A chance at the Olympics has been everything Auden has always wanted, but now that it’s within his grasp, he finds himself slipping further away. Does he really want to be an Olympic gymnast when there’s so much more to life? To make things worse, he has both a major crush on his friends-with-benefits teammate, Trayce, and free-spirited musician named Shane. With Olympics trials looming on the horizon, Auden has to decide what he really wants and how much he’s willing to give up to get it. (M/M)

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Chapter 1: Opening the Gateway

December 2023

World Gymnastics Championships
Antwerp, Belgium

Auden posed for yet another photograph, holding the gold medal slung around his neck. He wasn’t sure it was ever going to end, but he grinned for the camera. Around him, other competitors milled under the banner of the annual World Championship 2023, showing off their medals and taking more pictures as well.

Searching the crowd, Auden looked for his coach, but he couldn’t find Dorian amongst the mess of reporters and winners. It felt like the last couple of days had been a complete blur, from arriving in Antwerp for the competition to being named World Champion pommel horse. He almost felt as though he’d missed it all despite being in the middle of it.

He was caught off guard as Trayce bounced up to him and grabbed him into a crushing hug. He could feel every place their bodies touched, warm and solid pressed together. Trayce’s dark brown hair tickled his neck and he hesitated to let go, but the hug didn’t last long enough.

“Look at that!” Trayce grinned, stepping back. “We’re medal twins.” He dusted off the gold medal around his neck. “Dorian’s probably already dreaming of Olympic trials in June. Imagine two Olympians from the same Center. I think he would die.”

Auden smiled at Trayce, missing the warmth when Trayce pulled away. “He’s too young to have a heart attack.”

Trayce bounced on the balls of his feet, looking too hyped to control himself. It was a change from his usual calm demeanor that Auden had grown used to in the past few years training together. He knew what caused it, though—it wasn’t just being a world champion; it was what came after.

“We can only hope we both make it. Don’t think this medal makes you any better competition, Auden. I plan on crushing you in trials.” Trayce’s grey eyes glittered mischievously as he laughed. As much as Trayce looked like every other gymnast in his physique—defined arm muscles and a six-pack—he had a thin face, a few freckles on his arms, and a nose that looked as though it had been broken a few too many times.

“We’ll see about that.”

Trayce stopped his bounce to meet Auden’s eyes, lingering for a second, and the heavy thing in Auden’s stomach fluttered nervously instead. Leaning forward, Trayce grabbed his shoulder for a fleeting moment, giving it a squeeze and lowering his voice.

“Come to my room later and we can celebrate our wins.” He grinned slyly at Auden before releasing him and seeking out another teammate.

Letting out a breath, Auden didn’t watch him go. There was no doubt what would happen in Trayce’s room later, but he had to focus on the moment right now. He wanted to enjoy it. It wasn’t every day that he won a gold medal. After so many years of work, it was finally paying off.

“Auden.” Dorian appeared out of the crowd, looking ruffled, blond hair mussed as though he’d been running his hands through it out of frustration. He pulled Auden out of the way of the photographers with a scowl. Auden knew Dorian had never been a fan of the press. “Good job today. You should be proud.”

Auden fingered the medal around his neck and nodded. “Thanks.”

“And you know,” Dorian went on, leading him out of the crowd. “That this is only the beginning. A medal at World’s paves the way to the Olympics. Trials are in June which means we’ve only got six months to make you the best of the best. It’s time to buckle down.”

Auden laughed. “Like we haven’t already.”

Dorian didn’t smile which made Auden’s fade slightly. “The Olympics are serious competition. Everyone there is the best and you have to be better. This is what you’ve been working towards. Now is not the time to get cocky. As soon as we get back to Phoenix, we’ll be working harder and longer on your routines. Are you ready to put in everything?”

It was a stupid question considering where he was. He’d just medaled at the world championships. Trials were right around the corner—he’d be an idiot to give up now.

He nodded finally, and Dorian clapped his shoulder.

“Good, ’cause I expect to see you on that team come July.”

Auden sighed as Dorian left. His whole life would change in the next six months, and it started now.

