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between essense and descent

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There was a common refrain at Wolf’s Head that, worse than the still-terrified first years, were the sophomores, emboldened by a year of invisibility and a new class at the bottom of the bucket. With that in mind, it’s probably unfair to characterize Alex as particularly monstrous. Alex wasn’t even just a sophomore; he came in as the only first year to be named to Wolf Head’s varsity hockey team in fifty years, and also, undeniably, Daniel’s brother. 

That first autumn, Daniel worried that would count as a strike against Alex. Being at Wolf’s Head was better than being at home, but only because Daniel forced it to be. He wasn’t particularly disliked at Wolf’s Head, but he isn’t particularly popular, either, and the addition of a rogue element—him still imagining Alex as wide-eyed and shy—had the potential to scratch the delicate veneer of indifference that Daniel built around himself.

Any concern dries up within the first month.



Their first game of the season was on a Wednesday. Unfortunate timing for the rookies, but they were lucky that someone’s townie girlfriend had an empty house for the occasion. Otherwise initiation would have just been in some field, nevermind the three inches of snow.

“Back in our day, I distinctly remember there being more blood, sweat, and tears,” Johnny Bent said, his arm heavy and damp over Daniel’s shoulders. “We’ve gone soft. How are they supposed to develop any grit like this? Is it not our job to instill virtues of toughness and humility into the younger generation?”

“There’s literally only one left conscious,” Daniel responded. It still felt dangerous to acknowledge Alex by name sometimes, like it might signal some sort of favoritism and therefore weakness. He’d already shown his hand earlier, arguing that Alex wasn’t new to the team, but Bender and Palmer had countered that, due to him being called up after an injury to their starting goaltender the season prior, Alex had never been properly initiated, and, either way, sophomores were always in need of reminders about their status. 

Privately, Daniel suspected that Bender was worried about Alex staying the backup and was hoping to reinstill a sense of subservience early. If Alex had the same concerns, his poker face hid it well. While the rest of the rookies were slumped in various piles on the floor, Alex’s constitution was apparently sufficiently impressive to allow him access to the furniture, laughing along to something Winter was saying, face bright red, apparently apathetic to the training bra still stretched over his chest, the clinging floral, girly underwear.

(Daniel was mortified on Alex’s behalf. They’d seemed hilarious still in the pack at Walmart. He could barely look at Alex by the end of the night.)

Palmer crashed back into view, his face just as incriminatingly red. He said, “Girls want to play spin the bottle.”

“Ugh. Are we still in middle school?” Daniel asked. Once again, he was ignored. They ended up in a circle with an empty bottle of rum in the middle. That late in the night, it’s mostly the seniors and favored juniors left standing. Alex was included, because of course he was. People loved Alex, and they especially loved Alex to spite Daniel. Daniel desperately missed the days when his tolerance was still shitty enough that he was the drunken lump on the floor. 

He settled into a discreet corner tucked against a couch and managed to get through most of two rounds with only a chaste peck from a disinterested Sara Saltonstall. But his second spin landed the only place it could, given the trajectory of the rest of his life.


Alex said, “Oh, come on.”

“Fuck no.”

“No no-homo in the circle. What year is this?” The smirk was plain in Palmer’s voice, but it always was.

“That is not,” Daniel emphasized, “the problem.”

It’s a standard born and maintained in part because there are almost always more girls at these things than guys, and also because Wolf’s Head drew its lifeforce from a ceaseless cycle of humiliation among peers. After all, what’s an alumni network without any blood at stake? 

Alex had the right idea, smiling gamely in his stupid fucking getup. Shame was the goal, yes, but to show it is verboten. Putting up a fight was only good for proving that they got to you.

(But, seriously, when did his kid brother fill out enough to transform from sexless to something like a man?)

Daniel exhaled through his nose, rolled his eyes pointedly, and leaned forward for another nothing-kiss. Same as it was with Whitney. He didn’t even close his eyes, which was why he saw Alex’s wicked grin as it approached, too fast to respond.

