Olympic Trials had been nerve-racking enough that JR isn’t sure how he is going to get through the actual Olympics. He’s never attended an Olympic Games as a spectator before so it is sure to be an interesting experience.
He doesn’t really advertise that he’s going. Doesn’t tweet about it or post on Tumblr or Facebook about his plans. His parents know, his brothers, his friends on the National team. And of course Nathan knows. How could he not? He’d practically begged JR to come. JR would be a pretty shitty boyfriend if he said no. JR can’t stay the whole 2 weeks. So he goes to trials in Omaha, and flies home while Nathan heads to training camp in first Tennessee and then France. It’s a couple of weeks later that JR flies to London. He’s there to see Nathan swim three races: the 4x100 relay, the 100 free, and the medley relay. They’ll have, he hopes, three days together after Nathan finishes before JR’s limited resources will force him to return to the states. He’s not made of money after all. Nathan’s just thrilled he’s coming at all.
Every night that Nathan has been gone, JR has talked to him on the phone. At first he had sounded exhausted because of training but as taper started he’d sounded more and more like his usual self again, though his excitement had been easy to hear. But when the games officially start they limit themselves to text messaging.
It’s hard to not talk to him every night. To not hear his voice. They’d had plenty of separations in the two years they’d been together. Trips home to visit family, competitions for Nathan, trips to SLC to train for JR. The only good thing about JR’s string of bad luck the previous summer and the resulting injuries was that he’d spent most of the year stuck in Cali. His time off the ice this past season had allowed him to fit in extra classes at Berkeley and take him that much closer to finishing his degree. It had also allowed him to spend the extra time with Nathan. JR doesn’t want to think about Sochi yet. Trials for the short track team are only 18 months away and he has a lot of catching up to do if he wants to make it. Being in London is just fueling his inner competitor. Being surrounded by the rush of competition, the excitement of the athletes and the audience, it has his blood pumping like crazy. It has him aching to put on his skates and just go go go. But the separation that it will mean for him and Nathan is not something he wants to consider. Not now. Not yet.
When Nathan’s family finds out he’s coming to watch, they pull him into their familial circle. He ends up running around London with Justin and Bruce, babysitting Max when Donella wants a night out with her husband, and genuinely getting to really like Nathan’s family as a whole. He’s dragged sight-seeing between events, and is always included at family dinners. So while JR is in London, alone, he’s not alone at all. He sort of loves Nathan that much more because his family is so awesome. But he draws the line at taking one of their tickets to any of the swimming events. He knows how hard it is for a family to get enough tickets to the races, especially a block of tickets together. Besides he’s already managed to get tickets to most of Nathan’s events all on his own.
Nathan’s first race is the 4x100 Free Relay. The coaches save him for the final, and JR watches eagerly from near the very top of the arena as Nathan takes the USA men out fast. Michael Phelps dives in and extends the lead. He’s followed by Cullen Jones, and then Ryan Lochte. But in the end their lead evaporates in the last lap and France wins, with a final lap so fast there was virtually no way they could have countered it. JR winces when he sees the look on Nathan’s face. He wants nothing more than to go down there and comfort him. He knows exactly how that feels. He knows that disappointment. How much of a letdown it is. Instead he texts a picture of himself making a goofy face, followed by as much encouragement as he can via cellphone touch screen.
He’s not surprised when later that night he gets a phone call.
“Hey,” he says quietly. He’s laying the dark of his hotel room, the bright lights of London making the curtains glow. There’s silence on the other end of the connection but JR knows it’s Nathan. He has caller ID after all. “You’re allowed to be upset you know. You’re allowed to be disappointed,” JR says softly. There’s a sniff. But it’s cut off quickly and followed by a cleared throat.
“It just sucks,” Nathan whispers. He sounds sad and almost pained.
“It’s racing. You can’t win every time,” JR says. He can hear Nathan breathing. “A silver medal is nothing to be ashamed of Nate,” JR adds and he hears a sigh.
“I know that… objectively,” he replies and JR starts to smile. Nathan sounds put-out but not depressed. A marked improvement.
“Your Mom was beaming all evening. She couldn’t stop smiling. She just kept telling everyone that her little boy was a two-time Olympic medalist,” JR says. He hears a short laugh.
“My Mom thinks I can do no wrong,” Nathan replies.
“Moms and boyfriends. We always think the best of you,” JR says. He hears another sigh through the phone line.
“I feel like it’s my fault. Like I didn’t give them a long enough lead. That I let the team down,” Nathan says and JR frowns.
“You gave them a great lead. All of you swam fantastically. You did the best you could, and it’s no one’s fault. The French swam better than any of you could have planned for. You can’t keep thinking this way. Not if you want to win on Wednesday. You just have to put it behind you.” Encouraging Nathan seems like the best thing to do at the moment. They’re both quiet for several minutes and JR starts to think Nathan has fallen asleep on him. But Nathan breaks the silence a moment later.
“You were there?” Nathan asks. JR grins.
“Of course I was. I already have tickets for both sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday night. I’ll be there. I promise!” he says.
“What about for the medley relay on Saturday?” Nathan asks. “If you’re having trouble finding tickets I can make a few calls…”
“I’ll be there, Nathan,” he replies.
