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점점 숨이 막히는 (I'm a swimming fool)

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“So,” Seungcheol started with forced casualness. “I used my free pass on Jeonghan.”

 

Wonwoo looked up from the bench in the changing room where he was rooting around his backpack for his uniform. He’d just come in for his shift, but hadn’t expected Seungcheol to already be in the changing room ten minutes early. They had greeted each other awkwardly: Wonwoo pretending that he hadn’t ignored Seungcheol’s text messages and missed calls, and Seungcheol playing along.

 

“Yes, I know. I was there,” Wonwoo replied. He could see the growing tension in Seungcheol’s pinched expression. “Don’t worry,” he said, putting his bag aside and rubbing his palms along his boyfriend’s shoulders. “I’m not mad. We talked about this, remember?”

 

“Right,” Seungcheol said, unconvinced. “You say you’re not mad but the way you’ve been dodging my calls and texts says that you are.”

 

If Wonwoo were a less sensitive person, he would have laughed at Seungcheol’s expression - he looked like he was expecting Wonwoo to slap him.

 

“I was just embarrassed at being caught out in the kitchen,” Wonwoo mumbled. He could feel his face heating up and his ears flushing just thinking about the incident. “And I was kinda shocked by Mingyu’s confession.”

 

“Ah,” Seungcheol said, looking relieved that Wonwoo really wasn’t mad at him after all. Then he shot Wonwoo a thoughtful look. “You know, Mingyu and I ran after you after you left the kitchen.”

 

“I know.”

 

“And after you drove off, we had an… interesting conversation.”

 

“Oh god,” Wonwoo muttered. “I don’t want to know.”

 

“Wonwoo,” Seungcheol said imploringly. “Mingyu really likes you.”

 

“Yes, I heard from Soonyoung. Apparently everyone knows this except for me,” Wonwoo said flatly, a hint of exasperation and amusement creeping into his tone. At Seungcheol wriggling his eyebrows suggestively, Wonwoo sighed. “Is my boyfriend really setting me up with my best friend?”

 

“Isn’t this what you’ve been waiting for?” Seungcheol pointed out, smirking. “And I’m not talking about that free pass one-kiss bullshit. I’m talking about getting together with him.”

 

Wonwoo couldn’t stop the small smile creeping onto his face at the thought of it - of him and Mingyu together, properly, being boyfriends. Of Mingyu liking him back . The thought of it was both nerve-wracking and exhilarating. Seungcheol noticed the smile and poked his cheeks, cooing.

 

“Stop it,” Wonwoo groaned in between pokes. He batted Seungcheol’s hand away, but ended up wrapping his own hand around his. He sobered, glancing up at Seungcheol beneath his lashes, feeling like the worst person ever as he asked, “But what about you?”

 

Seungcheol snorted. “What about me?”

 

“I’d feel awful if I broke up with you.”

 

“Good thing I’m breaking up with you now, then,” Seungcheol replied laughingly, but kindly. At Wonwoo’s surprised expression, he softened, wrapped his arms around him in a soft embrace and said with a smile, “I’ve had a great time being your boyfriend. You were really fun to go on dates with, and having you around made me forget about the stress of moving to uni. And, well, I’m moving away soon and I was planning on breaking up next week anyway, but I figured that after Mingyu’s confession last night we probably shouldn’t drag this out.”

 

Wonwoo nodded, burying his face into Seungcheol’s neck and tightening his arms around him. Even though Seungcheol had felt more like a close hyung than a boyfriend, Wonwoo still felt the ache of separation in his chest. Knowing that Seungcheol would soon be halfway across the country and couldn’t simply meet up with him when he was bored left an empty feeling in his heart. He had confided so much in Seungcheol: his feelings for Mingyu, his sexuality, his doubts; and Seungcheol had been nothing but supportive and kind, knowing when to step in and give him advice and also when to just let Wonwoo ramble. Seungcheol was everything Wonwoo had ever wanted in an older sibling and more.

