He was in that special place again. That place where the ravenous fans and the infection of the camera lights were just a dull buzz in his periphery. Where adoring fan girls and bitter commentators shouted on top of themselves, but he couldn't even hear them screaming his name. Once again, four years after the supposed climax of his career in Beijing, Michael Phelps was taking center stage, this time a mere half a world away in London. And he couldn't have been happier. Now, for the first time in four years, he could prove to his rivals to his peers, to the world, that despite whatever rumors of complacency they may have heard in the media, he was still the one to beat.
Not that anyone would have seriously doubted his athletic prowess. At 6'4 and 210 pounds, he stood with an Olympic dignity that was striking even when he was outside of the water. His shoulders, divine mechanisms crafted through years of strict training, and his long, glorious arms gleamed with muscles so taut, so firm, he could have surely driven a schoolboy to madness with the gentlest flex.
These attributes, along with his tight ass and burgeoning eight pack, succeeded in a way that words simply could not in assuring the public that Phelps was, indeed, ready.
And he knew he was ready. He was so good at gliding through the water, at finishing the race before his nearest competitor had even started, that it almost looked like he wasn't trying anymore.
"How does he do it?" The spectators would wonder in awe. "How does he fly through the pool with the strength and ease of a studly aquatic hybrid?"
The answer was simple. Focus.
Focus was what made him the best Olympic swimmer the world had ever seen. Focus gave him the strength to punish himself time and time again during every torturous practice session.
It was this mantra he now drilled into his head as he padded his enormous feet across the linoleum pavement at the Aquatic Center.
As was to be expected, the crowd roared to life the moment he emerged from the locker room. Shrieks, cheers, and even grudging applause from former competitors saturated the humid air in a relentless competition, vying for Michael's attention. But he was oblivious to all of it. Instead, he turned up the volume of his iPod, letting the blaring music flood his eardrums and block out the auditory assault from the crowd. Despite the posters, despite the American flags, despite the people themselves dancing around on the bleachers, trying to get Michael‘s notice, the athlete's eyes remained straight forward beneath his hoodie, never wavering for a moment. He studied the path straight in front of him. The diving blocks. The lane lines. The water he would momentarily break with a lightning fast vault through the stillness. Regardless of his mental preparation, it was the Olympics, and his curiosity was starting to take the better of him. His heartbeat sped a little faster.
Focus. Focus. He reminded himself.
He decided to take a look at his competitors.
The guy on his left, Lazlo Cseh, an experienced Hungarian swimmer with back muscles to die for, fiddled with his goggles and swim cap, shooting him a quick smiles that Michael returned nervously.
He glanced to his right, and his cultivated tranquility vanished in an instant. The aqua eyes that met his widened ever so slightly in surprise, the lusty lips worked their way into a seductive smirk. Tanned and sleek, built yet stockier than Michael was, the svelte figure in the neighboring lane crossed his arms over his broad chest in a way that said, "I'm better than you. I'm the shit."
And indeed, Ryan Lochte was the shit. His skill at the 200 back was tremendous, his form and powerful stroke were rivaled only by Michael himself. In that sense, Michael could almost respect his talent. The man himself, however, was another story. Ever the party boy, his personality and ego were their own stars within the Olympic Village. Michael found his arrogance mildly irritating. But deep in his heart of hearts, he had to admit a grudging admiration for the man. That he could wrap people's heartstrings around his finger, his empty smiles easily captivating the rabid press that Michael shied away from. That while Michael stumbled, gangly and awkward through the crowds in London, doing everything he could to tune them out, Lochte clearly relished in the attention, enjoying every opportunity to bask in their admiration.
Lochte continued to study Phelps, his expression suddenly becoming quizzical. Michael realized he had been staring. He turned on his heel and busied himself with his swim cap, hoping Lochte hadn't noticed the prolonged and inappropriate eye contact.
Of course, he hadn't been so lucky.
"Like whatcha see, Phelps?" Lochte smirked.
Oh God. Michael ignored Lochte and continued with his preparations.
No way was Lochte going to let him get away with that one so easily. He cocked his head to the side and took a step closer to Michael, lowering his voice so only the two of them could hear him.
"Don't worry, Phelps. You can stare at my ass all you want when I beat you to the wall. I'll be sure to let you have a prime view." He laughed as he twisted his face into an arrogant albeit very attractive sneer.
"I was NOT starting at your ass, Lochte!" Michael blurted indignantly.
Lochte laughed again, confident that, despite Michael's denial, he had indeed been checking him out. After all, who could blame him?
As the seconds trickled down before the race, the two athletes began to ignore their biggest competitor (each other) and focus on the event's start. In the hush before the storm, the crowd could faintly be heard whispering amongst themselves. Who is going to be victorious? Phelps or Lochte? Phelps or Lochte?
The boom of a loud voice descended.
"Mount your blocks!"
And the anticipation began in earnest. Eight bronzed bodies, each more handsome than the other, hopped onto the blocks with an electric furor.
"Take your marks!"
Precise, like clockwork, they bent. The buzz hardly sounded before they were off, flying. The first fifty meters were always more of an appetizer to the delicious finish. Cseh of Hungary was off to a good start, the Hungarians were going wild but everyone knew his lead wouldn't last. Switzer, too, in lane six was doing a great job, but even in the early stages of the race, it was impossible to deny who the real Olympians were. Phelps and Lochte, neck and neck, were stroking away with a small but growing lead against the extras. Yet as Phelps and Lochte's stride was cool, it was becoming apparent that the others were struggling. Amberley in lane two was already an arm's length behind the lead, and even the Hungarian was starting to show signs of exhaustion.
A hundred in, a hundred to go. Phelps and Lochte pulled ever ahead.
But this is supposed to be my event, thought Michael. He was, after all, a professional athlete. And he was good at concentrating. But he couldn't get Lochte's douchey taunts out of his head.
"You can stare at my ass all you want when I beat you to the wall." What does he know about beating anyone to the wall? This is my event! He repeated. But a part of him, a small aggravating thorn of reason, pierced through his denial like a needle through a cherry.
He does have a damn fine ass, though.
And that's when he started to lose it. Because as he beat his arms, pounded his legs through the last fifty, the thought of something else he'd rather be beating took over his concentration. Something hot and warm and very real in the water beside him. Something overly confident and annoyingly handsome. Something named Ryan Lochte.
Once that little shred of desire wound his way into his consciousness, he felt his need for Ryan overcoming all other emotions. He felt the ripples from Ryan's body, felt the exertion from his strength as he glided through the water.
Right, left, right, breath. Left, right, left, breath.
Each wave, each droplet of the water displaced by Ryan's body created an urge within him that clouded out his desire to come first. His desire to be the best. His desire to win.
Twenty five meters sped by to twelve. Eight. Six. Michael pushed himself, hard. But the weight of his unwanted lust let Lochte push harder. Faster. Just a nanosecond's lead at the very end, but it was the most important nanosecond of the entire evening. Lochte's fingers brushed the wall a fraction before his. In an almost prophetic way, Michael indeed watched his ass as it happened. And it was good.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
He sat in the locker room long after everyone else had left. Stunned by the humiliating turn the evening had taken, he let his head fall into his hands as he replayed the agonizing scene over and over again. How a victorious Lochte had erupted into cheers when the judges declared him victorious. How the announcer voiced surprise at the upset; "Michael should have won this easily!" He had exclaimed. It was his event. But the most painful of all was his own personal humiliation. The triumphant gleam in Lochte's eyes when he shook hands with Michael, the smirk on his handsome face that said better than words ever could; "I told ya so."
It had been awful. Losing was always so difficult for an athlete as accomplished as he was. But more than that, more than that numbing disappointment was the uneasy knowledge that he had, for the first time in his long career, let his feelings for his opponent get in the way of winning.
It hadn't always been like this...He remembered, thinking back to a time before he had been so famous. Before he had won his historic eighteen Golds. And, perhaps most importantly, before he had ever laid eyes on Ryan Lochte.
He'd been happy then, he knew it. He'd been happy to chase after girls, or to let them flock to him, because he'd never felt the need to do otherwise. He never thought to question his sexuality, mistaking his lackluster interest in women for that of any other extremely busy heterosexual male. Not thinking that perhaps he just wasn't that into women, and never having the distraction of a girl who had captured his heart, he was able to pour everything, heart, time and soul into swimming.
As his celebrity status catapulted, so too did the amount of women approaching him. From the cute, down to earth girls from nearby his hometown, to gorgeous leggy blondes he'd never dreamed he could have a chance with, he had, it seemed, more than enough of every type of female to choose from.
And he dated them dutifully. Wined and dined them with a casual disinterest that he never had to feign. It drove them wild.
It had been good for him, too. Like an unexpected prize he never had to pay for. Because as his fan base grew, and girls all over the planet nurtured fantasies of bedding him, sponsors came pouring in, begging him to be the face of whatever product they were selling. This man, this almost super human who commanded women's hearts and men's envy with just a goofy smile and the smallest flexing of toned biceps, could have anything he wanted without ever having to work for it.
For years Michael lived this charmed life, with a dull happiness certainly, but always without the euphoria that a passionate love can bring. Michael thought nothing of it, merely that swimming was his girl, the one true love of his life.
It wasn't until four years ago in Beijing that his carefully honed mirage of heterosexuality shattered. One unimpressive day, innocent-seeing enough, finally ignited Michael's heart in a way he had heard people claim was possible but had never believed for himself.
One ordinary day...
The boy, or man, he should say, had seemed ordinary enough, too at the time. Just a wide-eyed, albeit very good looking guy, who had smiled courteously as Michael entered the locker room and had gone to shake his hand.
"Ryan Lochte," he boomed, with a firm handshake and a voice full of confidence.
"Michael Phelps," Michael smiled, suddenly aware of how big and rough the man's hands were. Almost more masculine than his own.
The man laughed, dropping his hand from Michael's, and it felt as with the warmth in the room dropped with it.
"I know who you are, of course," he smiled with a dazzling set of very white teeth. "I'm a big fan of yours."
For some reason, at the time Michael wasn't sure why, he felt his heart pounding and a blush creep on his cheeks at the man, Ryan's, words. But before he could voice his thanks and give him the genuine assurance that surely he too must be a very impressive athlete, Ryan spoke again.
"But I didn't come here to make friends," he tightened his jaw, voice suddenly cold as stone. "I came here to win."
Michael could almost laugh. Who did this shrimp think he was? It was probably just some up and coming kid who was real big in his hometown with an ego that had grown bigger than his talent.
Michael wasn't concerned. He merely chuckled good naturedly, wished Ryan a good race, and turned to begin his preparations.
I've never seen such beautiful eyes before in my life.
He was startled by the unwanted thought, but he pushed it to the back of his mind. He was unaware that it was the beginning of a disturbing trend, of a lust so strong it was almost painful, of guilt over the unbidden sexual thoughts, and of subsequent difficulties as his strong feelings for Ryan competed, and usually won against, his devotion to swimming.
Thankfully, that first race he swam against Lochte wasn't much of an upset. He still came in first, with Lochte barely second. Close. Too close for comfort. Lochte didn't beat him, but it was the first time that he had ever thought so much about something besides swimming during a competition. It wasn't that his attitude had bothered him; he was used to jealousy making people say stupid things before the races. It was more that, since the moment he saw that adorable smile on Ryan's face, it had been difficult to think about anything else.
He knew then, for the first time in his life, watching Ryan towel off his exquisite body, why he had never felt such an overpowering drive for any woman. He didn't have a low sex drive after all, he realized with a sudden pleasant tingle. He had just never allowed his true feelings to come out. Sure, he'd seen cute guys before, checked them out, and wondered with a vague curiosity if he was bisexual. But never before had he seen such a handsome, arrogant man approach him without a hint of trepidation. It was refreshing, in a way, to finally feel like he was attracted to someone not just because it was expected of him, but because he really wanted it. At the same time, though, it worried him. Because as the days wore on, he wasn't living only for swimming like the androgynous robot he had been. During practice, stroke after stroke, monotonous lap after the other, he found himself daydreaming of tan skin. Of dangerous blue eyes. Of Ryan Lochte.
His coach was none too pleased. For every second Michael thought of Lochte was a second he wasn't thinking about swimming. As he let his mind wander to forbidden pastures, his form would get a little off. His times would get a little slower. His entries would suffer a little bit. He was still the best swimmer in the world, and to the untrained eye, his form was still perfect. But his coach knew better.
"What's on your mind, Michael," he asked him discreetly after practice one day. "What's been with you lately? It seems like you've been living in la la land ever since qualifiers."
The penetrating, too knowing gaze of his long time coach snapped him out of his fascination with Lochte. At least temporarily. He decided them to push whatever silly head trips he indulged himself with to the back of his mind and let swimming be his girl again. Instead of drooling over Lochte's remarkable physique, he occupied his thoughts with the negatives. He read news articles about his play boy antics, listened to scorned female athletes complain about the heartache he had drowned them with. He remembered his up-front way of introducing himself and tried to be disgusted by his arrogance instead of turned on. He even convinced himself that Lochte was probably straight, and would never be interested in a guy like him anyway. Or any guy at all.
He thought he'd mastered his emotions, that the unexpected yet pleasurable fantasies wouldn't bother him anymore. But nothing could prepare him for seeing Lochte in the flesh again. Or for being placed in the very next lane to him at the London Olympics, to boot. It was as if all the yearning he'd suppressed had exploded at once, too powerful, too unflinchingly real to be ignored with Lochte there in the flesh.
He let out an exasperated sigh, tormented and confused by the emotions raging war in his heart. Disappointment that he had lost. Anger that the man's cruel taunting had been so successful. And yet, despite the cool logic that told him he'd be ok if he just cut the nonsense and focused on swimming again, he felt hope. Hope that maybe, despite the outward hostility, maybe Ryan felt something for him, too.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
At 6:00 AM the next morning, Michael was up, having grumpily showered and put on his track suit, eating a generous helping of Kellogg's before morning training. Sitting beside him was his good friend and roommate, Nathan Adrian.
Nathan was a good guy. A relative newcomer from Washington, he had arrived at Olympic village a couple days before Michael, and they'd hit it off ever since. Nathan was the kind of guy who was thoughtful, caring, and so in tune with other people's emotions that he could tell, almost immediately, when something was bothering them. He watched Michael pick at his food, eyes cast sullenly downward, and knew without hesitation that something was wrong.
"I heard there's supposed to be some pretty bad lightning today. After the insane workouts from yesterday, I'd be more than happy if they had to close the pools!" He said lightheartedly, trying to chase Michael's foul mood away with conversation.
Michael's brow furrowed, the word "yesterday" bringing back painful memories. He shook his head in agreement and said nothing.
Nathan let out an exasperated sigh. "C'mon, man! You've hardly said a word to me all morning! You're not usually like this. What gives?"
Michael shrugged dismissively. He could hardly force himself to face what had happened the day before, and he certainly didn't want to talk about it. Not to his coach. Not to his mom. Not even to Nathan.
But Nathan wasn't used to giving up so easily. He cared too much about Michael to watch him suffer all alone. He put his hand on Michael's shoulder.
"Look. I know you, Phelps. I know you better than perhaps anybody. And I also know that you're sitting here beating yourself up about what happened with that damned Lochte."
Michael's eyes popped open in horror and Nathan, mistaking his friend's guilt for anger, continued.
"You know I'm new to these massive, world scale competitions. So maybe I'm just not competitive enough yet. Don't get me wrong, it sucks not to win. But it was just one race! Let Lochte have the 400 IM. All the more motivation for you to take everything else!" He flashed his adorable, genuine smile, and despite Michael's misery, it made him feel better.
He smiled back at Nathan, his ally, his companion. And in truth, he did feel better. Because Nathan practically worshipped the ground he walked on and couldn't help but keep a constant eye on him. And if Nathan didn't think to suspect Michael's treacherous feeling for Lochte, then surely...surely no one else would either.
Michael felt his mood brighten for the first time all morning. He squeezed Nathan's arm in thanks and picked up his nearly empty cereal bowl to get a heaping refill at the buffet. But just as he was about to stand up, just an instant after his steely tush left the chair, the doors to the cafeteria opened and he noticed, through the corner of his eye, a stunning presence entering the room. He sank into his seat, hoping against hope that if he was discreet enough, he could leave without being noticed.
"Bad news, mate," Nathan whispered, nodding his head in the new, unwelcome visitor's direction. "Lochte's walking this way.”
But Lochte wasn’t just walking their way. He walked purposely, intently to their side of the cafeteria. Towards the area that they were sitting in. Towards their very table. Nathan raised an eyebrow. “Huh, strange. Does he want to sit with us? Chin up, Phelps! Don't let him think he's gotten to you."
Michael's head snapped up as he noticed, with a thrill of horror, that Lochte had already filled his tray and was indeed coming to sit with them. He tried to not to feel too thrilled.
It's just that we're the only other swimmers in here. He's not trying to make conversation with you. He just wants to show a healthy unity for Team USA. Yeah. That's definitely it.
He repeated it to himself over and over again. Like a mantra. But try as he might to tune out his own emotions, he couldn't ignore that tight body, the broad shoulders torturously concealed by the tracksuit, and those turquoise eyes on his as Lochte approached the table.
"This seat taken?" Lochte asked offhandedly. Nathan opened his mouth but Ryan had already sat down before he could say "yes."
He ate hugely, Michael noticed with admiration, inhaling three croissants and a bagel before he even bothered to speak.
"So, what are you two losers up to today?"
He stared pointedly at Michael. Nathan, ever the diplomat, laughed and tried to diffuse the tension as best he could.
"Oh, ya know, the usual," he replied brightly. "Relay practice at eight. Individual practice at ten. Warm ups as soon as we're done eating. Pretty big day. Apparently they are expecting storms, though. And I can't say I'd mind a day off after the rough workout yesterday!"
Lochte's eyes darted cruelly to Michael.
"Ah, yes. Yesterday was difficult for many of us."
"Ha, yeah," Nathan chuckled, missing the reference completely as well as the underlying tension that ran with it.
"What about you, Ryan? You're swimming more events than I am so I'll bet you've got a busy day ahead of you, too!"
"Pretty much. Though this may surprise you to hear it, my day has already started."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I was so pumped by my narrow win in the 400 IM yesterday that I woke up this morning with energy to spare. So I decided to head down to the pool at about four and do a couple extra hours of individual training to kick it up a notch. What do you think of that, Phelps?"
Michael clenched his fists and looked down at the table. "Good for you, Ryan," he muttered bitterly.
"Jeah. It is pretty good for me, isn't it?" He sucked down another glass of orange juice and Michael, try as he might, could not ignore the prickling of arousal he felt upon seeing Lochte's throat muscles in action. I'm not sure how much more of this I can take.
Suddenly, he was struck with an idea.
"Lochte, you usually practice in Pool Four, don't you?" Just because they were in the Olympics together didn't mean they had to practice at the same time. Or place.
"Yeah. I like Pool four better than the others. The slight heating does wonders for my body."
Michael was assaulted with the image of a scantily clad, speedo sporting Lochte, water pouring over his aching muscles. He indulged in the pleasure of it greedily, like a dieting soccer mom with a piece of forbidden chocolate, before pushing it to the back of his mind.
"What time are you there?"
Lochte paused, cocking his head to the side. "Early morning until early afternoon. Why do you ask?" And then, leaning closely so that Nathan wouldn't hear him, "you wanna come watch me like my other fan girls? Go ahead. I can't say I'd mind."
Michael huffed indignantly. "Oh, as if, Lochte!" He crossed his arms over his chest. "I was asking for the exact opposite reason. Because I don't want to be at the same practice as you, if I can avoid it!"
For the first time since he'd seen him in Olympic village, Ryan looked genuinely upset.
Surely...Surely that didn't hurt his feelings. Did it? For a moment, Michael felt nothing but sympathy for the other man, and one look at his dejected eyes and slumped shoulders told him his heart might burst at the weight of it.
But before he could even open his mouth to say he was sorry, Lochte had already recovered with his weakness; he once more adopted a defensive posture and a cold, unforgiving sneer.
"Fine, obviously. I know how distracting it can be to have to swim against a better athlete." He stood up, grabbing his tray with him. "Oh, and by the way. No hard feelings about the 400 IM. I just hope you enjoyed the view." He winked sarcastically, turning on his heel and leaving the cafeteria as quickly as he had entered it.
Nathan looked back and forth from Michael to Lochte's retreating form and back again. What the Hell just happened here? He asked himself. Having never seen such strangeness back in Washington, he figured it must have had something to do with the gigantic ego that great talent brought along with it. Once again, he laughed awkwardly.
"What a weirdo that guy is, hey? Rude, and a prima donna if I ever did see one."
