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A Modern Study of Aquatic Relationships

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"So," says Cullen through a mouthful of hamburger, "I heard you hooked up with Lochte last night," and Michael chokes on his chicken finger.

Chad helpfully pats Phelps on the back and says, "I heard that also," while Michael prays for death. He had been hoping, not without some basis, that everyone had been too faded to remember that, but someone must have seen them drunkenly making out on the stairs of Lochte's frat.

Michael had also been hoping that he would be trashed enough to forget it, but he remembers all of it, particularly that morning when he had woken up in Lochte's bed, completely naked, with Lochte lying mostly on top of him. And judging from the horrifying number hickeys decorating his inner thighs and shoulder and ass, he's unlikely to forget it any time soon.

"What the fuck," he says. "I am not drunk enough for this conversation."

"I don't think Chad is old enough for this conversation," Cullen says, ruffling Chad's hair affectionately.

"What isn't Chad old enough for?" asks Allison, appearing out of nowhere with a smoothie in her hand. She sits down next to Cullen and squints at Michael. "Is that a hickey?"

Michael slaps a hand to his neck. He'd thought that one was unobtrusive enough to go unnoticed, but Allison is more observant than Cullen or Chad. Plus, she's sitting at exactly the right angle to see it. "Fuck."

"So the rumors about you and Lochte –" she starts, and Michael groans, dropping his head into his hands. "Excellent," she says happily.

"How does everyone know?" Michael asks the table.

"Matt," says Cullen.

"Matt," agrees Allison. "Well, Annie, but she got it from Matt."

Michael checks his watch and says, "I'm going to class."

"You have, like, forty-five minutes," Allison says.

Michael stares at her until she starts laughing, and then he gets up and makes a strategic retreat before anyone else asks any questions about Lochte.

 

Michael met Ryan Lochte his first week of college at some stupid mixer thrown for incoming athletes and had first taken notice of him because he had a really loud, stupid laugh and was dressed like an asshole. It turns out that this is most people's first impression of Lochte, followed closely by the realization that Lochte is both very attractive and very dumb.

It's not like Michael is a genius or anything, but Lochte just says the dumbest shit and is totally sincere and earnest about it while also somehow managing to be an asshole. Sometimes Michael says stuff just to fuck with Lochte, and the small, petty part of him that is jealous of how Lochte seems to always have someone hanging off his arm takes pleasure in watching Lochte frown and try to work out what Michael just said.

Michael had just assumed that Lochte would be on some douchebag sports team, like lacrosse or something, and only found out when he came to the first practice that Lochte was a swimmer and, well, annoyingly good.

"It's probably for the best," Allison had observed after one meet where Lochte had won by about half a second. "If he wasn't good at sports, he would have to be someone's trophy husband."

"He's probably going to end up doing that anyway," Michael said, watching as Lochte whooped and shook out his hair, spattering a couple of thrilled girls in the stands.

"At least he's pretty," she said.

Michael had made a face at her, because it was true but also not what he wanted to hear. He was – is – perfectly content to simply exist in the same circles as Ryan Lochte without ever actually interacting with him unless he has to. Lochte is the one who always insists on pushing himself on Michael, inviting him to parties and trying to find him a girl who actually is impressed by them being on the swim team. It's – weird. To say the least.

Though not as weird as having sex with him.

Michael thumps his head against his desk and shifts uncomfortably. He hadn't had time to shower when he had gotten back from the frat house, only had enough time to sort of splash some water on himself before he changed and ran to his nine a.m. class, and he's feeling kind of gross. He's also feeling sore in ways he isn't really used to, and every time his thighs or ass protests, he just remembers the intent look on Lochte's face, like he needed all of his concentration to fuck Michael.

It had been really hot, Michael thinks despairingly, and he wonders vaguely when his life had gone off the deep end.

He doesn't pay attention to most of the class, only occasionally surfacing from his self-disgust to write something random down. He's totally fucked for the midterm, but he's pretty sure he can get Caitlin to help him if he pays her or something. Maybe cookies.

He leaves class with the intention of heading back to his apartment and taking a shower, only Lochte is waiting outside his classroom, wearing a pair of douchey sunglasses and sequined shoes. Michael actually doesn't know how to react to that, so he pulls up and frowns until Lochte seems to realize he's standing there and pulls out his headphones.

"Hey, man," Lochte says cheerfully. "You left early this morning."

Which, yeah, of course Michael had, because he had been freaking the fuck out and also Lochte hadn't even stirred when Michael had left. "Uh," Michael says.

"You left some shit in my room," Lochte says, seeming completely oblivious to the fact that they're surrounded by tons of people. "You want to come get it?"

"I was actually gonna –" Michael gives up, because Lochte is giving him this look, and he actually legitimately isn't sure if he did leave something or if this is Lochte's attempt at a pick-up line. "Okay, whatever."

"Awesome." Lochte flips his shades up and smirks at Michael. "What the fuck class is this, anyway? The teacher was talking about some weird shit."

"Russian history," Michael says. "Rate My Professor said it was the easiest of the required classes."

"Nice," Lochte says, holding his fist up. Michael rolls his eyes but taps it.

They don't talk on the way to Lochte's frat house, which is both awkward and reassuring at the same time. Michael doesn't exactly know what to say – "So, you're a biter, huh?" doesn't really seem like a good conversational opening – so he just stays a few steps behind Lochte so they don't look like they're walking together. Lochte fist-bumps and bro-hugs with at least five people on the way, shouting, "Jeah!" at some guy who claims he scored the night before, and Michael tries very hard not shake his head.

The frat is mostly empty, which is both reassuring and ominous. Michael trails up the stairs after Lochte and is startled to see that his sweatshirt from the night before is, indeed, draped over Lochte's desk chair.

"Oh," he says, reaching out for it. "Cool. Thanks. I'll just –"

"Hey, no," Lochte says, snagging Michael's arm. "Come on, bro."

"What?" Michael says, and that's when Lochte drops to his knees and grins up at him. "Right, okay."

"Cool?" Lochte says, already undoing Michael's zipper.

"Go for it," Michael says, and he grabs onto Lochte's desk chair for balance when Lochte sucks him down.

After Michael comes, getting jizz on Lochte's shirt, he jerks Lochte off and then looks at his hand with mild disgust. "Great."

"Oh, shut up," Lochte says comfortably, stripping off his dirty shirt without even batting an eye. "Just use the shower here."

So Michael does that and then somehow he ends up downstairs in the house's living room playing Tekken against Lochte and swearing violently when Lochte slams his character into the ground. Lochte cheers, throwing his hands in the air and shouting, "Jeah, I am the fucking master!"

"Rematch," Michael says, reaching for his beer, and Lochte cackles as he goes back to the character screen.

What with one thing and another, Michael doesn't end up getting back to his apartment until around midnight. Cullen is studying at the kitchen table and smirks when Michael comes in. "Get lucky?"

"Shut up," Michael says, and he hides in his room for the rest of the night.

 

"Okay, but I thought you hated Lochte," Cullen says the next day at practice as they're stretching. Lochte is at the other end with Matt, laughing obnoxiously, and Michael can't stop staring at him. It's a problem.

"I kind of do," Michael says. "But doesn't everyone?"

"Point." Cullen fixes Michael with a look. "You used protection, didn't you?"

"We are not having this conversation," Michael says before turning his back on him. He accidentally catches Lochte's eye, and Lochte gives him a little half-grin before winking at him and pointing in a way that is simultaneous incredibly stupid and incredibly charming at the same time.

Michael is so incredibly fucked.

