Vive Le Tour
Pairing: Mulcibery (Darian Mulciber x Caleb Avery), background Nottpott (Theo Nott x Harry Potter)
Universe: Muggle AU, time is a construct
Rating: M for language, sex
Summary: Darian Mulciber has won the Tour de France for the last five years as the lead for Team Slytherin, along with rising sprinting star Theo Nott. Little does anyone know, though, that Mulciber and his nemesis Caleb Avery have quite a complicated history—and right from the start, both Tour contenders know that it's going to be a long, long ride to Paris.
(Mr Blake is a professional cyclist, so I couldn't resist this AU; this isn't his genre of racing, but come on, who doesn't love the Tour? … okay, most people, true, but even if you don't, there's at least Luna and Lee to look forward to.)
Lee: "Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for tuning into this year's Tour de France broadcast, hosted by myself, Lee Jordan, and my colleague, Luna Lovegood."
Luna: "Hello, muggles!"
Lee: "I can't promise that's not an offensive term, but I can promise that we've got a great first stage for you today! As you can see, wearing the number one in the green-and-silver jersey of Team Slytherin is Darian Mulciber, the returning champion of last year's coveted yellow jersey. What can we expect from him this year, Luna?"
Lee: "Yes, of course, always! And nearby with Team TMR—bearing the initials of billionaire owner Tom Marvolo Riddle—is Caleb Avery, a new favorite this year! He won big last year in the Classics, dominating both Paris-Nice and Paris-Roubaix, but has not been present in the Tour since he was previously Darian Mulciber's domestique on Team Slytherin. Care to explain to the audience what a domestique is, Luna?"
Luna: "Like a house elf for bikes!"
Lee: "Yes, quite right, a domestique is a rider who works for the benefit of his team and leader, rather than trying to win the race himself. The fact is, of course, that quite a lot of energy can be saved by riding in the slipstream, and Caleb Avery was Darian Mulciber's favorite super-domestique for, what, about four years?"
Lee: "I agree, it's definitely going to be something to watch as Mulciber and Avery face off in cycling's most prominent venue for the first time since Avery joined Team TMR. And how about our sprinters? Team Slytherin is positively stacked this year with both yellow jersey contender Mulciber and sprinter Theo Nott, who won four stages at this year's Giro d'Italia and seems to be coming into his own. No telling, of course, whether Nott will be a match for Harry Potter of Phoenix-Hogwarts, who snatched up the green jersey last year for the points competition in the Tour, but only time will tell. I, for one, predict that it will be a close race indeed by the time they cross that finish line in Paris."
Luna: "The sexual tension is palpable!"
Lee: "Ah, Luna. Luna, Luna, Luna. You just say the damndest things."
He hasn't spoken to me yet. Sure, he's surrounded by his team and I'm surrounded by mine and there's not exactly what I'd call privacy, but still. There's a certain amount of respect reserved for the previous yellow jersey winner, and it's just like him to completely disregard every facet of cycling etiquette.
He was always fond of chaos, really. Not like me. I like order, regularity, strategy. Not to say I won't attack when the time is right—unlike fucking Karkaroff, who's always playing it safe, the little shit—but I was always a little more rigid than he was. Caleb was fucking transcendent on a bike and that's what I loved most, I think. Sure, his power output was off the charts, and he had quads like a fucking horse—but man, did he look like he was having fun. Even after he inevitably got dropped and I kept going, he always had that smile on his face. That look of satisfaction. I loved to win—loved how I felt in yellow—but Caleb loved to bike.
No wonder I fell in love with him.
Three Years Ago
"Personal best," Caleb announced, grinning, as he came out of the hotel room's bathroom, brushing his teeth and checking the stats from his power meter. "Maybe," he began, spitting into the sink, "I should just fuck off as your domestique and become a sprinter for myself."
"Keep dreaming, Avery," Darian said from his twin bed, rolling his eyes. "One stage win does not a sprinter make."
"You're just jealous that I'm in yellow to start the race," Caleb said, running his hand through his damp curls and falling into the bed at the other end of the room with a laugh. "Not to worry, Mulciber," he assured him, closing his eyes. "You'll put me to shame in the time trials."
"I know I will," Darian agreed, trying not to let his gaze linger as Caleb shifted on the bed, the towel around his waist slipping to reveal the muscle of his upper thigh. "Not to mention that you can't climb for shit, Avery."
Caleb grinned, his eyes fluttering open as he shifted upright.
"You don't have to pretend, you know," he commented, and Darian swallowed, glancing at him.
"What?" he asked neutrally.
Caleb's tongue slid out from between his lips, passing over them and accommodating another golden smile.
"I know you think I'm a cycling god," Caleb joked, slipping under the covers and tossing the towel aside.
Darian watched it fall.
Imagined him, bare under the sheets, and swallowed.
"Keep dreaming, Avery," he forced out again, compelling himself to sleep.
Individual Time Trials
Lee: "Well, the individual time trials are without a doubt ultra-competitive among these teams, and what a way to start! In the time trials, each individual competes alone for a timed race—which means what, Luna?"
Lee: "Yes, exactly, mayhem, and also it means that it requires a separate set of skills from, say, the mountain stages. Now, seeing as Team Slytherin's Thorfinn Rowle managed to scrape out a win yesterday, should we expect total domination from the boys in green-and-silver? Presumably team leader Darian Mulciber will not be reaching quite so early to clinch the yellow jersey, but do we suspect it sparks up old rivalries, noting that one of his domestiques once again clinches a first stage win in the Tour de France?"
Luna: "I hope so!"
Lee: "Well, hope springs eternal in Dusseldorf today, Luna, especially for Team TMR, who came out hoping for a win. Do we think Caleb Avery can best Darian Mulciber for the best time trial of the day?"
Luna: "When is a door not a door?"
Lee: "When it's ajar! Well said, Luna. Well said indeed."
I absolutely loathe time trials.
Sure, cycling is an individual sport, but I've never actually enjoyed doing it by myself. So little of it is spent alone, really. Training is done in groups—in pairs, at least—and I rarely do anything by myself; not like Darian. Maybe that's what made him such a better cyclist. He likes the solitude of winning; I always watched the focus on his face when he took the lead, leaving everyone else in his dust. He's most comfortable on his own. Critics mock him for the way he's always looking down, the way he never takes his eyes off his own bike, but that's the winner in him. The victor. Darian Mulciber is riding entirely for Darian Mulciber, and there could be an attack from a rider or a herd of storming buffaloes and Darian Mulciber will still find a way to win, because he is never distracted. Never deterred.
I hate time trials. There's nobody here but me.
I wonder if that's how Darian feels now that I'm gone.
Three Years Ago
"Practically threw that yellow jersey out the window, didn't you?" Darian asked, shaking his head as Caleb fell on the duvet with a groan. "Maybe stay a domestique for a while, or go back to your sprinting dreams—"
"Can you not mock me right now, Mulciber?" Caleb retorted, scowling. "Better watch it, or I won't ride into the wind for you tomorrow."
"You will," Darian said, arching a brow. "You always do."
"Maybe I won't," Caleb shot back. "I mean, if you're going to be so helplessly smarmy about it, then I don't see why I should."
"Aside from the paycheck?" Darian asked, and Caleb shrugged. "Is there some other reward you're working for?"
Caleb looked up, eyeing the muscle of Darian's chest. He was surprisingly muscular for a cyclist, Caleb thought, but appealingly so. Even with the strident, violently oppressive suntan on his arms and legs, Darian's musculature had a certain intriguing appeal.
"Maybe there is," Caleb murmured.
Darian didn't notice.
Medium Mountain Stage
Lee: "Well, I think we're all still recovering from yesterday's surprise as Caleb Avery, a notoriously weak time trialist, managed to snatch the yellow jersey out from under Team Slytherin with an impressive first place finish, edging out Darian Mulciber for the stage win by less than half a second, my word, and—OH MY, LOOK AT THAT! THERE'S BEEN A CRASH TEN METERS FROM THE FINISH!"
Luna: "Somebody check for dementors!"
Lee: "It appears that Theo Nott on Team Slytherin attempted to muscle his way past Potter from Phoenix-Hogwarts, only to be met with Potter's elbow! My word, that's quite a finish to today's stage! A questionable one, for sure—and it looks like Caleb Avery holds onto his early yellow jersey lead, but will it last?"
Luna: "Nothing yellow can stay!"
Lee: "I agree wholeheartedly, Luna. It seems Mulciber and Team Slytherin have their work cut out for them on this one!"