"Mm hmm..." Michael barely heard what Nathan was saying. He was too wrapped up in Lochte's words to spare any focus for his energetic young friend.
You wanna come watch me like my other fan girls? Go ahead. I can't say I'd mind...I can't say I'd mind...
What the fuck did he mean by that? On the one hand, it was perfectly obvious that he was being an arrogant prick. Per usual. On the other hand, do I dare believe it? Why would he say that it wouldn't bother him? His tone had definitely been mocking, but had his overall goal been to temp him?
He's not even gay. Don't waste your time with another silly head trip.
And yet, there was something about that most recent exchange that he couldn't ignore. Despite Lochte's rudeness, despite his general bravado, a part of him had seemed truly upset, hurt even, when Michael said he didn't want to see him at practice. Michael yearned it to be so. Yearned it even more than he yearned for another gold medal. And therein, he realized, lay Lochte's power. He figured, with a sad slump of his shoulders, that Lochte likely harbored no secret feelings for him whatsoever, save a slight jealousy that was natural between any two competitors. Lochte probably had a super hot girlfriend, and a string of equally hot extras on the side. He'd seen no reason so far to doubt Lochte's heterosexuality. It seemed much more plausible that Lochte merely enjoyed tormenting Michael for his own sick pleasure, and because he knew it bothered him.
Michael gritted his teeth. What a dick.
Michael had been caught up in his thoughts for so long that he had almost forgotten that Nathan was still sitting there. He looked up at the younger man and, sensing the concern in his eyes, flashed him with his goofy, much beloved smile.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I know I shouldn't let him bother me so much. He's just such a...such an..."
"An ass hole?"
"Yeah!" Michael laughed.
"Ha. Don't worry, man. He's probably just stressed about the Olympics and is taking it out on everyone around him. You should have heard how he was talking to Shayna on the volleyball team."
"Is that his girlfriend?" Michael blurted. Tall, blond, oh so sexy Shayna Jones the volleyball player. He didn't mean to sound so desperate, but that name sent red lights blaring up his spine. He just had to know.
Nathan eyed him quizzically. "I...don't think so. I'm pretty sure they're just friends. But he was talking a lot of smack to her right before her match. It seemed to be a lot more good natured with her, though, than it was with you. So maybe that's why she didn't get annoyed."
Michael felt relieved. Shayna Jones wasn't Ryan's girlfriend. That particular bullet, at least, he had been able to dodge. Nathan opened his mouth as if to speak, but MIchael interrupted him. No matter how awkward this was going to sound, he wasn't sure when the subject would be broached again. And he needed to ask this.
"Is Lochte single? Does he have a girlfriend, I mean?" He added hastily.
Now it was Nathan's turn to stare in earnest.
"Um, to be honest with you, I'm not really sure. Does it...matter to you?"
Oh God...He knows!
"No. I just thought that maybe if he had a girlfriend he wouldn't be such a tool to everybody."
Nathan's face broke into a wide grin, and Michael was momentarily startled by the clear admiration etched into his features. He knew then, that no matter what he said and no matter how strange his actions seemed, Nathan would never question him. For, to Nathan, Michael was still the best athlete in all of London. His hero. And after all the self doubt he had battled since coming here, it was good to know that someone was still on his side.
He grinned amiably.
"I don't know about you, but I think I'm ready to hit the pool. You coming?"
He stood and collected his tray, pushing his chair to the side.
"Of course!" Nathan nodded and quickly followed Michael. Through the door, out of the cafeteria, and off to Pool One for practice. The farthest one from Pool Four...Nathan noticed with interest. But he said nothing. Michael was the fastest swimmer on the planet. If, for whatever reason, he couldn't stand the idea of practicing with Lochte, why, who was he to judge?
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
Practice had been more successful than Michael could have hoped. With Nathan by his side and Ryan safely off at Pool Four, he felt calm, collected, without the hint of paranoia that Lochte would show up and ruin everything.
He waited until his friends from practice had finished changing before turning the showers on as hot as they would go and basking in the uninterrupted heat. He didn't want to stay too long in the showers, he wasn't sure when the next group would arrive for practice. But after a nice, satisfying rinse off, he toweled down and jumped into his tracksuit, ready to face whatever the day might have for him.
He checked his watch. Nine thirty. He still had over an hour before he had to meet his coach for individual practice. He figured he would head back to the dorms and rest up a bit before his next practice.
Nathan might even be there, he thought to himself, the idea bringing traces of a grin to his face.
The outside of the locker room was warm, much warmer than Michael had expected. The skies, too seemed bright and gay, like the so called "storm forecast" had merely been an elaborate prank by a disgruntled weather man. The sound of the birds chirping and the richness of the warm London breeze persuaded Michael to linger outdoors a while longer. He meandered through the wide green fields and the practice turfs of the Olympic village. He watched the track stars stretch this way and that, then line up and fly through the finish line during their group sprints. All around him it seemed the air was alive with an athletic furor. Everyone wanted to succeed. To be better. To help their teams. Michael lapped it up, all of it, hoping to capitalize on the contagious atmosphere.
He found himself a place to sit on the other edge of the Track and Field pit. It was at the very limit of the fence separating Olympic London from the rest of East London, far enough from anywhere useful that he figured no one would bother him there.
It looked like it might have been a clearing once, set in some secret place in the woods before the woods had been cleared to pave way for the Olympic village. He could still see the remnants of trees and great overgrown bushes on the other side of the fence, a clear contrast to the side he was on now. A faded path in the undergrowth, no doubt a once well known trail to any advanced hiker, snaked its way through the roots, under the fence and right up to an old stone bench that Michael decided he would very much like to sit on.
The cool, uneven stones on his ass and back felt like sturdy hands massaging him on a warm day. He relaxed into the sensation of it, moving himself back and forth on the seat to help him really envision the hands doing their work. "Oh yeah, that's so good..." He let out a guttural moan as he imagined not only the gruff hands caressing him but the body and the face that controlled those hands. He tried to picture just some generic hot guy, any generic hot guy like a Brad Pitt or an Apollo Ohno. But he wasn't the least bit surprised, or in fact agitated when those other images were chased away and his imaginary man took the shape of none other than Ryan Lochte.
He forced himself to stop gyrating against the seat, the image of Lochte stirring within him a much less innocent type of pleasure. The last thing he needed was for someone to find him, alone with a hard on, as the Jamaican sprinting team was wrapping up their practice.
He chuckled a bit at that, but otherwise kept very still. Lochte. Ryan F. Lochte. What did I do to deserve falling for you?
He thought again of Lochte's body, tensed and reproachful, as he stormed out of the cafeteria that morning. He remembered his perfect ass, so well defined, so perky, its peak form exemplified with every step he took. The weight of that glorious burden as he shifted from one foot to the other. Michael could lose himself in the memory all day.
So deeply entrenched in his vision became he that he could almost hear the gentle padding of Lochte's footsteps. So close, it seemed, as if they were actually there. Padding through the grass, padding through the leaves. Walking straight across the clearing and boldly taking a seat on the bench next to Michael. His eyes snapped open, the wispy mirage of Lochte in his head suddenly replaced with a very real one of Lochte sitting beside him. He started, crossing his arms quickly over his chest and thanking whatever Gods were above him in London that day that he didn't have an erection.
"How did you find me here?" He asked meekly.
Guarded eyes narrowed in response. "And what makes you think that I was looking for you?"
Michael gulped, disappointed.
"You're right, Lochte. Uh, Ryan. I'm sorry."
Ryan teased him with a gentle grin.
"S'ok. I suppose I can forgive you. And anyway, you were right," he whispered. "I was looking for you."
Michael hardly dared to believe it. But one quick look at Ryan's solemn expression and he knew that he wasn't joking. He could feel that treacherous heart of his start beating with hope again, yet he still wasn't sure any of it made sense.
"Why were you looking for me?"
Ryan laughed. A smooth, clear laugh that, without a trace of sarcasm, sounded genuinely lovely. He looked at Michael. Really looked at him.
"Isn't it obvious?"
Michael blinked and slowly shook his head.
"No...I can't say it is."
Lochte sighed and glanced down at his feet. He rolled a small rock beneath his shoe with great concentration, as if trying to postpone the words he knew would come. Finally, he took a deep breath.
"It's just that...you drive me crazy, Phelps!" He blurted. Then, almost immediately, he clamped a hand over his mouth as if he regretted the words. He bit his index finger and crumpled his hand into a fist, rocking back and forth, cautiously figuring out how he should best proceed. Michael noticed with small satisfaction that Lochte could hardly look at him.
When he spoke again, his eyes looked guarded. Embarrassed. In pain.
"I thought at first that it was envy. That I kept seeing your stupid face in my mind every night because you were the only thing standing between me and a gold medal. But it was more than that. So much more. I wanted you to respect me. I wanted you to think of me as a threat. I wanted to get to you. Not just because you're my biggest rival. But because maybe, maybe if I crawled under your skin enough - Maybe then, well, you'd have to think of me, too."
The two men sat, unsure of themselves in the muffled silence for several languorous moments. Lochte, humbled at the confession of his true feelings. Michael, stunned by them.
This can't be real.
How could it? Ryan Lochte was a heartbreaker. A known playboy. Scorned women from all corners of the earth swore vengeance against him with a rage that could topple an arena. Women. Not men. The logical side of his mind chided again, refusing to be overtaken by the ecstatic desire that so wished for Lochte's words to be true.
Several stiff moments passed before Michael spoke again.
"It just doesn't make sense to me. How can you claim to have such powerful feelings for me if you're not even gay?"
Lochte looked mischievous at the accusation.
"Well, I wouldn't go so far as to call myself gay. I do tend to enjoy my fair share of the ladies. Not sure if you've heard."
"Indeed I have," Michael said stiffly.
"I've had my fun with women. But that's all it's ever been. Fun." He looked pointedly at Michael. "The way I feel about you, it's something different. Something I can't explain. I've never felt this way about anyone before in my life. That's why it's taken me so hard to understand it. I wanted to hate you, Phelps. Things would have been much easier for me if I could just push all thoughts of you to the side and move on with my training like any other athlete. But it hasn't been that simple."
No. No, it hasn't, Michael thought bitterly. It hasn't been easy for either of us.
It would have been hard enough to question your sexuality in a small town away from the limelight, with no one but your parents and gossipy friends to judge you. But here, here on the world stage where every move you made was under a microscope, the thought of really embracing homosexuality for the first time was terrifying. Michael hadn't been able to do it. But he forced himself not to get discouraged. Because here, right now and right beside him, Ryan had.
He was filled with an admiration he had never before known. That his man, so seemingly overly confident and arrogant, had been able to do what he had not. Able to confess his true feelings for him. With that wave of admiration came a flurry of other emotions that Michael had been trying for too long to suppress. Joy. Infatuation. Even the burgeoning anticipations of lust. He was filled with such wont, such positive energy, that he didn't want to sit on this long forgotten stone bench in this man made Olympic village. What, after all, were the Olympics, when you loved someone so strongly and they loved you back?
He beamed at Lochte, and only Lochte's small, sad smile made him see reason. Because they weren't two teen boys tucked safely away somewhere that no one had ever heard of. They weren't the type of people who could happily sacrifice their hard earned careers for a sordid love affair. They were Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. The kings of the pool. Perhaps even of the entire Olympics. How could they be expected to be at their best if their greatest competition was also their greatest love?
"It can never work," Michael whispered sadly, reaching up a tentative hand to cup Lochte's face. Caress his cheek.
"I know," Lochte replied soberly, gently finding Michael's hand with his own. Rewarding it with a feather light kiss. Blue eyes met brown and Michael was overwhelmed with frustration and angst. That the two of them had finally found and expressed their love for one another. And that it all must come to nothing.
"There there, Michael. Don't cry," Lochte soothed as several treacherous tears leaked down his face.
"It's just been so hard!" Michael sniffed, wiping his hand across his tear stained cheeks. "I've thought about you constantly. Ever since qualifiers. My coach thought I was crazy. And in that 400 IM..." He trailed off.
"It's like I can't concentrate on anything else when you're this close to me."
He leaned close across the bench. Close enough so that he could feel Lochte's breathing on his lips. He wanted to cover those lips with his own. So badly. And he could tell Lochte wanted it, too.
Lochte almost leaned in for the kiss.
But at the last minute, his eyes darted towards the nearly empty track field. He stood up abruptly, clearing his throat.
"We can't do this here."
The loss of Lochte's head beside him made Michael feel suddenly aching. Desperate. With a courage that only such a burning desire could summon, he met Lochte's gaze head on.
"What about my room, then?"
Lochte paused, desire and logic warring on his handsome features. For a moment, Michael really thought he might say yes. But the defeated look in his eyes, and the pain that came with it, told him otherwise.
"There is nothing I would rather do than that," he croaked, voice full of bitterness. "But you and I both know that that's not in our paths for right now. And it probably never will be. Maybe, maybe some day after our careers are over, years after we've been thrust into loveless marriages to make our moms and our fans happy, maybe then I'll come find you. But I can't right now. We can't."
He put his hand on Michael's shoulder.
"You understand that. Right?"
Michael wanted to spit and scream. Oh, he understood alright. He understood that the Olympics could go fuck themselves for all he cared, and that things would work themselves out if they could just be together. But deep down, he knew this wasn't the case. Swimming was the most important thing in the world. The one thing in his, and perhaps both their lives that had never disappointed or let them down. Something that would compromise their commitment to swimming, and to their fierce rivalry, was unacceptable.
And so he merely nodded.
Ryan smirked, but this time with a rare, genuine kindness. A love that he so rarely shared.
"I'm glad you understand."
He let his hand fall to his side as he turned to start walking back towards the pool.
"See ya around, Phelps."
But before he had put more than five steps between them, Michael stood up suddenly.
"Hey, Ryan!" He hissed just loudly enough to get his attention.
Lochte turned around in mid step, puzzled.
Michael took a few steps towards him and glanced around to make doubly sure that no one was watching them.
"How did you know? That I had feelings for you? That I was gay?"
Ryan grinned. "I didn't. I just hoped. And prayed. And wished."
He left Michael with one last, fleeting smile as he turned and began jogging in earnest to the other end of the Olympic village.
Michael memorized his retreating form and whispered to no one.
"Maybe next time you should be more careful what you wish for. For both of our sakes."
Individual practice went by in a blur. Still replaying the events of his strange encounter with Lochte, Michael swam for nearly two hours hardly focused on anything but his own exertion and the feel of the water around him. He pulled himself out of the pool in a daze as his coach announced the end of a great practice and said he'd see him tomorrow.
He grabbed a quick Twinkie from the snack machine that his coach had expressly forbidden him and scarfed it down on his way to the dorm room. He briefly considered stopping by the cafeteria for some of the spaghetti bolognese he knew they were serving, but ultimately he thought better of it. It was well after one o'clock and probably crowded. The last thing he needed was to be around people right now. He turned a corner and walked through the enormous gymnasium he always cut through as a shortcut between the pool and the dorms. He greeted two friendly looking Korean gymnasts who, he noticed with amusement, hardly seemed to recognize him.
He quickened his pace as the villa of dorm buildings came into view. They were all brick. All immaculately constructed with little notice juts weeks ahead of time. He had to hand it to the relatively unknown, albeit very talented architect who had managed to pull it all off. They were truly something to behold. Set up to resemble a neighborhood of identical, overlarge houses, the buildings gave off an aura that they were vigilantly protected private property, yet simultaneously a wild college-like community space with innumerable great parties to be had.
He stopped at the second villa that he lived at with Nathan and, among others, the members of the US swim team. All members of the US swim team.
An uneasy shudder ran through him at that thought.
He keyed his security pin into the front door and smiled as he walked by the friendly security guard. An old black man named Otis, who lazily waved him through. The inside of the villas were all much bigger than one might guess. There were about fifty rooms on each of the floors. TV rooms. Common areas. Gyms and lounges for the athletes to use at their leisure. The room he shared with Nathan was the fifth one on the left. Conveniently located for when, after a grueling practice, Michael's rubbery legs could hardly take him any further down the hall, let alone up a flight of stairs.
Fumbling with the latch, he unlocked the door and swung it open. He teetered cautiously over the array of messiness that was his floor. Hoodies, swim trunks, random articles of clothing that hadn't been put away yet. It was like the two of them had taken their suitcases, emptied them promptly on the floor, and had never bothered to deal with the contents. Whoever on the Olympic committee had had the foresight to bunk he and Nathan together had inadvertently made a wise decision. They were both notoriously untidy.
Michael noticed a huge, 6'7 sized lump that could only be Nathan curled up in the bed closest to the door. He tiptoed cautiously over the chaos, trying very hard not to wake him. Stealth, unfortunately, was not one of his strong points, and as his toe met a bottle of forgotten YooHoo in mid path, he came crashing own bed with little grace and enough noise to wake an elephant.
Nathan started and pulled the covers off from over his face, peeling away his sleeping mask to look at Michael with groggy eyes.
Michael winced. "Sorry to wake you up. I was trying to be as quiet as possible. Damn YooHoo." He massaged his foot with a grimace.
"Oh, no worries. I'm just glad it was only you. I was worried it was a really uncoordinated robber or something," Nathan yawned. "How was practice?"
"Practice? Practice was fine. Uneventful, even. Went by so quickly I hardly had time to notice myself swimming."
Nathan stared at his friend and sensed a litany of unspoken thoughts on his conscience. He continued. "That's good. You needed that after this morning. No more strange run ins with Lochte then, I presume?"
Michael wasn't sure how he did it. Read him plain like an open book. But he always did.
He glanced at Nathan's honest, good-hearted face and wanted with all his heart to tell him everything. But he knew, and he wasn't entirely sure why, that he couldn't share this with Nathan. Not yet.
And so, he decided to settle for a partial truth. "Funny you should mention it," he said lowly. "I did actually run into Lochte for a bit before my individual set this morning."
Nathan looked none too pleased. "Yeah? And did that jerk apologize for the way he treated you this morning?"
"Eh, not exactly. I mean he did. In his own way. Without really saying it. I guess."
Nathan shook his head and laughed spitefully. "No. Of course he didn't. He's too much of an asshole to ever admit he's done anything wrong. Well, good for you anyway, Michael. Now you can just ignore him and let him annoy someone else from now on. You're lucky to be rid of him."
Michael chuckled. "I dunno, Nate. I kind of feel sorry for the guy. He's under a lot of pressure, ya know? I could tell that he really did feel sorry about this morning. Even though he didn't necessarily say it."
Nathan stared at him incredulously. "How can you say that? How can you sit here defending him after what he did to you?"
It was a good question, and Michael wasn't sure how to answer it.
"Lochte can act like a total douche. But beneath all that he's a good person. Really."
Nathan shook his head.
"I don't like him one bit. And after this morning, I like him less. Be careful around that guy, Michael. I don't trust him."
Michael saw the worry on Nathan and was touched by the concern in his voice.
"He hasn't exactly done much to earn our trust, has he?"
"What do you think," he asked Nathan with a skillful change of the subject, "about us doing a little summer cleaning in here? Nothing too drastic, mind you, just enough so that I don't risk killing myself next time I try to sneak in?"
"Sure!" Nathan hopped out of bed enthusiastically. Michael had the feeling that, had anyone else asked Nathan to tidy up, his response would have been a polite yet firm "fuck off." But his devotion to the older athlete, his hero, his star, had inspired him to make the room presentable. Even though Michael was sure Nathan hated cleaning as much as he did.
Seeing as they had literally only arrived in London a few days ago, it wasn't too overwhelming of a task. A few dirty clothes here. A few empty potato chip bags there. Once they got started, things seemed to get put into place relatively quickly. As Nathan bent over his suitcase, clad only in a pair of dark plaid boxers, Michael was surprised by how toned his body was. Far fitter than even he or Lochte. He wondered why he had never noticed this before.
"There. Almost done." Nathan stood up, surveying the room proudly. "All we need to do is ask reception for a clean pair of sheets and we'll be good to go!" He let himself fall back onto his bed. Michael pulled the covers off his own bed, anxious to have a bit of a lie down, as well.
Suddenly, they were interrupted by an urgent knocking on the door. Nathan looked up, confused.
"Who do you think that could be?" He asked.
"I don't know," Michael responded. "But I guess we'll find out."
He opened the door a peek and saw, with surprise, his friend Tyler Clary from the US team standing there.
"Clary! What's up?"
Tyler smiled hugely at Michael.
"Guys, we've been looking all over for you! Haven't you heard? Coach is announcing the relay team today!"
Nathan bolted to the door.
"You mean for the 400 Free?"
"Yeah. What else? You guys better hurry up if you wanna come. Dwyer says the coach is on his way and will meet us in the common area in five minutes."
"Okay, okay!" Nathan practically squealed. "Just give us a minute to change our clothes and we'll be there in a sec. Thanks, Tyler!"
