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You've got your ball,
You've got your chain
Tied to me tight, tie me up again.
Who's got their claws
In you my friend?
Into your heart I'll beat again
Sweet like candy to my soul
Sweet you rock,
And sweet you roll

~Dave Mathews Band

MARSHALL

It kind of snuck up on him, like the ocean, because he sure as shit didn’t plan it. He didn’t know anyone who planned something like that. Especially not something like that.

The classical music freaked the crap out of him at first because no one was supposed to be at the rink at four thirty in the morning except him, and he’d broken in.

The same person who turned on the music turned on some spotlights, too. Not all of them, just enough to cast the rink in streaks of light. In and out of them floated the best-looking girl he’d ever seen: blond waves of hair caught the light and shone as she moved. She skated with her eyes closed, lashes against the cheeks of the pretty doll-face. He couldn’t see too much from where he crouched behind the bleachers, but he could see that. He forgot the pain in his cheek, his cold feet in their soaked sneakers and the fact that he hadn’t eaten dinner.

He just watched as she skated, arms out, tassels of a bright red scarf trailing her with each jump and spin, a bright splash of color next to the skin-tight black skating outfit.

It wasn’t like he hadn’t seen girls skate before, either. He saw them all the time; he had no choice. The hockey team and the skating club shared the rink. Some of the girls even talked to him.

He remembered thinking he hadn’t noticed her ass, which wasn’t like him. He hadn’t even thought of her ass, too caught up in how free she looked, too caught up in wondering how she got the balls to bust in here and skate an hour before the maintenance guy drove out the Zamboni.

Then she made a halo with her arms, fingers barely touching, and arched her back, swinging one leg behind her, blond hair waving in the breeze, eyes still closed.

His eyes traveled over the sleek line of the skating outfit, and grew wide. He might have gasped, or made some sound, and only the low music and the dark saved him. Turning away he sat on his heels against the back of the, breathing hard, a roar in his ears. His butt was wet from his sneakers but he barely noticed.

As soon as he could move he booked the hell out of there as fast and quiet as he could.

And all he’d been looking for was a place to crash.

*~*~*~*~*~

TAY

“Someone’s staring at you.”

“What?” Tay blinked out of his thoughts. His friend Johnny slid his eyes over to the side of the rink as they finished up the last of their compulsory practices. Their coach Priscilla was talking shop with some older pairs skater, so Tay turned to look. He collided with an intense pair of blue eyes. For a second, he almost lost his rhythm in the path of that strong, almost fierce stare, but he turned away and concentrated. He could feel it on him now though, constantly. It belonged to one of the hockey players that waited on the sidelines while the figure skaters cleared out. Tay didn’t look at them if he could help it. It was known to be detrimental to your health.

A few of them had cornered Johnny last year when his friend took too long to gather up his gear, and their coach had to intervene. It wasn’t exactly the first time. Johnny had this look to him that begged to either be fucked with or protected. He didn’t look his age at all despite the fact that they’d both grown some since last year. His large hazel eyes peered out of a delicate pixie face framed in dark brown curls. One time some hockey goons started to pick on him and Sasha, one of the skating girls, almost decked them, which didn’t help matters at all. They didn’t really hurt him, just a lot of trash talk and invasion of space, but Johnny hadn’t been himself for a long time after that. You didn’t get called a ‘fag pretty boy’ in front of the whole skating club and bounce right back.

Tay knew he should feel safer because Zac played hockey, but he didn’t. His younger brother barely acknowledged his presence at the rink as it was. He had no illusions of what Zac thought of him and the sport he participated in.

“You want to walk out together?” Johnny asked.

Tay risked another glance and the boy still had him eye-locked, from where he sat with a bunch of loud, raucous hockey players, Tay’s brother among them. The boy wore the uniform of a Trimbull Dragon; oddly slim neck jutting out of the wide collar flanked by the hulking shoulder pads, bulky leg protectors so he almost resembled a cartoon. His face was sharp but not: strange pointy nose and dimple on his chin paired with a pouty mouth and those unblinking eyes. His hair was marine short and he might have had a bruise on one cheek.

“Yeah,” Tay nodded as they concluded the exercises and skated over to where Priscilla stood, making notes on her clipboard. He listened closely to her suggestions and by the time he got home he’d forgotten all about it.

MARSHALL

Sometimes, he still felt like a fake.

When he walked in school to be greeted by the people in the popular clique. When girls who wouldn’t spit in his direction in middle school now gave him promising smiles and flipped their hair. All because on a fluke he realized he liked to hit a little piece of plastic across the ice and he was good at it. Sometimes, the voice in his head called them on it:

Who you waving at, homie? I live on 8 Mile and my brother and I got two different daddies. They ain’t around. My mom’s on welfare and her latest fucking boyfriend hit me last night when I told him he could fuck my mom but he couldn’t tell me what to do. All my fees for our camps are ‘donated’ and last month I didn’t eat one whole road trip to a game because I didn’t have any money. So who you waving at?

That’s why his best friends, the ones he hung with and really talked to, were still the posse from the Mile. Proof had gotten his back since they were both little kids, and Denaun, Rufus, and Von had always been around, even if only Marshall still lived at the trailer park. They all had grandmamma and cousins still there. The guys on the team were cool, but sometimes it was all Marshall could do to watch them in their perfect little lives with their perfect little families and not explode from-something; jealousy, sadness, embarrassment at the crappy reality show that was his own family.

Besides, he thought, watching Proof fool with his dreads in the small locker mirror, he wasn’t sure half the guys would even be in school if he hadn’t started playing hockey. They had all been making noises about quitting to find work being the next Lil' Wayne or T.I.

Proof still MC’d battles at the Shelter most nights making cash under the table since he was still underage. But Marshall had to stay in school to play, so it’s as if they all kind of went along. Most times they were the only black faces at the games.

“Happened with that?” Proof asked without looking at him and Marshall glanced over to see part of his face reflected in the tiny mirror, the yellow purple bruise on his cheek framed like a photograph. He stuck his head in his messy locker. Damn, it was a disaster. Maybe Jeanine’s stuff had been the only thing keeping it clean.

“Nothin’.”

Proof grunted but let it ride. It’s probably why they’d been friends this long; he knew when to leave something alone.

“Hey, Marshall.”

“Hi.” Two girls' voices made him turn around. They were standing in front of him smiling, books held up to boobs so their chest almost sat on them, and wafting body spray strong enough to peel paint

“’Sup.”

“Did you study for the quiz in Algebra?” Which had to be the lamest come on he’d ever heard. She took him in from head to toe, eyes bright. She was a cheerleader and hadn’t known he existed until he put on a hockey uniform.

“No,” he answered honestly and they seemed to think it was the funniest thing they’d ever heard.

“God! You’re so bad!” The other one exclaimed in delight.

“I’m bad, Proof,” Marshall said sarcastically to his friend who’d been busy enjoying the scenery even if they hadn’t even acknowledged he was there. Marshall hated that.

“You bad, Marshall,” he agreed. The girls laughed some more before finally walking away, butts swinging back and forth, and he turned back to his locker rolling his eyes.

“Word spreads fast, homie,” Proof observed.

Marshall had only broken up with Jeanine four days ago.

“Whatever,” he muttered, his mind going to the rink. The rink and the skater he couldn’t stop thinking about.

Not even when he'd realized it was a guy.

TAY

Tay went to school once.

It was a little after Ike and Zac had started getting really good at hockey. He’d walked into the room they shared one afternoon in late July and they both stopped talking and stood up, acting like they’d just been looking at porn or something. But the couple of magazines Ike had stashed weren’t anywhere and neither of them had the goofy, red faced look they got when Tay busted them. In fact, the serious look on Zac’s face was so out of place that Tay got scared for a second. His younger brother was the least serious person Tay knew.

“You guys are freaking me out.”

“We want to go to school.” Ike said calmly and Tay blinked at them. Ike had been fourteen then, the tallest and lankiest and already setting all kinds of records in Bantams. Ike had always been the calmest of them, at least then.

“We DO go to school.” Tay had answered, still not getting it. Not even suspecting it, really.

“No, like, to school,” Zac emphasized, arms gesturing like they did when he was excited or nervous or just about any strong emotion. Not a lot had changed.

“Why?” Tay asked plaintively because, honestly, he could think of nothing more horrible. He liked being here with everyone. He liked not needing to juggle all his skating time with school like other figure skaters and worry constantly about missing too many classes or being late on homework. Their mom taught all of them and they worked at their own pace. As long as they did the assignments by Friday the rest of the time belonged to them. Tay couldn’t imagine wanting to ride the loud, crowded yellow school bus or eat the cafeteria food that must be crap. What the hell?

“We just do. Shannon goes and so do all the guys on the team.”

“Like you aren’t going to dump her in a few weeks! Are you serious?” Tay’s chest felt tight and he couldn’t really breathe right. Ike didn’t even bother denying it.

They’d done everything together, everything, to the point their mom and dad wondered if it was ‘healthy.’ They didn’t make decisions without all three of them, they never had. Even when Tay told them he was quitting hockey, no great loss since he sucked something bad, and just focusing on figure skating they’d been okay. Not great, but he could tell everyone, except his dad, had breathed a sigh of relief. Tay had really sucked at hockey.

“Come on, Tay, let’s all go! It’ll be cool! Think of all the girls!” Zac tried to shadow box with him, buzzing and hopping in eleven-year old excitement and Tay shoved him off, the words out of his mouth before he'd even thought of it:

“I don’t care about the girls!”

A silence followed and they looked at each other, the sounds of the house in the background of the late July afternoon: Jessica and Avery’s laughter, their mother's soothing voice and the clink of pots and pans for dinner. How could they not want to be here? How….?

“Why do YOU want to go, anyway?” He demanded of his younger brother. “Did you start dating or something?”

“NO!” Zac exclaimed, blushing beneath the spill of dark blond hair. “Just want to try it. I bet it’ll be easy, I’ve seen the homework the other guys get, its nothing!”

Tay stared at them, willing them to take it back and knowing they wouldn’t.

“Why don’t you try it, too?” Ike asked quietly.

“It won’t be any fun without you,” Zac added, grasping his wrist and looking at him hopefully and if it had been Ike, Tay would have thought he was just saying it, which probably wouldn’t have been true. Ike had just always known what he wanted, more than any of them. And what he didn’t want.

He couldn’t remember when they hadn’t spent most of the day together. The pull on his chest intensified as he looked at them: Ike’s narrow face and dark eyes, ropy muscle visible beneath the faded t-shirt and Zac’s anxious, young face as he absently twisted a lock of hair. They had all had long hair then, to their shoulders and longer because their parents didn’t believe in telling them how to dress or look.

That’s how Tay knew their parents wouldn’t fight Ike and Zac on this. For a second he fiercely wished he had parent who weren’t so goddamned nurturing. Parents that TOLD them what to do instead of asking and had ‘It’s your decision, honey. You’re old enough to know the consequences” knit on a sampler.

Tay agreed.

He lasted a week.

He never went back. After Ike and Zac started at the elementary school and middle school that fall and had lots of fun without him, thanks a lot, lots of things never went back at all.

Tay’s life forever stayed divided to Before He Walked in the Room and After He Walked in the Room; he guessed it always would. Most days he told himself he didn’t miss it. On the good days he believed it.

Chapter Text

If you want me
You can find me
Left of center
Off of the strip

In the outskirts
In the fringes
In the corner
Out of the grip

I think that somehow
Somewhere inside of us
We must be similar
If not the same
So I continue
To be wanting you
Left of center
Against the grain

Left of Center
~Suzanne Vega

 

MARSHALL

He had to show up at the rink at the ass crack of dawn for two weeks before he got the schedule down.

The Skater would be there around three days out of the week, never on Saturdays, Fridays or Sundays. He would mostly skate around to the low classical music and practiced jumps and stopped around five a.m. He would then go in the locker room, change to street clothes, and leave after turning off the lights. He used a side door that had ‘No re-entry from street’ written on it, which was obviously a lie. He sometimes hummed when he got changed; Marshall could hear it in the ticking quiet from where he crouched just outside the locker room.

The schedule after the rink opened he had a harder time with.

He knew what family The Skater belonged to; it was a fuckin’ institution around here. The huge Hanson family and their tribe of super skaters. Marshall had done hockey camps and workshops with Ike and Zac before Ike got the scholarship to the University of Detroit; he knew them to say ‘Hey’ to. He and Zac were only a division apart because, even though Zac was only fourteen, he was that damn good. They had both attended some school a hell of a lot better than the ones around The Mile, but he heard some of the Hanson kids didn’t go to school at all; that their mom taught them at their house or some shit. He was pretty sure The Skater didn’t go. They had another brother coming up in Mites and two girls that also did figure skating at the rink, both pretty young.

He didn’t even know what he was gonna do with the info he had. He hadn’t thought most of this through at all, actually. Just knew he had to be there every morning to watch.

He kept waiting to get bored and it didn’t happen. He kept waiting to spazz out and that didn’t happen, either. He didn’t tell anyone because, what the fuck was he supposed to say? “Yo, Proof. I been watching this hot skater, man. Blond, fuckin’ amazing face. Oh, but it’s a guy.” Right.

So. He watched. Memorized The Skater’s expressions as they passed in and out of the darkness on the rink: serene most the time, the little line between his eyebrows, usually when he was concentrating on a jump, or some move with his arms he did over and over. He was amazed by how The Skater always practiced with his eyes closed when he was using the whole rink and never hit the sideboard, never lost his balance. How the blond hair floated around his face as he moved.

Marshall caught himself thinking of The Skater all the time: before practice as The Skater talked to The Skinny Kid, during school while he sat in class, and even when he hung out with Proof. The Skater wandered through his mind as Marshall lay in the cot in Nathan’s closet/bedroom, arms around his brother as the little boy drooled on his chest, fast asleep as his mother and her latest boyfriend shook the walls of the trailer with their shouting. The voices just droned out and he pictured the figure on the ice, trusting and free.

Marshall thought he might be a little bit obsessed.

He had no clue what he was doing or why.

The bitch of it was, when he sat in the dark, daring to move closer and closer each time, he didn’t really care.

TAY

“Mom, I’m home.” Tay called as he unwound the scarf from his neck, hanging it neatly on the coat rack in the hall.

He walked into the kitchen in time to see his little sister Zoe dump a bowl of pudding over the side of her high chair and onto their cat Gretsky who meowed in disgust. The brown substance caked the tray, his baby sister’s face, and her arms up the elbow. Tay’s mom had the phone tucked under her chin as she wrote notes and she gave him a welcoming smile before seeing the pudding disaster and shaking her head, agitated. He mouthed ‘I’ve got it,’ to her so she gave him a grateful grin before asking the person to repeat themselves. It sounded like final decisions about Jessica’s skating outfit.

Giving Zoe an exaggerated frown, he grabbed the bowl and a wet washcloth from the sink drainer before bending to clean up the mess on the floor so he wouldn’t slide flat on his ass. He could just see explaining that to Priscilla. A dollop of something cold and slimy hit his ear and he jumped up, growling at the baby. She just chortled. Yeah, SHE knew who was in charge all right.

Every weekday after his morning skating, Tay returned home where he helped clean up after the chaos that was the morning rush. He loaded the dishwasher, cleaned up the kitchen, wiped down the counters and checked to see what was on the menu for dinner so he could defrost stuff. His mom checked to see who’d made their bed (Ike always had, Zac usually ‘forgot’, the rest came and went), started another load of the never ending laundry cycles, vacuumed every other day and scrubbed the tubs on Tuesdays. Amongst all the housework she did legwork on things to do with the sports they played, like costumes for their skating performances and which restaurants in the towns the hockey team had away games would give groups discounts; she was secretary of the hockey parent’s organization. This was only a fraction of the chores she juggled as Tay started his schoolwork in the kitchen where they both kept an eye on Zoe. Sometimes even that wasn’t enough since every bit of mischief that didn’t go into the other six of them must have been waiting for his blond baby sister; she could wreak havoc in t-minus five seconds sitting in her high chair WITH both of them a few feet away. The pudding was a case in point.

“You are evil and must be destroyed,” he pointed at her sternly. She smiled showing all her three teeth and grabbed his index finger in her slimy little fist.

“Tay!” She exclaimed, kicking her feet, Zoe-speak for ‘Aren’t I cute? Pick me up!’ Tay returned the gummy grin in spite of himself. His name had been her first word.

“Uh, uh baby girl. Not right now. I need to clean up your mess and the kitchen. Maybe later. Here, play with Blue.” He placed the blue plastic beagle in front of her and she picked it up indifferently before giving a surprisingly imperious wave of her chubby arm. Another spray of more watery pudding hit his face.

“Zoe! Damn!” He reached for a paper towel sliding a little on the slick floor and his mother’s laughter made him look over with a scowl.

“I just turned my back for a second. No longer than that I swear. That girl is going to be the death of me.”

“You and me both.” Taylor said. They shared a wry smile and leaned on each other as the baby prattle at them, indignant that two perfectly able adults were near her chair and chosen not to pick her up.

He didn’t know how his mom did it but he knew they all felt the difference when Ike and Zac started going to school. Before, with all of them at home, they divided up everything so nothing seemed to take that long. With two of them gone for huge eight hour chunks of the day, and then hockey practice and games in the evenings, it was mostly Tay and his mom that kept the house going. Ike no longer lived at home but at the dorms at the college, and Zac’s duties were minimal during the day; though he had more in the weekends. Tay didn’t think he did those fast enough to make a difference, anyway. Tay had practice in the mornings and then again from two in the afternoon until six, but that left him enough time help between competitions.

“How’s the routine coming?” his mom asked as they got in motion, and Tay told her pretty good. They talked about the upcoming Ann Arbor Invitational and Tay’s chances. Of costumes and rankings and who was having health trouble.

He sat at the computer when the kitchen was clean to work on his homework projects including one about Alexander the Great and one on Shakespeare’s tragedies. Then lunch, more homework, some housework odds and ends and he left for more practice. He passed Zac as Tay rode to the rink on his bicycle. Zac smiled and waved and Tay pretended not to see him.

He felt kind of guilty afterwards. But not too much.

*~*~*~*~

“Your secret boyfriend is watching you,” Johnny singsonged as they finished up drills side by side on yet another day.

“Shut up,” Tay said with a smirk. “What about your secret boyfriend?” He tossed a nod towards the tall, dark skater commandeering a huge part of the ice today. Emanuel Sandhu came from France to train with Tarasova, one of the Russian expatriate coaches that had set up base in Detroit, and Johnny kept giving the guy cow eyes. Sandhu had a dramatic, sensuous face with curved cheekbones and an elegant nearly hooked nose, slanted dark eyes with long lashes and a stick up his butt. Tay hadn’t even seen him acknowledge anyone but Tarasova, including the older pairs skaters, and some of them had actually won national championships.

“Don’t do that! He’ll see,” Johnny hissed, giving Sandhu a covert glance.

“I don’t think he can see very well with his head up his ass like that,” Tay remarked casually and Johnny burst into laughter then clapped both hands over his mouth when Priscilla gave him a severe look.

“Johnny…” she warned in her loud, carrying voice.

“Sorry.” His friend called in apology and Tay lifted an eyebrow in triumph.

“Thanks a lot,” Johnny whispered as they moved on auto pilot- start, stop, arm arc, single, etc. Tay could do it in his sleep.

“I don’t know who you’re fooling. You never even talk to any of these people.” Tay replied.

“I talked to you.” Johnny gave him a knowing smile and Tay caught himself returning it.

“Yeah, and look how THAT turned out.”

Johnny regarded him with mock shock, mouth open as he tried not to smile. “Bitch! We weren’t that bad.”

No, they hadn’t been. Tay felt lucky they could go back to the friendship after being more, but sometimes, the line kind of blurred. He didn’t mind. He didn’t have a lot of people he was close to these days.

Priscilla motioned to them, cutting off whatever remark Tay was going to say back. They stopped their drills and skated over, Tay rubbing the muscles of his left arm with his right. That side always got tired faster.

“I know you both want to know about Ann Arbor.” Priscilla began without preamble and he and Johnny glanced at each other. Johnny started fooling with his clothes and Tay knew it was so they wouldn’t reach for each other’s hands. If they had been someplace private they would have, but Priscilla didn’t believe in ‘coddling them.’ She’d been a champion skater sometime in the seventies, though she'd never made it to the Olympics, and her perfectly styled blond hair and designer clothes hid a tough coach with a tougher personality.

“A lot of people are going but you know the club can only highlight three contenders in the printed program. At least one of these is already taken.” They nodded. Sasha was a foregone conclusion. The petite girl and Johnny’s sometime-savior was the fastest rising junior skater in the area and had plans to go senior next year. It would be stupid not to focus on someone who would do well for the club.

Priscilla’s sharp green eyes took them both in and Tay felt his nerves spike. Come on just SAY it he thought. Finally she spoke, “For the first time the decision has been made to highlight two male skaters along with Sasha.”

Tay was so nervous his first thought was ‘Who?’ then Johnny clapped his hands in delight and threw his arms around Tay, laughing. Oh, my god it’s us! Tay suddenly realized and he returned Johnny’s embrace, laughing as well.

“Now it’s a risky move and I expect both of you to make it worth the risk, clear?” They nodded and Priscilla gave them one of her rare smiles before chucking them both on the chin and returning to her clipboard. It was as close to affection as she got and translated into a great big bear hug.

“Did you hear? Did you hear?” Sasha asked as she sped over to them, the pretty face with its long lashes alight with excitement and the three of them linked arms as they talked excitedly. As they left, Tay caught a glimpse of the hockey table and realized some of them were sneering, but he was too high with happiness to care. The one that always stared at him wasn’t sneering though, but he did have a strange look on his face as he watched them skate off the ice; kind of unhappy or troubled.

And, for the first time, the hockey player didn’t quite seem to be staring at him but at Johnny.

MARSHALL

“Look at the little fags,” Shane Lemonious scowled and Marshall ignored him. Marshall was already looking at them and his stomach had given a weird dip when The Skater had returned The Skinny Kid’s hug.

Lemonious, whom Marshall had christened Lemon much to the hulking boy’s displeasure, didn’t know his ass from shit. He’d picked on The Skinny Kid once this year and had gotten them all a long lecture from coach about respecting other sportsmen and remembering that they needed smooth relations between the two sports since they both used the ice and no one had any other options on where to practice. Even Marshall had been hard put to call the wispy guys in the sparkling costumes 'sportsMEN'. He’d never had any problems with them, though. Bigger, meaner kids had teased Marshall when he was in grade school and he didn’t get behind anyone who was about bullying someone smaller than themself.

Lemon burped and rubbed his nose. “Think they’re queer for each other?”

Anthony Caspari gave Lemon an elbow and glared at the large boys belligerent pout.

“What’s your problem? You into that?”

“Its Hanson’s brother, asshole. Shut up.”

“Like I give a shit...”

“Got something to say about my brother, Shane?”

Their group got quiet and Marshall watched Zac Hanson’s determined face, hazel eyes hard even beneath the part of the ponytail. Zac was a division below but if there was one person everyone liked it was Zac. Usually the congenial fourteen-year-old acted as peacemaker among all of them, inserting himself in the middle of a bitch session and easing everyone down. Not now, though. Now Zac held Lemon’s stare with total resolve even if a patchy flush had come up on his normally friendly features. Lemon finally broke it, shifting uncomfortably with a muttered: “Just fucking kidding. Shit.”

“Let’s move it out, ladies! You waiting for an invitation?” Coach’s booming voice interrupted the tension and they clambered onto the ice grabbing equipment and jostling for space already.

Even if Lemon had been a dick, Zac didn’t play dirty during drills or so much as shoot him dirty looks. In fact Zac completely ignored the shithead, even when Lemon had maybe realized he didn’t want to make an enemy of one of the most popular players around and kept trying to talk to Zac. Stupid punk.

Marshall did accidentally slam into Lemon a few times, though, shrugging off the baleful pale blue stare and Coach’s warning, “I saw that! Watch yourself, Mathers!”

It was mostly by accident, anyway.

*~*~*~*~*~

“Yo, Marsh.” Proof said later that evening as they hung out at his place and farted around, the four of them listening to music and pigging out on junk food. Proof had gotten paid and about once a month, when Proof’s mama worked late at the clinic where she was a nurse, they all showed at Proof’s place and hung out. “You doing okay?”

Marshall nodded, intent on the video game. He tried to go up another level but knew Proof was watching him and he let the game win. Turning to his friend he passed on the superpad to Von and shrugged.

“I’m a'ight. Why?”

“I don’t know, man. You been kinda spaced. Not here even when you’re here. You know?”

Marshall shrugged again and stared fixedly at the game on the small television.

“Your mom’s new hook-up giving you grief?” Proof asked and Marshall sighed.

“Yeah,” he mumbled, even if that wasn’t even part of what was on his mind.

Too much shit on his mind, actually.

He’d be eighteen in a month, pretty much an adult, and he could move the fuck out of his mom’s home without being arrested as truant. Which would be cool if he a) had a job and b) didn’t think that would also affect him playing hockey. He kept thinking of Nate, too, and it complicated things.

He was flunking math like a motherfucker. He’d at least been able to pull C’s before and he kited off some girl that liked him for the tests so he pulled off the final exam okay, too. This time, though, the teacher actually gave a shit and he watched them like a hawk, changed seating charts every month, and didn’t care how many times Coach gave him the ‘For the good of the school give Marsh a break’ talk. Thing was, Mr. Lang wasn’t even a dick about it; it would be easier if he was. He was a young Black teacher with an earring and a shaved head and he’d had a ‘no bullshit’ stamp right on his forehead from the first day. Mr. Lang gave NO ONE a break. ‘You get the grade you earn.’ It was the ‘class motto’ and he’d had them all write it at the front of their notebooks when they first sat down. Mr. Lang didn’t have the tired, jaded look most of the other teachers had, when all they looked forward to was the summer and you could turn in a tic-tac-toe game as a daily assignment as long as you were quiet.

Marshall had a feeling he was gonna be in trouble from jump. He just couldn’t bring himself to seek out Mr. Lang for after school tutoring like he kept offering. It made Marshall feel stupid.

And his mom’s new hook up WAS a dick and barely five years older than Marshall. Fuckin’ pervert.

And he couldn’t stop thinking about The Skater. The GUY Skater. Getting up at four in the morning five days a week, even when the situation at the trailer wasn’t bad just to watch The Skater, was making him sleepy during the day, too. He’d passed smooth out in Social Studies during independent reading and would have started snoring if the girl behind him hadn’t poked at his back with her pencil. Luckily that was one of the tired teachers' classes.

“Just got shit on my mind.” Marshall said and Proof nodded, still evaluating him with ink-dark eyes.

“You know I got your back you wanna talk?”

“He been watching Oprah.” Rufus quipped from where he lay sprawled on the bed flipping through a VIBE magazine and they all laughed before Marshall could answer.

“Fuck all y’all, a’ight?” Proof waved them away and walked back up the stairs to the kitchen, probably for some more soda. After a second Marshall followed him.

“Yo,” he started when Proof bent into the refrigerator to pull off another Big Red. His best friend straightened and shut the door, popping the tab before leaning on the counter of the small but clean kitchen. He looked in Proof’s concerned eyes and wondered what the hell his homie would say if he knew Marshall was thinking of a guy 24/7.

“We’re down no matter what, right?” was what he said when he spoke.

Proof looked at him for a second before nodding emphatically. “You gotta ask, dog? We tight. You my boy. Blood promise, remember?”

“Shit.” Marshall broke into a grin and Proof laughed. Marshall had forgotten that.

They’d slit their palms when they were about nine after watching it on Gunsmoke and clasped their hands together promising to be ‘blood brothers forever.’ They’d held their palms together for five minutes, stares locked as they promised to The Great Father. Proof’s mom found them that way, blood all over their summer shorts and whupped both their asses before cleaning the cuts with antiseptic and putting a band-aid over them. She had been pretty pissed: “Blood brothers my behind, Deshaun, don’t you give me none of that Gunsmoke nonsense, do you KNOW how many germs are in someone else’s blood?”

“Yeah, I remember. Guess you’re stuck with me.”

“Same here. You in trouble, Marsh? Something happen with Jeanine or…”

“Nah, I’m good.” Marshall shook his head and Proof nodded, even if Marshall could tell he didn’t really believe it.

“’Cause, hey. We promised to the great father, right?” Proof held out his hand and Marshall clasped it, grinning.

“You know it.”

He squeezed his best friend’s hand and hoped it was true.

Chapter Text

Here’s where I stand
Here’s who I am
Love me
But don’t tell me who I have to be

Here’s who I am
I’m what you see

You said I had to change and I was trying
But my heart was lying
I’m not a child any longer
I am stronger

~From “Camp”
Motion Picture soundtrack

TAY

Tay rubbed at his eyes as he entered the rink, nodding to Sasha and Mathew, another singles skater with a different coach, and hoping he didn’t look as crappy as he felt.
His eyes had been bloodshot this morning and he’d used Visine, which burned but helped the little red lines in his stare. Too bad it didn’t do anything for the smudges he wore, too. He just knew he looked like he’d spent the night crying, even though he hadn’t.

He’d promised himself he wouldn’t and he hadn’t.

As he changed for practice and tried to concentrate on warming up, snippets of the conversation with his dad kept intruding.

*~*~*

“I’m going to be on the program dad! In Ann Arbor!”

“Are you serious?” “Oh, my god!” Jessica and Avery squealed excitedly and he was attacked by two rockets girls both hugging him and chattering at once. He squeezed and lifted them, laughing at their shrieks and then plopped them back down. Zac raced in from the kitchen, talking around an apple.

“What? What did I miss?”

“Tay is gonna be on the program in Ann Arbor, ohmigod, it is SUCH a huge deal!” Jessica babbled and their mother gave her a stern look softened by a smile.

“Why don’t you let him tell it, Jessie?”

“Oops! Sorry!” Jessica covered her mouth but Tay just ruffled her hair.

“Damn, really? That’s awesome!” Zac smiled, mouthful of apple, and moved forward, arms open. For a second Tay thought Zac was going to hug him but at the last minute his brother clasped his hand and did one of those man-bonding handshakes Tay could never get right. Zac giggled at his efforts and gave him a shove with his shoulder instead.

“Thanks.” Tay tucked his hair behind his ear, suddenly feeling awkward. This felt like Before He’d Walked Into The Room for a second, and Tay no longer knew how to react to that.

His mom stood at the door to the kitchen drying her hands on a dishtowel. The way her smile didn’t reach her eyes hadn’t made sense to him right then.

It did later.

Tay turned eagerly back to their dad who watched them all with a faint smile, the paper still opened in front of him. “The competition’s in two months but I think we can still get a cheap hotel rooms.”

“That’s wonderful, Tay. We’ll start looking at the schedule right now so your mother can be free to go.” His dad started to read.

“You aren’t going?” The minute he said it, Tay felt an ugly flash of humiliation. The second he said the words, he knew better.

“One of us has to stay with Josh and Zoë, kid,” his dad pointed out, laughing. “As much as we’d all like to go we’re just going to have trust your mom and the girls to give us all the highlights.”

But we have gone, Tay thought. When Ike made it to the Redwings Youth Team they had all crammed into the van and slept four to a bed in a Motel 6 eating sandwitches out of a cooler for three days. Zoe hadn’t been around then but Josh had been little and they'd carted him along just the same.

“We can take the video camera!” Avery piped up and immediately ran off to find it, followed by her sister.

“You’ve never seen me skate.” He should stop. Everything TOLD him to stop but the words just kept coming as he stood stiffly beside his dad’s easy chair, staring down at his father. Tay noticed the gray coming up in his dad’s temple and how it was more noticeable since his dad cut his hair a few years ago on the same day Ike and Tay cut theirs; a show of solidarity at the local Supercuts. He’d never noticed the lines around his dad’s eyes or the thickening of his middle or the way he couldn’t look at Tay when Tay talked about figure skating. He hadn’t noticed any of these things, but now he couldn’t stop seeing them.

“That isn’t true, Tay!” His dad did look at him then, face full of concern. “I’ve seen you lots of times.”

I was twelve, Tay thought.

“Dad, I could watch the kids,” Zac offered coming up next to Tay, close enough for their arms to brush and Tay stepped away. He felt raw and exposed, his skin hypersensitive to everything, and he didn’t want to be touched. It felt like something in his chest might explode if he was.

“That’s great of you to offer, Zac, but you can’t miss school all week.”

“Ike could do it! He could…”

“Dad’s right,” Tay interrupted him, because if he had to listen to his dad shoot down any more of Zac’s suggestions he was going to die. He couldn’t even look at his mom, still framed in the kitchen doorway, watching the exchange with uncharacteristic quiet. The girls prattling on about the video camera they’d found and whether the battery was charged and Josh’s plaintive cries to let him hold it, sounded in the background. “It’s too expensive. I just wasn’t thinking.”

The sympathy in his brother’s eyes was so huge that a flush rose on Tay’s face despite all his attempts to control it. At that second he hated Ike and Zac so much it almost made him sick. The ball of anger and embarrassment sat in his stomach all through dinner, all through the evening, until he was finally able to go upstairs, saying he was going to read.

He lay there after everyone had gone to bed, fists clenched, staring hotly at the ceiling, determined not to let the tears threatening beneath his lids overflow.

“Tay?” Zac’s whisper came to him in the dark over Joshua’s snoring and Tay turned to face the wall. “We can figure something out. Let me talk to Ike….”

God, shut up, Tay thought.

“Go to sleep.” He said over his shoulder and after a few seconds Zac sighed and there was rustling and eventually, the even breathing of his brother’s slumber.

*His practice had been off and he snarled at Johnny, who wouldn’t speak to him afterwards, and he’d fallen on two of his triples, but he’d been fine. He’d. Been. Fine.

He’d also missed his early morning skate, his first solitary skate before the rink opened, partly out of defiance and partly because he’d gotten maybe three hours sleep last night. But now he wished he had skated; he’d felt off all day and it didn’t get any better at the afternoon practice after the conversation he’d had at home with his mom. Or, rather, the one she’d tried to have with him.

*~*~*~

“Your father loves you, Tay.”

“I know,” he’d replied automatically from where he sat feeding Zoë banana and cereal.

He did know; he wasn’t blind. He saw the evidence of his friend’s broken family lives. Sasha and Johnny, both products of divorces, hardly saw their fathers. Tay watched the news and saw the statistics on the Internet and he knew how good they had it, all seven of them, with their parents. He knew.

It was probably selfish to feel this way.

“He’s still coming to terms with things. I think your father had this vision, when the three of you were born, one right after the other, of the Hanson hockey legacy.” She did air quotes with both hands. “He just needs time to get over that.”

I’ve been figure skating five years, Tay thought bitterly. What’s he waiting for? When I become eligible to vote? “Mom, I know. I really don’t want to talk about this.” He looked at her after scooping some banana from Zoë’s chin with the spoon. “Please?”

She smiled her tired, sweet smile and gave him a squeeze. “Okay, honey. You know,” she caught his eyes as he tried to look away, “we’re all very proud of you.”

He’d been fine then, too. He was pretty damned proud of himself.

*~*~*

Mind deep in thought and gaze on the ground, Tay didn’t see a figure cross his path and abruptly bounced off a very large, somewhat smelly body. His skating bag slid off his shoulder onto the wet, muddy ground of the parking lot black top along with his backpack. With a muttered curse he knelt to retrieve them.

A pair of enormous mud-caked trainers stood practically on top of his things and Tay stood up and back, stepping away from the glowering wall of boy that stood between him and his bicycle.

“You need to watch where you’re going,” the boy said down to him, beady little washed out blue eyes traveling over Tay’s wool scarf, jacket and jeans like one would look at an interesting, but distasteful, bug. For a second Tay was honestly clueless about what the boy wanted until he saw the smug, eager look. He knew that look, that cat-playing-with-a-mouse look that marked the faces of the hockey players that had trapped Johnny just outside the locker room.

Part of him knew he should just blow it off. It’s what he told Johnny: that most bullies lost interest if their prey didn’t take the bait, but his own advice felt a thousand miles away as he met the sneering face of this boy Tay had never spoken to, never even met.

“Sorry,” he said, voice flat.

“Where’s your little boyfriend?” the boy asked suggestively, as if Tay hadn’t said anything.

“Excuse me?”

“You know, your little boyfriend. Since you two are so cloooose.” A ham-sized fist flicked at where Tay’s hair grazed his shoulder and Tay elbowed it away as hard as he could, his breath starting to come in angry pants because man, this was not the day for this, any day but today because he HAD BEEN FINE, and this asshole was not letting him be that way.

“Get away from me!”

“Get away from me!” The boy repeated in a high falsetto before letting out a braying laugh.

Tay could see Sasha’s distinctive trim form among the spectators along with some of the other skaters and knew if he stalled long enough an adult would come out and break it up.
He decided that was just too long to wait.

Leaning close he said in a slow, clear voice. “Go. Fuck yourself.”

He enjoyed watching the boy's complexion go an interesting dusky brick color, then Tay’s arm was gripped in a hold so tight that the circulation cut off instantly, his fingers just numb, disembodied appendages at the end of his palm.

“What did you say?”

“I don’t know smaller words. Go have intercourse with yourself? Go copulate with a family member?”

“Fucker!” The boy jerked him forward to breathe on his face, rancid ketchup and sour soda, but Tay never dropped his eyes, his fists clenching, struggling, and the good, clean rage obliterating everything to dust.

Suddenly the moron stood straight up and let go Tay’s arm like he’d been burned. Tay stumbled back with the force of his own weight, still panting from adrenaline and tension and almost fell into the hockey player that always stared at him.

The slighter, shorter boy didn’t even look at Tay. The piercing blue eyes just remained fixated on Tay’s tormentor with an unblinking, even stare. It was possibly the scariest thing Tay had ever seen.

“Hey, Marsh,” The ungainly boy greeted casually, “Practice start yet?”

More silence dropped in the air between the three of them, the large, ugly boy and the hockey player, both partway suited up for practice with the oversized sleeves of their jerseys and the leg protectors, and Tay in his rumpled scarf.

The large boy finally caved, his voice high and false,“Lighten up, man! Just having some fun with Hanson’s little brother here.”

“I’m his older brother,” Tay corrected acidly.

“Well excuse the fuck out of me, faggot…,” the ugly boy spat back and the hocky player with the scary blue eyes took one step forward. Just one. Tay's tormentor immediately fell back, a muffled female giggle sounded from the crowd, and it was over in one flat drop of tension.

With a start Tay wondered why the hell he was still standing there and pushed quickly past the offending bulk of the boy to his bicycle.

“Stay out of my way,” the boy tried to warn.

Tay didn’t answer as he pedaled off at a dead heat, legs pumping, heart thudding to drown out the ugliness in his head. He didn’t look back.

*~*~*

“Tay!” Zac burst in the room, panting and Tay looked up from where he lay reading, or trying to read. As soon as the dishes were done, he’d escaped up here as soon as he could. Run away was all he seemed to do lately because he still couldn’t look at his father and not go crazy.

It was Zac’s night for a late practice and he’d thanked god for that, until now.

“Are you alright?”

“What do you mean? I’m fine.” Taylor rolled back on his stomach but the bed dipped when Zac sat down and Tay sat up, resigned.

“I heard what happened. Why didn’t you say anything? I was in practice, I didn’t know…” Zac’s hazel eyes were clouded with worry

“What did you want me to say? ‘One of your ignorant friends called me a faggot and tried to beat me up?’” He felt guilty at how his brother winced. Maybe he shouldn’t have sounded so angry at Zac; his brother hadn't done anything, but Tay seemed to feel this way all the time, now. No matter how much he tried to hold it in or squash it down, it leaked out.

“Shane’s not my friend, Tay. He’s not really anyone’s friend, he’s such a jerk most of the time…”

“It was no big deal.” Tay said offhandedly.

“If I’d known I would have…”

“What?” Tay looked up sharply and Zac faltered. Tay knew what he’d meant, as if what Tay needed was to be defended by his little brother in front of god and everyone. Zac ducked his head so the spill of honey blond hair fell forward like a curtain.

“Made sure you were okay.” His brother finished in a small voice.

“I’m fine.”

“I heard…” Zac looked up, face anxious again.

“Look can we just drop this?” Tay interrupted tiredly. Why did everyone want him to discuss things now, why? Couldn’t he just stay in denial like normal people?

“Okay. I’m glad you’re all right.”

Tay nodded and Zac left the room after looking at him for a second. With a sigh Tay flopped back on the bed and lay his book on top of his face. The phone rang somewhere in the house and his mother’s voice could be heard from downstairs:

“Tay! It’s Johnny!”

Tay wondered just what hewanted to talk about.

MARSHALL.

“Yo, man. Did you almost get beat today?” Proof’s voice brought him out of thought and Marshall blinked at him in the yellow convenience store light. He’d been pretending to read an XXL magazine and wondering why The Skater hadn’t shown up this morning and why the kid would take on Lemon’s gorilla ass when Lemon could stomp on him with one foot. It took him a minute to digest the question and he realized what Proof was asking. He made a conscious effort to look relaxed.

“No. Who’s sayin’ that?”

“Just the word on the street, bro. Some girls were talkin’ in study hall and Rufus heard. You know how it is."

Yeah, Marshall knew. He ducked his head back to the magazine and didn’t answer. He didn’t make any effort to keep his skating and his friends separate but they seemed to stay that way on their own. Proof and the guys only went to games, not practices, and Marshall only hung out with the team after games for a couple of hours. He didn’t think he’d have to explain something he didn’t understand himself because some loudmouth girls couldn’t keep their traps shut.

“So what happened?” Proof demanded, refusing to play it off and Marshall tucked the magazine under his arm, sighing as he looked out into the empty parking lot. His best friend had picked a hell of a time to abandon the don’t-ask-don’t-tell rule they’d established.

The Buy & Pay was dead on a Thursday night but they hung out here sometimes because the clerk was Von’s cousin and didn’t try to get them to leave every five minutes or call the cops ‘cause they were ‘loitering.’ It was the last resort when the grownups were all home and Proof didn’t have a DJ job that he could use to sneak them in.

“Nothin,’ a’aight? Just don’t like to see people fucked with for no reason.”

“Yeah, okay,” Proof agreed, “But you don’t gotta do it alone. I heard that was one Godzilla lookin’ motherfucker.”

“He’s a punk,” Marshall scoffed, “Fuckin’ coward backed off and I didn’t even have to do nothin’ but look at him.”

“For real?” Proof laughed and Marshall quirked a smile. He liked all his friends but he missed just hanging with Proof sometimes, like they used to do before hockey and before Proof started MCing. Of course they’d been in middle school then…

“Hey, Marsh.” They both turned at the voice and Marshall tensed, staring down at the upturned face of his ex-girlfriend.

For a second he couldn’t remember any of the reasons they’d been together.

He’d met her at The Shelter during one of Proof’s shows; she’d snuck in, too. He recognized her from the projects near the trailer park and when she asked if he was gonna dance with her or buy her a drink Marshall bought her one. He’d liked her long, baby fine brown hair and too-long bangs that fell in her eyes and he liked that she knew where he lived, knew the low down, and liked him anyway. She knew about no birthday presents and old furniture and paying with a WIC card at the grocery in front of a line of people who all had cash or credit. Her mom at least worked sometimes as a waitress and tried to stay off welfare to support Jeanine and her two brothers. They’d gone out a few times and they'd had sex on the fourth date. She'd had the condom. It seemed to be going okay until Marshall caught her making out with a member of the fuckin’ football team.

“What do you want?” He asked, not looking at her.

“Just to talk.”

“You can go talk to that guy you were fucking. Oh, wait, that’s real hard with his tongue in your mouth, huh?”

“We weren’t fucking!”

“Later, man,” Proof murmured ducking into the store. Not that Marshall blamed him. Marshall hated drama himself but she had some balls coming up to him like nothing.

“I don’t give a shit what you were doing. I ain’t got nothing to say to you.” He opened his magazine again and she flicked it from his hands, anger distorting her small, neat features.

“You act like it was all my fault, and it wasn’t, Marshall! Not all of it.”

“Oh, yeah? What the fuck did I do, huh? That wasn’t me makin’ out with someone else! That wasn’t me lying!” He grabbed the magazine back and opened it determinedly, only to have it snatched away again. It was looking pretty ragged, anyway.

“We always did what YOU wanted to do, okay? When you had time after your friends and your practice and the fucking games! I never got a say!”

“Well you don’t gotta worry about it now, huh?’

“Come on, Marsh.” She moved close to him and he backed up into the metal newspaper stand, blinking down at her gray eyes, outlined in black and looking huge. “That guy didn’t mean nothing. You and me really had something, you know?”

Her hand on his thigh felt heavy and hot and he realized how long it had been since he’d even jerked off. The last time had been in the shower and he couldn’t keep his thoughts on Pamela Anderson’s tits or Jennifer Lopez’s ass. No matter how close he got his arm felt like it was going to fall off. Finally he closed his eyes in frustration, the rapidly cooling water pruning his skin and out nowhere The Skater popped into his mind. The expression he wore when he was lost in the skating: eyes shut, mouth a little open, hair blowing across his face- he pumped twice and came so fast and he almost passed out. It scared him so bad he hadn’t tried it again for about two weeks.

“Lousy sex?” Marshall guessed and her face contorted in anger, followed by a quick strike of her hand like a snake bite he never saw coming.

“Fuckin’ bitch!” He grabbed for her arm as she danced back, laughing. Two strong arms suddenly gripped him around the waist and Proof’s voice murmured soothingly in his ear as Marshall struggled to get free.

“Let it go. Let it go, man, she ain’t worth it.”

“See? Why don’t you go out with Proof? You care more about him, anyway.”

“Go on.” Proof snapped at her, “Get the fuck out before I let him go and what he does ain’t my problem.”

“What he does is always your problem.” Jeanine said bitterly but she flounced away, hair swinging, the hips in the tight pants weaving back and forth.

Marshall touched his cheek and came away with a streak of blood. One of her rings must have caught him.

“Come on. You can’t stand there bleeding and shit.” They began walking to Proof’s house since they both knew Marshall’s mom wouldn’t have so much as a band-aid, and even if she did, she wouldn’t know where to find them.

“I never liked that crazy bee-yotch. Just saying.” Proof said under his breath.

“Yeah? ‘Cause she told me she loves you.” They glanced at each other and cracked up.

“Shut yo’ white ass up. Look like you got bitch-slapped.”

“I did get bitch-slapped.” Marshall muttered.

“Yeah, you can pick ‘em.”

His best friend had no idea how right THAT was.

Marshall was already planning on checking the rink tomorrow to see if The Skater would be there. He’d waited a half hour that morning, dozing on and off behind the bleachers swaying on his skates. He’d started wearing them when he realized how much easier it would be to bullshit his way out of being found if he at least looked like he was there to skate and not like some stalking nut job. Finally he’d crashed on the couch in the locker room to wake up to the sound of the Zamboni and a Spanish accented voice singing ‘Friends in Low Places’ at the top of it’s lungs. He’d almost been seen when he snuck out.

He really did hope The Skater would be there tomorrow. All Marshall had seen of him today was the fight with Lemon and his back as he'd ridden off. Considering the way not seeing him made The Skater take over Marshall’s thoughts even more, it was obvious those few times weren’t enough.

Chapter Text

That's a good question
Why am I standing out here alone?
I guess I don't know enough to come in from the rain
I was watching your window
From here below
I think I just might stay here all day
Cause I gotta do something

Watching You
~Melissa Etheridge

MARSHALL

When Marshall pushed open the fire exit door to the rink and saw bright lights, he jumped back out and shut the door too loud, heart pounding. He stood frozen for a few minutes expecting someone to pull it back open, yell at him and demand to know what was going on. However, after about five minutes of nothing, breath coming in nervous pants, Marshall took a chance and quietly pushed open the door. When nothing happened, he entered soundlessly.

The first thing he did was listen for the classical music. When he didn’t hear any he almost left again because too many things were wrong: the lights, so bright they might actually be seen from outside, the silence. Well, no. He could hear something, and as he listened he realized he knew the sound because he heard it every day: the sound of blades slicing through ice. Fast, hard, power skating. That didn’t sound right, either.

Changing quickly into his skates, he kept low as he headed for the bleachers, feeling exposed in the brightness. He hadn’t realized until now how much he counted on just the spotlights being on, how much he’d taken for granted the cover the darkness gave him.

Peering around the corner he saw The Skater and his stomach gave a little jump. The Skater wore blue today, with a line down each side that showed the slim hips and a white scarf with blue snowflakes on the ends. On anyone else the scarf would look dorky, but it fit The Skater. The blond hair shone even more in the bright lights, like it did during the regular practices, but the look on The Skater's face was all wrong. Instead of having that serene, happy expression Marshall could picture in his head the minute he closed his eyes The Skater looked determined, almost angry. And his eyes. They weren’t closed at all.

After a few minutes Marshall realized The Skater also wasn’t practicing any of the flowy, graceful movements he always did, either. He just kept skating as fast as he could around the rink and launching into the air doing this one jump and failing every time. Marshall watched as the boy picked up speed again, not even stopping to rest from the last time he stumbled. His arms out, mouth a thin line, he'd jump into the air, turn a bunch of times and land hard faltering before doing it again. That last time gouged out a hunk of ice as big as any Marshall ever had in practice.

The Skater took off again and Marshall tensed, knowing it wasn’t gonna work, not this time or any time, because nothing could work if the kid was skating that pissed off. The blond figure jumped in the air rotating fast but at a steep angle and landed short, actually falling on his butt on the ice. Marshall let out a breath but the kid jumped back up like a fuckin’ jack in the box to do it again and Marshall swore softly.

The kid’s arms had to be tired by now, his legs killing him, and Marshall could see a tremble around the elbows, even from this far away, but he kept going. For the first time since he started watching, Marshall felt like he was intruding on something private. Usually he could just sit and watch and get lost in The Skater’s expression, his movements; they made Marshall feel peaceful. This morning felt like the kid was trying to kill his damn self and Marshall could hardly stand just observing.

The Skater started another dead heat, legs moving fast, but Marshall could tell he was tired; the customary grace to the movements was completely gone. Don’t, damnit, don’t, he thought, but the blue clad form threw itself into the air hard and landed too soon. He bounced off the sideboard when he landed, rolling to the floor in a heap and lay there, blond hair fanned over the ice. Marshall started for the rink without even realizing, eyes glued to the still form, panic starting to flutter in his chest.

To his relief the The Skater moved, lifting slow and careful on his hands but Marshall had already stepped on the ice, gliding quickly over, one arm outstretched.

“Hey, you okay? You hurt?”

The Skater shot up so fast that Marshall skidded to a halt, marveling at the speed with which the kid got to his feet, especially after falling. It cost him, though, ‘cause he was breathing hard, blue eyes wild in the pretty face and looking all around like a scared deer, as if he expected people to come jumping out of the woodwork.

“Whoah, hey, relax, man. I’m alone. I ain’t hurting you.” Marshall laughed, holding out an arm to calm him but the kid just skated backwards really fast, and Marshall drew away.

“What are you doing here?” The voice sounded scared and still kind of angry but for a second the words went right past him because, oh fuck. Fuck.

If he thought The Skater was pretty from far away, up close he was damn beautiful. The clearest blue eyes he’d ever seen, perfect pink lips and cheeks flushed from the exercise and surprise. One cheek still had some melting flakes of ice stuck to it and looked red. Marshall wanted to brush them off. The waves of hair fell softly around The Skater’s face, stopping just at his shoulders, and in the blue skating outfit the body was all clean lines and gentle curves.

“What are you doing here?” The Skater repeated getting more agitated and Marshall tore his mind back from la la land. Shit, get it together! he thought severely. The kid’s freaking out and you’re going all Chester Molester on his ass.

“What am *I* doing here?” Marshall repeated to buy himself time. “What are *you* doing here, huh? We’re both trespassing.”

“Julio knows I’m here.” That threw him.

Julio was the beefy Latino maintenance guy that ran the Zamboni and opened up every morning. He had a goatee, wore his hair in braids with beads on the ends, and was so humungous he made Lemon look like a little dwarf.

“You paying him off or something?” Marshall asked, really wondering what the deal was now, and The Skater gave him a scornful glance.

“Are you?” The boy tried to skate away but stopped when Marshall fell into step next to him.

“Naw, I come in through the fire exit. It don’t work.”

“That’s comforting.”

“So how come he lets you skate early?”

“That’s none of your business.”

“Oh.” Marshall mumbled, dropping his gaze from The Skater’s face. He had to do that every few minutes or he’d just all out stare with his mouth open like an idiot.

He tried holding out his hand in introduction since they’d seemed to have jumped over that part. “I’m Marsh…”

“I know who you are.” The blue eyes that he decided were the exact color of the sky narrowed suspiciously. Marshall pulled his hand back quickly and felt stupid.

“Yeah, who am I?” he challenged, a flicker of defiance starting within him because all he’d tried to do was help and he’d gotten nothing but attitude.

“You’re a hockey player.” The Skater said the words flat and disgusted and Marshall felt himself flush at the tone.

“So? You’re a figure skater and that don’t tell me nothing."

“That’s because we have nothing to say to each other.” The Skater said coldly. Marshall felt his heart drop at the words and at the way The Skater looked at him, cold and disgusted, and fuck, he didn’t know what he’d expected but total hate hadn’t been it! He hadn’t even done anything!

“What the fuck’s up with you?” He finally exclaimed, as much from exasperation as from just not believing this was going this badly. “I didn’t do nothing to you except keep you from getting hit…”

“I can take care of myself.” The blond boy said heatedly and Marshall laughed at his vehemence; he couldn’t help it.

“Is that what you called it? You were about to get your scrawny white ass kicked all over the parking lot is what you were gonna do, a’aight?”

“No I wasn’t. You don’t know anything about me!”

“I know I fuckin’ helped you!” Marshall skated up close to him, glaring in indignation, “I *HELPED* you….!”

“I didn’t ask for your help!” The Skater said with so much viciousness any other words Marshall had dried up in is throat. “I didn’t want your help!”

Marshall stared into the sparking blue eyes, pissed off and at a complete loss. And even with that, even with how much of a jerk The Skater had been, Marshall’s pulse sped up at being this close to all the prettiness. Even with more disappointment than he had words for that this turned out this way, Marshall still noticed the long, silky lashes and smooth, creamy skin and necklaces that peeked out from under the scarf. It made no sense at all.

For long moments they stood, eyes caught in each other’s angry gaze, then Marshall thought he saw something shift in the sky blue and the eyes grew wider. It frightened the hell out of him.

“Fine.” Marshall spat, breaking the spell by skating backwards. “I’m sorry I fuckin’ bothered.” Heart pounding hard like it wanted to jump out of his chest, he turned and left as quick as he could.

The Skater didn’t stop him.

~*~*~*~*~

Marshall sat at the chipped Formica table, math book and loose leaf papers spread out before him and he didn’t understand a goddamn thing. All the letters and numbers ran together until they looked like a mush of gibberish, and it didn’t help that he wasn’t concentrating, neither.

Seeing the skater that afternoon had been hard, harder than he thought it would be. He'd worn the same blue outfit and had made up with The Skinny kid, who'd kept whispering and throwing Marshall questioning looks. Who knew what The Skater told him. That Marshall had been watching. That Marshall was a loser. Who knew. Even if he tried not to look at the kid, it had been like the figure on the ice was a magnet, drawing him back until just looking away took superhuman effort.

For a second he'd thought maybe The Skater was looking back and not with the disgusted look he’d had that morning, but he decided he was making that shit up. Wishful thinking. Pathetic wishful thinking.

Stretching out the kinks in his spine from the hard kitchen chair, he looked around himself.

The trailer was a disaster: toys, clothes, and some of his school books scattered on the stained carpet, the crappy couch with the stuffing coming out had burn holes on both arms from where his mom missed the ashtray, and look, the queen herself, yakking on the phone as she puffed, blond hair in spongy rollers, and one bare shoulder visible from where the cheap satin bathrobe had slipped off.

My life, thought Marshall, sucks.

“Marshy! Marshy!” the only part of his life that didn’t suck right now barreled out of the bedroom waving a plastic car with one wheel missing and hopped on his lap hard enough to have made Marshall talk like a choirboy if he hadn’t shifted just in time.

“Uh! Damn, Nate, you gonna kill me one of these days, dog.” He sat the little boy on the table on all his work and tweaked his nose, making him giggle. A huge, simple love for the little boy took him over like it sometimes did, so enormous Marshall thought it wouldn’t fit in his heart sometimes.

He was a goofy looking kid, with stick out ears and funny, big blue eyes, so he kind of resembled that little monster Gizmo from that lame movie he and Proof watched one Sunday afternoon. His nose always seemed to be runny and the grungy pajamas were getting too small already, a good two inches of wrist and ankle sticking out at both ends. But he looked at Marshall like Marshall hung the moon and he trusted Marshall with a blind faith that made him feel real good. They might only be half-brothers but he felt closer to the kid than to his own mom, most of the time.

“I’m hungry.” Nate said, running the broken car up Marshall’s arm over the sleeves of his hoodie, across his chest, and down his other arm, butt wiggling on the table like he was dancing.

“Okay. Just a second, a’aight?” Marshall scooted him back so he wouldn’t fall off the table, since he seemed to be accident prone, too, and gave his mom an irritated glance where she leaned on the counter still chatting with one of her dopey friends.

“There’s cookies in the cupboard,” she said, not missing a beat and Marshall rolled his eyes, reaching for the open package of cheap discount store macaroons.

Cookies for dinner. Nice. Marshall hated them himself but Nate stuffed three in his mouth and chewed, crumbs sprinkling on the front of his faded X-Men pajama top.

“You a mess, boy.”

Nate laughed and sprayed cookie all over him. Marshall laughed, too, trying to cover Nate’s mouth and getting crumb gunk on his palm. “Shit! Look at what you did!”

“Don’t curse in front of him, Marshall,” his mom called out from her perch at the counter and Marshall gave a disbelieving stare. As if she and the shithead didn’t curse blue streaks when they argued and Nate right in front of them or just in the next room.

“Whatever.”

“I’m going out tonight. You’ll be home to watch him, right?” she’d removed the phone surgically attached to her ear and leaned on the counter, her fingers nervously fiddling with each other. She should know his schedule by now; it was nine-thirty. If Marshall was in at this point he was staying in, at least ‘till four in the morning. He’d promised himself to at least look at his math work since Mr. Lang gave him another talk about his grades, but it didn’t’ do any fuckin’ good.

'I’m here. You going out with the dumb fuck?”

“I told you not to use that language in front of the baby, Marshall! And don’t call Darryl that!!” Her voice got that whiny tone he couldn’t stand and he tried to tune her out. “He can be good to us if you’d just watch your mouth around him.”

“As soon as he watches his mouth around me,” Marshall replied amicably and his mom gave a huff and walked to the bedroom already pulling the curls from her long, blond hair. She needed another dye job. She’d probably keep on ragging if she didn’t need him to watch Nate. She knew Marshall just took off when he got fed up and she was stuck trying to figure out what to do with Nate so she could go drink, or dance, or do whatever the hell they did.

“Did you eat dinner, yo?” he asked Nate who had turned the car into a plane.

“I had Ramen.” That had been hours ago. He had chocolate ringed around his mouth and Marshall rubbed at it with his thumb.

“Lessee what we got, okay?”

“Macaroni!” Nate crowed, and Marshall found a box way in back behind some creamed corn and a stack of ancient hot chocolate packets.

He just hoped the milk hadn’t gone over too bad.

TAY

Tay’s anger stayed with him for quite a while after the hockey player with the intense eyes disappeared from the building. He kept on skating but the frenzy that made him try to do a quad fifty times in a row had gone. He just felt tired and bruised from falling, his arms and legs stiff from the exertion. He just wanted to go home and go to bed and the rest of the day stretched in front of him like warm taffy.

Still by the time he’d been home, done homework, and come back for his afternoon session, the righteous rage that had caused him to shout at the boy like he’d done had pretty much gone despite his efforts to hold onto it. No matter how much he told himself that the way he reacted made sense, that he had a right to be suspicious about another hockey player approaching him, by the time afternoon practice rolled around he’d begun to suspect he was full of crap. And he’d been really nasty and rude to someone who’d approached him with a hand out to help and his mom would so lay into him if she knew that. They had all been raised better than that.

“Your boyfriend’s avoiding you.” Johnny whispered and Tay looked over automatically. The hockey player was talking to one of his team mates and not looking at Tay at all. “He’s really bad at it.”

“What does that mean?” Tay muttered clawing his way through the last of the drills. He could tell from the frown on Priscilla’s face that his exercises were less than stellar, that he wasn’t arching his fingers or watching his form. God, just get me through the next ten minutes, he prayed. I won’t ever take out my anger on innocent bystanders again. I’ll be nice to Zac. I won’t ignore Avery. I promise.

His shoulders hurt incredibly and the stitch on his side decided its mission in life was to kill him.

“Have you talked to him yet?” Johnny asked, just like he’d done their entire phone conversation last night where he grilled Tay on what happened as if the whole world hadn’t seen the testosterone contest outside the rink yesterday.

Johnny also insisted on talking while they moved when Tay barely had enough energy to propel forward.

“No. Why would I?” He lied, breathlessly.

“Because he saved your life!”

“Jesus, Johnny. Don’t tell me you’re reading teen romances again.” Tay moaned and Johnny scoffed in offense.

“ExCUSE me! Of course not.” Tay rolled his eyes. “J.D. Robb.”

"Please spare me,” he begged to absolutely no avail.

“No, really! I’ll bet he’s the biggest closet case.” Johnny surreptitiously looked over to where the hockey team sprawled all over the kiss and cry area.

“No, that would be YOUR secret boyfriend.” Tay couldn’t resist saying and Johnny actually stuck out his tongue.

Emanuel Sandhu had done a costume run through, and the flouncy pink and green get up looked like the Miami Sound Machine exploded all over him. Tay thought there was something inherently wrong with pink and green together, and certainly on a man in his mid-twenties

Thankfully, blessedly, practice ended and Tay started for exit when Priscilla crooked her finger at him, her expression knowing.

“I’ll wait for you.” Johnny laid a sympathetic hand on his shoulder before skating off.

When Tay turned towards his coach he caught the boy looking at him again, but the boy turned away fast, and slouched in the seat, hiding beneath the hood of a sweatshirt.

“So,” Priscilla’s voice was cheerful and arch when he slowed in front of her, “Anything you want to tell me?”

“I was just a little off today. I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose, willing away the headache that wanted to start. He got them when he hadn’t had enough rest or had too much stress.

“Your sequences were off and your form sucked, Tay.”

“I know.” He met the shrewd look and tried not to squirm. Sometimes Priscilla was worse than his parents for the ESP. “It won’t happen again.”

“Don’t be silly, Tay. Of course it’ll happen again; everyone has a bad day. I just need to know if this is isolated or something we need to deal with. Ann Arbor is two months away and the last thing you need to do right now is lose focus.”

“I’m not. It’s isolated, totally. I’ll go to bed early.” He promised. She surveyed him for a few seconds before nodding and giving his butt a whack as he skated away.

“Do that. Come on; the Neanderthals are coming.” Tay nodded and skated faster hoping no one heard her. The hockey team had begun overflowing onto the rink noisily dragging the large goals and orange cones with them. He caught a flash of close cropped dark hair and turned but the hockey player skated past him like he was invisible.

For some reason, for just a second, he felt like he was.

Chapter Text

Here we are, we're at the beginning
We haven't fucked yet, but my head's spinning

Why Can't I
~Liz Phair

TAY

Zac was seated at the desk they shared when Tay walked in their room, the evidence of an essay spread out in front of him. Notecards in Zac’s large, looping script, highlighters in two different colors, loose leaf notebook paper, an encyclopedia and an open history book. He noticed how much his brother had grown just in the last few months. Zac’s biceps strained the sleeves of his Henley T and his knees tapped the bottom of the desk. Tay was actually taller but Zac looked like he had more substance to him, more density.

Tay guessed maybe someone would think he was Zac’s younger brother.

“Hey.” His brother looked up from his highlighting, and squinted at him. “You kinda look like shit. You okay?”

“Headache.” Tay rubbed his temple. He’d been trying to will it away all evening but he knew it wasn’t working when the kid’s prattling started to grate on his nerves. No one around here minded everyday chatter; it just hummed in the background constantly.

“Ibuprofen’s your friend,” Zac smiled in sympathy and Tay nodded, reaching for his bedside table where he kept his stash, then turned to Zac on impulse.

“Yesterday, the guy that. You know,” he started and Zac looked up once more, hazel eyes inquisitive as he nodded. “What’s his deal?”

Zac blew out a snort in disgust. “Hell if I know. It’s always ‘faggot’ this and ‘faggot’ that. It’s gotten pretty old for everyone. No one even really talks to him anymore. He needs therapy or something…”

“No,” Tay shook his head, “Not him, the other one. The one that,” he bit at his lip, “The one that stopped it.”

“Oh! Sorry. That’s Marshall. Center,” Zac added with no small admiration.

Tay had sucked at hockey, but he retained the information, like some long memorized prayer or nursery rhyme. He knew the Center position was not only the most coveted but arguably the most difficult. “So, he’s good?”

“He’s really good.” Zac corrected, “Just.” He paused, and screwed up his brow. Tay waited.

“He’s hard to figure out. He kind of has the mysterious keeping-it-real homeboy thing going on, but I don’t think it’s an act? I know he lives in a trailer park on 8 Mile Road and he sometimes won’t go to team stuff even though coach says it’s mandatory, but he never gets shit for it. I don’t think he can afford everything, you know?”

Tay nodded. The only reason they kept their head above water was that their dad owned the hardware store. Neither hockey nor figure skating were known as cheap sports to be in.

“That’s kind of all I know. He’s not in my division and he doesn’t talk a lot. At least not to guys on his team.”

Tay mulled over the information when Zac asked, “Were you gonna thank him for helping you out?”

Tay felt the flush rise in his face and averted his eyes, “No. I- not yet.”

Zac nodded thoughtfully and turned back to his work leaving Tay to fish out the Ibuprofen and extract two.

His headache didn’t go away, but it eventually felt better.

*~*~*~*~

Tay did go to his solitary morning skate and felt one hundred percent glad he did. He’d gone to bed early, as promised to Priscilla, and woke up at four a.m. on the dot, alert and itching to get on the ice. The smell of the rink, the crisp cool, was like balm and he’d been lost in the middle of his routine, not thinking of the upcoming triples, not planning, just feeling the music, when his eyes slipped open, like they sometimes did.

The hockey player stood at the side of the rink watching him, arms folded.

Tay faded out of his routine and stood momentarily frozen in the middle of the ice.

The dimpled chin was thrown back defiantly, head tilted so he looked almost challenging. The only reason Tay noticed him was the house lights were on instead of the spotlights. The realization that the boy had probably seen him skating in the dark and beams of light had embarrassed him beyond belief, like when someone walks in on you singing into a hairbrush pretending to be Lady Gaga.

After a few seconds Tay forced himself to skate slowly to where the boy stood. Easing to a stop Tay met the unblinking blue eyes and they looked at each other in silence for a bit, Tay’s heart racing, as if he’d been gearing up for a big jump.

He saw a boy about his height with shorn dark hair and sharp features in a face just a few steps from leaving childhood: electric blue eyes that looked like they’d seen too much, strange pointy nose and dimpled chin coupled with pouty, sensuous lips. He wore a plain white t-shirt, a loose hooded sweater, and loose track pants about three sizes too big. They didn’t look as strange as they should have with the bulky hockey skates. The boy finally dropped the gangster stance and spoke so suddenly Tay started at the low, defensive voice, thick with Detroit.

“I can come in here if I want. You don’t own the place.”

“No, I don’t- I mean, yeah, you can…come in here.” Tay stammered, feeling like a dork. He continued before he lost his nerve, “I want to apologize for yesterday when I…when…”

“When you acted like a fuckin’ punk?” The hockey player supplied helpfully. The heat rose on Tay’s face but he nodded, forcing himself not to drop the blade sharp blue eyes. It was difficult. The air around the boy seemed to crackle with intensity; it clung to his stance and the ghetto clothes and the uncompromising level stare.

“Yeah. When I acted like a fucking…punk.”

An amused twist of the boy’s pouty lips curved into a slow smile, banking the tension, and his gaze lowered, fringing long lashes against his cheek.

“Maybe I did kinda surprise you and shit.”

“You scared the hell out of me!” Tay breathed out in a relieved laugh, then sobered, “But you were right. You did help me. I would have gotten hurt. Thanks for that, too.”

The boy nodded bringing those killer eyes back up and Tay continued bravely. “You tried to introduce yourself yesterday and I didn’t let you. So, I’m Taylor.” He held out his hand and it was gripped firmly by rough palms with unlikely slim, clever fingers. A lot about the boy was unlikely, started with the fact that they were even standing here conversing.

“Marshall.”

“Everyone calls me Tay,” Taylor added and the boy nodded again, holding Tay’s stare.

“A’aight. Tay.”

“Um,” Tay began, weighing his next words, “Don’t take this wrong, but, what-are-you doing here?”

“Skating.”

“Skating?” Tay repeated skeptically and the boy, Marshall, ducked his head, lips in a half smile.

“Naw, not really. I stay here sometimes when things at home get on my nerves.”

“Oh.” Tay glanced at the boy’s cheek where the angry bruise had been that one time and Marshall caught him looking. Marshall looked away, hand scratching at his neck, and some of the ease that had begun, faded between them.

“I kind of need to go,” Tay said apologetically

Marshall stepped back and let Tay through to put on his blade protectors. Tay hooked his fingers on the small portable stereo and began walking to the locker room. Marshall walked beside him, hands in the pockets of his hooded sweatshirt. Tay wondered if he had anything else with him, because Detroit in November wasn’t exactly balmy.

“So how come you get to skate at 4 a.m.?” Marshall asked, eyes on the floor and only lifting to give Tay brief glances. It made the lashes lift and fall and Tay made himself not stare.

“I made a deal with Julio.”

“Yeah?” Marshall said non-comittaly and Tay thought for a moment he should have phrased that differently.

“I empty all the trash out of the bathrooms and the locker room and he lets me skate for an hour before he opens. He gets to sleep later and I get the whole rink for a while. It works out.”

“Your parents cool with that?”

“I didn’t ask them.” Tay admitted, voice even, and Marshall gave him one of his penetrating stares which he returned.

“So they don’t know you’re here?”

“Does your family know you’re here?” Tay parried. Marshall gave a short bark of laugh, bitter and scornful.

“My mom don’t give a fuck even if she did.”

Tay digested that and thought of the bruise.

“I get back and sleep for about an hour before everyone else wakes up,” he continued, skirting around the awkward silence that wanted to descend.

“Damn,” Marshall muttered. Tay couldn’t tell if it was a good ‘damn’ or a you’re- an-overachieving-freak ‘damn.’ He thought it was okay since Marshall didn’t look at him strange; at least not any stranger than he had been.

They reached the locker room and Tay paused, self conscious all of a sudden about changing in front of this boy he’d just met. He knew Zac and Ike had no such qualms, all demurity burned out of them by locker room roughhousing and joking. Tay always changed in and out of his skating outfits in a bathroom stall. He didn't know any skaters who didn't.

“I’ve got to change.” He explained when Marshall just stood there looking at him. Then a faint blush sprouted on the boy’s face and he nodded, looking away. He started to edge away, too.

“I gotta go anyway.”

“I won’t be long,” Tay said quickly, wondering where that came from. He added, “I mean, it’ll just be a few minutes.”

“A’ aight.” Marshall said with a shrug and leant against the wall to start untying his own skates.

“Okay,” Tay whispered to himself as he walked in the locker room and stood there for a second, digesting the entire previous fifteen minutes. This whole thing felt surreal as hell and Tay half expected Marshall to be gone by the time he exited. He forced himself to take his time changing into his jeans and heavy sweater and retied his scarf twice just to test the theory.

He wasn’t gone. Marshall’s skates hung over his shoulders by the laces and he bounced his head lightly against the wall as he waited. He wore scuffed Jordans, had his hands in his pockets again, and turned to Tay pinning him with that electric stare. Tay lowered his head and dug his hands in his pockets as they started walking to the back of the rink.

There was indeed a faulty fire door held open by a thin piece of plywood that didn’t give so much as a beep when Marshall pushed it.

The Detroit dusk still hadn’t given up the night and they stood there, Tay next to his bicycle, looking at each other in the dim glow of the street light. The icy wind blew around them and Tay tucked his scarf in his jacket. Marshall didn’t seem to notice though, even if the tip of his nose was getting red.

Tay needed to go home before he did something dumb like mention that.

“So you just ride home now?” Marshall nodded to the bicycle and Tay nodded.

“Usually, yeah.”

“You got some balls, yo. Some these hoods are hardcore.”

“My scrawny white ass can take care of itself, remember?” Tay said wryly, then had a belated moment of panic. However, Marshall just blinked at him for several seconds then an amused smiled overtook his face, transforming it so totally Tay didn’t think he’d really smiled until then.

“Oh, yeah, I forgot.”

“I’ll be okay,” Tay smiled in reassurance, “I do this three times a week.”

Marshall nodded, doing the small glances thing again. Eyelashes flicked at Tay. “Don’t run over nobody on that thing.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Tay threw a leg over the bike and adjusted his skating bag strap across his chest, then paused, looking at Marshall, who stood there watching in that pitiful excuse for warm weather clothing.

“What are you going to do?” He asked.

Marshall shrugged, looking around at the deserted parking lot. “I got a friend lives close by.”

“Be careful,” Tay said and Marshall gave another half-smile.

“Yeah. See ya.”

“See you later this afternoon.” Tay reminded him and Marshall nodded again. With a last smile Tay pushed off into the retreating dusk. When he risked a glance back Marshall lifted a hand in goodbye.

It wasn’t until he’d gotten home, climbed the trellis back to their room, changed into his t-shirt and sweats to sleep in, and was laying there going over what they’d said, how it had all happened, *if* it had all happened, if Marshall would actually acknowledge they’d talked when they saw each other at practice.

He fell asleep right away even while he was wondering.

*~*~*~*~*~*

All morning he’d felt like he had a secret. A really cool secret only he knew about. He kept replaying parts of their conversation in his head.

But by the time afternoon practice got closer Tay had convinced himself it had been a fluke or a one-time deal. Or a deep hallucination brought on by too many sit spins.
He’d read too much into their exchange, he must have. He hadn’t been around kids his own age in forever, which was probably it. Johnny, Sasha, and a few other skaters were the only people Tay even knew his own age, and he didn’t really hang out with any of them except Johnny. He talked on the phone with Johnny but Tay knew he was way low on the social norm scale. He spent more time talking to a ten-month old for Christ’s sake.

But then he’d think of how Marshall had waited for him, and that last, real smile, and, well maybe. Maybe…what? He kept going back and forth between apprehension and pleasure at their conversation, but more often than not he caught himself remembering their talk with a little thrill in his stomach.

Marshall seemed to still be staring at him….

“Tay. Tay!” Johnny said as they finished up their drills, and Tay shook his head out of his thoughts.

“What?”

“Did you get laid or something? Because you keep smiling.”

“What? No!” Tay laughed.

“You’d tell me right?”

“Oh, yeah. It’s right on my list: put on condom, have sex, call Johnny.”

“I’m only third on the list?”

“Shut up.” Tay laughed as they executed twin doubles. Priscilla watched from the sidelines and Tay could tell she was much happier today. She never got on them for talking because she said if the had enough breath to talk and skate their stamina was doing good. Only when they totally lost focus did she get bitchy.

They ended with a spin and Priscilla nodded her approval to them as they left the rink, sidestepping the encroaching hockey players.

Someone clipped Tay’s shoulder with theirs, just enough to twist him around, and he caught Marshall’s half-grin, his navy blue eyes mischievous. “’Sup?”

“Hi,” Tay breathed, unable to keep from smiling as he skated away. He’d gotten all the way to the edge of the rink before he noticed Johnny’s open-mouthed stare.

“No. WAY!” Johnny exclaimed in a stage whisper and Tay rolled his eyes. At this rate Tay's eyes were going to stay that way.

“Shut up. I just thanked him. You know, for that day.”

“So, like, you’re friends now?” Johnny said, voice incredulous. Tay glanced around at the other skaters as they entered the locker room but no one seemed to have looked up at Johnny’s comment. He guessed that by now most people were used to the Johnny’s occasional dramatics.

“I don’t know.” He shrugged, unsure.

“Well, you’d better be careful.”

Tay knit his brows at Johnny’s ominous tone and the sober look on his face as they entered the locker room, “What do you mean?”

“Tay, come on. He’s a hockey player. You really think he’s just decided to be your buddy for no reason?”

Yeah, actually, Tay did. Put that way, though, it seemed kind of naive. No, he thought firmly. He might not have as many friends as Ike and Zac but he trusted his instincts. This morning couldn’t have been faked, it just couldn’t have been. And, why?

“Oh, god, you do.” Johnny regarded him with dismay and Tay glared.

“Whatever happened to ‘Talk to him! He saved your life!’”

“Well, I didn’t think you’d actually do it!” Johnny replied, aghast and Tay walked away to change without answering. He swore sometimes Johnny could be the most frustrating person in the world. Tay couldn’t believe they’d been together as long as they had been without Tay strangling him.

When he emerged from the stalls Johnny stood propped against the lockers chewing on his nails. Tay sighed and walked over.

“Don’t be mad.” Johnny said through his fingers.

“I’m not, not really, it’s just. I talked to him, okay? I don’t think he’s jerking me around.”

“Why?” Johnny asked with such honest puzzlement Tay really thought about it.

“His eyes weren’t lying.”

‘His eyes are insane.”

“No they aren’t. You don’t even know him.” Okay, so they were a little insane, sometimes, Tay admitted to himself; like when he stopped that hulking boy from picking on him with one deadly, lethal look. But Johnny hadn’t met Marshall; he couldn’t say that.

“Know who?” Sasha popped over, and Tay gave Johnny a warning look. He couldn’t imagine Sasha giving a damn about his friends but he still didn’t want to discuss Marshall with anyone. Not before he held onto this morning and looked at it some more himself.

“No one,” he answered. “I’ll see you later.” He said good-bye to Sasha and moved to leave, sparing himself one more glance at the ice.

It looked like controlled chaos with half of the players skating drills, pushing the puck back and forth around a row of orange cones and the other half either trying to take slapshots past the goalie or doing defense exercises. He spied Zac’s honey blond ponytail against the red and black of his uniform, face intent and concentrated as he slid the puck over the slick surface of the ice. His eyes caught sight of Marshall as the boy practiced defense, a more severe form of the boy’s ‘intense look’ on his face. While Zac looked, even over the intensity, like he was having the time of his life, Marshall just looked dangerous.

Tay couldn’t shake that look the whole way home, or what Johnny had said.

But even so, as he lay in bed in the dark, listening to both his brother’s soft, even breathing, he realized he was looking forward to tomorrow morning anyway.

 

MARSHALL

It felt weird not to have to sneak around in the dark, not to have to crouch behind a seat to watch Tay skate. He walked in quietly, though, because the music was going and the figure on the ice had become lost in it; he could tell. Tay was gliding smoothly over the ice, eyes completely closed, a slim, graceful form in black today, gray scarf knotted around his neck. Marshall wasn’t sure he’d ever seen the boy’s neck. Settling into a seat he changed into his skates, just because. He didn’t know why, really, but he liked the idea that he could go on the ice any time he wanted. Once his skates were tied he settled back and just watched Tay.

Tay. Taylor. Marshall smiled to himself. He would so have kicked his mother’s ass if she gave him a wacked out girl’s name like that, but it fit Tay. He didn’t know how, but it did.

He couldn’t believe he was actually sitting here like this, out in the open, and it was okay. He almost hadn’t shown up the morning they'd spoken, had decided he was never showing up again, that was it, he’d had it. He’d gotten read by a fucking figure skater, and after helping him like a dumbfuck, too. Marshall could take a goddamn hint; he wasn’t a moron.

But his eyes had popped open at four on the dot, and he’d been dreaming about him, The Skater. He hadn’t called him Tay, refused to, even in his head even though he knew the name. As if that would make what Marshall was doing better, or make more sense, or some fucked up reasoning. Right.

He’d been dreaming about The Skater’s face, that beautiful, perfect doll face, how it looked when he skated, really skated, not the suicide jumps he’d been doing that morning. How his hair flowed in the air and his fingers moved and how he looked when he spun, a blur of blond hair and slim lines.

His cock had felt painfully hard already, from the dream, and Marshall had closed his eyes again, slipped his hand in his boxers under the blankets, one leg dangling off the couch that served as his bed, the other bent. He hadn’t let himself feel this, not since that scary time in the shower, but he let himself now, his body going on without him anyway, thrumming and hot despite the draftiness of the trailer. Swallowing a moan as his fingers fisted the pulsing erection he stroked three times, hard, and came, muffling his shout in the pillow. He lay there, trembling, skitters of aftershocks flashing up his spine, toes uncurling slowly from the rough scrape of the carpet, the knobby fabric of the sofa.

And, shit, he was awake then.

He’d planned to yell at the snobby little fucker, he’d been running it in his head: the hell did he think he was? Would he have dissed him if Marshall was rich? Or one of his wimpy little friends? What the hell was his beef with hockey players, anyhow? All his brothers played hockey, did he talk like that to them, too?

When the blond boy had skated right up to him and apologized, every single word pretty much evaporated. He couldn’t believe Tay had said he was sorry. If there was one thing Marshall had a hard time doing it was that.

Now here he sat, in a seat, watching him.

He was pretty glad he got up that morning, after all.

Tay finished with a spin, hands clasped behind his back, head bowed and Marshall wanted to clap but thought that might be stupid. When Tay looked up, their eyes met and a smile broke over the pink lips. He skated over to where Marshall sat, right beside the rink, and clicked off the little stereo.

“Hey,” he said, breathless, and Marshall wondered when else he sounded like that.

“'Sup,” Marshall answered, watching him prop against the rail and start untying his skates. “You don’t gotta stop if you ain’t through. I know you usually skate for longer.”

“I’m through,” Tay said, giving him a little glance. “How long I skate varies.” Which Marshall didn’t think was true, but he wasn’t about to argue with Tay if he wanted to talk instead. It gave him a pleased feeling, actually.

“So what was your friend sayin’ about me?” He asked, taking advantage of Tay’s attention to his skates to look at him. He wore plain white socks and his feet looked kind of defenseless without the skate’s blades and black leather. His blond hair fell forward as he bent and Marshall kept wondering what if would feel like in his hands.

“Who? Johnny?”

“Yeah. The skinny one.”

“Johnny.” Tay said definitively. “He thinks you’re plotting an evil scheme to do me harm.”

“I ain’t doing that!” Marshall exclaimed, offended, and Tay straightened, holding his skates by their laces, a thoughtful look on his face before he smiled. Marshall didn’t know when he’d get used to Tay looking right at him up close.

“I know. Johnny’s kind of paranoid ever since he got harassed last year- ,” Tay caught himself but didn’t take it back. “He’s just kind of suspicious now.”

“I ain’t like that.” Marshall leaned forward, elbows on his knees, unconsciously trying to catch Tay’s eyes from where they had glanced away. The amazing sky blue eyes met his and he got the strangest feeling, like he might fall in them and drown.

Tay shrugged, “He doesn’t know you.” He started walking to the locker room and Marshall got to his feet to walk with him. After a little while Tay gave a small shrug, “But *I* don’t know you, either, so it was kind of hard knowing what to say to him.”

Marshall nodded, eyes on the boy next to him. Marshall still wore his skates and they made him a little taller. He kind of liked it.

“So what do you wanna know?” He asked offhandedly and Tay gave a surprised laugh.

“Like, everything! How did you end up playing hockey when you obviously don’t buy into the whole ‘jock’ thing the other guys do? Why aren’t you friends with the other guys on the team? How is it you manage to ignore all the girls throwing themselves at you? Where did you learn that look that makes people think you’re going to murder them?”

“Hey, back up, a’aight!” Marshall stopped Tay before he got to Marshall’s blood type and underwear style. “That’s a lot of questions. Can I ask you stuff?”

“Yeah, go ahead.” Tay answered immediately, “After you answer one of mine.”

He lifted his chin at the boy, trying to tough his way out of it but Tay just lifted his chin back, the dimple deepening as he tried not to smile and Marshall lost the pose in his amusement, thumbing his nose as he looked away.

“A’aight. A’aight. Deal, but you gotta pick one of them questions or we’ll be here all morning.”

“How did you end up playing hockey?” Tay chose without even thinking, and Marshall thought five years back, to that fateful summer day, one of the hottest summers on record, and Proof, Rufus, Von, and himself had been sweating, broke, and bored out of their minds.

They reached the locker room and Tay leaned back on the wall, waiting, those fuckin’ incredible eyes fixed on him. Marshall looked away and began to talk.

“I don’t know. One summer when I was in middle school my boys and I heard about this hockey workshop the YMCA was doing. It was hot as fuck, none of our houses had AC, and they were giving out free hot dogs and soda, you know how they get that shit donated? Anyways we showed up for the food ‘cause only Proof and I even knew how to skate, and this guy tells me to hit this little black piece of plastic on the floor and I go, “OK, whatever,” and I hit it. Thing shoots twenty feet and hits some kid on the shin.”

Tay laughed and Marshall shook his head at the memory. “Hit him hard, too, fuckin’ wuss started cryin’ and I thought the guy was gonna get pissed off, but he just gives me another puck and says, “Try it again. Aim for the goal.” And I’m thinking, ‘At least he ain’t pissed.’ So I hit it again and it goes in the net. Then he has me skate around, hold a hockey stick and sets up some cones and shit, and I didn’t even know I’d been there two hours until Proof told me they were gonna take off. Rufus had eaten, like, six hot dogs and was gonna throw up. I told him, okay, ‘cause it was kinda fly, you know? Skating and hitting the fuck out of that thing. Turned out the guy was the coach of the Pirates and wanted me to play. I told him I couldn’t afford the uniform or nothing and he said they got those from a sponsor. The equipment, too, so I thought, 'Why the fuck not?' Just kept going.” Marshall stopped, startled that he’d talked for that long. He hadn’t talked about himself for that long since his …well, for a long time.

“Wow.” Tay exclaimed. “And it was okay with your friends?”

“That’s two questions.” He pointed out and Tay crossed his arms at him but Marshall was only messing with him.

“Yeah, they were down. Took ‘em a while to get used to it.” He wanted to fidget under the thoughtful way Tay kept looking at him, like he was trying to figure him out.

“My turn.”

“Shoot.” Tay nodded.

“What happened that morning you went off on me? Why were you skating that way?”

“Two questions.” Tay said, but he kind of mumbled it, the sky blue going clouded, the smile fading.

Marshall shook his head. “Same question.” Tay ducked his chin, dark blond hair tumbling forward, and the easy way he’d been lounging had gone all awkward and stiff.

“Just some stuff at home that made me mad. I apologized for yelling at you.” Marshall waited but Tay just kept staring at the floor, face hidden by his hair and after a few minutes of strained silence Marshall realized that was it, there was no more and glared at Tay, giving a scornful snort.

“Oh, *hell* no. I didn’t just go all ‘Oprah’ on your ass for you to punk out! That ain’t fair!”

“It was my dad, alright?” Tay burst out, looking up angrily, and Marshall was struck by the hurt in his eyes, “I did something and I thought he’d react one way and he didn’t and it…it…felt like shit, okay? It sucked and when I get pissed off I skate that way, to forget it or block it out, but I thought I was alone and…I felt really stupid.”

“It wasn’t stupid.”

“And I just yelled at you again.” Tay ran a hand through his hair and Marshall watched the strands fall and feather through his fingers.

“You don’t get pissed off a lot, huh?”

“I’m pissed off all the time.” Tay said, puzzled and Marshall shook his head.

“No, I ain’t talkin’ ‘Oh, darn, I didn’t help the little old lady cross the street and I’ll lose my Boy Scout badge’ pissed; I mean pissed *off*, yo. Yelling, throwing stuff, going off and beating the crap out of shit pissed off. That kind of pissed off.”

“Fuck you. I was never a boy scout.” Tay snapped and Marshall had to fight the bigass smile that wanted to bust out all over his face when Tay said ‘Fuck.’ Made him wonder just how often Tay did say it and he liked the contrast of that word coming out of that perfect mouth.

Marshall lifted his eyebrows and spread his arms in a sign of question.

“No,” Tay said, voice grudging, “I don’t get mad like that. I channel it in more productive areas.”

“You should try it. It feels good.”

