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점점 숨이 막히는 (I'm a swimming fool)

Chapter Text

“What do you think about becoming a lifeguard.”

 

“No.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“Because you’re a lifeguard and you always complain about how shitty your job is.”

 

“Oh c’mon,” Mingyu whined, like the giant 6-foot-tall baby he was. “I was joking. Mostly. I love my job!”

 

Wonwoo raised an eyebrow. “So you loved it when that toddler puked all over you after you rescued him?”

 

“I liked the part where I rescued him, yes,” Mingyu sniffed, “Every job has its ups and downs.”

 

“I’m sure,” Wonwoo said noncommittally.

 

They lapsed into silence for a while, and Wonwoo didn’t mind. It was a nice day out, perfect for lying in the hammock in Mingyu’s backyard, letting the sun slowly roast him alive. Mingyu, who didn’t need the sun as much (that bastard had a golden tan even in the winter), was sprawled out on a deck chair next to him, under an umbrella. Wonwoo closed his eyes, relishing the warmth on his skin, the quiet buzzing of cicadas, and the comfort of having his best friend near.

 

“Okay, but what are you going to do all summer then? It’s already July and you’ve done nothing but laze around.”

 

Wonwoo groaned, feeling the guilt at the back of his mind creep in, as it was wont to do when he felt unproductive.

 

The thing was, Wonwoo wasn’t a lazy person. He hated being unproductive. He was always looking for the next project to work on, the next book to start reading, the next article to write for the school newsletter. But ever since a severe bout of acute gastritis forced him to remain house-bound for a month before school ended, he had been stuck in a rut. Missing a month of school meant missing all his after school sports activities. He couldn’t even work out at home - halfway into his house confinement period and bored out his mind, he’d tried shooting hoops in his driveway and ended up puking his guts out. It was frustrating to see himself waste away (not that he was even muscular to begin with) and lose an alarming amount of weight and unable to do anything about it.

 

The worst part was, even after the month was over, his body still tired easily and he felt weak and out of breath doing simple chores. Walking up a flight of stairs left him panting and breathless. Standing up too quickly made his vision black out and swim. And he definitely couldn’t keep up with his friends during their weekly basketball matches. And although his friends were nothing but sweet and understanding about his condition, he couldn’t help but feel like he was dragging down his teammates, and he eventually stopped showing up at their games.

 

Mingyu knew this, of course. He was there for Wonwoo throughout the whole humiliating journey of having to excuse himself to puke in the toilet every so often when Mingyu came over to hang out and give Wonwoo his homework after school. Mingyu let him hold on to and scratch up his arm when the pain got really bad during the first week. Mingyu brought over soup that his mom had made when she found out the Jeon’s boy was so sick he had to be hospitalized, oh my, the poor thing . So yeah, Wonwoo was pretty sure Mingyu’s suggestion of becoming a lifeguard at the local club was in jest. Because really? Wonwoo could barely walk at a brisk pace, let alone carry someone to safety from the water.

 

“Mingyu,” Wonwoo said, “Look at me. I’m literally skin and bones right now. Do you honestly think I can swim a lap around the pool without collapsing, let alone rescue a flailing child?”

 

“You’re much better now than you were last month, hyung,” Mingyu said earnestly, and shit Mingyu only called him hyung when he got all genuine and sincere. “I used to have to wait for you to catch your breath at the end of every street, but now you only have to rest after we walk down two streets. You’re basically twice as fit.”

 

“I… don’t think that’s how that works,” Wonwoo said, grinning.

 

“That’s not the point,” Mingyu huffed, a hint of frustration creeping in his tone. He whipped off his cap and scrubbed his hands through his hair, leaning forward on the deck chair to look Wonwoo in the eye. Wonwoo blinked, taken aback by the sudden serious turn of conversation. “Hyung, no offense, but you’ve been wasting away since you got sick in May. Look at how thin your wrists are, I can wrap my hands around them and have room to spare. And I’ve seen you shirtless - I could literally count your ribs! I know you don’t come to our basketball matches anymore because you feel like you can’t keep up and that you’re dragging everyone down. But you’re the only one who thinks that! Everyone wants you to get better and we’re willing to go slow for you so you can get your strength back. But you’ll never be able to do that if you just sit around at home. And don’t lie to me about working out at home, I know you don’t do that because Bohyuk is always complaining that he doesn’t have anyone to shoot hoops with ever since you got sick.”

 

Wonwoo gaped, stunned by Mingyu’s sudden impassioned tirade. He didn’t know what to say; he, too, had been frustrated by his own body’s limits, but for Mingyu to verbalise the feelings he kept bottled up inside - he felt laid bare, and a little humiliated. He was reminded, jarringly, of how perceptive Mingyu was, even though he acted like a dumbass most of the time. But that’s what he liked about Mingyu - he often put on an oblivious facade to allow others a sense of privacy; people could be around Mingyu without feeling judged.

 

A beat of silence passed, and Mingyu’s face softened. “Hyung, I don’t want to- I’m not- nagging- you. I’m just… worried about how thin you’ve gotten lately and I want you to be healthy. Doing nothing all summer isn’t going to help you get better. I know you’re tired and exhausted all the time, but if it’s of any help to you, I don’t mind working out with you and getting you back into shape.”

 

Wonwoo felt heat creep into the back of his neck. Shit , why did Mingyu have to be so… so sweet and… nice all the time. Flustered, and wanting the conversation to steer back into bantering territory, he blurted out, “Aw, Mingyu, you do care!”

