“really, jimin-hyung, another race?”
jimin could already hear the smirk in the younger’s voice, eyes steering clear from that masculine, toned body when his ‘protégé’ of sorts had rebutted him as usual, instead training his eyes on the expanse of the clear blue waters confined in the rectangle before him. to hell with seniority, once they entered the pool, their hometowns no longer mattered, their ages, their names, the hours they’ve trained, whatever their dreams were;
as soon as they entered the pool and touched the same wall they launched off, only their timings mattered.
current residing swim captain park jimin had been the best in his field, standing tall at 173cm, representative of busan’s finest swim team, one of the youngest national champions majoring in freestyle- that is, until this haughty, damned good looking and talented kid comes admitted in all of a sudden; he’s here to stay, and jimin’s position is definitely threatened. given that he's gone to the usa to further his technique and hone his prodigal skill, he’s easily risen through the ranks, and now stands just one step behind park jimin, as busan’s vice captain of their swim team.
which thus leads to these frequent one-on-ones, wherever jimin feels like taking up a challenge- up against the brilliant jeon jeongguk, who specialises in butterfly and whose timings come neck and neck with him- and for goodness’ sake it’s a known fact that freestyle is the fastest stroke there is amongst the four competitive ones.
“shut up, brat, put on your goggles already.”
they countdown, 2! 3!, and fire off into the chlorine waters. true to the gyeongsangdo guy stereotype, both of them are loud, aggressive, straightforward.
(jeongguk wins again by 0.1 of a second. jimin calls it a tie.)
jimin’s a natural. he was born a son of the sea, has been frolicking in those beautiful blue waters ever since his parents had brought him to the beach, let him learn how to swim.
and yet, in spite of two solid years of training, this stupid busan kid happens to have a skill set on par with him. what's worse, is that he's so damn attractive, with that menacing dark aura and that passion when he flips on his goggles and tucks his ears into his swimming cap. damn.
he makes a scene on his first day of training, and in all honesty that smouldering hot gaze at the pool like he's going to absolutely wreck it has jimin's heart wavering. when he said his position was threatened, jimin hadn't meant it in a bad way, more so of a i’m older and more experienced and how the hell is this guy almost as good as me way.
it makes jimin more driven to beat his own records, makes the blood in his veins have that adrenaline rush that he hasn't felt in a while- not since anyone on his level had come by, anyway. the water is like their second skin, chlorine seeping through like wildfire, turning their hair various shades of brown from all that rigorous training.
it's teasing and training, more teasing and even more training. at this level, the amount of breaks they have should be much lesser, but their coach deems well-being equally important. it means they practice at their own pace, but when the captain and vice captain have the spare passes into the entire swimming complex, who's there to stop them for swims at the oddest of hours?
it's frustrating and fatiguing, but all the same, it's fruitful.
sometimes, fun, even.
jeongguk's favourite time to swim is at the ungodly hours, wee hours before the crack of dawn. the heats are in roughly five to six months, and he's never going to let sleep get in the way. despite practice becoming a little more frequent and hectic, he thanks god for his nocturnal behaviour, accustomed to waking up at random hours to rush out homework, to get that sports scholarship to bring him to the united states to train.
so of course he's bringing in all the glory back to busan, who'd been the leading champions every year until last year, where their sunbaes had gotten a little lax and complacent. with jeon jeongguk in the frontline, busan’s going for gold.
midnight swims make the warm waters feel deeper, with every dip of his head back into the water it feels like he's plunging back into an inky black vortex that he had long ago devoted his life to. the waters had enchanted him in the most mysterious of ways, pulled him in and he fell. dived headfirst.
unlike jimin, who had started out wanting to coach little kids by the beaches but later got scouted, jeongguk had done swimming because he felt an inkling, wanted to pursue something that he would excel in. outdo himself. emerge victorious.
gone were the days the shy boy would patter over with his floats and water guns- he was now the asset of the national team, raking in medals from the states all the way to his hometown.
the waters had fascinated both busan boys- the way it served as a warm bath of nostalgia, waters lapping at skin as a gentle caress, tiny kisses, to comfort, to guide; but also the way it grew violent and destructive when mad, tempestuous- all it took was a matter of seconds. whichever perspective they saw it, there was one thing in common: the water was their second skin. not just anything, but everything.
through one of the large glass panels of the sports complex, jeongguk could feel the moonlight shining down on the surface of the water, dim lights at the bottom of the pool casting a glittery glow onto the olympic sized pool in the smack in the middle. cocking his head to the side, he felt something strange in his chest, but shrugged it off- there was just something about the full moon, wet splotches of water by the ladder. strange- the last practice session was at 10pm, but his watch said a little after 1am? weird.
the pool today seemed like it was taunting him, the way adam and eve had succumbed to the forbidden fruit, the way persephone had eaten the deadly pomegranate seeds. the waters were calling him, beckoning him to dive in, like sirens charming sailormen; bewitching, hypnotic- also a little macabre. the way the waves rippled, surface of warm liquid licking at his toes as if asking him to give in to temptation.
tempted by what? for what? boy meets what? but the waves were supposed to do the exact opposite, to be cathartic rather than chaotic; and he jumped in without further ado, splash fully covering the splatters of water coming from deeper within the complex.
waterproof watches were the best invention ever- recorded his timings, tracked his progress, counted his heart rate et al. just amazing. 2:36am. he was more or less used to finding his way around in the dark, knowing the place by heart. his second home, after all.
there was a light still on though, he mused as he toweled dry his chlorine soaked hair, on the way to the showers, wash up and go home to rest before another round of self training tomorrow. it was friday night, after all. friday the thirteenth.
but the sounds came louder, that one light left switched on the one for the showers.
meandering through the lockers and some rooms, jeongguk heard the press of the tap to activate the shower head, those in a row of five for the team to wash up quickly in one shot so they could all leave and eat dinner together or rest. jeongguk slowed down, nearing the bend where the water sounds were most audible, the spray of water from the nozzle fizzling out, needing another press to reactivate another jet.
other than the sounds of water droplets pooling, the sound of ripples, there seemed to be someone sniffling. a small huddled bump slumped by the tiled wall.
it's almost pitiful that in the darkest before dawn, it's his most loathed rival- the one and only person he refuses to lose to, refuses to admit defeat to- that receives him in his most fragile and weakest form, an angry raging and bitter mould of a man shrunken into the corners of the showers.
a man defeated by his own hands.
his eyes are all raw and puffy, a small heap of a disaster reeling against the cold tiles and whatever remnants the leaking shower head has to offer.
“..... jimin?” the voice comes again, and this time, it's less stable- it comes out with more worry, but to a person who's in a state of disillusion, still bubbling with shock, wracked with disappointment, nothing that comes out of a competitor’s mouth is out of concern.
“go away! i don't- i don't want your pity!” jimin bellows, and it reverberates past the empty room, low static hum of the water pipes, occasional flicker of one of the ceiling lights. jimin's eyes are so red, and that's the next thing that takes him aback apart from the fact that jimin only yells when the hoobaes are slacking off during training, or not taking things seriously. he subconsciously flinches, and jimin continues weeping in bereavement.
the next thing he spots- oh, no- is jimin's shoulder. it's clearly almost a matching shade to his eyes now, scrubbed at wildly, brown hair matted to his face, contorted into a look of utter despair. disappointed. desperation.
“your shoulder-” jeongguk says tentatively, in the most soothing voice he can muster, eyes blown wide a good enough evidence for his shock.
“i know…” jimin returns, voice trembling, like unsteady currents, “i can't- i,” he hiccups, tiny palms covering his face as he starts breaking down again, tears an endless stream.
jeongguk crouches down to his level, sits beside him. jimin is a storm whirling within, about to burst the banks of the dam the moment the waters get too overwhelming.
“hey, it's going to be alr-”
it's a lie, and they both know it.