“It’s just going to be really full that night. It’s Mike’s last race,” Nathan continues.
“Will you stop stressing about it? Dude, I said I’d be there and I will,” JR says with conviction, his tone light-hearted.
“I race better knowing you’re there,” Nathan adds. JR closes his eyes.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” he says.
“I love you,” Nathan says, voice so quiet JR barely hears it.
“I love you too, now get some sleep. You need to rest and recover. Did you drink your chocolate milk?” he asks, voice teasing. There’s a soft laugh.
“Goodnight, JR.,” Nathan says and he hangs up without waiting to hear the words from JR. JR sets his cellphone back down on the nightstand. He doesn’t know how he’s going to get tickets for the following Saturday. Nathan was right, tickets were hard to come by for any and every night that Phelps was in the water, but Saturday was the last night of competition, Michael Phelps’ last race ever. Scalpers wanted thousands. He wasn’t sure how he was going to pull this off.
The next day JR goes out sightseeing with Donella and Bruce, who decide to leave baby Max with his grandparents for the day, and the three of them run around doing the most touristy things they can think of. They go to Big Ben, Piccadilly Circus, the Tower Bridge, and ride the London Eye. Mostly though they walk, a lot, and enjoy the excitement that has permeated the air all over London because of the games. There are people everywhere. And it’s because of the noise and the crowds that JR doesn’t hear it at first. It’s Donella that stops him, tugging on the back of his messenger bag and getting him to turn around. It’s only then that he hears his last name being shouted. He looks up and there’s Apolo weaving through the mass of people toward them.
“JR!” he says in greeting, pulling him into a hug. JR grins over Apolo’s shoulder, hugging him back. “What the hell man!? You didn’t tell me you were coming to London!” Apolo says. Donella watches JR carefully as he breaks the embrace.
“Apolo, hey! It’s good to see you!” JR says. He motions to Bruce and Donella. “This is Donella, Nathan’s sister and her husband Bruce,” he introduces. “Guys, this is Apolo Ohno.” He watches Apolo’s smile grow as he turns to shake Bruce’s hand and then Donella’s, pouring on extra charm. Bruce is laughing and Donella blushing within just a few minutes.
Internally JR doesn’t know what to think about Apolo. They’d talked off and on over the last few years, but thinks were still awkward, even 2 years post break-up. Nathan’s continued dislike of Apolo wasn’t helping matters. Still JR would always think of Apolo as a friend, and to a certain extent a teammate, even this long after Apolo’s supposed retirement. He was fairly sure Apolo thought similarly. But Nathan worries. No matter how many times JR has told him there is nothing there, not anymore, he’s still not comfortable with it.
Bruce invites Apolo to come to lunch with them, but Apolo waves them off.
“Unfortunately, I’ve got work to do. But it was great meeting both of you,” he shakes Bruce’s hand, and smiles charmingly at Donella and then turns to JR again. “But you!” he says with a laugh. “You’re going to pay for not telling me you were coming to London! We’re having dinner tomorrow night. No excuses!” Apolo says. JR shakes his head.
“Sorry man. No can do. Nathan swims tomorrow night. He’s the reason I’m here,” JR says shrugging his shoulders. Apolo eyes him carefully and JR knows he gets it. Knows exactly what he means. He smiles a big understanding smile.
“Of course. Maybe we can all meet up once he’s done?” Apolo offers. JR nods.
“That sounds great. You got my number, text me,” he replies and Apolo grins nodding before turning and weaving away through the crowd. JR turns to Donella and Bruce. “Who wants food? I’m starving!” he asks.
It’s when Bruce gets up to use the restroom that Donella brings up Apolo again.
“So… Apolo huh?” she asks, fork stabbing at her salad. JR eyes her wearily.
“I know Nathan told you. He tells you everything,” he replies reaching for his ice water.
“He also told me he doesn’t like that you’re still friends with him,” Donella says. JR sighs.
“Nathan doesn’t choose my friends. He knows I still talk to Apolo, just like he still talks to and hangs out with several of his exes. I’m honest about it. It’s not a secret, and it’s not like I see Apolo on a regular basis. I think that’s the first time I’ve seen him in about 8 months. He didn’t even know I was in London,” he explains. He watches understanding filter across her face. She rubs at her forehead.
“I’m sorry. It’s just… he’s my little brother,” she says. He smiles at her.
“Apolo is an issue for Nathan. It’s why I don’t see him more often. I know it bugs Nate. It’s why Apolo didn’t know I was here. I didn’t want things to be weirder than they already are. Especially not when Nathan needs to be focused on racing.” She catches onto the implication almost immediately and sighs, her brow furrowing.
“You don’t want me to tell him,” she says only it isn’t a question.
“Tell him what? That I was out with you and Bruce and ran into my ex? That Apolo asked to meet up and I told him no? What would that accomplish?” he asks. She looks away. “Look if you’re worried about keeping secrets from your brother don’t be. I have every intention of telling Nathan I saw Apolo, as soon as I see him in person. It won’t make any difference then,” he explains. “Besides it’s not like you’re going to be talking to him before then anyway,” he teases. She frowns harder, her unhappiness at not getting to talk to her little brother every single day like she usually does clear in her expression. JR decides not tell her he’d talked to Nathan the night before. That would just be mean.