He slammed the door behind Tyler and started excitedly jumping up and down. "Ahh, the 400 relay! I've never done a relay this big before. I hope he picks me! My brothers would flip. Who do you think he'll pick? Jones is a shoe in, no doubt. And you'll be on there, too, and maybe Ervin. Or maybe McLean. Or maybe me. Ahh!"
Michael laughed good naturedly. "I'm sure he'll pick you, Nathan. Don't you worry."
"You really think so?"
"I wouldn't be at all surprised."
"You're great, Michael," he gave Michael a quick, solid embrace. When the two of them had finished changing, they were out the door.
The common room was comfortable and spacious. Michael was ashamed that he didn't go there more often. It had a TV, a fooseball table, and enough couches to comfortably seat the entire US team with plenty of room to spare. Michael and Nathan grabbed a seat beside Ian and waited anxiously for the coach's arrival. Michael noticed, with a flinch of jealousy, that Lochte had already gotten there and was chatting to Peter Vanderkaay a few seats back. Vanderkaay wasn't particularly good looking, but he was a damn fine back stroker. Plus, when it came to Lochte, Michael prefered him to be locked away in a secluded room that only he had the key to. Completely free of temptation, and of competition.
The coach arrived only minutes after Michael did and started going over the basic expectations of the relay team. How they'd be expected to get along together, practice together, and even become one another's friends. Michael largely tuned it out. He had done enough relays to be familiar with the drill. Instead he willed himself to ignore Lochte's presence, which burned on his mind with a physical ferocity that was almost painful.
He was beginning to feel optimistic about his situation. With Lochte at Pool Four, and him in Pool One, all at different times of the day, there was no need to ever worry about possible distractions from him during practice. Sure, they might see each other vaguely, at inopportune and unexpected moments around Olympic village and the cafeteria. But they were both clear on their situation. They were going to try to be as little of a distraction to each other as possible. Things are looking good.
Let swimming be your only concern from here on out.
Besides, the relay would do him good. He had read in an interview that Lochte didn't think he would participate in the relays this year. It would be good for Michael to form bonds with new athletes, instead. He had always liked doing relays because the group that formed them was always like a little family. Like its own group within the Olympics. The perfect thing to keep him distracted and occupy his thoughts with something other than Ryan Lochte.
The coach cleared his throat and broke Michael out of his reverie. "And without further adieu, it is with great pleasure that I announce the four man relay team for the 2012 Olympics!"
Enthusiastic applause followed from everyone.
"You guys are some of the finest athletes out there. I know that with the hard work you always put into everything, you'll be sure to take home gold."
He beamed at them fondly.
"Okay. This'll come as a surprise to no one, but our first member of the team is Michael Phelps!"
Michael shook his fists in appreciation and went to stand beside the coach. He caught Lochte's gaze, eyebrows raised as if to say "good work." He dropped his eyes to the floor, blushing.
"Next, we have Cullen Jones!" More applause as Cullen hopped out of his seat and took his place, grinning ear to ear, next to Michael. "This next decision was a tough one. This guy's new, but I know he's capable of great things. Let's welcome Nathan Adrian to the team!"
"Yeah!" Nathan bolted up, hands raised high above his head in triumph, and made his way to the front of the room as the rest of the athletes laughed in appreciation.
"And last but not least, this guy's been saying he's sick of relays. But I convinced him that another Gold Medal wouldn't kill him."
Michael felt his stomach drop. Oh no...
"Please give it up for Ryan Lochte!"
Michael never realized how possible it was for his heart to both panic and sink in his chest. There went his dreams of a peaceful, easily managed Olympics. Lochte rose with a natural grace and in several sweeping, elegant steps, he was proudly standing mere inches away from Michael. He had even sprayed on a little cologne. Creed, Michael noticed painfully. All his concentration shattered. All thoughts of swimming vanished from his mind. As that beautiful body was once again planted torturously close to him, he could hardly think of anything else. He lifted his hands weakly to join in cheering the Golden relay team.
I definitely cannot handle this.
What better way to start off preparations for the Golden relay team than a mandatory relay practice with all four members? As they walked together from the common area to the pool, having all fortunately brought their bathing suits with them, the tension between them was thicker than an African American track star's thigh muscle.
As if to add a cherry to the ice cream sundae that was Michael's bad luck, Nathan and Cullen Jones had hit it off and were chatting away with unmatched enthusiasm, leaving Michael alone with Lochte to stew in the awkward silence together. In an attempt to lighten the mood, Ryan spoke.
"You can talk to me, ya know Phelps? I don't bite. At least not in front of all these people."
Michael whipped his head up. "Would you mind, Ryan! Don't let them hear you talk like that!"
"But I always talk like this. Why should I stop now?"
Michael supposed he had a point. But still, with all those eyes and ears everywhere, they needed to be more careful.
"I thought you said you weren't doing the relays this year. What happened?"
"Who told you I said that?"
"No one, I...read it in a newspaper," he mumbled.
"I'm flattered." He patted Michael's back. Once. Quickly. But enough to make the other man's blood boil under his skin.
Ryan looked at his chest and brushed away a tiny piece of lint from the front of his tracksuit. "In truth, what coach said more or less sums it up. I didn't think I could add another event to my already busy schedule, but he convinced me it was basically a guaranteed gold. I couldn't say no."
"That makes sense."
"Yeah. Also, in all honesty, I was sure it'd give me a much welcomed opportunity to bug you."
Michael started to protest but then thought better of it. Lochte should have been more cautious, but his words had been ambiguous enough. Anyone who'd heard them would think they were meant to be condescending not flirtatious.
"I don't get you, Ryan."
And it was true. He didn't.
"You know we can't be together. If the thought of practicing in the same pool is as titillating to you as it is to me, I don't understand how you could willingly torture yourself like that."
"I'm just a glutton for punishment, I guess." Lochte winked, and Michael shivered with the many implications that statement carried with it.
Pool Three was surprisingly busy for so late in the afternoon. Like Michael, most of the other swimmers tended to be early birds who got their most vigorous sets out of the way at the crack of dawn. That way, they could use the rest of the day to eat, check out the scenery, or enjoy their leisure time as they pleased. Michael could only assume that the unusual turnout of swimmers at present had something to do with them, the Americans, being there. Indeed, as he noticed the craning necks, stolen glances, hushed whispers that followed them around the pool deck, it was as if they had all known that the best team was coming and had wanted to see a little preview.
The coach looked around, brow furrowed in annoyance, and seemed to echo Michael's sentiments. He wasn't sure how word had gotten out that they'd all be there at that precise time, but at this point it was too late to do anything about it. They would have to give practice their best efforts, regardless.
"Alright guys, listen up. Practice here is going to be a little tight. But you guys are professionals and I know full well that you can handle it. I...Can I help you, squirt?" He said perhaps too harshly to a tiny, Asian athlete whose white, circular flagged Speedo indicated he was from Japan. The poor thing had stopped to stare, mouth open and star struck, at the four large, attractive Americans standing around the lane beside him. The young man colored and shook his head quickly, flittering away like a humiliated hummingbird and rejoining his team to a chorus of snickering. After that, fortunately, people continued to stare, but did so less blatantly.
"Now, then," the coach continued, readjusting his belt to get better leverage. "The relays are five days away. That may seem like a ton of time, but you and I all know how quickly time goes by in competitions like these. We've got to make every second count. So let's get to it!"
The four men stripped to their Speedos. In trying to avoid checking out Lochte, an Olympic event that deserved a medal all on its own, Michael was struck again by how tall and truly good looking Nathan Adrian was. He towered over the rest of them, so excited, so proud to be there, so completely unaware of how good looking he was in a way that endeared him to Michael even more. His enormous frame and half Asian heritage gave him an exotic look that was extremely rare and extremely sexy to come by.
Cullen Jones wasn't too shabby, either. A bit stockier than the others, with soft dark skin and husky features, Michael thought it might not be so easy to swim undistracted next to this one, either.
And then, of course, there was Ryan Lochte, who was so handsome it was almost sickening. Perfection looked like a joke next to him. Michael snuck a peak at him as he leaned over the water, sleek and elegant, to wet his goggles and swim cap a bit. It was a sight to behold. Every single time. Michael caught his breath and had to turn away. Too much of this spectacular view was sure to unravel him.
It seemed as if they did a hundred mock relays. They played around with a multitude of starting orders until they finally figured out the perfect one. Lochte, of course, would start off. He was remarkably fast and would give them, hopefully, a big enough lead to be able to finish the rest of the race far ahead of the others. Nathan would come second, followed by Cullen and then Michael, the natural choice to close off the race with a resounding victory.
When they had practiced until their limbs felt ready to fall off and their coach was sufficiently satisfied, they made their way to the locker rooms for a much deserved, much needed shower. Michael went quickly to the stalls in the back of the room. They were nice but drafty; an ill placed window left perpetually open meant that there was a constant breeze through the stalls that made showering there less than ideal. He didn't care. He wanted to be by himself, bombarded with glorious, steaming water, in an isolated shower stall where he could escape from his teammates, who were starting to strip down in plain view of everyone. Lochte alone had remained fully covered by his Speedo, but the skintight fabric was already so saturated with water that it clung to his privates in a manner that left little to the imagination.
Michael turned the water on as high as it would go and let it pound into his begging flesh. He ducked his head into the barrage, the harsh flow soothing on his scalp. Finally feeling warmed and relaxed enough, he reached to the side of the shower stall and squirted out one, two generous globs of the sticky, multipurpose shampoo dispensed there. Greasy as it was, the soap nevertheless had a pleasant, pine-like scent that Michael likened to aftershave. The smell pleased him greatly. He lathered his hands together with the soapy guck, producing a sturdy quantity of bubbles which he proceeded to rub all over his body. His muscles, having just been pushed to their very limits at the demanding practice, were still strong and partially flexed, exceptionally defined under the smooth, hairless skin that Michael had shaved only this morning.
Outside, it sounded as if the noise had begun to die down somewhat. Michael strained his ears against the water, listening for any sounds of his teammates nearby.
He pushed the shower door open an inch, just enough to peek out and make doubly sure the coast was clear. Satisfied that the back corner where he was had remained, as usual, empty, he started to indulge himself with forbidden snidbits of memories he had been trying to ignore all day. He pictured Lochte, eyebrows raised in congratulations as Michael's own name was called to join the relay team. He remembered with something akin to pride how Lochte's eyes found no others but his own as he accepted the final spot on the world's best racing team. He thought of his smile, of his laugh, of his teasing comments, and felt a shiver run from his mind to his member with tantalizing clarity. He groaned, felt his blood pumping. Felt himself engorge with all the unrequited passion he could only now acknowledge. He felt his hands move, almost of their own accord, to a small, abandoned bottle of conditioner on top of the soap ledge. Felt them squirt out some of the makeshift lubricant and engulf, slowly, sensuously, the shaft of his penis.
"Oh, God..." He rubbed himself urgently, biting his tongue to keep from screaming. He thought of Ryan fully now, unashamed as he stroked. The blue eyes, the unmatched physique. The plumpened lips he would love to pry open with his tongue.
A blast of cold air and a sudden slamming of the shower door, and Michael was aware that he was no longer alone. His eyes flew open, hand still glued to his cock and the cries of an orgasm frozen silently on his lips, as he met with the sturdy, mischievous form of Ryan Lochte who, for reasons Michael could not fathom, had decided to wedge himself into the shower stall with him.
"Hello, Phelps. Seems you were expecting me," he said, eyes lingering hungrily on Michael's penis.
"What are you doing in here, Lochte? Get out!" He hissed, trying with shaking hands to cover his manhood.
Ryan shook his head and clucked his teeth.
"But you don't really want me to do that, do you?" He whispered, cupping Michael's face in his hands and running his fingers through his silky wet hair.
No, Michael thought. I don't ever want you to go.
Lochte raised his eyebrows, almost begging him, asking his permission to continue. Michael suddenly found it impossible to speak. He nodded, barely perceptible, but it was enough and Ryan smirked in triumph.
Michael luxuriated in the prime view of Ryan's face, blue eyes blaring, lips delicious, hair damp and water from the shower head dripping tenderly down his face. He was smiling softly. Vulnerably. Smiling for Michael and it drove him wild.
The moment hung between them. A chasm of potential, heavy with possibilities. They could stop now and go back to the way things were. Awkward, tense, further than things should have gone between them but not too far that they couldn't turn back. An incline of Ryan's head, a step forward, and together they crossed the point of no return. His lips came crashing into Michael's with a staggering force. Michael relished in the sensation of it, and return the kiss with an equal fervor of his own. He felt Lochte probe his lips with his tongue and opened them dutifully, tasting the sexy sweetness of his new lover's breath.
Their tongues tangled in the forbidden dance, in and out, side to side. They savored the delectability of each others' mouths, but soon even this newfound pleasure was not enough. Lochte stepped back for a moment, breathing heavily, and peeled off his soaking wet speedo. Michael stared at the long, throbbing member, taken aback by how unmistakably groomed it was. He didn't have a chance to stare long. In an instant, Lochte had stepped forward again, this time entwining himself fully with Michael, hands roaming his back and nipping hungrily at his lips. Michael lost himself in Ryan's embrace, stifling a moan as Ryan's talented fingers caressed his spine and massaged his backside. The feel of Lochte's member on his thigh nearly sent him over the edge, and the carnal knowledge of Lochte's body pressed up against him was worth more than any gold medal ever would be.
He gripped his hands harder, digging his nails deep into the flesh on Lochte's back. This would definitely leave a mark tomorrow, he knew it, but he didn't care. He let himself go, twisting lazy circles with his fingers on skin that glistened with moisture and chlorinated sweat. He caressed the back of Lochte's scalp and gently pulled the silky, dark brown hair that fell almost to shoulder length in the dampness.
Without saying a word, Lochte moved a hand seamlessly from the fullness of Michael's ass to the burgeoning shaft of his penis. Michael gasped as the hands, soft yet masculine, made slick with the water, gripped him with firm reassurance and stroked up and down his length. He felt Lochte take his other hand and bring it to cup his testicles. He rolled them around gently, toying with them like an absentminded child with a sack of marbles. For a while, he continued this tantalizing pattern, allowing Michael to savor this gift he was giving him. Then, the rhythm got faster, the stroking more urgent. He tightened his grip, focusing now on the area closest to the tip of Michael's penis. He spit on his hand and brought it back down to Michael's cock, and Michael knew that he couldn't last much longer. As Lochte continued his dedicated ministrations over the head and back down again, making sure his palms brought plenty of friction along the way, Michael felt the buildup, that special tensing, and braced himself to go over the edge. Storms of pleasure started at the core of his shaft and exploded, pulsating through every inch of his genitalia.
The orgasm rocketed through his entire body, and he moaned Lochte's name softly, over and over again, as he ejaculated onto his stomach. The burden of his arousal lifted and he opened his eyes heavily, barely catching a glimpse of Ryan's satisfied expression. He watched Lochte place his stomach directly under the shower stream and slowly rinse off Michael's ejaculate, like he was savoring it, like he was almost sad to see it go. Michael reached out to grab onto Lochte's own manhood with shaky fingers, but Lochte turned away quickly, placing Michael's hands in his.
"Shh, shh. Not yet," he answered Michael's confused gaze with hushed reassurance. "That was all for you. I just wanted to see your O face. You're cute when you come." He winked with a soft chuckle. "We don't have enough time. I need to get out there before my roommate gets too suspicious. But next time. Next time, it's your turn to make me come." He gave Michael a quick kiss on the lips, slapped on his crumpled speedo, and left him, exhausted and trembling, as suddenly as he'd come.
With shaking fingers and a body trembling from the exertion of his orgasm, Michael grabbed his own Speedo from the hook on the shower stall and slipped it on as best he could. He stumbled slightly, mind and body still reeling. The drenched fabric caught and rolled over itself on the way up his unsteady legs. He smoothed it over his front and pulled it flat over his butt cheeks, stretching it out as wide as it would go to avoid the all too familiar wedgie that it often gave him.
He took a deep breath and turned off the shower with a quick twist. The sudden lack of steaming water made the draft much more noticeable, and Michael shivered in spite of himself. He took a deep breath and counted slowly in his head.
One. Two. Three.
The blast of cool air that assaulted him upon opening the stall door sent shivers down his flesh. His nipples hardened, and, had he not removed all traces of it from the neck down, his hair would have stood on edge.
He walked as quickly as he could, through the changing stalls, through the lockers, to the towel rack at the wall near the door. He grabbed one gratefully, the fluffy white fabric lapping the water from his skin like a kitten drinking milk, and continued to towel himself off until he was completely dry. His hands and feet were pruny, his skin still tender from the overlong shower, but at least now he was drier and in a spot that wasn't so drafty.
A new stream of swimmers trickled into the locker room, fresh out from practice, and stared at Michael in awe. He waved a quick hello to them and, wrapping the towel around his waste, headed back out to the pool.
It was not without some level of pleasurable surprise that he noticed Nathan sitting on the bleachers by his crumpled tracksuit, waiting for him. He stared straight ahead, face motionless as he tuned out the world with his iPod. The music blared from his ear buds, but he paused it and smiled brightly as he noticed Michael approaching. He waved enthusiastically and patted the space beside him.
"There you are, took you forever! I was starting to get worried." Michael averted his gaze guiltily, but Nathan didn't seem to notice. "How's that for a tough practice? I was thinking of catching a movie soon, are you interested?"
It was an easy decision for Michael. He had thought earlier that he might be up for the optional dry land training that evening, but after his unexpected surprise in the shower, that definitely wasn't happening. Besides, he'd had enough on his mind to occupy him lately. A relaxing movie with Nathan would be just what he needed.
He scratched his chin, making a face and feigning indecision.
"Hmm...Tempting. But I'm just not sure. What movie is it?"
"The Last Refuge. It's a zombie horror film from Finland. Tons of blood and guts. You'll love it," he added, winking.
"A scary movie? Alright, you've convinced me. I suppose I will grace you with my presence at this delightful sounding film. What time were you planning on leaving?"
"Whenever," Nathan shrugged. "I was thinking as soon as we could get changed. Unless you want to go in that, of course," he gestured playfully at Michael's towel and torso.
"No, I'm good. Thanks for the consideration, though."
Nathan chuckled. "My pleasure. Oh! And I was thinking we could stop somewhere and get pizza on the way back. My treat."
Michael smiled warmly. "Sounds awesome. It's a date."
Nathan's eyes widened at those words. "Yeah," he said softly. "A date."
Michael noticed that he was watching him with a dreamy reverence. He sure is happy to see this movie with me. He thought. I guess I shouldn't be so surprised. I'm like a swimming idol to him. He slapped on his tracksuit and threw his towel over his shoulder.
"Great. Let's go get changed."
Thirty minutes later, they were more comfortably dressed and on their way to see The Last Refuge. Michael had opted for khaki shorts with a green button down shirt, and Nathan looked adorable in his Washington State sweat shorts and hoodie. Nathan had suggested a cab, but Michael, noting the mild weather and the lovely London scenery, suggested they walk.
It was a short distance to the theater, less than half a mile, and if they walked quickly, legs long and powerful as theirs were, they'd arrive in a few minutes. Nathan breathed the warm London air in deeply. He stared around them at the buildings in the Square. The open, welcoming shops. The streets, live with excitement and people ready to go out on a Friday night. Michael was right. The scenery was beautiful, and he was glad they'd decided to walk.
The theater was, as had to be reasonably expected, pretty crowded. Michael always felt a certain degree of nervousness in crowds like these. He was, after all, a star athlete, and it wasn't uncommon for people to recognize him wherever he went. Thankfully, though, swimming was a relatively specialized sport, and it was more likely a handful of people rather than a crowd would notice him.
He stared at the theater with Nathan, ignoring the odd looks he got from people who thought they recognized him but weren't sure from where, and was impressed with the massive yet historical facade. It was a huge building with sleek glass doors and a cream, stucco covered entrance. The name of the theater, "Manor Heights," gleamed impressively in enormous purple letters above them.
Nathan bought their tickets, refusing point blank to go Dutch on them, and Michael had to content himself with buying two cherry Slushees and a jumbo bucket of popcorn to share between them.
They crept into the cinema and claimed two seats in the back grow just as the advertisements were ending. The lights dimmed and the anthem from 20th Century Fox started blaring loudly over the speakers, and Nathan patted his knees anxiously.
"This is it!" He said excitedly, and Michael laughed at his enthusiasm.
The movie was very enjoyable. It outdid itself on slasher clichés and Michael felt his ears ringing from all the screaming by the end of it. But it had more than exceeded his expectations for a B grade horror movie. He had also been particularly grateful for the jumbo popcorn he had purchased earlier. They had eaten from it hungrily, and he felt a pleasurable thrill every time his buttery, popcorn-seeking fingers brushed against Nathan's.
