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The Lonely End of the Rink

Chapter Text

Summer’s Killing Us

A time for more to happen sooner, a time to be a person you still know.
To float a while on your sure power, 'til you say "Canada lost, go home".

Summer exists in a doorway.
Summer exists at the fair.
Summer is forever changes.
Summer's taking me all the way.

 

Summer was endless, and it had only just begun. The heat seemed to have settled on the entire lower mainland like a blanket, temperatures uncharacteristically high for so early in July. Or anytime, in BC. Marcus wiped the sweat from his brow as he hauled his gear from the back of his pick up, eager to get inside the arena, back to a more respectable temperature.

The arena delivered as promised, he breathed a sigh of relief once the doors closed on the stifling heat. Here it was bearable, although the chill calm of the ice beckoned. No matter the weather outside, he always loved being on the ice, everything else seemed to fade away with the sound of his skates and a stick in his hands.

“Hiya Jeff,” he said, waving to the rink attendant.

“Hey Marcus. Still hot as shit out there, eh?” Jeff asked as Marcus approached him.

Marcus laughed. Talking about the weather was a provincial pastime. “Sure is,” Marcus replied. “How's the hockey camp going?”

“Great,” Jeff said. “My little guy has finally figured out that the puck goes in the net, pretty soon he'll be giving you a run for your money!”

Marcus laughed again. Jeff's son was 4 years old, he and his hockey camp age-mates hardly constituted a threat. “I'll keep an eye on him.”

“You do that,” Jeff said. They stood in companionable silence for a few minutes, watching the Zamboni clear all signs of the kids from the ice, leaving it smooth for the afternoon sessions. Marcus had lucked out, finding the 45 minute slot between mini hockey camp and the summer figure skating class. Summer ice time was at a premium as only one ice surface was maintained in the heat, but fortunately for him he was willing to take a shorter slot, and he had the money to pay for it.

“You mind sharing the ice a bit, toward the end of your slot?” Jeff asked after the Zamboni had made its final turn, heading back into the bowels of the arena.

“What, with the figure skaters?” Marcus asked, surprised. The kids who practiced after him were hardly training for the Olympics, he couldn't fathom why they would need the time so badly.

“Not the kids, they've been pushed back a half hour,” Jeff clarified. “Some kid from England, real talent, or so Andrew tells me. Has taken some time off this year and needs the practice before the competitive season, and you know how tight the schedule gets around here. Thought maybe you could share the ice for a few minutes, if it's no trouble.”

“Just the one skater?” Marcus asked and Jeff nodded his confirmation. Marcus shrugged, it was a fair sight better than the usual half-dozen giggling twelve year old girls. They often came early and watched Marcus finish his drills, big eyes staring at him incessantly until he wanted to aim a slap-shot right into their little group.

“Not a problem,” Marcus said. “I'm glad to help out.”

“You're just glad all your little groupies won't be around to make doe eyes at you anymore,” Jeff said shrewdly, smirking at Marcus' best innocent face.

“I have no idea what you're talking about,” Marcus said quickly. “But you're wasting my ice time. Later.” Jeff laughed as Marcus turned, heading along the boards toward the doorway that led down to the changing rooms. He didn't need his full kit for solitary drills and practice, but it was more comfortable to lace up his skates there. He used the quiet to focus his mind, going over the drills in his head as he taped his sticks, gathering up his bag of pylons and pucks and a water bottle before pulling on his gloves and leaving the dressing room.

He dropped the bag and bottle, choose a stick and then stepped out onto the freshly resurfaced ice. There it was, that feeling he always came back for, the blades on his skates scratching the ice rhythmically as his strides lengthened until he was whipping around the rink, the chill fading as he pushed himself faster and faster. A sense of freedom came over him then; a freedom he had never felt anywhere else, the smell of the ice, the familiar feel of the stick in his hands, shifting his body so that he was skating backwards, then forwards, then backwards again, figure-eighting his way around the surface until the peace had settled into his bones and his breath began to come harder.

Suddenly he threw all his weight to the side, sending a spray of ice onto the rubber mat where his bag and bottle sat, coating them with a layer of white crystals. He grinned to himself, he'd always liked stopping as hard as he could, seeing how high he could get the ice to spray. Perhaps it was childish, but it made him happy.

He took a few swigs of water before grabbing the bag, taking it onto the ice and laying pucks along the blue line as well as in random spots in the face off circles. Jeff knew his habits well enough to have only pulled the one net onto the ice, so Marcus set up pylons throughout the neutral zone as well as the opposite end.

Once he was done he tossed the bag to the side and grabbed a stick, building speed once more, skating deftly around the pylons before picking up a puck and doing the whole thing again, the route made more difficult by all the stick handling needed to carry the puck along with him. It was one of Marcus' strengths, in some part due to his constant practice, adjusting the pylons to keep him from becoming accustomed to their positions, laying the pucks in random places so he wouldn't become complacent. He always had the advantage over his teammates once training began, and this was the reason why. He knew he was lucky, not many of the other boys could afford to purchase consistent ice time, especially during the summer, but Marcus didn't let it bother him. He had the advantage and he wasn't ashamed to use it. Besides, none of the other boys wanted, needed a place in the NHL as much as Marcus did. Very few of them had a shot anyway, unlike him.

This would be his final year of high school and, he hoped, his final year playing for a junior league. He knew he'd been scouted before, he couldn't help but be. There was talk of sending him to the draft the following June, he'd be eighteen the August following the draft, only just meeting the age requirements. He was determined to win a spot, so he practiced every chance he could get. Summer did not equal vacation time, not to a young NHL hopeful.

That day, as always, the time passed quickly, and before he knew it, he heard the tell tale sound of another pair of skates on the ice. He ignored it for the time being, focusing instead on the left top corner of the net, where he was attempting to place the pucks he'd laid out in a diagonal line from the blue line to the bottom of the face-off circle. It took skill and concentration, getting all his shots in the same spot, the angle steadily decreasing as he made his way further into the zone. It was worth the practice, his unerringly accurate wrist-shot was spoken of in hushed whispers and feared by every goalie in the league. Constant practice had made finding the right shot second nature, he rarely failed to place the puck where he wanted it, goalie or not.

He let out the breath he hadn't known he was holding when the last of the pucks joined its predecessors in the empty net, skating over to gather them together for placement on the opposite side of the rink for his next series of shots. He'd almost forgotten about the figure skater, until a voice called out.

“Oi, hockey boy,” it said in a crisp British accent, and Marcus stopped in shock, spinning around. He had been expecting some too-thin, snobbish, pampered girl, but the voice that called him was decidedly male. When he saw the boy it belonged to his mouth dried up and his jaw dropped open.

Skating toward him was the exact opposite of every expectation he had. The guy was short, lean, topped off with a messy patch of dirty blond hair. He wore loose stretchy pants not so different from Marcus' own, into them was tucked a tight black t-shirt, accenting every muscle of his chest and highlighting the wiry strength in his arms. The guy's posture was perfect too, back straight, shoulders held back, making his chest look more defined, giving him an aura of readiness. He coasted smoothly across the ice, coming to a stop in front of Marcus who, having finally catalogued the rest, lifted his gaze to the boy’s face.

Marcus swallowed thickly, willing his tongue to work and respond, but it refused. Atop that damnably attractive body was a face with well defined features, high cheekbones, a straight nose, broad forehead and thin lips set in an exasperated line. His eyes were clear and grey, shrewd, raking over Marcus' features quickly. Added together, he was stunning, hard and beautiful and deadly as the ice.

“Hey,” Marcus croaked out, finally able to coax a sound from his slack jaw. He cleared his throat. “Sorry, hi. I'm Marcus.” He pulled off a glove and held out a sweaty hand for the figure skater to take, but he didn't offer his own, looking down at Marcus' outstretched hand with barely veiled revulsion.

“Lovely,” the bloke said, crossing his arms over his chest and holding his shoulders straighter, if such a thing was possible. “I was just wondering if you're done with the pylons. I'd like to get warmed up before Andrew gets here.”

“Oh,” Marcus said dumbly, dropping his hand and then running it through his hair in a nervous gesture. “Yeah, I uh...I'm done with them. Just practicing my wrist-shot, you know.”

“I'm sure I don't,” the boy said, lifting an eyebrow. “And I don't particularly care. You don't mind if I pick them up then?” he asked, although it was more like a statement of intent as he turned on a toe pick and skated toward the other end of the rink.

Marcus watched him go, stunned, unable to tear his eyes away from the long lines of his legs as they propelled him forward, his ass firm and perfectly framed in those pants. He was much more elegant in his movements than Marcus could ever dream to be, skating effortlessly, bending down to pick up one pylon after another with no break in movement, one leg extended as he turned from one to the next, fluid, graceful.

Marcus swallowed again, giving his head a shake and turning away. He skated over to where the bag lay, picking it up and turning in time to see the other boy coming ever closer, gliding across the ice on one blade, his hair ruffling in the breeze he had created. Instead of coming to a sudden halt as Marcus would have done, he spun quickly and looped around, slower this time, coming to a precise stop right in front of Marcus.

They just stared at each other for a moment, Marcus was having a hard time finding anything to say, his brain had quite forgotten why he was even there until the guy held up the pylons.

“You want these in there?” he asked, with a look of disdain, perhaps wondering if Marcus was simple. He certainly felt so, this guy tied his tongue and caused all brain function to cease. And he didn't even known the guy's name.

“Yeah, I, thanks,” he managed to get out, opening the bag and letting the other guy drop the stack of pylons in. “So, you're new here,” Marcus began, but the glare he received cut off that line of questioning. Marcus found himself wondering why he was bothering, but his mouth had other ideas.

“Uh, what's your name?” he tried again, this time getting a long suffering sigh from the other.

“I'm not here to make small talk, so what does it matter?” he replied, shaking out his arms and then reaching back behind his neck to stretch out his shoulder.

“I just thought that since we'll be sharing ice time, you could at least tell me who the fuck you are,” Marcus bit out, suddenly annoyed with this prickly, difficult Brit. “Or does my ice time mean so little to you?”

The guy glared at him again before shaking his head and responding. “Look, I'm sorry, I've just had a shitty year and I'm in a new place, it's too hot, I can't get ice time and nobody talks properly around here. I really just want to get on with my life, alright? I'm here to train, I'm not here to make friends.”

“Fair enough,” Marcus said, nodding. “But we're pretty friendly around these parts, so you'll just have to adjust.” He held out his hand once more, meeting the guy's eyes with a glare of his own. “I'm Marcus.”

The other looked down at Marcus' outstretched hand again before meeting his gaze once more. “I'm Esca,” he said at last. “But I'm not shaking your hand. You've had it inside that sweaty thing,” he gestured to the gloves that Marcus had abandoned at the edge of the rink, “and I can smell you from here. Cheers, mate.”

He turned without another word and skated across the ice, turning gracefully once more, building speed as Marcus had done, but with much more style. His skating wasn't powered by brute strength but by determination and skill. Marcus watched him for a moment until he came around again, glaring at Marcus as he passed by. Letting out a sigh, Marcus reached for his gloves, unable to stop himself from taking a sniff. They were musky with the smell of use, sweat mixed with leather producing a not so pleasant aroma. It wasn't all that bad, really.

Marcus pulled the gloves on and picked up his stick, heading back to his corner of the ice without a backward glance, though his thoughts never left the boy gliding around the ice behind him.

He missed half his shots, that round.

**

By the time he headed out of the dressing room, Marcus spied Andrew Parker on the ice with Esca, talking him through what appeared to be choreography of some kind and he paused to watch as Esca performed the moves, ending with a spin that had him rotating so fast it made Marcus' head spin. He turned away quickly, before he could get too involved in watching. The move wasn't the only thing about Esca that made Marcus' head spin.

**

The next day Marcus spent his ice time on edge, unable to focus and jumping at every sound, hoping and dreading that each one would herald Esca's arrival. Despite having told himself there was nothing to worry about, no reason to be interested, he couldn't stop his mind from replaying their interaction over and over. He was left confused, frustrated and, above all, almost desperate to see Esca again.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, he caught sight of Esca, pulling off his blade guards and tossing them aside before he slipped onto the ice with the same grace he had shown the day before. He gave Marcus a curt nod and glided past, stretching as he went, an act that did nothing to quell Marcus' interest in him.

On the next pass Marcus gave him a big grin, calling out, “hi Esca,” as he skated by. Esca turned around fluidly and raised an eyebrow before spinning once more and continuing his warm up, not sparing a word or another glance in Marcus' direction.

Marcus decided it was high time to practice his slap-shots.

**

Fifteen minutes later he packed it in, gathering his pucks and piling them all into the bag, daring one last glance at Esca before he went. He was surprised to see the other boy staring at him, an unreadable expression on his face.

“Thanks for picking up the pylons,” Esca said as he passed by, turning to meet Marcus' gaze, holding it until Marcus was certain he was going to crash into the boards. He didn't however, spinning at the last possible moment, moving toward the net at the other end of the rink.

“You're welcome,” Marcus called back, unable to keep his face from splitting wide into a smile of pleasure, pulling his gaze away again before he stared too long. He collected his things and headed down to the dressing room, nodding absentmindedly at Andrew on the way.

He still refused to acknowledge the feelings Esca provoked in him. He promised himself long ago that he could control them, that those feelings would do him no good in his life or career. Besides, Esca didn’t seem to want to give him the time of day, it was safe to assume he was definitely not interested in getting to know Marcus better.

Marcus told himself that it didn’t matter, and he almost believed it.

**

The rest of the July passed with more of the same, and continued into August. Esca slowly warmed up to Marcus' presence and with every encounter Marcus became more adept at hiding his responses, schooling his features into friendly enthusiasm instead of slack jawed gaping. Esca never ceased to be beautiful though, and it was a challenge for Marcus.

Soon they were speaking more than two sentences together, and once Esca even laughed at something Marcus had said, not that he could remember the words after they slipped off his tongue. All he remembered was Esca's mouth grinning widely, his teeth straight and white, his eyes sparkling with amusement. He'd given Marcus a pat on the shoulder before gliding off to continue his warm up, a gesture that had left Marcus frozen in place, trying to memorize the sensation. It was the first time they'd touched, though Marcus discouraged himself from hoping it wouldn't be the last.

The day that Marcus thought of as the day they became friends was just another stifling Friday. The heat spell had not lifted, if anything it had gotten hotter. Three weeks had passed without rain, and the word drought was being thrown around, something that made Marcus chuckle and roll his eyes in turn. Only in BC would three short weeks without rain be considered a drought. Seriously, he'd thought everyone would be thrilled, given how much they complained when it rained for three weeks straight.

It was the weather that Esca eventually used as a conversation starter, finally coming a little way out of his self-imposed shell. Marcus was sitting on the edge of the ice, re-taping the grip on his stick when he felt someone approaching. He knew it was Esca, the rhythm of his strides, awkward in his skates, was unmistakable. For one as short as he, he possessed remarkably long legs. Marcus struck the thought from his mind, it could only lead to more thoughts that would lead him into trouble.

Unexpectedly, Esca sat beside him, propping his feet up on the ice close enough that Marcus could smell his shampoo. His hair was most often messy, sticking up at random angles or falling into his face and Marcus found himself wondering if he'd ever come in contact with a hair brush, though the haphazard style did nothing to discourage his growing obsession.

“Just what is up with the weather here?” Esca broke the silence first, shocking Marcus, who turned to look at him in surprise. Esca wasn’t looking at him, staring out into the rink instead.

“I thought it rained here as much as it does back home, but I've been here for six weeks and I've yet to see it.”

“Oh, it rains,” Marcus replied, and turned his gaze back to the stick he was wrapping. “You just wait, you'll see rain.”

“Hmm,” Esca hummed, letting the silence fall between them again. Marcus was afraid to break it, certain that if he spoke Esca would get up and begin his warm up, ending any chance at further conversation. He could almost feel the heat Esca's body was producing, their shoulders almost touching.

“So do you play hockey for real, or do you just like to dick around?” Esca asked, and Marcus looked at him again. This time Esca was looking right at him, his gaze direct and unflinching. Maybe he had developed that stare as a way to compensate for being so small, or maybe it was just his personality, but Marcus couldn’t help but find it intimidating.

“I play for the Bruins,” he replied, holding Esca's gaze for a long moment before turning back to his stick. He'd basically finished, but he didn’t know where else to look.

“And they are?” Esca prodded, uncharacteristically.

“The local team, junior league,” he said, laying the stick beside him and leaning back against the open door, facing Esca, “We're not pro, but we're scouted often enough for the NHL. I'm hoping to get picked up in the draft next year,” Marcus volunteered, hoping Esca would keep talking with him.

“I don't understand anything you just said, then,” Esca said, and Marcus couldn't help but laugh.

“So you've never heard of me, then? Marcus Aquila?”

“No, should I have?” Esca responded, scrunching his brow.

“Nah,” Marcus denied. “Not really, not if you don't even know what the NHL is. I'm pretty well known around here though, been playing my whole life. I'm pretty good, so I've been told.”

“Are you now?” Esca said it with a smirk and Marcus wondered wildly if Esca was flirting with him. It was an insane idea so he put it out of his head as fast as it had come in. “I couldn't tell.”

“You'll have to come watch a game then, when the season starts up,” Marcus said, grinning back. “I'll show you just how good I can be.” Something flared inside Esca's eyes, something Marcus wanted to see more of, but it was gone before he could blink.

“Perhaps I will,” Esca replied, turning back toward the ice. It was quiet in the arena, muffled sounds coming from the front area beyond the rink but it was still and silent where they were. Marcus felt at peace again, for the very first time in the presence of another person.

Esca broke the silence once more, and Marcus was certain they'd shared more words that afternoon that they had the entire previous month. No complaints, though.

“You'll have to teach me the rules, then, or I won't have a clue what's going on,” he said, and Marcus' heart skipped a beat.

“You're on,” Marcus replied, almost unable to believe that not only was Esca talking to him, he was suggesting they spend time together. Outside the arena. Marcus' heart was pounding furiously. “You should come over and watch a game on the tv, and I'll tell you all about it.”

“Alright,” Esca said and they fell to silence again. It remained unbroken until Andrew arrived, at which point Esca demanded a pen and took Marcus' hand, scrawling a number across his palm and giving Marcus a cheeky grin.

“Call me, hockey boy,” he said. He pulled himself up and slid onto the ice, moving as if he was born there. Marcus stared at him for a long time before he found the will to get up. After he retreated to the dressing room, he made sure to enter Esca's number into his phone immediately, unable to stop himself from choosing a sound bite from ‘Everytime You Go’ as a personal ringtone. Which was crazy since Esca didn’t even have his phone number.

**

Marcus' phone burned a hole in his pocket the entire night. Every time it rang he jumped, half expecting it to be Esca, although he knew that Esca didn't have his number. He had to stop himself from calling right away, it wasn’t like Esca was a girl who he was trying to date. He had plans on Saturday anyway, so he told himself he'd call after that, and invite Esca over on Sunday. Yes, that's what he'd do.

Saturday dragged by, kicking and screaming, or so it seemed to Marcus. Usually he looked forward to hanging out with his friends, most of them had to work and a few were even in summer school, so he rarely saw them during the week. Saturdays were set aside for hanging out, playing video games, swimming, hiking, baseball, soccer, football...the guys always wanted to play something other than hockey, which annoyed Marcus a bit. He would play nothing but if he was given the choice, but it wasn't only up to him. Besides, Saturday was booked solid at the arena, and road hockey didn't cut it. Marcus loved the ice, the freedom he felt when he was on it, the sounds and the smells. He'd play road hockey, sure, but it just wasn't the same.

It was a moot point anyway, and that day the other guys wanted to play the latest video game, some big thing, newly released and all the rage, but Marcus couldn't bring himself to care. He'd never been one for video games, he'd always wanted to be outside doing something, mostly hockey. He was often mocked for his single mindedness, but he didn't care. At least he had a direction, which was more than he could say for most of his friends.

“Earth to Marcus!” someone called, jarring him out of his reverie.

“What?” he said, looking around, noticing belatedly that the machine was off, the game over, apparently. He'd been too busy staring at Esca's name on his contact list to realize that his friends were gathering their things.

“Dude, what the fuck is up with you today?” Dale remarked.

“Yeah, you've been playing with your phone all day,” came another voice, belonging to Luke Torus, one of his teammates and probably his best friend. “He must have a new number, boys!” Luke hooted, and Marcus hated him just a little.

“Ooh, got a new girl, have you?” Dale said, trying to grab his phone. Marcus locked it quickly, pocketing it and pushing himself into a standing position.

“Not at all,” he said, brushing himself off and looking around. “We going for lunch, then?” he said in an attempt to change the subject. He was in no such luck, apparently.

“It's dinner time, actually,” Dale said and the others laughed.

“He's definitely got a girl, boys!” called Robert, another teammate. “'Fess up, Marcus, who is she?”

“Yeah, are you gonna share or what?” Luke said, closing the distance between them and narrowing his eyes at Marcus. Luke was pretty observant actually, and he could usually read Marcus like a book. If anyone was to figure out his little secret, it would be Luke.

“No, I'm not, actually,” Marcus said in his firmest tone. “Besides, there's no girl, I'm just thinking about the draft, that's all.” He knew they'd never let it go unless he gave them something they'd believe.

“You and the fucking draft!” Dale said, laughing along with the rest. “The draft isn't until next year, give it a rest, will ya?” He smacked Marcus on the shoulder, not as hard as he'd probably wanted to, but then Dale was several inches shorter and not built anywhere near as solid as Marcus.

“Let's go to dinner, eh?” Luke said, redirecting everyones attention to their stomachs, a tactic Marcus had employed in similar situations in the past. It never failed to work. The guys all headed for the door, jostling each other as they went, calling goodbyes to Dale's mother, who must have been thrilled to see them go.

Marcus headed for the door as well, followed closely by Luke, who put a hand on his shoulder, letting the others get a bit ahead of them.

“Seriously though, what's up today?” Luke asked, giving Marcus a concerned look. “You've been a bit off for a few weeks, but today you're completely out of it. And it's not the draft either, so don't try that on me. Is your uncle okay?”

“Yes, my uncle is fine, thanks for asking,” Marcus replied, shrugging Luke's hand from his shoulder. “And I haven't met a girl, I've just been thinking things over, you know? This is a big year for us. Graduation and the draft, the whole ‘getting a real life’ thing.”

“Yeah, it is. Especially for you,” Luke agreed and Marcus breathed a sigh of relief. He just couldn't think of a good way to tell his best friend that he was trying not to have a crush on an impossible British figure skater, never mind a male one. Luke would not understand, no one would. It was best left hidden, he was just going to have to get a better handle on it, that was all. He determined to put Esca out of his mind, for now at least, and to stop mooning over the guy like a bloody ninth grade girl. He was better than that.

“Yeah,” Marcus said, turning his attention back to his friend, picking up his pace to rejoin the others.

**

He didn't make it home until late that night, too late, he thought, to call someone, especially someone whose habits he was unaware of. So he collapsed onto his bed after stripping out of his dirty clothes. They'd ended up playing some football after dinner, until it got too dark to see the ball, and then they went to Robert's house, where he produced a case of beer and another of the guys had pulled out a bag of weed. Which of course made it officially 'pick on Marcus' day.

He rolled over onto his back, scrolling through his contacts again until he found Esca's name, staring at it as he remembered the ribbing he'd taken that night for refusing to partake in either. He'd never been one for indulgence, always having been a serious child, even when he was very young. He wasn't certain if he'd always been that way, but losing one's family at a young age and being raised by a very stoic uncle would do that to anyone, he thought.

At any rate, Marcus was an athlete, more dedicated than the others could understand. Getting stoned or wasted wasn't going to help him improve his skills on the ice, never mind increase the chances that he would get drafted next year. It certainly wouldn’t help his intelligence, either.

His friends called him stiff-necked, stuck in the mud, party-pooper, pussy and a whole range of other names meant to bully him into following their dubious lead, but Marcus wasn't a follower. He was coming to realize more and more that he was nothing like his friends and never would be. They didn't understand that hard work was its own reward, it increased strength, stamina and intellect, it gave him insights they'd never attain. They disdained his practice schedule and mocked him for his single minded pursuit of his goal, but Marcus didn't let them get to him. Much.

Besides, none of them had any real aspirations, and Marcus couldn't imagine living that way. Even Luke, though he wanted to play hockey professionally, didn't take the game as seriously as Marcus thought he should. He'd be lucky if he was taken higher than the fourth or fifth round in the draft, if at all. Marcus wanted to go in the first. The first.

So he'd spent the evening picking up after his friends, ignoring the sometimes good natured ribbing and imagining what Esca was doing. Esca who worked as hard as Marcus did, Esca who knew what it was like to have a goal and what needed to be done to reach it. His thumb traced Esca's name a few more times. It was still too late to call. With a sigh he put the phone on his bedside table and threw an arm over his face, pushing the day out of his mind, wishing he could forget the whole thing. Tomorrow, he hoped, he'd get to hang out with Esca instead. He smiled at the prospect and, before too long, drifted off to a much needed sleep.

**

It was almost 9am when Marcus woke up, the sun was high in the sky and heating his room far too much for comfort. He dragged his sluggish body out of bed and to the toilet, imagining how much worse the others must feel. It had been months since he'd slept so late, practice was always at the crack of dawn and Marcus got up early enough, even during the summer. He knew he'd get the best sleep with a proper schedule, so he kept to it, no matter what. He may have gotten up late, but there was no reason to waste the day, so he began some stretches, working his body through his usual routine, stretches giving way to push ups, sit ups, lunges and then to the chin up bar his uncle had installed for him.

He was covered in a light sheen of sweat before he was done, but he skipped the shower, heading downstairs for a light breakfast instead. After breakfast he usually spent some time in the pool, not only doing laps for stamina, but weight exercises, made more difficult with the resistance of the water. By the time he was done, it was just after 11am, so he had a shower before heading down for Sunday lunch with his uncle.

But first, he sat on his bed and picked up his phone, trying to psych himself up to call Esca. It was a good time, he thought, and he had no real plans for the afternoon. If he was lucky, neither would Esca. Only one way to find out, so he found Esca's number and pressed send, taking a deep breath before lifting the phone to his ear.

Shit, he really was like a little girl. The other end was picked up after the first ring, and Esca's voice answered.

“Hello,” he said and Marcus could hear some music in the background.

“Hi, Esca, it's Marcus,” he said, clearing a sudden lump in his throat. “I was wondering if you're free this afternoon.”

“Yeah,” Esca said, and suddenly the music was turned down. His voice was clearer, more intense. Marcus shivered. “You gonna teach me all about hockey, are you?”

“Sure, if you're up for it,” Marcus said with a grin, laying back on his bed. “After lunch?”

“I'll have to take the bus, still don't have a license here,” Esca replied.

“I can come get you, if that's alright,” Marcus volunteered. He wanted to know everything about Esca, including where he lived. His heart beat just a little bit faster, thinking about Esca in his truck.

“That's fine. I'll bring a tape too, perhaps I can teach you something as well,” Esca said, and Marcus' heart skipped a beat at the teasing tone in his voice.

“I'm sure you could,” Marcus said with a chuckle. 'In more ways than one,' his traitorous mind provided. He sat up and fumbled for a pen and paper. “Give me your address, then.”

**

Esca lived downtown, way too far away for him to take the bus for Marcus' patience, so, as soon as his uncle was done giving him the third degree over his new friend, he grabbed his keys and headed out. He spent the drive downtown in a state of nervous anticipation, having to wipe his sweaty hands on his jeans more than once or risk losing his grip on the steering wheel.

He pulled up to Esca’s building and found a spot close to the front door before calling Esca again, as he’d been instructed. Esca was brief, picking up with a rushed, “I’ll be right down,” before ending the call, leaving Marcus staring at his phone in surprise.

Sure enough it was mere moments before he came out the front door of the building, dressed in loose fitting cargo pants and a baggy t-shirt, carrying a beaten up satchel. Marcus found himself bemoaning losing the view of Esca’s fine ass under those baggy pants, but he shook himself back to the present and grinned as Esca opened the passenger door and climbed in.

“Nice truck,” he said as he fastened his seatbelt. “I just can’t get used to driving on the wrong side of the road, though.”

Marcus laughed, guiding the truck back into traffic, on the right hand side.

“It’s not the wrong side over here,” he said, shooting Esca a grin. “Guess you’ll have to get used to it if you’re gonna get yourself a license, won’t you?”

“I suppose I will,” Esca said, crossing his arms over the satchel and staring thoughtfully out the window. Marcus forced his eye back on the road.

“Do you mind?” Esca asked a few moments later, gesturing to Marcus’ iPod, which was piping The Tragically Hip through the truck’s speakers.

“Sure,” he said, grinning again. “If you find something you like, go ahead.”

Esca grinned back, picking up the iPod and flipping through, checking out Marcus’ playlists. “Who is this?” he asked as he browsed, gesturing to the speakers.

“Only the best band ever,” Marcus replied. “The Tragically Hip. They rule Canada, basically, and they earned it.”

“Cool,” Esca said. “I’ll have to give them a try.” But he switched it anyway, and the first few bars of 'Falling for the First Time' blared through the speakers.

“Ahh, another great Canadian band,” Marcus remarked, shooting a glace at Esca from the corner of his eye, wondering if there was any significance in his song choice.

“I've grow quite fond of them in the time I've been here,” Esca said, beating the rhythm on the dash. “A lot of fun, aren't they?” Marcus agreed and they launched into a discussion of which music they did or didn’t like, making the ride seem faster than usual, and soon they were pulling into the drive of the house Marcus shared with his uncle.

“Wow, this is where you live?” Esca asked, taking in the house with awe filled eyes. “It's huge.”

“Yeah, it's pretty big, alright. I guess I'm used to it, I've lived here since I was three,” Marcus said, trying to see the house as though for the first time. It was rather large and impressive. “Come on, I'll show you around. You'll have to meet my uncle, good luck with that.”

Marcus and Esca climbed out of the truck, heading for the front door. “Why would I need luck?” Esca asked.

“He's an original. And not to be taken too seriously,” Marcus said, rolling his eyes. “He's really great, raised me by himself, but now that he doesn't need to be the parental figure so much, he's a little less likely to curb his tongue.” Esca furrowed his brow and Marcus just chuckled. “You'll see.”

Marcus opened the door, gesturing Esca into an impressive foyer, with a set of wide stairs leading to the upper floor. To the left it opened into a formal living area and to the right there were several doors in a hall leading to the back of the house. Marcus kicked off his shoes and Esca did the same, following Marcus to the first door on the right side, waiting as Marcus knocked, then opened the door to a murmured summons.

“Uncle, I'm back,” Marcus said, moving aside to let Esca into the room. It was a large space with minimal furniture, displayed on the walls were pictures of various properties and landscapes, framing a seating area in the corner. At the L shaped desk adjacent to the door sat a silver haired man with a wide, welcoming smile, Marcus' uncle.

“Come in, come in,” he said, standing and moving around the desk to shake Esca's hand. Marcus watched closely, seeing how his uncle looked Esca up and down, seeming to take his measure in seconds.

“Uncle, this is Esca MacCunoval,” Marcus said. “Esca, my uncle Francesco Aquila.”

“Call me Frankie,” his uncle replied, dropping Esca's hand. He stepped back and looked back at Marcus. “You never told me he's such a wee little lad, did you?”

Marcus rolled his eyes, but his uncle was undeterred. “So you're the figure skater. Marcus has told me you've been practicing with him these last few weeks. Why he waited until today to tell me, I've no idea, but then, he's reticent like that.”

“He's been sharing his ice time with me, so I can warm up before my coach arrives,” Esca said, provoking another wide smile from Marcus’ uncle.

“And a Brit too,” he exclaimed, giving Marcus a shove. They were of a height and although his uncle had grow soft over the years, he possessed the same build Marcus did. They were often mistaken for father and son, not that Marcus minded. It was basically the truth anyway.

“I spent quite a lot of time in England when I has a young man, lovely place. Wonderful accents, all over. Where are you from?” he asked, staring avidly at Esca's face, gauging his responses.

“Billingham,” Esca said, giving Marcus a look that conveyed his understanding of Marcus' warning. His uncle was rather talkative and inquisitive. Marcus had learned how to deflect him, mostly.

“Ahh, a northern boy, good for you. What made you decide to forsake the land of your forefathers to join us here in the frozen north?” Marcus snorted at the last statement, earning him another shove from his uncle and a smirk from Esca. Marcus liked his smirk.

“Rainy north, more like,” Marcus commented. His uncle rolled his eyes, turning back to Esca.

“Training,” Esca answered simply. “I needed a coach who could keep up with me.”

“Modest too,” Uncle said, beaming at Esca again. “Well, you're welcome here, at any rate. And much more polite than Marcus' other friends, unruly ruffians that they are.”

“Uncle, please,” Marcus said. “Leave them out of it, will you?”

“Yes, yes, fine,” his uncle said, rolling his eyes and waving off Marcus' concern. “We won't discuss how there's not a single one with any real ambition or work ethic, and we certainly won't mention how many of them haven't mastered the art of basic sentence structure.”

“Uncle,” Marcus tried to interrupt, but his uncle waved him off once more.

“Now Marcus, you know I adore those boys, which is why I have such high standards for them. But this lad, now here's a boy who I'd like to get to see around more often. You two go along and do...whatever it is you're going to do-” Marcus groaned as his uncle winked at both of them in turn. “-and I'll leave you to it. Good to meet you, Esca, I hope to see you again.”

He took Esca's hand and shook it again before giving Marcus another shove and sitting behind his desk, immediately picking up a pen and writing on the pad in front of him. Marcus gestured at the door and Esca needed no further cues, darting into the foyer again with Marcus right behind him.

“Oh boys?” came his uncle's voice from the room, just before Marcus could pull the door shut. “Dinner is at six.”

“Yes, uncle,” Marcus said, closing the door firmly and leaning against it with a huff.

“I see what you mean,” Esca said, his eyes wide with amusement.

“Yeah, sorry about that. Actually, you got off pretty easily, dinner might be another thing altogether.” Marcus headed down the hallway, calling over his shoulder, “come on, I'll show you the rest of the house.”

The tour didn't last too long, though they stopped in the kitchen for drinks, where Marcus introduced Esca to Sassy, their cook and housekeeper, who patted Esca's cheeks and pronounced him acceptable.

When they finally made it up to Marcus' room, Esca closed the door behind him with a sigh of relief. Marcus laughed.

“They can be a bit much at times,” Marcus agreed, searching through his collection for the game he wanted to play for Esca.

“Wow, your room is great,” Esca remarked, looking around. “It's like your own little suite up here.”

“Yeah, all I need is a kitchenette and I'll never have to leave,” Marcus agreed. “Sassy used to bring me meals up here while my uncle was off working, but he put a stop to that right away. He insists we eat together, or at least I eat meals downstairs.”

Esca nodded, dropping his satchel by the door and flopping down on the couch behind Marcus. “Are she and your uncle...” he trailed off, his meaning obvious.

“No,” Marcus said quickly. “Hell no. My uncle hired her shortly after I came here, to help him out since he's often busy in the evenings and to cook for us. He's a shit cook, though she's been able to teach me a thing or two.”

“Ahh,” Esca said. Marcus had found the right disc and popped it into the player, grabbing the remote and sitting beside Esca on the couch.

“Besides, I still think he's got a thing with his business partner,” Marcus commented while waiting for the game to start.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, they're a little too close for just friends, if you know what I mean. Stephan is alright though, I'm sure you'll meet him later.” Marcus found the right entry on the disc and started it, glancing sideways at Esca to judge his reaction to the possibility of his uncle being gay. Esca didn't even bat an eyelash.

“Right, so what do you know about hockey?” he said as the game began, the announcers voices droning on in the background.

“I know you play it on ice. With sticks. And you fight a lot,” Esca said and Marcus laughed.

“Well, we have our work cut out for us, don't we?” Esca gave him a friendly shove and Marcus' stomach gave a little flip. “Alright, so the game is played in three periods, each lasting twenty minutes.”

**

After they were done with the hockey game, during which Esca asked dozens of questions, he pulled out a dvd from his satchel and put it in, giving Marcus a lesson in figure skating, from moves to judging to politics. Marcus' head was spinning by the time 6pm rolled around, and his stomach was growling. Learning was hungry work, it seemed.

They made their way down to the kitchen, joining Marcus' uncle at the table. Sassy gave Marcus a kiss on the forehead and patted Esca on the cheek again, before calling her good byes over her shoulder as she headed for the door.

“Right then, let's eat,” Marcus' uncle said, picking up a dish and leading the way to the table. The boys followed his lead to the dining room where the table was already set.

“So, did you boys have a good afternoon?” Uncle.

Marcus nodded his response, his mouth full of wild mushroom risotto, one of his favorites. Sassy was a genius in the kitchen.

“It was enlightening,” Esca said. “I never realized there was so much involved with slapping a puck around the ice.”

“And we didn't even get into the strategy much,” Marcus added with a grin.

“Indeed,” his uncle agreed, nodding sagely. “Hockey is more complex than it seems to the casual observer and it's taken very seriously around here, especially by this one.” He pointed his fork in Marcus' direction.

“This is wonderful,” Esca remarked, taking another bite of the risotto.

“Marcus’ favorite, Sassy spoils him too much, I think,” Uncle said, shaking his head. “She says it’s to make up for him not having a mother, but I think she just likes to spoil him.”

“What happened to your mother?” Esca asked Marcus solemnly. “If you don’t mind me asking.”

“No, I don’t mind,” Marcus said. “It was a long time ago, I don’t really remember her. She died in a car crash.”

“Drunk driver,” Uncle added, his face grim. “Marcus was not even three, and his father brought him here shortly after. He was on the road all the time, so he couldn’t take care of the boy on his own.”

“You didn’t mind, did you?” Marcus asked, wondering for not the first time if his uncle held any resentment at having had to raise his nephew alone.

“No, not at all,” Uncle said, giving Marcus a fond smile. “I’d often complained I didn’t get to see you enough, and I knew I wouldn’t have a family of my own, so it was ideal, really. I’ve valued having you here all these years, and I’m not looking forward to you leaving. It’ll be lonely here all over again.”

“Sorry, Uncle,” Marcus said, patting him on the arm. “That’s the way life goes, isn’t it?”

“It is indeed, mores the pity. If I had a choice I’d keep you a fourteen year old forever. Just old enough to pick up after yourself and not need a baby sitter, but young enough that I didn’t have to worry about you driving that truck around town at all hours.”

“When have I ever done that?” Marcus asked, indignant.

“You haven’t, I admit,” Uncle answered with a smirk. “But you could start anytime. I’m not sure my ancient heart could handle the worry.”

“You’re not that old,” Marcus said, laughing. “Besides, I go to bed earlier than you, most nights.”

“Yes, you are as regular as the sun,” Uncle agreed, turning to Esca before continuing. “He’s a very self motivated young man, this one, sets himself a schedule and keeps to it. Up at dawn doing laps in the pool, in bed when most kids his age are just getting up.”

“Hey!” Marcus objected. “I’m not that bad.”

“If you insist,” Uncle said, with a wink at Esca. “It’s an admirable trait, Marcus, truly. I wish I was half as fastidious as you.”

“Well, I must have learned it somewhere,” Marcus said.

“Your father was a lot like that too, before,” he was interrupted by a loud knock on the front door, then a voice calling, “hello?” from the doorway.

“We’re in the kitchen!” Uncle hollered, making Marcus and Esca wince. Soon another man entered, as silver as Uncle and with a smile as wide.

“Good evening boys,” he said, pulling out the only remaining chair, opposite Esca, and sitting.

“Let me get you a plate,” Marcus said, standing up and padding into the kitchen.

“Esca, this is Stephan, my business partner. He’s an excellent asset, there’s no better eye in the real estate business, but he’s irredeemably late. This is why I see the clients and he does the paperwork.”

“Only if I must,” Stephan said with a cheeky grin. “It’s good to meet you, Esca. Do you play hockey with our Marcus?”

“No,” Esca said as Marcus set a plate and cutlery in front of Stephan. “I’m a figure skater.”

“And a British one, at that. You remember our trip to Britain, Frankie? Good time that, we should do it again soon.”

“We should,” Uncle agreed. “Before we get too old.” They shared a laugh, but Marcus just rolled his eyes at Esca.

“Oh, come on Frankie, these young lads don’t want to hear us reminisce about our glory days. They’re living theirs, aren’t you boys?”

“I can only speak for myself, but I have far too much practicing to do,” Marcus said, provoking a loud guffaw from Stephan.

“Soon then,” he said. “After you’re drafted you should take some time off to have fun.”

“If I am drafted I’ll have to work even hard to prove myself,” Marcus said. “You’ll just have to have some fun for me.”

“If you insist,” Stephan said, giving Marcus a hearty slap on the shoulder. “It’s a dirty job, but someone has got to do it.”

“You really should make some time to enjoy yourself, Marcus,” Uncle insisted. “You and Esca should go for a swim after dinner.”

“I swim every day,” Marcus said, looking at his plate.

“Laps,” Uncle said, shaking his head. “You swim laps, Marcus.”

“I have to keep in shape,” Marcus said.

“You don’t have to work that hard to keep in shape,” Stephan commented. “I’ve never seen anyone as fit as you are, especially at your age.”

“Esca’s as fit as I am,” Marcus pointed out and all eyes turned to Esca.

“And do you ever indulge yourself with fun, Esca?” Uncle asked.

“Occasionally,” Esca replied cautiously. “But Marcus is right. If I want to reach my goals, I have to work harder than everyone else. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for fun.”

“They spent the afternoon going over Marcus’ stash of games,” Uncle told Stephan. “No time for play, even at leisure.”

“Oh, what a pair these two make!” Stephan said with a laugh. “Both trying to out serious each other.”

“No telling who the victor will be,” Uncle joined in enthusiastically, laughing.

“Alright, alright,” Marcus said, standing up, clearing his dinner dishes. “Are you done?” he asked Esca.

“Very much,” he replied, following Marcus’ lead and clearing his dishes.

“Behave you two,” Marcus called back, leading Esca into the kitchen where they cleaned up their dishes and grabbed some pop from the fridge.

“Do you want to go swimming?” Marcus asked, trying not to look too hard at his motivations for asking.

“Sure,” Esca said. “Why not? Although it will play into their little game, you realize?”

“We’ll try not to have too much fun,” Marcus said with a laugh.

“You’re on.”

**

“There’s towels out in the cabana,” Marcus said as he led Esca out the the pool area. “Sassy usually keeps some trunks out there for me...wait, you don’t have anything to wear. I’d lend you mine, but I doubt they would fit.” He stopped and turned, but Esca went right past him, carrying on toward the pool.

“No problem,” Esca said, shooting a cheeky grin at Marcus over his shoulder. “I’ve got my skivvies.”

Marcus stood frozen for several moments before forcing one foot in front of the other and following Esca to the cabana to change. When he arrived he found Esca shirtless and undoing his pants. Marcus watched, dumbfounded as he bent over to push them down, pulling his socks off as well.

Marcus was only able to tear his eyes away from Esca’s barely covered ass when tempted with the sight of his long, muscular legs.

“Are you getting changed?” Esca asked, straightening and folding his pants, laying them on the bench atop his shirt. Marcus pulled his gaze away and pulled his own shirt off, turning away as Esca faced him again.

“I’ll only be a minute,” he said, grabbing his trunks from a shelf.

“I’ll meet you out there,” Esca said, and Marcus breathed a sigh of relief as he was left alone in the cabana. He was regretting having ever opened his mouth. He took a few extra minutes getting changed, convincing himself that he could handle this, that he had to handle it. He’d have no career if his secret got out, and all his hard work would be for nothing.

When he thought himself calm enough, he left the cabana, only to lose his cool once more at the sight of Esca crouching over the pool, using the net to drag a few leaves out of the water. He then lifted the net up, swinging it in an arc over his body to dump the leaves over the fence onto the grass.

Marcus was transfixed once more as drops of water spattered across Esca’s chest and shoulders. He forced himself to look away, calling, “you all set?” when Esca put the net away.

“You have a diving board, I can’t wait to try it out!” Esca said enthusiastically. “I haven’t been on one for months.”

“Don’t tell me you’re a diver too,” Marcus said, pushing aside his preoccupation to focus on what Esca was saying, not on what he was wearing.

“Don’t be ridiculous, hockey boy,” Esca said with a laugh, climbing up the ladder and then walking out onto the diving board. He bounced a little, testing out the tension before jumping, once, twice and launching himself into the air, twisting his body lazily in two full rotations before gravity kicked in, pulling him down into the water with surprisingly little splash.

By the time he came back to the surface, Marcus had climbed out onto the diving board. “You’ve never taken diving lessons, have you?” he said, putting his hands on his hips and shaking his head at Esca, who was pulling himself out of the pool, no ladder needed. Marcus swallowed, focusing on his own dive, though it wasn’t near as showy as Esca’s.

When he resurfaced, Esca was sitting at the edge of the pool with his legs in, grinning at Marcus.

“I haven’t,” he said. “My old coach had me train on the diving board, to help me with jumps and spins. All the rotations, you know.”

“Ahh,” Marcus said, reaching the edge of the pool, crossing his arms on the deck and looking up at Esca, who was thankfully shielding him from the sun. “That makes sense, I guess.”

“It helped a lot, actually. It’s easier to train your body to do the revolutions when you give it a boost, and from there it was easier to get the jumps right. On the other hand, it didn’t help me learn how to stick the landings.” Esca was smiling down at him, his hair looking almost gold, silhouetted by the late evening sun. Marcus smiled back, his breathing growing heavier rather than lighter, the moment stretching impossibly.

Marcus had to do something to break the tension that was growing between them, so he reached up, letting his hand slide up Esca’s arm, his callused fingers catching slightly on Esca’s smooth skin. He shivered as goosebumps popped up under his fingers, but he kept going until he had a grasp of Esca’s elbow, then pulled with all his strength. It had the desired result, as Esca tumbled into the pool with a shout.

Marcus climbed out quickly, leaping onto the diving board and canon-balling into the water, splashing Esca just as he resurfaced.

“That does it!” Esca hollered once he’d pulled himself out of the pool again. He padded over to a bin on the poolside and pulled out a ball. “This is war, Aquila!” he said, tossing the ball at Marcus, who had just pulled himself up out of the pool. The ball hit him in the stomach and he fell back into the water with a laugh.

**

Once they’d exhausted themselves, they lay side by side on the deck chairs, soaking up the last of the day’s sunlight. Twilight was falling, and Esca looked as amazing in its light as he did in any other. Marcus sighed, wishing not for the first time that his life were less complicated, although he’d never before wished so hard that he could let go and just be himself.

Although, even if he could, there was no guarantee that Esca would be agreeable, so perhaps things were better the way they were.

“What time is it, do you reckon?” Esca asked, scratching his flushed shoulders.

“Time to get inside, by the look of you. You’ll probably have a bit of a burn, you pasty thing,” Marcus teased.

“I’ve never tanned well,” Esca remarked. “It won’t be the last time I’ve burned.”

Marcus twisted around to look at the clock his uncle had installed on the side of the house several years ago, so Marcus wouldn’t spend all day in the pool. “It’s almost 8:30.”

“Ahh, I’d better get going, then,” Esca said, standing and stretching. Marcus looked away, getting up as well.

“Your grandma worry about you out so late?” Marcus said with a smirk, earning a flick from Esca’s towel. He’d managed to get Esca to tell him a few things, namely that he’d moved in with his grandmother on his father’s side, admitting that he was lucky to have someone living in a place where he had located a coach who could help him progress in his skating.

“Knowing my Nan, she’ll probably be out when I get back,” Esca said, padding alongside Marcus toward the cabana. “Always out with one friend or another. It’s sad when your grandmother has a more active social life than you, you know?”

“Well, you’ve just moved, so it’s understandable,” Marcus said, nudging Esca’s shoulder with his elbow.

“I try and remind myself of that every time she heads out for another night on the town.” They shared a laugh as they entered the cabana, each grabbing their clothes and retreating into the changing stalls.

When Marcus had finished changing he pulled back the curtain on his stall to see Esca squeezing the water out of his briefs. Suddenly it occurred to Marcus that Esca was holding his underwear and therefore could not be wearing it. His eyes dropped to the top of Esca’s pants where they hung low, his hipbones visible under the waistband. He was unable to stop himself from imagining if the skin under that one flimsy layer of fabric was as soft as the skin on Esca’s arm had been.

He shuddered again as he had when he’d felt that skin first-hand, turning away to drop his towel in the hamper, looking up again only to be smacked in the face with Esca’s towel. As he peeled it from his head, he decidedly was not thinking about what part of Esca’s body it had recently dried. Esca laughed at him as he pulled on his t-shirt, and Marcus couldn’t help but grin back.

His denial was hanging by a thread and had been since he’d met Esca.

**

The drive back to town was quiet, in a comfortable way, which was nice. When he dropped Esca off in front of his building he said, “see you tomorrow.”

“You will,” Esca told him with a smile that Marcus returned, their gazes holding again as it had in the pool. Finally Esca broke the silence, saying, “goodnight, Marcus,” in a quiet, intense voice.

“Goodnight,” Marcus replied, swallowing thickly.

And Esca was off, disappearing into the building as Marcus leaned his head back and closed his eyes, breathing as heavily as if he’d just played a shift on the ice. He really needed to get a handle on this thing, before it spiralled out of control. He knew that distancing himself from Esca would help, but he really doubted he could do that and more importantly, he didn’t want to.

**

It was full dark by the time Marcus made it home, but he’d taken a few detours to try and clear his head. He hadn’t had much success, but he’d needed to try.

When he got inside, Marcus could hear muffled sounds from the tv room, so he padded down the hall and went in, slumping down on the couch beside his uncle. They sat in silence for a long while, watching the program Uncle had on. It was something about Ancient Rome and how they conquered Britain, historical clap trap that Marcus was usually more interested in.

Finally Uncle spoke up. “Took Esca home, did you?” he said, not looking away from the tv.

“Mmhmm,” Marcus hummed.

“He’s an awfully nice boy, Marcus,” Uncle commented.

“I know,” Marcus said, trying hard not to think about how nice he was. How nice he looked. How nice his skin had felt under Marcus’ hand. He shifted on the couch, suddenly restless, uncomfortable.

“I’d like to see him around more,” Uncle said, glancing over at Marcus, no doubt because of all the fidgeting.

“I hope you will,” Marcus answered simply. Uncle sighed and changed the subject.

“So your birthday is coming up pretty fast,” he said, and Marcus hummed his agreement. Uncle continued, “I was wondering what you wanted to do this year. I wasn’t sure you’d want to have a party after what happened last year.”

“No thanks,” Marcus said vehemently. Last year he’d invited all his friends over for a pool party, he’d thought it a good idea at the time, but some of his friends had invited their friends and before long it had degenerated into a free for all. Some of the uninvited guests had brought various kinds of alcohol and began distributing it from the cabana, hidden from the ever more watchful eye of Marcus’ uncle. Many dishes and a deck chair had been destroyed, the pool needed to be emptied and refilled on account of several people using it as a vomit receptacle, and the cabana had smelled like alcohol for several days, even after a thorough cleaning by the less than pleased Sassy.

Marcus shuddered at the thought of a repeat. “I was thinking more along the lines of dinner in town. We can go early and hit a few of the sporting goods stores so I can get some new equipment for the season,” Marcus suggested.

“Do you need new equipment?” Uncle asked, and Marcus shrugged.

“It can’t hurt,” he said. Uncle snorted, amused.

“Nothing I buy you will equal last year’s gift, I’m warning you now,” he said, giving Marcus a smirk.

“Nothing could top it,” Marcus said. “I love that truck.”

“I know you do. And unlike many of your ruffians, I know you’ll care for it, even if you didn’t have to work for it,” Uncle said. “You work hard enough for everything else.”

“Thanks, Uncle,” Marcus said, smiling at him.

“Dinner in town then. We can pick some ridiculously expensive restaurant and make fools of ourselves in front of all the pretentious snobs and the people they’re trying to impress,” Uncle said, his smirk widening.

“Sounds great,” Marcus agreed. “I’d like to invite Sassy and Stephan, if that’s okay. We don’t have to bring any of the ruffians if you don’t want.” Marcus knew his uncle would agree, which was fine with him because he didn’t particularly want any of his friends to come anyway. He was feeling increasingly distant from them, anyway.

“We could bring Esca, if you like,” Uncle suggested, watching Marcus out of the corner of his eye.

“Yeah,” Marcus said, his cheeks flushing slightly at the thought of Esca dressed up for dinner. “Yeah, sounds good.”

“It’s settled then. Your birthday is a Thursday, but it would work best for Stephan and I to go on the Saturday. Alright?” Marcus nodded.

“We’ll make a day of it, then,” Uncle said. “I’ll let Stephan and Sassy know, you invite Esca. You’ll be seeing him tomorrow, I assume?”

“Yeah,” Marcus confirmed. “I’ll see if he’s free.”

“Good, good,” Uncle said, turning his attention back to the tv.

“It’s getting late, I’m off to bed, then,” Marcus said, standing. “Goodnight, Uncle.”

“Goodnight, Marcus.”

Marcus went upstairs, but he didn’t go to bed just yet, dropping onto the couch instead. His body was tired, it had been a late night and a busy day, but his mind was whirring with all that had happened. With Esca. He groaned, lying back and stretching out his legs, head resting on the armrest that Esca had propped himself on for most of the afternoon, arguing with Marcus about the little rules of hockey and how figure skating was so much more elegant and much more interesting than watching large men with no front teeth slap a piece of rubber around the ice.

Marcus smiled at the memory, he’d argued right back, insisting that it took skill, strength and plenty of quick thinking, awareness of one’s team and the opposing players, unlike sliding around the ice on one foot looking like some kind of malformed bird. They had both ended up in heaps of laughter, nudging each other in mock annoyance.

Suddenly a different picture of Esca flashed through his mind, from later in the evening. Esca on the edge of the pool, smiling down at him, all glowing hair and soft, smooth skin and white, straight teeth. Esca in the cabana after, wringing out his drenched briefs, all sharp hipbones and effortless grace. Esca, standing with one hand on the door of Marcus’ truck, staring at him with intense, unfathomable eyes, wishing him a good night in that low, intimate voice.

Marcus realized that he’d been stroking himself while the memories flashed through his mind, rubbing his now hard cock while visions of Esca danced in his head. He stopped, putting his hands behind his head and tried to will down his arousal, but it wasn’t working. He gave in with a groan, unfastening his jeans and pushing his underwear down enough to free his aching cock.

He wasn’t one for jacking off, generally, but then he’d been suppressing his sexual urges for so long that not doing it had become part of his routine. He only succumbed when his body insisted, but he kept it short and sweet, and tried not to think of anything but the touch of his hand around his swollen flesh.

This time, that was out the window. His mind was crowded with memories of Esca, in the pool, the cabana, the truck. In the rink, even at the dinner table, laughing with his uncle. Esca in his room, sitting in the very spot where Marcus lay working himself with fervour, faster and faster until he came with a shout, his whole body reverberating with the shock of the hardest, longest orgasm he’d ever had in his life.

He lay panting in the aftermath, his t-shirt and belly, not to mention his hand, covered in spunk. It was uncomfortable as it cooled, but Marcus couldn’t bring himself to care just yet, too overwhelmed with what he had just done to move, his body boneless from the release. He closed his eyes, thumping his head on the arm rest a few times in frustration.

He was royally screwed.

**

Esca had smiled widely when Marcus had invited him to go to the city with them, and accepted immediately. Marcus felt his stomach flip at Esca’s delight, and he found himself grinning like a loon for the rest of the day.

Until he’d got a phone call from Luke.

“Hiya, Luke,” he answered, still not down from his mood.

“Marcus, what’s up? You still skating circles around that rink, or what?” Luke teased.

“With my phone? Nah, all the calls would ruin my concentration, not that you’d know what that’s about,” Marcus teased back.

“Right, right, you’re ever so much more focused, I get it,” Luke said and Marcus could almost see the eye roll.

“Anyway, the lads and I were wondering what the plan is for your birthday this week. Gonna bust some more heads like last year, then?” he asked.

“Hell no,” Marcus said, repeating what he’d told his uncle. “No way am I doing that again, you can forget it.”

“Ahh man, that’s no good. What fun’s a birthday if you can’t party?” Luke said.

“That party was a disaster and you know it, Luke,” Marcus insisted. “Besides, I’ve got plan to go to Van with my Uncle on Saturday, he’s gonna drop a mint on a new kit.”

“You must be jizzing just thinking about it,” Luke said with a laugh.

“You are one disgusting bastard, Torus,” Marcus said, grimacing. He pointedly did not think about what he was had recently jacked off over.

“You love it, Aquila,” Luke said. “Fine, fine, no party this year. I guess we won’t see you until school then, eh?”

“Nah, although I guess I should pick up supplies while we’re in town,” Marcus said, not looking forward to shopping for school. He wanted the year to be over already, studying would only distract him from his practicing. He kept up straight A’s, mostly because memorization and regurgitation came easy to him, but he didn’t enjoy it.

“You should, that’ll be fun, eh? Shopping with Unc, just like when you were a babe,” Luke laughed.

“Ahh, fuck off, mate,” Marcus swore. “I’ll see you Tuesday.”

“Yeah, alright. Have a good week,” Luke said before hanging up.

Marcus sighed, thinking about school, and it occurred to him that Esca would be going too. His stomach clenched at the idea of sharing Esca with anyone else, with his team mates. They wouldn’t see Esca for what he was, they would only see the skates.

This year might be the best of his life, but it could just as easily be the worst.

**

Saturday came quickly and before Marcus knew it, he was in the back of his Uncle’s suv, pressed between the door and Esca. He hadn’t thought this part through properly. Esca was warm and firm against him, thigh to thigh and shoulder to shoulder. Marcus had to concentrate hard in order to focus on something, anything else, especially when Esca leaned closer and breathed onto his neck.

“Are they always like this?” he asked, in reference to the banter being tossed around between Sassy and Stephan.

“Pretty much,” Marcus said, trying to shift away slightly without looking like he was. “Sometimes Uncle breaks them up and sometimes he joins in. Today it seems he’s just going to let them go at it.”

“Well, at least it’s entertaining,” Esca said, smiling widely. Marcus couldn’t restrain his smile, so he nudged Esca with his elbow.

“Ahh, enough of this shitty music,” he said, digging out his iPod and giving Esca a headphone. “I’ll teach you all about The Hip.”

**

The day went surprisingly fast and, for once, Marcus didn’t hate it quite as much as he usually did. He was sure it was Esca’s presence that did it, made everything better. By the time they made it to dinner, choosing a more relaxed atmosphere after all, Marcus was as happy as he’d ever been.

Until, just outside the restaurant, waiting for Sassy and Stephan to bring the car back, seeing as Uncle had enjoyed the wine a bit too much, they ran into an old friend of his uncle’s, Claude Marcel.

“Claude, my old friend!” Uncle said, reaching forward to clasp hands with a man Marcus recalled only vaguely.

“Ahh, Frankie Aquila, it’s been far too long, far too long,” Claude said, shaking Uncle’s hand excitedly.

“It has,” Uncle agreed. “You remember my nephew, Marcus?” Marcus stepped forward and grasped the man’s hand, shaking firmly.

“I do, I do,” Claude said. “He was just a wee little thing, last I saw him. You’ve grown up well Marcus, very well indeed.” Claude reached up and patted Marcus’ cheek, running his hand along his arm on the way down. Marcus heard snort from Esca’s direction, that turned immediately into a cough.

“My friend, Esca MacCunoval,” Marcus said, gesturing at Esca, who took Claude’s hand briefly, shooting a highly amused look at Marcus.

“Lovely to meet you, and how wonderful to see you again Frankie, it’s been far too long,” Claude repeated, getting another snort-cough from Esca and making Marcus hold his hand up to his mouth, faking a cough as well. Clearly Claude had been as fond of the wine as Uncle.

A throat cleared from beside Claude, and he turned around, remembering his companion, a tall, still-faced man, dressed in a pretentious suit. Marcus thought briefly of his uncle’s words about people wanting to impress the rich snobs and had to suppress another laugh.

“Ahh, my assistant, Galen Placyd, a fine lad by all accounts, isn’t he now?” Claude said, as Placyd shook their hands in turn. Marcus pulled his away quickly, Placyd had a handshake like a dead fish, heavy and limp.

“A pleasure to meet you all, I’m sure,” he said, smiling smugly at them as if it wasn’t a pleasure at all, looking down his nose at Esca’s battered leather jacket. Marcus’ jaw tightened, and he clenched his fists. He thought Esca looked amazing in that jacket, it was worn and soft and made him look a bit like James Dean, though Marcus would deny it if pressed. And here was Placyd, looking down on him, as if his prissy suit was so much better.

“Aquila? I recall that name,” Placyd was saying, his voice full of smarm. “Have we ever met?” he asked Marcus, looking at him as if they shared some great secret. “I’m sure I’ve seen you before. Perhaps at Club Tribune? I play a wicked round of golf, if I say so myself.”

“He does, best putter on the green,” Claude was saying to Uncle.

“No, I don’t think so,” Marcus said, shaking his head. “I don’t play golf, I prefer hockey.”

“I thought all hockey players played golf,” Claude remarked. “Gives them something to swing at during the off season, eh?” He and Uncle shared a laugh, but Marcus was not particularly amused.

