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does your mother tell you things? (is she telling you I'm the one?)

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i. London, Ontario, Canada - 2001

She should have known it would be a bad idea… but she had hoped. She had hoped that, for once, it would be different, that she would feel included and part of the cool girl group. She remembered how excited she had been when Cindy McIntyre had given her an invitation to her sleepover party. She couldn't believe it: the most popular girl in her grade had invited her, quiet, little, mousy Tessa, to her birthday. It had taken her completely by surprise; she had no time to socialize or make longtime friends at school. She got up at 4 am everyday to go skate with Scott, then went to school, did homework and then skated with Scott again. Girl friends were not part of that equation. And she had accepted it… kind of. She wasn't really talkative or extraverted; she didn't make friends easily. She ate lunch on her own in the bathroom most days. She kept to herself, trying to focus her energy on her studies as much as she could. She wasn't cool. She was a nerd. And she knew it. Everybody in her class knew it. And yet… Cindy had chosen to invite her. 

She wasn't like Scott. Scott made friends everywhere he went; he talked and smiled to everyone. He was happy, loud and boisterous. She had loved that about him from the moment they first met. He had boatloads of charisma even as a little kid. Everybody loved Scott, he always made you feel like the most important person in the room when he talked to you, when he focused those cheerful hazel eyes on you. Tessa envied that about him. She wished it could be this easy for her. She wished she could be this friendly and less quiet… but something deep inside her, rooted in her most inner self, always kept her from opening up too much. She always seemed to say the wrong thing, little tidbits of information she had read somewhere that never interested anyone but her. The eyes of the few classmates she had tried talking to always glazed over after a while. Scott's never did that. He always found what she had to say fascinating. Even if she was talking about the stars, ballet or the way sequins were sewn on her new skating costume. He always listened. 

She definitely should have known better. She was smart. She knew she couldn't change herself even for one night. Cindy and her friends had been mean and cruel… and she only realized too late that she had only been invited to be made fun of. They had teased her mercilessly about Scott, about her skating, wanting to know if he had kissed her or put his hands down her skirt. It had made her deeply uncomfortable and she had blushed a blazing shade of scarlet which had only made the girls laugh at her harder, calling her a prissy stuck-up prude. She didn't like people confronting her this way, talking in her face and she had clammed up, grinding her teeth and trying her best not to cry, swallowing all her emotions. The night had gone from bad to worse when they had tried to give her a makeover… and jaggedly cut off two inches of her hair. She had pretended needing the bathroom and had quickly ran down the stairs to avoid bursting into tears right here and there. 

She had never felt this sad. Utterly and completely sad and defeated. She knew when to cut her losses. She couldn't stay here a minute longer. She sneaked to the kitchen where she had spied a phone earlier in the evening and she dialed the number she knew by heart. Her mother had made sure of that. 

It seemed like an eternity before someone picked up. She was so scared she was going to get caught by the girls, Cindy, or worse… Cindy's parents. "Hello?" she heard the familiar voice say on the other end of the line. 

She tried to steady her voice as best she could. "Hello Mr. Moir, I'm so sorry to bother you this late," she said. 

"Tessa, is that you honey?" he asked. 

"Yeah, sorry, I should have said. It's me, Mr. Moir." 

"How many times have I told you to call me Joe?" she could hear his smile. "Do you want to speak to Scott?"

"At least a hundred," she smiled too. "No, I don't want to speak to Scott. I was wondering if Alma was here?"

"Alma's at bingo with Carol. What did you want to talk to her about?"

Her heart dropped in her stomach. "Oh, never mind then…" she sniffed, her lower lip trembling. 

"Tessa, are you okay?" he asked, worried. "You don't sound too good."

"I…" her voice choked on the rest of the sentence. 

"Tessa?" he asked, his tone growing increasingly worried. "What's wrong?"

"I'm at this horrible sleepover and I hoped Alma wouldn't mind coming to pick me up," she confessed. 

"Wouldn't you rather call your mom?"

"I…I don't want her to know."

"Are you at a boy's house? Is that why you don't want your mother to find out?"

"No, I'm at Cindy McIntyre's house for a birthday sleepover and they're really mean to me. I want to go home," she said, her voice breaking at the end. 

"Give me the address, I'll be there in twenty," he replied, his tone leaving no room for negotiation. 

"I don't want to be a bother," she said softly. 

"You're never a bother. Gather your stuff, get out of that house, and I'll be there soon." 

It was a relief to see the familiar Moir car pulling around the corner of the street. He must have driven over the speed limit to get here because she had barely waited. She put her bag in the backseat and climbed up front. 

"Are you okay sweetie?" he asked, looking intently at her. 

"I will be." 

"Do you want me to drive you home?"

"If you don't mind… could I spend the night at your house?" 

"Tessa, if those girls did something to you, you should really tell your mom."

"Please?" she pleaded, her green eyes wide and beseeching. Joe knew right there she had him wrapped around her finger. 

"You can sleep in Scott's room," he said. "He'll share with one of his brothers."

"Thank you so much." The relief was evident in her sigh.

"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked, as he started the car. "I know I'm not Alma, but I've been told I give pretty solid advice."

"My mom was so happy about the sleepover. Like I finally made friends and was cool and social. She was so happy. I don't want to disappoint her like that."

"You know you wouldn't. Your mom only cares that you're happy."

"They were awful to me. They teased me about Scott and they cut my hair," she said, holding out a ruined strand shamefully. 

"I'm so sorry, Tessa. Teenage girls are brutal, they shouldn't have done that."

"I'll get over it."

"Yes, you will. You're the strongest-willed girl I know and you're going to achieve great things. Pay those girls no mind." 

"I wish I could be more like Scott," she confessed, her head down. "He's everyone's best friend. He does it so effortlessly too. I wish I were more like that."

"If you were more like Scott, you wouldn't work as well as you do. You balance each other out. Scott needs your quiet and your stability. You need his passion and his exuberance." 

Tessa pondered that for a moment. "I guess I never really thought of it that way." 

"Carol did good when she decided to pair you two up," he chuckled. "You're enough just the way you are Tessa, remember that."

When Tessa started skating with Scott, she was thrilled to have found someone so kind and so driven to dance with. It made taking the ice a lot nicer; she never would have been able to do it alone in the long run. She just never imagined that when she took Scott's hand for the first time, his whole family would be there to hold hers as well. 

"I'll put your bag in Scott's room, okay?" he said, letting her into the house. "I'll drive you home tomorrow morning. Scott is on the couch, feel free to grab something from the fridge and join him."

"Thank you so much, Joe," Tessa said softly, wringing her hands. 

"Anytime, kiddo, at any hour. Alma and I will always be there for you."

When she entered the living room, she found Scott sprawled out on the couch in his underwear, watching an action movie. 

"Can I join you?" she asked. He bolted straight up. 

"What are you doing here T?" he asked, startled. "Were you the errand my dad had to run?" he laughed, scratching his chest. 

"Guess so," she laughed. 

"Well then, welcome to Casa de Moir on a Saturday night. We're watching Bloodsport. Come sit next to me," he tapped the spot next to him on the couch invitingly.

She joined him, tucking her feet underneath her. 

"Weren't you supposed to have a girls' night or whatever?" he asked, turning his head toward her. 

"Yeah…" she sighed. "Turns out Cindy McIntyre really doesn't like me. You dad picked me up from her house." 

"Cindy is a bitch. You're not missing much, trust me."

"I'm missing two inches of hair actually," she gritted her teeth. 

Scott's hand cupped her face and turned it to get a better look. "Are you fucking serious?" he asked, feeling his temper rise on her behalf. "Come here," he said, pulling an arm around her shoulders and letting her snuggle against his side for comfort. 

"I'm sleeping in your room tonight by the way," she informed him. 

"Cool," he shrugged. "I like it when we talk before falling asleep."

"I don't think that's what your dad had in mind."

"What he doesn't know won't hurt him," he grinned mischievously. 

*

ii. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada - 2010

Cara's hands running through her hair was the most soothing feeling in the world. Tessa always leaned into it like a cat asking to be petted more, closing her eyes in contentment. It always made her feel right at home, reminding her of their younger days when Cara accompanied them to almost every competition. Now, she only showed up to the most important one — like the Olympics. 

