Soft cap went on five minutes ago, and Ben’s team, Hammertime, was down by one measly point. They had been fighting Sasquatch for over an hour, neck and neck, every point an almost interminable battle. It was awesome. Ben had never seen his team play so hard and have so much fun at the same time. They were running themselves ragged and laughing while they did it, keeping up with their marks and then beating them to the disc, again and again.
Sasquatch was a great team: they were strong, they were fast, and their main handler, Darius, was a fucking beast. His aim was impeccable, his timing perfect, and his fakes had Ben tricked for half the game before Ben just stopped bothering to call the throw “up.”
And then Sasquatch would put on their other top-shelf handlers, and Darius would run deep like nobody else.
It helped that he was gigantic. Probably six-two, six-three if Ben was being generous.
Ben marked him every time, and it seemed like Darius had picked him out too. Ben was always facing his huge arm span on the mark when he had the disc in hand on Hammertime’s possession, and he was always there when Darius picked up for Sasquatch.
Darius was so good Ben wanted to hate him, but he couldn’t. Darius had a big grin that appeared whenever Ben headed for him after the pull, and he greeted Ben by name when they flipped for possession before the game started. He had crazy, curly hair kept out of his face with a white sweatband that made Ben laugh, and when it was sunny he hid his blue eyes behind the douchiest pair of sports shades Ben had ever seen. And he made them look good. He was enthusiastic and funny, always snarking under his breath when things went wrong or right, and he yelled encouragement to his team from the sidelines with a booming voice Ben envied.
Ben had a very small, minor, totally insignificant crush on him. Not that it affected his game-play.
“Ready?” Ben asked, checking for a hand on the other line signaling readiness to start the point, and then glancing at Javi beside him. He saw the hand, got a running start. “Coming in on three, two, one.” He let the disc go on the pull, and his team crossed the line at a run with him. The disc sailed down the field, nice and level, no wind today, and Ben watch as Darius ran ahead to let his second handler, a girl with a long brown braid, catch it and toss it to him to get a bit of a lead.
Ben reached him within a few seconds, before he turned it over to someone else, arms out to block his low flick, his high backhand.
“Stalling one,” Ben said, watching Darius’s hands and hips to predict his throw. He couldn’t get distracted now, regardless of how good Darius looked—all sweaty and hot and glowing with energy. Ben had a game to win. They scored the last point; they could score this one. They deserved the top slot in the Championship bracket.
“Stalling five,” Ben said, and Darius turned to his dump cutter. He glared over Ben’s shoulder, almost as if Ben weren’t even there.
Javi yelled, “Strike!” behind him, and Ben’s arm darted up as Darius aimed, blocking the throw. Darius flashed him a grin and turned again, let the disc go. Ben heard the plastic thump of it being caught behind him.
Then Darius was in motion, running wide, making space, and Ben went with him. He set up between Darius and the other handler who had caught the disc—the back of her jersey said Timeturner—trying to triangulate and see them both.
And then the disc was up, and Darius took off like a shot. It was all Ben could do to keep up with him. He’d played almost the whole game, refusing to take a break, and he was tired down to his bones, but Darius’s endless energy was contagious. Ben ran harder, feet pounding the grass beneath his cleats, heart hammering against his rib cage, breath coming hard and fast. At the last moment, he lashed out as the disc appeared in the air, on its way to Darius.
The disc hit Ben’s palm at full speed with a solid thunk and went sailing off out of bounds. Ben cradled his stinging hand to his chest as he and Darius came to a stop. Darius had sweat running down his cheeks, and he wiped it away with the shoulder of his jersey, muttering, “Shit, you’re like a ninja.”
Ben grinned so hard his face hurt as he jogged off the field to pick up his prize. He returned to the sideline at a walk, catching his breath, and held the disc out. Darius tapped it with one finger, almost delicately, and said, “Stall one.”
“Disc in!” Ben hollered, watching his cutters make their runs. Hammertime primarily played a vertical stack—they were better at it—but Sasquatch played vert as well as horizontal, and Hammertime was not always beating their defenders to the open space. “In!” Ben yelled at Hannah, his newest cutter who always bailed out shy of where he needed her. “Come in!”
He faked, making Darius lunge, and threw the disc as Isaac got open, long legs carrying him ahead of his defender.
Isaac kept his eyes on Ben as Ben took off, calling for the return pass, and gave him a gentle little toss, right into his hands, before taking off for the other end of the field.
“Stall one,” Darius began again, resuming his position at Ben’s left hip. Ben could smell him. He smelled like sweat and dirt and tropical shampoo, and it was absurd and amazing and fucking distracting. His red-and-white jersey was covered in mud from the early-morning games when the grass was wet and the layouts were easy, and he had a long scrape on one shin, clotted with blood. He looked like such a fucking badass, and Ben wanted to fuck him.
He wasn’t getting anywhere. He needed to focus! Ben turned, looking for Javi, and Javi made a quick cut up and back so Ben could throw him a backhand and reset the stall count. Hannah was making a swing cut to the other side of the field—good girl, Ben drilled that into her—and Javi gave her the disc.
Ben couldn’t just stand there and gape. He picked up into a jog, moving the line up as Hannah caught it. “Be cool!” he told her. “Be cool!”
The air horn sounded, far away across the half dozen marked-out fields. Ultimate was going on all around them, and hard cap was on: ten-minute warning. If they scored, the game went into sudden death, and they might take the top slot in the bracket. If Sasquatch scored, they won, and Hammertime was out of the running.
Hannah chilled out. The wild look went out of her eyes, and she made the easy throw to Keith. Keith looked for Ben. Javi got out of Ben’s way, Ben ran the dump, and then he had the disc in his hands again.
He pointed to the end zone, making eyes at Isaac, and Isaac took off. Darius was right up in Ben’s space, counting aloud, his eyes intent on Ben’s face, and Ben didn’t even see him. He didn’t need to. He could feel how close Darius was, where his hands were, where his attention was. He didn’t need to fake: he just threw.
His forehand huck left his fingers with almost painful intensity, scraping his knuckles. The disc soared up, arcing toward the end zone. Isaac was running, flat-out sprinting, and Ben watched as their paths approached almost in slow motion.
It was too high. Too deep. The words too strong echoed laughingly in Ben’s head, but Isaac could read a disc like nobody else, and Ben saw him change his angle slightly, compensating. Closer.
And then he had it, disc in one hand, toes touching down inside the end zone line before he fell out, his shout of triumph audible from half-field.
Ben almost punched Darius in the face as he raised his fists in celebration. Darius laughed, breathless and wonderful, slouching where he stood until his hands were on his knees.
“Good throw, dude,” Darius said. “Jesus, that was a long one.”
“Thanks,” Ben breathed, almost dead with relief.