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There's a fine line during taper – too much rest or not enough means you swim like shit when it counts. On top of keeping the yardage and intensity of workouts in balance, there's food. And sleep. And that itch under your skin that just drives you up the wall. Taper time is bittersweet; practices get out earlier, but you feel awful in the water. You need longer to warm up and you don't feel right in your body. As the yardage decreases and the intensity increases, it gets harder and harder to just sit still. It doesn't go away until that first swim at competition, where everything falls into place. It gets even better as the meet wears on and the training holds up its end of the bargain.

The most important thing to do during taper is nothing. Nothing more strenuous than video games outside of the pool. As the twittersphere already knows, Ricky Berens won’t even stand up while he’s cooking during taper. But then again, Ricky has always been known to go to the extremes of laziness whenever it is sanctioned.

But Nathan Adrian is in France, restless, and seriously jonesing for a teammate. There is one person he knows he can talk to about this and luckily for Nathan, he’s just down the hall.

The door is cracked so Nathan pushes it open only to pull it closed almost immediately. Seared on his retinas is the image of Ryan sitting on Michael’s lap on one of the tiny European beds doing something … untoward. Without thinking he shouts through the door, “You’re ruining your taper!” and then slaps his hand over his mouth. He’s going to always be considered the goody-two-shoes of the National Team if he keeps this up.

The noise inside the room sounds like a pissed off Michael Phelps and a highly amused Ryan Lochte, so Nathan is only half-surprised when the handle on the door turns in his grip and is pulled open.

He is 100% surprised to see Michael in the doorway, though he is snarling. “What the fuck.”

“The door was open –”

“What do you want?”

“I wanted to talk to Ryan about something.” Nathan’s voice is shaky despite having a good two inches on the man in front of him. Michael kind of sucks the confidence right out of you.

Michael rolls his eyes and abandons the doorway. Ryan waves him in from his bed as Michael maneuvers himself into the bathroom with a sheet trailing behind him. Nathan flushes. The sheet gets stuck in the door when Michael closes it.

“It’s worked into our taper.”

Nathan looks over to Ryan. “What?”

“What you saw. It’s worked into our taper.”

“You can do that?”

“You can’t. We can. But today’s the last day. Then we’re celibate.” He slaps his knees through the sheet. “So what’s up?”

Nathan doesn’t think his face is ever going to cool off. “Uh, I’ve got a problem.”

“You mean besides rooming with the Viking?”

Nathan snaps his fingers and points at Ryan. “Oh my god, could you explain to me why they did that?”

Ryan laughs and shakes his head. “No. But it’s fucking hilarious. I need to take a picture of you two in bed.”

“No, you don’t want to see that.”

Ryan waggles his eyebrows. “Maybe I do.”

Michael bangs his way out of the tiny bathroom, sheets still wrapped around his waist. He glares at Nathan as he stalks in front of him back to his bed. “Are you two done yet?”

“Uh, actually no.”

“Get on with it, please.”

Nathan flushes again and Ryan motions for him to continue.

“It’s about Tony. I can’t stop thinking about him.”

Michael groans out loud and flops down on his side to face away from the other two.

Nathan cocks his head in curiosity and Ryan rolls his eyes. “Now Michael, you’ve got to let that go.”

“He was a jackass to me in Sydney!”

“He’s really different now,” Nathan says eagerly and Michael levels him with a look over his shoulder.

“You were eleven.” Michael's tone is withering.

Ryan pats Michael’s shoulder in sympathy. To Nathan he says, “Is this like last time?”

Not having considered that possibility, Nathan furrows his brow in concentration. His primary taper problem for his entire life since puberty has been fixation. Most of the rest of the time he’s a normal dude with a normal sex drive but the instant sex is forbidden he fixates on someone. In Beijing, it was Ricky. “Huh. I hadn’t thought of that.”

Ryan laughs incredulously. “Well Nate, shouldn’t that have been your first thought?”

He leans back against the wall and nods. “Probably.”

“Well what are you going to do about this?”

Michael groans again and Ryan again pats his bare shoulder.

“I’m not sure.”

“How’d you get over Ricky?”

Nathan flushes again and he’s starting to feel like he’s rotating in a quick cycle of embarrassment and enlightenment, some kind of torturous corkscrew drill. “Uh, after our races, we uh …” he motions with his hands.

“And then you were over it?”

Nathan shrugs. “He uh, well. I shouldn’t say.”

“Oh, please do,” Michael mocks and this time Ryan smacks his shoulder.

“Not so great?” Ryan asks sympathetically. “I understand. It happens.”

“No, it wasn’t that, he just … wasn’t into me, I guess. That kind of sucked.”

“Maybe it’s because he’s not into dudes,” Michael grouses. “Are we seriously having this conversation?”

You’re not, Mike. We are.” Ryan turns back to Nathan. “Well, looks like there’s only one thing for you to do.”

“And that is?”

Ryan shrugs. “Go talk to Tony.”

Nathan shakes his head vigorously. “Oh no, I can’t do that!”

“Well, that’s all I got for you. Now you gotta get out of here. And don’t barge in again!”

Nathan makes his way out, off-balance and a little confused. “It was open! If you don’t want just anyone barging in your should shut the door!”

“Hey, yeah, will you make sure it latches? We’ve been having problems with that.”

Five minutes after he pushed open the door, Nathan is back in the hallway, firmly latching the door behind him. “Go talk to Tony,” he mutters to himself. “What good is that going to do? We can’t do anything.” Nathan shoves his hands in the pockets of his team jacket and starts running through possible conversations. He turns the corner at the end of the hallway and runs smack into another solid body.

“Oh hey, Nate, head in the clouds again?”

And of course, it’s Anthony Ervin. And his hand is on his biceps.

“Oh, yeah, just thinking about … race strategy.”

Tony’s face mirrors Nathan’s subconscious. What the fuck, race strategy? “It’s the hundred free, man, don’t overthink it.”

Nathan nods, Tony’s hand squeezing his arm a little, but not moving away. “You’re right, of course. Thanks, that’s helpful.”

Tony smiles up at Nathan and it’s brilliant. “I’m sorry if this is a little forward, or if you’re not interested, but I think you should call me, maybe, after we’re both done swimming.” Tony winks, squeezes Nathan’s biceps one more time, and then moves around him, lets his hand trail down Nathan’s arm to his palm and then he’s around the corner and gone.

Nathan eyes the space Tony’s just vacated and he’s hit with a sudden wave of crippling want. Knowing he can act on it three weeks from now only makes it worse.

Fucking taper.

And fucking Carly Rae Jepsen, too.