“I guess you would know.”

“Yeah. I would.” They stood looking at each other and Marshall matched the sharp stare with his, holding it. The air seemed to get heavier between them somehow, almost thick enough to see, and Tay finally broke their gaze by lowering his lashes.

“I have to change.”

Marshall didn’t know when he’d stepped so close but he had to back up for Tay to go into the locker room. Before he disappeared Marshall called out. “Hey.” Tay turned.

“We down?”

Tay looked at him for a second before smiling slowly. “Yeah. We’re down. I just don’t really talk to a lot of people about personal stuff. I’m out of practice.”

“Me, too.” Marshall said. Tay nodded and Marshall watched him walk in the locker room, skates swinging.

He leaned against the wall for a little while. It felt like-something had happened, but all they’d done was talk. Still, he felt like he had a piece of something, a piece of Tay no one else had, knowing what he knew. He liked it.

He untied his skates, put on his Jordans and waited to walk Tay out.

Chapter Text

You may be right
I may be crazy
But it just might be a lunatic you're looking for

~Billy Joel

MARSHALL

The bell rang signaling the end of math class and Marshall stuffed his notes in this book and shut it, stuffing it in his backpack and getting up at the same time. If he could make it to the door without meeting Mr. Lang’s eyes he could say he hadn’t heard…

“Marshall? Can I see you for a minute?” He brought up short and turned in resignation. Mr. Lang leaned against the desk with his arms crossed, being careful not to brush his chalk-covered fingers on the gray turtleneck he wore. It was things like that which made him cool; not like old Mrs. Mintner who could erase a whole row of equations with her bosom while writing above eye level and not even notice. If Marshall looked that fly he sure as shit wouldn’t be wasting it trying to teach some mouthy kids in the ghetto Algebra.

“I have the quiz you took yesterday.” His teacher reached for a paper on the desk. Marshall could see the red ‘52’ from where he stood just fine. He was torn between wishing one of the guys would be waiting for him so he could claim that he had to go and being glad they weren’t in the class to see his grade. They all had Mrs. Mintner, who couldn’t see someone cheat if they fell on her lap while doing it, but Marshall had to have Math this period so he could have study hall at the end of the day. It made leaving early for games easier.

“Yeah.” Marshall said indifferently and Mr. Lang gave a sigh and placed the paper back on the desk.

“What am I going to do with you, Marshall? Do you want to tell me what I’m going to do with you?”

“Flunk me?” Marshall hazarded and Mr. Lang’s inky black eyes got a hard look.

“I don’t flunk you. You’re flunking yourself.”

“I don’t get it, a’aight? I tried and I don’t, so what the hell am I supposed to do?” He forgot to stop himself from cursing at a teacher but Mr. Lang didn’t even seem to notice.

“My offer of after-school tutoring still stands.”

“I got practice after school.”

“If your grades don’t get better you won’t be at practice for much longer.”

“I know.” Marshall spat, then calmed himself down, “I know.” He repeated, unable to look Mr. Lang in the eye. He knew Mr. Lang had tried to get ahold of his mom for a school conference and hadn’t been able to. Marshall’s mom had flaked both times; said she had some emergency one time and never got the message the next. Marshall hadn’t done a thing to sidetrack them, either. He didn’t know what the hell a meeting would have done, anyhow. All they did was embarrass him when his mom showed up late wearing clothes that were too tight.

“It doesn’t have to be me, Marshall. A relative? A friend?” Marshall shook his head, looking at the floor.

“It’s up to you. We aren’t at midterm yet so you still have part of the semester to bring up your average. You’re a smart kid, Marshall. You can do this if you apply yourself.”

“How the fuck would you know? I’m flunking your damn class.” Marshall didn’t care about cursing in front of Mr. Lang anymore. Mr. Lang didn’t seem to care and Marshall couldn’t remember when he'd felt more frustrated.

“Just a hunch.” Mr. Lang gave him a sympathetic smile and handed over the stupid quiz. Marshall crammed it in the pocket of his hoodie. Finally Proof showed up and stuck his head in the door, removing it just as fast when he saw Marshall talking to the teacher. Marshall began walking to the door and stopped when Mr. Lang called his name. He glanced over his shoulder.

“Think about it.” Mr. Lang said and why did grownups always say that like it was the most convincing thing in the world? Think about what? Go to him for ‘tutoring’? Fuck that. Miraculously get a brain transplant so he knew all that useless shit? Yeah, right. Marshall nodded anyway and went to find Proof.

His best friend was at their lockers waiting, and gave him questioning look. “Trouble with Lang?”

“Nah. Same shit, different day.” Marshall shoved the quiz deeper in his pockets, crinkling the paper tighter.

It wasn’t like Proof would say anything, but his friend did okay in math. Sure, they had the old lady for a teacher, and she was easier, but his friend pulled C’s with the occasional B in his work; Marshall had seen it. Von and Rufus just cheated on every single thing. Either way they were all passing and he wasn’t.

“Heads up.” Proof murmured and Marshall didn’t know what he meant until a waft of familiar perfume hit him He turned to see Jeanine leaning casually against the lockers, a posse of her friends milling in the background like there was gonna be a show.

“The fuck do you want?” He demanded and she smiled lazily at him. She wore glitter eye shadow, her eyes sparkled with it, and the cleavage she did have was puffed out of a tight blouse with a low front. Marshall forced himself to look at her face and saw her knowing grin.

“Hopie’s parents are out of town. Some people are coming over. You in?”

Marshall stared at her incredulously. Was she on crack? Sure, they used to show up at everyone’s parties when they didn’t conflict with his hockey schedule. That’s what it was, a party. A houseful of kids drinking, smoking, and fucking until the booze ran out or someone complained about the noise. They usually went to get dibs on a bedroom so they could fuck on an actual bed for once instead of his mom’s car or her mom’s apartment where her little brothers could walk in any minute.

“No, I ain’t in.”

“He laid you off, man,” Proof said, dark eyes looking her up and down with a disgusted look, “You need him to draw you a map?”

“Whatsammatter? Can’t you answer without clearing it with your boy?” Jeanine snapped, her ice colored eyes cutting to Proof angrily and Proof pushed himself off the lockers, stare murderous and looking like he really might belt her one. Marshall stood in front of him, felt the anger rise and fall off his friend’s chest at his back.

“You brain damaged or something? I told you we ain’t got nothing to say.”

“Who said we were gonna talk?” Jeanine moved in close, almost sandwiching him between Proof and her advancing body. He heard Proof mutter a curse and slip out of the way so the cold metal of the lockers hit Marshall’s back.

Jeanine’s small body pressed against his and the combination lock cut into his shoulder blade. Marshall kept his chin up in defiance but his eyes kept being drawn to the curves of her breasts. She was pressing so close the blouse had slid down in the front.

He was kind of hard.

Shit, he HAD to get laid or start jerking off more.

“Nine Friday night. If you can get rid of your babysitter, you know where I’ll be.” Her hand, hidden between the folds of her jacket and his loose jeans, suddenly gripped him tight and he jumped with surprise, banging his head on the locker.

Loud laughter sounded from the friggin’ peanut gallery she’d brought with her. Marshall shoved at her but she had already backed away laughing, a triumphant gleam in the ice gray eyes.

“Feels like you need it. See ya.” She turned away, swallowed by the crowds and the giggling girls.

Marshall hadn’t noticed he was having trouble breathing until Proof said, “Close your mouth, son, you catching flies.”

“Fuck.” He muttered, never so happy for dressing loose in his life. Turning to the lockers he tried to concentrate on his combination while calming down so he wouldn’t have to walk down the hall advertising how he felt. Finally getting the door open he leaned his head against the door and sighed.

“You going?” Proof demanded, dark eyes angry and suspicious like they always looked after a run-in with Jeanine. Marshall wondered how long he had been in denial that Proof hated his ex-girlfriend. He moved away from his locker because it smelled like old gym sneakers and needed some air freshener, and shot Proof a glare.

“No, I ain’t going.” He said with as much force as he could manage and Proof shrugged one shoulder, leaning against his locker. Marshall knew that look, that I-know-you're-full-of-shit look.

“Fuck’s a fuck.”

“I don’t eat sloppy seconds, yo.” Proof’s expression broke into a grin and he gave Marshall a push with his elbow.

“That shit be fuuuuunky.”

“And nasty, bro. That shit be nasty.” They cracked up as the last bell rang and were still ragging on Jeanine as they dodged the hall monitor on the way to the 7-11 to buy a hot dog for lunch.

Still, her tits and the way her hand felt on him kept sneaking around his thoughts all day and if it weren’t for how totally pissed Proof would be, he might have gone to the party. Might even teach the bitch a lesson, get a little revenge: fuck her and leave her. It wasn’t worth it, though, he thought. How Proof would look at him wouldn’t be worth it, and he knew the first thing Jeanine would do was run over and throw it in Proof’s face. He knew her well enough to know that. When they’d been together he’d liked that toughness, had been proud his girl wasn’t no wimpy little skank and could match anyone who tried to front on her. He just hadn’t thought of what that would be like turned around on him.

Eventually, though, the whole thing, Jeanine, the quiz, all faded to the back of his mind. It was actually easy once he figured out the trick. He just thought of Tay.

*~*~*~*~*~

“Nobody like me
Everybody hates me
Guess I’ll go out and eat worms!” Tay tapped Zoë’s feet together as she lay on the changing table, freshly powdered and smelling like toast and No More Tears shampoo. She squealed and laughed and tried to kick him in the face.

“Long fat slimy ones
Short fat juicy ones
Itsy bitsy fuzzy wuzzy worms!” He finished by wiggling her ankles so she chortled in delight and he blew air bubbles on her bare feet, tickling them. She waved her arms in delight and tried to get away. As he giggled with her, he spied his mom at the door drying her hands on her schlepping-at-home jeans, her smile tired and sweet. He was putting off starting his social studies homework and she knew it, but she also knew he’d buckle down once he sat at the computer table. This was his favorite time of the day, lunchtime just as Zoë was dozing off. Jessie, Avery, and Josh were at playgroup and the house stood peaceful with just the whir of the washing machine and his mom’s humming as she chopped stuff for dinner and murmured into the phone on one of her endless tasks.

Tay picked up Zoë, nestling her on the crook of his hip, her warm weight snuggling into him. Her small fist clutched a fistful of t-shirt and she laid her head on his chest, already fading. “It’s naptime pretty girl. Night night.” He whispered into her mussed sable brown hair. He could feel warmth on his chest as she drooled on him and he walked slowly over to the crib and lay her down. She fussed momentarily, chubby fists protesting the removal of his t-shirt, but he hummed the worm song, rubbing her round tummy in its onesie, handing her a small stuff animal to hold, and her eyes drooped. A thin line of saliva shone on her chin and Tay wiped it away with a finger.

“You’re so good with her, honey. I think she’s a Taylor’s Girl more than a Daddy’s Girl.” His mom slipped an arm around his waist and Tay propped his head on her shoulder, smiling down at the dozing baby that he’d changed and bathed himself.

“She’s my girl.” His mother agreed. Zoë was Tay's girl.

They walked quietly out of his parent’s room and headed downstairs to enjoy the brief respite from Queen Zoë and Tay slid into the swivel chair in front of the computer, clicking into his homework files. His mom’s hand on his shoulder made him turn to face her as she sat on the short ottoman that passed as a seat for anyone who wanted to share computer space. It discouraged hovering over the person on the computer and was probably one of the reasons none of them had ever gotten into computer games. Your ass would go numb and fall off after fifteen minutes on that thing.

“How’s the routine? Any headway on the quad?”

“Some.” Tay shrugged. “Priscilla says not to put too much focus on it since the only other person in the competition that can do one keeps getting low marks for artistry, but I’m trying.”

“Did you have a good day yesterday?” Her hands smoothed his hair out of his eyes and Tay looked at the screensaver of the 1985 Olympic Hockey Team at the moment when they all held up their medals. He and Zac shared screensavers since they were the only ones who had an opinion. Tay usually switched it to scenes from places he’d like to go: Machu Pichu, the Great Wall, a long white beach with a deep sea the color of Marshall’s eyes.

“Yeah. I’m okay, mom. Really.”

“Oh, sweetheart, I know. You are the most ‘okay’ child a parent could ever want to have. I just worry sometimes.” Tay met her eyes wondering if she could tell, if she had maybe always known. She seemed to know everything else with that scary mom-ESP that never quit.

“About what?” he asked lightly and she gave him another tired smile, the corner of her eyes crinkling. Her hair barely hit her shoulders; his was longer, but he remembered when hers fell down her back in a long thick dark blond braid and the honor of unraveling the soft, fragrant strands was something the three of them, as kids, vied for with passion. He missed it sometimes, her hair and the vying.

“Well, I wonder if maybe I shouldn’t have made you try harder to stay in school with your brothers.”

“What? No!” Tay exclaimed, baffled and kind of indignant. “Why? I like being here, I work better here. I wouldn’t be this far ahead with skating otherwise.”

“I know all that, Taylor, and no one is prouder of you than me.” Well, *that* was certainly true, Tay thought sardonically. “You just seem so…alone sometimes. That’s all.” The hazel of her eyes surveyed him, a worry line between her brows.

“I’m not alone.” Tay said automatically, and it wasn’t a lie. He had all of them, except for Ike who only made appearances on holidays and some weekends. He had Johnny to talk to when he needed, and a few other people who related to how it was to make skating your world. He even knew a few people in town that he saw when Johnny convinced him to go to the city’s only decent all-ages gay bar, something he was so not sharing with his mom, much as he loved her. And Marshall, he thought. Do I have Marshall now? “I just don’t collect friends like Zac does. It’s not my thing, but I know people. My peer development is progressing normally.” He finished solemnly and was greeted with a wet finger in his ear by his gleefully grinning mother. He pulled away with a sound of distaste and his own laughing.

“Now *that* was just wiseassery, young man.”

“A little. I’m cool, mom.”

“Yes, honey. I know.”

“I can start dressing in black and playing depressing music if it’ll help.”

“Oh, go on with you.” His mom gave his head a playful shove and got up, the heavy conversation apparently banked.

He watched her go to the laundry room to start another load and wondered, like he always did at these times, if he'd just passed up the perfect chance. But then another one always came along, and Tay was pretty sure he had time. He knew he definitely needed it.

Leaning back in the chair, he began to read about the Ming Dynasty.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Tay performed in front of audiences all the time, so he guessed that’s why having Marshall watch him didn’t freak him out. It didn’t, however, explain the warm feeling in his stomach when he saw Marshall sit down, arms resting on the seat in front of him, chin propped on his forearms, clear navy eyes riveted.

Well, so what? So there were warm feelings. He didn’t know if he’d ever had a friend that had sought him out, him especially, to get to know, and it should feel good. If you believe that I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I wanna sell. the voice in his head that sounded so much like Johnny snarked and he ignored it. He had no illusions about how unlikely this new development was and he couldn’t help feeling protective of it, careful. He didn’t want to expose it to too much before the roots grew stronger.

Skating over after his sit spin, he hopped off the ice, smiling at Marshall, who flicked his head back in greeting.

“Hey.”

“Yo.” The electric eyes found his and Tay could only hold them for a second before bending down to untie his skates. He’d never met anyone with such an intense, unblinking stare. It still blindsided him sometimes, the strength in it.

However, when he’d untied both his skates and removed them and Marshall was still just sitting there, slumped in the chair staring at him, red worry flags went up. Was this delayed regret now that Marshall had had a chance to think about it? Was the total weirdness of showing up before dawn to watch some guy figure skater practice finally dawning on him? Tay realized Marshall may have been looking at him but he hadn’t been watching him for a while.

“Are you okay?” Tay asked and Marshall blinked as if coming back from somewhere in his mind.

“Yeah, yeah. Sorry.” Marshall shifted in the seat and ran a hand over his face like Tay’s dad did when an order of lumber was late, or when a hockey official had ruled against Zac’s team. “Stuff on my mind.”

“I’m a really good listener.” Oh, god, how After School Special of him. Tay winced inwardly, but Marshall just gave him a tired smile, a real one, not one of his sarcastic smirks. The one that transformed his whole face.

“Nah. Just the same old shit.” He leaned forward to balance his elbows on his knees and move that laser navy blue stare closer and Tay held it, ignoring the silly way his heart sped up a little.

“So, like, you drag your ass here every morning to practice for competitions, right?”

“Yeah,” Tay affirmed with an amused grin, “The same reason you practice.”

Marshall gave a small laugh. “Dog, there’s five other guys on the ice got my back.”

“I tried that.” Tay dropped his gaze to fiddle with the tassels on his scarf. “I don’t play well with others.”

“You played hockey?” Marshall sounded so surprised Tay lifted his head with a glare.

“Yeah, and?”

“Nothin’! Damn.” A silence inserted itself between them and Tay wondered why he always ended up shouting at Marshall and why Marshall never told him to go to hell about it. “You was all down on hockey players that one time is all.”

“It was a long time ago, anyway. I was really bad at it.” Tay squirmed at the memory, one he just didn’t take out all that often because those were some of the longest years of his life and he’d just been a little kid. He remembered wanting to like it, to be good at so badly so his dad would smile the same way he did at Zac and Ike. It never happened. He always hated it. Not at all like he felt when he saw the figure skaters at the rink while he waited for practice, how he knew instantly that he wanted to do exactly that.

“I can see how much you like this.” Marshall stated.

“I love this.” Tay answered and Marshall nodded, something like admiration on his face.

“No shit. You practice more than anyone I ever seen.”

“Well, I have a long way to go.”

“For what?”

“The Olympic games.” The words just came out without planning and Tay startled himself with them. He rarely talked about that ambition with anyone except Johnny, and then only once in awhile. As if to discuss it too much was a jinx, or lessened their resolve. He hadn’t really even talked about it to his mom even though she knew. One of the earliest essays he’d ever written for her was about his goal to skate in the Olympics.

“You’re going to the Olympics?” Marshall was looking at him like he’d grown another head and Tay nodded resolutely.

“Not tomorrow or anything, but yeah. Eventually. It’s what I want to do. Don’t you think about that, too? Winning the Stanley Cup or something?”

Marshall stared at him for so long Tay thought he might have, somehow, made a mistake in mentioning it, then Marshall shook his head with a grin. “Fuck, yo, I just wanna win the next game.”

Tay laughed at his astounded tone and shrugged, starting to walk to the locker room. Marshall got to his feet and fell into step next to him, hands in his pockets. “I’m just a freak.”

“That don’t make you a freak.” He said looking over at Tay with a level expression and Tay had to look away. “It makes you kinda nuts for skating that much, but it don’t make you a freak.”

“Thanks a lot.” Tay shoved at him like he did to Zac when they were sparring back and forth and Marshall held up his hands with a grin, smile mischievous as he wove out the way.

A crumpled paper fluttered to the floor out of Marshall pocket and Tay bent down to catch it before Marshall even noticed it had fallen out.

“You dropped this.” Tay started to hand it over then caught sight of red marks on the tattered page. He unraveled the wrinkles to see a math test bleeding corrections, the ‘52’ in a circle at the top with ‘See me for help’ written under it in large red letters. When he looked up at Marshall all the pleasure had gone out of his face to be replaced by a pinched, almost angry look.

“Are you flunking Math?”

“No.” A quick swipe snatched the paper out of Tay’s hands where it crumpled anew in Marshall’s slim fingers, the boy staring at Tay with a defiant set to his chin.

Tay ducked his head and continued walking to the locker room, unwilling to take on the defensiveness that radiated from Marshall’s every pore.

“Yeah.” The equally defiant word made him pause and turn. Anger fought with pained embarrassment on Marshall’s face, two spots of dusky pink high on the curves of his cheeks. He’s ashamed I saw, thought Tay as he walked slowly closer, and why Marshall would care was a question for another time.

“Stupid fuckin’ shit. I don’t need it to play hockey.” Marshall’s fist thrust the paper back in the hoodie’s pocket, out of sight.

“If you flunk you’re off the team aren’t you?” It was more statement than question and Marshall didn’t answer him.

The Navy blue eyes held his for a few seconds then looked down, fringed lashes thick against Marshall’s cheek and Tay almost reached out to him in sympathy because he looked so mortified under the thin toughness. He tightened his hold on his skates to keep from squeezing Marshall’s arm in comfort.

“Lots of people have a hard time with Math. It’s not that unusual.”

Heavy silence, thick with tension spread between them and Tay tried to catch Marshall’s eyes but they kept staring angrily at the floor.

“I’m pretty good at it. I could help you if you….”

“I ain’t stupid.” Marshall blurted, voice scornful but Tay wasn’t fooled. He stepped still closer so the lashes lifted, emotions warring for dominance in Marshall’s eyes. He could see the long lower lashes and the way Marshall’s lips were chapped.

“I know that. When Zac needs help with Algebra it doesn’t make him stupid. When I need help with science it doesn’t make me stupid. I help Zac all the time.”

“Why would you do that?” Some of the taut tension had seeped out of the air and Tay shrugged, puzzled.

“Because you need it? Because if you flunk you can’t play hockey?”

“What do you care if I play hockey?” Marshall muttered, eyes wandering downward again and Tay rolled his eyes, putting both hands on his hips and wishing he knew Marshall even a little better so he tell him to stop being such a drama diva.

“Do you want me to help you or are you just going to stand there being a pain in the ass?”

Marshall looked up at him, surprised, and Tay realized he really was standing WAY too close, so he kept talking through the butterflies in his stomach.

“I mean, I know it’s a big drag and it’s not like you haven’t got other things to do than sit somewhere with me going over equations once a week but it’s stupid not to accept someone’s help when you need it.”

“Yeah, ‘cause you’re great at that, right?” Marshall snarked with a smirk, then his expression shifted and he stared hard at Tay, making Tay want to squirm. “Once a week?”

“Well, yeah. At least, we’d have to, for it to make a difference. I don’t really know *when* but…”

“A’aight.”

“We’d have to figure out…alright?” Tay repeated and Marshall shrugged doing the little glances thing he did sometimes. Tay watched them lift and fall.

“Yeah.”

“Oh. Okay.” Tay happened to glance over at the clock and started at the time. “Oh, shit! I’m kind of late. I’ll be right out.” He ran in the locker room leaving Marshall staring after him and hoping he’d make it home before his mom tried to wake up an empty bed.

*~*~*~

When he emerged still tugging his scarf on, Marshall was pacing. They walked quickly to the emergency exit and outside where Julio, the maintenance worker had actually already pulled in the parking lot, his enormous truck blasting Garth Brooks.

As Tay dug into his backpack for a pencil and a piece of paper the large Latino man stepped out of the vehicle causing it to elevate by several inches. Tay smiled at him as his fingers finally found a stray not-too-sticky Post It Note in the front zipper of his backpack. Julio didn’t walk so much as glide, thick legs, clad in the gray maintenance uniform, moving him forward like some large, formidable ship.

“Yo, Tay.”

“Hi.” Tay greeted, scribbling his number on the paper. Julio paused, dark eyes sizing Marshall up and down.

“This is Marshall. He’s cool.”

Julio nodded once, the beads on his braids clinking softly in the stillness of the pre-dawn morning.

“Later, man.”

“Bye.” Tay said as Julio eased over to the back entrance. He noticed Marshall staring after the maintenance worker, eyes large.

“What?”

“That fucker’s so big he got his own zip code, yo.”

“I think it’s glandular.”

“What?”

“Nevermind. This is my number. Call me and we can set up a time to study. Okay?”

“A’aight.” Marshall looked down at the Post It Note and back up as Tay balanced on his bike and undid the kick stand.

“See you after practice!” He shoved off already calculating how close he’d be cutting it.

“You don’t got my number!” Marshall protested but Tay laughed as he rode away.

“I’ll get it when you call me!” He replied over his shoulder.

He made it home with barely fifteen minutes to spare.

The warm feeling in his chest stayed with him the whole way.

Chapter Text

He was no more than a baby then
Well he seemed broken hearted
Something within him
But the moment that I first laid
Eyes on him
All alone
On the edge of
Seventeen

Edge of Seventeen
~Stevie Nicks

MARSHALL

Tay’s number burned a hole in his pocket all day. Marshall kept checking to see if it was still there and finally copied it down inside his Algebra book, just as a back up. He’d be sitting in class and realize he’d been fiddling with the Post-It without even realizing.

He also kept second guessing himself about the tutoring thing all day, but he just hadn’t been able to help it. He wanted to spend more than a few minutes a day with Tay. Their fifteen minutes at the rink and a ‘Hi’ as Tay went home before Marshall’s practice were nothing. So all he’d seen when Tay offered was MORE TIME in bigass sparkly letters and he grabbed without thinking.

He was sure as shit thinking about it now, though, and thought he might have lost his damn mind. ‘Cause, yeah, he’d see Tay. He and Tay would be alone with a shitload of Algebra he didn’t understand. Tay would see all his failing grades and see how Marshall couldn’t understand none of that crap and know Marshall was stupid. He couldn’t handle that, man. He just didn’t want that.

In the middle of his thoughts that chased each around and around in his head like a goddamn hamster on a wheel he collided with Proof’s dubious stare and quickly took his hand out of his pocket. He realized since they were slouching back on the bleachers Marshall looked like he’d been playing with is goddamn self. Fan-fucking-tastic.

“You kite some a your mom’s pills again?” Proof asked.

“Word, can I have some?” Von piped up, leaning over eagerly so Marshall could smell the convenience store hot dog Von had just eaten.

“Yo, back the fuck up. Your breath stinks.” Everyone guffawed and pointed and while Von grabbed his crotch and said, “Yo, THIS, motherfuckers,” only causing more laughter. Marshall smirked until he saw Proof’s worried stare.

His best friend scooted over next to him while the others continued to talk back and forth. Sometimes the guys weren’t any better than Nathan for being distracted easily. He thought his brother might have a longer attention span.

“’Sup.” Proof butted their shoulders together and Marshall shrugged, glancing over past the dreads to his friend’s dark eyes. Proof had the blackest eyes Marshall had ever seen and spent a lot of time when they were kids trying to see the pupil in their inky depths. He never could find it.

“I’m a’aight.” He said. When his fingers closed around Tay’s number he realized his hand had found its way in his pocket again. “I’m pretty good right now.”

“Sketch,” Proof replied, but Marshall could see that he didn’t buy it. “I’m at The Shelter Friday, dawg. You there?”

Marshall nodded and they bumped knuckles in agreement.

Next to them the guys had begun to talk about foods that made your breath stink worse. Proof shook his head and Marshall laughed, even as he made his decision.

He had to talk to his Uncle Ronnie.

*~*~*~*~

The small brick house sat on an overgrown patch of weeds just past the point on Six Mile Road where the neighborhood got bad. A piece of corrugate aluminum on four sticks served as a place to park your car under and the backyard still had a bunch of crap from when Ronnie lived here: pieces of cars, a broken generator, an old electric swing his uncle was supposed to fix for Nate back in the day. It looked sad only because Marshall knew how different it felt when Ronnie was around. His Aunt Betty kept up the taxes and the water bill because Marshall knew she couldn’t bring herself to go to the office and officially cancel them. She’d gone to turn off the electric and couldn’t stop crying for three days. She never went in the house after the funeral.

She found him.

Marshall’s key still worked.

The inside of the house was even worse because Marshall had never seen a bunch of people clean out a place so fast before Ronnie was barely cold. Ronnie hadn’t had fancy shit, but the shit he had he kept up. He was only a couple years older than Marshall and they’d grown up together but his mom always called him ‘your Uncle’ even if he was a kid, so Marshall did, too. His couch had been second-hand but it had no burn holes and Aunt Betty had kept a colorful cover over it and a bunch of her crocheted pillows. Ronnie could barely make Hamburger Helper out of a box but the kitchen was always clean, the trash never overflowing like at Marshall place and, sometimes, fresh flowers would be in a coffee can on the table.

Ronnie never got his diploma but he studied for his GED and had an okay job at downtown packing company. They hired him even if he was just a kid because he got one of his GED teachers to write him a letter. Marshall had a place to run when Ronnie lived here, escaping when his mom went on a tear or one of her stupid boyfriends decided he could push Marshall around because he woke up at the trailer a few times a week. He’d show up whenever, use his key or knock in case Ronnie had company, but it didn’t matter. Ronnie always let Marshall in, asked him if he wanted a soda, and listened to what happened. Sometimes Marshall’s mom would call over all yelling and shit and her and Ronnie would get into it. He never made Marshall leave, though.

“I love my sister, dawg,” He’d say, shaking his head, a hand ruffling up his mouse brown hair, “But she got ass taste in men.”

His mom never forgave their Aunt for letting Ronnie live in the little house instead of her even though ‘I got kids, goddamnit!’ She never forgave Ronnie for not leaving it to her after he died or her sister for backing up what Ronnie wanted even if she didn’t have to. That was his mom: everybody got the blame but her. Marshall didn’t blame them; he figured they knew his mom couldn’t keep track of money for shit and the house might end up with one of her asshole fuckbuddies by accident.

Marshall only came here sometimes now, and he’d only been able to walk in the last six months or so. He hated the empty walls where the car and rap celebrity posters had been and he hated the kitchen thick with dust that would have driven Ronnie nuts. He hated the lonely mattress on the floor of Ronnie’s bedroom. It had been Marshall’s favorite place because Ronnie had a lava lamp that Marshall could watch for hours, a miniature TV he bought at Rite Aid on sale, and Ronnie’s big bed with Aunt Betty’s quilts on it.

Sighing, Marshall sank to the floor in the bedroom near the single mattress that lay in a crazy angle in the middle of the room; it used to be on Ronnie’s cot that his uncle kept in the closet. He took Tay’s number out and looked at the neatly written digits with ‘TAY’ on the top, the letters quick, hurried slashes. Squeezed the note between both his palms and thought of Tay’s smile.

“’Sup, Ronnie,” He whispered. He wasn’t like that kid on ‘The Sixth Sense’ he didn’t talk to dead people so they talked back. He wasn’t crazy. Marshall just came here when he couldn’t figure something out and pretended Ronnie was still there listening, his brown eyes kind and his body hunched closer and focused on Marshall like Marshall mattered.

“I got a situation, dawg.” That’s what Ronnie used to always say when shit got weird: “We got a situation.” And what the hell would his uncle say about this? Except Marshall knew no matter what, Ronnie always let him get out whatever was eating him before he said anything.

“I’m thinking about this person a lot, a’ight, only it aint…” Fuck, if he couldn’t even talk about it to his dead uncle he was in some shit. “He ain’t a girl. I thought he was a girl first time I saw him, but he wasn’t, and.” Marshall threaded his fingers like he was praying and brought them to his mouth, Tay’s number still nestled inside. “I don’t know. He’s not like no one I ever known. He’s smart, college smart. Says he’s going to the Olympics, and his family’s all ‘Brady Bunch’ and shit, but he’s fuckin’ beautiful…” Marshall paused, letting the words sink into the air. He’d never said that out loud before, either. Never admitted it like that, that he thought Tay was amazing looking. That he could look at Tay’s face all day long, that he could close his eyes and see the expression while Tay skated, and how it made his chest all tight but made him feel peaceful at the same time. “He’s fuckin’ beautiful.” Marshall repeated in a whisper.

“And I,” Marshall bit at his lip, his heart speeding up, because this wasn’t easy, talking about this. It was scarin’ him out of his mind, even if it was just to the ghost of his uncle. “I wanna see him all the time. I wanna be WITH him all the time. I wanna…I think about him when I jerk off.” Marshall felt his cheeks flush, could imagine his uncle laying a comforting hand on Marshall’s shoulder while Marshall turned red, like the time he asked Ronnie about going down on a girl and did he have to do it ‘cause Marshall kind of thought it was gross.

“I’m flunking Math like a retard, a’aight? Tay said he’d tutor me and I… I don’t want to look stupid. But I’m gonna be off the team if I don’t do something. Yo, I don’t wanna be another loser working at McDonald’s, living at home and blowing all my check at The Shelter every weekend. We were gonna go someplace, right?” He and Ronnie talked about it all the time, getting out of this city, getting somewhere different and exciting and fuckin’ warm. Ronnie wanted to be the first white Dr. Dre and he said Marshall could be the next Lemieux or Gretzky. “Hockey’s your ticket, bro. Don’t fuck it up for nothing.” Ronnie had been thinking Stanley cup before Marshall ever was. He said they weren’t settling for chump change or knocking up some bitch and bein’ trapped. He told Proof and the guys all the time too. Ronnie was almost fanatical about that; pressed condoms on Marshall when Marshall was twelve and told him what they were for and embarrassed the hell out of him.

“I don’t know what to do.” He finished finally. “The fuck you gotta be gone for? That ain’t helping me at all.” Still, if his uncle wasn’t gone Marshall didn’t know if he could actually say all this to him, if he could make the words come out.

Marshall closed his eyes and thought of Ronnie, how he looked when he was listening. He’d been tall and skinny, “Thin as a weed.” His Aunt Betty always called him; the trait that made his mom real slim when other mom’s got their mid-thirties spread made Ronnie kinda puny. His eyes were always laughing, a real warm brown, but they looked right at you when they listened; they really heard you. Tay’s eyes did that, too.

‘What do you wanna do?’ Ronnie would probably ask. He always cut past all the bullshit, what other people wanted, what Proof would think of him, what Ronnie himself thought. ‘Fuck all that’, Ronnie would say. ‘It’s your life, Marsh. What do you want?’

“I wanna see him.” Marshall said to the empty room.

‘So see him.’ He could almost hear Ronnie’s reasonable voice, as if that was the only answer in the world, of course. “A friend’s helping you with school. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.’

“Naw,” Marshall said to himself, even if he knew that wasn’t all there was.

‘You worried what the guys would say?’

“No!” he said forcefully then felt stupid all by himself shouting to an empty house. No, he repeated in his head. That wasn’t it. That wasn’t why he was struggling with this. But when he tried to picture Tay talking to Proof or Von the immediate discomfort said maybe he was lying to himself.

He tried to bring up all of them in his mind at one time: Tay and Proof and the boys, and the image reminded him of that song from Sesame street when they tried to get you to see which thing was different. ‘Three of these things belong together, Three of these things are kind of the same. Can you guess which one of these doesn't belong here? Now it’s time to play our game!” He used to sing along to that shit every time and think he was something because he always knew which thing didn’t belong.

Somewhere along the way Marshall either stopped being able to tell or stopped caring.

‘What do you want, Marsh?’

He knew what he wanted.

“Thanks, Ronnie. I let you know what happens.” He said to the ghost of his uncle.

He got to his feet and left the dusty, empty house, locking the door behind him.

Shit.

Now he had to call.

*~*~*~*~*~

He had to wait for his mom to quit yakking on the phone then wait for her to go to Bingo and it’s like she’d never fuckin’ leave. Finally she walked out the door in the too-high heels and the too-short skirt, makeup spackled on as if her dream husband was playing bingo down at the VFW drinking cheap beer and trying to win an n Avon gift basket. Marshall went once and almost died of boredom. Her hair was sprayed within an inch of its life and standing out a foot; his mom’s hairstyle was stuck in the eighties.

“Don’t let him eat too much candy before he goes to sleep and don’t give him soda after nine! He pisses on the bed.” Marshall just looked at her. He knew Nathan pissed the bed. It’s why Marshall slept on the sofa unless he was laying down getting Nate to fall asleep. The damn mattress smelled like ammonia.

“Bye, baby.” She bent down to kiss Nate where he sat watching Dog and Chicken in a dirty t-shirt. Marshall swore he could change him ten times a day and the kid would go roll in dirt.

“Bye momma!” Nate smiled up at her. “Bring me something!”

“Okay, honey.”

She never brought him anything.

She knew better than kiss Marshall goodbye.

As soon as the door shut Marshall dug in his pocket for Tay’s number and picked up the phone. The hard plastic slid in his hands and he realized they were sweating. The fuck! He talked to Proof all the time. And Von and Rufus.

He had to get a grip, yo.

After wiping his palms on his baggy jeans he punched in the number. Listened to it ring. Breathed.

After forever someone picked up and Marshall stood up straight as if the person on the other end could see him. “Hello. Hanson residence.” It sounded like a kid.

“Yeah, uh. Is Tay there?”

“Who’s speaking?” It was definitely a kid but it sounded like someone told her this is how you talked on the phone.

“This Marshall. I mean, Marshall.” He sounded like a punk.

“You don’t sound like Johnny.” A flash of something made his jaw clench. “Who are you?”

“Uh…” he faltered when a grownup’s voice sounded in the background.

“Avery! What did we say about answering the phone?”

“It’s for Tay.” He heard the little girl say. A woman’s frazzled voice came on the line.

“Johnny? Is that you, honey?”

“It’s Marshall.” He repeated, feeling like a broken goddamn record. How often did the Johnny kid call Tay, anyhow? “Is Tay there?”

“Oh!” her voice sounded so surprised it was funny, “I’m sorry. Yes, just a minute.”

“TAY!” he heard the piercing yell through the line and held it away from his ear.

“Avery! That is not an inside voice, young lady.”

“But you always yell.”

“That’s different. Taylor! There’s a phone call for you!”

Just when Marshall thought he was gonna grow old and die before Tay showed up a breathless voice hit his ear and Marshall pulse sped up. “Hello?”

“It’s Marshall.” The little girl’s voice said in the background and another voice said, “What?” Zac, maybe.

“’Sup.” He said trying not to laugh.

“Oh, you know, same old circus as always.” It sounded like he was moving and he sounded out of breath, little pants chuffing in Marshall’s ears every few seconds.
“You called.”

“Yeah. Said I would. You don’t trust me?”

“Yeah,” Tay’s voice didn’t sound that confident, “But you didn’t look all that sure this morning. We didn’t exactly get a chance to discuss it.”

“No shit.” Marshall muttered, peeling at the Formica counter top. “I’m sure.”

“Good. Okay.” The background noise suddenly dropped down after the sound of a door closing.

“Where you at?”

“Bathroom.”

“You takin’ a piss?” He asked, smiling and heard Tay’s smile in his voice.

“No! Wiseass. We don’t know each other that well.” For some reason Marshall’s throat got all dry. “It’s the only room in the house with a lock. I have fifteen minutes before someone needs it.” A satisfied little breath. “Okay. I had to get my planner.”

“You got a planner?”

“Are you mocking my organizational supplies?”

“Yeah.” He agreed his own smile answering the one he heard in Tay’s voice.

“Mock all you want. It works for me.”

“I got my planner in my head.”

“Isn’t it really dark in your boxers?”

It took a few seconds for Marshall to get it, silence crackling on both sides of the line, then he burst into laughter so loud Nathan looked over from his cartoons, smiling, too.

“Punk! Not that head.”

“Oh! Not that head, okay.” He could hear the relief in Tay’s voice and realized how much Tay still stepped careful around him. But it was getting better.

“You practice most evening’s right?” Tay asked.

“Not Wednesday.”

“I have stuff on some Wednesdays, at least until seven.” Tay murmured over the flicking of pages. “Monday?”

“Practice. I got regular practice and team practice on Mondays.”

It went on like that for a while. Their schedules were pretty tight but after a lot of discussion they realized the only time neither of them had to be at practice of some sort were Fridays evenings and Saturdays. Tay said Sunday was ‘Family Day’ and everyone had breakfast and dinner together unless Zac had a game. Right now the team was just practicing but when the season started Marshall would have games on Saturday nights, too.

“So it looks like Friday.” Tay said, with a sigh, “Sorry about that.”

“Why?”

“Well, I know it’s a big date night.” Tay said, then, under his breath but Marshall heard, “Or that’s what they tell me.”

“I ain’t datin’ nobody.”

“Oh?” his voice sounded interested, so Marshall went on.

“Naw. Broke up with my girlfriend about a week ago.”

“How long were you together?”

“Six months.”

“That’s a long time at our age.” Tay said as if they were ninety or something.

“She fucked around on me.” Marshall blurted for no reason, not knowing why he thought he had to show Tay he didn’t just dump Jeanine for nothing.

“Do you want me to beat her up?” his voice was so serious he surprised more laugher out of him.

“Shit, she could probably take you.”

“Hey!”

“No, dawg, she could probably take, me, a’aight?”

“She sounds lovely.”

“She ain’t. What about you?”

“What about me?”

“Aw, don’t start the….”

A knock interrupted, and he heard a wailing voice.

“Just a minute!” Tay shouted, but it sounded muffled, like he had his hand on the receiver.

“My fifteen minutes are up.” Tay sighed, as Marshall heard movement.

“You gotta go?” Marshall said, disappointed.

“No,” Tay admitted, “But I can’t stay here.”

“Got another bathroom?”

“Not really…”

“Gotta go number one, Tay-Tay!” a little boy’s high pitched whine cut through the line and Mashall snickered.

“All right! All right! God, Josh, I’m out.”

“Tay-Tay?” he teased.

“You shut up,” Tay said, with the smile in his voice again.

“Where you going?”

“Laundry room. Hopefully we’re between loads. Why is it so quiet there?”

“My bro’s watching TV and my moms is at bingo.” Nathan had lay down on his back to pretend his car was an airplane while watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Marshall didn’t like the funky ass turtles the first time around.

“Must be nice.” Tay sighed. The movement sounds had stopped and, while it wasn’t as quiet, the background noise was less.

“So, what about you?” Marshall picked up the thread from before.

“What about…” Tay sounded like he thought Marshall had forgotten.

“You datin’ somebody?”

“No.” Tay admitted. Marshall smiled to himself without even realizing it. “I was, but we broke up. They didn’t fuck around on me, though.”

“Naw? So, why’d you break up?”

“I don’t know.” He could almost see the shrug of Tay’s shoulders. “We were pretty young. Well, younger. We both realized we made better friends.”

“Whose idea?”

“Ours,” Tay said quickly, then, after a pause, “Mostly.”

“You stayed friends with your ex?”

“They’re my best friend.”

“That’s fresh.” Marshall said doubtfully, not even imagining that with Jeanine, or with any girl, really.

“Messy breakup?”

“Yeah, you could fuckin’ say that.”

“Why…” A click cut in, and then a series of beeps suddenly blasted him into next week. He held the phone away from his ear and swore.

“I’m on the phone!” Tay shouted into his ear but to someone else.

“You’ve been on forever, Tay! I’ve got to call Ashley!”

“Jessie, I’ll be off in a minute! Now put the phone down. Put it DOWN.”

“I’m checking back!” the girl voice threatened and a click sounded.

“I’m going to kill her.” Tay mumbled, then, “Sorry. Occupational hazard of big family. No one has their own phone line.”

“’S okay.” Marshall said.

“I should probably go.”

“A’aight.” He didn’t want him to, Marshall realized. He could talk to Tay all night and not even notice it.

“So, I’ll see you on Friday. Well, I’ll see you tomorrow morning, but on Friday to study.”

“Word.”

“Bring your book. And paper. And a pencil.”

“I know!” Marshall replied, trying for offended.

“Alright, just saying.” Tay was smiling again and Marshall felt himself smile back, even if it was only on the phone.

“I got it.”

“Cool. I’ll see you tomorrow!”

“Yeah, a’aight.”

“Bye!” Tay said before the dial tone hit Marshall’s ear.

“Later.” Marshall said to himself but it didn’t matter.

He clicked the cordless off and stood there a minute, replaying words and phrases. He hadn’t been nervous, not at all, and wondered why he thought he would be. He hadn’t talked to anyone on the phone that easy since Proof and Ronnie. He’d call Jeanine or she called him a bunch, but those were mostly her gabbing about parties or gossip or some damn thing while he watched TV and half listened.

“Why you smiling, Marshy?” Nathan asked, sitting up and stopping the car/plane from its air adventures.

“’Cause I’m happy, dawg.” He walked over to plop next to Nate on the floor and cuddled him to his lap. “Ain’t you happy?”

“Yeah.” Nate giggled, wiggling on him like a puppy.

“Naw, you don’t sound happy. I think you need some help.”

“No, I’m happy! I’m happy!” Nate shrieked, giggling like a loon, and then dissolved into laughter as Marshall tickled his sides and under his arms. They rolled around on the floor sounding crazy as fuck, and Marshall thought, in the middle of it all, that if someone would have told him he’d be this happy to go be fuckin’ tutored in Algebra he’d have told them they’d lost their mind.

Chapter Text

When's this fever gonna break ?
I think I've handled more than any man can take
I'm like a love-sick puppy chasing you around
And it's alright
Bouncin' round from cloud to cloud
I got the feeling like I'm never gonna come down
If I said I didn't like it then you know I'd lied

Why Don't You and I

~Santana featuring Chad Kroeger

 

TAY

“You’re going on a DATE with him???”

“It’s not a date.” Tay glanced around self consciously at Johnny’s high pitched question.

“Oh, really?” Johnny crossed his arms and lifted on eyebrow, something Tay would give anything to be able to do.

They were actually sitting in the seats waiting for Sasha to finish her session. They wanted to see about staying in the same hotel room in Ann Arbor. Tay wouldn’t have bothered if the whole family was going but with just his mom and the girls they could afford one of the higher end places. It made everything easier when they were all staying at the same place.

His stare found Marshall on the ice where the hockey team went through their drills and caught Marshall’s eyes for a second, a quick grin of recognition before the dark, shorn head bent to the ice once more. He turned back just in time to see Johnny roll his eyes.

“Just jump him and get it over with.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s not like that.” Tay bent down to poke unnecessarily in his skating bag so Johnny wouldn’t see the blush that threatened to creep on his face.

“Then how is it?”

“I’m going to tutor him.”

“Well it would be his first walk on the gay side.”

“In MATH. Are you going to give this a rest?” He turned to his friend tiredly. Johnny hadn’t let up with the bitchy snarking all day and it was driving Tay crazy. He didn’t know why he told Johnny anything sometimes. The superior knowing smirk on his pixie face made Tay want to bean him with his own damn skates.

“It’s just so obvious he has a thing for you.”

“He’s not….He’s just not, okay?” Tay’s stare wanted to turn back to where Marshall sped over the ice, intense look of concentration on his face. The thought of how it felt to have that look fixed on him made Tay’s stomach do weird things.

“How do you know?”

“He had a girlfriend.”

“So?” Johnny asked and Tay didn’t answer him even though he kind of agreed. Having a girlfriend didn’t make you straight and having sex with a guy didn’t make you gay. It was all more complex than that.

“He’s not even that cute. His ass is totally nothing to write home about.” Johnny continued, looking bored.

“You’ve looked at his ass?” Tay said, unable to keep from laughing and Johnny sniffed reflectively.

“Well, not really with all that loose stuff he wears.” Johnny stretched his arms and leaned back jiggling his leg.

“You’re insane.”

“And you are wishful crushing.”

Tay leaned forward because it was the only way he knew he wouldn’t yell in frustration. “I’m NOT crushing! He just needs help, that’s all.”

“Since when did you go all ‘Dangerous Minds’?” Johnny flicked at Tay’s lapel. “Lint.”

“Oh.” Tay brushed at his front. He hated lint but it sometimes fluffed off his woolen scarves and stuck to him, especially if he wore something dark. He replayed Johnny’s remark and turned to him in puzzlement. “What?”

“I beg you to watch a video once in a while, Tay. You’re going to lose all your gay cred.”

“I’ll live.” Tay dropped his gaze to his lap then lifted it. “He’s really quiet and funny. You’d have to get to know him.”

“I’ll bet.”

A touch on his shoulder made him glance over to see Johnny running fingers lightly over the seam Tay’s jacket. He turned toward his friend with narrowed eyes. “What are you doing?”

“Proving my point. Hi!” Johnny flashed a bright artificial smile upward and Tay turned to see Marshall almost looming over them with an unreadable look on his face. He held his hockey stick in one nimble hand and balanced on the blades of the scuffed skates.

“’Sup.”

“Hey.” Tay greeted, too thrown to even get up right away. Hadn’t Marshall just been practicing? And had he really just walked up to Tay and Johnny in front of god and the entire hockey team? Next to him Johnny made a show of unscrewing the top on his Evian. “Oh, um, this is Johnny.” Johnny didn’t smile so much as bare his small, even teeth.

“I’m Tay’s best friend,” Johnny said, still dripping saccharine which made Tay want to slug him. A second later the phrase echoed in his mind and Tay’s breath stopped altogether as Marshall glanced at him, a shifting of realization behind the navy blue eyes.

This was nice while it lasted, Tay thought numbly, all the muscles of his body tightening as if he could brace himself for the rejection. Marshall walking away, Marshall freaking out in the middle of everyone. Something.

All Marshall did was hunch down on the balls of his feet, hands dangling casually between his knees, hockey stick propped up in the crook of his elbow. “Yeah?”

“Mhm.” Johnny swung his leg and tipped his Evian water for a drink

Finally the vibrant blue eyes drifted over to where Tay still hadn’t remembered how to breathe. “We didn’t talk about where we’re gonna do it.”

Johnny snorted water through his nose and on the hair of the little girl sitting in the seat below them. She turned around with a horrified grimace and Tay felt laughter bubbling up from his diaphragm as Johnny covered his nose with both hands.

“Yo, I think you got snot on her.” Marshall deadpanned and the little girl’s face got positively grotesque.

“Mommy!” she cried as she ran.

“Eshcuse me.” Johnny muffled through his hands and jumped up, fleeing in the direction the men’s room.

Tay could feel himself grinning uncontrollably as Marshall quirked one of his lopsided smiles, navy blue eyes mischievous. “Come on.” He pulled at Marshall’s jersey unmindful of the curious stares, completely dodging Zac’s gaze, and they walked quickly outside between the building and the high fence that separated the property from the business complex next door. Marshall stopped just inside the door to put on his blade protectors then pulled Tay out and into the narrow space. They stared at each other for a second then both burst into laughter, uncontrollable, crazy laughter that felt like relief because Tay had been sure ten minutes ago Marshall would never speak to him again. He realized he’d never really heard Marshall laugh like this, free and young, the perpetual shadow in his eyes almost gone, the smile easy and playful. Just when he thought he had it under control Marshall laughed so hard he snorted and Tay lost it all over again.

“You! You…are evil…and should be destroyed!” Tay’s stomach had started to cramp and he still could barely suppress the giggles enough to speak. Marshall leaned against the wall still letting out bursts of laughter as he thumbed his nose.

“I just asked a question.”

“ ‘Where are we gonna do it?’” Tay repeated incredulously and Marshall shrugged, face an innocence he didn’t quite pull off.

“I meant studying. I forgot to ask you this morning.”

“Uh-huh.” Tay pushed back his hair and leaned against the opposite wall. “Aren’t you supposed to be practicing?”

“Yeah. Told coach you were tutoring me and I had to talk to you. He almost carried me over himself he was so damn happy. Anyways,” Marshall pushed himself off the brick wall and how narrow the space was became really apparent. “Why your boy got beef with me? I never even talked to him before.”

“He’s, um.” Tay swallowed under the weight of Marshall’s steady, electric stare and there wasn’t a foot between them in this space. The mirth dissipated and left only its echoes in the air. It was as if the energy got thick and heavy, somehow and it had to be Tay’s imagination. “Since what happened he, uh, hockey players make him bitchy.”

“No shit.” Marshall muttered, gaze looking away then back, and Tay felt the locking of their stares like puzzle pieces or a key against tumblers. A corner of the pouty pink mouth lifted and Tay watched it, how Marshall’s lips were always chapped and the dimple on his chin deepened when he really smiled.

“So where are we doing it, Tay?”

“Your house?” His voice sounded like it squeaked and the rolling energy pulled back like someone yanking on reins, the openness in his eyes shuttered.

“Naw, we can’t go there.”

“Okay.” Tay agreed amiably, trying to catch Marshall’s eyes from where they had looked at the ground. “We can’t go to my house either; you heard how loud that gets.” An awkward silence descended when just a second ago they’d been laughing and Tay thought he might get whiplash at this rate.

“That pretty much leaves the library.” Tay said finally and Marshall nodded after a second.

“A’aight.”

“The third floor is pretty deserted, especially on Fridays, so it should be a good place. Do you want to meet there?”

“I’ll pick you up. I got my mom’s car.”

“I take the bus all the time….”

“I ain’t going home on the bus after dark. I don’t got a death wish.” Tay almost said that he’d never gotten into trouble taking the bus after dark until he remembered how different Marshall’s neighborhood must be than his. Instead he nodded, eyes lowered.

“Right. Sorry.”

“You didn’t do nothing, dawg.” Marshall reached over to tug on his scarf and Tay looked up and smiled, flicking his hair out of his eyes. Their stares caught again and he felt this slipping, like sand under his feet at the beach.

Marshall was still holding one end of Tay’s scarf. His nimble fingers, which looked they should be playing guitar or drawing instead of gripping a hockey stick, fingered the wool between them and smoothed up then down, tugging again, just barely. Marshall’s eyes were on Tay’s scarf so Tay could see the fan of lashes on the pale cheeks. He took a hesitant step forward, heart thudding in his ears, willing Marshall to look up because he had to see, and then Marshall did, quick lift of his eyes and Tay forgot to breathe again at the look in them.

“Tay?” They both turned at the girl’s voice and Tay’s blue scarf with the red tassels slipped out of Marshall’s fingers.

Sasha stood there in her street clothes, skating gear over one shoulder, soda in one had, and her whole face was a question. The sharp dark eyes took them in adding up the signs to a conclusion Tay couldn’t even figure out himself.

“Do you know why Johnny won’t come out of the restroom?”

“Yeah,” Tay nodded, trying to gather his scattered senses that scattered more when Marshall ran a rough hand over Tay’s hair, ruffling it. Tay completely forgot he hated when people did that.

“I gotta go, dawg. The coach is gonna send a posse after my ass.”

“Oh. Okay.” Could he sound any more out of it? Shouldn’t he introduce Sasha? But Marshall gave his shoulder a light punch then slipped past the short girl. He had to turn sideways to do it, his gaze resting on her a second before hitting the sidewalk and heading for the doors.

Sasha’s raised her eyebrows. “I’m tutoring him.” Tay said.

“Whatever you say. Can you get Johnny out of the boy’s room?”

“Yeah,” he sighed following her back in.

*~*~*~*~*~

The boy’s room was pretty large with lots of stalls but all Tay had to do was look underneath the doors to find Johnny’s loafers. Approaching, he took a deep breath and knocked.

“Go away!”

“Johnny, come on.” Tay coaxed.

“Go laugh at me with your boyfriend!”

“He’s not my boyfriend.” Tay said, laying his head against the door. A young kid clad in hockey gear gave them a puzzled look as he washed his hands and Tay tried giving him a reassuring smile. All he needed was some mom to freak out because there were queers in the bathroom. It was a good thing most of the figure skaters had left and all the hockey players were on the ice.

“Go fraternize with the enemy!”

“He’s not the enemy, Johns.” Tay’s voice was quiet as he talked through the slit in the door. “Now open the damn door or I’m gonna have to crawl under and do you know what that’s going to look like if someone walks and sees my ass in the air?”

After a minute Johnny’s soft laugh sounded through the door and the latch finally slid open.

Blotches of red marred Johnny’s delicate features and his eyes were red-rimmed. He wouldn’t quite look at Tay and Tay felt the familiar protectiveness that still reared up around his best friend sometimes; that and a whole lot of guilt.

Johnny really didn’t have a lot of friends. If Johnny had gone to school he’d have ended up in the drama department or the art classes surrounded by other pretty, arty boys. But he was home schooled, too, though Johnny’s mom could afford private tutors instead of doing it herself. That left skating and it was a pretty cloistered group of people to try to connect with.

They walked to the sink and Tay finally caught his eyes in the wall mirror.

“My nose hurts.” Johnny touched his small, neat nose with one hand and Tay stepped closer to slip an arm around the tiny waist, chin resting on one shoulder.

“I’m sorry.”

“I look like Rudolph.”

“Only a little.”

“And don’t try the pretty eyes stunt with me Taylor Hanson. I’m pissed at you.”

“Why are you being like this?” Tay asked quietly. Johnny turned a little to look at him, flecks of gold in the hazel of his stare. For not the first time Tay wondered if Johnny could have ever been anything but a boy who liked boys. The halo of tousled dark curls, the heart shaped face with tiny nose and pink baby doll mouth wouldn’t exactly pack in the ladies at any point in his time. He couldn’t think of one girl who wanted a boyfriend prettier than her.

“I don’t see why he has to take my friends. I don’t go take his friends!”

“Just because I’m his friend doesn’t mean I can’t be yours,” Tay explained gently, “I can’t believe I have to tell you that.”

“Because it’s more than that and you’re lying if you say it isn’t.” Johnny replied in that scary way he had of stating something you weren’t even sure about like it was already fact, and then it was. “And you’re going to get hurt and don’t come bitching to me when you do because I’ll-I’ll-laugh at you! And say mean things and I won’t be supportive and…”

“But I’ll still love you,” Tay said, going for humor and Johnny snorted, crossing his arms. He wore a linen shirt under a cashmere sweater, an oversized Adirondack jacket, pressed jeans and loafers. He looked like an advertisement for the kid’s section of a Land’s End catalog.

Johnny gave him a sidelong glance.

“Promise?”

“Yes,” Tay said, “Promise.” He gathered Johnny to him, bony shoulders and vulnerable spine reminding him of before when, at fifteen, he thought he’d be protecting those shoulders forever. Johnny fit his head in the crook of Tay’s neck hands resting on Tay’s hips instead of hugging back, Johnny-speak that said he might still be mad but he was getting over it.

“Anyway, it’s not like that.” Tay insisted into Johnny’s dark curls for the hundredth time even if the words felt more and more like a lie each time he uttered them. Johnny’s silence hung in the air as an answer.

The door to the boy’s room swung open and a hockey player with long dark hair and a large nose clattered in then stopped at the sight of them.

Tay felt Johnny freeze in his arms, the breath against Tay’s neck actually stopping, as if he was a trapped animal going for camouflage: don’t move and the bad thing will go away. He tightened his hold meeting the boy’s incredulous stare with cold, steady eyes.

He braced them both for the remark, whatever it would be, splaying his hand on Johnny’s back almost defiantly, and the words were on the tip of the boy’s tongue; Tay could almost see them form in one of those cartoon bubbles like on a comic strip. Then, for no reason, the boy thought better. Averted his eyes with a smirk and walked past them to a stall.

Tay stood still for second then pulled back peering at Johnny’s red-eyed face.

“He didn’t say anything.” Johnny observed in shaky surprise.

“No.” Tay agreed.

“Maybe your boyfriend is good for something.”

It took Tay a minute to process that but he let it go. He felt all of a sudden tired and exhilarated at once.

“Sasha’s been waiting for an hour.”

“Oh, shit!” Johnny turned on the water and splashed some on his face so fast the edges f his sleeves got wet.

Sasha sat slumped on a seat watching practice, her legs jiggling to whatever blasted tinnily out of her earphones. When she saw them she warily sat up and crossed her arms.

“I’m sorry.” Johnny said, pleading, and Sasha’s annoyed glare softened. She was a tough cookie, ruthless competitor, and ice princess when up against an opponent, but Johnny cut through that without even trying. He always had with her.

“Yeah, yeah. Come on, we need to call my mom.”

Tay gave her a mute look of thanks for not bringing up Marshall. The one he got in return was unreadable and very Sasha. She would hold out her verdict until she got the full story and her look said she knew she didn’t have it now.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Tay heard a car pull up in front of the house at six-thirty sharp. He hooked his backpack over his shoulder, giving a glance to the late evening chaos.

His dad sat in the living room going over Josh’s schoolwork and watching the news at the same time, Jessica had holed up in the laundry room with the phone, her girlish giggles filtering through the television noise, Avery colored placidly on the living room coffee table and music could be heard from upstairs where Zac got ready for his own evening outing. His mom watched Zoë and cut vegetables for dinner as well for the week to come; she did preparations during the weekend for the weekday meals.

Any other night Tay would be helping her.

Still, she hadn’t batted an eyelash when he told her, just that morning, that he’d kind of promised someone to help them with their Math work.

“One of the skaters from the rink?” she’d asked eyes on Josh as his brother practiced his writing. Josh’s letter Os looked like deflated balloons.

“Yeah,” Tay had said, then, “Well, kind of. Zac knows him. Marshall.”

“The boy that called the other day?” His mom had smiled and Tay had to control the tug on the corners of his mouth at the memory. It wouldn’t do to act all goofy about a tutoring session.

“Yeah.”

“Well, honey. You have a lot on your plate right now with Ann Arbor coming up, but you’re the best judge of what you can handle. It’s your decision.” And that had been it. Tay had actually lined up convincing arguments about how he could do extra work around the house to make up for his time away, and point out how he was ahead of his curriculum on his school work, but he hadn’t needed any of it. When he, unable to just take the gift horse and run, apologized for cutting out on some of the house chores his mom had just hugged him with a funny sigh and laugh.

“Taylor, you hardly ever go out. It will be fine. It’s very nice of you to offer to help this boy.”

Tay had realized with a start his mom might be worrying about how little interaction he had outside the family, and felt kind of like he wanted to reassure her he wasn’t some weird hermit-in-training.

“Thanks, mom.” He’d hugged her back, almost skipping back to the computer, and here he stood, loaded for bear and second-guessing what he’d worn. He’d changed three times before Josh asked him why he kept putting on the same thing over and over. He almost told Josh it wasn’t like that before he could help himself.

He started to yell out that he was going when the door opened, stopping Tay in his tracks.

His older brother walked in loaded down with no less than three duffels of dirty laundry, a leather backpack, and his laptop. He’d been sporting a ‘faux hawk’ for the last couple of visits and had apparently discovered style at old U of D, clad in a leather suit jacket, faded jeans and Docs with wrinkled deep blue shirt and a loose tie of all things hanging a few inches below the soul patch on his chin. He looked even less like the boy Tay remembered laughing and playing with Before He Stepped Into the Room.

They looked at each other for few second before all hell broke loose.

“Ike’s home!!!” Avery shouted from the living room coffee table, hopping to her feet, scattering crayons everywhere and in no time the small foyer crowed with everyone exclaiming and talking. Ike smiled, gave their mother and dad a tight hug each then squeezed everyone including Zac who’d taken the steps barefoot, two at a time, honey blond hair flying.

“Hey, man!” Ike laughed.

“Dude!” Zac greeted, a smile so wide Tay thought it would split his face right in two. He watched them embrace with the usual detached feeling he always got when he saw them together; the easy cadence of their conversation and the way they existed in each other’s space, as natural as breathing. Ike lifted Zac off the ground a few inches with an exaggerated groan and everyone laughed.

“Man, are you still growing? You can stop anytime.”

“You’re just jealous ‘cause I am going to kick your butt any day now, Stringbean.”

“Bite me!” The girls laughed and Tay’s dad shook his head, smiling.

“Zac said ‘butt.” Josh giggled and their mom overrode any other discussion with.

“We all heard him, Joshua.”

Ike turned to him then, in the middle of the muddle and Tay had to snap back into the moment when he realized his older brother was talking to him.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“I said, ‘Hot date tonight?’”

Before Tay could answer Zac said, face dubious, “He’s tutoring Marshall in Math.”

“Marshall Mathers?” Ike replied like Zac said Tay was going to tutor the Dalai Lama. “He’s not in jail yet or something?”

“That’s a crappy thing to say.” Tay blurted bluntly, cutting through the level of animated conversation like a knife before everyone started talking at once and all Tay wanted to do was get out of there.

“Oh, honey, I’m sure Isaac didn’t mean…”

“Jeez, Tay! He didn’t mean…”

“Tay said ‘crappy’!’

“Joshua, hush.”

Who is this?” Tay heard his dad murmur to his mom and he looked out the window trying to quash the kernel of fear in his stomach that Marshall might blow him off. It was six forty-five. He didn’t look at Ike but could feel the dark eyes studying him with calm reserve. Ike did not, in fact, offer to clear up exactly what he had meant. Like Tay cared.

Jesus, it didn’t matter if Marshall didn’t show up. He’d go the library himself. He so had to get out of here before the Ike-worship gave him a fucking migraine.

As if on cue, like someone had heard his wish, an ancient gray Impala rumbled to a stop behind Ike’s dependable Toyota Camry and honked, a loud foghorn of a sound that once again quelled all conversation to a standstill.

“I’m going.” Tay said to no one in particular but his mom handed Zoë to Ike and walked over to give him a hug.

“Be careful.”

“I will.” He squeezed her back and gave everyone else a brief glance goodbye.

“Tay!” Zoë struggled in Ike’s grasp, reaching for him and he remembered how she hated to see him walk out the door without her and they usually took pains to move her somewhere else before he left. With the whole Ike-thing no one remembered.

“I’ll be back, baby.” He tried to soothe but Zoë was no fool and tried to grab at his hand with both fists, still fretting.

“I’ve got her.” His mom smiled and Tay finally walked out the door inhaling breaths of the crisp evening air.

If he didn’t think Marshall would take it wrong he’d kiss him with gratitude.

Tay took a deep breath.

Okay. Not the best thing to dwell on at a time like this.

Just a study session. Just a study session, he told himself like mantra, Ike’s arrival, the whole screwed up dynamics he didn’t even want to think about, all fading to gray as he approached the enormous boat of a car.

Marshall’s vibrant blue eyes looked at him from the idling cars driver’s seat and Tay’s stomach jumped. ‘

Just a study session! God. He smiled and opened the huge door slipping onto a cracked seat into air stale with old cigarette smoke.

“Hi.”

“’Sup.” Marshall’s navy blue gaze slid over Tay’s clothes and Tay thought he maybe should have stuck to his ordinary t-shirt instead of the chambray button down and the yellow cardigan. At least he’d worn his jeans and trainers.

Shifting gears Marshall eased the cumbersome tank of a car onto their tree-lined street and they took off.

Tay looked out onto the blur of passing houses and cars, all family drama gone, heart hammering, hands sweating, and fully experienced his first ride in car, alone, with a boy.

*~*~*~*~*~*

After a few blocks Tay realized something felt off.

Marshall hadn’t said one word staring unblinking at the street with a line between his eyebrows, and punching radio stations on the staticky stereo with the missing knob. He looked almost angry but he used that expression a lot as a defense mechanism, Tay had realized. However, when they almost ran over a pedestrian at a red light and Marshall swore Tay turned to him on the ridiculously roomy front bench seat.

“Look, if you really don’t want to do this…”

“Do you wanna do this?” Marshall asked, still not looking at him.

“I wouldn’t have offered if I didn’t.” Marshall seemed to press his lips together as if he was trying not to say something and Tay scooted a little closer resting his hand on Marshall’s hoodie-covered shoulder without even thinking.

“What’s wrong? I know you’re worried about catching up but it’ll be okay….”

Instead of answering Marshall interrupted with a gruff, “How’s your friend that don’t like me?”

“Johnny?” Tay remarked, puzzled.

“Why, you got other friends that don’t like me now?”

“No, just him,” Tay said studying Marshall’s profile trying to get some kind of clue while attempting, and failing, to ignore how much he liked looking at him. His nose had that funny tilt to the end and his hair was almost buzz cut but the lashes curled out for days and the lips pouted, full and chapped. They made Tay want to offer him some Blistex. “He’s okay. Why?”

“Nothin.’”

Tay looked away in frustration wondering why why something couldn’t be easy about today, just one thing. “You’re such a girl.”

Marshall turned to him incredulously. “I’m such a girl?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Tay demanded hotly, the tension and general pissed-offness that always seemed to rise in him whenever Ike visited seeping out like steam from a badly covered pot.

Clenching his jaw Marshall swerved the car into a parking lot and yanked it into park so hard Tay thought he might have done some damage. Marshall sat there gripping the steering wheel in both hands, eyes on his lap until Tay risked speech.

“What’s wrong?”

“Saw you go in the restroom with your friend.”

“You saw me go….” Tay repeated slowly, feeling like a backwards fourth grader, then the phrase reached him and he sat back, momentarily numb. He didn’t even think about what he said next, it just appeared.

“You need to add more words to that sentence before I get out of the fucking car and start walking.”

Marshall’s head whipped towards him quickly and something must have been on Tay’s face because he’d never seen such a flash of panic completely overtake someone’s features. Marshall’s hand gripped the sleeve of his jacket like Tay had already started to leave but Tay wondered if Marshall had even realized he’d done it. “Fuck! No. Look, I - no, a’aight?”

Tay just stared at him the realization of what Marshall- Tay’s mind blanked - whatever the hell Marshall was implying in direct contrast to the deep, warm thrill of Marshall touching him. Not just touching him, holding on to his arm like Tay might escape.

Tay wondered idly if it was possible to overload from emotional adrenaline.

“One of the guys saw you in the restroom, a’aight?” Marshall spoke quickly, navy eyes boring into him, “He saw you and Johnny…he said…” The words faltered and the tips of Marshall’s ears turned so bright pink it would have been funny if what he’d tried to say, badly, didn’t piss Tay right off.

“What did he say? That I gave Johnny a hug? Because that’s what happened. What do you think happened?”

“I don’t think nothin’!” Marshall said quickly, the blue of his eyes so intense that it was all Tay could do not to look away. For long moments their eyes held and Tay watched regret and realization blunt the panic. “I don’t think nothin’.’” He repeated, holding Tay’s eyes a moment longer before lowering his gaze, fringe of lashes brushing pale skin.

Tay thought about getting out and walking anyway because he wanted out of this day and this planet and possibly the entire screwed up solar …..

Marshall began tracing the stitching on Tay’s jacket, nimble fingertips plucking and scraping at the thread on the puffy material where Marshall still held his arm and little shoots and tingles accompanied each touch. Trace, trace, scrape with one jagged fingernail because Marshall bit his nails and such a commonplace touch through Gortex and cotton shouldn’t affect him except- Marshall’s eyes followed his fingers as they traced the seam of Tay’s jacket all the way up to Tay’s shoulder where it ended right near Tay’s face. Then Marshall looked at him, navy blue stare very open in the apprehensive face.

Was he jealous? Tay thought, insomuch as he could think pinned with such an arresting laser stare, Marshall’s hand so close to Tay’s face he could turn and kiss it.

“Tay, yo, I shouldna…”

“Johnny thinks you’re going to really hurt me.” He interrupted quietly. Slowly, daringly, the fingers of his pinned arm began to play among the folds of Marshall’s oversized hoodie.

“What do you think?” Marshall asked, his entire hand curved around Tay’s upper arm high near his shoulder. Tay blinked at the sparkling stare then glanced away for a second.

 

“I think,” He began carefully, “Today notwithstanding, I think,” He took a breath. “I think I trust you.” He looked back to the blue almost blazing in the strange cute face. “Should I?” he hadn’t meant it to come out that way, unsure and kind of shaky. He’d been going for demanding and kind of arrogant, maybe. So much for that.

“Yeah,” Marshall nodded, voice fervent, eyes never dropping Tay’s gaze, “Yeah.” He repeated, squeezing Tay’s arm for emphasis and Tay smiled a little at the lovely, delicate bloom of hope that began in his chest.

It would take so little, so little to drop his chin, tilt his head, just a fraction, and rest his face slightly on Marshall’s hand. So little.

But the blossom in chest, it was so small, so shy yet. There was such a thing as greed and too much and right now, alone with Marshall in this ugly car watching the unreal color of his eyes and feeling the weight of his hand sure against his arm, all Tay wanted to do was keep the little bloom alive.

“Can we get to the library now?”

“Yeah,” Marshall blinked, as if coming out of a trance, then looked kind of embarrassed. Slowly they untangled their arms, but the brand of Marshall’s hand stayed there as Marshall shifted to drive, clever fingers hanging easy over the gear shift, as they found on-street parking because, duh, the library was only open two hours more on a Friday, as they walked out and ascended the steps, the look on Marshall’s face becoming more unsure with each moment.

When they walked through the turnstile and Tay nodded to the Circulation Staff Tay heard him mumble stubbornly: “I ain’t no girl.” and couldn’t help a secret grin down at his shoes.

He didn’t tell himself it wasn’t like that even once.

Chapter Text

I watched you suffer a dull aching pain
Now you decided to show me the same
No sweeping exits or off stage lines
Could make me feel bitter or treat you unkind
Wild horses, couldn't drag me away
Wild, wild horses couldn't drag me away

Wild Horses
~Rolling Stones

MARSHALL

He had never seen so many books in one place in his entire damn life. He hadn’t been in the huge library downtown since he was a kid and the place felt like church; had the same quiet echoing vibe going, like secret things went on here. It even felt empty. Once in awhile he saw a person seated at a table or between some shelves looking for a book, but otherwise, it felt like only he and Tay were walking along shuffling sounds into the ticking quiet.

“It’s pretty empty on Fridays.” Tay said and Marshall wondered if he knew his voice had gone lower when he talked.

“Yeah. No shit.” They got on the elevator and at the last minute a little old lady joined them, tugging along one of those little trolleys like people use to carry their luggage. Hers was loaded with books.

They leaned against the back wall after Tay pushed the third floor button and after a few seconds he felt pressure at his shoulder. Turning his head he saw Tay had shifted closer right up next to him and they touched shoulder to elbow. The pressure felt good, like he was holding Tay up, and he stared at Tay’s profile: long lashes, the smooth line of his nose, the little snub, and pretty pink lips. Marshall let himself lean in a little, shifting his stare to the pattern of the old ladies bulky brown sweater, and when the elevator stopped the ride had been too short.

They got off at another floor empty as a ghost town except for the guy at the desk wearing a messy ponytail and glasses. He nodded to them then went back to staring at a computer screen. Marshall could have sworn he saw a video game when they walked by.

“You come here a lot?” Marshall asked looking around and pretending to chill. He was a’aight. The whole place felt like a goddamn morgue but it was a’aight.

“Sometimes,” Tay admitted, walking them to a big empty table in a corner surrounded by bookcases that looked twice their height. How the hell did people get shit from up there? “I come here to do research for homework sometimes, and we’d come here a lot when…before Ike and Zac started going to school.” The last part had what Marshall had started to call Tay’s ‘don’t-wanna-talk-about-it’ voice. The same voice Tay had used when Marshall asked whether he was seeing someone and why he’d gone off on Tay the first time they met.

Any other time he’d pursue it because every time he did he felt like he figured something out about Tay. Like just one more piece of info could tell Marshall why he had to be around this boy, why he had see him and talk to him and make him laugh. Why he agreed to be fuckin’ tutored when right now a fuckin’ beatin’ sounded easier to take.

His palms were sweating and his heart kept trying to speed up then slow down and he’d never been more nervous in his damn life. He did not want Tay to think he was stupid.

Tay had sat down after hanging his jacket neatly on the back of chair and was starting to take stuff out of his backpack, but Marshall stood there and shuffled around on his feet until Tay looked up at him. He caught himself watching the play of Tay’s throat under his scarf.

“I don’t have cooties.”

“I know.” Marshall said gruffly. “I wasn’t sure this was going down. I don’t got paper.”

Tay opened a folder, took out some loose-leaf pages, and set them down.

“I forgot my pencil.”

Tay unzipped the pocket at the front of his backpack, took out a yellow sharpened pencil that looked brand new, and set that down on top of the paper.

Tay’s stare got suspicious. “If you tell me you forgot your book I’m going to get pissed.”

“Naw, I got that.” Marshall smiled, pulling out the chair and easing down. Tay rolled his eyes and started to arrange his stuff in little piles: books, paper, pens. Marshall watched Tay’s movements and wondered if Tay knew how much he moved like he skated: graceful but with a purpose; nothing wasted at all.

“You’re on your own next time.” Tay remarked seriously, the dimple on his chin deepening and Marshall nodded, studying his face. He couldn’t believe he was this close. He could see tiny freckles near Tay’s ear and the way Tay’s dark blond hair touched his shoulders and the clean curve of his jaw.

“I know.”

“Let’s see what we’ve got okay?” Tay reached for Marshall’s algebra book and the crumpled sheet of his quiz and Marshall’s palms started sweating again.

After flipping through some chapters and frowning at the problems on the wrinkled page Tay pushed the book between them then wrote a problem on the paper.

“These are like a puzzle, okay? All you need to do to find the answer is isolate the variable by doing the opposite function.”

Marshall stared at the line of number and letters and felt his stomach drop out.

“What that means in English is that you have to find out what ‘x’ and ‘y’ are and once you have that you can plug in the answer and finish the equation. The way you do that is by doing the opposite of what they’ve done. Like, what’s the opposite of addition?”

“Take away.” Marshall answered after a second, glancing at Tay to see if that was the right answer. Tay smiled at him. Marshall glanced helplessly at the dimples on at the corners of his mouth then stared down at the problem written on the page.

Tay smelled like soap and lemony laundry detergent and something warm and kinda sweet.

“Right. What’s the opposite of multiplication?”

“Dividing- uh- division.” Marshall said, shifting up on the chair from where he’d been slouching.

“Yeah! That’s all you need.”

“That’s all I need,” Marshall repeated, voice skeptical and Tay nodded.

“Let’s try this one. I’ll help you through it.”

Marshall’s palms were so slick the wood of the pencil slid along his palm and he wiped them on his pants, hoping Tay didn’t notice. Tay was too busy shifting his chair closer so he could put an arm on the back of Marshall’s. For a second the only thing he registered was the warm press of Tay’s leg against his and he shifted, closer, too. They both looked at the paper between them.

He could feel his heart in his throat and wondered if this was what a goddamn panic attack felt like. //I’m stupid he’ll know I’m stupid now this was a fucked up idea goddamn he smells good//. Nothing in his head made any damn sense so he didn’t know how he was supposed to figure out how to isolate a fuckin’ variable.

The problem on the paper read: 3x = 2x + 1

Marshall blinked down at it for a second before saying, “I know how to do this one.” This was an easy one. He got all these right on the quiz.

“Okay. Show me.”

He did.

3x = 2x+1
-2x -2x
------------
x= 1

“Good.” Tay said and Marshall shrugged, suddenly uncomfortable under the beaming smile, like Marshall had mouthed off biochemistry or something. He knew those were nothing.

“That don’t count. Everyone can do those.”

“Okay, first of all?” Tay said, voice firm, “Everything counts. Secondly, you need to know how to do those to go any further. So they are important.” He wrote out a few more problems like the easy ones anyway and Marshall solved all of them.

After Marshall checked his work and Tay checked Marshall’s checking Tay said, “Let’s try some with two variables.”

He wrote: 3x + 2y = 3 if x = 3y – 10

Marshall bit his lip. “I can’t do those.”

“If you can do these.” Tay pointed to the simple ones, “Then you can do those.”

Marshall’s hands were sweating again. He kept his eyes on the long row of letters until he felt Tay’s hand rest lightly on his back just below his shoulder blades. Looking up he saw the encouraging sky blue eyes and for the first time since Ronnie he wanted to do something for someone, because someone believed he could. He wanted Tay to look at him like he had done something right for real, not those baby problems.

Marshall took a deep breath. “A’aight. Show me.”

Tay nodded and Marshall listened to how he had to replace the ‘x’ on the left side with the entire row of numbers on the right side, but Tay still had to explain it three times and stop doing his own work which included reading a huge book with tiny little writing. Marshall kept getting mixed up with all the different things he had to do. He also kept losing track of stuff in the brackets so a few answers were seriously jacked up. After he made a fuckin mess and had no idea how he ended up with an answer that wouldn’t check Marshall crumpled up the paper in frustration, knuckles white, feeling the redness come up on his face and not being able to do a damn thing about it.

“Hey.” The low, soothing sound of Tay’s voice made him jump and he chewed at his nails while Tay patiently opened the crumpled paper and looked at it. He pointed to a scribbled, smudged number, erased about ten times.

“Look, right here. You just…”

“This ain’t a good idea.” Marshall muttered even though it fuckin’ hurt to say that, yo, because he’d never spent this much time alone with Tay. He liked it something bad. He liked not having to rush the fuck off after a few minutes and he liked just having him close by, even if sometimes he had to remind himself he wasn’t supposed to be thinking of what it would be like to bury his face in Tay’s neck under his hair and breathe in.

“Why?” Tay asked pinning him with the sky blue of his eyes, and, fuck, that was not fair.

“Cause I feel stupid, a’aight?” He leaned back in the chair, slouching, trying to find the part of him that used to cut and run when he felt like this, “I don’t know why I thought I could do this shit…”

“Because you can.” Tay sounded so sure Marshall wanted to believe him. “Look, you don’t have to get every single thing right. All you need to do is know enough to pass the class. You can do that.”

What if I can’t? the voice in his head asked. Marshall’s knee had started to jiggle like it did when he was freaked out and he felt Tay’s leg brush his lightly, a slow, casual touch that could have just been Tay shifting his weight if he hadn’t been looking right at Tay. If he hadn’t seen the dimpled chin lower a little bit and the lashes flutter like bird’s wings.

“You can.” Tay repeated quietly, holding his eyes, leg pressing his, Marshall pressing back. Taking a breath Marshall nodded.

“Show me.”

They worked until the announcement that the library was closing came over the speakers and by that time Marshall wasn’t thinking about how Tay’s hair smelled even a little. His head felt stuffed full of lowest common denominators and opposite functions and canceling variables and all the other stuff Tay had explained and demonstrated and explained and then explained differently.

“You’re quiet.” Tay said in the car as Marshall drove him home and he threw over a half- smile.

“I got a math headache.”

“A Math headache!” Tay exclaimed laughing, “You’re such a lightweight! We still have fractions and theorems and geometry and…”

“Shit, are you trying to make me run like hell?” Marshall demanded but he smiled because Tay looked damn beautiful when he laughed.

“No,” Tay admitted, “But this is going to be work. You know that, right?”

“I know.” Marshall nodded, felt the weight of Tay’s hand on his shoulder and the warmth beneath through his hoodie and t-shirt and stared at the traffic as his heart sped up. They weren’t in the library here, where anyone could walk up, and he was aware of each line of Tay’s fingers, of the pad of his palm.
“I think you can do it.”

He glanced at Tay once, then again because he couldn’t look right at him when his heart was jittering like it was and his cock wanted to get hard and he had this driving thing he had to do, too, and not fuckin’ wreck. He nodded in agreement finally, and then they were at Tay’s house, and Tay took his hand away. Marshall hadn’t noticed until then it had been there the whole time. He could still feel it there.

“I’ll see you…?” Tay said as he made sure he had his backpack over one shoulder and suddenly Marshall wanted it to be next week at four a.m. so he wouldn’t have to wait the rest of the weekend to see Tay again.

“You wanna study again tomorrow?” He blurted and Tay paused and glanced at Marshall, hand on the door. “I mean, you said I needed work, so…” He explained, holding Tay’s eyes. They looked dark in the shadows of the car.

“I don’t know if I can,” Tay sounded like he really wanted to, “My parents…”

“’S okay, don’t worry…”

“I can ask.” Tay said hopefully. “I’ll call you tomorrow early and let you know.”

“Word.” Marshall nodded, butterflies fluttering all in his stomach.

“Yeah. Word,” Tay repeated, smiling kind of shy like he always did when he talked ghetto and it made Marshall wanna grin like even more of an idiot.

He stayed in the car and watched until Tay walked up the stairs and inside, a flood of warm light falling out when he opened the door. He sat in the car remembering how Tay’s hand felt on his shoulder, and how Tay’s leg felt pushing next to his until he realized if he didn’t book someone was gonna call the police because some punk was sitting in their Brady Bunch neighborhood in a beat-to-shit Impala probably playing with himself. Revving the engine he finally pulled away and even getting home to the drafty trailer with his mom bitching about staying out too late with the car, it wasn’t so bad. It really wasn’t that bad at all.

TAY

Tay walked in the house and up the stairs hoping the ridiculous grin on his face didn’t look as goofy as it felt.

They’d worked for two solid hours, Tay patiently explaining how to isolate variables and Marshall working slowly through the problems Tay wrote out. The ones in his book were too hard so Tay knocked them back a little and they started from the concepts on the crumpled quiz Marshall had failed. At first it was awkward; he could feel the tension in Marshall just sitting next to him, every muscle stretched taut and a grim, worried expression on the vibrant blue eyes. But Tay just kept talking calmly and clearly, placing a hand on Marshall’s shoulder when Marshall crumpled up a piece of paper in frustration, and by the end they’d gotten somewhere.

Not enough of somewhere, though. Tay honestly hadn’t known Marshall would be that far behind. Marshall was sharp, but he didn’t get concepts shoved at him too fast, and he processed by repetition. Every time Tay re-explained how to solve two-variable equations Marshall got a pained, embarrassed expression on his face until Tay finally said, “Hey,” and ducked his head to catch the storming navy blue gaze that stared at the table. Marshall looked at him miserably and Tay gripped his forearm as he spoke. “It took you three months to get to this point. It’s going to take you longer to catch up.”

“Still feel stupid.” The words were so low Tay had to bend close to hear them and got trapped in the electric vibrancy of Marshall's eyes. He rubbed Marshall’s arm a little in comfort and the pouty lips curved up the tiniest bit on one side, a faint smile.

“I know you’re not.” Tay said putting every ounce of confidence he had in the words. “Just give it some time. It’s the first time that we do this.”

“A’aight.” Marshall capitulated with a nod.

“Alright.” They played with each other’s stare for a few seconds before Tay moved his arm to the back of Marshall’s chair and leaned over to explain where Marshall had just added wrong and thrown off checking for the answer. When he looked up after explaining how tricky the changing of functions could be Marshall was staring intently at the paper, a fierce look of concentration drawing his brows together.

He’d done the next two problems correct then faltered again when division and multiplications are added to the problem.

Tay was wondering how his mom would react if he asked to study with Marshall tomorrow, too, when he paused right outside his room, hand on the knob.

Faint music could be heard from inside, The Ramone’s “Rock and Roll High School” because somewhere along the way his baby brother had developed the musical sensibilities of a nineteen seventies punk. Ike and Zac’s voices sounded low and clear beneath the pounding beat and Tay paused, listening.

“…don’t know when he became such a drama queen but it’s gotten a lot worse.”

“I know.” Zac’s voice, glum in agreement. “Mom’s always on his side, too.”

Tay felt a flush rise up on his cheeks and tightened his hold on the doorknob.

“But the thing with dad, Ike. I mean, you didn’t see….”

“I know about the thing with dad,” his older brother’s voice was flat and uncompromising, “There’s nothing we can do about that. Tay has to do it himself. Talk to dad, or something. Something besides acting like a big fucking drama queen because I’m over his.…”

Tay pushed the door open quickly and both boys jumped in surprise as he stood there, staring at them expressionless. If there’s one thing he learned from Johnny was how to make an entrance and how to use an entrance line. “The big fucking drama queen wants you to get your goddamn feet off his bed.”

Ike lowered his chin and gave him a wary look but removed the enormous Doc Marten’s from Tay’s bedspread, scooting up higher on the desk chair. Tay walked over and slipped his backpack off his shoulder, starting to remove his scarf with slow, casual movements. The silence settled around the chanting voice of Joey Ramone who wanted get some chicks and get his kicks until Zac piped into the tension, “How’d the tutoring go?”

“Good.” Tay said shortly, not looking at either of them. “We still have a long way to go if he wants to keep his eligibility.”

“Where do you know him from, anyhow?” Ike asked leaning forward in curiosity and Tay shot Zac what he hoped was a clandestine warning look.

“Around. We do practice at the same place remember?” If Zac told Ike about the whole Shane Lemonious incident Tay was going to strangle him. As if he wanted Ike to know he’d been humiliated in front of everyone but, he swore, sometimes Zac was like the mouth of the South. Even as a kid they’d called him ‘The Informer’ because he’d gone through a prolonged tattletale phase.

“Well, yeah, but don’t the hockey players basically rag on…”

“He doesn’t do that,” Tay snapped defensively, glaring at Ike’s infuriating calm dark stare. “You don’t know him. He’s not like that at all.”

“He’s not a lot of things.”

Tay narrowed his eyes at his brother, his heart trip-hammering in his chest.

“I’ll meet you downstairs.” Typically, his older brother chose that moment to leave, giving Zac’s nervous, unhappy form an eyebrow quirk and grabbing his leather coat from the back of the chair. Ike had always been a genius at throwing you a curve and exiting before you could think of how to throw it back.

“We’re going for ice cream.” Zac said for no reason Tay could figure out. He continued to change, slipping off his jeans, vest, and button down for a t-shirt and sweats and toeing off his sneakers. He replaced his vest in his bureau and threw the shirt in the dirty clothes hamper. “Want to come with?”

Tay turned to look at his younger brother like he’d lost his mind.

“Why would I want to do that?”

“Free ice cream?” Zac smiled gamely and for just a second Tay felt bad about snarking at him. When Zac flashed a full-on smile at you his eyes crinkled and the full lips stretched impossibly wide and he looked so fucking hopeful.

