August, in Rio de Janeiro, is a balmy winter.
The moment Jimin steps off the airplane and into the jet bridge, he feels the familiar press of moisture on his skin. It’s cooler here, yet more suffocatingly humid than Seoul, if that were even possible. The sheer number of bodies in this small space makes it feel like he is trapped in a long, narrow rice cooker as he tugs his small suitcase along behind him. There is no time to stop and remove his jacket.
Galeão International Airport bustles with the media. It’s been a while since Jimin has had the public eye trained so closely on him but he hasn’t forgotten how to act in it—smiling when he sees the camera lens aimed in his direction, hoping futilely that it isn't obvious he just stepped off a plane from the other side of the world. He can feel his hair sticking up like untamed chicken feathers on the back of his head from the airplane headrest.
“Hey.” Jimin looks up when someone jogs up next to him, and Taehyung looks even less put together. His travel pillow is still cradled around his neck, the embroidered cat face pinned just under his ear and the cat earflap caught in the strap of his backpack. “All the locals are staring at me, do I have something on my face?”
Jimin looks around them. It’s true, the locals are staring, but there are far more tourists also staring. Not to mention a steady crowd of journalists have gathered to follow them through the arrivals terminal.
“Taehyung, we’re walking in a massive throng of people wearing warmups emblazoned with the Olympic rings,” Jimin says. “I would stare at me, too.”
“Can you believe we’re here,” Taehyung says with a voice full of wonder. He shifts his backpack on his shoulders, bouncing so that the pillow can be tugged out of where it’s stuck until the straps. “I can’t believe we’re here. I’m in the Summer Olympics.”
Jimin chuckles. “Believe it. We’re going to be here from now till the end of August.”
Taehyung casts him a glance. “Did you feel like this at London?”
“Hmm,” Jimin says. “Yeah, kind of.”
They arrive at the airport garage then, and Jimin shivers in the unexpected chill that hangs around them. He would elaborate if there wasn’t such a cruel gap in his sleep pattern, but Taehyung looks just as tired and he doesn’t ask Jimin for any more details. Which is nice, because Jimin isn’t sure he’d be able to articulate how it feels. This is Taehyung’s first Olympic games, and Jimin’s second; a month up to their departure from Seoul Taehyung had asked Jimin nonstop questions about the Olympic Village, about the competitions, about the training centers. Jimin had been perfectly well-versed in all of those answers, and yet the feeling of standing in a team of hundreds—jittery with nerves and excitement, ready to show the world what they’ve got—is not quite something that words can do justice.
Jimin gets a double.
The Olympic Village is grand, located in the glittering neighborhood of Barra da Tijuca. It is no less beautiful than the one he’d stayed in London. The press fall away forlorn as the security grows tighter and tighter, until finally they’re barred from entering the Village entirely.
“Got your ID?”
“Yep,” Jimin says, waving the lanyard around his neck where his card is attached.
“Now listen up, kid,” Yoongi says, as the line into the village moves forward slowly. “After we get inside, I’m going to get sectioned off into the trainer and coach buildings, and I basically have no control over what you do for the remainder of your time here.”
“Hyung, are we seriously going to do this again.”
“I don’t know how many condoms Rio is handing out, but I trust that it’ll be more than London,” Yoongi goes on, ignoring Jimin’s protests. “Rather, I goddamn hope. So if you going to get up to hanky panky you better glove up before you love up.”
“Look, I know what I’m about, son,” Yoongi says. “If you think I don’t know what the Village party scene looks like then you’re underestimating me.”
“I don’t underestimate you, hyung,” Jimin says, and it is the truth. Yoongi is a no-nonsense, steel-disciplined coach, one that has pushed Jimin to where he is today after his athletic training began to fall beyond the scope of his parents’ abilities. He’d been the newest, youngest coach at Taeneung Training Center, and Jimin had heard of him before—an Olympic hopeful in rhythmic gymnastics until an accident had blown out all the ligaments in his knee. At first Jimin had been worried to be his trainee, until he’d realized how surprisingly at peace Yoongi was with his fate of never getting the gold.
“Just don’t forget to take care of yourself, first and foremost,” Yoongi says. They’re next in line now, waiting for the last of the fencing team to filter through the security gates. Even from here Jimin can see the back of Taehyung’s dark head bobbing along amidst the others, laughing along with a girl that barely comes up to his shoulder. “Do what you want but remember you’ve got showtime in three weeks and training every morning until then. Got it? And don’t forget to eat.”
“We’re just going to be across the Village from each other, hyung.”
Yoongi is quiet when they swipe him and Jimin in, handing them both room keys and cards. “Just looking out for my kid,” he grunts. “All right. You’re free. Be free. I’ll see you at six am in the training center at the Olympic Park tomorrow.”
“Got it. I’ll see you later.”
Jimin’s building is called Ilha Grande, named after one of Brazil’s islands. It takes some wandering before he finds it, the name gilded in great silver letters over the side of the building. When he gets inside he can hear, already, excited yelling perhaps a dozen floors above out of a window in a language he can’t understand. It seems that South Korea is not the first team to the party.
The first thing that Jimin is greeted with when he unlocks the door of his room is an ass. A spectacularly grope-worthy one, stuck up in the air until its owner straightens up and looks over his shoulder at the sound of the door opening. The contents of a suitcase are scattered on the ground like it had exploded at his feet and he raises a water bottle to his lips as Jimin drags himself in.
“Whoa. I didn’t expect to room with you.”
Jimin has never personally met Jeon Jeongguk, and the last time he had seen him in the flesh was a full four years ago—when he still looked like a kid on all the online articles and Olympics news sites. South Korea Welcomes Home Its Youngest Taekwondo Gold Medalist they’d all said, and Jimin had read them half with envy and half with pride. “I’m Jeon Jeongguk.”
“I know. Park Jimin.”
“I knew that too,” and Jeongguk’s smile makes him look so much younger again. If Jimin remembers correctly, Jeongguk has to at least be twenty now. He looks Jimin up and down as if surveying his body type and what equipment he’s carrying. “Shit, I forgot. Swimming?”
“Nah.” Jimin lays his suitcase down and undoes the zippers so he can start tossing his things into the little closet by the bunk. He pulls his competition wear, white emblazoned with blue and red, out of his suitcase, and holds it up. “Gymnastics.”
“Oh, cool,” Jeongguk hops up onto his bunk and a silence settles over them. “Sorry,” he says after a moment.
“It’s no big deal,” Jimin says, waving an airy hand. “It’s kind of hard to beat our nation’s youngest taekwondo champion when it comes to recognition.”
“That—true, I guess,” Jeongguk says. “See any lookers on the way here?”
There it is, the question that hangs over every Olympic athlete’s head the moment they arrive in the Village. The air is charged with it, an electric buzz that hums through everyone’s bodies. It’s to be expected—unleash almost ten thousand supremely healthy, fit adults into an unsupervised cluster of buildings after years of workout regimes from dawn till dusk, and expect a month’s worth of sexcapades for the books. Jimin just hadn’t expected Jeongguk to ask so soon, not when his roommate four years ago had been so furtive about his hookups that Jimin hadn’t known about the extent of them until the night before the closing ceremony when he’d walked in on an eyeful. He believes that will be the first and last time he will ever see French and Italian boobs in one place at one time, and he’s not quite sure if he’s glad or sad about that.
“Hmm,” Jimin says, genuinely thinking. “I think I might have seen a hot girl or two, yeah. You?”
“Nope,” Jeongguk says.
“You know what happened to Grindr in London?” Jimin says. “It crashed as soon as all the countries flew in. It was incredible. So secure your hookups now if you’re planning to use it, because by the time the opening ceremony comes around that thing will not work for anyone here.”
“I would not fuck around about this kind of thing. Really.”
“Jesus,” Jeongguk says. They jump when a thunderous crash echoes through the walls, followed by shrill screams and laughter, and Jeongguk sighs. “Americans.”
The 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics is Jimin's second time vying for the gold, but Taehyung’s first time through the circuit.
Which means Jimin forgets that it is not necessarily customary to walk into a cafeteria to see a group of what he thinks are German track and field athletes standing on a table wearing nothing but booty shorts with ties knotted around their forehead, whooping at the top of their lungs and tossing a Frisbee across the dining hall.
“What the fuck,” Taehyung says, staring at them. Jimin blinks at him when he turns to him for some form of explanation, and it doesn’t occur to him until Taehyung makes a helpless gesture in their direction.
“Oh,” Jimin says, serving himself a plateful of rice. “Yeah, that’s normal.”
“This is normal?” Taehyung says, acquiring an empty dish as Jimin shovels an assortment of meat and black beans onto his plate beside his rice. “They’re tossing a football now.”
“What you should be aware of, my friend, my homie,” Jimin says, pushing his food around his plate so he can load more onto it. He moves aside slightly so Taehyung can get some too. “Is that the Olympic Village is essentially first year college. Probably worse, in fact. Except that it only lasts a month and everyone has the body of a Greek god.”
“But do you detect any lies?”
Taehyung punches Jimin square in the back, and all he gets is a barking laugh.
“So the sex…?”
“Ah, the sex.” Jimin lays a hand over his heart as they sit down together. “Always stories for lifetimes to come.”
“Should I be,” Taehyung pauses, picking up his fork like he’s never seen anything like it before. “Concerned.”
“Not really,” Jimin says. “What happens in the Village stays in the Village. Which building are you in? Ilha Grande?”
“No, the fencing team got assigned to Ilha Trindade,” Taehyung says. “I’m rooming with Jung Taekwoon. He set down his things and maybe two seconds later one of the guys from down the hallway came in and gave me a look like ‘you can leave now.’”
“Wow,” Jimin says. “Not the fastest sexiling story I’ve ever heard, but definitely ranks up there.”
“That’s still not the fastest?”
“Dude, we’re living with a hundred meter dash world record setters.”
Taehyung considers this, and accepts it.
“You rooming with anyone interesting?”
“Oh,” Jimin says. He breaks apart some of the meat against his plate. “I guess. You know the guy who won gold in taekwondo at London 2012?”
Taehyung’s gape is nearly comical. “Your roommate is Jeon Jeongguk?” he says with disbelief, and Jimin shushes him. Not like anyone around them can understand, or even hear, over the German yelling. He is pretty positive they’re just conversing normally but it sounds like they’re ready to throttle each other. “Dude. That guy is on Kim Yuna’s level. Like I’m pretty sure I saw his face in the Lotte Duty Free magazine on the plane when we were flying here.”
