After I Win

by Critical Strike
illustrated by olukemi


It’s halftime. I can hear my blood pounding in my ears almost loud enough to drown out the screaming crowd and cheerleaders, before the noises dissolve into the halftime show. Coach is patting me on the back, and on some level his words sink into my head, make some kind of sense, but I’m not listening to him; not really anyway. I’m looking for Moon, but not with my eyes. I never need eyes to see him. I can feel him there, in my head, with his shadows and smug smiles already sneaking in. He’s the biggest tease now, right at mid-game, and we both know it, we both love it. He flatters me, pats me on the back, and I can almost feel his hands like they’re there. His shadowy magic seeps into my skin, brushing, teasing, touching. I send my electricity back at him, like I always do, tracing the shadows back to their source to find him hidden outside the locker room.

Coach’s words start making even less sense when those shadowy tendrils dig deeper. I have to bite my lip to keep from moaning as every little bit of shadow magic curves, twists, and strokes deep in places Moon’s hands can’t hope to reach, even if we we’re tangled in bed, sheets and skin damp with sweat, rocking hard against each other…

The noise I make is luckily concealed by a cheer from the rest of the team, and I try my hardest to join in with them, but Moon’s trying his hardest to make me come – right there in the locker room, surrounded by my teammates and the coach.

Except he doesn’t. He brings me right to the edge, so close it hurts and I’m almost blind with it, and then backs off. I can practically hear him smirking, and his voice in my head is full of promises. The rest after you win, Bradley, and I know he can feel me shiver. But that’s not all he can feel. My response is a crackling core of lightning, singing along every one of his nerve endings. I can feel him panting with the same lust and want I feel. I’m white-hot around the edges and ready to go, ready to drive someone into the ground, ready to tear the field apart.

He wants me like that. Aggressive, just this side of violent. He wants me brutal and punishing. He wants me to take no prisoners, and I want him to want me that way. So when halftime’s over, I run back out onto the field. The other team never sees me coming.

When I get like this, I rush. No passing, I just run the play. I know when they try to blitz: I can feel them coming for me, and I get the hell out of Dodge before they can. I’m five foot ten, and that’s short for a quarterback. The next shortest quarterback’s six foot three. In a pileup with guys these size, I’d be praying for air. Or death, whichever would give me faster relief. But I don’t have to even think about it, because Moon’s got a strong-as-anything protective charm on me, and I haven’t been hurt on the field once since he cast it. So I just run.

First and goal, and I hit the dirt when someone manages to tackle me. I don’t hear anything, not the coach, not the team, not the roaring crowd. I just feel Moon, feel my blood rushing, feel the energy coursing through me and crackling out like an electrical storm. Next play, I crash my way through the defense like they’re made of paper and when I’m down again, it’s second and goal, and I can smell our next touchdown.

The boys haven’t really gotten to see me like this yet. I’m new to the team, being frosh and all, but Coach made an exception. Said I had enormous potential; said he couldn’t believe I didn’t come out of Texas with the way I play. I’m covered in dirt, and probably bruised under my gear, but that’s not what I notice. I notice the rain. It’s a slow steady drizzle, not enough to call the game, but enough to irritate players. Cheerleaders start getting antsy about their hair, people in the stands pull out umbrellas and ponchos, but no one wants to leave.

I can feel the pressure in the air, just the right amount, and know there’s a thunderstorm coming soon; probably before game end. If it’s timed right, it could hit right at the end. I hope it does. We score again, and it’s one of those picture moments. Our running back just leaped over a linebacker and landed in the end zone. Two minutes and an extra-point kick later, the score’s neatly tied up at 17-17. Each team has two touchdowns and one field goal under our belts, and we’re nowhere near ready to call it quits.

The rest of the quarter’s a blur, and next thing I know. it’s nearly ten minutes till end of game. We’re still tied up, and I know what their plan is. They’re trying to run me down, tire me out. They keep clipping my receivers, blocking the running backs, doing everything they can to make me have to run it myself, and then they leave the huge defense to dogpile on me. We got stopped on our last two downs so now its third and long, and the goal’s too damn far away.

The plays keep coming, and we make it closer to the endzone. The rain’s falling steadier now, and Coach calls our last time-out at his last opportunity. My blood’s pounding in my ears: I can feel the imminent storm. It’s got my blood pumping nearly as hot and fast as Moon’s magic under my skin, and that just brings his promise back to mind. My voice must’ve sounded strange when I replied to Coach, because he got that stricken look on his face that he gets when someone actually manages to surprise him.

