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one second and a million miles

Chapter Text

Of all the beginnings in Scott’s life, he’s hard-pressed to remember the one that most defined him. He feels somehow that he should know, for certain, should be able to put his thumb on that momentous day when it all began. When he knew, for the first time, that he would win the Olympics, or when his mother put him on the ice and told him to hold the hand of a spindly little girl with bruised knees and determination in her eyes like she could move mountains.  

In reality, it doesn’t happen as a dividing line; there is no before and after. The light of the heavens does not open upon he and Tessa when they skate together for the first time. In fact, they lose their first competition, and the one after that, and the one after that. They lose, over and over again, twice as small and half the age of their competitors. Scott forgets all his steps, and Tessa trips over his feet right in front of the judges’ table, and nothing feels easy or natural; she makes him nervous. Sometimes it irks him, that this little twig of a girl, a full head shorter than him and two years younger, can make him feel just as small as her. Scott has owned every patch of ice he stepped foot on since he was barely five years old, and here he is, being shown up by a kid in pigtails and tights.  

But mostly, it spurs him to do better. In time, he gets used to the feel of her hand in his, the quick glide of her blade and how to match it (because she’s fast, faster than she has a right to be, so diminutive in every aspect). His stomach stops conducting a full-length floor routine every time they take the ice together, and he learns to make her laugh, so she doesn’t look quite so serious all the time.  

She’s nicer when she smiles, less intimidating, and he finds that he likes it. He likes that the smile creeps up across her face, seems to take her by surprise as much as it does him. She’s only got a little face, and sometimes it seems hardly big enough for her, her eyes too pale and worried, cheeks flushed bright with exertion, teeth worrying at her bottom lip as if she’d chew it straight off left alone.  

He’s never met anyone who smiles like Tessa does. He likes that too: likes that it’s something that belongs to only her, and it’s only him who knows how to make it happen.  

(Later, he’ll concede that perhaps her family and friends know how to make her smile as well, but it’s definitely a different kind of smile. Tessa doesn’t smile at people, she smiles for people, and her smile for Scott is something all of his own.)  

She smiles when they win their first competition, and he supposes they could count that as a beginning – but really, there’s no use in measuring his beginnings in arbitrary dates and events. He could argue for a new beginning the first time they won the Olympics, or the second, or the time they lost. Moving to Waterloo, and then Detroit, and Montreal: those were all beginnings, as tangible as the moving boxes and calls to his parents on a Sunday night, choking back loneliness and exhaustion and missed opportunities.  

After a certain point, every new start looks the same as all the rest – so perhaps he’ll measure his beginnings in one constant instead.  

All he knows is that there’s a beginning in a smile: soft and tentative, the widening of pale green eyes, crystal-clear. Another beginning when she laughs, full-bodied, nothing like the way she talks. A beginning for nothing more than a look, caught out of the corner of his eye when she thinks he’s not watching, and again for the way her gaze darts down to the floor when he turns to look back at her, her cheeks pink, busying herself with unlacing her skates.  

He kisses her for the first time, and that feels like a thousand beginnings all at once.  

There’s one in the way she moves against him, bending at the waist, where his hands fit so neatly, splayed across her practice leotard. Another for the softness of her lips, parted mouth and warm breath. One for the heated flush across her neck and collarbones, a hundred more for the little gasp she gives when his lips chase that colour. The smattering of freckles, stardusted over her skin, and the little hollow at the side of her neck that makes her shiver when he catches his thumb against it.  

She kisses him back, and for all he could care, he never lived a day before then.  

Chapter Text

It starts, as all good detective stories do, with a sudden and mysterious disappearance. Thin beams of weak autumn sunlight are just beginning to filter through grey clouds, the mist still lying heavy across the roads, as Scott Moir strides into the rink, up past the receptionist on duty and the clusters of skaters warming up for practice, and straight to the noticeboard next to the entrance to the men's changing room.  

He shoulders his kit bag, reaching in to pull out a crumpled sheet of paper, then slaps it down onto the board and pins it firmly in place. 

URGENT — MISSING!  reads the poster, in bold red font.  

There's a photo underneath of Scott, grinning lazily at the camera. His hands are propped up behind his head, displaying prominently the cobalt blue jersey he’s wearing, a white maple leaf emblazoned across the chest. It looks close to new, but a keen observer might notice that the Leafs logo on front is outdated by at least a few years. This is an old jersey, kept in pristine condition by its owner. 

