"Holy shit, you look like a ghost, Chan," Boyoung gasped as Chan joined the rest of the group in front of the large gym doors. He wasn't late, but he looked as if he had literally walked straight out of a coffin.
"Fine," the blonde mumbled as he started stretching. Then stopped and held his stomach.
"Fuck, you're not going to make it today," Youngjae cursed, handing Chan a water bottle.
Woojin just watched, a small slice of him chastising Chan for being so dumb. It was obvious he was hungover and if Wonshik caught wind of that, he'd be in bigger shit than they already were.
But as Chan resumed stretching, Woojin caught sight of a large bruise like blotch on the side of the younger man's neck. It was stark against the pallor of his complexion. In fact, there were two.
Something in Woojin's belly tightened uncomfortably.
Chan looked over and Woojin immediately faced forward, starting off the run.
Over the next couple of weeks, Woojin made an effort to focus only on his training. He would not allow anyone else's negativity (or the confusion over how he was feeling) to affect him.
He put mental blinders on didn't consider anyone else as he blew through work out after work out. He had even started eating a little cleaner though it was easier to do when he had this goal at the end of the tunnel.
He had heard some of the other trainees muttering about how it wasn't even a contract match, just an exhibition.
Which was correct. And Woojin had fought in more spectacular fights before. But this one was different.
He wouldn’t think how, it just was.
And as he finished going over some Jui Jitsu moves, Woojin looked over at the only other person left in the gym.
Chan was wearing the treadmill out at the back of the gym. His grey shirt was almost black with sweat and his hair lay against his forehead, pink cheeks bouncing with each stride. Woojin closed his eyes and completed the move in his head.
Chan was always there when Woojin came in early and he was always the last person there at night. The others were starting to get annoyed with him too, and how serious he had become since Wonshik had announced the fighters a week ago.
Youngjae was trying to help but Chan had simply apologized and focused on whatever circuit he was at. It was dangerous, he was over training—everyone could see that.
Woojin opened his eyes to see Chan finally slowing. His head hung, as his legs fell into a cadenced trot. Then a casual walk.
Deciding it was probably a good time to call it a night, Woojin sat in the middle of the mat and started stretching. It would have been nice if he had a partner but he had never asked one of the others to help and Jae only did it when he noticed.
Looking over at the sound of metal clinking, Woojin watched as Chan started putting weights on the bar which was right next to his mat.
"Stop fucking staring at me."
Blinking, Woojin gritted his teeth in response.
Finishing his stretching, he stood tall and pushed back his own sweat drenched hair. Then he looked right at Chan.
"See you tomorrow, Channie."
Chan stopped his press up mid press, freezing for a moment before resuming. This time his repetitions were fast and a little haphazard, so much so Woojin was sure he was going to injure himself. That would sure teach him a lesson.
But the brunette couldn't allow those thoughts to stay long—or any thoughts for that matter. He didn't need to be distracted for tomorrow's fight, least of all by Chan's ever apparent dismay.
Minho had smiled sadly, like he was happy but he was also feeling left out. As spacey as he could be, he definitely cared about Woojin. And as one of his only friends, and sole roommate, he couldn’t help but want to be supportive.
"Its going to be ok," Woojin said, shaking his brunette hair to cover his forehead, fresh from a shower. But that, too, was a bit of a lie. It wasn't that he was per se nervous. It was just that this fight meant a lot. Not only to Woojin whose back broke out in perspiration at the thought, but Wonshik as well.
And finally, he'd be able to show that Bang Chan that he was just as talented.
Although, that was a silly thought.
Because who cared what Chan thought?
"So when will you be back?"
Woojin pressed on the shorts in his duffel bag before dragging his hand to zip it closed. Looking around his room, he checked off his mental list and then face Minho once more.
"Tonight. Its just a day trip."
Minho nodded. Then ran his hands through his silky hair, sighing when Woojin flung the bag over his shoulder.
"You're so transparent," Woojin laughed easily and looked straight at his roommate. "If I could invite you I would. It'll be fine."
"What if no one cheers for you?"
Holding his chest that bulged slightly under the weight of the strap cutting across his front, Woojin pretended to be wounded.
"Wow, that one stung."
Minho sighed dramatically.
"I just don't want a grumpy Woojin returning in the middle of the night."
"Very funny," Woojin rolled his eyes. "How about if I lose, I call you and you can talk me off the ledge."
Raising an eyebrow, Minho shook his head. "You won't. But I will hold you to it. Just make sure to give yourself a break if it doesn’t go the way you want. You were always way too hard on yourself and I hate to see you go…"
"Quiet?" Woojin offered thoughtfully.
