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Thirst For Salt

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In the Dulles terminal, Tobin notices that Amy is staring. There's a certain energy to her in every interaction--that coy tenacity wound tight like a rubber band. But it’s different, Tobin thinks, when Amy’s gaze lingers on her from the opposite row while Tobin’s smearing chapstick on her lips. Amy has a coffee balanced on her knee, legs bowed and opened lazily. She doesn’t try to hide how she licks her lips and bites down on the inside of her mouth.

“Want some?” Tobin holds the tube out, uncapped.

“Sure,” Amy bends at her waist to bridge the distance. The whole team is stretched along a remote section of chairs; bags and coats and varying accessories clutter the pass between the seats.

Amy runs the chapstick over her mouth once, puckering to meet the smooth edge.

When she hands it back to Tobin, precariously pinched between two fingers, Megan makes her way through the aisle like she’s running an obstacle course. She does a weird spin and swoop move, to dodge between Amy and Tobin’s picturesque hand-off, and lands with a seat between herself and Amy.

“Need Chapstick?” Tobin asks Megan politely.

Megan holds up her Starbucks cup like she’s toasting.

“Maybe after this. And I’ll find you on the plane for refreshers,” Megan jokes. Amy seems to hold her coffee cup differently, like she hadn’t thought her sensory experience through.

“This offer expires,” Tobin makes a point to say. She caps the tube in clear view.

“Doubt it,” Megan says, smiling cheekily.

Suddenly Alex is looming over the group, nudging at Tobin’s arm.

“Hey,” Tobin greets. She clears the seat next to her in a hurry, hauling her unzipped duffle by the scruff. She manages to land the bag on Amy’s toes somehow, which causes Tobin to look up. Amy’s still got that focus evident in her brow, not like she’s scrutinizing Tobin’s moves, maybe just noting them, or familiarizing.

“Come walk with me,” Alex commands, hands in her pockets.

It feels like some kind of gauge, Amy’s eyes locked on Tobin’s reaction.

“The bathroom is right there,” Tobin tries with a head-nod.

“No, I need to stretch my legs. Plus, I need gummy bears before we leave,” Alex makes both arguments.

“We are en route to the land of Haribo and you’re considering reverse-importing? Silly,” Megan interrupts.

“They help my ears pop,” Alex mutters, seeming somehow offput.

Tobin hadn’t been sleeping so well in the week leading up to the departure. Maybe it’s her oxygen-deprived brain that signals some kind of protective instinct, like she wants to lobby for Alex against Megan’s clearly amicable jab.

“Yeah, let’s do it,” Tobin stands up, fishes her wallet from her carry-on.

She steps clumsily over her own bag, sidesteps around Amy’s. The movement must dislodge something, or maybe she never finished taking care of her previous task. Either way, Tobin gets two steps forward before Amy calls out,

“Hey, you dropped this,” Amy reaches towards the carpet and comes up with Tobin’s Chapstick. It’s warm, like the tube had been nestled into Tobin’s lap. The heat almost moves between them when Tobin accepts it back.

“Thanks,” Tobin says, but not before narrowing her eyes in Megan’s direction in a gesture of suspicion.

“I had nothing to do with it!” Megan declares around a big mouthful of chocolate chip muffin.

Tobin doesn’t trust herself to turn around; the walkway is too dangerous. But she knows she’s being watched, followed by Amy’s eyes, because she can feel the energy directed towards her like something’s waiting to snap.

+

The resort is gorgeous, they can tell that much from the lobby. But the jetlag is palpable and even though it’s mid-morning, Tobin’s body clock ticks slowly like it’s midnight. They have a light training scheduled for the afternoon and Tobin’s reminded of the bounty of college practices post all-nighters. She wants a nap, sooner rather than later, is the point. She’s leaning on her large suitcase when Becky approaches her.

“I’ve got your key too. Let’s get on the elevator before these losers,” Becky mutters so only Tobin can hear.

“Sweet,” Tobin croaks, standing slowly.

Lori’s depressing the call button repeatedly, much to Amy’s chagrin.

“It gets here when it gets here,” Amy reasons.

Tobin doesn’t notice Megan standing by the group until she has a solid, suspicious hand on Amy’s shoulder. Amy shuts her mouth immediately, biting on her bottom lip in a secret way that only Tobin sees. Becky’s busy noting the map of fire escapes posted, so she doesn’t see the way Megan’s hand slides behind Amy’s neck in a quiet, striking slither.

Amy closes her eyes, looks like she might be counting cautiously in her head. Tobin feels like she won’t get caught staring, so she marvels at the curious tension evident in Amy’s brow. Megan’s being so subtle, sliding her fingers into the depths of Amy’s hair. It doesn’t look like something Tobin could pass off as comforting. Her grip looks downright rough.

Of course, the ding of the cab arriving makes Amy’s eyes snap open. She’s focused, from then on, with moving her own baggage into the elevator. It’s Megan that finally catches Tobin staring, just as she withdraws her hand from the nape of Amy’s neck like she’s setting a paper boat into water. Tobin wants so badly to read Megan’s look, wants to discern what she means when Megan lifts her eyebrows like a wager.

+

In between their scheduled field practice and dinner, on their first full day in Austria, Becky sends Tobin for ice. Becky and Lori are rewatching Lost together, and Tobin’s too tired to seek any other form of entertainment. Also, Lori comes into their room with a party-sized bag of Starbursts like a peace offering. So Tobin doesn’t mind the take over, even though she finds the plot of the show more than difficult to pick up. That’s why she doesn’t ask them to pause the playback while she slips out into the hallway.

Most people are resting, taking advantage of the downtime to orient themselves. It’s quiet, but in the way that Tobin knows there’s enough energy behind the doors to power into their second session. Tobin fills the ice bucket and reroutes back down the hall where she sees Megan walking lightly. She kind of jumps when she sees Tobin, like she’s been caught or something. She slows, like she doesn’t want to give away her direction. She’s in front of Amy and Lori’s door, so Tobin takes a shot in the dark.

“Hey, Lori’s in our room if you’re looking for her,” Tobin says.

“I am not,” Megan says clearly.

The air is silent for a moment too long. Tobin fidgets with the ice bucket, adjusts her awkward grip on the cylinder.

“Word,” Tobin says to fill the space.

Megan stays quiet, goes to knock on Amy’s door. Tobin makes to leave but Megan reaches out quickly, grabs Tobin’s bicep more roughly than she should.

Amy’s face changes in the split second where she notices, not only Megan and Tobin at her door, but Tobin so poignantly restrained there. Amy stills too, looking at Megan like she’s waiting for direction.

“Bring me a glass,” Megan says to Amy. And the door shuts quickly as Amy darts away.

Megan moves her thumb against Tobin’s skin like she’s smudging away the hotel chill with her tacky, hot hands. Tobin contracts her bicep muscle when Amy opens the door again and it makes Megan grasp for a tighter hold. With her free hand, Megan swipes the glass and dips it, rim first, into the bucket. The clink of the crystal in the ice bucket is reminiscent of a celebration, of some kind of reprieve. But Amy’s watching carefully with a focus that Tobin can’t place. Her stomach twists and it feels weird, like there’s something she can’t fathom unfolding in front of her.

Once she’s gotten her share of ice, Megan finally lets go of Tobin’s arm.

“Thanks,” and that’s the last time Tobin can meet Megan’s eyes.

“No problem,” Tobin excuses, trying to figure out the last shred of a hint behind Megan’s lashes.

But she refuses to be distracted further, Tobin assumes, because Megan ducks into Amy’s room like she’s chasing her, like Amy’s been waiting.

“At your service,” Tobin says to Becky and Lori when she returns.

Becky holds up a finger, like hold on, and her mouth drops open with Lori’s. There’s a change in music and then both of their faces tighten in light of the new suspense.

“Thanks!” Lori tells Tobin, helping herself to a cup of ice.

Tobin wonders if Lori notices that the bucket isn’t quite filled. It’s not like there’s anything missing, Tobin tells herself. It’s not like there’s something to note as absent.

+

In Salzburg, Amy yanks Tobin aside in the castle courtyard. They’re all pretty much on their own, so it’s not like Tobin’s falling behind or anything. But Amy pulls Tobin towards a pavilion Tobin might’ve missed otherwise. The ground is uneven stonework, old and slick even in the sunlight, so Tobin’s not exactly looking where she’s being led as she’s trying her best not to slip. It makes the panorama all the more shocking when the absence of Amy’s touch causes Tobin to refocus.

It’s the kind of view that Tobin could never describe in it’s entirety, which is why she maybe wants to call Alex back over. Amy notices how Tobin strains to gain the group’s attention hopelessly.

“Hey, don’t worry about them,” Amy says.

There’s a small group of other tourists around them, all trying to capture the view in their cameras.

“Yeah,” Tobin relinquishes.

From the top of the hill, Tobin can see the intricate layers of old and new architecture, weaved easily through the crooked streets. The mountains in the distance give Tobin a false sense of security, like she’s not the most vulnerable from the castle’s peak.

Amy snaps a few photos. She has a big camera; something new, Tobin assumes, because of the delicate way Amy cradles the body in her hand. Amy takes a few steps back quietly, cautiously. Tobin’s got her back to the lens, but she hears the shutter flick even amidst the ambient crowd. She turns to toss Amy a funny look, but the camera gets that shot before Tobin can manipulate her face in the way she wants.

“What?” Amy asks innocently.

“I’m not part of the view,” Tobin jokes.

“But you’re part of the experience. The memory,” Amy says with confidence.

“Let me take yours,” Tobin offers her empty hands.

Amy won’t take off her sunglasses for the photo, but Tobin can still see her eyes through the tinted plastic, all curious and intimate, when she hands over the camera. Tobin tries not to editorialize, tries not to recall the way she saw her own twisted reflection there in Amy’s glasses, the way her shoulders might’ve looked like Tobin was the one being kept behind a fortress.

+

The preliminary leg in Austria is to bond, but Tobin still didn’t expect so much down time. Even when they have practice, or a meeting, or a team meal, there’s blank space leading up to the action. Every event creates a dramatic hype. Restless, is the best way to describe each sprawling break. Her memory from Beijing is still fuzzy, like she missed the little details between the big moments, like she was trying to remember the gist of everything.

She knows she needs the sleep. But she can’t sleep if she’s not tired. So after dinner, when the team is spreading out into their own activities, Tobin jogs to catch up with Amy in the long, empty hallway leading to the elevators.

“Hey,” Amy concedes when they stop to wait for the car.

She’s in sweatpants and a baggy hoodie with the zipper pulled as high as it’ll go. The metal pull is so very close to the dip in Amy’s graceful neck; the white strings hang down her front in an absurd straightness. Tobin eyes Amy’s bare throat, as the greeting bubbles through. With her hair short, Amy’s taken to a kind, slender gait. Amy’s always been that way--athletic, not curvy. The haircut is simultaneously suitable and off-base. Her hair swoops like a spiral blooming from her crown. It falls across her forehead, conceals the top of her eyebrows, but leaves her neck on graceful, tempting display. The style portions Amy a subtle androgyny that gives Tobin pause. She’s unassuming in the way that reminds Tobin of an assassin, of someone Tobin might need to keep an eye on.

“You want to get in a few touches?” Tobin asks without preamble. “Before, uh, dark,” Tobin clarifies.

Amy waits until it’s just the two of them in the elevator to answer. She licks her lips when she thinks. Her tongue is a pallid kind of pink like there isn’t enough water to replace everything she’s been sweating out. Tobin can smell the gentle scent of coffee in Amy’s pensive exhale.

“Sure,” she says, simply. Because enough is never enough in sport.

Tobin grabs a ball from the kit room when they’re making their way to the hotel’s back lawn. Since it’s been spitting rain all day, the sky looks tired. Even the clouds are thinned, like they’ve been wrung out.

It makes for an amazing sunset.

Amy doesn’t have her camera though, and she does make her displeasure known, albeit quietly, like she’s the only one to blame.

“Just enjoy seeing it now,” Tobin says with a tinge of omniscience.

Amy knocks the ball back with the inside of her sneaker.

“Easy for you to say,” Amy mutters.

It’s such a worn phrase, so tired and predictable, that Tobin can hear it even through the blistering wind.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Tobin asks, eyes to the ground. She doesn’t need to track the ball like she does, but it helps her to remain calm. She focuses on the seams, how they roll through the grass en route to her feet.

“You have a lot of time here,” Amy says.

Tobin knows what she’s trying to get at, but it’s not what she said. So Tobin plays along, the cheekily devilish thing she loves when there are holes she can sense.

“You’re here as long as I’m here,” Tobin counters.

It’s true; that puts Amy off visibly.

“You’re right,” Amy admits.

It makes Tobin mad to see her give up that easily, because Tobin can sense something is stifled.

“Of course I’m right, tournament virgin,” Tobin beholds casually, trying to draw Amy out. “I like to think I know a thing or two.”

Amy makes a bemused sound. She sends the ball back towards Tobin with a steady lift. Tobin traps it with her chest. She has a couple of layers on, but the block still stings with the cold.

“Don’t doubt my international experience,” Tobin jokes.

“I don’t,” Amy says, defensively.

Always defensive.

“I just doubt your implied sexual experience,” Amy says it exactly like she does the previous sentences, but Tobin thinks she can hear the echo bouncing back from the snowcaps.

Tobin actually smirks. It’s a cocky kind of move, one that she might not have been able to pull off had she tried. But the gesture levels something with Amy. When Tobin eases the ball back to her partner, Amy flicks it up and into a backwards spin with the top of her shoes. It hits her foot, her knee, the other knee, and then the same inside foot before it arches Tobin’s way again.

“I try not to be all talk, no walk,” Tobin counters.

If they were talking about something else, Tobin might sound like a hypocrite, like someone with casual reverence.

“Which direction do you walk, then?” Amy asks, no prerequisite.

Tobin looks up from the ball, finally lets her eyes stall on Amy’s figure against the mountainous backdrop. Amy has the distinct balance of soft and imploring. The sweatshirt, with its sleeves bunching around the wrist, hides the shape of her body in the grey folds. There’s an interesting defiance to her positioning; she slips her hands in the hoodie pockets like she’s waiting for a streetlight to change, or an answer. The twilight is falling quick; there isn’t much time.

