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It’s silent in the car. Mark stares out the window and Yukhei glares daggers at the tiny spatter of blood on the cuff of Mark’s shirt, despite being covered in red himself. Taeil wisely keeps his mouth shut and his eyes on the road, driving them in silence rather than asking how the meeting went. Given the blank look that Mark gave him when he stepped into the car, the knife he carried in with him conspicuously missing from its holster, and the fact that Yukhei looks like he’s just gone through a sprinkler of blood, Taeil can glean all the information he needs to know how badly things went.

Or so Mark hopes.

Mark isn’t in the mood to entertain questions and he knows that Yukhei isn’t going to make things easy for him when they get home. For someone who was created to be a single-minded, militaristic killing machine, he sure asks a lot of questions. Mark clenches his fist at the thought of that—at the thought of Yukhei being raised like that. Yukhei, unfortunately, seems to take that as a sign of physical pain and not unpleasant thoughts. 

“Mark, are you—” Yukhei starts, brows still drawn together.

“Yes.” The response is curt, the first word he’s spoken since they left that disaster of a meeting.

“Is he—”

“No.”

“Does this mean—”

“Yes.”

“Then why does—”

“Yukhei. Enough.” Mark tears his eyes away from the city outside the window, throwing Yukhei a look that gets him to quiet down. The ‘ we’ll have this discussion later’ goes unsaid. He doesn’t shrink into himself at Mark’s withering glance, but it’s damn close. Yukhei clenches his jaw, temple twitching as he crosses his arms. Mark knows why he’s so angry, but he has no intention of indulging that. There are more important things to worry about.

The rest of the ride is stiflingly silent, almost to the point where Mark wishes he’d just let Yukhei keep talking so something would fill the space. He absentmindedly picks at the ruined cuff of his silk shirt, flaking dried blood onto the floor. His lips draw into a thin line when Taeil deliberately doesn’t make eye contact with him in the mirror.

“Are you coming back to the house?” Mark asks as Taeil takes a turn onto a road hidden amongst the thick foliage. The question is directed at Yukhei, but Mark doesn’t turn his head from where he’s staring mindlessly out the window.

“Depends,” Yukhei replies, thinly veiled irritation soaking into his tone. “You gonna let me speak?”

Mark’s finger jerks against his thigh, searching for the comfort of a knife to hold onto before he remembers that it’s still sitting embedded in the neck of the man they’d had the meeting with today. He’ll get it back when Johnny finishes cleanup, but who knows how long that’ll take.

After all, he and Yukhei managed to make quite the mess this time around, though it was decidedly more Yukhei than him. Mark tends to pride himself in tidiness when it comes to these things. Yukhei has other priorities: his main goal is to get the job done however it needs to with occasional disregard to morals and general cleanliness.

“Mm,” Mark hums, noncommittal. He can almost feel how badly Yukhei wants to scoff, to snark back at Mark, but he doesn’t because he knows who Mark is. He knows what power Mark holds at the snap of his fingers, the amount of destruction he could wreak if angered. He’s already pushing it with the talking back, and he seems to realize this, sinking into his seat, silent once more.

It stays that way as they pull up to the front door of a looming mansion—some haughty, family place that Mark never really cared much for but lives in anyway because it’s tradition. Tradition is also a part of why he was groomed to take over his father’s position from a young age, but he wasn’t groomed to take over things so early. It hasn’t been the same since. Too many bad memories saturate these halls for him to ever truly call it home. It’s too quiet. Mark hates the silence.

Taeil steps out of the car first and opens the door for Mark to slip out, head bowed respectfully on the other side of the tinted, bulletproof glass. He does the same for Yukhei after a moment, but it’s more to keep Yukhei from getting more blood on the leather than it is out of propriety. He waits until Mark and Yukhei cross the threshold of the ornate double doors before he gets back in the car to drive away. There’s no need for him to stay, not when the most dangerous man on Mark’s payroll is walking inside the house with him.

Yukhei clearly doesn’t like how quiet Mark has been as they step inside, not with how Mark reminds him he hates the house in all its grandeur, seemingly devoid of life altogether. Their footsteps echo through the foyer, the rhythmic click of Valentino loafers bouncing between the polished hardwood floors and the high, chandeliered ceilings. No music turns on, no immediate chatting erupts, no Donghyuck or Jeno waits at the door to pester them about how things went. Mark’s brothers are gone at school for now, some fancy place abroad to get them away from this hellhole while Mark tries to settle the impending issues here down on his own.

Yukhei misses them, debatably more than Mark himself does, and it shows in the way his ears flatten to his head when Jeno’s not there to scratch behind them, in the way his shoulders slump when there isn’t a wild Donghyuck barreling into his arms, uncaring of how much dirt or grime or blood ends up on the young boy’s own front afterwards.

Mark’s just surprised that Yukhei decided to join him back here at all, especially without the presence of his brothers. Yukhei closes the door behind them, securing the lock before he follows Mark through the front hall, apprehension rolling off him in waves.

“You can go clean up.” Mark phrases it like a suggestion, but there’s no room for argument when he gestures for Yukhei to take the staircase while he continues into the kitchen. 

He knows Yukhei has left when he stops feeling the eyes boring into the back of his skull, and he can finally let his shoulders relax and his posture slump a bit. The tension bleeds out of his neck and back as he breathes a tired sigh. Mark takes his time, not something he can often do, and makes himself a cup of coffee as he moves to the couch in the next room, looking over the piles of documents and files spread across the wide table in front of him.

As he runs a hand over his face, Mark checks the time. He doesn’t know how long it’s been since he last got a proper night’s sleep, always having to stay on high alert despite having the most proficient bodyguard at his beck and call, quite literally. Donghyuck likes to joke that Mark’s going to work himself to death some day, and Mark doesn’t have the heart to tell him that he’s probably right, even if it’s not in the way he might think.

Mark pulls his phone out of his pocket, unlocking it and scrolling through his contacts, his thumb hovering over Jeno’s name before changing his mind and tossing his phone to the other side of the couch. The whole point of sending them away was so they wouldn’t get wrapped up in all of this. Hell, they don’t even know what Mark does. They’re smart enough to have drawn their own conclusions from the clues that are already there: oddity of their father’s passing, all of the “meetings” Mark goes to only to return with blood on his clothes, how he always has Yukhei around.

Yukhei.

All of Mark’s thoughts about him conflict with one another, his instincts and heart and mind all pulling him in different directions when it comes to Yukhei, and it frustrates him to no end. He has more sleepless nights over this than he cares to admit. Mark moves to take another drink of coffee before he realizes that there’s no more. He scowls into his empty mug and, unfortunately, that’s how Yukhei finds him.

“What did that mug ever do to you?”

Mark nearly jumps out of his fucking skin, whipping around to see Yukhei leaning against the doorway to the kitchen in all his muscled, golden, shirtless glory. Gone is the pressed white dress shirt tucked into crisp slacks. He’s traded that in for grey sweatpants slung low on his hips so his tail can wag freely above the waistband and a white, fluffy towel—matching his hair—slung around his shoulders. Nothing else inhibits Mark’s very clear view of every hard-earned muscle and scar on Yukhei’s body.

Mark suddenly decides he needs a long, cold shower.

“Nothing,” he dismisses, standing up, only now realizing that he hasn’t read a single word on the document that he has flipped to the fourth page in front of him. “I’ll be back.”

“Mark.” Yukhei catches him by the elbow when he tries to breeze by him. “Are we going to talk about what that was?”

“I’ll be back,” Mark repeats, staring Yukhei down until he lets go of Mark’s elbow of his own accord. His eyes follow Mark until he turns the corner around the baluster and heads upstairs. There are plenty of bathrooms in the house, so Mark could’ve easily showered at the same time Yukhei did, but he needs a little more time to sort out his head. Straighten out his thoughts from the crashing wave of Yukhei, Yukhei, Yukhei that overwhelms him whenever his bodyguard is within a six foot radius.

He snorts when he finds that Yukhei deliberately used Mark’s bathroom, his ensuite for Christ’s sake, for his shower instead of the one that’s closer to the room Yukhei occupies when he sleeps here. He knows Yukhei did it to annoy him, subtle payback for how much of an ass Mark’s been today, so he tries not to pay it any mind. He counts it as a point that at least he’s self-aware of how he’s been acting today, which is better than usual. Usually he just counts on Jeno to kindly clue him in on just exactly how bad his mood is in comparison to normal.

Ah, Jeno. The urge to call his brother hits again, harder this time, but a quick reach to his back pocket reminds him that his phone is still on the couch downstairs where he’d tossed it earlier. With nothing else to reasonably delay him, Mark starts to strip out of his clothes, but pauses when the silk of the button-down slides off his shoulder and he catches a glimpse of himself in the still-foggy bathroom mirror, its gilded edges dripping with condensation from Yukhei’s hot shower not too long ago.

Dark purple blooms across the curve of his shoulder and down to his bicep, mottled and dark in the shape of a harsh grip. Brows furrowed in worry, Mark shakes off the shirt entirely and grimaces when he sees a matching bruise on the opposite hip. The sensations of a few hours prior come filtering back into his mind. The ghost of those hands grabbing him, the memory of the barrel of the gun pressed to his temple, the echo of Yukhei’s enraged snarl: it all serves to make a shiver creep through his body uncomfortably. Mark wants to tear off his own skin in disgust at the mere memory.

