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Sink or Swim

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David Rose did not consider himself to be a master of many things—he was more of a dabbler in most areas of his life—but aside from swimming, his one true skill was zoning out during Ronnie’s post-swim pep talks while still giving the unmistakable appearance of being an attentive participant in the conversation.

Just now, he was vaguely aware of Ronnie gesticulating with perhaps a little too much enthusiasm than was necessarily warranted and could tell she was leading up to the grand finale of her little coaching session, but David’s mind was firmly focused on the soothing bath he was going to draw as soon as he got home. Everybody from his family to friends to past lovers had commented on David’s love for baths being odd—didn’t he spend enough time submerged in water?—but every time the subject came up, David took it as an opportunity to launch into his favorite soapbox rant regarding how the temperature of the water and the attire one wore while in the water (or lack thereof in the case of bathing) altered the experience immensely, making it unfair and a waste of time to compare swimming to soaking in a luxurious tub.

He’d use the last of his lavender bath salts this evening, he decided. He’d been saving them for a special occasion, and since today’s practice had been brutal and Ronnie had been blathering on for at least twenty minutes longer than she normally did, he felt that this was the perfect opportunity.

David was picturing it now: the delicate scent of lavender calming his senses, warm water engulfing him, gentle music humming in the background, a rare glass of wine balanced on the edge of the tub when he was suddenly ripped out of his nearly catatonic state by the end of one of Ronnie’s sentences.

“...and Patrick Brewer.”

His night of relaxation no longer on the brain, David straightened up from where he was slouched on the chair across from Ronnie. “Um, excuse me, what did you just say?”

Ronnie sighed the weary, knowing sigh of a person who had been, to put it delicately, putting up with David’s shit since he was a gangly teen. “David, were you fantasizing about your damn bathtub again? I can tell when you zone out, you know. You’re not as subtle as you think.”

Well, damn. Apparently the allusion of attentiveness wasn’t as solid of a skill as he’d thought. He’d have to work on that.

David huffed. “Okay, fine. Yes. Sorry,” he said, only somewhat petulantly. “What were you saying about”—he scowled in preparation for spitting out the name—”Patrick Brewer.”

Ronnie rolled her eyes at him. “You’ve got to get over your stupid grudge, Rose,” she said, rubbing her temples. “Especially because—as I already told you—you will be swimming the 4 x 200 relay on his team in Tokyo.”

David leapt out of his chair, hackles raised and rearing for a fight. “Excuse me, no I am NOT,” he exclaimed. “For one, I don’t even swim the 200 anymore! I haven’t competed in a 200 in like two years. And second, I will not under any circumstances be on a team with Patrick Brewer. It’s not going to happen, Ronnie.”

“David,” Ronnie said, her voice unusually patient and taking on the tone one would use when explaining to a toddler why he isn’t allowed to color on the walls with a permanent marker, “Again, as I already explained, Jake Ellsworth went and broke his leg and won’t be competing. We need a fourth swimmer to round out the relay team, and that swimmer is going to be you.”

“But I don’t swim the 200!” David repeated, willing himself to believe that his protest would be effective this time. “Don’t they have an alternate?”

“Jake was the alternate,” Ronnie said. “Remember that creepy, twitchy blond kid ... Eric something?”

“Eric Weaver,” David supplied flatly.

“Yeah, that’s the one. He was originally the fourth member of the team, but then he got arrested for some shady pyramid scheme shit and Jake took his place. Now Jake is incapacitated, the Olympics are in a week, and Swimming Canada is scrambling to find somebody to fill in. Gwen Currie called me earlier today and asked if you could do it since you’re only competing in two other events this year and you’ve done the 200 in the past, and I said yes. Despite the revolving fourth man, the team is a favorite to win this year, you know. You could add another medal to your collection.”

David scoffed. “Nobody even cares about team medals, Ronnie. Especially team medals you might win by working with Patrick fucking Brewer. So you can respectfully tell Gwen Currie from Swimming Canada to fuck right off.” He crossed his arms tightly across his chest and fixed her with what he hoped was a firm glare.

Ronnie shook her head. “David, I’ve been your coach for over fifteen years. I helped shape you into the swimmer you are today. I’ve been by your side through every triumph and failure. I spend more time with you than anybody else on the planet, parents and sister included.”

“Not exactly a high bar to clear,” David muttered.

“So,” Ronnie continued as though she hadn’t heard David’s gripe, “I think I of all people have earned the right to tell you to fucking get over yourself and swim the damn 4 x 200 with Patrick fucking Brewer.”

David just gaped at Ronnie. True, Ronnie had never been one to mince words or make any attempt to spare David’s feelings, but something—probably the buckets of money that found their way into her bank account courtesy of David’s parents—had always held her back from berating David so directly. David suspected the fact that their professional relationship was nearing its end might have loosened her tongue a bit. Neither of them had openly acknowledged it, but they both knew the Tokyo Olympics would be David’s last. He was in his early thirties now, and while he obviously wasn’t eligible for senior discounts yet, he didn’t have much left in him to compete against increasingly strong and fast eighteen year olds.