“That’s kind of personal,” Tobin decides to say, in lieu of same path, partner.

“So’s my tournament virginity,” Amy says, without a hint of apology.

Tobin is dumbstruck until the light’s gone. There’s an ambient glow from a balcony sconce. Since their eyes have adjusted slowly to the dimming atmosphere, Tobin has that strangely beautiful moment where, when she threads the ball with finality to her partner, she suddenly becomes aware of the vastly different sky. It’s like her awareness expands exponentially, almost as if a shift in perspective makes everything visible again.

Except the evening’s blackness, so heavy in the mountains, is clandestine in accounting the details to Tobin’s eyes. That is to say, Tobin becomes aware of the swallowing dark, how she and Amy are so very alone in the thin air with nothing to dilute the spectrum.

Amy’s pupils are blown when they meet mid-space to walk back inside, and all Tobin can imagine is a sky of constellations slowly building there.

+

The morning session is grey, tenuous. Tobin’s still tired; the adjustment feels archaic, especially with Dachau in her mind, like she’s been kicked into a liminal time warp. Pia wants to see the spritely side of everyone in the session, so Tobin does her best to stay quick, but subtle. It works, because her short-twitch muscle fibers are loose and languid when she’s stretching them out afterwards.

On the walk back to the quarters, the team stops at the post where the horses are tied. Tobin notices Amy hanging back, and that strikes her as odd, out of character. Tobin stalls too, just waiting. Amy waits for everyone to taper away, clear out of the horses’ space. Ele, the handler, is caught up with Abby and the chocolate lab, so Amy approaches the horses slowly, in clear sight. Tobin acts like she’s listening to Ele’s broken exchange with Abby, but in reality she’s focused on Amy’s unassuming motions.

She has her training gear slewn over one shoulder, so she uses her free hand to smooth the hair along the horse’s long neck. Tobin’s not good at describing how things affect her, how the tiniest moments weigh the heaviest on her lungs, but watching Amy connect, wordlessly, with such a magnificent entity, makes Tobin’s bottom lip quiver. It’s genteel, unassuming in that distinct way that only Amy can embody.

Tobin’s not the only one to get stuck on the sight. Megan comes up behind her, so sneakily, and plants a solid hand in the center of Tobin’s back. It’s the worst place, Tobin thinks, with the cool sweat collected around the creases in her sports bra, her undershirt insulating her body against the mountain air.

“Easy to miss if you aren’t looking,” Megan says without context.

“Yeah,” Tobin agrees, trying to remember to breathe.

“She’s good at that,” Megan furthers.

“Handling?” Tobin asks.

“Dropping back. Blending,” Megan offers. Her hand moves slightly; Tobin can feel the contact tightening. “Captivating,” Megan editorializes.

“Oh,” Tobin whispers.

Amy looks over towards them in a split second. Tobin feels like she’s in the headlights, even though Amy’s the one being spied on. But somehow, Amy holds her head high, resolute. It makes Tobin think that she’s seeing something she shouldn’t, the way Amy tosses Megan a smouldering look like she enjoys being observed.

+

At the next day’s training, the pitch tears easily under everyone’s feet. It’s thin, the mud between the boundaries, and it clings anywhere it lands. Even after the staff takes their cleats for cleaning, mud cakes onto the bottoms of their shoes as the team boards the bus back to the hotel. Tobin can’t, in good conscious, track so much dirt through the lobby, so she stops just shy of the entrance to strip off her socks and tennis shoes. She’s stomping any loose remnants into the cement when Megan clomps up behind her , knocking off her mud just as loudly.

Somehow, everyone else has taken care of their dirty shoes beforehand; so Tobin’s left out there with Megan alone. Tobin leans against a topiary’s ceramic pot to strip off her left sock.

“I can tell you’re curious,” Megan says. It’s a bit clunky; her voice waivers at the tail end.

Tobin hasn’t said anything to Megan since the day before, while watching Amy pet the horse. For whatever reason, Tobin decides to indulge Megan.

“I wonder about a lot, I guess,” Tobin admits, “In general.”

“I’ve seen you talking to Amy, in the hallway after dinner a few days ago. You guys left together,” Megan furthers.

Tobin purses her lips, looks at Megan as honest as she can.

“We’ve been getting a few touches in before bed,” Tobin knows her voice sounds meek.

“Yeah, that’s the idea,” Megan sounds bemused, smiles--almost to herself. But she looks up at Tobin like she expects her to join in, find the humor suddenly.

“I don’t get what you’re saying,” Tobin admits.

“Have, uh, has Amy asked you?” Megan stutters, “About anything in particular?”

Tobin shakes her head, confusion evident on her face. Tobin can tell Megan buttons something back, like she leaves the moment for a mental note. She toes off both Nikes mechanically.

“There’s something I want to know,” Megan starts over, sock-footed, looking right at the younger woman. And the air between them feels balanced, because Tobin wants to fidget even though Megan is throbbing, exuberant.

“Okay,” Tobin says.

“Would you be open to experimenting with us?” Megan says.

The balance is precarious--something inside Tobin feels like an anchor, like someone dragging the ocean bottom in her lungs.

Tobin knows this isn’t an answer she can sputter through. She takes her time, tries to hide her hands because she knows they’re shaking. The blood’s rushing to her head, like her brain is firing on all cylinders. She feels the slightest bit of vertigo, even though she’s firmly in place.

“You mean the, uh, three of us?” Tobin confirms with a slight rise in her tone.

“Yeah, together,” Megan chokes out. “I’ll show you how,” she assures.

“I’m not a child,” Tobin feels the need to say.

“We know,” Megan responds, darkly.

+

The morning of the scrimmage, Tobin can’t fall back asleep in the wee hours of the morning. Becky’s softly sleeping in the next bed; she always ends up with the blankets in a heap at the end. So Tobin can see each deep breath move through Becky’s body.

Tobin feels guilty for watching, decides to wait for the sunrise on the deck adjacent to their dining and meeting area. She bundles up in sweatpants, a hoodie. When she gets to the deck, and it’s glorious view of the mountainous horizon. Amy’s already diving into the USA Today on one of the gliding benches. She moves the bench in a lazy sway, Tobin realizes, because she’s sipping coffee sagely.

“Hey, it’s Tobin,” she says as she rounds the corner.

“I heard the door,” Amy says, not looking up.

“Haven’t gotten the sleep thing right just yet,” Tobin tries.

“We’ll need to add a few more touches in, then,” Amy lofts, referring to their growing ritual.

“I wonder if that’s what’s getting me worked up, though,” Tobin questions.

Amy doesn’t say anything, just smiles and shrugs. She moves the leaflets she’s finished from the unoccupied part of the bench as a form of invitation. Tobin disrupts the rhythm of the glider with her sudden weight. It takes a moment of cooperation, gentle pushes with the toe of her sneakers, to get into an easy swing.

The experience, the silent shared moment, is sweet, endearing. Why Tobin feels the need to capitalize on it is beyond her realm of understanding.

“Megan asked me yesterday,” Tobin says, trying to be courageous.

Amy holds her coffee cup so that the warm ceramic is flush to her palm. She has two fingers curled around the side, slipped through the handle. Firm, is what Tobin thinks; confident.

“Yeah,” Amy concedes, like she’s already been informed.

Tobin waits a beat, breathes.

“I get the sense that there’s something else,” Tobin starts.

“How circumspect,” Amy notes. Tobin can’t place the right synonyms; it makes her the slightest bit angry.

“What is it?” Tobin chances to ask her.

Amy’s back stiffens noticeably.

“What’s what?” Amy plays dumb.

“What would you call, you know, your relationship?” Tobin asks.

Amy chuckles breathily in a way that means she’s bemused, not tickled.

“Depends on who’s asking,” Amy volleys. She thumbs her bangs aside, raises the coffee mug to her lips.

“I’m asking,” Tobin plays into the lead.

The sun’s almost up; the breakfast buffet is getting set up by the hotel staff in the conference room just through the glass doors behind them. Amy’s winces a little at the lukewarm sip, maybe at Tobin’s boldness.

“Our relationship is a lot of different things. One word wouldn’t do it justice,” Amy sidesteps the answer again.

“Use more than one,” Tobin urges.

“Your persistence towards the grand narrative shows your age more than anything,” Amy observes, turning the conversation on Tobin.

“No, I just, want to know what I’m getting into, I guess,” Tobin reveals. Tobin had thought the words were right—they sounded smooth and inclusive in her mind. But they make Amy recoil more than anything. Amy changes her grip on the mug in her hands. The newspaper, dejected between them, still wafts the printed smell. It’s sharp like the mountain air, as if the scent was a relic whistling in through the pass.

“It’s not something you can know, something you can draw a line around. A relationship isn’t a verse,” Amy snips, defensive edge creeping into her voice. Tobin thinks Amy’s trying to get at something deeper.

“You can’t repeat it the same way twice,” Tobin concedes.

“Yeah,” Amy chokes out, like she’s relinquishing her former point. “Also, you never know if you’re in or out,” Amy tacks on.

Tobin thinks she might have understood what Amy meant had it not been for the afterthought. But she also feels like the statement is an olive branch, an invitation.

“That sounds frustrating,” Tobin prompts.

“Not when you need it like I do,” Amy whispers.

Tobin’s amazed at the turn in Amy. In the span of one twilight conversation, Amy laces and unravels herself all the same. Tobin knows what confidence looks like, can pick out the shoulders of those who stand unwavering. But she’s never seen someone quite like Amy, someone so calculating but also somehow vulnerable.

Nicole comes out onto the patio, suddenly shattering the thin privacy Tobin didn’t realize she was protecting.

“How long’ve you been out here? You need a refresher?” Nicole asks all at once, nodding to Amy’s mug.

“You don’t have to,” Amy starts.

But Nicole about-faces wordlessly, and returns with an additional, steaming, ivory mug.

“Where’s my OJ?” Tobin holds back her voice so that she sounds wrenched from sleep.

“Do you expect to be served or something?” Nicole says accusingly as she hands Amy the new cup, appearing to be doing just that.

“Youths, right?” Amy asks as a joke.

Nicole shakes her head as she settles to the chair next to Amy, opening a Sodoku book on her lap. Tobin’s watching her, so she doesn’t notice the subtle angle with which Amy offers her a sip. Tobin knows her lips curl to a plump, provocative curve as she raises the hot cup to them. She puts on a fake smile when the rich, dark taste hits her tongue. Somehow Tobin didn’t know that about Amy, how she takes her coffee black and holds her face in stoic, perfect fulfillment when she gets to swallow.

+

“Do you, uh, know what ‘the grand narrative’ means?” Tobin asks.

Alex looks up from the hand and curls her arm close to her body.

“Like, how?” Alex clarifies, sort of.

“Like, you know, persistent, uh, to it?” Tobin’s wrists go limp as she tries to think of a better way to lay out the bare bones she has.

Instead, she shows her cards. She knows this because Alex shifts in her seat, adjusts her legs underneath her, and folds her own fanned stack face-down towards her chest. Trying to get away with it, then.

“Not really,” Alex says, “Maybe, like a, you know, mono-, monogamy?”

“What?” Tobin asks.

“Where someone acts like a narrator, you know,” Alex insists, flopping a hand in Tobin’s general direction.

“A monologue,” Tobin corrects.

“Yeah, a monologue,” Alex repeats.

“Not a ‘monogamy,’” Tobin tries to underplay her teasing.

“Whatever,” Alex dismisses.

Tobin collapses her hand, stacks it quickly on top of the draw pile.

“Hey!” Alex protests. But Tobin’s already shuffling, dividing the bunch and jamming them back together lengthwise.

“Cheating is so ugly,” Tobin intones.

It makes her pause, internally, for a moment where she wouldn’t have just days ago. When her mind starts to replay the phrase in a tiny, dumb loop, she picks up the condescension in her own voice. She knows her memory distorts the reverberations, knows that echoes are interfered by objects standing in the way.

+

Becky gives her a better answer.

“Pretty much it means status quo. It’s kind of a feminist term, more literary though,” Becky reasons.

They’re alone at the edge of the field, spread out from everyone else, making short, quick touches on the ball.

“Okay,” Tobin allows.

“But it’s getting at, like, the way we think of things as centric on something we agree to be normal,” Becky goes on, “how it’s not fair to exclude people because they’ve been excluded in the past.”

“Like, heteronormative?” Tobin fishes the word from nowhere.

“Exactly so,” Becky lifts her voice to such an octave that Tobin’s worried a nearby pair will catch the sound. Tobin freaks, just momentarily, and returns a pass that twists. It goes rogue, backfield behind Broon.

“My bad,” Tobin apologizes.

Becky makes a frustrated grunt and jogs on her toes. While Becky’s retrieving the ball, Tobin squints towards the thick clouds. The sun seems dim through the grey; she feels brave enough to look at it straight-on.

“Don’t act like that,” Becky says, having returned.

Tobin just cocks her eyebrows in response.

“Like you don’t know something,” Becky continues. But she leaves it at that. She twirls the ball so it spins backwards when it connects with the broad side of her foot. Tobin has to spring into action to volley, so her focus goes elsewhere, more peripheral.

+

“So,” Tobin tries to draw it out.

Megan blinks hard, tilts her head like she’s rushing to finish their conversation.

“Alright, well,” Megan looks stern. Tobin gets the sense that she’s in the middle of something. Something.

“Is it, possible, to come in?” Tobin gulps, “Tonight?”

Megan stills, pausing. She rears back as she shuts the door, but not before shooting Tobin a pensive look like she might be checking on something. Something. Tobin feels like she’s being deliberated over, like she’s asking someone out to play. She fidgets a little, looks over her shoulders uselessly. The hall’s motionless, but the doors open inward, so it would be a delayed, empty moment of commotion should anyone emerge and maybe catch her there at someone else’s door.

Megan yanks open the door quickly, folds the deadbolt so that the lock can’t catch. Megan takes Tobin by the shoulders and maneuvers her a few feet away.

She palms the sides of Tobin’s face, holding her delicately like they’re in celebration. She can almost feel the heat coming off of Megan’s forehead; her bangs are combed back and out of the way entirely. She’s like a tidal wave, sweeping and devastatingly lovely.

