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Beijing is very different from Athens.

For one thing, Erik is four years older, more experienced, and considerably more confident. He’s got the bored arrogance of a nineteen-year-old down perfectly, further augmented by the fact that he’s a nineteen-year-old who won a bronze medal four years ago at fifteen. He’s a favorite to win this year, on the verge of world-wide swimming stardom. Erik Lehnsherr is no longer a unknown quantity, a wild card; in Beijing, he is, for the first time, recognizable, and by the end of these two weeks, he’s determined to become a household name.

Beijing also differs from Athens for another—and, in retrospect, far more important—way: Beijing is where he meets Charles Xavier.

It is seven o’clock in the morning when Erik heads down from his flat, leaving his roommate Kurt snoring away in their room. Erik has his towel slung around his neck, his swim shorts on, and his cap stuffed in his jacket pocket. He jogs down three flights of stairs to the ground level, nods a greeting to another athlete who passes him, and pulls his iPod out of his pocket.

It’s because he’s fiddling with the music selection that he doesn’t notice the person at the foot of the stairs until it’s too late, and by then, he’s already smashed headlong into him. The other man is considerably smaller than Erik, and he goes sprawling immediately at the impact; Erik staggers, flails his arms for a moment, and manages to regain his balance by grabbing onto the handrail of the stairs.

“What the hell,” he spits, turning to look down. “What—”

The man at his feet is staring back up at him in equal bewilderment, his blue eyes wide with confusion, a couple of pamphlets scattered on the floor around him. Erik’s eyes flick down to the crest on the man’s tracksuit—America, he’s an American—and then back up to his face. The stranger isn’t a man at all, he realizes, he’s a kid. Maybe Erik’s age, looking even younger.

After another moment, he realizes that the American is just sitting on the ground, half-gaping up at him. It would probably be good manners now to help him up, so Erik does. “Are you okay?” he asks brusquely as he extends a hand. He can’t be faulted for his tone; he’s still a little disgruntled at the collision, at the delay. He’d been hoping to be in the pool by seven ten, and by the looks of it, he’ll have to dawdle for apologies and awkward questions.

The American’s fingers are warm and callused between his own. “Yeah, I’m fine. Thanks.”

The accent catches Erik by surprise. Despite himself, despite the fact that he should just take the answer and go because the pool is waiting for him, he has to ask: “Aren’t you…American?”

The boy laughs. It’s a nice laugh, very pleasant and disarming, and for some reason, it softens the edge of Erik’s irritation.

“Yes,” he says, “I am. Sort of. I’ve got dual citizenship. It’s quite complicated.”

With his accent and his words sharp and posh, he seems much more of a Brit than an American. Erik looks at the American flag on his chest again and raises a skeptical eyebrow. But he’s already late, too late for further conversation, so he bends down hurriedly to pick up the pamphlets and shoves them into the American’s arms before stepping to the side.

Before he can make it more than a couple of feet though, the kid says quickly, “Wait!”

Erik pauses, debates just moving on, and finally turns back. If this kid’s a swimmer, he figures, then that makes him competition. Better to size him up now, rather than later.

He turns on his heel. “What?”

The American holds out one of the pamphlets to him, the flaps unfolded. “I’m sorry, but I’m really very terrible at directions. Do you mind pointing me toward the dining hall?”

Erik glances down and finds that the pamphlet is, in fact, a map of the Olympic Village. The route from their building to the dining hall is already outlined in red, and it’s not as if the way wends through a gulley and over mountains; Erik thinks even a third-grader would be able to make his way there without a map and without asking for help.

But, if the American is really so lost, Erik has no qualms about pointing him away—in the wrong direction. No point in playing fair anyway; he’s not here to do anyone any favors.

“Here,” he says, pointing out the building entrance. “Take a left and keep going for a couple of minutes, then turn right. It should be right there.”

The American tilts his head curiously for a second, something strange flashing through his eyes that might be bafflement or amusement. Then he refolds the pamphlet and nods with a bright grin, the odd look in his eyes gone. “Right. Thank you. I’ll be on my way then.”

Erik watches him go, feeling only the least bit guilty. He’s got no time to be feeling at fault for such a little thing; it’s already seven fifteen, and he is late.

*

Everybody tells him that he’ll meet so many people in Beijing, especially in the Olympic Village. Thousands of athletes packed onto a hundred sixty-three acres, into forty-two buildings, into a space designed to accommodate seventeen thousand residents—there’s no possible way he won’t meet someone new. He can train all day and travel with the squad around China, but at the end of the day, he’ll be back at Olympic Village among hundreds of strangers, and he’ll meet dozens of new people. That’s what everybody tells him, at least.

They also tell him—and this is straight from the mouth of one of his older teammates—that the Olympic Village is a hotbed for one-night stands and that the clinic has all the condoms he will ever need, so find a hot girl, take her to bed, and have the time of his life. That same teammate informs him solemnly that these are the Olympic Games, and as such, there is absolutely no shortage of hot, willing girls ready for a night of fun.

Charles, who is a notorious flirt and fun-loving partier, is fairly eager to get that started, football and Olympic medals aside.

All the athletes trickle into the Village in the week before the Opening Ceremony. Charles and the American squad come in on a United flight and settle in nicely enough after lugging their bags up two flights of stairs (the elevators are packed with other arriving athletes, and their coach Pete Nowak says impatiently, “Oh, just take your luggage up, it’s not as if it’s that heavy.”).

By some stroke of luck, Charles ends up with no roommate, claiming the only single room in the suite. He tosses his bags into the corner of the room, picks up one of the maps from the dresser, and studies the route to the dining hall. It’s straightforward enough, though he still picks up a pen and traces the way in red; a habit from his university days, he supposes, the instinct to jot down notes and outline important details on whatever he reads. He makes sure he has his Olympic pass around his neck before heading out.

Brad Guzan has his door open and is sprawled on his bed. He sees Charles pass and calls out, “Going to breakfast?”

Charles backs up a step to bring him back to view and flashes him a grin. “Yeah. You coming?”

Brad shakes his head. “I’ll be down later. Still jetlagged.”

“Yeah, same.” Charles glances at the bed to the left of the room, which is empty. “Dax already gone?”

Brad nods. “My roomie’s an early-riser. Go figure.”

Charles gives him a two-fingered salute before leaving him there. He heads down the stairs and then stops at the bottom, pulling the map back out to make sure he’s on the right track.

Something slams into his back two seconds later. It’s really not that hard of an impact—Charles has had far worse on the pitch—but he’s not prepared for it, and that’s why he finds himself on the floor, dazed and disoriented.

When he looks up, his breath lodges somewhere in his throat because he’d been wholly prepared to meet some beautiful track-and-field runner from Slovakia or a dazzling diver from Greece, but he hadn’t prepared in the slightest for this.