All things considered, though, Mark supposes the man who touched him got what was coming to him at the end of the day, because he’s the one currently lying dead on the expensive, carpeted floor of some secluded so-called “safe house” with Mark’s knife sticking out of his throat, while Mark is still alive and breathing.

It doesn’t bring Mark joy to kill. He tries to avoid it at all costs, but sometimes the situation gives him no choice. He dreads to think what would’ve happened if Yukhei hadn’t been in there with him, but he knows it isn’t worth dwelling on. All that matters is that when he gets out of the shower, his hybrid guard dog will be waiting for him downstairs, and the thought brings a kind of warmth to his chest that Mark immediately tries to extinguish under the cold spray of the shower. For the record, it doesn’t work.

Skin slippery with water, Mark presses down gingerly on his hip, trying to gauge just how bad it is, and almost buckles. He hisses, holding himself up on the wall while the spike of pain fades back to numb under the freezing water. It’s worse than it looks, and the time it’ll take to heal is much longer to heal than what Mark can afford right now. He’s never been one to show weakness, and that isn’t about to start right now.

Contrary to what he wanted earlier, he doesn’t dawdle in the shower much. He just carefully cleans himself and gets out, dressing quickly in a clean, white shirt and jeans before deciding to throw a jacket over the top so it covers up his shoulder. The last thing he needs right now is an overprotective Yukhei—or at least, more overprotective than usual.

He fiddles with his necklace as he goes back downstairs, but drops it when he sees Yukhei restlessly pacing back and forth between the living room and the kitchen, jaw tensed and smooth, leather collar encircling his neck again. His ears don’t twitch in Mark’s direction, meaning that Yukhei is distracted enough by whatever is going on in his head that it overrules his powerful sense of hearing. A low growl rumbles in his chest and his brow furrows further, but he doesn’t stop pacing.

“What’s got you so irritated today?” Mark asks, crossing his arms. He tries not to take too much pride in the way Yukhei’s tail jumps at the sound of his voice, clearly surprised. He stops his strides and turns around, but won’t meet Mark’s eye.

“I just… I don’t like how they were looking at you,” Yukhei confesses, struggling with his words. Mark waits patiently for him to express himself. “It’s— it’s like you were just some piece of meat that they could devour and take everything from.”

“I know what they see me as,” Mark assures. “But that gives me the advantage in the end because they underestimate what I’m capable of.”

“But that advantage nearly cost you your life today, Mark!” Yukhei curls his hands around the back of one of the dining room chairs, knuckles turning white against the cherry oak. 

“I had things under control, I had anticip—”

“What? You anticipated that?” Yukhei scoffs, fuming. “My sole job is to protect you, but you’ve seemed rather keen on getting yourself killed lately. You’re of no use in resolving the turf wars if you’re dead. When are you going to understand that?”

“You’re being unfair about this,” Mark sighs.

“I’m being perfectly fair,” Yukhei rebukes, clenching and unclenching his fists around the chair. Hairline cracks start to weave their way out from beneath his palms, and Mark decides it’s time to intervene.

“Okay, maybe you’re right,” he starts, stepping forward to pry Yukhei’s fingers off of the chair before he actually breaks it. “Maybe I’ve been being a little reckless recently. I’ll try to be more careful in the future if you promise to stop leaving cracks in my furniture, okay?”

Yukhei is quiet for a long moment, but lets Mark gently take his hands off the chair, rubbing at his wrists carefully in the way that always gets Yukhei to relax. It works, and after a moment, Yukhei releases a long, slow breath from his nose.

“I just don’t understand why you didn’t let me tear them apart as soon as we walked in that room.” He shakes his head, squeezing his eyes shut. “Why I had to sit back and watch as they… fuck, I could smell what they wanted to do to you, Mark, it was—” Yukhei cuts himself off with some mix between a frustrated groan and a disgusted shiver. It’d be funnier if not for the grim context. “Maybe Johnny should start tagging along to these, for the intimidation factor at bare minimum if nothing else. You saw how badly we were outnumbered in there, Mark, two versus thirteen armed—”

“But we came out alive, didn’t we?” Mark only now registers that he’s still holding Yukhei’s hands. He drops them rather quickly, looking into Yukhei’s eyes resolutely. “We came out alive, I came out alive, thanks to you. I don’t need anyone else in there with me. I know what I’m doing when I just bring you.”

“You know what you’re doing when you dress like that? Jesus,” Yukhei sputters out an incredulous laugh, running a hand through his hair, ears perked up at attention. “I don’t think you realize how much attention you bring to yourself. You’re distracting enough to me as is, but having to make sure that everyone else keeps their hands to themselves is a lot to handle, and I couldn’t even manage that today…”

Yukhei goes on, but Mark stays stuck on his earlier comment. He frowns, not understanding exactly what Yukhei means by all of that, by what Mark’s clothes have to do with anything. It’s not even like he was wearing something particularly scandalous. Just a dark, silk button down tucked into equally dark jeans. The earrings and his father’s necklace were his only adornments, the latter of which he never takes off. For as much as it confuses him, Mark does have to admit that seeing Yukhei so damn affected by it gives him an unexpected sense of satisfaction.

Beneath that satisfaction is something much closer to concern bubbling up in his chest. Yukhei is clearly bothered by something else, and is covering it up by being overly concerned about Mark’s wellbeing. Granted, Mark could use some improvement in the self-care department, but Yukhei has never been this overbearing about it, more the type to gently persuade than to argue head-on. 

“Alright, what is going on with you?” Mark interrupts, making Yukhei stop in his metaphorical tracks, mouth still open from where he was mid-word. “It’s not like I haven’t put myself in danger at all before, but you’ve never reacted like this. There’s something else that’s bothering you.”

It’s not a question. They both know it, but Yukhei seems intent on ignoring it. He clenches his jaw again, biting his lip this time, incisors digging into the soft flesh. He only relaxes after a moment when he starts to speak, but there’s the calculated curl of his fists, the twitch of his ears, and the way he grits his teeth on occasion before carrying on and—

It clicks in Mark’s head finally. How could he not have noticed it sooner? A spike of irritation at himself grows in his throat, and he knows he couldn’t speak right now even if he wanted to. Yukhei starts pacing again, and Mark takes the opportunity to go wash his hands in the kitchen sink, feeling Yukhei’s questioning gaze on him all the while despite ranting on and on about the risks of Mark doing things like that again, and how he hated the condescending and predatory way that those men had been speaking to Mark, as if Mark wasn’t there to bear witness to the whole thing himself.

It’s almost funny how Yukhei doesn’t seem to notice just how terrifying his presence is, and how much worse it would be for Mark without him there, regardless of the number of other bodyguards Mark brings. He doesn’t seem to realize that he’s a tower of rippling muscles, armed with venom and fangs and genetically engineered instincts to kill without hesitation.

That being said, though, Mark can more than handle pigs like those on his own. He’s dealt with much worse and has come out unscathed, although most of those instances were pre-Yukhei. It’s not like he hasn’t been training his entire life to take over this position, and his combat skills speak loudly enough for that, everything else aside.

Mark traipses over to the living room, sitting down on the couch by the window, the one not obstructed by the coffee table with the piles and piles of documents Mark still has to sort through sooner rather than later. He can feel the headache coming on already, but he tries his best to push that down as he leans back into the cushions, spreading his legs comfortably.

Yukhei pauses in his pacing, silence rushing into the void that his footsteps leave behind and Mark watches in no shortness of amusement as Yukhei’s golden eyes trace up the line of Mark’s legs, tongue pressed against the back of his incisors. Mark’s always loved Yukhei’s the beautiful yellow-gold color of his irises and how he shows them so proudly, never hiding behind sunglasses or color-corrective contacts like Mark wants to do so much of the time. Like Jeno and Donghyuck have to do for their own safety.

“Sit,” Mark commands, gesturing to the space in front of him.

As always, Yukhei obeys. He seats himself in front of Mark, cross-legged on the floor in a way that makes him look almost juvenile, somehow lending him an added touch of the innocence Mark knows that Yukhei no longer has. The last bits of purity eroded away a long time ago, even before he stumbled into Mark’s life: back when he was fighting for himself on the streets as an abandoned, illegal hybrid, a failed experiment tossed out, an unwanted rogue. It’s almost a pity that they labeled Yukhei’s emotional capacity as a weakness, as something to be bred out of him with test tubes and modified DNA. But their efforts ultimately failed and Yukhei, for better or for worse, ended up in Kun’s territory. That’s where it all started, Mark supposes. With Kun.

Yukhei sticks his hands in his lap, gnawing on his lip as he peers up at Mark for instructions.

“Stop biting your lip,” Mark scolds, and Yukhei listens, releasing his bottom lip from the death grip his fangs have on it, looking like a scolded puppy—which, in a way of sorts, he kind of is. Mark scoots up to the edge of the couch and reaches forward, tucking his fingers between Yukhei’s throat and the rich leather of his collar to tug him closer, using enough force to make the breath catch in his throat. He has to hold back a smile as he moves his grip to Yukhei’s chin, tilting his head up to examine him.