Minho smiled handsomely.
"I'll make sure to have fun while I win," Woojin promised and his roommate followed up with a snide remark.
And an hour later, when he climbed onto the train headed to Busan, Woojin thought of his roommate. About how he worried over Woojin at a time when Woojin should be worrying over him. It hadn't always been that way.
The two had met in university, having a historical art appreciation class together. It was an elective they had both needed to complete their graduation requirements. So when they had been paired up for a month long project, Minho had the audacity to laugh at the one thing the ever so brilliant Woojin could never do: draw.
It had been a relief at the time.
There was no pressure on Woojin to do something well and both of them had received a barely passing grade for what had been dubbed the easiest course that semester. But it satisfied the requirements and when it ended, the two had a casual conversation about what they were going to do with their Thursday evenings now that the 3 hour class was over.
"What about fried chicken?"
That had been a couple years ago and while history saw Minho thrive in his career of dance instruction, it found Woojin becoming more solitary and excluded.
Gone were the days where Minho would burn dinner and Woojin would still eat it, telling him how good it was because the older didn’t want it to scar him. He used to constantly praise Minho on his talent and skill, his perseverance and dedication when things got hard.
But over the past year, Woojin found himself doing less and less of that.
Looking out the window, he watched as they pulled away from the station. Placing his earbuds in, Woojin pressed play once more, Park Won's melancholy washing over him.
They were all standing in front of the much smaller gym and it reminded Chan of his first one back in Australia. He had barely been a teenager and he had been invited by a neighbor, just for fun. Chan hadn't been interested in boxing or wrestling, being more into hopping around a field or shooting a basketball. He liked those sports. But wrestling? Boxing?
Chan had realized immediately that what he had been imagining was not at all what he was seeing.
This was all out fighting, with different techniques and styles and just men going berserk. It wasexplosive energy but controlled execution. It was everything he had ever wanted to be apart of.
The thought brought a nostalgic smile to Chan's face.
He felt like the 14 year old who had first stepped foot in a boxing gym and had his mind blown.
It wouldn't be another 2 years before he would start training in mixed martial arts, but maybe that’s what was special about this moment. It had changed his entire life.
"What are you smiling about? Excited to see your boyfriend up there?"
Cutting his eyes at Sunho, Chan wanted to ignore him. Over the last week, there had been a different edge to their jesting. And it was not all their fault—Chan knew he was creating the distance with his attitude.
But ever since that night, he had realized how comfortable he had become. How complacent he was that he hadn't been the first one on Wonshik's list. He vowed he would become better, that's what he needed to do.
And he wasn't there for friends.
Plus, he was not at all excited to see Woojin fight. There were too many memories of when he had been so worried that he had bruised the brunette's face. He was repaid with the uppercut of a lifetime.
So no, he was not excited see Woojin fight.
Realizing he had lost his smile, Chan looked over to Sunho. "No," he replied evenly. "Just thinking of when I first stepped foot in a boxing gym."
He noticed Youngjae's lips twitch.
"I remember the first time I saw my dad fight. It was… I wasn't supposed to see it because they did it in secret. But I went into the shack behind our house and there was so many people there," Youngjae drifted off.
"What did your mom think?" Sungmin asked, coming up behind them.
Youngjae laughed. "She was right there, screaming at him to put his hands up."
The group tittered as a whole and Chan felt his dimple start to deepen. They went on to share their stories, of how they had gotten into the sport. And while Chan had been briefed on how they had come to Wonshik's, it was nice to discover how different they all were. The urge to fight was borne out of something so different for all of them.
"Everyone ready?" Jae asked, ushering them in. The trainees not fighting were instructed to meet right inside the entrance and that they'd go in as a group.
The gym was definitely smaller and the area of practice was not quite as intricate, but for the most part, equipment looked like equipment. And the four young men and two women standing in the ring all wore the same faces as the fighters walking up to greet them.
Met with cordial salutations, the groups introduced themselves. Wonshik gave a small speech and talked about the program they were in. He talked about himself and how he had been practicing mixed martial arts since the tender age of 10. How he had fought in Thailand with Muy Thai veterans during his teenage years and how he had not stopped fighting for Korea since.
Chan could feel his cheeks spread with each word and when he glanced at the others, their faces mirrored his. It felt like an honor to represent Wonshik and all his endeavors with the program.
Seeing his mentor, tattooed and grinning, while he proudly spoke about his fighter, their strengths and dedication, Chan knew he wanted to be something like that, someone like that.
"So, should we move to the ring then?"