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the badger game

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Evan woke up instantly, the way he always did. It never took him more than a few seconds to move from sleep to full alertness; drowsiness wasted time, and after over a decade of getting up before six in the morning, he’d trained himself to get moving fast. Even semi-retirement hadn’t taught him how to sleep in.

He thought this was a good thing, actually, but some of his exes had been really annoyed by it, and Erin had said “Oh, bug, that’s so sad,” when he tried explaining the whole thing to her over drinks one night.

He started to blearily sit up, and froze when he became aware that there was someone was in bed with him, breathing heavily against the back of his neck. He couldn’t remember hooking up with anyone. He was in Seoul. He remembered that. There had been a long, boring practice yesterday, and some of the younger skaters had been messing around and fighting with ice shavings instead of keeping their minds on the job – because skating was a job, just like any other, even if they didn’t realize that yet, and some of the older ones, like Jeff, should really know better – and Evan had had to tell them to cut it out when it descended into a ragged game of tag.

There’d been a formal dinner in the hotel dining room, and he’d put in an appearance, because even if it wasn’t an ISU event, Korean sponsors paid really well and it was a good opportunity to network. He’d been planning to make an early night of it, because he was a little jetlagged and there was practice again in the morning, but then Scott Moir had come up and thrown an arm around his shoulders and invited him to the room party the Canadian skaters had organized. His colleagues didn’t beg him to join in very often, and Scott had been really insistent; Evan had been kind of flattered, so he let himself be persuaded. Okay, there had still been people there that he would’ve preferred to avoid – did he need to see his ex-girlfriend sucking face with her toyboy ice dancer? He really didn’t – and he was kind of awkward at social gatherings, but he’d had a few drinks and then –

He couldn’t remember, but there was definitely somebody spooning him. For a moment, Evan let himself enjoy it. He liked cuddling, more than most people, probably, since they were always slipping away when he came up behind them and wound his arms around them. Then he decided it was time to figure out how badly he was screwed. The chances were really high that it was a colleague, which was bad, and since he’d been drunk, a male colleague, which was worse, but there was still a tiny chance that he’d picked up a bellboy or a maid or something. That would be okay, as long as they didn’t turn out to be the sort of crazy skating fan who wanted to take clippings of his hair and wear them in a locket. Those ones always cried when he had Yuki take care of them.

Evan wriggled until the arm draped over his waist loosened, and rolled over. The arm was connected to a lightly-muscled bicep and shoulder, a smooth stretch of neck, and a faintly stubbled jaw. He couldn’t see much of the guy’s face, but the golden ringlets were totally unmistakable.

“Oh my god,” Evan said, blank with horror.

Adam stretched a little, kittenish. His eyes were still closed. “Morning,” he whispered.

“Aaah,” Evan managed. He tried to roll away, but the edge of the mattress was a lot closer than he remembered, and he lurched blindly off the side, taking the blankets to the floor with him. At least they softened the fall.

He blinked at the ceiling until Adam’s head popped over the side of the bed. “Why are you down there? Come back up into bed.” He giggled, his curls made even more halo-like by the pull of gravity, and his resemblance to a particularly innocent choirboy stronger than ever. “We can sleep in some more before breakfast.”

His voice went all purring and insinuating over sleep in, and Evan stifled the moan of denial that wanted to escape. He’d gotten out of situations that were worse than this. Probably. The thing with Tim, that had to count as worse, although right now it was hard to remember why. “I need to, um,” he said, and pulled the blankets tightly around himself. He seemed to be still wearing his boxers, but that meant nothing. “Shower.”

“Spoilsport,” Adam said. He pouted sultrily, but it had the opposite effect to whatever he was intending; Evan staggered to his feet and into the bathroom without looking back.

“I’m going to be a while in here, you should go down, warm-up’s pretty early,” he shouted through the bathroom door once it was safely bolted.

-

Evan considered skipping breakfast, but breakfast was the most important meal of the day, and the last thing he cut when he was swapping meals with protein shakes. You needed something to burn when you were on the ice. He found a hoodie with an actual hood that went up over his head and went down to breakfast.

It wasn’t a walk of shame if you were leaving your own room; he was pretty sure that only applied to leaving the other dude’s room. It wasn’t a walk of shame if no one else knew your shame. Evan desperately hoped no one knew. He was always pretty careful about which guys he slept with, and when, and sleeping with someone in the skating world in a crowded hotel at an international show was pretty fucking careless. Sleeping with Adam Rippon was even worse; he wasn’t some nobody ice dancer people wouldn’t believe.

Adam beamed at him around his spoon when he slunk in, which was not stealthy or discreet at all.

Evan grimaced and cut his eyes, but he’d had enough time to scan the dining room. His skating colleagues seemed to be grouped around two tables on the left; Adam was sitting with Yu-Na at a table that seemed to be mostly Canadians and Koreans, if you were counting Adam as an honorary Son of the Frozen North, and the rest of the Americans were sitting at the other with a few of the European skaters.

Alexei and his wife – were they married yet? Evan could never remember, but they had a kid, so it was a good bet – were sitting off by themselves at a table full of business-looking people, ignoring them all in favour of each other. Evan briefly considered going over to join them, because the other two tables weren’t appealing at all. He was pretty sure Alexei wouldn’t welcome him cutting in, though, so he weighed up his options and went to sit with the Americans.

“Good morning,” Tanith said politely, and Evan managed to smile at her, even though she was holding hands with Charlie under the table. He even kind of welcomed that; it meant everything was totally normal.

“Did you have a good night, Evan?” Meryl asked. Evan frowned at her – what did she know?.– but she smiled back at him over her yoghurt, and he decided he was getting paranoid.

“Uh, yeah,” he said. “I mean, I don’t normally do the party thing, but it’s nice for a change, I guess.”

“You’re so professional,” Charlie said brightly. He did that all the time; said things that were obviously insults but were so bland and delivered with such a cheerful tone there was no way for Evan to call him on it without looking like a touchy, jealous asshole who was imagining things. “Truly, an inspiration to us all.”

“Hey now,” Ben said, breaking in. Evan liked Ben. They’d always been kind of buddies, at least while Evan was dating Tanith, and they were still cool. “Let him get his cup of coffee before you start asking him questions. You can’t subject a man to that sort of inquisition until he’s had his coffee. Human flesh won’t stand for it.”

“Thank you,” Evan said gratefully, pushing back his chair, and he was halfway to the buffet table before he thought, what sort of inquisition?