"Tess?" Cara asked, stopping the movements of her hands. 

Tessa shook her head. "Yeah?"

"Where did you go?" she laughed. "I asked how low you wanted that bun."

"Sorry, my mind…was elsewhere," she replied, absentmindedly. "A bit on the side, if possible?" she requested. 

"Getting nervous?" Cara asked as her hands worked through Tessa's locks. "I know dress rehearsals can be nerve wracking because of all the judges there and Skate Canada trying to sell you to them."

"Yeah, kinda nervous," she confessed, wriggling her hands. 

"Are your legs okay?" Cara whispered softly. 

"Not really," Tessa shrugged, covertly removing the blanket covering her lap and showing the dozen ice packs all around her shins. "But I'll make it work. I always do. There's no way this gold medal is going to anyone else."

"Rest them as much as you can," Cara advised. "You'll need all of your strength to skate three clean programs on what amounts to broken legs."

Tessa nodded in agreement. "Scott has been waiting on me hand and foot, bringing me lunch, helping me get places, letting me literally lean on him. I wouldn't be able to do this without him."

"Scott wouldn't be able to do it without you either," Cara said. "You've got a good momentum going. These are your games, everyone knows it."

"Yeah…" Tessa said softly, looking thoroughly unconvinced and fidgeting even harder. 

Cara's hands stopped styling her hair and she placed them on her shoulders, rubbing gently. "Okay, what's wrong?" she asked. "This is more than just nerves."

"I…" Tessa stuttered. Jordan was usually the one she went to with this sort of issue. She felt kind of weird talking to Cara about it. 

"You can talk to me," she nudged her. "I promise, everything you tell me stays between us. I won't tell Scott or the rest of the family. You have my word."

Tessa took a deep breath and hung her head low. She couldn't bear to look at Cara's face while she told her this. "He's going to be there. In the stands. Watching me, watching us." 

Cara tilted her head, confused. "Who's going to be there?"

Tessa raised her head just enough to catch Cara's gaze in the mirror in front of her. "You know who."

"Tessa…" 

"I know you know. I know everyone knows," she whispered, somewhat shamefully. 

"I'm sorry. I imagine this is very hard for you," Cara finally said. Of course she knew. Everyone in the skating world knew, everyone heard the whispers behind closed doors. 

"I feel so stupid," Tessa's voice quivered. "I really thought he liked me. I believed everything he told me. I really did. I'm such an idiot. And now I have to skate with his eyes on me the whole time."

"You're twenty, Tessa," she cajoled. "Everyone feels like an idiot with a guy at some point. Everyone makes mistakes. Don't be too hard on yourself."

"Everyone thinks I'm a home wrecking slut," she said, her voice breaking. "I hear the other girls in the changing rooms, I see the way people stare."

Cara moved around her to kneel down in front of her, laying her hands on her knees. "You listen to me, Tess, and you listen closely. This man is a predator. He used and abused his position in your life to manipulate you so you'd to do what he wanted. This is not your fault. You're barely an adult and you were hurt and depressed. This is not on you. This is on him," she said, her voice stern, but gentle. 

"I feel so stupid," Tessa repeated, shaking her head. 

"You are not stupid," Cara reassured her. "You're a girl who was preyed upon by a man who should never be allowed around young girls ever again. You were naive and he took advantage."

Tessa sniffed and wiped her nose. "I'm sorry to lay this all on you… I can't talk to anyone about this. Not my friends or my sister and certainly not Scott. He would go berserk."

"You can always talk to me," Cara said, squeezing her knee. 

"I don't want you, or anyone else, to think less of me," she added quietly. 

"I could never," she comforts her. "I know this is hard. I know getting your heart broken is awful. Especially when the one doing the breaking is an asshole."

"That's the worst thing too… I don't think I loved him. I liked him a lot, but I think I was filling a void. He was… there."

Cara exhaled. "You mean he was there when Scott wasn't. After your surgery."

"Yeah," she nodded, lowering her head and looking at the ground again. 

"You know Scott loves you, right? In his dumbass, cocky way. He really does." 

"I know," Tessa said, fiddling with the blanket. 

"And it might not be in the same way that you love him," Cara said, looking at Tessa pointedly, "but that doesn't mean it's any less strong."

Tessa sighed. "Does everyone know about this too?"

"About how you've been half in love with him since you were seven?" Cara asked with a smirk. 

She blushed scarlet from her hairline to the top of her dress. "Yeah," she coughed. "About that." 

"Yeah, everyone knows. You're more transparent than you might think. Especially to people who have known you for thirteen years."

"Well…" Tessa almost choked on her saliva. "That's great," she finished, her tone defeated. She was sure her family and the Moirs must have had a lot of fun secret conversations on that particular subject.

"Jordan and I have talked a lot about that little crush of yours over the years," Cara smiled. 

From where she stood, it really didn't seem like a little crush. Rather, it felt like an all encompassing warm and thorny feeling starting from the roots of her hair and ending at the tips of her toes. It infected her whole, one bit of skin, one limb at a time, with each glance, each dance hold, and each time she felt his firm hands encasing her ribcage, almost holding her beating heart inside of them.

"Scott is completely oblivious, of course," Cara continued. "But just because he's a moron doesn't mean he doesn't care deeply for you. I hope you know that. And I hope you know that he's going to spend the rest of his life atoning for the time he wasn't there for you."

"He has been pampering me," Tessa admitted, smiling a little at that and a lot at his cousin calling him an idiot.

"You deserve to be pampered," Cara agreed. "You deserve to be with a man who won't lie to you, who won't use and discard you when you're no longer needed. Someone who won't take advantage of you, who will respect you, and treat you right. You need to know your worth Tessa," she added to tie in with their earlier conversation. "Every woman needs to learn that at some point. This is it for you. You're going to skate the best three programs of your entire career, never mind who's in the stands. Focus on Scott, focus on your family, on all of us cheering for you. You deserve the world and you're going to get it." 

Tessa sniffed. "Thank you for the reassurance and the pep talk. I don't know what I would do without you. Without any of you Moirs."

"That's what family is for, Tess," Cara said, finally returning her hands to her hair and twisting it into a perfect bun. 

*

iii. Canton, Michigan, USA - 2013

Charlie was deep in REM sleep when he felt his wife sleepily nudge his shoulder. "Your phone," Nicole said, her voice raspy. "It's ringing."

"I'm not on call," he replied, his voice muffled by the pillow as he tried to get back to dreamland. 

"I don't care," she rebuffed gently. "Make it stop."

He felt blindly for his phone and grunted as he got up to take the call downstairs so as not to wake up his wife or his sleeping children. 

A 313 area code; the call came from Michigan and he immediately thought something terrible had happened to his brother. "Hello?" he picked up anxiously. 

"Yeah, is this Charlie?" a masculine voice shouted over the loud background noise of music and cheers.

"Yeah," he replied. "Who's this?"

"Imma need you to pick up Tessa."

"Tessa?" Charlie's sleep befuddled brain asked. "I think you have the wrong number. Tessa is my brother's wife." 

"Girlie doesn't look old enough to be someone's wife." 

It was like an electric shock to his brain. Michigan area code. Scott's Tessa. "What's wrong with her?" he asked worriedly. Why was someone calling him?

"She had too much to drink, some guy groped her and forcibly tried to get her to go home with him, she punched him and burst into tears. She told me her name, to call her brother Charlie and promptly passed out. So I'm calling you." 

Charlie was wide awake now. "I'm not really her brother. I think she meant Casey."

"Listen, I don't care who she meant, dude. She's passed out drunk in one of my booths and I'm closing soon, I need you to come get her. Her license has her living in Canada, I don't know where she lives in Canton and she may want to press charges, I don't know."

"I'm in Canada," Charlie said, frustrated and rubbing his eyes. "It's a three-hour ride." 

"Then I suggest you get to it," the guy said. "She's at Chatters on Wayne Road," he hung up. 

"Fuck!" he exclaimed. 

This was not like Tessa, not like Tessa at all. Blackout drunk, on a weekday no less? His blood boiled at the thought of some creep forcing himself on her. She was his baby brother's partner and while she certainly didn't feel like a sister to Scott, that's exactly what she was to him. 

