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As Farley’s body slams against the ice, he feels a rush like nothing he’s ever known. He’s pretty sure it’s indignation at the aggressive behaviour of the stranger confronting him. Mikey gives him a hand up and he clambers back onto his skates.

Farley doesn’t normally allow his ego to rule his decisions but knowing he can easily best this rude interloper gives him a certain satisfaction he can’t deny. Plus Gump and all the guys are cheering him on and, for a kid who’s been homeschooled his whole life, it’s almost like having friends.

It takes almost no effort to win the challenge. Farley would normally be riding a high from so many sweet goals scored back to back like this but something has been off ever since his fall. He doesn’t quite know what to make of it. He waits for the surge of triumph at defeating this Goliath but it never comes. Instead he finds himself wishing the guy would come at him again.

He shakes his head. That can’t be right. He’s a contented pacifist who would never promote violence in any form. He’s not sure where this urge is coming from but it definitely isn’t a desire for additional roughness. He tells himself that it’s simply a novel expression of his disappointment at having to resort to physical prowess to win, instead of relying on his excellent rhetorical skills.

He rejects outright the thought that it’s something to do with the pain he feels. Sure, he’s sore, but it’s not like he hasn’t hit the ice before. He’s taken plenty of falls in his seventeen years and that one was nothing to write home about.

He can’t seem to shake the sensation that something has shifted, though. He tries to focus on Eve as she relates the challenges of her day. She is his friend. He needs to pay attention so he can support her. Yet all he can think about is the way his bones reverberated with the impact, his mandible clacking hard against his maxilla. He wonders idly if there was a sound. He can’t seem to remember but there must have been, right?

After a moment he realises Eve has stopped talking and is looking at him ruefully. What had she been saying? He garbles out some sports nonsense, hoping his hyper-focus on the events of the day isn’t obvious, and she seems to accept his ploy at face-value. Her knowledge of sports jargon is even more meagre than his and he breathes out a sigh of relief as they head in to their respective houses.

His mind keeps replaying the moment, the rush. He strums a few chords on the guitar he made last year for his music theory and woodworking modules, but it doesn’t hold his interest. He attempts to study astronomy, then philosophy, then to practice his accordion, all to no avail. He keeps coming back to his hockey stick.

In a moment of desperation, he pricks the tip of his nose with the cactus he’s growing as part of his impacts of climate change module. He may as well test the outlandish theory that maybe it was the pain he’d responded to.

The cactus test is conclusively negative, however, and he’s back at square one. It’s evident he has no desire to inflict pain on himself. He relaxes a little at this observation, comforted in the confirmation of his world-view. He’ll have to run a few more experiments on the ice to isolate whatever this phenomenon is.

He rushes back out to the rink after lunch but can’t seem to recapture that elusive feeling.

A few days later, Farley has more or less given up on this. He’s done everything he can think of, on and off the ice, and he will simply have to wait for the conditions to align organically once more. Scientific studies can’t be extrapolated without sufficient data, he reminds himself whenever he starts to feel melancholy about it.

When the strange old man offers him a place on an organised hockey team, he hesitates. He does love a good game of shinny but he worries that his enjoyment will be tarnished by the encroachment of capitalist principles. Eve, ever his rock in difficult times, reminds him that he can always change his mind, that he loses nothing by giving it a shot. So, he thinks, why not?

Farley’s nervous as he introduces himself to the coach. He’s never been completely comfortable meeting large groups of people at once. He doesn’t realise just how anxious he is to make a good impression until he ruins his chance with an explanation about the difference between who and whom. He knows that retreating behind pedantry is cowardly and elitist but sometimes he just can’t help himself. It’s a defence mechanism and he’s working on it.

The hardest part about trying out for the team is configuring his equipment. Some pieces have an obvious function and placement but others ... don’t. He manages to kit himself out with some help from the team’s trainer, Ace, and then he’s ready to audition.

Skating against the Blades is reminiscent of his recent ice duel. He slips the puck easily into the goal once, then twice. He can feel his pulse rate increasing as he warms up and gets into the spirit of this. He may not know much about team sports but he knows he’s good with a stick and he grounds himself in that confidence.

His third opponent, who the coach simply calls ‘The Moose,’ is exceptionally tall. Farley wouldn’t be surprised if he stood head and shoulders above everyone on the team. Farley can generally predict the trajectories of the skaters around him by their body language but The Moose doesn’t give him much to go on. Well, no matter. He can do this.

He devises a strategy for getting around him and is in the beginning stages of implementation when The Moose checks his shoulder into Farley’s sternum. Farley’s heart soars and his body thrums in exultation for only a second before everything goes black.

Farley comes to slowly, fuzzily, the endorphins still coursing through his blood stream. A distant part of his brain wonders if he’s in shock. The last thing he remembers is scoring two goals during his try out. Did something happen? Did he make the team?

