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Title: Tie My Hands (8/?)
Pair: Phelps/Lochte
Rating: pg13 (...as the angst goes up, the porn goes down...)
Summary: Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte? They were the best worst-kept secret of the swimming world. And Michael didn't like it.

THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS

Tie My Hands, Part 1: When Hilary Wants To Throw the Calender Away.
Tie My Hands, Part 2: When Michael Starts Running.
Tie My Hands, Part 3: When Ryan's Stomach Doesn't Cooperate.
Tie My Hands, Part 4: When Michael Runs Into His Past.
Tie My Hands, Part 5: When Ryan Realizes Kyle Might Be Onto Something.
Tie My Hands, Part 6: When Michael Hits the Downward Spiral.
Tie My Hands, Part 7: When Ryan Goes Through the Looking Glass.




Tie My Hands, Part 8: When Michael Shuts It Down


When the alarm goes off at six Friday morning, Michael has already been awake for the last hour, watching the ceiling change from shadows through a lightening gray to the soft orange of sunrise.

He's been counting Ryan's breath. For an hour.

Normally Michael would lay in his bed at meets and go over his races. The blank canvas of the ceiling becomes a monitor for his mind's eye and he counts strokes, does turns, relives and preps. Not this meet. Nothing has been normal this meet.

Ryan's breathing stutters into a noise; sheets rustle as he turns over.

Michael reaches out and turns off the alarm without taking his eyes from the ceiling, searching for his strokes and his turns and anything that could take his mind from the circle of Ryan, Ryan, Ryan that its been swimming since he woke up. Since he went to bed. Since he let Erik up off the couch the night before.

This was it. Ryan was moving in the other bed, a stop-and-go of slow stretching that Michael knew. Legs, feet, and then shoulders, arms; he didn't have to see it to see it. Ryan would stretch and wake up and he would say something

it wasn't serious anyway, dude, no sweat

and Michael would be able to stop thinking about it, stop losing sleep over it, stop losing races over it. He tapped fingers against the starchy sheets. Cracked his big toes against the mattress. His attention was drawn to the other bed when Ryan sat up, eyes still only half open, legs crossed. Michael was holding his breath.

Ryan scratched himself through his boxers. The left corner of his mouth rose into a ghost of a smile. Then he slid off the edge of the bed, stood up, and stumbled into the bathroom. Michael heard him start to piss. He breathed out and closed his eyes.

Twenty minutes later Ryan bumped the bed and woke him from a light doze. "Shower's yours."

Instead of telling Ryan what he’d wanted Ryan to tell him—that there would be no more sex in the pool, no more sex anywhere, no more shared practices, no more surfing, and most of all no more letting anything come in the way of swimming, Michael just nodded and got up.

They walked down to the lobby together, Ryan chatting about the things he wanted to see in Rome

we can go to the Coliseum, man. Like, jeah, guys fought lions there. Can you even imagine?

while Michael didn't really listen. He had one earphone in, it was the ear on the other side of Ryan. He tried to pay attention to Eminem and count through his split times for the medley while Ryan made sword noises out of the corner of his mouth.

Coach Gregg was in the lobby, along with Mr Lochte and a few Gators. Michael welcomed the distraction and sat himself in the far corner sofa, plugging in his other earphone and drowning out the world.

24.5 Fly

28.5 Back

33.2 Breast

27.0 Free


Those were numbers on the paper folded in his wallet. Split times he wanted to put down for the 200 IM in Rome and he'd never felt so far from a goal before.

"Let me see your paper."

Michael had looked up, blackberry in one hand, fork in the other. They might have been at Stanford, but that didn't mean that the newly-picked Olympic team got a life. As far as they were concerned, Palo Alto might as well not exist. Michael relied on the internet for updates about the outside world. "What?" he asked around a mouthful of spaghetti.

Ryan turned a chair around backwards and straddled it. He'd eaten with Grevers, Jones and Tobriner-Wilder like he was just another noob. Not that Michael cared; he'd sat down with Ian, Aaron, Erik and Natalie. It was nice to believe that there weren't cliques on the Olympic Team, that they were One For All and All For One... And while that mentality did apply, it was really only when they were on deck. Otherwise they all sort of broke off into their respective groups and that was just that.

"Your goals." Ryan wiggled his fingers and reached for Michael's back pocket, getting a fork to the chest for his trouble. "Hey!"

"Hey, what?" Michael took another bite of lunch—the rest of his table was already gone—as Ryan brushed at the four orange dots on his tshirt. "That's my personal stuff."

"Big Bob knows." Folding his arms on the back of his chair, Ryan settled his chin on them. Michael glanced over as he chewed.

"Bob's my coach."

“Bob will sorta be my coach soon. For some of the time." Ryan smiled and shrugged without unlacing his arms or raising his head. "So, dude. Come on."

Michael shook his head. "Despite that well-developed argument," he snorted, "I'm still going to have to say no." He took another mouthful and chewed into the silence between them until Ryan spoke up.

"I bet Matt would show me his." He had a crooked little smile on his face, his eyebrows lifting as if making it a challenge.

The table Ryan had come from were all still there, spread out like they owned the place and eating slow. Michael glanced over at them; he didn't know Grevers very well, had only run into him at a handful of meets and could only pick him up of a line-up because—well, look at the guy. They'd done their ice-breaker activities and Michael had seen him toss Katie Hoff into the pool a few times, but aside from that he didn't really have an opinion about him.

Honestly, Michael wasn't here to make friends. This was about being a team, it was about swimming. It wasn't about getting numbers and hanging out after all was said and done. Camaraderie wasn't friendship—though that was a line that Ryan obviously failed to see.

Michael looked at him. Ryan's cheek was on his forearm, his hair sticking almost straight up in dirty gold ringlets since he hadn't bothered with it after toweling down once they got out of the pool. "So you show me yours I'll show you mine?" Michael dropped his fork onto his plate and took a long drink of water.