“Hockey, that’s where I’ve heard it,” Placyd broke in, a triumphant smirk on his face. “Are you any relation to Flavian Aquila, who played in the NHL? Wonderful goalie he was, so I’ve heard, until he let in the goal that lost the Canucks the Cup back in ‘94. Do you remember that, Claude?” Placyd looked imploringly at Claude who nodded along.

“Indeed, indeed, who doesn’t remember? Died not long after, didn’t he?” Claude said solemnly, patting Uncle on the arm consolingly.

Marcus bit back a curse and uncurled his fist. “He was my father,” he said, his voice like steel. He felt Esca put a hand on his arm, restraining.

“A shame he died in such an undignified way,” Placyd said, oblivious to Marcus’ rising ire. “Did irreparable dishonour to the family name, didn’t he?”

“Galen, I hardly think-” Claude attempted to intervene, but Placyd stupidly continued anyway. “Just a junkie in the end-” he stopped suddenly, unable to speak further with Marcus’ fist in his mouth.

“Marcus!” shouted Esca, who leaped in front of him, both hands on his chest, putting steady pressure on him to hold him back. Marcus could have broken free, gone after Placyd again, God knows he wanted to, but Esca, so close, his face inches from Marcus’, was an effective distraction.

“Right then, time to be off,” Uncle said, stepping between Marcus and Placyd, who was holding his bleeding jaw in one perfectly manicured hand.

“Go on boys, I’ll meet you at the car,” Uncle said, waving them off. Marcus gave in to the pressure on his chest, his breathing slowing as Esca’s presence calmed him.

“Let’s go Marcus, he’s not worth it,” Esca said, meeting Marcus’ eyes, his face set, hard as stone.

“Fine,” Marcus said, shrugging off Esca’s hand and storming away from the restaurant, not stopping until he was a few blocks away, where he braced his hands on the brick of a nearby building.

“Marcus,” Esca said softly, leaning a shoulder against the wall beside him. “I’m sorry about your father.”

“It’s alright,” Marcus said, waving a hand. “He’s right, my father was a junkie in the end. He turned to alcohol and cocaine after my mom died, he just couldn’t handle it.” Marcus turned toward Esca, his eyes damp with tears of sorrow and frustration.

“He must have loved her very much,” Esca said, putting a hand on Marcus’ shoulder, squeezing gently.

Marcus nodded, overwhelmed with memories, the few that he had of the time when they had been a family, whole, together. His sudden grief fell on him, and he stumbled clinging to Esca in an attempt to stay upright. He breathed heavily, his nostrils flaring with the force of his despair, but Esca held him up, sure and strong, far stronger than he looked. He had a will of iron, and Marcus admired him greatly.

Finally he was able to pull back, brushing himself off and setting his jacket to rights while Esca did the same.

“That’s why,” he said suddenly, staring into the road but not really seeing anything. “That’s why I have to play in the NHL. Not just because I want it, but for him. To regain the honor of my name, his name. He was a great goalie, the best, there was none like him. I’ve seen the tapes, I’ve watched him play.” He took a few deep breaths, calming himself, steeling himself for the task ahead.

“I have to do it, don’t you see?” he continued. “If I go first in the draft, if I play better than anyone has before, I can restore that honor to my family’s name. I have to.”

“Marcus,” Esca said, but Marcus just shook his head, turning to look at Esca again.

“I can’t let anything distract me,” he said, his gaze burning into Esca’s. “No matter how I feel about-” he trailed off, took another breath and went on. “No matter what. I’ll do it, you’ll see. I’ll regain our honor.”

“I believe you,” Esca said softly, his eyes reflecting a deep understanding. He seemed to read between the lines, taking meaning from Marcus’ words, meaning that was not spoken aloud.

“I’ll do him proud,” Marcus said, holding himself even straighter, then, pushing past Esca, walked away.

Chapter Text

Boots or Hearts

Well you won't even let me talk to you, we’ve got some air to clear.
Well, we'd probably only agree on one thing anyway, that's what the hell is happening here?
Everyone in town now, they probably all agree, I'm lying in the bed I made.

See when it starts to fall apart, it really falls apart.
Like boots or hearts, oh when they start, they really fall apart.

 

Marcus pulled into the school parking lot on Wednesday morning and turned off his truck, leaning against the head rest and enjoying his last few moments of relative freedom. The school year was a blessing and a curse, bringing with it an increase in training and play time, but with it came the added distractions of studies and all the social requisites of public schooling.

There was nothing for it however, so he got out of the truck, pocketing his keys and grabbing his back pack, filled to the brim with new school supplies. He’d received his class schedule the day before, taking advantage of being a grade 12 student to get in and out without having to see anyone, no orientation needed.

Ever since his birthday trip to Vancouver the previous Saturday, he had been very anti-social, ignoring a few phone calls and not leaving the house at all. His ice time had ended for the time being, so he had no need to go to the arena, not until team training began the following week. Marcus had managed to get an extra hour of ice time every Saturday morning, starting that weekend, at the butt crack of dawn. He was looking forward to it, he had a lot of work to do in preparation for the draft.

His uncle had commented on his moodiness, and Marcus could hardly argue with him. After the confrontation with Placyd, all the reasons he wanted to prove himself were in the front of his mind, pushing aside other wants; he knew he had needed the reality check to refocus. He’d been far too distracted during the summer.

He sighed deeply, trudging toward the school, stopping suddenly and stepping behind a tree, having spotted the reason for his distraction. Esca was heading into the school, carrying his satchel and grinning at a girl Marcus had never seen before. On the other hand, Marcus didn’t pay much attention to the girls, so she could have attended as long as he and he wouldn’t have known it.

He had become far too enamoured of Esca in the past few months, and it had to stop. It was hard enough keeping a secret this big on his own, if he were to admit it, to anyone, the chances were much higher that it would spread. If he were to consider...no, he must not dwell on it. It would do him no good.

The problem was, it was all he could think about.

A hand clasped him on the shoulder, making him jump like a little girl. At least he didn’t squeal like one.

“Jumpy this morning, are you?” Luke said, laughing at Marcus’ expense.

“Just a little distracted,” Marcus replied, giving him a wan smile.

“You’ve been distracted a lot, lately,” Luke commented, but Marcus just ‘hmmed’ in reply. They walked silently toward the doors of the school, somewhat awkwardly. The same awkwardness had happened a lot lately to Marcus, he seemed unable to view the world and his relationships in the same way, since he’d met Esca.

“So,” Luke began. “First Wednesday in September, eh? Always a lot of fun, isn’t it?”

“Oh yeah, loads,” Marcus said, his smile becoming genuine. The conversation flowed easier, after that.

**

The morning’s classes went smoothly, as smoothly as Marcus could expect anyway. He was almost successful at putting Esca out of his mind, but he knew that they’d run into each other at some point. They hadn’t spoken since Marcus’ birthday dinner, having said barely a word to each other on the ride home.

Marcus, Luke, Robert and another teammate, Charlie Henderson, one of the few members of the team who had a chance in the draft as Marcus and Luke did, were walking together, headed for the cafeteria when Charlie nudged Luke aside and struck up a conversation with Marcus.

“So Marcus,” Charlie said, slapping Marcus on the back. “You all set for training to start?”

“Ready and waiting,” Marcus said, following him into the cafeteria, stopping short when Charlie stopped in front of him.

“Sorry,” Charlie said, to someone Marcus couldn’t see, but it was clear he had run into them. Marcus peeked around, just as the someone spoke, and his heart began to pound wildly.

Esca looked good. Really, really good, and Marcus had to remind himself that such things shouldn't matter to him. Esca wore a slim blue sweater over a collared shirt, and a pair of jeans that hugged him in all the right places, if Marcus was any judge. His hair was lightly gelled in spikes, unlike the messy practice hair or the neatly combed look he’d sported the night of Marcus’ birthday dinner.

“No, it’s my fault, I wasn’t paying attention,” Esca said, his eyes going wide when he saw Marcus. He seemed as much as a loss as Marcus was, unsure of where to go from there. Marcus realized, as he should have before, that attempting to pretend he didn’t know Esca would be seen through and commented upon right away. His friends may act like idiots some or most of the time, but that didn’t make them simple. And Luke knew Marcus well and would see through him quickly.

“Esca,” Marcus said, moving around Charlie and grinning at Esca. “I wondered when I’d run into you.”

“It was bound to happen sometime,” Esca said smoothly, though his eyes still showed his surprise.

“Who’s this then, Marcus?” Luke asked from behind him, having been forced to stop along with the rest.

“Esca, MacCunoval,” Marcus said, adding the last name as an afterthought, his brain so rarely made it past Esca’s first name without becoming lost in other, less appropriate thoughts than the fact of his last name. “He’s a figure skater, we met at the arena during the summer.”

“Oh yeah?” Luke asked, watching Marcus shrewdly. “You never mentioned him before.”

“Well, he’s here now,” Marcus said quickly, not meeting Luke’s eyes. “Esca, this is Luke Torus, Robert McGrath and the big lump who ran into you is Charlie Henderson,” Marcus said gesturing to each in turn.

“Pleased to meet you,” Esca said, smiling weakly.

“We all play together with the Bruins, so you’ll probably be seeing them around the arena too, we’re scheduled for practice when you’re training, I think,” Marcus said.

“As far as I recall,” Esca replied. “I’ve only looked the schedule over briefly.”

“Do you want to join us?” Luke cut in. “I’m sure Cottia would love to meet you, she’s got a thing for accents, eh Charlie?” he said with a laugh.

“Leave off about Cottia,” Charlie said, giving Luke a shove. “She’s got a thing for everything, it seems. Although she seems to be crushing on Marcus, this year.”

Marcus’ eyes shot to Charlie, with an exclaimed, “what?”

“Oh yeah, she’s mentioned a few times in the last few weeks how much she’s looking forward to seeing you again,” Charlie explained, patting Marcus on the arm consolingly. “Good luck with that.”

They all laughed, all but Esca, who just raised an eyebrow in Marcus’ direction. Marcus shook his head, slightly fearful.

“No offense mate, but your sister is a menace,” Robert said to Charlie, shoving them both out of the way. “Now move, you pricks, I want food.” Charlie gave Marcus another pat, this one on the cheek, before following Robert toward the meal line.

“You coming?” Luke asked Esca, who shook his head.

“No, thanks, I just came in to get a soda,” Esca said. “I’d rather be outside. Thanks for the invite.”

“Anytime,” Luke said, smiling at Esca and then turning to Marcus. “Come on then, Aquila,” he said.

Marcus nodded, biting his lip as he looked at Esca. “See you around then,” he said, hesitating.

“Yeah, see you,” Esca said, nodding before heading out the door. Marcus stood and watched him leave for a minute, before realizing what he was doing. He was right, though. Esca’s ass looked amazing in those jeans.

**

“So, your little friend there,” Charlie began as Marcus sat down with his lunch. “Is he a fag or what?”

“Jesus, Charlie,” Luke said.

“It’s a valid question,” Charlie said. “He’s a tiny little British figure skater, seems pretty queer to me.”

“Could you be any more judgemental?” Luke asked, shaking his head. “Whether he is or not, why should it matter to you?”

“I’m just saying, he looks like a fag, that’s all,” Charlie insisted.

“I don’t know if he is, but I can’t see how it matters,” Marcus said quietly.

“I hope he doesn’t hang around,” Charlie said with a sneer.

“Hope who doesn’t hang around?” came a female voice cheerfully. “Hello Marcus, how was your summer?”

“Just fine, Cottia, thank you,” Marcus said as Charlie’s twin sister joined them at the table, along with her friend, Ang Reed. Both the girls considered themselves enthusiasts of hockey, but Marcus thought they were just enthusiastic about the players. Unfortunately, he was included under that umbrella, to his dismay. Cottia and Ang flitted from boy to boy, never settling on one for long, and Marcus found himself hoping that Cottia would move on from him sooner rather than later. He rather thought Ang had a crush on Charlie, though both the twins seemed oblivious.

“So who do we want to avoid?” Cottia repeated, always up for a bit of gossip.

“That faggy little figure skater,” Charlie said.

“For fucks’ sake Charlie, you don’t even know if he’s gay,” Marcus snapped.

“He is, I’ll bet you a fifty,” Charlie said smugly.

“Fuck off,” Marcus said, turning back to his lunch.

“Even if he is, I don’t see why you should care,” Luke pointed out. “There are worse things in this world than being gay.”

“Like what?” Charlie asked, laughing incredulously.

“Like being a homophobic asshole,” Luke said.

“Speaking of assholes,” Charlie said with a snort.

“Well aren’t you progressive,” Luke said. “Why don’t you form your own opinions instead of parroting what Mommy and Daddy think?”

“Oh, stop acting like children,” Cottia scolded.

“Stay out of this, Cottia,” Charlie said, but she went on anyway.

“Charlie, it doesn’t matter if you think homosexuality is unnatural or wrong or whatever, it doesn’t mean you should make fun of them,” Cottia scolded. “They have enough to deal with as it is.”

The argument continued, no doubt, but Marcus didn’t hang around to hear any more. His stomach was a pit of bile and apprehension, panic setting in and flowing through his veins like acid.

“I’ve lost my appetite,” he said, getting up and leaving without looking back, though he heard Cottia say, “what’s the matter with him?” before he escaped out the door.

**

Marcus spent the rest of lunch break sitting in a rarely used stairwell with his head in his hands, nursing a headache to go with his sick stomach, Charlie’s words spinning in his head. True, he was a bit forceful in his opinions, but they were shared, to some degree or another, by almost everyone that Marcus had ever met who was involved in hockey.

There was no way around it. He’d have to keep it a secret, bury it down, further than he had before. Esca was a complication he hadn’t anticipated. He was coming to realize that he could not be around Esca often without giving himself away. Luke seemed to have suspected something and Charlie would leap on anything he could to discredit Marcus.

Oh, they were friends, of a sort anyway, but Charlie was opportunistic and seemed to care for no-one but himself. He’d never pause before throwing Marcus under the bus, especially if it would make himself look better.

The problem was, staying away from Esca was the last thing Marcus wanted to do. Esca was unlike anyone he had know before, and when Marcus was with him, he felt alive in a way he’d never experienced before. A future with no Esca was...bleak.

But what choice did he have? His career would almost certainly be ended if anyone found out about him. He had no more delusions about himself, Esca had taught him that. He was gay. There was no mistaking it anymore, no denials held any water against the feelings he had been experiencing all summer.

He could never let it out, though. Placyd’s infuriating words had renewed his determination. He had to take a step back from Esca, and he had to do something to reaffirm the reputation he’d gained, that he was as manly as they come. Well, as manly as a seventeen year old could be, anyway.

The bell rang, jolting him back to the present. He groaned, scratching his head as if he could free all the depressing, contradictory thoughts, from his brain, and just be. If only it were that simple.

He jogged down the stairwell and headed to his locker, being late for his next class was not going to make things any better. He pulled out his Math text and a binder and headed off, slipping through the crowded halls easily for one of his size. It was made easier because practically everyone in the school knew him, calling out greetings and patting him on the back as he passed.

He had become a minor celebrity at school and in town while playing for the Bruins, home games were always well attended with many clumps of fans, all calling his name, cheering every move he made, booing any questionable calls or hard checks by his opponents. The team’s spotty record didn’t seem to discourage them.

He pushed open the door to the Math room just before the bell rang again and stopped short, a little bit shocked at what he saw. Toward the back of the classroom sat Esca, which wasn’t a complete shock, they hadn’t discussed class schedules, but they were bound to have at least one class together.

What was surprising was that Cottia had claimed the desk beside him and was currently chattering away at him with an intent, excited look on her face. There was a desk free on the other side, and before he realized it, his feet were taking him down the aisle, dropping him in that very desk.

“What are you two talking about?” he asked, grinning at Esca before smiling at Cottia, perhaps a bit less brightly, but he tried anyway.

“I was just meeting Esca here,” she said with a smile. “He was telling me about his training this summer, and how lucky he was to share ice time with you. I just love figure skating, don’t you Marcus?”

“Uhh, sure,” Marcus said, looking at Esca with an apologetic look, but Esca looked nothing more than amused. There was no telling what direction Cottia would steer the conversation in, but she was interrupted by the teacher, something Marcus found himself very grateful for.

**

Math class went surprisingly quickly and soon they were gathering up their papers and books.

“Where are you boys headed next?” Cottia asked, sidling up next to Marcus and threading an arm through his. Marcus wasn’t sure if he’d imagined it or if Esca’s jaw had clenched at the sight, but soon he had schooled his face into the impassive mask he’d worn in the weeks after Marcus had met him.

“English Lit for me,” Marcus said, sliding his arm out of hers as soon as they entered the hallway. “What about you?” he replied, but he was looking at Esca.

“Biology,” Esca said softly, holding his gaze.

“Biology for me too,” Cottia said, sliding an arm into Esca’s instead, giving Marcus a coy look. “Come on then Esca, we can be partners.” She tugged him away, waving at Marcus with her free hand. Esca shot a look over his shoulder, and Marcus swore he could see fear in his eyes.

Marcus figured that Cottia had intended to make him jealous and in fact she had succeeded. However, he was certain she hadn’t expected him to be jealous of her rather than Esca. He shook his head and turned away, making for his classroom.

**

Getting out of school after his last class was problematic as everyone seemed to want to have a piece of him and for the first time, he didn’t appreciate it. Finally, when he’d exchanged small talk with enough people and had made it out into the parking lot, he was surprised to see Esca leaning against his truck.

“Hey,” he said, jogging the last few steps, a smile cracking his face once more, a genuine one this time. “How was your day?” He leaned against the truck beside Esca, waving at yet another person who was passing and unable to resist calling out a greeting.

“Wonderful,” Esca said with a grimace. Maybe he’d meant to smile, but it certainly didn’t come out that way.

“That bad, then?” Marcus said. “Me too.”

“Cottia is certainly enthusiastic about you,” Esca said with a twist of his lip.

“Is she?” Marcus replied, not knowing what else to say.

“You’re quite a hero around here, from what I gather.” Esca looked at Marcus, his lips turned in a full smirk now.

“I’m a hockey player,” Marcus said, pushing off the truck and opening the door. “We’re like royalty around here.”

“I’m beginning to realize that.”

“Do you want a ride?” Marcus asked, tossing his backpack behind his seat.

“Nah, I’m fine to walk, it’s only a few blocks,” Esca said. “Just wanted to see a familiar face, that’s all. See you tomorrow,” he said, turning and walking away without another word. Marcus could only watch him go, albeit feeling much better than he had not five minutes before.

**

Thursday was more of the same, but Friday Marcus had the dubious pleasure of being cornered by Cottia after last block. He had been rummaging in his locker, deciding which books to take home and eager to get outside where he hoped Esca would be waiting for him again, when she caught up with him.

“Marcus,” she said, a bright smile on her face as she leaned against the locker next to his. “First weekend of the year, are you excited?”

Marcus was. He had booked some ice time at the practice arena, now that it was finally open, and his slot was immediately before Esca’s Saturday training slot. Not only was he happy he’d been getting back on the ice, but he was looking forward to getting the chance to watch Esca skate.

“You could say that,” he hedged, zipping his back pack and closing his locker. “You?”

“Definitely,” she replied. “There’s a party at Alan Jenkin’s house tomorrow, would you like to go with me?”

Marcus froze. Three days into the school year and he was already fending off date invites. He sighed, rubbing a hand through his hair while he thought of a friendly way to deflect her.

“Sorry, I can’t. I’ve got training tomorrow and a lot of work to do for my uncle around the house.”

“Oh, that’s too bad,” she said, pouting in what he supposed she thought was an attractive way. “Charlie doesn’t have practice until Monday, are you training with someone else?”

“I do solo training on the weekends when we aren’t away,” Marcus replied.

“Ooh, can I watch?” she asked excitedly, and Marcus froze, eyes wide.

“Uhh, it’s probably not a good idea,” he hedged. “I get distracted when other people are there, that’s why I like to train by myself as well as with the team.”

“Oh, that makes sense, I guess,” she said, nodding. “Well, I have work to do as well, Esca and I have to start planning our big biology project anyway.”

“Wait, what?” Marcus said, giving her his full attention for the first time.

“We’ve partnered in biology, so we’ll get to see each other lots over the semester. I don’t know why Charlie is making such a fuss about him, I think he’s lovely, don’t you agree?”

Marcus did, more than he was willing to let on. “Yeah, he’s pretty great,” he agreed. “Listen Cottia, I’ve got to get going. I’ll see you Monday, alright?”

“Sure Marcus,” she said cheerfully. “Have a great weekend.”

“Thanks, you too,” he replied, turning and jogging down the hall, heading right for the parking lot. He was pleased to see that Esca was waiting for him again, even though he was a bit later than usual.

“There you are,” Esca said as Marcus approached. “I was just about to head home.”

“Sorry, Cottia managed to corner me,” Marcus said, smiling. “Took me a bit to free myself.”

“She does tend to go on, I’ve noticed,” Esca said.

“Always has. I hear you’re stuck partnering her for biology this semester,” Marcus remarked, in what he hoped was casual way.

“Oh, it’s not too bad, she seems rather intelligent,” Esca said. “Besides, she’s a fair sight better than her brother.”

“That’s for sure,” Marcus admitted.

“Right, I’d better head out. Nan will be waiting with food for me, I’m on the ice at four,” Esca said. “See ya,”

“Yeah, see ya,” Marcus said, watching as Esca walked away. He’d never get tired of the view.

**

Marcus threw himself into his training the next day, taking his frustration out on the pucks. Charlie had been right, Cottia seemed to be intent on getting Marcus out on a date, and Charlie hadn’t been much fun, either. He seemed to have latched on to Esca as that year’s source of ridicule, and kept the derisive comments flowing steadily. Cottia had found mild success in derailing him, but not much.

Robert and Dale seemed to agree with Charlie, although Luke was less than enthusiastic about their chosen topic of scorn. Marcus found it hard to say much of anything over the roiling in his belly. He wished the weekend would last forever, except he was looking forward to team practice beginning on Monday morning.

It seemed as if his hour went by in a flash, that or Esca showed up a little early.

“Oi, hockey boy,” Esca called, shocking Marcus into shooting wild. The puck slammed against the boards with a bang. Marcus laughed, skating over to where Esca was leaning against the boards. He handed Marcus his water bottle, which he took gratefully, downing almost half of it on one gulp.

“Hiya,” Marcus said when he was done, putting the bottle back on the boards. “You all set to go?”

“Looking forward to it,” Esca said. “I’ve got a full session for once, no more of this 45 minute nonsense. Six days a week, twice a day, once on Saturday.”

Marcus laughed. “I know what you mean. I’m grateful for the summer ice time, but with only one ice surface, it’s almost impossible to get a real session in.”

“You start training with the team on Monday, then?” Esca asked.

“Yep. I’m looking forward to that, I enjoy practicing alone, but playing with the team means the season starts soon, which is exciting.”

“Need to show off your skills, then?” Esca teased, and Marcus beamed. When he and Esca were alone like this, he could pretend that the rest of the world didn’t exist. No Charlie mocking, no Cottia flirting, no random people to interrupt their discussions.

“You bet,” Marcus agreed. “I need to be at my best, there will be scouts at more of the games this year.”

“Well, I’d better get warmed up,” Esca said, pushing upright. “Catch you later, yeah?”

“Sure,” Marcus said, following Esca onto the ice to pick up his stuff. Esca was flying around the ice now, stretching his legs in squats, jumping off the ice in lazy, one rotation jumps, nothing terribly impressive, but Marcus was enthralled none the less.

“Hey, Esca,” he called as the other spun close again.

“Yeah,” Esca called back, looping gently toward Marcus, as graceful as ever. Marcus swallowed.

“You wanna get lunch after you’re done? I’m not hungry yet, but when you’re done I could eat,” he asked.

“Sounds good,” Esca said, stopping close to Marcus and squatting again, balanced completely on his toe picks before lunging up into the air, arms stretched above his head. “Pick me up in a couple hours then, hockey boy.”

“You are so funny,” Marcus said, completely deadpan, provoking a laugh from Esca, who paused in his stretches to grin at him.

“Don’t forget it,” he said, spinning away again, an unspoken dismissal.

Marcus thought that over as he changed out of his skates and washed up. It always seemed that he was pinned until Esca dismissed him, or was it just because he wanted every second he could get with the other boy? Either way, it was becoming a routine.

Esca defied all expectations. His physical stature made people, Marcus included, underestimate him, but he was as strong as any of the hockey players Marcus had met. His still, quiet manner seemed to imply shyness or lack of understanding, but he was shrewd and exceptionally bold at times. He was utterly comfortable in his own skin, Marcus doubted he had any idea how graceful he was.

Then again, considering his chosen sport, perhaps he did know. Regardless, he was always unexpected. The strength of his personality was the opposite of his size, making him seem much larger, giving him an air that would intimidate most anyone in the right circumstances.

By the time he made it back to rink level, Andrew was on the ice with Esca, watching avidly as he performed a routine. Marcus realized that Esca would be training for competitions, the winter season was full of them. He knew Esca was trying for the Olympic team, he needed to have a strong season this year, as the Olympics were the following February.

He watched, enthralled as always, while Esca moved, looking as though he was dancing on the ice, his feet a blur as he crossed the rink, his footwork spectacular. Soon he was building speed again, his legs stretching in deep, long strides, the motions of the dance having transferred to his upper body as he built up the momentum he would need for the jump that Marcus, having seen a reasonable amount of figure skating, knew was coming next.

And it did. Esca seemed to reach the right spot in the ice and paused in his strides so that he was gliding forward on one skate, the other leg trailing behind him, both arms flexed and ready until, at some prompt that Marcus couldn’t decipher, he swung his trailing leg forward and threw himself into the air.

He spun, arms tucked tightly into his body, legs crossed, rotating so fast that Marcus couldn’t even begin to count the revolutions, but it had to be a triple, Marcus reckoned. He landed suddenly, just when Marcus wondered if he would stay aloft forever, his limbs opening, gliding backwards on the opposite leg to the one he’d started on, the other now leading the way, stretched out behind him for balance, only for a few scant seconds before he spun forward, throwing the airborne leg forward again and launching himself into another jump. This one was slower and with fewer revolutions, but he landed it just as precisely, and then twirled several times, practically leaping from foot to foot for several meters until he spun straight again, once more taking those long, deep strides with his arms outstretched.

Marcus swallowed, his jaw having hung open while Esca threw himself around the ice. No wonder he was aiming for the Olympics. His movements were flawless, his body expressive, every emotion he was portraying was showcased on his face.

Marcus turned when Andrew called out to him to stop, taking the break in the action as an opportunity to escape before he passed the entire session staring slack jawed at Esca’s artistry. He breathed heavily as he left the arena, stunned by what he’d seen, even more so by what he’d felt.

He was in serious trouble.

**

Marcus was up before dawn on Monday, eager to get to the arena and start practicing. The school year may yet turn out to be a total disaster, but he had high hopes for the hockey season. He’d spent the entirety of Sunday at home, hardly leaving his bedroom. Ostensibly he went over his game tapes from last season, identifying his weaknesses so he could work on them. Again.

Truthfully, he didn’t have many. He was a well rounded player, and he knew it. Some would become cocky with the level of talent Marcus possessed but, whether it was his character or his uncle’s upbringing or a combination of the two, it had never inflated Marcus’ ego. He was well aware of his talent, it only made him more determined to restore his family’s name, and to make one for himself.

Hockey memories were long, but perhaps if he shone bright enough, he could dim the derision his father’s end had wrought.

The tapes were a good excuse to give his uncle as to why he wasn’t in the mood for socializing, even when Stephan arrived for their usual Sunday dinner. But Marcus couldn’t deny that he needed some time alone to figure out what the hell he was going to do about Esca. He had been so moved by Esca’s skating, so affected by his every little thing that Marcus was at a loss as to how he should handle the situation.

He should distance himself from Esca. Pull away, make excuses, let their friendship fade away until it was gone. He wanted to pull him closer, hold him, see that vibrant smile every day for the rest of his life. But the last week had proven to Marcus that he couldn’t stay away from Esca. Oh, he had the best of intentions, but as soon as he saw the other boy, it was all forgotten.

Put frankly, he was fucked. He needed a distraction. Badly.

**

Practice was excellent, and just what Marcus needed to clear his head. Coach Guern had worked them hard, having no mercy on the fact that most of the team had let themselves slide a bit during the summer. For Marcus, it was a good workout, a chance to reconnect with his teammates and get himself back into the team mindset. Awareness of his teammates was crucial in a game, and Marcus had a sixth sense for where they were at all times. Reviewing the games and learning their playing styles made it that much easier.

Marcus waved at the guys who had walked out with him, threw his gear into his truck and climbed in, sighing in contentment. He had just enough time to grab some breakfast before he needed to be at school, so he started the truck, browsed through his iPod until he found ‘Fireworks’-the song always put him in the mood for hockey-then turned it up and headed out.

**

The next few weeks passed in a blur, practices, home games, one long trip into Alberta for away games, school, friends all demanding enough attention that Marcus was able to ignore his little problem, to put it aside for a while. Cottia was the only person in his social group who knew anything about Esca besides his name. Marcus had suggested that they should study anywhere but Cottia and Charlie’s house and both Esca and Cottia had readily agreed. Marcus was happy to keep Esca out of Charlie’s radar.

So he was able to separate his friends, more or less, although Cottia kept pressuring him to go out with her and acted more and more clingy as time passed by. Marcus kept hoping that if he ignored her behaviour it would go away, but she was much more stubborn than a four year old who wanted ice cream for lunch. Not that Marcus’ uncle liked to relate that story to everyone he met.

It was putting some tension between him and Esca though, as Esca was apparently sitting through seemingly endless study sessions in which Cottia did little but gush about Marcus and speculate that they would be a fabulous couple. It seemed Esca was as frustrated with her crush as Marcus was.

One afternoon in the first week of October, Marcus and Esca were sitting on the tailgate of his truck talking. It had become a habit of theirs to meet for a few minutes after classes were out. Esca was inevitably there when Marcus arrived, although Marcus made sure not to take his time. Some days Esca left rather quickly and some he stayed. Occasionally Marcus drove him home, but generally he preferred to walk.

On that particular day, they’d clambered up onto the tailgate where Marcus was using small rocks to describe various plays to him. They had spent several more afternoons watching tapes and discussing their respective sports. Marcus could now tell the difference between a Salchow, a lutz and an axel, but he was still stuck on loops and flips. Remembering which was which proved difficult.

“Hey, Marcus,” called a voice, interrupting his well set up description of how a team goes about covering an extra opponent when penalty killing. He looked up to see Charlie, Robert and Dale approaching.

“Guys,” Marcus said politely, giving them a weak smile. “What’re you up to?”

“Just heading home when we saw you two here having a little date, and we though we’d say hi,” Charlie said with a sneer.

“You’re hilarious, Charles,” Marcus said, knowing how much the boy hated the formal version of his name.

“Fuck off, Aquila,” he snapped.

“Since this is my truck, you’re the one who will have to fuck off, Charlie,” Marcus replied, shooting Esca a give-me-patience look. “Feel free to leave at any time.”

“Oh, we were just wondering what you were discussing so intently,” Robert said. “Your plans for the weekend, perhaps? Got a big date?”

“Yeah, what are you chatting about?” Charlie said, getting right up close and peering at Marcus’ rock diagram.

“Not that it’s any of your business, but Marcus was just describing some penalty killing strategy to me,” Esca said politely, his face hard and set.

“Oh, was he?” Charlie chortled. “Learning about hockey, are you little boy?” Charlie nudged Dale, who laughed.

“Cut him some slack Charlie, he’s from jolly old England, land of the crumpet. Do they even have manly sports like hockey over there?” Dale said, much pleased with his own wit. Marcus rolled his eyes, looking apologetically at Esca, but Esca wasn’t looking at him at all. His face was impassive and his eyes were flinty, a grey that Marcus hadn’t seen on him before.

“Yeah, isn’t it all polo and cricket over there?” Charlie said. “Oh, that and soccer, or should I say ‘football’,” he enacted a posh British accent, badly, but the others still laughed.

“We have hockey, I’ve just never paid any mind to a sport in which the team that beats the other’s brains out, wins.” Esca said. Marcus chuckled, earning him a glare from Charlie.

“Well why don’t you just fuck off back there, you little fag,” Charlie snarled. Marcus looked at Esca to judge his reaction and was surprised when he laughed.

“I’m sorry, did you just call me a cigarette?” Esca said was a smirk. “Or are you trying to insult me?”

“I am insulting you. I’m calling you a queer,” Charlie said, his voice turning serious. “Are you going to deny it?”

“Why would I?” Esca said, his voice hardening in response. “If the feather boa fits.” He shrugged, unconcerned.

“So you are gay, then?” Robert asked.

“Not that it’s any of your business,” Esca said. “But I’m not going to hide it or pretend I’m someone else to impress you bozos.”

He grabbed his satchel and stood, swinging it over his shoulder. “If you want to stay and listen to these idiots, feel free,” he said to Marcus smoothly, but he looked pissed. “But I have better things to do than allow them try to insult me for something I’m not ashamed of. See ya.”

He walked away without another word, leaving a stunned Marcus with the other three, all watching him go.

“Yeah, get out of here you little fag!” Charlie called after him. “We don’t want you around anyway.”

Esca just lifted a hand, middle finger extended, and kept walking. Marcus grinned a little, he’d taught Esca that just last week, when he’d learned that the two fingered salute was lost on Marcus.

“You just gonna let your little girlfriend walk off like that, Marcus?” Charlie said, turning on Marcus now that his primary target was gone.

“He’s not a girl, dumbass,” Marcus said, but Charlie’s words hit far too close to home. He wanted Esca as his boyfriend, badly. And now he had incontrovertible proof that Esca was gay, which was something he’d never really considered. He’d been much too busy trying to deny that he was.

“Yeah, but why else would you hang out with him, unless you want to fuck him?” Charlie said, leering. “I’d be careful if I were you, everyone is going to think you’re playing for the other team once it gets out that the little fuck is a fag.”

“You are really fond of that word, aren’t you?” Marcus said, trying not to flush, Charlie’s words putting pictures in his head that were the opposite of what he’d intended, no doubt. “It isn’t very impressive, it only makes you look like a homophobic asshole with a one word vocabulary.”

“What, now you’re pissed off?” Robert said, nudging Charlie. “Are you playing for the other team now Marcus?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty pissed off, it’s how decent people generally feel when someone they thought was a friend insulted someone who actually is,” Marcus snapped, hopping off the tailgate and slamming it shut. “Now fuck off.”

He pulled out his keys and got into the car, starting it and putting it into gear in record time, then peeling out of the parking lot.

**

Marcus slammed the door of his truck when he got out, slammed his way into the house and then slammed the door of his room for good measure. Less than two minutes later he received a text, from his uncle.

You okay? it read.

Fine, he wrote back. Bad day.

Marcus tossed the phone onto his bedside table and threw himself down on the bed and pulled a pillow over his head, trying to block out the world. He felt horrible for not jumping up and defending Esca, but he had been frozen, until Esca had walked away. He knew why he froze. He was terrified that someone would figure him out, that his career and everything he’d worked for would crash into pieces around him.

He let out a frustrated yell, muffled by the pillow, then threw it off his bed and rolled over, staring at the ceiling. He had to do something. Something to shut Charlie and his goons up, and isn’t it ironic he had considered them friends as well as teammates, when now he can’t wait to get off the team so he doesn’t have to be in the same room with them.

But there was far too much school year left for that, and there were plenty of games to come, so there would be a lot of busing late into the night, all of them crammed into uncomfortable seats, no room for distance.

So Marcus had to fix this. His mind whirled with half baked plans until suddenly, he landed on the solution.

**

The following day was a Friday, so everyone was super eager to get out of the school the minute the bell signaled the end of classes, but Marcus hung around his locker, knowing he’d see her before she left, if he was patient.

And there she was, right on schedule, laughing with a few friends, chattering away about their weekend plans, no doubt. Marcus took a minute to just look and was surprised to find that Cottia was really quite beautiful, long dark hair and cheerful brown eyes, a bright smile that was rather contagious. He wasn’t able to appreciate it the way he thought he should, and that was the whole problem, really. He was determined to change that, so he headed over, trying not to act as if he was headed to his doom.

“Afternoon ladies,” he said as he approached, smiling his most charming smile at them.

“Hi Marcus,” they chorused, all smiling back at him and damned if there wasn’t some eyelash batting as well, and not only from Cottia. He noticed her friends, the ubiquitous Ang Reed and another girl he didn’t recognize, watching as they exchanged looks as if they were sharing some grand secret.

“Could you spare Cottia for a few minutes? There’s something we need to discuss,” he said, noting the shocked looks the girls gave each other, the conversation they all seemed to be having with their eyes and body language. He would never understand girls.

“Alright,” said Ang, giving Cottia a look. “We’ll meet you outside.”

The two departed, casting glances back at them as they go, but Marcus waited until they had turned the corner before turning back to Cottia, pasting a smile on for her benefit.

“What’s up, Marcus?” Cottia asked, though she wore a smirk that said she knew what he was going to say, that her plan had worked. He could almost hear the evil cackle. He sighed. If only she knew that it was her brother who had facilitated this whole mess.

“I was wondering if you’d like to go to dinner with me this weekend,” Marcus said, getting right to the point. No reason to pussyfoot around it, now that it had come to this.

“Oh Marcus!” she exclaimed, wrapping her arms around his neck in a completely unexpected hug. “I’d love to.”

He held her for moment before pulling back, giving her a weak smile as she beamed up at him. His stomach felt sick, and he was starting to feel a bit claustrophobic.

“Saturday is busy and tiring for me, is Sunday alright?” He usually spent Saturday afternoons with Esca, whenever he could, and he couldn’t bear having to explain to Esca why he wasn’t able to make it. Esca would find out soon enough.

“Sunday is wonderful,” she said, still beaming, one hand on his arm as if she hadn’t noticed his had returned to his pockets.

“Great,” he replied. “Six-ish?” She nodded her agreement.

“Right, I’ll pick you up. I should get going now, though, I’ll see you Sunday.” He gave her a smile that he feared was more of a grimace, and then turned and all but jogged down the hallway, feeling full-on nauseated now.

The day decided to kick him in the balls more than it had already, because when he reached his truck there was no Esca, only a post-it that read, ‘you’re too slow, off to the arena. tomorrow, then. E.’

Marcus read it about five times before slipping it in to his back pocket and unlocking his truck.

The next day Esca showed up early and watched Marcus practicing for a while, a blank look on his face. Marcus really hated that look.

“Hey,” he said, skating over when he was done. He couldn’t help but smile, even though Esca wasn’t, just spending time with him made Marcus feel lighter, and he’d been feeling very heavy lately.

“Hi,” Esca replied, smiling weakly. “Anything new?” he asked.

“I, uh,” Marcus stammered, unsure what to say. Esca had never asked him that before, and the timing was too convenient to be coincidental. “Why do you ask?” he hedged with.

“Cottia called last night, from the moon, apparently,” Esca said, staring out at the ice pensively.

“She did, did she?” Marcus asked, grabbing his water bottle.

“Mmhmm,” Esca said. Marcus tried not to notice that neither of them were looking at the other. He found himself wondering if Esca had feelings for him, since he’d found out that Esca was gay for certain, it had changed how Marcus saw their interactions. He could convince himself, if he tried, that Esca liked him too, so he tried not to think about it too hard. At times like these, it was exceptionally difficult.

“I guess she told you we’re having dinner tomorrow night, then,” Marcus said, fidgeting with his gloves.

“I think it’s great,” Esca said, although he didn’t sound very enthusiastic about it.

“You do?” Marcus looked at him, surprised.

“Yeah, she’ll be able to keep you company while I’m gone,” Esca said, looking up at Marcus at last.

“Where are you going?” Marcus asked.

“Washington first,” Esca said. “Then Ottawa, China, France, Russia and Japan. Then we end in South Korea before coming home, at last.”

“All that? You’re not coming home in between?” Marcus asked, stunned.

“No time,” Esca replied. “I’ve got a competition every weekend. Just enough time to get settled, deal with the time change and train a bit.”

“I, I had no idea,” Marcus said. “I guess I’d forgotten you had to compete.”

“What’s the point of skating otherwise?” Esca asked. “Besides, this is the qualifying season for the Vancouver Olympics.”

“So it’s pretty important then,” Marcus said, and Esca nodded.

“It’s what I’ve been aiming at for years. And part of why I moved to Canada,” Esca said, his eyes troubled.

“When are you leaving?” Marcus asked over the lump in his throat.

“Next Monday,” Esca said, looking rather glum. “This week I get to collect two months worth of homework from the teachers. Enough to get me through the rest of the term. I won’t be back in school until after Christmas hols.”

“Oh,” Marcus said, feeling the bottom drop out of his world. It was too soon. He hadn’t realized Esca would need to go away to compete, but once he thought about it, he realized it was only logical. He had another series of away games in the interior the beginning the following weekend after all, though that meant that would probably miss Esca’s departure.

“You uh, you should call me,” Marcus said, meeting Esca’s eyes. They were sad but intense, holding Marcus’ gaze for what felt like an eternity. Marcus felt his heart pounding faster, and he wished, more than ever before, that things could be different. Esca was leaving, and eight weeks felt like an eternity.

“I should?” Esca looked surprised, but his eyes showed his appreciation of that suggestion.

“You should,” Marcus confirmed. “Anytime you want. Just call collect, it’ll probably get expensive.”

“I, yeah, I’ll do that,” Esca said quietly, smiling at Marcus. Marcus smiled back, relieved. Eight weeks wasn’t that long, was it? Besides, he had school, practices and games to keep him busy. And Cottia. Thinking about her made him feel a bit ill though, so he pushed her out of his mind as quickly as she came in.

“Good,” he said quietly, and the moment got intense again, their gazes locked.

“There you are,” came a voice, jolting Marcus back to reality. They both turned as Andrew stepped on to the ice, skating over to them. “Hi Marcus, you all done?”

“Yeah, for today,” Marcus replied. “I’ll just get out of your way, then. Lunch?” he asked Esca, but Esca shook his head.

“Not today,” he said. “I need to ramp up the training, so I’ll be here all afternoon. And tomorrow. Longer sessions all week too, so I won’t be around as much.”

“Okay,” Marcus said, though it most decidedly was not. “I’ll see you at school, then.”

“You will,” Esca said, giving him a shove. “Now get out of here, you’re a distraction I can’t afford.”

Marcus grinned back, but did as he was told, gathering his things and heading for the dressing room, his heart even heavier on the way down as it had when he’d arrived. Fall was looking grim indeed.

**

Marcus spent Sunday being depressed and apprehensive in turns. He swam for a while, did every speck of homework he had left and spent a few hours looking at last year’s game tapes in preparation for the coming road trip.

At five o’clock, he gave in to the inevitable and had a shower, dressing quickly, although he didn’t pay very close attention to his clothes. You don’t dress carefully when going to your doom, after all.

On his way out he stopped in the TV room where his uncle was chatting with Stephan, the TV on in the background and property pictures spread out on the couch between them.

“I’m heading out for the night, Uncle,” he said.

“Oh?” Uncle looked up. “You’re not staying for dinner?”

“No, actually I’m going out for dinner,” Marcus told him.

“With Esca?”

Marcus’ chest clenched at his uncle’s assumption. He should be going out with Esca. Especially since he was leaving so soon, and for so long. He shook his head.

“No, with Cottia Henderson,” he said. Both Uncle and Stephan looked up, surprise written on their faces.

“Really? Cottia?” Uncle said, unable to hide his astonishment. “I thought she annoyed you.”

“She does, sometimes,” Marcus said, fidgeting with his keys. “She has her good points.”

“If you say so. Have a good evening, then,” Uncle said, turning back to Stephan with a look Marcus didn’t want to analyze.

“Good luck,” Stephan added. Marcus gave them a wan smile and then turned away.

**

Dinner went surprisingly well. Because they had known each other for years they had plenty to talk about, school, hockey, friends, Esca. For Marcus at least, it didn’t feel like a date. Talking about Esca helped a lot, Cottia also knew that he was going away, she needed to know, as they were partners in Biology. They had made plans to coordinate their term project over the internet, emails and shared documents and such. Marcus thought it was a great idea.

“Of course it is,” Cottia had said. “Esca is really quite clever.”

This didn’t come as a surprise to Marcus. Esca was clever. And funny. And talented. And the most beautiful person that Marcus had ever seen. He was amazing, basically.

When he dropped Cottia off, he knew that she was expecting a kiss, but he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. So he gave her a kiss on the cheek and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow,” and left.

He thought about Esca all the way home.

**

“Hey Aquila.”

Marcus stopped, immediately recognizing the voice that had called him and wishing the earth would just swallow him up. The sooner, the better, please.

“Henderson,” Marcus said coolly, turning around to watch Charlie catch up with him.

“Listen, I kind of think I owe you an apology,” Charlie began, although his tone said otherwise.

“Is that right?” Marcus asked. “Why?”

“I may have been out of line the other day,” he said. Marcus just looked at him.

“Well, clearly you’re not gay, and I knew that. I just got a little carried away,” he said. “I just hate that faggy nonsense, and you still hang around with that guy.”

Marcus just looked at him for another minute. “So let me see if I got this right,” he said, finally. “You think I’m not gay but still used terms that are far too crude and revolting to repeat as a tool to insult me and imply that I was, all because I have a gay friend and you basically couldn’t help yourself?”

“When you put it that way,” Charlie began, but Marcus interrupted him.

“When I put it that way it’s the truth. You are a bigoted, homophobic asshole, Charlie. I guess I’ve always known that. But what I’m wondering is, are you going to apologize to Esca like you did to me?” Marcus said.

“Why the fuck should I?” Charlie scoffed. “He is gay.”

“Okay, so you’re not apologizing for the repulsive language you used or for your narrow minded attitude, but for calling me something you think I’m not.”

Charlie looked like he was thinking about that, trying to decide whether to agree or not. He was a decent defenseman, but a complete idiot, Marcus thought.

“Yeah, I guess,” he said at last. Marcus just shook his head.

“Forget it then,” he said. “Apology not accepted, not unless you extend one to Esca as well.”

“That ain’t gonna happen,” Charlie insisted. “I got nothing more to say to him.”

“Is that a promise?” Marcus asked.

“Whatever,” Charlie said, dismissing the topic. “What I wanted to say was, now that you’re dating my sister-”

“We went out on one date,” Marcus said.

“Yeah, a date that didn’t end as well as she’d hoped,” Charlie said. “You’d better treat her right, Marcus, or you’ll have me to deal with.”

“I already have you to deal with. Your homophobia has alienated a good friend of mine, your defensive skills are sporadic at best, jeopardizing my play, you hang around with people I mostly consider my friends and I am close with your sister,” Marcus listed, his dismay growing with every addition. “And if you’re threatening me, just remember that I can kick your ass from here to the island and back, so leave me the fuck alone.”

“Whatever, Aquila,” Charlie snarled as Marcus walked away. “Just don’t hurt my sister, or I will hurt you!”

“As if you could,” Marcus muttered as he left the arena.

**

Marcus managed to avoid Cottia for most of the day, but she nabbed him after Math, despite his attempt to flee with only a nod at Esca, who had stayed behind to talk to the teacher. About his coming workload, no doubt.

“Marcus, wait up,” she said, so he did, stepping out of the flow of human traffic that filled the hallway.

“Hi Cottia,” he said as she caught up, threading an arm through his and leading him toward her locker.

“I had a really great time last night, Marcus,” she said, peering up at him through her lashes. He supposed it was meant to be attractive.

“I did too,” he said, smiling. He didn’t have to lie about that, it was a good time until he’d dropped her off.

“That’s wonderful,” she beamed, and Marcus felt a twinge of guilt at her clearly mistaking his meaning. “I think we should do it again.”

“I, okay,” he said before his brain could catch up to his mouth. Then again, this was what he had wanted, wasn’t it?

“Wonderful,” Cottia said, stopping and throwing her arms around his neck, again. She didn’t let go the way she had the last time, so Marcus took a step back, pulling her arms away, taking her hand and continuing to walk.

“An evening this week, perhaps?” she suggested as they reached her locker. Marcus was grateful to have an excuse to let go of her hand.

“Weekdays are kind of out,” Marcus said. “Even if I don’t have a game, there’s far too much homework to do, and practice comes early.”

“Oh, of course,” Cottia said. “The weekend, then?”

“We have an away trip this weekend, we leave Thursday.”

“Oh yes, I forgot,” she said, quite disappointed now. “We’ll have to do it another time.”

“Some other time,” Marcus said. “But I should get going now. Lots to do, you know.”

“Me too,” Cottia said with a smile. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Marcus nodded at her, then headed for his own locker, as quickly as was polite. He couldn’t miss the opportunity to see Esca, after all, if only for a few minutes. Soon he would be gone and Marcus wouldn’t see him for weeks. His chest ached at the thought.

**

That week Marcus scoured all the TV listings he could find, searching for coverage of the Skate America competition, fortunately succeeding without too much effort. He knew he’d be able to find Skate Canada the following week, it was the rest he was unsure about. But he was going to be watching, every weekend until Esca came home.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t going to be able to watch in real time, so he set his dvr to record the first day of competition, knowing he’d be home in time for the second. Then he packed for the games, the bus was leaving before dawn the next morning.

He hated these long bus rides, crammed in with his teammates, unable to escape, forced to listen to their ridiculous conversations for hours at a time. He usually retreated into his iPod, and this trip would be no exception. At least it was a short trip, only three games and back home late Saturday.

**

Marcus threw himself into his seat, purposefully choosing one close to the front of the bus, not so close that the coach would want to talk, but nowhere near where the bulk of the team sat, laughing and acting like idiots. He quickly put in his headphones and settled down, hoping no one would disturb him. Fortunately, everyone settled down quickly, the return trip was almost always more pleasant, with everyone tired from the game and a long drive through the night ahead.

Usually he tried to get some sleep, these weekends were always exhausting, but he knew Esca had skated his short program that evening while the team had been on the ice, and he was hoping to find highlights.

He found them right away, and felt a surge of gratitude for YouTube. The footage was grainy and the sound deplorable, but to his starving eyes it was a feast. Esca was dressed in black and red, looking impossibly elegant as he leaped and spun around the ice.

All it did was whet Marcus’ appetite. He knew he had the whole thing at home on his dvr, in pristine picture and sound. He was eager to see the scores, not that he understood the intricate scoring process, but he knew what was good and what was bad. And he knew Esca had to have received a very good score, from what he could tell the routine had been perfect.

He watched the video three more times before finally turning off his phone and laying his seat back. It was a three hour drive back to Chilliwack, and if he had enough sleep, maybe he could watch Esca’s routine before he went to bed.

**

Marcus never did watch it that night, despite his nap on the bus, he was completely exhausted when he finally made it home. He didn’t even drag his bag up to his room, leaving it at the bottom of the stairs, planning to get it in the morning. He fell into his bed and was asleep almost immediately, fully clothed.

When he woke, morning sunlight was filtering through his blinds. He groaned and pulled a pillow over his head, willing himself to go back to sleep. He was almost successful until he remembered the grainy, shaky video he’d watched on his phone the night before, realizing that he was now home and he could see it properly.

He pulled himself out of bed and stripped off the clothes he’d slept in, changing into some comfy pj’s. He wasn’t planning on going anywhere that day, so why redress? The clock told him it was not even 8:30, he often slept late after away games, but it was late enough that he was starving. He quickly dashed down the stairs to get himself some breakfast, then headed back up before his uncle came in from the yard, Uncle was a rather fierce gardener and would inevitably trap Marcus with some discussion about the process of preparing his garden for winter, and Marcus just wasn’t in the mood. He had more pressing concerns that morning.

He sank gratefully onto his couch with the remote and before long he was watching avidly as the announcers discussed the skaters in the competition and the performing order was displayed on the screen. Esca was about halfway through, but Marcus waited, listening to the announcers talk about him, his decision to move to Canada to train and from there intending to skate for Canada rather than Great Britain. They sounded surprised at his intentions, but mentioned many other skaters over the years who had chosen to skate for a nation other than the one of their birth.

It made Marcus wonder why Esca has chosen to leave Britain for good, he had never discussed it and Marcus, too caught up in the mere fact of Esca’s presence, had never asked. He determined that he would, when Esca returned.

Once the programs began, Marcus hit the fast forward button, uninterested in the rest of the skaters other than their position as Esca’s competitors. He reached Esca’s program at last, and his heart leapt at the sight of him. His costume was perfectly tailored and he looked stunning in it, much more than a shaky YouTube video could show. This camera gave him close ups that had his heart pounding and long shots that stirred the ache in his chest, the one that Esca had come to fill.

The program was what the title implied, short. Esca was done long before Marcus was ready to stop watching. The program had been flawless, and so very different from watching a shaky phone cam video, as Marcus had before. And this time, he was able to watch as Esca sat in front of the camera to await his score. Andrew sat with him, discussing his performance, if Marcus listened carefully, he could hear the occasional word over the announcer’s discussion.

The scores came in and Marcus was unsurprised that they placed Esca in the lead, far above the others, so far. Esca’s smile was wide and Andrew looked very pleased. Marcus was beaming also. This brief glimpse of Esca was like a balm, smoothing over the empty place inside him where Esca had come to live.

Marcus watched it again, and then watched a few of the other skaters, to get a better idea of what Esca was up against. Some of them were very good and some not so much and, in the end, Esca was in third place, with the long program to come.

Marcus was impatient for it to begin. According to the broadcast, coverage would start at six that evening although Esca, having placed so high in the short program, would skate near the end, third to last. Marcus sighed, turning off the machine and gathering his dishes, including a few from the previous week. It was only just 10am, he had plenty of time to kill.

**

By the time 6pm rolled around, Marcus had exhausted every method of distraction. He had cleaned and put away his gear from the game, cleaned his room, and did some laundry even though he knew Sassy would have been happy to do it. He went for a swim and spent some time with the weights, then spent the afternoon finishing up any homework in preparation for the coming school week. Then he surfed around online for a while, trying to distract himself but failing when he found himself searching for information about the next several weeks competition, the Grand Prix of figure skating.

Finally he padded downstairs for dinner with his uncle and Stephan. He had debated skipping dinner or eating it in his room, but he knew it would be several hours before Esca performed and watching the seemingly endless line of skaters before him would just frustrate Marcus.

“Marcus, you’ve decided to join us!” Uncle said, gesturing Marcus to sit.

“Seemed like the thing to do,” Marcus said, sitting down and beginning to fill his plate.

“How was the game last night?” Stephan asked, and Marcus was grateful for the distraction.

“We lost, though I scored a goal and got an assist,” he said, grinning at them both. It had been a good game, but their goalie had been off his game a bit. They launched into a discussion about the relative merits of goaltenders vs goal scorers, and before Marcus knew it, it was after seven o’clock.

“Will you join us in the TV room, or are you planning on hiding in your bedroom the rest of the night?” Uncle asked. Marcus was about to decline, but then Stephan spoke up.

“We thought we’d watch the Skate America competition,” Stephan said, sharing a sly look with Uncle. “Isn’t Esca poised to place in the top three?”

“He’s in third after the short program, if I recall,” Uncle said, and Marcus just looked at them in surprise.

Uncle laughed, throwing an arm around Marcus’ shoulder and all but dragging him into the TV room. “Come on boy, watch it with us,” he insisted, so Marcus agreed.

So they watched together, which was much more amusing for Marcus than watching alone. Uncle and Stephan were able to distract him, although he did become increasingly more restless as Esca’s turn approached. Marcus was dismayed to see him drop in the standings and had to assure himself that it would all even out when Esca skated his program.

Finally the top skaters were up and there was Esca, gliding around the ice, warming up with small, slow jumps and lazy spins, along with the last batch of skaters. Before too long they were all filing off the ice, all but one.

It was almost harder to watch now that it was so close, but soon enough, Esca was taking the ice, positioning himself and waiting for the music. Marcus was on the edge of his seat, literally. Esca looked as good as he had the previous night, this time he was dressed all in white, with blue Celtic designs embroidered down one leg and across his torso. Marcus thought he looked fabulous, and so did the announcers. The female one in particular was an admirer.

The music started and Esca began moving, arms and legs in concert to portray a hunt, an escape, the music building in places and quieting in others, in tune with his movements, jumps, spins, footwork, all combining in a seemingly effortless dance of emotion and artistry. Finally, the music faded as Esca’s movements slowed, until he collapsed into a pile in the center of the rink, the last few notes dissipating.

And then the applause began. It was thunderous, even through the television. Esca rose gracefully and waved, bowing to one side of the arena and then the next, stopping to pick up several bouquets that had been tossed on the ice before he skated toward the boards and a beaming Andrew, who embraced him when he stepped off the ice.

“Wow,” Uncle said from behind Marcus, who was still on the edge of the couch, his eyes glued to the screen. Esca’s hair was windswept, his cheeks flushed from exertion, but his eyes were alive, sparkling with excitement and accomplishment.

“He’s really talented, isn’t he?” Uncle said.

“Quite,” confirmed Stephan. “I haven’t seen a program like that in, well, perhaps ever.”

“He wants to go to the Olympics,” Marcus said absently, watching Esca and Andrew conferring as they had the night before, only this time with more back slapping and even wider grins.

“He’ll make it,” Uncle said, slapping Marcus on the back, as if it were somehow his accomplishment as well.

They didn’t have long to wait before the scores were posted, provoking roars from the crowd and an utterly stunned look on Esca’s face. Andrew was hugging him again, practically bouncing up and down, but Esca still looked like someone had turned him off.

“Excellent score,” Uncle said, and the announcer confirmed it, saying that he was almost assured first place, so wide was the gap between his score and those that had preceded him. Finally the furor died down, a grin beginning to appear on Esca’s face, just in time for a commercial break.

Marcus sighed, lying back on the couch, feeling as if he’d just played a shift. They sat in anticipation as the final two skaters performed, both were very good as well, but neither moved the crowd the way Esca had. The second to last fumbled some footwork and dropped out of the top three but the last performed perfectly.

The wait for the scores was interminable. Esca had secured second place, at least, but he had a very good shot at being first. Marcus waited on the edge of the couch once more, his leg bouncing until, at last, the score were displayed. When the numbers added up, Marcus jumped of the couch, yelling, “yes!” at the top of his lungs.

Uncle and Stephan clapped and cheered as well, but Marcus felt as if he’d won the league championships. He watched Esca jumping and hugging Andrew and wished more than anything else that he was there, that he was the one Esca threw his arms around with excitement.

He sat back down with a sigh as the final standings were displayed on the screen and the announcers discussed Esca’s win and how he had come from a year of missed competitions and yet had skyrocketed to the top of the sport. When the feed came back to the pit, it showed Andrew grinning at the camera, but Esca was behind him, his back turned to the camera.

They wanted Esca for an interview, but Andrew held them back insisting, “he’s just making a call back home, won’t be long,” and proceeding to answer questions himself.

Marcus’ pocket suddenly came to life, the tinny voice of Gordon Downie singing, “Every time you go, you are all I see...” before Marcus pulled it out and answered, jumping off the couch and stepping just out of the room.

“Esca?” he said, breathless, unable to believe that Esca was calling him at that moment.

“Marcus!” Esca exclaimed, the excitement clear in his voice. “I was hoping you’d be up.”

“Of course I am,” Marcus replied. “We just finished watching you kick that other guy’s ass!”

Esca laughed, delighted. “You saw?”

“I did,” Marcus said. “You were amazing, I couldn't tear my eyes away.”

“Really? Marcus,” he said, his voice becoming quiet. “Just a minute,” he said, louder, they must have been getting impatient to interview him.

“Marcus,” he repeated, his voice quiet again. “I wish you could be here.”

Marcus swallowed, his stomach flipping just a little. “I wish I could too,” he said at last. “But I’ll be watching every chance I get.”

“It’s good to know,” Esca said. “I have to go but, I’ll call you tomorrow, yeah?”

“Yeah, you do that,” Marcus replied. “I’ll be here. Bye.”

“Bye,” Esca said, and the line went dead. Marcus stood looking at the phone, reading that their call had lasted less than two minutes. Not nearly long enough. Then he heard Esca’s voice again, this time from the TV, so he went back in.

“...had to let them know,” Esca was saying.”I’ve made some good friends since I moved to Canada.”

“You seem to be doing well with the move,” the interviewer was saying, “if that performance was anything to go by.”

“I have to give some of the credit for that to Andrew,” Esca said, patting his coach on the shoulder. “He’s helped me a lot, given me some tips that have really taken my skating to the next level.”

“He’s an excellent pupil,” Andrew said, shoving Esca’s head away, making him laugh.

“You see what I have to put up with?” Esca said, beaming. Marcus felt his stomach flip again. Esca was utterly beautiful.

The interviewer laughed. “We’ll let you get back to celebrating. Good luck in next week’s competition,” and the camera panned out, searching for another person to interview.

Marcus couldn’t believe that Esca has called him, so soon after his victory. He couldn’t wipe the grin from his face, nor stop the pounding of his heart.

“Is Esca well, then?” Uncle asked, sharing a look with Stephan. They had clearly been discussing him, but Marcus didn’t even care.