“it's not! it's broken! i-i'll never get close to perfect again! y-you don't understand, none of you do! i can't, i-” jimin sobs, last bits of his walls come crumbling down as he bangs his fists angrily against the tap, and the water comes splashing down on the two of them. a heavy downpour, hopes and dreams and aspirations come crashing down.
“it's over, jeongguk. my shoulder’s ruined.” it comes out as little spurts of exasperation, dolorous. eyes frantic, hands frozen. “i- i can't swim anymore-”
he should have seen it coming. knowing jimin was a behind the scenes kind of guy, he should have known, that he would have overtrained, would have exerted too much; the way he had rolled his left shoulder in addition to the usual warm up exercises, the way he had frowned with his right arm resting on his left shoulder-
but he, the only one who could possibly have detected it, had dismissed it without a second thought. jeon jeongguk should have seen it coming, then maybe he could have prevented it-
“you're going to get sick,” he blurts, looking at jimin in the eye. his swim captain, is truly one of the most beautiful creatures he had ever seen. he hastily drapes his towel over the elder, who's the embodiment of heartbroken. he would hate for that fallen angel before him to get even sicker.
they both know that given jimin's rigorous trainings, on and off schedule, his case of swimmer’s shoulder would be severe. and judging by the giant red bloom there, some dark violets brimming at the edges- jeongguk gauges he won't make it to heats. he opens his mouth to tactfully word around it, but jimin beats him to it.
“it's over, i- i'm useless now, aren't i? what… what kind of swim captain tears his own rotor cuff ligament just before summer heats? what kind of swimmer gets quadraceptis tendonitis just before he leads his own team to nationals? what sort of captain,” jimin cries, tears flooding down adding to the water pelting down on them.
jeongguk keeps quiet, this is a delicate moment, and he doesn't dare do anything to trigger jimin further when he's in such a delicate state. instead, he pulls jimin closer to him, gently, and jimin allows himself to come undone.
“you're not useless,” he murmurs into the shell of jimin's ear, softly, sweetly.
usually, the prince of the sea would have let his pride stand in the way, would reprimand the younger for his lack if honorifics, scold him for treating him like he was made of glass, get mad the way jeongguk read him like an open book when he was a good two years older.
but now, he didn't care.
he takes it as it comes, fitting just right as jeongguk loops his powerful arms around his shivering figure, cold and pale. carefully cradled, a porcelain doll, a priceless possession. jimin's hair is all clumped together, face a mess and painted with his sweat and tears and water, eyes and lips swollen and puffy, paragon of distraught.
he just feels so alone, so cold, so vulnerable; he barely noticed jeongguk stopping the water flow, piling more towels, “hyung, you need to get changed, or you'll get sick.” he says, a matter-of-factly.
“it doesn't matter anymore! i- i can't go for nationals!” jimin yells in frustration, grabbing at jeongguk's cheeks, his jaw, his neck; whatever he can tangibly grasp in his blurry line of vision. "my shoulder is broken because i overexerted it and i can't swim anymore!"
the cries of a broken warrior come down even harder, captain of busan’s finest holding his head in his hands, fingers harshly threading through tangled fading locks of black and brown from all the exposure to chlorine. the sobs are as loud as the leaking faucets in that terse silence, a blanket, a canvas; and that’s the last straw.
the cry of the white flag. a surrender. a great defeat. curled up into the warmth of his second in charge, deemed worthless.
"my dreams- my last chance- my everything; it's broken. gone."
it has jeongguk rooted from where he was, a physical barrier to prevent a tiny ball of distruction from destroying himself further. a barricade. a protective shield. he stands,in a futile attempt trying to coax jimin to get going to someplace warmer. “hyung, please, we need to-”
jimin only shakes his head, hiccups subsiding. a rise then fall. the calm before a storm.
“jeongguk. listen- there's… limits. we both know that realistically t-there are age restrictions-” jimin babbles, endless streams of tears forming marbled, interlaced patterns over his cheeks.
“there's no next time for us ‘95 liners. it's all over.”
after lugging a sniffing captain, launched carefully onto his shoulder like a deadweight, jeongguk grabs his emergency swimming bag from the boot, drapes jimin in all the spare towels he can find to wrap in the hypothermic huddled figure riding shotgun, even having to put on jimin's safety belt for him, too numb to even process what's going on.
the static hum of the radio is all there is to fill the void between them, awkward, tense; the deejay talks in a monotone humdrum about how people tend to get sadder progressively as the day goes by, and that's why the station plays emotional ballads and things in the quiet of the night towards the early hours of the morning.
it's already dawn, the sun peeking from behind cottontail clouds, little ambers and yellows inching out from a large traverse of deep blue and inky black, like the busan beaches by night.
moving towards the morning, the speakers play a little more radio-friendly pop genre songs. and we don't talk anymore comes along- jeongguk's been stealing glances at jimin the whole time, quietly and secretly as he puts his hands on the steering wheel, not even daring to ask a single word. jimin needs time, but he needs to know;
he wishes he could have spotted the telltale signs earlier, should have known something was wrong when jimin just suddenly retreated and withdrawn from all their little races, had that downcast face more often; he should have realised they hadn't talked much anymore.
it's a little painful to have the radio play something like this, where the lyrics speak out particularly on the morning of the aftermath of a disastrous night; jimin's face remains impassive, one had propped by the door to support his chin, devoid of emotion the entire journey, and frankly, jeongguk is worried to death.
he contemplates, and in case, maybe, if jimin happens to feel something, or is conscious and not in a daze, he might see jeongguk reach out to switch channels or turn off the radio.
“don't,” jimin says, the first thing he says the entire journey home, wondering about his future, jeongguk, the team, his health; so many things on his mind- “i like that song.”
his eyes seem so forlorn and downcast as he tilts his head to look at jeongguk straight in the eye, swaddled in heaps of blankets, as the red lights illuminate back on both their faces. they just stare at each other for a good half a minute, taking in each other's presence, facial expressions, eyes; the projected light suddenly turns green, and jeongguk snaps out of it, keeps his eyes on the road once again, jimin turning back to look out of the window, idyllic, at nothing in particular.
this time, jeongguk's heart gives him the green light as well; he couldn't have stopped a tsunami even if he saw it coming, so now he's going to pick up the pieces and mitigate whatever's left. whatever debris there is, whatever is left from the turbid winds and water, he's going to safeguard. protect.
he's thankful for not switching off the radio, white noise in the background, one last sentence exchanged before the silence envelopes them again like the gentle swash of an ocean.
“i'll take care of you until your shoulder heals completely.”
it's a promise he will adhere to, he solemnly swears to himself in his heart of hearts, a promise he will keep even until his deathbed.
he takes jimin to his apartment, leads him to the master bedroom, gets jimin toweled and completely dry before shoving on a white shirt and some spare pants of the smallest size he can find.
jimin's been keeping so quiet, not a single sound of protest, thanks, sorrow, or whatnot. jeongguk's scared- jimin's usually an open book, blatantly expressing whatever's on his mind, and it's scaring the hell out of jeongguk the way he now only communicates with his face that looks the same emotional wreck the entire time. the jimin he knows cries when he's sad, yells when he's annoyed, hits him when he's being a brat or over the top, laughs like a sea breeze when he's happy; the jimin he knows now is nothing but a cold alabaster statue- still beautiful, but a melancholic out of this world seeking solace kind of beautiful.
finally, he tucks jimin into his bed, makes sure the latter is warm and snug, as if embedded in a cocoon of quilt covers and blankets, before he turns to head for the door.
he expects jimin to drift off to sleep almost immediately, the fatigue must be getting to him, judging by the way his feet shuffles instead of his usual confident sashay, eyes wandering to the pillows as jeongguk gets him dressed. he doesn't expect the elder to bolt upright in the middle of all that coverage, eyes widened to whatever extent possible after all that weeping.