Yukhei tends to forget that Mark is a lot stronger than he looks, and Mark is amused when his bodyguard, of all people, lets that fact slip his mind, because it means moments like this can happen, the humor of it all outweighing anything else. Just because he’s small in comparison to some of the men that work for him, like Yukhei and Johnny, doesn’t mean he can’t go toe-to-toe with them in sparring matches. He can, and often does so to keep himself in shape and his skills sharp.

Mark cups Yukhei’s jaw gently, stroking over the hard line of it with his thumbs, feeling the muscles unwind in his grip a bit before he speaks.

“Drop your jaw.”

“What?” The obedience doesn’t come immediately, but Yukhei doesn’t pull away, which is better than Mark was hoping for.

“Drop your jaw, Xuxi,” Mark repeats. “I’m not going to ask again.”

Yukhei’s tail thumps against the floor weakly at the use of the name, clearly displeased at how easily coerced he is into doing things when Mark uses it in that tone, but it’s the only sign of defense he can seem to muster.

There are very few things in this world that Yukhei is weak to and they are, in no particular order: Jeno’s ear scratches, ribeye steaks, Donghyuck’s hugs, and the use of that name. Mark uses it sparingly, and it’s all for selfish reasons. He doesn’t want other people to ever overhear it, partly because Yukhei told him that name and its history in confidence, yet mostly because he wants the name to hold the same amount of weight whenever he says it, and overusing it would make it less meaningful. Now, Mark won’t say he’d never abuse a power like this that was given to him, but with Yukhei, he could never bring himself to do it. There’s too much between them that’s just a little too fragile, like a glass of wine that’s halfway off the edge of the table: the slightest push and it’s sent crashing to the floor, shattering to pieces, crimson seeping across white marble.

Fragility in mind, Mark rubs careful circles onto the hinge of Yukhei’s jaw, coaxing it open gently. He meets Yukhei’s golden gaze evenly as he reaches in slowly to softly press the pad of his index finger to the point of one of his canines. In a flash, Yukhei’s hand is grasping at Mark’s wrist, tugging him away.

“It’s dangerous—” he starts, more concerned than angry, which is a step up.

“Your venom can’t hurt me,” Mark reminds him softly.

“But that doesn’t mean it can’t—”

“You won’t hurt me,” Mark assures, punctuating each word with a stroke against Yukhei’s jawline, enough confidence in his words for the both of them.

Yukhei swallows hard, looking between Mark’s eyes and his hand still caught in Yukhei’s grip. He fights with himself for a moment, but Mark stays still, continuing to rub Yukhei’s skin gingerly, waiting it out. Finger by finger, Yukhei slowly releases Mark’s wrist, and opens his mouth again. 

Mark smiles a little.

The tension softens out into something significantly more bearable as Mark slips a couple fingers just past Yukhei’s lips to massage his gums the way he’s seen Yukhei does when it bothers him like this. They’re more swollen than usual, tender and a little purple around his incisors, and Mark watches in equal parts amusement and interest as Yukhei’s eyes flutter shut, leaving himself in a vulnerable position. It’s not that Mark would take advantage of something like this, but it’s more because Yukhei deliberately tries to be alert and on guard around Mark, constantly reminded of his job as bodyguard. To see him so peaceful and relaxed, happy rumbling emanating from his chest as he relaxes his head into Mark’s palm, is something Mark’s never experienced, though he wouldn’t mind seeing it more often.

“Why are you so sore?” Mark asks quietly after a while, more to himself than anything. Yukhei tries to speak around Mark’s fingers anyway, though, and fails so hilariously that Mark laughs and withdraws his hands so he doesn’t slip and hurt him. “What was that?” he chuckles, but it dies off when he sees the frown Yukhei has donned. 

“I don’t know,” he replies softly, licking at the tip of Mark’s thumb that’s still resting on his lip. Mark moves his finger away and watches closely as he moves to nibble on his lips again, sharp white against plush peach, reminding of the stark difference between Yukhei’s teeth sinking into those men earlier—

“How long has it been since you’ve hunted?” Mark asks slowly, the reason finally taking form in his mind. It makes sense now. “Not on a mission, without the pressure of keeping me safe?”

“I don’t know?” Yukhei tilts his head to the side. “A couple of weeks at least, why— oh.”

“The excess venom is building up because you haven’t gotten a chance to get rid of it,” Mark speculates, snapping his fingers in understanding. “And even though you should’ve gotten rid of a decent chunk today, the adrenaline in your system overrode that and forced your body to create more venom out of what seemed like necessity.”

To be honest, it’s all unnecessary narration because Yukhei, of all people, knows. He just seems surprised because Mark knows too, like he hasn’t expected Mark to do research on his genetically modified origins, like he hasn’t expected Mark to be paying extraordinary close attention to Yukhei since the day they met.

“Okay, well can we go out then? Taeil’s just a call away.” Yukhei leans closer to rest his chin on Mark’s knee, peering up at him.

“You can’t go now, not with the turf wars going on. Normally I’d suggest that we head to Kun’s or Ten’s, but they’ve gotten into something of a lover’s spat, and you know how they get when we visit one of them when they’re not on good terms.” Mark groans, frustrated, falling back onto the couch further. He moves his clean hand to stroke behind one of Yukhei’s ears absently as his mind churns for solutions. “The Xiao and Dong territories are too high profile to be near right now, and given what just happened in the Kim’s terrain? Well that’s most definitely out…”

“Isn’t there another one?” Yukhei frowns. “Taeyong’s?”

Mark scowls darkly. “I would rather gouge out my own heart with a spoon before I would go to him for anything.”

“Well, got any prisoners to spare for yourself?” Yukhei tries to joke and turn the conversation in a different direction, but Mark’s gaze just turns sharp and cold.

“That’s not how I run things around here and you know it,” he snaps. “If it was, you’d still be lying dead on the floor of that warehouse where I found you.”

Contrary to implication, the memories of that day aren’t as bad as Mark lets on, but it gets his point across.





Out of everything Mark expected in his shipments for that sweltering summer day, a towering, white-haired, illegal hybrid experiment certainly wasn’t one of them. By the time they heard about it, there had already been a decent amount of damage done to the shipment, but they supposedly had the thing temporarily subdued, and Mark’s interest, suffice to say, was piqued.

“You have to work?” Donghyuck had whined as Mark slipped on his shoes, Jeno pouting tiredly over Donghyuck’s shoulder. “You promised to spend the whole day with us, Mark.”

“And I’ll be back home really soon,” he promised. “It’s just a little mishap at the office, but if you go back and start the pancakes now, I give you my word that I’ll be home in time to have breakfast with you.”

“Fine,” Donghyuck huffed, sticking out his pinky finger for Mark to shake, sealing the deal, “but you have to turn off your work phone for the day then.”

“I’ll put it on vibrate,” Mark compromised.

“Deal,” Jeno agreed, linking his pinky with Mark’s free hand. 

He told Johnny to hang around the house while he was gone, just to keep an eye on things until he returned. Doyoung followed him out of the house, opening the car door for him and Taeil hit the gas on Mark’s word.

Doyoung seemed to debate with himself for a while before finally speaking. “You’re still not going to tell them? It’s in their blood just as much as it’s in yours, you know.”

“I’m not wrapping my brothers up in this mess any more than I have to,” Mark said absently, not moving his gaze from the window. “It’s too soon.”

Doyoung hummed, and was quiet for the rest of the short journey to the warehouse. Fan in hand, Mark led the way into the building, now teeming with his own people, all certainly responding to the distress call sent out earlier that morning.

When Mark first saw him, he didn’t look that big or threatening: subdued down to his knees on the concrete floor, head bowed with a muzzle on his face, torn clothes soiled with dirt and blood. Four of Mark’s strongest subordinates held the heavy chains connected to the prisoner’s shackled wrists, and it wasn’t until he got closer that he noticed the shock collar adorning his neck. Despite all the restraints, precautions, and excess of weapons trained on the hybrid, there wasn’t a face in that warehouse that wasn’t wary.

There wasn’t a face that wasn’t wary, that is, except for Mark.

Mark tapped his fan against his chin thoughtfully as the crowd of people parted so he could step forward to get a closer look.

“Where was the shipment from?” he asked. There was a rumble of murmurs, but Mark waited patiently for the voice he needed to hear.

“It was supposedly a gift of good intentions from… Qian Kun,” Doyoung explained, snapping the clip on his board nervously, shifting his stance as he watched Mark begin to circle the hybrid. “He said he found it on the streets in his territory, some illegal hybrid project gone wrong.” Doyoung paused, swallowing. “He said you’d like it, though I can’t imagine why.”

The thing was that Doyoung could imagine why because he was one of the few people who knew of the kind of blood that ran through Mark’s veins, but he just didn’t know why Qian Kun of all people would have known that. Mark was stumped on the same page as Doyoung, but decided to pay more attention to that little detail later. Kun didn’t give gifts often without an ulterior motive, and although they’d been allies in the past, Mark wasn’t inclined to trust this present quite so easily.

“Did Kun say anything else?” Mark glanced over at Doyoung, only to be greeted with a shake of the head. “What about a name? Does he have one of those?”

“Not that we know of.”

An irritated snort came from the hybrid at that, and Mark hummed, dropping down to a crouch in front of him, but he didn’t meet Mark’s eyes, gaze still trained on the concrete between them. Mark used his fan to tilt his chin up so their gazes meet, gold eyes flashing with rebellion and fire unlike any Mark had seen in a long time. The intrigue from earlier gathers into something stronger, genuine fascination now tugging at every fiber of Mark’s being, wanting to know more, wanting to know everything.