Underneath the photo, Scott has typed: One Leafs jersey, number 4. Last seen Friday afternoon, bench by the boards. Return to Scott Moir if found. Reward available pending condition!!  

And then, in even smaller font:  (Charlie, I know it was you.)  

Scott smooths the folded edges of the poster out, steps back to appraise it — bold, eye-catching, target-specific. A job well done. He’ll have the jersey back in no time at all. 

When day three dawns with still no sign of his jersey, Scott takes matters into his own hands. 

Charlie, poor Charlie, is sitting peacefully in the cafeteria, flicking peas across the table at one of the pairs boys when Scott approaches with a face like thunder. No sooner can he utter a word of protest than he’s dragged off into the empty dance studio, forced down onto a chair, and interrogated. 

“What the hell?” Charlie yelps, as he rubs the sore spot on his arm where Scott grabbed him. He glances around at the setup of the room: a single chair and table, faced away from the mirrors; the windows closed and the blinds drawn so that nobody can see in. No witnesses. 

“Where is it.”  

Scott’s face is hard as iron, gaze unyielding. He towers above Charlie, arms folded across his chest.  

“Where’s what? What the fuck are you doing, man?” Charlie complains. 

“Where’s my jersey.” 

What jersey?!” 

“Don’t give me that shit, you know what jersey. My Leafs jersey, Charlie! The one you stole three days ago! Remember that one?” 

“I didn’t steal it! Why would I steal your stupid jersey?!” 

With a growl, Scott slams his hands down on the desk, dangerously close to Charlie’s face; he can practically feel the hairs on his arms raise. “I don’t know, Charlie, that’s why I’m asking you!” 

“Listen, Scott, man—” 

“Just give it back,” Scott says, exhaling heavily through his nose. “Give it back, and I won’t beat your ass into the ground.” 

“I don’t have your jersey, for crying out loud—” 

“Well then who does, Chucky?” 

“The fuck if I know! Go terrorise someone else, some of us actually have work to do today!” 

Scott stares at him for a long moment, anger flashing in his eyes, and for half a second Charlie considers that this might be day Scott finally decks him. (It‘s been overdue ever since Charlie accidentally kneed Scott in the groin the day of their pre-season fitness tests, after all. It’d probably be easier to manage a black eye than the half-impacted testicle Scott ended up with.) 

But with a muffled noise of frustration and a kick of the table leg, Scott turns and walks out of the room, leaving Charlie to return to the very important matter of lunchtime food wars. 

Day four yields no success either. Alex Shibutani proves a hard nut to crack under Scott’s interrogation tactics, having evidently mastered the art of a poker face from a young age. Besides, Scott would feel bad throwing a kid like Alex around. Charlie deserves everything he gets; Alex still skates with his sister, for crying out loud. Beating up Alex would be like kicking a puppy. 

Day by day, Scott works his way through the entire population of male skaters at the rink, and turns up absolutely nothing. After a few weeks of searching, he begins to accept the fact that his jersey may not ever return to him. Given a choice between his jersey and his friendship with most of the skaters at the rink, which has unsurprisingly been on the wane since he started abducting people and threatening them with physical harm, perhaps it’s wiser to choose the latter.  

The poster still stays up on the board outside the men’s changing rooms, and Scott still holds out the faintest hope that one day his jersey might return to him, but his active search comes to a close. He reluctantly purchases a new Leafs jersey, inks his name very clearly on the label this time, and never makes the mistake of wearing it to the rink again. The hole in his heart never quite heals, but with time, the wound becomes less raw. 

Until one fateful day in late October, when Scott discovers the truth of his stolen jersey.  

He’s rooting around in Tessa’s car, trying to find the spare towel that she told him she’d brought today (quite rightly, she knew he’d forget that his towel had been carted off to the dry cleaner’s along with the rest of the laundry at the rink, after Marina complained that the changing rooms were becoming hives of disease.)  

Tessa’s car has so many little compartments, all sorts of pockets and drawers and seats that slide back to reveal in-floor storage space; she only got the car a month ago, so Scott doubts that she even knows where half of the compartments are. He’s fiddling with one of the levers on the seat, trying to get it to move without taking his fingers off in the process, when he catches sight of something shoved under the seat in front. It’s a tiny corner of dark blue fabric, only visible now that his face is practically level with the floor of the car. 