“w-where are you going?”
the emotions finally, but slowly seep back into his voice, initial flat timbre now added with a little fear, dusted with some lost. like a child getting separated from his mother in a crowded mall. a person with big dreams shot down and being told it's a bunch of fabrication of lies.
“i was going to make you some warm milk and honey, before heading for the couch. the bed is yours,” jeongguk replies with a shrug, hand lingering above the light switch, about to bid goodnight to his beloved hyung.
“i- i'm scared, i need someone to be here, i don't- i don't want to be alone again,” jimin whimpers, hands bunching up the sheets, drowning in the immense proportion of blankets jeongguk has piled to be extra sure he's warm and safe, even turning up the heater in case he falls sick.
slowly, he pads back to jimin's expectant arms, bed sinking as he launches into it. “you sure you don't want me to take the couch-”
“you promised to take care of me.” the elder quietly retorts, and jeongguk sighs, giving in almost immediately, letting jimin rest his head on his chest, arms angled to his comfort and lax around his waist.
jeongguk isn't all that sure, but he thinks he hears jimin mutter but, 32 weeks, faintly.
he falls into a deep slumber easily, exhausted from a whole traumatic rollercoaster of emotions in the middle of the night, in tandem to jeongguk's humming of that song from the radio, vibrations from the younger’s chest a cathartic lullaby, the warm hand patting his back tenderly, coaxing him to sleep a remedy for his insomnia of late.
jeongguk presses a small kiss to jimin's hair the moment he hears the tiny, soft snores, finally having the chance to utter his thoughts aloud.
“darling jimin,” he starts, talking to the ceiling, voice surprisingly awfully forlorn, carding his fingers through ebony brown of the sleeping beauty.
“did you need someone, or did you need me?”
morning comes, and jeongguk's greeted by the blaring of an obnoxious alarm ringtone, getting up but the baby koala is still sound asleep on his stomach.
“hey.” he says, in a gravelly tone, and jimin rouses, hair sticking up in all directions and jeongguk has to try really hard not to crack a smile.
“um, you can go find something to eat in the kitchen, i'll go explain personally to coach, and have you excused for a while to recuperate and things,” the younger says rationally, motioning vaguely here and there as he gets up and leaves jimin, who looks so small in the middle of the queen sized bed.
the elder nods in reflex, barely processing, having just woken up. he was finally having a dreamless sleep, a rare occurrence for a soul that has been suffering from neverending nightmares the moment his eyelids fell. he sits there, swamped with many sheets, contemplates why and what's his current predicament- he doesn't notice jeongguk's all done washing up, changed, and ready to go.
“see you, hyung!” is the last thing he says before he dashes out, on a mission to have full responsibility of jimin's recovery with regards to official documentation with the swim team if necessary, grabbing juice on the way out.
a jangle of keys, the turning of the lock, a beep of his car- he's gone.
jimin proceeds to the toilet, to clean himself up, stare back at his dull gaze in the mirror, senses dulled but emotions heightened. he looks in the mirror, sees the appearance of a haggard person- nothing like a swimmer, nothing like the captain of busan’s national team.
he looks like a complete wreck.
the reddening of his left shoulder only serves as a painful reminder of his inadequacies, his incompetence- but the water-
before he knows, the mirrors are fogged up, he's running a bath- the waters, the water is calling him. he relishes in the rhythmic flow as the warm water from the tap fills the tub.
he stands peering over the water as it gets filled to the brim- shrugs off the blanket draped around his shoulders, steps in to embrace the inviting water. he's a son if the sea, the water his second skin. yes, yes, this is it, he thinks, white tee and black shorts getting thoroughly soaked as he sinks in, his weight causing some of the water to flow out. it's warm, so warm, but he feels cold.
he allows his body to get submerged, allows the water to wash over him like a riptide. it's engulfing him, the was oceans wash over the sandy shores, lapping at the seams, kissing the bay; he sinks in, feels at ease with every dip of his body. come to me, jimin, the miniature makeshift pool seems to say, i'll take care of you, won't you come?
before he closes his eyes, to answer to the beckoning call of those waves, he takes a quick look at the mirror he’s faced; he's not sure if he's hallucinating, delusional- but he's quite positive he sees words written as the mirror fogs up to reveal it like invisible ink.
you were good, so good- and yet you still aren't good enough;
the warm water drapes around him, deceives by blending in with tears, a massive force to be reckoned with, devouring him bit by bit- lower, lower, lower. it kisses his chin, his jaw, his nose, his cheeks; the waters are calling him to come home. they're telling him he's good, brilliant, wonderful- quelling his fears that all charge at him one by one- it's almost like a warm soapy bubble bath that he used to enjoy when he was a kid. you're good, my son, he hears his parents say, hears the water breathing into his ear that he's good enough, we'll love you for whatever you become, you are celebrated, you are good enough-
he's going down, down, down.
the voice calls out so tenderly, jimin, i'll make you mine, you are a champion, a king, a success; those hands cradle the apples of his cheeks, caresses his eyelids, his forehead, his hair- it's beautiful, so blue, the crystal clear water; he's free, he can swim, he's not a good for nothing anymore-
“-imin! jimin! can you hear me? jimin!” his head is throbbing, his vision matted with black spots here and there. where is he? it's… so cold.
but it's warm. he's warm.
jeongguk's cursing under his breath for being stupid enough to leave a person on the verge of depression home alone. he should have-
oh god. the amount of things he wants to berate himself for, the amount of things that he wants to say, all dies at the tip of his tongue. all this, he bottles up, and instead, after hauling jimin out of the bathtub all blue and purple with a lack of oxygen, he lines up heat packs and a copious amounts of cloths and towels to save the shivering form.
jeongguk's pressing jimin against him, tiny water droplets stuck to his skin, swelling of his shoulder not yet fully subsided. he's going to have to call a physiotherapist to make sure. the bundle of nerves seated in his lap seems to still be in a daze, breathing erratic, frazzled.
“jimin? you there?” jeongguk tries again, this time less of panic, more of concern.
“i did it again, didn't i,” jimin replies, so quiet and meek, as if he were apologising for his very existence. his mind is whirring with a thousand questions, what did i do this time? why? why am i always like this?
“you scared the shit out of me,” jeongguk soothes, “what were you thinking, i only left for a while-”
that's good enough to send the elder into tears once again.
“i'm sorry! i just lost control, the water was calling to take me back- i, it's probably the only thing that wants me again- i couldn't help it, i-” jimins sobbing and wheezing all at the same time, so small in jeongguk's embrace, curled up like a little ball after shifting in his lap.
“you're wrong. i promised to take care of you, and i will. i got you a temporary letter of pardon already,” the younger says softly, just for jimin to hear, arms caged around him to tell him he's safe, he's protected. at this point, jimin doesn't even know what's gnawing at him- he feels so shaky, so unstable. he's going mad and it's terrible; he's causing so much trouble to jeongguk-
“you're not,” jeongguk interjects his thoughts, “whatever you think you are. you probably think you're trash and garbage or a loser, but i think you're not. take my word for it.”
the words at the end come out steady, coolly as jeongguk is when he's not raging or impulsive, but jimin can detect the small twinge of a plea, a small glimpse of hope towards the end. perhaps.
“you were made for great things, jimin. it's not over yet. this is only the beginning.”
the excuse slip covers a week of jimin's absence, for him to get medical certification and a prescribed training regime for a speedy recovery. 32 weeks, the doctor diagnoses, a definite case of rotator cuff tendinitis.
jimin needs ample rest, needs sports tape and a shoulder guard. the doctor and physiotherapist have devised an exercise plan, and jimin takes in everything like a whirlpool, caught in a storm but not quite encapsulating everything all at once. jeongguk, on the other hand, holds him carefully and takes his hyung under his charge; takes in all the information, all the ‘do’s and ‘don't’s with a burning hunger, repeatedly memorising the initial treatment steps of rest, ice, compression and elevation.
it makes jimin's cheeks pinken a little, when he sees the amount of focus jeongguk has as he looks into the doctor’s eyes and asks endless questions about how he should take care of jimin, what about his diet, his daily routines, his mental well-being. he should be the one asking, it's his brain, his body- it makes his cheeks burn in shame as well as honour. jeonggukie rarely cares about things that don't interest him.
jeongguk takes him out to eat nice lunches, makes sure he's well fed, is eating and sleeping well.