This man is gorgeous and there are absolutely no buts about that. It’s not really the parts of his face so much as the compilation of those parts: his high nose, the strong arch of his brow, the sharpness of his jaw. He’s got broad shoulders that taper down to a narrow waist, a tall frame, and long, lean legs—Charles is willing to bet at least ten dollars that he’s a swimmer. He looks like a model. He looks like a movie star.

He looks, at present, disgruntled and vaguely annoyed.

Charles realizes belatedly that he’s being offered a hand up, and he takes it quickly. He notices the long, warm fingers and wonders what they would feel like against his body.

Oh goodness. Really. All that muttering about meeting someone has gone to his head, if he’s imagining sex with a man he’s just met. He’s not that bad a bed-hopper; he likes to start with a few drinks and some good conversation first. Right now, with this man, he’s had neither.

He notes the insignia on the man’s jacket: Germany. Wonderful. Charles’s German is dreadful.

Then he realizes that the German has asked him in English if he’s all right, and he forces himself to pull his scrambled thoughts back together.

Then follows an awkward exchange that Charles honestly doesn’t remember much of, mostly because he’s preoccupied with the furrow between the German’s brow, and the curve of his lips, and the smooth curve of his neck that Charles is kind of tempted to lick. He really hopes he’s not blushing because for one, his cheeks don’t look that great red, and for another, he’d rather not reveal exactly what sort of thoughts are running through his mind at the moment.

Some of the impatience in the German’s face has dissipated throughout their brief conversation, but Charles is staring at his face intently enough to notice when the annoyance returns abruptly. The man bends down, collects Charles’s maps, and steps around him.

And Charles somewhat desperately calls out, “Wait!” because he’s an idiot who’s really, really star-struck rather easily. He proceeds to ask the way to the dining hall, which makes him want to slap himself upside the head because now the German must think he’s missing half his brain if he can’t find the way to the two enormous white tents visible from the doorway.

Then something interesting happens: the German very helpfully points him the wrong way. Charles realizes after a second of watching his expression that this isn’t a mistake, it’s a calculated venture. It’s sabotage, plain and simple, and it almost makes him smile. This German is clearly very serious about winning, so serious that he’s willing to derail athletes he doesn’t even know. Interesting.

Charles thanks him cheerfully and moves off, waiting until the German is out of sight to head the correct way to the dining hall.

Everybody told him to expect to meet so many people at the Olympic Games. Nobody told him to expect Erik Lehnsherr.

*

Erik doesn’t anticipate seeing the American again, but there he is when Erik is on his run around the Village: he’s strolling down the path toward Erik with his hands thrust in his pockets, a football at his feet. When he spots Erik coming, his entire face lights up, and he brings the ball to a stop with a lazy flick of his foot.

“Hello again,” he says with a grin that can only be described as too enthusiastic. “This is a surprise.”

It is. Of all the athletes milling around, Erik has to run into the very one he’d steered wrong just that morning. Splendid.

On a lighter note, Erik assumes the football is there for a reason, which means that the American isn’t his direct competition at all. Erik had tricked him for no reason, and possibly made an enemy on top of that. Not good.

But the American is smiling with all the friendliness from before, so Erik hopes he thinks that the wrong directions had been unintentional. He pauses in his run, jogging in place instead in front of him.

“Hello,” he replies, panting only slightly. “I’m on my run. If you’ll excuse me…”

“Oh, that’s no problem,” the American says. He kicks the football up into his arms and says, “I’ll run with you.”

Erik frowns. He’d intended to get rid of the kid ASAP, but the American seems determined to follow him. So after a second, he shrugs and sets a punishing pace.

The American, to his credit, sticks to it, at least at first. It’s faster than Erik had been running before and a little faster than he’s used to, but his longer legs do him much better service than the American’s shorter ones. He can feel his heart thudding hard against his chest, and sweat trickles hot down his cheek, leaving a salty taste on his lips. Runs have always energized him, and this one is no different, even with someone tagging along.

Erik keeps up the near-sprint for ten, almost fifteen minutes, before he slows back to his original pace. By now, the American has fallen behind, his face red with exertion, his breath coming in heaves. Erik could very easily leave him behind here if he just keeps jogging, or even fast-walks, but for some reason, he slows, then stops.

The American has got sweat dripping off of him and he looks very relieved to stop. He leans over and braces his hands on his knees for a couple of minutes, panting heavily. Erik watches him and waits for his own heartbeat to steady, then slow.

“You, sir,” the American says finally, still gasping a bit, “are an ass.”

Erik raises an eyebrow. “You’re the one who wanted to run with me.”

“You’re an ass,” the American repeats, though there’s no real malice in his words. In fact, as he straightens, there’s even a small smile on his lips. “Setting a pace like that. You were trying to lose me.”

Erik’s eyebrow arches higher. “And if I was?” he asks unrepentantly.

The bright blue eyes reflect no ill-will. They’re actually almost amused. “Then I’ll say you were mostly successful,” the American answers, dropping to the ground. As he extends his legs out in front of him, he adds, “I’m more of an endurance runner than a sprinter. But never mind, you don’t want to hear that. Go on then.”

He waves his hand dismissively and reties one of his shoes. Erik watches him for a second, watches those deft fingers twisting the laces into a double knot. For some reason, instead of continuing his run, he sits down in the grass beside the American and leans down to stretch his right leg.

The American gives him a pleased grin. “I’m Charles Xavier, goalkeeper for the USA football team. You?”

“Erik Lehnsherr,” he offers. “I’m a swimmer for Germany.”

“Swimmer,” Xavier echoes. “I owe myself ten bucks.”

“What?”

“Nothing. It’s nice to meet you. Are these your first Olympics?”

Erik scoffs. As if. “Second.”

Xavier glances sharply at him in surprise. “Really? You don’t look that old. You look just a little older than I am, actually.”

“I’m nineteen,” Erik tells him. “Swimmers start earlier than footballers, I guess.”

The American nods. “Right. I’m eighteen. First for me.”

Eighteen. He looks sixteen, maybe, mostly because of the boyish nature of his face combined with the barely-checked, childlike enthusiasm. He looks too young and too friendly for the Olympics, which is composed of athletes who have learned to be selfish, who have come on the waves of their ambitions and who would likely do anything—anything—for the gold. Xavier looks like he wouldn’t have the faintest idea what competing seriously would look like, especially if competing seriously meant employing some questionable tactics, as it sometimes does.

Erik only knows all too well about pushing limits and underhanded tactics. There’s something to be said for having Sebastian Shaw as your coach. Erik may hate the man’s guts, but Shaw has one thing right: winning is everything.

