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 12: Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect

Auden woke in a slightly unfamiliar room, in a bed bigger than he was used to, Shane curled into a ball on the other side. Sun streamed in through the high, uncurtained window, falling over rock climbing gear piled in a corner. Rolling over, Auden stretched leisurely and smiled to himself. It was a nice change, and he watched Shane sleep for a moment, his eyelids fluttering.

It was strange, waking up next to someone else. He couldn’t help thinking of Trayce that night he’d crawled into his bed. He’d woken up the next morning to an empty dorm room and they hadn’t spoken of it since. With Shane, Shane asked why he was trying to leave in the middle of the night and pulled him back into bed. A part of Auden felt bad about staying when he still hadn’t talked to Trayce about it, but he had stayed anyway.

Finding the time to talk to Trayce wasn’t the problem—he saw him enough at training, but finding the actual words seemed impossible. It shouldn’t have been so hard to cut it off. Just tell him there was someone else and they were getting serious. That simple, right? Auden grimaced at the thought, at what Trayce might say. If he didn’t care, it might hurt even more than Auden expected it to.

Sighing, Auden rolled onto his back and stared at the bright white ceiling. Trials were only two weeks away. Somehow, they’d sneaked up on him, looming over his every waking moment, the constant expectations of everyone around him, the pressure to do well. If he didn’t make the team, he didn’t even know who would be more disappointed—Dorian, Anya, or his parents.

Shane’s phone buzzing startled him out of his reverie and Shane stirred beside him, reaching out and silencing it with a press to the screen. Glancing over, Auden’s eyes widened as he realized what time it was.

“Fuck!” he said sharply, tossing back the sheets as Shane rolled over, squinting at him, pillow lines on his face.

“What are you doing?” he mumbled, throwing an arm over his face to block out the light.

“It’s nine o’clock,” Auden replied, feeling his heart pounding even as he searched for his shirt, but he couldn’t remember where he’d left it.

“Yeah, too early,” Shane agreed, lifting his arm to watch Auden scour the room for his clothes, but all Auden came up with was his left shoe.

“I’m late for training,” he said, panic welling up inside him. Dorian was going to murder him. “Fuck late—I’ve missed the whole first two hours.”

“You start training at seven?” Shane asked, making a face. “Fuck me. Why would you do that?”

Auden didn’t answer, digging through a pile of clothes on the floor instead. Why Shane left things on the floor, he didn’t know, especially when there was a perfectly good—and empty—laundry basket sitting by his dresser. He was so dead. He couldn’t even imagine what Dorian would say. Either he would yell in front of the whole team or else he would fix Auden with a supremely disappointed look. Auden wasn’t sure which was worse. Both made his stomach curl into a ball and die.

“Shit, I can’t find my clothes!” Auden stood up, throwing the shoe in his hand to the floor.

On the bed, Shane struggled up, still looking sleep rumpled, hair a mess and cheeks pink. “Calm down,” he said easily. “You’re already two hours late. Why go now? How about you just come back here and we can redo this whole morning wake-up thing.”

It was a ludicrous suggestion, completely stupid, but Auden paused. His heart was in his throat at the thought of what Dorian might do to him, but Shane had a point.

Shane shot him a look. “What does training matter anyway? You hate going. At least enjoy your morning.”

“Dorian’s going to kill me.”

“Then he can do it later,” Shane said. “Until then, come back to bed.”

Shane had a point. Whether he left now or later, he would still have to face Dorian’s wrath, and he might as well do it after a nice, relaxing morning. Moving stiffly, Auden crossed the room and slid onto the bed next to Shane.

“Better, huh?” Shane asked, smiling against Auden’s mouth as he kissed him.

Auden still didn’t feel completely relaxed, a tense buzzing underneath his skin, a feeling of dread building, but he smiled back when Shane pulled away.

“Who needs that stress in your life? Later, we can hit the bar and unwind with some shitty local bands.”

“Why don’t you play?”

“I’ve got a gig next week if you want to come.”

Auden smiled, letting his fingers trail down Shane’s side. “I’d like that.”

“It’s a date.” Shane grinned and pulled Auden in for a slow kiss.

Chain Link

By the time Auden got back to the dorms, it was dark out. It was the first time in years that he had spent a whole day away from the gym. It felt like a guilty pleasure. Walking down the halls, he felt free, completely at ease and not caring a bit that he’d missed an entire day of training. There was no one in the halls as he headed for his room, but as he passed Trayce’s door, he heard it creak open behind him.

