Day 9- Training

Alex was in the cube training on his newer dives with his coach's help. He had practiced the three harder ones before, but it had been months since he last tried them. All of the upgrades were variations of his existing routines but with more flips or more twists. His whole day had been a blend of his coach yelling things like "lock your knees" or "square your shoulders".

He was taking a break to let the water in a cool down shower pound some of the stiffness out of his muscles when he noticed Shane storming over towards him. Shane looked furious,his eyes dark and his mouth set in a hard line. He grabbed Alex roughly by the arm and pulled him over behind the bleachers.

"What are you doing?" Shane hissed angrily, clearly trying not to be heard by any of the other divers walking around on the deck. "That's not your routine."

Yesterday, Shane had been so distracted by his own semifinals that Alex hadn't had the chance to explain the change in plans to him. He hadn't thought Shane would care this much about the substitutions though.

"I'm trying to get on the podium," Alex explained, attempting to pull his arm free of the strong hold. His wrist was already throbbing from Shane's tight grip. "I didn't think it was possible before, but now I actually have a shot. I need to be eligible for more points though."

"So what, you're just magically going to learn two new dives overnight?"

"I've done them before, they're coming back quickly too."

Shane looked even angrier, if that was possible. He was pressing into Alex, crowding into his space. Alex moved backwards, trying to put some distance between them, and felt the cold metal bleachers digging into his back.

Shane's voice was rising steadily: "Those moves are too hard; they take months to get right. This is a stupid idea!"

"I want to win," Alex snapped. "That's all you ever talk about doing, I don't understand why it's an issue now! I'm not competing against you."

"Too many things could go wrong," Shane almost yelled.

At the moment, any chance that the other divers at the pool couldn't hear them was long gone. They were both breathing heavily now; Alex could see Shane's chest heaving. When Shane had first pulled him aside, Alex had just been confused—what had he done to make Shane so angry? Now, Alex was equally furious. Shane was never going to think Alex was good enough, was he? Shane was always waiting for him to make another mistake.

Alex reached up with his free arm and shoved Shane backwards. "I'm not 15 anymore, stop treating me like I still am!"

Shane began to say something in response but cut off with a choked off sound.

"Everything okay here?" Jayme asked, adopting a false casual tone.

He was watching them both, his arms folded across his chest.

"We were just finishing," Alex answered, glaring at Shane.

"That's a good idea," Jayme said. "I'm sure you want to get back to practice."

All at once, Shane let go of Alex's arm and put some space between them. His face shuttered, hiding any emotion.

"I'm taking a break," he informed Jayme. "I'll be back in 20 minutes."

"Don't do it," he ordered Alex before leaving.

Jayme made a face at Shane's retreating back.

"Sorry about him," he told Alex. "Sometimes I wish I could keep him on a leash."

Alex grinned, feeling some of his tension ease. "I know how that is. I always wanted a muzzle when we had to talk to press."

Jayme paused, considering him carefully. "You know, at first when you started hanging around, I couldn't stand you. I thought you were trying to get him back as your partner."

"I don't want that at all," Alex said, truthfully. "Maybe I used to, but not anymore."

What he did want was so much more confusing. Even now, after their argument, he wanted to spend every possible free minute he had left with Shane. But, in the back of his mind, he knew that they would go their separate ways in just five days. After the Olympics, Alex would go back to Maryland and Shane would go back Alabama, and they would see each other in a year at the US Championship. Whatever tenuous connection they had formed would evaporate. He had no delusions that Shane would call or email him once they parted ways.

"Yeah, I didn't think so," Jayme commented. "You aren't so bad. Shane's been almost pleasant the past week."

Alex swallowed hard. "Not today, he hasn't. Well, I should go too- I need to do these dives approximately 1,000 more times today."

Jayme laughed. "Good luck with that. You're already hitting them well though, don't worry about it."

Alex could kind of see why all the girls loved Jayme, even if he did tend to forget about them fairly quickly.

"Thanks, hopefully it will be good enough."

Day 10- Alex's Final

The morning of Alex's final, he almost couldn't concentrate because Shane was so utterly impossible to be around.

Jayme stomped up to the breakfast table first.

"This is your fault," he told Alex.

Alex froze with his fork halfway to his mouth. "What did I do?"

His question was answered for him an instant later when Shane slammed his tray down on the table.

"They're out of cereal andoatmeal," Shane snapped. "This is bullshit. We're world class athletes; they need to get their act together."