Paranoid. Evan was definitely, totally paranoid. He got himself a cup of coffee and filled up a plate; the spread was an interesting mix of the usual toast and fruit and cereals, and small bowls of rice and soup, meats and vegetables. Nothing really looked appealing, but he helped himself to some fruit and made his way back across the room. Then he stopped. Jeffrey Buttle had switched tables and taken the empty seat beside Evan’s, and everyone at the table was leaning in, hanging on his words.

That wasn’t abnormal or anything – Jeff was smart, and funny, and kind of captivating, and Evan often found himself staring at him exactly like that – but they all kept glancing over at the other table. Evan couldn’t exactly tell who they were looking at. It could be anyone there. He could vaguely remember Joannie and Scott starting a drinking contest, and he was pretty sure that hadn’t ended well, for instance, but –

“Evan!”

“Hi, Evan.”

“Hey, Lysacek.”

“Um,” Evan said. Smooth, he was smooth. “Hey guys. Um, again. Hey, Jeff.”

“Hey, Evan,” Jeff said affably, and smiled back at him. He had probably the best smile ever; it was white and brilliant and genuine, and Evan had been kind of relieved when Jeff retired before Vancouver, because it had been really hard to remember that Jeff was competition sometimes when he was being all nice and blond and Canadian at you. You weren’t meant to like competition. You shook their hands, but you didn’t smile back at them like you were friends. It was hard to remember to ignore Jeff in the locker rooms or at the ISU banquets or even at shows during the off-season, but Evan had done his best. Was still doing his best, because he was a professional, and this was a job, not fun –

“Evan, your cup’s kind of tilted,” Meryl said. “Sweetheart, you’re getting coffee on your pants.”

“Oh,” Evan said. Now she mentioned it, his thigh felt kind of warm and tingly. “Right.”

“It was nice that you decided to join us last night,” Jeff said, as Evan sat down and swatted at his lap with a napkin. “You don’t grace us with your presence that often.”

“I’m retired now.” Evan gave up on the pants and poked at his breakfast with his plastic fork. “And there was nothing else on last night, and I didn’t fly many of my people over, so I guess it was that, or hanging out in my room.”

Jeff’s smile dimmed slightly. “It seemed like you had a good time, anyway,” he said. “I tapped out before you did, but from what Scott and Adam were telling me – “

Evan choked on a slice of mango. Ben thumped him helpfully on the back, a shade too forcefully.

“You okay there, dude?” Charlie asked. Evan glared at him through his watering eyes.

“Fine,” he said, swallowing. “Yeah, it was fun.”

“It was so good of you to watch out for Adam,” Jeff said cheerfully. “I love that kid like my own baby brother – you should hear some of the shit we got up to on our leg of Smuckers last year – but he can’t hold his liquor. Wouldn’t want one of those predatory older ladies taking advantage of him. Maybe that’s how they do it in Europe, but – “

Carolina cleared her throat from the other end of the table, and Nathalie and Fabian looked up from their plates. Evan had almost forgotten they were there. He had a bad habit of overlooking people when they didn’t talk much. Ice dancers were easy to overlook, anyway. “Who do you mean, Jeffrey?”

“Nobody!” Jeffrey blew her a kiss, and she rolled her eyes and looked away.

“Adam’s a sweetheart,” Evan said weakly. He was so fucked. It didn’t matter what chronological birthdate Wikipedia and his USFSA web page claimed for Adam, it was hard not to feel like he’d debauched a minor. An extremely popular minor with fifteen or sixteen professional athletes who considered him an adorable curly-haired younger sibling. “I have to go and, um. More coffee. I spilled mine.”

He was five feet away from the table when it burst into laughter, but he was pretty sure it had nothing to do with him.

-

Evan hated the mass-produced coffee machines you found in hotels and airports and cafeterias. They either drizzled a few measly inches of espresso into your cup before drying up, or they didn’t stop until it was brimming over and there was coffee running down the sides and overflowing the catchment tray thing. Getting just the right amount of coffee was a subtle art, and he had it perfected; after the first splutter, he pressed the button for a second, and pulled his cup away halfway through, just before it hit the rim.

“Five points,” he muttered under his breath, and someone stabbed him in the ribs.

When he turned around Yu-Na was standing behind him, flanked by Min-Jung and Christina. She was still holding a plastic knife.

“You need to be more careful,” Evan told her sternly, shaking coffee off his knuckles. It was like the universe didn’t want him to be caffeinated. “Excuse me – ”

Yu-Na wasn’t smiling. Her lovely face was totally expressionless, except for the slight furrow between her eyebrows. “Adam is like my brother,” she said, and Evan blinked. It was amazing how scary a couple of teenage girls armed with cutlery really were.

“That’s, um, that’s great,” he said. “It’s always nice when training partners get close like that –“

“I love him very much,” she said. “I would be very upset if anyone hurt him.”

Evan nodded, swallowing.

“I know many people here,” Yu-Na continued softly, and of course she did, it was Korea. She had pretty much the entire country tucked into her pocket. “I have many connections.”

Yu-Na was sweet and gracious and professional. Evan had pretty much watched her grow up, albeit from a distance, even if he’d only really remembered she existed once she got out of Juniors; there were photos somewhere of him as an awkward teenager standing with a tiny little girl in a hanbok who barely came up to his belly button. She had beautiful manners. She was practically an adopted Canadian. There was no way she was implying that she could have him beaten or kidnapped or something. He was paranoid.

“I hope we understand each other,” Yu-Na concluded, turning on her heel, and the three of them were several feet away before Evan remembered to breathe.

Evan decided that he could probably skip breakfast after all. There was nothing wrong with warming up early.

-

Joannie was already standing by the boards in her black sweats, stretching. Evan was glad to see her; sometimes he felt kind of conspicuous when he was the first one at the rink, which he usually was. “I see I’m not the only one who decided to start early,” she called out when he got closer. “After last night, I thought I was going to throw up if I had to sit there surrounded by all that food.” She grimaced, and Evan noticed she was a little paler than usual. He felt proud of himself for making that observation; he probably wouldn’t have, a year or two ago, but Erin had been working on him.

“Hangover?” he said. “You should still eat something, you know.”

“I made tea in my room.” Joannie turned her head to smile at him, her blonde ponytail flipping over her shoulder. “And I grabbed an energy bar from the vending machine. And Tylenol. So much Tylenol. If I see Scott or Jeff, I’m going to kill them.”

“Mm,” Evan said non-committally, and they stretched in companionable quiet for a few minutes. He was working on loosening up his hamstrings when Joannie turned her head again.