Back out on the field and we’re in a huddle. The rest of the team looks to me, confident in me, even though I’m the youngest and newest one there. I call the play, but I’m pretty sure the other team will probably try to blitz again. Anything to take me down, because I’m a machine right now and I won’t stop. The fresh crackle of ozone stings the air, and I’m pretty sure I’m the only one on the field who smells it at all. It’s too dark to see the clouds I know are gathering, darkening, filling the sky with the promise of a fantastic storm.

There’s a sound in the distance: thunder, and it’s rumbling deep and long. No lightning yet, so they don’t call the game. I know the timing has to be perfect. Just before the snap, I catch a defense linebacker’s eye, and I know he’s ready for me. My voice is never so loud as when I scream out a code, because they’re definitely going to blitz and I need to change up the play now. A trick play, maybe a half back pass. Gotta get their attention off me, and this might be the best way. Everyone moves as soon as the ball snaps, and it’s in and out of my hand in seconds. It’s pitched to the halfback, so he can buy me a few seconds. I dive under the linebacker as he dives for me. He’s trying to sack me, but I don’t have the ball anymore. I just roll to my feet, already running. The halfback’s got the ball and he’s running and dodging, but he’s waiting for me. I tear across the field, haul my ass fast as I can. Time’s running out and I’m suddenly by the goal-line. I turn, and there’s the pass.

It all happens at once. I catch the ball, and it’s way more spectacular than the last touchdown. The storm breaks; lightning arcs through the sky and strikes the field. Not the players, or the goal posts or anything taller. When I’m around, lightning doesn’t look for the tallest object to strike; it looks for me. Usually I welcome it. But now’s not the time to get struck by lightning and then try to explain my ability, my witchcraft. It’s no time to explain how I can walk that off, instead of frying like a Chicken McNugget. But it’s just the fuel I need. The bolt arcs in a way no one but Moon and I can explain, and hits behind me just as I catch the ball. It must have looked amazing. I just know I jumped up and landed in the end zone, a bolt of lightning barely missing me and just like that, we’ve won.

I get carried off the field, guys whooping and hollering, tossing me up and down as they cheer. I don’t see anyone but Moon, on his feet and cheering, staring right at me. The rest after you win, Bradley, and I finally smile.

Cheerleaders and players are mingling. It’s obvious who’s dating whom, because they’re not shy about it. Courtney Fairchild has her tongue down Jeremy Ashfield’s throat when last game it was Todd Hampton’s instead. Doesn’t make a difference when it’s me she’s staring at. I can’t believe she hasn’t gotten past this yet. She was the same in high school and she hasn’t learned I can’t stand her. I never played her game, and I don’t play it now. I just go looking for Moon.

I’ve never liked Courtney, and never will. But despite what I’ve got with Moon, I do actually like girls. I’m straight as an arrow – or a least I used to say that. I call myself homospecific now, because there’s no guy in the world who can make me feel anything like Moon Raven Lindsey does. No girl either, though. It’s partly the magic, and partly just chemistry, but I can’t deny it. Moon’s a part of me, his magic and his being so deeply ingrained in my own it’s like my breath is in his lungs and his heart is beating my blood. But I still don’t kiss him in front of everyone, like everyone else is doing. I can’t. I’m not trying to protect my rep or anything, not consciously; I’m just not comfortable with it, I guess. I can’t just bury my face in his hair, breathe in the scent of his skin, feel him beneath my fingertips, my body, and take him how I want him. At least, not while anyone’s watching.

I have no problem dragging him out of sight, away from everyone and pushing him hard up against the wall and taking his mouth like I’ve wanted to do for hours. My leg’s pressed between his and I can feel he’s as hard as I am, wants me just as bad. I know he wants more, and I can and will give it. But not in public.

Looking back, I should have seen it coming.

But I’m stuck in the moment: all I want is him, and that’s all I’m focused on. My magic is whipped into a frenzy by him and by the game. It sinks into him right as my teeth sink into his neck. He likes it when I bite — the first time I did, he screamed when he came. I can never forget the sheer beauty of the sight and sound. My magic hardly gives his a chance, sizzling and crackling against his own. It dives straight to his core and electrifies him from within. It’s a damn good thing Moon’s a witch too, and a strong one. The things my magic makes me do to him, the things I can’t help doing to him…they’d kill anyone else.