After a moment, he notices that Xavier is looking straight back at him. He flushes when Erik meets his eyes, but Erik refuses to be embarrassed; even this is a competition to him, and he has never backed away from a challenge before in his life. So they sit there for a minute, just staring at each other. The American is actually quite attractive, Erik realizes as he studies him. His eyes are bluer than any Erik has ever seen before, and his lips are almost too red. He’s got an air of innocence about him that’s strangely alluring. Usually, Erik can’t stand naivety, but Xavier wears it in a way that fits.

Erik has lived in an Olympic Village before, in Athens; he’s heard of and seen the loose, uncomplicated way of sex in the Games. Most of the sex is due to the raging hormones and pent-up emotions of athletes who spend too much time in isolation, too much time training to have much of a social life. The fact that most, if not all, of the Villagers have bodies to die for helps, and in this, Charles Xavier is no different: he has a fit, muscular frame, shorter than Erik and not quite as lean, but strong all the same.

And, Erik observes as Xavier stands, he has a fantastic ass.

Xavier’s smile takes on an edge of amusement, as if he’s reading Erik’s mind. “Come on,” he says, holding out his hand. “Let’s go.”

Erik doesn’t move. “Go where?”

“Go get my football.” He points down the path where, far behind, Erik can just make out the ball. “I dropped it while you were busy trying to leave me in the dust.”

“I did leave you in the dust,” Erik mutters as he takes Xavier’s hand and pulls himself to his feet.

Xavier laughs. “Whatever.”

They retrieve the football in minutes, and Erik bounces from foot to foot, ready to restart his run. Before he can mutter a quick goodbye and go, Xavier spins his ball from hand to hand and asks, “Do you know the way to the nearest recreation center?”

Erik stops. Asking directions again? Did Xavier not figure out last time what had happened?

He glances at Xavier quizzically and finds the American wearing a sly grin.

“You know,” he realizes aloud.

“You’re very serious about your competition, aren’t you?” Xavier asks, again not sounding disgruntled in the slightest about being misdirected. “Though I don’t see how much use sending me away from the dining halls did. Were you hoping I’d get lost, forget my way back, and miss a race?”

Erik frowns. He refuses to feel guilty. “Any little bit helps, as my coach says.”

Xavier laughs. “Yes, well. I’m not your competition anyway.” He spins the ball again, then drops it to his foot and flicks it around. “So point me the way?”

Erik can’t tell whether the American genuinely has a bad sense of direction or if he’s merely testing Erik now. In any case, he doesn’t have any reason to mislead Xavier now, and besides, he kind of likes the guy.

“Come on,” he says, limbering up again. “I’ll lead you there.”

“Great.”

“You just have to keep up.”

“Wait, I—”

Erik takes off.

*
Erik ends up staying at the recreation center, and they play foosball. Erik maintains that a game involving blocky wooden figures and a ball rolling up and down the field should not be as entertaining as it is, but Charles thinks that after two hours, he might have changed Erik’s mind.

“You’re cheating,” the swimmer accuses as Charles scores his latest goal.

“How?” Charles asks, mystified.

“You play football,” Erik explains. “You’ve got an advantage.”

Charles laughs. “I’m spinning sticks, not playing on a real pitch. I think you’re just as qualified as I am. More so, in fact, since your arms are longer; you can reach everything.”

He ends the sentence by slamming in another goal, and Erik growls under his breath in frustration, his brow furrowing. Charles gets the feeling that Erik is not used to losing at anything, even friendly games.

Well. He won’t prolong Erik’s suffering, since the man is clearly devising ways to strike back, his eyes racing back and forth along the board so quickly Charles is half-afraid he’ll hurt himself.

“Let’s stop,” Charles says graciously, and Erik looks like he might protest for a moment before he nods and steps away.

“Drink?”

Erik nods again, and they make their way over to the bar, which is stocked with Gatorade and juice and anything but alcohol. Of course, anyone can get their hands on prohibited substances if they try hard enough, but Charles doesn’t know why anyone would a) take the risk of getting caught by coaches or trainers, or b) impair themselves during the greatest competition of their lives.

They each grab a Coca-Cola and pop it open. Erik drinks his in a single go. Charles can’t help but watch the way Erik’s throat bobs as he swallows, his Adam’s apple throbbing, just begging Charles to press his lips there and lick.

He stifles that thought by drinking his own soda and staring at the wall past Erik’s shoulder.

They wend their way past the other athletes hanging around the recreation area, playing board games and watching TV and dueling on the various game systems the Beijing organizers have generously set up. Charles stops by a chest with dozens of games in it and pulls out one of the boards with a grin.

Erik cocks an eyebrow. “Chess, Xavier? Really?” But there’s a gleam of interest there in his eyes.

“It’s Charles,” he replies easily. “And don’t pretend you don’t want to.”

Erik grins. Charles marvels in it, in how it softens the angles of the German’s face, makes him almost approachable. “All right then.”

“I’ll play white.”

“Good. I only play black.”

They find a table and set up the board. Charles moves his pawn forward, and after a moment, Erik shifts his own. They play in silence, which is how Charles likes it. It only takes Charles four moves to realize that Erik is a skillful player, perhaps even better than he is. He hasn’t found many opponents to match him before, what with Raven being one of his only friends and also an impatient, horrid strategist. Finding Erik, then, is a pleasure.

They finish that game and start another. Charles is just starting to think he’s found a real gem here among the thousands of other potential friends when his phone rings.

“Damn,” he mutters when he reads the text. He’s rarely been more loath to pull on his gloves and get to work.

“What?” Erik asks, studying his expression.

“Have to go,” Charles tells him apologetically. “Practice in ten. I’m sorry.”

Erik shrugs. “Hey, I’m an athlete too; I get it. Go.”

He doesn’t sound disappointed at all. Not nearly as disappointed as Charles feels at least, which is something of a let-down. He’d been hoping that Erik had felt that same underlying connection, the same tentative interest. Not that he’s been looking forward to a hook-up, but…well, his more experienced teammates have done so much to build up his expectations of meeting someone, and besides, Erik has the look of a confident, fantastic lover. Charles wouldn’t be averse to the idea at all.

Except Erik just says, “Go,” in that cool voice of his, and Charles feels a little tendril of disappointment sink into his gut. But that’s perfectly all right. The Olympics haven’t even started yet, so there’s plenty of time to find dozens of other people, and, more importantly, the Olympics aren’t a dating service; he’s here to win medals, not hearts.

“All right then,” he says, slipping his phone back into his pocket and rolling his football out from under the table. “It was nice to meet you then.”

Erik nods and even manages a halfway decent grin that doesn’t look like he’s thinking about tearing little innocent animals apart. “Yeah, you too. Good luck.”

They shake hands, and if Charles holds on a little longer than necessary…well. It’s not as if he’s going to see Erik again.

