The whole thing was Anette's idea.
"I told my friend Andrea we'd borrow her cabin for the weekend," she told Roman, as they sat on the couch one afternoon. "But Ingo has to work and Diana and Julian aren't interested, so I asked her if I could offer it to you and Deniz instead."
Roman flipped aimlessly through the TV channels. "I'm not speaking to Deniz."
"Again? Honestly, anyone would think you were married already." Roman ignored her. She leaned over and nudged his arm. "Think about it, though. You can't tell me you don't like the idea of you and him, alone in the woods, with nothing to distract you."
"Nothing to distract him, you mean?"
Anette leaned forward. "And Vanessa," she said, with a small smile, "would be miles away."
"I don't care about Vanessa," Roman lied. Vanessa was Deniz's friend, nothing more. Deniz had sworn it up and down a hundred times, and Roman believed him. He had to. "Anyway, since when are you so concerned about my love life?"
"I'm your best friend." Anette paused. "And I really need a break from listening to your relationship problems."
"The truth comes out."
"Deniz would love it," Anette persisted. "He would be thrilled to spend a whole weekend with you. You could set it up as a surprise." Against his wishes, the scene materialized in Roman's mind. An isolated cabin in the forest, snow drifts piled outside, a warm, cozy blanket and Deniz coming in with an armful of wood for the fire...
But reality broke in. "I can't see Marian being too happy about it."
Anette shrugged. "Then don't go to Marian."
"We can't go away for a weekend without telling his dad." As Ingo had once, memorably, told him, "If you're going to play in the sandbox, bunny, you're going to have to share the toys."
"Tell Nadja. She'll break the news gently."
The image came again, of Deniz and Roman alone in the cabin, with time to actually talk to each other and maybe finally sort out all this miscommunication and misunderstanding that had been plaguing them since before Christmas. Maybe if they could spend an entire weekend together, undisturbed and uninterrupted, Roman would finally be able to tell Deniz exactly how he felt, and Deniz would finally be able to understand why Roman was so easily hurt by him.
And then, Roman thought, they could spend the rest of the weekend having marathon make-up sex.
Nadja was at the house when Roman got there, looking at pictures of designer nurseries in a decorating magazine. "I think it's a great idea," she said, when Roman told her about the plan. "Marian and I were starting to worry you were about to break up."
Roman looked at her and resisted the urge to snort. "I can't see Marian losing much sleep over that."
"You underestimate him, Roman. All he wants is for Deniz to be happy."
"Who wants that?" Deniz walked through the door, tossed his jacket haphazardly into the closet, and dropped his gym bag on the kitchen floor.
"Everyone who has to live with you," Nadja replied, as he leaned down to kiss her cheek. After the briefest of hesitations, Deniz kissed Roman as well, just as quickly and chastely.
"You're not still pissed off, are you?" Deniz asked, looking warily at Roman as if he might suddenly explode, figuratively or perhaps even literally.
"No." Roman couldn't, in fact, remember what had caused their latest tiff, but Deniz breathed a sigh of relief and sat down beside him. He casually rested a hand on Roman's leg, and Roman covered it with his own.
"So, what's up?" Deniz grinned at him, and Roman couldn't help himself. He kissed Deniz properly, ignored Nadja's satisfied smile, and said:
"What are you doing this weekend?"
Ingo, with some persuading from Anette, had finally agreed to lend them his car. Roman drove at first, but it didn't take long before the repetitive motion of pressing the clutch started to wear on his knee. He tried to ignore it, but he could tell Deniz was watching him anxiously. Finally, he gave in and said, "Do you think you could take over?"
He didn't need to ask twice. Deniz drove like an eighteen-year-old, pushing back the seat as far as it went, steering wildly and taking corners at high speed. Roman was beginning to wonder if this was how he was going to die, if his name would be splashed across the television and newspapers with the headline: "Bronze medallist killed in fiery autobahn crash" and if Steinkamp would at least provide them with a decent photo of him to go with the story, when Deniz pulled off the main road.
