Summary: and made to enter the water together. krislayhan olympic synchro diving AU.
Rating: R for brief sexual content.
Word count: 4.5k
made in the shape of each other
The first time Kris gives in, fucking Yixing with efficient, fast strokes into the mattress of Yixing's thin dorm room mattress, Yixing keeps his eyes squeezed shut, spine tight and straight, long after Kris' orgasm.
"Did it hurt too much?" Kris asks, his fingers on Yixing's face, lightly stroking Yixing's eyelashes, his dry lips. Yixing opens his mouth around Kris' fingertips, humming.
"It felt like breaking," he says.
He means, like the most perfect entry, water opening around your head, so in sync you can't hear your partner fall through next to you. But he doesn't explain. He doesn't want to worry Kris, who often tells him, stop thinking in diving metaphors. Instead, he hooks his legs tighter around Kris, as if unwilling to let go. Withdrawal is slow, measured, a slow-motion replay of their earlier frenzied sex. Carefully, Kris wipes Yixing down. They say nothing else to each other. Yixing doesn't move, not even when Kris closes the door behind him, not even when he hears the sound of Kris sliding against the door to the floor, head in his hands. Yixing is underwater, listening to Lu Han's legs kicking, surfacing. He breathes to the beat of Lu Han's measured counting, yi, er, san, muscles tensed, the high keening of air whistling past.
He is dreaming of the next dive, and all the dives after that.
He is dreaming of Beijing.
Yixing's arms gave him away when he was five. His father had him doing gymnastics since he was able to walk, but compared to the other boys groomed for the sports programs, Yixing's arms were underdeveloped. He was already a natural at floor routines, and had showed first inclinations toward horizontal bar, but it was generally agreed, somehow, that he'd never quite inspire confidence in the other events.
"If only he had been a girl," his Changsha PE teacher told his father, gnawing on a thumbnail. Then, hesitatingly, "Have you considered diving?"
Which is how, five years later, during the summer session at the state training center, Yixing came up from a dive to the sight of Lu Han crouched by the side of the pool, in oversized athletic pants rolled up to his knees and a towel tucked into two buns by the sides of his head. Top heavy, he looked like he'd topple over at the slightest breeze. He waved at Yixing, and seemed ready to say something, but seconds later, a coach came by to whisk the boy away. A week later, they dove for the first time side by side, in the meager presence of two coaches and four other trainees. It's still, to date, one of their most perfect, and they didn't even know each other's names.
"The curve of my neck was how they found me," Lu Han had said when they were finally partnered. He laughed, burying his nose into the slope of Yixing's shoulder, and finished, "That, and an unplanned backward twist I did on my first try."
Diving did not find Yixing; he was carefully guided to it and methodically guided through it. But like all perfect things, Yixing and Lu Han stumbled into each other. He remembers the first time he stood next to Lu Han, saw the way their shoulders rose and fell into the same line of their chests. Their bodies knew each other before they did, and they dove like old lovers yearning for completion.
Years of training together have made them even more identical. Their coach before Kris used to say, one of you is yuan, the other is fen. Their sponsors tell them, if only I could find my child a spouse as well-matched as the two of you are. The photographers often joke, you are your own second take.
Kris usually just laughs, saying, joined at the hip, at least give each other some room to breathe.
So it's not perfection Yixing's looking for when he sneaks out of their shared dorm room after Lu Han is asleep to dive with Kris. He has perfection with Lu Han. With Kris, it's something else, wrong and electrifying, like the first time he sucked Kris off in the locker room, choking and more aroused for it. He and Kris hit the water imperfectly, messily. Lu Han is a phantom limb or a bruise Yixing keeps pushing for pain, an afterimage guiding Yixing's body as he shapes himself for Kris. When he dives with Kris, Lu Han fades into Yixing, present and simultaneous, possessing him as only illusion can.