JR’s not aware something is wrong until later that night. Nathan is busy. He has team meetings, practices, training and media to do. It’s not that strange to go all day with only a few text messages exchanged during a big meet, and the Olympics are the biggest meet there is. But when he gets back to the hotel after having dinner with the Adrian’s and checks his phone to find no new messages at all he figures something must be up. He texts Nathan, thinking maybe Nathan has passed out early or his phone has died.
‘Haven’t heard from you. Hope you’re storing up all your energy for tomorrow. I’d say good luck but you don’t need it. Love you.’ But a response comes almost immediately, and it’s short and out of character.
‘Been busy.’ The abruptness of it has JR pausing in the act of taking off his shoes.
‘Nathan, what’s wrong?’ he asks.
‘Nothing. I gotta go. Night,’ Nathan responds. JR blinks at his phone in confusion. Knowing he is breaking the rules but truly concerned, he hits speed dial 2 and brings the cell to his ear. It goes immediately to voice mail. Nathan has either turned off his phone, which he never does, or he’s purposefully sent JR’s call to voicemail. What the fuck!? Really worried now, he calls Matt.
Matt Grevers is probably JR’s favorite person on the men’s swim team, other than Nathan of course. He’s tall, taller even than Nathan, and blonde, and so much fun to hang out with JR immediately understood why Nathan always ends up rooming with him. He knows if anyone is aware of what is going on it will be Matt. The line seems to ring forever before Matt finally picks up. He sounds hurried, rushed, and he speaks softly.
“Dude! What did you do!?” he asks.
“Matt? What the hell is going on?” JR asks. “Nathan is being weird.”
“He’s being quiet, like more quiet than usual. I’m not sure exactly what went down, but Mike said something to him at the team meeting tonight, and he’s been acting strangely ever since.”
“Have you tried to find out what he said? Because Nate has to race in the morning and he doesn’t usually shut me out like this.” JR says. He starts pacing.
“All he said was something about ‘fucking twitter’ and I think he mentioned your ex’s name,” Matt explains. JR’s eyes close in pained understanding. He flings open his laptop where it sits on the desk, and brings up twitter. And there staring back to him on his ‘mentions’ page, from @ApoloOhno: Great hanging out with @JRCelski today in London. #WinterAthletesTogetherAgain #2014BABY #seeyoulaterbuddy
Fuck. JR’s tempted to slam his head down on the desktop. Repeatedly.
“Ok. I need you to give him the phone,” JR says. He stands up and heads for the door, grabbing up his jacket as he goes.
“I don’t think he wants to talk to you, man…”
“I don’t care. He’s going to fuck up 4 years of hard work over something stupid, if you don’t get him to talk to me,” JR demands.
“I’ll try. No promises though,” there’s the sound of a door opening, the phone moving through the air, and Matt’s voice muffled by distance. “Phone for you,” and then Nathan is there on the line.
“Yeah?” and he sounds so sad that JR almost loses the edge of his anger. But then he remembers Nathan is being a jealous asshole and not even bothering to talk to him about it and his anger comes roaring back full tilt.
“South entrance to the athlete’s village. 20 minutes. And I swear to God if you don’t show up I’ll never speak to you again. And I’m hoping you don’t want to throw out two years of a good thing just so you can be an asshole.” He hangs up the phone without waiting for an answer.
The security guys guarding the South entrance look at him strangely when he walks up and leans against the side of a nearby building, just outside the perimeter.
“I’m waiting for someone,” he calls to them tiredly, closing his eyes and tilting his head back to rest on the cool brick.
When Nathan arrives he doesn’t say anything just flings himself against the wall next to JR and waits, arms crossed, and face sour.
“Be glad I’m not screaming at you. Because I am tempted to have it out with you right here right now, regardless of who is watching or might overhear. But since it’s late and it’s cold and you have to race in the Olympics tomorrow morning I’ll make this quick,” JR says quietly. He turns to lean sideways on the brick, eyes focusing on the side of Nathan’s face. “You’re being a jackass. And you’re being ridiculously stupid. I don’t understand why you can’t just talk to me like a normal person involved in an actual adult relationship instead of acting like a fucking child. So here’s the deal. While I was out sightseeing with your sister and your brother-in-law today I was spotted by Apolo Ohno. He flagged us down, gave me a hug of greeting, asked why I didn’t tell him I was in London, spent 5 minutes charming Donella and Bruce, and invited me out to dinner tomorrow night. At which point I turned him down, wished him luck, and said goodbye. The whole thing lasted literally ten minutes.” JR watches Nathan’s face pale in the muted light of their semi-secluded spot. “If you had talked to me I could have explained that to you without all this drama. Instead you assumed I had what? Cheated on you?” he asks. He sees Nathan’s forehead crease, but the older man doesn’t give an immediate response. JR crosses his own arms and decides to wait him out.
“I’m sorry,” Nathan says, tilting his head back to rest against the wall.
“Good,” JR replies. “We have a lot of shit that we need to seriously sit down and discuss, but that can all wait until after Saturday. For now only one thing matters: Do you believe that I’m in love with you?” JR asks. Nathan turns to look at him, and he nods.
“Yes.” JR stares at him, as if to measure his sincerity. The tension is lifting by degrees with each passing second.
