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a window of opportunity

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Let’s get one thing out of the way: Mark was not a businessman.

He’s the son of a businessman. Seven years ago, venture capitalist Lee Minki founded LM Ads Inc., a privately held advertising company catering to enterprise-level accounts. In LMA’s first-quarter report, Mark was listed as the second largest shareholder next to his parents. He helped name the company, which was about to begin its rocky, bump-ridden climb from baby early-stage startup to adolescent mid-stage startup.

Though one could consider Mark’s interests adjacent to the company’s services, insofar as his actual involvement, that was pretty much it.

Mark considered himself: a writer, a reader, an R&B music lover, and a self-taught connoisseur of culture, romance, and long, idle walks where he’d do nothing but smile at gap-toothed elderly women and coo at squishy-cheeked babies. He was a Music Studies- Major in Composition graduate from one of the big Seoul-based universities because, cushioned by family money and reassured by his parents’ lax attitude towards formal education, he was allowed to pursue his passions i.e. become a starving artist without the dying of consumption part. Not a businessman. And he sure as hell isn’t the Chief Executive Officer.

Then Renjun was hired, and that all changed.

Renjun used to be his Dad’s personal assistant. He was only a year younger than Mark, a first-generation immigrant from Jilin with a partial scholarship from a low-key University just outside of Seoul, but Mark wouldn’t know it based on Renjun’s scary level of competence. He’d submitted his CV (Renjun Huang, DOUBLE MAJOR IN MANAGEMENT AND ECONOMICS, it proclaimed in bold, sans serif, size 16 font) at a citywide job fair and had happened to be interviewed at the same time Mark’s dad was in the booth. He was hired on the spot.

Mark remembered the day he first saw Renjun. At the time, Renjun had been with his Dad for a little over ten months. His dad would sing his praises during dinner - Renjun arranged this for me, Renjun booked the whole itinerary I mentioned in passing without me having to repeat even once, Renjun memorized the entire Board of Directors’ Starbucks orders after a single Board Meeting - and Mark would roll his eyes. Renjun was apparently the most organized person in the world. Either that or he was OCD-ridden. Who knew. His dad was so easily impressed, anyway, with his wide open gestures, hearty laughter, and the way he’d say I’m so proud of you at 5-year-old Mark whose artistic capabilities at the time could be summed up as tumor-shaped clouds vaguely resembling people.

He’d come into the office at his dad’s behest, something about reviewing the rebranded design collaterals. He was sitting outside the office, when a short young man who could only be appropriately described as pretty was suddenly standing right before him.

Mark blinked. “Hi?”

“Yes, hello. Mr. Lee, I presume?” he asked, curtly. He was in a pale pink dress shirt and charcoal gray slacks. Mark’s gaze flitted further down to see an unusually clean pair of white Converses. It was casual Friday.

“Yeah. I’m here to see my Dad?”

Mark looked up at his face where the warm yellow glow of the lights outside the office had settled around him, making long eyelashes draw inky shadows on his lower lids. He had a face that inspired wonder the more you looked. He had sharp yet soft features, and taken altogether, every part of his face was beautiful.

“Yes, I’m to show you inside.”

Mark cleared his throat. “And you are? I’d like to be able to thank you properly.”

He raised both brows slowly. Quite adorable. “I’m Renjun, your dad’s EA. It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Lee. I’m here to assist you any way I can.” He held out his hand.

Mark took it as he stood, feeling softness and warmth envelop his palm first, then shoot up his arm and encase his entire body. He had a few inches on Renjun, but Renjun stood admirably tall as they shook hands. It’s a nice feeling; all his dad’s subordinates, even the ones his dad’s age, all had an aura of slight fear when he so much as approached. It’s not like he cared much if they spent their office hours playing Mobile Legends or whatever flavor-of-the-month game or talking to their mistresses, but he knew being the boss’s son came with some assumed tropes - the spoiled nepotism brat, the tattle, the ambitious weasel. But Renjun bucked his expectations, looking at him like… he was there to see his dad.

Suddenly, all his less than complimentary preconceived notions about Renjun went flying out the window.

(Also, his dad never told him Renjun was literally why the word gorgeous was invented.)

“Thank you, Renjun. And please call me Mark.”

“But—“

“I insist.”

“Hmm. Okay. Mark.” Renjun scrunched his nose minutely, almost unnoticeably, like he was rolling the word on his tongue, before smiling. Mark felt a funny tingly feeling shooting up at his spine, lingering at the back of his head. “I’ll show you inside. Your dad’s waiting.”

