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Title: Tie My Hands (11/?)
Pair: MP/RL
Rating: pg15 (for mature language)
Summary: Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte? They were the best worst-kept secret of the swimming world. And Michael didn't like it.
A/N: Starting next week I'll be posting in my new fic-only journal, damningevidence. Please make a note!!


Tie My Hands Part 1 //Part 2 //Part 3 //Part 4 //Part 5 //Part 6 //Part 7 //Part 8 //Part 9 //Part 10

Tie My Hands, Part 11: When Ryan Thinks Everything Just Sucks

By Sunday afternoon, Ryan is exhausted. He feels like he could just pick anywhere to lay down and he'd sleep until Worlds. He spent last night in Kyle's room because his was empty and he didn't think that he could take it, but it was a long night anyway. He thought he'd get, like, numb after a while but it doesn't look like he's that lucky.

Ryan rubs his eyes and lets Gregg's door fall shut behind him. Coach decided to suspend Kyle until the end of the year, regardless of the decision that will take a few days to trickle down from higher up. The only reason Ryan can think for Gregg to ask him to sit in today was to try and guilt Kyle into fessing up. Too bad for him that Kyle’s a stubborn asshole.

The stairwell is colder than the rest of the hotel. Ryan doesn't look at the spot where he sat the night before last, doesn’t think about it, just takes the stairs down two at a time until he's pushing out into the lobby and then the afternoon. The smack of his flops echo up off the sidewalk

It looks like it really wants to storm today, a good summer storm, but the weather’s holding out. There are all these low, dark clouds just hanging over the city, eating up the sunlight and sucking the color out of the world. It leaves this sort of gray-brown-yellow in its place, like one big fucking bruise. And that’s pretty appropriate to how Ryan's feeling right now, so, go universe. These past two days have just sucked it in so many ways.

Ryan shoves his hands into his pockets and tries to think about something else, even though it’s pretty much impossible. He’s just dwelling on how it might be from now on, an empty lane next to him in practice, an empty spot in the bed at night, and shit. Shit, shit.

There’s this feeling like, if Ryan’s been drawing out his whole life on a piece of paper, filling it up as he goes along and making, like, a montage of everything important to him, there’s suddenly a space right in the middle of it. There’s swimfins and halfpipes and waves turning into dogs and his family and Florida, New York, snow on the ocean and probably a Gator drinking a beer. And all of that would all fit together to make up him except, bam. Now there’s this blank shape, like someone took some really sharp fucking scissors and cut something out, something that had big stupid ears and huge hands and calluses on it's feet and a tendency to lisp when it got really excited about something. With that missing, nothing else feels like it fits together quite right anymore.

Ryan stops in the middle of the sidewalk. He's a little surprised to find out that under all his exhaustion and pain there's anger.

He is angry.

Mike wasn't some... guy. Some dude that Ryan decided to have, like, a couple years worth of one-night stands with. Morning-afters weren’t sneaking out the door or wanting to pull a coyote ugly and chew off your arm; there were wake up bee-jays and burned eggs with tabasco sauce and wrestling matches for the shower that Herman always wanted in on.

The thing is, wasn’t that a friendship? You’d have to like, take out the bee-jays and awesome sex and whatever, but at the bottom of that was Mike being the guy who Ryan always called first when Carter was looking under the weather or when Devon got some award at school. Sure he called Mike about swimming, too, when he wasn’t feeling it and needed someone other than Gregg to tell him why he spent every morning and afternoon at the pool. But more often he just called him to talk, because talking to Mike always put a smile on his face.

And Mike just stuffed all of that. Like, fuck it. Friendship? Fuck it. Not important, I'm such a fucking big-head and so wrapped up in me and my fucking conquest of the water that I don't need friends. Or not even that, not even that he didn’t need friends. It was that he didn’t need Ryan.

What really sucks—and he’s saying that a lot lately, like he needs to qualify that each new thing actually sucks more than the last, a big fucking ball of suck—is that all those good memories of Mike look a little different now from where he’s standing. And Ryan tries to blame himself but he knows, deep down, that he isn't the one to blame and that's what sucks the most of all. Because he could forgive himself for like, being friends with Mike or even thinking about the L-word. Kind of a no-brainer there. But forgive Mike for what he's done?

That's totally fucking different.

The sidewalk peels away from city streets and Ryan traces it through a small park, following the sound of running water. He wants the beach, he wants waves. In his head he can see sand and hear the breakers but when he gets to the source of the sound in Indy all he finds are concrete sidewalks bordering a wide, sedate river that’s all show and no go.

The feeling is like heartburn, stinging and tight and sitting right at the top of his chest. Ryan yanks his sunglasses off his collar and chucks them into the stupid canal as hard as he can; they hit the water and sink. That’s all. There’s hardly even a splash and now he doesn’t have his sunglasses. And they were his favorite pair.

Ryan sits down in a heap on a terraced section of grass that runs under one of the bridges that cross the canal. He rips some of the green up and lets the pieces trickle back through his fingers. The problem is that he has no fucking clue what to do. Shit, he doesn't even know how to feel, really. He's sad, but being sad makes him angry and being angry makes him feel shitty. So really, Ryan just feels shitty. Totally fucking awesome. He is so not cut out for this shit.