His eyes blearily focus on the face hovering over him and he asks what happened. As soon as Ace mentions ‘The Moose’ it all comes flooding back. He probes gently at his chest. None of his ribs seem to be broken, though he can already feel the tell-tale signs of a haematoma forming over his manubrium.

He traces his fingers gingerly along his mandible, relieved that none of his teeth seem to have loosened. When he finds a particularly tender spot, his fingers linger there, pressing in again and again, almost of their own volition. Each instance of sharp pressure is somehow sweeter than the last and he shivers at the sensation, his skin breaking out in goosebumps despite the warmth of the room.

The difference between the cactus test and The Moose test has quite literally struck him. He realises that, yes, the pain is part of what excites him but the more critical component is that it’s inflicted by someone who is just as happy to hurt him as he is to be hurt.

He’s not sure how long he lays there, cataloguing his injuries, fascinated by the intriguing tingles shooting along his nerve endings as he touches himself and replays the moment of impact. Ace clears his throat and Farley flushes, bringing his hands down to his sides. Ace hands him an ice pack and gestures for him to sit up. The movement makes Farley a bit faint, and the room spins a little, but he does feel better once he’s achieved a perpendicular posture.

He looks up at the sound of the door to see the coach walking toward him.

“Great meeting ya, Sprout,” the coach says. He explains about the Blades Booster Club and website, then tosses a pink Blades t-shirt at Farley before turning to walk away.

Farley’s heart sinks. “So that’s it? I’m off the team?”

The coach pauses and faces him again. “Well,” he begins, clearly uncomfortable, “not technically. But I figured getting knocked out, that would be enough to convince you that these are very, very dangerous waters that you’re lilly dipping in.”

Farley sighs. The coach has a point. Before his encounter with The Moose, Farley would have agreed whole-heartedly. Now, though everything he’s grown up believing makes admitting this hard, he knows he needs more of that danger. He’s not proud of it, and he has no idea how he’s going to tell his pacifist-anarchist parents, but he won’t hide from it either. He makes a point of being honest with himself.

He looks up into the coach’s eyes, ready to beg if he has to. “Sir, do you ever have those epiphany moments where all of a sudden the world starts making a lot more sense?”

“Yeah, occasionally a good bowel movement will have that effect.”

The crude analogy is off-putting but Farley can see his point. “Yeah,” he concedes. Perhaps he should let it go at that but he’s never been one to give up on his principles and he doesn’t intend to start now. “Well,” he continues, “this might sound stupid but...” He stops, annoyed at himself. If he’s going to do this, he’d rather do it be without undermining his own argument.

He takes a breath and redirects. “Before Walt Acorn walked into my life there was a-a hole, a longing, that-that I couldn’t articulate, or rather, I didn’t even know existed but I honestly believe that organised hockey might just fill that hole.”

Ace and the coach seem unimpressed by his speech. They pressure him a little to capitulate, but their rough, paternalistic treatment only vindicates him in his chosen course of action. This is what he’s been missing, what he needs in his life. He can feel his epiphany swelling with confirmation. These men—Coach, Ace, The Moose, the other Blades—are what, or who(m), he needs to fill his hole.

Farley smiles to himself as he releases the mouse into the ice plant and watches it scamper away to hide under the equipment. He anticipates the poor thing will be much more comfortable in here where it’s warm.

“You’ll be safe here, little friend,” he says, projecting his most soothing voice in the direction the mouse went. “It’s nice and cosy for your nest and there are concessions nearby for when you get hungry.” Under his breath he adds, “And it’s far enough from the locker rooms and uniform storage that hopefully you won’t get yourself into trouble again.” He chuckles once more at the thought of how terrified all those big, ruggedly strong men had been of such a sweet little thing.

He hears the horn and realises that he’s late for his first game. He rushes back toward the player’s entrance to the arena, trying to ignore the discomfort of his brand-new uniform. The guys had all assured him that he’d get used to it but they’d all been smirking when they said it so he isn’t sure they meant it.

As he climbs the steps, he feels his mouth drop open in shock. It looks like all of the players from both teams are on the ice in pairs or small groups and they’re just ... clobbering each other. He imagines himself out there with them and swallows as a rush of yearning overtakes him. This is more than he dreamed possible.

He knows, intellectually, that he should abhor the sight of so much unbridled violence but all he can think about is how good it will feel when he gets a taste of it for himself.

Walt steps up beside him, a wide, satisfied grin on his face. “You missed the introductions,” he teases.

“What could have caused all this?” Farley asks.

Some of his inner turmoil must show on his face because instead of giving him pointers on how to achieve a similar result, Walt explains the connection between hockey and fighting. Farley is always eager to learn new things, and he doesn’t want to be rude, but right now he needs concrete logistical tips and he isn’t sure how to extract them from Walt.

