Himchan decides that if he is going to be dragged to the beach against his will, he might as well make up for it by making the whole beach leak envy out of their ears by getting together with the hottest person there. Since that person, after much consideration on Himchan’s part, happens to be Jongup, Himchan declares that the younger is obliged to keep him company as they sunbath.
The two of them are lounging contentedly on a shadier stripe of sand when Yongguk finds them. He hands the snacks he got to Jongup and settles down on the beach towel.
“Daehyun dragged us out here,” Himchan complains as soon as he sits down, “only to go fuck with the maknaes. There’s no justice.”
“I thought you’re going to go snag the hottest girl on the beach” Yongguk laughs.
“Hottest person.” Himchan corrects. “It was going to be that blond girl over there, but I think she’s here with that guy in red. Shame really, he is number four in terms of hotness.”
“Who did you decide on then?” Yongguk slips his coconut water, his amused smile making a rare appearance, then promptly chokes when Jongup answers: “Me.”
Himchan laughs at Yongguk’s widened eyes and coconut water dripping from his jaw. “Calm down, I’m not going to dirty our precious baby bird.”
“I’m not a baby bird.” Jongup reproached happily. The kid never stops smiling. It would be creepy if he isn’t so sweet.
Yongguk mutters something about “dubious decency” which cheers Himchan up a little. Teasing Yongguk is a favoured pastime, right up there with plotting revenge schemes against Jung Daehyun.
Himchan and Jongup spend a very interesting ten minutes watching Yongguk blush and talk with a pretty girl with long black hair and a sweet smile. Himchan bets five dollars that Yongguk is going to take her out to dinner. Jongup bets three sodas that the girl will give Yongguk her number and Yongguk will spend the rest of the day blushing at his phone.
Jongup happily collects his sodas when Yongguk returns, smiling slightly down at his mobile.
“You want the hotel room tonight?” Himchan might as well be considerate, after so many years of Yongguk putting up with all his bullshit. “Jongup and I can just go clubbing.”
“I just got her number, we’re not going to have sex.”
“Why not? She’s really pretty.”
“You don’t have sex with someone the night you meet them.”
Himchan thinks this through. “Well, I always make my partner get tested first before doing the do. Protected oral, though. First night definitely a-go.”
Yongguk gives him a look somewhere between horrified fascination and just horrified. “By ‘you’ I meant most people. Most people don’t have sex with other people they’ve just met. And even you don’t have sex with everyone you meet?”
“If they’re hot and eager, why not?” Himchan winks back, because he is inexplicably cheered by the tilt at the end of Yongguk’s sentence marking his uncertainty, and sex talks with Yongguk are even more entertaining than that one time he convinced Daehyun to go on a rollercoaster with him.
“What were we then?” Youngjae’s voice floats by, as he slips under their umbrella and grabs a soda “Not hot enough or not eager enough for you when we first met?”
Himchan watches Yongguk’s face turn a very interesting shade of dark orange. He gives Youngjae a surreptitious high-five for that. “Well, Jonguppie’s straight, so’s Guk. You looked underage when we met and Daehyun almost swallowed his tongue when I offered to blow him.” His sniggers as the recollection unwinds, while the other three gapes at him in shock. “Turned out he was at the club with a fake ID anyways so I got Hana to escort the kid home.”
“Junhong had a huge crush on you back then.” Jongup points out, apparently fascinated by Himchan’s sexual escapades “did you..?”
“I was hot and he was fifteen. He practically melted when I complimented his dancing. Of course I didn’t.”
“You never… had sex with any of us?” Yongguk sounds downright amazed.
Himchan laughs, “You make it sounds like that’s hard to belie-”
He stops because both Jongup and Youngjae are looking around with innocent nonchalant. “Wait, all of you thought-?”
“I’m going swimming,” Youngjae and Yongguk say at the exact same time, stare at each other, and flee towards the ocean.
“Come back here!” Himchan yells after them without much hope. Jongup just chuckles and hands him a water bottle.
“I think I’ll go swimming too.” He tells him, “Remember to keep hydrated.”
“You’re my favourite, Jongup-ah” Himchan says, touched despite himself, “Don’t listen to whatever Junhong may claim.”
Jongup returns only a few moments later, unconcerned by Himchan’s appreciative gaze sliding like the water that drips across his abdomen as he plops down again.
“That was fast?” Himchan can’t keep the question out of his voice, Jongup used to go to the swimming pool for hours on end.
“Turns out, these wings drag too much when I try to swim.” Jongup answers, flicking his small clusters of feathers and showering Himchan in droplets. Disappointment just barely rippling Jongup’s usual calm waters, but Himchan can still hear the widening ring of it.
