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Uneasy Progress

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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.

Intermission.

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.

Chapter Text

It was morning yet again, just past seven of the following Monday, Maxim noted, upon a quick check of his phone.

Maxim had no intention of developing a crush on any man whatsoever throughout his life. The idea hadn’t even been a concept to him until he found himself friends with Dominic and James, and then found out that they were both interested in men(technically Dominic was bi but he didn’t bother to correct anybody who thought otherwise) Sure, he had seen James and Mark and Dominic and Marius enjoy each other the same way he expected a normal couple to, but never had he expected that he was also…

After briefly contemplating his feelings and also wishing he did not have any, the man grabbed his clothes and went to take a bath.

Maxim was halfway through lathering himself with body wash when there was a noise outside. It sounded like metal squeaking and clinking like a door was being opened. For a few moments, there was peace, and that peace was the calm before the storm; before Maxim realised what exactly the sound was. He froze and the look on his face must have shown pure terror as he remembered what he had told Dominic and James during the previous training session.

It happened like a perfect catastrophe. With timing that was not even achievable through practice, Maxim scrambled to close the bathroom door just as one James Porter poked his head through the bedroom doorway and their gazes met across the room, Maxim’s horrified and James’ filled with an unimaginable glee.

To say Maxim wanted to die was an understatement.

As it turns out, James’ grin was the only warning Maxim was getting before he charged into the bathroom at full speed, slamming into Maxim and then both of them into the bathroom wall while the shower was still running, which resulted in the both of them getting absolutely drenched as James smiled up at Maxim cheekily, his laughter still bouncing around the small bathroom.

It was only to get worse from there as Mark, who had arrived with James, appeared in the bathroom doorway, somehow both exasperated and impossibly amused. That was why they were together, Maxim supposed, was because everything stupid that James did was also extremely intentional and not like most other people who did stupid things by accident. Maxim also supposed that he fit into the latter category.

“Idiots,” Mark said, though there was a ghost of a smile hanging on his lips.

Maxim took a moment to regain his bearings before he sighed and pushed the wet James off him.

“Get off me and let me finish my shower,” he grumbled, more embarrassed than irritated as he practically manhandled the smaller James out of the bathroom, shut the door and exhaled. He turned back to the shower and buried his face in his hands, the sound of James’ laughter still audible in his head.

God damn it.

It was five minutes later when Maxim was done with his bath, damp and cheeks still flush as he stepped out into his bedroom. He was glad that James and Mark had the decency to stay in the living room when they came over because Dominic never bothered with that kind of courtesy, always insisted on lounging on Maxim’s bed whenever he had the chance like a disobedient cat. ‘It’s fucking soft,’ Dominic retorted, to which Maxim said to get his own damn baking soda and vinegar. Dominic said it was ‘too troublesome’-

“‘Ey are you done?” James’ voice called from the living room, for the second time that week interrupting his thoughts.

“Yeah, wait,” Maxim yelled back, now actually irritated.

“Can’t, Dom and his boytoy are already downstairs,” James said, and Maxim was all the more amused-irritated that he could hear the shrug in his voice. Right, five-minute pickup policy. Maxim hurried out and was surprised to see that James didn’t have his lips attached to Mark’s, and was instead tapping away at his phone in horizontal mode, both men standing just outside the door with their duffel bags of hockey equipment slung at their sides, their shoes already on(Maxim kept a strict no-shoes rule in his house). Maxim sat down unceremoniously on the floor and tugged his shoes on(didn’t matter which, he was going to trade them for his ice skates later anyway) before grabbing his own bag(had no need to pack it since he had it packed on Sunday night) and the three headed downstairs to meet Dominic.

 

“What took you dummkopfs so long?” Dominic grumbled, a steaming cup of coffee in hand and a sleepy bed-headed Marius in the passenger seat. Maxim didn’t want to think about the fact that Marius had probably blown Dominic in this very car, probably in the very seat he was in, more times than he could count. Oh god.

“Security guard looked like he was just waiting to get us until you all arrived.”

“Blame Maxim, he was the one who took his sweet time in the bath,” James retorted as he climbed into the backseat of the Opel Astra. Maxim only knew its name because Marius wouldn’t shut up about it that one time he got drunk; tiny guy couldn’t hold his drinks too well.

Maxim could not say anything; there was no real reason he had to lie in bed for so long after he had woken up and so he didn’t. Except for the one Timur Glazkov who haunted his dreams and daydreams but Maxim did not want to admit that to his mates so he remained stony silent, unaware of the car moving onto the main road.

“Max are you alright there?” Marius suddenly spoke up, voice thick and always afraid of pronouncing Maxim’s name wrongly so they compromised despite Maxim not exactly loving the name. It was fine, Marius did not call him by name outside of practice anyway. “You’ve been quiet for a while.”

“So are you,” Maxim said, “and I’m fine. Just, stressed.”

 

Dominic hummed audibly, unamused and definitely acutely aware of Maxim’s inner turmoil even with his eyes on the road and his hands on the wheel.

The rest of the ride was relatively quiet the rest of the way, the men all settling into a comfortable, companionable silence with the exception of the occasional smooch from James to Mark. (God damn it)

 

The new rink was finally, finally finished and all three teams under Rainbow Six(strange company name) were finally free to practice their hearts out without incurring rental costs from other rinks every week. This was the result of a transfer in management and it involved a lot of paperwork that nobody was interested in doing and dear god Maxim hated transfers. The reason he(and most other Wolves, as he came to learn) agreed to be hired by Rainbow was that Rainbow had their hands on a select few coaches whose work he was extremely interested in.

Alexsandr Senaviev, a star player and the Leagues’ beloved during the time he was active who had retired years ago and for the most part declined to become a coach. What made him change his mind about retirement, Maxim would (probably) never know.

Eliza Cohen, an American player who, while she made an excellent forward, was never quite at the same pace as her team(they were always too slow). In an interview, she mentioned that she was interested in putting together a team that would fulfil her dreams of a women’s team the could outshine the men’s.

Finally, Mike Baker. A coach even more experienced in the rink and on the bench than the former two combined, with a polished track record despite his many years in the field.