"Good morning Shane," Alex said, using the sort of tone someone might adopt while approaching a wild animal.

Shane whipped his head around to face Alex. "Did you fix your routine?"

"Yeah, I practiced all yesterday. I think I've got it down now…" Alex trailed off, as he noticed Shane's face darkening. "Oh, that's not what you meant, is it?"

"So you're still planning on doing those moves?" Shane spat.

"Yes, I am."

"Fantastic,"Shane muttered.

Alex took a deep breath, trying to figure out what to say.

"Look," he started. Then it hit him that he couldn't possibly explain to Shane how much it meant to him to win. Shane didn't understand what the past couple of years had been like, and what a chance for a medal could mean for Alex. He gave up, and tried to change the subject, instead. "I'm really excited; my parents are arriving in an hour or two. They finally found a flight that would get them here in time."

Shane's chair scraped backwards, and he abruptly stood up. Most of the food on his plate was still untouched.

"I'm going to the gym," he told Jayme. "I'll see you around later."

Alex gaped at him. "What is wrong with you today?"

"Try not to break a leg," Shane warned him. Then, he turned on his heel and left the cafeteria.

"Ughhh," Alex groaned and buried his face in his hands.

Jayme, Chelsea and Rose were all giving him funny looks, but he ignored them. He took a few more bites of his toast and then stood as well.

"I actually need to go too," he informed the table. "My parents should be arriving soon and I need to meet with my Coach before then to talk some last minute strategy."

"Good luck!" Chelsea called after him.

"We'll be there cheering," Rose added. "Look for us!"

The day after that was a blur. A taxi brought his parents to Olympic Village and he threw himself into their arms, profusely thanking them for coming out to watch. They had seen all his competitions so far on TV, but he treated them to a first-hand play-by-play of what they had missed anyway.

The first time he mentioned Shane in passing, his mom frowned and asked "You've been seeing him here; are you sure that's a good idea, honey? I think maybe you should keep your distance."

"Don't worry mom," he lied. "It's nothing. All of us divers just run into each other around here a lot, that's all. I'm just being polite."

The third time he caught himself beginning a sentence with "Shane and I…" though, he caught his parents exchanging a worried look.

"Alex," his dad began. "I hope you aren't getting your hopes up. He's made it pretty clear that he wants nothing to do with you. I don't think you'll ever be partners again, no matter how well you do today."

Alex choked on his drink. Why did everyone think he wanted to be partners again? His cheeks burned at the thought that even his parents felt like that they had to prepare him for the fact that Shane was going to ditch him as soon as they left London. Clearly, he was being really stupidly obvious with his feelings, even if everyone was misreading it. He measured his words more carefully from then on, making sure to avoid the topic.

After lunch with them, he had to report to the Water Cube to wait in line for the final round of competition. The noise inside was deafening. Every single seat was taken. He still managed to find his parents, Jayme and the girls, because they had surprised him and painted a banner that said: GO ALEX! USA USA USA! in red, white and blue. This time, it didn't even surprise him that Shane hadn't come to watch. He ruthlessly suppressed any disappointment, and focused on his dives.

It felt like he was watching the competition from a distance, like someone other than him had to get up and perform. His low qualifying score set him up to dive last each round, so he always knew the standings before it was his turn. It rapidly became clear that Chelsea was a genius—each time he hit a new dive well, the higher points he received for difficultly kept him towards the front of the pack. The only thing counting against him was that he was a little bit sloppier than the other divers. He hadn't had enough time to polish everything.

Then, in the sixth round, the South African diver lost his grip and fell out of a tuck, knocking himself off the podium. Alex knew what that could mean, but he didn't let himself think about it; didn't check the scoreboard. He just tried to stay focused on his final dive.

After he broke the surface, he blinked furiously, trying to get water out of his eyes so he could read the standings. The scoreboard was flashing red:

Ryan Sutter, Great Britain

Mario Variano, Spain

Alex Isner, USA

He raised a fist to celebrate, laughing almost hysterically. His coach met him by the side of the pool to pull him out, wrapping him in a bear hug. The constant camera flashes were blinding. Standing on the podium felt like a long hallucination. Two British officials walked by and placed his medal around his neck, handing him a bouquet of Lilies. Tears blurred his vision as he watched the US flag rise.

Ryan was standing next to him, several feet higher on the winner's stand. After the British anthem, he looked over at Alex and said seductively, "Hey, what do you say we go back to my room after this and celebrate?"