We’re hiding in a bathroom stall when I go for his pants. We’ll go back to the dorms later, but right now I can’t be denied, and he knows it. I start jerking him off, my hands moving hard and fast with that twist-and-pull at the head that I know he loves. He’s so hard, so ready for it, that he’s leaking precome all over my hand, and I waste no time yanking down my pants and smearing it on my dick. Come’s as good a lubricant as any when you don’t want to wait, and the one slicked finger I press into his ass tells me he thinks it’s good enough too. Fingers clamp down, nails in my skin, and yeah it hurts, but it feels too good to complain. He knows how much I like the scratches, the nails in my skin just as much as he likes my teeth in his.

He’s making that sound I love, the one that’s supposed to be my name, but he can’t really form the words aloud. In my head though, they’re a rushing jumble of curses and pleas, and I know he doesn’t want to wait any more than I do. His back against the wall, his legs around my waist, I press in and he has to bite his lip, and then my shoulder, to keep from screaming.

His name’s punctuating my every thought and I know he can hear it. I know he can hear the mental tone of everything I’m thinking, as well as the audible growl in my actual voice. I know he can tell, as my hands grip his hips, and I slam into him – harder with each thrust – that I’m at my breaking point. We come almost at the same time, me slightly before him – and maybe it’s me filling him, gripping finger-bruises on his hips and screaming his name in my head that pushes him over that last edge, because suddenly he’s doing the same. Our heads nearly clock together, but we don’t care, not when our breaths are mingling and our hearts beating in synchronization.

By the time we come down, the crowds outside have thinned and quieted some. I take off my shirt, change into a t-shirt, and hand Moon my jersey. It’s sweaty as hell, and I’d usually have just tossed it into my bag and washed it back at home, but I haven’t done that since Moon. He puts it on, loving how it smells like me, and he wears it like that back to the dorms.

illustrated by olukemi

The guys will be all over me about why I disappear like that after games. I always do it. I hardly ever go out with them afterward, though sometimes those locker-room fucks are enough to hold us over while we celebrate with the team. I can tell them I’m skipping out of team bonding to get laid, and they’d totally understand, but then they might ask questions I don’t want to answer. Anyway, all the guys ass-slapping each other always makes Moon laugh, and recite stats on how an overwhelming number of football players – high school and college – have admitted to some kind of sexual contact with the same sex. First time he said it, it was with that cocky grin he has, the one that I can never do anything to but kiss right off his face. He reminds me of that every time he says it again, and I think part of the reason he does is him trying to get me to realize I’m not alone.

We cross the campus, and head back to our dorm. I’m holding Moon’s hand until I see people coming, and it’s almost a bred-in instinct to let go. I fight it sometimes, tightening my fingers in his first, but I inevitably let go, and we stay like that until we’re back in our room. I feel like an ass by the time we get back, but when we get to our room, it’s no different from usual. Moon reaches for me and I slide my hands under my jersey, the one he’s wearing, and lean close, loving how he smells like both himself and me.

Friday night games always leave me beat; not just because of all the energy I expend on the field, but also everything that Moon does to me, that I do to him afterward. It’s a damn good thing magic can keep the room quiet enough because the way he screams when he comes, when I’ve hit all the right spots, is loud enough to make anyone who heard us think I was killing him. We pass out, legs twined in legs, and wake the same way the next morning.

Moon’s sore as hell with damn good reason, but he doesn’t mind at all. We’ve got no plans for the day, which means we can laze around as much as we want. Moon’s fingers tickle my skin as he starts waking up, and it’s instinct that’s got me shifting against him to pull him closer.

Mornin’, Bradley, I hear in my head and even those two words are enough to make me shiver. The way he says my name – everyone else just calls me Brad – never fails to make a thrill of pleasure ripple through me. It helps that I can feel his magic curling lazily under my skin. It’s circling my wrist, smoothing down my chest, stroking my back, even curving its way down my hips and between my legs.

The Mornin’, Moon I send back to him is stuttered, like a mental sigh of pleasure, and that’s exactly what it is.

Been a little while since we practiced you know. Even Moon’s voice is a lazy drawl, and I chuckle because he almost sounds like he’s Southern when he thinks like that. Don’t wanna get rusty, right?