 

After a while of hurriedly shoving on their jerseys and shucking on their equipment, of course, the next surprise would come in the form of six people on the ice and five at the bench plus eleven more at the bleachers; not that they had all never been seen before but that why in the name of God were they here?

The six were in white and red jerseys, clearly engrossed as they shot the puck back and forth, the piece of rubber almost impossible to track and Maxim felt his eyes drawn to its rapid movement immediately. At least, until it stopped dead in someone’s hockey stick blade. Whoever it was made a show of juggling it, showed off their skill while making it look absolutely effortless. It was almost like watching a dance, the puck like a ballerina doing little pirouettes to the beat, the skidding and clacking of skates against the ice when the blade flicked up every other moment.

“Showing off again?” a familiar voice interrupted, and Maxim wanted to drop his head into his hands again when he realised he was staring. He didn’t, and it was only to deny Dominic and James(it felt like they were somewhere behind him) the satisfaction of knowing he was embarrassed again by what he admitted sometime last night to be a full-blown crush on the man, the hockey player, the beauty, named Timur Glazkov(and for the love of God, maybe actually calling him Timur, his actual fucking name, would help).

Maxim was not particularly optimistic about his chances, though.

“Shuhrat that’s rude. I stopped our practice to greet our friends,” Timur said gently as he nodded toward the Wolves, and dear lord let him think that the flush was from the cold.

Dominic made it a point to brush against Maxim’s side as he skated up to the Foxes, with James and Mark following behind, the latter wordlessly and the former with a boisterous “‘Ello!” paired with a big happy wave.

Maxim realised with a start that he was staring(gawking) again, and stumbled and hurried to join them.

“Hello Maxim,” Timur greeted and the said man could not shake the feeling that he was being teased and so he felt flutters almost immediately, cursed emotions to burn.

“Hi,” Maxim mumbled, eyes averted as he valiantly fought off the flush threatening to colour his face as well as the embarrassment of James’ blatant snickering at his suffering.

“It’s nice to see you here, without the lights and tension,” Timur said and he was right; in the quiet, comfortable rink whose near-emptiness Maxim was accustomed to, without the white noise of cheering fans who had come to see Wolves and Foxes clash blades, without the high stakes being blared at everybody’s face, without the giant scoreboard in the centre high above them constantly pressuring them to do better(Senaviev did that enough, thank you very much)... Maxim found himself extremely relaxed, shoulders lax and his grip on his stick loose but firm.

“And the same to you,” Maxim managed as he pulled his scarf up to cover his face. It was cold, he swears. (It was the second time he had used this excuse and he fully, fully knew that he wasn’t allowed to do it again.) Timur suppressed a cheeky grin as he caught the weak smile Maxim tried to hide.

“You two finished?” James cut in, and not rudely because they were still technically in a group and Maxim was starting to think that perhaps having another one-to-one session with Glaz would be in order. Although, maybe it was also a bad idea because then Dominic and James would be given free rein to spin the most outlandish(not really) stories of what the two did away from not-so-prying eyes and oh lord did the Russian hate social situations. A glint flashed in Timur’s almond-shaped eyes, telegraphed the next cheeky words that would come out of his mouth: “Never, not with him.”

Maxim choked on his own breath. (Much to Dominic’s amusement)

“Alright Mister Smartarse let’s just practice I’m sick of both of you,” James grumbled with a little tug to his lips that suggested otherwise. The Wolves headed to the bleachers to join the Swans.

The Wolves felt honoured to be placed at the Swans’ level. Rightfully so because they were Cohen’s pride and joy, the all-women team she always dreamed of leading, comprised of distinguished and skilled players with just as much, if not more, furore and poise than the men. They had been racking up victory after victory that season despite being a new team and so it was not quite expected that they would have so much in-rink synergy. All in all, the Swans were a high-stakes team because they lacked bench players and that was exactly how Cohen liked it despite the fans’ concerns.

After a quick round of introducing each other, the Swans and Wolves sat back down to spectate the Foxes, giving loud and excited commentary on technique and style as they watched and it was really quite enjoyable. Apparently, despite practice not officially starting because the coaches were not there yet, the Swans and Foxes had already agreed to take turns practising and critiquing each other, the Swans already having done a round in, and so the Wolves had no choice but to take part as well.

Adding to Maxim’s ever-mounting dread was the fact that Timur Glazkov was not only absolutely gorgeous, had an excellent personality that meshed extremely well with his existing social circle, but also that he was an amazing hockey player. It was expected that a world-class player would be good, but the thing is that not only was he skilled technically with manoeuvres and passes, but he was also a team player; he communicated effectively and efficiently with his team, displayed an impressive foresight when he could call out players’ decisions in real time, and with his growing list of positive traits it was a wonder how Timur was single. Or maybe that was Maxim’s wishful thinking. After all, who was he to assume anything about Timur Glazkov, charming and wonderful and the Foxes’ sweetheart, as far as Maxim could tell.

Meanwhile, Dominic was grumbling to James(because Maxim was again, in his own little world where only Glazkov existed) about how they had arrived hours ago so when the fuck would they get the rink? He came to practice, not watch some dumb Foxes chuck their pucks around.

Though, he did have to admit that they were decent. They weren’t anything special or anything, anybody could get good with years of experience and practice but they were… not bad.

 

After about ten minutes of watching and commenting, it was finally the Wolves’ turn to show off.

But butterflies flew in Maxim’s stomach.

The Wolves made their way down to the ice, the ruffling of their thick clothes oddly loud to Maxim’s ears.

A quick glance to the bleachers confirmed that Timur was watching with rapt attention, and Maxim quickly averted his eyes, unfocused and staring into space. Razor-sharp blues raked across Maxim’s skin under his clothing, goosebumps trailing where Timur’s gaze went.

A sigh from beside, and then a tug on his arm. “Hopeless,” Dominic muttered.

 

For how distracted Maxim was, practice went surprisingly smoothly. Perhaps it was a testament to his skill or muscle memory, but even with half his mind occupied by the Mongolian man, he managed to sustain a relatively decent performance. Of course, relying on muscle memory meant that he would not have been playing at his best, and of course, that was evident in the fact that he received less than spectacular critique.