“You did,” Jimin says. “He endorses Innisfree.”
“What the fuck,” Taehyung repeats. “Next thing you know, he’ll be singing drama OSTs.”
“I think,” Jimin winces, “he might have.”
“He must be stopped,” Taehyung says. “Is he nice, at least?”
“He’s pretty chill,” Jimin says. “I think. He just asked me about the hookup culture. Told him he was in for a treat.”
“Let me put it this way,” Jimin says, soaking up some of the sauce from the meat with his rice, “I hand you your favorite ice cream. You can eat it, or you can let it melt.”
The first time Jimin sees him is at the Parade of Nations.
If he’s honest, he thinks the blazer and the tie are a bit much, especially when other countries are sending out their athletes into the stadium in just their trainers or warmups. But Jimin has to admit that he cleans up well after a sweaty practice at the training center. So does Jeongguk, in fact, even though he does come back from his practice and sit in his sweaty dobok on his phone until the very last minute when Jimin is already struggling with the knot of his tie.
“Maybe if you had showered when you got back,” Jimin suggests lightly as Jeongguk leaps into his pants, does his buttons and tie at top speed. “Now your hair is going to be wet.”
“Lucky for me I look good anyway,” Jeongguk sniffs, and Jimin laughs. Not that it’s not true.
He walks with Taehyung, whose eyes quite literally sparkle at the spectacle of the many thousands of people who have come out tonight to see the opening ceremony and greet the athletes that the world will have its eyes on for the next four weeks. In front of them is a line of girls that Jimin is pretty sure are archers, and he waves his flag vigorously some more, sweeping his eyes over the sprawling stadium that’s been erected for this occasion. His cheeks hurt from smiling. When he brings his gaze back down, someone tall and broad-shouldered a couple paces ahead of the archery team turns around, like he’s looking for someone.
Jimin supposes he doesn’t see them, because he meets Jimin’s eyes then, and smiles without breaking pace. Startled, not expecting it, Jimin feels his grin fade for a heartbeat, then smiles back. He’s already turned to face the front again when Taehyung catches Jimin’s expression.
“What’re you smiling at?”
“I don’t know. One of the guys up there just did at me so I thought it would be the polite thing to do to return it.”
Even farther up ahead, Jimin sees Jeongguk do a running leap onto one of the taekwondo team member’s backs, laughing as he secures his legs around his poor teammate’s hips. He holds up both their flags, in either hand, over his head victoriously.
Then the parade and opening ceremony are over, a kind of quiet gloom settles over some in the Olympic village—namely the aquatics athletes, the swimmers, the divers. They plunge headfirst into week one competition.
“You want to come with me to go get drinks?” Jeongguk asks as they’re stripping back down into basketball shorts and t-shirts. As temperate as the weather is in Rio, the humidity hardly eases, and the linen of Jimin’s dress shirt clings to his back with sweat.
“Some friends called me over to Ilha de São Luís, they got some handles. Told me to bring my roommate.”
“Uh.” Jimin dithers on the offer. “I’ve got training at six AM.”
“So do I.”
“You don’t know my coach,” Jimin says.
“Ah. Well, maybe in a few days or after your competition.” Jeongguk waves as he steps out. “Have fun!”
Jimin finds nothing remotely fun about rising at five AM to pull on his clothes, gather up his practice shirt and pants, and sleepily drag himself to the training center at the Olympic Park. He is not a morning person, and neither is Jeongguk, he finds, as he’s leaving his room at five fifty-seven and Jeongguk is still a burrito in bed. He prays for his sake that the taekwondo team captain isn’t a hardass, but somehow, Jimin doubts it.
But he can’t complain about his schedule and training regimen. In the 2012 London Olympics he’d medaled silver, in the looming presence of Brazilian gymnast Arthur Zanetti and what eyes of South Korea that hadn’t been trained on Jeongguk had looked to him. Second best, one step down on the podium, and the weight of silver had sat so heavily on his chest.
Regardless, Yoongi had been proud. “Not everyone has to ability to say that they medaled in the first Olympic games they ever participated in,” he’d said, thumping Jimin on the shoulder as he stepped off the podium. Ever supportive, yet never accepting failure, Yoongi has always been two opposing forces that push and pull Jimin towards the gold without beating him down. He does that enough to himself.
“Hey, sunshine,” Yoongi says, getting up from the ground beside the still rings. “All right, you know how it goes. A drills and B drills first.”
Jimin grunts, still groggy, but he drops his bag and water bottle onto the ground by where Yoongi had been sitting. He wakes up a little when he sheds his jacket and his shoes, the damp chill nipping at his arms and shoulders. Yoongi hands him his ring grips, a little worn around the seams, and Jimin straps them on.
Practice goes routinely. Yoongi doesn’t need to say much, except to bark a warning when Jimin fucks up his form here and there, on a Maltese cross or a double front tuck. He practices his dismounts and lands eight out of ten perfectly. Yoongi sighs when Jimin messes up his last.
“Goddammit,” Jimin says under his breath. Not that he is annoyed with Yoongi, but angry with himself.
“Hey, take a break. You’re kind of stiff this morning.”
“Sorry,” Jimin says as Yoongi tosses him his Camelbak. “I guess it’s not my day.”
“You can’t really afford to have ‘not my days,’ here, kid,” Yoongi says. “What, you’re going to wake up on the morning of your competition and declare, ‘Hm. Not really my day today,’ after training so long?”
Jimin’s head droops lower. “Sorry,” he repeats.
“Hey, none of that.” Yoongi drops Jimin’s towel over his head for his sweat. “Ten minutes and we go again, okay?”
There are other gymnasts training. Some of them are just coming in, some of them are leaving. Their hours are not so long and grueling when they finally arrive at the Olympics, just enough to keep their routines fresh and their bodies quick and nimble. Jimin brings his bottle to his lips and drinks as he watches the man at the parallel bars execute a clean dismount, straightening up with his arms over his head and a triumphant smile on his face. Suddenly, Jimin realizes why he must have noticed him at all—he’s the one the parade that had smiled in Jimin’s direction.
“Who’s that guy over there?” Jimin nods in the direction of him and hopes Yoongi is looking.
“I am not helping you hook up with anyone.”
“No, I’m just curious. Really! The guy on the parallel bars, you know him?”
Yoongi glances up at this. “Oh, him? The real tall broad one? Yeah, Kim Seokjin. This is his...third time in the Olympics, I believe.”
“Wow,” Jimin says. “You know him pretty well, then.”
“We trained in Taeneung at the same time. He beat out Olympic candidate Lee Jaehwan for Beijing 2008.” Yoongi yawns. These mornings have taken a toll on him too, especially as someone who hates getting out of bed even moreso than Jimin. “He’s a nice guy, I guess. Didn’t really talk to him.” He eyes Jimin suspiciously. “I want to know, but I don’t.”
“No, I just met him in the parade,” Jimin says. “I didn’t get his name.”
And, as if Seokjin had a radar for these kinds of things—or perhaps he felt Jimin’s burning gaze on his back, well-muscled and glistening with a sheen of sweat—he turns his head over his shoulder again. This time, he doesn’t seem to be looking for anyone else, meeting Jimin’s gaze square in the face. Jimin averts his eyes as fast as he can but Seokjin has caught him looking already, and feels a blush pool in his cheeks. When Jimin chances a peek back at his face, Seokjin still has his eyes trained on him, burning across the gym. Then he winks, charming and cryptic, and doesn’t look back.
Jimin is sexiled that night, which is great. It’s not like he’s half naked with nothing but a towel around his waist to cover up and an armful of wet bath toiletries to put down.
“Are you fucking serious,” he says aloud, staring at the tie they wore for the parade, hanging innocuously off the doorknob. He looks up to glare the peephole like he can sear through the glass and glare at them until they stop. “Are you fucking serious.”
He would probably have stood there and fumed longer, because his hair is dripping runoff onto his back and even for Rio, it is cold. But he can hear the grunts and moans and cries through the walls far more clearly than he would like, and if anyone sees him they might think he’s a voyeurist. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, because he’s sure there are plenty that would be interested in the many thousands of horny Olympians he’s surrounded by, but he’s not trying to send the wrong message here.
“You alright there?”
Jimin jumps when the voice comes from right behind him, dropping his bottle of Dove body wash when he turns around. It spews some of its thick creamy formula all over Jimin’s ankles when it hits the ground, and he doesn’t move to pick it up when he looks right into Seokjin’s face. He towers over Jimin, nearly blocking out the ceiling light from Jimin’s view.
“Oh, hey,” says Seokjin, smiling when he recognizes Jimin too. “You’re the guy from the parade.”
“That’s me. Park Jimin.”
“Park Jimin?” Seokjin’s face clears. “You’re the one who got silver in rings at London, weren’t you?”
“Bingo,” Jimin says. “But right now I am just Park Jimin, sexiled by royal order.”
“You want to crash in my room for a second?” Seokjin asks. “My roommate went to go party with Russia.”
Jimin laughs incredulously. “Russia, huh?”
“I had to pass it up. All of their handles had names written only in Russian, I was too scared to mess with that shit.” He extends a hand, and Jimin shakes it with his still slightly damp, soapy one. “Kim Seokjin. Parallel bars, but I guess you already know that.”
“I already knew that,” Jimin says. He can feel his towel slipping as he jogs to keep up with Seokjin’s wide paces. Damn tall people and their ability to turn any leisurely stroll into a workout.
“Are you nervous, this time around?” Seokjin presses the down arrow for the elevator. “Got your eyes on the gold?”
“That’s the plan. What about you?”
“I just want to place again. I placed third at Beijing,” Seokjin says. The car comes and a soft ding filters between them. “And I didn’t place at all at London, so you’ve never heard of me, probably.”
“What is there to be sorry about? That’s how the Olympics work.” Seokjin shrugs. “In twenty years no one is going to be able to name the third best in anything. I’m just glad that I managed to win a medal the first time I stepped foot in the Games.”
Not everyone has to ability to say that they medaled in the first Olympic games they ever participated in.
“True,” Jimin agrees. “But I think you should still allow yourself that much happiness. Or pride, or whatever. Your name is going down in the books, and in history. Not many people have bragging rights like that. Nothing wrong with being proud of yourself.”
“Maybe you are right, little ringmaster,” Seokjin says, and Jimin snorts at the name. “I saw you this morning! You’re really good, honest.”