 

“I’ll miss you so much,” mumbled Wonwoo, voice muffled into Seungcheol’s collarbone. “I hate that you’re leaving.”

 

“It’s not goodbye forever,” Seungcheol said comfortingly, hands running up and down Wonwoo’s back in a soothing pattern. “I’ll be back during term breaks, and we’ll keep in touch in between.”

 

“Yeah,” Wonwoo sighed, pulling back reluctantly from Seungcheol’s embrace. Seungcheol searched his face intently, as though making sure Wonwoo wasn’t too upset. What he saw seemed to satisfy him, and his face broke into a handsome smile. He moved to let go of Wonwoo, but hesitated. A smirk tugged on his lips. Slowly, he leaned in again, eyes flicking up to check Wonwoo’s expression. “Is this okay?” he murmured, an echo of their first kiss.

 

Wonwoo nodded eagerly.

 

Seungcheol pressed his lips softly against Wonwoo’s, hands cupping his jaw and thumbs brushing his cheek lightly. Wonwoo closed his eyes and just enjoyed the feeling of kissing Seungcheol for the last time. Sure, Seungcheol may have just been an older-sibling figure to him, but he was an amazing kisser too. The kiss was chaste and sweet, and they pulled away at the same time, smiling at each other dopily.

 

“All good?” Seungcheol asked, already turning back to his locker.

 

“All good,” Wonwoo replied firmly.

 

“Great, ‘cos we’re late to our shift,” Seungcheol said, checking his watch. “We better get going before Ms Song comes looking for us.”

 

The two of them quickly made to leave the changing room, but before Seungcheol opened the door, he turned back to Wonwoo and asked, “We’re still friends, right?”

 

Wonwoo rolled his eyes. He thought he had made himself perfectly clear.

 

“Yes, hyung.”

 

/////

 

Mingyu was freaking the fuck out.

 

How could Wonwoo stay so calm? As Mingyu led his (probably soon to be ex-) best friend up to his room, Wonwoo greeted his sister and mom like he always did, as though he wasn’t about to break Mingyu’s heart.

 

“Hey Minseo, hey Auntie Kim!”

 

“Hi Wonwoo!” they chorused. Mingyu’s mom looked up from where she was stirring some kimchi stew, “Are you staying for dinner, Wonwoo?”

 

Mingyu’s eyes widened in alarm, and he tried to subtly shake his head at his mother.

 

Wonwoo hesitated, and glanced at Mingyu, who immediately stopped all attempts at subtle communication. Wonwoo was probably thinking of how awkward it would be at the dining table after he inevitably rejected Mingyu and clarified that No, Mingyu, we’re only friends and I don’t feel the same way about you. Maybe we should stay away from each other for a while.

 

At Mingyu’s blank look, Wonwoo turned back to her and said politely, “Uh, probably not, Auntie, I have dinner waiting for me at home already.”

 

Mingyu’s heart sank. If that wasn’t confirmation that Wonwoo was going to let him down, he didn’t know what was. Wonwoo clearly wanted to get away from Mingyu, from all his awkward feelings and desires, and he wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible.

 

With a heavy heart, Mingyu trudged his way up the stairs to his room, letting Wonwoo in and closing the door behind him with an ominous-sounding click .

 

Wonwoo put down the takeaway bag on Mingyu’s desk and made himself comfortable on his bed, like he did every time he came over. Mingyu’s heart clenched - the pretense of normalcy that Wonwoo was putting on made him feel both grateful and anxious. Grateful because Wonwoo was acting as if everything was alright, anxious because Mingyu knew that this would be the last time things remained normal between them.

 

He already could see what his immediate future looked like: seeing Wonwoo only once a week during their basketball games, occasionally bumping into him at the club while changing shifts, spending the rest of the summer without his best friend. He could also see them starting school, drifting apart as Wonwoo chose to hang out with his circle of friends more than he already did, not eating lunch together anymore, ending the school year as acquaintances, with Wonwoo graduating and moving to university. Then he and Wonwoo would be the sort of acquaintances who would catch up over lunch, probably once a year during Chuseok, when their families got together.

