The blade hit with an immense smack. The puck shot across the ice, clattered into Dominic’s possession. The two, Dominic and Maxim, kept ahead of the Foxes as the sound of cheering became mute to their ears. With a flick, the puck yet again flew just out of foes’ reach- or so Dominic thought. The edge of a foreign blade nicked the puck away and the chase swerved back around. Maxim grunted and turned to chase, but Dominic was already ahead, dove onto Flament and began attempting to pound his face in.
Referee Côté blew hard on his whistle. Each player sidled up to another from the opposite team, with the exception, of course, of Dominic and Flament. They were still wrestling on the ice. Maxim allowed his momentum to carry him to the closest opponent before he grabbed blindly at the thick layers of fabric covering the other man’s torso. There was no need to try and separate the two; it was not encouraged anyway and would only worsen the fight. Maxim left Dominic to the Referee, and his focus went to the rink, taking the pause to survey the players.
Upon actually looking at the man beside him, Maxim took note of two things. The first: that it was the Fox’ forward that he had grabbed (he could tell from the jersey number on Glazkov’s forearm), meaning that the Fox was in a prime position, could have intercepted him easily had Dominic not disrupted the match. The second: Glazkov was the most attractive man he had ever laid eyes on.
Glazkov had his bandana pulled down, breath condensing into little puffy clouds. His almond-toned cheeks were flushed pink from the cold, contrasting and therefore accentuating the sharp cornflower blue eyes that stared off into the distance. Probably at the two dumbasses biting each others’ heads off. As if he could sense Maxim’s stare (or rather that Maxim was boring holes into his skull), Glazkov’s gaze slid over to meet his and Maxim was glad that nothing he felt stirring in his insides translated to anything on his face(barely managed it, really).
A distant irritated yell that Maxim identified to be James’ snapped him out of his trance. He released the grip he had on Glazkov, yes the one he was unaware he had and the one he was unaware was so tight, and the two returned to their respective positions.
After two goals from the Foxes(one of which was by Glazkov, Maxim’s brain helpfully supplied) and one from Dominic, Referee Côté blew the whistle.
With heavy breaths and a thin layer of sweat collecting under their jerseys, the Wolves trudged into the locker rooms to get ready for the second period, which included a change of clothes(a shower was optional as well as optimal), and a round of encouragement and discussion of strategy from Senaviev.
As Maxim was tugging a clean jersey on after a refreshing shower, Dominic and James, who were also topless and on either side of him, turned to him simultaneously.
“Eyes on Glazkov eh?” James started, an elbow poking into Maxim’s rib. James had always opted not to shower during intermission, claimed it took too much time when he could be playing on his phone. Really, he took the time to leisurely love on Mark despite the latter’s exasperation, cooing and nuzzling the large man until a barely-noticeable blush spread over his face. It was alright, Maxim supposed, James could do whatever he wanted with the eighteen precious minutes they were given.
He turned to James, shot him the most unimpressed look he could muster, and pointedly shoved James. He was quite sturdy despite his height.
“That’s bullshit.” He turned to Dominic, “Aren’t you supposed to be changing?”
The man in question raised an equally unimpressed(or maybe it was unamused) brow with a controlled slowness,
“Ja…” he drawled, before slipping his jersey on over his still-very-wet torso, producing an ungodly sort of squeaking, the kind that was just soft enough not to be audible to the rest of the Wolves and yet squeaked its horrible friction that really accentuated the awkward silence that filled the space between them. Maxim folded his arms across his broad chest, the chatter of the other Wolves distant.
Dominic glanced away to mutter a quiet curse, then said, “Maxim we’re not like that. You’ve seen James literally make out with Mark-” the Indian man turned briefly at his mention- “when we go drinking, and for God’s sake I’ve probably done the same to Marius while shitfaced. Look, you get my point.”
A heavy pause, filled by meaningful looks.
Finally, Maxim nodded mutely, lips pursed and visibly struggling not to resort to violence like every other time his sexuality was brought up. It was small, but it was a step in the right direction. They put their gear back on and got ready to huddle up.
There was, in fact, something Maxim wanted to say. He held his tongue.
James had managed to score a point a few minutes before the buzzer yelled the ending of the match, bringing the final score to 4-3 in the Wolves’ favour. As they celebrated their narrow victory with hugs, cheers and high-fives, Maxim once again found his eyes drawn to the Foxes, who were huddled together, audibly speaking words of consolation despite the exuberance of the Wolves; specifically… the one who wore a bandana around his neck. From here, Maxim could only see a thick huddle of cream and red cloth and heads of hair, Glazkov standing out only because of the bandana that was visible. Definitely not because he was actively looking for it(him) or anything.
A slow, deliberate motion refocused Maxim’s eyes, causing them to meet directly with the stunning cornflower blue that he had immediately connected to Glazkov. The man blinked again, gaze raked up from his feet to meet his eyes, and Maxim felt his heart trip over itself.
