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lift you up (and not let you go)

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‘We should have left earlier,’ Tessa says. She checks her watch for what Scott is sure is the tenth time in five minutes. ‘Or we should have—I don’t know—taken the subway or something. Or checked the traffic. Why didn’t we check the traffic?’

‘Hey—’ Scott starts. He stops, because media days are hard enough as it is, and because what he was going to say was, don’t make this my problem. He knows that being impulsive right now is not going to help anything.

‘Hey,’ he says again, more gently. Tessa doesn’t like being late. She hates like hell to disappoint people and he knows she worries about making a good impression, which is ridiculous. Tessa’s one of the most genuine people he knows. Scott can’t imagine hating anyone, but he just might make an exception for anyone who’s ever made Tessa feel like she’s not good enough.

Scott doesn’t like being late any more than Tessa does, but there’s literally nothing he can do about their situation. They’re stuck in the back of a car between the hotel and the radio station HQ where they have an interview. He’s pretty sure they can smooth things over when they arrive. They’re going to have to try, anyway—they’re already late.

Tessa flicks her eyes at him. ‘Sorry,’ she mutters. Guilt is written all over her face. Scott hates that. He goes to knock his shoulder into hers, to let her know it’s okay, but he realises too late that he’s not close enough. He winds up kind of falling into her side instead, startling a laugh out of Tessa. He’s glad, because Tessa deserves to laugh. She doesn’t deserve to be stressed. This isn’t her fault.

On the advice of their car company, they’d scheduled their car to arrive with half an hour to spare, accounting for predicted traffic conditions. The car had been on time and so had they. Tessa had been waiting in the lobby when he’d arrived, but Scott hadn’t been late.

‘Sorry,’ Tessa says again, once she stops laughing and they’re back to sitting at arm’s length. ‘I’m just—God, I hate being late, you know?’

‘Hey, it’s okay,’ Scott says, because it is. He’s never cared if some stupid thing he does makes Tessa laugh. Tessa’s laugh is high on his list of things that make life worth living. ‘I’m sure the radio station will forgive us.’

He enjoys these days, as far as they go, because it’s time he gets to with spend with Tess. He gets to show off how great she is: gets to see her be passionate and silly and goofy and eloquent in turn. He gets to see everyone who meets her fall in love with her.

The thing he doesn’t enjoy is being put on the spot. Talking to the media about the new tour they’re planning is part of his job, and that’s fine; that’s not the part that bothers him. It’s the questions after he and Tess have said what they’ve come to say, the ones that get under his skin and remind him that he can’t just say whatever he wants. Days where he has to talk to the media aren’t days where he can be completely himself, and it chafes already. He’s not so used to it anymore, not since the media circus after Pyeongchang had finally packed up and moved out of town.

It doesn’t help that he has the beginnings of a spring cold. He’d gone to bed early the night before, hoping to stave it off, but he’d woken up congested and raspy and just generally under the weather.

Tessa scoots closer to him and rests her head on his shoulder. ‘Maybe not such a good idea, eh,’ he says. It doesn’t stop him from shifting so she’ll be more comfortable.

‘I’m taking my multivitamins,’ she replies. ‘Don’t you worry about me.’

He does, a little. He wonders if she’s been getting the time to herself he knows she needs. He’d been surprised by the dark circles under her eyes this morning. Maybe she’d been out with someone last night. Or in with someone, maybe. Or maybe the pace and scrutiny of the last couple of days are getting to her. Tessa’s great at press—better than he is, that’s for sure. She’s better than he is at letting people see who she really is, while still holding something back for herself. He’s always been one to lay everything on the line, come what may.

He has to stop himself from wrapping an arm around Tess; pulling her closer; running a soothing hand through her hair. Instead he puts his hand on his thigh, palm up, in invitation. Tessa accepts, grabbing on.

‘Eighty,’ he says softly, meaning how is he going to live to old age if Tessa crushes every bone in his hand?

‘Fuck, sorry,’ Tessa says, relaxing her grip immediately. ‘Do you want to walk?’ she asks.

Scott doesn’t understand what she means until he realises she’s suggesting they ditch their car and go it alone, together, on the sidewalk.

It’s tempting. He feels like he might go stir-crazy if he has to sit in this stop-and-go traffic much longer. Tessa releases Scott’s hand and lifts her head from his shoulder and it feels like a draft of cool air sweeps in to replace her warmth, even though that’s impossible. They’re in the back of a sealed car and it’s only April; nowhere near warm enough yet for the AC to be on.

Tessa digs out her phone, swiping at the screen with her fingertips so they can see more of the map. Her nail polish is a pale, rosy pink. It’s a half-hour walk from their current location, and Tessa’s in heels, and they’re already five minutes late. Tessa slips her phone away and tucks her purse by her feet.

The car inches forward for several minutes and then comes to a halt. Tessa raises a manicured finger to her mouth; takes it away; flails her hand impatiently. It’s something she used to do at competitions when she was nervous: do something to comfort herself and then wave away that same comfort, as if she didn’t deserve it. As if she didn’t deserve everything. She had gotten better, later, at letting herself do what she needed to do to unwind before they skated.

