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Liam couldn’t remember the first time he was on the ice. Couldn’t remember what his feet felt like before the calluses and bruises, bunions and broken toes. He didn’t know what felt easier: walking on the ground, or gliding on the ice. He was intimately aware that his knowledge of classical music was far greater than the average nineteen year old, and that the things his body did on the ice sometimes defied physics. He could breathe and sigh and feel the chill that filled his lungs from the cold radiating off the ice and somehow would know he was home, know that no matter where he was, on the ice, in the rink, that’s home. 

Now if he wasn’t so goddamn lonely all the time, maybe things would start to come together. 

 

--

“Liam, you cannot do this to me.” Anders had been Liam’s agent from the start, picking him out from a sea of hopefuls in Halifax, desperate for recognition, for a way out. Liam had been the one, plucked from the ice, shuttled first to Toronto, then Edmonton, and back to Detroit. Shuttled from coach to coach, unable to stay with any for longer than a season, but his raw talent enough to propel him to a solid senior debut. 

“LIAM!”

If Liam Declan Fitzgerald could keep a coach for longer than three months, he might make it through his next meeting with his agent alive and in one piece. 

“I swear to fucking god, Liam, the next coach I find you are going to stick with and you are going to like .” Anders was practically foaming at the mouth with rage, and Liam honestly couldn’t blame him too much; Katya was the fourth coach who had quit in the past year and he honestly liked Detroit. Though it wasn’t exactly Liam’s fault he and Katya just didn’t vibe , hardly something he could have prevented. 

“Anders,” Liam whined, skating up to where Anders was standing, off the ice. “It’s not my fault.” 

Anders was practically purple. 

“I have good money that you called her at two in the morning to come get you from the rink because you were tired , five nights in a row .”

Liam shrugs, a sheepish smile on his face. “It’s her job?” He tries.

“It is not her job! ” Anders yells, voice richotetting off the high ceiling of the rink. He threw his head back and pinched the bridge of his nose, and it looked to Liam like he was counting back from 10. 

“Aw c’mon, Anders, it’s not that bad,” Liam tried, as he leaned over the edge of the boards and poked Anders in the arm. 

“Liam, I swear to god.”

“Alright, alright, who’ve you got?” 

 

---

Mike was hot. He was so hot and it was so unfortunate and he was Liam’s new Coach, and fuck it Anders could find him someone new. 

Mike was so hot it was unfair; Liam could feel himself getting hard in the yoga pants he hand on for practice, and it wasn’t like there was anywhere for him to hide in those yoga pants to begin with. He silently willed his dick to chill out, at least while it was in view of Mike at that very moment, before he could make his move on Mike. 

Liam spent his entire first skate with Mike batting his eyelashes and making sure to give him some very good views of his ass, but Mike hardly noticed any of it, barking a few comments here and there about how Liam’s form was off and if he kept landing his double axel like that he was going to break his ankle from the strain before he turned 21. 

“Miiiiiike,” Liam whined, skating up to the side of the rink where Mike was standing with a clipboard and a distinctly disgruntled look on his face. 

“Get back out there,kid.” Mike grunted, not looking up from whatever note he was writing. 

“I’m not a kid, I’m twenty.” Liam pouted. 

Now that got Mike’s attention: he looked up with one very unimpressed eyebrow raised and let out a huff of air that might have been thought of as a laugh.
“Kid.” 

“Hmph.” Liam sighed and skated back to center ice, continuing to go over his warm up routine. He hadn’t decided on his music for this year yet, just had the barest idea of what the choreography was going to be, but nothing was really set in stone until Sonya, his choreographer, had decided on the song and hammered out the details. She had sent him a list that she had narrowed down as a Spotify playlist and Liam hummed the melodies he remembered under his breath as he went through the rough moments for what would end up becoming his short program. There was one song in particular he had fallen in love with and he kept it in mind as he made the swooping turns and loops that Sonya had sketched out for him when he had talked to her about it a few days prior. 

Liam didn’t realize that he was humming loud enough that when he passed Mike, spread eagle, and noticed Mike had begun playing the song over the rink’s speaker system. 

