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(In the Dark) I'd Do Anything For You

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December 4th, 2020

Mark’s a man of faith. Despite all evidence to the contrary, he firmly believes in his baking abilities. He’s gonna make the best gingerbread man his friends and Youtube have ever seen… As soon as he figures out how many eggs he needs.

He rubs his glasses on his jeans before putting them on and reading the instructions on the back of the box. You can’t go wrong with Betty Crocker, right? Half a cup of butter. A tablespoon of water. An egg. One egg? That can’t possibly be enough. And how do you even measure half a cup of butter? Is he supposed to just, like, scoop it into the measuring cup?

Mark groans, resting his elbows on the countertop.

Johnny hears him and laughs.

In the courtroom, Johnny is imposing, a six-foot lawyer with a scary case of RBF and a knack for making the prosecution cry. At home, though—at the expensive townhome on Capitol Hill that he shares with his husband—he’s nothing more than an oversized bear who wears flannel shirts, brews terrible beer, and uses a ‘World’s Best Mom’ mug he found in a yard-sale in Bethlehem. I don’t believe in gender roles, anyway, he had told Mark one day before he downed his all-black, no-sugar coffee in a single swallow.

“Come on,” Johnny says, voice playfully mocking, “it’s not neuroscience.”

Mark licks his bottom lip. “Yeah, dude. Neuro’s easier.”

“You heard it here, ladies and theydies,” Johnny says, raising his head and staring directly at the camera Mark’s set up in the corner of the kitchen. “Mark Lee claims STEM is a piece of cake.”

“Dude, shut up.” Mark scrunches his nose. “You’re gonna get Donghyuck so much hate in the comments.”

“Remind me again why you came over and forced me to film with you?” Johnny asks. He rummages in the drawer for a whisk and starts using it to stir in his own chocolate-colored concoction. “Last time I checked, Donghyuck’s the Youtuber, not you.”

“He promised his followers he’d give them a ton of content for Christmas, but he’s not home yet… and… with all the stuff happening with his grandmother and everything, I thought it would be nice if I covered for him. One less thing for him to worry about, you know?”

He looks up just in time to see Johnny’s face softening, a bit of tender sadness creeping into Johnny’s eyes.

Before there was Mark and Donghyuck, the stupid university kids who got drunk and fucked, who got stoned and fucked, who got drunk and stoned at the same time and didn’t fuck, there was Donghyuck and Johnny, the most infamous big-little duo their college campus had ever seen. For the longest time, Mark thought they were dating, and he’d been so jealous of Johnny, as jealous as he had ever been in his entire life. (That was before Donghyuck cornered him during Spring Fair, shoved him against the willow tree in the Freshman Quad, and kissed him senseless. Mark dropped the chicken-on-a-stick he waited in line for half-an-hour to buy in his eagerness to kiss him back. He got a boyfriend, though, and that sort of made up for everything.)

The point is, Johnny's been here from the beginning, and he knows Donghyuck, and for that Mark is eternally grateful.

“How’s he doing?” Johnny asks.

Mark’s frustration melts away. He looks at the camera and thinks about how much footage he’s gonna have to edit to make this a fun vlog. “I think he misses home.”

I think he misses me.

Johnny nods, accepting the answer for what it is.

Eventually, Johnny goes back to stirring; the whisk becomes a blur of gray as the lumps and bumps in his cookie mixture start smoothening. The sound of metal scraping against a glass bowl fills the air: tsk, tsk, crr.

Lamp-light bounces on the bowl, and on the white kitchen island, turning everything crystal. Outside, snow is falling, the first snow of the season, feathery and hesitant and directionless, like it can’t decide whether it wants to stay or to go. It’s snowing in Korea, too. Mark knows because the first thing he does when he wakes up is check the weather in Seoul.

Donghyuck’s always happier when it snows, so he must be happy now. Happier than he was a week ago, anyway.

Mark’s throat burns for a second before he shakes his head.

Get over yourself, Lee, a voice in his head murmurs, a voice that sounds suspiciously like the love of his life. You’ve got cookies to bake.

Mark stoops down and grabs a glass measuring cup from one of the cabinets.

 


 

Half an hour into their baking session, Ten arrives home and shatters the strangely melancholic atmosphere that’s settled in the kitchen. He bounds over to Johnny, slips his mask off his face, and kisses Johnny smack-dab in the middle of the lips. Of course, Johnny kisses him back—more intensely than the situation warrants, in Mark’s opinion—and doesn’t stop until Mark whines about how he’s not here to film the beginning of an amateur film, come on, guys!

Aw, but I think the internet would like that, no?” Ten replies, pouting.

“I know I would,” Johnny says, pressing closer to his husband and nipping his neck. “You look so good, honey.”

“Yo, chill,” Mark says, pained, “I’m literally right here.”

“Well, if you want to join, Mark Lee—”

No, oh my God, Ten.” Mark fights the urge to stomp his feet. He’s halfway to fifty, damn it. “I don’t even like that stuff, dude. I’m, like, a Christian.”