(Morowa noted that his eyes were never completely trailed on the puck, only ever slightly off of it.)

Mostly their comments were about their ability to work as a team. They all had their individual strengths and skills but being overzealous and competing with one another was almost detrimental to their chances of victory.

Still, Timur seemed to fawn over him.

“The fact that you weren’t paying attention just means you’re even better when you do,” the man reasoned with a wink. It seemed like a flimsy excuse (and also a very unabashedly flirty line) but since it came from Timur… He supposed he didn’t mind.

“We’re better in a real match,” James mumbled, and he was right. When they were in a real match, they were much more well-coordinated, actually listening to each other so they were more helpful to each other rather than competing to score or defend.

“So play it like a real match,” a sharp, commanding voice suddenly said. It was confident, drew everyone’s attention easily like a snap of the finger. Eliza Cohen, accompanied by the other two coaches Senaviev and Baker. The semi-familiar inkling of intimidation scritched at Maxim’s spine, and he pushed it down.

Still, he felt like he was being scolded and maybe he was.

“Hey hey you’re not our coach, get off our dicks,” James retorted, offended and defensive until Senaviev came into view and he snapped his mouth shut.

“No,” Senaviev said, not unlike a scolding parent lecturing a child, “even if it is Eliza or Mike or any other person giving good advice, you should take it. And she is right, when you practice you practice seriously. Especially because you are facing the World Championships.”

And by this point, James was red-faced, fists clenched and lips pursed with words on his tongue. But he knew Senaviev was right. Regardless of whether Cohen was their coach or not, she was more experienced and it was perfectly reasonable for her to give them criticism based on what she’d seen.

“Let’s just split up to practice,” Baker cut in, ever the mediator and James was so very grateful because he had been stuck between being smart and his own thorn of pride. And of course, the Swans and Foxes and Timur were watching; they were trying to be discreet about it, which one could imagine James appreciated.

“Actually, we were thinking that since Senaviev’s team was gonna go to championships that our teams would help his with practice,” Cohen said, with very overwhelming emphasis as a definitely confused expression spread across Baker’s face.

“We were?”

“Yes, we are,” the Swans’ coach replied emphatically, eyes glaring daggers into Baker.

What could be the cause of this development? Did the coaches not have a training plan prepared? Did Elizabeth Cohen come in with a lapse in judgement? What was going on?

The Swans, Foxes and Wolves all glanced at each other, doubtful looks barely-hidden on their faces. For the most part, the Swans managed to maintain an overall stoic look, despite the clear feeling of sheer ‘what’ radiating from them. The men were… less composed, to say the least. Dominic’s eyes were so narrowed that his brown irises were barely slits on his face, and if looks could kill, Cohen would have died at least four times over.

“Okay, so… what’re we doing, then?” Cowden spoke up, gruff and deep but not malicious, not like the other Foxes.

“Practicing. Pair up,” Senaviev announced, and just as James began to move toward Mark, “Wolves with Foxes or Swans, James!”

“Fuckin wanker!”

A laugh, barely suppressed yet carried the faintest hint of an absolutely wonderful melody.

Of course it was him.

Of course he would be there.

“Your coach seems to know you all very well,” the man said, voice growing louder which was a terrible sign because that meant he was getting closer.

Maxim huffed a laugh.

“I’m taking that as a yes,” Timur said, that gentle smile tugging at just one side of his lips and god it was adorable and keep it together Maxim.

“What, yours isn’t?” Maxim shot back, a little uneasy.

“Not really, Mike is the kind of person who watches from a distance and then after a while he knows you better than you know yourself,” Timur said, and he seemed to be speaking honestly and earnestly, probably off the top of his head, “I suppose it makes him a good coach.”

Maxim hummed, audible just before the sound of a whistle deafened it.

Timur shot. Maxim blocked. Returned. Repeat.

Chapter Text

And so it was, the Foxes and the Wolves head into the men’s locker room like a pack of their namesake, all drenched in sweat and fatigued and their muscles collectively sobbing for rest, but they are happy. The Foxes, including Flament, what a surprise, ended up thoroughly enjoying themselves during practice with the Wolves and the Swans, and vice versa.

The lights overhead are bright and so are their smiles, their laughter is booming and echoes off the white tiled walls. Their chatter is the same, overlapping with one another as the Wolves and Foxes get bare to take their showers.

 

It is one in the afternoon. The Wolves and Foxes had separated into their different smaller(and closer) cliques to go get lunch and it is only a little surprising that Timur had decided to follow our Wolves to the nearby food court(walking distance because Senaviev only allowed them so much time), had apparently left Kessikbayev with the other Foxes and to be fair, he did not mind.

 

“You’re fucking joking,” Dominic mutters, his face buried in the heel of his palm.

“No, I just don’t want to assume,” Maxim hisses back and literally everybody at the table(it shakes when any of them hit it by accident) makes some sort of disgusted gesture. Timur glances away to hide a smile.

“Shut the fuck up, and eat,” Dominic huffs as he turns his attention back to his plate of an entire mushroom pizza.

“You sure you want to eat that whole thing?” Marius mumbles, concerned except it was quite normal for Dominic to eat this much; the man was that kind of person who ate an entire buffet and gained a pound. Maxim found it unfair.

“I’ve eaten more,” Dominic shoots back, muffled and mostly understandable as he stuffs half a slice into his mouth. A grin tugs at the corner of Marius’ lips, amused despite his concern.

 

“You sell it?” Dominic repeats, leaning into the table to get closer to Timur, and there is a suspicious edge to his voice like he doesn’t believe him. The table is listening and they both know it.

“Yes,” Timur says evenly, and he knows what Dominic is thinking, down to the exact words running through his mind, “though most of them I prefer to keep to myself. I paint mostly expressionistically so it is a little sentimental to me. I know most people will not understand their meaning, so I keep most of them in my studio.”