“Well, you’re not dead,” Trayce said bluntly, and Auden turned to find him leaned up against the door frame, arms crossed but his shoulders tense.

“Nope, not dead,” Auden agreed. He really didn’t want to have this conversation with Trayce, not right now when he was in such a good mood.

“Should I even bother asking what the hell you were doing that was so important you missed training?”

Rolling his eyes, Auden turned completely to face Trayce. “You’re not my coach.”

Trayce barely smiled, tight around the edges. “I’m sure Dorian will have plenty to say tomorrow.” He pushed off the frame. “What the hell is going on with you?”

Fine, if Trayce wanted to do it now, they could do it now. Not in the hallway, though. Auden moved past Trayce, careful to keep to himself as he squeezed past him in the doorway. Trayce turned and shut the door slowly behind them, though he didn’t make any moves towards Auden as he might have any other day.

Auden glanced around the walls, unchanged as always, filled with gymnastics memorabilia. It looked just like his room.

“I’ve been meaning to talk to you,” he said finally, swallowing down the wave of anxiety that surged up within him. He turned back to Trayce, who stood by the door. “About us.”

“Us?” Trayce repeated skeptically.

Auden just had to get this out with as quickly as possible or he would never be able to say it. “You know I’ve been seeing someone,” he said and didn’t wait for Trayce to agree. “It’s—I think, I think it’s getting serious and we have to stop… this.”

“This?” Trayce asked, tone sharper this time. He still hadn’t moved, but Auden could see the tense line of his shoulders, and as much as he wished it was for the thought of losing him, it probably wasn’t.

“You, me,” Auden said with a sigh. He hoped Trayce wouldn’t make this difficult. “Sleeping together.”

Trayce crossed his arms again and was quiet for a moment. Each second that ticked by was agonizing in a way that Auden had never experienced before, not even in competitions.

Finally, Trayce met his eyes, gaze cool. “So you finally found someone,” he said. “That’s good.”

Uneasy, Auden paused. “It is?”

Trayce shrugged, dropping his arms and rounding Auden to the desk. He fiddled with a book and didn’t look back at Auden. “It’s what you wanted, right?”

“Well…” Auden didn’t say that what he wanted was Trayce. “I guess.” He watched the back of Trayce’s head for a moment.

“Then good for you,” Trayce said coldly, turning sharply. He didn’t look happy and Auden thought he looked a bit angry. It wasn’t Trayce’s place to be angry, though. He didn’t have any claim over Auden, as he’d said many times. Trayce’s anger made Auden angry in return. If Trayce had wanted something more, he could have said so. He didn’t have to get mad that Auden had finally found it. “Is that why you’ve been fucking around for the past few weeks?”

“I missed one training. Big deal,” Auden said. As much as he’d like to pretend it wasn’t a big deal, he knew better. Still, he didn’t need to be told so by Trayce.

Trayce shook his head. “It’s one thing to go out and get a boyfriend. It’s another to screw over your chances of making the Olympic team. Unless that’s what you want to do.” He arched a challenging eyebrow at Auden.

“No,” Auden said, an automatic response before he could even think about it. “It’s none of your business what I do in my free time.”

“Fuck whoever you want,” Trayce snapped, setting down the book with a sharp thud on the desk. “I don’t care, Auden, but you should care about your future.”

“Gymnastics?” Auden scoffed. “What kind of a future is that really? Train for fifteen years, compete for ten, and then retire or get injured.”

Trayce stilled for a moment, eyes narrowing at Auden. “I’m gonna pretend you didn’t say that.” He took a step closer to Auden, glancing up and down as though taking his measure and debating violence. “I don’t know what your problem is, and I’d suggest a good fuck to get it out of your system but apparently we can’t do that anymore.”

“No, we can’t.” Auden stared at Trayce for a moment, searching for a crack in his veneer, but Trayce just looked pissed, not jealous or sad. What did he have to be mad about? His path to the Olympics couldn’t be clearer, and what was more, he wanted it. It was more than Auden could say at the moment.

“Then I guess you’ll have to go find your boyfriend to do it for you.” The way Trayce said boyfriend made it sound like a communicable disease. “Just answer me something—is he everything you fantasized about?”

