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)

How did you get here?

Chapter 8: Taking Charge

“I’m not sure this was the best idea,” Auden said, glancing below him nervously. He didn’t like the precarious position he found himself in, hanging half off the fake rock wall. From below him, Shane arched an eyebrow and laughed.

“Soon you’ll be ready for the real thing.”

The thought didn’t reassure Auden but he hauled himself up to the next footing. When Shane had suggested rock climbing, he had said yes mostly because he wanted to get out of the gym and away from everyone who had anything to do with training. He wasn’t sure, however, that rock climbing had been the best idea.

“You mean with scorpions and tarantulas lurking in every crevice? On a really high mountain?”

“You fling yourself off a balance beam every day and you’re scared of heights?” Shane asked skeptically, but Auden shook his head.

“Only women do the beam.”

“Whatever.” Shane stared up at him. “You can’t tell me you’re scared of heights?”

“It’s not the height; it’s the falling off the height that worries me.”

Auden was used to being high. He was used to flying through the air all the time, but it was different. There were mats to break his fall, spotters to slow down the impact if something went wrong. He spent years practicing skills so he wouldn’t fall flat on his face. It wasn’t at all the same to climb up a vertical wall with little more than a rope to catch him if he fell. He definitely didn’t trust the thin elastic rope supposedly keeping him safe.

Shane pulled the rope through the belay as Auden remained paused on the wall. He didn’t want to go any higher, not until he could convince himself that he wasn’t going to fall and break his neck. If he did fall and injured himself, that would be it. His career would be over—there’d be no trials, no Olympics, and he’d have a foolproof excuse to quit gymnastics forever. Then again, without gymnastics, what did he really have? He couldn’t even begin to think what he might do without it. The thought filled his chest, tightening unexpectedly, and he glanced at the ropes. It would be so easy to just let himself fall.

“Come on,” Shane called from the ground, his safe place on the ground, “The big strong gymnast can’t be scared of a few rocks.”

The strain was unexpected in his arms as Auden clung to the wall, sucking in air and reminding himself that he did more dangerous stunts on a daily basis with no ropes to catch him in case he fell. He’d never done anything like this—gymnastics was certainly never this terrifying. The scariest part of gymnastics lately was the idea of the impending trials that would determine his fate.

If he fell and was injured, he’d have to find something else to do, and aside from playing too many video games in his off hours, he wasn’t sure he knew what he would do. He supposed he’d go to college, somewhere farther away from his parents so they couldn’t drop in unannounced. He’d be able to have a life. He’d have normal friends. He could study oceanography or architecture or… something. He could study whatever he wanted.

He just had to make it up the wall, he told himself firmly, reaching for the next handhold and hoisting himself up.

“Use your legs,” Shane called from below.

Auden was sure he was using muscles he didn’t even have, and he hoped to God that he wouldn’t regret this tomorrow. Dorian would murder him if he came in sore from an un-gymnastics-related activity. He climbed slowly up the wall, stopping near the top. He didn’t dare look down and consider how far he had to fall.

“Okay, can I come down now?”

Shane grinned and tightened the belay again. “Slowly.”

Feeling relieved, he climbed back to the ground as slowly as possible. At the bottom, Shane unhooked the belay rope, and Auden was grateful to be back on solid ground.

“It’s not that bad,” Shane assured him. “This is just the trial run anyway.”

“For the real stuff,” Auden finished, though it didn’t sound too appealing.

“Part of the fun is being terrified. Can’t be afraid to take a chance,” Shane said easily, reaching up and squeezing the back of Auden’s neck. Auden froze at the touch, friendly and easy. It was so unexpected, so different than Trayce’s touch. “Wasn’t it a rush up there?”

“It was definitely something.” Auden didn’t know quite what it had been. He could still feel the shaking nerves in his fingers, the lingering fear that had followed him up. Considering how much time he spent doing dangerous stunts that could get himself killed, gymnastics had never made him feel like that. Being on the rock, even if it was only a fake wall made of plastic hand and footholds, had only made him nervous, like anything could go wrong at any second. The more he thought about it, though, the more he had to agree with Shane. “Yeah. It kind of was.”

Shane grinned and dropped his hand from Auden’s neck. “We’ll make an outdoorsman of you yet. I can’t believe you’ve been in Phoenix so long and you’ve never done any of this stuff.”

“I don’t really get out that much.” The most Auden saw of the city was Mill Avenue and occasionally one of the many malls that Anya dragged him to on their days off.

“You definitely should. There’s more than just cement and shopping malls around here.” They started towards the exit, Shane opening the door for Auden. “I’m betting you’ve never been on the Salt River?”

“There’s a river with water in it?” Auden asked skeptically. Of all the ‘rivers’ he’d ever seen in Arizona, none had actually had water in them.

“Yeah,” Shane said, laughing. He pushed open the front door to the parking lot and a blast of hot air hit them in the face. “In late summer, it’s a great place to go tubing. Grab some beers and float down the river. You should come.”

