Title: try to leave a light on.
Summary: michael phelps and ryan lochte, and their relationship throughout the years.
Michael Phelps has a million dollars, and that’s like, a million more than he’s used to having.
Or, well, okay, he’s sure he’s probably had over a million dollars since Anthens, but no one tells him. No one hands him a check with those six—it’s six, right? Maybe seven—zeros and says, “Congratulations, Mr. Phelps, have a million big ones to spend however the hell you want.” They used to give those to his mom (and it’s not like she’d ever let him know he had that much). When did he stop being too irresponsible to be trusted with that much money on his own?
The truth is, he hasn’t. As soon as the million bucks is in his bank account (or, well, he thinks it is; his financial advisor explains how it works, but he’s too busy being amazed by the fact that he has his own financial advisor to actually listen), he takes his Visa card (those fuckers aren’t paying him for this extra promotion, but it’s not like he can go with another name—he’d feel like such a dick) to his computer and buys a bunch of shit on impulse.
Like Entourage on DVD, seasons 1-5. And a Magic Bullet (he loves those commercials). And a Michigan yard gnome, and a framed picture of Michael Jordan, and a glow-in-the-dark electric toothbrush.
And a plane ticket to Florida.
That last one isn’t an impulse buy, really. He’s been planning on it for quite a while. It’s just, before—and he means, like, 2004 before, not two months ago or three weeks ago or yesterday—he said he’d buy a plane ticket to Florida and never did. He couldn’t afford it. Or couldn’t take time away from training. Or was too chicken-shit to ask Bob’s permission. Or he forgot.
Mostly, though, he was too afraid of what would happen once he got down there. Between he and—between them, the two of them, the fucking crazy-ass pair of them.
Now, though, after Beijing, after the hotel rooms and the locker rooms and the—the whatever they were called, the rooms with the sliding doors—he’s too afraid of not going.
He’s afraid to find out what he’d miss.
He was fifteen last time he was here. All he knew about sex was what he learned in school—that if you had it, your dick was likely to fall off or you’d knock up the girl unless you were doing it upside down in a hot tub and simultaneously drinking something with carbonation. Or something like that. Fifteen-year-old Michael thought about swimming, and occasionally who was winning the Pistons’ game, but never sex. He didn’t even really think about girls.
Nineteen-year-old Michael thinks about sex all the time. Like, every second when he’s not in the pool. He passes a girl in her swimsuit and he thinks damn and has to tie his towel around his waist until he can, uh, function without too much embarrassment.
He’s a shoulder guy. He likes boobs and waists and asses and all that, sure, those are great, but holy damn does he love shoulders. They’re his weakness, okay, his Achilles’ heel.
That’s how he ends up in bed with Ryan Lochte.
“I bought a plane ticket,” Michael says, and he can barely contain his excitement. His heels are bouncing against his bed, over and over again, bang bang bang—but that might be because it’s impossible for him to sit still, not just because he’s so fucking happy. (Giddy—giddy seems more appropriate.)
“Oh?” Ryan says, and it’s pretty obvious he’s distracted. There’s a noise in the background that could be any number of things: a video game, the new Lil Wayne CD. Or maybe he’s just being shot at. (It wouldn’t surprise him.) There’s a brief pause, and then the phone goes all staticy and clunks a few times like Ryan’s dropped it, and then there’s a whoosh of air and, “Oh—oh!”
“Yeah,” Michael says, laughing. “Yeah, last night. I leave Saturday.”
Ryan is smiling into the phone. Michael’s a—a fucking girl for noticing that, he knows, but it’s true. He recognizes those sorts of things now.
“I’ll pick you up,” Ryan tells him. “What airport you flying into?”
“Um.” Michael swivels his chair around to face his computer, clicks here and there until he’s in his email, pulls up the flight information. He squints to read. “Miami. I’m flying into Miami.”
Ryan bursts out laughing.