Two weeks later, a huge record label called to inquire about one of Mark’s songs. Compared to his other compositions, it was simple and nondescript. He’d put it together on a whim after meeting Renjun, feeling strangely inspired, then uploaded it on Soundcloud thinking no one would hear it, anyway. But the label told him one of their up and coming artists, a rapper by the name of TY TRACK, wanted to sample it for his debut album.

It’s very dreamy. The song evokes something faraway. Like looking up at the night sky and wondering what’s up there… or how you could get up there, was TY’s reported feedback. It’s just a simple melody, but it’s composed like you’re sharing a secret. It’s intriguing.

Oh, well. I guess I’ve been inspired lately, Mark had replied, thinking of stars. Nothing but stars.

 

.
 

That was six months ago.

Fast forward to Mark sitting in the office his dad had vacated, drafting an email for Yangyang, one of his senior account managers. Barely a year since Renjun first took up the mantle of EA, his dad had thrust the position of Managing Director on Mark, saying it was ‘about time’ he learned the ropes of the business. Mark knew he really just wanted to take a break from pushy clients and tour around Asia with his mother.

Nevertheless, Mark, overflowing with filial love and gratitude, decided it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to learn something something new.

(And it didn’t have anything to do with the 120% chance of seeing his dad’s assistant every single day. Nope.)

As for Renjun, he had been transferred to his care in the most literal terms possible.

“Take care of Renjun,” his dad had said mournfully, like he was losing an actual son and not someone who brought him a flat white on the dot every 7:30 AM. “I expect him to bloom even more under your leadership.” Mark wanted him to bloom under him in more ways than one, but he wisely held his tongue.

And so there he was, composing the most inoffensive email possible. You see, Mark — despite looking like someone who just stepped out the pages of the latest town and country magazine, reaching out to seize every bit of attention — basically had the spine of an invertebrate when it came to little things like, oh, asking accounts why they weren’t reaching quotas or requesting managers to present decks that were days overdue. His best friend Donghyuck had once said he was too much of a people-pleaser, never wanting to push any buttons. Well, he needed to push some now and there was only one person in the office who would hold his hand through it.

Figuratively, of course. Mark was still working on the ‘literally’ part.

Renjun was there not only to smile sweetly (or exasperatedly, he could never tell) at Mark whenever he asked where the staplers were, but also to re-draft his so-called ‘saccharine emails.’

Still, he had to let Renjun know first the gist of what he wanted to say. Maybe something along the lines of:
 


Dear Yangyang,

Hope you’re having a pleasant day!

I would just like to kindly inquire where the deck for the P Cola 360 campaign is? As you may recall, we have discussed the timeline of this account two weeks ago and the corresponding deadline. According to your shared calendar, said deadline should have been two days ago.

 
Mark paused. Was that too harsh? But he already added exclamation points to offset the obvious demand. He shrugged at his desk and left that up to Renjun to decide whether to retain or remove.
 

I would greatly appreciate if you sent these to me at the soonest possible time. I’m sure they’re already fantastic and should be approved upon my review!

 
He re-read it twice. It seemed to read better, as in, he wouldn’t mind receiving an email like this sort of better. Upbeat, encouraging, and with way forward optimism in Yangyang and his team’s abilities, like he believed in them - and he did, he really did. He should definitely let them know.
 

In addition, may I gently you that your team should be coming up with an aggressive promotional tactic for your other major account, NVAE Skin. The Director has been requesting for the OOH proposal for a week now, but I’ve yet to see this in my inbox. Please send these to me as soon as you are able. May I also gently remind you that in case these accounts lodge complaints, this would have a detrimental effect on the department’s overall bonuses for the quarter.

I look forward to your deck and tactics! Here’s to another successful quarter! :)

Sincerely yours,

M. Lee


 

When Mark checked the time, he was pleased to see to he’d only been drafting for around thirty minutes, as opposed to an hour. There was really no problem with what to say, it was just how to say it. This was one of his areas of struggle because corporate politics! Navigating the intricacies of people’s complex emotions! Emails which read like layered cakes, one meaning on top and another below, and another even further! He decided to stop overthinking, quickly backspacing on the emoji and hitting ‘send’ with rhuang@LMAds.com as sole recipient.

He was about to walk out the office for a coffee break when Renjun came knocking twice at his door.

“Mark, may I come in?” Renjun asked quaintly, though he’d already crossed the room at a relaxed pace and was standing in front of him, with only Mark’s dad’s old oak desk separating them. He had his laptop in cradled to his chest.