“He’s amazing,” Marcus answered, smiling at them. “I’m off to bed, practice in the morning.” They called their good-nights and he went upstairs, attending to his nightly routine with a sappy smile on his face and a stomach full of butterflies.

He made sure all his school supplies were in his bag and dropped it by the door. He double checked his hockey bag and tossed and extra roll of tape in there for good measure. Then he cleaned up, brushed his teeth and took a piss before climbing into bed and turning off the light.

He laid back, unable to stop thoughts of Esca from flooding his mind, unwilling to even try. The way he’d felt when he’d watched Esca skate that night came rushing back and, without any more denial, he reached down and pulled his cock out of his pants, pushing back the duvet. He stroked himself, picturing Esca in his mind, the graceful, sinuous movements he’d made on the ice, the power evident in his small frame as he threw himself into the air and landed, impossibly, on a thin blade of sharpened steel.

His hand moved faster and faster, the other dropping to tug at his balls, his breath catching, gasping with the intensity of his thoughts. Suddenly his mind threw him back to that summer day by the pool, the sunlight flowing over Esca’s soft skin, skin he had held in his hands for one brief, timeless moment. He remembered Esca’s head thrown back in laughter, the strong column of his neck bared, and he imagined tasting it, leaning forward and running his lips, his tongue, over the muscle there, feeling Esca’s voice as it murmured his name in that smooth, accented baritone.

He came, gasping as the breath left his body, splatters of come dotting his belly and t-shirt, slipping down to coat his hand and cock, even as his movements slowed. He stayed like that for several minutes, panting for breath as pictures of Esca continued to flow through his mind. He began to drift off, exhaustion overtaking him once more, so he sat up and quickly pulled off his soiled shirt, using it to wipe his belly and hand, and then tossed it in the direction of his laundry hamper. It fell short, but he didn’t care. He’d get it in the morning.

He rolled over, pulling the duvet up and burrowed into his pillow and fell asleep, with Esca’s program still replaying in his mind.

**

Cottia attached herself to him like a limpet as soon as he arrived at school the following day.

“Marcus!” she exclaimed, clinging to his arm. “Did you see Esca last night? It was amazing! I’ve never seen anyone skate like that, never, and I can hardly believe he’s our friend!”

Marcus pulled his arm free so that he could unlock his locker, unable to stop thinking that Esca was his friend, thank you very much, and Cottia was just weaseling her way in. Then he reminded himself that he was being unfair and that she had every right to befriend Esca, and why wouldn’t she want to? He was completely different than anyone Marcus had ever met.

To be fair, Cottia was pretty amazing too. How someone like her had shared a womb with someone like Charlie, Marcus couldn’t fathom. He was starting to feel that maybe he should be honest with her. Sure, she may be crushing on him, but she had a rational head on her shoulders, and, unlike her brother, she wasn’t ruled by fear and homophobia. She would understand, he knew it.

Then again, telling another person, any other person was not part of the plan. He was trying to fix things, not screw them up further.

“I know, I saw,” Marcus said, smiling at her genuinely for the first time all semester then turning to rummage in his locker. “He called me after, so I would have known anyway.”

“He...wait,” she said, pulling at his arm and making him look at her. “Was that you he called when they were trying to interview him?” She looked utterly flabbergasted, and Marcus flushed.

“Uhh, yeah,” he said, grabbing his books and closing the locker.

“Wow,” she said, shaking her head. “I thought he was calling his Grandma.”

“Nope,” Marcus said. “I gotta get to class, Cottia, I’ll see you later, okay?”

“Okay,” she said, but then she shook herself and called after him. “No, wait!”

He turned around, surprised by the change that had come over her. She was in full on simper now. “I know for sure you don’t have any games this weekend, and Esca isn’t around so you won’t be hanging out with him.”

Marcus nodded, unable to deny anything.

“So I am insisting you take me to the movie on Saturday. Deal?” She gave him a look that she probably thought would induce him to obey, and while it did nothing for him, he considered. Pleasing Cottia would go a long way to throwing Charlie and anybody else off the trail, and that was the plan after all, wasn’t it? He had to stop losing sight of that, so he agreed.

“Sure, sounds good,” he said, smiling. “We’ll figure the rest out later, yeah?”

“Okay,” she said, bouncing. “See you in Math!” and with that she was off down the hallway, leaving him staring after her. She really was a lovely girl and he felt bad for deceiving her. But, it wasn’t deception when he was trying, was it? He thought of the wank he’d had the previous night and cringed. Maybe he needed to try harder. Now, while Esca wasn’t around to distract him.

**

But Esca still managed to distract him. Marcus couldn’t get Esca out of his head all day, his smooth movement on the ice, his beaming face when he’d won, the low intimate tone in his voice when he’d told Marcus that he wished he was there. All of it kept spinning around and around until finally Luke took him aside and asked him what was the matter.

“Nothing,” he said, not able to meet Luke’s eyes. “I’m just tired, it was a long ride this weekend, and Esca’s skate was on last night until way later than I usually stay up.”

“Oh yeah?” Luke asked, interested. “How’d he do?”

“He won,” Marcus said, smiling at the memory. “Kicked the Russian guy’s ass too.”

“Did he?”

“Yeah, handed it to him on a plate, it was amazing.” Marcus couldn’t help but laugh. “Poor guy didn’t even know what hit him.”

“Wow, that’s pretty cool,” Luke said, patting Marcus on the back. “Just get more sleep tonight, eh? Practice in the morning, can’t have you worn out for that.”

“No worries,” Marcus said. “I’m always ready for hockey.”

**

He managed to keep his head in the game for the rest of the week, though Esca called a few times, pulling him right back up into the clouds. He called once he’d arrived in Ottawa, they had been able to spend more time talking, as Esca didn’t have training until the following day.

The date with Cottia had gone well, just like the last they spoke of Esca a lot, namely his performance in the short program on Friday night-for which Marcus had declined invites to several Hallowe’en parties, to the dismay of his friends-and their anticipation of the upcoming long program on Sunday. Cottia had suggested they watch it together, but Marcus had put her off, claiming that he would need to sleep, which was not a lie. The time difference was an annoyance, and it was only going to get worse. Esca left the continent the following Tuesday, making phone calls and stalking him via television problematic.

But Marcus had another problem, one he had not anticipated but had come to dominate his mind. He and Cottia had been spending more time together, and he found himself unable to make further excuses as to why he didn’t want to kiss her. Or touch her, or do anything but hang out. As a seventeen year old boy in the presence of a beautiful young girl who was smart and funny and clearly liked him, he was becoming more suspect than he had if he’d not been dating anyone.

So he kissed her, as rarely as he could, but enough to keep her happy. Marcus was not so happy about it. He’d never kissed anyone before and found himself increasingly wishing it was Esca who he was kissing. So much so that several times he’d had to pull out of the kiss to assure himself he was kissing Cottia instead.

Until she began to press closer, which was a brand new frustration.

If Marcus had maintained any further doubts that he was gay, feeling Cottia’s full breasts pressed against his chest as she kissed him would have done away with them. He had no more illusions on that score, though he steadfastly held to his conviction that he could pretend, that he could show one thing to the world and keep the truth to himself.

He had to. There had never been an openly gay hockey player in the NHL, not an active one, at any rate. The attitude of those in the sport, from the top of the organization to the bottom, was that hockey was a man’s sport almost exclusively. Many of the people involved went so far as to look down on women’s hockey, the thought of a gay man in the NHL was completely alien to them. It was unfathomable.

And Marcus knew this. He knew his career would be in serious jeopardy if anyone were to discover his secret. How he felt about Esca wouldn’t matter to them. They would see him as a pansy, assume he was a weak, ineffectual player, and dismiss him out of hand, most of them without ever seeing him play.

He simply couldn’t risk it. So he continued dating Cottia, week after week, feeling more and more guilty about it. Instead of thinking about that, he focused on following Esca avidly as he skated around the globe, placing consistently in the top four and placing first more often than not. He was taking the figure skating world by storm, to the delight of some and dismay of others. Great Britain in particular seemed disappointed to lose him, but Esca had officially immigrated and had obtained a permanent residence card, in prelude to getting his citizenship.

Marcus occasionally wondered why, and told himself he would ask the next time Esca called, but with every phone call, he was so distracted by the sound of Esca’s voice and his excitement that he forgot, every time.

**

The fall went by in a whirl, Marcus kept busy with one thing after another, but as time passed the sound of Esca’s voice was no longer enough to fill the void his presence had left in Marcus’ life. It didn’t even stem the tide anymore, it only made Marcus ache more, the pressure building in his chest as they spoke on the phone. It was becoming unbearable, and Cottia wasn’t the only one who had noticed.

Luke had also been paying attention and finally, one Sunday in December, he confronted Marcus. He chose the bus ride returning them from another away trip their last before Christmas. The last game had been in Portland, which made for a long bus ride home, so Luke had plenty of time to ambush him.

“Hey Marcus,” Luke said, dropping into the seat beside Marcus with a look that had Marcus pulling headphones out of his ears. “Good game last night,” he said.

“Thanks,” Marcus grinned. It had been a good game, he’d scored three goals and assisted two others. One goal had been a breakaway, an opportunity created by his speed, something he had been working on in particular during practices.

“You have seemed rather distracted, though,” Luke commented. Marcus sighed. He knew he had been, the only time he was truly able to put Esca out of his mind was when he was on the ice, particularly during a game. Any other time and his mind spun with confusion, uncertainty and anticipation.

“I know, sorry,” Marcus said. “There's been a lot on my mind.”

“I understand,” Luke said, nodding sagely. “Cottia?”

Marcus flushed at the thought of her. It was becoming harder and harder to be around her without the guilt overwhelming him. He was using her, plain and simple, using her to distract those around him from something that was becoming harder and harder to hide. All that when she’d been nothing but wonderful to him. She was a good friend, and she didn’t deserve the way he was treating her.

“Yeah, I just,” Marcus turned in his seat to face him better. “I don’t think she’s the one for me, you know?”

Luke nodded. “Go on,” he said.

“It’s just that she’s such a sweet girl. I really like her an awful lot, we don’t have any problems talking, and hanging out with her is always a lot of fun but there’s just no...spark.” Marcus sighed, feeling a little bit lighter already. It was very freeing to tell Luke the truth, even if it wasn’t the whole truth.

“Yeah, that would put a damper on things,” Luke replied thoughtfully. “But if it isn’t working out, you need to tell her. I think she likes you a lot, Marcus.”

“I know she does, and I feel bad about it.” Marcus laid his head on the head rest and closed his eyes. “I just don’t know how to go about it. I don’t want to hurt her feelings.”

“Marcus, my lad, I think that’s going to happen no matter how you do it, and waiting around isn’t going to make it any easier,” Luke said and Marcus was suddenly very grateful for his friend’s support.

“I know, you’re right,” Marcus agreed. “I’ll have to do it soon.”

“You should,” Luke said. He sat back as well, and they enjoyed a companionable silence for awhile, broken only by the sounds of their teammates being idiots.

“Just don’t tell Charlie, alright?” Marcus said, tossing Luke an imploring look.

“I won’t,” Luke said. “I’d rather not tell him anything, he’s been such a prick lately. Though he’s laid off since you’ve been dating his sister, and since Esca left.”

“Yeah,” Marcus said, unable to stop his cheeks from heating. He hoped Luke wouldn’t see in the dim light of the bus, or at least wouldn’t comment.

“So, if it isn’t Cottia, is there someone else?” Luke asked, and Marcus hated him again. “If you don’t mind my asking.”

“I...I don’t know,” Marcus said, unable to lie to his friend but unwilling to tell the whole truth. “It’s complicated.”

“Hmm,” Luke said, his eyes narrowing, but Marcus was saved by his phone.

“Is that the Hip?” Luke asked. Marcus nodded. “You and the Hip,” Luke said, rolling his eyes.

“I should get this,” Marcus said. Luke stood up with a sigh. “I can take a hint,” he said, heading back to his seat.

“Esca?” Marcus said excitedly. “Hi! Yeah, I heard about it..”

**

The last game before Christmas found Marcus more anxious than any game he’d played previously. There was a rumour that a scout from the Canucks was planning to attend, although the chances of it being true weren’t great. Still, even if there was a scout there, that wasn’t what had Marcus on edge. He’d been scouted before, after all, and he would be again.

Esca had arrived home the night before. Marcus hadn’t seen him yet, but they’d talked on the phone that morning, before Esca had gone to bed again to sleep away the jet lag. He’d told Marcus that he was planning to attend the game that evening, his first live hockey game, and Marcus was jittery.

Finally they were on the ice having a warm up skate, but Marcus was surreptitiously scanning the stands for sight of Esca. And finally, Marcus saw him, where he should have been looking all along. He was seated beside Uncle, in the second seat that Uncle had purchased. He always secured seasons tickets, and shared the second slot with a variety of people. Marcus was thrilled to see Esca there.

When he was called to center ice for the face-off, he put the spectators out of his mind, all of them, Esca, his uncle and the possibly imaginary Canucks scout. He put his head down and got on with the game, grateful that Uncle’s seats were behind the bench and not across from it.

The game went by quickly, they usually did for Marcus, but tonight it was even faster. Marcus scored four goals, in a game that had quickly become a rout, assisting with two others. Marcus counted his assists as highly as his goals, he knew that anyone could slap a shot on net, but setting someone else up to score was a vital skill, and just as valued, if not more. Marcus was nothing if not a team player.

The locker room was jubilant after the game, everyone was pleased with the win and the upcoming holidays. Marcus was happy to be having some time off, as he hoped he’d get to see Esca lots, but he was disappointed that they’d be off practices as well, if only for a week.

Marcus didn’t want to hang around long after the game, but he had a hard time slipping away. Just as he had managed it, his phone buzzed. He dug it out of his pocket, reading the text and grinning.

Good game. See you at home. Later. Uncle.

Marcus sent a, ‘:D’ back, pocketing the phone again and dragging his gear out to the truck. As he approached, he was thrilled to see that someone had thrown down the tailgate and was sitting on the edge, humming to some unheard music, legs swinging to the beat only he could hear.

Marcus’ face split in a grin so wide his cheeks ached.

“Hey!” he hollered as he approached, his breath catching as Esca looked up at him. His face was dimly lit by the lights in the parking lot, but Marcus could see the chill on his cheeks and nose, his hair tucked under a toque.

“Get off my truck, you hooligan,” he called, jogging the last few feet and tossing the bag into the back.

“I’ll sit where I want,” Esca said, giving Marcus a cheeky grin. “Besides, who is going to stop me?”

“Not me,” Marcus said, coming to stand in front of Esca, starving eyes raking over him desperately. Finally he reached out a hand and took Esca’s, pulling him off the tailgate and into an embrace. Esca clung to him and he clung back, and he was certain it went on for far too long, if they were only friends.

He pulled back at last, his hands rubbing up and down Esca’s shoulders while Esca’s rested lightly on his hips. Their eyes met and held, and suddenly the cold didn’t seem to matter. Esca was smiling at him, his face such a sight after so long apart, and Marcus had to let go before he did something he couldn’t take back.

“I’ve missed you,” he said instead, stepping around Esca to put up the tailgate, then leaning back against it. Esca turned around to face him again, and Marcus’ heart clenched when he saw the expression in his eyes, the disappointment.

“I missed you too,” Esca said, smiling again, disappointment passing. “Now buy me some coffee, hockey boy, it’s damn cold out here.”

Marcus grinned widely again, giving Esca’s shoulder a squeeze. “You’re on.”

**

They ended up at Tim Horton’s, as most Canadians do on chilly winter nights. They ordered lattes, vanilla for Marcus and hazelnut for Esca, and a 10 pack of Timbits, as Marcus was always hungry after a game, then found a booth on the side of the restaurant opposite a large group of giggling teenagers.

They settled in, shucking their coats, Esca pulling off his mitts and toque as well. Marcus could only stare at him with badly disguised longing. His hair was shorter than it had been when he’d left, but unlike when Marcus had seen him on TV, it was mussed and soft, no gel to be seen. Marcus swallowed and reached for a Timbit.

“So, your first hockey game,” Marcus said, popping a chocolate glaze into his mouth. “How’d you like it?”

“It was...exciting,” Esca admitted, his face adding, ‘and I can’t believe I liked it’.

“I told ya,” Marcus said, grinning as he ate another Timbit. “No one should be allowed to say they don’t like hockey until they’ve seen it played live.”

“I think I have to agree,” Esca said, sipping his latte. “The atmosphere, the speed, the crowd, it all makes so much more sense when you’re there.”

“I know.”

“I can even understand the propensity to fight,” Esca admitted, surprising Marcus.

“Oh really?” he said, eyebrows raised.

“Yeah, with all the emotion and the passion and everyone moving so quickly, I imagine you get quite caught up in it.”

“Yeah, pretty much,” Marcus said, nodding. “When I’m on the ice, everything else seems to fade away and it’s just me and the puck, you know? Oh, and those other guys.”

Esca laughed and Marcus felt at peace for the first time in almost two months.

“It’s a lot more intense in the NHL too, the skill level is higher and the game is even more fast paced. If you liked tonight’s game, you’d love to see the Canucks live,” Marcus added, trying to sip his latte without burning his tongue.

“We should go,” Esca said, looking at his latte thoughtfully.

“What, already?” Marcus said.

“No, not now, to a game,” Esca replied, rolling his eyes. “A Canucks game.”

“Oh. That’s a great idea,” Marcus said, beaming. “I haven’t been to one all season.”

“We need to go this year though, before you’re drafted and I’ll have to go alone.”

Marcus chuckled. “Here’s hoping,” he said, raising his mug and then taking another sip.

“So, how was your trip? Kicking ass all over the world must have been tiring,” Marcus said, and Esca laughed delightedly, making Marcus’ breath stop. He looked so happy that Marcus wanted to live in that moment forever.

“It was amazing. I got to see a little bit of every city we went to, and it was really great to meet all the other skaters. I’ve seen some of them skate before, to be competing against them was a whole other thing,” he said, eyes bright.

“I can imagine,” Marcus said. “You were amazing though, some of the others were really good, but you were in a class all your own.”

“Thanks,” Esca said, flushing. “It was a lot of hard work, but so worth it. I’ll definitely get on the Olympic team at this rate.”

“It’s a sure thing. Uncle and Stephan think so too. And Cottia,” Marcus added.

“So she’s said,” Esca said, chucking. “Her emails were positively glowing.”

“At least you were spared the live version,” Marcus added.

“For now,” Esca replied, sipping his latte. “So, how are things between you two?” he asked quietly, spinning his drink around inside the mug.

“Oh, uh, alright, I guess,” Marcus said, staring at his own drink. “We’ve gone out a few times, but I just don’t think it’s working.” He looked up, seeing Esca looking at him and their gazes caught, stretching the moment out impossibly.

“That’s too bad,” Esca said, holding his gaze, and Marcus got the feeling that he didn’t think it was a bad thing at all. Marcus tore his eyes away, peering into the Timbit box and fishing out the last chocolate one.

“So, tell me more about the wide world,” he said, munching.

**

They spent another hour or so talking about the world, what Esca had seen and what Marcus wanted to. Esca mentioned he’d be heading to Finland in January for the European Championships, which Marcus thought exciting.

It was quite frosty when they left, and when Esca pulled his toque back on, Marcus mourned the messy head, although it was soon traded for rosy cheeks, which were just as fetching.

“Do you want a ride?” he asked, but Esca shook his head.

“No, I’m not too far, and it’s cold but it’s a nice night anyway,” he said.

“I’ll walk with you,” Marcus said, following.

They walked in silence until they reached Esca’s building, but instead of going in, Esca pulled himself up to sit on the retaining wall out front, so Marcus leaned against it, beside him. There they stayed, the silence companionable, but Marcus felt the tension between them differently than he had before Esca had gone. There was a new awareness and for once, Marcus didn’t try to dismiss it immediately.

“Do you ever think there’s someone out there who is perfect for you?” Esca asked suddenly. Marcus looked at him, his breath catching at the sight of Esca with his face turned toward the clear, star-lit sky. “And if you can just meet them, everything will fall into place and you’ll be happy?”

Marcus thought for a few moments before speaking. “I think it’s more complicated than that,” he replied at last, his heart pounding. “Sometimes things don’t work out that easy, even if you--” he bit off the words, unable to complete the sentence that he had just then realized, would be the truth.

“And what if they pass you by?” Esca asked, turning to face Marcus, his eyes fiery and intent, drawing Marcus closer, turning his body towards Esca so that he could almost feel the heat rising between them. “What if you let them go? And what if you never get the chance again?” Esca continued, his voice low, strained.

“Esca,” Marcus said, but his brain had stopped working at the look in Esca’s eyes. And then his body moved, independently of brain function, for once he followed his heart instead of his treacherous head. He moved closer, smoothing a hand up Esca’s knee, feeling the strong muscle there, even through the fabric of his jeans.

“Esca, I,” he whispered, but then he leaned forward and they were kissing, a soft almost intangible press of lips, followed by a deeper, rougher melding, heat warming their lips, removing the chill of the night air.

“Marcus,” Esca gasped, cupping Marcus’ face, his hands sliding over Marcus’ jaw and into his hair, even as Marcus’ had come up to clasp Esca’s neck, pulling him closer. Soon one of them opened up and then his tongue was in Esca’s mouth, tasting and feeling as if he was a starving man and Esca was the only sustenance to be found.

“Marcus,” Esca repeated between kisses, tugging Marcus closer, his legs falling open to admit Marcus between them. “Finally,” he whispered, smiling against Marcus’ mouth, opening for another kiss, but Marcus jerked back, stepping out of his embrace, shuddering as the cold rushed in between them once more.

“No, I...this isn’t how it’s supposed, I can’t,” he babbled, staring fixedly at Esca’s shocked face and his red, shiny lips. “No, no, it’s...I’m...I’ll see you,” he said, tearing himself away, not missing the betrayed look flash across Esca’s face.

“Marcus!” he called, but Marcus didn’t turn back as he jogged toward the road. “Marcus, don’t!” he tried again, but Marcus just dashed across the street, his heart pounding as Esca’s voice faded away behind him.

Chapter Text

Luv (Sic)

Words I carry in my heart, words I carry in my heart.
Clung to, glad of, uncommonly held.
Peculiarly interlaced, remembered and felt.
Am I lovesick?
It's as if love's the only virtue there is
Am I lovesick?

The plot thins, emotions get frayed, attractions move through the shade.
Done for, delight in and forever held.
Influence, given life, remembered and felt.
Am I lovesick?
It's not as if love's the only virtue there is
Am I lovesick?

He’d gone home in a daze, his stomach churning with the feeling that he had made a mistake. But what was the mistake? Was it kissing Esca, or was it running away? Marcus couldn’t tell, his intentions were so mixed up and confused in his head that he didn’t even know what to think.

He threw himself on his bed, his eyes burning with tears that he blinked back desperately. He was not a little girl, he was almost a grown man, it was ridiculous. But then he thought about Esca, about how it felt to press their lips together, how amazing it had felt when Esca’s hands had slid across his jaw, how soft his hair had been when Marcus had cupped his head...it was overwhelming. The tears slipped out, wetting his pillow but doing nothing to ease the ache in his chest.

He shouldn’t have left. He shouldn’t have run like a scared child, afraid to face himself and his feelings. But he was afraid, he was terrified. He thought of all he would be giving up if he followed his heart, all the hard work and striving that would be rendered meaningless, all because a beautiful boy had skated into his life and turned it upside down.

He stood, dashing away the wetness on his face and wandering to his hockey shrine, as Uncle called it. There were shelves and drawers and hangers for his gear, as well as pictures, trophies, photo albums, all with a piece of his history, a piece of his father, his family.

He pulled out the newest one, beginning with pictures of his parents holding him, an impossibly tiny infant in his mother’s arms, his father beaming at him as if this tiny person in the arms of his beloved was the peak of his accomplishment. Tears filled Marcus’ eyes again as he flipped through, his mother nursing him, playing with him, carrying him in a wrap that kept Marcus close and warm, safe. His father, smiling as Marcus unwrapped his first hockey stick, laughing as he pushed Marcus ever higher on the swing in their backyard, holding his hand as he took his first steps onto the ice, his little feet encased in tiny black skates.

It wasn’t long enough, there hadn’t been enough time, only two more pages until a yellowed newspaper clipping, pictures of the car, words describing the scene of horror where Marcus’ mother had been taken from them so abruptly in the spring of 1994. More clippings followed, the grief of his father, his smile slipping away as he struggled to cope with the loss of his wife amidst the biggest season of his hockey career. The Canucks had been on fire all season, taking the division by storm, winning their way through the playoffs despite the flagging performance of a man lost in his own desperate sorrow.

When he had let in that goal, the media had turned on him. No longer did they offer condolence and support, now there was only doubt and derision, and questions. So many questions. Why had Vinnie Aquila been allowed to play, why hadn’t they replaced him when it had become clear that his play was compromised, why hadn’t he stepped down, allowing the back up to take over, why, why, why?

But no one had asked. They had assumed he would play, after all, who would give up the opportunity to capture one dream, especially so soon after the loss of another? Marcus’ father bore some of the blame for that, for never having spoken up, for never sharing his despair in an attempt to ease it. He had held his grief inside and had used it to erect a wall that no one had been able to conquer.

He died less than two months after the last game of his career, brought low by a combination of drugs and alcohol, his life mercifully ended by his own passive hand. He had been unable to cope, Uncle had said, the pain had proved too much and he had been desperate to numb it.

Marcus sobbed, dropping to the floor in a heap, unable to look anymore. His life had changed irrevocably, and he hadn’t even been old enough to understand it. He didn’t even remember it, Uncle was all he knew, the title meant as much to him as that of Mother, Father.

He didn’t remember his parents, but he loved them all the same. He ached when he thought of those pictures, his mother’s arms holding him close, his father’s pride a blanket around him. These were the things he clung to when uncertainty faced him, when he was unsure of how to proceed.

He rose up, replacing the album with reverent hands, touching the wedding rings that hung from his mother’s favorite gold chain, feeling closer to them than ever before. He went into the bathroom and washed his face, letting the water flush away his tears and his uncertainty.

Leaving had been the right thing. He could not allow his feelings for Esca to get in the way of his goals, his dreams. He owed a debt to his father, to his name, and that debt would only be repaid when he took to the ice in an NHL arena and proved himself his father’s son, bringing the name of Aquila to people’s lips once more, this time with admiration and love instead of derision and censure.

**

Marcus skipped his solo practice the next morning, having no idea if Esca was planning to retake his Saturday slot, but unwilling to take the risk. Instead he wandered the house, kept indoors by the weather, until Uncle’s questions became too much and he’d fled, driving into town by rote, ending up at the Henderson house before he’d realized where he’d been going.

It was for the best, he needed to end things with Cottia before he could be allowed to hurt her anymore. She didn’t deserve it, she was worthy of more than the half hearted attentions he’d reluctantly given her.

“Marcus!” she’d exclaimed in excitement, ushering him in happily before she got a good look a this face. When she noticed his expression, she guided him upstairs quietly, shushing him as they passed Charlie’s room, but Marcus didn’t need the reminder. The last thing he needed just then was to see Charlie.

“Marcus, what’s the matter?” she asked, sitting beside him on the bed and taking one of his big hands with both of her small ones.

“I,” he began, pausing to take a deep breath and looking her in the eye. “I can’t see you anymore,” he said simply, holding her gaze as realization set in and she dropped his hand.

“But, I don’t understand,” she said, eyes glistening. “Things were going so well, I thought.”

“They weren’t bad,” he confirmed. “But they weren’t good either, you must have known that my heart just wasn’t in it.”

“I suspected you were holding back, but I didn’t know why,” she said sadly. “Why?”

“I’ve not been honest with myself, and as a result I wasn’t honest with you, either.” He rubbed hand over his face, headache developing, making him wish he was back in his bed. “It’s complicated, but I know I haven’t been fair to you, and I had to fix it. I couldn’t keep letting you think that we had a future, it isn’t fair. You deserve better.”

“I do?”

“Yes.” He reached out and took her hand again, squeezing it affectionately. “I care about you a lot, more than I’ve let myself admit, but I’m never going to love you the way you want me to. It’s not fair of me to keep you hoping for it, not when there’s a man out there who will treat you the way I should have.”

He looked up, and that’s when he noticed the twinkling lights behind her, red and green and white, reminding him of just how shitty a boyfriend he’d been.

“Shit Cottia, it’s Christmas, I’m so sorry,” he said, squeezing her hand even tighter. “I’d forgotten, I should have left it-”

“No Marcus,” she interrupted in a shaky voice. “I’m glad you didn’t leave it. I’m glad you ended it now, Christmas or not. You’re right, I deserve someone who wants me truly, and you deserve to be with someone you want just as much.”

He took a deep breath, smiling at her sadly. “See, you are so much better than I gave you credit for. I hope we can still be friends.” She laughed, throwing her arms around him and for the first time, he hugged her back, for real, clinging desperately until she pulled back. He needed a friend more than anything else, then.

“You just try and stop me,” she said, smiling through the unshed tears.

“Good,” he said, “thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” she replied, pulling him into another hug, holding him longer this time. He just breathed, closing her eyes and accepting the comfort.

“You look horribly sad Marcus, this isn’t just about me, is it?” she asked, and he could not lie to her.

“No, it’s not,” he confirmed, but he shook his head when she opened her mouth to speak. “No, it’s not just someone else either, not really...it’s much more complicated than that.”

“Okay,” she said. “But you had better come talk to me, if you need to, promise?”

He nodded, accepting another hug before she stood up, pulling him up with her.

“Now go on and get out of here, I think I need a little cry.”

“Cottia, I’m so sorry,” he began, but she cut him off again. “Just go, Marcus. We’ll talk soon, alright?”

“Okay,” he said, squeezing her hand once more before doing as she’d asked and leaving her alone.

**

Marcus’ phone rang twice that day with Esca’s ringtone. He ignored it both times, leaving his phone in his jacket while trying to distract himself with game tapes. He’d been slacking off on them anyway, it was about time he focused his attention back where it belonged.

Uncle asked him why he wasn’t out with Esca, since he’d just got back and Marcus didn’t know what to tell him, so he made up an excuse about Esca’s Nan needing him and retreated back to his room.

When the game tapes became tedious, he flipped through his dvr for something to watch and found himself being tempted by one entry in particular, Esca’s long program from the finals in Seoul, his winning performance. He’d taken the final with that program, it had been so expressive and moving that Marcus had run upstairs shortly after it and had given himself the orgasm of his life.

He thought about watching it for a moment, but then, before he could be weak again, he deleted it, following that with every single performance of Esca’s that he’d recorded. When the machine was wiped clean he sat staring at the menu, breathless, unable to keep from thinking that he’d just done something he’d regret.

He turned the machine off, throwing the remote onto the couch. A run, that would clear his mind. And the rain would only make it more distracting. Once he was ready, he grabbed his phone from his jacket pocket out of habit, to take with him, but stopped when he saw ‘2 missed calls’ flashing on the screen. He pressed the ‘view’ button, unsurprised to see Esca’s number listed twice, along with two new messages. He pressed ‘listen’ and put the phone to his ear, his stomach churning.

The first was short, just Esca’s voice saying, “Marcus, call me back, please? Soon.” He deleted it immediately, then listened to the second. It was much longer.

“Marcus, I don’t know what...I mean, can we talk about this? I missed you and I barely got back and I’m really, really sorry if I did or said anything to make you, oh I don’t know. I won’t deny I wanted it, that I want it. I’ve always...but if you don’t...it’s alright just...call me, would you? We don’t have to talk about it if that would be better but...I’d like to see you. I bought you something, okay, a few somethings, and I thought we could get together this week and, exchange gifts? I mean, I’m not assuming you’ve got me something or...oh bugger this. Just call me.”

Marcus let out the breath he hadn’t known he was holding with a rush. Esca sounded, well, almost desperate, and Marcus felt a tugging ache in his chest, telling him to press send, to call back and he almost did, but then he thought of what he would say. What was there to say? ‘I think I’m in love with you, but even a rumour of me being gay could ruin my career, and I have to stop hanging out with you so I don’t cave to the temptation of having you close.’

Marcus didn’t think that would go over well. He deleted the message, assuring himself he’d call Esca later, tomorrow or Monday or after Christmas. Just not now.

**

Christmas came and went. It was a rather subdued holiday, just Marcus and his uncle. Stephan had gone East to visit family and Sassy prepared them to make a small meal for Christmas, leaving the instructions with Marcus rather than his uncle, before heading off to see her on family.

Esca had called several more times over the days following his message, but he didn’t leave another one. On Christmas Eve, Marcus received a text from him that said, Fine, if that’s how you want it. Marcus almost caved when he read it, the ache in his chest filling up his whole body, but he didn’t want to ruin Esca’s Christmas with a fight. Besides, it seemed that Esca was done with him. It was for the best, really.

The knowledge should have relieved him, but all it did was make a knot of pain form in his belly, a knot that didn’t fade away.

**

New Year’s Eve rolled around before Uncle confronted him, and Marcus supposed he should be grateful for the reprieve. He had barely left the house for anything other then practices and runs, it was hard to swim during the winter, even though the pool was heated. He had ignored calls from Luke and Cottia, sending them both a text saying he’d been feeling sick and wasn’t in the mood to socialize. They seemed to accept his excuses, at least neither of them had pushed further.

He continued to skip his Saturday practice as well, unable to face Esca and the thought that had been steadily creeping in, day by day. The thought that he’d majorly fucked up, that he’d never get another chance. Esca’s words from that night, right before Marcus had kissed him, kept playing in his head, over and over.

He refused to believe it though. If he’d made a mistake, it was letting himself get close to Esca in the first place. He clung to the thought, although it was wearing thinner and thinner as time went by.

“Marcus, there you are,” Uncle said, finding Marcus in the sunroom off the kitchen where Sassy grew herbs.

“Here I am,” Marcus said quietly.

“You’re not going out tonight?” Uncle asked, sitting on the couch beside him, moving the book Marcus had forgotten out of the way.

“No, I’m not in the mood,” Marcus replied. Uncle sighed, resting a hand on his arm, drawing Marcus’ attention to him.

“You haven’t been in the mood for much lately,” he said. “Did you have a fight with Esca?”

“What makes you think that?” Marcus asked, turning away.

“Because I haven’t heard you speak his name since before Christmas. And considering how excited you were that he was coming back, it’s a bit of a surprise,” Uncle said.

“I haven’t mentioned any one else’s name, either,” Marcus said, trying to deflect the conversation, but his uncle was annoyingly single minded when he wanted to be.

“Yes, but no one else seems to mean quite as much to you,” Uncle said quietly. “Esca is special, isn’t he?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Marcus said, getting up and wandering to the other side of the room, pulling a mint leaf off one of Sassy’s potted plants and chewing it.

“I think you do,” Uncle said, standing as well. “But if you aren’t ready to talk about it, that’s fine.” He followed Marcus across the room and put a hand on his shoulder. “But I’m here when you need me.”

“Thanks,” Marcus whispered, his voice thick with emotion. Uncle was all the parents he’d ever known, and Marcus loved him fiercely. But there were some things even your parents couldn’t fix.

“Don’t mope around too long, tonight,” Uncle said, stepping back. “There’s some champagne in the fridge if you feel up to it, and Sassy left a trifle, which I know you love.”

“I do, thanks Uncle,” Marcus said, turning around to face him. “For everything.”

“Anything you need Marcus, you know that.” Uncle smiled at him. “But I must be off. Stephan will be impatient. Happy New Year,” he said, giving a wave and heading out.

“Happy New Year,” Marcus replied, quietly to himself, alone in an empty house, with a heart that felt just as barren.

**

The following Sunday Marcus received a phone call that he did answer, figuring it must be something important to make Jeff call him. Usually they talked at the arena, but then Marcus realised he hadn’t been going on weekends and had been slipping in and out for practices with barely a word to anyone. Even Luke had given up trying to engage him in conversation, and Marcus had thought he’d wanted it that way.

“Hello,” he answered.

“Oh, so you are alive,” Jeff said with a laugh. Marcus couldn’t help but smile back.

“Yeah, I’m alive,” he replied. “How are things, Jeff?”

“Good, good, you know, life as usual,” Jeff said. “Only you haven’t been in for a few weeks, not on Saturdays anyway, and I was wondering if you wanted to give up your time slot. You’ve paid through, so you don’t have to, but I can think of a few people who would be grateful for the ice time.”

“Shit, yeah, sorry about that,” Marcus said. “I’ve had a lot on my mind.”

“I figured it was something like that, it’s just not like you to not call if you’ll be away,” Jeff explained. “And Esca hasn’t mentioned that anything happened, so I thought I’d give you a call.”

Marcus’ heart clenched at the mention of Esca, but he ignored it. “No, that’s fine, thanks. Yeah, I’ll be in next week for sure. It’s about time I get back into the swing of things.”

“Great, I’ll see you then.”

“You bet,” Marcus said, before disconnecting the call. He slipped the phone back in his pocket and finished making himself a sandwich. Jeff was right, it wasn’t like him to forget something like that, never mind to skip practices just because he was uncomfortable with the thought of running into Esca. The fact was, they were going to run into each other at some point, and it was going to be dealt with then. He might as well get it over with before school started.

The weight of the phone in his pocket served as a constant reminder that Esca hadn’t tried to call or text him after that first weekend, though Marcus couldn’t deny he was longing to hear Esca’s ringtone, just once more. But no, that would just tempt Marcus to pick up the phone and that was not something he could contemplate doing. It was done with now, for better or worse.

**

He didn’t see Esca that Saturday though, he went down to the locker room feeling a little dejected and hating himself for it, but when he came back up to rink level, he spotted Esca with Andrew on the ice. His stomach flipped, the ache in his chest flaring to sudden life at the sight of Esca, moving around the ice as if suspended above the surface, so graceful were his movements.

Marcus was unable to move, unwilling to tear his eyes away, starved for the sight of him. It felt like an eternity since they’d spent time together, and it had been, three months had passed, not including the one night before it had all gone bad. And there was Esca, just as beautiful as ever and Marcus felt suddenly sick, turning away and almost running out of the arena.

When he got home he spent the afternoon cleaning his hockey gear, thoroughly, The he cleaned his bedroom top to bottom, finished his homework, read a few extra chapters in his texts and sorted through his clothes, separating a pile that was too small or he didn’t use, to be taken to the Goodwill.

“Trying to distract yourself?” Uncle asked from behind him, making Marcus jump in fright.

“Not at all,” Marcus said once his heart left his throat and had repositioned itself in his chest.

“I just thought I’d do some spring cleaning,” he continued, giving his uncle a sheepish grin.

“It’s January,” Uncle remarked dryly.

“No time like the present,” Marcus said, patting Uncle on the shoulder and jogging up the stairs, half to finish his tasks and half to escape his uncle, who stood at the bottom of the stairs, his eyes narrowed in Marcus’ direction.

**

He ran into Esca at last, the first day back to school. Before he’d had a chance to even open his locker, Esca was there. His face was set in a blank expression that Marcus had never seen before and now that he had, he wished he could forget.

“We need to talk,” Esca said, staring at Marcus with that dead expression.

“Now? We’ve got class in-” Marcus began.

“Now,” Esca said firmly, his voice as set as his face. He turned and walked away, and Marcus could do nothing but follow him. Esca led them into the back stairwell, making sure there was no one else there before turning on Marcus, his eyes suddenly alive with fury.

“Were you ever planning on speaking to me again?” he asked, voice as heated as his eyes. “Or were you just going to avoid me and pretend it never happened?”

“I could hardly do that,” Marcus said softly, feeling like the biggest ass in the world.

“Oh really? You did a pretty good job of ignoring me these past few weeks. So what’s the deal Marcus, do you want me or not?” Esca said, his voice softening as he spoke, tugging on Marcus’ heart.

“I...it’s more complicated than that,” Marcus said.

“You know what I think? I think you’re a coward who cares more about his precious reputation than being true to himself!” Esca said, taking a few steps closer and poking Marcus in the chest.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Marcus snapped back, pushing his hand away, wanting to use it instead to pull him forward. He took a step back instead.

“Oh, because I’ve never had to worry about what it’s like being gay and telling people about it, have I?” Esca asked.

“Hey!” Marcus said, looking around. “Keep your voice down!”

“You’re not going to deny it then, are you?” Esca asked, crossing his arms.

“It’s not that easy for me,” Marcus hissed. “You’ve been out since you were fourteen, and you’re a figure skater, it’s practically a pre-requisite.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. There aren’t nearly as many gay figure skaters as you’d think,” Esca said.

“It’s still much more accepted in your sport,” Marcus pointed out. “Have you ever heard of a gay hockey player? You haven’t because it just doesn’t happen!”

“I’d say you were the proof that does that theory in,” Esca said.

“It’s not that no hockey player is gay, they just don’t come out, for fear of their careers. The hockey world isn’t tolerant. At all. It would be career suicide if anyone were to find out that I’m...like that.”

“That you’re gay,” Esca said. “Not saying the word doesn’t make it any less true.”

“It doesn’t matter what’s true or not, what matters is what people think.”

“You are so full of shit,” Esca said, poking Marcus again. This time Marcus grabbed his hand. Esca tugged, but he didn’t let go.

“I have ambitions,” Marcus said. “And I’m not willing to give them up to make some kind of point.”

Esca’s face fell and he stopped trying to pull his hand free. “Fine,” he said, moving closer. Marcus licked his lips. The last time Esca had been this close, Marcus had kissed him. The memory lingered, hanging in the air between them, tempting Marcus with what he couldn’t have.

“But you should know what you’re giving up if you don’t,” he said, using his free hand to pull Marcus’ head down to his, sucking Marcus’ bottom lip into his mouth before Marcus knew what was happening. Then he thrust his tongue in, and Marcus was lost.

He pulled Esca closer with the captured hand, his other arm wrapped around Esca’s waist until they were pressed flush, merged at the lips, chest, hips. Marcus groaned when the kiss deepened, letting go of Esca’s other hand to press his own against Esca’s strong jaw, rough with stubble.

Just when it started to get interesting, Esca pulled back, panting, giving Marcus a shove, wrenching them apart.

“Remember that when you sign your precious contract, you bloody coward. Because you won’t be getting it again. We’re through.” Esca turned and slammed open the stairwell door, which swung shut behind him with a clang, leaving Marcus panting and confused, his cock hard and his chest aching.

**

For all that Marcus saw him over the next few weeks, Esca might as well be gone again. Marcus felt like he should be grateful for the reprieve, but he just felt the loss more keenly.

He’d spent the time in a constant state of turmoil. He’d practiced as normal on Saturdays, but he didn’t see Esca when he left the ice. He must have been watching though, because by the time Marcus made it back up, Esca was on the ice. It was just as enthralling as it had been the previous week, watching Esca. And it was getting harder to leave.

Esca hadn’t said a single word to Marcus after their confrontation in the stairwell, and Marcus couldn’t really blame him. He couldn’t stop thinking about what Esca had said, about missed chances, about being true to himself, about missing out, and he felt the panic rising, day by day.

He began to rethink everything. Nothing was making sense anymore, and the taste of Esca’s second kiss lingered on his lips and tongue, bringing home the reality of what he was passing up. But then he would think about his father and the reality of his ambition and he felt like he’d been dropped into a tub of ice, shocked into the harsh truth of the hockey establishment.

He was being pulled in both directions, and he just couldn’t make any sense of it all. He needed help. Bad.

**

Marcus gathered up his courage and headed into the kitchen where his uncle was fixing an after dinner snack. He’d spent the last few hours watching Esca’s previous performances on YouTube, unable to stop himself and regretting having deleted everything from his dvr. He needed to see Esca, needed to have some kind of connection with him, despite the distance and their estrangement. He was heartsick, thinking about Esca. Thinking about the taste of his lips, the way he felt in Marcus’ arms. About the way he laughed, and his fiery intensity, everything about him made Marcus feel alive, the thought of spending a life devoid of Esca, even if he became the most successful NHL player ever, was something he was realizing he didn’t want.

What this meant for his future, he couldn’t fathom.

“Hey Uncle,” he said, slumping onto a bar stool, across the counter from where his uncle stood, now munching his nachos.

“Marcus my lad,” Uncle said, mouth half full of tortilla chips and cheese. “Are you hungry?”

“I’m feeling a bit sick to my stomach, actually,” Marcus said.

“Well, that won’t do,” Uncle said. “Are you ready to talk about it?”

“Yeah,” Marcus replied. “I need help.”

“Go on, then,” Uncle said.

So Marcus did, telling Uncle everything, from how meeting Esca had changed everything, had torn him away from his single minded determination to restore his family’s name, how he’d been struggling for years with feelings that he knew would make that very goal almost impossible. How hard it was to pretend to be something he wasn’t, to push aside feelings that threatened to overwhelm him. How he’d tried to date Cottia, not only to deflect Charlie from the idea that he was gay, but to try and feel normal, to convince himself that he could do it.

How he’d kissed Esca and then run, like a coward, and hidden. How Esca had confronted him at last, kissing him again before walking away, making Marcus realize what he’d done, what he was giving up.

“But I just don’t know what to do,” he said, his head in his hands. “I think I love him.”

“I think you do,” Uncle said, smiling sadly at him. “And I think you’ve done a damn good job of fucking it up.” Marcus glared at him.

“Thanks,” he said.

“Just telling the truth,” Uncle replied. “Although I think your reasons for behaving as you did are understandable, if a bit dramatic.”

“But what do I do?” Marcus asked.

“Well, that all depends on what your intentions are,” Uncle said.

“I want him back,” Marcus replied, pleading with his uncle for advice. “I’m tired of being afraid, of hiding myself. I don’t have the energy to keep it up, and I just don’t want to go on without him.”

“So are you going to come out then?” Uncle asked.

“I have to. Even if I never get another chance with him, this mess has taught me that when you lie to yourself and everyone else, things get messy. You can lose things you never knew you had.”

“Very wise,” Uncle said, patting Marcus on the hand. “Now the question is, how are you going to do it. Start telling people?”

“I don’t...no, I don’t think I can do that,” Marcus said. “It was hard enough telling you, and I knew you wouldn’t react badly.”

“Well I love you Marcus, as if you were my own son and not my brother’s. And to be perfectly honest, I already knew,” Uncle said, stuffing a few more chips into his mouth.

“You, what? How did you know?” Marcus asked, stunned.

“A father knows his son, and all things being equal, that’s what we are to each other,” Uncle said. “I’ve suspected since you were a young lad. Most people would see your obsession with hockey and assume otherwise, but I am not so easily fooled by what lies on the surface.”

“Wow, I don’t even know what to say to that. Why didn’t you say something?”

“You had to get there on your own. I knew what a tough spot you were in, the difficulties you were up against, so how could I make that decision for you?” Uncle said. “We each of us must find his own way.”

Marcus took a few moments to let it all sink in. Even after he had, he still didn’t know what to do, how to come out in the quickest, least painful way.

“So what now? I have no idea where to go from here,” he said at last.

“Well, I think you should play to your strengths. Use the things you excel at to achieve your goals,” Uncle replied.

“How is hockey going to help me come out?” Marcus asked incredulously.

“Hockey isn’t the only thing you’re good at, Marcus,” Uncle said. Marcus stared at him blankly.

“Writing,” Uncle clarified at last. “I’ve read a fair few of those essays you’ve written and I’d say you have as deft a hand with words as you do with a wrist-shot, if you put your mind to it. I think you should put something in writing, let it all hang out, as it were.”

“That way I would only have to do it once,” Marcus said, cluing in.

“Exactly.”

“The school has a paper, I bet I could convince them to publish something,” Marcus said. “Not everyone reads the school paper, but it would spread to everyone pretty quickly.”

“I’d imagine so,” Uncle said with a grin.

“I’ve got to go,” Marcus said, standing up and heading toward his room. He stopped on the threshold of the kitchen and turned back taking a few steps to wrap his uncle in a hug of gratitude.

“Thank you Uncle,” he said. “I’d be lost without you.”

“My sentiments exactly. Now go, make history.” Uncle pushed him toward the door, and Marcus went.

**

Marcus spent the next week trying to find the right words. The team was on another away trip, this one into Saskatchewan and Manitoba, so thankfully, they flew. Still, all his spare time was spent poking away at his phone, trying to put something eloquent and inspiring together. It was much more difficult than he’d imagined.

He wanted to get it done in time, to be published in the paper when Esca got back to school after the Four Continents Championship in Vancouver at the beginning of February. Which Marcus was also planning to be at, well, long enough to see Esca’s long program, anyway. Uncle and Stephan had made the arrangements, though they would have to leave almost immediately after Marcus got back, but it would be worth it.

Finally, he finished, reading it over and thinking it would just have to do. He double checked for errors and then attached it to an email he sent to the editor of the paper, from whom he’d extracted a promise of complete secrecy, until it was published.

His stomach knotted at the thought of what he was doing, knowing that things would never be the same afterwards. He might never be drafted, might never...but then he thought of never holding Esca again, never kissing him. Never seeing his smile turned in Marcus’ direction. Marcus shook his head. No, it wasn’t worth it, to have all his dreams come true but have no one there to share it with. No Esca to share them with.

And if his dreams didn’t come true, well, hopefully he’d have Esca beside him to remove the sting.

**

Marcus arrived home in time to have a shower, eat something and grab the bag his uncle had packed him, before climbing into Uncle’s SUV, bound for Vancouver. The drive was only an hour and a half long, getting them there in time to check into the hotel, change and get to the arena for the men’s long program. Esca would be skating last, as he’d placed first in the short program, and Marcus knew that by the time the others had finished skating, he’d be a bundle of nerves.

And he was. His first glimpse of Esca came when the skaters in the last group flooded the ice for some warm up. He was wearing the same outfit he’d worn when he’d won Skate America, the white with blue designs. He looked ethereal in it, and Marcus’ stomach was full churning with anticipation.

It seemed to Marcus that the other skaters took forever. There were ten in the group, and Esca was the last.

“Now I know why they call it the long program,” Marcus muttered under his breath, but Uncle heard him anyway.

“Patience,” he said, patting Marcus’ shoulder consolingly. “It won’t be long now.”

“That’s what you said half an hour ago,” Marcus said, and Stephan laughed.

“It’s times like this when I remember you are only seventeen,” he said, and Uncle laughed with him.

When Esca finally came out, Marcus feasted on the sight of him, unable to shift his eyes away, even for a second. Esca settled himself on the ice and when the music began, he moved with it, his movements, body and expressions telling the story that the music conveyed. Marcus hadn’t seen him perform this program since he’d won Skate America, and he soon decided that it was his favorite. Esca’s artistry and athleticism were displayed to their best, his jumps seemed higher, his spins faster and his footwork more precise than any other skater Marcus had seen that night.

When he finally stopped, slumping onto the ice in exhaustion, the roar of the crowd overwhelmed Marcus’ ears, but he still could not tear his eyes away from the boy on the ice, who was pulling himself up and brushing the ice off, waving to the crowd as bouquets rained down around him. He turned toward where Marcus and the others were seated, his eyes scanning the crowd as he waved his thanks.

Then he froze as he spotted them, his gaze meeting Marcus’ across the distance, but it didn’t matter to Marcus. It was the most he’d seen of Esca in weeks, and he was desperate not to lose it.

But Esca moved again, tearing his gaze away from Marcus and continuing around the rink, bowing and waving to the crowd. He didn’t turn their way again, instead leaving the ice and sitting in the waiting area to await his score.

It didn’t take very long, but Marcus was impatient, he knew Esca had to have won it, but he was still apprehensive. And then, there it was a 182.84, higher than any of the other long program scores, and Esca had been in the lead to begin with. Marcus leapt into the air, cheering like a lunatic, clasping his uncle in a hug of celebration. They weren’t the only ones cheering, the entire stadium was roaring with the elation of Esca’s win for Canada on home turf.

Esca jumped on to the ice and skated around a few more times, waving and cheering as young girls in frilly dresses buzzed around him in an attempt to collect all the flowers and stuffed animals that littered the ice surface. Esca accepted a bunch from one of them and kissed her on the cheek to renewed cheers from the crowd.

Marcus’ heart was pounding with love and excitement as he watched, but Esca never met his eyes again, avoiding the section of the arena they were in entirely. Marcus tried to convince himself that it didn’t matter, that he would win Esca back and this time, he would keep him, but it still hurt.

With one last long look at the jubilant skater on the ice, Marcus turned to his uncle and Stephan.

“Let’s go home.”

**

 


Hockey players aren’t gay...

Or are they? After all, if 10% of the population is gay, then so should 10% of hockey players be. Give or take. So why don’t we hear about them? It’s not too hard to figure out, really, we don’t hear about them because they are in hiding. Fearing for their livelihoods if anyone should find out, fearing for their good names. Because sport has such a bias against them. No, a prejudice. As if a man, an athlete, is defined by the one he loves, and not by himself.

There is such pressure in sport, even in individual sports, to mimic the ideal, the model that has been set down. Athletes are role models, after all, so they must take care in what they model, isn’t that right? But how is one to be a good role model when one hides a vital piece of oneself, as if ashamed? Such a thing is the opposite of admirable, and yet it is the standard in the sporting world.

So why am I writing this, to be published for all eyes to see, for everyone to know? Because the subject has been a torture to me for years now, something that I have pushed away, hidden and kept from notice, even from myself. For who could admit such a thing and still succeed in sport? In hockey?

I don’t know the answer to that. And yet, even if I had, if I could keep such a thing buried, hidden, that is no guarantee of success. There are endless possibilities that could prevent my chosen career. A bad step on a stair could be enough to injure, badly enough to prevent a career in hockey. A car accident, a disease, a lack of interest from the team I choose, from any team. I could be poked in the eye, or the ear, I could dive the wrong way in the pool and injure my spine, I could, I could, I could. So many possibilities, each one removing forever the dream that I have worked so hard for, for so long.

So many uncertainties. But one thing is certain.

I kissed a boy. And I liked it. Is that a cliche now? If it is, I don’t care, it’s true. I liked it so much that I can’t hide behind my fears and insecurities anymore. I liked it and I want to do it again. And again, for the rest of my life. There are other things like. I like hockey. I like swimming, running, kayaking, climbing. I like camping. I like snowboarding. I like writing, and spending time with my uncle. I like comic books. I like my truck. I like the Tragically Hip. I like science fiction and history. I like truth, and I like honestly.

A career in hockey is not a certainty, but a life of misery is, unless I am honest with not only myself, but with everyone.

Because I cannot love in secret, I cannot be ashamed of loving someone. I know the power of love, I have seen the dark side of it in my own life. My own father died of a broken heart, after all. Without my mother, he was lost, so much so that he couldn’t go on and sought only to dull to pain. To forget. He was weak and it led to his downfall. But if he did nothing else noteworthy in his life, he loved with all his heart and soul.

As horrible as my family’s history is, it has taught me something. A life without love is a life not worth living. My father taught me that.

So yes, hockey players are gay, some of them. I would know. I am a hockey player. And I am gay.

It seems pretty simple to me.

**

Marcus had known that his article was coming, he was expecting to see it in that day’s paper, but still, seeing the title and his name on the front page was a shock. And once the shock wore off, the apprehension and fear set in. What if he was wrong? What if it didn’t all work out, what if everyone hated him and Esca still wouldn’t talk to him?

Marcus didn’t go to the cafeteria for lunch as usual, he took his advance copy of the paper - Mark, the editor had slipped him a copy before his first class, the rest of them would be made available to the student body at lunchtime-and hid in the same stairwell he’d argued with Esca in. Perhaps it was a bad choice, the memory of the kiss they’d shared there flooded Marcus and, combined with the rising panic of his very public and irreversible outing, it only served to make him feel even more sick.

He was going to have a nervous breakdown and the response hadn’t even begun.

About halfway through lunch break the door to the stairwell opened and then closed, quietly. Marcus held his breath, wondering who was going to get the shock of their life to find him sitting there, no doubt white as a ghost, with his head in his hands.

“Marcus?” someone called out, and Marcus breathed a sigh of relief.

“Up here,” he said quietly, wondering if she heard him, but he needn’t have worried. He heard soft footsteps ascending the stairs, but he didn’t look up.

“Oh, Marcus,” Cottia said, sitting beside him and wrapping her arms around one of his, hugging it.

“Is it that bad?” Marcus asked, voice muffled by his hands.

“To tell you the truth, no one believes it,” she said. “They all think it’s some kind of joke.”

“But you don’t?”

“No,” she said, squeezing his arm. “Honestly? Too many things have just fallen into place since I read it.”

“It’s good to know I was that obvious,” Marcus said.

Cottia laughed. “Oh honey, you so weren’t. That’s why so many people think it’s a joke. Poor Mark, they’re all looking for him to give him shit.”

“He knew what he was getting into, he’s probably gone into hiding,” Marcus said with a laugh.

“Needless to say, it’s been a bit of a shock,” Cottia said. “I think it’ll be a while before people calm down.”

“Yeah, I figured it would be,” Marcus said. “Just can’t pretend anymore, you know?”

“I know,” Cottia said. They were silent for awhile, and Marcus was overwhelmed with gratitude toward her. Knowing he had a friend who accepted him, especially after the way he’d treated her, was such a relief, he felt like a burden had been lifted from him.

“So, why are you so cool about this?” Marcus asked, looking at her.

“At first I wasn’t, I was pretty pissed at you for using me as your beard,” she said, and Marcus flushed.

“Yeah, sorry about that, it was stupid of me,” he said. “One last attempt to pretend I’m normal, you know?”

“You are normal,” she scolded. “Anyway, I was angry at first, but then I thought about what you must have gone through. And then I realized that you’re in love with Esca and it all made sense.”

Marcus’ eyes widened. “What?” he said, stunned. “How do you know that?”

“I’m glad you’re not trying to deny it,” she said, nudging him with his shoulder.

“I hardly could,” he said, looking down at his hands. “But I’ve fucked it all up so bad, I don’t know if he’ll talk to me again.”

“What did you do? From my perspective, he’s pretty in love with you, too.”

“I kissed him,” Marcus said simply.

“And,” she prompted.

“And then I ran away. The night of the game, right after he got back,” he added.

“Before Christmas,” she said thoughtfully. Marcus could practically see the wheels in her head turning. “Oh Marcus,” she said again, turning to him. “No wonder you were such a mess that day.”

“I feel really bad about that, I’m sorry,” he said.

“It’s alright. You’ve already apologized and considering everything, it’s understandable,” she said. “So, you’re really gay, eh?”

“Yeah,” Marcus said, smiling weakly. “Fate really knows how to kick me in the balls.”

“Hey, that’s unfair,” Cottia said, glaring at him. “Sure it doesn’t make things any easier, wanting to be in the NHL, but you’re going to be all the stronger for it.”

“Don’t try to placate me, Cottia, I’m not in the mood,” he snapped.

“Put it this way,” she said. “If you had a choice to become straight tomorrow and give up Esca forever, would you?”

He looked up at her, eyes wide. “I...no. No, I could never give him up,” he said, putting his head in his hands again. “Dammit, Cottia.”

“Yes, I'm so sorry to be the voice of reason. We'd better get going, we'll be late for class,” she said, standing up and holding out her hand.

“Can't we be late?” Marcus pleaded.

“Do you want to bring more attention to yourself?”

“Time to go,” he said, taking her hand and squeezing it.

They left the stairwell like that, hand in hand, and that was how Charlie found them.

“I knew it was a joke!” he said, laughing. “I’ll kick Mark Fletcher’s ass once I find him, you just wait.”

Marcus looked down at their joined hands and then up at Charlie.

“Sorry to disappoint you Charlie, but the article is true. I would know, I wrote it,” Marcus said.

“Marcus is my friend Charlie, I can hold his hand if I like,” Cottia said, glaring at her brother. “Besides, he'll need the support if idiots like you are going to give him shit about it.”

“Shut up Cottia, this has nothing to do with you,” Charlie said, turning to face Marcus. “So are you saying you're a fag, Aquila?”

“I'm not denying anything, I stand by what I wrote,” Marcus said. “You read it, didn't you? Or did someone have to read it to you?”

“Oh, Marcus,” Cottia said, anticipating Charlie's reaction by letting go of Marcus’ hand and taking a step back.

“Are you calling me stupid?” Charlie snarled.

“No, I'm calling you illiterate, but if the shoe fits,” Marcus said, immediately ducking Charlie's flying fist. Years of playing hockey had given Marcus a keen eye for when the fist was coming for him, and he dodged, grabbing Charlie's fist and directing it away from Cottia, using Charlie's momentum to spin him and slam him against the bank of lockers with a crash that reverberated down the hallway. A crowd had already gathered around them, news of Marcus' article had spread quickly, but now every eye in the hallway was fixed on them.

Marcus kept moving, until he had Charlie pinned, face pressed against the wall and his arm twisted behind his back. He pressed Charlie into the wall mercilessly, putting all his weight and strength to the task.

“Listen close, you asshole,” he said, loud enough so everyone could hear him. He wanted to avoid a repeat performance, if possible. “I don't care what opinions you carry in that big dumb head of yours, but if I ever hear you use that word again in a derogatory fashion, I won't hesitate to break your face. I may be gay, but I'm not a pussy and I can still kick your pansy ass, Henderson.”

He yanked Charlie back then, pulling him off the wall and pushing him to the floor, just as the bell rang.