He can barely see, but something about it seems curiously familiar – so ignoring his brief guilt about ransacking Tessa’s car, he takes hold of the corner of fabric and pulls, hard. It takes a couple of tries, but eventually the thing comes free, unfurling slowly from its crumpled ball in his hands. 

It takes him a moment to realise what he’s holding. 

And as he’s standing there, dumbstruck, his beautiful missing hockey jersey cradled in his arms like a corpse, he hears Tessa approach. 

“Scott? Did you manage to find it okay? Ben says he has a spare if there’s nothing—” 

Slowly, he turns to her. He knows the moment he looks at her — knows that she knew, all this time, because she goes completely silent, the blood draining from her face and turning it ashen. 

“I found this,” he says, plucking at one corner of his jersey and holding it out to her. “No towel, but I found this. Funny thing, huh?” He makes a show of inspecting the jersey, turning it over in his hands. “I didn’t even recognise it at first, but...” 

“Scott,” she starts, her voice wobbling slightly. “I can explain.” 

“What, that you lied to me?” he says, his brow furrowing. “Or did you somehow miss the posters? I dunno, Tess, it kinda seemed like you were listening when I talked about it for two weeks straight at practice.” 

“Scott, I—"

“What? What else are you going to say? That actually, it was all a huge misunderstanding, you only stole my jersey and lied about not knowing where it was on accident—  

If you would please let me talk for a minute—” 

“How can I trust anything you say? How do I know you’re not lying to me, right here and—” 

In a swift movement, Tessa plucks the hoodie from his hands, and yanks at one sleeve. A terrible ripping noise rends the air, and then she’s standing there with his beloved Leafs jersey in two halves: a single sleeve dangling from one hand, and the rest of the garment in the other. 

Scott can barely draw in the breath to speak. “Tessa... Jane... Virtue.” 

“Like I was trying to say, you tore the sleeve when you threw it down onto the bench,” Tessa says, sounding far too calm for someone who has just torn Scott’s most prized possession into shreds. He considers whether a crime of this kind is grounds for ending their partnership.  

“You — you destroyed it—” 

“You tore it ages ago, Scott,” she says. “I took it to try and sew it up, because I knew for a fact that you weren’t going to have a clue how to fix it.” 

“But then — but why didn’t you just say ?” 

Her face colours slightly. “Well, I — I may have messed it up a little bit, because don’t really know how to sew either. I was hoping I could salvage it if I took it home to my mum this weekend.” 

“Oh my god.” 

He’s starting to feel a little faint. It’s not the ultimate act of betrayal he thought he had just witnessed from his nearest and dearest, but the mere sight of Tessa ripping his jersey apart has him breaking out in a cold sweat. 

“Scott?” Tessa’s brow furrows, face folding with a look of genuine concern. “Are you—” 

“I’m just gonna sit down for a minute. Just a little minute,” he mumbles, as he gets into Tessa’s car and flops back against the leather seats. “Oh, that’s nice. Mm. Cold.” 

Tessa surveys him with barely disguised worry as she clambers past him to the adjoining seat. She’s still got the pieces of his jersey clutched in her hands; he tries not to look. He’d rather not pass out in Tessa’s car, as nice and quiet as it may be. 

“I really can get my mum to sew it back together, you know,” she says. “It’ll be good as new.” 

“Please,” he nods, closing his eyes and tipping his head back against the headrest. “God, this is a nightmare...” 

His eyes are closed, but there’s no mistaking the little shiver of laughter that runs through Tessa, particularly when she’s squashed up so close to him (for which there’s really no reason, he notes idly, unless she’s trying to make sure the warmth of her body heat keeps him from passing out.) 

“Don’t you think you’re being a little dramatic?” 



“No,” he insists, eyes still closed. “My heart is broken, Tessa. It’ll take years for me to recover from this betrayal. Maybe decades. You can’t put a time scale on recovery. I don’t know, it could be twenty years from now, and when I look at you, I’ll still see the face of that girl who tore my jersey and my heart in two.” 

Tessa snorts. “Okay, you’re being very dramatic.” 