“I don’t eat ice cream when I’m training; you know that.” He plucked his copy of Giovanni’s Room from his bedside table and started to read.

“Come on Tay, they have yogurt…,” but he interrupted the limping optimism before it got any worse.

“Look we don’t get along. It happens. You’re the one he asked to go, anyway.”

“Why are you like this?” Zac exploded so suddenly that Tay was momentarily startled. The bookmark flipped out and he lost his place while staring at his brother’s cheerful features scrunched tight in frustration. The warm feeling he’d had from the tutoring session leeched out in the wake of the tension here, the accusing stare his brother leveled at him and the guilt that came with it.

“Like what?” he exploded back.

“The way you are!”

“Oh, eloquent, Zachary. Do you want to buy a vowel?”

“Whatever.” Zac walked in choppy, stiff steps to the closet where he yanked out a gray sweater and pulled it on, all elbows and arms, sending his ponytail into fuzzy disarray. Tay watched him and kept his agitation to the tight way he gripped the book in his hands. Before Zac left he turned hurt, golden brown eyes to Tay. “I don’t get you Tay and I’m getting really tired of trying.”

“You need to go.” Tay went back to his book, not even reading the words. He didn’t look up until the door slammed shut. Then he threw the book aside and drew his knees up to rest his head on them, arms holding them tight. The knot of regret and guilt settled in his stomach like a stone.

He shouldn’t have done that. Why did he do that? He didn’t even know sometimes except it always seemed to happen when Ike showed up and Tay had to see the close give-and-take of them and feel like an outsider.

He didn’t feel like an outsider with Marshall.

Tay curled up in bed, arms around his knees, and closed his eyes, and tried to remember the whole evening, images and thoughts. How Marshall touched him, he touched him in the car, and how he hadn’t pulled away once when Tay touched him; how he responded each time Tay did. The way he looked at Tay, the intensity in those blue, blue eyes. How he was so embarrassed at the library and looked like a little kid when they got there, eyes huge, staring around himself until Tay just wanted to hug him and tell him it was going to be okay.

I trust him, he thought, and smiled to himself as he lay there, thinking of the car, of everything. Of maybe seeing Marshall tomorrow if Tay’s mom didn’t balk at him cutting out of family bonding for two days in a row. I trust him.

He would apologize to Zac tomorrow for being so mean. Or, maybe after Ike left.

He didn’t let himself remember that he always thought that, yet he never did.

 

MARSHALL

“Where were you at Friday, dawg? We waited all night and didn’t see your ass.”

Marshall ducked his head dodging people as he and Proof made their way to the lockers. A few people called out to him as he walked by and he lifted his chin in return.

“Had to be somewhere.”

“Yeah? ‘Cause you weren’t at home neither. I checked.”

Marshall shrugged vaguely and caught the worried, puzzled look on Proof’s face before he nodded and looked away, a resigned, cool mask overtaking his features. Marshall sighed inwardly.

He couldn’t keep sidestepping this forever. He and Tay had gotten together to work some for a little while on Saturday afternoon, too, since Tay’s parents said he had to be back before six, and Marshall couldn’t keep lying if they kept studying that much. He didn’t really know why he was except some instinct told him he maybe should and he tended to trust those. Only Proof had that silent treatment going on and, fuck, Marshall didn’t really blame him. They told each other everything; always had. He’d feel like Proof was holding out on him too, in the same situation.

“I’m flunking Math, dawg.” Marshall said more to the inside of his open locker than his best friend. He didn’t want to see any sympathy if it was there, not even from Proof. For some reason he could take that look on Tays’ face but no one else’s. “I got a fuckin’ ‘F’ right now and if I don’t pass I can’t play.”

“Shit.” Proof said after a second and Marshall nodded, smirking.

“Yeah. Shit.”

“So- what? You end up going to Lang for help?”

“Naw.” Marshall finally looked in Proof’s dark eyes and saw no sympathy, thank god. Just concern and curiosity; the same old Proof, and he felt like a stupid fool for not trusting him before. “Someone else is helping me, though. See if I can bring up the grade and not get benched.”

“That’s good, right? Dawg, why you trippin?” His friend demanded an exasperated set to his features.

“I don’t know, man.” Marshall shrugged and looked away into the crowd of kids trying to get one last trip to the lockers in before the last bell. “You ain’t flunkin’. Rufus and Von ain’t flunking.”

“We ain’t got Lang, neither. That mofo don’t cut no one slack.”

Marshall scoffed. “You think?” He looked back at Proof. “I’m just gonna have to do that a lot, work on that shit. I don’t got a lot of time.”

“I gotcha, I know. Do what you gotta do.” They knocked knuckles to prove it and Proof cracked a grin at him.

“’Sides. You gotta keep on that ice or Ima lose my hootchie action. You know they go through me to get to you.”

“That ain’t fuckin’ true, dawg.” Marshall brushed him off with a smile, but he knew Proof was just messing with him. Even if sometimes that was true.

They both saw Jeanine at the same time, standing across the hall with her hands on her hips. Her thin lips were bright red and she had too much silver shadow on her eyes. For a second she reminded Marshall of a clown. A real angry-looking clown.

Tay’s eyes really were soft blue, like the sky, and even when he’d seen them angry he’d never seen them mean.

He and Proof shot a fed-up glance at each other and turned their backs on her at the same time. Marshall felt all the muscles of his neck tighten up but he played it off, switching out his books, zipping up his pack.

“Thought you’d tapped that ass when you didn’t show.” Proof said under his breath and Marshall gave him a sidelong glance.

“Told you I didn’t. She ain’t got nothing I want, yo.”

“I hear that.” Proof agreed whole-heartedly and they shut the locker doors as the bell sounded cutting through the noise in the hall. “I hear THAT, my brother.” When they turned she was gone and Marshall’s back untangled in relief.

Maybe today he’d understand what the hell Lang was talking about in class.

Chapter Text

I never would have opened up
But you seemed so real to me
After all the bullshit I've heard
It's refreshing not to see
I don't have to pretend
She doesn't expect it from me

Good Enough
~Sarah Mclachlan

MARSHALL

It shocked the hell out of him when it didn’t sound like Lang was talking a different language as he wrote shit on the board. When words like ‘denominator’ and ‘variable’ meant something instead of some confusing crap he tuned out while he drew in his notebook, like the noise Charlie Brown heard when grown-ups talked. He even wrote stuff down so maybe he could look like he understood Tay the next time they studied. For a second it all felt weird as fuck ‘cause the only classes he’d really paid attention to before were Art and Phys Ed. He guessed maybe that’s what those kids that didn’t make straight Cs felt like all the time.

The next week flew by so fast, before he knew it Friday had gotten there and he had another tutoring session with Tay. Cramming in the time to study had made his schedule even crazier but Marshall was too caught up to notice. When he wasn’t at practice he did Math shit. When he watched Nate he did Math shit. He cut his hangout time with Proof and the guys to only an hour or two every day so he could go home and do Math shit. By Friday he was so sick of numbers he wanted to go back in time and beat on the stupid motherfucker who started the whole thing.

And even with all that he knew he didn’t get some of the work. Wasn’t getting some of the work. He’d think he had it then turn the page and everything got harder and then he didn’t have it. He still wasn’t where he could go ask Lang a question, though. He saved those for when he saw Tay in the mornings, pulling out the folded pages with his homework so Tay could go over them real quick after he got off the ice.

Still, the look on Tay’s face when he got a problem right was worth everything. He thought he might give up four or five hours of hanging out and tons of trips to The Shelter if he could see that excited, happy look on Tay’s face when he said, “That’s perfect!” and squeezed Marshall’s shoulder.

They touched each other more, too, but they didn’t talk about it. Not like touching touching, like he grabbed Tay’s ass or anything, but little things. Like Tay squeezing his shoulder when he got something right, or him tousling Tay’s hair before they walked their separate ways. He didn’t think about it most of the time. Most of the time his hands just went on without him, knowing what they wanted; finding the bumps of Tay’s spine as they sat working at the table, looking for the answering push of Tay’s knee or the press of his shoulder. He couldn’t explain it even if he had thought about; just knew he’d got used to the feel of Tay close to him while he worked, like it was another part of memorizing formulas and remembering Math rules.

He’d been hitting everything so hard: practice, homework, watching Tay in the mornings and seeing Proof in the evenings, that he flat out flaked on the chapter quiz until he walked in and saw everyone passing the papers back and getting everything off their desk. For one wild minute he thought of booking far and fast, his breath coming in short pants because it was different now. He was supposed to know this shit now and what if he flunked anyway? What the fuck was he supposed to tell Tay then?

“Marshall. Good to see you.” Mr. Lang smiled at him from the desk where he was waiting for everyone to get a quiz paper. “Would you like to have a seat and join us?” On any other teacher it would have sounded sarcastic but on Mr. Lang it never did. You never got the feeling he was dissing you in front of everyone. People still turned to look at him and Marshall realized he’d frozen right in the door and anyone even later than him had to squeeze around him to rush to their seat.

Marshall forced himself to move and took his seat, this month somewhere near the front to the left.

Holding his pencil in fingers he couldn’t even feel, he closed his eyes for second trying to focus and calm down. All of a sudden it was like Tay was in his brain, talking him in the calm, soothing voice he used when Marshall took the tests in the book at the end of each chapter: “First of all, relax. Don’t force stuff or you’ll freeze up and not remember anything. Do what you know first then go to the stuff you have trouble with. Remember, you don’t have to get everything right every time. Let’s go for passing then build from there, okay?”

Only Tay could say shit like, “build from there” and not sound like a total geek. He’d gotten used to how Tay talked though, and he kind of liked it. No other kid he knew talked like a grown-up without sounding weird.

Marshall took the paper with a damp hand and cracked his neck as he started to look over the problems. He had to blink a few times before the numbers actually started to gel, to group into equations he remembered. He wrote his name at the top and got started.

When everyone started to hand theirs in he was still working and had to hurry up and finish and he knew he messed that last problem up.

All the rest of class he couldn’t concentrate, second-guessing his answers and remembering crap he did wrong. By the time the bell rang he’d decided he’d have no trouble at all waiting to know what he made. Possibly forever.

“Marshall.” Lang called out as he tried to slip out in the crowds and avoid eye contact. It didn’t work any better than the last time he tried it.

“I thought you might want to know your quiz grade.”

“Not really,” said Marshall, wanting to actually back the fuck up from the paper in Lang’s hands, already with red marks and a grade at the top. He probably graded them while they copied down their homework assignment.

“Are you sure?” Lang’s ink black eyes, so much like Proof’s, looked almost like he was playing and Marshall took a step forward.

“No?”

“Never frame an answer in the form of a question unless you mean it Marshall.” He held out the paper and Marshall looked at it, flapping in the wind before he reached out. His damp palms stuck to the paper and he used his other hand to hold it after pushing his backpack up his shoulder.

A red 72 stared at him from inside a circle. ‘Good effort!’ floated over the margin in Lang’s huge loopy writing.

“That’s a twenty point improvement from your last quiz, in case you were wondering.”

For a long minute Marshall just looked at it. There were corrections, yeah, but there were checkmarks, too. Enough checkmarks to matter.

“I fuckin’ passed.” He said more to himself than Lang but his teacher laughed and handed another stack of blank quizzes to the first person of each row. Oh, yeah, another class was in here.

“That you did. Most of the mistakes were careless ones but you’ll learn to catch them with time. Who’s helping you?”

“Uh, a friend,” Marshall mumbled, still staring at his grade, “From the rink.”

“That’s a good friend, then. Keep up the good work.” The bell for the next class surprised Marshall out from inside his head, “Of course now you’re late to your next class.”

“Yeah! Thanks, yo. I mean, you know,” he backed out of the room grinning like a fool and clutching his quiz.

“I’ll see you on Monday Marshall.” Lang smiled and Marshall turned away at the door to bump smack into Proof.

“Where you been, dawg?”

“I been passing my fucking quiz, bro.” Marshall gave him a push with his shoulder and Proof whooped when he saw the grade, pulling Marshall into a hug and then they were running to lunch, laughing and talking trash and Marshall couldn’t wait to show Tay.

*~*~*~*~

By afternoon he’d changed his mind.

‘Cause, what if this was a one time thing? The book got harder; that was the damn point. What if he bailed on the other quizzes and had to tell Tay, sorry, that first one didn’t count. He’d fuckin’ die if he had to do that.

So when he saw Tay at practice and his heart sped up at the thought of showing him the grade and seeing the unbelievable smile that turned Tay’s face into something that hurt Marshall’s chest, he pushed it back. He banked it until he had more ammunition, until he knew he had this down for real.

‘Cause any hockey player could tell you winning one game was easy. It was winning the next two or three in a row that was hard.

“’Sup?” he came up behind Tay and elbowed him as he talked to Johnny. The sky blue eyes found his, already smiling but ducking down a little so the soft wave of his hair fell in his face. Marshall knew they still didn’t talk all that much at the rink in front of people and they both seemed okay with keeping this thing between them on the down low. He just felt like talking to him at least a little right now.

By then he’d opened and folded the quiz tons of times and he rubbed the worn square of paper in his fingers inside his hoodie pocket.

“Hi.”

“I’ll see you out front.” Johnny gave Marshall a pissy up and down stare before stalking off, the pointy little chin almost in the air.

“He really don’t like me, yo.” Marshall observed, pretty damn pleased at the thought.

“No,” Tay said, voice apologetic but Marshall just crooked a smile at him and leaned against the wall they stood by, watching the highlights catch in the dark gold of Tay’s hair and noticing how he stood balanced easy on his feet, light, like he was still on the ice.

“Too bad. We on after practice, right?”

“Yeah,” Tay nodded, “Will you be able to drive us or…?”

“I got it.” His mom was getting kinda bitchy about him using the car that much but he pretty much ignored her. It’s not like she didn’t have the Dumbfuck and her dopey friends to take her places.

Zac walked by on the way to the ice and Marshall lifted his head in greeting.

“Hey, Marshall.” Zac looked at his brother but Tay just kind of nodded at him real fast and Zac took off without saying anything else. That’s when Marshall noticed the tops of Tay’s cheeks had flushed pink. That’s also when he noticed some other people looking at them crazy and he glared back until they looked away.

He turned back to see Tay giving him an amused smile.

“What?”

“You really don’t care what your team thinks do you?”

Marshall shrugged. “They ain’t who I’m down with. My crew got my back.”

“Oh, ‘your crew’ I see.” Tay asked teasing a little and Marshall nodded once.

Looking over his shoulder he saw he’d have to move if he didn’t want coach to start hollering at him. He pushed himself away from the wall, stepped close to Tay and leaning a little, whispered, “And you.” He tugged on Tay’s scarf and held the surprised look as he backed away. “Later.”

“Later.” Tay repeated so soft Marshall almost didn’t hear, but he did. Smiling he turned to run in the locker room just as coach shouted, “Where the hell is Mathers?”

 

TAY

“Oh, my god.” Johnny’s long suffering comment brought Tay out of the haze he walked in and he glanced at where his friend sat perched on the low wall dividing the lobby from the concession stand, waiting for his ride. He had almost walked right past him.

“Hi.” Tay walked over while Johnny scrutinized him from above his Ray Bans. “What?”

“What?” Johnny mimicked but not even that could stop the smile from tugging at the corner of Tay’s mouth until he just laughed and looked away while Johnny shook his head.

“You are so gone.”

“Maybe.” Tay fingered the edge of his knit striped scarf and thought of those two words, “And you,” said just for him. They warmed him like apple cider on a snowy day, starting at his chest and rolling towards his extremeties in a tingling, sweet wave.

“God, Tay, he’s….,” Johnny flapped his arms at a loss for words.

“I know.” Tay squinted at the glass doors of the entrance.

“Have you all done anything? Kissing? Hugging? Horizonting?”

“We touch, kind of.” He admitted and Johnny immediately scooted closer, expression avid.

“You do?”

“You know, not love festing or anything. I touch his shoulder and he puts his hand on my back….”

Johnny lifted a bored eyebrow at him, “You sound like lesbians.”

“Shut up! We do not. Lesbians fall into bed four hours after meeting and then bring a U-Haul to their second date.”

“The first part fits gay guys, too. Oh, I’m sorry, he’s not like that.” Johnny gave a slow roll to his eyes and pushed up his sunglasses with an index finger.

Tay studied the muliticolored tassels of his scarf. He hadn’t uttered that phrase for two weeks because not even he believed it anymore. Any of it: that Marshall wasn’t like that, that whatever had grown between them, watered by their tutoring sessions and brushing physical contact into a lush, flowering thing, wasn’t like that. He just didn’t know how much, if anything, Marshall was prepared to recognize or act on.

“Why don’t you just kiss him. Attack him, grab his ass. At least then you’d know.” Johnny encouraged, swinging his thin legs against the wall.

“Because,” Tay said, stubbornly, then looked up Johnny. “I don’t want to scare him. This is really important to me. I mean, if nothing ever happens I want to be able to still be friends.”

“Oh, Tay,” Johnny sighed, “Please. Are you really going to be satisfied with that? Because I know you and the answer is ‘NO.’”

“That’s not true.” Tay muttered even though it was true, mostly.

“Come on, Tay. You tell lies really well but you suck at living them. Just this thing with your dad is killing you.”

Tay wouldn’t look at him and it was really unfair sometimes that Johnny could still read him, could still know him this well after a year of being broken up. He felt Johnny’s soft, cold fingers on the nape of his neck, stroking his hair and he looked at his friend with a smirk.

“You coming on to me John Erick Wier the Third?”

“You wish,” Johnny replied archly, “I just came over heavy all of a sudden. Sorry.”

“It’s okay. It’s the truth,” he admitted with a sigh.

“Besides. I have been there,” Johnny snapped in a circle, “done that, and...”

“Have the t-shirt,” they both finished and laughed together just as black Lincoln Town Car pulled up in front of the rink.

“Call me!” Johnny waved as he rushed out the door, letting in a flurry of freezing air and wind in his wake. Tay waved back before zipping up his jacket and tucking his scarf in for the ride home. He was already late and he’d have to go right back out to the library with Marshall in a couple of hours.

*~*~*~*~*~*

“Mom! It’s me!” Tay called as he banged into the house, laying his backpack in the alcove near the door and hanging up is jacket and scarf. He wanted them to be ready when Marshall drove up so he could make a clean getaway. His mom had been giving gentle hints about ‘meeting’ the boy he spent so much time tutoring and Tay had no clue how to break that to Marshall.

He saw Joshua and Avery in the living room, both bent over their schoolwork but didn’t see Jessica.

“Tay!” Zoë’s baby voice called and she came around the corner hanging on to a chair then the coffee table, such grim determination on her round infant’s face as she negotiated her chubby feet in a not-quite controlled walk to get to him.

“Hey pretty girl!” He ran over and swept her unto his arms holding her high as she squealed in delight. “Did you get away? Did you escape from mommy? Huh?”

Zoë let loose a stream of Toddlerspeak that as Tay hoisted her onto his hip while heading for the kitchen. He often translated her chortles and gurgles in his head for his own amusement: “Why, yes, brother I simply could not abide any more Teletubbies and the strained peas are abysmal so I went to meet you when I heard your voice. How was your day?”

“My day was great! How about you?,” he answered looking down at her upturned face, one small fist clutched in his t-shirt, “Any interesting gossip from the Blues Clues camp? Is that guy ever coming out or what….”

His dad and the smell of cooking ground beef greeted him as he entered the kitchen and Tay paused, looking at his father with an apron around his waist poking at a smoking saucepan with a wooden spoon.

“Oh, it’s you, Tay! I wondered where she’d got to.” His father smiled, wiping his face with the back of one hand.

“Where’s mom?” Tay asked setting Zoë down despite her vocal protests. She hung onto his jeans and fussed.

“She and Jessica had to drive out to fit Jessie’s costume at the seamstress. I believe there was a sequins issue.” His father finished in mock seriousness and Tay smiled faintly before reaching down to tousle Zoë’s hair. The fussing was just optimistic. She knew he never walked around with her after she got home around dinner.

They were having Sloppy Joes for dinner because it was one of only three dishes his dad could make without disastrous results. The other two were tacos and spaghetti. Tay really didn’t like Sloppy Joes because they were fattening and had no vegetables and he couldn’t eat one without getting it all over his hands, hence the name. He used to use a knife and fork but Zac and Ike teased him so much he just went ahead and washed his hands right after dinner. The smell stayed on his fingers forever, though; Tay suspected the ingredients might be toxic. Lately, the few times his dad pulled out this particular culinary delicacy Tay had made himself a salad and a sandwich and called it a day.

It wasn’t exactly a gourmet dish but he’d always helped his dad get ready for it nonetheless because it’s what he did. Zac was at practice and Jessie, who might have helped, was with their mom. But that was before that night in the living room when Tay’s view of his dad turned inside out and backwards. Since then he’d taken pains not to be around his dad, not to talk to him if he could help it. His dad seemed to take the same pains.

But he was in the kitchen already and couldn’t figure how to not help without being obvious. Bracing himself mentally he moved to the freezer and took out the frozen fries they kept there for these occasions. Locating the old cookie sheet they used for them he sprayed it with cooking spray and emptied the contents of the bag, making sure they all lay flat. He had just taken out the hamburger buns, arranged them in a pyramid on a plate for easy access, and begun cutting up lettuce and tomatoes for his own dinner when his father spoke.

“How’s the skating?”

“Fine.” Tay said, pulling off lettuce leaves and piling them in a bowl to wash, his eyes on his hands.

“Zac says you’re tutoring one of the hockey players, is that right?”

“Yeah.” Tay ripped off a couple of paper towels to blot the moisture off the lettuce leaves.

“That’s awfully nice of you to do.”

Tay nodded, still not looking at his father. The back of his shoulders felt tight and tense and he wished he could just relax, but he couldn’t. He hadn’t been able to since that night. It was painful.

“You’re managing your time well. I see you’re ahead in the curriculum.”

“I know what I have to do.” The phrase sounded defensive even to his own ears and Tay bit his lip lowering his head to where he cut tomatoes on the chopping board.

“I know you do, son. You’ve always been good at that.”

/Well you know us faggy figure skaters, we’re ALL about the planning/ the thought popped in Tay’s mind and he smirked to himself, chopping efficiently. Oh, yeah, that would go over well.

He just wanted to get to the tutoring session and ride in the car next to Marshall watching him drive and sit next to Marshall and feel the answering warmth of his leg beneath the table. Mouthing off in that vein was not going to get him there this evening, so he said nothing like that.

“I’m leaving in an hour to go to the library with him.” He replied instead, mixing the lettuce and tomatoes together and opening the door to the fridge to take out the shredded cheese and low calorie Italian dressing.

“Spending a lot of time with him, aren’t you?” his dad’s words were noncommittal but Tay glanced at him anyhow. His dad seemed to just be standing there stirring the fragrant reddish mixture in the saucepan and not looking at him, but all Tay’s alarms went off. What did he mean by that?

“Well, he’s behind.” Again with the defensive and Tay realized he was speedmaking his ham sandwich and forced himself to slow down. “If he’s not passing by midterm he’s off the team.”

“He’s a good hockey player.”

“I guess.” Tay mumbled, cutting his sandwich into triangles.

“You two get along okay?” The doubt in his father’s voice was evident and Tay felt an irrational flare of anger. What did that mean, now? Like he couldn’t talk to real boys if they didn’t wear costumes and skated to music? Like- what? His father thought Tay would infect Marshall with Tay’s insane sports choice, like one got the measles?

“We get along great.” Tay kept his voice even and matched his dad’s casual tone. Two could play at that game. “He’s not like the other ignorant jerks on the team.” His dad stopped mid-stir and frowned at the stove. Too late, he realized what he’d said; Zac was on the team. His dad had been on a team. “I mean, most of them.” He looked away and arranged his dinner on a plate.

He wasn’t even hungry anymore.

“You know I can fix you a plate before you leave,” his father offered, doing the old don’t ask don’t tell two-step Tay had gotten familiar with, “This is done.”

“Oh, it’s okay, I’m kind of watching the calories.” Tay filled a glass with tap water and added ice; he was used to the taste and they had never been able to afford bottled.

“Son, you’re skin and bones. One Sloppy Joe won’t hurt you.”

He was too skinny? “Thanks, I’m fine. More for Zac. You know he can eat about four of those.” Not waiting for his father’s reply he walked to the dining area and sat at the table picking at his sandwich and finally taking a bite. It tasted cardboardy and dry, the wheat bread rough and the ham too cold and he only ate half, but all his salad before returning the dishes to the sink and rinsing them to put in the dishwasher. Thankfully his dad was in the middle of putting the fries in the stove and Tay left quickly to brush his teeth.

Afterwards he walked in the wonderfully quiet, empty room to change his clothes. He knew it was probably silly, that Marshall probably never noticed, but Tay did. He chose a black t-shirt and a burgundy button-down to go with his jeans. He pulled off the shirt he wore then paused in front of the mirror.

A blond boy looked back at him, hair longish and reaching his shoulders, eyes blue, jaw kind of square and a chin with a dimple. Johnny used to say Tay looked like Prince Valiant from the old comic strip, or Prince charming from the cartoon Shrek, which Tay had never seen. Considering that Johnny tended to impart these observations when they were naked in bed Tay didn’t set much by them. He thought he looked pretty okay. He rarely got zits or breakouts like Ike and Tay, probably because he wasn’t addicted to junk food. He didn’t have a unibrow; he didn’t have perpetually chapped lips like Marshall, though Tay kind of found that endearing. He’d never needed braces like Ike who only got his off last year and he only had a few freckles, light and near his hairline.

His body, which his dad found skinny, apparently, he wasn’t so sure about. His skin was winter pale and his clavicles stood out beneath his skin and, yes, maybe you could kind of count his ribs if he stretched like that. His arms looked the best, in his opinion, toned and from so much skating, and if he flexed, which felt silly doing, he kind of had muscles. Two lines flanked his flat abdomen and he could see the curve of hipbone above the waist of the jeans. Still, he needed to look this way. He’d like to see any of the big goons on the hockey teams jump in the air and rotate three times before landing.

Would Marshall like him this way?

The boy in the mirror rolled his eyes and snorted while turning away. Jumping the gun a little aren’t we, he chastised himself. A few touches and meaningful looks did not a gayboy make.

At least not yet.

He knew he liked Marshall’s body.

Well, what he could see of it. Come to think of it he’d never actually seen Marshall’s body since the boy did not own one article of clothing that wasn’t three sizes too big. He could sense it though, underneath the faded, baggy ghetto wear. You had to be in some kind of shape to play hockey after all, and Marshall moved on the ice like lethal, smooth satin.

Still, the only part of his body Tay knew well were Marshall’s hands. He could never get over how nimble and clever they looked for all the tough homeboy exterior. The nails were bitten cruelly short and the knuckles of his right hand looked almost scratched. Otherwise they could belong to a painter or a pianist.

Tay had developed a small infatuation with Marshall’s hands.

The door opened and Zac walked in smelling like soap and the rink, hair still damp from his shower after practice. Tay hurriedly pulled on his fresh clothes, still stepping careful after the exchange that day after the first tutoring session but Zac just smiled amiably at him before starting to change.

Once again Tay felt a pang of guilt for his short temper. Zac was physically incapable of holding a grudge or staying angry long. Not like Tay who hugged his rage to him like a precious alive thing and fed it and nurtured it until he was damn good and ready to set it free.

“Tutoring?”

“Yeah.” Tay tried a smile and felt good when it was returned.

“Have fun.”

Just as he walked down the stairs to the noise of the television and clatter of cutlery, the horn sounded outside and he broke into a trot.

“I’m leaving.” He called to no one in particular and received a chorus of goodbyes. Zipping up his jacket he grabbed his backpack and walked into the brisk November night.

He got the warm, excited feeling in his chest he always got when he saw Marshall and it was just the two of them. Opening the creaky door he saw Marshall’s answering smile, his wonderful hands hanging loosely on the wheel.

And I am not skinny Tay thought in irritation.

Tay’s good feeling ebbed a little with his annoyance that his father’s words still stuck with him.

As the car drove away Tay pulled his jacket tighter, just in case.

Chapter Text

Who's gonna tell you when
It's too late
Who's gonna tell you things
Aren't so great
You can't go on
Thinking nothing's wrong
Who's gonna drive you home tonight
Who's gonna pick you up
When you fall
Who's gonna hang it up
When you call
Who's gonna pay attention
To your dreams
Who's gonna plug their ears
When you scream
Who's gonna hold you down
When you shake
Who's gonna come around
When you break?

Drive
~The Cars

 

MARSHALL

As he drove Marshall glanced at Tay a few times but all he saw was blond hair as Tay looked quietly out the window. It wasn’t right since usually Tay talked to him about stuff, how Marshall understood that day’s math lesson, Tay’s practice, just talking. Not today.

“You a’aight?” he asked at a red light and Tay glanced back at him as if pulling out of thought.

“What? Yeah.” Tay fiddled with the zipper on his jacket and Marshall watched him so closely the car behind honked when he didn’t move fast enough after the light turned green. He looked in the rear view and shot them the finger and Tay smiled, shaking his head, but he looked back down. Like all the light had gone out of his eyes and, fuck, when did he start quoting Hallmark cards? Or sappy ass songs, one of the two.

Spying the same parking lot where they talked that time Tay almost walked out on him, Marshall swung in and turned off the car. Tay looked around in puzzlement then stilled when Marshall reached over and covered one shoulder with his hand. Tay’s bones felt real fragile under his palm. The sky blue eyes met his and Marshall’s heart gave a skip.

He could not believe on a daily basis how fuckin’ beautiful Tay was.

“You wanna try that again?”

“It’s nothing, it’s stupid, just…,” Tay shrugged and Marshall rubbed his shoulder, just a small opening and closing of his hand on the curve near Tay’s back. A grateful smile tugged at Tay’s lips. “Something my dad said, it’s nothing but…I just can’t talk to him at all! He doesn’t get anything about me. It’s like he doesn’t want to.” He sighed and leaned into Marshall’s touch more, eyes lowered. “I just wish he wanted to sometimes.”

“Yo, at least you got a dad.” Marshall pointed out. Tay glanced up at him and Marshall held the stare even though it was hard. He never talked about his old man splitting when Marshall was one and a half. He’d tried to find him a few times but that was something he couldn’t share with anyone yet, not even Tay.

“I know. I should probably stop bitching right?”

“This ain’t bitching, dog. I heard bitching and this ain’t it.” Marshall assured him and Tay smiled again, a wonderful, wide grin that showed all his dimples and Marshall felt a sliding, kind of a falling in his chest.

“But I get it. I mean, I don’t know what’s worse. Not having an old man or having an old man that makes you feel like shit.”

“He doesn’t mean to.” Tay mumbled, but Marshall knew all about that. It was the same voice he used to use when he told himself his mom didn’t mean to yell at them and didn’t mean to date all those assholes and didn’t mean to let the electric run out. He’d decided not too long ago he didn’t give a shit about what she didn’t ‘mean’ to do; he and Nate were still just as hurt and just as cold.

“No offense on your old man, but either way it still hurts your feelings, right?”

“Yeah.” Tay sighed, resigned, a sad smile on his face and Marshall tightened the hold on his shoulder.

“That ain’t okay.”

Marshall realized when the phrase hung in the air between them that he’d somehow said more than he should. They stared at each other the space between them getting slow and heavy and Tay’s eyes flickered down, a lowering of the long lashes so much darker than his hair. /He’s looking at my lips/ the thought appeared in Marshall’s conscience and brought with it something deep and lazy that rolled over in his chest waking up from sleep.

Slowly, Marshall ran his tongue over the soft-rough terrain of his bottom lip then caught the flesh in his teeth. Tay blinked still staring, pink sprouting on the apples of his cheeks, then Marshall saw him pull his gaze away, lower it, and duck down. A wave of gold hair spilled forward and hid his face.

“We need….”

“To get to the library. I know,” but Marshall’s voice teased so Tay ran a hand through his hair and gave him a smile. “I’m goin’. Just gotta stop for gas.”

“Sure.” Tay nodded but most of the sadness seemed gone from the sky blue eyes and Marshall felt good for that.

*~*~*~*~*

Marshall pulled into the first gas station he saw because the fuel light had gone bright red and he did not want to stall on empty.

“Fill it up about halfway, a’aight?” Marshall called over his shoulder, reaching into the pocket of his loose jeans for his wallet. He didn’t notice until he got outside that Tay had gotten out of the car and was just standing there with a weird look on his face.

“What?”

“I’ll pay.”

“I got it,” Marshall shook his head, “It ain’t that much.”

“I don’t mind.” Tay had already started walking up to the cashier sitting behind the thick plexiglass in her bullet proof cubicle when Marshall hooked his elbow with his hand and stood next to him trying to understand the tense look on Tay’s face.

“I fuckin’ mind. I said I got this.” Tay tried to pull away without meeting his eyes but Marshall slipped his hand around Tay’s arm, keeping him there. “What’s up with you?”

“What difference does it make if I pay this time?” Tay asked sounding frustrated and something else, the sky blue eyes dark and overcast.

And really, Marshall didn’t have an answer for that that made sense except he knew something else had gone down and he didn’t know what it was. It wasn’t about copping half a tank which he and Proof did all the time. It was about Tay not looking at him and still trying to pull out of his grasp.

“Pump the fuckin’ gas Taylor.” Marshall stared hard in his eyes before Tay twisted out of his grasp with a quick move that got past him.

“I can’t, okay? I don’t know how.”

The words didn’t register at first because- what the fuck? “The hell do you mean ‘You don’t know how?’”

“Which word didn’t you understand?” Tay’s arms had folded across his chest, head bowed and face hidden beneath the dark blond hair with its golden highlights.

“You can’t pump gas?” Marshall asked in disbelief.

“Lots of people can’t pump gas.” Tay said defensively, flicking hair out of his eyes with a quick angry toss of his head that, for some reason, Marshall wanted to see again.

“Yeah, my little brother can’t pump gas but he’s five. Can you drive?” The answer was Tay looking sullenly across the street at the boarded up buildings and a bum pushing a shopping cart down the sidewalk.

“Damn.” Marshall said more to himself than Tay but Tay pushed away from where he’d been leaning on the door and started walking to the pay window again.

“I’m so glad to be entertaining. Paying now.”

“Fuck you are. Hey,” Marshall blocked his way and watched Tay dig his fists in his pockets hair flying in his eyes from the breeze. “It ain’t a thing. So you can’t drive. I’ll teach you.”

Tay let out an incredulous laugh while shaking his head, “Oh, right. I don’t think so.”

“Why not?” Marshall stepped back glaring hard at him, “So it’s a’aight for you to teach me something I don’t know but I can’t teach you nothing? That’s fucked up. You just like being the one that knows everything all the time?”

“I don’t know anything,” Tay said, his eyes desperate, “It’s not that.”

“Then what is it, Tay? Pretend I’m stupid and tell me how it’s different.”

“Stop, no.” Tay stepped closer, holding onto Marshall’s sleeve down near his hand. Marshall thought for a second that it probably looked from far away like they were holding hands and he did not care because he liked Tay this close. “You don’t understand how embarrassing it is to not know something everyone else learned a long time ago.”

Marshall lifted both eyebrows and looked away. “Right, I don’t know that. I don’t know what it’s like to not know something when everyone around you can do it like nothing.”
He looked back at Tay and Tay bowed his head letting the hair fall forward again. He hid behind it a lot, Marshall noticed.

“Look at me,” he said softly and when Tay lifted his face Marshall checked right out for a little bit, just a few seconds, because he could never ever look in those eyes and not feel like he was gonna fall into them.

He spoke. “You trust me? You said you did.” Tay’s gaze didn’t just stay on his eyes. It traveled all over his face like he was looking for something.

“I do, but…”

“Prove it. Let me do this.”

“I’m not on your insurance,” Tay protested weakly but he was gonna give; Marshall could see it. “What if I did something to the car…?”

“Dog, look at this car.” They both turned to survey the big boat of an Impala waiting beside the gas pump.

It still had the dull gray primer Ronnie sprayed on over a year ago when he was gonna repaint and never got around to it. A row of little plastic squares lined the sides where some detailing had come off and there were no hubcaps. One of the small back windows was starred into pieces held in place by tape and the tint was peeling off the rear windshield. And that was just the outside. It wasn’t the most pathetic ride he’d ever seen; Von’s aunt had a beat to shit rust colored Chevy Nova that stalled at red lights and at least this one ran pretty stable. It still wasn’t what you’d call a great ride.

“True.” Tay said, put out, and Marshall grinned.

“’Sides, this is a 1978 Impala. Back in the day they used real metal not that fiberglass shit. Someone runs into you they’ll bounce right off like rubber,” Marshall gave the side of the car a good punch making Tay flinch, but there wasn’t even a tiny dent.

“I’m just afraid I can’t.” Tay said quietly and Marshall laughed, crossed his arms and leaned on the car looking at him.

“Lemme get this, a’aight? You’re going to make it to the fucking Olympics but you don’t think you can drive a car?”

“Yeah,” his expression said he knew how that sounded.

“That is jacked up, yo.”

“Okay. Okay, fine.” Tay hunched his shoulders and frowned at him from under his hair but it just showed off his dimples more and made Marshall smile wider.

“Dope. Ima pay and then you pumping some gas.”

“We’re never getting to the library.”

“Yeah, we are. We got tomorrow, too. But you got a driving lesson.” He left Tay glaring at him blue eyes like a rough sea but he kept grinning.

He grinned as he showed Tay how to choose the type of gas at the pump, unscrew the gas cap and press the lever down to trigger the flow once the nozzle went in. Two bright spots of pink never really left Tay’s cheeks high up near his ears, but he concentrated like Marshall was gonna quiz him later. When the nozzle was safely back on the pump Marshall said, “See? That ain’t hard.”

“I didn’t say it was hard. I said I didn’t know how.”

“Now you do.”

“Bitch, bitch, bitch.”

“Who you calling a bitch?” Marshall demanded and Tay rolled his eyes as he got back in the car.

*~*~*~*~*~

Their session was shorter by the time they got set up at what Marshall now called ‘their table’ but they’d fallen into a rhythm by now: Tay would explain how to do the problems and talk Marshall through a few, correcting as they went along. Then Marshall would do some until he got stuck and ask Tay a question, and they riffed off each other like that. The second Friday they tutored, Tay had shown up with different colored highlighters and a stack of index cards which filled Marshall with dread. Tay explained that if they color coded some stuff it might make it easier for Marshall to remember. The different colors really helped Marshall with the positive and negative integers once he got his head around the fact that you could subtract a bigger number from a smaller number.

It got to where he kind of enjoyed the first time they went over something new because Tay would start explaining looking right at Marshall, sky blue eyes intent and serious, and Marshall felt warm and good under that gaze; like he was a plant that finally got some sun. He liked the way Tay explained stuff, too. Lang was good, no doubt about it, but the class was only fifty minutes long and less than that after they did roll call and turned in homework. Lang explained the new stuff while they took notes did some problems and then took questions. Marshall listened to what the other kids asked but he never participated. Sometimes someone asked a question he had and he still didn’t get it, so he wrote it down for Tay, later.

He could finally totally listen without zoning out on Tay’s face, too.

“Positive integers are all the whole numbers greater than zero: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ...” Tay pointed to all the number to the right of zero on the number line written on the paper between them. “Negative integers are all the opposites of these numbers: -1, -2, -3, -4, -5…” His finger pointed to all the numbers on the left of zero which all had a little minus sign in front of them. “Zero isn’t positive or negative. Every positive number has a negative number called it’s ‘opposite.’ See? 1, -1.” He pointed to both digits on the line. “3, -3, 5, -5. The exception is when a number is in the middle of two vertical lines like this |-20|. Then it’s called the ‘absolute value’ and that number will always be positive no matter what it looks like. Okay?’”

“Yeah, okay.” Marshall nodded, thinking he had enough trouble with normal numbers and now they were throwing a whole other set of numbers at him.

“When a number is more than zero it’s called a positive number. When it’s less than zero it’s a negative number”

“’Cause it’s got the minus sign,” Marshall pointed out, “So negative’s like take away.” He wasn’t afraid to ask questions while Tay explained any more. Tay said he just ‘processed’ information out loud and a lot of people were like that.

“That’s good.” Tay nodded in encouragement, “Because that’s how these work. It’s like taking the difference of a number. For example, what’s the answer here,” Tay wrote

8+5=

“Thirteen.” Marshall answered. Even if that was the simplest problem in the world, Tay always worked up to the hard stuff with the easiest stuff first.

“Right because these numbers are both positive,” Tay’s finger pointed to the numbers to the right of the number line, “Not negative.”

“With the minus sign.” Marshall supplied and Tay nodded.

“But if the 8 was negative like this:

-8+5=

“Then the answer would the difference of the two and you take the sign of the largest one.”

Marshall looked at him.

“You go backwards, take five away from eight, and then use the sign of the biggest number.”

“Oh.” Marshall said. He wrote -3 next to the equal sign.

“Yes!” Tay raised both arms and Marshall slouched down in the seat, chin in his hand to hide the smile as he watched Tay beam at him.

“Freak.”

“Yes.” Tay agreed after pretending to think about it.

“That’s easy.” Marshall nodded to the problem on the paper.

“Subtracting gets trickier.” Tay said, and he wasn’t kidding. It got easier when they used the different colors of marker but Marshall could tell he needed to have this cold because he could see screwing up bigtime on a test because he forgot to cross out the goddamned negative sign.

They were bent over the fourth problem they’d done together and Marshall wasn’t wasn’t thinking of how good Tay smelled when he bent over to see Marshall’s work, when the fifteen minute announcement came over the loudspeaker.

He waited until they rode down on the elevator standing close to each other before saying, “Got a test next week over the whole unit.”

“We’ll need to review everything, but you know it already.”

“I think so.” Marshall said watching Tay’s earnest face, the way the dimple on his chin got stronger when he was serious. “And tomorrow, we drive.”

“Marshall….”

“Uh-uh, dog. Don’t even start. We doing this tomorrow.”

“Okay.” Tay breathed, the pretty face so worried Marshall wished he could just get him in a headlock and ruffle his hair to joke the worry away, like he did with Proof. He didn’t, though. He got hard just touching Tay’s arm sometimes; forget what might happen if he had Tay that close for longer than a second.

“I know you can do it,” he said instead, repeating what Tay always said every time Marshall got frustrated.

“How do you know?” Tay shot back, using one of Marshall’s own phrases and Marshall smiled.

“’Cause I do.” And he did.

 

TAY

The parking lot of the abandoned Kmart still had a rusting corral for collecting shopping carts, the dingy walls of the empty building decorated with graffiti of all styles and colors.

Tay sat on the cracked upholstery of the Impala on the driver’s side unable to make himself calm down. It did not help that Marshall had to lean over him to adjust the seat and Tay thought he might explode from embarrassment. After an eternity of poking around under Tay’s seat with his arm, Marshall’s face somewhere around Tay’s crotch, the seat jerked backwards throwing Marshall face first onto his lap.

Tay thought his ears were going to burn right off they felt so red. It was not fair that Marshall just gave him that infuriating half-smile of his and slouched back in the seat in insolent hood form, one arm propped on the car door like he was cruising with his homeboys, or whatever they called each other.

Once they got situated so Tay’s feet reached the pedals in the ridiculously ample front seat Marshall said, “That’s the wheel.”

“I know that, wiseass.” Tay snapped and mentally kicked himself. Marshall was helping him. It was ridiculous that Tay didn’t know, at seventeen, how to drive. He didn’t even know how he got to be in this position. Probably the same way he got to be sitting in a parking lot in one of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in Detroit being given a driving lesson while hookers watched them from down the street.

Marshall didn’t even snark back. “A’aight. What else do you know?”

“That’s the gas and that’s the break. This is the steering column. That’s the rear view mirror and somewhere around here are the lights.” Tay rattled off indicating each thing remembering the diagram in his driver’s manual. He’d memorized the blasted thing. He’d just never put any of it into practice.

Marshall nodded his head thoughtfully. “Put it in drive.”

Tay moved the gear shift form the ‘P’ to the ‘D’ and the car lurched forward so Tay almost whacked his head on windshield.

“Whoah!” Marshall exclaimed, laughing as he held onto the dashboard, “Put your foot on the break, put it in drive, and then press the gas.”

“Sorry.” Tay muttered, feeling his face flush again and he might as well stay this color at this rate. “I knew that.”

“Uh-huh” Marshall watched his chest still giving little shakes from controlling the giggles.

“You are laughing at me!”

“I ain’t!”

“You are so!”

“I feel ridiculous.” But the corners of his mouth had started to twitch at the whole bizarreness of the situation and at the bright happiness in Marshall navy blue eyes.

“Naw, you’re cute,” Tay glanced at him as soon as the words registered. A startled flash of realization sparked in Marshall face and he flushed pink.

“I mean, it’s… cute. That you don’t…Just put the fucking car in drive, Taylor.”

Tay blinked at him once but obeyed and coaxed the lumbering automobile forward.

He drove at a snails pace for half the circumference of the parking lot before Marshall said, “Give it a little gas. That’s why were here; cause you can’t hurt nothing. Figure out what it can do.”

Tay nodded at the gruff instructions; stared in front of him on the barren parking lot blacktop. He pressed his foot down by increments and the speedometer crept up to thirty-five.

“What you gotta remember is this an old car, and it’s big. Most cars ain’t gonna be this big so you’re not gonna need to corner that big. When you turn don’t put your arms over each other like that or they’ll take points off on the test.”

“So I just…?”

“Slide ‘em over then let the wheel slide back into place…yeah. Good.”

“Okay.” Tay smiled a little as he felt the car straighten out smoothly as opposed to the stuttering way it had been doing. He drove around and around the parking lot. He turned down the middle and backed up, something he hadn’t thought would be so difficult. For almost an hour he drove following Marshall’s instructions and suggestions. He guessed Ike’s little Camry would be a piece of cake after maneuvering this huge thing.

“See the parking spaces? Try to park in one.”

Tay surveyed the yellow slanted lines painted on the ground and chose a spot. Gritting his teeth he tried to maneuver the enormous vehicle between the two but he didn’t think he did a great job.

“I screwed that up.”

“We’ll practice. Open the door and see how over you are.” Tay clicked open the handle and had to push the cumbersome door out with both hands to lean over and look for the yellow stripe. It was almost directly under both left wheels.

“I went too far this way.” Tay observed heaving the door shut and turning to Marshall who was slouched down once again, loose clothes in studied disarray and arm propped on the door. His head tilted to rest on the palm of one hand.

“Why didn’t your old man ever teach you to drive?”

“I don’t know.” Tay leaned back, too, willing the walls not to come up even if they hovered there, anxious, fretting. He hadn’t told his secrets to anyone for a long time. Not since Johnny had conversations with anyone felt this intimate, this open. “My schedule was always so busy and there’s just not time…,” the words ran out of steam and he looked in Marshall’s eyes, deep, sharp blue, fixated on him like they always were. Honest and intent.

“I never asked him. I didn’t want him to.”

“Ike can drive. He never…”

“I didn’t want him to, either.” Tay interrupted unable to keep his eyes from lowering then, but bringing them back up.

“So you don’t need no one’s help, right?” Marshall surmised, voice low and almost languid. It was the most relaxed Tay had ever heard him here in this car by themselves once more with this presence between them growing stronger, getting bigger, gaining substance.

“I accepted yours.” Tay pointed out, leaning back, too, arm on the top of the seat, head wedged back into the space between the seat and the frame of the door.

“So we’re even now.”

“That’s not why.” Tay picked at the ancient seam of the car seat, faded from its original light blue to a washed out white-gray, watching his fingers worry the brittle material.

“Why?” he asked after so long Tay thought he wouldn’t say anything else. The single word seemed to echo in the closed space, their space.

“Because I wanted to.” He made himself hold the brilliant blue gaze and when Marshall’s leg moved slowly across the seat to bridge the space between them Tay hooked his ankle over Marshall’s, locking their legs together like one of Josh’s Legos.

What are we doing? Tay thought, holding the blue, blue stare. Does he know? Do I? He swam in the heady, thick air that always seemed to happen when they were alone together. It was getting stronger, deeper each time, so Tay felt like he was breathing it in. It called to him for contact practically by his own name, this electric current that connected them. He wondered how long he could do this, fight it; if either of them would ever get brave enough to risk it: electrocution or power?

“Who taught you to drive?” Tay asked because someone had to say something to bank the tension in the air before it exploded all over his skin in hazy lines of heat.

“My Uncle Ronnie.” Marshall said, starting to rub Tay’s ankle with his foot. It felt nice. “He died about a year ago.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.” Tay stopped his torture of the seat seam and reached across to rub at Marshall’s shoulder. A shadow had crossed over Marshall's features so the smile was dimmer, the eyes duller. He wouldn’t look at Tay.

“You sound like you miss him a lot.” Tay observed and Marshall blinked looking almost surprised.

“I do, a whole lot. Next to Proof he was it. I used to talk to him all the time. He taught me good, though.”

“Yeah, I know.” Tay smiled. Their stares held again, or still, and Tay could feel things shifting his chest, feel them. The tension unfolded again like mist rolling over water. “We should go.” He said faintly because he didn’t want to. He felt so content just sitting in this old car, connected at ankle and hand, wafting in the amazing energy they had.

“I know. We will.”

But they didn’t, not right away. For a while longer they stayed in the parking lot of the abandoned Kmart watching each other, and the hookers and the homeless people and buses that made up the tapestry of that stretch of street; talking about whatever and nothing. Hands never left shoulders and ankles never unhooked, and when they did Tay still felt their presence like a brand beneath his clothes.

Chapter Text

And I forget all my sorrow, I forget all my pain
I relinquish my doubts at the sound of your name
I can feel your desire when I walk through that door
I believe in the power that can even the score

I Need You
~Billy Squier

 

TAY

“He called you cute???” Johnny’s voice squeaked in his ear and Tay held the phone receiver away a little, grimacing.

“He didn’t realize what he said ‘til after. I think it just came out.”

“Much like yourself.”

“Oh, ha ha. I don’t know why I tell you anything.”

“Because I am your best friend and the only person that knows your deep, dark secret.” Johnny dropped his voice low in an attempt to sound ominous which failed miserably.

Tay laughed. “Oh, yeah. That’s why.”

“Actually, I’m jealous as hell.” Johnny’s voice lost all bitchiness and sarcasm and got wistful. Tay snorted.

“Why? We haven’t done anything. I’m not sure we’ll ever do anything at this rate.” Except that wasn’t really true. He didn’t know why the talks he and Marshall had and the times he and Marshall touched felt like they had done something. Something more but less than sex.

“It’s kind of romantic.” Johnny sighed and Tay remembered Johnny was the boy that cried every time he saw a John Hughes teen movie and the old Deborah Kerr/Cary Grant film ‘An Affair to Remember’ which Tay had sat through more times than he could count. Beneath Johnny’s sometimes bitchy exterior was someone that just wanted a boyfriend to send him flowers.

“You really think so?”

“Well, yeah,” Johnny agreed, “In a you’re-never-gonna-get-laid-kinda way.”

“Thanks.” Tay sighed, shifting deeper on the pile of laundry he sat on. He was kind of scared Johnny might be right. He’d be convinced if he wasn’t on the other end of all that electricity when he and Marshall got together.

“Maybe if I trip him he’ll fall on you.” Johnny remarked thoughtfully.

“But when would we put on the condom?”

“I’m thinking, I’m thinking. Do I have to think of everything? I don’t know why I’m doing this when I’m sitting over here completely deprived.”

“Matthew likes you.” Tay said.

Matthew, a tall slim skater with a mouthful of metal, blond Justin Timberlake ‘NSYNC curls, and soulful blue eyes had been looking at Johnny with cow eyes for weeks.

“Matthew is a bottom.”

“I don’t think he knows.” Tay hazarded, deciding this was not the time to tell Johnny about the one ill-fated assignation he’d had with the blond curled boy. He usually told Johnny everything but he’d kept that incident to himself.

I know,” Johnny returned sourly.

“And anyway, you aren’t a total…”

“Yes, I am.” Johnny corrected, voice calm. “I like it that way. I’m EMBRACING my big Nelly bottomness! I am OWNING my bottoming!”

“I don’t think that’s a word.” Tay said between laughter even as the flush sprouted on his face. Even after six years of knowing each other Johnny could still throw him sometimes.

“You’re crazy.”

“I’m a crazy bottom.”

“I get the picture.”

“Do you think he’s a top?”

“Marshall?” The flush, which had begun to abate, returned with a vengeance and Tay changed ears, as if to do so would sidetrack Johnny from this subject.

“No, the other jock hockey player you’re mooning over.” No such luck.

“I’m not mooning.”

“Whatever. Do you think he is?”

“I haven’t thought about it.”

“You haven’t thought about it.” Johnny repeated, skepticism evident in every tone.

Tay really hadn’t. Or he’d tried with a lot of diligence not to, anyway. Every time they touched it got more difficult to rein in those thoughts and not let them run amok. If he did, he didn’t know if he’d be satisfied with what they had, with letting whatever grew between them to develop without attacking Marshall and ruining it.

“Why not?” Johnny demanded.

“Because. Why obsess over something you might never have?”

“The great jerk-off potential?”

“Johnny!” Tay shouted, covering his eyes with his hand which did not stop the images now emerging thick and fast: Marshall’s nimble, wonderful hands on Tay, how those calluses might feel over the muscles of Tay’s thighs, what Marshall might look like under all those loose clothes.

“What? Like you don’t ever!”

“Hello? I sleep in a room with two other people and eight of us use two bathrooms. You do the math!”

“Well you’ve got to sometime!” Johnny sounded aghast, as if Tay had just said he’d been deprived of water.

“I do, sometimes. Just. Not a lot. Can we change the subject?” Tay brought his knees up and the large wicker laundry basket he sat on groaned under his weight. He was hard now, insistent and pulsing in the soft cotton of his briefs, the fuzzy surface of his old track pants suddenly sensual and excruciating. Goddammit!

“When did you go all Pollyanna on me? It’s not like I haven’t seen…”

“I’m not going Pollyanna.” Tay pressed the heel of his hand between his legs and shut his eyes at the skitters of pleasure that traveled from the touch.

“It’s not healthy for you to repress yourself that way.”

“I thought you only went blind if you did jerk off.” He pressed harder and bit his lip as sensation unfurled beneath his skin, eager and wanting.

“You lose brain cells if you don’t. All the unreleased energy explodes between your ears and POOF you’ve lost a math concept.”

“You are so full of crap.” Tay breathed, laughing tiredly. His hand moved over the hard knot between his legs; he had only a few minutes before his excitement showed up on his track pants. /Marshall’s lips Marshall’s eyes how would they look during? Did he close them when he came?/ “I have to go.”

“Oh. Okay. Me, too. Degrassi High is coming on.”

“Have fun.”

“Give my love to your not-gay boyf— “

“’Bye.” Tay clicked off and made sure his t-shirt covered the front of his pants. Taking a few breaths he heaved himself off the laundry pile and up from the small alcove between the washing machine and the wall.

Walking quickly and dodging everyone’s inquisitive looks he stalked upstairs to the bathroom /empty thank god/ and shut the door. Sometimes it paid off to be the moody one of the bunch. He had maybe fifteen minutes before someone needed in but he didn’t think he’d need anywhere close to that long.

He could strangle Johnny and all his talk about topping and bottoming and jerking off....

Leaning against the door because it was the only fool-proof way to catch anyone from busting in before they caught sight of him, Tay spread his legs and thrust his hand in his waistband, muffling a groan when his fist encircled the hot, sensitive skin. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d done this; a week ago, maybe two, a hurried affair after Zac had finally gone to sleep, stifling his groans in to his pillow while he touched himself. Not like Zac who didn’t even try to be quiet, waking Tay up with his soft gasps and last whimper that always left Tay annoyed, awake, and turned on.

/Marshall’s lips on his. Could he taste how chapped they were? Could he feel how chapped everywhere, on his skin, on his cock if Marshall sucked him…/

“Yes...” Tay gritted, jacking himself light and fast, his hand becoming more and more wet from the moisture at the tip. He threw his head back against the door, bracing against it as his movements got faster, harder, one hand slipping under his t-shirt, scraping his blunt nails against the vulnerable flesh of his stomach, up higher to glance off the stiff peaks of his nipples and Tay spasmed into his hand.

/Marshall’s fingers with their jagged nails burying in his hair, scratching trails in Tay’s back as Tay tasted him, as Tay felt, made, watched him explode/

Tay hung there quivering, frantic and taut, track pants stretched tight around his thighs, t-shirt pushed up under his armpits and his fingers pulling at his nipples. He watched his hand move on his reddened cock, pretended it was someone else’s, Marshall’s, on him.

Turning his face against the onslaught of sensation Tay caught sight of himself in the bathroom mirror. Hair mussed, eyes glazed with sex and mouth half open. Two hectic spots of color bloomed on both cheeks and sweat sheened his neck. /That’s what he’ll see when you come/

He fell off the precipice with a gasp and his orgasm sizzled through his senses, quivering, shaking mass of nerve endings, gripping himself as he pulsed warm liquid onto his hand. Sliding down to the floor on strengthless legs, Tay tried to catch his breath and reach for some tissue paper at the same time.

It took him two tries.

Miraculously no one had knocked on the door.

Tay pulled up his track pants after cleaning up and locked his arms around his legs, still sitting on the cold tile.

He’d discovered after breaking up with Johnny that jerking off when he had no one felt kind of lonely. It made him want things and think of doing things that weren’t a good idea, like making out with Johnny at their last movie night sleepover. Johnny was weird for a week. It was a dumb thing because then things just got to the point that he had to do something or go insane, and it snuck up on him about this fast. He’d been doing really well.

Stupid Johnny.

Stupid Marshall and his soft touches and his meaningful looks. Which Tay suspected he himself might have started, so….

A loud knock on the door made him jump, “Tay?” Avery called. “I need to go!”

“Okay, okay.” Tay muttered, getting to his feet and flushing the commode for effect. As he washed his hands he caught sight of himself in the mirror and stared for a minute at the boy staring back. He looked normal, no flush, no sweat. “What am I doing?” Tay whispered to his reflection.

“TAY!”

“I’m going!” He shut off the water. He ignored his sister’s annoyed glare.

He did homework the rest of the night and didn’t think of Marshall at all.

 

MARSHALL

“Okay.”

“A’aight.”

They stood outside the rink in the chill of the Friday morning, Tay next to his bicycle and Marshall in front of him, close enough so the puffs of their breath floated into each other in the dusk.

“I know you can do this, okay? You can.”

Marshall nodded even though the closer the test had gotten the more he had to fight the stupid voice in his head that said, no, he couldn’t. That said he was gonna go in there, sit at the desk and every formula, rule, and trick Tay had gone over with him would go out the window, blank, just like that. And he knew the shit! Knew it cold, but he’d never cared this damn much about how he did on a test. He hadn’t cared this much about not letting someone down in a long time, and even then, it wasn’t the same thing.

“You’ll be okay.” Tay said looking right in his eyes and making Marshall’s breath kind of go fast, his palms kind of sweat. Last couple of day he thought Tay had been acting kinda strange, not looking at him so much, not touching him as much. Marshall thought it might be his imagination because Tay looked at him now, sky blue eyes dark in the shadows of the yellow street light, hands gripping Marshall’s wrists on the cuffs of his hoodie. For the millionth time Marshall could not believe he was here like this, looking at the most beautiful face he’d ever seen, having it look at him like that. “Remember do the…”

“Easy ones first. Get those out of the way and then worry about the hard ones.” Marshall finished the same phrase Tay said every time Marshall got frustrated that he couldn’t get each and every answer perfect.

“Right. Don’t second guess yourself unless you are absolutely sure; a person’s first answer is usually the right one, and double check all the addition and subtraction just to be safe.”

“Gotcha. I know.”

“Right. Yeah. I’m just pushing too hard.” Tay shook his head but Marshall reached for the fuzzy fabric of Tay’s scarf, dark green with black tassels today and smoothed it between his thumb and forefinger, up and down.

“Naw, you ain’t.”

“You’ll be fine. I’ll see you this afternoon.”

“Yeah.” Marshall nodded taking a breath and drowning in those pretty eyes some more. “Yeah.” He repeated and reached out to ruffle Tay’s hair, the closest excuse he had to touching anywhere near Tay’s face. Somewhere along the way, though, his hand got a mind of its own and the ruffle became a slow groove, pushing Tay’s hair back from his face in a deliberate sweep so the cool, soft strands went up between Marshall’s fingers and rustled against his palm. The lids of Tay’s eyes closed a little then flew open, as if he realized what he’d done. Marshall flicked the ends of Tay’s hair against his chin a little and Tay smirked, smoothing his hand over messy strands but Marshall could see the faint pink blush and he liked it.

He watched Tay pedal away into the dark until the slim blond kid on the bike with the blond hair flowing in the breeze and the tails of scarf flying behind him turned the corner. Then he was left with all his nervousness, Math shit stuffed in his head, and the way Tay’s hair felt against the skin of his palm.

*~*~*~*~*~*

“Got that test today, right?” Proof said at the lockers and Marshall nodded, shuffling the note cards he’d taken to carting in his pocket. He’d been looking at them all morning even though he could see what each one said in his mind like it was on a blackboard. “You know the shit? You been studying enough. If I gotta barely see you your ass better pass this fuckin’ class.”

“I know it.” Marshall said, checking to make sure he had two sharpened pencils in his backpack and not even caring if he looked like a goddamn geek.

“You ace this, dog, and we are getting down tonight! I’m at the Shelter and all your drinks on me, you feeling that?”

“Word.” Marshall smiled at Proof’s ink dark eyes and they knocked knuckles to seal the deal.

He really hadn’t seen as much of Proof and the guys as he had before. Marshall hadn’t even realized how much time they spent just farting around until he’d had to make time to study. A few times he’d had to cut out of hanging out at Proof’s house, or not show up at the club he’d seen the looks on Von’s and Rufus’ faces and knew they noticed how many times he’d done that. Proof just shook it off, though. “Yo, you just trying to get on up outta here. Ain’t nobody gonna say nothin’ about that.”

“Ah, shit.” Proof suddenly muttered, his eyes somewhere over Marshall’s shoulder and before Marshall could turn around the strong scent of Jeanine’s perfume hit him. Slamming his locker and sliding his backpack up his arm he turned and met her gray eyes with as little expression as he could.

She wore tight jeans and another low cut shirt that tied in the front with a ribbon and he felt absolutely nothing when he looked at her.

“What?” he demanded and she dug her hands and their red nail in the pockets of her hoodie, her face pinched and unhappy. It didn’t go with the silver eye shadow and the bright red lipstick.

“I gotta talk to you. Alone.” She glared at Proof who threw an arm around Marshall’s shoulder and flipped her off.

“Go to hell, DeShaun, no one’s talking to you.”

“Fuck you, bitch….” Proof leaned over, spitting the word in her face and Jeanine’s long nails flashed at him, missing his cheek by inches when Marshall stepped in front of him. The tips of her fingers left rails on his front of his hoodie and burned his skin even through three layers of fabric.

“The hell’s wrong with you?” He demanded shielding Proof’s tense, angry body with his because he’d seen that look on Proof’s face before and he was gonna pop Jeanine one, school or no school, girl or not. People had started to stare, they were about five minutes from detention if the teacher monitoring the hall caught wind of this shit, and he could NOT get in trouble right now! Fuckin’ ‘As The World Turns At Lincoln High’.

“I just wanna talk to you alone for once.” Jeanine hissed, grey eyes staring daggers at Proof and Marshall shook his head at her.

“I told you we ain’t got nothing to say. The fuck you want from me?”

“You got someone else?” Jeanine then demanded, her small face suspicious and angry and Proof cackled some more behind Marshall before hanging on him, one arm over Marshall’s shoulder. He could feel the hard, thin chest of his best friend at his back and the comforting, sweet smell of the product he used to keep his dreads from looking ‘nappy’.

“Yeah, he do! And she’s fine and fresh and she ain’t you!”

Jeanine’s nostrils flared but Marshall just stared at her without saying anything. He could say he didn’t have anyone, but, for some reason, he didn’t. And anyways, it was none of her damn business.

“Who is it?” He looked in her hard gray eyes and thought of Tay’s soft, sky blue ones.

“Leave me the fuck alone, Jeanine.” He said flatly but she walked right into his space like she always did, not caring if you cared, and stood an inch away her face tight with anger and he stared silently down at her.

“You think I can’t find out? Watch me.”

“I’ll be back.” Marshall said over his shoulder and didn’t wait for Proof’s answer before he took Jeanine’s elbow and walked her down the hall to a space between the generator and the side of the stairs. People made out there sometimes and he saw the glances they were getting but that wasn’t his problem.

A crazy fuckin’ ex was his problem.

“The fuck are you doing?” He asked, taking a step back away from her arms when they reached to go around his neck.

“Come on, Marsh. Gimme another chance. I want you back.” She smiled at him in the way that used to mean she wanted to fuck but all he saw was the way she looked five minutes ago, snarling into his face.

“No.”

“Why not?” The pleading look on her face morphed into anger again, fierce and mean, and Marshall couldn’t even imagine this look in Tay’s eyes. “You got someone else? Who? If you think I can’t find the lame bitch you’re wrong.”

He stepped closer and the seductive look that began on her face turned to shock when he gripped her arm and jerked her close. He spoke inches from her face but he knew the look there froze any cute move she might have thought of. “Leave me alone Jeanine. It’s over. It’s been over. Move the fuck on.” Letting her go, he walked off just as the first bell clanged into the air.

“This isn’t over!” She yelled, the waver in her voice making it crack but he didn’t look back.

“Yeah, it is,” he muttered to himself as he crossed paths with Proof on his way back in.

“You a’aight?”

“Yeah.” Marshall rubbed his neck and cracked it, trying to get himself together, trying to find the exact tone of Tay’s soothing voice in his head before he went in the classroom.

“You on, my brother. Kick it.” They hugged before Proof clapped his face in affection, the broad, blinding white of his smile following Marshall down the hall.

“The Shelter, dog! Don’t you leave me hanging!”

Marshall lifted his arm in acknowledgement then broke and ran as the last bell sounded.

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~

He barely remembered the test, taking it, handing it in. He hadn’t realized ‘til later that he’d been trying to get in a zone, like during a game when he was really on. He didn’t think about blocking, he just did. He didn’t think about stealing the puck or faking or scoring; he just did. He’d sat at his desk for a second, erased his mind of Jeanine and nerves and worry and then wrote his name on the paper and that had been it. When he got to something hard he came out of it a little, but not much. He’d been the last one to turn it in but he hadn’t had to hurry to finish.

He also hadn’t counted on Lang having a teacher’s meeting and how long it would take to ‘til Marshall could see what he got. He got to the rink late and Tay had left and then Proof and the guys had been waiting for him after and kidnapped him to the club. He knew better than to call a house with a baby after eleven at night. Next thing he knew it was the next morning, he hadn’t talked to Tay for almost a day and he was jonesin’, couldn’t believe it had been this long since he’d talked to Tay, the folded and refolded piece of test paper still creased in his pocket.

Now that he got here he hung back, though, just watching. He didn’t get to watch Tay skate that much anymore; not since they started hanging out in the mornings. Tay would skate until he got there then stop and go change and they’d go over Marshall’s homework or talk. He missed watching, sometimes.

Tay glided across the ice with his eyes closed, hair flying, blue scarf trailing as he bent at the waist lifting one leg and skated, arms wide, like when people pretended to be an airplane. Then he changed position and bent back at the waist one hand on his chest and the other in a graceful arc over his head.

Tay then picked up speed to do a triple jump then a double, what Tay called a ‘combination,’ before fading out of the routine and scanning the rink, the smooth brows knit in worry. He was looking for him and Marshall smiled, watching the sharp lines of Tay’s profile as he glanced at the door then the locker room.

Walking toward the rink he dropped his backpack on the nearest seat and stepped on the ice, careful to steer clear of the blur of movement as Tay did a spin, arms above his head, body a blur of blond hair, cream colored sweater and black skating pants. The sound of Marshall’s blades on the ice reached him though, and a sharp toe pick cut the rotation, opening his eyes as Marshall skated past him with a small glance.

“Hi.” Tay said, voice surprised because they hadn’t been on the ice together since the day they met.

“’Sup?”

“I missed you yesterday. I mean,” Tay corrected quickly, “ I didn’t see you.” Tay dropped his stare to the floor and Marshall wanted to reach out and lift his chin to see what the weather was like in the sky blue.

“Yeah, sorry, yo. I stayed after to get my test and then my boys picked me up. Stayed longer than I thought I would.”

“Oh, that’s okay.” They skated lazy circles around each other as Marshall clutched the paper in his hoodie’s pocket and tried not to smile.

“How did you do?”

“On the test?”

“No, on your flying lessons. Yes, on the test!”

“Oh, the test.” Marshall sounded like he just remembered and enjoyed the exasperated expression on Tay’s face. The dimple on his chin got deeper when he got frustrated or angry, and the sky blue turned darker, like that color in art class. Cerulean? Yeah.

“Did you pass?”

“Maybe.”

“You did?” Tay hadn’t even realized he was following Marshall all over the ice as Marshall skated backwards just to watch the rhythm of Tay’s legs and the easy way Tay flowed on the ice, arms swinging at his sides, hair bouncing softly. Marshall shrugged and power skated past him biting his lip to keep from laughing as Tay started to bitch.

“Marshall don’t be an asshole! What did you…?”

H pulled his test out and clapped it to Tay’s stomach as he sped by, tingles sparking over his skin as Tay’s warm hands closed over his to hold the paper.

They slowed and he watched the expressions on Tay’s face, long lashes flicking over the problems, noticing the grade, the slow curve of his lips as that smile began, amazing and beautiful. They had both stopped skating and stood close enough for Marshall to feel the little mist of warmth that always seemed to follow Tay around, as if he had the sun inside.

“You got an eighty-four?”

“I got an eight-four.”

Marshall let the goofy ass grin take over his face and Tay smiled so bright it hurt Marshall’s eyes.

“You got an eighty-four.” Tay repeated the excitement in his voice finally tearing loose the trembling in Marshall’s chest that until this moment, hadn’t really believe he’d pulled this off because it wasn’t real until Tay looked at him like that and sounded like that, joy shining in the blue, blue eyes.

“I. Got. An eighty-four dog!”

They fell into each other at the same time and warmsoftstrongjesussogood Tay’s arms came around Marshall’s neck, the test paper crinkled, his laugher echoed in Marshall’s ear, and the firm body pressed to him, up on him, from shoulder to knee. Marshall hugged him tight, eyes closed, breathing him in.

“Oh, my god that’s amazing! You did it!”

We did it.” Marshall said firmly. Tay let him go, but slow, the arms around his neck like they didn’t want to leave and Marshall didn’t want them to.

“Yeah. We did —OH MY GOD!” Tay shouted as Marshall dipped and hoisted the skinny body over his shoulder, skating in wide circles crowing like an idiot while Tay beat on Marshall’s back with his hands and wiggled and tried to protest as laughter bubbled over the words. The test paper fluttered to the ice and got instantly damp.

“You’re – crazy! Put me—down! Marshall—You’re insane!”

“I. Fucking. Passed!” Marshall tried to do one of Tay’s spins, got dizzy and held on tighter to /firm, warm thighs under his hands soft ass on his shoulder right near his…/ he unloaded Tay on the ice in a quick, clumsy move but Tay landed still laughing, light on his skates and not even a wobble until Marshall grabbed for his arms when the room started spinning.

“Shit!”

They steadied each other like drunks just out of a bar, Tay’s face kinda flushed and hair all messy and Marshall grabbed the steady forearms, hands closing near Tay’s elbows. Balance found them but instead of letting him go Marshall held tighter, glided a little closer, slid the delicate points of Tay’s elbows into his palms. Tay’s hands circled Marshall’s biceps fingers pulling on the material of his hoodie and the air between them suddenly got tight and low and…Marshall saw Tay’s lashes fall slowly to /my mouth/ a place near Marshall’s chin. Marshall tasted the chapped, dry surface of his bottom lip, bit a corner of his mouth and watched Tay’s lips part, the flush come back and something sparked in the sky blue.

/and nothing felt this way before not never, not with Jeanine or any of the girls he’d tapped. Not any of the ones he never had a chance with neither, not like this: pulling like a magnet in his chest and throat and everywhere, goosebumps all on his skin all the time, and he got hard all the time, he got hard just thinking of him and he wanted he wanted what did he want?/

Tay started to pull away, eyes lowered and Marshall blurted, “We gotta celebrate,” maybe to stop Tay from going away or maybe just so he wouldn’t go away like that, like he’d done something wrong, but mostly just to say something into the thick silence and loosen it up. Tay looked up in interest and it was okay again, Marshall could breathe again. He wasn’t gonna do something stupid; he wasn’t gonna stay staring at Tay open-mouthed like a goddamn fool.

“Celebrate?” Tay repeated, their arms slipping off each other without tension, just because they’d started skating around the rink again, easy and slow, and Marshall had to pick up his smudged test from the floor to put in his pocket again.

“Yeah, dog! We can do something tomorrow. I ain’t gonna flunk if we don’t study one Saturday, right?”

“No…” Tay admitted lifting an arm and doing a little jump. Marshall watched, fascinated at how Tay could just lift into the air like he weighed nothing and do that spin thing and land on one thin steel blade. Because he did weigh something. He still wasn’t really heavy but Marshall found out when he picked Tay up that Tay had some muscle to him, lean and strong.

“A’aight! I’ll pick you up from here and we can go.”

“With your friends?”

He looked over at the way Tay’s voice hesitated. Tay had done another jump, singles Marshall remembered, and skated slow now, eyes on the ice.

“You wanna meet my friends?”

“No,” Tay said quickly then looked worried as Marshall gave him a sharp glance. He enjoyed it when Tay got all flustered and shit ‘cause most of the time Tay tried to look like nothing got to him.

“I mean, not ‘No,’ but…they don’t… I don’t… know them.” He finished, voice getting lower with each word. Marshall stayed quiet to see what else he’d say. “I guess I could….”

“Naw,” Marshall smiled, running his hand over Tay’s hair as he skated by because he had to touch him when he looked like that, all tense and worried. “This our thing. We’ll go.”

“Okay.” All the worry disappeared from the pretty face, “I’m paying.”

“Fuck you are! I got money…”

“You passed the test so it’s MY treat. You can get the next one.”

Marshall wanted to believe that, that he could get the next one, but that stupid voice hadn’t quite bugged out. He’d locked it up and suffocated it and told it to fuck off but it still whispered, still kept at him. What if it was the only good grade he got? He had to make the best of it while he had it.

“I thought WE did it.”

“We did,” Tay agreed, “But you were in there by yourself. You did this on your own.” Marshall’s face got prickly with heat at the unblinking quiet praise in Tay’s eyes because he hadn’t gotten that in a long time, not since Ronnie. “Okay?”

“A’aight.” Marshall gave, mostly because he could only take so much of Tay looking at him with that way. It made his face red and it made his chest tight with something he couldn’t name. He could always change his mind on the day if he had to.

“Cool.” Tay flicked his hair out of his eyes, smiling and Marshall could watch him do that all day even if he hated it when girls did that. Girls didn’t have Tay’s dark gold spill of hair that caught the highlights when it moved. They didn’t have Tay’s smooth jaw and his cute nose and eyelashes that blinked the strands out his eyes.

And he had to get a grip, yo, ‘cause he was sounding some kinda gone….

“So what are we doing to celebrate?” Tay asked as he bent over to untie his skates and Marshall kept his eyes on his own laces because all of a sudden the only place his stare wanted to go was Tay’s ass and what the fuck was he doing???

“I dunno. A movie?”

“Really?” Tay looked up, “I haven’t been to a movie in a long time.”

“Yeah? What’s the last one you saw?” Marshall took out his beat up Jordans from his backpack and shoved his feet in them without tying the laces. They had a zipper, anyways.

Tay scrunched up his brow before he came up with, “Ice Age 2? Yeah, the cartoon. I took my brother and my little sister.”

Ice Age???” Marshall repeated, staring at him, “That was forever ago! You kidding me?” Marshall didn’t go to a lot of movies himself because he didn’t have a way to get a lot of money, but he made the big ones. He and the guys had gone to see The Avengers not too long ago.

“I don’t have time to go, usually. And Zac didn’t want to take them.” Tay shrugged, then, defensively, “It was a good movie!”

“Yo, whatever. We ain't watchin’ no cartoons about talking animals.”

“Fine.” Tay rolled his eyes as they walked to the locker room, but his dimples were showing and Marshall knew he was just playing around. “What are we watching?”

“A grownup movie. Like Alien vs. Predator.”

Tay gave him a look.

“What?”

He watched Tay walk into the locker room laughing.

“That’s a grownup movie, yo!”

Tay threw an amused glance over his shoulder but didn’t answer, still giggling.

“Punk.” Marshall muttered but he was smiling, too. His test made his pocket wet and he didn’t know how he’d feel letting Tay pay tomorrow but that all seemed real unimportant because he felt like he could walk on water or skate forever or fuckin’ fly right now.

He waited for Tay to come out so Marshall could walk him outside, watch him cycle away until he turned the corner, then fly his way home.

Chapter Text

You saw me through the keyhole of a door that I kept locked But I'd decorate the threshold just in case you knocked.

Linger

~Jonatha Brooke

 

 

TAY

He’d asked his mother if he could leave from practice that Saturday because Marshall had passed his test and they were going to a movie in honor of the occasion.

The kitchen felt warm and cozy in the light of the noonday sun and he could hear Joshua and Avery bickering goodnaturedly in the living room while they tried to work together to build a castle out of cubes of sugar for their homework lesson.

“That’s wonderful, sweetheart!” His mother had exclaimed as Tay flushed with pride for both of them, “I think the two of you deserve some celebrating.”

“I’m sorry about being out a lot.” Tay apologized, still guilty every time he came home and found her rushing around doing even more things at once than usual because one of them had been something he usually took care of. “I could fix stuff for dinner the night before, or…”

“It’s fine, honey. I’ll get Zac or Avery to pitch in, it won’t do them any harm at all. You go and have a good time.”

“Are you sure?”

“Absopositively.” She nodded, using one of the words they’d made up as kids when the three of them almost spoke their own language. He hugged her tight, inhaling the comforting mom-smell of her: Herbal Essence Shampoo, faint traces of Chloe, the perfume she sometimes used when she was going to a meeting or to the store, and talcum powder with eau de milk, courtesy of Zoë.

“So are we ever going to meet this mysterious friend?” hisHis mother joked and Tay tried not to blush because that would certainly send up a red flag about the ‘friend’ Tay had been tutoring.

“Yes,” He’d kept his eyes on the cutting board as he rhythmically chopped celery. They were having stew. “He’s just…”

“Shy?”

“Different.” Tay finished, wishing he knew how to describe Marshall that wouldn’t make him sound like Marshall needed Children’s Protective Services or like Tay had a giant-sized crush on him. And he was standing in the kitchen talking with his mom about boys.

He so needed more friends.

“Well, we don’t bite. Joshua’s completely out of that phase.” Her eyes twinkled with amusement and they smiled together.

“I know. He’s kind of a tough kid. Not,” Tay amended hastily, “criminal tough or anything, just.”

“Had a tough go of it so far?”

“Yeah, like that.” Tay nodded in relief. His mom nodded thoughtfully as her strong hands cut potatoes into halves then quarters then eighths to drop in the huge pot on the stove. Even filling the stainless steel vat the stew only lasted a couple of days; three at the most.

“So many children do these days.” His mom sighed. “It’s wonderful that he’s determined to make something of himself. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of that around these days, either.”

“He’s pretty amazing.” Tay smiled then concentrated fiercely on his chopping to ignore the pink that he felt heating his ears.

He heard the faucet rushing over the potatoes before they went in the stew and then his mom’s hand on his waist. He looked apprehensively up into her kind blue eyes, as if she could read how he felt about Marshall, how much the tutoring was as much to be near him as to help him pass his class, but the blue stare, so like his own, just crinkled at him in a smile.

“Bring him over one of these days. Your old mom promises not to embarrass you.”

“You’re not old,” he said automatically, “And it’s not you I’m worried about being embarrassing.” He’d never brought anyone but Johnny home to meet everyone, and that hardly counted since they’d known Johnny from the rink for years. Marshall was different. It felt all meet-the-parents-like and he had to stop thinking that way. “I will, though. Soon.”

“Okay.” She smiled and went back to chopping, carrots this time.

Tay breathed a little easier and thought of tomorrow and how it would go.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“What are you going to wear on your date?” Johnny asked that afternoon while they changed in the locker room

“Jeans and a sweater?” Tay gave him a puzzled glance as he pulled the laces of his skates tight. “It’s not a date. He passed his test and we’re celebrating.”

“Is it just the two of you?”

“Yeah, but…”

“Is one person paying?”

“Only because…”

“Do you want to jump his bones?

“Shut up.”

“Date.” Johnny surmised crisply, “That’s not a date like we’re not queer.”

“Why are you so interested, anyway? I thought you couldn’t stand him.”

“I can’t.” Johnny said matter-of-factly, “But someone has to help you with date wear. Prettiness only goes so far. And someone needs to be the voice of reason if you still think this little outing isn’t a date.”

Tay knit his brows as he tied his other skate and didn’t answer. He couldn’t deny that it felt like a date, like something special. He could make it sound like no big deal all day long but it still felt different inside his head and …other places.

“I have a black sweater that would go with your gray cargo pants that we got that time at that place? You’d look hot in it.” Johnny offered and for a second Tay thought about it. Part of him wanted to dress differently because it felt different. However, he’d also given a lot of thought to how exactly Marshall was rationalizing this to himself: the touches, the time spent together, the deep, locked looks they fell into. Tay didn’t want to push and upset whatever had Marshall opening up to him like that. He didn’t ever want that to stop.

“I don’t know.”

“What are you talking about? You TOTALLY look hot in black.”

“Not that. And thanks.”

“The correct answer is ‘Oh, thank you for the kind compliment but you look much hotter in black than I!’”

He glanced at Johnny who shrugged. “Well, I do. It brings out my skin.”

“You’re so gay.”

“I know.” Johnny preened and they Tay shook his head but couldn’t help smiling.

“Well, let me know. Rivas can drive us home and you can run in and get it.” Johnny called all the people that worked at the enormous house in Rochester Hills by their first names. He had grown up with most of them and Tay sometimes thought Johnny knew them better than his own mom.

“Maybe. I could wear it with jeans.”

“Ooooh! And your Sketchers and your black pea coat!”

“Too much.” Tay demurred.

“Not enough!” Johnny declared as they walked to the rink balancing on their blade covers. “You’ll have to break through the ‘guy’ hang-up or you’ll be having deep meaningful conversations with him when you’re thirty while he watches his two point five kids on the playground.”

“Johnny!” Tay exclaimed, the heat on his cheeks getting hotter, “Where do you get this stuff?”

“OUT Magazine. You should read it sometime.”

“No, thanks. I like my National Geographic.”

“Just for all the naked guys in it.”

“No, it’s NOT for all the naked…” Tay caught Johnny’s laughing eyes and scowled even as Johnny laughed at him.

“Bitch.”

“ You have NO idea.”

Then they were on the ice and Priscilla started them on drills and nothing entered his mind but the sound of his blade on the ice and movement of his body through the air.

*~*~*~*~*
SATURDAY

Tay took a deep breath and ran his fingers through his hair as he stared at himself in the locker room mirror. He wondered, for the fiftieth time, if he looked okay.

He’d opted for Johnny’s black sweater after all and the material clung to him softly stopping just below the waist of his newest jeans. He had worn his Sketchers after all because his trainers just didn’t look right, and now he thought he might have overdone it.

He liked the sweater, though, even if it was tighter than what Tay would have chosen himself; somewhere along the way he’d gone up a size while Johnny stayed the same. Then again, he thought, there’s no way he would have chosen to purchase a two hundred dollar cashmere anything, so that wasn’t saying much. The dark color seemed to bring out his skin and his hair, and the rounded collar dipped just under the hollow between his clavicles. He looked fine. He looked okay.

It was only a goddamn movie and he was primping like a girl, as if Marshall would notice what Tay was wearing. Because real guys didn’t primp.

And if he didn’t get out front Marshall was going to wonder if Tay stood him up.

Pulling on his jacket and his gray scarf he walked out of the locker room and out the door to see the faithful Impala idling by the sidewalk, blowing exhaust into the chilly air.

Unable to stop the smile that overtook his face he walked over to open the door.

 

*~*~*~*~*

Tay couldn’t help feeling like the inside of the crappy gray Impala was kind of like their own world. They had talked here, he’d started to learn to drive in this car, they could relax in here. Tay had grown fond of the huge, boxy sedan that rumbled along faithfully for all that it looked like it might not rumble for much longer.

Now Marshall gave him a half-smile as he settled in the seat, the electric blue eyes wandering a little over Tay’s clothes before drifting to the road again. Tay made himself not run his fingers through his hair again and watched the slope of Marshall’s nose and the perpetually chapped lips. /He looks good/ Tay quashed the impish voice that had lately started hounding his head. It was the same one that kept replaying how Marshall’s shoulders felt that day when Marshall picked him up like he weighed nothing: strong and firm. It was the voice that ultimately talked him into choosing the black sweater instead of his tried-and-true Target cable knits. The little voice was going to get him in trouble.

“So how was practice?” Marshall asked and Tay shrugged.

“Pretty good. The competition’s coming up fast so I’m not thinking about it.”

“Okay.” Marshall answered, sounding bemused.

“It’s just a pretty big deal. I really want to place in the top three.”

“You will.” Marshall said and Tay knew it meant nothing, that it was just politeness, but Marshall looked at him with no doubt at all, and the warmth spread all through him deeper than the car’s ineffectual heater. He only nodded.

“Is that Johnny kid gonna compete, too?”

“Yeah.” Tay nodded, “We usually compete at the same places because we have the same coach.”

“Ain’t that hard? I mean, since you’re friends and shit.”

“No.” Tay answered thoughtfully, then shrugged at Marshall’s doubtful glance. “We’ve been competing against each other forever. Even when we were…um…” His mind reined in the word, those telling words at the last minute and he was left with Marshall’s incisive stare regarding him at a red light. “We’ve always been cool with it.”

CHICKEN the little voice crowed and Tay was seriously going to kick it’s ass when he got home.

“That’s very mature, Taylor.” Marshall said in his fake grown-up voice and Tay looked away with a grin.

“It so isn’t. We’ve just been around each other too long to get all stupid about it.”

“Seriously, that’s the shit. I don’t know how I’d be if I had to play against Proof.”

“You’d handle it.”

“I guess so.”

He stole glances at Marshall at red lights while they talked about skating and school and their families. Marshall wore what he always did: oversized thick hoodie, loose jeans, and the scuffed Jordans. His head was bare, the skull vulnerable under the short dark hair, and Tay wondered how his ears didn’t freeze right off. Marshall didn’t seem to own a heavy coat and the weather was getting sincerely cold. Tay wondered how he could ask him about it without it being taken wrong.

They hadn’t been driving very much at all when Marshall swung into a parking lot on what looked like another dilapidated block. A building with a blue exterior and ‘Phoenix’ in neon over the entrance came into view behind a parking lot choked with cars.

“Ever been here?” Marshall asked, easing the car into a parking space on the outskirts of the lot. Tay shook his head looking out at the kids walking in the cinema, most in packs of four or more and not a lot of white faces.

“We went to the the Novi.” Tay recalled the brand new shiny Metroplex with its parking garage and giant marquees.

“This my hood. Let’s go.” Tay zipped up his jacket for the walk to the entrance and put his skating bag and backpack in the trunk so ‘no one decides to jack the ride.’

As they walked to the theatre side-by-side Tay realized he hadn’t been around this many kids his age in – ever. He had never been around this many kids his age and certainly not this many girls. They seemed to vastly outnumber boys and collected themselves in brightly colored gaggles, laughing and make-upping and calling to each other in loud, raucous voices. He thought a few had given him curious glances but it could just be him. A pungent odor of buttered popcorn, pickles, and various perfumes hung in the air. The din in the place was intense, coupled with the pinging music of an arcade to the right and the concession stand to the left.

“What are we watching?” He had to raise his voice above the racket so Marshall could hear.

“Resident Evil 2!” Marshall answered and Tay blinked. He had only the vaguest notion what that was about and only knew it was some kind of horror film and had the same girl from ‘The Fifth Element,’ It was one of Johnny’s favorite movies because of the clothes.

“Great,” he returned as they took their place in line and Marshall gave him another amused smile.

