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:: The Passing of a King Through the Eyes of a Fool. Pieter van den Hoogenband/ Ian Thorpe, Pieter van den Hoogenband/Michael Phelps, Men's Swimming, pg15. Unbeta'ed.

A/N: This is what came from the prompt of "sappy, sweet and optimistic." Uh. It's not. I'm sorry. Actually, it might be one of the more depressing things I've ever written, though I tried to end it on a high-note? Eheh >.> Clearly I have issues.

A/N2: If you like Ian Thorpe, be warned. I don't exactly paint him in the prettiest light here. I mean, holy crap, have you seen how he's let himself go? Don't tell me that's happy-weight.

A/N3: Okay, maybe it's happy-weight.

Pieter remembers Michael from Sydney, of course. Too young, too green, not even grown into himself even though he was already every inch of six foot. The boy had walked around the pool deck like he didn’t understand that he had two legs and two arms and God had intended them all to work in tandem. There was a knee here, an elbow there, and sometimes his lanky middlesection would decide to follow in between.

It had been Ian who'd leaned over and brushed far-from-quiet, laughing words against Pieter's ear during the opening conferences, saying the Americans are tossing tykes into the Olympic pool now. In Australia there are rules about diapers in the water.

Oh, everyone tip-toes around Ian Thorpe, that is how it is. He is the shark, he is the Thorpedo, he knows just what he is because he penned every word of his own celebrity. And the fifteen year-old American should have known better. So what had surprised Pieter was not that Michael had heard, but that he'd admitted to hearing.

Maybe you can change them for me. From the uncomfortable plastic of the press-conference chair next to them, the American's words were quiet and perfectly clear. Ian had made a sound like a cat with a bone in its throat and Pieter had covered his mouth and laughed.

He's never forgotten that first real impression of Michael, a guppy who'd taken a bite of a shark. He never will. Ears too big for his pale face, acne writing his youth in red spots across his cheekbones, but Michael's eyes were calm and dark and when they'd met Pieter's that day across Ian's back Michael had smiled.

Ian hates him, of course. From that moment on, Pieter has watched Ian fawn over Michael, hug him, and pose for pictures with him. Ian is a consummate icon and it is always keep your friends close and your enemies closer. For four years he played Michael up as his American protégé, using the boy's rising star when it helped make him look good and magically dissociating himself when it didn't. It is the media. It is a game that Ian always wins.

Except, by the time they reach Athens they are all different men. Pieter is clinging to the top of his game, Ian already rules the world from Pieter's shadow, and Michael is the one who will crush them all, maybe tomorrow if not today.

Eight golds. Ian snorts the words into the quiet of the hotel room. It is ungentlemanly but Pieter doubts if he cares, seeing as how there are no cameras around. Ian is fickle. He has gotten everything that he'd wanted. Money, fame. Pieter, maybe. And now is going to throw a tantrum because there is a boy taking something that he never wanted at all.

Pieter presses his lips to the back of Ian's shoulder. Surely he can't. It is appeasing, oh God it is almost condescending, but Ian's ego chooses to hear only agreement and Ian turns his head to look over his shoulder. Carefully blonde hair hangs in his eyes; Pieter uses a finger to brush it aside.

Ian frowns. Of course he can't.

He tells the press so, as well. Ian takes their words, Pieter's passive aggression, out of the privacy of the bed and speaks like an ambassador of swimming. He tells the world that it is unrealistic. That it is impossible.

And Pieter watches Michael respond with his clear skin and his long limbs and new, steady height. He sees him smile and charm with his calm, dark eyes. Pieter is charmed. And he believes in Michael when Michael doesn't anger, doesn't retort, steals the media from under Ian's nose. Plays the underdog, becomes the sweetheart.

Now, when Michael climbs onto those blocks and swings his arms with that sharp smack smack smack, now men listen. Now men grow uneasy. Now men will lose.

Pieter is charmed, and again he is hiding his laughter. He wants to toss that American boy on to a pedestal with a sign, Thorpe-slayer. Because he sees it, he sees the destruction of his rival and friend and lover in a pair of brown eyes. In the last four years Ian has given Michael all the tools and shown him just how to hone a fine, cutting edge. There will be blood. It will be a bittersweet elegy.

Six gold medals later Ian knows it too. Maybe he can hear it, along with Michael's name on the tongues of everyone. He is angry, livid, drunk and stinging the air with sharp words. It is unattractive but nothing that Pieter hasn't witnessed before, if in a less acidic note. It is ego and fame, it is not graceful, it is giving your life to something and having it taken away instead of being able to let it go.

Pieter understands. His own hold is tenacious at best and come Beijing he will be past his prime. He thinks about it. They all think about it. Michael will think about it one day as well. Not today, but soon. Things will begin to ache. Training will become an obligation. Meets will be tiring.

He'll feel it soon, he murmurs in Dutch as he spreads across his bed on his stomach, leaving Ian and his mood at the window. It is a skill of years, escaping Ian's moods. A glass of whiskey helps. He feels it. It numbs his own scrape of a victory along with Ian’s dark reflection.

When fingers run up his calf and they're too rough, pressing too hard. He's not that numb. Pieter closes his eyes. He should leave. It is a skill of years he doesn't have, having the personal strength to escape Ian. Pieter rolls over; above him Ian's eyes are bloodshot and ugly. Who said that eyes are windows to the soul?