“What?” Michael demands, and suddenly he feels horrifyingly stupid—Miami’s in Florida, right? He’s failed a geography quiz here and there but—but Miami’s in Florida, of course it is. Isn’t it?
“You fucking idiot,” Ryan says, and Michael’s thinking oh God, maybe Miami’s in California and totally doubting his common sense and pretty much his intelligence completely.
“Have you ever seen a map, Michael? Miami’s on the whole fucking other side of the state. That’s like—a five hour drive. Florida’s not exactly Maryland, you know.”
“Oh.” Michael nods. He knew that, okay, he knows it’s a big state. It’s just. He was excited. He clicked “purchase” on the very first link that popped up under Florida, and that link was Miami. So sue him.
“I didn’t think… I wasn’t really paying… I mean. Uh. My bad.”
“Yeah, it is your fucking bad.” Ryan’s not mad, and they both know it. He’s incapable of getting mad. Totally incapable.
He does get revenge, though.
“You can make it up to me,” he explains. “Gas doesn’t grow on trees, you know.”
Of course Michael knows that. For a second, he pictures a tree that grows gas, and it’s all black, and there’s a million people with little buckets collecting it, like—like sap. Once, when he was eight and his dad wasn’t a complete douchebag yet, they went out together to collect sap from trees in the middle of a forest. Some father-son bonding time that never sounded appealing from the start. Michael was bored to tears by the time his bucket was a quarter-full. He’d thrown his bucket down and quit and pouted on a tree stump while his dad bitched about him giving up on everything, ever.
Ha. Yeah, right.
“Michael?” Ryan says, cutting into his thoughts, and he sounds confused, or maybe-confused, because Ryan often sounds that way. “Still with me, dude?”
He clears his throat. Shakes the sap memory away, lets it go easily. “Yeah, I’m here. How can I make it up to you?”
“I think you know.” Ryan’s laughing again. Like, loud laughter. Sort of maniacal and crazy and totally a turn-on to Michael. He shivers.
“Better keep your knees rested,” he says when he’s done laughing. “That’s all I’m saying. Maybe invest in some kneepads.”
And Michael opens his mouth to argue, or shoot an insult back, but the phone clicks and he knows Ryan’s already hung up. Formal greetings are nonexistent in phone calls with Ryan. When he’s done talking, he ends the call. Simple as that.
It’s probably a good thing he hung up then, though. Given time, the only insult that would have rolled off Michael’s tongue would have been something lame and humiliating like—like “your face is a kneepad,” and, well.
Besides, he knows Ryan.
Ryan always calls back.
They haven’t talked since then. Since that week in the Olympic village, since the last time they—the last time they saw each other.
It wasn’t some bittersweet parting. They didn’t hug, exchange tearful goodbyes. Michael didn’t even stick around to watch Ryan’s final event. He just packed his bags and left. (Neither of them wanted a relationship, fuck no. It’s not something that was discussed, but it was—it was obvious. Unwritten law. It was how it had to be, and nothing more.)
Ryan Lochte’s not a good person, first of all. That needs to be mentioned. He doesn’t do anything out of the kindness of his heart, wouldn’t know what the word charity meant if he wasn’t forced into it by his people. (He has people; sometimes, Michael thinks that’s why Ryan has a big head.)
And, well, the first time they see each other again, there aren’t fireworks, and they don’t rush into each other’s arms, and they don’t even smile at each other, to be entirely honest.
They pass in a hallway. Ryan does a double-take, but it’s so overexaggerated that Michael knows nothing good can come from this. “Well, shit, Phelps,” he says loudly, and Michael glances over his shoulder like he might possibly be addressing someone else.
Ryan has never called him Phelps before.
“Hey,” he says, when he works things out. Of course he’s talking to him. It’s just—they don’t do this. This talking to each other in public thing. It’s different.
“Didn’t think you’d make it here.”
“Oh?” Michael’s eyebrows arch. It’s a habit, a stupid one. Like he’s in some bad 80’s crime drama. He clears his throat. “Why not?”
