Waiting for Spring

The water cocooned Ivan in a protective shell as it poured in a steaming stream over his head. It muffled his teammates' obnoxious laughter from the changing room adjacent to the showers. As he stood soaking up the heat, he replayed in his mind the final seconds of their practice match against the team from a neighbouring school.

He had leapt into the air with that gel-haired pot-smoking bastard who, at the height of his jump, threw the ball inexplicably over his shoulder instead of shooting. The ball whipped straight into the hands of the small Chinese reserve they had reluctantly pulled in for the final quarter of the match. He had assumed that the reluctance was because the reserve member, who was about ten centimetres shorter than everyone else, was not very skilled.

He had been terribly wrong.

Small but speedy, the Chinese reserve had ran full pelt for the basket, breaking through every defence as he took them all by surprise. Only Weilschmidt had reacted quickly enough to chase after him. It looked as if everything was under control when he stopped (Weilschmidt skidding to a halt ahead of him), leapt high into the air, and sent the ball sailing in a smooth arc over six meters to drop neatly into the basket. A three-point shoot.

That buzzer beater ensured that they lost the game by two whole points. At the memory of the scoreboard – 45 to 47 – he slammed a fist into the tiled wall, suppressing the urge to kick and swear.

Who the hell was that guy, and where did he come from?

His train of thought was interrupted by a knock on the door of his shower stall; two small raps of a knuckle against glass.

"What?" he snapped.

"Uh, we're all going for some pizza over at the mall. You wanna join us, boss?"

Adnan sounded much too nonchalant for someone who had fouled twice in the match and benched some lumbering Greek in exchange for that Chinese reserve! If anyone was to blame for their loss…

"You guys go ahead. I'll catch up later."

The water roared in his ears as his teammates filed out of the changing room, still shouting and cheering as if they had not just suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of some no-name team. He stood for a few more minutes under the shower, hoping to wash away his bitterness in the scalding heat.

Alfred was strolling through the parking lot when he realised with a jolt that he had forgotten his sweater. He skidded to a halt, calling out to his teammates, "Hey, wait up! I forgot something!"

"What, again?" Emma groaned as all three girls stopped, turning to face him.

"You're always forgetting something," Angelique said, exasperated but good-natured.

"Typical Alfred," Mei giggled.

"Yeah, all right, all right! You girls go ahead, I'll catch up."

If it had been any other day, he would have given up and retrieved the forgotten item the next day. But practice was scheduled for tomorrow and his sweater badly needed a wash before. He did not want to risk Ludwig's wrath again. The first time he had dared turn up in unwashed gear had been bad enough to make it his last.

As he jogged back into campus, turning a corner in the corridor for the gym area, he took to whistling the tune to some radio commercial, feeling really glad for having remembered the sweater before it was too late.

Once at the gym entrance, he went down another corridor and slipped through the swing door into the stale-aired changing room. Ignoring the warning floor signs to watch his step, he sprinted down the length of the room, rounded a wall of lockers, slipped on a wet floor patch, scrabbled manically to right himself – and barrelled straight into someone who had just stepped out of the showers.

"Whoa, whoops! Sorry, didn't see y–"

He stopped short, the words dying in his throat as he realised just who it was he had bumped into. He released his hands of the person, raising them high in surrender.

"Evening, Jones," Ivan said smoothly.

"Oh hello!" Alfred returned in a chirpy falsetto that cracked halfway through. Crap, he thought. Laughing nervously, he skirted around Ivan who was naked but for a small towel wrapped around his waist. He backed slowly into his locker. "Just f-forgot something," he said weakly.

Keeping his eyes firmly ahead, he turned on the spot and opened up his locker. He rummaged frantically through a pile of laundry for his sweater, praying he would find it quickly. All the while, he could feel Ivan's eyes boring a hole into his back. He felt so nervous it made him fumble harder with his clothes.

