“So, we have a bet going on, Matthew and I.”
Andrei blinked up from his phone. A vaguely familiar face greeted him with an easy smile. He had to rake his brain for a second or two. A Tkachuk. And since he’d mentioned the other by name, this had to be Brady, from the Senators.
“What kind?” Andrei asked, when he finally caught up what the man in front of him had said.
“The one who gets more signatures on his card wins.”
Brady flagged around his dance card they all had received as soon as they’d stepped in. They were having a ball for a charity, though Andrei couldn’t remember which one. He glanced at his own, very much empty card.
“Bragging rights, what else. You know. You’ve got a brother too.”
Andrei smiled at that.
“So...” The man shifted his weight. “May I have the next dance? I’m not great, but I promise I won’t step on your toes. I’ve had enough practice with Taryn. Uh, our sister.”
Andrei tried to parse up what he was being told before nodding.
Brady’s hand was warm and sure when it found Andrei’s as they got on the dance floor. Nothing like all the other people he’d danced with before; there was no clamminess, no trembling, no freezing cold emanating from the skin. This hand didn’t belong to a timid high school girl or a drunken and adventurous friend at a party. This was a hand of someone who knew what they were doing and wasn’t afraid of doing it.
Andrei held on a little too tight, chasing the warmth and confidence.
“Wanna talk while we’re at it or do you need to focus on the steps?” Brady asked.
“We’re barely moving. Is good. I know how to dance and you lead.”
“Fair enough. Where did you learn to dance? In school?”
“Yeah. Teacher liked me and used me as example a lot. Maybe why I learned better.”
He had long ago resigned to the fact that his English was broken, but it still eased his mind when Brady seemed to understand him just fine.
“Lucky you. I learned the hard way when my sister demanded me to teach her. My toes were bruised for weeks.”
“Maybe not lucky. I just have brother and he’s annoying. I wanted sisters, but...” he shrugged.
“I hear you, man. If it was just me and Matthew, we would’ve killed each other a thousand times over. Not that I’d trade him for the world.”
“Yeah, me too.”
The song came to a close, and they stopped. Brady smiled.
“Thanks. I’ll let you leave now.”
Andrei tilted his head.
“Was the bet for different names or just more names?” he asked.
The man’s smile widened into a grin.
“I like the way you think. You’re not tired?”
“Yeah, ok. Let’s do this.”
Three more dances later Andrei demanded they’d take a break and have a drink. Brady didn’t need to be told twice, and they found their way onto the edge of the room. The drinks table seemed to be recently replenished, and they grabbed a bottle of water each before starting to look for a place to sit and rest. Luckily there was enough room by the windows; Brady perched himself on the window sill, one leg resting above the knee, and looked out into the brightly lit city night. In his tailored suit, Zenith Chronomaster, and polished shoes he almost looked as if he was cut out from the page of Men’s Health.
Andrei slumped into the armchair next to the window and emptied half of his bottle in one go. His tongue was still dry and cheeks burning.
With a deep breath, Brady tilted his head from one side to another in an effort to relax his shoulder muscles. Andrei followed the slow movement, the play of light and shadow on winter-pale skin peeking from beneath the collar, the extension of tendons and muscles, the way Brady’s eyes fluttered shut as the tension eased…
Had it been literally anyone else, Andrei would have come up with a conversation starter by now. This time, however, with the glamour photograph come to life in front of his eyes, he could feel all English and Russian words slip further and further away in his mind, bar one. Заманчивый – tempting.
It made Andrei snap out of his spellbound state. He blinked and proceeded to sip more water to give himself something to do.
Finding men attractive was nothing new to him. There had always been something alluring in seeing a body similar to his, tall and taut, sculpted into both a temple and a tool to worship the thing Andrei held closest to his heart. It just had never been this intense, this hard to resist. It was almost as if the man sitting on the window sill had stepped right out of one of those old stories his babushka sometimes had entertained him with. The one about rusalki, female water spirits, who lured unwary and lovesick men into their doom.
His fingertips were prickling with adrenaline and cold sweat.
“How...” Andrei had to battle the words out of his mouth. “How many names you think your brother has?”
Brady blinked at him, as if he’d forgotten all about the bet.
“Oh? Probably not that many, you know, started off strong and then just forgot all about it. To be honest, I bet he’s lazing around somewhere, focused on his phone.”
“Hmm. Maybe we need to do couple more rounds. To make sure. Can’t have you lose bragging rights.”
Andrei’s words made Brady let out a chuckle.
“If you’re up for it,” he said. “What are you getting out of this, though?”
Andrei pursed his lips as he thought about it.
“I spend time, not get bored,” he shrugged then. “Get to know you.”
“The pinnacle of your night, I’m sure.”
“Ah, it...” Brady floundered for a second. “Highlight. The most important thing to happen to you.”
Andrei tilted his head and smiled.
“Most important is raising money but personally? I like learning to know people. Different people. Like someone who I wouldn’t maybe talk to otherwise.”
“Yeah, that’s… That’s true. It’s great to learn to know you too.”
Brady sipped on his water, fidgeting with the cap. Andrei wished, somewhat childishly, that it would drop, so he could pick it up and give it back. He scolded himself – there were other ways to get to touch someone.
After they’d both finished drinking, Andrei got up and offered his hand.
“Ready? My turn to lead.”