“OK. Then I need to go. I have to get up an ungodly hour to go watch my boyfriend compete in the Olympics,” he watches a smile twitch at the corner of Nathan’s lips and smirks a little in return.
“This boyfriend? Is he fast?” Nathan asks, moving closer, voice dropping lower than usual. JR brushes at the hair falling across his forehead, and crosses his arms over his chest.
“He’s pretty fast, yeah,” JR says, trying to keep his face straight. Nathan’s grin widens.
“How fast?” Nathan asks, pressing his body in closer to JR’s, and JR is suddenly very glad he chose a spot that was mostly in shadows. Nathan shifts even closer, bracketing JR’s smaller body in with two long tan arms. JR’s breath catches. Nathan… he can always do this to him, no matter how mad JR is with him.
“The fastest. He’s gonna kick your ass,” JR says. And he watches Nathan tilt his head back in one of those laughs. The one that always crinkles up the corners of his eyes, and shows all his teeth. Nathan slides his arms around him, pulling him away from the wall and into Nathan’s chest, and JR buries his face in his throat. God it’s been three weeks since he touched him. He lets his hands slide down Nathan’s long back, taking him in with each of his senses. “You need to sleep,” he whispers and Nathan groans.
“I really am sorry,” he whispers, voice low. JR squeezes him tight.
“I know and I’ll be there tomorrow,” JR promises. Nathan reluctantly pulls back and JR smiles at him.
“One kiss?” Nathan asks. JR makes a face but gives in. It’s almost impossible to be that close to Nathan and NOT kiss him. Also three WEEKS! He pushes up pressing his mouth to Nathan’s. Nathan clutches him closer, tilting his head, and sinking lower to deepen the kiss. JR presses against him harder, turning him around to press backward into the brick wall. He breaks the kiss with a gasp, tugging away from Nathan’s grip.
“There. One kiss. Now go to bed.” JR says, backing away. Nathan raises an eyebrow at him, licking his lips, and JR glares. “Go to bed!” he glances at the watch on his wrist. “You have to be up in six hours!” he sticks his hands into his pockets to avoid reaching out for Nathan again. “I’ll see you tomorrow and maybe if you look really hard, you can see me tomorrow too,” he teases. Nathan gives him a slow smile.
“Good night, Celski,” he says, leaning one shoulder into the brick wall and waiting so he can watch JR walk away.
JR makes his way back to his hotel room and goes to bed. But he has trouble sleeping. All he can think about is Nathan, laying in his dorm room bed, the night before an Olympic prelim. JR’s not looking forward to the coming discussion. But he knows they have to settle the issue of Apolo, sooner or later. He’s also plagued with the other major topic they have to discuss. The topic they’d been putting off for weeks, months really. The fact that sooner rather than later JR was going to have to leave California and rejoin the national team in Utah. The dread of that conversation alone keeps him up way later than he should be.
It’s hard to get up in the morning, lack of sleep making it almost painful, but JR’s dealt with worse before, so he climbs into his shower and then gets dressed. Nathan has his prelim at 10am. JR knows from experience he’s probably been up for hours already.
The London Aquatic Center is nearly full. The crowd has a different energy during a morning session. JR figures it’s the difference is partly the type of people in attendance, and the level of excitement. For some families this could be the one and only chance to see a loved one swim. Not everyone moves onto the Semis in the evening session, so for them it’s a big deal and they cheer loudly for the swimmers they’ve come to support. JR kind of loves that about morning sessions.
JR scores a seat somewhat near Nathan’s family, one section over, and a few rows back, and settles in for some good racing. It seems to take forever until Nathan’s Heat, number 6, finally starts. He’s got a good lane, 5th, and JR watches him intently, to see any sign of tiredness or residual anger in his posture. But Nathan looks perfectly normal as he marches out, game face on. JR ends up holding his breath for the entire race, the full 48.19 seconds, and only lets it out once he sees the big beautiful #1 posted next to his name. There’s two more Heats to sit through before they’ll know for sure. But in the end Nathan goes into the Semi’s in first place, his teammate Cullen Jones in 9th.
He sticks around for the rest of the prelim swims, intent on enjoying every moment he can of Olympic competition. Later that night, he sits a few rows closer to the pool deck, and cheers Nathan on to win his semifinal. He grins proudly as Nathan ends up in second place going into the next night’s finals. And again JR stays in his seat to watch the rest of the nights swims. Later he’s glad he did, because some day he can tell the story about how he was in the London Aquatic Center when Michael Phelps won his record 18 and 19th Olympic Medals. It’s a pretty cool evening all around, even if he does spend the second half of the night, texting Nathan as much as he watches the swimming going on below him.
Wednesday seems to take forever. Nathan is being quiet, but this time JR can tell just by the tone of the few texts he does get that this time it’s because his focus is where it needs to be. He’s ok with Nathan being silent if it’s because his attention is on his upcoming swim, instead of on imaginary interactions happening between JR and Apolo behind his back.
JR is leaving his hotel room to head over to the Aquatic Center for the final when he gets a call for Cecelia.
“JR, you must sit with us tonight!” she commands. JR laughs, walking across the lobby of his hotel.
“I told you, Mrs. Adrian. I have a ticket. I can’t take one away from the family. I’ll be able to see fine.” She tuts into the phone.