According to Anette's friend's map, the cabin was still three-quarters of an hour away, but the roads were narrow and winding, and there had been a fresh fall of snow. Deniz, Roman was pleased to note, wasn't a complete maniac. He drove the rest of the way at a relatively sedate pace, until the road ended in a small parking lot and the map told them to walk another half a kilometre into the woods.
"I didn't know there would be walking involved," Roman complained, as he reached for the luggage in the backseat.
"The words of a world champion athlete," Deniz smiled.
"Bronze medallist," Roman corrected, pulling out his bag.
"Here, let me take that." Deniz pushed him aside gently and took the bag from his hands, making a face when he felt the weight. "Jesus, what do you have in here?"
"My entire collection of sex toys." Roman smirked at the briefly panicked, deer-in-the-headlights look that crossed Deniz's face.
Still, he recovered fast. "Sure it's not your hair products?"
"No," Roman patted him on the shoulder. "Those are in the bigger bag."
Anette's friend's cabin was nothing special, but it was just what Roman had pictured. It was a small wooden house in the woods, surrounded by trees and snow and complete silence. Roman stood for a moment, enjoying the peace, until Deniz came up behind him, dropped the bags, and lifted him off his feet.
"What are you doing?" Not that Roman minded. Anytime Deniz wanted a hug was fine with him. He put his arms around Deniz's shoulders as Deniz snaked a hand into his jacket pocket and pulled out the key to the cabin.
"I'm carrying you over the threshold."
Roman laughed as, true to his word, Deniz hauled him up the steps and unlocked the door. "Is this our honeymoon, then?"
"I don't know," Deniz said, as he pushed the door open and set Roman down inside. "But those steps are really icy. Break your other leg and you'll never get to the Olympics."
Roman felt a sudden surge of gratitude to add to his already hopeless infatuation. He pulled Deniz down for a kiss, then another, and another until the situation rapidly got out of hand and onto the lumpy old couch behind them.
Deniz wasn't too keen on letting Roman chop wood either, which, again, was fine with him. He cooked dinner instead, arranging potatoes and beef on the plate like, he thought, a first-class Hausfrau while Deniz brought in the logs and dumped them into the metal basket beside the fireplace.
"Smells great," Deniz said, kissing Roman's cheek and stealing a piece of meat off the cutting board. "I didn't know you could cook."
Roman could have mentioned New Year's Eve, but he bit his tongue. Instead, he said: "I have all sorts of hidden talents."
"Really? I'm intrigued." Deniz crowded in behind him, and immediately, Roman felt an impressive erection in his back. He smiled as Deniz slid his hands downwards, but stopped them when they reached for his fly.
"Sweetheart, you're amazing, but we're not all virile adolescents. I need some time to recover."
"Oh. OK." Roman felt a sudden chill as Deniz pulled away, his voice hurt. Sighing, Roman set down his knife and turned to face Deniz, who immediately grabbed him and pushed him against the tiled counter, his hands pinning Roman's wrists to his sides and his mouth against Roman's ear. "Is that long enough?"
Since Deniz seemed so interested in the "marathon makeup sex" part of Roman's secret weekend plan, and since Roman was hardly about to object to that, it was late evening before they got to the "heart-to-heart conversation" part of the plan.
Once again, it was Deniz who started it. Roman was lying, exhausted and satiated, on the rug in front of the fireplace---braided, unfortunately, since Anette's friend didn't seem to have any bearskin available---wondering if he would ever walk again and whether, this time, he would actually care if he didn't, when Deniz said: "My father asked me what our long-term plans are."
"We have long-term plans?" Roman looked up at Deniz, who shrugged sullenly, a gesture that made him look his age.
"I don't know."
"What did you tell him?"
"I said we're taking it slowly. One day at a time." He sounded unsure, so Roman replied:
"Sounds good to me." He remembered his own discussion with Marian, when he had more or less asked if Roman planned to ever make an honest man of his son. Roman hadn't been able to answer him then, either, but he thought he had done well enough. Nadja had said it herself; Marian wanted Deniz to be happy, and Roman was more than willing to keep doing that for as long as possible, ideally forever.