Late summer was months from then, an entire lifetime away, but Auden nodded. “Sure.” As they walked to the car, he glanced over at Shane.

Shane, although not terribly tall, was good-looking by most standards, good-looking in a way that should have made Auden think about closed doors and groping hands, but whenever his mind went there, Shane’s dark curls morphed into Trayce’s short black hair. Shane’s smooth complexion faded into scattered freckles, skin a shade lighter, straight nose becoming crooked in his mind. It wasn’t something he could get out of his head no matter how hard he tried. Thoughts of Shane biting at his skin became memories of Trayce doing the same.

“Want to get some coffee?” Shane asked as they reached Shane’s car. At Auden’s pause, he added, “or tea, water, whatever.”

“Sure.” Auden opened the door, stepping back to let the heat seep out, blistering in the sun. He really shouldn’t have been out since he’d spent the whole morning running drills, and hauling himself up that rock wall had left every muscle protesting. Dorian would be pissed if he came to training tomorrow with any muscle problems. Maybe after he got back, he should go see the team physical therapist.

They drove to a café Auden had never been to before, somewhere out of the way. Inside, it was nice and cool, the smell of coffee and pastries wafting through the air. A few people sat at tables near the window and Shane picked one out of the way.

“This is nice,” Auden said, feeling awkward again as they sat there. It was easy for this to become awkward, for the silences to be a little longer than necessary. It wouldn’t have been like this with Trayce. They would have been talking about trials or skills. Not that Auden wanted to talk about that right now, but at least with Trayce, they would have something to say.

“Better than the mainstream coffee chains that charge an arm and a leg for a cup full of sugar,” Shane offered, crossing his arms on the table and gazing at Auden. “Would you go rock climbing again?”

“Yeah,” Auden said after a moment. “Once you get over the life-threatening part, it was kind of fun.”

“It’s freeing,” Shane supplied. “I mean, sure, there’s the possibility of death if you fall and the rope breaks, but that’s part of the thrill. You must love the thrill of sports, right? Gymnastics is just one step away from injury every time, right?”

“It’s not exactly the same,” Auden admitted. “I’ve trained for a long time so that won’t happen.”

“But you can’t predict everything.”

“I guess.” Auden had to admit that. He’d been injured a lot when he was younger, but what gymnast hadn’t? It was part of what made the sport a challenge. “I just have to make it through the next few months.”

“Didn’t you say something about trials?” Shane picked through the sugar packets on the table, not meeting Auden’s gaze as Auden sighed.

“About a month.” Auden nodded, his stomach knotting at the thought. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

“What do you mean?”

Auden hesitated, tearing his napkin into pieces and glancing out the window at a woman who’d obviously had too much plastic surgery walk past with a small, conspicuously-groomed dog. He shook his head instead. “I don’t know. It’s just a lot of pressure.”

He wasn’t even sure if he wanted to do the trials. It wasn’t as easy as just saying so, though. Saying it would make it real—would mean that maybe he didn’t want to be a gymnast anymore. He couldn’t bring himself to admit that.

“If it were me, I wouldn’t waste the time. There are better things to do.” Shane tore open the sugar packet and it spilled on the table. He swept it away with as much delicacy as his last sentence.

Auden didn’t have a response for that. He’d spent every minute of the last ten years working towards one thing. ‘Better’ hadn’t been a thought. What could have been better than gymnastics? He didn’t like to think that he’d wasted the last ten years either. If he’d said that to his parents, his dad would probably have a heart attack.

“I guess I’m just trying to figure it out.”

Shane nodded slowly. “Well, lucky for you, you’ve got me now and I can show you all the other things that are out there.”

“Like what?” Auden wasn’t sure he even knew what else there was to do. Something that didn’t injure him every time he tried a new skill? Something that didn’t require thirty hours of training every week? Something that didn’t make him feel like crawling into a corner whenever someone mentioned competition? Maybe there was something else out there.

“You like music, right? You like rock climbing now.” Shane grinned. “There are millions of other things to do in the world aside from jump around on a mat.” He rolled his eyes.

Gymnastics was much more than that, Auden thought, almost insulted for a moment, but he didn’t argue right then, not when Shane’s foot slid against his leg.

“I guess,” he agreed instead, shifting in his chair and meeting Shane’s grin. It would have been so easy to lean across the table and kiss him, and as he sat there, he wondered what was holding him back. Here was Shane, a nice guy who had interests that didn’t include tunnel vision, and yet Auden hesitated. He probably could have invited Shane to the bathroom in that café and he would have come. It would have been easy to do, easy to say, easy to drop to his knees and suck him off right there.