Footsteps make him raise his head and stop his fingers from ripping up grass. Aaron is coming toward him down the slope from the walkway and Ryan looks back down with a shake of his head. "Guess you can't go anywhere in Indy without tripping over a swimmer, huh?" he says. If it were anyone else he might actually tell them that he wants to be alone but being around Aaron has always sorta calmed Ryan down so he doesn't say anything. Maybe he'll get some zen by osmosis or whatever.

Aaron sits down next to him and leans back on his hands, stretching legs out toward the water. "I said hi to you on the street," he says. "I don't think you heard me."

Fuck, well that was rude. Good thing that Ryan has something else to feel shitty about. He glances up. "Sorry."

Aaron shakes his head. He's wearing his glasses, those circle frames that Ryan thinks make him look like a twelve year-old dweeb, but he's had them as long as Ryan's known him so they're just a part of who he is. They tint when it’s sunny but with the sallow light today Ryan can still see his eyes. "Don't worry about it. I just wanted to make sure that you were okay," Aaron says.

Ryan's getting tired of telling people he's okay, mostly because he's totally not okay at all. And he doesn't know if people are asking because of what happened or just because he looks like he's coming undone. "I'm not." Ryan rips up a handful of grass. "I am not okay." He feels bad for laying that out on Aaron because, seriously, what are you supposed to say when someone tells you that? But he's sick of pretending it doesn't matter.

There’s a rolling rumble of thunder but still no rain. Despite the dry spell there aren’t a lot of people braving the outdoors or taking in the sights of the canal. The park’s pretty still, like, both in the air and with the foot traffic.

"I heard Mike left," Aaron says.

It doesn’t matter how private the oncoming storm has made the spot, Ryan doesn't want to talk about how Mike ran away. Because he did, he ran away. Ryan blows out a breath and flops down onto his back, putting his hands over his face. "Dude, I threw my sunglasses into the canal," he says into his palms. He feels like such a fucktard for doing that.

"I come out here sometimes when I'm in town," Aaron says. "I like this park. Man, you would think that I'd be used to cities since all Austin seems to do is get bigger everyday. And even Long Beach was a lot packed into a small spot." He scratches his head. It's almost like Aaron's talking to himself, but Ryan's listening. "But I guess I really am a beach bum, and this is the only place around here with water. I mean, aside from the pool."

"It's different," Ryan says before he realizes he intends to. He drops his hands; the grass is cool on the back of his neck and maybe there's not an ocean but it's okay here, it's not bad. He rolls his head to the side to look at Aaron. "The pool's different."

Aaron nods. "It is." He takes his attention away from the water and turns it to Ryan. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry."

Ryan shakes his head a little. "Dude, there is no reason for you to apologize to me." He crosses his arms behind his head and pushes the heels of his flops against the ground until they pop off his feet. With the storm holding out, it's more his type of humidity today.

"I think we all sorta figured out that something was up with Mike this week. Maybe I should have tried to do more."

"Who's we all?" Ryan asks, but he kinda knows, because he can still see them standing there lined up by Mike on the deck. There's a bitter taste under his tongue for the memory of it. He's a little pissed at all of them but he knows it's so not rational. Ryan just doesn't understand how they all could defend Mike when he was standing there and hurting so bad.

"Everybody," Aaron says.

Oh. Ryan looks over; his toes stop grabbing at grass. Everybody is not the Longhorns minus Garrett. "Everybody?"

Aaron nods. "Well, everybody who knows you guys."

So what Aaron is pretty much saying is everybody who knew that you guys were banging the one-eyed monsters together. Ryan resumes scrunching his toes to pull at the grass. "Great." Couldn't someone have let him in on the secret? "And you couldn't have done anything anyway, dude. I'm pretty sure Mike had his mind made up on Monday. Guess it's good Kyle didn’t get wind till Saturday or it could have been totally ugly all week."

Aaron drops lower, back onto his elbows. "It's not just Kyle; you know that, don't you?" He finds a stone with one hand and tosses it into the canal but it's not big enough to make a sound over the moving water. "Cullen's really pissed. After you pulled Kyle into the locker room Cullen almost started it all over again." Aaron shakes his head. “And I think that Matt would have let him.”

Ryan takes a deep breath; it smells wet and green, and closes his eyes. "I totally feel like Whitney Houston in the Bodyguard."

"You've almost got the hair for the part."

The next handful of grass that was ripped up was tossed in Aaron's direction. "Shut up. You're just jealous because my fro is more awesome than your fro."

Aaron's laugh melts into the sound of the river. The traffic is muted but still there, the passing cars and the buzz of the city and stuff. But there's crickets too, and birds. And the water.

"You know, thanks," Ryan says.

It takes a moment for Aaron to answer back; he’s watching a lone cyclist on the other side of the canal. Finally he turns his attention to Ryan. "What for?"

Ryan shrugs a little, the best he can with one arm still under his head. "Stepping in the middle yesterday. I really didn't want anything like that to happen." He scratches at the back of his head. "So thanks. And sorry."

"It's not your fault, Ryan." Aaron sits up, crossing his legs and rubbing dirt from his elbows. "You don't have any control over Kyle. Or anyone else who decided to stand there."

"Like Ian. Dude, I just can’t believe that." Ryan shakes his head.

"Ian's worried about Mike. His being there for Mike was like, a character-witness sort of thing." Aaron slouches over his legs and brushes at the grass with his fingertips.