He’s also not sure if Walt is the right person to ask. The owner of the team has been nothing but encouraging and helpful so far; he’s just too close to a kindly grandfather for Farley to feel entirely comfortable pursuing this conversation. What if Walt asks him why he’s so curious? Or, worse, what if he can tell? This is so new to Farley and he’s not sure how common it is.

“This is all starting to feel less innocent, I confess,” he says quietly, stepping awkwardly out on the ice to join his team. He’s hesitant to insert himself into any of the skirmishes as the etiquette is as yet unclear.

Farley hears the arpeggio of organ music over the loudspeakers, signifying the game is about to begin, and skates out to centre ice for the puck drop. The Devils player he’s facing threatens the referee, then glares at Farley and tells him he’s “a dead man walking” and Farley’s breath catches in his throat. He hopes, oh how he hopes, that isn’t purely figurative idiom.

The second the puck hits the ice, his adrenaline kicks in as muscle memory takes over and he’s scoring his first goal almost before he’s aware of moving. He skates rings around the Devils, scoring his second goal in quick succession. Moose comes toward him as he’s heading back toward the centre and they collide briefly.

It’s not a full hit, Farley realises when he doesn’t end up flat on the ice again, just some sort of jocular congratulations. It’s more gentle treatment than he was expecting, especially since all of his uniform padding muffles the impact, but at least Moose’s aim was true. Farley presses in against the bruise from their first interaction and muses it would feel so much better without all the superfluous safety and equipment regulations.

He can feel his erection pressing against the confines of his new cup and flushes a little. He scans the faces of the players in staccato glimpses as he whizzes past to score again. It’s obvious they’re all enjoying themselves immensely so his ignorance must just be a gap in his social literacy. The myriad advantages to homeschooling are indisputable but, in moments like these, he recognises that no system, however carefully crafted, is perfect.

Unfortunately, his moment with Moose is the closest he gets to being roughed. He’s not sure what he did wrong out there and can’t bring himself to ask as everyone celebrates. He looks longingly at all of the scrapes and bruises on the bodies of the other Blades and promises himself that, soon, he too will bear the marks of his opponents with pride.

Halfway through his second game with the Blades, he gets slammed up against the boards and it’s everything he’s longed for and more. Two of the players from the other team are shoving him, punching him, kicking him, and he’s beside himself with ecstasy.

Every blow ratchets up his arousal and his cock is harder than it’s ever been. The mixture of pleasure and pain from the pounding he’s getting, along with the constriction of the cup on his cock, is a heady one. His mind starts running through a meditation exercise, attempting to pull away from the stimulation, but he wrestles it back. He wants to revel in the physicality of this moment, to wring every last drop of rapture from this, to chase the fulfilment he craves.

When Moose collides into the two men attacking him, driving their bodies harder into him, the additional sensation overwhelms him and Farley comes. The haze of bliss leaves him shaky on his skates, not sure he’ll be able to finish the game, and then Moose winks at him and it’s all he can do to stay vertical. It’s a good thing Moose is there to get him back into the action or he’d be in real danger of slumping into a puddle of euphoria right there on the ice.

That magical moment is just the beginning. With each game, Farley acquires additional techniques that inspire players on the opposing teams to pummel him. He enjoys the actual game play as well, of course, and the high that still comes every time he scores. It’s nothing compared to the rush he gets when one—or, preferably, more—of the hulking brutes hammers into him as hard as possible, though. He’s never felt so alive before and he’s aching for more.

Part of him wishes he could skip all of the skating and scoring foreplay and go directly to the wallopings that leave him panting and spent, laid out on the ice. He doesn’t understand why all these elaborate sports rituals are necessary, nor why his team won’t take his suggestions to that effect seriously. They all treat him like some naïve kid. Coach even pulls him aside to caution him against continuing to ‘tell [his] little joke.’

It’s all so confusing. His team’s delight at his energy and enthusiasm is apparent but, for some reason, they don’t want him aiming it toward them. He’s consumed with envy as Jacques and Matt joyously chase each other through the locker room, towels snapping, before Jacques tackles Matt to the ground and pins him. Farley swallows at the sight of Jacques straddling Matt’s slim hips and feels his respiration rate increase.

He looks up to find Moose watching him and smiles shyly, feeling the capillaries under his skin engorge. Farley’s had a growing crush on Moose since that very first knock out and his heart flips over in his chest as Moose returns his smile. He wonders fleetingly if he should mention these palpitations to his doctor but all health concerns evaporate as Moose stands and heads toward him, his face alight with what Farley has come to think of as ‘their’ special smile.

He’s never seen Moose gift that smile to anyone else and, as obsessively as he watches Moose, he’s fairly certain he’d know if it was something he bestowed widely. It’s rare, even between them, something Moose only uses in moments where no one else is paying them any attention.

Moose looms over him, even while leaning down to meet Farley’s eyes. Farley tries to swallow but his mouth is parched, his tongue adhering to his soft palate. His body is quivering with anticipation as Moose reaches one of his enormous hands out and thumps it down on Farley’s shoulder. A small gasp escapes and Moose’s grin widens. Farley is drowning in those kind eyes and never wants to resurface.