“Can you speak?” Mark asked, tilting the hybrid’s head from side to side with the tip of his fan, analyzing.

“Yes,” a rough growl replied. Mark pressed his lips into a thin line at the tone.

“Do you have a name?”

“Many, yes.”

“What do you wish for me to call you?”

There was an uncomfortable pause, astonishment flickering across the hybrid’s face. For being as supposedly dangerous as he was, Mark found the man terribly easy to read. He was terrified of his future, above everything else, but he was defiant and headstrong, and with each second that passed, the more Mark realized that he wanted him .

“Yukhei,” the reply came eventually. “I go by Yukhei.”

“Alright, Yukhei,” Mark started, tapping the bottom of the chin with his fan once more, “if you keep from biting any of my subordinates, I’ll take you in. Clothe and feed and bathe you suitably. Give you a home.”

“But…?” Yukhei prompted, eyes narrowing. “What’s the catch?”

“You work for me,” Mark replied simply, shrugging. 

“...I don’t trust you,” Yukhei pointed out slowly, as if Mark wasn’t already perfectly aware of this.

“And I don’t trust you either, but I think we both need each other’s help.” Mark flicked a piece of imaginary lint off his shoulder. “You need a sanctuary, do you not? Somewhere safe. I can provide that.”

“What would you need my help for?” Yukhei shot back. As annoyed as he was, he seemed to be getting more comfortable. “What could you possibly want an abomination like me for?”

Mark wanted to snap at Yukhei for that, to tell him off for speaking about his kind in such a manner when Mark himself was part of it. They weren’t abominations, just different, equal parts lucky and unlucky in terms of their creation. Mark pursed his lips; if Yukhei was to be on his staff, his mindset about himself was going to have to change.

“I’m in need of a helping hand. Someone equal parts intelligence and muscles who is capable of following orders. A bodyguard with a brain, if you will,” Mark mused. “I think you’re just the man to fit the bill.”

“Man?” Yukhei startled like he’d never been called one before, which, Mark realized with no shortage of disgust, he probably hadn’t.

“Unless you say otherwise…?” Mark prompted, eyebrows raised.

“I—” Yukhei took a deep breath, throat straining against the tightness of his collar— “man. Yes. That’s me.”

Confidence picked up in his words as he continued to speak, becoming more comfortable despite the physical disadvantage he was at. He was no longer actively fighting against the restraints that held him down, and he wasn’t avoiding Mark’s eyes so much. Baby steps in the right direction, but Mark would take what he could.

“So do we have a deal, then?” Mark tapped the fan against his knee. “I don’t like to be kept waiting.”

Yukhei glowered. “Am I just supposed to take this in good faith that you’re speaking the truth?”

Mark debated giving him a point for thinking ahead, but he was already testing Mark’s limited patience for the day. Instead, Mark silently leaned closer, looking him straight in the eye. Yukhei must’ve seen what Mark was exhibiting: the one golden eye, proof of his own hybrid descendancy, the blood that ran through his veins that connected him to similar painful origins that Yukhei surely had.

He held out a hand in Doyoung’s direction, and a second later, a set of keys resided in his palm. Without breaking eye contact, Mark reached around the back of Yukhei’s neck, unlocking the shock collar with ease. He placed it on the ground between them, and motioned for the men and women holding his chains to let go. They comply with only a second of hesitation, and Mark unlocks the shackles from Yukhei’s wrist before sitting back on his haunches and watching him closely.

Yukhei’s bewilderment at the situation only grew, and Mark’s satisfaction with it. Flexing his fingers, Yukhei rubbed his now-unfettered wrists and cracked his knuckles, shifting into a more comfortable position. Doyoung’s anxiety was palpable from where Mark was crouched in front of Yukhei, but he paid it no mind. A leap of faith.

“I give you my word,” Mark promised, twirling his fan between his fingers as he awaited a response. Doyoung shifted uncomfortably just a few paces behind them, surely knowing how heavy that promise is, what it meant to Mark because of his father. Yukhei’s eyes flashed over Mark’s shoulder before returning to him.

After a beat, he asks, “What’s my alternative?”

“I give you right back over to Kun, and you never set foot anywhere in my territory ever again,” Mark answered.

Another pause. Mark could almost hear the gears turning in his head.

“You have yourself a deal, then,” Yukhei agreed.

“Wonderful.” Mark grinned as he stood quickly, clapping his hands together. The entire room snapped to attention, awaiting his next order. The feeling gave him a rush, still not quite used to the power he now held. “Take Yukhei back to the southern safe house, get him cleaned up and his wounds treated. I have prior commitments for the day, but I’ll be there tomorrow. Salvage as much of the shipment as possible and notify Doyoung of the losses, he’s in charge today. Oh, and—” Mark glanced over his shoulder at Yukhei, smile curving at the corner of his lips when he met his challenging gaze— “someone get that horrendous muzzle off of him, would you? That’s no way to treat a coworker.”





Yukhei shifts uncomfortably, bowing his head in a way reminiscent of the way it was that day, probably going through the same memories that Mark is. The trust didn’t come easily between them—years of push and pull and mistakes on both ends that overstepped painful boundaries—but it was worth it in the end when it came.

Mark sighs, petting his head apologetically. “I’ll go find you something to gnaw on that isn’t a part of your own body, yeah? I might still have some steak in the fridge—”

He moves to get up, but Yukhei keeps him there, chin digging into Mark’s knee uncomfortably, a hand reaching up to grip Mark’s opposite thigh. Yukhei’s eyes are alight with something Mark can’t place, something Mark isn’t sure if he likes yet or not. As the years had passed, Yukhei learned how to hide his emotions more effectively, becoming less of an open book at first glance. Doyoung says he learned it from Mark, and Mark despises how he still can’t find a good argument to refute that.

“Yukhei…” Mark starts, cautious, but not tentative. “What are you thinking?”

Yukhei doesn’t respond right away, just drumming his fingers lightly on the inside of Mark’s thigh, surely able to feel the way the muscles twitch beneath his touch. His canines still poke into his lips that have now curved into an unnervingly smug smile.

“Xuxi…” Mark warns, voice low. “Answer me.”

Yukhei full-out grins at that. “Can’t I just use you?”

“W—What?” Mark chokes on his own tongue, losing his composure. “Weren’t you the one who was worried about your teeth being dangerous not even five minutes ago?”

“You said it yourself that my venom can’t hurt you, and I know I had the last steak yesterday.” He shrugs, smile never dropping. “Just trying to be economic here.”

“Right, right,” Mark scoffs, “because sustainable solutions are the only reason you suggested that.” The more he thinks about it, though, the more viable of an option it seems. Mark’s immune to the deadly aspects of the venom, Yukhei needs a place to release, and Mark just wants Yukhei to stop being grumpy. It all works out, and Mark hates how he’s actually considering this. Never once in their years of companionship have they had to resort to this, and if Yukhei starts now, Mark knows he won’t want him to stop, and that’s what scares him so much.

“Oh, sure, there are other reasons,” Yukhei dismisses. “I just figured that was the one you’d most like to hear.”

“So there are other reasons now? I’m interested,” Mark says, leaning forward. “What are the other reasons? Please do share.”

“In alphabetical order—” Yukhei holds up five fingers— “I’m tired, it’s you, turf wars, you’re tired, and why not.” He ticks off each reason on a finger as he lists them, but Mark’s brain cuts out after the second reason, the static in his ears reigning supreme over the rest of his senses.

It’s you. There’s some implication there that Mark is missing, something that Yukhei’s clearly trying to hint at. It’s you. Of course, there’s the obvious solution, but Mark wants to rule that out right away because there’s no way there’s interest like that involved here. It’s you. Mark’s breathing stops because… what if there is? What if Yukhei does reciprocate the affection that’s bloomed in Mark’s chest for his bodyguard over their years together? Questions spiral until Mark’s out of his normal collected headspace.

Yukhei, oblivious to Mark’s crisis, murmurs the reasons to himself again, quieter and with a little frown on his face. He makes it through them again, determining that he’d listed them in the correct order, and perks up, looking at Mark eagerly. His tail wags a little on the ground behind him, eyes wide and sparkling, and Mark absolutely loathes how weak he is for Yukhei.

“Alright, fine,” Mark concedes, and Yukhei nearly yips in happiness, springing up to loom over Mark’s seated position on the couch. Mark doesn’t shrink back, long-since gotten over the mild unease that used to be a constant around Yukhei. Instead, he leans his head to the side, tugging down the collar of his shirt and shifting his necklace so the skin between his neck and the curve of his shoulder is free of blockage, bared for Yukhei to take.

It’s risky business, leaving himself so open and vulnerable like this. It’s not that Mark’s afraid that Yukhei will hurt him, it’s that he’s afraid he won’t want Yukhei to stop. He wills himself to calm down, the static in his ears to quiet and the tingling in his fingertips and toes to ebb so he can focus on not losing himself right now—on staying grounded in reality with Yukhei so close like this.

Yukhei leans forward, but pauses before he gets there, close enough for his breath to raise goosebumps on Mark’s skin. Yukhei’s ears twitch in the direction of some sound that Mark’s human hearing can’t make out.

