Hoseok stares with a strong desire at Mark’s trident as the lad stands guard outside the gates of Atlantis.
Yes, that Atlantis. It’s been years since Hoseok has been able to visit, but thankfully he was invited for the biggest rap battle of the decade and he’s going to make every moment count. His temporary gills flex as he shoots finger guns at Mark. “Hey, Mark. It’s been a while.”
“Haha yeah,” replies Mark. “Are you here to battle, hyung?” As an Atlantean native, Mark has fifteen scales on the side of his neck, and they change color with his mood. Currently, they’re a vibrant blue.
Hoseok nods, crossing his arms in a cool rapper-like pose. “I’m here to win,” he says.
Whether he’s here to win the battle or Mark’s heart (or both!) has yet to be decided, though…
As a grad student in Marine Biology, Hoseok knows how to take a rational and scientific approach to all things, rap battles included. His classmates had been surprised when he announced that he was going to be writing his PhD dissertation on Atlantis, but he was determined to prove them wrong too.
“Isn’t that place, like, only in stories?” his friend Namjoon had asked, staring over his shoulder at his preliminary research, which mostly consisted of some really excellent drawings Hoseok had done himself and old Aquaman comics.
Hoseok huffs and picks up one of the comics. “Does this look like a story, Namjoon-ah?”
Namjoon glances at him with a dubious expression. “Uh… yes?”
Everyone’s a hater. Hoseok sighs and turns away, deciding that Namjoon is a lost cause. Ever since he was fourteen and accidentally swam to Atlantis during that summer he was training for a triathlon and got really lost during the swimming portion, he’s been determined to find his way back and study it for real, rather than almost drown while a child with scales and gills gasped and dragged him up to the surface.
“Can I call you hyung?” asked this strange child.
Hoseok had shrugged and said, “Whatever,” before passing out.
And now he finds himself back in front of Mark, and back outside of the gates of this beautiful, majestic city. Nothing will stop him from accomplishing his various quests. Not if he has anything to say about it.
The Prince’s Tournament in Atlantis has taken many forms over the years, a rap battle only being the most recent version. Mark had told him that in ancient times it had been fought between two warriors on the backs of dolphins, but Hoseok isn’t sure whether that was actually true or not.
This is Mark’s first time hosting it himself and he had surprised the court by announcing he was going to be participating as well. But really it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to them when Mark was ranked first in rap battles among the underwater nations.
Perhaps to those who are used to living above ground it might seem strange that all varieties of sea creatures were also able to compete in these battles, but with Mark’s patented bubbles-to-voice translator, anything was possible.
Hoseok is really hoping that once he wins 1. This rap battle and subsequently Mark’s heart and 2. The Nobel Prize for his amazing scholarly research, he will be able to bring his friends down here for another rap battle.
The odds seem good that at least most of those things can happen.
“Hey Mark,” Hoseok says, still eyeing that trident, “what do you think of the freestyle portion of the competition?”
“I think most people will be overconfident,” answers Mark, a twinkle in his eye. Or maybe that’s part of his biology, which seems to be slightly more bioluminescent than Hoseok’s. Hard to say! “Do you feel good about it?”
Hoseok nods humbly. “It’s my greatest talent. I bring hope to people all over the world with my sick freestyle raps.”
Mark looks impressed. “Can I hear one right now?”
“Just a short one,” says Hoseok, and takes a moment to think. “Okay— I’m underwater / it’s getting hotter / just like my hot bod / j-hope’s hot body / don’t you want to see it?”
Mark applauds politely. It doesn’t really make much sound, but Hoseok bows anyway.
“Don’t worry Mark,” says Hoseok, “I’m saving my really good stuff for tomorrow.”
Having done extensive research on rap battles, Hoseok has hypothesized that saving his best material for last will help him wow Mark and also the members of his court, both the mer-people and sea creatures. He’s heard that one of the sharks in particular is a very hard judge.
“I look forward to it,” Mark says, running a hand through his hair. It billows in the water. “So where are you staying?”
Hoseok blinks as Mark steps aside and the gates to Atlantis slowly open. “Uhhhh…..”
