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Down for the Count

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The overhead light was never more blinding than in this moment. The inner circle where they both stood felt like a trap. The disquiet was surreal. The relentless cheering of the audience seemed like a sick joke. No part of this was bittersweet. There was no pressure to perform; just the gut-wrenching guilt of an unwanted victory.

It was difficult to make eye contact as Hyunwoo stood toe to toe with his best friend, his teammate, his boyfriend, and perhaps now most critically, his competitor, Hoseok.

"Look at me."

Hyunwoo's stare remained fixed on the mat as he ignored the request.

"Hyunwoo, look at me," Hoseok demanded, voice shaky.

"I don't want to," Hyunwoo replied in a small voice. He tore his eyes from the mat to watch the referee walk towards them. Just beyond the ref sat Coach - Hyunwoo couldn't see his face, but he knew he was probably mouthing something cliché about seizing the moment.

Visibly upset, Hoseok stared daggers at his unwanted opponent. "Listen to me. Don't throw this moment away. You better give me your all. I'll fucking know if you're going easy on me… You know I will," he hissed as he clenched his fists, trying to convince himself that he too believed his own words.

Unaffected or perhaps just uninterested in the drama, the referee stood in the middle of them. "Okay, boys. You know the drill. No closed fists, no eye gouging, no clothes grabbing, and no unnecessary aggression. You ready?"

Hoseok nodded. Hyunwoo hesitantly nodded.

The referee signaled for the match to start and backed away. Hoseok was the first to strike.

He shot in for a double leg takedown, but Hyunwoo instinctively sprawled and squashed the attack. As a move drilled into every wrestler’s brain since their very first practice, sprawling was simply a reflex for a wrestler. Shoulders locked at the crooks of their necks, the classic test of strength befell them. All of Hyunwoo’s body weight pushing into Hoseok, the younger gritted his teeth and pushed back.

No room to advance, the ref called a stalemate and signaled for a restart at the inner circle they traveled only a short distance from.

At the referee’s hand signal, Hoseok shot for the single leg, and as Hyunwoo began to fall back, Hoseok switched tactics and grabbed onto both legs. With his base built to both feet, Hoseok was in an ample position to drive Hyunwoo forward and down, spiking the elder’s back into the mat. Except, he miscalculated the forward momentum and lifted his hips too high, too prone to a clever counter by Hyunwoo.

Using Hoseok’s momentum against him, Hyunwoo elevated the younger’s hips higher in the air, forcing Hoseok to brace himself for a crash landing with just one free arm. Shifting Hoseok’s weight off him, Hyunwoo dodged the attempted takedown. Thinking fast, he locked in an overhook and encircled Hoseok’s arm, successfully stealing the upperhand and regaining a sturdy base of control.

In an attempt to reverse their positions, Hyunwoo trapped Hoseok’s arm and rolled forward, flipping the younger over his back. Hoseok slammed onto the mat, a jolt of pain rippling through him from the harsh collision. Instincts moving him, Hoseok jabbed a knee into the mat and shifted away from the blunt impact of Hyunwoo’s body.

In the blink of an eye, Hyunwoo switched his maneuver and lurched to the side, hoping to catch Hoseok off guard by doing so. Hoseok fanned his legs out and grabbed Hyunwoo’s wrists, causing Hyunwoo to replicate the motion. They looked like two serpents dancing a dangerous game, riling up everyone in attendance with their lightning-quick ability to read the other’s every move. It was a rare treat to witness such a tight scramble.

They knew each other too well. They practically mirrored each other’s advances.

Suddenly, Hoseok stopped. He pounced so swiftly it even caught Hyunwoo off guard. Instead of cinching a hold, Hoseok accidentally rammed the sharp tip of his elbow into Hyunwoo’s cheekbone, splitting skin.

Hyunwoo cried out, shocked. The crowd gasped.

Hoseok recoiled on impact, immediately ripped from his headspace.