He really doesn't like Lochte the way he likes Cullen or Allison or Chad, or even the way he likes most of the other people on the team. He feels as though he spends most of his time with Lochte wondering how the idiot's able to put on his sparkly shoes in the morning, except for when Lochte is saying things like, "I'm really fucking horny, you want to have sex?"

Michael is ashamed that worked on him. In his defense, he has been pretty hard up, and Lochte had followed up the line by leaning into Michael's personal space. It had been easy to close the remaining distance and kiss him, wet and sloppy with alcohol. It's a little harder to explain the blow job, but again, Michael isn't going to turn down sex when it's freely offered.

After practice, Lochte catches Michael's eye and jerks his head a little, smiling, and Michael knows better, he really does, but.

He goes anyway.

 

This time they actually make it to the bed, Lochte nearly knocking Michael off the bed at a couple points, and after Michael has fucked Lochte into a swear-y mess, they collapse together on the bed. Michael stares up at the ceiling for a while, then jumps as Lochte leans over him to hit play on the iPod docking station next to the bed.

"Chill," Lochte says, apparently noticing Michael's reaction. "Just don't want to listen to your fucking panting."

"I'm not panting," Michael says.

"You're like, a, a dolphin crossed with a dog or some shit," Lochte says, which doesn't actually make that much sense. "You pant."

Michael shakes his head and closes his eyes as a Lil' Wayne song starts up. He only means to rest for a minute or two – he has reading to do – but the next thing he knows, he's blinking awake to a darker room, and Lochte isn't lying next to him anymore.

He sits up, rubbing at his face, and spots Lochte sitting at his desk, frowning at his laptop. Michael leans off the bed to pick up his underwear and pulls them on before padding around the room to reclaim the rest of his clothing.

Lochte looks up and says, "I thought you were going to sleep forever."

"Yeah, well," Michael says vaguely. He grabs his backpack. "I should head home."

"Wanna grab dinner?" Lochte asks, pushing his chair back from his desk. "I haven't eaten yet and there's nothing here, but we could order food."

Michael considers the long walk back to his apartment and says, "Okay."

They watch Jersey Shore and eat Chinese food with some of Lochte's frat brothers, and it ends up being more fun than Michael could have thought. Some of the other guys light up a joint and start passing it around, and Lochte takes a hit before offering it to Michael.

"Drug test?" Michael asks, raising his eyebrows, and Lochte passes it to the guy on Michael's other side before leaning in towards him. Michael realizes what he wants to do and opens his mouth so Lochte can breathe the smoke inside.

"Get a room!" Matt says cheerfully, throwing a napkin at them, and Lochte waggles his eyebrows at Michael. Michael considers it, but he wants to pretend that he has some amount of control over his own life, so he says, "Later."

He gets up to leave once they've finished demolishing the Chinese food and says, "See you at practice," before heading for the door.

"Hey, wait," says Lochte, jogging after him. He pulls a sharpie from – somewhere and grabs Michael's hand. "Here." And he scrawls a phone number across Michael's forearm in huge, ungainly digits.

"What," Michael says.

"Booty calls are easier when you can actually call," Lochte says. He slaps Michael on the ass and adds, "See you later, stud."

Michael frowns at him, but just says, "Okay," and leaves, staring at Ryan's messy writing across his skin.

He does program Lochte's number into phone, although he doesn't bother calling or texting because he legitimately has no idea what he would say. He looks at the entry for a moment and then shoves his phone away so he can go take a shower and try to scrub the sharpie off his arm.

The numbers refuse to fade, though, and he has to deal with people trying to get a good look at it over the next few days. Allison manages to shove his sleeve all the way to the elbow, and she starts laughing when she realizes what it is.

"Wow," she says. "You actually have no excuse for this."

"Oh, please," says Caitlin, who is helping Michael with his homework. "I'd fuck Ryan."

"I would too," says Allison, "but phone numbers is going a bit far."

"He doesn't have my number," Michael protests.

Caitlin and Allison exchange looks. "Okay," Allison says after a moment. "I guess that's all right."

"It's not a – we're not dating or anything," says Michael, because God forbid. "It's – look, I haven't even talked to him in three days."

"You counted?" Allison asks, and Michael snatches his book away from Caitlin, scowling at both of them, and leaves them to their giggling.

He's halfway across campus when he discovers Lochte and some of his frat buddies trying to grind on one of the railings. He stops and crosses his arms to watch as Lochte manages to pull it off before falling in a heap on the grass at the bottom of the stairs.

"Jesus," Michael says involuntarily, straightening up in concern. "Lochte, you idiot!"

Lochte is cracking up, though, and he doesn't seem to be hurt. Even so, Michael hurries down the stairs to make sure the moron hasn't broken his neck or something.

"Oh, Mike!" Lochte says when he catches sight of Michael. He waves, grinning, and asks, "Did you see that shit?"

"Yeah," Michael says, rolling his eyes. "Coach will kill you if you break something skateboarding."

"I'm all good," Lochte says. He hauls himself upright by grabbing onto Michael's hoodie, and Michael nearly topples over in surprise. "You want to check me over for injuries?"

"Uh," Michael says. "No?"

"Really?" Lochte raises his eyebrows, smirking. "It's been a while."

"I don't need to have sex every day," Michael says. "And it's been three days."

"Who says anything about need?" Lochte asks.

Michael rolls his eyes and says, "I have homework."

"We can go back to your place." Lochte starts steering Michael away from the stairs, leaning down to grab his backpack from a bench.

"Isn't that your skateboard?" Michael tries desperately, because he does not want Lochte anywhere near Cullen, but Lochte just shakes his head.

"Nah, man, that's Matt's. Don't worry about it." Lochte throws his arm around Michael's shoulders. "Let's go."

Michael sighs and gives it up for a lost cause because Lochte is stubborn like all idiots are, and maybe eventually Lochte will get bored of him and go back to fucking, like, cheerleaders or gymnasts or whatever he usually goes for. Michael doesn't actually know; he never bothered talking to Lochte's dates.

"So dude," Lochte says, leaning in close to Michael's face, "I know you're all focused on your swimming and shit, but I gave you my number."

"I had a paper?" Michael tries, but Lochte just laughs loudly and obnoxiously.

"Yeah, whatever," he says. "You actually do homework?"

"I'm here on a scholarship, so, yeah," Michael says. He turns in the direction of his apartment building, dragging Lochte with him. "What, don't you have to do work?"

"I need your number," Lochte says, not even trying to be subtle about changing the subject.

"What if I don't want you to have it?" Michael says.

"I could earn it," Lochte suggests. He waggles his eyebrows, as if Michael couldn't read into that on his own. "And you want me to have it."

"I really don't," Michael says. He unlocks the door to his building. "Are you going to –"

Lochte kisses him before he can finish his sentence, and he forgets everything he wants to say. His keys drop to the floor, forgotten, as Lochte pushes him back against the wall. They haven't actually managed to kiss while sober yet, and it's – well. It's good. Really, really good, and he thinks even Allison would understand if she experienced this.

Not that he ever plans on letting her. Allison can do better.

"I, uh, have an apartment," Michael points out as Lochte starts biting at his jaw, right over the fading hickey he had left before. "Gah."

"Apartment, good," Lochte says vaguely. "Bed?"

"Of course there's a bed," Michael says. He manages to shove Ryan off him and leans down to pick up his keys. Ryan, naturally, pushes his crotch against Michael's ass. "Jesus, wait like two minutes."

"Go faster," Ryan suggests. Michael tries to hit him, but Ryan manages to duck away.

Thankfully for Michael's state of mind, Cullen isn't home. He drags Ryan into his bedroom and kicks the door shut. After a moment of consideration, he locks the door too, just as a precaution.