"Hey, you fucker," Theo snarled, grabbing Harry's shoulder and dragging him back. "What the fuck was that? You could have killed us both—"
"It's a race, Nott," Harry replied, sounding bored. "It's the fucking Tour, and you didn't have the lane."
"Like hell I didn't!" Theo shouted, giving him a shove. "You know the rules, Potter, you know I could have you dismissed from the race if I request race analysis," he threw out wildly, "just on the basis of fucking safety—"
"Do it, then," Harry said, shrugging. "Go ahead."
Theo gaped at him. "You can't be serious."
"You're the one who's not serious," Harry returned, arching a brow. "You get rid of me, Nott, and you've got no one worth racing. Are you really telling me you'd take your win by default?"
"I will if you're going to fucking cheat!" Theo snarled, clenching a fist.
Harry shook his head, crossing his arms over his chest.
"I didn't cheat," he said flatly, and turned. "Suck my dick, Nott," he tossed over his shoulder, and Theo scowled.
"LICK MY BALLS, POTTER!" he shouted, and then he, too, turned in the opposite direction, stomping away from the other man and throwing his helmet into the team car.
Caleb's tense today. I can see it on his face. Wearing the yellow jersey makes him a target for the entire field, and he's never much enjoyed that. I doubt he's enjoying it now. Sure, he managed to hold onto his win, but it won't be long. I know him. He'll break in the mountains.
I will break him in the mountains.
He still wears his curls long. When he takes off his helmet they're matted close to his head from sweat and he rakes his hand through them.
I wonder if he thinks about my hands.
Lee: "Things are quiet in the peloton today. Do you think the main field is tired, Luna?"
Luna: "Goodnight, moon!"
Lee: "There's still much left in the tour, but at least we'll h- OH MY, AND LOOK AT THIS! THERE'S BEEN ANOTHER ATTACK!"
Luna: "Holy nargles!"
Lee: "Darian Mulciber and Thorfinn Rowle have broken away from the peloton, and—OH, AND IT LOOKS LIKE CALEB AVERY IS FOLLOWING! AVERY IS FOLLOWING WITH ROOKWOOD! My, oh my, this is an exciting stage, never a dull moment during the Tour, and—OH MY, AVERY HAS A TECHNICAL! HE'S SIGNALING FOR THE TEAM CAR! Avery needs help and Mulciber is not slowing down, he and Rowle are going for it!"
Luna: "Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!"
Lee: "It looks like Avery's about to lose his yellow jersey!"
"My tire blew," Caleb shouted into his radio. "Get me Dolohov's bike now, or I'm going to fucking lose this to Mulciber—"
"It's only the fourth stage," Tom replied coolly, his voice low in Caleb's earpiece. "You'll get it back. Just wait for the team car."
"This is Darian Mulciber we're talking about," Caleb yelled, growling aloud as the last of the peloton's riders whizzed past him. "We don't have the luxury of giving him even a second's advantage!"
"Rookwood, stay on Mulciber," Tom said. "Keep him out of a stage win."
"On it," Augustus agreed over the mic, and Caleb let out a primally urgent shout, slamming a fist into the window of the team car as he dragged behind the fray.
I hate losing to him.
More than that, though, I hate seeing Rowle in my place.
Medium Mountain Stage
Lee: "Alright, well, this is shaping up to be a rather exciting day for the climbers! Who do we think is looking good for a polka dot jersey, Luna?"
Luna: "Godric Gryffindor!"
Lee: "Ah, Luna. What funny things live in that enigmatic little head of yours. And what do we have to say about the ongoing battle between Caleb Avery and Darian Mulciber? It appeared there was some sort of interaction between them for a moment when Avery decided to attack yellow jersey Mulciber on the climb—rather unorthodox, wouldn't you say?"
Luna: "The unorthest of doxies!"
Lee: "Meanwhile, Potter and Nott are holding on at the back of the peloton, but with tomorrow's sprint stage, who knows what their rivalry has in store? Never a dull day at the Tour de France!"
Luna: "Wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure!"
Lee: "Never a truer word!"
"What the fuck?" Darian hissed as he climbed down from the podium, catching sight of Caleb and dragging him behind one of the trailers. "You're really going to attack on a climb, Avery? Have you lost your mind?"
"Oh, fuck off," Caleb said, snatching his arm from Darian's grip. "I'm not the same cyclist I was when I trained with you. Don't make the mistake of underestimating me," he warned, which Darian did not take particularly well.
"Don't act like that's what this is about," he said grimly, and Caleb's mouth tightened.
"What's it about, then, Darian?" he prompted, crossing his arms expectantly.
At that, Darian stared at him, blinking, and abruptly realized with a dissatisfied lurch that this was the first time they had spoken in three years.
"You don't get to walk away from my team—from me," Darian stammered furiously, "and then come back here just to disrespect the yellow jersey—"
"You and that jersey aren't the fucking same, Darian," Caleb snapped, cutting him off. "You attacked me first, in case you forgot, and just because you have it now—" he trailed off, the muscle clenching around his jaw, and shook his head, deciding something for himself. "And anyway," he added, his teeth slicing against his lip, "I didn't fucking walk away from you."
Darian swallowed a mouthful of rage.
"You look shit in that jersey," he said, and then he pivoted away, not looking back.
Three Years Ago
"Can you get this knot out?" Caleb complained, reaching for his left shoulder. "I called for a trainer but I don't know, Dippet's being a little shit—"
"Yeah, fine," Darian said, sitting up and gesturing for Caleb to sit on the floor. Caleb let out a sigh of relief, settling himself between Darian's legs and leaning back against the mattress as Darian worked the knuckles of his fist into Caleb's shoulder.
"Ouch," Caleb hissed, inhaling sharply. "Fuck, can't you be gentle?"
"Nope," Darian said, and replaced his hand with his elbow, pushing down hard. "Hold still," Darian instructed, his free hand holding Caleb in place as he slowly rotated his elbow. "I said hold still," he repeated, as Caleb squirmed under the pressure, letting out a grunt of pain. "I need this gone if you're going to be any use to me tomorrow."
"So fucking selfish," Caleb forced out, his eyes watering. "This hurts, Darian—"
"Ten more seconds," Darian told him. "Breathe."
He paused, waiting, and Caleb took a deep breath in; then let it out, shakily, before Darian slowly removed the pressure from his shoulder.
"How's that?" he asked, watching Caleb roll his neck out; first to the right, then back, looking up at Darian as the light from the hotel bathroom illuminated the curve of his throat.
"You," Caleb said, licking his lips, "are a fucking arsehole."
Darian shrugged, trying not to focus on Caleb's head against the inside of his thigh.
"Yeah," he agreed. "But it's better now, right?"
Caleb's hand slid up from the floor, rising up the outside of Darian's ankle. Darian jumped, startled, and Caleb laughed, his thumb working into the muscle of his calf.
"I'm going to get you back for that," Caleb warned, and Darian held his breath as Caleb slowly drew his hand up further, trailing the length of the muscle. "How are the quads?" Caleb asked neutrally, and Darian, speechless, merely nodded.
Caleb turned, resting his hands on Darian's legs and then shifting, pressing his lips to the curve of Darian's thigh. Darian shakily let out a breath, and Caleb's blue eyes met his, expectant.
"We should go to sleep," Darian said hurriedly. "Sprint stage tomorrow." He shoved himself back on the bed, scrambling away. "Goodnight," he said, throwing himself under the duvet and shivering, forcing his eyes shut, until eventually Caleb stood to turn off the light.
"Goodnight," Caleb murmured, extinguishing it.
Lee: "Darian Mulciber is looking focused this morning; he's known for rarely looking up from his bike, of course, but there seems an extra level of intensity to him today! This is, of course, a sprinter stage—lots of points to be had for the green jersey, so Team Slytherin is divided in its goals. Do you agree, Luna?"
Luna: "Are thestrals winged?"
Lee: "No idea! In any case, Theo Nott might require some help from his team, but knowing his aggressive style, most of Team Slytherin will be dedicated to keeping Mulciber on track with the yellow jersey. Meanwhile, Team TMR will be looking to advance Avery's position as much as possible before the mountain stages—OH, AND IT LOOKS LIKE POTTER'S TAKEN OFF! POTTER HAS BROKEN AWAY FROM THE PELOTON WITH NEARLY 30 KILOMETERS TO THE FINISH!"
Luna: "Like a stag in the night!"