As he went up to get dressed, grab his passport, and let Nicole know where he was going, he tried calling Scott, leaving progressively angrier voicemails with every unanswered phone call. Where the fuck was he? Why didn't Tessa tell the barman to call him instead of Casey? Casey also lived in London and Tessa knew how long a drive that was. What was going on with the two of them? Charlie needed to have a serious talk with Scotty as soon as possible. 

According to google maps, the drive from Ilderton, Ontario to Canton, Michigan was supposed to be 2 hours and 33 minutes, Charlie made it in 1 hour and 30 minutes, probably blowing every speed limit ever known to man. When he parked in front of the bar, the guy who had called him (he assumed) was sitting on the steps with Tessa's head on his shoulder. He stared at Tessa, mouth agape. She was dressed in a short back dress, had no shoes on, and her hair was a mess. Charlie was used to seeing Tessa all prim, proper and polished all the time. She didn't look good.

"You Charlie?" he asked, getting up. "You got here fast, good."

"Yeah," he replied, shaking his hand. "Thanks for calling me, I'll take her."

He came closer to Tessa and brushed the hair out of her face, cupping her cheek gently. "Hey Tessie, it's Charlie. Are you okay, kiddo?" he asked as he bent down to slip his hands under her knees and behind her back to carry her to the car. 

He put her in the passenger seat and carefully fastened her seatbelt. He didn't know her Canton address and had to go through her Blackberry to finally find it in some email she had sent her aunt before Christmas. From what his GPS was telling him, they were quite a long way from her apartment that was close to the Arctic Edge rink. What could have possibly gone through her mind for her to go and get hammered this far away from her neighborhood?

He was five minutes into the drive when he heard whimpering and saw her starting to regain consciousness. 

"Tess?" he called out softly. "You with me?"

"Casey?" she slurred, eyelids heavy, mouth dry, as she struggled to raise a hand to wipe her sweaty brow. 

"No, it's Charlie," he replied, squeezing her knee over the console. 

"Scott's Charlie?" she blinked blearily, her tongue feeling like sludge every time it moved inside her mouth. 

"Yeah," he smiled. Since she was Scott's Tessa, he guessed it was fair he was Scott's Charlie to her. 

"What are you doin' here?" she asked, confused. 

"The guy from the bar called me to take you home. He mistook me for Casey. Here, drink some water," he said, handing her a bottle. 

"Did you come all the way from London? For me?" she asked, having trouble getting the cap off the plastic bottle. Her eye hand coordination was shit when she drank. 

"Of course, Tess," he said simply. "Are you okay? The bartender told me you punched a guy that tried to touch you," he said impressed. 

"His hands were all wrong," she replied, shivering at the memory of the gross man who had pinched her ass and tried to grope her breasts. "But I showed him." 

"You sure did, kiddo. I'm so proud."

"I did like Scott showed me. I kept my thumb on the outside so it wouldn't break," she showed him her reddened knuckles. "I think I broke his nose. It crunched."

"Who do you think showed Scott how to do that?" he said, even prouder. "That asshole deserved a broken nose, don't you worry about him," he finished, knowing her well enough to know she would feel guilty for having hurt someone. 

"Why are you here? Where are we going?" she asked, her brain still clouded by the vapors of alcohol. 

"I came here to pick you up from the bar. You drank too much. You remember?" he asked gently. "I'm driving you home."

"Don't drive me to Scott's, I don't wanna see him right now," she murmured.

"I'm driving you to your house, not Scott's," Charlie corrected, thinking that the inside of her brain must work in a very different way when soaked in a liter of tequila, but her last sentence left him puzzled. What the hell was going on with the two of them?

"I've kinda been living at his house for the past six months," Tessa shrugged. 

WHAT?!

"Fuck, I wasn't supposed to tell anyone," she carried on as he tried to keep his mouth shut from the shock. "Don't tell Marina. Or our parents."

Since when did Tessa swear? "What do you mean you've been living together?" he asked, trying to keep his composure. What the fuck was Scott thinking?

"You know we've been fucking, right?" Tessa slurred as she started to take off her sweater. "I'm hot."

They've been WHAT now? That was a lot more information than he ever needed to know about his brother. 

Charlie coughed and almost choked on his saliva. "Tessa, focus please. What do you mean you're living with Scott? How long has this been going on? Stop trying to take off all of your clothes!" he said quickly as she seemed to want to slide down the straps of her dress. 

"But I'm hot," she whined. "It's Carmen's fault."

"Carmen?" he repeated, flabbergasted.

"Yup. When you backflip onto someone's face, it's hard to keep yourself from doing it naked too. It gets your imagination going, you know?"

Charlie was sure that other ice dancing teams had no problem not redoing their choreographic moves naked.

"It helped the fucking when I decided to just stay at his place," she carried on rambling. "Easier access you know. I don't like to be alone now. I've been sad a lot. We fight a lot. Fucking and fighting, that's what we do."

Charlie didn't know what to say except a low, "Tessa…"

"That's why we haven't skated clean one single time this season. Because we've been fucking and fighting so much. I can't take it anymore. I thought he liked me. Why doesn't Scott like me? He always goes back to her," she said the last word with such anger and jealousy in her voice that it caught Charlie off guard. 

"What have you been fighting about?" Tessa was clearly a talkative drunk and she obviously needed to get that out of her chest and Charlie was not going to let that opportunity go to waste. 

"Marina is screwing us over. I want to leave Canton and Scott is being a stupid jerk and doesn't believe me. ME! I'm the love of his fucking life. He should always believe me. He should trust me." 

The love of his what now? She wanted to leaved Michigan? What had she been drinking, tequila with a side of veritaserum?

His mouth just hung open now. "Tessa."

"I know, I know, I shouldn't name call. Whatever. But that's what he is: a fucking idiot. And he doesn't like me. Why doesn't he like me, Charlie?" 

"Scott loves you, Tess. You know he does," he reassured her. 

"Not the way I want him to. He's with her. Not me," she sniffed and as he turned his head, he noticed her wiping surreptitiously under her eyes. 

"Don't you have a boyfriend?" he questioned. 

She huffed. "Whatever. It doesn't count," she replied as she crossed her arms over her chest. 

"Then maybe consider that she doesn't count for him either?" he pointed out. 

She wagged a finger in his face. "Stop with your logic, I'm too drunk for it." 

"I'm only telling you this because I'm 98% sure you'll have forgotten about it in the morning, but, trust me, Scott wouldn't have slept with you if he didn't have feelings for you. That's not how he operates. He's all feelings." 

Tessa huffed again. "He's so mean to me. I don't get it. I don't know what I did." 

"He's a dipshit with a bad temper," Charlie explained. "It's not your fault. Don't hesitate to put him back in his place, Tess. You hold the power here, don't forget it. He would walk through fire for you. No matter how cocky he tries to make himself look."

"The fucking has been good, though. Sensational even. I mean, I'm not gonna lie here, it's 100% because of his temper," she said, voice low and raspy. 

Charlie cringed. "I did not need to know that." 

"Sorry. I'll shut up now. Where are you taking me by the way?" 

Charlie sighed. "Your house, Tessa. I'm taking you to your house."

They arrived ten minutes later, Tessa dozing against the window. He went to open her door.

"Come on," he said, grabbing her under the armpits to get her up. "Arms around my neck and lean on me." 

"You're so nice to me," she giggled, clinging to him like a koala. She couldn't even feel her legs anymore. 

"You're my sister in every way that counts. It's my job to take care of you," he said, going through her purse to find her keys and opening the door. 

"I don't have a lot of my stuff here," she noted. "Everything is at Scott's." 

"We'll make do," he says, unbothered. "Come on now, up the stairs," he said, carrying half her weight to her room. He let her flop onto her bed as he rummaged around her dresser to find her some pajamas to wear. 

"Here you go, get into your pjs, go wash your face and get into bed," he ordered. "I'll get you some water and two Tylenols."

When he got back from her kitchen with a tall glass of water and entered her bedroom after knocking to make sure she was decent, he found her laying on her bed like a starfish. 

