“To your best season yet!” Renaud said, lifting his beer to Valentin in a toast. He was sprawled out on the patio in his backyard, loose-limbed and unselfconscious.
“To better seasons next year,” Valentin said wryly, toasting him back.
They were relaxing after what felt like the longest season of Valentin’s career to date. His own season had been stunning and exhilarating—he’d broken his own indoor personal best twice, and come close to breaking his outdoor best. He’d won some medals, some very shiny medals that were so amazing they actually made his eyes tear up when he looked at them sometimes. But the whole season had felt like an emotional rollercoaster—even while Valentin had been celebrating, he couldn’t stop watching as Renaud’s performance dipped to sickening lows.
“Ha,” Renaud said, taking a messy swig of beer. He wiped off off a stray drop before it trickled down his jaw to his neck. Valentin had to avert his eyes. “If your season gets any better you’ll be giving me a serious challenge. Especially if I have another season like that.” His mouth twisted, but he shook it off quickly. “Two PBs, Valentin! You should have seen me when you made your 5.85, I shouted myself hoarse at the television.”
“I wish you’d been there,” Valentin said, then cleared his throat. That had come out a little too raw, a little too honest.
Renaud paused, then said, “I know.”
Renaud had sat that competition out, hoping that resting would give a sorely needed boost to his season. It had worked, sort of—he had made his only jump over 6 meters the following competition, but then had gone back to competition bests of 5.87 and 5.80 and, once, 5.60.
Valentin abruptly set his beer down. This might not be his best chance, but he wasn’t going to wait any longer. He’d already waited five years. “Screw it,” he said out loud, and Renaud looked up. Valentin felt a sudden flicker of nerves. He had to follow through. He had to ask. Just—not the way he had asked five years ago.
Valentin wasn’t that drunk, honestly. Yes, he’d had a few, and it was true he’d cried kind of embarrassingly, but after failing at a ridiculous 5.50 anyone would have. He hated Moscow, he reflected bitterly. Terrible city, not even worth going out to drink. Renaud had brought him back to his hotel room and poured him vodka and been so patient with him, telling him there’d be more chances, he believed in Valentin, he knew Valentin was capable of more. And he would admit that it was possible he and Renaud had ended up lying sideways across the hotel bed at least partially because it seemed too difficult to sit up straight. But when he turned his head, and Renaud’s mouth was right there, the world was just blurry enough to let himself lean forward and press his mouth to his brother’s—soft, but unmistakable in intent.
The next second, Renaud was off the bed and halfway across the room, staring as if Valentin had struck him. Valentin propped himself up on his elbows, trying to ignore the roiling sick feeling building in his stomach. “Renaud?” he said, hating how small and young his voice came out.
“You don’t—you don’t—” Renaud turned away from him and began pacing across the room. “You don’t do that again. You don’t do that to me.”
“I just—I just wanted—”
“You don’t know what you want, okay?” Renaud still wouldn’t meet Valentin’s eyes. “This isn’t what you want. You’re drunk, that’s all this is.”
“I’m not that—I've wanted—” Valentin struggled up until he was sitting, unable to stop himself from reaching one hand out to Renaud. “This isn’t just—this isn’t new, I’ve wanted this for a long time, for years, for—”
Renaud cut him off with a wordless yell, his hands covering his ears. He turned away, his back entirely to Valentin, his shoulders heaving with each breath.
Valentin felt like he might be sick. Whatever he feared when he'd imagined telling Renaud what he wanted, whatever he had wished might happen, this was like something out of a nightmare. But he couldn’t stop himself from trying, not now that he had started. He heaved himself off the bed, tripping over his feet until he stopped just barely out of arm's reach from his brother, unsure and miserable.
“Just… tell me one thing,” he said, unreasonably relieved to see Renaud’s hands drop to his sides. “I know I’m—you think I’m young, I know I’m not good enough for you—”
Renaud actually turned around at that, but Valentin held up his hands. He had to finish. If he didn’t say this now he never would. “I just—this is it for me. I’ve known that for a long time. So whatever I need to do, okay, whatever you need me to do to make this happen—I’ll do it. I will, whatever it is, just—just tell me what I need to do.”
Renaud stared at him for a long moment, his expression indecipherable. Finally, his mouth twisted, a cruel expression Valentin had seen only rarely—and had never seen directed at him.
“Beat me in pole vaulting,” Renaud said softly. “If you vault higher than me, little brother, then we’ll do this.”