“Hey, a silver medal isn’t shabby. Your lines were so straight and smooth, I’m not surprised at all that you placed in your first Games.” He stops in front of door. “Alright, here we are.”
Seokjin’s room is tidy and put together on one side and a natural disaster on the other. He sets his keys down on the spotless desk as opposed to the one covered in an assorted collection of Champion brand socks and for some reason Jimin finds himself surprised, if only for a moment.
“Here,” Seokjin says, rummaging in his closet. Jimin is hit in the face with something soft and warm, smelling sweetly of laundry detergent. “Just washed it, so don’t worry. You look like you’re cold.”
“Thanks,” Jimin says, dropping his things to the floor. He secures his towel tighter around his waist and pulls Seokjin’s sweater on, a dark fleecy crewneck with the words Spectacular Sensation stamped over the chest in white lettering. “When’s your competition?”
“Friday the week after next,” Seokjin says. “You?”
“Thursday. Right before you.”
“Oh, cool,” Seokjin says. “Good luck.”
The conversation devolves into stories on and off the mats. Seokjin has a lot of them, especially ones from Beijing that just seem to get wilder and wilder the more the recalls. Jimin makes him recount the one of the threesome on the balcony below his room in great detail, just because it’s so crazy he can’t believe it.
“I threw condoms at them until they stopped screaming like cats in heat,” Seokjin says, leaning back in his bed with his arms behind his head as Jimin tries to ease away the stitches in his side, painful with laughter. “But then I didn’t have any condoms left.”
“Why, you couldn’t have gone to get more?”
“The real walk of shame in the Village isn’t when you’re leaving your hookup’s room,” Seokjin says. “It’s when you have to go down to the main office to get more condoms.”
Which, apparently, opens up a whole new kettle of stories. Jimin has a few of his own, one precisely involving a really bad experiment with lube that has Seokjin tearing up, he laughs so hard. By the time Jimin gets around to thinking he should leave, his hair is already dry and his uncomfortably damp towel is cold.
“I should get going.” Jimin stands up, begins pulling the sweater off. “I’ve got training bright and early. Maybe I’ll see you around again?”
“Of course.” Seokjin sits up. “You can keep the sweater. Give it back tomorrow.”
“Are you sure?” Jimin says, hands pausing on the hem of the shirt.
“Yeah. Looks good on you.”
“Oh.” Jimin didn’t expect that. “Really?”
Seokjin winks at him. “Really.”
Jeongguk is sorry.
“Sorry,” he says when he gets back the several afternoons later with his duffel over his shoulder, barefoot with his shoes swinging from the hooks of his fingers. “I didn’t know you were in the middle of a shower until I noticed your towel missing.”
“It’s okay,” Jimin sighs. Taehyung is bombing his phone text after text right now, and he’s trying to keep up with his trains of thought. It’s a bit of a challenge in person already and an extreme sport in words, but Jimin has known him long enough to be able to understand with enough focus. “One of the guys downstairs invited me over.”
“Ooh,” Jeongguk says, quirking his eyebrows. “Invited you over, huh?”
Jimin looks over his phone to fix Jeongguk with a withering look.
“Whatever,” Jimin says. “We didn’t do anything.”
“You’re wearing a sweater three times your size,” Jeongguk says, and Jimin curses to himself when he looks down and realizes that he is, in fact, wearing Seokjin’s sweater again. Fuck.
“It’s comfortable,” Jimin says defensively.
“So are your warmups.”
“Here’s a cool idea: shut up, maybe.”
Jeongguk snorts. “I’m just giving you a hard time, man,” he says, undoing his belt and stripping off his dobok. Jimin looks away. If he’s four hundred percent honest, Jeongguk is really hot, but they’re roommates, and it would get so fucking weird if they did anything. “Was he nice?”
“Yeah,” Jimin says. Taehyung’s saying something about this really cute American swimmer now and Jimin tries to decipher what he’s saying, reply, and talk to Jeongguk at the same time. “Super chill.” He looks up as Jeongguk leans against his desk, wearing nothing but his pants as he scrolls through his phone. “How about you? Sounded like you had a good time last night.”
Jeongguk’s cheeks color at this, and it’s unexpectedly adorable. “He was fine,” he grunts.
“Fine, or Fine,?”
“Here’s a cool idea: shut up, maybe.”
But Jeongguk’s blush does nothing but blunt the sharp edge of his voice, and Jimin snickers.
When he lets himself out into the hallway, a couple of girls bump into him. “Hey, we’re going to go hang with some of the Brazilians down at the pool. Want to come?” they ask.
Jimin looks at them, then carefully considers their usage of the word pool. He’s not sure if he’s really in the mood to participate in his first orgy today.
“Maybe later,” he says. “Gotta meet up with someone right now.”
“Ahh,” they say knowingly, disappearing before Jimin has a chance to say, no, not like that. He makes his way down the stairwell, too lazy to walk all the way to the elevators, and his footsteps echo in the empty space around him.
Jimin is fairly sure this is the right door to Seokjin’s room. He hopes so, anyway, as he raises his hand to knock. Even as he does, he hears a crash and a passionate “fuck!", and then the door opens.
“Uh,” he says. Shit. This is not Seokjin, but this is definitely his room. So this must be his roommate.
“Yo,” says Seokjin’s roommate. He blinks dumbly at Jimin a couple of times, then, “Sorry, did we make out last night or something?”
“Nah,” Jimin says. “Why, were you expecting someone?”
“Er, not really.” He scratches the back of his neck. “You here for Seokjin?”
“Yeah. Is he in?”
“He just left for dinner, actually. You can come in and chill if you want to wait for him.”
“Oh, it’s okay, I don’t want to intrude.”
“It’s no problem. I’m leaving soon, too, I can tell him you were here. Who should I say dropped by?”
“Oh, the silver medalist in rings!” He extends a fist. “London! Cool, dude. Jin Hyosang, I’m in badminton.”
Hyosang leaves Jimin to his own devices shortly afterwards, and he leans back on Seokjin’s bedframe. Maybe he should just go find Taehyung and drink with the Americans, and come back tomorrow when Seokjin is here. He really wouldn’t say no to some good alcohol right now, but he’s so tired that he opts to sit back on the bed. The next time he registers being awake, he is viewing the room tilted at a ninety degree angle, and sits upright so suddenly that the world swims.
“Good morning there, ringmaster.”
“Time is it,” Jimin says blearily. It’s so bright he has to squint, and Seokjin chuckles at him where he’s lounging on Hyosang’s bed.
“Just past nine.” He has one arm behind his head, the other holding his phone as he types with one thumb flying across the screen. When he turns to look at Jimin, there’s a faint smile on his lips. “And to what do I owe this pleasure?”
“I’m so sorry,” Jimin says. When he glances at his phone there are eighty-six new texts from Taehyung. “I came by to give your sweater back but you weren’t in, and then I fell—fell asleep, I guess.”
“Why’s that anything to be sorry about?” Seokjin asks. “Thanks. You didn’t have to come by so soon.”
“Well, I wanted to.”
At this, Seokjin, blinks at his phone, fingers stilling, then looks at Jimin again. They hold their gazes for a long, breathless moment before he’s laughing quietly.
“You’re very kind, Jimin.”
“Says the person who gave me a place to stay after my roommate sexiled me.”
“Well. I was just being a helpful fellow athlete, really. You’re welcome.”
They stare at each other a heartbeat longer, then Jimin hops off Seokjin’s bed.
“Anyway, I think I’m going to go hang out with some friends and get a few drinks, so here you go,” he says, pulling the sweater over his head, holding it out. Seokjin sits up in Hyosang’s bed and swings his legs off the edge to face Jimin. “Thanks again. Good luck with your competition.”
Seokjin looks so good. His frame holds up the black hoodie he is wearing so well. Jimin can’t help but notice it, especially as Seokjin reaches out, fingers closing around the navy fabric. He lets go, hyperaware of how shirtless he is even though Seokjin is looking nowhere but his face.
“You too,” Seokjin says. “See you later.”
Jimin makes it about as far as the front door, which he thinks is pretty impressive, at the end of all things. When he pauses with one foot out in the hallway, turning to throwing a goodbye over his shoulder again, Seokjin smiles and gives him a tiny wave.
They crash together when Jimin walks back to him. He knows for a fact he reaches out, but Seokjin pulls him in at the same time, too, and he feels the thud in his ribs more than he hears it when their bodies meet. Seokjin is huge beneath him, his body and chest endless as Jimin props himself upon him, and his arms are long enough to wrap all the way around the curve of Jimin’s waist.
Hyosang doesn’t come back. It’s a good night.
“I don’t want to hear any excuses,” is the first thing Yoongi says when Jimin trips into the training center half an hour late with half of one eye open and what he’s sure is toothpaste foam still in the corner of his mouth. “Put your ring grips on and let’s get going.”
Yoongi doesn’t have much to say when Jimin steps up his game for his practice, though. He does all his As, Bs, Cs, and Ds drills without a peep out of Yoongi’s mouth, and manages to dismount nine times without so much as a hint of a stumble, despite the dull ache that flares up when he strains his back muscles on his uprises.
“Good job, kid,” Yoongi says brusquely as he tosses Jimin his Camelbak, as usual, and Jimin sits back in a heap below the rings. “Just one more run-through after this. Take a break.”
Jimin flips the spout of the water bottle up and bring it to his lips. Across the training center he watches as Seokjin downswings, flipping midair and landing on his biceps—he’s never noticed how big the impact was on the frame but the bars rattle as Seokjin wraps up the double tuck neatly, rising back into a handstand. Then he’s dismounting, air rushing out of the mat when he lands, and he breathes out a sigh of relief when his feet remain firmly when he plants them.
The thumbs up Jimin flashes him doesn’t go unnoticed. Seokjin finds his eyes, then, too, over the pommel horse and uneven bars. He looks surprised—clearly he hadn’t expected Jimin to be watching, then gives him one in return, as if in question. Even from here, Jimin can hear Seokjin’s laugh when he winks and shoots him a fingergun in confirmation.
“Jesus,” Yoongi mutters. “Do that later.”
“He is nice, hyung,” Jimin says emphatically.
“I was aware,” Yoongi says. “Bet he’s wild in bed, too.”
Yoongi glances up, tapping his own throat.
“You might want to ask him to leave those somewhere we can’t see them come next week.”