As much as he wanted to, though, he couldn’t bring himself to say it. Instead, he watched Shane and felt the slide of his foot against his inseam. He didn’t stop Shane but he didn’t encourage it either. For a second, he thought of Trayce, of Trayce sitting across from him with the same look in his eye as Shane had. A thrill rippled through his stomach and he bit his tongue. This would never happen with Trayce, though, and he needed to get a grip, he told himself firmly. Shane wasn’t Trayce and Trayce would never be Shane.

Auden wasn’t sure what he was doing, but he pushed his chair back and stood, hesitating for a second. “I’m gonna go wash my hands,” he said slowly, glancing at Shane but then heading for the small bathroom in the back of the café.

The bathroom was small with flowered wallpaper bordering the top. At the sink, Auden didn’t wash his hands but waited. Maybe Shane hadn’t gotten the message. Maybe he should have been more explicit, but Auden wasn’t very good at this sort of thing. He jumped when the doorknob rattled, but Shane stepped in, locking the door behind him.

“Subtle,” Shane said, smiling slightly as he backed Auden up against the sink. “Didn’t peg you for the public sex type. Thought you’d be all flowers and candles for the first time.”

“Would you have?” Auden asked, nerves rising in his throat because what Shane said was true. It hadn’t been like that with Trayce and Trayce would never have even considered it.

“I don’t have flowers but I’m sure I could find candles somewhere,” Shane replied. “If that’s what you want.”

Trayce would have said that Auden was far too much of a romantic for anyone to handle. Auden took a step back, the sink digging into his lower back, and he hesitated.

“We could go back to my place,” Shane offered, leaning in to Auden’s neck, his fingers brushing up his arm, raising goosebumps along the skin. “Find some candles, take off our clothes, get rid of this awkwardness that’s following us around. You are really toned,” he murmured. “And I’d like to see more of you.”

Auden’s eyes fluttered shut for a second as Shane pressed a kiss to his jaw. It was different than anything with Trayce had ever been. The moments were slower, a drag against his mind, imprinting there for later.

“Or,” Shane went on, hands sliding over Auden’s torso and dragging against his shirt. “We could get a good story out of this bathroom thing.”

Auden laughed despite his nerves. He wanted to prove to Shane that he was interested, prove to himself that he could forget about Trayce for more than a minute, and that, perhaps, was what made him step forward, pushing Shane back against the door.

“Let’s make a story,” he said, sliding to his knees.

“I like that idea,” Shane breathed above him, a hand stroking through his hair.

On the hard tile floor, Auden reached for Shane’s shorts and pulled them down easily, fabric gliding over his hips. It wasn’t as though he’d never done this before, but it was usually with Trayce who didn’t make him feel nervous, worried about how it might go. Pushing those thoughts aside, he peeled down Shane’s underwear, revealing his soft cock underneath. It looked different than he’d expected, smaller than Trayce’s but longer. Leaning in, his pressed his mouth to Shane’s thigh, sliding his hand up to grip his dick and stroke slowly.

They had to be quick, he knew, but he didn’t want this to be rushed. He wanted Shane to enjoy it. Moving a bit faster, though, he stroked Shane until Shane’s cock began to harden in his hand and he heard Shane’s soft exhale above him.

“You’re not half bad,” Shane breathed, and Auden heard the smile in his voice.

He didn’t want to be ‘half-bad,’ though, and he moved up, sliding his mouth from Shane’s thigh to the tip of his cock, sucking it into his mouth and flicking his tongue over it. His grip tightened and then relaxed, jerking Shane off as he moved in. He took Shane into his mouth, sliding his tongue over his prick and sucking until Shane was cursing above him, a hand digging into his shoulder and hips making jerky movements.

“Oh shit, oh shit,” Shane gasped, but Auden didn’t slow down. He was all too aware of the time that had already passed since they’d entered the bathroom. He wanted Shane to come, to come hard like he just couldn’t control himself.

Spreading Shane’s legs, he sucked his cock harder, adjusting the pressure on his knees. Shane’s prick was hot and heavy in his mouth, a bitter taste on his tongue, different than Trayce. Before he could stop himself, his mind flitted to Trayce, Trayce sucking him off, bright eyes watching him every moment until he came. Auden was starting to get hard, but he shook himself, shaking away Trayce’s face in his mind.

Shane’s hand tightened on Auden’s shoulder, and it was the only warning he got before Shane came. Pulling away, he wiped his mouth and jerked Shane through his shuddering orgasm.

“Fuck,” Shane muttered, sighing loudly and reaching for a paper towel to clean up. Auden climbed to his feet, feeling shaky, a mixture of pleased and confused at his own brain. Why couldn’t he just forget about Trayce for even a minute? “Definitely a good memory.”

Auden smiled as he washed his hands and was surprised when Shane wrapped his arms around him from the back and pressed a kiss to the side of his neck.

“Not how I pictured it, but you surprised me.”

“That a good thing?”

Shane grinned and kissed his neck again. “Surprises are always good things.”

Auden tossed away the paper towel and smiled back at him. “I guess so.”

How did you get here?

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