“What is it?” Mark asks, turning his head to look at the way Yukhei’s eyes haven’t strayed from the skin there, the chain of the necklace falling back down to pool in the dip of his collarbone.

“Your heart’s beating really fast,” Yukhei observes, lips brushing Mark’s skin with every word. His eyes flick to Mark’s. “Why are you scared?”

“I’m not sca—” Mark starts, though the gasp that tears out of his throat when Yukhei’s teeth graze his shoulder cuts him off. Canines drag across the lines of muscles carefully, and Mark’s head falls back onto the couch cushions; he can’t watch this anymore.

“Hmm?” Yukhei hums low in his chest, a teasing smile molding to the jut of Mark’s collarbone, a careful hand sweeping his necklace back to the side before settling back on his thigh. “What were you trying to say?”

“You’re so full of yourself,” Mark scolds, staring at the ceiling. “Heart rates can accelerate for many different reasons, and no, I’m not going to list them alphabetically for you.”

Yukhei snickers at that and shuffles his feet closer, spreading Mark’s legs wider to accommodate his own. Mark angles his head away from Yukhei, trying to make things easier for him, but instead of the fangs he’s expecting to tear into his flesh, Yukhei plants a gentle kiss just under his ear, grazing the curved, silver earring there. 

Mark’s hand flies up, grasping onto Yukhei’s shoulder for stability as a shiver wracks his body. Yukhei chuckles, one hand curving around Mark’s waist while the other plants itself on Mark’s leg, long fingers just brushing the juncture between his hip and thigh. Mark, irritated, finds himself having to swallow back some embarrassing noise that threatens to creep its way out from between his lips.

“What are you so smug for?” Mark grumbles. “Just do it before I change my mind—”

Without any further warning, Yukhei sinks his teeth down into his trapezius, and Mark’s left scrambling, sinking his fingers into Yukhei’s back because fuck it hurts. Of course, he had expected this, but Mark has to bite his tongue to keep from crying out as his nerves sizzle with agony. Just as a tortured groan nearly comes through, the flare of pain recedes; in its place, a comforting warmth that Mark pinpoints as the natural sedative that works in tandem with the venom to keep the victim numb and compliant.

To Mark’s great delight, he finds that he’s significantly less immune to this, and it dulls the pain down to a low thrum in his shoulder, allowing him to relax the bruising grip he has on Yukhei’s back. His eyelids droop a bit, head lolling further to the side as he struggles to keep himself upright, the exhaustion that the caffeine had staved off temporarily now starting to leak through the cracks.

“Xuxi,” he murmurs, eyes fluttering shut. “That’s good, mmm, Xuxi.”

The next time Mark can muster up enough energy to think straight, Yukhei isn’t even biting him anymore. He’s just lapping at Mark’s skin, licking and sucking and probably bruising it all to high heaven. The problem is that now Mark can’t stop thinking about his lips: how plush and warm they are against his skin, how badly Mark craves a taste of them, how nice they’d feel on a few other choice locations of his body.

The breath catches in Mark’s throat when Yukhei’s lips curve into a sly smile against his skin before pulling back. There’s a bit of blood—Mark’s blood—at the corner of Yukhei’s mouth, and Mark reaches forward to wipe it away with the pad of his thumb before letting his arms fall back behind him. The jacket slides off his shoulders, pooling at his wrists as he blinks hard, meeting Yukhei’s gaze.

“So…?” Mark asks, trying to shake off the sluggishness that still overwhelms his system. “Better?”

“You bruise so easily,” Yukhei murmurs, thumbing across the tender skin, seemingly not having heard Mark’s question. Mark hisses at the touch, but doesn’t flinch away. “You look absolutely delicious right now,” he continues, eyes growing darker than Mark’s ever seen them. “I want to know if you bruise that well everywhere.”

That fucking does it for Mark; his patience snaps and he yanks Yukhei down into a searing kiss, drowsiness nowhere to be found in his body now that his lips are pressed against Yukhei’s plush ones. Yukhei flounders for a moment before responding, and relief floods Mark’s system—something he didn’t even know he was waiting for. Yukhei leans over Mark, kissing him back eagerly, edging on the side of desperate, caging in Mark’s smaller body with his own.

The tension that’s been building up for years now culminates with this: a hungry, desperate kiss that has Mark grappling for purchase on Yukhei’s back with both hands as a thigh slides between his own, large palms smoothing up and down his sides. Mark tips his head to keep up with Yukhei as he looms over Mark, a solid warmth pressed against him that sets the dimmed embers inside of him ablaze.

It’s everything Mark’s dreamed of and more.

Which means that, yes, he’s actually dreamed of this, but Yukhei doesn’t have to know that.

Despite that, Mark still wants more. He wants to feel all of Yukhei, he wants to have Yukhei feel all of him. They’re in unknown territory now, and Mark wants nothing more than to dive into the deep end with Yukhei, to bear himself for the taking for once instead. To have grown so much trust in a person that Mark is so willing to give himself up is equally terrifying and liberating, but one glance into Yukhei’s eyes when he pulls back dashes all lingering regrets.

Yukhei gives Mark a spit-slick gin before attacking Mark’s jawline and neck, only stopping nibbling his way across the skin when the neckline of Mark’s t-shirt gets in the way. He growls in annoyance, tugging at the hem of it while still in the midst of sucking a particularly harsh hickey onto Mark’s collarbone. Mark laughs a little, pushing Yukhei back far enough to put his hands up, arching his back off the couch cushion so Yukhei can tug both it and his jacket off in one smooth motion, tossing them over his shoulder.

Mark realizes his mistake a split second too late.

It’s only after his jacket hits the floor on the other side of the room that Mark remembers why he put it on in the first place, but Yukhei’s already seen it. Mark tries to move, to pull a hand up to cover the bruise on his shoulder, but Yukhei’s already there, yanking Mark’s palm away from where the purpled, tender skin is exposed. Yukhei’s eyes darken again, but not in a pleasant way.

“When I said I wanted to know if you bruise…” he trails off with a barely-contained snarl. “If that bastard wasn’t dead already, I’d rip the fingers off of his body one by one before tearing his heart straight out of his chest.”

His gaze has yet to leave the bruise, eyeing it with such unbridled anger that Mark’s half convinced Yukhei thinks he can glare it into submission, into healing on the spot out of sheer willpower. Even as Mark cups his jaw, turning his face away, his eyes refuse to stray. Yukhei’s fingers dance just over it, afraid to touch a bruise that wasn’t created by himself, afraid to hurt Mark, afraid that Mark will break.

“Xuxi,” Mark coaxes, pressing kisses along his jaw, at the corner of his mouth, just grazing Yukhei’s bottom lip. “Hey, Xuxi baby, look at me.”

The name does the trick again, and Yukhei drags his gaze back to Mark, who promptly distracts him with—what he only hopes is—an all-consuming kiss. Yukhei relaxes, the tension seeping out from his shoulders as he clutches Mark closer to himself.

Unfortunately, Yukhei grabs at Mark’s hip, right in the center of the other previously-hidden bruise that Yukhei hadn’t noticed yet. Mark hisses into Yukhei’s mouth, jerking in his grasp to relieve the pressure on the delicate skin. He barely gets a glance at the blaze in Yukhei’s eyes before he’s flat on his back, the couch beneath and Yukhei above. 

“I’m going to kill each and every one of them,” Yukhei rumbles, threatening in a way that Mark rarely ever sees him. He traces across the spotted patterns of the bruise with the pads of his fingers before leaning down to nose at it gently, lips grazing ever-so-carefully across the surface. A warm palm splays out across Mark’s sternum, and he isn’t sure if it serves to comfort or to keep him still when Yukhei bites him again, right in the center of the mottled purple handprint on his skin.

Mark has to bury his hands in Yukhei’s hair and squeeze his eyes shut until the venom kicks in and the pain subsides. He relaxes his muscles carefully, reveling more in the sensation of Yukhei’s mouth on his abdomen than the sedative in his system.

“Hmm, Xuxi?” Mark starts, scratching behind Yukhei’s ears in the way that makes a shiver wrack his body. 

“Mhmm?” Yukhei hums in response, licking around the new bite mark with lazy strokes of his tongue that make Mark burn with desire.

“Give me new ones,” he tries to order, but it comes out as something much closer to a breathy plea.

“What?” Yukhei glances up from where he’s hovering just over Mark’s navel, eyes dark and curious, tail wagging behind him, Mark’s fingers still carding through his hair.

Mark has to take a moment to find his voice again, “Give me new ones to cover up for the ones you don’t like. Compensate with your own. This—” Mark gestures vaguely to himself, to the entirety of his body— “is yours to do with as you please. Make me yours, Xuxi. Make me only yours.”

“Jesus, Mark,” Yukhei groans, head bowing down to rest on Mark’s stomach. “Do you have any idea what you do to me?”

Mark grins down at him, moving a knee to nudge against Yukhei’s front, satisfied with the moan that comes as a response, satisfied with the bulge his leg comes in contact with. “Yeah, I think I have a pretty good idea.”

A growl rips out of Yukhei’s throat at that, surprising them both, if the widening of Yukhei’s eyes is anything to go by. He ducks his head back down to the hard planes of Mark’s stomach, sucking bruises anywhere he can get his mouth. He licks a stripe in the divot of Mark’s hip, and Mark nearly loses it right there.