“I heard something interesting in the elevator this morning.”

“It’s all lies!” Evan said hastily. “I mean. I don’t know what you heard, but it’s not true. Nothing happened.”

“That was a little defensive.”

“I’m not the one who did bodyshots off Jeffrey Buttle and Meryl Davis last night,” Evan said, going for the pre-emptive strike. It was mean, but sometimes hitting harder got people to shut up; it was just a shame that that had never worked with Weir. The way she’d been licking Jeff’s chest had been totally indecent, anyway. “I thought that was very unprofessional.”

Joannie looked away. “Whatever, Evan,” she said. “I was going to give you a heads-up, but whatever.”

They warmed up in silence after that. Evan preferred silence. He didn’t feel awkward at all.

-

The first three hours of practice were wasted on the choreography for the big group routines at the end and beginning of the show. Evan hated group routines; there were way too many people on the ice, getting in his way, and some of the others took way too long to pick up on the footwork, and there was still too much gossiping and fraternising. It slowed the whole thing down. And he really hated synchronised spins. He was so much taller than everyone else that it was difficult to match the other guys, and it made him look like he was out of synch when there was nothing wrong with his technique.

“Sometimes learning these routines is gruelling,” Alexei said, putting a heavy hand on his shoulder during another unnecessary break. “You will pick it up, my friend.”

“Thank you, I have it,” Evan said, shrugging him off. Alexei returned his hand to its position like Evan hadn’t moved at all, and squeezed companionably.

“I was concerned,” he said. “I thought, perhaps you were a little slow, but now I see that you were just taking your time.”

“What?”

“The medal,” Alexei said. “It is good you are exercising restraint in using its powers. When I was young, I spread my blessing perhaps a little too wide, but you are only Olympic champion once, yes?” He snorted. “Whatever Plushenko would attempt.”

“Um,” Evan said. “I need to go and, um. Be over there.” He waved weakly across the rink, and sagged in relief when Tessa fluttered her fingers back at him.

“Ah.” Alexei winked hideously. “I see. Good hunting, my friend.” He squeezed Evan’s shoulder once last time, and then clapped him on the back so hard Evan staggered. “Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.”

-

“My man,” Scott said respectfully, when Evan pulled up in front of them, cutting a deep arc in the ice. “You are on fire.”

“That was amazing!” Tessa said. “One minute you were over there, and then you were here – ”

“I think Yagudin was trying to give me advice on my sex life,” Evan blurted, which was more than he meant to say, and way more than he normally shared with his colleagues, but he was kind of rattled by everything. “Oh my god, oh my god -”

“Anything you want to pass along?” Scott asked. “Share with a brother.”

“He needs the help,” Tessa whispered behind her hand. Evan frowned at her. He’d kind of thought she was a nice girl. Quiet. Ladylike. He’d heard the rumors about Pelletier, but Evan made a point of not listening to rumors. At least, he’d said that often enough back when he was trying to ignore his competitors when he was off the ice that people had stopped telling him anything, and now he was retired he kept trying to join in conversations and ended up feeling like he was missing half the subtext.

“From what I hear, Evan doesn’t need any help, anyway.” Scott wiggled his eyebrows meaningfully. “Eh?”

“I don’t know what you’ve heard –”

Tessa nodded at something over his shoulder, and Evan turned to look before he could stop himself.

Adam was standing over near the boards, brushing frantically at his pants. They were white with ice, like he’d just taken a fall, and Yu-Na seemed torn between laughing at him and helping. They both noticed Evan looking at the same time. Yu-Na’s face went blank, but Adam waved cheerfully, his face still pink with amusement. He made a little come over here gesture.

Evan turned away. Maybe he could pretend he hadn’t been looking. “What are you talking about?”

Scott and Tessa traded glances. “Everyone knows,” Scott whispered, twisting his mouth to the side like a Mafioso.

“He’s such a darling,” Tessa said. “I hope you were good to him.”

“I’m not even attracted to Adam!” Evan said desperately. “I don’t know what happened –”

Tessa’s eyes went round and sad. “Oh, Evan,” she said. “And he looks up to you so much, too.”

“You cad,” Scott hissed, folding his arms.

“He does not,” Evan said, certain that that at least was an outrageous lie. Adam looked like a Botticelli angel and had the general air of an eager-to-please golden retriever puppy, but Evan had walked in on him doing extremely disrespectful impressions of various skaters at the most recent Figure Skating In Harlem, and then there was the time – “He sent those roses to Abbott at Nationals this year with my name on the card!”

“Oh, yeah, that’s right,” Scott said, magically ceasing to scowl. He snickered. “I only heard about it, but that was pretty funny.”

“It was not,” Evan said, trying to ignore Tessa’s giggles. “It was very unprofessional.” Seriously, he might be retired now, but he still wasn’t going to wish a competitor luck with flowers, let alone formally Jeremy Abbott as his successor in men’s singles or whatever the stupid card had said. It was better to go out on top and leave everyone trying for years to catch up.

“That’s just Adam’s way,” she said. “He teases. It’s what he does. Of course he admires you, Evan. Look at everything you’ve accomplished.”

“I’m not even talking the shine of the gold medal, here,” Scott added. They were like a double act off the ice as well, one of them stepping up whenever the other stopped. Evan was starting to feel kind of cornered. “I mean, you’re attractive as a male specimen, right? That manly jaw, that distinguished nose – ”

“Those pretty dark eyes,” Tessa supplied. She widened her own eyes at him in illustration. They were green, with long curly lashes. Evan had never really noticed before.

He scraped his toepick against the ice. “I need to, um,” he said. “Oh, look, the choreographers are starting again.”

-

It was probably true, though, Evan decided, when he’d thought about it some more. He did have something of a reputation in the figure skating world. Two National titles, World bronze, World gold, a bunch of Grand Prix titles, Olympic gold - people were afraid to get close to him sometimes. It was like they couldn’t relax properly around him. He couldn’t exactly blame Adam for being awed. The kid probably had some sort of crush, which Evan understood. He’d had plenty of inappropriate crushes on people back in his younger days, before he’d learnt how to ignore everything but his goals. He’d probably encouraged Adam unfairly by taking him back to his hotel room and doing whatever they’d done. If their boxers were still on, it wasn’t a lot. He hoped it wasn’t a lot.

He was pretty useless when he was really drunk. He cuddled.

He should probably stop avoiding the kid, anyway. Just make things clear. Let him know the score. It would be mean to let him nurse hopes that were never going anywhere.