“I will not take no for an answer. Nathan should be able to look up and see us all there cheering for him. Not just some of us here and some of us there. Besides Max has a new tooth. He is being fussy and Bruce is staying at the hotel with him so Donella can come. You can use his ticket. No use having an empty seat!” she proclaims. JR can’t really argue with that logic.
So he ends up sitting with Nathan’s family when they make it to the Aquatic Center. Nathan’s race is about halfway through the night’s line-up, so they’re forced to watch race after race, finals and then semis, the tension slowly building, until JR’s ready to crawl out of his own skin he’s so anxious. And then it’s finally time.
JR sits beside Donella, and she grips his hand tightly as they announce the racers, and one by one, they come out and take their spots at the blocks. When Nathan’s announced, in lane 5, they all jump to their feet, screaming and clapping their hands in excitement.
When the crowd quiets for the start of the race, their little group remains standing. And Donella recaptures his hand, squeezing it tightly. JR has to fight the urge to hold his breath, his eyes focused solely on Nathan as he climbs up onto the starting block, game face on.
As soon as the beep sounds and the swimmers launch themselves into the water, the crowd starts screaming again. But JR feels oddly calm, strangely relaxed. His eyes follow Nathan as he swims down the length of the pool, and JR knows he should be screaming, jumping up and down like Donella is, like Nathan’s parents are. But instead he stands perfectly still, channeling all of his calm into willing Nathan to win. He turns in second maybe third and JR starts to smile. He knows how good a closer Nathan is. So even when he’s 15m from the final wall, and still even with the Australian, JR already knows.
Nathan touches the wall, and JR watches him, watches his face. It takes only seconds and Nathan’s launching himself up out of the water and into the air, fist raised in triumph, he smacks the water, the smile taking over his face and JR doesn’t have to look at the scoreboard to know. Gold.
Donella screams in JR’s ear, arms winding around him as she jumps up and down, and JR grips her back, hugging her tightly in celebration.
Nathan rips his cap and goggles off, and JR can see, even from this far away the excitement and disbelief on his face. He shakes his head, his shock obvious to everyone watching him. JR puts his head back to laugh with relief and elation, as Nathan clutches the lane-line, covering his eyes with one hand. JR knows he’s fighting not to cry right there in the water.
JR looks over at Jim and Cecelia. At Justin, at Donella, and he knows they’re just as proud as he is.
“The winner of the 100 meter freestyle gold medal and Olympic Champion, with a time of 47.52 seconds, representing the United States of America, Nathan Adrian!” Nathan steps up on to the podium and the entire aquatic center is on their feet cheering. But no one louder than JR and the Adrian’s.
It will be literally hours before they’ll get a chance to see Nathan. He’s got photos to take, a press conference to attend, and the start of his post-race interviews to give. Before all of that though, he walks the perimeter of the aquatic center, holding up his gold medal and posing for picture after picture, waving to the crowd. When he reaches their section, he climbs the seats to toss his flowers to Cecelia. There’s a moment after that, when Nathan looks over and sees JR there, standing with his siblings and his parents, smiling proudly, and the grin on Nathan’s face gets that much bigger. He nods at JR and JR laughs, nodding back. They’ll see each other later.
And they do. There’s a small party at the USA House, where families and close friends get a chance to see their Olympian and hang out for a bit. So they do get to see each other, even if it’s not in private, and their time is short. It’s still great to give Nathan a hug, tell him how proud he is of him and see the golden glow that’s come over him up close and in person. Sooner than they’d all like, Nathan gets ordered to bed by the Men’s team coaches and is saying goodbye. He pulls JR into a corner.
“I’m so proud of you,” JR tells him again. He can’t seem to stop saying it. Nathan grins so wide it looks like it almost hurts.
“I’m glad you came. I’m glad you’re here for this. I can’t wait to do this for you. Do you think your Mom and Dad will let me sit with them and make a big fool out of myself screaming your name while you race?” Nathan asks, leaning against the wall. He’s being… JR can’t put a name on it. Slinky maybe? It’s sexy. It’s driving him crazy. He backs up half a step.
“Are you saying I was acting like a fool today?” he teases. “Because I was merely being enthusiastic. It’s not like I made you a big cardboard sign that said ‘Go, Nathan, Go!’ surrounded by big red hearts, and squealed like a hormone addled teenage girl each time you smiled at the camera,” he smirks when he’s finished, folding his arms across his chest.
“You didn’t?” Nathan asks, blinking in feigned hurt. “But I thought you loved me? I’d have made you a sign…” JR laughs, shaking his head.
“Of course I love you. And I would be thrilled to have you cheering me on in Sochi. I’ll let my mom know they’re going to have to track down that extra ticket,” he replies. Nathan grins even wider. His coach calls his name then.
“Nathan, come on!” Nathan nods at him, then turns back to JR.
“I’ll see you soon?” he asks.
“Of course, text me,” JR replies. Nathan steps closer.
“I want to kiss you,” he says quietly. JR makes a face.
“Save them up for Saturday,” he requests. Nathan’s smile is heart melting.
The rest of the week seems to simultaneously drag on and fly by. JR scores free tickets to a soccer game and a day of track, babysits Max for a few hours on Friday afternoon, and texts Nathan much more than he probably should. He also jerks off a lot, but that’s not something he would ever discuss with anyone but possibly Nathan.