He puts his hand out, and Tessa slips her hand into his. He squeezes her fingers, runs a thumb along the top of her knuckles, just briefly, before releasing her. Tessa folds her hands in her lap and looks out the side window. He can see how tense she is in the stiff set of her shoulders.

‘Want to breathe?’ he asks. She reaches blindly for him, fumbling until her thumb finds the pulse point at his wrist. Her fingertips rest lightly on his forearm. He expects them to be cool, but they’re warm; almost hot.

Sometimes, late at night when he can’t sleep, he thinks about all the years it had seemed like they were always within arms’ reach. They had used to breathe together, arms around each other, before they’d stepped on the ice. They’d given as much strength to each other as they’d gained, and he’d always felt calm and focused by the time they got to skate. Tessa had, too. He knows she had.

Right now, she’s wound so tightly that he can see it in her carriage and feel it in the way she’s touching him. He can tell she’s aware how tense she is and is touching him lightly, avoiding the alternative, on purpose.

He wonders if she ever thinks about it, too.

‘No,’ she says, and his heart drops. He glances at her, but she’s looking out the window. The two of them can see out, but no one can see in. ‘I’m okay, really, Scott, you don’t—’

‘—Want to come?’

She jerks her hand from his, fumbling to cut the intercom. Scott had forgotten they weren’t alone. The partition between the front and back of the car had polarised at the same time Tessa had done the windows and now the low buzz of the news talk programme their driver’s been listening to disappears too, replaced by the hiss of blood rushing toward his head. He hadn’t meant to say that. He’d been distracted by her touch, maybe, and maybe by the part of his brain that knows—has known for years—that orgasms are stress relief for Tessa.

He remembers the first time they’d talked about it. Tessa had been wearing her gold dress with the fringe, the one that made her sparkle when she moved, so it must have been the season after their first Olympics. He must have been putting pressure on her to tell him where she disappeared to, sometimes, before competitions. Things were better between them, finally, after the fracture of Tessa’s first surgery. He’d been scared, in the aftermath of Tessa’s second surgery, that something would go wrong. He hadn’t trusted that he wouldn’t somehow do something to fuck them up.

He remembers how panicked he’d been when no one had seen her, not even in the washroom. He’d been so relieved when it had turned out she hadn’t left. He hadn’t even cared where she’d been, but she’d told him anyway: how she’d locked herself in an unused room and gotten herself off. How it had helped to calm her nerves. She’d been sheepish but defiant, telling him that if it was going to help them on the ice, then she was damn well going to do it. That was Tessa to a T, really.

He remembers a couple of times helping her find somewhere private in one arena or another; remembers standing guard to listen for anyone approaching and trying at the same time not to listen to Tessa. He’d never heard anything, anyway.

She’d disappeared less and less as she got better and better at handling her competition nerves. He remembers making a stupid joke about it a couple of years ago. Tessa’s cheeks had pinked, and she’d mumbled something about how it had been years and she’d forgotten he even knew about that. She’d seemed embarrassed, so Scott had let it drop.

Now, in the back of a car in downtown Toronto, Tessa doesn’t say anything. Scott opens his mouth to take it back. He’d reacted without thinking. And it was a stupid thing to have said anyway, because—they don’t—Scott has a girlfriend again, and he and Tessa aren’t—

‘Um,’ says Tessa, before Scott can say anything. Her voice is low and hesitant, and he finds himself leaning closer so he doesn’t miss what she says next. Then he jerks back because he knows what she’s going to say next; of course he does.

She doesn’t, though. Instead, she says two words that he swears make his heart stop beating in his chest, just for an instant.

‘Yeah, okay.’

He takes a deep breath; lets it out slowly. So that’s that. Tessa’s agreed and Scott can’t take it back. She’s asking for his help and he can’t not give it. It’s a partner thing and they’re still partners: business partners, if nothing else. It counts. He and Tess look out for each other no matter what.

There’s an awkward couple of minutes where they consider logistics, establishing that even if traffic clears immediately, they’re still ten minutes away. The live app on Tessa’s phone is less optimistic and gives an estimate of fifteen minutes.

They both know that even ten minutes is enough time. Tessa’s eyes are huge and anxious, and Scott considers reminding her what she already knows: that she doesn’t have to do anything she doesn’t want to do. In the end, he doesn’t say anything. This isn’t about him.

‘I guess this is happening,’ she says. Her eyes leave his and Scott follows her gaze, looking away quickly once he realises she’s looking at her hands.

‘Be quick, eh, Virtch,’ he says, and she laughs, quick and startled.

Tessa messages the radio station to give them an updated ETA. Then she puts her phone away, fumbling with the zipper on her purse. Scott doesn’t offer to help because he doesn’t know that his hands would be any steadier. It’s kind of comforting to know she’s nervous, too.

Tessa glances at him and he gives her what he hopes is a reassuring smile. Her answering smile is barely more than a twitch of her mouth. Her eyes are serious, and her jaw is set. Her determination is so Tessa that Scott wants to kiss her, so he does, leaning in and pressing his lips briefly to Tessa’s cheek. Her skin is warm and soft and so familiar that it leaves him shaken.