“Hi, Renjun. What can I do for you?” He smiled winsomely, leaning forward and steepling his chin on his upturned palms. “Please, sit down.”

Renjun nodded, and as he sat down he opened his laptop, placing it on Mark’s desk. He swiveled it around so Mark could take a look at his screen.

“Ah, the email,” Mark said with a smile.

Renjun didn’t look impressed. “Why do you have one ‘kindly', one ‘greatly appreciates,’ and two ‘gentle reminders' in your email? Not to mention, you even threw in a ’fantastic’ somewhere there.”

“I didn’t want to sound too demanding or authoritative? People respond more to positive reinforcement?” he attempted, hoping he didn't sound too sheepish. For some reason, Renjun’s neutral tone compelled his very insides to explain like his dignity depended on it. It was a weird compulsion; Renjun was (mostly) harmless. He even looked the part of the cute ingenue with his wide eyes and neatly combed dark hair.

“Mark? Are you listening?” Mark tore his gaze away from Renjun’s hair and towards Renjun’s raised eyebrows. As usual, there was a glimmer of something in Renjun’s stare, as if he couldn’t decide on being amused or endeared and just settled on a combination of both. A small smile was playing on his lips as he said gently, “I said I already took the liberty of rewording for you. You don’t have to actually gently remind anyone when their deadlines are. You’re Director. That’s the whole point of being Director.”

Clearly this was why his dad loved Renjun, and why Mark found him fascinating: he had the face of a very tiny, very cute animal, but the verbiage of a cobra in the wild. A study in contradictions.

Mark cleared his throat, gesturing at the laptop screen. “Okay, give it here.”

Renjun zoomed in.
 


Yangyang:

Explain to me why the deck for P Cola is 2 days late. Should there be no acceptable explanation for the egregious delay, I expect you to send it to me before end of day.

Also, send me your OOH proposal for NVAE Skin ASAP. If we lose these accounts, the deficit would be worth your promotion. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you what this would do - or not do - for your team’s Q3 bonuses.

M. Lee


 
“Uh,” was all the sound that came out Mark’s mouth. This was exactly the sort of straight-to-the-bloodstream venom he expected Renjun to write. And it’s… sort of hot. “This sounds… corporate.”

“Because we are. We’re a creative agency but accounts are accounts. If we skate on thin ice with Yangyang’s accounts in particular, the shortfall won’t be pretty,” Renjun explained slowly. Well, he was an Economics graduate. He knew these things better than Mark did, no arguing with actual business logic there.

Then he did something unexpected — he reached forward and began fixing Mark’s lopsided tie. The close proximity almost gave Mark a minor heart attack. Renjun’s fingers were warm when it brushed against the skin of his collarbone.

Renjun sounded almost fond. “Honestly, Mark. If you’re having trouble with your ties, you could always ask me to come in. I don’t mind.”

“Ah, you know I wouldn’t want to bother you from, um, your spreadsheets. And things like that,” Mark said lamely. Wow, what were words?

Renjun sighed, put-upon. He looked Mark straight in the eye and Mark could swear his face suddenly felt like it was absorbing heat like a fucking endothermic reaction. Maybe Mark’s actually hallucinating but it feels like Renjun is actually flirting with him. “I’m here to assist you. In any way.”

And this was the beginning of two things:

First: how Mark came to be feared in LMA despite literally having a heart softer than cheesecake.

Second: how he fell deeply and irrevocably for Renjun.

 
.
 
 
MADAME BAE PREDICTIONS (Leo: July 22-August 22). This month is a significant one for you, Leo, an important station along the way to your next destination. Not only will you experience significant career growth but also luckiness in love! Your soulmate will often be a Gemini or even someone from your own sign. There will be a touch of fun and lightness that has not been there in recent years. But be cautious! Potential mates may be drawn to your romantic sensibilities, but you can be quite territorial and clingy. Rein in the urge to chain yourself to a newfound lover, you sexy beast! Motto of the month: “If a window of opportunity appears, don’t pull down the shade.”
 
The notification came in just as Mark was about to ascend the stairs to the fifth floor. He could take the elevator, but he skipped his fair bit of leg days recently in an effort to play catch up with all the bid proposals, letters swimming across the pages in undulating lines. Yesterday, he kept reading “decks” as “dicks” and “fallacious” as “fellatio” and that’s when he knew he needed some sort of a break.