*
Erik has never been a huge football fan, but his father was. As a consequence, Erik knows enough of the game to understand the rules and recognize some of the more famous players, but beyond that, he’s not an aficionado by any stretch of the word. He’s never heard of Charles Xavier before this, for one thing, which makes sense because Charles is only eighteen and as such has not seen much playing time at all.

That gets to be slightly disappointing when Erik tunes in to the USA-Japan game on Thursday to find that, by right of seniority, Brad Guzan is starting as the USA’s goalkeeper, leaving Charles on the bench. Still, Erik watches the whole match, just in case Charles gets sent in.

He doesn’t. But Erik doesn’t think those couple of hours are a waste, mostly due to the bare glimpses he catches of Charles when the camera pans over to the sidelines. The American is too energized to sit long; whenever the television cuts over to the bench, Charles is always standing or pacing or stretching or covering his eyes. Erik finds it endearing. Slightly.

The victory goes to the USA by virtue of a forty-seventh minute goal by Stuart Holden. Erik cheers softly in the privacy of his room, glad Kurt isn’t here because he’d rather not take the time to explain his sudden affinity for football and his even more sudden conversion to Team USA. Germany doesn’t even have a football team qualified this year anyway, so it’s not as if he has conflicting loyalties.

The win makes something eager coil deep in Erik’s gut. With this, the USA picks up three points in the group stage, putting them one step closer to the quarterfinals, which means Charles will be staying longer. Might be staying longer. The thought shouldn’t thrill him as much as it does, but there it is: he’s excited. Nothing irrational about it; Charles is interesting and good company. It’s natural to want good company.

He notes that the USA football squad is now on their way back to Beijing from Tianjin where they played their first match. They’ll be featured in the Opening Ceremony, no doubt. It’ll be a shame that Erik won’t see Charles there—Shaw has forbidden his swimmers to march in the Opening Ceremony, since they have to be well-rested for their races the next day—but maybe he’ll still catch Charles going to and from Olympic Village. They are living in the same building after all, if their first encounter had been any indication.

He is in the process of searching up Charles Xavier on the internet when his phone buzzes.

It’s Shaw. His text reads: Meet by the pool in 5.

Probably one of those surprise, last-minute practice sessions again. Erik sighs and closes his laptop reluctantly. Charles Xavier will have to wait.

*
The Opening Ceremony is absolutely killer.

Charles is already weary from the game the day before. It doesn’t matter that he sat on (or stood tensely by) the bench; the match had still been exciting and nerve-wracking and tiring all the same. Then came the obligatory after-match celebration, then the six hours of sleep he’d snuck in as Brad, Dax, and his other suitemates had played spades and poker all night, and finally standing in place for nearly four hours waiting for the opportunity to march out for the USA in the Opening Ceremony—all of that accumulated is starting to give Charles a massive headache.

By the time the Opening Ceremony is over, he’s staggering with exhaustion and wholly ready to collapse into his bed. The Olympic Village is still abuzz with energy and light well past midnight, but Charles, as much as he likes his fun, has never been an endurance partier. He passes dozens of other athletes on their way back to the Village from the Beijing National Stadium. From the looks of some of them, they’re going to be waking up with a stranger in the morning; he thinks he spots a couple already going at it in the dark strip of grass between two buildings.

For a brief moment, he thinks of Erik, who’d been absent from the Opening Ceremony altogether. He wonders why.

His building, when he reaches it, is hardly quiet; most of the rooms still have lights on, and the recreation areas are still filled with boisterous athletes playing ping pong or pool or video games. Charles debates joining them for a moment—the inner partier never sleeps, after all—before turning and heading up the stairs.

He’d thought that a quick walk up would shake some of his fatigue, but it doesn’t, as evidenced by the fact that he doesn’t notice someone stepping into his way until too late. He hits a solid chest head-on and would have stumbled backwards if a couple of strong hands hadn’t caught his arms and held him steady.

“What…” he manages, looking up.

Erik Lehnsherr is grinning, sharp teeth and all. “I was hoping to run into you.”

“Har-har, your pun does not go unnoticed,” Charles says dryly, though his heart jumps at the sight of the swimmer. After all, he had spent the last couple of days telling himself that Erik Lehnsherr was only a small part of his Olympic adventure, and that he’d doubtlessly meet dozens of more interested partners along the way. Now, seeing Erik again makes him slightly optimistic; surely it means something if Erik’s been hoping to run into him?

Erik’s grin widens as he releases his hold on Charles’s arms. “Just back?”

Charles nods and takes a step back so he’s not breathing Erik’s air. “I didn’t see you there.”

“I have a 400 IM tomorrow. Shaw—that’s my coach—he told me to stay in.”

Charles pulls a face. “You didn’t miss much. I mean, it was fun and an honor to walk, but I’m utterly exhausted now.”

“I know how it was. I watched it on a TV down in the recreation area. I saw you right in the middle of the Americans.”

“Did you?” Charles feels somewhat flattered. After all, the fact that Erik had watched the entire ceremony all the way through the alphabet to the United States of America is a testament to how much he’d wanted to see Charles. Or, more likely, he’d just wanted to see the ceremony from beginning to end.

“I did,” Erik confirms. “I was waiting to…” He hesitates. “I wanted to see you.” At Charles’s raised eyebrow, he adds hastily, “To congratulate you on the win.”

Charles hears I wanted to see you and not much of anything else. It takes a moment for his delighted mind to catch up to the rest of it and then process what Erik means by the win. Then he remembers why he’s here at the Olympics at all, and he says hurriedly, “Oh. Right. Thanks. Wait, you watched it?”

Erik nods. “I’m a football fan,” he says casually. “I watch from time to time.”

Charles grins. “That’s great. Who are you rooting for then?”

“I don’t know.” Erik shrugs. “Germany’s not in it, so I’ll have to decide.”

“Who were you rooting for in yesterday’s game then?” Charles presses.

Erik shrugs again. “I didn’t know anyone on the Japanese team. Team USA it was.”

Charles feels enormously pleased, which is silly. He barely knows the man. “Will you watch again?” he asks anyway. “Because if you will, I might have to play next time.” Not that it’s his choice whether or not he warms the bench, but he wants to gauge Erik’s interest.

Erik seems to take his sly flirtation (if that’s what it really is, Charles isn’t used to flirting in ways that don’t involve drinks and a few bad innuendos) in stride. “Maybe I will.”

“Then maybe I’ll watch your races tomorrow,” Charles returns, as if there was really ever any doubt. No one is going to rob him of a glimpse of Erik Lehnsherr in nothing but a pair of tight-skinned swimming shorts. “What time does it start?”

“The first qualifying heat is around five-thirty.”

“You’ve got to be joking!”