“You’re wonderful. I don’t want you to be discouraged but, not tonight,” Megan’s voice is conspiratorial, yet dim.

Tobin nods, pulls Megan’s wrists with her movement.

“Okay,” she retreats.

Megan tightens her hold on Tobin’s jaw, cradling her head there.

“No drinking, next time,” Megan says, firmly.

Tobin tucks her lips behind her teeth, exhales through her nose. It had just been one shot, knocked back quickly in her room just moments before.

“Yes’m,” Tobin mumbles, afraid to let out the smell of rye. She’s not going to argue, because Megan had promised--next time.

She has her hair in a low ponytail--it was the last thing she was thinking to tighten up. Megan lets a smile flit across her face. She moves behind Tobin’s head and tugs solidly on the gathered hair. It’s a gentle kind of gesture, but Tobin knows better than to let her neck get pulled along with it that time. Her hairline tenses; Megan notices. She purrs, audible only between them.

Tobin strains to hear what Megan says to Amy in the precious seconds where the door begins to close. It’s too muffled, disguised by the whoosh of the frame dragging along the economy carpet. It sounds like a command, nonetheless. Tobin has a fleeting, mischievous idea to stop the door from closing with her foot; has the gumption to linger outside with the audio to satisfy her curiosity.

But she realizes that’s not the way to prove that she can handle the mystique, to show Megan that she can play by the rules. It’s the alcohol, maybe, that slows her reaction time. How else could Tobin explain the awful sting of her bare toes meeting the door’s outer panel as it shuts, heavily, and locks her out?

+

"Hey!" Amy meets her eyes first. She tugs the chair next to her, and it scrapes quietly against the carpet. "Come color," Amy commands.

"Yeah, alright," Tobin says, dragging her feet around to the empty spot.

"So, Amy said Snow White. Who's your favorite princess?" Ali asks, looking down to judge the seeping pink.

Tobin flips through a different coloring book--nature themed, portraits of wildlife, and nothing to remind her exactly who the princesses are.

"Uh, I just kinda watched what my sisters wanted to watch," Tobin tries to excuse.

"You've had enough time to develop your own opinions, siblings or no," Ali stakes, stilling her hand.

Amy smiles down towards her page. She's got her back flush to the straight cushion on the chair, the coloring book angled up. She uses the taut spine to keep the book stiff against the table's edge, so the cerulean wax moves easily between the lines.

"I don't know. Give me some choices," Tobin prompts.

"Anastasia? Ariel? Cinderella?" Ali starts.

Tobin settles on an unfinished page, a tree frog with a blue gradient body left abandoned.

"She'll go in alphabetical order if you don't just pick one," Amy tries to help.

"Ariel," Tobin says quickly.

Ali makes a frustrated noise.

"Why then?" Ali asks, trying to get Tobin into the spirit of her question.

"I love the water," Tobin says.

Ali breaks the tip of her crayon from the sudden, jerky pressure.

"I don't think Kriegs agrees with your interpretation of The Little Mermaid," Amy tells Tobin.

Tobin wants to shoot Ali a toothy grin but Ali stares down and continues to move her wrist in smooth arcs, like she's filing the point back. Amy grabs Tobin's hand as she's hovering over the deep indigos spread out on the table.

"You need to cut your nails," Amy says. She holds Tobin's fingers in a stiff way, almost insistently.

"Oh, we can do manicures," Ali suggests.

She's digging into her purse on the floor not a moment later, dragging out a cosmetic bag that clinks with an assortment of tiny polishes inside. She starts to line them up in front of her.

"Snow White, huh?" Tobin asks Amy as a way of showing vested interest. She retracts her hand, feels the touch linger secretly, discretely in front of Ali.

"Yeah, I'd want to talk to the animals in the forest. Make them my friends," Amy explains.

"No doubt," Tobin assesses. "Seven men seems like seven more than you'd want to handle though."

Ali cracks up the loudest. Her laugh flutters through the break room like a swallow song.

“Oh, I need some remover for this,” Ali says to the currently chipped polish on her nails. She takes off for her room, leaving most of her possessions there.

The air is heavy; Tobin finds it hard to force it into her lungs quietly. She focuses on the branches, filling them in with dark brown.

“Come in tonight,” Amy says. She’s got the white crayon in her hand. It’s always the sharpest; she flips it through her fingers like some kind of weapon. Tobin doesn’t have to ask for clarification, but she tenses, eyes the door like they’ll be cut short any moment.

“I will,” Tobin promises.

And maybe it can be that simple.

+

Becky’s reading in her bed when Tobin finally gets the courage to stand up. She wouldn’t admit it, but in her mind she had been practicing the smoothness with which she delivers her out, her line.

“Gonna take a digestive walk,” she excuses, slipping into her sandals.

Becky gives her a weird look, but it’s directed towards the page in a sense of politeness.

“Whatever,” Becky says.

It couldn’t have gone more perfect, so Tobin’s confused as to why she feels like Becky’s onto her. She shuffles out like she’s being chased, like maybe she’d back down if she didn’t hurry.

Hustling makes her heart quicken. She’s not exerting anything, just getting closer to the corner room that Lori and Amy are sharing for this leg of their stay. She knocks as calmly as she can, rolling the waistband on her athletic shorts.

“Hey,” Megan slots the door just enough for Tobin to squeeze in.

The hotel rooms are all the same general layout, so Tobin knows just how many steps away she is from having a clear view of the room’s interior. And the room’s in a state of normal disarray that comes with the inevitable slew of belongings toted along for the tournament’s length.

But nothing could prepare Tobin for the sight of Amy, naked and kneeling, hands tied around the wooden arm of the desk chair. Her arms are bent at the elbow in what looks like an uncomfortable angle. The chair is just high enough to make the blood drain, but without any kind of beam to offer reprieve to her strained muscles. Amy’s very still, but she adjusts as best as she can when she sees Tobin. Her eyes don’t meet Tobin’s, like something won’t be the same for them now.

“Don’t fidget,” Megan warns.

“As you wish,” Amy responds like a mantra.

Oh, Tobin thinks, fuck.

Megan puts her hand on Tobin’s low back.

“Amy’s eager to show you how good she is,” Megan says. Her voice curls in a theatrically intimate way. Amy lifts her chin but her eyes stay downcast.

Tobin can’t think of anything to say, as if words taste anything but conspiratorial on her tongue. Luckily, Megan takes control of the momentum, landing Tobin into their world with grace.

“She loves to give pleasure. Loves to be used for pleasure,” Megan goes on.

Tobin nods, a vague tremor in her jaw.

“Amy has submitted to me. I want to teach you to pleasure her, and she will receive pleasure from giving it to you,” Megan says. Amy’s gaze remains pointed towards the floor.

Tobin’s neck is stiff from the tension, the uncertainty. She can’t look at Megan, her disembodied voice like a rumbling wind. All Tobin can see is Amy, the naked flesh as she’s folded there like something caged, something fleetingly captured.

“Do you want me to guide you there?” Megan whispers, getting Tobin’s mind to fall into simple categories. Questions to be answered. Rabbit holes to tumble down. The childish sound of breath as it dances through her lungs.

“Yes ma’am,” Tobin finds herself murmuring like she’s already in ecstasy.

Megan slides her hand away, causes the loose t-shirt to ripple around Tobin’s frame. Megan takes a step forward, between them like a bridge. There’s something to be said about the confidence in Megan’s stance, how she boldly commands the attention of both women. Tobin realizes they’re waiting to be orchestrated, like they’re brimming towards a tepid cacophony.

“Are you wearing panties?” Megan asks.

“Yeah,” Tobin growls.

“Take them off,” Megan directs with her palm open.

Tobin’s used to changing discretely; she has decent composure when she knows she’s being watched. She balances on her left foot as she slips out of the right side, having pulled it down from beneath her shorts. Amy watches Tobin the whole time, perfectly still like she might be in awe. Handing her underwear to Megan feels weird, but they aren’t in Megan’s hand for long.

Tobin can feel a surge between them like a fire ripping down a hallway. The shared moment direct like a narrow passage between their thrumming hearts. Amy’s eyelashes are dark, and they flutter sinfully when Megan stuffs the panties into Amy’s mouth. Megan’s face is serene when she grabs the back of Amy’s hair, makes Amy look up at her while it’s happening.

Tobin almost chokes on her own breath; her airway narrows. It’s so hollow, the oxygen she manages to pass through. A fleeting thought of Amy, similarly choked, makes her knees shake. There’s a rush of chill between them; Tobin notes the texture of her shorts against her hips.

It’s hard to tell what Megan’s looking for when she surveys Tobin. She beckons her closer with a jerk of her head.

“Here,” Megan says as she positions Tobin with both hands on the younger woman’s biceps.

Tobin towers over Amy there; Megan’s at her back. When her voice carries over, it sounds like Megan’s the devil on her shoulder.

“Isn’t she sexy like this?” Megan suggests.

Tobin’s hand stalls in the air.

“Can I?” Tobin asks, mouth barely moving. She knows who she’s asking; Amy can’t say anything.

“Yes,” Megan whispers in appreciation.

Amy tilts her head down. Tobin doesn’t want to think about prayer at a time like this. But with Amy’s bowed neck, hunched shoulders, she could be.

Tobin doesn’t know much, but she knows that Amy’s not allowed to set the tone like that. So she imitates what she’s seen before and grabs Amy by the scruff, leveraging so that Amy has to stare right up at her. The color of the cotton in her mouth is so familiar that it makes Tobin’s stomach drop. There’s nothing, down there, so she can feel the moisture collecting between her own legs.

Tobin wonders about Amy’s tongue, imagines the muscle sitting heavy in her mouth. Amy’s eyes, always that deep, imploring dark, are especially reflective from her position on the floor. She uses them to communicate, somehow, and that’s how Tobin knows that she’s silently enjoying every long moment.

Tobin brings her other hand up, runs her fingers down from Amy’s ear to her cheek. Her lips are stretched, tense around the gag. Tobin dares to touch the corner of Amy’s mouth. The weave of her panties are familiar, but the soft heat coming from Amy burns with the tactile newness on Tobin’s fingers.

“You can untie her, love,” Megan suggests, “But she is not to move without first being told.”

Amy’s arms are hot, weirdly pale, and she doesn’t drop them like Tobin’s expecting she will when Tobin loosens the tie. A shoelace. Something so ordinary that it makes Tobin’s heart race.

“Go ahead,” Megan encourages.

Amy dares to look up at Tobin. It’s a funny image, her fists balled like she’s still secured in the uncomfortable stance. Tobin realizes that the eye contact is Amy’s way of playing, of challenging or submitting.

“Hands behind your back,” Tobin delivers in a thin voice.

Amy does it regardless. Her hands drop like they are weighted, thankful.

“Yes,” Megan hisses, stepping away. Tobin can’t see what Megan’s doing, because she’s stuck on Amy. Their eye contact is raw, so disarming.

Tobin threads her fingers through Amy’s hair like she’s doing something gentle. But once she lands behind Amy’s head, that familiarly tender spot, Tobin folds her digits around the thick of Amy’s hair. She pulls back, eyes connected all the while, and exposes the long front of Amy’s neck. She’s getting more toned, thinner from their trainings, and it shows in the way her throat contracts like she’s gulping for air during sprints.

Tobin doesn’t realize her brow is knit in a stern line until she catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror when Amy’s being moved, at Megan’s hand, to lay supine on the stripped mattress. There’s just a top sheet, and the pillows.

“I’m mad about these beds,” Megan lobs into the air, casually like she’s as the dinner table.

“Why’s that?” Tobin manages to sound somewhat normal as she watches Megan strip off her shirt.

“The headboards suck. No slats to tie our pretty girl down,” Megan says.

“Oh, yeah,” Tobin manages.

“But she’s going to be a good girl and keep her hands still. Right?” Megan checks. Amy has her hands above her head, grazing the top of the mattress. The pillows are pushed to either side of the bed, precariously hanging on there. She nods slightly.

Tobin’s just hovering at the corner of the bed. Megan reaches out for her at an acute angle. It makes Tobin feel small, for some reason, like she needs to be told how to hit her mark.

“Tell Tobin what you like,” Megan prompts.

Amy looks right at Tobin. She knows she’s on display, so poignantly naked. She can’t say anything until Megan’s pulled the panties from her teeth. They are darker, a shade Tobin’s never seen.

“I like to be used,” Amy says, evenly.

“Good girl,” Megan reinforces.

Slowly, Megan pulls Tobin closer. Soon enough, Tobin’s letting herself be engulfed by Megan’s embrace.

“You’re alright,” Megan says into her ear. She doesn’t know if Amy can hear too, but she’s resolute, looking wantonly up at them both from her subordinate position on her bed.

Megan’s hands wander, slipping easily into the waistband of Tobin’s shorts. Tobin lets herself be exposed; Megan palms Tobin with a practiced kind of ease. Tobin leans back, gives Megan some of her weight. She doesn’t realize that she’s touching her own breast until Megan swats her arm away, replaces it with hers.

Amy squirms more than Tobin at the impossibly censored image of Megan dipping her finger between Tobin’s lips. Tobin feels her hips cant backwards, pressing like she needs the resistance. Amy whines. Jealousy, Tobin realizes in painstaking slowness.

“She wants,” Megan murmurs, finds Tobin’s clit. She puts the smallest bit of pressure there; it teases Tobin to the point where she pushes back, further into Megan.

Megan has a firm tilt to her movements. If Tobin’s honest, it reminds her of her own touch, of the insisting way her middle finger circles her spot before dipping, so close, but not quite perfect. But she doesn’t need to be drawn out, doesn’t need to be beckoned, despite how sinful and selfish that sounds.

It hasn’t happened for Tobin, like that, in a longer time than she’d like to admit. She hopes it’s not something she’ll be teased about later, the incredibly short amount of stimulation it takes for her to keel against Megan’s touch. She whimpers, incredibly mousy and high-pitched, in a timbre she hasn’t heard expelled from her own mouth in immeasurable months.

Amy has nothing holding her down, but she still squirms against the idea of a restraint while Tobin’s bucking recklessly against Megan’s arm.