"Do you know what he said?" Ryan can’t help himself. He’s curious. He knows that curiosity kills stuff, but he just never seems to learn that lesson. "Because I was sure that Mike was going to punch Kyle back."

Aaron looks up and pushes his glasses up his nose. "I think he said to remember that his mom was sitting in the stands." There is a flicker of a smile that comes and goes from Aaron's face and Ryan has to laugh just a little.

"Mike's not a bad guy," Aaron says.

The obviousness of that stings enough to stop the sound on Ryan’s lips. "I know that. He’s my best friend, Aaron.” He pulls himself up and reaches for his flops. “Was, my best friend." And doesn’t that just fucking suck. He shoves his flops back on his feet, pulling bits of grass from between his toes.

"It's really that bad?"

Ryan pauses and feels the way his shoulders droop. "Yeah," he says, to the ground and then again as he lifts his head and rubs his hair. "Yeah, it is that bad." The details aren't necessary, they’d just make everything messier. Ryan stares at the water, watches a breeze make patterns on the surface.


Okay, so Ian gets made fun of for being, like, swimming's spiritual center. Ian's the guy that people label as the sensitive one. Aaron—and most of the time Ryan thinks their names are mentioned together in one breath like IanandAaron—is just the surfer guy. But Aaron can be a pretty powerful dude underneath all of that unassuming laid-back exterior. Other people might not know it but Ryan does. And when Aaron says his name like that, Ryan listens. He stops pulling at grass, even stops feeling sorry for himself for a minute.

"I've known Mike for a long time." Aaron's fingers are laced loosely together in his lap and he looks totally content sitting there cross-legged in the grass. "He doesn't treat people badly, you know? There’s something that he's worried about, or scared of, and the easiest way to deal with it is to assign it a name and a face. Give it a label."

Ryan frowns. "And I’m that label?"

Aaron looks over and then he nods. "I think so. It's hard for him, man. You and me, we have lives. When we leave the pool we leave it. We catch some waves or skateboard or, you know, whatever. We chill out. But you know as well as I do that Mike goes home and thinks about how he can take a half a second off his hundred fly. And after Beijing his life really changed. I know if I did what he'd done, I'd retire right then. Go out at the top of my game."

Ryan pulls a blade of grass free and rubs it between his thumb and index finger. "Yeah, but Mike doesn't think about it like that. He’s always ready to do one better."

"But it's still a whole lot more pressure than he had before."

And that's true, it isn't just Mike and Bob expecting things from Mike anymore; the whole world is expecting things from him. Ryan’s own popularity has shot up after Beijing, but that’s more like girls asking for pictures and stuff. Facebook stalking. Not people expecting the next impossible feat of swimming from him.

Being reminded of how the world sees Mike is a buzzkill. Ryan rubs the piece of grass in his fingers and thinks he shouldn’t have been able to forget that. That Mike is under like, some insane amount of outside pressure.

Aaron's fingers curl around Ryan’s arm. "It doesn’t excuse his actions," Aaron says. His fingers are warm, like his eyes behind his glasses.

Ryan swallows. He looks up at the outline of city and then back to Aaron. "So you really know what happened. Like, everything?"

Aaron's hand drops away and he blows out a breath. "I was with Pete yesterday and Erik said something.”

Ryan can't help it, he stiffens. And you know what? He's so sick of feeling bad, of rationalizing this shit. It might be hard for him to be well and truly angry at Mike because of some mental or, like, genetic fuck-up on his part but Erik is a totally fine target. "Fuck," he says, getting his feet under him.

Aaron follows him up. "Wait, Ryan. It's not like that."

"What's it like?" Ryan says, his voice too loud but he can't stop it. It's like his volume knob is suddenly busted. "Tell me what it's like, Aaron. Because all I know is that I walked in on Mike fucking him and what am I supposed to think except that Erik went and bragged about it?” He rubs his hands over his face and goddamnit, he wants to yell and maybe cry, all the things that are totally stupid and that he should have done to Mike two days ago because Aaron is only trying to help. Ryan looks up at the heavy sky and just wishes it would rain already. There’s thunder but no lightning.

"It wasn't bragging, Ryan,” Aaron says. “You know Pete." He starts to shrug and maybe thinks better of it, because he stops. “He sort of inspires forthrightness. And Erik was pissed at Mike, man. Pretty pissed.”

Ryan drops his chin. Hadn’t expected that. "He's mad?" And he doesn’t really understand why that would be. After all, rape isn't willing.

"Yeah he's mad. Man, Erik wouldn't touch Mike if he thought you guys were together. He's not like that." Aaron slides his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “I know you don’t really know him that well off deck but he wouldn’t do that if he knew you were together.”

Which had been like, the entire problem. “Well we weren’t. I guess. So.” Ryan crosses his arms over his chest and feels the absence of his sunglasses.

Aaron’s looking at him. Staring at him.


“Really?” It sounds absolutely, like, blown away.

Ryan shrugs.

“No way,” Aaron says. “That’s not right. All your friends, man, we all knew about it. I don’t know what you’re trying to rationalize, Ryan, because seriously. It was what it was. I mean, if you weren’t together, then what were you?”

Ryan looks at Aaron for a couple of long minutes before shaking his head. “I guess that’s like, the million-dollar question.” But maybe the better question is if Mike actually lied to Erik to get him into bed. Or, uh. Onto the couch.