Yukhei must be able to feel the way Mark twitches in the confines of his jeans because he grins with a kind of smile that’s primal and dark, the kind that Mark’s so used to solely associating with Yukhei when he’s ripping people to shreds with his bare hands, the kind that makes other grown men quiver in fear. Not Mark, though. All Mark wants is for Yukhei to split him in half, but in a very different manner.

The button of Mark’s jeans pops open, and he snaps back to reality where Yukhei’s just about to rip the denim straight off of Mark’s legs to bury his face between them. Mark sits up, flattening a palm against Yukhei’s chest to get him to stop momentarily.

“We’re not doing this—”

“What?” Yukhei cuts him off with a distressed whine, looking so pitiful that Mark has to loop his fingers through Yukhei’s collar to pull him into another kiss to calm him down.

“If you’d let me finish,” Mark says pointedly. Yukhei averts his gaze. “We’re not doing this here.”  

“Oh,” Yukhei mumbles. Mark waits patiently for the information to settle in. “Oh!” He catches on with a blinding smile all of a sudden, and Mark just has to laugh, pressing his lips against Yukhei’s forehead.

Yukhei nips at Mark’s chest once more before scooping him up into his arms with terrifying ease so their chests are flush, jean-clad thighs squeezed against bare hips, unblemished arms looped around scarred shoulders, lean fingers buried in white hair and lips clashing once more.

Mark doesn’t even have to direct Yukhei where to go, finding he doesn’t mind the way they stumble through the halls, Yukhei taking his sweet time to press Mark up against every wall and column and doorway as if to christen the entire house. It’s kind of adorable, but Mark has to admit that he’s a little impatient by the time they make it up the stairs and to Mark’s bedroom.

Honestly, it’s more their bedroom at this point than it’s just Mark’s. Ever since the turf wars escalated and Yukhei ended up having to tuck an overworked, sleep-deprived Mark into bed one night by force and just never leaving, Yukhei’s own provisional bedroom has gone untouched. It’s been months of Yukhei curling himself around Mark’s back, arm slung over his hip and chin tucking his head in, keeping Mark from getting up in the middle of the night to work on the plans and treaties. It was originally under the pretense of being closer to keep Mark safe, but as the days passed and he never left, they both knew that lie couldn’t hold water.

They’ve never talked about it before, now that Mark thinks about it, but with the way Mark lets himself cuddle up to Yukhei, and the way that Yukhei pulls Mark closer to his chest, they’re both more than content to keep it this way. Even some of Yukhei’s clothes have started to sneak into Mark’s drawers, which Mark deems as fair game and wears around the house sometimes just to know that Yukhei’s eyes are on him in the oversized clothing.

And sure, maybe Mark knew somewhere inside that there was something more to their relationship that met the eye, but before today, it was never worth the risk to act upon such fleeting thoughts. Yukhei is Mark’s safe haven, someone he can talk to about any part of his life without worrying about him not understanding or putting him in any more danger, and Mark would give his own life before he’d give that up because he knows that at this point, he can’t live without it—without him.

Now that Yukhei is here, though, solid and warm and overwhelming as he pins Mark against the doorway to the bedroom with an unspoken, tender look in his eye, Mark’s suddenly willing to take that risk.

He wants every part of Yukhei in every way possible; he wants Yukhei to fill in the cracks that string out across his soul; he wants to take every broken part of himself and offer it up for Yukhei, finally baring himself in a way that he’s been so afraid to for years. He doesn’t particularly care how as long as it happens now.

Mark quickly finds that he has no more space for those thoughts—or any thoughts, for that matter—in his head as Yukhei presses impossibly closer. Mark, to his utter delight, finally finds decent enough friction to grind on Yukhei’s stupidly perfect abs, the drag of the denim between his legs riding the edge between pain and pleasure, just how he likes it. He gasps at the feeling, head falling back as he continues to roll his hips down against Yukhei, digging his nails into Yukhei’s back.

Yukhei doesn’t shake it away, instead welcoming the crescent marks that will surely appear on his back the moment Mark moves his hands. He nuzzles at Mark’s throat before biting down on the curve of it, much too high to be hidden with anything but a turtleneck—as if Mark is going to hide anything Yukhei decorates his skin with anyway.

Mark is so wrapped up in Yukhei that he doesn’t even notice they’re moving again until gravity shifts beneath him and suddenly he’s laying down on the bed, Yukhei hovering above him.

“Can I fuck you here, then?” Yukhei murmurs, ducking down to roll one of Mark’s nipples between his teeth. It’s taunting because Mark can’t think straight and Yukhei must know what he does to Mark because he doesn’t give him a break to answer.

“I, we—” Mark tumbles over his words as Yukhei palms at Mark’s cock, surely able to feel the way he’s already so hard beneath the layers of clothing. “Y-yeah, fuck, Xuxi, yeah you can.”

Yukhei sits up with a smile, bracketed between Mark’s legs, but Mark doesn’t want to sit back and wait. He pushes himself up and tugs at the waistband of Yukhei’s sweatpants to slide them down over his hips. Yukhei laughs a little at Mark’s blatant impatience, but helps Mark get him out of his clothes anyway, taking away both his pants and boxers in one go. 

“Your turn,” Yukhei declares, quirking an eyebrow before pushing Mark back down into the sheets before Mark can even get a look at Yukhei in all his naked glory, which is disappointing. Instead of mirroring Mark’s unabashed hunger to get Yukhei naked, Yukhei takes his time with Mark’s jeans. Slowly pulling the zipper down and raising Mark’s hips with one hand so he can shimmy the denim down, never once having his eyes leave Mark’s. It’s irritatingly hot, and even though Mark’s brain doesn’t quite know how to feel about it, his dick sure does. Mark groans in impatience when Yukhei hooks a finger beneath the waistband of Mark’s briefs, only to have it snap back against his skin sharply, and takes matters into his own hands.

Or he tries to. Yukhei doesn’t seem too keen on that happening when he keeps a palm splayed out on Mark’s chest to keep him down. Mark sucks in a breath as Yukhei suddenly yanks the briefs off in one quick motion, realizing that he’s just as bare as Yukhei is.

This is really happening, and Mark can’t seem to quite wrap his head around that.

Not even as Mark reaches forward to grasp Yukhei’s cock in his hand, strokes dry but firm, watching intently as Yukhei nearly buckles to the sheets, panting at the feeling of Mark’s palm on him like that. Not even as Yukhei pries Mark’s hand away to manhandle him to turn over on his stomach, leaving Mark to scramble up onto his hands and knees so he can turn his head back to watch Yukhei. Not even as Yukhei presses gentle kisses onto the backs of Mark’s thighs, interspersed with hickeys and bites that will make sitting down a little uncomfortable for the next few days.

It doesn’t quite seem real, something that Mark’s been hiding in his deepest, darkest thoughts for quite some time, actually coming to fruition. It feels like a dream still, watching Yukhei grin at Mark as he leans over him—warm, broad chest covering the entire expanse of Mark’s torso—to rummage in Mark’s bedside drawer, a triumphant little noise erupting from his mouth when he produces the little bottle of lube that Mark keeps in there.

“How’d you…?” Mark shakes his head, trying to piece his thoughts together. “Nevermind. I don’t want to know.”

Yukhei ignores that in favor of snapping the cap open. “You aren’t as quiet as you think you are.” He shrugs, and Mark is glad he’s no longer facing Yukhei because the blush he can feel erupt on his cheeks is furious.

Mark knows exactly what he’s referring to. Those times, as few and far between as they were, where the overwhelming stress had culminated in Mark fucking back onto his own lube-slicked fingers in the bedroom late at night before they started sharing a bed, had always been when he thought Yukhei had been asleep. He’d tried to keep his own voice in check, burying his face in a pillow or tucking his bottom lip between his teeth to restrain all the noises that threatened to spill from his lips.

Now that Mark thinks about it, Yukhei is trained to wake up at the slightest noise, to be on high alert at the drop of a pin two rooms away. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise to know that Yukhei and his enhanced hearing have unintentionally been eavesdropping on Mark’s nighttime escapades, but it does anyway. That doesn’t mean Mark likes the idea of it any less.

Mark’s ability to think drastically dwindles down to a bare minimum as Yukhei circles a slick finger around his rim, pressing kisses to the base of his spine.

“Are you sure?”

“God, yes,” Mark breathes, no more energy to actually follow through on the countless snarky replies that rest just on the tip of his tongue, deciding he cares much more about Yukhei getting inside him than anything else. “Please, Xuxi, I just— ohfuckohfuck yes.”

Yukhei does a wonderfully efficient job of reducing Mark to a babbling mess with no more than the use of a single finger, quickly followed by another two as Mark adjusts, spreading his legs farther and leaning on his elbows as his walls stretch to accommodate more. The feeling of Yukhei’s fingers inside of him is different than the feeling of his own, smaller ones, as well as different than how he’d imagined.

He knows how to quirk his fingers to make Mark’s thighs tremble; he knows exactly the right pace to set to Mark grapple at the bed for purchase, caught between wanting more and less stimulation at the same time; he knows exactly where to press kisses or nibble bites into Mark’s skin, making his toes curl and his breathing pick up. Yukhei is way too good at this for it to be his first time, and white hot jealousy twists in Mark’s gut when he realizes this. Granted, it’s not exactly like Mark’s a blushing virgin either, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.