“Did they not arrange a place for you before you came?” Mark looks incensed. “I always tell them that humans don’t know our culture but they’re like, it’s fine, Mark.”
It doesn’t seem like it’s fine. “Do you want to talk about it?” ventures Hoseok.
Mark shrugs aggressively. “No, it’s okay. But hyung, do you want to just stay with me for the competition?”
“Wow, that would be so convenient,” says Hoseok. “How would I repay you?”
“Just do a little bit of freestyle rap every few hours to cheer me up. Oh, and maybe help take the kelp out every once in a while. It floats in through the windows.”
Hoseok frowns. “Kelp?”
“Yeah, you know. Just one of those things.”
Hoseok itches to write this down, but his pen and paper are useless down here, and his recorder is too full of salt-water to capture audio with. Despite his extensive research and preparations, watching the movie Atlantis sixteen times didn’t quite prepare him for the reality of being underwater.
“C’mon,” says Mark, gesturing down the hallway, “lemme show you around.”
Mark leads him through the twisting maze of the palace, past ornate coral gardens, and then some other gardens encased in big bubbles where maybe they grew land plants, and then another garden with a big statue of mermen fighting a giant squid. Hoseok felt kinda bad for the squid.
Mark eventually pushes open a big door fashioned out of what looks like a giant clam shell. There’s a little carved sign hanging on it that says “Mark’s room, keep out.”
“Oh wow, so this is where you grew up, huh?” Hoseok says. “This is super cool. I love the… aquatic vibes.”
“Haha, yeah I guess,” says Mark, ruffling his hair awkwardly. It floats around his head like a little cloud. Or like a raviolo. “It's fine I guess… It’s just where I’ve always lived. I’m sure you have way cooler things up on land. Like scooters.”
“Oh I bet we could figure out some way to make an underwater scooter!” Hoseok says excitedly. There’s nothing he loves more than a good scientific challenge. Other than sick beats.
Mark yawns, seeming to gargle water as he does. “Maybe. Hey, I’m pretty tired. Let me grab you some underwater hygiene products and show you where your bed-tether is.”
It is getting pretty dark, and not even the luminous algae will be enough to help Hoseok keep his bearings if he waits too much longer, so he agrees.
Once he’s ready for bed and tethered to a slab of rock, Hoseok shuts his eyes. It’s like a sensory deprivation tank, almost, except that he’s floating against resistance and there are lots of sounds and also he’s literally in Atlantis.
He hopes that tomorrow will be less disorienting than today, because he has science to do and names to take (and maybe, just maybe, a heart to win…).
The next day is the day of the rap battle, and Hoseok is capital n Nervous. It doesn’t help that Mark looks super suave with his pleather pants and no shirt.
“It’s my look to show everyone I can be cool, and not just majestic and ethereal,” Mark explains. He’s wearing waterproof eyeliner.
Hoseok nods. “Makes sense.” He himself is wearing a mask with spikes on it and a neon green windbreaker to show different sides of himself to the judges. He’s an outsider here, so he has to prove that he has some interest to him in case they want to count him out early on. “Well, I guess we should go to the competition. Which is…” he trails off, hoping Mark will fill in the gap.
Thankfully, Mark is as naïve as he is nice, and it doesn’t seem to cross his mind that he could easily sabotage Hoseok’s chances of winning by sending him to the wrong place. “The courtyard in front of the palace, hyung! Dude this is gonna be epic.”
“What are we waiting for then?” asks Hoseok, still not fully sure how to get back outside. “Lead the way!”
The competition is bustling when they arrive, at least twenty contestants milling around and hundreds of bystanders waiting for it to start. Hoseok registers with a severe looking merman with a strong jawline and puts on the j-hope tag thing (you know what idols have during practices and rehearsals that they wear over their shoulders? that) before finding Mark again.
“Woo!” says Mark.
Hoseok agrees and does a little fist pump. “Yeah, woo!”
The first competitor is called to the stage, and the first round begins. Hoseok is not too worried about his own chances after he hears the first rapper sing some absolute nonsense about how cool it is to get good grades. Like, okay, nerd. It’s barely even a rap anyway.