Her orgasm is something of a catalyst, because Megan’s pulling at the sides of her shirt when Tobin trusts her knees again. Tobin raises her hands and lets Megan disrobe her. Amy whimpers at the sight, rolling her hips like she can’t bother to be subtle.

“Be good,” Megan’s voice is honey-thick.

“As you wish,” Amy says, but she pulls her arms down, like she’s going to sit up.

Tobin gets left there, heaving in only her bra and shorts, as Megan turns Amy on her side to smack her bare ass in plain view once, twice.

“That is no way to behave,” Megan spits, throwing Amy onto her back so roughly that the mattress bounces.

Amy moans; the tension rolls visibly through her body.

“As you wish,” Amy repeats. This time, she’s stoic, still. It gives Tobin chills, the play.

Megan stays focused on Amy, a look that speaks volumes even though there’s only the gusty breaths between them.

“You don’t get her tonight,” Megan says.

There’s so much silence following that Tobin is driven to a joke.

“I’m right here, you guys,” Tobin says.

“I was talking to you,” Megan replies to Tobin, even with her gaze still fixated on Amy.

Tobin doesn’t understand what it means until Megan’s pulling her onto the bed and sidling up behind her. The hotel beds are oversized, but they certainly aren’t huge. She stretches on her side right next to Amy. With her hands hoisted above, Amy’s arm is bent in the most sinewy obtuse angle. Tobin has a clear view and notices the tiny pricks of hair peeking through in Amy’s underarm. It’s something Tobin would make fun of a friend for, the lack of awareness in the shower.

And the thing is, if they were anywhere else (the three of them in a room, the two of them this close, the other two of them back-to-front and rolling closer and closer) it might be a joke Tobin could slide forward. Because they could be that close. They are in so many ways.

But the atmosphere is different. Amy’s right there, delicately subdued. It’s not just proximity; it’s the mounting suspense of when and how and under what circumstance everything that’s happening will make sense again.

Megan slips her hand under Tobin’s shorts and Amy’s the first person to groan.

Tobin can’t close her eyes when Megan fingers her sensitive spot. Amy’s neck strains despite Tobin’s body moving fractionally closer.

“Please,” Amy begs without direct object.

“She’s not to speak,” Megan encourages into Tobin’s ear.

Tobin feels inconsolably stimulated by the mere presence of Megan’s finger between her folds. So she repays the gesture, plunges her two tallest digits into Amy’s mouth like a fishhook. She presses down on Amy’s tongue and there’s a delicious, empty gulp that whistles past Tobin’s nails.

“Such a good girl,” Megan purrs.

+

The light is on when Tobin gets back into the room. Becky is in the exact same place, but the book is page-up in her lap, like she just couldn’t hold the edges anymore before succumbing to sleep. Her eyeglasses are on the bed next to her, so even though Tobin’s clenching her own balled-up underwear in her pocket, she folds the glasses gingerly on the bedside table between them. Luckily, Becky’s tucked herself in by the time Tobin gets out of the shower, so easing into sleep is strangely painless. It’s the first night in Austria that Tobin can remember such effortless slumber, such thorough exhaustion with the day’s events.

+

Megan’s one of the best and worst people to be stuck with inside a gondola suspended mid air above a treacherous Alpine slope. Tobin doesn’t have a fear of heights or small spaces, but Megan splays both hands on the plexiglass window like she’s tethered to safety. Although the view is beautiful, unrelatable in that way, Tobin’s just fine to get the panorama from the center of the cab.

And that’s why, when they stop, lurching and mechanical, Megan flings her body into the wall like she’s been gobstopped, splattered there. The gondola is going to swing anyway, but the shift in body weight, Megan’s sound effects included, exaggerate the drama.

And that’s why, when a gondola full of athletes gets stopped in their ascent up the mountain, Tobin can let out the small scream she wants and not be the only one panicking.

Amy’s somewhere liminal, holding onto a handrail easily to the side. Tobin spots her first, for some reason, and Amy’s got a smile that looks daring, adventurous. The serenity on Amy’s face is disarming; Tobin wants to be inconspicuous, but it’s hard when she keeps recalling Amy, naked, in complete submission, on the hotel bed. Somehow, Amy looks like she can see that in Tobin’s expression because it makes her eyes turn sharp.

She motions for Tobin to move close to her. The swaying car makes every step feel leaden and reckless. Tobin would probably make fun of herself too, if she didn’t grab onto the same railing Amy’s leaning on with a terrified fervor.

“Will you?” Amy asks. She pulls her camera strap from her shoulder.

Beholding the scenery through the mirrored, miniature replica inside the viewfinder is dizzying, as if the depth of field is cheated. It scares Tobin, in the weirdest way. Something about the trick inherent in such high definition, the allusion of clarity even though the cab is swinging like a haphazard fruit from a limb. Tobin takes Amy’s picture and holds her breath when Amy keeps looking at her, even after the camera is back in the owner’s hands.

Tobin’s just happy to get onto solid ground, even if they are elevated into the thin atmosphere, because catching her breath takes a fraction longer. She realizes she's starving. The view of the area, the mountains, and the inescapably blue sky is spectacular, especially from the divine vantage.

They hike after lunch, just up a green, winding trail looping around the restaurant gardens. Since it’s the summer, there’s a blanket of grass where the ski trails are marked. With the wind, the clouds move quickly, and Tobin has to stop to pull her hair into a ponytail to keep it off her warm neck.

Amy pauses with her; lets the team move around them like a river.

"I could tell you were scared," Amy says.

There's a gust that whistles past Tobin’s ears.

"The gondola," Tobin checks with a layer of aloofness. Amy sees through it.

"The end is that much more thrilling. Knowing you've been lifted there somehow," Amy's voice is thorough and keen.

The conversation could be about anything, should someone tune in through the passing breeze. And that inconspicuousness reminds Tobin of prayer, of a silent, private ascension into bliss.

+

There’s enough to think about with the travel plans kicking into a state of constant shuffling between buses and conference rooms. The team mentality lathers Tobin’s thoughts as they’re primping in the bus on the way to their practice pitch again. But this time, the field’s crisp, clean, and accented with a row of chairs.

It’s schoolyard style--lining up according to perceived height. But the photographer builds from the core, as one might say, so it’s not necessarily derivative of their stature that Tobin ends up between Megan and Amy like some kind of sexual tension bookends.

“Pretty sure the hair gives me a boost to switch with you,” Megan loops her arm around Tobin’s as she hoists onto the seat.

Even though she’s being pulled down, like a recoiled gunshot, Tobin contracts her muscles and stands sturdy. The chair shakes a little with the weight shifting next to her and further down the line. So Tobin has to lean left, into Amy, to keep the back row copacetic.

“I earned this spot. My calcium intake earned me this spot,” Tobin furthers.

“You’re a growing girl,” Megan goes to pat Tobin’s head, but she ducks out of the way in the last second.

Amy’s hand finds a way to Tobin’s middle back, sneaky and too low for mere purchase. It does steady her though.

“Stop,” Amy says quickly.

The simple word gives both Tobin and Megan pause.

It’s not the right place, time or setting. This moment calls for professionalism, that much becomes achingly clear when Megan visibly bites back her commanding response. They all settle, like pieces on a chessboard.

“She’s a woman,” Amy adds, like she’d been in on it all along.

Tobin takes a deep breath, bites her lips to give them a moment of quick color as the photographers begin a short count. At the last possible second, Tobin smiles.

+

Tobin didn’t think things could get any more difficult. But when they get to Germany the next afternoon, she realizes she’s been assigned to room with Amy.

“How’s this going to work?” Tobin asks, not looking at her new roommate.

Amy plugs her computer charger into the socket adapter. She rests her hand on the desk’s surface, crosses her ankles and cants her hips against the edge. She waits a few seconds to gauge Tobin’s intentions. Tobin takes a loud breath to start again, but shuts up immediately when Amy opens her mouth lazily.

“Probably better than you’re expecting,” Amy delivers smoothly.

Tobin chokes a little, twists the ring on her forefinger. She bends down into her bag but she’s not fetching anything in particular. Amy’s not far behind her; she can feel Amy’s eyes on the curve in her spine.

“I just meant, I mean. Logistics,” Tobin tries to cover how flustered she feels.

“No you didn’t,” Amy corrects.

Their door is closed, but the team’s excitement is palpable from the hallway. They’re all surging, brimming with guts and the desire for some shade of glory. Tobin knows Amy’s no different, but the focus is different in their room, shorter in sight.

“I know you like having me,” Amy says in a low, direct voice.

“Uh,” Tobin stammers. She straightens up, doesn’t turn around. The carpet is plush, nicer than the last place. Tobin has a brief moment where she wonders about the rugburns, the red splotches evident on Amy’s knees like some silent testament.

“You’re counting down until you can have me again,” Amy’s voice is smug. It sounds devious bouncing over Tobin’s shoulder. She’s right there, but a step away from touching, when Tobin does pivot on her heel.

“Amy,” Tobin whispers, like reassurance that she’s still there.

“Play with me,” Amy makes it sound so easy.

“Now?” Tobin asks.

The way Amy’s face falls makes Tobin realize it wasn’t so perfect a question. Amy takes a small step back but keeps their eyes locked.

Amy lets the unanswered float there between them, so awful and unresolved. They drift around the room in silence, arranging their things accordingly. Tobin can’t help but feel like she failed some kind of test. It’s a terrible distraction, anticipating when she’ll get a chance to meet Amy that way again--just like Amy predicted.

 

That afternoon, at the end of their team meeting, they receive the official match kits. Tobin leaves with Alex abreast, but she ends up carding into her own room alone. And she shouldn’t be surprised that Amy’s there, already, because Amy always leaves undetected. And also, that’s the nature of the team--the shared space, the universal home base.

So there’s no reason she should falter like she does at the sight of Amy in a sports bra, no bottoms to speak of. Tobin shuts the door quickly. She tries not to notice how Amy’s hawking her while stepping into her shorts. Tobin tosses her new stuff at the foot of the bed, flops down to sit there too.

“Free ballin’,” Tobin half-sings.

Amy’s smirk pops up through the collar of the crisp jersey.

“No balls to speak of,” Amy lobs, “What I have is much nicer,” she stakes.

Tobin’s quiet. She watches Amy adjust the seams to her frame. Tobin takes note of the curves on careful display; she maps the checkpoints where Amy’s practiced hands touch her own body--the nape of her neck against the hairline, the inner crook of her bicep where the hem flips, and the solid parentheses of her hip bones as they exclaim from between the fabrics when she rolls her shorts once.

“Take my picture,” Amy says as she tosses a camera Tobin’s way.

Tobin barely traps it in her lap. She takes a moment to thumb it on, rouse the screen. When she lifts it, Amy flexes her arms in a confident curl. Tobin gets the picture, but even before the preview flashes on screen, she knows the lines are blurred from the slight tremor in her hands.

“Nice,” Tobin assures her.

“I was going for tough,” Amy makes her point by bending her arms in different directions, tensing the right muscles along the way. “Like, don’t want to meet me in a dark alley,” Amy furthers.

“Get a grill. Some brass knuckles or something,” Tobin suggests. She holds out the camera for Amy to take. Amy does, sort of. When she has the cool metal in her hand, she quickly tosses it towards her own bed. It bounces on the sheets in a scarily uncertain wobble, but it settles without damage. Amy doesn’t move away from Tobin though.

Even though Tobin’s still sitting down, the bed is stacked. Her feet don’t quite touch the floor. Amy gets in front of her, spreads her legs shoulder-width apart.

“What else would make me tough?” Amy poses.

“I don’t know,” Tobin says, for some reason. She can think of a few other weapons, but none of them seem all that devastating anymore.

Amy lifts her shirt up a little bit, like she’ll do if she’s sweating, or adjusting the gps band during training. Tobin’s in full view of her abs, perfect lines and a hint of something feminine and firm.

“You seem pretty strong to me,” Tobin tries.

Amy bites her lips like she’s holding back a smile.

“You’re pretty strong too. Don’t you think?” Amy goes on.

“Yeah,” breathily. Amy drops her hem. It doesn’t quite fall into place, but she doesn’t adjust.

“Think you could use your muscles on me?” Amy reaffirms.

“In a dark alley, yeah, if I had to,” Tobin cracks, trying to loop back. But Amy liked the tension, that much is obvious in the way she narrows her eyes like she’s not being heard.

“That’s not a bad idea, actually,” Amy breaks. Her voice is a velvety murmur.

Tobin’s getting the sense that she might’ve played something right, for once. Amy looks like she wants to get on Tobin’s lap. But she won’t; she stands in front of her like there’s an invisible barricade across Tobin’s legs.

+

 

It doesn’t make sense until the first game. From the bench, Tobin can see the hesitation in Amy’s demeanor. She’s watching the back line, everyone is, and she knows the rhythm isn’t cohesive just yet. At the half, the entire locker room seems to have something to say to the defenders, who’ve all chosen the same bench against the back side of the lockers. But Tobin catches one specific exchange just after the team chants with their hands in. It’s silent, from Tobin’s distance, but she guesses that Megan’s not providing Amy with any new insight on the Korean attack when she ducks her mouth near Amy’s ear.

And the renewed clarity from the break brings an excitement to the team like Tobin’s never seen rivaled in any other tournaments. When the connection happens between Buehler’s foot and the back of the net, the whole team solidifies. And there’s a specific tilt to Megan’s smile, as Tobin sees it surfacing, next to her on the bench. Not quite a smirk, yet still not quite pleased.

+

“Space is always an issue,” Megan says like a wish.

Tobin doesn’t know what she expected, but for some odd reason, she didn’t think the toy would be so simple. There aren’t straps, or any harnesses to speak of. It’s a simple curve, ergonomic in a devilish way. Tobin’s never seen one, is the point, much less had the chance to catch it like a live fish when Megan forces it into her hands.

“Sure,” Tobin croaks. Her voice itches as it spills from her mouth. Her fingers feel dull and cold, now.

Megan stands at the end of the bed with her hands on her naked hips. And with Amy, legs spread in absurd lewdness, barely keeping up with the duo’s whims, Tobin’s the only one who has managed to keep her bra on.

Megan lifts one leg up to the space between boxspring and mattress, so that she’s open and unashamed.

“Put it in me,” Megan commands of Tobin. She beats her there with her fingers, loosening.