When he turns around, Ryan already has his shirt off and is working on his jeans. Michael hits his hands away and unzips them for him before dropping to his knees. He kneels there for a moment, staring at Ryan's crotch blankly.

"Dude," says Ryan after a moment.

"Shut up," Michael says. "I'm thinking."

"It isn't that hard," Ryan says. "You put your mouth on my dick."

For that, Michael gently flicks the hard curve of Ryan's dick with his finger. Ryan swears and punches Michael in the shoulder.

"I've never done this before, shut up," Michael says, and then he sucks Ryan's dick into his mouth.

Ryan gasps and his knees wobble, and Michael decides to show off his breath control for a bit just to see what he can make Ryan do. He can feel Ryan's thighs tense under his hands, his dick twitching in Michael's mouth, and he's making these stupid noises that shouldn't be sexy at all but are, somehow. Michael is a little appalled by his own taste, but whatever, he's kind of already dug his own grave by letting Ryan into his apartment.

Ryan at least does Michael the courtesy of hitting him on the shoulder when he's about to come. Michael jerks him off until Ryan comes, body curving in parenthetically as he lets out a stream of nonsense swear words. He pulls Michael up for another kiss, this one wetter and dirtier than the one from before, and then practically throws him onto the bed.

"Whoa, watch it," Michael says as Ryan climbs on top of him. Ryan pins Michael's wrists down and smirks.

"You're fine," Ryan says. He looks at Michael's arm, where the digits of his phone number have faded to a dull, barely visible gray, and he pouts.

"You look like Zoolander," says Michael, but Ryan ignores him, instead leaning off the bed to grab his backpack. He pulls out another sharpie with a flourish and grins. "Hey, no!"

"Ryan Lochte was here," Ryan says proudly as he starts to scribble on Michael's arm again. Michael thumps his head against the pillows in frustration, but he finds himself watching the way Ryan writes, his tongue sticking out of his mouth as he concentrates. "Now everyone will know."

"Pretty sure everyone already knows," Michael says. He sighs. It would be nice if at least one or two people didn't know about his shame, but given the way the swim team seems to gossip, he wouldn't be surprised if the entire athletic department knows by now.

"Good," Ryan says. He lifts Michael's arm to blow on the ink still drying there, and Michael actually shudders. Ryan does it again, watching Michael's face.

"I –" Michael starts, but Ryan takes that opportunity to move down Michael's body, pen still in hand, and starts to draw on the jut of Michael's hip. "Could you stop?"

"In a minute." Ryan bends down to draw, thick spiraling lines that radiate out down Michael's thigh, curling up his abdomen, and swirling down the front of his leg. Michael stays still, because it's weird to see Ryan this intent and focused when he isn't swimming. The tip of the sharpie is cool and wet against his skin, dragging goosepimples from him as it goes.

Eventually Ryan is satisfied, and he sits up with a smile. "There."

Michael cranes his head to look and – "Is that an octopus?"

Ryan shrugs. "It's the only thing I can draw."

"Ah," Michael says. He plucks the sharpie from Ryan's fingers as a preemptive measure, then pulls him back down for a kiss. Ryan goes eagerly, nipping at Michael's lips and rubbing his cheek against Michael's stubble before reaching down between them and wrapping his hand around Michael's dick.

"Erglkj," he says, and Ryan practically purrs against him, grinning hugely and god, he has dimples, Michael isn't sure how he's never noticed that before. He reaches up to curl his hand around Ryan's neck and strokes his thumb along Ryan's jaw. Ryan turns his face into Michael's hand for a moment, eyes drifting shut, then resumes jerking Michael off.

Michael comes a few minutes later, breathless and shaky and feeling way more off-kilter than he's comfortable with. Ryan, for his part, doesn't seem to notice that anything has changed and just rolls over to lie next to Michael. After a moment, he rubs his filthy hand over Michael's chest and cackles when Michael glares at him.

They lie there together for a few minutes, their breathing loud in the otherwise silent room. Ryan seems to be half-asleep, and Michael is feeling too blissed-out to get up and work on his homework, though he really should. He's just about to start drifting off himself when suddenly Ryan's hand lands in his hair.

"What are you doing?" Michael asks, turning to look at Ryan. Ryan just keeps stroking his head kind of awkwardly, probably smearing jizz in Michael's hair. "Ryan."

Ryan smiles dopily and says, "That's my name."

And that's the point when Michael starts to worry that it's becoming a thing.

 

Michael goes to take a shower once it gets to the point where he feels like he needs to scrape his skin off, although he's careful not to scrub away Ryan's drawing. The octopus is actually kind of cute, with big eyes and a smiling mouth. Michael is willing to bet Ryan has drawn it countless times, the way people do when they find the one thing they can draw passably well.

When he gets out of the bathroom, he finds Ryan sitting shirtless in the kitchen with Cullen. They're eating Michael's tortilla chips and arguing loudly about – something, Michael can't really tell. He accidentally catches Cullen's eye on his way back to the bedroom, and Cullen gives him this knowing look.

Michael hates that the swim team is so incestuous.

He holes up in his room to study and manages to make pretty good headway on his reading before Ryan comes back in. Ryan sits on Michael's knee, preventing him from writing, and when Michael makes an annoyed sound, Ryan just beams at him.

"Yeah?" he asks.

"What are you doing?" Michael tries to shove him off, but Ryan is basically a big puppy you can't get to leave you alone.

"I'm going home," Ryan says, "but I wanted to show you –" And he flashes a napkin in Michael's face.

Michael squints and sees that it's a phone number. "Okay –" Then he looks closer. "Wait, that's my number!"

"Cullen gave it to me," Ryan says. He hops off Michael's lap and leans down to kiss him. Michael blinks in confusion as Ryan strokes his jaw, sucks on his lower lip, and finally pulls back to look at Michael intently. His eyes are really very blue, Michael thinks nonsensically.

"I need to study," Michael says, voice coming out rough.

"I'll call you," Ryan says, and he smirks a little before going to tug on the rest of his clothes. Michael watches him, tapping his pencil restlessly against his notebook. He feels unsettled and uncomfortable, both of which he associates with Ryan before they started doing – whatever this is. It's weird, having Ryan in his space like this, but it's easy, too. Ryan fits in Michael's room, looks like he belongs, and Michael – he doesn't hate it.

"Bye," Michael says belatedly as Ryan is about to leave.

Ryan looks back and says, "Sleep tight, don't let the bed bite."

Michael blinks in confusion, but Ryan is gone before Michael has a chance to ask if Ryan had meant to say that.

 

He doesn't realize just how bad it is that Ryan has his phone number until he gets the first text a day later. His phone buzzes in the middle of class, and at first Michael's a little freaked out because no one texts him, but it's just Ryan.

Saw a dolfin & it rminded me of u

Especlly the smile

And then, unnecessarily,

Im @ beach

Michael rolls his eyes and discreetly texts Ryan back beneath the desk, Why aren't you in class?

Felt like swimming, is the illuminating reply.

You're going to fail out, Michael writes back, and then he puts his phone away because he can see the TA eying him suspiciously.

He checks his phone again when he leaves class and sees another text from Ryan. It's attached to a photo, one of those MySpace-type deals, and he's wearing a pair of bedazzled sunglasses. Next time ur coming too

Michael stares at the photo for longer than he's willing to admit before eventually saving it as his contact photo for Ryan. It's a terrible photo, and Ryan looks like a douchebag, but – Michael likes it.