Dominic purses his lips, brows raised in that ‘I see’ way, and he decides that he believes it. Maxim knows that, despite his hostility and almost interrogatory tone, Dominic has his best interests in mind; is prying information and letting Maxim soak it up like a sponge hungry to know more about this enigmatic, charming princely figure and the man is grateful, not that he would ever say anything expressly about it.

 

And it is only a few minutes later when James and Dominic make their move. Well, technically it is James’ decision but Dominic is smart enough to catch on and so is Mark. Marius follows along because what else can he do and so the four take their leave with a cheeky grin from James and a teasing ‘have fun’ from Dominic.

It is apparent that Maxim was the person that Timur was showing off to because Timur is still talking about his art although the others have left.

It is clear that his passion for it is unmatched, and he is speaking so openly and off the top of his head(evident in the fact that his cornflower blues are glancing off to the side, not out of rudeness but because he is reading his own trove of memories and deciding which parts would be the most entertaining to listen to and- he’s not stopping.

It makes Maxim just the littlest bit abashed, inferior, and he knows it is not reasonable.

And Timur decides to pull out his phone, and Maxim realises that he had been spacing out and also ignoring what Timur was saying and it becomes apparent when Timur opens his gallery. The myriad of colours hits Maxim like a brick; the small screen of the old Samsung is filled with little grids of just colour. He has an entire folder dedicated to the pieces he painted that he liked.

“This one was my favourite for a long time,” the Mongol says, visibly containing his excitement as he opened one particularly-detailed picture to reveal beauty. It was a flurry of brush strokes of all colours; a painting of a group of hockey players. Upon closer inspection, the players were none other than Kessikbayev, Flament and Gilles. They were in various colours, shaded with contrasting hues just like the ice, and the lines on the ground were barely more than pencil markings like the borders. Maxim was… stunned.

“I know it doesn’t mean much to you-”

“It’s beautiful,” Maxim said, probably blurts out, and an abashed flush coats Timur’s cheeks immediately. He tugs at the grey fluffs of his turtleneck as his wrist slacks, the painting disappearing with the screen.

“I’m flattered,” Timur manages, and beams despite the pink in his cheeks and the quirk in his smile.

And then comes the question, dreaded and feared and Maxim knows it is coming yet inevitably shuts down when Timur asks: “So what do you like to do?”

The wires in Maxim’s head short-circuit. Timur is watching with those attentive eyes of his and Maxim feels distinctly scrutinised despite knowing that he is not.

“I… I do not do much other than playing,” the man mumbles, and even more softly, “and going to the gym.”

“Ah,” Timur begins, and it is merciful and kind and void of judgement, “well it is always good to keep in shape, and that is why your technique is so good.”

Maxim feels… validated. He feels like he is complemented; their personalities mesh perfectly and Maxim is not sure how to feel other than self-conscious because his hobbies aren’t as interesting or cool as Timur’s.

“Thanks,” he laughs nervously, and he feels that it is not enough because Timur is just so good to him and-

“Would you like to have lunch with me?”

What?

“Do you think you would be open to getting lunch with me when we are free?” Timur repeats, sincerely, openly, “it’s alright if you don’t.”

“I-” Maxim is unsure, insecure, embarrassed, disarmed, shamed- “I don’t think I can do that,” Maxim rushes as his mind overloads with implications, “I- I have to go.”

And the man flees. His footfalls are loud to Timur’s ears as he leaves.

Timur watches Maxim’s figure retreat through the exit hallway, cornflower blues narrow and eyebrows furrowed. He lowers his head.

 

A firm hand on his shoulder stops him from leaving the food court.

“What was that?” the Englishman accuses, getting up in Maxim's face, and their voices are going to echo in the hallway they decided to have their little gathering in, “he was-”

“I know.”

 

“Well, then what the fuck happened?” Dominic asks, and really he isn’t in any place to be because he knows what happened. It wasn’t like he was any stranger to homophobia or discrimination, or freezing up, but he had rid himself of any care so long ago that it is almost foreign again. Almost. It isn’t any more reasonable for him to be asking Maxim why he froze up.

“You know,” Maxim mumbles, and Marius picks a good time to be speaking up as he pitches in his two cents.

“It’s okay, Max, take it easy,” the lankier German says, “but take it.”

Mark nods, arms tensely crossed and lip a thin line.

“I-” Maxim begins, and he already knows he does not have the heart nor the balls to finish his promise- “another day.”

And they all sigh, but it is in understanding. Most of them know of the anxiety, the fear of judgement when they were younger, and it is even worse because Maxim grew up in Kovrov. Lord only knew what kind of prejudice existed in his hometown and so it was understandable that he had so so many inhibitions of being himself even here.

“Oh, and- we just got the news just now,” Marius suddenly begins quite excitedly, “but the coaches all decided to make a group chat for all of Rainbow Six, so we all kind of have each others’ numbers now.”

“Well, that’s convenient,” James states, and it is.

Dominic nudges Maxim and he sees it coming before he moves.

“Stop-” “Talk to him-” “I said later,” Maxim huffs and it is only because of Marius’ pleading arm on Dominic’s that he stops pestering the Russian.

“You better because I’m sick of you flirting with him without knowing and then turning him down because you’re scared,” Dominic says, and it is clearly accusatory because his hazel eyes are piercing Maxim’s with the pure irritation that they direct.

And Maxim is conflicted again.

“We should be gettin’ back,” Mark rumbles, a grounding presence that never fails to keep the group in check and on time because he is apparently the only responsible adult amongst them despite being the youngest.

But Timur runs into them in that tiny hallway and he is pleasantly surprised.

“Oh, I thought you all left without me,” the Mongol says sheepishly, as if he was ashamed to have made such an assumption, “well, thank you for waiting.”

And nobody has the heart to tell him that they almost did.

“Yeah, we’re going to be late, let’s go,” Dominic says easily, spares the rest the embarrassment of having to answer for their mistake, and that is how they know he does care.

The group leaves for the rink, and it is almost embarrassing how much Maxim relies on James and Dominic not to leave him to that awkwardness with Timur, who readily accepts Marius’ janky company.