Tobin’s in the middle of the bed, so she has to crawl on her hands and knees to get into Megan’s space. She sits back on her haunches, bends the toy at the fulcrum just to test how it’ll recoil. One end is shorter, stouter, obviously to aid in the grip. Tobin slides the toy inside Megan and it moves smoothly into the wetness that Tobin’s so ineffably near. It’s a sight that might make her pause. That’s what Megan’s expecting, the blunt end and awe, not Tobin popping the opposite head in her mouth spiritedly.

They’ve been taking turns on Amy, rotating between a firm grip on her wrists and an insistent beckoning between her legs. So it’s no surprise that Amy, unwatched, sneaks her own hands down to her waist.

Megan’s focusing on the brush of Tobin’s bangs against the expanse of her own spread thigh. So she’s really not happy to push Tobin by shoulder off the dildo so she can yank Amy down the mattress by her ankles.

She’s not on her knees much, in a precautionary, unspoken way. But Amy still assumes her position easily, like she’s waiting for the reparations of her actions, of her lack of self-control. Tobin almost gets knocked off the bed, but she catches her body weight on the blunt of her palms and the sting echoes up to her elbows.

The sight of Amy, so naked and exposed, with her ass in the air as Megan sinks two rough fingers back inside of her, is enough to make Tobin forget the temporary pain.

That realization keeps her plastered to the bed, slack-jawed, until Megan eyes her with a thousand, silent requests. Something might break then, some permission finally given, because Tobin crab-walks around the bed so that she’s spread just in front of Amy’s bound hands. And Amy’s frame is bent yogic, with her elbows supporting her body to hover to the exact angle where Tobin can shimmy down in perfect reach of Amy’s mouth.

So the seconds of non-contact tick longer than any mantra.

“Please,” Amy asks, gasping so Tobin knows her senses are overwhelmed.

Amy leans so that her temple presses into Tobin’s thigh, and Tobin realizes that she is what’s being asked for.

Megan removes her fingers, settles her tired hands on Amy’s hip flexors.

“Fuck back on this,” Megan smacks with the broad of her palm.

Amy’s response is muffled, just meek sounds that aren’t protest, exactly. It’s just a matter of resistance; of making Megan draw her there.

“Show Tobin how good you are,” Megan urges.

She does. And Megan makes a point of checking in, visually, with Tobin, the moment that the dildo moves into Amy.

Good is relative, Tobin remembers, to present circumstance and wiles.

And there is so much to be praised unfolding between Tobin’s spread legs.

“She’s yours too,” Megan supplants, pressing a hand between Amy’s shoulder blades.

Tobin threads her fingers through Amy’s hair. It’s an odd heat and it sifts between the base of her fingers like sand.

Amy is a crashing wave, engulfing Tobin eagerly when Tobin moves her with the tide. Megan makes them roll, ultimately, into a rhythm that’s weirdly copacetic and reactionary. Because she’s pushing at Amy’s body from the vantage point, Megan can control when Amy can and can’t land her tongue delicately on Tobin’s clit. The movement, what Tobin realizes she likes about all of this, is so tempting, fleeting, and then completely indulgent. She tries to imagine the magnitude that Amy and Megan feel, connected so intimately, yet unable to behold each other still. She tries to remember what it feels like to be filled, and to be stretched, and to be pulled without repose into something so pleasurable.

It ends for her first, oddly, without much warning. She bucks into Amy’s mouth shamelessly, calls out in a voice that’s foreign and guttural. It’s intense in an extremely personal way, because she feels herself flooding forward. But she doesn’t recognize that it’s Amy at her helm. The moment passes before Tobin can relish this thought.

Amy tries to keep going at her, drive her into something else as best as she can with her bound hands a speedbump digging into her own breast. Megan won’t let it happen though, finally grips at Amy’s hair like Tobin’s been expecting, like they’ve all been expecting that night. She pounds into Amy harder; she makes her comply. Tobin catches the sound waves breaking off the headboard, wonders if she can recreate the sounds of herself coming from Amy’s tongue.

There’s enough to remember, as it is, with Amy finally becoming unhinged and vocal. Her neck is exposed like a rolling whitecap. It looks tender to the touch; Tobin thinks she can trace her own fingerprints in the paled expanse. And she smells the remnants of the tide when Amy calls out, all wordless, all gratefully submissed.

+

Amy doesn’t have many tells, but Tobin knows there’s something on her mind by the way Amy stalls in front of the mirror.

She waits until Amy balks an unspoken question twice before interjecting, before making her body visible in the glass.

“You look nice,” Tobin assures her.

The slight movement in Amy’s gaze reveals the curve of her ear, and the distinct shape of an earring.

“Do you have tweezers I can borrow?” Amy asks when she turns her vision forward again, into her own eyes with a shade of criticism unaired. She pushes back her bangs, wrinkles her t-zone experimentally.

Tobin steps closer and gives the allusion of appraisal.

“You don’t need tweezing,” Tobin tries to comfort. “It’s just the media crew. They’ll brief you on the questions before they film anything.”

Amy just exhales, drops her bangs in place, and bites her lips with buttoned urgency.

“What about a necklace?” Tobin suggests, putting her hand on Amy’s shoulder. The collar of her t-shirt is soft, a gorgeous shade of blue that’s both serene and vibrant. And it curls around Amy’s neck with a preciseness that makes Tobin want to measure her hands along the caverns there.

“I don’t have one,” Amy admits, like she’s embarrassed or somehow failed.

Tobin fishes one from her small collection in the clear pocket of her travel case. It’s an understated silver chain supporting a small pearl pendant. The piece holds no particular sentimental value to Tobin until she finds herself trembling to clasp it behind Amy’s head. Amy reaches back and holds up the hair just shy of Tobin’s touch. There’s not much hair, so the gesture feels archaic, like some subconscious, feminine habit Amy can’t break.

“Thanks,” Amy raises her chin like she’s inspecting.

Tobin feels brave, somehow indebted and therefore powerful. She lets her knuckles brush against Amy’s nape with a certainty that’s eluded her so far in Germany.

“Of course,” Tobin responds.

But Amy tucks the necklace under her shirt collar when they’re descending in the glass elevator. All through team lunch, and later, when Tobin sees the interview footage, it’s like a secret, tucked quietly against Amy’s pulse.

+

Tobin gets some playing time against Colombia and remembers how to breathe easily, how to watch a game without curling her toes until they cramp in her boots.

“You didn’t salute the right way,” Tobin hears Megan say to Amy later that evening, in line for dinner at the hotel. Alex is between her and Megan, but Megan’s voice is always audible.

“Yes I did,” Amy defends. She replaces the tongs back in the salad bowl.

“No, you didn’t soar,” Alex jumps into the conversation, hand on Megan’s shoulder.

It’s the wrong angle for Megan to send the message that she wants with her eyes, but they linger on Alex’s hand pressed there before darting to her face. Tobin feels uneasy about that look, like Alex imposes.

Amy crooks her eyebrow towards Alex, turning stiffly away from the banquet table like how so?

Alex holds her straight fingers against her eyebrow.

“This part,” she narrates when her hand coasts forward.

Lori darts out of her place in line and swats Alex’s arm down as it stalls in an airborn salute.

“Stop it, this is Germany,” Lori jokes with heavy-handed humor.

Megan leads the chorus of boos that emerge from displaced historical sentiments.

“Insensitive,” Megan adds.

“Shut your pie-hole,” Lori says, more to the crowd of displeased teammates.

“Nationalist to Alfalfa in six seconds,” Tobin quips, quietly, so only Alex hears it.

Alex hides her lips against her gums when she laughs. The toothy grin makes Tobin ponder their sharpness, how they might leave a mark.

+

“I didn’t salute wrong,” Amy’s clear in her speech.

Tobin’s only just stepped out of the bathroom, so her hesitance is more out of reorganization than surprise. She still turns her back to Amy when she drops her toiletry bag into her bulging duffle. They’re leaving in the morning, onto Wolfsburg to face Sweden.

“Okay, I mean, it’s not a big deal,” Tobin replies.

Amy’s suddenly standing above her when she crouches down to straighten some of her clothes so that the bag will zip.

“I know a few veterans that might disagree,” Amy looms.

“Well, okay, you’re right,” Tobin means it like an end-stop.

Amy inches close enough for her shins to touch Tobin’s.

“Little late for that,” Amy says.

“Next time I’ll protect you,” Tobin resolves, shifting her weight to her left.

Amy takes the opportunity to push Tobin over. She lands on her side with a thump.

“Dang,” Tobin hisses, rubbing her hip through her sweats.

“Next time isn’t good enough,” Amy doesn’t sound angry, just insistent. She hops into her own bed without waiting for a response.

Even though she’s just emerged, Tobin hustles into the bathroom again, toothbrush in hand this time, to avoid further conversation with Amy about the episode at dinner.

The break does alleviate the mood in their double, but Amy’s still awake and playing on her phone when Tobin changes into her pajamas quietly. The volume is on and she’s playing some game with a distinct noise accompanying each move, so Tobin assumes Amy’s not watching, not noting the bare skin on Tobin’s back as she shrugs into her oversized tee. She thinks Amy might actually be ignoring her, so Tobin tries to mute the sound of the plastic holder clicking shut as she shoves the plate against the roof of her mouth.

"You wear a retainer," Amy says with some tinge of delight. Of course, the sound of the container is universally recognizable amongst those once tortured with braces.

"Yeah," Tobin says, turning around, "Orthedontia is a lifetime investment."

"How responsible," Amy notes Tobin’s filtered response.

“I can be,” Tobin supposes, climbing into her own bed.

+

Amy’s usually quiet, but tonight, with the loss to Sweden still floating and unsettling, she’s a strange kind of absent. They card into the room together, and Tobin doesn’t have to catch their faces in the mirror to see the upset evident in both expressions.

Tobin has this childish habit of forcefully placing items when she’s mad, and she takes that frustration--her unweathered legs, her palpitating chest, her excitement wound around her trachea like a choke--out on her duffle. It hits the wall beside Tobin’s bed with a whizz that sounds like a hurried zipper.

“Sucks to be your stuff,” Amy comments. Her voice is an empty taunt, like she’s transferring the rage onto Tobin.

“I guess,” Tobin flattens her palm over her hairline.

They move around each other in silence; unpacking or packing--it all feels eerily reminiscent of the other. Amy turns on the television and scans for a news station. The best she can do is MTV.

They have ten minutes before team meal in the conference wing when Amy clears her throat and tries to speak over the repetitive drums.

“I didn’t have my shit together today,” Amy offers with taciturn tremor. It’s like she’s trying to beat a critic to the punch.

Tobin gives her a second to wallow in her own misery, but her simple,

“Me either,”

makes Amy roll her eyes. It looks intentional, yet, when Tobin juts her lips in a crooked purse, Amy looks embarrassed to have let Tobin see the gesture.

Amy’s still, just quietly stretched out on the bed, when the half hour strikes. There’s a commercial break beginning, a barrage of German and vibrant colors, so Tobin hits the power button with her thumb.

“Oh, I was,” Amy can’t say watching that without it sounding like a lie.

It’s all floating between them then--the unstated isolation, the overstated self-awareness. Tobin knows this is what it means, now, to be in this kind of relationship with Amy.

“Just, come have coffee, or something. Don’t,” Tobin gulps, “don’t skip out because you feel guilty.”

“I don’t-”

“Just...come. With me,” Tobin interrupts.

The tone isn’t sharp, isn’t commanding in a traditional way. The cantor is the same as pitchside; Tobin’s range is more subtle, apparently.

Because Amy stands from her bed, silently, and slides into her loosened sneakers.

+

She still leaves in the middle of dinner. Tobin’s not mad; she just doesn’t bother to mute her fork dropping loudly on the china. They don’t have anywhere to be, except in their rooms by curfew. So Tobin waits for the better half of the team to meander away before she dumps her plate in the bus bin with cacophonous carelessness.

Becky catches Tobin’s elbow on the way out. Tobin must look at her expectantly, like she’s being interrupted.

“Hey,” Becky tries, “how you doing?”

“Fine,” Tobin inflects.

Becky almost waits for a returned question, but thinks better of it.

“Take a digestive walk?” Becky offers with a knowing smile.

Tobin looks towards the lobby with the elevators that could take her up there, back into the room where distress stews thick like smoke in a diving bell.

“Aight,” Tobin grunts.

There aren’t that many places for them to go in this hotel. Security has showed up; precautions seem more obvious now. There’s more protection, more eyes keeping tabs; more guards seem to notice when the players leave a common area, like they’re noting details as if they might be pressed for them later.

The hotel has a labyrinth in the gardens, and it sounds better than it is. The shrubs are stout, hardly anything either could get lost in.

It’s still not easy to navigate. At the second dead end, when they make a u-turn, Becky clears her throat.

“Can I invoke the truancy of the labyrinth?” Becky poses.

“Sure,” Tobin supplements without really knowing how Becky means the statement. Context, maybe, would’ve helped Tobin prepare for the humdinger that Becky pinpoints with aching exactness.

“Are you making sure your needs are being taken care of?”

Tobin notes the weight of her feet, of the tiny sounds of pebbles shifting under her steps. Wolfsburg is quiet at night, but Tobin’s assaulted with noise from her inner monologue.

“Yeah,” Tobin mumbles. Becky moves slower, more deliberately than Tobin.

“Good people have good intentions,” Becky advises, again, without context.

Tobin breathes, and mistakenly steps on Becky’s foot.

“My bad,” Tobin excuses of the later situation.

Becky lets the matter rest, focuses on shuffling through the garden. Tobin can see the end of the course, can use her height to get a better idea of the turns and twists they’ll need to choose between. It’s not quite the revelation at the end that Tobin was expecting. They sort of stumble upon the clear path. All of a sudden, the puzzle seems to be solved.

Becky stops just shy of the exit.

“Tobin,” she says.

Tobin halts too, feels that curious guilt that forms when she hears her name in such confined conversation.

“It’s hard to find something stable in this tournament,” Becky says after some thought.

Tobin turns around because she’s curious, because she hopes to decode something from the tilt of Becky’s brow. But Becky’s not being firm, not angling herself towards judgement.

“Yeah,” Tobin turns the toe of her shoe against the small rocks.