I could make a comment that we seemed to practice pretty damn well for a good couple of hours last night, but he’s not talking about sex. No plans today, Moon. Let’s practice. It takes us a while to climb out of my bed, but when we do, we put on enough clothes to not keep distracting each other. We sit on the floor with Moon’s grimoire and a few books he was allowed to take with him from the Lindsey family library.

In the year we’ve been practicing magic together, the things we’ve learned could fill books of our own. There’s nothing we’ve read about the deep mingling of magic, the ability to sense each other at a distance. Hell, we couldn’t find anything about hearing each other’s thoughts, or something to explain why we can hold onto each other and levitate. That’s not normal, not even for witches. A year of research turned up nothing and so we’ve been keeping track of the things we discover on our own. At least Moon has, I think. I’m a little more concerned with learning the control and skills I should know if I’d grown up with witches like Moon did.

Moon’s family goes back years and years, and they’re pretty much all witches. It’s a long line he’s got, with hundreds of years of knowledge, experience, and skill tucked away in every book in the most impressive library I’ve ever seen in my life. Me? I’m random. As far as I know, I’m the first witch in my family and it baffles us both where it came from. At the same time, the fact that I was never taught what should be possible makes it easier for me to do the things that shouldn’t be. Even so, it’s a damn good thing I met Moon when he did. Untrained witches with strength like mine don’t turn out well without learning control. I know that for a fact.

We start out like always. His calming touch soothes the staticky edges of my magic until I’m lulled into a sense of calm. With my eyes closed, every other sense is heightened. I can hear Moon’s breathing, every little exhaled breath puffing lightly between those lips that were just made for… I have to force myself away from that line of thinking, but I can hear Moon’s chuckle and I know he knew just where my mind went. The scent of eggs and bacon wafts by, and I know someone has brought breakfast back to the dorms. Food sounds damn good right about now, but first things first.

We go through the exercises first, starting with the push and pull of the hand-held flame. I’m still not comfortable with fire, not after what happened to my ex-girlfriend. But knowing how her own magic went out of control, because, like me, she had no training, that’s enough to make me want to learn. Her fires raged out of control twice, killing both her father and her mother, a few years apart. I don’t know where she is now, but I know I can’t let that happen to me. Moon knows how I feel and he’s always gentle, easy when it comes to the flames. His sense of calm infuses my own; it’s probably that that keeps me in control.

illustrated by olukemi

By the time we’re finished with all our exercises, I’m perfectly relaxed and open, and so tuned to Moon I can feel him shifting closer before he even moves. I’m starving too, and Moon cuts me a break. “Dining hall?”

I open my eyes to see that smile of his again and this time I do kiss it. “Let’s go.”

Breakfast’s just what I need, and I eat like a horse. Moon teases me still about how much I can pack in, but I have to eat that much if I want to keep my weight up. Otherwise, the sheer amount of calories I burn off at every practice and every game would have me the envy of stick-thin models everywhere. Moon’s hand’s on mine, his thumb rubbing slowly over the back of it. I hate that I feel this way, but I keep glancing around, making sure no one’s watching us. Finally he stops. I can still feel our loop, our connection like it always is, but this time something is missing.

I feel like an ass through the rest of breakfast. The omelet – cheesy and full of mushrooms, onions, peppers – turns to sawdust in my mouth, and I just eat it because I have to. Moon’s quiet on the way back and after a few minutes I realize he’s not just quiet: his thoughts are silent too. I reach out, with magic, not my hands, a questing finger of electricity. Shadows coil around it and Moon looks at me. His eyes are dark, almost unreadable. I realize it’s been nearly a year since I’ve looked into his eyes and not been sure of what was there.

The worry in my stomach is making the food I just ate even more unsettled. But when we get back to the room, it’s almost like there’s nothing wrong. Moon tugs me inside and kicks the door shut. In minutes I’m on my bed and he’s crawled on top of me, his hands everywhere at once. The sex is amazing, like it always is. For the first time, though, I feel like he’s holding something back, that there’s somewhere I can’t quite reach. The rest of Saturday goes that way. A bit of homework, a bit of magic, dinner and sex so good it leaves me more drained than any game I’ve ever played. We still collapse on each other like we always do, my fingers in his hair, my lips on his skin. I tell myself it’s only because I sleep so deeply that I don’t notice when that changes.