 

“You know I do, hyung,” Mingyu replied steadily, not missing a beat.

 

Wonwoo sighed. Mingyu really wasn’t letting this issue slide. “Mingyu. I really appreciate the worry. And you’re right. I should do something to get back in shape,” And here, Wonwoo hesitated. He really didn’t want to say something he’d regret later, but Mingyu seemed so earnest and sincere when he said he’d help him get back in shape, so…

 

“What do you have in mind?”

 

Mingyu’s face lit up like the sun, and Wonwoo immediately felt his heart sink.

 

“Okay. I know you thought I was joking about the lifeguard thing. But we really do have a vacancy available. And - hear me out, Jeon Wonwoo, don’t roll your eyes at me - I think it’s the perfect way for you to bounce back. We have to go through mandatory training for two weeks before starting our jobs, and they teach you everything from basic swimming technique to exercises that help us increase our stamina. We get free access to the gyms outside of shifts, and we even get two free meals every day that we work. AND I know you know how to swim and that you’re good at it, because we used to take swimming lessons together as kids, so you’re well-suited for the job.”

 

Wonwoo groaned. “You’re really not letting this lifeguard thing go, huh?”

 

“Nope,” Mingyu replied sunnily. “It’s perfect for you: it has mandatory training that’s tailored to help you specifically, gives you access to a well-equipped gym, and even has free food so you can finally put some meat on these bones,” he pinched Wonwoo’s side.

 

“Oi!” Wonwoo snapped, swatting at Mingyu’s hand. “Okay, okay, I guess I’ll apply. I probably won’t get it anyway, who would hire a scrawny kid like me?”

 

/////

 

“Congratulations, you’re hired!”

 

Wonwoo blinked. “Wait, really?”

 

“Yeap,” said Ms Song, the head lifeguard and swimming coach at the club.

 

"I literally just handed you my application.”

 

“Yeah well, we're short on options here. One of our lifeguards is leaving for college in September, and we haven't had anyone apply for the position since April," Ms Song squinted at him. "Hey, you’re Mingyu’s friend, aren’t you? I remember seeing you around the club and at the swim meet last summer. You swam pretty well, for someone who signed up for fun.”

 

“I- er, yeah thanks. I didn’t sign up, Mingyu thought it would be funny to put my name down,” Wonwoo mumbled, face heating up.

 

“And yet, you placed 5th. That’s pretty impressive,” she remarked, raising an eyebrow. “I just need to know if you have any health conditions, like a weak heart or asthma.”

 

“I don’t, but I was recently hospitalized for acute gastritis and had to be taken out of school for a month. But the doctors say I’m in the clear now,” Wonwoo said, eyes on the floor. “I’m uh - still pretty weak, but I’m willing to train and work hard to be fit for the job.”

 

Ms Song grinned and said, “That's good enough for me! You won’t be alone the first two weeks on the job anyway, we always pair up junior lifeguards with the seniors so they can learn from them. With training and the probationary period, you’ll have plenty of time to get into shape.”

 

“Oh, I see. Thank you, Ms Song. I’ll do my best to be a good lifeguard.”

 

“You’re welcome,” she replied, already turning back to the paperwork on her desk.

 

Wonwoo turned to leave, a relieved smile on his face, but a question struck him, “Ms Song, you said you’d pair up senior and junior lifeguards… who will you be pairing me with?”

 

/////

 

“You have got to be kidding me.”

 

“Hup hup, junior lifeguard! Pick up the pace, there’s no time to waste! You’re already…” Mingyu checked his fitbit with a flourish, “...two minutes late for training! Do you have anything to say for yourself?”

 

“Yeah, sod off," Wonwoo muttered, flipping the bird at him. "Also, you look like a douche."

 

“Excuse me? Is that how you talk to your senior lifeguard?” Mingyu boomed, adjusting his godawful Oakley sunglasses. His hair was slicked back and glistening from a dive in the pool, and he was wearing a thin white t-shirt with the word "LIFEGUARD" stretched across his chest. A silver whistle dangled from his teeth, as if Mingyu needed a whistle to call attention to himself when he was the loudest person Wonwoo knew. And, as if all that weren't enough, he had on bright red board shorts and yellow crocs.

 

Wonwoo gritted his teeth and refused to reply. He could hear Soonyoung’s hoots of laughter behind him.

 

It was his first day of training, and Soonyoung, who also worked at the club, but as a yoga and dance instructor, decided to “show his support” by turning up at the pool during his break. But now Wonwoo realized what Soonyoung really meant by that was “I’m going to watch Mingyu order you around and do drills and I’m going film it on my phone to show all our friends.”

 

“I can’t believe I thought you cared,” Wonwoo deadpanned as he followed Mingyu’s stretches.

 

“Aw, Wonwoo, I can care and have a bit of fun too,” Mingyu cooed, “Besides, would you really rather have someone else walk you through the job?”

 

Wonwoo pursed his lips and exhaled noisily. He did miss seeing Mingyu every day since his confinement period, when Mingyu was only allowed to visit sporadically (aka when Wonwoo didn’t constantly feel like puking), and he and Mingyu couldn’t hang very often ever since Mingyu started working during the summer. “Yeah,” Wonwoo said grudgingly, a small smile tugging on his lips. “You’re fine.”

 

Fine? Just fine? Wow, Jeon Wonwoo,” Mingyu scoffed, shoving Wonwoo into the pool.

 

Sbbtttttttplttt - you little bitch!”