“Evan!” someone said, and Evan jolted. His coffee slopped over the edge of his cup. It was really like a conspiracy at this point. “Hey man, why are you eating lunch over here by yourself? You look all Illuminati or something, with your hood pulled up like that.”

“Jeffrey,” Evan said. His voice came out a little high and cracked with surprise, so he cleared his throat. “Hi.”

“Hey,” Jeff said, giving Evan a slightly weird look and sitting down next to him without invitation. “So, what’s hanging?”

“Oh, you know,” Evan said. “I just wanted some peace. Some space. Sometimes, I mean, these overseas things, some people get really immature, and it gets tiring. I needed a break.”

“Just say you want me to fuck off, dude, I don’t mind.”

“I didn’t – ” Evan stabbed at a sliver of salmon in annoyance. “I wasn’t trying to hint. That just came out wrong. It’s been kind of a long day.”

“Long days frequently follow long nights,” Jeff said sagely. “It’s a cruel universal law.”

“Yeah,” Evan said, pushing his plate away. Time to divert the conversation before it went somewhere uncomfortable. “You want to go start early?”

“I thought we were done with practicing the choreography?” Jeff asked, sounding confused. “Aren’t we doing a full run-through of the group routines after lunch? We kind of need the others for that.”

“Well,” Evan said, and stopped. “We can practice some more.”

“You are just non-stop fun, my friend,” Jeff said, shaking his head, but he pushed back his tray too.

-

Evan had always thought male-male pairs throws in exhibitions were kind of stupid and gimmicky. It was just catering to the audience, really - the lowest common denominator. It wasn’t serious skating; it was slapstick. And it mostly didn’t work that well, anyway. Guys couldn’t complement each other like a male-female pair could. There wasn’t that same contrast of strength and delicacy.

“Throw me again!” Jeff ordered, beaming. His eyes creased really attractively around the edges of his smile. Evan supposed they were getting old if he was noticing stuff like wrinkles now.

“You want to try for a triple this time?”

“Triple sal?”

“Fuck you,” Evan said. “Whatever, you’re the one landing it. Or not landing it.”

“Oh, I’ll land it,” Jeff promised. He beamed, radiating good nature and false innocence, and Evan decided that he really didn’t need to point out how much easier it was to rotate fully when someone else was providing the height and momentum.

“Fine,” he said, “Come back here,” and Jeff skated back to his side in long, easy swoops, taking his time, and circled him a few times before drawing in close. “You ready?”

“If you are.”

“Uh-huh,” Evan said, and Jeff took off, grinning back over his shoulder. Evan caught him up in six strides, one hand finding Jeff’s bicep and the other settling firmly on his waist.

Jeff smelled nice, like something evergreen. Clean, like pine, but not in the way that cleaning products smelled like pine. Evan wondered if it would be weird to ask him what aftershave he used. Would it sound like he wanted to go out and buy a few bottles and spray them around his room or something? That would be weird. Even like, buying the stuff and wearing it yourself, that would be weird. He couldn’t think of any good reasons for asking, and he’d been holding on too long. “On three,” he said, counting off under his breath, and tossed him.

Jeff landed it like he’d landed the last three. Evan wasn’t going to swear to the rotation, but Jeff bowed at the waist with a smug little grin on his face. Someone behind them was clapping, and Jeff turned and bowed to them, too.

Evan turned around. There were a bunch of people standing at the boards watching them. He hadn’t noticed any of the others arriving back from lunch, but they were grinning and looked like they’d been standing there for a while. There were people sitting in the stands, too, tiny flecks of colour in the vast emptiness; sponsors and official-looking people and a few Korean fans, from the look of things, who’d been let in to watch the end of practice like it was some sort of matinee, while his colleagues were whooping like idiots and Scott and Charlie were wolf-whistling.

“That was awesome!”

“You could put that in the show,” Ben called out. “Like, before the second group performance, or at the end, you guys could come out and do a throw –”

“Um, no,” Evan said, skating over. His face felt hot, like he was flushing, which was stupid, because it was just pairs throws, people messed around like that all the time. Okay, he didn’t, even if he’d done one in a show with Jeff once, but other skaters did. He’d seen them. Min-Jung handed him his skateguards without comment, and Evan shot her a grateful look.

“Thanks,” he said. She shrugged.

“Seriously,” Jeff said, sliding his own skateguards on. “We totally should. I mean, if Queen Yu-Na will let us.” He beamed at her. “Please? Pretty please with sprinkles and angel dust on top?”

“Well, if there are sprinkles,” Yu-Na said, sounding grave. She tilted her head like she was thinking it over very seriously. “They are an important part of any business contract.”

“I’m pretty sure angel dust is a hallucinogenic,” Joannie said. “Have you been holding out on us, Jeff?”

“You should ask for a pony,” Adam stage-whispered into Yu-Na’s ear. “He’s totally holding out, don’t take his first bid –”

“I have no intention,” Yu-Na said. She folded her arms. On her other side, Christina did the same thing, and after a second, Adam echoed the gesture, like they’d all been practicing in front of a mirror. “I hear that someone smuggled ten cases of beer into the hotel this morning.”

Scott, Ben and Charlie flinched the flinch of the guilty. “Who told you that?” Scott demanded.

She raised an eyebrow. “I have my sources.”

“Adam, my brother,” Scott said, shaking his head. “To be betrayed by you, my friend, my companion, who I treated like my own little baby ewe-lamb, and cherished as an almost-son of my native soil –”

“Does making ‘baaa’ noises every time you pulled on my curls count?” Adam asked. He glanced around at the others for a consensus. “Seriously, does that count?”

“Well, that’s how you might treat a baby lamb,” Meryl said. “I mean, if you didn’t care about the lamb’s dignity or self-respect.”

Scott pointed a finger at her. “Exactly!”

“Some of us sunk serious money into that alcohol,” Charlie said. Behind him Joannie and Tanith nodded vigorously. “Jeff can’t pledge away community resources!"

“Oh, we do not want it all,” Min-Jung said. “But we will be throwing tonight’s party, and you will be our guests.”

“I think we need to huddle,” Scott said while Ben was still muttering about plying minors with alcohol and did they want to get busted for that in Korea? “Group huddle!”

“There’s no point, I’m not doing the throw,” Evan said. “You don’t have to huddle.”

Everyone stopped arguing and stared at him. “Oh Evan, come on,” Tanith said, in the tone of voice she wasn’t technically supposed to use any more. “It’s just for fun.”