Alex doubled over in another round of delirious laughter, and surfaced to Ryan's offended expression. It was hard for anything else to surprise him today, but apparently he had also been wrong about Ryan trying to distract him. He found it criminally unfair that he had absolutely no desire to take Ryan up on his offer. "Sorry, sorry, it's been a long day. I'm really happy for you, but I already have plans."

When the medal ceremony was finally over, and he had finished shaking hands with all the press, fans, other divers, and his coaches, his parents let him run back to his room so that he could change and have a few minutes of quiet before they went out to dinner together. His key was turning in the lock to his room when he paused and pulled it back out, looking over at the door next to his. The metal dug into his hand as he tightened his grip, thinking about how Shane had been acting lately.

Alex started to pace restlessly in the hall. He had never told Shane off for anything before. Even now that they were spending so much time together, he had never mentioned to Shane how unfair he thought it was that Shane had abandoned him after the accident. Now though- now that Shane had skipped the finals and outright refused to wish Alex good luck—Alex felt like giving him a piece of his mind.

As Alex hovered outside, working up the nerve to knock, the door swung open, almost hitting him in the face. Jayme stepped out, dressed in jeans and a nice polo shirt.

He stopped, looking surprised when he noticed Alex. "Hey Alex. Congrats again."

"Oh, uh, thank you." Alex shifted uncomfortably. "Can I come in?"

Jayme appeared amused. "He's in the shower; don't do anything to mess up my partner before tomorrow."

Alex could hear the water running in the bathroom. He walked over and sat on the neater of the two beds, fairly certain it had to be Shane's, considering how obsessive he had always been about tidiness. There was a laptop open across the room, but he couldn't make out what was on the screen. He picked at a loose thread in the tacky comforter. His medal felt heavy around his neck.

After about five minutes the water turned off. Shane walked out, his hair plastered to his forehead and a towel wrapped loosely around his waist. He paused in the door as he noticed Alex, quirking an eyebrow.

"Hey, give me a second; I was expecting to be alone when Jayme left."

He moved past Alex and bent down to rustle through his suitcase. After he dug out briefs and a pair of loose mesh shorts, he disappeared back into the other room. Much to Alex's disappointment, when he reappeared, he was dressed and toweling his hair.

"I won bronze today," Alex told him, cutting to the chase. "I think you might be the only person in the US who hasn't congratulated me yet."

"I see." Shane waved his hand at the medal. "Well done."

"Why weren't you there?" Alex asked, an edge of petulance creeping into his voice.

Shane laughed dryly. "The Olympics don't stop just because you're done, Alex. I was getting ready for tomorrow; I have my own medal to win."

"Jayme and the girls came. You couldn't take a break to support your team?'

Shane had seemed like he was humoring him, maybe making fun of his slight although probably deserved self-centeredness. But at that, he made a noise in the back of his throat and looked away for a second. When he glanced back up, he looked tired.

"Alex, I don't give a shit about your dives. I just want to focus on my meet tomorrow."

Alex's jaw dropped and he drew his hands into fists. "I don't understand you at all! I used to think we were pretty close and then you took another partner and never spoke to me again. And then we come here and I thought we were getting to be pretty good friends and all of a sudden you don't care anymore. I don't get it."

He felt furious. Ryan wanted his attention; wanted to be around him. Why was he so obsessed with getting Shane to notice him?

"We aren't friends," Shane burst out immediately. "All you do is throw me off. You used to be this annoying little kid that followed me around everywhere like a puppy and I was so happy to finally be rid of you but then all I could think about was how much Jayme wasn't like you. And then, I finally get over that and make it here and you're right next door looking…" he gestured toward Alex, "the way that you look and then I get to spend my time worrying about fucking Ryan Sutter getting his hands on you, all the while, just waiting to watch you bleed out in the pool again."

Alex was starting to feel like he had on the diving board a few nights ago—dizzy and nauseous, his eyes stinging.

"Okay." he managed. "I'm sorry. My mistake. I obviously shouldn't have come here."

His chest hurt as he started to walk to the door. It had seemed like he was one of the only ones who Shane opened up to; he had really started to feel like he was somehow special. But while his heart sank, his mind caught up with everything Shane had been saying, stopping him in his tracks. His eyes flickered over the laptop on the desk by the door. With sudden clarity, he realized that he was the one pictured in the ESPN article up on Shane's computer, beaming and holding his medal.