“You open up so well, fuck,” Yukhei mutters in awe, leaning in to lick across the delicate skin of Mark’s perenium. “You’re doing so well, baby, c’mon, Mark.”

“Xuxi, Xuxi, just,” Mark pants, voice muffled by the sheets. “Just get in me, please!”  

Mark’s not exactly one to beg, and Yukhei knows this. He’s the type who doesn’t even have to open his mouth before he gets what he wants, and although he uses this power sparingly, he’s never once begged for anything. Mark highly considers doing it more often when it elicits the most delicious growl from Yukhei’s chest, and the fingers inside of him disappear in favor of something else pressing at his rim: something much more blunt, and a whole hell of a lot bigger.

There’s a moment where Mark thinks Yukhei isn’t going to fit, then Mark doesn’t think at all.

The world goes squiggly, like the whole bedroom has turned into a mirage from the summer heat that Mark knows is contained to the outdoors. By the time his vision straightens out, Yukhei’s hips are flush against his ass, and Mark has no air left in his lungs, all spare space in his body taken up by Yukhei. The image of Mark’s hand wrapped around Yukhei’s cock flashes in his brain, remembering just how big it had been to hold, how small his hand had looked in comparison. Now that’s inside of him, splitting him open, it makes Mark all kinds of warm.

Yukhei seems content to stay fully seated there for as long as necessary to let Mark adjust, the stretch hot and bordering on unbearable. Mark can feel the sweat beading at the back of his neck, his painfully hard cock leaking onto the sheets between his knees that Yukhei’s spreading wider with a couple nudges. His hands claw into the mattress as he tries to regain his grip on reality, fingers twisting into the sheets with a thread-count somewhere in the thousands that Mark’s sure will be absolutely ruined by the end of this. Not that he minds, of course.

He’s been waiting so long for the tension pulled tight between them to finally snap, and he’s not upset in the slightest that it’s culminated in this: in Yukhei buried balls-deep inside Mark as Mark loses his goddamn mind.

“Xuxi, move.” It’s an attempt at a command that comes out as something significantly closer to a whine. It does the trick, though, because Yukhei pulls out slowly before slamming back in, shifting Mark up the bed with the force of it. Mark cries out, curling his hands into fists around the headboard to keep himself steady as Yukhei sets a pace that drills into him brutally but painstakingly slow, as if relishing in each thrust. His huge hands wrap nearly entirely around the smallest point of Mark’s waist, controlling every movement and wiggle backward Mark tries to make with ease. It’s not like Mark is really trying, though. He’s more than content to just let Yukhei do what he pleases.

Huge hands plant themselves on either side of where Mark’s head is pressed into the pillows, and Yukhei bends himself over Mark’s back, his chest lined up neatly with Mark’s spine. It’s warm and comforting, the way Yukhei’s body covers him almost completely without once losing his rhythm. Lips press against the nape of his neck, the shell of his ear, ghosting over his earring to settle on the side of his throat. His teeth are bared, scraping against the delicate skin there dangerously, but Mark can only tilt his head to the side and give Yukhei better access.

Mark has never felt small before.

He’s had too much power at the tips of his fingers since the moment he was born to ever feel inferior. He’s never felt insignificant around the men and women that work for him, like Johnny and Joy who may physically tower over him, but the way they bow their heads when he passes by makes the whole illusion shatter. It’s a wonder what outward confidence and decent posture can do for intimidation.

But this is a whole new ballpark: feeling so tiny, caged beneath Yukhei’s broad shoulders and his wide hands and his big… well, everything. He’s never felt so small in his life and he absolutely loves it. He positively revels in the feeling, letting himself not be the biggest man in the room for once, letting someone else loom over him for a change, taking what they want while Mark can only give and give and give until his lungs go flat and his legs collapse, leaving Yukhei to hold Mark’s hips up on his own, face still buried in the sheets.

The world tilts again, and it takes Mark a moment to realize that it wasn’t just his brain making things up. Yukhei had wrapped an arm around Mark’s chest, pulling him up so they’re both kneeling, still back-to-chest. The angle is something new, pressing impossibly deeper inside, and Mark’s sure that if Yukhei wasn’t almost fully supporting him, he would’ve just collapsed, knees giving out beneath quivering thighs again.

Any semblance of a brain-to-mouth filter leaves him the moment Yukhei starts moving this time, dragging against Mark’s already sensitive insides, continuing his easy pace. Mark turns his head so he can look at Yukhei to see if he’s even a fraction of how wrecked Mark is, but he’s captured in a smooth kiss instead. All competitive thoughts evaporate between their mouths and how deep Yukhei drills inside of him.

“Xuxi, Xuxi, more,” Mark pleads against Yukhei’s lips. “Please, faster, I can take it, Xuxi…”

For a painful moment, Mark’s afraid his borderline-embarrassing words will go unheeded, Yukhei continuing to press kisses to Mark’s jawline and carry on the agonizing pace. Then, he speaks, voice low and gruff.

“Are you sure? I don’t know if you can handle it.” Yukhei ponders, almost musing to himself aloud as he nibbles at the tender skin just below Mark’s ear. There’s a pause before he adds on, “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“You won’t hurt me,” Mark assures, desperate and breathless but meaning every word. Yukhei pulls back to look him in the eye, stilling his hips so Mark can think straight and get his words to come out properly. “I trust you with my life, and I trust you with this. You just need to trust yourself.”

“I could never forgive myself if—” Yukhei looks away, unable to finish the thought, as if afraid to speak something into reality. Mark sighs, using a hand to make Yukhei face him again.

“The kind of pain you give me is the kind that I want. It’s the kind that feels good, Xuxi,” Mark says, taking Yukhei’s fingers in his own to press against the bruises littered across his collarbone. Yukhei hesitantly pushes into one of the blooming purple spots, and Mark’s knees really do buckle beneath him this time, falling back into Yukhei’s chest completely. Yukhei marvels at Mark’s reaction, contemplating something before nodding slowly.

“Okay…” he says. “Okay.”

“So what now?” Mark asks, wiggling his hips a little, all-too-aware that Yukhei is still buried to the hilt inside of him.

“This,” is all the warning Yukhei grants before he pulls out and the world blurs. Mark finds himself face up on the mattress a split second later, back pressed against the wrinkled sheets as Yukhei looms over him, kneeling between his spread legs. The overwhelming emptiness doesn’t last long because Yukhei’s guiding his cock back inside before Mark can even open his mouth to complain.

It’s different, now that Mark can see Yukhei with unmistakable clarity. Mark can just watch in delirious fascination as his small body takes everything that Yukhei has to give, filling him up inch by inch until Mark has to stop looking in favor of arching his back with a cry when Yukhei moves just right. He has one hand gripping the headboard again and the other reaches pitifully for Yukhei, grabbing for him despite being just out of reach.

In the end, Yukhei comes up with a better solution. Barely giving Mark time to adjust, Yukhei grabs hold of Mark’s calves and bends him in fucking half, knees by his ears, thighs pressed against his sides, Yukhei’s face now within kissing distance if Mark leans up just a little bit.

“Fuck, Mark—” Yukhei pants, squeezing his eyes shut.

“Ah, hah—” Mark meant to give a much more intelligent response, perhaps some witty comment about Yukhei’s overwhelmed state, but Mark himself can’t even get out any recognizable words in any of the languages he knows. Monosyllabic gasps are all he can manage as he tries to keep a hold on the reality around him that threatens to slip away. He loops his arms around the back of Yukhei’s neck to try and tug him downward, but his muscles are having trouble cooperating.

Yukhei, thankfully, seems to catch onto this and he kisses Mark again, this time dangerously sappy emotions slip past the desperation to mingle in their mouths. Yukhei’s hips mirror this, moving with more force and speed as he slowly loses his composure. Mark swears that if he were to look, he’d be able to see the imprint of Yukhei’s cock in his stomach, each thrust hitting just right.

Stamina is something Mark likes to pride himself on, but Yukhei seems determined to wear him down embarrassingly quickly. Between the angle his legs are bent at, the way Yukhei stretches him to the brink of what he can handle, and everything being so tight and hot and sloppy, Mark finds it increasingly difficult to hold on. The warmth pooling in the bottom of his stomach grows hotter, almost to the point of unbearable.

Mark’s saying things that he can’t quite understand, his Yukhei-addled brain just spouting a stream of senseless words in whatever language comes to mind first. He doesn’t know how much Yukhei can truly make sense of, but he at least seems to get the gist of Mark’s ramblings when he nibbles on the side of Mark’s neck and speeds up.

Some long, high, reedy sound echoes through the room and it takes Mark a delayed moment to realize it came from his own throat. He buries his face in Yukhei’s shoulder immediately, keeping his mouth focused on sucking bruises into the smooth skin there to avoid making noises like that again. Yukhei somehow manages to laugh, a low rumble vibrating between them while he continues to drill into Mark at a furious pace. His cock is hard, leaking onto his stomach, and Mark knows he’s close. If he could focus enough, he’d push his hips up to rut against Yukhei, but as it is, he can’t muster enough strength to do it. Instead, he makes do with digging his nails into the muscles of Yukhei’s back, raking down when Yukhei nails his prostate dead-on.

