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 18: Last Shot

Auden dried his hair as he sat on the locker room bench, barely paying attention to the guys walking around in towels. His mind was a jumble of thoughts—bouncing between competition, Shane, and Trayce.

“Eighth place isn’t that bad,” Liam said, coming out of the shower and grabbing his warm-up pants.

Auden shook his head. “You’re in sixth place. Of course you can say that.”

“Eighth is good enough for an alternate position,” Liam pointed out.

“Only if they take more than two, and I don’t want to be an alternate. Besides, we all know standings change like that. Eighth place could become twelfth after one mistake tomorrow.”

“Well, if you eat mat like you did today, yeah,” Liam replied, but Auden didn’t care what he thought. “I can’t believe Dorian didn’t ream you for changing the routine.”

“You can’t win without taking chances.”

“You could also snap your neck.” Liam pulled on his shirt and tossed the towel in the basket by the wall. He looked up as Trayce came around the corner. “Trayce, here, has just got to hold onto his spot.”

Trayce smiled briefly, avoiding Auden’s gaze. “Don’t worry. I don’t plan on dropping out of the top five.”

“Like Auden said, standings can change in a second.”

Auden glanced up at Trayce, but Trayce merely shrugged in response. Auden wasn’t worried about Trayce’s standing, and his own was out of his control until tomorrow. He just hoped he had made the right decision. Liam was right; it was dangerous to change a routine without ample time to practice. It could end in disaster.

“I’m starving,” Liam said, “let’s get some dinner.”

Auden rose from the bench, tossing his towel away and following Trayce and Liam out of the locker room. Outside, the sun sunk slowly in the west, warm and humid still as it fell over the pathway beyond the gym. Auden let Liam and Trayce go ahead, absorbed in their own conversation, and he was glad not to be involved. There was too much to think about.

His phone pinged with a new update as he walked, and Shane’s face appeared on the screen with, “Shane Kaufman is now single.”

The feeling curling Auden’s chest as he stared at Shane’s picture was something between anger and relief. Pulling up Shane’s information, Auden’s finger hovered over the delete button.

“Calling your boyfriend?” Trayce’s cool voice met Auden’s ears, surprising him.

Trayce walked beside him now, Liam disappearing into the cafeteria already.

Auden hit the delete button and shoved the phone in his pocket. “I already told you we broke up. I don’t need to explain anything to you.”

Trayce brushed back his hair, meeting Auden’s annoyed gaze. “Did you date him because of me?”

Auden stared for a minute then laughed, once, short. “You’re not the center of the universe. Not everything I do is because of you.”

“But I told you to,” Trayce said, gaze meeting Auden’s, eyes wide. “I said you should.”

Auden frowned. “Well, what did you expect? You didn’t want to be with me.”

Trayce paused, shouldering his duffle bag. Auden kept walking. As far as he was concerned, he’d made a lot of mistakes the past couple of months, and most of them had been his own fault. He shouldn’t have asked more of Trayce when he knew perfectly well what he was getting into. He shouldn’t have trusted Shane so blindly, but he’d been the first person to show an interest in him beyond his gymnastic prowess.

“But I did,” Trayce said finally, grabbing Auden’s arm and forcing him to stop walking. “I mean, not in the romantic dinners and candlelight kind of way, but I’ve always liked you. We’ve been friends for three years, and we’ve been fucking for one of those years. I wanted to be with you then, even it was just sex, but it’s different now.”

Auden shook his head. “I don’t want to be with someone who gets mad at me because of his own feelings.”

“I’m not pissed at you,” Trayce replied, taking a halting step forward but stopped as Auden’s gaze hardened. “I was pissed at… at myself. I should have said something.”

Auden didn’t know what to say. Trayce had never tried to stop him from seeing Shane, had never offered an alternative.

Trayce rubbed his hands over his face, quickly, a rough movement. “Do you know how fucking terrifying it is to realize you like someone? After they’ve found someone else? Someone who doesn’t even care?” He paused, shaking his head. “I know I should have said something, but I couldn’t. I was too fucking proud. And scared, even.”

As much as Auden would have died to hear those words a few months ago, now he didn’t know what to say. It all came crashing over him like a waterfall, drowning him in feelings he couldn’t deal with right now. Of all the times to decide he cared, now was the worst.

Turning away, Auden sighed. “I can’t, Trayce. Not now. I have to get through trials. Gymnastics is all I’ve ever had and I’m not going to let myself down.”

”Yeah, okay,” Trayce said from behind him, voice quiet. “You’re right. Gymnastics is all about timing, right?”