“i'm not hungry,” jimin mumbles, pushing the plate of sandwiches towards the younger.
“shush, open your pouty mouth-” jeongguk retorts, small smile tugging at the corners of his lips, fork raised to attack.
you brat, have some manners, jimin wants to refute back, but jeongguk takes the opportunity to stuff a neatly cut out portion of the sandwich into jimin's mouth when he opens it to protest.
“thank you,” jimin mumbles, shy, and the bread tastes sweeter the more he chews, even though it's chicken ham, egg mayo and cheese; but he dismisses it as bread comprising of carbohydrates and something along the lines of biology and enzymes that he never really learnt in high school.
jeongguk helps him cope through his nightmares. it's always the same; he's trapped in this glass tank, hair faded into blonde and orange wisps, and he's struggling, struggling to get out.
he can't breathe, he's trapped- and he writes ‘save me’ on the glass tank, amidst the bubbly turquoise water from his silent cries, in a striped shirt like a prisoner. he writes save me, but he's drowning, and nobody's there-
he often wakes up crying, and even though he tries to keep it down, feeling bad if he wakes jeongguk up, the room is eerily quiet at these odd hours- and the usually heavy sleeper beside him will miraculously wake up to ask him if he's okay, rub soothing circles down his back, hand him some tissues.
jeongguk knows, and he does want to help, but the people he has consulted, the online resources- they all say to give the victim or patient some time, give him space, and things will get better. with time.
“‘m fine…. go back to sleep, guk-ah,” jimin will sniff, hastily drying his tears, putting up a small smile to show he's okay, but jeongguk knows what he's dreaming about again. knows him enough to call his bluff, has watched him long enough to know the cards he plays.
“i'm making you a cup of hot chocolate,” the younger announces, getting out of bed and heading for the kitchen, rubbing his eyes.
“n-no, i don't need it, please stay, don't go-” jimin pleads, functioning dominant hand instinctively grabbing at jeongguk's wrist when he turns to go. it's a psychological thing, jeongguk remembers reading, that when people are vulnerable and lost and broken they just don't want the things they are comfortable with to leave. they aren't welcome to change that might hurt them again.
because they know they wouldn't be able to take it a second time.
jimin is a huge vessel of emotion and intellect, a loving personality, a kind heart made of absolute gold. he's usually level headed, sweet; but to deal with such a blow at his peak- when he's at the zenith of his career- jeongguk feels the hurt as much as he does.
so he scoops the baby doll up by the waist, wary of that blue taped area, and brings him to the kitchen with him. there. setting jimin on the kitchen counter, he has to boil the water and make hot cocoa and fetch marshmallows singlehandedly- and it's just because jimin's a shy creature, beautiful and bashful, and refuses to let go of his hand even though jeongguk's just like, 7cm away.
he swings his feet in the air, fiddling with the hem of his oversized sweater, stares wordlessly at jeongguk's very handsome profile and well built physique as he hunts around for the marshmallows, space for manoeuvring highly restricted due to jimin's baby hand.
finally, after putting judo skills to use and pulling a further cupboard door open with his toes, he finds it, and smiles warmly when he sees jimin light up and giggle to himself. his chest feels so warm, like flowers are blooming, like he's cured from fatigue and lack of sleep forever. he pops one of the white sugary things into jimin's mouth, which now opens automatically as he hums in thanks.
he could really get used to waking up at random hours of the day just for little things like this.
it's the first time jeongguk kisses jimin when he's conscious, leaving the elder a little breathless, a lot of loved.
it's the seventh day, which means that jimin has to account his absence to the team personally tomorrow. he's not sure if he's ready, not sure if he will ever be. it's pressuring, from a face in the crowd to the one the crowd faces- to have to be the one who delivers an accord like this, to be the one who announces a defeat.
he's unsure, staring at the bubbles of the foam on his latte.
"did you know when i was younger i wanted to pursue modelling? that i wanted to sing?" jeongguk begins, and it rouses jimin from his spiralling downward melancholic thoughts, for him to get out of it, instead ponder over jeongguk's words; before murmuring after a few seconds that he still could be one, given his physique and good looks. the way he says it isn't bitter, but rather, proud.
but jeongguk leans in, comes close until their faces are only a few inches apart- amidst the dull thrumming of the wordless piano and violin in the backdrop of the small cafe- and he grabs jimin's hand, uses his index finger to trace a now prominent scar on his left cheek.
it causes jimin's exotic eyes widen a little as jeongguk continues his story. how had he never come to realise that mark? even after all this while he had basked in the comforting presence of his vice captain, there were still so many things he never knew.
"they told me i wasn't... perfect enough to be one, so i… know what it feels like to have your dreams crumble right before you, if you were wondering."
he strokes a thumb over jimin's left cheekbone, unmarred and smooth, all the nostalgic suppressed, muted bitterness from the past seeping back, creeping back into his heart like sneaky tendrils up a wall, but the roses that jimin has bloomed there defend and fight for its rightful spot.
in the younger’s eyes, apart from maybe the small lacking in height for most company's requirements, jimin was the epitome of a model, in all honesty; unblemished sunkissed skin, rosy cheeks and plump lips- glassy round eyes that peered in wonder and incredulity. jimin was gorgeous- he was so, so beautiful.
exotic, mesmerising, alluring;
as jeongguk pulls them apart, he smiles wryly; and jimin's pretty lips form a small 'o' and he mumbles he's sorry for reminding guk of the past, that must have hurt.
however, the latter shakes his head, hand advancing to place in atop of jimin's. "you told me your dreams were shattered that day when you tried and- you couldn't swim- but you aren't all alone y’know? just... wanted you to know that."
jimin starts stirring his coffee idly, as jeongguk munches on his grilled chicken, as if it would be able to tell him the future, prompt him what to do, what to say, what to feel. jeongguk goes on, voice like lukewarm honey and lemon in contrast to the usual brash black coffee without sugar or milk.
"ironic, isnt it- that i got this gash because i was running by the beach when i was six and i fell and scraped myself- because well, i kinda fell for this guy at that beach, haha.” jeongguk laughs, shaking his head as he reminisces of that cute busan boy teaching kids by the shore how to swim.
jimin always had a good sense of direction, a solid anchor untouched under standard conditions. “and the singing?” he curiously asks, stirrer put down as he takes a sip. warm.
“oh that- i auditioned singing some love song about the temporary instructor at the beach that day and i got rejected, but guess what? three companies offered to sign me but i decided on swimming already-”
“oh, wow,” jimin gasps, eyes a little brighter, perhaps there is hope, after all. a fond smile appears, “you're amazing, jeongguk-ah.”
"i got how i walk from those shitty etiquette training they put pre-debut models into, by the way. still can't believe what i was thinking then."
they're both smiling, intimate moments built with the smallest of stories.
“and all because of that guy that taught kids how to swim, huh?”
jimin remembers walking in with jeongguk in tow, draped in a shoulder guard, their team’s crimson red windbreaker against his bare skin and speedos. fingers tucked into his pockets, he enters the complex. concerned dongsaengs rush up to bow and greet him in worry, asking about his condition, a revered figure of sheer hard work and diligence with a sprinkle of flair.
he takes their timings, one by one, tells them words of encouragement and advises them on how to further their potential, brush up on their skill. stopwatch and whistle looped around his neck, he laughs when some of the rookie swimmers stutter shyly when he praises them and pats them on the head or back. he doesn't notice the snide remarks passed at by some of the snobbish trainees, doesn't notice the fond look as jeongguk chats with coach as he looks at jimin from afar.
