It’s frosty in Moscow, frosty but beautiful, and while Marat picks at a thread hanging from the end of his jacket, Dinara decides they’ll both find love.
“Is impossible not to,” she says, childish almost, around a mouthful of half-eaten bread. Marat’s sister grew up long before he did, younger but older all at once, but at times he doubts how deep the maturity runs. Unlike his sister, who flutters her hands while she talks (pale butterflies with red tips), he gave up on the notion of love when he woke up one morning and realized nothing was forever.
“Good luck,” he tells her and the knife in his hand slices through the butter the ways his words seem to cut her enthusiasm. His cynicism has always seemed to gray her hair more than his own.
Dinara stands and he watches her.
“I go. I not eat breakfast with someone who makes me want throw it back up.”
It’s not an accident when her bag slams against his chair when she walks past, rattling the wood beneath him. He smiles.
Marat goes to Paris even though he can’t play and the ache in his knee is dull but painful. He presses his fingers against denim and his teeth against the soft inside of his lip until the skin splits and he tastes blood. Blood doesn’t taste like copper and it’s not a metaphor for disappoint to him; it’s just blood and he spits it out on the pavement.
He wants to go home.
There’s something about time that changes. It can slip through your fingers, unseen but felt like the wind; or it can stand still and stick to you, uncomfortable and gritty like sweat. Marat feels sweaty and his hair sticks to his forehead and his jacket feels like it’s pinned into place, holding his arms against his side.
He still wants to go home. Seconds tick by like hours and he barely perceives the players on the court. Someone in blue and Ljubicic. The kid in blue wins and Marat thinks it’s a little funny that he has to give the trophy to someone whose name escapes him. He bites at the skin of his thumb and decides he’ll call him Paris because he’s not feeling creative and his head’s spinning just a bit and it takes a pushing hand against his back to start his path onto the court.
Paris takes his prize and he’s all white teeth and sweaty hair and his fingers stick to Marat’s on the warm metal of the trophy.
Young, Marat thinks, watching him bounce on the balls of his feet. He won’t admit to missing what that exuberance feels like.
But he does.
Later he learns Paris’ name is Tomas and he bruises his knee while trying to get Marat’s attention.
Why he even wanted it is anyone’s guess but Marat invites him to sit for dinner anyway and he laughs when Tomas half-chokes upon realizing what he’s eating wasn’t what he thought it was.
Marat writes it off as an off-hand moment, too many painkillers making him sociable.
Marat really doesn’t know anything.
He doesn’t see Tomas – doesn’t think about him, really – until he runs into him (literally) when he’s trying to escape Cincinnati and find the cold and empty comfort of another hotel lobby. Marat winces, grunts, and grabs onto one of four gangly limbs before Tomas falls.
“Blind?” he asks.
“No, I see,” Tomas says and Marat should have known that what’s behind those wide blue eyes wouldn’t be able to grasp the concept of sarcasm.
“Be careful.” He’s aiming for gruff, annoyed, and so he’s just a little surprised when Tomas grins and nods and asks him if he can watch him practice.
Marat doesn’t need a reason for saying no but when he tries he says, “do what you want.”
Tomas does watch him practice.
Every time he does.
The kid’s actually a welcome presence and he’s (for some reason) quick to do what Marat asks. Not that he’s trying to ask too much and it’s mostly just to see what Tomas would do.
When he comes scampering, like an overgrown ball kid, offering Marat his towel and what appears to be a half empty bottle of water Marat asks, “why?”
Tomas just shrugs and says, “I like you.”
Marat drapes the towel over Tomas’ shoulder and says, “don’t.”
Tomas does, though. He’s persistant and Marat starts learning things about him on accident.
He learns the right way to pronounce his name and that Tomas hates the taste of orange and wants to own a parakeet one day. It’s simple and easy and all too familiar and no matter how many times he tries to shy away, to push Tomas back, he can’t. The kid takes his licks like a pro, stalks home and gathers himself, and bounces back in Marat’s face within twenty four hours.