The sky had already fallen to night by the end of the film. The night, like the day before it, remained pleasantly warm. Nathan and Michael took the opportunity to wander aimlessly around the quirky London suburb while they still had free time to spare. When they reached a small restaurant about a half a block away with a cozy, family feel and the irresistible scent of freshly made pizza wafting out through the front door, they could hardly resist the temptation.
The bell on the front door dinged as they walked in, and a small, older looking woman with a thick British accent came to greet them.
"Hello, I'm Marla. Welcome to the Pizza Kitchen. Will this be for here or to, oh my," her eyes widened as she suddenly realized who she was talking to.
"My goodness, it is such a pleasure to have you two gentlemen here in my restaurant. Mr. Phelps and Mr. Adrian! Can I offer you a table by the window?"
She showed them to a tiny table located in the front corner of the room. A few people stopped eating to turn and stare at them curiously, but they thankfully had the good manners not to interrupt them.
Marla placed two weathered menus on the table in front of them.
"Our specials today are the tuna melt pizza and the Margherita. I'll give you a few minutes to look over the menus." She smiled brightly and left them on their own.
Michael didn't even bother opening the menu. "I think I'll have the Margherita. Nothing like good old cheese and tomato pizza does the trick when I'm this hungry. What do you think you'll get?"
Nathan fumbled absentmindedly with menu.
"I don't know," he said hesitantly. His eyes skimmed down the dinner page before he finally closed it. "I guess I'll go with the special. Tuna melt pizza sounds interesting."
They placed their order and waited hungrily, their mouths salivating with the aromas of delicious pizza. The pesto scented sauce from the kitchen wafted in every time someone opened the back door, the aromatic tendrils wrapping themselves lovingly around their noses.
When the pizza arrived before them, they wolfed it down with a hunger that was almost desperate. It was a sight to behold, these two enormous men massacring two large pizzas in front of them. It was just what they did. They burned up to eight thousand calories a day, and destroying a cool two thousand plus calorie meal in one sitting was nothing.
In the silence that followed the well eaten meal, Michael noticed Nathan watching him with a tender expression in his eyes. Puzzled, he asked Nathan if everything was ok.
"Everything's fine. Better than fine, actually. Sometimes I really can't believe my luck."
"What do you mean?"
Nathan chuckled. "How cool is it? That you're the number one best athlete of all time. And that I just had dinner and a movie with you. I guess dreams really can come true."
Michael wasn't sure if Nathan was serious or not but he burst out laughing, uneasy with such open praise. Nathan, too laughed at his own flattery.
"In all seriousness, though, good dinner Phelps. Glad I could spend it with you."
"And I with you."
The two men walked out of the restaurant, leaving a generous tip for Marla behind them, and embraced the fair weathered night before them. They had felt tired, what with the relay practice and the exceptional dinner, but five minutes on the busy streets renewed them with sudden energy. They didn't want to go to sleep anymore, and they sure as hell didn't want to go home.
"Where to next?" Nathan asked as if reading Michael's mind.
It was a tempting question. The streets were alive, the night was young, and they were in the most popping district in London. Michael thought he knew the answer.
"To the club," he winked at Nathan, who roared out laughing in response.
"Us? At the club? Michael, you can't be serious!"
"Try me!" Michael teased, raising an eyebrow.
Nathan shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. "I've never been to a club in a city this big before."
"Now's the perfect time to try it!"
"Ok. Why not. But If I end up roofied in a side ditch London road, you have no one but yourself to blame!"
Michael scoffed. "Nathan, if you end up roofied, I will personally carry you back to the bedroom myself!"
Nathan once again got that far off, dreamy look in his eyes, and Michael realized how incredibly misconstrued that sentence could become.
"Let's just go." He put his arm around Nathan's shoulder and steered them down the busiest, brightest looking street in the neighborhood.
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
The name of the nightclub was The Tiger's Lily. It was bold. It was gaudy. It was filled with sluts. It was the best nightclub Michael had ever been to.
They didn't even have to wait in line. Minutes before they even arrived in the queue, a flock of eager, bright eyed eighteen year olds started screaming that Michael Phelps was there, and the manager came out to welcome them into the club personally. He showered them with free drinks. The DJ made a special announcement. Two celebrities were partying with them tonight, he'd said, and they were all obligated to show them a good time.
It was like flies drawn to a particularly famous brand of honey. The swarm of women, young, old, homely, beautiful, stopped what they were doing to move, groove and attack them on the dance floor. The way the women flocked to them was still unbelievable after all these years. He danced with them, even treated a select few of them to his finest booty shaking moves. It was almost like old times. He was reminded of how he used to go out constantly, trying and failing to find a woman to spark his interest. But now, after having found Lochte, he enjoyed dancing with the women who wanted him so badly. He could almost laugh about it. Dancing. Nothing more.
Despite the relaxed mood he had slipped into that evening, he found himself always looking over his shoulder, always trying to see who Nathan was dancing with. He felt irrational pangs of jealousy any time he noticed Nathan with a new girl, and would feel fluttering beats of panic in the pit of his stomach any time he looked around and couldn't find Nathan.
Nathan, for his part, didn't seem to be taking the evening too seriously either. For the amount of women who threw themselves at him, he seemed to be completely oblivious to the attention. In fact, though he seemed well aware that every female in the room wanted to sleep with him, he did not appear to return the attraction, or even want it. Like Michael, he danced. Sometimes crazily, sometimes drunkenly. But all he did was dance with the women. It just never seemed to escalate to more.
Odd, Michael noticed as a particularly attractive blonde glued her ass to Nathan's front like syrup on a pancake. Nathan gyrated with her for an absolutely maximum of two songs and then, with a twist and a slide, he ridded himself of her and rejoined the crowd alone.
Perhaps he's not used to this kind of thing in Washington.
Michael maneuvered his way over to Nathan and clamped a hand on his shoulder, the only way to get his attention over the blaring music. Nathan smiled brighter at Michael than he did at any one else at the club and continued dancing excitedly.
"Great place, Phelps!" He yelled over the music, long limbs twisting and shaking to the bass in an awkward way that only Nathan could make look sexy.
"Nice moves, Nathan!" Michael shouted back at him.
Nathan continued dancing horribly. He cupped his hand over his ear and looked bemusedly back at Michael, unable to hear him over the cacophony.
"I said...Oh, never mind!" Michael pointed over the crowd at the dejected looking blonde girl that Nathan had left earlier.
"Man, she's so cute! Why don't you go after her?"
Nathan followed Michael's arm to the woman's direction and shook his head shyly.
"Not your type?" Michael asked.
"Um...You could say that."
"No? What about that pretty brunette girl over by the bar?"
Nathan shook his head.
Michael scanned the room again.
"How about the uh, big and beautiful one with her friend?"
Nathan actually convulsed at that one.
Well, I thought I'd try.
"Damn, you're picky! Is there anyone in here you want to hook up with?"
"Absolutely," Nathan looked sheepish.
"Well, show me her! Come on, Friday night in London!"
But Nathan never did show Michael the person he wanted to hook up with. Michael was somewhat surprised; he guessed Nathan was shier than he had initially suspected. Regardless, they danced the night away until the wee hours of the morning. A multitude of girls were actually brave enough to approach them, but the result was always the same. A dance, some flirting, a free shot (compliment of the ladies, of course). On and on, they danced and drank until the night around them died. Michael, long used to the never ending nights of celebrity partying, was able to maintain a cool head. Nathan, on the other hand, was not.
But he made such a valiant effort.
Well after four AM and well after what should have been their last free shot, Nathan felt his stomach swirl and his head start to cleave.
Michael watched him out of the corner of his eye.
Nathan barely managed to shake his head "no."
Michael noticed his friend's deteriorating state and grabbed him, wrapping Nathan's left arm around his right shoulder and wrapping his own arm around Nathan's waist to keep him from toppling over. The manager, whose eyes had been on them like hawks the entire evening, materialized out of thin air to do damage control and make sure the two athletes didn't leave dissatisfied with his bar.
"No, this has been a fantastic night. Thank you so much," Michael explained to him as they were leaving. "My friend just isn't used to such hardcore partying, that's all."
The manager breathed a sigh of relief. "You're sure you're quite alright? Everything's ok? I can't offer you another free beverage?"
"We're fine and no, definitely not," Michael said sternly. "Thank you for all your help. The service here has been exceptional."
"It has been our pleasure to have you here!" The manager shook his hand and grunted in his thick Cockney accent. "Hope to see you again!"
"I'm sure you will!" Michael smiled and ducked through the crowds, practically carrying Nathan out of the club and into the streets below.
Nathan stumbled unsteadily down the sidewalk, leaning heavily on Michael as they went. He felt the contents of the night's free alcohol churning in his stomach, and stumbled to the side, emptying them unceremoniously into a ditch. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and crawled back up to the sidewalk, eyes still tearing from the drunken sickness.
"What time is it?" He slurred as Michael offered him his hand. He let Michael maneuver him back to his original stance and continued walking down the sidewalk like nothing had happened.
"Around four," Michael whispered. "Let's concentrate on getting you home. You had a pretty big night."
"I'll say!" He tripped slightly over his own feet but managed to regain himself without falling. He rubbed his eyes, tried to chase away the stinging wateriness and the blurred double vision.
"I have no idea how you do this every night," he said finally to Michael.
"I haven't done this every night in almost three years, and even then I never went this hard." He turned to look at Adrian. "I think you inspired me to get crazier tonight. You're quite the party animal. For a rookie."
"I've never had this much fun in my life."
"Yeah. I can't remember the last I've had this much fun going out, either," Michael said honestly. "I owe it to you, Nathan. Thanks."
"Are you kidding me?" Nathan swiveled dangerously to the side as he tried to face Michael. "I'd never have done all this if it weren't for you. You're the best, Michael."
"Oh stop it, Nathan. You're making me blush," Michael brushed away the compliment with teasing. But in reality, he was actually quite flattered.
Nathan was lost in a dream world. "We have to do this again. Tomorrow, and the next day, and not Monday because that would suck. But next week end. And the weekend after that. And all the days."
"Whoa. Easy there, partner," Michael laughed. "Just you wait until tomorrow morning. You won't be so keen on me or on the massive hangover you're going to have then, either."
"You're right. I hadn't thought of that," he sighed. "I feel like I could pass out in these bushes."
"Don't worry too much about it. It happens to the best of us. And look, I can see the Olympic village coming up now. Just a little bit further and you'll be able to pass out comfortably in your nice warm bed."
Nathan snorted but seemed relieved. They crossed quietly through the Olympic village without incident. Michael was thankful that they had cleaned up their room earlier because he had to practically haul Nathan over the floor and to his bed.
Though part of him was relieved to be free of the heaviness, he was sad to let Nathan go from his side. He stared over at the huddled mass, sprawled awkwardly in the bed, and smiled to himself quietly before going to lie down in his own bed.
He stripped down quietly, peeling off his shirt and pants, tossing his shoes to the side and snuggling in his covers when he was down only to his bright red briefs. As he lay there, comfortably enclosed in thousand thread count sheets and cozy blankets, he replayed the events from the night over in his head. The stupid movie, the delicious pizza. The insane after party where they'd been showered with booze and attention like kings. He was glad to have had Nathan with him. Not only was Nathan his best friend, he was proving himself to be an exceptional partier. Michael felt somewhat guilty for corrupting him.
It was just a nudge in the right direction, he reminded himself. He had to learn someday.
He stared one last time at Nathan, who had started to moan quietly in his sleep. Michael perked his ears up.
"What's that you said, buddy?" He whispered.
Nathan jerked a few times, semiconsciously, and mumbled something very quietly. Almost unintelligibly.
"You're the best, Phelps. The best." He had said it only half awake, before turning, rolling on his side into fetal position, and announcing his final descent into a deep sleep with a chorus of loud snores.
Michael chuckled tiredly and put the covers over his head.
"You're not so bad yourself, Nathan. Goodnight."
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
As Michael had predicted, Nathan had one hell of a hangover the next morning. His usually cute face was angry and swollen from the alcohol consumption, his eyes still somewhat watery and his mouth turned down in an unpleasant frown. The drastic change from his usual happy go lucky demeanor startled Michael when he walked into the cafeteria after him that morning, running slightly late after having slept in and arriving at breakfast well after Michael was already halfway finished.
He slumped grumpily over to the table, pulling out his chair and falling into it gracelessly, looking more miserable than Michael had ever seen him. He nibbled at his food with only remnants of his usual appetite, having only gotten an orange and a couple slices of toast from the buffet.
Michael knew the answer but figured he'd be polite and ask anyway.
"How are you feeling, Nate?"
Nathan shot daggers at him through the corner of his eye, dropping his barely eaten toast back onto his plate.
"Last night was the best night of my life. Because of that, I can't hate you. But this is the sickest I have ever felt, save that time I visited my cousins and got food poisoning in Taiwan," he shuddered at the memory and Michael felt overcome with sympathy.
He patted Nathan's shoulder gently. "Next time we go out we'll go a bit easier on the alcohol."
Nathan laughed. "Next time we go out, I will drink nothing but water and diet coke. Honest."
Michael finished the rest of his breakfast quicker than Nathan could eat a single piece of toast. He had just put away his tray, opting to sit with Nathan while he ate the rest of his meager portions, when he realized suddenly that Lochte was in the cafeteria, coming towards them with furious, angry strides.
"Great," muttered Nathan. "Now I'm really going to be sick."
"Me too," Michael whispered, feeling uneasiness in the pit of his stomach at the enraged expression on Lochte's face. Even when he'd beaten him in swimming, even when he had taunted him before one of their competitions, he had never seen Lochte look so wrathful. He lifted timid eyes at him, wordlessly asking what was the matter.
Lochte looked directly at him, even more infuriated by Michael's ignorance, and slammed a newspaper he had been carrying onto the table in front of them.
There, in large pixels on the front cover, blurred and low quality but recognizable nonetheless, was a photo of Michael and Nathan. It had to have been taken right before Nathan had gotten sick; it showed Michael, arm wrapped around Nathan, smiling and supporting him just before they were about to leave. Underneath the photo, the caption read: "PHELPS AND ADRIAN, PARTY BOY PARTNERS IN CRIME AT THE 2012 OLYMPICS." In the article it described how Michael and Nathan had arrived early at the club, drunk and danced for hours, and left together in the early hours of the morning. Though the article never hinted at anything sinister underlying their friendship, Michael's eyes widened. He knew exactly what Ryan would have thought when he'd read it.
"It's not what it looks like, Ryan," he whispered. "We went to a movie late last night and I wanted to take him out on the town before we got home -"
The intensity of Ryan's gaze caught him off mid sentence. "Interesting. How interesting," he hissed, voice laced with an icy rage. "That after our first...practice together," he paused and Michael understood full well the reference, "that this is how you'd choose to celebrate."
Michael shook his head violently. How could he think that? Nathan was very cute, there was no denying that. But he loved Ryan and wouldn't do anything to compromise that.
"He's my friend, Ryan. My best friend. I went to a nightclub with him as friends. Nothing more." He stared deep into Lochte's eyes, hoping, pleading for him to understand that.
Ryan shook his head. He looked hurt, mad, and in too much pain to see reason.
"Best friends, my ass. I've seen how he looks at you."
With that, he had crossed the line. Michael clenched his hand into a fist on the table to keep it from slapping Lochte.
"That's because I'm a swimming celebrity he's looked up to all his life and has just met. Can't you see that?"
Ryan didn't answer. Nathan, however, looked from Lochte to Michael with great confusion.
"I don't see what you're so upset about," he whispered miserably. "You're not the one whose stomach feels like it'll burst out of your butt."
"No, no. Lucky me," Lochte sneered. "Apparently I'm not worthy enough to party with the great Michael Phelps. I won't take up any more of your time."
"Lochte! Lochte, don't go! Wait!" Michael stood up to chase after Ryan but the gentle squeeze of Nathan's hand on his shoulder held him back.
"Let him go, Phelps. He's too mad right now to think straight."
Michael wanted to chase after him, but knew Nathan was right. Literally and figuratively.
"Jealous prima donna," Nathan added under his breath, the vestiges of alcohol still in his system making him more blunt than usual.
Michael sank back into his seat. How could Lochte be so blind? How could he think that there was something more than friendship between he and Nathan? And, perhaps most troubling, how could he think that he was so flighty? He had practically begged Ryan to be with him mere days ago, had admitted that he was so aroused by his presence in practice that he could hardly swim, and he was a professional! Did he think he was some air headed pretty boy who fell in love with whoever happened to be close by? How could he think that the very day they had had their first intimate experience together, he would go out and spend the night with someone else? It wasn't like him at all. Surely Ryan knew that and would see reason as soon as he'd cooled off a bit. He was hurt by the accusation. Flattered that he cared. But hurt, all the same.
Practice that day was nothing short of painful. Because there was tension between he and Lochte, and because he would have been fine with having anyone else as a practice partner, it was only natural that his coach assigned the two jilted lovers to the same lane. The ten seconds they shared glued to the wall between sets were agonizing. The time they spent near each other, either putting on their swim flippers or readjusting their goggles, was an exercise in self restraint. When they raced next to each other, side by side, they splashed and flailed angrily in the water, wanting nothing more than to make the other feel badly by winning.
It was just like old times.
But worse than anything were the dry land exercises that the coach inevitably paired them up for. While Nathan and Ian worked together, chatting happily side by side amongst themselves, Michael and Lochte exchanged no more words than absolutely necessary and avoided the other’s gaze like it was lethal.
When they did crunches, Lochte had to hold Michael's feet down to make sure they didn't come up off the floor. Michael felt him dig his nails into his ankles, trying to inflict at least some of the emotional pain he was feeling onto him physically. Michael said nothing. He wouldn't give him that satisfaction. They continued their workout in silence, every accidental look in his eyes stabbing him through his heart, and every brush against his skin causing an eruption of goosebumps down his flesh.
The coach whistled for the end of practice, and when Lochte left, storming to the locker room without a word to anyone, Michael decided he could stand it no longer.
He caught up to him before he got there, spinning him around and forcing him to face his accusatory gaze head on.
"What the fuck, Ryan?" Chocolate brown orbs probed Ryan's face but he quickly averted his gaze.
"Let go of me, Phelps," Ryan struggled against the other man's grip. But Michael was just a bit bigger. Just a bit stronger. And he used this extra advantage to keep Lochte put.
"I won't. Not until you decide to see reason!"
"Ah, yes. I just admitted how I felt to you and I thought it meant something. We had our first moment together in the shower and it obviously meant nothing to you. It's completely normal for you to jizz on me in the shower and then go on a date with another man that very evening. Forgive me for overreacting."
Michael rolled his eyes.
"It's not like that with me and Nathan, and you know it! He's like my younger best friend, like a kid brother that I have to take care of. Surely you can see that, can't you?"
Ryan looked skeptical. "You sure about that Phelps?"
Michael thought about Nathan. Of how he always looked at him dreamily during practice. Of the night they had gone out together. How he'd had eyes only for him and had talked to no other girls.
"Then you're an even bigger moron than I used to think you were."
Michael dug his hands deeper into Lochte's flesh at those words. Lochte yelped in protest but Michael ignored it and dragged him away from the locker room. Dragged him outside of the building where their pool was and into another building with another pool that most people never went to. Pool Two was smaller, tucked away in a smaller, less impressive building a bit further from the other pools. It was rarely used because of its tiny size, out of the way location, and extremely limited opening hours. In fact, it was supposed to have been closed at that very moment.
When you're Michael Phelps, though, nothing's ever really off limits.
They arrived at the door and Michael pounded on the tinted glass, hand still gripped tightly on Lochte's forearm to keep him from escaping. The small, wiry looking security guard opened the door immediately for Michael Phelps.
"We're here for a private practice. Official Team USA stuff," Michael asserted and nudged Ryan for confirmation. Ryan bared his teeth in an angry grimace.
The security guard pushed his thick glasses up his nose and ran a hand through his scruffy black hair.
"Yes, of course Mr. Phelps. Come right in."
"Thank you. And could you do us a favor?"
"Yes. Anything for you, Mr. Phelps."
Michael smiled. "Can you stand outside to make sure no one bothers us until we're finished?"
He could tell the security guard thought it was an odd request. To wait outside his post while two athletes swam in a should-be closed pool unattended. Weird. But not weird enough to decline it.
"Certainly, sir. No one will disturb you during your practice."
The moment they went in and heard the door click shut behind them, Michael released his grip on Lochte.
Ryan looked angrily at Michael and rubbed his arm.
"What's the matter with you, Phelps? Are you crazy?"
"I'm not crazy. I'm not the one who has been acting like a total baby all morning," he said angrily, then softened his tone. "I hate you being angry with me, Ryan. Besides, I owe you."
