The apartment is terrible. The wallpaper is peeling, there's water stains on the ceiling, and Alex is pretty sure that he can see wires poking out where wires really shouldn't be poking out. It smells a little bit like wet dog, which is probably mostly the ugly yellow couch that takes up most of the floor space in the living room. It's nothing at all like his house in DC, which is why he doesn't think twice about calling the number of the landlord that had been scribbled on the back of a napkin left on the counter by the young girl who had let him in.
"Barton," the landlord says after six rings. He sounds a little breathless.
"I want vacant apartment," Alex says, because he believes firmly in getting right to the point. "Is there application?"
"Uh," Barton says. "By any chance are you wearing a tracksuit?" Alex pulls his phone back from his ear to look at it. He's not, in fact, wearing a tracksuit, because they're tacky and it's way too warm outside for one anyway.
"Is this part of application?" Alex asks. "Uniform for building?" He likes the terrible apartment, but not enough to add on another uniform. He's already got too many of those and his closet is getting a little strained.
"Nope," Barton says quickly. "Just checking. When do you want it? We don't really do applications. Just pay your rent on time and we're good. I can do a lease.... soon? When works for you?"
Alex spends the rest of the afternoon in Bed Stuy, poking around the neighborhood. He won't be able to come here often, not really, but the drive is only a few hours and he likes the thought of his own little sanctuary just waiting for him.
Eventually, he circles back to the apartment building. He climbs the stairs- the elevator had worked in the morning, but at some point had given up- and knocks on the door of Barron's apartment. Two tiny faces peek out at him from the apartment across the hall, and one of the kids give a shy little giggle when Alex waves. After a minute, Alex knocks again. He's not what most people call patient, and he's tired of waiting.
The man that throws the door open is as tall as Alex, wide around the shoulders, and surprisingly young looking. There's a purple bandaid across his crooked nose, which looks freshly broken. A shaggy dog pokes winds out from around his legs, past Alex, and down the hall. The man looks startled to see Alex standing there, his blue eyes going wide.
"Shit, I forgot," he says. His voice sounds a little weird, flat. Maybe he's Canadian. They all sound that way. "You wanted 3B, right?"
"You landlord?" Alex asks skeptically.
"Yeah. You can call me Clint. I have-" Clint wanders off in the middle of his sentence, disappearing back into his apartment. Alex glances back over his shoulder and follows after him. Definitely not like his place in DC. "Let me put my ears in. There's paperwork stuff on the counter."
Alex reads over the lease carefully. His mother had always drilled that point home, even before he'd had things like multi-million dollar contracts on the line. It seems standard, with a carefully worded loophole to get out of the lease at the bottom. Alex fills in his details and digs a folded check out of his wallet. He could argue down rent, he thinks, but the effort isn't worth it. When he looks up, Clint is poking at the ancient coffee machine on the counter, twin purple pieces of plastic looped behind his ears.
"Finished," Alex says. Clint jumps, flailing to catch the mug he'd fumbled. He reaches up with one hand, wincing as he does something to his hearing aids.
"Awesome." Clint takes the paperwork, watches Alex sign the check, and drinks half his cup of coffee in one long sip. He's a blur of motion that makes even Alex dizzy. "Welcome to the building. We do cookouts on the roof every week as long as it's not raining or snowing, Simone's kids will probably tackle you at least once a month, and Lucky's got a sixth sense for pizza. Seriously, hide your pizza from the dog. He's gonna get so fat."
"I like already," Alex says. It sounds hectic in an entirely different way than he's used to. When Clint grins, his eyes crinkle in the corner and his cheeks puff out. "Show me this pizza dog."
"You got an apartment in New York," Nicky says. He's red faced and sweaty, still dangling from the pull up bar. He looks unfairly nice, which is a problem that Alex hasn't quite learned how to deal with. Alex looks back down at the barbell at his feet and takes a deep breath. He deadlifts it up and adjusts his feet on the mat.
"Just little apartment," he says as he sets the barbell across his shoulders. "Very quiet. Very small."
"You are not either of those things," Nicky accuses. He's not wrong.
Alex can't shrug, not with the weight in his shoulders, so he just keeps quiet and focuses on his form. He's stronger than he's ever been on paper, but it feels harder to keep going like he used to. He thinks about his mansion and how much longer he'll be tied to DC and the team. To Nicky. It makes him maudlin, which is not something he approves of. He sits deeper into his squat and doesn't jump at all when Nicky's hands brush his as Nicky steps in to spot him.
"What are you doing, Alex?" Nicky asks. Alex could see him in the mirror if he really wanted to, but he keeps his eyes trained on his knees instead. He's always getting yelled at for extending too far, which is a lie. He's got perfect form.