He reaches out and touches his fingers to Ian's lips. Eyes close and there, for a moment, is the man that Pieter had loved once. Who Pieter had been content enough once to revolve around because he shone so brightly. That Michael has eclipsed him is an irony that is hard to deny. He knows that sometimes there are no words for a feeling, that it can only be screamed and raged. But here in Athens language is no friend to Ian Thorpe. Eclipse is as perfect as Michael's timing.

He kisses Ian and the matching whiskey on his breath is bitter. Ah yes, this is how it is. This is where they are. But Pieter wonders where their undoing is, wonders how he is celebrating his six victories tonight. Surely drinking something less caustic than whiskey. Surely fucking someone, his long, young fingers clutching sweaty skin with no intention of leaving bruises behind.

Pieter has gotten used to silence. The nothing of being submerged, the lack of voice from a sleeping man. Hours later he is looking at Ian's still form, sheets twisted around his legs like hard wake frozen in solid folds. It is always a battle between them. This time, as he pulls on his clothes, Pieter isn't sure who won. He doesn't think it will matter.

The Athens night is thick. The heat pulls and presses and tries to keep him where he is so he lets the crowds carry him to where he wants to be, with Michael. With clear eyes and laughter.

With their undoing.

Ian's. His own. Pieter knows it. He accepts it. He has had his time even though he'll fight for a little longer. And he'll go out more gracefully than Ian because all he's ever wanted for himself is his own best, not someone else’s. Pieter will see Beijing because he wants to. Michael will, certainly, because he can. Ian will, or he won't, as he wants. Because he is fickle and self-absorbed and absolutely positive of his own worth.

Pieter loved that about him. He loves it about Michael.

Tonight Michael tastes like wine. It is sweet and sharp and Pieter is reminded of all the good things that had drawn him to Ian years ago. His greatness, his dedication, the easy way emotion scrawls across his face. Michael still wears his heart on his sleeve because it hasn't started to bleed yet.

Pieter kisses the back of Michael's shoulder and wraps his arms around the boy, pressing a palm over his chest to feel the strong pulse beneath it. Ian would have pulled away but Michael doesn't. He turns in Pieter's hold, too young to know better, too young to not dream as big as he can, too young to think of himself as anything but immortal. Pieter reaches out and touches fingers to his lips.

And Michael smiles.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 29th, 2009 11:26 pm (UTC)
Aw!!! I miss Hoogie something fierce!

Actually, I think it is happy weight. He's (allegedly) been with his man for three years now, and that's all good love he's carrying around his middle. No young single man would let himself go like that unless he's gotten comfortably domesticated.
Jan. 29th, 2009 11:29 pm (UTC)
Well, you're right. Doesn't make me like him, however. ^^;;
Jan. 30th, 2009 01:51 am (UTC)
I don't hate him -- loved him as a swimmer, and friends who've met him say he's not douchey like he comes off. But seriously, dude has to totally stop the asinine press releases denying any of this, whether it's true or not. It really makes him look like an ass.
Jan. 30th, 2009 05:59 pm (UTC)
I can agree with that. With all of it. You have to respect him as a swimmer, so. I like Ian the swimmer. I don't like Ian the celebrity. Heh.
Jan. 29th, 2009 11:37 pm (UTC)
I made a post to ONTD_O yesterday about the weight thing, complete with pics. It was shocking! I wasn't expecting it when I checked out my usual list of gossip sites and there, scrawled all across the page is fat Ian Thorpe. It's sad; I like him, for no other reason than he used to be very fit and has a lovely accent (I am shallow, yes). Buuuut, whatever!

I like your Pieter a lot. :) He's a lot different than the others who have written him as the ever-sweet, victimized Dutchman. Change is nice.

Favorite lines!

Pieter rolls over; above him Ian's eyes are bloodshot and ugly. Who said that eyes are windows to the soul?

He reaches out and touches his fingers to Ian's lips. Eyes close and there, for a moment, is the man that Pieter had loved once.

That's all from me for now... Haha.
Jan. 29th, 2009 11:48 pm (UTC)
^_^ Thanks. I don't know the ever-sweet, victimized Dutchman... don't read much fanfic. Maybe I'll have to try it some time. I can see it--he's got a sweet face. ^^
Jan. 29th, 2009 11:49 pm (UTC)
Oh, this was wonderful and makes me wish that Thoogie would come back.
As much as I love Ian Thorpe, I love seeing him knocked down, and your Pieter was wonderful and sad but not of being pathetic and moony... if that makes any sense.
I always like your sad stories the best, I don't know what that says about me.
Jan. 30th, 2009 06:01 pm (UTC)
*laughs* Ian just sorta makes it easy, I guess. Glad you liked. ^__^ <333
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 30th, 2009 06:31 pm (UTC)
I had a friend who linked me to the pictures, so I don't know what people are saying. *shrug* It's just a shock seeing a man who was in such wonderful physical shape loose that much definition. People will get over it.

And thanks. ^_^ There might be more Pieter/Michael to come.

Also, gotta give the icon props. Eheheh.
Jan. 30th, 2009 03:03 am (UTC)
Still, don't know who any of these people are. And that's totally fine by me. ;)

But, girl, you're on a roll. Yay for you! It's good to see you writing.

P.S. The p-spot always loves you! ;)
Jan. 30th, 2009 06:38 pm (UTC)
*laughs and smooshes* <3333333333

Glad to be writing, and always happy to have you reading. For the intellectual and literary stimulation, of course. ^_^

P.S. Someday soon I'll come and rock the p-spot. I swear it.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )