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Beneath the Winter Snow

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PROLOGUE

David can’t keep from smiling at the look on his sister’s face, radiant and beaming through what is sure to be the best day of her life so far. Even if the man who is partially responsible for this day is a show-off. And insufferably smug. And unassumingly sexy. And unbearably gorgeous. And David hates him. Or he hates that he loves him. He’s never known for sure.

Alexis and her partner are panting and grinning at each other as one of his broad, blunt-fingered hands pulls her cheek to his lips. They laugh and shake their heads and throw their arms around each other and cover their mouths in disbelief, their celebration just as in-sync as the choreography that they’ve practiced and practiced and practiced and finally just performed. The score they are about to receive will be their personal best. There is nothing more they could have done. They link hands and lift them in the air, waving with their free hands as they skate in circles so they can soak in the screaming adoration and bow to every side of the packed arena.

From his place with the other coaches on the sidelines, David can hear snippets of the back and forth between Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir in the network commentators box:

“Leaders after the short program . . . pair has been unstoppable lately . . . back to back world championships . . . Grand Prix gold medals . . . Rose struggled in the singles competition . . . without a partner after Rachel Covington retired . . . lucky to have found each other . . . unstoppable chemistry on-ice and off . . . Olympic gold is theirs to lose.”

The camera angle displayed on the jumbotron follows the pair to the edge of the ice still waving, Alexis blowing kisses to the crowd, holding tight to her partner’s hand. Alexis’s sequined costume catches the lights, flashing above the chyron on the big LED screen with the Canadian flag and the names of this year’s figure skating pairs team to beat: Patrick Brewer/Alexis Rose.

 

ONE WEEK EARLIER

 

THURSDAY

David should be sleeping. That’s what a normal person would do when their body thinks it’s ten o’clock at night, even if it is just past eleven in the morning local time. Instead he’s watching Dawson’s Creek reruns on the in-flight entertainment system and trying not to think about the weight of Patrick’s head asleep on his shoulder. Or the sound of Patrick’s deep rumbling breaths and unconscious murmurs. Or the smell of cedar and citrus that David recognizes from the shampoo he gave Patrick, shampoo that Patrick has apparently been buying for himself ever since. Which is something David really shouldn’t think too hard about.

Maybe he should try to sleep after all. He’s not sure what he’ll say if Patrick wakes up and David has to pretend like he is fine with something as intimate as Patrick taking a nap on his shoulder, when in reality David has done everything he can to establish professional boundaries since they broke up.

It hasn’t been easy. They see each other every day. Patrick and Alexis train for four hours a day, six hours a day in the last two months leading up to the Olympics. As Alexis’s coach, David is there for most of those hours. He is proud of himself for managing to be professional and polite and only occasionally passive aggressive toward Patrick after everything that happened. And things are mostly back to normal, or back to stasis anyway.

David does eventually drift off, so he’s not sure what happens when Patrick wakes up. David startles awake as the plane makes thudding contact with the runway to find Patrick and Alexis talking quietly about their plan of attack for the Short Program.

Everything on land for the rest of the day is a blur, the time change and the customs desk and the foreign languages and the hectic energy of the airport arrivals area a familiar but disorienting ordeal. They find themselves at last in the Administration Center in the Olympic Village, security check completed and awaiting credentials.

Badges in hand, David accompanies Patrick and Alexis to the Canadian athletes' quarters in the Olympic Village, helping Alexis carry her suitcases up to her room in the high-rise apartment building where all of Team Canada will be staying. It’s a big room with two double beds. Her roommate Stevie Budd, a singles skater who is known for being something of a wild-card, is already perched on the bed she chose, most of her things unpacked and scattered around it.

Alexis huffs as she eyes the double bed closer to the door.

“Looks like you get murdered first,” David mutters.

“Ugh, you were supposed to talk to her about this," Alexis says.

“You know I can hear you, right?” Stevie asks.

“Hey, how was your flight?” David asks, used to their bickering after years on the elite skating circuit together.

“It got me here.” She shrugs as she gets up. “Anyway I think I'll let you settle in. Are we still on for dinner?”

“We are on for dinner,” David nods.

