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Buddy Breathing

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Zhenya caught Flower near the knot of hockey players and luggage running aground near the check-in desk. “What?” Flower said, startled out of his private misery.

Zhenya tugged him into a corner, next to a model sailing ship. It was on loan from some local museum. When they’d come last been in Tampa a week ago, Rusty had lured half the team to peer through the glass while he pointed out the arrangement of the sails and talked about cannon tactics. Today nobody seemed much inclined to look at ships.

“What is it?” Flower demanded.

“You come with me today,” Zhenya told him.

Flower squinted at him. He looked worn, hollowed-out, clearly running on too little sleep. “Go with you where?”

“On boat. We get food on the way, sun shines, ocean, very nice.”

“Oh.” Flower sagged a little. “You want me to drive the boat and watch you swim around.”

Zhenya huffed. “No, you come with me, it’s nice. You—” Zhenya hesitated, but he wasn’t being particularly stealthy about this, and it wasn’t like Flower wouldn’t guess. “You worry about sunburn, not worry about game.”

Flower snorted. “Sid put you up to this, didn’t he.”

Zhenya waggled his hand, a little bit yes, a little bit no. The narrowing of Flower’s eyes said he wasn’t buying it. “Fine, yes, I want you drive boat around when I swim. Only you, Flower, I don’t accept anybody else. I have A, you have to do what I say.”

Flower crossed his arms. “Your bully act isn’t cute to me, you know. Or scary. I’ve known you too long.”

“Sid’s doing something with baby Pens tonight. Pep talk, or—” Zhenya shrugged. He’d stopped listening to the details once he’d determined that he didn’t have to be involved. “You really want to stick around, ride herd on rookies?”

Flower let his head fall back against the wall, eyes to the ceiling. “Oh my fucking god, I do not want to do that.”

“It’s nice,” Zhenya repeated, “come out on water.”

“Of course you think so,” Flower said, straightening up. “Fine. Let me dump my bags and get out of this suit. But you’re not going to talk to me, okay.” His eyes blazed with sudden fire. “You’re not going to try to tell me I wasn’t fucking shit last night.”

You always shit was on the tip of Zhenya’s tongue, a familiar chirp, but for once he held it in. Now was not the time. “I just want go swimming,” he said.

--

Zhenya met Flower back at the lobby, and they hoofed it to a taco place two blocks down from the hotel. While they waited for their paper to-go sacks, Zhenya took out his phone and called a cab. “You already reserve the boat?” Flower asked.

“Last week,” Zhenya said. He lifted his long-injured arm. “After game two. It start to hurt again, after Hedman check.”

Started to hurt?” Flower repeated.

Zhenya cautiously stretched his elbow out, testing for the familiar sharp twinge. He couldn’t remember a time when it wasn’t in pain. “Start to hurt more. I try with salt bath, but it’s no good. Not the same.”

The woman at the counter called out their order number. Zhenya and Flower took their tacos out to the curb to wait for their cab. The sun beat straight down on Zhenya’s head, and heat radiated up from the concrete into the soles of his shoes. Two days ago, in Pittsburgh, Zhenya had worn long sleeves; now he turned his face to the sun and basked.

“Don’t burn,” Flower said. “You remember that one time.”

Like Zhenya would ever forget that one time. Get scratched once for being too sunburnt to play, and you’ll hear about it forever. “I get sunscreen,” he said, and lifted his arm to show the hotel gift shop’s plastic shopping bag swinging from his wrist.

Flower snuck a bite of his taco. He nodded past Zhenya and mumbled, “I think that’s our ride.”

Soon they were speeding over the causeway, the waters of Tampa Bay stretching out nearly to the horizon on both sides. Palms trees periodically interrupted the view. The noonday sun glittered on the waves. “You didn’t come out here last week, did you?” Flower said.

Zhenya couldn’t peel his eyes away from the bay. It was hard to think, being this close to so much salt water but not in it. “I always want, you know. But last time I’m feel okay. I think I can wait.”

“Wait for what? The final? St. Louis is landlocked, you know.”

“What you talk about, St. Louis? Sharks are going to the final. Sharks are best.”

“Of course they are,” Flower said, thoroughly disgusted – with Zhenya, not with himself, which was progress.