Aaron falls into step with him and they’re heading back toward the city, less real grass and more trees in little square grates. "Maybe Mike just needs time. I know I sound like Ian when I say that, but it really could be true."

Yesterday Ryan might have answered differently. Today he’s just more tired and angry and disinclined to forgive Mike for being an asshole. It’s hard to wrap his head around a few really good years versus a week (okay, or a month) of being a jerk. He’s just sick of making excuses. “I don’t know if time is gonna make it okay, Aaron. Like, how the fuck is him realizing he treated me like shit an okay reason to take him back? He still treated me like shit.”

And that's the worst part. Mike had been, like, a Grade-A asshole for the last handful of days. And Ryan had taken the abuse. It took a while to come around to it, but he knows that he didn't deserve that. If nothing else he was Mike's friend and you don't treat friends like that.

Aaron sighs. "I don't know. I can't defend what he did, but I know he's not really like that. My gut tells me that there has to be a reason. So I'm kinda stuck on the whole thing."

Ryan shakes his head. "Yeah," he mutters, "me too.” If he had another pair of sunglasses, he'd chuck those too. He just kinda wants to throw something in general, to feel like he's doing something even if it's stupid and destructive because that would be better than feeling like he doesn’t know how to feel.

He kinda wishes he had his skateboard with him.

Their flip-flops echo each other down the sidewalk and the air smells like static. There’s a few more people out between the buildings and on the roads but they’re not sightseeing, just tucking their chins and getting to wherever they’re going. “Thanks for stalking me,” Ryan says after about a block in which the only sound is the cars passing them. “Everything still pretty much sucks but it like, helps, you know, to talk about it.”

"You might want to get used to it," Aaron says. "The guys are going to be talking about it. And I think that there’s a mix of bad manners and worry with them that means they’ll probably include you in those conversations.”

Ryan glances up again and wonders if maybe instead of enduring that he could just get struck by lightning. He knows that everyone’s just looking out for him but the whole damn swimming world does not need to be in the know about his personal shit. He rubs his face. “So is it supposed to rain or what?”

A holler from down the street interrupts the conversation. There's Matt and the Vanderkaays, they're easy to pick out, and they've got Gil with Mary up on his back and Nick Thoman with them. Ryan stares at Gil as they get closer, thinking about how much the guy like, idolizes Erik Vendt. Dork nearly peed his pants at Olympic Trials last year when Erik told him he'd had a good semi-final. Guess the short kids want to stick together or something.

Matt wraps an arm around Ryan's neck and claps a hand on his chest and Ryan doesn't want to deal with it just then, like, really, really doesn't want to be touched, even though he knows it's protective. He might be Whitney Houston in this little drama but he doesn’t need any cuddling. So he smiles and punches Matt in the hip and ducks away from the arm. "Someone having a party?"

"Come with, Ry," Mary says from Gil's back. "And Aaron, Brendan said he'd be there."

"Where?" Aaron asks, pushing his glasses up his nose. He doesn't exactly look ready to go bar hopping but then that's pretty common with Aaron, since his idea of a good time usually has to do with like, whatever the great outdoors have to offer him.

Mary grins and stretches a foot out to shove Nick a step to the right. Gil grabs her leg back and wraps his arm around it, linking his hands over his stomach to keep her in place. "The Muddy River," she says, pointing. "Everybody's going, probably."

Ryan shoves his hands into his pockets. He could go back to the hotel and spend some time in lockdown with Kyle or go out and have some fun. Even if the guys say anything to him about Mike, there's no reason he can't get some beer under his belt and deal with it. He shrugs. "Yeah, sure." Maybe it's what he needs, to be away from his room, to be away from the deck. Because beer probably is the next best thing to a skateboard, and probably less likely to end him with a broken bone or something.

They all head toward the Muddy River together and after a block or so Ryan's actually excited to be going. Matt's in a rowdy mood and it's infectious enough that by the time they're walking into the crowded sports bar Ryan's smiling and trying to pinch Mary's ass just to hear her shriek because Gil won't let her down.

It would be hard if Kyle were here, because he'd draw more attention. After all it was his fist in Mike's face. But people still say hi as Ryan pushes through to get to the bar to order the first round; they clap him on the back or palm his head. At least they don’t ask him about life, or Mike. Ryan leans forearms on the bar and glances at his reflection in the mirror behind the rows of colored liquor bottles. He's not a total loss or anything, so maybe no one will say anything after all. He rubs fingers through his hair and puts his back to the bar to look around.

The Muddy River is right down the street from campus, it’s all wood and yellow lighting and big screen TVs that reflect the dozen or so neon beer-lights hung around the place. Ryan likes it. It's totally a place that he'd go to chill, though it’s not Grog’s or anything. Today it's got a lot of swimmers packed in, just getting dinner and waiting for it to get late enough to go find a night-life with wristbands and plastic cups, something cheaper and with dimmer lights, less baseball and more music. Ryan thinks he’ll probably go too, if for no other reason than he’s a great sleeper when he’s a little drunk and he could totally use the sleep.

Ryan's eyes find Gil. He's put down Mary but, awesome, he’s found Erik Vendt. And they're both heading toward the bar. Shit. Could his luck get any better? There's like, a million swimmers up in here and Gil has to find the one guy that Ryan really does not feel like talking to right now.