Erik chuckles. It’s a low, deep sound that shivers right through Charles, settling somewhere in the middle of his stomach. “Life of a swimmer. Will you still watch?”

Charles sniffs. “Is that a challenge?”

“If it is, will you watch?” Erik shoots back.

What some people don’t know and don’t suspect is that Charles is actually strongly competitive. “Yes, of course,” he says cheekily. “Count on it.” He can go on another night of sleep deprivation. He’s done worse before, and his next match isn’t until Sunday anyway. He’ll take a quick nap, and it’ll be a matter of setting two alarms. Maybe three.

“Good.”

They stand there in the stairwell for a moment, Charles realizing all over again how well-built Erik is, from his lean torso all the way down to his muscled legs, clearly visible in the pair of khaki shorts he’s currently modeling. He looks like he’d be a good kisser. And he’s a swimmer, swimmers have got plenty of stamina, imagine how long they’d be able to go, and how many times—

Charles is suddenly thankful for the dimmer lighting of the stairwell because he’s pretty sure his cheeks are crimson. Erik is grinning though, which means—shit, he’s noticed. Charles really hopes Erik doesn’t guess that Charles would like to jump him. Preferably sooner rather than later.

Erik opens his mouth, but before he can capitalize on Charles’s embarrassment, a torrent of athletes come up the stairwell from behind them, and they’re forced to press against the wall to let them past. When they’re gone, Charles has gotten his thoughts back under control, and he studiously avoids Erik’s gaze (and Erik’s body) as he says, “I’d better get some sleep if I’m going to wake up in time to see you swim.”

Erik smirks. “Good plan.”

They part ways on the second floor, where Charles turns off and Erik continues up. Charles steps into the hallway before poking his head back through the stairwell door.

“Good luck!” he calls up to Erik, who’s already halfway up to the next landing.

That earns him a smile and a wave, and Charles heads back to his room, fiddling with the alarm on his watch.

*
The next morning at five-thirty, Charles discovers two things:

One: it’s impossible to focus on anything other than Erik Lehnsherr when Erik Lehnsherr’s in nothing but swim shorts, and

Two: it’s very possible to pass an entire swim race staring straight at the screen and still have no idea who won it. Granted, that’s probably because Charles’s attention is riveted on only one man, but still.

He has to look up the results later, and gets sidetracked with more images of Erik on the internet. Erik swimming, Erik teaching an aquatics class, Erik cooking, Erik scooping a girl up in his arms (at that one, Charles feels a tangible pang of jealousy, only tempered into embarrassment after he reads the caption and discovers that the girl is, in fact, his sister, Emma).

He spends most of the morning scrolling through biographies and venturing into the world that he usually prefers to avoid at all costs: fan pages. They’re normally either incomprehensible to him or vastly too stalker-like for his comfort, but in this case, he embraces them eagerly. After all, where else would he learn that Erik likes his eggs sunny-side up, or that he has a dog named Magneto, or that his sock drawer is organized in terms of size and then color?

Brad sticks his head into Charles’s room at eight-thirty and says brightly, “Oh good, you’re up. Had a good night’s sleep, I hope? We’re going to scrimmage hard today.”

Charles waves vaguely at him and at nine unwillingly abandons his investigation into all things Erik Lehnsherr.

It isn’t until he’s lacing on his boots and jogging onto the practice pitch thirty minutes later that he realizes he still doesn’t know who won that race.

*
Erik runs into Charles again a few hours after his qualifying round. By runs into, he means that he spends the bit of free time Shaw gives him lingering halfway between the second floor entrance to the stairwell and the elevator, waiting for an appearance. It’s slightly undignified, the way he’s loitering around like a high school freshman at the balcony of his crush, but…well, he’s nineteen, not thirty. He’s allowed a few indignities.

Shaw’s only allotted him three hours to loosen up before returning for stretching and warm-up for the final race, so Erik is relieved when Charles shows up before he has to run back down and meet up with Shaw for the ride to the Aquatics Center. The footballer steps off the elevator in shorts and a sweat-spotted USA training shirt, his hair damp, his face still red from exertion. He’s carrying a gym bag in one hand and is in the process of trying to stuff his goalkeeper gloves into said bag without spilling everything else out.

Erik watches him for an amused moment before heading forward. “Let me help.”

Charles starts. “Oh. Erik! I hadn’t expected to see you again so soon. I thought you were still racing.”

“Tonight,” Erik says. “Shaw gave me some time off to relax first.” He unzips the bag all the way and holds it open for Charles to toss his gloves in, then zips it up again.

“Thanks.”

“It’s nothing.” He waits a second so he won’t seem so eager, then asks, “Did you watch my qualifying heat?”

At that, Charles flushes enough for it to be noticeable on his already-red face and looks away. Before Erik can ask what that’s about, Charles shoulders his gym bag and heads down the hallway, slowly enough that Erik realizes he wants him to follow.

“Yeah, I did,” Charles says over his shoulder. “Congratulations.”

“Congratulations?” Erik echoes. “Save that for the finals.”

“The finals? Good. You qualified then.”

Erik pauses, eyes narrowing. “You said you watched.”

“I did,” Charles replies, his cheeks darkening even further. “I was…ah, distracted. How did you do?”

“All right. I qualified. Third best time overall, but…”

“But?”

“But Phelps. I don’t know. Have you heard of him?”

Charles shakes his head. “I’m not much of a swimming guru. Who?”

“Michael Phelps. American swimmer. I’m surprised you haven’t heard of him.”

“Go, go, USA,” Charles says with a laugh. “What about him?”

“He’s good, that’s all,” Erik replies. “Anyway. Were you training?”

Charles looks down at his attire and points to his sweaty shirt. “Yeah, all morning. Our next match is Sunday.” He stops at a door on their left and swipes his key card. “You want to come in?”

Erik checks his watch and finds that he’s got thirty minutes to go. He can make it. “Sure.”

Inside, the suite is almost identical to Erik’s, with the exception of luggage, clothes, cards, and Gatorades strewn everywhere. Erik’s a neat person by nature, and mess makes him antsy, which makes his roommates antsy, which explains why his suite is a model of cleanliness whereas this one…isn’t.

Charles grimaces as Erik looks askance at the place. “Sorry about the disarray. Dax and the others were celebrating our win. Make yourself comfortable if you can.”

He tosses his gym bag into his room—the single on the left, Erik notes—and fetches a glass of water from the bathroom before coming back. Erik stands indecisively in the doorway, debating whether or not to carry on a conversation because he knows Shaw will expect him to be back early and in a competitive mindset.

“Do you have to leave soon?” Charles asks, draining the glass in a second.

Erik checks his watch. “Soon. A few minutes.”

“Well, good luck,” Charles tells him with a bright grin. “You looked good this morning. I’ll be watching. You’ll do great.”

