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i try to picture me without you (but i can't)

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"Hey," Jeongguk says when Taehyung picks up the call. Even though Taehyung saw him a couple hours earlier, he feels the jolt of anticipation tremor its way down his spine. Like he's back in high school, and the boy he has a secret crush on smiled at him, and Taehyung's youthful stomach erupted in butterflies. Jeongguk's smile comes more rarely, but the response is still the same.

It's been two weeks going on three since Taehyung first fell into bed with Jeon Jeongguk, the Republic of Korea's beloved London gold medalist and youngest champion. Two weeks since Taehyung's had that devilish mouth - the same mouth that endorses Innisfree sea salt cleansing foam - pressed against the back of his neck, panting out Taehyung's name with each thrust forward of his hips, Taehyung's groans muffled against the pillows by coincidence more so than design. He's never been able to hold onto the coherency to keep quiet, and Jeongguk, on his part, is always more than eager to milk that for all its worth. The stream of breathless, filthy words Jeongguk whispers against Taehyung's throat always does Taehyung in by the end.

Jeongguk's voice has become so deep and mature Taehyung can hardly reconcile it with the reedy voice that thanked his parents and his country for the honor, four years ago. Everyone's eyes has been trained on Jeongguk then - except Taehyung's, back when he had been much too excited that his best friend had medaled silver in men's gymnastics. (Who can blame him? It's not every day you become the best friend of an Olympic medalist.) Now, Taehyung thinks ruefully he should've paid more attention; just the sound of Jeongguk's words, cradled up against his ear, is enough to get him going a little. "Hey there," Taehyung said, drawing the vowels out round and slow as he stretches his arms over his head.

"Did I catch you at the end of a nap?" Jeongguk asks, his voice lilting a little at the end of his question. Taehyung adores that, the way unfriendly hottie Jeon Jeongguk gets coy with him. His initial standoffishness definitely doesn't stop the Russians at the end of the hall from asking him to join them whenever they bump into each other, but last time it'd happened, Jeongguk had jerked his chin at Taehyung and smirked. The universal sign for I'm taken tonight, sorry about that.

"Yeah," Taehyung says, and yawns again, feeling so incredibly comfortable. The sun went down probably less than an hour ago, the last rays of light casting long shadows of palm trees across the Olympic Village grounds, nestled on the outskirts of Rio.

He felt good during practice this morning, limber and warm, the tip of his épée striking exactly where he wanted it to. Technically speaking, he doesn't really need to get into gear anymore, at least for the next couple weeks; the gleaming bronze medal tucked safely in his suitcase until closing ceremony is proof of that. But he misses it when he doesn't fence, the drills so well integrated into his body he feels off the whole day if he neglects them.

He hears Jeongguk's breaths on the other side of the line, steady and even. "Come over," Jeongguk says abruptly. "You're free now, aren't you?"

"You have no sense of romance," Taehyung teases, and isn't sure whether he hears it correctly when the air seems to catch in Jeongguk's throat, just for a second before Jeongguk smoothes it back over again. He must've imagined it, Taehyung decides as he drags himself up out of bed, not too sad to leave his cocoon of warmth when he's got such a treat waiting for him in Ilha Grande. (Taehyung's been doing that a lot these days, tucking things into his imagination when he thinks Jeongguk might have just faltered, but so far Jimin's the only one who's noticed. It's easier when Taehyung keeps up the façade.)

"So you are? On your way, I mean," Jeongguk says. "I can't imagine what else you'd have on your plate now, Mr. Bronze Medalist."

"Very important things, Mr. Gold," Taehyung says loftily, trying out his latest new nickname for Jeongguk. This one makes him laugh and roll his eyes, but he'd blushed a little when Taehyung tested Jeonggukie on his tongue between kisses, which had been so cute Taehyung practically tackled him right then and there. The fact Jeongguk reciprocates little things like this only serves to make Taehyung's 3rd place victory all the sweeter.

The path between Ilha Trindade and Ilha Grande was long the first time Taehyung traversed it, but it feels shorter now, well worn, a shady walkway that Taehyung has taken multiple times now. He's still not entirely used to the opulence of Olympic Village, even though Jimin navigates the luxurious halls and endless training centers with the kind of unconscious ease that only comes from experience. Sometimes Taehyung worries he's behind, he's falling behind because Jimin's one Olympics up him and people actually know him, "Park Jimin, silver at London, right?" - but then he remembers they're in entirely different sports, Taehyung's on an amazing team he would trade for none other, and there's no good in comparing yourself especially to your best friend. And, he thinks to himself smugly, Jimin isn't the one on the way for a romp in the sheets with a total catch.

He takes the stairs to the second floor, down the hall to the right door. His heart is thudding against his ribcage a little and Taehyung's caught up in that strange mix of nerves and excitement, in the way Jeongguk always makes him feel when they're together, like there's something else swirling in the air between them.

"Jeongguk, I'm here," he calls, rapping on the door with his knuckles, already knowing how it looks when Jeongguk pulls the door open and yanks him inside, mouth hot and eager. Somewhere down the hall - probably closer, actually, from the sounds of it - is enjoying their afternoon with a round or two, too.

There's no reply. Strangely so, too, because Taehyung is well familiar with how anal Jeongguk is about the privacy of his room, and how he waits by the door when he knows in advance that Taehyung will be dropping by. When Taehyung tries the handle on the door, it works, to his surprise, and he pushes it open, walking into a blast of air conditioning because Jeongguk always likes it on the brink of frigid cold - Jimin's complained about their tacit war over the air conditioning control plenty of times.

The sounds are louder now, and it's like a bad dream, a nightmare, as Taehyung's mind slowly pieces the scene together: the blond hair half-pulled out of its ponytail, spilling down a slim back. The girl in Jeongguk's lap, Jeongguk's kiss-swollen lips and shirtless chest. The look in Jeongguk's eyes, when he props himself up on his elbows and meets Taehyung's eyes across the room and there's no hint of shock or surprise to see him there, seeing them like this. Just a heavy, terrible resignation.

"Fuck," Taehyung spits out even as she begins to twist around to see who interrupted them. He doesn't even know who she is - one of the Swedish divers, he guesses wildly, or maybe she's on the sailing team of an entirely different country - but the sight of her bra strap slipping off her shoulder, the other tangled in Jeongguk's fingers. It's enough. It's more than enough. Maybe Taehyung is a little airheaded, but he'd be a fucking idiot not to get the message when Jeongguk decides to blare it in his face.

What a fucking idiot. Taehyung barely manages to scramble out of the room, slamming the door behind him, and into the stairwell before the tears start rolling down his face.

Taehyung doesn't think it can feel worse than this, and then he and Jeongguk have that raging fall-out of a fight in the training center, and it can. It does. It really, really does. Until this week, Taehyung didn't think words could cut like that. He can only be grateful that épée individuals are long over, because every time he slides on his mask and takes his ready stance on the floor, Jeongguk's words keep echoing in the dark space of his head again.

“Are you kidding? You think relationships last in the Village? You want one with me? You think you’ll be happy?"

He's out of it, reflexes slow like his entire body is numb to the world, to the incoming saber jabbing at his throat. It isn't until the tip of one catches him straight to the chest and Taehyung stumbles back as the air rushes out his lungs, almost falling over if it weren't for the iron grip of his coach on his bicep. "Taehyung," the man says, and Taehyung looks up at him like he surfaced out of a pool and has so much chlorinated water logged in his ears he doesn't know which way is up. He hadn't even realized it when Coach stepped onto the training mats. "You're done for today. Go change."

"I - " Taehyung stammers, taking a step back to regain his balance, so his coach will release the grip he's still got on Taehyung's arm. He doesn't, which isn't particularly encouraging, because that means everyone can tell Taehyung's wobbling, far from his best today. "I can still - we just started - "

"See. It's not real."

Taehyung flinches reflexively at the words that had left him so cold, said in the voice that flushed him with a glowing, brilliant warmth only days ago. His coach isn't someone he can pull wool over the eyes of, and Taehyung finds himself tripping off the mats, mask shoved back under his elbow all too soon. When he goes to pick up his duffel bag from next to the team's benches, Taekwoon claps a hand on his shoulder, his eyes piercing, but he's mercifully silent and merely squeezes once before letting Taehyung go.

He wants to be grateful, he really does. Taehyung makes his way to the men's locker room, the sounds of his footsteps echoing in the high-ceiling space. It's empty - anyone with upcoming competitions is busy training, squeezing in those last repetitions, and everyone else is taking advantage of the Olympic Village's abundance of condoms, free alcohol, and hot bodies. It's a hard thing to balance before the scales tip heavily towards the latter, and Taehyung doesn't want to whine, much less burden Jimin with his heartsickness with the men's gymnastics competitions coming around fast.

No one is there to watch as Taehyung sits heavily on one of the benches, leaning back against the lockers even as one of the latches digs into his back. Now that he's alone, it's like the haze he's been drifting through over the past few days has thickened, pressing down on his limbs and making it hard to breathe. He doesn't even want to change out of his uniform.

This isn't like him. This isn't like Kim Taehyung at all.

"How about this, then? If you place tomorrow, you can do anything you want with me for a night."

One thing Jimin neglected to tell him about, Taehyung decides, isn't about the competitions or the training centers. It isn't even about the sex scene, which is beautifully, enthusiastically thriving beyond Taehyung's wildest imaginations - and he's got a particularly wild one.