"The stars are so bright, Charlie, do you see them?" she asked, gesturing to her ceiling and the dozens of phosphorescent stars that were glued there. 

He chuckled. "Yeah, they're very bright," he said to pacify her. 

"Scott surprised me with them one day. He said I deserved to look at the stars shining for me every night before I went to sleep."

Charlie shook his head and rolled his eyes so hard he almost gave himself a headache. That motherfucker. "Of course he did," he replied. 

Wooing his skating partner with Coldplay lyrics and self-sticking stars was yet another entry on the long list of fucked up romantic shit he did for Tessa. Did the boy have no control over himself?

"Drink up," he said, nudging the glass closer to her. "Get under the covers." 

"I don't feel so well," she said after two sips. 

"Do you need me to carry you to the bathroom and hold your hair?" he asked. 

She closed her eyes and thought about that for a moment. "No," she paused. "I think I should be okay. The room just needs to stop spinning."

"I'll be downstairs sleeping on your couch, okay?" It was too late (or too early) to make the drive back to London at this time of night and he didn't want to leave her alone to drown in her own vomit. "Yell if you need anything." 

"Charlie?" she whispered. 

"Yeah?" 

"Thank you so much for doing this. Coming to get me all the way from Canada. I know I'm a mess. I'm sorry. I want you to know… I really appreciate it." 

"That's what family does, Tess. We show up when someone needs it. Try and go to sleep now, okay?" 

He heard her say goodnight and he went to hunt down some clean sheets, a pillow and a blanket. When he finally settled on the couch, he sent a text to Nicole to let her know what had happened and restrained himself just enough to just send a 'Get your ass to Tessa's tomorrow am. We need to have a little chat' to Scott. 

He woke up with a start the next morning when he heard a metallic sound coming from the front door. His eyes went to the clock on the wall in front of him: 6 am. Good. 

"Tess?" he heard his brother's voice call out as he entered the hallway. "Charlie?"

"How did you get in?" Charlie asked, sitting down and rubbing his eyes. Parenthood had not prepared him enough for this shit. 

Scott looked sheepish. "I have a key," he confessed. 

"Of course you do," he said, shaking his head.

"How is she?" Scott asked, sitting next to him. 

"Black out drunk last night. I'll bet she's going to be pretty hungover today," Charlie informed him. "Some guy tried to grope her, did you know that?" 

"What?" he cried out, alarmed. "Is she… is Tess okay?" The worry in his voice mollified his brother a little bit. 

"She punched the guy, so I guess she'll be okay after she has time to process this." 

Scott looked down, rubbing his hands together. 

"Where the fuck were you? What did you do that she'd rather call her brother in Canada than you?" he snapped. 

"I fucked up," he admitted shamefully. "I fucked up so bad. We fought yesterday and she… just left." 

"I know you did," Charlie said. "That's why you're going up there, you're going to apologize and you're going to take care of her like a good partner would." 

"What did she tell you?" he asked warily. 

Charlie shrugged. "Everything."

Scott's hands went to tug on his hair. "Fuck!"

"You can say that again," Charlie said, looking pointedly at him. "You and I are going to have a little chat soon."

"Charlie…" he pleaded. 

"I'm not joking around. I know you're a grown up and I have no say in how you live your life, but you need to fix your shit. And fast." 

Scott's head lowered. "I know. I'm sorry."

"Tell that to her, not me," he warned. 

"I will," he promised. 

"You're coming home this weekend, right?" Charlie checked. 

"Yeah," he replied. "I'm driving up with Tess." 

"Good," Charlie said. "We'll have our little talk then. I need to get going," he said getting up. "Where's the shower in this place?" 

"Upstairs, first door on your left," Scott answered too easily, earning himself a dark glare from Charlie. 

When Charlie got out of the shower, dressed and ready for his long drive back to Canada, he went to peek into Tessa's room, knocking softly on the door. He stayed in the doorway when he saw his brother laying next to Tessa on the bed, foreheads touching, one hand grasping her hip and the other running through her hair. It looked too intimate and too private, like he shouldn't be allowed to see them this way.

"How are you feeling Tess?" he asked nonetheless, wanting to make sure she was okay before going home. 

She opened her eyes and he immediately noticed they were glistening with tears. Scott's fingers tenderly rubbed under her lashes to wipe them away softly. "I feel like an army of elephants had a party in my head," she tried to smile, but he saw her bottom lip quiver and heard the way her throat got all choked up. 

"I'll see you this weekend, okay? My kids have been asking for Auntie Tess; they're dying to see you," he said, hoping to make her smile. "You take it easy today, kiddo," he advised, before looking straight at his brother, a silent conversation passing between the two of them. 

"You can go," Scott reassured him. "I'll take good care of her now. I swear."

Before he closed the door to the bedroom, against his better judgement, he saw Scott kiss her forehead. "I'm so sorry," he heard him whisper. "I love you. I promise I'll be better for you, baby."

Tessa was like his sister for many reasons. He had watched her take her first steps on the ice, watched her grow up and blossom into this driven and lovely young woman who won an Olympic gold medal with his brother. He had seen her at her highest high and now at her lowest low. But the most important reason she was like a sister was that there were only two small words and two dashes separating a sister from a sister-in-law. At least he hoped. 

*

iv. Ilderton, Ontario, Canada - 2015

The Moirs' Canada Day barbecue bash was legendary in all of Ilderton. It took place every year in their big backyard without fail, whether it rained, stormed, thundered or was 100 °C in the shade, it happened. You could smell the meat grilling, the fries frying and hear the guests laughing as soon as you entered the town. And, of course, half of Ilderton was invited, with a few Londoners guests on the list as well — namely Tessa and the rest of the Virtues. 

This year, though, Tessa was attending alone. She didn't even know why she had accepted the invitation. Maybe she was a masochist. Well, that wasn't true, she knew exactly why she had yes to the barbecue: the invitation had come in the form of phone call from Alma, and there was no way she was saying no to her. So she had to suffer this on her own… unless you counted alcohol as company. Then she had plenty: she was already on her third beer. And it was a hot muggy day — she could feel the sweat gathering at the back of her neck and dripping slowly down her spine — she needed to eat something to go along with those beers or they would go straight to her head.

She made her way to the food table, stopping every second to greet members of Scott's family and quickly catch up on the recent news — no much on her end, but she politely listened to the tales of weddings, new babies and kids having their first days of school. When she finally stood in front of the cornucopia, she noted that, as per usual, the Moirs had gone all out: layers upon layers of meats in the form of hot dogs, hamburgers, sausages, and ribs, at least three different recipes of potato salad, stuffed potatoes, corn, various assorted salads, green bean casseroles, angel food cake, and pies… so many pies, almost every flavor imaginable. 

"Mom made your favorite," Danny's voice said from behind her. "Strawberry rhubarb." 

"I noticed," she said, turning around to hug him. "I'll go and tell her thanks myself after I devour the whole thing myself." 

"Have you had a burger yet?" he asked, handing her plate with a patty cooked to perfection on it. "You need to eat something. There's no tequila to go with it sadly. Charlie and I thought it wouldn't be wise in this heat… and with you present," he joked. 

"Great," she rolled her eyes. "Guess I'll never live this down."

He shook his head. "Nope. This story will be told for at least ten generations: how Tessa Virtue was so drunk Charlie had to come pick her up all the way from Canada."

"It was one time!" Tessa defended herself, grinning at the good-natured ribbing. 

"It was epic!" Danny laughed and Tessa laughed right along with him, knowing perfectly well that Charlie had kept all the gritty details and the dark confessions from that night to himself. 

She shook her head and sighed. "Thanks," she said as she grabbed a bun and some cheese sauce. "Pass me the pickles." 

Danny did as ordered and leaned against the table, uncapping a beer for him as he watched her neatly assemble her burger. "So, how was Scotland?" he asked. 

Tessa quirked a brow at him. "Have you talked to Scott?" she asked, suspicious. 

"Oh wow, you should see your face right now," he laughed. "Scott made the exact same one when I asked him about it. What are the two of you hiding?" he inquired.

"Nothing," she said a little too defensively. "Scotland was fine. Cold and rainy, but fun. I went fishing, shooting, cave exploring and even did some archery. The castle we stayed at was gorgeous."