He can’t believe that they’re doing this. He can’t believe that he suggested this, whatever his reasons; and that she agreed; and that now he’s just going to sit here next to Tessa, in the back of a car on the way to an interview, while she gets herself off. She’s going to touch herself until she comes, and Scott is going to be here while it happens.

His mouth is so dry he has to swallow a couple of times before he can make himself speak. ‘What—what do you want me to do?’

Tessa doesn’t say anything for a long moment, and he wonders if she’s thinking about boundaries, too. There’s not really anything he can do to pretend he’s not here while this is happening.

‘Just—your voice,’ she says, finally. ‘Talk to me, yeah?’

‘Yeah,’ he breathes. ‘Yeah, of course, T.’

He bites back on a ridiculous impulse to ask Tessa what she wants him to say. She trusts him with this. His stomach twists as he realises how much she must trust him.

He can do this. He can.

Tessa shuffles closer to him and lets her legs fall open. Scott’s brain doesn’t even have the chance to short-circuit, because then Tessa’s moving again, hooking the leg next to him up and over his own leg.

‘So you don’t have to yell across the seat,’ Tessa says, settling her back against his chest.

Right. Because he’s going to be talking. He shakes his head, trying to clear it. He used to know exactly what to say to Tess to get her to come. When they were together, he’d tell her all the things he wanted to do to her, in explicit detail—Tessa’s very detail-oriented—and all the things he wanted her to feel. He’d wanted her to feel safe and loved and present. He’d wanted her to feel good. It had always been such a fucking high, getting Tessa off. Most of all, he’d wanted her to feel cherished.

There’s a chance, actually, that Scott might not be able to do this.

He reminds himself that he’d never had an active role in any of this, other than the odd time he’d stood guard so Tessa wouldn’t be interrupted. It means that he doesn’t have a fucking clue what he’s doing, but it’s easier like this. This is like being on a rink that’s just been flooded: a smooth white sheet blanketing all the cuts gouged into the ice. This is Tessa doing all the work. All Scott has to do is be here.

Tessa’s leg extends over his own, but she’s only half on top of him. He can at least do what he does on the ice, which is keep her from falling. He grips the inside of her thigh, above her knee, to hold her in place. With his other hand, he brushes her hair back so he can put his mouth next to her ear. He says her name. It comes out sounding like a question, so he says it again, like he means it. Tessa’s breath catches in her throat and the hand he’s left in her hair tightens involuntarily in response. He carefully removes it and places it lightly at her hip. Tessa’s balance is impeccable, but he doesn’t want her to have to think about that. He doesn’t want her to have to think about anything.

‘Is this okay?’ he asks. The fabric of her pants is soft under his fingertips.

There’s a long pause before Tessa nods: a tiny, almost imperceptible jerk that he feels rather than sees. She takes a deep breath, settling her head on his neck on the exhale.

Her weight against him makes his chest ache, dull and evanescent. He doesn’t even have to reach out a hand to know she’s here, and it should be a comfort. It is a comfort. Tessa’s half in his lap and he’s supposed to be balancing her, but it feels like she’s balancing him.

He doesn’t realise he hasn’t said anything in a while until Tessa says, ‘Scott? Is this—you don’t have to—’

‘No, it’s okay,’ he says quickly. He doesn’t want Tessa to feel uncomfortable; that’s the opposite of what he wants.

He used to tell her how good she was doing during sex. He could still tell her how good she’s doing, he supposes. He could tell her how proud he is of her for producing this new tour, but that would be weird, right, to bring her accomplishments into this. It would be weird and inappropriate, probably, to talk about what Tessa’s doing right now. He can see, over her shoulder, that she looks like a dream: one hand inside her pants, the other playing with a nipple through her blouse; twisting it to a peak with pink-tipped fingers.

He has to say something; he said he would, and Tessa’s always gorgeous, all the time, but her outfit is especially pretty, even though it’s just doing a radio interview they’re doing, and she did her hair and makeup, so he thinks it must be okay to talk about how she looks.

‘You’re so pretty,’ he tries, and regrets it immediately because it’s such a dumb thing to say. Tessa’s gonna drag him for it and he’s gonna deserve it. She doesn’t say anything, though, just kind of—sighs, soft and whisper-quiet, rolling her shoulders and settling her head more securely against his shoulder. He presses his nose to her hair and inhales. It’s more of a tactile comfort than anything; he can’t smell anything right now because of the congestion from his cold. It’s disconcerting to be so close to Tessa but not fully present. He can’t smell her shampoo or her perfume or her soap or her deodorant or her sweat; any of it. He can’t smell Tessa.

‘Sometimes,’ he says, ‘not right now, I mean, because I’ve got this cold, but sometimes you smell so pretty, too.’

He pauses to see if Tessa’s okay with this line of thought. She’s working diligently, hand shoved down her pants. The rigid outline of her knuckles through the fabric is mesmerising, so he makes himself look away. Tessa hasn’t told him to stop, so he keeps talking.