“You’re saying Christians can’t be into threesomes, Mark?” Johnny keeps his arms caged around Ten’s waist. “Isn’t that a little problematic? You don’t want the sunflowers on your ass, do you?”

Mark’s despair must be visible because Ten takes one look at him, giggles, and slowly disentangles himself from his husband. Ten is definitely the sweeter—albeit more chaotic—half of the couple. When he met Mark, Mark had food poisoning, Donghyuck was in a different state for a fraternity event, and everything sucked. Ten stormed in, scrutinized his sweaty, miserable appearance, and ordered five different soups from three different restaurants in the area. (“It’s all on Johnny’s card, don’t worry. I’m Ten, by the way. Johnny’s fiancé. He just doesn’t know it yet.”)

“I think what Markie’s trying to say is that he’s too into his boyfriend to want anyone else,” Ten explains, ignoring Johnny’s protests and striding to Mark. His hair is wet from snow and his dark brown eyes gleam with delight. He curls a thumb under Mark’s chin and says knowingly, “You’re even making gingerbread because he tweeted about it two days ago, aren’t you?”

Six years of loving Lee Donghyuck aren’t enough to stop Mark from blushing. It’s still embarrassing—and honestly a little terrifying—to be read so easily. But it’s the truth, so he doesn’t deny it, just shrugs and hopes the camera can’t pick up the red in his cheeks.

“Um… yeah?”

Ten coos at his answer. “Do you know what we should do, Mark Lee?”

“Uh?” Mark looks over Ten’s shoulder. Johnny shrugs. “Bake?”

“Yes,” Ten says, “but also, we’re going to have a competition. A couples competition. Me and Johnny versus you and Donghyuck. The winning couple gets bragging rights and a bottle of Lucien Foucauld.”

“Donghyuck’s not even here, though,” Mark complains at the same time Johnny pipes in with, “But honey, that’s my favorite cognac.”

Ten’s hand falls and he looks over his shoulder at Johnny. “Obviously, we’ll win, sweetheart. Don’t worry.”

“What? Why obviously?” Mark asks.

Ten opens his mouth, but before he can get a single syllable out, Johnny smirks and says, “Because we’re clearly the superior couple, Mark.” He finally moves from his spot against the fridge and draws an infectiously happy Ten to his chest again. “Even if he were here, you guys wouldn’t get through the challenge without fighting in the first ten minutes.”

 


 

Donghyuck’s still in bed when Mark FaceTimes him. He’s bundled up in thick quilts; his hair sticks out in all four directions like a compass, and his face is puffier than a blowfish. “Babe,” he grumbles, still half-asleep and more prickly than usual, “I was fucking sleeping.”

“Sorry,” Mark says quietly. Johnny and Ten are debating on whether to freeze their batter before baking it, so they probably won’t be able to overhear him, but he left his AirPods in the car and he doesn’t want to risk it. “Should I go?”

Donghyuck blinks blearily at the camera. “No,” he says, softer, and Mark wishes he could reach into the screen and pet his hair. “Stay.”

So, Mark stays. He stays and he fills Donghyuck in on everything that happened that day. The stale croissant he ate for breakfast. The squirrel that tried to steal said croissant. How cold it is in their drafty, old, Colonial-style house. That it’s snowing. That the neighbors put up their Christmas lights already. He goes on and on, and Donghyuck interrupts him with little snide remarks—you tried fighting a squirrel, babe, really?—and probing questions here and there—okay, but what kind of lights?—but mostly he stays silent, mostly he just listens, listens intently, and Mark knows he’s going to remember everything, even his most mundane mumbling, because that’s just what Donghyuck does. He makes scrapbooks in his mind. He makes photographs out of conversations. He’s smart like that. Sweet like that.

“You know Johnny baited you, right?” Donghyuck says. By now, he’s sitting up, back pressed against the headboard. He’s wearing Mark’s red Vancouver shirt. He stole it from Mark after their first hookup and Mark’s never asked for it back. Mark likes seeing him in it, even now, when the color’s faded to pink and the ink is almost worn-out. “Like, he was playing right into your competitive Leo side, Mark.”

It’s not an accusation but it’s not far from it, either.

“He said we always fight,” Mark says. “That’s not true. We don’t do that anymore.”

“Don’t we?”

“Hyuck.”

“Mark,” Donghyuck says in the exact same tone of voice. “He knows our history, baby.”

He doesn’t know us, Mark wants to say, but it’s not true. Johnny does know them.

“We’re better about it now,” Mark says instead, searching Donghyuck’s face, tracing the contours of his chin and jaw with his eyes, and memorizing them. “You know that.”

Donghyuck’s eyelashes fall on his face, creating black shadows on gold skin. “So,” he says, and the way he says it means he agrees with Mark but isn’t ready to accede, not quite yet, “so, gingerbread, huh?”

Mark groans.