It was not a chaste peck. His lips were burning. There was tongue. Teeth, before Daniel smothered his automatic jerk backward.

Alex grinned even wider as he sat back, just far enough apart that Daniel wasn’t cross-eyed anymore. Gotcha.

Daniel raised his hand and brought it against Alex’s cheek, just hard enough to sting, then grabbed his jaw for a shake. Bad puppy. Down.



“It’s just fucking stupid,” Daniel said, not for the first time, as he threw off his daytime uniform in favor of his pregame formalwear. “And messed up, and, like—”

“Please, it’s not like you fucked him.”

“Not helpful, Charity!” Half the time, Daniel didn’t get how they were still friends. Liking each other sure didn’t seem accurate most of the time, and the benefits of their lavender association seemed to get thinner by the year. But Daniel was a creature of habit. He didn’t like making waves, or getting splashed on.

When Charity spoke again, her voice returned to something that almost passed for soothing coming from her. “I’m just saying, worse shit happens on this campus all the time. Way worse. You’ve said it yourself, it was just a stupid game among drunk jocks.”

Daniel didn’t say that there’s no such thing as just a stupid game to a Le Domas. He absolutely didn’t say that, at the bottom of the festering anxiety was the knowledge that it had been a good kiss, and worse than that was the ignorance of where the fuck it even came from. Who taught his brother to kiss like that? What else was he learning? Wolf’s Head wasn’t a large school. Gossip travels fast. He should know.

Instead of admitting to any of that, Daniel just repeated, “It shouldn’t have happened at all.”

“But it did. And it’s only through sheer force of will that you’re making something from nothing,” Charity said. Too insightful, as always.

The season opener against the Tomb was a tradition that’s dated back generations, and every year, it was a massacre. Even with most of its seniors drifting off to real leagues and development programs, the guys on that team were fucking scary. They had some old blood on their side. Daniel couldn’t even fathom the shit that went into keeping that prosperity up.

Bender played through the first period and the first three minutes of the second. Then Alex went in. He practically stood on his head to keep their final score at a respectable 5-2.

“I hate those fucking Boners,” Winter spat, and Daniel bumped his heavily-gloved knuckles in agreement. Daniel’s body was heavy from exhaustion as he gave himself another wide, slow circle on the ice to cool off. Fuck, he hated losing. It was something easy to forget when Coach Pierson bagskated them to hell and back, but now he felt the defeat like stinging welts under his skin. Fuck losing.

Alex skated up next to him. His mask was pulled up over his red face, shiny from sweat, and at some point in the last few years, he’d started having to look down just slightly for his eyes to meet Daniel’s. They’re not the eyes of a loser.

“Did I do good?” he asked. Daniel should probably have dissuaded that sort of behavior—on paper, it didn’t matter if Alex made ten saves or thirty or fifty if the rest of the team couldn't get it together, and preening after edging a senior out of a job was an ugly look. Anyone else would have him paying for it by the end of the night.

But it wasn’t for anyone else to see, and Daniel couldn’t help the hot flicker of pride in his chest. He wrapped an arm around Alex’s wide, padded shoulders and replied, “You were astonishing.”



Daniel liked school. It didn’t like him back all that much, but he enjoyed the structure, the illusion of intellectual progress and a deserving meritocracy. If his classmates were as fucked up as his family, most of them did a half-decent job at hiding it, and they likely thought the same of him. It was enough to foster a real sense of devotion in a young man.

Having Alex around felt like a tear in the veil, too much like the outside world seeping in. But even more frequently, it felt like the last piece needed before Daniel could close the circle and defend its parameters with his life. No more than this, no less than this.

This is all a lot to say when, in the heat of the moment, there was little going through Daniel’s head when he decided to put his foot between a frozen vulcanized rubber rocketing off an opponent's stick and his team’s net, where Alex was still starfished out from the last refusal. Maybe he was also considering the dangerous angle of the shot, how easily the puck could have connected with that vulnerable, unprojected strip of flesh between Alex’s helmet, neck guard, and chest projector, but that would all just be a romantic justification. He just acted.

