Every day, there are crosses.
It’s there, in the way sticks clash at centre ice, pushing against each other before tearing apart, this first fight of the game. Sometimes it distracts him, this cross he’s learned how to win. It’s pushing harder and getting what he wants, and this, he wishes this worked in every fight, if he could always get what he wants just by trying as hard as he can.
It comes again, in invisible lines as they cross each other’s paths, carving crosses into the ice. He sees them, etched onto the very ground of his home. Even when the ice is clean, he sees them. They skate and fight on top of crosses, invisible crosses that sink into the ice through their skates and can never avoid.
He sees these because they match the one he cannot escape. The little silver cross on the necklace Alex wears, the one that haunts Ryan, something he cannot beat and cannot stop fighting. He can practically feel it on Alex’s skin. It’s the embodiment of what he hates, the thing that makes Alex hesitate, give in only to hate himself, obey only to hurt himself. Ryan hates it because it hurts him, both of them, because this is a place where two things meet that cannot touch.
Some nights, he avoids it like it will burn him, his hands everywhere else, feels watched.
Some nights, he lays kisses along it, as if Alex’s moans can mock it, as if his own gentleness ever had a chance of defeating it.
He knows the words he cannot understand, which speak to him through their tone, secret whispers he’s not meant to hear, words he stays awake to listen for, because he’s waiting for the night they don’t come. It’s a night he doesn’t talk about, doesn’t know if it would be his victory, or Alex’s defeat.
“Dieu qui es au cieux” is the melody of everything he hates. These are words that make Alex cry tears he hides; they should be just words, and how Ryan wishes they were. They possess a power he can’t touch.
On nights like these, pretending to be asleep, Alex trembling with silent tears, they feel like mere words with an inexplicable power they don’t deserve. Those words, this cross, they hold Alex tighter than Ryan can, an iron grip he is no match to. Everything he has cannot hold up, and he hates that he is incapable of understanding why. It’s as if he can’t see that it gives Alex besides pain, how something that forsakes Alex can have him when Ryan cannot. All he sees is the way this cross makes Alex hate what they do; he’s never dared ask if Alex hates the emotions too, because this is his own greatest fear. Alex trembles for fear of his greatest sin, and Ryan, Ryan cannot face a truth that would ruin him.
When Alex prays, Ryan cannot understand. He doesn’t know if Alex prays for forgiveness, or to be accepted, absolved, clean of this flaw that has ruined him. Ryan doesn’t know if Alex prays to keep him, or be free of him. He doesn't, and doesn't want to know, because their love can't be the sin Alex believes it is, but Alex still believes it.
Alex is more wrecked when they are at home. He hides it well, and Ryan believes he almost forgets it sometimes. What Ryan has to give him should be untouchable, and for a few hours, it is. This cross, Ryan hates it, because it keeps Alex from feeling the same way he does. This love he has for Alex, it holds him, suspended above an entire world of pain and rejection, because he has what he wants, he’s found the place that was waiting for him. There’s a disconnect, for Alex; this cross, all it represents, keeps him from fitting into place, makes him linger before it, staring at the place that he belongs, refusing to let him stay. He hides there for a while, when he lets Ryan’s arms close around him, until that thing draws him away again. Some days, he has a stronger hold on staying, days he kisses Ryan with wild abandon, and it almost feels like a celebration, like this time, he won’t be drawn away again. He always loses in the end.
Sometimes, Ryan wonders. He’s afraid the disconnect means he’s only hurting Alex in the end, that for all he can give, he will always lose. He would giveeverything, if Alex would let him, if there were the slightest chance he might win against this powerful, untouchable entity composed of promises that break and embraces that falter. Sometimes, he cannot believe that Alex would pray for permission to stay with him, because that is a permission that will never come, and to wait for it like this is to chase it forever.