Balancing his mildly scalding coffee on his other hand, he tucked his entirely too adult-looking file case under his armpit and swiped over the screen. Then groaned, because why can't Donghyuck just set his stupid face as Mark's phone wallpaper or something instead of this? 

“Damn it, Hyuck…” he grumbled, recalling his best friend downloading the dumb horoscope app on his phone, the aftermath of one keg stand, two car bombs, and three tequila shots one Friday night after work. Mark wasn't one to pass his drinking limits, mind you. Ever since graduation, he’d made an effort to curb his drinking. Only when he was absolutely sure that the ache in his bones pointed to work-related stress, rather than any dark abscess from the deep recesses within his mind, did he allow himself to indulge in the vice.

And that night, indulge he did. Big yikes. 

Truth be told, it was the unfortunate result of maybe moaning way too much than necessary about his totally hot and totally maddening assistant. Mark didn't get it. Was he entering a second teenage phase? He was way too young for that. But why did he feel all manner of fluttering things in his stomach (butterflies, dragonflies, mayflies and all) whenever Renjun came within two feet of him?

And so, with these probably-unprofessional thoughts running a marathon in his mind, the aforementioned night went something like:

He’d planned to drink only one or two as as post-stress relief. The plan went out the window when Donghyuck opened his mouth and the first thing he'd asked Mark had been: "So, how's your cute PA? Had him spreading more than just spreadsheets yet?" 

Mark sent a little prayer up for the protection of his poor liver that night and proceeded to go on and on in painful detail about Renjun's latest accomplishments. 

"Frankly, he sounds scary as hell." Donghyuck visibly shuddered, and Mark tried not to gasp in offense, because Donghyuck was supposed to be a man of taste, the traitor.

Then he remembered he'd never shown Donghyuck any photo of Renjun. For Mark's continued peace of mind, it was probably for the best.

"From what you're telling me, he's the one pointing out mistakes, criticizing without mercy, and sending everything back with more instructions heaped on. Sounds like something you should be doing yourself, but since you're too much of a damn pushover, he's the one who has to bring the gavel of judgment down... only with your signature under." 

"He's a perfectionist, okay. And he always asks for my approval before sending whatever needs to be sent," Mark defended, a tad too fiercely. Renjun was in charge of his corporate email and he's never once regretted it, not even during that one time when both Yangyang and Guanheng stormed into his office asking why #ZumbaFridays and #MeditationMondays every first week of the month were now 'mandatory bonding exercises.' He ignored Donghyuck’s snickers. "I happen to find it only adds to his appeal. And c'mon now, is there anything better than a cute and competent assistant?"

"Slow down, Romeo,” Donghyuck laughed. "Any more of that and I'm this close to seeing little cupids with heart arrows flying around your head."

“Anyway, as I was saying before you so rudely interrupted," Mark said, and Donghyuck took another swig of his beer, rolling his eyes, "I said: Renjun, I noticed we leave work in the same direction. On the south side and all. And he smiled, Hyuck, smiled, okay? Shut up, it’s not creepy. He said: I know you know where I live, Mark. You have access to all the HR files. And then he laughed!” Mark had sighed around the beer bottle, lost in the memory.

“Wow, you are whipped as fuck,” Donghyuck commented with a wicked grin. “Lemme guess. You offered to carpool?”

“Yeah. I told him, hey, we should just carpool. You know, to save the Earth.” He punched a tiny fist in the air, nearly knocking his beer over. “Go Mother Earth! Sustainability! Let's go Green!”

Donghyuck threw his head back and laughed. Noticing Mark’s growing distress, he spared him a curious look.

“Wait... you're kidding, right? You didn’t actually say that?”

Mark chuckled nervously, rubbing the back of his neck. “Uh. I kinda did?”

Donghyuck probably didn't hear Mark’s reply over the sound of his palm slapping against his forehead. “God, Mark! You’re Managing Director! How do you even function around him?”

Mark sighed yet again. “It’s one of life’s many mysteries. Like… you know.” He tipsily mimed a series of punctuated dots in the air and a little cross in the center, eyes crossing a little as he did so.

“… Are you miming a rosary?”

He nodded vigorously. “Life’s full of it. The mysteries.”

Donghyuck shook his head. “Man, if I didn’t love your drunk ass so much, I’d have sold the headline to GQ or something. Mark Lee, Number 5 in Forbes 30-under-30 list and Number 2 on Esquire’s Hottest Corporate Heirs List, reduced to squirming lovesick worm. They’ll all have a field day.”