Lee: "If Potter takes this all the way—OH AND LOOK, NOTT'S JOINED HIM IN THE BREAKAWAY! He's not going to let Potter take all the glory today!"
"Okay, fuck you," Theo panted, catching up to Harry and flipping him off as they rode, at breakneck pace, along the French country roads. "You could have waited, but no, you had to break off THIRTY KILOMETERS in advance—"
"You're going to tire yourself out," Harry warned him. "You can't keep this pace up this long."
"Like hell I can't!" Theo snarled, unzipping the top of his speedsuit and glaring askance at Harry. "If you can do it, Potter, I'm fucking doing it too."
"You realize this is catastrophically unwise," Harry warned, and Theo glared at him.
"Do you want to do this alone," Theo snapped, "or do you want an actual sprint at the finish?"
Harry paused, tossing his water bottle aside and then leading into the wind, turning over his shoulder.
"Switch in 5k," he yelled.
"Fuck you," Theo returned, which Harry took for agreement.
Once, before everything happened—before everything went too far, before it all got ripped away—there was a flat stage at the beginning of our careers when Caleb and I attacked early in the Tour. Too early, as many people said, too risky for a couple of inexperienced cyclists, and the voices in our radios kept telling us to hang back—that there was no way we were going to take it from the French champion, the favorite. It didn't matter. I felt good and strong and powerful and Caleb was by my side, and so we took the stage and we took the race and we took what was ours, and I loved him then. I didn't know it was love. I didn't know any better. We were young and unaccustomed to winning and still learning to fly, and all we knew was that we could trust each other. He knew the feel of me on his wheel like the back of his hand; I knew that when it was time to claim victory, I would always look for him. Even with the champagne and the attention and the kisses from the girls and the photographs and the thrill of slipping on that yellow jersey for the first time—the unmistakable euphoria of learning that the sweetest of victories took the form of garishly colored spandex—it was Caleb I looked for in the crowd.
I loved him then, I know it.
I just didn't know it at the time.
Lee: "Harry Potter is, of course, a favorite for the day, a notably eccentric rider who thrills audiences with his aggressive finishes. He's far more than a sprinter—the man can certainly climb—but it is a beautiful thing to watch him in action. What do you think, Luna?"
Lee: "Yes, of course, and there's no forgetting about Theo Nott, who's ridden beautifully these past few stages. He seems to have a fire lit under him—"
Luna: "A goblet of fire!"
Lee: "—indeed, and it is remarkable how fast the first week's stages have been with him vying with Potter for the lead in the points competition."
"We're going to have to take him soon," Augustus commented, jutting his chin up to reference where Darian was surrounded by the green jerseys of Team Slytherin. "If he holds onto the yellow going into the Alps, we might be fucked."
"Speak for yourself, Rookwood," Caleb said gruffly, though he knew the other man was right; Darian had always been a better climber. A better bike-handler. He could descend better than Caleb ever could—not to mention that Caleb, having been without a good enough team the past few Tours, was out of practice with the altitude of the Alps.
Still, though, he persisted with the pretense. "We're fine," Caleb muttered, though Augustus remained skeptical. "Just be ready to attack."
"You're going to have to do that soon," Augustus reminded him. "Nott's going to want the sprint win, which means Team Slytherin is split—"
"This isn't my first day, Rookwood!" Caleb spat, and Augustus shrugged.
"Just seems like you're not really here to play," Augustus remarked. "You were Mulciber's domestique, weren't you?" he asked, though he clearly knew the answer. "Seems like you should know his weaknesses better."
"I know his weaknesses just fine," he muttered, staring at the curve of Darian's spine.
Three Years Ago
Darian was lying on his stomach when Caleb came in; the trainer had just been there, probably working on his glutes. Maybe his hip flexors. Darian always had some immobility in his hips; went stiff easily.
Caleb cleared his throat, forcing the thought from his mind.
"Hey," he said, falling beside Darian on the twin bed, nudging him over. "Hungry?"
Darian shook his head.
"I'm good," he muttered, turning to squint up at Caleb. "You're energized," he commented.
"Haven't hit the mountains yet," Caleb said, shrugging. "We're still in my sweet spot. Besides," he added casually, lying down on his side, "what's not to be energized about? It's seven stages in and you've already got the yellow locked down."
"Not yet," Darian muttered. He was sort of superstitious; always worried about jinxing things. Never enjoyed the promise of a good thing until it was firmly in his grasp. "I could still die tomorrow."
"So true," Caleb agreed, and before he could stop himself, he had reached out, tracing circles on the bare skin between Darian's shoulder blades.
He felt Darian inhale sharply.
He waited, but it seemed Darian was holding his breath.
"What are you doing?" Darian asked, his voice muffled into the duvet.
Caleb, rather than answer, shifted on the bed, dragging himself closer to Darian. He waited, but when Darian didn't move, he bent his head, brushing his lips against the top of Darian's spine.
Darian shuddered, but didn't pull away.
Caleb, emboldened, rolled onto his hands and knees, positioning himself over Darian's back and moving without hesitation, placing his knees on either side of Darian's hips. He dragged his lips down carefully, pausing on each notch of Darian's vertebrae and slowly, slowly working his way down until his fingers were digging into Darian's waist, his throat going perilously dry as he kissed the skin of Darian's back.
The hand on Darian's waist slipped under, loosening the towel around his waist, and then Darian seemed to wake from a trance, slapping Caleb's hand away and twisting around, his arm outstretched against Caleb's chest.
"What are you doing?" he asked again, his dark eyes wide and panicked.
"Nothing," Caleb said, brushing a curl from his forehead and praying he looked normal—or at least didn't look as shattered as he felt.
"Don't," Darian muttered uneasily, not looking at him. "I'm not—I can't—"
"Don't die tomorrow," Caleb said quietly. Darian blinked, once, and then nodded.
"Fine," he said, and let his head fall back, closing his eyes with a sigh.
Medium Mountain Stage
Lee: "Well, yesterday's surprise upset—Avery taking the yellow jersey from right beneath Mulciber's nose, attacking with a surprising vigor on a flat stage, of all things—obviously we have a lot to watch here in the early mountain stages. What would you say is the trickiest thing about this climb, Luna?"
Lee: "So true, not to mention a high risk of technicals due to the rain today—always a risk of blowing a tire when weather is a factor! I daresay we have a few soggy cyclists on our hands today, and they do not look happy."
I hate rain.
I hate rain because it invades me. Pounds on my back, stabs at my eyes, soaks through my skinsuit and settles uncomfortably as I slip all over the narrow seat of my bike. Nobody likes rain, but I handle it badly. There's nothing fun about it. I get moody and all of my frustrations—the discomfort of spending hours and hours hunched over the handles of my road bike—seem so much worse when I'm soaked through, shaking, my fingers slipping all over my handlebar tape.
I hate rain because Caleb doesn't mind it. He would always come back from a ride in the rain laughing, whipping those curls around and shaking off like a dog, pawing at my face and taunting me for my surly misery. Cheer up, he'd say, and I wouldn't, because I hate rain, because I hate what it does to me, how it makes me feel.
I hate rain because of Caleb.
Maybe it was coincidence.
That seemed unlikely.
Whatever reason there'd been for it, Caleb's appearance on Darian's right had made him uncomfortable, and there wasn't a convenient escape. There was no reason to attack; not in the rain, not when the peloton would essentially all get the same time, not when there was no tangible victory to be won. Darian wanted to pull away—far away—but he didn't.
"Do you remember?" Caleb asked as Darian removed his glasses, wiping the beads of precipitation from the lids of his eyes.
He fought to suppress a shiver at the memory.
How could he forget?
"Remember what?" Darian lied gruffly, and Caleb said nothing.
He only bent his head, watching the revolution of his front wheel, and licked the falling droplets from his lips.
High Mountain Stage
Lee: "Rain continues today high in the mountains, making for a difficult descent. Mulciber's playing it safe for the most part, hasn't been challenging Avery yet—probably a smart decision, given how much is left of the race and how perilous this particular climb will be. I'm sure Team Slytherin will be gearing up to take the leader's jersey back soon, though, don't you think, Luna?"
Luna: "Cycling is fun, but have you ever seen quidditch?"
Lee: "Is that something Team Slytherin excels in as well?"
Luna: "Oh, Lee. You just never have any idea what you're talking about."
Darian's tired. I can see it in the way he dismounts his bike, the way he grips the seat of it and bends his head, exhausted. He looks frustrated. He looks discouraged. He looks fine in green and silver but I know he looks better in yellow. He knows it, too.