Zhenya had rented from this place before – a smartly-painted white building no bigger than a shed just up the slope from the marina. He’d rented, if not precisely this boat, one just like it: a two-seater, low in the water, a boat for sitting back with a pole rather than for speeding anywhere in particular. The first time he’d rented one, the woman in the office had tried to sell him on its various features, a bait box and a livewell and power outlets, but the only feature he cared about was the ladder for climbing back into the boat again, once he’d gotten out.

Zhenya stepped aboard, and Flower called from behind him, “Don’t you want a life vest?” Flower had already put one on, bright red, the straps hanging free and unsnapped at his chest.

He was smirking a little, and just for that, Zhenya said, “Of course.” He caught the one Flower tossed him and adjusted it around himself. He even snapped the snaps.

Flower untied them from the dock and carried the line onto the boat. Then Zhenya carefully maneuvered them out of the slip, past the rows of other boats, and away from the marina. Across the water, the skyline was bumpy and green with the mangroves, growing along the barrier island that paralleled the coast.

A mile out, when the mainland behind and the mangroves ahead were equidistant, Zhenya killed the motor. “You want to drive around or just anchor?”

Flower shrugged. Well, fair enough. This was all Zhenya’s idea. Zhenya climbed forward onto the bow, retrieved the anchor from its locker, and cast it over the winch into the water. “You okay?” Zhenya asked.

Flower’s mouth twisted, reminding Zhenya this probably wasn’t the first time he’d heard that question today, if for different reasons. But he waved Zhenya away, and that was all the permission Zhenya could stand to wait for. He squeezed at the snaps of his life vest that he’d so foolishly snapped ten minutes ago, but they wouldn’t come unfastened, and the water was right there.

“Here,” Flower said. He tugged Zhenya around to face him and undid the vest, easy as you please. Zhenya tossed his baseball cap aside, stripped out of his clothes, and dove off the boat.

The world was wet and blue and tinted with green. It caught Zhenya in its shift and sway. He closed his eyes and let his body remember what it was, reminded his legs where they’d come from. There was a vise grip he held on himself all the time, unconscious as breathing, and now, deliberately, he let it go.

He opened his eyes. He sucked in a mouthful of water, let it wash through his gills, tasted the salt and the kelp, the rotten-egg flavor of the mangroves. He flicked his tail and propelled himself upward. He broke the surface.

“How is it?” Flower called.

“It’s so great. Oh my god, it’s wonderful.” Zhenya splashed along the length of the boat. Remembering suddenly that he had not, in fact, asked Flower along solely to keep an eye on the boat, he said, “You come in too. Come on, you come swim.” He reached up to the boat and grabbed at Flower, but Flower stepped back, easily out of reach.

“You swim. I’m just going to finish lunch. Play on my phone.”

“You sure?”

Flower settled onto one of the seats and flapped his hand at Zhenya.

So Zhenya pushed away from the boat and ducked under again. The water was shallow here, barely ten feet deep. He swam along the bottom, close enough that the sea grass tickled his belly.

Something loomed darkly, far across the sea floor, barely visible. A knot of kelp, probably. Zhenya judged the distance, pulled his arms tight against his sides, and raced for it.

Sometime later, Zhenya noticed he was hungry. When he arrived back at the boat, he found Flower lounging on one of the seats, peering at his phone, as he’d promised. He looked up as Zhenya approached. “Oh, you decided to come back. I was going to leave without you.”

By the angle of Flower’s shadow onto the boat, Zhenya couldn’t have been gone more than an hour. Zhenya regarded the boat, and then with a sigh he closed his eyes and remembered what feet were like. Then he climbed up onto the boat and sat his naked ass on the other seat.

Flower held out the bottle of sun screen.

“No, I finish lunch first,” Zhenya said. Flower lifted an eyebrow and didn’t budge, and finally Zhenya took the bottle with a sigh and squirted a giant dollop into his hand. He swiped impatiently at himself, all over, and there were white streaks when he was done, but he didn’t care. He grabbed at the food sack and thanked his past self for thinking ahead and buying plenty of extra.

Around the time he finished the third taco, that needy hollowness at the center of him began to fill in a little. He settled back with the fourth one in his hands.

“Was it nice down there?” Flower asked. He’d discarded the life vest while Zhenya had been busy stuffing his face – unworried about drowning, now that Zhenya was here.

“Mm. Very nice.” Zhenya stretched his legs out in the sun and let himself wish, ever so briefly, that it had been the Panthers or the Lightning that had had that second pick, years ago. Or even one of the California teams – there was nice water there, too.