‘You probably smell pretty right now,’ he says, and feels his face flush because he didn’t even mean what she probably thinks. He rushes to explain. ‘Like, sometimes you smell like grapefruit, from your shampoo. Or—um—that soap. Camay,’ he says, reluctantly.

It feels too intimate, suddenly, to know what brand of soap Tessa uses.

She’d used Camay when they were together. He still clocks it whenever they’re on the ice together, its perfumed scent mixing with the tang of Tessa’s sweat. It would definitely be weird for him to tell her how much he likes the smell of her sweat, so he doesn’t.

‘One time—’ he starts. He bites the inside of his cheek to stop. One time, at a house party, someone had spilled hard cider on Tessa, all down the front of her summer dress with the flowers on it. She’d smelled sweetly and cloyingly of apples until later, when she’d stripped out of the damp fabric, eyes never leaving his. He’d set her down on someone’s bed, put his hands on the outside of her legs and watched in awe as Tessa had let her knees fall slowly and gracefully to the bed, trapping him in place.

He remembers Tessa complaining he was tickling and the sharp slide of her laughter to moans once he’d started licking cider from her skin. She’d been so patient. The sounds that had spilled from her throat had been so soft. Her hands in his hair as she’d guided his mouth where she wanted it had been soft, too. She’d only stopped being patient when—

Tessa makes a small questioning sound and he realises he’s stopped talking. He continues, doggedly. ‘The other day, you smelled like your perfume. Lilies, I think.’

Tessa nods, a single tight jerk of her head. ‘I can’t tell what you’re wearing today,’ he confesses. She licks her lips before answering and he swallows, overtaken by muscle memory.

‘Um,’ she says, followed by words that don’t mean anything to Scott. He thinks they might be Italian. ‘Jasmine,’ she clarifies.

‘Oh,’ he says. ‘Okay.’ His neighbours have bushes and bushes of white jasmine on the border between their properties. If he closes his eyes, he can picture the tiny pinwheel flowers spinning in the wind. They’re fragrant, he remembers, but only if he puts his nose right up against them.

Camellias had spilled from Tessa’s throat all the way to her knees, and the fabric of her dress had been so thin that the cider had soaked right through to her skin. He remembers Tessa walking over to where he was standing with his back to the fence, next to the barbeque, and being hit by the sudden, overwhelming scent of apples. He’d wanted to look around to see if there was a tree nearby that he hadn’t noticed, except he hadn’t been able to take his eyes off Tess. The heels she’d been wearing earlier were dangling from her wrists by the straps. She hadn’t been wearing a bra.

‘Scott?’

He swallows. ‘One time you smelled like apples,’ he manages.

Tessa makes a small, choked noise, like she remembers, too, and God, maybe Scott really shouldn’t be doing this. He’s in way over his head here, and he knows it. He’s doing this for Tessa though, and she’ll know what to do. Tessa always knows what to do. He runs his hand over her hair, as much for his comfort as hers. ‘Help me out here, T,’ he whispers.

‘Um,’ she says. ‘Okay. Okay. Give me a sec.’

She’s quiet as he adjusts his grip on her leg. All he wants to make sure he’s still got her, but he must startle her because he feels her body tense at the sudden movement. Her whole body. A fresh flush heats his cheeks. He hadn’t meant for her to be confronted by the effect she’s having on him. ‘Sorry,’ he mutters.

‘It’s okay,’ Tessa says, softly. ‘You’re okay.’

It’s quiet for a long moment except for Tessa’s breaths, bordering on uneven, and the soft, wet noises she makes as she fucks herself on her fingers.

‘Okay,’ says Tessa, startling Scott. ‘Um—’

She’s pressed so close to him, head angled on his neck, that he can feel her swallow.

‘—You said I was pretty,’ she says, finally. ‘Where? Where am I pretty?’

The vulnerability in her voice makes his heart clench. He wishes she could see herself the way he sees her. Tessa’s pretty everywhere. Her smile; the way she tilts her head to one side when she’s listening; the way she bounces on her toes, expressive but self-contained, when she’s excited about something. The way she jumps up and down when she’s excited around people she’s comfortable with. The way her eyes track the pages of a book when she’s reading. God, her eyes. He could get lost in her eyes.

‘—Scott,’ she whimpers, sounding almost desperate. It jerks him out of his reverie and reminds him why he’s here.

‘Your cunt,’ he says.

Tessa’s answering moan sounds like it’s been pulled right from her centre. Encouraged, he continues. ‘You’re so wet, Tess, fuck, I can hear how wet you are. You’re so pretty when you’re wet and—'

He swallows. ‘So pretty,’ he says, softly. ‘So ready and so—so pretty.’

He has to bite his lip until he breaks the skin to stop himself from saying too much. He swipes away the blood with his tongue and tries not to think about it, but it’s no use. He can picture it so vividly in his mind’s eye: Tessa, spread wide open, pink and swollen and ready to be fucked, but not by Scott. Not anymore.