He turns back to the bar and pulls the hood of his thin shirt up over his head. Then he puts it back down because that’s just fucking stupid. He clears his throat and goes to lean on one elbow but of course he’s too close to the edge of the bar and his elbow slips and he nearly smashes his chin down on the wood. Pulling himself up Ryan mutters a curse because this is retarded, he is so fucking retarded, but then Erik and Gil pull up beside him and Ryan wishes he’d kept his hood up anyway.

He doesn’t say anything. What is he supposed to say? Hey, remember how you fucked my boyfriend who wasn’t my boyfriend? Yeah, good times dude. Fuck no. Where the hell is that beer, because Ryan seriously needs to drown himself in it right now. “Yo, man, what about those pitchers?” he calls out. The bartender’s down the other end of the bar and he holds up a finger in Ryan’s direction without even looking. “Shit,” Ryan mutters. He’s considering just walking away and making Pete get up and get the first round when Erik speaks up.

“Hey, Ryan.”

Ryan can hardly hear it over the buzz of the people in the bar and for a minute he wonders if he should, like, pretend that he didn’t. But some part of him knows that would make him an asshole so he glances at Erik before finding the bar between his hands really fascinating. “Hey.”

Gil’s turned to talk to someone else so Erik’s attention is undivided. “We should talk.”

Really not necessary. Ryan shrugs instead of shaking his head and crosses his arms over his chest. “Nah, it’s like. You know. Whatever.” He drops his arms and sticks his hands in his pockets. He doesn’t want to talk about it, he wants to like, get Erik fucking neutered but that’s probably an unrealistic option. So instead he blurts out, “shouldn’t you have fucking known, man?”

Erik blows out a breath and rubs the back of his head and he does look pretty uncomfortable, or embarrassed. Both. But it still doesn’t make Ryan any more inclined to be nice. "Because like, I guess it would have seemed pretty obvious to me," he continues before Erik can defend himself. It's like this thick heat that's sitting in his chest and Ryan just needs to get it out and get rid of it. "You know, when two people are together." He looks at the bar again, staring daggers at it. Stupid bar. Stupid slow service. Stupid of him to be nice and offer to get the first round.

"It's a meet," Erik says, keeping his voice down even when Ryan isn't. "I didn't see you two together. I only knew what Mike told me—"

"At the airport?" Ryan looks up and part of him really wants to just rip Erik's head off for just being that guy, no matter the circumstances. For touching Mike like that when Mike was his.

The thought rattles around in his brain and stuns him. His. It takes him a minute to realize that Erik's talking; Ryan shakes his head a little. "What?"

"He told you about that?" Erik asks, and he does actually look genuinely pissed at finding that out. "He told you about Monday?"

Ryan shrugs; he's suddenly just tired again, just fucking exhausted and Erik's just another guy like him, caught in the middle of Mike's shit. "Yeah, when he told me things were over he kinda threw it in my face."

The bartender brings over a tray with Ryan's pitchers and glasses but Ryan doesn't run away like he'd been planning. He just kinda hovers there as Erik orders a beer and sinks onto the edge of a stool, curling one hand into a fist and banging it lightly on the counter. "He told me that you guys weren't together. And I mean, I'd seen you two in Beijing and then in the papers on the press circuit and I know what I thought—"

"Why'd you do it, then?" The question is more tired than anything else. Ryan just wants to know.

Erik sighs. "Because he's my friend and I tend to believe what he tells me, Ryan. He said I was wrong. And he kissed me first."

It's too much information. Ryan shakes his head and tries to swallow past all the hurt that's suddenly crowded in his chest. Can you drown without water? It feels like it. Ryan grabs one of the empty cups on his tray and rights it, pours it full and then drinks half of it in one go. He wipes his mouth with a hand and looks at Erik. "I don't need to know the details, dude."

Erik nods.

"Taking a damn long time to get a few beers." Cullen slides down through the crowd and rucks up against the bar next to Ryan. Okay, he's a few sheets to the wind, it's easy to tell because he gets like, slithery; it's this sorta loose-jointedness that makes Ryan ask him to break-dance every time they drink together. "Oh, lookit that," Cullen says, leaning forward over Ryan's shoulder. "That explains it. You trapped by Erik's big dick, Ryan?"

Ryan elbows Cullen back a step. "Chill, man,” he mutters. Cullen wouldn't act like this sober and nobody else needs to get punched this week. "Just really, it is seriously okay. Erik was explaining what happened.”

"I was here trying to apologize," Erik adds in. He slides money across the bar for his beer and Ryan wonders if it’s just to give Cullen a moment to digest everything because when there’s no objection he turns back to Ryan like they hadn’t been interrupted at all. "I am sorry, Ryan. I really am." And fuck, but he looks it. Erik might have been duped but there's a lot of history between him and Mike and in the end, yeah. He should have been able to just trust what Mike said. Just another thing to add to the list of things that suck.

Ryan holds out his hand and Erik takes it to shake, like they’re sealing a deal or something. Maybe they're on the same team now, like, Guys Played by Mike. Ryan looks at Cullen. "He didn't know," he says. "He's pissed at Mike too. So shake his damn hand, dude, and like, play nice." For a minute Ryan still thinks that maybe Cullen won’t, but he finally gives his shoulders a little shrug and sticks out his hand. Erik's smile is grim but honest.

