The jump rope slapped against the ground, a steady rhythm to Liam’s ears. Alone in the gym, he was able to shake off the pressure from the outside world and focus on all that mattered in that moment. His heartbeat thrummed in his ears, keeping a quick pace as he took measured breaths. As the rope slapped against the ground, Liam began to focus back on the room surrounding him. He could hear the front door of the gym opening, a steady trickle of voices flowing down the hall. It wouldn’t be long before Mr. Argent found him and berated him for coming so early and not sleeping after he’d chased him from the gym just after midnight.
Smile tugging at his lips, Liam slowed his routine and came to a halt. He coiled the jump rope neatly and carried it to his locker, slipping it inside as he collected his phone. He immediately put his ear buds in and hurried for the side entrance, wincing as it loudly creaked open. He gave up on the pretense of being sneaky and threw the door open, dropping his phone into his pocket as he began to jog. He made his way down the maze of city streets, waving a greeting every now and then as he passed someone he knew. Keeping the easy pace, he turned onto his home street and let his gaze drift across the park. There, on the other side, were some of his classmates skipping rope and playing a game of double dutch.
Tugging out his ear buds, he jogged over to the fence around the park and swung himself over. As he approached the small group, his eyes lit up as Theo Raeken jumped into the middle. “Come on, Hayden! Make sure they touch the ground!” Theo instructed, watching the girl in front of him.
“They’re doing exactly what they need to be, Theo.” She snapped, rolling her eyes at him. Shaking his head, Liam let out a quiet chuckle and jumped in behind Theo. The ropes slapped against his ankle and Theo turned, smoldering green eyes narrowing at Liam.
“Really? Don’t you have someone else to bother?” The boy snapped.
“Gee, what crawled up your ass and died?” Liam snorted. “I was just having a little fun.”
“You think we’re just out here at the crack of dawn to have fun?” Hayden asked, scoffing at him. “We’re training for the regional competition this Friday.”
“So what? It’s a double dutch competition, it’s not a big deal.” Liam scoffed.
“Of course, a boxer like you doesn’t get it. This may not be a sport to you, but it’s serious for us.” Theo said, rolling his eyes. “Our routine has to be perfect this weekend so we can make it to the city round.”
“And that means no time to squabble with losers like you. So, goodbye.” Hayden wiggled her fingers at Liam in dismissal. He stepped forward, sliding his shoulder along Theo’s as he brushed past the other boy. Dark eyes watched him and he turned, backing away from the group and offering a mock salute.
“I’ll see you around,” Liam said with a grin.
“Get out of here, Dunbar.” Theo said, stepping out of the tangle of ropes. “Josh, Hayden, can you turn for me again?”
“On it.” The ropes began to whirl and Liam shook his head, spinning on his heel and lightly jogging to his building. He wiped a bead of sweat from his brow as he ascended the front steps, nose wrinkling as soon as he opened the door.
“Liam? Is that you?” His dad called out.
“Yeah.” Mustering up a grin, he shuffled into the kitchen where a pot of chili was boiling. “Cooking again?” He asked.
“It smells awful,” his little sister complained. Liam nodded in sympathy, ruffling her hair. “Gross! Go shower, stinky!” She shoved at his arm and he laughed, dropping a kiss to the top of her head.
“Liam, leave Layla alone.” Their father chuckled softly. “I made my famous chili for you, Liam. Extra peppers, just the way you like.” He added.
“Thanks, dad.” Liam said, trying his best not to make a face.
“I also made dessert, just like your mom.” He uncovered a dish that looked mostly burned and Liam smiled sadly. He knew their dad was trying his best to make things as normal as possible. Things hadn’t been easy since the passing of their mom, but his dad hadn’t given up.
“Sounds great, dad. I just need to shower and I’ll come join you.” Liam promised.
“I’m proud of you for going to the gym so early. I’ve always said boxing is twenty percent hard work and-”
“Eighty percent heart,” Liam and Layla chorused together. “I’ll be down in a minute.” Liam promised, turning back toward the stairwell.
“Son, don’t leave me stranded for too long. Your sister is already talking about fighting with her boyfriend on the phone last night.” His father groaned softly.
“What are you, six?” Liam shot.
“I’m eight, moron.” Layla quipped back. Liam’s dad gently cuffed the back of her head and she rolled her eyes. “It’s true!”
“Stop calling your brother names, Layla. Liam, go get ready for school.” He nodded and jogged up the stairwell, stripping his clothes as he went. Tossing them into the hamper, he paused by his bedroom window and unlocked it before he could second guess himself. Making sure his bedroom door was locked, Liam walked into his bathroom and turned the shower on. He’d barely stepped under the warm spray before he heard someone rummaging about in his bedroom. He stepped aside just as the curtain was pulled back, Theo sliding into the space in front of him.