"Hey, what's this?" Caitlin asks at dinner, grabbing his hand and shoving up his sweatshirt sleeve. Ryan's scrawling declaration has faded a little, but not much, and it's still readable. He watches Caitlin look at it and spots the exact moment when she realizes what it says, because her eyes go wide and her hand tightens on his wrist. "Oh my god."

"Can I have my arm back?" Michael tugs, but she won't relinquish her hold on him. "Caitlin."

"You're dating Ryan Lochte," she says delightedly. "Ryan Lochte."

"We aren't dating," Michael says. "Give me my arm back."

"'Ryan Lochte was here'," she reads out. "When did this happen?"

"I'm not talking to you about this," Michael says. He yanks his arm away from her and scowls down at his tray of food. "It's just – it happened, okay?"

"All right," Caitlin says, clearly taking pity on him. "I just – it's Ryan Lochte."

"I know," Michael says.

"He slept with the entire women's diving team last year," Caitlin says, "and quite a few of the track team."

"I know," Michael says again. He remembers, because every time he had seen Ryan the previous year, he'd had a different person on his arm. There had even been a betting pool about who he would date next, for a given value of "date."

"Okay," Caitlin says dubiously.

"There's no chance you're not telling Allison about this, is there?" he asks.

"Nope," she says, and he sighs, resigned.

"Fine," he says. "Just – don't blab about it everywhere."

"You have his name written across your arm," Caitlin points out. "I don't think I'll need to."

Michael sighs.

 

He doesn't have a lot of time to worry about Ryan, though, because the next couple of weeks are so busy that he only has time to study, go to practice and class, and then go back to his apartment to sleep. He sees Ryan at practice, of course, and Ryan usually finds an excuse to sit next to Michael and talk to him – well, for a given value of talking.

The octopus on his leg eventually fades to a shadowy outline, bits of dark ink lingering in the pores of his skin on his hip. Sometimes, when he's tired enough not to care about how stupid he's being, he touches the spots and remembers the intent look on Ryan's face as he had drawn it.

Ryan continues to text him, though they seem to get increasingly incoherent as they draw closer to their first meet of the year. Michael spends five minutes staring at one that reads, get up & smell the gardens!! and still isn't able to figure out what the hell it means.

I don't understand, Michael texts back.

Shoot for the moon and youll be a star!!! is the next one and at that point, Michael just gives up.

The morning of their first meet, he gets another photo of Ryan, this time with Ryan holding a hand to his chest and trying to look solemn. Good luck today bro, it says. Michael can't bring himself to close the message until he has to get ready for the meet, and even then he keeps thinking about it.

The thing is that Ryan and Michael are easily the two best swimmers on their team. They've dominated the field at every meet they've had since they got to college, and the only thing that has kept them from being at each other's throats all the time is that they're rarely competing against each other. They are competitive, of course, because it's hard not to be, but for the most part Michael genuinely wishes Ryan the best.

He wonders if he should have texted Ryan back and said as much, but it's too late for that now.

 

After the meet, Ryan finds him, flushed with success from his wins, and punches Michael in the chest so hard that Michael rocks back a step. "Dude," he says. "You've been avoiding me."

"I've been busy," Michael says, rubbing his chest and scowling at Ryan. "You have been too."

"Yeah," Ryan says, "but it's been, like, two weeks since I've had sex and that's – unacceptable." It sounds as though he had rehearsed this, which Michael should not find endearing. "So?"

"Hey, Phelps, Lochte!" someone shouts from the other side of the pool. "Party at Nathan's, yeah?"

"Definitely!" Lochte shouts back, waving. "Jeah!"

"Yeah yeah!" shout back a bunch of the guys. Michael can't help grinning in response, and even though he should know better, lets Ryan lead him back to the buses.

"You did good," Ryan says on the bus back. "Not as good as me, but pretty good."

"I did way better than you," Michael says. "Don't front."

"Whatever, man," Ryan says. "You've got, like, flippers for hands."

Michael squints at him. "What?"

"Whatever." Ryan lets his hand settle on Michael's thigh. Michael jumps and looks around. They're sitting towards the back of the bus, and no one is paying any attention to them, but he still feels hugely conscious of the wide, warm stretch of Ryan's fingers across his leg.

"Ryan," Michael says.

"What?" Ryan asks. He strokes his fingers upward, smirking.

"You are not jerking me off on a school bus," Michael hisses.

"Tell me to stop," Ryan says. He shoves his hand down the waistband of Michael's track pants, and Michael's head thumps back against the seat.

"Motherfucker," he groans. "Ryan –"

"It's been two weeks," Ryan complains. "I thought my dick was going to fall off."

"From jerking it too much?" Michael asks, voice coming out gravelling and stuttery.

"Yeah, dude," Ryan says. "I jerked off, like, five times a day."

Michael is pretty sure that isn't actually medically possible, but if anyone would try, it's Ryan. "Just pick some freshman on the diving team again."

"What?" Ryan asks. "Why would I fuck someone else?"

Michael looks over at Ryan, startled. Ryan looks actually earnest, his eyes wide, and that makes no sense unless –

"Uh," Michael says. "Ryan, are we, um, dating?"

Ryan's brow furrows. "I thought so." And then he does something with his hand that makes Michael spasm slightly, his hand flying out to grab Ryan's wrist, his head banging against the window, and oh god, Michael has no idea how this is his life.

Michael comes in his track pants, which is fucking gross, and kind of slumps against the window while Ryan wipes his hand off on Michael's underwear. Then Ryan leans over him, narrowing his eyes at his face.

"I didn't know how to ask you out," Ryan says. He pokes Michael's face, and Michael is going to fucking kill him if that's his jizz hand. "Mike?"

"Jesus Christ," mutters Michael. "You never thought, 'Hey I think we should only fuck each other' was a good start?"

Ryan suddenly looks angry. "You've slept with someone else? Who?"

"No!" Michael says hurriedly. "I'm just saying that would have been a good way to open the conversation."

"I asked for your number," Ryan says.

"Cullen has my number," Michael says. "Allison has my number."

"I wrote my number on your arm." Ryan frowns. "I've seen that in movies."

"How was I supposed to know that?" Michael scowls at Ryan.

Ryan shrugs, then leans over and kisses Michael, just a quick brush of lips, surprisingly tasteful and chaste considering who it is. "I thought you'd know."

"Right," Michael says vaguely. He can see Ryan's erection straining against the thin fabric of his track pants, and he feels kind of bad, but he really doesn't want to give Ryan a handjob on a bus. "Can you wait until we get to the party?"

"My poor dick," Ryan moans. He palms himself through his pants and slants a sideways look at Michael. "Fine, I guess. But you owe me big time."

"Okay," Michael says, already making plans for when they get to Nathan's place. There's a bathroom upstairs that no one ever seems to use during parties, and Michael knows from snooping in the cupboards that Nathan keeps the condoms there.

They get to the house Nathan shares with Chad and some of the guys from the diving team around eight to find the party already in full swing. Michael goes to grab a beer from the cooler, but Ryan says, "No way," and drags him away.

"Jesus," says Michael, "fine." He looks around quickly to check if anyone is watching before pushing Ryan up the stairs. Ryan laughs loudly. Michael punches him in the back to get him to stop.

Just as Michael had suspected, the upstairs bathroom is empty, and no one else seems to have migrated upstairs yet. Still, Michael locks the door behind them before turning to look at Ryan. "Ready?"

"Finally," Ryan says, and he pulls Michael in by the hoodie. Michael kisses him and takes his time for once. He pushes Ryan back against the counter until Ryan hops up onto it and rubs his hands up Ryan's thighs. Ryan breaks away to groan and bite Michael's jaw. "Fuck."

"You can't shout," Michael warns as he gets his hand into Ryan's track pants. "Otherwise people will know."