Back in the locker room, Daniel grit out, “Do not take the skate off,” thinking of swelling, not being able to get it back on if they go to overtime.

“L.D.,” the assistant coach said patiently, “you can barely put weight on it. You are not going back out there. We’ll figure out what we’re doing once the trainer gets over here.”

“I’m fine,” Daniel insisted. He could not miss this game. He could not be hurt. He could not.

He heard a buzzer, too-loud in a too-small barn, and his chest seized tight. The coach shot him a sympathetic look, but neither of them had to wait too long for the celebratory hollers to start, and then drift closer. Daniel exhaled and submitted to the whims of medical professionals. 

Only the topmost of Alex’s gear had been stripped off before he came to find Daniel, leaving him in just under armour and black socks. The shiny black polyester clung to even the barest hint of defined muscle.

“You good?” Alex demanded.

Daniel shrugged. “Going to the ER.”

Alex stared back, hard. “Alright.”

Coach Pierson didn’t bother to argue when Alex invited himself along for the ride. The roads were dark and empty out to the county hospital. Peaceful. Daniel already misses being back on campus.

“I could have killed that guy,” Alex said, leaning until his arm was pressed against Daniel’s, voice dark and low enough that it was clearly just for the two of them. It made Daniel’s throat go dry.

“Well, it’s a good thing you didn’t,” Daniel replied. “Think of the zamboni drivers. They don’t need that mess.”

“Fuck no.”

“Laguage,” Coach Pierson admonished half-heartedly.

“I can’t miss six weeks,” Daniel said. “It’s not even that bad! It’s just a stupid little foot bone, there’s like fifty of them in there.”

“About half that, actually,” the doctor replied. “And it could be eight.”

“No.” As his heart thud painfully with an anxious denial, it occurred to Daniel that bad things didn’t happen to him much. Around him, his mother’s hand wrapping his own, fingers lacing around the dagger, yes, but things had a habit of working out in return. 

“The timing isn’t terrible. We have winter break coming up. The lower end would have him back within a week after that, right?” Alex said, staring at the doctor beseechingly. Like she could have done anything more than hand him a boot and some good drugs, if she was feeling generous.

“Who died and made you fucking pragmatist?” Daniel snapped.

“Alright, that’s enough,” Pierson said, leveraging himself up his chair. “Thank you for your time, Dr. Silva. Who should I speak to get this all sent over to the school?”



Daniel had ditched his crutches by the time they flew into YYZ, but Alex carried both of their carry-ons. 

His head was still cloudy from the Xanax he’d scored from Winter. He slept the whole way back to the estate.

He awoke in his childhood bedroom feeling like a husk. Alex didn’t snore, but Daniel could sense him nonetheless. The sun hadn’t even begun to lighten the sky.

He palmed low on his stomach without much ambition. At least at the house back in North York, he had some privacy. Could jerk himself back to sleep without guilt.

Fuck the holidays, Daniel thought, too tired to even put much vehemence behind it.

Mom continued her baseline fussing about the foot thing. Her thoughts were similar to Daniel’s own in the emergency room, but hearing it outside of his own skull made him believe them to be petulant and unreasonable. A momentary reminder that they’re all human shouldn’t hurt his family.

“It’s fine,” Daniel said, louder this time. “Healing normally. I should be back for the last few games. We really don’t have to be freaking out this much about it.” 

“I’d hardly describe expressing concern for my son’s well being as ‘freaking out,’” his mother responded, quelling. “Especially for something as… unusual as this.”

“A broken foot isn’t that unusual in contact sports.”

“It is when the athlete’s health is otherwise stellar.”

“I really don’t think that’s how bones work,” Daniel said, although they both knew that wasn’t what she was referring to. He didn’t respond when she asked if he was keeping up his rituals.

She clenched her jaw, eyes going sharp. “Daniel.”