In the hallway, just before Tobin’s unlocking her room, Becky clears her throat.

“Come to training with us tomorrow,” Becky says. It’s optional, so there’s the possibility of a rest day. It’s not that Tobin was looking forward to that specifically, but maybe hoping for some other kind of mental reset.

“That’s a good idea,” Tobin articulates, finally comfortable to be on the same page.

“I know, that’s why I’m the one who said it,” Becky deadpans. But she doesn’t linger, is already holding her hand above her head in a gesture of goodnight by the time Tobin’s palming the door handle with secret confidence.

+

On the way to Dresden, well, back to Dresden, Tobin pulls her vision away from the magazine article. The silence in the bus is a fitting display of the collective mindset. There’s a certain kind of trust, Tobin realizes, because everyone’s either asleep or invariably disarmed in the confined quarters. It’s the team mentality that’s pervasive like alpine air. For Tobin, selflessness is easy. But it’s the paradox of striving for personal best in light of a shared stake that halts Tobin’s mind into a blurred apprehension.

Tobin turns to the window, looks past Alex’s sleeping form. She can see Amy, alone in the row behind her, out of the corner of her eye. With her glasses on, the periphery is soft, cloudy in contrast to the sharp lens. Amy’s a vision, then, even bundled up in her team gear. Tobin can’t quite see every detail, can’t quite capture the distinct way that Amy’s face changes to an unashamed beholding when she raises her camera to her own window.

She clicks a picture quietly, and Tobin imagines the shot to be dizzying from the bus’s movement along the highway. The moment of capturing another is curious, for Tobin. Because it’s almost magnificent. Just a shave of sentience away from divine.

Alex lays a hand on Tobin’s forearm where it rests between them. It makes Tobin flinch, the suddenness.

“Hey, you okay?” Alex asks.

Nerves--everyone’s conscious cross to bear.

“Yeah, buddy,” Tobin says back, softly.

Alex curves a warm smile, and even though Tobin’s seeing her seatmate through such focus from her glasses, there’s still a haze to her smile, like something of familiarity and speculation.

+

They’re painting nails, again, in the team chill room, when things finally start to make sense. Because of the optional practice, and the afternoon biking through downtown with Alex, Tobin hasn’t seen Amy or Megan all day. It’s a welcome break, but it feels much lonelier than before when she and Alex begin coloring together in silence. Moments after they get started, Alex is pulled into an on-camera interview. It’s almost a tag-team for the reporter--returning Megan to the break room and corralling Alex into the next soundbite.

Megan smiles, takes in the sight of Tobin at the coloring table like she’s waiting for a dentist appointment or something less glamorous than playing Brazil on the world’s stage tomorrow.

It’s a weight that Tobin can’t quite feel, exactly, but she can sense it. Like hovering on a frictionless surface, like a pendulum waiting to swing.

“I only have purple,” Megan procures the nail polish bottle from the deep pocket in her grey sweats.

She’s a vision of contrast in her appearance--cropped blonde hair and a careful mask of make up highlight her gentle angles, the femininity in her very breath. Yet, clothed in loose bottoms and a slim, but relaxed white shirt, she could be steps away from an indulgent nap, something casual and disarming.

“Purple’s good,” Tobin agrees, spreading her fingers wide against the paper’s ridge.

Megan doesn’t need to hold her wrist still like she is, because Tobin’s finger pads are pressing into the table like she’s holding an octave. All stretched and laying down the pressure. Megan drags the brush down the left side of Tobin’s pointer fingernail. Her tongue is out in concentration as she finishes the easy fingers. She had to bend her grip in a weird angle to get at the broad of Tobin’s thumbnail.

“She’s going to push you,” Megan says suddenly, no proper nouns needed.

Tobin’s reminded of the last night in Heidelberg when she tumbled to the ground at Amy’s hand.

“Yeah,” she agrees.

“You need to decide the rules,” Megan sounds gentle, more like this is advice, not preamble to something devious, “What it means to break them.”

“I don’t want to punish anyone,” Tobin says, eyes stuck on her knuckles.

“It’s not that. It’s structure,” Megan reasons.

The color smears too thinly. Megan dips the brush to catch more.

“Right,” Tobin squeaks, but it’s unconvincing.

Megan cracks a smile as she paints the final nail with a steady hand.

“Tell her what you want,” Megan drops casually. “Tell her what’s expected of her.”

She seals the bottle with a kind of finality. Before Tobin can ask for clarification, can commit to reaching for authority, Alex returns with a gaggle of liaisons.

“You ladies have a few minutes to sign some stuff?” one asks.

“Sure,” Megan answers for both of them. Tobin holds her hands pointedly out of the way when she stands. Megan pockets the nail polish and follows the crew; she pays no mind paid to Tobin’s lag. But Alex does, even though she’s just returned from the PR venture. She waits to walk with Tobin, together at the end of the small group.

Amy’s signing a jersey in the reception area, spreading the fabric with her own purple-painted nails, when Tobin arrives there. The shade of purple is so intimately familiar, so unmistakable against the black kit. Tobin’s fingers would know the weave of their jersey in complete darkness, could distinguish the pores and creases like they are part of her own skin. Amy looks up just in time for Tobin to dance her eyes across the top’s landscape, as if she were more interested in the autographs than the administering hands.

“Don’t sign too close to mine,” Amy instructs.

Suddenly, Megan’s nudging at Tobin’s ankle with the toe of her Nike’s. Like here’s your chance.

“Maybe I’ll sign right on top of it,” Tobin challenges.

“On top,” Amy repeats more than she asks.

“Yeah, right on top of you,” Tobin lowers her voice on purpose. It’s tough-guy type joke that makes Alex chuckle from her hawkish place in the background.

“If there’s even any room,” Amy supposes. She throws her hip in the way, uses her body to get between Tobin and the jersey. But Tobin has some foresight this time, does a basketball-style spin behind Amy. She gets her hand planted on the shirt, Sharpie poised, so that Amy kind of falters, unchallenged to the side.

“Ladies,” Megan says, entering like a peacekeeper. “Everyone gets a chance,” she resolves.

Amy bites back a smile, but it’s cheeky, all reckless and provocative.

+

That next night, on the way back to the hotel in the bus, everyone is out of control. It’s almost impossible to hone in on a conversation from her seat next to the window. Tobin tries to interject in Lauren’s excitable retelling, but the row in front of her remains unsympathetic to Tobin’s viewpoint. Alex is turned into the aisle, body angled absolutely away from her seatmate, so Tobin maybe feels a little bit left out, for the briefest flash of a moment.

Outside of the bus, the streets are quiet and dark. Not much to look at, but Tobin sighs with a smile on her face. She feels a tug on her ponytail, realizes it’s Amy’s fingertips close to her skull. Tobin’s hair is still wet, so the elastic band slides off her ponytail with a kind of ease that’s strangely erotic.

Tobin reaches back, coaxes her fingers along her roots. Amy’s pulled her hair over the back of the seat, and it hangs there in a way that makes Tobin very aware of her neck, very aware of the warmth from Amy’s right hand as she’s sneaking around the headrest and pressing those same fingertips just shy of Tobin’s pulse.

It’s not quite a massage, because the leverage is all wrong. But the contact is firm, almost insinuating. The darkness is present, but thin, so Tobin’s periphery is wide, watching for someone to catch wind of their illicit touch.

But the group mentality is palpable, the collective success pervades any doubt rooted in autonomy. No one cares, in the most reaffirming way.

So Amy finger-walks to Tobin’s ear, feels the curves there like some crash of sensory receptors. There’s a slight buzz from the nearness of skin-touching-skin and the utter delicacy of such trembling in the open waters. Tobin’s afraid to move with any suddenness.

Amy’s wrist is just thin enough to slide between the seat and the bus’s wall; she caresses Tobin’s bicep through her sweatshirt. With just the pads of her fingers there, it feels much lighter than before, no muscle to leverage the heat.

The bus does take a rather quick turn, but the immediate strength, the insistence that crescendos in Amy’s touch becoming downright rough on her arm, makes Tobin realize that she’s being pushed.

+

Tobin throws her duffle against the wall, but this time it’s because she wants to free her hands quickly. Amy’s still walking towards her suitcase, presumably to set down her own things, but she stops dead in her tracks when Tobin grabs her with both hands. Tobin grips Amy’s biceps, wraps her fingers around the clothed muscle. It’s forceful, strong, and Amy stalls like she’s changing gears with a purr.

“You think it’s okay to touch my hair without my permission?” Tobin emphasizes her question with a slight flex to her fingers.

“How would I know that?” Amy feigns innocence. She drops the bag to the floor directly in front of her.

Tobin gets right up behind her, presses her body fully into Amy’s.

“I’m telling you it’s not,” Tobin says, squeezes again, “and I think you need to learn your lesson.”

Amy’s body betrays her. She arches her back, just enough to push her ass against Tobin.

“You can’t punish me for breaking a rule I don’t know about,” Amy’s challenge feels weakened by the friction.

“Yes, I can,” Tobin snaps. It feels juvenile, coming from her mouth, but Amy’s bitten moan breaks her self-conscious.

“We need a word,” Amy says in a different tone. Something flatter, something with a secret inflection.

Tobin hasn’t considered such precautions. It hits her then, that Megan and Amy have had this setup already at every tryst before. That implicit trust, that knowing communication that’s been buried beyond Tobin’s comprehension, feels undeniable in the heaving air. Tobin thinks that Megan’s been in charge, and how strange it is to be without her, because she’s held that single thread that can unravel the operation.

“Gondola,” Amy lets out in a hurried breath.

The word coming from Amy’s mouth makes Tobin realize that the thread’s been balanced in Amy’s fingers all along.

It’s Amy’s, from the empty air of suggestion right into the throes of being actualized.

It’s always been in Amy’s control.

“Okay,” Tobin knows she sounds weak in the new light of understanding.

Amy senses this, struggles against Tobin’s loosening touch to draw her back.

Tobin feels disembodied when she’s stripping Amy with a certain familiar roughness. When it’s been the three of them, Megan has been there to pull Tobin back in, to make her become present in the moment’s power. But seeing Amy naked in their room, naked only for her, makes Tobin want to shirk the self-consciousness that creeps into her mind.

When she pushes Amy to her knees, makes Amy lick her right there on the floor where the whole encounter started, Tobin gets the overwhelming sense of confidence. How her own desires determine her drive, how she’s been fighting against the winds that want to push her into complacency. Amy won’t accept that settling, and she’s almost begging for the same assurance in her own innermost wants as she’s using the broad of her tongue to rub circles over Tobin’s clit. Tobin threads her fingers through the clipped brown hair at Amy’s nape, gives her that affirmation.

“Such a good girl.”

+

That next morning is nothing particularly special at first, except for the camera crew waiting for them both outside of their room.

It’s a silent walk through the courtyard to breakfast. Just a filler shot, but the presence of the lens makes Tobin’s mind flip over on itself. Amy holds the door open for Tobin, levels an amiable smile that doesn’t look like anything more. But Tobin knows the sentiments there, unfurling like a deck of cards in Amy’s hands.

Alex doesn’t speak to Tobin until they’re settling next to each other for the team meeting.

“Are you serious?” Alex asks.

The team’s in a hangover-like state, almost audible but all-together hushed.

“Hm?” Tobin checks.

Alex looks pointedly at Tobin’s lap.

The bruise isn’t bad, but it’s undeniably shaped like a smirk. And it contrasts so obviously with her yellow shorts that aren’t long enough to cover it when she’s seated at this angle.

“What the fuck?” Alex whispers in chastisement.

But Pia clears her throat at the front of the room, and Tobin pulls down on the seam. Alex can’t exactly drop it, but the matters at hand become infinitely more complicated that the bloom on Tobin’s thigh.

+

There’s an undeniable fire in Megan’s step when she enters the game against France. Tobin follows in, a tad later, and dashes some of her own kinetic energy into the mix. She’s not going for excessive contact or anything, but in her attack, she moves without fear. As if she wants the bruises and skids, as if the evidence of that effort could tingle under her skin with the night’s subsequent velocity. The win is still unsettling, somehow dream-like.

In the locker room, Abby dispatches a congratulatory speech full of resilience and impelling verbs. Alex sits next to Tobin on the bench and nods along with Abby’s words. So Tobin rolls her shorts up at the legs, unveils the overripe bruise that felt so malignant mere days ago. It’s fading, but the way Alex glances right over it--just a quick sweep of her eyes across Tobin’s frame--and then turns back to Abby gives Tobin all the information she needs to sigh a breath of relief. Of safety until the final game. She waits for Abby to finish speaking, tugs that familiar fabric down so that her fading bruise is covered by the crest.

+

Megan makes her vigor known when she pushes her way into Amy and Tobin’s room that night. She has a drawstring bag slung over her shoulder and Tobin instinctively knows what’s inside. It’s dizzying to think of Megan discreetly packing such items for international travel. She imagines Megan going through airport security with a careful tension, makes a note to watch Megan’s face the next time they’re waiting for their bags on the carousel. Tobin imagines the relief that must grace Megan’s mind when she spots her luggage, dutifully zipped and locked and slowly edging closer with the entire team none the wiser.

It makes Tobin feel alone, the notion of Megan’s preemptive planning where Tobin was not a part of the foreshadowed suspense. But seeing the way Megan brandishes every plaything with such confidence draws Tobin into the moment. It’s not shocking to Tobin this time, because she expects them--the restraints and the blunt silicone toy. This time, watching everyone slip into such private personas, Tobin doesn’t feel like she’s peering through a window. She feels completely absorbed, contained. As if she’s the one calling this normal and what she wants. Because it is, now, and achingly so.

So she lets Megan in, commits her mind to being absolutely present in the moment. And she’s compliant under Megan’s commands while still exerting that wide-eyed energy they’ve become accustomed to. It’s such a balancing act--the submissiveness of Amy’s frame and Tobin’s pliant acquiescence against the brazen movements of Megan’s hands over their bodies. The wave friction is there, but it’s so beautiful that Tobin imagines it embodied like an ocean, like a sprawling clash of coastlines and sea.