He turned back around shakily, finding his voice. "You're scared that I'm going to get hurt again? Is that why you never watch me dive?"

Shane's jaw was clenched, but it seemed more like he was mad at himself; like he knew he had given something away. A long stretch of time passed without him answering.

"Is it?" Alex pressed.

"Yes," Shane muttered. "That's why."

Alex was having trouble breathing now. "I thought it was because you just didn't think I was a very good diver."

"Why would you think that?" Shane asked incredulously. "You're amazing."

Alex's whole world felt like it was twisting on its axis. "You never visited me, you never brought it up. How was I supposed to know?"

Shane had flushed a dark red. He answered in a low voice. "I just didn't want to have to think about it anymore. That was the worst day of my life. After I dove, I heard someone in the crowd scream and I was terrified that something had happened. I started looking for you as soon as I hit the water, but I turned the wrong way first and took too long. When I finally got to you there was this cloud of red all around you and you were so still. I did everything I could to get you out of the water, and then someone took you away from me and I lost sight of you. I was throwing up in the locker room when the match resumed."

His face darkened, and his voice took on an increasingly panicked tone. "I don't understand why you didn't retire! You know if you hit your head again it could be so much worse."

"That's what the doctors say," Alex conceded. "I'm fine though. Look how much better I've gotten- I threw a perfect back four today."

Shane ignored him. "And you chose the freaking platform," he continued. "You don't even need to hit a board anymore, now that you're so high, just the water the wrong way."

Yesterday, Alex would have said that getting back on a board for the first time was the bravest thing he had ever done. Crossing the room to Shane now had to be a close second. He grabbed Shane's shoulders with both of his hands.

"Look," he repeated soothingly, "I'm fine. I've learned when a move is out my element, I've gotten stronger."

Suddenly, he felt completely calm, the most at ease with Shane that he had ever been in his life. Shane, by contrast, looked terrible. Alex could feel him trembling. Without his usual cool façade, he looked younger, more vulnerable. They stared at each other for a long second and then Shane stepped back far enough that Alex's hands slipped to his waist.

Shane shook his head. "No," he growled, "You're not fine, you're crazy. Why aren't you out celebrating? I'm sure Ryan is dying to congratulate you."

"I don't care about Ryan," Alex told him. "I wanted to come find you."

Shane exhaled loudly. "Crazy." he repeated.

Even with the step Shane had taken back, they were still so close together. Through the mesh of Shane's shorts, Alex could feel the warmth of skin under his fingertips. Shane reached out jerkily and cupped Alex's face with one hand. His thumb brushed a light sweep across Alex's cheeks. Using hands on Shane's waist, Alex tugged Shane towards him and then leaned up to kiss him.

It was just the barest brush of lips, soft and tentative, over almost as soon as it had begun. Still, he found that he had unconsciously closed his eyes. As he opened them, he watched Shane's lashes flutter up. Shane's eyes were blown wide, bluer than a pool being struck by sunlight. He was worrying his bottom lip between his teeth.

Alex wanted to do that for Shane, so he leaned back in. Shane sighed into his mouth, gradually relaxing against him. Between practice and school, Alex hadn't had time to try to date. Other than a sloppy kiss at a party once, he had never done this before. Now, he never wanted to stop.

Shane kissed just like he dove—intensely focused but with a startling amount of energy running beneath the surface. At the same time as he deepened the kiss he started walking backwards, pulling Alex with him towards the bed. The feeling of their tongues tangling together sparked something that hit him low in the gut.

The sound of a phone ringing out cut shrilly through the air. Alex nearly jumped out of his skin and then cursed loudly. He had completely forgotten about dinner with his parents.

"Crap, crap." Alex fumbled to silence the phone, deciding it would be smart to wait to try to talk to his parents. He looked helplessly up at Shane. "I think I have to go."

Shane wasn't touching him anymore, but he could still feel all the places where Shane's hands had been. His heart was threatening to beat out of his chest, and he felt dazed, his lips tingling.

"Yeah," Shane said hoarsely. "I should go to bed early and get ready for tomorrow."

Alex wanted to ask him about what had just happened. He wanted to try again; to see how much better it would have been if Shane had pushed him down onto the bed. The words were rising up in his throat, threatening to spill out, when his phone started up again.

He hesitated, looking down at the screen. His parents had flown all the way out here to see him. It was probably important that he spend more time with them.