Liam let go, beginning to feel the way the music shaped how he moved, determined the jumps he made, the twists and landings. Began pushing himself just a little harder than he was before, started reaching his fingers just a little farther out into space. It was just the breath panting hot from his lips, the way his shirt stuck to the sweat on his lower back, how his hands clammed up inside the soft gloves he wore on the ice. An arabesque, then a surge of skates across the ice to build up momentum; a triple axle, followed by a double; a reach and a spin that morphed into a squat so close to the ice itwas a miracle only his blades touched the ice. 

When he finally finished, he noticed Mike filming him on his slim cell phone, a slightly less disgruntled look on his face. 

“Not the music we’re going with, but a good start.” 

Liam’s smile wasexuberant. 

 

--

There were few things Liam liked as much as he loved annoying Mike; he had made a game of it. See how annoying he could be on flights, in the mornings durings stretches, in the evenings after practice was over. See just what pitch of voice made Mike’s left eye twitch on reflex, what singsong melody of Mike’s full name sent him over the edge. 

On the ice he was mostly well behaved, following instructions, doing his best to change the angle his axel’s landed on, much to Mike’s apparent indifference. 

Anders was pleased at the very least. They were nearing the end of the summer and Mike had yet to threaten to quit, or even walk out once from practice. 

“I think I’ve picked out your short program music,” Mike told him one morning, only three weeks after they had started training together. He tapped something on his phone and instantly a bright, energetic melody poured out of its speakers.

“Wait,” Liam tilted his head, face scrunching up in concentration. “Is that ... Sleeping beauty?” 

Mike grunted an affirmative. “Sonya will be over today with the final choreography, it’s going to be a little more intense than what you were expecting but you should be able to pull it off fine.” 

Liam gaped at him. 

“Sleeping Beauty? Really? I mean I’m gay, but I’m not that gay.” Liam retorted, leaning on the gate with a stubborn set to his lip. 

Mike’s eyebrow lifted gently at Liam’s admission. 

“It’s dynamic, full of jumps, and suits you.” Mike paused the music still coming out of his phone. “Now go warm up so you’re ready when Sonya gets here.” 

Liam stubbornly leaned on the gate. “I’m not skating to Sleeping Beauty.” 

Mike leveled him with a flat stare. “Go warm up, kid, this isn’t up for discussion.” 

“No.” 

Mike bit his tongue to keep from firing off at Liam, and Liam could tell from his eyes that he had passed the point of playfully annoying into full on anger territory. 

“Fine, pull a muscle, what do I care.” Mike responded turning to leave.

“Mike!” Liam called out, still pouting. 

Mike paused, mid-step, but didn’t turn around. 

“You didn’t even ask me!” Liam whined. 

Liam could hear Mike’s slow intake of breath at that, and tensed for whatever response was coming his way. 

“Either you skate it or you don’t, kid, but Sonya isn’t coming up with any other choreography for you and I won’t coach you through a different short program, so unless you want to find a new coach ” the subtle threat hung in the air between them before Liam huffed and pushed off the gate, skating out to center ice to begin his warm ups. 

In his haste, he missed the small smile on Mike’s lips at his forfeit. 

 

--

Liam knew he could be annoying, knew he was a lot. Knew that most people found him cute and charming but never really wanted to put up with him for very long. So it was a surprise when halfway through the competition season, two titles under him, Mike still hadn’t quit, was still putting up with his nonsense. 

It didn’t help the crush that had definitely developed over the last few months, to the point that Liam blushed furiously every time Mike so much as moved his arm to correct positioning. 

“How you holdin’ up, Sunshine?” Roman asked, skating over to Liam during warm ups for Skate Canada. Roman was one of the guys Liam regularly competed against, and they’d developed a friendship over the past few years, debuting at Senior level  in the same season. They usually stuck together during warm ups to keep the nerves and stress of the other competitors from rubbing off on them. 

Liam groaned. “He’s so hot, Roman, like so hot, it’s not fair.” He whined in response. 

Roman laughed and reached over to muss Liam’s hair, which Liam avoided with a quick duck. 

“Don’t, I gotta pin a hat to this.” Liam said, skating backwards out of Roman’s reach. 