“And your arm?”

Zhenya bent his elbow. The twinge was muted now. “Better. Still need more time, probably.” He looked over at Flower, hidden under sunglasses and baseball cap, his bare arms reflecting a greasy shine from the sun screen. “How about you? How you doing?”

“It’s nice up here, too.”

Zhenya made a face at this obvious deflection, but Flower just shoved his sunglasses up his nose and looked out over the water.

There was no point in telling Flower last night hadn’t been his fault. Zhenya knew what that conviction felt like, how hard it was to shake. Sid had coaxed Zhenya out of that mood once or twice, but earnestness came easy to Sid. Somehow he found the kinds of words that always eluded Zhenya.

Zhenya couldn’t be Sid. He knew better than to try. Abruptly he said, “You want to swim?” Flower started to shake his head, but Zhenya said, “No, you swim with me.”

The silence held, and for a moment Zhenya thought he’d have to haul Flower overboard himself if he wanted him there. Then Flower heaved a sigh, like this was the latest and worst of his troubles. He set his cap and sunglasses aside, ducked out of his t-shirt, stepped out of his shorts. Only his boxers remained. He was looking a little pink in places; it was good he was getting into the water when he was.

Zhenya slipped off the boat. The change came easier this time, so soon after the first. He twisted onto his back and smacked his tail fin on the water, drenching Flower in the spray.

“You fucker, you’re going to be sorry for that.” Flower squinted at Zhenya, took stock, and made a flying leap off the boat. He hit the water with an enormous cannonball splash that engulfed Zhenya.

A moment later, Flower’s head popped above the surface again. “You think I care about little bit water?” Zhenya called. He sent another small wave crashing over Flower, which Flower surfaced from spitting and grimacing. Zhenya ducked under, all the way to the sea floor, and then he swam up under Flower’s feet. He gripped Flower’s flailing ankles with both hands and boomed from deep in his gut, a bass croak that thrummed all through him, temples to toes.

Flower screamed. One of his feet slipped Zhenya’s grasp and barely missed Zhenya’s head. Zhenya grabbed it again and pulled Flower under, just inches below the water, before letting him go.

When Zhenya surfaced again, Flower was coughing and cursing a multi-lingual blue streak, including the handful Russian phrases Zhenya taught everyone years ago. Finally the yelling resolved into meaning, and Flower said, “What the fuck was that? That—” He tried to demonstrate by humming down in his throat, which set him coughing again.

“It’s me. It’s how we talk in water. You don’t remember, at Cup party?” Zhenya had been lounging in the pool, only half-drunk yet, when Max Talbot had started to walk the lip of the pool like a cliff’s edge. Zhenya saw his opportunity. and he’d startled Max Talbot badly enough he’d fallen in, bottle of beer still in his hand.

“Nooo, I don’t remember that, you fucker,” Flower said, rolling his eyes.

Zhenya was busy remembering what else he’d done at that Cup party. “Hey. You want to go underwater with me?”

“Isn’t that what I fucking just did?”

“Not like that.” Zhenya felt suddenly shy, offering this when there was no Cup to celebrate. He did it sometimes at home, bumming around at the lake with friends he’d had since childhood, but that felt different. “I give you breath, and you swim with me.”

Flower stilled, moving only enough to keep himself above water. “Was this Sid’s idea?”

“Why the fuck you think everything Sid’s idea? I have ideas. I have letter, too!” Zhenya pushed towards Flower and pulled up just within arm’s reach. “You like,” Zhenya said – more plea than promise. He couldn’t even have told why he wanted this so much.

But he waited, and waited, and finally Flower said, “Yeah, okay.”

Zhenya propelled himself cautiously forward until Flower was right in front of him, bobbing a little in the gently rolling waves. Flower met his gaze, wide-eyed. Zhenya found some comfort that it wasn’t only him feeling wrong-footed. As it were.

“Have to go under for it work, okay? First breathe out.” Zhenya demonstrated, just to be sure. Flower followed suit, immediately sinking lower in the water.

“Okay, now, just have to breathe in, when I—” Zhenya cut himself off.

“Okay,” Flower said.

Zhenya nodded, for confidence. He took Flower by the shoulders, and with his tail he pulled them both gently under the waves until Flower’s hair floated in a dark halo around his head. Flower’s eyes were huge, his mouth set with the effort of holding his breath. Zhenya leaned forward and put his mouth to Flower’s. He tongued at Flower’s lips until Flower remembered to open them. Then, slowly, Zhenya exhaled.