"What if I want them to know?" Ryan asks, pushing his hips up. "They should all fucking know that you're a sex – king, fuck, I don't know."

"Sex king," Michael repeats incredulously.

"Shut up and get me off," Ryan says. Michael does as he's told and jerks Ryan off, kissing him to keep him from talking. Ryan moans against Michael's mouth instead, sending little vibrations through him and making Michael shiver in response.

Ryan bites Michael's lower lip when he comes, and Michael yanks back with a curse as Ryan spills over his hand. "You fucking bit me!"

"Ugh," Ryan says without moving. Michael scowls at him and steps to the right so he can wash his hands. He leans forward to prod at his lip, which looks slightly swollen, and demands, "What is it with you and biting?"

"It's, like, a, uh, Oedipal fixation or some shit," says Ryan.

"Oral fixation?" Michael asks, looking over at him.

"Whatever, I'm not a psych major." Ryan rubs his hand over his chest absently, still looking blissed out. "Don't know if that was worth waiting two weeks for, but it was pretty good."

Michael rolls his eyes. "Thanks."

"Maybe I'll get a fuck if I get you drunk enough," Ryan muses, sliding from the counter. "You game?"

"Are you daring me to get hard again?" Michael asks incredulously.

Ryan shrugs. "Sure."

"Whatever," Michael says, because Ryan is a sloppy drunk and odds are pretty good he'll forget the bet within two hours. "Come on, before people wonder where we got to."

Ryan follows him out and downstairs, and although there's really no escaping the fact that they look like they just came from having sex, people don't seem to notice, mostly because they're busy watching something else. Michael peers over the tops of everyone's heads and sees that Nathan and Cullen have apparently decided to start a game of beer pong.

Michael grabs a beer and goes to lurk in a corner away from everyone else, which is what he tends to do anyway if it's the night of a meet. This time, though, he notices Ryan glancing back towards him every few minutes, and it's kind of weird.

The whole thing is weird, he admits to himself. If Ryan is being truthful about trying to date Michael – and Michael is inclined to believe that he is, since Ryan isn't that good an actor – then them sleeping together at the frat party hadn't been a mistake. And if it hadn't been a mistake, then that means that Ryan had been wanting it for a while. He had been wanting Michael for a while. And that makes no sense because Ryan could have anyone he wanted, really, and Michael doesn't know what could have made him decide that Michael was the person he wanted.

"Hey," says Allison, sitting down next to him. "You have your thinking face on."

"Huh?" He turns to look at her. "I – it's just, uh, I was wondering something."

"Yeah?" She taps her beer bottle against his gently, smiling. "About what?"

"It's, I –" Michael frowns. "I don't understand what's happening between me and Ryan."

"How so?"

Michael glances back over towards Ryan, who is currently shouting at Matt about – something, Michael doesn't really know – and sighs. "We hardly even spoke last year. How did this happen?"

Allison doesn't say anything, which is unusual. He looks at her suspiciously. "Allison?"

"It's – he asked me about you. A couple of times, actually." She starts peeling the label off her beer bottle. "If you were single, who you had dated, you know. I thought – I mean, remember last year when he kept trying to hook you up with girls?"

"Yes," Michael says, frowning. "It was weird." But, he realizes, it had been weirdly nice too, considering that he had barely spoken to Ryan. Ryan hadn't had any reason to help him, or any reason to keep talking at Michael, but he had. He had kept talking to him, slowly wearing Michael down until finally Michael had been drunk enough and – "Shit."

"What?" Allison asks.

"Nothing," Michael says. "I have to – thanks."

"For what?" she calls after him, but Michael just waves her off.

"Sup?" says Ryan cheerfully, then, "Whoa, what are you doing?" as Michael drags him outside.

"How, I –" Michael waves his hands a little. "You had a crush on me last year."

"What? No!" Ryan says, but he's so obviously lying that Michael just crosses his arms and stares at him. "Bro, it was – like a mancrush, okay, you're a really good swimmer."

"And?"

"Dude, why do you care?" Ryan asks.

"Because we're dating?" Michael suggests.

Ryan opens his mouth, then closes it again. Michael waits, because he knows sometimes it takes Ryan a while to process things.

After a moment, Ryan says, "So you do want to date me."

"That's what I'm saying," Michael says. He feels like a total idiot, and he's pretty sure he sounds like one too. "I'm – I didn't know, okay? I didn't know you felt that way."

"I never said I did," Ryan says, but he isn't meeting Michael's eyes.

"It's okay," Michael says, reaching out to touch Ryan's arm. "Ryan, come on."

"I'm not a pussy," Ryan says, looking up. "I'm not, you know, gonna kill myself if you don't want to –"

"Ryan, I let you jerk me off on a school bus," Michael says.

"Yeah?" Ryan says. "Is that weird for you?"

"Extremely," Michael says. "Jesus, okay, we're going – somewhere that isn't here." He gestures vaguely at the party, which has been getting steadily louder. Someone is probably going to call the cops soon.

"The frat house is closer," Ryan says, and the smile he gives Michael is almost shy. It's incredibly disconcerting to see.

"Okay," Michael says. "Okay."

 

When Michael wakes up on the morning, he's momentarily confused as to where he is. Then he blinks and spots his underwear draped over the lamp on Ryan's bedside table and he remembers.

Ryan is sitting at his computer, scowling fiercely. He's wearing glasses, of all things, which Michael can never recall seeing him with before, and he is typing very slowly. He types, Michael is amused to note, with two fingers.

"Didn't they teach you proper typing in school?" Michael asks, getting up and pulling his underwear off the lamp.

"Huh?" Ryan looks up. "I – what?"

"Typing." Michael mimes the movement. "With all your fingers?'

"Oh. Never figured it out." Ryan focuses back on the computer. Michael decides not to be offended by this – if Ryan is finally doing work, he's not going to stop him – and instead goes about collecting the rest of his clothing. By the time he's mostly dressed, Ryan has closed his laptop and turned to watch Michael.

"Wanna go to the beach?" Ryan asks suddenly.

"Sure," Michael says. "Today?"

"Yeah." Ryan stands up. "Hot today."

"Me or the weather?"

Ryan grins, and Michael relaxes. "Both."

"Sounds good. You have something I could wear?"

"I think Evan should have some trunks that fit you," Ryan says, heading for the door. "Unless you want to wear one of my speedos."

"Do you want me to wear one of your speedos?" Michael asks, and the idea of it sends a pleasant shiver down his spine. He's never really been into the whole sharing clothes kink, even though he knows a lot of guys who get turned on by seeing their girlfriend in their shirts or sweatpants or whatever, but – yeah. He kinda likes the idea of wearing Ryan's clothes.

Ryan hesitates, glancing Michael over with undisguised want. "Later," he says eventually.

So Michael borrows a pair of trunks from Evan instead, and they take Matt's car down to the beach. It's not that crowded, too late in the year for tourists, but there are still enough families around that Michael doesn't feel comfortable grabbing for Ryan's hand like he kind of wants to.

"I'm going to tan," Ryan announces once they settle their towels onto the sand. He immediately strips off his shirt, and Michael stares blankly at the exposed skin, even though he sees it all the time. Someone nearby wolf-whistles and Ryan turns to look for the source, grinning slightly.

Michael stretches out on the sand after taking off his own shirt and closes his eyes. It's been a while since he went to the beach, and he forgot how nice it is to just lie down for a while in the sun and relax. He hears Ryan settling down next to him and has to force himself not to look over. He knows Ryan is just wearing his speedos and Michael's borrowed trunks won't hide anything, so he figures it's for the best.

