let you live in the attic. It’ll be cool, we’ll play checkers and I’ll brush your foot-long beard and force you to go outside because you’ll be so pale even your freckles will have vanished.”

Mark laughed and shoved Rogers off of him. He landed at the foot of the bed, still spitting up ridiculous things, and Mark scrambled on top of him before he could get up again.

“I’ll come visit you at your stinky dorm,” he breathed in Rogers’ face, struggling to keep Roger’ hands down on the mattress. “We’ll see who has a foot-long beard then.”

“I’m not the one who can grow facial hair overnight,” Rogers said, grinning, trying to knee Mark anywhere soft. “I don’t know if you remember your mustache, a few years ago.”

Mark felt himself blush at the embarrassing memory.

“That mustache was cool,” he muttered and then, “d’you remember every ridiculous thing I ever did?”

“Live for it,” Rogers replied and rolled them over and onto the floor. Mark landed on his back with a curse as Rogers managed to head-butt his mouth, making his teeth click together painfully.

“Sorry, that wasn’t very smooth.” Rogers groaned. “And you’re bleeding.”

Mark licked his throbbing lips and winced at the taste. When he looked up, Rogers was grinning again.

“What?”

“If that scars,” he said, and pressed his thumb next to the cut on Mark’s upper lip, “then you’ll grow the beard? For me?”

“No.” He let his head fall back with a thump. Rogers hovered above him.

“If I manage to grow one by the time you visit me at my stinky dorm,” he said and Mark closed his eyes, “I’ll let you brush it. I’ll even let you braid it.”

“Well, you probably like me more than I like you, then.”

Everything stopped. Mark snapped his eyes open instantly, expecting to see Rogers’ fist flying to his face. But Rogers was making a stupidly thoughtful face instead of punching Mark in the nose. 

“I don’t know about that,” he said.

Mark took a moment to feel relieved that this wasn’t escalating to another fight before he was offended.

“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?” he snapped.

“I think you like me a lot.”

Mark’s first instinct was to deny, deny, deny – but he squashed it down and said nothing.

“I’ll take that as a ‘you are my favorite person in the world, Sandy’.” Rogers finally got up and sat back on the bed. Mark was left lying on the floor, staring up at him.

They were quiet for a while before Rogers cleared his throat and spoke again.

“You don’t have to stress about college and all that yet,” he said and Mark remembered that it was what they were talking about all along. “You could wait until after summer break, and we could freak out about it together then.”

That was six months away.

Mark sat on the floor and crossed his legs in front of him. He wasn’t sure, but he thought Rogers was saying something he wasn’t quite getting.

Or maybe.

“Okay,” he said. He had no reason to believe six months from now they weren’t going to be doing this thing they were doing.

And apparently, Rogers didn’t either.

“I think I’ll move to Jessica’s room after she goes away. We’ll have more privacy. To freak out. About college.”

Rogers laughed and flopped backwards onto the bed.

“Are you saying we have to wait until then to freak out – about college?”

Mark climbed up after him, feeling warmth starting to pool in his belly. He felt up Rogers’ torso until he could fit his palms on either side of his face.

“No, we can freak out,” he said as he arranged himself between Rogers’ legs. “If we’re very quiet.”