"I'll see you tomorrow," he promised.

"No!" Shane burst out. "Don't watch. You'll distract me, I know you will, and I need to be able to focus."

"Oh," Alex said, the warm fuzzy feeling he'd had for the last half hour or so, rapidly melting away. He was suddenly very glad he hadn't tried again. So yeah, this was a one-time thing. "Okay then, I won't."

Day 12- Shane's final

The morning of Shane's final, Alex sat high in the bleachers to make sure he was out of sight. Even from that distance he could tell that Shane and Jayme's first dive was a little out of line. The judges only took off a few points, but with a few more mistakes like that they would be out of medal contention.

His phone buzzed in his pocket. His parents had left that morning to return to the U.S., and he had left it on to make sure that they arrived without any issues.

The text was from Chelsea, not his mom or dad.

Chelsea: Where are you?

Alex: Section D, watching.

Chelsea: Why aren't you with the team? I think Shane has been looking out for you.

Alex: I doubt that.

Chelsea: No, he keeps looking over here. Come sit next to me. They need support after that first dive!

Shane had forbidden him from watching, but he was realizing more than ever how little Shane actually opened up about what he wanted. He thought about it for a minute, and then made up his mind.

Alex: Okay, give me a few to get down there.

They completed their second dive before there was an opportunity for him to move. It was a decent dive; solid, without any mistakes, and it pushed them into 4th place. During the transition from the second round to the third round, he left his seat and took a staircase down to the lower level of the auditorium. At the entrance to the athlete viewing area, a security guard stepped in front of him.

"Sorry, sir, this area is off limits."

Alex flushed. Usually he arrived early enough that he didn't need to provide credentials. "Um, sorry, I'm a diver; I'm just a little late."

He fished in his pockets until he found his badge, and the guard stepped aside to let him through. Chelsea and Rose front and center, sitting a few rows up from the pool floor, but he had to wait at the top of the stairs for all eight divers to complete the third round before he could walk across to them. Once again, Shane and Jayme were solid, just not spectacular.

As soon as the next transition arrived, he jogged down the steps and slid in next to the girls.

"Hey," he said, breathlessly.

"Hi Alex," Rose greeted him.

"About time," Chelsea told him.

"Sorry," Alex said. "They look good, don't you think?"

"Yeah," Chelsea answered. "I definitely think they can medal if they keep it up."

Alex watched the boards, waiting for the next wave of dives to start back up. His stomach was twisting up in knots. Shane and Jayme were third in line to dive, and they were both stretching their arms and legs to stay loose during the wait time.

"Shane's not looking for me," Alex couldn't help pointing out. "I don't know what you were talking about, Chelsea."

Rose laughed. "Yeah, he's only looked up at the stands about twenty times now, but I'm sure it's nothing."

As if on cue, Shane gazed up at them. He did a visible double-take and then openly stared at Alex. Alex waved and shot him a thumbs up sign. A breathtaking smile spread across Shane's face. Alex swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry.

"Yeah," Chelsea said sarcastically. "He doesn't care at all if you're watching."

"He told me not to watch," Alex protested halfheartedly, but he kept grinning stupidly at Shane until Shane had to go back to talking with Jayme. Shane did appear noticeably calmer now.

With their routine back on track, Jayme and Shane took the gold medal they were favored to win. They had an hour before their ceremony was expected to start, and Alex watched them disappear into the locker room to shower and change. Before he could think better of it, he was on his feet moving down to follow them.

No one other than the competitors was supposed to be allowed down there, but he flashed a megawatt smile at the security guard and said "Hey I'm Alex Isner, I medaled yesterday, and I want to congratulate my fellow countrymen."

The guard hesitated but Alex brushed past him before he could say anything. He found Shane alone in a quiet section of the locker room. Shane was still smiling to himself as he pulled clothes out of his bag, probably looking for his official track suit for the medal ceremony. He hadn't even changed out of his Speedo yet.

Shane looked up at the sound of Alex's footsteps. Alex froze. It occurred to him that he had essentially just broken into the locker room.

"You really do follow me everywhere, don't you?" Shane asked, sounding almost drunk, his words were so lazy.

"I think you hate it about as much as you hate me watching you compete," Alex retorted.

"Maybe," Shane admitted, with dark eyes.

"Congratulations," Alex remembered to add. The adrenaline was starting to leave him, and in its place he was beginning to feel shy.