His casual confidence in Erik’s abilities is warming, and also strange; Shaw is a believer in breaking his swimmers down to build them back up, and as such, criticizes mercilessly and never hands out praise. The only people to encourage him in his career have been his mother and his sister, and Emma hands out compliments like they’re diamonds. Charles’s assurance on his behalf, then, is something precious.

“Thank you,” he says sincerely. “I’ll do my best.”

“And if you win a medal,” Charles continues, his grin turning mischievous, “do you think I could get an autograph?”

Erik looks at him in surprise, then laughs. “Really? Are you supposed to be my fan now?”

Charles shrugs. “Look, if we’re going to be friends, I think it should come with some benefits. Like signatures that will one day be worth thousands of dollars, for example.”

The surprise in him heightens. “Friends?” he echoes slowly, as if it’s a foreign word to him—which it mostly is.

Charles nods, wiping some of the sweat off his cheek with his sleeve. “Of course. Where else do you think this is headed?”

Erik stares at him for a second, unsure of whether to take that as an innocent question or a suggestive one. In all honesty, he hadn’t expected this to head anywhere; he’d expected to enjoy Charles’s company for a couple of days and then continue on in his swims and forget him. On the other hand, if Charles is suggesting something more…well, the Olympics are notorious for one-night stands.

But he doesn’t want to push if that isn’t what Charles means. So he just shrugs and says, “Friends. Sure.”

Is that a flash of disappointment he spies in Charles’s eyes? If it is, it’s there and gone too quickly for Erik to decide. “Yeah,” the American says, walking back to the bathroom for more water. “So, about the autograph?”

Erik nods. “Sure. If you watch. If I medal.”

“I’ll have pen and paper out and ready,” Charles says, grinning. “And you’ll medal.”

Erik arches an eyebrow. “Shouldn’t you be rooting for Phelps? American pride and all?”

“I don’t even know Phelps, and besides, I’m a Brit. Sort of. It’s a long story. In any case, my loyalty to American sports is sporadic.”

Charles shakes his head and scrubs off some more sweat from his face, leaving spotty stains on his sleeve. His training shirt is already tightly fitted, and the perspiration is making it stick even more closely to his skin, giving Erik a nice view of his chest. There’s not much fat there at all, if any, just lean muscle. Only to be expected of a footballer, of course, and an Olympic athlete on top of that.

He forces himself to look away. He’s got a final coming up in a few hours, and he can’t have these thoughts running around in his head, distracting him.

He looks down at his watch again and decides he really can’t delay any longer. “I should go,” he says.

The disappointment is definitely there in Charles’s expression this time. “Oh. All right then. Good luck.”

Erik nods. “Thanks. I’ll…see you later, maybe?”

“Yeah. Yes. I’d like that.” He smiles wryly and adds, “We’ve still got to finish our chess game, after all.”

Yes, Erik thinks as he leaves, there’s that.

*
He doesn’t win gold. He doesn’t even medal. He finishes fifth overall, a disappointing result in the end.

Afterwards, he scribbles down his signature on the back of one of the programs, looks at it for a moment, and then tears it up and tosses the pieces into a trash bin. He doesn’t stay to watch the award ceremony.

*
He also doesn’t see Charles again for five days. Caught up in the whirlwind of individual races and team relays, he forgets to check the Olympic football standings, and it isn’t until he runs into one of the other Team USA men in the dining hall that he remembers to ask.

“Hey,” he says as he slides into line behind the man. “You’re a footballer, aren’t you? For the United States.”

The American looks at him for a blank moment before laughing. “Oh, you mean soccer. Yeah, I am.”

Erik picks up a tray from the stack and moves along as the line does. “So how are you guys doing?”

The disappointment and frustration that flashes across the American’s face does not go unnoticed by Erik. “You haven’t heard, man?” the footballer asks. “We’re going home soon. We were knocked out. Took a loss yesterday, and that was it.”

Erik takes a moment to absorb this information. He remembers again that football is an elimination sport, and in the Olympics, there’s no trying again. Unlike in swimming, where there’s usually another race if you drop one, in football, it’s win it or go home.

And apparently Charles is going home. On some level, it’s genuinely disappointing. For some reason, he’d assumed that Charles would be staying the full two weeks in the Village, that he’d be seeing the American around for some time yet, more so when the Games wound down at the end. But Team USA has lost, they’re going home, and all of a sudden, Charles could be gone as soon as tomorrow.

The thought shouldn’t be so disheartening, but for some reason, it is.

Erik takes only a second to mutter a goodbye to the American in line with him before setting the tray back down into the stack and slinking off.

*
There really should be alcohol at the bars in the recreation center. Honestly.

Of course, Charles understands perfectly why there isn’t, but he thinks there should be a consolation bar or something for eliminated athletes. He’s a bit dejected now from the loss, not so dejected as to get rip-roaring drunk, but he’d like some beer or scotch to dull the sting of being knocked out in the group stage.

Instead, he sits there and drinks orange juice. Really. It’s somewhat pathetic. He still has to pack, but he’s not really in the mood, even if their plane is leaving tomorrow afternoon. Barely a week into the Games, and he’s departing already, no medal, no victory, not even any of that infamous Olympic sex.

“Hello,” says a familiar voice from behind him. “Drinking away your sorrows?”

All right, Charles thinks as he swivels in his seat, his temper brightening already. The infamous Olympic sex might not be a lost cause. Maybe.

“Erik,” he says with a grin. “I was hoping to see you again before I left. You heard?”

“I did,” the German confirms, sliding into the seat to Charles’s left. He glances down at the glass at Charles’s fingers and raises an eyebrow. “Orange juice? That’s a little conservative. I’ll go for a club soda.”

Charles snorts. “Oh, your sophistication astounds me. But I don’t think they have club sodas here.”

“Then a Coke is fine,” Erik replies, fetching one for himself. He pops the bottle open, clinks it against Charles’s juice, and takes a long swallow. Watching his throat bob goes a spectacularly long way in improving Charles’s mood.

“When are you leaving then?” Erik asks when he’s polished off his Coke. He drinks remarkably fast.

“Tomorrow,” Charles replies. “We’ve been told to turn in our room keys at noon.”

“Noon,” Erik repeats, staring down at his empty bottle. “That’s sudden.”

“Yeah.” He sneaks a glance over to the German and decides, what the hell, he’s young, bound to be stupid, and it’s going to be his last night at the Olympic Games. Better make it great.

He throws back the rest of his orange juice, stands, and asks, “Walk me back to my room?”

Erik pauses a moment before rising. “Sure.”

The walk up the stairs is comfortably silent. In his pockets, Charles’s hands are fidgeting restlessly. He’s not nervous, per se, but he’s used to one-night stands with people he doesn’t know. That’s the whole point sometimes, to get lost in anonymity. But he knows Erik. He likes Erik. He doesn’t really want to absolutely ruin…whatever this is they have…if Erik isn’t thinking along the same lines.