Tobin sinks down, tension in her thighs, onto Amy’s hips with a timid kind of progress. Megan’s holding the dildo for them, so her hand is tucked between Tobin’s legs in a place that makes her aware of every stretched centimeter. Tobin hasn’t done this before, on top like this, at least. So the angle is new and amazing. It’s almost too much to process, but with her wrists tied together, she has to hold her body up with her core. That stability, so centripetal and sure, almost insulates her sensations, her realizations. So she relishes the newness, but not the inability to behold it with her own palms.

The heat from Megan’s fingers feels dull on Tobin’s inner thigh. She must take it as assurance, though, because Megan trails her touch along the curve of Tobin’s leg, and up, letting go. Tobin can’t tell how much of the length remains. It’s solid, but it feels so good. Better when Megan touches her clit gently.

“Look,” Megan reminds her to open her eyes.

And all Tobin can see is Amy. The angle is everything Tobin wanted, but mysteriously more indulgent. Amy’s been good, so far, so her hands are moments away from being unbound. Tobin can trace the intrigue in Amy’s biceps; the levels of restraint that Amy’s itching to tear back. Amy wants without shame as she ensures Tobin’s attention with a low moan. Amy wants her.

But she can’t see Tobin riding her, can’t catch the twists in Tobin’s expression as the complex pleasures unfold between them. Because Megan’s got a dark, gauzy scarf doubled around Amy’s eyes and tied behind her head. It’s the first time she’s ever been blindfolded; Megan told Tobin this as she secured the scarf, all delighted and eager to be the administer of such thrills.

The meeting of bare flesh resonates delicately, reflecting Tobin’s slow speed as she sinks further. With her knuckles on Amy’s abdomen, Tobin intentions her hands so they press, just lightly, just enough to give her purchase as she lifts up and back. The toy responds, inside Amy, and Tobin knows where it hits by the way Amy cants her hips too. The tiny repetition, the hint of a rhythm, makes Tobin bite her lips closed. She must look pained, or frustrated, because Megan touches her spot with assertiveness that makes Tobin move towards the touch.

“That’s it,” Megan encourages.

Tobin expected to feel more self-conscious this way, expected her own reluctance to thrust and move to draw this out. But the dynamic is somehow safe, because Amy can’t see how Tobin’s breasts bounce against her chest in time with the shifting mattress. So Tobin feels free, despite the limitations; feels uninhibited and indulgent. She moves with purpose, grinding her hips.

“Fuck me,” Amy growls, unsolicited.

Megan’s quick to respond, pulling away from Tobin.

“No one asked what you want,” Megan takes Amy’s jaw in her hand. Amy levels a look in the direction of Megan’s voice, but with the uncertainty of space, she doesn’t line up quite right. Or maybe it’s more for Tobin, because when Megan sticks her same, slick fingers in Amy’s mouth. Amy’s lips close around them.

“You love it,” Megan hisses, more harsh than Tobin expected.

Amy’s response is muffled. It doesn’t matter, because Megan keeps going.

“Love the taste of Tobin on me,” Megan can’t form the whole sentence, doesn’t want the whole picture.

Tobin keeps her movements steady like she’ll earn them some kind of satisfying eye-contact. But it’s impossible, Tobin realizes, because Megan’s undoing the tie at Amy’s wrists, but not the scarf. And in the split second that Tobin looks down, willing her own hands to be separate and useful instead of bound and somehow censored, Megan’s climbing on top of Amy, sinking down so that Amy’s mouth is most certainly rewarded.

One moment, Tobin’s worried she’ll be forgotten, somehow. But in the next moment, Amy’s freed hands emerge from under Megan’s thighs. Tobin’s not afraid to be crass, to bounce harder and with less grace, with all eyes turned away. She’s a bit surprised, is all, when Amy touches her hands blindly behind Megan’s back. It’s not that Tobin doesn’t have an immeasurable curiosity, not that she doesn’t want to look, but the sight is complicated--both gratifying and frustrating all at once.

She’s gets the sense that’s the point when Megan starts calling out, curses spilling from her lips. Tobin can hear it loud and clear, can feel the change in pace that Amy can control with her lower body rocking against Tobin’s. Amy holds Tobin’s bound hands in the sincerest, most assuring weight. She only dares to tangle their fingers when Tobin gives in, feels herself coming from a deep place, like she’s being tapped, dragged for gold.

+

They share a stack of team photos on the bus, pens moving with practiced ease. Alex has the prints first, and then she loads them onto Tobin’s tray table. Signing autographs is reminiscent of the tournament at this point--Tobin has a vague memory of a time where such demands were unfamiliar, only imagined responsibilities. But the reality is settled, the necessity of such involvement is bold and undeniable. Tobin’s signing autographs en masse on the way to the final hotel, the last stint. It’s unreal but at the same time irrefutable.

The bus hits a bump and Tobin catches a deep shifting sound from the cargo hold. Tobin thinks about all of her belongings under the bus. Five weeks worth of equipment, supplies, necessities. How everything can fit so succinctly inside her team-issued gear. How everything can fold behind a nylon zipper and schlep through Germany on the axles this team, this collection of women who together are greater than the sum of each outstanding member. Things seem tiny, but also large. Contained, but also omniscient.

Amy’s touch pulls her from the trance. She flexes her fingers in the same space between the bus window and the headrest, as if she’s grabbing for something she can’t reach. Tobin passes a stack of photos over her shoulder. Amy takes them, but rubs at Tobin’s shoulder just seconds later.

The overhead movement much catch Alex’s eye, because her pen stops with a slight squeak as she takes in the sight of, what Tobin assumes to be, undeniable evidence that Tobin’s been operating with a secret. Tobin pretends like she doesn’t notice, pretends like the music is so loud in her earphones that she’s can’t, but Alex won’t not meet her eyes then. Alex turns in her seat, must look right at Amy because she drops the contact moments later.

Alex looks down her nose at her seatmate and Tobin makes the same face she does when she’s sinking into an ice bath. It pains her, maybe for a moment, but she knows she must. And Alex can’t say anything in the light of such events, because Tobin’s closed herself off, earbuds like a barricade between them. Like Tobin’s purposefully isolated. It’s not a sad look that Alex gives her, per se, but it’s one vision that Tobin just doesn’t want to remember.

+

They’re all supposed to be resting, but it turns out to be one of the most exhausting days of the trip, the day before the Japan game. Tension is the wrong word, because Tobin’s feeling loose, so very pliable in the light of a game’s impending stress. In the training session, and the subsequent recovery ice bath, her mind captures every detail in perfect focus.

They get to watch the France game during dinner, and Tobin can’t help but notice how utterly uncomfortable Amy looks next to her in the long booth seat. Action on screen renders the crowd to crescendo, a levitating fist-pump waiting to unlock next to Amy’s chin. Tobin’s fist lowers, in deflation of the game’s transition into backfield combinations, and Amy shifts noticeably, like she’s sitting on needles. Maybe that’s where they’re the most different--the places that cause them such stress.

Tobin makes an effort to button back her reactions, chooses the stay seated for the next shot on goal. She does reach her hand out, just to brush the back of her knuckles on Amy’s jean-clad thigh while everyone’s looking elsewhere. But Amy drops her crossed arms, puts her forearm in between her own body and Tobin’s reach while she angles away.

It doesn’t feel finite, more like a discretionary gesture, until they’re back at the hotel. Everyone’s almost afraid to leave each other, as if resigning to their rooms will seal their fate for tomorrow’s outcome. So they mingle--in the team chill room, in the hallways. Everyone is open to conversation, to reaching out in some effort of solidarity.

When Tobin gets back into their room, Amy’s lying in a cocoon of bed covers and listening to a British newscast softly. Tobin lumbers to the bedside and immediately sees the pearl necklace--the one she loaned to Amy before her Studio 90 interview--placed on her side of the table in a neat swirl.

Amy’s watching, even from her blurred angle amidst the Egyptian cotton, so Tobin’s nothing if not delicate when she runs her fingertips over the silver chain. It’s cool; untouched for some time. It’s that moment that everything feels like it’s over.

She messes up her own routine while getting into bed, has to double back through the hotel room with heavy feet. But with every little thing in place, Tobin too slips into her bed. The act feels so intimate, so unveiling. So she turns off the lights, and Amy turns off the TV, and the air still feels thick with something unaired, something invariable.

It’s pitch-black but Tobin can still see Amy’s foot slowly turning under the covers like a muffled ankle stretch.

The truth is, Tobin has the insurmountable urge to touch herself. The bedsheets are supple; her movement between her legs--widening and sliding further--is easy to hide in the billows. She keeps her middle finger poised just above her clit. It’s not a desire to orgasm, tonight, but it’s something more subtle, more personal. This curiosity, and the quiet fulfillment, isn’t new. It’s not wonder, couldn’t be something so divine. Tobin equates such awe with things more extraordinary than her own body and it’s tangible wants. But maybe that’s what makes it so difficult to reconcile--realizing that even her own depths are unknowable. She’s still so wet, has been all night since. Since.

Amy switches to twisting the other ankle between her sheets. This one cracks; the bones shifting into place with a resolute click.

“Amy?” Tobin whispers, impending. She thinks she can hear a careful breath.

“Yeah,” she assures.

The air conditioner hums over them like a twilight fog.

“Does she know?” Tobin chances. She can’t decide why, of all things Tobin wants to know, that she chooses to settle her confusions there.

“Liz does,” Amy admits, without a chance of ambiguity.

“And Sarah?” Tobin presses.

“Yeah, they. Yeah,” she responds.

The last letter rattles like a breeze.

“So she's going to know," Tobin poses, “if, uh, when I see her next.”

“She will, probably,” Amy confirms over the sound of the air conditioner.

Tobin doesn’t want to press the wrong buttons, doesn’t want to get into the worst conversation--the one that hinges on the ending. So she counts to ten, makes herself close her eyes and picture the words as they might fall on Amy’s ears.

“Do you love her?” Tobin feels brave in the darkness. A silence ticks slowly, like Amy’s weighing the pronouns. The answer’s the same, no matter.

“Yeah,” Amy sounds breathless. Tobin squeezes her lip between her teeth like a form of censorship.

“Even though you cheat on her,” Tobin stirs. She hopes Amy will understand, hopes she won’t project judgement because that’s not what Tobin means.

Amy sits up into the blackness, with a stiff back and the worst crick to her shoulders.

“She’s okay with it. She knows why,” Amy settles, after some tense thought. It’s almost too inane to believe, from Tobin’s perspective.

It’s simple, begging to be asked.

“Why do you do it?” Tobin whispers.

Amy’s incredibly still in the shadows. Tobin can make out the usual movements, like a comforting routine. Amy threads her fingers through her bangs, stalls at the juncture of her jaw with tepid fingertips like someone else’s touch. She bites her lips quietly, because Tobin can hear the tiny air pockets escaping behind Amy’s teeth. Tobin’s never felt more forceful, more intrusive than this very moment. Her inquiry seems stale, so traditional that it pains Amy to answer.

“I can focus on the tournament when I trust her to take care of me. And we're happier because of it. If you blame me for any of that, then it’s on you,” Amy delivers in perfect, confident volume.

Tobin counts, tries to remember order, suit, or pattern. The air is moving but with a stubborn stillness in every timid breath.

“I’m not blaming you,” Tobin tries to backtrack.

Amy falls to the bed, curls so that she’s facing Tobin.

“I know. But it’s, complicated for some people. Not for others,” Amy dismisses.

They're not fighting words, but they seem clipped, finite.

“I just can’t tell what you want,” Tobin aserts, decides to turn over too.

She didn’t realize how much detail her eyes have picked up. They’ve adjusted, widened, become accustomed to the grey spectrum of the hotel room.

“I want you,” Amy says, a shave above the air, “However I can have you.”

Tobin can see Amy’s eyes, big like saucers against the clean, white linens. There’s so much rushing forward, so much to be said but remain unspoken. It’s a vicious line to toe, and Tobin’s ultimately afraid of stepping too far.

“You took me by surprise,” Tobin admits, softer this time.

“I have a way of doing that,” Amy says around a yawn. Her teeth are small, but so bright in the darkness. It’s more intimate than Tobin could dictate, more personal that Amy could unveil on her own.

“Good luck, tomorrow,” Tobin wishes, conceding.

Amy takes a careful breath and blinks once. Tobin can see Amy’s lungs tessellate from the cocoon of bedsheets.

“Save some for yourself, too,” Amy bids, like a way of bringing Tobin right where she wants her.

+

Tobin gets subbed for Megan, during that last game, and it shouldn’t feel like anything other than strategy. Tobin learns, later, from other teammates and her own deduction, that Megan throws herself on the bench in a repressed fit. It’s more of an expression of her own frustration, of the way her hands are tied, now, without any assurance that comes from the ball at her feet. At least chipping away, at least trying. But when the time’s expired, Tobin finds Amy through the harrowing rain of gold confetti that isn’t for them. And Amy looks so very unsure--something Tobin hasn’t traced in her brow in some weeks. Megan still meets Tobin’s eyes, red-rimmed, over Amy’s shoulder as she’s wrapping her into a hug. They’re all mingling, trying not to look at each other with such despondence. So Tobin can’t tell if anyone else notices, but the embrace ends with a loving touch to the back of Amy’s head that turns into the slightest, most discreet tugging of her hair like some kind of smoke signal between the three of them.

+

She might forcibly place things every so often, or slam her fists into something soft, but Tobin’s not really inclined to fight someone else when things don’t go her way. So it’s strange, even to herself, when Tobin shoves Megan’s head away from where she’s not-quite-but-so-close-to licking a thorough stripe through Amy’s center.

Megan rears back, throws a strange look in Tobin’s direction. It’s not ferocious, but it’s apparent that Megan plans to retaliate. Tobin gets her shoulders between Amy’s legs before she’s being shoved backwards too. Megan’s relocated, has the most dangerous velocity behind her palms because Tobin barely balances herself at the foot of the bed.

Tobin lets Megan get a few moments of that perfect sweetness on her tongue. She licks her lips at the thought of it, and decides that her fingers have the perfect leverage to yank that blond haired woman away from Amy in a stunning display of insistent desire.

Amy moans at the scuffle, begs,

“Please,”

without direction or direct object. Megan’s not giving up, per se, but Tobin wants. And she won’t let anything get in between. Tobin grabs Megan by the ear, a disarming trick from childhood that Tobin can’t forget, and is the first to step off the bed.