I’m up the next morning when the sun beats insistently through the venetian blinds, despite how tightly closed they are. I move to bury my face in Moon’s hair, but there’s nothing there. I open my eyes and I don’t know what hits me first or hardest. I can’t feel his presence, his magic, that meshing of us that’s been a permanent fixture since the first time we slept together. It’s completely gone, and so is he. Folded neatly on his bed across the room is my jersey, the number 13 staring up at me.

There’s no way to make someone who’s never felt it understand how it feels to lose the other half of yourself. Ever take a sucker punch right to the gut on a full stomach? Take that feeling, multiply it easily by a thousand, and then maybe that’d be close. I can taste bile in the back of my throat, and the silence in the room is the kind of deafening you only feel when you’re completely alone. I’ve never once felt it before and in seconds I feel cold. I stare at my jersey until it goes blurry and I realize it’s not from not blinking. My cheeks are wet because I know he’s gone. He’s been there, been part of me, almost exactly a year, and now he’s gone. I don’t have to ask why. It’s my own fault.

I finally quit staring at the jersey and now I’m staring at the inside of my right wrist, at the tattoo there. It’s a yin-yang, except the white part is erratic, like bolts of lightning are shooting out of it. The black half is dark and swirly, like tendrils of shadow seeping out. It’s me and it’s him, joined together, forming a balance. He has the same one, on his left wrist, and they meet when we hold hands, or when I pin him down. I know it’s my imagination, but the shadowy yang looks slightly faded.

I can’t let him go. I feel his absence like a hole in my heart. I struggle to my feet and wipe my face. I don’t even bother to change, just put on shoes and go out looking for him. I look in his usual haunts and come up empty-handed. I even check places he’s less likely to be, just in case. When I come back hours later, it’s still alone. I can’t find him, and worse, I can’t feel him. He’s pulled away and I don’t know where to look.

The next day’s Monday and he still hasn’t come home. Home is what I call our room, but it’s only home when he’s there. I couldn’t sleep the night before, not without him there. The darkness in the room, the shadows…they’re not the same when he’s gone. We do have classes together, though, and I see him. He’s not sitting in his usual seat, next to mine. He’s two rows up, over to the left. I know how set he must be on avoiding me at the moment if he’s chosen to sit closer to the professor. My magic reaches out for his and I feel him. The shadows gently touch the lightning, but just as gently, they push it, push me, away. It won’t be that easy; he won’t just come back. Something has to change and that something is me.

It’s not any conscious thing. I’m not a homophobe. If I were, I’d hate my older brother. Instead, I’m the only one in the family he trusts with that knowledge. It’s almost funny. He’s gay, but I’m the one with the secret boyfriend. But I’m not homophobic. I’m just conditioned. Imagine the most stereotypical rich, white, and Protestant family living in Connecticut that you possibly can, and you’ve got us, the Davises. Years of living in my WASP home with my old-fashioned parents, in Connecticut no less, being raised a certain way – it’s hard to throw away eighteen years of parental conditioning. Not impossible. But not easy.

Practice that night is nearly impossible. I can’t concentrate. I’m dropping the ball, calling bad plays, getting sacked left and right. I hold onto the ball too long, feeling the raised bumps, the white laces across taut leather. I go down hard when I hesitate. I don’t have my drive, my aggression, my need to run everyone down. I don’t have my Moon. I can’t concentrate, I can’t eat, and I can’t play. God knows I can’t sleep. Coach wonders if I’m sick; the guys think I got dumped. They’re both kind of right, but I can’t find the words to say so. There’s another game coming up Friday and I need to be able to function, Coach says. I don’t know if I can.

Tuesday is no better. I see Moon around campus, but he’s still not home. I try to catch him, coax him over to talk somewhere alone, to come back to me. I feel him peruse me: he stares into my eyes from across campus, sinking into my mind as if looking for something. I leave myself open, and he pulls away. Whatever he’s looking for, he hasn’t found. I haven’t changed yet, and I don’t know if I can.

There’s a practice game Wednesday night. Intramural isn’t supposed to give us a run for our money, but tonight they do. Moon’s not in the stands and not in the building. He can’t be, because I can’t feel him, and that throws off my entire game. Coach calls time and waves me over. He’s disappointed, I know, and worried. He’s sure something’s going on, and I won’t tell him. I can’t. He reminds me about Friday night, and tells me I’ve got one more chance. If I don’t shine during first quarter Friday night, I’m benched.