“It wouldn’t have anything to do with my—”

“Yes,” Mark says, “yes, okay, maybe I spend inordinate amounts of time scrolling through your Twitter when I’m supposed to be studying, but it’s only because I miss you and—”

Donghyuck turns gumdrop pink, frosting-pink, the kind of pink that you smear on crumbling, shortbread biscuits. Mark knows he’s done something right when he makes Donghyuck look like that.

“—and everything you say gets stuck in my head.”

Donghyuck stays stubbornly pink. “One egg,” he mumbles.

“What?”

“You’re using those store-bought mixes, right? They usually need one egg.”

Mark smiles. “Donghyuck.”

“Microwave a stick of butter for ten seconds. Don’t try to melt it completely.”

“Donghyuck.”

“Don’t use a lot of water. A spoonful only, alright? You’re not trying to make a cake, so you want the texture to be thick, like dough. You need to knead it, too, so don’t—”

Donghyuck,” Mark says, “Donghyuck, baby, do you know how much I love you?”

The pink transforms into candy-cane red, sugar licorice red, and Mark can’t help but laugh a little, helplessly, hopelessly endeared. You’d think, after six years, Mark would have lost the ability to fluster Donghyuck, but he hasn’t. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

“I’m hanging up,” Donghyuck says firmly. “If I watch the video and you haven’t won, I’m breaking up with you.”

“But—it’s not—what do you mean, video?”

Donghyuck rolls his eyes and gives him the look.

Mark knows when he’s lost. He always loses against Donghyuck, anyway. Everyone does. He sighs and gives up, smiling awkwardly, almost apologetically when he says, “I  just wanted to make things easier for you. It was supposed to be an early Christmas surprise.”

Donghyuck makes an angry, defeated sound, and then he crawls under the covers until Mark can only see his eyes and forehead. “You’re so annoyingly perfect,” he mutters, almost to himself. “Fine. I’m obviously not breaking up with you, even if you lose really, really badly, but please at least try to impress my followers? They keep trying to set me up with this Twitch streamer and he’s not—he’s not you, alright? So…”

“Win and impress the sunflowers. Got it.”

 


 

Spoiler alert: Mark loses but manages to impress them, anyway. Just not like hoped.

 


 

 

@smilehyuck: oh my god did he rlly decorate the cookies before he put them in the oven?! hyuck’s DATING this loser??????

@hyuckscumdump: omg do u think he’s moronsexual. bc I’m a moron too TF @fullsun MF DATE ME INSTEAD I’LL SUCK UR DICK TILL UR FORESKIN FALLS OFF

@smilehyuck: maybe that mark dude’s already doing all of that… you never know….

@hyuckscumdump: ur literally ruining my day oomf. i’m blocking u.

 


 

December 9th, 2020

The second snow falls five days later.

Mark’s back in Rehoboth, tucked inside the quaint house Donghyuck pooled all his YouTube money to buy. (“It’s got a library,” Donghyuck had said when he presented the idea to Mark, all nervous, fluttering anticipation, all big hopes and big eyes. “You can study there and I can go take walks on the beach when I get bored. It’s perfect for us, please?”) He’s sitting at the desk he bought at Ikea and built by hand (like a real adult!), hastily skimming through the thick neuroanatomy textbook his professor recommended. Jesus. You’d think, after majoring in Neuro, he’d have a grasp on all of this shit already, but he doesn’t. Dura mater. Pia mater. The subarachnoid space. The subdural space, the arachnoid granulation, the emissary vein. What else? What other parts of the meninges does he need to know?

“Fuck,” Mark says when he takes a peek at the textbook. “I forgot half of this shit, fuck, fuck, fuck.”

He panics, closes his textbook, and stands up. A full day of classes and six hours spent studying, only studying, with no distractions, and it still isn’t enough.

Come on, Mark. Dura mater. Pia mater. Arachnoid mater. The subdural space. The subarachnoid space. The emissary vein, the diploid vein? No, not diploid. Dip…Dip—

He paces around the library, trying to remember.

When they first bought the house, the library smelled like dust, and old oak, and old pages in forgotten books. Now, it mostly smells like the Chinese takeout Mark eats when he can’t be bothered to cook (read: when Donghyuck can’t be bothered to cook) and the lemon floor polish Donghyuck makes him clean the floors with. It smells like the fancy archaic Turkish rug they found in a thrift store and dragged all the way home. It smells like linen and cotton, too, because Donghyuck drags the hamper to the library to fold their clothes whenever it’s his turn to do the laundry.

Mark heads over to the French doors that overlook the patio. That had been another selling point for the house: the fact that there was an outside entrance from the library. (“You can study outside when the weather’s nice,” Donghyuck had pointed out, doing a much better sales pitch than their actual agent. “And we can even get a tarp or something for when it rains.”)

The snow is almost a foot thick now. It’ll be a pain in the ass to shovel. He’ll have to salt the driveway, too, and hope the roads are clear when he heads to medical school.