Beads of red dotted the wound.

The referee stopped the match, signalling a blood timeout to the scorekeeper by the judge’s panel.

The ref’s palm on Hoseok’s chest prevented him from running over to check on his boyfriend. What was he thinking anyway? He couldn’t just rush to Hyunwoo’s aid in front of a packed gym of wrestling fans. They were opponents competing for the same prize - the only concern he was allowed to publicly display was that of a teammate, not a boyfriend.

The medical team tended to Hyunwoo on the sidelines as Hoseok remained in one spot on the mat, stewing in his guilt. He did that. He was the reason Hyunwoo was bleeding. Fuck the point penalty on his score for unnecessary aggression, regardless if it was an accident. He didn’t even want to win anymore. Not if it meant hurting the man he loved.

Oh.

The man he loved?

A call to the end of the blood timeout caught Hoseok by surprise. Did he space out? He shook his head and refocused, realizing Hyunwoo’s once split cheek was now slathered with petroleum jelly to stop the bleeding. He fought the urge to ask Hyunwoo if he was okay but wimped out. He was mortified by the inappropriate timing of his epiphany - it made regarding Hyunwoo strangely foreign.

The ref directed them back to the inner circle, and the match was promptly restarted. As Hoseok looked at Hyunwoo, he immediately recognized the flicker of adrenaline in the elder’s eyes. Hyunwoo was drunk off the wrestler’s high; no pain, no gain mentality; kill or be killed. Blood had been spilled. There was no going back.

There would be a clear winner, but Hoseok wasn’t so sure it’d be him.

Maybe he was never sure. Maybe he was a hypocrite from the start, fooled by his own false bravado. Deep down, he knew Hyunwoo was the better wrestler.

Or maybe winning wasn’t as sweet when it meant hurting someone he loved.

Like an angry bull, Hyunwoo charged forward. Confident and intimidating, he swiftly overtook Hoseok. The younger fell to the mat but quickly dodged the crushing weight of Hyunwoo’s full force as the elder barreled into him. Twisting, he tried to latch onto a limb or some other loose body part, but Hyunwoo predicted his every move. Again, the elder powered through Hoseok’s counterattacks, careless of his own sustained injuries, intent on manhandling and grappling.

Shit, Hyunwoo was straight up using his size advantage to quite literally squash Hoseok. If this went on much longer, he wasn’t sure he’d remain lucky enough to keep dodging. He had to make changes, and make them quickly. As he scrambled to his feet, Hoseok altered his tactics. The best way to stop a wild animal was to trap it, right? He’d catch him in a submission; a decisive victory.

As Hyunwoo muscled his way atop Hoseok, clearly aiming for the pinfall, Hoseok trashed. Attempts to prevent both shoulder blades from touching the mat were hardly passable, but he managed to survive Hyunwoo’s strength. When the other hassled with his waist, hungry for a point-earning suplex, Hoseok seized the opportunity to capture Hyunwoo’s arm.

Not thinking clearly, perhaps from the surging adrenaline, Hyunwoo struggled to reform his base. This gave Hoseok the opening he needed. He locked Hyunwoo in a tight cradle lock, cinching his arm and leg together in a way he couldn’t power through.

Everything was where it should be. Victory was imminent, he just had to see every move through to the end. It wasn’t his boyfriend he was trying to defeat, it was his opponent. It was tough to rationalize, but it wasn’t personal. All was fair in love and war. He just had to remain detached, alert, focused.

Relief and regret washed over Hoseok. With this move, he knew he had won.

And then…

A frantic tapping on his shoulder.

The ref shouted and wedged his palms between their bodies, pushing them apart. Hoseok released and thumped back on his elbows. Fatigue caused his muscles to throb, and soon his arms gave out and he collapsed on the mat. Goddamn, he was winded. When exactly did he stop breathing? Everything happened so fast.