He’s been trying for weeks to decide how best to describe their colour but, even with his extensive vocabulary, he’s at a loss. When Moose is on the ice ensuring the brawling doesn’t devolve into anarchy, they’re a hard, glinting gunmetal grey. When he’s chatting animatedly with his fellow Blades on the bus for away games, they’re a lively aquamarine flecked with jade. And when he’s smiling this special, secret smile at Farley, they’re twinkling portals to xanadu.

“Don’t worry,” Moose says, giving Farley’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze, “I’ll make sure none of these idiots come after you.” His tone is fond, his expression slightly wry, and Farley waits eagerly for Moose to continue. Moose sits beside him on the bench and stretches his long legs out in front of him but he doesn’t say anything further.

After a moment, Farley can feel his brow furrowing. He opens his mouth to ask Moose to clarify—does this mean he’ll be the only one coming?—but Maurice stops in front of them to share some juvenile anecdote with Moose and they laugh together. Farley wants to join in but he’s still struggling to connect with his teammates off the ice, unable to fully wrap his head around the adolescent customs the Blades adore.

There’s a turning point a few days later as he’s running through some basic metaphysical exercises. Moose asks Farley to teach him the technique and Farley is shocked to discover that none of the Blades have even a passing familiarity with om meditation. He certainly wouldn’t have expected them to be experts in the practice. He chuckles. Who really is, apart from those who have reached enlightenment? But the idea that most hockey training doesn’t incorporate it is mind-boggling.

Selfishly, Farley is thrilled that he has something concrete to offer. Sure, scoring goals is important, and he knows his teammates respect his prowess with his stick, but it hasn’t been enough to forge the deeper connections he wants. Instructing the Blades on the finer points of om meditation feels like the first real step toward genuine male bonding.

As he concludes the session, the other Blades surround him. They clap him on the back, the shoulders, the helmet, anywhere they can reach. Chris even smacks him on the ass. Elation permeates his body from the warmth of his teammates’ affection and he can feel his cock responding.

His relationships with his teammates start to improve. They include him in their jokes and shenanigans and he realises that what he’d dismissed as immature antics, inappropriate in grown men, are just expressions of the pure, unfettered glee they feel with each other.

Moose offers to initiate him fully into the Blades family and Farley is beside himself. He nods vigorously, unable for once to articulate the thoughts racing through his brain. He’s a bit surprised to see the Blades haul a bench out onto the ice and tell him to take off his shirt but he complies willingly. Moose turns on the odd-looking device in his hand, and it begins to vibrate, but Farley is still more intrigued than trepidatious.

When the needle pierces his skin, he has to fight hard to suppress a shudder. He can’t stop his mouth from falling open with a gasp, though. Other than the equipment, this scene could have come directly from his fantasies. He’s amazed by the precision of Moose’s strokes, pricking into him again and again, injecting him with ink and exaltation.

His cock perks up at the strange new sensations and the added discomfort of the cup’s compression is almost too much. He watches Moose, glancing between the face that has become so precious to him and his hand, working his tool so carefully. Moose is intently focused, all his attention riveted on Farley, and the pain is delicious.

He feels a particularly deep thrust of the needle and comes, breathless, a tear trickling down his face. Maurice checks in and Farley confesses that sometimes, when he’s happy, he starts to cry.

He throws his arms around Moose and is dismayed to be rebuffed. Moose tells him to save it for the game and skates off, leaving Farley anxious and alone. He doesn’t understand what just happened.

For the next few days, he attempts to get Moose to himself to ask but every time he approaches, Moose seems to have an urgent need to be elsewhere. He doesn’t think anyone else detects the change and he still spots Moose giving him that secret smile from time to time, though it evaporates instantly whenever Farley catches him at it.

Luckily, he doesn’t have much time to dwell on what’s happening with Moose or, rather, what isn’t. People are taking more and more notice of his skills on the ice and his schedule fills with meetings and interviews. It’s all he can do to keep up with his studies at home and practices with the team. He has to drop a few of his volunteer commitments, which puts him on the outs with Eve for the first time ever. He promises himself that he’ll explain things to her and pick them up again when things settle down a bit.

His skating and scoring are better than they’ve ever been but all the progress he’s made toward initiating brawls in hockey seems to have been erased. Well, Farley admits ruefully to himself, that’s not entirely true. It’s clear that he could select an opponent and take the first swing but he can’t quite bring himself to abandon all of his pacifist principles. He’s definitely a masochist but he doesn’t seem to have any sadism in his makeup and the thought of inflicting pain on someone, however willing that person might be, holds no appeal for him.

It’s incredibly frustrating that he’s no longer able to inspire the desire for fisticuffs. He tries every form of verbal provocation he can think of, but nothing seems to work. The few times opposing players do go after him, Moose forces them to stop after a light check or a single strike.