“Hey.” Theo said softly, eyeing him.
“Thought you were practicing?” Liam arched an eyebrow.
“Yeah, well, couldn’t keep my head in the game knowing you were up here without me.” Theo murmured, closing the distance between them. “Are you gonna kiss me or not?”
“I’ve got a better use for your mouth. You’d better stay quiet.” Liam warned, pushing Theo down onto his knees.
“We haven’t been caught yet,” Theo reminded with a low chuckle. Liam dug his fingers into his shoulder, narrowing his gaze. Theo turned, pressing a kiss to his wrist. “I won’t make a sound, daddy’s boy.”
“Fuck you.” Liam snarled, tangling his free hand in Theo’s hair. The other boy smirked and licked his lips, sinking down on him. Liam released Theo’s shoulder instantly, shoving his fist into his mouth. Closing his eyes, he lost himself in the sensations of Theo’s skilled lips and tongue while trying not to make a sound. He was well and truly fucked.
“You ever think you’ll want to do more than this?” Theo asked, rubbing a towel against the top of his head. Liam didn’t spare him a glance, wiping away the fog of the mirror so he could see as he brushed his teeth. He answered with a halfhearted shrug as he uncapped his toothpaste. Theo joined him at the counter and propped his hip against it, reaching for the mouthwash.
“What, you don’t like the taste of me?” Liam teased while he ran his toothbrush under the water.
“Hilarious.” With a soft snort, Theo shook his head and tipped the bottle of mouthwash against his lips. They got ready together in silence, moving aside with ease when the other needed to spit in the sink. Their routine was down to an art and it made Liam’s heart ache. He tossed his toothbrush back into its holder and stepped back, closing his eyes as Theo grabbed his wrist.
“Don’t.” He pleaded softly. Theo didn’t loosen his hold and Liam’s breath caught. “Theo-“ Whatever he wanted to say was lost as heavy footsteps sounded on the stairs.
“Liam?” His dad called out as he reached the bedroom door. “Son, you’re gonna be late if you don’t hurry up!”
“Be down in 5!” Liam yelled back. He held his breath waiting for his dad to retreat and turned to look at Theo. “I’ve gotta go.”
“I know.” Piercing green eyes met his and he leaned in, catching Theo’s lips in a soft kiss. “Liam...” His voice was absolutely wrecked and Liam squeezed him by the wrist.
“Soon. Please.” He had no right to ask that of Theo, but to his constant surprise the other boy nodded and finally let go of him. He followed Theo from the bathroom to his window and went to his closet to get dressed, not relaxing until he heard Theo on the fire escape and his window was eased shut. “Fuck.”
School went on in the same monotony that it always did. Liam spent most of the day with his earbuds in, half paying attention in his classes. Mason covered for him twice when a teacher called on him, sliding notes discreetly across their lab table the first time and angling his notebook the second so Liam could read off the right answer. He created a new gym routine that he was dying to try out, but Mason forced him to come to the cafeteria when it was time for lunch.
“Spill,” his best friend declared as he sat down with his lunch tray. Liam sighed, shoulders slouching as he glanced around the cafeteria. Theo was at his usual spot with Hayden and Josh, but Brett and Kira were with them today as well. Tracy was making her way across the room and- “Liam!”
“What?” He snapped his gaze back to Mason, a light flush coating his cheeks.
“Dude. Why won’t you just tell your dad?” Mason glanced over his shoulder and shook his head. “You two are completely into each other and you’ve been doing this song and dance for months.”
“The only thing my dad cares about right now is my boxing.” Liam said, stealing the apple from Mason’s tray. “He’s always going on and on about it. He just...he wouldn’t understand.”
“That was perhaps the worst lie you’ve ever told. You’re scared of what he’ll think. I get it. I was terrified when I came out to my parents. But you saw how well it went for me. And your dad loves me and didn’t bat an eye when he found out about me and Corey.” Mason reminded.
“It also took him weeks to call Corey your boyfriend and not your girlfriend.”
“He learned and that’s what matters. He wasn’t trying to be rude. He just needed time to wrap his head around things. He apologized every time I had to correct him.” Mason countered. “You’re just scared to be happy.”
“I’ll tell him after the Golden Gloves. It’s just a few more weeks.” Liam let his gaze stray back across the cafeteria.
“I just hope Theo’s still waiting for you by then.” At Mason’s words, Liam’s stomach dropped and he turned back to his friend with wide eyes.
“What do you mean?”