Pete materializes behind Erik and gives him a pat on the back before grabbing the tray from the bar. Whatever he’s heard, it’s clear that there’s one person not blaming Erik at all. Ryan thinks that Pete probably got from the beginning what he’s only figured out just now, that Erik was being played. "Are you guys going to stand around all day?" Pete offers, "because we got a table. Come on."

A table is a little bit of an understatement. There’s actually three of them, and they’ve all been shoved together to make a bumpy line in front of the booth that is the back wall. Erik takes a place between Gil and Alex and Ryan drops into a chair across from Matt and Mary, who’s found Kara Lynn.

Matt reaches for a pitcher and pours drinks into the glasses as Nick turns them over. Ryan sinks back and finishes the rest of the beer he started at the bar so he can get it filled again, because maybe this night won’t be a total bust after all. He’s starting to relax and dude, it feels now like maybe he’s been on Red Alert all week long and just didn’t realize it.

Ryan knows that he deserves this. To be here with friends and not think about the shitty goings on in his life. Even Erik being at the table really doesn’t bother him right now, he’s just like, sorta happy. And happy is good. Ryan taps his fingers on the side of his glass. “I need...”

"A brain?" Matt suggests.

"A bigger speedo?" Kara Lynn says.

Ryan sticks out his tongue and throws a wadded up napkin at her. "Shut up. My speedos are totally fine and rockin'."

"Sure they are," Erik says with a smile as Kara Lynn swats the projectile away. He takes a drink and sits back against his seat. "When you were twelve."

Cullen bursts out laughing and Ryan can't help it, he laughs too. If he's honest it kinda feels good to do, like it helps loosen something that's been strung tight in his chest since Mike said sayonara, something that was afraid to loosen because then maybe everything would just fall apart. But he's laughing, and it's okay.

“Is anyone going to object if I put Britney Spears on the jukebox in Ryan’s honor?” Mary murmurs around her glass.

“I object to Britney on principle,” Alex says, shaking his head.

She makes a face. “Come on! Womanizer? Yeah?”

Matt reaches out to try and cover her mouth as Nick throws a paper coaster at her. Ryan actually laughs and slings an arm over his chair, sinking back. He looks around the bar. Aaron’s found Brendan and Eric Shanteau; they’re at a high table in the corner. Maybe later he’ll go over and like, just make sure everything’s cool with the Longhorns. You know, since he seems to be making the rounds tonight.

Ryan stretches. “I need nachos, is what I was going to say.” Because otherwise there’s gonna be a lot of sloshing in his stomach and not so much absorbing. “And maybe a really big burger with mayo and bacon.”

“That is absolutely putrid,” Gil says. Mary’s head is stuck under his arm and she’s trying to pinch his nipples blind.

Ryan smiles. He’s just really fucking happy to have an appetite. This has got to be some kind of turning point, right now. Like, some things might suck but he’s still got his friends. He’s got Rome, and burgers, and beer.

Ryan sticks his fingers in his mouth and whistles for a waitress because they’re going to need more beer, anyway. He’s starting to feel it, that first edge of a buzz when smiling comes easier and his toes feel just a little father away. Cultivation is necessary.

“You so need to teach me how to do that,” Cullen says as two aproned girls look their way.

“My dad taught me.” Ryan pours out the last of the beer. “It was how he got my attention when I wandered off the pool deck.” He smiles. “Not that I always listened or anything.”

Mary points up at the nearest flatscreen. “Hey, it’s Michael.”

The smile slides off Ryan’s face. He doesn’t even want to look because it’s gonna fucking kill his buzz right now, he knows it. Who cares about the oh-so-fucking tragic performance of Michael Phelps at the 2009 National Championships? Just about everyone in here was there to see him swim—maybe they’ll change the channel. So Ryan is still taking major interest in his beer and listing skateboarding tricks in his head when Pete touches his arm.

“Ryan, look.”

Mary’s hand is covering her mouth. Ryan stares at her for a moment before raising his eyes to the screen with a knot growing in his stomach. There’s a still picture of Mike from Beijing in the box above the ESPN anchor, one of the many times that Mike was on the podium and looking like he was contemplating life. The tagline under the picture reads OLYMPIC HERO STRUCK. By the time that the picture is replaced by a live feed its gotten quiet enough in the bar that Ryan can actually hear the sound.

“...driver apparently tried to pass the bus while it was stopped in the right lane; Phelps was in the crosswalk at the time. He was taken directly to the trauma center at Johns Hopkins Hospital after the accident that happened here on the corner of Broadway and Thames streets, less than an hour ago. There’s no official report of his status as of right now, only that he was unconscious when the ambulance arrived.”

Ryan’s heart is in his throat, choking him into silence. He’s not the only one. The bar is weirdly quiet after the report is over until Cullen speaks up and says what they’re all thinking.

“Holy shit.”


( 49 comments — Leave a comment )
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Mar. 2nd, 2009 04:46 am (UTC)

From Erik's apology to Cullen almost punching out Mike, this was one big AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!

In a good way, of course.
Mar. 2nd, 2009 10:46 pm (UTC)
I love when people holler in good ways about my stories. ^_^ Thanks, lol! <333
Mar. 2nd, 2009 04:55 am (UTC)
Same reaction as above: AHHHHHHHH!!!