“You’re invalidating my feelings,” he says. “I feel neglected, Tessa, utterly abandoned by my own partner—” 

The breath is squashed out of him all at once as she sits on him.  

“There,” she says, as she reaches up to tie the two pieces of his jersey neatly around his neck. “Consider yourself unabandoned.” 

 There’s a brief moment of silence, where Scott realises that if he opened his eyes, her face would be right in front of his, and her hands would be all but fastened around his neck, and all the hairs along his arms prickle at once.  

Tessa must notice too, because she clears her throat and slips back into her own seat. “Case closed,” she says, and Scott swears he’s not imagining the way her voice trembles a little.  

They don’t do this sort of thing, not since they were younger and even more stupid, and thought that fooling around outside of the rink wouldn’t have a jot of impact on their athletic career. Marina told them to put a stop to it, and they both swore they wouldn’t regret the decision.  

Now, with the heat of Tessa’s weight still burned into his lap, he wonders if there's room for a second thought. Other pairs do it, after all. Plenty of guys at the rink date their partners, and nobody ever gets on their case. Is it just the two of them that have to live like nuns in a convent, all bottled-up tension and mismanaged frustration? The double standard seems glaringly unfair. 

“Practice in ten, Scott,” Tessa says, glancing down quickly at her watch. “We should get going.” 

Scott nods, but his mind is far away. By the way Tessa won’t meet his eyes when she slips out of the car and locks it behind them, he wonders if her thoughts aren’t travelling down the exact same path as his. And if Tessa’s thinking about it too, then it’s only really a matter of time before they arrive at some kind of conclusion, because he’s never met a problem that Tessa can’t solve. 

He can wait, he supposes. 

He remembers the uncomfortable pressure of her body atop his, the flushed heat of her hands and her breath, sensation racing across his skin like wildfire. 

He can wait, if the waiting doesn’t kill him first. 

Chapter Text

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Tessa is a terrible bed-mate. At an early age, she learned that the only way to create space for herself when made to share a bed with any number of elder siblings was through brutal assertion of her dominance. Wayward limbs unlucky enough to find themselves in Tessa’s vicinity are swiftly pummeled into retreat; over the years, she’s gotten so good at it that she doesn’t even need to be awake. She guards her space fiercely, conscious or not.  

None of which would be a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that recent circumstances have changed such that her bed is no longer empty most nights of the week.  

Now, don’t get Scott wrong. In a general sense, he’s extremely fucking thrilled to be sharing a bed with Tessa. There aren’t many downsides to the situation, and a whole lot of very entertaining and involved upsides. But Tessa’s inclination towards punching the daylights out of her bed-mate? He would call that a downside or two, whatever their therapist might like to tell them about how they’re “testing boundaries” and “building a resilient relationship”. 

The first time it happens, she nearly breaks Scott’s ribs. They’re tucked up in bed at eleven p.m. on a Friday night, both exhausted after a long day of training (Scott’s seventeen year-old self would be disgusted with himself even on a training week, he still found the energy to do something  on a Friday night, but times have changed now he’s older and wiser or something like that.) 

Tessa’s out like a light by the time he slips into bed to join her, curled up into a little ball on her side, closed fists tucked against her chest. It always makes Scott laugh, the way she sleeps: like a hibernating hedgehog, curled up as tight as she can possibly get. Her hair is loose, messily swept across her face. She really must have been tired tonight; normally she’d put her hair up first thing, hates the feel of it tickling her face when she’s trying to sleep.  

Yawning, Scott reaches across to pluck a hairband from the bedside table. 

“Good thing I’ve got you covered, eh?” he mumbles, stretching the hairband around his fingers as he lowers his hands to her hair. 

The moment his hands make contact, three things happen in quick succession. 

Firstly, Scott remembers, through his fog of exhaustion, that Tessa doesn't take too kindly to disturbances when she's this tired.

Secondly, the hairband pings off his fingers. 

Lastly (and most painfully), Tessa’s balled fist shoots out and makes direct contact with his unclothed solar plexus.  

For a brief moment, Scott feels like he can’t breathe. He’s opening his mouth, but there’s no sound coming out or air going in; he feels like a fish out of water, gasping uselessly until he dies a sad, limpid death among their bedsheets. 

Tessa grumbles in response, her eyelids fluttering slightly. 