“I don’t need anything he can give me,” Daniel said, stubborn.

“That’s not how people work, sweetie. Everyone wants something beyond their reach,” she replied. “And it’s not good for this family to go without. I’ll be speaking with Dr. Sapirstein about this.”

“Mom,” Daniel protested.

Midwinter crept up quickly. Extended family drifted home. They exchanged air kisses, gifts. Daniel and dearest cousin Rachel got so high they could barely speak, then donned the black robes.

That last winter before Wolf’s Head, Alex had crawled up onto Daniel’s bedside and hissed, “You said he wasn’t real.”

“Who?” Daniel asked tiredly. He’d still been in the habit of lying quite freely, both to himself and his brother. It was so easy. Maybe this was the turning point, looking back.

“Mr. Le Bail.” 

Daniel sat up, a chill tightening his spine. “He isn’t.”

“Yes, he is,” Alex said, eyes deep, like ice frozen over the deepest point of the lake. “I saw him, he’s—”

“Shut the fuck up!” Daniel interrupted, shoving Alex away, like he’d take the rattling fear bubbling up in Daniel with him. “No, he is not, he’s just something our family made up—”

“No, he’s not!” Alex screamed back, launching back at Daniel, not-so-small-anyone hands flying.

The line between brutality and bonding can be thin between brothers.

Daniel could hear Alex’s breathing in their room that night. Usually, Alex fell asleep fast and hard and deep, but instead he was thrashing in his bed. Out of the corner of his eye, Daniel watched the rapid rise and fall of Alex’s chest, quilt tossed aside.

It was sudden but unsurprising when Alex finally lurched upright. He looked vividly pale in the moonlight, with flushed cheeks and glassy eyes. Feverish, Daniel’s mind supplied, although sickness wasn’t a common affliction in their household, either. Maybe something was changing. For the better, some naive part of him still hoped.

Instead of heading towards the bathroom or their mom or wherever it made sense for a sick fifteen-year-old to go, Alex turned to Daniel. His hands were on his shoulders, turning him over even as he was saying, “Daniel, wake up. Daniel. I—”

“Fuck off, I’m awake, what?” Daniel snapped, hoping he sounded sufficiently bothered. Alex didn’t answer immediately. Up close, his eyes weren’t the pitiful milkiness that Daniel saw in his classmates occasionally, but they weren’t clear, either. He looked cracked and washed away. Drunk. Something familiar was bubbling to the surface.

Reflexively, Daniel let his gaze slide over his brother. It was obvious, this time, that Alex was hard.

“What the hell,” Daniel yelped, scrambling as far back as the bed allowed. It wasn’t far—he’d been arguing for years that the estate was big enough, they didn’t need to be stuffed into the same room with twin mattresses, but it always fell on indifferent ears.

“Please, Daniel, I don’t— I feel—”

“I don’t need to hear about it. Go jerk off in the bathroom like a normal person.”

Alex snapped in response, almost surprisingly sharp, “You’re fucking not listening.”

“Great catch,” Daniel responded. He stared out the window, willing anything out there to make what he told himself true. This is not happening. This is not happening. His brother is not coming onto him. That is not a thing that happens.

Turning his back on Alex was probably a mistake. Even in the best of times, it had a chance of turning into an attack of opportunity. That night, Alex just pressed up against him, an arm around his waist. “I need you,” he said, breath hot. “I know you feel it, too.”

“I don’t feel shit,” Daniel said. If you said something enough, you could make yourself believe it. That was what Daniel told himself. It mostly worked, too, when he was at school.

Not at home, in his childhood bed, with his brother’s cock poking the small of his back. He could feel Alex’s hips twitching. As forward as he’d been to come to Daniel’s bed now, his movements then betrayed him, uneven and unsure. Daniel should have thrown him off. He was strong enough to. 

It hurt to inhale. A supernova burned in Daniel’s chest.

Alex never backed off, not even after his breath hitched and his whole body tightened then trembled. 

