“Suh, John!” Ten calls through his megaphone, idly drawing a daisy on his clipboard as a tall boy in tight purple swim trunks steps out of the line of freshmen hopefuls and walks up to the starting block at the far end of the pool.
“Big guy, huh?” Jaehyun remarks from the chair next to his. “We need more like that if we want a chance this year.” Ten nods and yawns, thinking wistfully of the apple and half-finished cup of coffee sitting on the desk in his office. Suh, John pulls on his goggles, stretches out his arms, and crouches down by the block, muscles tensed.
Ten picks up his stopwatch and lifts the megaphone to his mouth. “Alright, Suh, you know the drill – same as everyone who went before you. Show us a 50 of your butterfly, breaststroke, backstroke, and freestyle. Make your turns clean. And take a break between rounds if you need to, but we want to see your endurance. Ready, on my whistle.”
Without looking up, John Suh lifts a hand off the block and gives him a two-finger salute. Ten cracks a smile in spite of himself, then blows the whistle into the megaphone.
“What the hell, man!” Jaehyun hisses, slapping his hands over his ears with a pained expression. Ten laughs and ignores him, instead focused on watching the freshman. His start had been powerful, and he was already nearly halfway down the length of the pool, the muscles in his long arms pumping and propelling him in a formidable butterfly through the water.
“Wow,” Jaehyun says, sitting up in his seat to get a better look at the freshman’s form with his discerning captain’s eye. “He can really move, huh? I wonder why he wasn’t recruited anywhere.” Ten can’t help but agree; the raw power evident in the boy’s stroke would surely be enough to attract any of the top universities from around the country. And while their small college team was nothing to scoff at, they weren’t exactly churning out Olympians.
John Suh makes the fifty-meter butterfly in an impressive twenty-six seconds. His open-hand turn isn’t exactly elegant, but he doesn’t stumble or grip the edge, which is more than can be said about many of the other freshmen who had tried out for the team that morning. Despite starting with the butterfly, he maintains his pace for the remainder of the laps.
Ten notes the times on his clipboard and puts a star next to John Suh’s name before he can finish all his strokes. And by the time John Suh pulls himself out of the pool with a giant grin plastered across his face, the older members of the team sitting in the stands are muttering excitedly amongst themselves.
“Nice work, Suh, now go dry off,” Ten calls, already scanning his list for the next name. “Who’s my next victim, let’s see, ah – Kim, Doyoung?”
“Alright, gather ‘round, little guppies,” Ten says, waving over the group of anxious-looking freshmen huddled by the wall, most of them in sweatshirts but still in their damp swim shorts and Speedos, their hair pressed flat from their swim caps. The boys form a wide semicircle in front of him and Jaehyun.
“In case you were too nervous to remember, I’m Ten, the manager, and this is Jaehyun, the captain. He’s the one you wanted to impress today, I’m just the pencil-pusher. Your fate is in his hands now.” With that, Ten hands the clipboard to Jaehyun and crosses his arms in front of his chest, trying his best to play the intimidating senior role. It seems to be working; when he scans the group, most of the boys avert their gaze from his menacing scowl (all except John Suh, who returns Ten’s expression by widening his grin).
Jaehyun rolls his eyes. “He’s just being dramatic. You all made the team.” The boys – seven in total – whoop and slap each other on the back. John Suh and Doyoung Kim fist bump. “Before you leave today, Ten will collect your sizes and we’ll have your team jackets and swimsuits by next week,” Jaehyun continues once he has their attention again. “Our first practice is Sunday at 5:30 a.m. sharp. Whoever comes last gets to put away the equipment. And starting next week, I’ll be picking positions for the relay, so be on your best behavior and don’t get injured. Any questions?” The boys all shake their heads.
Jaehyun sets off towards the locker room with the rest of the team as Ten leads the group of newbies towards his office. He kicks his feet up onto the desk and calls them in one by one, having way too much fun trying to frighten them with his posturing.
John Suh is the last to be called in. He stands in front of the desk, scratching the back of his hair as he looks around the office with apparent interest, taking in the team photographs and trophies from previous seasons.
“Have a seat, Suh,” Ten says. He takes a final bite of his apple, then tosses it into the trashcan in the corner. John Suh finally looks at him, smiles again, and sits down. The plastic chair seems tiny in comparison to his huge body.
“I go by Johnny,” he says.
Ten frowns at him. “I didn’t ask, Suh.”