“We’re supposed to be working, not having fun,” Evan said, ignoring the sudden flattening of the general atmosphere. “Where’s Alexei? And Carolina, and the French guys?”

“They went into Seoul for lunch,” Meryl said, when no one else would. “Alexei wanted to show Tanya around.”

“He doesn’t want to play with us,” Jeff explained sadly. “Now he’s brought his intended along with, he’s sitting with the grown-ups and he doesn’t want to play hallway tag or try trapping people in the elevator anymore!”

Evan normally found Jeff pretty funny, but he felt tired and uncomfortable and people were still looking at him like he’d single-handedly slaughtered the Easter Bunny. “Good for Alexei,” he said shortly. “I’m going to get some water.”

When he came back out, nearly everyone was on the ice, and he had time to stretch and brood in a quiet corner of the rink before practice officially began again. He’d just capped his water bottle and was pulling off his skateguards when pretty much the last person he wanted to see popped his curly head around the corner of the lockers.

“Evan?” Adam said curiously. “What are you doing back here?”

“Getting ready to get back into it,” Evan said, trying to brush past him. “They’re starting the music again.”

“Wait, I wanted to talk to you,” Adam said, grabbing for his sleeve. “Look, about last night –”

“I’m working,” Evan said desperately. “This isn’t the time, or the place, can you just –” He tried to shake Adam off and keep walking, but Adam kept hold of his arm, dragging along in his wake like a particularly tenacious piece of flotsam.

“If you’d just listen, I wanted to say –”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Evan hissed, and then he was in the clear and in full view of everyone. Adam let go, and Evan opened the closest door onto the ice and skated out, leaving Adam standing by the boards with his arms folded and an irritated look on his face.

He was going to have to talk to the kid sometime. Just not right now.

-

He didn’t want to do it later, either. It was gross, but Evan didn’t bother showering or changing at the rink; he got straight on the shuttle bus, put his earbuds in and pretended to sleep until they got back to the hotel, and then he shut himself in his room. He thought about putting the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door, but he was pretty sure no one would respect it, and he was right. He’d barely gotten out of the shower before someone was banging on his door.

“This is my private time,” Evan said curtly, pulling the door open when the knocking wouldn’t stop.

“So I see,” Jeff said, his eyes flickering from Evan’s sweatpants to his bare chest and up to his damp hair. Evan tried not to flush. There was nothing wrong with being nearly naked or wet, but it was embarrassing to be caught in his sweats.

“Did you want something?”

“A few things,” Jeff said. He beamed. “You know, you should really think about adding that throw into the routine.”

“So you can show off your triple sal?”

“Well, obviously,” Jeff said. “I’m all retired now, I’m not going to land it without help and stuff.” He smiled his most charming smile, and Evan smiled back a little. It was really hard not to smile back at Jeff. “And also I wanted to make sure you were coming to the party tonight? It’s in Scott’s room again if we don’t stick the throw in, and in Adam’s if we have to cut a deal with the Queen.”

“Maybe,” Evan hedged. It was also really hard to say no to Jeffrey. “I mean, it’s not really my scene.”

“Aw, come on. Last night was fun, right?”

“Too much fun,” Evan muttered darkly. He cleared his throat. “I don’t know. It’s probably not a good idea.”

“It was nice having you hang out with us for once,” Jeff said. “All loosened up. You’re retired now, Evan, you’re allowed to take a night off.”

“I did!”

“So do it again.”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Evan repeated. He went to parties. He had fun. He just didn’t do it at competitions or on tour or at shows, because, for years, that had been a really good way to acquire a reputation that spread far and wide and to important people. It had happened to him before. It had taken years to live down his first Junior Worlds, but he’d done it. It was weird to remember that he was retired now, and he didn’t have to worry about scoring and politics so much. It wasn’t like he could just do whatever he wanted without consequences – he had to maintain a professional reputation to get the right invitations to shows and tours – but it was at least a little different now. “Maybe. I’ll think about it.”

“At least half a case of beer has your name on it, if you agree to the throw,” Jeff said. “The huddle has spoken.”

“I’ll think about that, too,” Evan said. Jeff saluted and stepped back into the hallway, and Evan closed the door, feeling a little warm glow at the idea that Jeff – that people wanted him to hang out and were trying to include him in their party plans. It was nice. Not that he should get so flattered that he let himself get carried away, like last night, but he had options. And it wasn’t like the world had ended this time, or anything.

Almost immediately, there was another knock on his door.

“I said I’d think about it,” Evan began, but it wasn’t Jeff coming back.

“Hey,” Adam said, ducking his head almost shyly. His curls were clustered around his head with particular springiness. Evan decided that he’d probably just taken a shower, too, and then tried not to picture it. They weren’t close or anything, but he kind of thought of Adam like a little brother, too. Maybe a younger cousin. Once or twice removed. “Can I come in? This is a better time, right?”

“I guess,” Evan said uncomfortably. He stepped back and let Adam close the door. It was time for him to step up and face the music. He had to be the bigger man. “You’re right, we should talk.”

“Great!” Adam flashed him a brilliant smile, all clear tanned skin and white teeth and sparkly hazel eyes. It was a good effort, but Jeff had only just left, and Evan was feeling slightly desensitized to all other, lesser smiles. “I’ve been trying to get hold of you all day, but you sat with the others at breakfast, and then you disappeared at lunch, and you wouldn’t talk to me at the rink or on the bus – ”

He was very cute and very young and very clingy. It kind of sucked that Evan had to let him down and make him sad, but it was for his own good. “Adam,” he said, trying to sound kind, yet firm. “You’re very, very young.”

“No, I’m not,” Adam said, frowning.

“Yes, you are.” Evan said. Was this how it was going to be, the kid arguing with him every step of the way? “You might be legal to drink and stuff, but I’m, what, six years older than you? That’s a big difference when you’re just beginning to start hitting your career peak. We’re at different places in our lives.”

Adam bit his lip. It seemed to be trembling slightly. “Um – ”

“I know rejection sucks,” Evan said. “I know you probably feel hurt and let down and maybe a little used, particularly when it’s someone you respect so much.”

“Evan –”

“I’m sorry,” Evan said. “It’s not happening again.”

“Okay,” Adam said. “Evan, I think you might have the wrong idea?”

“It’s better if you don’t argue with me about this- ”

“Evan, I didn’t sleep with you!” Adam shouted. “I mean, yeah, I slept with you, but I didn’t sleep sleep with you.”