“It’s my day, right?”

“Right!” Tay nodded resolutely, “Whatever you want!”

A spark came up in the blue of Marshall’s eyes and he shuffled minutely closer as they moved ahead in the crowded line. Inches apart in this noisy, public place Marshall gave him a thoughtful grin, slow curving of his lips that made Tay’s stomach dip and his breath catch, “Whatever I want?”

His eyes wouldn’t let Tay’s go and Tay could only nod before his voice worked again even if all that came out was a breathy, “Yeah.”

“Dope.” Just one syllable, low and private, and why had he never realized Marshall could have porn voice? Tay stared transfixed as the blue eyes that had begun a lazy wandering over his face and, no, he couldn’t be imagining this, not this…

“Help you?” the cashier broke into their connection and Tay turned to her, startled.

“Two for Resident Evil.” Marshall said and Tay slapped a twenty on the counter before Marshall even had his hand in his pocket for his wallet.

“Hah.”

“Fuck.” Marshall muttered, but without rancor and Tay wondered if the eye seduction was an attempt to distract him from paying. He realized he didn’t care.

He was so gone.

“Fine, you get the popcorn.”

“Deal.” Marshall accepted and Tay sighed in good-natured exasperation when he peered at the time on the tickets.

“This is an hour and a half from now.”

“Yeah, let’s go in the arcade.”

Because Tay liked nothing better than to be around a lot of flashing, pinging machines sporting violent, misogynistic video games. “Great!”

“You suck at lying.” Marshall laughed at him and Tay bumped him with a shoulder to get an answering bump back. They staggered into the dark room filled with activity giggling and trying to out-bump each other.

“We don’t gotta be in here.”

“No, no, it’s fine.” Tay insisted over the obnoxious sound of a car race to their left and the cheering of a crowd around an electronic pinball machine to their right. “I live for,” he glanced at the nearest machine, “Lobster Robot.”

“Yeah, right. Come on.”

Tay flat out refused to play a game that ran down hookers for points so they blew up space invaders and played virtual dodge ball and raced each other at a Nascar rally and tried to sell their peanuts before the start of a pretend baseball game. The arcade also had non-electric games like skee ball and ring toss and that’s where they ended up since the crowds weren’t as thick there.

After a particularly satisfying bout of smashing chipmunks on the head as they popped out of holes, which had them laughing like idiots as they tried to bonk the rapidly popping plastic rodents, Marshall tugged him towards a corner with a, “I wanna try something.”

“We should probably go get in line..” Tay protested, still trying to stop giggling.

“It’s in the big theatre. Come on.”

What had Marshall so excited was one of those games with a mechanical claw where the person tried to pick up prizes from a pile and drop them in a chute.

“Are you serious? That is such a ripoff!” Tay couldn’t count the number of time Zac tried to grab something from this kind of machine when they were at the grocery store or a mall only to be out his money and all his patience.

“Naw, man, I’m good at this. I got all of Nate’s presents out of this thing one Christmas.”

Tay digested that for a second while Marshall fed quarters in the machine and began maneuvering the jerky metal claw with intense concentration.

“We’re going to be late.”

“No, we ain’t.” Sighing Tay crossed his arms and looked at Marshall focusing on the contraption like it was space shuttle dashboard. His eyes riveted to the shaking metal claw, his lips slightly parted and his hands, those incredible hands Tay kept having dreams about resting on the game, one to steady his aim and the other holding the handle moving the claw in a loose grasp. Tay had the strongest urge to touch his waist and break his concentration.

“Are you going for something specific?” he asked sardonically.

“Yeah.”

“Okay.” Tay looked at the prizes in the glass enclosure and saw a sea of stuffed animals, some cheap knickknacks like plastic handcuffs and sunglasses, and even cheaper looking fake gold jewelry.

The hovering claw suddenly descended, closing on a small plush toy and Marshall coaxed it gently back up and to the opening of the chute, lip caught in his teeth with focus. Incredibly, the toy slid obligingly down the chute opening and Tay laughed in disbelief.

“Wow!”

“I’m the man!” Marshall rose both arms in triumph before bending to retrieve his prize.

“You are.” Tay leaned over to see and raised both eyebrows when a black and white penguin with an orange beak, orange feet, and a red felt scarf emerged in Marshall hand. That’s what he thought he’d seen.

“That’s lovely.”

“It’s a Tay penguin.” Marshall said, holding up the stuffed animal.

“A what?” Tay squeaked, but he’d heard just fine.

“See? It’s dressed like you and shit.”

Tay stared at the bright red scarf around the penguins little neck and knew he should say some playful insult, something, anything, but his mind had gone to total mush and wasn’t doing the verbal thing right then.

Then Marshall smiled and shoved it in his pocket, tugging on Tay’s sleeve. “Come on, dog, we still gotta get popcorn!”

*~*~*~*

They walked into the dark theatre with a vat of buttered popcorn and drinks for them both; Marshall had a large Mountain Dew, this toxic looking neon yellow soft drink he said he was addicted to and Tay had a Dasani.

Even in the dark Tay could see, with the flashes of light from the previews that the only seats left were way in the front or totally in the back. Marshall indicated Tay follow him with a tilt of his head and headed for the mostly empty row of seats on the very last row. Tay never sat way in the back like this but didn’t mind if this was supposed to be a horror movie. He’d never been too fond of those. Of course, the other reason he never sat way in the back was he thought that’s where the couples sat to make-out. However, there were two couples on the same row, both cuddled into each other, hands held. No one seemed to be trying to find anyone’s tonsils with their tongue. Still, this was obviously the official ‘couples’ row and Tay felt the heat on his face, thankful for the dark of the theatre.

Marshall seemed oblivious to the couple presence, though, and plopped down on an empty seat, already wedging his fountain drink into the drink holder. Tay hesitated for just a second before sitting next to him, acutely aware that the seat divider was lifted and not down so the boundaries of their bodies relaxed against each other. For some reason he hadn’t thought this place would have that feature, but it did. Marshall made no move to pull the divider down to put anything between them. Tay tested the arrangement by wiggling out of his jacket and laying it on his lap but nothing changed and he tried not to think about the way their hips touched all along their side.

Tay had just twisted the top off his bottled water watching the previews for Mr.3000 and The Cookout when he felt Marshall go into what Tay thought of as his ‘homeboy slouch:’ low in the seat, legs splayed and arms propped up on the nearest surface. The nearest surface, though, was the top of Tay’s seat behind his shoulders and Tay glanced sideways as he felt the warm press Marshall’s arm through the thin sweater. Marshall’s profile kept looking ahead, though: ridiculously long lashes and the slope of his nose into that funny point, and pout of his chapped lips.

Marshall reached in for a handful of popcorn and popped some in his mouth, leaving his lips shining as he chewed. Tay looked back at the screen quickly because the last thing he needed was a hard on that wouldn’t go away; not unless he planned on holding his jacket in front of his crotch for the rest of the day.

During the part where the orange Cinemark cat started singing and dancing with a giant box of Goobers and a fountain drink Tay relaxed against Marshall’s arm, leaning his head back on it, and slowly moved his leg flush against Marshall’s. For a second Marshall stilled, like a held breathe, Tay felt it next to him, and Tay’s mind panicked /oh shit oh shit take it back you IDIOT fuck/ then: answering pressure against his knee, his calf, and one sneakered foot hooked around Tay’s ankle, locking them together like in the car. He felt Marshall turn to him but Tay kept his stare on the screen and reached in for a handful of popcorn. Casual, easy.

Which lasted until the first big zombie scene where a figure with a half-eaten face jumped out of the fog and Tay tensed almost tipping over the vat of popcorn.

“Sorry.” Tay mumbled, flushing, as the zombie-thing ran after a lady in a business suit and started snacking on her leg. He glanced at Marshall to see him staring sideways with a half-smile, but at least he didn’t laugh.

Zombie’s kept staging sneak attacks and ripping out people’s throats in a celebration of gore, and there were these truly frightening dogs that made him want to never look a Doberman in the eye again. Then this thing with no eyes started shooting lasers at people and seemed a match for the achingly beautiful super model with zombie strength.

Of course there was the dashing SWAT team member with flashing dark eyes and rugged good looks, which Tay thought, added a lot of depth to the film as a whole. Tay really hoped he didn’t get bit or eaten. He was the best-looking thing onscreen as far as Tay was concerned.

A horde of zombies overtook the helipad and the injured evil scientist and the sounds of flesh tearing made Tay turn his head so fast he sank his nose into Marshall’s shoulder. Glancing up in embarrassment he found Marshall’s face close to his in the shadows, heavy lidded stare and small half-smile on his lips. He felt, or thought he felt, a grazing of fingertips on his back.

“Sorry.” Tay apologized vaguely because Marshall kept staring low before lifting those ridiculous long lashes back up. All of a sudden Tay felt every inch of where their bodies connected, warm and seamless. Marshall’s stare wouldn’t release him and Tay parted his lips to talk but nothing came except some uneven breaths. It was like having an entire conversation with just their eyes, the expression they wore in the shadows of the dark, all these questions and answers flying back and forth and Tay wasn’t even sure what they were. He blinked at the pull in his chest, the one that made it impossible to look away.

“You okay?” Marshall finally whispered and Tay nodded. A wash of light lit up the room as the evil government scientists nuked the zombie city to smithereens and they glanced at the screen. But Tay couldn’t help looking back right away and he found Marshall already staring at him again.

He let his muscles relax into the press of Marshall’s body next to him instead of keeping them tightly in check; head tilted back, legs interlocked. Marshall’s lips curved faintly before they both turned back to the screen. Tay could have stayed in the dark theatre forever.

Chapter Text

Such a muddy line between The things you want
And the things you have to do.

Every Day Is A Winding Road
~Sheryl Crow

TAY

When the lights came up Tay squinted and stretched, the brightness jarring after the intimacy of the darkness they’d sat in. Only they and some movie geek looking boys in the very front row were left and the clean-up crew had already started sweeping up stray popcorn and napkins from the sticky floor. Marshall kept looking at him then away, like he did the times the energy between them got heavy and deep and Tay felt it too, like a shift of something had happened as they sat in the dark.

“That wasn’t so bad, right?” Marshall finally said and Tay shook his head, smiling.

“No, it wasn’t so bad. I get to pick the next one. Do you like foreign movies?” He cracked up at the absolute panic on Marshall’s face, touching his arm for reassurance. “I’m kidding! I’m kidding! I wouldn’t do that to you!”

“Better not.”

“Not right away.” Marshall’s shoulder bumped his and he bumped back and as they stumbled into the crush of people in the lobby, laughing, Tay was able to name the bright upsurge of emotion in his chest as joy and wondered if he’d ever really felt it like that, pure and heady, bubbling out of him, unable to stop.

Part of it was that he was actually out here, with kids, doing what kids did, and he didn’t feel like a freak. He didn’t feel out of place, like he’d wandered in on someone else’s movie script and didn’t know the lines. Walking next to Marshall, talking and joking felt easy as breathing, as skating, as drawing the first time he picked up a pencil. If they got a second look from the mounds of kids milling around the cinemas they didn’t get a third, and Marshall didn’t even seem to notice the first one.

However, neither of them wanted to play more video games and before Tay knew it they were out in the parking lot, back at the car. A spark of disappointment nudged him when he realized this was almost over and it was too soon. He wanted to keep on talking and finding reasons to touch Marshall and give Marshall reasons to touch him.

Except he had no idea how to say this without, well, saying it and they were suddenly in the moving car, a momentary silence settling between them as Marshall negotiated the busy intersection out of the parking lot. Even though all they were doing was sitting Tay felt the space get that heaviness to it that happened when they were alone and risked a glance at Marshall. He collided with Marshall’s eyes, electric blue and speculative, fleeting before the stare returned to the road and Tay’s stomach fluttered helplessly.

He wondered if Johnny was right and it was possible to explode from sexual tension.

“Look,” Marshall said into the stillness, “I don’t wanna take you back yet. You hungry?”

After a bottle of water and at least half a bucket of buttered popcorn? “A little.”

“Dope.” Tay spied the distinctive golden arches of a McDonald’s on their left a second before Marshall turned the wheel into the crowded parking lot.

*~*~*~

The inside of the restaurant sported long lines and a sea of kids spilling out of and into the covered playground while their parents parked themselves on the hard swivel benches amidst a sea of used wrappers and empty fries containers. A tired-looking Black girl with a long weave swept refuse listlessly into a dustpan with an extendable arm, the metallic opening and closing background to the Saturday din.

A lot of older kids were here too, and Tay saw the stares they garnered as he and Marshall stood in line. The space wasn’t like the insanity of the theatre; it was a lot smaller. He wondered if Marshall really didn’t notice or was just playing it off. He decided Marshall really must be oblivious when a large boy in a Piston’s cap gave Tay a pointed once-over and Marshall didn’t even look at him.

“I’m getting this so don’t even start.” Marshall said as absently, eyes on the menu on the wall and Tay decided not to.

In truth he didn’t go to McDonald’s all that often, though everyone else seemed to inhale the stuff. It used to be their place Before He Walked Into the Room. They’d clamor to be taken to trade Happy Meal prizes, steal each other’s fries, and see who could suck up their milkshake fastest without getting a brain freeze. That was before public school and hockey and before he began to watch his diet carefully.

“Where’d you go?” Marshall asked and Tay blinked back, shaking his head a little. Way to go, Tay, he chided himself. Zone out on him. Very smooth.

“Nowhere. I used to come here with Zac and Ike when we were little. Well, not here,” he amended, “The one closer to my house.”

“You talk like you don’t do it no more.”

“We don’t.” Tay shrugged and the cashier’s perky voice saved him from the puzzlement on Marshall’s face.

“Welcome to McDonald’s can I take your order?” She greeted in one whole sentence, the round dark moon of her face smiling brightly.

“Yeah, gimme a number five, super sized, with Mountain Dew, another Quarter Pounder, a chocolate Sunday and an apple pie.”

Tay would have fallen over at the amount of food except he’d seen the amount of damage Zac and Ike could do, and Josh wasn’t far behind. He’d seen his younger brother annihilate an entire large pizza and have dessert afterwards. It was kind of scary to watch.

“I’ll have a Dasani and a Premium Southwest Salad.”

“That’s it?” Marshall said in disbelief, “I got money.”

“We had all that popcorn.” Tay glanced away hoping he wouldn’t have to go into the whole diet schpiel because it made him feel like a girl even if other athletes watched their weight: wrestlers, football players, swimmers. Somehow if you figure skated it made you girly not committed.

But Marshall just shrugged and paid the girl who had already assembled their food, drawn Marshall’s fountain drink, and slapped another brown tray on the counter for the next customer. Tay didn’t think he could ever work someplace like that. He didn’t know how people got the smells out of their hair.

For a second Tay didn’t think they’d find a place to sit because every booth and table had families or groups of kids at it. Finally, though, a mom and three kids vacated a booth near the back amid much shouting and herding and Marshall sprinted over before the new influx of people entering could spy it.

“Nice moves.” Tay teased as the tired-looking lobby girl cleared the table of wrappers and empty drinks and ran a damp cloth quickly over the surface.

“Snooze you lose. It’s always this full on Saturdays.”

“They all are, I think.” Tay kept himself from waving at the lingering scent of ammonia from the girl’s washcloth but he did surreptitiously wipe the surface down with a napkin to dry it before place his plastic container of lettuce and bottle water on the table. He unzipped his jacket and shrugged it off, already kind of warm in the fuzzy cashmere and full restaurant. Marshall seemed comfortable in his hoodie.

Tay excused himself to go to the restroom which had definitely seen better days and sported no soap, little toilet paper, and a mysteriously sticky floor that Tay decided immediately not to think too much about. He guessed no one had quite gotten to it yet with the never-ending crowds. Someone had written ‘311! Peace out!’ in black marker on the mirror.

Tay walked back and met a few curious glances on the way, but nothing hostile or anything. It’s not like there were no white kids, there just weren’t many, and most of them were girls.

By the time he got back Marshall had already begun to eat, sipping at his soda and tearing open many packets of catsup to squirt on the mountain of fries. Tay carefully squeezed out his diet salad dressing and started to mix it in after taking a drink of his water. He glanced up to see Marshall eyeing his food with interest.

“I can’t believe that’s all you’re eating, man.”

Okay, so maybe they weren’t over the food subject. “I just don’t eat a lot. I have to stay at a certain weight for skating.” Tay speared some lettuce with his fork.

“You fuckin’ kidding? You’re all skinny and shit.”

“I’m not skinny.” Tay said with his mouth full, one hand already diving to the hem of the sweater to tug it lower over his waistband. He knit his brows at his cold container of lettuce and scoop of taco beef which looked even smaller next to everything Marshall had ordered. To prove how not-skinny he was he grabbed some of Marshall’s fries and plunked them on the cover of his salad, popping two in his mouth. “It’s just hard to jump in the air and do three rotations then land without looking crappy. I’d like to see you jump…” he looked up ready to make his point and saw Marshall’s electric blue eyes laughing at him as he sipped his drink.

“You’re fucking with me.”

“Yeah.”

“Jerk!” Tay kicked at him under the table and Marshall laughed, trying to dodge his feet without looking then grabbing Tay’s ankle fast between his feet no matter how much Tay struggled to get free. They smiled at each other like doofuses.

“Naw, you ain’t skinny. You look good.” Marshall said then got the same startled look as in the car when he called Tay ‘cute.’ Tay lowered his eyes and ate another fry then looked up again to see the pink on Marshall’s cheeks but the intense blue of his stare not shying away, not dropping.

Oooh, Tay thought, letting himself fall into the ocean depths of that stare, felt his heartbeat trip over itself and his palms sweat right here in the middle of all the noise and pandemonium and that annoying Ronald McDonald song filtering in from the playground. Don’t say anything, don’t, don’t – but he didn’t know how long he couldn’t because this, it was. He wanted to lean across the table and touch his face so badly when Marshall looked like at him like that, with this wonder and almost surprise.

He said the first safe thing he could think of. “Not as good as that girl in the movie. She was really skinny, but I think it looked better on her. She was pretty…” And bring on the babblefest.

Marshall shrugged, still holding his stare; took a languid sip of his drink and Tay could not, upon pain of death, stop from dropping his eyes to Marshall’s pouty, chapped lips closing around the straw. He felt the heat on his face and still couldn’t not look. “She’s a’aight.” Marshall allowed voice offhand, not-impressed. Not at all agreeing, and Tay did look down then, the smile curving the corners of his lips no matter what he did.

“That guy, that special forces guy in the movie; the only one that didn’t die. He looked good.” Marshall commented casually and Tay looked up to see the studied indifference as Marshall ate. Tay stole some more fries and made sure Marshall had met his stare before answering.

“He’s alright.”

They smiled at each other and Tay wondered at how they must look because he could feel this thing between them now, so strong, so really right, somehow, and the words, he didn’t even know what they were, hovered there, wanting to be said.

Tay leaned his elbows on the table, watching his finger trace the imitation wood grain of the veneer. “Marshall…”

“Yeah,” /porn voice/ and Tay took a breath, looked up and saw him leaning close, too, folding his arms and bracing forward. His eyes were so blue, intent and sharp.

Then they widened staring a point past Tay’s right shoulder. Knitting his brows Tay turned to follow Marshall’s surprised gaze when a group of boys invaded the space, large, laughing, shoving boys wearing ghetto gear and starter caps, calling Marshall by name and sliding curious, judging glances Tay’s way. The conclusion in the sea of dark eyes didn’t look good.

“Yo, Marsh!”

“Hey, dog, I thought you was studying!”

“I can get behind this kinda studying!” A huge boy that was squeezing Tay into the corner of the booth opined to be greeted by deafening laughter.

Tay tried to catch Marshall’s eyes, the mix of testosterone and tension so thick in the air it gathered behind Tay’s eyes in a dull pounding.

Then a lanky, dark boy with a fall of dreadlocks slipped next to Marshall and met Tay’s eyes with shrewd ink black eyes. Tay watched, helpless envy burning in his throat, as the boy threw an arm around Marshall’s shoulders, easy and intimate, the ease with which Marshall accepted the gesture stinging.

Tay was being squeezed into a corner by an enormous boy who kept staring at Tay’s chest for no reason, the rest of the boys eyed him with a mixture of curiosity and judgment and Marshall would not meet his eyes at all. The entire magic of their day had evaporated completely, like it had never existed at all, and Tay felt the familiar sinking dread at being studied closely by all these tough-looking friends of Marshall and so obviously found wanting.

“Who’s your friend?” The dreadlocked boy asked, his eyes still fathomless, his arm still slung around Marshall’s shoulders in the international possessive gesture that screamed /MINE/. Their eyes met across the table and Tay stared into the flat, confident dark pools.

And, then, Tay understood.

*~*~*~*~*

“You ain’t a girl.” The slow voice of the heavy boy next to him cut the chatter at the table to silence before they all burst into raucous guffaws of laughter. The flush burned furiously on Tay’s cheeks but Marshall wouldn’t give him anything but nervous, slight glances before his gaze slid away to the table or off to the side.

“Shut up, fool,” Marshall finally said, but the words sounded embarrassed not supportive. “This Taylor. He helps me with Math.”

“Damn! That’s a girl’s name, too.” One of the boy’s exclaimed and Taylor glared at them, wishing he hadn’t worn the sweater or that he wasn’t socially inept, or that they’d gone anywhere but here.

“It is not! Not all the time.” Tay defended, the muscles in his shoulders like rocks under the stupid, stupid sweater. His hands warred with each other on his lap and he made them stop.

“So you’re the tutor.” Proof nodded as if he’d figured something out. “I’m Proof.” As if Tay hadn’t figured that out. “This is Von, Denaun, and the whole lotta booty squashing your ass is Rufus.”

“Fuck you, dog. I’m large and in charge.” The enormous boy boasted and, to make his point, grabbed a fistful of Marshall’s cold fries and nonchalantly chomped on them.

“Well, you sure as shit are large.” Proof agreed, which Tay thought sounded mean, even if Rufus just flipped him off and proceeded to finish off Marshall’s meal without permission.

“You been holding out on us, yo. Weren’t you supposed to be studying?” Proof asked, sipping at Marshall’s Mountain Dew.

“Yeah, dog, what up with that?” Von or Denaun, Tay couldn’t remember which, piped up.

“We were studying.” Marshall mumbled, eyes downcast.

Tay finally felt he had something to contribute, “We’re celebrating because Marshall passed his test.” Marshall’s electric blue eyes met his, such a look of pure panic in them Tay lowered his gaze.

“Is that right? We already celebrated, ain’t that right, Marsh?” Proof kept meeting Tay’s eyes with that dull challenge and Tay tried to meet them but the way Marshall kept acting had thrown him seriously off balance. “Went to The Shelter. Club I DJ at. You been there?”

He knew the answer before he even asked and Tay knew it. “No. I don’t go out much.”

“What do you do?” For the first time Tay realized the other boys were watching the exchange with the back-and-forth concentration of a tennis match.

“I skate.”

“You a hockey player?” VonORDenaun said and the familiar resentment at the disbelief in his voice made Tay clench his jaw.

“Figure skater.” Tay corrected voice level. This he knew; he’d been defending his sport since he began partaking in it. “I figure skate. I met Marshall at the rink.”

“You mean like those cats that skate to music and shit?” Rufus questioned as if Tay had just said he participated in knitting circles or something.

“Yeah. That shit.” He took a sip of his water, catching the raised eyebrows the boys cast each other.

“Well, I been wondering something, you know, just curious. See if you can help me out.”

Tay said nothing, had fleeting glance from Marshall, and met Proof’s eyes head on.

“Whatcha wear under those costumes, huh?”

“Excuse me?”

A cacophony of disgusted sounds drowned out his remark and Marshall squirmed, but only his eyes betrayed how miserable he felt. The rest of his face was a smooth, expressionless mask.

“No, really, now, really. ‘Cause Marsh here, he wear a cup, right?”

“The fuck are you doin’?” Marshall muttered to his friend and Proof shrugged expansively.

“Just learning more about your friend here. That’s a’aight ain’t it?”

Tay narrowed his eyes.

“Is that what you wear, a cup?”

“No.” Tay said flatly.

“You don’t wear nothing?” DenaunORVon exclaimed, scandalized. “That shit gotta be swingin’ in the wind, man.” This brought forth laughter and some more disgusted sounds.

“You all fucked up…”

“It’s called a dance belt.” Tay interrupted Marshall’s embarrassed comment. “It does the same thing a cup does.”

“But it’s different, right?” Proof pressed.

“Yes.” Tay admitted, wishing he knew what the hell Proof was driving at. “The material’s thinner and there’s one section in the back instead of two.”

“So, basically,” Proof surmised, “You wear a thong. That’s fresh.”

“Not exactly.”

But Tay’s words were lost in the wave of laughter and joking from the other three boys and, even if he didn’t want it to, the heat on his cheeks surfaced again.

Then he glanced at Marshall, hating the look of pleading he could feel coming up on his face—and saw him laughing, too, a low, snicker under his ducked head. Tay hadn’t literally felt what people meant when they said, ‘My heart sank,’ but he knew then.

He had to get out of here. Right now.

“I need to go.” Though he’d meant the words to be normal, even, they came out in a whisper so he repeated them too loudly and everyone paused the laugh-fest to look at him. “I can get home on my own.”

Marshall met his eyes for longer than two seconds and for one moment, just one, Tay thought he saw regret and emotion in the electric blue. Thought he would say something, do something, to erase the ugly, defeated lump that had taken up residence in Tay’s chest. “Yeah, a’aight.” But he didn’t.

“I need the keys to the car. My stuff is still in the trunk.”

Marshall reached in the pockets of his loose jeans and Tay snatched the keys mumbling an ‘excuse me’ to Rufus who was already shuffling his considerable bulk sideways on the cramped seat.

Once he was free Tay couldn’t help risking one more glance at Marshall but Marshall’s eyes stayed averted. And Tay fled through the restaurant clutching his jacket.

The brisk cold outside took his breath away so he pulled the jacket on with trembling hands and figured out which key opened the trunk. He took out his backpack and his skating bag and locked the trunk again and it felt as if the cold not only numbed the tips of his fingers and his toes but everything. If he was numb he wouldn’t feel, wouldn’t hurt, wouldn’t cry. Most importantly wouldn’t cry because like hell was he going to do that in front of the people at the table.

Walking back in the noisy restaurant he paused behind the fake greenery of the booth taking a few deep breaths before approaching the table, and then heard the voices under the restaurant chatter.

“I thought he was a girl, dog! No lie!”

“That’s cause you’re a punk.” Marshall’s sullen voice.

“He that way, though, Marsh. I ain’t seen anyone dress like that wasn’t that way.”

“Uh-huh.” It sounded like Rufus’ voice.

“He’s a’aight.” Pitifully, pathetically Tay’s grasped at Marshall’s phrase. “I can’t pay him, you know? I owed him for my grade. It ain’t like I can take him to The Shelter and shit.”

“Shoot. You ain’t kidding!”

“He prolly get hit on!”

“You KNOW he get hit on! A brother be fucked up, think he’s a girl!”

The raucous laughter was back, broad and loud, and Tay saw his vision blur, felt a fist squeeze his chest hard. Viciously he controlled it. By the skin of his teeth he controlled it and won.

Taking the few steps to reach the table the laughter ceased as he approached and he thought Marshall might have blanched when he saw Tay move from behind the plant, but probably not.

Tossing the keys on the table Tay stared at Marshall for a few seconds. The beautiful eyes that had been so open now barely met his. When Marshall turned
his head again Tay walked away. He didn’t say anything.

Things were clear enough without words. They were clear as day.

Luckily, thankfully, the number 17 bus had just pulled up to the bus stop on the corner of the small parking lot and Tay waved it down just as the driver shifted gears. The driver stopped. Tay got on.

The cold of the seat sent a shiver through him, but he concentrated on not feeling, not thinking, not knowing. It felt best.

The bus held several elderly Black women, a mom and two small kids, and a group of teen-agers being loud in the back. Tay ignored them and they ignored him back.

His vision blurred again and would not be stopped, but only two tears escaped before he swiped angrily at them, and regained control. He didn’t even think anyone noticed.

He didn’t cry again, not another drop.

He was pretty proud of that.

Chapter Text

(I try to say) goodbye and I choke
I try to walk away and I stumble
Though I try to hide it, it's clear
My world crumbles when you are not near

~Macy Gray

MARSHALL

“Tay – “

*click*

“Tay –“

*click*

Goddamnit, Tay –“

*click*

Marshall slammed the phone down and gripped the counter to keep from flinging it against the wall.

In front of the television Nate stopped playing airplane with his truck and gave him an owl-eyed look that made Marshall force a smile at him and quit losing his shit in front of the kid. Nate already got squirrelly when his mom and The Dumbfuck started to bitch. It wasn’t Nate’s fault that Marshall had been a fucking asshole.

A stupid fucking coward asshole.

For the hundredth time since yesterday Marshall closed his eyes when the mind movie started, but he could still see. It really was like a movie that played in his head where he watched himself let the guys make fun of Tay; where he could see, over and over, the hurt on Tay’s face, the way he tried to play it off and how it didn’t work so bad. It wasn’t like he blanked out when he took the test; he could see everything. He remembered everything and every minute, from when he saw the guys over Tay’s shoulder to Tay walking away, was like a fuckin’ nightmare happening to someone else. Except it wasn’t.

Because he wasn’t even thinking, man, he wasn’t even seeing anything right then except Tay. How the highlights of his hair looked laying on the black of the sweater, how the blue of his eyes got a little dark when he got serious. How he felt Tay working up to something important, to maybe talk about what was happening when they got together, and Marshall wanted him to. Part of him was kinda scared, yeah, but it was a good scared; the kind that made your stomach hop around and your heart go faster. It reminded him of being at the top of the roller coaster at the amusement park he’d gone to with Ronnie: he knew the drop was gonna be scary as fuck but he knew it was gonna feel so damn good, too.

Then Proof and the guys showed up and everything changed lightening fast. Because he knew what they’d see when they looked at Tay, how Tay would look to them, and suddenly, it’s as if that’s all Marshall could see, too.

Tay’s girl-long hair that fell around his face to almost his shoulders, the way the sweater was fuzzy for Christ’s sakes, the way Tay sat and moved and fucking breathed. But mostly, it was the way Tay looked at everyone as they came up on them laughing and joking around. As if they were from another fucking planet, and that’s how his crew looked at Tay, too.

Except Marshall didn’t think that then, did he? He didn’t think that Tay was probably freaked out, that he wasn’t around peeps from the hood, ever. No, all he saw was the looks on the guy’s faces when they saw who he was with /rich fucking white boy. Rich FAGGY fucking white boy/ and—Marshall froze.

He didn’t unfreeze until Tay walked away and Marshall knew Tay had heard what he'd said. He knew from the hurt look in the sky blue eyes and the really tall way Tay held himself, like he had that time that Marshall first skated up to him when Marshall surprised the fuck out of him.

Marshall ran both hands over his face, but the movie reel didn’t stop. The movie reel had just gotten going and it was gonna finish with or without his permission.

 

“Move.” He’d said only making it a few agonizing minutes from the time the door closed behind Tay’s back.

“You okay?” Von asked.

“Move.”

“Marsh…” Proof said, taking his shoulder in one hand but he hardly felt it.

“Move the fuck out of the way!”

Proof and Denaun knew he wasn’t playing when he sounded like that and they slid out; Marshall took off at a run just in time to see Tay get on the bus and another set of doors close behind him.

He felt as if his heart had just fallen all the way to his shoes as the bus drove away and when a hand touched his back he jumped, breathing hard.

Proof stood there squinting at him in the yellow streetlight, and Jesus fuck, Tay was on a bus and it was dark, he’d let him get on a fucking bus at night….

“Look, I didn’t mean to fuck up your tutoring and shit.”

“I gotta go.” Marshall said through numb lips.

“For real, I don’t know…”

“Yeah, a’aight. I gotta go now.” And he’d run for the car.

*~*~*~

Two hours later he was driving around Tay’s hood like he was casing the joint and expected the cops to show up and question him any minute. He’d driven here instead of trying to tail the bus because he just couldn’t do the stop/start shit in traffic and he knew Tay would have to get a transfer but he wasn’t sure where. After two hours of waiting to see that he got home okay and not seeing him he’d bitten his nails bloody.

Finally, thank fucking god, he saw Tay walking slowly up the sidewalk head bowed and something in his chest just broke because Tay looked so down, so punked out. His hands shook with relief as he leaned over to watch Tay go up the steps and stop, run a hand through his hair and square his shoulders before Tay went in and Marshall had never, not never felt like so much shit in his life.

He’d driven home and glared at his mom until she got off the phone: “Alright! Alright! You don’t own this place, you know!” But Tay had hung up on him four times before he quit trying, and three times today.

He was going crazy.

He’d talked to Proof, and that felt all fucked up too, except he knew that would be a’aight. He wanted to ask him what the fuck that had been about, what the beef was, but he knew. Before, if he’d seen Proof sitting with Tay, he’d have done the same thing, probably.

So they stood next to each other against the jungle gym in the crappy trailer park playground while Nate swung on the swings.

“You ain’t been talking to me for a while, bro.”

“I talk.” Marshall said, hands in his pockets and eyes on Nate as he tried to swing higher and higher. He wasn’t allowed to swing and jump off after he’d tried it and landed on a rock giving him a knot on his head the size of a baseball for weeks.

Also, he couldn’t really look at Proof right then.

“Nuh-uh. You pass by on your way to see Blondie.”

Marshall pressed his lips together and turned to Proof who eyed him in silence.

“He saved my ass in Math. I’d be on the bench if it weren’t for him.”

“I hear you.”

Except Marshall didn’t think Proof really did and right now, just this minute, he didn’t care.

Too bad he hadn’t felt that way in the restaurant.

When he’d acted like a DICK.

“Marshy?” He pulled out of the black funk he was falling into and looked down to see Nate’s upturned face. “Why you sad?”

Sighing he bent down and hoisted Nate up on his hip even if the kid was getting too heavy for it.

“I was a dick to a friend of mine, dog. He’s mad at me.”

“Did you say you’re sorry?” Nate asked as Marshall sat them on the couch and Nate curled up on his lap clutching his toy truck. His socks didn’t match and his face was dirty.

“I’m trying, but it ain’t working.”

“What did you do?” Nate’s sleep voice sounded from under his chin and Marshall rubbed his back, the vulnerable bumps of his spine rising and falling under his fingers.

“I was mean.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.” Marshall whispered. He let Nate’s even breathing lull him a little and tried not to think about how he had maybe screwed this up with Tay for good. Just thinking about not seeing him ever, not being in his same space watching the sky blue eyes fix on him like he mattered made his breath start to speed up in panic.

He had to fix this. He did not accept that there was not way to fix this!

Laying Nate gently on the sofa and tucking a thin blanket around his curled up body he headed for the phone. Again.

“Is Tay there?” he asked the little kid voice that answered.

“TAY!” He held the phone away from his ears and waited, chewing on a cuticle.

After about a minute he heard muffled voices, like when someone held their palm over the receiver.

“Who is it?” the little girl asked importantly.

“This is Marshall.”

More muffled voices.

“He says he’s not here.”

“Avery!” It would have been funny except Marshall’s heart was pounding away and he stood, pacing around, holding the phone in one hand.

Then the line went dead.

The excited spark of hope in his chest died like a doused flame and he slammed the phone down, then looked over to the couch guiltily.

Nate mumbled then turned around, uncovering his back.

It was okay, it was okay, he told himself over and over.

He knew exactly where Tay would be tomorrow /unless he didn’t go/ that punkass voice whispered and he shut it the fuck up. He knew Tay would be skating tomorrow and he’d see him then. It was something.

Marshall got his Math book and sat at the table to do his work on autopilot.

It was something.

He had to stop himself from calling back half a dozen times.

 

*~*~*~*~*~*
The sound of the classical music when he opened the rink door filled him with relief and Marshall walked towards it, hand clutching the strap of his backpack.

He hung back a little just watching Tay skate because, no, he didn’t see that a lot anymore and it wasn’t because he thought he might not have that right anymore. It wasn’t.

Tay’s eyes were closed as he moved through the routine and Marshall watched the tips of his fingers point as he did a spin where he sat balanced on one skate, then lift, do a turn, and lift his leg high as he skated backwards, one hand holding the tip of the skate, the other falling in an arc to the side. He was so amazing to watch Marshall couldn’t believe things had gotten this fucked up this fast, that he’d let them.

As the music faded out Tay ended with one hand on his chest and the other stretched out as if asking for help, face upturned. Marshall wanted to step on the ice and take Tay’s hand as it hung there, half opened and inviting, but then Tay opened his eyes, saw him, and the peaceful, serene expression dropped off his face.

Marshall approached the exit off the rink as Tay skated over and stood there biting at his nails watching as Tay undid the laces of his skates. He wore black skating pants and a long sleeved gray t-shirt with a black dragon design on it, the trails of a bright green scarf swinging in the air as he bent. A fall of blond hair covered his face and Marshall’s hands itched with wanting to touch it, to ruffle it off Tay’s face like he sometimes did, but he knew he didn’t have that right anymore. Not right now.

“Did you do any work?” Tay crossed his arms and talked to the floor and the question threw Marshall for a second because he’d been so busy trying to catch Tay’s eyes.

“Yeah, yeah, it’s, hold up.” Marshall had to dig in his backpack for the handful of geometry problems he got through last night before giving up. He kept getting the right answers and that never happened so he didn’t trust it, and besides, he kept thinking of Tay and losing his concentration.

He watched Tay’s dark lashes run over the paper and that panic started again in his gut, that feeling that he’d fucked this up and it would never be the same, not never…

Marshall stepped closer recklessly, brushing their arms together and Tay looked up, sky blue eyes surprised and guarded and Marshall could smell clean and Tay. “You hung up on me.”

“No, I didn’t.” Tay moved back and Marshall stepped forward, wondering if he’d just lose it and dive into Tay’s neck like a vampire.

“Look, yo, I’m sorry.”

“For what?” Tay looked down at the paper, not looking at him, but not moving away.

“Don’t hand me that. We gotta talk.”

“About what?”

“A’aight, fine. We still studying?” he demanded, and where did he get off sounding angry? What the fuck was wrong with him???

Tay looked up and Marshall knew that look. He’d seen it the first day Tay talked to him on the ice: cold, calm nothing. “I don’t break my promises. I’ve worked just as hard as you have. These are right.”

“What?” Marshall took the paper shoved at him and crumpled it one hand as Tay started for the locker room.

“You sure?”

“Yes.”

“Don’t fuckin’ walk away from me!” He blocked Tay’s path, in his space, close enough to feel the warm heat that always seemed to come off Tay’s skin, even through clothes.
He got Tay’s stare, held it fiercely, gripped the cold sky blue eyes until they started to thaw a little, to melt into sad, confused, hurt that made Mashall’s chest ache. “Tay,” he started softly and Tay stepped back so far it looked like a fucking dance step. They stared at each for a second until Tay hugged himself, turning away.

“I’ll see you at the library on Friday. I’ll meet you there.”

“I’ll pick you up.”

“No.”

“I’ll pick you up.”

“No.” Tay said in a voice Marshall knew he couldn’t change.

“Why the fuck not?” he demanded, and angry again, because, yeah, that was gonna work.

“You need to be careful. You’re friends might see.”

Shame so sudden and deep came up on him; he didn’t even flush; he stopped breathing. It was like a pressure right on his chest and he blinked as Tay walked to the lockers without looking back, and it seemed all he’d seen forever was Tay walking away from him and it sucked. He hated it, he hadn’t seen Tay smile since that moment at McDonald’s and he felt like a fuckin’ plant deprived of the sun.

He couldn’t wait for Tay to come out and watch him walk away again. He could not fuckin’ take that one more time, so he left, ran out of the rink and tried to slam the door except it was one of those springs that didn’t slam, so he ran some more until he found a dumpster between a building and an empty parking lot and pounded viciously. He hit and hit for he didn’t know how long until he couldn’t feel his hands. Marshall stopped, breathing hard, hands numb from the cold and the abuse, and then he turned because he couldn’t stop himself from looking back at the rink.

He saw Tay standing next to his bike and when he looked in Marshall’s direction Marshall ducked behind the dumpster letting the shadows hide him. He watched Tay look around then put his hand in his pocket, a sad look on the beautiful face and he wanted to run across and shake Tay, make him listen, except what the fuck was he gonna say? What could he fuckin’ say to make shit good again?

Tay got on the bike and pushed off, hair flying in the cold breeze and Marshall stayed looking in the direction he left for a long time. His nose started to run from the cold and Marshall wiped at it, the ice of his fingers startling for a second. He hadn’t even realized he’d been shaking.

Chapter Text

And you know
It feels just like being alone
I wish I was at home with you
You're the only thing that's real
I can do anything
Act like a fool or I can sing about you
You're the only thing that's real
~Sister 7

 

MARSHALL

He didn’t go back all week and they were the longest four days of his life. All he did was think about what happened and wish it hadn’t. He barely talked to the guys when they hung out but they were giving him plenty of breathing room. Around Wednesday he couldn’t stand it and tried to corner Tay at the rink but Tay saw him coming and rushed off pulling the skinny Johnny kid with him. Marshall was left standing there watching them walk in the locker room whispering back and forth, dark hair against blond, and jealousy burning in his gut. At least Proof didn’t try to talk to him about it again but he saw the worried, puzzled look in his eye and couldn’t work up any energy to deal with it. He spent most of class time doodling pictures of Tay in his notebook, but sleeping is what got him.

His body woke up at four a.m. no matter what, and he lay there, staring at the dark, his body jittering and hard because usually he’d been dreaming about him. About his face and his hair and his dimples when he smiled. About what Tay’s skin might feel like in his hands. And he could do that here, in the dark. No one saw. No one knew.

If he lost the fight he’d sink his hand beneath the covers and hold himself, shuddering, trying to be quiet in the silent house, especially if The Dumbfuck and his mom were both there. He’d think of Tay skating right at that moment at the rink, how his face looked, how his lips looked, and sometimes his mind would just go on, urged ahead by the feel of his hand and the heat of the blood in his veins. In his head he thought of doingthings to Tay, things like he used to do with Jeanine, only different. Tay’s mouth, Tay’s skin, Tay’s ass in his hands, the clean smell of Tay’s hair and what it would be like to bury his face in it when he came. Came on him, in him, what sounds….

He muffled his moan into the pillow, hand stripping the jerking flesh of his cock as he spilled over, nerves screaming, ears ringing with the intensity.

After he lay there, hand sticky, breath still not caught, eyes shut as he hung on the last images in his head.

He wondered, in the dark, only in his head, if Tay did this, too.

He was gonna fuckin’ die before Friday, he swore.

*~*~*~

He didn’t die before Friday; it just felt like it.

All day long that stupid voice in his head that was having field day since that Saturday wouldn’t shut up. What if Tay wasn’t there? What if Tay just said he’d be there and was never gonna go? What if he was blowing Marshall off this way?

He got to the library an hour early, hurrying over as soon as he changed from practice slowing down as he got to the elevator. One of the guys at the desk nodded at him and Marshall nodded back, controlling the urge to ask him if he’d seen Tay come in. They already knew them here because they came in the same time every Friday and Saturday.
Suddenly he didn’t wasn’t in big damn hurry to go up to the third floor. Suddenly he could wait a damn long time before realizing this was over.

The elevator pinged to a halt Marshall gripped his backpack. Walking slowly in the quiet this place always had he tried to brace himself for Tay not being at their table. Tried to prepare himself for the empty space.

When he saw Tay’s head bent over a book like always he smiled in relief, hope starting up again. One cheek rested on Tay’s left hand and the other held the edge of the page, ready to turn. He didn’t seem to be reading though; his eyes looked over at the table without seeing it.

He slid in the chair, plunking his backpack next to Tay’s. “Yo.”

Tay sat up straighter and glanced at him, pushing the book away.

“I thought you’d bail.” Marshall admitted, watching the pretty profile.

“I said I’d be here.” Tay rearranged some paper and pencils and didn’t look at him. “Your friends don’t come here. I figured it was safe.”

“Come on….”

“Where’s the book?” Marshall pressed his lips together and took out the Algebra book and the few problems he did last night. They were on Geometry and he was actually understanding a lot of it just from Lang’s explanations; maybe because it had pictures. It made more sense to him. This would happen, now, of course, when he needed a reason to spend more time studying with Tay, not less.

“You’re getting these right.” Tay observed, checking his work and Marshall nodded and tried not to grin.

“It’s different than that other shit. I can see what they’re talking about.”

“It’s more visual.” Tay nodded, then, “The circumference is a little off.”

“That circle one is giving me problems. I don’t get that Pi shit.”

“It’s not shit.” He could see a smile trying to curve the edges of Tay’s lips and hope made his heart jump around. “And that’s the diameter, the distance across a circle through the center. The circumference is the distance around a circle. It’s also called the perimeter.”

“Okay.” Marshall mumbled, looking at the little symbol on the page.

“Look,” Tay pulled his algebra book closer, and Marshall tried to play off leaning in, feeling the warmth of him. “The middle of a circle is the point,” Tay used the circle in his book as an example. “The diameter is the distance across and the radius is the distance from the point to the edge.”

“A’aight. I got that.”

“These are just another set of formulas, just like the problems. You just have to plug in a number that has decimal, which is Pi. Pi is equal to 3.14.”

“What all about all those other numbers?” Marshall pointed to all the digits past the ’14.’

“Forget them. They’re just making a point that the symbol ‘Pi’ goes on forever. You’ll usually only use the 3.14.” Marshall wrote that down.

“There are only two formulas you have to remember, and with those you can get the circumference, the radius, and the diameter. d=2(r) is the one for the diameter and C= pi(d) is the one for circumference.”

“What about that radius thing. Shouldn’t there be three formulas?” Marshall asked. It made sense to him.

“Not really because you can solve for ‘r’ if you have ‘d’. The diameter,” Tay ran his finger lengthwise across the circle, “Is always the radius times two. Because the radius is half of the diameter.” He covered half the circled with his hand.

If there were two words in Math Marshall hated they were “solve for” but, still, it was kinda making sense.

“Try these.” Tay wrote out some easy problems because that’s how they always started and Marshall bent over them. He finished them so fast he forgot to try to move his leg closer to Tay. He also realized when he finished the problems that Tay was sitting farther away than he ever had, which still wasn’t that far. Just, usually, they edges of their chairs touched.

Tay took the page and started to check the work.

Marshall casually stretched and lay his hand on the back of Tay’s chair while looking at Tay review the problems.

Tay leaned forward without looking up.

Marshall searched for Tay’s ankle with his toe and Tay moved his feet away.

It was like a goddamn dance and he wasn’t leading.

“Good. All correct.” Tay said without raising his eyes. “Let’s try some harder ones.”

Marshall watched him write and lightly traced down the middle of Tay’s back with his index finger. Tay’s lids shut for a second, pencil pausing and Marshall rubbed at the line of his spine with his thumb. Then Tay curled in on himself to get away from Marshall’s hand, face angry as it hid behind the fall of dark gold hair.

“Fuck this.” Marshall said. He pulled Tay out of the chair by the arm, papers and pencils scattering off the table onto the floor, and grabbed Tay’s jacket with his other hand.

“What are you…where are we going?” Tay struggled as he forced him down the hall but Marshall just held tighter, watching left and right for what he was looking for. “Let go!” Tay whispered loudly.

“No.” Marshall gritted, still dragging him along. Shit, Tay could be strong when he tried! But it was ropy muscle and Marshall had more weight pound per pound. No matter how much Tay tried to twist out of his grip Marshall wasn’t having it.

“Our stuff will get stolen,” Tay kept trying to whisper and not quite making it while jhe tried to pull away but Marshall jerked him forward, scoffing.

“By who? We’re the only lame motherfuckers here on a Friday night, remember?”

Finally he saw the smoking area and pushed the door open with his back pulling them both onto the open area. He sucked in air as the freezing wind hit them.

“Put it on.” He shoved the jacket at Tay, who grabbed it from his hands and stuck his arms in the sleeves, the sky blue eyes full of thunder.

“Now fuckin’ talk to me.”

“Why?” Tay snapped and Marshall stepped into his space, invaded it, backed him up against the railing, both their feet stumbling shuffling on the sea of used cigarettes littering the floor. His heart sped up at how close they were.

“I fucked up, a’aight? I know that! I realize that!”

“No, I fucked up.” Tay shot back, his face hurt and angry and so damn beautiful. The wind blew blond strands into his eyes and Tay shook them away with an impatient jerk of his head. “I thought we could be something, that we were…” he hesitated, brows knit with emotion, “more, but we aren’t and we can’t…”

“Yes, we can!” Marshall contradicted, refusing to hear this, to even entertain this, “It’s just…”

“It’s just what?” Tay demanded, crossing his arms, trying to move back but having no room. “It’s just your friends? It’s just that you treated me like shit in front of them? It’s just that you pretended to hang out with me out of pity? Were you even pretending?”

“I said I was sorry!” Marshall shouted, “Yeah, I was fuckin’ pretending! That ain’t why I hang out with you!”

“Then why do you?”

“Because!” They were shouting into each other’s faces and echoes of the word clung to the chill wind whipping around them. Because I can’t stop thinking of you. Because you’re fuckin’ beautiful. Because I never felt like this about no one. Marshall struggled, drowning in the icy blue and the silence stretched. Tay looked away, his laughter hollow.

“You can’t even say it.”

“I got caught off guard, a’aight? I didn’t know they’d be there and I got…”

“Fine, whatever. If you’re done I kind of have a life.”

“The thing is you don’t, Tay,” Marshall pointed at Tay’s chest to get his finger batted away. “You don’t got a life. You go home, you skate with your best friend that's in love with you, and you go home.” Tay glared at him, face pale with anger.

“He isn’t…!”

“These guys are my fuckin' family!” Marshall interrupted, gripping Tay’s arms, trying to make him understand. They stared at each other and Marshall thought he saw something in those icy blue eyes, emotions fighting for dominance, “I just didn’t know what to say when they saw me sitting there with someone like you."

The minute he saw Tay’s face that he knew he said the wrong thing. Tay pushed his hands away, so much hurt trying to hide in his expression that Marshall could hardly look at it.

“Someone like me?”

“That didn’t sound right.”

“Yes, it did.” Tay pushed past him, almost running and Marshall grabbed him on instinct because he could almost visualize Tay walking off and never seeing him again and that brought up panic so intense he almost felt sick.

“Fuckin’ wait a minute!”

“Let me go.” Tay said in a voice so dead calm terrible Marshall did it out of shock. He’d never heard Tay sound like that. He watched Tay pull his coat tighter around himself like it was a shield, eyes on the floor.

“I already have people who are embarrassed by me. I don’t need it from you, too.”

“I ain’t embarrassed.” Marshall whispered as Tay pulled the door open, but, wasn’t he? If he wasn’t embarrassed why didn’t he tell the crew to fuck off? If he wasn’t embarrassed why didn’t he just cop to being friends?

“Taylor,” Marshall called running after him and reaching the table just as Tay finished stuffing all his books and pencils in his backpack.

“Look, Ann Arbor’s next week so I won’t have time to see you, anyway.” Tay said, hiding behind his hair, fingers zipping up the many pockets on the backpack.

Even if he knew it was coming, even if he was warned, the words made Marshall’s stomach sink because it didn’t just sound like a week. It sounded final. “Okay.” He said around the apprehension in his throat.

Tay nodded then hoisted the backpack on his shoulder. “I’m going home.”

“Not by yourself you ain’t!”

“I’m not your problem.” Tay began walking and Marshall blocked him.

“It’s dark outside and it’s freezing and you’re gonna get jumped. Don’t be fuckin’ nuts Taylor!”

“What do you care?”

“’Cause I care!” He shouted. A library worker poked her head around a bookcase, frowning severely and Tay ducked his head blushing. Marshall just glared at her.

“Can you not yell in here?” Tay whispered glancing at him in irritation.

“I don’t give a fuck.”

“Well, I do.”

He stepped closer so he wouldn’t be tempted to yell some more even if all he wanted to do was yell and hit things and break shit in frustration. “I’ll take you home.”

“Fine.” Tay muttered, shuffling back away from him, fingers worrying the zipper on his jacket.

He didn’t know why he thought that was some kind of triumph. Tay sat as far away from him as possible in the car looking out the window the whole time. He hugged the backpack on his lap and wouldn’t even turn when Marshall ran a red light. Marshall felt cold without them touching like they always did.

When he pulled up to Tay’s house Tay hopped out of the car practically before he’d stopped, not giving Marshall a chance to say anything.

Not that he could think of anything. He didn’t even call after him as Tay ran up the steps, did the pause outside the door before he opened it, and walked in. He just watched, a cold, helpless knot in his chest.

After that he just tried not to feel anything at all.

Chapter Text

Did you only want me for those three days?
Did you only need me for those three days?
Did you love me forever
just for those three days?

For Those Three Days
~Lucinda Williams

TAY

He walked in and tried to duck everyone who looked up to see, walking quickly past the living room towards the stairs. He had no idea what time it was, but everyone except Zac was curled around the television and he saw his mother glance at the clock on the wall. He was a good hour and a half earlier than usual.

“How was your evening, honey?” his mom’s voice called and he swallowed, put everything he had in sounding casual.

“Fine, thanks!”

The door to their room shut behind his back like sanctuary and he let the backpack slide to the floor as he shut his eyes, knocking his head back against the wood.

/ “Someone like you.”/ Tay let the phrase sink in deeper, let the sharp hurt cut into him here, by himself.

What the hell was wrong with him? He thought dejectedly. Johnny had told him, Johnny of all people could see, he knew that when it came down to it Marshall wouldn’t come through. Fucking JOHNNY who read trashy romance novels and had been with less people than Tay and lived in some pink rose-colored Neverland of cashmere sweaters and skating trophies and never worrying about sharing clothes or toys or getting costumes at cost, Johnny had known. Why hadn’t he known if even Johnny had known?

/Oh, you know why/ The Johnny in his head returned in its bitchiest diva voice, and yeah, Tay realized. He knew why. Because of Marshall’s lips and his hands and the intense, electric blue of those eyes that seemed to reach right in you when he looked at you. Because Marshall had opened up to him and let him in and needed him but still had the rough, wrong-side-of-the-tracks, dangerous hood thing going that fascinated (got you hot. Just say it. It got you hot.) Fine. It got him hot. It was dark and forbidding and scary but god, so incredible, and it reached out to Tay, he felt it. It was there every time they were alone, and even when they weren’t, this magnetic thing between them, strong and right….

Tay pushed himself slowly away from the door and walked to the bed, sitting to take off his trainers.

It was a big lie. It counted for nothing if Marshall could act like that in front of his friends, laugh at him like that. It was a huge farce.

/But what if he was just freaked out? What if he just panicked? People do that…/

“To hell with that.” Tay muttered, yanking at his jeans viciously. He wasn’t doing that. He wasn’t being treated like that by anyone. It was hard enough that his own father couldn’t look him in the eye most of the time. Tay didn’t take that from friends. And certainly not people he thought might have been more.

Didn’t that seem really stupid now? Tay smirked as he pulled on an old sweatshirt, soft, worn, and comforting.

His head was starting to hurt from all of it, going over and over, as if doing that would change anything. Glancing over his shoulder at the door Tay then reached down to open the small bottom drawer of his bedside table, removing the small plush toy from behind a bottle of Ibuprofen.

Curling on his side he held the soft black and white penguin and stared at its shiny black eyes.

He remembered when he realized he had it, just last week. It seemed like forever ago.

He’d just hung up on Marshall after Avery talked to him and he’d been glaring at the oblivious little girl skipping away down the hall, when his mom’s voice made him turn.

“Tay, I found this in your jacket.” He’d stared at the Tay penguin held in his mother’s worn hand, images, feelings, and snippets of that day washing over him like tidewater. “Taylor, are you alright? You just got almost pale, honey.”

“I’m okay.” He’d said quickly, reaching out to take the cheap plush toy from her fingers. “It’s mine. I won it.”

“Oh!” his mother smiled, even though her eyes still studied him closely. He had to watch that; she knew him too well. “You should be careful, sweetie. Those don’t hold up too well in our washer and dryer, I don’t think.”

“Right.” Tay agreed through numb lips and escaped as fast as he could to the bathroom where he sat on the commode and held the little penguin under his chin, eyes shut, remembering when, for a few hours, he really thought Marshall cared about him.

Now he mostly took it out at night, just to hold it. Finger the tiny felt scarf and orange feet and wiggle the small black flippers. At night, it wasn’t so bad, taking out the memory of that almost-perfect day. At night it wouldn’t bleach out and lose its color like a faded photo.

But he needed to look at the penguin now. He needed to remember that he hadn’t been crazy to want Marshall because, that day, Marshall had wanted Tay, too. Tay knew it.

He’d named it Sigmund because the whole thing was probably really Freudian in some way or another….

“What’s that?” The penguin suddenly disappeared from his hands as Zac lightly plucked it away and Tay sat up, startled and flustered. He hadn’t even heard Zac walk in.

“It’s mine! Give it back!”

“Did someone give this to you? Want to share something Tay Tay?” Zac made the penguin nod in Tay’s direction, face mischievous with teasing, and Tay grabbed for it only to have his brother hold it away with the ridiculously long reach Zac had gotten just in the last few months. He was like Elasto-Boy; every time Tay looked, he had gotten bigger and stronger.

“I won it,” Tay gritted out, straining to get the toy back while Zac easily deflected him, laughing. “At the arcade. Come on, Zac! It’s mine!” Too late he realized what he should have done was pretend not to care and Zac would have probably lost interest. Now it was too late.

“YOU were at an arcade? No way. When?” Zac twisted away from him, his broad back and elbows fending off Tay’s arms as he turned the penguin over, probably looking for a business tag.

“None of your business. I’m not kidding! Give it back!” He used all his strength to push at Zac’s shoulder, making his brother’s long hair fly as Zac spun around with the momentum. The bedside lamp rattled.

“Whoah! Don’t have a shit fit…!” Tay finally got hold of the penguin and almost pulled it out of Zac’s grasp. His brother pulled back with wicked fast reflexes and they both stumbled apart all of a sudden, staring at each other. Tay held the penguin in one hand and Zac stood there looking at the piece of orange felt in his fist. It had made up the feet. Zac laughed nervously.

“Oh, shi…”

“You’re such an asshole!” Tay pushed as hard as he could, stumbling Zac hard against the nightstand and wall, and the lamp gave up the ghost to fall sideways, an alarm clock and Zac’s copy of ‘Sports Illustrated’ tumbling to the floor. Tay clutched the stupid penguin to his side fighting tears as his shocked younger brother stared open-mouthed at him from his sprawl half on the bed pillows and half on the skewed nightstand. Strands of long, honey hair covered his face. “You never know when to quit!”

“I can fix it! It’s not that bad, Tay, I’m sorry…”

He walked quickly out of the room and down the stairs, pretending he didn’t see his mother’s inquisitive face as he passed. Thank god that a few bumps from the second floor weren’t enough to make his mom go check. If she did that she’d never sit down.

The laundry room was empty. He walked in and wedged himself between the dryer and the wall, stopping the cycle mid stream so he wouldn’t be roasted to death and go deaf. Drawing up his knees he sat the feetless penguin on them and fingered its little flippers. The urge to cry had passed but he just felt stupid now for losing it completely over a dumb stuffed toy.

The little thing wouldn’t sit up without its starched felt feet and kept wobbling like a weeble. For some reason this made him want to cry all over again and Christ he was really going to need some Valium at this point. It was just a stupid toy.

“Tay?”

Tay stilled at the sound of Zac’s voice and shoved the penguin into his lap, hugging his knees. He lay his forehead down and sighed, wishing everyone would just let him wallow in peace.

He felt his brother close by and looked up to see Zac down on one knee, nervously fingering the disembodied orange feet. His normally happy face looked so anxious Tay immediately felt like an ass. Zac’s long blond hair framed the hawk’s brows, knit in worry and he looked like he used to when they were little, before He Walked Into the Room. They both used to look at Ike that way when Ike was mad at them.

“I can fix it. I was just playing around, honest. I wasn’t gonna hurt it.”

“I know. Sorry I went off on you,” Tay mumbled, tucking his hair behind his ear, “It’s just a dumb toy.”

“Can I fix it?”

“It’s okay.” Tay clutched the penguin tight in his lap, not wanting to let it go all of a sudden.

“Do you want the feet?” Zac meekly held out the starched orange feet with their hard glob of glue on the top and, god, it really was just a cheap arcade stuffed animal.

“Sure, now that you crippled it.” Tay took the bedraggled scrap of felt and laid it on his knees. It looked like an addled tulip except tulips weren’t orange. Were they?

Zac giggled then stopped when Tay glanced at him, biting both his lips with such a comical expression Tay giggled back before he could help himself.

“It’s feetless, you jerk.” He gave Zac a nudge with his toe and Zac lost his balance flopping on his butt so they both laughed.

“I can, like, make it some little penguin crutches? Out of toothpicks? Or a little wheelchair!”

“Shut up.” The image of the little stuffed toy on tiny crutches, or sitting in a miniature wheelchair made Tay laugh. It felt kind of good to laugh with his brother. He couldn’t remember the last time he did that.

“I really could just fix it.” Zac said again, brown eyes hopeful. Tay shook his head again then stopped, fingering the soft fabric of the penguin in his lap.

/Let go/ he’d said to Marshall. Marshall hadn’t wanted to.

Tay didn’t want to, either.

“Here.” He handed the penguin with feet to Zac and his brother’s eyes lit up like lamps.

“Okay!” Zac scrambled up, all legs and arms, penguin in hand. Tay smiled in exasperation. Zac had dryer lint on his butt. He crossed his arms and looked down at where Tay huddled in his alcove.

“So you’re gonna sit there all night?”

“Maybe,” Tay said stubbornly, tilting his head against the wall. He liked this space. It was one of the first places he’d ever spoken to Marshall. “Maybe I just want to be alone with my thoughts.”

“Do you use your right hand or your left hand for that?”

“You BITCH!” Tay exclaimed, flushing red and cracking up at the same time. He gave chase as they sped out of the laundry back up the stairs dodging a squealing Avery wet from the shower, laughing as they ran, Zac clutching the penguin in one hand and the feet in another. Josh joined them out of general principal and the three of them landed in a heap on the bedroom floor squashing Zac as he held his arms aloft with cries of:

“Watch the penguin! Watch the penguin!”

“Boys! No running in the house! Don’t make me come up there!” Their mom’s voice floated up the stairs.

As they rolled around the floor playing who can stay on top the longest, someone had gas and everyone started pointing and denying, “GROSS Josh!” “It was Zac!” “The hell you say, stinkypants!” “Tay did it!” “I did NOT! It was you!”

Tay laughed so hard he got stomach cramps. Laying on the hard floor kicking at his brothers while their mother hollered up at them to quit horsing around in the house, Tay almost forgot that he’d felt terrible.

He almost forgot that tomorrow, he’d have to forget that Marshall existed.

*~*~*~*~*

“I think he’s pining.” Johnny whispered as they moved through their drills and Tay glanced over to where Marshall sat slumped over a bench in the kiss and cry area, ignoring the racket all the other hockey players were making. He seemed to be writing something and when he looked up Tay turned away.

“He’s not pining,” Tay sighed . He was really going to be happy when Johnny went back to reading Danielle Steele. At least none of her characters used words like ‘pined’.

“Are you ever going to tell me what happened?”

“No.”

“Fine, be that way.” Johnny huffed, “See if I ever bare my heart to you.”

“I’ll muddle through.” Tay murmured, smirking as he swung his arms, did a double, single, glide.

“Did he freak out? Did you make a pass at him and offend his manhood?”

“Johnny.” Tay hissed because the last thing he needed was to think of Marshall’s manhood while he tried to skate, goddamnit.

“I won’t say I told you so!”

“Oh, please.”

“Okay, well maybe a little. Did I? Tell you so?”

“Drop it.” Tay said though his teeth, so frustrated he could have kissed Priscilla when she motioned for them.

“Gather round kiddies.” Priscilla said as they slid to a stop in front of her at the railing. “I’m going to talk with both your parents tonight but I need you both to listen to me now.”

Tay and Johnny nodded standing next to each other as Priscilla reached over to where a stack of folders and papers lay on a seat.

“We’ve done this before so you both know the drill. This is crunch week so I want no chances taken with anything this week, are we clear? No chances. You don’t go outside without a coat, you don’t play rough with your friends, if you see someone so much as sneeze you run in the other direction, am I clear?”

“Clear.” They both said and neither was kidding. It seemed silly to outsiders but it made all kinds of sense to Tay. The worst thing in the world was to work so hard to get to a point then have it go all to hell because you twisted your ankle rollerblading or got stomach problems because you tried that new Indian restaurant. He’d seen it happen too many times and sometimes the one dumb circumstance derailed entire competitions and seasons.

He worked too hard and his parents spent too much to fuck off like that.

“Now I know I’m tough on you both. You both could have found someone all about the warm fuzzies to coach you and I wouldn’t blame you, but we are a team. I believe completely in both of you and I know. I know.” She repeated meeting both their eyes. “That I won’t be disappointed.”

Johnny was picking at his shirt and blinking, a sign that her words were scary as well as exhilarating. It was also a sign that he still wasn’t totally used to not holding Tay’s hand when they talked to Priscilla this way. They used to do all the time when they were younger, just to have contact, and it continued through the time they were together. It didn’t stop, Tay realized, until after the incident with the hockey players.

/Fuck them/ he thought, sliding closer and threading his fingers through Johnny’s. Johnny squeezed immediately and flashed him a grateful smile as they continued to listen.

“Johnny,” Priscilla consulted her notes, “Everything looks good but I want you to work on the double axle this week. I know you just bring it out for competitions and it’s a pain in the ass but you’ve been avoiding it and, as you know, it’s a required element. This is the first competitions we’ve been to with the new scoring system and we need to use it to our advantage instead of bitching about how much it sucks, like others I could name.”

Johnny nodded, face serious for once.

“Taylor,” Priscilla said next, and fixed him with shrewd hazel eyes, “You want to tell me something?”

Taylor stared at her, frantically trying to figure out what she was referring to and praying she hadn’t figured out he’d been skating an extra two hours each day.

He knew part of the reason he was with Priscilla and not with some other, better known coach, because sometimes there were offers, was that she really worked with Tay’s parents concerning his skating career. Some, well, most coaches preferred parents to have a hands-off approach with their skaters so only the coach made all the decisions: training, competitions, diet, down time, travel. Tay knew his mom and dad firmly believed he needed to balance his skating with the rest of his life and not let it overtake everything more than it already had. Most skaters practiced six hours a day instead of
Tay’s official four. Most spent all day Saturday and part of Sunday at the rink. Tay’s parents weren’t having that.

None of them would approve of Tay adding unsupervised skate time.

“No?” he hazarded, squeezing Johnny’s hand for support.

“Right. Fine. Well, I don’t know what it is, but it’s working. I haven’t seen you show that much aggressiveness in your routines before and it’s exactly what you need. Just because you’re skating to classical music doesn’t mean you need to be a wimp. Keep it up.”

“Thanks.” Tay mumbled, loosening his death grip on Johnny’s hand.

“The final lists of competitors are out and it’s a good group.” Priscilla handed them both a sheet of paper and Tay scanned his copy, ticking off the names he recognized and the ones missing who had turned Senior since last year. Savoin and his huge jumps was listed, as was Matthew, Johnny’s admirer, a French competitor with a well known Russian coach, which was a red flag that this was one of their last competitions before going Senior, and a few people Tay had never heard of.

“We’re all staying at the Hampton Inn along with Frank and his kids,” Priscilla continued and Tay smiled. He liked it when Sasha stayed at the same hotel. They met up and hung out a lot when they did. “Tay, I’m bunking with your mom and the girls.”

Tay nodded, the butterflies starting in his stomach just like they always did when he faced a major competition.

“Now I want you all there this week, okay? Dates, schoolwork, family problems, I don’t care. All of it is on the backburner because each one of these competitions is a step to the Promised Land, babies. And this is one hell of a big step. Capiche?

They nodded and Priscilla nodded, satisfied. “Now skedaddle. The huns are restless.”

Sure enough the hockey players had started leaking on the ice hauling equipment. Tay and Johnny skated across the ice towards the locker room when someone clipped Johnny hard enough to make him stagger.

“EXCUSE you,” Tay saw him snap then skate backwards, chin high, and hung back in case anyone got shitty. With a start he recognized the person playing eye-chicken with Johnny was Marshall, face impassive unless you knew what to look for. Marshall’s eyes blazed blue fire.

“You should watch where you put your stick.” Johnny crooked his pinkie finger, smiling sweetly.

“At least I got a stick.” Marshall skated forward only to have Johnny glide backwards as leisurely as a cloud.

“Tay knows I have a….”

“Let’s go.” Tay hooked Johnny’s elbow and pulled him to the locker room before he got any further. Glancing over his shoulder Tay spotted Marshall looking after them and the depth of hurt in the brilliant blue shocked him. Anyone else would say Marshall looked pissed, but Tay knew the difference.

As soon as they were safely in the locker room he rounded on Johnny who had actually begun to whistle, the little shit. “What the hell was that?”

“What are you bitching at me for?” Johnny shrugged as he unzipped his velour top. “He started it. He totally ran into me on purpose.”

“He’s three times your size!” Tay exclaimed and Johnny rolled his eyes as he sat on the bench to unlace his skates.

“So? He’s not doing anything to me,” Johnny stood in his stocking feet and chucked Tay under the chin with a knowing smile. “Because he knows you’d kill him.”

“You don’t know that!” he shouted after Johnny’s retreating form.

“Yes I do!” Johnny sang out with a wave and Tay sighed then realized some people had been staring.

Great.

Trying not to think of the look in Marshall’s eyes he sat to untie his skates.

*~*~*~*~*

Marshall didn’t show up at the rink in the mornings at all that week and Tay told himself that was good. He didn’t need the distraction and the days were as hectic as they always were before they went out of town for a competition. A lot of planning had to happen before their mom dropped out of sight for any amount of time.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner had to be planned out so their dad or Zac could just make it and go since their dad opened the store at six a.m. and Zac had to be at school by eight. Arrangements with another homeschooling mom had to be made to take care of Zoë while they were gone and to take Josh to practice at three. Their dad picked him up after the store closed. Even if Zac could run the washer and dryer just fine their mom didn’t like to leave without making sure enough undies and clothes were clean ‘just in case’ and she checked all the toiletries to make sure no one would run out of toothpaste in the middle of the week and use that as an excuse not to brush their teeth, or use the last roll of toilet paper without telling anyone. The one time that happened they went through three rolls of paper towels and clogged up the commode.

Tay helped with as much of it as he could between skating and homework and when his mom asked about tutoring that week he casually said they were taking a break for the competition.

“That’s probably for the best, honey.” She smiled distractedly, checking off items from one of the many lists she kept in her pockets. “You can start up afterwards.”

“Yeah.” Tay nodded as he folded a stack of Zoë’s baby shirts.

If he ever got Sigmund back he was considering giving him to Zoë as closure, but he didn’t know yet.

*~*~*~*

They started early on Wednesday, piling their luggage in the back of the explorer while Tay’s father stood there holding a sleepy, bundled up Zoë. Zac yawned, hair still mussed from bed and Tay bet he’d go right back in and back to sleep as soon as the van pulled away. The only one not present was Josh, still asleep and warm in bed. Hugs and kisses were doled out in front of the house and Tay tried to look busy rearranging his luggage while their dad lifted Avery and Jessica to give them a good-bye kiss. “Remember to have fun girls.”

“Yes, daddy!” Jessica smiled, almost jumping with excitement. This was only her third away competition and it still seemed unbearably exciting and grown up. Tay remembered.

“Good luck, son.” His father smiled at him, hands in the pockets of his lumberjack coat and Tay nodded, glancing at the girls to see if they needed anything. Before, everyone would always hug; it’s just what they did. It felt all strange and awkward now as Tay stood across from his dad while the girls argued about who got the front seat to Priscilla’s and what radio station they would listen to. Then, as if he decided to plow ahead his father took step forward, arms outstretched and Tay let the hug happen, kind of patting his dad’s shoulder for a few seconds before they both stepped back.

“Thanks. We’ll call when we get there.” Tay tucked a lock of hair behind his ear, then paused as his dad slipped something in the pocket of Tay’s jacket.

“Just a little something. Buy a burger when you’re there, you know.”

“I’m okay, dad.” Tay said, even though, in truth, he didn’t have much of his own money with him. He and Zac got a small allowance every week because their dad didn’t believe in ‘a man not having any money in his pocket’ in case of an emergency, and Jessica got a token amount, too, but not much. He saved for Christmas and birthdays all year, only buying stuff he really couldn’t live without; a few CDs and some clothes, sometimes. Johnny burned all the CDs he thought Tay might want and they shared clothes too, though after this many years their stuff was so mixed up Tay couldn’t remember who had what first sometimes.

“I know you are. Hang on to it just in case.”

“Okay.” Tay smiled a little.

“Say goodbye to your little sister. You know how she gets when you’re gone.”

That was nothing but the truth. Zoë did not at all appreciate being without their mother and Tay both, and Tay already expected some frazzled phone calls from the house with Zoë yelling bloody murder in the background. Zac called her ‘Exorcist Zoë’ when she pulled one of those, but not in front of their parents.

“Bye-bye, baby.” Tay whispered against Zoë’s white blond head, her hair smelling of baby shampoo, talcum powder, and the warm, toast scent of baby. “Be good for daddy, okay?”

Zoë mumbled, lifting her head in the direction of his voice and he shushed her, rubbing her back.

His mom followed, giving her a kiss before pecking her husband on the cheek. “We’ll call as soon as we get to the hotel.”

“Good deal. Drive careful.”

“Come on, mom!” Jessica said impatiently from the inside of the van and Tay and his mother rolled eyes at each other.

“Kick ass, man.” Zac punched Tay lightly on the shoulder and Tay smiled at him, fidgeting with the tassels of his scarf.

Their gigglefest had been a few days ago and he found himself almost unsure around Zac now. That was the most at ease they’d been in a long time and, while part of him missed that and enjoyed it so much, the other still hung back suspicious and unwilling.

“I will.”

“Check the zipper of your pack when you get settled.”

“Oh…kay.” Tay said, puzzled, but Zac just grinned then yawned hugely, and shivered. He wore a stocking cap over his tangled hair, a spill of dark gold around his shoulders, his jacket, and flannel pajama bottoms with Garfield slippers. He looked like a quirky Nirvana wannabe.

Finally everyone was situated and buckled in and Tay waved as they pulled away on their way to Priscilla where Johnny was also waiting. Johnny’s mom made about two competitions a year depending on her schedule as a successful stockbroker. Tay’s mother always got this pinched look to her face when they talked about Johnny’s mom and Tay knew she didn’t understand how someone could not watch their kid compete, particularly if they only had one. Tay would agree if Johnny was all traumatized by it, but he wasn’t.

Once they got going Tay checked the zipper of his backpack. Reaching in he felt something soft and pulled out Sigmund, feet firmly attached. He laughed softly, checking underneath for the mending job and saw Zac had even managed to find orange thread to match the felt. Sigmund was good as new.

“Oh! How cute!” Avery exclaimed and Tay nodded offering her the toy for her to coo at. “Where did you get it.”?

“I won it from one of the machines at the movies.” Tay said. “It’s my good luck charm.”

Taking the penguin from Avery he held it a little before replacing it in his backpack.

Staring out the window he let the girl’s chatter float over him and concentrated on his routine and how he could end up in the top three, quite a goal when the highest he’d placed at this competition was fifth. He might as well focus now because when Johnny got in the car they ended up talking about music and clothes and gossip and any professional thoughts went out the window. He liked it; it made him relaxed for the competition.

If his hand stayed over the zippered pocket where Sigmund hid no one was to know, anyhow.

Chapter Text

I recognize the way you make me feel
It's hard to think that
You might not be real
I sense it now, the water's getting deep
I try to wash the pain away from me
Away from me
'Cause you're everywhere to me
And when I close my eyes it's you I see
You're everything I know
That makes me believe
I'm not alone

Everywhere
~Michelle Branch

MARSHALL

Marshall squinted at the letter in his hands, the edges already smudged and wrinkled from pulling it in and out of his pocket. He’d walked around with it for a couple of days now because he wasn’t sure if he wanted to actually put in the mail box and take that chance. The last thing he needed was more fuckin’ rejection right now.

The mailman’s funny little white truck that looked like a souped up golf cart rattled into the trailer park bouncing over the crappy paved entrance and Marshall took a deep breath and reached over to open the drawer. They had community mailboxes where everyone had a key to open their own. Before, when they first moved in, everyone had their regular mailbox but people’s social security checks kept getting stolen.

“Who the hell are you writing?” The rasping voice stopped him and Marshall glanced over to see The Dumbfuck come walking over with his hair all sticking up and his shirt open under the crappy jeans jacket. He’d just gotten up and his face had the bloated look of someone with a mother of hangover. Stubble swarmed over his jaw and he talked with a cigarette hanging out the side of his mouth like he was in a cowboy movie, the punk. Thought being able to do that was just the shit and Marshall’s dopey mom agreed with him.

“None a your fucking business.” Marshall muttered reaching over to the mailbox drawer again. The backhanded slap knocked him sideways, bright bloom of pain in his mouth and metallic taste of blood from where his teeth caught the tender flesh.

Marshall caught his balance and stood straight and stared coldly at The Dumbfuck while the punk sucked on the cigarette then spit it on the dirt grinding it with the heel of the shitkicker boots. The side of his mouth felt a little wet in the cold breeze and he thought he might be bleeding.

“Told you not to give me no lip.”

“Fuck you.”

The Dumbfuck swung again but Marshall dodged the same lameass move and hit the arm aside hard when suddenly a punch to the head made his ears ring. Hands yanked him forward by the scruff of his hoodie and he smelled smoke and sour coffee as Dumbfuck snarled in his face.

“I ain’t your momma, you little asshole. You don’t talk to me that way.”

“You got mail?” The calm, rumbling voice made them both look over and Marshall realized they’d been throwing down out in the open, caught the curtains pushed aside and doors cracked open to look because this was fuckin’ entertainment here in the park.

He immediately went still because the last time he’d gotten going with one of his mom’s fuckbuddies where everyone could see someone had called Children’s Protective Services. He’d only been twelve but they took Nathan and he didn’t see him for a month. For a while he thought he’d never see Nathan again. That wasn’t happening again, not ever.

The mailman’s dark eyes watched Dumbfuck and Marshall knew how it looked: grown man pushing around a kid. Idiot was only four years older than Marshall but he was a tall fucker, six something, and what Marshall’s Aunt Betty called ‘rangy.’ The lines on his face made him look old and mean.

“Yeah.” Marshall shook out of Dumbfuck’s grasp and Dumbfuck let him, giving the mailman a shit-eating grin the older black man didn’t return.

“Kids, you know?”

They both ignored him as Marshall turned over the letter and the mailman got out of the little mail car to check the drawers. Marshall took off for school while The Dumbfuck stood there trying to look like he didn’t beat up little kids for fun.

His head still rang a little and the inside of his mouth felt tender, sore. As he walked, Marshall felt along the area with his tongue, wincing at the little stab of pain. All he needed was a Mountain Dew. If he drank enough it numbed the cut pretty quick.

*~*~*~*

Marshall walked in the school with his hood up, trying not to make eye contact as he wove his way to the locker. He didn’t want to look anyone in the face until he saw how bad the hit was. He’d spent one too many times talking to the stupid guidance counselor because he forgot that just because the pain went away or got less it could still look like shit.

“’Sup.” Proof greeted, checking his dreads in his own locker mirror and Marshall grunted as he opened the combination lock.

His eyes found his reflection as soon as the door swung open and he looked at his eyes for a second before tilting his chin to the corner of his mouth.

A red purple bruise showed on the corner and his lips looked swollen there, but not too much. Not enough to ditch. He’d had worse and stayed in class.

He probably knew better than to mouth off to The Dumbfuck but he’d forgotten to steer clear. When he’d been studying with Tay he actually hadn’t been there that much and the Dumbfuck’s shit just rolled off his back because most of the time Marshall’s mind was in one of two places: seeing Tay and waiting to see Tay. He didn’t have that now and everything grated on his nerves like sandpaper, rough and so irritating he wanted to scream. Nothing seemed to chill him out except doing Math, of all the stupid things. As if he kept doing it then things wouldn’t be messed up like they were. Yeah, right.

Proof’s fingers on his jaw surprised him out of his thoughts and then he was caught in Proof’s warm hold, fingertips rough and dry but gentle on his skin. Looking to the side he let Proof lift his head bringing the bruise into the light; heard Proof’s low curse, tight with anger.

Marshall jerked his head away then pulling the hoodie lower around his face and not looking at where Proof stood next to him arms crossed and a dangerous look on his face. Marshall knew that look; he’d seen it since they were kids. Proof’s lips disappeared then lines would show up on each side of his mouth and his eyes got flat and angry. When they’d been in grade school that look meant whoever had made Proof mad was gonna get beat on for sure. Marshall couldn’t do any more about that look now than he could then.

“He do that?” Marshall didn’t have to ask who ‘he’ was.

“I hit myself.”

“You hit yourself.” Proof repeated.

“Yeah, I fuckin’ hit myself.” Marshall said, irritated, throwing him a glance and wondered why Proof didn’t just drop it. They’d had that agreement forever and lately Proof had decided he wasn’t gonna hang with that.

“You wanna cut out?” Proof asked and Marshall thought about it. He didn’t want to go through the day looking like a punching bag but he also had no place to go. The Dumbfuck was at the trailer and too many of Proof’s relatives lived near him to hang out his house. They could take off to the mall or find a park but it was damn cold out. He didn’t even consider Ronnie’s place. Using the house to ditch when Marshall staying in school had been so important to his uncle just felt wrong.

Besides. He’d be behind in Math.

He had turned into a fucking Math geek. For all the good it would do him.

“Naw,” Marshall shook his head with a sigh. “Don’t want to mess up my record more so I can’t play.” Which was true, too.

“I hear you. You wanna hang tonight? Doing a battle at The Shelter.”

“Yeah,” Marshall agreed after a second, “I can do that.”

“For real? Word.” Proof flashed him a wide, white smile and he realized how long it had been since Proof really smiled at him like that. He also realized how careful Proof had been around him since the whole McDonald’s thing and it made him sad and pretty sorry. They’d never handled each other like that, all eggshells and land mines.

But he’d never kept something this big from Proof before; was still keeping it.

“Yeah for real.” Marshall smiled back. The corner of his lip hurt only a little, a steady, faint throb of pain.

“So, uh,” Proof glanced at him as he pulled out the right books for class. “You ain't tutoring no more?”

“Yeah, I am.” Marshall answered and ignored the whispering little voice that pointed out he might never be with Tay that way again. “He’s got a skating competition this week. Ain’t here.”

Proof nodded without looking at him. It’s the closest they had come to talking about that day and it was the closest they were gonna come. The memories of that day still felt raw and open, like the spot inside his lip that he’d bit. Marshall had tried telling himself to just get over it and quit being stupid. That Tay hated him and the deal was over. He couldn’t do it, though. His mind just wouldn’t even compute that.

As of someone or something took pity on him the bell rang and he and Proof knocked knuckles before they went their separate ways.

*~*~*~*~*

He shoulda known that wouldn’t be the end of the shit at the trailer, though.

As he approached the trailer after school, he heard voices yelling from inside and stopped just outside the door. He didn’t even have to press his ear close to hear.

“—you can’t hit him in front of everybody, Dale!!! Someone’s gonna report it and then what am I gonna do?” His mom’s voice had that high, screechy sound she got when she’d started to panic and Marshall closed his eyes, laying his head against the door.

He wanted to talk to Tay so bad it hurt. The feeling just came up in him through his chest, aching and complete so it felt like drowning and he’d sell his fuckin’ soul for one word, one look, one flash of that perfect, perfect smile to erase this ugly screwed up day.
God, he could see Tay in his mind but it wasn’t the same, not even close.

“Quit yer bitchin.’ I hardly touched him and the little shit started it. Fuckin’ nosy assholes around here. Wouldn’t be a problem if you lived somewhere decent.”

“It wouldn’t be a problem if you quit popping him for every little thing!”

“Mouthed off to me. No one talks to me that way, especially not that little fuck. I’m outta here soon as I get my next check.”

Marshall didn’t even have to guess what came next but it still made his skin crawl, made him want to throw up.

“Oh, baby, no, come on.” His mom’s voice changed instantly from high and screechy to low and fake sweet, “That’s not necessary. He probably did set you off…”

Marshall pushed the door open before he had to listen to any more of that nauseating crap and his mom freaked all over again. It was giving Marshall a headache.

“You went to school that way?? What were you thinking??” he felt her plastic dragon lady claws bite into the curve of his jaw as she twisted his head to look at the bruise and Marshall jerked away, scowling. Her nails left lines that prickled on his face.

“What the fuck was I supposed to do? I had class.”

“You ain’t got no class, I’ll vouch for that.” the Dumbfuck said, then cracked his own self up as if that was the funniest shit in the world. Marshall’s hands ached to bitchslap him across his face like he had Marshall that morning, and they weren’t outside now. Only the sudden thought of Nathan, hiding somewhere and probably scared, kept him contained.

“Fuckin’ loser.” But no one could contain his mouth and The Dumbfuck grabbed around his neck with one leather strong nicotine stained hand, the grip so tight that Marshall’s breath started to stutter. His shot his elbow back on instinct and heard the air wheeze out of Dumbfuck’s chest enough for him to get free.

“Little bastard.”

“Stop it! Stop it, Dale!” his mom, the dumb bitch, got in between them and Dumbfuck tried to shove her aside but he still hadn’t caught his breath and he just panted at Marshall, his yellow drunk eyes murderous. Three packs a day would do that do to you.

Marshall felt the adrenalin in the low ceilinged room bank and start to ease down and the relief started his hands shaking. ‘Cause he could see it, how the situation had been getting bad like a loose train going down a rail with no one to stop it, except everything was in slow motion. He’d seen it before, knew the signs and the sick, helpless feeling in his stomach when things started to fall apart in front of him.

“Where’s Nathan?” He asked his mom and she looked at him like he was talking Chinese. “Nathan? Where the hell is he?”

“I…in the back…”

“Fuck.” Marshall headed for the tiny room that Nathan slept in but didn’t see his brother on the bed.

“Nate? Where you at, dawg?” He called softly and listened for crying or the little scared noises his brother sometimes made when he was upset. Not hearing anything he moved to the even tinier laundry area that should have held a washer and drier but they didn’t have one so it was used as another place to clutter up.

“Nathan?” He listened and finally heard a sound from the corner, almost too faint to register.

“That you, man?”

“Marshy?” his brother’s watery voice called out and Marshall lifted an old piece of blue tarp to find Nathan curled up in a ball stuck between a box of old Christmas decorations and a stack of National Enquirers his mom wouldn’t throw away, blue eyes huge and swimming with tears. The kid flew out of the hiding space like he had wings and Marshall caught him in a hug, holding him tight as the little body trembled against him.

“Sssh, it’s okay, I’m here. It’s okay. What happened? Why you hiding?” he asked in his most soothing voice. For a second there was no sound but the continued arguing from the next room and the labored hum of the refrigerator.

“Nate? Did he do something to you?” Marshall pulled Nathan away to look in the tear-stained face. The blue eyes that met his looked scared. “Did mom? Did they hit you?”
He felt the red rage start to simmer in his gut because if either of them lay a hand on Nate Marshall didn’t care who they called or what happened. He was going to fuck them up.

Nathan shook his head, then, “but he did this…” Nate drew his arm back in an exact repeat of the move Dumbfuck used on him this morning, “and he was….yelling and mommy-mommy pushed me away. She s-said go to my room.” The tears started spilling over the long baby lashes and Marshall hugged him tight, giving a breath of relief.

The Dumbfuck had just scared him and Nate never dealt real well when their mom started to lose her shit. It’s as if he could sense that when adults started to freak out it was really bad so he freaked out along with them. Marshall didn’t blame him.

“It’s okay now. It’s okay.” All he could do was repeat that stupid phrase when they both knew different.

“Let’s take you next door, okay? I gotta go to practice.”

“No!” Nathan clung tighter to him and Marshall sighed, already thinking of how the extra time he’d taken meant he was gonna be late already.

“Nate, come on, dawg. You like it next door right? Ms. Stenner got that big TV, remember? You can watch Dog and Chicken.”