“Oh, shit,” Jimin says, hands jumping to his neck. He hadn’t even taken a good look at himself in the mirror this morning, too busy trying teleport into the training center so Yoongi wouldn't throw his ass into the Atlantic for being half an hour late.
“Mmhmm,” Yoongi says. “But as long as you keep up work like you did today, I’m not saying anything.”
“So, you approve?”
“I neither condone nor approve.”
“You should probably look for advice on that from Taehyung, not me,” Yoongi says. He has a point. “All right, break time’s over. Get this next run-through perfect and we can be done here today.”
Jimin gets it perfect, so he’s free for the rest of the day.
He leaves alone. Yoongi gets flagged down by the gymnastics director, so he pulls his phone out and plugs his earbuds in. He’s right about to set his music on blast when he hears footsteps behind him, and someone jogs up to fall into step with him.
“Hey,” says Seokjin. His hair dark with sweat under the dry surface layer of his bangs, and around his temples.
“Hi,” Jimin says. He doesn’t know where to look, so he looks at Seokjin’s eyebrows. None of his hookups at London ever spoke to him again after they, well, hooked up, so he isn’t sure if Seokjin is here out of genuine amiable reasons or if he just wants to do the nasty again. “Good work today. Your dismount is insane.”
“Ah, the twisting double back?” Seokjin says. “Thanks. Picked it up from the German gymnast Marcel Nguyen at London.” He slants Jimin a look, one that Jimin only picks up in his periphery. “You too though.”
They walk together for some time, and Jimin isn’t sure if he should say bye, see you later! since they’ll be walking to Ilha Grande together for the rest of the distance anyway. He finds he doesn’t dislike Seokjin’s presence at all. It’s a little awkward but not uncomfortable, and Seokjin seems content with walking in silence.
“You want to go get some food out in the city?” he asks out of the blue. The sun is rising steadily over them, a thick, warm breeze making Jimin’s tank top stick to his skin. “After we shower and everything. I really want to try the street food.”
“Oh,” Jimin says. “You want to go together?”
Seokjin’s smile is endearingly timid. “Yeah, if you want to.”
“Sure!” Jimin doesn’t know if he’ll ever be coming back to Brazil, after all. “After we get cleaned up, then.”
Jeongguk isn’t back from practice yet, so Jimin has the room to himself. He strips down naked in front of his mirror and there are marks on not only his neck but also his shoulders and hips, and the practice on the rings hasn’t done much to lessen the burn at the base of his spine but, he reasons, at least this isn’t the first time he’s done this. He hadn’t been expecting all the hickeys, but finds that he isn’t all too bothered beyond being embarrassed. Though Taehyung will ask so many questions, and Jeongguk will give him the most insufferable looks.
Today is the hottest day in Rio since they’ve gotten here, nearly a week ago. Jimin ruffles his hair in the sun, his roots drying as he takes the stairs down two at a time to the ground floor. Downstairs, Seokjin is already waiting, looking unreasonably attractive for someone wearing only a t-shirt and jeans. His frame holds the fabric so well, the cotton rippling gently in the warm breeze when he straightens up.
“Ready to go?”
“I—let’s see, yes, I have got my money.”
Jimin had converted some of his won to real in past few days. There are some cafes around the Olympic Park that he stops by with Taehyung late at night, and they’d only accepted dollars or real, neither of which Jimin had on his person at the time.
“Do you know the way around here?” he asks as they swipe to leave the Village.
“Nope,” Seokjin says, laughing. “So don’t get lost!”
Jimin feels his smile fade a little when Seokjin holds out his hand in invitation. He isn’t sure if this is going to end well—something like this, with a hookup that he’ll never see again after the closing ceremony, just screams bad decisions—but being in Seokjin’s presence is so exhilarating and unexpectedly secure that he reaches out to slot their fingers together. He’ll burn that bridge when he gets to it.
The streets of downtown Rio are crowded, not so much that Jimin and Seokjin can’t stand side by side, but people do end up bumping into their shoulders. Buying food is a little bit of a hiccup, since neither of them know Portuguese, and the vendors can’t possibly know Korean, but pointing and offerings of money go a long way. Jimin also smiles a lot, and the vendors seem to really like that, so Seokjin nudges him when they get breaded kebabs.
“Do that more,” he says, and Jimin chuckles. “They really like you!”
“They like you too,” Jimin says, as two teenage girls turn away and giggle when they catch a glimpse of Seokjin’s face. “See.”
“I have a great face.”
“Wow,” Jimin says, not that Seokjin is wrong—and he knows it, raising his eyebrows like he’s taunting Jimin into challenging that claim.
The kebabs disappear quickly. Jimin probably eats upwards of six thousand calories a day to keep up with his training and practice, and he can’t imagine Seokjin eats any less. They make their way around the entire neighborhood, buying what they can afford—pão de queijo, açai bowls, coxinhas, and some kind of popcorn of the gods. Foods that Jimin can hardly recognize but eats anyway when Seokjin has a bite and hands it to him with a thumbs up. Towards the evening, when Seokjin holds out a morsel of pastry, Jimin simply leans forward and eats it out of his fingers.
“Oh,” Seokjin says, withdrawing his hand, but Jimin is already chewing thoughtfully. “Well.”
“You like it?” Seokjin holds out the bigger piece in his hand. “Here, have some more.”
He holds still as Jimin takes bite right from his hand again, and sighs with mock exasperation when Jimin pulls away. “You’re such a baby,” he says.
“That’s me,” Jimin says, laughing.
By nightfall, Barra da Tijuca has lit up something beautiful. They end up standing by the ocean, Jimin working his way through his second açai bowl of the night, he liked the first one so much. The waves crash against the shore and soft music filters up from a bonfire on the beach. From here they can see the brightly lit Olympic Dome in the distance where the flame burns in its torch.
“Thanks for coming out with me.”
Jimin looks to Seokjin, who has his elbows rested on the rail of the rickety chain link fence lining the cliffs. “Of course,” he says, gathering up his berries to one side of his cup, where there’s more sugar and granola. “I wanted to come out, too.”
“Yeah?” Seokjin says, sounding happy. “You seem to be really hard yourself about your training. I thought we both could use a day in the city.”
Jimin chews thoughtfully. “How’d you know?”
“That I’m hard on myself.”
“Just a feeling,” Seokjin says. Jimin rolls his eyes. “No, really! I could see it in the set of your shoulders when you messed up, I guess. I see your own coach telling you to lighten up sometimes. If that’s not a trademark of an athlete being too hard on himself, then I don’t know what is.”
“I don’t really have room to be easy on myself.”
“Well, I have to go for that gold.”
“You have to?”
Jimin frowns. “Are you not here to try to win?”
“Well, sure,” Seokjin says. “But I’m also not going to run myself into the ground getting there.” He shifts, the chain links clinking gently against each other as the fence rattles. “Sorry if I made assumptions. You’re really nice, and I wanted to do this for you, I guess.”
The hickeys on Jimin’s neck burn. “Thank you,” he says, deciding that he won’t dwell any longer on this. “You too. Thanks for doing this for me.”
“Of course,” Seokjin says.
They hook up again when they get back, Jimin’s lips still tasting of berries and sugar. It’s still a hookup, technically speaking, but it’s slower this time. Jimin isn’t sure what to make of it. Maybe Seokjin is just conscious of how sore Jimin was after the first time, but he runs his hands up Jimin’s sides so slow as they kiss, sitting up in bed until Jimin straddles his thighs. Seokjin smooths his hands higher, until Jimin is leaning away to pull his shirt over his head and let it fall behind him.
“You are so,” Seokjin says, craning up to kiss at Jimin’s neck again, and Jimin finds he doesn’t object to a fresh set of hickeys.
“I’m so?” he prompts, cheeky, when Seokjin doesn’t finish, and finds himself being rolled over until he’s pressed under Seokjin’s wide frame.
“Beautiful,” Seokjin murmurs, angling his face so he can kiss Jimin again. Jimin startles, even as Seokjin kisses him, but he chases the thoughts out of his head and closes his eyes to focus on the feel of Seokjin’s mouth on his. His lips are so soft.
Seokjin ends up on his own back again, with Jimin on top of him. The lights are off but the windows are open and they can hear excited yelling just from the floor below, but the quiver of Seokjin’s breath is the only thing that fills Jimin’s ears when he eases himself down onto his cock. The stretch, even with preparation, is a bit of a sting, but Seokjin runs soothing hands over Jimin’s thighs, waiting for him to move himself before he does.
“You okay?” he asks, tone so gentle that Jimin almost wants him to be a little rougher so he can’t imagine anything more out of this. “Do you want to—?”
“I’m okay,” Jimin says, nodding. He loosens his iron grip on Seokjin’s shoulders, rolling his hips the way he does it best, and Seokjin shudders. “I want this.”
Seokjin lets Jimin do his own work for a few minutes, hands gripping the jutting crests of Jimin’s pelvis, thrusting up as Jimin grinds down. It becomes a rougher slam of bodies and skin as they speed up, and approach orgasm, Jimin feeling whimpers build in his throat, and Seokjin sits up so Jimin can wrap his arms around his neck.
“Come on,” Seokjin grunts into Jimin’s clavicles, words punctuated with the jerk of his hips, fucking into Jimin unforgivingly. “Come on, come for me—”
“Yes,” Jimin says, keening, and he spills all over Seokjin’s stomach, the come running in rivulets over the grooves of Seokjin’s abdomen. “Yes, fuck—yes, yes—”
And Seokjin tenses under him, too, whole body tightening as he comes into the condom. Jimin curls his fingers in the hair at the nape of Seokjin’s neck as the high bleeds out of them, slowly, and looks into his face when Seokjin pulls back.
“Mmm,” Jimin hums, and dips his head down to kiss him some more. It feels so surreal to be wrapped up in Seokjin like this, damp with sweat and dizzy with the taste of açai between them. If he closes his eyes and imagines with all his might, he can transport them out of the Village and into the most ordinary college town and finds, to his worry, that he loves the idea a little too much.
Two weeks to the day of Jimin’s competition, Jeongguk asks him a question at three AM in the pitch black of their room. Jimin doesn’t answer immediately. He might just be talking in his sleep but Jeongguk sleeps like the dead.
“No, I thought you were sleep-talking,” Jimin says. “What do you mean, exactly?”
“I mean, how do you define hookups?” Jeongguk says. “Hit and quit it? Is a fling a hookup?”
“You have a fling with someone?”
“I never said anything of that nature,” Jeongguk hisses. “I asked you, how do you define a hookup?”