“Um,” Evan said. The world wobbled slightly on its axis around him. “What?”

“I didn’t think you’d actually think – you don’t remember?” Adam exhaled loudly, running a hand through his hair and rumpling his curls into adorable disarray. “You helped me find my room after the party last night, but I couldn’t find my key, and we weren’t co-ordinated enough to work the elevator and go ask at reception, so you said I could just crash in your room... You seriously don’t remember this?”

“Obviously not,” Evan said stiffly.

He really couldn’t remember leaving Scott’s room at all, but sometimes that happened when he took an Ambien after he’d been drinking. Which was a bad idea and his therapist yelled at him for it, but if he didn’t take them, he didn’t sleep.

“Yeah,” Adam said. He looked kind of pink, but Evan didn’t understand why he was embarrassed, when Evan was the one who needed to die of shame. “I mean, I figured you didn’t this morning, but I thought you’d remember later, or figure it out.” He shrugged. “It was kind of really funny how scared you looked when you woke up and fell on the floor? And then I ran into Jeff and Joannie in the elevator on my way down, and I kind of told them about how you’d gotten the wrong idea, and, you know.” He shrugged again, helplessly. “It kind of spread from there? I honestly thought you’d work out what was going on before breakfast was over.”

“Oh,” Evan said. That did kind of make sense. All the giggling, and the hinting, and the death threats– “Does everyone know?” Had everyone been laughing at him all day?

“Um. Pretty much? Maybe not some of the Koreans,” Adam added hastily, like that helped. “I don’t think anyone told Fabien and Nathalie either? Or Alexei. I mean, he knows, but I think he thinks we actually, you know.”

“Oh.”

“I’m sorry,” Adam said. He stopped twisting his curls around his fingers and looked at Evan earnestly. “I mean, it was really funny and stuff, but then it went on too long, and you didn’t get it, and you were getting all freaked out, and it started feeling kind of mean– ”

“I wasn’t freaking out,” Evan lied automatically. “And I need to finish getting dressed and stuff, so if you could leave and let me do that, that would be awesome.”

“I’m really sorry,” Adam repeated. “It wasn’t meant to get that far.”

“It’s fine.” Evan shrugged like he didn’t care. “Kids and their games.”

“Yeah,” Adam said. He bit his lip again, like he wanted to keep talking. Evan raised his eyebrows at him, and he finally turned and left, and Evan was able to shut the door behind him.

It took a lot of effort, but he managed not to punch it.

-

He wished it wasn’t stupidly late in America and he could call Erin. He’d sent her twelve texts complaining that he was bored and missed L.A. before he figured out the time difference and realized that was why she wasn’t replying. He really wished he’d brought some of his people along to Korea with him. It was additional overhead, but he’d have something to do; the Korean soap opera playing on TV was kind of interesting, in that weird foreign TV way where you didn’t know what was going on and you didn’t understand what people were saying, but you could make up your own dialogue and storyline, but it didn’t make up for the fact that he was sitting all alone in his hotel room.

Not that he wanted to socialize. He was going to hit the ice in the morning and behave like the professional he was. No distractions or fraternizing. Evan was here to work, and he was going to do his job; he’d go to run-throughs, he’d do the show, and then he’d fly home. He didn’t need to chatter or gossip.

“Evan?” Someone was knocking on his door again, hesitantly. He thought about feigning deafness, but the knocking continued.

“What?”

“It’s Meryl,” the door said. “We’re going down to dinner now, are you coming?”

“I’m not that hungry,” Evan said. It was kind of the truth. Anyway, there was soda in the minibar, and packets of something that were probably peanuts and some sort of cookie.

“Are you sure?”

“Obviously.” Then he felt guilty for snapping, because Meryl was mostly pretty nice, and even if she’d been laughing at him, she hadn’t made a spectacle out of him. “Thanks for asking.”

Onscreen, the couple he’d decided were getting married seemed to be trying to kill each other, and the one he’d thought was probably the guy’s sister was tearing at her hair. She seemed kind of more distraught that fraternal emotion explained. Evan loved his sisters, and he knew they loved him, but he couldn’t imagine Laura or Christina having a screaming fit and then falling to the floor in a faint just because someone he pissed off was coming after him with a dagger and long acrylic fingernails.

He watched Korean soap operas for a while, flicking between channels, and it was actually really easy to get absorbed in the drama and make up the details. A few more people tapped on his door, asking him if he was coming to dinner, but Evan didn’t see any reason to answer, and no reason at all to actually leave his room and provide them with further entertainment.

He was engrossed in what seemed to be a paternity scandal with three possible fathers when someone knocked on his door again.

“Evan?”

“I’m busy,” he called out.

“It’s Jeff.”

“I’m watching TV.” There was a brief pause, and then the knocking started again. He really should have put the Do Not Disturb sign up. The knocking was interfering with his soap opera, so Evan finally got up and opened the door a crack. “I’m pretty invested. I think Hamish just realized that Coco’s been lying about her babydaddy, and he’s not really the father.”

Jeff blinked, his hand still frozen in the air in the act of knocking. He was smiling his usual broad bright smile, but there was a faintly confused edge to it. “Um – ”

“Did you want something, Jeffrey?”

Jeff shook his head, clearly deciding to let the babydaddy thing go. “You weren’t at dinner,” he said. “I was just checking to see if you were still going to come to the party.”

“I don’t think so,” Evan said, looking away. “This is getting pretty good. Coco’s been seeing Gregory the whole time, but no one told Hamish, and he’s just been wandering around like an idiot while everyone else knew what was going on, thinking everything was okay – ”

“Evan –”

“I mean, it’s good TV,” Evan continued. “Fun to watch, when you’re in on it, but it must really suck to be Hamish, huh? Poor dude.”

Jeff blinked again. “Wow.”

“What?”

“Even for you, that’s impressively passive-aggressive.”

“What?”

“Let me in,” Jeff said, but he didn’t wait for Evan to let him in this time. He just shoved past him and sat down on the edge of Evan’s bed.

Evan stared.

Jeff smiled broadly and patted the mattress beside him. Evan was starting to wonder if the smiling was just his face’s default expression. If so, it was really inappropriate right now, and a little creepy. “Come. Sit.”

“Um,” Evan said, but he let the door go and came over. The smile was even more devastating up close, but Evan was being professional and aloof. Above being upset by the petty jokes and wrangling that certain of his colleagues hadn’t outgrown yet.