Jesus, but it hurts. He knew Tessa had rippling biceps such that she could probably bring a building down around her, but this feels like another level. Is he entirely sure that he's not dating a Super Saiyan?

Fuck,” he wheezes. “Holy shit, Tessa” 

Either his voice or his groans of pain are enough to wake her. Her eyes open slowly, blinking lazily as she unfurls from her curled position.  

“Mm?” she mumbles, voice heavy with sleep. “What is it?” 

There’s a rather inconvenient stabbing sensation every time Scott inhales. He hopes it’s not a punctured lung; that would put a spanner in their comeback plans somewhat.  

“You, uh you punched me pretty good,” he croaks.  

“What?!” She bolts upright, eyes wide. “Oh my god, are you okay?”  

“It’s all good, I’m still breathing” 

“Scott, seriously,” she says, pulling herself across to his side of the bed and starting to pat him down. He’s not entirely sure what she’s trying to achieve, but her cool hands feel nice against his skin now they’re not being used as weapons of destruction. “Did I hurt you? God, I’m so sorry.” 

“Not really” he tries, but the wince when her hands pass across where she punched him tells another story, and he sees her expression darken.  

“I did.”   Her thumbs trace around the affected area, the skin already raised and reddening. She frowns; it’s a bad kind of frown, Scott can tell immediately, a distant frown that says her mind is working at a hundred miles a minute. 

“It’s okay, Tess,” he says quickly, pulling himself up to lean against the headboard of the bed. 

“No, it’s not. I punched  you.” 

“Come on, you were out like a light. It’s hardly your fault.” 

“That’s no excuse,” she says, shaking her head. “Look, there's a bruise and everything...” 

“It’s nothing, I barely feel it.” 

“Stop acting like it’s not a big deal. You should be able to sleep in your own bed without being assaulted, Scott.” 

He grabs hold of both of her hands before she can say anything else. 

“Tess,” he says, firmly, and she looks up at him. Her eyes are wide, hands trembling slightly under his; it reminds him of the way she used to get sometimes when she was younger, all tied up in her own head, a disconnect between her body and her brain. 

“Look,” he brings one of her hands to the spot where she punched him, pokes the spot with her thumb. “Nothing. Doesn’t even hurt.” 

It’s true there's a lingering tenderness, the rasp of her thumbnail across his skin making him shiver a little, but there’s no real pain any more. He suspects most of his initial response was shock at having the wind knocked out of him. 

He knows that she can tell he’s not lying either. She watches him carefully, trailing her thumb across the affected area, applying just enough pressure to raise goosebumps along his skin. 

“You’re sure?” she says, voice low and rough. 

“Sure.” He swallows, sucking in a breath as she splays her fingers over the taut plane of his stomach.  

"I don’t want to hurt you,” she whispers, and fuck if it isn’t a little messed up, the way he’s getting hard in his pyjama shorts, all of this turning him on more than it should. Tessa’s not helping matters either with the way she’s looking at him: a trigger-wire, focused intensity in her gaze, fixed on him and how his body reacts. 

He finds his throat getting dry, breath coming shallower as she reaches across to him. 

“You don’t,” he says, voice cracking. “You could never.” 

Tomorrow morning, there’ll be time to talk about practicalities and solutions. Tonight, Tessa seems intent on making things up to him, and as her fingers slip underneath the waistband of Scott’s boxers, and he groans in an entirely different manner to the one that woke her up earlier well, he’s not of any mind to put a stop to her.  

Chapter Text

Go take Danny’s kid out for a snow day, they’d said.  

It’ll be fun, they’d said. 

“Fun” may have existed in some alternate universe where Danny’s three-year old son, Leo, was not hell bent on causing himself grievous bodily harm, but certainly does not feature in the the nerve-wracking Saturday afternoon Tessa and Scott spend trying as best they can to keep the little horror entertained and on the right side of the mortal coil. 

Perhaps the endeavor was doomed to begin with, Tessa’s experience with kids being limited to cooing over the babies of childhood friends, but she’s sure she wasn’t this much of a liability at three years old. Leo seems to actively seek out danger  charging off in the direction of roads, throwing himself towards cyclists and dogs and, well, anything that moves. What started off as an attempt to spend a nice weekend together, forgetting about training for a few hours and getting to know Scott’s extended family a little better, turns into one of the most stressful days of Tessa’s life. 