As if Yukhei knows what Mark was thinking, he pants out, “You close?” and shifts just a bit to hit at just the right angle to make Mark feel ten different kinds of overwhelmed at once. He clenches down on Yukhei, making him slow down as white stars dance across Mark’s field of vision.

“Xuxi, Xuxi,” Mark whines, head falling back. He can’t even give him a response to the question, instead just opting to breathe out his name in hopes that Yukhei will understand.

“C’mon,” Yukhei says, nearly out of breath, wrapping a hand around Mark’s flushed, neglected cock. “Come for me.”

Mark glances down to see how Yukhei’s palm nearly engulfs Mark’s own cock, and between that and the command, Mark can’t hold on. The world shatters into multicolored fractals around him, eyes losing focus as they roll up into his head. He cries out into Yukhei’s shoulder, teeth digging into the muscle there as spurts of cum hit the bottom of his chin, stringing out across his stomach and chest. Yukhei fucks him though the whole thing, never once stalling the rhythm of his hips against Mark’s ass or his hand around Mark’s cock, determined to help him ride it out.

When Mark can see straight again, fingers now tingling with receding numbness, Yukhei’s still hovering above him, not moving.

“You good?” he asks, uncharacteristically nervous.

Mark smiles at him, still a little out of it. “More than good.”

Yukhei leans down to press the gentlest of kisses to Mark’s lips. “I’m gonna pull out, okay?”

“Wait, what?” Mark nearly whacks his forehead onto Yukhei’s chin trying to sit up. “You haven’t finished yet.”

“I know,” Yukhei assures, pecking Mark’s forehead before sliding out carefully. Mark’s not to the point of oversensitivity yet, but it doesn’t make the sensation any more pleasant. While Yukhei’s still catching his breath, Mark takes the chance to straighten out his legs, running his hands up and down Yukhei’s sides to comfort him. The burn in the backs of his thighs subsides, but he knows he’s still going to be sore later.

“Can I…?” Mark asks, reaching forward to grasp Yukhei’s leaking cock with his hands, still marvelling at the sheer size and girth of it. The fact that that was in him not even a minute ago leaves Mark a little breathless, clenching around the gaping emptiness inside of him.

“Please,” Yukhei whimpers, nearly keeling over when Mark starts to pump, thumbing over the head with every stroke. It’s enormously satisfying to see Yukhei fall apart under his own hands, watching him struggle to stay upright and coherent as Mark jerks him off with almost unprecedented finesse. He digs a finger into the slit at the tip, using the other hand to fondle his balls, and that’s Yukhei’s breaking point.

Mark can feel Yukhei’s orgasm before it actually hits. His abs tighten up against Mark’s knuckles when he brushes by, a choked gasp of Mark’s name falls from his lips, every muscle in his body tenses up at once, his tail spasms on the bed behind him.

“That’s it, Xuxi,” Mark murmurs, lips grazing Yukhei’s chest.

Just like that, Yukhei comes with a drawn-out groan, spilling silken white all over Mark’s hands and wrists. His form trembles for a moment above Mark before collapsing to the side, out of breath but sated, a huge smile already back on his face as he looks over at Mark.

Mark, feeling rather coy all of a sudden, raises his hand to his mouth and licks Yukhei’s cum from his fingers one by one. It doesn’t taste all that great, but it’s all made worth it when Yukhei’s eyes darken and he yanks Mark in, kissing him slow and deep.

It doesn’t spiral into anything else, both of them too tired from both the sex and the earlier murder to worry about cleanup, much less a second round. Mark, personally, is more than content to just lay on Yukhei’s chest, tracing aimless patterns into his bicep while Yukhei cards his fingers through Mark’s hair.

“You’re thinking very loudly,” Yukhei says eventually, pressing a kiss to the top of Mark’s head. “What’s on your mind?”

“You,” Mark replies, propping his chin up on Yukhei’s sternum to look him in the eye. Yukhei sighs, folding his hands at the small of Mark’s back to hold him still.

“I’m serious,” Yukhei grumbles with a frown. Mark has to reach up to scratch behind one of his ears to get a smile to reappear, stroking his hair gently. He focuses on that sight of that—his fingers weaving in and out of Yukhei’s stark white hair—so he doesn’t have to make eye contact as he speaks.

“You know I don’t keep you around because you’re attractive, right?” Mark falters halfway through his words and has to clear his throat and try again. Yukhei doesn’t prompt or rush him, just rubs his thumbs into the dip of Mark’s spine and waits for him to continue. “Even when I gave you that deal when we first met, it had nothing to do with what you looked like on the outside. I cared more about what was on the inside, both because of your hybrid genes and that stupid fire in your eyes that was there when I first saw you.

“Mark, I—” Yukhei tries to interject, but Mark plows on, determined to get his thoughts out, and Yukhei can only fall silent in his wake.

“I like having you around because you’re strong and you’re funny and incredibly smart and an amazing listener and you get along with my brothers and the rest of my staff—we both know how hard Doyoung is to please—and the fact that you’re gorgeous just happens to come along with the package deal that’s you. That’s Yukhei. That’s my Xuxi.” 

Mark stops to take a breath, realizing only now that Yukhei’s been drawing little smiley faces into his skin this whole time. It makes him blush and giggle in a very un-Mark-like fashion, but it makes Yukhei grin in satisfaction so it’s worth it.

“I just…” Mark sighs, turning his head away as his smile fades. “I just don’t want you to think that this is some sort of a power trip for me, like I’m just using you for sex with nothing attached. I promise that’s not the case, Xuxi, I give you my word. However—” Mark hates spiraling, letting the ever-lingering negative thoughts get the best of him, but he really can’t help it. So he inhales deeply and carries on. “However I understand if you want to leave after this. You can take whatever you want, however much you want, and be on your way. I won’t bother you ever again if that’s what you choose.”

Yukhei is silent for a long moment after Mark finishes, fingers paused in the middle of the next invisible smiley, breathing deep and even. He’s thinking very hard about something, and Mark dreads what it may be. Yukhei opens his mouth and Mark braces himself for the worst.

“What if I can’t take away the one thing I want?” Yukhei asks, taking a hold of Mark’s chin and tipping it down so they can look at each other. Mark’s thoroughly confused by the response. Except for the house, which Mark knows Yukhei hates just about as much as Mark does, Yukhei could physically take any of Mark’s possessions with him if he were to leave—as much as the thought pains him to admit. All he has to do is ask, and Mark can make it happen with a single phone call.

“I don’t follow…” Mark murmurs, frowning.

“What if I already knew all of that, and I still want to stay here with you. Be by your side as your protector and… and maybe something more?” Yukhei’s eyes go wide, so adorably expectant. 

Mark feels something prick at the backs of his eyes. He blames it on the post-sex hormones.

“Really?” he whispers. “You’d— you’d want to stay with me?”

“Of course, I’ve been here for so long already.” Yukhei grins, leaning in to kiss Mark again, slow and tender in a way that they hadn’t been able to earlier. “You can’t get rid of me that easily.”

“Never hurts to try,” Mark jokes, laughing when Yukhei playfully nips at the line of his jaw for that comment.

“This does mean that you have to let me do my job, Mark. Regardless of our personal stance— actually, scratch that. Even more so because of our personal stance, you have to let me do my job, Mark. You have to let me protect you when the time calls for it, you have to let yourself step out of the line of fire when things go to shit so I can handle it without worrying about you so much.”

“But—”

“But nothing, Mark,” Yukhei says sternly. “I can protect myself, you know this. As much as you hate to see it this way, you’re the vulnerable one here. Stop worrying about keeping me safe because I promise I will be fine.”

“I—” Mark sucks up every bit of pride he can muster— “Okay. I’ll try and do better.”

“And that’s all I’m asking,” Yukhei promises, kissing the tip of Mark’s nose.

The next kisses they share are the sweetest of things, and Mark melts into Yukhei’s touch, letting himself really relax for the first time in God-knows-how-long. It’s a feeling that Mark really wouldn’t mind getting used to, and he makes a silent agreement to try to put himself in less danger, if not for his own sake, then for Yukhei’s, or his brothers’. Mark’s always found it easier to be selfless with the people he holds closest, but it only now occurs to him that maybe he’s been going at it the wrong way for quite some time.

“I love you, Mark,” Yukhei admits like it’s the easiest thing in the world, but Mark knows better than anyone that love can get someone killed in a world like theirs. “I have for a while.”

Yukhei looks so beautiful like this: eyes shining, lips stretched into a genuine smile, skin glowing in the early afternoon sunlight. Mark can’t help but think that, in this moment, after hearing Yukhei say those words, it’s all worth it.

It’s worth the bloodbaths, worth going against a lifetime supply of training that taught him how to not feel, worth the pain and exhaustion that have plagued him since the moment he was born, worth the loss, worth the risk. It’s a new feeling, to find out that something else’s worth—someone else’s worth—is greater than his own, and Mark revels in it.

Mark buries his face in Yukhei’s neck, blush surely sitting on his high cheekbones by now, mouthing that little three word phrase into the smooth skin there, but not saying it aloud. Yukhei hums, seeming to understand. He holds Mark closer.

“I love you,” he repeats, softer, pressing another kiss into Mark’s hair.One day, Mark will say it back, the feelings already there, burning brighter with every passing moment. For now, though, they’re happy, Mark’s happy, and he’s content with what he has for the first time in a while.