By the time Saturday comes around JR is ready for Nathan to be done racing. But there’s just one more race for him to swim, the 4x100 Medley Relay. The odds are definitely in the USA’s favor. They’ve got Matt who won gold in the 100 back, Brendan who won Bronze in the 100 Breast, Michael Phelps who had won Gold in the 100 Fly, and of course Nathan who had won Gold in the 100 Free. To say the USA had stacked the deck would be an understatement. But that doesn’t make the race any less exciting.
Cecilia had magically produced a ticket for JR to sit up with Nathan’s family again, and had somehow managed to get him to accept it without a fight this time. Cecelia seems to always get what she wants. JR can definitely appreciate a mom with that much strength and love. She reminds him of his own. So he watches the racing that night wedged into a seat between Cecelia and Justin, and ends up screaming Nathan on just like the rest of them. And it’s amazing to watch him win gold again. To watch Nathan climb out of the pool and into his teammates arms as they shout in victory. The medal ceremony is followed by a special presentation for Michael Phelps to commemorate his official retirement and 22nd Olympic Medal. The number is staggering. JR wants more, two isn’t enough, but he can’t imagine ever having 22. It’s an impossible number for short track. He’d have to medal in practically every single event over 6 Olympics to get that many. He’s sort of in awe over the accomplishment. Afterward JR and the Adrian’s head straight for USA House, where the American athletes are already partying hard. All the pool swimming events are officially finished, and the whole team is some sort of euphoric post competition party mode. There’s free drinks and free food, games to play, and music to dance too, and everywhere JR looks he sees highlight reels of USA swimming playing on plasma screens. He grins so much his cheeks go numb.
And then the team is there, they’ve completed their post-race media, and when Nathan walks in he goes straight to them. His parents hug him, Cecelia peppering his face with kisses. Justin and Donella take their turns and then it’s JR’s. Nathan sweeps him in and kisses him, and JR suddenly knows they won’t have to worry about coming out to Nathan’s National team teammates, if all the catcalling and cheering is any indication. Most of them had known already anyway. He pulls away laughing, and shoves Nathan back, going over to greet the rest of the team. Michael’s not there, JR isn’t surprised, but he’s met him before. He’s more interested in congratulating Matt and Brendan.
They stay late at USA House, catching up and letting loose in a pretty low-key US Olympic sanctioned sort of way. JR reluctantly watches Nathan re-board the shuttle bus to head back to the village and the dorms. They part with one last PG kiss.
“Tomorrow morning,” Nathan whispers. “I’ll be free first thing tomorrow morning.” And JR takes it for the promise it is. Until the next morning all the swimmers were basically being kept under dorm-arrest. They were stuck in the dorms for one more night with curfews and hall monitors. But tomorrow US Olympic was pulling them all out of the village, setting them up in a local hotel. That meant they’d be able to sight see, visit friends and family, and do other things that dorms disallowed. JR heads back to his hotel exhausted and anxious and excited all at once. But more than anything he’s proud.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in Nathan, to get lost him. To let himself be pushed back onto the couch of his hotel room, and let Nathan touch him all over. It’s hot and familiar, and to be honest, JR is horny as hell. He wants Nathan. He wants to touch and kiss and lick Nathan. He wants to crawl all over him, and inside him, and just stay there a while. But JR has stuff he needs to discuss. He’d wanted to wait, wanted to put off this necessary discussion, but he knows he can’t. That he won’t be able to ignore the anger still simmering under the surface of his skin. Nathan had been released from the dorms, had packed up his stuff and then come straight to JR’s hotel room. JR had answered the door smiling, and been met with a kiss. Things had gone quickly in the direction of thank-God-the-Olympics-are-over-Silver-Gold-Gold reunion sex. It’s hard to stop the forward momentum.
“We need to talk,” JR says pulling away from Nathan mouth, face flushed and breath just barely labored.
Nathan nods, looking resigned. He wipes at his mouth, lets JR go without complaint, and sits back into the corner of the couch. “About Apolo?” he asks, scrubbing at the back of his neck, tension filling his shoulders, all the previous relaxation bleeding away in seconds.
“No. About us. When have I ever given you any indication that I would cheat on you Nathan? We’ve been together almost two years! And yet you still act like I’m going to drop you the first time Apolo calls me.” JR shakes his head, watches Nathan’s head drop forward, eyes staring at the scuff marks on his white sneakers. “Nathan?” he says softly. Nathan raises his eyes, looking over at him with tired eyes. “When are you going to understand that I’m in love with you? Not Apolo?” he asks.
“You were in love with him. You can’t deny that, JR,” Nathan replies. JR studies his face. Doesn’t Nathan know? Doesn’t he get it? After everything they’ve gone through?
“I’m in love with you, Nate. I cared about Apolo, I always will. But at least 35 percent of the infatuation I had for him during the year we were together was based on who he was on the ice. I wanted to be him. It made me think my feelings for him were more than they really were. I never moved in with him Nathan. I never told him all the things I’ve told you. The things I haven’t told anyone else. I never took him home to meet my family as my boyfriend or let him fuck me without a condom. Jesus, Nathan!” JR says, and he has to turn away as he swipes at his eyes. He can’t look at him. “I never flew halfway across the world to be there for him, or worried about what was going to happen when we had to be separated for months at a time.”