‘So fucking pretty, Tess,’ he says, lips right against her ear. He feels her buck against her hand, breath stalling. ‘Is this—is this okay?’ he asks. The slick, sticky sound of her fingers sliding in and out of her cunt makes him think that it is, but he wants to be sure. He doesn’t want to cross any more lines than he already has.

‘Yeah,’ Tessa mumbles. She sounds like she’s a million miles away, lost in a dream. ‘Yeah, keep going, Scott, please—’

‘Your nipples, too,’ he says. ‘God, your nipples, Tess. They’re always pretty, don’t get me wrong, but when they’re bitten the same pretty pink as your cunt, God, Tess—’

Her hands, the one down her pants and the one over her blouse, are moving swiftly and if Scott didn’t know better, he’d worry was struggling to breathe. She’s so close.

‘Good girl,’ he says, softly, so they can both ignore it if it’s out of line. His voice comes out cracked and hoarse. ‘Good girl,’ he says again, and it sounds inane to his ears, but he knows how much Tessa needs—craves—encouragement. He’s always wanted Tessa to have everything she wants.

Scott wants, too. He wants so much. He wants to ask if Tessa feels good because of him; because of what he’s doing. He wants—

‘How’s it going?’ he whispers, watching goosebumps blossom on Tessa’s neck in the wake of his breath.

‘Good,’ Tessa says. ‘You’re always good,’ she adds, and it was more than he was expecting. His hand on her leg tightens. The sounds she’s making are so raw that he squeezes his eyes shut to at least give her some privacy. He can’t help hearing the way her breathing becomes shallower; can’t help feeling the way the muscles in the leg she has flung over his—so she can spread herself wider, and oh God, oh fuck—the way her muscles tighten and relax, then tighten again, over and over, like she’s chasing release and coming up short.

‘You’re doing so good, God, Tess, you’re—you’re so good,’ he tells her, reeling himself in at the last minute; desperately avoiding saying anything either of them will regret.

Tessa’s breath hitches. He wasn’t touching her, he swears he wasn’t touching her, but her breath hitches and her throat moves, and his lips press against her neck; just for a second, just long enough for him to taste the faint salt sheen of her skin.

He jerks away. Tessa makes a small, forlorn noise, but it’s not for him. It’s not because of him. It’s because she’s getting frustrated. He knows that sometimes—rarely—she’s so tense that she struggles to come.

Tessa comes easily, usually. Scott tries to think of this as just another fact he knows about Tess, like how she hates mornings but loves sunrises; how she loves hot chocolate, but strangely, bizarrely, hates marshmallows. She comes so easily, falls apart so prettily, but not today.

Tessa moans; more, he thinks, in frustration than pleasure, and rolls to the side, resting her head on the back of the seat. The hand that was playing with her tits flops to her side. Her other hand is still in her pants, moving slowly.

‘Maybe not so good,’ she admits, head turned toward the far window. The angle allows him to see the outline of her nipples, straining against the silky fabric of her blouse. There’s a splotchy, hectic flush on her throat.

‘Scott—’ she says, low and clear. There’s the faintest hint of a plea in her voice.

He almost says no, he won’t; except that he’s never been able to deny Tessa anything.

‘Tess—’ he says. It’s agreement; a promise, and she recognises it for what it is. He knew she would. She doesn’t meet his eyes as she moves to sit squarely on his lap, back against his chest. It’s sweet relief. She settles and he’s careful, so careful, not to move, and then she takes his hand and places it over her hand, the one that’s in her pants. She fumbles one-handed at the clasp until it releases, giving him the room he needs to ease his hand under her pants; under her hand; under the thin, soaked fabric of her panties.

The angle isn’t good, but he can work with it. His fingertips slide easily over her slickness. She’s so wet he’s surprised she was getting any friction at all.

‘Fuck, Tess,’ he grits out, mouth against her ear so she can hear his voice like she wants. He doesn’t say anything else, but he doesn’t have to. She’ll know why he sounds so—so—

She moans when he dips between her folds, gathering her wet warmth with his fingertips. He traces lazy, unnecessary circles around her clit; bites the inside of his cheek when Tessa’s fingers graze his own. He wants to twine her hand with his almost as much as he wants to make her come. He wants to weave their fingers so tightly together they can never be parted.

She half-laughs, half-gasps when he pushes two fingers inside her. He doesn’t feel any resistance at all, so he adds a third finger, and yeah, that’s—that’s it. She clenches, breath hitching, through the stretch. He stops when he’s eased himself all the way in; takes a moment just to be here, her cunt tight around his fingers, the hard softness of the top her hand against his palm. Then she makes a low, impatient noise, and he thrusts, and her hips rise to meet him.

She fucks herself on him and the sounds she’s making—he shouldn’t be here for this. There’s no way he should be here for this. Except, Tessa wants him here. She’s counting on him to make her come. She’s keening now; high, broken-open noises spilling from her throat as he works her open. She sounds so fucking pretty.