Moose’s overprotectiveness is the worst part. When anyone attacks Farley, Moose is instantly by his side, shutting down assaults against him with amazing speed. Apart from those moments, however, Moose is nowhere to be found. Farley knows Moose can feel this thing between them and yet Moose still refuses to engage whenever Farley draws near. He won’t even look directly at him any more, his eyes always come to rest somewhere over Farley’s shoulder.

He’s on the verge of discarding his few remaining pacifist principles when he finally gets exactly what he’s wishing for in a game against the Braces. He’s not entirely sure what sets things off but he’s standing forlornly at the centre of the rink, watching as the Blades and Braces square off against each other, desperate for someone to engage with him. His eyes rove hungrily around the rink and his cock hardens as he sees Maurice take a vicious blow to his kidneys.

As his gaze circles back toward the goal, he freezes. The Braces’s goalie, Jean-Luc Pierre Henri, has him in his sights. Jean-Luc has been outspoken all season about his dislike of Farley, and Farley has done his utmost to provoke the hot-tempered player, but, to his dismay, Jean-Luc has never gotten physical with him. Farley stops breathing as Jean-Luc shucks first one glove, then the other, skating toward him with a snarl. He’s seething with hatred and revenge and Farley almost comes from the anticipation alone.

Some instinct, deep in his limbic system, kicks in just before they clash and Farley drops to his knees and curls his head in protectively. His body floods with shame and he feels tears prick at the corners of his eyes. All this time, he’s been pining for an opportunity like this and he wasted it. He begins to sob softly.

He’s so focused on the pain in his heart that when the first punch lands on his flank, he assumes the flare of sensation has an internal source. It’s only with the thumping repetition that he grasps what’s happening. The third or fourth whack is powerful enough to lift his head and torso off the ice for an instant. He can feel the rattle of impact all the way down his spine when his helmet crashes down once more and he comes.

He lets his orgasm wash over him, relaxing down into balasana as Jean-Luc pounds away at him. He can feel something warm releasing deep inside him and spreading throughout his body as his brain goes floating off into deep space.

Afterwards, Moose attempts to help him stand but Farley’s legs won’t hold him. Moose swoops him effortlessly into his arms and Farley smiles beatifically up at him but Moose still won’t meet his eyes. He carries him silently into the locker room and somewhere, deep in the back of Farley’s mind, an alarm bell is sounding. For the moment, though, he simply drifts blissfully along, secure in the hold of Moose’s strong arms.

Coach comes in quietly. Normally he’s yelling even before he’s in the locker room and Farley smiles fondly at him. Ah, Coach. He loves Coach. He may try to hide under that gruff façade but Farley has always been able to tell he’s really just a big marshmallow on the inside, all sweet and fluffy. The room goes quiet around him and he closes his eyes to soak in the soothing peace.

Moose nudges him until he opens his eyes again, then hands him a cup of water. “Drink this, kid,” he says gruffly.

Farley doesn’t even know he’s thirsty until he takes his first swallow. He finishes the entire cup greedily and then frowns, making a whiny ‘hrmph’ noise when it’s gone. Moose replaces it with a second cup and Farley is giddy with relief. He’s pretty sure that it isn’t just water. It tastes like a magical elixir as it flows down his throat so smoothly, coating his oesophagus.

Moose hands him yet another cup and giggles bubble up inside Farley at the sight. Moose is the best. He always takes such good care of Farley, always protects him and makes sure he’s okay.

“That’s my job, kid,” Moose says, bluntly, startling Farley. He blinks up into those gorgeous, changeable eyes and is shocked to see them glowering coldly back. Is Moose angry with him? “I am, yeah,” Moose confirms and Farley wonders when he became a mind reader. Moose shakes his head, his jaw clenching. “I’m not psychic, asshole. Everything you’re thinking is coming out of your mouth, no filter.”

Farley stares quizzically at him. He’s never known Moose to lie to him before. Moose rolls his eyes.

Maybe it’s that, maybe it’s the water, maybe it’s something else entirely but, whatever it is, Farley starts to come back to himself. The sensation is odd and not entirely pleasant. He gradually becomes aware of his extremities, then the faces surrounding him in the locker room come into focus. All at once the coppery stench of blood and the sourness of stale sweat assault his nose. He flinches at the onslaught and then gasps as something in his side twinges in agony.

“Nice fight there, peacock,” Coach says. The words hurt far more than the sharp throbbing of his flank. Coach hasn’t called him peacock in weeks and it was never a compliment, despite the grace and majesty of actual peafowl. Coach pauses and Farley knows that once he gets going, no one else will be able to get a word in edgewise.

“Do I have the floor?” he asks. Coach sputters indignantly and Farley takes advantage of the opening. “If I have the floor, I’d like to defend my masochism. It’s a realisation I came to after a lot of thought—”

“Ha!” Coach barks out a laugh, cutting him off. He holds up a finger. “There is one rule. One rule only,” he says flatly.