Chain Link

April 2024

Elite Gymnastics Center
Phoenix, AZ
Two Months to Olympic Trials

The blood rushed to Auden’s head as he held his handstand, counting to three before coming out of it and going into a double pike that sent him spinning off the mat, air rushing past him as his feet hit the ground and bounced back up again. Sweat beaded on his brow as he backed into the corner for the final jump.

Taking off, he took a skip before launching into the salto, soaring off the mat and landing with barely a bounce at the other end of the mat. He let out a breath as he trotted off the mat to grab his towel. Not bad. On the bench, Anya gave him the thumbs up from where she sat braiding her thick blond hair.

The gym rose high over his head, the ceiling hung with bright fluorescent lights that made it seem like high noon, no matter what the time of day. Most of the floor was covered in thick, blue mats, with thicker mats in varying colors piled against the walls for practicing new jumps. A pommel horse was set up in the far corner, next to the long runway to the vault. The girls’ team was working on the bars and beam that day, on the other side of the gym.

“Auden, we need to talk.”

There was no other sentence in the English language that could make Auden’s stomach drop the way it did when Dorian pulled him off the mat. For a moment, he wracked his brain, trying to come up with his mistake—what had he done wrong in the routine? Stepped off the mat? Over-rotated? Didn’t hold the handstand long enough?

Dorian tugged him to the side, nodding for Liam to start his routine next. One of the assistant coaches followed him to the mat, but Dorian turned to Auden.

Auden hadn’t been training under Dorian for very long, barely three years, but he knew Dorian took everything seriously. If he’d done something wrong, he was about to hear about it. Dorian’s expression was enough to make nerves swell in his chest. Talks like that were something Auden tried his best to avoid if at all possible.

“Yeah, Coach?” he asked instead, plucking at the hem of his tank, trying to appear unconcerned, but inside, his heart thudded loudly.

“I’ve been looking at your routine,” Dorian said finally, arms crossed and lips pressed together. “A few of your routines, actually. I think they need some work. You’re not pushing yourself hard enough.” He shook his head at Auden. “Your routines are fine, but the difficulty levels just aren’t there, especially for someone of your skill level. You just did two pikes in that routine, but a double-twist double-back would be a step up in difficulty which will give you a higher top score, and I know you can do it in your sleep.”

Auden let out a breath. His routine difficulty. That was all Dorian wanted to talk about. He felt relief, though he couldn’t help the worry that still pestered him, that Dorian might know the thoughts he’d been having lately.

Dorian squeezed his shoulder. “Olympic trials are less than two months away.”

Auden’s stomach clenched again but he forced himself to nod. He hated the feeling of dread, of doubt that clawed its way into his throat. Ever since World’s, something had changed. There had always been pressure before, pressure to perform, to win, to be the best, but now, it felt like it was suffocating him every time anyone mentioned the Olympics or trials.

“Now is not the time to drop the ball,” Dorian went on. “You’re one of the top gymnasts here, and you’ve got a real shot at making it. Come by my office tomorrow and we’ll start reworking your routines.”

Auden nodded again, hoping to dislodge some of the worry heavy in his gut, glad when Dorian’s attention was caught by Liam stepping out of bounds on his tuck. Moving over to the bench, he sank down next to Anya, eyeing the cold compress pressed to her shoulder.

“What was that?” she asked the moment Auden joined her. Removing the compress, she examined her shoulder. She was a slender girl with hair that fell to the middle of her back, and reminded Dorian of a Disney princess. Anya was lucky. She didn’t have to worry about Olympic trials. With her shoulder injury, she was officially out of the running. It meant no training, no constant discussions of competitors, no weighing the stats against one another. When it came down to the trials, Auden would no longer be on a team. He’d be on his own.

He shook his head. “Just wanted to talk about the difficulty level.” For a moment, he considered just telling Anya, telling her he wasn’t excited about the trials, that the thought of them filled him with dread. He couldn’t, though. She wouldn’t understand. No one at the Elite Gymnastic Center would understand. They were all here for one purpose and it wasn’t to avoid thinking about the Olympics.

Anya didn’t acknowledge his words except to curse under her breath. “I’m late for physical therapy.” She hopped off the bench and tossed Auden the compress. “We still going out tonight?”

“Yeah.” He turned the compress over, the cold seeping into his hands. “Trayce is coming too.”