"Conditioning," Alex says. "You should try. Swedes very lazy." Nicky is either too boring or too mature to rise to Alex's bait. That, or he's grown so used to it over the years he doesn't even notice anymore. Sometimes, Alex misses the big eyed boy that had come to the team with no knowledge of any of them. He'd been so easy to mess with then.
Nicky lets the subject drop, but Alex isn't fool enough to think that the conversation is over. Nicky is tricky when he wants to be. Alex will have to come up with a reason for his apartment eventually, will have to give Nicky an answer that is plausible. If it were anyone else, he could just claim that his money is burning a hole in his pocket, but Nicky knows him too well to buy that.
It really is a problem. Alex is working on fixing it.
Grills is a large, friendly man that doesn't seem to mind that Alex eats three times as many burgers as the rest of the little group gathered on the roof. He just laughs every time Alex brings his plate back around and hands him more food. Alex likes him immediately. So do the dogs, if their protective circle around him is any indication.
The building is full of a hodge-podge of people, all of whom are nice enough. No one seems to know or care who he is, which is refreshing, if a little insulting. After a suspicious, carefully worded conversation with Simone, she declares him good enough and shoves a toddler into his arms. Alex doesn't know what to do with kids if there isn't hockey involved, but the toddler just stares up at him and gives him a gap-toothed grin. Alex returns it with his own.
"How you holding up?" Clint asks. He's got a beer in one hand, and Simone's other kid riding on his hip. He's wearing purple pajama pants and a white t-shirt that's seen better days.
"Is nice," Alex says. He winces when the toddler tugs a handful of beard and Clint laughs.
"Yeah, clean shaven's the way to go around here," he says. "Haven't seen you around much. You work out of town or something?"
Alex is happy enough to talk about the Capitals any time he can. He talks about DC, about Wilso and Holts and Nicky. They lose the kids to naptime, which Alex isn't particularly heartbroken about. Clint nods a lot, but he's clearly zoning out, which is rude and uncalled for. Alex shakes him and Clint neatly topples over into Aimee's roommate.
"What you do?" Alex asks, because clearly he's lost the room here. "Just rent apartments, eat pizza with dog?"
"I wish," Clint sighs. He turns his head, his nose brushing Alex's and his narrowed eyes turning into one blurry burst of white and blue. "You really don't know?" Alex shakes his head, the tip of his nose rubbing against Clint's in a way that both tickles and feels good. "I do some stuff with a bow and arrow. Best marksman in the world."
"You come to game," Alex declares. He doesn't know why anyone on earth would take up archery for any reason whatsoever, but he likes competence. It could be worse. Clint could like curling, and that's a tragedy Alex doesn't even want to consider. "My treat. I show you real skill, you like."
"I don't really do hockey," Clint says. He squirms a little, his head crashing into Alex's neck, but Alex just holds on.
"No lower body strength," Alex says sagely. Clint's arms are absolutely fantastic, but his legs are too skinny by half. He'd never make it through a single shift, let alone an entire game. Alex can forgive him for this, but it's asking a lot. "Is okay. You watch anyway. Plus, Oshie is a baby when he alone in box. You keep him company and he sneak you beer. Is perfect."
"I-" Clint shakes his head. "You know what? Fine. I want nachos, though."
"Done," Alex says cheerfully. "I bring you to DC. Best place to see Capitals is on home ice. I score points for you, you see."
"Sure. Uh, how does that work again?"
Losing to the Penguins is always particularly offensive. Alex scowls at the scoreboard like it will change in the last seconds, but the score still remains a stubborn 3-2, and neither of the Capitals' goals had been one of his own. He hates Fleury in a fiery, all consuming way. Of all the goalies in the league, it's always him that manages to shut Alex down completely. Knowing that this was Clint's first experience of a hockey game makes it that much worse. So much for showing him real skill.
Alex showers and changes into his suit, ignoring the tense row of teammates beside him. Wilso hasn't been the same since Latts went to LA, and Alex should be doing more to comfort him, should be honoring his position as Captain, but he's so tired and Nicky's always been better with dealing with interpersonal relationships anyway. Alex is only good for leading them into battle, and he didn't even do that tonight.
Alex does his press with as much good grace as he can manage and shuffles out of the locker room with his head hung. Zhenya wants to go for drinks to catch up, but the thought of being with him right now is too much. Alex doesn't answer him and instead heads to the VIP room to collect Clint. The game hadn't even been close.
Oshie is running his mouth, his daughter planted on his lap, one hand gesturing towards the ice. Mini-Oshie spots Alex first and squirms free to hug him. Alex pats her gently on the back. He likes children. He does. He just doesn't have the patience needed to deal with one right now. He smiles and sends her off towards her dad with a push. He just wants to go home and sulk.
"Sucks," Clint says when Alex stands next to him. He's sprawled out in his chair, empty box of the promised nachos and an empty beer bottle next to him. "That thing you did in the second inning-"
"Period," both Oshies chorus together.