Johnny shrugs good-naturedly. “Alright,” he responds, continuing to look at Ten expectantly. His broad shoulders are dotted with freckles, and the tip of his nose is slightly sunburnt. His dark brown hair is sticking up on one side from where he had been rubbing at it. He certainly has the body of a swimmer: tall, long torso, muscular shoulders, narrow waist. The only knock against him would be how long his legs are in comparison to his height. Again, Ten finds himself wondering how Johnny had ended up in their pool, of all places.
“Shirt size?” Ten asks, scanning Johnny’s torso appraisingly over the top of his clipboard. “Large?”
“Yup,” Johnny nods. He is pretty good-looking, for a freshman. “And by the way, do you need any help putting away the equipment? I don’t have any more classes today, so I can help you if you want.”
Ten eyes him suspiciously. “Why?”
Johnny shrugs again. “I know how busy managers can be. And like I said, since I’m free, I don’t mind helping out.”
“If you’re trying to bribe me for the spot you want in the relay, it’s not going to work. I have no control over that, and even if I did, I’m not that easily bought,” Ten says, raising an eyebrow at Johnny.
Johnny waves his large hands in front of his face and laughs. He really is pretty cute. “What? No, not at all. I don’t care about my position in the relay, honestly. Just let me help, would you?”
Ten really has no reason to turn down the offer. So, he puts Johnny in charge of stacking all the chairs and pulling in the lane lines to prepare the pool for free swim later in the day. He remains in his office to finish putting in the jacket orders and updating their team stats, all the while glancing surreptitiously at Johnny whenever he walks in front of the office door.
After thirty minutes Johnny is still there, and has just taken the broom from its spot on the wall and started sweeping the displaced water back into the pool.
Biting back a smile, Ten lifts his megaphone off the desk. “Go home, Suh!” he shouts, his amplified voice echoing around the empty gym. Johnny startles and drops the broom, then flashes Ten a thumbs-up and a bright smile. Ten shakes his head and drops his eyes back to his laptop, unable to fully keep the corner of his mouth from twitching up.
As has been their team’s tradition for years, the captain – this year, Jaehyun, now without his co-captain ever since Suho had graduated the previous spring – throws a party to celebrate the beginning of the swimming season. Ten doesn’t really want to go (“The last thing I want to do is party with a bunch of eighteen-year-olds with zero alcohol tolerance,” he had complained to Jaehyun earlier that day at the liquor store, shifting the bottles in his arms to make room when Jaehyun had handed him one more handle of Fireball. “Oh, don’t be such a killjoy,” Jaehyun had scoffed. “What else were you planning on doing? Playing the Sims by yourself, clipping your cat’s toenails, and falling asleep by 9:30? This is our senior year – live a little, man.” Ten had huffed, annoyed, although Jaehyun had his typical Saturday night plans down to a tee. He had agreed to go, but only under the condition that Jaehyun buy him his favorite brand of white wine for the party).
He can hear the music from all the way down the block, and it only gets louder as he approaches Jaehyun’s apartment. On his way up the stairs to the third floor, he makes his way past two juniors, Taeyong and Taeil, who pause in the middle of a heated argument about the ideal temperature for pool water to high-five him, then pushes his way through the front door. All thirty-some members of the men’s swim team are packed in like sardines, along with the women’s team and the co-ed water polo club. If you didn’t already know the room was filled with swimmers, the overpowering scent of chlorine would have been a dead giveaway.
He nods along to the music as he skirts his way around the messy crush of bodies in the living room and makes his way towards the kitchen. There, he finds Jaehyun kneeling on the counter, digging through the cabinet above the fridge.
“What’s up!” Ten says, raising his voice over the music. Jaehyun turns around and smiles gratefully.
“Good, you’re here. Now you can help me, this shit is too much work. I don’t know how Suho did this every year,” Jaehyun says, hopping off the counter and pushing a bottle of sour apple mixer into Ten’s hands. Ten raises his eyebrows at Jaehyun. Jaehyun rolls his eyes and takes the bottle back. “Fine, don’t help. But the freshmen are drinking the mixer like it’s juice and we’ve already gone through two bottles. Can you wrangle them for me?”
Ten makes an annoyed sound in the back of his throat, but he grabs the bottle back from Jaehyun anyway and shoulders his way out of the kitchen and back into the living room. He places the bottle on the counter and scans the crowd. His heart kicks against his chest when his gaze lands on a cluster of kids huddled in the corner, with one standing nearly a head taller than the rest.
He pushes through the crowd, dodging elbows and beer bottles as he goes, towards the group. Two of them look up as he approaches – their eyes widen and one of them tries to hide his beer can behind his back.