So he tells Kris, again, one more dive, and Kris asks him, "What are you trying to accomplish? What about Lu Han?"
In the pool, with his hair pushed back from his forehead, water dripping out of his nose, Kris looks eight years younger, like he could be a competitor and not a trainer, like his sudden growth spurt at sixteen didn't ruin his balance and his form and his chances at Sydney. Yixing has pored over all of Kris' old footage, especially the broadcasts from Sydney, the disastrous 6.5 marks flashing across the screen while Kris, stoic, watches Sautin and Lukashin cleave the water perfectly together. But even at the top of his form, Kris was a diver unlike Yixing or Lu Han. Yixing's seen his dives with Lu Han: limpid, controlled, a mechanically smooth finish, so that they seemed over before they began. Kris makes Yixing feel afraid, like at any moment the dive could spin off and crash.
Yixing wants to give that feeling to Lu Han without hurting him, bring Kris to Lu Han without betrayal and summon himself in Lu Han's body, like Kris summons Lu Han in Yixing's. It's impossible to have everything, Lu Han would tell him. But there is this moment when his toes leave the platform, and he doesn't need to turn to see Lu Han beside him, and it feels like he's sloughed off his body. It is in the friction of his movements when paired with Kris, the blinding shock of Kris' smile when they almost complete the next pike at the same time, the shine in twelve-year-old Lu Han's eyes as he shakes water out of his hair and turns to the coach, asking, how were we? Yixing wants that, wants all of that, and he'll keep rubbing against it until it wears him down.
"This isn't about Lu Han," Yixing says. It is almost the truth. He tilts his head back under the water, to hear Kris' feet beating against the water, rippling in waves around Yixing. It is a heartbeat consuming his entire body. If he stays in it long enough, he could be someone else entirely. Maybe, even, someone more like Kris.
In the last months of training before Beijing, Yixing gets distracted, secretive, inconsolable. Each practice session ends with him frustrated and Lu Han bewildered. Their dives are still in sync, but strained now, each one of Yixing's tucks and twists uncurling so tightly that Lu Han doesn't recognize them in video recordings. Lu Han tries his hardest to match, pushing his back further as he squats, scrutinizing the speed of each arm swing, each release. The similarity in their movements, both unconscious and practiced, only irritates Yixing at every turn, and he ends every dive burrowing into the water, kicking as far away from Lu Han as he can. Kris won't look either one of them in the eye, and Lu Han despairs.
He spends a whole afternoon in June alone, watching, memorizing, and failing to execute Yixing's latest dives. Legs aching, eyes stinging from the repeated impact of the water against his face, he's sitting on the three-meter springboard in sweats and a t-shirt when Yixing comes back from shopping.
"So dedicated," Yixing calls out, waving one of his paper bags in the air. "It's our afternoon off. You're still practicing?"
When Lu Han says nothing in response, Yixing shrugs and mounts the adjacent springboard. Lu Han counts Yixing's steps on the ladder, yi, er, san, swings his leg in time to the beat. It seems to stretch out into eternity.
Something strikes the back of Lu Han's head, flutters to one side of the springboard and, when Lu Han doesn't grab it, slides into the pool, a little spot of white and yellow sinking into an expanse of rippled blue.
"I bought that for you," Yixing says, a little petulant as he leans over the edge of the board to watch the object’s descent. "Couple t-shirts with Yingying on them. Look, I'm wearing mine right now."
Lu Han doesn't turn to look. The smell of chlorine is immediate, choking, and the sound of the hinge creaking under Yixing's weight makes Lu Han physically ill. Ten meters is higher than three, but at least a platform never moves. He wishes, wildly, that diving had more apparatuses, so he'd have something he could throw at the water, maybe even at Yixing, who croons, mockingly, "Xiao lu, what are you thinking about?"
"Lin Yue told me you've been diving with duizhang after hours," Lu Han bites out.