“I wanna go with you!”

“You know I can’t do that, a’aight? I gotta practice and I can’t watch you.” Marshall pulled his brother away and flinched at the fresh track of tears that reached his little chin and splashed on the dirty Power Rangers pajama top.

His brother’s hair stuck up in the back as if he’d just gotten up, a streak of something dirtied his right cheek with a stripe of clean down the middle from the tears, and he was barefoot. He wore baggy undies and socks that didn’t match. Fuck, he looked like one of those kids from ‘Feed the Children.’

“I be good, Marshy! I promise!”

“I know, a’aight? But…”

“Please?” A crash from the living room made them both jump and Nate pressed closer as if he was trying to burrow inside the way kangaroo babies did. The trapped whipped puppy look is what did it, the way Nate’s eyes got round and afraid and no kid should look like that no kid. It wasn’t right.

“A’aight, but we gotta hurry ‘cause I’m gonna be late as it is.”

Nathan threw his arms around Marshall’s neck and Marshall patted his back. He got to his feet with Nate’s skinny legs locking around his waist and walked to Nate’s room already thinking of what he needed to take and how maybe he wasn’t gonna make the Shelter after all.

*~*~*~*

His mom and The Dumbfuck had worked themselves up to a real good rhythm by now. They screamed into each others face before the other person even stopped talking and once in a while one of them grabbed something and threw it just for effect. Marshall could not believe they were supposed to be fuckin’ adults.

Holding Nathan in his arms with his backpack and Nate’s Pikachu backpack over one shoulder he stepped into the living room measuring the distance and path to the door. He thought of leaving out the back but this shit could get a whole lot worse if his mom didn’t know where Nate was. He also thought of just holding Nathan’s hand but The Dumbfuck probably wouldn’t come at him with Nate in his arms. Probably.

“Where the fuck are you going?” His mom spat at him, face ugly with anger and strands of blond hair with dark roots falling in her face. He felt Nate cling tighter and bury his face in Marshall’s neck and he shifted his brother to get a better hold.

“I got practice. I’m takin’ him.”

“The fuck you are! You can’t walk around with him and your face looking like that! People are gonna talk.”

“Get back in the room.” The Dumbfuck took a step towards him but Marshall clutched Nathan tighter and just looked in the bloodshot eyes. He put all the cold hate he had in the look, used it like he’d used on Lemon that one day. He did it until doubt started to creep in around the edges of Dumbfuck’s washed out blue eyes then finally sprouted, troubled and uneasy all over his face. Dumbfuck took a step back.

Not dropping Dumbfuck’s eyes Marshall backed up towards the door slowly because he didn’t trust either of them to get behind him.

“You can’t just take him!” his mother’s shout broke the tense quiet but Marshall’s hand had already closed around the doorknob and he walked out slamming the door on her angry voice, “Whadja let him go for???” “He’s your fucking kid!” muffled behind them.

His body picked up the close call before his mind did and the hand that dug in his pocket as he rushed down the steps was shaking.

“We walking Marshy?” Nate asked in his ear, starting to shiver in the cold temperature.

Marshall opened the car door with the key he’d lifted from the table in the hall and plunked Nathan in the front seat along with both backpacks. He’d switch him to the back later so he wouldn’t get a ticket but they needed out of here fast. “Naw, that ain’t fun.”

He shut the door on Nate’s bright smile and ran to get in, revving the car before it was really warmed up. The Impala’s big engine forgave him after a block or two. He ran all the yellows but still showed up fifteen minutes late and he had to get Nate settled on one of the seats with Nate’s coloring book, crayons, toy truck, and one beat up Barney book, the only thing he could grab as they left. He also had to change, so he was working on being half an hour late by the time he stepped on the ice and coach stopped him from falling into place at drill.

“If you practice without warming up it can be dangerous. You know that.” Coach frowned at him and Marshall thought that if he was gonna be kept from practice today he was going to go insane.

“Sorry coach. I kinda had an emergency.”

“It have anything to do with how your face looks?”

“Naw. I ran into a door.”

Coach squinted at him as the others ran through drills and tried to look like they weren’t trying to listen. He saw Coach glance over to the seats where Nathan sat coloring, only his head with its tow-colored hair visible. Nathan waved with a smile and Marshall waved back then brought his hand down, embarrassed.

“Look, Mathers,” aw fuck FUCK he knew what was coming when grownups got that sound to their voice. But Coach didn’t tell him he should talk to a guidance counselor
or start talking about inappropriate responsibilities or any of that shit. He looked like he was going to but then just sighed and scratched his head under the Pistons baseball cap he always wore. “Just don’t make it a habit, alright?”

“I won’t.” Marshall promised even if he wasn’t sure which one the coach meant: being late or bringing Nathan.

“Do two laps of power skating than get in formation.”

He nodded, relief coming over him for the second, or was it third? Time that day. Before he skated away, he turned to the Coach as the big man moved to put his whistle in his mouth.

“Coach?” Coach glanced at him. “Thanks, a’aight?”

Coach’s face still had that unsaid words look to it but he just nodded and motioned to him. “Move your tail.”

Marshall grinned and started the powerskate, finally able to erase everything from his mind except the push of his muscles, his deep breathing, and the soothing, metallic sound of blades on the ice.

*~*~*~*~* LATER

Marshall let himself in the trailer as quietly as he could, thankful that he’d only had a couple of drinks at The Shelter. Even if The Dumbfuck’s crappy truck wasn’t parked out outside his mom could still be on the warpath. Once inside he realized he could have slammed in and turned on the lights and it wouldn’t have mattered. Not to his mom.

She lay sprawled on the sofa in her robe and slippers an almost empty bottle of liquor on the table and an overflowing ashtray emptying its contents on the sofa cushions. The pale top of one breast spilled partially out of the loose robe collar and a cigarette butt hung between two fingers. They were lucky she hadn’t lit the place up so far. And she was passed out on his bed.

Ignoring the uncomfortable flashes of guilt for dropping Nathan off earlier he walked to the tiny room and started to toe off his Jordans, watching his brother as he lay curled under a blanket on the sheetless mattress.

Once he’d gotten down to this boxers and shirt he slipped under the blanket and reached to the floor to pull some more blankets over them. The room was freezing but Nate never seemed to notice; probably one of the reasons the kid always seemed to have a runny nose.

Laying there he tried to sleep but even with the exhaustion of the messed up day weighing on him he still stared into the dark, wide awake.

The only thing he saw in his mind was the article from the newspaper that one of the figure skating moms had tacked up to the bulletin board at the rink.

*~*~*~*~*

Marshall had heard a lot of racket as practice finished up and his eyes caught sight of the article on the bulletin board as he and Nathan walked out to the car.

“LOCAL BOYS MAKE GOOD!” the headline read, but Marshall barely saw it because his eyes couldn’t leave the picture under the title and he thought maybe that sound in his ears was his heart exploding.

The black and white photo showed Tay and Johnny hugging on the ice as an official looking guy in a suit stood next to them smiling. The photographer must have been up in the stands a little because he caught them both good, their profiles laughing; how Johnny’s hand held the back of Tay’s head and Tay held Johnny’s skinny waist with both arms. Marshall couldn’t stop looking at Johnny’s hand buried in Tay’s hair. He knew what it meant when people held each other that way. A weight on his chest grew heavier and his eyes burned as he read that Tay had gotten second place and Johnny third at the competition.

Even through the pain he felt a bright glow of pride. He knew Tay could do it.

“What’s that, Marshy?” Nathan stood on tiptoes trying to see the article.

“Nothing.” Marshall said around the roughness in his throat. He’d picked Nathan up and walked out to the parking lot.

*~*~*

So it’s like that, he told himself in the dark. Tay was back with Johnny. He’d seen them hold hands right out in the fuckin’open and now the picture. Tay hated him and was back with Johnny and there wasn’t one thing Marshall could do about it.

Well, okay. There was one.

Curling up around Nathan’s small, warm body Marshall shut his eyes and let memories crash into him without stopping, without thinking, just images and feelings. Tay’s smile, his warm hands, their safe cocoon in the car when it felt like they were the only two people in the world. He let them come until he shook, teeth gritting, eyes squeezed shut, and let them come some more.

Because tomorrow he was through thinking about them. He wasn’t stupid; he knew when someone laid him off. All he was doing was following Tay around like some stupid puppy hoping Tay would talk to him again, look at him again, touch him one more time.

It wasn’t happening. Period. The sooner he dealt with that the better.

It was just gone.

Marshall held Nathan tight on the pissy mattress in the drafty room and filled the hole in his chest with thoughts of what he’d let go.

Chapter Text

Give me one reason to stay here
And I'll turn right back around
Give me one reason to stay here
And I'll turn right back around
Because I don't wanna leave you lonely
But you got to make me change my mind

Give Me One Reason
~Tracy Chapman

TAY

He’d wonder later—what if he hadn’t had to pee? What if he hadn’t woken up on the bed fully dressed, content, and warm, but still had to go the bathroom, what would have happened? Later, he wondered sometimes.

But he did have to go the bathroom.

They’d gotten back around ten at night from Ann Arbor, and Tay smiled sleepily to himself in the dark, enjoying the sounds of Zac and Josh snoring around him, the fatigue of his muscles from the long trip and the giddy happiness of the ride home.

He’d played the moment when the scores went up over and over in his head and he still couldn’t believe he’d done it! The peace and focus he’d had on the ice that last routine had felt different, deeper and unwavering, and he remembered thinking before he skated to the center of the rink, the moisture of the sip of water he’d just drunk moist on his lips, he remembered thinking, “This is what I have. This is what I’ve worked for and wanted and dreamed of. This is what I fucking am.” He’d pushed off and let the music take him and hadn’t come out of himself until the thunderous applause crashed into his consciousness.

“Oh, my god! You did it! You did it!” Johnny embraced him as soon as he got off the ice before he even got to the kiss and cry area, and he wanted to tell Johnny not to jinx it, to shut up, but the flashbulbs became blinding, and Priscilla motioned to him, and honestly, he knew it was good. He’d felt it each time he landed a triple jump, each time he did a flawless spin and gave his chin that extra kick back to the music and the crowd cheered. A competitor knew when he’d hit it exactly right and that’s what it felt like.

He still hadn’t expected to beat Joubert because Joubert had pulled off a quad, only the fourth in junior competition. However, he’d fallen twice and Tay could see the tall, lanky boy run out of steam towards the end of the routine. Joubert’s arms flopped, his legs didn’t lift during the footwork which had been stuck at the end to get him more points, but backfired because the skater had no energy.

And he’d done it. He’d actually DONE it and if his next thought after, “Wait till dad hears!” had been, “I can’t wait to tell Marshall,” well, that was only one slip, and it had been to himself.

Sasha, had, of course, won first place with the highest score in junior girl’s history or something, so it was a very happy contingency that took off back to Detroit, everyone teasing Tay and Johnny about their first on-camera interview.

“Taylor, you actually come from a hockey tradition, is that right?” the perky blond with the red blazer and the microphone asked and Tay had smiled self-consciously into the bright light.

“Yeah. Yes, all my brothers play hockey, but my sisters figure skate.”

“What do you think they’ll say about your success?”

“We’re all very supportive of each other.” Tay had returned smoothly, not meeting Johnny’s eyes, “I root for them, too.”

“What does this mean as far as your plans to turn senior?”

“It really helps my- my confidence and I look forward to just getting better.” Be as general as you can. Sasha had counseled when Tay saw the waiting camera and bright light and felt like one of those rabbits from ‘Watership Down’ who froze in front of an oncoming car. Smile and don’t commit to anything that can be quoted later.

“Thank you and congratulations! Johnny, how do you feel about your win today?”

“Fabulous!” Johnny squealed and proceeded to flame out all over Andrea Whitley from WPXD. The poor woman got so flustered Sash and Tay fell all over themselves laughing as soon as the camera crew were out of sight.

Tay shifted over on his stomach still smiling then groaned as his bladder protested the pressure. He was so comfortable and relaxed. Stupid bodily functions.

Besides, he thought to himself, staving off movement a bit longer. He really should get up and brush his teeth. Change his clothes. It always felt like birds nested on his tongue when he didn’t at least brush his teeth before bed. Giving a soft grunt Tay pushed himself up and off the bed, scratching his ribs as he walked to the bathroom.

As he shuffled the thought rose, out of nowhere, that he wished he could tell Marshall about the competition, and Tay quashed it. He wasn’t ruining this over that. He’d worked too hard for it.

/If he hadn’t had to go…./

The house was quiet and dark except for a sliver of light from under his parent’s bedroom. They always stayed up late after a trip, talking about how it had gone, how Zoë had behaved, what news Tay’s mom missed; they had for as long as Tay could remember. Tay made sure he turned off the light after he shut the bathroom door so he wouldn’t disturb them.

A few minutes later, face and teeth washed, bodily functions finished, Tay felt better and was thinking he might sneak down to the computer and check his email since he hadn’t seen it for almost a week, when he heard voices from the bedroom where the sliver of light still showed.

/If he hadn’t heard the voices…./

He stood still in the hall, listening for a second, not placing what he heard, not registering because, well, he practically never heard it before: the sound of arguing.

No yelling, no shouting, no, but his parent’s voices sounded agitated, they had anger, and a thread of apprehension crept up Tay’s spine where he stood in stocking feet, the top button of his jeans undone, hair full of bed head, quiet in the dark of the hall.

His parents didn’t argue. It just didn’t happen. Oh, it’s not like they agreed all the time; they weren’t perfect. Like the time after Ike had left for college, when his dad told Ike he didn’t have to call and check in if he was going to be late any more. His mom’s lips had disappeared she’d pressed them together so. There had been a brief session behind the closed door of their bedroom and now, if Ike was home, he was expected to call if he was going to be out past midnight and it was not negotiable.

There was the disagreement on whether or not to invite a certain cousin to Zoë’s baptism when said cousin was suing his step mom over something in a will, and whether or not Zac could pierce his ear more than once: dad didn’t like it and mom didn’t see a problem. Zac ended up waiting for the cartilage piercing but it was decided if he could pay for it then he could go ahead.

So, yeah, they disagreed but Tay had never, not once in his seventeen years, heard them argue this way, loud enough to be heard outside the door, voices tense. It just wasn’t done. The angry whispers made his heart start to pound and his feet walked closer to the door without his even realizing he’d moved.

“—long are you going to keep doing this, Walker? Because it’s not going to work for much longer. You have to see that.”

“I’m not doing a thing, Dee,” his father returned, and his voice sounded like Zac’s when Zac had been busted doing something he shouldn’t and had decided to go for plausible deniability; that sullen, pouting tone.

“You should have been there. We both know that. He was so happy, it was a huge deal, and we both should have been there! He’s seventeen! He’s not a child anymore. I can’t keep making excuses for you anymore.”

“I have never, never denied Tay anything, Diana. Name me one time he didn’t have everything he needed, same as everyone, just one time.”

Tay’s breath stopped in his lungs.

“That isn’t what I’m talking about and you know it! Please don’t insult both of us.”

“I don’t….”

“Stop it!” His mother interrupted Tay’s dad in a harsh whisper and Tay blinked in shock because he’d never heard that tone in his mother’s voice, not once, and certainly not towards their dad. His mom didn’t sound like that; his mom never interrupted anyone mid-sentence. She considered it one of the rudest things a person could do. “You haven’t set foot in an ice rink to watch one of Tay’s competitions for five years. Tay could quote you the date and time if you asked and so can I. He’s our child, Walker, and he’s too smart not to know something is wrong!”

“Well, something is wrong!”

“What are you talking about?” But his mom’s voice said she knew exactly what Tay’s father was talking about. /Don’t want to be here./ A small voice started to whisper at the back of Tay’s head. /I’d like to leave, please./

Tay stood rooted to the spot, his hands clenched in the hem of his long-sleeved rugby shirt.

“Diana, it’s late. We’re both tired. Let’s get some sleep and talk about this in the morning.”

“No,” his mom said and the shake in her voice broke Tay’s heart. “We need to talk about this now. You can’t keep treating one of our children this way, Walker. All Tay wants is one validating word from you, one sign that you know he exists…”

“Now that’s not, fair, Dee!” His father sounded so hurt Tay’s heart twisted some more. … “I know he exists! I worry about him all the damn time! How can I not know he exists? I shouldn’t have to convince you of this!”

“Then why treat him this way? Like you…you….can’t bear to look at him sometimes, like there’s this wall….the others see it, too. They might not say but they do, especially Zac. What is so hard about watching him…?”

“Because I can’t watch him.” The words sounded torn from his father’s throat and Tay heard a tiny broken sound in the darkness and struggled to keep it inside.

Walker,” his mother said, her voice hushed and terrible.

“Every time he goes out there I can see what he is. Everyone can see. I knew it when he was a little boy but I told myself I was being unfair. I knew when people kept mistaking him for a girl in the stroller and at the grocery store and I knew when he couldn’t keep his hands off Jessie’s skating dresses and I knew when I saw him and Johnny asleep next to each other on the floor that one time, Diane, I knew…”

Quick shuffle of memories in his stunned mind and Johnny had stayed over for Tay’s thirteenth birthday they’d had cake and ice cream and gone to sleep on the living room floor in the middle of ‘An American Werewolf in London’ on cable. Everyone was around, too, in sleeping bags, and he and Johnny taken off everything but their underwear, giggling the whole time, liking the feel of their skins against each other. They fell asleep because it was so late and they were so tired and nothing happened. They woke up early and got dressed and no one had seen….

“You’re right. That is horribly unfair.” His mother’s sounded so awful, so shaky and lost. “You can’t judge something like that when he might not even know himself!”

“They were asleep in each other’s arms, Diana!”

“They were children!”

“No, not like that, and you know it.”

/Want to go away now!/ the voice in his head became frantic.

“I know what he is and I can’t…watch what he is out there…”

“I can’t believe this!” His mother’s laugh was incredulous and brittle, “And what if he is? We’re educated adults! We’re not ignorant. We have friends we’ve known for years! Tamara and Eileen, Rufus, your Aunt Morgan. How can that be okay and your own child not be?”

“Don’t be naïve! What kind of life is he going to have? There’s still time if we don’t encourage…”

“Oh, my god, Walker.”

/No. No, I can’t hear this I can’t…/ Tay backed up in the hall, away from the just closed door, emotions, thoughts, feelings so huge they threatened to choke him with anguish and shame and hurt, god, it hurt…

No. No. No hurt, no feeling, just no because if he did he’d break. He’d crumble into a million pieces and never get back up because, oh god, his father’s voice….

With numb hands Tay opened the door and walked to the bed in the dark. He collapsed more than sat, staring into the darkness, hands gripping the side of the mattress as if to let go would make him fall forever. He didn’t know where.

/Go. I have to go. I can’t breathe, I have to go/ Yes, go. He could do that, he could go.

He moved on autopilot, not turning on the light. He grasped under the bed for his trainers. He’d toed them off when he came in and that wonderful, happy time felt so false now. It felt dead.

/No thinking. Just move. Get out./

His hands closed around them and he pulled them on, tying them by touch, grabbing the first thing he felt in the dark, Zac’s jeans jacket, and pulling it on as he headed for the window.

Even if his hands were shaking, even if he had to hurry because the burning in his throat threatened to break free into ugly, loud sobs, he had to be careful and quick. If he took too long climbing out the cold air might wake Zac or Josh up. If he let the window slam the noise would be too loud.

He did this three times a week but his hands weren’t shaking then, his vision wasn’t blurred with unshed tears, his breath hadn’t become trapped and difficult.

Somehow, he managed to get out and onto the trellis, lowering the window in a soundless slide. He almost fell twice climbing down but he made it even if he was trembling so hard by then he had to just stand against the house getting himself together, breathing in the cold winter air, sharp like knives in his lungs. It felt good, that stabbing cold. It was a sensation he could deal with.

When he could function he raced for his bike from where it rested just inside the garage. He used the side entrance and didn’t turn on any lights.

The pumping of his legs, the freezing air, the movement was a relief. Tay pedaled fast, as fast as he could, ignoring fatigue and the weariness in his muscles and the lack of sleep. He rode fast and when he’d gotten four blocks away, when he knew no one on the deserted streets of their cul de sac could hear him, he burst into ragged sobs, loud and ugly, gasping crying that echoed loudly in the slumber around him.

He didn’t stop pedaling. He didn’t slow down. He didn’t have to.

His body knew where it wanted to go.

*~*~*~*~*

He didn’t know how far or for how long he traveled. Streetlights passed him. The odd late night car, neon of fast food restaurants signs, and still he rode, exertion making him warm, ignoring the steady flow of tears down his face, comforted in the act of riding.

The pale yellow of the 8 Mile Trailer Park sign came into view and the methodical pump of his legs slowed, stopped, and Tay stumbled a little as he got off the seat. His legs didn’t appreciate the stop in movement and felt clumsy, rigid and tired in the cold. He didn’t fall, though.

The trailer park crouched below a lone streetlight, a group of dingy structures lining a narrow gravel road. They had driven by here each time they drove to the library. “I live there.” Marshall had indicated once, eyes straight ahead, hands tight on the wheel. Everything about his body language said he didn’t want anything more said about it and nothing was. Tay had gotten pretty good at reading him by then.

Some of the trailers had cars in front and some didn’t. Some had lightbulbs that cast weak illumination over steps and run-down porches and some didn’t. Most of them didn’t have a light in the window.

Turning the bike into the entrance the wheels suddenly dipped into a pothole and Tay almost went ass over teakettle onto the ground for the second time since he’d stopped riding. He got his balance, though, but it jarred him. Made him notice the cold that settled into his bones now that he wasn’t exerting himself, how hard it was to breathe through the snot in his nose, and how he still couldn’t stop crying, icicle flow of tears down his face. He didn’t make as sound; just that steady trickle, like a leaky faucet.

Gray Impala Gray Impala, it had become a mantra in his head. Except he didn’t think there would be this many trailers. The park spread out in both directions from the main paved road. All the cars looked alike, somehow, colorless and old in the street light and Tay felt fresh tears spill over his cheeks to freeze there and pedaled faster.

No, he could find the Gray Impala, he had to…

Headlights suddenly blinded him, brights coming up fast and Tay swerved, seeing nothing but white spots, felt himself start to fall off the bike and caught all his weight on one leg, the muscled shaking with the impact. Gravel spit around him and the bumper stopped three inches from his left knee.

“What the fuck??” An angry voice came from the car’s interior, rising over the loud rap music and Tay blinked his eyes rapidly, struggling to disentangle his shaking muscles from the bicycle without falling. It wasn’t working.

A car door swung open and Tay kept his head low, concentrating on getting his leg over the bike so he could stand. Dimly he realized this wasn’t the greatest part of town and he was alone. Too bad he didn’t care.

“This ain’t no bike trail, what the fuck you doing in the middle of the street?” a voice demanded and Tay wondered about pointing out this wasn’t a street, but didn’t. He chanced a glance over caught sight of dreadlocks, an oversized hoodie and shocked expression.

Tay thought dying would really be very good about now.

Because of course of course it would be him. Just to make the humiliation complete. Just to make the entire fucked up evening even more vivid. Tears dripped off Tay’s chin and he swiped at them; looked away. They stood there for long seconds in the weak streetlight, distant sirens and faint sounds of dogs barking filling the void.

“You looking for Marsh?” The rough voice asked and Tay couldn’t help glancing over in hope even if he didn’t want to. He didn’t want to ask for anything, didn’t want to accept anything, not from him.

“Over here. You don’t know where to look you walk around here till you get jumped. You got a death wish or something?” Proof asked but Tay ignored the question, lifting a leg over the bike to get going.

However, no one notified his legs about the plan and Tay’s stiff muscles protested, seized up in a tremble so he lost his balance. Proof’s quick hands caught him before he hit the ground and Tay pulled away viciously, an embarrassing choked sob escaping before he could stop it. Proof backed up, hands in the air, a resigned expression on the strong, dark features.

“Look, I ain’t doin’ nothing to you, a’aight? Don’t blame you for not wanting my help but it’s all you got.”

Tay nodded after a few seconds, pulling the jeans jacket tighter with numb fingers.

“Come on.” Leaving the car in the middle of the alleged ‘street’ Proof led the way to a side, even more horribly paved road flanked by more trailers and Tay finally spotted the Impala. It sat on a small lot next to another nondescript trailer. A rickety aluminum shed and skeletal remains of several large appliances were strewn around. Tall weeds threaded through their rib cages and the patches of grass on the ground were brown.

“Put your bike in the back or you won’t have it in about an hour.” Tay obeyed walking it to the back side of the trailer and Proof shoved it between the storage shed and the siding of the trailer. He found some dirty blue tarp to pull over it and dusted off his hands as they walked up the wooden steps.

Instead of ringing the bell Proof knocked twice, sharp whacks with his knuckles and Tay ducked his head, something like panic breaking through the coldness that had overtaken his insides. What was he doing? How could he have forgotten what happened the last time they spoke? What had made Tay think…?

The door suddenly opened in a spill of light and Tay blinked his eyes behind the protection of his hair, crossed his arms, and tried to stop crying.

MARSHALL

It’s like everything faded to gray and the only thing his eyes saw was Tay’s blond hair catching the light, the too-big jacket, the shivering of the hunched shoulders. All he heard were the quiet sniffles and breaths of someone trying not to cry. All Marshall wanted to do was touch him and all the anger he’d been working on started to crack like cheap cement.

Because all Marshall had done the last four days was try to forget Tay and where the fuck did Tay get off showing up on his step in the middle of the night? He was making progress too, he was getting good. He could have a conversation with Proof and look like he cared, he could sit in class and remember what he heard instead of having all Tay all the time in his brain, he could almost sleep at night without Tay’s face and Tay’s voice attacking his thoughts until he had to jerk off just to get some relief. He could almost breathe without hurting, so what the fuck was Tay doing here?

“You lost?” he demanded coldly. Tay looked up through the messy hair and the wall he’d been building broke some more.

Sky blue eyes shining with tears, red nose, face wet all the way down to this chin where the tears fell on the stupid jacket and this huge wave of protectiveness came up on him, almost like with Nathan, but different. Marshall wanted to beat whoever put that look in Tay’s eyes, hit whatever made him stand there in so much pain that it clung to Tay like a dark, poison cloud where he stood shivering on the steps in the light from the living room.

/No. Fucking no, dog. He held that little fuckers hand in front of everybody, they hugged in front of an entire audience, he wouldn’t give you the goddamn time of day. NO./

But he didn’t go to Johnny, a quieter voice that reminded him of Ronnie spoke up. He ain’t at Johnny’s door . He’s here. He came to you.

“You gonna stand there all night?” Marshall asked impatiently, shoving the arguing in his head aside, and didn’t he feel like one of those schizos now, or one of those cartoons that had the devil on one side and an angel on the other. Hell if he knew which was which right now.

Tay tripped on the ledge of the doorway walking in and they caught him, the slim body so tense it felt like a board in Marshall’s arms. Yet even if Tay pulled away, embarrassed, Marshall had felt the slim body quivering, too, like Tay had DT’s or something. If he didn’t know better he’d say Tay looked like a junkie off his fix, but he did know better. He’d just never seen Tay look like this: clumsy, crying, clothes all wrinkled and hair all messy.

“Found him riding his bike at the front looking for you.” Proof leaned back against the door as Tay stood there, shivering behind his hair.

Jesus fuck, he’d ridden over here? Now? “You got a death wish or something?”

“That’s what I told him.” Proof said.

Tay tucked his hair behind his ear and wiped at his face which did no good. The tears kept coming, steady trickle down to the curve of his jaw. Marshall’s hands wanted to brush them away and push back the messy hair. They wanted to rub the tension out of the huddled shoulders, so still they looked painful, wanted to rub warmth into Tay’s arms, wanted…wanted.

“I got this.” The words said themselves and he let them, eyes unable to let go of Tay, as if he did Tay would disappear out of his own damn kitchen without being watched.

When Proof hadn’t said nothing for a while Marshall forced himself to look over and saw his friend’s level gaze on him

“Yeah. Figured you did,” Proof nodded. With a glance where Tay stood still quiet in the middle of the living room Proof reached for the door.

“Yo.” His best friend looked at him, and why did it feel like something had gone over in the last minute, like something changed? But he didn’t have time to think about that right now. “Thanks.”

“It’s a’aight. Peace out.”

He lifted his chin in goodbye and Proof left, a gust of cold wind coughing in from outside before the door closed, twice to get it to shut right, and then he was alone with Tay.

For long seconds they stood there in silence, the only noises the uneven hum of the fridge and the echoes of sirens from outside. A train whistle sounded far off and some dogs barked, all muffled.

“Where’s your jacket?” Marshall asked. He knew he sounded angry. Tay’s lips looked pale, his fingers blue and he had to be cold for them to look that way because Tay’s touch always felt warm.

“F-forgot it,” Tay croaked, voice like broken glass and Marshall shook his head. It was thirty two degrees out there. Tay didn’t have his scarf, neither, which was like other people leaving the house without their shoes.

He walked to Nate’s room where he kept his clothes and looked for something to put around Tay and cut the shivering. Anyone that lived in the D for life knew not to go out in thirty-two degree weather with nothing but a shirt and jeans jacket with no lining. Finding one of his old black hoodies way in the back of the closet he took it out being careful not to make noise with the wire hangers and wake up Nate.

Tay still stood in the middle of the floor when he got back, as if he’d forgotten how to move, and Marshall slipped the hoodie around Tay’s shoulders averting the startled eyes that looked up at him. The hoodie almost reached Tay’s knees.

Marshall got a roll of tissue paper since his mom was too cheap to buy actual face tissue and emptied a small trash can to set near the sofa.

“Sit down.” Tay walked over holding the hoodie and sank into the crappy couch with the sprung springs.

Thank god his mom was at the Dumbfuck's. After the mess that day Dumbfuck had stopped coming around for the rest of the week. His mom just got dressed and ran out to the car or got a ride from one of her dopey friends to go see him. He’d catch her accusing, pissed off stare once in a while and blew her off. Just ‘cause she didn’t know you were supposed to put your kids first didn’t mean Marshall didn’t know it.

Looking over he saw Tay pushing up the cuffs of the hoodie with his blue fingers and swore, the slamming of the cabinet door punctuating his muttering. He was making hot chocolate and he really hoped those little packets didn’t expire.

*~*~

“Hot chocolate. It’s just got water, we got not milk, but…” Marshall shrugged as he sat next to Tay and watched Tay close both hands around the chipped Garfield mug then take a small sip, then another. The starry lashes closed as Tay breathed in the vapor.

“Thanks,” he whispered, taking another drink before putting the cup down on the coffee table and unrolling some paper around his hands to wipe at his face. A tear escaped, scurrying a winding path down beneath his jaw and down his throat and he rubbed at his chin down to stop it.

The tears had never really stopped, just gotten down to a slow flow and Marshall didn’t know why watching them make their way down Tay’s splotchy, miserable face made his throat hurt. People crying, except for Nathan, made him uncomfortable or bored him. He’d never even seen Jeanine cry and his mother just did it when she was drunk or doing one of her ‘poor me no one cares about me’ jags. Watching Tay cry like this, silent, with no sound at all, made him want to hit something again.

Moving slowly, then with more confidence as he told himself, friends did this, it was a’aight, he circled Tay’s back with his arm, had a last, panicky moment of hesitation, then committed, let his arm settle around Tay’s shoulders. He knew Tay looked at him but Marshall kept his eyes lowered and hoped Tay couldn’t hear how fast Marshall’s heart sped up or how he couldn’t really breathe because they were so close and damn! What kinda sick fuck was he? Getting like this when Tay was messed up, but he’d done it now, his arm rested around Tay’s shoulders now, and Tay even leaned into him a little so it was okay. It was chill.

“Did someone jump you on your way over here?” he asked, low and quiet, as if Tay was a scared animal. He felt Tay pull in on himself under his hold, muscles tensing, and he tried to rub Tay’s arm, lumpy in the jacket and hoodie, to get him to ease up.

“No,” Tay whispered hoarsely and Marshall had to look at him because he knew if he did he could see whether Tay was lying. The sky blue eyes stayed on Tay’s lap but relief spread through Marshall just the same.

“Then, what happened, Taylor?” he asked gently, and fuck the anger, to hell with it. He couldn’t hold it and didn’t want to. He could not have Tay sitting here this broken and not feel nothing; it just wasn’t in him. “What the hell made you take off like that in the middle of the night? This ain’t your hood. You coulda got hurt.”

“Sorry.” Tay choked and Marshall squeezed his shoulders tighter.

“Naw, that ain’t what I mean. What’s wrong? ‘Cause you did good at the competition, right? Got second place and everything. I seen the newspaper.”

Small nod. No eye contact.

“So you should be happy and shit.” A strange, bitter smile Marshall didn’t ever want to see curved at Tay’s lips. “What happened to you?”

“Um,” Tay began unsteadily. The fine line of his throat worked to talk and Marshall shifted closer, rubbed Tay’s back and his arm, inhaled Tay like cocaine and tried to focus. “We got…back…tonight… around ten,” the voice sounded fractured, phrases choppy but clear. Almost calm. “I was asleep but…,” he cleared his throat. Wiped some more tears away. “I had to go…I had to go and when I got out of the bathroom I heard…”

The words seemed to get stuck and wouldn’t come. Marshall watched Tay blink rapidly.

“Was it your old man?” Marshall asked quietly and Tay nodded, hands clasped tightly on his lap, leaned a little, just a little more, on the firmness of Marshall’s arm.

“He…said…he…,” Tay couldn’t seem to say it. “He’s so ashamed of me,” he finally got out blowing his nose again and throwing the tissue away. “He’s always been….I thought…I thought if I won….If I kept winning…” A tiny sound, like a gasp, escaped and Tay looked away quickly, like he was ashamed, too. Marshall tightened the grasp again as a shuddering breath fought its way out. “I thought he’d be…but he’s not. He’s never going to be.” The jumbled sentences would have made no sense but they didn’t have to. Marshall knew.

“He can’t even look at me.” Tay whispered and Marshall told himself he was imagining the press of Tay’s body, the way Tay seemed to want to lean into him then caught himself, holding his body tight. He felt good leaning close. Marshall could see leftover tears at the corner of Tay’s eyes, like tiny diamonds. He could inhale soap and nighttime and Tay and it floated through him like perfume.

He talked through it so he wouldn’t just curl into Tay like every nerve in his whole body kept wanting to do. “Don’t know your old man’s problem, yo. My mom has wet dreams about havin’ a kid like you.”

He surprised a watery laugh out of Tay but it turned into a little sob and Marshall guessed the line between the two was kinda blurry right now. He watched Tay duck his head again and a lone tear diamond broke loose to land like a wet star on the webbing of Tay’s thumb and forefinger.

Before Tay could move Marshall reached over and slowly, gently, smoothed the small drop of moisture into Tay’s skin, over his knuckles, down his fingers and kept his hand there.

Nobody moved.

Marshall’s heart beat loud in his ears and he couldn’t get enough air but he held really still, terrified of breaking the spell, scared to move because that was his hand, his hand on Tay’s hand and there was no going back no pretending no nothing now because this was serious and god he wanted he wanted he wanted so bad

Dragging his eyes up from the warm connection of their hands Marshall looked at Tay and the slight shudders from the crying had disappeared; they’d completely stopped.

Tay squinted down at their hands on his lap like he did when he didn’t understand a Math problem, couldn’t process the sight of Marshall’s hand with its bitten nails closed firmly around his. No mistake. No question. To make sure Marshall squeezed his fingers tighter and Tay’s stare lifted slowly and when the sky blue eyes met his oh Jesus when they met his…

Heartbeat deafening in his ears, throat burning like he wanted to cry, Marshall moved his head forward a little and closed his mouth around Tay’s lips.

/softsoftsosoft/

For a second he didn’t move, fucking astounded he’d done it and his body had to play catch up. But when it did Marshall brushed the velvet of Tay’s lips gently, carefully, but the soft didn’t kiss back and he pulled away, scared he’d made a mistake, Tay was with Johnny, Tay didn’t want him, he’d made a mistake and really sent everything to hell.

Then suddenly Tay’s mouth followed his, fitting onto his lips like it belonged there, open and hot and Tay was alive in his arms. Tay pressed close, closer, an arm pulling Marshall near, his mouth, oh fuck, his mouth was satin and wet and it tasted like tears and chocolate and it made him shake, how it moved against his. It made him crush them together and throw a leg over Tay’s legs and want to climb up on him, in him, feel the strength and slim softness all over.

Jesus this was Tay. Tay’s mouth on his Tay’s hands all over his body, Tay’s lips pulling at his in a slow, concentrated tug that took Marshall’s breath, made his heart pound even faster, made him push forward, closer, he had to get…

A bump stopped them and they pulled away breathing hard. “Sorry,” Marshall gasped, moving his hand around to where Tay’s head had hit the arm of the couch, fingers burying in Tay’s long, blond hair. Marshall had never seen anything like him: Tay’s beautiful heavy lidded eyes, the open, slick lips and the cheeks with spots of pink high up.

“I’m okay,” Tay whispered, touching Marshall’s face with gentle fingers, soft as flower petals, and Marshall had to touch him too, he’d waited so long. They touched each other’s faces even if all of Marshall’s body screamed for more: more contact, more pushing, more tasting of Tay’s mouth which he craved like some kind of crack addict already. He wanted to grab Tay’s long, slim legs that tangled with his as they lay on the sofa and pull them around his waist, he wanted to push into Tay, into the hard knot laying against his own because, yeah, he knew what that was and it was kinda freaking him out, but it felt so damn good, too. He didn’t think it would but it did, down low and between Tay’s legs and knowing he got Tay that way, that he was responsible for that, rolled all the way through him in a heated wave.

Then he had to kiss Tay and Tay made a little noise, like, “mmm” into his mouth and fuck if that didn’t sound like the best thing in the whole world. Tay’s soft hands held his face, scraped over the short bristle of his hair so Marshall shivered, rubbed his chin, then the amazing lips pulled away and Tay looked at him a minute, sky blue eyes hazy, before pressing his lips to the corner of Marshall’s mouth, a spot that felt hotter than everything else, that tingled under a delicate swipe of Tay’s tongue and /that’s where the bruise is./ A sound escaped Marshall without his permission and for just a second he wanted to run and hide, run away because he couldn’t…Tay couldn’t….it was too much and his chest felt tight, his eyes burned, he gripped Tay’s shoulders too hard.

But Tay’s mouth moved to his jaw, then his neck, moist, sucking kisses and Marshall forgot about the bruise on his face, growled as he pushed their lips together again, fucking drowned in the taste. Hands found his hips and pulled down, pulled in and Marshall jerked as Tay’s long legs tightened around his to slide them closer, moaned when those hands slipped beneath his tank top to smooth desperate touches all over his back, nails scratching lines of fire on Marshall’s skin.

And he could feel it slipping away, getting harder, too intense, too much, and he didn’t care that he could hardly breathe, that his hands shook, that they only stopped kissing for a few seconds before they had to start again. He’d made out lots of times, he was no virgin neither, but he hadn’t—fuck, he hadn’t ever had this in arms, all open and hot and his.

He wanted to touch everything, own everything, right now. The curve of Tay’s hip felt incredible and Marshall fumbled past the hoodie, the jeans jacket, and Tay’s shirt, and when he hit skin his mind stopped for a second, just short-circuited at the heated silk filling his hand. Fuck, oh fuck, his mind kept repeating as he reached for more, faster, harder; it was like the skin of his palm couldn’t get enough and he’d never thought he’d be here like this with Tay, Tay, and he never, never wanted it to end.

One arm cradled around Tay’s head thrown back over the sofa arm, long neck exposed, and the other grabbed greedy handfuls of skin as Tay pulled him closer, arched into Marshall’s mouth that had discovered Tay’s neck and couldn’t get enough of that either, or the little helpless sounds Tay made when Marshall sucked at the tendons, the curve of Adam’s Apple, the pulse that beat hard at his throat. Marshall found Tay’s chest, played the keys of his ribs, brushed against the different texture of what had to be his nipple, and Tay gasped, lashes fluttering, his whole body shook. Marshall moved up to hover over Tay’s lips, watch Tay’s face, and did it again, brushed the pointy tip with his thumb and Tay spasmed hard, clung to him as Marshall stole the broken moan that fell from Tay’s lips with a kiss, tongue frantic, lips tugging and he was so hard, so hard--

 

Tay suddenly reached between them to slide the heel of his hand over Marshall’s cock, sparking flashes of desire like fireworks and Marshall gasped,“Tay,” shocked, placed his hand over Tay’s out of instinct, and Tay froze. They stared at each other, hard and tangled up on the couch, and Marshall knew he was fucking pulsing in Tay’s hand, knew it showed on his face how much he wanted it. Swallowing, Marshall moved Tay’s hand up and down on himself, watching the lazy heat in Tay’s eyes, twitching at the knowing graceful fingers that wrapped around his cock, pumping, nudging behind it, until he had to close his eyes and moan, it felt so good.

Pin points of heat started on his soles and he didn’t want to come in his pants like a kid, no, but ah, fuck it felt so good and he couldn’t stop thrusting into Tay’s fingers he couldn’t stop devouring Tay’s mouth like he was starving, he couldn’t stop filling his hands with Tay’s skin, they couldn’t, oh, couldn’t….

“Marshy?”

Nate’s voice cut through the haze like cold water and they separated fast, panting and red-faced at opposite ends of the couch, Marshall’s nerves skittering and jangling because he’d been close, so fucking close….

 

“Marshy? You there?”

“I’m here, dog!” He called hoarsely, cleared his throat and shut his eyes, breathed deep until he could think without wanting to lunge across the sofa and finish what they’d started. When he opened his eyes Tay had pulled the black hoodie around himself and was hiding behind his hair, but Marshall could hear him still trying to catch his breath, too.

“I thirsty Marshy! Wanna drink of water.” Nate’s voice had that whiny tone it got when he thought Marshall was gonna turn him down.

“Yeah, a’aight. Stay there, it’s cold out here.” He answered and giving Tay one more glance he managed to get up, go to the kitchen, draw some tap water, without his hands shaking too much. Hands that had just been touching Tay’s hot, satin skin, thumbing his nipples and that was not gonna keep his hard on from coming back.

Marshall’s cock twitched.

And use of the word ‘coming’ was suspended until further notice, too.

*~*~*~*
Nate sat up in bed blinking in the faint glow from his Snoopy night light. He’d kicked all the blankets off again even if the room was drafty as hell like always and Marshall reached down with one hand and piled them back on. Hunching down to sit on the mattress he held the glass while Nate drank, stopping him before he downed all of it.

He didn’t want to turn the mattress over from pee tomorrow night.

“Why you up, huh? It’s real late.” Marshall whispered and Nate wiped his mouth with the back of his hand before snuggling back down into the blanket, lids already drooping.

“Noises woke me up.”

“Sorry about that.” Marshall apologized automatically and was real thankful Nate had already drifted off again and didn’t see him blush.

Leaving the glass on the small bed table he got back up.

He found Tay pacing around the kitchen arms crossed and watched him a second, wrapping his mind around everything.

He had…they had…made out, like, for real. There was no going back now, no question, nothing. It made Marshall’s chest warm, his head a little dizzy, but besides that, everything felt real…clear, somehow. Like, bright, like he could see and breathe.

Marshall watched Tay tuck his hair behind an ear, fiddle with the zipper of the hoodie and couldn’t even believe he’d waited this long.

Walking over he stood in front of Tay so Tay looked up and his mind did the check-out thing again because, oh fuck, his lips looked swollen from Marshall’s kisses, his hair looked messy from Marshall running his hands through it and he really was so damn beautiful.

“I should go. It’s… it’s late.” Tay stammered a little and his eyes seemed to be focused on Marshall’s mouth before looking down, then up again, meeting Marshall’s for a second before leaving again, like a scared deer’s. He started to slip off the hoodie but Marshall reached out with both hands and firmly pulled it back on Tay’s shoulders. He touched Tay’s face softly with his fingers and the back of his knuckles and Tay closed his eyes, nuzzling into his touch.

The motion, little rub of Tay’s cheek against his hand, made something in Marshall’s chest want to burst open with feeling and he stepped close, into Tay, held his face to tilt their lips together. A tiny whimper breathed into his mouth before Tay responded, laps of his tongue, pressure of his lips making Marshall shiver and he curled an arm around Tay’s waist to hold him tight.

They pulled apart catching their breath again, foreheads touching, things below their waists moving again and Marshall had to touch Tay when he looked like that, eyes closed, face hopeful and apprehensive and so pretty.

“I…,” Tay’s hands smoothed over Marshall’s chest in his thin tank top, around his shoulders and over the muscles of Marshall’s arms like a blind person, “I have to go.”

“I know.” Marshall agreed against a soft ear; felt Tay shiver against him. “I’ll drive you.”

“You don’t…I bought my bike.” Tay’s eyes opened and Marshall let out a skeptical laugh.

“Fuck that, dog. You lucky you didn’t get killed coming over here. I ain’t takin’ any chances gettin’ you back.”

“But your mother. She could come back and…,” Tay looked around as if Marshall’s mother would step out from behind the couch or something and Marshall ran a finger along the soft curve of jaw, turning Tay to face him. The sky blue looked back, too anxious for Marshall’s liking but soft, too.

“If she ain’t back by now she ain’t gonna be back before morning. It’s chill. A’ight?”

Tay nodded, hands coming up around Marshall’s neck, the soft pads of Tay’s fingers sending warm waves through his body, then, “Your brother...”

“Taking him with us.”

“You can do that?”

“Yeah. Easy.”

And it was.

*~*~*~

They stood outside the Impala in front of Tay’s house, Nate bundled up and asleep in the back seat. Tay held his bike with one hand and Marshall breathed out, watched their breaths float in the chill night. They stood close together but didn’t touch.

The ride over had been a’aight after Marshall reached across the seat and took Tay’s hand at the first stop sign. After that they only let go when Marshall had to turn and kept catching the other person staring. Sometimes the whole thing felt bizarre, like he was gonna wake up on the couch in the trailer in the dark, dick hard, face bruised, and Tay still hating him.
But Tay was standing right in front of him wearing his old black hoodie, staring at him with that look that showed Marshall tonight did happen. All of it.

“Thanks for driving me back,” Tay said quietly and Marshall nodded, reached out for Tay’s hand because, apparently, he couldn’t be near him without wanting to touch him, and rubbed Tay’s hand between both of his.

“I’ll..um..s..see you tomorrow?” Tay blinked as Marshall massaged the cold fingers and Marshall nodded again before bringing the chill hand up to his mouth and exhaling a warm breath on it.

“You skating? You gotta get up in an hour, yo.”

“I’ll be there.”

“Me, too,” Marshall agreed. “Now, get your ass inside. Your hands are cold.” Marshall whispered, holding Tay’s stare as he tucked a lock of hair behind Tay’s ear.

“Okay.” Tay whispered back even if the entire block was still and deserted at three-thirty in the morning and started to turn away when he turned back and pressed their lips together, arm pulling Marshall close. Marshall gave a surprised sound but slipped his hands under the jeans jacket up Tay’s back, crushing them together as the difference between their cold lips and the wet heat inside made them shiver.

“Mmm…have to…,” Marshall gave him an open-mouthed kiss, then another, “go. Stop!” Tay laughed softly and Marshall grinned finally letting him go. Tay’s nose was getting pink and his eyes shone and he had dimples and he was the best looking thing Marshall had ever seen.

“See you tomorrow. And thanks.” Tay said squeezing his hand as he backed away.

“You too.” Marshall tried to pull him back but Tay only gave him a quick kiss before pulling away, expression exasperated but smiling.

“I didn’t do anything.” Tay whispered.

Marshall looked right in the blue eyes, gone dark in the shadow of the yellow streetlight. “Yes you did.”

Tay bit his lip still smiling before turning his bike around and walking it to behind the garage.

Marshall didn’t leave until Tay climbed back up the trellis, nearly giving Marshall a heart attack because he’d had NO idea that’s how Tay was sneaking out and they were gonna have a talk about that wacked out method. Before Tay climbed in he waved at Marshall and Marshall waved back.

He fought the urge to do something stupid like blow him a kiss and then Tay was gone, in the window which shut so quick and quiet Marshall never heard a thing.

He could still feel Tay’s lips on him, still had Tay’s taste in his mouth.

He didn’t stop smiling all the way back.

He went to sleep that way.

Nate hadn’t woken up once.

Chapter Text

Here we go, we're at the beginning
We haven't fucked yet, but my head's spinning

Why Can't I
~Liz Phair

TAY

Tay did a single, then a double, fighting a yawn and tried to ignore the urge to look at the clock on the wall again.

He’d tried to sleep a little in the couple of hours before he woke up, honestly he did, but he just couldn’t. Marshall kept intruding on his thoughts and every time he did Tay’s stomach gave a little tremble at the memories: urgent, demanding mouth, eager hands, wicked fingers that found his nipples and made Tay react so intensely he blushed at the thought. After a while he was so hard he touched himself and came immediately, gasping as it ripped through him. He’d dozed off after that but just for a bit.

And it wasn’t like he’d forgotten what he heard in the hall. He didn’t know how he’d ever forget that, ever. He didn’t even know how he was supposed to look his father in the face after that. His heart gave a little twist, but just a little one. The hurt and shame of his father’s voice still hurt a lot, but it wasn’t so bad. He’d gotten something so, oh god, so unbelievable last night, and if that was the trade off, Tay would take it.

/Unless he blows you off today./ Tay pushed the stupid voice in his head away. Still, hadn’t he thought of that at least once since last night? He’d even thought of it pacing in the trailer’s tiny kitchen, refusing to ask outright, “What are we now?” “Does this mean anything?” “Will you freak out tomorrow?” Because if last night was all Tay was going to have he didn’t want it to end awkwardly.

Except it didn’t seem like that was all Marshall wanted. He’d asked about this morning. He’d wanted to know.

Only he wasn’t here now. It was getting close to when Tay had to leave and Marshall hadn’t shown up. It was a Saturday and Tay had a little more leeway than on weekdays, the rink activity not starting until eight instead of he usual six, but Tay usually wasn’t here on Saturdays, not until the afternoon.

Furthermore, he and Johnny always had the day after a competition off, particularly if a road trip had been involved. It was one of the only breaks Priscilla gave them, training wise, and he was grateful for it because if he had to skate today he was going to fall flat on his face. He could barely jump his body weary from the trip back, his ride cross-city, and the severe lack of sleep. Only adrenaline and the shivery energy from last night were keeping him upright.

/He’s not showing./ “Shut up.” Tay muttered, trying for a double and popping it.

Oh, yeah. He was beat.

And he was alone.

Oh, crap.

He hadn’t even given thought to what he’d do if Marshall did blow him off. What could he do?

No, no, he was overreacting. He was. Tay finally glanced at the clock and his stomach sank.

Okay, it was kind of late.

Breathe. Breathe and focus on the spin, faster and faster, arms high, the lights a blur—movement made him dig a toe pick in the ice to stop and the sight of Marshall walking down the steps, hands in his pockets, made Tay’s stomach start to tremble again. For a second the relief was so huge it made him dizzy.

Trying not to grin like a great big goofball he skated over to where Marshall leaned, arms propped on the ledge of the rink, his gorgeous hands clasped loosely, a faint smile on the pouty lips, and all kinds of promise in his eyes.

“Hi.” Tay breathed, gripping the sideboard as he slid to a stop.

“’Sup?” Marshall’s eyes took in his whole face and they had the same expression as last night when they’d kissed and touched each other, that slow wonder that didn’t help Tay’s tremble.

“I wasn’t sure you’d be here.”

“I overslept, yo.” Marshall said around a small yawn then ducked his head to run one of the gorgeous hands over the short dark bristle of his hair. Tay wanted to press his lips to all his fingers and lick his palm. “Almost had a heart attack when I saw the time. Thought I bailed on you, huh?”

“No, I didn’t…” Tay protested, cheeks blushing totally without his permission.

“Yeah, you did.” Marshall smiled knowingly as he reached out and smoothed Tay’s scarf between two fingers.

Tay had realized at four thirty in the morning that all his good skate clothes were dirty from the trip and had to scramble, in the dark, for what to wear that didn’t look like crap.
He’d ended up with an old pair of gray sweats and one of Zac’s bulky brown sweaters with a t-shirt under it. At least his scarf was decent, reversible beige and black with black tassels.

“Maybe a little.” Tay admitted, stepping off the ice so Marshall let the scarf go, and bending over to untie his skates. “I just thought you might have freaked out. You know, after you got home and thought about stuff.” /After you realized you kissed a boy, after you realized I felt you up, after you realized what we did/ his mind supplied helpfully. His fingers finished pulling the tight laces free and he stepped out of the skates standing to see Marshall’s eyes lift up quickly. He thought Marshall might have been looking at his ass and that made the blush come back and threw him into babble mode. “It would have been normal to freak out, I mean, most people would, at least a little. *I* didn’t freak out but that’s kind of different, I mean, I freaked a little…” he paused when Marshall threaded their fingers together and walked Tay backwards staring into his eyes the whole time. The hard resistance of the wall pressed against Tay’s back and Marshall pinned him there, close and tight, their hands entwined at their sides. Marshall’s lips brushed his gentle, gentle, until Tay parted wider, needing more, tapped his tongue to Marshall’s and a helpless, “mmm,” sounded, probably from him, when Marshall invaded his mouth.

He had no idea where he’d dropped his skates.

He’d forgotten he had to breathe by the time they pulled apart, fingers flexing in Marshall’s grip, already half hard against the leg that had found its way between the two of his. Swallowing gulps of air, Tay touched his forehead to Marshall’s, their eyes locked.

“I didn’t freak out.” Marshall said, voice quiet, thumbs rubbing circles on Tay’s palms and that shouldn’t be that hot, right?

“Oh. Good.” Tay breathed, watching the electric blue of Marshall’s stare travel all over his face. “Because I think I’m going to.”

“A’aight.” Marshall grinned, unlacing their fingers and sliding his hands up Tay’s arms, over his shoulders, to his face. “We’ll take turns. You go first.”

“Okay.” Tay agreed before his lips melted against Marshall’s and oh god he was in such trouble. He had to get a grip, he had to, he couldn’t even think when Marshall kissed him that way. He was the one with prior experience! He was the one out to himself! He shouldn’t be this…this…totally wrecked by…when…with…Marshall let go his mouth to press his lips behind Tay’s ear, his neck, nudging the scarf aside with his chin, and Tay brought his arms around Marshall’s shoulder and held tight. Tried to breathe. It wasn’t working.

 

Marshall hugged him back, arms circling Tay’s waist, hands sliding up his back where one tangled in his hair. For long minutes they stood there like that and he felt Marshall sigh into his neck, the warm breath raising chill bumps all along his arms under the sweater.

“I want this to be real.” Tay whispered with his eyes closed, almost like praying, giving voice for the first time to the fear that kept hovering in the background even as Marshall touched him and held him and couldn’t stop looking at him. Marshall pulled out of their embrace a little, expression serious as he cupped Tay’s face. The navy blue stare held his until Tay’s middle fluttered helplessly.

“It is,” Marshall said with finality. “I am.”

Tay covered Marshall’s hands with his then trailed them along his arms, feeling the muscles beneath the clothes, remembering the play of biceps and strong forearms and warm skin from last night.

“It’s just…what about your friends?” he asked with apprehension.

“What about Johnny?”

“What do you mean?” Tay asked, the question throwing him. He watched Marshall take both his hands and press them between his own, the navy blue eyes downcast. Some tension had seeped into Marshall’s shoulders and Tay waited while Marshall rubbed his hands like someone would worry a stone, sliding on the pads of his fingers with a thumb, feeling along the bumps of Tay’s knuckles.

“You held his hand in front of everybody. Almost killed me,” Marshall laughed, a chuffing, dry sound, lashes still lowered. “Then the picture in the paper, you were hugging. Thought you were back with him.”

“I’m not back with him.” Tay shook his head, his mind spinning a little because, oh wow, they really were talking about this here. “We had just gotten our medals at the competition, that’s all that was. And when we were kids we used to hold hands all the time, like when we were nervous or something. It was just a kid thing. And I was,” Tay chewed on his lip, knew he was blushing. Marshall looked up, blue sparking with emotion. “I was really angry that day. From before, at the restaurant…”

“That ain’t never happening again.” Marshall held his hands tight and Tay squeezed back, smiling.

“I know,” he whispered, moving closer to brush their faces together because he loved the feel of him and the scent of him, a blend of earthiness and reality and Marshall. Marshall’s scent was real.

“I know. I just…we haven’t talked about …what any of this means or…I don’t know…” he stumbled, braving through the persistent worry that if he said too much, or the wrong thing, he’d scare Marshall and Marshall would leave.

“I know you’re mine.” Marshall interrupted gruffly, arms linking around Tay’s waist as if to emphasize the point, pulling him close, navy blue stare electric.

“I am?” Tay couldn’t help smiling, the words sending a wave of warmth all through him. Marshall nodded, very serious and Tay encircled Marshall’s neck, touching his face with one hand.

“Just mine.” Marshall said, voice still low, eyes lowered now too, so Tay could see the long fringe of lashes against his cheek. They were standing as close as possible. Tay moved one hand over Marshall’s heart and felt the powerful beat surge against his palm.

“Does that mean you belong to me?” Tay asked, lips against the heated curve of Marshall’s ear. The faint tremble that went through the body in his arms bloomed tenderness in Tay’s chest like a flower and he pressed his lips to the soft earlobe, Marshall’s cheek, the corner of his mouth where the discoloration stubbornly clung, a fading yellowish smudge.

“Yeah,” Marshall’s voice was very low, still gruff, but hands splayed on Tay’s back, holding him close as if he might leave. For the first time Tay realized maybe they were both scared the other would run. He realized how huge this must be, how brave this was to admit all this when hardly a month ago Marshall had been going along all normal with his life and his friends and his perfectly straight exes.

But he had to ask. “Just me?” A whisper against the other ear and Marshall nodded, meeting his eyes.

“I ain’t hooking up with no one else. I don’t want no one else upon you.”

“Oh,” Tay breathed, and he really had to stop sounding like goddamned Scarlet O’Hara, “I think we can work with that.” He had the biggest urge to ask Marshall if he knew what he was saying, if he realized what this meant, really, but then Marshall’s mouth covered his, brushing, teasing before one of them breached the dance, a nip, a wet swipe against the other and they were falling, floating in tongue and teeth and hot and, oh. Marshall seemed to know exactly what he was saying and Tay was going to be so late.

But for now he didn’t think of that. For now all he did was stand enmeshed in this boy that held him so fiercely. For now he just swam in the amazing pull that they created together and belonged.

*~*~*~*~*

“Tay? Honey? Tay, are you alright?”

Tay pulled himself out of sleep, every cell in his body in grumpy denial that they were being asked to move again so soon.

He’d gotten back with literally minutes to spare, having just pulled the covers over up to his chin when he heard the alarm go off in his parent’s bedroom. Thankfully, his day off carried over to home, too, in addition to it being a Saturday, and he had the luxury of sleeping in as long as he wanted. Usually, though, he couldn’t go longer than eight or nine hours. His internal clock wouldn’t let him, and besides, the noise from the house woke him up regardless.

This time, though, Zac could have blasted ‘I Want to Be Sedated’ and flicked the light on and off disco style and Tay wouldn’t have cared.

However, for some reason, his mom now stood hovering over his bed while he blinked at her and wondered, for one crazy minute, if he’d dreamed everything after all.

“I’m okay,” he said rubbing his eyes and blinking at the bright sunshine flooding the room.

“Are you sure? You’re always up before this, even on your days off.” Her gentle hand with its slightly rough finger felt along his forehead as he sat up. He still felt fuzzy and drained, like he was moving through molasses.

“I couldn’t sleep last night,” he mumbled, fragments of the conversation he’d overheard in the hall wafting in his mind like bits of dust. Thank god his father took off early on Saturdays to the store or Tay might have spent the entire day in the room.

“That happens sometimes,” she smiled sympathetically. “A person gets so tired they can’t drift off. But Johnny’s on the phone and says he’s twenty minutes away. Do you want to take a rain check?”

“Oh shit! I mean- crap.” Tay exclaimed, taking the phone from his mother’s hand.

“Well, good morning to you, too! We’re almost there.” Johnny’s cheerful voice hit his ear and Tay winced at the flagrant chirpiness when his head still felt like fog. He really did not do well on three non-consecutive hours of sleep.

“Yeah, okay. Um, take the scenic route I might need…a little time.” He nodded to his mother’s retreating form and she winked as she left. As soon as the door closed he jumped out of bed in his underwear and tried to find clean clothes, of which there were none. Most of them were still dirty from the trip like everything else.

“For what? Don’t tell me you forgot brunch! We’ve only been doing this since we were nine!” They’d started the traditional after-competition breakfasts before Tay even worked up the nerve to stop pretending to play hockey. Johnny would show up in the chauffer driven car and they’d head off for breakfast, Tay listening raptly while Johnny talked about the competition and the costumes and who was paired with whom and who had had a bitchfest.

“No, I didn’t forget, I just…had a strangest night last night.” Tay looked in Zac’s closet for the second time that day selected another oversized sweater. He just could not wear any of his jeans from the trip. They were wrinkled and smelled like hotel room. His almost-too-tight jeans from last year would have to do. Luckily he always lost a pound or two after a road trip competition from the activity and the stress. They should be okay.

He SO needed a shower.

“Really? I passed completely out the second I walked in the room. I don’t even remember undressing.”

“Look, I need to clean up but I’ll be ready. Come in if I’m not. You know it’s okay.”

“I know. See you!” Tay hung up, put the cordless phone on the bed table and sprinted for the shower.

*~*~*~*~*

Johnny must have taken the scenic route because Tay had time to shower, dry his hair, and get dressed with time to spare to play with Zoë before the Lincoln Town Car honked at the front of the house. Zoë began to fuss the minute he stood up with her in his arms and he made kissy noises against her head as his mom took her. Zoë always got a little clingy after they’d been gone.

“I’ll be back soon!” He kissed his mom’s cheek and waved to Josh and Avery who sat at a table in the living room sorting Fruit Loops into different colored piles and plotting the results. Zac had early Saturday practice and Jessica was probably still dead to the world in her room or already talking to someone on the phone. Gretzky the cat lurked around the edges of the coffee table hoping for treats, the weird animal.

“Have a good time, honey. And Tay,” She held his hand before he walked away and he turned back, meeting her upturned face expectantly. “We’re very proud of you.”

A small stab of sorrow pierced his chest, just a small one, and he bent down to embrace her, the scent of mom and baby, talcum powder and baking bread and lemon pledge overtaking him. All of a sudden he had to blink fuzziness from his vision.

“Bye!” he smiled, retreating quickly, and that’s why he had to get more sleep. When he was this tired all his emotions hovered right near the top.

*~*~

“Caffeine sustenance for you.” Johnny handed him a Starbuck’s cup the minute he shut the door and Tay grabbed it like a lifeline.

“Oh, my god, bless you.” Tay breathed before taking a long, restorative drink. Mocha latte with a shot of espresso. He felt the buzz of sugar and caffeine work into his system and immediately felt more awake.

“You’re welcome. You sounded like you needed something. Did you have insomnia last night? Because you look tired…but not.” Johnny peered at him speculatively while Tay chugged some more coffee drink. Johnny sipped at what Tay called a coffee slurpee, a caramel frapuccino with a cloud of whipped cream on the top.

The day after competitions were also when they could eat whatever they wanted. Even so, neither of them really binged badly. Tay’s conscience just couldn’t take it.

“I just—had a weird night. I didn’t sleep.” Tay rubbed at his eyes and wondered how much to tell Johnny, if anything. He really, really wanted to tell Johnny everything but wasn’t sure…okay, practically knew…Johnny wouldn’t approve, and he really didn’t want to hear Marshall put down. He was pretty sure he couldn’t take that either; he already wanted to kill whoever had given Marshall the bruise on the corner of his mouth.

It’s just that he and Johnny were best friend. They talked about boys all the time: who they found cute, celebrities they wouldn’t kick out of their bed, skaters they found attractive. He could feel the excitement and warm fuzzy tremors in his stomach just thinking of what Marshall had said, and it just wasn’t as much fun not sharing it.

*~*~*

The IHOP was kind of full but they were seated pretty quickly anyway and Tay scanned the menu, eyes hopping from tall stacks of pancakes to omeletttes to Belgian Waffles.

“Two waters, a coffee, a glass of juice, large, and a glass of chocolate milk. Do you want anything?” Johnny asked and Tay rolled his eyes and shook his head at the waitress.

“I’ll steal from you, piglet.”

Johnny widened his eyes comically and snapped his cloth napkin across the table. “Bitch! How dare you compare me to swine!”

“Well, you’re wide awake and perky, anyway.” Tay observed, loosening his scarf. It was the same one he’d worn a few hours before. It kind of smelled like Marshall.

“Are you kidding? Our stock just went through the roof coming in second and third. And, for the record, I think one of us could have taken first if the judges hadn’t been all ‘Wow! A quad!’

“The quad’s important,” Tay shrugged. He didn’t mention he’d been practicing it, could almost do it. Johnny probably could too; in truth, he jumped better than Tay and looked like he floated in the air sometimes, impossibly graceful. Johnny just disliked the quad. He distrusted anything that had the potential of causing foot problems because of the multiple revolutions and height. “Evan nailed it.”

“Evan needs to work on his artistry and has hair like a little rascal.”

“He does not!” Tay laughed, even though, well, a little.

“SO does. It’s almost a bowl cut, I mean, who let him out that way?”

Tay smiled his thanks to their waitress ‘Trevette’ as she brought their drink order and banked the question he was pretty sure was rhetorical anyhow.

After their order, Harvest Grain and Nut combo for Johnny and a short stack of buttermilk pancakes and bacon for Tay, Tay leaned back and took another sip of his coffee. If he mainlined caffeine he should be okay until tonight when he went to bed early. Like six.

“Anyhow, I’m sure by Worlds the judging system will have evened out and they’ll realize how stupid it is to judge—“ Johnny stopped at leaned over to peer at Tay, who blinked and moved back in response.

Before he could ask what that was about Johnny gave a sharp intake of breath and reached over to yank his scarf away from his neck with one move. “SLUT! Where did you get a hickey? We only got back last night!”

“Johnny!” Tay hissed, watching several tables full of people turn to look. He felt his ears flush and hastily re-tied the wool tight around his neck.

“Was it that Canadian kid Jason? I saw him making eyes at you, the hussy.”

“No, it was NOT Jason. Could you keep it down? I think they actually heard you in Canada.” Tay whispered in annoyance. “And don’t be ridiculous. What do you think I did? Sneak off to a broom closet during a bathroom break? We were together the whole time.”

“Where there’s a will,” Johnny replied thoughtfully, one fine-boned hand tapping his chin. “Troy? No, Asian boys have never done it for you. Savoin is too short, he’s like a hobbit…”

“Stop, okay?” Tay laughed. “It’s not any of them…”

“Was that why you couldn’t sleep last night?” Johnny asked in a shrewd voice and Tay lowered his eyes, taking another sip of coffee now lukewarm. He’d have to flag down their waitress.

“Partly,” He paused and replaced his cup before rubbing his eyes and pushing back his hair. “My dad knows.”

“Knows what?” Johnny drank some orange juice and promptly choked, eyes round in realization. “Oh, my god, knows knows? As in, knows you drive stick?”

Tay nodded ruefully before recapping what he’d heard last night, the trip to the bathroom, the voices, paraphrasing what his father had said. He left out the part about seeing Johnny and him on Tay’s thirteenth birthday. For some reason knowing how his father saw that had made him feel ashamed and dirty, even if they’d been just kids and hadn’t done one illicit thing. Of all Tay had overheard that was the thing that made Tay the most furious; that his dad could take something completely innocent and make it something perverted and wrong.

“Oh. Fuck.” Johnny breathed, speechless for once. While Johnny stared at him, dismayed their food came and Tay smiled at the waitress as she lay plate after plate on their table from where they balanced on her incredibly muscled arms. Marshall’s biceps had nothing on hers.

“According to my dad I’ve been a flaming queen right out of the womb.” Tay said with brittle, artificial brightness and, god, it felt good to give in to some bitterness.

“No, that would be me.” Johnny corrected absently. Tay raised his eyebrows and didn’t answer.

“And why didn’t you call me?” Johnny finally burst out after they’d been alone for several minutes and Tay had begun to spread butter on his pancakes. “You know I would have come gotten you, or met you somewhere, or we could have just talked. You didn’t have to go through that alone! Christ, it must have been horrible. And, wait,” Johnny scrunched up small, neat features, “what does that have to do with you having a hickey?”

“Nothing! Well,” Tay cut his pancakes in small squares to avoid looking at Johnny, then raised his eyes in resolution. “I went to see Marshall. Your food is getting cold.” He added.

Johnny immediately started pouring syrup on his stack of pancakes, brows still knit. Tay knew he would. They didn’t get to eat like this all the time and wasting the opportunity was not an option.

“I can’t believe you went to him.” He finally said after they had eaten in silence for a few minutes, making the last word sound like an insult. “Why would you go to him?”

“Because I wanted to.” Tay answered honestly and tried not to sound defensive. Though, really, he couldn’t even remember making a conscious decision. He didn’t even think about it.

“Even after he let you down?” Tay sat back, startled and Johnny managed to sneer and pop pancake in his mouth at the same time.

“Oh, please.” He said after swallowing. “Like I didn’t know something happened after your Not!Date. You were mooning about all over the place…”

“I was not!”

“And he kept pretending not to look at you. It was SO obvious and kind of nauseating.”

“He really helped me last night, okay?” Tay said quietly, eyes on the table. He thought of the black hoodie Marshall slipped around his shoulders and the hot chocolate. Now that he wasn’t completely out of it from shock he kept remembering things. Things like the stuffing coming out of the couch and the threadbare carpet and cracked linoleum. Things like the mismatched dishes in the sink, the lack of dishwasher, and the broken toys in the living room. Marshall’s family really didn’t have much and knowing that made his chest feel funny.

“Oh, yeah,” Johnny drawled out, cutting his food so hard the fork scraped the plate, “I hear hickies are good for what ails you.”

“Cut it out, alright?” Tay said, voice low. “You don’t know him. We got really close last night and I…” he bit his lip, and felt his heart speed at the next words, “I care about him. A lot.”

Johnny was staring at him as if he’d grown an extra head, “You care about him? When did this happen? You went from helping him with Math to caringabout him?”

“It didn’t just happen.” Tay insisted, catching the waitress’s eye and waiting until she’d poured him a new cup to keep talking. “It’s been happening more and more since we met. I told you we kind of touched when we studied and there was always this…thing…between us.”

“That would be your dick.” Johnny deadpanned.

“Shut up.” Tay deadpanned back and they glared at each other for a few seconds while their food got cold.

“I can’t believe you’re being this naïve.” Johnny stabbed at his pancakes.

“I’m not.” Tay mushed his pancakes and pretended they were Johnny’s head. “Being naïve.”

“Oh, come on.” Johnny whispered, exasperated, leaning over with the force of his words. Hazel eyes flashed with scorn but under that, because Tay knew what to look for, was hurt, and it was the only thing that kept him from walking out. “He made the first move. He had to. I know you wouldn’t risk it. He totally took advantage of you when you were an emotional basket case. Because you were, right?”

“I was upset.” Tay begrudged, coldly hating for the hundredth time how well Johnny still knew him and how he sometimes wished Johnny didn’t still have that currency.

“He shouldn’t have made moves on you when you were like that. It’s like coming on to someone when they’re drunk.”

“Thanks a lot.” Tay shot back, annoyed. “And he’s not the only one who made moves. I know what I’m doing.”

“Right. Are you together now?”

“Yes.” Tay said and something shifted in Johnny’s eyes.

“So, like, he said that? He called you his boyfriend? Or boo or ho or whatever?”

“He said,” Tay replied calmly, ”that I’m his.” Voicing that still made his stomach flutter.

“Not too possessive,” Johnny snorted, “That’s not the same thing.”

“Yes, it is!” Tay defended, his nerves grating against each other like sandpaper because he’d had no sleep and no rest and all he wanted to do was find Marshall and crawl into his arms some more. “We belong to each other. Just each other. We said that. I can’t believe you’re not at least trying to be happy for me….”

“I’m supposed to be happy about someone that’s going to hurt you?” Johnny clapped one hand on his chest, eyes round.

“Is that all you think of my judgment? Good to know.”

“Well it hasn’t exactly been great before, has it?” Johnny shot back and Tay narrowed his eyes because Johnny was getting really, really close to throwing stuff in his face Tay never thought he’d throw in his face and if that happened Tay was out of here.

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me any of this!” Johnny burst out suddenly, “I can’t believe you went to him! I thought we were friends!” The last word wobbled a little and Tay stared in surprise at the bright sparkle on Johnny’s hazel eyes turning them emerald. All the anger and irritation melted out of him in seconds.

“Johns,” Tay said gently, reaching for Johnny’s clenched fist on the table, but Johnny jerked it away.

“You know what he is, Tay! We’ve seen it. He likes how queers fuck but he doesn’t like queers.”

“It isn’t like that.” Tay said quietly. “And we haven’t even gotten close to that.”

“Did you at least touch it?” Johnny demanded rudely.

“Just from the outside.” Tay snapped back before his mind thought better.

“Really?” Johnny whispered, leaning over, eyes avid with curiosity and their gazes held across the cooling breakfasts and instantly Johnny was no longer the bitchy, judgmental pain in the ass from a second ago but his best friend who loved gossip and had always been there for him and was secretly romantic. The air got almost physically lighter and Tay felt a persistent grin trying to quirk the edges of his lips.

“Yeah,” he said, dropping his eyes to the table where his hands shredded a napkin.

“Is he big?” Johnny whispered and Tay gave in to the ridiculous smile.

“Maybe,” he whispered back, eyes downcast before they wandered up to Johnny’s. “He kind of…felt big. But he was hard…”

“Tay’s a size queen. Tay’s a size queen,” Johnny singsonged in a stage whisper and Tay threw at napkin at him, laughing in spite of himself.

“Shut up! I am not!”

“Are too! Are too!” Johnny insisted between giggles and they giggled together, barely getting under control when the waitress brought their check.

“Is he a good kisser?” Johnny asked, keeping his voice low but Tay saw a prune-faced matron give them a glare and couldn’t care less.

He started to answer and was assaulted by memories of Marshall’s hot, insistent mouth on his, the sharp spark of pleasure when Marshall nipped at his neck up near his ear, moist, warm, incredible.

“Oh, my god, it’s written all over your face,” Johnny said as Tay dissolved into his arms with a roll of his eyes and the wide smile he couldn’t stop, his hands clasping over his head as he laughed. “You found a straight boy who can kiss?”

“He…yeah…god, Johnny.” Tay whispered peering out from behind his arms. “He can SO kiss.”

“Well, I hope he’s worth it.” Johnny said, a sad smile softening the phrase.

Tay laid his chin on his folded arms and flicked strand of hair out of his eyes. He met Johnny’s eyes steadily. “I think he is.”

“If he fucks you over I’ll kill him.”

“I know,” Tay smiled at Johnny’s fierce declaration. “But he won’t.”

“Okay.” Johnny placed a VISA card on the bill and handed it to the waitress.

Tay reached over and held Johnny’s hand before it got too far away. Johnny’s solemn hazel eyes lifted to his. “This doesn’t change anything. Not between us, okay?”

“It changes everything, Tay.” Johnny shook his head and looked so sad Tay covered his hand with both of his.

“No, it doesn’t. Nothing has before.”

“This is different. It feels different.” Johnny sulked and Tay sighed then held out his fist with his smallest finger extended.

“Pinky swear?”

“You’re such a dork.” Johnny said but his dazzling smile was back reaching all the way to the hazel eyes, the color like moss covering rocks.

They had pinky sworn every five minutes when they were kids, to everything. To be best friends, to never keep secrets, to tell each other the minute they kissed, touched someone down there, when they first had sex. Most of those things they’d done with each other, so the promise was kept.

Johnny linked their pinkies together tight and they both whispered, “Swear,” at the same time, across the breakfast table and Tay told himself that nothing would change between them. Why would it? Nothing at all.

Chapter Text

How well I remember,
The look that was in his eyes,
Stealing kisses from me on the sly,
Taking time to make time,
Telling me that he's all mine,
Learning from each other knowing,
Looking to see how much we'd grown.

Son of a Preacher Man
~Dusty Springfield

MARSHALL

Marshall had not seen Tay in fifty-nine hours and it was driving him up the fuckin’ wall.

He’d been sure he could talk Tay into seeing him Saturday afternoon to study like they’d been doing but when they talked, after his mom had finally gotten off the damn phone so Marshall could use it, Tay said, disappointment in his voice, that his family had sprung some kinda surprise restaurant trip on him and his sister and they were all going out to celebrate. He sounded kind of upset, actually and Marshall could picture the little line between the dark brows, the worried set to the pink lips that made Marshall want to kiss them better.

“You a’aight?” he asked, lying on the couch watching Nate color in a raggedy old coloring book with most of the pictures torn.

“Yeah, just. I can barely look at my dad, you know? I can’t believe I’ve got to go out in public and pretend to be all happy, like everything’s fine. I really wanted to see you.” His voice got even lower, private and he liked the thrill the words caused in him.

“Wanna see you, too.”

“And Sunday is out because we have such hard time being here at the same time that my parents are really strict about staying. We’re supposed to bond or something.” Tay continued.

“That’s dope.” Marshall said, meaning it. It sounded like on a those things families did on TV, the Waltons or the damn Huxtables. His family tried to get the hell away from each other as much as possible, as far as Marshall could tell.

“Usually. I’m just not looking forward to this time.”

“Catch you Monday morning, then.”

“Yeah- shit! No.” Tay corrected himself, voice agitated.

“Why not?” Marshall sat up in alarm and Tay sighed again.

“I forgot. After every competition we meet at my coach’s house to look at the tape and discuss what our next steps are. She picks me up and drops me off at home.”

And there hadn’t been a damn thing they could do about it.

He’d been walking around all day replaying everything that had happened, what they’d said, what they’d done, and wondering if people could tell. If he looked different, like he had a big sign on his forehead: KISSED A GUY! No one had said anything so he guessed not. Only Proof kept giving him these crazy ass stares when he thought no one was looking, but they didn’t bother Marshall. Proof wouldn’t call him out in front of the guys, not for something like that, and his best friend wasn’t even sure what ‘that’ was. Marshall kept right on watching Tay TV in his head which was how he ended up sitting on the bleachers in the middle of a major Tay Jones without noticing Von start to stare at his neck.

“Looky looky here!” Von’s voice brought him back to reality and he looked around himself, at the overcast sky and the football players on the field, his half-eaten lunch and
Von’s shit-eating grin as it leered at him, staring at Marshall’s neck like he was a vampire.

Marshall wondered if he’d missed something because all he’d been doing was watching the cheerleaders and thinking that Tay was prettier than all them bitches. For a second he wondered if he’d said it out loud.

Then Von had started cackling and pointing.

“The fuck’s up with you?” Marshall demanded, pushing aside Von’s accusing finger out of his face.

“Oooh! Marsh got some play, yo! Lookit his neck!”

Marshall clapped his hand on his neck averting his eyes. Fuck, the hickies! He’d seen them this morning and grinned to himself in the mirror, neck exposed so he could see the little red bit marks close to where his neck met the muscle of his shoulder. They weren’t huge and obvious like Jeanine liked to do, so bad Marshall started calling her ‘Jaws,’ but they couldn’t be mistaken for anything else. A shiver had gone through him in the bathroom when he thought of Tay’s mouth there, soft and sharp, warm and sucking and he’d had to close his eyes at how much he wanted Tay right then, right away.

“Lemme see!” Rufus loomed in front of him blocking out the sun and Marshall scrambled backwards almost falling off the wooden bleacher. His stare crossed Proof’s and a wave of realization passed between them before Denaun got into the act, reaching for the collar of Marshall’s t-shirt.

“Get offa me, man!” Marshall pushed, his ears hot with embarrassment.

“Who is she, Marsh? Where you hook up?”

“Yeah! Where you get the honey?” All three of them looked at him expectantly and Marshall looked over at Proof, the only person not leaning forward in anticipation but hanging back, quiet, the dark of his eyes unblinking and watching.

“You don’t know her.” He hunched down on the bleachers, tugging the collar of his hoodie protectively over his neck. Like that was gonna quit their snooping.

“We know everybody, dawg. Was it that chearleader hanging around the locker last week?”

There had been a chearleader hanging around his locker? Marshall didn’t remember that.

“Ooh! She fine, yo. There she at, down there, the one with the wristband.”

“That one?”

“Naw, dog, the wristband.” They had started pointing at the girls doing a drill team routine and Marshall pushed down their arms with both hands.

“It ain’t her, a’aight! I don’t even fuckin’ know her!”

“Aw, fuck, Marsh.” Von narrowed his eyes, “You tappin’ Jeanine again?”

“He ain’t tappin’ that crazy bitch!”

“He better not be tappin’ that beeyotch unless he got five condoms on, yo, I heard she…”

“It’s not Jeanine. Back off! I said you don’t fuckin’ know her.”

“You know what that that means.” DeNaun said knowingly. All three of them nodded at once, smirking so Marshall wanted to kick all their asses.

“Marshall in loooooove.” Rufus drawled out and Marshall’s entire face felt on fire as they fell over themselves laughing.

“Ooooh! Jackpot! Jackpot! Lookit him!”

“Fuck all ya’ll.”

“Dog, you know that the only reason you don’t give up the action.” Von said logically and Marshall realized that might be true. He hadn’t exactly gone all into details with Jeanine but the guys knew they weren’t just holding hands. It hadn’t seemed a big deal to hang out and talk about it.

“A’aight, a’aight, ease off, yo. Give the man his privacy.” Proof stood then shouldering them away, helped by the buzzing of the bell and Marshall had never been so glad to be going to class.

The guys were still talking about who Marshall might be tappin’ but the conversation turned to which of the cheerleaders was worth tappin’ and they forgot about his hickies for the moment.

He and Proof walked through the crowded halls to the lockers, dodging people and hall monitors and not meeting each other’s eyes.

At the locker Marshall got out his history book and a pen to transfer to his backpack, biting his lip as Proof did the same in silence next to him. It wasn’t pissed off silence like before when he’d been keeping something from Proof, but it felt big and kind of dangerous, too many unasked questions and scary answers floating around in it.
“Yo, look…” Marshall began before he lost his nerve even if he didn’t have idea one what was gonna come out of his mouth. All the words left when Proof slammed his locker shut and reached over, the warm, slightly rough texture of his fingers on Marshall’s neck as his best friend pulled the collar of his hoodie higher over Marshall’s T-shirt.

“Watch that. Don’t want no one seein’your hickies.” Proof dropped his arm and they stared at each other in the emptying hall, the inky dark of Proof’s eyes wordless and deep. Marshall looked for judgment, anger, disgust, acknowledgement but all he saw was himself in the black reflection, himself and some sadness. Maybe a little puzzlement.

The last bell went off practically over their heads and Proof nodded like they’d been discussing something then bopped him on the shoulder with a fist before taking off for class. Marshall watched him go trying to decide if the relief he felt was a good or bad thing.

*~*~*~*

Marshall slipped into the seat high up in the stands, bottle of Mountain Dew in one hand and his breath just starting to slow down.

Down below he could see Tay and Johnny on the ice along with a blond woman in a long black sweater. She made suggestions once in a while, demonstrating a move or gesturing to make a point, and Johnny and Tay would repeat what they did, which looked exactly like how they’d just done it to Marshall, but what did he know.

Tay wore a dark blue long sleeved shirt with a picture of a wolf in the front, black skating pants and a light blue scarf. Hair loose and flowing as he skated, pretty face serious with concentration until Johnny said something, and then he’d smile /Holy fuck he is mine./ The phrase kept coming up in his head. It had been doing that all day and he realized that, until he saw Tay again, it didn’t feel real. It wouldn’t feel real until Tay touched him again.

His stomach growled into the moment, not caring that his thoughts were all romantic, and Marshall ignored it. His burrito from the convenience store had been a long time ago but he’d wanted to get here as soon as he could and didn’t even look in the fridge at home for anything to munch. He’d grab a Milky Way from the vending machine before practice or something.

More hockey players started showing up and as soon as Marshall saw Johnny and Tay take off for the lockers he headed down.

He waited outside, hands in his pockets, heart speeding up a little. Hockey players walked by and he nodded, ‘Hey.’ Figure skaters walked out and looked at him crazy. Damn! How long did it take to change out of some clothes anyway? Tay could do it in, like, ten minutes when they met in the mornings!

Marshall wondered if this is what drug addicts felt like.

Sixty-four hours. That was too damn long.

Johnny and Tay walked out together, and he hadn’t expected that, but Tay stopped when Marshall pushed himself off the wall and they walked towards each other, smiling.

“’Sup?”

“Hi.”

Tay shifted his skating bag higher on his shoulder and flicked hair out of his eyes. Marshall watched him, the way his hair caught the light, the curve of his smile and shy way he dropped his eyes then lifted them; how happy they looked. He moved a little closer, just a little.

He meant to say ‘good practice’ or ‘how’d it go with your family?’ or something to make conversation but he got caught in Tay’s stare and zoned out for a second, playing with the sky blue eyes, the energy between them thick and electric.

Well.” A voice said loudly and they both turned suddenly to look at Johnny. The skinny little shit had a knowing smirk on his face. “I’m going to be right over there. Barfing.”

Marshall couldn’t even work up any annoyance for the little punk as Johnny walked away with that straight-backed little swish that might as well have ‘Look! Queerboy!’ written on his back.

“Ignore him,” Tay rolled his eyes as he turned to look at Johnny, “He’s just being himself.”

“He knows.”

Tay glanced back at him, the sky blue apprehensive. “Yeah. I told him. He won’t tell anyone, I mean, who’d believe him….”

“Hey, yeah, it’s a’aight.” Marshall fingered the tassels of Tay’s scarf because he couldn’t touch the curve of Tay’s jaw and take away the anxious tension. “I’m real fuckin’ glad he knows.”

“Oh. Okay.” Tay smile broke through again, dimples flashing and Marshall smiled back, his stomach going all funny right here outside the locker room, people all over the place, Zac, Tay’s brother, giving them a funny look as he walked in to change into his uniform.

/Tell him. Tell him you’re telling your friends./ But instead he tugged on Tay’s sleeve and started walking to the front of the rink.

“Come on.”

“Where?” Tay’s long legs kept up with his strides as he walked beside him, one hand holding onto the strap of his skating bag.

“Show you some homework.”

“Okay.” Tay said, voice doubtful, and Marshall walked out the door and around the side of the building where they went that time, one of the first times Marshall realized he wanted to do more than touch Tay’s back and look at his beautiful face. A lot more.

When Marshall stopped Tay turned to him with a knowing smile.

“You don’t really have any…” He pulled open a side entrance and yanked Tay inside, cutting off the rest of the sentence.

Tay gasped as Marshall pushed him against the closed door with his body, pulling aside the bulky skating bag, fingers threading, arms pinned tight as Marshall covered Tay’s mouth with his. His heart stuttered now, it tripped as Tay ‘mmm’ed opened onto his lips with no hesitation, wet inside, satiny and Marshall loved his taste, loved how Tay pulled at his lips, brushed them and licked at them until Marshall shivered helplessly. He let go Tay’s flexing fingers to touch the heated skin of his face, his chest, slip his arm inside Tay’s jacket and the warmth there seeped right through him, all the way to his toes and fingers, the tip of his nose. Tay had pulled up Marshall’s loose t-shirt, hands running over his back and Marshall’s arm circled the slim waist and crushed them together. He slid a leg between Tay’s knees and pushed up so Tay broke their kiss to make a rough sound and, fuck, he’d never needed to touch someone this bad.

They stared at each other, lids heavy, mouths glistening in the dim light, and Marshall’s hips pushed against the hard knot against his leg because his body demanded, it wanted and took, and ate up the way Tay’s lashes fluttered; way they panted each other’s breaths.

“You have…,” Tay tried to whisper. Marshall nudged the scarf out of the way with his chin and nipped at Tay’s neck, lips closing around the jut of Tay’s Adam’s Apple as Tay twisted his head to give him more access. “Practice. You have…oh, ah….,” he gasped, body straining against Marshall’s, “To go.”

“I know,” Marshall mumbled into Tay’s neck, then moaned when soft lips tugged at his earlobe, wet lick at the spot behind it that made his legs tremble. He slid his hands up Tay’s chest, past the strong thump of Tay’s heart even through sweater and shirt, to cup the flushed cheeks of his face.