Ryan’s mouth stretches, slow and easy, into a smirk. “Last I heard,” he says, taking his time, to add a punch, “you weren’t allowed to drive. Something about a—help me out, here, Phelps, what were you arrested for?”
“Ha ha,” Michael says dully, but he’s blushing, and he can just tell that’s exactly the effect Ryan was going for. Congratu-fucking-lations, Lochte, you win the grand prize.
“That’s right!” Ryan nods emphatically, like Michael had seriously answered the question. “Drunk driving. Man, what a role model.”
He hasn’t forgotten, okay, and he’s fairly sure he never will. He doesn’t need the reminder. “You’re hilarious.”
“Here, have some advice: drinking is okay. Scratch that, drinking is fantastic. Drinking and driving, you know, not too smart, but you don’t get caught. You know what dumbasses do? They drink and they drive and they get pulled over when they’re not even 21. That’s what dumbasses do.”
Michael’s fingers twitch. He needs a way out of this. He suddenly wishes he had brought his headphones with him. It’s a habit he’s been trying to develop, wearing them all the time. Not just on the pool deck. He’s noticed that it stops any potential conversations, that the headphones’ presence alone can grant him a walk in total silence (even when there’s not music playing). Right now, though, they’re buried in his gym bag, back in the locker room. No help to him at all.
He pushes a totally fake smile onto his face.
“Yeah, great. I’m a dumbass. Thanks for the update.”
Ryan looks at him, for maybe a second too long. Really looks at him. Michael’s skin flares with goosebumps. “It’s okay,” he says finally, his expression softening. He puts his hand on Michael’s arm, all five fucking fingers, his touch light and intimate. “You owned up to it. That’s cool, man.”
Michael is totally annoyed. He owned up to it, sure, but what else was he supposed to do? Deny it? I wasn’t driving under the influence, Officer, that was my twin brother.
“Well, I’m glad you think so,” he says, and his voice is hard, in the way that means the conversation is over. He’s already walking away when Ryan’s voice calls out to him, unwavering, totally oblivious to the fact that shit like this is a secret, right, no one is allowed to know.
“Are we going to… you know, do what we usually do, Michael?”
And Michael’s thinking, what we usually do? That was a one-time thing, Athens, where everyone was constantly horny. It was like a disease, and, well, beggars can’t be choosers. (And okay, he could have had anyone he wanted. Seriously. Anyone. And he’d wanted Ryan.)
“Yeah, okay,” Michael agrees when he’s had time to think it over, which basically takes about three seconds. Damn it. He’s going to have to adjust himself before leaving the hall. “My room?”
“Yeah.” Ryan pulls his headphones over his ears, shakes his curls out of his eyes like he can’t be bothered enough to physically reach up and push them away. “Yeah, your room. See you tonight.”
So that’s Michael’s day. Or, uh, first, he wins a gold medal. Two of them, really, and then he has press conferences, and then he has a meeting with Bob, and then he talks to his mom on the phone for half an hour. But none of that is important, because. Well.
Because then he sleeps with Ryan Lochte.
Michael beats Ryan to the airport, which is fair considering the plane ride is only two hours long, and Ryan has to drive over five hours. (Not to mention, he complains on the phone to Michael a thousand times, traffic in Miami is a bitch.)
So he sits there with his cap pulled low over his head, slouched in one of those too-small airport seats, scrolling through playlists on his iPod. He’s not, you know, a girl with the playlists full of love songs or songs about how much boys suck. He just—he’s got his favorites, and he likes to keep them in one place, nice and neat.
(And okay, he keeps clicking over to the playlist called kickin’ it at the g-spot, which Ryan sent him back in the spring, back before Michael even knew who Young Jeezy was. And there are songs that remind him of Ryan, songs he listens to on an almost daily basis, and that’s not weird, not at all.)