“Now fuck off,” Marcus said. “I have a class to get to.” He gave Cottia a smile and gestured toward their classroom and when they turned, he caught sight of Esca, leaning against the door frame of the math room. He met Marcus' eyes and for a brief second they were soft, showing more emotion than Marcus thought he realized, but they hardened quickly, shuttering the emotions away from sight.

Marcus received a pitying glance from Cottia, and he followed her into the math room, where Esca had taken a seat on the far side, away from any empty seats. Marcus spent a moment just looking at him, memorizing the sight of him all over, the tense set of his shoulders in contrast to the soft tendrils of his hair that teased his collar, the set of his jaw and the wiry muscles in his forearm.

He didn’t remember to sit until Cottia gave him a nudge and that’s when he noticed the rest of the students, some of them staring at him blatantly, some casting glances from the corner of their eyes, some whispering behind their hands, but every one of them aware that he was in the room.

Marcus sighed. It was going to be a long afternoon.

**

Esca slipped out of the classroom before Marcus could talk to him, despite being so far from the door.

‘Great,’ Marcus thought to himself. ‘Just when I don’t want to avoid him anymore, he takes to avoiding me.’

Cottia gave him a hug and sent him off to his next class, where he fielded a few queries about the article, but everyone either didn’t care, or didn’t care to make a fuss. He wondered how many had heard about his confrontation with Charlie and how many just didn’t want to make an issue with him. He was practically the biggest guy in the school, after all, and he wasn’t exactly out of shape. Besides he had a reputation for being quick to drop his gloves on the ice, if the need arose, so everyone knew he wasn’t afraid of a fight.

There were a few more people who came up to him at his locker and on his way out of the school, some to ask if it had been a joke and some to express support, but Esca was nowhere to be seen, and Marcus was looking for him.

He wasn’t waiting at the truck either, but Marcus had come to expect that. Esca hadn’t been there since the fall, before he’d left for the Grand Prix competitions. But Marcus couldn’t help the twinge in his chest, remembering the way things had been.

He was opening the door when he heard someone calling and turned to see Luke jogging towards him.

“Marcus, wait up,” Luke called, so Marcus closed the door again and turned to face him.

“Fuck me, son,” he said with a grin, slapping Marcus on the shoulder. “But you do know how to make an impact, don’t you?”

Marcus couldn’t help but laugh, and it felt good. “So, you’re alright with, you know, the article?” he asked.

“To be honest, it didn’t come as a huge surprise, once I’d read it,” Luke said. “Don’t get me wrong, I had no idea, but I’ve known for a while now that there was something you weren’t talking about, so it all kind of fit into place.”

“That’s what Cottia said,” Marcus said, feeling another weight lift from his shoulders.

“Smart girl, that,” Luke said with a gleam in his eye which made Marcus pause. Perhaps he’d have to put in a good word for Luke with Cottia, and see where it went.

“So, when are you going to get together with Esca, then?” Luke asked. Marcus wasn’t as surprised at the observation as he had been when Cottia had mentioned it, but he still felt like a fool.

“How many people know that I'm in love with Esca?” Marcus asked, incredulous.

“No idea,” Luke laughed. “But it's not a hard line to draw since you came out. We already knew that Esca's gay.”

“Yeah well, I don't think it'll be happening any time soon,” Marcus replied sadly. “I kind of fucked up there, and now he won't talk to me.”

“Well then you aren't trying hard enough,” Luke said. “Take my advice, don't hold back because you don't want to piss him off more, go after him. It's not like you need to hide it anymore, and you won't win him by skulking around in the shadows.”

“I never skulk,” Marcus scoffed.

“If you say so,” Luke said. “But go get him anyway. Listen, I've got to be off, but I'll see you Monday morning, yeah?”

“I'll be there,” Marcus agreed. Luke gave him another slap on the shoulder and left Marcus pondering his words. Luke was wise beyond his years, and it would do Marcus some good to listen to him.

**

The next day Marcus only practiced half-heartedly, hoping he’d be there when Esca arrived, but when the time came, there was no sign of him. He sighed heavily and retreated to the changing room, changing into his shoes and gathering his gear listlessly. He wondered if Esca would be on the ice when he got up there, as he had been the last few times, but he also knew that interrupting Esca’s training to confront him was the wrong move.

Sure enough, there he was, in the midst of a spin, legs crossed and arms wrapped around himself, spinning with uncanny speed when suddenly he sank like a stone, stretching one leg out in front of himself and gripping it with his hands, shooting the duck, as Esca had named it.

Marcus decided that he was not going to leave before he spoke with Esca, so he ran outside and quickly threw his gear into his truck and then jogged across the road to the Tim Horton’s for a latte and a bagel, to tide him over. When he went back in, he climbed the stairs behind the seating area and came out on the top tier, sitting in a dark corner where Esca would be unlikely to see him.

He stayed there for over two hours before Esca and Andrew left the ice, making way for the very group of pre-teen figure skaters that had plagued the first part of Marcus’ summer. He had eyes only for Esca however, quickly deducing that he would exit from one of the back doors, to avoid the crowd of people up front, parents and siblings of the girls on the ice, with a few young boys who came to watch the girls twirl.

He shoved his garbage into the nearest trash can and jogged down the back steps once more, weaving through the people in the foyer and out into the equally chilly air. He headed around the side of the arena, considering which door would be a more likely exit for Esca, choosing the one that faced the road toward his apartment building.

He didn’t have a long time to wait, within fifteen minutes the door opened and Esca stepped through, blinking a bit in the bright sunlight, not seeing Marcus until the door had swung shut behind him. When he did, he stopped still, eyes wide, flicking from side to side as if planning his escape route. Marcus shoved down the hurt that rose up, putting it aside in favour of more pressing things.

“Hi,” he said, croaking on the word, then clearing his throat, much as he had done the day they’d met. Esca didn’t say anything, just crossed his arms over his chest defiantly and glared. Marcus cringed a little, but he took a few steps forward instead.

“Look, I’m sorry for being an ass,” he began, hoping his apology would move Esca to speak. When it didn’t, he continued.

“I’m just under a lot of pressure, and I thought I’d screwed up my priorities, so I panicked. I’m not proud of myself,” he said, and Esca scoffed.

“It’s just that, being a hockey player comes with a certain expectation-” Esca interrupted him then, unpredictable as always.

“Haven’t we had this conversation?” he sneered. “I don’t care about your excuses.”

“And I have none,” Marcus agreed. “I just hoped you’d cut me a little slack for being an idiot and not seeing what I was throwing away being so obstinate.”

“I pointed it out to you, isn’t that enough?” Esca demanded. “What more do you want from me, Marcus?”

“I want a chance to make it right. I’ve tried to start already,” he said, but Esca interrupted him again.

“I saw your little article in the school paper, but what I don’t get is what difference it makes,” he said. Marcus just stared, unable to find the words to explain.

“It’s, I...” he tried, swallowing heavily and beginning again. “I’m trying to make things right, Esca. I’m trying to be honest. Does that mean nothing?”

“It means something,” Esca admitted. “But not enough. I told you we were through and I meant it. I’m not going to wait around for you to decide being a gay hockey player is too hard and recant, or decide that the game means more to you after all, and push me aside.”

Marcus felt a knot forming in his stomach again, realizing that this was the most they’d spoken in weeks and it was not going well.

“I won’t. Esca, can’t you see?” he pleaded, taking another step forward. “I’ve made up my mind. I’ll deal with what this means for my career when I have to, but I’d rather have you than any of that other shit. I love you.”

Esca flinched as if he’d been slapped, and a wall seemed to fall down over his face, turning it blank.

“Very convenient,” he said coldly. “But I meant what I said. I’m done.” He pushed past Marcus, slamming into him with his shoulder. Marcus grabbed his wrist and pulled him back, pleading, “Esca, wait,” but Esca would not be mollified.

“Don’t,” he said, wrenching his arm from Marcus’ grasp and walking away again.

“Esca!” Marcus called out, but there was no response. The irony of their reversed roles was not lost on him, as his chest ached with the loss he was just beginning to recognize might be the worst of his life.

**

By the time Marcus arrived home, he was overwhelmed by a surge of depression. He wanted to hide in his room and never come out. Unfortunately, Uncle and Stephan were leaving as he was coming in, so he had to talk to them. If only he’d been two minutes later.

“Marcus, my boy, there you are,” Uncle said, grinning. “How was practice?”

“Fine,” Marcus said sullenly. “I have a headache, I’m going to bed.”

“Can we bring you anything?” Stephan asked, but Marcus shook his head.

“No, just some quiet will do,” he said, starting up the stairs.

“We’ll be out for a few hours, checking out some properties,” Uncle said. “Just call if you need anything, alright?”

“Sure,” Marcus said. “Thanks.” He waved them out the door and retreated to his room. He wasn’t in there for too long before there was a quiet knock on the door.

“Come in,” he said, looking up from where he was slumped on the couch.

“I thought you could use some lunch,” Sassy said, carrying a tray with some juice, a few sandwiches and an apple.

“Thanks Sassy,” Marcus said, giving her a small smile.

“Oh love,” she said, putting the tray down on the coffee table and sitting beside him, flattening his hair with a gentle hand. Marcus closed his eyes and relaxed into it. “It’s all been a been a bit rough on you, hasn’t it?” she said. “It will turn out alright in the end.”

“I wish I could believe that,” Marcus replied. “It all seems a bit hopeless right now.”

“It always does, when you’re in the middle of it,” she said, leaning over to kiss his forehead. “I’m off for the day, love. There’s stew in the crockpot for dinner, and fresh biscuits cooling on the counter. I’ll see you tomorrow, alright?”

“Okay,” he said. “Thanks Sassy.”

“You’re welcome,” she said, closing his door behind her.

Marcus wasn’t feeling very hungry, but he ate the apple anyway and then got up to change into some comfy clothes. As he was pulling a shirt on over his pyjama pants he heard a knock on the door, so he went downstairs to answer it, wondering who it could be.

He opened the door and was shocked to see Esca standing on the other side.

“Esca?” he said.

“Can I come in?” Esca asked, and Marcus nodded dumbly, gesturing him in and the closing the door behind him.

“Is your uncle home?” Esca asked, glancing at the office door nervously.

“No, he and Stephan are out scouting properties. I, do you want a drink, or...” Marcus didn’t know what else to say, or what to do.

“I came to apologize,” Esca said suddenly.

“I thought I-” Marcus began, but Esca interrupted him.

“Just listen for once, would you?” he said, glaring.

“Okay,” Marcus said.

“Right, so I was a bit of a prat,” Esca began, raising a hand when Marcus opened his mouth to deny it. He closed it again, so Esca continued. “No, I was. I was too wrapped up in my own issues to realize that yours were pretty big too. When I left you behind I felt sick so when I saw the bus, I just got on it, without thinking about what I was doing.”

“It’s going around,” Marcus said.

“Yeah, a bit,” Esca agreed. “Anyway, I thought about it on the bus and I figured that I was being selfish and stupid and you deserved an apology.”

“I really don’t think so,” Marcus said, but Esca interrupted him again.

“But I’m giving you one,” he said, glaring at Marcus. Marcus grinned. How he’d missed that glare. “And asking you to give me another chance.”

“What, me?” Marcus shook his head. “I was trying to figure out a way to beg you for another chance.”

They just stared at each other for a few minutes, and Marcus could practically see the tension rising. He reached out, taking Esca’s hand and pulled him closer.

“So, can I have another chance?” he asked, dropping his eyes to Esca’s bitten lips.

“Yes, please,” Esca said, leaning closer. “Marcus?” he said.

“Yeah,” Marcus replied, wondering if now would be a good time to kiss him.

“I love you too.” Marcus tore his gaze away from those enticing lips.

“You,” he began, not able to form the words to continue.

“Yeah,” Esca said, and then he wrapped his arms around Marcus’ neck, pulling him in for a wet, open-mouthed kiss.

Marcus kissed back, not holding back, pulling Esca closer with both arms around his waist. They snogged heavily for a few minutes until Marcus pulled back, gasping for breath.

“Esca, god,” he panted, leaning in and sucking kisses up Esca’s jaw, laving his tongue over the stubble he found there. It was so arousing a sensation that he was instantly hard, and his hands let go of Esca’s waist to grip his head still, so he could do it again, and again.

“Wanted this for so long,” Esca panted. “You have no idea.”

“I do, I wanted you as soon as I saw you,” Marcus said, his hands sliding back down to cup Esca’s ass, which must have been the right thing to do because Esca groaned hotly and pressed his hips closer.

“Took you long enough,” he said, getting a death grip on Marcus’ hair and tugging. “Take me to bed, hockey boy.”

“Fuck yes,” Marcus said, turning Esca around and walking him back towards the stairs while trying to tug his t-shirt off. They stumbled back and fell, sliding down a few steps, limbs tangled. They laughed at each other for a moment, eyes catching as they panted in each other’s breaths. Marcus pressed his head against Esca’s, overwhelmed that it was finally happening.

“I thought you’d never,” he began, but Esca cut him off with a kiss, sucking on his bottom lip and swiping with his tongue, pulling back as Marcus started to kiss back.

“I thought you’d never,” Esca repeated, rubbing his thumb across Marcus’ jaw. “Let’s go upstairs.”

“Agreed,” Marcus said, pushing himself up and reaching down to pull Esca up as well. Esca tugged, pulling Marcus with him as he began walking up the stairs backwards, staring into Marcus’ eyes with the most intense look Marcus had ever seen. He followed, unable to do anything else, licking his lips as he went, the taste of Esca still on them.

Esca reached down and grabbed the hem of his t-shirt, pulling it off with one quick motion and throwing it behind him, still ascending the stairs in reverse, taunting Marcus with what seemed like miles of taut, pale skin, covering the muscles that Marcus could see flexing underneath it. He dropped his hands to his jeans and popped the button as he reached the top, making Marcus lose his concentration.

He fell the rest of the way up and Esca laughed, backing up a few more steps and smiling down at him. Marcus looked up at him and from that angle he could see the outline of Esca’s cock, bulging against his zipper almost obscenely.

“Forgotten how to walk?” Esca asked with a cheeky grin.

“You turn me into a complete idiot, you know that?” Marcus said, climbing up the stairs and pulling Esca into his arms again, this time sucking on the tender skin at the base of his neck, hands roaming his naked back.

“So that explains your behaviour lately,” Esca said, pulling on Marcus’ shirt and pushing his head to the side, detaching Marcus’ lips from his neck to pull the shirt over his head, dropping it on the floor. Marcus pulled them flush again, moaning at the first press of their bare chests. He pushed forward, pressing Esca against the wall, feeling the bulge under his jeans and pressing his own against it.

Esca grabbed a handful of his hair and pulled Marcus’ head back up so they were kissing again, sloppy and wet and with too much tongue, but Marcus didn’t care. It was Esca and they were kissing, and that was all that mattered to him. Esca tugged his hair again and Marcus pulled up again, releasing Esca’s lips reluctantly.

“Bedroom,” Esca said, panting, but all Marcus could think about was his lips, swollen and red, slick with saliva from their kisses.

“Uh huh,” Marcus said, but he didn’t make any attempt to move until Esca pinched his neck.

“Move it,” he said, shoving Marcus away and heading down toward the end of the hall where Marcus’ room was. Marcus followed, eagerly, grabbing Esca by the hips and pulling until his chest was pressed against Esca’s back. He let his hands wander over Esca’s chest and his flat belly as his lips searched out the sensitive spots along Esca’s neck.

“Marcus, hold on,” Esca said, when Marcus pressed him up against the door frame. “I said take me to bed, not molest me in the corridor.”

“Mmm, it’s your fault,” Marcus said, sucking a hickey onto Esca’s neck. “You took your shirt off, and I lost all self control.”

“I can put it back on if you-” Esca said, but Marcus spun him around and kissed the words right out of his mouth.

“No need,” Marcus said, pressing forward again, deftly guiding Esca away from the couch and toward the bed in the far corner. “I’d rather we work at getting these jeans off.”

“Yours too,” Esca said, tugging at Marcus’ loose pyjama pants. “Naked is better.”

Esca’s legs hit the bed and he fell back, pulling Marcus down on top of him, shoving Marcus’ pants off as much as he could in the process.

“Shit,” Marcus said as his sensitive cock rubbed against Esca’s jeans. it was maddening, so he pressed harder, laying his body flush against Esca’s, kissing him again, with less skill than enthusiasm. He kissed his way down Esca’s chest, leaving a trail behind that cooled, bringing goosebumps up, making Marcus retrace his path just to feel them against his tongue.

“Marcus, please,” Esca said, pushing his head lower even as his fingers tightened in Marcus’ hair.

“Patience,” Marcus said, sucking a brown nipple until it peaked under his tongue.

“I’ve waited long enough, you prat, get on with it,” Esca said, pulling harder until Marcus’ scalp ached. Marcus didn’t really feel like drawing it out anyway, there would be time for that, so he undid Esca’s jeans, pulling them down just enough to reveal the substantial bulge under his briefs.

There Marcus paused with wide eyes, rubbing his hand across it gently, pulling a pained sounding groan from Esca’s kiss-swollen lips. Now that he was here, faced with the stark reality of his sexuality, he thought that perhaps he should have been apprehensive, but he wasn’t. He was more turned on than he’d ever been in his life, and he wanted nothing more than to taste it, taste Esca, sucking him down all the way and making him come, the way he’d seen the girls do to all the men in Dale’s favorite pornos.

He pulled Esca’s briefs over his straining cock, sucking in a breath when it bounced up, almost smacking him in the nose. Esca gave a laugh and muttered, “sorry,” but Marcus didn’t mind at all. Instead of answering he leaned closer, darting his tongue out to lick at the tip. It was thick and bitter, but Marcus figured he could get used to it, fast.

“Marcus,” Esca whispered and Marcus looked up at him, his breath catching at the sight of Esca, flushed cheeks and disheveled hair, eyes wide and blown with lust. His cock surged, pressed against the duvet so he pulled back, pulling Esca’s jeans and briefs all the way off, fumbling with his shoes and socks, giving himself some much needed relief from the stimulation as he stripped Esca completely.

“Come here,” Esca said and Marcus was helpless to deny him, spreading out on top of Esca, thighs pressed together, forming delicious friction where their cocks were rubbing, his bigger chest flush with Esca’s smaller one. Esca wrapped around him, arms on his shoulder, pulling Marcus’ lips down to his, even as his legs spread to admit Marcus’ hips between them, pushing their cocks into closer contact as he wrapped them around Marcus’ waist.

Marcus’ arousal was peaking again, having that much bare skin in contact with Esca’s bare skin was bringing him remarkably close to climax.

“Marcus, do you have condoms?” Esca panted, using his grip on Marcus’ hair to manipulate him, not that Marcus minded. A bossy, demanding Esca was hot, even more in the bedroom. But he needn’t have held on so tight, as Marcus had gone still. Condoms. He hadn’t even considered them.

“No, I,” he said, a rush of insecurity coming over him. “I’ve never, uh, I’ve never done anything, you know...” he trailed off when Esca’s eyes went wide in surprise.

“You’re a virgin?” he said with a laugh, incredulous. Marcus rolled off him and sat up, swinging his legs off the edge of the bed. He looked down at his lap, flushing with embarrassment. He didn’t know what to say, so he said nothing. Esca sat up too, scooting close and pressing himself against Marcus’ back, his legs bracketing Marcus’.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Esca said softly, pressing kisses across Marcus’ shoulders.

“Then why the laugh?” Marcus said quietly.

“Hey, come here,” Esca said, wrapping his arms around Marcus’ chest and pulling him back to lean against his chest. “It’s just that I was surprised. I mean, you’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, I just found it hard to believe that you’d never, with anyone.”

Marcus relaxed, letting Esca’s roaming hands ease his fears.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he scoffed, but he turned his face into Esca’s neck anyway, taking a deep breath in, memorizing the smell of Esca’s skin.

“You are,” Esca insisted, so Marcus didn’t try to correct him. “But how did you make it to seventeen without, well, anything?”

“I’ve kissed a few girls,” Marcus said. “Mostly just Cottia, but they never did anything for me. I guess I’ve known all along that I’m gay, but I couldn’t face the idea, so I suppressed everything.”

“What do you mean, everything?” Esca asked softly, his hands drifting lower. Marcus began to shift against him, his arousal returning swiftly. He could feel Esca’s erection pressed against his lower back, hard but smooth, like silk over steel.

“I mean, everything. I didn’t look at the other boys, cause that made me think things I knew I shouldn’t. And I didn’t beat off, because whenever I did, I only thought of other boys, or male movie stars or something,” he said.

“You didn’t wank? Ever?” Esca sounded shocked and a little amazed.

“Well, yeah, sometimes. Sometimes I just had to, so I’d just do it as fast as I could and tried not to think about anything,” Marcus explained.

“That’s...kind of sad, actually,” Esca said, kissing Marcus’ shoulder again.

“It is what it is,” Marcus said. “I didn’t think I had any other choice.” Esca was silent for a few minutes, letting it all sink in. He was warm, surrounding Marcus, his hands roaming over all the skin they could reach, including Marcus’ renewed erection, his thighs, his belly and chest. He gasped and moaned when Esca gave his nipple a pinch, feeling Esca’s smile against his shoulder.

“Did you ever wank over me?” Esca asked, and Marcus laughed.

“Too often,” he said, smiling into Esca’s neck. “It drove me crazy that I couldn’t block you out.”

“I didn’t even try,” Esca said. “But then, I came to terms with being gay years ago.”

“Hmm,” Marcus hummed, feeling boneless under Esca’s expert hands. Well, almost.

“So, no condoms,” Esca said, tugging on Marcus’ cock a few times, then letting go and shifting on the bed, pushing Marcus down on his back and climbing on top of him. “We’ll just have to do something else this time.”

“This time?” Marcus asked, gripping Esca’s hips but staring at his cock, long and hard, bobbing with every move Esca made, trying to stifle a groan as it nudged against his.

“Yeah. Plenty of time to do whatever we want, yeah?” Esca said, taking one of Marcus’ hands and wrapping it around his own cock. “For now, touch me.”

So Marcus did, sliding it up and down, such a familiar sensation at a foreign angle. He loved the way Esca gasped when he pressed his thumb along the base, his hips jerking when Marcus squeezed just so.

“Yeah,” Esca said, panting, his hips moving more, rocking back and forth in Marcus’ hand. “Now add yours.”

“Huh?” Marcus said dumbly, tearing his eyes away from the sight of Esca’s cock disappearing into his fist. Esca pried his hand open, laying his cock along Marcus’, from base to tip and then wrapped Marcus’ hand around them both. He was almost able to wrap it completely around, but all he could think was how amazing it felt, how right, how exciting.

“I’ve been thinking about this since I noticed how big your hands are,” Esca said in a hushed voice, looking up at Marcus, who met his gaze. Esca wrapped his hand over the part that Marcus’ didn’t cover, and, not breaking his gaze, he pulled back, holding their cocks upright together before looking down and working a large glob of spit out and letting it fall onto them. Marcus thought it was filthy and gross, but as soon as Esca spread it around, easing the drag of foreskin on foreskin, Marcus completely forgot from where the lubrication had originated. They began moving their hands, awkwardly at first but soon they were stroking in sync, the two of them working together to keep the friction going.

Marcus pulled his gaze from Esca’s, looking down again to see the head of his cock pressed against Esca’s sliding in and out of their joined fists, and the sight of it was almost as arousing as the way it felt.

“Esca,” he whined, feeling the climax building, overtaking his senses.

“I know,” Esca said, his breath coming in harsh pants and there, a stream of pre-come squeezed out of Esca’s cock and Marcus lost it, spurting over their hands, his belly, covering both their cocks with slickness. It only took a few more strokes for Esca to come as well, adding a layer to Marcus’ already cooling release.

**

They lay side by side in the aftermath, tangled legs and sweaty skin, breathing quieted. Esca had pulled himself away shortly after they climaxed, padding to the bathroom and retrieving a towel which he used to wipe away the excess come, sucking one patch off his thumb, making Marcus’ cock twitch, remembering what he’d thought before about making Esca come with his mouth. They’d get to that, later.

“Marcus?” Esca said at last, his voice quiet, though it rumbled through his chest where Marcus’ head lay, Esca’s strong, lean fingers carding through his hair, rubbing his scalp. Marcus felt like a lazy dog, head in his master’s lap, but he loved it nonetheless.

“Hmm?”

“Do you remember your parents?”

Marcus thought for a moment and then answered, “not really. I was too young to remember much.”

“Sometimes I wonder if that would be better than-” Esca stopped speaking abruptly, so Marcus looked up at him, chin resting on Esca’s well defined pectoral.

“Than what?” he asked, not liking the lost look on Esca’s face.

“Sometimes I wish I could forget. My parents and my...my brothers,” Esca’s voice was strained, so Marcus pulled himself up further, bringing their faces level, noticing the sheen in Esca’s eyes.

“You’re,” he began, then started again, “what happened?” He’d never asked much about Esca’s family, but then Esca had always brushed him off, and he wasn’t inclined to push. If Esca had seemed down after he’d asked, Marcus must have ignored it, but he was paying attention now.

“Esca, what happened to them?” he asked, softly, waiting for Esca to speak.

“They...it was a burglary gone bad, they weren’t expecting them home, they knew I was at a comp....”

“Esca,” Marcus breathed, his heart breaking, he didn’t need any details, the look on Esca’s face told him all he needed to know.

“My brothers, they, they didn’t even have a chance, they were so little,” he broke off, biting his lip as a single tear slid from his eye. “A police officer came to the hotel I was in, and everything just...stopped. I left the comp and didn’t skate for months after that. I moved here because, Nan, and...”

Marcus leaned in and kissed him, tugging at Esca’s lips with his own, trying to convey as much comfort, as much acceptance as he could, but he was really at a loss. He’d never had to face any one else’s grief before, he’d barely been able to handle his own, and he didn’t remember his parents, anyway. The sheer scale of Esca’s loss seemed insurmountable.

“Esca, I,” he said kissing him again before continuing. “I’ll do anything, whatever you need, I...”

“Just don’t walk away again,” Esca said in a hushed whisper. “Don’t leave-” he broke off, burying his face into Marcus’ neck, his hands clasping Marcus almost painfully.

“Never,” Marcus said, and he had never meant anything more in his entire life.

Chapter Text

Fireworks

If there’s a goal that everyone remembers, it was back in ole ‘72.
We all squeezed the stick and we all pulled the trigger, and all I remember was sitting beside you.
You said you didn’t give a fuck about hockey, and I never saw someone say that before.
You held my hand and we walked home the long way, you were loosening my grip on Bobby Orr.

 

They stayed like that for how long, Marcus had no idea, but it must have been an hour. At least the sun had moved enough so that it was now shining through the windows above his bed, filling the room with a golden afternoon light and Marcus was certain that Esca had never been more beautiful.

Finally Esca shifted, pulling his head away from Marcus’ neck, grimacing at the mess left behind.

“Ugh, I’m a mess,” he said, brow furrowed.

“You’re amazing,” Marcus said, smiling at him. “Are you okay?”

“No, but I will be,” Esca said, smiling back. “After a shower?”

“Sounds good,” Marcus said, leaning in for another kiss, before smacking Esca on the ass and leaping out of bed. Esca laughed but followed him anyway. Marcus found himself surreptitiously watching Esca’s unselfconscious movements, seeming not to notice that he was naked, while Marcus was having a hard time keeping from covering himself up.

“Marcus,” Esca said as Marcus turned on the shower, testing to ensure the proper temperature.

“Yeah?” he said, turning and grabbing a couple of towels out of the linen closet, putting them on the rack closer to the shower stall.

“You’re allowed to look,” Esca said with a smirk, standing with his hands on his hips. His pose drew Marcus’ attention to his groin, showcasing a luscious looking cock that was filling out as he stood there.

“Right,” Marcus said, sheepishly. Esca just laughed at him and stalked toward him, his movements as graceful as a cat’s, a predatory look in his eyes. Marcus could only stand, frozen in place as Esca came closer.

“I could look at you all day,” Esca said, smoothing his hands over Marcus’ shoulders, down his chest to his hips. “You’re so beautiful.”

Marcus shivered, as much from the words as from Esca’s regard.

“I like that you don’t have any experience,” Esca said, his thumbs tracing Marcus’ hipbones, provoking a shiver.

“You do?” Marcus asked, licking hips lips, his eyes zoning in on Esca’s mouth, wanting to kiss him again.

“Knowing that I’m the only to see you like this, to touch you,” Esca said, moving closer, his arms wrapping around Marcus’ waist, cupping his ass and squeezing. “It’s intoxicating,” he whispered, his breath puffing over Marcus lips.

He was too tempting to ignore, so Marcus kissed him, melding their lips gently, his hand moving to cup Esca’s jaw as their lips moved together.

By the time they pulled apart, the shower was filling the bathroom with steam, so they let go and went in, Marcus feeling very thankful that his Uncle has installed a large shower stall for him when they’d remodelled the room. It was enclosed with glass on two sides, the other two with a dark tile that Marcus loved and plenty of room for his bathing products, not that he had many.

“I love the shower,” Esca said, grinning mischievously. “We could get up to plenty of mischief in here.”

Marcus laughed, squirting some shower gel onto a bath sponge, lathering it up by rubbing it across Esca’s chest. “You think we should get dirty while we get clean?” Marcus asked, returning the grin.

“I do,” Esca replied, taking the sponge and lathering Marcus up from top to bottom, kneeling down to do his legs, letting his cheek nuzzle Marcus’ hard cock, teasing, before standing up and tugging it a few times with a soapy hand.

“Turn around,” he said, voice low and husky, Marcus shuddered as he did so, closing his eyes as Esca slid the sponge across his shoulders and back. He slid down as he had before, soaping Marcus’ legs before standing up again and lavishing attention on his ass, letting his fingers slide between.

Marcus gasped, but he didn’t pull away. He was aware of the logistics of two men having sex, and while it made his nervous, it also excited him. And with Esca, he couldn’t imagine it would be a bad thing. Ecsa moved around to his front again, sliding the sponge up his neck, draping his arms around Marcus’ neck and kissing him lazily. Marcus took the sponge from him, wrapping his arms around Esca and using it to clean Esca’s back and ass as they kissed. They were pressed together chest to chest, which spread the soap around their fronts well enough.

When Marcus had soaped Esca up as much as he could, he dropped the sponge and used both his hands to explore the skin on Esca’s back, pulling out of the kiss to slide his mouth down Esca’s neck tasting only soap and water, which he thought was a shame, but it still felt marvelous. He gasped when one of Esca’s hands gripped his cock, he hadn’t even noticed that Esca had moved it, having been too busy with his neck.

Esca began to stroke him, making Marcus lose focus on what he was doing, it was like stroking himself, only better, having Esca’s hand on him was too incredible to describe.

“Marcus,” Esca said, snapping him out of his thoughts. “Touch me.”

Marcus looked down, noticing that Esca’s cock was pressing into his belly, so he reached down and took it, getting a good grip and stroking in time with Esca’s hand on his own cock.

“Tighter,” Esca said, directing him, “like this,” and he squeezed Marcus’ cock more, eliciting another groan from Marcus. He pulled Marcus’ head down with this free hand, slipping his tongue into Marcus’ mouth, mimicking the penetration that had preoccupied Marcus not long before.

“Esca, I’m gonna come,” he said, meaning it as a warning, but Esca just smiled against his lips.

“Yeah,” Esca said, stroking faster. “Yeah, come on, Marcus.” And Marcus did, his hand faltering and he came all over Esca’s hand, panting for air as he came down from the high of his orgasm.

“Marcus, don’t stop,” Esca said, and he looked down again, seeing Esca’s cock still red and hard in his fist, so he began tugging again, stroking faster until he found a rhythm that Esca seemed to like, if his heaving breaths and jerking hips were any indication. And they were, as Esca came shortly after, pressing his forehead into Marcus shoulder and groaning, long and low, his cock spurting and twitching in Marcus’ fist.

“Marcus, god, that was amazing,” Esca said, still breathing heavily. Marcus grinned, a surge of love and happiness flowing over him. He’d never felt so at home, so ecstatic as he did in that moment, his come mingling with Esca’s and sliding off him with the remnants of soap, Esca’s eyes sparkling with happiness as well.

Marcus let out a laugh, utterly delighted and thrilled at how things had turned out. Even if he didn’t get drafted, if he never played hockey again, he would never regret anything, not while he had Esca in his arms.

**

Once they’d left the shower, toes wrinkly and temporarily sated, they set to the tray of food that Sassy had brought up for Marcus, demolishing it in only a few minutes. It took the edge off their hunger, enough to get them through until dinner.

After that, they snuggled on the couch and watched some TV, Esca leaning against one armrest with Marcus sprawled on his belly, head pillowed on Esca’s chest. Marcus was quickly becoming used to the feeling of Esca’s fingers carding through his hair, but he didn’t think he’d ever stop loving it.

He could hear Esca’s heart beating beneath his cheek and his head rose and fell with Esca’s breaths. He loved the way they fit, loved the feeling of Esca’s smooth skin under his, Esca’s legs tangled with his. He sighed blissfully.

The stillness didn’t last long. After only one episode of Star Trek, Esca turned off the TV and dropped the remote onto the coffee table. He ran his fingers through Marcus’ hair again, gripping his head with both hands and tilting it up so that Marcus was looking at him.

“Come here,” Esca said, so Marcus pushed up, crawling forward until their lips met, lowering himself back onto Esca’s body with his arms braced under him. The kiss began slow and sensual, but it quickly heated up until their tongues were lashing at each other. It was sloppy and undignified, and the best kiss Marcus had ever had. Every kiss with Esca was better than the last.

That was when Marcus remembered what he’d thought earlier that day when faced with Esca’s erection for the first time. His mouth had practically watered at the thought of taking Esca in his mouth, but the truth was that he’d never even received a blowjob. And yet, considering what Esca had said in the bathroom, Marcus thought he wouldn’t mind having to teach Marcus how to do it.

He pulled back, sucking Esca’s bottom lip, hard, before letting go and smiling at him.

“Esca,” he said. “I kind of want, if it’s alright, I mean, I’m not very...I’ve never-”

“Marcus,” Esca said, interrupting him. “What?”

“I’d like to suck you off,” Marcus said, so quickly it was almost indecipherable.

“Yeah?” Esca looked impressed. “I didn’t think you’d want to, so soon.”

“I didn’t either,” Marcus said. “I’ve only seen them in cheesy pornos where the girls wore too much make up and the guys had too much hair.”

Esca laughed. “I’ll have to get some some good bloke on bloke porn,” he said. “You’ve no idea what you’re missing.”

“Maybe you could show me right now,” Marcus said, licking his lips and grinding down to show Esca just how much he liked the idea.

“Why don’t I demonstrate, strictly for educational purposes, of course, and then you can show me what you’ve learned.” Esca had a sly grin on his face, one that made Marcus’ heart pound.

“You’re on,” he said, grinning back. Esca shoved at him and said, “get up,” and then arranged them so that Marcus was sitting on the couch with his legs spread while Esca knelt between them, already palming Marcus’ mostly hard cock and looking very much like the cat who got the cream.

“First,” he began. “You’ll need to get everything nice and wet, saliva is very important.” He proceeded to lick Marcus’ cock from base to tip, spreading enough spit around to leave it looking slick and wet, spending considerable time at the head. Marcus was having trouble sitting still, the urge to push up was difficult to control. Just when he thought he’d never make it, Esca pulled back, reviewing his handiwork. He seemed satisfied, so he continued his lesson.

“You want to be careful with your teeth. Keeping them covered with your lips is the way to go. Like this,” he said and slid his mouth down onto Marcus’ cock, lips wrapped around his teeth, the previously applied lubrication making it smooth and easy. For him, perhaps. Marcus was unable to stop himself from moaning as Esca sucked him in deep, and hissing when he pulled out, his lips playing at the head.

“God, Esca,” Marcus breathed, and he pulled back, holding Marcus’ cock upright with one hand wrapped around the base.

“A little bit of ball sucking is never a bad thing,” Esca said, lifting his eyes to meet Marcus’ momentarily before leaning down even further, tonguing one of Marcus’ balls and then the other before taking the first one into his mouth and sucking gently. He moved to the other and did the same thing, then pulled back and licked all around them, underneath and around, coming back up to the base of Marcus’ cock, sliding his tongue up to the tip and sucking it in briefly, letting go with a slight pop and then sitting back on his heels.

Marcus’ breath was coming in harsh pants, though his need to reach climax had faded while Esca had been working on this sac, it had filled him with a different kind of need, one that left him restless and aching.

“Some blokes say they like some tight, hard suction, but I’ve only found it a distraction. A warm, wet mouth is arousing enough, I don’t like to feel like I’m being sucked off by a hoover.”

Marcus couldn’t help but snort at this, and Esca grinned too, and then continued.

“One thing every bloke agrees on is tongue. Whether you want to be sucked off literally or not, tongue is always essential. Especially around the head.” He leaned down to demonstrate, taking just the tip of Marcus’ cock into his mouth, but flicking his tongue along the underside and then pressing it hard against the head.

Marcus gasped, unable to stop himself from bucking a little, his cock slipping further into Esca’s mouth for a minute before he pulled off once more.

“Ahh, the thrusting. Not such a good idea, unless you’ve planned for it or discussed it, although it happens sometimes. Some blokes like to have their heads held still and their mouths fucked, I admit it has a certain appeal, but generally, you should try to keep still and let the blower do the work. The blowee’s responsibility is just to sit back and enjoy.”

“Blowee?” Marcus said with a laugh. Despite the educational format of the blowjob, Marcus was reaching the edge of his endurance. Esca was good at what he put his mind to, that was certain. The fact that it was Marcus’ first blowjob and that it was Esca probably wasn’t helping him last.

“Yes, blowee. Technical terms, yeah?” Esca grinned at him, his eyes dancing with mischief, and Marcus almost lost his load right there, but then Esca sucked the tip into his mouth again and swirled his tongue around, pushing at what was left of Marcus’ foreskin. He had never been harder in his life. He shuddered, throwing his head back against the couch and looking imploringly at the ceiling as if praying for relief. The sight of a cheeky Esca with his mouth around Marcus’ cock was the most erotic thing he’d ever seen.

“Oi, hockey boy,” Esca said, giving Marcus a smack on the thigh. “Eyes on the prize,” he said, so Marcus took another deep breath and willed himself not to come too soon before looking back down. Esca was still grinning at him, and he had victory in his eyes.

“A useful tip is to use your hands to keep the blowee’s hips in place, minimizing the gag factor." He slid his hands up Marcus’ legs from knee to hip, then pressed hard, pinning Marcus in place. It was a good thing too as that’s when he took Marcus in all the way, his tongue pressing against the underside of Marcus’ cock on the down stroke, then twining about it on the way up, ending with a swirl against the tip before lowering his head to do it all again.

Marcus watched enthralled as Esca’s head bobbed in his lap, his eyes flicking up to meet Marcus’ every so often, his tongue and lips expertly manipulating Marcus’ arousal, building it higher and higher until Marcus knew he was going to come, soon.

“Esca, I--” he started, reaching up to tug on Esca’s hair to warn him, but Esca didn’t pull back, instead working him harder and faster until Marcus catapulted off the edge, his whole body shuddering with the force of, yet again, the best climax of his life. He wondered idly if they were just going to keep getting better but was distracted by Esca’s tongue, which was rubbing lazily at Marcus’ cock, lips still wrapped around him.

A tiny dribble of come slid from the corner of his mouth, but he didn’t seem to mind, milking Marcus’ cock a little longer before pulling back with a gasp. His tongue flicked out and licked at his lips, swiping the droplet back into his mouth, making Marcus shudder at the filthy eroticism of the act.

“Swallowing is both an acquired taste and a skill that must be mastered, so I don’t suggest it for your first attempt. Some blokes love to do it and others don’t, it’s personal, really. I for one have never really cared for it, but I found I just couldn’t help myself,” Esca said, crawling up and straddling Marcus’ lap, reminding him that Esca had yet to come, in fact his erection was leaking precome onto Marcus’ belly.

“What do you think?” Esca asked, but Marcus wasn’t sure he could answer. He breathed heavily for a moment, willing his heart to slow down before it beat right out of his chest, before answering.

“Is it always that good?” he asked, still breathless.

“Not always,” Esca replied. “Some blokes aren’t very good at it, even if they are enthusiastic, and some despise the very idea.” He stopped and looked Marcus right in the eye, suddenly serious. “But you won’t have to worry about that, will you?”

“No,” Marcus said with a grin, finally regaining the ability to move and sliding his hands up Esca’s back to pull him closer. “Apparently my boyfriend is an expert.”

Esca gifted him with a bright smile, leaning in for a kiss that Marcus happily returned. It wasn’t until his tongue tasted Esca’s mouth that he remembered what he had just been swallowing, but the idea didn’t bother him nearly as much as he thought that it should. He could still taste Esca and considering what Esca had just done for him, it mattered little.

“You still want to try?” Esca asked, nudging his hard cock against Marcus, who felt unaccountably nervous all of a sudden. Sure, he wanted it, but when faced with it in the immediate future, he found himself slightly apprehensive.

“You don’t have to if you don’t want, Marcus,” Esca said, smiling softly at him, playing idly with the hairs at the back of his neck. “There are plenty of other ways you can get me off.”

“No, I do, it’s just--” Marcus was unsure how to continue, so he kissed Esca instead, swiping with his tongue for another taste before pulling back once more. “I want to,” he said firmly.

“Alright then, you’re the boss,” Esca said, standing up and gesturing for Marcus to follow and Marcus was struck by the words, realizing that he really wasn’t. Esca was, and Marcus would do anything Esca wanted, with no concern for his fears or doubts. He wondered if Esca knew that, but now was not the time for thinking. Now was the time for action. Esca wanted a blowjob and Marcus was damn well going to give him one.

He knelt on the floor in front of Esca, mirroring Esca’s position from earlier, and thought about what he’d been told. No teeth, lots of tongue, suction optional. Right, he could do this. He took Esca’s cock in hand, pulling it into an upright position and watching avidly as the pre-come stretched before snapping, pooling on Esca’s belly. Marcus reached out and swiped at it with a finger, then sucked it into his mouth. The cock in his hand twitched, but he focused on the taste and consistency. It wasn’t all that bad, really.

He turned his attention back to Esca’s cock, studying it. It was equally as long as his, a bit slimmer but, on Esca’s smaller frame, much more impressive. He must have been taking a long time, because he soon felt Esca’s hand in his hair, tugging a little before carding his fingers through it, pressing ever so slightly forward as he cupped the back on Marcus’ head.

“Go on and give it a lick,” Esca said in a low voice, making Marcus shudder. He obeyed, leaning forward and licking the tip at first, then starting from the base and sliding his tongue up. He remembered what Esca had said about saliva so he worked up a bunch, slathering it on with his tongue and lips, tilting his head to the side to run them up and down Esca’s cock, first one side and then the other.

Esca hissed when he reached the top and sucked it into his mouth, covering his teeth and taking some in before sliding back up again and letting go, glancing up at Esca who was staring down at him, his eyes fixed on Marcus’ lips.

“Good Marcus, so good,” Esca whispered, licking his lips and making Marcus want to kiss them. “Try it again.”

Marcus did, taking in more this time, and remembering to use his tongue on the underside as he came up, trying to develop a rhythm, as Esca had done. It was slow going at first, but soon he gained confidence, helped along by Esca’s murmured encouragements and the gentle pressure of Esca’s hand on his head.

“You’ll be fabulous at this in no time,” Esca said after a while, and Marcus grinned before sliding down again, sucking a bit at the tip on the upstroke. He felt his confidence rising as Esca hissed and moaned some more, tugging at his hair with increasing urgency. He felt his cock hardening again, though he found it hard to believe that even his seventeen year old self could get it up again so soon after three amazing orgasms.

Truth be told, he was enjoying himself. Esca smelled clean and masculine, and the weight of his cock in Marcus’ mouth was so arousing it was making him dizzy. He had to pull off to regain his breath, suddenly remembering what Esca had said about the balls. He leaned down, stroking Esca’s cock lazily with his hand as he licked and sucked first one side and then the other. The musky scent of Esca was thicker there, heavier, but not unpleasant at all. Marcus found himself swiping his tongue several times underneath Esca’s sac before lifting his head again and sucking Esca’s cock all the way down.

He went a little too far, gagging a bit as Esca’s cock nudged the back of his throat but he was soon moving surely once more, using his hand at the base to help it along. He needn’t have bothered, as it wasn’t long before Esca was gasping out, “Marcus,” in a desperate tone of voice, tugging harder than ever as Marcus’ hair, putting both hands to the task. He pulled Marcus up and off his cock just in time for a surge of come to spill out, splattering Marcus’ cheek and lips, followed by another, which spilled down Marcus’ hand, sliding down his wrist as more trickled out. He squeezed out the last of it as Esca gasped for breath, his chest heaving.

“God, that is the hottest thing I’ve ever seen,” Esca said as Marcus licked the come off his lips, adjusting to the sensation of it in his mouth. It was salty, tinged with bitterness, and rather thick, but Marcus thought he could get used to it. He already knew he loved giving blowjobs, and was looking forward to the next time Esca would let Marcus get his mouth on his cock.

“It’s not too bad,” Marcus said, smiling up at Esca and then leaning down to lick around the head of his cock, filling his mouth with more of Esca’s come. He pulled back with a cough, deciding that less was more, for the time being.

“You’ll get used to it,” Esca replied, wiping his come off Marcus’ cheek with his thumb and then sucking it into his mouth. Marcus sucked in a breath, his eyes watching Esca’s cheeks move, no doubt he was swirling his tongue around, removing all traces.

“I can’t wait to try it again,” Marcus said, bounding up on to the couch beside Esca like an eager puppy who had just pleased his master and was thrilled about it. It was how he felt, more or less, seeing that dazed, glassy look in Esca’s eyes, his cheeks flushed and his lips red from where he had bitten them. Knowing the he had made Esca look that way was invigorating.

“Patience,” Esca said, laughing. “Three times in as many hours is enough to be getting on with, don’t you think?”

“I suppose,” Marcus replied with a cheeky grin. “Give me an hour.”

“It sounds like someone else wants your attention,” Esca said, looking behind the couch to where Marcus’ phone sat on his bedside table, signalling that he had an incoming text.

“They can’t have it,” Marcus said, pushing Esca down onto the couch and clambering atop him. “I don’t have any to spare from you.”

“Get off me, you big fool,” Esca said, shoving ineffectually at Marcus’ chest. “Or I won’t suck you off again later.” Marcus paused in his attempt to layer Esca’s neck with love bites and looked down at him, trying to gauge if he was bluffing. But his face was stern and set, and Marcus, not wanting to take the chance, got up and off him, sighing heavily as he went.

“You don’t play fair, you know that, right,” Marcus said and he went and retrieved his phone, reading the text.

Dinner is ready. I expect both of you down here in 5 minutes. Fully clothed. Uncle.

Marcus looked up at Esca, his eyes wide and shocked. “Uncle wants us down for dinner,” he said. “Fully clothed, apparently.”

“Oh shit,” Esca said, laughing, but he got off the couch and looked around for his jeans, spotting them on the floor by the bed. “We left our shirts on the stairs, didn’t we?”

“Uh yeah, that might not have been the best idea,” Marcus said, rubbing the back of his neck. He wondered if Uncle would believe him if he said he wasn’t feeling well and wanted to skip dinner, but he rejected the idea as foolish. Uncle would see through him in a heartbeat.

“Well, it’s done now,” Esca said, pulling on his jeans atop his briefs, much to Marcus’ dismay. There was nothing for it, so Marcus fetched a fresh pair of briefs for himself and pulled on his pyjama pants.

Esca stood by his bedroom door, bare-chested, while Marcus threw a shirt on as well. “Do you want a shirt,” he asked, but Esca shook his head.

“I’d swim in your clothes. I’d better just fetch mine from your uncle,” he said. Marcus grimaced, wondering if Uncle had confiscated them or if they were still decorating the staircase.

“Right,” he said, moving to stand beside Esca, who was reaching for the doorknob when Marcus stopped him with a hand on his wrist.

“Wait,” he said quietly, pulling Esca back toward him and wrapping his arms around him. He kissed Esca, slowly and thoroughly, finally pulling back with a sigh, pressing their foreheads together and just breathing him in for a moment.

“Okay,” he said, taking a step back but keeping hold of Esca’s hand. “Let’s go face the music.”

**

They found their shirts draped over the railing outside Marcus’ room. Esca pulled his over his head while Marcus tossed his into the bedroom. Then Marcus took Esca’s hand and gave it a squeeze, leading the way downstairs.

They found Uncle in the kitchen, dishing Sassy’s stew into bowls, a plateful of biscuits and butter on the table already.

“There you are,” Uncle said, looking up at them, his eyes flicking quickly from their joined hands and away. “I was wondering if you’d come down after all.”

“It didn’t seem we had an option,” Marcus said, flushing.

“Oh, you didn’t,” Uncle said, gesturing for them to sit. “I just wasn’t sure if I’d have to come up and get you. That could have proven awkward for all involved.” He placed two bowls on the set table and went back for the third, sitting with it himself.

“Esca, it’s wonderful too see you again,” he said, giving Esca a bright smile. “I had begun to despair. But it seems you two have worked things out, at last.”

“We have,” Esca said, shooting a grin at Marcus, who couldn’t help but smile back.

“Good, that’s very good,” Uncle said. “Although, I do need to request that in the future you keep any disrobing for behind closed doors, hmm?” Marcus flushed an even deeper red, and even Esca blushed a bit.

“Yeah, sorry about that, we got a little...distracted,” Marcus said, his cheeks heating even further. Esca looked at him with a smirk, and Marcus blushed even more. He was certain his entire face and neck had to be red by then.

“I do understand boys, I’ve been there,” Uncle said, and Marcus tried not to think about that too hard. “But I’m having a hard enough time coming to terms with you growing up into a man, you don’t need to rub my nose in it, alright?”

“Yes, Uncle,” Marcus said, digging into his stew, grinning at Esca from across the table. Esca grinned back and then Marcus felt something nudging his knee, he didn’t have to think long to figure out what it was. Esca raised a brow and gave him a speculative look. Marcus stretched his legs in response, his feet tangling with Esca’s under the table.

“Now where is Stephan when you need him?” Uncle mused. “I should have asked him to stay for dinner after all, he could have distracted me from all the teenage ardor.”

Marcus had the grace to look apologetic, but he didn’t stop, and Esca just looked smug. Uncle cleared his throat and changed the subject.

“So Esca, my boy,” he began. “Fabulous performance in Vancouver last weekend, it was inspiring, truly.”

“Thank you,” Esca replied, taking up the subject immediately. “I was stunned by my score, even I hadn’t thought I skated that well.”

“Oh you did,” Uncle said brightly. “Did Marcus tell you we were there? After watching on television all those times, we just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see you skate, in person.”

“He didn’t,” Esca said, glancing at Marcus again, who was devouring his stew and biscuits. “But I saw you there. It was lovely to have some familiar faces in the crowd.”

“I’m sure it is,” Uncle said. “When do you skate again?”

“Not for a month and a half, actually,” Esca replied. “Worlds in LA this year, so I’ve got time to work out a few new programs and perfect them.”

“Exciting, tell me how you go about that,” Uncle said, so Esca did.

**

Dinner had gone smoothly after that, to Marcus’ relief. Uncle had agreed to let Esca spend the night, on the condition that they kept any and all ‘shenanigans’ to the bedroom. Marcus was sure he’d be red forever, with the amount of blushing he’d done that night. They cleaned up the dishes while Esca left the room to call his Nan and Marcus was surprised when Uncle pulled Marcus into a bruising hug.

Ever since Marcus had reached the age where parental affection was uncool, the hugs had tapered off. But now, Marcus found himself burrowing in, hugging his uncle back heartily. Uncle was safe, and comfort, and home, and nothing, no amount of growing up would change that.

When they pulled back, Uncle held him at arm’s length and Marcus was sure he saw a glimmer of moisture in the older mans’ eyes, but he blinked it right away.

“I’m so happy for you, Marcus,” he said, squeezing Marcus’ shoulders, smiling at him. “I suppose I knew immediately that Esca was special, and I couldn’t approve more, really.” Marcus couldn’t stop the smitten smile that broke over his face. He hadn’t known how much he’d needed his Uncle’s support and approval until that moment, knowing he had it made everything that much better.

“He is,” Marcus said. “He’s...amazing.” Uncle laughed and patted his cheek.

“He certainly is,” Uncle agreed. “Now go, do whatever it is you plan on doing. I’ll finish the clean up.”

“Thanks, Uncle,” Marcus said, and headed out to find Esca.

**

Waking up next to Esca was the best thing in the world, Marcus decided the next morning. The sun filled the room with a pale light, just enough so that he could see Esca’s shape beside him. Their legs were tangled under the duvet, Esca using Marcus’ arm as a pillow, his hair messier than Marcus had ever seen it and drool dripping from his open mouth. Perhaps it should have been unattractive, but Marcus couldn’t seem to be put off by any part of Esca, drool or otherwise.

They had touched and explored each other into the night, getting to know each other’s bodies with hands and lips and tongues, while they spent hours talking. Marcus had been amazed at how easily he had opened up to Esca, he’d never felt before that anyone could understand him completely. And it seemed to go both ways, as Esca had opened up to him as well, talking for the first time of his life in England, of his family, his brothers.

Once again Marcus had found himself unable to decide what the correct behaviour was. He had no idea what he should say or do, but Esca seemed only to need him there to listen, needed someone he could unload on without expectation. Finally they seemed to have exhausted all words and had kissed lazily (snogged, Esca said) until they had drifted off.

He was unable to resist touching Esca, so he ran his hand up over Esca’s hip, across his chest to his shoulder, then following the line of his arm. He played with Esca’s strong, slender fingers, still slack with sleep, and then slid his own back up Esca’s arm to his neck.

He traced Esca’s throat, fingers dancing over his Adam’s apple before gliding up to his jaw. He paused there for quite some time, just enjoying the quiet, revelling in his ability to touch freely what had, not too long before, seemed so distant from him. Finally he moved again, sliding his fingers around the shell of Esca’s ear, back into his hair, the strands smooth and silky under his touch.

He let out a shaky breath, unaware that he had been holding it. He was overwhelmed with emotion for the boy in his arms, almost a man, evident in the stubble that covered his cheeks and the cock that lay still and soft against Marcus’ thigh.

He drew his hand down once more, then ran his fingers higher still, across Esca’s high cheekbones and his lightly furred brows, taking another deep breath, wondering if one could explode from an overabundance of emotion.

He’d never dreamed that he could have this, someone to love, someone to talk to, someone to hold in his arms as dawn broke. For so long he had convinced himself that he could defeat those yearnings, that he would be happy if only he could spend his life playing hockey. He knew now that he’d been wrong, so astoundingly wrong to have ever fathomed a life without this.

Esca had changed everything.

“Are you going to grope me all day?” Esca asked, eyes still closed but his lips turning up in a smirk.

“If you’ll let me,” Marcus answered, his heart pounding with re-awakened excitement, his cock also waking up.

“But you’re overlooking the most important part,” Esca said, shifting closer so Marcus could feel Esca’s cock waking up as well.

“I’ve paid it so much attention lately that I didn’t want the rest to get jealous,” Marcus said, dipping his head to kiss Esca’s shoulder, unable to stop once he had begun, laying kisses up Esca’s neck, inch by inch.

“Oh, don’t worry,” Esca said, his voice filled with amusement. “The rest of me wants you to touch me there.”

“Well, I wouldn’t want to disappoint the sum of your parts,” Marcus said, suddenly serious, rolling Esca onto his back and covering him. They kissed for a moment but, morning breath being as it was, soon abandoned that in favour of thrusting against each other, Marcus braced on his elbow, hands cupping Esca’s shoulders from underneath while Esca mirrored him, clinging to Marcus’ shoulders and holding him down. Marcus dropped his head onto Esca’s shoulder and thrust harder, his cock rubbing against Esca’s, both trapped between their bellies.

“This is...hotter than I imagined...it would be,” Esca gasped between thrusts, and when he lifted his legs and wrapped them around Marcus’ hips, the angle changed and they both groaned. Marcus' arms gave out a bit and he lowered himself fully onto Esca, chest to chest, their hips the only thing moving. Esca began sucking and licking all of Marcus’ neck that he could reach, pushing Marcus closer and closer to his peak, and way too soon for his liking, he crested, moaning and shuddering, panting his orgasm onto Esca’s skin.

Esca kept thrusting, his cock slick in the mess, so Marcus pressed down harder, until Esca bit the juncture of his neck and shoulder, sucking hard as he spent himself between them, his movements slowing gradually and his legs slipping back onto the bed beneath them.

“What a way to wake up,” he said, and Marcus agreed, peeling himself off Esca and sitting back, still straddling him and taking in the mess they’d made.

“Looks like we’ll need another shower,” he said, dragging a finger through the mess and making Esca shiver.

“I’m not complaining,” Esca said, sitting up and wrapping his arms around Marcus’ waist. “I meant what I said, you know,” he said.

“Which part?” Marcus asked, running his fingers through Esca’s hair, loving the blissful look this action provoked in Esca.

“I love you,” Esca said simply, his eyes, for once, betraying his vulnerability. Marcus’ heart clenched, his breath caught. To know this amazing creature in his arms, to be loved by him, to be one of the few he allowed to really see him, to be trusted by him, it was humbling. Marcus was determined to deserve him, always.

“I can hardly believe it,” Marcus replied, kissing Esca slowly, just lips, with all the emotion he was feeling. “I love you too, so much.”

Esca smiled at him, a little sadly, and Marcus’ chest tightened again. He would make Esca happy, he promised himself. Nothing could make up for the loss he’d suffered, but Marcus would make sure his future was bright and filled with love. No matter what.

**

Marcus hauled his gear out of the truck the next morning, his breath huffing out into the frosty air. It had been warming up slightly during the day, but the mornings were as frosty as ever. It didn’t help his feelings of apprehension about this practice though, the first since he’d come out. He was certain that Charlie would have something to say, and he was sure to have found support with some of the other team members. It was not going to be the best morning of his life.

Then he thought of Esca, of the previous day they’d spent together. They had gone down for breakfast and laughed with his uncle, watched some TV on the couch in Marcus’ room, after which Marcus had given the second blowjob of his life, liking it even more than he had the first time.

They’d had lunch and then he’d driven Esca home, and met his grandmother. What an experience that was. Where Marcus’ uncle was all laid-back, borderline impropriety, Esca’s Nan was a proper English lady. It had been a bit of a revelation for Marcus, but she had been quite welcoming, and clearly happy to meet Marcus. She had looked him up and down, asked a few pointed questions and had pronounced him acceptable. For now.

Marcus feared what would happen if he did something that was not acceptable. But then she had left them, claiming a prior arrangement to shop with ‘the ladies’, as she described them. Marcus had breathed a sigh of relief when she’d gone, his discomfort soon forgotten when Esca had returned the favour from that morning and sucked Marcus down until he came, standing there in the living room, weak-kneed and gasping for breath.

After that they had gone to Esca’s room, where Esca had shown him photo albums of his family, grinning with tearful eyes as he showed Marcus pictures of his brothers, speaking fervently of his parents, longingly of their lives together. Marcus had held him for a long time after that, giving comfort in stillness and acceptance.

Marcus sighed, nodding at a few of the older teammates, ones who didn’t attend the school and would likely not have seen Marcus’ article, but they wouldn’t remain ignorant for long.

“Marcus, wait up.” Luke called, jogging toward Marcus, stopping to pant a moment when he’d caught up, shifting his hold on his bag full of gear.

“Morning, Luke,” Marcus said, patting him on the back. “All set?”

“I am, the question is, are you?” Luke asked, his brow furrowed. “I’m sure Charlie will be making trouble, it’s what he does best.”

“He didn’t used to be this much of an ass,” Marcus commented. “But I’m as ready as I can be, I suppose.”

They headed in together, nodding to a few of the guys, although almost every team member from the school seemed to be glaring at Marcus or looking at him warily. Marcus could deal with this, if only it meant he’d be left alone. It was not to be.

“I don’t think you should be here, fag,” Charlie snarled from behind Marcus. He sighed. So it was starting.

“And I thought I told you to keep your fool mouth shut,” Marcus replied, turning around. Charlie would not be so easy to best this time, surrounded by his friends, including Brayden Windley, who had graduated the previous year, and a hesitant looking Robert.

“I’m not afraid of you, Aquila,” Charlie said, sneering at him.

“Of course not, now that you have your mindless sycophants to back you up,” Luke said.

“This doesn’t concern you, Torus,” Brayden spoke up, but Luke would not be intimidated.

“It does, actually. If you intend to cause trouble for Marcus, you’ll be causing trouble for me,” Luke said, crossing his arms over his chest and moving to stand beside Marcus.

“What are you on about, Henderson?” asked Peter Jeffries, and older player.

“I would like to know that as well,” Coach Guern said as he entered the change room. “Why are you idiots standing around? You should be in kit by now.”

“Henderson seems to have some kind of problem with Aquila,” Peter explained.

“What? Why?” Guern said, turning to Charlie. “What’s up your ass, Henderson?”

“He would be, if I let him,” Charlie said, gesturing toward Marcus, who could only roll his eyes at Charlie’s idiocy. “I was just saying that I don’t think this pussy fag should be allowed to play with the men.”