He dozes off and only wakes up when Ryan hits him in the shoulder and says, "I'm going into the water, want to come?"

Michael is always up for swimming. He pulls himself to his feet and follows Ryan down to the water's edge, trying and failing not to scope out his ass. It's a very nice ass.

"Race you to the buoy?" he calls to Ryan, and Ryan grins. In the bright sunlight, he looks ridiculously gorgeous, and it's hard to believe that they're dating. Apparently.

"Loser buys lunch!" Ryan announces, and he dives into the water before Michael has a chance to protest. Michael swears and takes off after him.

Michael is faster than Ryan, but Ryan has a head start and Michael – he kind of wants to let Ryan have this win. So when he draws even with Ryan, he slows up a little and allows Ryan to get to the buoy first.

"Jeah!" Ryan shouts, thrusting his fist into the air. He turns to grin at Michael. "Too slow, buddy."

Michael smiles at him and says, "Yeah." He grabs onto the buoy and leans in to kiss Ryan. It's kind of difficult to do while treading water, but Ryan kisses back, clinging to the buoy with one hand and Michael with the other.

"We're going to get eaten by a shark," says Ryan when he pulls back.

"I think we're probably safe, actually," Michael says.

"Well, I want to go body surfing," Ryan says. He gropes Michael, smirks, and says, "And maybe we'll break into the lifeguard tower later."

"That's a terrible idea!" Michael shouts after him as Ryan starts to swim back to shore.

When he catches up Ryan, he's throwing himself into the oncoming waves with no apparent regard for his own safety or well-being. Michael watches as Ryan catches a wave and is flung headlong towards shore. He pops up a moment later, whooping, and wades back out to where Michael is standing.

"Join me, it's fun!" Ryan says, casually invading Michael's personal space to rub his nose against Michael's cheekbone.

"I don't want to end up brain damaged," Michael says.

Ryan bites his ear. "Wuss," he whispers, and Michael just – he's easy for Ryan, he's learning.

"Okay," he says, and the two of them turn to catch the next wave rolling in towards the shore.

Michael's feeling pleasantly beaten up by the water by the time they drag themselves out and back to their towels. Ryan collapses face-first onto his, and when Michael prods him with his toe, Ryan just waves his hand.

"I'm going to get us lunch," Michael says, and he slips on his flip-flops before heading inland towards the Strand.

He buys four burgers and a shit-ton of fries and has to do some interesting juggling to carry all of it plus their drinks back to their towels. Ryan hasn't moved except to put on a pair of amazingly douchey sunglasses, but when Michael says, "Food," he scrambles upright.

"Fuck yeah," says Ryan when he opens the bag. "You're a provider, I like that."

Michael rolls his eyes. "Yeah, sure."

Ryan pokes Michael in the face with a fry, and Michael wonders again why he's dating this guy.

They pack up after they've finished eating and head back to the car. After a moment, Ryan takes Michael's hand.

"Really?" Michael asks, startled.

"Shut up," says Ryan, looking flustered, but he doesn't let go of Michael's hand.

It's still too light outside for them to park somewhere and make-out, but it doesn't stop Ryan from trying at every red light. Michael has to hit him in the arm to get him to go at PCH, and Ryan tries to convince him to give him road head.

"It'll be awesome," Ryan says, groping Michael's thigh.

"Until you crash," Michael says. "Put your fucking hand back on the wheel."

Somehow, they manage to make it back to the frat house without incident. Michael walks Ryan to the door, feeling dumb, but Ryan is grinning stupidly and is holding Michael's hand anyway.

"I'll give Evan his trunks back later," Michael says.

"You could come upstairs now," Ryan suggests.

"I have homework," Michael says. "So do you."

"Boring," complains Ryan.

"I'll reward you," Michael suggests, and that makes Ryan light up like a kid in a candy store.

"Okay," he says. He leans in and kisses Michael firmly before opening the door. "I – this was, you know. Cool."

"Yeah," Michael agrees, smiling. It's only later as he's walking back to his apartment that he realizes that it had probably been their first date.

 

"Okay, no, wait," Cullen says once he has finally stopped laughing. "So you guys have made it official?"

"Shut up," Michael says, turning off the stove. "It's – whatever, we're dating."

"This is so weird to me," Cullen says. "We all kind of thought your dick had shriveled from the chlorine."

"It isn't just – look – what?" Michael gives him a betrayed look. "You thought my dick had shriveled?"

"You didn't, like, hook up all that much last year," Cullen says with a shrug. "But I guess you were saving it all for Ryan."

"Don't say it like that," Michael says. What he really wants to say is that they're not dating for the sex, but that sounds stupid and sappy and would probably result in more teasing, so instead he turns his attention back to his freshly boiled pasta.

The thing is, dating Ryan is easy. Michael has tried to date before, in high school and briefly during freshman year of college, but he's so busy with swimming and trying to keep his scholarship that he hardly has time to go out on dates or to just hang around. But Ryan has a pretty similar schedule and is easy about spending time together. They don't have to go out to dinner and a movie every time or even have to talk that much. Sometimes Michael will end up reading his stupid fucking Economics textbook in Ryan's room while Ryan scowls at the computer and tries to type.

"You know," Michael says eventually after one painful night of watching Ryan write a twelve page paper, "I think I'm going to buy you some typing software."

"Fuck you," says Ryan.

Michael spends, like, an hour the next day surfing Amazon and looking for a good typing program. He eventually buys the doofiest looking one for kids, which has some kid, like, snowboarding on it. He kind of vaguely remembers playing some of the games in the series when he was younger, and he doesn't remember snowboarding. He remembers something about robots, though.

He thinks Ryan will like the snowboarding.

"What the shit is this?" Ryan asks when Michael gives him the package. He opens the box and starts laughing. "You realize that I'm not five?"

"You type like you are," Michael says.

"Oh, burn," Ryan says.

"It'll help you get through papers faster," Michael says.

"Ugh, fine," Ryan says, and he turns around to install the software.

Michael watches, feeling weirdly fond, as Ryan pokes and prods at the computer. Eventually he has to step in and do it for him, because Ryan is hopeless, and then he sits and does homework while Ryan starts playing the game.

True to Michael's hopes, Ryan's typing rapidly improves. As an unintended side effect, Ryan becomes helplessly addicted to the video game. Michael quickly gets used to coming to Ryan's room to find him hunched over his laptop, swearing at the tiny children in the game.

"It's your fault," Ryan says when Michael eventually uninstalls the game for his own good. "You bought it for me."

"I didn't realize you would get obsessed with it." Michael kisses Ryan gently, because it's kind of cute that Ryan got that into a game meant for eight-year-olds, and then stashes the CD away in his backpack.

"It helped," Ryan says. "So thanks, I guess."

"You guess?" Michael snorts. "I just cut down your essay writing time by, like, half."

Ryan groans and flops back in his seat. "God, essays."

"I know." Michael sits back down to pull out his reading for class. He's gotten about a page in when Ryan speaks.

"What are you doing for Thanksgiving?"

"Huh?" Michael looks up. "I can't spend the money to go home, so I'm staying here."

"Oh." Ryan looks down. "My, uh, my family is going to be out here because my niece and nephew want to go to Disneyland. I can – I, uh. Do you want to come?"

Michael stares at him for a moment. "You want me to do Thanksgiving with your family?"

"You can say no if you want," Ryan says hurriedly.

"No, I'll come," Michael says. "That'll – that'll be really fun."

Ryan flashes him a smile, the one that dimples his cheeks and makes him look like he's fifteen or something and Michael just – he really likes Ryan.

"Jeah," Ryan says, and then he practically tackles Michael to the bed.