"I'm glad you two seemed to have fun," Danny said simply, but looking at her intently, his bullshit radar going off. 

"Where is your brother by the way?" Tessa asked, turning around to face the yard and looking in the crowd for him. 

"By the swings with my kid," he replied, pointing his beer in Scott's direction. 

Tessa looked over and saw Scott, an arm wrapped around Kaitlyn's waist, pushing Charlotte as she screamed in delight. She looked down immediately before she could catch their eyes and took a deep breath. This was going to be harder than she thought. 

"You should go say hi," Danny said. 

"I will," she said quietly. "After I finish this delicious burger. How's Tessa? I haven't seen her around yet," she inquired about his wife. 

Tessa only half listened to his reply, nodding in the right places, but her eyes kept finding Scott and Kaitlyn as they made the rounds, greeting and chatting with everyone they encountered. Scott seemed cheerful: he laughed loudly, grinned wildly, and his eyes twinkled with joy. Her eyes examined him from head to toe: he looked so good in his red and white Canada t-shirt and his tan. This was his happy place: home surrounded by family and a million of his friends. 

She sighed, trying to get back to her conversation with Danny, when she caught Scott's gaze from across the yard. It almost took her breath away and she felt a pang in her chest. He smiled even bigger and waved enthusiastically at her. She forced a fake half-smile, waving back weakly. Evidently, that was all the encouragement he needed because she saw him say something to Kaitlyn before he began making his way toward her. 

"Fuck," she whispered. 

"What?" Danny asked, surprised as he turned around to see what had elicited such a reaction. "Oh, I see," he smirked. 

"Don't leave," she pleaded, gripping his arm. 

"I love both of you," Danny said, removing her hand from his arm and gently squeezing it, "but I'm not getting in the middle of whatever this is." 

And with that, he was gone. Okay, she could do this. She had survived one week secluded in a Scottish castle with both of them. She could handle a family barbecue. She liked Kaitlyn too. Okay, that wasn't true. She had tried to like her. She had tried so hard… But there was nothing more she could offer her than the empty smiles and conversation she put on for the media. She was pretty sure Kaitlyn was the only one of Scott's girlfriends to not complete dislike her on sight, which made her feel even guiltier about not liking the girl. She was an Olympic athlete, she got the demands of such a life; she guessed that was the only quality she saw in Kaitlyn: she got Scott. Which was probably, why, deep down, she disliked her this much. As much as she wanted Scott to be completely hers, Kaitlyn understood him. In some way. An insignificant way compared to the way she knew him, but still… She got some kind of sadomasochistic pleasure in knowing that if Kaitlyn knew what had transpired between Scott and her during that Gold Medal Plate trip, she would hate her and stop being so nice to her all the time. She'd probably slap her. And Tessa would deserve it. Kinda. 

"Hey T!" Scott exclaimed happily, snaking a hand around her hip and going to kiss her cheek. "I didn't see you come in. Why didn't you come say hi?"

"Hi," she said, kissing his cheek. "I didn't want to bother you and Kaitlyn." 

"Are you having fun?" he asked cheerfully. "We're having amazing weather!"

"Yeah," she nodded. "You're really lucky." 

"You put sunscreen on right?" he checked, grazing his fingers down her shoulder to the crook of her elbow. "You know how easily you burn."

"SPF 60++," she confirmed, skin tingling where his fingers had touched her. Why did he do this? Why did he always touch her like it was second nature? Why did it always feel so good?

"Good," he said, looking intently at her. 

And there it was. The awkward silence and the uncomfortable tension that hung in the air between them ever since that night. Ever since they had both completely lost their minds and spent the night entangled in each other on a cold Scottish beach while Kaitlyn slept soundly in the comfort of one of the castle's bedrooms, none the wiser about what was unfolding between her boyfriend and his supposedly platonic skating partner. 

"So, I'm going to go help your mother in the kitchen," Tessa said after a while. She wanted the ground to swallow her whole rather than feel this anxiety for one more second.

"Help her with what?" he teased. "You barely know how to chop vegetables without injuring yourself."

"Hey!" she protested weakly. "I'm sure she needs help. I can bring out dishes or gather the dirty plates." 

"You're a guest, Tess," he argued. 

"I'm the girl you cheated on your girlfriend with," she pointed out. "Your very nice girlfriend."

"Wouldn't be the first time," he shrugged. 

Her eyes went wide. "You're a dick," she stated. "And I'm leaving," she said, putting down her plate back on the table. 

He gripped her arm. "Wait," he sighed. "I'm sorry, Tess. I shouldn't have said that. You're right, I'm a complete dick." 

She was a bit mollified by his admission. "I'm not going to argue with you on that," she raised a brow and looked at him pointedly. 

"We need to talk," he finally said. "About what happened that night." 

"What is there to talk about?" she replied. "We had sex and you went back to your girlfriend, like all the other times it happened."

"You went back to Ryan," he pointed out. 

"Not this time," she shrugged, trying to appear as nonchalant as she could. "We've been broken up for a while now."

"Okay," he says, rubbing his face. "Well, you know, the Kaitlyn thing and the us thing, it's complicated."

"Is it?" she asked dryly. 

"Don't be obtuse," he said. "Please, can we talk?"

"I'm not talking about this with you when Kaitlyn is nearby," she said, standing her ground. 

"Okay, I get that," he agreed. "Can we meet at your house after this party is over?"

She sighed deeply. "Sure," she said, gritting her teeth. This was not a conversation she was looking forward to have. She knew where it was going to lead. "I'm going to go see your mom now," she said as she turned around in the direction of the house. 

Once inside the house, she let herself slip to the floor, leaning against the wall. The house looked and smelled exactly as it had the last time she was there. So many memories in these four walls — laughter and joy, sadness and tears, anxiety and relief; they had seen it all. She felt at peace there, like some part of her brain could shut off and rest in the quiet comfort of this house. She closed her eyes and let her head rest on her knees. 

"Tessa honey, is that you?" Alma asked, coming into the living room, wiping her hands on her apron. 

She got up immediately and went to hug her. "Yeah, I'm sorry for not coming to say hello earlier," she apologized. 

Alma squeezed her tight and Tessa sighed deeply. Apart from her mom's, Alma gave the best hugs. They were so… motherly and full of love. It was the best feeling in the world. She always made them last a little bit longer than necessary. 

"Are you okay?" she asked. "What were you doing sitting on the floor like that?" 

"Yeah, I just needed some quiet." At the moment she finished speaking, Scott's laugh boomed from the outside and she visibly cringed. 

Alma looked at her knowingly. "You want to come help me in the kitchen? I'm making cookies and I could use another set of hands."

Tessa jumped at the opportunity to occupy her mind for a while even if it was with baking. "Sure," she agreed as she followed her into the kitchen, grabbing an apron on the way. "So, what should I do?" she asked for directions, frowning at what was laying on the countertop in front of her.

"Mix the dry ingredients," Alma answered, pointing to a white bowl, "with the wet ingredients," she continued, pointing to a pink bowl. "Then, add the chocolate chips, mix, shape the dough into little balls, and put them on that baking sheet. That's it."

"That doesn't sound too hard," Tessa smiled. Her culinary 'talents', or lack thereof, were infamous among their family members. 

"I'll keep an eye on you," Alma reassured her. "I mean, on the cookies," she winked. 

They worked in amicable silence for a while until Alma noticed how hard Tessa was kneading that dough — she was almost pummeling it with her knuckles. 

"Baking is soothing to the soul, eh?" she remarked, eyeing Tessa. 

Tessa blushed under her attentive gaze and started shaping the cookies. "I guess so," she said quietly. 

"Is there something on your mind?" Alma asked carefully, not wanting to push Tessa too much for fear of making her run for the hills. 

"I'm fine," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. Her eyes were still firmly trained on the cookie dough in front of her. 

"Okay," Alma replied, knowing the way to Tessa's mind was to let her come to you. 

After a few minutes, Tessa huffed and let her arms drop to her sides. "I don't know why I even came," she admitted. 

Alma stayed silent and looked at her with such a fondness Tessa felt like her heart might simultaneously burst out of her chest and drop in her stomach. 