Luke let out a bark of laughter, sharing a smirk with Marcus, but waved his hand apologetically when Guern turned to glare at him.

“Funny, I thought we were all men here,” Guern said, looking around the room.

“I thought so too, until Aquila saw fit to inform us he’s a fag,” Charlie spat.

“Your language leaves a lot to be desired, Henderson,” Guern said before turning to Marcus. “What is this all about?”

“My former friend Charles seems to have taken it as a personal insult that I came out this last week,” Marcus said. “He thinks I can’t play hockey because I’m gay.”

Everyone in the room froze, the silence stretching out.

“Marcus, I...I wish I could say it won’t be a problem, but I’m sure you realize more than anyone that it will be,” Guern said, breaking the silence.

“I’m aware of that,” Marcus replied quietly. “But there are some lies a man can’t live with, and this is one of them.”

“I admire your courage in coming clean Aquila,” Guern said, giving Marcus’ shoulder a squeeze. “Most would not believe it, but your father had that same courage. I’m glad to see you inherited that from him, along with his talent.”

“Thank you, Coach,” Marcus said, still unsure of what was going to happen next.

“Henderson, keep your trap shut. The rest of you, get dressed and get on the ice!” Guern ordered.

“You’re just going to let him get away with it?” Charlie asked, incredulously.

“Get away with what, Henderson?” Guern demanded. “Nothing about Marcus has changed since last week, only your perception of him.”

“But,” Charlie looked like he was going to explode, searching for something to reproach him with. “I don’t want that pansy in here perving on me!”

At this Marcus couldn’t retrain his laughter. “If I’ve been able to contain my lust for you after all these years, you can be sure I’m not going to jump you now, Charles,” Marcus said with a smirk, as Luke nudged his shoulder. “Besides, I’ve got a boyfriend.”

“You’re fucking that prissy Brit, aren’t you?” Charlie said, his face twisted in a sneer.

“Watch what you say about him, Charles,” Marcus said, his voice as cold as the ice. “Or you’ll be getting into more trouble than you can handle.”

“And you’d better watch who you piss off or you and your faggy boyfriend will have another thing coming.”

“Henderson, you’re benched!” Guern bellowed, stopping all conversation in the room. “I don’t care what kind of opinion you have in that fat head of yours, but here in this room mine is the only one that matters!”

He turned to look at the rest of the room, ensuring that he had every one’s attention. “I’m only going to say this once, so everyone listen up. Marcus Aquila is the most talented, hard working player I have ever had the privilege to coach. Not a single one of you could stand up next to him in comparison. I don’t give a flying fuck who or what he gets his rocks off with, and neither should you.”

He turned to survey the room again, pausing to make his point. “I’d better not hear another word on this topic, from any of you. Marcus is going to have enough shit to deal with, he doesn’t need it dealt from his teammates. Understood?”

There was a chorus of, “yes, Coach!” from the room.

“Henderson, come see me in my office, the rest of you, get on the ice!” Guern said, striding from the room. Charlie did not look happy, he began slamming things into his bag, shooting evil looks at Marcus and Coach Guern. Marcus knew it was not over.

**

When practice was over, Marcus packed up and headed to his truck, thankfully unmolested by any of the team, although he knew that at least some of them thought as Charlie did and were not pleased that the Coach had stood up for him. On the other hand, it was a pretty good example of what he could expect in the NHL, so all in all, not too bad.

It was all made worthwhile when his truck came into view and he spotted Esca leaning against the driver’s side door, headphones in his ears, his head laid back against the window, eyes closed.

Marcus put his bag into the truck carefully, and though he was sure Esca knew he was there, he hadn’t moved, so Marcus slipped up to him quickly and moved in, bracing himself with forearms on the truck window.

“Well, look what we have here,” he said, smiling down at Esca, who opened his eyes lazily, one graceful brow raised.

“I’m waiting for my boyfriend,” Esca said, not removing his headphones.

“Does he know you’re out here, tempting anyone who crosses your path into snogging you silly?” Marcus had found himself adopting some of Esca’s regional slang, and snog was his favorite.

“Well he’d better hurry his arse up then, won't he, or I’ll take someone up on the offer.”

“Over my dead body,” Marcus said, leaning in and taking Esca’s lips in a torrid kiss, wasting no time in pressing his tongue into Esca’s mouth. Esca didn’t waste any time either, responding by hooking his fingers into Marcus’ belt loops and pulling him in until their bodies were pressed tightly together.

Soon the kiss softened, tapering off and when they pulled apart, Marcus was panting, his body overheated even in the chill air, and his cock hardening in his pants.

“Now let’s get some breakfast, hockey boy,” Esca said, giving Marcus a shove. “Your treat.”

“Anything you want, it’s all yours,” Marcus said, watching Esca walk around the truck, licking his lips. He unlocked the door, and that’s when he noticed several of his teammates congregated by another vehicle, all watching the scene unfold with varying expressions ranging from shock to outright disgust. Marcus gave them a little wave and then got in, fastening his seat belt and putting the truck into gear, not sparing them another thought.

**

Marcus didn’t think that they had nearly enough time at breakfast, but then again, there would never be enough time, especially when all he wanted to do was take Esca back to his bed and never leave. But soon they were due at school, so off they went.

Marcus was a bit apprehensive about it, but he had long since decided that no matter how anyone acted, it would definitely get better, and he would be out of there soon anyway. He gave Esca a smile as they got out of the truck, retrieving his backpack from the back as Esca grabbed his satchel. Before Esca could head toward the school, Marcus grabbed his hand and pulled him in, kissing him soundly.

“I love you,” he said, pressing his forehead to Esca’s. Esca smiled and kissed him again.

“Love you back,” Esca replied, taking his hand. “Now let’s go, we don’t want to be late.”

A few people said hello to one or the both of them, but many more stared, openly or otherwise. Marcus was surprised at how little he cared, with Esca’s hand in his he felt like he could accomplish anything. Who cared if a few high school kids didn’t like it? Esca appeared not to care either, but then he was less fussed by what people thought in general. Marcus envied him that, but then again, Esca hadn’t grown up with many of them and his career wasn’t riding on it the way Marcus’ was.

Marcus hated separating for the first class, but at least they were together for the second, though Marcus was looking forward to lunch more than anything. The class seemed to pass with ridiculous speed, that is to say, it dragged by. Marcus dashed to the math classroom, hoping Esca would be there, but he hadn’t counted on being there first. He sat in a desk at the back and settled in to wait, impatiently.

People began trickling in, and while many of them watched him like a hawk, no one approached him, for which he was very grateful. Before Esca could arrive, Cottia did, and grinned widely at the sight of him.

“Marcus, there you are,” she said, plunking herself down on his desk.

“Hi Cottia,” he replied, smiling, feeling genuinely glad to see her, which was a nice change. He had a feeling she would become a very good friend, she’d already proved herself as one. He could practically feel the eyes of the students in the class on them, no doubt expecting some kind of scene, given that not long before Marcus’ had been Cottia’s boyfriend. They certainly weren’t expecting the friendly conversation that followed.

“How’re you doing today?” Cottia asked, looking concerned.

“Excellent,” Marcus replied, letting the smile that he’d been carrying around burst out of him. “I am doing exceptionally well.”

Cottia leaned forward and grabbed Marcus’ hand, squeezing it excitedly. “Does that mean what I think it means?” she asked.

“I don’t know, what do you think it means?” Marcus asked back, still beaming.

“It means you should stop groping my boyfriend, Cottia,” Esca said, coming up behind Marcus and sliding a proprietary hand over his shoulder and into his hair. Marcus’ grin got wider, if such a thing was possible and when Cottia dropped his hand, he slid it around Esca’s waist, pulling him closer.

“Hi,” he said, smiling up at Esca now.

“Oh my god, could you be any cuter?” Cottia exclaimed.

“I resent that statement,” Esca said, but his smile belied his words.

The bell rang then so Esca pulled back, running his hand through Marcus’ hair before turning and taking the desk beside him.

**

After class, Marcus and Esca walked with Cottia to the cafeteria, with a quick stop at Esca’s locker, where Marcus left his books. Esca had preferred to have lunch outside, or anywhere but the cafeteria, but the rain had begun pouring in earnest, and Marcus wasn’t in the habit of bringing lunches although he knew Sassy would make them for him if he asked.

They found a table in an out of the way location once Marcus and Cottia had picked up their lunches, settling themselves in. Marcus had chosen to sit facing the room, he still wasn’t sure how or if people were going to react to his relationship with Esca, although mostly everyone had left him alone so far that morning. This was a bit of a test, and he wanted to see where everyone else was in the room, to be sure there were.

Esca slid in beside him while Cottia sat across the table, and began pulling out his lunch, which was packed in a very efficient lunch kit that seemed to have a compartment for everything. He also pulled out a stainless steel bottle of something, while Cottia gaped at his lunch.

“What have you got there, Esca?” she asked, intrigued.

“My Nan always likes to pack my lunches, thankfully. Nothing against the food here, but it’s not the healthiest and I am an athlete, after all,” he said, slipping a fork out of a slot and digging in.

“Hey, I’m an athlete too,” Marcus pointed out, looking down as his tray with a sigh. Esca was right, the food wasn’t all that bad, but it could be better. Marcus met with a nutritionist, same as all the players, but he did have more slack than Esca, from what they'd discussed. Still, he supposed it wouldn’t be a bad idea to switch things up a bit.

“Yeah, but you only have a few choices eating here, and I get bored easily,” Esca pointed out.

“Only with food, I hope,” Marcus said, giving Esca a speculative look, but Esca just grinned at him mischievously and took another bite.

“Looks good,” Cottia commented. “What have you got there?”

“Chicken sauteed with lemon and garlic, greek salad with cous cous, and grilled zucchini. Strawberries and honeydew cause I have a sweet tooth that I can’t indulge much,” he said, spearing some melon. “And lemon water, of course.”

“You could drink jugs of that stuff, I bet,” Marcus said, pulling a face and nudging Esca with his shoulder.

“I do,” Esca said, with a cheeky wink at Cottia, who laughed.

“What’s wrong with that?” she asked.

“He’s not fond of lemon,” Esca said, nudging Marcus back.

“I just don’t like it in my water,” Marcus corrected.

“Unless he adds copious amounts of sugar,” Esca said.

“Which I’m not allowed anyway,” Marcus added, grinning.

“You two might be the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen,” Cottia said, beaming at them.

“They’re like an old married couple,” Luke commented, sliding in beside Cottia.

“I don’t mind, really,” Marcus said, leaning over to kiss Esca, who didn’t complain, kissing him back. “Now hurry up and eat so we can get out of here and I can snog you before class starts again.”

“You do love that word, don’t you?” Esca asked, laughing.

“I’d prefer a shag,” Marcus said with a leer, but Esca just shoved him away.

“Later perhaps, if you’re good,” Esca said, with a rather smitten smile.

“What are you talking about?” Luke asked, brow furrowed.

“I’ve been teaching Marcus some British slang, and he’s decided to adopt it.”

“I like what snog implies,” Marcus said.

Esca laughed. “I’m sure you do.”

“What does it imply?” Cottia asked, fascinated with their banter.

“Lots of tongue,” Esca said boldly, laughing at Cottia’s expression.

They settled in to eat, with Cottia coercing a slang lesson out of Esca, until Robert approached their table, sitting beside Marcus without ceremony.

“Robert,” Marcus said with a wary smile. “What brings you over here?”

“I, uh,” Robert began, looking between Esca and Luke. “I just wanted to apologize for this morning,” he said.

“You didn’t really do anything,” Marcus said.

“I think that’s the point,” Luke pointed out.

“Yeah, it’s just...Charlie is a bit of a force to be reckoned with, and he’s a right asshole, sorry Cottia,” he said, seeming to remember she was there.

“Oh, don’t worry, I live with him, I know he’s an asshole,” she replied airily, and Luke grinned at her with approval.

“It’s kind of hard to talk to him, and when he gets into a mood...well, I just wanted to let you know that I don’t have a problem with you being...you know,” Robert said, nervously.

“Gay, Robert. You can say it, it’s nothing to be afraid of,” Marcus said.

“Right, that. Anyway, I’m not exactly, comfortable, with the whole thing, but I guess I’ve never known anyone--”

“Gay,” Esca piped up, getting looks from the other four.

“Right,” Robert said. “So I wanted to let you know I don’t agree with Charlie, I just...” he trailed off, but Marcus understood.

“I know, it’s okay, Robert,” he said. “Thanks, that means a lot to me.”

“Great!” Robert said with a grin. “I’ll just, uh...I’ll just be off then. Later.”

“Bye,” the rest chorused, watching him go.

“Well, that was alright,” Cottia said.

“Could have been worse,” Marcus agreed.

“The whole thing could have been worse,” Luke said with a slight frown. “I think the worst is yet to come, honestly.”

“You may be right,” Marcus said thoughtfully. “But no use worrying about it now.” He smiled cheerfully and then dug into his lunch, as did the others. By the time he was finished, Esca was as well, so he shovelled in his last bite of pasta and shoved his tray aside.

“Now how about that snog?” he asked when he was done, slipping an arm around Esca’s waist and nuzzling his neck. Esca speared the last piece of strawberry on his fork and offered it to Marcus, who took it happily, especially as Esca began to put away his lunch kit.

“Ugh,” Luke groaned while Cottia sighed, “awww.” They looked at each other and then laughed.

“Right then, we’ll see you later,” Marcus said, standing and taking Esca’s hand in his, tugging him in the direction of the door eagerly, with Esca following no less enthusiastically, giving Luke and Cottia a wave as they went.

**

That week passed in a blur, with little said to Marcus outright, although there were muttered comments and slurs passed around between some of the students. It seemed that word of his tussle with Charlie had made the rounds and those who would likely have given him a hard time, didn’t.

The muttering didn’t bother Marcus, he knew that things could be worse, that they could still get worse, so he took the week for what it was, a blessing. Even better, for the first time in his life he was blissfully happy.

He began to hate Esca’s training schedule that took him away after school, and began to make it a habit to pretend to do his homework while watching Esca skate, but Andrew put an end to that quickly. After three days of it he demanded Marcus go somewhere else and stop distracting Esca from his training.

So Marcus went, glumly, but that night was a Friday, and both he and Esca had Sunday off. He had already cleared it with his Uncle and Esca’s Nan for Esca to spend Saturday night, and it was all he could think about.

He’d never jacked off so much in his life, thinking about it.

His practice on Saturday was mostly spent with shooting and stick handling drills. He didn’t want to spend too much time skating hard, in an effort not to tire himself out, but then he worried that he was over-thinking things and did a few laps, forwards and backwards, working up a sweat. Before he could change his mind again Esca appeared, gliding around the ice as if he owned it and teasing Marcus with exaggerated stretching and bending.

When Marcus couldn’t stand it anymore, he caught up and grabbed Esca around the waist, pining him to the boards and snogging him silly. Until Andrew had arrived, spoiling their fun and banishing Marcus from the building.

The wait while Esca practiced was interminable, and Marcus was certain that two hours had never passed slower, but finally Esca appeared, jogging toward Marcus’ truck with a grin.

“You ready?” he said as he climbed in, leaning over to give Marcus a kiss. He pulled back before things could get interesting though, to Marcus’ dismay.

“Yep,” Marcus said, putting the truck into gear. “Uncle is off to Van with Stephan this weekend, so we’ll have the house to ourselves.”

“That’s unexpected,” Esca said in surprise, but his smile widened.

“I know,” Marcus said, reaching over and taking Esca’s hand once they’d hit the highway. “He gave me a very stern talking to last night. No loud parties--” Esca snorted.

“No drugs or alcohol,” he continued. Esca scoffed. “Does he know you at all?”

“No sex in the living room,” Marcus finished, and Esca groaned.

“Damn,” he said, wrinkling his nose, something which Marcus thought might be the most adorable thing ever.

“I know, I was thinking those couches would be awfully comfortable,” Marcus said, sighing.

“Well, what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him, right?” Esca said, a devious grin creeping on to his face.

“I guess not,” he said. He tried to keep his attention on the road, but he did drive a little faster.

**

They arrived at the house in record time, kicking off their shoes and tumbling onto the stairs, already tearing at each other’s clothes, tongues and lips and hands all working them to a fever pitch until...

“Marcus, is that you?” Sassy called from the kitchen, and Marcus could have cried, from frustration. It had been a long week, seeing Esca only at or before school, with no time for more than a frantic snog before one of them had to be somewhere.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!” Esca exclaimed, swearing uncharacteristically.

“Coming, Sassy,” he called, looking at Esca apologetically. “I had no idea she’d be here, I swear!” he said, but he could tell that Esca was not appeased.

“Tell that to my cock,” he hissed, shoving Marcus up and righting his clothing. Marcus followed his lead into the kitchen.

“Oh Esca, I’m so glad to see you again!” Sassy cried, wrapping Esca in a hug that looked slightly painful.

“Likewise,” Esca said, smiling genuinely at her once she’d seen fit to release him.

“Well, come in boys,” she said, waving them to the barstools and then dishing them up something that Marcus was just noticing smelled delightful.

“Thanks Sassy,” he said, digging in eagerly when she placed a dish in front of him, and then Esca.

“Oh, you’re welcome, love.” She busied herself putting together another dish, chatting away as she chopped vegetables.

“Your Uncle told me that you’d be all alone here this weekend. He wanted to be sure I kept an eye on you,” Marcus had to pound Esca on the back when he choked on a piece of broccoli.

“That was thoughtful of him,” Marcus said, although from the look on Esca’s face he was probably thinking of a place to hide the body. He squeezed Esca’s thigh under the table and received a glare for his efforts.

“Of course I know you do not need a babysitter, why, you’re practically a grown man!” Sassy exclaimed. “So I’ve made you some dinner, you’ll just need to put it in the oven. I’ll pop around tomorrow to make something for lunch and do some cleaning up,” she said, covering the dish with a lid and sliding it in to the fridge.

“That’s very nice of you,” Esca spoke up, no longer seething resentment, though his smile was still a bit forced. Marcus could relate, he was still having difficulty convincing his cock that now was not the time.

“Oh, it’s no trouble, love,” Sassy replied. “Someone needs to look after these two. Three, as Stephan is just as useless in a kitchen.”

Marcus had to hide a snort of laughter in his sleeve. Stephan was quite a good cook, but his manner in the kitchen was very different from Sassy’s, and she did not appreciate it when he tried to help.

It wasn’t much later when Sassy departed, although to Marcus it had been an eternity, and he was certain from Esca’s expression that it had been for him as well. He had locked the door when she had gone, turning to find Esca halfway up the stairs, facing Marcus, bare chested with his shirt in one hand while the other tugged at his belt.

“Well?” he said expectantly, and Marcus’s mouth went dry.

“Nguh,” Marcus said, but he scrambled up the stairs after Esca, tripping in his haste. By the time he’d caught up, Esca had tossed his remaining clothes on the floor and was sprawled on Marcus’ bed, all smooth skin, wiry muscle and burning eyes, his cock hard and red where it lay on his belly.

“Come on, hockey boy,” Esca said, his voice rough with need. “It’s not going to suck itself.”

Marcus made for the bed, stripping his clothes off as he went, stopping only for a minute to tug his socks off, then reaching out and grasping Esca by the foot, tugging until his legs hung off the bed.

Marcus wasted no time, sliding his hands up Esca’s strong thighs, leaning down to follow the path with his lips, breathing deeply as he went. Esca was intoxicating and, far from getting used to it, Marcus was more entangled every time they were together. Soon he reached Esca’s cock, licking and slurping his way up it and swirling his tongue at the tip before sliding down the other side, drawing a moan from Esca as he sucked insistently on the skin at the base.

“Marcus,” Esca whispered, so Marcus hummed in response, getting another moan and wanting to hear more of them. He slid his lips to the tip again, laving the head with his tongue before taking it all in, bobbing his head in a quick paced rhythm, without hesitation.

He slid his hand up and gripped the base of Esca’s cock, squeezing and stroking at the same speed that his mouth was working, not forgetting to use his tongue as well, bringing all his newly developed skill to bring Esca to the edge of release. He pulled back a bit, but Esca’s hand had slid into his hair and it held him, not letting him pull back as far as he’d planned.

“You like that?” he asked, earning a growl from Esca and a tug on his hair.

“Now is not the time for teasing, Aquila,” he said, the use of his last name making Marcus shiver. “There will be enough time for that later,” he finished. Marcus had to admit he had a point, so he got back to work, taking Esca in further every time, until his cock was nudging the back of Marcus’ throat on every stroke. Then he slowed, swirling his tongue around Esca first one way and then the other, speeding up when Esca pulled his hair harder.

“Marcus,” Esca gasped desperately, so Marcus pulled back, watching with fascination as the head of Esca’s cock grew bigger a second before it released strings of thick, sticky come all over Marcus’ hand. “Nguh,” Esca said, dropping back on the bed, his hand going slack in Marcus’ hair. He took that as a good sign.

“You are really getting good at that,” Esca said, propping himself on his elbows just in time to see Marcus lifting his hand up, contemplating a bit before sucking one of his fingers into his mouth. It wasn’t bad, he could definitely become accustomed to it. He was sucking on another one when Esca, grabbed his hair again and pulled him up with a growl.

“Wha?” he managed to get out, but then Esca was rolling him onto his back and finishing the job Marcus had started, sucking Marcus’ fingers and licking the rest of his own come off Marcus’ hand.

“You. That’s, I--” he stammered, and Esca just grinned.

“It’s damn hot, isn’t it?” he said. “Now you know how I feel.” And without another word, he slithered his way down Marcus’ body and took Marcus in his mouth, setting about making Marcus come in the most efficient manner possible. His tongue was the most amazing thing Marcus had ever felt, sliding across his cock wetly, pressing harder in just the right places, and before Marcus’s brain could catch up, he was coming. Esca sucked the first burst right out of him before pulling away and letting the rest spurt into his mouth and on his tongue, seeming to drink it right out of Marcus’ cock. When it seemed no more was coming, he sucked the head in again before sliding his lips down the shaft once more, cleaning up every drop he had missed, the licking the rest from his chin.

Marcus was helpless to do anything but stare at him, his brain short circuiting at the sight.

“You are the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” he told Esca in an awe struck voice.

“And don’t you forget it,” Esca replied, crawling up Marcus’ body and kissing him. Marcus could taste both of them in the kiss, and it was exceptional. “Now come here.” Esca climbed off him, flopping back on Marcus’ pillows and holding open his arms for Marcus to climb into. He laid his head on Esca’s chest, anticipating those long fingers scratching his scalp and combing through his hair, and he was not disappointed.

They stayed like that for a long time, long enough for Marcus to doze off at least once, for Esca`s hand to still several times before moving again. Long enough for his cock to begin filling out again, as he thought about the rest of the day, and the following, and all the things they could do.

Then he recalled the one thing they hadn’t done yet, the one thing he was the more intrigued by, although he would admit to a certain apprehension about.

“Esca,” he said, his voice cracking, whether from disuse or anxiety, he couldn’t tell. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Esca?”

“Hmm,” Esca hummed. Marcus sat up, shivering as Esca’s hand slid from his hair to cup his jaw. Esca looked up at him, and for the first time in his life Marcus understood the expression, ‘bedroom eyes’.

“I want a shag,” he said, loving the way the word rolled over his tongue.

“Oh?” Esca said, his eyes lighting up with interest. “Again?”

“No, not just a blowjob or, whatever,” Marcus said, his cheeks heating a bit. “Make love to me, Esca,” he clarified.

“You cheesy little thing, you,” Esca said with a chuckle, but he stopped when he saw the serious expression on Marcus’ face. “Oh, you mean, you really want me to...”

“Yeah,” Marcus said.

“Wow.” Esca licked his lips, and Marcus could practically feel the blood rushing to his cock. “I thought you’d want to do me first,” he said.

“No, I mean, yes, I’d like to do that too,” Marcus said, sitting up and turning away, feeling more vulnerable than he ever had. “But right now, I’d like it if you would...I mean, if that’s okay.”

“It’s okay,” Esca said, slipping up behind Marcus and enfolding him into an embrace. “It’s more than okay.”

“I even bought some condoms,” Marcus said, scratching nervously at his nape.

Esca laughed. “So did I.” Marcus laid back, letting his head drop onto Esca’s shoulder.

“Really?”

“Yeah,” Esca said, sucking lazily on Marcus’ neck. “But first, let’s have a shower, okay?”

The bathroom steamed up quickly, though Marcus wasn’t sure if it was from the hot water or from the looks he was sharing with Esca. He felt as if the heat in Esca’s eyes would burn him alive, and he knew he’d love every moment of it.

“Come on,” Esca said from inside the shower stall, holding out a hand for Marcus to take. Marcus’ cock bobbed in front of him as he went and Esca’s was in a similar state. Marcus pulled the door closed behind him, reaching out immediately, rubbing his hands all over Esca’s body, nervous anticipation settling into Marcus’ stomach. And then Esca kissed him and it all faded away.

**

Marcus collapsed on the bed, his skin tingling from the heat of the water and from Esca’s ministrations, his cock softer now, but his nerves no less jittery. He jumped a bit when Esca fell beside him, but was quickly calmed by Esca’s shower-smooth skin rubbing his.

Esca had taken his time with Marcus in the shower, cleaning him thoroughly and stretching him slowly, using the soap to ease his way as well as ensure that Marcus would be clean and comfortable. It had been odd, quite odd. A bit burny and stretchy, but then Esca had found his prostate and had manipulated it, pressing into Marcus from behind, one hand busy behind him while the other held Marcus still, Esca’s arm wrapped around his sternum. Marcus had braced his arms on the tile wall of the shower, trying to relax and failing until Esca had stroked his back, smoothing the tension out of Marcus with sure, strong hands.

And now here they were, Marcus on his stomach, his cheeks beginning to burn at the thought of what they were about to do, but his cock had perked up again, considerably. Marcus told himself he should be used to ambivalence by now, after everything he’d been through in the past few months, but it didn’t help. Esca was draped half on top of him, running his hand up and down Marcus’ back soothingly.

“You alright?” he asked quietly, his lips close to Marcus’ ear. Marcus turned his head to face him, smiling weakly.

“I am, I’m just, nervous,” he said.

“We don’t have to--” Esca started, but Marcus said, “no!” cutting him off.

“Let’s do it,” Marcus said, leaning in to kiss Esca hotly.

“Alright,” Esca said, pushing up and nudging Marcus until he moved into the middle of the bed. He pulled out a condom and some lube, setting them beside Marcus on the bed, before moving behind him.

“Up on your knees,” Esca said, smacking Marcus on the ass. “It’ll be better if we start this way, we can flip you over in a while, alright?”

Marcus nodded, drawing his knees up under him, his chest still on the bed. He felt ridiculous, exposed in such an intimate way, but he trusted Esca implicitly. Esca ran a hand down his back and over his ass, squeezing Marcus’ cheeks, letting his thumbs play in the crack . Marcus heard the cap of the lube bottle flipped open, then closed, and then he felt Esca’s fingers circle his hole, slick with lube, teasing before pushing in easily.

“Nice and loose already, Marcus,” Esca commented, rubbing Marcus’ lower back with his spare hand, while his fingers slid in and out. “Just stay relaxed.”

Marcus hummed his agreement, but it was muffled by the pillow he’d buried his head in. It was odd, as it had been in the shower, but better, the angle giving Esca better access to Marcus’ prostate, which he began to rub, slowly at first, then quicker, finally pulling out to add another finger. It went in as smoothly as the others, though Marcus could feel the stretch that time, burning slightly, Esca’s hand on his back keeping him focused and grounded.

“Sure you’re okay?” Esca asked again, sliding his fingers in and out and twisting them in small circles. Marcus could feel himself loosening up, bit by bit.

“Yes, I’m fine, can we just get on with it?” Marcus asked, more snappy than he’d intended, but he’d decided he’d like to just get on with it.

“Stop thinking about what you expect to happen,” Esca said, reaching around Marcus with his spare hand and gripping his flagging erection, stroking it slowly until it began to harden again. “Just feel, don’t think.”

“Okay,” Marcus said, closing his eyes and letting his expectations go and taking Esca’s advice, focusing on the hand on his cock, the fingers in his ass. Esca prodded his prostate a few more times before pulling back, and Marcus heard the crinkle of the condom wrapper as Esca opened it. He waited patiently, thinking about how wonderful it felt to be so close to Esca, to feel the other boy close to him, knowing that Esca would make it good. He sighed, his nerves calming considerably.

“Alright,” Esca said, running his hand up and down Marcus back again, and Marcus could feel him moving closer until the tip of his cock nudged him, slipping between Marcus cheeks and then pressing against his hole. It went in a lot easier than Marcus had anticipated, and he remembered what Esca had said about feeling, not thinking. It still burned though, and Marcus had to fight not to tense up.

“Marcus, god, you’re so hot,” Esca said above him, both hands on Marcus back now, rubbing up and down as he pushed in further until, at last, he was in all the way, his hips against Marcus’ ass, his balls laying on Marcus’, all soft skin and heat.

Marcus shivered, grateful that Esca was being still, allowing Marcus to relax as the burn faded. He felt undeniably full in a way he’d never experienced before. It was strange, new, different, but now that he was becoming accustomed to it, it was good. He could hear Esca panting behind him, his hands sliding down to grasp Marcus’ hips. He didn’t move though, and Marcus began to grow impatient, unable to keep from squirming a bit, the cock inside him changing angle but not moving. It was maddening.

“Are you going to move?” he asked Esca, his worries completely forgotten.

“Yes, I...yeah,” Esca said, his voice tight, strained, but he did as he said and pulled out and pushed in slowly at first, then faster, and doing it again. The drag of Esca’s cock as he moved felt amazing, and then, after a few shifts in position, he found Marcus’ prostate. Marcus gasped, clenching around Esca’s cock as he kept thrusting, prodding the swollen gland more and more frequently.

“Oh my god,” Marcus said, panting, pushing up on his arms, changing the angle yet again, pushing back to meet Esca’s thrusts.

“I know,” Esca said, his breathing as harsh as Marcus’, the two of them moving faster and faster, finding a rhythm that made it hard for Marcus to breathe.

“Do you want to roll over?” Esca asked, his words punctuated by panting breaths and gasps as Marcus pushed back to meet him.

“No, don’t stop, just--” Marcus said, so Esca didn’t, his thrusts coming harder now, pushing Marcus forward with every stroke, until his arms gave out and he buried his head in the pillow again, groaning. The motion made his cock bob against his belly and he remembered it was there, neglected. He slid an arm under himself until he could reach and stroke himself, tugging in time with Esca’s rhythm.

The added stimulation was all Marcus needed, the combined sensations all driving him toward an explosive, body shaking orgasm, it seems as though all his energy was expelled along with his come, and he slumped further into the mattress, knees weak. Esca didn’t stop however, gripping Marcus’ hips as his thrusts became erratic, his stroke shorter, and Marcus knew he was close as well.

“Esca,” he pleaded, needing Esca’s climax as much as his own. He didn’t have long to wait and then Esca was shuddering and shaking over him, clenching his hips tightly enough to bruise, but Marcus didn’t care. They would be the most enjoyably earned bruises he had ever received.

“Marcus, I...that was amazing,” Esca said, pulling out of Marcus unceremoniously and falling to the bed beside him, his breath coming in great, harsh gasps.

“I know. It was. Wow,” Marcus slurred, exhaustion overtaking him as his heart slowed to a normal beat. “Can we do that again?”

Esca laughed, breath still shaky, but evening out. “Oh yes, we will be doing that again,” he said at last, rolling onto his side and caressing Marcus’ cheek, his fingers slipping over Marcus’ lips as his hand fell to the bed, slack.

“Good,” Marcus said, closing his eyes and reveling in the feeling, the soaring, weightless way he’d felt when he’d come, Esca’s grip on his hips, the sweaty, shaky muscles, weak from the strain, the fullness of Esca inside him leaving behind an emptiness that, instead of making him feel like less, made him feel fuller, sated in a way he’d had no idea he could experience.

All Marcus could think was that he was born for this, to lay with Esca in the aftermath, being closer to him than to any other person alive, and never wanting it to stop. If he had to give up hockey for this, he would consider it a small price to pay he thought, as sleep overtook him.

Chapter Text

In View

I love you. You know I do.
Yea, it’s perfect…well, it isn’t and it is.

I’ve been meaning to call you.
I’ve been meaning to call you.
Then I do.
I’ve been meaning to call you.
I’ve been meaning to call you.
Then I do.

Phone rings once,
Phone rings twice,
Phone rings three times.

I am of you.
You are always in view.
I am my will.
You are in everything I do.

 

The weekend passed altogether too quickly, and before Marcus was quite ready for it, he was driving Esca home on Sunday evening, feeling as if he was going to leave a piece of himself behind, which was ridiculous, and he knew they’d see each other in the morning anyway. Knowing that didn’t make the feeling go away, however.

He glanced over at Esca, feeling incredibly lucky to have someone like him. Esca made him forget the world and his sense of comfort in his own skin gave Marcus some added confidence, but sometimes the doubts crept in. It seemed to Marcus that after a weekend like the one they’d had, he should feel more ready to face the world, but the intimacy he’d found in Esca’s arms only made him want to stay tucked away forever, just the two of them.

The outside world was out of his control, too many people would judge him for this one thing, not caring about any other facet of his personality. Perhaps that was why, after such an amazing experience, he was feeling particularly insecure. Esca must have noticed the change in his mood, because he reached out a hand and took Marcus’, lacing their fingers together.

“You alright?” he asked, concern evident in his voice.

“I’m...yes,” Marcus said, not knowing how to answer.

“Oh, that was convincing,” Esca replied dryly, and Marcus chuckled.

“Right, okay, so I’m feeling a little, I don’t even know,” Marcus admitted.

“Insecure? Doubtful? Anxious?”

“Uh, yes?” Marcus said, surprised. “How’d you know?”

“Because I’ve been where you are right now,” Esca said. “Maybe not to the same degree, I came out sooner and I didn’t have my career on the line, but I still second guessed myself, for a long time.”

“Oh,” Marcus said.

“Does that surprise you?” Esca asked.

“Yeah, I guess I thought you’ve always been the way you are now, I mean, you’re so comfortable with yourself, and you don’t let other people get to you,” Marcus said. “I’m not sure if I can do that.”

“You can,” Esca assured him. “It just takes some time, you’ve made a big move here, and while you should never regret it, being true to yourself, there will still be moments when you wish you could take it back, if only to make things easier.”

“But they weren’t easier,” Marcus said, shaking his head. “I was in turmoil all the time, my inside was constantly at war with what I had to present to everyone else.”

“But now, you have no control over that battle. You can’t make other people like or respect you, and you can’t make them support you either, that’s their choice. In making yours, you’ve given them the power, in a way...all you can do now is be yourself and let the bad ones roll off your back, you know?”

“I think so,” Marcus said, although he wasn’t sure. “It’s not really my battle anymore, is it?”

“Not in the same sense,” Esca replied. “Now you just need to stand tall and let the world break around you and sometimes it will get really bad, there will be so many of them. That’s why it will seem easier to have kept it all inside.”

“But then I’d be living a lie,” Marcus said.

“Yes.”

“You’re not making this any easier,” Marcus commented with a sigh.

“I know, I’m sorry,” Esca said, his thumb tracing back and forth over the back of Marcus’ hand. “It’s not easy, no matter what you do. You just need to decide which way you’re going to go.”

“Well, I’ve already done that,” Marcus said, letting go of Esca’s hand to shift gears.

“For better or for worse,” Esca said. “And you’ll always have me.” Marcus smiled at that, contentment filling him up again.

“You don’t know how grateful that makes me,” Marcus said, taking opportunity at the stoplight to turn and face Esca, smiling at him with gratitude.

“As grateful as having you makes me, perhaps?” Esca replied. “I had no one here, only Nan, and then you came along and made me believe I could trust someone again.” His voice softened, his eye glassing over with moisture, so Marcus reached over and cupped his cheek.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Marcus told him. “Not now.”

“I know,” Esca said, and the moment stretched, the air in the truck becoming thick, until the car behind them honked. Marcus looked up to see a green light, and put the truck into gear.

When they arrived, Marcus pulled into a parking space and turned off the truck, facing Esca as he took of his seat belt. He expected Esca to open the door, but he didn’t, sliding over as far as he could and pulling Marcus’ lips to his for a slow, deep kiss that left Marcus shaky again, wishing for the first time that he could rip out the center console in his truck and drag Esca closer.

“See you in the morning,” Esca whispered, meeting Marcus’ eyes, smiling like a fool, the same way Marcus was sure he was smiling back.

“Yeah,” Marcus said, rubbing a thumb over Esca’s swollen bottom lip before letting go, pulling back and watching Esca get out of the truck. He didn’t turn back until he reached the front door, unlocking it before turning and waving at Marcus, the smile still on his face. Marcus smiled back, feeling giddy and sad all at once. He sighed. There was nothing for it, so he started the truck again and headed home.

**

Several days later, on Wednesday afternoon, not long after he arrived home, Marcus received a phone call from a number he didn’t recognize. Puzzled, he picked up, wondering who it was and how they had gotten his phone number.

“Hello?”

“Good afternoon, Marcus,” came crisply accented voice, making Marcus stiffen in surprise.

“Mrs. MacCunoval,” Marcus replied automatically. “This is a surprise.”

“I am sure it is,” she replied. “I apologize for calling you like this, but there is a matter I wish to discuss with you, and I’d prefer Esca not be privy to our conversation.”

“Alright,” Marcus said, unable to decide how to respond.

“Well Marcus, the fact is that Esca’s birthday is approaching, it’ll be his eighteenth, you know,” she said.

“Yes, I know he’ll be eighteen, but I had no idea it was soon,” Marcus said. “I’m kind of embarrassed to admit I’d not thought about it.”

“It doesn’t surprise me that he hasn’t told you, he has never been one for large celebrations, not when the focus is entirely on him,” she continued. “But the fact is, his seventeenth birthday was most unpleasant,” she paused, Marcus could hear her taking a deep breath.

“Is it safe to assume that Esca has told you why he moved to Canada, and about what happened to his family?” she asked, cautiously.

“Yes, um,” Marcus said. “Yeah, he did.”

“Well given the circumstances, you can understand why he did not celebrate it, and to be honest, none of us felt like celebrating then.”

“No, I can imagine not,” Marcus said, his heart clenching at the thought of Esca, all alone on his birthday, his family gone so suddenly, so tragically.

“However, this year I was hoping that I could provide a more enjoyable birthday for him, though I have come to realize that I am not the correct person for the task,” she said. “You though, are perfect. I can only assume that you wish to make Esca happy.”

She seemed to expect a response to that, so Marcus said, “yes, I do. He’s made me very happy.”

“I am glad to hear it,” she replied. “So I shall leave it up to you. I intend to give him a gift, of course, but I would appreciate it if you would make it special for him.”

“Yes, I will,” Marcus replied eagerly. “I love him Mrs. MacCunoval, and nothing would make me happier than to make him happy.”

“Excellent,” she said. “If there is anything I can do to help, please don’t hesitate to call me.”

“I will,” Marcus said. “Thank you for calling me, oh...Mrs. MacCunoval, you never told me what day his birthday is.”

“Oh dear, please call me Elsa,” she insisted, though Marcus wasn’t certain. “It’s the twenty-second of March.”

“The day he leaves,” Marcus said, almost to himself.

“Yes, it is. If you play your cards right, he will be in the best of moods for the competition,” she pointed out.

“That can only be a good thing,” Marcus said. “Don’t worry, I’ll figure something out.”

“I’m sure you will. Thank you Marcus. Goodnight,” she said, and hung up the phone.

**

Marcus had thought a lot about what to do for Esca the following weekend, but he hadn’t had a lot of success so far. He didn’t think Esca would want to go out, and if he was being honest with himself, he didn’t want to share Esca with anyone anyway, but he still needed to come up with a gift.

He was nearing the parking lot when he heard the murmur of a crowd of people, which was unusual, people tended to take off as soon as they could, it was rare to see them gathered in such a large crowd, which Marcus could see now.

In fact, it looked like they were gathered around his truck. Marcus broke into a jog, wondering what on earth could be going on. He pushed through the crowd, noticing some of them were actually in the bed of his truck. Then, just as he pushed through, he heard Cottia yelling, “Charlie, no!”

And there, in the center of the group was Esca, jaw lifted and eyes fierce, and Marcus had never seen such defiance, especially in the face of the adversity he was currently facing.

Across the circle from Esca was Charlie Henderson, his face a very unattractive red.

“Charlie,” Cottia yelled again, but Charlie ignored her, taking a swing at Esca, who dodged easily, taking a few steps to the side. Charlie stumbled, but regained himself, only to turn and take another swing at Esca, who dodged again, slipping behind Charlie and kicking him in the back of the knee, making him drop to the ground, to the shock of the crowd.

“Aren’t you going to help him?” Cottia asked Marcus, incredulous.

“I will if he needs me,” Marcus said, grinning as Esca dodged once more. Charlie responded with a shout, climbing to his feet and turning on Esca, his face so contorted with fury it looked like his eyes were popping out. Marcus stifled a laugh, Cottia looking at him in disbelief.

Charlie came at Esca again and this time when Esca dodged, he grabbed Charlie’s fist and used his momentum to twist it around behind his back, kicking him in the back of the knee once more and taking him all the way down until he was flat on the ground, where Esca held him down with the arm he had twisted behind his back and a knee on Charlie’s lower back.

“Told you,” Marcus said, winking at Cottia, walking into the circle at last, but Esca wasn’t done yet.

“Not so nice to be the one getting your arse handed to you, is it, you great prick?” Esca said, twisting Charlie’s arm harder, making Charlie yell in pain. “So the next time you want to make assumptions about someone based on size or sexuality, remember me, and think again.”

A bunch of people in the crowd cheered, and Esca was about to let him go when Marcus stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. He smiled at Esca, who looked shocked for a second before smiling back, digging in harder with his knee when Charlie began to squirm.

Marcus walked around in front of Charlie and squatted down so the boy on the ground could see him.

“Aquila!” Charlie shrieked, squirming again. “Get your freak of a boyfriend off of me!” Esca yanked on his arm again, and Charlie gave another shout of pain.

“It’s him you should be pleading with, not me,” Marcus said with a smirk. “Besides, humiliation is a good look on you, Charles. And Esca’s hot when he’s pissed, so I could just stay here all day.” The crowd laughed, and Charlie struggled once more.

“But I’ll give you some friendly advice, Charles,” Marcus said, his voice turning hard, all amusement lost. “The next time you lay a finger on Esca, or even use that smart mouth of yours to try and call him down, I’ll destroy what’s left behind when he’s finished with you. Understood?”

Charlie nodded jerkily, and Marcus was satisfied. He stood, reaching a hand out for Esca who gave one last wrench on Charlie’s arm before taking it and standing, lacing their fingers together and walking away, leaving Charlie defeated on the ground.

“Get out of my truck!” Marcus yelled at the students who had clambered into the bed for a better look. He tossed his bag in and turned, pulling Esca into his arms and leaning in for a kiss. Esca’s brash defiance, as well as his unshakable confidence, had Marcus incredibly turned on. His confidence had a reason, he was the most capable person Marcus had met.

They pulled back in time to see Cottia approaching, followed by Luke, who was fighting through the crowd. Robert was beside Charlie, who had finally pulled himself into a standing position.

“Dude,” Robert said, shaking his head. “You just got beat up by a figure skater.”

“Fuck off!” Charlie bellowed, pushing his way through the remaining people in his haste to escape.

“That was impressive,” Luke said, slapping Esca on the back. “Well done.”

“Thanks,” Esca said with a smug smirk, leaning into Marcus, who was leaning against the door of his truck.

“You were awesome,” Cottia said, kissing Esca on the cheek, returning Marcus’ frown with a wink. “Come on Luke, you can give me a ride home, since my brother is in no condition to drive,” Cottia said, taking a shocked Luke by the hand and tugging him away. Marcus watched them with amusement, turning back to Esca.

Finally they were alone, so Marcus kissed Esca again, pride and happiness filling him.

“I’ve got to go,” Esca said, pulling back reluctantly.

“Let me drive you,” Marcus pleaded, but Esca shook his head.

“It’s only a ten minute walk,” he pointed out, but Marcus insisted.

“It’s not like you need the exercise, and it’s a two minute drive, which means you can spend the other eight minutes snogging me,” Marcus said, pulling Esca closer again.

“Alright, you’ve convinced me,” Esca said, letting Marcus reel him in again.

**

Marcus was restless and uncomfortable, and knowing that there were still several hours before he could stretch was not helping. The bus was quiet for once, there was a lull in the activities, as happened more often when they were on longer bus trips. Even a group of guys like the ones on the team had to quiet down sometime. Marcus tossed a glance to the side, seeing Luke across the bus, his head pillowed on his balled up jacket, pressed against the bus window. Nothing new there, then.

Marcus had been preoccupied all morning. He’d been thinking about what Esca’s Nan had said, about his birthday and how horrible the last one had been. Marcus had been pondering what to get him. He knew they would spend the following Saturday ensconced in his bedroom, preferably naked, but there still remained the gift. What do you get someone who had every thing he needed, and didn’t have many wants to begin with?

More to the point, what could he get Esca that would lift his spirits and help him get over the disaster that was his last birthday? He remembered the tight, pained tone in Esca’s voice when he had showed Marcus his photo albums, and that was when Marcus hit on the idea.

He checked his phone, it was nearly ten am. Perfect. He flipped through his contact list until he found the entry he had made with Elsa’s phone number. He looked around the bus quickly, but everyone was sleeping or otherwise distracted, and not likely to disturb him. He hit send, listening impatiently as it rang on the other end.

“Hello?”

“Elsa? It’s Marcus,” he said. “I had an idea and I was wondering if you could help me...”

**

The week passed quickly. The team hadn’t returned from its road trip until Tuesday evening and Marcus spent the rest of it busy putting his plan into action. That meant some shopping and some covert outings to Esca’s, where Elsa was proving invaluable. She was quite pleased with Marcus’ idea, and was instrumental in putting the plan into motion.

When Saturday rolled around, Marcus was nervous. He had asked Sassy to make Esca’s favorite meal, which she had been glad to do, and when she had heard he’d been intending to buy a cake she was so scandalized Marcus could probably have walked around naked and she wouldn’t have noticed.

Marcus was disappointed that Esca wouldn’t be able to spend the night, but he had an early flight from Vancouver and needed to get on the road even earlier. Still, they had the afternoon and evening, as Esca had already packed and organized everything he would need. At least they didn’t have to worry about that.

Marcus had driven home during Esca’s training session that Saturday and showered, tidied and made sure everything was ready, before heading back to town to pick him up. Sassy had promised to have everything ready, and assured Marcus that both she and Uncle would be gone before he got back.

There was nothing left to do but go, so Marcus did, even though it was a bit early. He drove the long way and still had time to kill when he got back to the arena, so he got out of the truck and paced around a bit.

Finally Esca was finished, walking across the parking lot toward Marcus with a smile.

“Hi,” he said when he drew close. “What are you dressed up for?”

"Well," Marcus said, pausing to give Esca a kiss. “A little birdie told me that it’s your birthday tomorrow.”

Esca froze, his expression falling into wariness with a speed that made Marcus blink.

“She didn’t,” he said, eyes narrowing.

“She did, and I’m glad she did,” Marcus said, tugging Esca close again. “It should have occurred to me that I’d known you almost a year and had never learned when your birthday was, but it didn’t so I’m glad she called.”

“I don’t really feel like a big celebration,” Esca said with a sigh.

“I know, but eighteen is an important milestone, and you should acknowledge it somehow,” Marcus insisted. “And since you wouldn’t do it for yourself, it was up to us to do it for you.”

Esca sighed again and shook his head. “I suppose,” he said.

“We love you, you know. And we want you to be happy.”

“Being with you does make me happy,” Esca said, relaxing into Marcus’ embrace, at last.

“Great. Come be with me tonight, before you leave me all alone,” Marcus said, grinning at him and then giving him another kiss before pushing him around the front of the truck.

“Hey, you’re the one who left me alone last weekend,” Esca pointed out as he climbed in.

“I know, life is so unfair,” Marcus mock pouted, making Esca laugh. “We’ll just have to make the best of this evening.”

“You’ve planned something devious, haven’t you?” Esca said.

“To the contrary. Lunch, some sex, maybe desert, more sex, then dinner,” Marcus said. “Nothing devious at all.”

“Hmm,” Esca said, but he didn't ask any more questions. When they got home, Marcus was pleased to find the house as he’d hoped, quiet music playing, lunch laid out on the table. Esca was quite pleased, despite himself. They didn’t linger over lunch long however, as both of them were eager to get upstairs and get naked.

Marcus made sure that his bedroom door was closed before he began tugging Esca’s clothes off, not wanting anything unexpected to occur, especially if Uncle or Sassy decided to come back, for whatever reason.

“Take yours off too,” Esca said, pulling on Marcus’ shirt as Marcus fumbled with his belt buckle.

“Hold on,” Marcus said, manhandling Esca back to the bed and stripping him, jeans, briefs, socks, all of it in a heap on the floor. He pulled his shirt off and dropped it on top, unbuckling his own jeans and shoving them off unceremoniously, his eyes fixed on Esca, all wiry muscle, soft skin and leaking cock. Marcus crawled onto the bed and braced himself above Esca, close enough so that their cocks bumped, but nothing else.

“Esca?” he said, feeling suddenly vulnerable, although he’d worked himself up to this all week.

“Yeah,” Esca said, reaching up and running his hands down Marcus sides, thumbs flicking over his nipples, his navel, his hipbones. Marcus shivered and forced himself to remember what he’d been planning to say.

“Will you let me fuck you?”

“Let you?” Esca said with a laugh, pulling Marcus down for a kiss, biting Marcus’ lip as he pulled back. “I was hoping you’d ask.”

“Yeah?” Marcus asked.

“Hell yeah,” Esca said, smiling. “Hell of a birthday present. Now get up here.” He shuffled back until his head was on Marcus’ pillow, it was a sight that Marcus would keep in his mind for a very long time.

Marcus joined him, digging in his bedside table for a condom and the lube before looking down at Esca, unsure of how to proceed. But Esca didn’t have any qualms, pulling Marcus down into another kiss and spreading his legs so that Marcus’ hips slid between them, rubbing their cocks together maddeningly.

Marcus let himself be kissed, encouraging Esca with his lips, tugging on Esca’s lip when he broke the kiss, or sucking on his tongue when he pulled it back.

“You’ll need to prepare me,” Esca said, his hands at Marcus’ hips, pulling him closer and rotating his hips, as if Marcus needed any encouragement at that point.

“Yeah,” Marcus said, wondering if perhaps they should have a shower.

“I showered before leaving the arena,” Esca said, reading his mind.

“How did you?” Marcus said, but Esca just laughed at him.

“You are like an open book sometimes, Marcus,” he said, leaning up to kiss Marcus again. “Now open me up, enough foreplay. I’ve been waiting for this since I met you.”

“You have?” Marcus asked, stunned, and Esca laughed again.

“Yes, you great prat. Straight boys don’t look at other boys like that, and all I could think about was your big hands, and those broad shoulders. Hell yes, I’ve wanted this for ages.”

“Oh,” Marcus said with a smirk. “I’d better get on it then, eh?”

“Please do,” Esca said, grabbing the lube and flipping open the cap. “Two fingers,” he commanded, and Marcus obeyed without hesitation for Esca to squeeze some lube onto them.

“Should I start with one?” Marcus asked, remembering how Esca had prepared him, how slow and gentle he was to start.

“Nah, I can take it,” Esca said, hitching his hips up and grabbing his legs, exposing himself to Marcus’ hungry gaze. “It’s been awhile since I’ve done this with another person, but I’ve got toys.”

Marcus stopped, staring as Esca with wide eyes, lube dripping off his fingers onto Esca’s belly.

“You? What?”

“I’ve got toys. Well hidden from my Nan, of course. A vibrator, a couple dildos, a butt plug. Nothing fancy,” he shrugged.

“Nothing fancy?” Marcus parroted. “What would be fancy? Where did you get them?”

“We’ll talk about fancy later,” Esca said with a wink, shifting his hips restlessly. “And my first boyfriend’s older sister offered to get whatever I wanted once she found out we were having sex...I guess she thought everyone should have access, you know?”

“No, I,” Marcus stammered. “I’ve never thought about it.”

“I bet you haven’t,” Esca said, running a hand over his cheek. “It was rather inappropriate, now that I look back, but it was a hell of a sixteenth birthday present.”

“Well, I feel a little outdone, now,” Marcus said. “All I got you was this lousy t-shirt.”

Esca burst into laughter, and Marcus followed.

“This is way better,” Esca said. “You may not be my first shag, Marcus, but you’re the first in every other way. Every way that counts.”

“I’m glad,” Marcus said, though the thought of Esca with someone else made his chest ache with jealousy. “Anyway, one of us needed the experience.”

“You’ll get some experience of your own if you’d get on with it already,” Esca pointed out, shoving at one of Marcus’ shoulders with his foot.

“Right,” Marcus said, looking down at his drippy hand and the puddle of lube filling Esca’s belly button. “So I just--”

“Yes, you just,” Esca replied. “Go slow, but don’t worry, you won’t hurt me.” He seemed so certain that Marcus pushed his doubts aside and reached down, slipping his fingers into Esca’s crack and circling his pucker before sliding a finger in slowly.

It was hotter than Marcus had imagined it would be, and so tight he had no idea how he was going to fit his cock in there. Speaking of his cock, it had flagged a little during their discussion, but it was fully enthusiastic now, hard and ready. Marcus moved the finger around, experimenting, wondering where exactly Esca’s prostate was and if he could make Esca feel as amazing as he had when their roles had been reversed.

“Another,” Esca said, his cock also hard and leaking drops of pre-come to join the lube on his belly. Marcus did as he was told, pulling out and then sliding two fingers in. Despite the tightness, they went in easily, and once they were past the clinging muscle they sank into Esca’s body as if they had a will of their own.

Marcus was panting, the reality of the situation settling on to him, awing him. That this could really be happening to him. That someone as wonderful and amazing as Esca wanted to be with him, it was humbling.

“One more, Marcus,” Esca panted, squirming in earnest. “Just for a moment, and then I want your cock.”

Marcus’ heart pounded, his cock twitching at Esca’s provocative words, but he did as he was told, sliding in another finger, almost effortlessly now, and pushed it in and out several times before Esca said, “enough. Condom.”

“Right,” Marcus said, sitting back on his legs and giving his cock a few strokes to distribute the remaining lube, then he reached for the condom packet and opened it. He may or may not have used up a few practicing, learning how to put one on smoothly, but Esca didn’t need to know that, he told himself.

He got the condom on without incident and then slicked himself up with more lube before lifting his eyes to Esca’s, questioning, but Esca’s lust filled eyes told him all he needed to know.

“Do you want to roll over, or--” he trailed off when Esca shook his head.

“No, I want to see you. It’s easier that way the first time, or even the first few, but I just want you in me,” Esca said, shifting his hips, gripping his legs behind the knee. It was a ridiculous pose but also very exciting to Marcus, to know that Esca wanted him like this, trusted him.

“‘Kay,” he said, positioning himself at Esca’s hole, one hand steadying his cock and the other on Esca’s thigh. He slid the tip up and down Esca’s crack before pressing in, feeling enough resistance to leave him doubting until, without warning, his cock slipped in, first the head and then the shaft, encasing Marcus in the snuggest heat he had ever experienced.

Esca groaned, lifting his hips, and Marcus slid in deeper, breathing heavily in an attempt to control himself, to hold back until he could actually thrust.

“Esca, you,” he panted, unsure of what he wanted to say, staring in awe at where his cock was buried in Esca’s body, the deceptively small hole stretched around Marcus cock, clinging. He took a shuddery breath, both hands on Esca’s thighs as if to anchor Marcus to reality.

“Marcus, you can move,” Esca said, shifting his hips again and causing Marcus to gasp.

“I’m not gonna--” he began but Esca shushed him.

“I know, it’s okay,” he said, reassuringly. “But you have to move or I’m going to go insane,” Esca finished with a pained laugh. Marcus thought he might go insane if he did move, but he pulled out anyway, slowly, then pushed back in, further than before, and then did it again.

It was all over far too quickly for Marcus’ satisfaction, a bare ten strokes before he was shuddering all over and coming, filling the condom with his release while Esca’s ass squeezed him, milking every drop.

“Oh my god,” Marcus panted, still bracing himself on Esca’s thighs, his cock already softening inside Esca, though he couldn’t bring himself to move just yet.

“Not bad for a first time,” Esca said with a grin, letting his legs go and wrapping them around Marcus’ back. “I don’t think I lasted half so long, my first time.”

“Wow,” was all Marcus could bring himself to say, pulling back and slipping out of Esca, the used condom hanging limply off his softening prick.

“I know, right?” Esca said, sitting up to pinch the condom above the head of Marcus’ cock, slipping it off expertly and tying it in a knot. He slipped it into the packet and dropped it on the table, then pulled Marcus down to lie on the bed beside him. “Sex is amazing, isn’t it?”

Marcus pulled him in for a kiss, reaching for Esca’s cock where it was poking his hip and stroked it, his grip snug and his thumb swirling over the top. Esca moaned into his mouth, cupping Marcus’ face with both hands as they lay side by side, kissing deeply. Marcus sped up his strokes, in time with the pounding of his heart and then, just as Esca’s cock swelled in his hand, he pulled back, eyes fixed on Esca’s face as he spent himself all over Marcus’ hand.

His mouth was slack, eyes closed and his cheeks pink with exertion. He panted heavily, licking his lips as he came down from his orgasm eyes opening and looking into Marcus’ with blown pupils. Marcus kissed him again, unable to resist Esca’s reddened lips, the kiss was wet and sloppy, but Marcus didn’t care. It was amazing.

They collapsed onto the pillow, Marcus resting his come-covered hand on Esca’s hip, but Esca didn’t seem to mind the mess, he just lay there and gazed into Marcus’ eyes, his breathing slowing, pupils dilating.

Once he’d regained his breath, Esca leaned in and gave Marcus a kiss on the nose, proclaiming, “now it’s time for a shower.”

**

After their shower, during which Marcus tried to convince his cock that it didn’t need to come again so soon, and mostly succeeded, he thought it would be the right time to give Esca his gift. But first, it was time for desert. Marcus threw on a pair of pyjama pants, just in case and fetched two bowls of berries and topped them with some whipped cream that Sassy had ready. Simple and sweet and yet would not throw off Esca’s diet plan so soon before a major event.

When they were snuggled up under the duvet, warm and naked, empty bowls stacked on the table, Marcus had to remind himself of his plan, far too tempted by Esca’s lips, stained red from the berries. He leaned out and pulled the package out from under the bed where he’d hidden it.

Esca’s eyes were wide when Marcus presented it to him, and he hesitated before taking it.

“You didn’t have to get me anything, Marcus,” he said, but Marcus just shook his head.

“Of course I did,” he said. “What kind of boyfriend would I be if I didn’t get you a present for your birthday? Open it, then.”

“Okay,” Esca said, giving Marcus a big smile. He tore at the paper, wadding it up into a ball and tossing it aside, staring at the box in his hand with a surprised look.

“You got me an iPhone?” he looked up at Marcus, an excited gleam in his eye.

“I remember you saying you’d love to have one, and your phone does look a little beat up,” Marcus said, pleased with Esca’s reaction so far.

“I’ve had that phone for years, it’s about to die,” Esca said, smiling widely and tugging at the box top. “This has been opened,” he continued, looking confused.

“I know,” Marcus said. “I had to open it to give you the second part of your gift.”

Esca narrowed his eyes, but opened the box, pulling the phone out and wrangling it out of it’s packaging. “Sweet,” he said to himself as he turned it on, beaming until he saw the display picture that Marcus had chosen.

“Marcus,” he breathed, looking up with tears in his eyes. “How did you get this here?”

“Your Nan helped me scan all your pictures, so I could load them onto the phone,” Marcus said. “There’s also a folder on your computer, just in case something happens.”

“You-I don’t understand,” Esca said, shaking his head, staring down at the picture Marcus had chosen, one he had noticed Esca tracing more than any other when they’d looked through the albums. It was a picture of Esca with his brothers, the sun shining behind them as they clasped each other, arms around their shoulders, cheeks red and hair windblown, but their faces were spread with bright, laughing smiles.

“I wanted you to have them with you, no matter where you went,” Marcus said softly, leaning in to have another look. “Here,” Marcus said, leaning over and tapping the phone to bring up the photo gallery, showing Esca how to flip through the pictures, his family smiling up at him from every frame.

“Marcus,” Esca whispered, his voice tight with emotion. “This is the most wonderful thing any one’s ever done for me.” He flipped through a few more pictures before looking up at Marcus, eyes filled with tears. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Marcus said, cupping Esca’s face in his hands and giving him a soft kiss, pressing their foreheads together. Esca laughed or cried, Marcus couldn’t tell which, but he could see the warring emotions on Esca’s face as he wiped the tears from his cheeks.

Without warning, Esca tossed all the packaging onto the floor and put the phone on the table beside the bed, before pushing Marcus onto his back and climbing on top of him. He pinned Marcus’ hands to the bed and looked down at him, eyes red and lips set, intent.