And then, cruelly, I remember that he looks best in nothing at all.
Three Years Ago
"Come on," Caleb groaned, banging on the doors and shivering. "I get that you're the yellow jersey and all, but I'm fucking freezing out here—"
"Fine," Darian said, yanking the door open and shaking his head as Caleb darted in, luxuriating in the heat from Darian's shower. "Fucking rain," he muttered, the towel wrapped around his waist as he slicked his wet hair back, picking up his toothbrush.
"Are you really going to brush your teeth right now?" Caleb asked, shaking his head as Darian slid some toothpaste onto his toothbrush. "I need to shower, you dickhead."
"Then shower," Darian told him, rolling his eyes as he started brushing. Molars first, Caleb knew, and a slow, meticulous process around to his canines. "Not like I haven't seen your dick before."
"Well, then you asked for it," Caleb said, bending to remove his kit. The spandex stuck to his thighs and he struggled, peeling the fabric from his right leg first, and then his left.
When he looked up again, Darian had paused, watching, but the moment Caleb looked up, Darian directed his attention to the ceiling. He continued to brush his teeth, pretending not to have been caught, and then he spat into the sink, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand before looking up, locking eyes with Caleb.
His brow furrowed. "What?"
Caleb took two long strides to close the distance between them, pausing in front of Darian and then taking the toothbrush from his hand, dropping it into the glass beside the hotel sink.
"Don't move," he said, and Darian didn't.
And then Caleb placed his hands lightly on Darian's hips, backing him against the bathroom wall. Darian's eyes widened, startled, but Caleb didn't give him time to think; he raised one hand to Darian's face and kissed him. Not too forceful; not too soft. Enough for Darian to know it wasn't a mistake. Enough for Darian to know what he wanted.
Caleb knew his hands were cold on Darian's heated skin and he felt the thrill of temperature clashing and fear and curiosity as it coursed through him, radiating between them both. Caleb slid his tongue between Darian's lips, licking the taste of spearmint toothpaste from them, and Darian's tightly clenched jaw finally parted, his hands falling to Caleb's chest.
Then Caleb made a mistake. He slid his hand down from Darian's hip, nudging the towel to the floor, and then there was nothing between them.
"We can't," Darian said, shoving Caleb away without warning. "Stop."
Caleb took a step back, dizzied.
"Okay," he said, and then, like he were in some kind of horrific dream, he got in the shower, turning the heat all the way up and scrubbing himself raw.
Lee: "Well, it looks like this stage is going to come down to the sprint between Theo Nott from Team Slytherin and Viktor Krum from Team Durmstrang—Krum, of course, being himself quite a threat, although quite heavy for a sprinter, and so often dropped during the mountain stages; but with about 200 meters to go I would say that they both have a chance of—OH, OH MY WORD, POTTER HAS TAKEN OFF!"
Luna: "Harry Potter!"
Lee: "Harry Potter of Phoenix-Hogwarts has taken off and with only meters to go he is edging out both Krum and Nott—Nott is furious, look at his face, he's pushing as hard as he can but he's worked too hard against Krum—he's got nothing left, and it looks like—POTTER HAS IT! LOOK AT THAT PHOTO FINISH! POTTER TAKES THE STAGE!"
"You fucking did that on purpose!" Theo growled, chasing after Harry as he stepped down from the podium, tossing the pointless bouquet aside and rubbing at the back of his neck with a towel. "I'm talking to you, motherfucker—"
"Are you accusing me of biding my time to let you and Krum tire each other out?" Harry asked, not turning around. "Because if so, then no. I didn't do it on purpose," he suggested drily, "it just worked out."
"God, you're annoying," Theo snapped, reaching him and giving him a shove. "You're not going to keep the green jersey, you know. I'm coming for you, Potter."
"So you keep saying," Harry reminded him. "Let me know how that works out for you, Nott."
"Krum's not a threat," Theo said brusquely, brandishing a finger in Harry's face. "I'm a threat."
"I know," Harry replied, giving him a sparing once-over. "Just not much of one yet," he said with a shrug, turning to walk away.
Theo gaped after him, speechless, and then let out an incoherent growl.
"Fuck you!" he shouted, after a ridiculous delay.
Harry turned, blowing an irreverent kiss over his shoulder and climbing onto his team's bus.
Maybe it's small of me, but every particle of my being is opposed to seeing Caleb in my jersey. No—it's not my jersey, actually, because when I wear yellow, I wear it in the name of Team Slytherin. That's my team. That was our team. Once upon a time we won and lost for the same name, the same team, the same colors. Now Caleb's got TMR emblazoned on the yellow jersey that I should be wearing, and everything is wrong. Everything is wrong, and I feel sick.
Maybe it's small of me, but seeing Caleb again is making me sick.
Lee: "Team Slytherin has done an excellent job so far of placing themselves at the front of the peloton while Team TMR seems to be protecting their yellow jersey rider, Caleb Avery. How do you think Avery is feeling right now, Luna?"
Lee: "Yes, so true, hungry for the win, I'm sure, which would be a first for both Avery and his team, Team TMR. We spoke to owner Tom Riddle this morning and he seems quite certain his team is going to manage a win; says he's not even worried about Team Slytherin! What do you think about that, Luna?"
Luna: "I hope he's got lots of horcruxes!"
Lee: "Which are?"
Luna: "A means to cheat death!"
Lee: "Well, cheat death when you can, but never cheat in cycling, as I always say! In any case, it has been a pleasure to watch Team TMR, and best of luck to them as they continue to vie against a very, very competitive field."
"There's a split ahead," Tom said in Caleb's ear, speaking into the team radio. "Take whichever line Mulciber takes."
"You're assuming nobody decides to attack from Team Slytherin," Caleb muttered back, and he heard Tom scoff.
"I'm not assuming," Tom said. "They're playing it safe right now. They're not going to chance attacking and even if they do, it'll be Mulciber who does it, so stay in Mulciber's lane."
"Could be Rowle," Caleb said, glancing at him. "Looks hungry for a stage win."
"No," Tom said, his voice clipped. "Their resources are split between Mulciber and Nott and they already lost a domestique in the peloton crash yesterday. Just stay with him," he snapped venomously. "Is that too difficult, Avery?"
Caleb's mouth tightened.
"Well?" Tom drawled.
"Fine," Caleb said tartly. "I'll stay with Mulciber."
I can't be this close to him.
This isn't a distance I'm accustomed to. I used to be his teammate. We were inseparable. We stayed in the same hotel rooms, worked with the same trainers, stayed on the same schedule and used the same training plans. I'm used to being attached to his hip—or else miles away, years apart, keeping my distance.
Darian does this thing when he rides; he takes a moment to center himself. Like meditation, almost. It's like there's magic in the burning of his muscles and he takes a second to feel it, to savor it, to luxuriate in the pain and turn it into something better. Something bigger. I don't feel like a winner when I'm near him; I feel like a fraud. An imposter. I feel pain and it's just pain, and that's that. Darian feels pain and turns it into power.
He bends his head, doing that centering thing, and I can't be this close to him.
I watch the line of his neck and remember how it feels under my tongue.
I can't be this close to him.
High Mountain Stage
Lee: "And here we are, just getting into the mountain stages! This is of course brutal, especially for our sprinters, who just have to hang on through the difficult climbs. But, of course, this is bound to be interesting for our yellow jersey contenders; Avery still in the lead, with Team Slytherin's Darian Mulciber only seconds behind. In a mountain stage like this one, that could mean one strong attack, or Avery could just as easily lose it with a poor choice, or worse, a technical mistake in the mountains."
Luna: "Or even worse, a basilisk!"
Lee: "Basilisks, flat tires. Equally nightmarish!"
"Hey," Harry said, sidling up to Theo, who scowled.
"What are you doing?" Theo demanded. "I don't want to talk to you."
"Fine," Harry said, and moved to speed up before Theo shot a hand out, growling, as he yanked him back by the pocket of his skinsuit.
"Stop," Theo muttered. "Just—don't say anything."
"Nice weather," Harry commented. Theo groaned.
"I said don't say anyth- "
"I hate climbs," Harry interrupted, shaking his head. "I hate being inhumanly fast one day and then being relegated to the back of the pack another. I know I'm supposed to call this a rest, or something," he said, as Theo rolled his eyes, slaving away up the climb, "but I hate it."
"I hate you," Theo reminded him.
"Yeah," Harry said, glancing at him. "Right, well. I hate climbs, snakes, and you."