It's about how it feels to be around people who get it, what it means to be an Olympian. How training has to come first, over everything else, at the most ungodly hours of the morning. How years of hard work pour into these four fleeting weeks. It has permeated into what he eats, how much he sleeps, until there is no such concept of free time. Taehyung has watched people like Kibum slow down, then eventually stop texting him to hit him up to hang out, because he was just too busy to make time for his high school best friends anymore. That was when he was only in the national circuits. And now he's gone from only having Jimin, who is gentle and understanding no matter what Taehyung tells him, to meeting possibly thousands of gorgeous, fellow Olympic athletes, all in one place.

To meeting Jeongguk, who gets what it feels like to step onto the floor and look up at someone who's been fighting for victory for so long and only thinks about beating you next for the next ten minutes. Jimin and his rings, his headstands and levers and twists, simply doesn't have that kind of external tension. Having someone who gets that, who gets the Olympics isn't a one-sided battle but one with yourself and your opponent, is more vital than Taehyung could've ever imagined.

It's just not the same with your teammates. At the end of Taehyung's post-victory night - an entire night of Jeongguk scrambling Taehyung's brains up with that voice and that body, those burning eyes - Taehyung rolled out of a wet spot on the hotel bed and into another. "Ugh," he said, looking up to find fond mirth in Jeongguk's gaze. "I vote we move to Jimin's bed."

"He'd never let me live it down, and I have to compete in two weeks," Jeongguk reminded him, and instead yanked Taehyung across both of the patches of dampness until he was practically lying on top of Jeongguk, propped up against warm, slightly sweaty skin. Nice. Very nice.

When Jeongguk looked at him that way, it made Taehyung consider telling Jimin that he wasn't seeing an American swimmer after all, but Jeongguk, yes, that Jeon Jeongguk. Yes, he might be having a more-than-a-fling with Jeon Jeongguk, isn't that crazy? "I didn't expect it," he said suddenly, the words drawn out of him after time and some proper distraction, "to be so scared while competing today."

"What do you mean?" Jeongguk asked, serious to match Taehyung in his rare moment of gravity. He drew his hand through Taehyung's hair, teasing the strands through his fingers absentmindedly, and offered a flicker of a smile when Taehyung leaned into the touch. It was a reflexive thing by then, lovely and familiar like the taste of Jeongguk's lips when they made out even with no intention of going all the way. If it hadn't felt so good, Taehyung would've known to worry at how hard and fast he had fallen.

"I don't know. I just looked at the other guy and our eyes met through the masks, and I was so nervous and afraid for a moment I thought I would explode from it," Taehyung said slowly. "I almost got hit in the first ten seconds because I let it take me off guard."

Jeongguk didn't laugh, or judge, nor did his hand slow. "That's normal for your first Games. You retaliated just fine, though. I saw you."

He still remembers it, the way the thrill Taehyung had felt when he remembered seeing Jeongguk in the stands, looking a little out of place out of awkwardness more than anything. "You did, you came to see me," Taehyung said, leaning forward for a kiss and it felt so good, so good. He'd be a liar if he said that Jeongguk's promise for the night wasn't solid motivation for him to do well enough to nab that bronze medal.

Taehyung's fencing performance has always been a mirror of how he's doing that day, which is something his coach is constantly trying to train out of him. He can't help it, though. He's not like Taekwoon and his other teammates. When he's riding high, pumped with adrenaline from excitement and - to be honest - sex as great as the sex he was having with Jeongguk, his épée does exactly as he pictures in his mind, as it had during his matches a week ago. And when something (like walking in on Jeongguk hooking up with someone else) happens, well. Today morning's practice is more than enough indication of that.

Another thing Jimin neglected to tell him is - you can win the medal. You can step off the arena floor and become Korea's next darling, but the match with yourself never ends. Taehyung wonders how many times Jimin has looked at his beautiful silver medal from 2012's London Games and wished it shone gold. Jimin has been dreaming of victory for as long as Taehyung has, probably longer, and pursues it with a single-minded focus.

Taehyung wonders why he's got a medal of his own to take home and still doesn't feel complete.

In the end, Taehyung allows himself the rest of the day to mope and wakes up determined to get himself out of the Village, out to explore Rio. He doesn't bother texting Jimin, who's probably flying among those rings again and again, and when one of the tall Italian water polo boys hits on him, Taehyung gives him as charming of a smile as he can make it and declines.

Today's a day all for himself. He's never made it past the Olympic Park cafes, where he and Jimin made late night pit stops sometimes that were a lot more successful after Taehyung got his hands on some real via Taekwoon. Now that he has nothing to do but hang around for the riot that the closing ceremony promises to be, Taehyung is more than able to while his day away in downtown Rio de Janeiro.

Past the magic that is Olympic Park, Rio doesn't look all too different from Seoul, those same-old skyscrapers in the distance reaching towards the sky. The streets downtown are charming, a new world of buildings bursting with color. He translates enough Portuguese into Korean on his phone to hope he's taking the right buses in the right directions, and whenever he stops by a street vendor's stall, he only has to make sure it's not too spicy - picante - before he obligingly hands over his real. When he gets lost, he just wanders aimlessly until he finds something vaguely familiar, smiling whenever someone recognizes his face. He knows one of his teammates went out with a French cyclist and texted the group chat with some restaurant recommendations, but it's been buried under requests for sparring practices at odd hours and incoming orgy announcements courtesy of Gwangsuk, who has a promiscuous knack for getting himself into these situations. Jinwoon keeps texting Taehyung and Hyunseong with winky face and kissy lips emoticons, because everyone already knows to give up on getting Taekwoon to join.

Jimin himself had told Taehyung multiple times to try an açai bowl or two, then refused to give any further details when Taehyung asked whether he'd gone into the city with anyone in particular. Probably with his own more-than-a-fling. Taehyung really, really hopes they're still together, or at least as together as you can possibly be with someone who's an Olympic athlete ready to fly home in a couple weeks. When he manages to locate a decent-looking juice bar offering açai bowls, he forks over the real for a to-go bowl and granola on the side and takes it down to the shoreline.

It's gorgeous, Taehyung hastening to finish his berry-filled treat even though it gives him brain freeze, so he has his hands free to hold his sandals as he steps into the foamy surf. The ocean breeze flutters through his hair, reminding him he probably needs to go for a trim; he's been neglecting it so long with training constantly at the forefront of his mind. The beaches of Brazil are so different from the rock and surf of Busan, that one time Jimin invited Taehyung to come down and spend a summer with him, post London. Before Rio.

Too easily, their lives are governed by the four weeks every four years, and all the time in between is suspended in a trap of looking forward and looking back. Ironic that Taehyung finds a moment to live in the present right in the middle of these four weeks, his first Olympic cycle but by no means his last. Coach is already talking about intensifying his workout regimen, aiming for the gold in men's épée individuals for 2020 Tokyo. Eye on the prize, gearing up for four more years of fencing until his head spins with it. But here, standing on the fine, white sands of Barra da Tijuca, Taehyung allows those grueling early mornings of training to stay in the future, where they belong.

"Beautiful, huh?" someone says to his right, slightly behind him, and Taehyung startles at the unexpected Korean after a full day of Portuguese flitting in one ear and out the other. A wave comes rolling in and soaks his rolled up pants up to his knee, and he bites out a curse under his breath as he scrambles back up the sandy bank.

It's Hakyeon, making his way down to meet Taehyung with his hands shoved into his pockets, and it's strange not seeing him in the Track and Field jersey and shorts Taehyung has come to associate him with. "Yeah, it really is," he replies, and looks out at the waters again so he doesn't have to examine the way Hakyeon is looking at him.

"It's no Korea, but it's something," Hakyeon says, and Taehyung recalls he's from Changwon, not far from the ocean shores himself. He really doesn't know much about Cha Hakyeon, besides the fact that he was the one who evicted Taehyung from his room on his first day in Rio, and that he's not a "hundred meter dash record setter," as Jimin mentioned, but he's close enough. There's enough gossip going on within the Korean fencing team alone to fill in the gaps, though, no matter how Taekwoon glares. According to the older members of the team, Hakyeon and Taekwoon have been having a more-than-a-fling for their past two Olympic Games. Taekwoon won't breathe a word of anything happening in between (or during, really) but Junghwan and Jinwoon swear up and down that they definitely meet up.

That knowledge makes Taehyung kind of want to ask Hakyeon about it, how they manage to do it when hot bods have been abound at Beijing and London and currently throughout Rio. They've never called themselves boyfriends before. Realistically speaking, he knows not everyone at the Games is involved with the hookup scene that inevitably comes with so many high-intensity, good-looking people enclosed in one space for a month. Jimin's mentioned it before, and Taehyung himself has certainly seen people calling or Facetiming their lovers back home. Some couples even compete at the Olympics together. Maybe it just takes more - both people wanting it, wanting to make it work.

When Taekwoon appears at the top of the path leading down to the beach where Taehyung and Hakyeon stand, casting his gaze around, it's certainly telling enough. He looks irritated when he finally spots Hakyeon, calling, "If you're going to disappear, maybe you should give me a head's up first."

"Don't glare! I just saw Taehyungie and couldn't help myself," Hakyeon shouts back, blowing him a kiss as Taekwoon crosses his arms despite the two bags he's carrying. They've evidently spent the day together, probably touring around downtown Rio as Taehyung has together, and the envy Taehyung felt considering Jimin and his bae doing the same aches in his chest once more.