‘I bet you taste pretty, too,’ Scott says. Tessa moans, and he takes it as encouragement. ‘Do you want—I can—'

She falls abruptly silent and there’s a frozen moment where Scott wonders if he’s finally gone too far, before her head jerks, once. He hesitates, unsure if that was a nod or—

‘—Do it,’ Tessa says, voice hoarse.

He tries to ignore the wet, fucked noises her cunt makes as he pulls his fingers out. She whimpers and he can’t ignore her sounds of distress.

‘It’s okay; I’ve got you, it’s okay,’ he promises, fumbling his hand in front of her mouth. She leans forward, sliding her tongue delicately across the pads of his fingers, tasting herself. Tasting herself on him, he thinks, and shudders. He draws his hand back, just out of reach, and she chases, surging forward in a way that makes his stomach twist in satisfaction. She’s lapping at his fingers now; firm strokes of her tongue that make him want to thrust up against her; give both of them more than they’re getting.

He doesn’t—he can’t—but the next time he moves his hand he changes the angle; brushes the tips of his fingers tentatively against her mouth. She can ignore him if she wants. Her lips part for him immediately and she takes him in, all of him, suckling what’s left of her taste from his skin. She moans around him and it takes every ounce of self-control he possesses not to add his voice to hers.

He’s rougher when he pushes his fingers in her cunt again. Tessa fucks herself more quickly, fingers working her clit. She’s gasping for air, for release, and he’s trying desperately to keep it together. He’s aware of his strangled breaths in the gaps between hers and it feels wrong not to be breathing in time, but one of them has to keep it together. Tessa looks out for him, she always has, and it’s his turn now do the same for her.

‘Scott,’ she grits out, and his name on her lips is as familiar as the blood pulsing under his skin. He doesn’t know how he ever thought he could forget the ache of her body on his; the way her ragged breaths fill the silence between them until she’s his entire world. He’s been trying to compare what they’re doing to fresh ice but it’s not; he doesn’t know how he ever thought it could be. The grooves below the flooded surface are cut too deep; etched into his being in a way he’ll never escape.

‘Scott,’ she says again, ‘I’m going to—please, Scott—’

‘Come for me,’ he pleads. He thrusts harder, crooks his fingers to feel the roughness of her. Tessa’s fingers are flying faster and faster. They’re going to take her over the edge soon, together. ‘Come on, Tess, I’ve got you, I’ve got you—Tess—’

She clenches around his fingers for what feels like forever and he lets go of his self-control just long enough to press a greedy, open-mouthed kiss to her neck. He must leave his lips on her even after Tessa comes all around him, silent as a ghost, because he the next thing he feels is her pulse hammering through his own body. He pulls his mouth away quickly. He’s more gentle with his hand, extracting it reluctantly first from Tessa and then from her pants. He can practically feel the tension drain from her. She’s limp against him; boneless.

She twists her head and buries her face in his shoulder. He strokes her hair with the hand that’s not sticky with her come. Neither of them say anything.

After a minute, Tessa moves her head. Maybe he hears her lips part, or maybe it’s something in the way the air around them changes. Maybe he’s still that finely attuned to her breathing. Whatever it is, he can’t see her face, but he can still tell she’s about to say something.

‘Tessa,’ he says, and this time when he says her name, he’s asking—begging—her to stop. He doesn’t even know what wants, he only knows that he needs her to agree. Don’t say anything about what just happened; don’t ask me to talk about it; don’t ask why; don’t apologise; please don’t apologise; just, please—

Tessa lifts herself off him, and he knows she has to; he knows they can’t stay like this forever, suspended between one responsibility and the next, but Tessa moving beyond his reach isn’t what he meant.

He knows it’s not fair to expect Tessa to have answers to questions he doesn’t know how to ask, but what he doesn’t get is why what they are to each other is so unknowable. He doesn’t get why it feels like she’s slipping away even when she’s right here.

It hadn’t been easy, competing with Tessa for twenty years. They’d worked hard to build a strong partnership and most of the time he’d felt the security of that work. There had been times, though, when they’d barely spoken; times when coming back from the hurt they’d caused each other had seemed impossible. Still, he’d known that together he and Tessa could weather any storm. They’d been partners.

Most of the time he feels like he’s dealing with the transition from competition to ordinary life just fine, but sometimes—sometimes he thinks about what he used to have, and it twists like a knife. Sometimes it feels like everything he’d had has been carved away, from the inside out, leaving him a shell. He has memories and a whole new life that has nothing to do with Tessa and he doesn’t know why it’s not enough.

No one else had known how Tessa had handled competition stress the last couple of years before they’d finally left Canton. No one else had known the role Scott had played. It had hurt, Tessa saying that she didn’t want to breathe with him. It had been a wasp sting he hadn’t expected, and maybe that’s why he’d reacted without thinking; why he’d tried to sting back.

He sneaks a glance at Tessa. She’s looking at him, a frown creasing her forehead.

‘Can I—’ she starts. She must see something in his face, because she stops. ‘Okay,’ she says.