 

The distant future, however -

 

Before Mingyu had realized his feelings for Wonwoo, he had always imagined his future like this: having kids with a lovely, sweet, nondescript woman, enjoying domestic bliss, earning six figures a year, a nice home in a nice neighbourhood, and a nice car in the garage. What had always been there was Wonwoo: in the same neighbourhood, perhaps even down the street, coming over to Mingyu’s for dinner every week, or maybe vice versa. Their kids and wives would be best friends: they would have been each other’s best man at their respective weddings. 

 

But after - after Mingyu had found Wonwoo coughing up blood in his kitchen, had panicked over him, had sat by his bedside at the hospital and realised, then, that Wonwoo was his most precious person - 

 

Mingyu had tried his best not to imagine a future with Wonwoo in it. At first, it was because he thought that his feelings for his best friend would fade over time. He had been scared of losing Wonwoo, that’s all it was. But weeks passed, and then months. And then Wonwoo had to go date Seungcheol and make Mingyu feel like the most wretched best friend in the world - constantly raging with jealousy and unable to truly be happy for the person he supposedly loved. Mingyu knew, then, that his feelings would not abate so easily. But he still tamped down on any treacherous thoughts his love-addled mind tried to come up with: the same dream, children in a nice house in a nice neighbourhood and a nice car, but this time, Wonwoo didn’t live down the street. This time, Mingyu would wake up next to Wonwoo in his bed - their bed - every morning. Wonwoo wouldn’t come over for dinner once a week - he’d be cooking dinner for Mingyu, or (more likely) Mingyu would be cooking dinner for him, every night. They wouldn’t have been best men at each other’s wedding, they’d have been the grooms at their wedding.

 

When Mingyu had those thoughts, he would desperately try to drown them out through any means - he’d distract himself, scroll through Youtube and watch random videos, and would do anything to keep himself from stoking his dreamhouse fantasy with Wonwoo. They were dangerous - they’d make him hopeful, expectant, and when he inevitably came down to earth and realised none of it was going to happen, he’d crash hard.

 

And it would hurt.

 

Mingyu wanted to laugh at his past self’s foolishness. He should have indulged in those fantasies while he still had hope - when his heart made his grip on reality falter just long enough that he could still be blinded to the truth, if he tried hard enough. Here he was, ready to face reality, and it already hurt anyway, what was a little more?

 

“You’re not gonna drink that?” Wonwoo’s voice interrupted his pathetic spiel in his head.

 

Mingyu cleared his throat and avoided Wonwoo’s gaze. “Yeah,” he mumbled, pulling out the drink from the bag and stabbing a straw through it. The iced mocha slid down his throat, tasteless and heavy - any other time, the drink would have cheered him up, but now all he could think was how he would trade a million of these drinks for a chance to erase his confession in Jeonghan’s kitchen. “It’s good,” he lied, smiling blandly. “Thanks.”

 

“So,” drawled Wonwoo, looking up at Mingyu from where he was sprawled on his bed. “What’s this I hear about you liking me?”

 

Mingyu winced. Trust Wonwoo to dive straight into it, no holds barred. Wonwoo’s bluntness was something he had always liked, but he had to admit that it was doing him no favours in this situation.

 

He glanced quickly at Wonwoo, attempting to gauge just how much he hated him at the moment. Wonwoo’s face was as impassive and blank as ever, as though he was hiding any and all expression. But who was Mingyu to lie to himself? Wonwoo had already made clear how he felt about Mingyu’s confession. Wonwoo’s face, frozen with terror when Mingyu had caught him in the kitchen after his confession, was all he could see when he fell asleep that night. Any meager hope that he had that Wonwoo would return his feelings evaporated in the face of that moment. 