“Lovesick worm?” Mark squawked, indignant even under the haziness of alcohol. “At least make it sound nice! Like… a lion. Or a tiger.”

“If you say so,” Donghyuck muttered. Doling out the animal parallels pretty much signaled Mark about to throw in the towel.

See, this is all he remembered before his head hit the table, fatigue and the urge to sleep taking over him like a warm, fuzzy blanket. Donghyuck drove him home like the gracious friend he was, but he’s not sure Donghyuck has forgiven him for leaving little dribbles of clear vomit on the edges of his seatbelt.

Now, he stared at his phone, having paused 10.5 seconds of his busy life to read the little horoscope notification that’s popped up. It was stupid. Luckiness in love. Windows of opportunity. Renjun - wholly beautiful, too smart, kind of terrifying Renjun - popped into his mind’s eye, and he shook his head thoroughly at no one in particular. Who even believed this fortune cookie stuff?

He checked himself for suddenly being so worked up. Mark had never known horoscopes to be so feeling-inducing.

“Mark?”

Speak of an angel and he shall appear.

(Try as he might, Renjun was no spawn of hell in Mark’s eyes. Except maybe when he's sending scathingly worded reminders to payroll and accounts.

Dear Team, on behalf of the office of the M. Director, we can’t afford to delay payroll for even a few hours. Please manage your time efficiently. Otherwise I advise you to refrain from taking any recourse via the office of the M. Director when HR sends you a memo re: the delay or Accounts comes knocking on your door asking why. Thanks, Renjun.

The entire finance team was on the email firing squad, with Mark cc-ed.

Mark peeked out to Renjun’s desk. He could see Renjun’s proverbial satanic horns jutting out the top of his head, eyebrows pinched as he read whatever excuse payroll came up with this time. Renjun bit his bottom lip, frowning adorably, before fingers clacked loudly on his keyboard.

Mark found himself half-terrified but also half-hot. Phew. Maybe Mark was in hell after all.)

Renjun came up behind him, face scrunching cutely when he spied Mark’s coffee. “Mark, what did I tell you about getting your own coffee? I could do that for you…”

Mark barely resisted the urge to squeal like a lunatic at Renjun’s utter determination to, well, assist Mark. “And I’ve told you, Renjun. It’s fine. I don’t want to trouble you with trivial things like getting me coffee. We’re not in a traditional office set-up.” He gave a small, encouraging smile over at Renjun, who looked a little put out. “Besides, you’re way too good to be doing that kinda stuff.”

“Way too good, huh?” Renjun said, instantly brightening. There was a bit of pink in his cheeks, or did Mark imagine it? Maybe Renjun had to run to catch up with Mark on the stairs; he didn’t see Renjun on his way to the office. “Should the Director be talking like that to little ol’ me? A mere underling?”

“Really. You’re the smartest person in the office.”

“You give me way too much credit. Boss,” Renjun tacked on with a lopsided grin. He didn't normally call Mark that, just did it to tease him as an inside joke. If only Renjun knew how much it gets him hot under the collar. “I’m just a slave at your beck and call, you know. A well-paid one, but still. I'm at your mercy.”

“Nonsense. You’re more than that,” Mark replied automatically.

And there Renjun goes again, with his corporate slave jokes. Aside from the fact that thinking of Renjun as one of his company’s employees woke Mark up to the reality that Renjun was someone he met at work, the word slave just brought to mind something else entirely - images of Renjun, oxford shirt unbuttoned and hair disheveled, on his knees and nuzzling his nose at the front of Mark's dress slacks; or his wrists tied to Mark's swivel chair via two strategically placed neckties. It also didn't help when Renjun insisted on saying it with a low lilt in his voice, like it was something only Mark should ever know.

They resumed climbing up the stairs. Renjun gingerly took Mark’s file case and slipped it between his arm. “Don’t let anyone else hear you say that, Mark. Otherwise, all our hard-earned work building you up as the Director to end all Directors is just gonna go to waste. Those corporate emails don’t write themselves, okay,” he joked.

Mark, cursed with zero filter without some form of caffeine in the morning, said, “Well, they should hear it. You’re more. You’re everything.”

If Renjun heard him, he said nothing.

They reached the door to the office, ready to begin another day. He reached for the door, but Mark beat him to it by a half-second, opening it for him. It’s early in the morning and no one saw them, but still. Mark knew Renjun will have words.

