Listen, Baekhyun loves to swim. He doesn’t know if it’s because it’s the one thing he’s done his whole life without ever stopping (seriously, he’d learnt to swim before he could even walk) or because humanity's amphibian ancestors used the mammalian diving response to relax in the water (he’s read an article about that, it’s pretty amazing) or because of another completely unrelated reason. It’s debatable if the water loves him back, but he sure does love the water. A lot.
But, while he does like to swim, he’s never ever dreamt of joining a swim team. Sure, he used to swim in one a few years back but Baekhyun is a Free Spirit(™) and he frankly doesn’t like to be chained down by fixed appointments, especially if it involves his hobbies, one of them being, yes, swimming. (At least that’s what he likes to tell himself—his older brother is convinced that he’s just lazy, and that, too, is debatable.)
And then Jongdae happened.
Baekhyun truthfully hasn’t really noticed the guy before, which isn’t really surprising considering his anti-social and I’d-rather-chill-in-the-library-and-play-games-on-my-phone attitude. But that’s not important right now.
So, there are in total two natatoriums in town. One is on the other side of the city (very far away from Baekhyun’s school) and the other is right at Baekhyun’s school because it’s the natatorium of his school, specifically the natatorium of the school’s swim team. And Baekhyun, as mentioned before, really loves to swim, and it’s really exhausting to survive the twenty minutes long bus ride to the other side of town—and he’s broke as fuck so he can’t really afford to take the bus which means he has to walk and that, ladies and gentlemen, is definitely too much for him to handle.
It’s only natural for him to decide to sneak into the natatorium at his school instead of attempting to survive the journey of Death and Despair. He’s really motion sick and it’s hard enough to take the bus to school and home every day, and he’s too impatient to walk forty minutes back and forth just for a short swim.
In retrospect, Baekhyun wishes he would’ve been a good student for once in his life and not broke into the natatorium. Because that’s when everything went to shit. At least his Free Spirit regarding his (irregular) swimming schedule tumbled down to the depths of hell.
He was having a great time swimming a few laps, diving, and just floating with his limbs spread out like a starfish and lungs filled with air, when Jongdae entered.
Baekhyun didn’t even notice the guy because he’d been swimming freestyle and he pretty much didn’t see shit without his glasses anyway but Jongdae can now proudly say that he almost drowned Baekhyun because apparently the best way to approach someone who is about to heave himself out of the water is to release an enormous screech that would’ve made the dinosaurs proud.
Long story short: Baekhyun slipped off the pool edge and his body decided to shut down for a moment before he realised that he was underwater and, newsflash, human beings could not breathe water.
And now he’s here, at swimming practice (yikes), on an otherwise perfectly good Tuesday because Jongdae convinced (read: blackmailed) him to join. Baekhyun grimaces when he thinks of their mostly one-sided conversation. Some kid in swimming trunks throws him a I’m-freaked-out-by-the-expression-on-your-face look.
(“You know, we’re in desperate need for another swimmer for the nationals this August. And I've chosen you! Congratulations!" Jongdae had said, "Look, Baekhyun, it's a win-win situation. We get the last swimmer we need, you won't be expelled and you can swim whenever you like without breaking and entering! Practice is on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays every week right after school. Can't wait to see you there! And if not... well, let's say you can start to search for a new school.")
It must’ve gotten around that somebody’s been regularly breaking into the natatorium because Baekhyun is pretty sure that he never told anybody about barely escaping expulsion. Besides, there is no reason for the principal to not alert the swim team of a certain intruder, even if they all have no idea who Byun Baekhyun is. He doubts that the principal would’ve revealed his name though.
At least Jongdae saved him from expulsion. Perhaps it was kind of him to give Baekhyun a chance instead of, well, feed him to the dogs.
Ugh. Think of the devil and he shall appear.
”Baekhyun!” Jongdae’s voice is way too loud and half of the team has turned to stare at them. Baekhyun wants to die. “I knew you’d come!”
Baekhyun almost snorts something along the lines of haha, remember when you fucking blackmailed me and I had no other choice but to comply? Yeah? Well that’s why I’m here, dipshit! but all that leaves his mouth is a surprised stutter. Curse his inability to have a normal human conversation.
Before he can form a coherent sentence, Jongdae wraps an arm around his shoulders to pull him closer. "I haven't told anyone about the whole breaking in situation because I don't think they'd be happy about it. So it would benefit us both if you just kept quiet."
Fucking great, Baekhyun thinks. Now he isn't just part of a team in which he doesn't know anybody but he also has to lie to them.
He doesn’t have enough time to reply to Jongdae, because a tall (kind of hot) guy towers before them with a (kind of hot) frown on his (kind of pretty) face. Baekhyun knows enough about the team to know that this guy is their captain, Park Chanyeol.
Except now he doesn’t look as nice as he did the few times Baekhyun has seen him in the hallways. Chanyeol seems angry—no, more disapproving than angry but in a calm way. Kind of reminds Baekhyun of his father’s expression when he’d come out of the closet a year or two ago. He shudders.
”So you’re the guy Jongdae forced to join us?” Chanyeol asks, voice surprisingly deep.
Jongdae gasps. “I convinced him.”
”Yeah, we all know how you convince people, Jongdae. Try to fool someone who hasn’t known you for years.”
Jongdae pouts. Chanyeol returns his attention to Baekhyun, eyebrows lifted.
”Uh, yeah. It’s me. The guy Jongdae convinced to join the team.” Baekhyun pauses. “I’m Baekhyun. Byun. Byun Baekhyun. Hi?”
Wow, he so wants the ground to swallow him, like, right now.