The words How do you do it? rise to Taehyung's lips fast, setting his heart thudding in his chest, but he catches them barely in time. He barely knows Hakyeon, after all. Just seen him hanging around the fencing team practices after his warm-up laps, the hand Taekwoon has on the small of his back putting a surprisingly quiet delight for how loud Hakyeon always is into his eyes. Instead, he inches forward to get his toes wet again, moving as far away as he can without being impolite. The Atlantic Ocean looks the same as the Pacific, he's not too sure why he expected it to look anything different.

Taehyung's never been one to hold his words but it seems these days he's getting more than enough practice. Not telling Jimin about Jeongguk. Not talking to Jeongguk about what they are, what he wants them to be. Now holding back with Hakyeon.

"So, Taehyung," Hakyeon says, in the pocket of silence between waves crashing onto the sand. "How does it feel to win a medal at your first Games? Not everyone can say they accomplished that."

"It's good," he tries to say, as he's told everyone he ran into after his competition, but his mouth says instead, "It's all right, I guess. I don't know."

When he musters the courage to glance back, checking, Hakyeon's gaze is solid on him but not oppressively heavy, simply concerned. Taehyung's heard that Hakyeon is often mother hen to the younger members of the Track and Field team, nagging them to towel their heads dry after a shower so they don't catch a cold and pushing them forward when their times aren't as pretty as they'd like. It's a bit of a surprise to see that comforting wing extended towards him. "Yeah?" Hakyeon says, smiling wryly.

"I don't know," Taehyung says again, staring out at the sea. It's kind of hard to wrap his head around the idea of so much space, farther than the eye can see, extending out and out impossibly far until another continent rises out of the blue. Liking Jeongguk felt like this, kind of. An endlessness, a drowning, that Taehyung is fighting to keep his head high enough to keep breathing. In the end, a medal doesn't do much for floatation.

"That's fine," Hakyeon says. "That's just fine."

Taehyung remembers now, how Hakyeon hasn't medaled in his past Games. Hadn't expected to the first time around, really, and coming in devastatingly close the next time around. In two weeks, he'll face the track again and see whether his body will have what it takes to push past those last fractions of a second. Somehow, every Olympic athlete's song follows the same tune, swelling in crescendos at different times but always somehow drifting into that same minor key.

Behind them, they can hear the sounds of Taekwoon making his way down the slope to join them. Taehyung turns and watches as Taekwoon holds one of the bags out to Hakyeon, obviously not his own given the dazzlingly bright pattern, and Hakyeon tucks himself under his arm instead, laughing when Taekwoon flushes at such intimacy in front of his teammate. "Got tired of waiting, didn't you," Hakyeon says, and Taekwoon shrugs a shoulder. He doesn't say much, just fits an arm around Hakyeon's waist as Hakyeon extends a hand out to Taehyung. "Want to come back to the Village with us?"

Going back to the Village should be disappearing back into that glittering world high on adrenaline and fame, but for some reason, Taehyung feels he's like returning to reality. He takes a deep breath, sucking air down to his toes, like he does before fencing bouts. "Yeah, sure," he says.

He's not even the one competing, but Jimin's nerves are enough to have Taehyung's stomach anxiously somersaulting in a pale imitation of Jimin's routine. "You should eat more," he says anyways, when Jimin's spoon lingers over his breakfast for too long.

"Oh," Jimin says, rousing himself and obeying, but he's distracted, his mind clearly somewhere else even as Taehyung cracks every joke he has to try and pull him back to Earth. Around them, stocky and slender gymnasts jostle past with hard-boiled eggs, fruit shakes in hand. Sugars that will convert well into the bursts of energy Jimin will need when he's up on the rings. Taehyung doesn't know how he does it, competing with the knowledge that one precious minute can determine everything he's here for.

Even with the pressure mounting, though, Jimin has time to watch out for his best friend. "I know," Taehyung forces out when Jimin gently brushes off his words of encouragement, asks how he feels instead. "Of course." There's something strange about it, like he's being left behind when Jimin picks up his duffel bag and gives Taehyung a smile.

Taehyung tries to shake it off and shuffles into the audience stands of the arena, up front and close as always; he hasn't missed a single one of Jimin's big competitions since his best friend started taking gymnastics seriously. Down in the waiting area, Jimin looks so small compared to the Americans and Russians, listening seriously as Yoongi rapidly reels off last-minute advice.

This year, everyone's got their eye on the silver medalist from South Korea, that figure in black, white, and red. Defending champion Zanetti is pacing, bulging arms on his hips, and Jimin's told Taehyung enough times that this one's serious for Zanetti, he's Brazilian and we're going to be in Rio, Taehyung that even Taehyung is stressing out watching the athletes waiting to compete. In contrast, Jimin is sitting silently, staring as Bulgaria's Iordan Iovtchev rolls his shoulders back, reaching up for the rings as his coach steps onto the platform for the boost.

The first round is fast, and Jimin qualifies easy, the roar of the Koreans in the audience filling Taehyung with a fierce pride when Jimin jumps down from the platform, smiling sheepishly as Yoongi surges forward - no doubt with points to watch out for in the final round. People mill about before hastening to attention as the finalists start lining up again.

Taehyung's got his eyes fixed on the score boards overhead, LED lights blinking. China, Russia, Italy, Japan, then Korea, Park Jimin. When it's Jimin's turn, all too soon, Taehyung hollers and whoops so loudly everyone around him turns to stare, and those who recognize him laugh before quickly focusing as Yoongi, too, steps forward, then back, leaving Jimin all alone. On such a huge structure, Jimin looks even smaller, his face a picture of calm as he begins with his first handstand, muscles standing stark with the exertion as he holds himself for the right number of heartbeats. He barely trembles. Taehyung knows Yoongi feels it too, the strange air of peace that has settled around Jimin even as he slides beautifully into that tricky L-sit that gets him more times than it doesn't on some days.

When Jimin flips into the air for his finale, the double pike dismount he got knocked points off on at London, Taehyung is lured into the tension with everyone else, holding his breath. He knows how long Yoongi and Jimin argued over it, Jimin wanting to pick a new dismount because he couldn't bear the thought of screwing it up again at Rio. Yoongi pushed back, steely as always, pointing out how there was no way Jimin could learn another dismount in time to master it for Rio, how he knew - knows - Jimin can do it. Taehyung can't even begin to fathom how Yoongi feels as Jimin twists, soars, lands flawlessly.

It's perfect.

Taehyung shoots to his feet immediately, screaming himself hoarse, filled with energy in a way he hasn't felt in days but how can he think of anything else, how can he, when his best friend just pulled off what Taehyung knows is the best run-through ever of his routine. The scoreboard reflects it, too, Korea's Park Jimin sliding into the 1st place slot and staying there for the duration of the event, above Nakamura, above Silva, above everyone.

The crowd is inconsolable, and Taehyung cheers with all his might even as he fights his way down to meet Jimin on the stairs back up; he sees members of the audience draped in the flag of their country and crying, Jimin similarly wrapped up in exhilaration and pride as he bows his head to accept his gold. The gold he's been fighting for ever since he stepped down from the second tier at London.

Taehyung wakes up the next day with a raging headache, a strange bruise down his left obliques in the questionable shape of an Olympic medal, and only a vague recollection of what happened the day before.

After the men's artistic gymnastics event wrapped up, Jimin laughing tearfully when Taehyung hurled himself into his arms, it had just been one hazy boozefest. Jimin's gold and - after they stopped by Ilha Trindade to pick it up - Taehyung's bronze had been more than enough ticket into any hotel room or Village club they wanted, excited Olympians from all countries plying them with shot after shot. High off of Jimin's victory, they went all out, Taehyung laughing against Jimin's neck when the alcohol made him clingy.

He'd let the guy go when it got late though, knowing Jimin had places to be, people to see - or rather, a certain person to see. Taehyung didn't question it, knew he could live another day without knowing who Jimin was so hung up on. It's not like Jimin knew the reason why Taehyung was furiously avoiding the training center wing of the Village now; Jeongguk's practices will be ramping up as taekwondo approaches.

"Fuck," he groans to an empty room. Taekwoon isn't in, probably slept over at Hakyeon's room. If he gathers the brain cells to retrieve his phone from the other side of the room, where drunk Taehyung had sprinkled it around with his room key card, his bronze medal, and the contents of his wallet, he'd probably find Jinwoon announcing Hakyeon's roommate, Jonghwa, had been sexiled for the third night in a row. Thank God, too, because Taehyung is 120% sure he looks like he's been bulldozed by Satan, he feels so hungover.

His eyes feel sore, and his calves, for some reason. He remembers doing leg exercises at some point with a few tipsy Hondurans when they recognized him from the fencing events, and then Jimin had hopped over and tied Taehyung's medal around his head with a flourish, so the circle rested brightly on Taehyung's forehead to match Jimin's, and they hadn't been able to stop laughing at each other for a solid five minutes. That doesn't explain the way his eyeballs refuse to confront the light, though. Taehyung just hopes he didn't cry until late in the night, because that would be embarrassing if anyone remembered.

The blinds are closed, so maybe Taekwoon or whoever brought Taehyung home took pity on him. He kind of wants to get up to open them, but when he rolls over tentatively, his body protests almost as badly as it does after a full day of sparring drills.

One thing he does remember, but wishes he didn't, is the muddled pining for another body against his, intensifying every time Taehyung sloshed more hard liquor down his throat like the happy dumbass he was last night. Jimin had been a willing, giggly substitute for a while, occasionally tumbling off Taehyung's lap to bring back startlingly neon jello shots, but then he'd left the party and Taehyung had found himself not knowing what to do with his hands. Even though he'd been falling over everywhere, his sense of balance having peaced out for the night, Taehyung still knew enough to shake his head at inviting smiles, half-hooded eyes.