And Renjun did, sighing in exasperation. Mark’s done this before whenever they come through the front door together. Not all the time, but significantly enough that Renjun has had to scold him about it, saying it could imply favoritism. 

Today though, Renjun’s smile was all sorts of fond. “Mark, this is another thing we’ve talked about… I already told you—“

“I could do things for you sometimes,” Mark cut him off. “You should just let me. That’s an executive order. If you need that signed, I’ll have it for you in five.”

“Oh, dishing out the executive orders now, are we? Should I be scared?” Renjun countered, smile growing wider. The hallway bulbs weren't flattering at all, a harsh, bright white that settled on the curves of Renjun’s cheeks. Mark still thought he looked impossibly pretty. He reassessed his earlier thought on Renjun’s angelic qualities.

Scratch that, start over; Renjun, in truth, must be unholy.

“After you.” Mark swept an arm towards the entrance.

Renjun tutted. “So chivalrous. I’ll have to draft your emails extra spicy today since I bet the IT guys are watching from the CCTVs.” He slanted his head a little towards the cameras on the upper left side of the wall. Coyly waved his fingers, blinked wide eyes, fluttered doe lashes. “Hey guys, don’t ruin Mr. Lee’s image, okay? I’ve worked so hard on beefing him up the past few weeks.”

“… I didn’t think of the IT guys,” Mark mumbled as they both walked inside. 

Renjun patted him on the arm, consoling. “There, there, boss. They’re all still scared of you,” he said, and the touch seared even through Mark’s dress shirt.

He couldn't be less concerned of his image if he tried. If he's being honest, it's more along the lines of ‘what if one of the IT guys sees Renjun’s little shy, wide-eyed act and begins developing a crush?'. It’s entirely possible. After all, it happened to him. Who’s to say others wouldn’t be so vulnerable?
 
.
 

The first text came just a few minutes after 10:30 PM.

Mark emerged out of a long meeting with Kun, one of his Account Directors who handled the more sensitive NGO accounts, and Lucas, Kun’s deputy, for a series of client presentations over the succeeding weeks. These were high-yield projects for the Agency, and they spent a good chunk of time identifying underperforming sectors in the client’s Marketing materials, remaking them, discarding whatever didn’t increase thought leadership or boost reputation, and reorienting the collaterals toward whatever did. Typical stakeholder mapping and audit work.

So Mark was pretty fucking tired. He glanced around Renjun’s area, seeing his messenger bag but not the man himself. He figured Renjun must be in the break room drinking another cup of his favorite jasmine tea, the ones which Mark secretly thought tasted like grass. Either that, or he was eating one of those cakes he liked from the cafe down the street. Well, they’ve both been awake for more than twelve hours now, so it was natural for Renjun to seek out one of his comfort foods. It’s one of the things about Renjun which baffled but endeared Mark even more; he’d have no qualms about spitting out prickly comments, but his choice of late-night sustenance was the reverse, either calming tea or sickeningly sweet dessert.

He’d given Renjun permission to go home a little around two hours ago, but Renjun had insisted on staying.

“What sort of EA would I be if I went home while my boss was still working?” Renjun said, shaking his head and waving Mark off. “It’s okay. I still have some reports to file, anyway. Might as well get them done now.”

“You’re way more hardworking than I am, seriously,” Mark praised. From chatting with Renjun over lunch and during coffee breaks, he’d found out Renjun had availed of financial aid throughout University, taking on a medley of part-time jobs to put himself through school. It was a far cry from Mark’s privileged upbringing and he admired Renjun all the more for it. “You could probably run this company in your sleep if you wanted to.”

“Pssh, please,” Renjun dismissed, though Mark saw his ears turning red. He bit back a smile; Renjun was too self-effacing in front of him. Everyone in the office knew Renjun was good at what he did, and because of that, he made Mark’s output even better than if he were to work by himself. “Who else could even dream up your ideas? I just re-word your emails and fix the financial reports. But the things you come up with? Your creativity? The way you instinctively know which Marketing strategy is best for which client? Only you could do that. Honestly, Mark. You’re pretty amazing yourself.”

And then Mark was the one with furious heat burning up his neck and onto his face. He coughed, tearing his gaze away. “I think I hear Kun calling,” he excused himself hastily, though Kun would never dare. Who in their right mind would call out the Managing Director for being late to an internal meeting?

He jerked back to the present when his phone buzzed with a notification. It was a text - or rather, a series of texts from Renjun - all coming in rapid succession.

Mark squinted at the screen, then nearly dropped it as surprise rippled through him. 