Ten raises his eyebrows. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell your captain.” The rest of the boys start and spin around upon hearing his voice. Ten catches Johnny’s eyes. He is dressed in a flattering leather jacket and ripped jeans, though his brown hair still sticks up on one side (the perpetual curse of the swim cap). Johnny grins and takes a swig of whatever is in his cup. Cocky bastard.
“Drink all you want,” Ten says over the music, “just make sure you don’t come into practice hungover. Believe me, that won’t be pleasant for anyone.” They nod in unison. He shakes his head and turns away, intending to head back towards the kitchen to make sure Jaehyun hasn’t fully lost it, when someone grabs his arm. He looks down and finds Johnny’s hand wrapped around his wrist. He looks up, suddenly face-to-face with Johnny now standing in his personal space, towering over him.
“Yes?” Ten says. Johnny really is very cute. For a freshman.
“Can I get you a drink?” Johnny says, looking down at him, a goofy, hopeful expression on his face. Ten stares back at him, taking in the color of his eyes and the sunspots painted across his nose. He smells like chlorine, as they all do, and something else that Ten can’t place.
“If you really want,” Ten says, finding his voice after a few moments. He might as well humor the poor boy. Johnny’s smile grows and he lets go of Ten’s wrist. “But mixer is not alcoholic, you know that, right?”
Johnny laughs. “Yes, I know. That wasn’t me.”
Ten allows Johnny to lead him towards the drinks table, taking the opportunity to stare at his wide back as they walk. All swimmers have good bodies, so the wideness of Johnny’s back is not an impressive phenomenon in and of itself. Maybe it is the pounding of the music, the crushing swell of bodies around him. Maybe it is the fact that he hasn’t so much as kissed anyone in over a year. Whatever it is, he finds himself thinking about the way Johnny’s back looked in the water, his muscles rippling and churning as he moved through the pool like he was born there. He shakes his head, trying to clear the image from his mind.
Johnny roots through the cooler and pulls out a bottle of hard lemonade. He holds it out to Ten. “How’s this?”
Ten takes the bottle from his outstretched hand. “A little sweet for my taste, but it’ll do.” He doesn’t bother telling Johnny that he hates lemonade; if there is one thing he has learned from swimming, it’s the importance of saving one’s breath for when it really matters. Johnny grabs his own lemonade from the cooler and looks around, then nods towards a relatively empty spot by the wall next to the hallway. Ten again follows in the wake of Johnny’s body; Johnny acts as a kind of one-man phalanx, with people streaming around him as he walks. Ten settles in against the wall and Johnny moves in next to him, resting one shoulder against the wall.
Johnny leans down towards him, close to his ear. “How’s it going?”
Ten fights the overwhelming urge to roll his eyes at Johnny’s opening line, although he can’t help but be charmed, Johnny’s natural charisma getting the better of him. Ah, the innocence of youth.
“Great,” he says. “I love parties.”
Johnny doesn’t pull away. Ten feels his neck heat up from Johnny’s breath.
“Me too,” Johnny says. Although Ten can’t see it, he can almost imagine in perfect clarity the grin on Johnny’s face. He closes his eyes and takes a drink. When he opens his eyes, Johnny has moved in closer to him, just close enough that their shoulders press up against each other. Someone passes by them on the way to the bathroom, and Johnny steps in closer to Ten to make room in the crowded hallway. Even through the leather of Johnny’s jacket and the denim of his own, he can feel the strength and heat radiating off Johnny’s muscles. Again, his weak, weak heart kicks against his ribcage, and a flush spreads across his face, having nothing to do with the close, hot air of the party. Fuck, why is Johnny so cute? Goddamn freshmen. His eyes flutter shut at the feeling of Johnny’s lips mere inches from his ear.
Johnny raises a hand and places it lightly on Ten’s forearm.
“Hey, I really – ” Johnny begins.
At the sound of glass shattering, Johnny’s head jerks up and Ten twists around, heart hammering out of his chest. Several people groan and someone shouts, “Sorry, my bad!” Before Ten can turn back around towards Johnny, he sees Jaehyun come storming out of the kitchen, armed with a dustpan, a paper bag, and a livid expression.
He sighs and turns around, flashing Johnny an apologetic smile. “I should go help him,” he says, and tries not to feel too pleased at the disappointed look on Johnny’s face. “Try not to have too much fun without me.”
Johnny pulls back, his face immediately sliding back into his characteristic smile. “I’ll do my best.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Ten mutters, slipping out from where Johnny has him nearly caged in against the wall, setting off into the crowd and trying to find Jaehyun before he ends up in the emergency room again.