Before, Jimin would have said, hit it and quit it, of course! But Seokjin’s face appears on the backs of his eyelids every time he closes his eyes, and he’s not so sure anymore. Maybe it’s still lust, one that runs deep and desperate. So maybe hit it and quit it still stands.
“Yeah, I’m listening.” Jimin shifts in bed so that he’s facing Jeongguk across the room, even though he can’t see him at all. “In my knowledge flings are just tiny relationships. Hookups are hit-it-and-quit-its. FWBs are sexual relations with no emotional relations. There has to be more but those are the three I hear most about.” He slides his hand under his cheek, pillowing his jaw in his palm. “Where do you fall?”
“I don’t know,” Jeongguk says. “If we’ve done it more than once, is it still a hookup?”
“Not for me,” Jimin says, and admitting this out loud makes his own heart thud heavily in his chest. “If I’m going to get naked for the same person more than once I have to like them to some degree.”
“Oh.” Jeongguk sniffles. He seems to do that a lot, like he has permanent allergies. “Do I have to?”
“Like I said, that’s just how it is for me,” Jimin says. “You really haven’t done any of this before, huh?”
“Well,” Jeongguk mutters. “I’ve done hookups.”
“So this isn’t a hookup.”
“I don’t know what it is! I don’t know what it is and that’s what’s pissing me off, I hate not having a name for this.”
Jeongguk’s words touch some part of Jimin that agrees only too well with what he’s saying. He tells himself that there can’t possibly be a label he can put to this, whatever floats uncertainly between himself and Seokjin, but perhaps what it is is that there is a name already—stamped in huge letters on their bodies and they can only play blind for so long.
“Maybe you should talk to them about it.”
“Jimin, perhaps you have heard of the saying, ‘one does not simply walk into Mordor.’”
“That’s an Internet meme from Lord of the Rings.”
“How can I just talk to them about it?”
“Usually you sit down in a place where you guys can’t be interrupted and use your mouths,” he says. “Which is usually how people talk to each other.”
Jeongguk sighs. He sounds truly defeated for once. “Are you sure that works?” he asks, more skeptical than ever.
“Well,” Jimin says. “That depends on how you define ‘works.’”
And so the second week passes by mostly uneventfully.
Jimin takes time out of his day on Thursday to sit in and watch Taehyung’s fencing match. He’s competing in men’s épée individuals, whatever that means. Once Jimin leaves the land of high bars and parallel bars and pommel horses, he is lost. He doesn’t even know what counts as a point in fencing, truth be told. But before Taehyung’s match begins, his mask pinned under his arm, he sees Jimin in the crowd and waves. His smile is so big his eyes turn into dark crescents in his face. Then he looks away, and his smile fades a little, but he waves again. Jimin can’t see who it is but he hopes it’s Taehyung’s family. Taehyung had been talking about them coming out to watch him for ages.
Then his face disappears behind the mask, and Jimin can hardly tell who is who save from the name printed across Taehyung’s back and the national colors lining his sleeves. He’s facing a man from Egypt, shorter and thinner in stature than he, but wickedly nimble.
Long story short, Taehyung doesn’t get gold—it feels particularly long when Jimin’s routines are over in a minute. But he does get bronze, and couldn’t look happier.
“Look at it!” he says, still waving his medal even later. Jimin is convinced he’s never going to take it off. “Look!”
“How are you going to celebrate?” Jimin asks, throwing an around Taehyung’s shoulders and pulling him down to his height, digging his fist into Taehyung’s hair and ruffling it up.
“Dinner!” he says, laughing. His mother and sister were the only two who could come watch and they hurry along in Taehyung’s wake. “And then,” he drops his voice, and Jimin leans in. “That American swimmer owes me one.”
“We had a bet,” Taehyung says. “If I placed, I got to do anything I wanted with him for a night.”
“Sounds like a hot date,” Jimin says, and Taehyung’s smile falters slightly. The change IS so miniscule that if it were anyone else but Jimin, they wouldn’t have even noticed.
“Yeah, I guess so!” he says. His mother and sister have to wait outside the gated entrance to the Village as he and Jimin swipe in, and Jimin frowns.
“What is it?” he asks. “What’s wrong. I can hear it in your voice, Taehyung, what happened?”
“Fine. Whatever happens from this point forward, I’m giving you no advice.”
“No!” Taehyung exclaims, hooking a hand over Jimin’s shoulder. “I mean, please.”
“Hmm. I guess that’s nice enough.”
“So are you. Good thing we’re useless together.”
Taehyung has to laugh at that, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “I don’t know, Jimin. When someone invites you out even after a hookup, texts you to meet you and it doesn’t end in sex—what’s that supposed to mean?”
Jimin feels his smile fade, and his walk slows. He doesn’t stop, but Taehyung has to shorten his pace to keep in step with him. “Oh,” he says, understanding dawning on him. “Is that what it is?”
“I know, I know,” Taehyung says, looking ashamed already, not meeting Jimin’s eyes. “I got myself into something I shouldn’t have.”
“No, no, don’t be like that,” Jimin says. “I’m just—like, do you want it to mean something? You do, don’t you?”
“I want it to mean something, but I know it can’t,” Taehyung says. This much, at least, he seems to understand with certainty. “Not when I know it’s going to end anyway, and that our lives will probably never intersect again. Not when we lead lives of Olympic athletes. So I guess I don’t want it to mean anything, even though I do.” He chews on his lip. “That made more sense in my head.”
“No, I get it.”
“Sorry, this is,” Taehyung runs a hand through his hair, a habit he picked up from Jimin. “This is stupid. It’s not like I’ve actually even known him that long but it’s like we just—”
“Click,” Jimin offers. “Right?”
“You don’t have to know someone for that long to think they could be more,” Jimin says. “Conversely, you could know a friend for years and that is all they will be.” He gives Taehyung a pointed once over. “Like your ass, for example.”
But the jibe falls short when Taehyung doesn’t have the energy to pick it up and hardball it back. Shorter than him though Jimin may be, he swings an arm up to rest over Taehyung’s shoulders again, comforting and solid, hard muscle against the frame of his bones.
“Hey. You want to know a secret?”
“The last time you told me about one of your secrets I had nightmares for a week.”
“I promise this one is an important one,” Jimin says, holding his hand up by his head in solemn oath. “One that I have to make you promise not to tell anyone.”
“Oh,” Taehyung says, and the gravity in Jimin’s voice makes him serious, too. “Okay. What is it?”
“I might be seeing someone too,” Jimin admits. “I don’t know what we are. Sometimes we hook up. Sometimes we just kiss a lot and go our separate ways. I don’t know what it means and talking about it would mean acknowledging that there is something to be acknowledged at all, but.” Jimin gnaws at the inside of his cheek. “I think we can work. We might be working right now.”
“Holy shit,” Taehyung breathes. “Who? Do I know them?”
“Nah,” Jimin says. “I doubt it. But, yeah. I’m sorry you have to feel this way. But never feel like you’re alone because I.” He swallows. “I know.”
“Man,” Taehyung says. “You should follow your own advice sometimes.”
“Talk to them anyway.”
There is an actual saying, that things are easier said than done, and Jimin feels it on a personal level when he tries to ‘talk to Seokjin anyway.’ It always devolves into making out, and if they’re lucky (or unlucky, depending on how late it is) it’ll end up in sex.
And that is what this is. The Olympics are about cycles, the new flushing out the old. One round is, in the end, forgotten for the next, and the people are the same. With time, their names blur. Things forged in the flames of the Olympics are not borne of permanence, and Jimin is a fool to expect anything else.
It stops being a hookup sometime around the beginning of the third week and Jimin’s impending competition rears its ugly head and casts a shadow over his social life. He doesn’t see Taehyung in the dining commons for three straight evenings and Yoongi tightens his hold around the perfection Jimin has to execute during his morning practices.
But the nighttimes, when Jeongguk is out—his competition isn’t until the beginning of week four—it gets to be too quiet in his room, even if he spent the evening with Seokjin. Jimin doesn’t do well when he is left alone with nothing but his thoughts, so he gathers up his practice pants and his water bottle to make the trek to the Olympic Park and hope he can charm one of the security guards into letting him into the training center for a while.
They let him in amicably enough. Jimin just has to pout for a few seconds, and the security guard warns him that he’ll be disqualified from his competition if he tries anything funny. A lone light is on inside, mounted high overhead on the ceiling, and in the corners Jimin sees tiny green lights of security cameras blink on and off, on and off, like the tick of the clock. Alone, with nothing but himself and the rings, Jimin feels like he can breathe.
He slips on his ring grips and jumps, hard, to reach them. Usually Yoongi is there to give him a bit of a boost but he manages to grab on anyway.
Then it is the sound of his heartbeat and his breath and the twang of the ring cables as they stretch and tighten under Jimin’s weight. Handstands, uprises, L-sits, levers, straddles—Jimin goes through his competition routine front to back, back to front. Then he does drills that he doesn’t even need to practice, hands sweaty with the absence of chalk.
Jimin is so startled that he loses his grip in the middle of a double tuck, flying off the rings. He is lucky that he is so used to this, especially when he first started learning, that he lands mostly on his feet, knees buckling before he crumples on the mat. “Shit.”
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry.” It’s Seokjin’s voice. “I didn’t—I’m so sorry, are you okay? I didn’t know you’d be so spooked.”
“No, it’s fine, I’m fine,” Jimin says, and he is. A bit winded, perhaps, but he’s suffered worse falls on harder surfaces. Seokjin helps him sit up anyway, a comforting hand on his arm. It is solid and warm against the skin of Jimin’s shoulder that isn’t covered by the narrow strap of his tank top.
“Are you sure? That was a pretty big fall.”
“Yeah, I’m sure. What are you doing here?”
Seokjin sits down beside him. He’s so tall that his legs reach the floor, while the deck is high enough for Jimin to dangle his feet freely. “Same thing as you,” he says. It appears it is—Seokjin is a little sweaty, in his tank top and practice shorts too, hands dry and dusty with chalk. “I couldn’t sleep and my thoughts were too loud, so I came to the place where I don’t have to think at all.”
Jimin looks down at his hands. “Yeah.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” Seokjin says. “Whatever’s been on your mind?”
Well. Seokjin is one of those things, and Jimin isn’t quite sure he’s ready to discuss that.