Michael explains all this to his mother – minus the sex stuff – the next time they Skype, and she starts crying, of all things. Michael kind of flails in horror because he has no idea what to do when his mom cries, and it's worse because she's on the other side of the country.

"Debs," he says desperately. "Please stop? I – he's my boyfriend, it's no big deal."

"And you're meeting his family and everything," she says, wiping her eyes. "Michael, honey, I'm so proud of you."

"Proud?" Michael asks. "Did you think I was going to die alone?"

She's suspiciously quiet for long enough that he narrows his eyes at her. "You're just so focused," she says. "I'm glad you've found someone. And you like him?"

"Yeah," Michael says. "I do."

 

Midterms fall right before Thanksgiving, so for the two weeks before break, Michael barely sees Ryan, too busy trying very hard not to fail his classes to go and hang out in Ryan's room. The day of his economics midterm, he takes the test, then comes home and collapses on his bed for twelve hours.

When he wakes up, Ryan is sleeping next to him. Michael squints at him, then decides that he's going to have to have a serious conversation with Cullen about letting people into his room. He doesn't particularly mind, though, even if Ryan gives off so much body heat that Michael is sweating slightly, and he wraps an arm around Ryan's waist before going back to sleep.

The first day of Thanksgiving break thus starts with Ryan shaking Michael awake and saying, "I'm going to blow you, okay?"

"Sure," Michael says drowsily, and he closes his eyes as Ryan kisses down his chest to his dick.

All things considered, it's not a bad start to their vacation.

Ryan's family arrives that afternoon, and there are a lot of them. His two older sisters are both married and have a kid each, which is difficult enough, but then there are his two younger brothers, too. They're nice and loud and seem to think Ryan is ridiculous, but they all seem fond of him. What's more, they seem to like Michael too.

"Ryan has talked about you," Megan, the younger of the sisters, tells Michael while Ryan is playing peek-a-boo with her son. "Kind of a lot, actually."

Michael doesn't really know what to do with this information, and anyway, he's busy watching Ryan play with his nephew. It's sickeningly sweet, and it kind of hurts Michael's brain to see Ryan being so patient and gentle.

"Are you going to give me the 'if you hurt him' speech?" Michael asks her after a while.

"Nah," Megan says. "I'm pretty sure Matt could do it without my help."

"Yeah," Michael agrees.

Ryan looks up and asks, "Are you talking about me?"

"Not everything is about you, little bro," Megan calls back, and suddenly Michael can see the resemblance between the siblings.

Disneyland is absolutely chaotic, because even though the park is much less crowded than usual, they're still trying to organize twelve people with very limited success. They end up peeling off in groups of twos and threes, and somehow Michael finds himself in the line for It's a Small World with Ryan, who is singing the song. Loudly.

"Oh my god, stop," Michael says, hitting him in the back. "We're going to hear it about a thousand times while we're inside."

Ryan smirks and starts to sing louder, eventually getting half the line to join in. Michael rolls his eyes so hard he's sure he's going to sprain something, but he laughs anyway.

They spend the entire ride making out in the back of their boat, hand in hand, and Michael feels fucking ridiculous, but it's nice, too. Ryan tries sliding his hand up Michael's leg, but Michael draws the line at having sex at fucking Disneyland and gives him a look until he stops.

They meet up with Ryan's family for lunch and dinner, but the rest of the time, they wander around the park, going on as many of the rides as they can, no matter how dinky or childish they are. Ryan insists on riding the Indiana Jones ride three times, and he clings to Michael's arm all three times, leaving red marks on his wrist.

Instead of watching the fireworks, they ride Thunder Mountain, and Ryan kisses him just as the fireworks are bursting overhead. Michael feels completely ridiculous. He sincerely hopes Ryan does as well.

"This was fun," Michael's mother says as they're leaving. "It was really nice to meet you, Michael. I'm glad my son has you in his life."

"Uh, thanks," Michael says awkwardly, because dude, Ryan is standing right next to him.

Ryan, true to form, says, "Okay, enough," and starts the long process of giving his family hugs before they separate into the different cars for the ride home.

"So," Michael says eventually after a long silence in the car. Ryan is driving, and his brothers are passed out in the back, so Michael is stuck just staring out the window at the passing cars. "Your family –"

"Yeah," Ryan says.

"They love you," Michael says after a moment. He misses his own family, though holidays like Thanksgiving can be awkward if they go to some of his more judgmental relatives' homes. "It's nice."

"Yeah," Ryan says again. After a moment, he reaches over and punches Michael in the shoulder. "Thanks for coming."

"It's Disneyland," Michael says.

Ryan nods. He seems to be thinking hard, his brow furrowed, and Michael decides it's better to leave him to it, so he reclines his seat and dozes most of the way back. They drop Ryan's brothers off at their hotel, then head back to the frat house. There's an awkward moment where they kind of stare at each other while standing in the doorway. After a second, Ryan says, "Fuck's sake," and drags Michael inside.

Michael is okay with that.

 

After Thanksgiving break, things get weird.

To be more accurate, things start getting weird about a week after break. Michael is too busy being alternately pleased and panicky about his midterm results to notice at first, but by the third time Ryan does horribly in a practice swim, he has picked up on the fact that something is going on.

"Hey," Michael says as they're leaving the locker room. "You okay?"

"Yeah," Ryan says shortly, and he speeds up to get away.

"That was weird," Cullen says from behind Michael.

"So it wasn't just me?" Michael frowns after Ryan, trying to think if this is new. Now that he thinks about it, Ryan has been weirdly quiet over the last week, and he's seemed more on edge. Michael doesn't know what's up, but he doesn't like it when Ryan is quiet. It's just wrong and sends Michael into a quiet panic about what the hell he can do because Ryan is his boyfriend and he knows he's supposed to be doing something.

But when he tries to drop by Ryan's room, Ryan says, "Busy," and won't let Michael in. Michael tries to get some answers out of Matt, but Matt seems just as confused as him.

"I don't know, man," Matt says. "Ryan hasn't told me anything." He pauses and narrows his eyes at Michael. "You didn't break his heart or some shit, did you?"

"Um, not that I'm aware of?" Michael says, because he's pretty sure he would have noticed that. And Ryan doesn't seem sad, exactly, more angry and frustrated. "Has anything weird happened recently?"

"Just Ryan acting like a fucking weirdo." Matt shrugs. "He'll come out of it. He was like this for a while last year when you were dating that chick." Then he goes wide-eyed. "Shit, I wasn't supposed to tell you about that."

"I won't tell him," Michael says absently. He sighs. It's probably best to leave Ryan alone for now, he decides, and let him come around in his own time.

So he goes for a week without seeing much of Ryan. He gets a lot of work done, even finishes a whole paper, and mopes around his apartment a lot until Cullen kicks him out to have Nathan over. When Michael stares at him, Cullen says, "Shut up, you're dating Ryan Lochte," and shoves him out the door.

Michael ends up at Chad's dorm room, watching TV and trying not to worry. Chad eventually looks up from his computer to say, "Okay, we'll play a game," and nudges Michael over on the bed so he can kick his ass at Call of Duty.

Michael does actually feel better when he goes home that night, and he starts to hope that maybe Ryan will get over whatever funk he's in and feel better.

Except then Ryan misses a swim practice.

And another one.

And then a third, and that's just – something is wrong. Michael had tried to go to Ryan's after the first missed practice, and Ryan hadn't even answered his door or his phone. He had hoped maybe Ryan was sick, but three practices is a lot and Coach Salo hasn't said anything about it.