David knew he was no Michael Phelps, but he’d managed to secure a few bronzes and a couple silvers in past Olympic games and a singular gold from World’s. Nobody was making calendars of him or anything—to his knowledge at least—or lauding him as a superathlete who has changed swimming as the world knows it, but in those few quiet moments when he let go of all his self-deprecation and doubt, he could admit to himself—but obviously never to anybody else—that he was proud of his accomplishments.

David heaved a deep sigh, reluctantly admitting to himself that swimming the 4 x 200 as a little swan song wouldn’t be the worst way to end his swimming career, even if that meant having to interact with Patrick Brewer. “I know you already told me,” he said, anticipating Ronnie’s next jab, “but who else would I be swimming with?”

Ronnie smiled, knowing she’d won him over. “It’s a great lineup, David, really. Patrick Brewer, as you already know, plus Ted Mullins and, god help him if this is really the name his mama gave him, Mutt Schitt.”

David nodded absently. He’d never really interacted with Ted or Mutt much outside of the occasional pleasantries at competitions or press events or what have you, but they seemed reasonable enough people, despite the fact that blond-haired, jovial Ted was one of the aforementioned young swimmers whose face was plastered on calendars. He was a few years older than eighteen, David would give him that, but he was still solidly in the prime of his career with several good years stretching ahead of him. Mutt, David had noticed, tended to keep to himself, not interacting with the rest of Team Canada when he could help it, and that was just fine with David. Ideal, really.

“Okay. Fine.” David was ready for this conversation to be over pronto, and his mind turned back to his bath.

“Good. Tomorrow we’ll hone in on the 200. I know you haven’t competed at that distance in a while, but you’ve still been swimming it in practice consistently. I don’t think you’ll have any issues getting back into the swing of things.”

“Okay. Anything else?”

“Nope. Go home and enjoy your bath, Rose.”

___

The thing was, David couldn’t pinpoint exactly why he hated Patrick Brewer. There was no impetus, really, no inciting event that pitted the two against each other. True, David thought Patrick had been a little standoffish upon meeting for the first time, but even he could admit that wasn’t necessarily a valid reason to fuel a decade-long dislike for another person.

Despite the lack or origin or, okay fine, logic to it, it was just a consistent fact in David’s life for nearly as long as he could remember: He did NOT like Patrick Brewer. He could count on that as surely as he could count on his father missing meets because he was too wrapped up in work or his mother taking one too many sleeping pills to be functional for any major event in David’s life or Alexis calling him from the cell phone of a Cambodian war lord demanding that David immediately send her last season’s Gucci sunglasses and a nail gun, because those items would somehow thwart a military coup and win the freedom of this girl she met while at a sauna in Amsterdam.

David and Patrick had qualified for the national team at the same time, so it would be easy to write David’s dislike off as simple rivalry. But that wasn’t even accurate, because this upcoming relay—in which they’d literally be working as a team—would be the first time they’d competed in the same events. David stuck to the 50 and 100 freestyle and occasionally the 100 backstroke. Patrick, on the other hand, preferred longer events, with the exception of the 200 freestyle, which was both his favorite and his best event.

So it wasn’t as simple as two men competing for the same spots on the national team or for qualification in the same event. There was just … something about Patrick that wormed its way under David’s skin and made it prickle uncomfortably whenever they had to share a space. Even looking at Patrick or saying his name was enough to make David’s stomach clench a little. The air just felt so charged when he and Patrick Brewer were near one another, and David did not like it one bit.

Besides, David was nearly certain that if people were to peel back the layers of farm fresh charm and sheepish modesty that Patrick swathed himself in, there’d be something darker, nastier lurking beneath. He had absolutely no proof of this, but refused to believe that anybody—especially somebody who had spent the majority of his life in professional sports—was that damn good and wholesome all the fucking time. It just wasn’t possible, and David found the way that Patrick’s facade insisted that such wholesomeness was a possibility to be nothing short of infuriating.

Sometimes when David saw televised interviews with Patrick (which was often, as Patrick was a favorite face of Canadian swimming due to his—completely fake, in David’s opinion—pleasant demeanor and cheerful optimism), David had this overwhelming urge to just get up in Patrick’s face and do … something. He wasn’t sure what, but he was pretty sure if would involve some sort of physical contact. Shake him, maybe. But for sure something.

Ronnie and David’s best friend, Stevie, had both spent literal years in futile attempts to convince David to let go of his grudge, but David’s dislike for Patrick was as much of a part of David as the designer sweaters he favored when not in swimwear or official team gear. Stevie had even had the audacity to suggest that David, you know, stop watching all those interviews with Patrick, to which David had tersely responded that hate watching Patrick charming the socks off some up and coming sports reporter was “vital to maintaining the appropriate flow of energy necessary for daily function.” Stevie had just raised her eyebrow, fixing David with one of her patented unreadable looks.