He had to sit down for this. He did, then read it again, doing a double-take. Then one more for good measure, because holy shit, was this—
 
Renjun Huang (EA):

hey, m! thanks for last night
still seeing stars from the fucking you gave me
jk cos no one actually sees stars unless it's a medical emergency lol
but yeah. you. me. you in me. hell yeah
up for a repeat tmrw?
 
Sirens rang in Mark's ears, chanting the phrase still seeing stars from the fucking you gave me like a broken record. Did Renjun just— 

The thought crossed his mind unbidden: who was Renjun fucking and why wasn't it Mark. Maybe Madame Bae wasn't a hack, if he could feel the tendrils of the little green monster slowly creeping around his heart.
 
Without thinking, Mark replied: you’re not working?

Barely twenty seconds later, one message popped up. When Mark checked, it was still from Renjun’s number: already done for the day. just waiting for my hot af boss to leave

Mark almost choked on air. With great composure, he texted back: hot af boss?

There was nothing for a few minutes. Just as Mark was about to put his phone down, the message app pinged again. And again. And again. Mark swiped his thumb over the screen, and his heart nearly stopped. 
 
yuuupppp uGGHHH he’s still so fcking hot
if only u saw him u'd know 
literally his entire face.....
so adorable it’s a crime against nations
but whatevr we’re not talking abt him
don’t u want a demo of my world-class technique……
the one i told u bout
hint: zero g reflex :’))))
can’t wait to suck that dick
even went commando today 
cos when i get home imma get naked in 2 secs 
and touch myself 
i mean
u know i think of my hot boss when i cum these days but
i could think of u :’)

 
At the last few messages, the reaction from Mark was almost instantaneous. He felt his blood flow south as he snapped straight up his seat. It was so violent a motion that he managed to bang his knees hard on the table. “Fuck!” he swore loudly, then clapped a hand over his mouth. A valiant effort, but it was too late. He heard footsteps coming down to his office.

Renjun opened the door, peering his head in the crack. He wore his reading glasses, eyes a little bleary and bangs falling over his eyes. He looked so goddamned sweet it drove Mark crazy. “Mark? Are you okay? Do you need anything?”

Mark must seem wild to Renjun, eyes wide, fists clenched by his side, entire body nearly vibrating with tension. His eyes flickered downward to Renjun’s crotch, the words ‘commando’ ringing in his stupid, stupid brain. Shit, shit, shit.

He was going to say it was nothing. Instead, voice coarse as sandpaper, the words out his mouth were: “Your phone. Renjun. Check… your phone.”

Renjun blinked owlishly, eyebrows scrunching together. “What?”

Mark could only point helplessly to Renjun’s phone, and then to his own phone on his desk. “I think you’re texting the wrong person.”

Renjun fell silent. Everything screeched to a halt. Multiple emotions flitted through Renjun's face: blankness, confusion, disbelief. It finally settled on horror as realization dawned on him, blood draining from his cheeks. They stared at each other, a long moment suspended in unspeakable shock. 

And heat?

“I—“ Renjun yanked his phone out his front pocket, rapidly scanning the screen. “But, the recipient headline— it’s. Oh. No. Oh, my god.”

“Renjun—“

“Mark, I’m so sorry. I must’ve been so tired, I haven’t been getting so much sleep lately. I know that’s no excuse but… I’m really sorry. I’ll… I’ll accept any disciplinary action necessary for the insubordination. Even termination,” Renjun rushed out in one long breath, speaking to the floor.

For the first time since they'd worked together, he couldn’t look Mark in the eye. All the blood seemed to have returned to his face, settling again on his cheeks, the tips of his ears, his neck, even his forearms which were speckled with tiny moles. Mark wanted to kiss all of them, but he swept the thought away because Renjun was looking so adorably flustered and embarrassed. He wanted nothing more than to reach out and pull him into his arms, tell him it was okay, and maybe run his fingers through Renjun's hair.

But not today, not when Renjun looked like he was about to go down on his knees for all the wrong reasons.

“Renjun, it's okay. No disciplinary measure necessary, c’mon. And of course I won't fire you. It was an accident. Happens to everyone,” he assured, though he was pretty sure this was one for the books.

He stopped himself from crossing the room and embracing Renjun. It’s still off-limits; Renjun was his assistant. He’s still working on getting them to another level, although admittedly, this did considerably speed things up. Now he knew for sure Renjun found him attractive. He was inwardly pleased that he wasn’t presuming meaning in Renjun’s smiles and subtly flirty one-liners.