"Maybe I like to torture myself," she rambled with a shrug. 

"I think you know why you came, honey," Alma noted. "And it has nothing to do with you liking feeling hurt."

"He looks happy," Tessa pointed out, her eyes going to look in the yard's direction.

"He's content," Alma said, "but he's not happy." 

Tessa's eyes dropped to the floor as she took a deep breath. 

"Although he has been smiling more as of late," Alma continued. "Ever since he came back from Scotland actually."

"Kaitlyn is a very nice girl," Tessa said, feeling the need to justify herself and absolve her of any misdeed in the eye of his mother. 

"She is," Alma agreed. "She's very nice. We all like her a lot." She paused, contemplating her next words, and stared right at Tessa. "But she's not you."

Tessa felt her heart skip a beat. "Why are you telling me this?"

"We're family," Alma said simply. "And family tells each other the truth."

"Alma…" Tessa started before stopping herself. What could she say? Certainly not the truth.

"Look, I don't know what happened in Scotland, Tess," Alma said. "And I don't want to know. But I'm starting to see tiny little bits of my old Scott in there."

"I…" she stuttered. "I don't know what to say to that." 

"Don't say anything," Alma smiled gently. "Just give him time. He'll figure it out."

Tessa nodded. "Okay."

"Now give me another hug, go back to the yard, eat the rhubarb pie I made just for you and go play with Quinn; she's been asking for you all morning," Alma told her, wiping her hands on her apron before engulfing her in a hug. 

Alma's arms closed around her tightly, one hand stroking her hair. She smelled like dough, butter and chocolate. She smelled like home. How many times had Alma hugged her in the last nineteen years of her life? Kissed her cheeks? Wiped her tears? Bought her ice cream and fed her snacks? Listened to her talk about serious and inconsequential stuff? Too many times to count. Home. As warm as a day in the sun, as comforting as a cashmere blanket wrapped around you in the dead of winter.

"What about the cookies?" Tessa asked after they had let each other go. 

"There were never any cookies," Alma laughed. "I just knew you needed some quiet time and a chat."

"What?!" Tessa cried out. 

"Tessa, honey," Alma tsked with a note of gentle humor in her voice. "Who serves cookies at a barbecue?"

*

v. Montréal, Québec & Ilderton, Ontario, Canada - 2016

Tessa plopped herself on Scott's couch with a groan, tilting her head back and closing her eyes. Her whole body ached. Who thought this comeback was a good idea? They weren't teenagers anymore, she should have known better than to overdo it today at the rink and at the gym. Recuperation was much more important these days. Marie-France had warned her too, but she had wanted to get that move just right… and now… Now her calves burned, her hamstring felt like it could snap at any moment, her core felt strained and even her back hurt. 

"Scott," she whined, "could you bring me a hoodie and some sweats, pleaaaaaaase?" she asked in her most annoying voice. 

He peeked his head from his bedroom's doorway. "Sure dear, do you want a beer and a blowjob to go along with that?" he joked, cocking a brow in her direction. 

"I wouldn't say no to a chocolate milk if you have any," she smiled innocently, knowing perfectly well he had some in his fridge. 

"Tes-sa," he complained. 

"Come ooooooon," she pleaded, "pleaaaaaase? I'm tired and I hurt everywhere. Be nice to me." 

"I drove you home, I'm going to cook and feed you dinner, and now you want to steal my clothes too?" 

"And a chocolate milk," she added mischievously. 

"I'm not giving you any more of my clothes," he warned. "You never return them. You're a thief".

"I am not!" she defended herself. "I borrow them. Long term." 

"Same difference," he pointed out. 

"Come on," she pleaded again, looking at him with her best doe eyes. "They're so much more comfortable than mine. And when I keep them at my place, you have a change when you sleep over; you like that. And you always tell me how nice they smell after I've washed them with my special softener." 

He huffed. "You're lucky I like you," he relented, throwing her a pair of grey sweats and a Moir's Skate Shop sweatshirt. 

She didn't even get off the couch to change. Scott stared at her as she slid the grey pants up her naked legs and snuggled into his hoodie, removing her sports bra through the sleeve and flinging it in the direction of her gym bag in the corner of the living room. She drove him completely crazy and he was pretty sure she had no idea. 

"Is that new?" she asked, rubbing her nose into the material of the sweatshirt. 

"Yeah, we got the merch for the store opening in April. You're wearing an exclusive, it isn't sold anywhere yet," he said with a proud smile. 

"You just like seeing your name on my back," she smirked. 

"I'm not gonna argue with you on that," he joked back. 

"Comfy," she purred into the soft cotton. "And it smells just like you." 

"Tessa," he warned with a grunt. "Behave yourself."

"What?" she asked innocently. 

"You know what," he said pointedly. "Your whole body is hurting. Don't start something you can't finish." 

"Come cuddle with me," she requested, opening her arms wide.

"I have to cook you dinner, babe," he protested weakly. "You can't possibly live on poached eggs only for much longer."

"Cuddles first, dinner later," she pouted. 

He threw himself on the couch and into her waiting arms, flipping them over carefully so she could lie on top of him and not bear any of his weight. She snuggled into his chest, wrapping her arms around him as he pulled an arm around her shoulders, cautious to not squeeze too tightly. 

"I never want to move," she mumbled into the fabric of his shirt. 

"Deal," he said, letting his hands roam down her body and patting her ass. 

She raised her eyes to look at him. "Watch those hands mister," she teased. "I said cuddles, not foreplay."

"What's a pat on the ass between two business partners?" he smirked down at her. 

"If you're going down that road, you could at least give it a good squeeze. For science," she chuckled. 

"You wish, my command," he grinned, grabbing her ass with both hands and kneading slowly.

She purred and burrowed deeper against him. "I like this," she whispered. 

"Yeah?" he asked smugly. "What else do you like?" His voice had taken that huskiness she loved so much. 

She hummed contentedly against his chest. "I like when you grasp my wrists, when you hold my waist, when your hands encase my ribcage and stop…just…underneath my breasts, when you cradle my head and clasp the back of my neck," she finished with a kiss on his neck. 

He wrapped his arms around her a little tighter. "Tess…" he whispered. He held back the three little words that were sure to follow. "You're in a mood tonight," he remarked. "And I think you're taking the 'shackled in my embrace' part of Latch a little too seriously," he finished with a joke to diffuse the sexual tension that was burning all the oxygen between them. 

Her green eyes were languid as they took him in slowly, flitting from his eyes, nose, mouth, and jaw. "I just want to be close," she explained quietly. 

He felt naked under her gaze and cleared his throat. "Did you already book your flight home for Christmas?" he asked, changing the subject. "Because I wanted to book mine last night and backtracked thinking maybe it'd be best to book together so we're seated next to each other?"

She took a deep breath. "Yeah…about that," she started, uneasy. 

"What?" he questioned, curious about her demeanor. 

"I don't think I'll be going home for Christmas this year," she stated simply. 

He sat up straight abruptly, releasing her. "What do you mean you're not going home?" he inquired, offended on Christmas' behalf.

"It's kind of a long story," she sighed. "My mom thought we wouldn't be coming home for Christmas this year because we wouldn't have time to take a few days off from training so she booked a cruise in the Caribbean with some of her friends. My siblings are spending Christmas with their in-laws, even Jordan."

"So you'll be staying in Montréal? Spending Christmas all alone? You can't be serious!" he said, his voice raising at least two octaves. 

"Not exactly… Jordan said I could tag along to Calgary and spend it with her, Michael and his family if I wanted to."

"Tess," he said gravely. "You're not spending Christmas with people you don't know." 

"Jordan will be there," Tessa defended herself. 

"Tess," he repeated. "You're not spending Christmas with your sister and people you don't know." 

"Well, I don't want to spend Christmas alone, so I don't really have a choice in the matter," she said miffed.

"You won't, you're coming with me to Ilderton," he told her like it was the most obvious thing in the world. 

"Scott, I can't. I don't want to impose." 

He shook his head. "Don't talk nonsense. You could never impose. And you don't have a choice in the matter, actually. You're spending Christmas with us and that's the last word on it," he told her in a tone of voice that Tessa knew best than to argue with. 