Now, in the cold light of morning (well, probably afternoon), Taehyung has to admit to himself that even then, he'd only wanted one person. Still does. And the reality of it is Jeongguk doesn't feel the same way.

He really is an idiot, he's seen proof of Jeongguk's lack of reciprocation and he's still so hung up over the guy. It's too miserable to be lying here, hungover as fuck and heartbroken, so Taehyung drags himself out of bed to drink an entire bottle of water in one go. His head spins too much to try and tidy up his wallet. After the world's longest, hottest shower and some oily, delicious room service, he at least feels more human.

By the time Jimin comes knocking, Taehyung's settled into polishing his foils and épées over and over again. The mindless task calms him, drawing on years of post-practice wind down routines, and he switches blades whenever his thoughts drift dangerously far. "Hey," Jimin says, knocking on the door frame out of habit more than anything, and Taehyung barely catches himself from tipping off the bed when he startles. "You look like you could use a friend."

His heart thunders pointlessly for a moment, and Taehyung swallows against the burn of pointless hope when he sees it's just Jimin. Why hasn't he figured out yet that there's no use in hoping? "Hey, champion," he manages, slipping his foil back into its casing so he can avoid meeting Jimin's eyes, even if for a few moments longer. “Thought you’d be too much of a busybody to come visit me after that win yesterday.”

Jimin comes inside, shutting the door with a click behind him; it had been still ajar from when Taehyung let himself outside for a few moments while his hair dried from the shower, propping his elbows on the balcony railing as he admired the sprawling view of the eleventh floor. Small pleasures and all that. "Yeah, I had to move so much stuff out of the way to come visit you," Jimin teases, and Taehyung automatically clears aside the uniform and miscellaneous pieces of gear scattered across his bed. He'd known better than to try and go practice with his hangover lurking, so this had been close enough. Jimin sprawls out next to him, nudging aside Taehyung's polishing sponge. “How are you? I haven’t had a chance to talk to you that much these days.”

His mouth almost pulls another fast one on him, like it had with Hakyeon. It takes all of Taehyung's remaining brain facilities to say, "I'm okay." He lifts and drops one shoulder in a shrug, makes sure to avoid Jimin's steady gaze. "In and out."

"Yeah?" Jimin says. Taehyung's always been crap at keeping secrets from Jimin, but the same goes vice versa. The radiant buoyancy that's been lifting Jimin up and up, to the rings and beyond, has somehow left him since Taehyung last saw him. He probably lacks the delicacy to say the right thing at the moment, but Taehyung knows his best friend, knows Jimin holds in his problems and tries to deal with them by himself.

Taehyung is in the middle of trying to figure out how to ask what's wrong without, like, actually saying those words, when Jimin's gaze moves to his face and lingers. "How's that American swimmer?"

His little white lie seems so far away now. The words stick in his throat, and Taehyung takes a moment before he forces something out, anything. "He, uh. We broke it off," Taehyung says, and that, at least, isn't a lie. "He moved on to bigger and better people, so to speak."

"Bigger than you?" Jimin asks, eyebrows raising, and any other day, Taehyung would be snorting at the allusion to his equipment.

Now, he just can't seem to muster the good humor. "You're very funny," he manages instead, aiming for dry and getting probably something around soggy. "But yeah, he did." He senses Jimin sitting up now, propping himself up on an elbow and looking at him, really looking at him. Taehyung tries to keep the words coming - maybe he'll hit on the right combination and Jimin will know to leave it alone. "I messed up. Not really his problem. And I’ll be fine."

"I'm sorry," Jimin says instead, and Taehyung yanks harder at the loose thread in his shorts without looking up, because he hates that he had to put words like that into Jimin's mouth. Condolences are so hard, and he's not used to hearing them. When Jimin pulls him close, though, Taehyung doesn't object, just snuggles closer. "I'm sorry. I'll beat him up."

Taehyung barks out a soft laugh at that, imagining lithe little Jimin squaring off with Jeongguk. If it were anyone else, Taehyung might believe Jimin had the upper body strength to take him, but Jeongguk literally fights for a living. He was best in the world at age 16. "You don't even know who he is," Taehyung says.

"I know more than you think," Jimin says, and - to Taehyung's mounting dread - continues in reply to Taehyung's grunt of disbelief. "Taller than me. Shorter than you. Kind of an asshole, sometimes, but doesn’t know what he’s doing, either. South Korea’s biggest CF sweetheart. Big eyes and bigger nose. He doesn’t swim. He’s not even American."

The breath stops itself in Taehyung's lungs, caught by disbelief. How long has Jimin possibly known? What gave it away? He doesn't even know when he and Jeongguk decided to keep whatever they were a secret. It was just the way Jeongguk carried himself, how his eyes shuttered closed whenever someone else was around. Taehyung never intended to keep the truth from Jimin in the first place. "How did you know?" he whispers when he finally gets his windpipe functioning again.

“The only things that get around faster than us in the Village,” Jimin says sagely, “are secrets that shouldn’t be told.”

Maybe the Olympic Village is less like freshman year of college, frat parties far and wide, and more like high school, with gossips at every corner. Taehyung doesn't have the heart to get mad at Jimin for invading his privacy or anything like that, though. He knows Jimin well enough that, while he's genuinely concerned, Taehyung's trainwreck of an Olympic love life is distraction from Jimin's own problems. He hopes that Jimin's (ex-)more-than-a-fling was gentler, at least. "You too, huh?"

"You're good," Jimin says, his voice soft and tired, really tired. Taehyung hasn't heard that kind of fatigue in Jimin's voice since the night after London. He didn't think he'd ever hear it again after the gold.

"I'm sorry," Taehyung says, on the other side of the condolences now and no less happier for it. He curls his arm around Jimin's waist, pulls him in even closer so they're cuddling more than anything. As sad as he was alone, holding it in to keep from burdening Jimin, he never wanted Jimin to join him. "Are you...going to talk to him?"

"I don't know," Jimin says, cheek pressed against Taehyung's shoulder. His words echo Taehyung's thoughts. "I'm not sure what I want."

A proper relationship. A whirlwind fling that ends with the Games. A one-night stand. Taehyung looked at Jeongguk and he wanted it, wanted something real so bad. In the end, Jeongguk was wrong, still - Taehyung wanted a relationship that would not only last in the Village, but beyond it, through the plane flight back to the other side of the planet and into the open arms of their country. Now, he can't even tell whether he wants to see Jeongguk ever again. "I know," he says. "I don't know what to do either."

Jimin is silent for a moment. "Well. If you do talk to him, good luck."

"Mhmm," Taehyung says, and presses his face against Jimin's hair, closes his eyes. Wishes that this, curled up with his best friend who unfailingly understands and sympathizes, was enough. "You too."

"Worst comes to worst," Jimin says, untangling an arm to reach up and pat Taehyung's head, "The last time we have to see them is at the closing ceremony. And then it’ll have all just been a bad dream.”

With more and more athletes wrapping up their events and seeking to either celebrate their wins or drown away their losses, Taehyung and Jimin have no difficulty finding a booming party scene to fling themselves into. It starts with mostly the Americans down the hall from Taehyung and his team in Ilha Trindade, soon joined by a cluster of Peruvians from the floor above and the occasional visitors. Taehyung sees Gwangsuk every once in a while, because that guy has the superpower to be everywhere at once when the parties start going down, and he's almost completely sure that was Hyunseong making out with a Romanian volleyball player. Wonders never cease.

Taehyung recalls Week 4 in pieces, mostly. Some of them worth remembering, some he'd rather be blacked out for. The Olympians give a new definition for partying hard, and if Taehyung thought the night after Jimin's gold medal win was wild, he's pushed to redefine that when he spends the next three days in a state of eternal drunkenness.

There's the middle of night one (maybe two) where a couple of the Peruvian runners stormed back into the trashed hotel room they'd ended up with, shouting about how they'd snagged a few handles from the Russians next door. Jimin, for some reason, hesitated when he sees the bottles even though Taehyung knew for a fact neither of them can read Russian for shit.

"Problem?" Taehyung called, wobbling forward a few steps to sling an arm around Jimin's shoulder. Last time he tried a similar movement, he sloshed half of his next shot down his forearm and almost let it happen when a gorgeous Pakistani weightlifter offered to lick it clean for him. In a couple more shots of this lovely peach-flavored magic in your mouth, Taehyung wouldn't even had said no anymore.

Jimin blinked and stared up at Taehyung, who could tell already that Jimin had started to get sloshed. Baby lightweight as always. "No, it's fine. Take a shot with me?"

He remembers later that night - Jimin floating off, drunk enough to cuddle one of the taller, broader Peruvians until the brink of sleep. Taehyung is the more heavyweight between the two of them, and even though one of the Americans had challenged him to match him shot for shot, he tried to keep an eye on Jimin. Jimin has never been the type to go for rebounds, and even though everyone in Olympic Village is a genetic jackpot, the last thing Taehyung wanted is to let Jimin pile on more regret.

The nice Peruvian took Jimin home to Ilha Grande, Jimin texting Taehyung a message full of puppy emojis when he got back safely. Taehyung gives himself one day to recuperate and love his liver, as Jimin sleeps off all the alcohol his tiny body consumed.