“how are you feeling?” jeongguk asks, running a hair through slick wet hair, grinning. he's gotten better at butterfly again.
“i'm okay,” jimin smiles back, happy to be home, that is, until some of the prideful juniors walk past after training is wrapped up and they're dismissed to get songs rest. most of the people here training for nationals, be it in the team, bench warmers, future representatives of busan- they all got here one way or another being gifted, in tandem with passion and drive.
some, however, happen to be complacent and haughty- oh, is our captain is injured now? what a shame, he's supposed to be the best, isn't he?
there's two of them who are particularly toxic, jimin having taught them that their warm ups were not thorough enough, stroke and kicks not precise enough; while most of the meticulous and hardy kids had listened and improved, outshone themselves, these two remained stagnant, good, but not quite good enough.
the one majoring in breaststroke happens to be the more aggressive between the two, always resentful when jimin had commented on his swimming with the goal of perfection in mind. their captain was hardy, like a lotus, a flower that bloomed in adversity- while he, a substitute, was a morning glory that was easily bruised, choosing only to show its splendour at specific times.
of course the casual knocking of shoulders was intentional- the whole goddamn path was wide, everyone calling dibs for the showers to rid themselves of chlorine- and yet he chose to squeeze and push past jimin's shoulder like on a crowded bus or train.
“oh, sorry, captain- didn't see you there; i humbly apologise for us being such a burden on your shoulders,” he jeers, proceeding to walk off mockingly as he laughs, condescending, with another guy of similar crassness- leaving a sloppy wet trail from the pool towards the lockers.
“ah, not answering probably means he's giving us the cold shoulder- poor little thing, probably won't be able to take us to nationals,” the other chimes in, voice sounding like all things wicked, everything but a conscience. directly behind jimin's back.
the nerve of those bastards-
jeongguk's absolutely seething. he hears jimin suck in a sharp intake of air, eyes widened, body rigid. thus he takes a bold step in front of jimin, grabbing the wrist of his right hand, a physical shield to his aggressors as his defendant is stunned and rooted to the ground, staring off into space again, eyes dull and lacklustre unlike the mirth it held just moments ago.
“you, snakeface, kindly shut the fuck up if you have nothing better to say- you're nowhere near good anyway, if i were to be honest- so suck it up, don't be a bitch just ‘cause your father has connections in the sports industry,” jeongguk glowers, before turning his focus to that guy's partner in crime. the hand he holds on to dearly grips his tighter, and jeongguk knows he's on the right track, the person he had just dissed speechless and gaping like a fish- no, swimmer- out of water.
“and you, regina george, stop being a thirsty fuck and such a hoe if you're going to say degrading things about jimin- i know he's hot and all and you're really jealous, but please- if you're going to step all over him like this then how about refrain your unworthy eyes from ogling at his thighs and ass every practice, then,” jeongguk jabs, every word laced with a fiery sense of justice and to release all the pent up words he's wanted to berate them for long ago, if not for jimin stopping him. jimin's just so soft sometimes.
he exhales, having said probably the most in a single breath for such a long time, usually preferring to keep to himself; but now he's on a mission to take care of jimin, to fend the elder from things he's not yet ready to settle with yet. “the pool’s that way, if you're thirsty.” he spits, pointing an accusing finger with a fierceness that never quite surfaced unless very agitated, especially by something he deeply cares about.
“let's go, jimin,” he says softly as he bends down slightly to speak into the shell of jimin's ear. a hundred back to zero in a matter of seconds. an active volcano switching back to dormant. jimin doesn't answer, eyes a little shiny like the glistening water, and jeongguk thinks that it's so brave of his captain not to argue back but rather swallow it down and let it be, still trying his best to remain his composure, stay calm.
he's really proud, and he's planning on telling that to jimin tonight. jimin follows him, like a pull-along toy, a little stoned and lost; he leads jimin to a safe corner, one of the elusive changing rooms a little farther, but it's worth it if jimin has no further negative influences from here.
"hyung, give me ten minutes, okay?" and jimin blankly nods, jeongguk proceeding to shove all his paraphernalia- his goggles, cap and shampoo bottles and whatsoever- into his locker, runs stealthily to get changed after washing up quickly.
jeongguk opens the door of the passenger seat for him, and keeps turning to check on jimin even though he's just ninety degrees away. “hyung-”
“thank you for standing up for me,” jimin quietly intercepts, fingers laced together, and jeongguk knows it's a huge blow, the emotional turmoil must be so immense even for a fighter, a trooper like jimin. “that was nothing, i never really liked them anyway, condescending little shits,” jeongguk mutters, and a soft mop of ebony hits his shoulder, jimin lying there peacefully.
“it means a lot, jeonggukie.”
that night jimin falls asleep- and the opening of his dream is always the same; it's him again in that trapped glass tank, the words save me scrawled- but the tank is bigger now, he can breathe.
the tank happens to contain another boy. someone beautiful, someone that has an evident cheek scar, a tiny gash of fate.
it's not cold anymore.
they fall into a repetitive cycle, each other an ingrained core into the other’s life. they eat together, sleep together, gym together, train together; it's an inexhaustible list. there is dependence, yes, but not to the point of a power struggle, not to the point of over reliance. it's an equal relationship, a ride to recovery- but they have each other, and that's all that matters.
the inside jokes build up, the depth of topics goes deeper than the pacific ocean, the range and spectrum of things they talk about at any time of the day is a massive and vast like the milky way; it's comforting to know you have someone always there- if you're lucky, a soulmate, maybe- a soul partner. someone who will catch you when you fall, pull you back close when you go astray.
perhaps they were meant to be, then.
but what if they weren't?
while jeongguk goes to the gym to work out, jimin goes for physio a few blocks away. jeongguk's shifted his workout hideaway just so he can keep track of jimin's locations more easily, but he doesn't tell him that.
jimin undergoes the assessment and correction of his scapulo-humeral rhythm, introduced to special equipment and procedures to alleviate his rotor cuff impingement. he goes for rehabilitation every as and when dutifully, and the doctor says he's doing well, his shoulder’s healing up slowly but surely.
he's already accepted it, come to terms with the fact that he won't be able to go for his last nationals as a youth, but hey- he's still improving, getting braver, stronger and tougher along the way. even if he does make it, a fully healed rotor cuff, the intense and aggressive training and exertion before and after is likely to result in an even bigger tear in the ligament.
but it's okay, there are other options, he's multifaceted, and with a positive and sunny attitude that strives for perfection, to be the best in everything he does, he's going to be okay- or so jeongguk tells him every other night.
if jeongguk says it, then it's probably right.
they're all nighter friends, alright.
it's in the middle of a cool, cloudless night, both of them sleeping on the queen sized bed with the windows open, night breeze drifting in like a spring day.
“jeonggukie!” jimin whisper yells, shaking his arm with a little too much vigour.
the latter groans, waking up and rubbing at his eyes, cracking one eye open.
“nightmare again?” jeongguk mutters, voice like sandpaper, but the excitement in jimin's eyes are shining brighter than the stars from outside the blinds and window.
“i want to dye my hair pink,” jimin announces, triumphant at his epiphany. seriously, jeongguk wants to swear, it's too early in the morning for this, damn it.
“you woke me up at 3:01am to tell me you want to dye your hair pink.” jeongguk deadpans, fully awake now, crossing his arms over his chest as they sit face to face.
a small blush creeps up jimin's face as his hands fly up to touch his lips, suddenly very embarrassed and feeling very bad for waking the sleeping bun up.
“oh, um- sorry, but i got a little excited about the thought so i thought i wanted jeonggukie to be the first one to know,” jimin deflates, sheepish, looking at his toes and feet instead of jeongguk.
“clearly the salon isn't open at 3am, but yeah we can do that in the afternoon if you want,” jeongguk says dryly, “thanks for waking me up.” he laughs, says it in a teasing manner, but still- jimin knows sleep is really important, and now feels horrible for waking him up.
the younger kisses his cheek, tenderly, grasping the situation with finesse, holds his hand and tells him it's okay- he'll forgive him only on one condition.