Ryan looked at him bemusedly.
"Don't you remember? It's your turn."
He took a step towards Lochte who, comprehension suddenly dawning him, began to meekly protest.
"Oh no. I'm really upset with you, damn it. Don't think you can just make it all better by playing around in my Speedo."
Michael didn't think this would make it all better. He knew it would.
As Michael took a confident step forward and started to wrap his arms around Lochte, the other man shook his head and took a step back.
"You'll have to catch me, first." He winked and in the blink of an eye had already dived into the pool before them.
Michael didn't give him much of a head start. Ryan had made it about a quarter length down the pool when Michael dove in behind him, pumping his arms and legs as fast as they could carry him against the silky water.
It didn't take long. Lochte was an excellent swimmer, and he swum towards the other end of the pool away from Michael as fast as he could. But Michael Phelps was the fastest swimmer in the world. Like a shark chasing a particularly fat surfer, Michael sped after his prize with zeal that could have broken an Olympic record. No way could anyone out swim him then, not when he had such a delicious query ahead of him.
He caught up to Lochte and just a few meters away from him started doing the Butterfly stroke. Ryan looked behind him, terrified yet so wanting to be caught, as in one enormous stroke Michael came up behind him. With masterful exertion, he wrapped both arms tightly around Ryan's legs, dragging him underwater for a second as he fortified his grip on him.
Ryan's head burst up from the water, laughing and coughing at the same time.
"What are you trying to do, Phelps? Choke me?"
"Not yet. Not with the water, at least."
Ryan threw his head back and roared with laugher.
"Glad to see I've corrupted you a bit, Phelps."
"You have no idea," Michael growled, reaching down and turning Lochte around in the water to face him. Eye to eye, brown to blue. Michael still floating on top of Lochte, weight supported by the water around them. Lochte's lips parted slightly and Michael rapidly accepted the invitation.
Their tongues embraced each other lovingly as the water splashed around them. Michael felt the space in his Speedo become even more restricted, and knew Lochte was feeling the same. But before he could take it off, before they could really get to business, he had to make sure that Ryan understood the situation.
With immense effort, he detached himself from Ryan's lips. He wiped the damp hair from his forehead with all the tenderness he could muster.
"I just don't want you to be angry with me," he repeated.
Lochte let out a sigh. "I can never stay angry with you, Phelps. Even when I want to." He tilted his chin up and kissed Michael again on the lips.
"I don't know if I believe that. You seemed pretty damn angry with me this morning."
"And how would you expect me to feel? Finding out you'd been out with that Twinkie head the day we had hooked up!"
"That Twinkie head happens to be my best friend and my room mate."
"Ok, ok. I believe you. Damn, you're cute when you're angry," he smirked at him seductively again.
Michael felt a huge burden lift from his shoulders. "Finally! I was wondering what all you'd make me to do convince you," he wiggled his eyebrows suggestively and they both laughed.
Ryan acted scandalized. "Did I say I believed you? Well, in that case, I've changed my mind and you've got to do a lot of dirty things to me to make me forget."
Michael put his hand to his head like an army private saluting his captain.
"I'll happily accept that challenge."
He grabbed Lochte's torso and gently guided him to the shallow end of the pool where they could both stand more easily. They kissed fiercely, gyrating their bodies against one another and creating a friction that set their skin aflame. Michael noticed a hardening lump pressed up against him and reached down his hand to pay it the attention it so desperately deserved.
He rubbed Ryan's erection through his Speedo, enjoying the stiffness with his fingers. He tantalized it through the fabric, grabbing it firmly and practically giving him a hand job without actually touching it.
Now, it was Ryan's turn to moan.
"I can't, I can't," he pleaded. "You're killing me."
Michael stopped his hand’s doings for a quick moment and Lochte's breath caught in his chest. In an instant, Michael's hands were back on Lochte's Speedo, swiftly removing it and letting it float forgotten to the bottom of the pool.
Ryan's hardness was a glorious thing. No longer restrained by the oppressive fabric, it grew to its full length, longer and thicker than Michael remembered it, given an almost surreal quality underneath the water.
Michael took a deep breath and knew what he had to do next.
He plunged his head under the water, embracing the length of Lochte's cock with his mouth. He swirled his tongue over the tip like a porn star with a lollipop. Around and around, licking the head of Lochte's penis with passionate conviction. His tongue explored every line, every smooth surface, every hidden crevice. He applied a gentle sucking motion, slowly milking Lochte's cock with his tongue as he sucked. He kept his mouth glued to Lochte's cock for a full three minutes under the water, emerging at last to take a much needed breath at the surface.
When he emerged he saw Lochte looking at him in awe, face flushed and red with pleasure.
"How, how did you do that? How?" He spluttered, beyond impressed with Michael's skilled mouth muscles. And his lung capacity.
"All those underwater drills where we weren't allowed to breath. Supposed to increase lung capacity. I knew they'd come in handy some day," Michael smirked and plunged his head back under the water.
This time, he latched onto Lochte's cock with thirsty lips and engulfed the length of it in his mouth. No small feat. Having never done deep throat before, he almost gagged. The quiver at the base of Lochte's cock, the way his footing became unsteady, and the feel of his hand on the back of his head, grabbing onto his hair, pressing him forward, nearly choking him. It kept him going. Those preliminary signs of orgasm pushed at his resolve, forbade him from stopping even though he'd been under water for nearly four minutes and felt close to passing out. With one final, powerful suck, he felt Lochte go over the edge, felt the cum pouring into his throat. Heard him screaming his name, muffled and very far away, above the water.
With the last bit strength, he pushed himself up and gasped in as many glorious mouthfuls of air as he could take. Lochte slumped against the edge of the pool, looking spent, looking thoroughly pleased. Looking at Michael with utmost admiration.
Michael mentally patted himself on the back. That had been one damn impressive blowjob.
Lochte was trying to compose himself, having come somewhat unraveled by the powerful orgasm. He fumbled for his Speedo with his feet at the bottom of the pool, having to take several clumsy attempts to put it back on again. Michael thought back to the exceptional hand job he'd received in the shower, and remembered that this must have been what he had looked like then, too. He felt a surge of power, watching Lochte so exhausted, so vulnerable. For once in their entire strange relationship, he had the feeling that he'd had some semblance of control over the other man. And he liked it.
So when Lochte, fingers shaking as Michael's had once been, reached down to Michael's own cock to return the favor, it was Michael's turn to deny him this simple pleasure. He held onto his hands and shook his head.
"You have already satisfied me once. This was my way of thanking you. No," he raised his voice as Lochte tried weakly to protest, "We had better head out anyway. We don't want that nice young security guard to get suspicious."
Ryan stared at Michael, wide eyed and incredulous. It was hard for him to accept this new vulnerable position in their relationship.
"You can't play me like that, Phelps. You can't make me cum like that and not even allow me to return the favor."
Michael grinned, victorious. "I just did. And I'm glad that I did. Because next time, next time we won't go into this with only one of us owing the other. Next time, we'll be completely even."
Ryan could only shake his head disbelievingly, too weak to even argue. Michael hopped out of the pool with an energy Ryan could hardly imagine after such an intense ren de vous, and when he stuck his hand out to help him out of the pool, he didn't refuse.
When they walked out of the darkened room and into the bright sunlight outdoors, thankful for the tinted glass that had kept their deviance completely hidden to the outside world, the security guard waved them a cheerful goodbye and went back inside without the slightest hint of suspicion.
Still wearing only their Speedos, feeling too elated to be self conscious, Michael swung his arm around Ryan's shoulders.
"Are we friends again?"
Ryan scoffed. "After all we've been through, do you really think we could ever be friends?"
Michael chuckled. "Perhaps friends was too loose of a word. Something more than friends, then?"
"Definitely something more than friends."
"Even though this crazy high of yours you've got me on will surely be the death of my Olympic career."
"For my sake, I surely hope that it is."
The two men laughed and walked smoothly back into the locker rooms at Pool One where it had all started. They went their own ways, the lockers too crowded to risk anything other than friendly interaction. But both were content, both happier than they'd been in a long time. Because they knew now that whatever happened in the Olympics, whatever odds they faced, they would always come back to find each other. And both were reassured, delighted, that the next time they met alone, just the two of them, it was going to be an equally pleasurable experience for all.
With the tsunami of emotions from his new budding romance with Ryan, Michael often felt it hard to remember that he was at the Olympics. Over the next few days, he had to remind himself of this more often. He had a huge individual event coming up; the 200 Butterfly, which, thankfully, neither Lochte nor Nathan would be participating in. It would be good to swim an event where the only person he'd really be competing against was himself, and he was happy that he didn't have to worry about another awkward competition between his lover and his best friend.
The sexcapade he had with Lochte in the deserted pool felt like it was years ago, when in reality it had only been several days. He needed to distance himself, he had to if he were going to make any progress on his individual ability as a swimmer. During the time between those first few, unexpected yet much appreciated moments with Lochte, Michael had been so caught up in the emotions of a blooming love that he had neglected himself when it came to swimming. There had been numerous optional practices, various muscle and dry land workshops that he had never attended, simply because he had been either with Lochte or too busy thinking about him. And some small part of him, that same little voice with low self esteem questioned, if maybe that had been Lochte's intention all along?
He pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind. He really couldn't afford to think that way right now. And besides, he reminded himself, it was a pretty unlikely scenario. If Lochte were really just using Michael to distract him; if he were really a straight man after all they'd done together, then perhaps he should take up acting instead of athletics.
He practiced furiously. Got back into the routine of two, even three extra practices per day. He spent all his waking moments at the pool or in the gym, emerging only when he was so hungry he couldn't stand it anymore. He felt himself getting better. Stronger. He remembered then, sadly, that this was why he was the best athlete in the world. This hard training, this self imposed isolation. He was an elite swimmer because he was an elite trainer, and he was disappointed in himself for having lost sight of that since coming to Olympic village.
Nathan was hardly ever in the room to keep him company anymore. After he had started training constantly for his own specialty event, the 200 Breast stroke, Michael almost never saw him outside of the cafeteria, the pool, and the bed where he was sleeping. He supposed it was good, in a way, to not have to compromise any of his time with friendship either. His thoughts were occupied now almost entirely with the technicalities of swimming. How he'd done a flip turn in practice, how he'd made microscopic errors when he did his laps, and how it could all be improved. He was once again the robot. The champion. The one to be beat. And while he was happy for his reinvigorated dedication, he was lonely. He missed the normalcy that love and friendship brought with them.
After one particularly grueling dry land practice with several members of the USA team that he rarely talked to, he sat sprawled out on the floor and stretched the tightness from his body. A guy he'd seen around a few times but hadn't really spoken to since four years ago came to sit next to him and cool down. He was a tall, bearded red headed guy named Aaron Robins, who Michael had always liked despite their limited interaction. They finished their stretches together in comfortable silence.
Michael didn't really have a thing for red heads, but he enjoyed the view nonetheless. Aaron was on the taller side and, like Nathan, was built like an Australian steak house. But he was leaner, thinner, with pale skin slightly freckled from the sun. Michael remembered that he was also a skilled back stroker, Nathan's event, and wondered, with irrational and blatant jealousy, how much time the two of them spent together.
"Hey Mike, haven't seen you in a while. How's it going?" Aaron offered after the appropriate number of moments gone by without speaking had passed. He had been bent over his outstretched legs, touching his toes with impressive dexterity, and Michael hoped he hadn't noticed him staring.
"It's been...an unusual time for me," Michael admitted, not sure how else to describe the bizarre direction these Olympic games seemed to have taken him.
Aaron looked at him with questioning eyes. "All good unusual, I hope?"
Michael thought of the stolen glances he'd peeked at his attractive friends. Of the enjoyment he'd felt since he'd admitted to himself his feelings for the same sex. Of the orgasms shared with Lochte.
"Definitely," he responded gaily to Aaron. "How's everything going for you?"
Aaron let out a deep sigh. "I'm not going to lie, it's been going kind of rough. I injured my shoulder last year and it's been challenging to be able to practice through that," he winced as he did a few windmill stretches with his left shoulder and placed a hand to it gingerly.
"I'm really sorry to hear that, Aaron."
"It's ok. It's been difficult but nothing I couldn't manage. Listen," he turned to Michael. "I feel like I've been so busy with practice that I haven't seen any of the other guys since opening ceremony. I hope that we can all find time to do something together when our schedules become less hectic."
"Me too," Michael wholeheartedly agreed. "If that day ever comes!"
Aaron nodded in agreement. He got up, dusted himself off, and grabbed his towel.
"It's been nice chatting with you, Phelps. Hope to see more of you soon."
"Likewise," Michael answered as Aaron loped off into the locker rooms. He dusted himself off and headed down to his room, opting to skip the gym showers in favor of his own personalized one in his room.
Nathan wasn't there when he arrived, and after one of the first long, PG rated showers he had had in a while, he left the bathroom to find that Nathan still wasn't there.
It was strange, being there in the room without him. They'd both been so busy with swimming lately that the only time they really saw each other was here in the dorm room. He didn't like sitting there in the empty room with only his loneliness to keep him company. The idea of a quick nap briefly entertained him, anything better than to sit there in boredom. He threw off his damp towel and jumped, naked, onto his bed. His eyelids fluttered sleeplessly, unable to completely shake the feeling of drowsy wakefulness.
As he twisted and turned in his bed, skin fresh as a baby's bottom from the pricy moisturizer he had just used, his thoughts harkened back to earlier this morning. He bolted up in his bed, surprised he had been so stupid. He remembered the conversation he'd had with Nathan and remembered immediately why he wasn't there.
Nathan had a semi final race in breast stroke this evening and he'd completely forgotten about it. He had become once more so involved swimming that he'd been too shitty of a friend to fully listen.
He cursed under his breath and jumped up to throw some clothes on. A glance at his bedside alarm clock told him it was ten till six, which gave him only ten minutes to get to the Aquatic centre in time. He could do it if he hauled ass.
He sped through the routine which usually took him a half hour, brushing his teeth, combing his short hair, electing his outfit as quickly as he could. When he was confident that he looked minimally presentable to the outside world, he dashed out and on his way.
He'd dressed himself casually, looking cute in a sky blue button down shirt with light colored pants and loafers. Comfortable, yet still put together enough to be able to support Nathan in his big event.
He pushed open the doors to the pool and found himself a free spot on the bleachers. The pool was busy; breast stroke didn't have the obsessive followers that free style did, but there was still a pretty decent sized crowd gathered to watch the semi finals.
Michael's eyes combed the crowd and recognized a few faces he knew. Gary Tate, Hans Brown, acquaintance team mates and coaches scattered through the crowd that he knew briefly but wasn't friendly enough to sit with. It was ok with him, though. He was content just to be there supporting Nathan.
Fortunately, he really had gotten there in the nick of time. There wasn't the poomf and grandeur of a final, gold medal match, but the voice of the announcer still boomed as the eight athletes competing in the race emerged from the locker rooms.
"Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming the semi-finalists for the 200 breast stroke!"
Michael clapped loudly as he spotted Nathan walking tensely to stand in his place at lane four. He saw Nathan clamp his hands into fists, swinging his arms back and forth to alleviate the tension. He looked incredibly nervous.
Michael wanted so badly to yell encouragements to Nathan like an obnoxious father at a soccer match but restrained himself. He would only distract and/or agitate Nathan with such blatant cheering, and he certainly wouldn't make any new friends for himself in the stands, either.
He checked out Nathan's competition, literally and figuratively, and felt suddenly nervous for his friend. The guys in lanes one and two weren't so scary looking; both were small, wiry blond kids from Scandinavia who looked about half as tall as Nathan was. They seemed to know each other, too, and their coaches had matching jackets which indicated they were from the same country. Denmark, apparently. Michael squinted at their features and concluded that they must at least be related somehow. His suspicions were confirmed when their names were announced, Carter and Lukas Andessen, to lukewarm applause. Related or not, they waved awkwardly at the audience, and Michael knew they wouldn't be a threat to anyone.
The guys in lanes six, seven and eight were from Greece, the Netherlands, and Canada, respectively. They looked relatively new to the competition, and Michael assumed they were as he had never seem or heard of them before. They were strong and well built, showing a lot of future potential, but for now they mostly resembled excited nineteen year olds trying to make a splash at their first international high level competition.
What really concerned Michael were the men in lanes three and five. Gunner Thornberg in lane three was enormous and incredibly nasty, both in swimming and in real life. He was the type of person who always tried to dodge the rules, tweak the little things enough to give him an unfair advantage in the race. Rumor had it that he and his coach had spent a good portion of the last year specializing how to start a fourth of a second before everyone else, a supposedly illegal move, smoothly enough to where he wouldn't get caught. In addition, Gunner's wall touches and flip turns were often questionable, yet he protested loudly and rudely whenever the coaches from the other teams, or the judges themselves, criticized him. He was a solitary figure in the Olympic village, conferring only with teammates from his own country and only when he had to. Michael noticed his strange, antisocial ways, his unusual relationship with his coach, and had no doubts that he was involved with shady dealings. It was just a matter of time before they caught him at it.
The only other person who matched Nathan in talent alone was the Australian swimming against him in lane five. He was, perhaps, six foot four or five, only a couple inches shorter than Nathan with a powerful torso and wing span to match his. Michael had been unfortunate enough to swim against him in one of his previous races and he had never forgotten it. The initial lead the man held against him early on, the widening gap during the first half of the race. Michael managed, just barely, to eek out a victory. But he had never forgotten that race, nor the name of the man who had nearly beaten him in it: Ian Marklets.
He, at least, was a real nice guy and wouldn't try anything funny during the race. Plus, he had proven himself to be a consistent example of good sportsmanship. Michael and Nathan had not seen much of him in Olympic village; the Australians were in another building, but their interactions with him had always been pleasant. If Nathan were going to lose to anyone in this race, Michael hoped it would be Ian.
The first buzzer sounded and the athletes nervously took their marks. Of all the swimmers there, Gunner alone looked overly confident, and Michael found this immensely annoying.
Despite the weak links in the outer lanes, when all was said and done they created an impressive front. Goggles and swim caps glued to their heads, they stared into the water with furious concentration.
The buzzer was about to sound. The atomic particles of time before the race disappeared before them. It happened so fast that Michael almost missed it.
But not quite.
Because when the athletes dove in, seemingly in unison, it was clear that one had somehow left the diving blocks before the others. When the whistle blew, signaling that the race was forfeit and had to be started again, most of the spectators had no idea why.
But Michael saw it, and he could hardly believe it. He saw Gunner dive in a hair width earlier than everyone else. Saw him try to act innocent, attribute the false start to nerves. But beneath all that, he noted the annoyance on Gunner's face that he had been caught.
Michael heard the groans, sensed the aggravation of those sitting around him. They were frustrated for the wasted time before the race would start again. But Michael was more aggravated than someone who had never swum an event like this before would understand. It was so, so incredibly distracting to gather the energy required to explode off the blocks at the start of the race. If you've already done it once, there's no way you'll be as powerful the second time around. It was even possible for an inferior athlete to be victorious after a false start. If someone with a powerful start already used a considerable amount of energy the first time, they might be easier to catch the next time.
Regardless of the amount of energy wasted in a false start, it was an extremely nerve-racking experience, even for the most experienced athletes. Michael had experienced his fair share of false starts in his career, and he vividly remembered how frustrating they could be to recover from.
He hadn't watched Nathan swimming enough to know how this would affect him. As he crawled out of the water, however, muscles flexed and face carved still as stone, Michael noticed he looked extremely tense. His hands were clasped into tight fists and he had to give his legs a few good shakes to chase away the tension there.
It was like deja vu. The swimmers took their marks and bent over the diving blocks, preparing to dive into the water. But this time, they looked angrier. More focused. Michael wasn't sure if any of them had heard of Gunner's antics, but if they had this little fiasco might have given them even more motivation to beat him.
Good. Michael thought. Just what he deserves.
In fact, it seemed as if causing a false start might have damaged Gunner much more than it had helped him. Though he seemed less frazzled than the other athletes, he would swim this race without the anger the others now felt over his having tampered with it.
When they dove into the water again, this time without any of Gunner's shenanigans, Michael cheered loudly as Nathan earned himself an early lead. The people in the row behind Michael gave him dirty looks but then, noticing who he was, kept silent.
As Nathan touched off the wall from his first fifty meters, Michael watched uncomfortably as Ian Marklets began chipping away at the narrow lead Nathan had over him. Michael remembered back to his previous races and knew that this was one of Marklets' specialties. Slow, strong start with speed that accelerated throughout the race. He was one of those rare breeds whose stamina seemed to grow as the clock wore on rather than fade away, and Michael could only hope that Nathan had enough fire in the belly to finish the race as strong as he had started it.