Coach begins to flay him verbally before he can catch his breath, delivering a scathing speech about how Farley has tarnished the honour of the team. Coach is railing at him about the need to hit back but his arguments about how sadomasochism is practised in organised hockey are based on a logical fallacy.

Farley has been observing the give and take of violence on the ice for weeks and there hasn’t been a single fight with the perfect balance of give and take Coach is describing. Even when well-matched players are going toe-to-toe, anyone who bothers to observe closely can see how lopsided each altercation is. Very few fights involve participants who have both the willingness and inclination to switch. In fact, multiple examples spring immediately to mind of players who seek each other out due to their complementary natures.

Coach rants until he loses steam, then shakes his head in disgust and leaves.

Farley looks around the locker room. Most of his teammates avoid his gaze, others sneer at him, and Moose ... Moose looks just as hurt as Farley feels and Farley’s heart lurches in his chest. Could he be wrong about this?

No, he tells himself firmly, I have to be true to myself above all else. He stands gingerly, locking eyes with Moose as he wobbles his way over. He’s not quite limping but every step is painful and he’s gasping for breath by the time he falls to his knees in front of Moose. The other Blades look back and forth between them, then slowly clear out of the locker room. Maurice is the last to go, giving Moose’s shoulder a squeeze and glaring daggers at Farley on his way.

Even though he’s worked so hard to build these relationships, in this moment Farley doesn’t care if all of them hate him, including Coach. He can’t lose Moose, though. Moose is everything Farley needs. Ruthless and brutally effective on the ice, sensitive and compassionate off the ice. He’s been so attentive to Farley, supporting him through the most difficult aspects of the transition. He would never have made it this far without Moose’s faith in him. The possibility he might have lost that is devastating.

“I can’t believe you did that,” Moose says. “After all this time, after everything I did to shield you, to help you. How could you just let him hurt you?”

“What else was I supposed to do?” Farley asks, dejectedly. “No one would come near me.”

“Of course not! They knew if they did, they’d have me to answer to!”

“But you wouldn’t come near me either,” Farley says, his voice cracking in anguish.

Moose drops his head into his hands. “You don’t want me to, kid,” he says, doleful, “trust me.”

Farley reaches out and tugs Moose’s hands away from his face but Moose refuses to look at him. “I do, though,” he says quietly. “I have since that first time. The more I know you, the more I want you to.”

“You’re seventeen, kid,” Moose chides. “You don’t know what you want. You got your first thrill and imprinted on me, that’s all.”

Farley shakes his head. “No. No, that’s not true. I do know. I need you to trust me on this. If you don’t want this, don’t want me, that’s one thing. I can respect that. But you don’t get to make the decision for me. Achieving the lofty age of nineteen doesn't make you that much wiser, you know.”

Moose finally meets his eyes at that. He swallows audibly and nods once.

“Thank you.” Farley grins at him. “And, just so you know, you weren’t my first.”

Moose’s jaw drops open in surprise. “I wasn’t?”

Farley smiles at him, his affection for this man surging through him. Is this what’s been holding him back this whole time? Farley has been expending so much effort on solving this quandary and all it really requires is a simple conversation?

“No, you weren’t. A few days before I met Mr. Acorn, some guy came to my local rink and threw down the gauntlet. He knocked me to the ice and I knew then that there was something I’d been missing my whole life. As soon as I met you, I knew I’d found it.”

Moose shakes his head and Farley can tell he’s about to mount another protest. He leans forward until there’s less than an inch of space between their noses. He does his best to telegraph everything he’s feeling, everything that has been building inside him, with his eyes. He lifts a hand to Moose’s face, brushing his knuckles softly along his jaw. Moose’s prickly stubble abrading his softer skin feels extraordinary and he luxuriates in the play of contrasting textures.

Whatever Moose reads in his eyes must overrule any remaining objections. He wraps a fist into Farley’s collar and slams their mouths together and yes, oh god, yes! This!

Moose’s lips are insistent and demanding and Farley yields to him gladly. He expects Moose to push the attack, to conquer his mouth the way he’s conquered Farley’s heart, but instead Moose turns playful. His tongue teases its way around Farley’s mouth, he nips lightly at Farley’s lips, and his nose nudges at Farley’s. His eyes are twinkling, open and bright as the sky, and he’s grinning at Farley, who is helpless to do anything but smile back.

Moose’s hands skim their way down to Farley’s waist and then dip under the hem of his base layer, which he gently pulls up and off of Farley. His brow furrows with concern and he reaches out to trace the already purpling skin below Farley’s left nipple. Farley hisses out a breath and Moose freezes.

“No, it’s good,” Farley assures him, placing his hand over Moose’s and pressing in. Moose looks up as he gasps and a sadistic smile spreads over his face.