He and Stevie have been best friends since she and Alexis competed in the junior ladies circuit together. Back then, David was a little less invested in Alexis winning than he is now as her coach, and he and Stevie bonded over mutual annoyance with the way Alexis seemed to always be mid-crisis. Thankfully she’s grown out of that since teaming up with Patrick. Not that Patrick had anything to do with it of course.

As if summoned by David's thoughts, Patrick returns from dropping off his own things in his room down the hall.

“Hey Stevie!” he says. David watches Patrick’s ridiculous double hand wave—something he no doubt picked up from his waving-and-bowing curtain call routine on the ice—and definitely doesn’t think about the way Patrick’s hands used to work together, warm and sure on David's most private skin.

Stevie elbows him on the way out and gives him one of her all-seeing looks that says control your face. David is trying. He’s really trying.

“So who are you rooming with?” Alexis asks Patrick, eyes flitting to David like she knows a secret. David glares at her and mouths what? before Patrick is far enough in the room to see it.

“I'm with Kenneth Tremblay,” Patrick says, visibly starstruck. David tries to keep his face blank, even though everyone at the Olympics knows who Kenneth Tremblay is. He seemed to come out of nowhere to win the Men’s Figure Skating gold at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships the year before and has been undefeated ever since.

“Ooh, Ken,” Alexis says, biting her grin and shooting David a wide-eyed look of not-so-innocent innocence. “He’s a sweetheart. And he looks very good in that itty-bitty—”

“Ken!” David interrupts with mock delight. “Just when I thought it was impossible to find a twenty-something named Ken.”

“Oh I think he’s younger than twenty,” Alexis says.

“He’s twenty-three, actually,” Patrick replies. Which means Patrick looked up Ken’s age at some point. David scolds his brain, which should be too busy suffering from fatigue and jet lag to offer such unwelcome observations.

“I’ve only talked to him once or twice but he seems nice,” Patrick shrugs in that congenial way he has, like he’s just a nice hockey player from the prairies who stumbled into world-class figure skating by accident. Which fine, he is that, and it is nice. What is not nice, David thinks, is how fucking noisy Patrick’s face is now that David is attuned to it. David can hear loud and clear how nice Patrick thinks Ken might be when the palest pink flush blooms over cheeks that tighten ever so slightly to hold back a smile.

“Well I should go and get myself settled,” David says, because he’s not jealous at all. He’s just focused on his job, which is to help his sister win a gold medal.

“Are you meeting Stevie here for dinner?” Alexis asks.

“Um, unclear,” David says, glancing at non-existent notifications on his phone to give his eyes something to do besides study the tufts of Patrick’s hair that are still mussed from his toque. Someone not named David should get him a mirror. “I’m meeting with Ronnie at the skating center and I’m not sure how long that will take.”

“Do you—Are you taking the costumes?” Patrick asks.

“Um, yeah. Are they . . . they must be in your room?” David asks, looking around. They already talked about David keeping the costumes at his hotel. They are worth thousands of dollars and will be safer there than in the dorm-like setting of the Olympic Village.

“Yeah,” Patrick replies, but he doesn’t move to go and get them.

“Okay. I’ll, um, come get them then.” David looks to Alexis to see if she’ll jump in and save him time alone in a room with Patrick and Ken, but that’s not her style.

“Bye, David,” Alexis says with a wave that is somehow both limp and cheerful. David scratches the back of his head with his middle finger as he follows Patrick out the door.

Patrick’s room is identical to Alexis’s and thankfully lacking a Ken at the moment. Patrick hands David the garment bags, their fingers snagging each other under the loop of the hangers, and it’s fine. David’s heartbeat will slow back down before it kills him, probably.

“I’ll take good care of them,” David says lamely, feeling like he should say more but unsure what could possibly be left to say. It’s going to be a long two weeks.

“Thank you, David,” Patrick says quietly, in that slightly lower register that he employs when he is sincerely grateful, or nearly asleep, or seriously horny.

“Sure,” David says. He’s about to leave when Patrick takes a step towards him and oh. That feels very familiar, that little step into David’s personal space; David feels the jitter of adrenaline rush into his smallest capillaries.