Though Ian and Nathan were ahead, their lead was somewhat precarious. Oddly enough, their nearest competition was the young man from Greece whose name Michael didn't quite catch. The Scandinavians were nowhere near them, and the Canadian was in a solid yet unwavering fifth place. To Michael's surprise, Gunner was flailing around in fourth place, trying and failing to catch up to the Greek in front of him. It seemed then that the false start had ironically taken much more out of him than it had anyone else. Michael was now really on the edge of his seat. Not only for Nathan's sake; if Gunner didn't even make the podium it would be a huge upset.
Not that making the podium mattered at this point. It was only semi finals. But if Gunner didn't advance to the finals, and at this point Michael wasn't sure he would, it would be a big surprise to everyone.
Nathan plowed on through the second lap. Ian was still not quite neck and neck with him, but he was definitely gaining speed. It wasn't until midway through the lap that he began to overtake him. Slowly, slightly. Michael's heart sank. Nathan had lost his lead by mere inches, and he willed him to get it back again.
On the bright side, Gunner was really suffering now. His strokes were becoming short and panicky; he knew he was losing. The Greek was still in third place, comfortably. Michael couldn't see Gunner's face, but he could tell he was enraged. Enraged and careless. As he reached the halfway point and touched the wall to start the third lap, his turn around looked incredibly off. Michael couldn't tell for certain, but it almost looked as if, in trying to make up for as much lost time as possible, Gunner hadn't fully brushed both hands to the wall. An instant disqualification. If the judges noticed that only one of his hands hand touched, and surely they would, he would automatically be out of the running for the finals.
Which meant that the only real contenders for first place were Nathan and Ian. Granted, the real purpose of the race was to weed out the sixteen total semi finalists to eight finalists, but coming in first place was still a big deal to big shot athletes like Ian and Michael. And at this stage, maybe even Nathan.
As the race wore on to the final lap, Nathan became more aware of the Australian's gaining advances and was matching his acceleration with equal speed. Maybe even greater speed. The almost nonexistent gap between them shrank, became nothing, then with a great surge of energy, turned into a lead for Nathan.
"WOO HOO! That's my room mate! Yeah, GO NATHAN!"
Michael jumped out of his seat and screamed, not caring anymore about the uptight family in the row behind him who had acted so insulted by his outburst.
Nathan was really speeding away now. Michael was glad he wasn't swimming Breaststroke this year because he was certain he himself had definitely never swum like that before. Nathan glided through the water. Skillfully. Effortlessly. Somehow he had managed to put a whole foot between himself and Ian, and touched the wall with a defiant lead that no one could call into question. The crowd roared with applause. The other athletes, save maybe Gunner, were well liked, but Nathan was so adorable that he just made you want to root for him even if you already had another favorite. Sure, Michael was famous, and people respected him. But Nathan was humble. Modest. A great athlete and an exceptional person. Everyone had always wanted him to win, after all.
After Nathan and Ian, the Greek came in third, followed by Gunner, the Canadian, the Dutchman, and the two Scandinavians. Gunner began celebrating, thinking he had made the top four. His celebrations were interrupted when the judges informed him that he had been disqualified for an improper wall touch. When the final scores were posted on the board, with the Canadian advancing ahead of him and Gunner earning a bright DQ by his name, his face reddened and he looked furious. He slammed his fists into the water in frustration, not even offering a congratulatory handshake to the athletes in the lanes beside him, and heaved himself testily out of the water. He grabbed his coach, who looked equally indignant, and engaged in a one-sided shouting match with the judges.
Gunner wasn't used to being ignored. He was used to cutting corners, out shouting anyone who dared question him, and ultimately getting his way regardless. This time, though, the evidence was perfectly clear. The judges politely showed him frame by frame video footage which revealed beyond question that he had indeed neglected to touch both hands to the wall. He might have argued longer. And the judges might have listened. If there hadn't been the announcement that Nathan Adrian had just broken a world record.
Michael stopped in mid cheer, hands high above his head in jubilant fists, as his eyes darted to the great four-screen TV hanging down from the center of the ceiling. He scanned over the eight scores and saw, sure enough, the green WR flashing in front of Nathan's name indicating that he now held the new world record in the 200 Breaststroke.
Nathan looked like he was in shock. Everyone around him clapped, and it took him a few moments to comprehend that they were all clapping for him. When Ian gave him a huge, congratulatory hug, Nathan stared ahead of him blankly before returning it with effort.
As the crowd erupted into applause, Nathan was broken out of his trance, and he smiled widely at his accomplishment. He offered his praise for the other athletes and turned to greet his coach, who beamed at him and wrapped him in a huge bear hug.
Michael couldn't have been more proud. For a new athlete who had never before swum in the Olympics to beat the world record, and to do so at the semi-finals no less, was almost unheard of. But Nathan had worked hard and was extremely talented. He deserved this.
One by one, the crowd began filtering out of the Aquatic Center. This had been the last big race of the day and most of them were anxious to get back to their homes before traffic got too ridiculous. This made it relatively easy for Michael to travel the path of least resistance, weaving his way through the thinning crowd and on to the pool deck to meet Nathan.
He spotted him by the judges table, engrossed in conversation with his coach. They were all thrilled; this particular record hadn't been broken in over two years. It was a big deal, too, that such a new athlete had broken it.
Nathan's back was still to Michael when he reached the judge's table. He tapped him pointedly on the shoulder, and watched as Nathan spun around, confused, to meet him.
"Michael! I didn't know you were here!" he cried, thrilled, and hugged Michael with much more force than he had intended.
Michael nearly staggered backwards. "It's good to see you too, buddy," he squeaked, his airway nearly cut off by Nathan's powerful embrace.
Nathan threw his arms off of Michael and looked at him apologetically.
"I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to suffocate you. I'm just so excited, I can't believe it!"
Michael rubbed his throat but smiled, nonetheless.
"As you should be, you did a fantastic job! Nathan Adrian, Olympic World record holder. I knew you could do it!"
Nathan blushed and smiled timidly, as he always did whenever Michael complimented him.
"I'm so happy you made it, Michael. It means a lot to me." He looked at Michael with enormous gratitude.
Michael was touched.
"I wouldn't miss it for the world."
He looked off to the side and noticed Nathan's coach watching him expectantly.
Nathan looked back and forth between the two men and put a hand to his forehead.
"Gosh, how could I have been so rude. Michael, meet my coach, Lorenz Sborsik. Coach, I'm sure you know, this is Michael Phelps."
"Pleased to meet you," Nathan's coach said to Michael in a slight Russian accent. He was a smaller man with a sharp face, piercing blue eyes, and a thinning white goatee. In his youth, he must have been very good looking. His tracksuit hung over his sloping shoulders and hugged his midsection tightly.
"Nice to meet you. And congratulations on the new world record!"
Lorenz's eyes twinkled as he looked knowingly from Michael to Nathan.
"Thank you. Although I must say, Nathan is the one to whom we owe this grand honor. He is so driven that no doubt this day would have come to him regardless of my help!"
"Now that's just crazy," Nathan clamped a hand amicably on his coach's shoulder, staring into the old man's face with an obvious affection. "You know I couldn't have done it without you."
Lorenz smiled faintly and looked very pleased.
"You boys are both very sweet," he looked briefly over Nathan and Michael's shoulders. "Ah, it seems my old friend Wallace wants to offer me yet another congratulation. If you'll excuse me." He winked at Nathan and then headed over to the judges table, where an older judge from South Africa was waving enthusiastically at him.
Nathan turned back to Michael.
"Great man, Lorenz, isn't he?"
Angry mutterings in Germanic tones interrupted them. At their side, Gunner Thornberg and his coach were storming off the pool deck. Michael stared him down, pleading, urging him for better sportsmanship and behavior with his eyes. Gunner wouldn't even meet his gaze.
When they were gone, Nathan scratched his head.
"I don't understand. What's with that guy?"
"Who, Gunner? Some people are total ass holes to deal with. In and out of the water. He's unpleasant at the best of times, but his disqualification tonight surely made him furious. And your snagging the world record probably didn't help matters either."
Michael looked over and saw that Ian Marklets was coming to join them.
"Nathan, mate, fantastic bloody job. I can't believe you got a world record!"
Nathan blushed. "Thanks, Ian. I honestly can't believe it either."
"Fantastic, just fantastic. Phelps!" he cried, noticing Michael for the first time. "Been forever, mate! How are ya goin'?"
Ian's face brightened as he slapped Michael a high five.
Ian wasn't a bad looking guy on his own, but that sexy Australian accent had always made Michael think most unsportsman-like thoughts. And now he knew why.
"Things have been great. Pity I haven't seen more of you around Olympic village!"
"It's funny you should mention that. Some of my mates and I have been talking. It's really too bad that the Aussies and the Yanks - 'scuse me, the Americans - rarely get to see each other in practice or the dorms. We were always together in '04, and that was heaps of fun. So we decided, why not have a party soon to celebrate?"
"That's a terrific idea," Michael brightened. "I was talking with Aaron about that just this morning."
"The big ranga who swims backstroke?"
"Uh, I'm not sure what a ranga is. But yes, he's a backstroker. Anyway, he wanted to have a party, too. I told him I was so busy, though - "
"Ah, come off it, mate!" Ian interrupted him. "We're all busy as. But how often do you get to party with other Olympic athletes?"
"Well...never. I guess."
"Exactly. And when you're old and grey, are you going to remember a stack of cold medals or are you going to remember the wild times you had at Olympic village?"
"I think I'll remember the medals pretty well,"
Ian waved away Michael's protests. "Anyway. This weekend. If the yanks don't throw a party, I can safely guarantee that the Aussies will. I'll see you there, Nathan, won't I?"
"Absolutely!" Nathan asserted. "You'll come too, won't you Michael?"
He looked at Michael with those pleading, innocent eyes, and Michael knew he couldn't say no.
"Oh, alright, you two." Ian and Nathan high fived each other happily. "But don't come crying to me when the medal count for both Australia and the United States somehow diminishes drastically after this weekend!"
Ian chortled. "Don't get your knickers in a twist. Any other country's swim team who wants to come is welcome. Heck, we'll even send invites to athletes outside of swimming. That way, everyone else's medal count will go down. Not just ours. Happy now?"
Michael rolled his eyes, but in reality he was rather pleased. He had wanted to help Aaron plan a party when he had suggested it, but he just hadn't had the additional push of peer pressure to say yes.
"I guess. Ok, yes I'm happy," he added at Ian's raised eyebrow. "After all, we need to celebrate Nathan Adrian's new world record somehow, don't we?"
"That's the spirit, mate!" Ian exchanged a triumphant smile with Nathan and smacked Michael jovially on the back. "Don't worry about a thing. My mates and I will handle it."
"Are you sure you don't mind?"
"Mind? If party planning were a sport, you yanks would take silver. I'll give you that. But we Aussies get the gold. It'll be no trouble at all. In fact, it will be our pleasure."
Michael laughed, but Ian spoke the truth. No one could plan a party better than a bunch of rowdy, athletic Australians.
"Ah, spoken like a true Aussie already," Ian grinned. "Good to see you, Phelps, as always. I'm off to rest before my hell practice tomorrow. Nathan, congratulations again on your fantastic effort. I don't look forward to swimming against you in finals!"
"Hey, I don't look forward to swimming against you, either!" Nathan teased playfully.
Ian headed over to the locker rooms as Michael helped Nathan gather his stuff and bring it back to the dorms. The gold medalist athlete in him groaned inwardly at having been so easily pushed over. This is the Olympics. You shouldn't waste your time partying. Each second is precious, and every moment you spend fooling around is a moment you've put between yourself and your goals.
Yet while he knew that all those thoughts were valid, the newly emerged part of him, the friend, the lover, the man, pushed them to the side.
This is the Olympics. You only experience this once. Or if you were a machine like him, three or four times. Like Ian said, what good are medals when you have no fun at all to show for them?
Besides, it was only one party...
One party won't cause me any harm at all. One party wouldn't possibly interfere with all the painstaking work I've done here. Right?
Ian had not been lying when he said that the Aussies would throw one hell of a party. True to his word, they had gone far beyond the capacities of any American with the skill and innovation that only a culture birthed from booze and beaches would be capable of. They decided to throw the party in the dorm they shared with the French and the Germans, located about four houses away from the one that housed Team USA. The Australian dorm was large, more spacious than the Americans' dorm, but even with all that space there was no way that they would be able to have room for everyone. And so, they had rented several massive tents that popped up like wild bushes all around the house.
Each tent, blue and enormous, had some obscure attraction it offered to separate itself from the others. The one most visible from the northern entrance of the village had chocolate fondue fountains with platters of every different fruit imaginable to dip into it. A waiter flittered around nervously, shooing away any brave bugs who dared venture into this sugary paradise.
The tent next to that one was the vodka tent. Everything within it, from the chic bar stools to the glistening tables, was completely transparent. Like an ice kingdom. In fact, it looked like there were real ice sculptures on some of the tables. A foolish idea considering the temperature, but they would be a surefire hit for anyone who arrived early enough to see them.
The rest of the tents were somewhat smaller, and all featured alcohol of some sort. Wine, shots, champagne, tequila and hard liquor. Anything you could think of and you were sure to find plentiful quantities in any one of those tents.
The inside of the house had been completely transformed. Banners, decorations, enormous Australian and New Zealand flags hung wherever there was space to allow it. It was a festive explosion of color and sound, aiming to delight all those in attendance. In addition to the plethora of merriment strewn all over the house, there were also hats, leis, masks; all sorts of costume parts for the guests to dress up in. It was, most certainly, going to be that type of party.
The music had already started to play, even though the guests hadn't gotten there yet. A heady mix of top forty, power bass, and the few Australian country hits that one of Ian's closest friends had managed to sneak in were blaring through the many extra speakers that had been installed there for the night. The sound was crisp, clear, and exceptionally loud, and could probably be heard well into the city of London proper. Any athlete who decided to miss this event might end up unwittingly jamming with the party goers from their rooms, regardless.
The crowd started to trickle in, slowly at first and then in exponentially higher frequencies, like a stampede, the party really stared to get going. The Australians, the Germans, and the French were naturally already there, drinking and laughing away, and the Spanish, Italians, and Greeks from the dorm beside them were the lucky first ones to arrive.
"Hey! Bonjiorno! Hola, amigos!" Ian shouted, not yet fully intoxicated, from the doorway as the new guests arrived. He had already put away a good few shots but had such a high alcohol tolerance that he wasn't even slightly drunk yet.
The guest list for the party was as varied as the Olympics itself. Every sport, every nationality was represented somehow. From rowing to gymnastics, to the disproportionately large number of swimmers, to, Ian noticed with pleasure, the lithe and fit Romanian gymnastics team who stuck together in a haughty, high maintenance clique as they walked in.
Michael and Nathan were, per usual, running a bit late. They had fallen asleep immediately after practice that day to make up for the many hours of sleep they would be missing that evening. Having woken up only half an hour before the party was to start, they had scrambled to get ready; taken super quick showers, thrown on the most soiree-appropriate clothing they could find, and were now struggling to make the best of their wet, chlorinated hair, that was even more tussled than usual due to their long, impromptu nap.
Nathan, whose hair was fairly longer than Michael's, was able to salvage his look with a little bit of hair gel and a nice amount of blow drying. His dark brown hair now looked perfectly styled and hung elegantly, like that of a metrosexual magazine model, around his face. That, combined with the airy green shirt that brought out the beautiful deep brown of his eyes, made him look so stunning that for a moment, Michael could almost rewrite the dirty thoughts centered almost exclusively on Lochte in Nathan's favor.
Nathan's stature didn't make him any less attractive, either. Michael was used to seeing him around barefoot either by the pool or in the dorm room, and he was taken aback by the extra inch or so that the leather loafers he was wearing afforded him. Michael was by no means short; at 6'4 he usually towered over everyone else around him. But there, standing next to Nathan, wearing only a pair of flimsy flip flops, he felt completely dwarfed. Nathan was a gentle giant, a beautiful one at that, and Michael wondered nervously who else would appreciate his great good looks as much as he did.
When Nathan had finally finished getting ready, he lounged beautifully on his bed, waiting for Michael to finish, too. He offered Michael his blow drier, who looked at it skeptically. With all the half inch of his buzz cut hair, he wasn't exactly sure how much this would help him.
As if reading his thoughts, Nathan offered, "trust me. It'll do wonders. Even for short hair like yours."
Still not completely convinced, he plugged it into the socket by the bathroom mirror and gave it a shot. He was pleasantly surprised as the blow drier caressed his scalp with airy warm sensations, and he kept the heat on him long after his hair was already dry. He turned it off and wrapped the cord around the appliance, handing it once more to Nathan who stowed it in the drawer by his bedside. He ran a hand over his short hair and was surprised to find it much softer, with a much finer texture, than it had ever had when it had air dried naturally. He shot Nathan a thumbs-up.
"You were right, Nathan. Thanks."
"My pleasure. You ready yet?"
Looking once more at the mirror and down at the outfit he had picked for himself; jean shorts and a red striped t shirt, much more casual attire than what Nathan had opted for, he smiled to check that there wasn't anything in his teeth and ran his hand uselessly over his baby short hair. He wasn't as exotically handsome as Nathan was, but he was certainly appealing in his own right.
There was no question which direction the party was in, as they could hear the music blaring shamelessly from the direction of the Australians' dorm as soon as they left their building. One needed only to follow the music, or the steady flow of other Olympians, and you would find yourself smack dab in the middle of the biggest party Olympic village had ever seen.
Nothing was short of overwhelming. Now that most of the tents were full and most of the inhabitants had a respectable amount of liquor in them, the party was really starting to gather speed.
Nathan stared around in awe, echoing Michael's sentiments exactly. They had never seen so many people in Olympic village; surely many of the guests were coaches, trainers, friends, or perhaps even random Londoners who were hot enough to make the list. They were swimming in a sea of unfamiliar faces, and felt more like they were in an enormous, exclusive nightclub than at some Olympic village house party.
As they neared the first tent with trepidation, Michael felt a hard slap on the back and turned to see Ian Marklets come to greet them. With a fierce looking mixed drink in his hand and a tiny Romanian girl at his side, it looked like the party was going for him in exactly the way he had intended.
"Well, if it isn't my two favorite yanks!" He screamed over the music, his speech remarkably clear despite his Australian accent. He nudged the Romanian girl he was with forward.
"This is Svetlana. Isn't she hot? Cute and flexible. Plus she doesn't speak a word of English. Just how I like 'em!"
He laughed and the girl smiled awkwardly.
He took an enormous swig of his multicolored beverage and furrowed his brow at the two Americans.
"Oi, where's your drinks?"
Nathan laughed. "Don't be too disappointed in us yet, Marklets. We just got here."
"Ah, then I understand. Please don't make yourselves or your livers strangers to the wide assortment of alcohol we have here. What's your pick?"
It was an overwhelming question considering the selection to be found there. They couldn't believe it, really, the amount of effort it must have taken to make sure that every nationality, every team was represented somehow through the beverages. There was pure Russian vodka, cool and powerful in the ice-themed tent. There were the finest wines from Italy, France, and Argentina to be sold in limitless quantities just around the corner. There was even American beer that, according to the Australians, was too watery and "piss flavored" to be potable. And yet they had it anyway.
Despite his many years of celebrity parties and A-list events, Michael was still impressed by the astounding possibilities before him. It was like being trapped in a bakery that made the tastiest, richest cakes, but you knew your stomach simply couldn't fit them all. He wanted to try everything, yet at the same time he didn't know where to start.
He exchanged a look with Nathan who was, clearly, out of his element. If he'd been so easily intoxicated that one night they went out together, with cheap shots and low quality mixed club drinks, then there was no question that he felt way more over his head than Michael did. He stared at Michael, wide eyed with awe and nerves, not sure where or how they should begin.
Ian, who never had much patience when it came to alcohol, decided to answer for them.
"I'm sure your sensitive American hearts are probably pitter-pattering for a Budweiser right now, though I have no idea why," he rolled his eyes. "But I feel that it is my duty as a man and as an Australian to steer you towards more respectable options." He pointed at the dangerous looking concoction in his hands. "This one here's a real beauty. I'd like to introduce you to her. Follow me, lads."
They had no choice but to squeeze through the other guests behind Ian and Svetlana, past some of the more exciting looking tents and into the equally packed house in front of them. The lights inside gave off a welcoming yellow glow, and Michael saw Nathan stare aghast at the over the top environment around them.
Michael felt a sudden stab of sympathy for Nathan. And one for himself. This party was way crazier than anything he had ever participated in, and it hadn't even really started yet. To Nathan, though, this must border terrifying. He figured Nathan hadn't seen anything nearly close to this in Washington, and Nathan had said as much himself. He probably felt like he was walking into a raunchy music video rather than a house party. And Michael echoed his sentiments.