It’s disconcerting and he hates the way it’s seemed to happen almost overnight. Dinner in Paris and a shoulder accidentally knocking against him shouldn’t grow into this.
Marat’s not prepared, he’s exposed to the elements, and he hates that he doesn’t quite hate it.
They hit together in New York. It’s weird and windy and he focuses maybe a little too much on how lanky Tomas is. The movement across the court from him is too fluid for such long limbs and Marat pointedly tries to ignore it which means, in the end, he focuses on it even more.
When they’re finished he’s the one that makes the move to invite Tomas for a late lunch.
Dinara figures it out.
“He bring you this,” she says. She smiles. She offers him a donut wrapped in a napkin and Marat ignores it. “He cute, sort of like… pony.”
Marat snatches the food from her and leaves the lobby without a word.
Suddenly Tomas is everywhere so it’s no surprise to Marat that he turns up, around every corner and behind every door, no matter where they go. If they’re together, in the same city, in the same hotel, they’ll wind up in the same room, the same restaurant, on the same court.
Tomas keeps smiling and it becomes easier for Marat to smile back.
One morning – just before Paris, in Madrid – he tells Marat about his finger. There’s a lopsided band aid on it, dirty from the day, and Marat can see the hint of an angry red gash.
“I fall getting out of bath. My finger it was hit on side of the sink. Hurt.”
Marat snorts quietly and grabs for his bag, fishes out a band aid and holds it up. “I can get you one with cartoons, if you prefer.”
Tomas scowls and Marat removes the old band aid without a spared thought for how disgusting it is to be touching someone else’s wound. Without a spared thought for, why exactly, he was putting a band aid on someone else’s cut.
He doesn’t think anything but oh shit when Tomas’ lips brush against his cheek.
When he leans back Tomas is blushing and he won’t look at him and the way his teeth worries his lower lip looks painful. Marat taps his thumb against Tomas’ chin, says, “go,” and the boy scrambles to his feet and leaves without fully shutting the door.
It’s weird afterward, when he goes even the few weeks before seeing Tomas again, and even then it isn’t until UNICEF asks for the two of them that he does. Marat doesn’t do awkward anymore but Tomas personifies it. He taps his toes and twiddles his thumbs and looks at him only out of the corner of his eye.
“I’m going to strangle you,” Marat says, finally, when Tomas (for the fifteenth time) unzips and re-zips his bag.
Tomas startles. “What?”
“What do you like for dinner?”
They have disgusting, grease dripping hamburgers in Marat’s hotel room and Tomas is still awkward. He bounces his leg in a way that creates a scrunching noise against the carpet, an annoying rhythm, and Marat finally slaps his hand against Tomas’s knee and holds down.
Tomas swaps non-stop movement for tension and another blush and Marat’s had enough.
When he kisses him it’s not the most amazing taste. It’s not apples and cinnamon and dime store romance novels; it’s a lot of clicking teeth and the taste of the sugary soda Tomas insisted on getting, but it works. It works when he pushes against weak resistance until Tomas is flat against (mostly) clean hotel carpet and Marat’s a little shocked, a little impressed, when it only takes a few milliseconds of coaxing for Tomas to open up to him, to lock knobby knees against his hips, to dig blunt fingers into his shoulders.
Marat chases the taste of grape with his tongue and finally fully accepts that this has been coming all along.
It’s not immediately hearts and flowers and holding hands. The sex was pretty good – in that painful way, with Tomas biting a little too hard and a little too unaware of the damage bony limbs could do – and Marat’s maybe a bit fond of the way Tomas smiles and the way he wakes up in the morning with hurricane blown hair and and a tired pout.
No, it’s not easy. In fact it’s rough and painful in more ways than just bruises and bitten lips.
Marat doesn’t think it’s going to last past a few months of decent sex and conversation and the occasional shared meal.
But Marat’s been wrong before.