Chanyeol still doesn’t look entirely sure of this whole ordeal, but he knows just as well as everyone that the team needs another swimmer, however inexperienced he may be, and that’s perhaps the only reason why he doesn’t kick Baekhyun out right now because he sure looks like he wants to.
”Very well,” the captain says in the end. “Jongdae told me you’ve been swimming a lot in your free time.” He glances at Jongdae who grins mischievously. “And that you’re good, but we’ll see about that. Training’s pretty hard if you’re not used to it so just try to keep up.”
Baekhyun does keep up—at least for the first hour. (No more than twenty minutes have passed, probably, but it sure does feel like an hour.)
Warming up is easy enough; they all swim approximately 20 laps however they want completely relaxed. Then, comes the hard part. At least that what is going to be the hard part, because, surprisingly unsurprisingly, Chanyeol insisted on making a small competition to see how “far they’ve come” but Baekhyun believes—he god damn knows—that Chanyeol’s only goal is to embarrass him (or to see how good he is compared to the others but, considering that they’ve all been training for years while Baekhyun just goes on a swim or two every week and Chanyeol is surely capable of logical thinking, the only obvious reason is just that: to embarrass him).
Baekhyun doesn’t complain, though, otherwise he’d look like a complete idiot. He’ll fail with honour—somewhat. Like the guys in the movies he always watches on Netflix: “It is better to die with honour than surrender in shame.” (Don’t quote him on that, he’s not sure that’s how the saying goes but it sounds about right.)
The natatorium is too small to accommodate eleven students at once, therefore Chanyeol decides to have them swim in three heats with each four swimmers. The fastest four would then swim for the medals (obviously they don’t really have medals but apparently they do have a chart where the members of the team compete against each other. Baekhyun thinks it’s stupid—what good would it do to create a rivalry among them when they’re supposed to be a team? Jongdae, after seeing the doubtful expression on his face, assures him that it’s just for fun).
Apparently, Chanyeol takes these “just for fun” competitions way too seriously because he, after telling all of them to swim a few laps however they like, vanishes into the locker room to prepare assignment papers. (Granted, they’re only a slip of ripped-off paper with the necessary information scrawled upon; heat, lane and time.) Baekhyun swims against Yixing, Jongdae and Sehun in the second heat. He’s starting on lane 3.
"All right, so here's how it's going to be," Chanyeol says with a clap of his hand. "We'll do three heats with each four swimmers, the fastest four will move into the finals and the first three will win, so it's basically like the nationals are going to be just way smaller and obviously less important. Oh, right, swim 100 metres front crawl. Any questions?" Nobody raises their hand. "Great, then let's go."
Baekhyun sits down on one of the benches when the first four swimmers—Tao, Kyungsoo, Jongin and Minseok—get ready on their starting blocks. With raised eyebrows he watches, more surprised than anything, Sehun plant a firm kiss on Jongin’s mouth before he also steps on the block.
Then the sharp sound of the whistle pierces the tranquil silence, and all four swimmers jump forward and into the water.
And holy mother are they fast. Baekhyun expected them to be good; after all it’s been one of the many gossip themes in the hallways in the morning:
”The swim team is really good this year! Even the teachers think they’ll win medals!”
”Yeah, I heard. Too bad they need another swimmer on their team to compete.
Baekhyun has never really paid attention to the rumours, has always assumed they were wrong or exaggerated but now that he’s seeing it himself, it’s hard to believe that they’ve never won a medal before. Their opponents must be monsters to swim even faster.
Baekhyun is so going to lose—god damn it.
Jongin is the first one to slap the wall with his hand, closely followed by Minseok and then Kyungsoo and Tao.
He’s shivering in his swimming tights when he lines up with the other three. Chanyeol is standing at the edge of the pool, the whistle between his lips, and beside him Lu Han with the timer. Baekhyun glances at them when he bends down, gaze on the water in front of him.
Adrenaline kicks his body into moving when the whistle is blown, muscles tensed until he’s engulfed by water. For a moment, Baekhyun just floats, blood rushing in his ears, and then his legs begin to kick, pushing him forward. He reaches the end of the course faster than usual—perhaps because he’s serious now—and promptly performs a spin, feet meeting the wall and pushing him off again.
Baekhyun finishes a bit later than the others, but still he feels satisfied. He hasn’t made it to the finals; that much is clear when he heaves himself out of the pool. But he’s done a pretty good job for someone who hasn’t swum seriously in years, he believes.
Even Chanyeol must be satisfied because the frown on his face has lessened (it’s still there of course but not as prominent as before) and Baekhyun has to keep his lips from twitching too much before he smiles in victory.
Baekhyun wraps himself in his towel when the swimmers of the last heat, Chanyeol included, soar across the water. He watches them in fascination, prior nervousness now gone and replaced with curiosity. They look good with handsome faces and lean, athletic bodies. Baekhyun is torn between being jealous (because his own body would definitely not be considered lean and athletic; he’s, like, average but that’ll change anyway if he’s training every day now) and having a tiny (read: huge) gay crisis. He settles for a little bit of both.
Chanyeol, Yixing, Jongin and Minseok are the finalists. Almost effortlessly, Yixing wins. Nothing changes on the chart, except Baekhyun’s name is added on the third to last place—surprisingly he’s faster than Yi Fan and Jongdae but only because the front crawl, according to Yi Fan, “isn’t their style”.
Chanyeol pulls him aside when everyone’s swimming leisurely to relax their muscles after the competition. Baekhyun wants to go home.