Daniel didn’t know how he slept, but he must have, because suddenly the sky outside their window was an ashen predawn blue and his whole body was vibrating along to some deep note he couldn’t hear but felt everywhere.

Also, there was a mouth on his dick. He let out a groan that could have been a stop or a please but came out as neither. Alex’s mouth was slow, more exploratory than intentionally teasing, tongue broad and thorough then pointed at the slit, teasing at Daniel’s foreskin. His eyes were wide open, and Daniel saw in them the resonance between them. Felt it in his bones. This was wrong. Alex should never have even thought to do this. Daniel shouldn’t let him, now that he was caught.

Instead, his hands shook as they dropped to the crown of Alex’s head. His hair was long by Wolf’s Head standards and soft between Daniel’s fingers. A throbbing heat pooled in his stomach and his thighs, making him twitch. 

Later, Daniel would wish he could write it off as a mouth being a mouth, the base teenage drive to get off by any means necessary. But the truth of the moment was that Alex looked beautiful sucking his dick. 

His fingers clenched, and Daniel meant to drag Alex off, demand an explanation, something, but then Alex groaned around his dick and it plucked something from deep inside him. His back bowed as he watched himself shoot off on Alex’s lips through squinted eyelids. Watched as Alex licked himself clean, eyes still deep and empty.

Some part of him knew better—that, too, would eat at him once that deep bass drained from his head—but he couldn’t make sense of it. Alex was his brother, yes, his, and young, young enough that Daniel could be the best, the gold standard for the rest of his life. Alex wanted him, not another teammate or faceless classmate. It was the taste of his come on Alex’s tongue.

Daniel’s heart thundered in his chest. He could feel it echoing in Alex, making him tremble. Enough didn’t enter his mind. Couldn’t.

Alex was steady as a pair of fingers slid into Daniel. His free hand held Daniel’s thigh to his chest, holding Daniel open to his wide-eyed, open-mouthed stare. He stammered, “Fuck, Danny, you look— Fuck.”

Daniel wasn’t too practiced at this yet, either, fluttering tight around the intrusion. He liked it. Alex had big hands and thick knuckles, too inexperienced to be careful or hide any enthusiasm. His hand dropped from Daniel’s thigh to the base of his cock and squeezed tight as he cursed again. Daniel dug his own nails into his thighs, and the pain just sent more shocks zinging through him.

“Can I?” Alex begged. “Can I please—”

It wasn’t a real question, his fingers already retracted as he climbed up over Daniel and slotted himself between his legs, cock sliding against Daniel’s leg, nudging behind his balls. Daniel could never have denied him. Either of them.

Daniel’s breath sounded harsh in his own ears, but Alex’s legato moans drowned them out. His face was red, shameless. Familiar, even in this space Daniel was never meant to see.

No one will ever know Alex as fully as Daniel did now, he realized, and it made his dick twitch and hole clench and Alex swore again, hips jerking quick and hard before he collapsed onto Daniel.

“Oh, fuck,” Alex gasped as he slid back. “Sorry.”

“‘S okay,” Daniel said, patting Alex’s shoulder clumsily. His baby brother just came in him, and he couldn’t feel anything but a vicious pride. 

Daniel fit his hand around the nape of Alex’s neck as he leaned down to bite at Daniel’s neck, his nipple, before sliding further down. His fingers reclaimed the space they’d ceded to his dick, entranced once more as he stuffed his own come back deep into Daniel. 

A hand barely had to glance his cock to get Daniel to shoot off again, his blood singing.

They missed breakfast, then lunch. No one came looking for them.

“Do you think anyone in this family actually has free will?”

“Oh, fuck off,” Alex replied, sigh heavy enough that Daniel felt it where their arms were still pressed together. He knew he should move away. As soon as he did, they could start pulling it all behind them. Any second now. 

“I don’t know why everyone acts like that’s such a ridiculous question. Like, if… if we can be forced to do that—”

“I think,” Alex said, “if it was in us the whole time, and if the end results are the same, then what does it matter where the cause comes from?”