For a moment, the breath seemed to catch in his mouth. Finally it slipped loose past his teeth, past Flower’s lips. Flower’s widened, his cheeks chipmunking out. The breath made its way into his lungs at last, and slowly he sagged in Zhenya’s hands.

Zhenya closed his mouth against Flower’s and waited for Flower to do the same. Zhenya held on for another moment, just to be sure, and then he let go. Flower peered vaguely past Zhenya, gaze focused inward, waiting to feel the need to inhale. Zhenya’s friends had explained before how it felt: bracing for a bodily panic that never came.

It didn’t come for Flower, either. He met Zhenya’s eyes finally, and he grinned, startled, delighted. He opened his mouth, but he had no air to speak with, and he had no swim bladder like Zhenya with which to call across the depths. He shook his head, bent, and began to swim.

Flower only had legs and arms; Zhenya swam a couple of helixes around him almost without effort. Fucker, Flower mouthed, still grinning and entirely unperturbed.

Zhenya beckoned him down to the sea floor and showed him cockle shells and snails crawling along the sand under the spiral houses. Flower reached down to stroke a snail’s shell, but his touch was gentle, and he didn’t try to pick it up.

Zhenya pointed out mullet, schooling overhead.

Far across the sea floor, a dark shape moved with careful menace, and Zhenya gripped Flower’s shoulder and pointed where to look. Shark, Zhenya mouthed. Flower’s eyes widened, but Zhenya shook his head and held onto Flower. They watched the shadow together until finally it melted into the distance.

Eventually Zhenya pushed off from the sand and headed towards some bunches of sea grass, only to realize that Flower wasn’t following. When he looked back, Flower was kicking to the surface.

Zhenya surfaced just as Flower sucked in a breath. “Okay?” Zhenya asked.

Flower nodded, for a moment too busy breathing to speak. Finally he gasped, “It ran out, I guess.”

“I can—”

Flower shook his head. “But it’s good, you know. It helps, getting out of my head a little bit.”

“Good,” was all Zhenya could find to say. Good.

“How do you feel?” Flower asked, jutting his chin towards Zhenya.

Zhenya stretched his elbow out. “Better. Not perfect—” No amount of salt water could do that, make whole again things that were broken. Only time could. “—but feels better.”

Flower nodded. “It’s getting late. Time to get back to the hotel, you think?”

Zhenya surveyed the sky. It was hours until sunset, but that meant it was dinnertime. Zhenya found his stomach agreed with that assessment. He craned his neck to look for the boat. “It’s long swim back,” he said.

“For me, you mean,” Flower said.

“Easier for me swim you back. Just need a little bit air.” Zhenya crept closer to Flower, who bobbed gently in the waves. Flower nodded once, sharp. He emptied his lungs, like Zhenya had told him to do before, and then Zhenya took him under.

Flower’s lips opened immediately this time, and his arm curled around Zhenya’s tricep. The breath slipped easily from Zhenya’s mouth into Flower’s, familiar now with the contours of Flower’s mouth and lungs – and his spirit, Zhenya’s mother would say, although Zhenya tried to ignore that kind of thing.

Flower relaxed under Zhenya’s hands as the breath filled him. Zhenya eased away, but it took Flower a moment longer to loose his grip. He caught Zhenya’s gaze for a moment and held it, and the moment might have felt weighty if Flower’s hair hadn’t kept shifting like seaweed with every roll of the sea.

Ready? Zhenya mouthed. Flower nodded, and Zhenya swam around behind him and hugged Flower under the armpits like he was ready to deliver the Heimlich. With a strong push of his tail, Zhenya took them forward in the water.

Flower added a lot of drag that Zhenya didn’t normally have to deal with. Zhenya’s arms wearied, and his vague impression that it was dinnertime sharpened to need. But they arrived at the boat eventually and dragged themselves up on it. Flower drove the boat back to the marina while Zhenya pulled his shorts back on. By the time they’d turned the boat in, Zhenya was so hungry he could have eaten the marina attendant.

Not that he would.

Instead he and Flower walked the quarter mile into downtown and ate salad and passable steak in a pleasant little resort restaurant. Finally, two thirds of the way through his steak, Zhenya was able to slow down enough to enjoy it. Catching Flower’s eye on him, he said, “Makes me hungry, swimming.”