"Snakes?" Theo asked, gesturing to the one on his jersey. "Seriously?"
"No legs," he explained. "Can't bike. Stupid choice," he added, "for a bike team."
"Phoenixes can't fucking bike," Theo reminded him.
Harry shrugged again.
"Nice weather," he commented.
Theo reached up, wiping sweat as it trickled into his eyes.
"Yeah," he conceded. "Yeah. It is."
High Mountain Stage
Lee: "It's another day in the mountains, and judging by the motion within Team Slytherin's formation, it looks like they're getting ready for an attack, and—OH, THERE THEY GO! Rowle and Mulciber take the lead on the attack, pushing past Avery, and will he be able to follow?"
Luna: "And will there by any Snorkack sightings?"
Lee: "Impossible to say, and equally impossible is the chance that Avery will catch Mulciber! Team Slytherin positioned themselves perfectly to block Team TMR into the peloton, and it looks like Rowle and Mulciber will take the breakaway to the finish! Darian Mulciber is going to take the yellow jersey back from Caleb Avery, and from the looks of it, there's not a thing Team TMR can do to stop him!"
I knew this would happen. Caleb can never focus in the mountains. The climbs are strenuous and he needs someone to keep him on track. To make him keep pushing. I've seen him talk to Rookwood and I know they're both bored; they're not paying attention. Caleb's discipline has always been lacking, and he won't catch me on a climb. Certainly won't catch me on a descent.
I knew this would happen. Mountain stages are Caleb's weakness.
Mountain stages, and me.
Three Years Ago
Darian turned off the shower, listening, but he heard no sign of Caleb's entry. Instead he stood for a while, letting the drops slide down the contours of his shoulders and arms and torso, and thought about Caleb's kiss. It had come out of nowhere.
It had come out of nowhere—hadn't it?
Sure, there had been the touches—the kisses on his backs and legs, if you wanted to call them that, though Darian decidedly didn't—but those were easy to laugh off. To ignore. They spent all day on the bike; they lost their minds off of them, it seemed.
The kiss, though. That was different. Caleb's tongue in his mouth was different, and—
Darian shut his eyes.
He heard the hotel room door open, then, and knew Caleb was in the room. On the other side of the bathroom door. Probably taking off his skinsuit, peeling it off slowly, reaching for the knot on his shoulder. Probably closing his eyes while he massaged it, basking in the pain.
Then Darian pictured Caleb falling onto his bed, laying on his back. Pictured him bare on the duvet, limbs spread out, worn out and exhausted from the day's impossible climb. Pictured his curls splayed across the white pillow case. Pictured the way his tongue slid across his lips.
Darian lowered his hand, sliding it against his abdomen and down to his throbbing cock.
He'd wanted to come quickly, to get it over with—to never admit to anyone what he'd been doing and pretending he could forget he'd ever done it—but that wasn't to be.
"Darian?" Caleb asked, and opened the door, catching sight of Darian with his hand on his dick in the reflection of the bathroom mirror.
Darian shut his eyes again, feeling his cheeks burn, and listened to the sound of Caleb's footsteps.
Listened, intently, as Caleb stepped into the hotel shower.
"Let me help you with that," Caleb suggested, and backed Darian against the shower wall, the corners of his mouth quirking up as Darian let out a startled hiss, his bare shoulders hitting the cold surface.
Caleb shoved Darian's hand away, replacing it with his, and began to stroke him, steadily, without any hesitation or gentleness, his own cock bare and hard and pressed against Darian's hip. It was quiet except for the sound of their breathing—panting harder than they had up the fucking Alps—and then Caleb dropped to his knees, sliding his lips along Darian's cock.
"Fuck," Darian hissed, tightening his fingers in Caleb's curls. Caleb sucked hard, from base to tip, and Darian shuddered.
"Stop?" Caleb asked, flicking his tongue over Darian's tip.
"Keep going," he gritted out, and Caleb's lips tilted up in a smile.
Medium Mountain Stage
Lee: "Well, some slightly lower stages here, Luna, but still a series of difficult days ahead for our riders after fourteen stages of some of the toughest rides in Europe. What do you think will be the key here, physical fitness? Mental stamina?"
Luna: "Wit and wisdom!"
Lee: "Ah yes, certainly strategy will be key over the course of these stages, as surely Caleb Avery and Team TMR will be doing everything they can to regain possession of the yellow jersey from Darian Mulciber and Team Slytherin!"
Three Years Ago
"Fuck," Darian said, shoving Caleb into the hotel room after two failed tries with the key card and wrestling him back onto the bed. "I thought we'd never get out of there."
"Slow down," Caleb admonished him, grabbing Darian by the collar of his t-shirt and rolling over him, straddling him on the bed before unzipping his own hoodie and clumsily tossing it aside. "It's not like we don't have all night."
"We don't have all night," Darian reminded him, muttering it into his mouth as Caleb leaned forward, catching the words on his tongue. "We need to fucking sleep, Caleb, this is still the goddamn Tour—"
"You've had the yellow jersey," Caleb began, pausing to kiss Darian again, "for fourteen fucking stages. I don't really think you're in danger of losing it."
"Still," Darian insisted, rolling over him and brusquely shoving Caleb's arms above his head. "As much as I enjoy seeing you like this," he murmured, his gaze raking indulgently over Caleb's face, "I'm still here to win a race. We," he corrected, kissing Caleb's neck, "are still here to win a race."
Caleb sighed, letting his head fall to the side.
"Fine," he said, not sure why he found himself so disappointed. "Maybe we should just go to sleep, then."
Darian grimaced, noting Caleb's sudden turn, but he withdrew without comment, shifting onto his side before falling back beside Caleb on the bed.
"We should," he muttered, closing his eyes. "Whatever this is," he exhaled heavily, "it's not—we can't—"
He trailed off, and Caleb felt something weigh heavily in his chest.
He turned onto his side, taking Darian's face in his hand and tilting it towards him.
"You look tired," Caleb said quietly, running his thumb along Darian's jaw.
Darian's mouth twitched.
"You wear me out," he whispered, kissing the palm of Caleb's hand.
"Mulciber looks tired," Augustus noted, gesturing to him.
Caleb's breath caught in his throat.
You wear me out, he heard, but forced himself to say nothing, focusing instead on the burdensome purgatory of the climb.
Medium Mountain Stage
Lee: "Well, after a bit of an unsuccessful attack by Team TMR, Caleb Avery and Augustus Rookwood have been drawn back into the peloton, which means that Darian Mulciber and Team Slytherin hold onto their victory for another day as the King of the Mountain competition continues. It's looking like the ever-reliable Team Slytherin will be able to hold onto the yellow, barring any terrible misfortunes!"
Luna: "Hopefully no premature deaths!"
Lee: "Agreed wholeheartedly, Luna, well said!"
Caleb's not happy.
Of course, I suppose I wouldn't be either if I'd just wasted the effort of a climbing attack for nothing, but it looks worse than that. Bigger, I think, than that. I guess I don't have a right to claim I know him anymore, but I don't recognize this version of him. It seems drawn and worn out and pushed to the brink, and I know it's not the riding. Sure, the mountain stages are difficult, but I've seen Caleb lose before. I've seen him pushed to his breaking point. I've seen him crash. I've seen him bloodied and battered and yet still laughing, still glinting gold, but now, for some reason, he seems tarnished. He's got an undisputed second place in the most competitive cycling event in the world, and he looks miserable. Rookwood's a shitty domestique; his rhythm's all off, he pulls like a lumbering plough horse, and by the way Caleb looks at him, I don't think Caleb trusts him.
Caleb's not happy.
And I'm not either, as it turns out.
"Hey," Darian said, climbing down from the podium. Caleb looked up, surprised.
"Hey," he said, his brow furrowing. "Everything okay?"
"I could ask you the same thing," Darian said, pointedly arching a brow, and Caleb's mouth twisted unhappily.
"Don't do this," he warned, shaking his head. "This," he said, gesturing between them. "Whatever this is. Don't do it."
Darian rolled his eyes. "Care, you mean?"
"Pretend you care," Caleb corrected, running a hand through his hair. "You've got your fucking yellow jersey, anyway. For now," he added brusquely, but Darian brushed past the taunt, reaching for Caleb's arm.
"We were friends once," Darian reminded him, holding tight. "I'm allowed to ask if you're okay."
For a moment, Caleb stared at him, disbelieving; then he yanked his arm away, turning to leave, and paused.