But it’s not as if he’s going to see Erik again. He’ll be back in New York tomorrow, where Raven will pepper him with questions and replay all the embarrassing screen-shots she has of him on TV. Life will go on. The Olympics will be over for him, and he might not ever be back.

So when they reach his door, Charles opens it, pokes his head through, and calls, “Anyone here?”

No one answers, which is just what Charles had been hoping for. He takes Erik’s hand then and pulls him in before he can protest. Kicking the door shut, he pushes Erik up against the wall and kisses him.

Erik’s lips are warm and firm and taste like Coca-Cola with a faint hint of chloride. He smells of pool water and sweat and aftershave, a combination which shouldn’t be the least bit attractive, but, well, Charles is odd that way. Charles throws everything he has into that kiss, even going so far as to slip his tongue out and lick Erik’s bottom lip. It’s the Olympics after all; he’s holding nothing back.

It takes him a moment, then, to realize that Erik has frozen in front of him. He hasn’t pulled back, exactly, but it’s a bad sign that he hasn’t responded, isn’t it? After all, if he isn’t pushing forward…if he hasn’t reciprocated by now…

Charles’s scattered mind eventually pulls that thought together and he stills, lips still pressed against Erik’s, fighting the powerful urge to flee to his room. Oh, stupid. How stupid of him, to automatically assume that Erik’s interested in men, that Erik’s interested in the Olympic reputation for sexual depravity at all—

Charles is too mortified to step back. He doesn’t think he can face Erik’s expression. He does manage to lean his head back far enough to separate their lips, however, and into the two inches that separates them, he mutters, “I’m so sorry. I thought—I didn’t know—”

“Know what?” Erik asks, and is it Charles’s imagination or is his voice just a bit hoarse?

Charles can’t find his voice. He’s pretty sure his face is the color of Raven’s hair, which she maddeningly insists on dyeing blond when Charles is so certain that red is beautiful on her, though all attempts to convince her of the fact have met in failure of epic proportions, so epic that once when they were twelve, she didn’t speak to him for a full week and a half and—and, fantastic, now his mind is spinning away inanely, and he will never, ever recover the presence of mind to make a dignified exit. Absolutely, bloody perfect.

He steps away. Best to end this as quickly and painlessly as possible. He can already feel the embarrassment lighting his cheeks on fire as he pulls the door open. “I’m really very sorry,” he says sincerely, glancing at the wall and his watch and anything but Erik’s face. “I’ll, ah, see you—no, that’s not what I meant—I mean, it’s been—nice—damn it—”

Erik puts his hand on the door and very deliberately shoves it closed again. “Stop apologizing,” he says, and his voice is distinctly hoarse now, “and shut up.”

He yanks Charles close and kisses him and suddenly Charles’s face is hot for an entirely different reason.

Erik is really good kisser. Unfairly good. Charles usually has to work at making his lovers come apart—not that he doesn’t enjoy it—but all Erik has to do is suck on Charles’s lower lip and rub his knee suggestively up Charles’s thigh to turn Charles into a quivering mess. If he’d been thinking anything more than oh god, ah, ah, where the hell did I put the condoms at the moment, he might have been embarrassed about it. As it is, he manages to guide them both into his room on the left and somehow retains the presence of mind to shut the door before Erik half-drags, half-carries him to the bed.

Erik has progressed from his mouth to his neck and is in now engaged in sucking his way down the length of Charles’s collarbone. Charles, who is already helplessly hard and is trying to be more useful to Erik than a blow-up doll, slides his hand up Erik’s shirt and finds that yes, those muscles are definitely as well-defined as they’d looked on television. He has to pull twice before Erik realizes that Charles is trying to shed some clothing here, and he abandons Charles’s neck to sit up, his legs firmly pinning Charles down onto the mattress. The shirt is off in a second, and there’s just enough time to catch a tantalizing glimpse of Erik’s abs and chest before he leans down over Charles again and promptly makes him forget his brain by shoving down Charles’s pants and palming his cock.

Charles is eighteen. He is also a partier. Those two things in conjunction mean that he’s had his fair share of sexual encounters before, usually after a drink and usually with a partner who is still as inexperienced as he is.

Erik is far from inexperienced. He strokes twice, then twists his wrist in a move that has Charles moaning aloud. The sound draws a grin from Erik, who asks, “Are you always this easy?”

Charles’s cheeks heat again, this time in indignation. “Shut up. I bet I could make you—”

His words are utterly lost as Erik slides down between his legs and takes him into his mouth in one quick push. The feeling of Erik’s lips hollowed out around him and Erik’s insanely talented tongue stroking the underside of his cock makes Charles clench his fists around the blankets and shut his eyes. Erik licks his way up Charles’s cock to the tip before heading back down. Charles can’t help the breathy whimpers that escape him, and god, these noises he’s making are humiliating, but Erik is quickly and efficiently wiping any thought of pride preservation from his mind.

The pleasure mounts until Charles is sure he’s going to come if Erik sucks him for a moment longer, and at the exact moment when he’s sure he’s falling and falling and he won’t ever hit the ground, Erik pops off of him with a Cheshire grin and says, “You are easy.”

Charles exhales sharply and releases his death grip on the blankets. “Are you sure you’re a swimmer?” he asks dazedly. “Because you’re frighteningly good at that. World-class performance. I think you would medal in that, a gold at the very least. Also, why the hell did you stop?”

Erik laughs, slithers back up level with Charles, and kisses him again. “Why am I doing all the work?”

Charles realizes at this point that they’re both still partially clothed and that Erik hasn’t received any attention whatsoever. And that’s makes him a terrible bedmate thus far, so he untangles his pants from where they’re pooled around his ankles, slips off his shirt, and works at Erik’s belt. It’s a worthy nemesis that keeps Charles occupied for ten seconds too long, and then Erik’s pants come off, followed quickly by his drawers, and Charles reaches out to give Erik’s cock a good long stroke.

Erik releases a shaky breath, and Charles grins. “Who’s easy now?” he murmurs as he slides his palm tantalizingly slow along Erik’s length. Erik’s eyes squeeze shut as Charles gradually increases his pace, concentrating harder than he probably should, wanting to make this as good for Erik as Erik had for him, slowly, up and down, all the way from the base to the tip and back, and—

“Fuck,” Erik breathes. “Stop.”

Charles freezes, fingers still loosely circled around Erik’s shaft. “What?”

Erik extricates himself quickly from Charles’s grasp and lets out a long breath that trembles a bit on the tail end. “Tell me you have a condom.”