Poor kid, this shit it tough. :( And um, okay, slitherly, drunk Cullen is possibly the best image you could have given me right about now so massive props (5 midterms this week... Get excited!).

Still good as always! Can't wait to read the next part!
Mar. 2nd, 2009 10:48 pm (UTC)
The thought of slithery!Cullen just makes me laugh inside. I hope it's enough to carry you through the week... dear lord, 5 midterms. I'm soooo glad those days are over. ^_^ <333
Mar. 2nd, 2009 04:58 am (UTC)
Poor Ry bb =(

But you're seriously evil! You can't leave us hanging like this for two chapters in a row! My god!
Mar. 2nd, 2009 10:49 pm (UTC)
I have to stop the chapters somewhere! LOL. I mean... I guess I could just pick a random boring place, but what fun would that be? *evil laughter* ^____^
(no subject) - blacksoul89 - Mar. 2nd, 2009 11:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - caelumi - Mar. 3rd, 2009 01:07 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - blacksoul89 - Mar. 3rd, 2009 01:27 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 2nd, 2009 05:01 am (UTC)
Okay, so before I say anything else I just have to say that you wrote Aaron wearing his glasses and that was awesome.
Ryan is breaking my heart, and I genuinely feel for him, and Erik's apology was so real and it raised my respect for him even more. He's a good guy in a bad situation.
And I was waiting for the ending with my stomach all twisted and then it actually happened and oh my god.
So much love for you at this moment.
Mar. 2nd, 2009 10:52 pm (UTC)
Aaron in his glasses *is* awesome! He looks like a little dork and I want to squeeze him and love him. ^_^ *coughcough* It's funny that Erik did turn out to be such a good guy... I didn't really start him off intending it, but I like the way it's turned out.

<333 You love me for getting Michael run over? ^_^
(no subject) - tragycbeauty - Mar. 3rd, 2009 01:12 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 2nd, 2009 05:42 am (UTC)
Good chapter. :) Nice companion to Michael's whole-pov chapter. I like all the guys (and girls) so much. It makes this a pleasure to read and helps with the angst a lot, ;P

The progression of Ryan's emotions is so real, true to life kinda. Stages. Good stuff, mans.

Mar. 2nd, 2009 10:57 pm (UTC)
*squishes back* Thank you, meh darlin'. *pines for joo while you are in class*
Mar. 2nd, 2009 05:49 am (UTC)
(")I mean, if you weren’t together, then what were you?”

Ryan looks at Aaron for a couple of long minutes before shaking his head. “I guess that’s like, the million-dollar question.”

And the crux of the story, I'm thinking. Here you have these beautiful people to play with as characters, these funny moments as they go about their young lives, and you instead of just giving us PWP you have this emotional underpinning. Is it love, or lust? Should it matter, and from whose perspective? Can MP be a whole person - does he even want to be? - or is it too late? Is what he's done truly unforgivable? (Certainly could be, were this real life...) Thanks for not taking the easy way out (though the hot scenes are also deeply appreciated ;) ) but instead building on that real foundation and touching on these things.
Mar. 2nd, 2009 11:16 pm (UTC)
I don't even know how to respond to your comment, honestly, aside from saying thank you. And thank you, thank you, thank you. <333
Mar. 2nd, 2009 06:04 am (UTC)
Every single second of reading this was torture (in the good, plot way) while I waited for Ryan's reaction to the accident.


You are seriously going to give me a heart attack.
Mar. 2nd, 2009 11:20 pm (UTC)
LOL and I didn't even give him the time for much of one! Haha, sorry. <333
Mar. 2nd, 2009 06:12 am (UTC)
okay, so I'm basically a professional lurker at olympicslash, but I feel the need to come out of hiding to FINALLY comment on this story because let's be honest now, it's always the highlight of my week. Like, there are just so many amazingly awesome things about it that I can't even begin to list them. I've been in love with this ever since it started and I legitimately wait for new chapters every week.

The one thing that has struck me over and over again about this fic is how well you've fleshed out all of the secondary characters. I feel like most Phelps/Lochte I've read concentrates solely on the boys, or throws a couple other of the Olympic team in but doesn't really give them a personality. In this, however, I feel absolutely connected to every character. Every single one of them is so well-defined and has such a definite personality, and I love that.

I mean, just... keep up the great work! This is seriously one of the best fics I've ever read, can't wait for next week!
Mar. 2nd, 2009 11:36 pm (UTC)
#^_^# <333 Thank you! It's always nice to see people come out of the woodwork, lol.

Honestly, most of my stuff really is just short little vignettes of a single pair of guys... but once this story started getting more involved I felt like, well, the more the merrier. And it's not like I don't get anything out of it; they're fun to write. ^_^

Glad to have you lurking! <333
Mar. 2nd, 2009 06:27 am (UTC)
OMG another week of cliffhanger!!!!! I was so happy to see this posted. Seriously, this story is the best part of my Sundays :D. Keep up the great work!
Mar. 2nd, 2009 11:38 pm (UTC)
Of course it is, lol! <33333 Thanks! ^_____^

That icon... seriously... guh.
Mar. 2nd, 2009 09:21 am (UTC)
I still hate Vendt LOL but yeah ok, guess I can accept the apology :/

And poor Ryan finding out on TV! He needs to jump on a plane and get to B-more
Mar. 2nd, 2009 11:43 pm (UTC)
HA! I am soooo going to make you like Erik by the end. Just accept your fate. ^_^ And come on, if a significant other pulled that shit on you, would you just jump on the first plane you could?
(no subject) - agape_eternal - Mar. 2nd, 2009 11:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - caelumi - Mar. 3rd, 2009 01:06 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - agape_eternal - Mar. 3rd, 2009 08:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 2nd, 2009 11:32 am (UTC)
The next handful of grass that was ripped up was tossed in Aaron's direction. "Shut up. You're just jealous because my fro is more awesome than your fro."