“You’re fucking amazing, you know that?” Esca said.

“I rather think you are,” Marcus said softly, not breaking the gaze, hoping Esca could see in his eyes how much Marcus loved him.

“We’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one,” Esca said, leaning down and taking Marcus’ mouth in a kiss, hard and desperate, his hips moving against Marcus’, bringing both their cocks to life. Marcus wanted to touch him, but Esca held him down, not letting him up even when he attached his lips to Marcus’ neck, stopping to suck the blood to the surface before moving down and doing the same to his collarbone.

He moved down further, but just when Marcus thought that his arms would be free, Esca pulled them down to his sides, pinning them there as he continued to snog his way down Marcus’ chest.

“Esca, please,” Marcus begged, trying to pull his hands out of Esca’s grip, but they were held firm. “I want to touch you,” he said.

“Soon,” Esca said, looking up at Marcus from under his eyelashes, tonguing Marcus’ belly button, his chin nudging Marcus’ rock hard cock. He shuddered, the sheer intensity in Esca’s eyes making his cock throb with want.

And then Esca lifted his head, sucking Marcus’ cock into his mouth and bobbing his head, until Marcus was sure he was gonna come. And that was when Esca pulled back, sitting up again, straddling Marcus’ legs, a shit eating grin on his face if there ever was one.

“Stay still,” he commanded, his voice at odds with the look on his face. Marcus didn’t answer, so Esca squeezed his wrists, eyes narrowing. “Promise,” he said, so Marcus did.

“Promise,” he croaked out, his mind spinning as he wondered what Esca planned to do with him. Esca nodded, letting go and shuffling up Marcus’ body, his cock leaking droplets as he went, splattering Marcus’ chest. Then he stopped, so close that Marcus’ mouth watered at the thought of leaning forward and taking the tip in, or reaching out his tongue and licking off a drop of pre-come.

Esca reached over and took another condom and the lube out of the drawer, while Marcus’ hands itched with the desire to grab his ass and pull him forward, sucking Esca’s cock down until he came.

But he didn’t. A promise made under duress is still a promise, so he sat still, his cock full and ready for whatever Esca had in mind. Esca shuffled back down, reaching behind him to lay Marcus’ cock flat so he could shimmy over it, the drag of his ass and balls over Marcus’ cock was agonizing. Finally he stopped, sitting on Marcus’ thighs with the grin still on his face, his eyes sparkling with lust and mischief.

He tore into the condom packet and, just when Marcus was expecting him to roll it down his cock, he pulled Marcus’ cock upright and put it on him instead.

“Esca,” Marcus breathed, pupils blown and mouth slack. But Esca didn’t answer, only looked at Marcus with that intense look that left Marcus feeling shaky, and slid the condom down all the way. Then he squeezed some lube onto Marcus cock, stroking several times to spread it around. He shimmied forward again, back up onto Marcus’ belly before lifting up and directing Marcus’ cock inside his body.

“Esca, please,” Marcus begged. “Please can I touch you, ahhh--” Esca pushed back, impaling himself, driving Marcus’ cock deeper inside, sitting all the way down until his balls were resting on Marcus’ belly. Marcus was breathing heavily through his mouth, his fists clenching the sheet as Esca shifted, making little adjustments, positioning himself just right.

Marcus was certain this was going to end before it began, Esca was so tight, as hot as he had been earlier, but from this angle Marcus was inside him deeper, and he could feel every twitch of Esca’s muscles until, at last, he sat still, staring down at Marcus with glazed eyes.

“Now,” he said in a low, harsh voice. “Now you can touch me.” Marcus hesitated for a moment, unsure if he’d heard that right, but then his hands moved seemingly without input from his brain, reaching up and grasping Esca’s hips, a pained groan escaping his mouth. He lifted Esca up, hoping to relieve some of the pressure on his cock, but it backfired when Esca lifted himself up at the same time and then sank back down.

And then he did it again, and the next thing Marcus knew, they were going at it hot and heavy, Esca riding him like some kind of pro and Marcus meeting him every time, thrusting up into him desperately, hands still gripping Esca’s slim hips, tightly enough to bruise.

It lasted longer this time, for which Marcus was exceptionally grateful, because it might have been the best thing he’d ever experienced. Esca’s ass clenched him, tight and hot and oh, so exciting, his balls smacking Marcus’ belly, cock bobbing with every bounce, leaking all over the place, not that Marcus cared, if anything it turned him on even more. He would have come long before if they hadn’t done it not an hour ago.

As it was, he was quickly approaching his climax, sweat was popping up all over his forehead and his muscles were beginning to feel the strain. He looked down and he could see, on every upstroke, his cock pressing into Esca’s body, the sight of it pushing his arousal even higher. When Esca reached down and grabbed his cock, stroking it in time with their thrusts, he knew that was it. He was done for.

“Ahh,” he groaned, pulling Esca down even harder as his orgasm overtook him, pure ecstasy rippling through him and then shooting out, into Esca. Esca, who wasn’t far behind, bracing his free hand on Marcus’ chest and still bouncing on his cock, the room full of the sounds of skin on skin, Esca’s ass against Marcus’ thighs, his hand on his cock, it was like a soundtrack from a porno but somehow, in that situation, it wasn’t trite or fake or overdone, it was real and intimate like nothing Marcus had ever thought to experience.

Then Esca came, sticky streams of come striping Marcus’ belly and chest, making him gasp as Esca’s inner muscles squeezed his already sated cock. Esca groaned, long and low, as he slowed, squeezing a few final drops from his cock, before stopping, still seated on Marcus’ cock, hand braced on his chest. He collapsed onto Marcus then, smearing all the come between them, Marcus’ cock wetly slapping his thigh when it slipped out of Esca’s ass, but, despite having just had a shower, Marcus didn’t care.

It was oddly hot, knowing that Esca had marked him in that way, and suddenly, his mind brought forth pictures of Esca marking him in a similar manner, pulling up a memory of a porno he’d seen at Dale’s, the poor guy was obsessed with showing them off, but Marcus’ mind quickly erased the actors and replaced them. The image was made clearer by the memory of the first blowjob he’d given Esca, but he filed it away for another time. For now, he had Esca in his arms in the afterglow, and it was fabulous.

**

Taking him home, on the other hand, was hard. Esca would be gone for almost a week, and it felt like Marcus had just got back from his trip. Truthfully, that day was the only time they’d had together, and being separated again was not a prospect Marcus was looking forward to. On the other hand, this was the last time Esca had to go away that season, so they’d be able to spend much more time together. The thought of that lifted Marcus’ spirits. A little.

When he’d parked the car in front of Esca’s building, they just sat in the silence, neither moving, until at last Esca undid his seatbelt.

“Put your seat back,” he said, looking out the windshield. Marcus looked at him, brow wrinkled, wondering what he was up to. But then Esca looked at him and Marcus obeyed, bending over to slide the seat back as far as it would go. Before it had slid all the way, Esca was crawling over the console and planting himself on Marcus’ lap. It was awkward and not very smooth, his foot got stuck on the steering wheel and his head bumped the ceiling, but then he was there, straddled over Marcus’ lap, breath puffing gently over Marcus’ face.

“You are insane, you realize,” Marcus said, wrapping his arms around Esca and pulling him closer.

“I’ve always wanted to do that,” Esca said, shrugging. “I saw it in a movie once, apparently not as cool in real life.” Marcus had to agree. “But now that I’m here,” Esca said quietly, leaning down and kissing the breath right out of Marcus.

The kiss slowed right away, less about sex and more about closeness, about bridging the gap until they would see each other again. The finally pulled back, after what felt like only a moment but must have been ten minutes easily. Marcus’ cock was quickly hardening again, but he pushed his arousal aside, wanting to just hold Esca like this for as long as he could.

“Don’t go finding someone else while I’m gone,” Esca said, carding his hand through Marcus’ hair and then tugging it, pulling his head up so their eyes met. “Promise.”

“I’ll be too busy missing you,” Marcus replied, holding Esca’s gaze. “And I won’t be able to tear my eyes away from the TV.”

“Keep your phone with you, yeah?” Esca said, his eyes gleaming in the dim light of the cab. “I’ll call when I can.”

“Okay,” Marcus said, leaning in for another kiss, now that it was time to let go. “Love you.”

“Love you back,” Esca said, reaching over the seat to grab his satchel and pulling open Marcus’ door. “Bye,” he said, kissing Marcus one last time.

“Break a leg,” Marcus said, wondering if it was the right thing to say, but Esca just laughed and said, “you bet,” closing the door behind him and jogging toward the front door, not looking back. Marcus watched him in the rear-view mirror until he went inside, then started the truck with a sigh.

**

Esca was scheduled to skate on Wednesday and Friday, and was coming home Sunday. In a stroke of luck, Marcus had games on Thursday and Saturday, which he was thrilled about. Being able to watch live was a real bonus. By the time Wednesday rolled around, Marcus was a basket case. He and Esca had spoken several times on the phone, but it just wasn’t enough. By the time he sat down with Uncle to watch, he was anxious and excited, wanting to see Esca, if only through a TV screen.

Waiting for Esca’s program was nerve wracking, and Esca was scheduled near the end of the night. Marcus watched with nervous anticipation while the scores got higher, as the skaters got better. He knew Esca would be right up there with the leaders, if not leading the pack, but it was still difficult for Marcus to watch the scores mounting and knowing there was nothing he could do about it.

When Esca came on at last, Marcus’ stomach leapt, like it had every other time he’d seen Esca like this. He looked cool and collected, completely professional, dressed in black pin stripe slacks and waistcoat, with a crisp white shirt underneath. He wore a black and grey striped tie, with a matching handkerchief, the over all effect was striking. Marcus took in a deep breath and let it out, shaky, wishing he could be there in person.

Esca’s program was packed with jumps and spins and exquisite footwork to a catchy jazz tune. Marcus cheered out loud when he landed a flawless quad toe, triple toe combo, and again when he spun out of his final spin into the end pose.

They waited impatiently for the score, then Marcus jumped up and cheered again when Esca received the highest score yet, not only for the competition, not only for himself, but a world record score.

“God, he’s amazing,” Marcus gushed, slumping back beside Uncle on the couch. “Did you see that last spin? I swear he was going faster than I’ve ever seen, and his skate didn’t even move, you’d think he was on a dime or something.”

“It was certainly spectacular,” Uncle said, grinning nearly as wide as Marcus. “But we knew all along he is that good, what amazes me is your enthusiasm. I never thought I’d see the day when I’d see you that passionate about something other than hockey.”

“I’d give hockey up in a second if the choice was between it and him,” Marcus said, still watching the screen, where the next skater was finishing up his short program.

“I know you would, my boy,” Uncle said, patting Marcus’ arm. “It makes me very happy to see you so happy.”

“Thanks,” Marcus said, smiling at him and then turning his attention back to the TV, his uncle chuckling beside him. The final skater was just finishing up and, like the ones before him, could not match Esca’s score, in fact, he hadn’t even come close. So Esca was the leader after one skate, by a wide margin.

Once the skating was done, the interviews started, something Marcus hadn’t realized he’d been waiting for until Esca’s flushed, smiling face was on the screen in front of him. He barely listened to the words being exchanged, focused instead on memorizing Esca’s face all over again.

It was over far too soon, and they went on to interviewing the other skaters, which Marcus watched only half-heartedly. He knew he should go to bed, he had a game the following evening, in addition to school, but he hoped that he could stretch it out, hoping that Esca would call him. And, just when Marcus’ had given up hope of that happening, his phone rang, the familiar sound byte indicating that it was Esca.

He tugged it out of his pocket quickly and answered, “Esca? Yeah, we saw. No, hang on a sec,” he said, standing and pulling the phone away from his ear. “I’m heading up to bed, Uncle,” he said, trying to ignore his uncle’s smirk.

“Good night, Marcus,” Uncle said. “Give Esca my congratulations.”

“I will,” Marcus said, heading out of the room and upstairs.

“Tell your Uncle I said thank you,” Esca said when Marcus told him he was back.

“I will,” Marcus said, slightly breathless from taking the stairs two at a time. “Seriously though, you were amazing. Flawless.”

“You would think so,” Esca replied, his voice light with amusement. “You’re biased.”

“The judges thought so too, and they’re not in love with you,” Marcus pointed out, and Esca had to agree.

“A world record? They don’t just hand scores like that out to anyone,” Marcus said, closing his bedroom door and throwing himself backwards onto his bed. His cock had been half hard since watching Esca skate and now that he was alone in the dim light of his room, with Esca’s smooth, husky voice in his ear, it had hardened completely.

“I suppose you’re right,” Esca said, his voice lowering a bit. “Honestly, it was inspiring to know that you’d be watching.”

“Yeah?” Marcus asked, still feeling breathless, but for a completely different reason.

“Yeah. I wanted to call you before, but Andrew said it would be too distracting,” Esca laughed quietly. “He’s probably right, if I’d talked to you before I’d probably be half hard going out onto the ice.”

Marcus’ cock twitched at that, and he could no longer risk rubbing it, stroking slowly over his pyjama pants. “Next time you should, it’s only fair,” Marcus said, closing his eyes and letting his other senses take over.

“Oh yeah?” Esca asked. “Why’s that?”

“Because watching you skate makes me hard,” Marcus said plainly. “Which is a bit awkward while sitting with my uncle, let me tell you.”

“No more awkward than sporting a hard-on on the ice in front of an arena full of people, and a national TV audience,” Esca said. “My costumes aren’t exactly forgiving in that area.”

“I’ve noticed,” Marcus said, his voice getting raspy as he gave in to the inevitable and pulled his cock out, squeezing gently before letting it lay on his belly, tickling the underside with his fingertips, imagining they were Esca’s instead.

“Oh, I bet you have,” Esca replied. “Are you still hard, Marcus?” he asked, and Marcus shivered, loving the way Esca said his name in that tone, his accent sounding it out differently than how anyone else did.

“Yeah,” Marcus admitted, unable and unwilling to deny it, stroking himself slowly now.

“Are you wanking?” Esca asked pointedly. “‘Cause I totally am.”

“Nguh,” Marcus moaned, squeezing his cock, stroking quicker now. “Where are you?” he asked, suddenly remembering that Esca had just competed in a major competition and there were bound to be people everywhere.

“Changing room,” Esca said. “I’m not ashamed to say that I’m in the furthest toilet from the showers.”

Marcus gave a breathless laugh, oddly turned on by the thought that Esca had snuck away to find a place to call Marcus and have a wank.

“Do you miss me yet, Marcus?” Esca asked, a hitch in his voice. Marcus could imagine him, leaning against the wall of some random toilet stall, pants opened and pulled down to reveal his stiff cock, one hand holding the phone to his ear and the other stroking his cock roughly.

“Fuck, yes,” Marcus said, gasping for breath. “I want you back, preferably naked and in my bed.”

Esca groaned. “Only a few more days and I will be,” he said. “I can’t wait to strip you and suck your gorgeous cock until you come down my throat.” Marcus’ hand sped up, his mind conveniently providing him with accompanying images. He could feel the peak approaching, but Esca wasn’t done yet.

“Then I’ll fuck you until you’re hard again, and I won’t stop until you come all over yourself,” he continued, but Marcus had heard enough, his arousal had reached a fever pitch, and with a cry, he came, biting his lip to hold in any errant sounds. From the shaky breathing on the other end of the line, Esca had come as well, whether from his own words or from the muffled sound of Marcus’ orgasm, he wasn’t about to guess.

“That was,” he panted, and Esca finished the sentence for him.

“Fantastic,” he said, and Marcus could hear rattling noises and a bit of static, presumably as Esca wiped his hand off.

“Yeah,” he agreed, not bothering to wipe himself just yet. Luckily for him, he needn’t be seen in public anytime soon, unlike Esca. Marcus felt a pang of longing, wishing they could be together. ‘soon,’ he reminded himself.

“So, you’ll be watching on Friday, yeah?” Esca asked.

“Yeah,” Marcus replied, grinning with anticipation. Friday was only two days away and then Esca would be home on Sunday. Suddenly it didn’t look so far away. “Luke and Cottia are gonna come over and watch with me, and Uncle and Stephan, make it a proper party.”

“Shit,” Esca said, and Marcus could hear a voice calling, which he assumed was Andrew looking for Esca. “I’d better go, before Andrew does his nut.”

“If you must,” Marcus says, smiling. “Call me tomorrow, ‘kay?”

“You bet. Night, Marcus,” Esca said softly. Marcus swallowed a sigh and just said, “night,” waiting for Esca to hang up, which he promptly did. Marcus sighed out loud and ended the call, just laying on his bed and staring at the ceiling for a few minutes before he realized that his hand was sticky and his belly cold and uncomfortable. He tossed the phone aside and pulled off his soiled t-shirt, wiping off the obvious mess and tossing the shirt in the hamper before heading to the bathroom for a proper clean, Esca’s voice still in his ears.

**

The game the following night was one of Marcus’ best. He had always been a high energy player, but he was really on fire that night. Two goals and two assists, one of each a short handed goal; he was out skating, out checking and out hitting every other player, and managed to get only one penalty. All in all, an excellent game, and it left Marcus’ spirits high.

He fell into bed that night, exhausted, ready to get up tomorrow and suffer through the day until Esca’s skate. He thanked heaven that Esca was only in LA, so that there was no time difference.

By the time he’d made it home from school, he was a bit of a basket case. So much so that Uncle insisted he go take a run before dinner, to calm his nerves. Marcus didn’t think it would work, but he did it anyway, running hard and fast, the pounding of his feet on the pavement temporarily drowning out his thoughts.

After the run he needed a shower, relaxing his muscles even as he scrubbed himself clean. But there, his thoughts inevitably turned to Esca, to wondering what he was doing at that moment, if he was nervous, if he was excited, if he was thinking of Marcus or focusing on the skate ahead.

Thinking of Esca led to thoughts of the conversation they’d shared on Wednesday after the short program, and that led to Marcus’ hand dropping to his half hard cock, which led to stroking, which, well. It wasn’t long before Marcus was coming all over the tile, eyes clenched shut against the flow of water, knees shaky and muscles weak, from the run or the shower or the wank, Marcus wasn’t sure. It was probably all three, but he was still slow and methodical as he got out of the shower and dried off. He pulled on some clean clothes and headed downstairs, knowing that Luke and Cottia would arrive soon.

They had actually arrived while he was in the shower, and were engaged in an animated discussion about Canadian hockey vs European hockey, the debate sparked by Don Cherry’s acerbic remarks about Alexander Ovechkin and the ‘soccer style’ goal celebrations.

“...to admit he goes too far,” Cottia was saying and Uncle was nodding, although Luke seemed to disagree.

“He has a point though, Cottia, and he’s not afraid to speak up about it,” Luke interjected. “All these Europeans come over and in a lot of ways they’re more skilled than the average Canadian player, because on those football fields they call rinks, they can skate circles around all the other players-”

“If they have that skill, why shouldn’t they use it to their advantage?” Uncle interrupted, with Cottia nodding along.

“It’s not a matter of their skill with the puck, it’s their style of play, and the grand-standing that goes on after every goal,” Luke insisted. “As if every goal they score is an individual effort.”

“Well it is, isn’t it?” Cottia said, shaking her head.

“Not the way we play,” Marcus said, leaning on the counter and joining the discussion. “On a smaller ice surface you have to battle for the puck, there’s no room to skate around the ice making pretty goals for the cameras, we have to battle it out on the boards and get those rebound goals.”

“Well, what’s wrong with the pretty goals?” Uncle asked.

“Nothing in and of themselves, it’s the individual mindset that’s behind that style of play. Here we need every player involved, someone has to fight the puck off the boards, someone has to take the long shots, someone has to be in the slot fighting for the rebounds, and you have to pass the puck around, because there’s no room to skate with it. That’s why assists are as important as goals, perhaps more. If you aren’t looking out for your team mate and setting him up to score, he won’t.”

“Exactly,” Luke agreed. “The difference is that the Canadian-trained players are the fighters, and I don’t mean brawling, Cottia, and the Europeans aren’t. They’re used to a more open game where they can make all the moves they need, but they don’t pass as much and when they’re hit, they stay down as if it’s the end of the world. That style of play just doesn’t fly on our ice surface.”

“The smaller ice surface lends itself to a more aggressive style of play, and that’s what we call Canadian hockey. We don’t have room to glide around the ice like...” Marcus trailed off looking for a comparison, but Luke found one for him.

“Like a figure skater,” he said with a laugh, nudging Marcus in the ribs. Uncle and Cottia laughed, while Marcus blushed a bit, but he agreed with the sentiment.

“Exactly,” he agreed. “It’s a team game and every goal is a team effort. These guys who grandstand after every goal are showing a lack of respect for the gritty game we play over here, as if it’s all about them and not about the team. And that’s why they get hurt, because the other players don’t respect that.”

“Isn’t that the point of cracking down on the heavy hitters?” Cottia asked. “Dad says they’re only trying to clean up the game.”

“No, there’s more to it than that,” Luke insisted. “If you can’t check someone into the boards or stop them mid-ice from going after your guy with the puck, you might as well just hand it to them. It’s about beating the other guy to the puck, and it’s about protecting your team mate who has it.”

“It comes back to the team effort,” Marcus added. “Some of the European players don’t pass the puck, even when they have a clean opportunity, because they aren’t thinking about the best, surest way of getting the goal, they aren’t thinking about the team. They’re thinking about how they are going to get another goal for their tallies.”

“You see a lot of unassisted goals in that style of play, and it’s just at odds with everything we are taught here,” Luke said. “It’s about the team, not the individual.”

“I think we’re a little out numbered here, Cottia,” Uncle said, gesturing to the table and leading the way. They all sat down, but the conversation wasn’t done, not that Marcus minded. There’s nothing he’d rather talk about than hockey, with the exception of Esca.

“You have to admit that Cherry goes too far, though,” Cottia said, and Marcus could see her point.

“Oh, I’ll admit he’s a wee bit xenophobic, but he’s also been around a long time and he sees the game that’s been played in Canada for a hundred years being eroded by these individually minded players,” Marcus said. “No wonder it pisses him off, and you have to realize that he understands hockey in a way a lot of fans don’t, and he respects the game.”

“Besides, he’s got a point,” Luke said. “When you get those players acting like that, as if every goal is another stroke to their egos, it’s disrespectful to their team mates. The other players won’t stand up for them in the same way, and it just creates an us versus them mind set and it affects team unity on and off the ice.”

Marcus was nodding along as he ate.

“But all that checking leads to more penalties and fights,” Uncle pointed out.

“And injuries,” Cottia agreed, but Marcus and Luke just shared a look and an eye roll.

“Not if it’s done with respect to the other team, which doesn’t happen when the other player is a grand-stander. It’s like pissing on the tradition we were raised on.”

“Marcus, that’s a little crude, isn’t it?” Uncle scolded but Marcus stood his ground.

“Maybe the words are, but the sentiment is there,” he insisted. “If you’re trying to change the game, take out the checking, crack down on the fighting, it’s not only disrespectful to the Canadian style of play, it’s detrimental to the morale of the team.”

“What the average fan doesn’t realize is that most of the fighting that goes on isn’t so much a personal thing as a defense of a team mate, or retaliation for dirty play or taunting,” Luke said. “It’s not about the guy fighting, it’s about the team as a whole.”

“Exactly,” Marcus agreed, pointing his fork in Luke’s direction.

“Well, Cottia, I suppose we should give up while we’re ahead,” Uncle said with a sigh. “I guess we should defer to those in the trenches, as it were.”

“If we must,” Cottia agreed, sighing dramatically. “I’ll never understand hockey players.”

“And yet, you are surrounded by them,” Luke said, smiling fondly at her. Marcus noticed and so did Uncle, if his meaningful look was any indication. More telling was Cottia’s return smile.

“You’ll have to try and explain it to me,” Cottia said, and Luke flushed, just a little.

“Maybe I will,” he said, to Cottia’s delight.

“It will have to be another time, however,” Uncle said. “Coverage is about to start.”

“I thought Stephan was coming over,” Marcus said.

“Oh, he’s late as usual,” Uncle replied, shaking his head. “He’s probably arguing with his sister about their plans to buy some big property out in Alberta. Mark my words, he’ll be flying out by the end of April to save them from themselves.”

They shared a laugh, getting down the business of dinner, the mood lightened considerably.

**

Stephan arrived while they were cleaning up, grumbling about overpriced, flashy properties and bandwagon investors, but Uncle placated him before long and everyone crowded into the TV room to watch. Marcus took note of Cottia settling into the loveseat beside Luke, Marcus slumping into the adjacent chair while Uncle and Stephan took the couch.

“Oh, I wish Esca didn’t have to skate last,” Cottia said with a sigh.

“It’s a good thing though,” Uncle replied. “It means he’s in the lead.”

“And quite a lead at that,” Stephan commented.

“That’s because no one can match him,” Marcus said, his voice conveying his bias.

“Yes, we all know he’s the bestest boyfriend ever,” Luke said, teasing. “But we’re talking about figure skating.” Marcus threw a pillow at him.

“Since we have time to kill,” Cottia said. “Are you boys excited for the prom?”

“What’s that?” Marcus asked, ducking when Cottia took the pillow from Luke and threw it back at him, missing and hitting Stephan instead.

“Hey now, no beating up the old man,” Stephan said with a laugh the others shared.

“Your aim sucks,” Marcus said, and Cottia stuck her tongue out at him.

“Seriously, have you given it any thought at all?” Cottia, asked. “It’s just over a month away. And you,” she said turning toward Luke. “You had better pick your best suit, I don’t want to have the scruffiest date there.”

“I’m taking you to prom?” Luke asked, his eyes wide.

“Unless there’s someone else you’d rather go with?” Cottia asked, her tone making the answer clear.

“No, no,” Luke said quickly, his cheeks flushing again. “No, there’s no one else.”

“Good,” Cottia said, smiling brightly at him. “That’s settled.” She turned to Marcus, who tried to shrink down in his chair.

“Now, do you and Esca have plans for dinner? The four of us should go out together.”

“I was hoping we could just skip it, actually,” Marcus said, envisioning confrontations from people like Charlie, or glares and disdainful looks from those who agreed but were not so vocal about it.

“And miss your prom?” Cottia was scandalized by the very idea. “I’m sure Esca would disagree with you.”

“He’s not a girl, Cottia,” Marcus said. “He probably doesn’t care either.”

“Well, I’ll have to insist then. I’ll expect the both of you to join Luke and I for dinner,” she said, crossing her arms and turning to the TV, as if the discussion was over. Marcus shot a look at his uncle but he just shrugged.

“Don’t you want to go with Ang and her date?” Luke asked. Cottia scrunched up her nose.

“No, she’s going with Charlie,” she said, shaking her head sadly. “She’s decided she agrees with his opinions about Marcus and Esca, so naturally I had to stop hanging around with her.” Luke took her hand and gave it a squeeze.

“That’s too bad, Cottia,” Uncle said. “I hope she comes around.”

“Not while she’s dating my brother, she won’t,” Cottia said. “She’s had a crush on him for years.”

“I didn’t think you realized,” Marcus said.

“Of course I did,” Cottia replied. “How could I miss the way she mooned over him every time she came over?”

“Look,” Stephan interrupted, pointing at the screen where Esca’s group of skaters had just begun their warm ups.

“Finally,” Marcus said, sitting forward in his chair, his eyes tracking Esca form one camera angle to the next.

“Ooh, he looks good,” Cottia said, and Marcus couldn’t help but agree. He looked extra sharp in a pair of black slacks and a trim fitting suit jacket, a patterned vest underneath completing the ensemble.

“Has he worn that before, Marcus?” Uncle asked, and Marcus shook his head.

“No, he’s been working on a new routine,” he said. “The outfit goes with it, apparently.”

“Well it suits him,” Cottia said. “I can’t wait to see him skate.”

The other skaters took the ice one by one, ratcheting up the tension, setting Marcus on the edge of his seat, until finally, during the last commercial break before the top three, he got up and headed to the kitchen. He poured a glass of water in an attempt to distract himself, feeling a little more settled when he sat down again.

“Wow, Marcus, someone would think you were skating tonight,” Luke said with a wink.

“No, I’m never this nervous before a game,” Marcus said, but further conversation was stopped when the commercial ended and there was Esca, gliding across the ice with ease, preparing himself for the start of his program. The announcers were discussing his performances in previous competitions, commenting on how astounding his successes were in light of his almost quitting the sport the previous year, after tragically losing his family.

Luke and Cottia turned to stare at Marcus, jaws dropped in shock, neither of them having had any idea about Esca’s past, but then, Marcus knew that he wanted it that way.

“Later,” he replied to their stares, gesturing to the screen where the first notes were playing and Esca began to move, his motions fluid, as if he was poured out over the ice instead of skating on it. He wound around the ice once before throwing himself into a jump, spinning out of it into more footwork, then building up for another series of jumps, all landed precisely, effortlessly.

The music built, tinkling over a series of notes as intricate as the footwork that matched them. Esca’s face was as expressive as ever, his whole body thrown into the role, the dance. He spun out of the footwork and into a spin, his hands starting low and moving up as his rotations increased, spinning so fast that his face was obscured.

“He seems to have an intensity here that goes beyond what he’s shown us in past competitions, and that’s saying something,” the announcer was commenting as Esca continued to flow over the ice.

“Indeed,” the other added. “And after so much turmoil in his personal life, for a while after the tragic deaths of his family, it was uncertain if he’d ever skate again competitively.”

“I’m sure I am not the only one who is thrilled that he decided to continue, a talent of his stature should not go unused,” the first said. “In an interview before the long program, Esca described his move to Canada and the decision to stay there permanently as a new starting point in his life.”

“New country, new coach, new outlook,” the second said.

“New boyfriend as well, from what I hear,” the first interjected, and they shared a laugh, as did those gathered to watch, which elicited a blush from Marcus, though he didn’t acknowledge them otherwise.

“Yes, that would help too,” the second said. “He certainly seems inspired. Just look at that spin,” he continued, as Esca performed another spin, a sit spin this time, his skate moving as if it was welded to the ice, allowing it to turn and still remain in the same place.

“He will certainly gain points for the lack of movement in the spin,” the first said. “And for the difficulty of the jumps, two quads in the first minute of the program, that has to increase his score as well.”

“And it did, if last night’s record breaking score was any indication,” they continued the discussion while Esca continued his program, leaping into the air with yet another quad, this one being lauded as a phenomenal show of athleticism, so close to the end of the program. When Esca had finished and the music had faded away, the crowd roared, a sound that Marcus was becoming accustomed to.

“He has to win,” Cottia exclaimed, bouncing on her seat.

“If he doesn’t it’ll be a scandal,” Uncle said. “Just listen to the crowd.”

“We’ll find out soon enough,” Stephan added.

“Wow, I knew he was good, but I had no idea how good,” Luke said, looking at Marcus in surprise.

“I know,” Marcus said. “You can’t tear your eyes away, can you?”

They all waited nervously, conversing quietly though Marcus couldn’t focus on the conversation when the camera was in close on Esca, discussing the performance with Andrew and waiting impatiently for his scores.

Finally the scores were up and there was Esca’s total, for the long program and for the overall.

“He did it!” Cottia cried, jumping up and down. The rest laughed, and Marcus just breathed a huge sigh of relief, pride and love filling him up as he watched Esca celebrate, wishing he could be there with them.

“Look,” he said, getting every one’s attention. “He didn’t just win, it’s a high score.”

“World record!” Uncle exclaimed, shaking his head in wonder. “Fabulous.”

“Marcus, aren’t you excited?” Cottia asked, having pulled Luke off the loveseat for a hug.

“I am, I just..can’t believe it,” he said, his body still, but his mind abuzz. He smiled up at her, and she must have seen something there that he wasn’t even aware of, because she just leaned down and kissed his forehead before flopping back on the love seat, chattering to Luke about how exciting it was and how Esca was their very own celebrity, until Marcus saw the picture switch from highlights of the skate back to Esca, who was standing beside one of the announcers, beaming.

“So Esca, this is a historic event, I can’t imagine what you’re feeling right now,” she said, tilting the microphone toward him.

“I can’t even tell you,” he replied, eyes wide. “I don’t even know, really.”

“I can imagine,” she laughed. “But here you are, eighteen years old, and it’s your first Worlds, and such a comeback after everything you’ve been through in the past year.”

“Yeah, it’s been rough, I was competing in the junior championships and hoping to be at Worlds last year, but I just...well, sometimes your life takes a turn that no one can predict,” he said, his tone taking a more somber pitch, though his face still showed his excitement. “It was along road back to where I’ve wanted to be, mentally mostly, but I feel like I’m finally in a place where I can accept it and move on, and not let it hold me back.”

“Well it certainly didn’t tonight,” the announcer said. “Not only did you take the Championship, but you’ve set three new world record scores, that has to be an amazing feeling.”

“Honestly, I can’t even believe it, I wanted the win and I skated after it, but the records,” he paused, shaking his head in disbelief. “I’ll have to get back to you on that one.”

“I was planning to ask you how you’re settling into Canada, what it’s like for you to live so far from where you grew up, but it seems that your performance has answered that question for me.”

“Oh, yeah, it was difficult at first, my family was still so fresh in my mind, but I’ve met some wonderful people, Andrew has been phenomenal, he’s really made me reach in many ways, with my artistry, with my technical routine. He’s really brought my weaknesses to the forefront and we’ve come a long way there.”

She nodded, grinning when Andrew’s hand came into view, giving Esca’s shoulder a shove, making him laugh. “Well, it’s certainly worked,” she said. “There wasn’t much in the way of weaknesses in your performances these past few nights. There has been talk that you’ve found someone special who has made a real change in your life, can you tell me about that?”

Cottia squealed like a schoolgirl, making Luke wince, but she didn’t notice, bouncing excitedly as Marcus stared at the screen, overwhelmed as Esca’s smile widened impossibly and he gave a little laugh.

“Yes, there has,” Esca replied, his face taking on a smitten kind of look, making Uncle give Marcus a little shove with his foot. “My boyfriend, he’s...he’s really made me feel like I’m at home again, you know? Like I can be safe and happy and I don’t have to spend my life living in the past, trying to live with the ghosts of my family, it’s been, illuminating, meeting him and getting to know him, quite an experience.”

“It shows in your skating, you had a presence about you tonight that, despite many wins this season, we haven't seen,” she commented, and Esca nodded along.

“It kind of all came together for me this weekend, like the merging of my past and future, and it really set me at ease, where I could just go out onto the ice and skate, it felt free again, like it was just me and the ice, and we were in it together, and he really helped me regain that, so it’s...yeah, it’s been great.”

“Well, I’ll let you get back to Andrew, he’s looking a bit antsy, and they’re going to award the medals soon, as well,” she said, and Esca nodded, a smile plastered on his face again. “Congratulations, and we’ll see you again next season, hopefully during the Olympic Games.”

“I look forward to it,” Esca said, giving the camera a wave and then turning away, all of it leaving Marcus speechless and elated in a way he’d never felt, even after his best game.

Two days, he reminded himself. Two days and Esca would be home.

**

Esca didn’t call Marcus until two hours later, when Marcus was lying in bed, wondering if he was going to get any sleep at all. When his phone rang, he snatched it up from his bedside table as if it was on fire.

“Esca,” he breathed, a smile splitting his face, somewhat sleepily.

“Marcus,” Esca replied. “I hope I didn’t wake you.”

“Nah, I’ve been lying awake thinking about you,” Marcus said. “I’m glad you called. Where are you?”

“Just got back to the hotel,” Esca said.

“What, just now?”

“Yeah,” Esca confirmed. “Lots of interviews, and a shiny gold medal for my Nan to hang in her shrine.”

Marcus laughed at the sardonic tone of Esca’s voice, just happy to hear it.

“I’m so thrilled for you,” Marcus said. “You were absolutely amazing tonight.”

“Thanks, I...well, your gift really meant a lot to me,” Esca said, and Marcus swallowed, remembering Esca’s comments from before.

“Did you mean it, what you said?” he asked, before his brain caught up with his mouth.

“Of course I did,” Esca said, a faint whump making Marcus think that he’d fallen backwards onto the bed. “You’ve changed everything, Marcus.”

Marcus’ throat felt thick suddenly, he tried to swallow it down, with little success. “When are you coming home?” he asked suddenly, his mouth still speaking before he’d thought about what he was going to say.

“Sunday morning,” Esca replied. “We have an eight am flight, so we’ll be in at about eleven.”

“I’ll pick you up, or I can meet you somewhere in town, if that works better,” Marcus said, a plan forming in his mind.

“I...sure,” Esca said. “I’d love that.”

“Great. And, if you’re interested, there’s a Canucks game Sunday night, and we wanted to see one, so...” Marcus said.

“That’d be great,” Esca said, and Marcus was pleased to hear excitement in his voice.

“We can come home late, if that’s okay.”

“Aren’t you going to be tired for practice?” Esca asked

“Yes, but it’ll be worth it,” Marcus replied. “I’ll just sleep through school instead,” he said and Esca laughed.

“Yeah, I’d love to,” Esca said. “I’ll call Nan in the morning and let her know I’ll be late.”

“Okay,” Marcus said, finally feeling like he could sleep.

“I’d better go, tomorrow will be busy with the press conference and things,” Esca said, sounding regretful. “I’ll call you tomorrow as well, yeah?”

“Okay,” Marcus repeated. “Love you.”

“You too,” Esca said. “Sleep.”

“‘Kay. Bye.”

“Good night, Marcus.”

**

At a few minutes to noon on the following Sunday, Marcus was pacing nervously outside the restaurant, where he’d told Esca he would be. He didn’t know why he was so nervous, but the anticipation was making him crazy. They would be there any minute, but still, he paced. Until a black sedan pulled into the parking lot, stopping in the parking spot next to Marcus’ truck.

“Hi!” Esca called as he practically leapt out of the vehicle, once it had stopped moving. He threw himself at Marcus when he was close enough, arms around Marcus’ neck. Marcus returned the embrace, burying his face into Esca’s neck and breathing him in, thrilled that he was finally home. The previous seven days had felt much longer than a week.

Finally they pulled back, Esca’s had cupping Marcus’ jaw as Marcus gripped him by the shoulders, just smiling at each other until Andrew interrupted them.

“Aren’t you two a pair of smitten fools,” he commented with a smirk and a quirked eyebrow.

Marcus laughed as Esca grumbled, “thanks Andrew.”

“I call ‘em like I see ‘em,” Andrew said, patting Esca on the shoulder. “Your suitcase is in the truck, I’ll drop the rest off with your Nan, alright?”

“That’s great Andrew, thanks a lot,” Esca said, shaking his hand.

“You bet,” Andrew replied. “Enjoy your week off, I’ll see you next Monday. Have fun, boys.”

“Bye,” Esca said, as Marcus called, “Thanks Andrew.”

A moment later they were alone, turning to each other again and sharing a long, deep kiss, expressing all their relief to be together again.

“Congratulations, Mr. World Figure Skating Champion,” Marcus said with a grin as he held Esca close.

“Thanks,” Esca said. “It was pretty amazing.”

“Right then, you hungry?”

“Definitely,” Esca said, pulling back. “I haven’t eaten since breakfast.”

“Great, lets get your bag in the truck, I don’t trust it in the open in the big city,” Marcus said, pulling Esca’s suitcase out and locking it in the cab.

“So, the Spaghetti Factory?” Esca asked, scrunching his nose. “Pasta, then?”

“They have plenty of other stuff,” Marcus said, taking his hand and walking toward the doors. “It’s one of Uncle’s favorites, and I thought we could walk around Gastown for a bit. The game doesn’t start until seven.”

“Sure, sounds great,” Esca agreed. Soon they were settled and browsing the menu, Esca having received a raised brow from Marcus for ordering a coke. Esca was generally strict about his diet, Marcus doubted he’d had a pop since the day he ran into Charlie in the cafeteria the first day of school.

But when the waitress took their orders and Esca ordered calamari to start and a bacon cheeseburger, Marcus couldn’t help but comment, though he waited until he had placed his own order for some pesto chicken linguine.

“A coke and now a cheeseburger? Who are you and what did you do to Esca?” Marcus said dramatically, and Esca laughed.

“Hey, I just won the world championships, and I’m done competing until the fall,” Esca said, taking a sip of his coke. “I can have a burger today, back to normal tomorrow.”

“If you say so,” Marcus said, reaching across the table and playing with his fingers, running the tips of his up and down then, drawing patterns on Esca’s palm, eliciting a very enticing shiver.

“So a week off, eh?” Marcus said. “You deserve it.”

“I thought so,” Esca said, grinning. “I’m going to skate Saturday, but Andrew will take the weekend off. He deserves it too.”

“He works as hard as you do,” Marcus commented.

“And I’m not the only person he coaches. But at least he’ll get to sleep in a bit,” Esca said.

“So will you,” Marcus pointed out.

“I will,” Esca said, his smile returning in force. “I like getting up early, but it is nice to sleep in and take things easy a bit now and then.”

“I know what you mean,” Marcus said. “Not too much though, or you’ll throw your routine off.”

Esca grinned as the calamari was placed in front of him, thanking the waitress. She had brought them two plates, so he handed one to Marcus, waving it in the air when Marcus seemed to be hesitating.

“Sure, why not,” Marcus said. “I love calamari.”

“Mmm, me too,” Esca said, squeezing lemon juice over the whole dish before picking up a piece and popping it in his mouth with relish. “I haven’t had it in a long time, since before I left England.”

“Do you ever regret it?” Marcus asked, dipping his piece in tzatziki before eating.

“Leaving England?” Esca asked, continuing when Marcus nodded. “No. I mean, I didn't exactly hate it there, it’s where I was born and raised, you know? But after...well, it was easier to relocate here.”

“Because your Nan was here?”

“Yes, that’s the main reason,” Esca confirmed. “Although I have a grandfather in England who everyone assumed I would go live with.”

“Why didn’t you?” Marcus asked. Esca hadn’t mentioned a grandfather, but then again, Esca didn’t seem to mention anything without a specific reason.

“Well, being there, it was too hard. Everything reminded me of them, even Grandad’s place. We’d spent summers there. He lived by the ocean. The picture you put on my display was taken there.”

“I can imagine that would be difficult,” Marcus said.

“It was but, that wasn’t it, really. I mean, people have to move on with their lives, right?” Esca ate another piece of calamari, his eyes staring out into the restaurant, likely not seeing anything at all.

“Then what?” Marcus asked. He didn’t want to push, but he did think that Esca was ready to talk about it.

Esca turned back with a sigh. “Well, Grandad is a bit set in his ways, you know how older people get?” Marcus nodded, so Esca continued. “Well, he’d always hated my skating, called me down on it a lot, you know, it’s a girl’s sport and if I was a real boy I’d want to play football or something. The usually taunts.”

Esca took a sip of his drink, swallowing slowly. “Anyway, you can imagine what he thought when he found out that I’m gay.”

Marcus’ eyes widened. He knew he was lucky to have Uncle, but he’d never really thought about having a family member who was so homophobic. Marcus could tell from his opinion of figure skating what his opinion about homosexuality would be.

“I can. Esca, that sucks,” he said apologetically.

“Yeah, he made life difficult. My mom would stand up for me, but mostly he just ignored me from then on,” Esca said with a sad look. “He’d never really liked me, and then I was insisting on skating and then I came out, and that was the end of it for him. I doubt he’d have let me live there, even if I’d wanted to.”

“I’m so happy your Nan isn’t like that,” Marcus said.

“Yeah, she’s always hated Grandad. She loved my mom, but commented occasionally about how surprising it is my mom was wonderful when raised by a man like that,” Esca said, with a small smirk. “I don’t think we were meant to hear that, but we were sneaky.”

Marcus laughed. “I bet you were.”

“So anyway, deciding to move here was the only real choice, not that I minded. I needed a change to shake me up.” Esca stopped when the waitress arrived with their meals, taking their used dishes.

Esca lifted his burger right away and took a huge bite, his eyes fluttering shut in bliss and a low moan coming from his throat. Marcus’ mouth dried up, hanging open as it was. A week was a long time for a teenager who has become used to sex to go without. And he wouldn’t have a chance until the next day, to his chagrin.

“Mmm, so good,” Esca said when he’d swallowed his bite and then took a sip of his pop.

“Yeah,” Marcus croaked, taking a sip of his own drink to moisten his throat. “It looks good,” he said, while his brain substituted ‘you’ for ‘it’.

“So, what did you get up to while I was away?” Esca asked between bites.

“Not much,” Marcus said. “Met a scout for the Flyers, but I really am hoping for the Canucks. I want to stay in Canada, but BC would be preferable.”

Esca nodded, still looking like he was making love to his cheeseburger. Marcus closed his eyes. “Oh, and apparently we’re going to the prom with Luke and Cottia,” Marcus added.

“What?” Esca’s attention was suddenly fixed on Marcus. “Since when?”

“Since Friday night. They came over to watch you kick ass and Cottia insisted that not only was Luke her date, but that the four of us were going to dinner before prom.”

“And you agreed?” Esca asked. “Do you really want to go to prom?”

“Not especially,” Marcus replied. “Although so many people think it’s one of those rights of passage things.”

“I can think of a few dozen things I’d rather be doing,” Esca said wryly. “Do you think she’ll notice if we just go to yours to shag after dinner?”

Marcus laughed, although the thought of shagging had been on his mind a lot in the past hour. “Oh, knowing Cottia, she’ll rent us a limo and probably carry the three of us in there.”

“She would, wouldn’t she?” Esca asked, sighing.

Chapter Text

Beautiful Thing
So we talked about things and where they went, big remarkable events.
And how each day's a new day and they get spent.
How you'd continue, artfully, like the breeze, trying to do one true beautiful thing.

Your beautiful thing, it'd be a beautiful thing,
to see that beautiful thing, continuing.
Your beautiful thing, continuing.

 

When they arrived at Rogers Arena, Marcus began to get very excited. If all went well, he’d be playing here in the future. The thought inspired him, and he smiled at Esca, practically bouncing with excitement.

“Aren’t you eager,” Esca commented, laughing along.

“Just think, if I get drafted I’ll get to play here one day,” Marcus said, stopping to look up at the building. Esca stood beside him and took his hand, giving it a squeeze. “Preferably as a Canuck, but no matter which team I go to, I’ll play here at some point.”

“Listen to you, once again talking as if it’s a certainty you’ll get drafted,” Esca said.

Marcus turned to face Esca, letting go of his hand to cup his face. “I’ve got a good feeling,” he said before leaning in and giving Esca a soft kiss, which was eagerly returned. “Now come on,” he said, taking Esca’s hand again and tugging him toward the doors.

**

“That was amazing,” Esca said as they clambered into the truck just over three hours later. “I can’t wait to see you playing in a game like that.”

“Oh, you will,” Marcus said, and he believed it utterly. He put the keys in the ignition and then fastened his seatbelt, but didn’t start the truck yet, instead watching as dozens of cars flowed past on their way out of the parking lot.

“Are we going to wait until it clears up?” Esca asked, rifling through Marcus’ iPod, choosing the Hip and making Marcus’ stomach flip.

“Yeah, a little patience goes a long way,” he said.

“Well, I won’t need this, then,” Esca said, releasing his seatbelt and leaning over, doing the same to Marcus’. “And neither will you.” He pulled Marcus in closer and slid his lips over Marcus’ stubbled jaw, leaning in further to suck gently on an earlobe. Marcus leaned in as well, making it easier for him.

“We might as well use the time wisely, don’t you think?” Esca said. Marcus expressed his agreement by turning his head and taking Esca’s lips in a fierce kiss. Esca wasted no time kissing him back, putting his tongue to immediate use, sweeping through Marcus’ mouth and pushing at his tongue. Marcus pushed back and suddenly it was wet, fast and so very hot that Marcus thought he might combust.

Far too soon, Esca pulled back, leaving Marcus a panting mess. His lips were tingly from the force of Esca’s kisses, but it only served to make him want more.

“It’s time to go, I think,” Esca said, sliding back over into his seat and refastening his seatbelt. “Everyone else has been gone for a while.”

Marcus tore his eyes away from Esca’s moist, shiny lips and looked outside, shocked to see that they were, in fact, quite alone in the parking lot.

“Let’s go then,” he said, grinning sheepishly. He started the engine, doing up his seatbelt and slipping the truck into gear.

They stopped at a Tim Hortons on the way out of town, buying water and lattes for the ride home. It was a ninety minute drive, not too long, but long enough. And then he’d have to drop Esca off and not see him until school, something which made Marcus feel unreasonably disappointed.

They chatted for a few minutes and then fell into a comfortable silence, each lost in his own thoughts. Soon though, Esca began to move, shifting about in his seat and distracting Marcus’ thoughts, which were mostly of Esca anyway.

“What are you doing?” he asked, as Esca sat forward and slid his belt out of the loops, pulling it free and dropping it at his feet.

“Getting comfortable,” he said, leaning back again and rubbing softly, ever so slowly at the crotch of his pants in a very obvious motion.

“Hey,” Marcus said, annoyed. “No fair doing that without me,” he complained, but Esca didn’t stop, flicking open the button on his pants and reaching a hand inside, squeezing and rubbing more firmly now.

“Well, I have all this free time,” Esca said, matter of factly, as if his hand wasn’t down his pants at that very moment, stroking a growing erection. Marcus kept his eyes on the road, but he could see plenty in his peripheral vision, and Esca made no signs of slowing down or stopping.

“That is so not fair,” Marcus said, unable to keep the petulance from his voice

“Well, I’ve just got back from being away for a week, I’ve kicked so much arse that I’m at the top of my sport, I had a wonderful day with my gorgeous, sexy boyfriend, and yet it seems that no sex is forthcoming. So, I need to give attention to my little problem here.”

“I have the same problem but you don’t see me with my hands down my pants,” Marcus said, glancing at Esca while still trying to keep his eyes on the road.

“Then perhaps you should do something to correct that,” Esca replied, turning his head where it lay against the headrest, his hand still moving inside his pants.

“I can’t, I--” Marcus trailed off, frustrated. “Wait. Rest stop,” he said, slowing the truck and pulling over, driving to the far end of the small parking lot where it was mostly dark, the pale light of the lone street lamp barely making a dent in the shadows of the overhanging trees.

He turned off the truck and undid his seatbelt before unlocking the doors and getting out of the truck. He slammed his door and strode around the front, pulling Esca’s door open and, without hesitation, leaning down to tug at the handle which moved Esca’s seat, putting some weight on it so that it slid back with a thump. Then he pulled the other handle, this one dropping Esca’s seat into a somewhat reclined position. When he was done, he climbed into the cab, straddling Esca’s thankfully slim form and pulled the door closed behind him.

“Fuck, you are so hot when you’re all randy and intent like that,” Esca said, pulling his hand out of his pants at last to grab Marcus by the hair, pulling him down into a passionate kiss. Marcus braced himself on his elbows, his knees bent and his feet under the dash, although it was a close fit. He was uncomfortable, but not exceedingly so, and moving far was not an option.

“You’re hot when you’re being a bloody tease,” Marcus said, pulling back and panting as he fumbled with the zip on Esca’s pants, trying to reach his straining erection. “Aggravating, but hot.”

“Hold on,” Esca said, pulling aside the front of his pants and tugging his briefs down so that his erection was free. Marcus sucked in a breath at the sight, grasping it and squeezing lightly before beginning to stroke leisurely, no longer in a rush now that he was straddled on Esca’s lap.

But Esca wasn’t done yet, grabbing at the front of Marcus’ jeans, popping the button and unzipping it with speed. He dug Marcus’ cock out and imitated Marcus’ stroke on his own.

“I want you to suck me,” Esca said, his voice gravelly with lust. “I’ve been thinking about it all week, talking to you on the phone everyday and picturing the way your mouth moves when you talk. Which made me think about your lips, and how good they look stretched around my cock.”

Marcus’ hand stilled as the image of him on his knees came flooding back, Esca’s hand gripping his hair the way it was now, guiding him gently but forcefully, moving his mouth to where ever Esca wanted it and then pulling Marcus off his cock and climaxing all over his cheeks and his reddened lips.

“Fuck me,” Marcus breathed, and Esca just laughed, tightening his grip on Marcus’ cock and stroking a little faster.

“Later,” Esca said, holding in a moan as Marcus’ hand moved to match Esca’s pace, swirling his thumb around the tip with every stroke.” Instead of taking me home tonight, you are going to take me to yours, where I am going to fuck you, hard enough that you’ll feel it while you’re practicing and all day at school--” Esca was cut off by Marcus gasping and crying out, coming in spurts, all over Esca’s wrinkled dress shirt.

“I love it when you come,” Esca said, his voice even lower now, making Marcus’ shiver, his breathing slowing as his climax dissipated.

“The feeling is mutual,” Marcus replied, letting go of Esca’s cock and sliding it over his own, then taking Esca’s again and stroking it faster now. His grip tightened a little more until Esca came with a grunt, spending himself all over his shirt, adding to the mess Marcus had already left.

Marcus slowed down until he was gently fondling Esca’s softening cock, leaning in to kiss him sweetly before pulling back and resting their foreheads together.

“I missed you,” he whispered, overwhelmed by the feelings flowing through him.

“Me too,” Esca said, letting go of Marcus’ hair and sliding his hand down to cup Marcus’ jaw. “I was thrilled when you said you were coming to get me. But seeing you just made me want you more. I couldn’t wait for home.”

“I’m glad you didn’t,” Marcus said. “But we should get going now.”

“Let me change this shirt and clean up,” Esca said, using his clean hand to push Marcus upright as far as he could go and then unbuttoning his cuffs and a few buttons, pulling it off over his head, only smacking Marcus in the face once during the attempt.

“I have some wet wipes in the glovie,” Marcus said. “Hold on.” And thus started the process of getting out of the seat, which was decidedly more difficult than getting in, made more so by the spunk covering his hand and the now limp cock hanging out of his jeans. Finally he managed it, taking Esca’s soiled shirt and wiping himself off with it and then tugging open the glove compartment and pulling out a pack of wipes, handing one to Esca before taking one for himself.

“These are baby wipes,” Esca said with a smirk. “Anything you need to tell me?” Marcus snorted, making Esca laugh.

“Yes, they smell better than the other ones,” he said, tossing Esca’s shirt back at him.

**

As they drove into town, Esca, who had been silent for a while, making Marcus suspect that he was sleeping, spoke up, jolting Marcus out of his thoughts.

“Hey Marcus?” he asked, turning to face Marcus across the cab.

“Hmm?”

“Why don’t you just take me home?” Esca said, Marcus’ brow furrowed in confusion.

“I am,” he stated, but Esca shook his head.

“No, take me to your home,” he clarified.

“What?” Marcus said, surprised. “I mean, really?”

“Yeah, I just don’t want to go home yet, you know?” Esca said, smiling at Marcus, making warmth flood his belly and his chest tighten. “I have all my clothes and you can drop me off when you go to practice, so I’ll have time to get ready for school. Nan won’t even know I wasn’t there until I get home.”

“You...sure,” Marcus said, smiling back.

“Will your uncle mind?” Esca asked, reminding Marcus whose house he lived in.

“No, I don’t think he will,” Marcus said truthfully. “He’ll probably be pleased to see you tomorrow, if he gets up in time.”

“Good,” Esca said, turning forward again, leaning his head against the window and closing his eyes. Marcus sighed, thrilled that he wouldn’t have to take Esca home and drop him off, so soon after finally getting him back.

**

When they finally got home, Marcus was exhausted. He really wanted to take advantage of having Esca in his bed for the night, but his body seemed to have other plans, unable to work up the enthusiasm needed. Esca didn’t seem to mind, however. Once they got their things in and upstairs to Marcus’ room they retreated to the bathroom for a piss and a quick brush of their teeth. Marcus soaked a washcloth under hot water and wiped off this face, giving Esca a cloth so he could do the same.

They were silent as they changed into pyjama pants, and when Marcus turned around, the sight of Esca’s pale, muscular back is enough to make him want to stay up a little longer. Just when he contemplated pulling Esca into the bed and divesting him of his pyjama pants, he yawned and exhaustion settled on him once more.

He climbed into the bed, making sure to set his alarm properly while Esca tapped around on his phone for a moment before setting it on the bedside table and climbing in to join Marcus under the duvet.

And then it was just bliss, wrapping his arms around Esca, soft, warm skin and messy hair, the smell of Esca surrounding him and Marcus wished more than anything that he could have this forever, for the rest of his life. Just him and Esca, against the world.

“Too sleepy to fuck,” Esca muttered into Marcus’ neck.

“Me too,” Marcus said.

“Have tomorrow afternoon off,” Esca said. Marcus smiled, remembering that Esca would be free all week, and that he didn’t have a game until Wednesday.

“Brilliant,” Marcus said, before he drifted off to sleep.

**

Marcus was lying on the softest surface he’d ever felt, clouds, it must be, and something was sliding over his body, wet and warm, delving into places that made him shiver, places that made his blood run hot.

‘I must be dreaming,’ he thought to himself, trying to open his eyes but failing, reaching out with touch instead. He felt weightless, suspended in air and fluff, unable to gain any purchase, or to feel what stirred him, until suddenly his hand brushed across something, still soft, but different. And then he landed in reality to find that he was lying on his bed, his fingers entangled in Esca’s hair as a hot mouth was wrapped around his cock, expertly manipulating him into full hardness.

The reality was so much better than the dream.

Marcus slid his hand around Esca’s head, loving the feeling of the silky strands of Esca’s hair slide through his fingers, loving the wet slide of his mouth even more.

“Esca,” he whispered, using his free hand to lift the duvet, the sight of his hand buried in Esca’s hair as his head bobbed over Marcus’ cock making him gasp.

“Mmm,” Esca hummed around him, pushing his arousal even further, well onto the path upwards, heading rapidly toward the peak.

It didn’t take much longer. Once Marcus was fully awake, it was over swiftly, before he’d had time for his brain to truly catch up, he was shuddering and coming down Esca’s throat, chest heaving for breath.

“Mmm,” Esca hummed again, this time licking Marcus’ cock as if he wasn’t ready to stop, but Marcus tugged on his hair, wanting more than anything to kiss him properly.

“Come here,” he said, pulling Esca up and rolling them over, holding the smaller boy down with a leg across Esca’s thigh, half of Marcus’ body weight covering him. He kissed Esca, morning breath and all, though his lips didn’t stay on Esca’s long. Soon they were travelling down his jaw and neck, tasting and savouring as he went. Marcus loved how Esca tasted, clean and masculine and salty, it was intoxicating.

He moved on, kissing down Esca’s chest as Esca’s hands slid into his hair, clenching painfully when he sucked harshly on one of Esca’s nipples. Esca liked tugging on his hair, and Marcus found himself liking it as well. So much so that he had skipped his routine haircut, letting it grow out a little longer, giving Esca something more substantial to tug.

Esca’s grip tightened as Marcus went lower, tonguing Esca’s navel, biting and sucking his sharp hipbones before burying his face in the hair at the base of Esca’s cock, breathing him in, needing it as bad as oxygen. Esca’s scent was stronger there, more masculine, less soapy, and Marcus thought that he could stay there all day. He stayed so long that Esca tugged his hair again, guiding Marcus’ head up, his mouth to Esca’s cock. Marcus went happily, wasting no more time, tonguing his way up Esca’s cock to the tip, sucking it in and swirling his tongue around the head as Esca groaned out Marcus’ name, his thigh muscles tight with tension as Marcus drew him ever closer to orgasm.

It didn’t take a very long time before Esca tugged even harder on Marcus’ hair, whispering his name urgently and Marcus knew he was about to come, but this time, he didn’t want to pull off. He wanted Esca to feel how he felt when Esca held Marcus in his mouth, swallowing his come and licking him clean like there was nothing that he wanted more.

Esca tugged harder, pain blossoming across Marcus’ scalp, but he held firm, letting his tongue work on the underside of Esca’s cock, trying to take in more, as much as he could, until the head was pressing against the back of his throat. Suddenly, Marcus had a bigger mouthful than he’d anticipated as Esca’s cock swelled up before he came, come filling Marcus’ mouth, heavy on his tongue. He tried to swallow, but couldn’t, gagging a bit on Esca’s cock and coughing as some of the thick fluid slid down his throat, most of it slipping out of his mouth as he pulled off for air, gasping. Esca’s hold on his hair kept him close though, and more come dribbled out and onto Marcus’ lips. Once he had regained his breath, he sucked at the head, cleaning Esca’s cock of the come that had coated it when he’d coughed.

The taste wasn’t so bad once it wasn’t choking him, so Marcus made sure to get it all, licking up and down Esca’s softening cock until Esca said, “enough,” tugging his hair again, pulling Marcus up to meet his mouth.

“Sorry about the...” Marcus trailed off, cheeks heating.

“S’alright,” Esca said, slurring just a little. “It takes practice. Besides, it’s still hot, seeing you with my come all over your face.” Marcus grinned, kissing him again until his brain registered what he’d seen from the corner of his eye.

“Is that the time already?” he asked, collapsing on Esca with a groan.

“Yeah, I didn’t want to wake you up too early,” Esca said. “Just early enough for a blowjob.”

“It was totally worth it,” Marcus said, leaning up for another kiss. “But now I have to shower. Join me?”

Esca laughed and shook his head. “Oh no, that would be far too distracting. I’ll take one when I get home.”