He sits there for quite a while, and he goes to get coffee once, and cinnamon buns three times, and then some overpriced chocolate, and then he’s getting annoyed because shit, what if Ryan forgot about him completely? It’s not like he hasn’t done something like that before, not like this would be the first time. But before he can send a pissed-off text message (it takes him a while to type because he misspells inconvenience about a thousand times), suddenly there’s a pair of hands covering his eyes from behind.
“Michael Phelps, you fucker, you’re about to be kidnapped,” the hands tell him, and Michael bites back a smile and tries to wiggle away. Except. Ryan’s got big hands, rough hands.
He knows the strength of those hands.
“You can kidnap me if you want,” Michael offers, rather politely. “But if you stick around for twenty minutes, you’ll have a much better dude to steal.”
Michael’s sort of picturing this in his mind. His 6’4 frame sprawled out in one of those tiny chairs, an equally-tall guy crouching over him from behind, covering his face… Whatever. Let the pre-teen girls with their cameras go nuts.
“Yeah. He’s pretty funny. Decent swimmer. Only problem is, he’s really fucking terrible at being on time.”
The hands disappear, and Ryan Lochte steps right into his line of vision. He beams at him sheepishly, and for a moment—for fuck’s sake, he’s not a girl—Michael’s heart thumps against his chest. It’s been… how long?
“Sorry, man,” Ryan says, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. “I got distracted. By. Well. You. Youtube videos of you, actually.” He admits that way too easily. He’s clearly not embarrassed by it at all.
Too long, Michael decides. It’s been much, much too long.
“You’re really hot,” Ryan adds. He pushes his tongue against his cheek. It sort of bulges out, in a really familiar way.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” Michael announces, pushing himself out of the seat and grabbing his bags.
Ryan stares at him, head tilted in confusion, for a long moment.
“I’m going to the bathroom,” Mike repeats. When he can tell it’s still not clicking in Ryan’s head, he rolls his eyes and heaves an exaggerated sigh. “The bathroom, Ryan. The public bathroom. Where anyone can go. With stalls that have doors that lock.”
“Ohhh,” Ryan says, and he grins slowly. "I like the way you think." He takes a bag from Michael, hoists it over his shoulder, and heads in that direction. Michael starts a second or two late, mostly because he's too busy appreciating the view of Ryan from behind.
It’s totally disgusting and immoral, even considering going down on his knees in an airport bathroom stall. But that’s the thing about Ryan. He makes Michael want to be that kind of person. All the time.
Ryan pulls the door open. “Coming, Michael?”
Michael grins. “Yeah, man. Give me ten minutes.”
Santa Clara, 2006.
They have this policy. It sort of goes without saying. By now, there’s no use denying that they’ve hooked up. Multiple times, even, as often as possible (which is usually only three or four times a year). They’ve had sex in various places, in various positions. Despite girlfriends and practices, despite Bob Bowman and that broken nose, that one time.
The—the thing between them has changed. They talk on the phone three, four, sometimes five times a week. They send text messages daily. Every time Michael logs into Facebook he’s got a message from Ryan. And yet.
And yet two years after that first time, in the shower after some race or other, they still haven’t kissed. There’s something about it. Too gay. The implied relationship status. Ryan tried, once, after what was probably the best sex of Michael’s life, grabbed his neck and leaned in and Michael said, “Uh, what are you doing?”
Ryan was slightly mortified and entirely confused but he let go, backed up to his side of the bed, stared at the blankets and said, “My bad. Got carried away, I guess.”
And Michael let him go. He grunted and rolled over, turned his back to Ryan, buried his head in the pillow and closed his eyes, lulled to sleep by the steady pattern of Ryan’s breath.
Since that, Ryan hasn’t tried. They never bring it up. And it’s not like they don’t use their mouths—Michael, especially, likes to leave marks on Ryan’s hips, his collarbone, his shoulder.
In California, things are different. They’re home, in their own country. This meet matters, sure, but it doesn’t matter. And Michael misses Ryan. A lot more than he’s willing to admit. He’s starting to get these awful, itchy, needy feelings. He wants to be with Ryan in a not just-hanging-with-the-dudes kind of way. He’s starting to crave more than sex. And that scares him.