“You really do know what you like,” he says, tightening his grip on Farley’s flank. Farley makes a garbled noise as a wave of euphoria washes over him. It hurts so much his cock is instantly hard.

Moose kisses him, relaxing his grip and beginning to undo Farley’s uniform pants. He breaks away and stands, walking over to a stack of clean towels at the entrance to the showers. Coming back to Farley, he grabs his long cashmere coat from its hook and kneels down. Laying the coat out on the floor next to Farley, he unfolds a few towels over it, creating a makeshift bed.

Moose helps him ease back onto it. Moving to Farley’s feet, he removes his skates, then gingerly unwraps him, layer by layer. Off come his socks, his pants, his tights, and his shin guards. He’s careful not to jostle Farley any more than absolutely necessary and soon enough Farley is naked before him, his cock jutting up toward the ceiling.

Moose quickly removes his own clothes and pads, tossing things off with none of the care or attention he paid to Farley’s gear. Farley is gratified at the sight of Moose’s erection, flushed and pointing toward him. His own cock bobs toward Moose like a compass seeking magnetic north as Moose kneels beside him once more.

As Moose surveys him smugly, his eyes become inky pools of black as they sweep across Farley’s body, the pupils blown wide with desire.

Moose reaches a hand behind him, rummaging through his gear bag until he extracts a green and white tube. He pops the cap and drizzles some clear viscous fluid over Farley’s groin. The fluid is slippery and cold against his heated skin and he squirms, forgetting his injuries for a second until a bolt of pain shocks him back to stillness.

Moose stops. “Oh, shit. What am I doing?” he says as Farley takes a few deep breaths, the pain subsiding. “We can’t do this now. You’re hurt.” He starts to straighten up but pauses when Farley rests a hand on his thigh.

“Moose, I’m fine.” He smiles at Moose’s sceptical look. “Truly, I am. It feels like a contusion of my eleventh or twelfth rib but the nature and severity of the pain make fractures and damage to the underlying organs unlikely.”

Moose bites his lip, clearly conflicted. “I don’t know, Farley. I don’t want to make it worse.”

“Please, Moose,” Farley implores. He wants to believe that they’re on the same page about this but a part of him is genuinely worried that if Moose stops now, he won’t ever convince him to start again and Farley can’t risk that. “I don’t want to wait any more.”

Moose shakes his head. “Neither do I, but better that than—” He cuts off abruptly and chews on his lip. “Fuck, I’m doing it again,” he mutters. Farley is about to ask when Moose continues, “I want to trust you here, Farley, and I get why unilateral decisions are unfair, but I can’t be sure this isn’t just another manifestation of your masochistic tendencies. I need to know you’ll stop me if there’s a chance this is making your injuries worse.”

Farley nods solemnly. “I will. I promise. Do you need me to give you a-a word, or something?”

Moose laughs at that. “Nah, babe.”

Farley’s heart stops for a moment at the term. With rare exceptions, generally only when Moose wants to emphasise the seriousness of the conversation, Moose always calls him ‘Gordon’ or ‘kid.’ It’s like now that Moose is in this, he’s in this all the way.

Moose continues, oblivious to Farley quietly combusting with joy beside him, “We may need to have another conversation about this later, before we do more stuff, but, for now, if you say anything other than ‘Yes!’ or ‘Francis!’ I’m going to stop.”

“Francis?” Farley asks.

Moose’s cheeks go rosy and he ducks his head. “It’s my name,” he explains, “my real name.”

“Francis.” Farley tests it out and finds he loves the way it feels to say. “Mmm, Francis,” he says again. “It suits you.”

Moose raises a sceptical brow at him and Farley laughs in delight.

“It does! It evokes strength and humility. Plus, it’s lovely.”

Moose swoops in and kisses him until they’re both breathless. When he sits back on his heels, he’s glowing with the same jubilation running through Farley and they spend a moment just gazing at each other, grins wide.

“Okay,” Farley says finally, “‘Yes!’ or ‘Francis!’ Are those really the only things I’m allowed to say?”

Moose pretends to consider it for a moment, then nods in mock solemnity. “You may also say ‘Moose!’” he adds magnanimously.

Farley smirks at him. “What about ‘Please!’ or ‘More!’ or—” Moose—Francis, Farley reminds himself—shuts him up by wrapping a hand around his cock and squeezing. The urgency of his erection had abated somewhat, when it looked like they were going to stop, but it comes roaring back to life as Moose pumps his big hand up and down the shaft.

“Yes!” Farley gasps. “Moo—Francis!”

Moose raises an eyebrow and nods in satisfaction. “Damn right.”

He shifts position, moving to kneel between Farley’s legs. He wraps a hand around one of Farley’s ankles and slides the leg up and open, his eyes alert for any sign of discomfort. He repeats the process with the other leg and Farley is spread out before him in a supine version of mandukasana. He has never been more grateful for the hip opening poses his yoga teacher always insists on.