Auden didn’t reply. Timing was turning out to be a weakness of his, but he’d put it right tomorrow once he made the team. There’d be time for talking afterwards.

Chain Link

“This is the last event,” Dorian said as he stood before the team. Sitting on the bench, Auden could feel his stomach twisting itself into knots. It was his last chance. “So far, Trayce is in third overall, Liam is eighth, and Auden is seventh. If you guys do your best, I wouldn’t be surprised if all three made it. It’s extremely unlikely, but that’s no reason not to try.”

Auden had played it safe so far—doing the routines he and Dorian had worked on for months. Most of them were at peak difficulty already, but the high bar was his last chance to make a stand. He could tell from the way Dorian eyed him that he was wondering if he would stick to the routine.

Auden glanced at Trayce, who was busy stretching and didn’t meet his gaze. Trayce’s spot was almost guaranteed at this point, but Auden had further to go. One more event. He didn’t have time to think about the night before, about what Trayce had said; now was the time to focus on himself, to rediscover why he had chosen gymnastics so many years ago when he could have picked football or baseball. He was naturally athletic—he could have chosen any sport and been successful, perhaps not Olympic level successful, but good enough.

He hadn’t chosen football, though. He’d chosen gymnastics. As he sat there, he remembered his first competition. He’d been young, overly excited, eager to try everything and anything that would make him better. He’d fallen off the high bar on a release and bruised his knee cap, but he’d gotten back up and practiced the release until he could do it flawlessly every time.

Where had that kid gone?

“Get warmed up,” Dorian said a minute later, turning away to discuss something with the assistant coach.

“So close,” Trayce said as he peeled off his warm-up jacket. Auden glanced up at him, surprised he was still speaking to him.

“You think you’re going to make it?”

“Of course,” Trayce assured him. “I don’t doubt my abilities.”


Trayce tossed his jacket on the bench and pushed back his hair. “Neither should you.”

Auden shot him a look, but he didn’t have a chance to reply as Dorian called him up. At the mat, Dorian grabbed him by the shoulders and gave him a rare smile.

“One more chance, Auden,” he said. “Good luck.” He gave him a look that clearly ordered him to stick to the routine, but Auden forced a smile back and moved to the mat under the high bar.

Gazing up, he knew this was it. Either he stuck to his routine and took what he got—an alternate position—or he took one last chance, made a change, and proved that he could do it.

The first time Auden ever went up on a high bar, he could barely pull himself up, but that was years ago. He still remembered the thrill of his first swing above the bar, how gravity pulled his body down in a barely-controlled swing. He’d felt like he could let go at any moment and it would be like flying. This time, he knew it was like flying.

The spotter lifted him up to the bar and he pulled himself up, so much easier than that first time. Everything went silent around him as he moved, swinging around the bar, adding a twist at the top. Under his hand, he felt the bar, firm and steady. It was there to catch him.

For the longest time, gymnastics hadn’t felt the same, but as he did his first release—a Tkatchev, stretched—he knew the bar would be there, and the same thrill ran through him as he hands hit the bar and his body moved perfectly, tall and straight. Momentum pulled him through to a handstand, perfectly still, and he heard the crowd come rushing back, the screams that filled him with joy.

It had been so long since he’d felt that; it was like everything was new, and he knew before his hands left the bar for the triple twist release that it would work. More screams rose from the crowd, and he bet if he could have seen Dorian’s face, it would have been a mixture of pissed off and stubbornly impressed.

He swung through the Endo, legs tight through his arms up to a double pirouette and then down. On the back release, though he kept his eyes on his toes, excitement spread through him, warmth through the stretch in his arms. He came up on the release. With Dorian, he had practiced a full-out stretched dismount—simple but easy to stick. It would have been a nice ending to a good routine, but Auden didn’t want good. He wanted great.

It was a risk, but he’d made up his mind as he gained momentum, whipping around the bar and releasing. His body soared through the air, four rapid twists, the mat rapidly approaching as his body righted itself and he landed firmly, a tiny step forward, but he didn’t fall. A wave of exhilaration rose in him as he straightened, breaking into pure elation.

Panting for breath, he listened to the crowd; their screams filling the venue. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt like this, the last time he’d known that he’d done everything he could and it had been worth every second, and it would be worth every second of Dorian’s lecture later too.

“Get down here,” Dorian said when Auden just grinned.

He came off the mat, too happy to even care that Dorian frowned at him. “I’m not sorry.”

