It has been just over a year and there are still nights where Marc wakes up crying. He doesn't mind it so much anymore. When he first gets the news, he goes to sleep crying and wakes up wondering if he had ever stopped. His eyes are puffy every morning for the next six weeks. The guys notice — everyone notices — but no one says anything. Tanger just bumps his shoulder and passes off some of the eye-cream his girlfriend uses when she pulls an all-nighter. He says it makes swelling go down, and leaves it at that.
Marc appreciates it a lot more than he thought he did at the time. He runs out of the cream in two weeks, and goes through another three bottles in the weeks following. Eventually, every night changes to once a week, and once a week turns into 'every so often'. Some months it happens more, some less. When Max calls him on his birthday, saying what they always say and ending it off the the I love you that is the most consistent part of their conversations, Marc cries every night for the next week for no particular reason.
Eventually it gets old. Eventually people stop caring so much. Eventually him walking in with half-concealed dark circles and eyes that are not puffy but rimmed in red, as if he has cried recently, loses its novelty. He is pathetic and most of them roll their eyes at him when he walks in looking as shitty as he feels.
He can't blame them. In their eyes, he is being emotional, melodramatic, and stupid, and he is taking 'overreaction' to new heights. Maybe he is doing exactly that, but Marc doesn't feel like he is. They just don't understand. How can they? They all love Max. Everyone in the room loves Max — he is that kind of guy off the ice.
But none of them love Max, not like he does. None of them had to watch as a part of them was torn from their body, mind, and soul, and tossed across the state. No-one on the team realises that is is so much more than the distance that separates Max from Marc, so much more than the jerseys and the stigma.
Tanger is the only one who even bothers anymore. Marc wishes he could fall for him. It wouldn't be hard, really. Tanger is pretty and friendly. He goes out of his way to find Marc coupons for the cream because he doesn't know what else he can do. On Max's birthday, he comes over with a bottle of vodka that neither of them drink from, and lets Marc fall asleep on his lap while they watch Disney movies that remind him too much of the nights he used to do the same with Max.
It wouldn't be hard to fall for Tanger at all, but not because of the man himself. It is because of Max. All the good qualities he sees in Max, he finds in Tanger whether he has them all or not, simply because he displays a few. So even if he falls for Tanger, he would just be falling for Max all over again. He doesn't need that pain again.
So instead, when Tanger cards his fingers through Marc's hair and tucks him in and tries to tell him that everything will be all right, Marc forces himself to pull the two of them apart. Tanger is with him, Max is not. Tanger has a girlfriend to go home to and Max goes home with whatever random broad he meets in a bar. Marc goes home alone.
It doesn't affect his play. In fact, he is pretty certain it elevates it. He has the best season of his career and only ever really falls apart against the Flyers. Even with those losses, he has a hell of a season, and then the motherfucking playoffs and everything is shot to shit. Max scores on him shorthanded and really everything falls apart from there because Marc is like a colander with holes the size of beach balls and he probably could not stop a puck if it was going at five kilometres and hour. He plays like shit.
No one blames him, but they should, because it is his fault they drop three in a row. He plays one game well, wins it back, because the night before Tanger is over again and he just listens to Marc talk about Max. Nothing in particular, just a long stream of consciousness about Max because fucking christ his stream of consciousness is always focussed on Max.
No one knew that he was in love with Max when the man signed with Philly, but it doesn't take anyone long to figure it out. Tanger got it in the first couple of hours. He wakes up feeling like he does every fucking day — like his heart had dropped to his stomach before being torn from his body. He feels it. The absence is so physically painful that he wishes aspirin did anything to ease the pain. Sometimes he tells himself it is just a stomachache, that he just needs to eat something, but he knows that it doesn't matter how much or how little he eats, there is always that emptiness.
It is all he can think about some days. He has burnt away entire weekends by sitting, not sleeping, on the couch with the television off as he lets that pain consume him. He lets everything hit him at once. He drowns in the sorrows that claw away at him every hour of every fucking day because he can't have what he wants.
He wants Max. He wants to hold him and kiss him and make love to him in a house they share. He wants to kiss him goodnight and kiss him good morning. He wants to get married to Max and be with him forever and have the stupid fucking happy ending he never really believes he can have but still wants with every fibre of his being.
He wants Max to say I love you at the end of every phone call, at the end of every day. He does that. He does that in every call they have because they talk at least once a day. But I love you means you are my best friend. Marc doesn't want to hear that. He is greedy and selfish and stupid as fuck, but he wants to hear I love you and have it mean you are everything to me.
The last time that abyss feels a little less infinite is in the handshake line. It takes losing for him to feel right for a second. When Max pulls him into a hug, it is Marc who says I love you first. He means it, too. He means it more than he ever meant anything. He would trade everything for the I love you, too to mean even a little more more than it does.