“Liam. You guys have been sneaking around for six months now and you always tell him that soon you’ll talk to your dad. But you’ve shoved Theo so far back in the closet because of this and it’s wearing on him. You asked him to keep his distance in public and look where that got you. Theo’s across the room with his friends and you’re miserable here with just me. And don’t even bother denying it.” Mason sighed. “This is breaking your heart, why can everyone else see that but you? And one day, he’s going to wake up and be tired of waiting on you. He’s going to find someone that doesn’t ask him to compromise who he is and they’ll be happy together with nothing to hide.”
“I can’t tell him yet, Mason. You don’t get it.” Liam’s pleas sounded weak to his own ears. He closed his eyes, wishing he could scrub away the remnants that remained of Mason’s sad smile. He knew it was true. He knew every morning he woke up, it could be the day where the other shoe finally dropped. “Please.” He whispered.
“I just don’t want you to get hurt.” With a sigh, Mason’s hand covered his wrist. He recoiled from the touch, eyes snapping open. “Liam-“
“I need to go.” He didn’t want to hear whatever else Mason had to say. He dropped the apple onto the table and got to his feet, snatching up his backpack from where it sat on the floor. “I’ll text you later.” Clenching his jaw, he turned and strode quickly from the cafeteria. He made up a pitiful excuse about studying in the library to the teacher standing guard and she let him go with a shake of her head. Liam left his problems in the dust, making his way to the gym and the only way he knew how to deal with his problems.
The rest of the day passed by in a haze. He managed to focus on his last two classes of the day and surprised himself by acing a pop quiz in math. When the final bell rang and Mason tried to corner him outside the classroom, he ducked under his friend’s arm and made a dash to his escape. He shoved in his ear buds and didn’t stop sprinting unless he was off school property. He took a moment to catch his breath before crossing the street, heading for his father’s gym. He could get in a few hours of practice before dinner and push Theo Raeken completely out of his head.
He wasn’t surprised to find Isaac and Scott already in the ring with his dad barking at them from the sidelines. They had a free period and more often than not the pair skipped out on the last half hour and escaped to the gym. Liam pulled out his ear buds as he approached his dad, watching the match from the corner of his eye. Scott had Isaac knocked flat in an instant, pumping his fist in the air. “Hey, Liam!” He threw up his other glove in a wave and Isaac grabbed him by the calf, yanking him down onto the mat.
“Eyes always on your opponent,” Liam’s dad said. He turned and grinned at his son, reaching over to clap him on the shoulder. “Do you want the good news or the even better news?”
“I’m going to the Golden Gloves?” Liam asked, excitement filling him. His dad chuckled and shook his head, but his smile remained.
“Close, but not yet. You’ve got one more exhibition match. Win that one and you’ll be ready. Can you believe it? We’ll have 3 generations of Dunbar’s taking the title.”
“I’m ready, dad. Who am I up against?” Liam asked. He knew most of the boxers that trained at the gym, among the other locals, and he was fairly confident that he could win any match.
“Garrett Davies.” His dad said. “Only other undefeated kid in the gym.”
“Oh.” Liam whispered. It made sense. Garrett was strong and fast and everything a boxer should be. He frequently gained the upper hand on Liam in their rare matches and he swallowed hard. The other boy was standing between Liam and the match that Liam needed to win for his dad. He was fucked.
“You’ve just gotta keep working on your stamina. Those runs around the city have really been helping you.” His dad praised. “Just keep your chin up and your head in it. Winning the Golden Gloves will help cement your future as a boxer.”
“Easy, dad.” Liam tried not to grimace. He knew that wasn’t what he wanted to do with his life, talent be damned. All he knew was that he wanted to attend university in the fall with Mason and find something he was truly passionate about.
“It’s time to get to training, Liam. Come on, let’s get you geared up and in the ring.” With a huge grin on his face, Liam’s dad squeezes his upper arm and started toward the locker room. Liam smiled apologetically at Scott and Isaac before following after the older man.
Half an hour later, Liam found himself practicing his combinations against Chris Argent while Isaac and Scott watched from the sidelines. He varied up his footwork, smirking as Isaac proudly proclaimed that he’d taught Liam that, and spun around before throwing his next jab. As his dad approached, he lowered his hands and turned to grin. Argent’s padded hand clipped the back of his head a moment later and he whirled around, eyes wide. “Hey! You hit me!”
“Maybe if you weren’t showboating for your friends.” His dad snorted.
“Nothing wrong with having a little fun.” Laughing, Liam lifted his hands back up to protect his face and barely avoided a second hit. He practiced his combinations again, nodding as he gained his father’s praise.
“Hey, Mr. Dunbar. Are you ready for me?” Lydia asked as she arrived at the ring, stopping beside Isaac.
“Give me just a moment, Lydia.” He said. “Liam, tighten up your stance. Your legs are too far apart and he could sweep you.”