By the time he has finished helping Jaehyun sweep up all the broken glass – which turns out to have been an entire handle of vodka, which had thankfully missed the carpet – his head hurts from the music, and Johnny has disappeared. Not that Ten is looking for them, but most of the freshmen seem to have left the party, probably in search of another one. He wouldn’t blame them; as with most of their team parties, it had started out fun, then inevitably devolved into people sitting around in small groups on the floor and the couches, drunkenly talking shop (for example: debating past competitions, the merits of ice baths versus saunas, or the effects of various swim styles on the muscle proportions of the human body. Fascinating stuff).
It’s probably for the best that they left, anyway. They were bound to get into some kind of trouble.
The team comes shuffling into the gymnasium beginning around 5:15 a.m., with hoods pulled up around heads and gym bags dragging along the floor. Ten sets up the chairs and starting blocks while the swimmers head into the locker room to change, while Jaehyun, already in his Speedo with his chest and legs freshly shaven, keeps careful watch on the clock.
They do a headcount at 5:27 a.m., with Jaehyun stalking down the line to make sure all hair is tucked up into swimming caps. Ten lounges in his plastic chair, checking off the attendance list as each swimmer calls out his name when Jaehyun taps him on the head. The upperclassmen, already used to Jaehyun’s antics, don’t bat an eye, though the new members stand stiff as boards, flinching when Jaehyun touches their heads.
“Anyone missing?” Jaehyun calls towards Ten. Ten scans his clipboard. Hm.
“Just Suh,” he calls back. That’s odd. With the way Johnny had stayed after tryouts, he had assumed that Johnny would be one of the first to show up at practice. Jaehyun tuts and looks back at the group, scanning the ranks.
“Does anyone know where – ”
But before Jaehyun can finish his sentence, Johnny comes sprinting into the gym, unzipping his jacket and wrestling on his goggles and swim cap as he runs, the slapping of his bare feet against the tiled floor echoing around the room. Jaehyun stands with his arms crossed, looking somewhere between bemused and annoyed, as Johnny throws his backpack onto the stands and skids to a stop next to Doyoung, breathing heavily.
Unable to help himself, Ten raises his megaphone to his mouth. “No running in the pool area, Suh!” he barks. Johnny looks around, startled; then finding the source of the noise, grins at Ten. Ten lifts his eyes to the ceiling and hides his smile behind his megaphone.
Jaehyun glances at the clock - 5:30 on the dot. “You’re lucky you’re on time, newbie, but you’re cutting it real close. You’ll be staying after practice to clean up, got it? And tomorrow, I want to see you here at 5:00 am sharp. You’ll be helping Ten set up.”
“Sure thing, boss,” Johnny says. Next to him, Doyoung pinches the bridge of his nose in exasperation as a few of the upperclassmen laugh. Jaehyun scowls at them, which shuts them up real fast.
Jaehyun and a few other seniors help direct the practice, which begins with a warm-up, then a mock relay. Ten doesn’t have much to do after he finishes updating the roster for the day, so he pulls out his textbook and tries to focus on studying. The raucous shouting and splashing of the pool during practice would probably be too loud for most people to focus, but Ten has grown accustomed to the noise, and finds the silence of the library and his apartment to be deafening in comparison.
While he is halfway through a paragraph about property rights, something drips onto his page. He looks up, only to make direct eye contact with a belly button. He looks higher (it takes all of his willpower, and then some, not to look lower), and finds Johnny standing in front of him, goggles pushed up around his head, water running down his torso and pooling on the floor by Ten’s feet.
“Can I help you?” Ten says, pointedly pulling his textbook away from the drip. Johnny doesn’t seem to notice.
“You can, as a matter of fact,” Johnny says. “Jaehyun wants to know what my butterfly time was. I think he wants to put me in the starting lineup for the relay. Nice, huh?”
“Totally,” Ten deadpans, stashing his textbook in his bag and pulling up the spreadsheet on his laptop. As he clicks through the sheets to try to find the data from tryouts, Johnny keeps talking.
“So, I guess I’ll be helping you clean again today and tomorrow. I can’t believe you have to get here at five every morning, that’s crazy. Want me to bring you anything? Coffee? A croissant?”
“You know it’s supposed to be a punishment, right?” he says, hoping Johnny doesn’t notice the color in his cheeks.
The corner of Johnny’s mouth twitches up into a smirk. “I don’t mind a little punishment. And besides, I like the idea of being your errand boy.”