"I…," she started. "Are you sure?" she finally asked. 

He cocked a single eyebrow at her. "Did I stutter?" he asked. "As a matter of fact, I'm booking both our tickets right now," he said, taking out his phone. "Merry Christmas, T."

"Thank you," she said simply, snuggling back against him. She had to admit that the idea of spending Christmas with Scott and his family made her infinitely happier than spending it with Jordan and her boyfriend's family. 

"Joke's on you, babe. You'll have to buy presents for all my nieces and nephews," he teased, kissing the top of her hair softly. 

That's how, two and a half months later, Tessa found herself getting out of her car, arms laden with a mountain of presents. Thankfully Scott parked right in front of his parents' house so the walk was short.

"Let me help you with that," he told her, taking two of the huge bags she was carrying. 

She stopped on the doorstep, setting down the presents for one moment, and smoothed  down her red dress and green sweater with one shaky hand. 

"Do I look okay?" she asked Scott, twirling to face him. "I think I'm a bit overdressed," she said, eyeing his jeans, blue shirt, and grey V neck sweater.

He took a few seconds to admire her figure and the way her dark hair fell in waves past her shoulders. "You look gorgeous," he answered. "Why are you so nervous?"

"I don't know," she said honestly. "It's been a long time since I've seen all of your family in one place." And the last time she had, they weren't…whatever the hell they were now.

"Relax," he laughed. "You know they all love you," he said, kissing her temple. 

Before both feet could pass the threshold, a sea of Moirs had surrounded them, hugging them tighltly, kissing them on the cheek, telling stories, loudly asking questions and cheering at the sight of Scott who they hadn't seen in months. And, to Tessa's surprise, they seemed so happy to see her as well. They bustled around her, telling her again and again how much they had missed seeing her face, enthusiastically shepherding her into the living room, taking her coat and the presents she was carrying to put them under the heavily decorated Christmas tree. She exhaled deeply. Why had she been so anxious? She felt right at home with the Moirs. 

She sneaked away from the bustle to the kitchen where Joe was already mixing cocktails. He hugged her quickly before returning to the task at hand. "Want one?" he asked, gesturing to the table laden with opened alcohol bottles. 

"That wouldn't be sensible," she said, side-eyeing the eggnog which looked creamy and delicious. "We have Nationals in January."

"She'll have one eggnog, Dad," Scott said, coming up behind her and sliding a hand around her hip, making her jump. 

"Scott," she chided. "I really shouldn't."

"It's Christmas," he stated simply. "An eggnog won't kill you." He squeezed her hip. "I'll take one too, please." 

His father's eyes narrowed on the placement of his hand. "Two eggnogs coming up," he said cheerfully as he started mixing and serving the drinks in Christmas themed mugs.

"Cheers," Scott said, clinking his cup with hers. 

"Cheers," Tessa repeated after him. "Mmmmm, this tastes so good," she almost moaned. 

Scott turned to his father, mirth in his eyes. "That's what almost a year without alcohol will do to you."

Tessa laughed. "I'll let you two catch up and go drink my eggnog in front of the fire while Quinn and Charlotte tell me all about their new dolls and the latest Disney movie," she told them, squeezing Scott's hand before leaving the room. 

It took only two minutes of her sitting on the rug in front of the fire before she was surrounded by kids. Her eggnog forgotten, she was currently putting Quinn's hair into a ballerina bun and listening to Charlotte tell her about her latest adventures.

Danny watched her closely. "You look happy," he smiled at her. 

"It's Christmas," she grinned. "Everyone is happy at Christmas."

"Sure, let's go with that," he smirked in that smug Moir way that Tessa saw on Scott's face everyday. "I hear you've been kicking ass and taking names," he continued, high fiving her. "That's a good winning streak for you guys."

"It really is," she agreed. "It's been so hard to get back into competition shape, but so rewarding. We love our programs so much."

"And that Grand Prix Final, at last," Danny put his hand on his heart. 

"I know!" Tessa cried out. "Scott was so nervous. He had nightmares for weeks about it."

Danny raised a brow in her direction. "Did he now?" he asked. 

Tessa shook her head and rolled her eyes. "You know what I mean."

"I think I do yeah," he said, winking at her, getting up and going back to mingling with everyone. 

After all the kids had found someone new to play with, Tessa went upstairs to freshen up a bit before dinner. The eggnog, the roaring fire and the number of people in the house had warmed her up quite a bit and she wanted to get rid of her sweater and fix her sweaty face. As she walked towards Scott's bedroom, her fingertips lightly ran over the photos lining the hallway — so many memories. The Moirs' walls catalogued the skating history of their family and Tessa was in so many pictures, she could see herself growing up before her eyes.

As her hand was on the handle, she heard voices coming up the stairs. She felt like a teenager again and quickly rushed inside Scott's bedroom, closing the door behind her. Why had she done that? She was not fourteen anymore, she was allowed to be in Scott's bedroom unsupervised. 

"I'm just saying," Cara's voice said. "You two look very cozy."

"Please don't," Scott's voice pleaded. 

"I see the way your hands linger on her every chance you get," she pointed out. "I'm not blind, you know and neither is the rest of the family. Everyone can see your little games."

"We just want a nice peaceful Christmas without getting interrogated by everyone," Scott rebuffed her. "Do you think that's possible?" 

"What do you mean interrogated?" Cara inquired. 

"I mean, you, Sheri, Leanne, Carol, my mom, my dad, Charlie, Danny!" he said a little louder. "Everyone has cornered me asking me about it. I hope none of you bugged Tess about it," he warned.

Cara roared with laughter. "The fact that everyone has been asking you the same question should really tell you all you need to know Scotty." 

Scott's sigh was so deep, it was audible through the door. "Don't call me Scotty," he said. "And please leave us alone."

Tessa heard Cara's footsteps retreat and, a few seconds later, Scott's head banging softly against the wall. "I hate them," he kept mumbling. 

Tessa half-opened the door, peeking her head through. "No you don't," she laughed. 

He jumped, startled, and put a hand on his heart. "What are you doing here?" he asked. "You almost gave me a heart attack."

"I was just freshening up and taking off my sweater," she said, coming up behind him and wrapping her arms around his chest, letting her head rest in the middle of his shoulder blades. 

"They're so nosy," Scott grumbled. 

"They're your family and you love them," Tessa smiled, tightening her hold. 

"Come on," he said, untangling themselves. "We need to fo downstairs before they notice we're both gone." 

It wasn't subtle — then again, the Moirs weren't known for their subtlety — but when Tessa and Scott came down the stairs one after the other, every pair of eyes turned in their direction, the conversations barely keeping up among all the little groups. Scott sighed and grumbled under his breath as he went to Danny who handed him a beer and Tessa approached Nicole and Charlie in the kitchen. They were rolling dough on the countertops and cutting it into various Christmas-themed shapes. 

"Are you making cookies?" Tessa asked, a smile on her lips.

"Snickerdoodles," Nicole replied. "With extra cinnamon."

"I would offer my help, but the last time I did, I was tricked," she joked. 

"Tricked into making cookies?" Charlie asked, confused. 

"You Moirs are a tricky bunch," Tessa shrugged. 

"Did Joe trick you into drinking his eggnog?" Nicole asked with a laugh. "It's deceivingly strong."

She laughed. "Scott did actually."

"How is training going?" Charlie asked. 

"Good," she answered. "Very good. We're still tweaking our programs a little bit for Nationals and Worlds, and Marie-France and Patrice are working us hard at the gym and with our mental coach, but we love every second of it." 

"How are you liking Montréal?" Nicole asked. "Charlie showed me some of the pics Scott sent. It looks gorgeous." 

"It is, especially in the fall! The leaves take on these beautiful yellow, orange, and coppery colors, it's a sight to behold. You should come visit us in the Spring," Tessa offered.

"Won't you be too busy?" Nicole checked.

"Yeah," Tessa shrugged, "but I'm sure we could get one weekend off to give you the guided tour. And we both have spare rooms you're more than welcome to use."

"That sounds like a great idea," Charlie said. "I'd like nothing more than to mock Scott's French." 