Despite the loudness of Dominic and James’ banter and attempts to include Maxim in their mocking of Eliza and Baker’s earlier jumble, the only conversation the Russian is able to hear with crystal clarity, rapt attention and the only one his brain can even process, is of course, the one that Timur Glazkov is in. Marius does not even make comfortable company in a one-on-one conversation; not that it was any insult to the German because he prefers to be lost in his own head about his ongoing engineering works on the side. Where Marius found the time to have such a time-consuming hobby, Maxim would never know.

They are talking about Marius’ latest project: the repair, unintentional upgrading and refurbishing of a decrepit rusty Rolls Royce from his grandfather. Dominic had been rushing Marius to do it faster, apparently, so Dominic would not be the one to drive them around all the time. The problem was that Marius liked following Dominic around; a passive partner who simply liked being with him, being there when Dominic did Dominic things. How did Maxim know? Timur was patiently listening as Marius spoke, softly, shyly, vulnerably. It was gorgeous. The man had barely said anything yet effortlessly pried personal, intimate feelings and emotions from the quiet, not necessarily shy, German.

For now, though, Maxim would resign himself to wallowing in Timur. Just the entirety of this man was so… uniquely him, and the Russian could only sigh and dream wistfully like the lovestruck fool he was.

 

They are back at the rink. They have a few more hours of practice before they can leave, go home and relax. Usually, it is not so busy; but of course, who could forget the looming shadowy pressure that was the championship final? During the briefing, Senaviev and Baker had talked about the playstyles of their final hurdle; the True Patriots. A much bigger team with much higher backing, countless sponsors and training resources to match. It was unfair. But they had to win, countless people wanted them to, and while Maxim had barely cared for what the fans thought of them, it was a nice sentiment. Not to mention, the glory and financial aspect were paramount.

“What the fuck are you doing?” James whines from across Maxim, had just stolen the puck from right under him because, of course, Maxim simply could not focus. His mind was preoccupied, busy with thinking his thoughts on the man who stole his heart without his permission.

“I- nothing!” Maxim retorts, and it is most certainly not nothing as he shrugs helplessly.

“Focus, idiot!” the shorter man grumbles, “bloody game is in a week!”

“I know, idiot,” Maxim shoots back out of reflex, and Mark rolls his eyes from across the rink.

“Then act like it!” James yells, irritated with every right to be because it was three times within the span of half an hour, now, that he missed his passes and shots. It was embarrassing.

Maxim grumbles a half-hearted excuse that doesn’t feel reasonable even to him and resolves to play better.

He does not play better.

 

Kessikbayev finds him later on the rink, with the permission of Baker and Senaviev of course. He approaches with an air of reluctant resolve like he would like to be anywhere else in the world except confronting Maxim. He skates on the ice with such force that he leaves small indents on it on contact, frown visible, fists clenched and eyes hooded.

“What did you say to Timur?” he says more than asks. Kessikbayev can read Timur like an open book, probably has been able to for however long they have known each other.

“I didn’t-” Maxim frowns- “what do you know?”

“Timur is not playing as well as he should be. It is still clean but this is not about his performance. What did you say?” Kessikbayev punctuates the last question with a step closer, and despite being the same height Maxim is thoroughly intimidated. He refuses to let it show.

“I turned down his invitation for lunch,” Maxim grunts(he does not want to admit that it is a date), “am I not allowed to do that?”

“You know you like him enough not to,” Kessikbayev says with an accusatory jab to Maxim’s shoulder(their clothes ruffle, bristle like feathers), “I expect you to fix his mood.”

And it is still reasonable. Maxim has no reason not to, other than his crippling self-doubt and internal inhibitions and fears and insecurities that he is supposed to be facing, and is yet cowering behind… what, exactly? Everyone around him is pressuring him to do better, to get better, to become better, and he is scared that he will fail them.

Kessikbayev leaves, and leaves Maxim feeling resentful, more so at himself than at the Fox, and he does not like that. The cold radiating from the ice below feels colder than before.

 

They are on the way home again, in Dominic’s car, and Dominic is lazily complaining about how Marius absolutely refuses to finish the car he had been working on for the past few weeks. James is lounging, languid and leaning on Mark’s larger body, toeing the line between sleep and wakefulness. Marius sounds miserable; he is sleepy and tired and sad and is a boneless jelly on the passenger seat, arm hanging limply over the side of the seat and brown fluffy hair smushed against the headrest.

There is a ping from his phone.

Maxim pulls it out, and its light sears his eyes for a moment before he manually pulls the brightness to its lowest setting; he has never liked its auto function but at that moment he wishes he did.

A message from an unknown number. How strange; it should have been blocked?

+(44)3 01432 xxxxxx ~Timur
Hi )

Well, that explains it.

~Timur
I know that my invitation earlier was a bit surprising, I’m not angry. I know it might be difficult for you, but I do want you to reconsider my… request. I hope you enjoy the rest of your evening.

And Maxim falls deeper into the rabbit hole that is Timur Glazkov.

There are two faces peering down at Maxim’s screen by the time his internal monologue shuts up.

“Tell him you’ll go,” James grins, his face of mischief illuminated by Maxim’s phone in the low light.

“You should,” Marius mumbles into the cushion, hands clutched around the seat and framing his pine green eyes that are bright with the same interest he displays when he is working on that car, and it is strange that they are because Marius is never really invested in the emotional affairs of those around him; he prefers to stay out of it lest he comes up with spur-of-the-moment ideas that seem fine but pan out terribly or at most, watch from a distance.

“I-” Maxim begins, only to realise that he does not really have an excuse this time because he is figuratively and quite literally trapped in a corner, and so he sighs and mumbles, “okay.”

After a few moments of being stared at expectantly, he finally gives in with yet another sigh and a huffed, “fine I’ll do it now”. The rumbling of the car becomes audible now that they have stopped at a traffic light as he suddenly voices his thoughts: “how do I-?”

James sighs and snatches the phone out of Maxim’s hands, thumbs flying across the keyboard. He hands the phone back a second later, with the most ridiculous message he could have possibly come up with.