In the dark, he listens to Alex’s barely audible whisper, the murmured, “Dieu qui es au ciel,” the words that follow. “Pardonne mes péchés,” he hears, the hitch in the words that destroys him slowly. Maybe this is his personal punishment, to have everything he wants only at this cost, to watch the man he loves being slowly, agonizingly torn apart by it. “Comptez pas mes transgressions, mais, plutôt, mes larmes de repentir. Rappelez-vous pas mes iniquités, mais, plus particulièrement, ma douleur pour les infractions que j’ai commises contre vous.” This is the part where the words are weaker, quaver with something Ryan cannot understand. This is where Alex sobs, repeats il a pas de sens, so quietly and so desperately, like these words are something to hold onto.
Ryan hates this, that Alex doesn’t tell him what any of this means, that he thinks Ryan doesn’t know, that this may all be his fault.
“Alex,” he whispers, reaching a hand to skim Alex’s trembling shoulder. Alex says nothing, frozen under his hands. Ryan draws Alex into his arms, holds him close, and there, Alex starts to sob.
“Je suis désolé, mais il va jamais être assez,” Alex whispers, and Ryan doesn’t understand, on so many different dimensions.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Ryan asks softly, and Alex’s hold on him tightens.
“Because,” he whispers, “I can’t- fight it, and I…” Ryan hears what he cannot say, that Alex thinks himself weak, though Ryan doesn’t know if Alex thinks he’s too weak to break away, or too weak to stop seeing Ryan at all.
“If you’d be happier without me,” Ryan says, and it breaks everything inside him, but that’s better than Alex breaking like he is, slowly, painfully, “we can stop.”
“Someone that really loves you shouldn’t be able to let you go,” Alex says, and the desperation, the rushing tumble of the words, Ryan knows. This is something Alex tells himself, but not about Ryan.
“I know,” Ryan says, “but if it’s better for you, I love you enough to leave if you need me to. I can’t let you go, Alex, but I can leave you if that’s what you need.”
Alex doesn’t say anything. He breaks down into harsh sobs and Ryan holds him tight. The only prayer he hears for the rest of the night is his own, a prayer for everything to turn out okay, and it’s one he’s scared to make, unsure whether if he prays like Alex does, it’ll come true in a way that isn’t right by him.
Instead, he prays to whatever force that gave him Alex, because Alex is one of the few perfect, amazing things in his life, and whatever gave him this must love them both.
Alex goes home for a month during the summer, and Ryan only hears from him sporadically, random texts that aren’t a substitute for what he wants, things he fears will someday replace what he wants to have.
On an unnaturally warm night in July, he’s watching some classic hockey game when he hears his front door open. When Alex walks in, it’s like the entire night changes, like his loneliness never existed, like this was always a moment he could depend on, wait for.
Alex climbs over the back of the couch and shoves Ryan onto his back, leaning over him and kissing him hard.
“Miss me?” Ryan asks, grinning up at him. The smile he gets isn’t one he’s ever seen before, and it takes him a while to understand what’s missing.
The guilt. The guilt is gone. Alex looks at him like he’s the only thing in the world, like the thing that haunted them has gone, decided to leave them alone.
“Like I’ve been away forever,” Alex kisses him again and again, until it’s all Ryan knows.
The cross is still there around Alex’s neck, but it says something different now. It’s childhood memories and simplified concepts, it’s being assured by people that have proved their love for him that he can’t sin by loving someone like this, because this, this could never be anything but a heavenly perfection.
Late that night, Alex asleep peacefully at his side for the very first time, Ryan remembers the only prayer he’s ever made. He never prayed for absolution because he never needed it, could only achieve it by having Alex just like this, happy and at peace with himself; what he needs is Alex, and here he is, completely here, absolved because he felt the love that made Ryan pray to have him. This is the only thing Ryan can believe in, this love he has for Alex and whatever it was that brought them together, because this has never abandoned him, because every moment with Alex is proof of its ethereal beauty.
This, the way it feels to be with Alex, is something Ryan can believe in.