“Next time Danny asks you to babysit,” she tells Scott, the third time she’s sprinted off to prevent Leo (who moves extraordinarily fast for a child of diminutive height) from crashing into a pair of tobogganers. “Tell him we’re leaving the country.” 

Scott grins, watching the kid toddle along in front of them. Leo’s babbling something under his breath that Tessa can’t make out, stopping every few paces to poke the snow-covered ground with a stick. His orange woolly hat is pulled down to his ears, but tufts of dark brown hair still poke out from under the edges, giving him the look of a crazed professor.  

“Come on, Tess, you have to admit that he’s kind of cute. It’s fun, eh? What else would we being doing on a Saturday?” 

“Sitting indoors like any sane person should be when it’s this cold out,” she tells him, shoving her hands deeper into the pockets of her parka. “Honestly, it’s a wonder the Moir bloodline has survived this long.” 

She anticipates the elbow in the ribs before it comes, dipping out of the way of Scott’s attack. He gives a brief snort of laughter, catching her by the wrist instead. 

“Alright, Leo!” Scott calls, and a little face turns in his direction. “I think we need to show Auntie Tessa how we do snowball fights in the Moir family, huh?” 

“Tessa?” comes the wobbling reply. Leo hasn’t yet learned how to differentiate his “t”s and his “d”s, and it makes him sound like he has a permanently blocked nose.  

“Yes, Tessa,” Scott says, face twitching with a grin as Tessa tries and fails to extricate herself from his grip. “She really wants to see your best snowball throw. She’s been telling me about it all day, it would make her whole weekend. Wouldn’t it, Tess?” 

“You ass—” she mutters under her breath, but the words are lost in a squeak as Scott pinches the side of her thigh. 

“How about it, buddy?” he calls. 

Leo looks between the two of them, his big brown eyes peering up at them. His cheeks and the tip of his nose are flushed, and he frowns as he blinks the lightly-falling snow out of his eyes, stick still clutched in his mittened hands. 

“Leo?” Scott says. 

“Don’t listen to him, Leo,” Tessa says, slightly breathlessly, still trying her hardest to escape even as Scott wrestles his arms around her waist. “You can't trust Scott, he's always up to no good."

Leo stares up at the two of them for a long moment, arms fixed to his sides. Are kids supposed to do that? Tessa doesn’t have much experience, but she feels like they’re usually at least responsive to the sound of a human voice. Did they break him? 

“Hey, bud” Scott starts. 

Without so much as a backwards glance, Leo turns and toddles off.  

“Ghosted by a three year-old,” Tessa laughs, as Leo resumes his obviously much more interesting pursuit of uncovering long-dead grass and dirt and occasionally a few bugs underneath the heavy snow around them. “A sensible choice. Maybe there’s more hope for the next generation of Moirs than I thought.” 

Sighing, Scott relaxes his grip around her waist, settling instead for resting his head on the top of her shoulder. “I’m doomed to be the boring uncle. I can see it already.” 

Tessa reaches back to pat the top of his head in a consoling fashion. “Don’t worry. I’ll always keep you relevant.” 

“Cheers, T.” 

“Don’t mention it.” 

She feels him sigh behind her, leaning forwards to press a kiss to her hair before he lets her go. “Alright,” he says. ”Snow day. Fun day with the fun relatives. We can be the cool babysitters. We can do this.” 

“I think Leo’s eating grass again,” Tessa says, calmly observing their small charge from a distance. 

“Oh, for crying out loud” 

Chapter Text

There was supposed to be a line, Scott thinks. Somewhere, at some point, they were supposed to figure out what was the right side of normal in their very non-normal relationship, and they were supposed to stick to it. 

Maybe it was all those years ago with Suzanne, the excruciating talks about respecting personal boundaries. Tessa drank in every single word like a sponge – back then, she would have jumped off a cliff if Suze had asked – and Scott spent the whole time carving his initials into the underside of the table with the edge of his pencap.  

The couples’ therapy, that had tried to stamp some kind of normalcy on their relationship, hadn’t it? (The whole matter of he and Tessa, decidedly un-married, un-shacked up, sitting in a counsellor’s office surrounded by pamphlets about dealing with infertility and infidelity aside.) Tessa had just come back from surgery, and everything had felt hopelessly unfamiliar: a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes any more, the undeniable sense that there was something wrong, something missing, beyond the fact that she walked different, talked different, even felt different underneath his palms when he touched her on the ice.  