“Swimming makes everyone hungry,” Flower said, and took a bite of his baked potato.

“Sid having dinner with rookies, you think?”

“You’re the one who talked to him,” Flower said though his mouthful, as though he hadn’t flown down from Pittsburgh between Sid and the window, just like every flight they’d shared for the past ten years.

Zhenya went back to his steak. When it was finished, he stared at the bone for a while. “Flower—” Zhenya paused.

Flower chewed thoughtfully and waited for Zhenya to find what he wanted to say.

Or just to find the balls to say it. “I feel like old man sometimes.”

“You?” Flower asked, sharply skeptical.

“Not great series for me, you know. All these young guys buzz around, score my goals.”

“You set Kuni up for a goal last night.”

Zhenya dismissed that with a gesture. “My legs okay, my brain’s good, but this arm, it’s not so good. And my wingers,” he added, feeling traitorous, “they not so good also.” For just a moment that long-simmering jealousy of Bonesy bubbled up before Zhenya swallowed it down again. “Maybe run around, distract from HBK line – that’s all I do, the rest of these playoffs.” Playoffs that could well end tomorrow.

Flower pushed his plate aside and sipped on his wine before pushing that away, too. “Last night was my one shot,” he said hollowly. “We both know I’m not going back in unless Muzz totally fucks it up, and he’s not going to do that. I can’t even be mad at him. We’d be fucked without him. There’s nobody to be mad at except me.”

Zhenya had spent an ugly hour after last night’s game being angry at Flower – and himself, and Johnson who’d scored the OT winner, and Carle, such an asswipe he’d gotten both himself and Zhenya sent to the box. There was plenty of anger to go around.

But today the anger was gone, and there was nothing in its place except a kind of trembling anxiety for tomorrow. And there was no point in thinking about that.

“You finish?” Zhenya said, nodding towards Flower’s empty plate, his near-empty wine glass.

Flower took a deep breath, sighed it out. Nodded. “Yeah, let’s get back to the hotel.”

It was a quiet cab ride back across the causeway into Tampa. The sun dipped towards the wet horizon. It washed everything with gold; it gilded Flower’s eyelashes and sharpened the lines of his cheekbones. Zhenya felt an old tug in his gut, a yearning nearly forgotten. It was not, he realized, the first time he’d felt it today.

Flower paid the cab. He and Zhenya passed through a nearly empty lobby and took the same elevator up. When the door dinged for Flower’s floor, one below Zhenya’s, Zhenya reached over and brushed his knuckles against Flower’s. “Come up with me,” he said. His ears flushed hot.

Flower looked at the open door and back. He gave Zhenya a long, measuring look. “All right.”

It seemed to take a long time to reach the next floor. Zhenya strode out of the elevator and down the hall without looking back, although he had to slow to check the number on his card key. He let himself into the room, shut the door behind Flower, and stopped.

There Flower stood in his backwards baseball cap, his striped t-shirt and cargo shorts, face and neck pink with more sun than the SPF-45 had been able to handle. He watched steadily as Zhenya approached, until he could press his hand to Flower’s shoulder and, finally, his mouth to Flower’s mouth.

Flower gripped Zhenya’s hip, and he kissed back, open-mouthed, wet and tasting faintly of wine. Reflexively Zhenya exhaled. Flower laughed against Zhenya’s lips and inched deeper into his space, near enough that Zhenya could feel the heat of him. Want thrummed all through Zhenya like it had since the cab, or since dinner – since the first time Zhenya had breathed into Flower’s mouth, even though Zhenya had done it many times back home and never felt the need to kiss anyone after.

“What is this, prom?” Flower muttered. “This all we’re gonna do?”

Zhenya shifted against Flower’s thigh, letting him feel Zhenya’s answer.

“Oh yeah?”

“You talk so much,” Zhenya said, and kissed Flower again, cupping the back of Flower’s head and tugging him closer. Flower groaned into Zhenya’s mouth. “You get on bed, I blow you,” Zhenya said.

Flower pulled back to look Zhenya in the eye. “That one of Sid’s suggestions?”

“It’s my suggestion,” Zhenya said, stepping around Flower and pushing him towards the bed. Flower let him; he sat on the bed when Zhenya pushed him there and sprawled his knees open. He watched while Zhenya went and dug a pillow out from under the coverlet. Zhenya laid it between Flower’s feet, and he knelt on it.