The noises Tessa makes putting herself back together are small and soft. Fingers fastening buttons. Palms skimming fabric. A sigh so low he might have imagined it; expect he knows he didn’t. Out of the corner of his eye he sees her reach for her purse, head bent and shoulders tense. He runs his hand, the one that’s clean, up and down her back. When she zips her purse closed, he moves away.

He’s glad she didn’t finish her sentence. He doesn’t see the need to dwell on what’s happened. He doesn’t want to have to face that he didn’t say no when Tessa had asked him to touch her. He doesn’t want to confront the part of him that had wanted to hurt Tessa.

There are so many gaps in what they are to each other now. It’s easy, sometimes, to fill the space between them with things that turn out not to be there. He should have known that when Tessa had said didn’t want to breath with him, it was just the tension speaking. He rubs at his forehead, trying to clear the fog that’s rolled in as a result of his cold. He feels like he doesn’t know anything at all.

He hadn’t, in a million years, expected her to take him up on the idea he had offered.

Tessa squeezes a dollop of hand sanitizer onto her palm and passes him the tiny bottle she’d taken from her purse. He rubs the cool liquid into his hands where it evaporates almost immediately. There’s jaunty little cartoons of melons on the side of the bottle but when he brings his hand to his nose, he can’t smell anything at all.

When he looks at Tessa, she’s looking at her phone. ‘We’re going to be so late,’ she says, sounding resigned.

‘Hey, you were supposed to forget about that,’ says Scott.

Tessa finally meets his gaze, expression serious. Whatever she’s done with her eyes makes them seem larger and greener than usual. ‘I did,’ she says.

‘Good,’ says Scott. He doesn’t know what else to say. The only sign that anything happened are the faint splotches of pink just visible above the neck of her blouse. Strands of dark hair spill over her throat, and he can’t tell if he’s left a mark or not.

Tessa darts a quick, guilty look at his crotch. He shifts, adjust his clothing so his erection is less noticeable. He needs to think about something that’s not Tessa.

The car is moving in starts and stops, but it seems like the times when they’re in motion are getting gradually longer. ‘We’re five minutes away,’ Tessa says, eyes on her phone. ‘I’m just letting the station know.’

Scott closes his eyes and leans his head against the seat. He didn’t sleep so great last night, but what’s really making him feel tired is this cold.

‘Told you we’d make it,’ he says. Tessa taps her ankle against his calf.

‘They’ll forgive us,’ she says. He knows her bravado is her way of indulging him, but he doesn’t care. He’ll take it. She hasn’t taken her ankle away and he’ll take that, too.

 ‘’Course they will,’ he replies, eyes still closed.

He hears her purse zip open and shut. Feels the seat shift as she moves closer. He holds his breath; holds out a hand, but Tessa doesn’t take it. Instead, her breath warms his cheek, just for a moment; just before she slots her head onto his shoulder. He lets out the breath he'd been holding. This is good. This is the way it should be: the two of them, side by side, on their way to tell the world—or at least Toronto talk radio listeners—about their plan to rock rinks from one end of the country to the other.

He’d been so impatient, earlier, to get to the radio station, but now five minutes seems hardly any time at all. Five minutes until he and Tessa have to get out of the car. Five minutes until Tessa takes her head off his shoulder. She’s not touching him anywhere else, except where her ankle still grazes his leg, but it’s enough. Anything she’ll give him is enough. She used to tangle herself up in him after sex, he remembers. He’d assumed, before they slept together, that she would be the opposite. He’d thought she’d nudge him away, gently, wanting her own space. She hadn’t, though. She never had.

Five minutes until he gets to talk about the new project they’re working on together, him and Tessa. He’s always up for talking about Tessa. When he doesn’t know what else to say, he can always talk about her vision and her organisation and her brilliance.

They’d learned last year that talking to people about their plans for the show gives them both a buzz. It makes sense to want to capitalise on that creative energy, so they’ve agreed to go for coffee after the interview and do some more work on this year’s show.

He leans his head against his seat, eyes closed, and imagines it. They’ll find a dive somewhere near the radio station. Tessa will be wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses that cover half her face, but Scott would still recognise her anywhere. Tessa sits down first, and Scott sets the tray with his plain coffee and her fancy one on the scarred wooden tabletop. There’s room on Tessa’s side of the booth but he slides in across from her instead. They trade ideas for programmes and spitball dream collaborations, Tessa tapping away at the small laptop she keeps in her purse; Scott sketching on napkins with a pen borrowed from one of the baristas.

Eyes still closed, he imagines leaving the booth to grab a couple more napkins. When he comes back, he stands there, hit with an overwhelming urge to slide in next to Tessa and lean his head on her shoulder, just for a minute. Just until he’s feeling better. Tessa glances up at him, fingers stilling on her keyboard when she sees his face. She asks him if he’s okay. He’s not, but he doesn’t want to admit it, so he doesn’t say anything. Tessa hits a couple of buttons on her laptop—even in his imagination, she’s careful to save her work—and closes the lid of her laptop. She stands and holds her knuckles to his forehead, testing his temperature. She’d done the same this morning in the lobby of their hotel, and he shivers now like he shivered then.

It’s only a spring cold, but he’s more than happy to pretend that that’s what’s wrong with him.