“How little room there is to fuck up at the Olympics,” Jimin says. The thought comes out fragmented and ineloquent but he has to put it out there before he lets it slide back down into his stomach. “You know. To know the importance of one millisecond, ask the person who got silver. They’ll always have something to tell you.”
“Oh, Jimin,” Seokjin says, face softening. “Don’t think like that.”
“Afford to think any other way?” Seokjin says. “If you think like that, you’ll be a poor man for all your life.”
Jimin picks at the strap of his grip.
“You know what I always thought, when I started wondering if I wasn’t good enough to be here,” Seokjin says. “Because, trust me, in the last eight years I have believed too often that I had no place under the Olympic rings.”
“But you medaled in your first ever Games!”
“I did,” Seokjin says. “But that doesn’t mean it stopped me from wondering, if I was good enough for the Games, why wasn’t I good enough for silver? For gold? And we all know that there has to be losers to be winners but that didn’t stop me from doubting myself anyway.”
Jimin reaches out, unsure if he really has a place to be touching Seokjin in a moment like this. But he takes a breath and rests his hand over the jut of Seokjin’s wrist, the last bits of chalk gritty under his fingertips.
“My point is,” Seokjin says, “is that I try to remember that this won’t last forever. You know? The Games are such a fleeting event, four weeks where the world watches us and gossips about us but come the closing ceremony and come the next Games, only coaches and rivals will remember us. And only the best of us, in fact. People worth being scared of. People like Jeon Jeongguk, for example.” He turns his hand, then, so that Jimin’s fingers will lace together with his. Even with their bulky grips sandwiched between their palms, it’s a perfect fit.
“At first, I was upset about that. I wanted to be celebrated. Selfishly, I wanted that. But then I thought about what it was like to place third in parallel bars, the first champion from South Korea in years that had. And I thought about how proud the people around me were anyway.” Seokjin pauses when Jimin runs his thumb across his knuckles, then he turns to him with a faint smile. “And I realized that a name beside a gold medal wasn’t what I wanted.”
“What was it, then?” Jimin whispers.
“To be remembered,” Seokjin says, shrugging. This is so simple for him. “Perhaps I will not be Jeon Jeongguk. Perhaps I will not medal again this year, and that is okay. Of course I would love to, but I can’t let that anxiety become the exact reason that I don’t medal at all. Instead, I just want to be remembered as someone who knew nothing of gymnastics, who was talentless and clumsy, that made it to the Olympics and represented his country among the hundreds.”
“You see my hands,” Seokjin says, holding up his free hand so that the light shines over it. “You see how my fingers are bent, while you can stretch yours straight?”
“They told me I’d never be able to do professional gymnastics,” Seokjin says, bringing up the hand with which he holds Jimin’s—and Jimin sees, he understands. The first joints of all of Seokjin’s fingers are warped, and the length of each finger is arched in at an unnatural curve. “I couldn’t grip the bars properly, and I was always falling to the mats. No coaches wanted to take me on because I was radioactive.”
“Horrible of them,” Jimin says, scowling.
“But it was that kind of criticism that got me back up on my feet,” Seokjin says. “And I did. Finally, one of them saw how determined I was, and sent me in to get special grips designed to the shape of my hands.” He smiles here, and it is brilliant. “And here I am.”
“Here you are,” Jimin says. “Holy shit. If I never remember an Olympic champion again, hyung, I’ll remember you.”
“Thanks,” Seokjin says, and he laughs now. It echoes through the empty space around them. “And no matter how well or how badly you do, I’ll always remember you, too.”
Jimin can’t fight the smile that spreads over his face. At first he thinks he imagines it, but then Seokjin is very bodily leaning towards him, slowly like he is giving Jimin time to pull away if he wants.
But Jimin wants this. He wants this so bad, and he tips his face up to kiss too. Seokjin’s breath is unsteady against his mouth. It halts abruptly when their lips meet, and Jimin is drunk from the taste at the first touch.
The door bangs open then, violently, loud enough that they jump apart. Angry shouting ricochets off the high ceilings. Jimin dives into the shadow of the deck, and he hisses at Seokjin, “We’re not supposed to be here, get down!” and Seokjin does the best he can with so much body. It’s a tight fit, so Jimin takes Seokjin’s hand in his again as they scuttle over the training center mats until they can huddle under the empty bleachers that will fill with people come the day of their competitions.
“What’s going on?” Seokjin whispers furiously. The yelling gets louder and closer, then fades as the source of the talking moves farther away from them.
“It sounds like arguing,” Jimin replies. This is a horribly cramped space. Seokjin is hunkered down so he can see out of the same slats Jimin is, peering through the darkness. He can see two figures in the shadows. One of them is walking away from another.
“I don’t understand how to tell you that what you did was fucked up,” Jimin hears—and he knows that voice. He knows it all too well. “And if you have to ask me how, then I think we’re done here.”
“What do you want from me? Maybe if you stopped and actually talked to me then this wouldn’t have happened. That’s a cool idea, huh?”
“Holy shit,” Jimin says under his breath, and Seokjin turns to look at him. “Holy shit.”
“That’s my friend,” Jimin says, pointing through the bleachers. His heart drops when Taehyung slides into the lamplight. He had wished in vain that he was hearing incorrectly. “There—that one! And—oh my God—”
“Is that...Jeon Jeongguk?” Seokjin asks. “It is, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Jimin says. “Oh my God. Of course. Of course he wouldn’t tell me who it was that he was hooking up with—”
“Fine, you want to know?” Taehyung shouts. “It’s not something you want to hear, anyway, so I don’t understand why it kills you to stay oblivious since you’ve done so all this time—I wanted something with you, maybe, something more. And you could have told me any other way but that.”
“Are you kidding?” Jeongguk laughs. It’s derisive and hurts Jimin’s ears. “You think relationships last in the Village? You want one with me? You think you’ll be happy?”
“It could work,” Taehyung says, voice colder than ever. “But I guess not with you.”
“Really,” Jeongguk says. “Really? Name one. One. One relationship. That is happening right now, at this moment, in the Olympic Village.”
Jimin feels his heart stop. Seokjin seems to sense it, the sudden tense of all his muscles and the halt of his breath beside him.
But Taehyung says nothing. In the harsh light, his whole body deflates, and he has never looked so impossibly small.
“See,” Jeongguk says, and Jimin wants to walk out there right now and drag his ass all over the highway—but his voice doesn’t have any of the gloating triumph of a person who knows he’s won an argument. Instead, it is sad, defeated. “It’s not real.”
“You’re right,” Taehyung says, and Jimin barely catches it, he’s speaking so softly now. “You’re right. You were right.”
But Taehyung is already gone. Jimin and Seokjin do not move until they hear the door swing shut for a second time. Only then does he feel Seokjin’s arm around his waist, secure, comforting, holding Jimin’s body to his side.
The days until Jimin’s competition begin passing by in uncontrolled dollops. The night before showtime, Yoongi turns up at Jimin’s room with a paper cupcake liner in his hand, full of a sweet that Jimin hasn’t seen before.
“Are you ready, kid?” Yoongi says, leaning against the doorframe with his hands in his trainer pockets. Jimin doesn’t think he ever recalls a time when he hadn’t see Yoongi wearing those nylon trainers with his beat up Nikes, a lanyard and whistle around his neck. Seeing Yoongi here, now, reminds him once again that he is not a one-man show. Jimin could not have gotten here without Yoongi, and tomorrow, when he jumps up onto those rings, he is not reflecting only his own talent and hard work, but also the hand of his coach.
“As ready as I’ll ever be, I think,” Jimin says, biting into the dessert. Cajuzinho, Yoongi said it was, bought off one of the vendors at the Olympic Park. It is nutty and sweet and Jimin decides he likes it. “Are you nervous?”
“Not anymore than you.”
Jimin chews and swallows. “Hyung.”
“Will you be angry with me if I don’t place?”
Yoongi narrows his eyes. “What are you playing at?”
“I mean,” Jimin rubs his thumb and forefinger together to sprinkle the brown sugar back into the cupcake liner where it has stuck to his fingers. “What if I don’t?”
“The only reason I would be angry with you is if you didn’t try tomorrow,” Yoongi says, as if this were obvious. “If you don’t place, I’ll be disappointed, but not in you, and not because I don’t think you’re good enough.” He shrugs one shoulder, and the whish-whish sound of his nylon warmups are loud. “No one wants failure. But in a competition like this, the truth is that you can be the best you can be, you can work harder than anyone, and if Lady Luck is not riding with you, there is nothing you can do. And that’s okay.”
“Look, Jimin,” says Yoongi, and it’s rare for him to use anything but ‘kid,’ so Jimin listens the fuck up. “Whatever happens out there tomorrow, just remember one thing: I am proud of you. I am proud of the work you have done. I am proud of how far you have come. If that means winning a medal, so be it. If that means placing eighth, so be it.”
“Thanks,” Jimin says. “Thank you, hyung.”
“But just so you know, if you fall off those rings tomorrow, I’m going to kick your ass so hard your left asscheek is going to be feeling it on your deathbed.”
“You were doing so well just now, hyung.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Yoongi says, rolling his eyes. “Get some sleep soon. Where’s your roommate?”
“I don’t know. Out.” Jimin isn’t going to think about it until after tomorrow.
“Well, he can stay his ass out,” Yoongi says, and Jimin laughs. “And let you sleep. Good night, kid.”
Jimin doesn’t manage to get all that much sleep, and Jeongguk wakes him up around three AM anyway tripping facefirst into bed and remaining immobile until sunrise.
Pre-competition jitters are nothing new to Jimin, and he is no stranger to them. Breakfast is a struggle, but he does the best he can to eat so that he has energy for later. The competition doesn’t start until noon but the cafeteria is already full of people like him—from slender rhythmic and beam gymnasts to stocky vault and high bar athletes.
Taehyung sits with him. There’s something off about his expression when he smiles and laughs and tries to get Jimin to laugh along with him. If Jimin didn’t know better he doubts even he would notice, and he tries to not let it bother him, that scene in the training center at a tired hour of the night. When he can’t smile at Taehyung’s antics, Taehyung seems to pass it off as nerves.
“Hey, you’re going to be fine out there, you know?” Taehyung says. “You look like you’re going to spit up everything you’ve eaten since you got here. I’ve seen you at practice. You’re going to be amazing.”
“You don’t have to worry about me,” Jimin says. “Really. I know. Thanks, though. Hey,” he says, when Taehyung looks crestfallen. “You take care of yourself first, okay?”
“I—yeah, I know. Of course.”