He’s ruminating on this when his phone buzzes.

Mark swipes right on Donghyuck’s call, and says, “Donghyuck-ah?”

The long, prolonged silence on the other end makes Mark’s fingers start shaking. Donghyuck’s mouth runs a mile a minute. He usually always had something to say within the first thirty seconds of their calls.

Mark sits down on the floor, pulls the phone closer to his ear, and prays that the worst hasn’t happened yet. “Sweetheart?”

Donghyuck makes a small, choked noise. “Hyung.”

“Hey,” Mark says, wishing he could FaceTime but knowing Donghyuck doesn’t like when people see him cry, “hey, Donghyuck-ah, I’m here, okay? Hyung’s here, baby, I promise. I’m always here.”

That, if possible, makes things worse. There’s a loud clanging sound followed by Donghyuck muttering a broken curse in Korean. Then Donghyuck starts crying—truly crying, the kind Mark knows leaves his entire body shaking, clawing for air. Mark’s own eyes burn, and he wants so desperately to hold his boy, hold him through the pain, the grief, hold him until he becomes a part of Mark and Mark can bear the burden of his broken heart. That’s not how life works, though. That’s not how love works, either. Not exactly.

“Hyuck,” Mark says gently, as gentle as running water, as May clouds, as the freshest layer of snow, “sweetheart, talk to me. Please.”

Donghyuck tries. He tries so hard, whispering words and sentences through broken, mournful sounds. He tries so hard and Mark pieces together what happened.

His grandmother, his beloved grandmother, who saved up for him to go to school in America, who taught him how to fish and how to swim, how to embroider flowers on jackets and sing as sweetly as larks, his grandmother, who accepted his gayness as easily as she accepted his dreams, who pressed her hands on his cheeks and whispered my little sun—his grandmother, she is gone. Gone forever.

It doesn’t matter that they’d known this would happen. That she was approaching eighty or that her cancer was terminal. It doesn’t even matter that Donghyuck got to spend the last three months of her life by her side.

Loss is loss. Grief is grief.

“I’m so sorry,” Mark whispers. It’s the most useless thing to say. It’s the only thing to say, besides: “I love you, Donghyuck-ah. I love you so much.”

He sits there, alone, on their treasured Turkish carpet, and he whispers I love you after I love you after I love you until his voice grows hoarse and the night begins to steal away the day. He forgets about Pia mater and Dura mater and all the other maters that exist. He forgets about all the veins and all the capillaries and all the nerve fiber bundles that make up the brain. There is only Donghyuck: his voice, his pain, his memory staining the very air in this room.

“Mark,” Donghyuck says finally. He’s calmer now, but his voice is weaker than usual; like a loose thread that falls apart in your fingers. “Mark, I want… I want to go home.”

I want you home, too, Hyuck. So, so bad.

“We’ll look for tickets. I’ll look tonight, alright? The first one I find, I’ll get.”

“But—what if—the pandemic, Mark—”

“Hey,” Mark says tenderly, “Hey, we’re gonna figure this out, okay? Together. We’re gonna get you home.”

“Home. With you,” Donghyuck croaks.

Mark’s heart squeezes. “With me. Always.”

Moments pass—seconds or minutes, it’s hard to tell. The snow has fallen. The land is silent. Mark closes his eyes and loses himself in the unsteady rhythm of Donghyuck’s breathing.

“Mark?”

“Yes, baby?”

“Can you… can you sing to me?”

“Our song?”

When Donghyuck says yes, Mark opens his mouth again and starts crooning familiar syllables, familiar words, familiar lines.

They wrote this song during a night they had both been surprisingly sober. They had been sitting on the marble steps of Gilman Hall; it was a little after midnight and the library was full but the quads were empty. Mark held his guitar and started strumming. Donghyuck rested his head on Mark’s shoulder and started singing. The city was too polluted to spot any constellations but Donghyuck’s voice shined brighter than anything Mark had ever seen or heard before. Brighter than Polaris and Kochab and Yildun. Brighter than the four other stars that make up the Ursa Minor. Seven stars. Seven moles on Donghyuck’s face. Seven seconds were all it took for Mark to fall in love.

By the time he finishes the last refrain, Donghyuck has fallen asleep.

 


 

 

@officialfullsunfanaccount: Our Full Sun, Lee Donghyuck, has just suffered the enormous loss of his beloved grandmother. We ask for all of his fans to give him time and space to heal. #FullSunWeLoveYou

 


 

December 13th, 2020

In four days a number of things happen:

  1. Mark passes his latest round of exams by the skin of his teeth.
  2. A blizzard storms through the Mid-Atlantic region and leaves in its wake a two-day long blackout.
  3. Donghyuck’s cover breaks 5,000,000 views in two days.
  4. Donghyuck’s grandmother is cremated.
  5. The U.S. shuts down its borders for two weeks.

 


 

December 18th, 2020

“Christ,” Johnny mutters, “it still hasn’t stopped snowing.”