“Come here,” he sighs, “I’ll massage your back for you.”
“How do you think penguins do it?” Jongup asks as Himchan digs his fingers into Jongup’s frankly ridiculously tight muscles. “They are bird shaped and they float.”
During the semester, he manages to fall asleep through lectures and tutorial sessions that he’s giving. Now that he’s on vacation, sleep eludes him. Moonlight cascades into their hotel room, muffled by their translucent drapes, mingling with Yongguk’s snuffles and Jongup’s soft snores.
Himchan thinks about how Jongup moves. Jongup moves like silk sleeves in warm spring breezes. Or he did. His new wings are giving him problems. Himchan can remember how Jongup’s shape flowed and snapped, disclosing and complementing music through motion and sweat, how weightless he was on the tracks, in water. Now Himchan is privy to the aches and anxious inertia behind the flowing power as Jongup turned and fell and turned and fell in their living room, trying to re-discover the perfection he used to know.
It started with the spins. They weren’t as tight, their ending weren’t as clean, and Jongup’s balance is shifted too far forward. Then the waves - the wings causes realignment in his spine, and Jongup spends hours, days trying to recreate the move he performed on dozens of stages and hundreds of street corners. Then the foot work, the hips thrusts, the shoulder flips. They all looked wrong to Jongup, they all felt wrong, but Jongup just wiped his sweat from his lashes and pushed harder to rediscover his body.
Himchan had watched and watched as Jongup spinned and spinned- arms tightly crossed over his chest, wings plastered flat against his back - fighting for the freedom he once knew so intimately.
Then, Himchan thinks about how the some of the ancients of his race came up from the oceans, abandoned the world where they flowed in harmony with the water, to live on the land where they are weighed down by the weightless air that offered too little resistance, too little current to glide and navigate. How the selkies of the old willingly came on to dry land and how they were then unwillingly kept there. How there are no more pure-blooded selkie on land anymore, because without exception, they lived short lives and died with oceans in their eyes and the call of the water in their hearts even when they fill their minds with the land.
Trapped in an unfamiliar shape, separated from their element.
Himchan makes up his mind and slides over to Jongup, nudging him awake.
“Come on,” he tells Jongup, “we’re going swimming.”
It takes a long time for his legs to merge into his tail. He lies, naked and on his stomach and elbows, where the ocean reaches out and pets the land in gentle caresses. Jongup keeps stroking his flank in fascination. His skin is undeniably scaly now, and his lower calves are getting reflective. Himchan think back to when he was little, when his tail would shimmer in and out of existence at the mere touch of water, when his parents would take noona and him to the seaside and watch sadly from the beach as the two of them throws themselves into the embrace of the ocean, laughing and feeling skin smooth into scales mid jump.
They stopped going when noona turned twelve. Himchan understood a few years later when his legs stopped fusing in the bath.
“Stop touching my ass and lie down. Watch the stars with me.” Himchan instructs. “That might be the weirdest thing I’ve ever said to anyone while naked.”
Jongup chuckles, “Does it still counts as your ass if you don’t have ass cheeks anymore?”
“A true mystery, Moon Jongup.”
“That might have been the worst pun I’ve ever heard and I’m ashamed I’m not the first one to make it.” Himchan announces to the night sky. “Alright, I’m fishy enough, let’s get swimming.”
“I’m going to swim under you, and you can push on me for leverage if you think you’re being dragged down. Tap twice if you want to turn back or if you’re having trouble. I’ll tap you if I want to change directions. Okay?”
“Alright.” Jongup smiles.
The moon casts shaking slivers of light, barely cutting through the water and lights up his skin with the faintest of brushes. He can feel Jongup pressing gently on his back for support, but they move through the water easily.
He thinks of Yongguk. There’s something so satisfying and comforting about how Yongguk has a smile reserved for Himchan even after he pushes and teases and winds up Mr. I-have-a-charity-fundraiser-to-go-to-this-weekend, Mr. Take-girls-out-for-at-least-six-dates-before-asking-her-to-bed Bang Yongguk with crass language and then sleeps with all their friends. Himchan thinks of how he almost absentmindedly dangles the worst part of him - his easily irritated temper, his harsh language, the way he habitually sleeps in other people’s beds and unabashedly take other people’s offered money - in front of Yongguk as a perpetual ongoing social experiment to see how much it takes for Yongguk to start pushing him away. Himchan thinks about how he’s so thankful that Yongguk still looks at him the same way he did when the first met, when Himchan was too shy for his own good and too smart of other people’s comfort.