”You weren’t bad,” Chanyeol concludes while he’s scribbling something in his notebook as if he’s someone important; like he’s a secretary on one of those political shows, “but you definitely weren’t that good either. Yixing,” he continues and points at the lean swimmer who came in first, “or I will help you a bit along the way until we’ve corrected the few technical mistakes you make, but I’ll think you’ll be a great addition to our team in due time. As a freestyle swimmer, of course.”
”Of course.” Baekhyun swallows heavily instead of rolling his eyes. Besides, Chanyeol is indeed right—he’s best at swimming freestyle. If the team needs a freestyle swimmer, the team shall have one.
Chanyeol clears his throat awkwardly. Baekhyun stares. Yixing joins them, dripping wet, with an easy smile.
”Baekhyun,” he says. His accent is almost unnoticeable but there nonetheless. “We’re going to Tony’s diner after training. Wanna join us?”
Jongdae, standing a few metres away from them, meets Baekhyun’s gaze and nods, mouthing something but damn, Baekhyun isn’t aware of the fact that he’s suddenly become a professional lip reader.
Yixing looks satisfied. He pats Baekhyun’s ass when he walks past (damn boy, ever heard of personal space?). Chanyeol looks different; kind of unhappy but also like he’s trying to hide it. Before Baekhyun can dwell on it, Jongdae’s slinging an arm around his neck, much like he’s done earlier today, and pulling him along to the locker room.
The diner is almost empty when the swim team squeezes themselves around the long table in the corner of the establishment, four of them (Kyungsoo, Jongin, Sehun and, of course, Chanyeol) sitting on the few chairs while the rest is pressed together on the surprisingly comfortable bench.
Baekhyun is nestled between Yixing and Joonmyun. He doesn’t really know what to think of either of them; Joonmyun seems kind of awkward and hasn’t really talked to him yet, though he’s been babying the members in his vicinity (fixing their clothes or handing them whatever he thinks they need) and made a few bad puns which forced a few of them to release awkward laughs.
Yixing seems a bit more open, if the way he’s patted Baekhyun’s butt a few times since they’ve been introduced to each other over the course of the day is any indication. Just a few moments ago, when Baekhyun tried to squeeze past the table and onto the bench, Yixing literally squeezed his butt and proceeded to call him “cute” when he squeaked in response. It’s weird. But he likes Yixing.
Everyone has been kind to him until now, and if they’ve anything against him joining the team, they at least haven’t voiced it yet. Chanyeol is pretty much the only one who has been glaring-but-not-really-glaring at him the whole him. Baekhyun is sure that he doesn’t have any bad intentions though. Chanyeol just wants what’s best for the team, especially since he’s carrying all the responsibility.
Their actual trainer slash teacher is Mr. Song, but the man doesn’t have any knowledge on swimming and merely gives the members individual training programs that are on the land, mostly exercises to build stamina.
“So, Baekhyun, how does it feel to be on the swim team that’s going to win the nationals?” Jongdae asks, a cheeky smile on his face.
Baekhyun reciprocates his grin, and replies, “Oh, it sure feels great. I’m confident we’ll rob the other schools of all their medals.”
“You should be careful Jongdae,” Yixing says. “Baekhyun almost beat your ass today.”
“As if,” Jongdae snorts.
“It’s true,” Minseok pipes up. “He was literally a millisecond behind you. And you’ve been training harder for years!”
Lu Han sighs dramatically. “Beaten by a newbie. How are you going to pass the qualifications, Jongdae?”
Baekhyun is too hungry to feel offended.
“Well, the front crawl isn’t really my strength! Why are you suddenly ganging up on me.” Jongdae pouts, drawing a giggle from Baekhyun’s lips. Even Chanyeol is smiling now. “Besides, I’ll win first place in the 100-meters butterfly. Y’all just wait.”
“But honestly, though,” Joonmyun says to Baekhyun, “you were great. I mean, tenth place might not seem like much, but it’s impressive for someone who’s only been swimming whenever they have time. With a bit of training you’ll be really good.”
“Thanks,” Baekhyun says, face red. Yixing nods at him with a dimpled smile.
He appreciates their efforts to uplift his spirit. Baekhyun knows that he’s far from fast as a swimmer right now—he just beat some of them because they aren’t as good at swimming the front crawl than other techniques. Take Tao for example, the guy is so fast when he swims the breaststroke, Baekhyun almost didn’t believe his eyes when he saw him during training after their small tournament earlier today.
“Anyway,” Yi Fan interrupts, “welcome on the team, Baekhyun.”
“Yeah, thanks, I hope you’ll take good care of me,” Baekhyun says and bows his head. God, he’s so awkward.
Yixing squeezes his side. “We will.”
“Hey, I found him!” Jongdae wails from his place across the table, huffing at Yixing’s playful grin.
Their bickering is interrupted by the arrival of the food. Baekhyun suspects that fries and burgers aren’t really a part of their diet but when he asks, all he gets is an innocent “well, this occasion must be celebrated” and a quieter “and Chanyeol is paying”. He feels like they’re going to have more occasions that must be celebrated in the future.
But Baekhyun, perhaps for the first time in a long while, doesn’t seem to mind that. Even if Chanyeol keeps staring at him, not quite glaring but definitely not in a happy way.
”Don’t mind Chanyeol,” Jongdae says when they’re walking to the bus station on their way home. “He’s naturally grouchy. He’s usually like a teddy bear—a huge teddy bear. He’s kind of competitive, though. He loathes it to lose. You know, like, he really absolutely hates it.” After a while, he adds, “But he’ll warm up to you, you’ll see.”