In that moment, he lets himself pretend that it means more, lets himself pretend that they want the same things from their friendship. That tiniest bit of make-believe is so staggeringly uplifting that Marc almost cries out in joy. There he is, on the losing side of a handshake line than he essentially caused, and he has never been happier in his life.
The next second, Max surges forward to shake someone else's hand, and Marc is shoved forward to do the same. The bliss, the euphoria, that filled his gut is gone in seconds, leaving only a whisper behind. That whisper taunts him, reminds him of what little he has and how much he can never have. That night he goes home and cries himself to sleep, not because they lost the battle that night, but because Marc has long since lost the war.
Sitting in his room alone at eleven in the evening, crying until he cannot breathe without feeling his throat scrape and his lungs protest, Marc knows nothing has changed, and nothing will. Maybe he will find someone, but he will always love Max. Maybe he will get married, but if Max even glances at him, no amount of ceremony could discourage Marc from chasing after him. It would never change. He would always choose Max over anyone else, he would always feel empty for doing so, but still feel emptier alone.
He isn't sure how long he sits there. His feet are over the side of his bed and his elbows are digging into his legs. He can feel the blood vessels protesting the pressure. There will be a beautiful plethora of bruises across his thighs. He thinks that he will press against them periodically throughout the week, just to feel something more than the hollow pain. It is nice to have something of substance every so often.
He knows what sets the tears off. Their phone conversation, their fucking phone conversation. Every night it goes the same way — they talk about their respective lives, just trivial things, and every night Max says I love you like it is the most casual thing in the world and Marc says I love you too because it really is the most important thing in the world. That's how it goes, every damn night. One whole year of the most perfectly painful system they could possibly subject themselves to.
Earlier tonight, as Max rounded off their conversation with a cheery anecdote about Danny's oldest son bringing the new girlfriend around and her having a bigger thing for Danny than for Caelan, he simply said goodnight, and hung up. Marc started to say I love you but there is no one on the other line.
He tried to be calm about it. He really, really did. He tried to brush it off as Max forgot, but goddamn it, Max never forgets that. Never. So it has to have been at least subconsciously intentional. Marc tossed his phone across the room. It started ringing in midair, but he just laughed mirthlessly as it hit the wall and shattered. Max never forgets.
So here he sits, three hours after he threw his phone at the wall, according to the neon numbers glaring at him from across the room, still shaking and crying because fucking christ, all day he waits for that one, perfect moment, that one perfect phrase that he wants to hear however Max will say it to him. Not hearing it for the first time in years (because the I love yous are not simply a product of the distance) feels like someone returned his heart to him, only to laugh as it tumbles through the darkness.
The sound of the doorbell pierces the otherwise silent room. He chokes back another sob and stands up immediately, wiping his eyes. It could only be one of two people, and he is pretty certain Tanger took his girlfriend up to Montréal with him. So it has to be his neighbour complaining about the noise and jesus fuck he doesn't exactly want to be chewed out by Mr I-don't-care-if-you-play-hockey-just-shut-the-fuck-up. Still, maybe if he gets yelled at he will feel a little less consumed by the fact that Max does not love him like he loves Max.
At least he didn't call the cops this time, he rationalises as he drags his feet. It had been embarrassing trying to explain to a gorgeous policeman who was a huge Penguins fan that he had been crying alone in his room and that was the only disturbing the peace he was doing. He thinks that the only reason he wasn't charged was because they felt sorry for him. He also signed a photo for the cop but mostly the man had stared at him pityingly the whole time.
The doorbell rings a second time before Marc reaches it, and he picks up his pace to cover the last ten feet between him and the door. He looks down at himself, bruises brilliant purple on his bare legs and messy tear tracks that feel gross and sticky halfway down his chest. He brushes away any still falling from his eyes, managing to force down the tears, hopefully for the duration of the conversation. He opens the door.
It takes him a few seconds to comprehend that it is not his neighbour. It takes him a few more seconds to realise that it isn't Tanger. By the time he realises exactly who is at his door, he is being tugged into a hug tighter than any he ever received. It is uncomfortable to the point where he is finding it difficult to breath. His vision is swimming and his mind is drowning as every lucid thought in his head is liquified. He is so dizzy and overwhelmed that if those arms were not wrapped so tightly around him he would have crumpled to the ground in a heap.
"What are you doing here?" he croaks out, finding his voice to be cracked and hoarse from crying.
Max pulls back, but doesn't let him go, doesn't let him fall. That never changes, and jesus christ he hopes it never will because there are days where Max is the only thing keeping him upright.
"You've been crying. Tu pleures maintenant. Christ, j'suis désolé," Max apologises hurriedly.
His hands dart upwards, and wrap around Marc's neck. He cranes his own neck a bit as he stands on his tiptoes to reach his forehead. He presses his lips right there, and Marc can't help the sob that breaks through his lips. It is too much. It is too much and too sudden and what the fuck is Max even doing here in the middle of the night? He has not seen him since April and every damn emotion he has felt in the last year comes tumbling down on him.