“Dude, you’re from Illinois.”

“Yeah, and this is fucking Delaware, Mark. This shit isn't supposed to happen here.”

Mark shrugs. He’s not from here, anyway, so it’s not like he knows how to respond. Donghyuck wanted to live here because it’s close to the beach and to Mark’s medical school. Where Donghyuck goes Mark follows. It’s as simple as that, really.

“Do you think he’ll like it?” Mark asks instead, inspecting the eaves and gutters of the house. “I can’t tell if it’s a lot.”

“Any more than this and it’ll look like those houses in that Grinch movie—you know, the ones in Whoville?”

“Maybe Donghyuck wants it to look like it belongs in Whoville, though?”

Johnny groans and wipes the snow off of his shoulders. He’s decked out in full winter gear complete with a plush cashmere scarf and sturdy gloves, but his face is still red and cracked from the cold. So is Mark’s. They’ve been out here for hours now; it took them forever to figure out how to staple the lights to the eaves and drape them over the high parts of the roof without tearing the shingles. Mark doesn’t want to have to pay for a new roof, after all. He just wants something to surprise Donghyuck with—a happy, cheerful, merry Christmas-y surprise.

“I’ll keep it real with you, Mark,” Johnny says bluntly. “If you make me do this shit any longer, I’ll wind up in federal prison. Why the fuck is your place so big, anyway?”

“Donghyuck wanted a big house.”

Johnny grumbles but lets it go. “He’ll like it, regardless, because you did it for him.” Johnny pauses. “Well, I mean, it was mostly me, but for your sake, I’ll pretend you did more than half.”

“I did to more than half.”

“Really, Mark? If we were in court, you’d be tried for perjury.”

“This isn’t court, hyung.” Mark bites his lip. “Thank you, though. I know this was one of your only days off and—”

Johnny claps him on the back. A bit of snow falls from Johnny and onto Mark’s waterproof parka. It creates a watery line down his arms as it melts.

“I have a month’s worth of vacation time left, Mark,” Johnny says. “Don’t worry about that. I’m sticking around for dinner, so if you still don’t like it by then—well, whatever, we’ll figure something else out.”

And this, this is why Johnny was always voted best brother in his fraternity. This is why Johnny won chapter president and why he got into Harvard Law and why he turned down the biggest firms in NYC to go work for a civil rights office in Washington D.C. He takes care of people because he wants to, because he’s good at it, because it’s wired in him. So does Ten, in his own way, and that’s probably why they lasted so long.

He pulls Johnny’s hand off his shoulder and wraps Johnny in a hug. A tight, freezing, uncomfortable hug that has both of them flinching when ice-water soaks through their jeans and their gloves. But Johnny doesn’t push him away, so Mark holds him a little tighter, and all the while he thanks God for giving him another older brother in his life.

Johnny was the first person he called when he found out Donghyuck isn’t coming home for Christmas.

“Mark,” Johnny says, his breath puffing out into a cloud, “I’m honored, I really am, but can we please go inside? My balls are about to fall off.”

 


 

Mark sends Donghyuck a picture of his dinner—chicken ’n’ dumpling soup from a local diner—and captions it: Miss your cooking, baby. Doesn’t taste the same.

Donghyuck doesn’t reply for a while, but an hour before midnight, when Mark’s drifting off—on the sofa in the living room, because he’s too exhausted to take his ass upstairs—he sends a simple message: Is it close?

Mark smiles.

Not even a little bit.

 


 

December 24th, 2020

Mark’s a man of faith. He believes in miracles.

Sometimes they just take some time.

 


 

The exit off I-495 is empty. Most people are at home on Christmas Eve; most people are celebrating with a few cherished loved ones. Mark’s planning on doing that, too, but he has to get to Dulles International Airport first. He grips his steering wheel, keeps his eye on the road, and sings one of his favorite Frank Ocean songs, Seigfred, underneath his breath: I’d do anything for you (in the dark), I’d do anything for you (in the dark), I’d do anything for you…

I-495 onto VA 267 W onto VA-28 S.

Road onto road onto road.

Faith unto faith unto faith.

The sky opens when he’s on Rudder Rd. Snow and icy rain pour in heavy iron-sheets. Mark keeps the faith and slows down.

 


 

Donghyuck is standing outside of the entrance to the airport with four suitcases and his carry-on with him. He’s wearing a trench-coat Mark hasn’t seen before—royal blue, clean-cut, elegant—and his hair is honey-brown instead of deep black. He’s wearing his mask, too, so Mark shouldn’t be able to recognize him, but Donghyuck’s tell-tale slouch and the way he’s leaning against one of the pillars is so familiar that Mark jumps out of his shitty Camaro and starts running.