JR doesn’t react when he feels long arms slide around his shoulders, tugging him back against Nathan’s chest.
“I don’t know why I get that freaked out about him. I just…” he sighs. “There’s something about him…”
“What?” JR asks turning to look at him.
“He just seems like he’d be a better match for you than I am. Like the two of you would work so much better than we do.”
“Are you insane!? The only things he and I have in common is a hometown and a sport, which he’s now retired from, by the way. You and I have Washington in common, Cal in common, music and movies and books in common. You went to the Olympics and texted me every day. He went on a media tour and I was lucky if I got a text once a week!” he shakes his head. “He’s not what I want. You are.” Nathan closes his eyes, pressing his face into the side of JR’s neck.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” he says quietly, tugging JR back into his body and winding his arms around him tighter. “I shouldn’t have reacted that way. You didn’t do anything wrong. I shouldn’t have acted like you did.”
“OK. Apology accepted, but Nathan,” he pulls away from Nathan to turn and look at him face to face again. “You need to be able to trust me. You need to be able to talk to me. Even if… you maybe can’t see me all that often.”
“What are you even talking about?” Nathan asks genuinely confused. JR frowns.
“I’m saying that things won’t always be the way they’ve been the last two years. That there is going to be times when we aren’t together full time. And we have to be able to trust each other.”
“I don’t know why you’re worrying about it so much JR. I’m going to see you all the time! You think I don’t know you should be in SLC right now? That I’m not aware of that? Of course I am. Your ankle is healed. Summer is prime conditioning time. You should be in Utah in heavy training. Instead you’re here!” Nathan replies. JR presses his hands to his face, sinking back down to sit on the couch. Nathan sits down in front of him on the coffee table. “JR?” he says quietly.
“I wanted to be with you,” he replies.
“I’m glad about that. But I also understand what it means. Now it’s your turn and I’m coming along for the ride. Yes, I want to go to Rio. Yes I plan to keep swimming for at least the next four years. But, JR… you’re important too. And I was thinking maybe I should scale back for a year or two. I don’t have to go to Worlds next year. It’s not Worlds that makes a swimmers career. It’s Olympic medals. It’s one of the things I like about your sport being a winter Olympic event. It means that neither of us is going crazy with training at the same time. We get to take turns.” Nathan proclaims all of this like it’s a done deal. Like there’s no further discussion to be had.
“You can’t just pack up and leave Cal to follow me to Utah!” JR says, crossing his arms over his chest.
“There are pools in Utah aren’t there? Besides prolonged training at that altitude can only make me faster,” Nathan smiles as he says it. “I figure while you’re out of the country at the World Cups, I can take a couple weeks of training back at Berkeley.”
“You’re serious about this?” he asks. Nathan slides to the edge of the coffee table, his knees bracketing JR’s thighs, and pulls him closer by his t-shirt.
“I love you. I’m not about to give you up for the next year and a half. Not when I don’t need too.”
“I just,” JR trails off, unsure how to word what he wants to say.
“Do you not want me to come?” Nathan asks, his forehead creasing with worry.
“I just don’t want this to be a mistake. I don’t want you to give up your spot at Cal and then 6 months from now we break up and,” Nathan cut him off.
“Hey,” Nathan says, tugging him closer again. “You planning to break up with me?” he asks. JR shakes his head, rolling his eyes. “Relationships take work sometimes. If I love you more than swimming, and I do,” he whispers, “than isn’t it my choice to make? Besides you can’t tell me you didn’t give up some of the time you should have been training, at least in part, for me,” he replies. JR looks away. Nathan’s arms slid around him, pulling him slowly closer to the edge of the couch. “Go to SLC when you get home. Start training. I have some stuff to take care of, some things to wrap up. And then I’ll meet you out there.” JR must look shocked, because Nathan smirks at him. “You think I didn’t notice you had yet to sign up for any fall courses? I do pay attention, JR!”
“I just didn’t want to distract you right before the games,” he explains.
“I appreciate that. But the Olympics are over, at least for me. And if you don’t get out to Utah soon, they’ll be over for you before they even begin.” JR nods, reaching out to pull
Nathan’s mouth to his. He kisses him for a minute, tongues tangling, and hands gripping. But he breaks the kiss when Nathan’s hands start to tug off his t-shirt. He reaches for Nathan’s too.
“You’re going to love the guys. Seriously. You’ll get on great with them all,” he replies.
“I’m going to feel like the jolly green giant tall!” Nathan says laughing. JR shakes his head, dropping the black Team USA shirt to the floor and letting his eyes roam across Nathan’s bare chest. His muscles are more defined now than they’d ever been before, and JR’s a little entranced.
“Nah,” he says absently, reaching out to trace the ridges of Nathan’s pecks and down the line of his stomach to feel the bumps of his abdominal muscles. Nathan watches his distraction with amusement, while reaching for JR’s jeans.
“Oh?” he asks. JR blinks at him.
“Oh yeah, I’m like the second shortest guy on the team. Travis and Simon are both over 6 feet,” he says, lifting his ass to let Nathan pull his jeans down. Nathan grins.