“Spoilsport,” Marcus said, but he pushed himself up out of the bed anyway. He leaned over and sucked Esca’s bottom lip into his mouth, swiping his tongue across it once before pulling back and padding into the bathroom, pulling off his pyjama pants along the way, giving Esca a full view of his naked ass.

“Tease!” Esca called from across the room, but Marcus didn’t look back. He knew the sight of Esca, mussed from sleep and flushed from recent orgasm would just have him heading back to the bed.

**

When Marcus got out of the bathroom, Esca had organized all his things, laying his clothes on the bed, right beside some of Marcus’ that he had clearly picked out.

“What’s this?” Marcus asked with a smirk. “Are you dressing me now?”

“No, you do a pretty good job of it, I have to admit,” Esca said, joining Marcus at the bed and wrapping his arms around Marcus’ waist, just above his towel. “But you look amazing in that shirt, and I’ve missed you.”

“Oh, you like me in that shirt?” Marcus said, turning around and draping his arms over Esca’s shoulders.

“Mmhmm,” Esca said, sliding in closer so that he had to tilt his head back to look into Marcus’ eyes. “It’s snug on the shoulders and it makes your biceps look even bigger than they are,” he said, running his hands up Marcus chest, squeezing his shoulders and trailing his fingers over Marcus’ arms. “I hope you don’t mind me snooping through your stuff.”

“Nah,” Marcus replied, as Esca’s roaming hands raised goosebumps on his arms and chest. “If it were anyone else I might, but not you.”

“If it were anyone else, I wouldn’t do it,” Esca replied, tugging Marcus down for a kiss, slow and sensual and making Marcus wish that he had more time to spare.

“We’ve gotta get going,” Marcus said, pulling back reluctantly. “Still need to eat something.”

“Right, just give me a minute,” Esca said, heading toward the bathroom with his toothbrush. Marcus stared at the door for a moment before pulling himself together and gathering his school bag and all his hockey gear. Esca was done by the time he was, and was pulling on his shirt and jeans when Marcus turned around again.

“All set,” he said a moment later, tucking his toothbrush into this suitcase and zipping it up. “Now feed me.”

“You’re on,” Marcus said, grabbing his bags and heading out the door.

**

“Have a good practice,” Esca said as Marcus pulled into a parking space outside Esca’s apartment building.

“I’ll try,” Marcus replied, leaning over to give Esca a kiss, then shooing him out. “Get going, I don’t want to be late.”

“See you in a few hours,” Esca said, closing the door with a wink.

“Cheeky bastard,” Marcus said with a laugh, pulling out of the parking lot and heading to the arena.

**

Marcus arrived at school to find a crowd of people gathered around his locker, mostly girls. He was perplexed, never having had this problem before. Sure, various girls had tried to corner and entice him in the past, but that was all a moot point. It was all made clear when he nudged a few of them aside and saw Esca in the middle, leaning on Marcus’ locker with a very fetching blush spreading across his cheeks as everyone congratulated him, several going so far as to ask him out.

“Sorry,” Marcus was in time to hear as Esca smiled apologetically at a girl who had just asked him if they could see a movie together. “I’m seeing someone.”

“Damn right you are,” Marcus said, having fought his way through at last. “And you have a jealous boyfriend.” He braced himself on the locker behind Esca with a forearm and leaned in for a kiss, garnering some, ‘awws,’ and even a few, ‘ughs,’ from the surrounding students.

“Sorry ladies, this one is mine,” Marcus said, grinning at Esca happily, thrilled to be able to kiss him when the urge struck. “You’ll have to find another.”

The crowd thinned out, all the girls and even a few boys, Marcus saw, murmuring and one even saying, “not fair, Marcus,” but he just grinned wider.

“What is everyone doing?” came a voice that Marcus recognized. “Let me through! Seriously you people, I doubt more than half a dozen of you even knew his name before this,” she scolded, and several people actually looked abashed.

Cottia emerged from the retreating crowd and threw herself at Esca, practically tearing him from Marcus’ arms.

“Oh my god, you are so amazing!” she exclaimed. “I have never seen anything as wonderful in my life, it was fabulous.”

“Thanks, Cottia,” Esca said with a bright smile, hugging her back, clearly much more comfortable now that the others had gone.

“It was amazing!” Cottia continued, bouncing. “Did I just say that?”

Marcus laughed, earning a poke in the belly from one purple tipped finger.

“Quiet, you,” Cottia said, turning back to Esca and continuing to gush.

Fortunately, Marcus was diverted from the spectacle as Luke approached, smacking Marcus on the shoulder and continuing to his own locker, which was a few feet down the hall. Marcus was reminded that they did have class in a few minutes, so he followed Luke’s lead.

“Cottia, leave the poor boy alone,” Luke said when he was done, reaching out a hand for Esca to shake. “Congrats man, it was truly awe-inspiring.”

“Thanks,” Esca replied, looking relived that Luke had interrupted Cottia’s excited monologue. “It was a lot of hard work, but totally worth it.”

“I can imagine,” Luke replied as the bell rang. “First bell, we’d better get to class. Come on, Cottia,” he said, taking her hand and pulling her away. She went with a little wave at Esca and Marcus, who had just closed his locker and leaned against it, facing Esca.

“See you at lunch,” he said, kissing Esca goodbye, while thinking that he must look utterly smitten to the few students who were hurrying past. It was the truth, so he wasn’t too bothered with it.

“You bet,” Esca said with a wink, turning and heading down the hall, while Marcus headed for the stairs.

**

The morning was an odd one. In both Marcus’ classes, several people asked him if it was true that his boyfriend, and some didn’t even know Esca’s name, was a figure skating champion, which Marcus cheerfully confirmed. Everyone seemed to have forgotten all the spectacle that had followed him since he’d come out, and were more interested in Esca than in Marcus. Far from being annoyed, Marcus was thrilled. Esca had made few friends at the school beside Marcus and Cottia, and now Luke, because he was standoffish in general and prickly in particular, but now everyone seemed thrilled to know him, even if they only knew of him.

He wasn’t so thrilled during lunch break, however. People kept coming up to Esca to congratulate him, ask him for his autograph or wanting to sit beside him and chat as if they were old friends. As if they’d even known he’d existed before he’d won the Worlds. Marcus figured that only a few students had watched, but the news had spread quickly over the previous few days, and now everyone wanted a piece of their very own celebrity.

Finally, after they’d managed to eat and were trying to leave, Marcus’ patience ran out. “Enough,” he bellowed, shocking the entire cafeteria into silence and earning glares from some of Esca’s new admirers. He grabbed Esca’s hand and pulled him out of his seat, thankful that Esca came without complaint.

“You lot can tell him all about how wonderful he is later, but right now, I’d like to have some alone time with my boyfriend, before the bell rings,” he said, to the dismay of the crowd. “Cottia, will you get our things?” he asked, and she nodded, gathering up Esca’s lunch kit as Marcus tugged him toward the door.

They ended up in the far stairwell where they’d shared their second, painful kiss, but Marcus wanted to erase all memories of that. He pushed Esca against the wall just inside the door and set on him immediately, hands and lips all working to reassure himself that Esca was, in fact, his, and that he wasn’t going anywhere.

“You are so jealous,” Esca said, when Marcus’ lips left his mouth and travelled down his neck.

“I saw you first,” Marcus said, not denying it. After that, he made sure there was no more talking, until the bell rang and brought them back to reality.

**

By the end of the week, things had more or less gone back to normal, for which Marcus was tremendously grateful. The demands on Esca’s attention had gotten very frustrating for him, until they began to taper off. Wednesday had fewer admirers stalking Esca by the afternoon, and by Thursday there were only a few stragglers, although many of the girls still simpered and waved as Esca passed. No amount of public snogging on Marcus’ part seemed to convince them that Esca was not only gay, but unavailable, so Marcus just ignored them as best he could.

Friday had him nervous. They had a game that evening, and at the morning’s practice Coach Guern had informed the team that there would be a scout from the Canucks attending. He encouraged them to just relax and work hard, have some fun and try not to obsess too much. Marcus knew it wouldn’t be a problem for him once he got on the ice, the world always faded away once the game began, but until then, he was quite a bit more jittery than normal.

“Marcus!” Cottia called as Marcus was heading to the cafeteria for lunch. She caught up to him and wound her arm around his, the fact that they weren’t dating, Marcus was gay and was with Esca did not discourage her from using him as a leaning post or walking stick, whenever the mood struck her. Some things would never change, he thought.

“Aren’t you getting excited?” she asked, squeezing his arm and shaking it.

“More nervous, actually,” he replied, shaking her off before he bruised.

“Nervous? What’s to be nervous about?” she asked, confused. “We get dressed up, we eat dinner, we dance, it’ll be great.”

“Oh,” Marcus said, cluing in. “I thought you were talking about the game tonight?”

“I was talking about prom. Why would you be nervous about a game?” she asked, even more confused. “You’re never nervous about a game.”

“Canuck’s scout,” he said and she nodded.

“Ahh, that makes sense,” she said. “It’s getting closer to the draft, isn’t it?”

“Yup,” he replied.

“Well, you’ll be amazing as always, I wouldn’t be nervous if I were you,” Cottia said, stopping just outside the cafeteria and kissing him on the cheek.

“Thanks, Cottia,” he said, smiling at her until he was distracted by another voice.

“Are you making a move on my boyfriend, Cottia?” Esca said, approaching from the opposite direction.

“Oh no, I’ve decided he’s not my type,” Cottia said cheerfully. “I prefer my boys to prefer girls.”

“That’s good,” Esca said. “Because I prefer mine to prefer boys.” He grinned at Cottia, giving her a cheeky wink before lacing his fingers with Marcus’.

“Enough of this, let’s eat,” Marcus said, kissing Esca softly on the lips before leading them into the cafeteria.

They settled quickly, Marcus pulling out the lunch that Sassy had packed when he’d asked, deciding that Esca was right and it would be much better than cafeteria food. He had to admit it was nice to have food that was not only healthier, but tasted better, and having some variety was a bonus.

“So, prom then,” Cottia said once she had them as a captive audience. “Have you boys thought about what you’ll be wearing?”

“To be honest, I haven’t thought about it at all,” Esca said. “I’ve had other things on my mind,” he continued, giving Marcus a meaningful look. Marcus looked back, his cheeks heating and his cock twitching with interest. They’d been able to get time together every afternoon that week, since Esca wasn’t training again, and Marcus had been loving it. They’d probably had more sex that week than they’d had in their relationship up until that point. Marcus was not looking forward to Esca training in the afternoons again.

“Well, if you could focus on something besides getting into Marcus’ pants, just for a few minutes,” Cottia said, shaking her head at them in exasperation, “we can discuss it.”

“We can discuss what?” Luke asked, sliding into the seat beside Cottia, smiling at her. She returned his smile adoringly and Esca, noticing, nudged Marcus, gesturing in their direction with his fork.

“I know,” Marcus mouthed, grinning in approval.

“Something about the prom?” Marcus prompted, very amused with Cottia’s distraction, and pleased that her affections had redirected toward someone who clearly returned them.

“The prom, yes!” Cottia said, her focus shifting back. “Luke has already planned what he’s wearing--” she said, but Marcus cut her off.

“You’ve chosen what he’s wearing, you mean,” he said with a raised brow, getting laugh from Luke and Esca, and a scowl from Cottia.

“You should have seen her in my closet, mate,” Luke said with a grin, giving Cottia a shrug when her scowl turned in his direction. “What?” he said, but she just shook her head and turned back to Marcus and Esca.

“As I was saying, Luke’s clothes are already taken care of, and Mom and I are going into Vancouver tomorrow to get my dress, so it’s just the two of you who need to be sorted.”

“Actually,” Esca interjected. “Marcus and I both have appropriate suits and we bought new ties on Sunday.”

“You did?” Cottia asked, surprised.

“We did,” Marcus agreed. “So we are all set, no need to worry.”

“Ooh, can I see them?” Cottia asked.

“Sure,” Marcus said.

“On prom night,” Esca cut in, getting a pout from Cottia.

“Oh fine, I’ll be patient,” she said, going back to her lunch.

“You’ll have to be,” Esca said. “I’m sure you can manage it.”

“It’s only three weeks,” Luke added helpfully, but their conversation was interrupted when a large group of chattering students passed and someone banged into Marcus’ chair as he was taking a drink. His cup spilled, soaking his shirt, and, as if that wasn’t bad enough, someone muttered, “filthy fags,” under his breath.

Marcus looked, but Charlie wasn’t in the group, which was good, but it was still rather unexpected. He’d been left mostly alone, but apparently the sentiment was still there, if subdued since both Marcus and Esca had kicked Charlie’s ass.

“Bugger off you pricks,” Esca called as the group left, but Marcus didn’t say anything, he was busy squeezing his shirt out onto the floor.

“I love your English swears,” Luke said, amused, but Cottia was pissed.

“Bastards,” she said, turning concerned eyes on Marcus. “You alright?”

“It’s only water,” Marcus said, shaking his head. “And to be honest, I was expecting worse, so it’s not a big deal.”

“It is too a big deal,” Cottia said, temper rising. “It’s horrible that they think they can treat other people that way, just because they’re different.”

“That may be true, but it’s not going to change any time soon,” Esca said.”It’s not too bad here. Actually, most people are pretty level headed, it’s just a few who are arseholes.”

“Arseholes,” Luke repeated, chuckling. “I like that. But seriously, the problem is that too many people just follow along after the arseholes,” he said, getting an eye roll for Cottia at his use of the word.

“Even if they don’t necessarily agree,” Marcus continued. “I know. But still, I expected much worse.”

“I’m glad you didn’t let it stop you,” Esca said, running a hand up Marcus’ thigh and squeezing, his eyes heating up, and Marcus’ blood followed.

“I bet you are,” Luke said, leering at them both. “But feel free to continue that line of conversation elsewhere.”

“Let’s,” Marcus said, packing up his things as Esca did the same. “I’ve got a spare shirt in my locker anyway.”

“Right,” Esca said, “See you both later. We still on for tonight, Cottia?”

“I’ll meet you outside the arena at quarter to seven,” she agreed. “Have a good game, Marcus.”

“Thanks,” he replied, taking Esca’s hand. “Cheers Luke.”

“Later guys.”

**

Marcus dug through his locker for his spare shirt, pulling it out and shaking it off. Luckily, its stay hadn’t made it too dirty.

“Time to clean your locker?” Esca asked, an eyebrow lifted in disdain.

“Meh,” Marcus replied, shoving the books and detritus back into a stack that would allow him to close the door. “It’s not too bad, and school is almost over.” He reached down and grasped the hem of his t-shirt and pulled it up over his head.

“Uh huh,” Esca said, eyes wide, pupils dilating.

“You okay?” Marcus asked, concerned, as he flattened his mussed hair and then stuffed the wet shirt into his backpack.

“Oh, I’m more than okay,” Esca said, moving forward and sliding his hands over Marcus’ bare flesh, goosebumps rising in their wake.

“Esca,” Marcus hissed, pulling his spare shirt off the hook he’d hung it on. “Not the time or place,” he said.

“Anywhere you are half naked is the time and place,” Esca replied, kissing Marcus’ bare shoulder, the fingers of one hand toying with a nipple while the other slid down to cup Marcus’ ass. Marcus’ cock had long become interested in the proceedings, but Marcus took a step back, dislodging Esca’s hands and pulling the shirt over his head.

“You’re no fun,” Esca said, looking rather miffed.

“I’d rather wait until I have you alone,” Marcus replied, moving closer again and pulling Esca into his arms. “Where I can do all kinds of filthy things to you with no spectators.”

“Sounds good to me,” Esca said, wrapping his arms around Marcus’ back and pulling him closer still. “Let’s go.”

“I wish,” Marcus said, leaning down to nuzzle at Esca’s neck, feeling the pulse beating through his soft skin, “I suppose we’ll have to settle for a snog.” He sucked gently on Esca’s neck before moving up to catch his lips, swiping gently with his tongue until Esca opened up, not taking the kiss much further, despite the temptation beckoning.

They snogged lazily for a few minutes, pulling apart before they went too far to stop, then simply stood in each others arms, enjoying a brief moment of peace and semi solitude. Until a grumble came from down the hall, not too far away.

“Shut up, Charlie,” Robert said, giving Charlie a shove as they passed by. Marcus gave him a nod of gratitude, which Robert returned, still shepherding Charlie down the corridor.

That was when the bell rang, so Marcus and Esca pulled apart reluctantly. Marcus tugged open his locker again, rifling through for the appropriate texts. “You know,” he said, glancing at Esca from the corner of his eye. “It would be more convenient if we shared lockers,” he pointed out.

“You might be right,” Esca agreed.

“It would save us time,” Marcus said, closing the door and fastening the lock.

Esca’s eyes narrowed, but he didn’t look put out at all at the suggestion.

“You are not as sneaky as you think you are,” he said, shaking his head. Marcus put on his best innocent face, not that it would work. If it didn’t work for his soft hearted Uncle, no way would it work for Esca who was shrewd and far too observant.

“You just want more time for snogging,” Esca accused as the made their way down the stairs toward Esca’s locker, hand in hand, winding through the other students. The week seemed to have balanced them out, earning Marcus as many greetings as Esca.

“Now why would you think a thing like that?” Marcus asked.

“Watch it hockey boy,” Esca said, giving Marcus a shove into the locker bank by his locker, stopping to open his lock. “I’m on to you.”

“Hmm, I’d love to have you on me,” Marcus said under his breath, leaning in so that only Esca could hear. “Or in me.”

“Go to your class, you randy beast,” Esca said, shooting him a fond look. “I’ll see you after, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Marcus said. “If I must.” He reached out and pinched Esca’s ass and then dashed away, cackling to himself as Esca’s locker slammed shut behind him.

**

The arena was packed that night, standing room only for their last game of the regular season. Unfortunately for Marcus, the team had failed to clinch a playoff position, which meant less time to play for the scouts, but it also meant free time. Besides, given the amount of scouting done during the regular season and Marcus’ individual standings in the league, he wasn’t worried about the lack of a playoff season hurting his chances in the draft.

Being out was the thing that he was worried about hurting his chances in the draft. But it was a done deal now, and there was no turning back. He could always play for the Bruins another year, and if he didn’t get drafted again, he was eligible to be a free agent, and that was both a frightening and exhilarating thought.

The game was fast paced and mostly penalty free, both teams looking forward to getting it done, the Bruins because they knew they could relax afterwards, and Kootenay because they knew there were playoffs to commence the following week.

Marcus scored another two goals in the third period alone, assisting on the last goal of the year, but the team lost, having been down 5 in the first two periods. That fact didn’t keep the crowd from cheering uproariously when the puck went in the net, however, and that made Marcus happy to hear. The town supported the team, playoffs or not.

There was plenty of cheering after the game, and a very light hearted round of thanks between the teams, before they both headed to the dressing room for the final time.

“Right everyone!” Coach Guern yelled above the din. “Simmer down and listen.”

“I wanted to thank each and every one of you for a fabulous effort this season,” he said, and the team cheered. “I know, it’s kind of disheartening to not make the playoffs, but you are a young team, and you put in some serious effort. Also, I need to recognize one accomplishment, from one with skill beyond his years.”

The team cheered again, most of them, all knowing what Coach was referring to. Marcus blushed, putting his head down to unlace his skates, while Luke slapped him on the back.

“Aquila, get your head up, and stop pretending to be modest!” Guern called, making the team laugh, catcalls ringing out.

“I am modest,” Marcus said as he stood, kicking off his skate, not bothering to raise his voice, knowing that no one would believe him anyway. After all, he didn’t apologize for being the best player on the team, although he’d never rub it in and certainly didn’t have a large ego. Marcus was a realist.

The team, most of them anyway, hooted and cheered as Marcus padded to the center of the room where Guern was standing with one hand ominously behind his back.

“Alright, alright, simmer down, you lot,” he said, holding up his free hand in a bid for silence. “I thought I had better do this now, as despite your youth, I feel quite certain that I will not be seeing you on the ice this fall for training,” Guern said, and a few boos rang out, making Marcus grin and dip his head. He rather did like most of the team, and would be sad to leave them if he was drafted.

“It’s never an easy thing to lead the league in points, there’s a lot of competition, but to do it on a team with a record like ours--” More boos, but Guern waved them down. “Well, that’s even more impressive.”

A round of applause swept the room, making Marcus flush again, but soon Guern settled everyone down and continued.

“So, in honour of this achievement, myself and the rest of the coaching staff would like to present you with a small token of our esteem.” He handed Marcus the box that he had been holding behind his back, his face split with a wide smile. Marcus thanked him and the others and then removed the lid from the box to uncover a small figurine.

It was brightly coloured plastic, Marcus pulled it out of the box to find it was a sleepy eyed dog outfitted in a hockey uniform, complete with a stick with puck attached. A sign hung around the dog’s neck, it read, ‘He shoots, he scores!’

When Marcus held it up by the base, the head began to bob dramatically, eliciting a laugh from him which was echoed by the rest of the room.

“Congratulations, Marcus,” Guern said, slapping him on the back. “It’s been fabulous working with you, and I wish you the best of luck in the NHL.”

“Thanks, Coach, it really means a lot to me,” Marcus replied, his response almost lost in the din that ensued as most of the other players gathered around Marcus to punch him in the shoulder or slap his back, congratulating him and each other on another season in the can. Someone even smacked Marcus on the ass, causing him to jump with shock, even though the smack was muted through his hockey pants.

Marcus laughed, joining his teammates in the congratulations as Guern called out, “now clean up and get out of here, the lot of you! Enjoy your summer!” There was another round of cheers, and the players began to drift off to their lockers, changing and putting things away, going about their business if a little louder than before.

Marcus heaved a large sigh of relief as he began to strip. The year was finally over, all he had to look forward to now was the anxiousness of waiting for the draft.

**

As he’d hoped, Esca was waiting for him at his truck when he’d finally emerged, having dropped the tailgate, he was sitting on it, cross-legged, headphones plugged in as usual. He looked up as Marcus approached, smiling at him in a way that never ceased to get Marcus’ blood pounding.

“There you are!” he called, pulling his headphones out and shoving them into his pocket. “I was beginning to wonder.” He scooted forward until his legs were dangling from the tailgate, then spread them when Marcus stepped between, having tossed his bag in already.

“Here I am,” Marcus replied, pressing himself against Esca, wrapping him in a hug.

“You were amazing tonight,” Esca said, his hands rubbing over Marcus’ back before sliding down and squeezing his ass.

“Yeah?” Marcus asked, feeling like a kid at Christmas. The game had been a good one, despite the loss and now here he was, a smiling Esca in his arms. Life could not get better.

“Yeah. Any scout would be a fool not to recommend you for the draft.” Esca scooted forward a bit more, wrapping his legs around Marcus’ thighs, effectively trapping him, which did not bother Marcus as he had no intentions of escape.

Marcus leaned in and kissed him, opening his mouth wide as Esca sought entrance, memorizing him all over again, the way Esca tasted, the licorice he’d eaten during the game and the gum he’d likely been chewing before. He pressed harder, pushing Esca back so that he stayed upright only because of his arms and legs wrapped around Marcus’ shoulders and thighs.

The position put Marcus’ hips in the cradle of Esca’s thighs, where their erections could rub, entrapped by clothing but ardent nonetheless. Esca ended the kiss, gasping for breath, but Marcus’ didn’t stop kissing him, his lips following the line of his jaw to his neck. He got even harder when Esca’s hands untucked his shirt and slid into his jeans, teasing him with cold fingers on the heated skin of his lower back.

“We should really take this inside,” Esca whispered into his ear, gasping when Marcus sucked harder in response.

“And yet,” he said, between sucks and licks. “I can’t seem to let you go.”

“Marcus, a little discretion,” someone said, and Marcus pulled back, the motion pulling Esca’s hands out of his pants.

“Ow,” Esca hissed, sitting up and rubbing his knuckles where they had been scraped by Marcus’ jeans.

“Sorry,” Marcus said, taking Esca’s hand and rubbing the knuckles, then tangling their fingers. “Sorry Coach,” he continued, freezing when he saw that Coach Guern was not alone.

“Marcus, this is Elliot Williamson, from the Canucks,” Guern said, giving Marcus a stern look that was in no way necessary. He was frozen in shock for a moment, until Esca closed the tailgate with a muted bang.

“Mr. Williamson, I’m very pleased to meet you,” Marcus said, extending a hand which Williamson took. He had a firm handshake, which Marcus returned, hoping his palms weren’t too sweaty.

“It’s good to meet you as well, Mr. Aquila,” Williamson said. “And your...friend?” He tilted his head to Esca, who had been leaning on the truck just behind Marcus. He took a step forward to shake Williamson’s hand as well, as Marcus introduced him.

“Esca MacCunoval, my boyfriend,” Marcus said, proud that his voice hadn’t wavered at all, despite the circumstances. The fact was, this man could make or break his chances with the Canucks, or any other team, depending on what he chose to report.

“The name sounds familiar, do you play as well?” Williamson asked Esca.

“No, I’m a figure skater,” Esca replied, and Marcus could see the pride and defiance in the tilt of his jaw.

“Esca just won the World Championships in Los Angeles,” Marcus provided, giving Esca’s hand another squeeze.

“Is that right?” Williamson said, impressed. “Congratulations.”

“Thank you, sir,” Esca said, giving him a slight smile.

“Well, Marcus, I must say this is rather a surprise,” Williamson said, giving Marcus an appraising look. “Shall I take this encounter to mean that you are...” he trailed off, but Marcus had become accustomed to that. Not many had been able to believe his sexuality, not at first.

“I’m gay, if that’s what you’re asking,” Marcus said.

“Yes, indeed,” Williamson said, looking troubled. “It creates a bit of an obstacle,” he began, but Guern cut him off.

“Mr. Williamson, I seem to recall you mentioning not too long ago that Marcus was one of the most purely talented players you’d ever seen,” he said. “I understand your hesitation, homosexuality is not exactly encouraged in sport, especially hockey.”

“To say the least,” Williamson agreed.

“However, times are changing, and it won’t be long until it reaches the NHL, which I’m sure you know. You have a great opportunity here,” Guern said. “Marcus is an exceptional player, talented, hard working, determined to a fault. He will play in the NHL, make no mistake. The question is, will he play for Vancouver? Or for a team that is willing to be a little more open minded in order to gain his skills?”

Williamson nodded, still staring thoughtfully at Marcus, who was feeling more nervous every second. This was the first hurdle, impressing the scout and gaining a good recommendation from him, and being caught in such a compromising position made it all very real.

“On the other hand, if Vancouver was the first to embrace a player like Marcus, not only would they be making history, they’d go a long way toward a more modern image, and that certainly can’t hurt them,” Guern pointed out.

“You’ve brought up some very good points,” Williamson said. “For my part, personally, I think it’s about time an NHL player stood up for himself. I know of several closeted players, including a good friend of mine, although you didn’t hear it from me.”

Marcus nodded, his hope rising steadily, though Williamson wasn’t done yet.

“However,” he continued. “The final decision is not up to me. Nothing I’ve seen here will change my recommendation, though perhaps keeping things under wraps would help?”

Marcus’ heart sank, but he couldn’t take steps back now that he’d come so far. “I’m sorry sir, but that won’t be possible. I made the decision to come out knowing full well what it might mean for my career, and I can’t change that now, nor do I want to. I can’t pretend to be someone I’m not.”

“I understand,” Williamson said. “And I hope it works out for you.” He shook Marcus’ hand firmly and gestured to Guern to follow, turning and heading away.

“That was...hopeful,” Esca said, moving closer and wrapping an arm around Marcus’ waist. Marcus lifted his arm and wrapped it around Esca’s shoulders, looking down at him with a soft smile.

“It could have gone worse,” Marcus agreed, putting aside all his worries when he met Esca’s eyes, suddenly remembering what they’d been doing before they were interrupted. “Now, where were we?”

**

Saturday morning Marcus woke up eager to get to the arena, knowing that he’d get a chance to see Esca as usual. Marcus had tried to convince Esca to stay with him the previous night, but Esca had refrained, citing his Nan’s insistence that he spend the weekend at home.

“But you’ve been home every night this week,” Marcus had protested, but Esca had held firm.

“Yeah, but you’ve dropped me off after dinner every night, or later,” Esca said. “And she’s been complaining that she hasn’t seen enough of me.”

“Ugh,” Marcus said, shaking his head in exasperation. “She won’t even see you tonight, and you’ll be at the rink early.”

“Not as early as you,” Esca pointed out. “And she’s usually up before me, the tea is always ready when I get up and we sit and have a chat before I leave.”

“Oh,” Marcus said, deflating. “Well, I guess if she insists.”

“She’ll appreciate your sacrifice,” Esca drawled and Marcus just had to laugh, and kiss him again.

Marcus didn’t waste much time getting ready that morning, packing a smaller duffel bag with his skates, gloves, pucks and pylons and some extra tape. Then he grabbed a couple sticks and was out the door.

He warmed up as usual, gradually lengthening his strides to stretch his muscles, building speed and loosening up. Then he set some pucks in random places in the neutral zone, choosing a corner of the net to aim at and retreating to the other end. He built speed again before nabbing a puck and following it’s trajectory towards the net, working his way through various angles, shooting one puck and turning behind the net to fetch the next.

He finished up rather quickly, only missing his chosen target a handful of times, and missing the net only once.

After that he laid some pylons out, using the whole arena, and dropped a few pucks into the mix as well, trying not to pay attention to where they were placed, building some speed once more and then taking every puck through the full series of pylons before dumping it in the net, again in his chosen spot, and going back for another, the random spacing of the pucks changed up his route through the pylons, keeping him on his toes.

He’d gathered the pucks out of the net and was beginning to grab the pylons when he heard the scratch of another set of skates on the ice.

He looked up, knowing it was Esca, but thrilled to see him nonetheless. “Hi,” he called, smiling and skating over, grabbing Esca around the waist and twirling him around.

“Hey,” Esca said, clinging to Marcus’ arms until they’d stopped, then giving him a shove. “This isn’t pairs skating,” he said, and Marcus laughed.

“I don’t know, we make quite a pair,” Marcus said, pulling Esca in closer and kissing him soundly.

“We do,” Esca said when they broke apart. “But I have work to do, so let go.” He pushed Marcus back more forcefully this time, sliding backwards and immediately building speed with alternating crossovers.

“Come back here, I wasn’t done with you,” Marcus called, skating forward, trying to anticipate in which direction Esca was going to go.

“Why don’t you catch me then, hockey boy,” Esca said back, smirking in amusement. The chased each other around for a few minutes, until they were panting with laughter and exertion and Marcus finally got close enough that he could herd Esca with his stick, chopping around on the ice to keep Esca from gaining another long stride as he closed in.

“Cheater,” Esca said as Marcus approached, reaching out again to pull him in. “No fair you have a club to do your dirty work.” Marcus laughed.

“All’s fair in love and hockey,” Marcus said with a smirk, dropping his stick and gloves in order to get a better grip on Esca, who struggled, pulling back just enough to over-compensate, sending them both to the ice in a tangle of limbs.

Their laughter echoed through the arena as they grappled for dominance, covering themselves in ice crystals, until Esca emerged the victor, pinning Marcus’ bare hands to the ice with a shout of victory.

“Ha,” he said, grinning, his eyes sparkling and his cheeks flushed. “Take that, hockey boy.”

“I’ll take you anytime,” Marcus said, the mood intensifying, their gaze deepening, until Marcus had to thrust his hips up into Esca’s ass to alleviate the pressure.

“My hands are cold,” he said softly, and Esca let them go, trailing his hands down Marcus’ arms to his chest, sitting back as Marcus sat up and wrapped his arms around Esca’s waist. They snogged for a few long moments, not long enough for Marcus, but then his ass was getting very cold.

“I could do this all day,” Esca said, pulling back and cupping Marcus’ head in his hands. “But I really should get warming up. I haven’t skated all week.”

“Yeah, I should get going,” Marcus said reluctantly as Esca used his shoulders to lever himself up into a standing position, then reached down to help Marcus up. “Will probably need a change before I pick you up for breakfast.”

“Might be a good idea,” Esca said, leaning up for one more kiss before helping Marcus gather the pylons.

“Thanks,” Marcus said, remembering the first time they’d had the same exchange, how much he’d wanted Esca even then, and how far they’d come since then. He grabbed Esca by the wrist and tugged him in, kissing him passionately, remembering the feelings that Esca had sparked in him when they were new, feeling an immense sense of relief to know that they were reciprocated. He felt safe with Esca in a way he could never have imagined before, perhaps it was odd to feel that way so young, but Marcus didn’t care. He’d always been a bit beyond his years, and he supposed this was just another side of that.

“See you soon, hockey boy,” Esca said, rubbing a finger over Marcus’ lip where he had bitten it red, making Marcus shiver at the sensation.

“I’ll be waiting,” Marcus said, squeezing Esca’s ass for good measure. Esca laughed and pushed away, calling, “get out of here now, you’re distracting me,” as he skated away.

“Fine, fine,” Marcus said, picking up his stick and gloves and heading for the locker room with one more glance in Esca’s direction.

**

Marcus was just packing up his duffel when someone entered the locker room, surprising him as the arena was usually empty at that time in the morning.

“Esca?” he called and then was shocked to see Elliot Williamson standing there, an inscrutable smile on his face.

“Mr. Williamson,” Marcus said, standing up to take his hand, glad that he’d washed his only moments before.

“Mr. Aquila,” he said, shaking Marcus’ hand. “I prefer Elliot, if that’s alright. May I call you Marcus?”

“By all means,” Marcus said. “Would you like to sit?” he asked, gesturing at the bench.

“I’d prefer to go up into the arena, if you don’t mind.” Elliot said.

“Not at all,” Marcus said, picking up his duffel and motioning for Elliot to lead the way. They walked in silence, climbing the back stairs so as not to attract Esca’s attention. When they came out into the bleachers, Marcus watched Esca twirl out of a spin for a moment before taking a seat next to Elliot in the top row.

“What brings you out so early?” Marcus asked, nervously wiping his hands on his pants.

“You,” Elliot said simply, pinning Marcus with a shrewd gaze. “Coach Guern told me that you are in the habit of practicing solo as well as with the team, and I thought that perhaps I should see how you go about it. It was quite impressive actually, your methods are quite sound, and it’s encouraging to see a young player so dedicated as to rise early every Saturday just to get in more ice time.”

“My uncle says I would be on the ice all day, if I could,” Marcus said. ‘And I reckon he’s right. I never seem to get enough ice time. I’m fortunate to have the means to secure it, though.”

“Indeed,” Elliot replied. “It’s credit to you that you are so dedicated to your game.”

Marcus wondered where he was going, but Elliot seemed happy to sit in silence for a while, and both of them watched as Esca performed a sequence of footwork before stopping and turning a corner, repeating the same moves on the way back down the ice.

“He’s an exceptional skater,” Elliot said, breaking the silence. “I took the liberty of watching some videos on YouTube and I was quite stunned.”

“He’s going to win gold in the Olympics next year, I know it,” Marcus declared proudly, his eyes tracking Esca’s progress up the ice.

“How long have the two of you been together?”

“Since February,” Marcus replied. “Though we met last summer, on the ice.”

“And I understand the relationship is rather serious,” Elliot queried, and Marcus’ heart began to sink, but he steeled his determination.

“Very,” Marcus said, turning to face Elliot, who was watching him closely. “He means everything to me. I finally understand why my father acted the way he did, because I might do the same thing if I were in his shoes.”

Elliot’s brows rose in surprise at that statement, but Marcus pushed on.

“I would give up hockey for him, if it came to that,” Marcus said, his voice unwavering although his stomach was churning. “In fact, I know I might have, coming out the way I did. But I’d do it again.”

“Some would think that such a statement is cause to doubt your dedication,” Elliot stated.

“Well, they’d be wrong,” Marcus replied, hoping he wasn’t coming across too harshly. “Hockey has been my world, all my life. I was dedicated to it and my uncle was dedicated to me, so he gave me every opportunity he could, and I am so grateful to him. I love this game. So much it almost hurts sometimes, you know?” Marcus stopped for breath, not quite knowing what he was getting at.

“But then Esca came into my life and he turned it upside down. I’ve always known I was different, always known on some level that I’m gay, but I fought it so hard. So hard that I almost screwed things up with him, beyond repair.” Marcus turned back to the rink, watching Esca hungrily.

“But he made me realize that by hiding myself and pretending to be what I’m not, I would be miserable. I can’t live that way, following someone else’s rules, missing out on the love of my life in order to be what other people think I should be.”

He paused, hoping and praying that he wasn’t screwing up his own chances at a draft pick. “Do you know what I mean?” he asked, turning to face Elliot again. “I don’t know how well I’m explaining it.”

“Very well, actually,” Elliot said. “You are surprisingly eloquent for a boy your age, it’s rather refreshing. Many of the most talented players are dull as spoons, but not you.”

“Thank you,” Marcus said, resisting the urge to wring his hands.

“I have to tell you that, should you go in the draft or make it to the NHL by other means, that it will be difficult for you. In fact, it may prove to be too much.”

“I understand that,” Marcus said. “I knew what was at stake by coming out, but I judged the risk to be an acceptable one, given the repercussions of remaining closeted.”

“Well, as I said last night, I am not the one who makes the decisions, I am simply the scout. But I can tell you, despite what I saw last night, which I have of course relayed to the appropriate people, the Canucks remain very interested in you as a prospect for the draft,” Elliot said.

Marcus’ heart stopped beating for a moment, he was sure, and then took up a pounding pace that left him breathless. “You...really?” he said, stunned.

“Really,” Elliot replied. “Talent like yours does not come around every year, and coupled with your work ethic and dedication to the game, it makes a very attractive package, even considering your sexuality.”

“Wow,” Marcus breathed, still trying to wrap his head around what Elliot had told him.

“Those involved are not ready to make a decision just yet, but I wanted to reassure you that there is nothing I have seen or heard from you that will hamper your chances in any way. Your situation is not without special considerations, but I would be sure to attend the draft in Montreal in a suit and tie, if I were you,” Elliot said, standing up suddenly and reaching for Marcus’ hand.

“Mr. Williamson, Elliot,” Marcus corrected when the man gave him a look. “Thank you very much for coming out to see me. I can’t tell you how much it means to me.”

“It has been quite an enlightening visit,” Elliot agreed. “But I must be off, I’m sure my wife would like to see me home before the day is over. I hope to see you again, Marcus Aquila.”

“Thank you, sir,” Marcus said as Elliot walked away, watching him disappear into the shadows to the back stairwell before sinking back into his seat, knees weak, though with excitement or relief, he didn’t know.

**

The week before prom saw Cottia in a constant state of agitated excitement, and woe befall the person who questioned her enthusiasm. She spent more time with her groups of girlfriends, conspicuous in the absence of Ang Reed from their circle, who had indeed taken up with Charlie. She had become the worst offender regarding the harassment of Marcus and Esca, no doubt her new boyfriend was encouraging her on that score. Charlie had been keeping very quiet on the subject, due to his healthy and very justified wariness of them both.

“She’s not worth my time,” Cottia said when Marcus pressed, and would say no more, although Marcus was certain that she felt more than she was showing. She and Luke seemed to be deepening their friendship however, and Marcus felt much happier because of it.

Finally, not a moment too soon in Marcus’ estimation, prom day rolled around and Marcus found that he was actually looking forward to it. Part of it was because of the fact that the end of the year was creeping ever closer, and with it, the draft, but another part was because Esca had promised that he’d be spending the night with Marcus when it was over.

He was more excited about that than anything.

Dinner started at seven, so Marcus left just after six to ensure that he and Esca could get there in plenty of time. If they weren’t, he was sure Cottia would have something to say. Esca’s Nan wanted pictures as well, so that would take some time. Cottia also insisted on pictures, making Marcus wonder if prom wasn’t just some big excuse for a photo op.

He straightened out his suit while in the elevator to the apartment Esca shared with his Nan, hoping that Esca would like it. It was his very best, one he rarely wore but Uncle had insisted he buy for special occasions, complete with waistcoat and the new tie he’d bought, a red tartan that, according to Stephan, really made the look ‘pop’. Whatever that meant.

Marcus thought it looked pretty good anyway, and he couldn’t wait to see what Esca would look like. Elsa answered the door when Marcus knocked, shooing him in after brushing imaginary lint off his shoulders, declaring that he looked very fine.

“Is Esca ready?” Marcus asked, suddenly nervous, though why, he couldn’t fathom.

“Just playing with his hair, dear, he’ll be right out,” she replied, gesturing him into the living room where he declined a seat and shuffled nervously from foot to foot until he forced himself to look around, studying the pictures on the mantle-piece thoroughly, even though he’d seen them before.

“There you are,” Esca said from behind him, and Marcus spun quickly, eager for the sight of him. He was not disappointed. Esca looked amazing. He’d chosen a black pinstripe suit that fit him superbly and the tie he’d bought was a slate grey, which Marcus knew matched his eyes.

And there Marcus’ thought processes stopped, for framing Esca’s grey eyes was a thick line of black, clearly defining the edges and making his eyes look bigger and more intense than Marcus had ever seen them. Marcus tore his eyes away for a second, noticing that Esca’s hair was combed neatly to one side, rising in a subtle wave, softening his features in a way that left Marcus breathless.

The combination of the whole look was stunning, and Marcus was speechless, staring wide eyed at the young man in front of him, barely able to believe his luck, that Esca was his.

“Well, don’t you look fabulous,” Esca said, padding over to Marcus in his socks. “That tie looks amazing on you, and the waistcoat...wow.” He stopped in front of Marcus and ran his fingers over Marcus’ tie and over his chest. Marcus was unable to do anything but stare.

“Marcus? What’s wrong?” Esca’s brow furrowed in concern. “Do I look okay?”

Marcus swallowed, trying to come up with something to say besides, ‘screw the prom, let’s go to bed.’

“No, you look,” he stopped, looking Esca up and down again. “Amazing. Gorgeous. Spectacular.”

Esca grinned, looking just a little smug. “Tell me what you really think,” he said, quirking a brow.

“Smoking hot,” Marcus added. “Do we have to go to prom?”

Esca threw back his head and laughed, and it did nothing to help Marcus’ thought processes. “So you like it then?” he asked, taking a step back and turning from side to side, so Marcus could see all of him.

“Yeah,” Marcus said, stopping himself from saying, ’I’d like to see it off you,’ when he remembered that Elsa was in the room. “Especially the eyes.”

Esca looked up at him, his face intense, eyes filling with heat, corresponding directly to the heat rushing to Marcus’ groin. “It’s a special occasion after all,” he said, pulling Marcus down for a quick kiss.

“You’re dressed for the occasion as well, I never would have thought you’d own a waistcoat,” Esca said, running his hands over the fabric in question.

“Oh, yeah,” Marcus said, snapping his mind back to the present and not what he hoped they’d be doing in the very near future. “Uncle bought it for me last year and insisted I wear it. I’m lucky it still fits. You don’t think it looks too...stuffy?”

Esca chuckled, shaking his head. “Not at all,” he replied, his hands smoothing the material at Marcus’ waist. “Very grown up. Makes you look older.”

“It is a very flattering suit, Marcus,” Elsa said, moving toward them with a camera in hand. “And while I don’t fancy the eyeliner, you do look rather stunning, Esca.” She kissed him on the cheek and then positioned them for pictures. Marcus smiled widely in all of them, with Esca pressed warm against him.

**

By the time Cottia was done taking pictures, Marcus’ smile was much less enthusiastic. He was very grateful that everyone was called inside the restaurant where their prom was being held, and directed to the dining room for their meal. Marcus thought the idea of a catered prom was a good one, keeping everyone in one building, he could see the decorated ballroom through the open doors as they made their way in for dinner.

“So, how long do we have to stay now?” Esca asked Marcus when they were done and the music was starting in the next room.

“Only as long as it takes Cottia to forget about us,” Marcus said with a grimace. “It could be a while.” The dinner had been excellent, and it was interesting to see everyone in their finery, the girls decked out in colorful dresses, the boys in suits or tuxes. Everyone was in a celebratory mood, taking the chance to relax before they began to study in earnest for their upcoming final exams, which was part of the reason for having the prom in late April or, in their case, early in May.

“I wonder if Luke will be able to help us out there?” Esca asked, leaning closer and whispering into Marcus’ ear. “I really want to get you out of that suit and into bed.”

Marcus’ breath caught as Esca spoke the words that mirrored his earlier thoughts exactly. “I’ve been thinking that since I laid eyes on you,” Marcus said, turning to give Esca a kiss that spoke of all his intentions. Esca pulled back just when things were getting interesting, making Marcus groan in dismay.

“Come dance with me, hockey boy,” he said, standing up and tugging Marcus’ arm to make him follow. “We can’t stay in here all night.”

“If you insist,” Marcus said, taking Esca’s hand and letting himself be led into the darkened ballroom to join their classmates.

**

It was almost two hours later when it got a bit ugly. Marcus and Esca had joined Luke, Cottia and a few others on the dance floor, moving in groups or couples depending on the songs. They had quickly abandoned their suit jackets, although Esca had insisted that Marcus leave the waistcoat on, the fire in his eyes assuring Marcus’ compliance.

It was during a ballad, just another love song that Marcus would forget he’d ever heard after that night, when Charlie had caught sight of Luke and Cottia together and had decided to make a scene.

“What the fuck are you doing, Cottia?” he asked, grabbing her by the arm and pulling her out of Luke’s embrace. Marcus had been pleased to see them kissing, hoping that they would be happy with each other, especially since he cared about them both. It didn’t hurt that he thought they were perfect for each other.

“Let go of me, Charlie,” Cottia snapped, pulling her arm out of his grasp. “What’s your problem, anyway?”

“Oh I dunno, I was just a little surprised to look over and see my sister acting like a slut with this loser,” Charlie said with an ugly sneer.

Marcus took a step forward, but Esca stopped him as Luke took a step forward into Charlie’s personal space.

“I don’t care what you think of me, Henderson,” he said, glaring dangerously at Charlie. “But you’d better watch what you say about Cottia, or I’ll have to kick your ass.”

“As if you could,” Charlie said with a laugh.

“If Esca, a guy who is half your weight and several inches shorter, could do it, I’m sure you wouldn’t present much of a challenge for me,” Luke said, but Cottia pushed him aside before they could get any further.

“Charlie, you are acting like a complete idiot,” she said, glaring up at her much taller brother with flashing eyes. “I’m allowed to kiss my boyfriend at the prom, thank you very much.”

“Boyfriend?” Charlie exclaimed. “You’re not seriously telling me you’re dating him, are you? Are you going to turn him gay now too?” The crowd that had gathered to watch gasped and ‘oohed’ at that, and Esca had to hold Marcus back again, as Cottia did to Luke.

“You seem rather obsessed with people being gay, Charlie,” Cottia said, narrowing her eyes. “I’m beginning to wonder if there isn’t more to it than just you being an asshole.”

“What do you mean by that?” Charlie said, his forehead creasing in consternation.

“I mean you talk an awful lot about who is or isn’t gay,” Cottia said sweetly. “Is there something you’d like to tell us? Or do you need your girlfriend to do all your dirty work these days, since you had your ass handed to you by not one but two oh so prissy gay boys.”

“Leave her out of this,” Charlie said, ignoring everything else she said.

“Why should I?” Cottia said. “Since you’ve been using her as a tool to continue harassing Marcus and Esca, she’s clearly involved.”

“You’re just jealous I have a real man who isn’t afraid to speak out against something so...disgusting,” Ang piped up from behind Charlie, making Cottia laugh.

“A real man? You have got to be kidding me,” Cottia said, still chuckling. “I’ve lived with him all my life sweetheart, and let me tell you, you couldn’t find a boy further from being a man this side of puberty.”

The crowd laughed at that and Marcus felt a surge of admiration for Cottia. Yes, she would be good for Luke, and she deserved a guy as great as he was.

“Fuck you,” Charlie snarled, but Cottia only laughed harder.

“Good comeback little brother,” she said, highly amused. She stepped closer to Charlie and reached a hand up to grasp his ear, tugging him down so she could whisper in his ear. Marcus couldn’t hear what they were saying as the music was still blaring from strategically placed speakers, but he could see Charlie paling as she spoke, before pulling back and hissing, “you wouldn’t dare!”

“You’d better believe I would,” Cottia said seriously, giving Charlie a look that, from his reaction, must have been inherited from their mother. “Now go play with your ego somewhere else, I’m busy.” She turned back to Luke, who promptly took her in his arms, shooting Charlie a smug look over her shoulder.

Marcus thought for a moment Charlie was going to hang on and do something stupid, but Ang tugged him away, sneering at Cottia and Luke, who were once again dancing close.

**

They all retreated to the dining room after that dance, for a drink and a laugh.

“The look on his face!” Esca was saying gleefully, laughing despite Cottia’s blush. “It was priceless. You are my hero,” he added, raising his glass in salute.

“Hear, hear,” Marcus said. “It was truly lovely to see him taken down a few notches. What did you whisper in his ear?” Marcus asked.

“Oh, I told him that if he didn’t back off I would tell everyone about the dirty magazines under his mattress. The one filled with pictures of naked boys,” she said, grinning mischievously.

“He doesn’t!” Esca exclaimed, shocked. Cottia laughed and shook her head.

“No, it’s all girly magazines, but who do you think everyone would believe? Me, or the homophobic asshole?”

“Remind me never to get on your bad side,” Luke commented, and Cottia smiled at him.

“I doubt you could,” she said sweetly, lifting her face for a kiss, which Luke gladly gave her.

“You two are so sweet together that I just have to get out of here,” Esca declared, downing the rest of his drink and standing, taking Marcus’ hand in his. “Have a good rest of the evening folks. I know we will.”

Marcus flushed at that, but he could not bring himself to deny it, standing up instead and shrugging on his jacket.

“You’re leaving so soon?” Cottia said with a pout.

“Yep,” Marcus confirmed. “As lovely as this has been, especially the part where you tore Charlie a new one, we have things we’d rather be doing right now.”

“Okay, okay, we don’t want to hear about it,” Cottia said, standing up to kiss them both on the cheek while Luke shook their hands. “Have a great evening boys.”

“See you Monday,” Esca called out as he and Marcus made good their escape.

**

They hadn’t wasted any time in getting back to Marcus’ house, and they hadn’t stopped for more than a few kisses, knowing that Marcus’ uncle would want to see them before they went to bed, as he also wanted pictures, and Marcus had promised that they wouldn’t be too late.

It was just before 11pm when they arrived, Marcus calling out to his uncle when they entered.

“In here,” Uncle called from the TV room, although he came out to meet them before they’d had a chance to get halfway down the hallway.

“Well, don’t the two of you look wonderful,” Uncle declared, delighted. “And not very rumpled at all, Stephan owes me a twenty.”

“What?” Marcus asked, while Esca laughed.

“Oh, he bet me you’d be quite disheveled when you arrived home, but I assured him that you were patient enough to do the rumpling after you got here.”

“Uncle, you did not just make a bet with Stephan about my love life,” Marcus begged, hiding his face in his hands.

“I think he did,” Esca said, still very amused. “And he won, so cheer up, lets get these pictures done and then I’ll get you sufficiently rumpled.”

“Oh god, someone shoot me,” Marcus said, his voice muffled by his hands.

“Now, now, don’t be so dramatic,” Uncle said, putting a hand on Marcus shoulder and steering him toward the rarely used living room. “Although Esca, I must say the eyeliner is very dramatic on you, well done.”

“Thanks,” Esca said brightly, and Marcus cursed his uncle for bringing it to his attention once more, the fact that Esca looked more like sex than ever. He’d been trying to ignore it the whole evening, but hadn’t been having much success.

“What do you think of Marcus’ suit? Quite sharp, isn’t it?” Uncle asked, and Marcus rolled his eyes.

“It really is,” Esca replied, eying Marcus up and down with this kohl lined eyes, making Marcus shiver with want. “He told me you insisted he wear it. Thank you.”

Uncle laughed. “You’re very welcome. The fact is, Marcus wears the suit and tie all the time, so I thought he should have something a little more distinctive. Although I fear this suit won’t be around for much longer. He’s filling out far too much in the shoulder area.”

“All that hockey must be good for something,” Esca said with a smirk, his eyes sliding over Marcus’ shoulders in admiration.

“If you two are done, can we get these pictures taken?” Marcus said, probably sounding more annoyed that he was.

“Oh Marcus, it’s not the end of the world,” Uncle said, patting his arm. “We can always buy you a new suit.” Esca laughed but, at the look on Marcus’ face, stifled it.

“Sorry,” he said apologetically, though Uncle grinned widely.

“Pictures, then,” Uncle said, and they arranged themselves appropriately. Marcus was very grateful that Uncle was much less camera happy than Elsa or Cottia, taking only two pictures and declaring them perfect.

“Excellent, thank you boys,” Uncle said, turning off his camera. “And now I am off to bed. I will see the two of you in the morning.”

“Good night Uncle,” Marcus said.

“Good night,” Esca echoed, and Uncle gave them a wave before heading up to his bedroom.

Silence fell for a moment, while Marcus looked at Esca, for the first time that night, he let the longing and desire flow through him unhindered, now that they were finally alone. The dark lines of kohl matched his suit, and both served to bring out the grey, his eyes and his tie...it was a striking look, but all Marcus wanted then was to remove it, piece by piece until Esca was laid bare, his only adornment the black around his eyes.

“Let’s go upstairs,” Marcus said, his voice feeling scratchy, his eyes holding Esca’s.

“Yeah,” Esca agreed, taking a few steps back toward the foyer. “I’ve been wanting to get you out of that suit all night.”

“I know the feeling,” Marcus said, following him as if tethered. They kicked off their shoes, Esca grabbing the bag he’d tucked into Marcus’ truck earlier that evening. They went upstairs without a word, though the tension was thick between them. It didn’t seem to matter how often they came together, it was always just as exhilarating as the time before.

When they got to Marcus’ room and the door was closed behind them, only then did they reach out for each other, hands sliding possessively over each other as their mouths came together in a desperate, needy kiss.

“You look so amazing,” Marcus whispered, diving in for another kiss before continuing. “I’ve been half hard since I saw you, and you knew it, didn’t you?”

Esca laughed breathlessly as Marcus’ lips attacked his jaw, sucking harshly on his earlobe before retaking his lips.

“I thought you might like it,” Esca said as Marcus pushed his jacket off, sliding his hands down Esca’s arms to ensure its removal, immediately fumbling with Esca’s tie, as soon as the jacket fell to the floor.

“I did, you great tease,” Marcus said, gasping when Esca pulled their bodies close, his hands stilling as their erections rubbed for the fist time that night.

“What about you?” Esca said, pushing Marcus’ jacket off as well, dragging his hands down Marcus’ back, cupping his ass and squeezing while Marcus shrugged off the jacket, his hands returning to Esca’s tie, pulling it loose at last and flinging it to the floor with the rest.

“What about me?” Marcus asked, making quick work of the Esca’s shirt buttons. “There’s no possible way I could have looked as amazing and sexy as you do tonight.”

“No, you’re wrong,” Esca said, tugging at Marcus’ belt, pulling it through the belt loops with a whoosh. “You clearly have never seen your arse in these trousers.” He reached around and squeezed in emphasis, licking a path up Marcus’ jaw, capturing his lips in another wet, messy kiss.

“And the waistcoat,” Esca said, panting when they had come up for air, though Marcus’ lips had already dropped to suck at the skin that Esca’s shirt had fallen open to reveal. “I will be eternally grateful to your uncle for making you wear it. It looks amazing on you. We are so buying you another when you outgrow this one,” he insisted, undoing the buttons awkwardly as Marcus sucked a love bite onto his collarbone. “Your uncle is right, you’re filling out quite a bit, I’ve noticed you’re bigger now than when we met.”

“Oh yeah?” Marcus asked, only paying half attention, pulling Esca’s shirt from the waistband of his slacks and setting to work on the belt.

“Mmm, yes,” Esca said. “And I thought you couldn’t get any sexier than you were that day.”

Marcus lifted his head, meeting Esca’s eyes. “You really wanted me then? I couldn’t tell, you were so...prickly.”

Esca chuckled softly. “I’ve always been prickly,” he said. “Mum used to call me a bad tempered hedgehog when I was angry.”

“It suits you,” Marcus said, grinning when Esca scowled at him. “But I like it.”

“Good, because you’re stuck with me,” Esca said, pushing Marcus back so that he could remove the waistcoat. “And you were cheerful and friendly and I was a bit overwhelmed. Wanting you was the first positive thing I’d felt since...” he trailed off, his mood darkening.

“I’m glad,” Marcus said, cupping Esca’s face and kissing him gently. “And I realize that I never...I wanted to apologize.” Esca furrowed his brow in confusion, so Marcus continued.

“I’m sorry I was such an ass to you, that I treated you so badly,” he said quietly. “It was all so messed up in my head, I didn’t even know what to think. I’d had a plan, it was all figured out and then you were there and suddenly everything shifted and I--”

“Shh,” Esca said, pressing a finger to Marcus’ lips. “It’s alright, I understand now.”

“That still doesn’t make it okay,” Marcus said with a wry smile.

“I know. But I forgive you, and that does,” Esca replied, rubbing Marcus’ bottom lip with the finger. “And anyway, you’re mine now, and that’s what counts, alright?”

“Alright,” Marcus said, closing his eyes and pressing their heads together, happy to just be with Esca in that moment. Happy that he hadn’t screwed it up beyond repair.

“Good,” Esca said. “Now let’s get you out of this gorgeous suit and into bed.”

“Good idea,” Marcus agreed, and they began pulling each other’s clothes off in earnest, Marcus’ tie and shirt becoming the first casualties of their eagerness, then Esca shrugged off his shirt as Marcus shucked his trousers, and everything beneath. Marcus looked up from pulling his socks off to see Esca on the edge of his bed, pulling his trousers and socks off, his naked ass visible under his flailing legs and the fabric. And Marcus could not resist the sight.

He was at the bed the next minute, pulling the clothes from Esca’s hands and pressing him back to the bed, his legs draped over Marcus’ arms, his eyes wide with surprise. Marcus thought he’d never seen anything as enticing as Esca spread out beneath him, his wide, lined eyes staring up at Marcus.

“You are the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen,” Marcus said, leaning closer to Esca so that their groins rubbed, close enough so that they could kiss, open mouthed and messy. Esca grasped his hair, tugging the way he liked, but Marcus ignored the direction for once, sliding his lips down Esca’s neck and chest, sucking one of his nipples into hardness, loving the way Esca moaned when he sucked harder.

“Marcus,” Esca said, and when Marcus looked up at him, his heart skipped at the sight, Esca’s eyes were wide, his pupils dilated, rimmed in kohl, his lips parted on a gasp. “Are you going to fuck me?”

“Was thinking about it,” Marcus said with a smirk, grinding his erection into Esca’s.

“Well hurry up, then,” Esca said, pushing back, sliding his legs further up Marcus’ arms until they were resting on his shoulders.

Marcus slid down his body, tasting the skin all the way down and then giving Esca’s cock a quick suck before pushing off the bed and heading for the bedside table.

“Oh, wait a sec,” Esca said, getting off the bed and rummaging in his bag. Marcus sat on the bed and admired the view of Esca’s buttocks and thighs framing his lightly furred balls. When Esca stood and turned around, Marcus felt a moment of disappointment before taking in the front view, complete with an erection that bobbed as Esca made his way back to the bed.

“Here,” he said, handing Marcus a piece of paper and then sitting beside him on the bed.

“What’s this?” Marcus asked, unfolding and looking in confusion at what seemed to be a lab report from a local doctor’s office.

“Just some tests I had done a few weeks ago,” Esca said. Marcus read the paper over a few times, the information it contained sinking in more each time.

“You got tested? I don’t understand,” Marcus said, looking up at Esca in confusion.

“Oh Marcus, you are so very passionate that sometimes I forget you’re practically an innocent,” Esca said, running his fingers through Marcus’ hair.

“I think you did away with my innocence a while back,” Marcus said with a laugh. He looked back at the paper again, looking worried. “Did you think you were sick? That you had..something?”

Esca smiled. “No, in fact I was sure I didn’t, but I wanted to be certain,” he said, grabbing the paper from Marcus’ hand and tossing it to the ground. “And I wanted to feel you, without anything in between us.” He laid back on the bed, spreading his legs and beckoning for Marcus to lay between them, which he promptly did.

“You did this so we wouldn’t have to use condoms,” Marcus said, a smile beginning to spread across his face.

“Mmhmm,” Esca said, lifting his legs to wrap around Marcus’ waist. “I mean, you were virtually untouched before I got my filthy hands on you. And now that I have you, I don’t intend to let you go.”

“Good, because I am not going anywhere,” Marcus replied, pressing their bodies together from chest to groin. “But I just bought a new pack,” he said with a laugh, making Esca laugh too.

“We can use them if you want to,” Esca said, still grinning.

“No, no, I’m fine without,” Marcus said, kissing the smile off his face. “More than fine.”

“Good,” Esca said, shifting his hips against Marcus’ and pulling him down for another kiss. It soon turned heavy, hot and passionate, their erections grinding against each other as their movements gained urgency. Marcus pulled back a bit, grabbing hold of Esca’s legs and pulling them back up to rest on his shoulders, shifting his position so that his cock was sliding back and forth through the crack of Esca’s ass.

“It’s a very good thing for me that you are so flexible,” Marcus said, his lips still pressed against Esca’s.