“but-! i'm older, i'm your captain, what do you mean i'm not forgiven-”
jeongguk's already done changing into a thin white shirt and sweatpants, waiting for jimin to mount his back as a makeshift weight as he goes for a morning jog around the estate.
what a great start to a brand new day.
and jimin gets better. they make a promise, a pinky promise, that jeongguk's going to be the best in busan, the best in south korea.
“with me… i hope i can make you invincible, guk-ah,” jimin murmurs, thinking jeongguk's fallen asleep, but he hasn't. so he catches it. sometimes it's the other way around, but they lithely worm their way around, neither asking the other about those unspoken thoughts and feelings they let out when they think the other is asleep. too shy to ask, too afraid of what the answer might turn out to be.
they're all nighter friends, they convince each other, an oddly endearing title as they watch all the random cameos of their competitors late into the nights, compare and contrast to jeongguk’ progress and how he fares. so far, he's doing well- man, those bench presses with jimin must have worked.
today is another of those nights- both busan boys huddled up, the only light source the bright macbook screen in the dark. jimin's clad in one of jeongguk's black stussy hoodies, the other in one of his bazillions of white tees.
“oh god, look at that butterflier’s shoulders, it's massive,”
“his arms aren't flexing at the precise angles for him to thrust into the water and propel,”
“ugh, he can't even rebound from the wall properly-”
“look at those thighs-”
"some ice cream for you?" jimin asks out of nowhere, chubby hands grabbing a tub of strawberry cheesecake flavoured ice cream and jeongguk crinkles his nose at the calories.
"that's unhealthy, hyung," he mumbles, and jimin just laughs, and says it's comfort food. he then mutters to the almost empty tub, something about it's okay, ice cream, jiminnie will just do 30 more squats tomorrow with jeonggukie to make up for you, okay?
jeongguk happens to be staring a little too hard, back of his hand pressed harshly against his lips so jimin doesn't see him blushing at how cute he thinks the elder is, because jimin is just plain adorable and he just wants to fling himself out of the window. thankfully it's not that obvious in the pitch black darkness save the macbooks, so he allows a small smile of bliss to grace his lips, as he pokes jimin's cheeks cutely like it was the most natural thing on the world. jimin just puffs his cheeks and jeongguk just wants to kiss him without being all weird about it.
sometimes jimin falls asleep halfway, letting his bubblegum pink head hit the keyboard, and despite his muscle mass he is still pretty light- thus jeongguk always carries him bridal style back into the bedroom, where he wraps the little cutie in blankets to keep him warm and safe like a burrito. the shutter goes off, an advanced move that jeongguk is now a certified expert in. the lights go off next.
one day, jeongguk says he's making pasta for lunch, but he forgets to but the tomato sauce- and so he rushes out, to stock up on some eggs too. the grocer’s is just round the bend, so jeongguk's dashed off like he's a sprinter and not a swimmer, faster than jimin can even say chong, jojun, balsa! or whatever that was he heard on spotify.
so he dials jeongguk's number, wanting to remind him to get some milk and instant noodles on the way as well. oh, and some strawberries. jimin loves them. when the call goes through, jeongguk's ringtone echoes in the kitchen, and jimin pads over to swipe it. silly jeonggukie.
however, the iphone detects his fingerprint and unlocks automatically- and he's left at the screen of three locked folders on some app, a notification popped up to say his password has been saved in his memo, congratulations for successfully transferring all the files into those password protected folders.
the pop up blocks two folder names, but there's one prominent one at the top that reads ‘for him’. and jimin doesn't know why, but he feels his heart sink. he was excited about eating jeongguk's pasta but now he's suddenly not that hungry anymore. the folder sets him thinking, comes out with a brand new question mark in his head that starts charting different possible situations and outcomes and it hurts. he feels his chest pang, constrict a little.
so maybe that's why jeongguk's been leaving the house more often? his hands are itching to find the backup passwords, to unlock the folders and see who's that special guy. but it's jeongguk's privacy, and jimin respects that. the phone gets locked and put back to its rightful position by the stove and ingredients with a small clack.
no, he's not going to ask jeongguk about it later, or anytime soon. it's his right, and someone as stunning and beautifully made as jeongguk would definitely have his fair share of suitors, so it's normal, it's fine, it's okay.
deep down, jimin knows it's not.
heats are getting closer, so of course jeongguk goes out more often, to train, to the gym, to train again. since jimin is currently in a more stable condition, shoulder healing up faster than usual, jeongguk thinks he wouldn't mind that much, but no, jimin misses him. so much.
“hello?” jimin asks, voice a little shaky. jeongguk picks up after the third ring.
“hey, minnie-hyung, you're lucky i just came out of the showers, i'm going to the pool soo-”
“can you come home?”
jeongguk's worried, and doesn't answer, for jimin sounds like he's on the verge of tears or something, and he's clueless as to what happened. did he injure himself? lose something precious? trigger some bad memories?
“hyung, are you alr-”
“please?” jimin whispers simultaneously, he wants to see jeongguk's face, not just hear his voice; he's been waking up to an empty bed these days, falling asleep all alone.
but who was he, to be so selfish, to demand that jeongguk keep him company at his own whims, when the younger had summer games coming up, had a bright future to success in the sporting arena if he performed well this time. who was he to call jeongguk to come back home when he missed him? this wasn't even his apartment in the first place- jeongguk had put up with him, accommodated him since that fateful day in the showers, and everything just sprang forth from there.
the budding athlete rushes home, barging his head into every room until he finds jimin on their bed, staring into space. he looks okay from afar, but on closer inspection, he looks really upset, his heart broken.
“jeongguk?” he starts, a kittenish lick of his lips. “i'm sorry for making you come all the way back just ‘cause i missed you and-” oh no, this… this was bad. he shouldn't be crying over a thing like this.
“jimin, that's okay, as long as you're well and healthy and happy then it's good.”
“i just missed you, so bad, and it's killing me how you're my first thought in the morning, the last thing i think of when i go to sleep, but you're not there- and i feel terrible, you could be training right now, but i- here i am being selfish,”
the room goes quiet, jeongguk slipping in to sit beside him on the mattress, “i bought you things, another of your white shirt, some boots, a new phone cover, earphones- but you… you never came home for me to give it to you,” he says quietly, biting at his lips.
they were nothing- just… more than friends, less than lovers.
“i- i really don't want to be an added burden but i missed you jeonggukie; the other day i accidentally came across these locked folders on your phone because my thumbprint got sensored, but it was because i was trying to call and you left your phone behind so i- i saw, and thought maybe you were out with someone, seeing someone? well, t-then why didn't you tell me, i could have moved out, i- your folder was called ‘for him’ and obviously… you like someone- oh my god i'm making myself an idiot now, aren't i? i'm really sorry that you have to put up with me being so selfish but-”
the words that he wants to say, have wetted seven tissue papers for so far, they get lodged in his throat- he can't bring himself to do it-
i like you, jeonggukie. i was hoping that it was me you wanted, not someone else-
but jeongguk knows, hugs him and whispers apologies for being a dick and for not noticing jimin being sad and down. “i'm sorry for being an asshole, and sorry to disappoint, but i was really out training.” jimin's gone a little paler, hands digging into his thighs.
“i just really wanted to win that medal for you,”
jeongguk's tapping at his cracked screen when jimin answers back. “i don't need that gold medal, guk, to me you're golden- you're far more precious than gold.”
they pull apart, jeongguk using more tissue to dab at jimin's apple red cheeks, passing over the phone to him. “now i'm definitely winning that medal for you and taking care of you properly.”
the wan smile he has makes the guilt in jimin's chest claw its way out tenfold, a caged bird set free from his stomach and tickling his insides at how genuine and cheesy the words were; he feels plain atrocious and unbelievable for doubting jeongguk, so guilty for thinking of him like this.
it's the memo of the passwords.