Really, the only other competition Hoseok has is Mark, who crushes it in the first round and ends up with the highest score so far.
Hoseok is last, and he goes up and starts spitting some of his best bars: “Big taxi, big cycle, big subway / No thanks, I wanna ride the big bus / Rather than the stars in the sky, I wanna see the stars on your shoes / Haha, without Namjoon knowing.”
The crowd erupts into cheers, and he and Mark end up tied for first place.
Next up is the freestyle round, and only ten people have advanced, unfortunately including that nerd who rapped about school.
Mark’s freestyle verse is about the beauty of Atlantis, and he cleverly throws in some references to other people’s verses from today to prove that he’s coming up with this off the top of his dome. It’s very fitting for someone of his stature and brings a smile to Hoseok’s face.
Immediately after that, it’s Hoseok’s turn.
“Oh Marky Mark,” he raps, “the differences between us are stark / You think you’re better because you rap like a fish / You think you’ll win this and I say you wish!”
“Whoaaaaa,” goes the crowd. It doesn’t seem like anyone has directly challenged Mark before.
Hoseok expects the beat to stop pounding once he’s done with his part, but it picks up, and Mark steps back into the ring. Okay, thinks Hoseok, apparently they’re doing this for real.
They circle each other like… well, not quite like sharks (the shark judge has a very intense gaze and a menacing smile and Hoseok doesn’t really want to get on their bad side), but like something equally cool and predatory. They trade verses back and forth, each hotter than the last, and dimly Hoseok notices all of the other contestants giving up and packing up their things.
Good. This was only ever going to be between the two of them.
Mark dashes over to the edge of the circle that’s formed around them and grabs his trident, which he holds with a great amount of strength. It’s kind of sexy, but Hoseok needs to focus on rapping, not men holding things.
“Give up, hyung!” shouts Mark. “I could rap with the homies all day!”
“I’m a homie unlike any other,” Hoseok yells back, and they begin to rap again, tirelessly, as the sun passes thousands of meters overhead until it’s approximately midday.
“They won’t give up!” yells someone in the crowd. “Oh god, they’re going to rap until they die!”
“It’s only been two hours, man,” replies someone else, “get a grip.”
Hoseok feels like it’s been much longer than two hours. He’s almost definitely sweating, but it’s hard to tell when everything around him is so wet.
If they don’t finish soon, Hoseok will have barely any time to do his research before he has to go back to dry land in two days. He’d thought this would be an open-and-shut kind of situation.
Mark keeps rapping, and Hoseok raps back. They keep circling.
Hoseok begins to dance, thinking it will give him the edge, but it turns out that Mark is a pretty accomplished dancer as well.
“What if we did a truce?” asks Hoseok between rounds. He’s a little breathless, gills straining, but so is Mark.
Mark furrows his brows. “What kind of truce?”
“We do one last verse together, trading off lines, and then finish with something kind of shocking so everyone forgets that no one won.”
It takes a moment, but Mark’s expression soon clears into excitement. “A joint win would be pretty baller anyway. I’m in.”
And thus, they begin to rap.
“This is it, this is how it ends,” spits Hoseok.
“You and me, the very best of friends,” continues Mark.
It’s a sharp departure from their previous disses, but Hoseok can work with it. “Maybe more than that, if we look into our art.”
“Your hair is cool, hyung, and your mouth is like a heart.”
“I never met anyone with naturally-occuring gills before you.”
“Oh babe,” sings Mark, “come closer and I’ll show you what these gills do.”
As if pulled together by magnetism, Hoseok and Mark meet in the center of the circle. The crowd has gone hushed. Mark lets go of his trident, which sinks into the sand and remains upright. Pretty cool.
When they kiss, Hoseok mostly tastes saltwater (as he has been for the last day), but in his body everything feels very hot and good.
“Stay here with me,” murmurs Mark.
“No,” says Hoseok, thinking about his PhD. “I’ll visit sometimes, though.”
“I’ll take it,” says Mark, and they keep kissing until everyone else leaves, and it’s just them making out in the beautiful city of Atlantis.