 

“I’m sorry,” said Mingyu finally, ducking his head in shame. “I know I’ve made things awkward between us now and I’m so, so sorry. I promise that I’m not going to change how I treat you, I promise I’ll get over it. I couldn’t help it. It just… happened. Just - just give me some time,” he pleaded, eyes wide and wet and imploring, desperate to get his point across. “ Please . And I promise - I promise we’ll go back to normal. Just don’t stop being my best friend?”

 

“Mingyu,” Wonwoo said, a hint of a smile on his face. He looked like he was on the verge of laughing. He opened his mouth, then shut it, seemingly unsure of what to say. “Mingyu,” he simply said again, succumbing to a small huff of laughter.

 

“What?” asked Mingyu, upset. He could feel tears building up behind his eyes. He tilted his head up, trying to stop his tears from spilling over. He desperately wanted Wonwoo to stop laughing at him and his stupid feelings. Humiliation washed over him - he had never felt so low in his life, even when his first crush had rejected him in front of all his classmates in kindergarten. He felt like he had just ripped his heart out his chest to give to Wonwoo, and Wonwoo just laughed and threw it into the trash. “Stop laughing!” he whined pitifully, voice cracking.

 

In the hazy blur of his tears, he didn’t notice Wonwoo getting up from the bed until he was stood right in front of him, hands reaching out for his face. He sniffled, shocked as Wonwoo held his face gently and wiped away his tears with his thumb. His gentle actions belied his next words.

 

“You fucking idiot,” Wonwoo whispered fiercely. “I like you too.”

 

“Uh,” stuttered Mingyu, brain freezing. “Wait, what?”

 

“I. Like. You,” repeated Wonwoo, slow and loud, as though he was talking to a small child. “I like you so much. I’ve liked you since…” At this, Wonwoo snorted to himself, “like, forever ago.”

 

“Huh.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“...say it again.”

 

“I like you,” said Wonwoo, while rolling his eyes.

 

At that, Mingyu couldn’t hold back his tears anymore. His face crumpled, and he pulled Wonwoo closer so he could hide his ugly crying face in Wonwoo’s shoulder. Not that it mattered much - Wonwoo had seen Mingyu’s ugly crying face more times than he could count. Mainly because they had known each other since they were children but also because Mingyu was a crier. But Mingyu felt… raw, like Wonwoo had flayed him open and laid the most vulnerable part of him bare. 

 

He shuddered as Wonwoo arms came up and encircled him. Drawing in air seemed like a chore, his lungs feeling like they had collapsed. His whole body felt that way - weak and limp, like all the tension had disappeared the moment Wonwoo said that he liked him.

 

“Oof,” Wonwoo grunted as Mingyu began to lean on him. “Come on,” he murmured gently, walking backwards to Mingyu’s bed.

 

They stumbled back, falling heavily onto the bed. Mingyu let Wonwoo manhandle him and arrange his limbs so that he was curled up on his lap. “Shhh,” Wonwoo hushed, sliding his hands along Mingyu’s flank as Mingyu continued to take in gasping breaths. He whimpered, face still hidden in Wonwoo’s shoulder. 

 

Slowly, Mingyu’s breaths evened out and he reached around Wonwoo to grab some tissues on his bedside table. He turned away from him and wiped at his face. When he felt slightly more human and less like a faulty tap, he turned back to Wonwoo, who had a worried look on his face.

 

“Are you alright?” Wonwoo murmured, reaching out to brush his cheek where he had missed a stray tear. Mingyu keened, pressing his face into Wonwoo’s hand.

 

“Yeah,” Mingyu managed to get out, putting on a small smile which felt more like a grimace.

 

“When I heard you say that you loved me yesterday,” Wonwoo started carefully, pausing after every other word, and Mingyu cringed, “I thought that I heard wrong. Then I thought that maybe you meant that you loved me as a friend.”

 

“I don’t,” Mingyu cut in adamantly.