On the next day, Taehyung leaves the whirl of the parties on his own, the two shots he takes before he goes warming him from inside out as he hustles to the arena one more time. The moment he steps onto the stands, though, the flush of alcohol seems to get swallowed in cold anxiety. All around him are audience members abuzz in anticipation for the tournament. There's an open spot in the middle of the stands, discrete and hidden enough behind a crowd of reporters, so Taehyung takes it and watches as Jeongguk kneels and adjusts the fastenings on his footgear, the sensors flashing in preparation. His coach stands by with his helmet and trunk protector, and when Jeongguk looks up to ask him a question, he nods.

It's been so long since Taehyung's properly looked at him. His shoulders look so good in the dobok. Taehyung knows Jeongguk's got forearm and shin guards on underneath, and the trunk protector he puts on next would be bulky, but his movements are fluid and easy. As the youngest taekwondo champion and defender of the gold, the pressure must be immense.

Jeongguk's face gives away nothing but calm, seriousness. Taehyung thinks his gaze flicks up to the stands, around where Taehyung is sitting, and he holds his breath, wonders whether Jeongguk can see him - but how could that be, when Taehyung is sitting so far away? He's not entirely sure why he came to watch, but something tells him he would regret missing out, so here Taehyung is.

The referee calls Jeongguk and his opponent into the ring, and commands them to bow. There it is, the joonbi...shijak! announcing the start, the match clock lighting up. Jeongguk lunges forward immediately.

Taehyung keeps count by reflex as Jeongguk goes through his matches, flurries of movement within the tight ring. He's gotten better at watching taekwondo, in Taehyung's humble opinion, and Jeongguk's voice runs him through the scoring system now. One point for a valid attack on the trunk protector, three for a turning kick to the trunk protector or a valid kick to the head. Four for a turning kick to the head. Every attack must be accurate and powerful, enough to activate the sensors and register the points. There's been discussion, even, that the sport might not be continued in 2024, and Taehyung knows Jeongguk's got another layer of investment on the game - he's got to put on a good enough show to convince the world watching that taekwondo is just as worthy a spectator sport as the rest.

He's so caught up in it, he's one of the people surging to their feet in outrage when Jeongguk gets illegally pushed out of the ring, shouting, "Penalty!" The appropriate point is awarded, flashing onto the scoreboard, and Jeongguk takes his mouth guard out for a moment, working his jaw before sliding it back into place. If possible, his focus sharpens even more as he returns to the ring, inside the boundary lines.

Jeongguk is leading by an ample breadth of points, Taehyung's still counting, when Jeongguk executes a turning kick hard enough to knock his opponent straight out of the ring. The audience roars at the sight. As everyone rises to their feet again, waiting to hear whether it's been ruled valid, Taehyung takes the moment to take his leave, ducking through the people to the staircase. He already knows Jeongguk's in the clear, he's seen him practice that very kick so many times. It doesn't take an announcement for Taehyung to know Jeongguk's secured his second gold medal.

It's petty and he knows it, has to make himself walk away because Taehyung doesn't know what he'll do if he has to see the medal ceremony. He would've never wished for Jeongguk to fail, or lose, but seeing the air of calm around Jeongguk when he fought today, seeing him win as if Taehyung removed from his life didn't change a single thing - well, it kind of hurts.

"Where were you?" Jimin asks when Taehyung returns to the party, springing up and flinging his arms around Taehyung's, dangling there when Taehyung doesn't raise his arms fast enough to catch him.

Taehyung is so many shots behind. "Just stepped out for some air," he says, thankful that Jimin is too plastered to read too far into it. "Get me some alcy?"

Obligingly, Jimin manages to bring back a handle of vodka and the most humongous shot glasses Taehyung has ever set eyes on - no wonder Jimin is so far gone if he's been drinking from these monsters. Taehyung knocks back a couple fast enough that he doesn't have to taste it for too long before he joins Jimin in jumping around, dancing with the group they've informally pulled together over the past few parties.

It's still fun, even if Taehyung has to be beyond inebriated to stop thinking about the way Jeongguk looked up at the audience searchingly. Maybe he was looking for you, Taehyung's traitorous mind insists, and he goes for another round of shots because there's no way. He was probably looking for his family, if anything.

I can't do this for much longer, Taehyung realizes. Not the alcohol, not the partying with Jimin. But this - this constant pining, moping, waiting around even though he's been kicked to the curb already. Jeongguk has long made his feelings clear, his derisive laugh echoing in Taehyung's ears. He shouldn't have gone to watch Jeongguk's tournament today. He should have just let this whole thing go.

Taehyung is at the bedside dresser where a small army of alcohol handles have been amassed, musing over which will be his next poison. "Hey, cutie," someone says, looping an arm around his shoulders, and Taehyung immediately feels the weight of it, all the workouts and the protein powder shakes. He knows enough English for that, and looks up at - and the irony is killing him - one of the American swimmers who he'd seen around the night before, too. The swimmers and water polo players are always the fittest, and a silver medal gleams from this guy's chest.

"Hey," Taehyung says back. For a congregation of so many different countries, Taehyung always used to wonder about the endless language barrier - but the universality of pointing, gesturing, and smiling a lot has helped him make it all the way to the fourth week and counting. Luckily, Jimin actually whupped his ass through some proper English language classes when they were in college together, drinking themselves silly on the weekends much like they are now, actually. Just like the old days.

"What sport?" the guy asks, and points at one of the rectangular bottles. "Get the Jack Daniel's, it's real nice. Nabbed it from a club downstairs."

Taehyung isn't too big on whiskey, but he's also pretty damn drunk. He pours shots for both of them, and they clink their glasses amicably before tossing back the alcohol. "Fencing," he says in English, around the burn.

The American swimmer nods, his gaze blatantly flicking down to Taehyung's thighs before returning to Taehyung's face. "Sounds familiar. I think I've seen you in the winner's circle."

"Yeah, uh, I won bronze this year," Taehyung says. He gestures, a little too loosely, at his companion's silver. "Congratulations."

He gets a winning smile in reply, one clearly honed by years in front of cameras. Olympians always have such great camera smiles. "Thanks. You, too."

Taehyung's subjected to another once over, this one more deliberate, lingering. Jokes with Jimin aside, Taehyung knows his high-intensity training and conditioning has toned his body into sleek muscle. He's no Race Imboden, who hits near 50 hours of fencing training per week and 20 more in the gym, but he's hot. The fans he picked up in national circuits love his smile and his voice, and Jeongguk - nevermind, not him. When he meets the American swimmer's eyes, the guy gives him a slow smile.

Not far from Ilha Grande, Ilha Marajó is the closest of the buildings to the training centers, where the majority of the American swim teams are staying. When they pass the familiar arena, Taehyung has a moment of anxiety that he'll be seen, like this, someone else's hand curled tight around his wrist - then he remembers that people have been sighted having sex on the lawns outside and the balconies of the hotel rooms, and there's no one who matters to catch him anyways. No coaches or reporters are allowed past the Village's tight security, and he's got the coverage of night on his side.

When they get inside the lobby, two girls in the lap of a Spanish butterfly swimmer catcall at Taehyung's apparent hookup for the night. There's not much time for Taehyung to react as he's being ushered into the elevator, headed up for the eighth floor.

"You still with me?" he's asked.

Taehyung startles, looking up at the guy properly. He's definitely too far gone to remember this guy's name, and gives up trying after a few seconds, concentrating on standing upright instead. "Yeah. Yeah, sure."

The elevator dings and the doors slide open to reveal another party in full throttle. It's getting ridiculous by now, Taehyung decides, when he sees Gwangsuk in the throng, shirtless and being piggybacked down the hall by a laughing Zambian hurdler. Another American swimmer pounces on Taehyung's original guy, leaving a lipstick kiss on his cheek with a smack, and Taehyung himself is distracted by a much more familiar face that appears next to him. "Hey! Isn't it Kim Taehyung? Bronze medalist in fencing, I remember you."

"Yeah," Taehyung says, accepting the can of beer offered to him and opening it, because fuck it. Liquor before beer you're in the clear, or something like that. "You're Jin…?"

"Jin Hyosang, badminton doubles," Hyosang tells him cheerfully. He takes a swig of his own beer, and even though his eyes are bright, the way he's staggering around is telling enough. "I see you got yourself a nice catch."

Taehyung glances back at the American swimmer, who's watching him now, evidently waiting. He tried to wipe away the lipstick mark but a faint smudge of pink still remains. "I guess so."

"He's worth your time," Hyosang says with a knowing wink, before disappearing again into the group of people. Gwangsuk has disappeared in the short time Taehyung was talking to Hyosang - whether into someone's bed or onto the next party, he has no idea.

His hookup tugs him out of the party room and two rooms down the hall. It's kind of weird, like he's just another stop on this stranger's bender of one night stands to use up the condoms they'd been handed upon arrival at Olympic Village. Last night, Jin Hyosang, Korea, badminton. Tonight, Kim Taehyung, Korea, fencing.

They don't bother turning on the light. In the faint illumination of the moon, Taehyung can see clothes and swim trunks strewn across the floor and bed against the far wall, some open take-out boxes on the desk. When the guy leans in, he lets himself be kissed, opening his mouth to a new, unfamiliar taste. They're both drunk enough that it's sloppy, nothing stellar, and Taehyung just can't get into it.

"I'm really sorry," he says, when the guy tries to take off his shirt. "I don't think I can."

Objectively, this guy is gorgeous, far past a 10 out of 10 both in face and body, but Taehyung edges out of the cage of his arms and puts some space between them. His heart isn't racing as fast it should be, and the alcohol does nothing to help. Maybe he's just not meant for the hookup scene, he thinks ruefully. Making out with a nameless face is hard.