“Oh yes, Prince Charming for your short program, right?” Roman asked, teasingly, gesturing to Liam’s tan, open front shirt, tight black pants, and billowing red cape. Mike insisted he warmed up with the cape so he would remember how it felt to spin with it attached to his shoulders. 

Liam pouted in response. “That’s Prince Phillip, thank you. Charming was Cinderella’s prince.” 

Roman put his hands up in mock surrender. “My bad, my bad, Prince Phillip.” He flipped the edge of Liam’s cape and, with a wink, he was off like a rocket around the rink, shooting towards the other end to practice one of the explosive jumps he was known for. 

As he rounded the end of the rink, Liam noticed Mike gesturing for him to come back towards him and silently willed himself not to spontaneously pop a boner in what he thought had to be the world’s tightest skating costume pants. 

Liam sighed and skated to where Mike was waving for him by the entrance gate. 

Liam stopped gracefully by the gate, cocking his head to the side in an obvious question. 

“You and Novak seemed like you were getting heated, anything I should know about?” Mike asked, gruff, as he adjusted his tie for what seemed like the millionth time. Skate Canada was a pretty big deal for both of them, and while Liam had been placing at the top of the podium at their last few competitions they were both still nervous. 

Liam flushed bright red. 

“No, nothing at all,” Liam responded, gripping the siding of the rink. “Can I go back to warm ups now?” 

Mike let out what Liam figured to be a small sigh of relief and waved him back out there. 

Liam skated right up to Roman and whispered furiously “I hate you” before going to practice his axel again, Roman’s booming laugh following him around the rink. 

 

--

There were moments where Liam was sure that the horrible crush he was harboring towards Mike was mutual. Moments where Mike’s hand lingered a moment too long on his back when Liam hugged him at the kiss and cry after a particularly good skate; moments where Liam caught Mike staring for just a second at his ass when he did his stretches. Mike always let Liam sleep on his shoulder on long flights, carted him up to his room when they landed in the dead of night, tucked him in and made sure he had what he needed for the next morning. Mike was careful with him in a way that Liam hadn’t been warned for by Mike’s former skaters; he was grouchy, they said, he worked you until perfection and then never praised you once for how much you had improved, or how perfectly you had landed that triple toe. But with Liam, Mike was always gentle. Firm, but gentle. Gave praise in a way he knew Liam would understand, “Not horrible, brat,” or “I see you’ve learned how to land so you won’t break your ankle by this time next year.” He helped when Liam didn’t stretch enough and one of his legs cramped up (one notable time causing him to fall, mid-sit-spin on the ice, and Mike had to come rescue him from his own leg, despite not wearing skates, sitting down on the ice to massage the cramp out of Liam’s calf until Liam could skate on it back to the trainer). 

Mike cared about Liam, Liam just didn’t know how much. 

 

--

“Mike, put me down !” Liam was swung over Mike’s shoulder, fireman style, with his feet dangling against Mike’s abdomen, red faced and embarrassed, desperately trying not to pop a boner.

It was edging on midnight; Liam had had a particularly poor skate that morning, one that left him with an incredibly disappointed Mike, which was even worse than a Mike who was mad at him. Mike had ended practice early, telling Liam to go out and do something to get out of the fucked up headspace he was in, and come back tomorrow ready to skate. Instead, Liam had snuck back into the rink around eight and had been working on his free skate ever since. There was a particularly tricky step sequence right at the beginning of the piece that he had been having trouble with, which resulted in Liam landing flat on his ass more than once in the days leading up to that evening’s secret practice session. 

“When I tell you,” Mike began with a grunt, leaning to shut the gate behind him and pick up Liam’s training back from where it rested just off the ice. “To go the fuck home.” He plopped Liam down on the bench most of the skaters used to take their skates on and off, and began to unlace Liam’s skates. “I mean, go the fuck home, Fitzgerald .” 

Mike pulled off Liam’s skates one after the other, not exactly gently, but with more force than strictly necessary, careful not to cut himself in the process. 

“I wasn’t finished.” Liam was so frustrated he could cry. Mike hadn’t made eye contact with him for God knew how long, he hadn’t landed a single jump in days, and his next competition was weeks away; it was starting to get to him and Liam felt so tense as though he might snap at any moment. 