Thursday rolls around, and I just can’t take it anymore. I go looking for Moon again, and this time I’m not giving up until I find him. It takes every bit of magic I can muster but I find a trail – a hint – and I follow it off-campus. I don’t even bother to get my Jeep. I’m on foot because I can’t make myself go back to the dorm to get my car, only to see that his motorcycle still isn’t there. I almost lose his trail twice, and I blame myself for it. The whole thing’s my fault anyway, because I have rocks for brains and can’t let go of beliefs I don’t actually believe; they’re just there.

The streets are almost empty. Everyone is either at home, already out at the bars, or wherever they’re spending their Thursday night. I follow Moon’s trail down streets I’ve never been on, to wherever he chose to hide himself. Before I know it, I’m knocking on the front door of an apartment, and some guy I barely recognize comes to the door. I think we have a class together, but I’m not sure. All I’m sure of is that Moon is here somewhere.

I think I sound pitiful when I ask, “Is Lindsey here?” I call him by his last name, what everyone else calls him. Only I get to call him Moon; only I know what the M.R. in M.R. Lindsey stands for. Well, me and his family. I briefly feel like I don’t really deserve the honor.

The guy looks me over – he knows who I am, I think – and after looking back into his apartment, stands back and lets me in. I look like shit and I’m probably dirty, so I don’t bother to sit. I just wait, hoping Moon will come out.

He does. I forget everything I’m about to say when I see him. He’s beautiful. I’ve called him that before, and I always mean it. But he’s more beautiful now than ever, if only because I haven’t been able to see him, touch him, feel him every night. I can’t speak yet. I just stare and feel his presence, his magic, and wish I hadn’t been such an idiot. I finally find my voice; it cracks like a pre-pubescent kid when all I manage to croak out is, “Hey.”

I watch his Adam’s apple bob as he swallows, before he responds with a quiet, “Hey.”

I step forward and my magic tries to envelop him again. I try to keep it in check, until I know he won’t refuse, but it doesn’t work. I feel the shadow pressing against it. It’s not rejection, but it’s not acceptance either. He’s keeping me at bay. I don’t care if I sound pathetic when I say, “Come home.”

Moon shakes his head. The sadness in his eyes is palpable, and it wounds me. I’m the one causing that look. “Not yet. Not until…” He trails off but we both know what he means.

Until I can stop acting like I’m ashamed of being with him. I’m not ashamed, but I know it seems like I am from the way I act.

The guy who lives there is watching us, looking like he thinks he should step out and leave us alone, but I don’t want him to go. I need an audience – we need an audience for this. I say it again – and this time I come right up to Moon, take his left hand in my right, and press our tattoos together.

“Come home.” And this time I add, loud enough for our spectator to hear, “I love you. Please come home.”

Before he can say yes or no, I kiss him: right there in front of the guy whose name I don’t know, and his housemate who comes wandering in at just the right time. I kiss Moon, and even though I care that someone’s watching, it doesn’t matter because I need Moon more than I need secrecy.

It’s not as though it was a tough decision to make. There’s no deciding between Moon and anything else. It’ll always be Moon. What was the tough part was getting myself past the point of caring who knows and who doesn’t. It was getting me to admit I’ve been an idiot and it was time to fix it. It was getting me to tell Moon I love him, something I’ve said in private before, but this time in front of people. It was getting me to grow up and be a man, not a boy.

When I break the kiss, his eyes are shining, and I bet mine are too. I run a hand across his cheek and I don’t use magic; I don’t cheat. I just say, “This is all I have to offer you, Moon. I won’t hide. I can’t say it’ll be right or perfect or anything, but I won’t hide anymore. Please come home with me.”

Moon’s arms come around me, and suddenly he’s hugging me close. I can feel his magic sigh and sink into mine. My response is fierce and swift. I hang onto him like a man drowning, and my magic does the same.

“Yes,” he says, and it’s soft at first but I can still hear him. “You’re an idiot, you know, Bradley, but I love you anyway.” He pulls back enough to look at me as he adds, “I knew you’d come for me, and come to your senses.” When he kisses me back, the guys finally realize they’ve had enough and clear their throats, excusing themselves from the sudden gay soap opera in their living room. “Besides, I don’t want perfect. Perfect’s boring as hell. I want you.”