“I gotta see you more,” he whispered, looking into Tay’s eyes in the dark.

“God, I know,” Tay agreed feverishly, pressing a quick kiss to Marshall’s lips, “I know. There’s never enough time.”

“I’m telling my crew tomorrow.” Marshall breathed, pressing their forehead close, because he was, he had to.

“You are?” Tay pulled back to look at him and even in the dark Marshall heard the alarm in his voice. “Is…,” Tay’s lips tickled his and he pressed his mouth to them because he couldn’t help it, “Do you want to?”

Tay’s hand came out from under Marshall’s shirt and Marshall met it with his, lacing their fingers tight between them. “I thought you wanted me to.” He whispered quietly.

“No!” Marshall pulled back, confused. “Not, no, I mean.” Tay bumped their foreheads together again lightly. “I thought you’d tell them we were at least friends.”

“That’s it?” Marshall asked, part of him getting ready to feel relieved and the other part calling that part a lameass coward.

“The rest is…it’s not easy, Marshall.” Tay reached back to smooth the short bristles of Marshall’s hair. “You need, like, a plan if it doesn’t go okay. A place to go if your mom freaks out. Enough money to get somewhere safe. You shouldn’t just do it because someone else wants you to. My parent’s don’t even know. Well,” Tay sighed, “Not officially. I haven’t told them anything.”

Marshall hadn’t even thought of all that. He’d been worried about what the guys would say but he didn’t even think of it getting back to his mom, or The Dumbfuck and what they’d say. He’d heard The Dumbfuck tell queer jokes before. It’s not like his mom ever told him to stop.

“I just want you to know I ain’t ashamed of you. ‘Cause I ain’t.” Marshall said firmly and Tay kissed him softly, gentle brush of his lips that sent tingles up and down Marshall’s arms.

“I know that,” he could hear the smile in the dark, “I know you’re not.” Tay’s hands settled on his hips in the dark and Marshall leaned into him, Tay’s lips like a magnet, soft and giving until they were pressed against each other, Marshall’s hands moving restlessly in the silk of Tay’s hair as they kissed.

/Beautiful, he’s so fucking beautiful…/ His mind murmured in the background and one of these days soon Marshall was gonna bust out and say that. He’d never said that to Jeanine. He realized he’d never thought it; not like this.

Tay broke their kiss just as it was getting intense again, hip grinding and clutching and the world slipping away until only this mattered. “You have to go.”

“Yeah.” He really did.

Marshall nuzzled at the soft skin of Tay’s neck and Tay smiled against his cheek.

“Have you ever tried to ride a bicycle while you have a hard on?”

Marshall laughed, snuffling against the fuzz of Tay’s scarf and Tay pushed them apart putting some space between them. They smoothed hair and pulled down shirts all the while grinning at each other like idiots.

“How does that work, yo? Pedaling with a hard on?” Marshall teased and Tay whapped him on the shoulder.

“It’s not exactly comfortable, wiseass. How do you play hockey with a hard on?”

“I got a cup. It helps.”

“Sounds painful.”

Marshall didn’t mention that sometimes, especially when they were really going, down by one or two points, everyone shoving and reaching for the puck skidding on the ice, he got hard anyway. He’d never told anyone that. He was real glad to have a cup on then.

Tay reached for the door after hefting his skating bag back on his shoulder from where it had dropped earlier and Marshall kissed him one more time before they left. Tay teased his lips, biting them, and rough sound escaped Marshall’s throat, his hand going to Tay’s head, pulling him deeper.

“Okay, no, come one.” Tay gasped, groping for the handle with one hand while the other fisted Marshall’s t-shirt at his waist. “You’ll get in trouble.”

“A’aight.” Marshall whispered, voice husky, leaning over for one more taste, catching Tay’s lips for a second before Tay yanked open the door and pulled them through.

“Go, you’re late. Go!” Tay laughed as Marshall played with his scarf tassels and Tay pulled them away.

“Calling you tonight.” Marshall said, walking backwards.

“Call me tonight.” Tay shooed him, “And study! I mean it!” Marshall grinned then turned and booked for the door, unable to wipe the huge smile from his face. He probably looked like a punk but he didn’t care.

 

“Where were you?” Coach asked as Marshall jogged to the dressing room past two other players who were also late.

“Talking to my tutor, coach. I got a ‘B’ in that class now.” It was a low B but it was a B.

“Oh. Alright. Shake your tail, warm-up’s almost over.”

Coach was looking him kinda funny but Marshall just grinned and ran to get changed. He should maybe tank the merry sunshine smile except he didn’t know if he could. He didn’t even want to.

Practice went kinda good, anyway. He wasn’t surprised. It felt like he was skating on air.

TAY

“You don’t look like you’ve been making out at all.” Johnny’s voice drawled and Tay turned to him startled out of his thoughts. Johnny was lounging against the wall near the bicycled rack even if the Lincoln Town Car waited patiently for him at the curb. “God, at least pull down your sweater!”

“I did.” Tay tugged it lower but it had been kind up rumpled in the back. Prickly heat came up on his face and he ducked his head letting the fall of hair hide the smile that wouldn’t go away. “So do you want a megaphone or something? Because a few people in Warren didn’t hear you.”

“Already in the closet?” Johnny asked archly and Tay gave him a sideways smirk.

“No more than we are.”

“Oh, right. Like he’s told his friends.”

“He offered.” Tay said smoothly, enjoying Johnny’s widened eyes. “I told him not to.”

“It was probably a bluff.”

“I don’t think so.” Tay heeled up his kickstand, getting ready to go. If Johnny planned to rag on Marshall non-stop then maybe things were going to change, and pretty quickly.

“Do you really think he’d do it?” Johnny’s voice got low and curious and Tay glanced up at him to his best friend’s inquisitive hazel eyes with not a shred of malice in them.

“Yeah, I think so.” Tay sighed, remembering the jolt of shock when Marshall told him. It’s the last thing he expected. “But he isn’t ready. I mean, he doesn’t have a plan B. He hadn’t even thought that far, I could tell.”

Until he and Johnny had gone to a coming out workshop for teens at the gay and lesbian community center in Ferndale Tay had been all for coming out right away, to everyone. He really did hate lying, he wasn’t ashamed of how he felt, and he wanted people to know that.

The cute guy with the earring and the ponytail said coming out was a good thing, but coming out when you were a teen-ager, living in your parent’s house, eating their food and wearing clothes they bought you, wasn’t that simple. “Work on your plan ‘B’” he’d said to the raptly listening audience. “What are you gonna do if they kick you out? It happens. Do you have at least one adult you’re positive, without a shadow of a doubt, is gonna be cool with your lifestyle? If the answer is no, then think about it. Until you hit eighteen your life does not belong to you, dudes. You’re minors and your parents or guardians have the final say in pretty much everything. You have very few rights as kids. I’ve seen kids kicked out; put in alternative schools, put in hospitals to get ‘cured,’ you name it. It happens, even today. Be proud of who you are, but be smart, too. It’s not fair, but that’s reality.” The talk had stayed with Tay and, though Johnny told, Sasha, Priscilla, his mom in quick succession, Tay opted to wait with his family.

“It’s not like his friends are going go, ‘Let’s go to the gay bar and dance!’” Johnny commented sarcastically, bringing him back to the present, and Johnny thought of the four tough, uncompromising boys that had invaded their McDonald’s table.

No, he couldn’t see any of them saying that, either. Besides, he wasn’t sure Marshall had even thought as far as labels: ‘gay’, ‘bi,’ ‘questioning.’ He wasn’t sure Marshall had thought through much except how their bodies spoke to each other when they touched.

Then again, neither had Tay.

Tay straddled his bike as they approached the idling Town Car and smiled at Johnny again. “Do I look okay now, or can you still tell I’ve been making out?”

“You mean besides the hickies?” Johnny sniffed and Tay quirked an eyebrow at him.
“You’ll do. You actually look disgustingly happy.” He didn’t sound thrilled at the idea but Tay just laughed and gave him a one-armed hug before taking off down the street.

“I am!” He called over his shoulder, pedaling faster, feeling the cold air in his hair and on his skin. His cheeks and his lips felt cold from the wind but he barely felt them. He was smiling too wide.

Chapter Text

Sometimes reputations
Outlive their applications
Sometimes fires don’t go out
When you’re done playing with them
I feel so funny deep inside
When you kiss me goodbye
Sugar High

Sugar High
~Coyote Shivers

“Hi, baby!” Tay swooped Zoë up into the air before taking off his jacket, the goofy smile that had stayed with him on the ride home still going strong, and Zoë squealed with laughter. “How’s my girl? Where’s mom?”

“In here, honey.” Tay gave Zoë blow kisses on her moist baby neck as she chortled, smelling of milk and toast, before placing her back on the floor and taking off his jacket.

Avery and Josh were sitting at the coffee table watching a Wiggles video and playing with a pile of plastic Duplos and Tay ruffled their hair on his way to the kitchen.

His mom was at the counter cutting broccoli florets into pieces, little snips of green leaves clinging to the strong veins of her hands.

He had defrosted some ground beef and a bag of vegetables this morning. They were having lasagna and he could smell it in the oven already. She used frozen vegetables in the lasagna but tried to use as much fresh stuff as she could otherwise. They both agreed it retained more nutrients that way. His stomach growled appreciatively causing his mom to give him an amused glance so he smiled sheepishly and hugged her around the waist.

“Somebody’s hungry.”

“I can wait.” He moved to shred lettuce for the salad they always had with the lasagna and looked up after a few minutes to see him mom smiling at him but with the funny crinkle between her brows that she got when she was worried.

“What?” he smiled quizzically.

“You were humming, sweetie.”

“Sorry.” He dropped his eyes, but not even the blush he could feel come up on his face erased the smile. God, he must look ridiculous.

“Don’t be silly; you have a lovely voice.”

“I guess,” Tay murmured, kind of embarrassed.

“Is there any particular reason for your good mood? Well, besides the fact that you and Johnny are obviously the most successful young skaters in town by now.” Her blue eyes teased at him and he bowed his head and grinned.

“I’m just happy. I had a good day.”

“I’m glad.” He felt her lips in his hair and looked up, smiling. “You just seemed a little low yesterday at the restaurant.”

“I was okay.” Tay’s felt the smile fade for the first time and bit his lip as he cut tomatoes into slices for the salad. The slippery seeds pooled on the cutting board and he wiped them with a paper towel. “Just tired. From the trip, I guess.”

His mom nodded her head and seemed to accept and Tay gave an inward sigh of relief.

The whole thing had been an ordeal. Riding in the van squashed with everyone, waiting for a table at the popular family restaurant, smiling and talking and conversing and all the while having to look at his dad, talk with his dad, face his dad like his dad didn’t think Tay was a flaming queen.

He’d tried to keep thinking of Marshall all through dinner but that made him kind of quiet so it was kind of obvious he wasn’t really all there.

He knew they didn’t go out like this as a family too often; too much money and not enough time. Usually he loved it. It was just different now. Everything about being around his dad was different now.

“The salad’s ready!” he said with more cheerfulness than necessary, probably and his mom handed him the Italian dressing to sprinkle and a pair of salad tongs. They learned a long time ago that certain people named ZAC and JOSH tried to drown all the green stuff in dressing to ‘make it taste better!’ so they’d started adding it beforehand. Zac liked to tip the bottle and drink Italian dressing by itself in front of him just because he knew it grossed Tay out.

They ate dinner soon after even if Tay’s dad hadn’t come home. His mom said his dad had mentioned having an errand that would make him late and he’d be picking Zac up right after so they should go ahead and eat. No matter how few of them were here, at dinner Tay’s mom always made everyone sit at the table and turn the television off. It was her way of keeping things as routine and normal as possible even if it didn’t always work.

He’d gone upstairs and was trying to read up on his History assignment while not wondering if he should call Marshall first since Marshall said he’d call, when Zac came bursting in the room hair flying and slammed the door against the wall so hard the pictures on the wall rattled. Tay jumped.

“Christ, man! You scared the crap out of me!” Tay laughed then sputtered indignantly when Zac pulled him off the bed and down the hall without even letting him mark his place in his book, all the time cackling evilly.

“Are you high?” Tay demanded, giggling as Zac covered his eyes with both hands, the scent of soap and the shampoo Zac used to wash his hair still strong on his brother’s fingers. “Because this getting way too kinky for me….”

“Shut up.” Zac’s laughter bubbled in his ear. “I’m on a mission! It’s a surprise.”

“Okay….”

“Just shut up and go with it.”

“You use that line a lot?” Tay smirked and heard Zac scoff in surprise.

“Wow! Was that a comeback? What happened to the sourpuss from yesterday?”

“I was not!…” Tay exclaimed and Zac snickered.

“Whatever, dude. Oh! Okay, okay! Walk!”

“What?” Tay demanded from behind Zac’s hands, “I can’t even see!”

“Just walk straight. Come on.”

Biting his tongue from saying that would actually be really hard for him to do, thank you, Tay hesitantly started walking forward down the hall, using the banister as a guide.

“Turn left. Left!”

“Alright! What…?” Tay laughed, perplexed. He could hear Avery and Josh’s giggles and Jessica’s voice around him and had no earthly idea what this could be….

“Ta da!” Zac took away his hands and the bright light blinded Tay for a second before he blinked into focus and found himself in their room with everyone crowded in, including his expectantly smiling father, while they all stared at a small television that had been set up on the desk they usually used for homework.

“We have a TV!” Zac was almost jumping and down with excitement, “In our room!”

“Well, it’s a TV-DVD combo that plays recorded video discs,” Tay’s dad corrected. Tay stared at him then at the faces of everyone who looked at him as if he was missing some major reaction cue.

“Why…” he finally made his voice work, “Do we get a TV-DVD combo?”

“For watching the recordings of your skating, son. Scope out the competition, make notes, you know. Like you do at Priscilla’s. You’ll be going up in level pretty soon, after all. Thought it could come in handy.”

“I get to use it, too!” Zac put in hastily, “Right dad? Since it’s in here?”

“Yes, you too.” Tay’s dad said indulgently amidst the excited exclamation of everyone crammed in the room. Tay’s stare ran across his mom’s eyes where she stood with Zoë in her arms and saw the same smile-with-the-worried-eyes she had in the kitchen, just more intense. Tay knew his father hadn’t discussed the shiny new toy with her at all.

“Hey!” Jessie spoke up suddenly, “Why don’t we get a TV in our room! That’s not fair!”

“’Cause Tay’s older, dorkus.” Zac answered as if Jessica was too dumb for words. Tay watched his sister’s face react with hurt puzzlement and this weird lump of shame began to form in his throat.

“So what? I skate, too! So does Avery!”

“Girls, we will work on one for your rooms, okay?” Their mother’s soothing voice rode over the disgruntled conversation like only she could and Tay tried to catch Jessica’s eye to give her an apologetic look but Jessie just glared at the floor and wouldn’t look at him.

She wasn’t by nature an argumentative kid and Tay knew how much this must have felt unfair for her to speak up.

“Besides you girls can always come in here to watch your skating videos, too.” Tay’s father added, which in no way helped, and Tay turned to look again at the shiny silver television encroaching on their workspace on the desk.

“Boys room! Yuck!” Avery opined immediately and everyone laughed, even Jessica and it was better then, would have been okay if Jessica’s face still hadn’t had that betrayed look to it.

“Dude. Say something.” Zac’s low, not-quite-playing voice made him look up and crash into his father’s expectant face again.

“It’s kind of where we do our homework.” He pointed out, going for apology in his voice and knowing when his father’s smile kind of fractured around the edges that he hadn’t made it.

“I think we have an extra TV stand in the garage or it wouldn’t be hard to make one…”

“We can rearrange some stuff, dad, it’ll be okay.” Zac chimed in, the look in his eyes so dangerous above his smile that Tay blinked at the expression. He hadn’t even known Zac could pull off something that fierce without all-out scowling.

“No, yeah!” Tay said quickly, “I mean, yeah, it’s great. Thanks a lot, dad.” The words stuck in his throat and felt like dust on his tongue, every one of them.

“We have space in our room.” Jessica pointed out with a smug smile.

“Dream on.” Zac shot back and Jessie stuck out her tongue, which caused Zac to give in and scowl back.

“Okay, why don’t we all go downstairs now?” Their mom said, her arms starting to herd everyone out. “Remember we do still have a DVD player downstairs and if you can decide on a movie we can watch a little before bed.”

“Yay!!!!” Josh hollered as Avery squealed and even Jessica’s face lit up at the unusual treat.

“X-Men 4!”

“Princess Diaries!”

“No, Robots!”

They trooped downstairs in a thunder of footsteps with Tay’s mom following behind after one last smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. Her call of, “Now you have five minutes to decide or the offer’s off the table!” A chorus of “Noooo”s followed.

That left the three of them and the shiny new toy in the room that suddenly seemed too small for all the beds, the chests of drawers, the desk, the TV, and the uncomfortable people in it.

“Well,” Tay’s father said, summoning up a smile. “I hadn’t even gotten some dinner so I’ll leave you two with the remote,” He handed the remote to Tay, who took it with numb fingers, ”And the manual.” He handed the slim booklet to Zac, “So you can see what bells and whistles this baby has. Zac, you’ve gotta eat too, buddy.”

“I’ll be down in minute, dad.” Zac nodded and they watched their dad walk out the door shutting it behind him.

“What’s wrong with you?” Zac rounded on him the second the door closed, voice low and harsh, boyish features scrunched in anger.

“What’s up with you?” Tay shot back but took a step back at the look on Zac’s normally friendly face. It looked almost obscene to have his happy-go-lucky brother look that enraged.

“You couldn’t even pretend to be happy better than that? Dad’s trying really hard and you won’t even give him a break!”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Tay returned coldly, turning his back on Zac’s righteous, ignorant indignation. His brother’s large, heavy hand spun him back around and Tay pushed it off furiously, meeting Zac’s blazing stare with his own.

“I know you’ve been acting like a selfish asshole for a long time and we’re all over it, Tay!”

“I’m a selfish asshole?” Tay demanded with a bitter laugh. “You saw the look on Jessie’s face when she saw it, how hurt she was. You still want to keep this thing and I’m a selfish asshole? You would know!”

“Like you care about Jessie. You never even talk to her!”

“That’s not true!” Tay protested, blush rising on his face because it was a little true. But he was older than Jessie and they had different friends and it wasn’t as if Zac sat down and watched TV with her or anything!

“That cost dad a lot of money!” Zac pointed to the TV.

“Well I didn’t ask him for it!” Tay snapped. “He only bought it because he can’t…” he bit the words off just in time before they spilled out about that night and what he’d heard. He couldn’t say it without spilling everything and he was NOT doing that.

“Because he can’t what? Because he can’t be perfect? Because he doesn’t ’understand,’” Zac made rabbit ears and Tay narrowed his eyes, “you since you’re so such a deep, insensitive jerk?”

“Go to hell.”

“Oh, that’s real sensitive, asshole.”

The door opened suddenly and Josh stood there with his mouth open as he and Zac shouted into each other’s faces.

“GET OUT!” They both yelled at the same time. Josh jumped in fear and shut the door with a slam.

“What the hell happened to you, Tay?” Zac asked, his expression losing some of the bloodlust and just looking frustrated and hurt. “You used to be alright, you used to give a shit about people’s feelings instead of….”

“If you don’t know what you’re talking about you should just shut. The fuck. Up.” Tay ground out, the nails of his hands cutting crescents in his palms for clenching his fists so tight and it hurt him, too, it hurt a lot to have Zac call him selfish and insensitive but Zac didn’t know. He didn’t know and Tay couldn’t tell him that the shiny piece of electronics on the desk was payoff in place of a present his father didn’t have to give.

“Make me.” Zac’s large hand pushed Tay’s chest putting all of his hockey muscle and heavier weight behind it and Tay stumbled back, digging the edge of the desk into his hip painfully. Dull rage simmered at the pain and Tay shoved back hard, catching Zac off guard. Zac almost fell on the bed but Zac hooked him with his insanely long reach, clipping his shoulder, and Tay’s head jerked back as some of his hair snagged on Zac’s fingers and oh, yeah, Zac was so getting his ass kicked…

“BOYS.” Their mother’s firm, arresting voice sounded from the door and they immediately pulled apart like they’d been burned, looking over to where she stood, hands on her hips and a dishtowel in one fist, regarding them with disbelieving eyes.
“Your brother is downstairs crying because he says you both yelled at him. What on earth is going on?”

He and Zac looked at each other then the floor, each of them standing with their arms crossed as the awkward silence in the room grew.

Tay’s scalp hurt where Zac’s hand had caught his hair.

“Boys. I’d like an explanation.” Zac looked up, his face as unhappy and tense as Tay’s felt.

“We had an argument,” Tay offered, the words sounding weak in the crackling anger that still hung in the air.

“We don’t settle disagreements by yelling and pushing. Not in this house.”

Tay felt the tightening of his muscles all along his back and the happy scene of just a little while ago felt so false. But then, it had been.

“Now if this is about the new TV we can still move it to the girl’s room.”

“Mom, no!” Zac burst out, flashing Tay a resentful look. Tay stayed quiet and shifted his gaze to the floor. “We’re sorry!”

“Taylor?”

“I’m sorry.” He said quietly, holding back the urge to point that Zac had started it because Tay didn’t fall all over himself with happiness over the stupid TV/DVD thing. That would say too much. He wondered tiredly when his life became one long string of situations where he shouldn’t say too much and maybe Marshall had a point with the coming-out-already and fuck the consequences.

“I’m not the one that needs an apology,” his mother’s voice lost some of the scary sterness that sounded so wrong in her soft, supportive voice, and she sighed, like she was tired. The sigh made Tay feel worse than the look on his father’s face when Tay didn’t like the TV. “You scared Josh half to death. Zac, you need to eat dinner.”

“Yes, mom.” Zac mumbled.

She looked at them some more until Tay wanted to crawl into the floor just to get away from the hurt, puzzled look on her face. Zac had hidden behind the honey blond fall of his hair, chin lowered and the toes of his trainers nudging each other in misery.

“I’m very disappointed in both of you. I want you to think about why you’re acting this way because frankly, I just don’t understand.”

Somewhere in the house the phone rang and was picked up.

Into more painful silence, feet could be heard on the stairs.

“Mom!” Jessica’s voice came from the hall and they turned to see Jessie approach the room with caution, the cordless phone in one hand.

“It’s Marshall for Tay?” Tay caught his breath when he realized he’d been waiting for Marshall’s call when all this crap started.

He met his mom’s grave eyes anxiously until she gave another sigh that made him feel horrible.

“Well, I suppose there isn’t much more to say.”

“Excuse me.” Tay whispered and took the phone from his sister’s smirking face, heading out the door quickly, his mother’s voice saying, “That look is not necessary, young lady,” following him down the stairs.

“Marshall?”

“Yo.” The low voice whispered in his ear and something in Tay’s chest loosened, expanded just at hearing the familiar tone. “Took a long time. You a’aight?”

“No.” Tay admitted walking quickly through the living room and kitchen avoiding everyone’s eyes. He shut the laundry room door and sank onto a pile of clothes near the washer. “I can’t talk long. Things are kind of….tense here.”

“What happened?” Little flutters danced in Tay’s stomach at the concern in Marshall’s voice.

“I got in a fight with Zac. It was stupid. I’ll tell you tomorrow.” Tay ran a hand through his hair and wondered how long he could put off going to back up to the room and Zac’s accusing, angry stare.

“You get hurt?” Marshall’s voice sounded really calm all of a sudden, dangerously calm, and Tay realized what Marshall thought he meant when Tay said ‘fight.’ Tay remembered the bruise on the Marshall’s cheek and the one at the side of his mouth the night they kissed.

“No! No, not that kind of fight; just a lot of shouting about…something really stupid. We made my little brother cry and…,” he sighed, “It’s just fucked up. I’m sorry. I should probably go.”

“So tomorrow?” Marshall almost whispered, sweet and low, and Tay put his hand on his stomach to stop the butterflies all dancing, dancing at the sound of Marshall’s voice, intimate and private.

“Tomorrow,” Tay promised, voice low, too. “I think about you all the time.” The phrase just slipped out by itself but it was true.

“Yeah?” the porn voice brushed against his ear like fur. “Think about you, too. All the damn time. It’s like I’m in class and the only thing in my head is you.”

“When you’re supposed to be paying attention in class?” Tay laughed softly and Marshall laughed back, the drowsy sound actually making Tay’s knees weak.

“I pay attention in Math.”

“That’s okay, then.”

“A’aight.” Oh, god, the porn voice. That was so not fair.

“I have to go.” Tay whispered, holding the phone with both hands.

“See you tomorrow, a’aight?”

“Alright. Bye.”

“Bye, Taylor.” Tay clicked off with the low, fur-soft voice echoing in his ears.

Putting his hand on his middle to still more butterfly dancing, Tay walked back up to the room and his brother’s cold, deafening silence.

*~*~*~*~*

His stomach was still dancing the next morning when he spied Marshall making his way down the stairs.

Tay skated towards the edge of the rink as Marshall reached it and Marshall’s arms were already around him, pulling him tight. He gave a surprised laugh as Marshall lifted him out of the rink by the waist.

“Show off.”

“Ain’t my fault you don’t weigh nothing.”

“Yes I do,” Tay protested, but the words faded as Marshall kissed him, just a brush of lips, and held him tight so Tay relaxed fully into him, against him, letting Marshall take his weight as they leaned against the side of the rink. All the tension and worry from last night melted as he breathed Marshall in. God, he loved this, just this, cocooned against Marshall’s chest, arms linked around him as Tay rubbed his face against Marshall’s cheek like a cat.

“You a’aight?” Marshall near his ear and Tay almost asked why until he remembered the rushed conversation they’d had last night.

“Yeah.” He said, stepping back so he could untie his skates, liking how Marshall kept one arm around him as he leaned against the low wall of the rink. “Just some stuff I didn’t expect.”

“What happened?”

Tay sighed as he picked up his skates by their laces, but then leaned back into the crook of Marshall’s arm. “It was stupid. Zac and I got in a fight and made my little brother cry. It was just completely messed up.”

“Why you fighting?”

“Because my dad got us this TV for our room. Well, he said it was for me so I could look at my skating recordings.”

Silence followed and he turned to see Marshall giving him a doubtful stare. “Zac got mad ‘cause he didn’t get one?”

“No, he knew it was for the both of us; it’s in our room.”

Marshall kept staring at him with that disbelieving, doubtful look, “You got pissed ‘cause your dad gave you a TV?”

He felt himself flush a little. “I know how it sounds,” Except he hadn’t, not until he’d put it out there. Not until he sounded like a whining spoiled brat bitching about this present when the TV in Marshall’s house practically still had knobs on it. “But it’s not like that. You don’t understand, he just doesn’t….”

“Hey, hey, hold up,” Marshall circled his waist with both arms and Tay tossed his skates aside to smooth Marshall’s chest, the pink of his cheeks still there like a sunburn. He stared hard at the little metal teeth of the zipper on Marshall’s hoodie. “You want your old man to be down with you; you don’t want no TV. I got that.”

Tay looked up sheepishly and Marshall gave him a knowing half-smile.” I ain’t stupid, yo.”

“I never thought you were stupid.”

Marshall fingers came around his jaw gently and tilted their lips together, soft, sweet brush of mouths until Tay nipped at Marshall’s bottom lip with his teeth. Marshall made a throaty sound and his hand slid up the curve of Tay’s skull, buried in his hair, exploring deeper in his mouth. They were panting when they stopped, sharing breath and Marshall looked in his eyes.

“Good.”

They held each other quietly for a few seconds before Tay reluctantly let go so he could go change out of his skate clothes.

“I still don’t get why you and Zac threw down, though.” Marshall said as they walked to the lockers and Tay sighed.

“He didn’t think I acted happy enough that my dad got the TV for our room and I told him he didn’t know what he was talking about because he doesn’t. I can’t tell him about…that.” Marshall’s hand found the warm under his hair beneath his neck and rubbed. The contact eased the muscles that wanted to tense up at the memory. “And it just got ugly. We yelled at my little brother when he interrupted us and we never do that, not like that, so it kind of freaked him out.”

“Got your mom pissed, huh?”

“Pretty much.” Tay admitted, voice low. “We didn’t even get a lecture. She just looked at us and I felt like shit….” He turned to see Marshall regarding at him with a doubtful stare.

“She just—looked—at you?” Marshall asked.

“And Zac.” Tay added, “Even though he started the whole thing so….”

“That’s how you got punished?” Marshall asked and Tay looked over at the amused sound to his voice to see his boyfriend biting his lip and trying not to smile.

“Well, it wasn’t exactly punished but she was really angry, and we didn’t leave the room the whole night.” Tay defended.

“Told you to stay there, huh?”

”No.” Tay admitted and Marshall’s whole face was a question mark. “But we knew. I mean, she was really pissed.”

“But you coulda left.”

“The room? I guess, but I didn’t want to run into her.” He and Zac had sat in their room the entire evening, the silent specter of the TV sitting square on their desk, mocking them until Tay hated the sight of it.

“Because she looked at you.”

“You’ve never seen my mother when she’s like that, okay?”

“It sounds rough.” Marshall nodded, giving him a very stern stare before breaking into laughter.

“It isn’t funny!” Tay protested indignantly. “She’s all disappointed and she says it and……” Marshall bent over with the force of his laughter, waving his hand for Tay to stop. Tay felt the tips of his ears burn as he glared at Marshall’s guffawing form. Marshall was laughing so hard tears were coming out of his eyes.

“Fuck you. Whatever.”

“Naw, naw, come on,” Marshall gasped, catching his arm as Tay walked away, and Tay pulled back, scowling, but Marshall circled his waist from behind, the shaking of his laughter vibrating against Tay’s back. “Don’t be like that.”

“You’re making fun of me.” Tay crossed his arms ignoring how really good it felt to have Marshall hold him like that. He could feel Marshall’s thighs against his and the warm puff of his breath against his ear.

“Naw, dog, it’s just,” Marshall let out another giggle and Tay slid a narrow look at him before pushing at his arms.

“A’aight, a’aight, sorry, sorry, it’s just,” Marshall rubbed at his chin on Tay’s shoulder still letting out little laughs here and there, “The last time my mom got pissed at me she hit me so hard I got a bloody nose.”

Tay turned to him quickly, stomach clenching at the words.

“Don’t look that way, yo, she don’t hit me since I got too big.” Marshall grinned and there was something really wrong with that, too, somehow. He saw Marshall’s look shift, as if Marshall realized he’d said something that he shouldn’t, something wrong, but he didn’t know what.

“Your folks don’t spank none ‘a you?”

“Yeah, they do.” Tay said quickly. “Sometimes.” But not very often, his mind supplied. Not often at all. In fact the only times he could really remember was when they had done something dangerous that hurt themselves or others; like the time Zac had been tear-assing around in the grocery store parking lot and mom had her hands full with Jessie and the cart full of food. He and Ike just hadn’t been paying any attention. Zac had darted out in front of a van that screeched on its breaks half a foot from Zac’s startled face, blond hair still swinging from where he’d turned at the sound. Their mom had handed Jessie to Ike and whacked Zac once on the butt, hard. Then she’d burst into tears followed by Zac, but Tay knew it was more out of shock than because it had hurt; shock for both of them.

Zac never did it again, always fisting somebody’s shirt when they left a store. He’d only stopped doing that at around nine or ten.

Marshall leaned his cheek on Tay’s shoulder, facing away, and stopped smiling altogether, the muscles of his arms stiff instead of relaxed. /Good going, Tay/ he chided himself, but he really had to fight to shut any other questions up. Like how Marshall got those bruises on his face if his mother didn’t hit him anymore.

“I wasn’t dissin’ you, a’aight?” Marshall said, looking at him, eyes giving him those little glances that Tay loved because they made Marshall’s long lashes lift up and down.

“I know,” Tay said, voice apologetic. He ran his hands over Marshall’s arms, still locked around his waist and tilted his head against Marshall’s. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have….it’s none of my business…”

“It ain’t that.” Marshall turned him so they faced each other and Tay linked his arms around Marshall’s neck, his fingers seeking the short bristles of hair because he liked how the short strands resisted against the tips. Marshall stared at him, electric blue eyes troubled and such a serious set to his pouty lips that Tay wanted to kiss them until they smiled. “I don’t wanna hide nothing from you it’s just….” Marshall shrugged. “When we fuck up at my house we get beat.”

“We get in trouble.” Tay said softly but it wasn’t the same thing and they both knew it.

“Naw, it’s a’aight. I’m glad your folks don’t do that. I don’t want no one hittin’ you.”

“Oh, but you getting beat up is perfectly fine?” The words spilled out on their own and Marshall stared at him with this deer in the headlights look and when did this get all heavy this way? Marshall lowered his eyes, dark fringes against pale cheeks.

“No.”

Tay hugged him tight, pressing up to him and inhaling him deep from the crevice of his neck. Marshall’s hands moved restless in his hair and a spike of want pierced him, it always did when Marshall did that and he didn’t want to be talking about this here, now. He had to leave soon and he wanted to do other things. A lot.

“Come on.” He pulled away and backed up, tugging Marshall into the locker room. “We’ll talk about it later.”

“A’aight,” Marshall’s tone said they weren’t discussing this any time soon if he had anything to do with it.

Tay left to change out of his skating clothes as fast as he could and was still tugging on his sweater when he walked out. Marshall had sat on the bench and was hunched over looking at the pins on Tay’s backpack. Tay told himself there was nothing wrong with that and sat on his other side, hiking up his foot to pull on his trainers.

He’d gotten some of the pins from Johnny and a few were, well, kind of obvious. He had a peace sign, a ‘Figure Skating is Love’ pin and his vintage Erasure pin but he also had his favorite Velvet Goldmine pin with Brian Slade in all his androgynous glory, a rainbow Yin and Yang one and one that Johnny had to have stuck there when Tay wasn’t looking that said, ‘Is That A Rocket In Your Pocket?’ with a picture of the space shuttle. Tay was going to kill him.

“You sure your old man didn’t figure you out before?” Marshall said sitting up from where he’d been studying the buttons. Tay smiled ruefully as he tied his laces.

“My dad doesn’t notice that stuff.”

Suddenly his sweater lifted and a warm hand lay flat on his lower spine while Marshall’s other arm slipped around his waist, pulling him back into a warm V of open legs. Tay shut his eyes and smiled as Marshall’s hand moved under his sweater, feeling over the bumps on his vertebra like an abacus, molding Tay’s shoulder blade with curious fingers. The arm around his stomach tightened and Tay gripped the strong forearm, traced down to Marshall’s hand and threaded their fingers as the palm moved over the flat plane of Tay’s middle and rubbing like he had a stomach ache and why did that make him hard?

“I like doing this.” Marshall’s voice sounded low in the curve of Tay’s ear, velvet and moist and porn. “I wanna be with you all the time.”

“Me, too.” Tay murmured, arching against the wonderful rough-tipped hands with their warm, warm swipes across his skin. His head tipped back on Marshall’s shoulder, stretching the line from chin to clavicle, the flesh of his neck almost jumping at the sensation he knew would come because Marshall loved to mouth his neck, latch on and suck with slow, easy….oh. Tay gasped softly as Marshall’s lips closed on the taut tendons, moist and nipping. Tay’s free hand lifted up, directionless for a second while it found Marshall’s bent head, then curving around the vulnerable burred skull, pushing Marshall’s mouth harder on him, one hard drawing of his skin into the heat so Tay made a helpless sound. Marshall pulled him ever closer, strong thighs surrounded his and Tay gripped the fabric of Marshall’s jeans as the hard presence between Marshall’s legs nudged against the seat of Tay’s pants.

“How late you gonna be?” Oh, bastard. The words fell liquid hot into the shell of Tay’s ear and he was never going to be able to ride his bike at this rate….He braced his feet on the floor and pushed his hips back just a little into the insistent hardness there; heard Marshall’s breath catch, get ragged, open-mouthed kiss on his jaw that made Tay shiver.

“Late.” He said, straining and tried to work up some indignation for the smile he felt curl against his ear. It didn’t work.

He turned his head to fall into the open wet of Marshall’s mouth instead.

Chapter Text

Take me if you need me
But never hold me down
You're asking me to trust you
Well there's little of that around
I'm trying to believe you
And I'm learning all the time
Two-part personality
The flower and the vine
Flower and the vine

'Sleeping Angel'
~Stevie Nicks

MARSHALL

“Somebody got some!”

“Who’d you tap Marsh?”

“It the mystery girl.”

“Not unless that’s what he named his hand, yo!” A sea of guffawing and laughter washed over Marshall but he just grinned and turned the combination on his locker, opening it to block the teasing. He didn’t even bother to pull up his collar over the small rash of hickies that went from the back of his ear to his clavicle, little rosebud nips from Tay’s satin soft lips. He didn’t care if his hickies showed and he definitely felt too happy to care what the guys made up to explain them.

He shut his locker and his eyes locked with Proof’s. He felt his smile fade a little at the way Proof’s eyes kind of slid away.

Proof hadn’t called him out, not once. Marshall knew he wouldn’t and Proof hadn’t disappointed him. Except it was out there now. It always seemed to be between them now: when they hung out, talked on the phone, made plans for shit. Hell, if he knew how to fix it without telling Proof he would and even with the bigass pink elephant that sat it’s butt in the middle when they tried to talk, Marshall still wasn’t sure if he was ready for that.

“Got a show at the Shelter tonight, dog.” Proof leaned against the locker as Marshall stuffed his Math book in his backpack and zipped up. “You in?”

“Maybe later.” Marshall said slowly, averting his eyes. “I got tutoring tonight.”

Proof nodded eyes lowered then turned away with a shrug, “I hear ya.”

“I can’t be there until ten, a’aight?” Marshall said quickly, “After I take Tay home.”

Proof turned back and Marshall watched the ink black of his eyes crinkle with a smile, felt the nervous tightening in his stomach loosen as he smiled back. “Fuck, dog. You know the joint just gettin’ tipsy at ten. That’s chill.”

“Dope.” They knocked knuckles and Marshall started to ask him who was battling when all the trash talking around them stopped cold and he saw Proof’s eyebrows go up so high they disappeared under his dreads.

“Hey Marshall.” Said a low, shy voice and he turned to crash head on into the light brown eyes of Latrella Thibodaux.

Marshall saw why the guys had shut up. Von looked like he might pass out from the shock and Marshall could sense the eyes of everyone in the hall on them, sneaking glances and starting whispers. Latrella Thibodaux kinda had that affect on people.

She was one of only two Black cheerleaders on the drill team and one of the finest looking girls Marshall had ever seen up close. She had skin the color of Beyonce’s, that light bright color that looked like the coffee in his aunt Betty’s cup after she added milk. She had light brown eyes, too, like honey, and long, soft, black hair that fell in a shining sweep to the middle of her back. Her full lips smiled at him and when she stepped up holding her books in front of her chest, the faint, delicate scent of her perfume washed over all of them. Not heavy like other girls used but nice and flowery.

“’Sup?” Marshall said trying to keep the blush that wanted to take over his face from happening. It felt like the amount of people in the hall had tripled in the last ten seconds and if Rufus didn’t stop making faces behind Latrella’s back Marshall was gonna go upside his head.

“You have Lang for Math, right?” Her long lashes lifted at him.

“Yeah. I got him.” He admitted, unable to keep from dropping his eyes to the floor at the frank interest in her stare.

“I was just wondering. Did you understand the whole distributive property and associative property? Because I do not know what that man is talking about at all. You got a good grade on the quiz, right?” Then he looked up and her face showed nothing but questioning exasperation and Marshall found himself nodding before he’d even thought about it, already digging in his backpack for his book.

“Yeah, I got it. Hold up.” He went right to the page since Tay had marked it with a funny little plastic sticky flag, and opened the book balancing it between them.

“The distributive property is like distributing the number outside the parenthesis to the numbers inside, that’s all.” Marshall used his finger to draw an arc between the 6 to the 3 and the 2x in the brackets. “You can do it with negative signs too and sh-stuff.”

“Is that all?” Latrella sighed in relief. “I was so confused! What about the other one? The associative one?”

“A’aight, that’s like the same thing but different.” Marshall said and knew he didn’t explain it as good as Tay when he saw the doubtful look on Latrella’s face.

“Look, uh.” Marshall flipped a few pages to find the other part of the chapter. Latrella leaned closer a little bit and Marshall felt the soft press of her shoulder against his and the curve of her chest, covered in a pink sparkly sweater was inches from his hand. He shifted back a little and came up against his locker, his face flaming under her steady, expectant stare.

“Uh, right here,” he pointed to another example. “That just means that you can put these bracket things around any combo and it’ll come out to the same thing. The answer, I mean.” He pointed to the series of numbers: 2x+5+7x, then the following examples: (2x+5)+7x and 2x+(5+7x).

“Oooooh, I see.” Latrella nodded and Marshall gave her a half smile and shut his book because the bell had to be about to ring any minute now…

“You’re real smart about all that, huh?” She tilted her head at him and Marshall shuffled glancing at her strong legs under the black skirt that didn’t ride up her ass but left plenty of smooth, dark thigh visible.

“Naw. I got a tutor helps me out. Without him I don’t know shit.”

“Maybe, since you still know more than me, we could study together or something? If you want to.” She smiled and Marshall knew, just from the way she waited, holding her book lower now against the flat of her stomach with her shiny oval nails delicately curved out so they wouldn’t get caught on the book cover, that she knew he wanted to.

Except he didn’t.

“Uh, it’s just that—I really don’t know this shit until my tutor explains it to me, a’aight? And I kinda got hockey practice, too.”

“Oh.” Latrella’s light brown eyes looked at him so puzzled for so long Marshall started to pray for the bell. Von kept giving him the most fucked up exasperated look behind Latrella’s back. Marshall had a hard time focusing on her face so she wouldn’t look over her shoulder and see Von making curving motions on front of his chest and biting his knuckle. “Alright, then. Maybe some other time.”

“Yeah, yeah. Thanks, tho.” He remembered to add and the cheerleader smile came back full force, blinding white, and whoah, she really was one fly looking girl. If this had happened three months ago, hell, two, he’d have been all over that action before she got the question out.

But even under the inviting stare of those light brown eyes it was no contest. It wasn’t even close.

“I’ll see you later.” Latrella turned casually then looked over at Proof who had stood there with his mouth open the entire time.

“Bye Deshaun.”

“Buh-bye.” Proof breathed and Marshall ducked his head to hide his grin.

The bell finally fucking rang and the guys exploded all over him with talk at the same time.

“The fuck you doing Marsh???”

“Tell me he didn’t turn down ‘Trella Thibodaux, dog. Tell me he didn’t do that!”

“Have you lost your damn mind, yo??”

Everybody except Proof got right up in his face demanding an explanation and he just laughed at them. “Got class.”

“That shit’s wrong, Marsh!” Von called out and Marshall turned, still grinning.

“She’s just going through me to get to you, dog. Didn’t you see that?”

“For real?” Von said hopefully and Proof pushed the back of his head with smirk.

“Shut up, yo.”

He’d almost do it again just for the look on Von’s face.

At lunch he changed his mind.

*~*~*~**~

They’d just gotten settled on the bleachers and hadn’t even twisted open their pops yet when ripple went through the crowds around them and a bunch of people started running in the direction of the parking lot.

“The fuck?” Marshall muttered peering through the slats of the seats to see everyone on the blacktop long squeezed between the cars and the open spaces.

“Yo!” Proof called to the nearest person as they ran past. “What up?”

“Girl fight, man!” the kid panted, out of breath, then caught sight of Marshall and grinned. “Your ex and Latrella Thibodaux are throwing down for you, dog!”

Marshall almost dropped his burrito. “Fuck did you say?”

“For real, yo!” The kid insisted before taking off and they all looked at each other before pounding down the steps clutching their food.

The crowd had gotten huge and Marshall figured they had maybe five minutes, if they were lucky, before someone showed up and started taking names. He elbowed his way closer but as soon as people saw him they seemed to back off, eyes shiny with anticipation. All of them got to front of the action pretty easy, though Marshall wished way before he saw the two girls in the center, that he’d just stayed at the bleachers with his lunch.

“—back the fuck off him ‘cause he’s mine.” Jeanine spat at Latrella, the bangs of her fine brown hair falling in the black-rimmed eyes. One arm had a scratch and part of her hoodie had been torn.

“We were just talking you crazy cracker.” Latrella shot back, hands on her hips and the smooth line of her hair all messed up into a tangle.

A whole posse of big black girls stood behind her smaller, slimmer form and Marshall knew who they were. Everybody knew them since they followed Latrella around like bodyguards: thug girls, all of them tough and street, and most were big like his Aunt Betty was big, with broad shoulders and huge chests and feet the made his look small. They all came from the projects, just like ‘Trella, and Marshall understood being drawn to someone that looked like everything you wanted to be. That looked all shiny and perfect and that had a future. ‘Trella didn’t even really hang with the cheerleaders; she was down with that crowd but this was her posse and they’d kill for her.

That’s when Marshall about decided Jeanine really had lost her mind, because some of those bitches could take him on and not break a sweat and Jeanine had to know they did whatever Latrella said. “We have a class together. I don’t see how it’s any of your damn business since he laid. You. Off.” Latrella stretched out each word, leaning forward and Marshall stared at the cold flat brown of her eyes, no longer like honey but like some empty, shiny wood.

“I say it’s my business and you ain’t his type. He don’t like black coffee.” Jeanine’s eyes flicked up and down at her and the quiet of the crowd erupted in ‘ooooos’ and exclamation of, ‘Oh no she didn’t!’ ‘Daaaaaaaaaaamn!’

A buzz went through the crowd, almost like at a game when the action got fast and ugly; it rose up like a live thing so Marshall could almost see it and it seemed to carry over to the rink getting under their skin to feed the intensity. He felt it now, thick and dangerous in the air, spiking up when the group of huge girls behind Latrella moved forward like a defensive line.

She stopped them with a flick of one manicured hand. None of her nails had even been broken. Her pretty oval face had a calm, cold look to it and she looked nothing like the shy girl that asked him about Algebra.

“Step back. I can take this bitch.”

“Bring it.” Jeanine bared her small, even teeth reminding Marshall of a small, quick animal that liked to bite, and suddenly they swung on each other out of nowhere. The crowd cheered and the electricity in the air got higher and Marshall stepped back, shocked at the flying hair and cursing and sickening punches.

‘Cause he’d seen girls fight, yeah. This wasn’t some prissy little private school like Crandall. If people had beef they settled it with their fists, girls or boys, but some people just didn’t need to and he thought Latrella Thibodaux was one of them.

“Damn.” Proof whispered next to him. His voice sounded almost admiring, though, and fuck if Marshall could see why.

Latrella got in a good clock to Jeanine’s jaw and Jeanine’s wiry body threw her off with a growl.

“Give up.” Latrella panted and Jeanine glared at her so hard Marshall thought if looks really could kill Latrella would have gone up in smoke.

“Fuck you. Back off him and I’ll give up.”

“He don’t even want you, you dumb ho.” He already got someone. Ask him.”

“No he don’t!” Jeanine shouted as they both looked at him.

A hundred pairs of eyes turned towards him with a murmur of eagerness and Marshall blinked at Latrella’s calm confidence then glanced around at everyone’s faces, curious, wondering, downright hungry for more drama and his breath started to come in little stitches under the weight of all those eyes.

“Yeah he do!” Von suddenly piped up, pointing at Marshall with his finger and Marshall elbowed him; got a flash of Jeanine’s hurt, angry face before Proof whacked Von on the head.

“Shut the fuck up, dog!”

“Well, he do!” Von defended himself against their hitting before a piercing whistle cut off whatever he said next and the crowd scattered at the sight of the security guards running at them through the parking lot.

“Let’s go!” Proof dragged him through the thick soup of people trying to dodge getting busted and they booked it to the left behind the special ed temporary buildings, running until the whistles and shouting sounded faint and distant. They finally ended up back at the bleachers panting and sweaty and Marshall had lost his burrito somewhere a long time ago.

“Fuck.” Marshall breathed when he could talk, leaning against the stands to wipe his face and Proof lifted his dreads off the sticky stretch of his neck.

“That was messed up.” Proof said, with his eyes closed.

“Fuck.” Marshall whispered again to himself as he realized the whole damn school thought he’d hooked up with someone that wasn’t Jeanine or Latrella and he had no idea how long that was gonna fly since he kept spending all his free time with Tay.

“You didn’t tell ‘Trella you was hooked up, did you?” Proof asked, face puzzled and Marshall could see him replaying Latrella’s visit in his head.

“Did you hear me tell her I was hooked up?” Marshall demanded. “She was bluffing.”

Their eyes met then for long seconds before each looked away, unspoken questions flying in the air between them and neither saying a word. They didn’t say anything when the bell rang or when they walked back to the lockers or when they took out their books, neither. Not until Marshall turned to go then Proof caught his arm and studied his face.

“You a’aight, man?”

“Yeah,” Marshall nodded, even though he’d had a strange knot in his stomach ever since the fight, ever since all those stares fixed on him and he realized he had no fucking clue what he would have said if the rent-a-cops hadn’t shown up.

“A’aight,” Proof said, even though he didn’t look like he believed it. “Catch you at The Shelter, yo.”

Marshall nodded before walking to class. He told himself all the stares and whispers he heard were just his imagination.

*~*~*~*~*

He pulled up in front of Tay’s house so ready to see him that just watching Tay step out the front door and walk down the steps to the car seemed like it took too long. The wind blew Tay’s dark and gold hair all around and Tay flicked it out of his face and Marshall loved it when he did that. He wanted to put his hands all over him and they hadn’t even studied yet.

“’Sup.” Marshall put the car in drive then glanced back at him.

“So.” Tay’s smile looked too wide and something in his eyes looked way too knowing. “Girls fight over you.”

“Aw, shit.” He closed his eyes as he hit his head on the seat rest.

 

*~*~*~*

They had driven for a few minutes in silence before Marshall risked looking over again. Tay studied him with the same look he got when he looked at a hard math problem. The sky blue eyes fixed on his face like Tay could see in him.

“Where’d you hear that?” Marshall finally asked and Tay shrugged, glancing out the window.

“Zac. The guys on the team were talking about it.”

“Whatever.” Marshall muttered, shifting uncomfortably.

“They said she was pretty, too.”

“She’s a’aight.” He really didn’t want to talk about this and he wasn’t even sure why.

“And a cheerleader.”

“So?” He snapped, more rude than he meant to and but Tay just kept looking at him.

A’aight. He knew why. Because, yeah, sometimes it paid off to have school and Tay divided down the middle. In one way it frustrated the hell out of him because he couldn’t see Tay during the day like he had Jeanine. They couldn’t eat lunch together or hang during classes and he still didn’t see Tay enough as it was. He didn’t think he’d ever see Tay enough. Still, when he really thought about it he realized he didn’t know what the hell he’d do if Tay really went to his school. He couldn’t be around Tay for more than a half hour without wanting him in the dark somewhere pressed all over him. What the hell did he think they were gonna do? Hold hands and walk to class? Make out in the hall? And he could just see trying to hang with the guys AND Tay. Been there, done that. Fucked that up.

“Do you like her?”

“What?” He said, too loud, glaring at Tay at a red light. Tay looked at him calmly but a little line had formed between the silky dark brows that said the calm didn’t go all the way through. “I said she was a’aight. Damn.”

“Because it’s normal for you to be still attracted to girls.” Tay bit his lip as his eyes lowered. “I mean, since this is really new…”

“I ain’t attracted to her.”

“It’s okay if you are.”

“I fuckin’ AIN’T, a’aight?” he shouted and Tay started a little. “The hell do you want me to say, Taylor? Why the fuck are we talkin’ about this?”

“I just…. it’s ….” Tay hesitated then looked out the window, lips tight. “Sorry.”

“C’mere.” Tay looked over at him and Marshall reached for Tay’s hand keeping one eye on the road. He entwined their fingers and tugged until Tay shifted over and sat next to him, curled up close so Marshall could feel his warmth and smell soap and faint detergent. Tay felt kind of tense at first but Marshall rubbed his hand. Tay’s body relaxed and Marshall felt the soft, warm pads of Tay’s fingers as he stroked the veins at the top of Marshall’s hand. Marshall didn’t release Tay until he had to shift to go into the parking lot on Putnam Street.

Then he parked the car and held Tay there when Tay moved to get out.

They looked at each other in the dusk of the evening and Marshall reached over to brush Tay’s hair out of his face, letting the strands fall between his fingers as he cupped the clean curve of Tay’s jaw.

Tay’s eyes got soft and he rubbed into Marshall’s palm a little. He loved when Tay did that, like a kitten searching for contact. The skin felt so soft and Marshall watched Tay’s beautiful face look at him and his heart did the skipping thing it did when he had Tay alone, near him and touching him when he could hardly believe Tay was his. “I ain’t gettin’ with anyone,” he held Tay’s stare and spoke slow and clear, “that ain’t you. A’aight? I ain’t even interested.” Tay’s blue eyes held his, searching, finding, and Tay ducked his head as their hands played around each other weaving and separating, fingers brushing in little electric slides of touch.

“I’m sorry. That was stupid.”

“Yeah.” Marshall admitted connecting their hands flat like they were praying then shifting over to rub his thumb over the tender skin on Tay’s inner wrist. He could just see a faint blue vein in the dying light of the evening. He traced it with a finger. Tay’s lids slipped closed, pink lips parted a little. Marshall leaned closer, close enough to catch the light scent of shampoo from Tay’s hair. God, he loved Tay’s scent: clean and good with a hint of skin. “I got what I want,” he whispered.

When the silky lashes lifted the look in Tay’s eyes burned him. “Me, too.”
Marshall realized he couldn’t breathe so good, just from how Tay looked at him, just from the deep want in his eyes.

Shit, he was getting hard no matter what and they hadn’t even walked in the building.

“Where’d you hear this shit, yo?” he asked, trying to distract himself and his dick from what it couldn’t have right now, in the library parking lot in the middle of downtown Detroit.

“Overheard.” Tay sighed, looking away while blooms of blush sprouted on his cheeks. “Zac was on the phone with one of his friends; he’s not really talking to me right now, and I heard your name and. …stuff.”

“Stuff?” Marshall imitated and Tay rolled his eyes, dimples deepening when he smirked like that.

“Yeah, stuff. Like how cute and popular she was and how your ex wanted you back and how you and the cute girl were making out in the hall…”

“We weren’t making out! I never fucking touched her!” Marshall exclaimed and Tay lifted an eyebrow at him. “She had a question about the Math chapter; wanted to study together. I told her ‘no.’ I don’t fuck around when I’m with someone, a’aight?”

“Oh.” Tay said in a small voice, eyes lowered. Marshall squeezed his hand tight until Tay looked up, embarrassment in his eyes and Marshall grinned.

“Your ass was jealous.”

“Shut up.” Tay mumbled, still flushed pink and Marshall would have given anything to kiss him right then, all embarrassed and red-cheeked and pretty.

“You were!”

“Well, duh!” Tay started to get move across the seat to get out of the car but Marshall pulled him back and stared at him until they both were both smiling.

“We need to go in.” Tay said in his responsible voice and Marshall gave one more press to the soft flesh of Tay’s wrist before letting go.

“Yeah, yeah.” But they were both grinning like idiots by the time they shut the car doors.

He’d even managed to keep his hard-on under control.

*~*~*~*~*

It lasted twenty minutes.

*~*~*~*~*

“Remember we talked about what monomial was?” Tay asked, writing the number seven on the paper between them.

“Yeah,” Marshall nodded, rubbing Tay’s back with his hand. Tay smiled a little and didn’t move away. “That’s like regular number with no extra shit.”

“Right. A number with just one term. Okay.” Tay nodded, accepting the definition after a second. “So if a monomial is a number with one term than a binomial is a number with two terms. Like this.” He wrote a y next to the 7: 7y.

“Yeah. I got that. It’s got two different kinda numbers. Like bisexual.”

Tay gave an amused laugh. “Kind of. Close enough.”

Marshall nodded, satisfied.

“We’ve already seen these in other chapters, remember?” Marshall nodded again. “This chapter tells us how to multiply them using the FOIL method and the Distributive Property.” Like Marshall could forget THAT fuckin’ property.

Tay wrote (3+7x )(6+2x) on the paper between them then wrote the word FOIL in a column. “FOIL is easy to remember because it stands for First, Outer, Inner, Last.” He wrote each word next to its letter so Marshall could see the four letters were like a shortcut.

Tay drew arcs over the equations using different colored markers and linked the first numbers in the brackets, the first and last numbers in both brackets, and the two inner numbers. “This is simple multiplying. What’s 3 times 6?”

“18.” Marshall answered, edging closer to Tay on his chair so his chin was almost resting on Tay’s shoulder. Tay continued but he felt the little lilt of Tay’s body closer to his. “Three times two x?”

Marshall scrunched up his face as he tried to remember the rules for multiplying different numbers like that. “Uh...6…6? 6x?”

“Yeah! Good!” Tay beamed at him and Marshall watched the excited gleam in his eyes and felt kind of embarrassed like he always did when Tay made a big deal out a right answer.

7x times 6 was 42x and the last one almost got him because he forgot to square the x in 7x times 2x.
The equation now read:

18+6x+42x+14x2.

“Do you see anything we can combine?” Tay asked and Marshall squinted at the numbers, blinking a few times, which sometimes helped things come together, like it cleared his mind for it.

“The 6x and the 42x?” He laid his index and forefingers under each number.

“Why?” Tay asked back.

“Why what?”

“Why combine those?”

“’Cause they both got an x?”

“Do you square the x?”

“Yeah…” Tay lowered his chin and Marshall corrected himself. “No….”

“We only square the x, or the y or whatever, if we’re multiplying, remember? That’s why we squared it in the first place. But here we’re…”

“Adding.” Marshall ran a hand over his hair. He knew that.

“It’s okay. Now you can remember.” Tay encouraged, rubbing his back beneath his shoulder blades and it was like that connected right to his dick because suddenly his boxers felt tight and he wiggled around on the chair.

“So now…?” Tay said after a few seconds and Marshall pulled his mind out of his pants and back to the numbers in front of him.

“It’s 40…48…x?”

“Perfect!” Tay wrote it down, smiling. “And we’re done!”

“That’s it?” Marshall peered at the equation.

18+48x+14x2.

There still seemed to be too many numbers floating around.

“That ain’t an answer.”

“There’s no equal sign so this is the answer.”

“A’aight.” Marshall allowed, even if it didn’t seem right not to have one combined number for the whole thing.

“Let’s try another one.”

They did three more and Marshall was practically out of his mind by then. They were melded together from hip to knee. He sat so close one tilt of his neck could have his mouth right there, on that muscle that made Tay gasp and close his eyes, body arching into Marshall’s hands as they….

“You aren’t concentrating.” Tay murmured. Marshall shifted lower on the seat, his cock heavy and uncomfortable.

“You got no idea how hard I’m concentrating.” He mumbled, trying not to sound grumpy, and glared when Tay laughed softly.

“Yo, fuck you.”

“After five more problems.” Marshall blinked and, whoah, that wasn’t helping his concentration. He looked at Tay, wanting him, and saw Tay’s stare drop to his mouth. He peeked out his tongue and bit the flesh of his bottom lip. He watched Tay’s stare get a little lost.

“That’s not fair.” Tay muttered, pulling his eyes away.

“Let’s go somewhere.” Marshall whispered into Tay’s shoulder, inhaling Tay like the cocaine he’d never tried.

“We are somewhere.” Tay seemed to be staring very hard at the paper between them.

“Let’s go somewhere private.”

“We’ve barely been here an hour….”

“I got this.”

“Oh, you do.” Tay gave him a sideways stare.

“Yeah.”

“Five more problems.” Tay wrote another one on the paper between them.

“Three.”

“Four.”

“Three.”

“Okay, that’s not how you negotiate.” Tay said, exasperated and Marshall ran his middle finger down the line Tay’s spine through the thin light-blue button down he wore. A faint puff of breath left Tay’s lips and his neck rolled back a little, just a small movement until he remembered where they were and what they were doing.

Marshall caught Tay’s eyes when Tay turned to him and they stared at each other in the quiet, muffled sounds of library: staff at the desk and the squeak of someone’s book truck in the background, and the pull, the pull reached out. Mugged him. Grabbed his gut, his breath so he started to pant. It made him feel all—dizzy kinda—like when he rode the roller coaster too many times in a row. Tay’s eyes drifted down to Marshall’s mouth again and if he kept doing that Marshall was gonna kiss him no matter where they were.

It was eight o’clock on a Friday, anyways. The damn place was dead.

“Three.” Said Tay. He wrote down three problems and had to erase one and start over because his fingers shook, a little.

“A’aight.” Marshall pulled the paper to him and bent his head over the paper.

It took him ten minutes.

They were perfect.

As they gathered their things, Marshall focusing on being alone with Tay, making deals with his hands when they wanted to grab Tay’s ass in the middle of book aisle, Tay mumbled, voice low, “I don’t even know where to go.”

“I know.” Marshall said.

The sky blue eyes burned him again with their look and Marshall concentrated on walking to the car without getting a hard on or bursting into flames.

*~*~*~*~*

RONNIE’S

He eased the Impala into the dark space under the corrugated metal that passed for Ronnie’s garage and turned off the car. The engine clicked into the night but aside from a dog barking somewhere and a siren passing by, the neighborhood was pretty peaceful. A lot of old people and families lived here and even though the hood snuck closer every day, for now, the peace of the neighborhood held.

“Who lives here?” Tay’s asked, voice low, like he didn’t want to break the spell, either.

“It was my Uncle Ronnie’s place,” Marshall said glancing out at the small brick house, dark and closed up. “No one’s bothering us.” The place was private property and Marshall had his key if anyone tried to give him any static.

He and Tay stared at each other in the dark, then, and Marshall reached out to tuck Tay’s hair behind his ear, the contact sparking along his fingers. He felt Tay shiver; felt him nudge against his touch, the brush of Tay’s lips along a knuckle that spiked up his heartbeat, stole his breath and made him clench the other hand just so he wouldn’t touch himself. His breath sounded real loud in the quiet of the car, but so did Tay’s and Marshall swallowed, tried to breathe, tried to hold on for just a few more seconds.

“Wanna get in the back?” his voice sounded rough, low. It didn’t shake and just that was something.

“Yeah.” Tay whispered, eyes dark in the shadows of the car. They sat there in their cocoon for a few seconds more then Marshall opened the door to the cold from outside, already around the back and in before Tay could shuffle across the Impala’s long seat and get out.

Then it was almost like they had to start over, moving and freezing and nervous laughter after Tay shut his door. But there Tay was looking over at him, blond hair around his face, long legs spread out in front and a look in his eyes that made Marshall hard in seconds. Tay sat with his hands in his pockets; long, delicate stretch of neck, glowing pale in the dark over the folds of Tay’s gray scarf. Marshall’s cock twitched at that stretch because he loved kissing there. Biting there and licking there and feeling Tay react in his arms. He had to be sitting like that on purpose.

Because they hadn’t done this, been alone this way, since Tay showed up on his doorstep and he’d been thinking of it, wanting it bad, ever since. He’d replayed Tay’s hand on his cock a thousand times, the feel of Tay under him, strong and slim, and Marshall wondered, for a minute, if being here was using up all his luck in the universe at one time. Not that he gave a damn.

Not when the air got heavy and alive across the seat and his hands ached to touch Tay.

“I’ve never made out in a car.” Tay’s voice sounded quiet but he heard the smile.

He brought his eyes back up to Tay’s face, the pretty, clean lines of it. “Never?”

Tay shook his head.

“Then get over here.” He commanded, voice going hoarse all of a sudden just from the want, Jesus, the need crashing all over him.

Tay shuffled over twice, all it took with the lanky-ass legs, and Marshall’s arms closed around him, gathered him in, and crushed him close. They stared at each other and Marshall wondered if he looked surprised because it still blew him the fuck away all the time, this. Every time he had Tay this close, every time he sank his hand into Tay’s silk blond hair and ran his hand over the heated skin of Tay’s back he had to remind himself /mine/. God, all his.

“Mmmm,” Tay sighed into his mouth, just melting into him, lips brushing, tugging, little nips that made Marshall hold him tighter, hitch him up close so he could feel more of his back, fist his hand in the cool strands of Tay’s blond silk hair before feeling over to the gray scarf and tugging until it came undone, shoving it aside, leaving Tay’s neck bare for him. Tay curled into his mouth, tongue and teeth, and Marshall moaned, hand moving over Tay’s waist to the round seat of his pants without even thinking. Tay gave a little gasp and they pulled apart just a little, wet lips and panting into each other in the dark. Tay’s eyes glittered as Marshall rubbed handfuls of ass, his other hand unable to stay away, needing to feel, to cup the curves he’d been staring at forever, round and perfect on Tay’s skinny boy hips. Suddenly Tay crawled up on him, all long legs, hard knot against Marshall’s thigh, then in his lap, and a look on his face that made Marshall’s cock twitch.

“Damn,” he whispered faintly, staring up as Tay’s face got clearer in the dark, shifting lower to fit them closer on his lap, his hands on Tay’s hips, and they both made a sound when the bulges behind their zippers met, both hard, both moving into the other.

“God,” Tay mumbled against his lips and Marshall bit at them, pulled them in, drowned in the satin wet and they were pressed into each other feeling, touching, Tay’s hands on his face, careful and slow like he was glass, then on his chest, pressing against the strong beat of his heart. Marshall left Tay’s mouth to taste his neck, that muscle that Marshall had already claimed, that he thought of as his; he bit.

“Ah!” Tay gasped, twisting, clutching handfuls of Marshall’s t-shirt, and his hips, his hips moved, rocked down sending flashes of heat all through him, sizzling along all his nerves, his skin, up his back.

“Fucking beautiful, so fucking beautiful,” he didn’t even know what he’d whispered into the hollow of Tay’s neck until Tay pulled back in surprise, eyes startled, lips still shiny from their kisses. He maybe would have blushed but he didn’t care now, Tay locked on his lap and them both hard for each other.

“No,” Tay sounded like he was blushing, though, ducking his head back into Marshall’s shoulder, but Marshall made him come back up, hands lifting his jaw until Tay looked at him. Marshall brushed his thumb over the hot skin of his cheeks and Tay was blushing.

“Yeah.” He said, looking steadily into Tay’s eyes until Tay glanced away with a little smile, then looked back, smoothing his hand over the short hair on Marshall’s scalp.

“You, too.”

“Naw,” Marshall said, tilting his head as he looked at Tay. He could stare at him all damn day and not get bored. “I’m an ugly punk.”

“You are not!” Tay laughed and Marshall shrugged, his hands moving under Tay’s button-down to the warm, soft skin of Tay’s back.

“I got a pointy ass nose.” Tay smiled and leaned in, the gentle, powder soft lips closing around the tip of Marshall’s nose in a kiss, and Marshall shut his eyes as something in his chest ached. “Nice nose,” Tay whispered in his ear. Marshall held him tighter, the moist heat of the words making him shake.

“My ears stick out.”

Already near, Tay licked at his lobe, rubbed his nose all along the curve then bit really gently with his teeth and Marshall closed his eyes, breath struggling because, Jesus fuck, that was hot. More moist heat in his ear: “Do not.”

“My chin looks like a butt.” Tay snuffled laughter into his neck and he could feel the smile all along his jaw as Tay traced it with his lips, little tiny kisses before reaching his chin and he lay his head back as Tay nibbled on it, kissed it and brushed it with the tip of his tongue. “I like your chin.” Tay said into his jaw and Marshall swallowed, tried to stop shaking like he’d never made out before. Except this didn’t feel like anything he’d had before, not just the slow, teasing, laughing part; he’d always felt like it was a race with Jeanine, to see how much they could do before time ran out or she changed her mind. He felt all shaky and strange inside, like his heart was gonna break apart. He couldn’t really breathe.

“My eyes….” His voice did shake then, couldn’t help it, and he caught a glimpse of Tay’s face, the perfect lips curving into a smile, the long lashes half shut before Marshall closed his eyes and felt butterfly touches on his lids, first one then the other, flutter flutter.

“Marshall,” Tay murmured near his eyebrow and then Tay’s mouth covered his, open and so wet, burning satin and he strained up into him, bracing his legs on the floor of the car and pushing Tay down with his hands, pushing him on. Tay moaned into his lips, arms around Marshall’s neck as Marshall left a damp trail to Tay’s neck, sucking kisses there, all over there and the sliding thing happened. He felt it start, that thing where things went from laid back to hard, fast, now, and he needed to grind into Tay, he needed to crush him close and touch all under his shirt over bumps of spine and flat stomach and delicate ribs, he needed to.

His fingers pulled at Tay’ shirt blind because he couldn’t stop kissing him. A couple of buttons popped off and Tay laughed into their kiss, his hands sliding all up Marshall’s arms to where his hands struggled with the tiny fucking buttons. He could undo a girl’s bra with one hand but he couldn’t figure out how to unbutton one goddamn shirt right now.

“Let me. I’ll do it.” Tay whispered and Marshall let him, made himself let go, made himself happy with touching foreheads. Tay’s fingers worked their way through each button hole until the shirt flapped loose and Tay’s arms dropped down, his head bowed hiding behind the blond hair, and Marshall realized this was the most naked either of them had been since this whole thing started. Tay’s breath came in little pants too and Marshall was so fucking hard, pushed up there next to Tay’s dick, but he didn’t think of that. His eyes couldn’t stop staring at the open shirt and, damn, Tay’s bare chest was under there, all for him.

Moving slowly Marshall pushed the shirt open and stared at the creamy skin, slanted clavicles and small pink nipples in front of him. He had to touch and he put his hand flat in the middle of Tay’s chest, warmth sparking along his fingers, the strong, fast beat of Tay’s heart pushing up into his palm. Trying to see Tay’s face under the blond hair Marshall leaned forward, placed his other hand on Tay’s side sliding over the ribs like bird’s bones, and kissed over the pound of Tay’s heartbeat, open-mouthed, slow.

Tay’s breath got shallow, both hands finding the ruffle of Marshall’s buzz cut but not demanding, not pushing. Just resting there lightly, careful, as if Tay was scared Marshall would stop. No fucking way. Not when he had Tay bare from neck to waist and the soft but firm skin tasted unbelievable in his mouth.

He smoothed his hands over Tay’s chest, searching, exploring, thumbs outlining Tay’s ribcage, each arc of bone, back to the blades of Tay’s shoulders, and he knew Tay was strong, but he felt so fucking light in his hands, skin silk smooth, muscles sweet and long, not like his bulky ones from playing hockey. A protectiveness came through him out of nowhere, fierce, and he knew he’d take on anyone who hurt this, anyone.

Marshall kissed everywhere he touched: touch, kiss, touch, and each one brought another slow, ragged breath from Tay, a fisting of his hands on Marshall’s skull but still no pushing. Marshall’s lips found the pliable skin of Tay’s nipple, different from his chest, and brushed over it, eyes closed, letting the tip scrape long his lips. The change in Tay happened fast, breath stuttering, body tensing where it had been relaxed, bouncing softly on his lap.

Deep, thick desire started in his gut and Marshall plucked at the pointy tip with his lips, kissing and nipping around it.

“Oh,” Tay said weakly against his forehead, sounding lost. “Yes.” And the lust that washed over him felt like fire.

Splaying his hands on Tay’s back Marshall pulled him into his mouth, sucking deep, tongue teasing and Tay jerked in his arms, hands finally crushing his face to his chest, moans ragged, hips grinding down, grinding in and Marshall growled back in his throat at the blistering heat that unrolled like string all through his body.

“Ohgodplease,” Tay breathed, moving Marshall to the other nipple, face concentrated, almost painful when Marshall glanced up at him through the strands of Tay's hair.

The air in the car had disappeared, all gone, and Marshall panted around the velvety point in his mouth, pulling and worrying and thrusting his hips in time with Tay, licking, until Tay pulled up his head and stared at him, lips parted, gasping, eyes wild and Marshall pulled him into a rough kiss, bruising and burning and fucking perfect.

Tay’s hands were fumbling at his t-shirt trying to pull it up and Marshall yanked it out from where it had caught on under Tay’s hips and then it was bunched at his throat and Tay pressed to him with an eager sound and… “Fuck, fuck, Tay,” Marshall gasped at the unreal slide of Tay’s chest against his, heated contact and fine, fine skin on his, and they were humping each other in a short, controlled rhythm and he couldn’t, it was all too much, he couldn’t….

“Oh, god. Marshall, I, oh,” Tay whimpered, eyes squeezed shut, hands smoothing his skull, around his face before Tay’s arms went around his neck, holding tight.

Marshall tangled his hand in Tay’s hair and pulled his neck taut; sank his teeth into the tendons and sucked hard where Tay’s pulse pounded and Tay shouted, spasming and clinging and he felt the rush of warmth against his crotch and Tay had come on him, because of him, he’d made him….

“Fuck, fuck,” Marshall gasped, felt it start, sparks and tingles on the soles of his feet moving up, up, and he had to see him, had to see his face. “Look at me!”

Tay lifted his head from Marshall’s shoulder as Marshall pumped, almost, god, almost, and saw the sweaty hair on his forehead and puffy lips from kissing and his eyes, his eyes glazed and sleepy and fucked….it blindsided Marshall like a freight train, scalding through him, in him as he moaned, crushing Tay close as he broke apart in his arms.

They sat there for a little while, breathing hard, warm and safe in the damp cocoon they made.

“We,” Tay panted finally, “Made a mess.”

“Uh-huh.” Marshall agreed, still trying to remember how to breathe. “You care?”

“Uh-uh.” Tay shook his head. They turned to each other and Tay looked so good resting on him, all drowsy and relaxed that he smoothed the damp hair back from his face and kissed him, lazy, light kiss, just to feel his mouth. Tay ‘mmm’ed into it anyway and Marshall loved that, snuggled into his arms as Marshall held his back tight, and Marshall loved that too.
“We need to go.” Tay mumbled even as he was hooking one arm around Marshall’s neck and tucking under Marshall’s chin, warm puffs of air against Marshall’s skin.

“Yeah. Soon.” He whispered into the silky hair.

But they sat there for a little while anyways. At least until the car started getting cold and Tay started to shiver a little. He didn’t want Tay to be cold.

No one had even bothered them at all.

Chapter Text

We could live
For a thousand years
But if I hurt you
I'd make wine from your tears
I told you
That we could fly
'Cause we all have wings
But some of us don't know why

Never Tear Us Apart
~INXS

TAY
He sat in the front seat rearranging his clothes to see how he could walk in the house without flashing a wet spot.

And he hadn’t been lying! He hadn’t minded. So not minded. Except now the spot was cold and kind of big and he was getting a little embarrassed. He hadn’t come in his pants before, not really. But he’d been a little spoiled with Johnny.

Compared to Tay Johnny had a huge amount of privacy for a teenager. The town car that picked him up every day actually had a privacy panel that worked; Johnny requested it for his birthday the year they got together. The fact that his mom didn’t even blink and had it installed said a lot for how much Johnny and his mom actually talked. His bedroom door locked, and even when they forgot, nobody walked in without knocking, even now that they weren’t a couple.

A poor new maid had interrupted them one day while they lay necking on the bed, dropping the load of clean towels in her arms when she saw them and Johnny had completely gone off on her. Yelled at her to get the hell out of his room and how DARE she walk in like that, not to EVER EVER do it again and Tay had to calm him down so the tearful girl could get away. Johnny had a memo drawn up demanding everyone knock before entering.

They were never interrupted again.

They never had to make out in a car.

He’d just realized that if he only knotted his scarf once it reached his waist when he saw Marshall had stopped rearranging his own clothes and sat, watching him.

“What?” Tay asked, smiling a little and Marshall leaned over and kissed him, slow, long, deep kiss while Marshall’s hands slipped under his shirt with its two missing buttons to stroke the curve of his hip just above his jeans. Tay felt himself melt into Marshall. He thought that dumb expression was just for Johnny’s romance novels but it really did feel like that, like all his muscles slacked and slid and burned when their mouths met.

“Mmm. We have…” Marshall left small pecks on his jaw, sucked his earlobe and Tay jerked with a gasp. “Oh! To go.” Tay shivered as a warm mouth with slightly chapped lips brushed his neck.

Marshall cupped his face with one hand, a thumb stroking across Tay’s wet lips and all of Tay’s nerves responded to the touch and how Marshall’s eyes looked in his, simmering and dangerous.

“I want you some more.” Marshall whispered, porn voice, and Tay shut his eyes against the rush of lust and they were never getting out of here.

“Me, too,” he agreed weakly. Marshall brushed their lips together. “Want you, but it’s…late…and…” Marshall sucked on his pulse point. Oh, god. “Tomorrow!” He pushed Marshall away enough to look in his eyes and see the lazy amusement there. “After we study.”

“After we drive.” Marshall took his hand and held it and the insistent tightness in his jeans that had started again, cold wet spot and all, began to calm down.

“Oh, yeah.” Tay remembered. “We don’t…have to drive.”

“We don’t gotta study, neither.”

“Yes we do.”

“Then we drive.”

“Fine.” Tay rolled his eyes and Marshall smiled, running a hand through Tay’s hair and making fluttery feelings go all through Tay’s stomach. It’s what Marshall used to do to find a reason to touch Tay, before. Tay used to hoard those touches like food for the winter, just in case they stopped.

“A’aight.” Marshall finally moved back and reached under the seat to slide them forward and start the car.

“Are you going home now?” Tay asked, patting his scarf down in front of his pants. If he walked fast and held his jacket closed it should be okay.

“Well I gotta change my fuckin’ pants.” Marshall pointed out and Tay laughed, blushing even though, hello, they were both sitting here damp. “Then, uh,” Tay looked up at the hesitance in Marshall’s voice to see the navy blue, pensive as he shifted gears. “I’m hangin’ with Proof.”

“Oh.”

“He DJs at a club and we go there sometimes.”

“I remember.” Tay nodded, fiddling with his scarf tassels. Proof had mentioned it that day at McDonald’s; every syllable of that conversation had seared onto Tay’s memory whether he wanted them to or not. “Sounds fun.”

“It’s a’aight.” Marshall looked so guilty Tay reached over and rubbed the backs of his knuckles across his cheek. Marshall glanced at him at a red light.

“I don’t care if you see your friends.” Tay smiled, trying to sound confident and casual even if a little part of him, just a little one, wondered about the girls at the clubs and if they all really dressed like in the rap videos with their cleavage hanging out. “I’m going to go places with just Johnny and that’ll be okay too, right?” Marshall got a troubled look on his face. “Right?

“Yeah. Yeah, right.” Marshall mumbled and Tay lifted an eyebrow.

“You want to try that once more with feeling?”

“It’s just different, yo.” Marshall defended, frowning at the street ahead.

“How?”

“Proof wasn’t never my boyfriend, that’s how.”

“He might as well be.” Tay said, then laughed at the dumbfounded look Marshall shot him. “Oh, come on! Don’t you think his reaction that day at the restaurant was a little intense?”

“No.” Marshall maintained doggedly and Tay raised both eyebrows. “All the guys went left when they saw us, not just Proof.”

“’All the guys’ didn’t piss a circle around you when they saw us.” Tay pointed out flatly. He shook his head at Marshall’s stubborn look with an exasperated smile. “I can’t believe you don’t see it.”

“It ain’t like that.”

“Well, it’s not ‘like that’ with Johnny, either.”

“It was.” Marshall muttered voice suspicious.

“So?” Tay said.

“So he wants back with you.”

“No he doesn’t.” Tay laughed out loud at the words. “Oh, right.”

“Yeah, he does! I seen the way he looks at you.” Marshall insisted.

“And how does he look at me?”

“Like he wants back with you.”

Tay flopped on Marshall’s shoulder with a groan. “What am I going to do with you?” He felt Marshall’s lips on his hair, a quick kiss, and lifted his head in surprise. They had kind of an unspoken agreement about being careful in public, out where people could see.

Marshall stared at the road looking so serious Tay almost laughed at him again.

“You don’t trust me.” He said instead.

“I trust you!” Marshall contradicted, eyes still on the street in front of him. “He’s the one I don’t fuckin’ trust.”

Tay sighed. “That is the most fucked up reasoning.”

“No it ain’t.”

“Yes, it is.”

“Why?” Marshall demanded, brows knit over the sparking navy eyes, and Tay told himself to quit being a bitch and winding him up, but a part of him liked the possessiveness. How Marshall never left any doubt that he wanted Tay, only Tay. That Tay was his.

“Because.” Tay reached over and touched the place behind Marshall’s ear, the place that made him jerk and shudder when Tay licked there with his tongue. He traced a line down Marshall’s neck, in his hoodie, over the bend of one clavicle. Marshall's eyes got kind of heavy and the pouty lips parted. “I’m not getting with anyone,” Tay murmured, “that isn’t you. I’m not even interested.” Tay finished, running his index finger down Marshall’s arm.

The corners of Marshall’s lips twitched and he glanced over as he pulled up on the curb.

Tay was home and so was Ike. Marshall had to park behind Ike’s faithful Toyota.

They stared at each other in the dark holding hands tightly and Tay saw Marshall’s eyes drift to his lips, saw Marshall’s mouth part.

“We can’t risk it.” Tay murmured and Marshall blinked then glanced away in frustration.

“I know.”

“Tomorrow.”

“A’aight.” The vibrant navy blue came back and Tay smiled then loosened his hold on Marshall’s hand and opened it flat, smoothing out the clever fingers and their rough tips.

He touched the center of Marshall’s palm with his index finger and outlined a heart shape over life lines and love lines, rising and falling on the warm terrain of skin. He shut Marshall’s fingers into a fist and held them. The look in Marshall’s eyes when he looked up almost undid him though: wonder and heat and tenderness and Tay wanted to touch the expression so badly.

“Bye.” He shuffled over on the seat before he did that, and opened the door, cold air wafting in the warmth of the car. He couldn’t let Marshall’s gaze go, though, and it was cheesy, okay. It was probably corny and silly but it didn’t feel that way as he walked around the car still looking in the deep navy blue eyes.

Tay waved as he started to walk to the house and Marshall brought up the hand Tay had drawn on, kissed two fingers, and pressed them to the car window. Tay felt warmth infuse him from the chest outward and he couldn’t stop smiling as he waved again and turned to go in the house.

He almost didn’t remember to watch the front of his pants before walking in the living room.

*~*~*~

“Hi,” he greeted and everyone in the living room looked up as he hurried through to the stairs heading for the bathroom.

“How was your session, honey?” his mother’s voice followed him.

“Fine, thanks!” he called back, hurrying up the stairwell and praying no one was in there.

Josh was just coming out and Tay dodged around him.

“It’s stinky.” Josh said.

“Thanks for sharing.” Tay shut the door in his face, turned on the fan, opened the window and reached for the Lysol before exhaling and it was still enough to make him grimace. Jesus, sometimes he thought something crawled in his little brother and died.

Tay took off his pants and underwear, dug in the clothes hamper until he found a pair of sweats that weren’t too grungy and mixed up the dirty clothes so his jeans were near the bottom. He looked kind of strange with his chambray button down and black track pants, but Zac didn’t notice stuff like that. Looking at himself in the mirror he took a breath then inclined his head to look at the bright red bite mark on the pale flesh of his neck. His finger traced lightly over it, but even that sent tingles all through him, flashes of Marshall’s mouth, his lips, sucking there, and Tay shut his eyes, one hand actually cupping himself between his legs before he even realized it.

Get a grip, he thought severely, then realized that was part of the problem, and took his hand off himself. Like he could go in their room with a hard on! He was already going to be very lucky if his hair and collar hid the hickey on his neck.

Three impatient knocks on the door stopped the mirror gazing and he gathered his stuff and walked out of the bathroom to Jessie’s puzzled stare.

“I had to go.” He said shortly.

“You’re weird.” Jessie said as she shut the door. Then, from inside, “Oh, GROSS!”

“It was Josh!” Tay shouted back, not that she would believe him.

Making sure his hair fell over the collar of his shirt he opened the door to the sound of clashing light sabers.

Ike and Zac lay sprawled on two of the beds watching Star Wars: Episode II on the TV/DVD combo. Tay knew it was Episode II because both of them had a thing for Natalie Portman. Tay thought she was the first girl Zac didn’t think had cooties.

Tay had a thing for the pretty future Darth Vader but not enough to sit through the movie one hundred times.

“Hi.” He said walking over to his bed. Ike immediately started sitting up, smoothing his rumpled black shirt. His tie hung loosened around his neck and the tight, faded jeans hung low on his hips. The scruffed single wave of his faux hawk stood straight up but he carried it off; Tay didn’t know how. Sometime when he hadn’t been looking his older brother had become GQ!Ike and it still wigged him a little. It’s like the Ike in his head was stuck as a tall, skinny, longhaired kid with a mouthful of metal.

“You don’t have to move.”

“We were just hanging out. It’s not like we haven’t seen it before.”

Tay nodded and glanced at Zac, who hadn’t said a word to him since he walked in. Zac ignored him and kept staring at the movie, the long, golden plait of his ponytail resting on one shoulder.

Zac had held this grudge a really long time and that wasn’t like him. Zac just didn’t do that. It seemed like he actually did forget what he’d been mad at from one day to the next. Not this time, though. This time Zac had been giving him the silent treatment ever since the whole DVD combo thing and it was starting to worry Tay.

“How’d tutoring go?” Ike asked. Tay realized he’d self-consciously reached to draw his hair over his neck and made himself stop.

“Pretty good. He has a ‘B’ in the class now.”

“Wow. That’s cool.”

“Yeah.” Tay gave Zac another glance and watched his little brother sit up and reach over for his Chucks, shoving one sock-clad foot in without undoing the laces. Zac finally said something. “Are we going?”

“Yeah,” Ike said after a second, “Yeah, we’re going.”

Tay didn’t ask where they were going and no one told him.

The awkwardness in the room drew taut as piano wire and Tay slowly opened a drawer to look for a t-shirt while Ike got up to stretch.

“I’ll, uh, meet you downstairs, man.”

“Yeah, gimme a minute.” Ike gave Tay an almost apologetic look and left the room, but didn’t take the tension with him.

Tay took a silent sigh as he changed out of his button-down then turned, an attempt to make conversation on his lips when he saw Zac staring at him with more suspicion than he’d ever seen on Zac’s face. It didn’t look right there, on Zac’s normally smiling features.

“What?” He tried to laugh but it just sounded nervous and when the hell had this happened? They had actually been doing better, kind of, since the penguin thing, and now everything felt strained and awful and it hadn’t gone away.

“Nothing.” Zac reached down to untie and retie his sneakers and Tay hesitantly sat on the bed; not like normal when they stretched out and just talked.

“Where are you going?” He tried.

“Videos. We’ll watch them downstairs.”

“You can watch them here. I mean,” It sounded like he was giving them permission, which was wrong. “I don’t…mind…” Oh, yeah. Better.

“Wouldn’t want to bother you or anything.” Zac gave a final tug on his laces.

“Zac.”

“Look, you hate us, okay?. I get it. Finally.”

“I don’t *hate* you!” Tay contradicted, stunned, his stomach sinking at the bitter, closed look on Zac’s face.

“You don’t like us.” Zac surmised matter of factly and Tay squinted at him and felt like he’d missed some huge signs that he should have caught. Zac didn’t use words like ‘hate’ lightly. He never had.

“I like you! What….”

“Then I guess you’re just that much of a jerk.” Tay felt heat flush his cheeks and stared at the sullen dislike on Zac’s face. “Either way I don’t really care. Do what you want. You do, anyway.”

“Zac, I’m sorry….” Tay reached for Zac’s arm but his brother got to his feet and grabbed his jacket from over a chair.

“Whatever. You don’t even know what you’re apologizing for, do you?”

“Can’t you just talk to me?” Tay burst out, a little panicked at the horrible turn of the conversation but Zac just gave him a tired look.

“Just forget it, Tay.”

“Zac, wait….” But he was gone, and Tay found himself calling after a closed door and an empty room.

On screen Queen Amidala clung to Anikin Skywalker as a battle raged on.

Tay sat there trying to absorb the exchange and what it could mean. It didn’t feel good.

Somewhere the phone rang and a minute later calls of, “Tay! Phone!” floated up the stairs.

Marshall he thought as he hopped up and walked to meet Jessie in the hall, and a little thrill went through him. Maybe he was calling Tay from the club, like in Valley Girl…

“It’s Johnny.”

“Oh,” Tay said, and took the phone with a smile of thanks.