Ten doesn’t trust himself to meet Johnny’s eyes after that comment.
He is absolutely screwed. Goddamn motherfucking freshmen.
As far as errand boys go, Johnny is not too bad.
After practice for the day, Johnny happily picks up every heavy thing Ten tells him to move, without so much as a peep of a complaint. He works hard and fast, and they finish in under ten minutes. Ten lets him go early.
The following morning, Johnny is waiting outside the locked doors of the gym when Ten arrives a few minutes before five, one iced coffee in each of his large hands. He doesn’t look tired at all, and talks Ten’s ear off the entire time (about what, Ten doesn’t really pay too much attention to – his classes, his post-workout meals, anything that seems to pop into his head – but he comes to find that he doesn’t altogether mind the sound of Johnny’s voice).
Although he doesn’t have to, Johnny continues to sidle up next to Ten after practice, offering up his services regardless of who comes last to practice that day. And Ten, finding himself grateful for the help and increasingly susceptible to Johnny’s charms, continues to agree.
They finish up their Saturday evening practice later than they had intended, as Jaehyun and Taeyong (his helper for the day, and in the running to be the next co-captain) don’t let the team leave until they perfect their flip turns. By the time Jaehyun and Taeyong are satisfied, it is well past ten at night. The swimmers file out of the gym, grumbling and fully exhausted.
Ten didn’t realize he had been dozing off, but he blinks awake to find Jaehyun shaking him by the shoulder. “We’re done, finally,” Jaehyun says with a world-weary sigh. “They still need a lot of work, but I don’t think I can legally make them stay any longer.”
Ten yawns and sits up. “No, you can’t,” he agrees, then stands and stretches out his back with a wince.
Jaehyun jerks his thumb towards the far end of the room. “By the way, your puppy is still here.” Ten follows his finger to find Johnny crouched down by the edge of the pool, still in his Speedo, pulling the lane lines out of the water.
“I’ll deal with him,” Ten says, ignoring the knowing look Jaehyun gives him. “You go on ahead. You’re going to Seulgi’s party later, right?”
“Yeah, I have to,” Jaehyun responds. “She’d kill me if I missed it, she’s always going on about how no one ever comes to the women’s team parties unless the men’s team shows up, too.”
Jaehyun glances again at Johnny, then back at Ten. “Text me when you get there, okay? And I think the jackets were delivered to the front desk a few hours ago, if you don’t mind unpacking them for tomorrow.”
“No problem,” Ten says, ushering Jaehyun out of the gym. “I’ll text you later.”
After Jaehyun leaves, Ten leans against the wall, watching as Johnny finishes wrapping the lane lines back onto the spool.
Once Johnny finishes, he stands and joins Ten against the wall. Ten keeps his eyes trained carefully on Johnny’s face, decidedly not looking at his powerful chest or mountainous abs, or (god forbid) the way he fills out his Speedo.
“What else do you want me to do?” Johnny asks.
Ten often wonders, during these times after practice when it is just the two of them, if Johnny is aware of the effect he has on Ten. He also wonders, though a bit more cautiously, if he has any kind of effect on Johnny.
Ten nods towards the door. “Our team jackets were just delivered. I’m supposed to bring in the boxes and have everything unpacked by tomorrow. But I’m thinking I’ll just do it in morning, it’s too late now, and I have a party I’m supposed to go to – ”
“I’ll do it,” Johnny cuts in.
“Johnny, it’s fine, you don’t have to – ”
“I want to,” Johnny says, interrupting him again. “Really.” He smiles, and Ten’s stomach flips. Without giving Ten any more chance to protest, Johnny sets off towards the door. He steps out into the hallway, then peeks his head back in just as Ten is about to walk back to his office. “By the way, I like it when you call me Johnny.”
He dodges the pencil Ten throws at his head with a laugh, then disappears into the hallway.
Ten packs up his laptop, shoulders his backpack, and locks up the office and equipment closet. He finds Johnny sitting in the hall, pulling the jackets out of the boxes and removing the plastic wrap from each one. Johnny looks up as he approaches.
“Have a good night, Ten,” he says. Ten lets his gaze linger on Johnny, as a feeling uncomfortably close to pity grows in his chest.
Before he can stop himself, he opens his mouth. “Hey, do you want to come to Seulgi’s party? I can introduce you to some of the freshmen on the girls’ team, if you want.”
Johnny cocks his head to the side. “Oh – yeah, maybe. Sure. Let me finish up here first, though.”