Usually, at home, Donghyuck is a bundle of energy; his body is composed of fraught wires and sensitive nerves and jittering muscle. He’s always moving—shaking his legs, or tapping a melody on whatever surface is the closest to him, or playing with the seams on his expensive jeans, unraveling them and ruining the denim. It’s a part of who he is, and Mark’s grown to tolerate that part, but when Mark approaches him, Donghyuck doesn’t move a muscle. His eyes are half-closed, and he looks close to collapsing.

Mark’s heart aches.

He uncurls Donghyuck’s grip on his carry-on, making sure to stroke his thumb over each finger, and swings the bag over his back.

Donghyuck’s eyes are still closed when he mumbles, “Mark?”

“Hey,” Mark says softly, so softly it’s almost inaudible. “Did you miss me?”

Donghyuck practically tips over. He’s in Mark’s arms before Mark can blink,  before—before—Mark loses his train of thought when Donghyuck’s hair tickles the delicate skin on his neck. His hair is a little oily, a little messy, a little uncombed. This close up, Mark catches whiffs of Cola and kimchi-flavored chips and baby powder emanating from his clothes. But Donghyuck was on a flight for eighteen hours, and Mark knows it wasn’t a comfortable one, so he merely cards his fingers through Donghyuck’s hair, combing the small tangles in the strands and delighting in the soft, slow exhale Donghyuck lets out.

“You’re late,” Donghyuck mumbles and Mark feels his lips moving through his mask. 

“Sorry,” Mark says, wrapping a hand around his waist, pulling him flush to his chest. He hates PDA, usually—he and Donghyuck have fought before about how much he hates it—but he doesn’t give a fuck now. All he cares about is his boy. “Bad weather.”

“S’okay.” Donghyuck nuzzles deeper in Mark’s neck like he’s trying to carve a space in it. His voice is sloppy and slurred and sweet with honesty. “And—I missed you. Lots. Loads. So much. I—Mark, hyung.”

Something inside Mark unlodges and falls—a stone trapped in his bronchioles, in the center of his gut, in the Donghyuck-owned part of his heart. Donghyuck always manages to pull out the parts of himself that Mark doesn’t even know he has. He smiles shakily even as his eyes start burning along with his trachea. He kisses the crown of Donghyuck’s head and says, “Missed you, too, baby.”

His voice cracks in the middle.

Donghyuck hears it because he hears everything Mark does and doesn’t say. He untucks his head, despite Mark’s best efforts to keep him there, and looks at Mark through half-lidded eyes, through eyelashes nearly-glued with exhaustion. The fluorescent lighting makes Donghyuck’s face look unusually wan, but it also helps Mark pick up the little details he missed before. Like the crumbs at the corners of Donghyuck’s eyes, like the congealed BB cream on the high-points of his cheeks, like the angry pimple on the top of his adorable nose. 

Before Mark can stop him, Donghyuck takes off his mask, letting it fall to the floor.

“Hyuck, what’re you doing—”

“Wanna kiss you, hyung,” Donghyuck says, fisting Mark’s jacket in his hands and drawing him close. There’s stubble on his chin and jaw and his lips are dry and cracked. None of that matters, though, because there’s nothing in the world that can stop Lee Donghyuck from looking beautiful. “Really wanna kiss you. Take your mask off, please? Please?”

Donghyuck knows how to wiggle under Mark’s bones. He knows how to get Mark to do whatever he wants. It’s how he got Mark to move into a century-old house in Delaware with him. It’s how he gets Mark to do the smaller stuff, too: taking out the trash or rubbing his feet when he’s had a bad day or buying the expensive Yankee candles that make the entire house stink. Usually, all it takes is a simple please, hyung, please for Mark to crumble and let Donghyuck do whatever he wants. (Maybe because Donghyuck never says hyung and he never says please. He’s not mean, but he’s too proud, too cocky, too playful to care about something as trivial as manners.)

This time, Mark shakes his head.

“It’s dangerous,” he says, rubbing Donghyuck’s cheek, fondness washing over him as his boyfriend leans into his touch, chasing it. “You know that.”

“I don’t, actually,” Donghyuck mutters.

He runs his fingers over Mark’s mask; his hands are as dry and as hot as sunbaked terra-cotta.

Mark’s too weak to move away, but he says, “Donghyuck. Please.”

But since when does Donghyuck ever listen to him? He tugs again. Mark’s mask drops on the ground gracelessly.

“There’s barely anyone around here,” Donghyuck says, his eyes heavy with need and want and hope; the weight of his gaze pins Mark in place. “We’re six feet apart from anyone else, and I took a COVID test two days ago, and I know your school’s testing you regularly, too, and besides—”

He fishes something out of his pocket.

Mark glances down and can’t stop himself from smiling.

Oh, Hyuck. Why are you such a romantic, baby?

It’s a torn piece of mistletoe. It looks sad and plastic and sweaty from sitting in Donghyuck’s pocket for so long, but it’s mistletoe, all the same, wrapped up in silk and tied with a red bow; a similar shade of red blooms on Donghyuck’s cheeks as he holds it up for Mark to see.