‘reason to smile’ is the name of the folder filled with jimin's candids, when he's sleeping all the way to when he's taste testing jeongguk's pumpkin soup. the password is his birthday. 13th of october.
the album 'keep going' is all his photos with jimin, its password the day he takes jimin home to sleep over at his place- and the one that has jimin's heart set ablaze, 'for him'- it harbours of all the selfies jimin takes using his phone, on snow, on whatsapp, kakao, with filters or not, sleepy, hungry, happy, pouty- it's all in there. and the password is the day jimin promises to move in for real. the day he says yes to staying with him.
it's the first time jimin initiates their kisses.
the moment he had promised jimin, he had known it was a lie. it was a… half truth. well, jimin never really directly said it- that he liked him- and obviously, just having sent in his name as representative captain of busan in jimin's place for the summer games; thus jeongguk takes on the ownership of breaking it to jimin, as bad as both of them might be at this game of cards, both showing hearts.
jimin's still taking his bath, with those fizzy bath bombs from lush with the flowers inside that glow and glimmer when effervescent.
he hears the water getting drained, soft humming coming as the door creaks open. jimin steps out, ruffling his baby pink hair with a towel, dried flowers from the nourishing bath in his cotton candy tufts. he looks gorgeous, really.
wearing some white cotton shirt and a long pinstriped dress shirt acting as a jacket, he plops down onto the mattress, as he pushes up the long sleeves to his elbows, but they still prefer to drop back down after a while, cover half his shy palms.
the elder looks up, large eyes looking back in surprise, plush lips together, eyebrows frowning slightly at the seriousness of his tone. jeongguk's really nervous, tracing random patterns onto the sheets, eyes shifting.
“sorry, i- i have a confession to make.” he exhales loudly, before mustering all his courage to do it. however brazen and savage he is on the outside, jimin's really precious to him, so he's going to treat him with the utmost care. “remember when i said i'd take care you until your injury heals? um, well. i… i lied.”
jeongguk's fumbling, fumbling with the words to say, the things he's not sure if he's able to express, covey; the last time he had felt all those damned butterflies was when he was what, six, with that really cute busan boy at the beach, teaching toddlers to tread water and float with their mini boards. jeongguk sometimes still wonders about that boy though, with his really beautiful smile and those pretty eyes, but right now he has a park jimin, who makes him feel five times of whatever he had felt for his first love.
sitting cross legged, he avoids all eye contact as much as possible, and licks his lips, smacking them together and earning a loud pop in the terse, cloaked silence over them like a visage. what were they?
more than friends, but less than a lover.
jimin freezes the moment he hears jeongguk utter those fateful words, the last thing he had wanted to hear, the thing he had dreaded and feared the most. he knew it. jeongguk's now the newly inaugurated captain, he's not needed anymore- he's been replaced;
there's a time bomb going off in his chest, two hundred questions erupting each second, heart thumping so loudly and quickly he can hear it ringing in his ears. his glassy eyes are blown wide, draping the pinstriped shirt around him more tightly, accidentally knocking a bolster off the bed, flustered and panicky and in a state of shock.
no, no- please, jeonggukie, y-you can't just do this to me, plea- no, i, i need you-! you can't just abandon me halfway when i'm getting better, i'm still recovering halfway; y-you can't leave me, i don't want to relapse without you, i-
jimin's so caught up in a frenzy, mind going haywire, on overdrive in a sudden state of shock, he can feel his eyes wetting. he wills himself to be strong, be brave- he's not a kid anymore- to please, please control his emotions; he can taste the coppery tang from biting down on his bottom lip so hard, and his heart is beating so fast his ribs are going to bruise.
with every added second jeongguk stays silent, jimin feels numbed, like his heart might just come out of his chest, erratic heartbeat and-
jeongguk suddenly breaks that awful, suffocating silence with a huge, long sigh, like he's been free of all his burdens he's been shouldering. his face is flaring from how greasy his speech is going to be, as far as he's been planning in his head.
“jimin-hyung. i'd like to take care of you for the rest of my life instead, so if you would just let me-”
but jimin's already scambling into his lap, in a mad rush as if frantic to find shelter in a storm, crying and sighing in all relief and gratefulness and bliss, pulling busan’s current captain into his arms with a big, loving hug.
"i... i thought- i was so scared- i thought you didn't want me anymore, i-"
"jimin... listen jimin i wouldn't trade you for the world."
now jeongguk is crying too, because he has fallen in love with one of the most beautiful and precious creatures in the world, but he's so, so insecure and delicate and jeongguk just feels so much overwhelming emotions wash over him like a huge tidal wave. he wishes he could give jimin the world, everything and anything, all the love he deserves in the whole vast galaxy.
"please don't cry, my pretty baby."
he kisses jimin's hair and hugs him tightly for a solid two hours or so, whispering to him about how beautiful and lovely he is despite all the imperfections and flaws the shorter sees in himself.
“jeongguk,” jimin suddenly says, jolting up from the younger’s arms, “you know… when i was eight, i- i taught kids by the beach how to swim. there was this really beautiful boy that was staring at me from afar, and when our eyes met, he ran away, and fell down,” he's smiling. like a beautiful angel, thumb tracing the bittersweet scar.
jeongguk's jaw goes slack, and they start kissing again, tiny and tender but so whole and full of all the love they share, how fate had woven them back together, how they were meant to be.
“with you, i'll be invincible.”
he carries on listing pretty truths in the little aphrodite as they cuddle, made for each other even in how they just fit so nicely, until jimin stops sniffling and hiccuping, as he starts to drift off into sleep in his reassuring warm arms. he feels so loved. so blessed.
"i love you," he whispers into pink locks; before he pauses to take a selca of jimin curled up sleeping on his chest- he doesn't know he captured himself softly smiling at jimin like the little koala was his universe until he sets it as his lockscreen. but when he sets the next photo as his wallpaper, he swears he sees jimin's lips curling into a smile as he snores softly on jeongguk's chest.
more than friends, definitely lovers.
jimin rouses when he feels warmth leaving him, and he awakens, jeongguk having wanted to cook them ramen with egg or something to celebrate. jimin sticks his arms out cutely, asking jeongguk to come back and cuddle him.
“‘m still sleepy…” he pouts, even though it's supposed to be a whine, it sounds sexy with his voice dropping an octave in the morning. oh wow. jeongguk's heart did not just skip ten beats.
he puts on that shy smile he saves for that boy by the beach, the smile he saves for park jimin, and of course indulges him, clambering back into the covers, going okay, okay, and jimin sighs in contentment, tucking his head into the crook of jeongguk's shoulder.
he's so happy every time he sees those pink highlights jeongguk got in his light brown to match with his cotton candy mop of hair. the roots of jimin's hair are growing back, becoming less dry due to abstinence of chlorine.
and jeongguk just has so many things he wants to say to the angel beside him, so he just goes for it, the domestic ambience has been set perfectly- what better at 8:30am on a cloudless day in the middle of his- no, their- queen sized bed?
he clears his throat to grab jimin's attention, to which the elder responds by looking up with one eye closed and a small noise of confusion.
"jimin- jimin, listen- i know i am not good at many things, but i promise to be good to you; i may not be the best and yes, i am impulsive and aggressive and rude but i promise to always be there for you. if you drown i… i can't promise to be strong enough to pull you from the waters, like physically or emotionally- or depending on the tides but i... even if i can swim i wouldn't mind drowning with you-"
there's a pause and a loud sigh and it feels so good to be able to put whatever that's on his mind out and his heart feel less burdened, lighter, and gosh jimin is tearing up and so is he and-
"jimin, i love you so much i don't want to ever let you go- i just want to shower you with all the love i can possibly give you and i love you, i love you i would never not want you anymore-"
jimin kisses him so feverishly and passionately and jeongguk feels like he's melting into jimin's touch, his veins are on fire, their tears are clinging onto their lashes- and god; jimin just looks so gorgeous in every angle as they fall into a heap, a tangle of limbs and voracious tongues melding, teeth clashing in fervent want, desperate and needy to convey how much they feel for the other.