Suddenly, the referee pulled Hoseok up. He was lightheaded and short of breath and little confused. Mentally, he knew he won, but physically his body could not withstand the excitable way the ref kept jerking his arm up in victory.

As Hoseok’s name was announced over the chatter of the crowd, Hyunwoo slowly stood up. Despite the pain in his arm, he was so, so happy for Hoseok. He beat him fair and square. A small smile formed on his face as he clapped, catching the attention of the winner himself. Hoseok yanked his arm away from the referee and ran over to Hyunwoo like he should’ve done much earlier. To hell with everyone else, this was his moment and he was going to celebrate it his way.

He hugged Hyunwoo tight and rested his chin on the elder’s shoulder liked he did when they were just boyfriends and not teammates. The audience celebrated their camaraderie, but to them it was so much deeper. Exhausted and in pain, emotions were high; every little thing was felt with soul-bearing intensity. They had just wrestled their hardest match, and it was against each other, and instead of teasing who’d fuck who at the end, all they wanted was to do was ride the copesthetic aftermath.

Under the invasively watchful gaze of hundreds of people, wrestling reduced them to two boys hopelessly in love. They knew it, too, but Hyunwoo caught him off guard when he said it.

“I love you.”

“What?”

“I love you, Hoseok.”

Hoseok retracted from their embrace and studied Hyunwoo’s face, as if he’d catch the hole in the ruse if he stared hard enough. When he saw nothing but a vulnerable boy disguised as a man, his stomach was aflutter. “I love you too, big boy,” he chirped.

They laughed together like they did before all this - before all the boys and the sex, the drama and the pressure to win. Hyunwoo looped an arm around Hoseok’s neck as they walked off the mat, whispering, “You better fuck me later with that gold medal on,” into Hoseok’s ear.

~

Jooheon didn’t have time to congratulate Hoseok or even cheer Hyunwoo up. His name was called before they returned to the locker room. Hell, he only heard the news because he overheard event coordinators gossiping about how long ‘those two Seoul University boys’ hugged. There was no mistaking who they were referring to.

Admittedly, he was nervous as he entered the gym. He ought to be, too, since his medical clearance was controversial. Rumors that his opponent liked to target the head only fed his anxiousness. He shook it off despite himself - he couldn’t let it get to him, he just couldn’t. On the large list of people he had to impress, he was number one on that list. He was always hardest on himself and this time wasn’t any different.

Jooheon secured his headgear as he approached his opponent on the mat. The guy smirked like a criminal, like he knew he was going to get away with something devious. Jooheon did his best to remain unphased, but he was cursed with a highly expressive face. Apparently he did visibly react because his opponent was laughing at him. What a dick.

Then he felt eyes from behind boring into him. Kihyun.

What would happen if Jooheon turned around? Would his nerves go away or would they intensify tenfold? Damn, he really needed to get better control over his inability to focus.

Before he could make up his mind, the match promptly started as the referee signaled for it. Two seconds in, Jooheon felt a sudden pressure. Fear of worsening his condition struck. Seven seconds in, his neck was crushed between muscle and bone. The rumors were true, his opponent aimed for the head - clearly a technical wrestler, the guy was looking to make quick work of their match with a headlock. No mind games like before, this opponent wanted a decisive victory.

But he didn’t want it more than Jooheon.

Goddamnit, no one wanted it more than Jooheon.

Instead of letting his fear get the better of him and desperately prying at the limb around his throat, Jooheon calmly dropped to his knees and rolled, thus flinging his opponent over his body from the abrupt transition. As his opponent slammed back-first onto the mat, his grip weakened momentarily, but it just was enough of a lapse for Jooheon to twist free.

They went on like that for several minutes - stealing control only to lose it a few seconds after. Truthfully, they evaded each other’s attacks in a way that proved why the two of them represented their weight class in the finals. It was an intricate dance different from the way Hyunwoo and Hoseok gracefully mirrored movements. This match was the serendipitous chemistry of strangers brought together by the love of sport and a thirst for victory.