“I have to run now,” Jimin says, shouldering his duffel bag. “Gotta get to the stadium early and everything. Are you going to come watch me?”
Taehyung smiles at this and it’s the first one that reaches his eyes all morning. He reaches out and bumps his fist with Jimin’s.
“Wouldn’t miss it for anything.”
Seokjin scares Jimin out of his skin, which is indicative of how hard Jimin is suppressing his nerves to begin with. He thought he’d had them under wraps but when he comes out of the changing room, making his way to the bench beside the rings, he hears someone come up behind him as he pulls on the compression shirt to straighten it around his torso, tucking it into the waistband of his pants.
“Shit!” he yelps, banging his knee on the bench. Jimin had made sure to come in early so he’d be the only one in. “You keep doing that! How’d you know I was here already?”
“Sorry!” Seokjin says. “Sorry. I saw you leaving the cafeteria with your friend—Taehyung, right? And he said you were coming to the stadium, I wanted to wish you luck but I hadn’t expected you to be the first one here.”
“You didn’t have to come,” Jimin says, and the look Seokjin gives him is so incredulous he feels a little stupid for saying it.
“I’m not even going to dignify that with an answer,” he says. Seokjin drops the quickest of kisses onto the bangs that rest over Jimin’s forehead, and pulls back. “I’ll make myself scarce. I see your coach coming. Good luck, Jimin. You’re going to do great.”
And then Seokjin really does disappear. Jimin isn’t sure if he leaves or if he goes to stand in the lobby where the audiences and families are queueing to be let him. Yoongi watches him go with a bit of a stank face before he looks at Jimin, who offers a sheepish smile.
“Well, looks like I can skip my pep talk,” he says, and Jimin protests, laughing, reaching out to grab Yoongi around the arm.
“Hey, you’re still my coach!”
The stadium begins filling quickly as other gymnasts and trainers begin arriving, and an hour before the start of the competition, people start climbing into the bleachers. Jimin is down on the ground, stretching his muscles out to loosen them, as Yoongi throws rapidfire reminders at him. He tries to keep up and nod at the same time.
“Your third L-sit, don’t let your elbows flex on that, you hiccup on that the most,” Yoongi says. “And your handstand—no overarching. Back and legs straight. Same with your Maltese. You know these things but don’t let your nerves make your body weak.” When Jimin stands, Yoongi puts a hand on either of his shoulders, then slides them up to his face. “You got this, okay? You’re going to kill ’em.”
Then time begins moving fast. Everyone competing on men’s still rings lines up as the MC announces all of their names and nations in Portuguese and English, and Jimin raises his hand, stepping out of the line and waving when he hears his name called. He hears Taehyung’s whooping cheer from where he’s standing, and even though he can’t find him in the stands immediately, he laughs and waves and hopes Taehyung knows he’s heard him.
China is first. Russia is second. Italy is third and Japan is fourth, and Jimin has to sit on the bench and watch them go up one by one. Nakamura Yoshiyuki of Japan has the most solid routine out of all the champions leading up to Jimin, and Yoongi knows it too—giving him an extra shoulder squeeze as they stand up. He tightens his ring grips on his hands, and Yoongi steps up onto the deck with him to hold the box of chalk as Jimin dunks his hands into it.
“Representing the Republic of Korea,” comes a cool, female voice over the intercom, “Park Jimin.”
This is it. Jimin is here, under the rings. They’re still swinging gently. Yoongi puts his hands on his waist as Jimin bends his knees and jumps, reaching for them, and then his touch is gone. He is alone and the entire world is watching.
But at the same time, Jimin thinks, as he presses himself into this first handstand, he is not necessarily alone at all. His muscles are tight with Yoongi’s training. His determination is built from the kind of steel will he sees in his roommate and his light heart from Taehyung’s smiles. And this quiet, quiet calm that he’s never felt in the spotlight before—that is from Seokjin, a crooked-fingered gymnast who was told that he could never become anything. Seokjin, who proved on international television, that despite any title, he could become more than anyone ever expected.
And that is enough.
Jimin moves steadily through his routine, and he is done before it even registers in his brain—here he is, sitting in his third L-sit that Yoongi had cautioned him about with perfectly locked elbows. He has a double tuck, double pike dismount, and he is done.
The world spins as he tips forward, once, twice, three times and he lets go of the rings. His body twists where it should and then the ground is rushing up beneath him. Jimin plants his feet flat on the mat, heart twisting in his chest for a moment, but it soars when he doesn’t feel an inch of give in his legs.
The applause is deafening. He can’t hear Taehyung over it but he sees Seokjin—clapping, then cupping his hands to the sides of his mouth as he cheers—when Jimin stands up straight, pumping his arms over his head.
Yoongi claps him on the back when he stumbles off the deck, the adrenaline finally hitting him and making his knees weak. His smile is so big that Jimin isn’t sure he’ll ever see Yoongi smile like this again and he laughs, breathlessly, collapsing on the bench as Jimin is handed his water bottle.
“That was amazing, you did perfect,” Yoongi says, handing him a towel, too. Jimin watches the scoreboard as the judges points start flickering in. “What the hell were you thinking about up there? I’ve never seen you so calm.”
“To be honest, I don’t know,” Jimin says. “Well, I actually—wait, holy shit, hyung—”
Jimin points. “I’m ahead of Nakamura.”
Yoongi turns to look. Jimin’s name and the South Korean flag appear over Nakamura Yoshiyuki’s name, booting him out of first. There are still three more champions left to perform, but the expression on Yoongi’s face is one that Jimin doesn’t think he will ever forget.
Time slows down, now. Jimin waits on the edge of his bench on tenterhooks, elbows resting on his knees as he watches USA, Russia, and Chile go up. They all have polished performances and Jimin doesn’t know what to expect and the judges seem to be conflicted for an especially long time about Chile, talking amongst themselves as Jimin watches the scoreboard anxiously. Then the scores go up, and—
“Gold!” Yoongi shouts. “Gold, my boy got gold—!”
Jimin isn’t even sure he’s reading the numbers correctly, but they don’t lie—there he is, ranked above Nakamura, above the Chilean gymnast Silva. First place, him, Park Jimin of South Korea, a tiny little gymnast that hardly comes up to the shoulder of the some of the Russians he competes against. Gold.
Jimin stands up, staggering, almost. Someone drapes the flag of Korea over his shoulders and he holds it around him like a cape. The competition directors shepherd him and his two fellow medalists to the podium, telling him to stand here and wait as they come out with your medals. It is only here, standing before the highest step, does Jimin feel the emotion finally catch up with him.
His vision blurs when he bows his head for them to slip the medal onto his neck, and then they step up onto the podium. He runs his fingers over the design of the medal, bringing it up to his lips and kissing it, holding it up over his head. It’s up so very high and from here Jimin can see Yoongi, beaming so hard, it really doesn’t suit him; Taehyung, a tiny sun in the stands, and Seokjin, clapping and shaking his head like I knew it, I told you so, you had it in you from the very start.
Jimin’s never had celebration sex but he makes it a personal goal to achieve more things in life, because it is something else.
Or perhaps Seokjin is just extra enthusiastic today, which is something Jimin could get used to. He holds his hips something intense when Jimin rides him, and then when Seokjin turns them over so that Jimin is beneath him, he doesn’t hesitate to weave their fingers together when he reaches for Seokjin’s hands.
“Harder,” Jimin whimpers, as Seokjin kisses him messily.
“Jimin,” Seokjin replies, breath coming in shuddering pants, but he complies—shifting on his knees closer to Jimin and spreading his thighs so he can slide into to the hilt. He bends Jimin nearly in half, propping himself up with his hands on either side of Jimin’s ribcage when Jimin lets his hands go in favor of digging his nails into Seokjin’s back. “Yes.”
It’s sooner than Jimin wants it to be, but his orgasm approaches fast—what with Seokjin hitting against him just right, the bunk creaking underneath them, and his thighs constrict around Seokjin’s waist he comes, streaking his own skin white. Seokjin falls apart above him, like this, panting into Jimin’s neck as he groans, his breath halting and shuddering for a moment as he shakes in Jimin’s arms.
He shivers as Seokjin pulls out, slowly, peeling the condom off. When he comes back to bed he lets Jimin curl up into the plane of his body, smile soft and tired.
“You’re quiet today,” Jimin comments off-handedly, arranging himself so that his arms are sandwiched between their chests, warm and a little sweaty, but Seokjin doesn’t complain. He feels the rumble when Seokjin chuckles.
“Why, did you want me to rant and rave about how great you were?” Seokjin says. “I think you know how well you did yourself already. I think the whole world knows.”
“What you said, that night in the training center.” Jimin shifts his head where it rests on Seokjin’s arm. “It helped me focus.”
“Really?” Seokjin laughs softly again. “I’m glad.”
Jimin smiles, then, leaning in, and Seokjin gives him a kiss. It’s gentler than Jimin expects it to be but he’s fine with it anyway, settling in for a nap before he leaves Seokjin for the night. His competition is tomorrow, after all.
Sleep has almost made it past him when Seokjin murmurs, “Jiminie?”
The nickname jolts him awake. Jimin peers up groggily at him, stretching out his body so that more of his skin is pressed to Seokjin’s. “Mmm?”
“We need to,” Seokjin says, “uhm. This, us. We can’t do this anymore after tonight.”
There is no hint of humor in his eyes when Jimin stares into them. Even in the dim evening sunset the light plays no tricks on him.
“Why?” he asks.
“Because after this is over,” Seokjin says, voice barely above a whisper, “we won’t be able to see each other again, anyway. It’s a fling, right? We can’t continue whatever this is.”
“What if I want to,” Jimin says, suddenly feeling like he’s trying to hold a handful of sand, or smoke, gripping Seokjin’s arm as if he’ll disappear before he gets a chance to have his say. “What if I want this to be more than a fling? What if I want you?”
“You know what I told you about permanence, and the Olympics, right?”
“That doesn’t apply to feelings!” Jimin says, pushing himself up onto one elbow so he can hover over Seokjin. “History all blurs with time, I get it, but there’s nothing wrong with us, right? We’ve trained together every day so well and it’s been fun—unless what it is, is that you don’t want me. In which case I can understand, even though it’ll hurt, but—”
“Jiminie,” Seokjin says, and Jimin really hates how he has to call him that when he’s saying things like this. “After tomorrow, I’m retiring.”
Jimin stares down at him.