“So,” Johnny’s voice hit his ear before he even said hello, “Done making out with your beastie boy?”

“Don’t call him that.” Tay flopped on his bed and toed off his shoes. He’d muted the sound and watched the battle against the dark side rage on like a silent movie.

“And what’s up? You sound like your dog died. Trouble in trailer park paradise?”

“Lay off the trailer park thing or I’m hanging up.”

“Fine! God. Touchy much…” Tay wiggled his toes and watched the loose pocket of sock flop back and forth. Johnny spoke again, voice low and without snark at all. “Did something happen? Do I have to scratch his eyes out?”

“No, that’s fine. It’s just Zac.”

“What about him?”

“He’s still pissed at me over the TV thing. He’s usually over himself by this time. I don’t like it.”

“Talk to him.”

“He won’t talk to me. I just tried.”

“Give it time. You don’t have the market cornered on moodiness, you know.”

“I guess.” Tay murmured, then:

“I need to borrow some turtlenecks.”

‘I’ll just bet.” Johnny replied smugly, and Johnny was really enjoying this way too much. “Why do you let him maul you like that?”

“He doesn’t….we’re just enthusiastic, okay? Anyway, I don’t think about it during.”

“Where did you go, anyway? Isn’t his mom home?”

“His car.” Tay said, memories shuffling like cards in his head: /hands on his ribs, so careful, hot pant of breath on his chest, and what he did with his nipple, god, how he knew…/

“You made out in the car. How very ‘Grease’ of you.” Johnny sounded amused, “Let me guess: you look like Sandy but act like Rizzo?”

“Shut up.” Tay smiled, though, if anyone asked him, he’d rather be Rizzo. Sandy always looked too uptight.

“Ooh! We can go shopping for some turtlenecks! How about tomorrow?” Any prospect of shopping made Johnny happy, whether it was for him or somebody else.

“Can’t. We’re studying tomorrow, too.”

Johnny snorted, “Is that what you call it?”

“Hey! We really do study. We didn’t park until afterward.”

“Awwww,” Johnny cooed, “Did he earn his reward?”

“Leaving now.” Tay muttered because he was over the let’s-dump-on-Tay part of the evening, thanks. One dumping was his limit per day.

“No, wait!” Johnny said quickly and Tay lay there staring at his poster of Michelle Kwan for the American Library Association. She held a book by Amy Tan. He wondered, for the first time, if her presence on his wall had given his dad false hope.

“I’m sorry,” Johnny said, his voice sounding regretful, “But I never see you anymore except at practice, and you don’t call, and we haven’t hung out in forever.”

“Not forever,” Tay laughed, but, well, maybe he had been neglecting Johnny a little bit. It was hard when they’d spent so much time together in the first place. “But I know. I’m sorry, too. I promised you nothing would change.”

“And I told you everything would.”

“It’s not! What about late tomorrow?”

“I’ll have to check my calendar.” Johnny sniffed and Tay shook his head at himself but had to smile.

“Come on. Don’t be a bitch.”

Johnny scoffed in indignation. “Excuse me! That is not going to get you my superior fashion tips for hiding the evidence of your illicit affair.”

“Oh, shut up.” Tay laughed. “I just need some turtlenecks from Target.”

“Ew. No.” Johnny shuddered. “You can borrow some of mine; I’ll give you all the doubles, and then we’ll go to A&F.”

“Oh, sure.” Tay agreed, “We can pick up my lottery winnings on the way.” He heard Johnny give an exaggerated sigh, “I can’t afford a scarf at Abercrombie and Fitch, Johns. Come on.”

“I’ll get it. It can be my Tay-finally-gets-some gift.”

“Bite me.”

“I’ll tell the Beastie Boy you’re flirting. Whore.”

“Queen.”

“Thank you.”

Tay laughed.

“And, anyway, what’s the big deal? We always do this.”

“It’s different now. We’re not…” Tay groped for the right term.

“Fucking?” Johnny supplied helpfully and Tay covered his face with his hand.

“Yes.” Tay admitted, “And I have…”

“A slut boy?”

“A boyfriend! Johnny!”

“Nope. Been there done that. To say the least.”

“Johns.”

“Oh, lighten up.”

“I’m just not sure I’m comfortable…”

“Oh, please.” Johnny cut him off. “We’ll buy *one* thing. Maybe two, unless there’s a sale. The quality is totally worth it.”

“I just don’t think it’s appropriate, okay?”

“Says the person that made out in the car.” Johnny replied, “And it’s a hell of a lot more appropriate than flashing huge hickies at your mother!”

“ONE thing.”

“One thing. One thing! Fine.”

“Fine.”

Tay smiled. He had to ask his mom if he could go out with Johnny after being out with Marshall. This whole having-a-life thing took up a lot of time.

“I can’t believe you’re doing this.”

“Which part?” Tay smirked.

“The whole converted-a-hockey-player to start with and then go from there. Doesn’t that qualify for more than a toaster? I’m sure you’ll be getting, like, a microwave oven or something. A flat screen computer monitor.”

“I can’t believe it either, sometimes.” Tay murmured, fiddling with the stray thread from where Marshall had pulled off the buttons.

“So, like, is he any good?”

“At….?” Tay stalled.

“Underwater basket weaving.”

“I don’t think we’ve tried that yet.”

“Holding out. Fine. Be that way.”

“Give me a break, okay?” Tay said as he turned over on his stomach and pulled out the small stuffed penguin from the desk drawer. He placed it on his chest as he spoke, looking back in its watchful eyes.

“You’re just all secretive all of a sudden.”

“I’m not it’s just…” /different? Special? Too intense to talk about?/ None of those really fit and they all did, too. “I’ve never been this way about anyone. I don’t think he has, either. It’s kind of amazing.”

“Oh.” Johnny said after a second. Tay heard the wistfulness in his voice and wondered if they should be doing this at all. They had been broken up over a year and they had told each other everything, until now.

But Marshall was different. Everything about Marshall felt different.

“He told me I’m beautiful.” Tay whispered, not sure if he should share that, not sure if he wanted to hold that up to any snarking. It felt too wonderful and unreal and kind of fragile.

“He said that?” Johnny asked, not a trace of ridicule in his voice. “Like, those words actually came out of his mouth?”

“Yeah.” Tay said quietly, rubbing Sigmund across his suddenly hot cheek. “God, Johns! He’s,” Tay shut his eyes, remembering rough tipped hands and chapped lips against his chest, prickling the skin of his nipples and Tay’s cock gave a twitch. “I know he hasn’t been with other guys, okay? But it’s like it doesn’t even matter when he touches me…”

“Did you use something?” Johnny interrupted bluntly.

“We didn’t do that.”

“All this is still foreplay?” Johnny remarked, aghast. “What are you waiting for? The domestic partnership law?”

“Shut up! I don’t want to rush anything. And we don’t need to, that’s the thing! He’s…”

A series of beeps made them both pull the phone from their ears. “Cut it out!” Tay shouted in the receiver.

“Ooops! Sorry.” Ike’s voice filtered through the line, “I kinda need to make a call, man. It won’t take long.”

“No, it’s fine. Give me a minute.”

“No problem.” The sound of the line clicking shut followed.

“I gotta go.” Tay sighed.

“This was just getting good. You’re brother has lousy timing.”

“He does.” Tay admitted with a smile. “But I’ll call about tomorrow, okay?”

“Deal! And more details then!”

“Uh….we’ll see.” Tay hedged and Johnny cackled evilly.

“You underestimate my powers! Puny muggle!”

“Oh, go on before I Avada Kedavra your ass.”

“Like I haven’t seen your wand. Later!” Tay laughed as Johnny hung up, then replaced Sigmund before getting up to tell Ike the phone was all his.

*~*~*~*~*

His mother found him switching out a load of socks and underwear to the dryer and replacing it with a mountain of dirty towels. She leaned against the doorway and watched him with her arms crossed, the worried smile she wore around him more and more once again on her face.

“Hi,” Tay breathed after heaving an armful into the washer and adding detergent.

“Honey, it’s not that I don’t appreciate the help but, is there something you want?”

Tay felt his cheeks go even hotter than they already were from the dryer’s heat and set the dials on the washer before turning to her.

“Not too subtle, huh?”

“Not too.” His mom laughed and drew him into a hug. Tay squeezed her, inhaling her comforting mom-smell. After a second she let him go and smoothed his hair out of his eyes. Remembering the hickey on his neck Tay hunched up his shoulders and smiled sheepishly. “Now spill.”

“Johnny wanted to go shopping tomorrow. Since I’ve been tutoring Marshall I haven’t spent as much time with him and he’s feeling left out.”

“Would the boy you tutor- Marshall-go with you?” she asked, still soothing his hair and Tay chewed on his lower lip. Sometimes he swore his mom knew exactly what was going on and others, like now, he thought she had absolutely no clue.

“Um. No. He and Johnny don’t really….like each other.”

“Ah.” His mom nodded in understanding. “It’s hard when you like people but they don’t get along with each other, isn’t it?”

“Really hard.” Tay sighed. “They’re both just so different.”

His mom made an agreeable noise.

“And, I know I’m tutoring Marshall on Saturdays, too, so I’d go out right after that, but we won’t be long.” He rushed ahead, “So I thought if I did some laundry that would help…”

“Taylor, its fine.”

“And I could even make something for dinner, either on Sunday or…”

“Tay, you can go.”

Tay beamed. “I can?”

“Yes.”

“Thanks!” he threw his arms around her and felt her smile against his cheek as she hugged him back. “I so owe you, mom.”

“Yes, you do.” She agreed, still smoothing his hair. He felt her fingers ruffle through when he pulled back and she tweaked his nose with a smile. “I did say I was worried about you spending so much time alone. It was only a matter of time before you found people your own age more interesting than your old mom.”

“You’re not old.” Tay contradicted immediately. He tried to look at her like he’d seen his dad that time in the living room, to see the gray that the hair color hid, and the laugh lines that deepened each year, but he couldn’t. She looked the same to him as always: kind blue eyes, gentle hands, comfortable soft body that wasn’t skinny but not fat, either. She could still chase Zoë around and keep up with any of them any time.

“You look so much like your father.” She murmured, looking at his face like she was searching for something, her blue eyes skimming his features so intently that Tay lowered his eyes. “He was only two years older than you when we got married, you know.”

“I know.” Tay had seen pictures and knew it was true. The resemblance was almost eerie. It was also the true meaning of irony if Tay had ever seen it.

“He is trying, honey.” His mother said gently and Tay looked away so she wouldn’t see the knowledge in his eyes. Wouldn’t see that he’d heard how his dad really felt. “Could you try, too?”

/No./ The cold, uncompromising word came up in his mind along with a flash of resentment, fast and quick as a razor. Try how? With what? Was he supposed to act more butch? Pretend to be interested in broadcast hockey matches and football games? Cut his hair? What was he supposed to do to get his father to quit thinking he was a big nelly queen?

But he couldn’t say any of that to his mother when she was stroking his hair and looking at him with the sad worry and love in her eyes.

“I am.” He lied instead. He’d quit trying that night.

She nodded and he gave her another squeeze before she let him go to sort the rest of the laundry.

He might as well finish since he’d started.

*~*~*~*~*~

DRIVING

“Don’t think about staying in the middle. You’re over adjusting the wheel. Just relax.”

“I am.” Tay mumbled, frustrated, and tried not to glare at Marshall from where his boyfriend sat slumped in the seat giving him that infuriating calm sexy smile.

The lesson hadn’t started well when Taylor mixed up the gas and the break and almost ran the car over a yellow cement parking divider. He didn’t even want to think of what would happen to the muffler or carburetor or whatever was under the car if he’d actually driven over the cement block. Then, just to top things off, he put the gear shift in reverse instead of drive and they lurched backwards so fast Tay hit his head.

Marshall had just cracked up but Tay felt stupid and wanted to stop and Marshall hadn’t let him.

So here he was driving around and around the empty Kmart parking lot once more and suddenly he couldn’t keep the car from weaving back and forth. He looked like he was drunk driving.

“You’re kinda weaving’”

“I know.” Tay snapped then pressed his lips together.

It wasn’t Marshall’s fault Tay was seventeen and had the eye-hand coordination and depth perception of an eighty-year old person.

Even so he couldn’t help feeling a little resentment that Marshall had been able to sit through their tutoring session just fine, actually paying attention to their properties review and doing the problems with no complaint. All Tay wanted to do was yank him in a dark corner and plunge his hands under Marshall’s hoodie searching for the warm firmness of Marshall’s chest; the span of his shoulders and cut of his arm muscles Tay could feel with his fingers.

“Sorry.” Tay whispered, overturning and grinding the gears when he yanked the wheel over too much.

“A’aight, time out. Park. Put it in park.” That at least Tay could do with little trouble though he almost forgot to break first.

Great.

Tay ran his fingers through his hair and sighed, then felt Marshall’s hand on his shoulder. He turned to see concerned navy blue eyes and Marshall’s smile. “What’s up, yo? You a’aight?”

/No, I am not alright./ Tay thought staring at Marshall’s mouth. /I’m so turned on I can’t breathe. I wore this shirt, even though I’m cold, because I wanted easy access. I can’t stop thinking about last night. How can you just sit there all together and ask me this?/

“My mind’s just not here right now.”
“So where’s it at?” Marshall asked in the low porn voice that caused the hair on the back of Tay’s neck to prickle. Tay glanced up at Marshall’s eyes and his breath left at the hunger there, open and blistering.

/In your pants/ the snarky Johnny voice piped up from the peanut gallery and Tay slapped duct tape on it’s mouth and shoved it in a closet.

While trying to form an answer Marshall reached over to tuck Tay’s hair behind his ear and Tay turned his head, eyes shut as his mouth sought the warm flesh of Marshall’s palm. His lips caught the side of Marshall’s hand, brushing, and he opened his eyes to see Marshall staring at intently at Tay’s lips, mouth agape a little.

Marshall hadn’t moved his hand. It hung there pressed to Tay’s mouth and Tay gave it a kiss, tasted Marshall’s palm with his tongue and let the fingers play over his lips.

The air in the car had gotten slow and heavy as Marshall finally moved his hand to the curve of Tay’s jaw then around his neck, fingers scratching up into the base of Tay’s neck and causing a rash of goose bumps up and down his arms. His lids slid shut as he shivered.

The car engine suddenly stopped and Tay blinked his eyes open to see Marshall drawing back from the ignition. Then Marshall pulled him across the huge bucket seat and he almost squeaked in surprise ending up on his back half on Marshall’s lap supported by his arm and half on the seat. He shifted up when Marshall hugged him, curling against the warm chest as Marshall’s other hand touched his face, his neck, light, maddening touch. He looked down at him with a faint smile but serious, serious eyes.

“People can see,” Tay murmured, reaching up to run a thumb across Marshall’s eyebrows as Marshall continued to explore with his hands, stroking Tay’s hair, running over Tay’s chest, his sides and slipping beneath his shirt to rub the curvature of his hip above the waist of his jeans.

“They don’t care.” Marshall whispered.

“Don’t you mean you don’t care?” he pointed out with a smile and Marshall shrugged.

“I don’t care, neither.”

Tay just closed his eyes and tilted his head as Marshall’s fingers returned to his jaw, traced beneath and over his Adam’s apple, the gentle, reverent touch making him shiver. He bent his knees up on the seat because he could feel the weight pooling between his legs as Marshall’s hands, those clever hands and nimble fingers touched everywhere, even going under Tay’s shirt to lay on his chest, brushing Tay’s nipples with the tip of a finger.

 

“Do you miss them?” Tay asked, with his eyes closed, one of his hands closing around Marshall’s where it lay on his chest, under his shirt, the question just slipping out from his mind to his lips because he felt so good here, close like this, together.

“Who?” Marshall asked, his voice so puzzled Tay lifted his lashes to see the navy blue eyes looking down at him in question.

“Nothing.” Squirmed in discomfort; felt his cheeks get warm as he blushed.

“Not nothing. Do I miss who?”

Nothing.”

“Yo,” Marshall cupped his heated face and turned Tay’s embarrassed stare back to the intense depth of those blue eyes. “I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about…”

“Boobs, alright? Do you miss boobs, or breasts, or whatever.” Tay’s cheeks felt absolutely on fire and he wondered where the hell his head was at that stupid shit like that came out of his mouth.

Marshall blinked down at him for a few seconds before the corners of his mouth started to twitch. “You wanna know if I miss tits?”

“It’s okay if you do.”

“Yeah, Taylor. I do.” Marshall answered with a shrug and such finality Tay’s stomach lurched, “I miss tits. But,” He peeked down Tay’s shirt in a move so unexpected Tay didn’t even stop him, “you kinda got some anyhow so it’s a’aight….”

“I do not! Shut up.” Tay pushed his hand away and tried to sit up but Marshall held him down, laughing at him the whole time.

“I’m fuckin’ kidding, Tay!”

“I’m serious.” Tay struggled but Marshall had more upper body strength by far and he would not stop laughing.

“I know you’re serious, dog. That’s why it’s funny!”

“It isn’t…mmph!” his words muffled against Marshall’s mouth as those clever hands locked around his neck and brought their lips together in slow, deep, wet dance of teeth and tongue that left Tay panting when they pulled apart. Their eyes met and the heat in that stare made Tay’s hand’s grip where they fisted in Marshall’s hoodie.

“Don’t you fuckin’ get it?” Marshall whispered, one thumb running over Tay’s lips, catching the moisture from their kiss while the other hand threaded with Tay’s between them. “I wanna be with you. I can’t even think about no one else. At all. A’aight?”

“I’m sorry.” Tay whispered, bumping their foreheads together, knees drawing higher because everything felt heightened and electric, sparked by Marshall’s low, porn whisper and the words he said. “I just… I still can’t believe we’re here like this, sometimes.”

“I know,” Marshall agreed quietly, eyes still holding his, intense, brilliant navy blue. “Me, too.”

“How did….” Tay rubbed Marshall’s hand with his and looked down at their entwined fingers, Marshall’s clever ones with their bitten nails and Tay’s longer ones with neat trimmed nails and his slightly broader palm. He pressed on with the question he’d wanted to ask for a while. “Why did you kiss me that night I showed up at your house?

“’Cause I wanted to.” Marshall answered automatically then rested their foreheads together eyes traveling to their threaded hands, too. “’Cause you weren’t gonna.”

“No.” Tay agreed softly, which earned him a speculative look from the navy blue eyes.

“Why not?”

“Oh, right.” Tay laughed quietly. “What if I was wrong? What if I was just reading what I wanted to into everything? You could have beaten me up or…”

“I’d never hurt you!” Marshall said with something like fierceness so Tay soothed him with brushes of his lips against Marshall’s cheeks.

“I know. I know that now,” he whispered, looking steadily in Marshall’s eyes to make him see. “But I couldn’t make the first move. I had to be sure I wasn’t wrong. I didn’t want you to think I had….lied… about anything.”

“You weren’t wrong.” Marshall shook his head.

“I’m so glad.” Tay breathed, slipping his arms around Marshall’s neck and inhaling the wonderful scent of him: skin and soap and Marshall. Marshall hugged him back, shifted him still higher on his lap so Tay’s long legs stretched on the seat, still bent a little, and Tay felt questing lips in his hair, his temple before Tay turned his head to sink into the heat of Marshall’s mouth.

Hands clutched at his bulky jacket, at his shirt before reaching down to cup the curves of his ass. The confident touch rubbed over his pockets then swept down to feel along the strong, lean muscles of Tay’s thighs.

Tay mmm-ed into the kiss, pressing against Marshall’s warm chest, panting into his neck when they parted to breathe, wanting closer, needing closer. When Marshall’s hands traveled over his thighs Tay’s legs opened and Marshall’s hand slipped between them and slid up to graze lightly over the crotch of Tay’s jeans.

Tay gave a silent gasp at the touch, tentative and feathery, almost not-there, but it was. His legs spread further on their own, accommodating the careful touch of Marshall’s hand and Tay bit his lip, barely breathed so he wouldn’t break the spell that had Marshall touching him there with gentle fingers, over and over. The warm hand between his legs pressured a little, just a little and Tay made a tiny, helpless sound, hips bucking into the curved palm.

/Sorry, oh, sorry/ Tay thought frantically trying to move back but Marshall’s hand paused still over the bulge in Tay’s jeans, wonderful warmth and oh god, Tay just wanted to push into it.

“You’re real hard,” Marshall whispered, voice almost awed, hushed.

“Yeah,” Tay breathed, eyes shut in concentration just so he wouldn’t lift his ass, squirm, seek more friction and heat and pressure. “God, that’s…”

“Can you drive?”

“What?” Tay forced his eyes open at the desperate question.

“Drive around back.” The fevered intensity of Marshall’s voice took away any hesitation and Tay sat up, slid behind the wheel, cock confined and pulsing behind the tight zipper of his jeans, but he did it.

He couldn’t refuse Marshall anything when he looked at Tay that way.

 

The back of the Kmart looked even more deserted than the front. Gang graffiti covered almost all of the gray walls in garish designs and stylized letters and a few rusted, abandoned shopping carts stood there, forgotten. A cinderblock wall with peeling gray paint ran behind the store, blocking everything from view, and Tay carefully drove the car between a scuffed garage door that read KMART AUTOMOTIVE and a large empty dumpster and turned it off. Thankfully, he put it in drive first.

Marshall had never moved away from before so he when Tay leaned back Marshall was right there, ghosting lips across his cheek, his ear while he folded Tay against him, hand already returning to Tay’s waist.

“We can’t go to the house right now.” Moist words in his ear and he shivered.

“I know.” Tay whispered then tilted his head as Marshall’s lips found the sensitive lobe of his ear and closed around it. His breath stitched and he leaned into Marshall wanting more, needing more.

“This where your mind was at?” Marshall’s low, rich voice dripped sex in his ear and Tay squeezed his eyes shut at the surge of want, so strong it made him dizzy. “Hm?”
The question vibrated, humming and tingly, and he reached up to grip Marshall’s hand where it held his shoulder.

“Yes…” he panted. Part of him kept insisting he shouldn’t be this way and Marshall sounded way too smug to….and then the point of the thought just unraveled when a hand slipped under his shirt and fitted on the curve of his hip above the waist of his jeans, firm and possessive.

“Mine, too.” Marshall’s chapped lips closed around his and Tay moaned into them. Marshall crushed him closer licking at his mouth with his own growl back in his throat and Tay fisted a handful of Marshall’s hoodie and pulled, straining into Marshall until he bumped against the steering wheel.

“Do you,” Tay breathed, trying for coherence as Marshall left a trail of little bites down his neck, “Want to move…?” Without explanation Marshall leaned over, stuck his hand under the bucket seat and Tay gasped as they shot back half a foot.

“That works.” He couldn’t help laughing and Marshall smiled, eyes still heavy lidded and distracted and they were trying to kiss and smile at the same time and Tay’s chest felt like it would burst with just being happy.

Marshall held him tight, one hand curved around Tay’s ass. Tay made a pleased sound into Marshall’s mouth, hands under t-shirt and hoodie, up Marshall’s back, over the supple muscle there, skin so warm, almost hot against his palm, and silk soft…

He thunked his head on the window a second before he realized he was tilting and murmured amused, “Ow” against Marshall’s lips.

“Sorry! You a’aight?” Marshall pulled back and rubbed the curve of Tay’s skull, fingers questing in his hair, navy eyes concerned, mouth flushed from their kissing and his other hand pushing Tay’s hair out of his eyes. Tay felt the fluttering, helpless energy of his heart under the electric stare.

“I’m okay,” he whispered, smiling. “Scoot back a little.” Marshall did, shifting over on the seat twice. Tay shifted with him then lay down on the seat, stretched out with one leg bent up and the other curled against the floorboard. Marshall sat between his legs looking down at him, a hand drifting over to Tay’s thigh, then, decisively, to the hardness between his legs and Tay’s breath stuttered. Marshall’s eyes seemed to travel all over his body and the look felt like a touch, intense, personal.

“Open your shirt.” Marshall’s voice said he knew Tay would obey him and, god, that made him hard, harder, squirm with need as he unbuttoned as fast as he could, his breath shallow. Instead of pulling the shirt aside when done he let it lay there on the rise and fall of his chest because he wanted Marshall to do it. He wanted to watch Marshall’s face when he did.

Marshall’s tongue traveled over the chapped terrain of his lips and the pink peek quivered at Tay’s stomach.

Bending a little, one arm on the back of the seat, he slowly traced a line down Tay’s throat then pushed the shirt aside with the same finger, a trail of fire on Tay’s skin directly connected to his cock because he’d been hard for days it felt…Marshall’s eyes watched his hand then Tay’s bare chest and Tay shut his eyes at the look in them. “Please,” he panted when he hadn’t intended to say anything then arched his back as both of Marshall’s hands landed on his stomach, smoothed up in one long, slow sweep that ended with Marshall’s smooth/rough palms on Tay’s nipples and Tay whimpered.

“God, Tay.” Marshall whispered in a hushed voice, like praying, or church and Tay slit his eyes as Marshall started to explore with his hands, Tay’s sternum, the shell of his ribs, the tender surface of his nipples that made Tay shake.

It was different from last night because it was daytime. No shadows or darkness; stark light and he should be worried about that, worried at getting caught with a hard on and kiss-bruised lips, and what he’d do….. Then the thoughts disintegrated when Marshall pinched lightly at one nipple, pulling and rolling and Tay fell apart.

“Please, god, please,” he reached for Marshall with one shaking hand, so hard, passion like a knife edge so that he had to fight not to cry and Marshall understood, somehow, heard him, because he bent over Tay, lay on him and lifted his t-shirt and Tay moaned when their chest slid on each other, electric glide of heat and sparks. God, the weight of him felt incredible.

“Yes,” he breathed before finding Marshall’s mouth with his, parting into the delicious wet as he grasped handfuls of back, traced shoulder blades and danced along the waist of Marshall’s loose jeans. Tugging at a fleshy lower lip Tay burrowed his hand between their taut bellies to touch the hard ridge of Marshall’s erection and felt the answering shudder of the body in his arms.

“Fuck,” Marshall whispered, lost and desperate into Tay’s mouth, “I wanted you to do that.” His hips had started to thrust into Tay’s hand, twisted at an awkward angle between them, only the tips of his fingers on the straining seam of Marshall’s zipper and Tay had wanted to do it, wanted to feel the pulse of Marshall wanting him in his hand, but the position was giving him a hand cramp.

Drawing Marshall’s mouth into a kiss he shifted his legs around, too long, even in the huge car, a tangle of awkward bumps until Marshall straddled his right thigh, and then Tay pushedup. Marshall shuddered into his mouth, gasping, hands fisting in Tay’s hair, eyes wide and stunned as Tay gripped the belt loops on those stupid loose jeans with too much material and pulled down, in, hard.

Marshall let out a ragged sound that found all of Tay’s nerves and ignited them, feeding the urgency until it felt like a circuit of sound and heat and friction and Marshall finally rocked on Tay’s thigh, gripping the seat for leverage and spangles went off all over Tay’s body from the look of pure lust when Marshall closed his eyes.

“God, yeah, like that, just like that.” Tay whispered, arching and straining, rubbing his own erection against the soft cotton of his briefs, grinding into Marshall’s desperate thrusts.

Marshall’s eyes suddenly flew open, frantic. “I ain’t….Tay, I ain’t….” his hips never stopped, one hand clutched almost painfully in Tay’s hair.

“It’s okay, it’s okay, me neither, I’m right there,” Tay whispered feverishly into Marshall’s neck and saying it made the words true, he felt the sliding, the uncontrolled slipping of control, of rhythm, too much, too strong. “Come, just come, I’m….” he sucked hard at the nearest flesh, needing it, the taste, the flesh between his teeth, and Marshall spasmed over him with a harsh gasp, another, shaking, broken moans as Tay held him tight, perched on the edge, almost, almost, one more slide, thrust, one….

Marshall slid up rough, a quick, jerky movement and Tay cried out as he fell, crashed, exploded, and held on to the only solid ground he had.

*~*~*

The world came back by degrees, daylight, cold, the warm damp of his jeans that would soon turn cool. Tay tightened his hold around Marshall, not wanting him to move, to leave yet. Enjoying the weight of him and the brush of his hair against Tay’s cheek.

 

‘So do you bring all the girls here?” Tay murmured and watched as Marshall gave him a glance, one flick of the long, dark lashes before bending his head over Tay’s bare chest to kiss an exposed nipple, chapped lips on hypersensitive skin. Tay’s hands clenched in Marshall’s hoodie.

“Naw. Just you.”

Tay smiled at the words said against his chest and rubbed his cheek on the soft bristle of Marshall’s head. Their hands found each other, entwined. They lay still listening to the distant sounds of traffic, sirens, the occasional distant voice, and the muted beat of each other’s hearts.

Chapter Text

Oh I am what I am
I'll do what I want
But I can't hide

I won't go
I won't sleep
I can't breathe
Until you're resting here with me
I won't leave
I can't hide
I cannot be
Until you're resting here with me."

Here With Me
~Dido

MARSHALL

‘GAY SEX’

Marshall typed the words on the screen as he slouched in the chair and glanced around behind himself for the fifth time.

The library was as quiet as it always was on a Friday. No one walked by, no one stood behind him. There were people on both sides but the privacy screens really did make it so you couldn’t see Jack unless you looked at the screen head on. The people on both sides could be looking at porn and Marshall would never know.

Taking a deep breath and looking around again, he pressed ‘Yahoo search.’

The list came up fast.

‘Pussy, tits, gay sex, lesbians, porn stars….gay sex, oral sex…’

‘..a gay man’s personal blog about his sex life…’

‘BLACK GAY SEX-MALE DICKS!!!’

Marshall flushed so quick it felt like he had a fever. Heart racing his hand scrambled for the mouse, clicking a bunch of times even when the screen had gone back to the Yahoo main page.

Taking a deep breath and telling himself not to be a wimp, Marshall typed ‘GAY TEEN SEX’ and pressed ‘Yahoo search.’

‘..hear this teen screaming with joy and pleasure!’

‘TwinksxXX Videos…butt spankers…’

‘Man Homo Gay Sex!’

“Fuck,” Marshall whispered as he grabbed the mouse again, ears burning, and the guy next to him gave him a bored glance and shrugged.

“No shit, man. Fuckin’ slow server.”

“Yeah.” Marshall muttered and sighed, tapping his fingers on the table and looking at the clock.

He’d told Tay that he’d had to meet him here instead of picking him up, and that had been true. His mom had snatched the keys out of his hand that morning and told him her friend Beverly would give her twenty dollars for watching her twin babies while she went out this evening. His mom needed the car.

Beverly was one of his mom’s only friends that didn’t live on The Mile and had a good apartment and a husband who kept a job. His mom usually took Nate with her and Nate got to watch the Cartoon Network on a color television, so Marshall didn’t bitch. It got her out of the house, anyways.

And he’d been looking for a chance to come here and look some stuff up except he didn’t think it would take this long. He only had, like, twenty minutes left and all he’d turned up was porn sites and shit. He did NOT want to see some strange guy’s dick, even if he was pretty sure the site wouldn’t show up. /You wanna see Tay’s —Do NOT!/ that voice in his head that made him feel fuckin’ schizo sometimes piped up and Marshall squirmed in his seat.

Thing was, it wasn’t like he’d never seen other guy’s dicks before. The whole team walked around buck ass naked after a game when they slapped each other on the butt and ran around the locker room. He’d never thought anything weird about that.

But he hadn’t been putting his hands all over those guy’s dicks in the dark, neither. He hadn’t watched their face get pink and their eyes get hazy as he pressed against their body, and he wasn’t spending all his time daydreaming about going further, touching more, doing more with them.

It’s not like he needed a diagram or nothing; he knew what went where. He wasn’t stupid.

It was just…other stuff. Specific stuff. Stuff he wanted to know.

On impulse Marshall bent over and typed ‘Detroit gay teens’ in the search box and clicked.

Finally, a list without all the porn sites came up and Marshall felt his back muscles relax.

‘Parents help gay teens win acceptance.’

‘Gay teens fight back.’

‘Ferndale Gay Teen Helpline.’ Marshall clicked on the last one and scanned the site of the Affirmation Community Help Center.

‘Anonymous help for gay and lesbian youth. YOU ARE NOT ALONE!’ the caption under the number wanted to make sure you knew, and Marshall tapped his foot before getting a pen out of his backpack and scribbling the number down.

At least it was anonymous and if it turned out to be some suicide line or a religious site that wanted you to accept Jesus as your personal savior he could always hang….

“Hey, Marshall.”

Marshall looked up at the low, polite voice and stood so fast the keyboard bumped against his waist with a clatter.

Latrella Thibodaux gave him a puzzled smile while Marshall felt the red creep up on his face and he tried to block the screen with his body. He should have just clicked off but the sight of Latrella’s dark hair swaying over his shoulder --over his shoulder--had freaked the hell out of him. Jesus, it said GAY right there in big letters…

“Hey. Uh. ‘Sup?” he crossed his arms and tried to get the heat in his face under control.

Latrella tucked some hair behind her ear and smoothed the front of her jacket. The jacket was made out of some shiny green material, jewel green with fake fur around the hood and she wore calf high black boots with tights and another short skirt. She looked perfect and calm and if the memory of her clocking Jeanine with one hell of a right hook hadn’t been burned in his memory forever Marshall might have bought it.

“You here a lot?” her light brown eyes met his and he relaxed a little when he got nothing but friendly vibes off her.

“Yeah, to study.”

Latrella nodded;, then the smile got kind of hesitant. “Look, I just wanted to say I didn’t mean to put you on blast in front of everybody that day. Homegirl was just gettin’ on my last nerve.”

For a second Marshall had no idea what she was talking about he was so worried about hiding the computer screen. Finally he snapped, though, and just gave her a shrug while he tried not to be embarrassed. He wasn’t with Jeanine no more but it still didn’t feel great to have everyone know your ex was crazy. “It’s a’aight. I know how she is.”

The faint worry cleared from Latrella’s honey brown eyes but then she kind of tilted her head and the eyes got real thoughtful as they studied him. Marshall shifted under the steady stare because no one but Tay usually stared at him like that for a long time.

“You do have someone, right?” she finally spoke, “’Cause I know you didn’t give yourself all those marks on your neck.”

Marshall slouched and looked at his feet, the burn returning to his face. The silence got kinda long and he finally cleared his throat before looking back up to the calm confidence of her stare. “Yeah. I got someone.”

“Kinda thought so.” She nodded with a knowing smile, but Marshall barely heard her through the sudden buzzing in his ears because, damn.

He’d just admitted to somebody besides himself that he was with Tay, admitted it out loud, clear as day. And, naw, he didn’t say Tay’s name, and ‘Trella thought he meant some girl from another school, but that didn’t matter. People would know now that he was off the market, that he was officially taken. Janeane would know.

For a second a huge truckload of panic came up on him because they hadn’t talked about it, keeping it on the down low; but they had, the both of them and he’d just….

A flash of blond hair caught his eye over Latrella’s shoulder and Marshall looked over like he always did when he saw hair like that, blond and gold together.

Tay stood across the room looking at the magazine with so much interest Marshall knew he’d been watching them. Tay wore the blue scarf with the snowflakes on it and his cheeks were pink from the cold, the rosy pink high up on each side of his face like a doll’s. His lashes looked real dark against the creamy skin and when they flicked up and their eyes met Tay looked down again real fast. Marshall felt a smile start and didn’t even try to stop it.

“….for keeping it quiet.”

Latrella had been talking and he’d totally spaced on her. “Sorry, what?”

“I said I don’t blame you for keep it quiet about your girl. If my ex were like that I would.”

“We ain’t been going out long, but. You know.” A’aight, he needed to shut up before he said more than Latrella even needed to know.

“Yeah, I know.” Marshall looked over her shoulder at Tay again because he couldn’t help himself. Tay actually seemed to be reading some magazine in the protective plastic folder, but as Marshall watched, Tay dropped it and had to bend down to pick it up. The jeans pulled tight across Tay’s ass and Marshall’s mouth went dry.

“Well, I should go.”

“Oh, yeah! A’aight.” Fuck, it was a good thing none of the crew were here because Von would kill him for checking out while Latrella Thibodaux was talking just to him.

Tay stood up and the jeans settled around his hips, snug under the curve before Tay’s long, slim legs started.

The warm touch of Latrella’s hand on his arm made him look down at her guiltily, but she was just smiling a little and suddenly the look on her face didn’t read as just friendly.

“Tell you what, though. Not for nothing, but if it don’t work out with your girl? You know where I am.”

Marshall stared, startled, into the honey brown of her eyes and they met his without blinking, cool and deep. He wondered, for the first time, about where he’d be if she’d come up to him a few months ago. If she’d turned those honey eyes on him when school started and touched his arm with her brown fingers and their neat pink nails then.

Because Latrella had something Jeanine and most of the other girls at school didn’t have and Marshall wasn’t even sure what it was. Whatever it was made her try out for the cheerleading squad even if both captains were white and there hadn’t been any Black cheerleaders in a couple of years. It made her float between groups of kids that normally hated each other without apologizing for any of it, and it made her not be any baby’s momma when lots of other pretty, popular girls had to drop out when they got pregnant. Marshall had a feeling Latrella had her own version of the Stanley Cup she had her eye on and it didn’t have to do with being no one’s girl, neither.

“I know where you are.”

Latrella nodded thoughtfully and left him looking after the sway of her hair as she walked out the door.

*~*~*~*

“We’re starting with word problems and this is where most people have trouble…..what?” Tay didn’t snap but it was close, and Marshall pressed his lips together to keep from laughing at him.

Tay had played it off pretty good, seeing him and Latrella, but Marshall had caught the sarcastic edge to his voice when Tay said Latrella was ‘friendly’, and Tay hadn’t looked at him when they rode the elevator. They usually pressed shoulders and played with each other’s stares in the elevators. One of these days Marshall was gonna bend over and kiss him just to see if he could before the doors opened. Tay hadn’t looked at his mouth once.

He looked good pissed off: chin high, pink lips tight, two powder rose blushes on both cheeks that tipped off he was upset.

“You jealous.”

“Whatever.

Marshall leaned sideways until their shoulders touched and he could nearly touch Tay’s arm with his chin and sang, “You jeeeeaallooousss…” softly so Tay rolled his eyes and looked away. “You are, lookit you.”

“Yeah.” Tay finally turned to him, face defensive. “I am. Happy?”

Marshall caught the stormy blue eyes and held them until they got soft and drifted down to his mouth. They weren’t six inches apart and the need to taste him suddenly got strong, strong and huge. Maybe something showed in his eyes because Tay’s lids shut for a second and when they opened his eyes looked a little lost.

“Don’t be.” It came out lower than he meant, harsher. “You don’t gotta be.”

“Okay.” Tay said softly, holding Marshall’s eyes until Marshall’s pulse sped up and his mouth got dry and he wanted to be somewhere alone, touching under Tay’s clothes.

Tay cleared his throat and looked at the book, the spots of blush high on his cheeks again. Taking a deep breath he started again, “Word problems…” and Marshall pulled his mind out of his crotch and tried to listen and understand and not think about how long it would be until he could kiss Tay again.

However, in another half hour he wasn’t thinking of Tay’s lips or Tay’s ass or Tay’s eyes. Touching Tay’s dick was nowhere on his mind. He wasn’t even hard.

They’d gone over the same word problem twelve times and Marshall still didn’t get it. He was getting fucking scared that he’d hit a wall and this was it, as far as he went, everyone off the bus, ‘cause he hadn’t been paying attention to the chapters coming up and he didn’t know they were gonna be like this.

“It’s okay, we’ll figure it out. You got the first one.” Tay’s hand soothed his back but Marshall just hugged himself tighter and felt his back tense more.

“The first one was easy.” Marshall muttered, staring at the small paragraph with numbers that they’d been struggling with forever.

“The first ones are always easy. All you have to do is write it out. I’ll help you. You read it this time.” They both leaned over and looked at the word problem in the open book and Marshall took a breath.

“A dog is chasing a rabbit, which has a start of 45m, jumps 3m every time the rabbit jumps 2m. In how many leaps does the dog overtake the rabbit?”

“Okay. Now , what two people-animals- are we talking about?”

“Dog and rabbit.”

Tay wrote DOG and RABBIT on the paper.

“A’aight.” Marshall allowed, sitting up a little.

“Alright. So what information do we know?”

“That’s one dead fucking rabbit.”

“Marshall.” Tay let out a bubble of laughter then made himself get serious even if the blue of his eyes still held a smile, “This is serious, come on.”

“A’aight, yeah. Yeah.”

“What information here looks like an answer to something?”

Marshall squinted at the short sentence. “Forty five miles?”

“Yes! Good!” Tay beamed and Marshall didn’t have the heart to tell him he’d flat out guessed. Tay wrote ‘45’ on the paper under ‘DOG’ and ‘RABBIT’. “A good way to tell is to look for clues, like key words that tell you this might be what you solve for. Like ‘which has’.”

“A’aight.” He kind of got that.

“What do you NEED to know? What’s the question we need to answer?”

“The last part.” Marshall pointed because, duh, there was a question mark at the end.

“Right,” Tay nodded, “So let’s make ‘x’ equal all that part.” He drew a circle around the entire last sentence and wrote an ‘x’ under it. “Because that’s what we want to find out.”

“A’aight.” Marshall said, except he had kind of lost it now, because if a word problem didn’t have that last sentence, then how did you know what to answer?

His hands had squeezed into fists and he ducked them under the table on his lap because he couldn’t make himself open them.

A warm palm suddenly pressed to his back and he glanced up into calm, sympathetic clear blue, felt the palm start to rub in small circles and the muscles of his shoulders loosened. He hadn’t even realized he’d been tense like that.

“Breathe, come on. It’ll be okay.” Tay said quietly. “I promise.”

“You can’t promise that, yo.” Marshall smiled, a little. “You don’t know.”

“I can promise I’ll be right there with you. I can promise we’ll get through this.”

“What if I fuck this part up?” There, he’d said it. He actually felt better once it was out there, the possibility.

“You won’t.” Tay said firmly. “And if you do,” he continued when Marshall looked away, “We’ll deal with that. Ask your teacher if you can do a make up test, or do something for extra credit. He’s seen your grades. He knows you’ve been trying, right?”

Marshall thought of all the messages Mr. Lang had been writing on his quizzes and felt kind of embarrassed that he pulled them out and looked at them the whole day. “Good work!” “Excellent effort!” in Lang’s neat round writing. “Yeah. Maybe.”

“Okay. Now quit whining so we can finish this problem.”

“I ain’t whining!” Marshall protested and Tay lifted a smooth brow at him. His lips went into a little smirk and the dimple on his chin got real deep. Marshall wanted to lick it.

“And quit it.” Tay bumped his shoulder, pink traveling up both cheeks as he ducked his head.

“Quit what?”

“Don’t give me that look until we’ve done more work.”

“What look?” Marshall asked softly and Tay cleared his throat, shifting on the chair and Marshall knew, he just did, that Tay was hard. That if he slipped his hand under the table between Tay’s thighs he’d feel it. The blush on his cheeks got brighter and he looked like one of the dolls his Aunt collected, the ones with the blond curls, dressed in old fashioned clothes with pink spots on their little faces.

“So the x….” Tay started again and Marshall looked down at the paper with a smile.

It took them an entire hour before Marshall understood, kind of, that the equation to the problem was 3x=45+2x and how they got to that point. Once they did, it was nothing because he’d solved those for a while. It was just figuring out how to translate the words and how not to fuck up because one thing he realized with these problems was that if you messed up one part you were screwed.

They looked at a couple of others but then called it even when Marshall yawned, then apologized.

“I think that’s enough for now.” Tay smiled as Marshall covered his mouth and rubbed his eyes. His head felt full of explanations and red flag words and equations.

“A’aight.” He sat up in the chair and arched his back a little to get the kinks out.

“You’re doing better. Once you get used to the language they use you’ll be okay. It’s just reading.” Tay shrugged as he gathered up the papers and pencils and Marshall put his Math book away.

“I don’t read.” Marshall muttered zipping up his backpack then stopping when he saw Tay giving him a weird look. “What?”

“You read.”

“Naw, I don’t.” Tay kept staring at him and looked really bothered, and Marshall was wishing he’d just shut up about the whole reading thing. “Just comic books and shit.”

“That’s reading!” Tay’s eyes lit up so happy Marshall squirmed in embarrassment.

“That don’t count.”

“Not counting is big with you, huh?” Tay shook his head as they pushed back their chairs and got up. “Everything counts. Comics, magazines, the newspaper.”

Marshall couldn’t remember the last time he looked at a newspaper except to cut out a ‘current events’ article for government class, but he read hip-hop magazines all the time, sharing The Source, Scratch and Vibe back and forth with the guys.

“Then I guess I read.” He shrugged.

“Have you ever read graphic novels?” Tay asked and Marshall shook his head. “You should! Zac loves them. They’re like long comic books and the art is fantastic. I’ll borrow some of his and show them to you.”

Marshall grinned at Tay’s excited voice. He looked so pretty when he smiled like that, eyes all shiny and dimples showing. He’d look at the fucking weather reports if it made Tay smile like that. “A’aight. Yeah.”

“What grade do you have in English?” Marshall glanced at Tay and felt the easy smile slip a little on his face. Tay looked at him expectantly but dropped his eyes when Marshall didn’t answer right away.

“It’s a’aight.”

“How alright?”

“I got a C,” he said before it got to be a big thing, and it was no big damn deal. A C was passing. There was nothing wrong with having a C!

“That’s good.” Tay said quickly and Marshall looked at him out of the side of his eyes.

“I know.”

“I could help you with that, too.”

“I said I got a C.”

“I mean in case you wanted to do better.” Tay had the same determined look he got when they started a new math chapter.

“So no one thinks you with someone stupid?” It came out sharper than he wanted but Tay just snorted.

“Marshall, no one knows we’re together. That doesn’t even make sense.”

Marshall thought of the look on Proof’s face when he saw the hickies but didn’t say that to Tay, and that maybe it was dumb, but he just wasn’t sure about having Tay look at his English stuff. He had a good memory for how words should be spelled and shit, but his papers still came back bleeding red ink, and he hated rewriting them when he still wasn’t that fuckin’ sure how to correct all that crap in the first place.

“I just,” Tay chewed on his bottom lip, brows still scrunched together. “Think I could help. With that. And I….want to see you write.” The words got lower and more pink came up on his cheeks. “Because I like your hands. I sound like a dork now.” He ducked so his hair hid his face.

Marshall watched the swaying blond hair as they walked, then grabbed Tay’s hand because the damn place really was almost deserted, and ducked them into a stairwell before Tay could react.

“What….?”

“Just for a minute,” Marshall whispered, pressing him against the wall and burying lips against his neck, the weak yellow light in the stairwell making Tay’s hair gold. He felt Tay tense then relax against him as Marshall mouthed the tender skin below Tay’s jaw, nudging aside the wool scarf with his neck, and he heard a muffled ‘thump’ before he even realized their backpacks had slid off their shoulders to the floor. Tay sighed when Marshall kissed his throat, made a little ‘mmm’ sound, and Marshall’s body jerked at the sound without his permission, a desperate little twitch he couldn’t help because, god, it took nothing for him to get lost in Tay even here, in the stupid echoing stairwell, just drown in how Tay smelled and how he felt, drawing him in and straining up into him so Marshall tightened his hold on the slender waist and just inhaled.

“I gotta touch you, fuckin’ miss touching you,” he whispered, fumbling under Tay’s jacket, and he should shut up, he should shut up with all the stupid shit that just fell out of his mouth when he had Tay like this all warm and sighing, but he couldn’t. He skirted under Tay’s shirt to lay his palms on soft skin so warm it felt almost hot. It’s like the warmth melted everything in him he didn’t know was frozen. Marshall ran fingers over the edge of Tay’s ribs, his back before the curve rose in his hands; and he gripped Tay’s hips and pulled them close, heard Tay gasp a little when he nuzzled the warm curve of neck under Tay’s collar then nipped gently. Tay made a desperate noise in his throat before soft, strong hands cupped Marshall’s face and brought their lips together in a deep, long, slow connection that actually made Marshall kinda dizzy. He leaned against Tay when the ground started to sway, gripping him close and floating in the warm wet heat.

“God,” Tay breathed into his mouth when they broke away, eyes closed as Marshall panted and felt up Tay’s back, his shoulders, back down to the curves of his hips he’d wanted to touch since earlier. “I miss touching you too, but….we shouldn’t…someone’ll see….” Marshall kept interrupting him with slow brushes of his lips.

“Don’t care,” Marshall whispered because he’d know what people would see, what they would think if they saw the slim legs and long blond hair. He’d thought it but Tay would kick his ass if he said people had to look twice before they realized he was a guy.

“Yes, you….,” Tay’s lashes fluttered as Marshall nipped along Tay’s jaw. “Oh. God you feel so good.” Tay’s hands ran up his arms over and over then scratched at the bristle of Marshall’s hair, making goose bumps rise up under his hoodie. A low, frustrated growl slipped from his mouth when Tay licked at the spot behind his ear, sucked gently on the curve of his neck, and fisted his hoodie at his waist pulling them close enough to graze their crotches in a multicolor spark of heat.

“Fuck,” Marshall whispered, fighting the urge to thrust into the heat, grind against the hard knot between Tay’s legs that teased his with brushes and swipes, because if he did nothing was stopping him and they were gonna get arrested for indecent fucking exposure in the library.

“I know,” Tay said into his lips, hands touching Marshall all over: his face, his neck, sweeps across his chest, light brushes of fire that made Marshall want to roll in them like a big cat. “It’s so….strong. I think about this all the time, being with you, I can’t….” Marshall found the silk velvet pads of Tay’s nipples and traced them with his fingertips, “Marshall….” Tay moaned into his neck, shivering, “Oh…” Tay pulled his arms away even while his body stretched under Marshall’s hands.

God he loved hearing him like that. It split this need in him, fierce and bright. It made him shake.

“No!” Tay grabbed his hand before he could cup Tay’s crotch, curve his palm around the hardness answering his body’s touch. “No, we can’t here.” Marshall closed his eyes as their foreheads rested together, tried to get his breathing under control. His lids flew open when he felt Tay lift his hand and press soft, soft lips to the center of his palm, starry lashes closed against the blush of Tay’s cheeks. Marshall’s breath stitched as he watched Tay’s lips brush and press all over his palm, his fingers, holding his hand like it was something made of glass. Tay’s lips opened against the fleshy part below Marshall’s thumb and bit lightly, then on the inside of his wrist and lust washed over him in a warm, prickling wave.

He gripped Tay’s neck with both hands, fingers burying in cool soft strands of hair, and brought their mouths together, muffling the rough sound that slipped out, except he didn’t know from who. He pinned Tay’s body to the wall with his, and to hell with trying to maintain because he couldn’t, didn’t even want to with all the lean, firm lines of Tay crushed to him and the hard insistence of their dicks bearing down as their legs scissored.

Marshall tugged and brushed with his lips curling into the incredible taste of Tay’s mouth until Tay broke away breathing hard, both hands buried under Marshall’s t-shirt grasping handfuls of his back and the sensitive skin at his waist.

“God,” Tay panted into his neck while Marshall mapped path to the hollow of Tay’s throat with is tongue. “I can’t breathe…”

“I know. I just…”

“When will you have the car?” Tay whispered, tickling his ear.

“Tomorrow,” Marshall said, touching Tay’s face with the backs of his fingers and nuzzling their noses together. “I’ll pick you up.”

“Mmm-kay….no!”

“What?” Marshall pulled away, exasperated.

“I’ll be at Priscilla’s tomorrow for the last part of practice. We’re picking music for a new program and it’s a big deal. We need the stereo and the computer and everything. I’ll meet you.”

“I can pick you up there you tell me where it is.” Marshall suggested but Tay shook his head, brows knit in worry.

“It’s far out and I’m not sure when we’ll be done. I might be late. I’m sorry.”

Marshall pressed his lips together, disappointed but not saying anything. It’s not like Tay could show up after school and meet him there, either. That would really work.

“I know it’s a drag….”

The lights in the stairwell flickered on and off and they glanced upward in question. “The library will close in thirty minutes.” The bored recorded voice told them, even though it sounded muffled in here. “If you are going to check out items please go the first floor checkout desk now. If you are applying for a library card please go to nearest reference desk and fill out an application now. Thank you for using the Detroit Public Library.”

“We gotta go.” Marshall said, still leaning on Tay and breathing him in. He didn’t know how Tay always smelled this good, like clean clothes and soap and warm. Marshall was pretty sure he never smelled this good.

Tay leaned back his head and smiled at him with half closed eyes. “You have to move.”

“Oh, yeah.” Marshall murmured before dipping in for another kiss, just a slow one, just lips and a little mouth, but it trembled something in his stomach, scary and amazing. When they pulled away Tay’s eyes were blazing with intensity, the blue dark in the stairwell shadows.

“No one makes me feel this way.” Tay whispered, putting a hand on Marshall’s chest over his heart. Marshall wondered if Tay could feel how the beat skipped faster at the words. “Just you.”

He closed his hand around Tay’s fingers and felt the metal of the cheap dog tags all the crew got at the arcade at a vending machine one Saturday get hot under Tay’s palm. He loved how Tay always felt warm no matter what.

He wanted to say a whole bunch of things, all the things that just tripped out of him when they were locked together tight, touching each other and the words sailed out on the heat of his blood, but they wouldn’t come now, not like they did then. They just stared into each other’s eyes as the air got slow and thick between them, crackling with heat. Marshall could almost see the sparks.

Suddenly the faint click of heels echoed down the stairwell and they moved away from each other on instinct, but Marshall didn’t see how it mattered. The short lady who stopped on the stairs and peered at them over those funny sixties glasses with the pointy tips looked like she’d been sucking lemons. Her hair was short and steel gray and sprayed into this helmet looking thing, and the pant suit with the pointy shoes just made her look shorter. A badge clipped to her jacket had her picture and a number. She hadn’t smiled for the camera, neither.

“We’re closing you know.” She said with this look like she smelled something bad.

“We got thirty minutes.” Marshall defended until he felt Tay’s hand on his wrist, pressing, and bit back anything else he was gonna let go with.

“We’re sorry. We were just leaving.” Tay said politely, spots of pink high on his cheeks and the lady squinted at them for a second before bobbing her head like she gave them permission.

“Fine.” She relented and Marshall turned away to adjust his shirt, real glad that the hard on that had strained against his jeans had gone down by the end. Not that Prune Face would recognize one if she saw one.

Tay’s face was really pink now as he retied his scarf and fixed his shirt, and Marshall realized he hadn’t heard any clicking heels when she’d walked away. Glancing over he saw her just standing there staring at them as if they were gonna do something illegal when she left.

“What?” he demanded and felt Tay tug at his shirt in warning, Tay’s face pleading with him when he turned back.

Giving them another cold look Prune Face kept going down the stairs, the clack-clack of her heels loud in the emptiness.

“What?” he asked, quieter when Tay laughed softly, shaking his head.

“This authority thing really doesn’t work for you, does it?”

“No.” He admitted as they bent to pick up their backpacks from the floor. Hell if he could see why he had to be all respectful to a grownup just because they existed. He needed a hell of a lot more reason than that. “I don’t know why she gave us static. We weren’t doing nothin’.”

Yes. We were.” Tay muttered under his breath.

“Not when she saw us we weren’t.”

Tay rolled his eyes and reached for the door, then stopped when Marshall held the door closed with one hand. Marshall circled Tay’s slim waist and pulled him close, felt him open right away, so they floated in the rich velvet heat until the recording interrupted them again.

“The library will close in ten minutes. Please pay the automatic cashiers at the exits and thank you for using the Detroit Public Library.”

“I hate that thing.”

“Come on.” Tay laughed, pushing him away a little so he could open the door and the bright light of the third floor made him blink for a few seconds, disoriented after the dim stairwell.

“I’ve got to catch the bus.” Tay glanced at his wristwatch as they joined the few other people headed for the door.

“Let’s go.”

“Waiting with me?” Tay smiled, flashing dimples, and Marshall wondered if he did that on purpose because he knew it fucking killed Marshall every time.

“Going with you. You ain’t goin’ home alone right now, yo. It’s fuckin’ dark and shit.”

“But you take a different bus.”

“So?” Marshall shrugged. Tay looked like he wanted to say more, the little line deep between his brows, and he could say whatever he wanted ‘till he was blue in the face. If Tay thought Marshall was letting him get on the seventeen bus with all the junkies and thugs that came out of the woodwork when the sun went down he was crazy.

But Tay just stared at him a little bit more then just smiled. “Okay.”

“A’aight.”

*~*~*~*~

The seventeen bus sure enough had a couple of old drunk guys that smelled like they’d fallen in a tub of beer then rolled in dirt. Some homies gave Tay a look but played it off when Marshall came up behind him and gave them a look back until they minded their own damn business. Otherwise a few people in security guard uniforms and fast food uniforms nodded off against the glass, and a tired mother patted the stomach of a sleeping little girl with her fist in her mouth, her face almost hidden in the fake fur of her jacket hood. He and Tay were the only white people on here but Tay didn’t even seem to notice as they walked to two seats on the back of the bus.

The clattering of the bus and the rumble of the engine right at their back made talking kinda hard, so after a few tries they just sat there, as close as possible. Marshall slouched down with his feet wedged around the seat in front and Tay sat with one leg folded up and their backpacks on their lap, pressure from hip to shoulder. Marshall wished he’d thought to put his arm on Tay’s seat back when they sat down; he didn’t know if he could do it now without anyone noticing.

The bus made its way down The Mile, passing boarded up storefronts and working girls swishing their hips on the sidewalk, and Marshall snuck glances at Tay while they sat. His blond and gold hair bounced on his shoulders, catching the fluorescent light and the long dark lashes flicked back and forth as Tay looked out the window, expression calm and interested. With his bright hair and pretty face and graceful hands holding his backpack he looked like the most out of place shiny thing in the middle of the winos and junkies and graffiti written all over the seats.

Tay caught him staring and smiled with that little line in the middle of his brows he got when he didn’t get something. “What?”

Marshall gave a quick survey to the people nearby but the only one close was an old man fast asleep with his mouth open, a plastic bag about four bumps away from falling off his lap.

Moving his left hand slowly, Marshall plucked at Tay’s grip on the backpack until the slim fingers loosened enough for him to draw them over, hold them, and rub on them behind the shield of their knees. Tay glanced at him, surprise flickering the clear blue of his stare before he, too, checked around to see that no one was even looking at them. Cutting his eyes at Marshall under his lashes Tay looked back outside as he slid their palms together, fingers playing over each other and exploring, little sparks of electricity crackling along their skin like when you got blankets out of the dryer – it felt like that. Marshall traced the soft raised bumps of Tay’s knuckles, real soft compared to his from where he’d been in fights and punched walls and worked at odd jobs with Ronnie and Proof in the summer. The end of Tay’s lips lifted a little as he kept his eyes out the window, and their hands danced some more until Marshall’s lay flat and open while Tay traced the lines on his palm with light feather touches that sent tingles everywhere.

And he couldn’t believe just doing this, just messing with each other’s hands on the shitty number seventeen bus, affected him like this: flip flops of his stomach every time Tay’s fingers brushed his, jitters and heat and that lazy stirring of his cock, a low grade hum that told him it wouldn’t take much to get hard. He and Jeanine held hands, yeah, but it never did this to him. It’s just something you did: hold your girlfriend’s hand, beat someone up if they talked trash about her, try not to roll over and fall asleep right after sex even if that’s all you wanted to do, because Ronnie said only lousy lays did that.

Thinking of Ronnie kinda threw him for a second, wondering suddenly what his uncle would say at Marshall sitting in the back of the bus holding hands with some guy.
Bet you didn’t see this one coming, yo, he thought.

He slid his hand over Tay’s palm to trace the pad of his thumb over the pale blue vein on Tay’s wrist, following the trail over whisper soft skin over and over. He head a quiet gasp and looked up to see Tay’s lips parted a little, eyes blinking and two blooming spots of color high on the curves of his face. Ducking his head Tay tried to pull his hand away but Marshall held it, liking that he could affect Tay like that, too, and threaded their fingers together tight, meeting Tay’s eyes when he glanced at him.

“This is my stop.” Tay said quietly and Marshall reached up and pulled the cord without breaking their look.

He could still feel Tay’s eyes on him even when they got up to walk down the aisle after the bus ground to a halt.

*~*~*~*~*~*

They walked down the sidewalk, puffing breaths in the cold night air and moving in and out of the circles of streetlights and shadows of trees. Both their hands were shoved deep in their pockets against the cold and Marshall felt glad because he kept really wishing he could hold Tay’s hand, and he didn’t know where his head was at because that was obviously a bad idea.

So they talked about whatever and he watched Tay’s hair shine under the streetlights as they made their way down Tay’s ‘hood. It looked as quiet and peaceful as a goddamn Christmas card. People’s cars in the driveway, warm lights on in the windows and no groups of men hanging at the corner, holding bottles in paper bags, or messy front yards with pieces of cars and garbage. Marshall felt kinda unreal, like he was in one of those shows on TV with the nice, perfect family in the nice, perfect house and he wandered in off a sitcom on UPN.

“You’re quiet.” Tay said, flicking hair out of his eyes to look at him. Marshall really liked to watch Tay do that.

“Thinkin.’ This a real quiet place.”

Tay looked around himself, doubt on his face. “Yeah, I guess it is. Lots of families live here, and some old people.”

“It’s different.”

“Than what?”

“Than my hood. We can walk here and not get jumped.”

“Who says I can’t jump you?” Tay gave him a little shove with his shoulder and Marshall smiled.

“Man, please.” He shoved back a little too hard so Tay laughed and stumbled. He caught Tay’s arm to steady him and found himself too close all of a sudden, blue eyes dark in the night shadows and the urge to kiss him so strong he’s glad they were suddenly at Tay’s place and a flood of light spilled from the front window.

Taking his hand away he shoved it back in his pocket where it belonged, not even taking it out when they climbed the few steps to the front door.

“Thanks for walking me.” Tay said as they stood at the front door under the bright as hell porch light. People around here for damn sure believed in bright lights. The porch light at the trailer only worked some of the time because every time they put in a bulb it got stolen in a few days.

“It’s a’aight.”

They stood there for a few seconds before their eyes caught and both of them looked away smiling.

“I feel like I should say I had a good time or something, except it wasn’t a date.” Tay shook his head.

“Fuck no.” Marshall scoffed, still smiling. “We’da done something tighter than fuckin’ word problems on a date. We gotta go out again.” He added because more Tay time always sounded good to him.

“Okay. If you pass this chapter we’ll do whatever you want.”

Marshall quirked an eyebrow and watched the blush bloom on Tay’s cheeks again. “Whatever I want, huh?” he repeated, voice low as he reached out to stroke Tay’s blue snowflake scarf, the wool soft in his fingers. Tay dropped his eyes, still smiling through the color on his cheeks.

“Yeah.”

“Dope.”

A movement at the window caught his eye and he looked over to see a little girl with her nose and hands pressed to the glass, eyes wide. Tay followed his stare then glared at her and tapped on the glass with his hand so the kid ran away yelling something.

“Sorry.” Tay turned, back, sighing. “I should go.”

“Don’t hassle it yo,” Marshall grinned, “They’re just kids. I don’t got no privacy at the trailer when Nate’s there, neither. He follows me in the bathroom and shit.”

“I guess I should be thankful they’re not that bad.” Marshall nodded and watched Tay’s eyes drift to his mouth. The pull drew him in and he caught himself just before he kissed Tay, fist tangled in his scarf to pull him close and not even realizing when he’d done that.

“I gotta go.”

“Yeah.” Tay agreed quickly, cheeks flaming and blue eyes alive with heat.

Marshall untangled his hand from Tay’s scarf and smoothed it a few times until Tay pulled it away, grinning and shaking his head.

“Tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow,” Tay nodded, “I’ll be there.”

Marshall nodded back, stared at Tay’s lips some more, then had to shake his head to clear it. He was messed up, yo.

“A’aight. Peace out.”

“You….too.” Tay added and Marshall grinned at the look on his face and let himself ruffle Tay’s soft, blond hair before stepping away, another step, until he tried to walk backwards down the steps without falling.

“Be careful going home!” Tay called as Marshall made it down the stairs and back-walked down the streets, smiling like a fool.

“Get your ass inside! It’s cold!”

“Okay.” Tay raised a hand in good-bye and Marshall returned it; stood on his toes as he got farther away until Tay turned to go in the house.

Still smiling he walked in the quiet neighborhood to catch the bus back to The Mile.

TAYLOR

“Hey,” Tay said walking in the kitchen, scalp still tingling from Marshall’s touch.

His mother was at the kitchen counter making lunches for the morning, and Avery sat at the breakfast table playing with a Barbie that had seen better days. Zac leaned against the table devouring an apple in large, crisp bites. The fruit looked tiny in his brother’s huge hand and Tay realized with a start, like he sometimes did, how really big Zac had become when he wasn’t looking.

Zac’s shoulders strained at the stitching of his t-shirt, the design on the front almost distorted across his chest, and his strong thighs stretched the legs of his track pants so Tay knew he’d need new ones before long. Just like Ike was a tall, skinny kid with a mouthful of metal in Tay’s head Zac was a short, hyperactive tornado with a mop of light blond hair.

He realized both images were from When He Walked Into the Room, as if his memories of his brothers were stuck in that space.

“Hello, honey. How was your session?” His mother asked with a smile and Tay smiled back.

“Okay. Word problems. Kind of tough.”

“Was Marshall Mathers on our porch?” Zac asked around his apple. Tay didn’t know why he always said both of Marshall’s names like that, like they were one word.

“Yeah,” Tay admitted, “Who said?”

“Avery said you were talking to some boy with baggy clothes and no hair.”

“And stick out ears.” Avery added, making Glamour Barbie walk across the table in jerky hopping step.

Zac burst into giggles and Tay glared at him.

“His ears do not stick out.” Tay said.

“Yes, they do. Like Dumbo.” Avery added.

“They do not!”

“Avery, that’s not a very nice thing to say, is it?” Their mother murmured and Avery made a face and squirmed.

“No…” She allowed, pouting. Barbie was barefoot and her hair needed combing.

“Sorry.” She didn’t sound one bit sorry and Tay just scowled at her. She made a face at him.

“What was he doing on our porch?” Zac asked, nibbling around the apple core like a mouse.

“He didn’t have the car so we rode the bus together.”

“Marshall Mathers walked you home?” Zac grinned, eyes delighted.

“No.” Tay snapped, his cheeks already burning. “He just wanted to make sure I got here okay.”

“Oh, honey, how is he getting home?” his mother looked up from her sandwich bags with a worried look and Tay realized too late where this was headed.

“The bus,” he stalled.

“It’s almost nine thirty, Taylor! Why didn’t you ask him in? Your father or I could drive him home.” Her hands were already undoing the ties of her apron.

“NO!” Tay said quickly, too quickly when he saw his mother’s eyebrows raise. “I mean, he’s already left. He’ll be okay! He’s….uh….”

“Really scary?” Zac supplied helpfully.

“He’s not!” Tay contradicted hotly, watching the worry seep into his mother’s expression and just great! All he needed was his mom not liking Marshall before she even met him.

“He’s just…private. About where he lives.”

“A trailer park on 8 Mile.” Zac threw the apple core in the trash in a perfect two-point arc and his satisfied smile quailed before Tay’s murderous stare.

“What? Sometimes he gets dropped off when the team takes the van. Everyone knows.”

“It’s not the same thing.” Tay said, the thought of Marshall riding in the minivan and being driven home by Taylor’s mom making his stomach sink He was pretty sure Marshall would never forgive him. Marshall probably wasn’t even going home; he usually saw Proof on Fridays after tutoring.

“There’s nothing wrong with living in a trailer, Zachary.” His mother said sternly and Zac gave an indignant scoff.

“I didn’t say there was! Tay just said Marshall was embarrassed and I said everybody knew!”

“He’s not embarrassed, he’s just private.” Tay corrected stubbornly, trying to will the blush off his face where he could feel it, bright and hot.

His mother studied him, both of them while Avery, oblivious, started taking off Glamour Barbie’s dress, tugging the red sparkly material over the hard plastic breasts.

“Alright, then. But next time at least bring him in and let him turn down the offer himself, okay?” She said firmly, “I know you boys think you’re very tough but there’s nothing wrong with being safe.”

“Okay.” Tay said, the relief almost making him dizzy.

A wail saved him from saying anymore and Taylor’s mother gave a sigh as she hung the apron on a hook near the doorway. “She’s been fussy all evening. She’s only been in bed an hour.”

“I’ll look in on her.” Tay offered, moving to the stairs. “Don’t worry.”

“Well, alright. Remember, don’t pick her up or we’ll never get her down again. If she doesn’t settle down right away just let me know.” She was already reaching in the cupboard for the lunch boxes.

“Okay.” Tay smiled avoiding Zac’s suspicious face as he walked past.

His dad was stretched out in his lounger, watching the start of the evening news and Tay caught his eyes in a quick acknowledgement and didn’t stop. He’d avoided his father as much as he could since the debacle with the TV and his father avoided him right back. That suited Tay just fine.

He found Zoe sitting in her crib fussing and crying, her blond curls sticking up around her round, tear-streaked face in the dark room lit only by a Care Bear night light.

“Tay!” she lifted her arms, pink baby lips in a serious pout. For just a second he almost picked her up she looked so unhappy and forlorn, but his mother would have his ass if he did.

“Sssshh, baby girl, go night night.” Tay eased her back down despite a fresh bout of tears and wriggling. Finding her binky from where it had slipped between the mattress and crib Tay gently slipped it in her mouth and watched the fussing lessen right away.

“Go to sleep.” He whispered, rubbing her round little tummy in its terry cloth onesie, but the minute Zoë’s eyes started to droop she’d jerk herself awake and grab at his hand, kicking her feet in protest while drooling and complaining her displeasure around the binky. She was definitely fighting sleep.

Tay sighed, “You’re such a diva,” he whispered as he pushed the binky in more firmly then decided to try singing since that sometimes worked when she acted like this.

“Hey girls, gather round
Listen to what I’m putting down
Hey baby, I’m your handy man.”

Zoë stopped arching her back and fussing and blinked sleepy long-lashed eyes at him.

“I’m not the kind to use a pencil or rule
I’m handy with love and I’m no fool
I fix broken hearts, I know that I truly can,”

Zoë clutched his fingers in one moist fist but she’d started to work on the binky in earnest as her eyes drooped.

“If your broken heart should need repair
Then I’m the man to see
I whisper sweet things, you tell all your friends
They’ll come runnin’ to me.”

Her eyes closed all the way and Tay watched her chest start the even rise and fall.

“Here is the main thing I want to say
I’m busy 24 hours a day
I fix broken hearts, I know that I truly can.”

He hummed the refrain, letting his voice get more and more faint until he was sure she had given up the ghost and slid totally into slumber. The door squeaked gently behind him and Tay turned with a smile, expecting his mom and coming up short when his dad stood there with the weirdest look on his face. Taylor blinked at him a few times before just walking out of the room because he was not going to talk and wake Zoë up when he’d finally gotten her to sleep.

“Your mom asked me to check on how you were doing.” His dad said after they’d quietly shut the door so Queen Zoe wouldn’t wake up.

“She’s asleep.” Tay said, stupidly, like his dad hadn’t just seen that.

“I’ve never heard you sing like that. You sing to her all the time?”

“Sometimes. It calms her down.” The defensive edge came up in his voice before he even thought about it and registered the kind interest a second too late. He watched his father’s smile wilt around the edges and felt a spark of guilt that he erased immediately.

He wasn’t going to go sniffing after scraps of approval anymore, like some pitiful stray dog. He was done with that.

“You’re real good with her, Tay. That’s all I meant.”

“Thanks.” Tay mumbled, tucking his hair behind his ear and thankful for Johnny’s mock turtleneck that rose up just high enough to hide any marks Marshall might have left.

“I have to make a phone call. Excuse me.”

“Taylor….” Tay stopped, hand on the doorknob, heart pounding loud because, no, uh-uh, he didn’t want that tone, that let’s-have-a-talk tone. He didn’t want to hear what his father had to say and he was pretty damn sure his father didn’t want to hear what he had to say. Tay turned his head a little to show he was listening but didn’t look at his dad.
He heard a sigh and steadfastly refused to look up at the sound.

“Nothing, son. Thanks for helping with her.”

“Sure.” Tay nodded before escaping to the sanctuary of the room, blessedly Zac-and-Josh free for the moment.

By some miracle, Jessie wasn’t on the phone and he got Johnny on the first try. Just hearing his voice go, “Talullah’s Bar,” made him smile.

“You’re going to miss an important phone call answering like that one of these days.” Tay admonished as he sank down on the bed toeing off his trainers.

“Doubtful,” Johnny returned confidently, “Only a few people have the land line number. It’s unlisted and I don’t even get telemarketers.”

Tay made a sound of agreement.

“How did the turtlenecks work out?” Johnny’s voice asked suggestively and Tay smiled wider.

“Good. I like the mock ones best.”

“Oh, me too. They don’t choke you but you can adjust really fast, too.”

“I figure between them and my scarves I’m good for the winter.”

“I don’t know what you’re going to do in the summer.” Johnny tsked tsked.

“I can wear scarves in the summer.” Tay pointed out and almost heard Johnny roll his eyes.

“Uh-huh except even I’m not that gay.”

“Shut up.” Tay scratched the top of his foot with the heel of another. “I like scarves.”

“I know they’re your signature accessory, alright? I’m just saying maybe you should re-think the whole t-shirt AND scarf ensemble. Not even you can pull that off.”

“Maybe I’ll just re-direct where he puts them, then.” Tay smiled, his stomach giving a little jump at the thought of Marshall nipping at his chest, or his arm. It’s as if he knew just what drove Tay insane: little sharp nips followed by sucking or large soft bites where he seemed to inhale Tay’s skin whole.

“ Start training now.” Johnny advised, “You really don’t want to explain to everyone why you’re wearing a turtleneck in July, let alone tell Priscilla why all the new costumes need a high neck.”

“Point.” Tay conceded,.

“Do you need a condom yet?”

“Johnny!”

“Well, do you?” Johnny insisted and Tay sighed, pulling a pillow on his stomach to trace the pattern on the case.

“Not that it’s any of your business but no

“Whatever Mr. I-Need-A-Commitment-Before-I’ll-Give-You-A-Handjob.”

He heard Johnny’s long intake of breath and bit his lip to keep from laughing. “You BITCH! That isn’t true!”

“Oh, please.”

“I’m just careful!”

“Well, so are we!”

“For what? You already know you want to attack each other!”

“We’re just letting it happen, okay?” Tay defended, “And it’s not like we don’t do stuff.”

“Skin on skin?”

“…….yes…..,” Tay smiled, shutting his eyes and bringing the pillow up to his chin.

“In the jacket under the shirt skin-on-skin?”

“Yes, Johns!” Tay laughed, “God.”

“Have you seen him naked?”

“No!” Tay let out a bark of laughter as he curled on his side around the pillow, “I’ve seen enough. I love his body.”

“Does he have a six-pack?”

“Not really, but it’s really firm. He has muscles all over his arms from hockey.”

“Are they your favorite part?” Johnny asked eagerly and Tay mmmed in thought.

“No. His hands are my favorite part.”

“His hands?” Johnny repeated, laughing.

“Yeah,” Tay laughed back.

“He bites his nails!”

“How do you know?” Tay inquired, indignant.

“Hello, I’ve SEEN him.”

“I don’t care. They’re beautiful. Like pianist’s hands or artist’s hands. They’re really sensitive, too.”

Really.” Johnny purred suggestively.

“Really. I wish I could draw them.”

“Awww!” Johnny sighed wistfully.

A small pause inserted itself while Tay let his thoughts drift to Marshall’s hands and what they could do.

“We’re really gay.” Johnny said.

“I know!” They burst into laughter and Tay had a hard time bringing it down to snuffles when Zac walked in to get ready for bed.

“I’ve gotta go.” Tay giggled, “We’re studying tomorrow and driving tomorrow.”

“I’ll bet.”

“Shut up. We are. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Details!”

“Go get laid.” Tay smirked good-naturedly.

“But your escapades are SO much more interesting.”

“Whatever. Bye!”

“’Night!”

Tay clicked off and got up to return the cordless phone, avoiding Zac’s stare.

*~*~*~*~*~

LIBRARY

Tay checked his watch for the third time and drummed his fingers on the table in worry.

He’d been later than he thought because he’d had a little disagreement with Priscilla on what kind of music to lean towards for the new program. She wanted to do another sublime classical arrangement and Tay thought he’d done enough of those. He wasn’t opposed to more classical music, but wanted something with more edge. Prokofiev instead of Mozart, or one of the more dramatic operas. They’d gone back and forth and finally seemed to reach a kind of compromise: he’d skate what she wanted for the short program if he came up with a ‘workable’ piece for the long, and his exhibition music was his own. However, that took up way longer than he’d thought and he was almost an hour and a half late by the time he rushed through the library doors, breathless and apologetic; except there had been no one to apologize to.

What he’d come to think of as ‘their’ table sat empty, tucked in the back of the Fine Arts section behind the tall shelves of Dutch and Flemish art books. Tay walked around in case Marshall had gotten restless – because god knew his boyfriend had at least a few hyperactivity issues – but didn’t find him. He finally settled down to wait with an uneasy knot in his stomach.

Marshall had never not shown up like this and he’d never been so much as late since that one time after they’d argued and Tay really thought he would be stood up. Yeah, Tay had been way later than usual, but it wasn’t like Marshall to just leave. Tay was sure enough (okay, confident, conceited, whatever) that Marshall would wait for him, that he’d want to see Tay as badly as Tay wanted to see him.

Especially after last night….

A touch on his shoulder made him look up eagerly but an older man with glasses and a Detroit University sweatshirt stood there and asked him if he was using one of the chairs.

Tay shook his head and laid his chin on his arms, dejected.

His own homework spread out neatly around him and he couldn’t concentrate at all.

He waited three hours.

He finally left.

He tried to tell himself all the way home that there had to be a perfectly reasonable explanation, only he didn’t really believe it.

Chapter Text

I know I would apologize if I could see your eyes
’cause when you showed me myself I became someone else
But I was caught in between all you wish for and all you need
I picture you fast asleep
A nightmare comes
You can’t keep awake

May god’s love be with you
Always

-In the Sun
Joseph Arthur

 

MARSHALL

He inhaled cigarette smoke, thick and sour, and coughed before he even woke up, pulling his lids open just over the edge of the blanket.

The Dumbfuck sprawled out on the loveseat, with a day-old beard and shitkicker boots and a look on his face like he had all the answers in the world.

“You’re outta coffee.”

“So?” Marshall grunted, blinking at the haze of smoke that hung in the air. Sitting up he bunched his hands on his lap waiting for his morning hard on to go down. He’d been dreaming about Tay; watching him skate where the edges were all fuzzy like in one of those TV movies, then holding him and kissing him and then they were naked somewhere, warm and dark, and he knew they were doing it, sex, he could feel it. At least he’d woken up before it got much further, ‘cause the last visual he wanted to associate with that was The Dumbfuck’s face.

Between the smoke, the cold air blowing in from the open door, and the stupid, know-it-all smirk on The Dumbfuck’s face, his hard on had no problem at all disappearing.

It wasn’t until Marshall finally bunched the thin blanket around his waist and walked to the bathroom that he recognized the look: stupid shit looked like he’d won something no one knew about. Marshall snorted at his reflection while he brushed his teeth.

Whatever.

If the asshole wanted to count Marshall’s mom letting him back in here as winning then what the fuck ever. Punk hadn’t so much as sneezed in Marshall’s direction and that was fine with him. Nate was still real jumpy around him, clinging to Marshall like a leech or staying as far away from the asshole as possible when Marshall wasn’t there. His mom got all stupid when they were all there together; talking too loud and laughing too much and pretending they were all one big fucking family. If she thought The Dumbfuck was gonna hook up with her and take care of two kids that weren’t even his then she was even more stupid than Marshall thought.

He heard his mom’s voice say something and The Dumbfuck answered, then her high, fake laugh.

Wiping his mouth with a towel he ignored the sounds from the kitchen.

Shit.

He had four hours before he could see Tay again. It had been twelve hours since he’d seen Tay last. When he got to where he thought he’d go nuts if he didn’t see Tay right then, touch him, listen to him and breathe him in, he broke it down like that, blocks of time, and he got through it faster.

Nate leaned propped against the doorframe when he got out of the bathroom, hair all messed up, eyes half closed and one sock on, and Marshall ruffled his head to wake him up.

His clothes were all in Nate’s room, so he got dressed and poked around the pile of laundry on the floor until he found socks that looked pretty clean. Then, because he had nothing better to do, he lay back on the mattress watching the weak light from the window against the wall. A spider waited in the corner of the room for breakfast to show up, and the pattern on the wall looked faded. A sheet hung over the window as a curtain, stuck there with thumbtacks, and the mattress only smelled a little pissy now - Nate hadn’t wet the bed in awhile. Sometimes, after their mom and The Dumbfuck got into a bad fight or if Marshall and his mom got into it, Nate got real bad, but he’d been a’aight. Marshall hoped it lasted.

He wondered what Tay was doing right now. Probably already at the rink, or wherever. Marshall was all about the hockey, yo, but hell if he could see dragging his ass outta bed early every single day, practically. He wondered what Tay saw when he lay in bed and, damn, that’s how he knew Taylor got to him more than anyone he’d ever been with before. Because he didn’t lie around and wonder useless crap like that about anyone before and really wanna know. Like if Tay slept in pajamas or boxers and t-shirt. If he stayed in one position all night or moved around. If he and Zac divided up the wall space in the room or not and when everyone got a chance to jerk off. The image of Tay doing that, touching himself with his soft, graceful hands made Marshall’s dick jump and he sat up with a grunt, rubbing his face with the heel of one hand.

If he kept on like that he was gonna have blue balls way before three o’clock and probably attack Taylor in the parking lot.

Heaving himself up from the mattress on the floor, he headed for the kitchen and the sounds of Saturday morning cartoons.

*~*~*

The Dumbfuck had his mom pushed against the sink, feeling up her ass as she giggled, and Nate had sat himself in front of the TV, shoving pop tart in his mouth in slow, vague bites. A sea of crumbs fell all down his front and on his crossed legs, and he had cherry filling on the corner of his mouth. The same two feelings came up on Marshall that always did when he saw his little brother like that - checked out of the fuckin’ soft porn show in the kitchen, so close to the shitty TV Nate could kiss the screen: helplessness and flat rage. Helpless because, goddamn, the kid deserved better, fuckin’ needed better, and Marshall knew it. He was a good kid, hardly ever whined, was always smiling even living in this shithole, and it killed him to see Nate in baggy underwear and dirty clothes. Nate was old enough to get into a daycare now, but Herself over there hadn’t even looked into it. Might mean she’d actually need to get a job or something without Nate to look after. On the heels of helplessness was the same dull, simmering rage that never went away when he looked at his mother in her fuckin’ nightgown, letting the disgusting punk feel her up w hileNate sat only a few feet away. Jesus Christ. She couldn’t even make them a goddamned scrambled egg, but let The Dumbfuck say he was hungry and she jumped up like someone stuck a poker up her ass.

“What are you looking at?” Marshall blinked and realized he’d been standing there glaring at them as they made out like a couple of middle-aged kids. The Dumbfuck had gotten her tongue out of his mouth long enough to talk, beady washed out blue eyes fixed on Marshall.

“Nothin’.” Marshall gave them another disgusted look before going to the counter for the package of pop tarts.

“Oh, he don’t mean nothing, Darryl, you know how kids are.” His mom’s nervous snickering behind his back grated on his nerves and Marshall ripped open the pop tarts and bent one in half, shoving it in his mouth.

“Yeah, I know.” The lazy words answered, “Get your ass dressed. We gotta go.”

“I’m goin’.” A slap was followed by a squeal and Marshall winced at the visual of his mom’s jiggling butt under the thin nightgown and ate the other pop tart. Breakfast of champions.

He did look up when he heard the clomping boots go over to the TV and watched The Dumbfuck switch the channel to some college football game, grainy and staticky on the screen. Nathan scrabbled backwards on his butt, pop tart crumbs still around his mouth and an unhappy, nervous twitch around the big blue eyes.

The Dumbfuck sprawled himself on the loveseat again, watching the TV, and Marshall felt the rage hitch up a few notches. He walked across to the living room without even thinking.

“He was watching something.”

“He don’t mind.” The Dumbfuck gave Nathan one of his shiteating grins and Nathan stared at him, each muscle on his small body quivering with tension. Marshall could see his eyes make trapped circles between The Dumbfuck and himself and knew Nate was trying to figure out if he could make it behind Marshall’s legs, and if it was safe to try. “Do ya, buddy?” Dumbfuck shouted suddenly. Nate squeaked in dismay and The Dumbfuck cracked up in loud, braying guffaws that shaved on Marshall’s nerves.

“Yeah.” Marshall said slowly. “He does.”

“Well, that’s just too bad, ain’t it?” The Dumbfuck leaned over and gave him a hard, glittering smile. “Homeboy.

Holding the washed out blue eyes for long moments Marshall didn’t drop them as he walked to the TV and bent over to switch the cartoons back on. His heart, which picked up the electric tension in the air, had started to jog, the same brisk rate as when Marshall began to warm up for practice.

“You expectin’ something in the mail?” Marshall stood up from changing the channel, wondering what shit The Dumbfuck was talking about when he saw the letter with his writing in the hairy knuckled fist. His stomach dropped sickeningly. “Someone writin’ you back, someone your pen pal.”

“Go in the room, Nate.” Marshall said through lips he couldn’t even feel.

Nathan’s blue eyes were huge, with white all around, and scared. “M-Marshy?” his voice was high and trembly.

“Go!” Nate took off like a shot.

Marshall stared at the white envelope as The Dumbfuck started the donkey laughing again.

In the background he heard his mom: “Nathan, baby? You alright?” It sounded a long way off.

“Everything okay?” His mom walked in the room then, hair teased around her face and the too short skirt riding just below the curve of her ass. Her eyebrows were drawn in too high and she looked like a surprised rabbit.

“Aw, yeah, everything’s great.” The Dumbfuck leaned on the counter, eyes still fixed on Marshall with bright enjoyment. “Junior here just got a letter back from daddy. Didn’t ya?”

“What?” His mom squinted at the letter The Dumbfuck showed her but pulled away when she reached for it. “Aw, Marshall,” she started in her whiny voice, “What are you writing him for?” she said. The kind of embarrassed look on his mom’s face made Marshall’s ears burn and The Dumbfuck started laughing again.

“Guess old pops didn’t want nothing to do with you, huh?” The Dumbfuck cackled and Marshall didn’t realize he’d moved closer until he stood right there, not half a foot away from The Dumbfuck’s haw-haw-hawing and his mom’s nervous, frozen smile. The air in the room hummed with stress.

“Come on, honey, leave him alone.” She kept patting The Dumbfuck on the arm until he shrugged her off in one hard move, eyes still glittering with fierce happiness.

“Your own fuckin’ father don’t even want you,” The Dumbfuck jeered out the words as he flipped the letter back and forth, and Marshall watched the envelope’s motion - swish, swish. Everything looked cold and clear. Why did everything look like that? He could see each individual hair of stubble on The Dumbfuck’s face, could see the wrinkles in the envelope and the words written across the top, ‘Return to Sender,’ in large block letters. Did his dad write that? So he could take time to write that but he couldn’t take time to open the fucking envelope. Yeah. Marshall saw. He could see The Dumbfuck was having a helluva good time, too. The Dumbfuck was so happy he could shit. “Maybe next time he’ll open it if you send him some money.”

“Darryl….”

Marshall swung without a word, snapping The Dumbfuck’s head back, spray of spit or blood flying out in a fan. His mother screamed something as The Dumbfuck went down, but it all blended together in the background as Marshall bent down to get his letter. A heavy fist rounded on his face and he collapsed, vision blurry, flood of bitter salt liquid in his mouth and ears roaring.

“The fuck do you think you are?” A string of spit hung from The Dumbfuck’s bottom lip and Marshall watched it sway back and forth before looking back at his letter, still clutched in the hairy fist. His head felt too light. When he tried to get up, The Dumbfuck kicked his ribs from the floor and crippling pain shot everywhere, that desperate pain so intense for a second he thought he’d pissed himself. Marshall gasped through it, curling in for protection, not even feeling the kicks after the third one and never taking his eyes from the envelope while his mom fluttered around them like a crazy freaked out bird.