Daniel scoffed hard. As his head cleared, it gave room to shame. Denial. Guilt. Was he just supposed to hobble away from this like it was nothing?

“Well, I guess sex magic will be a bit of fun to bring back to campus,” Daniel snapped, sullen, finally motivated enough to slide that inch towards the edge of the bed. The old house had a surprisingly decent water heater. He anticipated being able to get a nice, long shower out of it like the pervert he was.

“How would that even—  who, exactly, do you think I’d be conducting these dark magicks with at school?”

“I don’t fucking know, I don’t keep tabs on what you get up to.”

“Shit, Daniel,” Alex said before he rolled closer and slapped a hand down onto Daniel’s chest to keep him from going any further as he said, “I don’t—haven’t—you were the first.”

Something terrible and not unlike the pride of a conquest boiled over in Daniel’s chest, and he held his breath like it could keep it from doing something terrible and immutable from seeping any deeper within himself.

The room was quiet again, except for their breathing. Eventually, Alex asked with something like genuine uncertainty, “Are you seriously never going to kiss me again?”

“Jesus fucking christ,” Daniel cursed as he dragged Alex up and close enough to crash their mouths together once again.

Miraculously, Daniel only missed three games, the last of which was mostly to get his conditioning back up. Bender stayed on the bench.

They won, and won, and won.

P.C. Prep was, undoubtedly, the worst school within the Final League, meaning the best. There was neither a team nor player that didn’t want retribution for a previous humiliation, even if it was against their father’s father. They’d buried the Tomb underground last time they met in the quarterfinals. By any measurement, it was an accomplishment for Wolf’s Head to make it to the final. They broke records. A reporter had been trailing after their games for the last month.

From the stands, the game was probably a boring one. The Wolves were on the defensive, shutting down the Pigs, hoping they’d get frustrated and start to crack.

P.C. still got on the board first. Didn’t even bother to celebrate, no need to act like they’d been there before. No one on that roster knew what losing a championship felt like.

“I did not come this far for goddamn second place,” Palmer said at intermission, eyes on fire. “It is preferable to die tonight than lose.”

“Amen, brother,” Alex replied. If he was shaken by the earlier strike, he didn’t show it. Bender slapped him on the back, hard enough that he probably still felt it through the pads.

Palmer followed through with his threat with four minutes left in the third. Overtime. Alright. Daniel’s already been on the ice for twenty minutes. His body felt steamed and heavy, muscles shivering. He felt electric. Anxiety, yes, but also a bloodthirsty want. If Daniel ever conceptualized himself as somehow above wins and losses, this game, this streak, stripped it away from him.

The crack finally, finally came in the final line change of the game—botched communication between two of the P.C. players, the puck dumped at Daniel’s feet, open ice.

Daniel had never been known for his offensive prowess. His legs wouldn’t carry him as fast he wanted them to. The opposing goaltender was a wall of a man, filling the net.

Alex never let Daniel score. Not after he could stop him.

After the final horn and screaming—alright, the screaming would continue for several more hours, both together and in random, individual bursts of joy—remained a love and pride so big Daniel hardly knew what to do with it. He’s not sure he’d ever smiled so much in his life.

“Remember us not as lost violent souls,” Daniel said, “but as fucking champions.”

“Shut the fuck up, Dumbass,” Palmer said, but his arm was locked around Daniel’s shoulders, as it had been since they’d stripped off most of their gear. However they’d felt about each other for the last four years, they were something like family now. Daniel felt it.

Alex was planted on the opposite side, sides glued together. “I like your poetry, Daniel,” he said.

“It’s not—thank you.” Alex should probably be celebrating with the other unders, but instead he was staring back at Daniel, face still too honest. Daniel had already spent so much time looking away. He meant it when he said, “Proud of you, kid.”

And he meant it when dropped a hand onto Alex’s thigh, an easy familiarity between teammates, brothers. Daniel could feel their blood thrumming between them. Alex’s eyes darkened as he preened.