“Okay,” Ten says, staring the movement of Johnny’s hands as he folds a jacket. “I’ll save you a drink.”
Johnny smiles, then returns to his folding. Shaking his head, Ten sets off down the hallway, casting a glance back at Johnny as he goes.
Ten drops his bag off at his apartment, quickly changes out of his tracksuit, and heads off to Seulgi’s place. Once at the party, he finds Jaehyun on the balcony, deep in a conversation with Taeyong and Seulgi about the annual economic impact of the Olympic swim trials. Ten tries his best to pay attention, but he can’t help but stare at the door every few minutes, watching for the familiar head of messy brown hair. After about thirty minutes of this, Johnny still hasn’t shown up. At first, Ten tries not to think too hard about it. He probably never wanted to come to the party in the first place, and was likely just at his dorm, or somewhere else with his friends. However, Ten can’t help his mind from lingering on the image of Johnny still at the pool, shivering in his bathing suit in the dark gymnasium as he dutifully stacks the jackets in alphabetical order.
Before he can convince himself that he’s being unreasonable (but how unreasonable is it, really? He is the manager, after all, and he should know better than to leave anyone there alone), Ten excuses himself from the conversation, then speed-walks down the dark street in the direction of the college gymnasium.
The main entrance is locked – as it should be – while the side entrance, which leads directly to the pool, is still unlocked. He can’t remember if he had told Johnny that the main entrance would be locked, and the panic starts to grow – what if Johnny thought he was trapped? What if he had called the campus police?
“Shit,” he mutters to himself as he hurries through the door and down the hallway towards the pool. He doesn’t see Johnny in the hallway where he had left him with the jackets. All the lights seem to be off, though, and the panic starts to subside a bit. Johnny must have just left and gone home, not in the mood for a party. Just to be safe, however, Ten decides to check the pool.
What he sees when he opens to door makes his breath catch in his throat.
The atrium is dark and empty. The ceiling lights are all off, though the LED lights in the pool are still on, illuminating the water in an otherworldly, incandescent blue glow. The sound of splashing water echoes off the tiled walls, amplified by the silence.
Ten, holding his breath, walks to the edge of the pool. He slips off his shoes and hangs his legs over the side, watching rapturously as Johnny swims the length of the pool. His body slips in and out of the dark water, his hands knifing through the water as he moves. Ten has always appreciated the power of Johnny’s swimming; they all had. But he is not sure he has ever appreciated the beauty of it, the artistry of his form. Johnny is not technically perfect: his turns still leave much to be desired, and he seems to favor his right leg. And yet – there is something undeniably beautiful, pure, even animalistic about the way he moves through the water, something that can’t be taught. It seems to come from somewhere deep inside him, deeper even than his muscles or joints. It is raw and breathtaking, like an uncut gem. He seems so serious when he swims, so unlike his typical goofy cockiness out of the water.
Entirely lost in his own thoughts, he doesn’t notice that Johnny has stopped swimming until he blinks and realizes that Johnny is staring at him from across the pool, his goggles up around his head. Ten flushes, grateful for the darkness of the room.
As Johnny swims over to him, Ten feels the pace of his heart quicken. The rhythmic sound of the water lapping against the edge of the pool echoes around the empty gymnasium.
In almost no time at all, Johnny makes it over to him, pulling off his swim cap and carding a hand through his wet, messy hair. Ten expects Johnny to say something, some self-satisfied comment or smug joke, but Johnny remains silent, for once. Instead, he inches closer to Ten, treading water in front of him.
Feeling like the air is stuck in his lungs, Ten flips up his foot and splashes water onto Johnny’s face, just to break the tension. A small smile grows across Johnny’s face. He moves in closer, then suddenly reaches out and grabs Ten by the ankle.
“Hey!” Ten protests, trying to pull his foot away. But Johnny’s grip on him is tight, and Ten doesn’t really want him to let go.
Finally, Johnny does speak, still using Ten’s ankle to keep himself afloat. “What are you doing here? Was the party no fun without me?”
There it is. “No,” Ten retorts. Johnny grabs his other ankle. “I just shouldn’t have left you here all by yourself.”
“Aw, you were worried about me?” Johnny teases. He slides his hands higher up Ten’s calves.
“Oh, please,” Ten says, though his voice catches in his throat when Johnny tightens his grip. “I shouldn’t have left you here because I could get in trouble if anyone found out you were here alone after hours. I’m personally liable for any damages that happen, you know.”
“Oh, are you?” Johnny says.