“—Besides, I found this in a shop in the airport, and…” Donghyuck’s voice wavers; he’s brazen around everyone else, but he turns shy around Mark. Turns into downcast eyes and fidgeting feet as he wears his heart on his sleeve. “…and I… I—I missed kissing you, so I thought, maybe—”

“Okay,” Mark says, stealing away Donghyuck’s words, because, in the end, he can’t deny Donghyuck anything, really. It’s a fatal flaw. “Okay, you win.”

Donghyuck freezes. “Really?”

Mark’s smile grows larger. “Kiss me?”

In seconds, before he can even blink, Donghyuck’s on top of him, grabbing his hair, tilting his chin down slightly until they can kiss, lips on lips, tongue sweeping across tongue. A proper kiss, a kiss they haven’t had in months, and Mark melts into it like his blood is made out of molasses and peppermint syrup instead of hemoglobin and iron.

Outside of their vortex of lingering hands and shaky breaths, the rain washes away the heartaches of yesterday.

 


 

Donghyuck drowns in the Christmas lights like a sailor who never learned how to swim. He wraps his arms around Mark’s waist and buries his face in Mark’s chest. Mark pretends he doesn’t know Donghyuck is crying.

Later, in bed, they curl up like it’s the only thing they know how to do. Mark wraps them in their favorite electric blanket and Donghyuck says sleepily, “I thought you weren’t gonna decorate this year.”

Mark kisses his still-wet eyelashes. “I never stopped hoping you would come back in time.”

 


 

Epilogue

January 1st, 2021

When Donghyuck wakes up, he has a headache and a boner. He throws on one of Mark’s thick, fleecy hoodies and heads downstairs.

The entire house smells like booze and more booze, but it’s their fault for offering to host New Year’s. Johnny and Ten brought three crates of shitty beer and a bottle of expensive-as-fuck cognac that they finished before Anderson Cooper got drunk on CNN. Mark’s older brother, Taeyong, had shown up with a jug of home-made sangria and a new boyfriend, an associate professor at Donghyuck’s old school. (Now that had been an interesting conversation.) Some of Donghyuck’s old frat friends made an appearance, too, and before Donghyuck knew it, he was drunk and French-kissing Mark on their patio while their friends lit sparklers in the snow. It had been fun. Mostly.

Now, he feels like the embodiment of death.

“I feel like the embodiment of death,” he says the moment he’s in the kitchen. Mark is bent over the stove, stirring something in a pan. “Babe. Are you listening?”

“Huh?”

Donghyuck rolls his eyes but feels fond. Mark’s tunnel-vision is a double-edged sword, but there are times where Donghyuck just thinks it’s cute. ‘Stubborn kitty chasing a laser incessantly’ type of cute.

His fondness transforms into playful cockiness when he wraps his arms around Mark’s waist and Mark’s breath hitches.

“Babe,” Donghyuck whines, “why are you ignoring me?”

“I was…” Mark’s voice falters. “Hyuck, are you wearing pants?”

“Nope.”

“Not even boxers?” Mark asks weakly.

“Now why would I do that?”

Mark lets go of the panhandle and covers Donghyuck’s hands with his own. “Baby,” he says, strained, “I’m not having sex with you right now.”

“But—”

“I’m still sore.”

Donghyuck grins. “Bet you are.”

Mark scoffs and elbows Donghyuck in the fleshy space underneath his ribs. Not hard enough to hurt but enough that verbalizes his displeasure. “Shut up, Hyuck,” Mark says, groaning. “Jesus, I was just trying to be nice and make us something to eat.”

Donghyuck muffles a yawn in the meat of Mark’s shoulder. He examines Mark’s latest experiment. “Why are we having burnt chicken tenders for breakfast?”

“Those are scrambled eggs.”

“Mark,” Donghyuck says, grinning even more now, “if making breakfast is your New Year’s resolution, I’m sorry, but you’ve gotta give it up to God.”

“I just wanted to cook for us,” Mark says, pouting and sounding genuinely upset, which is kind of weird but also very adorable. “I wanted…”

Donghyuck kisses his shoulder, then his neck, then the side of his face. Wet kisses, the type Mark secretly loves but pretends to hate. “I’ll teach you if you really want to learn,” he promises, enjoying the way Mark relaxes against him, the tension in his body dissipating little by little, “but only if you suck my dick, like, right now, babe.”

That gets a laugh out of Mark. He finally shuffles around and presses his forehead against Donghyuck’s.

The tips of his ears are red.

“You’re impossible,” he says, but then he’s sliding on his knees, and Donghyuck doesn’t care about the rest.

 


 

“So,” Mark says at lunch, looking from the bowl of noodles (?) back to Donghyuck, “what do you think?”

“It’s… uh…” Donghyuck’s not usually one to mince words, but Mark’s eyes are doing the thing where they turn big and doe-like. “It’s a really good…effort. Yeah.”

“Oh.” Mark’s face falls. “Okay.”