“You’re finished when I say you’re finished, and I said you were finished fucking hours ago, Fitzgerald.” Mike’s voice was lower than Liam had ever heard it and the sting make his eyes prick with tears. 

Liam tipped his head back, blinking rapidly to keep the tears from spilling. Mike’s hands stilled taking off his left skate. 

“Liam,” he said around a sigh. 

“Don’t.” Liam’s voice cracked on the ‘o’. He squeezed his hands into fists and willed himself to keep it together until he could make it back to his apartment and cry in peace, without an audience. 

“Liam,” Mike’s voice was gentler now, and he shifted his weight against Liam’s legs. 

“I said–” Liam started, but was cut off by Mike gently taking Liam’s face in his broad palm and bringing him back to eye level with Mike. His hold on Liam was loose, but his hand was so warm against Liam’s already flushed face that Liam couldn’t help but bite his lip as a tear spilled over. 

Mike carefully wiped the tear away with his thumb and let out a long breath.

“Oh now you want to look at me.” Liam snapped, as he tried to tug his face from Mike’s too-warm grip. 

“You sure aren’t making this easy on me, kid, aren’t you?” Mike leaned forward, resting his arm on the bench next to Liam’s thigh, looking worn through and exhausted, as if he had been the one on the ice running drills for the last four hours. 

“You’re the one who wouldn’t look at me for the past week,” Liam all but spit, hands still balled into fists at his sides. He could feel the crescents of his nails digging into the skin of his palm as he waited to see what Mike was playing at. 

Mike sighed again, fingers tightening on Liam’s jaw. 

“Liam,” Mike closed his eyes as he said Liam’s name. 

There was at least a day’s worth of stubble on Mike’s face; Liam hadn’t noticed earlier. The bags under his eyes were deeper that Liam remembered them being, the lines in his face more pronounced, his lips chapped from the cold. Mike wasn’t that much older than Liam, he remembered the older man mumbling something about his thirty-second birthday when they first started training together. Mike had been a skater himself, before a bad landing had shattered his knee cap and he was forced to retire; he favored his left left leg if he could, the ghost of the injury still haunting him. The sweater he was wearing was a deep navy blue and it looked soft to Liam, cable knit and snug around Mike’s broad shoulders. Mike radiated heat from all over and smelled spicy and vaguely like smoke to Liam; it occurred to Liam that he had no idea what Mike had been up to prior to his interrupted, unsanctioned practice session, but he was beginning to paint a picture of Mike, alone and frustrated, nursing a drink in a bar. Liam wondered if he would still be able to taste the bitter drink on Mike’s tongue if he kissed him then. He wondered what would happen if he leaned forward, brushed his chewed and worn lips against Mike’s chapped ones. Wondered if Mike would just give in to the tension that had been mounting between them for weeks, months really, ever since the whole thing first started. Wondered if Mike would wrap him up in his arms, take him home and take him apart on the sheets, piece by piece, until he felt it during practice the next day. Wondered what Mike would do, if he would just go for it, consequences be damned. 

So he did.

Liam pushed past the hold on his face, letting Mike’s hand fall to his chest, leaned forward with his arms still in fists at his sides, and kissed Mike. There was too much pressure, though the angle was fine enough. Liam pulled back just a fraction to try again, lips slotting between Mike’s own the second time, and loosened the fists at his sides. 


--

Mike, for his part, froze. He let the moment linger between them, not pulling away but not kissing Liam back either, before finally deciding to pull back. The look on Liam’s face was defiant, but underneath that, Mike could tell that Liam was scared, terrified of being rejected by him. Terrified of the line he might have crossed in his daring moment. 

“Do you know what you’re doing, kid?” Mike asked, voice as rough as gravel. 

Liam’s terror abated a bit. 

“Yes.”

“Are you sure?” Mike’s hand was still on Liam’s chest, and his voice was rougher and lower than Liam had ever heard it. “Are you absolutely sure this is what you want?” 

Liam nodded, not trusting his voice. 

Mike watched Liam for a moment, watched his face for any sign of indecision, any sign of wanting to back out, before he nodded, mostly to himself, and kissed him back.