For a while, Maxim and Glazkov simply stared at one another, searching in each others’ perfected poker faces for any sign of intent. The corner of Glazkov’s eyes crinkled, and Maxim knew that he had lost this battle of perception. Glazkov turned back to his team, leaving Maxim feeling…
A loud, audibly irritated sigh accompanied by a tight grip on his arm snapped Maxim out of the daydream that was Glazkov, pulling him away (much to his unseen dismay).
“What was that?” Dominic stated more than asked, arms crossed like a disappointed mother (though both he and Maxim would end up with a few bruises if he pointed out the similarity).
“Glazkov,” Maxim shot back easily, averting his eyes.
“Don’t bullshit, Maxim,” James pressed, arms crossed, “it’s clear you’re head over heels for him, and he’s clearly head over heels for you. Make a move or we’ll make one for you.”
“Dominic is in on it,” Maxim repeated, his voice betraying none of his confusion. Dominic would never do anything for anybody if he didn’t have anything to gain from it.
“Only so I won’t have to see you mope when we go out to drink,” Dominic muttered.
Maxim shook his head, huffed his exasperation and stalked off the ice, breaking the tension with a surprisingly comical half-stumble as he forgot that they were still on the ice. He flipped off James and Dominic’s aborted snorts without missing a beat, skating off into the locker room after the rest of his team.
They were an odd group of more than a dozen, mostly pointing and gesturing at the maps on each others’ phones emphatically and trying to figure out which location marker was accurate before Mark and Miles managed to cram everyone into two Ubers: two seven-seaters that were definitely not enough to accommodate everyone and so it left them to grumble, whine and shove at each other for space where there was none. With the exception of Mark and James(of course), the latter cooing and smooching at his Indian boyfriend as he always did whenever he got the chance.
After a little less than half an hour of complaining and shuffling awkwardly, the large gaggle of men and a few women(Tze Long, Julien, Enatsu and Adriano had decided to invite lady friends too) arrived at the front of a family pub. A black flowery sign hung above the door perpendicular to the pavement, indicating its name in large pink cursive. Through the glass, they could see many round and square tables covered in red checkered cloths, illuminated warmly by yellow-tinted lamps that hung, almost swaying to the sound of boisterous chatter that was inaudible from outside. Despite being Saturday, the pub was not completely filled and it felt like a collective relief swept over the group as they pushed open the doors and went in.
A cosy feeling washed over them as they entered, the warm atmosphere encouraged by smaller groups or pairs simply enjoying their weekend evening, visibly lost in each others’ company. A look of mild terror was visible in at least a few employees’ expressions, a sight that was amusing to most if not all of the group as they quickly pushed a few tables together and took their seats, still chattering like schoolchildren all the while, completely forgetting about drinking until a brave, lone waitress approached them to take their orders.
To their credit, the group did quieten down at her arrival, James mumbling something about beer angels(Marius argued that she was more like a whiskey knight). After a few moments of individual orders that were called over each other that were just useless, Miles, like the irritated father he was, managed to get everyone to order one by one in a circle. That was one way to do it, Maxim supposed.
The drinks arrived at the same time as another group of unexpected individuals. The Foxes pushed open the double glass doors and sauntered in, mostly neutral expressions donned. To his dismay, he met with Glazkov’s stunning cornflower blues distressingly quickly, and he felt his heart throb when the man gave him a small, adorable wave and another eye-crinkling smile. Kessikbayev, another forward that Maxim had scuffled with on the ice a few times, spoke quietly at Glazkov’s side. Another pair was with him, trailing in with subdued expressions. It was Flament; and a larger man that Maxim saw quite a few times when he went to score. What was his name, Touré?
The Foxes took their seats at a corner of the pub; Kessikbayev, Flament and Touré slid onto the booth seats, the ones that were all cracked with old yellowish foam cushioning peeking from inside but felt like home. Glazkov and another man, presumably a substitute because Maxim never saw him on the ice, took the wooden chairs on the opposite side that creaked when they sat down. For the moment, Maxim was simply glad that Dominic and James had not yet taken notice of-
“‘Ey it’s Loverboy and friends, Max, come on let’s go talk to them.”
Before he could whack James over the head, the man was already dragging Maxim along with a surprising amount of force, the latter only vaguely aware that his proximity to Glazkov was increasing with every second. The worst part was that a few of the Wolves were quietly cheering him on with supportive glances and a few of the ladies with small fist pumps and grins. Dominic took a sip of his beer.
The Foxes looked up, either amused or upset. Maxim could only be so aware of Flament’s scowl when Glazkov was looking up at him expectantly.
“‘Ello there, I’m James but more importantly this is Maxim. He’s very interested in having a word with you, Glazkov. So, I’ll be going now but you two have a good time now.”
Glazkov’s eyes were gleaming. He stood up with a deliberate slowness and pushed in his chair.