Donghyuck closes his eyes momentarily, sighs, curses his inability to see Mark being sad, and then drops to his knees in front of his boyfriend. “Babe,” he says, unbuttoning Mark’s jeans, “I said it was a good effort.”

 


 

“You know,” Donghyuck says. They snuggle in front of the fire after dinner, Donghyuck’s head resting on Mark’s chest, Mark’s arm curled around his hips. “I don’t think I ever thanked you.”

“For what?”

For everything, Donghyuck thinks. For not asking Donghyuck to stay when he heard the news about his grandmother. For never missing a call. For never complaining, not once, not even when the months stretched and the distance between them started to feel infinite. For holding Donghyuck’s broken heart in his hands and keeping it from splitting in two.

But that’s too soon and too much and it hurts too much to say out loud.

He hesitates. “For… for that video with Johnny and Ten. You know it’s my most-viewed video, right?”

“Is it, really?”

“Yeah.” Donghyuck twists until he’s lying on top of Mark. He touches the hard line of Mark’s jaw and says, “I think you should be on my channel more.”

Mark’s smile grows. He closes his eyes and they kiss and it’s sort of perfect. They kiss again, just for good measure, and then Mark is whispering something soft and sweet in Donghyuck’s ear and Donghyuck forgets about the YouTube algorithm and missed Vlogmas opportunities and all the cracks in his broken heart. He forgets about everything that isn’t Mark.

 


 

Donghyuck figures it out a little before midnight.

He steps inside the library. He doesn’t have a reason for being here, but Mark is asleep upstairs and he’s a little drunk on nostalgia and leftover red wine. And, really, he just missed this room. It’s Mark’s study-space, but it’s also where they keep the antique record-player they found in a thrift shop in Hampden, Baltimore. The first night they spent in this house, Mark played an old record, a jazz song, sweet and sultry and seductive, and they slow-danced together in their Goodwill pajamas and socks. Mark smelled like soap and ballpoint pen. He said I love you and Donghyuck wanted to swallow him whole.

Donghyuck still wants to swallow him whole, sometimes. It’s a work-in-the-progress.

He sits down on Mark’s chair.

Mark’s desk is filled with clutter. There are post-it-notes and index cards covered in hand-drawn diagrams of muscles and hearts and parts of the spinal cord. There are ink smears and coffee imprints. There are heaps and heaps of notebooks; Mark has a laptop, but he likes writing things by hand. He says it helps him learn faster. There’s a mini-sized jar of adult vitamin gummies and a half-finished water bottle.

What Donghyuck likes most of all, though, are the framed pictures Mark keeps on one of the shelves in his desk. Donghyuck’s in all of them because Mark’s shameless these days. Mark and Donghyuck at Hershey Park with their friends. Mark’s holding a melting ice-cream cone and Donghyuck’s knees are scraped and bloody, but they’re laughing. There’s one of them at their graduation; Mark’s holding a bouquet of white roses—not red because those are cliche—and Donghyuck’s holding a single sunflower. A selfie of them cuddling on their bed. Mark likes that one so much it’s also his screen-saver. And then, finally, there’s just a picture of Donghyuck. He can’t remember where exactly he was when Mark took the photo, but he was sitting on a bench in a garden somewhere, trying to ousting a robin that landed on his shoulder.

Donghyuck smiles, half-enamored and half-heartbroken.

Sometimes, he’s found, he loves Mark so much it hurts. It feels like there’s not enough space in his body for all that love. It feels like he’s choking. (But then Mark strokes his hair or laughs at one of his jokes and all of that pressure sinks into something sweet and sudsy: opal-colored, bubbly ocean foam kissing the shore.)

He grabs the last photo frame and brings it closer to his face. He only wants to scrutinize it, to figure out which garden it was, but moving the frame causes something to tumble out of it—a folded-up square.

Carefully, Donghyuck unfurls the paper.

The ink is fresh; the handwriting is large and loopy and clearly Mark’s.

Donghyuck reads the note and his heart almost stops beating. “Oh,” he says, voice trembling. “Oh, Mark.”

 


 

12/02/20: new year’s resolution—> propose to donghyuck. outline: 1) metal workshop classes — two left, need to go to last one to set stone. 2) learn to cook — need to make his favorite dinner. handmade kimchi, samgyeopsal, and soft tofu stew? or maybe western — steak & pasta? too cliche? 3) record our song. burn it on actual vintage record. something for us to listen to forever. 4) ask his mom for her blessing. do this first???? omg?

 


 

“Sweetheart?” Mark’s voice is thick with sleep. “Where were you?”

Donghyuck presses himself against Mark’s back and wraps their legs together. He kisses the nape of Mark’s neck and Mark shivers but doesn’t move away. Six years and this is still his favorite part. The honey-slow moments before they fall asleep together.

“Cleaning up the kitchen,” Donghyuck murmurs, brushing his lips against Mark’s neck again. “Thought we could start our cooking lessons tomorrow.”