One of the colleagues responsible for the petty joking stared back at him. “Evan,” Jeff said almost seriously, like Evan didn’t know his own name perfectly well. He patted Evan’s knee. “No one meant to make Hamish feel bad.”

“What?”

“Coco’s impressively inventive, but still kind of naive, in his own way,” Jeff said. “He was just thinking that it was funny, because he didn’t understand that Hamish had certain issues that weren’t fair game for joking about, and he didn’t know he was going to take being told he was a daddy so seriously. And now he’s sitting upstairs worrying that he hurt Hamish’s feelings, and making everyone he told that Hamish was his baby’s father feel really bad.”

“What?”

Jeffrey sighed. “Hamish is sulking in his room and killing the party,” he said. “George has come downstairs to see if he can make Hamish come out to play and try to explain that no one’s taking it as seriously as he is, and maybe he should let it go.”

“What?” Evan asked. “And it’s Gregory.”

“Gregory, then.” Jeff squeezed his knee. “Yes?”

“No,” Evan said. “I’m very confused.”

“I thought you would prefer the veiled metaphors and discreet lacunae,” Jeff said. “Although, yeah, it’s slightly disturbing if we push them all the way. If you want, I can make it simple, but you have to promise you won’t freak and go hide in the bathroom if I do.”

“I don’t do that!”

“Of course you don’t,” Jeff said soothingly. Evan narrowed his eyes at him. “Coco – I’m going to steal that and call him that for the next few days, by the way, don’t tell him where it’s from, it’ll be more fun to drive him crazy trying to figure it out – anyway, he’s really worried he hurt your feelings, though. I promised I’d come check. It was extremely hilarious, Evan.”

“It’s just not funny,” Evan said. His throat was a little tight. “It’s not that it hurt my feelings. That would be stupid. It’s just not funny.”

“I get that,” Jeff said. He looked half-serious for once. “I do. You know I do.”

Evan felt uncomfortable. It was too weird, Jeffrey looking at him like that. It was weird looking at Jeffrey’s face without its perma-grin. He didn’t like talking about why it wasn’t funny to joke about that stuff, even in heavily veiled metaphors and discreet lacunae. He started to get up, and Jeff tightened his grip on his knee like he’d been expecting that move.

“You know we do it to everyone, right?” he said. “One time we paid Jeremy Ten to pretend he was desperately in love with Scott, for like, two months. Scott assumed it was bullshit, but by the third week he started getting really worried and it was insanely funny. We still give him ten kinds of shit about that. Meryl and Jeremy Abbott have half the junior skaters convinced that they’re having an epic love affair. Joannie has got me so bad over the years, you don’t even know. We made Patrick believe for a fortnight that Brian Orser was waiting to have a little chat with him and warn him off Yu-Na, and the dude was looking over his shoulder the whole time. Vaughn went off to the great cruise ship in the sky still thinking pineapples grew underwater, but he was never very bright.”

Evan blinked at the past tense. “He’s not dead.”

“He might as well be,” Jeff said, shaking his head. “Join in our reindeer games, dude. No man is an island.”

“I have friends!”

He did. They were just in LA, and they didn’t tend to be skaters. He’d always thought of Jeff as a friend, though, kind of, and it wasn’t that his feelings were hurt, because he didn’t have feelings, but it bugged him that Jeff had been instrumental in getting everyone to laugh at him.

“Come to the party,” Jeff said. He patted Evan’s knee one last time and got to his feet. “The Queen is holding it in Christina’s room after all, so if we get busted for plying minors with moonshine, we’re all going down together. The best way to stop people laughing at you is to laugh along,” he added, like he knew exactly what Evan had been thinking. “Join in. Show it didn’t bother you and that you’re in on the joke. Laugh, accept that you got played, and congratulate the players. That’s the reaction people are supposed to have, dude. No one’s meant to take it to heart.”

“I didn’t,” Evan protested, but he found himself taking note of the room number and secret knock instructions when Jeff rolled his eyes sceptically and rattled them off.

-

He knocked three times staccato, paused, and then followed it with four sonorous thumps like the tolling of a bell. No one answered, and Evan had the sinking feeling he was getting played again, standing in the hallway outside Room 452 in a fresh shirt with his hair carefully straightened.

Then the handle twisted. “Evan!” Meryl said. Her long dark hair was loose around her shoulders, and she was pink-cheeked and faintly rosy like she’d been laughing. Or drinking. Evan hoped he wasn’t going to see more of her sorority sister side again tonight. It had been kind of unsettling seeing someone he’d had appropriate professional respect for doing body shots with Joannie and holding her alcohol better than he did. Not that he’d felt intimidated or anything. “Come in, quick, before anyone sees you!”

The door shut behind him, and he promptly wished that he’d ignored Jeff and stayed in his hotel room. There were too many people packed into a pretty small room – it was smaller than his, he noticed, feeling faintly pleased that whoever had assigned the rooms had recognized his status. Christina and Ming-Jung and Adam were curled together against the headboard, Tanith was sitting in Charlie’s lap while he nibbled at her neck, which was just disgusting, out in public and everything, and there were people sprawled all over the floor. He could see the bathroom through the open door, and there seemed to be enough beer cans and wine coolers on ice in the bathtub to supply a bootlegger business for months.

“Evan!” Yu-Na said, scrambling to her feet, and Evan flinched instinctively. Her cold, dignified expression had vanished, and she was smiling, but Evan was never going to fall for a pretty exterior again. “I am glad you came!”

“Um.”

“I was just telling Yu-Na,” Jeff called out, coming out of the bathroom with a bottle of Jack Daniels cradled in his arms like an infant. He handed it carefully to Scott like it contained nitro-glycerine, and picked his way over Ben and Carolina to sling an arm around Evan’s shoulders. “Her mafia impression was totally great, right?”

“I scared you,” Yu-Na said. “Tell them, they don’t believe me.”

“Um,” Evan said again. He cleared his throat. “Yeah, she was pretty scary. I thought she was going to have me stuffed in a sack and dumped an alley somewhere.”

“I could do that,” she said, like the idea had suddenly struck her. “I wouldn’t, of course, but I could.”

Evan blinked and then tried to cover the double-take, but Yu-Na pointed at him and said, “See?” proudly. “I am terrifying!”

“You’re drunk with power,” Scott said. He was wearing a Superman t-shirt and had combed his hair back with water. It made his nose look beakier. “Sit down, you smooth criminal, and stop scaring the guests.”

“It is my party,” she said. “I stole it from you.”