It’s probably sick, how he uses Yongguk’s friendship to reassure himself that he is, basically, a good person, even when he sometimes - quite often really - feels filthy with humanity. He is a fish that was dropped out of the ocean, flopping around in shit infested dirt pools, desperate for the moisture he needs to survive. But he can’t help it - he trusts Yongguk’s judgement more than his own. Anyone Yongguk feels is worth his friendship cannot be a bad person, Himchan reasons.
He taps Jongup wrist, indicating that he is going to flip around. He does, and they swim chest to chest. Himchan giving Jongup enough leverage and guidance beneath him that they cut through the water with effortless grace.
Himchan closes his eyes, letting the tips of his fingers brush against Jongup’s abdomen and the brush of their chests together guide them. And he thinks of a lover he took when he was nineteen, right after receiving his graduation certificate for his four years as a model highschool student. He decided to let himself go wild before embarking on a gruelling five more years of academia, five more years of struggling to maintain a scholarship level grade point. He took a lover, during that summer. Told all his friends and family he’s going on vacation alone and ran off in their car, giggling at his own recklessness. It was night when they arrived in the Gulf, stormy and deserted. They made love as intense as the night was long, wild with the storm and gritty with the sand and they screamed their pleasure to the stars. In the hazy pre-dawn silence, they slipped into the water, tails tangling and fingers laced and they swam.
They resurfaced three days later, lying on the beach and waiting for their tails to split back into legs, and Himchan had loved how inhuman they looked. Marveled at how he never knew the skin on his arms could be covered with shining scales, never knew how his teeth could end in sharp points and drew blood when they kiss, how their eyes were faintly golden.
He never felt so exhilarated as when he lived in the water, breathed it, loved it, let it strip away his awkward stance and slouching shoulder and teach him the secrets of his own body. As if the less human he looked, the more himself he felt.
Funny how he can’t remember what the lover looked like.
Youngjae and Junhong understands, Himchan knows. He thinks about the drive to this beach, on the narrow curving highways caged by mountains on one side and cliffs on the other. Youngjae had asked him to park in one of the rest areas and he took Junhong’s hand and the two stepped off the cliff, wings spread and giggling. Himchan thinks of Youngjae’s laugh as his dived in a tight spiral, while Junhong glided lazily, thinks of the flush in their cheeks and the light in their eyes when they touched down again, and Himchan knew that they understand. He had glanced over at Daehyun and saw how he watched them, and thought that he probably does too. Daehyun would understand because he is as a part of the other two as their wings are now.
He thinks of how Yongguk destroys his ears just to get the music inside him onto paper. He thinks of how Jongup wraps medical tape around his aching calves in the evenings but still goes to the studio the next day with a smile. Thinks about how all five of them push and push until they exhaust themselves just to feel the sweet aches of labour, the satisfaction of pain through hard work, slaving to pursue that ecstatical moment of release when everything is just right.
He opens his eyes pushes his head above water, carefully making sure his gills are still under the surface. Jongup turns slightly to look at him. He’s smiling.
“We’re far from shore, why didn’t you tap me?” Himchan scolds, smiling back.
“I trust you, hyung.” Jongup answers as Himchan guides them back towards the beach.
Yongguk’s waiting for them there, holding two towels, his expression knowing and relaxed. Himchan wonders if he was awake when the two of them sneaked out.
“Come on.” Yongguk smiles and picks him up, one arm supporting his long tail the other around his waist. Himchan puts his arms around Yongguk’s neck. He hasn't felt this shy since he was sixteen. Jongup places his hand on Himchan’s elbow and tells him “Thank you.”
It’s not the love he wants, he craves. Sometimes Himchan doubts he’ll ever find it. Someone to love him as intensely as the way he knows every muscle when he truly swims. Someone to grip his thighs and grind him into his awkward human body and let him drown in pleasure. He wants intimacy so overpowering that he breathes it with every gulp of air, knows it with every straining muscle.
Jongup and Yongguk can never give him the type of love he yearns for, Himchan knows and he suspects they do too. But, as Jongup draws up a warm bath and Yongguk lowers him in it, tail still flashing a dull grey-blue, he muses that he might never be able to thank them enough for showering him with the pure, unadulterated affection he’ll always need.
He returns to the living room on his own two feet, wrapping a towel around himself and finding Jongup and Yongguk conversing quietly despite the late hour. Jongup looks up at him and stands, his eyes shining like moonlight on soft waves.
“Hyung, look.” He says. And wings fluttering, he spins, perfectly.