"i don't know what else to say and… you know i was never good with words or expressing my feelings but- all you need to know is that i love you, jimin, i really do. please don't ever think you're unwanted- i love you and I'll always want you, so don't cry my darling-"
but jimin just bawls like a little baby, and they are so old, old enough to represent busan at national summer games and what are they doing, like they were six and eight all over again.
"j-jeonggukie you're so sweet to me- i love you more than i could ever say- i love you, deeper than all the oceans and the waters; you are all i ever wanted, a-and so much more than i ever asked for- i feel so lucky for meeting you," jimin gushes, and he just looks so endearingly breathtaking, so beautiful even when he has little pearls on his face, dried flowers in fluffy hair.
"you look like a son of aphrodite even when you cry,"
"you are so precious to me that i’d still continue to love you even if one day you don't want me anymore."
“i love you,”
“i love you too.”
everything goes up from there.
they often sneak into the swimming complex, captains having a full set of keys and passes. even though it's forbidden, they just pretend it doesn't happen. coach probably knows, but as long as it's not over exercising or harmful to anybody then it's okay, right?
they both think their soul partner looks so ethereal with the pale moonlight shining in from the glass panels, soft moonshine illuminating their skin, water soaking up the glow.
jeongguk thinks he's so lucky, an angel always there, now always keeping track of his timings and giving him encouragement, gearing him up for the first heats, sitting by the edge of the pool with feet lapping at the surface of the waters.
jimin thinks he's so lucky, that jeongguk is a heaven sent creature that's a complete beast in the pool but sweet and shy outside the arena; and even though he's so fierce and aggressive and competitive, his form is still so graceful and elegant and dynamic and sharp and so very beautiful to watch.
jimin often squats on the mini concrete blocks, holding his little clipboard taking down pointers and tips, jeongguk's mini personal manager, his jigaemae, his manggaetteok. jimin will bring along snacks, and every single time jeonggukie finishes his 100m, he will ask for chocolate or sweets that jimin brings- and when the bubblegum boy chides him for eating junk food, he argues about high metabolism so he burns it all away.
jigaemae’s always sitting on that small platform, as he mimics the buzzer to start and dive in- jeongguk's really getting better at both timings and whining, "hyunggg i swam for like 40 minutes already…. can i please have a kiss,"
"jimin please... i just want one more gummy bear, ah~ the red one pleaseee,"
jimin's heart always swells because jeongguk only does that when he's alone with him.
the doctor had reduced the prognosis to 30 weeks, then 28 weeks as the months fly by, but when jeongguk asks jimin to swim again with him, another midnight, he's too afraid it might be permanently damaged if it's not fully rested and he exerts it again.
his manager always makes lame excuses, jeonggukie don't get distracted, practice your laps! but jeongguk knows and always replies with alright then, not today.
when jeongguk's finally managed to coax him to relax into the water, he's slightly apprehensive to dive back in, now a threat instead of a safe haven.
but jeongguk's here- so maybe there's nothing left to fear, then.
"it’s okay baby, i got you- we'll take it slow, alright?" and he does that little winking thing that has jimin swooning, heart fluttering and very bashful all of a sudden. "may i have this dance?" jeongguk asks exaggeratedly, as he taps the highest rung of the ladder into the pool, and it sends jimin into a fit of giggles that echo and bounce off the walls of the swimming complex.
thank god for waterproof phones, jeongguk plays lose it by oh wonder- and in case jimin’s clumsiness kicks in again he makes him step on his feet so the can catch him more easily, 'just in case'- he just wants the close proximity and is a bad liar. instead of making jimin swim again, he tries to dance with him in the water, humming along, and they start waltzing. it reminds them both of prom, when they were younger, swaying in the water with jimin leaning his head onto jeongguk’s muscular chest or jeongguk backhugging him; and hearing the deep vibrations of his humming reverberate loudly in his ears feels so lovely- to be cherished and wanted and protected.
“... jeongguk, you were supposed to be practicing for your relay.” jimin scolds, as jeongguk rests his chin on blush pink, and jimin kisses his shoulder for the umpteenth time.
"i just really liked having you in my arms, training can wait..."
jimin mumbles something incoherent, and jeongguk poses a question. “jimin, why do you always kiss my shoulder? you’re not having any shoulder complex or anything, right? you coping good?”
a small fist punches jeongguk in the chest. “don’t be stupid, muscle pig… i just can’t reach…”
on days that they both want to spend quality time with each other but gymming gets in the way, they improvise and make do with whatever equipment they have, with a ton more of added incentives.
his now personal trainer holds his feet at the ankles to do sit ups, where their noses boop its 0.5 points, a forehead touch is 1 point, a gentle kiss is worth 2. for every push up jeongguk does with jimin sitting on his back, counting, it’s worth 5. the list goes on, jeongguk bench pressing jimin, etc.
the target switches as and when they feel more ambitious, more tired- it generally ends up at 200. a hundred kisses a day keeps the physiotherapist away.
its been tried and tested.
and finally, the day comes.
jeongguk’s obviously proceeded, heats, quarters, semis, preliminaries and now finals. jimin goes to every one of them, their hometown having the honours to host this time. he’s sitting in the vip section of the sajik swimming pool in busan sports complex- holding a huge banner with jeongguk’s name on it.
as his ultimate no.1 cheerleader at the stands, he shouts "jeon jeonggukie!!" before his race when the emcees suga and j-hope introduce him as busan’s golden boy, and jimin blows him a really hard flying kiss with both palms. he doesn’t expect jeongguk who’s putting on his goggles halfway pretending to catch it, holding the imaginary flying kiss close to his heart before making a kissy face back and winking- the camera happens to zoom in on him, and jimin and all the fanboys and fangirls combust on the spot.
it’s exhilarating, the way jeongguk dives in like a dolphin conquers all. takes the water in his stride, owns it, wins. he beats that broad-shouldered hyung from anyang, and that taehyung guy who’s always compared to be the park jimin of daegu.
and of course the first one who runs to send his words of congratulations is none other than jimin, who just runs over from the stands, and collides and leaps into his arms the moment it’s over. jeongguk doesn’t care if the media doesn’t approve, the cameras zoomed in on his excellent ways in the water as well as how well he shows affection when it comes to jimin. they can do whatever, jimin’s his and he will kiss if he wants to.
“you did it, jeonggukie!! i am so, so proud,” jimin gushes, a tranquil serene lake with beauty akin to a waterfall, the niagara falls. his eyes are shining, in pride, in respect, in awe. jeongguk lifts him up, until eye level and kisses him again, for the whole world- okay, maybe all of south korea’s best swimmers- to see. and jimin doesn't really care about how wet and drenched with chlorine he gets- but the way they kiss ends up being so passionate and intimate the emcees even have to do a goddamn commentary about it, “you made it- you really became the best in korea,” jimin breathes, with every move jeongguk still takes his breath away.
"nah, that’s where you're wrong, jimin." as he puts jimin down carefully and pretends to bestow the shiny gold medal with busan engraved onto it on the shorter swimmer's - no, his soulmate’s- neck and jimin all oh as jeongguk sweetly presses a kiss to his hair, arms looped around his waist.
"we made it."
months pass, and jeongguk’s getting sponsorships from everywhere, all those sports merchandise and swimwear asking him to model and endorse for them- even pocari sweat sends him a special invitation. but his answer always remains the same, that he’ll only do it if jimin gets a portion of it too.
letters and phone calls, emails come- even texts and faxes, really. and then one day, there's a manila envelope that arrives, addressed to the both of them.
jeongguk was right when he said this was only the beginning;
they’ve been selected to represent korea for the olympics.