“I want—” Patrick stares at the floor, a gray field of carpet tiles with a fine red stripe in each square section, each line in a different location on the tile so no two stripes line up exactly. Which is how David feels here too, like they were shifted just slightly out of alignment and can't find their way back. Patrick scrapes the white toe of his sneaker along one of the red stripes as though he can uncover the rest of his sentence.

“You want what?” David asks, not bothering to hide his annoyance. It’s not his job to worry about Patrick’s feelings. Except it is, damnit, because there’s a whole thing about skaters and emotions and mind games, and he needs Patrick’s head to be clear and focused. For Alexis. Whose feelings are David's job to worry about.

Patrick looks up and swallows, wide eyes full of too many thoughts for David to pick out any of them clearly.

“I don’t know,” Patrick says finally, digging his hands in his pockets.

“Okay. Well if you figure it out, you know how to find me,” David says. “See you at training.”

“See you at training,” he agrees.

 

-----

 

“Okay, I think we have a plan,” Ronnie says, looking down at her notes as she stands up to go. “I’ll do my part to keep my guy in line, and you keep Alexis’s head in the game, and I think it’s theirs to lose.”

Ronnie is Patrick’s coach and the only other person in the world who knows that of the Rose/Brewer pair, Patrick is the one who is the most challenging. Most people assume it’s Alexis because she has a big personality. But Ronnie and David both know it’s Patrick who needs more direction on the ice and more handling off of it. It’s always amused David that most people think of Patrick as unflappable and sweet, but that’s just the surface. David noticed that right away. Underneath his brain is constantly calculating and reformulating. It's brilliant and ruthless and wide and scattered and David loves it. No, David loved it.

“It’s a good plan,” David agrees, standing up too.

He shows Ronnie out and closes the door, catching sight of the costume garment bags in the closet.

He unzips Patrick’s bag and runs his hand down the shirt, a Prussian blue spandex approximation of a button-up that tucks into a pair of black poly-blend trousers. David has helped with every single one of their costumes for their routines, some much more elaborate. But this one is his favorite. He still remembers the first time Patrick put it on, coming over to David’s apartment after training on the day it arrived.

 

“What about like this?” Patrick asks, popping the collar.

“Absolutely not,” David says.

David’s fingers dip between Patrick’s neck and the fabric as he settles the collar back into place. His lips brush the hollow of Patrick’s neck, sucking softly enough that the marks will fade before anyone has a chance to see them. Patrick tastes like salt and ice, a mixture David craves even now that his tongue can collect it from Patrick whenever he wants.

The plackets of the shirt are thin and sewn together up to the last few buttons, exposing a tease of Patrick’s sternum. David’s fingers part the shirt enough for his tongue to sink into the shallow dip, and Patrick groans.

“This is not fair. I have an interview in an hour,” Patrick says.

“I can work with that. When do you need to leave?” Patrick laughs and David smiles into his jaw, catching it with his teeth on his way back to Patrick's mouth.

“Twenty minutes,” Patrick says. “And it will take at least ten of them to get me out of this thing.”

He’s not wrong about that. Skating costumes are designed to stay on through the most perfectly executed quad lutz-triple toe loop combination. It takes some effort to remove them.

“I’ll see what I can do,” David says, his hands already on the series of clasps at the waist of the pants.

 

Standing in the hotel room staring at the costume three months later, David can still hear Patrick’s laughter as they peeled him out of the stretchy fabric. He can still feel Patrick’s hands in David’s hair as David took him in his mouth. He zips up the bag and fuck, this is going to be so much harder than he realized. 

David closes the closet and decides to leave early. He can walk around a bit before meeting Stevie. It's the Olympic Games, and Alexis has always dreamed of Olympic gold and David can actually help make that happen for her. If that means it happens for Patrick too, then fine. Maybe if Patrick wins they will—

No, nope. After his own skating career was stunted by injury, he never thought he'd be here at the Olympics. And now he is. So he's going to enjoy it and set down this torch he's been carrying for Patrick once and for all. And maybe when he does what he came here to do, it's time to find his own dream.