Valentin could feel his face crumple, and he turned away before he could embarrass himself more. After a long moment with nothing but silence behind him, he heard the hotel room door open and quietly click shut.
If Renaud realized Valentin had cried himself to sleep before Renaud came back, he never mentioned it. And if Valentin remembered when he woke up the next morning that he hadn’t taken his shoes off or pulled the covers over himself before falling into a restless sleep, neither of them ever mentioned that either.
The problem was, Valentin reflected, that he might have been a little drunker than he thought at the time. Or perhaps he had just been overly emotional from his miserable failure in Moscow, or in response to Renaud’s dramatic reaction to a simple kiss. But whatever the reason, he simply hadn’t listened to what Renaud had really said—or more to the point, what he hadn’t said. Valentin had been expecting to hear that this was wrong, or Valentin was sick, or even that Renaud just didn’t want him. But Renaud hadn’t said any of those things. All Renaud had said, in fact, was the cruelest thing he could possibly have said. He had thrown Valentin’s failure in the competition back in his face, promised him the one thing he wanted most in exchange for the one thing he believed, at that moment, was entirely beyond his ability. Well, it had worked, Valentin thought. He hadn’t been able to think beyond his shame and misery for a long time, not enough to realize the importance of what his brother could have said, but didn’t.
But things were different now, out of that stale hotel room and in the bright sunshine of Renaud's backyard. Renaud’s eyes were still on him, one eyebrow raised questioningly. Valentin stretched a little theatrically, not missing the flicker of Renaud’s eyes to the spot where his shirt pulled out of his waistband. “Enough sitting around, you lazy bum,” he said, standing up and twisting side to side. “Let’s get a competition going.”
“Oh, you’re on,” Renaud said, bouncing up from his seat. However Valentin might tease him, laziness was certainly not Renaud’s besetting sin. Any excuse to get off his very pretty ass was good enough for him. “Competition rules? What’s your starting level?”
“Standard rules, I’ll let you go first,” Valentin said nonchalantly, watching Renaud’s face closely. “Start at 5.70.”
Renaud’s eyebrows went up, but after a moment he shrugged and went to grab his shoes.
They met outside by the vault, dressed and with poles ready. Renaud wordlessly offered Valentin the chalk, then lined up for his jump.
Renaud vaulted over the bar on the first try, smooth as could be. Valentin swallowed down the admiration that always welled up in him when watching Renaud vault. Even knowing firsthand how much time and blood and sweat Renaud put into his sport, his big brother still made it look so effortless. Valentin shook it off and took his turn. Conditions were perfect—he flew over the bar without a brush.
Renaud gave him a high five as he walked back to the start. Valentin swallowed a grin, remembering not so long ago when he hit 5.70 for the first time, how thrilled Renaud was for him. Now it was just another vault. Well, that was what today was all about, wasn’t it?
“5.75?” Renaud said.
“Sure,” said Valentin.
Renaud went over on the first try, Valentin on the second. “Nice,” Renaud said.
Valentin just nodded. “5.80?”
Again, Renaud flew over the bar as if it were barely 5 metres, while Valentin had to take a second try.
“Are you sure you want to keep going?” Renaud said as Valentin stretched, taking a minute to cool off. “I don’t want you to risk an injury just to show off in my backyard.”
“I’m fine if you are, old man.”
Renaud rolled his eyes, but picked up his pole.
Renaud missed 5.85 on his first attempt. So did Valentin. Renaud flew over on his second attempt. Valentin brushed the bar, but it stayed on its pegs. Valentin noted with amusement that he didn’t get a high five this time, just a nod. Renaud was in competition mode now. This wasn’t a silly game in the backyard with his baby brother anymore. This was a challenge from a competitor.
Renaud missed his first shot at 5.90, as did Valentin, and then his second. As Valentin lined up to take his run, everything felt right. He had a slight tailwind at his back, he felt warm but not tired. He knew he was going to make it before he even planted his pole.
He landed on his back with a bounce and stared at the bar above him. Not even a quiver. God, what a feeling—he didn’t even want to sit up, just wanted to lie with Renaud’s loud whoop echoing in his ears. But the moment ended and he rolled over, collected his pole, and started jogging back.
Renaud was waiting for him with a beaming smile, bouncing on his toes. He pulled Valentin into a rough hug, then took him by the shoulders. “You maniac!” he said, shaking him a little. “You crazy guy! Who the hell sets a world-class personal best in my fucking backyard?”