Thankfully, the American swimmer backs right off. Having such rich pickings just two doors down helps, of course, but when Taehyung pulls his clothes back into place, the guy leans against the wall with his arms folded across his chest, and says, "I could sorta tell you weren't that into it. All the best, yeah?"

"Yeah, thanks," Taehyung sighs. It's not weird when the guy puts his hand on Taehyung's shoulder for a moment, and Taehyung is grateful.

He takes himself back to Ilha Trindade, hopes Jimin isn't making bad life decisions. Knowing his best friend, Jimin's probably curled up in bed, preferably in his own in Ilha Grande. Taehyung has sobered enough to know that if he can get down two glasses of water when he gets home, tomorrow's hangover will be much kinder than last time's.

Taehyung stumbles in and finds, to his surprise, Taekwoon in bed with a low lamp on, reading a book. Taekwoon glances up, and says mildly, "Fun night?"

"You could say that," Taehyung says, and retrieves a gift card he'd missed the first time around when he was cleaning up after himself. He puts it down on the desk closest to his bags. "I don't think my liver will ever recover."

Taekwoon cracks a smile at that. "I left you water in the fridge."

"Thank you, you're the best," Taehyung says vehemently, pouncing for the fridge tucked away under the television. He drinks two bottles instead, even though he knows his bladder will not forgive him for this transgression tonight, and then showers off the party, the sweat, the touch of someone else's hands on his body. By the time Taehyung curls up in bed, he feels much more coherent.

For a few moments, the only sounds in the room in Taehyung's ears are the occasional, papery flip of pages as Taekwoon reads, and the sound of his own breathing. "Hey, Taekwoon?" he says out of the blue.

"Mmhmm?"

Taehyung isn't too sure where the words are coming from, just knows he wants to get them out there. "With - With Hakyeon. How do you guys work it out?"

Taekwoon's hands on his book still. "Our relationship, you mean?" Taekwoon answers softly, and when Taehyung risks a peek over his pillows, Taekwoon doesn't look mad or standoffish. Calm as always. Out of all his teammates, Coach points to Taekwoon as a model for inner peace whenever Taehyung struggles with it.

"Yeah," Taehyung says, fidgeting with his blankets.

Taekwoon sighs, and closes his book, putting it on the dresser between their hotel beds. "It's our third Games by now. There's one thing you have to understand, Taehyungie," and Taehyung blinks at the endearment, surprised but pleased. "And it's this. Right now, I don't know whether Hakyeon actually went to bed early tonight, or he simply told me that he did and is out having sex with someone else. But I trust him to have told me the truth."

"What if - what if you don't think you can trust them to tell the truth anymore?" Taehyung whispers. "Come over. You're free now, aren't you?"

"Trust is something that can be built and broken," Taekwoon says. "We're only human, though. I pushed Hakyeon away, during our first Games in Beijing. Told him I wasn't interested in him."

"You did?" Taehyung asks, voice rising incredulously. He's seen it, he's goddamn seen the way Taekwoon looks at Hakyeon, with an impossible fondness the guy only reserves for Coach's two-year-old daughter and Soonshimie, when Taehyung brings the puppy to practice. Taehyung has no doubt that's the way Taekwoon and Hakyeon have looked at each other since the beginning.

"I did. And even now, I won't let him call us...boyfriends. I don't think it's fair to him until our careers are over," Taekwoon says, his words heavy with something that's not quite regret, but close. He's sorry to Hakyeon. He's certain this is what he wants it to be like, but it makes him sad. "Maybe it makes me a selfish person, but I'd rather it be like this than nothing at all."

“Really? Name one. One. One relationship. That is happening right now, at this moment, in the Olympic Village.”

Taehyung had hesitated, thought about Jimin and whoever he was so head over heels for. Thought about Taekwoon and Hakyeon, the way they seemed to be dancing around each other even though they're right at home in each other's arms. He hadn't been sure, but he knows now, he knows how much Taekwoon loves him. How Hakyeon feels the same, even after all these years. And if that isn't enough to make it a relationship, Taehyung doesn't know what is.

"I don't think he'll want me enough to give it another chance," Taehyung says into the soft, quiet moment they'd settled into after Taekwoon's words. Out in the open like that, he's so scared, like he's staring across the mats at an unfamiliar mask, épée held out in front of his body in the ready position.

"You'll never know if you don't ask," Taekwoon says.

The closing ceremony is when the Olympics pulls out all the stops. It's a balmy night in Rio de Janeiro, and the official parts of the night are over, Taehyung and Jimin standing up against the stands to wave and make hearts at the Korean fans screaming their lungs out for them. Taehyung's always so happy to see them, because the flight from their home country to Brazil is not a short or cheap one. The support means a lot. He'll pay it back to them at Tokyo, in 2020, with a medal that's hopefully shinier than the one he won this time around.

When the last spectator files out, the coaches taking their leave as well, the athletes gear back up into party mode. Open bars are everywhere, men and women stripping down from their warm ups to sports bras, tank tops, and shorts.

On Taehyung's part, he takes it upon himself to find the biggest possible Korean flag in the arena, clambering over the fence to the audience areas to pull it out of the seats. It's enormous, sailing out behind him like a cape as he takes the staircase down by two's to rejoin Jimin in the arena. "Look, Jiminie, look!" he shouts, too happy to mind the heads that turn in their direction at the sound of his voice.

"You're making it drag on the floor," Jimin nags, picking it up off the ground where it drags on the floor, collecting confetti. He's smiling from ear to ear, though. Taehyung can tell that he's hyperaware of the gold gleaming on his chest, of the admiring gazes passing athletes shoot Jimin's way as they walk by in loud, chattering groups. It's about time people appreciated his kickass best friend, Taehyung thinks smugly.

Taehyung obligingly picks up the flag better, bunches of fabric flooding over his shoulders but no way enough to block his bronze. It takes a moment for him to find an opening for Taehyung to stuck his hand out when Jimin holds out his spoils from the open bar, a caipirinha cocktail, because it's about time they got turnt on some Brazilian mixed drinks. It's good, sugary sweet on the tongue with the bite of lime to follow.

"Jimin," he says, turning to his friend, but he sees Jimin a couple feet around, talking to the bronze medalist in Jimin's event - Silva from Chile, Taehyung is pretty sure that's right. The other athlete engulfs Jimin in a hug, and Taehyung decides to leave him to it.

He's not exactly sure where the rest of the fencing team is, probably with Gwangsuk as he charms free drinks out of the unfortunate bartender. There isn't anyone else he's looking to talk to, really. Taehyung draws the polyester fabric of the flag around him like an embrace even though it's so muggy and humid, and just stands there, eyes closed. Absorbing it all - the noise and the adrenaline, and the impossibility of this moment. Kim Taehyung, a boy who picked up a junior-level foil years ago and thought it'd be cool if he learned to fence. And hookups or not, Jeongguk or not, nothing can change that.

"Hey Taehyungie, this is Kibum. I called you twice last night because we were going to hang and you didn't show. Don't tell me you had fucking extra practice again, man, you spend more time fencing than you do anything else. It's not like you're going to the Olympics or anything, so come noraebang with us tomorrow."

But he did. He's here, at the Olympics, slated to go again in four years. And even though there were days where Taehyung wanted to do anything but head into the fencing training center, days where his mother looked at him with worried eyes and said, "Maybe this isn't for you?", he's here. This - Rio, the medal, the exhilaration - should be everything.

Instead, Taehyung nearly jumps out of his skin when he feels someone come up behind him and pick up the tail of his Korean flag cape where it's dragging again, too long. They hesitate for a moment, and then say softly, "Taehyung."

The music swells around them, incongruently happy, and Taehyung hates the way he would know that voice anywhere. It's crazy, because he only heard it for the first time a few weeks ago - curling around his name with unmistakable interest when Taehyung introduced himself, their hands in mid-handshake. Already, Taehyung loved the sound, a worrisome sign that was initially buried under his amazement at meeting Jeon Jeongguk, a face he'd seen on CFs everywhere around Seoul and held beloved in every household keeping up with the Games.

He should've known then. He should've known he would land a heartbreaker at his first Games, because that's just how Taehyung's luck likes to run. It's the hilarity of it all, really, how Taehyung didn't even get to try an orgy before he fell to Jeongguk.

But he's a big boy, and Kim Taehyung didn't make it to the Olympics by running away from his problems. He turns and meets Jeongguk's eyes, pulls out his best, best smile, and says, "Hi, Jeongguk."

Jeongguk is still holding onto the corner of flag, fingers worrying at the white fabric in his hand, but there's something about him that's almost terrifying, breathtaking, like the way he centers himself before a taekwondo match that he has no intention of walking away as loser. Having that kind of energy focused on him makes Taehyung dizzy, but he can't lose ground now. There is nothing to fight for. If he tells himself this enough times, he won't get his hopes up anymore, because he can't afford to let them crash down again.

"Taehyung," Jeongguk says again, and his voice nearly cracks under the weight of it. Taehyung can't reconcile the desperation in it with Jeongguk's lilting invitation, so awfully casual when he asked Taehyung to come over that day.

"Yeah," Taehyung says, faltering a little. He has to do this, but it's not easy; the day of the taekwondo tournament had been a long time since he'd seen Jeongguk at all, but it's been weeks since they've stood together like this, only a couple feet apart.