Dorian raised an eyebrow and huffed. “You’re stupid… but that was also the best routine I’ve ever had a gymnast do.” He raised a threatening finger. “Don’t leave me out of your routine planning again. You want to go bigger, we can go bigger.”

It was a little scary when Dorian said it because Auden knew he meant it. He didn’t care, though. He grinned instead and accepted Dorian’s brief hug. “Thanks, Coach.”

Dorian patted him on the back and handed him a towel. “You did good.”

Auden smiled as he wiped the sweat off his brow. He still wouldn’t know for sure until later if he’d made it, not until everyone was finished.

“Trayce, you’re up next,” Dorian called, and Trayce nodded, looking nervous for once as he bounced on his toes and smeared chalk on his hands. Auden hesitated—no matter what he said, he cared about Trayce and whatever happened, he wanted them to be friends at the end of the day.

“You’re going to be amazing.”

Trayce glanced at him and smiled briefly. “I’ll see you in Paris.”

Auden sunk onto the bench as Trayce stepped onto the mat and gazed up at the big screen where his scores flashed. It had all been worth it, he decided, whether he made it or not. Definitely worth it.

Chain Link

Three Weeks Later

“Ah, Paris, city of love,” Trayce drawled as the bus rolled past the Eiffel Tower. Auden stretched his neck to watch it out the window, still unable to believe any of this was real. He looked at Trayce across the aisle, though, wondering if he’d meant that sarcastically. Since trials, they hadn’t spoken much about what had gone on between them. After all, the last three weeks had been nonstop training and perfecting routines.

“Just because it’s Paris doesn’t give anyone an excuse to find a belle fille,” Geoff called from a few seats up. “We’re here to win gold medals.”

The rest of the team laughed. Trayce smiled out the window.

“If one of us doesn’t win a medal, Dorian will never forgive us.”

Auden nodded. “After everything it took to get here, I think he’s just glad we’re here.” Dorian was probably just glad he hadn’t broken his neck after pulling any of those stunts at trials. He didn’t regret a minute of it, and he’d do it exactly the same if he had to.

“Well, I plan on getting at least one medal, if not four or five.” Trayce turned to Auden, but his smile seemed less genuine than it had used to be, a little sadder. Auden tried not to think about what Trayce had said about getting together. He wondered if they could have, if they didn’t have the Olympics, if it might have worked this time. With Shane out of the picture, and his head back in focus, maybe things would be different.

“You’re so modest,” he replied, and Trayce shrugged.

“I think we deserve it.”

“Alright, boys.” Coach Davis rose from his seat near the front, effectively ending all conversation on the bus. “We’re approaching the Olympic Stadium. For those first timers, it might be overwhelming. For the rest of you, try to act impressed.”

The bus jerked to a stop at the entrance and the driver said something in French to the guard at the gate. They rolled forward a second later and Auden couldn’t help staring out the window. There wasn’t much to see beyond a huge shimmering building looming ahead.

After everything, Auden still couldn’t quite believe he was in the Olympics. He was on the team. He had scraped into fifth place at trials, an astonishing jump, edging onto the team. His mom had cried when he told her, and his dad, well, his dad had grumbled about the cost of flying last-minute to Paris.

In the other seat, Trayce stared out the window, appearing just as enthralled as they rolled through a tunnel and past gardens with statues. Sometimes it felt surreal. After everything Auden had put himself through, all the suffering he had inflicted on himself, whether intentional or not, it had still led him here, exactly where he wanted to be.

“We did it,” Auden said, and Trayce’s eyes flicked to him.

“We did.”

“Everybody off the bus!” Coach Davis called as it stopped finally.

Filing one by one, Auden followed Trayce and the rest of the team. Stepping off the bus, he stared up at the stadium. It was bigger than he’d ever dreamed, bigger than any World Championship he’d ever been to. He felt like a kid on the first day of school: filled with fear, excitement, and wonder.

Coach Davis led the way in, down a brightly-lit hallway, painted the Olympic colors for that year—green and white—and paused before a pair of double doors.

“Welcome to the biggest two weeks of your life,” Coach said as he pushed open the doors and strode inside.

Auden stepped inside, jaw dropping as he stared up at the huge domed ceiling, shimmering with silver. The mats on the floor were green, the floor painted white throughout. It was like living a dream. This was better than any boyfriend he could have had, but after a second, he reached over and put a hand on Trayce’s shoulder. He merely smiled as Trayce’s gaze shot to him. After a moment, though, Trayce smiled in return and turned back to the arena. Lights twinkled down from high above and Auden knew it was going to be a great Olympic Games.

Chain Link

Chain Link

How did you get here?

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