Tessa was not, has never been, insubstantial. She has a fire underneath her feet that would burn a lesser person alive, a distinct drive to do something, to be someone, that’s always escaped Scott. But sometimes he can’t help wishing that she would stick to the script. 

They have a word that they’re not supposed to use. 

It’s just one word among the fifty-odd that Marina has been teaching them to use on the ice, little cues to communicate during their programs when they can’t afford to be waxing lyrical about the full spectrum of human emotion during a three second transition between a combination spin and an eye-wateringly quick rotational lift.

They can use all the other words: “together”, and “focus” and “breathe”. Tessa traces her favourites into his open palm when they’re waiting at the boards before competition, make him guess which one she means. 

He thinks of “tight” - keep it together, clean edge, straight back – when they’re halfway through their original dance, and the glance of her green eyes catches him on a turn, almost makes him stumble out of his sequence. 

“Fire” would do just as well: the flames of hell radiating from Marina at the boards, breathing pinched through her nose.

And it’s “get it together, you fucking idiot,” when they step off the ice, and Tessa looks at him, all tight, constrained worry, too kind to say anything, but he knows she can see their Olympic dreams slipping through his grasp.  

The evening after, an uneasy victory lurching in his stomach along with the heavy comfort of cheap beer, he watches Tessa from across the bar as she dances with the rest of the Canadian contingent, and he thinks of the word they’re not supposed to say to each other. 

Under the undulating wash of the lights over the dance floor, she seems hardly real; her dark hair is swept up off her shoulders, teeth catching the light when she throws her head back in a laugh, baring the pale line of her throat. The thumping bass muddles him, makes everything sound distant and underwater, like he's moving a second out of step with reality. He's an outsider, watching from afar as Tessa turns to look over her shoulder, her sharp eyes alighting on someone in the crowd, narrowing focus. His heart skips a beat when he realises with a start that it’s him she’s looking at.  

Tessa crooks a finger towards him, and he feels his mouth go dry. Thinks of that word, and shakes his head. 

He sees her brows pull together into a frown. 

“Later,” he mouths, waving a hand and gesturing towards his glass, hoping that from a distance she can’t see that it’s been empty for the past ten minutes. 

But true to form, she’s exactly where he doesn’t want her to be a moment later: easing her way through the crowd to squeeze onto the barstool next to him. Her legs are crossed one over the other, dress riding up high enough that Scott can see the pale expanse of her thighs squeezing together. He can smell her perfume, for Christ’s sake, can practically taste it on her skin as she leans close to speak into his ear, and he sucks in a sharp breath.

“You’re avoiding me,” she says.

“I’m not avoiding you,” Scott says, avoiding her gaze.  

“Yes, you are. You might think you can hide it if you sit all the way over here in your little corner, but it’s not working.” 

She's drunk, her voice lilting up into a sing-song patter, her body pressed up close to him, made bold by the alcohol and the seductive other-worldliness of this place. It's easy to forget who they are here, what they should and shouldn't be doing. 

“Go back to your friends, Tess,” he says, shrugging off the hand that she presses against his shoulder.

He doesn't want her hands on him, only meant in any kind of way when she's drunk enough to forget it all the day after. She gives him frigid, controlled passion in the rink, and a soul-searing, cruel abandon in the back room of bars and clubs, on the couch in their grotty twin bed hotel room, and they never get an in-between, never anything that lasts.

She tells him that she never remembers anything that happens when she’s drunk. He thinks that’s a damn lie, but it’s easier for the two of them to pretend like nothing ever happened if he goes along with the whole charade. His eyes can linger in places they shouldn’t, and Tessa’s breath on his cheek can be a little warmer, her voice a little higher than she usually lets it get with him, her hands round his neck and her laughter in his ear.  

Later, in the half-formed noise of the early morning, in an unfamiliar bar in an unfamiliar city, she’ll seek him out again, and they’ll have something else to regret.

They have a word, and he whispers it into her open mouth, gasping heat, breathless against her lips. Clenched knuckles against pale skin, the willow-fragile bow of her back as she arches up under him, sweat and slick and a hunger that knows no satiation: their word is this, and theirs, and it continues.