Oh, of course I’ll come! In more than one way ofc ;) date and place?

But James is staring back with the stupidest grin and thumbs-up, with absolutely no idea what he could be doing wrong.

A pause.

“What, did he say something dumb?” Marius asks, naive and unknowing and Maxim just holds the phone up for him to see.

“Oh my God,” is all he can say, vocalising the only thought running through Maxim’s mind.

He spams the backspace until the line is clean of James’ filth.

“How about… ‘Sorry about earlier’, to start?” Marius suggests, and it is the only good to have ever come from this particular group of people, “then ‘thank you for being understanding’ and or ‘I don’t mind getting lunch with you’ and then you know, time and place?”

Maxim is already typing as he nods along, and Marius beams proudly.

He reads the message out loud one last time, his other pair of eyes scanning the text.

“Send?”

James peeks and pouts, but shrugs with a dejected ‘I guess...’

He hits send and doesn’t even feel the car jerking into motion.

You
Sorry about earlier, and thank you for being understanding of my situation. I don’t mind getting lunch, how does this Wednesday sound?

Maxim’s internal narrator reads the message to him another time, just to make sure, you know?

Marius turns back to face the front. Maxim adds Timur’s number to his contacts and refrains from checking his messages for the next few minutes but inevitably fails as the small text appears above.

~Timur is typing…

“That was fast,” comes the amused comment and why is James still staring at his phone?

Maxim rolls his eyes but cannot shrug off the flutters that grace his insides as he awaits Timur’s reply.

James’ implication flies over Maxim’s head.

~Timur
Oh of course! I’ve been there before so no worries. Wednesday sounds great since we’re all off. Would you like to meet somewhere or would you rather I pick you up?

And this time he doesn’t need James or Marius to help, despite the former’s enthusiasm.

12 PM, a street name, and Timur Glazkov, this angel of a man, already has a place in mind so Maxim doesn’t have to worry.

The upturn to Maxim’s lips doesn’t go unnoticed, and despite the earlier slip-up, James is happy for him.

The drive home is silent, serene, surreal.

Chapter Text

Once again, Maxim is warm and comfy in his bed, a towel over the pillow that soaks up the water from his still-damp hair. His muscles are aching from Tuesday’s practice, but he is resting. He is not yet about to sleep, having just bathed a few minutes ago, but he does feel tired. The silence of his room is accompanied by muffled background noise from outside. The Wolves, Swans and Foxes trained separately that day, and Maxim tried(and failed) not to mourn Timur’s absence. After the simple quiet of yesterday’s companionship, it was a little strange to be yelling at and being yelled at by his fellow Wolves, though it was reasonable to be working on their communication.

His phone pings. Maxim shifts his arm to pick it up without looking and brings it up to his face. 2108.

Dominic
Wanna come hang tmr
Getting lunch w/ marius
James on a date w/ mark

You
Busy

Dominic
Wdym? You dont have any friends lol
Wait

A minute passes, during which Maxim is conflicted; he can’t decide between snickering at Dominic’s befuddlement and blurting out that he’s not going on a date with Timur, because it’s not. It’s not a date.

Dominic
Are you getting lunch w/ timur
Is that whats happening

Maxim pauses for a moment and sees Dominic typing, decides to say it before he can assume; knowing Dominic, it won’t make much of a difference, but it’s still worth trying.

You
I’m going out.

Dominic
K im coming tmr

You
Fuck

Dominic
:)

And then suddenly there is another ping. Messages in the group chat? Oh no.

Dominic
Hey @James @Marius maxim is going on a date w/ timur lets go bother him

James
Can’t, busy with my own honeybunny >:)
You can go if you want, send some pics :)

Dominic
Ur no fun
Im going w/ marius and you cant stop me

Maxim can almost hear Marius’ smiling sigh as the sign changes into double blue ticks, but the threat is still there; Dominic, the bastard, is going to show up at his doorstep at some ungodly hour of the morning to make sure that Maxim does not manage to sneak out before he arrives, and is then inevitably going to pester Maxim until he lets Dominic come along with Marius, or even worse he is going to follow along anyway, all the way until he meets Timur and Maxim realises begrudgingly that he has no way out of this. Dominic. What a bastard.

After staring at the ceiling and hoping it will give him some insight or advice or something, he gets absolutely nothing (what a surprise) and decides that getting sleep is better than just worrying.

 

“...Hey. Maxim. Wake up,” a voice calls, becoming gradually clearer as he drifts back into the land of the waking, and why does it sound so- why is there a voice in the first place?

“Morning, Sugar-lips.” Dominic’s face fills his vision as Maxim reluctantly opens his eyes, big chocolate ones staring right back and just a little too close for comfort.

Maxim only frowns, partially because he is only half awake but also because he cannot be bothered to dignify Dominic with a response.

“Morning, сука,” Maxim greets and catches Dominic’s self-satisfied grin out the corner of his eye as he sits up to get off. As expected, a sleepy Marius watches amusedly from the living room sipping at a cup of coffee.

“Okay go out and kiss your boyfriend or whatever it is you do, I need to shower,” Maxim grumbles fondly as he manhandles the irritating German out into the living room, and Dominic lets him. He closes the door and takes a deep breath, before stepping into the bathroom.

 

“Is he actually going to go on a date with Timur?” Marius mumbles absentmindedly, is rarely correct on his judgement and so he looks to Dominic for answers, regardless of how offensively frank he can be with his statements.

“He doesn’t think it’s a date,” Dominic steals a sip of Marius’ hazelnut latte, “but it is. Maxim is in this state of idiot where he knows he likes guys but absolutely hates it. It probably has something to do with being Russian, but he’s what, twenty-four now? He still has time to figure his shit out.”

Marius nods in understanding, clumsy as he takes a big gulp of his coffee, which, by now, was lukewarm and just the temperature that Marius liked it. “What about Timur?” he asks, only slightly butchering the name, and Dominic is somewhat surprised that he even knows because Marius rarely ever takes note of people outside of his immediate circle and Timur is apparently an exception.

“What about him?” Dominic kicks his feet up to sit in a strange variation of cross-legged and leans back.