Their match restarted multiple times due to numerous pushes, pulls, or throws outside of bounds. Matches like that always got the crowd on their feet. It was intense, and since the scoreboard was even, it was unpredictable too.

And just when Jooheon felt like was going to die from the pressure, Coach’s words pulled him from the trenches of imminent defeat - ‘The first round goes to the biggest wrestler, the second goes to the fastest, and the third goes to the wrestler with the most heart.’

‘Do you have heart?’ he’d ask when the whole team was groaning from the pain of overtraining and over-conditioning. ‘Well, do you? You won’t win anything if you don’t. Not a match, not life.’

Fending off his opponent’s attempt at a half nelson, Jooheon screamed at himself to keep fighting. Fuck the injury, fuck his opponent, no one could take this moment from him. After all the shit he went through this school year with Hyungwon, with Hoseok and Hyunwoo, with Kihyun… this moment was for him.

With the courage to finally face himself, he found the courage to stare back at Kihyun’s concerned face in the audience. And he grinned a dimpled grin.

And with all the strength left in his being, Jooheon countered the half nelson with the best suplex he’d ever executed in his entire varsity wrestling career. He topped it with a pinfall.

“One… two… three!”

Three seconds gave Lee Jooheon first place, but he gave himself victory.

The referee grabbed him by the wrist to raise his arm and he graciously embraced the moment. He basked in the cheers from the audience. His heart thumped in his chest and he damn near collapsed from exhaustion, but he had one more thing to do.

Riding the high of his win, Jooheon jogged off the mat to where Kihyun sat on the bleachers. As he approached, Kihyun stood up and met him down on the gym floor. Expecting a simple hug, Kihyun squealed when Jooheon picked him up and hugged him, spinning and smiling. Kihyun’s laughter was the best thing he’d ever heard in his entire life. When their eyes met, Jooheon reacted on impulse and spat out his mouthguard to kiss Kihyun.

Okay fuck that, kissing his childhood crush was the best thing he’d ever done in his whole life.

Half the crowd went silent and the other half went crazy. Jooheon didn’t care, especially not when Kihyun’s initial apprehension gave way to tenderness. He cupped Jooheon’s jaw in his hands, melting the wrestler from the inside out.

“Sorry I’m so sweaty,” Jooheon huffed after he returned Kihyun to the ground. “And sorry for kissing you in front of hundreds of people…”

“Ssh.” Kihyun simply offered a lopsided smile before pressing another kiss to Jooheon’s lips. “Congratulations, champ~”

~

The expansive gymnasium filled with the roaring sounds of cheering as each winning competitor took their place on the podium. Some played to the crowd, shooting sly grins and poses towards the myriad of bulbs flashing away like fireworks popping off, while others, like Hoseok, stood proud yet humbled in victory.

Through the endless sea of chaos, he searched intently until his eyes landed on his boyfriend. When their gazes locked, Hyunwoo smiled and blew him a kiss, and his cup of pride swelled to overflowing.

In those moments, everyone around them seemed to disappear. The cheers and chants dulled down to nothing, and just like the first day they’d met- face to face on a practice mat in their university gymnasium, only the two of them remained.

Hoseok descended the platform wearing a smile as wide as an ocean, and skirted through the people with excitement apparent in his steps.

“You look good up there,” Hyunwoo said when Hoseok joined by his side. “It’s where you belong.”

“I couldn’t have done it without you.” He trailed his fingertips up and down the length of Hyunwoo’s forearm. “And you know what I mean.”

Hyunwoo took his hand instead of vocalizing his response and gave it a squeeze.

Electricity sparked through every nerve in Hoseok’s body.

When it was time for Jooheon to take his place on the podium, the farthest thing from his mind was the fact that he’d just won the gold. He aimlessly ran his fingertips over the medal around his neck, and waited until the very moment he spotted Kihyun in the crowd to give it a kiss and raise it high.