Jeongguk inhales, exhales frustratedly, and looks up at Taehyung's face, making Taehyung jump at the suddenness of it. "I am. I'm by no means perfect," he says, and the words come slow, difficult, like he has to push himself to say them out loud. It's so strange to see him struggle when everything physical comes to him so easily, but Taehyung knows how Jeongguk can't deal with feelings. He knows too well.

"It’s not something you want to hear, anyway, so I don’t understand why it kills you to stay oblivious since you’ve done so all this time - "

"I think - people forget that. Because they're so used to - to seeing me with Innisfree facial cream or whatever," Jeongguk says abruptly. "I've spent so many hours behind a camera in the last four years, I don't know what it's like to go a day without."

CF cameras, Taehyung thinks. Phone cameras of squealing high school girls that spot Jeongguk when he makes the brisk walk between his car and his apartment complex lobby, hurry away less from the bite of a winter wind and more from the scrutiny. And the training camera, filming Jeongguk again and again in practice, to see what stance can be perfected, what needs to be fixed about the turning kick that's so vital to his victories.

Taehyung's coach has always hated the word 'fix.' You improve. You grow. Fix implies something is wrong and broken.

Jeongguk takes a shuddering breath, and Taehyung can see it rise in his chest, rattle down. He's so tense he might snap in half if Taehyung could only muster the courage to touch him right now. His knuckles are nearly bone white from hard he's gripping the flag now, and Taehyung wishes he could reach out and touch the back of his hand, make him let go, because Jeongguk needs his hands so bad. "But with you, I didn't feel that way, ever, you know? Everyone knows who I am, or at least they think they do. They think they know Jeon Jeongguk, but to them, I'm just an Olympic athlete. A gold medalist. Someone who represents Korea."

He's wearing another gold medal, and Taehyung looks at it instead of at Jeongguk's face. Of course he was right. Of course Jeongguk won again. It hurts even more to actually see it and know he wasn't there to congratulate Jeongguk on the day of for his achievement. Taehyung is so tired of regret.

"And with you," Jeongguk continues, something in his voice making Taehyung bring his gaze back up to his, "I'm just a guy. You're not afraid to sass me, or tease me. I feel so much more when I'm with you and I'm not even fucking famous, or in front of a huge crowd, or anything like that." The words come faster now, spilling forth, and Taehyung finds himself holding his breath; the only thing in the way of his hanging onto Jeongguk's every word is the way his heart won't stop pounding in his ears. He has to have misheard, he can't be - this isn't -

Jeongguk laughs humorlessly and looks away, dragging a hand through his hair, which is damp again, like he just leapt out of the shower before the ceremony. He looks so gorgeous in his simple white t-shirt and sweatpants, Taehyung's chest aches harder than he's ever felt it. "You scare the shit out of me, Kim Taehyung. I couldn't handle it, so I did something unspeakable, and I'm so sorry."

Taehyung's vision blurs, and he's clutching the flag around himself now, like a security blanket. "You're the worst," he manages to get out.

At the sound of Taehyung's voice, Jeongguk snaps his head up to look at him, their eyes meeting, and it really shouldn't feel like this. It shouldn't feel like they're the only ones in a stadium that holds thousands, just recently held full to capacity. Increasingly tipsy athletes bustle around them without even realizing the moment bringing down - or up, dare he hope - Taehyung's world. If it wasn't real, Taehyung wouldn't feel like this at all.

"I know," Jeongguk says, and when he takes a step forward, reeling Taehyung in at the same time with his grip on the flag, Taehyung doesn't resist. "I know, I'm sorry. I've done something so horrible. Taehyung, in the end, you're the brave one here."

"I wanted something with you, maybe, something more."

"The worst," Taehyung repeats, pressing his forehead to Jeongguk's shoulder to hide the tears beginning to spill. Jeongguk wraps his arms around him and Taehyung doesn't understand how someone else can make him feel right at home, miles away from Korea, on the other side of the world. Even though he's crying his eyes out, body shaking with the force of his sobs, Taehyung feels better than he's felt in ages.

He doesn't know how long Jeongguk stands there, holding him, holding him so tight, the Korean flag a tangle of fabric between their bodies. The only thing he knows is this: Jeongguk pressing his face into Taehyung's hair, chest heaving against Taehyung's body. Holding each other so tightly Taehyung can't imagine letting go again.

Jeongguk whispering, "It's real. It's real. I'm scared shitless, Taehyung, but I'm right here, and it's real."

They've got less than twelve hours left in Olympic Village and Jeongguk is pressing Taehyung back onto his bedsheets.

"I missed you," Taehyung whispers, his voice hoarse from crying. Jeongguk shudders and kisses Taehyung's next words from his mouth, which is probably for the best, because Taehyung feels so raw right now he doesn't quite know what he'll say next.

When Jeongguk pulls back, his lips are wet and kiss-swollen in the way Taehyung likes it best, which is when he does it to Jeongguk himself. In the elevator on the way up to Jeongguk's floor, Jeongguk reached out and took Taehyung's hand in his own, intertwining their fingers between their bodies even though they were with a group of Serbians and Polish athletes. Taehyung had stared at their hands, then up at Jeongguk, who was looking away as if that could hide the blush spreading across his cheeks. But he didn't let go.

"Oh yeah," Taehyung says, Jeongguk making a noise of complaint when Taehyung draws back and kissing him again, hands smoothing under Taehyung's shirt and up his sides. "Jeongguk, listen."

"What," Jeongguk breathes, nipping at Taehyung's bottom lip. The sudden flash of pain takes him by surprise, Taehyung's hips jerking reflexively and grinding a little against Jeongguk's. Jeongguk makes a gratified noise in response. "Mmm. Are you sure it can't wait?"

"It can't, so listen to me," Taehyung says insistently, and fumbles to catch Jeongguk's wrists before his hands make it up to Taehyung's nipples, because he knows he's done for if Jeongguk gets him there. "Jimin found out about us. Like, before. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to tell him or anything but he figured it out."

Jeongguk pauses, looking at Taehyung's face. "You can tell anyone you want," he says, a little confused at the topic but matter-of-fact, like Taehyung was supposed to know this already. "Except, uh, the press or anything like that. I think my PR agent would strangle me if we didn't at least run it by her first."

"Your PR agent?" Taehyung echos. The incredulous laugh rises to his lips and won't be contained, and he pulls Jeongguk back in, kisses him hard. This can't possibly be his life right now - it's too good, tastes too sweet. Taehyung is floating on the surface of the ocean and even though night has already fallen, it feels like he's awash in the dazzling sun.

Jeongguk is more than on board for this new development, and this time, his attempt to get Taehyung's shirt off and his mouth on Taehyung's nipples is much more successful. Taehyung whimpers at how good it feels, how overwhelming it is to have Jeongguk glance up at his face for his reaction. He didn't think he could have this again. But Jeongguk is here, and it's real, and neither of them is going anywhere.

They're drunk off the taste of each other's mouths when Jeongguk pauses to slick up his fingers to stretch Taehyung open. Taehyung pushes at his shoulders until he hangs back enough for Taehyung to reverse their positions, climbing into his rightful place in Jeongguk's lap. "Hurry up," Taehyung says, propping his hands on on Jeongguk's chest after more kisses.

"Bossy," Jeongguk murmurs, sounding nothing but pleased about it, and he doesn't move his hand where Taehyung wants it until Taehyung kisses him again, tongues sliding hot against each other. It's tight, the stretch almost painful, when Jeongguk tests the first finger, but Taehyung just nods when Jeongguk asks if he's okay to go on. The ache is fine - that way he knows this is real, and not a dream.

Taehyung relaxes with time under Jeongguk's patient hands, Jeongguk kissing trails along Taehyung's jaw, down his throat, along his collarbones and leaving splotchy hickeys in his wake. He didn't like to mark Taehyung before, too paranoid they'd somehow be caught, but it seems now that he can, he doesn't know how to stop. "You got this," he breathes against Taehyung's neck as Taehyung groans, taking three fingers easy. Jeongguk's used so much lube Taehyung can feel it sliding down the insides of his thighs, making the most the obscene sounds as Jeongguk works his fingers working in and out of him. It's got him so turned on he can barely think around it.

"Please," Taehyung moans, desperate. Even after all this time, Jeongguk knows exactly what to do to press the right buttons of Taehyung's body.

Jeongguk presses another kiss to Taehyung's mouth, as if to tide him over momentarily, before he flings his arm out to snag a condom from his bedside drawer. There are more left than Taehyung expected. He offers it to Taehyung with a hint of a smirk, and Taehyung kisses the smug upturn of his lips even as he plucks the wrapper out of Jeongguk's fingers.

He's rewarded with Jeongguk's low moan when Taehyung wriggles back far enough to glove him up, working a hand up and down his length for a few strokes. "You tease," Jeongguk accuses playfully, reeling Taehyung back in for a kiss, hands confident and encouraging on Taehyung's open thighs.

"Says you," Taehyung says hotly, smarting a little from all the times Jeongguk lets his fingers skim over Taehyung's prostate without lingering. Still, he lets Jeongguk guide him back slowly, drinking in the sounds Jeongguk makes as Taehyung settles down onto his cock. They pause as Taehyung adjusts to the size of him, Jeongguk exhaling hard when Taehyung grinds down experimentally, working his way up to a rhythm.

Their bodies collide in the best of ways, Jeongguk's panting breaths ringing in Taehyung's ears alongside his own moans of Jeongguk's name with the occasional gasp when Jeongguk thrusts up just right. Taehyung rides him with all he's got, his thighs no stranger to sustained exercise, but Taehyung has been deprived of Jeongguk for long he can't get enough now. The drag of Jeongguk's cock inside of him, the way Jeongguk hisses out Taehyung's name and drives his hips up to meet him.