It scares him so much that he doesn’t sleep the entire first night. He can’t sleep, knowing Ryan’s two rooms over.
When three o’clock rolls around, and he can’t take it anymore, he slips out of his blankets, careful not to disturb Peter in the next bed. Outside, in the California air, it’s dark and cool. He lets the breeze wash against his face for a moment, thinking it will fully rouse him and return him to his senses. It doesn’t.
His feet know the way to Ryan’s room even if his brain doesn’t. He knocks on the door quietly, well aware of the fact that Ryan has a roommate. But a minute later, a torturously long minute, the door swings open and it’s Ryan, tousle-haired and sleepy-eyed, and he’s all, “What are you doing, Michael?”
And Michael loves him like this, barefooted in striped boxers, sleep lines across his cheek. Instead of answering him, he reaches forward and takes Ryan’s face in his hands, pulls him close, brushes his lips against Ryan’s once—to give him time to pull away, like he was going to pull away—and kisses him, hard and sure.
“I need you,” he whispers, voice rough, and it’s the truest thing he’s said in days. He clings on to Ryan’s back, buries his face in his neck, knowing how weak he looks right now, how desperate. He doesn’t care.
“Okay,” Ryan answers him, wrapping his hands around Michael’s wrists and backpedaling him into the room. He cups his cheek and kisses him again, twice, and they’re hungry kisses like he’s wanted this for so long. “Okay,” he says again, and then he pulls him towards his bed silently and then they don’t say anything, nothing, for the rest of the night.
They make it to the interstate before they pull over to the side of the road. And that was just because Ryan accidentally dropped his phone, okay, and somehow it accidentally fell between Michael’s legs and he went to get it and just, hey, while he was down there—
So twenty minutes or so later Ryan drives into a hotel parking lot and Michael stares at him, like, what?
“You really think I’m driving five more hours tonight?” Ryan says, already climbing out his side. “It’s your fault, anyway.”
“I already apologized, like, a billion times. Let it go.”
“Yeah, I’ll let it go when you pay me back for the gas.”
“I thought we agreed I’d pay you back in other ways.” Michael raises his eyebrows again—he really needs to stop doing that—and Ryan smirks.
“And that,” Ryan says, “is why we’re getting a hotel room.”
Michael laughs. “You’re a fucking lunatic,” he says fondly, running his hand through Ryan’s hair and tugging at one of the curls.
And Ryan smiles at him, all brilliantly white teeth and dimples, crinkled blue eyes. “That’s why you love me,” he jokes, elbowing him lightly in the hip.
“Yeah,” Michael concedes softly, because he can’t help it, okay. “Yeah, that’s one of the reasons.”
Ryan continues to smile. “I know.”
They’re roommates now, which is a change. It’s always been about sneaking around, finding hidden rooms, quickies in the shower. Now it’s basically whenever they want. One of the beds in the room is untouched. They always say one of them is going to go back to their own bed, but it never happens.
In fact, they sort of—cuddle. Which is weird and totally awesome. When Michael wakes up in the mornings—he always wakes up before Ryan—he tugs him closer and rouses him by pressing kisses against Ryan’s neck. And when he finally wakes up they lay in bed and make out until they absolutely have to leave, or else their coaches will murder them.
“What do you think about Peter?” Ryan says one morning, breaking the kiss to pull back and study him seriously.
“Yours or mine?” Michael asks, turning towards him with a shit-eating smirk.
“Hilarious.” He decks Michael in the arm, really hard, okay, it kind of hurts. “I mean Vanderkaay. What do you think about him?”
Michael rubs his arm and considers. “I don’t know. He’s one of my best friends. What am I supposed to think about him?”
“Do you think he’s hot?”
“I’m not gay.” The words come out, so quick and easy, before Michael even has time to think about them. He glances down. He’s naked, in bed with Ryan Lochte, and he’s got stubble burn on his cheeks. That’s pretty gay. “Well, not really,” he amends.