He is shaking, and Max is just clutching at his skin, holding him there until the shaking slows and Marc's hands slip up to clutch him back. His blunt nails that he chews a little more than he should dig into the muscle of Max's arms, but he doesn't pull away. He just keeps his lips pressed against Marc's skin until the shaking subsides and his body is no longer racked with sobs he had been trying to hard to suppress.
"What are you doing here?" he manages to repeat, once he can breathe properly again.
Max doesn't say anything. His lips fall from Marc's forehead, brushing lightly over the tip of his nose on their descent. He presses their foreheads together, bringing Marc down so that their lips are only a breath apart. It is too much and he wants to scream blue murder to anyone who will listen.
He can feel the breath on his lips. It smells vaguely of cheap coffee and mint, one of those stupid lattes he loves and Marc always indulges him when they spend time together. Goosebumps raise up along his neck and arms, because they are too close. Max just hopped on a plane to see him — the proximity is only making him want to do something stupid.
"I'm sorry for forgetting to say it. I love you," Max whispers. "I love you," he repeats, louder, as if proving a point. As if proving he wasn't ashamed to say it.
It hurts every time and it will never stop fucking hurting so long as Max says it. It doesn't matter whether he whispers it in Marc's ear or shouts it to the heavens because it still means no more than platonically. And yet, Marc knows that he forgives him for forgetting, he knows that he will let the three hours of tears slip away because Max loves him and that is really all he can ask for.
"I love you, too," Marc says aloud, because never in his life has he been afraid to let the world know.
The pause is long and it feels heavy, it feels important. For some reason it feels as if it is going to change everything, as if their entire world is balancing precariously on the silence before the words to be spoken. It is everything, and for once in what feels like forever, Marc doesn't feel empty.
"No, you don't…you don't get it. Pas seulement je t'aime. Je t'adore. Je t'adore plus que tout le monde. T'es la personne que je veux avoir pour toujours," are the words that tumble from Max's mouth with so much fear, so much hesitation.
But Marc isn't thinking about the fear in his voice or the hesitation in his tone even as he hurtles words past his lips at a hundred miles an hour. All he can think about is that Max is saying he loves Marc like Marc wants him to. All he's hearing is that all those years of quietly mooning over Max were not unrequited, not all of them at least. All he's hearing is that Max travelled across the state to tell him he loves him and jesus fucking christ he means it.
So Marc doesn't hesitate. He doesn't even think, because in the next second he is shoving Max against the door, and the look of terror on the man's gorgeous face lasts only the seconds it takes him to press their lips together.
And that? That is the greatest thing Marc has ever done because it is like everything suddenly makes sense, everything clicks together. Of course they love each other. Max has slept through half the state and Marc has slept through half the league but they always come back to each other in the end, they are always there for each other whether they are three miles apart or three hundred.
He licks Max's lips apart and just tastes his horrible latte and presses his tongue right along the roof of his mouth. Max moans right against him and his hands are almost bruising on Marc's shoulders. I knew he would love that, he thinks in his haze. They kiss against his door until neither of them can stand and they are both hard against each other's thighs.
They don't try to move it any farther than a kiss, they don't want to fall immediately into bed with each other because maybe the had been dating for years but they are only just realising that that is exactly what they both wanted all along. They will just kiss each other and hold each other and fall asleep together, and fuck, Marc will not wake up in the tears he thought he was going to have for weeks to come.
"Why didn't you tell me? Fuck Max I have been sitting here in love with you for years," Marc asks, laughing right into his mouth just this side of hysterically, because he is laughing into his mouth.
"I tell you everyday," he laughs right back.
He will not tell Max how many times he cried over him. Not yet, at least. Not while he was still not sure what he ever did to deserve him. He doesn't want to scare him away. He wants them to be comfortable with each other again, he wants to believe every I love you first, before he tells Max how long he has been hurting.
But christ, Marc doesn't care. He doesn't care about the pain and the emptiness and the pining and the long nights where he cries until throws up and then cries about how useless he feels without Max. They don't matter to him because right here, in this moment, he has all that he has ever wanted. He has Max. That is enough happiness to bury every negative emotion he has felt in the last year. It is enough to make him see that Tanger is not Max and never could be, and that that's completely okay because he doesn't need him to be anymore.
They are still going to be miles apart. Marc is still going to hurt when they are not together, but he will not mind a second of that pain. That pain means he knows Max is his and he is missing the relationship, instead of missing someone that he never thought could be his.
They will say I love you and mean it every time. They will smile at each other and kiss each other almost nonstop whenever they are together. Marc will struggle to find a perfect gift for Max, and he will just shake his head and insist that all he wants is Marc himself. He cannot wait to hear I love you for the rest of his life and he only ever wants to hear it from one man. Max tells him everyday — Marc just never knew he meant it, and he never knew knowing could feel so amazing.