Anya paused then smiled. “Did you invite him?”

Auden met her knowing gaze. “Does it matter?”

She shrugged. “You told him it wasn’t hockey, right?”

“He’s from Canada. That doesn’t mean he’s a stereotype.” Actually, Auden had no idea if Trayce liked hockey or not. All he knew about Trayce’s life in Canada was that he had lived with his parents in Toronto before they divorced and his mom had moved him to the States.

Anya didn’t look impressed. “I gotta go. I’ll see you and Trayce tonight.”

As she left, Auden dropped the compress on the bench next to him. He couldn’t wait to get out of the Center, even if just for the night, and the fact that he’d gotten Trayce to agree to come with him was something out of a fairytale. He couldn’t help smiling as he gazed across the gym and his eyes fell on Trayce, pausing on the lines of his body, lean but well-built. Trayce hoisted himself up to the rings, arms straining, muscles quivering, but as he reached the holding height, he caught Auden’s eye and flashed him a grin.

Tonight was going to be exactly what he needed to take his mind off training. It had been a hard year already, making it through World Championships and the mounting pressure of trials. Anything that took the edge off was worth it.

He watched Trayce drop to the ground, and stood from the bench. Just a few more hours of practice and he’d have a well-earned night out with his friends. He could definitely make it that far.

Chain Link

Technically, Auden hadn’t invited Trayce to come out with him and Anya. He’d barely mentioned it the other night, right after Trayce had finished sucking him off. His mind hadn’t been clear. The last thing he’d expected had been for Trayce to say it sounded like fun.

That might have been why, when Auden knocked on Trayce’s door at quarter to eight, he wasn’t surprised when Trayce answered wearing sweatpants and an old EGC tee shirt. Trayce pulled open the door and leaned against the frame, eyes grazing down Auden’s body, smiling at his retro The Who shirt.

“I’m guessing you’re not ready,” Auden said after a minute. If Trayce’s outfit was anything to go by, he didn’t plan on being ready any time soon. Auden had spent too much time choosing between shirts already, making sure his plain brown hair looked something other than like he’d just rolled out of bed. When he did it, it looked stupid, but when Trayce did it, he looked completely fuckable. Life just wasn’t fair.

Trayce blinked slowly, grey eyes flicking up to Auden’s hazel ones. He tilted his head to the side. “I don’t really feel like going out.”

“Trayce.” Auden had nothing to argue. He felt a small stab of disappointment, annoyance, but he paused at the look in Trayce’s eye. He’d seen it before, several times since the first time Trayce had invited him back to his dorm, and instead of playing video games or watching TV, they’d ended up jerking each other off and then not speaking about it the next day. “I’ve been planning on this show for a month. I’m not missing it.”

“So you’ll miss the shitty opening act,” Trayce said. “Nobody goes to see them anyway.”

“That’s all I’m worth to you?” Auden replied. “An opening-act’s worth of sex?” He said it, but his eyes grazed down Trayce’s chest, to the sliver of skin visible below the hem of the old tee-shirt, washed and dried too many times over the years.

Anya was always late anyway, he thought, standing in the dorm hallway, the walls painted an annoying shade of tan. And Trayce was exactly the kind of distraction he craved.

“Could be more.” Trayce smirked, plucking at the hem of Auden’s jacket as his gaze wandered further south.

Anya was waiting, but Trayce was right here, wearing that smile that made Auden want to do all sorts of things to his body. A few minutes of Anya’s annoyance would be worth whatever Trayce had in store. Stepping forward, he pushed Trayce back into the room and stopped Trayce’s grin with a kiss.

Auden’s arms circled around Trayce’s neck, pulling him closer as Trayce pressed him up against the door. He was going to miss the opening band, but he didn’t care if it meant being here with Trayce. It was easy to make that choice, to follow the flicker of Trayce’s gaze from his mouth to his eyes. Auden kissed him as they stumbled back from the door, shucking off his jacket in the process, only to land against a wall instead.

“There are better things to do than listen to out of tune drunk rock bands,” Trayce murmured against his mouth, but Auden shut him up again, hands groping for Trayce’s ass, hips surging against Trayce’s. Talking wasn’t why he was here.

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