Ryan stares at him. “You don’t think about fucking other dudes?” he asks, reaching below the covers to scratch himself. Classy. “Ever?”
Michael shakes his head. “Nope. The only dude I want to fuck is you.”
There’s a pause. “Now?” Ryan says, smirking, and Michael’s already pulling him closer, like have I ever said no?
Staying in the hotel for five days costs, like, a lot of money. (It’s a good thing Michael has a lot of money; Ryan left his wallet at home.)
But it’s pretty much the best week of Michael’s life.
They wake up whenever they want to, eat whatever they want and as often as they want (which comes to about seven times a day, if they’re hungry), they have sex just about all over the room, and when Ryan gets an almost-concussion from a failed attempt at shower sex, it doesn’t even matter because everything is just too perfect.
On their last day, they sleep until well past noon and only wake up when Michael’s mom calls on his cell phone, saying she’s been trying to reach him for days, and where in the world has he been? He doesn’t answer the call, but he lets Ryan listen to the voicemail and he shakes his head and says, “Dude, I love your mom.”
“Yeah, she loves you too.” Michael reaches out and—more of the girly shit, he can’t help it—grabs Ryan’s hands, lightly laces their fingers together before squeezing once and letting go. “That’s how I know you’re a keeper.”
Ryan brightens, and he’s so much more fucking gorgeous than even the sunset on the beach, okay, and Michael knows because they snuck out a few nights ago to watch it. “I’m a keeper?”
“Yeah,” Michael says, laughing. He presses a quick kiss to Ryan’s lips, sits up in bed and drags the blankets along with him. “Yeah, I think so.”
“Good.” Ryan follows him, reaches for their clothes on the ground and passes half to Michael, not caring what’s what. He pulls Michael’s shirt on over his head. “Because I’m pretty sure I could never get sick of you.”
And a little part of Michael’s heart starts to beat dangerously hard, and he has to bite back a grin, and he just nods before he can speak steadily. “Damn straight,” he says, and he’s all-man but totally happy, too. “Want to shower?”
They head to the bathroom together, leave the door wide open, and they don’t even fool around in the shower, okay, Ryan reaches around Michael for the shampoo and starts to sing, low, under his breath, a totally unrecognizable and off-key tune, and Michael grins into the shower spray and thinks yeah, I could get used to this.
Ryan finds Michael, after win number eight. He is, shockingly, alone, and totally in his own world, bent over on a wooden bench, hands covering his face. Ryan kneels beside him, lightly touches him on the shoulder.
Michael glances up. “Hey,” he says, but he’s not smiling.
“Hey.” Ryan looks him straight in the eye. “Congratulations, man. You deserve it more than anyone.”
Reaching for his duffel bag, Michael hoists it up and gives it a little shake and something inside clings together, like medal. (Like gold medals. Eight of them or so.) “Big accomplishment,” he says like he’s trying to understand what it even means, like he’s trying to soak it all in.
“Amazing accomplishment,” Ryan agrees and then, without even glancing away, he unzips the bag and fishes around until his hand curls around a single medal. He pulls it out, untangles the ribbon it’s resting on, and then drapes it around Michael’s neck.
“Greatest Olympian of all time,” he adds with a smile, pressing the medal against Mike’s heart, holds his hand still there, and then he leans in and kisses Michael, just once, slow and sweet. “Are you happy?” he asks when he pulls away, and it’s a legitimate question, okay, because Michael doesn’t look happy.
But Michael seems surprised. “Are you kidding me?” He grabs the black bag and extracts another medal, not so carefully. This one he loops around Ryan’s neck and then he leans forward, so the two medals are intertwined, resting against each other, gold against gold.
“I’m the happiest fucking guy in the world,” Michael says, and finally he’s smiling, and then he’s kissing Ryan, and he’s kissing him hard, so Ryan has no other choice but to believe him.