"We were never fucking friends, Darian," Caleb forced out, hurling the words over his shoulder. "I was your domestique, and then we were—" he trailed off, looking pained. "We were never friends," he repeated flatly, and then he walked away, not bothering to look over his shoulder.
Medium Mountain Stage
Lee: "Some inclement weather today, unfortunately, so we're missing those beautiful mountain views—but as ever, the race to Paris continues! Mulciber has gradually increased his yellow jersey lead with the help of his excellent team, which is filled with high caliber domestiques—Thorfinn Rowle in particular, who seems to be Mulciber's lead-out of choice."
Luna: "He's so very shiny!"
Lee: "He is shiny, and quite a gem on Team Slytherin. Darian Mulciber is a gifted cyclist on his own, certainly, but seeing as there's nobody on Team TMR to rival Rowle's skills as a super-domestique, I daresay Caleb Avery has his hands full if he wants to reclaim his yellow jersey!"
"I want Rowle taken out," Tom said into the radio, and Caleb looked up, locking eyes with Augustus at his side and fighting an audible reaction.
"What do you mean?" Augustus asked carefully, and Tom made an impatient scoffing sound.
"Force an error," Tom said listlessly, as if such a thing were so easily done. "Weather's bad," he added. "Could easily blow a tire."
"This is a descent," Caleb snapped emphatically. "A technical could cause a crash—could hurt a lot of riders," he added, but he could hear Tom's dispassionate shrug.
"This is the fucking Tour de France, Avery," Tom reminded him. "I don't pay you to look pretty. I pay you to win, and I think there's a better chance of that if we remove Rowle from the equation. Or Mulciber himself," he added thoughtfully.
Beside Caleb, Augustus shrugged. "He's not wrong," he muttered, and Caleb scowled.
"You can't just take out a rider, Tom—especially not the yellow jersey rider," Caleb growled into his radio. "There are cameras, and a fuck-ton of other people who would notice—"
"Better be subtle, then," Tom commented. "And pick things up, would you? I'm tired of seeing Dippet's logo," he said, yawning. "Looks shit in yellow."
Three Years Ago
"Wait," Caleb gasped, his fingers tight against the back of Darian's neck. "If you don't want to do this—if this isn't—"
"I want this," Darian said gruffly, and turned him, slamming Caleb's chest against the wall and then, in an incongruous moment of affection, sliding his lips along the side of Caleb's throat. "I want this. I want you," he added hungrily, and Caleb leaned back against his chest, barely managing to stand.
"Darian," he ground out, shaking, and Darian paused, his hands on Caleb's hips.
"Do you want me to stop?" he asked, his voice uncharacteristically gentle, and Caleb shook his head, turning to face him.
"I want you to fuck me," Caleb confessed. "But—" he swallowed. "I can't get back on that bike tomorrow and keep doing this shit if you're going to wake up and tell me it was a mistake."
Darian blinked, swiping his tongue over his swollen lips.
"This isn't a mistake," he said hoarsely. "Caleb, you're not a fucking mistake—"
"Prove it, then," Caleb said, digging his fingers into Darian's chest, and Darian nodded, reaching forward to snatch a kiss from Caleb's parted lips.
High Mountain Stage
Lee: "Things are picking up on the descent today as the peloton is preceded by the breakaway, including Mulciber and Rowle from Team Slytherin as well as Rookwood, Avery, and Dolohov from Team TMR, and then of course the rest of the field as we get down to—OH! LUNA, DID YOU SEE THAT? A TERRIBLE CRASH! SOMEONE'S DOWN! WHO IS IT?"
Luna: "A cyclist!"
Lee: "MY GOD, ROWLE IS DOWN! HE'S DOWN AND HE'S NOT GETTING UP! Mulciber is of course being pressured to continue but Thorfinn Rowle is down and he's bleeding, ladies and gentlemen—this is not a sport for the faint of heart, I'll tell you that! Thorfinn Rowle looks unable to stand and the crash has backed up the remainder of the peloton—oh my word, what an utter mess—"
Luna: "Quick, somebody summon a house elf!"
"You fucking dickhead," Darian shouted, tearing off his helmet and shoving Caleb in the chest. "You fucker, you forced a mechanical—you should be fucking disqualified for that—"
"I didn't do anything," Caleb said coldly, his blue eyes abnormally hard. "If Rowle's tire blew, that's not my fault. This is cycling, Mulciber, sometimes shit happens—"
"SHIT LIKE THIS DOESN'T JUST HAPPEN," Darian roared, grabbing Caleb by the parted collar of his skinsuit and shoving him back against one of the media trailers. "I don't know what kind of fucking revenge plot you had in mind for this race, Caleb, but Rowle could have been killed—I could have been killed—"
"I know that," Caleb spat. "I told you. This wasn't my doing."
Darian stared at him, breathless, and curled his hands into fists, beating them against Caleb's chest.
"How could you do this," he rasped, shaking his head. "How?"
Caleb didn't blink.
"It was him or you, Darian," he said, his voice barely audible.
Darian released him, taking several horrified steps back.
"What?" Darian said, feeling his face go pale. "What does that—"
"Darian," Caleb sighed, reaching for him, but Darian shoved his hand away, shaking his head.
"Who are you?" he demanded, and Caleb's face contorted, pained.
"Darian, please," Caleb said, "just—"
But he must have known by the look on Darian's face that the words, whatever they were going to be, weren't worth saying.
For a moment they stared at each other, breathing hard, and then Darian finally raked a hand through his hair, his face hardening in anger.
"You should have just let it be me," Darian snarled, snatching his helmet from the ground and storming away.
Three Years Ago
He came with Caleb's name on his tongue; saw the blue of his eyes, even behind closed lids. Collapsed against him and let out a breath, nothing but skin and sweat between them.
Caleb's hand rose, stroking the hair at the base of his skull.
"What the fuck are we doing?" Darian asked, the words seeping into the crook of Caleb's neck.
"Well," Caleb said, closing his eyes. "We certainly aren't biking."
High Mountain Stage
Lee: "Well, Luna, it looks like this year's Tour has taken an interesting turn now that Thorfinn Rowle is out with a fractured Talus and a broken kneecap. It's almost as though you can feel the loss of energy from Team Slytherin, and this climb has been a slog indeed, leaving Mulciber vulnerable now not only to Avery and Team TMR but also Karkaroff on Team Durmstrang, who's held onto a pretty steady third place through the mountain stages. Any thoughts on what Darian Mulciber can count on accomplishing without his preferred domestique?"
Luna: "Search for the Hallows!"
Lee: "Yes, the options are numerous, but for now it seems his best bet is just to keep his head down—as he always does—and try to keep from being distracted. Rumor has it that Team TMR is in some way responsible for Rowle's crash in the mountains yesterday, but Team Slytherin—and specifically Darian Mulciber—have declined to push for any formal investigation by the UCI. Care to comment, Luna?"
Luna: "They're in love!"
Lee: "Ah, Luna. You always keep things light."
He could have said something. He could have questioned whether it was appropriate—whether it was safe—for Rookwood to have pressured Rowle like that; to attack when the ground was wet and the road was narrow and the descent was steep. He could have demanded judgment on high, and it would have been well within his rights to do it.
He could have said something. He could have blamed me. He could have blamed me personally and he would have been at least partially right. He's the one in yellow; that's a hallowed position. He could have had me yanked from this race on suspicion alone.
He could have said something, but he didn't.
Three Years Ago
"Do you think we'll get tired of it?" Darian asked, his chin resting in the dip of Caleb's shoulder.
"What, sex?" Caleb prompted. "Evidence proves that unlikely."
"No," Darian said, shaking his head with his dry chuckle of a laugh. "Cycling. You know," he added, gesturing around them. "The hotels. The traveling. The exhaustion."
"The muscle stiffness," Caleb muttered, and nudged Darian's chest. "Your chin is in my shoulder knot."
"Good," Darian said, and dug it in, laughing again as Caleb growled in pain. "I'm fixing it."
"I guess the question is will you ever get tired of winning," Caleb corrected, shoving him away. "I don't think I'll ever stop wanting to ride, but, you know." He shrugged. "The monotony of racing is—"
"Monotonous?" Darian guessed, and Caleb grimaced.
"I don't get the glory, you know," he reminded Darian. "I get all the work but none of the teddy bears and champagne."
Darian hesitated at that, pausing, and Caleb shifted.
"Not that I'm jealous of you," Caleb assured him quickly. "I love riding with you. For you," he amended.
Something twitched at Darian's mouth.