Ryan lifted his head and shrugged. "I don't have a goal list." He reached out and grabbed the half piece of garlic bread Michael had left and dragged it through the sauce on the otherwise empty plate. He pushed the whole thing into his mouth.

"I wasn't talking about a goal list," Michael said, voice low.

There was coughing and Ryan covered a hand over his mouth, leaning to the side of the chair as he tried to choke, swallow and breathe all at the same time. Michael sat back and crossed his arms over his chest until Ryan had managed it.

Shaking his head, Ryan wiped his hands on his shorts. "Beats my idea," he wheezed with a sloppy, happy smile. "Hands down."

"The goal list?" Michael asked as he rose from the table.

"Nope." Ryan said, kicking his chair back under the table. "I was going to suggest basketball."

The question came from behind them and both Michael and Ryan turned to look at the speaker. "Did someone say basketball?" Grevers was looking at them. His bangs were in his eyes.

Ryan beamed. "Dude, yes. Oh." He checked his watch. "Well, like. What about in a half?"

Michael had no qualms about stepping on Ryan's foot.

"Ow, uh. An hour?"

Michael crossed behind him to dump his tray in the trash. He heard the table agree to the time and Ryan said a quick goodbye before trotting over. "You could play too," Ryan said as they fell in step toward the stairs.

"You might be too tired to play," Michael said with a grin.

Ryan flexed and took the stairs two at a time. "Oh baby, you know I got mad skill. Don't hate the playa, playa, hate the game!" Michael chased him up the stairwell and into their hall. Most of the swimmers left their doors propped open—easy come, easy go. Build a team. But Michael had dropped his door off its prop and it slammed closed with its own weight. He backed Ryan against it, palms to cool metal on either side of Ryan's face, and kissed him. Ryan's breath was warm, his mouth slow and demanding.

"You taste like fish," Michael laughed.

Ryan sucked Michael's lower lip into his mouth and scraped his top teeth over the soft skin on the inside of it. "Tuna steak. You taste like garlic. Together we make an awesome salad."

He laughed; they kissed between the sound. Ryan curled his fingers into the sides of Michael's tshirt and tugged him closer. Flip flops were kicked off and Ryan pushed the deck-rough bottom of a foot against Michael's calf as he rocked up with his hips, shoulderblades holding them both up against the door until they were able to make it to the bed.

"Dude, if I drown in the pool..." Ryan breathed out later as he slid off of Michael’s lap. The sheets were on the floor with their clothes and both of them were covered in a thin layer of sweat. Michael mouthed some from Ryan’s shoulder as Ryan dropped onto his back and saw him close his eyes, watched the deep up and down of his chest. "If I drown because I can't use my legs, I'm totally blaming you."

Michael tucked his arms under his head and scratched the back of his neck. "You'd probably be the most annoying ghost ever." He looked off the side of the bed to the jumble of their clothes. The corner of his wallet stuck out from under a shirt.

"I'd be a poltergeist," Ryan went on as Michael rolled himself to the side to reach for the wallet. "Like the movie. Like that big hairy glowing guy who guards the door to the kid's room. With the long legs. That would be me. And I'd totally sit on your couch and get my ectoplasm all over your shit hey what's this?"

Ryan took the folded paper that Michael handed him. The edges were worn into true seams, the corners folded up hundreds of times by accident until they'd rolled or come off altogether. Michael tossed his wallet onto the desk. "It's my goals."

Blue eyes pulled away from the paper held above his face and Ryan looked at Michael before rolling over and sitting up, crossing his legs. His knee rested on Michael’s hip. "Really?" He wasn't smiling and Michael thought it was weird. For some reason it had made him nervous, Ryan not smiling. He nodded.

Michael had never seen Ryan do anything with any amount of reverence—unless speaking in baby-talk to a ping-pong ball before the last shot of a Beer Pong game counted—so it was strange to watch the very nearly careful way Ryan unfolded the paper. His eyes slid back and forth over times that had been written down at the beginning of the year.

The paper was put down on Michael's chest. "Dude. The hundred Fly?" Ryan looked up and Michael nodded again.

"Under fifty seconds is just, like, crazy."

"I can do it," Michael said. He pushed himself up; the paper fell from his chest into his lap. "I can, my times in practice are great. I’m consistently hitting the first wall at 24.03 and Bob’s had me on all this endurance training so my last fifty is getting a lot stronger—“

Ryan's mouth stopped the words, stopped the need-to-convince tone. Michael pulled in a breath and kissed back. He hadn't realized how tight his chest had gotten until he felt himself relax as Ryan smiled against his mouth.

"Dude," Ryan breathed out. "It's good. I am all for some fucking crazy."

They'd missed the basketball game that day.

Michael looked across the hotel lobby where Matt Grevers and Cullen Jones were stepping out of the elevator and onto the polished marble floor. They gravitated toward Ryan where he was talking to a few Gators. Grevers flicked his ear and Ryan laughed, giving him a light punch to the side.

The shuttle couldn't come soon enough. Michael sat back, crossed his arms over his chest and closed his eyes. He didn't need to watch Grevers' transparent attempts at flirting. So what if the guy was good in front of a camera, or was only starting to come into his own in swimming, or smiled almost as much as Ryan did—if just at a lower decibel? Not like any of that mattered. To anyone.

Michael chewed the inside of his cheek and tried to go back to his split times. Too bad all he was able to do was list all of the recent meets that Ryan and Grevers had been alone together at.

SC National Championships

Southern California Grand Prix

Missouri Grand Prix

Austin Grand Prix


The couch dipped under the weight of someone sitting down. Michael opened his eyes and found Ian to his right. His friend's mouth moved but all Michael heard was Marshall Mathers. He popped out his earphones. "What?"

Ian's voice was low. "I'm worried about you."

Sort of out of left field there, but then again, it was Ian. And Ian—like Michael's mother—was versed in worry.

"Uh." Michael shrugged and stuffed his earphones into the pocket of his warmups. "I'm fine."

Ian pushed hair out of his eyes. It was struggling to grow back after the chop he'd given it for Beijing. "You only say that when you're not fine, Michael." It was a sober, unsmiling observation and it caught Michael flat-footed.