Valentin swallowed. This was it. He tried to keep his voice light, and said, “Can you imagine if I’d hit that in Moscow in ‘13?”
Renaud looked like he was about to reply, then he abruptly dropped Valentin’s shoulders and turned away. “This doesn’t mean you win yet, you know,” he said, but his voice cracked, belying the lightness of his words.
Valentin let him get away with it. But before Renaud picked up his pole, Valentin spoke softly. “I don’t know if you remember, after Moscow—”
“I remember,” Renaud cut him off. He was focused on chalking his hands, not meeting Valentin’s eyes.
“You made me a promise,” Valentin said.
Renaud didn’t speak for a minute, and Valentin was about to open his mouth to say it was just a joke, he didn’t mean it, call off the competition, but— “I said I remember, didn’t I?” Renaud said. He hoisted his pole into the air before Valentin could say another word.
Without intending to, Valentin leaned forward as Renaud flew off the ground. His instincts were warring inside him as he found himself wishing his sporting idol would succeed and his brother would fail—but Renaud’s foot caught the bar. It was over.
Renaud stayed on his back, his chest heaving. Valentin gave himself ten seconds to try and keep his heart from pounding out of his body, then gave it up and went over and sat next to Renaud on the mats.
“I’m not going to make you do anything you don’t want to do,” Valentin said, watching Renaud’s face. His eyes were closed, his mouth twisted just a little at the corners. Valentin bit his lip—god, he could still be wrong about this. Everything was on the line, Renaud was everything to him, coach, cheerleader, idol, friend. His brother. Was he really going to risk it all on a hunch, a vague drunken memory? But Renaud hadn’t backed out, hadn’t laughed it off, hadn’t even said any of the terrifyingly gentle and cruel things that would have stopped Valentin in an instant. He had to do it.
“Renaud,” he said softly, then cleared his throat. “I am going to kiss you.” Valentin paused one more second, then said, “You owe me that at least.”
Valentin leaned over and kissed him, soft and wet on the lips. He felt his fists clench with the effort of holding back. He wouldn’t push, he wouldn’t, he wouldn’t—Renaud held still underneath him for one endless moment, then groaned as if it was ripped out of him. Next thing Valentin knew he was flat on his back with Renaud kissing him as if he would never stop.
Valentin spared a brief moment to wonder whether they should maybe go inside. But then the thought was gone—all that he could think of was Renaud’s hands gripping his biceps, Renaud’s mouth on his lips, jaw, neck, Renaud’s solid thigh—oh god—between his own. His sweaty skin stuck to the mat underneath him and his skin prickled under the slight breeze. Renaud bit his shoulder hard enough to make him gasp and arch up into it. It was perfect.
Until Renaud said, “Do you know how many people I fucked, wishing they were you?”
Valentin wrenched his head around to meet Renaud’s eyes, but Renaud wasn’t angry or mocking. He looked happy, god, happier than he’d looked in a long time, happy like he’d just broken a world record. Valentin let himself forget everything except reaching up for Renaud’s mouth, and Renaud let him have it, gave him his mouth and his tongue and his whole body, hot and heavy over Valentin, overwhelming him until he had to tear his lips away to breathe.
“Fuck, you look…” Renaud breathed, staring down at Valentin with something like awe. Valentin flushed and bit his lip, knowing he probably looked halfway to debauched though they had barely kissed. Renaud dove back down and took his mouth again, biting predatory kisses that set the blood roaring in Valentin’s ears so loud it took him a minute to realize what Renaud was saying in between kisses.
“I fucked seven people during the Olympics,” he was saying, and Valentin stared up at him. “I fucked them and all I could think about was you—when I kissed them, when I put my dick in them—I was wishing and wishing—”
“No,” Valentin whispered, feeling like his heart would break. All this time?
“I fucked so many pretty boys and I—I hated myself because all I could—all I wanted—I could have anything in the world that I wanted and I still couldn’t have you—”
That was all Valentin could take. “Stop!” he said, and wrenched his hands around Renaud’s wrists, wrapped one leg around him and flipped them both over until Renaud was pinned underneath him.
And Renaud, eyes wide and wet and shocked, arched up against his stomach and came with a choked-off gasp.
Valentin froze. “It’s like that, is it?” he said softly. He tightened his grasp on Renaud’s wrists and slowly rolled his body against Renaud’s, glorying in the slip of Renaud’s softening dick against his. Renaud closed his eyes, letting out another of the choked moans that were rapidly becoming Valentine’s favorite sound in the world.