Chanyeol doesn’t “warm up” to him, and he doesn’t seem to want to do so anytime soon, but Baekhyun isn’t really concerned by that, mostly because he’s busy with swimming and swimming and ever so often he also has to do stuff for school; homework, assignments and whatever. Sometimes after training, especially on the days Chanyeol decides to push them “a bit”, Baekhyun barely has enough energy to brush his teeth and take off his clothes before he passes out on his bed.
He’s definitely still not used to the almost daily exercise. It’s not really that surprising; usually Baekhyun just stays at home and plays League of Legends (he’s really good at it too, but he knows he’ll regret spending so much money on it when he’s older), watches movies (he watches them illegally, so what? It’s not like the movie police is going to knock on his door and demand he pays for all the movies he’s watched—and he’s watched a lot), occasionally does his homework and sleeps. And of course he used to go swimming, like, once a week or less, and once a week compared to almost every day (originally only three days but Chanyeol insisted on every freaking day because he gets off on their misery, or something) is very little.
It’s astonishing to him how Jongdae—though Jongdae is a bad example because he’s always cheerful and surprisingly kind—is always so energetic when Baekhyun feels like death trampled over him at least thrice a day.
And today is no exception.
Baekhyun has survived a test in maths (he completely forgot about it and sure, he survived, but his grades surely didn’t) and two hours of biology. During lunch, the bread he usually buys was sold out and his usual table was occupied. He contemplated whether he should sit with the swim team (they usually sit near the middle of the cafeteria with the other jocks) but decided against it and spent lunch in an empty classroom, which, admittedly, was kind of depressing.
Perhaps it’s not the most sensitive decision he’s made today, but Baekhyun, clearly influenced by his tiredness, decides to skip practice (he’d like to say it’s the first time but it’s really far from it) and instead takes a nap on the benches in the back of his classroom. It’s Friday; he’s supposed to have a relaxed day, so sue him for wanting to have a few hours of undisturbed sleep for once.
Except, it doesn’t remain undisturbed at all. Sehun is the one who wakes him up later when practice is over. He’d searched for a textbook he’d lost in the classroom and discovered Baekhyun instead, with drool running down his chin.
”Chanyeol wasn’t happy at all,” he tells Baekhyun. “If there’s one thing he absolutely loathes—besides losing, of course—it’s people who don’t take practice seriously. It’s not really a secret that he dislikes you but you aren’t really trying to make him like you with that kind of behaviour.”
Baekhyun almost snorts. Since when is he trying to make Chanyeol like him? He replies, “Sorry. I must’ve fallen asleep during my last class—it’s been really tiring, I guess.”
”Right,” Sehun says doubtfully. He probably knows that Baekhyun has biology in the laboratory on Fridays, that is after all one of the classes he shares with Jongin. “Anyway, we’re heading in the same direction so let’s go together.”
Baekhyun nods, surprised. Sehun has, since he’s joined the swim team, always seemed kind of unreachable. He always looks apathetic and bored, unless he’s around his closest friends, meaning the team members excluding Baekhyun, which made Baekhyun suspect that Sehun doesn’t particularly care to befriend him. Now it looks like he was wrong, or perhaps Jongin convinced him to at least try to be friendly to Baekhyun.
“What’s the deal with you and Jongin anyway?”
Baekhyun cringes; he didn’t mean to actually ask it but there went his mouth, always doing its own thing.
”The deal is,” Sehun says, tone suddenly hostile, “that we’re boyfriends. Why? You got a problem with that?”
”No.” I’m gay myself, idiot. “Just thought…” He gestures vaguely with his hands. “Homophobia... you know. Never mind.”
”Nobody is giving us shit for it, at least not on the team, if that’s what you were insinuating. Chanyeol’s totally fine with it, probably because he’s pan, and Yixing is actually asexual. It’d be pretty stupid to throw us off the team if you’re queer yourself, no?”
”Oh. Right,” Baekhyun says dumbly.
The old bus station looks weirdly abandoned today. Even after practice it’s always filled with students going home from their own club activities, but now, almost half an hour after club hours have ended, the bus station is completely abandoned. It looks weirdly old now, Baekhyun thinks, eyes gliding over the old gazebo, acting like he’s inspecting his surroundings to avoid the awkward silence that has befallen Sehun and him.
They board the same bus, silently sitting in the back beside each other. Baekhyun fiddles with the earphones in his pocket—he usually listens to music on his way home but he feels like it might be rude as long as Sehun is present. The (to him, definitely awkward) silence doesn’t make it better but Sehun doesn’t seem to mind, or perhaps doesn’t think the of silence as awkward and more like a peaceful silence.
”Can you stop moving?” Sehun snaps.
Baekhyun freezes. The bus rattles on.
”So…” Baekhyun starts after a while. “How’s it going?”
”Good. Would be better if our new swimmer didn’t skip practice because then Chanyeol wouldn’t be in a bad mood all afternoon.”
”It’s fine,” Sehun sighs. “Listen, you really have to step up your game. I know Chanyeol’s pretty sceptical of you, to put it mildly, but he would’ve thrown you off the team if he didn’t think you were good, or had the potential to become better. As I said before, he really dislikes this kind of behaviour, but that doesn’t mean he’ll hate your guts now…” Sehun pauses. “Probably.” Baekhyun gulps. “Anyway, what I wanted to say is: if you try your best and follow the rules, nobody will hold you accountable should we fail at the nationals. But you’re not exactly doing anybody any favours by skipping practice.”