“What? I-yes,” Auden stuttered, confused at the question, why Trayce was even asking it. What did Trayce care? He said yes before he could even think. Shane wasn’t perfect but he was a hell of a lot more than Trayce was to Auden. It was a real relationship, not just fucking and pretending to be friends afterwards. Maybe they hadn’t ever really been friends.

Trayce nodded and turned from Auden again, heading to his wall and staring at the posters of old Olympic teams. “Well, that’s great,” he said bluntly, not sounding happy in the least. “Don’t let him fuck up your chances.”

“I won’t,” Auden spat back, anger welling up inside him, both at Trayce’s non-reaction and at the insinuation that Shane would get in the way of anything he wanted. He said it before he even thought that he wasn’t sure that that wasn’t exactly what he wanted.

“Good,” Trayce replied shortly. “Now, if you don’t mind, some of us plan on attending training tomorrow and need to get to sleep.”

Auden stared at Trayce’s back, but Trayce didn’t turn. It wasn’t the worst thing Trayce had ever said to him, but it stung just the same.

“Fine,” Auden said, turning with a jerk and leaving. He let the door shut too loudly behind him and glared at it. Fuck. Trayce had barely even reacted except to get angry, angry at what, Auden wasn’t sure. He had no right to be. If anyone should have been angry, it should have been Auden. Trayce didn’t even care about him enough to be jealous or to try to stop a relationship with Shane. It wasn’t his fault that he’d found someone who had actual emotions and was capable of caring about someone else.

He’d asked Trayce enough times why they couldn’t be more and every time, Trayce had turned him down flat out. What more was there to say? Auden could be happy with Shane, he told himself as he walked the short way to his dorm. Shane at least didn’t have high expectations for his “potential.” Shane was content with music and hiking most of the time. Auden didn’t have to worry about being anyone but himself around him. He didn’t have to pretend to be excited for trials.

In his room, Auden sank onto his bed. The least Trayce could have done was pretend he cared. But he guessed that was too much even for him.

Chain Link

Auden wasn’t sure how much longer he could sit in the chair across from Dorian’s desk while Dorian lectured him on the importance of not missing training. Half an hour ago, it had been Dorian yelling about irresponsibility and what had Auden been thinking? This close to trials, missing any training was suicide. He was getting sloppy—it was obvious in his routines, Dorian said. Did he have the right kind of drive to be doing this? Was Dorian just wasting his time if Auden wasn’t going to take it seriously?

The pit in Auden’s stomach had grown so large it felt as though he might just vanish and fall through the floor as Dorian paced in front of him, rubbing his forehead and shaking his head. He glanced at Auden every so often and sighed, seemingly out of words for how disappointed he was.

Auden had come in prepared for this, but he hadn’t been prepared for how long it would go on, and how the light feeling from yesterday had vanished and been replaced with resentment. It was just one training. It wasn’t as if he’d skipped a week’s worth. And his routine was not slipping, he thought grimly. A few mistakes today—he just hadn’t stretched enough beforehand. It wasn’t anything life-threatening. No one would have believed him if they listened to Dorian go on.

“It isn’t just about missing training,” Dorian said, finally calm enough that his whole face wasn’t red anymore. “I’m starting to question your commitment.”

Auden didn’t know what to say to that except that he was thinking the same. As Dorian stared him down, he felt shame and annoyance trickling through him.

“Hundreds of gymnasts would kill to have your talent.” Dorian squeezed the bridge of his nose as though Auden stressed him out. “If you’re scared, that’s something we can deal with. I just can’t have you missing training. Do you understand?”

Auden nodded. Anything to get out of that room. He could just feel the heaviness of the disappointment in the air and it weighed on him like a ton of bricks.

At long last, Dorian sighed and sank into his chair behind the desk. “That’s enough for today,” he said, waving at the door. “I don’t want to have this talk again, Auden.”

Rising, Auden nodded again. “We won’t.” He left quickly, bumping into Jules in the hallway.

“Auden,” Jules said, grinning as usual. “Gonna put on a good show for trials next week, aren’t you? I’m looking forward to it.”

“Yeah, sure,” Auden muttered, hurrying away and hoping Jules could get Dorian to calm down. It certainly wasn’t a conversation Auden ever wanted to have again, and he’d have to figure out a way to prevent it.

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