"You love it?" he asked, and Caleb blinked.
"I love—" he began, and faltered. "It," he pronounced, clearing his throat. "Yes. I love it."
Darian rolled onto his back, closing his eyes.
"Right," he exhaled, and Caleb watched his chest rise and fall; watched his heart thud beneath his ribs.
"I won't get tired of it," Caleb promised, but by the time he said the words—by the time they fell asleep, shoulders touching—he realized that wasn't at all what Darian had asked.
Lee: "We're finally out of the mountains, which means another stage for our sprinters! Harry Potter of Phoenix-Hogwarts and Theo Nott of Team Slytherin are neck-and-neck for the green jersey with it currently in Potter's hands, but one good sprint from Nott could take it, doubling the win for Team Slytherin!"
Luna: "House Cup Champions!"
Lee: "Of course, that's assuming that Mulciber doesn't continue to fall behind—Avery and Team TMR are relentlessly attacking, taking advantage of Rowle's absence, and the gap from first to second is shrinking dangerously. Only a matter of seconds now!"
Luna: "Where's a time-turner when you need one?!"
Lee: "Oh, Mulciber looks to be falling behind! He'll need to join the final sprint to keep his lead on Avery!"
"I'm going to lose my lead," Darian panted, struggling to keep in the breakaway as he glanced over at Theo, who'd been gearing up for the final sprint. "I'll have to win the time trial tomorrow but—but I don't know," he muttered under his breath, his chin dropping. "I don't know if I can do that, or—"
Theo grimaced, glancing over his shoulder at Harry, and sighed.
"I'll do it," Theo said, and Darian blinked dazedly, glancing at him with confusion. "I'll be your lead-out," he clarified. "Just keep on my wheel until you can break off for the final sprint. If you finish with the sprinters, then—"
"No," Darian ground out, shaking his head. "No—you'll lose the sprint if you do that, Nott, and you'll lose the points. I'm not going to let you lose your shot at the green jersey—"
"Well, fuck you if you haven't noticed you're in goddamn yellow," Theo reminded him, jutting his chin out to reference Darian's jersey. "That's sort of more fucking important than the points competition. And you're the team leader," he added, "and I'm rested from the mountain stages, so if you can stay on my wheel, I can keep you in the lead."
It took a moment, the gears in Darian's head turning slower than the ones on his front wheel.
"Are you sure?" Darian asked, blinking in disbelief. "That's—Nott, that's—"
"Selfless?" Theo prompted. "Heroic? I know," he sighed dramatically, and punched on his pedals, speeding up. "Get on my wheel," he yelled, glancing over his shoulder, and Darian nodded gratefully, accepting his teammate's lead.
"Well," Harry said, crossing his arms over his chest. "I thought I would see you at the sprint finish, but—"
"Mulciber needed a lead-out," Theo supplied, not looking at him. "And I really don't need you to rub it in, thanks," he added, pointedly flicking Harry's green jersey.
Harry cleared his throat carefully, delicately opting not to comment on Theo's admirable moral fortitude.
"Well," he said, changing the subject. "I was hoping for, you know. A showdown."
Theo arched a brow. "A showdown?" he echoed, skeptical.
"Yeah," Harry said, shrugging. "I mean, like I said. You're my only real threat, so—"
"Well," Theo cut in, turning the words over on his tongue. "There's always the sprint in Paris."
"True," Harry agreed. "I mean, the green jersey's locked in, it's definitely mine—"
"But the final stage is the sprinter's wet dream," Theo reminded him briskly. "So," he pronounced conclusively. "If I win in Paris, that's kind of the only thing that matters."
"That's literally false," Harry informed him, shaking his head, "but sure, I guess." He shrugged. "I could do that."
"Paris, then," Theo said, extending a hand. "Race you there?"
Harry looked down, eyeing the proffered palm, and took it, his thumb brushing carefully over Theo's knuckles.
"Race you there," he agreed, as Theo's gaze fell to his lips.
Individual Time Trial
Lee: "And we're back to the time trials! After so many outstanding stages—and so many ups and downs, too!—we're finally rounding out this year's Tour de France. It looks like Darian Mulciber and Team Slytherin will take the yellow jersey this year, as Mulciber managed to edge out a win over Avery yesterday and held onto his lead with a lead in today's time trials to finish with his sixth Tour de France title. I can't say it's much of a surprise, but Team TMR certainly gave Team Slytherin a run for their money, wouldn't you say?"
Luna: "I don't trust Tom Riddle."
Lee: "Well, that's fun. In any case, I wonder what's in store for the dynamic between Avery and Mulciber. There's been no indication of any love lost between them despite both performing brilliantly throughout the Tour, but still—can't help wondering what it's been like for those two after so much time apart. What do you think happened, Luna?"
Luna: "I think they fell in love, but were too stubborn to admit their feelings!"
Lee: "I was thinking something more like the issues Team Slytherin had re-signing Avery to the team when his contract ended, or perhaps the financial gain and the promise of being the lead when he was recruited by Tom Riddle, but—"
Luna: "Nope, it's the love thing!"
Lee: "Well, there you have it, then. Love. What a fickle mistress!"
Three Years Ago
"Can't believe the Tour's over tomorrow," Caleb murmured, resting his chin on Darian's chest. "Seems like hell every year, but it goes by so fucking fast."
"Hell will be back for us soon enough," Darian reminded him, chuckling. "The Vuelta's in less than a month."
"God," Caleb groaned. "Why do we do this again?"
Darian laughed, the motion of it vibrating against Caleb's mouth.
"The perks," he said slyly, and yanked Caleb up, rolling over him in the too-small twin bed.
"Hey," Caleb said, his hands on Darian's hips as the other man bent, kissing his neck. "What are we going to do when the Tour ends?"
"Eat pizza," Darian said, shrugging, before shifting lower, trailing kisses down Caleb's torso. "Fuck again in the mornings."
"Okay, but—" Caleb sat up with difficulty, nudging Darian away. "What do we do about, you know," he said, gesturing between them. "This?"
Darian's brow furrowed.
"I told you," he said. "We can fuck in the morning. And later at night," he added thoughtfully, but Caleb shook his head, frustrated.
"You realize eventually people will figure this out," Caleb told him. "The team. Dippet. The media," he said emphatically. "Your sponsors could pull out, Darian—"
"Unlike me," he said with a grin, and Caleb groaned.
"Come on, Darian, be serious—"
"Who says they have to find out?" Darian prompted. "I mean, is this even serious?" he added, looking away. "I don't see why we have to talk about this."
"I just—" Caleb hesitated. "I know there could be repercussions, and—"
"Repercussions," Darian repeated, and Caleb could see instantly he'd made a mistake; Darian withdrew, retreating to the opposite end of the bed. "Like what?"
"Like I said," Caleb said hurriedly. "You don't know how the owners will react, or your sponsors, Darian, and—"
"Is it really me you're worried about, Caleb?" Darian cut in harshly, and Caleb gaped at him.
"Of course it's—"
"Dippet told me your contract is up after the Tour," Darian said, his tone worryingly indifferent. "Told me that other owners are vying for you to be their lead. Is this about you not wanting to be a domestique anymore?" he asked, and Caleb stared, disbelieving. "Because I get it. I get that you never intended to play second fiddle to me your entire career, Caleb, but if this is what this is about, just tell me—"
"It was one meeting," Caleb cut in, frustrated. "One fucking meeting, Darian, and I just wanted to hear him out, so—"
"A meeting," Darian echoed, and Caleb kicked himself again. "I didn't know you actually entertained the thought."
A blanket of ominous silence fell over them.
"I get it," Darian said, swallowing. "If you're with me, your avenues close. Lower salary, no sponsors, no prize money. Without me—"
"No," Caleb said, shaking his head. "Darian, no, that's not—I wasn't—"
"It's just sex, Caleb," Darian told him, launching to his feet and reaching for his underwear. "We're just fucking, and you have to do what's right for your career."
"Darian," Caleb said, panicked. "This isn't what I want, I swear—"
"Tell me right now," Darian said, rounding on him. "Tell me right now you wouldn't take a better contract if you were offered one. A different team," he accused, swallowing heavily. "A better paycheck. A chance to be the lead. Tell me right now you'd turn it down to stay with me," he demanded, and Caleb stared, frozen.
"I—" he began, and faltered. "Darian, that doesn't mean—"
"That's all I needed to know," Darian said coldly.
Three years ago I made a mistake. I didn't tell you how I felt. I let you walk away.