Yixing scoffs, kicking his leg in time with Lu Han's. "Lin Yue is diving-obsessed. He probably sees me diving in his toothbrush cup when he's tired enough."
"Zhang Yixing," Lu Han whispers, head down so he can follow each changing glimmer of light on the pool surface, "Lin Yue told me a week ago. I saw the two of you last night. Don't lie to me."
Lu Han is very good at visualization. It is part of what makes him a natural diver, instead of a skilled one. He hadn't, of course, seen Yixing dive with Kris last night, but there was a certain distance in Yixing's tone when he had shaken Lu Han out of bed this morning, an expression on his face like he was already looking back on this moment from five years in the future and regretting it.
It's the face Yixing wears when he turns to Lu Han now, muttering, "It's not what you think."
"What is it, then? Did I do something wrong? Do you want a different partner? It's already June, it's too late—"
"It's not like that," Yixing interjects. He kneels on the aluminum, cautious of the spring, but doesn't look at Lu Han. "I'm just trying to learn something different. Something—"
Yixing gestures spastically, as if trying in vain to wave Lu Han away. He opens his mouth, then closes it tightly, zipping the two of them into a silence so complete they can hear the sounds of the pool filtration system tirelessly churning water below. It's like being in the stomach of a very large giant, engulfing them. He and Yixing are just two little specks, floating and disintegrating.
"I'm trying to learn something that's not us," finishes Yixing.
"Why didn't you just tell me?"
"I thought you might get mad." Then Yixing adds, defiant, "And you are."
"Then throw me away and pair with duizhang," Lu Han tells him, voice flat, and dives into the water before Yixing can respond.
He is already swimming towards the side of the pool when he hears Yixing throw himself off the springboard after Lu Han. Underwater, the syncopated sound of their bodies punching through is the dull roar of a storm breaking. It's as intimate to Lu Han as his own name. The sweetness of it reverberates in Lu Han, making him feel slow and heavy as he surfaces at the edge of the water. He glances behind him for any sign of the dropped t-shirt, but suddenly Kris appears, offering Lu Han a towel, face unreadable. In his hurry to push past Kris, Lu Han scrapes one knee against the rough side of the pool. He limps away, angrily wringing out his hair and clothes to keep himself from tearing up.
Behind him, Lu Han hears Kris snap at Yixing, "What was that, a suicide attempt?"
"It's just that I'm unpracticed on the springboard," Yixing jokes, coughing out water. "That's all."
Lu Han turns in time to see Kris putting a hand out, as if to help dry Yixing's hair. Instead of answering, Yixing hands the towel back to Kris and slips back into the pool, wet jeans and all. He sluggishly treads water until he's under the springboards, where Lu Han had let the Yingying t-shirt fall.
Kris paces alongside him, growling, "What are you doing now?" Yixing doesn't say anything. He takes a deep breath and dives, soundlessly, for the bottom. Lu Han and Kris both watch his toes scrape along the surface of the water as he disappears.
Lu Han started diving at the age of seven. Equipped with a natural flexibility and an instinct for spins, he was meant to be a soloist. But three years into training, he banged his face on the platform while executing a simple reverse dive, leaving him with a scar on his bottom lip and a fear of heights he managed only by switching to synchro. It had been Zhang Ting, their first coach, who suggested it. When you dive with someone else, he had told Lu Han, a hand steadying him on the shoulder, you don't have to look down. You can look across, instead, at your partner.
A year later, Lu Han was moved to Jinan to pair with Zhou Luxin. And a week later, Lu Han and Yixing found each other.
Like most acrophobics, Lu Han is obsessed with judging distances from visual cues. But the most important distances in Lu Han's life are fixed: ten kilometers from his current dorms to the natatorium, ten meters from the platform edge to the surface of the water, five meters from the water to the bottom of the pool. Before each dive, he repeats the distances to himself like a mantra, glancing at Yixing, to ground him. Left to his own devices, even small heights can leave Lu Han shaky, unguarded. Alone at three meters, the water and Yixing had both seemed to him so far away, and only the crash of the water against his face stopped him from hyperventilating.