Valentin lowered his mouth to Renaud’s ear. “They’re not here now,” he said. Renaud shivered underneath him. “I’m here. Me. Valentin.” He hesitated, but fuck it—"Your brother.”
And fuck, that paid off—Renaud arched under him and started panting, twisting his wrists against Valentin’s grip and rubbing against Valentin in helpless, aborted thrusts, oversensitive yet unwilling to stop.
“Yeah,” Valentin said in satisfaction. “No one else, you hear me?”
Renaud’s eyes were closed tight, almost as if he were in pain. Valentin felt like his heart would explode if he had to look at Renaud one more instant. He collapsed forward and began leaving small kisses along Renaud’s jawline, sweet and biting. “I’m here now,” he murmured between kisses. “No one else. You’ve got me. You can have this.”
Renaud’s pants started resolving into words. “Fuck—fuck—fuck me—”
Valentin froze as the whole world seemed to crystallize. He’d never imagined—but it felt inevitable, felt right in the same way this whole crazy thing felt right.
“Are you—” he said, looking down at Renaud, flushed and glowing underneath him. But Renaud opened his eyes, and he changed what he was going to say. “Have you done that before?”
Renaud cut his eyes to the side. “Not—not sober.” His teeth worried his lower lip until Valentin couldn’t stand it another second and leaned down to put his own teeth and tongue there instead.
Really, there was nothing Valentin could say after that. If Renaud wanted this from him—if this was something Renaud wanted and would only get from him—well, he was going to make sure Renaud got everything he wanted from now on.
It was a blur of hands and tongues and spit and sweat. Valentin thought hazily that he should probably go in the house and use lube instead of Renaud’s own come to open him up, but every time he moved away Renaud would grab at him, demanding in a way Valentin had never been able to resist, and underneath that almost desperate in way Valentin couldn’t even try to resist. He tried to go slowly, but then Renaud would writhe or make one of those noises and he couldn’t—he had to—
And suddenly he was on his back again. He stared up at Renaud in a confused haze. Renaud was backlit and Valentin could barely make out the expression on his face. But before Valentin could say anything, Renaud was lowering himself onto Valentin’s erection, and all Valentin could do was hold on.
“Too—slow—” Renaud said, between gritted teeth. “I’ve waited long enough, don’t make me wait—”
“Didn’t make you do shit,” Valentin panted, gladness making his whole body warm, “can’t believe you made me wait—”
The tendons in Renaud’s neck were standing out. Valentin gripped his hips harder, unsure whether he was trying to hold him up or pull him down. But Renaud didn’t even pause, pushing himself up and down on Valentin’s erection in minuscule increments, his thighs flexing around Valentin. Valentin threw back his head, panting up at the sky, as dizzy as if he could feel the earth moving under him.
“Fuck—god—” Renaud choked, and Valentin had to look at him again. Tears were welling in the corners of his eyes and Valentin half sat up, alarmed. But the change in angle pushed Valentin further into his brother and Renaud let out a wordless yell and came, for the second time, all over Valentin’s chest.
“Fuck,” Valentin heard himself say, and flipped them again, just barely managing to avoid rolling onto the ground, put his head down on Renaud’s chest, and came harder than he had in his entire life.
He rolled off of Renaud and they both lay on their backs on the mat, panting as the breeze cooled their sweaty skin. And then—
“Why can’t you jump like that in competition?” Renaud said, out of nowhere.
Valentine huffed a laugh. “Really, that’s what you’re thinking about now?”
“I’m serious,” Renaud said, although the effect was slightly spoiled when he rolled over and began to trace his finger along Valentin’s chest. “5.90—that’s a world class jump. You could be placing, you could be winning with that height.”
“Just lucky, I guess,” Valentin said, trying not to move. Renaud’s fingers were sending shivers racing along his body. He never wanted it to stop.
“Well,” Renaud said after a minute. “Lucky me, then.”
He finished the stroke of his finger with a flourish and Valentin realized—”What the—did you just write your name on me?”
In the ensuing wrestling match (and the aftermath of the wrestling match, inevitable and easy as a record-breaking jump, like a dream he didn’t want to ever wake from) the question got lost. But when Valentin remembered it—much, much later—all he felt was a warm certainty, buoyant as the ocean. He belonged to Renaud and always had.