"I really am," he said. "I'm just not feeling the water. One of those weeks."

It didn't look like Ian bought that. "That's odd, don't you think? You seem to me to be the one person who always gets it done whether they feel it or not."

The truth in Ian's words stung. Michael shoved both hands in his pockets and slouched back. "Aaron talked to you." Not like he shouldn't have expected it; the Texas-Exs were still as thick as thieves.

"I talked to Aaron," Ian said, making the correction. "Give me a little credit as your friend, Michael. I've noticed that something's been bothering you."

Michael put his head back against the cushions and exhaled. There was a low buzz of conversation in the lobby but it wasn't enough to make their couch feel private. "Yeah, well." He shrugged.

"Don't you think that the best way of dealing with your problems is to actually deal with them?" Ian asked, looking at Michael.

Michael always felt that Ian should get a straight answer; he was just one of those guys who deserved it. No matter what was going on in his own life, in his own head, he was still genuinely concerned. "I don't know, Ian," he sighed. "Probably. But it's not that easy."

"Are you in trouble?" Voice low, Ian had leaned in slightly to keep the words between them.

Suddenly the words were crowded on Michael's tongue, twisted and wanting the vent he'd denied them even though this wasn't the place or the time. Although, he hadn't found the place or time in a week, had he? I don't know what I'm doing, he wanted to say. I don't know why the paper isn't working for me anymore. My life was on a straight line but I stopped paying attention and now I'm lost.

Michael bit the end of his tongue like he could scrape the words off, or the want to speak them away. "No." He stood up and then shifted his weight just enough to snap his flip flop against the bottom of his foot in a quiet stutter of nerves. “Come on.”

It was something about Ian. Aaron was absolutely right about monkeys pondering the meaning of life. And no one was ever immune.

The stalls in the men's bathroom were empty; Michael checked each one. “I just don’t want anyone hearing.”

There was no direct response to that, Michael figured that after locking the door behind Ian it was pretty much rhetorical even mentioning it. He glanced at himself in the mirror before pacing to the other side of the small room and staring at a urinal. Ian leaned his hip against the counter.

If the tourbus had taught them anything (other than they just didn't understand each other's taste in music) it was how to communicate with one another—not that Ian hadn't already had an over-abundance of communication when he'd set foot on the bus. Michael trusted Ian. Counted Ian among his best friends even if they didn't talk as much as they could, even though he could be a little too deep sometimes.

Ian waited until Michael had taken another circuit of the bathroom before speaking up. "Michael. What's going on?"

Michael stopped walking and rubbed the back of his neck. For as much as he'd wanted to say everything just a minute ago, now he didn't know how to bring it up. “I feel like... Like my life had gotten off course?”

A blonde eyebrow raised. “Your life?" Ian asked. "Or your swimming?”

Michael frowned; he didn't see a difference. His arms dropped to his sides. “They’re the same thing.”

Before the words were even out Ian was already shaking his head. “No. I don’t think they are, or should be. If they are perhaps that’s why you’ve done so well.” Ian held up his hands when Michael’s face tightened. “I know you train harder and longer than most of us. So think about that, Michael. Training is not a life.”

“It’s my life,” Michael said without thought—there wasn’t another thought to be had on the subject. He crossed his arms over his chest only to drop them again.”It’s what I do, Ian. It’s what I’ve done forever. Even before swimming, it was sports. I can’t just sit around.”

“I wasn’t asking you to.” Ian pushed his hands into his pockets. “But people change. You’re not that unfocused kid anymore, you know that, right? You overcame that.”

Michael sighed and leaned back against the metal wall between stalls. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “This is what I am, Ian.”

There was a moment where Michael would have pegged Ian’s facial expression as sad, but it was filtered away into something only concerned. “Swimming is just a part of who you are, Michael. People are a sum of their parts.”

Michael snorted and let his head fall back against the metal, closing his eyes to the fluorescents as his face tilted up. “Yeah, well every part of me is tied up in swimming.”

There was a quiet sigh from Ian’s side of the bathroom. Michael was sure that he had more to say on the subject, Ian always had more to say on the subject, but a sharp pounding on the door killed any conversation and both Ian and Michael pulled themselves more upright and waited. When the pounding continued, Ian shook his head again and levered the rest of the way off the counter. He took the few steps to the door and unlocked it.

Jones stood there, hand dropping as the door swung inward away from it. His eyes moved back and forth between Ian and Michael. “Hey. Other guys have to use the bathroom too.” He flashed a smile but Michael looked past it, over his shoulder.

Ryan was across the lobby, watching. As soon as Michael’s eyes met his they dropped. Stayed down.

“Didn’t mean to hold court,” Ian said, grabbing Michael’s arm and pulling on him to get him going. “The shuttle will be here soon anyway.” As Michael passed Jones their shoulders clipped.

“Sorry, Mike.” Jones nodded and kept going, but Michael stood there for a moment longer before he realized that Ian was holding the door, waiting for him. Michael shook it off and caught up.

As they walked back to the couch, Ian was blocking Michael’s view of Ryan. “Maybe we can continue the talk later,” Ian suggested as he grabbed his bag from the floor where he’d left it and setting it on the cushions, choosing to stand.

Michael rubbed a hand over his face and nodded. “I think I’m just probably still getting back into the swing of things. It’s a little strange, being back. Officially. I stayed out of the pool for too long after Beijing.”

“You should think about what you spent those months out of the pool doing,” Ian said. He glanced away as people started filing toward the front doors. The shuttles had come. “Because that might have been your life trying to start.” He patted Michael on the arm and walked toward the doors with everyone else.

Ridiculous. Michael had a life. This was it. Competition. Training for competition. Pushing himself and pushing his sport. Those months between Beijing and the pool had been just time for time’s sake. Because he could. That he had spent so much of them around Ryan didn’t mean whatever Ian thought it meant. Ryan was fun, he was the life of the party... but that wasn’t serious.