“Ohmigoddon’tdothatstopitstopitstopit!” On and on. His head hurt from the yelling.

“Shut ya fucking head ya cunt!” The Dumbfuck craned his head back to look at her and Marshall pistoned a kick at his shin, heard a satisfying crunch that made the pain in his side worth it.

“Stop it gawd stop it!” his mom wailed over The Dumbfuck’s roar of pain and Marshall rolled away from the next kick and felt the breeze against his cheekbone where the boot barely missed him.

They were wiggling around like upside down turtles on the floor, whaling on each other and for a second his ringing mind decided they must look pretty fuckin’ stupid when his body jerked forward. He stared at the sweating, furious face of The Dumbfuck as he twisted Marshall’s hoodie, so close that Marshall could smell the sour smoke on his breath.

“Yer gonna wish you died.”

You first, thought Marshall and kneed him in the stomach as hard as he could, a kaleidoscope of hot pain at his sides from the flex. The Dumbfuck gave a strangled wheeze and forgot about holding Marshall’s hoodie, holding the letter, holding anything.

His face went pasty gray in second.

“OHMIGODYOU KILLEDHIM!” his mother screamed, spiking shards of torture through his head, and he grit his teeth through the ache to reach over and snatch the letter from where it lolled in The Dumbfuck’s loose fingers.

Fuckin’ wish, he thought feverishly, pulling himself up on the counter, everything a pulsing agony beneath his skin. Stumbling to the door he hit the kitchen table and the edge of the TV hard, but the pain just blurred into the rest. The letter crumpled in his fist, he looked over his shoulder as he pulled on the door.

His mother knelt on the floor next to The Dumbfuck as he pissed and moaned and coughed. Marshall hoped he hyperventilated and choked on his own puke. Twice.

“Darryl, oh my god, Darryl, say something….”

Marshall almost tripped getting onto the porch away from the disgusting sight and for a horrible minute the whole world swam in front of him, sky and earth and sloshing ground under his feet. Only the air rescued him from falling over his ass down the stairs, cold, biting air in his lungs, and he took deep breaths, over and over, letting the chill bite into his throat, letting it focus his head enough to move.

And he had to move, now.

No one could see him like this, it would be bad, but it was the sudden realization that The Dumbfuck could get up and come after him that got him moving across the yard, got him lurching out of the trailer park as he shakily pulled the hood over his head, and he hated it. He wasn’t scared of him, wasn’t….fuckin’ punk.

For the first time his vision blurred from the pain and the whole fucked up mess, and he couldn’t see Tay now and Nate all by himself scared and he couldn’t do anything about that but he’d make it up to him, he’d make it up….

Hunched over like an old man he kept to the side streets, breathing deep when he thought he had to just lay down and die and telling himself he wouldn’t give the fuckin’ punk the satisfaction, breathing deep, step by step, until ten thousand years later he finally got there.

Thanks god The D woke up slow on Saturday mornings, ‘cause he looked like a drunk junkie weaving all over down the road.

Leaning against the cool side of the house Marshall rested his head against the wood and wanted to just stay there, he felt so tired. He almost didn’t even feel the pain through the cold anymore.

Using all his effort he lifted his fist and rapped on the window. And again, not too loud so he’d wake up the neighbors or anyone else. Jesus come on, please…

Just when he thought, fuck it, he was gonna sink down and pass out in the morning dew, the blinds lifted up in one zipper of sound and Proof glowered out the window in just his boxers, dreads sticking out all around his pissed off face. Marshall put a hand on the window to hold himself up because, aw fuck, he just wanted to curl up into a ball and die, he didn’t care who won anymore.

Their eyes met through the pane of glass and slow horror crept up on Proof’s face while Marshall breathed, breathed….

Suddenly the window slid up taking his hand with it and he fell in Proof’s arms like a sack of potatoes, arms and elbows and lazy head because he couldn’t hold it up anymore, too damn heavy. The windowsill dug in his side and he barely felt it.

“Easy. I gotcha now. I gotcha, Marsh.” Warm arms came around him and he let himself go, let himself sink into the familiar smells of pomade and Zest soap and Proof. Let one tear trickle out from when Proof pressed on his side and it hurt but that was a’aight, Proof didn’t mean it. “You a’aight now.”

He tried to nod but he’d started to shake all over even if he felt warmer now and his teeth rattled in his head clickclickclick echoing against his ears. He felt the softness of a bed and the weight of heavy blankets as he shivered.

“You a’aight. You a’aight now.” Whispered over and over until the lull of it eased all his muscles, soothed the pains to a throb, followed him into darkness.

*~*~*~*

LATER

Stinging pain on his face shocked him awake and he jerked away with a rough sound, then froze when pain shot up and down his body.

“You don’t wanna be moving for awhile.” Proof’s low, rough voice sounded, and that’s when Marshall realized he hadn’t opened his eyes. Concentrating, he cracked his lids open, squinting at the light.

His best friend sat at the edge of the bed, dreads pulled back from his face so the proud angles and full lips looked sharp. He still hadn’t gotten dressed but he had a little case open by the bed and kept dabbing that smelly, stinging stuff on the corner of Marshall’s mouth.

Marshall grunted, turning his head but even that sent painful twinges all over.

He was fucked up.

“Said don’t move, man.” Proof’s hand cupped his jaw and slowly brought his head back around, the touch dry and careful. Tears snuck up on him from nowhere wanting to leak out, and Marshall shut his eyes, swallowed hard, pushed them back. He hadn’t cried in front of Proof since they were kids and a bunch of older punks from the middle school had chased him for four blocks to steal his new sneakers, leaving him drowning in blood and tears at the edge of the playground.

Proof cleaned him up then, too.

He could feel himself drifting, hands twitching as sleep tried to get him again…

Marshall’s eyes flew open as he felt around himself, ignoring the dull aches that happened if he even thought of moving, let alone did it….

“Hey, hey, ease down, easy.” Proof laid a hand on his chest, and Marshall struggled until he felt the envelope slide into his fingers and met Proof’s eyes until he couldn’t take the look in them anymore. Shoving the letter in his hoodie pocket he closed his eyes and let Proof go on.

He felt so damn tired.

“Don’t know what the hell Ima do with you. Beat all to shit. Fuck. Think I don’t know who did it.” He could hear Proof muttering under his breath then the feel of the hoodie and his t-shirt being raised, and Marshall popped awake again, holding the hoodie down with both hands.

For a second they stared at each other again and he saw how bad he must look reflecting in Proof’s worried eyes. “Gotta see the damage, Marsh.”

“I’m a’aight.’ He rasped, the first words he’d said since falling through the window like Alice in fucking wonderland.

“Aw, he speaks,” Proof smirked, “Thought you got brain damaged there for a minute.”

“I’m a’aight.” Marshall coughed, wincing at the ache and, shit, he must be jacked up if coughing felt that bad.

“Yeah. You look real all right bleedin’ all over my covers.”

“Sorry.” Marshall whispered, but every word took super human effort and he just wanted to sleep so bad….

“Forget that, dawg. Come on.” Slowly Marshall let the hem of the hoodie be pulled out of his hold, lifted, then the surprisingly good feel of the cool morning air on the hot, tender skin of his sides.

“Motherfuck.” The word was said low so Marshall almost couldn’t hear it at all, but one look at Proof’s pained face was all he could handle. He shut his eyes when Proof started touching the bruises, careful touches with the tips of his cool fingers and that felt good, too.

“Maybe you should go the hospital.”

Marshall shook his head.

“What if you got a broken rib or your lung got punctured or…”

“I don’t.” Marshall mumbled. “I’m a’aight.”

“You don’t know that.” Proof said, voice worried and stressed.

“Ain’t spitting up blood. I’m a’aight.”

“That don’t make me feel better.” But he’d already drifted again. It was hard not to on the soft, warm bed under the weight of the covers and Proof’s careful touch. The only other person that touched him close to that was Tay.

Shit. Tay. He had to call. No way was he making tutoring. He’d call later….

Things got kinda blurry then. He didn’t mind too much. He thought Proof put some stuff on his bruises but wasn’t sure. He knew Proof pulled his hoodie back down and pulled the blanket up to his chin, and he let sleep take him down, take him away.

Next thing he felt was someone shaking his shoulder and Marshall grunted, tried to turn around to keep on sleeping. The bed felt a hulluva lot softer than his couch, and he’d been in the middle of some freaky dream where Tay tried to play hockey but kept shooting the puck into space.

“Come on, man. You gotta eat this. Marsh.”

A faint aroma of food made his stomach growl, and Marshall pulled himself out of sleep with difficulty, because sleep was kicking hunger’s ass with tired so far ahead, it wasn’t even a race.

Not hungry, he thought he said. Wanna sleep. Eat later, but he realized he’d said none of those things when Proof shook him again and the bright light of the room hurt Marshall’s eyes.

“Sit up.” Easy for him to say, Marshall thought fuzzily, then let out an embarrassing moan when his attempt at sitting made the stabbing pain come back. Proof silently slipped an arm around Marshall’s back and helped him shift up, his dreads brushing Marshall’s face. Once Marshall got his butt situated Proof handed him a bowl of soup on a potholder and Marshall’s stomach gave another eager growl.

“Can’t give you nothing for pain on a empty stomach. ‘Sides, you ain’t eaten all day and I bet you didn’t have no breakfast.”

The pop tart seemed like a fuzzy detail on the whole fucked up morning, and it had been a long time ago. He had no idea how long.

“Time is it?” Marshall asked, voice still hoarse, then spooned in what looked like chicken noodle soup. It slid warmly down his throat and tasted like the best thing he’d ever had. He knew it was just soup from a can but he’d hardly ever had any. His Aunt Betty always gave him some when he visited her, but he hadn’t seen her much since Ronnie died.

“Almost five.” Marshall looked at him quickly, not believing he’d slept for that long. No wonder he was starving. Proof nodded from where he sat at his desk, which actually only held a bunch of clothes and schoolbooks and Proof’s backpack. The computer was downstairs in the basement where they all hung out.

“You been out for hours. My mom’s gonna be home soon, so here’s the down low.” Proof was going to move Marshall down to the basement to the old couch they all sat on when they visited here. Proof’s mom never went down there because she hated going up and down the stairs, and she didn’t want to see ‘what mess you got down there. I can barely get you to clean your room.’ Proof was the youngest of three kids and the only one left at home, so no one else went down there.

“She ain’t never checkin’. You know she barely been down there.”

Marshall slurped then nodded in agreement. After he finished he took two Ibuprofen from Proof and swallowed them with water, then gave a huge yawn before he could stop himself.

“Come on. We can go slow.”

“Wait.” Marshall ran a hand over his face and blinked hard. “I gotta use the phone.”

Proof paused, the bowl in his hands. “Callin’ Blondie?”

Marshall met his eyes quietly and Proof gave a slow nod, looking away. “Get you the phone.”

“I can get it.” It felt weird having Proof get him the phone to call Tay.

“Dog, you can’t even walk. Just hold on.” Proof walked out of the room and Marshall realized he had to pee, too, then the cordless came flying across the room to land on the bed.

“Thanks, man.” Marshall called out, but Proof had already gone.

He held the phone for a few seconds, chewing on the unhurt side of his lip. Then, taking a breath and clearing his throat, he dialed. Someone picked up on the fourth ring.

“Hanson residence.” It sounded like Zac.

“Is Tay there?”

“Yeah, hold on.” He heard Zac yell for Tay then, “Who’s speaking?”

“This Marshall.”

“Hey, Marsh.” He could hear Zac’s smile through the line and wondered if they were all like that. He could tell when Tay was smiling, too.

“’Sup.”

“Not much. He’ll be here in a minute. I think he was in the bathroom.” Zac snickered and Marshall smiled faintly. The phone got moved around. “It’s Marshall.” He heard Zac say then Tay’s breathless voice hit his ear and his heart skipped.

“Marshall? Where were you? I waited a really long time.” Tay asked, voice low. He could hear movement and knew Tay was finding somewhere private to talk, but this wasn’t gonna be a long conversation. His sides already hurt again and he really had to pee.

“Sorry, yo. I had to do something. I couldn’t call.”

“Well, what happened? Is everything okay? You sound funny.” He could hear Tay trying to decide if he was gonna be pissed or not and he didn’t know why he thought he could hide stuff so easy from him. They’d been talking every day for a while and he could read Tay’s voice about as good as Tay could read his.

“I’m a’aight. Look, I ain’t gonna be around for a while. I gotta take care of some shit.”

Silence filtered over the line, and Marshall laid a hand on his side where the skin felt hot and tender.

“What do you mean?” Tay’s voice had gotten low and careful, and Marshall rubbed at his temple, the dull pain there getting stronger.

“I just can’t come see you right now.”

“Marshall…”

“It’s private, a’aight?” He didn’t mean to snap but it came out that way, and he grimaced at the heavy silence, wanting Tay then, bad and sudden, like when you got a paper cut you weren’t expecting and suddenly there was blood all over your homework. “Look.” He said quietly, “I gotta do this right now. I’ll call you later, a’aight?”

“When?”

“Tomorrow. I gotta go…”

“Marshall don’t….”

“Bye.” He clicked off and lay his head back, closing his eyes against the headache. Everything looked too bright all of a sudden, too sharp, and he wanted to sleep some more. He felt the phone move out of his hands and opened his eyes to see Proof putting it on the table.

“You a’aight?”

“Yeah.” Marshall whispered, looking away.

Tay deserved better than that, but it’s all he could do right now to sit up without wanting to die, and he couldn’t go to Tay like this. He couldn’t.

Tay deserved better. Nate deserved better. Everyone fuckin’ deserved better, but he didn’t think about that when he lost his shit earlier, did he? No, he didn’t.

“You ready to go downstairs or you wanna lay there feeling sorry for y’self?”

“Yo, this.” Marshall clutched his crotch and Proof smirked at him.

“What’s that? That supposed to be something? I don’t see nothing.”

“Fuck you.” But Marshall smiled faintly and Proof scoffed. “I gotta piss.”

“I get you there, but you holdin’ your own dick.”

The laughter that surprised out of him made his side hurt but it was worth it.

Proof got him there, then downstairs, and Marshall sank into sleep, exhausted by the painful trek down the steps. He didn’t hear Proof leave, but he felt the quilt pulled up to his chin and before totally going under, he thought he felt Proof rub his forehead.

 

TAY

Taylor sat and stared at the receiver in his hand, the tinny flat dial tone sounding into the silence of the laundry room. Brows knit, he dialed Marshall’s house by memory. A woman’s voice he’d never heard before answered and demanded, “Yeah?”

“Um… Can I … may I speak to Marshall?” Tay stammered, thrown by the rude tone and realization that it had to be Marshall’s mother. No one but Marshall had ever answered when Tay had called before.

“He ain’t here. Who’s this?” the female voice asked suspiciously and, he swore, she sounded kind of worried or frightened under the rudeness.

“Taylor. I’m his math tutor.” Tay added for no reason at all.

“He’s got a math tutor?”

“Yes.” Tay said because you’d think he said he was Marshall’s interior decorator. Or his boyfriend. “Do you know when he’ll be back?”

“I don’t know!” Her voice got kind of strident and made Tay wish he’d hung up right away. “He don’t tell me nothing! Always out with his friends and taking the car. How am I supposed to know?”

“Um.” Tay really hoped she didn’t expect an answer. He didn’t mouth off to adults, especially ones he’d never met, but she sounded all defensive and suspicious and the mystery bruises Marshall kept turning up with popped into his mind. “Could you just tell him to call me when he gets back?”

“Yeah.”

“Thank— ,” the dial tone hit his ear. “You.”

He stared at the receiver again, face pulled into a frown of concentration.

Something was wrong, he could feel it. He cursed that they didn’t have caller ID because it was too expensive. They had call back, though, and he should have star sixty-nined the first number, but he didn’t think of it, of course. Next time….

what if there’s not a next time? The insidious voice whispered at the back of his head and Tay didn’t even try to squash it. what if he never talks to you again?
No. Marshall wouldn’t do that. Marshall cared about him; they cared about each other. It was in everything he did and said and how he looked at Tay and how they touched. He hadn’t made that up, he hadn’t….

“You’ve got to watch that every minute.” Zac’s sympathetic voice brought him back to earth and he realized the receiver had been emitting a steady beee-beee-beee sound for god knew how long.

Blushing, Taylor clicked off the phone.

It’s the first time Zac had actually talked to him in awhile but Tay was almost too distracted to notice.

“You okay?” Zac asked then tilted his head reminding Tay of a curious Cocker Spaniel or a Golden Lab, complete with long blond hair. “Don’t you usually study longer on Saturdays?”

“He had something to do.” Tay mumbled before heading out of the laundry room to replace the phone, avoiding Zac’s curious stare.

The nervous flutter in his stomach had gotten worse.

*~*~*~*

It definitely got worse when Marshall didn’t call by Sunday night, and wasn’t at the rink on Monday morning like usual.

Thoughts kept chasing themselves around his head all day long, but Tay couldn’t think of anything, nothing at all that he might have done or said to make Marshall disappear on him like this. He hadn’t started stalking him, he didn’t call him too much, he wasn’t clingy. Or, not any more than Marshall was when they were together. He hadn’t even said the ‘L’ word, not out loud, not to him. Every time that particular endearment showed up in his brain Tay told himself not to be such a teen-ager and that they hadn’t known each other that long and he couldn’t possibly feel that way, and anyway, Marshall hadn’t said anything. Not that, anyway. To Tay.

Which had been fine until now, when his boyfriend wouldn’t call him back, hadn’t shown up to see him, and Marshall’s own mother had no idea what was going on.

“Tay. I need you to concentrate.”

“Sorry,” Tay said automatically, lifting his arms higher and arching his back further during the spin. He hadn’t fluffed anything, but he felt flat on the ice, distracted and uninspired, and that wasn’t like him.

Johnny glanced over sympathetically from where he practiced his footwork, all by himself since Priscilla had decided Tay needed her Unidivided Attention. Priscilla’s Unidivided Attention was a double-edged sword and Tay had a feeling he wasn’t on the good side this time.

He saw Priscilla motion with her head and sighed inwardly as he skated over, gliding to a halt in front of where she stood on her own skates, still almost a foot shorter than he was. He forgot how not-tall she was until he stood right next to her, but she’d been a tiny thing on the ice and a real contender before a hip injury had ended that plan.

“Anything going on you want to tell me about?” Priscilla asked, her uncompromising gray/blue eyes meeting his until Tay looked down at his skates.

“No. I’m just a little off today. I’ll be better.”

“Nothing going on at home? Anyone giving you grief? I know you think I’m ancient but I have been where you are before.”

“You’re not ancient.” Tay smiled up at her. He thought the severely frosted hair and heavy makeup made her look older than she had to, but in reality she was younger than Tay’s mom.

“Damn right. I’m not ancient enough not to recognize the signs. How long?”

“What?” Tay suddenly felt tharn again, like he had in front of the reporter’s lights, except it was only Priscilla’s piercing stare he was looking at.

“How long have you been seeing someone, Tay?” Priscilla asked patiently, and Tay flushed, letting his eyes roam over the rink and passing over Johnny’s concerned glance.

“I…I’m not…” He waited for her to interrupt but she let him flounder in his own words. “I mean….it’s…..”

She finally took pity on him. “Fine. I don’t need all the details. But I will tell you that this is not the time to lose momentum or to get caught up in someone else’s life. Do you realize how major your win in Ann Arbor was?”

“Yes.” Tay said vehemently, staring defensively into the hard lines of her face.

“I hope you do. There is no reason you can’t go the distance at Juniors, Taylor. You have the clean lines, the strength, the work ethic. You are very close to landing the quad and you’re adjusting well to the judging changes. This time is yours, the both of yours.” Priscilla looked over to where Johnny was doing sit spins and pretending not to watch them. “Now when you both were together I worried it would affect your performances, but you fed off each other and it actually helped. When you broke up I worried the drama would affect the training arrangement, but you both showed amazing maturity and it didn’t. But whoever this is isn’t in skating. Right?”

“No.” He answered her before he could help himself, the blush never really leaving his face because she’d never so much as obliquely referred to he and Johnny being boyfriends and, Jesus, he hadn’t been skating that badly…

“So they don’t understand about the time and commitment a sport like this takes.” Priscilla could play the pronoun game with the best of them. She’d been in skating all her life.

“They understand.” Tay said firmly.

“Make sure they do, because I need your focus here. Not anywhere else.”

“It will be.” Tay kept his chin level and Priscilla gave him one more assessing stare before nodding.

“I want three drills and I want them done perfectly. And tomorrow I want all of you here.”

Tay skated away, the relief palpable and concentrated on his three drills, giving them all his energy and focus.

He didn’t notice until he finished the last one, out of breath from concentrating, that Marshall wasn’t sitting with the group of hockey players waiting to get on the ice. He was nowhere in sight.

*~*~*~*

Johnny sat next to him as Tay unlaced his skates, shoulders hunched, and he looked up into his knowing but kind hazel eyes.

“I need a drink.”

“I know.” Johnny gave his shoulders a squeeze and Tay let his head drop on Johnny’s bony shoulder in dejection.

“Hey!” Johnny suddenly exclaimed causing Tay to look up. “Let’s have queer cinema night!”

“It’s only Monday.”

“So? What good is home schooling if we can’t take advantage of it?”

“I don’t know.” He’d have to ask his mom and skip out on even more chores and helping. And you want to be home in case he calls. Don’t forget that. the snarky voice murmured smugly from the back of his head, and he was really starting to hate it. God. Pathetic, much? He shoved the voice away. “I probably shouldn’t.”

Johnny gave a pout, then shrugged. “Well at least come over for a little bit. We’ll get Starbucks and share a chocolate pound cake slice.”

The thought of one of those rich bricks of chocolate made his teeth hurt, but a white chocolate mocha with whipped cream sounded fantastic.

“No pound cake, yes coffee.”

“I’ll tell Rivas!” Johnny smiled, whipping out his iPhone from the thin pocket in their exercise pants. Priscilla would have his ass if she knew he was carrying it around during practice, but it had to have been set for vibrate.

Tay changed quickly and gathered his stuff, so he could use the pay phone in the snack area to call his mom. He told himself he didn’t use Johnny’s because he didn’t want to waste his minutes, but his eyes kept scanning the hockey players on the ice for Marshall’s number 19. He looked for a few minutes after his mom said that yes, going to Johnny’s was fine but she needed him home by six because Jessie had a fitting in Warren and “Zoë’s better when one of us is here.” Tay had agreed. About five minutes ago.

Feeling ridiculous for standing there with a dial tone in his ear Tay hung up and turned to see Johnny’s sympathetic look and couldn’t keep the blush from coming up on his ears.

“Come on.” Tay ducked his head and headed for the door.

By some miracle Johnny didn’t tease him or ask or joke about it at all. He chattered about movies they could go see, the new costume he was designing since he’d talked Priscilla into letting him skate ‘Swan Lake’ for competition, and the pros and cons of using real feathers on the sleeves.

Tay could have kissed him for the kindness.

MARSHALL-INTERLUDE

Mostly, he slept. It’s as if he felt tired from the last ten years or something.

Proof brought down food even though Marshall didn’t feel like eating a whole lot. By Sunday afternoon his mouth felt swollen and sensitive where he’d been hit and his body was a fucking carnival of pain. He kept swallowing Ibuprofen four at a time until Proof showed up with a small round pill he said his mom used when she’d gone to the dentist. It was supposed to have stronger pain medicine and Marshall swallowed it without thinking twice.

It felt like someone hit his head with a soft hammer, but he felt no pain and he had no dreams.

He woke up when Proof shook him awake with more food and could only sip half the soup before he wanted to sleep again.

“Maybe you do need a doctor, man.” He pulled his eyes awake to see Proof’s worried stare leaning over him, and Marshall shook his head.

“’M a’aight.”

“You sleeping too much, dog. I don’t think that’s right.”

“’M a’aight.” He insisted, snuggling down into the quilt, breathing deeply before he knew it. He knew he had shit to do, places to be, but it all felt real far away right now, real hazy. He felt gentle hands on his head again, rubbing and soothing and he murmured in his sleep, not sure what he said.

It wasn’t until he woke up the next day, dying of thirst and needing to pee so bad he wondered if he was gonna make it to the tiny bathroom under the stairs that he realized he forgot to call Tay like he’d said.

TAY

“So.” Johnny said as soon as they settled on the bed holding their Starbuck’s cups carefully, so nothing would spill on Johnny’s expensive Egyptian cotton sheets and matching comforter. “What happened?”

Tay picked at the cardboard cup insulator and said nothing, eyes downcast.

Johnny sighed theatrically and took a deep swallow. “I know something happened. You’re all mopey and you were a million miles away today.”

“I didn’t skate that bad! I didn’t even miss a jump what…” He exploded and bit off any more words when Johnny rolled his eyes and gave him a long, knowing look.

“It wasn’t that, Tay. You…” Johnny bit his lip thoughtfully, long lashes flickering to the side in thought. “You get this thing when you skate; it’s like a…glow or something. I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s true. You are totally into it one hundred percent, and when you’re not, it shows.”

“Great.” Tay mumbled, sighing. He’d really had enough pep talks for today.

“So what happened?” Johnny asked, chin set in determination and Tay told him.

Instead of one of Johnny’s snarky replies or flamey comebacks he sat back and tapped his coffee cup thoughtfully.

“So you haven’t seen him since Friday.”

“Yeah.”

“But you’ve talked to him.”

“For, like, a minute.” Tay said in exasperation and it was such a relief to finally be able to talk to someone about it. “He sounded really strange and when I called his house he wasn’t there.”

“It’s only been a couple of days.”

“Three.” Tay corrected.

“Okay, three.” Johnny repeated in this mollifying voice that made Tay want to snarl. “It’s still not that long. Maybe you’re overreacting.”

“I’m not. He always calls when he says he will. He wouldn’t stand me up, Johns. It’s just….” Tay stopped because he didn’t want to say what had been lurking insidiously around the edges of his mind ever since Marshall basically hung up on him Saturday.

Johnny said it for him. “You think he’s dumping you?”

“No.” But the response was automatic and Tay couldn’t hold Johnny’s eyes after the phrase was out there, taking weight and substance.

“Do you think he’s working up to it?”

Did he? His resolve kept fading with each passing hour Marshall didn’t call, and a hundred possibilities kept marching across Tay’s brain no matter how much he told himself that Marshall cared, that they’d promised to belong to each other, that it was real.

“I don’t know.” He whispered quietly.

They took another sip in the ensuing silence.

“Look,” Johnny said finally, “Maybe that’s not it. Maybe he’s having some family stuff going on. You told me his home life was all Lifetime Movie Channel.”

“But then why wouldn’t he tell me?” Tay met Johnny’s stare in frustration. “We talk every day, I feel so incredible when we’re together. I’ve never felt like this with anyone….”

“You know you can stop that anytime.” Johnny’s annoyed snap and angry expression came out of nowhere. Tay blinked, startled.

“What? I….”

“ ‘Oh, I’ve never felt this way. I’ve never felt closer. I’ve never known love like this before. Blah blah blah.’” Johnny imitated, the curve of his bow lips twisted, and Tay felt his cheeks burn. “Because I thought we felt that way when we were together, but I guess I was wrong.” Johnny sat up and swung his legs off the bed in a jerky, furious movement, bending over to fling his empty Starbuck’s cup into the wastebasket by the bed. He began to fuss with the comforter and pillow, smoothing them over and over with his small, white hands.

“Johnny, I… I’m sorry; you asked me. You brought it up.” He couldn’t keep the accusing tone out of his voice. He was no longer interested in his cold White Chocolate Mocha and placed it on the small table, reaching around Johnny to do so.

“I don’t mind talking about it, okay?” Johnny turned to him, voice exasperated. “But, God! You keep saying that and we were together for years, and how could you say you NEVER felt that way?”

“We were twelve!” Tay burst out in defense. “It was different….”

“We weren’t always twelve.” Johnny pointed out flatly. “And you know it.”

“How long have you been holding this in?” Tay demanded and Johnny crossed his arms over the thin chest, folding his legs up on the bed and sitting like the genie from the old ‘I Dream of Genie’ TV show.

“Oh shut up, Tay.” Johnny’s face was scornful. “It’s not about that so don’t even go there.”

Tay stared at him, at a loss, because if it wasn’t about that then what was it about? It had been a year, over a year, and they had talked about everything when it happened. But then Tay hadn’t really seen someone steadily before now, he realized. Nothing had gone past some flirtation and a make out session or two. He hadn’t had a boyfriend since. Well, since Johnny.

“I should never have talked to you about it.” Tay fingered the hem of his sweater. “It was a bad idea…”

“I want you to talk to me about it, okay?” Johnny threw up his hands, irritation all over his face. “I just don’t like to be…..” he faltered momentarily, “Invalidated like this!”

Tay really wished Johnny had not started watching Dr. Phil.

“I mean, how would you like it? ‘Oh, I was with Tay but that was nothing. We were too young so it doesn’t count. YOU’RE my one true love. YOU’RE my EVERYTHING…”

“Alright, okay, point taken!” Tay cut him, face blushing again, ears warm at the sappy tone of voice because, oh god, if he sounded like that he was going to shoot himself now.

And he wouldn’t like it. He wouldn’t like anyone saying that about when he and Johnny were together at all, because it wasn’t true at all.

He knew he’d gotten lucky that Johnny had been his first. He’d heard and read about too many people who had gotten totally screwed over by their ‘first’ because the guy had been in denial, or juggling a girlfriend at the same time to prove he didn’t have to be queer, or actually gotten beaten up when the guy freaked out. Johnny was flighty and really flamey sometimes, but he knew who he was, had always been unapologetic about being gay, and had helped Tay feel that way, too.

Tay hesitantly put a hand on Johnny’s shoulder and Johnny looked sideways at him, face closed. “We weren’t nothing. I wouldn’t think that.”

“It seems like it.” Johnny sulked, still not turning around.

“It’s not. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Johnny gave him another sidelong look. “Probably spend all your time with your Beastie Boy.”

“But I couldn’t talk about it with anyone.”

“True.” Johnny admitted grudgingly then finally faced him. They sat cross-legged on the bed looking at their laps until Tay poked at Johnny’s bony knee with a finger.

“Friends?”

Johnny rolled his eyes and poked Tay back. “Always friends. Idiot.” Tay smiled and they leaned over to hug, clasping briefly before moving back.

“I’m sorry I was a drama queen.” Johnny said.

“No you’re not.”

“No, I’m not.” They laughed and collapsed on the bed and for a second Tay let himself believe Johnny was right. That he was overreacting and Marshall had a perfectly good explanation and everything would be okay.

But the uneasy feeling remained.

MARSHALL

He squinted at the note written in Proof’s big handwriting with loops and slashes, just like he used to do his graffiti drawing.

“My moms goes to work at eight and comes back at four. Don’t make no noise you get up before eight. I’ll be there by four. There’s food in the fridge. Later. P.”

The clock said nine thirty and the house felt quiet and empty.

Usually when Marshall was alone like this he got bored, but it was kinda nice. A soft couch, a computer and small television and food if he could get upstairs. He could finally walk without being hunched over like an old man, and he could piss without this aching, pressing feeling in his lower back that made him almost scared to go to the bathroom. He’d watched for blood in the toilet bowl and didn’t find any, but he’d actually been scared to go for a while because of how it felt.

The need to talk to Tay was getting bad, always with him, pushing on his conscience, drumming on his nerves because he’d made sure he saw Tay almost every day and by now he was jonesin’ something awful. Only knowing that Tay would ask where he’d been and what happened kept him from calling Tay’s house all the time. He had no fucking clue what he’d tell him except the truth wasn’t an option. It just wasn’t.

Shifting on his back, something rustled in his pocket and he fished it out. The scribbled number from the teen helpline stared up at him and he studied it for a second. He’d been transferring it pocket to pocket since he wrote it down, rubbing it between his fingers every time he reached in there, wondering. The piece of notebook paper had gotten wrinkled and torn around the edges, but he could still read the number okay.

After a few more seconds he carefully heaved himself up and started the slow climb up the stairs.

*~*~*~*

 

“Gay Teen Helpline. You are not alone. How may I help you?”

Marshall blushed, which was stupid, sitting there all by himself. The ridiculous fear that Proof or Proof’s mom was gonna walk in the door any minute and catch him suddenly felt huge. He was afraid of being fucking apprehended.

“Gay Teen Helpline.” The calm male voice on the line repeated hopefully and Marshall cleared his throat.

“Uh. Yeah.”

“Hi. My name is David. Do you need to talk?”

“Uh.” Aw, Christ, he sounded like a retard. “Yeah. I mean, I got….like, some questions.” His heart quit seizing up as soon as he got that out.

“Okay. I’ll do my best to answer them. Can you tell me your name?”

“Why?” He asked before he realized it sounded rude as hell, but David didn’t seem to notice. Marshall guessed they got all kinds of people calling them up.

“It just makes it easier to talk. I don’t need your last name or anything.”

“Deshaun.”

“Alright, Deshaun. What did you want to ask?” Marshall thought he maybe should have written down what he was going to say. The silence on the line grew and Marshall rubbed his face in frustration.

“I’ll tell you what.” David finally said. “How about I ask you a few things and you jump in when you feel comfortable. Okay?”

“No one’s gonna know any of this, right?” Marshall asked suspiciously.

“All our conversations are strictly confidential, Deshaun. The only time we consider taking action is if someone is in danger of hurting themselves or others.”

“A’aight.” Marshall knew that meant if someone was suicidal and gonna kill themselves.

“Good. How old are you?”

“Eighteen.”

“Are you in school?”

“Yeah. Ima senior.”

“Great! That’s always a great year. I had a lot of fun.”

“It’s a’aight.”

“Are you out to your family?”

“No!” Marshall said and sounded defensive for no reason.

“Alright. That’s fine. No one can make the decision to tell people about themselves except you, when it’s right for you.”

“I know.” It’s pretty much what Tay said. Marshall took a breath and blurted something out before David got to his childhood and toilet training or something.

“What’s it like?”

“What do you mean? Being out?”

“Naw. Being…” He just needed to spit it out because it’s not like they knew who he was and he might not get another chance. “Being with a guy.” And that still wasn’t what he meant but it was closer.

“Do you mean dating or sexually?”

“Sexually.” Marshall chose. Finally. “I been going out with someone and we been doing stuff…”

“Are you sexually active?” Marshall thought and got knocked back when he realized how little he and Tay had actually done in a little over two months. He’d been nailing Jeanine by now, for awhile. He couldn’t call feeling each other up and coming in their pants sexually active; they’d barely gotten skin.

Kinda.” Marshall hesitated, “We ain’t done a lot but…”

“You want to.”

“Yeah.” Marshall said, picking at the tablecloth in the kitchen and watching the clock on the wall tick towards noon. He couldn’t believe he was sitting in Proof’s kitchen talking about this stuff.

“Alright. Have you been practicing safe sex?”

Yeah.” Marshall smirked. If they got any safer it would be ridiculous.

“Okay, good. Is this your first relationship?”

“I been with girls.” He didn’t like how it sounded like Marshall hadn’t done anything.

“But no boys.”

“Naw.” He admitted.

“Has your partner been with boys?”

“Yeah.”

“I see. Well, have you thought about talking to him about your questions? Communication is pretty important.”

Marshall shifted in frustration. “I gotta know stuff before. I don’t wanna look stupid and shit.”

“I understand, and we’re here to help. At least think about talking to him, though, all right? I bet he won’t think you’re stupid. Now,” Marshall heard the more businesslike tone and hoped they were getting down to it. “What do you need to know?”

“I don’t wanna hurt ‘im.” Marshall said, voice low. The silence on the other end made him nervous. “Look, I ain’t sayin’ I’m real real big or nothin,’ and I know he’s done it before, I just don’t wanna hurt him ‘cause I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“No one knows what they’re doing the first time. Did you know what you were doing your first time with a girl?”

Marshall thought of the one night he talked a girl at the Shelter into going out to the car behind the club. They’d both been pretty tanked and she’d been older but kept telling him he had pretty blue eyes. It took him three times to get the condom on right, and it didn’t last very long. He’d have been embarrassed except she passed out before he came and he had to wake her up to find out where she lived. He didn’t know who was more embarrassed.

“Naw. Not really.” He admitted.

“It’s not that different with two guys. There are lots of different ways to be intimate but, just like with women, the two people usually think of are oral sex and penetration; just in case you were wondering – oral sex IS still sex. One of the major differences is that women usually lubricate naturally during penetration and we don’t. We need some help. Did you have questions about one of these two things?”

He was blushing like crazy, his cheek hot against the fingers holding the receiver, but he’d been wanting to know this forever. That he was also kinda hard was freaking him out, but hearing someone talk about it like that, with those words like they were no big deal felt scary and kind of exciting at the same time.

“Deshaun? If this makes you uncomfortable we have pamphlets you can read, or I can give you the names of some books at the library you can look up. You don’t have to check them out to look at them.”

“I’m a’aight.” Marshall said gruffly, then cleared his throat, face still warm.

“Okay.” David said calmly and Marshall nodded as if anyone could see him.

“Like if I do it to him,” Marshall began because he figured he knew about blowjobs. If he couldn’t figure out blowjobs then he could just hang it up.

“Penetration, yes.” David encouraged.

“Yeah.”

“You’ll need a lubricant of some kind. Some people use natural bodily fluids like saliva, but an over the counter one is best.”

“I gotta buy it?” Marshall asked, horrified at the thought. “You said some people use spit.”

“You can try,” David answered. “But saliva really isn’t slick enough. If you don’t have enough lubrication you can tear the area from pushing too hard.”

Tear. The word twisted at Marshall’s stomach and he swore that would never happen. He’d think of a way to get the stuff.

“A’aight.”

“Good. It’s just so you and your partner can both be intimate and safe.”

“Do I gotta….” He started, paused, then started again, “Do I gotta do both?”

“No.” David answered. “That’s between you and the person you’re with. Some people just top and some bottom and some switch off. Just because you feel one way now doesn’t mean you won’t feel differently at another time.” Which Marshall didn’t believe at all. “Sometimes it changes with different partners.”

Marshall didn’t ask what ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ meant, but the words made him blush again as he turned them around in his head. Besides, he already sounded like he didn’t know anything. He could sure as shit figure those out.

“You can talk about this with your boyfriend, too.” David suggested and that seemed to be David’s answer to everything, but he wasn’t a dick about it.

“I know.” Silence filtered over both ends of the line and they both started talking at once.

David laughed a little. “I said ‘Is there anything else you need to know?’”

About two dozen more things and none of them anything he was gonna ask, even on the phone. “I’m a’aight.”

“Okay.” David said and Marshall could almost see him nod even if he didn’t know what he looked like. “I’m glad we could help you. We’re here if you need to ask anything else.”

“Yeah, thanks.” Marshall sat up, winced at the pull on his muscles from sitting too long, and hung up the phone.

The clock said Proof’s mom was gonna be home soon and Tay was at skating right now. He wouldn’t be able to call him until tonight. He missed Tay like crazy but he wasn’t looking forward to talking to him, neither.

A yawn made him close his eyes and he blinked a little, the need to sleep coming over him again.

At least he felt like he got something done. The conversation played over in his mind, all the words David had used, the stuff he said, and how thinking of doing that with Tay didn’t freak him. A’aight, maybe it freaked him a little, but he wanted it more than he was freaked out by it, and the thought that he could have it, that Tay probably would let him have it, made him breathless and hot and kinda desperate.

He made his way down the stairs carefully and drifted off as soon as he lay on the couch, quilt pulled up to his chin.

It felt like he’d been asleep two minutes when he felt hands shaking him awake and grunted in protest.

“Wake up, dog, we gotta hide you!” Marshall blinked his eyes open at Proof’s frantic face.

“Whut?” His mind felt fuzzy from sleep and he let Proof pull off the quilt and pull him to a sitting position.

“Get in the bathroom! Come on! My mom’s coming down here!”

“Shit!” Marshall snapped awake, dump of adrenaline buzzing through his system and he stood too fast, swaying when the room went tilt-a-whirl on him.

“Easy! You okay?” Proof slipped an arm under his shoulder to keep Marshall from losing his balance again, and Marshall wanted to say he was a’aight, except he wasn’t. He felt lightheaded and he realized he’d forgotten to eat when he was upstairs.

“I didn’t eat nothin’.”

Proof gave an exasperated puff of breath as he walked Marshall to the tiny bathroom wedged under the stairs where you could barely stand and your knees practically touched the sink when you sat down.

“You trying to pass out on my ass? I told you to eat.”

“I know.” Marshall rubbed his eyes as he ducked into the bathroom, quilt and all and Proof rushed out, sticking his head in one last time.

“Don’t make no noise.” He whispered.

“I know.” Marshall whispered back, waving him away, and Proof shut the door quietly just as Marshall heard the steps on the stairway.

He heard Proof’s mom and carefully stepped up to the door, putting his ear flat against it to listen.

“…..know where he is?”

“I don’t know, mama. I ain’t seen him all week.” Marshall smiled a little. Mama. He’d never in his life called his mother mama, not even when he was Nate’s age.

A silence followed and Marshall didn’t need to be in the room to feel the tension.

“I want you to listen to me, Deshaun.”

“Okay.”

“I’ve got problems with Marshall’s mother and I don’t like how that woman raises her kids, but this is serious, baby. She said she hasn’t seen him in four days, and you know it took a lot for her to call me.” His mother CALLED?!?!? Marshall didn’t even think she knew Proof’s mom’s name.

“I ain’t seen….”

“Now, I know you two are tight and I care about him, too. I know you’re one of the only people he goes to. He’s a good boy, but if he’s in trouble you’ve got to tell me.”

“I don’t know, mama!” Proof’s voice was getting kinda high with insistence and Marshall chewed his lip worriedly. Proof wouldn’t narc on him, never, but he’d never heard Proof’s mom like this, and for a second HE wanted to step out of the bathroom just to cut the deep tension. Marshall lied to his mom all the time and didn’t think twice, but this was different. Proof’s mom had always been good to him and it felt bad to lie to her face this way.

“Promise me, Deshaun. Look me in my eyes and promise me.”

Marshall held his breath.

“I promise I don’t know nothing.”

“Okay, baby.” Silence then a faint sound that Marshall thought was maybe Proof’s mom kissing his face.

When he was little he used to pretend Proof’s mom was his mom, too.

One time, the time he got beat up for the sneakers and Proof found him, Proof asked her why they couldn’t adopt him. They’d been in the car and she’d been driving him back to the shitty apartment his mom had found for them to live in then, with lousy heat and roaches. He’d been lying in the back seat pretending to be asleep and not hearing Proof begging her-

-don’t take him back, mama, he can stay in my room, he ain’t no trouble, why not, mama?

His own mama wants him back, baby. We can’t just take him like that.

She don’t want him back!

Deshaun! That ain’t true. You don’t know nothing about their situation, and we don’t judge people.

But she don’t want ‘im! We want ‘im! Why can’t he live with us?

Because we can’t, baby. I’m sorry.

Marshall had listened to Proof’s trembly voice, which hadn’t sound almost-thirteen at all, and had wiped his face and hadn’t sniffled so they wouldn’t know he wasn’t asleep.

It hadn’t mattered. He couldn’t leave the baby alone, the tiny little person who only stopped crying when Marshall rocked him and only took the bottle when Marshall fed it to him. He’d never have done that, but for just a second, lying in the back seat watching Proof’s mom kiss his head, he wondered what it would be like.

Now, curled on the floor of the bathroom with his ear pressed to the door, he wondered again.

Chapter Text

Well it's too late, tonight
To drag the past out into the light
We're one, but we're not the same
We get to carry each other
Carry each other

One, U2
Bono and Mary J. Blige, vocals

MARSHALL

It wasn’t totally quiet, but quieter than the trailer park. He shifted in the too small bed and heard Proof grunt next to him and shift, too, and they settled against each other in the narrow space, finding a comfortable spot again, drifting off. They’d been sharing a bed since the narrow single was more than big enough for two skinny kids sprawled next to each other in baggy boxers, the leftovers of what they’d been doing the night before digging into their sides and under their pillows: plastic soldiers, crinkly junk food wrappers, pencils, bits of drawings, comic books, old rap CDs. He’d once woken up with an imprint of a rifleman pressed into his cheek and Proof had laughed at him all morning.

“You up?” Proof mumbled. Marshall sighed and tried to peer at the digital clock on the nightstand but the numbers blurred together.

“Time is it?” he whispered, trying to rub sleep out of his face.

Proof hitched himself up on an elbow and looked over Marshall’s shoulder.

“Five. We got an hour.”

“A’aight.” Marshall relaxed back onto the bed, letting his eyes close.

One hour until Proof’s mom came home from the hospital. She’d picked up an extra shift ‘cause someone’s kid got sick and it was overtime.

They’d been talking on Proof’s bed, about what Marshall had missed at school, who’d had a fight, what teacher lost it in the gym, who broke up with who, and they’d just fallen asleep.

Marshall had been trying to make sense out of the Math homework Proof had brought home from Lang, but wasn’t having any luck. He’s been surprised when Proof plopped the dittoed sheets on his stomach with a, “Present for ya.” Said Lang tracked him down in the hall and grilled him about where Marshall was, but Proof said he didn’t know. Lang just gave him the papers. That’s when Proof found out Lang had been to his fuckin’ house and, man, that had to have his mother shitting. He’d have given anything to see her face when Lang showed up on their porch, all tall and teacher-looking and shit.

“Gotta go back.” Marshall said, eyes still closed.

“I know.” Proof answered from somewhere behind his neck.

He could walk up and down the stairs okay now. His face looked worse than it was - the discoloration around his mouth and eye in starbursts of bruises but the ache so dull he almost didn’t notice it. He could piss without being scared of blood in the toilet, and even though his side looked like a Canadian sunrise he could stand up straight with no pain. This was as good as it got.

“What you gonna do he still there?” Proof asked and Marshall sighed and shifted, not opening his eyes. He hadn’t thought about that. Didn’t want to think about it right now, when he had a few more minutes of peace. He didn’t answer, hoping Proof would let it go.

He did.

Just as he had started to drift off again, thinking of Tay and how long it had been since he’d touched him, of how being here felt familiar, of how Nate was, he felt a hand smooth over his scalp, rubbing the burr of hair, curving up to the crown of his head and staying. He fell back asleep under that warm touch, Proof’s knees behind his, like when they were kids, and in his head, they were building a fort…..

TAY

Tay had been telling himself he was doing alright. It was a great big fat ridiculous lie, but he had been telling himself that so he could get through each Marshall-less day, and it had mostly been working until Zac sent it all to hell with one sentence:

“Marshall’s got the flu.”

“What?” Tay stared at him across the dinner table a forkful of green beans forgotten halfway to his mouth, and the sudden silence that followed told him he’d maybe spoken kind of loud. And in an accusing manner.

“Yeah,” Zac gave him a puzzled look, which wasn’t that strange since all Tay’s mother had done was comment that Tay hadn’t had any tutoring sessions this week and Tay had been looking for a noncommittal response. “Coach called his house and his mom said he got sick. You didn’t know?”

Tay felt his face get hot and glanced self consciously at the others who were still watching, including his dad, who had the perpetual half-smile, clueless look he reserved for, oh, Tay’s whole life.

“I guess I…missed that phone call.”

Zac raised both eyebrows and shrugged before stuffing more Hamburger Helper in his mouth.

Tay’s own dinner sat like a lump in his stomach. He put the fork down and reached for his glass of water.
He wasn’t hungry anymore. He didn’t want to be here. He wanted to go lie in his room in the dark holding his penguin and forget his brother knew more about his boyfriend than he did.

Except it wasn’t ‘his’ room. It was his share-with-two-other-people room, and he couldn’t hold Sigmund to his cheek except in the dark for fear he’d get made fun of and, god, he hated his life sometimes.

“Tay would you like some more mashed potatoes? You’ve hardly eaten anything.” He pulled himself back into the present of the chattering dinner table conversation and his mom’s kind concerned smile with the little line between her brows, which was HER Tay-look. Tay shook his head moving his plate away a little.

The awful way his stomach kept sinking plus dinner was making him kind of nauseous.

“I ate a late lunch.”

He willed his mother to let it go, to quit focusing on him, to do something else, and maybe someone heard him because his father asked Zac how the team was shaping up, and Zac went on a long explanation about the new lineup and their schedule, and Tay could sit there quietly and poke at his dinner and pretend he was fine.

What Zac said kept poking and prodding at his conscience all night, through two phone calls to Johnny where he couldn’t bring himself to tell him, Tay felt so embarrassed.

So when the phone rang Friday morning as he rushed by, one eye on Zoë and some applesauce in the high chair and the other on the pile of dirty breakfast dishes in the sink, he didn’t expect the low voice on the other end, thick with Detroit, hopeful and tentative.

“Tay?” Taylor came up short, heart skipping. “’Sup?”

“Hi.” Tay said, keeping his voice flat even as his hand tightened on the phone and he was so glad his mom was upstairs making the beds right then because he could feel his face scrunching up with emotion and apprehension….

Silence hummed in the line between them and Tay’s confused, overloaded mind read breakup speech, hang up, and pain full tilt so clearly into those few seconds that his heart squeezed with rejection before anyone had actually said anything.

“Are you breaking up with me?” Tay demanded, his fingers so tight on the receiver he couldn’t feel them anymore because, goddamnit, if he was going to get ditched it was going to be on his terms.

“What?” Tay turned to look at Zoë to ground himself, the sight of her blond curls reminding him he was standing in the kitchen with his mom humming and cleaning rooms upstairs, so losing his shit was just not an option.

“Are you working up to it?”

“Working…? The fuck …”

“Because if you are you should just do it instead of….”

“Tay…”

“…jerking me around like a….”

“Taylor….”

“…coward and….”

“I ain’t a fuckin’ coward!” Marshall snapped finally and Tay shut his eyes for a second until he got spots behind his lids and opened them to see his little sister finger painting with the applesauce. She had the bowl overturned on the table and laughed as she smeared it back and forth. Tay had forgotten to use the new bowl with the suction bottom.

“I don’t wanna break up.” Bastard. He had no right to use that voice now, the low, sensitive porn voice that did things to Tay’s knees.

“You’ve been ignoring me for four days.”

“Three…”

“Four,” Tay corrected, his voice heated, realizing Marshall didn’t even deny the ignoring part.

“A’aight. Four. Fuck.” Marshall muttered and Tay wanted to reach in and shake him because he didn’t get to use that damn-calm-down tone after almost a week of nothing.

“I called….”

“You know when I have skating practice. You knew I wouldn’t be here.”

“I….I didn’t…” Marshall struggled and Tay watched Zoë start to bang the bowl on the edge of the high chair tray, a gleam of triumph in her eyes. He reached out and took it away replacing it with rubber teething ring before she really got fussy. She chortled and began to smear the ring with gunk. Good times. Tay had applesauce on his hand. “It’s the only time I could call, a’aight?”

“Your mother told your coach you had the flu.” Silence, then Marshall’s dry laughter filtering through the line. “It’s not funny.” Tay defended tightly.

“Naw, it sure as fuck ain’t funny. I ain’t got the flu.”

“Whatever. Just say it and get it over with.”

“Say WHAT?” Marshall exploded, “I told you we ain’t breaking up!”

“Then what are we doing?” Tay shot back angrily causing Zoë to pause and goggle at her brother, applesauce up to her elbows. “Because the last time I checked being with someone meant you actually got to see them. You know, sometimes?”

“I know!” Marshall answered, voice agitated, “Ima meet you at the library tomorrow like always!”

“You mean like last time when you stood me up?” He felt bitchy and stupid the minute he said the words but they came out anyway.

He heard a sigh on the other end and Tay reached over to wipe his hand on a dishtowel. Zoë was giving her hair a conditioning treatment with the applesauce. She was going to need a bath after that. “I ain’t standing you up.”

“Fine.” Tay said.

“I gotta meet you there. I don’t know if I can get the car.”

“Fine.” Tay repeated.

“Taylor….”

“I’ll see you tomorrow.” He clicked off on the sound of Marshall’s voice and it felt good. For about five seconds.

He didn’t notice until he had Zoë’s high chair cleaned up and was cleaning apple gunk off her arms and face with a baby wipe that he was listening for the ring of the phone for Marshall to call back.

Marshall didn’t.

His also realized his cock had begun to push against the zipper of his jeans since he’d hung up the phone, that hopeful heaviness he got when he thought about Marshall and what being with him felt like….

Tay told his cock to shut up and grimly began the task of cleaning applesauce from his sister’s hair.

LIBRARY

He didn’t know how much he wanted the sight of the hooded figure slumped on the chair to be there until he rounded the corner and saw Marshall at their table where Tay had sat for three hours a week ago getting more and more worried. The sight of Marshall slouched low, hoodie up and legs sprawled, made his stomach flutter happily no matter how he didn’t want it to, and he realized how far he’d already resigned himself to this being over. How he’d already been wondering how to deal with Marshall-less days and Marshall-less mornings for good and figuring out how he could beg Johnny’s forgiveness for unceremoniously dumping him and all their time together. He didn’t realize he’d already begun to let Marshall go.

“Hi,” he breathed in relief, because there was relief, huge, overwhelming relief making him almost lightheaded, and he’d been angry. He’d been resentful and upset and at such a loss at the abrupt disappearance and stonewalling, but it just didn’t matter now. Nothing mattered except that he was here like he’d promised. Marshall looked up, hoodie framing his face and….

Tay felt all the air go out of his chest as if someone had punched him.

A bloom of yellow-blue bruises dappled Marshall’s right jaw. An angry looking knot rose in his left temple and a cut split the curve of his lower lip right on the fleshy part that Tay loved to lick. Starbursts of broken capillaries surrounded his right eye making that side of Marshall’s face look like the guy from that film Ike kept watching last year, A Clockwork Orange. The flush that came up made the wounds stand out even more, but Tay’s eyes kept mapping the injuries; couldn’t stop looking at them.

Tay sank onto a chair, backpack forgotten on the table. He was damn lucky a chair was even under his butt. His legs decided that he had to sit down. Now.

Marshall’s tentative smile faded as Tay watched the ruined landscape of his face, his broken face, get closed and resigned. He’d seen people in fights before; he’d seen Ike get a bloody nose for decking someone who shoved Zac. But he wasn’t prepared for the helpless hollow feeling of seeing what Marshall had been hiding from him, and the realization that Marshall felt he’d had to.

“’Sup.” Marshall said to the table, letting the hoodie fall over his features, the nimble gorgeous hands Tay dreamed of at night picking at the edge of his math book.

“What happened to you?” Tay asked quietly.

“Hit myself.” Short, choppy phrase from behind the curtain of hoodie and Tay stared hard at him.

“No you didn’t.”

Marshall looked up, expression defiant. “I hit myself.”

“You’re lying.” Tay said in disbelief as Marshall kept his head low fiddling with the too-long sleeves of his hoodie that fell halfway down his hands. That’s when Tay noticed his knuckles looking dark and bruised, too.

“Where were you?” he whispered and it seemed like all he could do was go from question to question like an idiot in complete denial that this thing had happened to his boyfriend, this awful, wrong thing, and Marshall hadn’t even told him.

Marshall took so long to answer Tay didn’t think he was going to. “Proof’s.”

“He knows. You couldn’t tell me but he knows?” And hadn’t Johnny sounded exactly like this the first time Tay went to Marshall? Was this karma now, getting back at him?

“Yeah.” Marshall’s eyes looked stormy and gray as thunderclouds when they rose to meet his.

“How could you tell him and not me?”

“’Cause you wouldn’t understand, a’aight?”

“Why wouldn’t I understand?” Tay demanded and watched Marshall sink lower in the chair, face stubborn and closed. “How can I understand if you don’t talk to me?”

“’Cause your mom sends you to your fucking room when she’s pissed that’s why.” Marshall turned on him with such bitterness Tay sat back on instinct. “‘Cause you don’t gotta worry about shit, ‘cause your dad give you fuckin’ TVs-….” He seemed to falter suddenly, his eyes wounded, but Tay was too busy flushing at Marshall’s words to notice.

“So- what?” He whispered vehemently. “I don’t understand because my family gives a shit about me? Fuck you.” Their eyes met for long, tense seconds. “I’m not going to apologize for that.”

“I ain’t asking you to apologize for it.” Marshall glared, hands now in fists on the table and Tay watched him cram them in his hoodie.

“No? Then tell me why you got beat up.”

“I fuckin’ fell!” The lie hung in the air between them, ugly and huge, emotions warring on Marshall’s face.

“No. You didn’t.” Tay insisted, then reached for his face, needing to touch, “Who did this to you? Who…” Marshall gripped his wrist midair like lightning and they stared at each other across the connection, the tension taut and thick. Tay couldn’t feel his fingers.

“Back off.” The words were low, dangerous.” Back the fuck off or it’s over. You choose.”

Marshall said it like it was nothing and Tay felt his stomach clench at the look on Marshall’s face… He stayed trapped in the tight grip until he couldn’t stand it then twisted his wrist slowly out of Marshall’s hold, still searching his eyes for something, anything to say he took it back, that he didn’t mean…but there was nothing.

Leave. Leave right now. He can’t just say that... You aren’t going to just sit….. But apparently he was. He just sat, holding his sore wrist and blinking at the schoolbooks in front of them.

Well, well. Not TOO dysfunctional, the snarky Johnny voice in his head sneered. Tay felt his eyes burn and reached for a math book, trying to keep his hand from trembling, trying to breathe past the ugly lump in his throat he thought might be his pride.

“Fuck.” Marshall whispered next to him, voice tired and frustrated, and Tay opened the book not even seeing the figures and words. “FUCK.”

Tay jumped at the shout, sure someone was going to show up any minute, then watched in alarm when Marshall stood so fast the chair almost fell behind him.

“What?” he demanded, on his feet before he realized. “I shut up. I did what you said. What more do you want?”

“Dudes.” Both of them started at the third voice and turned to see the long-haired guy from the reference desk, the kind of chubby one that wore glasses and always nodded to Tay, step from between two tall shelves. The one Tay was pretty sure spent his time playing Runescape on the computer. He pushed up his glasses and took them both in, and Tay realized what it must look like with the snapping and the accusing tones and what they’d said. He felt his face warm. “You must chill.”

Marshall pressed his lips together and looked away but Tay nodded, eyes lowered.

“Sorry.” He whispered and Reference guy smiled kindly before giving them one more speculative look and walking away.

“I gotta get outta here,” Marshall muttered. His knuckles pushed through the pockets of his hoodie, his jaw clenched, and anxiety vibrated from him, kinetic and tense. The words sank Tay's stomach. He grabbed his back pack, movements jerky.

Let him go, then, if he wanted to so badly. Let him go back to Proof since he obviously trusted him more than….

Marshall suddenly whirled around and gripped Tay by the arm, and Tay looked up startled by the sudden touch.

 

“Come somewhere with me.”
The words sounded desperate, intense, but underneath Tay could hear something like pleading. He studied Marshall a second, the too-bright eyes, the tight hold on his arm and Tay’s heart skipped just at his nearness, at the Marshall scent his body recognized and wanted and craved.

He felt himself nod unable to even think about breaking the stare, but Marshall didn’t seem to register Tay had accepted for several seconds, still holding his arm tight, still staring intently into Tay’s eyes.

Marshall’s fingers finally loosened a little, then more, and let go and started to stuff books and papers in his backpack.

Tay watched him, wondering if this was even a good idea. But before he got much further on that thought they were speed walking down the hall, down the stairs instead of the elevator, and out the door, Tay struggling to keep up with Marshall’s fast, angry steps. As if he was trying to escape something neither of them could see.

MARSHALL-EARLIER

He shouldn’t have stopped by the trailer earlier. He shouldn’t have done it, not even for the car. But he had.

Nate running into his arms when he opened the door and jumping on his bruised ribs was almost worth it.

“MARSHY! MARSHY!”

He grunted as forty pounds of kid hopped on him and tried to climb him like a tree.

“’Sup dog?” He hooked his hands under Nate’s arms and lifted him on the side with less bruises even though Nate clutched around his neck with both arms and wouldn’t let go. “I can’t breathe!” He laughed and Nathan finally loosened his hold enough to stare at him so solemnly it broke Marshall’s heart a little to see his big blue eyes so serious, his little mouth in a stern line. He was five fucking years old.

God, he’d grown so much in just a week.

Before he could say all the things he’d been thinking of the whole time he lay in Proof’s basement: sorry I left you, sorry I didn’t say goodbye, sorry I started shit, he spied his mother standing in the kitchen and his stomach gave a lurch.

“Hi, baby!” She walked over, smiling too big with nervousness in her eyes, and Marshall moved away from her outstretched hand because all he saw was her running to the Dumbfuck on the floor. All he remembered was her worried wailing and that it hadn’t been for him.

“I was so worried about you! I told your coach you had the flu so that should be alright, you know? You want me to write you a note? You hungry?”

Nate had burrowed in his neck again, his breath soft, and Marshall tightened his grip as he stared at her.

Hair too big, clothes too tight, makeup too heavy. The bony fingers of her hands pulled at each other as she struggled to maintain a bright smile, and more enormous rage came up on him than he thought possible. It just imploded somewhere in his chest and spread and suddenly he just wanted to beat the everloving fuck out of her and cry at the same time.

What the fuck made her like that? His Aunt Betty was good people, Ronnie was good people. Why the hell had she come up missing that goodness and why did he and Nate have to pay for it?

And why the fuck did it hurt this much if he hated her?

“Baby, I’m real sorry about what happened, but you can’t come at Darryl like that…”

“Shut up.” Marshall whispered inhaling Nate’s kid scent, relearning it: cookies and baby shampoo and cheap detergent. He kissed Nate’s head and felt him smile against his collarbone.

“He’s not a bad guy, baby. He just hasn’t been around kids and….”

“Shut. Up.” Marshall said over the whiny pleading tone she always got, and something must have been in his eyes because she snapped her mouth closed right away.

Glaring at her Marshall walked over to the couch (where he first touched Tay and he pushed that thought aside right now) and sat with Nate on his lap, pulling him away from where the kid had practically welded to his side.

“You gotta trust me right now, a’aight?” he asked meeting Nate’s large blue eyes. He had a streak of dirt on his cheek and Marshall rubbed at it with his thumb. Nate nodded, already playing with the strings of Marshall’s hoodie. “I gotta go somewhere tonight…”

“NO!” Nate shouted, eyes filling with tears, little fists suddenly clutching at Marshall’s chest.

“Sssh, listen, a’aight?” Marshall soothed as Nate curled into him, the sobs in his tiny body breaking Marshall’s heart. Fuck this hadn’t been a good idea; he should have just come here after meeting Tay. “Nate. Hey.” He pulled Nate back and wiped at the tears as his brother’s chest hitched.

“Ima be here when you wake up tomorrow. For real.”

“Go with you?”

“Not this time, a’aight?”

Fresh tears sprouted in the baby blue eyes, clinging to the long lashes.

“Nathan, honey…” Marshall gave his mom one look and she quit.

“Ima be here, I promise, dog.”

“Cross your heart.” Nate said through his sniffles. Marshall nodded.

“Cross my heart.”

“Cross your heart, Marshy!” Nate insisted, tracing a cross over Marshall’s chest with his finger and Marshall repeated the move once he understood.

“Cross my heart I’ll be here.”

“And hope to die!” He’d never liked that saying; it creeped him out. “Hope to die!”

“A’aight. Hope to die.” He repeated, crossing his heart again for good measure. This seemed to satisfy Nate as much as anything was gonna right now.

He gathered Nate’s thin body in its wrinkled t-shirt and too-short track pants and hugged him tight before moving him to the couch and standing, coming across his mom’s stare when he did. It took him a few seconds to name the pinched look on her face as jealousy but when he did, more of that simmering, impotent rage came up on him and he turned away.

“Taking the car.”

“Don’t look at me that way! You don’t know!”

Marshall glanced over his shoulder at the defensive, wavering voice but kept walking to the table where the keys usually sat in the ceramic frog’s mouth.

“I ain’t got no help from nobody! I gotta get rent and groceries and what do you do? Huh? What the hell do you do all day???”

The keys weren’t in the ceramic frog’s mouth.

He turned and started walking towards her.

“Gimme the keys.”

“You can’t just walk in and out of here whenever you want!” she railed but shrank as he walked over right up to her, in her space, staring in her eyes until she’d backed up against the counter, stare gone huge. She was taller than him by a few inches, especially in the heels, but he outweighed her and she didn’t have the Dumbfuck here now.

“Gimme,” he said quietly, “the fucking keys.”

“No!” she tried to squirm away and he heard the mute jingle in the pocket of the faded pilly sweater she wore over the tight clothes.

Not dropping her eyes he gripped her wrist and forced it out of the pocket, grunting a little with the effort as she strained against him. It was a short, ugly, contained struggle, every muscle of her thin arm taut as she fought him. He won, holding up her fist with the keys clutched tight in it and ripped them out of her stiff fingers.

He headed for the couch and Nate when she started shit.

“You’re just a fuckup! You ain’t nothing! You can’t treat me like this!”

He ignored her and knelt in front of the couch where Nate sat with his hands over his ears and curled up like a pillbug tucked in on himself.

“You’re a fuckup like your father and you ain’t never gonna be nothing else!”

Marshall froze at the words. Felt them bounce hollowly in his head. Took a deep breath and hugged the thin body to him.

“I’ll see you later, a’aight?” He whispered. Nate unfolded a little and opened his eyes. His hands left his ears and he almost smiled.

“You crossed your heart.”

“Yeah, I did.”

His mom was crying when he walked out the door, wailing about how her children hated her and it wasn’t fair and she could have been a model…

He didn’t look at her.

RONNIE’S

They’d driven in complete silence the whole way. Tay way over near the door practically hugging the handle, an ocean of seat between them, but he couldn’t reach across and bridge the distance. His insides felt frozen or something, stuck, but raw, too. As if the wrong move would cut him.

Cars drove by and kids kicked around a ball; short people in coats and mittens. They usually met at the library between three and four and didn’t park here until dark. He’d never brought Tay here in daylight.

Marshall squinted out the window; felt Tay’s eyes on him, apprehensive. As if he was gonna make him do shit out here. He might be fucked up but he wasn’t stupid.

“Come on.” He said gruffly and got out of the car.

*~*~*~

The inside of the house was just as empty and sad as it had been the last time he was here, the time he told Ronnie he liked Tay as more than a friend. A year ago, right after Ronnie died, he’d sometimes come by to find his aunt there. He knew her car and he’d walk in to find her staring at Ronnie’s wall calendar where Ronnie had kept track of paydays and when he changed the oil in the Impala. Another time he walked in to find her sitting on the only chair the vultures who stripped the house had left and flipping through Ronnie’s old XXL and VIBE magazines as if something in there would tell her why Ronnie was gone. He felt uncomfortable that the magazines had some girls in bikinis and shit, but his aunt looked kinda peaceful, so he let her be.

She quit coming here after she turned off the electric.

The place was real damn cold, but Marshall left Tay standing in the middle of the empty living room and walked in the kitchen opening drawers and feeling along the back with his fingers. On the third one he found it - a forgotten book of matches from the Chin Tiki. Ronnie hadn’t smoked but he’d picked them up anyhow. He’d always seemed to end up with bitches that smoked, something Marshall never understood. He hated kissing anyone that tasted like a fucking ashtray.

Tay’s eyes followed him as he knelt in front of the heater and turned it on low. At least he thought he was turning it on. He didn’t think his aunt had turned any other utilities off, but he guessed they’d find out.

Sure enough the blue flames sprang to life when he flicked a lit match through the grates, and the heat started to seep into the cold, empty room.

He stood, eyes still on the fire.

In his pocket his fist clenched around the letter.

He heard Tay’s footsteps behind him and knew, could feel, Tay wanting to touch, to hug him or something, but he still felt too raw. The thought of it got his throat burning, so he moved away pressing the letter to Tay’s chest as he walked.

After a few minutes he forced himself to look up. Tay’s blond hair fell forward over his face as he read but when he lifted his head and tucked it behind his ear, the realization in his eyes made Marshall glance away again.

“That’s my old man.” Marshall said scornfully. “Fuckin’ punk can’t even….” Marshall’s voice broke again and he turned away, shoulders heaving, fists clenched.
“….Can’t even fucking open a letter.” He slammed his fist against a cabinet, the slam loud in the room. His breath struggled like he’d been running.

“I didn’t want nothing from him.” He said to the cheap linoleum curling up from the counter. “No one would tell me nothing about him so I quit asking, and then, after Ronnie died, I looked him up online. First fucking thing that came up.” He still remembered staring at the first entry, reading his own name looking back at him: ‘Marshall Bruce Mathers, Jr., Manager- Warren Self Storage Units.’

“Just wanted to tell him where I was and shit. That’s all I fucking wrote. I didn’t ask him for nothing, I didn’t want nothing from him I…..” the words stuck in his throat and he struggled, fighting the emotion that wanted to spill out.

Tay’s press at his back surprised him and he started to move away on instinct, but Tay’s arms stole around his shoulders, holding. Marshall froze, afraid to move. Afraid he’d lose it if he did. These hard breaths kept coming up, like something pressed on his chest.

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” Tay’s whisper was soft in his ear, tickling, and he shut his eyes. “He’s stupid. You’re an amazing person.”

“Yeah,” He barked, the word sounding all choked up and like he was crying.

“You are,” Tay insisted, holding tighter. “You’re smart and you work so hard and you take care of Nathan.”

Yeah, Nathan. Nathan who he left with The Dumbfuck and his mom. Took real good care of him.

He felt Tay’s cheek brush his, soft, and the tenderness threatened to break him all up inside.

“I don’t know why he won’t talk to you.” Tay whispered, one hand soothing his chest, voice a quiet murmur. “But it’s not your fault. It doesn’t say anything about who you are.”

If he’d been some different kinda kid, maybe, his mind insisted doggedly, worrying at it like a dog with a bare bone. If he’d been in all the papers like Tay maybe his dad woulda seen and….Marshall jerked suddenly, realization like a slap. He realized, just now, that part of the reason he’d stuck with hockey was he wanted to win. ‘Cause, yeah he liked it; liked the action, the ice, liked being good at something, but he wanted to win. Win big. Big enough for his dad one town over to notice and give a damn, and that he’d been hanging to some punkass Nickelodeon movie idea like that, like some dumb little kid waiting for Santa Claus, made him sick. Because being in the paper hadn’t done a damn thing for Tay and his dad.

His eyes stung and he blinked furiously because he wasn’t gonna cry for the motherfucker; he was never, never gonna cry…..

Soft lips pressed to his face, his jaw and he gave up, gave in. Just quit fighting. He turned and buried his face in Tay’s neck, arms around Tay’s bulky jacket, and the first big inhale, the first feel of Tay’s arms holding him tight, made his throat burn, made him shake. He clutched Tay close, eyes squeezed shut, using Tay’s scent like a band aid he could breathe in.

“It’s not your fault. It’s okay, it’s okay…” Tay whispered over and over until the words were more like a hum in the background under the harsh breathing that kept fighting its way out of his chest. He clutched around Tay’s neck too tight but he couldn’t help it. Only Tay’s voice helped him focus, get control. Only Tay’s warm, clean scent grounded him.

Tay’s arms slipped under his hoodie and made circles on his lower back, slow and warm, and Marshall took one breath without breaking down, then another, another.

The roaring in his head finally dropped back, eased down to nothing but Tay’s gentle murmurs and the warm pressure of Tay’s fingers, his palms on Marshall’s lower back occasionally, just barely, dipping lower just under his jeans. Marshall pulled Tay even closer, eyes shut, inhaling him in like balm and so what if he was grabbing onto him like a kid, like Nathan had to him. So what? Just the two of them here in Ronnie’s empty house. Just the two of them alone. Alone.

Tay’s lips pressed to his temple, soft as satin, so warm he felt it even when they left and he burrowed under Tay’s chin, through jacket and scarf until his mouth hit skin. He kissed the warm, smooth line of Tay’s neck, felt the faint pulse push up like it was waiting for him, and he kissed there again.

He felt the sigh against his ear and Tay’s hands moved up his back under his hoodie, moving like they had a purpose now, no more wandering touches but harder. Firmer.
Voice still quiet, hushed, Tay nuzzled his hair.

Marshall tightened his hold like he could disappear in him, letting himself drown in all the scents and the warmth. Fuck, it felt like forever since he’d been here, wrapped up in this. He opened his mouth onto the strong pulse, bit lightly, and felt Tay’s voice stutter to quiet.

Tay gasped quietly when Marshall mouthed where he’d bitten, moved to kiss some more, nip some more, then Tay’s breath let out slow, labored. His hands stopped moving and turned into fists under Marshall’s hoodie and it was like they changed places - Tay frozen now, still, and Marshall feeling all his muscles get loose and heavy as he molded into Tay. As he let his hands slide under the bulky jacket, find slim hipbones and fit them in his palms, following his body when it wanted to brush between them, and looking at Tay’s face when he felt the hardness between Tay’s legs push into his own.

Tay’s half-closed eyes met his, chin still thrown back and Marshall didn’t even remember Tay moving to give him more room. Two bright spots of red sat high on Tay’s face. It was the look he had after they made each other come, but they were just standing here pressed close in Ronnie’s empty house. The look in Tay’s eyes made his hips rock forward on their own. Tay gave a little whimper, rocking back, and the sound got deep in Marshall’s gut and spread over him, hot and desperate.

His mouth latched onto the vulnerable stretch of Tay’s neck, sucking and biting a tendon and Tay made another one of those sounds that sounded like sex and need and made Marshall so hard so fucking fast. His hands slid around to grip handfuls of firm, round ass and pulled Tay on him, in him, grinding, and it felt, fuck, it felt good. Tay jerked in his arms, eyes unfocused, lashes fluttering then suddenly pulled his hands out from under Marshall’s hoodie to cup his face, bring him into a kiss, the first one in so long Marshall made his own embarrassing noise and didn’t give one damn.

“Oh, god,” Tay mumbled into his mouth, shaky, low. They were pressing into each other finding some kind of rhythm that slid their cocks hard into that same space, and Marshall’s mouth just opened into Tay. Let the heat and wet lead him, tongue, teeth, soft, soft lips and Jesus he wanted it like a starving person.

“Mmm…” Tay pulled his lips away and they stood, foreheads pressed together, breathing hard, eyes locked. He had red lips and pink cheeks and Marshall’s hands couldn’t stop touching him. “I need…” Tay bit his lip as Marshall slid against him, lids closing at the feeling. “To…I can’t stand anymore….” He whispered and Marshall noticed the fine shaking in Tay’s legs for the first time, the desperate way he clutched at Marshall.

They both glanced around the empty house, the warmth from the heater just starting to make a difference, and their eyes found the mattress on the floor at the same time.

Marshall was about to just drop right here and attack Tay but even hard as fuck, every nerve screaming, he didn’t know if he wanted to use the bare mattress, which didn’t have a sheet and looked like it had seen better days just like everything else in here.

But then Tay brushed their lips together, laced both their hands, and tugged him over.

Marshall’s hands flexed in Tay’s needing more touch, more skin, more everything. He’d gotten lost in Tay’s mouth again when they stopped and Tay’s long lashes lifted, the look in his eyes almost lazy. Then he dropped on the mattress still holding Marshall’s hands and for a second Marshall stood there like a punk staring down at his upturned face.

Because he knew this, right? This position - Tay’s blond hair framing his face in soft waves, his lips all red and parted. He’d jacked off to exactly this in his head - Tay looking up at him, sitting or kneeling because Tay’s mouth was right at the level of his waist in front of…..

Marshall hurriedly stepped over Tay and sank down onto the bare, single mattress that didn’t really hold them both, and then it was like that first time in the car. Like they’d kinda lost momentum and needed to start over, but they hadn’t lost much because Marshall’s cock was still heavy against his thigh. He could see, even if Tay brought up his long legs, color still high on his face, that Tay hadn’t lost that much, either.

The mattress really was just a bare piece of way too small cushion on the floor but when Tay curled up into him, one slim leg fitting between both of Marshall’s, his head on Marshall’s shoulder, it didn’t really matter. Not when they could snuggle together and Marshall could hold Tay close warming his hands under Tay’s jacket, closing his eyes while Tay lay small, soft kisses on his face.

He turned into Tay’s mouth the next time it got near his and fuck, nothing tasted like him, nothing he’d ever had. Silk and heat and sweetness, and Tay was still his and he had to keep touching Tay’s body, keep drowning in all the velvet to remind himself.

They broke apart just enough to breathe but Marshall kept his eyes closed, pressed against Tay’s forehead. They flew open when he felt Tay’s hand slip between them and press lightly on the hardness of his cock. Marshall’s hips moved forward into the pressure and warmth and Tay cupped him in the curve of his palm, rubbing. He never dropped the heavy lidded blue fire of Tay’s eyes and somehow that made the contact hotter, better.

“I want to touch you.” Tay whispered, studying his face. His hand slipped under Marshall’s hoodie to play around the waist of his loose jeans. “I want to know what you feel like.”

Marshall had to stop from pushing hard into Tay’s hand at the words, but he couldn’t stop himself from looking down between them. Tay’s long fingers moved from the bulge in Marshall’s pants to under his t-shirt and hoodie, the soft tips leaving sparks where they brushed against his stomach. He started to tug at the belt of his pants having to fucking concentrate around the sound of their panting in the quiet to get it open, the sound of the zipper incredibly huge. Still staring as if he’d never seen anyone touch his own damn dick, Marshall covered Tay’s hand and brought it inside the waist of his boxers, the muscles of his stomach quivering more from the brush of skin than the chill air. Tay shifted closer as the warm softness of his hand circled Marshall’s cock, and a frantic exhale of breath happened when Tay’s grip tightened and started to move.

“God.” Tay mumbled against his jaw as Marshall gripped him close biting his lip to keep all these embarrassing sounds from escaping because it had been way too long since anything but his own hand had touched his dick, and this was Tay - Tay- jacking him in slow, deliberate strokes, that had him fucking the silk channel of his fist.

He was suddenly greedy to taste Tay again, hungry for him, but Tay moved out of reach when he tried to hold his jaw and met his eyes as Tay’s hand added a wicked twist, so Marshall was sure he was gonna shoot in his boxers all over Tay’s fingers before too fucking long. Still looking at him, the color bright on his cheeks like blush, lips parted Tay came up on his knees and crawled over between Marshall’s legs nudging them apart as he knelt between the baggy jeans. He never stopped stroking once.

Marshall stared at him, almost not breathing now, watching Tay’s blond hair hide his face as Tay lowered his head looking at Marshall’s body before just Tay’s eyes came up and burned his through the fall of hair. He felt Tay’s hand at his waist, the brush of colder air as Tay pushed the shirt and hoodie up and started in surprise, pushing Tay’s hand back down as he tried to sit up in alarm.

He’d see- the bruises were- he couldn’t- Marshall’s mind stuttered in panic, but Tay made shushing noise in his throat and hunched over, the butterfly of his lips on Marshall’s bruised knuckles stilling him. Tay’s eyes closed as he skimmed kisses on Marshall’s fist, rubbed the warm skin of his face on them until Marshall’s grip loosened. Until Tay pushed his hand aside with a last kiss, press of his lips and rolled Marshall’s shirt and hoodie up his chest almost neck high.

And when the still cool air settled on his skin for a second he felt real bare, real open, hands twitching to cover something. Tay leaned over to press an open-mouthed kiss in the middle of his chest and Marshall’s eyes closed at the heat in that single spot. Tay’s lips kept kissing, powder soft, barely brushing and he didn’t know how a touch that light could make him so hard, make him want so fucking much.

He felt Tay reach the tender bruises on his side and he tensed, but just a little. Just until he felt Tay’s mouth on them, the soft, wet pressure of what had to be his tongue, little kitten swipes and careful kisses and he turned his head, brow knit because fuck, that was hot, but it was more, too. Soothing and gentle and kissing to make it better.

Fuck, fuck his mind said over and over and he didn’t know he’d been whispering it frantically too until Tay ran a thumb over the sensitive leaking head and the words collapsed into a moan. Then Tay nuzzled the crotch of his boxers and drew out his cock and his eyes flew open, looking down at him.

Tay’s hair spread over Marshall’s thighs, his cheek lay on the hard ridge of Marshall’s hard on, Tay’s pink cheeks still lighter than the flushed shaft of his cock, and his eyes asked permission to keep going. The muscles of Marshall’s stomach jumped and twitched at the sight as Tay waited, curled between his legs still in his jacket, that beautiful face down there right on him and Marshall realized the loud, harsh sound in the room belonged to him.

/this is happening this is happening this is fucking happening/

The words looped over and over in his head and later he’d be pretty damned proud of himself that he could even think enough to reach over to Tay’s golden hair, bury his fingers in it, push his head down.

He only thought he had it together because the second he saw Tay’s lips and the wet pink of his tongue lick one of those kitten swipes on the head of his dick he knew he was gone. He tried to close his eyes, to shut off the unbelievable unreal sight of Tay grasping him low while his mouth licked and kissed and nuzzled his cock like he had all the time in the world, and this was…this…girls weren’t like this they weren’t….Jeanine always went at it like she had a deadline, fast, hard, so he came in no time. He could still feel Tay teasing and exploring around his dick and he didn’t dare open his eyes because fuck, fuck.

“Come on,” he managed to grit out, hand still buried in the silk of Tay’s hair, fighting not to force Tay’s mouth around him like he was dying to do his hips giving little twitches already and then he felt warm lips slip around him and suck softly.

It didn’t fuckin’ matter he’d gotten head before. It didn’t fuckin’ matter how much or who did it because it hadn’t been Tay and Tay wanted it. Little murmurs from Tay’s throat vibrated against Marshall’s cock, his fingers touched everywhere: the shaking muscles of Marshall’s thighs, the hollows of his ass, and the slow sweeps of his hand over Marshall’s stomach reached right between his legs. Wet heat covered him, shadows of teeth and soft tongue. When Tay’s palm cupped him Marshall’s eyes flew open on their own.

Tay’s lids stayed closed against the flushed cheeks but he looked peaceful, beautiful, like he loved it. Then Tay opened his eyes and their stares locked and it was like Marshall’s whole body reached and he had no time left, none .

“I’m gonna….Tay…” Marshall gasped pushing at his shoulder, but Tay laced their fingers together, pinning his hand to the mattress and Marshall’s mind barely computed it before oh fuck before… Intensity came up on him strong, wave after wave, and all he could do was try to breathe, to be, to exist .

The sound of their breathing, hard, ragged, brought him back after a bit and he opened his eyes, spots dancing in front of him because they’d been closed so tight.

Tay rested on his thigh, still curled up between his legs, but his eyes looked sleepy, almost stoned, lips swollen and the skin around them blushed pink. Marshall’s dick lay under his chin, still wet from Tay’s mouth. It was the sexiest thing he’d ever seen.

“You still,” Tay asked between breaths; his voice lower, rougher, “want to kiss me?”

“I always wanna kiss you.” Marshall said around his heart still finding a rhythm, “Come ‘ere.”

He reached down to pull Tay up and Tay shifted with him so that they curled next to each other again, faces inches away and Marshall pulled him into a kiss. And, Jesus, Tay tasted like him, him and Tay’s sweetness both, and he moaned a little at the twitch in his cock because it hurt so soon after, but god, it felt amazing.

Tay squirmed in his arms, mouth desperate, one arm clutching him close but Marshall recognized what Tay’s other arm was doing. He knew the motion and realized Tay hadn’t come. The hard knot of his cock pushed into Marshall’s leg as Tay rubbed at it through his jeans, body taut because he wasn’t gonna go too far, Marshall realized. Even so hard he must have been crazy with it, even after what they’d done he was still trying not to freak Marshall out, and something fierce and possessive took over.

Tightening his hold around Tay’s waist Marshall fumbled with the button and zipper on Tay’s jeans, hands clumsy but determined because he hadn’t ever unzipped a guy from the other side. Tay pulled away eyes puzzled, body still shaking with need.
Marshall met the questioning blue of his stare steadily as he finally got the zipper down, inched his hand into Tay’s briefs, across flat, warm stomach, scratchy hair. The shock in the brilliant blue when he fisted the silky hardness and pulled it out was already worth it.

He started moving his fist before he thought too much, strong, fast pumps that wiped the surprise off Tay’s face when he shut his eyes and gasped, a handful of hoodie in his fist, face still pink, hair stuck to his forehead in damp strands. “Oh, oh, god,” he panted with each stroke, the breathy words hot on Marshall’s cheeks. He started moving with Marshall’s strokes, sharp snaps of his slim hips that loosened the jeans even more, he was squirming and straining so much. Marshall couldn’t stop looking at him all in pieces in his arms, eyes drawn over and over to the pale skin of his hand on Tay’s flushed cock.

One of the frantic thrusts slipped Marshall’s other hand under Tay’s jeans, and the sudden swell of hip that filled Marshall’s palm tripped all his circuits, blew everything in his mind because oh fuck Tay’s ass was round and firm and silky, muscles flexing in his palm. He made a needy sound as he ran his hand all over it, clutching and smoothing and fuck he’d never look at the butt of Tay’s jeans again without getting hard.

Tay panted harshly into Marshall’s neck, arms holding so tight Marshall knew he’d have bruises and didn’t give a fuck. He could tell Tay was close; he knew the hitching in his breath, the unfocused wildness to his eyes when his lashes fluttered open, and the more Marshall jerked him off, the more he squeezed handfuls of ass, the more Tay trembled.
He gave the wet, hard dick in his hand a vicious twist, then another, wanting him there.

Tay spasmed hard, crying out into his neck, arms squeezing tight, and he shot past their legs to the floor in a perfect arc.

“Damn!” Marshall laughed breathlessly, impressed. Tay relaxed in his arms panting hoarsely, face burying deeper in his neck, cheeks flaming with heat.

“Shut,” Tay muffled into his hoodie, “Up.”

Marshall rolled them over and nearly rolled them onto the floor but he wanted to see Tay’s face, needed to look in his eyes after they’d done this thing. Settling Tay under him he stared into the summer blue gaze, searching, looking; he wasn’t sure what for. Taylor looked back, expression going from stunned to wonder to the softness Marshall only saw there for him. Soft hands cupped his face and Tay pressed their foreheads together eyes closed as he started to smile and Marshall smiled back.

He realized, even with the dull aches starting to reappear at his side from moving around, he felt like he could fly.

***

The place still had running water but no soap and Marshall came out of the bathroom after taking a piss trying to dry his hands on his jeans.

The last thing he expected to see was Tay hunched on his knees wiping at the floor with a napkin. They didn’t even have napkins in here; just one sad roll of toilet paper so who knew where Tay got it. His blond hair fell on his face but Marshall could see him squint in the fading light, peering at the spot.

He leaned on the doorway to the bathroom and watched the determined chin and the stretch of his jeans across the long, lanky legs and /I fucking love him/. No fireworks or bigass signs, just the feeling, strong, right. Marshall blinked, scared to breathe, scared period, all of a sudden. He thought that shit about knowing the exact time you loved someone was bullshit made up by girls that watched too many chick flicks but here it was true.

Tay tossed his gold and dark hair over his shoulder and saw Marshall, face blushing all over again.

“Well we can’t just leave it there.”

Marshall shrugged because he was still freaking a little and moved out of the way as Tay walked past him into the bathroom. Marshall stood there in his freakout. He heard the water turn on then off then Tay’s footsteps as he walked out, rubbing his hands on his thighs.

“There’s no…”

Marshall turned and pinned him against the wall with his body making Tay squeak then laugh quietly. He nuzzled Tay’s hair, arm stealing around the slender waist, one hand curving around his neck, and the feeling stayed, it didn’t change or go away.

Tay rubbed his chest and nuzzled back until Marshall opened his eyes and they looked at each other. The summer blue eyes got serious again.

“Don’t ever do that again.”

“I liked doing that.” Marshall said, letting his hand slide down to Tay’s ass. His dick perked up. He’d been half hard since he made Tay come. He didn’t see that changing anytime soon.

“You know what I mean.” Tay’s eyes were downcast then glanced up, expression so open Marshall forgot anyone could hide that little.

“Don’t disappear like that. I didn’t know where you were. I …thought you weren’t interested anymore. I thought you didn’t want me.”

Marshall tucked a lock of hair behind Tay’s ear. “You’re mine. I’m always gonna want you.”

Tay’s smile peeked out little by little, like the sun behind a cloud.

They kissed for a while leaning against the wall next to the bathroom, knowing they should leave and not doing it. It was late but they stayed anyway. After all, the little house had finally warmed up.