Tessa’s hand stays against his forehead longer than it needs to. She’s only in his head, but at the same time she’s close enough that he can feel her breath on his face.

‘I don’t want to get you sick,’ he says, and feels himself flush. If anything gets her sick, it’s going to be what they did earlier. He hadn’t thought of that at the time. He’d been so wrapped up in Tessa that he hadn’t even remembered they were heading to the radio station. He’s surprised, now that he thinks about it, that it hadn’t seemed to occur to Tessa, either.

He tells the Tessa in his head—the Tessa standing in front of him, the hard back of her hand lingering soft on his forehead—that it’s only that the drugs he’d taken earlier have worn off. Scott doesn’t have to worry about random drug testing anymore, but it still feels weird to take painkillers this casually.

He does a quick calculation and determines that yeah, the drugs he’d taken earlier would just be starting to wear off by the time he and Tessa are due to go for coffee later. He congratulates himself wryly on his accuracy.

He imagines Tessa lifting her hand from his forehead and suggesting they leave. Scott’s not feeling well. She’ll call him a car and wait outside with him. He knows they’ll be going their separate ways: Tessa’s meeting a school friend who lives in Toronto for drinks and Scott’s going back to the hotel. Tessa stands beside him in front of the coffee shop while he waits. She’s going to walk once Scott’s car comes, she says. It’s not very far.

Silence settles between them. Scott imagines a breeze. It cools his forehead, but the Scott standing next to Tessa in the street wishes he were wearing something warmer than his spring jacket. Tessa loops her arm through his. She alludes to what happened earlier, in the car. He knows she brings it up because she hasn’t been able to stop thinking about what happened on the way to the interview any more than he has.

She asks if he can forgive her, and he tells her not to be ridiculous. Of course he forgives her. He doesn’t tell her what for. Or, he tells her there’s nothing to forgive. He tells her he’d do anything for her, always. She believes him; he sees it in the way the tiny frown creasing her forehead disappears.

He’s being so careful to not cross any lines with the Tessa in his head, not like he had with the real Tessa, but then the Tessa in his head says she has something to tell him. She takes his hands in hers and looks him straight in the eye and says that they were wrong, both of them, to think that they could live without this.

He opens his mouth to ask what she means, even though he already knows. He knows what she means, but he wants to hear her say it. After she does, he’s going to tell her everything that’s in his heart. They’ll remember this moment for the rest of their lives, but more than that—more than that, they won’t need to rely on memories. They’ll have the real thing.

She pulls him into a hug, eyes soft and lips already parted. He feels her heart pounding in her chest, in time with his, and that will be the only fast thing about this. Everything else will happen so slowly and so gently. This time, he’s going to savour everything than he can.

Tessa’s eyes are wide and bright, and she’s smiling. Her lips meet his, and—

‘We’re here,’ says Tessa.

For a long, wild moment, he’s as confused as he’s ever been in his life. How can they have arrived, when they haven’t gone anywhere? They’re outside a coffee shop in a sketchy Toronto neighbourhood, waiting for a car that hasn’t even shown up yet; sheltering each other from the chilly spring wind. He was going to get in the car when it came, but there’s been a change of plans. He’s definitely not leaving.

‘Scott?’

There’s been a mistake. He’s not leaving. Not now that Tessa’s kissing him, her lips soft against—

‘Scott?’

Concern is creeping into Tessa’s voice. He makes himself open his eyes. They’re in a car. The ballcap and glasses he thought Tessa had been wearing aren’t anywhere in sight. She has one hand on the far door handle, her body twisted to face him. She looks worried.

He makes himself focus. He starts with what he knows. He’s with Tessa. He’d been with Tessa before, though. He frowns, trying to remember. The scene from a few minutes ago had been so vivid, but it must not have been real after all. The car they’re in must be different to the one he was expecting. There has to be a reason Tessa looks so worried.

She’d mentioned they were here, wherever that was. Slowly, through the fog in his head, it comes to him. They have that interview with the radio station. They’d been stuck in traffic, maybe. Tessa had been grounding him, her head on his shoulder and her ankle on his leg, but now she’s not touching him at all. All of a sudden, he remembers touching her because—because she’d asked him to. Memories crash into him, filling him.

They’d decided, both of them, that here is where they are. He’d thought he’d come to terms with it, but he knows now he was kidding himself. He’ll never come to terms with it. He’ll never understand how he could have been so fucking stupid.

He doesn’t want to be here. He never wanted to be here. He’d give anything to go backwards or forwards in time—he doesn’t care which, so long as it isn’t here. He doesn’t want to be where he and Tessa are—not strangers, never strangers, but not what they have it in them to be to each other.

‘Right,’ he says, blinking against the sudden brightness of the world beyond his eyelids and reaching for Tessa’s hand. She’s not where he’s expecting her to be, though. She’s already out of the car, waiting for him to catch up.

‘Right,’ he says again, dropping his hand and sliding across the seat toward the door. The sun outside is so bright that it’s already stinging his eyes. ‘We’re here.’

 

 //