“Yes,” Ten says. He doesn’t think he can take it any longer – take the way Johnny is looking at him, his eyes wide and his lips dark and shiny from the cold pool water.
Suddenly, just as it becomes almost too much to bear, Johnny releases his grip on Ten’s calves. But before Ten has time to be fully disappointed by the absence, Johnny places his hands flat on the tiled edge of the pool and hoists himself easily out of the water, settling in beside him. Ten feels the sleeve of his shirt start to dampen from where Johnny is pressed up against his side.
Ten watches the ripples made by their feet in the water, his gaze roving up Johnny’s long, muscular leg. Then, his eye catches on something he had somehow never noticed before. It must be the darkness of the room, the breathlessness of the moment, that makes him ask – “what happened?”
Johnny follows Ten’s gaze towards his knee. “The scar?” Ten nods as Johnny traces a finger along the jagged line of pale skin that runs from his inner thigh and ends just under his kneecap. “You know I used to play basketball?”
Ten turns and looks at him, surprised. “I didn’t know that.”
Johnny nods, continuing to run his finger along the scar. “Yeah, for years, since I was probably five or six. It’s all I ever wanted to do, for a while. I was on track to play college ball, too, and there were coaches that had been head-hunting me since I was in middle school.” Ten follows the movement of Johnny’s lips as he speaks. “During one game in my sophomore year of high school – I think it was in the quarterfinals, actually – I accidentally knocked some kid on the other team to the ground. Before the ref could do anything about it, the kid and two of his teammates tripped me and shoved me into the bench. Sliced open my leg, and busted up my kneecap pretty bad.”
All Ten can do is stare at him. “Yeah, it was pretty rough at first. I had to sit out the rest of the season, and the coaches lost interest in me pretty quick. After that, my physical therapist recommended I start swimming, try to make sure I kept up my strength without putting any more strain on my leg. I had never really swum before then – I mean, I knew how to swim, but nothing like what we do here – but once I started, I fell in love. Swimming was the only time I didn’t feel the pain in my leg.” He pauses and flashes Ten a smile that makes Ten’s head spin. “I started too late to get recruited anywhere good – no offense – but anyway, I have no interest in going pro. I just like swimming, that’s all.”
Ah. So that’s how Johnny – the powerhouse that he is – had ended up on their tiny, bottom-of-the-division swim team at their tiny college in the middle of nowhere. There is no bitterness in his voice, only that same, earnest something that seems to color everything he does.
“So?” Johnny says, and his tone is back to playful. “How’s that for a sob story?”
Ten leans back, affronted. “Sob story? You made that all up?”
Johnny laughs. “Nah, that’s all real. It’s pretty sad, though, right?”
Ten tuts. “You’re the worst, Suh.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Johnny responds. “Not so bad for an errand boy, though, huh?” Still smiling, he hooks his ankle around Ten’s under the water. Ten is sure that Johnny must be able to hear the wild beating of his heart; there is no way he can’t hear it. Johnny is just so – so annoying, so maddening, so cute, but not just cute – handsome, and attractive in a way that makes Ten’s chest hurt and his groin hitch every time he looks at Johnny. He is truly, honestly, undeniably screwed.
He is even more screwed when Johnny grips his thigh and leans in towards him. Ten tilts his head instinctually to the side, his eyelashes fluttering closed as Johnny noses along his neck. The smell of him fills Ten’s nose: chlorine, of course, and he finally figures out what the other smell is – vanilla.
Johnny’s hand on his thigh tightens. “Fuck, can – can I kiss you?” he mumbles into Ten’s skin. Ten sighs shakily and manages to nod. Johnny traces his mouth up the side of Ten’s neck towards his jaw. His lips are cold but his tongue is warm, soft, sweet when he catches Ten’s mouth with his own. If Ten still had any misgivings about Johnny’s innocence, they melt away the instant Johnny pushes his tongue into Ten’s mouth. Like everything he does, it isn’t perfect, but it is raw, and passionate; beautiful, even, and so good that it makes Ten gasp into Johnny’s mouth.
At some point, Ten remembers that he has hands of his own. He presses his palm flat against Johnny’s chest, his fingertips tingling as he finally feels Johnny’s muscles for himself, feels the strength and power just under his smooth skin. He moves his hand higher, high enough that he can feel Johnny’s heart hammering against his ribs.