“I’m still going to be a foot taller than everybody else!” he laughs. JR shrugs.
“Give them two extra inches for skate blades,” he says, standing up off the couch, he tugs Nathan into a standing position. “Come on, I’m not having reunion sex on a couch. Not when there’s a big bed right there to roll around on!” Nathan follows him laughing to the bed, hands going to the button of his cargo pants as he walks. JR flops back across the mattress naked and watches Nathan shuck his pants and underwear before climbing onto the bed to stretch out beside him. “You know if you move to Salt Lake, everyone’s going to ask why,” he says softly, shuddering a little as Nathan presses his body in his own. They fit together so perfectly, JR can barely stand it. Nathan nods.
“So, I’ll tell them. My boyfriend needs to be in Utah so he can try and win some more Olympic bling of his own,” he says with a smile.
“Are you sure? I mean it’s not like we’re in hiding. But announcing it? All your fans and all my fans will know.”
“If they stop supporting us because we’re gay then they’re not real fans are they?” Nathan asks. “Besides everyone else already knows. Our friends, family, teammates, coaches. Hell even USA swimming knows! I told them last year. I now count toward two of their minority groups!” Nathan says with a goofy grin. JR shakes his head laughing.
“I’m just not sure I want to become the gay poster couple for out and proud Olympians. That’s a lot of pressure,” he confesses.
“Who says we have to be?” Nathan asks softly. He presses his mouth to the curve of JR’s jaw. “What do you say when people ask if you have a girlfriend?” he asks, lips dragging in the light stubble growing on JR’s chin. JR purses his lips.
“I either say no, I don’t have a girlfriend, or I say no comment,” he confides. Nathan rolls his eyes.
“See? Word games!” he laughs. “It’s no one’s business, JR. We just say no comment.” JR rolls his hips against Nathan’s, winding arms and legs around Nathan and tugging him down and in closer.
“You better stop talking or I’m going to have a comment of my own to make and you’re not going to like it.” There’s really no more reason to argue after that.
Now that Nathan’s officially done with racing, and officially moved out of the dorms, they have a lot of time to just enjoy London and the Games as fans. Nathan still has the occasional interview, but most of the immediate focus is on Phelps, so it’s not too hectic. When they finally pull themselves out of bed it’s to shower and get dressed. They do some light sightseeing and then meet the Adrians for a nice family dinner. They’re all so happy and relieved that it’s easy for JR to forget he only has a few days with Nathan before flying back to the states.
Sunday night, Nathan drags him out to a club. Apparently it’s Ryan Lochte’s birthday and so most of the team is going to be there. Flashing a medal means getting in free, but Nathan’s recognized even without his so it’s pretty easy to skip the line.
It’s always fun to watch Nathan dance. He’s so tall, and his limbs are so long, that he always sort of looks like an octopus stuck in a blender. With that many tall American Swimmers in one room, it looks sort of like a crop of seaweed waving in an ocean current. JR might have had too much to drink.
He ends up being surrounded by and collectively cooed over by several of the female swimmers on the team before being rescued by Anthony Ervin, who while considerably shorter than Nathan, still towers over JR. He’d started training with the Berkeley team about a year before, and JR knows him probably best of all the other male Team USA swimmers after Nathan.
“Dude, don’t let them gang up on you like that, you’ll never get away. I know I’ve taught you better than that!” Anthony says with a grin. He drinks from a water bottle and JR’s eyes go to his sleeve of tattoos. Anthony’s tattoos have always fascinated JR. “Thinking about getting another one? Or a dozen?” Anthony asks. JR nods.
“Yeah, I’m still thinking about what I want to get next. I’m a planner, not too spontaneous,” JR explains. Anthony eyes him a little as if considering and nodded.
“Sort of sounds like you to be honest. But when you start coming up with ideas, I’d be happy to lend an opinion. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I am pretty experienced and I love seeing other guy’s art!” he says over the music. JR nods grinning up at him.
“Yeah! Definitely! Most of my buddies aren’t real big on ink,” he explains, before jumping a little as long arms slide around his waist. It takes only a few seconds to relax backward into Nathan.
“You ready to go?” Nathan asks. JR shrugs turning to look at him head on.
“It’s your party,” he replies. Nathan grins, he tosses his sweatshirt over one shoulder, then throws his arm around JR’s shoulder.
“I’m ready to go,” he nods toward the door. They ignore the cooing noises Tony makes at their backs as they wind their way through the crowd toward the door.
They make the best of their three days. They go to different events, play tourist, drink too much, and eat too much, and walk too much. And every night they fall into bed together and make up for lost time.
JR wakes up early the day he is set to leave London. He wakes up before his alarm is set to go off, before the sun has even come up. He wakes up to Nathan stretched across his back, using his far shoulder as a pillow, one long arm wrapped around JR’s waist like a superbly tanned and muscled belt. JR closes his eyes and snuggles his head back into his pillow, and feels a puff of warm air across his shoulder.
"Don't go," Nathan whispers quietly, tightening his arm around JR's waist. JR grins into the pillowcase.
"I have to," he says quietly. He rolls in Nathan's arm turning over to face Nathan in the early morning light. "I'll see you soon."
"Promise?" Nathan asks. JR laughs.
"Yes, I promise."