“You know I won’t do that to you. We’re both tired, go home. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Renjun had all but nearly leapt across the room, stuttering his profuse thanks. “O-okay. Um, goodnight, Mark. I’ll see you tomorrow then. Thank you again—” 

Mark, half-curious and half-stewing in the beginnings of jealousy, blurted out, "Wait, Renjun. Before you leave... who were you texting?"

Renjun's eyes, normally a bright and clear brown, were rimmed just a tiny bit pink when he raised his head to meet Mark's stare.

Mark mentally slapped himself. He had no business seeking the answer to that one out, and he should've known better. He shook his head as he waved a dismissive hand. "Sorry, it's none of my business. I was just—"

He didn't expect Renjun to answer, albeit shakily. His voice grew steadier with each word as he regained himself. "He's - he's just one of my..."

Mark raised both eyebrows. "One of... your boyfriends?" Then hastened to add, "You don't have to answer, I didn't meant to assume." 

This was toeing the line, but Renjun had been open with him so far about being gay and having been in relationships, albeit all short-lived. Mark was likewise an open book, easily telling Renjun about his life, his family, his dreams of becoming a composer that he had to put on hold. Somehow, he felt he could be open with Renjun, and he was rewarded when Renjun would confide about his own life in turns.

Mark wondered sometimes what life would've been like if they met when they were a little younger. He's sure he would've taken taken the chance at the first instance and snapped Renjun up before anyone else could lay their hands on him. Renjun must've been a real heartbreaker even then, but he was even more so now, his confidence, charm, and beauty growing with age, knowledge, and experience. Mark wouldn't have it any other way. 

Renjun shook his head slowly. He tucked his lower lip between his teeth, a move that had Mark crossing his legs in response.

"No, not a boyfriend. Just... a hook-up. Nothing more. He has the same first name as you, sort of. Lee Minhyuk. It's entirely my fault for naming you just LMH in my contacts. He's also an LMH just with a number 2 tacked on somewhere and—“ Renjun closed his eyes, heaving a deep breath. "Sorry, I know it's stupid of me to try and explain. I don't even know why I'm telling you this."

Mark, for lack of anything to say, just nodded. "You don't need to. It was out of line of me to ask in the first place. I apologize. It's— fine. We're fine. You should go home and rest. Goodnight, Renjun.”  

Renjun shuffled back, hunched in on himself. He looked so small. Too small. Mark frowned; it didn't suit Renjun at all. Renjun was more radiant than anyone else in the office, could hold his head high knowing he did great work. Mark couldn't stand to see Renjun like this. 

"Bye, Mark," he'd said softly. Mark only watched as Renjun walked briskly to his desk to pick up his bag. He then beat a hasty retreat for the exit, and Mark was left all alone.

Mark leaned back in a daze. What the fuck just happened? 

When Mark went home that night, he thought he had his hard-on under control. However, the moment he sat on his bed and stared at his phone, imagining Renjun panting dirty and hot and desperate next to him—I think of you when I wanna come, he'd whisper brokenly—any hope for unrated dreams vanished into thin air.

He’s had this exact scenario play out in his mind’s eye before. It’s one of the many he’s imagined: it's the one where he’s alone in the office and Renjun goes straight up to him in his immaculately pressed dress shirt and trousers. He proceeds to sink down on his lap apropos of nothing, rolling his hips slowly in a way that captures how he’d move gracefully around the area no matter how in a rush he was, Mark watching him and trying not to let it show how mesmerized he was by his movements. There’s that beautiful little birthmark on his hand, of course, and Mark imagines nipping at it as Renjun grinds deliciously on his lap.

“Mark,” fantasy Renjun would whisper in that breathy voice that traveled straight to Mark’s cock without pause or fail, “I want you to destroy me. I can tell that you know how I like it. It’s amazing when it hurts a little bit.”

“Fuck,” Mark groaned, closing his eyes and getting lost in the sensation.

“But I know about you, too. I know how you watch me,” fantasy Renjun would continue, body arching as he braced his palms against Mark’s shoulders. “I know you think about me when you want to come so hard you see the fucking galaxy up your ceiling. I know you haven’t wanted anyone else in months because of me.”

His cock twitched to attention in record time. Jerking his sweatpants down to his thighs, he touched himself in quick strokes, coming to the thought of Renjun moaning sweetly in his ear.

He was well and truly fucked and he knew it.

Somehow he couldn’t find it in himself to care.