Three years ago you fucked this up. You let me believe a lie. You pushed me out the door.
Three years ago we let this die. We were too proud to fight for it. We were too selfish to try.
But now it's three years later, and you look so exhausted, and so proud and so brilliant and so relieved, standing alone on that podium, and all I want to do is hold you. Press my lips to all your little knots and tangles. I should have been at your side, and you at mine. For me, the Tour is nothing without you. Cycling is nothing without you. I have been, done, felt nothing without you—but now it's three years later, and I feel everything all at once.
And now, of course, too late, I am helpless to the truth: that I have loved you, Darian Mulciber, for every day we've been apart.
"What do you mean you quit?" Tom demanded, staring down Caleb. "You can't quit. I signed you for five years."
"Well, sue me, then," Caleb retorted carelessly. "If you don't let me walk away after the final stage tomorrow, then I'll just tell the UCI that you coerced me into recklessly endangering the lives of multiple cyclists." He shrugged. "We'll see how it goes from there."
"That will only hurt you," Tom informed him bluntly, his eyes narrowing. "The UCI needs my money more than it needs your license."
"Fine—I don't care," Caleb said, shaking his head, and despite the costs, he found he really didn't. "When I took this deal, I had no idea what you were going to ask me to do. What you were going to force me to do," he added, his mouth tightening. "If I'd known, I would never have agreed to race for you."
At that, Tom rose to his feet, furious. "When I came to you with an offer, you told me you wanted to win," Tom hissed. "You told me you could win—"
"And I can," Caleb agreed, "but not like this. Not the way you want me to. Say we parted amicably if you want," he permitted, shrugging. "Say you fired me. I don't care. You seem a capable liar," he added, not bothering to conceal his distaste. "I trust you to craft a lie that suits you, whatever lie it is."
Abruptly, Tom's features went cold.
"I can ruin you," Tom warned. "This will be the end of your career, Avery."
Caleb's chest constricted at the thought, but he'd always known there would be a sacrifice.
"Fine," he said, and turned, walking away.
"AVERY!" Tom shouted. "DON'T YOU TURN YOUR FUCKING BACK ON ME!"
Caleb paused, pondering how to tell a narcissistic billionaire that nothing he offered held any real value, and let Tom rant at his back.
"I picked you up when you had nothing," Tom continued, incensed. "I made you a leader when no other team would! When Dippet let you out of your contract, who did you come to, Avery?" He let out a growl. "YOU FUCKING CAME TO ME!"
Finding nothing worth saying, Caleb opted instead to keep walking.
Lee: "And now, of course, the final stage of the Tour: the epic sprint to Paris around the Champs-Élysées! The winner has been decided, as we know—Darian Mulciber of Team Slytherin has won his sixth yellow jersey in the Tour de France, followed by Caleb Avery of Team TMR and Igor Karkaroff of Team Durmstrang. And the green jersey of the points competition will be awarded to Harry Potter of Phoenix-Hogwarts, but not before we get to watch one final sprint as they take the end of the Tour to Paris!"
Lee: "Bless you! And now here they come, the sprinters! Harry Potter, of course, and Theo Nott of Team Slytherin are neck and neck—oh, they're certainly going for it! This is an all out battle, ladies and gentlemen, as the two best sprinters in the race are headed for the finish! Luna, does it get any better than this?"
Luna: "Vive le Tour!"
Lee: "I couldn't have said it better myself! Vive le Tour, indeed!"
"If I win this," Theo grunted, bent furiously over his handlebars, "pretty sure you have to blow me."
"How about dinner," Harry panted, muscling full-bodied towards the finish. "On me."
"On you?" Theo echoed. "Is that supposed to be a euphemism?"
"If you want to fuck me so badly, Nott, just say so," Harry muttered, giving it one last push.
But Theo, who saw the opening for a win, merely took off, laughing as he crossed the finish line and sat up in the saddle, throwing both arms in the air victoriously. He paused, slowing past the line, and then turned to acknowledge Harry, giving him a wink.
"Hey Potter," he said, and raised his hands, cupping them around his mouth. "I want to fuck you," he mouthed.
Harry sighed, shaking his head. "Fine," he mouthed back, and Theo grinned.
Darian took a seat, contemplating his words before finally glancing up at the flashing cameras, giving them a tentative smile.
"There's no easy way to say this," he began. "You've all come to mean so much to me throughout my career, and I'm honored more than I can say to have won this jersey today. After a lot of thought on the matter, I have decided to announce my retirement from the sport of professional cycling," he said, pausing to accommodate the murmur of discontent from the crowd, "effective immediately. I know there has been some speculation as to whether I would race in the Vuelta this year, but I think the time has come for me and this sport to part ways. There's so many young guys out there who have talent, and drive, and passion, and I leave it in their hands."
He paused, waiting, and someone in the crowd stood up.
"Darian, this is Lee Jordan with NBC Sports," said Lee, "and I just wanted to ask you: does this decision have anything to do with Caleb Avery choosing to part ways with Team TMR at the conclusion of the Tour?"
"Wait," Darian said, frowning. "What?"
"Caleb Avery is currently without a contract," Lee Jordan clarified. "Being that he was once your super-domestique, will you be recommending him to take your place as the leader of Team Slytherin?"
"I—" Darian paused, glancing around. "Sorry," he said, disentangling himself from his microphone, "hold on—I have to—"
"Aww, OTP!" said a dreamy, feminine voice from the crowd, and Darian sprinted away, searching for Caleb in the midst of the media circus.
"Avery!" he shouted, looking for the TMR jerseys. "Caleb!"
"What?" Caleb said, barrelling into him from around the corner. "Oh," he said, registering Darian's presence, and paused. "Yes?" he prompted, and Darian frowned, realizing he didn't know exactly what he wanted to say.
"You left Tom Riddle's team," Darian said slowly.
"Yes," Caleb agreed, "and you retired from cycling."
"How did you know that?" Darian asked hazily, and Caleb held up his phone.
"Team Stream," he said, gesturing to the app notification on the screen. Darian frowned.
"You have notifications set for me?" he asked. Caleb shrugged.
"Yeah," he said.
"Still?" Darian asked, blinking.
Caleb shrugged again.
"Yeah," he repeated, and Darian shoved him back against a media trailer, holding him by the collar and then stretching his fingers out, settling his palms against Caleb's chest.
"Why'd you quit?" Darian asked, as Caleb seemed to hold his breath.
"Tom Riddle's kind of a psychopathic arsehole," Caleb supplied casually. "Why'd you retire?"
Darian paused, swallowing.
"I don't love it anymore," he confessed. "I don't think I ever loved it after you were gone. Or before you. Actually, I don't think I love cycling," he clarified slowly, and Caleb waited, staring expectantly at Darian's face. "I think I just love you," Darian finished.
Caleb let out a breath; a long one, as if he'd been holding it for a long time, and then he grabbed Darian's face and held it between his palms, running his thumb across his lips.
"I've been waiting a long time to hear you say that," he admitted. "Minus the 'I think' part."
"Fine, so I know I love you," Darian amended gruffly. "What of it?"
Caleb lifted his chin, drawing their lips together, and let a pleasant, unrestricted laugh escape into Darian's mouth.
"Tell me again when we're naked," he suggested, "and I'll say it back while I make you come."
Darian let his tongue dart between his lips, satisfied, and savored the taste of the promise.
I remember this day three years ago.
It was the hollowest of victories then; I knew I'd be coming home to an empty hotel room. An empty bed. A vacancy where Caleb used to be. I would have a yellow jersey and a small fortune where there used to be his laughter, his dirty kits. His humor, his loyalty, his—
Not love, I'd told myself. Or maybe there was love, and I just didn't give it room to take root.
Today is much the same kind of day—I started it alone, same as before, only perhaps it doesn't have to end that way. Caleb caught up to me in the peloton while the rest of my team was cheering and drinking champagne, and at the sight of him, things seemed to make sense again. He rode beside me in silence and I let him, because we used to do it all the time. We used to fall in sync with each other without a word, and today we did it again. Easily. Naturally. Like breathing.
Caleb and me; maybe we'll never grow out of it. Maybe we'll never forget.
Maybe it's just like riding a bike.
a/n: for Aurora (who enjoys the Tour), Sally (who enjoys Mulcibery), and nymphadoraholtzmann (who enjoys making sports gay). Thanks for reading! Also, FYI, I started publishing the promised HP sex diaries as a separate fic because it does have some angst, so if you're interested, you can now find them (story called Modern Romance) in my works.