”Yeah. Okay. I get it. I won’t do it anymore,” Baekhyun says. “It’s just weird to be on a team and everything. When Jongdae convinced—” blackmailed “—me to join, I just thought, what the hell, it’s not like my life depends on it or something. But yeah, you’re right, maybe I should take this more seriously.” Maybe, also known as: hell no.
”Right. This is my stop.” Sehun stands up, shouldering his backpack and his gym bag. “Bye.”
Baekhyun puts his earphones on, staring out of the window. Sehun’s presence distracted him, but now he feels every bump and turn the bus drives; his stomach begins to twist. He’s relieved when he finally stumbles out of the bus.
Nobody is at home when he finally arrives. Baekhyun throws his shoes in the corner of the small hallway and walks into the kitchen. His mum left his dinner on the stove (noodles and tomato sauce) and he quickly heats it up before he, laden with his backpack and his jacket, trudges to his room, and slams the door shut with a sigh.
”Nice of you to show up.”
Baekhyun screams—a very manly and deep scream, mind you.
”What the fuck!” He glares at Chanyeol. “How the fuck did you even get in here? What the hell!”
”Picked the lock,” Chanyeol replies with a shrug. “My older sister always leaves her bobby pins around. But that’s not important right now—you weren’t at training.”
”Seriously? You broke into my home to ask me why I wasn’t at god damn training? You’ve got priorities, man, seriously.”
”Yeah,” Chanyeol agrees. “I’ve indeed got ‘priorities’, and running after one of my team members because they don’t give a shit about the team and continue to skip practice day after day isn’t one of them, but here I am.”
”Well, nobody forced you to come here.”
”No, but I’m doing this for my team,” Chanyeol says. “Listen, I know that you don’t really want to be here. God knows what exactly Jongdae did to convince you—”
”Jongdae gave me a choice, all right. And I chose,” Baekhyun says.
He doesn’t even know why he’s defending Jongdae. He’s the one who got him into this mess in the first place. God he hates these talks and two of them in the span of an hour is definitely too much.
Chanyeol ignores him.
“—But your behaviour isn’t fair to any of us. We’ve been working hard for months to have the chance to win a medal at the nationals, and I will not let you ruin it because you’re being insufferable.”
Baekhyun can’t help but roll his eyes. ”Why don’t you just throw me off the team if I’m being so insufferable?”
”You know that I can’t. If you want to leave after the nationals, that’s fine, but don’t drag us down because you can’t be arsed to take this seriously. It’s important to us, and it’s pretty obvious that it isn’t to you. Ah-ah, don’t interrupt me. The first time you skipped I was fine with it, after all it could’ve been an emergency, but then you skipped again and again.”
”All right, fine, fine. All right, I’ll come to practice and ‘take it more seriously’. God, you guys and your talks.”
Chanyeol’s eyes narrow to slits. “Well, it’s not like you would ever win a medal so I guess that’s good enough.” Then, he stands up and stalks out of the room with his long ass legs. Baekhyun hears the front door slam shut.
It’s not like you would ever win any medals. Was Chanyeol serious? Baekhyun could so win a medal if he wanted to. He’s a great swimmer, and with a bit of training he’d totally win a medal.
Baekhyun grits his teeth. He may be a friendless nerd, but he would never let some stupid “I’m better than you” athlete belittle him.
He would fucking show them.
Baekhyun’s sudden enthusiasm surprises the whole team, especially when he doesn’t begin to slack off after the first few weeks of non-stop training. (Except for Sehun, either because he thinks he convinced Baekhyun to take it more seriously or because it’s hard as fuck to read his face and nobody knows if he’s surprised or about to fall asleep.) Chanyeol looks happy enough with the unexpected turn of events, so nobody questions it.
Yixing is obviously delighted by the fact that Baekhyun always runs to him for advice, and is eager to help. In the first few weeks he’d helped Baekhyun to fix his bad habits but then Baekhyun had begun to skip practice more and more, and in the end they never got to fix all of them.
“Swim a bit,” Yixing tells him, “I’ll watch.”
Baekhyun nods and pushes himself off the edge of the pool. Knowing that Yixing is indeed scrutinising him always makes him feel more on edge than usual. It makes him hyper-aware of his swimming. Perhaps that’s why his posture is flawed—he’s just too nervous. If he’d not be partly underwater, Baekhyun would’ve scoffed at his ability to always come up with an excuse, even for the most obvious and useless reasons.
He’s about to start to swim another few laps when Yixing stops him.
“Okay, listen, uh… I think you managed to fix your body rotation, but you still kind of glance forward when you swim. It makes your hips drop lower, causing resistance which means you’ll be exerting more without actually moving any faster. Remember to look at the black line and to relax your neck while you swim—or if you have to see the wall you should glance upward with your eyes once in a while, like, without moving your head, okay? But try to get rid of that habit as soon as possible.”
“All right.” Baekhyun nods to himself. “So, I’ve just got to stare at the black line, or try to, until I feel absolutely comfortable not seeing anything in front of me.”
“Okay, got it.”
It’s harder than it sounds. Baekhyun doesn’t really know why, but when he swims he can’t not stop looking up at the wall. Even though he’s been swimming for his entire life, and even though he knows when the lane ends, when he’s got to turn, it’s surprisingly hard to not depend on his sight.
Baekhyun feels silly; it’s probably a rookie mistake, something a newbie would do. Sometimes he wonders if he’s rather pulling the team down instead of pulling it up like he’s supposed to. Thoughts like that catch him off-guard—when has he started to care about the team? He just wants to prove to motherfucking Chanyeol that he can win a medal if he wants to.