 

At Wonwoo’s raised eyebrow, Mingyu hastily corrected, “I mean, I do love you as a friend but I also meant that I,” he faltered, but at Wonwoo’s encouraging nod, he took a breath and continued, “I love you romantically. As in, I want to kiss you and hold you and be with you.”

 

Mingyu flushed, hiding his face in Wonwoo’s shoulder again. He could hear the rumble of Wonwoo’s chuckle in his chest and he scowled, hitting Wonwoo’s chest lightly. “Stop laughing!”

 

“Sorry,” Wonwoo said, still laughing. Mingyu wanted to sock him. “It’s just that we’re such idiots.” At Mingyu’s questioning glance, Wonwoo explained, “I like you, you like me, and it seems that everyone else knows that but us.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“When I told Soonyoung about last night he said that everyone knew about the two of us liking each other. Something about Jeonghan knowing and telling Jun, then Jun told Soonyoung and apparently it spread to the rest of the group and all of them placed bets on us.”

 

Mingyu’s scowl deepened. “Ugh, I will literally never trust Jeonghan hyung again.”

 

“I’m sorry, but what compelled you to tell Jeonghan in the first place? He’d be the last person I’d tell a secret to,” Wonwoo snorted.

 

“I didn’t tell him anything,” Mingyu said, annoyed, and if he were standing he would have stomped his foot. “He tricked me!”

 

Wonwoo laughed, jostling Mingyu on his lap. “That sounds about right.”

 

“So what now?” Mingyu asked abruptly, wanting to forget about his embarrassing encounter with Jeonghan. He rested his chin on Wonwoo shoulder.

 

“What now?” Wonwoo mused, reaching up to run his fingers softly through Mingyu’s hair. Mingyu sighed, eyes closing. “Well, I’d like to kiss you.”

 

Mingyu’s eyes snapped open. “What.”

 

“If you want to,” Wonwoo quickly backtracked. “I mean, I know you’re straight… ish. I’d be more than happy to go along with whatever you’re comfortable with.”

 

“No, no,” Mingyu corrected hastily. “I’m okay with kissing! Hundred per cent on board with that. Just, uh, what about Seungcheol?” he asked in a small voice.

 

“Oh,” Wonwoo said, relieved. “We broke up.”

 

“What? When?”

 

“Just now, before our shift at the club started.”

 

“Did you break up because - was it because of our fight at the party?” Mingyu asked in an even smaller voice. “Seungcheol explained the free pass thing to me after you left. I’m so sorry for jumping to conclusions and making a scene. I know you hate conflicts, especially in front of other people.”

 

“No, it wasn’t because of that,” Wonwoo reassured him. “We were never serious in the first place. Seungcheol knew that I liked you. And he was really only looking for a summer fling, so we kinda… helped each other out.”

 

Mingyu scowled. “Okay enough talk about him. Kiss me.”

 

“So demanding,” Wonwoo snorted, but leaned in anyway.

 

Mingyu would have been lying if he said their first kiss was magical. In a way, it sort of was - his heart was pounding out of his chest, and his stomach was filled with butterflies the moment Wonwoo’s lips touched his. His nerves tingled to life, and his skin suddenly felt too tight for his body. But as far as the actual kissing went, Mingyu was so nervous that he could barely remember how to move his lips and tongue. After a brief kiss, Mingyu pulled back with a whine.

 

“What’s wrong?” Wonwoo asked, worried.

 

“You make me so nervous I forget how to kiss,” Mingyu complained.

 

Wonwoo threw his head back and laughed unreservedly, nose scrunching and cheeks bunching beneath his glasses. A faint pink coloured his cheeks. Wonwoo looked so, so pretty. Mingyu’s heart clenched at the sight. “It’s just me,” Wonwoo pointed out after he was done laughing at Mingyu. “You’ve known me since forever.”