Moose traces a finger from the tip of Farley’s cock, down along the shaft, circles first one testicle, then the other, before pressing down on his perineum. Farley is struggling to hold himself still, his body’s desire to writhe every time Moose touches him held in check by the pain of his injuries, as well as the knowledge that Moose will absolutely stop if he can’t control himself.

Moose swirls his finger around a few times, obviously enjoying Farley’s efforts to keep still, before cautiously inserting it. Farley’s breath explodes out of his lungs. He had no idea the nerves in his anus were so very sensitive. Moose waits patiently for him to get his breath back, that teasing smile on his lips, and Farley isn’t sure if the pause makes it better or worse. He appreciates having a moment to collect himself but any progress he makes toward that goal is sharply undercut by his mounting anticipation.

Moose adds a second finger and Farley moans at the fantastic feeling of fullness and stretch. Moose moves his fingers in and out in time with Farley’s panting breaths. He withdraws and Farley whimpers, instantly missing him.

“Mmm,” Moose murmurs. “You’re so responsive.”

“That’s good, though, right?” Farley asks.

“It’s very good, babe.” He gestures at his cock, the glans wet with pre-ejaculate. “Very good.”

Farley nods and Moose squeezes a little more lubricant into his cupped palm, warming it between his hands before sliding two fingers back inside. Farley’s body gladly welcomes the intrusion, his sphincter clenching to pull them in deeper. Moose groans at that and his fingers curl up, brushing against Farley’s prostate.

It’s a peculiar sensation. He’s intensely conscious of exactly where Moose’s fingers are and yet he can feel waves of sensation throughout his body. His cock is throbbing and it feels like he’s on the verge of coming, yet his orgasm feels oddly distant, almost quiescent.

“Moose,” he pleads, not entirely sure what he’s asking for, as Moose continues to stimulate the gland.

Moose seems to know, however. He removes his fingers and Farley is once more bereft, though not for long. Moose opens a condom, slicks lube over his own cock, then rolls the condom on. He positions his glans at the entrance to Farley’s body, then eases forward, inch by cautious inch. The stretch is glorious and they both groan as Moose’s pelvis presses into Farley’s.

He pulls out part of the way, then starts to thrust back in. Each time he withdraws Farley whimpers, the sound transforming into a moan and Moose’s hips move forward again. Moose changes the angle slightly, then again, and suddenly it feels like every nerve ending in Farley’s body zings at once. He cries out wordlessly.

“Ah,” Moose says, with relish. “There it is.” He speeds up his thrusts and Farley is engulfed by wave after wave of sensation.

He wriggles under Moose, unable to stop himself, but his body seems to have caught on and keeps his movements small. They still hurt, though, every time.

His brain kicks in for just a moment, remembering his promise to Moose, but his side really does seem to be alright. His earlier assessment is right on target. Sure, it hurts when he moves but, so long as he doesn’t flail wildly, the slight twinges of pain only add to his pleasure.

He chases after that pleasure, relishing the feeling of his orgasm building. Moose’s cock is hot and hard where it pounds away inside him, some of his thrusts so deep that Farley can’t even swallow against the pressure. His prostate is humming, sending ripples of jouissance through him. He is so close, so very close, but he can’t quite capture it.

“Moose,” he whines, “please! Moose! I need—”

Before he can even finish the thought, Moose has braced Farley’s injured side with one hand as the other comes down hard against his contralateral gluteus maximus and Farley is coming. He can feel the warmth pooling on his abdomen as spots sparkle and dance across his vision.

Farley sprawls bonelessly beneath Moose, grinning dazedly up at him, as the speed of his thrusts increases.

Moose comes with a shout and falls forward onto one arm, his chest heaving. He smiles fondly down at Farley.

“That was awesome,” he says, between breaths. “You ok, babe?”

Farley opens his mouth but nothing emerges. He can’t seem to make words but Moose gets whatever positive confirmation he needs from Farley’s expression. He shifts slightly, securing the base of the condom, and pulls out gently. Farley’s eyes roll back and he moans at the loss.

Moose stretches out next to him, bending his elbow to prop his head up on his fist. He brings his other hand up to cup Farley’s cheek, nudging Farley to turn and face him. He leans in and kisses Farley, just the barest meeting of lips, then Farley curls in against him.

They lay like that for a few moments, Moose’s hand tracing lazy circles over Farley’s skin, Farley’s face burrowed into Moose’s chest. He periodically drops kisses to the top of Farley’s head. Farley closes his eyes, his mind drifting and his body sated.

He knows that, soon, Moose is going to help him up and they’ll clean off in the showers. Moose will slather his bruises with liniment and they’ll get dressed. They’ll make plans to meet up again, outside of hockey, then head out to their respective homes. Together they’ll learn how to navigate this new thing between them. Farley envisions a dazzling future of partnership stretching before them.

But, for now, he’s happy to stay in Moose’s arms where he’s warm and safe, suffused with contentment and a sense of rightness.