At heart, Lu Han is a romantic. Sometimes, in the evenings, he and Yixing watch television drama box sets shipped from their families, and he'll find himself putting themselves in the main roles. It's always impossible. He has never had to win Yixing over, has never had to fight for his affection. In the happy endings Lu Han has planned for them, Yixing is in love with someone who is better for him than Lu Han will ever be. One day, Lu Han won't need Yixing to be there for every height, every jump, every dive. One day, they will be complete with someone else, not each other.
But he's not yet at that one day. For now, he is eighteen and immortal, the legacy of Chinese diving stretched behind him and in them. Separation is like death, and equally unthinkable.
Lu Han is not in love with Yixing, but how could he be? He is not in love with his legs or his bones or the moment when he spot-checks the water below him, knowing his dive will be perfect. Yixing is in his legs, in his bones, in the surety of perfection. Yixing is in his diving, and diving is all Lu Han has known. So the only thing left for Lu Han is to dive better, work harder, give more. If Yixing is incomplete, then Lu Han, too, must be incomplete. If Yixing is unsure, then Lu Han, too, is wavering at the edge of a platform, an unspeakably long distance stretched out between him and the water. Whatever Yixing is looking for, Lu Han must be. It's not a sacrifice to be willing.
Yixing comes to Lu Han now, holding the wet shirt out, like Kris with his towel reaching out towards Lu Han, like Kris with his hand reaching out towards Yixing. Lu Han takes a deep breath. He doesn't look down. Yixing is there, across from him. He sees the surface of the water laid out in front of them, like eternity.
The night before the Opening Ceremony, the entire Chinese Olympic team comes together for an official dinner. Yixing and Lu Han are flanked on either side by half of the men's gymnastics team and a couple of bored women’s ping pong players. Henry, who used to teach Yixing and Lu Han tumbling tricks on weekends where they weren't sneaking out of the dorms to watch American movies, spends most of dinner complaining loudly about Han Geng.
"He threatened to kill everyone on the team if we fail to win gold this year," Henry says through a mouthful of noodles. "And you know why? Better than dying of shame, he says. What kind of leader is he?"
"You know he put off his marriage just for this. You should be sympathetic with how much he's sacrificing for the motherland," Yixing reminds him, sneaking a pre-rolled roast duck wrap off Henry's plate for Lu Han, which shuts him up and makes Amber snort into her fish head soup.
Lu Han is the only one to make friends with the last-minute substitute gymnast, a Qingdao native with an impeccable jawline who towers over the rest of them, glowering and nervous. No one is allowed to get drunk, but it seems a waste just to let festivities end, so a small group gathers in Lu Han and Yixing's hotel room, drinking cold green tea from large plastic bottles and re-enacting rumors they've heard about the Opening Ceremony programming. When Kris finally finds them, they're on the floor trying to make the five Olympic rings. The Qingdao boy is directing Yixing to grab Lu Han's knees a little more tightly, whining mournfully at them, ge, I know you're more flexible than that, and Zhou Mi, one of the still-rings specialists, is laughing so hard he rams his head into Han Geng's nose.
"Act your age," Kris scolds, herding them all to bed. He brushes Yixing's sweaty bangs out of his face with a brusque hand before turning to leave. Lu Han is the only one who sees Yixing turn into the touch, kissing Kris on the palm as he says goodnight.
Alone in the darkness of their hotel room, Yixing twists under his blanket and asks Lu Han if he's still awake. Without saying anything at all, Lu Han scoots over and lifts up his thin comforter, letting Yixing crawl into the space. They are both thinking of things to say, and then deciding there is nothing they haven't already said to each other, hundreds of times, plunging side by side into the water. Lu Han touches Yixing's cheek, and Yixing kisses Lu Han's palm, chaste and dry. Lu Han knows Yixing, and knows the echo was made deliberately for Lu Han to understand. This, he thinks drowsily, relaxing into Yixing's mouth, is the answer. He should have remembered that symmetry was always Yixing's best weapon.