Michael sucks up his courage and asks coach about it after practice. Coach Salo looks at him, frowning, and says, "Lochte hasn't told you?"

"He hasn't said anything," Michael says.

"He's out on academic probation," Salo says. "If he doesn't pull up his grades by the end of the month, we have to take him off the team."

"What?" Michael says faintly.

"Are you going to see him later?" Salo asks knowingly. Michael doesn't even want to ask how he knows, because he's sure the answer will scar him horribly.

"Yeah," Michael says. He fully intends to bang on Ryan's door until he answers this time.

"Tell him to pull those grades up and the offer of tutoring still stands," Salo says. "He's a good athlete. The team will miss him if he can't come back."

"Sure," Michael says. He can hardly think straight, trying to imagine how Ryan must be feeling. He had broken his arm right before the Olympic trials when he was fifteen, and going for months without being able to properly swim had been hell. Swimming is the only thing he's good at, really, and it had sucked so much to have that taken away.

He heads straight for Ryan's frat house afterward and blows right past all the guys downstairs to stomp up to Ryan's room. "Ryan!" he yells through the door. "Open the door!"

There is a pause before Ryan calls, "Fuck off!"

"No," Michael says. "Coach Salo told me you're on academic probation."

"Fuck off," Ryan repeats, but he sounds closer to the door this time.

"Make me," Michael says, and Ryan yanks the door open, glaring. He's wearing his glasses, which Michael stupidly thinks is both adorable and kind of hot at the same time.

"I have to fucking study," Ryan says. "Go away."

"Let me help you."

"I don't want pity," Ryan snarls.

"This isn't pity, this is me being your boyfriend," Michael says. He shoves his way past Ryan and goes to sit down next to Ryan's desk. "Let me help you."

"I don't – you have your own shit," Ryan says. He closes the door, though, and shuffles closer. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm your boyfriend, supposedly," Michael says. "And you didn't tell me you were on academic probation."

"It's not – I." Ryan groans. "Look, I just – I didn't want to talk about it."

"But that's what I'm here for," Michael says. "So, talk. I'll listen."

Ryan sits down and rubs his face. "I'm – I'm failing out."

Michael blinks. "I – oh."

"I know," Ryan says. "You kept telling me. I, fuck, I barely passed last year, and I worked hard. It just kept getting – look, I know I'm not smart."

Michael opens his mouth to say something – what, he doesn't know – and Ryan says, "No, fuck you, you're not going to lie to me about this. I'm not smart. I have to work really hard to get a C or a B in most classes. And I – didn't want to."

"But swimming," Michael says helplessly.

"I know." Ryan looks down. "I thought – you don't need to be in college to swim. But, if I want to train with you... the Olympics are next summer and I want to go. I want to see you fucking beat the shit out of everyone else, okay? And I want to help."

"So what are you saying?" Michael asks after a moment, because they seem to have veered wildly from the point.

"Fuck if I know. Ball till you fall, man." Ryan turns back towards his computer. "I got a fucking essay to write and I guess you know already, so you can stay here and I'll read shit to you."

"Okay," Michael says, and he smiles despite himself.

 

He still doesn't see Ryan all that much. Ryan holes himself up in his room to study a lot, but his grades seem to be improving if his mood seems to be any indicator. He actually gets a B on the essay Michael helped him write, and they celebrate by having the loudest sex they can just to annoy Ryan's frat brothers. Michael is secretly delighted by how embarrassed they all seem in the morning, and he stretches obnoxiously, letting his shirt ride up, and catches Ryan smirking into his coffee.

Still, Ryan doesn't tell him shit until he abruptly shows up at swim practice, grinning and waving what looks like an unofficial transcript with him. "Back to fucking minimum GPA, bitches!"

A bunch of the guys cheer, and Michael high-fives him instead of kissing him like he wants to. Ryan bumps chest with Matt, then cannonballs into the pool even as Coach Salo tries to convince him not to. Michael laughs as Ryan triumphantly bursts into a ferocious freestyle, and tries not to feel too stupidly optimistic.

Their last meet of the year is right before the start of finals, so most of Michael's time is spent either lying on Ryan's bed reading or in the pool training, and he's so exhausted that he's ready for break so he can sleep forever. Ryan seems to be feeling the same way as him, because he falls asleep on top of his keyboard after one particularly brutal practice, and Michael ends up having to carry him to the bed.

He doesn't make it home until the morning, where he finds Cullen and Nathan eating cereal and playfully kicking each other under the kitchen table. Cullen doesn't even have the decency to look embarrassed about it, just smirks at Michael. "Late night?"

"Shut up," Michael says, going to make a pot of coffee.

"You should just move in with Ryan," Cullen says. "You spend enough time there."

"I would kill Ryan if I lived with him," Nathan says thoughtfully. "But then, you've lasted, what, three months together and you haven't killed him yet."

"Ha, ha," says Michael, but the truth is that he doesn't hate the idea. Cullen isn't wrong; he does spend most of his time in Ryan's room, mostly because Ryan's room is better, but it's also just comfortable. He likes spending time with Ryan, he doesn't mind –

Oh, fuck, what is actually wrong with him, he thinks, thumping his head on his hand. He's been dating Ryan for maybe three months and before that he couldn't stand the guy. He's stupid, but he's not that stupid.

Still, though. It's something to keep in mind. For, like, the Olympics and competitions.

Ryan shows up at Michael's bright and early on the day of their last meet, looking stupidly perky and attractive. Michael throws a pillow at him, but Ryan just bats it away and jumps on top of Michael, straddling him easily.

"Hey," Ryan says. "Are you fucking ready, man? We're going to own this."

"Get off of me," Michael says, half-heartedly pushing at him.

"Make me." Ryan smirks.

They end up being late to the morning warm up.

The thing is, though, Michael is still genuinely worried about Ryan. Ryan's doing pretty well in practice, but he's still not up to his former peak. It's stress, Michael tells himself as they warm up. Ryan will do fine.

As it turns out, he didn't need to worry at all. Ryan kicks ass at all of his races, beating some of his own personal bests and nearly edging Michael out during the medley. Michael puts on a final burst in speed to beat Ryan just by a fraction of a second and Ryan starts laughing the moment they surface, reaching over the lanes to grab Michael's hand.

"Couldn't let me win just once?" he asks.

"It would go to your head," Michael says, squeezing.

"My head is perfect," Ryan says.

"Yeah," Michael agrees, and Ryan grins before turning to wave at the supporters that had come out for them.

After the meet, there's another party at Nathan's, but Michael makes an executive decision and instead drags Ryan back to the frat house for a night alone. They have finals starting soon, and after that they're scattering to the east coast for break, and he wants to take advantage of the last of their free time.

"Dude, easy with the goods," Ryan says when Michael yanks off his pants. "That's the moneymaker!"

"Your arms are the moneymakers," Michael says. He pushes Ryan onto the bed. "And shut up, I'm going to blow you."

"Sure," says Ryan. "Not complaining."

So Michael blows him and then Ryan jerks him off and they fall asleep before ten like they're some old married couple or some shit. It's kind of nice.

They meet up for pizza and sex one last time before break, and it's only after they're sprawled out on Ryan's bed that Michael brings up the whole cohabitation issue. "You said something about the Olympics this summer," he says.

"Sure," Ryan says. "We're going to make it."

"Yeah." Michael absently taps his fingers on Ryan's chest. "Do you think – we could room together. For – whatever."

"Dude," Ryan says. "Was ever that not happening?"

And yeah, Michael has to admit that it does kind of seem like a foregone conclusion. "Right."

"You're stuck with me, bro," Ryan says. "Deal with it."

Michael says, "You know, I might be okay with that."