"Period- seriously, it's the same thing- was pretty awesome," Clint finishes. Alex has no idea what he's talking about, doesn't remember anything he'd done that had been particularly memorable at all, but he takes the praise because he needs it.
"I tried to teach him, man," Oshie says with a sad head shake. "Some people are hopeless."
"You tried to say that there's a thing that's officially and legally called a spin-o-rama," Clint says with narrowed eyes. "I don't believe anything you say."
"It's a thing!" Oshie throws his hands up. Alex cracks a smile and it feels real. "Take him away, Ovi. He's corrupting my youth with his wrongness."
"She your kid," Alex says, even as he tosses Clint's garbage. "Is much too late. She ruined from beginning." Oshie places one hand on his daughter's head to keep her from looking up and uses the other to flip Alex the bird. That's proof positive that Alex was right.
"You taking Backy up to Bed Stuy? He's been dying to see that secret apartment of yours," Oshie says. Clint mouths secret apartment even as a brief spike of panic trips Alex up. That place isn't for Nicky or team. Just the idea is wrong.
"Not a secret apartment anymore if you losers see it," Alex says. He doesn't sound panicked at all. "See you in two days. Contact jersey on, yes?"
"You got it, Cap," Oshie says with a salute, hauling his daughter up and leaving to face traffic.
"He reminds me of someone I know," Clint says. He bumps his fist to Alex's shoulder. "Go get 'em? Way to slap that shot?"
"You weird," Alex says. Clint snorts and tugs at the long sleeves of one of Alex's spare jerseys. It looks good on him. He's big enough to fill it out.
"You can point out all the lies TJ told me on the way home," Clint says. He sounds actually interested. It pleases Alex deeply. Everyone should want to know more about hockey. "Seriously, spin-o-rama isn't a thing right?"
On an off day, Clint teaches Alex how to shoot a bow.
They go to the roof and jam the doors closed with a broomstick. Clint sets up a row of targets on stakes, precise and practiced. He's done this many times before. When he's satisfied with those, he opens his bow case and pulls it out, his hands reverent as they stroke the wood. He takes the string off and grabs another.
"You'll probably have a pretty heavy draw," Clint says as he sticks the body of the bow between his thighs to steady it. There's a boner joke in there that's flying around in Alex's head too fast to spit out. "But we'll go light on your first time."
"Gentle with the virgin?" Alex asks with an exaggerated waggle of his eyebrows. Clint laughs and does something with the string.
"I'm a gentleman and a scholar," Clint says, grinning when Alex fails to agree with him. "I'm a guy and I have a GED somewhere?"
"That one I believe," Alex says. He looks out over the street, down at the other buildings lining it. This part of the city isn't particularly pretty, but Alex still finds himself endeared by the view. Clint comes to stand next to him but doesn't say anything, still and quiet. "Let's go. You say you best, but I need proof."
"Psh, I could do this course with my eyes closed, my ears off, and half asleep." Clint grabs an arrow from the bag on the table and lines up. "Alright, come here. This is how you nock it."
They spend a few hours in the makeshift shooting range. Alex picks up shooting fairly easily, even though he never manages a real bullseye. His shoulders ache from the pull and release of the string, which is much harder than he'd thought it would be. Every once in awhile Clint stands behind Alex, his chest pressed to Alex's back, his hands correcting Alex's grip gently but firmly. It makes Alex think of Wilso at pool tables with pretty girls, helping them shoot. He thinks it might be that exact thing and it makes him laugh. He could go for the distraction.
"Not bad for a first time," Clint says when Alex admits defeat. He's going to be sore in the morning, his body not as fast to heal as it used to be. "You've got decent aim."
"Decent," Alex scoffs. He'd only missed the target once. He thinks that deserves better than a decent. "You never show me how good you are. Maybe you lie to impress big NHL star."
"Psh, no one even watches hockey in New York," Clint says, reaching up to unhook his hearing aids. He sets them on the table next to the bag of arrows. "I'd be better off if you were on the Yankees." He closes his eyes and draws the string on the bow.
Every last shot is a bullseye.
Clint opens his eyes and grins, cocky and confident. Alex's responds to it immediately, his mouth going a little dry. He's always been turned on by competence. It explains some of his worst choices. Clint nonchalantly fires and arrow without even glancing towards the targets. Its tip burrows into the soft mat right next to another arrow. It's unbearably attractive.
"Now you just being show off," Alex says after Clint hooks his hearing aids back on. "You not so big when I teach you to shoot goals.
"You're going to put me on ice?" Clint asks, scrambling backward. "I can barely keep myself from getting injured on dry land. I'm going to cut off an arm."
"I'm good teacher," Alex says, clapping Clint on the shoulder. "You be fine."