“Do you think he’d be good for Max?” Marius mumbles, making the effort to look Dominic in the eye now as he also shifts in his seat.

“Timur is…” Dominic seems to be in thought for the moment, wets his lips before answering, “he has most of his shit figured out, you can tell he already came to terms with being gay or bi or whatever years ago. Seems smart, too, probably reads people really well from childhood. Probably really good for Maxim if he plays his cards right, but I think his slip-up from yesterday was from being happy. Maybe a little impatient on asking him out.”

Marius soaks up the knowledge like a sponge, nodding in understanding and it was almost visible how his mind was actively taking notes on everything Dominic was saying.

“They’ll be fine, then,” Marius concludes, and Dominic shrugs, his eyelids dipping languidly in a slow blink. It was almost routine, at this point, with Dominic spilling whatever tea he gleaned from people-watching because Marius is terrible at it, and it is a dynamic they have both come to enjoy; Dominic likes having Marius to talk to, talk about the things he notices so he doesn’t have to keep them all to himself, and Marius first of all likes Dominic’s voice, so it’s already a win, but he also likes hearing Dominic talk about what he thinks, not because they change much of his own opinions of people, but also because he always has the vaguest, most cliche or archetypal understanding of how people work and so it is great when Dominic deepens the grounds Marius has.

“You were both talking shit about me, I see,” Maxim suddenly says, as he slings his damp towel over his shoulder and takes a seat next to Dominic, “why am I not surprised?”

“Hey, hey, that’s what you signed up for in this friendship, deal with it,” Dominic replies smugly, “what time is your date anyway?”

Maxim feels a flutter in his belly and wills it away, his eyes averted and his lips pursed.

“It’s not-” Maxim starts exasperatedly before he cracks- takes a moment to recompose himself because otherwise, he is going to dive across the gap and beat Dominic into a pulp. He takes a number of carefully controlled breaths before meeting Dominic’s eyes again. Out the corner of his eye, he spots Marius watching, most of his face obscured by the cup he’s drinking from, yet the concern glinting his eyes is unmistakable.

He knows Dominic is not wrong, yet the cognitive dissonance is so painfully obvious to even himself that he can’t seriously deny it at this point.
“I find that hard to believe,” Dominic says quietly, his hands playing with the edge of the table, “you go on that date. I’ll even drive you there if you want, but at the end of the day, you tell me yourself exactly what happened, and tell me that it’s not a date.”

And the stakes are set. Maxim really really doesn’t want to go this far, and he can’t tell if Dominic is more sympathetic or amused at his plight but grumbles his begrudging acknowledgement.

“It is at twelve,” Maxim admits with a frown and tacks the street name on, absolutely hates that Dominic can read him so well, but it was normal at this point; usually Dominic never does anything with what he knows, keeps the information to himself or maybe shares with Marius, but keeps it all the way until the information is useless just so he can go ‘I told you so’.

“It’s only just past eight,” Marius says, and he’s tapping away at his phone when Maxim looks up.

“What do you want to do?” Maxim replies, because that is the only logical follow-up with so many hours to spare.

“Do you have Netflix?” Dominic asks because really what are they going to do with two-three hours?

“Yes…?”

“I’ll set an alarm for eleven o’clock,” Marius mumbles, ever-helpful before they all migrate to the sofa.

-

“If you need help, just call,” Marius says from the passenger seat, on Dominic’s behalf because he would die before he showed any explicit concern for his friends. Maxim switches his phone to silent mode, unamused.

“Enjoy your date,” Dominic teases with a grin, before driving off.

Maxim makes an annoyed noise that dies as soon as he catches sight of a small movement in his peripheral. It is the man who had him come here in the first place, a little too dashing from all the way across the street and Maxim feels distinctly underdressed. Timur looks left and right(what a careful guy) despite the distinct lack of moving vehicles because it is a Wednesday after all, and jogs across. From here, Maxim can clearly see the difference in their wardrobe; Timur has a navy blue sweater on with a collar peeking out from its V. It fits snugly over his hips and hints at his slim torso, as does the brown belt that separates the brown cotton from his dark grey trousers and dress shoes and the only reason he could feel so confident is because he’s so good-looking already and Maxim is dying once more.

“Hi,” Timur greets in their native tongue with a smile, soft and seemingly flattered by the simple fact that Maxim was here and didn’t run again, “I’m glad you accepted my offer.”

Maxim hums dismissively, and Timur catches on quickly that he absolutely does not want to talk about the circumstances under which he decided to come in the first place, instead, switches the topic and says, “Let’s get to the café.”

After a short three-minute walk, presumably so that Dominic and Marius(but mostly Dominic) can’t spy on them, they are at a rather pretty café, if that was the right word; glass doors and window panes that go up to the ceiling to let in natural light, chairs and tables to match the cherrywood beams. The brick walls are painted white and lead up to a loft just above the bar, giving the café a modern chic atmosphere that Timur enjoys, judging by the smile that graces his lips as they enter.

(Or maybe that was because Maxim was here, but you know. Maxim would never voice that wistful thought.)

It’s flattering, it really is, even more so because Timur feels the need to explain, “It’s my favourite place for relaxing, second to my studio of course.”

“Must be good,” Maxim comments quietly, and they take their seats.

 

“My family is pretty small, my parents always expected me to grow up to be just like my father,” Timur says with a sip of his coffee, “they never expected me to be good at ice hockey or painting.”

Maxim finds himself smiling as Timur recounts his memories, but then suddenly Timur is asking about his own and Maxim feels a little like he’s been put on the spot.

“My… I’m not close to my family,” he says carefully, hoping that Timur will take the hint and switch the topic, and thankfully he does, though it’s not too far off and at least he’s comfortable with the topic of his childhood.

“Not many pro league hockey players are, I imagine,” Timur says easily, “did you enjoy hockey in secondary school?”

And that is a topic he can talk about because almost everybody comes to hockey because of enjoyment as a kid or as a teenager; like most other fields, it just so happened that they were good enough to make a living out of it. (And play at international level but that was beside the point.)