So the moral of the story, really, was that David hated Patrick, and not even swimming a relay with him at the last Olympic Games of David’s career was going to change that.

___

David thought he would weep with relief upon finally arriving at the Olympic Village. Between delayed flights and obnoxious passengers surrounding him on the plane, David was fed up, exhausted, and desperately in need of a nap. Ronnie had immediately abandoned David to go check out the training facilities and ensure that David had been given a fair training schedule, and since Stevie wasn’t set to arrive until the next day, David was completely alone. Sure, he could seek out other Canadian athletes, but despite being on the national team for so many years, David found that he didn’t have any real friends, aside from Stevie.

Over the years, various athletes had been among the many people who had feigned interest in relationships with David, platonic or romantic, that in the end all turned out to be hollow attempts to take advantage of David’s wealth or connections. Apparently even elite athletes with all their fame and endorsements and talent were seduced by the irresistible draw of the benefits of being associated with a Rose. They never cared about David. Not really. They just wanted to be invited to parties or be gifted expensive things or use David as a stepping stone to get close to Alexis, the more desirable Rose sibling.

At first, David hadn’t cared that much that people were only interested in getting to know him because of his name and healthy bank account. After a lonely childhood spent feeling isolated and alone, being sought after felt thrilling and novel. But as the years went by, and so-called friends and lovers habitually mistreated David before casting him aside for something brighter and shinier, David began to impose self-isolation and only interact with teammates when it was absolutely necessary. He spent his time training, competing, hanging out with Stevie, taking a ridiculous amount of long baths, and doing very little else.

It was a lonely existence, there was no way around that, but David had accepted that he had two options: be used for his wealth and connections or be alone. With the exception of Stevie, he saw no room for another option in which people actually wanted to spend time with him for who he was and not what he had. He was sick and tired of being pushed around by vapid, greedy people looking for more fame or visibility, so he chose loneliness and worked hard to convince himself every day that he didn’t yearn for somebody to connect to, who understood him.

Shaking his head—it must have been the lack of sleep that had David dwelling on his life of relative isolation—he found the admin building, got himself checked in, and, key in hand, headed for the minuscule room he’d be living in for the next few weeks.

Naturally, his building was the furthest from the admin building, and David was ready to just drop to the floor and fall asleep by the time he found it. Lugging his bags, he wandered the halls of the first floor until he found his room, unlocked the door, and froze when it swung open.

There, sitting on the bed furthest from the door was Patrick Brewer, clad in a pair of grey sweatpants and a tight Swimming Canada t-shirt. He looked up from the book he was reading when the door banged against the wall. “Oh. Hi, David,” he said, a little timidly.

David just stood there blinking for a moment, before entering the room and closing the door behind him. He dropped his bags just inside the threshold, unable to bear the thought of carrying them a few feet to the bed that he supposed would be his. “Did you know?”

“Know what?” Patrick’s brow furrowed and he slid a bookmark in to mark his place and set the book on the bed. He was reading Anna Karenina, because of fucking course he was.

“That we were going to be roommates.”

“Oh, yeah,” Patrick said slowly, as though he were afraid of David’s reaction to his answer. “Jocelyn mentioned it to me.”

“Jocelyn?”

“My coach,” Patrick said, even though he was fairly certain that David knew exactly who Jocelyn was.

So this meant that Ronnie probably knew about their rooming arrangements and had conveniently failed to mention it to David. They would be having words about this.

“Look,” Patrick said when David didn’t respond, “can we just put whatever issues you have with me aside and make this as painless as possible? I really don’t want to be distracted by unnecessary drama, and I’m sure you don’t either.”

David huffed, picking up his bags and entering the room properly. He dropped his bags beside the bed before collapsing onto it. “Fine,” he said tersely. “But just so you know, I require at least nine hours of uninterrupted sleep in total darkness and complete silence, so don’t even think about stumbling into the room at 2 a.m. after partying all night with the Russian wrestlers or whatever.”

David swore that Patrick’s mouth twitched a little in amusement, but it must have been a trick of the light, because in no world would Patrick Brewer find something he’d said to be funny.

“Okay, David,” he said mildly. “I promise I won’t party with the Russian wrestlers.”

David jerked his head in a rough approximation of a nod and wiggled out of the sweater he was wearing, leaving him in a t-shirt and a pair of very confusing, very expensive, and very comfortable sweatpants. “I need to take a nap before my first training slot,” David stated, a bit rudely if he were being honest with himself, surprised to even care that he was being rude to Patrick fucking Brewer.

“Does that require total darkness and complete silence?” Patrick’s tone was teasing, but David had to admit that it was lighthearted and lacking any malice.

“It would be helpful, yes,” David said snippily.

Ever affable, Patrick just shrugged and got off his bed. “I was going to go have lunch with Ted anyway,” he said, shoving his feet into a pair of sneakers and walking to the door.

David, who had already slid under the covers and was pulling a sleeping mask over his eyes made a vague noise of acknowledgement.

“Have a good nap, David,” Patrick said, flicking off the light. “And good luck training later.”