Pike was eight years old the day the lake tried to swallow him. He’d been out ice fishing with his father and grandfather, but he grew tired of his grandfather’s stories after a whole day of fishing and wandered too far from the shack, close to the shore where the ice had begun to thin with the coming spring.
He knew better; his father and grandfather had told him again and again to stay away from the spots where the water moved too close to the surface, but Pike lost track of where he was and before he knew it the ice cracked underneath him and the lake claimed him.
He remembered grasping for a hold on the ice, fingers slipping on sharp cold and his own shouts harsh in his ears before he slipped under the water and the whole world went quiet.
It was dark, the cold biting his skin through his clothes and blocking out the late afternoon light until it felt like he’d fallen through the ice into another world. Pike thought of the story his grandfather told of the Lost Spirits of the Lake, of the spirit of the Great Elk who lived in the lake and mourned for the Indian brave who’d betrayed him.
Under the water it was easy to believe that the story was true, and when Pike felt something pulling at him, he thought surely the Great Elk had come for him.
In the end it was his father’s hands pulling him out of the water, strong and sure as they slid him across the ice to safety. Pike laid on the ice and shivered while his father and grandfather shook their heads at him and wrapped him in blankets to take him home to his mother. He thought about telling them about the Great Elk, but by the time his teeth stopped chattering enough to speak, he was too tired to tell the story.
As soon as they got him home his mother bundled him into a warm bath, then into clean long johns and into bed, tucking him under as many quilts as she could find. He couldn’t tell his story through all those layers, and by the time he woke up again it all seemed more like a fever dream than a story his grandfather would believe.
Falling through the ice didn’t make him afraid of the lake. If anything it drew him to the water more often, searching for another glimpse of the Great Elk he only remembered in dreams. But he never saw it again, no matter how far out he swam or how long he stayed under the water.
Pike thinks that loving Henry is a lot like drowning. It surrounds him and pulls him under, steals his breath and makes everything else fade away until it’s just them.
Loving Henry without the hope of being loved back made him feel like he was suffocating, gasping for air and coming up with nothing but mouthfuls of water. It made him wish for the darkness to swallow him up, because he thought there was no chance that Henry would reach in and pull him back out again.
But discovering that Henry loves him too...that’s like floating and floating in warm, dark water, and it doesn’t matter that he still can’t breathe. It doesn’t matter when he slips under the surface, because Henry’s always there to pull him back out again, to pull him close and breathe life into his lungs until Pike can breathe on his own.
On cold nights Henry bundles them together in warm blankets, just the way Pike’s mother used to, then he presses against Pike’s side from his shoulder to his thighs to press warmth into him through his clothes. They sit on the bench outside the Hart cabin and stare out at the lake, and Pike never feels the cold because Henry’s there beside him, keeping him warm.
It overwhelms him sometimes, the way Henry loves him, the way he lets it wash over Pike like the waves in the ocean Pike’s never seen. Henry never holds anything back, not the way he loves Pike or the fact that he’s not planning to let go. He keeps holding Pike above the water, holding on and surrounding him like the lake all those years ago.
“The lake will freeze hard enough for skating soon,” Henry says, voice close to Pike’s ear under their blankets. His breath is warm against Pike’s neck, and when Pike shivers, Henry just holds him even tighter. “God, I can’t even remember the last time I went skating. Probably high school.”
Pike’s hand moves under the blanket, slow and deliberate until it finds Henry’s hand where it’s resting on his chest. He covers Henry’s hand with his own, sliding their fingers together and Pike feels the curve of Henry’s smile against his neck.
“Sorry?” Henry murmurs, but his face is still pressed against Pike’s skin, and he’s only halfway listening.
“You asked once if I remembered you from high school. I remember. Not just the skating. I remember other things too.”
Henry’s laugh tickles the skin just below his ear, and Pike breathes through his nose and tries to keep himself from slipping below the surface. “I always thought you hated me in high school.”
Pike frowns and tightens his grip on Henry’s hand, turns his head and presses a kiss to the side of Henry’s forehead. “I didn’t think you noticed me at all.”
“I did. I was a complete idiot in high school,” Henry admits, his soft laugh warming Pike from the inside. “But I noticed.”
Pike nods, pulls the blanket a little closer around them and lets Henry curve into his side. He can feel the water moving around him, trying to pull him in, but Henry’s arms are tight around him, and Pike knows Henry’s not going to let him go.
“I should start dinner. Got some nice mushrooms in the shipment today.”
Henry makes a noise against his neck that could mean anything, then he presses a kiss to the bottom of Pike’s jaw. “Any chance of dinner in bed?”
“There’s dessert?” Henry says, his mouth curving against Pike’s this time, and Pike turns into the kiss and lets Henry pull him under.