* * *
He lost the track of time after that, dancing and chatting with Brady and trying to keep himself in check. There was a strand hair at the lapel of the man’s suit, and Andrei’s fingers twitched each time he noticed it, as well as at the sight of the slight crook of the collar of the undershirt. He wanted to reach out and fix those, comb his fingers through the short curls while he was at it, slide his arms behind his dance partner’s neck and lean closer, closer, until -
Andrei blinked back to himself, realizing Brady had talked to him.
“Um, sorry?” he winced.
“Do I have something on my face?” Brady repeated, thankfully amused.
“No, just… I don’t know. It’s good face?”
Brady snorted at that and shook his head.
“I’d say you’re drunk but I haven’t seen you drinking anything but water, man.”
“You will know if I am drunk”, Andrei smirked. “I’m very happy drunk. I giggle a lot, for stupid things.”
“In that case, you’re just plain insane.”
“Why? Because you don’t think you have good face?”
“I don’t know if you’re actually seeing me right now or what, but I most definitely do not have a face anyone would consider ‘good’.”
Andrei made a little noncommittal noise at that and raised his hand to touch at the man’s cheek.
“It’s your cheek bones I think,” he said, then realized what he was doing and let his hand drop awkwardly between them. “Um, yeah. It’s… They’re… nice.”
Brady’s eyebrows shot up, but he didn’t seem upset. Instead, he grabbed Andrei’s hand again.
Andrei managed a small smile despite the electric taste on his tongue. A cold, tight fist squeezed at his heart.
Brady looked at him intently for a second, two, then walked him out of the dance floor. Andrei could barely register them moving, until he was sat on the same armchair he had occupied before. They hadn’t moved fast, with the crowd and all, but he was still trying to catch his breath, to get enough air, to run- He wanted to run. Fast. Far. Hide.
Something hot squeezed his fingers. He stared at the hands holding his, slowly realizing that the heat wasn’t really heat – his fingers were just freezing. The touch made him want to flee, to fight, to curl up and cry.
Little by little he was able to get back into himself. The coldness subsided. His mind settled. And suddenly he was exhausted, empty, and confused.
Brady was still holding his hands, sweeping his thumb across his knuckles.
“Sorry.” Andrei hated how hoarse he sounded.
“Nothing to be sorry about. You’ve done nothing wrong.”
Andrei took a deep breath, then another. No, he hadn’t done anything wrong. He didn’t feel like he had, either. He was mostly mortified about Brady seeing him lose control like this, but didn’t have enough words to articulate his thoughts while his brain was still trying log in.
He forced himself to look at Brady. The man seemed mildly worried, but not completely freaked out, like he had feared. Actually, Brady looked calm and collected, patient. As if he was waiting for Andrei to get himself back together without rush. And that… that made him feel some kind of way.
Andrei forced back a shiver and turned to look at their hands, fingers still entwined, Brady’s thumb still making motions against his skin. He tightened his grip, and the gesture was returned. He was utterly, helplessly, out of his depth here.
“Do you want to go someplace calmer?” Brady asked.
The man helped him up and guided him towards the doors. Andrei slid his hand against his pant pocket to make sure his key card was still there.
“Which room?” Brady asked.
They entered the elevator, and Andrei rested his forehead against Brady’s shoulder. The man ran his fingers against his neck the whole way up and kept his hand at the small of his back in the corridor. It was grounding, it made Andrei feel less like he was about to be shred to pieces. He fumbled out the key card and let them in.
There had been no one in the corridor, but still the room felt quieter, somehow, in a way only a hotel room could. Andrei toed off his shoes and took away the bow tie. He wondered if it would be rude to change into something more comfortable. Brady seemed to read his mind and suggested the exact same thing.
“I only have for myself. You couldn’t borrow.”
“It’s fine,” the man shrugged easily and took off his suit jacket, hanging it neatly. “I just want you to feel comfortable.”
The words made Andrei feel warm inside and he smiled as he took a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt before ducking into the bathroom for a quick change.
When he got back, Brady was lounging on his bed, looking again way too good for this setting. Andrei took a deep breath before biting the bullet. He lay down next to the man, closer than probably appropriate, and offered his hand. Brady took it and squeezed it gently.
“Do you want to talk about it or..?” he asked. “About what happened down there?”
Not really, Andrei thought, and he probably didn’t have enough vocabulary for it, but…
“Just felt… A lot. I think. I didn’t mean to make it awkward, like, all that touching and. And sometimes I feel too much at once and I want to run and hide. I didn’t want you to see. Sorry.”
“Hey...” Brady’s voice was soft, barely louder than a whisper. “No need to be sorry. It’s not your fault. And I’ve seen panic attacks before, that’s why I got you out of the dance floor. So that you can sit down and ride it out.”
So the term was similar in both languages, Andrei thought. Panic attack.
“No need to mention it. I’m glad it helped. And what comes to you touching me, I don’t mind. I really, really don’t.”
As if to prove his words, Brady raised Andrei’s hand to his cheek. Andrei ran his thumb against the soft skin, dared himself to look at the man in the eye, found him looking back. Without too much thinking, Andrei moved Brady’s hand on his own cheek as well, and was rewarded with a fond smile.
He still felt too much all at once. It still felt as if he was about to burst at the seams. But this time it wasn’t fear. He leaned closer and rested his forehead against Brady’s, closing his eyes.