 

Somehow, Wonwoo bringing that up helped calm him down. He was right - it was just Wonwoo. Wonwoo, who helped him up when he fell in the playground when they were kids. Wonwoo, who had patiently tutored him in math when he couldn’t keep up in class. Wonwoo, who came over for dinner every other day. Wonwoo, who had brought over a bag full of snacks and a laptop full of movies when Mingyu’s first girlfriend broke up with him. Wonwoo, who had seen him in his best and worst times and helped him through it all. Wonwoo, Wonwoo, Wonwoo.

 

“You’re right, it’s just you,” Mingyu smiled, leaning in again.

 

This time, everything clicked. Wonwoo tilted his head sideways, capturing Mingyu’s bottom lip and nipping lightly. Mingyu gasped, eagerly pressing closer, hands bunched up in the fabric of Wonwoo’s shirt. They kissed hungrily, with teeth and tongue, chasing each other when they pulled back for air. Mingyu eagerly drank in the moans and short pants that slipped out of Wonwoo's lips. A wave of pride and possessiveness filled him - he was the cause of Wonwoo's moans this time, not Seungcheol. Mingyu eventually moved down to Wonwoo’s neck, relishing in the sounds Wonwoo made when he bit down lightly at his sensitive spots.

 

“When I caught you and Seungcheol necking in the changing rooms I was so jealous,” Mingyu confessed in between kisses.

 

Wonwoo laughed breathily above him, but his laughter cut off abruptly when Mingyu growled playfully and bit down, hard, at the base of his neck. Wonwoo yelped. “Mingyu, what the hell?” he groaned, but there was no heat behind his words.

 

Mingyu pulled back, pleased with the burgeoning red mark on Wonwoo’s neck. He rubbed at it, fascinated by how the drag of his thumb caused the mark to flush even redder.

 

“You better not make this a habit,” Wonwoo warned, swatting his hand away. “I won’t be able to hide this when we go back to school, and I don’t really want to be putting on concealer before school every day.”

 

“Mhm,” Mingyu hummed in agreement, already leaning back in for another kiss.

 

A loud knock sounded at the door, and Mingyu and Wonwoo sprung apart, Mingyu almost tumbling to the floor if not for Wonwoo grabbing his shoulder as though it was second nature. Considering Mingyu’s clumsiness and how long Wonwoo had been his best friend, it probably was.

 

Somehow, that small action made Mingyu glow inside with warmth. There really was no one better suited for him than Wonwoo.

 

“OPPA DINNER IS READY. MOM SAYS TO COME OUT AND SHE SAYS WONWOO CAN JOIN US TOO IF HE WANTS,” Minseo yelled through the door.

 

“OKAY,” Mingyu called back.

 

He waited until Minseo’s footsteps died down and turned back to Wonwoo.

 

“Would you like to stay for dinner?” he asked Wonwoo. Then a cheeky smile took over his face and he croaked out, in an imitation of Mulan’s grandmother, “Would you like to stay forever?”

 

Mingyu didn’t know what took over him that moment. Perhaps it was the relief of knowing that Wonwoo liked him back, that Wonwoo still wanted to be around him and didn’t hate him at all, and all his angst the past three months had been for naught, or perhaps it was the fact that Mingyu had just quoted his and Wonwoo’s all-time favourite movie, but once Mingyu started laughing at his own joke, he couldn’t stop. Wonwoo, too, seemed overcome by Mingyu’s infectious giggles, and laughed so hard that he toppled sideways onto Mingyu’s bed, curled up and shaking with laughter.

 

Minutes later, when Minseo had come and gone again to bang on his door (“OPPA ARE YOU COMING DOWN SOON” “YES - wheeze - HOLD ON”), their laughter had finally died down to quiet wheezing and the occasional snort.

 

In the silence that followed, Mingyu tried to gather his bearings and erase all evidence that he had bawled all over Wonwoo’s shoulder like a baby. He turned back to Wonwoo, hand extended to help him off the bed.

 

Wonwoo smiled at him gratefully, reaching for his hand as he said, half-playful and half-serious, “I'd like to stay forever, if you would let me.”

 

Mingyu flushed, but his voice was steady when he replied, “I would.”