“What are you ready for?” Isaac cocked a brow. “Didn’t you hear that the ballet lessons are going on at the Y?”
“As a matter of fact, I did. Were you looking to attend? We both know you could use the lessons. I already dance around the ring better than you.” Lydia replied coolly. Liam snorted, biting back a smile as Argent gave him a look that said he needed to pay attention.
“Lydia, go warm up on one of the bags. I’ll be with you in just a moment.” Liam’s dad told her. “Liam, I think that’s enough for today.”
“Okay.” Lowering his gloves, Liam stepped back and turned to grin at Lydia. “Hey, glad to see you.” He crossed the ring and climbed through the ropes, hopping down in front of her. “Missed you last week.”
“Oh, yeah! How was your piano recital?” Scott asked. Lydia smiled instantly, her eyes lighting up as she looked at him.
“It went great. Stiles couldn’t make it, but my mom recorded it and we mailed him a copy. Thanks for asking. I’ll see you boys later.” She strode past them and headed toward a punching bag, starting in on her practice rounds.
“Dad, I’m gonna grab my stuff and head home to shower.” Liam said. “Scott, Isaac, I’ll see you later.” He grinned at his friends and said goodbye to his father before heading to the locker rooms to get his belongings. Theo Raeken was the furthest thing from his mind.
After dinner, Liam made an excuse about turning in early and made his way upstairs to his room. He secured the lock on his door and made his way to the window, unlocking it and lifting it up. Theo’s townhome was one floor above his own and he could see his balcony doors open, though Theo wasn’t out on the fire escape like he usually was by this time of night. It was their meeting spot most nights, a place where Liam didn’t have to worry about the prying nature of the outside world. They could be together and Liam never had to worry about his dad finding them out there. It was their own peaceful refuge.
Theo’s shadow fell over one of the balcony doors and he stepped out, headphones on as he spun around. Liam watched him practice his footwork, completely mesmerized by the grace the other boy had. “Hey,” he called up after a moment. “You didn’t have to come out here just to impress me.” Theo laughed and tugged down his headphones to hang around his neck, flipping Liam off.
“Fuck off,” he said with a grin. “You want to come over?”
“I shouldn’t.” Liam said, already climbing through his window. “Your mom home?”
“She’s got a date tonight.” Theo said, leaning against the railing of the fire escape. Liam quickly climbed the ladder and jogged up the steps that separated them, a little breathless as he came face to face with Theo.
“Come on,” Theo reached for his hands and slowly backed toward the balcony doors, leading him through. “What do you want from me?” He asked, sitting on the edge of his bed and tugging Liam down to straddle his lap.
“Who says I want anything?” Liam asked, squirming as Theo’s half-hard cock brushed against his own. “Theo...”
“I know you, Liam.” Leaning their foreheads together, Theo smirked against the corner of his lips. “What do you want?” His hands released Liam’s and moved to his sides, slowly guiding him as Theo lazily rolled hips. Cursing, Liam let his eyes shut and a ragged moan escaped as Theo did it again.
“Fuck. I just wanted...” Hesitating, Liam licked his lips. Theo’s tongue darted out and tangled with his own, drawing Liam into a filthy kiss. He ground down with a breathy sigh, his head falling back as Theo’s fingers pressed bruises into his sides. Warm lips touched his throat, trailing down his skin softly, and the light brush of stubble sent tingles down his spine. “Theo. We can’t.” He whispered weakly.
“Because your dad might come to your room and find you gone?” Theo asked, sucking the lobe of Liam’s ear between his teeth.
“No. I just wanted to...” Liam hesitated, a whimper escaping as Theo pulled back to look him in the eye.
“What did you want?” Theo murmured, his eyes dark with lust.
“Just to spend time with you.” Liam admitted in a small voice. “I miss you.” He was surprised when Theo went still beneath him, shock flickering in his gaze.
“Yeah?” Theo asked quietly.
“You’re one of my best friends.” Liam said as though it was the most obvious answer in the world. Theo settled his hands on Liam’s hips and adjusted him on his lap to sit further down on his thighs. He flopped back against the mattress, pulling Liam down next to him as soon as he was settled.
“This okay?” Theo asked, stroking a hand down Liam’s side. He closed his eyes and nodded, head going to Theo’s shoulder as he curled into his side.
“Yeah I’m sorry to give you blue balls right now. I just...”
“Don’t worry about it.” Theo dropped a kiss to the top of his head. “Want to hear about how Hayden fucked up at practice today?”
“Tell me all about it.” Smiling softly, Liam listened to the low timbre of Theo’s voice and let himself drift. He could almost believe that things were normal between them.