Overall, Timur is pleasant as always and once the food(pasta for Timur and salmon for himself) arrives, their conversation goes a lot more smoothly, the secondary activity(eating the food itself) loosening their tongues and allowing them to be less concerned with what they say and how they say it.

They both finish their food a little too quickly for their liking but quickly order more drinks (and two scoops of ice cream because whatever) and happily keep chatting. By now, Maxim feels like he knows Timur more intimately and it’s mutual; there are no barriers between them and words flow with ease. It’s like a dream, really, because while he does enjoy his fellow Wolves’ company, Timur is different. With how quiet Timur was during lunch the other day, Maxim would never have thought that he was so vibrant, so full of life when speaking only to Maxim. The man speaks at length about things he finds interesting and because Timur himself is interesting, Maxim doesn’t hesitate to listen. Timur is almost demure in his company, happy to chat politely, with a sense of humour that, while isn’t as niche as Maxim’s, still makes him laugh because of how beautifully simple it is. Timur finds beauty in so many things that Maxim would never have thought of, and he feels… flattered, to be spending the afternoon with him.

 

It is almost two by the time they leave, and on a whim, Timur asks, “Would you like to come visit my studio?”

Maxim is taken aback because while his initial thought is that, well it’s just a studio it doesn’t mean anything, his subconscious knows. It’s an almost intimate suggestion; Timur is inviting him to visit his studio, his home, the place he literally mentioned was the most relaxing to him. Timur is taking Maxim to his personal safe haven.

To say that Maxim is nervous is an understatement.

 

The Tube is not too crowded, much to their mutual delight, and though they still have to stand, it’s not as unpleasant as if they had travelled in the morning. It’s short but not sweet, and Maxim manages not to suffocate during its entirety.

 

“Welcome to my studio,” Timur says openly as they walk into the apartment, “make yourself at home.”

It’s extremely minimalistic and tidy and screams ‘single artist’, the greys, whites and occasional browns in his living room illuminated by the afternoon light that is dampened by his bluish grey blinds that hang over the tall window. Timur gives Maxim a moment to look around as he heads further in, and he is almost scared to touch anything because it’s so neat. A sense of awe washes over Maxim as he slowly follows Timur, and while he marvels at Timur’s sense of design, Timur is almost certain that he has fallen under some sort of trance; Timur thinks it’s kind of cute and pictures him in a wonderland forest.

“The main attraction,” Timur jokes as they cross the threshold from the living room to the studio. It contrasts sharply with the rest of the home; the floor is concrete and unpainted, with a big unpolished wooden table in the centre that houses all of Timur’s art supplies; small buckets of paint and numerous dirty palettes are strewn all over not just on the table. Easels are also stacked neatly in the far corner, with a few open and housing art pieces that lie variably between painting and canvas. The extent of which Maxim is impressed with Timur grows.

His paintings are colourful and even more lively in person; the old Samsung did Timur’s paintings absolutely no justice. Timur can’t find the words to tell Maxim that his mouth has been open since they stepped into his home.

“These are… amazing,” Maxim manages, because he’s busy dying over how endlessly perfect Timur is and can’t muster the processing power to compliment how well he executes colour choices and blending, how the composition frames his subjects perfectly, how he absolutely loves the paintings that Timur decided to show him, how he’s so happy that Timur did decide to show him these paintings. He’s not obsessing over Timur, he swears.

(Maxim distantly recalls that Dominic would make him eat his shoe if he saw them now.)

“I’m flattered,” Timur says, and he really is despite the frequent compliments he receives, because it’s from Maxim and because it’s heartfelt, “it means a lot that you like my paintings.”

“It-” Maxim nearly chokes on nothing- “flatters me that you want to show them to me.”

“Well,” Timur begins openly with eyes averted, “I’m fishing for compliments a little, to be honest.”

“Mm,” Maxim shrugs, “you deserve them.”

And Timur is actually blushing now, so that’s a win for Maxim, and it shows because Timur immediately raises an indignant hand and retorts, “well now you’re just buttering me up.”

Maxim is terrified that a wrong move will shatter this dream.

He grins and pushes down the flush that is adamantly trying to creep up his cheek. It’s worrying, really, he’s enjoying himself just a little too much and he hopes that it’s because Timur is an easy-going guy and not-

“Haha,” Maxim rolls his eyes and feels like they’re about to turn a corner into a much more intimate conversation so he steers away, “anyway, I should probably be going soon. Need to make dinner.”

Maxim doesn’t notice it, but Timur’s smile fades a little as he sobers up. He makes a second bold request and asks: “friendly hug before you go?”

That’s a little strange. But Maxim obliges nonetheless because Timur has been such good company the whole afternoon; who is he to deny this simple act of affection?

 

Timur, ever mindful, asks as Maxim is putting on his shoes, “Do you need help getting back to the station?”

“No, I’m okay,” Maxim replies as he gets up to leave, “thanks though.”

“Have a safe trip home,” Timur calls, and Maxim just waves as he makes his way downstairs. The dream has ended.

 

Maxim checks his phone on the Tube and is completely unsurprised to find that he has about two hundred odd unread messages.

Marius
Maxim are you dead do we need to call the police

Maxim can’t tell if Marius is joking.

Dominic
Im getting all his shit if hes dead

Mark
I’m sure he’s fine. Let’s just wait for him to be back.

Marius
They went to eat lunch
It’s like five

Maxim sighs fondly.

You
I’m fine, and I can handle myself thanks.

James
Where’re you now

You
I'm on the way home, stop worrying.

He puts away his phone as the doors slide open.

 

Home sweet home. It’s not as well-decorated as Timur’s, he doesn’t want to realise and trudges further in. He feels loose, relaxed, glad that he had decided to take Timur’s invite.

He unlocks his phone and turns on wifi (because Maxim is that kind of person). Sigh. Fifty unread messages.

Dominic
How was ur date did u fuck
;)

Double sigh. Why did he have to be so excessively… gay…

Maxim begins typing a response, before pausing momentarily and deciding against it. The ellipses disappear.

Dominic is typing…

Dominic
I c

God damn it Dominic.