Both backstrokers do have incredibly “frolicious” hair.

Ryan’s own popularity has shot up after Beijing, but that’s more like girls asking for pictures and stuff. Facebook stalking. Not people expecting the next impossible feat of swimming from him. Not people expecting the next impossible feat of swimming from him.

Uh, yeah. Um, no comment on the first part. But as for the last bit, people so are. :)

“I don’t know if time is gonna make it okay, Aaron. Like, how the fuck is him realizing he treated me like shit an okay reason to take him back? He still treated me like shit.”

You always have something in every chapter that rings true to real life. Time doesn’t heal all wounds but it does make things easier, even when friends and/or almost/sort of/yes really boyfriends treat others like hell. Ryan and Michael will get through this…they have to for a “happily ever after” sake. Haha.

Ryan sticks out his tongue and throws a wadded up napkin at her. "Shut up. My speedos are totally fine and rockin'."

Oh, Ryan. Your speedos are on the smallest of the small…and we love you for wearing them that way. <33

And aww, Cullen! Violent urges and slurred, drunken speech aside, I can’t help but think he’s such an incredibly sweet friend and an all around good guy. Now that Ryan and everyone know what happened to Michael and why he won’t be in Rome, I can’t help but wonder what transpires between now and then. Things are bad now but can get so much worse…

I can’t wait for the next installment!

Mar. 3rd, 2009 12:45 am (UTC)
I love their hair. Ryan's grows straight up, Aaron's grows out like a Q-tip. ^_^

Facebook stalking? Who?? I don't know what you're talking about.

I was actually suprised that Ryan made that connection on his own, to tell you the truth. I thought someone else would have to make it for him. I guess he's grown up alot in my handsful of chapters.

And oh we so love Ryan for his itty bitty speedos!! I wouldn't want it any other way.

I'll let you in on a secret; I don't think I could write Ryan/Cullen. I just don't see them as more than friends.

And glad you're being optimistic... ~_^ <333
Mar. 2nd, 2009 08:19 pm (UTC)
I THOUGHT HE DIDN'T GET HIT, YOU BITCH. UGHHHHHHHHH. My poor, poor little heart. You are killing me slowly and the worst thing is that I want moreeee.

God, I can never leave intelligent comments for this story. I apologize for that. I should probably just stop rambling like a retard at your journal.
Mar. 3rd, 2009 01:04 am (UTC)
MUWHAHA you totally called me a bitch! *dies laughing* Okay, wait, wait, wait. What do you mean you didn't think he got hit? He who? Michael? He's in the hospital in the first chapter!

*petpet* Your rambles make me laugh. <333
(no subject) - ivebeenburgled - Mar. 3rd, 2009 01:22 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - caelumi - Mar. 3rd, 2009 10:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ivebeenburgled - Mar. 3rd, 2009 11:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 3rd, 2009 06:37 pm (UTC)
Wow! I always feel like I'm watching "good" reality tv, if there is such a thing, when I read this story. Since I'm more than a little in awe of the beautifully nuanced tapestry you continue to weave with each update, I'll just let Cullen speak the words I think (in a good way) after every chapter...

Holy shit!

Mar. 3rd, 2009 10:41 pm (UTC)
#^_^# Thank you very, very much. <3333 I'm definitely blushing, LOL.
(no subject) - choklit_latte - Mar. 5th, 2009 01:21 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 4th, 2009 03:36 am (UTC)
Cliffhanger, NOOOOOOO!! =)

Seriously, though, great chapter. I like having Ryan's pov after what happened and seeing Aaron step in (I love Piersol!) and help him out.

And the ending, gah!
Mar. 5th, 2009 03:23 pm (UTC)
Always a cliffhanger!!! ^___^ I love Piersol too; I can't resist putting him in whenever I can, lol. Lochte, Piersol, Grevers, Thoman... I think I might have a thing for backstrokers. <3
Mar. 4th, 2009 05:34 am (UTC)
oh please don't keep us waiting too long!??! I know you have a life but this is seriously so good!! In fact, I need to go to sleep so I can do my life stuff! lol Work! terrible when there's so much wonderful slash in the world!!!

I want our boys to have a happy ending but I'm still so mad at Michael(you write well because cuz I'm still mad at him even if he got hit! lol) but I don't know if Ryan should go to him...Michael has to want it..him on his own! Maybe the car knocked some sense into him!

Okay, I need to get a life...one with Ryan and Michael! lol

Thanks as always for sharing!! Big kisses and hugs!!
Mar. 5th, 2009 03:25 pm (UTC)

Haha, the whole point of the car WAS to knock some sense into him! Otherwise, man. I don't think they would have ever gotten back together if Mike was left to his own devices, seriously. When I started writing I didn't realize that he was going to be such a god-awful jerk about everything. ^^;;
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