Kihyun threw his hands in the air and waved them, forming a little heart shape with his fingers just before Jooheon jumped down from the podium and joined his teammates.

When the cheers had died down and family and friends had given their praises and left, the Seoul University wrestling team gathered in their dedicated locker room.

Jooheon waited for Kihyun just outside the door.

“You’d better be coming home with me tonight,” Kihyun giggled as he jumped into Jooheon’s arms and wrapped his legs around his waist. He didn’t give the wrestler time to respond before crashing their lips together.

“You sure that’s what you want? I’m high on a victory right now and positive that I won’t be coming down anytime soon.”

Kihyun squeezed his legs tighter and brought his lips to Jooheon’s ear. “That’s what I’m counting on,” he cooed. “I have my way, and you won’t be coming down at all.

Heat rolled through Jooheon’s body, forcing his nerve to the surface again. “Only if you call me-"

“Big boy?” Kihyun nipped at his earlobe. “I’d be happy to, but I’m sure I can come up with a much better name for you. Time will tell.”

Jooheon tensed with excitement at the mention. Time. Days, months, weeks. If it was with Kihyun, he’d graciously accept it all.

A familiar voice echoed down the hallway, startling the two new lovers out of their embrace.

“No surprise to see you enjoying my sloppy seconds.” Hyungwon strode across the pale grey tile, heading straight towards them.

Kihyun wiggled his way out of Jooheon’s arms and marched up to him, stopping him in his tracks when they were face to face. “And just who gave your dejected ass the right to come back here? I don’t see a sign that says thots allowed.”

“For your information, midget, I’m heading in to talk to my father, the coach. Or have you forgotten who I am.”

Jooheon counted on his fingers. “Hmm, dejected piece of ass, thot, all-around mean girl... nope, looks like we know exactly who you are.”

Hyungwon huffed and pushed his way past the new couple and into the locker room.

“Don’t worry, Ki, I’ll handle him. See you soon, okay?”

Kihyun made a face at the door, then gave Jooheon a kiss and skipped off down the hallway. Jooheon took a few much needed moments to calm himself down, but inside the locker room, Hyungwon had already started to cause a ruckus.

“That didn’t take long,” Jooheon said under his breath.

The team was rolling with laughter and cheers, pointing at Hyungwon like he was some kind of spectacle. Hyungwon looked absolutely appalled with his hands on his hips and his mouth hanging open.

“You’d better tell me you’re joking,” he spat, directing the statement at his father.

Jooheon took his place next to Hoseok and Hyunwoo. “What did I miss?”

“Dumbass came in and told Coach that you and Kihyun were making out in the hallway. Coach asked why he should be surprised, then admitted that not only does he know that half the team is gay, but he’s gay too.”

“I most definitely am not joking,” Coach said, pointing towards the door. “And I don’t want to talk anymore about this. We can discuss it when I get home. Now go!”

Hyungwon scanned the wrestlers crowded around him, now just staring at him with a wash of unfavorable expressions. Defeated, he threw his hands up, spun on a heel, and stormed out of the locker room, trailed by the further cheering and praises now directed at his father.

As the team left the locker room and headed out towards their bus, Jooheon spotted Kihyun standing by his car across the parking lot. He barely managed a proper goodbye to his friends before sprinting off with an overly excited spring in his step.

Once on the bus, Hoseok checked the headcount. “Where’s Changkyun?”

It was coach that answered. “Said he had a ride. Now who’s up for a celebratory dinner!”

The team erupted with cheers again. Hoseok and Hyunwoo sat at the very back of the bus, trying, and failing, to keep their wandering hands to themselves.

~

Hyungwon sat on the stoop that led to the gym’s side entrance, stewing in disbelief and his own brand of pity. He barely noticed when Changkyun sat down next to him.

“You come to make fun of me too?” He said, rolling his eyes and looking away.