This was where he wanted to be, end of discussion. And as Michael dragged his duffel up from the couch and over his shoulder, he decided that he’d tell Ian so the next time he got a chance.

Michael thought he heard Ryan laugh and looked up to see who was the one causing it, but Ryan wasn’t in the lobby anymore. The warm breeze had carried the sound back into the hotel. He frowned and headed for the doors.

The first shuttle was full so Michael got on the second in the line, sitting down next to Eric Shanteau and giving him a smile before sticking his earphones in his ears and turning up the music too loud.

On deck it was easier to ignore Ryan, or at least to have a reason to. Michael kept his earphones in for every step that he didn't spend in the water and no one questioned him. No one bothered him. He stretched out and warmed up and was—for maybe the first time all week—able to drown out everything around him and just focus on his body.

His muscles were tight. His heartrate was a little too high. His lactose wasn't flushing the way he knew it should. He was still out of shape but he knew, rationally, that there was no physical way that he could reach Olympic-shape with just six months back in the water.

Rationally.

But then he thought about the nights spent playing full-contact beer pong with Miller Light.

Michael stood on the side of the warm-down pool before lunch, dripping onto the tile with his index and middle finger on his neck. He might have been seeded 5th in the 100 Free but his time that morning would put him going into A Final later in lane three with Jones to his left. It wasn't the 100 Free he was worried about, he wasn't thinking about the 100 Free.

Heats were over and most of the swimmers had cleared the deck, but Ryan was sitting on the bleachers with a towel wrapped around his waist, head together with Mary Descenza. That didn't bother Michael. What bothered Michael was that for the last hour he'd noticed the way certain male swimmers were flanking Ryan. Grevers, Jones, the Vanderkaays. Sometimes Weber-Gale would take a rotation.

"Are you listening to me at all?" Bob put himself in Michael's line of sight, blocking the view of Ryan and Mary.

Michael blinked and refocused his eyes on his coach. "Yes."

Bob sighed. "Go get lunch."

"I'll go out faster tonight," Michael said, dropping his hand from his neck and reaching for his towel. "I can go out faster."

"Not if you're looking at Ryan, you can't," Bob said under his breath. He put fingers under his glasses and rubbed at his eyes. "Didn't I ask you on Wednesday to drop the bullshit, Michael?"

Towel hanging from his fingertips, Michael stared at Bob. "What?" It was the only word he could get through his tight throat. His tongue suddenly felt thick.

Fingers were removed from eyes so that Bob could give him a level look. "Do you really want to have this conversation right here?"

The thought of it straightened Michael up, snapped his mouth shut. He pulled the towel around his waist and tucked it with fumbling fingers. To stop his hands from wanting to shake, Michael clenched them into fists. Bob knew. Michael had thought... he hadn’t thought. Hadn’t ever tried to picture the day when he told his coach that he was either gay or sleeping with his training partner.

"I know when you've checked out, Michael. And you never even showed up to this goddamn meet.” Bob crossed his arms. “But if you want to sit around making eyes at—"

"Stop it." Michael's heart was smacking against his ribs. He was clenching his towel so hard that his knuckles ached. It was work to keep his voice down.

"This better not carry to Worlds."

Michael grabbed his duffel, yanking it off the bleachers. "It won't."

"How much is your word worth right now?"

The duffel was pulled over his shoulder. "About as much as your opinion," Michael said. He left Bob standing there red-faced and didn’t look back.

Michael didn’t sit and try to socialize at lunch, he just grabbed food and headed back to the hotel room to get some peace and quiet and space. Distance, in this case, did not make the heart grow fonder; the more he thought about what Bob had said, the angrier he got. His food was stabbed with unnecessary roughness, his fork made holes in the styrofoam. Fuck it. Fuck Bob. If he couldn't trust Michael after twelve years of coaching, then fuck him.

He'd swam a decent heat that morning, a full half-second faster than Ryan, so what the fuck did Bob know? Of course that was while he'd still been focused. And despite that it had been a heat, Michael knew that he still should have been able to go out faster.

Bob knew it.

Bob was right. Shit, wasn’t Bob always right in the fucking end?

Michael tossed his empty containers in the trash and pulled the curtains closed. He fell back onto his bed and stared at the ceiling. Visualization, breathing. It was the best thing he could do. It wouldn’t have become habit if it didn’t work.

With the shades drawn it was dark and quiet and Michael didn't have to worry about anything but the times he'd be swimming later. He didn't think about the couch, or how many condoms he'd gone through this week, or the weird look Erik was giving him last night when he'd been leaving. There were just fast times in his head. Paper-worthy times. Ryan wasn’t the problem and Erik wasn't the solution. Michael needed to stop whining and step up to the plate. That was it. That was all.

It was time to show up to this meet. Once he did, the other stuff would fall into place.

Michael closed his eyes and breathed in, and out, and saw his race. Saw the 200 IM.

The butterfly was first; it was a jump from the block with right foot back and a push through the legs, through the toes, and then silence of that first underwater stretch. He felt the way his shoulders pulled back and his hands reached to grab water. He felt the whole motion of his body starting with arms, back, stomach, thighs, and then feet. Paid attention to each muscle. Fifty meters with a touch of 24.5 and the turn. It was tight, fast and then he was under the water until his lungs burned.

The backstroke. Michael's hips rolled and his arms stretched up, feeling every lift of a weight, every pull-up and chin-up and push-up that he’d done to get there, to power through that extension. And he kicked into each twist of his hips to push him through the water while his body was at its most extreme angle and catching the least amount of resistance. He had it at the wall, another stretch of silence, another long burn of lungs.

His muscles were cramping by then; even the best trained muscles have a limit. Michael was used to pushing past it. He’d worked on his breaststroke, worked his inner thighs to get a good kick, worked his back to get the strength to haul him forward while he was out of the water. Fifty meters, touch, turn, kick through the screaming muscles.