“You don’t have to—”

“Shush,” Zhenya said, opening Flower’s fly, freeing his dick from his boxers. Flower was flushed, stiffening but not yet hard.

Flower sighed, long and slow. Zhenya glanced up to find Flower shaking his head in bemusement. “We’re old guys now, Geno. What are we doing?”

Zhenya slid his fingers lightly up the length of Flower, enjoying Flower’s shiver. “Something new, maybe,” Zhenya said. He leaned over and ran his tongue over the head. Flower tasted of the sea: of salt and fish and the briny green of kelp. Zhenya swallowed, licked again, feeling Flower’s shudder in the knock of his knee against Zhenya’s ribs.

“Sorry,” Flower mumbled.

Zhenya reached for the offending knee and squeezed, and then he bent took Flower in his mouth. Zhenya paid no mind to Flower’s sharp inhale. He teased at Flower’s slit with his tongue. He stroked the base of the shaft with his fingers, smiling around Flower as he began to plump.

Zhenya had to pull off a couple of times when his jaw began to ache. He worked Flower with his fingers, teasing curses and gasps out of him until Flower was fully hard and shuddering with each stroke, and then Zhenya put his mouth to him again. Zhenya hummed, enjoying the weight of the dick in his tongue and that briny flavor that was part sea and part Flower, now, beginning to leak.

Dimly he was aware of Flower’s legs, trembling with the effort to stay still. His hand landed on Zhenya’s head, just rested, fingers twitching in Zhenya’s hair.

Flower came finally with a long groan and a hot, bitter splash on Zhenya’s tongue. Zhenya swallowed it all, and he sat back on his heels. He swallowed again, convulsive. “We should do this in water,” he rasped.

“Mm?” Flower had braced himself back on his hands. Now he gave up and collapsed slowly onto the bed.

Zhenya crawled up next to him, pleasantly hard, not urgent. He shifted close enough to press his forehead to Flower’s shoulder. “You hold onto boat, I suck you off. Don’t have to breathe, you know.”

“Merde.” Flower shifted a little, his hand landing gracelessly at Zhenya’s waist. “Come on, I’ll do you.”

Zhenya rolled obligingly over on his back. He watched through slitted eyes as Flower tugged at the button of Zhenya’s jeans. Flower didn’t offer to blow him, and that was fine; probably Flower would not feel quite the same way Zhenya did about a dick that tasted like the sea.

Flower spit on his hand and wrapped his sure fingers around Zhenya. Zhenya sucked in a breath and let his eyes fall shut. The bed shifted, and suddenly a cool breeze blew across his dick. Zhenya startled up onto his elbows to see Flower with his lips still pursed. His eyes were hidden in shadow, but Zhenya knew what he’d see if he could: that twinkle in Flower’s eye that had been so profoundly absent when they’d stepped off the plane this afternoon.

Zhenya laughed and lay back, smug with knowledge of a job well done, and let Flower work him to completion. Zhenya’s hips jerked as he came. Jizz dribbled across his stomach. Flower left; he came back with a wash cloth and cleaned Zhenya off. He tucked Zhenya back into his briefs, though he left the fly open.

Zhenya felt Flower hesitating at the edge of the bed. He heard his quiet breathing and the minute rustling of fabric as Flower tried to be still. Zhenya patted the bed next to him. “Stay.”

A pause, and then Flower stretched himself out next to Zhenya. Zhenya rolled onto his side and slid his hand over Flower’s t-shirt until his palm rested on Flower’s toned stomach. His hand rose and fell with each breath Flower took.

“You know,” Flower began conversationally, “when you decide to distract a guy, you do a fucking good job.”

Zhenya basked in that for a moment. Then, “This isn’t just Sid’s idea.” It was suddenly intolerable that Flower might misunderstand.

“Yeah, yeah, I know. You have a letter, too.”

Zhenya curled his fingers around a handful of Flower’s tri-blend knit. “You my goalie, too.”

Flower took a deep breath. His hand skated over Zhenya’s and gripped it tight. “I know.”

They breathed together like that for a while before Flower let go. Zhenya rolled onto his back again, Flower’s shoulder warm against his. “Tomorrow we try again,” Zhenya said.

Flower could have made any number of protests, starting with the fact that he wasn’t going to be trying anything. But instead he pressed a little nearer, eyes still on the ceiling and the shadows the spackling made. “Tomorrow,” he said thoughtfully.

[end]