Afterwards, Yixing nods off first. Lu Han curls one hand around Yixing's naked waist to keep from sliding off the bed. He doesn't have to count to know they are breathing in time.
In his dreams, they are diving from a great distance. Don't look down, Yixing tells him. Just look at me. They pierce through and touch the bottom of the sea. There is sand, they lie upon it, their bodies are two halves of a shell, edges touching, a hollow in the center. Someone dives after them. Yixing touches Lu Han, closing the distance, shimmering in the dark. The diver becomes Kris, they are one shell, the hollow remains. Kris becomes the sand, coats the two of them until they become a whole. The hollow is filled, Kris is in the hollow, they cover Kris over and over again in opalesque nacre until he is perfectly rounded and a part of their whole.
The dream ends. They stay asleep. Somewhere, Lu Han hears Kris scolding both of them, stop thinking in diving metaphors.
China loses at the last minute to a duo from South Korea, a fourteen-year-old who's the youngest to medal at an Olympic diving event and a repeat from Athens who was a bronze-medal soloist in 2004. They are neck-and-neck for five rounds—the Korean pair can't match Yixing and Lu Han's flawless simple tucks at the opening, but they execute more difficult dives for rounds three and four—before, finally, like a breath of air held and forced out in the sixth dive, Lu Han doesn't quite finish a spin, and Yixing enters the water over-extended, legs slightly apart.
The Koreans are, of course, perfect. No deductions, and two 10.0 marks. Kris swears under his breath to the tune of their national anthem.
"I didn't know you knew the words," one of the South Korean trainers says as he gives Kris an appreciative once-over. Kris grins, showing his teeth.
Yixing and Lu Han are two measures of placidity nestled under Kris' outstretched arms as they pose for the cameras afterwards. They are not even here. They are already in London, their silver medals forgotten, weightless, insignificant. Not even glimpses of their families crying in the audience seem to get any reaction. Then again, Kris thinks, since they've been in the state sports program, they've only seen their family for a total of twelve days. They are more his sons than their family's, and the realization gives him chills.
Kris has never been to London. It will be a long, hard four years to get there. He tries to remember Chinese divers over the age of twenty in the Olympics and, well. There's Fu and Wu Minxia, and Guo Jingjing, at twenty-six the princess of diving, and Qin Kai is still waiting for his turn on the 3m springboard synchro. Tian Liang was twenty-five and Yang Jinghui was twenty-one when they brought home gold in Athens, smiling shyly at Kris, then still an apprentice trainer, as they held up their medals, liang jing jing to the end. Still, it's rare. The state natatoriums level off at age nineteen; most days Kris is the only person in the building in his twenties. Someone, Kris thinks, should tell Yixing and Lu Han that this might be it, and maybe they should make peace with it. Only the Chinese would think of silver at the Olympics as a failure, in light of Yixing and Lu Han's two golds at the world championships and another in the Asian Games. Kris didn't even medal in Sydney, and, roughly speaking, he's only miserable every other time he sees Lu Han finish a rip entry with the water barely bubbling at the tip of his feet.
But somehow, Kris feels like it's his fault. All those dives with Yixing, their ill-matched bodies curling out with impoverished symmetry, Kris trying to mirror Yixing's knife-sharp closed pikes and failing. He replays the trajectory of Lu Han's last jump, the slight hesitation going into the first rotation. It weighs heavily, like he had shaped Lu Han to fail. Maybe Lu Han's body could sense the impurity in Yixing's movements, the chasm shaped for Kris' body that Yixing is stretched around, and tried to compensate.
Or maybe Kris is just feeling guilty.