The freestyle was hard, harder than most people thought. When it was the last leg of a medley there was the need to go, go, go as fast as possible. And it was a fast stroke but that made it so easy to fall apart. Easy to lose the correct motions in the frenzy, in the way his body was begging him to stop. Michael breathed to the right and he couldn’t see Ryan, only the blank stretch of water to the other side. Fifty meters over in the blink of an eye. Michael hit the wall.

The Natatorium was packed that night. The stands were full and the crowd was noisy. Michael hung onto the edge of the pool, breath blowing hard. Ryan was there to his left already, he was there but it didn’t mean anything because they were always close and this race had been no different. Once Ryan was in the water they were competitors and Ryan pushed him. He’d pushed him tonight.

It was funny how that single second of time between touching the wall and seeing the times could last longer than the final fifty meters. Michael could hear Ryan hauling breath to his side, saw fingers curled over the lane line to hold on as surely as Michael was hanging onto the pool lip.

4 1:54.20 Phelps, Michael 2

He saw it. The time was better than the record he’d set in Beijing. Michael heard Ryan holler from the next lane but didn’t look. Second. How could he be second if he’d bettered his own record?

Ryan grabbed his shoulder and tugged him up against the lane line, plastic rings digging into Michael’s skin. The crowd was loud, was deafening, was oppressive, but he could still hear Ryan laughing against his ear over the roar. Michael sank into water when he was released and looked at the board again.

5 1:54:17 Lochte, Ryan 1

Michael stared at the numbers. It was like being back underwater. Things were slow, smooth, silent. Sounds slid around him. Everything slid around him. Michael found the edge of the pool, half pulled himself up before sinking back down and heading toward the ladder. Somebody clapped him on the shoulder as he passed. Somebody told him good race.

He wished he was still visualizing. Sometimes he would imagine worst-case scenarios, just to see how he could have done things differently. But there was nothing tonight. The quicksand had gone, somehow, because he’d told himself to get on with it. Just that easy.

Except it hadn’t been, had it? Not with a 47.9 third place behind Jones and Weber-Gale in the 100 Free even though it was a good time, not with a 1:54.20 second behind Ryan even though it was his best.

Michael spoke to the press. Practiced words rolled off his tongue without thought, perfect words for the moment that didn’t sound bitter or angry. He was proud of Ryan. It was great to have competition. There was always Worlds, etc, etc, etc. Had to look good for Speedo, for MasterCard, for the US Swimming Foundation.

But Ryan looked better, didn’t he? Looked better even though he was saying like and you know in every sentence, even though he laughed all the time, even though he came off having all the wisdom of a twelve year-old stoner. But he'd beat Michael Phelps and that was all that mattered.

He'd beat Michael Phelps.

Michael threw his duffel down in the corner of their room and kicked off his shoes. He was glad for the quiet, glad to be away from the reporters and the well-wishers and Bob who'd actually looked pleased for the first time since Monday. Michael was infinitely glad to have a door between himself and his coach. He fell onto the couch and laid his head back, closing his eyes. What a fucking night. He exhaled.

The couch cushion buckled to the left under a second weight and Michael was shifted to the side with the dip. He tensed. Warm lips pressed to his neck, light, slow and Michael's back teeth clenched together. "I'm tired," he said, raising his head and elbowing Ryan away. Biting back what he really wanted to say, what he was too fucking scared to say.

I need this to be over.

Ryan was cross-legged on the couch next to him, he'd sat back with the elbow. He lifted a hand and rubbed his hair. A few drops of water fell onto his shoulders. "So. I've been thinking lately, like just in the last few weeks or whatever."

Michael was suddenly attentive. He sat up a bit.

"So. I think. That, uh." Ryan stopped and smiled. Michael nearly shook his head, his heart sticking to the bottom of his throat, because that look was back—that quiet look from the other day that made his heart beat too hard, the look that made his hands sweat. Ryan laughed and the sound was embarrassed, would have been cute, if Michael didn't feel sick.

"I think that we should..." Ryan shrugged. "I think we should be, you know. Boyfriends."

Michael stared at Ryan and wondered if he'd heard him wrong. Because just yesterday Ryan had just caught Michael having sex with Erik and normal people did not take that as a cue to ask about a monogamous relationship. "Are you stupid?" he blurted out.

The smile on Ryan's face slid, dropped, but managed to hang on by the corners as if deciding whether he meant what he'd said. Michael saw Ryan's adams-apple bob before he reached out and smacked Michael in the arm with a quiet laugh. "Dude, shut up. I'm serious."

It had been two weeks—more, this had been building for a month. Michael was always with Ryan. He was in the pool with Ryan, out of the pool with Ryan. If Michael wasn't in Florida than Ryan was in Maryland and his mom and his sisters, they all looked at Ryan in this way that made Michael feel totally out of control. He felt out of control. Not even the water was a safe haven anymore and that left him with nothing. No wonder he'd had such a hard time putting it aside and focusing in the last few days; he couldn't take a breath, couldn't step back.

Michael had thought that coming back to a big meet after months of being dry would finally help put his head back where it had been before Beijing, but it didn't. It was different now. And he only knew one thing that had changed.

There was a laugh. Michael laughed because the whole thing was ridiculous. Because he'd spent a week thinking about ditching Ryan and Ryan wanted to pin him. "No. No way."

Ryan was staring at him like he didn't understand the words or what they meant, still almost smiling. He shook his head. "Why—dude, we're totally good together. And we've kinda been together for like two years anyway, so—"

"So you wanna go on a date?" Michael wasn't smiling back. This wasn't just ridiculous, it was stupid. "Go pick out promise rings or something?" He pushed himself off the couch and away from Ryan, giving himself some space.

"No." Ryan's words followed Michael even though Ryan didn't. "It's just like, two years. I thought that we were—"

Michael turned. "That we were what?" He snorted. "Soul mates? That we'd get married and live happily ever after?" It was almost an echo of Erik's words from the airport, the joke, a rumor. Michael rubbed his arms before crossing them over his chest.

"No," Ryan said. His tone was flat. Hurt was written clear on his face, his eyebrows pinched toward each other and the corners of his mouth down. "I didn't say that. You don't have to put words in my mouth."