It pays off, the hard training. Yixing, who, in Baekhyun’s opinion, is definitely one of the best swimmers on the team, breaks his own record in only a few days, and Kyungsoo finally masters the butterfly close to perfection. Even Chanyeol, who is also busy with training the team, seems to swim better and faster each day.
The only one who doesn’t seem to have made any progress is Baekhyun himself. Sure, he’s been working on fixing his bad swimming habits and he’s only at it since a two or three weeks but it’s crushing to make the same mistakes over and over again even with the help of the members. Chanyeol has told him that he has to take it easy, work step for step, but he can’t help but feel useless—and the fact that his own team captain doesn’t seem to even like him, not even after he’s working hard for the team (mostly himself, but nobody knows that), and only talks to him out of obligation, makes nothing about it easier.
And he knows that Chanyeol’s words do make sense. Despite his obvious lack of trust in Baekhyun, Chanyeol is honest and just as hardworking as everybody else. He desires to get them on top, and Baekhyun doesn’t doubt that he’ll achieve it sooner or later.
”Looks good, Baekhyun,” Lu Han says. “You might win a medal for us after all.”
Baekhyun smiles gleefully. “I know right!”
”We’re going to Tony’s again today,” Jongdae says. “You want to join us?”
”Oh no, I think I’ll stay behind to practice a bit more today too,” Baekhyun replies, gaze resting on Yixing, “Are you staying?”
”Not today,” Yixing says, apologetically, “I have to finish a research paper for biology. You’ll be fine, just remember what I taught you.”
”That’s fine. Good luck on your paper.”
One after one, the other swimmers file out of the natatorium until only Baekhyun is left behind.
With a determined inhale, he pushes himself off the edge of the pool, diving into the water.
His mum isn’t too worried about him when he doesn’t return home until late in the evening, mostly because she’s working all afternoon when Baekhyun normally is at home. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why the staying behind after practice thing has become a habit for him, even if Yixing has told him that it’s not always good to train too much.
It’s also Yixing who keeps him company sometimes, though he’s more often than not left alone in the small natatorium.
Also today, a month before the nationals, Baekhyun decides to stay behind. He doesn’t even notice the other members leave, and they don’t tell him either, too used to him staying behind.
Baekhyun settles down on the edge of the pool, drinking a bit from his bottle of water and eating a sandwich he’s prepared for himself, knowing that he’d be hungry after official practice.
”At least you’re eating.”
”God! What’s with you and scaring the shit out of people?”
Apparently, Chanyeol has stayed behind too.
”It’s obviously a hobby of mine,” Chanyeol replies, amused.
“Don’t you want to leave too?”
“I’ve got the keys. And I’m sure you’d like some company. I would.”
“It’s all right. You don’t have to pretend you like me,” Baekhyun says, waving his hand. “I just want to swim a few rounds by myself so I don’t need your help.”
Chanyeol frowns. Someone should slap Baekhyun because he’s probably the only person on this planet who thinks that Chanyeol looks kind of (read: really) hot.
“What makes you think I dislike you?”
Baekhyun raises his eyebrows. “Are you serious? Of course you are. Well, first of all, you’re literally always glaring at me like I killed your dog or something. And you’ve been against having me on the team since the beginning even if you haven’t said it. I’m only here because you know that you need me. And, well, the whole skipping practice thing. I literally gave you no reason to like me. And the more I think about it, I’m pretty sure you said that whole medal thing to spark my determination.”
“You’re wrong. I mean, you’re right, but not completely,” Chanyeol says, “I don’t dislike you. I’m just realistic. You’ve never swum in a competition before, you haven’t been properly trained, and I, just like everyone else on the team, wants to win this.”
“FYI, I actually was on a swim team before. I just never bothered with competitions, and who says I don’t want to win this?”
“You wouldn’t even be here if Jongdae hadn’t ‘convinced’ you,” Chanyeol points out.
“True,” Baekhyun shrugs, water splashing around him, “but that doesn’t mean I want to lose, or that I’m deliberately trying to pull you all down—at least not anymore. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m actually trying pretty hard here. Would I stay back to train if this wasn’t important to me?”
“I guess not,” Chanyeol says. Baekhyun snorts. “You can’t blame me for being sceptical, but everybody can see you’re working hard. I just figured you weren’t really the type to… you know, socialise?”
“Well, I’ve seen you around school. Alone. You’re never talking to anybody.”
“Really?” Baekhyun says, “I’m literally the nerdiest nerd at school, of course I have no friends. It’s not like I don’t want any, I’m just not really great at keeping friendships. I’m shy, kind of. And I’m also rude, kind of. Probably more rude than shy, I guess. I’m just not good with people, especially with lots of people at once, never have been.”
“Well, if it makes you feel better, I think you’re just honest. Very straightforward. Maybe very rude sometimes. And besides, you’ve got us as friends now.”
Baekhyun looks at the taller male, skeptically eyeing his side profile. Chanyeol just continues to stare at the clear water with a blank expression. A tiny smile works its way on Baekhyun’s face, and he turns away, heart beating faster in his chest.
“I guess... So, we’re friends?”
A comfortable silence settles between them, only the soft sloshing of the water heard in the natatorium.
“Anyway,” Chanyeol clears his throat, “how about we swim a few laps and I’ll help you? I promise I’m a way better teacher than Yixing.”
Baekhyun snorts. “We’ll see about that, Captain.”
In a way, Chanyeol is a way better teacher than Yixing. It’s not that Yixing is bad, or wrong for that matter, but he usually only tells Baekhyun what he should fix and how he can do it. He doesn’t show Baekhyun examples, and he certainly doesn’t touch him to correct his posture despite his usual touchiness.