He tells himself he will stop fucking Yixing. Sex doesn't have to make things harder, and really, it hasn't. In fact, if asked, he'd probably say the diving fucked them up more. But Kris doesn't know if he can touch Yixing again without breaking, if he can bear to keep smearing his fingerprints all over Yixing only to see how nothing sticks. Sex won't ruin Yixing, but it might ruin Kris. It certainly feels like it's ruined Lu Han in some strange, impersonal way. Kris wonders if this silver medal is the other shoe, or if there is still one waiting to drop.
When Lu Han takes Yixing's hand and heads towards the reporters from Xinhua News, Kris feels inexplicably safer. He sits back down in the bleachers, surrounded by faint-hearted Chinese fans, and admires them from afar. Their slight, thin figures, two almost-perfect mirror images. This is how he should have stayed. He's always reached for more than could be given. His life is a series of balks, unscored, unpunished. Here, with his hands tucked into his lap, is where that will end.
But when they get back to their rooms in the Olympic Village, Lu Han pushes him down, gently, to the bed, a faint smile on his lips. Yixing's hand is on the waistband of Kris' pants, already slipping past the elastic. Kris opens his mouth, and Yixing kisses him. Lu Han shyly follows, breathing quickly, Yixing whispering directions in his ear.
There are many things Kris should do or say, but from the very first time they were led to him, coltish and aloof, two thirteen-year-olds fresh out of the pool, he's never won against both of them. Then, watching them execute endless textbook dives, he had told Zhang Ting, I don't want to be their coach. Hell, I don't even want to be a coach at all.
Divers aren't taught by example, Zhang Ting had reminded him. You don't need to be able to do what they do to help them.
For failed divers like Kris, who wanted to give more than they have, there are very few places to hide. Yixing and Lu Han's perfection is a kind of safe harbor Kris washes into again and again. They are solid, bound tightly together, and need him only for his failure. He can't shoot through them like a growth spurt, can't unwind them from each other, can only give away his imperfections, like the chum being churned in blood-red water, breath held and waiting for a bite. He lets them tear him apart, knowing each piece they take will, eventually, rebuild him as part of them. This, too, is a kind of guidance—only he can teach them from his failure.
So in the end, as if hypnotized, he submits. They strip him thoroughly, press their bare chests, still slightly damp, against his arms. With his eyes closed, he is underwater. He dives again and again, flawless in his borrowed body. Lu Han and Yixing break through the surface beside him, feet together, silently on either side. Yixing's line is clean; Lu Han's, dynamic. They reach for him at the same time, a reflex born of years of practice. He drags them down, anchors them there.
Together, they dream of the next dive.
- implied exo-k cameos at the end!!
- ages are slightly altered from reality. it's not explicit, but kris was 16 for sydney, making him 20 in athens and when he first meets the layhan duo, and 24 in beijing (present time for the fic). layhan get to keep their ages.
- it is unthinkable to me that china would lose synchro to anyone, but it's also unthinkable for two chinese synchro divers to be partners for seven years, and anyway chinaline has to suffer somehow.
- han geng is yang wei, henry is zou kai, tao is guo weiyang (though guo is technically a 2012 gymnast), and zhou mi is chen yibing. all other divers and coaches mentioned are, in fact, real people. also i changed the last names in the barnes article to make it work for the fic but he wrote everything else, i promise ;;
- cut text is from alt-j's "tessellate"
- yuan fen (缘分) is a chinese concept that combines destiny with affinity. wiki has more on the subject if you're interested. liang jing jing (亮晶晶) was a term used to describe tian liang and guo jingjing, and means "sparkling." i think that's all the chinese dropped in this fic OTL
- layhan was my first and fondest otp and yet IT TOOK ME THIS LONG TO WRITE SOMETHING FOR THEM.
- written, as always, for the usual suspects, but especially for fearless leader, who was midwife and nanny and best friend to this fic. without her bullying, it would have never seen the light of day.