He sheds his jacket, then – overwhelmed by his attraction to Johnny and the tug below his belt – grabs Johnny by the shoulders and clambers onto him. It is clumsy, but somehow they end up with Ten in Johnny’s lap, Johnny reaching up under Ten’s shirt to run his large hands along Ten’s back. Johnny is still soaking wet from the pool, but Ten really doesn’t care, not when he feels the hard press of Johnny’s cock against the inside of his thigh, still trapped tight in the spandex of his swimming briefs, poor thing.
He is dizzy with want as he grinds down on Johnny’s lap, shivering in satisfaction as Johnny moans into his mouth. With Johnny’s help, he pulls off his now-wet shirt and tosses it to the side, finally feeling the press of Johnny’s skin against his own. It is crazy, he thinks, how he could have gone this long without feeling Johnny like this, all strong and needy under him, eager to please. God, Johnny is so eager to please that he is practically vibrating with it, letting Ten feel him up and following willingly along with Ten’s movements.
Ten pulls off just a moment to catch his breath. Underneath him, Johnny’s chest is heaving, his skin flushed and damp as he gazes up at Ten. Ten runs his nails over Johnny’s chest, down his long stomach and back up to his pecs. Johnny closes his eyes and whines, then whines again when Ten scrapes lightly over his nipples. He wrenches open his eyes and looks back up at Ten, pleading, needy.
“Ten, please – ” he pants out. “Can you just – ”
He cuts himself off when Ten cocks his head to the side and pets over his stomach. “Hm?” Ten says, silently enjoying how pliant Johnny is under his touch. He slides his hand lower, then even lower still.
“Oh, my god, um, yeah – just, can you just … ” Johnny’s voice falters when Ten pulls his Speedo down his hips and takes him into his hand. Ten leans down, capturing Johnny’s shaking moans with his mouth. Johnny bucks up into Ten’s hold, and Ten takes pity on him, gripping him tighter.
Ten, still in his jeans, grinds against Johnny’s thigh as he moves his hand, pulling desperate pleasure from Johnny with every movement. In his state, he finds that it feels good, so good; primal, and thrilling, feeling Johnny’s beautiful, athletic body under his own while he is still half-clothed, the echoing sounds of their muffled moans filling his ears.
After a while – Ten isn’t sure how long, as all the blood has gone away from his brain, making his thoughts a jumbled, horny mess – Johnny’s abs tense then he cries out, back arching up against Ten as he comes hard. With a pleased groan, Johnny collapses back against the tiled floor, Ten falling down with him. Johnny folds his arms behind his head and groans again, and Ten smothers a laugh into his chest.
“What?” Johnny says, his voice strained and husky. He struggles to sit up.
Ten shakes his head and pushes Johnny back to the floor, though he can’t stop laughing. Johnny looks down at him, confused, but shrugs and lays back, seemingly content to let Ten continue to use him like a mattress.
After a moment, Johnny suddenly sits up and looks down at him in alarm. “What about you?” he asks, looking worriedly down in the direction of Ten’s pelvis. “I didn’t – I mean, you didn’t – did you?”
“Don’t worry about me, Suh,” Ten says, still giggling. Johnny frowns.
“I am worried about you, though,” he says. Ten looks back at Johnny. So eager to please. And way too charming for his own good.
And so, Ten lays back against the tile, shirking off his pants as he goes. “Alright, then; do your thing, errand boy.”
His giggles quickly turn into surprised gasps, which soon turn into shaking moans that reverberate off the tiled walls of the gymnasium.
Once all the swimmers are in the water, Jaehyun stalks up to Ten. He stands above him, his hands placed firmly on his hips.
Ten glances up from his laptop. “Good morning, dear. Sleep well?”
Jaehyun scowls down at him, though Ten has known him long enough to know that there is no real malice in his expression. “Have you had a look at Suh today?”
“How do you mean?” Ten says, keeping his eyes glued to the laptop.
“He’s got some interesting – ah, markings, on his skin. Says it’s bug bites.”
Ten nods thoughtfully. “Oh, no kidding? That sucks.”
Ten sneaks a glance up at Jaehyun – who just raises his eyebrows knowingly - then over at the pool. Johnny has just finished his first 50, and is idling by the starting block, chatting with Doyoung. Even from this distance, the dark purple bruises are visible across his neck and chest.
From across the room, Johnny catches his eye. Ten raises his megaphone to his mouth. “No slacking, Suh! Get back in the water, those laps aren’t going to swim themselves!”
Johnny grins and pulls his goggles back over his eyes. He dives into the water, his body making barely a splash as he disappears under the waterline. He truly is a remarkable swimmer. Powerful, raw, and completely in love with the water.
Ten thinks he might lose his mind. Goddamn freshmen.