"Then get some common fucking sense!" Michael said. "What the hell would you do with a significant other if not plan for a future?" Michael's future was the pool. He had six years, at least. He had another Olympics. He had endorsements and clinics with kids and promotions of the sport and shit that just did not synch up with boyfriend. "This isn't working, Ryan."

Ryan had uncrossed his legs and put his feet on the floor. He sat at the edge of the couch and his fingers gripped fabric. "It worked for two years."

"You keep saying that," Michael snapped out. "Two years, two years, who the fuck cares? Maybe it was working then," and he could hear his mom asking if Ryan was coming for Christmas, in that way that meant she already expected it, "but it's not working now."

"Why?" Ryan rubbed at his knee. "Nothing's changed."

I have. Michael took a breath. I've changed. Say it. He swallowed. “I’ve changed.”

Silence gathered after that, settled between them like a third person. Ryan finally spoke around it. "So." He looked at his hands and then back up at Michael. "You just don't want to be a couple."

Michael's hands rose and then fell, smacking against his thighs. The sharpness of the noise made it loud in the quiet. "No, Ryan. How dense are you? I don't want to be anything with you." There. There it was. And Ryan was silent. Just sitting there watching him. His blue eyes made Michael itch, they made him angry. "What?" he finally snapped. "Which part of that don't you understand? It's not working, being together, and even if it worked before it was never anything important. I don't want to be with you."

The silence that followed Michael's raised voice was even deeper than the last. Ryan didn't respond. He crossed his arms over his chest but it only looked like he trying to hold himself up. It made something knot in Michael's stomach. "I just thought you were worried about Worlds," Ryan murmured.

"I am," Michael said. "I am because you might crawl into bed with me. Or want to have sex in the middle of the week, goddamnit, Ryan. This is our lives. Do you not fucking think at all? Do you not care?"

When Ryan didn't speak up Michael kicked a suitcase over; it hit the wall with a bang and opened enough to spill clothes onto the floor. And he wanted to keep going, to hit something else, because his chest was tight and his heart was racing.

Ryan hadn't even flinched, though. "I care." It was quiet.

"What?"

"I said that I care." Ryan sat up, looking over at Michael. "I care. I fucking care! Just because I don't throw my goggles you don't think I care?" His arms had come uncrossed and one hand twisted into the leg of his shorts. Michael noticed that Ryan's knuckles were white.

"Crawling into bed with me during a meet, Ryan," Michael sniped. “What the hell were you thinking?"

Ryan pulled his hand off his shorts, frowning. "I don’t know."

"Because you don't think. You never think." Michael turned away from Ryan. He used a foot to shove the suitcase back against the wall, the clothes back toward the suitcase.

"I do think." There was the sound of motion and Michael turned back to find Ryan standing. His hands were fists at his sides. "I think that you're whining about losing one stupid race." Anger was a flush of heat that crawled up his neck and Michael stalked toward Ryan. He stood his ground and looked mutinous, full lips compressed into a straight line. "I think that you don't know how to lose anymore."

Michael used his inch on Ryan to hedge in and loom. He wanted to do something to shut Ryan up. His palms itched.

"I think you're just, you know." Ryan lifted his chin. "Putting the blame on me so you can deal with not being Captain fucking America anymore, right? I won. I beat you." The words came faster as Ryan went on. "And for real, I've been happy for you every time you won. Cause you're an awesome swimmer. But you know?" The momentum stopped; Ryan bit back whatever he was going to say and shook his head. "Sometimes you really suck."

Michael could feel himself getting red. His throat was constricted. "And you never give a shit if you lose. Just a race." His voice soft, and hard. "You'd rather be surfing or skateboarding or partying."

"Swimming is fun, Mike. It's supposed to be fun."

"Don't tell me what it's supposed to fucking be, Ryan." Mike poked him in the chest. "It might be a game to you, something you feel like doing when you want to show up, but swimming is my life. It's important. It is the most important thing. And I'm through with this, Ryan. I'm through with making stupid choices because of you."

Ryan hadn't responded to the physical threat, but blue eyes rose when Michael stopped talking. "Yeah, stupid choices. I didn't make you sleep with Erik."

Michael's lips thinned. "You're right. It was my choice to fuck Erik. I wanted to. I fucked him on Monday, too. At the airport."

Ryan paled under his tan. He took a step backward, stopping when he hit the couch. The air conditioner hummed to sudden, loud life. Ryan looked at it and then back to Michael. "So that's it?" His voice was tight. Weird. "Like, just like that?"

"Just like that," Michael echoed. He crossed his arms over his chest to keep his hands from shaking. Ryan's hair was still wet from the showers and it made the collar of his tshirt damp, dark. Michael knew that it would be warm if he touched it, heat soaked up from skin. He waited for Ryan to walk past him but Ryan stopped shoulder to shoulder. Michael could feel that heat. His arm broke out in goose bumps.

"I stood up for you," Ryan said, quiet. Michael's gaze jerked over but Ryan wasn't looking at him. "Guess I am stupid, huh?" Blue eyes raised and held Michael's for a brief moment before Ryan shook his head and walked away.

Michael was still standing in the same spot when the air conditioner turned off minutes later. In the new silence his heart was the only thing he could hear.



Tie My Hands, Part 9: When Ryan Feels Like a Chew Toy.

Comments

( 38 comments — Leave a comment )
tragycbeauty
Feb. 8th, 2009 06:01 pm (UTC)
Excellent. From the flashback to Michael being jealous over Matt to Ian trying to be a voice of reason to Bob to the end. The race though... wow. That was amazing. I also liked this little piece of alliteration: the Texas-Exs were still as thick as thieves. It just rolls off of the tongue.
And for the record, your Ian is perfect.
caelumi
Feb. 11th, 2009 12:08 am (UTC)
#^___^# Thank you. On all accounts. (I guess I really will have to write that Ian/Aaron story now, lolol...)