"You really have no idea how much of a mess I am, do you?" Clint asks. He's currently got a bandage over his left eyebrow and one around his forearm. Alex hasn't seen him without one sort of injury or scrape since he's moved in.
"We start with little skate first," Alex allows. Maybe he'll get one of the walkers. It can't hurt.
Alex opens the door when someone knocks, mouth already open to shoo Simone's kids away. Clint showed them one of the Caps games- one they'd actually won- and they've been following him around like ducklings ever since. The boys aren't there, though. It's Nicky. Alex chokes on his breath, but Nicky's already shuffling inside, his head craving as he takes in the front room.
"You should get a decorator," Nicky says instead of a greeting. "Or at least get rid of ugly pillows." He settles down next to the ugly pillows on the new couch, arms spread over the back. It's how he sits in Alex's house, how he sits in his own. It's been seconds, barely long enough to shut the door, but Nicky's already tainted the place. It's his now.
"Why you here?" Alex asks, trying to bite back his anger. "Who tell you come visit?"
"I came to see you," Nicky says. He looks over his shoulder, his hair slicked back and his mouth set. He nods his head towards the empty cushion next to him and Alex goes.
"You see me," Alex says, waving a hand down his chest. "I know I'm handsome, but could have just waited for practice. DC is long drive away."
"You've been avoiding us," Nicky says, straight to the point like he always is. Usually, Alex loves how blunt Nicky is. It matches his own straightforwardness. Today, though, he wishes Nicky knew how to make small talk. "I wanted to see what's so great about this place."
"Is mine," Alex says sharply. "I like. You don't have to."
"What's going on?" Nicky asks. He drops his hand to Alex's shoulder, a warm steadying weight that Alex wants to fold into. "Alex?"
"I needed to be away," Alex says. He keeps his eyes trained on Nicky's face. People can say what they want about him, but he's not a coward. "You too much. This supposed to be place just for me."
"What did I-"
"You know," Alex says. He doesn't even feel angry anymore. Just tired. "You not stupid. When we rookies, maybe my crush is cute. Maybe little flattering. We not rookies anymore, and I love you still."
"I love you always," Nicky says softly. He wraps a hand around around Alex's wrist gently, his skin warm and rough and so familiar Alex could pick it out by touch alone. "But not- I like women, Sasha."
"I know," Alex snaps, angered by the nickname. He pulls free from Nicky's loose grip. It feels a lot like saying goodbye, even though Nicky's still sitting right there. "Does not mean I can make feelings stop." His throat feels tight. "I try. I try so much. But you always there, and you too good, and-"
"Oh, Sasha," Nicky says. He pulls Alex into a loose hug. Alex wishes he could hate him, wishes that Nicky would make a scene, would get angry. This hurts more. Nicky is good and Alex loves him because of it. It's not fair at all. "You don't need to go all the way to New York to be alone."
"I like terrible apartment," Alex says into Nicky's shoulder. He shouldn't be doing this. Nicky shouldn't be encouraging him. "I'm nobody here. Grills makes me food if I sit on roof and Ovi likes Lucky. I think they run away together if we not lock doors." Nicky laughs and pulls away. He smooths a hand over Alex's hair, the same way he's done a hundred times before, and Alex thinks that maybe one day it won't feel so charged, won't mean quite the same thing. "Clint let me buy new furniture for everyone. He bad landlord, I help."
"Oshie says Clint is nice," Nicky says. It's an easy deflection, a topic change that is neither subtle nor needed. Alex huff a laugh.
"He is," he says. He thinks about Clint's hand on his, adjusting his grip on the bow string. It doesn't feel the same as his memories of Nicky, doesn't bring the same sort of breathlessness, but he thinks it could maybe one day be close.
"I mean what I said," Nicky says, looking around the apartment again. "You don't have to come all the way here if you need to be alone."
"I like it here," Alex says again. "I'm not ready to leave hockey, but maybe is good I have place that's just for fun. Where I'm Alex, not Ovi." Nicky squeezes his knee and stands up. Alex doesn't follow him.
"I'm going to go," Nicky says. He doesn't look awkward, doesn't look like he's running away. Alex needs time away, but he doesn't want this to be gone forever either. "You should bring Clint to more games. The guys might like him, too."
"Maybe," Alex says. He waits until Nicky's gone to go up to the roof. Aimee is in a corner, curled up around a book. Simone's boys are building something out of blocks, talking at one another at top volumes. Grills waves his spatula and puts another burger onto the grill. It's simple and plain, a group of people with nothing really to tie them together.
"You good?" Clint asks. He bumps his shoulder against Alex's and holds out a beer. Alex takes it from him, leaning into his space. Clint gives him a wide eyed look before relaxing into it.
"Very nice apartment," Alex says. "I write up good Yelp review."