"You didn't come back here just to stand there, did you?" Shane asked meaningfully. The clothes he had been holding dropped back into his gym bag.

Alex shook his head. He slowly walked forward to close the rest of the distance between them, readying himself to make a move. Before he could even take his last step, though, Shane was already reaching for him. Shane's fingers slid into his hair, tilting his head up.

This kiss was hot and messy from the very beginning, much wilder than their first. They couldn't stop touching each other—Shane's hands ran up and down his back and Alex gripped his arms tightly. Shane scraped his teeth across Alex's bottom lip and Alex reacted by pulling away to map a trail of kisses down Shane's neck.

He pulled back, unable to suppress a laugh. "You still taste like chlorine. Don't you need to shower before the ceremony?"

Shane grinned against his mouth. "Mmm yeah, good idea."

He tugged Alex back with him towards the showers. Now they were out in the middle of the locker room, where anyone could see them if they came along. Luckily, it seemed like the other divers had gone back to their own rooms, where they could hide their disappointment in private.

"My phone," Alex protested.

Shane took it from him and put it down on a random bench. Almost as soon as he was done, he was back to kissing Alex, his tongue warm and slick in Alex's mouth. Alex's back hit the wall of the shower and the water started up, spraying down on both of them. Within seconds, Alex's shirt was clinging to his chest. He was going to have to see if Shane had a change of clothes, or else he'd have to walk back to his apartment sopping wet.

Shane paused to lick a drop of water off of Alex's collarbone, and Alex immediately forgot about his clothes. He groaned, arching against Shane. Rivulets of water ran down Shane's back, catching on the edge of his Speedo. It was the hottest thing Alex had ever seen in his life.

"I missed you," Shane said, out of no-where, pulling back.

Alex laughed disbelievingly. "I was in the nosebleed section; I wasn't going to stay in my room."

"No," Shane persisted. "After the accident I missed having you around. I just didn't realize how much until I saw you here."

Alex stared at him, amazed. He opened and closed his mouth, unable to find the words.

"I tried calling you for months," he finally managed. "You never answered."

Shane kept him at arm's length, looking serious. "I know, and I can't even begin to tell you how sorry I am for that. And I know you have no reason to believe me, but I don't want it to be like that after this. Would you…" He paused, seeming nervous. "Would you ever consider moving to Auburn to train? I know there's a spot at the facility. And you and Jayme seem like you've hit it off."

"I can't train full time in your facility," Alex told him reluctantly. "I turned down all my professional endorsements so that I could dive next year in college."

"Oh," Shane said dully, looking away. "Yeah, USC, right? I had forgotten about that, congrats man."

The "man" was forced; like he was trying to sound casual, but not quite reaching it.

USC had been one of the only schools to scout Alex, considering that he was homeschooled, and hadn't been able to find the time to study properly for his SAT. Alex had been excited to go there—it was near the beach and the diving program was strong. For a split second, he thought about mentioning how quickly Shane had replaced him, and how many times he had tried to stay in touch in the past three years.

Then, it struck him that he had never once told Shane he was considering college, let alone that he was being scouted by USC. It dawned on him that Shane had to have been keeping tabs on him in his own way.

"After I got my medal, I had voicemails from coaches all over the country," Alex mentioned, keeping his tone light. "I wasn't really paying attention, but I'm pretty sure one of them was at Auburn University."

Shane's head jerked up. As he fought to school his facial expression, he couldn't quite mask the hope in his eyes.

"If you really mean that," Alex offered. "I'll accept their scholarship instead."

"I do," Shane insisted. "I know that I haven't always been there for you, and that I'm not… the most open person in the world most of the time, but you bring me out of my shell. I tell you things I've never told anyone in my life. Even though we don't dive together anymore, I still feel like we're a team in a lot of ways." He frowned again, looking frustrated. "I know that doesn't make any sense."

"No, it does," Alex assured him, trying to wrap his head around the conversation. If you had asked him a month ago the chances that Shane would even say hello to him at a meet in the future, he would have thought they were more remote than the odds of him beating out the Chinese for a gold medal (which he already considered almost impossible). "That's how I feel."

Shane also looked like he couldn't believe what he was hearing. "So you're coming?"

"To Auburn?" he clarified, unnecessarily, before Alex could answer.

"War Eagle." Alex said. He felt like his lips might split, he was smiling so widely.

Shane was almost late to the medal ceremony, but neither of them cared very much.