“Gee, thanks,” I say and give him a lopsided grin, but it’s full of more joy and relief than I can put into words. I wrap my fingers in his as he tugs me to go grab his bag. I’m not letting him go for a second, and I make it obvious.

When we get outside, he seems surprised that my Jeep’s not out front, and I shrug. “I walked.” My smile is the closest to mischievous I can manage right now as I ask, “Wanna give me a lift back?”

It’s obviously yes as I climb onto his bike. I love and have always loved riding on his bike. I don’t care I’m riding bitch. I get to be pressed up against him. I wrap arms around his waist and lean into him, feeling the meshing of our magic, that ever-present feedback loop we always had, sinking into its old rhythm. I can feel his heart in my chest again, and when I press my face against his back, it’s partly to feel him close to me and partly to soak up the tears I won’t admit are falling.

When we get home, I take him upstairs. His bed hasn’t been touched since he left. At least, it looks that way. Every time I missed him too much, I would take his pillow, breathe in the lingering scent of him, and wish I hadn’t screwed up. The jersey’s still there too, but we push it aside for now.

This time it’s him covering me when our lips meet. It’s him taking off my shirt before I can get to his. It’s him stripping me bare, and not just physically, while I wonder how I even survived this long without him. Then I remember: I barely did.

It’s my legs around his waist, my nails along his back, but still our names on each other’s lips. It’s me who begs him to quit teasing. It’s me biting my lip and his shoulder, when I feel a scream building. It’s me who’s rocking up against him, while he and his magic claim me completely. I can feel our tattoos pressed together, and I can swear I feel our magic radiating back and forth between us, starting at our tattoos and curling down our arms. It’s making me his, and making him mine. For a second I wish I could cover myself in those tattoos, if that’s how they feel, but I can’t. I settle for him covering me and that isn’t settling for anything at all.

By the time Friday night rolls around, I’m back to my old self. I haven’t been parading Moon around all day, not exactly, because it’s a buildup for me. Holding hands, stealing kisses, little things. I’ll still have to take my time to stop wondering just who’s watching when we do it, but at least I won’t shy away. I won’t hide.

I’m on the field again, and Moon’s up in the stands. I call the play, hands eagerly waiting for the touch of leather in them. Every sense is heightened. I can smell the grass and dirt, kicked up by every man of the field. The roar of the crowd is insistent and deafening, and yet I can hear individual voices. I hear the cheerleaders leading the crowd in support. I can hear Coach, shouting to be heard, every word full of pride and pleasure.

The night is clear and so is my visibility. They say on a clear day you can see forever. Well, on a clear night you can see about halfway to infinity and that’s pretty damn far. I’m so content, so whole, so right again, I could count every star, find every constellation, and not miss one thing going on on the field. I can see every player on the field, and it makes every play almost perfect. During one of our huddles, a linebacker takes a minute to ask me if my girlfriend took me back, and before I choose a play, I tell him, “Boyfriend. And yeah. He did.” I can feel the surprise in all of them, but now’s not the time. I hand off to my running back, and he tears through the defense like paper. Next play I throw and connect on a forty-three yard pass. I watch my wide-receiver catch it and run not ten yards into the goal. The first two quarters go by just like that, and Coach’s faith in me is restored.

The thrill is back, the perfect rush. It’ll only get better, I know, because we haven’t hit halftime, but I know just what to look forward to. The clock’s running down and I swear I can hear each second tick. Each one brings me one more step closer to halftime, closer to Moon.

When it’s finally halftime, I don’t have to look, not even with my magic, to know that Moon’s already there and waiting, in the shadows. Inside the locker room, Coach is praising the team, thanking the stars and everything else in the heavens that I’m back to myself and ready to go. He gives me that double-take again. It’s because I’m already on edge because of Moon, and I’ve already got that look in my eyes.

Moon does his ruthless tease again. I welcome it, knowing this time after the game, I’ll throw all caution to the wind and kiss him like the other couples do, in front of everyone. Maybe that will finally send Courtney a message she can’t ignore. It’ll certainly send Moon the message that he doesn’t have to worry any longer.

He brings me right to the edge again, and stops, leaving me breathless, panting, charged, and ready. The rest after you win, Bradley, he says in my head again, like he always does, and this time I have the strength to tell him, I have you, Moon. I’ve already won.

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