Changkyun threw an arm over his shoulder. “Hey.” But it was the kind of hey that was meant for a follow up. Silence stretched on - awkward for Hyungwon, yet the younger man just stared at him with puppy dog like eyes. The pause continued until Hyungwon cocked his head and widened his glare. Changkyun patted his shoulder. “I like thots.”

Then he stood up and sauntered away, glancing back until Hyungwon followed him into the parking lot.

~

Jooheon pulled Kihyun into him, holding tight to his hips. Each kiss was ravenous, as he was starving for him and desperate for another taste. Primal and frantic and still riding the high of his win - both of the tournament, and the boy in his arms - he bit down on Kihyun’s bottom lip, exhilarated.

Kihyun moaned into his mouth, and suddenly, the crispness of the evening air no longer helped him to keep his cool. He was positively burning up with desire.

More,” Kihyun breathed, bringing his leg up to wrap around Jooheon’s hip. “I want more.”

Like a fool, Jooheon asked, “More? What do you mean?”

Kihyun rolled his eyes and giggled, then reached down between their bodies and cupped Jooheon’s manhood. “I want this. I want you, all of you.”

“Okay but like, right here?” When Kihyun gave a squeeze and let a bit of the devil slide into his gaze, Jooheon shut his mouth and allowed himself to be guided inside the Jeep.

~

“Didn’t expect this,” Hoseok said as he leaned against the bathroom doorway, watching Hyunwoo draw a bath. “But I’ll gladly take it.”

“Gotta keep you on your toes, right?”

Hoseok giggled and sat down on the edge of the tub. “He says, like I don’t want to fully enjoy you turning into a boring old man.”

“Last time I checked, I was halfway there already,” Hyunwoo snickered.

“You keep talking like that, I will push your ass in this tub so fast-” Hyunwoo claimed his lips before he could continue.

“Then you’d just have to strip me out of my wet clothing.”

Hoseok shook his head and turned off the water. “I’d rather watch you do it for me.”

Hyunwoo stood, positioning himself right in front of Hoseok. “You still wearing it?”

“You know I am.” He pulled his shirt off, revealing the medal draped around his neck.

Piece by piece, Hyunwoo shed his clothing in a sexy striptease, enticing Hoseok with each wiggle of his hips, each bite at his lower lip. But once he was naked, the younger man just placed his hands on Hyunwoo’s hips and looked up into his eyes with a soft smile.

“What is it?”

Hoseok breathed out slowly, his warm breath wafting across Hyunwoo’s skin. “You’re just so beautiful. And I love you, so, so much.”

Hyunwoo took Hoseok’s hands and pulled him up and into his arms, kissing him tenderly. “I love you too,” he whispered. “So, so much.”

Instead of the ravenous sex they both had anticipated since Hoseok’s win at the tournament, the lovers bathed together, caressing each other’s skin and pressing kisses into all the spots that usually caused that anticipation to boil over. They held one another even after the bubbles had disappeared and the water had started to grow cold.

Barely a word between them was exchanged, and that was just fine; they wanted nothing more than to enjoy each other’s company and embrace the silence that came when love was expressed through little touches and soft, sated sighs.

As they toweled themselves off and left the bathroom, heading for the kitchen, Hoseok snatched Hyunwoo’s hand and led him towards the bedroom instead.

“Though you said you were hungry?” Hyunwoo said, stuttering in his steps like the awkward bear that he was.

“I am,” Hoseok giggled. “But not for food.” He swung Hyunwoo around once they reached the bed and lightly pushed him onto it, pulling both their towels free and straddling him. With another swift move, he pinned Hyunwoo’s hands above his head. “And now, I’ve got you right where I want you.” His medal tapped against his chest, and Hyunwoo reeled at the enticing site of it.

“Yeah? And where’s that?”

A slow smile spread across Hoseok’s face, and he narrowed his eyes. In the soft lighting of the bedside lamp, they sparkled.

“Down for the count, of course.”