Chanyeol does that. It’s sort of humiliating, the way Chanyeol tells him to lie on his stomach as though he’s swimming freestyle and prods his hips and neck and back (and literally every single body part) to show Baekhyun how his posture is supposed to be like, to feel like.
Baekhyun honestly isn’t all that surprised when Chanyeol tells him that his father used to be a swimming coach.
They’ve been swimming more and more together as the nationals approach. Baekhyun actually makes progress, and he can feel it himself too. His stomach is no longer as soft as before, instead hardened with muscles, and his arms and legs feel stronger. He’s become a faster swimmer, though his lack in stamina makes Chanyeol decide to write him up for the 100-metres freestyle at the nationals while Yixing swims the 200-metres the day after.
Baekhyun can’t really complain, though. He must admit, even if he doesn’t like it, that Chanyeol has somehow grown on him more than he should. Damn feelings. Jongdae was right; Chanyeol is truly kind (like a “huge teddy bear”) and Baekhyun finds himself wondering why he disliked Chanyeol in the first place (probably because he was being an asshole but that’s in the past now), especially when he watches Chanyeol laugh with the other swimmers on the team and his chest feels weirdly warm.
”Ugh, you know I thought you were a total asshole before I joined the team, but you’re pretty cool after all,” Baekhyun confesses one evening when they’re floating in the water after practice, staring up at the high ceiling.
”Thanks. I thought the same about you,” Chanyeol replies. “Except, you were much more awkward than me, like really, you were so awkward.”
”I’m not good with new people!”
”I know,” Chanyeol says, bumping his shoulder into Baekhyun’s. “You’ve told me and it’s really not hard to tell.”
”I take it back. You’re still mean.”
”I’m hurt. I’ve helped you become one of the best swimmers on the team and that is the thanks I get?”
”Mhm,” Baekhyun laughs. “No, but really, you’re pretty cool.”
”Aw, you like me.”
Chanyeol gasps and places a hand above his heart in mock-hurt when Baekhyun flips him off.
”Are you nervous?”
The water sloshes loudly in the otherwise quiet natatorium when Chanyeol shrugs. “Kind of. I mean, it’s the nationals. Maybe we have a chance to get a scholarship if we do well. If we’re scouted by An Important Person(™).”
”Oh, true. I hadn’t thought about that,” Baekhyun says. “I’m nervous either way. It’s a pretty big competition, isn’t it?”
”I guess, but it’s more important that we have fun. I won’t deny that I want to win medals—like really, really want to win—but if we don’t it’s fine too, I guess.”
”Yikes, who are you and what have you done with the ‘losing is not an option’ Chanyeol?”
Chanyeol splashes him with water. Baekhyun dives away, bubbles escaping his mouth underwater in laughter, only to be greeted by another splash of water as soon as he emerges.
”Man,” Baekhyun gasps for air, “I never really thought we’d be, like, friends to be honest.”
Chanyeol laughs. Baekhyun tries to ignore the way his heart jumps on his chest as if saying, friends, huh? You ain’t fooling me, boy! He really doesn’t need feelings right now. Especially not for Chanyeol. Like, sure, Sehun pretty much confirmed that Chanyeol is pansexual, but just because he’s pan it doesn’t mean that he likes Baekhyun more than as a friend. (It always reminds him of straight people who assume that him being gay means that he’s going to jump on every boy he sees. Straight people are sometimes really strange—no offence.)
”Me neither,” Chanyeol replies. “I’m glad we are, though.”
The bus ride is tortuous. Baekhyun feels like throwing up and it doesn’t take long for him to desperately claw at one of the plastic bags he packed and empty his breakfast in it. Vaguely he registers Yixing’s hand rubbing circles on his back while he’s puking but he’s too busy with, well, vomiting his guts out.
He’s pretty sure that it’s not only the carsickness that’s been making him feel queasy. Baekhyun hadn’t been able to sleep last night at all, too nervous about today, about the fact that he’s going to swim in his first official competition and it’s the nationals.
He’s never been more relieved when he finally steps out of the bus and can dry-heave over the solid ground.
”Baekhyun, are you all right?” Chanyeol asks, deep voice surprisingly soft.
”Yeah, just— yeah,” Baekhyun chokes out. He takes a deep breath; exhales, inhales, exhales, inhales. “I’m fine now. Let’s go inside”
The natatorium is huge—huger than any Baekhyun has ever seen before. He can’t even count the amount of 50-metres lanes he can see, and it’s filled with swimmers and spectators. Baekhyun feels another wave of nausea course through his body and he forces himself to take deep breaths.
”You might want to eat something before you start,” Chanyeol suggests. Baekhyun is suddenly hyper-aware of Chanyeol’s warm hand on his shoulder, and stares transfixed on the granola bar in Chanyeol’s other hand.
Baekhyun does feel better after eating, and he feels even better after swimming a few laps to warm-up, but a slight hint of queasiness still remains which he writes off as nervousness.
”It’s your turn soon,” Jongin comments. He’s vibrating in anticipation, and Sehun’s beside him, smiling. They probably think he’s going to win, but Baekhyun isn’t so sure anymore. After watching the first few rounds, he realises that his opponents have worked just as hard as he has (perhaps even harder) to win.
To his own surprise, Baekhyun passes the preliminary rounds. He also passes the semifinal, though his nervousness delayed his reaction time during the opening whistle. He could’ve done better but he’s more relieved that he managed to come to the finals at all. Chanyeol, Jongdae, Sehun and Jongin are standing at the bleachers to cheer for him (the competitions in the categories they participate in are later or first tomorrow). They look proud, especially Chanyeol looks elated, and Baekhyun manages to smile brightly at them despite the nervousness that has spread into every fibre of his body.