Megan’s still in her athletic shorts, her sports bra, and her body almost slides off the sheets at the mercy of Tobin’s first knuckles.

“On your knees until I tell you otherwise,” Tobin shoves her off, and down.

And Megan looks up at her, brow furrowed, with white-hot fire in her eyes like she’s dumbstruck--dethroned.

She kneels next to the bed.

Amy’s spread eagle on the flat sheet, hands bound just above her head, as customary. And she’s more watching Megan than Tobin, more interested in the descent from power.

So she doesn’t notice that Tobin’s slid the dildo into herself, stout side, until Tobin appears in front of Megan, righting the silicon in the cradle of her palm.

With her free hand, Tobin threads her fingers through Megan’s bangs, and holds them close to her crown when she guides Megan’s mouth to the tip.

“Now use that mouth,” Tobin heaves, pulls Megan right where she wants her.

That uneven gagging sounds foreign coming from her lips, like the timbre is befallen, all wrong for Megan. It’s strange, because the pleasure that comes from the small movements of the toy inside of Tobin is incomparable to the confounding satisfaction of making Megan submit.

Amy’s touching herself when Tobin turns around, breath audible in the new silence.

“That’s not allowed,” Tobin says cheekily. The bed shifts as Tobin knees her way closer.

Tobin moves Amy by her hips, steadies her body firmly against the sheets. Tobin grabs Amy’s ankle and throws Amy’s leg over her shoulder. She’s spread, made to lay on her right side so that she’s got no choice but to watch Megan and the way her face changes when Tobin plunges the toy in.

To her credit, Megan stays still, stays reverent as Tobin pushes so far into Amy that their trembling skin meets flush. Even Tobin finds herself unable to vocalize the absolute bliss. The added uncertainty from Tobin’s surreptitious switch beckons the sensitivity that rises from such untried pleasures. It’s so much; Amy lets them know.

“Don’t stop,” she commands.

Tobin doesn’t need to hold onto the toy in place now, with the momentum and the angle in perfect harmony. She’s not stopping, anyhow, but she looks right at Megan.

“Get up,” Tobin jerks her head in beckoning.

Megan stands. Stands there. Tobin moves into Amy fully, with tiny bursts of movement at the hilt.

“Behind her,” Tobin speaks clearly.

Amy lowers her arms close to her chest, so Megan can move into place. It’s a familiar position, so Megan knows to slide her arm under Amy’s head.

And bend her elbow so Amy’s neck fits nicely in the crook.

“Touch her,” Tobin’s voice is airy, barely holding on herself.

Megan’s middle finger trails down Amy’s abdomen slowly, because she knows that Amy likes the intentioned teasing, the suggestion of more to come. To say it’s a crowded fit is crass, but the closeness of every movement, pivoting like they’re all on this same nexus, is intoxicating. Something doting and undoubtedly closer than ever before.

Tobin fucks her, and for the first time in some weeks, Tobin pushes them towards what she wants, what she unequivocally needs in light of the helplessness. In light of the tournament’s build up sans pinnacle. In light of all the new places Tobin sees her value; in light of all those beautiful, communal moments of success that have since led to a devastatingly fruitless return.

“Untie her,” Tobin says simply.

And Megan obeys without pause, without the defiance that Tobin realizes she couldn’t correct from her position. Maybe that’s when Tobin realizes that things are shifting in her favor. Maybe that’s when Tobin understands that this is something they’ve been wanting to give her, not the other way around like it’s felt all along.

Maybe that’s just when she satisfies that terrifyingly nameless itch--that moment when Megan slackens her lock around Amy’s neck, trails her bottom lip along the shell of Amy’s ear, and deftly unknots the shoelace.

When freed, Amy’s hands fall to the bed. She grips the sheet, drops her jaw, and closes her eyes at Tobin’s persistent movements.

“Fuck me, Tobin,” Amy reminds her. “Don’t stop.”

Tobin discovers that, when she draws out, the end inside of her presses perfectly onto her g-spot. Being on this end of the deal, this side of the fulcrum, is intoxicating. The control. She relishes it as she thrusts in with steady pressure.

“Don’t tell me,” Tobin undulates, “what to do.”

It’s the most awful, endearing moment--that much is evident on Megan’s face. The scant slice of a smile, all toothy and reflexive, enjoys a fleeting place on her chin.

She bites down on her lower lip with a luscious glow to the apples of her cheeks.

And fits her forearm against Amy’s glottal stop.

Tobin couldn’t pinpoint a moment where the barriers dissolve, but with Megan’s pressure, and Tobin’s insistency, the motions become wild and unwavering. Completely wanton and continuous. Like winds over a shoreline. Devastatingly copacetic--from each to their own.

Amy comes, gasping, with her palms fitted flat on Megan’s skin. The orgasm blooms in the dense air; Amy aches for it with the kiss of her empty lips.

Tobin stays inside of her, even after, because she wants to maintain the vantage as she fingers Megan with unequivocal intent.

It makes Amy positively squirm, the stimulation after the fact. The blood coursing back to her head gives her the loveliest rush, even with the careless grip of Megan’s muscles around her neck. Tobin thrusts, almost in her own self interest, and maintains a tempting, albeit clumsy, beckoning on Megan’s clit. Megan’s more interested in Amy’s reaction, from the residual aggression and restraint. Megan can’t fit her silhouette around Amy like she might want, can’t sidle up flush against her back. Because Tobin’s position above them finds Amy stubborn like a barricade, grasping for purchase against the hotel linens.

So Amy nearly turns over onto her stomach when Tobin tosses her leg from its cradle on her shoulder. The angle is sharp, for a moment, and then Tobin pulls out, her steady hand on the base.

There’s no time, no way to keep the directions in her head long enough. Her body acts, almost with divine inspiration. It’s difficult to spread Megan’s legs with one free hand, but there’s this fantastic boldness in her eyes that urges Tobin’s efforts.

“You’re so sexy,” Megan observes, tries to sit up on her elbows when Tobin kneels between her spread legs.

Tobin nudges the very tip of the toy against Megan’s center. It’s the slightest suggestion, the hint of such devilish contact, and it slurs Megan’s words into a low growl.

“You want this?” Tobin accentuates with a careful flick. The toy still feels odd in its function, formulaic in how she can note the presence between them. Inches, closing in.

“Yes ma’am,” Megan says it like a joke.

Tobin cants her hips away; suggests a loss of contact.

“I want it,” Megan changes her answer.

“You what?” Tobin demands, slides the flared shaft between Megan’s lips so she notes the girth, but still isn’t satisfied.

“I want you to fuck me,” Megan goes on. Her voice sounds relinquished, utterly compliant.

“You think she’s ready?” Tobin turns her focus, delays Megan longer.

Amy blinks back at her for a moment. She’s absently rubbing her wrists, having turned her body to face them in a soft, rivered curve.

“You think she’s asked nicely?” Tobin taunts, again.

“No,” Amy says with simplicity. She sits up, parallel with Tobin’s posture.

“Please,” Megan pipes up. She thrusts her hips, gets a little more friction that way.

“Amy, be a doll and return the favor,” Tobin reaches out, settles her hand on Amy’s neck. From that approach, Tobin’s thumb fits perfectly in ridge above Amy’s clavicle. Like some kind of cue, Tobin presses her knuckle down, towards the murmuring pulse. Just a reminder; just a reassertion.

Amy places her hand across Megan’s throat just as Tobin moves forward, in, but just barely.

“Is that what you want?” Tobin’s voice rumbles.

Amy’s grip is visibly slackens, allowing the respite for reply.

“Yes. Please,” Megan chirps, “I want to come.”

With some experimentation, and the careful measurements of breath and pressure, Tobin learns that Megan likes the presence, not so much the movement. There’s something to be said about intensity with Megan, how she needs to feel the weight of every fingerprint on her skin.

The angle which Tobin tilts away, to allow room for her thumb to massage Megan’s clit, positions the toy in the most present and thrilling point inside of Megan. It’s perfect, the combination like a triangle of delicious pressure.

Megan moves her hips too, and even though she’s discordant, separated, she keeps the pace all the same as she reacts to the mounting, flooding orgasm. Her movements cause Tobin’s, cause Amy’s, cause her own. It’s contiguous, lovely that way. Tobin feels like she’s tapping in code, marking her way through some script of litanies from Megan’s mouth.

And as for Tobin--she rolls through the motions as though she’s swept away. The intrusion, the connection, the intimation as she moves with Megan’s hips against her own, are all more than enough to bring her to such a precipice.

And it’s easy to flick her hand, to refocus her ministrations on herself. She does touch herself, thrusts forward with the toy to meet her own familiar fingerprints. She closes her eyes, focuses on the cacophony of thoughts slithering behind her eyelids. There’s so much, so many ways to draw constellations between these moments of pure bliss.

Amy lets her hand gravitate to Tobin’s thigh, so it’s like palming a live piston as Tobin thrusts herself into the throes of something wonderful.

Tobin’s periphery is shot. She can’t perceive anything beyond the sweltering points where her skin meets another. And Megan, too, touching her hip with such tender adoration, gives Tobin the sensation of being engulfed and subdued by the wave of such intensities.

The thick toy inside of her is smooth; she can feel every firm, pressing curve as she comes.

She must look pallid, emptied, because when she pulls out from Megan, there’s no resistance from her muscles.

Amy throws her body in Tobin’s trajectory. Tobin doesn’t fall, really; it’s more like a falter. So it’s sloppy when Amy wraps her arms around Tobin’s shoulders like tide to the shore. The toy slips out from Tobin quietly, with an indescribably low sound. Megan palms it, slides off the bed, and disappears into the bathroom.

She leaves the door open, but Tobin still feels like she and Amy have this clipped, unparalleled moment alone. Such sloping muscles and flush contact aren’t unfamiliar, but in this context--all honest and equal, all naked and surely drifting apart--it feels like Tobin breathes in an atmosphere of undivided assurance, of a pursuit of goodness wholly renewed.

Coming down, they’ve been perfecting since the first time together. It’s gentle, so utterly tender and amicable that Tobin almost hates it. Almost despises the way Megan just touches Amy on the shoulder, fingers the lobe on Tobin’s ear as they extract from each other’s touch. And Amy breathes deep, stretches her neck. It cracks into place; her hair moves in the same magnetic wave.

They move back into their own spaces, become accustomed to the way they can only touch with clandestine intent, can’t suggest with weighted intensity. It’s painful, but befitting. As it should be. As it has been.

It’s then that Tobin realizes she's been wanting for this moment, this time where they are innocuous and simultaneous. When they're liminal--still naked but backing away, becoming familiar and somehow also separating.

Megan slips the toy, and the shoelace, into the drawstring bag discretely. Just before she leaves, she fingers Tobin’s ear like a message written in sand. They’ll see each other again, at breakfast, on the bus, during the scheduled press spots and appearances when they return stateside. But it would be childish for Tobin to think she’ll be able to return to this tender place, this delicate equation of desire so sliced and united.

They should talk, after Megan leaves. They should. But Tobin stays naked, leaves the bathroom door open when she starts the faucet. She steps into the shower just to reset herself.

And Amy steps in silently, just moments later.

Under the spray of the water, Tobin lets Amy touch her like she’s wanted to for so long. Lets Amy draw the goosebumps on her abdomen with a feather-light weight to her hands. Tobin knows Amy will relinquish everything when they emerge; she knows that Amy will wrap herself in a towel and move closer to the shell of post-tournament autonomy. And that will be the edge that Tobin so despondently foreshadowed, the ending of such intimacy. But for now, in the confined space, Tobin offers her body to be adored, recounted like an epiphany with the history of Amy’s intentioned touch. The shower stays hot, strong, and it washes over their skin like a wind rushes the waves ashore.

+

“You should just come out,” Lori says with a sincere inflection.

Megan pauses, seems to press her spine into the seat cushion.

Even though the cabin is dark, Tobin’s eyes have adjusted to gather the details, the soft edges around every jaw. Amy’s is rigid, like she’s dialing back, retreating into her own thoughts. Megan’s is loose, shifting as she’s calculating her response. Tobin feels her own lips part, almost without her consciousness. The deepest breath still feels thin, like the circulating air across every man-made plain.

Lori catches Tobin’s eyes from across the aisle, and it’s hard for Tobin to decide if she’s being incited to support or spearhead. Lori’s got that sure tilt to her jawline, like she’s inspired. She moves her focus back to Megan, no matter.

“You really should,” she continues with a bobbing nod.

“You think it’s a good time?” Megan finally asks, popping her gum.

Tobin can hardly detect the shrug in Lori’s shoulders, from the distance between them. Someone passes by in the aisle. Megan crosses her legs the other way, away from Amy. Tobin wishes Amy were listening, wishes she could gauge Amy’s thoughts from the suggestion, the stimulation. But the headphones, big and noise-canceling and pointedly, purposefully, isolating, keep her placated. Her eyes are closed peacefully but Tobin can see them moving behind her lids.

“Good a time as any,” Lori reasons.

It’s the most unconvincing rationale Tobin could imagine. But that simplicity, that self-determination, resonates across Megan’s face. In that moment, Tobin sees that enlightened confidence in Megan’s demeanor, the way she cranes her neck and purses her lips. Tobin’s hands tighten around the blanket in her lap, like she’s bracing for some of that residual instigation.

But it doesn’t come, not from Lori, not from Megan. The air has a frequency, the ambiance is a cacophony of the unmanned sky. She thinks about her space in the aircraft, her seat number as arbitrary as any preference she could pinpoint. She might not be a part of Megan’s final thought, but when she leans her temple to Amy’s shoulder, and Amy ‘s hand finds her thigh under the microfiber blanket, she thinks about being part of the equation, of being a reason for such inspired decisions of honesty. Inside Tobin, there is that indelible feeling of coming up short, of the unmet desires of her heart.

But the touch from Amy in the middle seat, unspoken and genuine, reminds Tobin to breathe in the filtered air and center her doubts, her pride. Tobin hopes she can maintain the focus for such measured career longevity, can make strides like Megan towards such public confidence. Tobin imagines how she can become that unwavering, how she too can be that vast and balanced.