“I wasn’t scared,” Evan lied. Jeff bent down and swiped an unopened wine cooler from the floor (“Hey, I was saving that!”), polished it off on his sleeve, and handed it to him with a small flourish.

“Sit down, seriously,” he said. “We’re trying to think of a way to get Alexei to lighten up and show us the dirty Russian-American we love and miss. You can sit in on our counsel of war.”

-

“You look like you’ve had enough, Evan. Feeling light-headed?”

Evan frowned vaguely in Charlie’s general direction, but he was actually feeling too light-headed to properly squash his fake solicitousness. It felt like he’d just got there, but it was hard to remember how many drinks he’d had. There was a quantity of empty bottles scattered around his feet that seemed to argue that he’d been there for a while and had had a few.

“Fine,” he said pushing away from the wall. He tripped over his left foot and grabbed at Meryl’s arm for balance. She was little, but she was strong. “Okay, maybe I have. Had enough.”

“Never enough,” Adam muttered. Charlie raised his fist in solidarity, but didn’t move from his position on the floor or lift his head to look at Adam. Tanith’s eyes were shut, and she seemed to have fallen asleep, her cheek pressed against his broad chest and her golden hair snarled into curls. Evan had forgotten how pretty she was when she was sleeping.

“Maybe you should call it a night?” Meryl asked, trying to peel his fingers away. Evan remembered that he still had hold of her arm and let go hurriedly. “Or you could lie down? The bed is taken, but the floor –”

“Would you let the head that wears the gold medal touch the floor?” Jeff asked. He moved Joannie’s legs out of his lap and scrambled to his feet. “I’ll see him back to his room. Don’t want him getting lost on the way.”

“I don’t get lost,” Evan protested. “I have a great sense of direction.” Jeff winked at him and Evan frowned. Was this another joke he didn’t get? “What?”

“Evan,” Jeff said patiently. “Let me show you to your room. Ladies, gentlemen,” he said, nodding around the room. Everyone seemed to be studiously ignoring them, but Adam wiggled his fingers.

“You’re a hero,” Scott called out before Tessa muffled him with a pillow. He wasn’t wearing any pants. He’d taken them off a little earlier because Superman didn’t wear pants. It had seemed like a very convincing argument to Evan at the time. “What a stand-up guy – mmph!”

Meryl smiled her sweet smile and patted Evan on the shoulder. “Good night, guys.”

“...Night?” Evan said, letting Jeff pull him out of the hotel room and down the hall. “Is it night? I think it’s technically morning now. It’s like, three in the morning. That’s almost time to get up.”

“No,” Jeff said, steering him along the hallway. “No, Evan, it’s not. The night is still young. Where’s your room key?”

“It’s not night,” Evan said. “Not technically. And, um, my pocket?” He started patting at himself.

“Got it?”

“Yeah.” Evan found it, extracted it, and swiped it through the door. “Okay. Good night.”

“I thought it was morning,” Jeff said. He seemed to be following Evan inside, so Evan stopped and turned around. Jeff kept following until they collided.

“Hey,” Evan said, blinking down at him. “Um –”

“Hey,” Jeff said, and slid his hands smoothly under Evan’s t-shirt and up his back, along the muscle and the groove of his spine. Evan went completely still. “I didn’t see you there.”

That was an obvious lie. Evan was under no illusions about his height or size. “Is this –” He cleared his throat. “What is this?”

Jeff smiled. “I don’t know. It’s your move.”

Evan didn’t make moves on guys he worked with. He preferred not to make moves on guys at all; it was better when they came onto him, when they were people he knew through people and could expect either to have no idea who he was, or to keep quiet. Making a move on Jeffrey Buttle would be a really bad idea. The right thing to do would be to remove Jeff’s hands and step away. He was pretty sure Jeff wouldn’t be offended by rejection. Evan would be, if the situation was reversed, but Jeff was different.

Jeff was very warm where his chest was pressed against Evan’s and his fingertips were finding all the right spots between Evan’s shoulder blades, rubbing softly. He was still grinning, and Evan leaned down blindly and kissed him instead of doing the sensible thing. He was weird when it came to Jeff, that was the problem; even when he’d been injured and stuck at home watching Worlds on his TV, he hadn’t felt half as bitter and jealous as he normally did when other guys got medals he knew he deserved, watching Jeff standing on the podium with the medal shining softly around his neck, matching the glint of his butter-blond hair.

He caught the corner of Jeff’s mouth by mistake. He could make it look deliberate, he decided, and kissed wetly and determinedly along the edge of Jeff’s jaw, his ear, the soft spot just where his ear met the warm curve of his neck.

Evan got distracted there, because that really was an interesting spot. Jeff cleared his throat and tightened his fingers in his back. “Oh,” Evan said dazedly, and found Jeff’s mouth.

He couldn’t actually taste the smile. Jeff didn’t taste like sunshine or cotton candy; he tasted like beer and bourbon, and he kissed just a little dirty, and Evan grabbed for his hips and pulled him close. They didn’t line up properly – Evan was too tall, but Jeff nudged his legs apart with his knee and managed to press closer, and suddenly it was a lot dirty.

Jeff made a pleased noise in the back of his throat and caught Evan’s lip between his teeth, biting down just a little bit. The sudden flare of faint pain triggered something in the lizard level of Evan’s brain, and he moved his hands down further and slid them into Jeff’s back pockets, trying to get him even closer; suddenly all he wanted was to get Jeff’s clothes off and get them from the perpendicular to the bed or something where they’d fit together better.

With a heroic amount of self-denial, he pulled away and managed to take a step back. “Is this another prank?” he asked suspiciously.

Jeff blinked at him, his mouth quirking. “Nope.”

“Are you making out with me because you feel guilty?”

“Evan, I don’t make out with people out of guilt.” Jeff paused. “Well, okay, I might, I’m pretty easy, but not right now. I’m totally making out with you because I’m drunk.”

Evan wasn’t sure if that was a good enough reason.

“I do that sometimes,” Jeff continued. “It’s fun. Are you drunk? Do you want to make out? If the answers to those questions are yes, you need to stop thinking and start having fun.”

Put like that, it was pretty convincing.

“You’ve already had to deal with all the fallout of hooking up with a skater,” Jeff added. “You might as well enjoy the fun part of the deal, too. It only seems fair.” He smiled brilliantly, and Evan was pretty sure that if he shut his eyes, the afterimage would be burnt on the back of his eyelids.

Put like that, it was really convincing.

“I’m retired,” Evan said, testing it out. “And kind of drunk. And I want to make out.”