"He's actually not bad," Tessa defended him. "In any case, shoot us an email if you want to come! It's no bother at all."

"It's good to see you back in here, honey," Alma said as she entered the kitchen. "You look lovely in that dress. How about you and Scott help set the table while we finish up here? Joe said the turkey should be done in twenty."

"Scotty! Table!" Tessa yelled as loud as she could, startling everyone in the kitchen. "What?" she asked, amused at the way they were looking at her. 

"We've rubbed off on you," Charlie said with a laugh. "So, so much."

Scott burst into the kitchen, sleeves rolled up and ready to be put to work. "Don't do this to me, babe," he told Tessa. "Don't call me Scotty! It's awful enough that my whole family does it. I hate it!"

"Tessa is family, Scotty," Charlie said, using that nickname with the sole purpose of annoying him. "She can call you anything she wants to. We all like her better than you anyway," he joked. 

Scott punched him on the arm. "Thanks dickhead," he said dryly. 

"Language!" Alma interjected. 

"Here," Tessa said, putting at least ten plates in his arms. "Go set the table, I'll bring the cutlery and glasses." 

He looked at her as she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "I love it when you boss me around," he whispered against her ear and she felt the heat of her blush spread on her cheeks and all the way down her cleavage. 

Tessa cleared her throat. When she looked up, Alma and Charlie were looking at her with a smirk on their lips. "I'll just go," she told them, nodding to the living room. 

The dinner was lively, cheerful and loud, and absolutely perfect in every way. Scott's family was so friendly, loving and so tight knit. You could feel the love they all had for each other so clearly — it filled the room to the brim and seeped into its guests. Tessa had taken the seat right next to Scott whose arm had either stayed on the back of her chair or on her thigh the whole night. By the end of the meal, one of his nephews had made his way into his lap, complicating things a little bit, especially when it came to eating dessert, but he had missed all his cuddle bugs so much, he did not mind one bit. He wanted to get his family fix as much as possible. Tessa couldn't stop staring at Scott and how he was his happiest self when surrounded by his people. He truly shone and thrived in these perfect moments. Happiness was found in the simplest things for the Moirs: good people, good food, good laughs and good conversations, and Tessa only realized now how lucky she was to be included, welcomed and accepted by these wonderful people. People who had showered her with so much love, kindness and support over the years. Scott's people. His family, and, she guessed, hers as well, in some way.

"Are you okay?" Scott whispered, his hand squeezing her knee under the table. "You've been quiet for a while."

"I'm just happy," she beamed at him. 

"Good," he said, beaming back at her and grinning like a kid. "I love you happy."

It was well after 11 pm when the first signs of fatigue started showing. People moved to the living room, invading the couches and the armchairs. Bellies were full and the conversation slowed to a low lull. Eventually coats were gathered, goodbyes were uttered among those who lived close enough to go back home for the night, promises of seeing each other tomorrow, on Christmas morning, were made, kids were steered upstairs after being told that Santa would bring their presents as soon they were asleep.

Scott helped Tessa back into her coat and handed her her purse as they made their way to the front door. Scott slipped his coat on as well, knotting his scarf carefully. 

"Are you driving back Tessa?" Alma asked, watching him attentively. 

Scott ran his hand through his hair. "Um, no," he said, bashful. "I'll be staying over at Tess' tonight," he explained simply. 

"I've made your room; you can stay here if you want," Alma informed him. 

"Yeah, I know," Scott said as both he and Tessa went to hug Alma and Joe goodnight. "We'll see you bright and early tomorrow morning to open the gifts, okay?"

He didn't leave them the chance to reply anything before he ushered Tessa out of the front door. 

"Do you think they know?" Tessa asked as she put her seatbelt on and Scott slipped into the driver's seat. 

Scott turned to look at her and smiled. "Yeah, they know." 

*

+i. Montréal, Québec, Canada - 2022

They didn't want to make a big deal out of it, Tessa kept repeating to herself as she opened yet another tab in her Excel spreadsheets on her laptop. Small, intimate and simple they had said. And then a big party in the summer to mark the occasion with all of their friends and family. She rubbed her temples and sighed, leaning her head back on the pillow. Her hand went to the left lapel of her blouse where she always pinned her engagement ring. Two years. And she never got to wear it anywhere. They had both decided not to tell anyone from the outside world until it was done. That meant hiding that gorgeous emerald and diamond ring that Scott had bought her six months into their comeback, but kept hidden for four years. And then, one night, out of the blue, he had stuttered his way through an explanation about the color of her eyes and her birthstone and asked; he had been so cute and nervous. She couldn't care less about the ring. He could have gotten her a Ring Pop, that would have meant the same to her. But still, it was a very nice ring and she couldn't wait until she could finally wear it out in the open. With a nice wedding band to match.

"I can hear you sighing from the other side of the apartment," Scott remarked as he plopped himself down on the bed next to her. 

"After everything else we organized — all the parties and the tours — I thought this would be more fun, but it's really not," she complained. 

"I'm sorry," he said, rubbing her leg. "Do you want me to take care of it?"

"No, we divided the tasks and you did yours," she sighed. "I'm just tired." 

"One month," he said, squeezing her hand and pulling her close to kiss her lips. 

"One month," she said back to him, deepening the kiss. "I can't wait to be your wife," she whispered against his lips. 

"I can't wait to be your husband," he whispered back in between kisses. 

"We are so going to kill those Mr. and Mrs. games," she said with a glint in her eyes, pushing him further into the mattress and nestling against his side.

He chuckled. "I love how competitive you are about even the most insignificant things." He kissed the top of her hair. 

"Insignificant?" she faked outrage. "We get eternal bragging rights! You better bring your A game!" 

"Speaking about Mr. and Mrs.," Scott said. "Are you planning on taking my name? Cause there are forms we need to fill if you are."

She looked at him, a brow raised. "Do you want me to take your name?"

"I don't know," he shrugged. "Ultimately it's your decision. I guess it would be nice to hear my last name after yours. It's kind of a weird caveman thing though…" he said, looking apologetic and stroking her arm softly.

"There's already a Tessa Moir," she pointed out. "That's bound to get confusing." 

"I was thinking, maybe you could hyphenate? If you wanted to I mean," he suggested. 

"Tessa Virtue dash Moir?" she said out loud to get the feel of it. She was so used to hearing both of their names together that it wouldn't be a big change.

"Officially part of the Moir family," he smiled. It was amazing that after twenty-five years together, he still got a thrill every time he heard both their names uttered together. 

"I don't know," she said, drawing circles on his chest. "Would you hyphenate too? Scott Virtue dash Moir? So we would share the same name?" 

He eyes went wide. He had not even considered it. "Is that something you'd like me to do?" 

"I don't know," she said. "Would you mind?" 

He gave himself a minute to think about it and try it out in his head. Scott Virtue-Moir. "I wouldn't mind," he said frankly. "It'd be a bit weird to get used to at first, I think, but I wouldn't mind. It'd be cool to share the same name, one big happy family," he smiled. 

She had never loved him more than in this moment. "To be completely honest," she said after a few seconds had passed. "I wasn't planning on taking your name or hyphenating at all. I kind of like my name the way it is." 

"Really?" he asked. "Why not?" He wasn't offended. He understood — she had been Tessa Virtue all her life. It was her identity on top of being her brand. 

"I don't really need it?" she said, unsure.

He was confused. "Need it for what?"

"To feel part of your family," she shrugged as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. 

Scott looked at her and saw the love in her eyes and the happy smile on her lips and he thought about all they shared in the last twenty-five years. How inextricably intertwined their lives were. How they had been each other's first and last love — falling in love at seven and nine and never completely letting that go. How much his parents, his siblings, his cousins and his entire family had loved and embraced her for almost as long as he had. 

And then it hit him. She was right. She didn't need to take his name. She was already a Moir without it. She had been one since the first time he had held her hand.

He slipped a hand under her blouse and over her breast — over her heart — and unpinned her ring. He let it roll between his fingers, examining the way the light made the gemstones sparkle. 

"What are you doing?" she asked quietly, covering his hand with hers. 

He shook his head. "Putting it where it belongs," he said, slipping the ring on her finger and kissing them softly.

THE END