“It’s good for me too, but you’re still going to need lube,” Esca replied, scratching his fingernails lightly down Marcus’ neck, eliciting a gasp.

“I know,” Marcus said, but he made no attempt to retrieve it. Esca ran his nails over Marcus’ chest now, and Marcus gasped again, his muscles twitching under Esca’s hands.

“You like that?” Esca said, scratching him again.

“Just a little, uh, yeah,” Marcus said, his chest heaving, the sensations adding up far too quickly, topped off by the sight of Esca, his hair now mussed by Marcus’ fingers, and those eyes, Marcus was going to have fantasies about this night for a very long time.

“Interesting,” Esca said, but he stopped, pushing on Marcus’ chest instead, with his arms and legs. “Now get off me and get the lube, before you come all over me and not in me.”

“Nguh,” Marcus said, his brain picturing both of those variables, finally moving when Esca pinched his nipple.

“Ow!” he exclaimed, sitting up and rubbing at his chest. “That hurt.”

“No nipple pinching, got it,” Esca said. “But it got your attention. Get the lube, hockey boy.”

“Patience,” Marcus said, but he leaned over and pulling up the drawer, bypassing the stack of condoms with a tremor of anticipation. He flipped open the lube immediately and squirted some on his fingers as Esca lifted his legs once more, giving Marcus access. He started with two fingers, knowing by now that, as it hadn’t been long since the last time they’d done this, that Esca would be well able to take it. When Esca topped him it still took a fair amount of prep, but it was worth every second.

Soon he was squeezing more lube onto his fingers, this time using it on his cock, spreading it from tip to base, stroking gently, his eyes fixed on Esca’s loosened hole, watching avidly as it fluttered when Esca clenched or flexed.

“Are you gonna fuck me, or are you just gonna bust a nut staring at me?” Esca said, his voice conveying his impatience. “I’ve been hard for ages Marcus, come on!”

“Sorry,” Marcus said, moving into position, his cheeks heating. “It’s just that you’re so...and I’m--”

“Yes, yes, I know I’m unbearably sexy and you can’t take your eyes off me, but your eyes aren’t the part I’m interested in right now,” Esca said, and Marcus thought of what his Mum used to call him. He could practically see the quills standing up as Esca got more impatient. He smiled widely, love for Esca and his prickly, compelling personality filling him up.

Once he was ready, he pushed, not stopping until he was all the way in, all gentleness faded in the face of urgency, but Esca was not complaining. To the contrary. And it was a good thing, as the bare clench of Esca’s hole around Marcus’ cock was exquisite and excruciating. He had never felt anything so amazing, so intimate, no more barriers separating them, physically or emotionally.

“Yes, Marcus, finally,” Esca said, panting, his fingernails no longer scratching, but clenched into Marcus’ shoulders instead. “Now move,” he demanded.

“So bossy,” Marcus muttered, but he did it anyway, pulling back and thrusting in, setting a fast, hard pace immediately, knowing that both of them were reaching the edge swiftly.

“You love it,” Esca panted, his breath leaving him in a whoosh with every thrust. “Harder,” he said, shifting his hips until he found the spot that made him gasp and wail.

“Yeah,” Marcus said, but the orgasm coiling in his belly overwhelmed his brain function, so he let it take over, thrusting harder and faster than he ever had, watching in awe as Esca reached down and began tugging at his cock, in time with Marcus’ thrusts.

“Yeah, that’s, Marcus...” Esca gasped out, his face going slack and his hole tight around Marcus’ cock as he painted his belly with thick stripes of come. “Ahh,” he groaned as Marcus shuddered above him, his own orgasm being milked out of him by Esca’s grasping hole.

“Ahh, I...Esca,” Marcus stuttered, feeling the space around his cock filling with hot, sticky fluid as he spent himself inside Esca.

“Fuck, yeah,” Esca said, his head lolling back as he held his softening cock loosely, his other hand sliding from Marcus’ shoulder to lie on the bed beside him.

Marcus’ hung his head in exhaustion, his arms trembling from the strain of remaining upright, but he didn’t want to move just yet, didn’t want his cock to slip from Esca’s body, putting distance between them once more, however slight. Finally he had to move, pulling out regretfully and slumping bonelessly onto the bed beside Esca with a huff.

“That was amazing,” Esca said between breaths. shifting to his side and tangling his legs with Marcus’. “Let’s do it again,” he said with a bright smile.

“Hell yes,” Marcus said,smiling back. “But this time, you’re on top.”

Chapter Text

Fifty Mission Cap

Bill Barilko disappeared that summer, he was on a fishing trip.
The last goal he ever scored, won the Leafs the Cup.
They didn’t win another, ‘til 1963, the year he was discovered.
I stole this from a hockey card, I keep tucked up under...

My fifty mission cap.
I worked it in, I worked it in to look like that.

 

It was chilly in the arena despite the lack of ice, even through Marcus’ jacket. The same one that had felt too hot and stifling outside was now far too thin. And yet, Marcus’ palms were sweaty, more likely a by-product of his nerves than the temperature. His leg was bouncing nervously, his patience wearing thin as the men on the platform shuffled around papers and whispered to each other.

A hand grasped his and slender fingers entwined with his own, resting heavily on his leg to quiet it, and he breathed a sigh of relief. Marcus looked beside him, returning Esca’s smile as he waited for what might be the most important day of his life to actually begin. The men looked almost ready now, moving with a purpose; some taking seats but most milling in a group near the stairs leading to the arena floor, awaiting the player of their choosing with handshakes and a custom jersey.

Marcus closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He recognized the General Manager of the Canucks up there; he knew they had traded up for the first pick, and he knew he had a chance, even a small one, at getting picked up by Vancouver.

Marcus shot a glace to his other side, where his Uncle sat. He was looking around with an air of disinterest, but Marcus could tell he was nervous too. Only Esca seemed completely confident, but then he was the best of them at hiding his true feelings. Marcus followed Uncle’s eyes around the arena, still a little stunned by the sheer number of people who had attended. There were the potential draftees, several hundred of them, and their families in the lower deck of the arena, and in the upper deck there were at least as many fans, supporters and other interested parties, some with signs which declared who they hoped would get picked up and by which team. It was fascinating and Marcus would have enjoyed it a lot more if he weren’t in the hot seat, as it were.

After Elliot Williamson had left, Marcus had heard from the Canucks as well as several other teams, each one interested in him but each hesitant and wanting to get a clear statement from him regarding his sexuality. A few teams ended their inquiries abruptly when he stated that he would not be retracting his public outing, that he would not be discreet as to appear to be heterosexual, and he would not keep his relationship with Esca under wraps. Oh, he had no intentions of flaunting anything and had no desire to be in the spotlight more than he would simply because he wanted to play professionally, but he would not hide. Not anymore.

As so here he was, in Montreal for the first time in his life, and a complete nervous wreck. Truthfully, he had more on the line than any of the other hopeful draftees, and more obstacles than they could imagine. Esca squeezed his hand again, bringing his attention back to the platform where the Canucks’ general manager was approaching the pulpit, looking quite pleased. Marcus’ heart began to thump, Esca’s presence having already done all it could to calm him. Suddenly a hand fell on his shoulder and he looked up, grinning at Luke who smiled back, patting him in encouragement while Cottia leaned down and kissed his cheek, whispering, “good luck.”

His attention was drawn back to the front when the Canucks GM began to speak.

“For the first pick of the 2009 NHL entry draft, the Vancouver Canucks select, from the Chilliwack Bruins, Marcus Aquila.”

A roar filled Marcus’ ears, he didn’t know if it was from the crowd or from the shock of what was happening. He felt his uncle’s hand on his shoulder, and the cheers of the people around him, he even heard Cottia’s squeal, but he couldn’t seem to shake out of his daze until a cool hand slid up his jaw, and Esca’s voice brought him back.

“Marcus, I knew it!” Esca said, his hand on Marcus’ jaw and his fierce eyes anchoring Marcus to reality. He pulled Marcus into a hug, which Marcus returned by reflex, but at last a smile bloomed over his face as he realized that yes, this was real. He pulled back from the hug and laughed, turning at Uncle’s clasp of his shoulder to hug him as well, whispering, “thank you,”, tears prickling his eyes. He blinked them away quickly, turning to return hugs from Luke and Cottia, and handshakes from everyone around them before turning back to where Esca was watching him, a proud look on his face, his eyes gleaming with excitement.

Marcus took Esca’s face in his hands, bringing him close and kissing him, letting their lips play together for a moment before pulling back and meeting his eyes.

“Go,” Esca said, and Marcus did, letting go and moving past him to the steps leading down onto the arena floor. Before he got too far, Esca grabbed his hand and stopped him, making Marcus turn back. “Give me your jacket,” he said, reaching for it, so Marcus shrugged it off and handed it over, returning Esca’s smile before turning and heading down the steps.

From there it was all a bit of a blur, shaking hands on the way down, then pulling on the crisp new jersey with the Canuck’s logo on the front and his name on the back, his father’s number underneath. Marcus felt a surge of sorrow that his father would never see him wearing it, would never know that Marcus had followed his footsteps into hockey, into the NHL, and onto the Canucks.

But then, as he stood on the platform with the Canucks management for a picture, after more handshakes and shoulder-pats were done, he looked up and saw Uncle with Esca standing beside him, both clapping and cheering. The look of pride and happiness on Uncle’s face was enough to fill that space inside him.

After the initial round of greetings and congratulations, Marcus was led away from the front, to where they were conducting television interviews. He was stopped halfway by a hand on his shoulder, turning to meet another smiling face.

“Marcus,” Elliot said, reaching out to shake his hand. “Congratulations.”

“Thanks,” Marcus said, his smile widening to match Elliot’s. “I owe you my gratitude, I think,” he said, clasping Elliot’s hand with both of his.

“No, it was all you,” Elliot said. “I only told the truth, no embellishment needed.”

“I still appreciate it,” Marcus said, letting go of Elliot’s hand at the urging of another’s hand at his shoulder. “I’ll see you soon, I hope.”

“You will,” Elliot said with a nod, turning back to where the Islanders were making their first pick. Marcus grinned, allowing himself to be led down the first steps on the road to the rest of his life.

**

“Marcus, congratulations on your selection. How does it feel getting picked first, especially by a team with such connections to your family?”

“Well, it’s an honour. I’ve been working hard for years to get to this point, and knowing it’s paid off is fabulous,” Marcus said. “Now I have new work to do and I’m really looking forward to doing it for Vancouver. As you said, my family has a history with the Canucks, I only hope I can bring back some respect and honour to my father’s name, I know his death is a sore spot with a lot of people, but I’m hoping to help change that.”

“Plenty of controversy surrounded the death of your father, and it seems you’ve stirred up some controversy of your own, before you were even drafted.”

“Yeah, I know, but...well, there comes a point when you have to say enough,” Marcus said, nodding his head. “As much as I love hockey, it’s what I want to do, all I’ve ever wanted, you know, but that said, if it meant having to pretend to be something I’m not, to be miserable in my personal life, then I wouldn’t make a very effective player, nor would I be an honest one, and that’s something I don’t think I could live with.”

“It must have been a difficult decision for you.”

“Oh, it definitely was. It was torturous and a long time coming. But in the end all I could think about was the millions of things that could prevent me from having a career in hockey, but what was guaranteed was that I’d be miserable unless I could follow my heart and be the man I’m meant to be, so in the end, the decision was an easy one.” Marcus couldn’t help but smile, thinking about how much he’d agonized over it, but how quickly he’d come to a decision when faced with the prospect of a life without Esca.

“It’s still amazing to me, you know, it’s unprecedented. To my knowledge there has never been a gay player in the NHL until now.”

“Well, that’s a misconception really. Just because you don’t know about them doesn’t mean they aren’t there,” Marcus pointed out. “But in a sport like hockey, it’s easier just to go with the status quo, and I’m sure I would have done the same, if I hadn’t met someone who made me realize the stark reality of my situation. I’m sure those guys who are already NHL players and are also gay, I’m sure they’re not thrilled that they have to live the way they do, only to play the game they love. Even if they never come out publicly, I want them to know I support them fully, whatever their decision making process was like. I hope they’ve found some peace in how they’ve had to live their lives.”

“Some very good points. Mike, I have to ask, as general manager, what led you to choose Marcus despite the inevitable controversy his selection will bring, and how do you plan to deal with the difficulty in transitioning?”

“Well, with regards to Marcus, it wasn’t a terribly difficult decision. He is such a dynamic, energetic player. He’s a real professional and his talent is undeniable, so the question was, do we want to give him up to another team that is more willing to deal with the repercussions of his sexuality, or do we want to take a step forward in this modern world and simultaneously reach out to many players who may be dealing with turmoil in their lives because of the attitudes of the majority in this sport, and pick up such an asset for the team in the bargain? So we decided to face it head on, much the way Marcus has, and to be honest about it from the get go. The whole Canucks organization supports Marcus fully and we can’t wait to get him out on the ice.”

“Do you forsee issues with the other players?”

“Some issues are inevitable and this pick may have come as a surprise to many, since it became common knowledge that Marcus is gay, but we have plans in place to help mitigate those growing pains and bring all the guys together as a team. Because at the end of the day, it comes down to the team unity on and off the ice, and we’re hoping it won’t be as difficult as some think it will be.”

“There is already talk in the league of banning Marcus from playing, something I honestly can’t see happening, but the talk is there. How would both of you react to that assertion? Mike?”

“Well, I think it’s a ridiculous idea, and completely barbaric, to be honest. Besides, as Marcus said, there are quite a few gay players already in the league, although you may never hear about them while they play, that’s a choice each of them needs to make for himself. The idea that you can ban a player for being gay, it’s just not feasible. If they did keep Marcus from the NHL, what would be next? Would the witch hunt start for any active gay players, or would they be forced to go further underground in an attempt to maintain their careers?”

“A good answer, Marcus, what about you?”

“Well, to be honest, it’s a little insulting that they would even try,” Marcus said. “First off, I can’t help but wonder what they are afraid of, if they think that my very presence in the league is somehow a threat to what, their masculinity? The talent of their players? I don’t understand that mentality, it’s so ridiculous. Secondly, do they truly believe the stereotype that gay men are automatically weak, or that sexuality is a sole determining factor that decides what a person can and cannot do? The idea that I should be banned from playing the sport that I love, that I have lived and breathed since I was born, based only on erroneous beliefs and prejudices, not to mention the fears of people who won’t ever have to deal with me at all, it’s a bit of an over-reaction. I hope they’ll come to realise that I’m just like every other player, in the sense that I just want to go out there every night and give my all, to play the game that I love.”

“You’ve both brought up some valid, thought provoking points, and I hope they set many people to thinking honestly about where their priorities lie. Regardless, we wish you luck with Vancouver, and congratulations on your selection.” Marcus shook the outstretched hand, grinning as Mike gave him a pat on the back and the announcer closed up, saying, “Marcus Aquila, folks, you’ll be seeing plenty of him in the coming year, so get used to the idea.” The three shared a laugh, and Marcus felt his heart swell just a bit, and he knew that he’d have more support than he could have imagined before all this began.

**

The door of the hotel room crashed against the wall as Marcus and Esca stumbled through he doorway. The draftees and families had been invited to a ‘meet and greet’ with the Canucks organisation, and although it had been interesting, it had also been interminable. There had been no time between the draft and the party to get away, so Marcus was feeling desperate for some one on one time with Esca. Now that the party was over, he intended to get it.

“Watch the door, you big oaf,” Esca said, although his smile belied the harshness of his words. “We don’t own the place.”

“Such a shame too, with all this lovely decor,” Marcus said, kicking the door shut behind them and trying to latch on to Esca’s neck again as he had been when they’d crashed through it.

“Oh, don’t give me that,” Esca said, tugging off the jersey that Marcus had been wearing all day and tossing it on the floor. Marcus immediately took the opportunity to wrap his arms around Esca, to get his lips and tongue back on the strong neck he’d been ogling for the last few hours as Esca laughed at one joke or another. “You don’t even see the decor.”

“It all looks the same,” Marcus murmured into Esca’s collarbone. “Besides, I’d rather look at you.”

“You spent all night looking at me,” Esca said, slipping Marcus’ tie off and undoing his shirt buttons while Marcus’ hands were busy with Esca’s ass. “It’s a good thing you’re out, because you could not have been more obvious unless you’d stuck your tongue down my throat.”

“Mmm,” Marcus hummed, letting go long enough for Esca to push his shirt off. “Tonsil hockey. My second favorite kind.”

“You are utterly ridiculous,” Esca laughed, tugging on Marcus’ belt.

“Am not,” Marcus said. “Let’s practice.” He gave up on Esca’s collarbone and captured his lips, tongue sweeping in immediately, thrusting and exploring as if it was all new territory. To Marcus it was, every kiss with Esca was like a gift, he’d been so convinced he’d never have it. Now that he did, it was almost unbelievable to him.

Esca didn’t hold back either, returning Marcus’ kisses fervently and letting himself be manhandled toward the bed, dropping Marcus’ belt and then his own as they went. When his legs hit the bed he fell backwards, pulling Marcus down on top of him gasping as their heated erections came into contact, the barrier of clothing only adding to the sensation. Marcus let go of Esca’s mouth long enough to suck in a few panted breaths, noticing finally that he was half naked and Esca wasn’t.

“You’re still dressed,” he commented, gaining a snort from Esca.

“You’ve been too busy tonguing my neck to undress me,” Esca replied, crossing his hands behind his head and thrusting his groin up into Marcus’. “Better get to it,” he said, grinning.

Marcus growled, grasping the collar of Esca’s shirt and pulling the sides apart, too impatient to unbutton it one by one. Unfortunately, nothing happened. Esca’s shirt remained securely fastened.

“Hey!” Esca shouted, pushing Marcus’ hands away. “This is a good shirt!”

“Huh,” Marcus said, tugging at the buttons in confusion. “It didn’t work.”

“This isn’t the movies,” Esca said, shaking his head. “And this is an expensive shirt with good workmanship.”

“Wear cheap shirts from now on,” Marcus said, undoing the buttons the hard way.

“So you can rip them to shreds? I don’t think so.”

“Spoilsport,” Marcus said, unfastening Esca’s trousers and eagerly tugging his shirt out of the waistband, straddling Esca’s lap on the edge of the bed.

“Suck it up, princess,” Esca said with a laugh, sliding his arms out of the shirt and lifting his hips for Marcus to tug his trousers and briefs off.

“I’d rather suck you,” Marcus replied, standing up and sliding his tongue up Esca’s exposed erection, sucking at the tip for a moment before shucking his own trousers and underwear.

“Blowjobs, then?” Esca asked, completely naked now, his hands behind his head again, his formerly neat hair a riot of strands and his deceptively long legs dangling off the edge of the bed. Marcus thought the only thing that could make him sexier in that moment would be the eyeliner he had worn to prom. Marcus shivered at the thought of it. Esca was so going to wear it again.

“Actually,” Marcus said as he pulled off his socks, leaving the clothes in a heap on the floor. “I had something else in mind.”

“Oh yeah?” Esca said, leaning up on his elbows and watching Marcus with interest. “What’s up?”

“I, uh...I want you to fuck me,” Marcus said, blushing a little, even after all that time.

“Really?” Esca looked surprised. “You don’t want to shag me into the mattress in a display of rugged masculinity?”

“No,” Marcus said, climbing back on top of Esca, rubbing Esca’s cock slowly but not meeting his eyes. “My masculinity is very secure, and I...I kind of want you to take care of me tonight. If that’s okay,” he added.

Esca smiled, sitting up and running his hands up Marcus’ thighs. “It’s more than okay,” he said, scooting back a bit. “Lay down, I’ll dig up the lube.”

Marcus rolled over onto the bed, shuffling back until he was able to tug the comforter down, pushing it to the bottom of the bed for the time being, so it wouldn’t be soiled when they eventually fell asleep. He watched as Esca dug around in his suitcase, coming out with a tube and padding back to the bed, his cock bobbing in front of him. Marcus thought that it was a silly sight, but also hot.

It was even hotter when Esca tossed the lube onto the bed beside Marcus and crawled onto him, his eyes keeping contact with Marcus’ the whole time, until he reached Marcus’ groin and leaned down, licking his way from the base of Marcus’ cock to the head. Marcus groaned and clenched the sheets, his cock twitching with eagerness as Esca licked the head again. He pulled away too soon and sat up, gripping Marcus’ legs by the knees and pushing them upwards, bending over so that he could kiss Marcus, his cock sliding between Marcus’ cheeks, rubbing across his dry hole, the friction making Marcus squirm as they kissed, open mouthed and wet.

Esca pulled back suddenly, reaching for the lube before squirting some onto his finger and sliding one into Marcus’ hole, spreading the lube around before quickly adding another, stretching Marcus enough to accept the third before pulling back. Marcus shifted his hips impatiently while Esca lubed his cock, desperately wanting it inside him and grateful that, in the past several months, his body had become more accustomed to bottoming, relaxing and opening up with more ease.

And then Esca was positioning himself, rubbing the lube from the tip of his cock into Marcus’ crack before pushing in with a moan, holding Marcus’ legs wide with a hand on each thigh.

“Esca, oh my god,” Marcus said, gasping for breath as he was pinned down to the bed, unable to do anything but take it, whatever Esca wanted him to.

“Oh yeah, you do like that, don’t you,” Esca said, pulling back slowly and thrusting in, keeping a slow, steady pace as he shifted, trying to find the spot inside that would make Marcus see stars.

“Yeah,” Marcus panted, hands clenched in the sheets once more as Esca held him down and moved inside of him. Suddenly he moaned involuntarily as Esca found it, his cock rubbing against Marcus’ prostate and bringing it to life, the sensations expanding with each stroke. He began to thrust harder now, faster, each time burying himself to the hilt in Marcus’ eager body, bring forth feelings that Marcus hadn’t even know how to imagine before Esca had shown him how good it felt.

“If only they could see you now,” Esca said in a hushed voice, his eyes intent on Marcus’ face. “All those people who were sucking up to you, trying to get a piece of you before you become some kind of hockey legend. Did you notice them? Trying to get your attention, trying so hard to impress you?”

Marcus just gasped for breath, his body shaking from the intensity, but Esca insisted he answer.

“Tell me,” he said roughly, thrusting harder, his hands sliding up Marcus’ legs to his ankles, holding them wider now, filling Marcus at a new angle, but still nudging his prostate more often than not.

“No, I...only saw you,” Marcus said, his voice strained from lack of oxygen and from his impending orgasm.

“I know you did,” Esca said. “I saw you following me around the room, no matter who tried to gain your attention, it was all on me, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it?” he repeated, pausing his thrusting and rotating his hips, rubbing on Marcus’ prostate from a different angle.

“Always,” Marcus cried, trying to move, wanting Esca to move, anything to release the building pressure tingling at the base of his spine. “Please, Esca,” he begged, one hand letting go of the sheet to clutch at Esca's arm desperately.

“That's right,” Esca soothed, pulling back to begin thrusting again, making Marcus whine with relief. “I'm the only one who can make you beg like this, just me.”

“Just you,” Marcus repeated in a whisper, his whole body focused on the sensations rushing through him as Esca quickened the pace, his balls slapping on Marcus' ass with every stroke. The renewed pace set Marcus’ blood aflame and within moments he was clenching up, his hole tightening around Esca’s cock as his orgasm reverberated through his body, wave after wave flowing through him as he came all over his belly, his cock untouched.

“You are the hottest thing I've ever seen,” Esca panted, his thrusts losing rhythm as his climax approached, his body tensing. “Coming all...over yourself like...like...” he never finished the sentence, his breath stolen at last as he emptied himself into Marcus' twitching hole.

Marcus watched, awed by the blissful look on Esca’s face as he came, the way his muscles tightened and then relaxed, slack in the aftermath. Esca let go of Marcus’ legs, letting them drop boneslessly to the bed, and collapsed on top of him, breathless.

“Like what?” Marcus asked, curious about what Esca would have said.

“What?” Esca said, panting, looking up at Marcus in confusion.

“Never mind,” Marcus replied, smiling to himself, curling his fingers into Esca’s hair, goosebumps erupting over his chest from Esca’s heavy breaths.

“Hmm,” Esca said, making no attempt to move, not that Marcus wanted him to.

Time passed, Marcus didn’t know how much, but he did know that he was going to fall asleep soon, and he didn’t want to wake up crusty.

“Esca, up,” he said, giving Esca a shove.

“Don’t wanna move,” Esca said, but he rolled over anyway, grinning sleepily at Marcus, who got off the bed and went to the bathroom, wetting a cloth to wipe them off with.

“Shower in the morning, yeah?” Marcus said as he cleaned up, handing Esca the cloth when he was done.

“Sounds good. What are the plans for tomorrow?” Esca asked as Marcus turned off the lights.

“Meetings with the management, some media stuff, interviews and what not,” Marcus said, climbing into bed, snuggling close to Esca. “It’ll probably be a bit nuts, everyone will want a piece of me.” Marcus blushed a little at the phrase, thinking of the way Esca had said it to him not long before.

“I’m sure they will,” Esca said, wrapping himself around Marcus, twining their legs. “As long as they all know you are mine, and to be returned to me in the same condition you left.”

“I never return to you in the same condition I leave,” Marcus pointed out. “I’m always much more horny when I come back.”

Esca laughed softly, his hot breath puffing against Marcus’ neck.

“As it should be,” he said, slipping into quiet and shortly after, sleep.

**

The rest of July was spent in a bit of a whirlwind. Marcus needed to pack everything he owned and find a place to live in Vancouver. Fortunately for him, money wasn’t a problem, because Vancouver real estate didn’t come cheap. Also fortunate was that he had Uncle’s help in finding a place that was good value for his money. In fact, Uncle did most of the work, all Marcus had to do was view the townhouse that Uncle preferred. He had loved it immediately, not needing to consider any of the others which Uncle had prepared as back up.

His conversation with Esca had been much more nerve wracking than the buying of the house. Marcus had been utterly unsure of what Esca wanted to do, all he knew was that he wanted Esca with him, he wanted Esca there when he came home, every morning, he wanted Esca beside him every night.

He finally broached the subject the day before he and Uncle were planning to view the house that would become his home. The peace of lying in Esca’s arms after yet another bout of vigorous love-making made him confident, so he spoke up, braving the question, at last.

“Esca,” he said quietly, soaking up the feeling of Esca’s fingers dragging through his hair, scratching his scalp softly as they passed.

“Hmm,” Esca hummed as he always did in response to Marcus’ post coital queries. He seemed to enjoy lying like this as much as Marcus did.

“Move in with me,” Marcus said simply, holding his breath when Esca’s fingers stilled. Then they gripped the strands and tugged, forcing Marcus’ face upward to face him. Marcus breathed a sigh of relief at the soft, loving smile on Esca’s face.

“I’ve been waiting for you to ask,” Esca said, tugging Marcus up further for a slow kiss, just lips and the barest meeting of tongues.

“Have you?” Marcus teased, knowing his smile likely made him look like an idiot. “You were that certain I’d ask you?”

Esca laughed, shaking his head at Marcus’ attempt at humour. “Silly boy,” he said softly. “You’d be lost without me.”

The smile slipped off Marcus’ face as the weight of Esca’s words settled over him. “I would,” he replied, sliding up so that they were level. “It doesn’t bear thinking about.”

“Good,” Esca whispered, running his fingertips across Marcus’ face, forehead, cheek and jaw, before sliding over his lips. “Because I’d be lost without you, as well. I love you, hockey boy.”

Marcus smiled again, his chest feeling tight and painful but in a good way, a way that made him want this moment to last forever. “I love you too.”

“What are you going to do about Andrew?” Marcus asked, just realizing that 90 minutes each way was too far a commute for either of them to make. He didn’t think Esca wanted to give Andrew up either, they’d come so far together.

“Oh, we’ve already worked it out,” Esca replied with a smirk.

“You have?” Marcus asked, surprised.

“Yep. The thing is, you were taking forever to ask, so we just couldn’t wait for you,” Esca said, and Marcus laughed.

“So he’s moving too?” he asked.

“Of course,” Esca said. “It’s not often he’ll get to coach an Olympic qualifying skater, and apparently his wife has wanted to move to Vancouver anyway, since their girls grew up and moved out. Turns out, you getting drafted by the Canucks was a good thing all around.”

“Awesome,” Marcus said, kissing Esca again, taking his time. “Come with me tomorrow, yeah?” Marcus asked, realizing that Esca would want to see the place too, if they were going to live together.

“Wait,” he said before Esca could reply. “You don’t want your own place, do you?” Marcus asked nervously. “Because if you do, I guess...I mean, I’d understand. And Uncle could help you out.”

“Marcus,” Esca interjected. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Okay,” Marcus said, agreeing immediately, then kissing Esca again, this time letting his hands roam, already ready for another round and, judging by Esca’s reaction, he wasn’t the only one.

**

Before Marcus knew it, it was October. The NHL season began as it always did, with Marcus watching the season’s first Hockey Night in Canada avidly, although for the first time, he was watching from his townhouse, with Esca beside him. He would hit the ice two nights later for his first regular season NHL game, and he was nervous and excited. It wasn’t going to be an easy road by any means, but he was eager and as ready as he could be.

Most of the team had accepted him, although he didn’t feel much in the way of camaraderie just yet, but he knew that took time with any new team, and it would only come after they played together, in a real game. Marcus was looking forward to it. For now he was enjoying watching the Leafs/Canadien game with a whole new outlook.

And then, after the first period, he got the biggest surprise of his life, and one of the biggest thrills.

**

“Welcome to Coach’s Corner with myself, Ron MacLean and of course, Don Cherry. So Don, what is it you want to talk about tonight?”

“Marcus Aquila.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, I do, you know, because a lot of people are coming down on Vancouver for taking him in the draft, and I know a lot of them are thinking that I’ll back them up but let me tell you, I don’t care who he’s in bed with behind closed doors, and I don’t care about the people who think it matters.”

“You don’t?”

“No, and I’ll tell you why. If the boy can play, he should play, and this kid is one of the best.”

“He comes from a hockey family.”

“Yeah, yeah, Vinnie Aquila, great guy, and one of the best goalies-”

“He had the best save percentage in the league for a few years running.”

“I remember, yeah, and it’s still one of the best. But no one seems to remember that, they only talk about the one goal.”

“The goal that lost the cup for Vancouver in ‘94.”

“That’s the one, but listen. Vinnie Aquila was an exceptional player, and his son was born to play the game, comes by it naturally.”

“He led the WHL in points this past year.”

“He did, despite the team not even making the finals, and there are a few reasons for that, Jim, will you roll the tape, there it is. So here’s Marcus Aquila playing for the Chilliwack Bruins, and this is how he plays, watch this here. So, he fights through the neutral zone and he sees this defenseman coming at him with that gleam in his eye, you know the one, and instead of trying to fancy pants his way around to score the goal, he drops the puck back and takes the hit.”

“Quite a hit, too, he rattled that guy’s teeth.”

“Yeah, he’s a big guy. So he takes down the defenseman, and his winger there, he takes the puck in and he shoots and by the time the rebound pops up, there’s Aquila ready to grab it, and he scores. He should get an assist and a goal for that one, there.”

“Here’s another one, up along the boards.”

“We know that’s where the game is won or lost, on the boards, and he doesn’t seem to give up the puck once here’s there, always manages to get the puck out, to the guy on the line or the one in the slot. He’s a fighter, and he’s not afraid to take the big hits or the assist.”

“A team player.”

“He’s a team player all around. Look, here’s a little altercation, one of the other team is taunting another Bruin, that little guy there, and in comes Aquila, pulling the attention to himself, you see that, he’s watching out for his team mates, and he’s no pansy, watch. See, there go the gloves and boom, he knocks that guy hard enough to pop his teeth out, then he takes one in the jaw himself, but he doesn’t even flinch, he just goes right back and he takes this guy to the ice.”

“Not afraid to get gritty in there.”

“No, definitely not.”

“So there are some who are saying that he should be banned from the league altogether, before he even gets to play for Vancouver.”

“Yeah.”

“They’re claiming it’s a man’s sport and he doesn’t belong in it, or that he should have just kept quiet about his inclinations.”

“Well that’s the thing there, you can be sure there are other guys in the NHL who are gay, if you go by the stats there’s bound to be more than a handful, but they keep quiet about it because of that very thing.”

“They don’t want to be penalised for that.”

“No, and you can’t blame them given the response to this but I have to admire this kid, I tell you.”

“Some would call it foolish, being out before he’s even been drafted.”

“Some would, but you notice he still got drafted. And he went first over-all.”

“That’s got to tell you something.”

“It does, and Vancouver did themselves a big favour by taking him, despite the controversy. This kid is gonna be a big player in the league, mark my words.”

“So you like him, them?”

“I do, he’s a great Canadian player, he works hard, he’s aggressive, he keeps his head down and his stick on the ice and he fights for it, fights for every goal and every play.”

“Here’s another clip, thanks Jim.”

“Right and here, you see, he’s aggressive, fighting that puck from behind his own net and passing it out, and here, he dashes up to join his winger, these two work really well together.”

“That’s uh, Torus, Luke Torus.”

“Yeah right, Torus, he’s a good little player too, he went what, third round?”

“68th overall.”

“Not too bad, right there, and look, watch as they push up the ice, passing back and forth as if neither of them wants the puck, but that’s how you move it up the ice. This isn't a European rink where you’ve got miles of room to skate, this is Canadian hockey at its best and here they go, getting in onside and passing it around and here, there it is. You see that?”

“He dropped the puck back and distracted the defenseman.”

“Excellent stick work there, he didn’t even let on that he didn’t have the puck anymore, and there, the other winger took it and scored, earning both the boys an assist for that one and they deserve it.”

“He’s a smart player.”

“Intuitive, he’s intuitive. He knows where his teammates are and he knows where the other team is, he’s always watching.”

“Very observant.”

“But he doesn't over think it, you know, he doesn’t hang onto the puck, waiting for the shot, he just takes it and makes his own shots. And it works because he’s intuitive, he knows what the other team is thinking, he can get into their heads and exploit those weaknesses.”

“He’s certainly in the goalie’s heads, he’s got an infamous wrist shot from what I hear.”

“Accurate and intuitive, and aggressive to boot. They can say what they want about him not being manly enough for the sport, but I tell you, if they ever saw him play they’d shut up real fast, and you have to wonder if they’re just afraid to see him on the ice for Vancouver.”

“It takes a lot of courage to stand up for yourself and not hide who you are, especially when you’re gay in this kind of game.”

“It does, and he deserves the respect for that, and for the way he plays.”

“Running out of time here, but I guess you’ve already answered my next question.”

“Oh?”

“Do you think he should be allowed to play?”

“I think they’ll do a disservice to the game if they don’t let him play. He’s gonna be a star, I’ll tell you now, he’s a great little player and he’ll make a great captain too, you just wait.”

“Not so little, actually, he’s about the size of two of you.”

“Ha!”

“Right well, that’s all the time we have for today, we’ll be back after these messages with your second period in this season opener between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadien.”

**

February 2010

The Pacific Coliseum was packed full that night, making Marcus very grateful that he was privileged to have such a great seat, in the section of the stands set aside for other Olympians. Marcus hadn’t anticipated being counted among them, but it seemed that fortune was on his side. Being selected for the Canadian Olympic team was an honour he hadn’t imagined, but it was thrilling nonetheless.

It also meant he had a prime seat from which to see what would eventually be Esca’s victory. Marcus was certain he would bring home the gold, his confidence in Esca’s abilities was absolute.

The wait, however, was even more interminable than it had been when Marcus watched the competition on TV. At least there were more distractions, spectators from all over the world, complete with all the idiosyncrasies of their nationality. It was highly entertaining, at times.

Finally Esca was on the ice for the warm up and, just like when he’d watched the televised events, he couldn’t take his eyes off Esca. But this time, he didn’t have to rely on the cameras to take the pictures for him.

Esca looked amazing. This wasn’t unusual, at least as Marcus was concerned, but it was true nonetheless. He was wearing a pair of black dress slacks and a tight white t-shirt and bow tie, along with thin black suspenders that, while not doing anything to actually hold his pants up, accented his wiry musculature quite well.

What had really grabbed Marcus’ attention was the make up. Esca’s face was pale, not completely white, but much paler than it was normally, his eyes outlined in the same fashion he had worn to prom, only darker, thicker, much more dramatic. The effect was striking, Esca had a flair for costumes and choreography that bordered on genius. With Andrew’s guidance and expertise, he never failed to amaze the spectators, as well as the judges. Marcus was certain this night would not be an exception.

He didn’t have long to wait, fortunately. Esca was third to skate in the final group of ten, and after the second skater had finished, Marcus was on the edge of his seat, watching as Esca skated around the ice, warming up and waiting for his cue.

All eyes were trained on Esca’s starting pose, hands on hips, head quirked, one foot propped up on the heel of his blade, as if he had been frozen in place, suddenly. The music began, a tinkling piano at first, and Esca began to move, jerky, forceful movements giving way to smooth strides as he began the program. Marcus chuckled when he realized that the costume matched the dance, that Esca was performing a mime on ice, jumps and spins punctuating stretches of footwork and gestures that flowed seemingly effortlessly, one into the next.

The program was much too brief, in Marcus’ opinion, over in a few short minutes, the wait for Esca’s score seeming almost as long. Marcus watched, feeling helpless, until the scores came up and the nervousness dissipated.

From across the arena, Marcus could see Esca embracing Andrew, their faces highlighted on the big screen, the evidence of their pleasure. Esca was solidly in first place, his score quite a bit higher than any of the others had managed. Marcus breathed a sigh of relief, although the tension did not leave him completely. Seven more skaters to go, each one potentially with a higher score. Only time would tell.

**

Marcus was impatient. He had been well aware of how long it would take Esca to get showered and changed and then get free of the various demands on his time, media, officials, even Andrew, but, despite knowing this, Marcus was beginning to get restless.

To make matters worse, a woman across the room had been eyeing him for a while, whispering to the man by her side, the man who was holding a camera, albeit a much smaller one than the average reporter carried. A surreptitious glance at their clothing revealed media passes clipped to their shirts, but Marcus was still wary. Talking to reporters non stop was exhausting, even more now that Marcus was in the NHL and playing for the Olympic team.

The room was filled with family and friends of the skaters in Esca’s group. They had been the last to skate and were the last to leave, particularly because they were considerably more in demand. The media in the room was yet another indication of that. Very few reporters were actually allowed behind the scenes at the events, and were forced to wait for their chance at an interview.

He was distracted from his observation by a door opening at the other end of the room, at last, and several skaters and coaches emerging, mingling with the press and their family members. Marcus stood up on his toes, hoping to see over the crowd so that he could spot Esca but, just when he was beginning to wonder if Esca was coming at all, he spotted Andrew. He was taller than Esca and therefore easier to spot, but a sighting of Andrew meant that Esca was not far behind.

Marcus waited less patiently than ever as they navigated their way through the crowd, watching Esca hungrily as Andrew clapped him on the shoulder and gave Marcus a nod and a smile before slipping off through a side door.

Esca approached Marcus with a wide grin, which Marcus returned, clasping Esca around the waist and pulling him into an enthusiastic hug, Esca’s arms around his neck. They rocked a bit on the spot, laughing with each other at the joy of Esca’s accomplishment.

“You were amazing,” Marcus said when they pulled back, his hands rubbing up and down Esca’s back. “That costume, and the make-up, I-” he didn’t know what to say, not there in front of so many people where they could not take the conversation to its logical conclusion, so he leaned in to kiss Esca instead, letting his lips and tongue do the talking for him.

“I thought you’d like that,” Esca replied, smiling up at him, making Marcus’ chest fill with happiness. Being with Esca had not become any less amazing in the year they’d been together, Marcus was certain it never would.

“I liked it too much,” Marcus said. “It’s been hell waiting-” he was interrupted by a throat clearing beside them. He turned his head to see the woman who he had been watching earlier, her camera man behind her and a disarming smile on her face.

“Gentlemen,” she said. “I’m Alana Rowe, from Xtra, and I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind answering a few questions?”

Marcus recognized the name of a popular gay news site, understanding why they had not been permitted into the backstage area, but had waited around for the skaters to emerge. It was very likely she had been waiting for Esca, finding Marcus must have been quite a boon for her. He shared a look with Esca, who nodded, turning to give Alana his best ‘interview smile’, as Marcus called it.

“Sure,” he replied, lacing his fingers with Esca’s and imitating his smile. "Fire away."

“Thank you,” she said, nodding at the camera man, and moving to stand beside Esca, taking a breath and then beginning.

“This is Alana Rowe with Xtra’s special Olympic report in Vancouver, British Columbia. I’m here to bring you an interview with figure skating sensation, Esca MacCunoval, one of the few openly gay athletes at this Olympics, one of only two out Canadian Olympians. We also have the good fortune of having the other here as well, Marcus Aquila, from the Canadian Men’s Hockey team. Gentlemen, thank you both for agreeing to speak with us.”

“You’re welcome,” Esca said, squeezing Marcus’ hand.

“First of all, Esca, your performance tonight was nothing short of incredible. Just how much training do you need to learn all those moves, especially the jumps?”

Esca chuckled a bit, setting Alana at ease, as well as Marcus. “Well, it’s both easier and harder than it looks. It takes a lot of practice and a lot of falling to get them right, although different coaches will use various methods to help teach their kids how to jump. Once you have the basics down, it’s just a matter of practice and then strength to add more rotations and then learning how to do the combos. The spins are almost as difficult to learn, you have to keep your body utterly still as any unwanted movements can jar you out of the spin or move you across the ice, which the judges dock points for if it’s pronounced.”

Marcus listened as Esca spoke, his passion and enthusiasm really coming across in his words and gestures.

“Fascinating,” Alana said. “And not for the faint of heart, I assume.”

“No, it’s not. It takes a certain kind of courage, or insanity, as my father used to say, to throw yourself across the ice and into the air, only to land on the edge of a blade.”

“Very wise of him,” Alana replied with a wide smile. “As for this event, how do you feel about your chances of winning the gold? I hope I’m not jinxing anything by saying you certainly seem assured of a medal, at least.”

Esca laughed again, making Marcus smile as well. “Oh, I think my chances are pretty good, of at least ending up in the top three. I have some pretty talented competition though, so I don’t want to count on anything. Besides, you never know if you’re going to be the unlucky person to hit a chunk of ice wrong and miss a step or fall out of a jump, anything can happen.”

“Well, I wish you the best of luck on Thursday, I’m sure that all of Canada will be watching and cheering for you.”

Esca nodded his thanks and Alana turned her attention to Marcus. “Marcus Aquila, we’re so fortunate to have found you here as well. How are you settling into the team? Is there any friction between you and the other players on account of your being gay?”

“Well, to be honest, there’s always a bit of friction. Most of the players on the team have never met me before, perhaps only playing one or two games against the Canucks this season, and a lot of them don’t quite know what to make of me. I hope that they are coming to respect my play, and to forget, at least a little, all the controversy that had been tossed around, so we can just focus on winning a medal.”

“The Canadian Men’s team has a very good shot at the gold medal again this year, in all likelihood, both of you may be leaving the games with a gold medal around your necks. We at Xtra are very excited about the prospect, there are so few gay athletes of your caliber, and to have two competing for Canada, and both in the running for the medals, well, it’s thrilling.”

“I think you’ll be seeing more gay and lesbian athletes speaking out about their sexuality,” Marcus replied. “It’s only a matter of time and I can speak from experience to say that it’s worth it. Not having to lie or pretend makes every accomplishment much more fulfilling.”

“I hope your success will inspire many younger gay athletes across Canada, and the world,” Alana agreed, nodding. “I just have a few more questions, which I’m sure our members in particular will be interested in. I couldn’t help but notice the two of you are very close, are you dating?”

“I was wondering when you’d be getting to that,” Esca said with a laugh, giving Marcus a wink. “Yes, we are dating, very happily, I might add.”

“Congratulations,” Alana said beaming. “Did you meet here at the Olympics, or did you know each other previously through Team Canada?”

It was Marcus’ turn to laugh, at Alana’s assumption. “No, as a matter of fact, we met about a year and a half ago,” he replied, smiling at Esca and squeezing his hand. “We were training in the same arena in Chilliwack and we both attended the same high school for grade twelve. We’ve been dating for a year now.”

“Exactly a year,” Esca agreed. “Last February you finally gave in and stopped trying to resist me,” he added with a laugh, bumping his shoulder into Marcus’ arm.

“I don’t know why I even tried,” Marcus said, letting go of Esca’s hand and wrapping his arm around Esca’s shoulders, bringing him in closer. “At any rate, we’ve been dating for a year and we’ve been living together here in Vancouver since July.”

“That’s wonderful. I’m sure many a young boy will be heartbroken to hear that you are both taken, however,” Alana said.

“We hope that they’ll find each other, instead,” Esca said, grinning, settling his head against Marcus’ shoulder. “And that they’ll stand up for themselves, and be honest with those around them. Remember kids, it does get better.”

“I’d like to thank you both on behalf of our staff and readers, and wish you both the best of luck in your events,” Alana concluded, turning to face the camera with a smile. “For Xtra special reports, I’m Alana Rowe, from the Vancouver Olympic Games.”

**

Of course, once the media had gotten hold of Marcus and Esca’s interview with Alana, the requests for more interviews of the two of them together had increased. Apparently it was interesting that they were both gay, but the fact that they were dating and living together was exponentially more fascinating.

Some of Marcus’ team mates had given him slaps on the back, in encouragement or relief that he wasn’t single and looking at them, Marcus didn’t know. But he’d take it. The team was engaged in a playoff game that afternoon, but what was foremost on Marcus’ mind was Esca’s long program that evening. If he was lucky, the game wouldn’t go into overtime and he would be able to get across town to watch Esca’s skate. If he was lucky.

When the game was over, Marcus got changed and showered in record time, spent another hour doing interviews and other game related things, and then dashed outside to hail a cab, as soon as he could manage it. It was a fifteen minute drive to the Pacific Coliseum on a normal day, he’d be lucky if he got there in half an hour, that night.

He used his pass to gain entry and ran up to the section for athletes, hearing only the music on the loudspeakers, which he was sure wasn’t Esca’s. A quick glance at the ice told him that it wasn’t Esca, which meant he’d made it. Only just, as the skater on the ice finished with a flourish and Marcus realized that he was the third place skater.

He relaxed back in his seat, finally sparing a glance at the others in the section, smiling and waving at a few before trying to calm his racing heart as the second place skater glided onto the ice and began his program.

He was good. Really good. And Marcus had, over the last eighteen months, become very adept at spotting what the judges were looking for, as well as what pleased the crowd. The performance made Marcus a little bit uneasy, but he knew that Esca had beat the guy before, he could certainly do could do it again.

Esca stepped onto the ice to cheers and whistles from most of the assembled crowd, even those who were not Canadians were eager to see him skate, as word of his unique, entertaining performance had spread. It seemed that tonight would be no different.

Esca was in blues and browns that night, his costume almost mossy in appearance. Marcus was certain that, on anyone else, it would be rather dull, but Esca’s sharp, wiry frame made it look dramatic, the smudges on his face giving him an eerie air. He arranged himself in a ball on the ice, waiting for the music to start, looking like a mossy rock, his face hidden and his hair mixing in, adding to the effect.

The music began and he began to stretch, reaching out with one limb and then another, lifting himself up suddenly and arching, spinning from one foot to the next, his strides stretching, gaining speed as he went. Then he shifted again stopping on a toe pick and pushing off in the opposite direction, his movements gaining more speed and fluidity until he spread out and leapt into the air, landing a triple axel perfectly, before spinning again, stopping on his toe pick and moving in the opposite direction, performing the mirror image with a triple lutz at the other end of the ice.

The program continued in that fashion, back and forth, moving in one direction and then the next, spinning this way and that, as if Esca was in competition with himself. And Marcus had to admit that he probably was. Every shift drew the crowd in more, every movement, every element repeated as if in a mirror, and each one performed with precise perfection and incredible elegance.

If Marcus hadn’t already been madly in love with Esca already, he would have fallen again, watching him like this.

At last the program ended, the music fading as Esca crumpled in on himself again, pulling each limb in, ending in the same position he’d started in. The arena was silent for a long moment, until Esca stood up, graceful and grinning, his chest heaving as he gulped in lungfuls of air, his cheeks red with exertion under the make-up.

The crowd shot to its feet, cheering and clapping and throwing bouquets onto the ice, but Marcus was still in his seat, breathless. He felt a surge of gratitude, unable to believe in his luck that he is the one who holds that man in his arms every night. That he is the one who is allowed to touch Esca, to kiss him, to wake up with him every morning.

Finally he stood and clapped, noticing when Esca turned to the part of the arena where Marcus was sitting, staring right at him with a huge grin, before turning and stepping off the ice to await his score.

And it was a good one. Fabulous even. Esca not only won the long program, but his lead, already wide, was widened by the result winning him the gold medal by a large margin. Marcus cheered, screaming and jumping and hugging the girls next to him who were as much in awe as he was, wishing desperately that he could be down there with Esca, wanting more than anything to kiss the breath out of him and drag him off to a quiet place.

‘Later,’ he assured himself. Once the medals were awarded and the media had finished with him, once everyone had gone home, then Marcus could drag Esca to bed and do filthy, wonderful things with him.

Esca stepped onto the ice again, waving a good sized Canadian flag as he skated the victory lap, waving and cheering, his smile infectious. When he passed Marcus, he turned and slid backwards, blowing Marcus a kiss with his free hand, spinning forward again as the girls around Marcus swooned.

“Do you know him?” one of them asked Marcus, hey eyes wide.

“I do,” Marcus said with a huge smile. “He’s my boyfriend.”

**

June 2010

It was a lovely spring day in Vancouver, and Marcus was enjoying it to the fullest. Life had been a little crazy since Esca had won gold in the Olympics, sure Marcus had won a gold medal as well, but it had been a team effort, while Esca’s medal had been won on pure talent and athleticism, not to mention a healthy dose of innovation.

Things had finally settled down, and with the Canucks out of the playoffs that year, both of them were free to enjoy the late spring sunshine. They had decided to head downtown and wander around a bit, do some shopping, see a movie, have dinner, typical date type things that they didn’t get to do often.

They had just emerged from the movie theater, laughing at the explosive end of Iron Man 2 when they, literally, ran into someone Marcus had hoped never to see again.

“Excuse me, oh,” Galen Placyd said, his lip twisted in derision. “It’s you.”

“Unfortunately,” Marcus said with a sneer, noting Esca’s restraining squeeze.

“Well, look at you two, aren’t you precious,” Placyd said, eyeing their clasped hands. “What’s the matter Aquila, are the Canucks not paying you enough to upgrade your boy-toy?”

“Just when I thought you couldn’t be any more of an asshole, here you are, a homophobic asshole,” Marcus said.

“I’m not homophobic,” Playcd said. “I just don’t like you.”

“You’d better be careful, Placyd,” Esca said, his voice taking on the steel tone that Marcus appreciated when it was not directed at him. “Or this conversation will end the same way the last one did.”

“What, with your brute of a boyfriend resorting to violence to mask his lack of conversational skills?” Placyd sneered, and Marcus had to close his eyes to keep from decking the guy again. Not only was he older and supposed to have more restraint, he could get in big trouble with the league and the media for decking a guy off the ice. Even if it was a puffed up prick like Placyd.

“That wasn’t a conversation, Placyd,” Marcus shot back. “That was you being an asshole and insulting me out of some misplaced sense of superiority. Much like this ‘conversation’,” Marcus said, with air quotes at the appropriate time.

“My superiority is not misplaced,” Placyd said, puffing out what Marcus supposed was his chest, although it looked more like that of a prepubescent boy than of a man Placyd’s age.

“Really?” Marcus asked. “How many gold medals do you have?”

“Pfft,” Placyd scoffed and the urge to punch him again rose up inside Marcus, kept in check only by Esca’s hand on his arm. “So you rode on the coat tails of the team, big deal.”

“Sure, sure, if you want to think that, fine,” Marcus said. “But Esca, on the other hand, didn’t have any team mates at all.” He smiled at Esca proudly, and Esca smiled back. “Last I hear, singles meant only one, isn’t that right?”

Esca nodded, smirking at the ground, but Marcus continued. “I’m not the only one looking down at you Placyd. But Esca is a better man even than me. He won his gold medal with his own strength, on his own merit, and that is something an ass like you will never be able to match, much less understand.”

Marcus tugged at Esca’s hand, and walked past a silent Placyd, not missing the smug look Esca gave him as they passed. Some people were best left forgotten, and Marcus hoped he could slot Placyd firmly into that category.

**

October 2010

The first year had been more than a bit bumpy, but it had settled down well by the end. It had only taken about half the season for the other players to realize that Marcus didn’t care the slightest bit about their naked asses, and to relax around him. The fact that his face lit up like a Christmas tree when speaking about Esca hadn’t hurt either, he was sure.

It had taken the rest of the league more time to come to terms with him, but Marcus had found that standing his ground and not letting anyone push him around was the best defense. He had clocked far too many minutes in the penalty box the first half of the season, a result of standing up for himself with fists and hard hits on the boards.

Everything cooled off once the rest of the team began standing up for him, suddenly the opposing players who had taunted him found themselves up against an entire line of irate Canucks, instead of just the one, standing alone. The gloves dropped quickly for a stretch of several weeks, and retaliation was swift upon anyone who taunted Marcus about his life off the ice, or anyone who had laid a dirty hit on him, until the word had spread that Vancouver would not tolerate any more shit spewed in Marcus’ direction.

Of course the fact that he continued to score, assist and work his ass off helped a lot, his points kept mounting and the fans became more enthusiastic as well, cheering raucously when his name was announced, or when he made a play, and booing loudly and incessantly anyone who dared to take a cheap shot.

And then, right before the end of the season, on the verge of the playoffs, several other players stood up in support of Marcus, following that by coming out as well. Marcus, along with the rest of the NHL, was shocked. One guy came out, but the other two went further than that, admitting that they were a couple and had been living together for several years. Their cohabitation had been common knowledge though their relationship had not. One was a young player, only a few years older than Marcus was, but the other was a veteran player, one who had been a star player for years, having been among the league’s top scorers, having also brought several Stanley Cups to his team over his lengthy career.

Despite the uproar these announcements had caused, things had settled down fairly quickly, and Marcus found it was much easier after that. Ignorant, hateful people abounded, but the numbers of those who were supportive far outweighed them, thankfully. His second year in the league would no doubt go smoother, certainly helped along by his being a top scorer and winning the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year.

Now, at the start of his second season, Marcus had a feeling that everything was going to be fine. More than fine.

Little did he know how much that would prove to be true.

**

June 2011

The Stanley Cup Final. Marcus was still having trouble believing that he was actually there, and Game Seven was about to begin. It had been a rough series, the Canucks had been unable to win except on home ice, and almost unable to score on Thomas, who seemed to be on fire.

But they had the home ice advantage that night, and Marcus was suddenly starkly aware of the stakes. Not only the Cup, the one that could be the first ever for Vancouver, but for his father. The last time Vancouver was in that position, his father had sat here, in the dressing room with his team mates, preparing for the game of his life, and yet, unable to bring forth the motivation needed to secure it.

Marcus didn’t need any extra motivation. The fans, the management, his team mates, all of these created a vast amount. His father’s memory brought even more. Knowing that Esca was in the arena watching, along with his uncle, was just the icing on the cake. Luke and Cottia were there as well, Marcus knew, no doubt as sickeningly sweet as ever, as they’d been since their prom. Marcus liked to mock Cottia about her cooing over him and Esca and then turning around and being the worst offender. She took it well, and answered in a mature, grown up fashion by sticking her tongue out at him. Marcus knew that, in another life, he could have loved her.

And then the team was called out, it was time.

The first period swept by in a flurry of missed chances, hard hits and frantic face offs. The referees had let them play, not calling anything except the most blatant of penalties. It was the kind of game that Marcus loved, and he didn’t want to stop for the intermission.

He thought it was odd that the 20 uninterrupted minutes between periods seemed to stretch out longer than the periods themselves. But, finally, it was time for the second.

It passed as quickly as the first, and with as many goals, That is to say, none. Both goaltenders were unbeatable, and tempers began to run hot as the minutes ticked down. One hard hit led into another and that’s when the taunting started.

It wasn’t a surprise, really, despite how much better the last year had been, there were still players who despised Marcus on principle, and his success and acceptance only fueled their rage. There was some tussling, but before things could get out of hand, the period was over.

This time the intermission went quickly, Marcus’ head was spinning, knowing that time was running out. Twenty minutes left in the game, and Marcus knew that one goal would win it. If he could just get past the defence, past the wall of Thomas’ pads, he knew they could win it all.

When they were called out for the third period, Marcus was ready. He was driven by the memory of his father, the energy of the crowd, the desire to hoist that Cup over his head the way he’d seen it done every year as far back as he could remember.

Of course, the taunting and the increasingly dirty hits continued, as the Bruins, and wasn’t that ironic, that the last team Marcus had played for should be named after the very team that he was pitted against, tended to play rough when the stakes were high.

Halfway through, ten minutes in, ten minutes left, and one of the Bruins hit Marcus right outside the blue line, hard enough to jar him, hard enough to vibrate his bones, and that sparked it. One push led to the next, and then Marcus was in the middle of it, turning circles around the other player, the one who was just itching for a fight. Marcus wanted to hit him, the sewage pouring out of his mouth deserved nothing less, but he didn’t. He held on, held on to his stick, on to his gloves, on to his will, determined not to let go.

He knew what would happen if he did. He’d deck the guy, and then he’d be thrown out of the game, and that would be the end of it. No more Stanley Cup, even if the team won it would be tainted by his ejection and that was something he could not allow. So he hung on.

And then, the taunt came that changed his momentum, that made Marcus laugh with the absurdity of it all. Suddenly he thought of Charlie and the school yard taunts, and he thought of Esca, the way he’d faced it all, cool in the midst of chaos, just letting it all lash against him until he was the only one standing.

“What’s the matter, Aquila? Are you a pussy?” the other player sneered, trying to get a fist in Marcus’ face, but Marcus’ just held on. “Are you afraid to fight me you little fag?”

And Marcus laughed harder, not a good idea really, as it only incensed the guy further, but he couldn’t help it.

“Are you kidding me?” Marcus called back, still chuckling with amusement. “My boyfriend is tougher than you!”

And that ended it. The guy threw a punch that did land on Marcus’ jaw, snapping his head back, but he didn’t even feel the pain. The next moment the refs were pulling them apart and escorting Marcus back to his bench, where he watched the player who hit him get escorted right off the ice. He smiled, unable to stop himself, feeling a certain sense of satisfaction knowing that such a childish prick would not see the end of the game.

The attempt to get him booted, whether purposeful or incidental, backfired in the end. Once the penalties were sorted out, Marcus felt his determination renewed, his blood on fire with the need to score the goal that won it all. He didn’t get the chance before the period was over, but he knew, in sudden death overtime, that he would.

He spent the abbreviated ten minute intermission turned inside himself, shutting off the nervous chatter of his team mates and focusing only on what needed to be done. Because this really was it. Seventeen years ago, his father had sat in a locker room much like this one, awaiting the start of overtime, the last period he would play, not knowing how it would turn out, only certain that the one he loved would not be there with him when it was all over.

Marcus was more fortunate than his father. He knew where his love would be, waiting for him outside the arena, with that stunning smile and that gleam in his eyes, just for Marcus.

It was time to end this game.

Marcus hit the ice his first shift hard and fast, the world zoning out to just him and the puck, the other players always a presence in his peripheral vision, but the puck was his focus. And then, it happened, a skirmish along the boards sent the puck out fast, just as he was skating from behind the net, it hit his stick as if it was magnetized and he was off, slipping between the Boston defencemen and across the neutral zone.

As he crossed the blue line, he spotted his chance, in the dropping of the goalie’s glove arm. Marcus knew he would bring it up fast to catch the puck, but he knew he could be faster and so, just when he made to push the puck forward, he slipped off a quick wrist shot instead, his hard fought accuracy winning out as the puck zipped by on the left side.

It was in! Lights flashing, crowd roaring, Marcus buried on the bottom of a dog pile made up of ecstatic Canucks, each one wanting to get a hand on him in excited congratulations. Marcus was stunned. Elated, relieved and thankful and a dozen different emotions, all pulling at him like elastic bands, just waiting to snap him back into harsh reality.

But they never did, somehow they were cut off and Marcus was left in a state of euphoria, as his team mates clambered off him and stumbled to the blue line to await the presentation of Lord Stanley’s Cup, the first time in their history that it had been won by the Canucks.

And when it was passed into his hands, cold and slick and impossibly heavy, Marcus felt the circle of his life complete, closing around him. He felt the burden of his father’s legacy on him, but for once it was light. The weight dissipated, leaving only pride and accomplishment and memory. He felt his father then, in a place where somehow, in some way, he was watching. Marcus could see them both, his mother and his father, could feel their pride and love for him as if they were present.

When he passed the Cup on to the next player, whispering ‘for my father,’ and kissing it swiftly as he let it go, it didn’t leave him bereft, but rather fulfilled. Whole and finally at complete peace with himself and his place in the world. The smell of the ice and the roar of the crowd were a backdrop to the rest of his life, where Esca was waiting and he was home.

fin