Oh. Charles laughs, then chokes a bit on the anticipation, then scrambles for his pants. He breathes a silent thanks to the Olympic Village clinic, which is stocked with over a hundred thousand condoms at last count; whoever made up the supply list for the Village is to be heartily thanked with chocolate and banners. Many banners.

He takes a frustrating moment to extricate the packet from his pocket and then rips it open with about as much finesse as a gorilla. Then he hesitates.

“Do you…do you prefer…”

“Top,” Erik clarifies with a flash of teeth. “Unless you want—”

“No, I’m fine.”

The condom goes on and Charles gropes around in his suitcase for lube (never say that he came to the Olympics unprepared). He tosses out shorts and shirts and an extra pair of goaltender gloves and finally finds the bottle underneath one of his USA jackets.

“Did you get lost?” Erik calls from the bed. Charles can almost hear his smirk.

“Shut up.” He’s back on the mattress in a flash, and Erik nearly tears the bottle from his grip, simultaneously popping the cap open and nudging Charles underneath him. Charles goes all-too-willingly, hard and aching and eager. Erik slicks up one finger, then two, and then waits for Charles to spread his legs before sliding his hand between them. Charles shuts his eyes and clenches his jaw as Erik pushes one finger in to the first knuckle, to the second, and then shifts around a bit to get a better touch in. When Charles feels looser and is just starting to get a touch impatient, Erik adds his second finger, stretching him wider, pushing him open.

Charles moans softly into the blankets, and Erik’s hips piston forward at the sound, sliding his cock up against Charles’s legs. “Oh, fuck,” he pants, breath ghosting past Charles’s ear, “are you ready? Or do you need more?”

He sounds about as impatient as Charles feels. Charles shakes his head vehemently, and Erik might have let out a relieved grunt before lining himself up between Charles’s legs and pushing in.

As impatient as he must be, he’s got impressive control. He only pushes maybe an inch in before pausing, his hands on Charles’s waist trembling just a bit. He seems to be under the impression that Charles needs time to adjust. Charles decides to disprove that assumption by rolling his hips back, sinking further onto Erik’s cock, which forces a surprised groan from him, his fingers tightening into Charles’s skin.

“Mein Gott,” he breathes shakily, “you’re tight.”

Charles grins, then arches his back up against Erik’s chest, settling him in a little deeper. That’s enough encouragement for Erik, who pushes him back down and starts a slow rolling rhythm. Charles closes his eyes and rides the waves of pleasure as they come, unashamed at the low whimpers that tear from him as Erik thrusts firmly and deeply. He’s always been a bit vocal during sex, especially good sex, and this is good sex. Erik is experienced, no doubt about that; he knows how deep to go early on to give Charles some time to adjust fully, and how to set a good steady pace.

And how to effectively stop Charles from thinking at all, when he reaches around and closes his hand around Charles’s hard cock. Charles gasps at the added pleasure, thrusting into the contact as Erik thrusts into him, and then he isn’t sure who loses control first, him or Erik, but all of a sudden, the rhythm is faltering, then gone altogether as they fuck harder and faster, panting loudly and harshly together. Erik bites down hard on his shoulder, but the pain flips straight into pleasure, drawing out a long moan from deep in Charles’s chest. Erik slams forward and hits Charles’s prostate, and that’s it for him, the pleasure is blinding, he cries out inarticulately as he comes between Erik’s long, deft fingers. Erik releases Charles’s softening cock and uses that hand to steady them both as he thrusts hard and heavy between Charles’s legs, the sweat-slick skin of their thighs sticking as he goes. Coming off his high, Charles is just beginning to return to awareness when Erik’s hips stutter and he lets out a loud gasp as he comes, collapsing onto Charles’s back and driving him face-first into the mattress.

They lie there for a moment, sweaty and hot and still except for their heaving chests. Erik is heavy, but Charles endures it, submerged in too much bliss to care about mundane things like breathing. He shuts his eyes for a handful of seconds and revels in the sated feeling that comes after a good fuck. On top of him, Erik exhales tremblingly in his ear.

After an interminable moment, Erik rolls out and off of him. Charles lets his burning lungs take a breath.

“Well,” he says.

“Well,” Erik parrots.

“Good?”

“Yeah.”

Twenty minutes later, he gets a taste of Erik’s Olympic-level stamina.

When he wakes up in the morning, Erik curled up next to him, snoring slightly with his mouth hanging open, Charles figures that these Olympic Games haven’t been a total waste after all.

*
Erik doesn’t see Charles again. The USA squad leaves the next day, and then Erik’s hopping too quickly from one event to the next to stop and think about the American or about what happened.

He ends up winning one silver and one gold total. It’s not disappointing, but it’s not exactly what he’d hoped for either. He and every other swimmer there is enormously overshadowed by Michael Phelps, who blows world records out of the water (pun intended) and generally goes around winning. Everything.

He has a couple of other Olympic Village encounters, but neither of them compares. He doesn’t realize that he’s taken to holding everyone he meets up to a Charles standard until he’s sprawled in bed with a girl and realizes that a) she doesn’t have blue eyes, b) she isn’t an American, a boy, or a footballer, and c) her name isn’t Charles.

Needless to say, the last week is somewhat frustrating in that department, but on the whole, the Games are a good experience. Erik vows to come back in four years, when the Phelps hype has died down a bit, when he will finally have the chance to shine.

He tries not to think of Charles because the American had only been a one-night stand that you were supposed to enjoy while it lasted and you weren’t supposed to think about again. So, with an effort, he puts the American out of his mind.

*
“How were the Games?” Raven asks eagerly over a bowl of ice cream.

“Good,” Charles says. “Apart from the fact that we didn’t medal. Or even make it from the group stage. Or the fact that I didn’t play.”

Raven laughs. “All right, all right, don’t sound too happy, it’ll make me jealous.” She licks strawberry flavor from her spoon and then steals some of Charles’s chocolate from his bowl. “And did you meet anyone?”

Charles thinks of Erik, then remembers that Erik’s supposed to be one of those meaningless Olympic flings and that Erik’s most likely forgotten him already.

“No,” he says at length. “More ice cream?”

*
The Olympic excitement ebbs and fades and disappears, and life goes on.

Charles becomes an up-and-rising goalkeeper for Chelsea FC, finding his fifteen minutes (or a hundred and eighty minutes, to be perfectly exact) of fame when Petr Cech gets sidelined with injury for three games. The public starts to take notice. He’s good. He’s getting better. One day, he might be the best.

Erik swims in the 2010 European Aquatics Championships and wins two individual gold and one silver in the team relay. Even Shaw grudgingly admits that he’s improving, though that doesn’t stop the coach from pushing him harder than ever before. He is already an excellent swimmer, and with time, he will grow into greatness.

They move on. They forget Beijing.

Then, four years later, it begins again.

This time: London.