“Alright, let’s talk in the restroom. Shuhrat I’ll be back in ten minutes, don’t get me anything,” Glazkov said, and Maxim felt his last brain cell implode because not only was this man gorgeous as all hell, but his voice also made Maxim feel like swooning, not that that wasn’t what he was already doing.
“Come on,” that smooth voice said, and Maxim followed like a firefly drawn to its beloved light into the surprisingly clean bathroom.
Glazkov closed the door gently behind them and turned around, slipped his hands into his pockets and looked a bit too much like Dominic when he slouched just the littlest bit. The difference was that Glazkov had a gentle smile where Dominic usually wore a mischievous smirk, and it warmed Maxim’s heart. He realised that he was supposed to speak.
“I didn’t actually have anythingto talk to you about,” Maxim managed, rubbing at the back of his neck nervously.
“I know,” Glazkov said gently, his smile widening.
“So why did you come here?” Maxim said confusedly, the romantic filter suddenly off his eyes for the moment.
“Because I wanted to talk to you,” Glazkov said, too straightforward for Maxim to retain his composure and so a very visible blush spread over his cheeks as he averted his eyes.
“I’m Timur,” Glazkov continued, a casual hand outstretched. He was the perfect image of professional friendliness and so Maxim wished to meet his standard, took his hand shakily and hoped he(Timur) would not notice his flighty motions.
“Maxim, nice to meet you,” the Wolf said, voice only barely even.
“Your manoeuvres are very clean,” Glazkov(Timur) said, his voice lacking the malice Maxim would have expected from a comment like that, from an opponent no less.
Glazkov(Timur, Maxim reminded himself) turned out to be an excellent conversation partner. He felt like an old friend, like someone Maxim had known since Kovrov, an old friend he went out to drink with at the end of the month, not because they called each other but because they had just been that way for as long as they could remember, to talk about work, about stress, to unwind and to let go of everything they were entwined to. They could forget that they were world-class hockey players whose livelihood depended on their ability to smack a piece of rubber into a goalpost, that depended on their ability to draw in crowds to watch them play a sport they enjoyed together since childhood. Timur Glazkov felt like home away from home.
It was only well into the night when Maxim realised that they had been talking for hours, and was not even sure if people came in to use the restroom during their collective reverie. For all he knew, the Wolves had already gone home without him. As the two fell to silence, the restroom door opened with a bit more force than the person entering expected, because Shuhrat’s brows were raised, eyes wide and hand withdrawn to his chest.
“Hello Shuhrat, we were just about to head out,” Glazkov said, and Maxim felt betrayed when the first thing that came out of his mouth was a disappointed: “we are?”
Glazkov nodded. “But we will see each other next week, do not worry,” he said with a small wave and that soft smile of his as he followed Shuhrat out the door.
Which left Maxim alone with his feelings.
His feelings of warmth, closeness, fluffiness, that bloomed when Glazkov spoke to him. That was another thing too, Timur Glazkov did not speak to him; he spoke into Maxim, removed all barriers with ease yet created no discomfort.
Maxim was doomed.
The miserable forward returned to his fellow Wolves, the all-knowing Fox sending him another gentle smile from across the pub just to confirm the kill. The Wolves were devolving into drunken chaos, a distressed Julien doing his best to stop Adriano from lighting up in the pub on the grounds of health issues(vague because he only half paid attention when Kateb talked) while Dominic egged Adriano on and Marius was almost sobbing about his love life to James, who could not pay attention to him because he was leisurely making out with Mark from his perch atop his lap. It was impressive how far they could fall while Maxim was gone. Then again, he wasn’t any better. Miles on the other hand, had seemingly abandoned them to their own devices to go home, probably exasperated and sleepy and missing his true loves, bed and Netflix.
Once seated, James leaned over, still on Mark’s lap, and whispered, “How’d it go? It don’t smell like you scored a quickie or a blow…”
“Of course he didn’t, he’s not gonna bang on the first chance. Too much of a pussy to,” Dominic chimed in, much to Maxim’s chagrin.
“I’m not going to-” Nothing he said to these drunk idiots would convince them that he knew what he was doing(he did not)- “Nothing happened. We only talked.”
James booed half-heartedly, the noise muffled by Mark’s lips and Maxim sighed and averted his gaze.
“Let’s just go home. I’m going to sleep on it,” Maxim said with a frown, arms crossed. His suggestion was met with two shrugs(Dominic and Marius) and two hums(Mark and James)and so the five got up and left the pub, and Maxim could swear he felt Glazkov’s eyes linger on him all the while. Dominic confirmed just as much, though his words had to be taken with a tonne of salt. Mark hailed them a taxi and hey all squeezed into it, James once again ending up on Mark’s lap because he wanted to.
Maxim called his goodbyes to the rapidly-distancing taxi before walking into his apartment complex. He took the lift upstairs and settled into his home, took a bath and it was only when he was comfortably nestled in his blankets and being lulled into the warm embrace of sleep did the horror dawn on him.
He never got Glazkov’s number.