"Anyway," Deniz went on, "It's not like I could move in with Anette and everybody at the flat."
"No," Roman agreed, although the thought had crossed his mind. "That would be the makings of a sitcom."
"And you could never move in with Nina and Nadja and Dad and I."
"That," Roman said, "would be a soap opera."
He forced himself to sit up. Deniz was wearing his confused, thoughtful expression and that---along with the alluring fact that Deniz was wearing nothing but this expression---prompted Roman to cuddle up beside him and rest his head on Deniz's shoulder.
"I'm too young to make a big commitment, like getting a flat with you, even if I could afford it, which I can't." Deniz sounded like he was talking to himself more than to Roman, but Roman still said:
"We can't even afford to exchange Christmas presents without it turning into a major disaster."
Deniz laughed and kissed Roman's forehead. Roman stifled a sigh.
Things were changing, for both of them. No matter what Mike, and Nadja, and Deniz tried to tell him, Roman knew it was possible he might never skate in an international competition again. Even if he recovered enough to qualify for the next World Championships, he had fallen behind in his training, and there were dozens of younger, fitter, better skaters eager to take advantage of the weeks Roman had been out of commission. He wasn't interested in competing to lose, not at this stage of his career, but that didn't mean he was finished.
There were professional skating tours, there were career possibilities as a judge and Steinkamp, out of loyalty or guilt maybe, had practically offered him an assistant coaching position already. Roman knew he would find something. Deniz would find something, too, whether it was pursuing hockey or going to university and having a career. Life would go on for both of them; whether they would go on together was the question Roman really wanted answered.
Roman waited a moment, until the laughter subsided and Deniz was holding him close, before he said, "But you will be able to afford it one day. And I need to know whether you'll be ready then. Because otherwise, all this is fun, but we're kind of wasting our time."
Deniz didn't answer. Roman, suddenly anxious, couldn't bring himself to look at him. Instead, he stared into the crackling logs of the fire. Unbidden, memories of Andrew came into his mind: Andrew begging him to go to London, Andrew pressuring him to change his life, Andrew trying to talk him into a commitment he wasn't ready to make. Roman's stomach lurched and he was about to take everything back, to say it was just another of his crazy possessive flights of fancy and that he would wait for Deniz until the end of time and be happy about it, when Deniz said:
"I'll be ready then."
He said it quietly, so quietly Roman wondered whether he'd heard right. But then Deniz smiled and added: "Just try and stop me."
That was all Roman needed to hear.
The rest of the weekend passed so quickly, Roman would have thought it was a dream. Fortunately, Deniz left plenty of physical evidence, in the form of souvenir hickeys up and down the length of Roman's body. Roman couldn't wait to go swimming, preferably in front of Vanessa.
When they got back into town, Deniz returned the car to Ingo's parking spot and helped him carry the bags up to the flat. Ingo and Anette were home, watching television on the couch, and they glanced up when Deniz and Roman came in.
"Good weekend?" Ingo asked.
Roman looked at Deniz. He could hardly take his eyes off him, even though they'd been together for the last two days. "Great weekend."
"And that's absolutely everything I ever need to know about that." Ingo mock-shuddered, but Roman could feel Anette watching them as Deniz kissed him good-bye.
"Say hi to Nadja and your father for me," Roman said. Deniz nodded and hugged him, and then he was gone.
"So," Anette said, as Roman opened his bag and rooted around for his shaving kit, "Everything's OK?"
"More than OK." He knew what she was asking, just as she knew what he was saying. It was why they were best friends.
"That's great news." Anette grinned. "I'll let Andrea know her cabin was put to good use."
"Tell her I'll invite her to the wedding."
"I call best man!" Ingo piped up. "Or would that be man-of-honour? You'll make a beautiful bride, bunny. Although you'll probably raise a few eyebrows if you insist on white..."
Anette slapped him, but Roman was in such a good mood he said: "You'll raise more than eyebrows if you show up in a pink bridesmaid's dress."
And if he'd known a weekend in the woods could be so enjoyable, Roman thought as he headed for the shower, he would have taken up Volkssport long ago.