”The final for men’s 100-metres freestyle will be held at 2pm,” the announcer's voice echoes throughout the natatorium. “Participating swimmers please return to your lane ten minutes before begin…” Baekhyun zones out, sitting down. The announcer continues, “Lane 4, Byun Baekhyun. Lane 5...”
”Fuck. I did it. Fuck,” Baekhyun says.
”Fuck yeah, you did,” Sehun says. “Told you you just needed to take it more seriously.” He clasps a hand around Baekhyun’s shoulder. “We’re proud of you.”
2pm approaches faster than he would’ve liked it to.
Baekhyun doesn’t really think when he’s swimming, never has. Or if he does, he can’t remember it afterward, especially if he’s swimming to clear his thoughts. But right now, as he’s standing on the starting block, bent forward like the other swimmers to his side, his mind is a jumble of thoughts from “I can do this” to “I can’t”.
Out of the corner of his eye, he spots Jongin and Sehun and Jongdae—god, and Chanyeol. If I win a medal, I’m going to tell him I love him in a totally homo way, Baekhyun thinks.
He takes a deep breath, gaze fixed on the water. He can do this (maybe). The opening whistle immediately kicks every muscle in his body in motion. Baekhyun barely registers anything around him, his mind merely screaming faster, faster, faster!. Baekhyun can’t believe it’s over when he finishes, his body running on too much adrenaline to remain calm. Thankfully, he doesn’t have to, because his team members are all over him and congratulating him for finishing. He loves how happy they are despite not knowing if he’s even won anything for them, and Baekhyun now understand what Chanyeol meant by it’s more important to have fun.
Anxiously, they all stare at the information board hanging high above their heads.
Baekhyun almost cries when he sees the results.
”Oh my fucking god,” Jongdae screams. “You did it!”
”Second place, Byun Baekhyun”.
It doesn’t feel real until he’s standing on the winner’s podium with the other two winners, the silver medal wrapped around his neck. Somebody must be shitting him—this cannot be real. Baekhyun really wants to pinch himself but that’d be embarrassing so he just smiles because, holy shit, he won the first fucking medal his school ever won in the nationals.
Chanyeol looks so happy, which is silly because it’s not like he’s the one who won it, but Baekhyun can’t help but grin back, and damn, he’s so in love. (The promise he made to himself is stuck in the back of his mind for now.)
(He’s not the only one who manages to win a medal during the duration of the nationals. Yixing wins gold in the men’s 200-metres freestyle, Chanyeol wins silver in 200-metres backstroke and Jongdae and Kyungsoo respectively win bronze. But he’s the first one to win one, he broke the record, as Chanyeol kept telling him during the bus ride home, and the fact that Chanyeol’s so proud and happy for him makes him even happier.)
Baekhyun pulls Chanyeol aside when they arrive at their school in the late evening.
”What’s wrong? The principal is waiting for us,” Chanyeol asks, clearly confused. “Is this about you leaving the team?”
Baekhyun laughs. “No. I’d like to stay on the team, if that’s okay with you?”
”Of course it is! You know it is,” Chanyeol insists. “Really, though, what’s up?” He looks worried, almost like a puppy who has lost its owner. It’s cute, kind of. But he’s also really hot at the same time. Baekhyun is conflicted.
”Uhm…” God, he just has to say it. It’s not that hard, really. “So… I like you.”
”Gee, thanks. I like you too.” Chanyeol rolls his eyes. “I thought we’ve discussed that already.”
”No, like, I like you. Like, I like-like you, as in, do you want to be my boyfriend?”
Cue the awkward silence.
”You what? What?”
”I like-like you,” Baekhyun repeats. Chanyeol looks flabbergasted. “I mean, it’s cool if you don’t like me back. We can just be friends then, or I can leave the team if it makes you uncomfortable to have a friend who has feelings for you. It’s not that bad, really. I’ll get over you. Eventually. I mean we’re just—”
Baekhyun’s interrupted by Chanyeol, specifically by Chanyeol’s lips on his lips. Wow, they’re soft.
Chanyeol pulls back. Baekhyun stares at him, dazed. Wow.
”Well, then it’s a good thing that I like-like you too,” Chanyeol says, the cheeky smile on his face making him look years younger. “Let’s go, boyfriend. I bet they’re waiting for us.”
The swim team whistles when they return to the group, Chanyeol’s hand in his. A faint hue of red covers Baekhyun’s cheeks but Chanyeol’s whole face is so red that Baekhyun is mildly worried that he’s suffocating.
”God, finally!” Jongdae yells. “I would’ve literally died if Chanyeol complained about his puppy love to me one more time.”
Sehun regards Baekhyun with a cute smile, his fingers laced with Jongin’s. “Congrats.”
The principal clears his throat. Baekhyun feels more blood rush to his cheeks, realising that the principal witnessed everything.
“Congratulations on silver, Baekhyun. I’m really proud of you—you’ve won the first medal for us, after all,” the principal says. His usual stern mien seems happier, more relaxed, and Baekhyun thinks he looks ten times younger than when he frowns at him with a disapproving look.
“Thanks,” Baekhyun says, “we’ve all worked hard for it, to be honest. It wasn’t just me.” He smiles when Chanyeol fondly squeezes his hand in gratitude.
The principal continues, "Of course. It's nice to see that you've decided to join the swim team instead of breaking into the natatorium every week."
Baekhyun grants him a shaky smile, suddenly feeling the attention of all his teammates (except for maybe Jongdae) on him.