"Right," Ian swung them towards the makeshift bar they had installed towards the left of the entrance. This dorm was set up slightly differently from the dorms that the Americans lived in. Instead of common rooms, it appeared that there was more of a large common hall that all of the individual dorm rooms branched off from. Not so ideal for sleeping in peace, but definitely ideal for a party.
"I would like to introduce you to my dear friend, er, what is your name again?" He asked the tall, dark haired bar tender beside them.
"Marco," he smiled, working busily to mix a large number of drinks to give to the drunken Polish girls waiting in front of them.
The Polish group took their drinks and left sloppily, half of them trying unsuccessfully to support the other half, and sipped at the alcohol that they probably should not have been given in the first place. Most of them, save for a few timid looking brunettes, had dishwater blond hair with caked on make-up; their sloppy build made Michael think that surely, these were not athletes but rather fans or friends. This was confirmed when one of them, the boldest, least well kept together of all of them caught a glance of Michael and pointed him out excitedly to her friends.
"Patrzcie! To Michael Phelps! Chce sie pieprzyc tego faceta!" She squealed in Polish and started to hop up and down with joy. Michael thought, for one horrible moment, that she might come over and try to harass him, but Ian, as if reading his mind, put himself between Michael and the messy fan in a much appreciated demonstration of cock blocking.
Ignoring the dejected woman, who had already glimpsed some other poor, unsuspecting athlete and was making her way towards him in the opposite corner, Ian approached the bartender and ordered a round of drinks for them.
"Three more of these babies, Marco," he held up his strange cocktail and in several enormous gulps, it was already finished.
"Make that four," he added, and Marco laughed. Michael watched the bartender, fascinated, as he rapidly prepared the drinks for the four of them. He mixed the ingredients with deft, skillful fingers, and Michael's thoughts drifted off in what other good use he could put his hands to. They were long and thin, like the man himself, and handled all sorts of alcohol bottles beautifully; milking them, making them pour for him, holding them lovingly as he coaxed the needed ingredients into each glass. It was an art, and a hypnotizing one at that.
He then grabbed a silver mixer and twirled it behind his back, tossing it into the air with a perfect arch and catching it without breaking a sweat. It was obvious that he had done this so many times that he did not have to spare the slightest bit of concentration on it anymore, and he smiled at the group like he was totally relaxed. Like these impressive feats of high level drinking entertainment were completely normal to him. Like his hands weren't giving Michael an erection without ever having touched him.
"Been busy here, eh?" Ian gestured around them.
"That's an understatement!" Marco wiped his hands off on his shirt and grabbed a lime from the cooler beneath the bar. Michael watched him slice it, felt the heat rising as he gazed at Marco's thin, chiseled face. Marco squinted at the lime in concentration, crouched over the counter, and blew a strand of his long dark hair out of his eyes. When he was finished, he stood up to his full height and smiled at the group he was serving. He was even taller than Michael had noticed earlier; from where he was standing it looked as if they were within an inch of each others' heights.
"Here you go," Marco brightly handed them their drinks, winking slyly at Michael with suavity that made his heart flutter. He took the drink from him with a breathless thanks, hardly able to return the seductive eye contact.
They left the bar, Michael somewhat sadly, and went to mingle with the other guests. The room was so crowded they had to struggle to stick together; a multinational sea of hot people they were more than happy to swim through. They found a place at the far end of the large hall that was miraculously vacant and went to claim it as their own unofficial dancing space.
They gyrated to the fierce bass of the overloud music. The pop and club hits screamed into Michael's ears like an angry hyena, and he found himself wishing he had brought earplugs.
Together, they moved in tune to the blaring beat, keeping up with the rhythm as best as their swimmer's tendencies would allow. Of the four of them, Svetlana alone seemed to be the most comfortable with the music. Michael assumed that her many years as a rhythmic Gymnast could have only given her an unfair advantage against the rest of them.
The mixed drink he was holding reminded him icily of its presence on his fingers. The cold condensation welled up outside the glass and dripped impatiently down to his hand. He held the glass up to his face and gave it a good look. It was a purplish beverage, with swirls of violet and blue playing hide and seek around the ice cubes floating amongst them. Michael sniffed it cautiously. It smelled sweet, sugary sweet, like cherries and cotton candy, with the darker hints of alcohol concealed by its cloying scent.
Gathering his courage, Michael took a big swig. Almost immediately, he had to put it down; it was much more powerful than he had expected. Like a candied fire in his mouth that someone had decided to put out with vodka, it had taken him by surprise. He found he had a newfound respect for Ian, who must have had at least three of these potent cocktails before and was only now beginning to show signs of drunkenness. Ian was already halfway done with his drink and Michael was sure it wouldn't take long before he was getting more. He supposed he couldn't blame him. Despite the intensity, it was still delicious.
He took another few large gulps and already felt the alcohol begin to relax his system. He felt that joyous glow, the burden of stress lifted, overcome him. With each additional sip, he felt less and less of himself concerned with the nuisances of the Olympics. His eyes became lazier, glazed over, happier. A carefree smile graced his lips. He couldn't remember the last time a drink had made him feel so good.
Svetlana, tiny as she was, had taken a few bird sips of her drink and Michael recognized the serenity of his features reflected on her own. It wouldn't be long, perhaps one more drink or the last dregs of this one, before the girl lost all senses of inhibition. And he envied her for it. The carefree night of passion she was sure to spend with Ian would likely be one of her happier, kinkier memories in the years to come.
Nathan was a bit of a conundrum. In theory, his alcohol tolerance should be way higher than Michael's was, as he was about twenty pounds and three inches taller. He was not, however, so accustomed to the lifestyle of an elite athlete, nor of the alcohol abuse that came with it. Michael watched him with interest as he inhaled the cocktail. As he suspected, his sheer size afforded him a few extra moments before the inebriation hit. But when it did, it was much more pronounced, and much more dangerously tempting.
Michael's favorite song came on, and he swayed heavily to it. He was nearing the finishing stages of his drink, and the rest of the group save Svetlana were too. As his newly loosened thoughts bounced around his mind, the person who starred in most of them came to the front of his periphery.
Where was Lochte right now?
The absolute last person to miss any type of party was Ryan Lochte. Surely he was there, Michael thought, he just wasn't sure where. He peeked distractedly over the heads of the people around them. Girls, guys, all sorts of attractive people flooded his vision. But Lochte's hotness was conspicuously absent.
It didn't really make sense, though. Michael and Nathan had been fairly late in arriving, and he'd had a good chance to get a look at most of the people when he'd gotten there. True, he hadn't been in the back yard, or in the back part of the house at all for that matter, so he supposed it was possible he had missed Lochte somewhere in the herd. Hopefully, if he kept a vigilant enough eye out, they'd run into each other eventually.
Ian gritted his teeth and finished what little there was left of his drink. He squeezed his eyes tightly, the last bit was always the strongest, and shook his head as it traveled down his throat.
"Ahh," he grimaced. "Good stuff. Who’s ready for another one?"
Svetlana's eyes widened in horror, but Nathan and Michael followed Ian's lead and finished their drinks. They fought their way to the bar and Michael was happy to see that Marco was still the bartender working there. He watched him dreamily, aggravated with himself for being such a mind whore yet simultaneously relaxed enough that he didn't really care.
This time when he got his drink, his Dutch courage made him feel absolutely positive that Marco was indeed trying to covertly hit on him. He did not want to be rude by acting standoffish, so he gladly obliged him.
"Marco, that's a lovely name. Are you enjoying your time working here at this party?" Michael slurped down half of his enormous drink the moment Marco gave it to him.
Marco blushed. "Thank you, Mr. Phelps. Yes, it's been a bit crazy. But a lot of fun. I've really enjoyed myself."
Michael felt his heart flutter at the mention of his last name.
So, he knows me then!
As his friends took their drinks and headed back towards the dance floor, Michael leaned closer over the bar.
"You've got such an interesting look to you. Where are you from, Marco?"
The bartender's shiny dark eyes widened in surprise.
"I'm from Spain," and Michael noticed for the first time the hint of Spanish mixed in with the London accent.
Marco was hot. Damn hot. Michael would have liked to take him then and there. Yet he couldn't stop ruminating over Lochte.
Where the fuck was he?
The drunker he got, the more difficult he found it to keep his libido in check. And as the horniness wrapped a sensual blanket over his most reasonable thoughts, he found himself becoming more and more irritated that Ryan still hadn’t shown up yet. He wanted to oggle him. Dance with him. Whisper dirty threats in his ear and know he'd make them come true that night. And in his exponentially growing drunkenness, he felt a twinge of anger. How dare Ryan Lochte leave him here, horny and surrounded by attractive and willing potential suitors? How could he possibly expect him to wait around for him when such a tasty array of men were at his service?
That sword slices both ways, the self hating voice in his mind chided. Perhaps he has already made an appearance. But while you were busy primping yourself, he might have given into some hot distraction of his own.
He would wait for me, he reminded himself fiercely. But his head pounded and his loneliness grew, and that voice asked him the question he wasn't entirely sure he could answer.
But will you do the same?
The people in line behind him were starting to get impatient, but he was too drunk and momentarily intrigued by the handsome Latin man to care. Of course Lochte was his first choice above any man, but his absence was making him suspicious. And he thought it preferable, highly preferable, to indulge in flirtations with a sweet Spanish bartender, rather than being made a fool if Lochte had indeed rejected him.
He leaned heavily over the bar, fixing Marco with his most debonair grin.
"Marco, I just have to know. When is it that you finish your shift -" he had started to put the wheels in motion for his backup plan but felt a powerful hand pull him roughly away.
He found himself looking face to face at Nathan Adrian.
"Hey, man! What gives?"
How could Nathan do this to him? After all those times he tried to get him laid when they were out in London, how could he be so callous as to cock block him when it was practically a surefire deal?
Nathan looked uncomfortable. He shifted his eyes back and forth to make sure no one was watching them.
"You were getting a bit too friendly with that bartender."
"That's not my fault! He's a friendly guy."
Nathan laughed awkwardly.
"You don't think it's odd? The things you were saying to him?"
Michael stared at him blankly, and Nathan rolled his eyes in frustration.
"That guy is definitely gay,” Nathan blurted. “And I could tell from the way he looked at you that he was hoping you were, too. You don't want to lead him on like that. Or do you?"
"Lead him on like what?"
Nathan stared at him blankly.
"You honestly don't know? Don't you think it was a bit strange, asking him where he was from and what time he would be getting off work?"
"Well it was! And I was just looking out for you. Unless..."
He stopped mid sentence, and his eyes widened in horror.
"Unless....Unless you're gay, too?"
Nathan continued to stare, wide eyed, and Michael read a myriad of emotions on his face. He saw the shock. He saw the gears in his mind working to spin some kind of sense into the story of what had just happened. But as he looked at Nathan, really looked at him, he couldn't help but wonder.
Is that a look of horror in his eyes? Or one of elation?
Maybe Nathan wanted him to be gay.
Or was it? Could it be possible that all the times they had hung out together had been spent secretly hoping that Michael would come out to him?
But why, though?
Michael wasn't sure. Maybe Nathan thought he could use Michael’s homosexuality against him. Or that it would create some kind of extra closeness between them, for him to reveal this big secret that only Nathan knew about.
Or maybe, just maybe, Nathan wanted him for himself...
Ok, stop it. Now you're just being stupid.
He waved Nathan's accusation away.
"You're being ridiculous, Nathan. And you're drunk. And, in all honesty, so am I. Let's just go dance and forget about this, ok?"
Nathan tried to regain some semblance of normalcy, but the shock was still visible in his demeanor. Regardless of what he felt, and at this point Michael couldn't be too sure what that was, he didn't want to argue right now.
"Yeah, sure. And I'm sorry. For breaking things up with you and the bartender. If that was what you wanted..."
"No, Nathan. I'm happy for what you did. And to answer your question, no, I’m not gay." Michael cut him off with a definitive steely note. There were many things he wanted to experience at this party, but getting into this discussion with Nathan right now was not one of them.
"I thought the guy was nice and might be lonely after work, that was all," he added.
"Yeah," Nathan nodded his head, but seemed deeply troubled, nonetheless.
Michael turned his head back to look at Marco. The bartender was watching him sadly, confused by his sudden departure. Michael winked at him, and felt reassured by the wide smile that Marco quickly returned. If all else failed at that party, and even if Ryan did show up, he felt that the bartender might make a good friend. Heck, even if Ryan didn't show up, he knew he could always come back and find him. He would just have to be more discreet about it.
Since Marklets had been by their side practically nonstop since the moment they had gotten there, Michael was surprised to find that in the short amount of time he had been flirting with the bartender, Ian was now nowhere to be found.
Together with Nathan, he combed through the crowd several times, looking for traces of the lithe Australian and his tiny, Romanian companion. They circled through the tents. Once. Twice. Then ventured once more into the mosh pit that was inside the main building. After several fruitless minutes of searching, Michael suggested they call it quits. It was evident that things were taking their natural progression, and wherever Ian and Svetlana were, whatever they were doing, they probably didn't want to be interrupted.
Michael took another sip of his drink and felt his head start spinning. He entertained a foolish notion that perhaps Marco had slipped something extra special in his drink for him, but one look at Nathan told him otherwise. As Nathan cautiously gulped the contents of his enormous glass, making a pained expression with each sip, it was obvious that both drinks were equally potent.
Taking advantage of the fact that they were in the middle of what seemed to be a dance floor, they figured they might as well start dancing. Michael danced awkwardly, sandwiched with Nathan in the throngs of that giant room. How like their first night out in London this party was, what with the dancing, the sly looks from the girls around them, and, of course, the plentitude of liquor before them. Yet this time, Michael ruminated uncomfortably, this time he felt overexposed by his moment of unthinkable weakness with the bartender. Vulnerable in Nathan's presence, as if he had unwittingly exposed one of his most closely guarded secrets. He didn't like it one bit.
He was used to being the one in control. Whenever he was out with Nathan, whenever the two of them were together at all for that matter, Nathan looked at him like he was an enigma and valued no other person's guidance above his own. There was so much about Michael that he didn't know. But now, now after Michael's careless, drunken coquettishness with Marco, he got the feeling that Nathan was starting to connect the dots in a ways that were best left unconnected.
Michael didn't want to hide who he was. He wasn't at all ashamed anymore. Yet he couldn't shake this feeling that for some odd and unknown reason, Nathan wasn't ready to know. And while he was happy that Nathan had agreed to drop it without further questioning, he had the uneasy knowledge that it was too late. Indeed, through Nathan's friendly smiles and unguarded laughter, behind the veil of his too forced indifference, Michael could sense him watching him thoughtfully. Curiously. Like he understood something about him that would change their relationship forever.
Michael shook away the thought. Imagining his life without Nathan by his side as a constant friend and ally was too painful for him to bear. He lifted his glass to his mouth once more and tasted, with disappointment, the watery remains of dissolved ice, mixed with vestiges of great flavor and potency that weren't there anymore.
Those two extraordinary beverages had done wonders for him, yet they were still not enough. He wanted to relax, enjoy himself fully with Nathan here without thinking of the unforeseen consequences of whatever might happen or had already happened. To do that, though, he needed more booze. And he needed it fast.
For obvious reasons, he decided to steer well clear of the bar with the crazy drinks and the crazy hot bartender, opting instead for one of the coolers located a mere few feet away from them by the nearest wall. He grabbed two large, icy cold bottles of clear liquid with some fancy Cyrillic script on them and prayed they were as strong and as Russian as they looked. With a quick cling of their bottles in a poor impression of a toast, he and Nathan popped their bottles open and downed a third of their bottles in one fell swoop.
They both winced, wiping their mouths and runny noses as their eyes teared from the staggering concentration of alcohol.
"Son of a bitch! What is the concentration on this shit?"
Michael scanned the bottle, eyes still streaming.
"The only damn thing I see here that I understand is the number 85%."
"You're telling me!" Michael wiped his tongue on his shirt sleeve. "Looks like we just got our first taste of Russian moonshine!"
"First and last taste," Nathan murmured.
And yet, as athletic and extremely good looking males so often do, they continued to drink it. It had such a pungent taste to it that they had to make a little drinking game to be able to manage. With none of the charm and flavor of the other drink, this was about as close to drinking pure undiluted alcohol as you could get. Michael had the distinct impression that he was downing nail polish remover, and Nathan was eerily reminded of a time he had accidentally gargled with rubbing alcohol instead of Listerine.
But despite the unpleasantness it left behind in their mouths, it was quickly getting them a good kind of drunk. They were teetering dangerously on that line between tipsy and shit faced, but neither found that they really cared anymore.
This is the Olympics, damn it. Why should we have to hold back?
And soon, as the music pounded and the club beat lyrics circled through their hearts, they felt like they really could stop holding back. Women circled Michael, as was nearly always the case when he was out in public, but he made no secret of his disinterest. Women, too, swarmed around Nathan, who was too nice to outright ignore them but didn't offer much more than polite, casual apathy.
These girls are beautiful. Why is Nathan being so shy around them?
"You've got yourself a lot of attention this evening," he shouted above the music, gesturing at the shining faces around them.
Nathan rolled his eyes but smiled all the same.
"Like I told you last time, they're not my type."
"Not your type, eh? What about that one?" He pointed at a beautiful, pouting blond by the corner.
"Ok. This one?" He gestured at the cute brunette dancing with her friends beside them.
"God, you're picky!"
"I can't help that. I only want the best." He stared at Michael with an intensity that momentarily caught him off guard.
Michael tried to ignore the profoundness of his gaze and continue the light hearted ribbing once more.
"Good thing you've got me. I won't give up on finding the right girl for you!"
"You'll be searching for a very, very long time then."
Michael perused the room several times with his eyes but eventually had to give up. It was really no fun playing match maker when the other party was absolutely unwilling to hear any of the options you suggested. Part of him wondered still why Nathan was so picky.
And part of him wanted another drink. Nathan volunteered to get this one, perhaps too terrified of Michael's last pick to allow him that responsibility. He returned several moments later with a strange bubbling concoction that looked wicked yet slightly less evil than the one they had had before. It was made by some obscure German brand called Grüt, and it tasted like raspberries. This, unlike the last one, wouldn't kill them. But if they wanted to extend and pep up their buzz, it would definitely do the trick.
The more he and Nathan drank, the more reckless they became with their dancing. Michael, convinced he now had the coordination of a highly trained ballerina, attempted a pirouette in midair with disastrous results. Nathan, in turn, accidentally kicked one of the Finnish weightlifting champions behind them. Thankfully, or not so thankfully depending on how you looked at it, the large, hulking, mustached figure turned out to be a woman, and she was more than happy to forgive Nathan in exchange for a photo and an autograph.
Still traumatized by that particular mishap, Nathan made a concerted effort to dance much closer to Michael from now on.
And that was when they became truly reckless.
It started out innocently enough. Michael would lift his hands in time with the beat, and Nathan would lift his own and grab onto Michael's without thinking about it. Then some part of Nathan, maybe an arm or a leg, would brush against Michael, and neither would move themselves away from the contact. These stolen moments of forbidden touches grew longer. More drawn out. More frequent. They were getting so drunk that it was like they were moving within a dream.
Most people laughed. Most people noticed easily that the two athletes were severely intoxicated and were losing track of what they were doing. But several of the most astute among them found it puzzling and wondered.
What kind of strange relationship is this? Between the world's greatest swimmer and his protégé?
Michael, too, found himself wondering.
Why is Nathan acting like this? And, more importantly, why am I?
A slower song came on, and Michael, in his stupor, thought that surely now he was going to slow dance with Nathan. Nathan looked down into his eyes, sultrily, and Michael noticed for the first time, the flecks of dark blue in Nathan's iris. It was beautiful. He was beautiful. They were beautiful. Nathan closed those beautiful eyes and looked determined, resolute, as he leaned down towards Michael.
Has he lost his mind? What is he doing?
But Michael had lost part of his own mind as well, or at least, part of his inhibition. He felt his own eyes closing, his lips tingling as he awaited the wonderful, unexpected union.
If Ryan Lochte sees you like this, he will string you atop the American flag by your testicles.
It was that simple thought, that mere mention of Ryan's name that snapped him out of this spell that the weird alcohol and the even weirder acting Nathan had cast on him. His eyes flew open and he backed away, just in time to see Ian Jones appearing buoyantly out of the crowd.
Cullen watched him curiously, noting his awkward position and his limbs tangled with Nathan's.
"Cullen! Great to run into you," he careened backward, putting some distance between himself and Nathan. "How are you enjoying the party?"
"S' been fantastic, I've never seen anything like it," he paused as he noticed Nathan looking woozy.