My lovely editor did say to me that they aren't really "exs," but I swear that I've heard that before. Have you heard it? Texas-Exs? Or did I just make up a new term for the post-grad Longhorns? Ha~
tragycbeauty
Feb. 11th, 2009 01:37 am (UTC)
I thought that I had heard it before, so I looked it up and apparently the Texas Alumni Association is referred to as the "Texas Exes." I am completely tickled by that and now I wish that my school had a cool name for alumni.

By the way I still totally support you writing an Ian/Aaron story haha
caelumi
Feb. 12th, 2009 12:46 am (UTC)
Dude! You made my day, hahahaha! *does a little dance* I'm so glad to know that I'm not making up random shit. ^____^
24ko
Feb. 8th, 2009 06:04 pm (UTC)

AHHHHHH!

It happened! Man, I so waiting for someone to hit someone else (preferably Ryan hit Michael, but that wouldn't happen). Gosh. Very excited to see where it goes from here and how things'll be resolved! (Do I really have to wait till next week?)
caelumi
Feb. 11th, 2009 12:10 am (UTC)
Ryan definitely wouldn't hit someone else, but yanno, he's got all those overprotective friends... LOL. <333 Thank you! And yes, you do. ~_^ For my own sanity. Gotta stay ahead of the editor.
entropygoddess
Feb. 8th, 2009 06:34 pm (UTC)
OMG so well done. My heart's racing and I haven't even been in the pool.

Am beginning to think the "happy" ending would be fic!Ryan goes off into the sunset to share a huge bed and a happy life with Grevers, Jones, PVK and the rest, because it's hard to see how fic!Michael is going to get his head out of this b.s. mindset he's in... Even with your part 1, I'm still not certain where you're going with this and I LOVE THAT.
caelumi
Feb. 11th, 2009 12:15 am (UTC)
<333 I love that you're always so spot on with your comments. ^_^ Thank you!
darklyscarlett
Feb. 8th, 2009 07:55 pm (UTC)
Once again, you've roused me from the lurker's lair. This chapter is frighteningly good. The breakup scene in particular -- I appreciate the fact that they're total guys about it (the thing that bothers me about most slash fic is that dudes tend to morph into chicks).

Love that with Ryan's boys, it's on like Donkey Kong now: the shoulder block by Cullen, and the protective phalanx gathered around Ryan. MP really needs to keep an eye out for a Kyle-angel ambush.
caelumi
Feb. 11th, 2009 12:19 am (UTC)
It makes me very happy that they come off as guys about the fight; I try hard not to fall into that slash-trap of feminizing men.

As for it being on like Donkey Kong... totally is. Totally is. ^_________^ <33
sexy_cheetah
Feb. 8th, 2009 08:20 pm (UTC)
Awww, poor Ryan!!! I am loving flirty Grevers, and Ryan's new support group. Can't wait for the next chapter!
caelumi
Feb. 11th, 2009 12:19 am (UTC)
Thanks! I'm fond of flirty!Grevers myself, lol. ^___^
smellyleaf
Feb. 8th, 2009 08:32 pm (UTC)
*is nearly incoherent*

Okay, I went through like, SIX complete emotional ranges in the course of reading this, some of them more than once.

Amusement when Michael said the thing about showing and Ryan choked on the bread. Happiness when they had their little banter about basketball. EXTREME JOY when Michael showed Ryan the paper and they kissed and all that and just thinking about it makes my heart hurt now.

A little tinge of pain when Michael saw Ryan looking at him like that after he and Ian came out of the bathroom. Weird joy at Michael getting mad over Bob basically calling Ryan the bullshit that Michael was supposed to drop. Unease when Ryan won and Michael couldn't even fake a smile. Nervousness when Ryan started to talk to Michael about being exclusive. INTENSE FEELING OF SADNESS AND PAIN OVER MICHAEL'S IDIOCY.

I think this fic is going to literally kill me. I may have a heart attack if Michael breaks Ryan's heart AGAIN. DDD:

But I'd read it anyway. Which says a lot, if you read back through my giant comment.

Hmmm, I meant to say that I loved this story and couldn't wait for the next part. Hopefully, you somehow got that out of all this.
caelumi
Feb. 11th, 2009 12:20 am (UTC)
<33333 LOL! I hope my fic doesn't kill you. Though I can't make any promises about the state of Ryan's heart. I just write 'em. ^_^
annadraper
Feb. 8th, 2009 10:59 pm (UTC)
OH MY GOD!!!!!!! I can't believe I have to wait another week for the next chapter. Do we really have tooooo? /five year old whine

That was so fucking amazing... so many things to love about it: the confrontation with Bob; Mike losing the race; the bread/paper/laughing sex; the little details in the background describing just how couple-y they've been for two years; the boys circling around Ryan; the break up... you did it all SO well!

Debbie needs to slap some sense into her son ASAP.
caelumi
Feb. 11th, 2009 12:27 am (UTC)
HAHAHA, I totally agree with you on the last. And I have to confess, I love putting Mike and Bob in fights. ^_^

So thank you! *hugs the five year-old* Really glad you liked it.
joylesseyes
Feb. 8th, 2009 11:49 pm (UTC)
This is far too good to be fan fiction.
caelumi
Feb. 11th, 2009 12:28 am (UTC)
##^____^## That makes me very, very happy. Thank you.
lenaorgana
Feb. 9th, 2009 12:24 am (UTC)
I've been reading snippets of this all afternoon as a "reward" for writing a paper and GOD, was this chapter motivation to write!

The beginning wasn't happy per se, but it left me feeling warm and fuzzy inside and that's when I suspected something horribly sad at the end. So I began to brace myself. Between the "awws" I thought when Ian and Michael talked to the desire to hug Jones, Grevers, the Vanderkaays and GWG when they kept checking up to Ryan in the bleachers (and Ryan too, of course <3). Michael's telling Bob off was so humorous that I laughed a bit too loudly and bothered some people in the library (hey, midterm week is over; it's okay). What I felt when Ryan beat Michael is probably best described as glee - what can I say, I have no shame admitting I'm a Reezy girl (who also loves her some Michael). But that jubilation was short lived as that was a huge alarm for DANGER: Michael will not be happy and soon, neither will Ryan.