Jeongguk has enough of lying back on his elbows after a while, rolling them back over so he can press into Taehyung again, Taehyung wrapping his legs around Jeongguk's waist and whining encouragingly. As much as Taehyung tries to urge him on, though, Jeongguk slows, rolling his hips forward at a frustratingly unhurried pace. Taehyung opens his mouth to protest and Jeongguk dips forward, kissing him slow, slow, slow.

"You are so pretty," Jeongguk says throatily, reaching up to touch Taehyung's hair, his cheek almost reverently.

The compliment takes Taehyung by surprise, he can feel the blush spreading across his cheeks and he turns his face into Jeongguk's palm to hide it. "Jeongguk," he says when no other words come to mind. He must be quite a picture, rosy with the hickeys Jeongguk left standing stark against his skin and the flush to his cheeks.

"I just - " Jeongguk says, and shakes his head, folds his body over Taehyung's and snaps his hips forward quickly enough that Taehyung's back arches off the bed as he cries out. He drives the pace harder and Taehyung can't stop the whimpering moans, scrambling for purchase on the broad expanse of Jeongguk's muscular back.

With Jeongguk all around him, caging him in and catching his mouth with his own again and again, it's no wonder Taehyung is the first to come - this rush is something he's been searching for days on end to no avail, and now that he has this again, he's lost to it. Jeongguk barely touches him before Taehyung's gasping, trembling all over as his stomach is streaked with white.

Still, he has the coherency to lock his legs around Jeongguk's hips when Jeongguk starts to pull out, urging him to keep going. "Fuck, Taehyung," Jeongguk groans, and bends over him again, the renewed pace hard, almost bruising, as Jeongguk licks into his mouth again.

They kiss only for a few moments, panting each other's mouths more than anything, before Jeongguk buries his face against Taehyung's neck, hands tight on Taehyung's hips. It puts his face level to where Taehyung can see, to his surprise, the flash of an earring stud that had not been there when Taehyung was last in bed with Jeongguk. He flicks his tongue over one curiously, and to his surprise and delight, Jeongguk's breath catches and he comes, rhythm stuttering sloppily.

It's over so fast Taehyung needs a moment to catch up mentally, Jeongguk sprawling so he's half on top of Taehyung, their skin sticking from sweat. He pulls out but doesn't get up just yet to get rid of the condom, catching his breath. "When did this happen?" Taehyung asks, charmed, turning his head to examine the new silver piercing properly.

"Beginning of last week, maybe?" Jeongguk answers without moving, and there's something about the bone-deep, unguarded satisfaction in his voice that makes Taehyung want to blush again. He sounds content enough to drift off right then and there.

"It looks good," Taehyung says, and considers putting his mouth on it again. "Ah," he says when something occurs to him. "Bummer. Now I can't massage your earlobe anymore."

Jeongguk peeks up him now, propping himself on his elbow. "Ah," he repeats. "Well. You still can. When they heal enough for me to take the piercings back out."

"Oh my god, you're right," Taehyung says, perking right back up. Since Jeongguk is showing signs of active life again, he nudges Jeongguk out of the bed to dispose of the condom properly, giggling when Jeongguk practically hurls himself back into bed to snuggle.

He fits up against Jeongguk's side just right, pressing his face in the scoop between Jeongguk's neck and shoulder muscle like he was meant to rest there. Jeongguk tangles their legs together, then after a hesitant moment, their hands as well. Curled up together like this, Taehyung is so happy he could burst with it, but he goes with squeezing Jeongguk's hand in response instead.

Taehyung's almost drifted off, blissful and warm, when Jeongguk speaks up. "I didn't expect to be scared either," he says, so quiet Taehyung could've dreamed the words.

He didn't, though; Taehyung knows this because he felt the vibration of the sounds in Jeongguk's chest, the way they traveled through flesh and bone to reach Taehyung's. "What do you have to be scared about?"

"A lot of things, I guess," Jeongguk says. "Scared I did something so awful that there was no way you could ever forgive me again, even if you still liked me. Scared at how fast my - basically my first serious relationship was going. I never expected anything serious at the Games, you know?"

"Your first?" Taehyung says, a little too loud in his disbelief.

Jeongguk's blushing again, and Taehyung settles back down and kisses his cheek apologetically. "Technically yeah. I've never been with anyone but you. I was only 16 at London and you were my first hookup here, and any other times, I'm too busy training to think about anything else."

"But - but the girl - " Taehyung starts, then wants to snatch the words back out of the air, because it's just like him and his big mouth to bring up that night when they've finally, finally got it so good.

"Doesn't count," Jeongguk says awkwardly. "I couldn't get into it so I sent her away."

Taehyung looks at Jeongguk, really looks at him, and thinks about the American swimmer he'd turned down what was really a few days ago. Time passes so strangely in the Olympic Village - but if it's got the power to bring the two of them together, a fencer and a martial artist out of thousands scrambling to compete, then Taehyung has no complaints.

"Now there won't be anyone else," Taehyung says, and the smile Jeongguk gives him in reply is worth more than any medal.

The various Korean teams - fencing and taekwondo and gymnastics, of course, but they've got archers, the rest of the martial arts team, wrestlers, and more - come together to create quite the impressive sight, a crowd of white and black warmups with red lining walking through Galeão International Airport. All together, they're big enough in number to dominate the planes headed home to Seoul.

Taehyung and Jeongguk sit together in the boarding area, talking softly. They'd fallen asleep together, curled up like that, and Taehyung had gotten lucky he neglected to switch off one of his early morning alarms leftover from weekend training, or else he probably would've slept through their flight. Taekwoon wasn't surprised when Taehyung came sprinting in to pack up the rest of his things, simply offering him a smile before taking his suitcases down first.

Given the civilians milling about, some of the particularly brave ones edging forward to ask for autographs, there's no way Taehyung can take Jeongguk's hand in his now. Too many cameras around, and Taehyung doesn't actually want to get his ass kicked by Jeongguk's PR team. Instead, he sits close, and they talk about everything and nothing until Taehyung is called to line up with the first boarding group.

"See you in Frankfurt," Taehyung says cheerfully; they've got a three hour layover in Germany and Taehyung fully intends to nap through it, preferably close to Jeongguk.

Jeongguk smiles back, which Taehyung still isn't used to seeing so much but he's on board to see it again every day for the rest of his life. They separate to take their seats on the plane, so Taehyung's shuffling forward in the line with Hyunseong, who looks like he's probably sleepwalking, fumbling with his phone to pull up his boarding pass.

On the plane, Taehyung's got a middle seat next to Jinwoon in the aisle and someone else, probably from another team, in the window. Sadly not with Jimin, with the gymnasts in an entirely separate part of the plane. He heads to the right row and gets his bag up in the overhead compartment before taking his seat, closing his eyes and settling in for a long flight. As far as he knows, Jinwoon probably won't be sitting with him for long, given the renewed amounts of alcohol in their near future.

Someone taps Taehyung on the shoulder. "Can I take my seat?" they ask, and Taehyung's eyes fly open as he straightens, stares up at Jeongguk's face.

"Of course," Taehyung says, moving his legs out of the way automatically. "How - "

"Traded with Hakyeon at the last minute," Jeongguk says, smiling again, and Taehyung loves the sight of it the most. He nods at the front of their section of the plane, and Taehyung easily picks out Hakyeon winking and flashing double thumbs up over the back of his seat, Taekwoon looking at his antics long-sufferingly. He beams and gives Hakyeon a thumbs up back - he'll really have to thank him properly later - and then turns to Jeongguk, who's sitting beside him now, looking out the window.

"Hi," Taehyung says, silly with euphoria, when Jeongguk turns to look at him questioningly. As if they haven't been together for the night and all morning, ever since Taehyung got onto the shuttle buses and realized everyone else from the Korean teams were together.

"Hello," Jeongguk says anyways, and Taehyung can't stop smiling back.

After the plane takes flight and they're allowed to shuffle around, Taehyung can hear Gwangsuk in the back, his voice rising over the noise. Of course it's Gwangsuk, shouting, "Let's get another round of shots up in here, yeah?" to the cheering and laughter of everyone with him in the back of the plane. Up front, there's Jimin, who sent Taehyung a text with a few happy face emoticons with a heart. And, for some reason, Korean and Japanese flags. He'll ask for interpretation later, but for now, Taehyung is plenty happy that things sorted themselves out for Jimin, too.

Jeongguk nudges him gently to get him to move out of the way, Taehyung obeying in confusion until he sees Jeongguk put up the armrest between them. "Now," Jeongguk says, and gently but firmly guides Taehyung's head onto his shoulder before letting his hand drop into his lap, "you can just...nap on my shoulder."

"Yes, babe," Taehyung says, snuggling closer. There's no one watching now when he puts his hand over Jeongguk's, Jeongguk turning his over so the palm faces up and they can intertwine their fingers. It doesn't seem possible to feel this content, more than how a particularly good hit feels or how he imagines it must feel to land that dismount after a gymnastics routine.

Jeongguk makes Taehyung feel like he's standing higher than the highest tier of the Olympic podium. It can't be measured in gold medals, but rather soft smiles, tender looks that make Taehyung's heart swell so much he feels it knocking up against his rib cage. Floating on that sparkling, blue ocean with Jeongguk by his side.

Yes. This feeling, all of this, is real.