"Uh, you ok there, Nathan?"
Nathan had started to lean dangerously to his side. Michael grabbed him with a firm hand and his touch seemed to knock Nathan out of his stupor.
"Bit drunk. But I'm fine."
"Good." Cullen looked relieved.
"When did you guys get here? All the other guys from the team are out back watching the mud wrestling!"
"Hold up. What?!"
Michael had been largely out of it, but the words "other guys from the team" and "mud wrestling" snapped him out of it better than any physical slap in the face could have.
"Mud wrestling. Didn't you see it?"
Build bodies. Rolling around in the mud. Wearing next to nothing.
"Obviously not. But I'd certainly like to!"
Cullen clapped his hands.
"Great, let's go. If we can fight our way out of here, that is."
It was a challenge worthy of Olympic athletes. People were packed so tight on the inside of the house that maneuvering more than an inch in any direction was nearly impossible. They soldiered through it, the thought of sexy men duking it out in a make shift mud bath giving Michael all the motivation he needed to pull forward.
Miraculously, they bumped into Ian on their way through the hall. His hair was disheveled, and Svetlana's make up looked unusually out of place. They clasped hands tightly. One look on Ian's boastful face, and Svetlana's guilty one, told Michael why they had been gone so long and exactly what they had been doing.
"Looks like you guys have been enjoying yourselves," he said smoothly in Ian's ear.
Ian grinned and shook away the question.
"You lot on the way to the mud wrestling? From what I hear, it's getting pretty intense."
"They said the Venezuelan women's volleyball team have been in a dead tie against South Korea. They sent both of the captains into the mud pit and now it's sudden death!"
Both he and Ian perked up at the thought. The imagery described, however, had little impact on Michael. Nor, he noticed, on Nathan.
The back yard offered a nice change of scenery from the rest of the house. Not nearly as crowded as everywhere else, it had a mellower, more laid back feel much more akin to a hole in the wall type bar than to the blow out party it was a smaller part of. Several people chatted amicably in a circle of flowery patterned lawn chairs. A tiny group of Dutch athletes were huddled together smoking, the suspicious scent of marijuana leeching out of their fumes. Others stood with well equipped drinks in their hands watching the ensuing mud fight.
Michael felt the bitter pang of disappointment as he looked in the "mud" pit, an inflatable plastic pool filled with what appeared to be chocolate, and saw not two hunky male athletes as he had so been hoping for, but two small girls he recognized from the Swiss and Hungarian diving teams.
They were dressed in tiny, bright red bikinis that barely contained their perky breasts. The muddy chocolate oozed over their skin as they tore at each other, trying to pin the other girl down to the bottom of the pool. The Hungarian girl swiped her hand angrily at the Swiss girl's bikini top, and the cheap material tore apart in her fingers.
The spectators gasped, and some whistled, as the Swiss girl frantically crossed her arms in an effort to shield her bare chest from sight. In an effort to maintain some of her dignity, she lunged at the Hungarian and the two were submerged from the waste down, writhing and grabbing at each other in fierce competition.
Michael watched the scene in boredom. Normally, he was all for watching two chicks go at each other. It was all in good fun. But he had been really hoping on seeing two guys, and his heart and his penis were both disappointed.
Instead of becoming too engrossed in the spectacle the two women were making of themselves, he scanned the faces of the onlookers, features dark in the night illuminated mostly by the gigantic, mosquito repelling candles placed throughout the yard. In those faces, Michael saw a fair mix of strangers and people he recognized. There were a pair of burly, hairy men who Michael recognized as the American heavyweight lifting champions. Beside them, some of the Spanish swimming team that he had remembered meeting a few days earlier with Ian. Juan Lopez, the captain, sported a skin tight, lavender colored tank top that hugged his chest muscles graciously and left his arms exposed for Michael's wondering imagination to take advantage of. Juan watched the two girls fighting hungrily.
No hope for me, there. Michael thought sadly. But as he followed the line of Juan's well sculpted arms to the equally well sculpted, though longer and less olive toned arms of the man beside him. The man beside him, he noticed, was only semi occupied with the sight that would be an eye feast to any heterosexual male before him. And the reason he was only semi occupied was that his blue green eyes had focused on something much more tempting to him. Something adorkably clueless, standing on the other side of the mud pit, with the name of Michael Phelps.
Michael's breath caught in his chest as he laid eyes on Ryan Lochte for the first time that evening. The cool, turquoise gaze of his lover had a sobering effect on him. He felt the dullness, the oppressive haze of the liquor drain out of him as his senses were made fully aware once more by Ryan's piercing stare.
Without hesitation, he began to take a step forward. But before he could force his feet to move, a deafening cowbell was rung by one of the rowdy Australians to signal the end of the mud race. Michael looked down into the pool with mild interest and saw that the two girls were both naked, their bikinis floating uselessly beside them. Cheers erupted all around the pool as the girls helped each other up, the Swiss girl having been successfully pinned down by the leaner, more aggressive Hungarian one. They laughed amidst the chorus of suggestive whistles and gratefully accepted the towels offered to them by their Australian hosts. They kissed each other lightly on the lips to show there were no hard feelings, and waved to the crowd as they left to get changed to wild applause.
One of the Australians reached down into the pool and threw the remnants of the girls' bikinis at the particularly enthusiastic Spaniards. They accepted the gift graciously.
"Right. A big thanks to Andrea and Elka for providing us with such spirited entertainment."
Juan and his friends whistled in agreement.
"The question now is, who among us is brave enough to fight in their place?"
Before the collective hush could settle and people could contemplate on who might go next, Ryan Lochte stepped forward. Boldly, arrogantly, without a moment's hesitation. It made Michael love him even more.
"I'll do it," he smirked confidently at the Australian before resting his eyes on Michael. His gaze was heavy and full of meaning. It told him, "you're doing this with me."
The Australian mc laughed.
"Alright, alright. It's good to see your enthusiasm. We have here the United States' own Ryan Lochte. Who will dare to challenge him?"
Michael swallowed nervously. He wasn't nearly so confident as Lochte was, but the opportunity to wiggle around with him in a pool filled with chocolate was far too good to pass by. He locked eyes with Ryan and met him a playful sneer.
Unbeknownst to him, Nathan Adrian had been watching him from where he stood, not even a foot away beside him. He watched Lochte check him out, begging him to mud wrestle with his smirk. And to his disappointment, though not entirely to his surprise, he watched Michael smile back, accepting the challenge with silent anticipation.
He wouldn't have it.
So before Michael formally agreed, before he voiced his desire to share the spotlight with Lochte in that mud pit, Nathan Adrian intervened.
"I'll do it," he said as severely as his drunken state would allow him.
Lochte's eyes flashed angrily from Michael to Nathan. This he had not expected.
Michael felt the animosity between the two men with uneasy tension.
"It's ok, Nathan. I don't mind fighting him," he whispered comfortingly, placing an assuring hand on his arm.
Nathan jerked his hand off angrily, like the touch burned him. He wasn't sure why, but at that moment he felt unspeakably vexed by Michael. What had that secret look between he and Lochte meant? Why would he enjoy mud wrestling him?
"I said I'll do it," he hissed. He didn't even meet Michael's hurt gaze.
Unable to reach through to Nathan, Michael instead appealed to the MC.
"Perhaps we can find another competitor and come back to these two later?"
"No, no. Why bother?" Lochte interjected coldly. "I volunteered my name and Adrian here wants to challenge me. It's just mud wrestling, Michael. It'll all be in good fun." His tone was light, but it was impossible to miss the wrath laced beneath it.
The MC glanced uneasily from Nathan to Lochte.
"Uh, I guess if they both want to do it, I don't see any reason to stop them." He scratched his head. "Though it might be weird to have a mud fight with two guys."
Juan Lopez stepped forward from the macho Spanish huddle angrily.
"Pero eso es un asco. Dos hombres? No tengo ninguna gana de mirar este tip de peleo!"
"Si si, Juan. You can participate in the next round, if you'd like," the MC answered awkwardly, completely unaware of what the Spanish captain was saying.
Juan rolled his eyes.
"Australiano tonto. Bueno, me quedo un rato mas para ver si las chicas van a regresar." He returned to his companions and watched, peeved, Ryan and Nathan strip down and get ready for the mud bath.
Michael watched his two friends with a different emotion entirely. Sure, he was worried that the two of them might scratch their pretty faces up. Mainly, though, he was too distracted by the two hot bodies undressing themselves in front of him to feel worried.
My God. They're stunning.
He glanced around. At Juan. At Ian. At the MC, Andrew he thought his name was. The other men were looking uncomfortably at anywhere but Ryan and Nathan. They looked at the bar. They looked up at the sky. They looked at the other girls who were watching the stripping athletes with intense fascination. Michael didn't understand it.
How are they not enjoying this?
He didn't waste too much time fretting over it. If they couldn't appreciate the perfect masculine beauty in front of them, it was their problem not his.
Nathan had already finished removing his clothing. He stood defiantly in a blue and white striped tighty whitey, hands resting on his hips like a Superman who also happened to model underwear.
Michael took the opportunity to drink in his appearance. His tan legs went for miles, smooth and slick, the muscles tensed angrily under the baby soft skin. The view Michael's eyes took up Nathan's legs was a journey he never wanted to end, but he felt himself consoled by the hot ass that rested atop those hot legs.
That thing is dangerous!
Truly it was. He didn't think he had ever seen such a big ass in all of Olympic village. Perhaps in his entire, decorated Olympic career. It was huge and round, so plump it was almost obscene. It seemed all the squats Nathan was so fond of doing late at night in their room had found their targeted muscle group and exploded it in a way Nathan had surely never intended.
Thank God the alcohol was wearing off. Michael's inhibition had come back just enough to where he was able to resist the incredibly strong urges to grab Nathan's ass and bite it.
But it wasn't easy. Because on the other side of that ass was a package that any homosexual male would be ecstatic to open on Christmas. Or on any other day of the year. Particularly a hot summer day in a strange foreign country in the middle of an Olympic party.
Michael didn't know how else to describe it. It was massive. It was so huge that the thought of trying to pleasure it with any orifice of his body sent shivers of pain down his spine.
Granted, he couldn't actually see his package. But unless Nathan had somehow crammed an extra large pair of men's socks down the front of his underwear, the lump that was exposed there was simply enormous.
With a superhuman effort, he moved his eyes up to Nathan's broad back and shoulders. Long and lean like the rest of his body, yet simultaneously bulked up with layer upon layer of hardened muscles, it filled Michael with a tremendous urge to pay more attention to Nathan next time he was changing in their dorm room.
Somewhere in his periphery, he sensed those much beloved icy eyes vying for his attention. He met their accusation guiltily; he could hardly deny that he had been shamelessly enjoying the view. As much as it was almost physically painful for him, he resisted the urge to focus his sight on Lochte. Who else might notice him staring?
Amid the protests of the Spanish swimmers, and the discomfort of the Aussie MC, Nathan and Lochte eased themselves slowly into the mud pit. Lochte, confident as ever. Nathan, looking murderous.
"Right. We are going to try a new type of wrestling this go round. A male on male type of wrestling." Andrew scratched his head awkwardly. "I can't say I'll enjoy this round, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't curious."
At that moment, a group of good looking girls walked out to the backyard and circled around the mud pit with great interest.
"Hello, ladies," Andrew winked at the women, somewhat relieved that more women had been added to the mix.
"At least someone here will get a kick out of this," he muttered. "Ok, Nathan. Ryan. You guys ready?"
The two men nodded.
"Bloody fantastic. Take your marks, get set - Ladies, this one's for you - and go!"
For a split second, it looked like neither man was going to act. Faces plastered with flecks of mud and hateful scowls, they stood sizing each other up, trying to plan their first mode of attack, trying to spot any hint of their opponent's weakness. Honey eyes explored the muscular body opposite them, jealously impressed by its prowess. Icy blue ones did the same.
Somewhere in the crowd, one of the increasingly drunken Spaniards let his Champagne glass slip out of his fingers and crash onto patio beneath them. The resulting crash was like a catalyst that broke through the two competitors concentration. Like that, their moment of calm concentration was gone and they were on each other in a flurry of mud and hatred.
They tore into each other, Nathan wrapping his arms around Ryan with the strength of an enormous bear, Ryan digging his shoulder into Nathan's chest with an insistence that was really too much for just a playful mud fight. Chocolaty mud flew out of the ring and onto the growing crowd surrounding them. It splattered their skin, their clothes. It mixed in with their drinks and added a flavor that was cocoa goodness with a hint of athlete's sweat.
Girls were streaming out of the house now and into the backyard. Word had clearly gotten out that Ryan Lochte and Nathan Adrian were duking it out in a chocolate filled pit wearing nothing but their underwear and their dignity. No hot blooded woman in her right mind would miss this.
Nathan's grip on tightened, and Lochte thrashed around to overcome it. The combination of his skin, made slippery by the chocolate, and his sheer strength lent him the ability to maneuver out of the unwelcome embrace. He took advantage of Nathan's momentary surprise and dove for his midsection, hitting him in the gut and pinning him down to the bottom of the mud pit. It was a good thing that the mud made them so buoyant. Even though Nathan was a professional swimmer and no doubt had the lung capacity to rival a dolphin, Lochte was mad enough to keep him pinned down there as long as possible.
The same slipperiness that had aided Lochte was now making itself useful to Nathan. He twisted out of Lochte's grasp and came flailing to the surface. He gasped for air and turned his hands into fists, letting out an angry snarl as he lunged once more for Lochte.
But Lochte had been expecting him. He tensed his arms and met Lochte with equal ferocity. They collided into each other with a wet smack, their bodies entwined in what looked like it could have been a passionate embrace.
If they didn't hate each other.
But hate each other they did. They soldiered on, each taking turns pinning the other down and emerging from the mud covered bottom again. They fought, and they fought mightily, though neither was really sure what the goal could be. They wanted to beat each other up, they wanted to inflict as much damage on the other as possible. For some reason, there was this unspoken feud between them whose origins were as murky and unclear as the mud they were fighting in.
I hate him. I detest this man more than anyone I have ever loathed in my life.
The thought bounced simultaneously through both of their heads, egging them on when they might have otherwise been more passive.
I know I hate him. But why?
Ryan had a sneaking suspicion. He had always been curious about the relationship between Michael Phelps and his adoring roommate. The night Michael and Nathan had spent clubbing together had forever charred whatever chance they might have had at friendship. With little doubt of the cause of their enmity, he plunged forward with all of his anger focused on making Nathan falter.
But Nathan wasn't so confident. He had never really liked Ryan; he found his attitude and conceitedness to be a bit much to take. But he didn't really know him, and certainly Lochte had never done anything bad enough for him to warrant such intense hostility. In fact, now that he thought about it, Lochte hadn't done much more lately than spend a lot of time with Michael.
Nathan felt a sudden irrational surge of venom at the thought. He wanted to push it aside, he really did, but the emotion was so powerful it was almost physical. Surely, surely he was just angry at the rude way Ryan had treated his friend when they'd first met. That had to be it.
Yes. That was definitely it.
At least, he hoped it was.
That moment of hesitation that it had cost Nathan to ponder his feelings was about to cost him dearly. Lochte knocked his elbow into Nathan's chest so hard that he had to struggle not to lose his breath.
He shoved Lochte away, nearly sending him flying over the edge of the mud pit. He heaved his chest up and down, his lungs trying desperately to replenish the air that Lochte had knocked out of them. Lochte in turn paused, crumpled against the side of the pit, clearly taken aback by the force in Nathan's assault.
Nathan took that much needed pause in the attack to take a few deep breaths and compose himself. It couldn't have been longer than five seconds, but it had been enough to prepare himself for Lochte's next advance.
What he couldn't prepare himself for, though, was how much that last push had really pissed Lochte off. This time Nathan came at him from behind, crushing his windpipe with the lock of his iron bicep. Nathan gasped for breath for the second time in a matter of minutes, his throat closing with a sickening gurgling sound as he desperately pried at Lochte's arm with slippery fingers.
Several girls in the audience screamed, and for once Juan Lopez and the Spaniards broke into boisterous applause, the male on male action finally captivating enough to capture their interest.
Michael didn't want to get involved, but he also didn't want to watch his best friend get suffocated to death. He took a step forward and Andrew, as if reading Michael's thoughts, decided to intervene.
"Boys, Boys!" He screamed. Ryan released his grip on Nathan's neck and Nathan massaged his throat gingerly.
"Very unsportsmanlike of you, Lochte. Very unsportsmanlike, indeed. I've half a mind to disqualify you, but I think these girls here might kill me if I did."
High pitch laughter answered him in agreement.
"You lot are getting much too rough. Back to your starting points, both of you. Let's start another round but this time with less violence. Ok?"
Nathan nodded ferociously in agreement.
Andrew rolled his eyes.
"That statement was primarily for you, Ryan."
Ryan cocked his head up about thirty degrees and then resumed his tense, Nathan-seeking fighting posture. It wasn't the most polite way to say yes, but Andrew knew Ryan well enough not to expect any better.
The two athletes did a good job this go round of keeping their excess aggression in check. At least initially. They spent most of their time pinning each other down, first Ryan then Nathan then Ryan again. The girls watched with obvious enjoyment, and Michael felt the telltale signs of a boner creeping up in his trousers. He willed himself not to get too excited, but put his hands casually in his pockets just for extra measure.
For some reason, neither Ryan nor Nathan was able to pin the other down for too long. Whether it was that the mud was too slippery, the pit too small, or that they were two different men who happened to be very evenly matched, they seemed to be unable to end their cycle of rolling around like aggressive pigs. Much as Michael hated to admit it, it almost appeared they were enjoying themselves. How could they not be? He wondered jealously. It was all he could do not to jump into the mud with them, rolling around carelessly and push his bodies into theirs under the guise of a "fight." And, judging from the look on the faces of the girls watching, he wasn't alone in his longing.
After what seemed an almost inappropriate time, Ryan and Nathan seemed to remember that, attractive as the other one was, that didn't stop their mutual hatred. Nathan struck first, the first real blow of the evening. Ryan was on his knees, preparing to flop on top of Nathan in yet another effort to pin him down, when Nathan, catching him by surprise, threw himself at Ryan's midsection and tackled him to the ground. He thought he was momentarily victorious, smirking as he relaxed his stance only slightly, thinking he'd already won.
He shouldn't have counted Lochte out so quickly. With a keen sense, he pounced on Nathan the moment his grip loosened, using the last of his energy to spring at the other man with such force that it knocked him clear out of the mud pit and pinned him definitively on the grass outside.
Nathan's eyes, wide opened and stunned, darted around in shock and his arms flailed uselessly beside him. But it was too late. Lochte had already won, and he knew it.
"Well, looks like we have a winner, 'bout time!" Andrew boomed, happy that this homoerotic show was finally over. Lochte's smirk was a little too smug, his grip on Nathan a little too harsh, but as Andrew leaned down and tapped him on the shoulder, he released him.
Lochte and Nathan stood up on either side of Andrew; Nathan looking humiliated and Lochte looking victorious. Andrew grabbed a hold of both of their wrists as they stood to face their audience.
"I am pleased to announce the end of what I hope will be the last all male fight in the Aussie mud pit!" He shouted to thunderous applause and whistles. "I am even more pleased to announce that we have a winner. Boys, you put up a valiant fight, but there is no denying that our very own Mr. Ryan Lochte has come out on top. Congratulations, Ryan!" He lifted up Ryan's hand as the crowd clapped even louder.
Ryan's eyes skimmed gratefully over the other viewers, waving his thanks to everyone clapping. Even Nathan clapped good naturedly for him, and the two men exchanged a tepid handshake. Michael whistled loudly, a huge smile on his face for both of them. He was so proud that they had managed to survive this silly thing without killing each other, and when Ryan smiled, really smiled at him, he grinned hugely in response.
And that was when Nathan lost it.
His peaceful look of defeat fell off his face the instant he glanced the happy exchange between Ryan and Michael. He looked back and forth between the two of them, and that thing, that painful fact that about their relationship he had been trying too long to suppress was made blatantly obvious in front of him.
He couldn't stand it.
His eyes went pitch black in hurt and fury as Michael approached them, still smiling unabashedly at Ryan, to offer his congratulations. But he didn't want to hear them. He didn't want to hear Michael gush over Lochte, over the true object of his affections, as he offered Nathan lukewarm conciliations. He couldn't stand to think, after all the time they'd known each other, that Ryan was the true culprit who had stolen Michael's heart, and he was just the room mate. Why was he taking this so personally? Why did it cut him like a crudely made dagger to think of Michael having feelings for someone else?
It shouldn't matter to you. He's your friend. He can love who he wants.
But that look, that look between his favorite and least favorite athletes threatened to unravel him.