As much as my heart aches for Ryan, I also feel for Michael. For the pool to play such a huge part of his life for so many years, to feel like his swimming is out of control, I don't blame him for being angry and confused. That said, the man needs to learn some anger management skills and talk it out instead of internalizing all of his feelings like that (though I'm no one to talk on that subject).

I feel like I'm neglecting to mention just one more thing I wanted to say after reading this chapter but I can't think of it at the moment...
caelumi
Feb. 11th, 2009 12:34 am (UTC)
Darlin, are you always in the library?? LOL!

The idea of Michael in anger management classes cracks me up; it's too fun to write him throwing tantrums! Though you're right--he has to get his shit figured out. For the sake of my story I hope he does. -_-

And that's perfect. "I'm a Reezy girl (who also loves her some Michael)."
ivebeenburgled
Feb. 9th, 2009 02:29 am (UTC)
BB. My god. I have tears in my eyes. I NEVER CRY BC OF FIC, OKAY? This is a first. I could not even leave a good comment if I tried.

Ryaaaaaaaaaaaaaan. My heart, my poor heart. *makes grabby hands* I will hug and cuddle Ryan and we will get Ben and Jerry's and make each other feel better.

And you need to fix this. Or I (and my heart) will hunt you down, alright?
caelumi
Feb. 11th, 2009 12:38 am (UTC)
WAHOO! I'm sorry I made you teary (*and gives tissues!*) but I'm a little gleeful too, hehehe. That's such a compliment! ^____^ <3333

I will totally try to fix it! I don't need peeps (and their hearts) hunting me down. Nope.
choklit_latte
Feb. 9th, 2009 05:56 am (UTC)
O.M.G!!! I'm almost embarrassed (almost) at how loudly I squealed when I saw you updated. This story is absolutely amazing. Reezy's boys have his back and I'm loving every minute of it. Ryan's right, sometimes Michael really sucks, and not in that happy, feel good kinda way. Boyfriend better recognize life ain't all about the pool.

I'm hoping the 200IM at trials won't be the last time Ry kicks Michael's ass in the pool. Worlds is gonna be good.
sexy_cheetah
Feb. 9th, 2009 08:01 am (UTC)
Re-read chapter one, bb. Mikey wont be at worlds.
(Deleted comment)
sexy_cheetah
Feb. 9th, 2009 08:04 am (UTC)
Personally, I'm all for Ryan kicking Phelps in the emotional jugular and getting with Grevers.
choklit_latte
Feb. 9th, 2009 08:04 am (UTC)
I was so caught up in Ryan kicking Mikey's ass I forgot about chap 1. My bad.
caelumi
Feb. 11th, 2009 12:39 am (UTC)
<333 Thank you! ^_________^
halfshellvenus
Feb. 9th, 2009 07:36 am (UTC)
Ow, ow, ow! Michael blaming Ryan for all the same things he wants himself (he doesn't turn Ryan down for sex, and he's still bothered when other men flirt with Ryan) is so frustrating and so realistic.

As painful as it was to read, that showdown argument was fantastically well-written.

Waiting for new installments is killing me, especially since they're still in the arc of becoming more painful each time and not less.

Which is to say that I'm totally addicted to this story, and the only thing killing me faster than the arc o' angst is the wiaiting!

Edited at 2009-02-09 07:39 am (UTC)
caelumi
Feb. 11th, 2009 12:43 am (UTC)
<333 Thank you so much. And I'm sorry about the waiting. ^_^ I'm hoping that in a few chapters the whole "healing" bits will begin but... at this point they're writing themselves, so I have to take it at their pace.

And ah! I've been in SUCH a J2 mood lately. Your icon makes me want to go finish my SPN fic instead of writing this, lol!
halfshellvenus
Feb. 11th, 2009 07:45 pm (UTC)
And ah! I've been in SUCH a J2 mood lately. Your icon makes me want to go finish my SPN fic instead of writing this, lol!

:D As far as I'm concerned, there's no "lose" side to that situation! \o/
agape_eternal
Feb. 9th, 2009 09:55 am (UTC)
*thud*

I checked this on my iPod and had to load my sisters computer just to read it full fucking screen.

I cannot even say how much i monumentally HATE Phelps right now, seriously. But, than again, I KNOW you're gonna make this better. Right? Right.

I can't WAIT until the next installment. *tries waiting patiently* Well, gives up on that
caelumi
Feb. 11th, 2009 12:45 am (UTC)
*laughs madly* You ask me all the time if I'm gonna make it better! And all I can ever promise is that I'm going to try, lol. ^_^ <33333
agape_eternal
Feb. 11th, 2009 09:58 am (UTC)
XD jeah, I know, i'm just hoping if I keep pestering you, you WILL.

poor bb Ryan *huggles him close*
swimboys
Feb. 10th, 2009 07:25 am (UTC)
please tell me some how michael quits hurting poor ryan! Beautiful writing just so sad!
caelumi
Feb. 11th, 2009 12:46 am (UTC)
I want Michael to. <333 Thank you!
annadraper
Feb. 14th, 2009 10:03 pm (UTC)
IT'S ALMOST SUNDAY! CHAPTER 9 HURRY, HURRY!!!!!!!

(Why, yes, I have been counting down all week to this. So?!)
caelumi
Feb. 14th, 2009 10:19 pm (UTC)
^____^ *smooshes* Should be early tomorrow, since me and the editor are being all proactive right at this moment!
azewewish
Mar. 1st, 2009 04:01 am (UTC)
Oh, yeah, Mike is SUCH an ever-loving moron. He can't even break up with someone properly. *shakes head*

I do have to give Ryan massive props for bringing up that he beat Mike, too. Even though, seriously, I still think he's a moron for equating fucking around with hey, it's time we got serious.
( 38 comments — Leave a comment )