“What are you talking about?” he says. In one moment, all of Jimin’s insides had felt like writhing snakes. Now they just feel like nothing.
“My competition tomorrow,” Seokjin says, “is my last.”
“I don’t see the worth in it,” Seokjin says. “I’ve participated, I’ve medaled. Whatever happens tomorrow, it’ll be the last time I get on those parallel bars to be judged. If I went to Tokyo 2020, I’ll be cutting it so close to my enlistment date. I’m giving myself some time, you know. A break. And then enlisting when I still have the body for it.”
Seokjin laughs, but nothing about this is particularly funny.
“How does that make a difference at all?” Jimin asks.
“You’re a professional athlete that represented our nation in the world’s most anticipated sporting event. You got gold. You’re not going to have time for a retired professional athlete that will have no job when he finishes his service in the army.”
“I will make time,” Jimin says ferociously. “I can do it.”
“Jimin,” Seokjin says, and his voice has never been so sad. “Jeongguk was right.”
And Jimin, like Taehyung, has nothing to refute that with.
Jimin does not wake up till noon the next day.
In ten minutes before the second day of gymnastics is set to begin. His original plan had been to go watch Seokjin, but now, he’s sore all over in places he hasn’t been sore since he first began professional training.
The windows are open, curtains billowing in the breeze, and Jeongguk’s bed is vacant. Of course. Taekwondo is the first thing that will open week four and his last-minute training has grown stricter and stricter. Jimin lies on his side, unmoving, staring at Jeongguk’s empty bed and wondering how many times he’s taken Taehyung to this very room. He entertains the vague idea that they might have fucked in his bed, and on any other day this would horrify him, but right now he just shifts in place and yawns.
Seokjin had not stopped him when Jimin sat up last night, pulling on his clothes, words stilted as he said his goodbyes. He was caring and soft up until the end—picking Jimin’s clothes up for him, turning them back inside-out and holding them as Jimin got dressed. He hadn’t said anything when Jimin left his room wordlessly, and that silence weighs down on Jimin now harder than ever.
But Jimin would rather not be left alone with his thoughts, thinking, wondering, if this is really for the best or if he’s letting go of something that he shouldn’t. The longer he lies here the louder they get, until finally, he forcibly rouses himself from bed, throws on his trainers, and drags himself over to Ilha Trindade.
It takes him a long, long time to find the right room. He knocks on one door on every floor, asking anyone inside if a Kim Taehyung lived anywhere nearby. It isn’t until the eleventh floor of the west wing does he finally find him—the single door left ajar in the middle of the hallway, and Jimin peeks inside to see Taehyung sitting alone on his bed, polishing his foil with what looks like a sponge. He’s staring at nothing, eyes wide and unblinking. Jimin raps his knuckles on the door. It snaps Taehyung out of his reverie.
“Hey,” he says, smiling. “You look like you could use a friend.”
“Hey, champion,” Taehyung says, putting his foil back into its carrying case. “Thought you’d be too much of a busybody to come visit me after that win yesterday.”
“Yeah, I had to move so much stuff out of the way to come visit you,” Jimin says, shaking his head and sighing, laughing when Taehyung makes a face. He moves his things out of the way so Jimin can plop down comfortably in the empty space beside him in bed. “How are you? I haven’t had a chance to talk to you that much these days.”
“I’m okay,” Taehyung says. “In and out.”
“Yeah?” Jimin says. A twinge sadness touches him when he thinks that Taehyung can’t even tell him about Jeongguk. “How’s that American swimmer?”
“Oh, he uh,” Taehyung shrugs, and he seems to think he hides it well, but Jimin picks up the brittleness of his voice right away. “We broke it off. He moved onto bigger and better people, so to speak.”
“Bigger than you?”
“You’re very funny,” Taehyung says dryly. “But yeah, he did. I messed up. Not really his problem. And I’ll be fine.”
Jimin knows his friend is just that kind of person—the type to fall hard, and to fall fast. Taehyung is picking at a fraying thread in his shorts, and he is so far removed from fine that Jimin reaches out and pulls him in until Taehyung’s head rests against his shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m sorry. I’ll beat him up.”
Taehyung’s laugh is humorless. “You don’t even know who he is.”
“I know more than you think,” Jimin says.
“Taller than me. Shorter than you. Kind of an asshole, sometimes, but doesn’t know what he’s doing, either. South Korea’s biggest CF sweetheart. Big eyes and bigger nose. He doesn’t swim. He’s not even American.”
Taehyung has gone very still against Jimin’s body. He doesn’t even seem to be breathing.
“How did you know?” he whispers.
“The only things that get around faster than us in the Village,” Jimin says, “are secrets that shouldn’t be told.”
Taehyung nestles his head more securely in the dip of Jimin’s neck. “You too, huh?”
Jimin has never breathed a word of Seokjin to Taehyung, hasn’t even said anything to indicate that he had a falling-out, too—and yet somehow, Taehyung could sense it on him in the same way Jimin had.
“I’m sorry,” Taehyung says, and he wraps an arm around Jimin’s waist. “Are you going to talk to him?”
“I don’t know,” Jimin admits. “I’m not sure what I want.”
“I know,” Taehyung says, and the kind of gloomy thrum in his voice lets Jimin know that he understands that conflict all too well. “I don’t know what to do either.”
“If you do talk to him, good luck.”
“Mhmm. You too.”
“Worst comes to worst,” Jimin says, patting Taehyung’s head. “The last time we have to see them is at the closing ceremony. And then it’ll have all just been a bad dream.”
Week four passes by in a blur.
Jimin spends most of that time with Taehyung, and they end up partying a lot (a lot) with a motley crew of Americans and Peruvians and, one night, a sprinter from Namibia. He can’t say he doesn’t have fun and he gets back before or after Jeongguk does every night, so Jimin doesn’t have to look him in the face and try not to yell at the person who stopped his best friend’s smiles from reaching his eyes like they used to.
Taehyung is getting better these days, though. The two of them being around each other helps, and it feels like their days in college again in this last precious week before they have to go home, and get back to work.
The last night before the closing ceremony, Jimin packs up his things. He casts a semi-worried glance at the Hyosang-level disaster that is Jeongguk’s side of the room but he can’t be bothered to tell him that maybe he should do something about it before their flight tomorrow.
The gold medal clinks gently when Jimin holds it up to the light. It is the last thing of his that he hasn’t packed away—they’ve been asked to wear them during the closing ceremony tomorrow. They will come out in a parade again, informal this time, and those who have won will have something to show off, glittering discs hanging from their necks.
Jimin knows it is a far-fetched dream. He allows himself to have it anyway. Maybe many years down the road when his days on the rings are a distant memory, he’ll think otherwise. But right now, he doesn’t want to be remembered as the gymnast that silvered in the shadow of Arthur Zanetti at London, or the gymnast got gold on the rings at Rio. No, now, simply, all he hopes for is that one day, people will remember there once was a gymnast named Park Jimin.
The night of the closing ceremony is a particularly warm one.
The thousands of people who pack into the Olympic Dome again to send off the athletes and see the last show of the biggest worldwide sporting event heat up the stadium even more, and Jimin wishes he had worn his shorts instead of his warmups. He’s standing amongst a group of people he doesn’t recognize, but he thinks, just from the litheness of their bodies, that this is their synchronized swimming team. They all steal glances at him, giggling, and Jimin blushes. He’s reminded of the day the two teenagers had gotten flustered at the sight of Seokjin in the markets and tries not to let it bother him.
They filter out onto the floor of the stadium, nations mixing, boundaries bleeding together—Jimin finds himself moving through a throng of Indians, and they all smile and clap him on the back when they see his gold medal. They don’t even ask what it’s for, or what he got it in—they are just happy for him. Jimin runs into Silva, who quite literally cheers when he sees Jimin, holding out his arms and giving him a hug that almost cracks his ribs. Bronze clacks against gold and that feeling Jimin can’t put into words is back. The one he had when he first stepped off the plane.
When he turns around after Silva lets go, bidding goodbye as he goes to join his friends, spirits high, he meets Seokjin’s gaze. This time, Seokjin does not seem to be looking for anyone else but him. He’s not looking over his shoulder. He’s facing Jimin entirely, and so many athletes around them are tipsy or just straight up drunk, but his eyes are clear. There is no medal around Seokjin's neck.
“Hi,” Jimin says.
Jimin opens his mouth, unsure of what to say. Unsure if he even has anything to say. The music that is playing begins to crescendo, and Seokjin jabs a thumb over his shoulder. “You want to go outside?”
It probably isn’t a good idea, but Jimin follows him anyway. It’s hot in here, and he could do with some fresh air.
The music grows ever louder inside the stadium when they walk out onto the balcony. It sounds so happy, patriotic, yet inclusive at the same time, and Jimin has always said it impossible to encapsulate the feeling of being here in words. But maybe it is possible in music.
“I’ll wait for you.”
Seokjin, who had been staring up into the black night beside Jimin, turns to look at him. “Don’t be ridiculous, Jiminie,” he murmurs, with the kind of haunting maturity of someone who’s never let himself have everything he wanted. “I’m not going to ask something like that of you.”
“You can easily fit one whole more Olympic Games into your career. By the time Tokyo 2020 rolls around, there’ll be a entirely different pool of people to live with, to make friends with, to choose from. You’ll want someone new.”
Even from here, Jimin can smell the faint brine of the Atlantic washing over Barra da Tijuca. It reminds him so much of home, of Busan, of rocky shores and cold cliffs, that he thinks he just might already be home here—wherever here might be, standing beside Seokjin.
“Maybe that is so,” he says. “But none of them will ever be you.”
The weight of the gold around Jimins neck has never felt so heavy.
“You’re not real, Park Jimin.” Seokjin laughs, and it sounds almost unhinged with disbelief. “People like you just don’t exist in this world anymore.”
“Of course we do,” Jimin says. “Where else, then, do you think we get stories?”
When the fireworks finally light up the sky, Seokjin takes Jimin’s hand, and they walk back inside together. It is so uncertain, but it is there. When Jimin turns to smile at him, he thinks he sees his best friend standing with a very familiar figure with dark hair, one that he has come to know well in the last month, their arms looped around each other.
“If you’re going to wait for me to come back in two years,” Seokjin murmurs into the crown of Jimin’s head. “I can wait for you after Tokyo.”
Jimin meets Seokjin’s eyes. His smile is as iridescent as the light show above them. Who can blame him? They are going to be just fine.