Oh fuck, are we alone? What the hell's he doing here so late, anyway? Ugh, bet he thinks I came in to catch him naked on purpose, that stupid arrogant evil son of a b–

"Found what you're looking for?"

Alfred banged his head on the locker door in his haste to slam it shut.

"Yup! Got it, here it is!" he crowed, waving his cheerleader's sweater at Ivan as if hoping to fend him off with it. "I, er, guess I'll be going now. Bye!"

He made to leave, but Ivan was blocking his way, and was not making any space for him to get past. His heart sank like a stone to his shoes.

"Um, y-you mind…?"

"Oh no, not at all. Go right ahead."

Ivan shuffled generously to one side on bare-soled feet, presenting Alfred with less than half the width of the floor with which to squeeze through. Alfred looked nervously up to see his eyes scorching into him with cruel glee, his lips twisted into a thin toothless smile.

"R-right," Alfred breathed.

He pressed his front to the wall of lockers and attempted to squeeze past Ivan that way. But as he slowly slid through, he decided that he did not really want to present his back to Ivan and spun quickly around. Too late, he regretted his decision the instant he realised that their faces had come to within inches apart. At the same time, he felt his thigh brush against something hard.

His eyes flitted down to see what it was.

Ivan slammed his palm suddenly against the locker he was leaning against, which scared him into diving to the side and landing sprawled on the floor. Seeing that he was finally through, however, he scrambled to his feet again, groping blindly in the direction of the exit before breaking into a run.

"C-catch you later!" he yelled as he ran helter-skelter out of the room, bursting through the swing door and out into sweet-aired freedom.

Ivan stood staring after Alfred, listening to his running footsteps until they faded into the distance. That… had been close, much too close. His heart drummed against his ribcage as his mind fixed to the image of Alfred's face in close proximity.

Close enough to count the freckles on his nose… close enough to kiss his lips…

He blinked. His palm curled into a fist, and he pushed himself from the locker to stand and look down at the tent in his towel. Shame and disgust crawled like a horde of tiny burning ants up his face, and he let out a vicious hissing snarl.

His hand reached instinctively to touch himself. He stopped, hesitated, and cursed again. He took a deep, deep breath before letting his hand fall limply to his side. He was not going to succumb, not this time!

Casting around for something to distract himself, his eyes landed on a sweater lying on the ground where Alfred had fallen. It was a blue and white turtleneck sweater, the colours of their school, undeniably a cheerleader's sweater…

That idiot had dropped it on his way out!

Slowly, hesitantly, he stooped to pick it up, glancing warily about him as he clutched guiltily at the stolen article. There was nobody around and he could not hear anyone coming. He stood up, shook out the sweater and held it up, examining the white star emblazoned across the chest against a blue background, the blue cutting in a V-shape at the midriff into white.

He brought the sweater to his nose and inhaled. It was a little damp and smelled mostly of stale sweat, but there were small fragrances of Alfred too; cheap deodorant, mint chewing gum, the scent of grease lingering from some horrible fast food meal he was more than a little partial to…

For one wild crazed moment, he considered keeping the sweater. There was nobody to stop him. He could take it home with him, and hide it in his drawer among his own sweaters, and… and…

And what? To do what with?

The desire to possess the sweater passed just as swiftly as it had seized him, to be replaced with a cold rippling anger. He balled it up as tightly as he could in his large hands, and, spotting it from the corner of his eyes, he hurled it spitefully into the trash can. The sweater unrolled from its balled-up state and fell short of its mark, hitting the lip of the can and sliding limply to the floor.

He stood staring at it, breathing as hard and heavily as if he had just run laps around the court. His hands were tingling still from the touch of that soft precious material.

After a while, he conceded that he was not going to calm down on his own. He turned around and stalked back into the stall for a cold shower.

A/n: This is what happens when you leave me with an endless stretch of free time and a bunch of American teen movies. Inspired by Bring It On (I just really love the male cheerleaders).