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The First Day of the Rest of Your Life

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Willie's the one who picks Mike up from the airport. It's a small enough airport that he isn't forced to idle outside the Arrivals gate, so he parks and waits outside the front doors, just enjoying the weather.

Spring has rolled around, and even though Van Isle doesn't quite freeze the way the rest of Canada does, Willie's happy to see that the days are getting longer. It's cloudy today, warm enough for just a light jacket.

Mike's still wearing a heavy coat, though. He's carrying two bags. One small duffel that's probably stuffed full of clothes and one giant suitcase that probably contains his fishing gear. He's also wearing a baseball cap, brim pulled low over his eyes along with the dark thick beard on his chin and cheeks. He looks a little winter pale, paler than Willie ever saw him in the never-ending sunshine of LA.

He grins when he sees Willie, just a curl of one corner of his mouth. It's taken a while for their schedules to line up enough for Mike to make the trip, which feels ridiculous now that neither of them play hockey anymore. It's good to see him again, and it'll be even better to fish with him again. Willie loves catching up with old teammates. He especially loves getting to show them around Tofino.

"Welcome to Van Isle," Willie says. He pulls Mike into a hug, even if Mike doesn't really have the arms free to hug back.

"Good to be here," Mike says against Willie's shoulder.

He follows Willie out to the car, answers Willie's questions about how his family is doing, asks after Willie's grandad and Meg and Pinot. When they're finally on the freeway, Willie tells him about his latest problems getting the hotel up and running.

"I guess that makes sense," Mike asks. "You know jack shit about running a hotel."

Willie laughs. "Yeah, but I'm willing to figure it out. Have plenty of time for it." He's been getting a crash course in British Columbia's hospitality regulations and zoning laws, an ever-increasing list of things that make him feel out of his depth. It's kind of like hockey, you have to grit your teeth and power through.

Mike is quiet for a long moment. Not so unusual for him. But there's something heavy in the empty space.

Willie figures he may as well fill it with something else. The lines for their relationship were defined long ago. He knows how to pick something safe. "How was the ice fishing up on the lake this year?"

Mike tells him about working with his brothers to fix up the family ice fishing shack, about showing his nephew how to gut his first fish. "It was nice to be home for that sort of thing. Not like the big things, because people are willing to work around your schedule for the big things, but like-- the boring things you don't think about."

"Yeah," Willie says. He glances over at Mike. His eyes are focused on the road in front of them. He's tapping his fingers against the door handle. He's not frowning, but he's not smiling either. He looks-- lost in thought. Willie could prod at it, but he's not sure that's his place. He lets the conversational thread drop, asks about Arnold, and gets a real smile in return.

---

Meg is in the kitchen when they get home, cleaning up after preparing dinner. Sauteed chicken, green beans. She gives Mike a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. "Mike!" she says, "it's great to see you!"

"Thanks for hosting me," Mike says, his voice taking on that softness that it gets when he's talking to anyone who's not a hockey player or a sports reporter.

"Of course," Meg says. "You know that Willie is always delighted to have more people to drag along on his fishing trips."

"Yeah, I know how that is," Mike says. His eyes slant over to where Willie is watching them. "When are you coming up to Kenora, bud?"

"Hey," Willie protests. "I have a hotel to run right now."

They all laugh at that. Willie gives Meg a kiss and helps her set the table.

Dinner is delicious, and Mike eats more than his fair share. Several jokes about airplane food are made even though Mike's plane was way too small to serve a meal. Mike tells Meg stories about his nieces and nephews. She coos approvingly in all the right places.

Willie tells Mike about the fishing they have to expect over the next few days. Mike nods along, asks lots of questions about the local salmon that allows Willie to go on a ten minute rant about the problems with local salmon farming. Meg rolls her eyes because she's heard it in its entirety at least a dozen times before,

They spend a whole ten minutes talking about the weather.

No one mentions hockey once.

---

It always makes Willie feel vaguely like he's living the sitcom version of his life, but he and Meg get most of their quality conversing in right before they tuck in for the night. Mike's been set up in the guest room and left alone to unpack and prepare for tomorrow. They have an early morning planned, since they want to get out on the ocean as soon as possible.

"Mike looks good," Meg says as she throws back the covers and climbs into bed. "I know better than to listen to hockey rumors, but for a while, what they were saying about him after--"

She doesn't finish that sentence, but she doesn't have to. After the arrest.

"I think being at home suits him," Willie says. He curls up next to her, rests his head on her chest as she ruffles his hair.

"Aaron called today while you were at the airport," Meg says after a pause.

"Oh?" Willie says.

"Just wanted to check in with us," Meg says. "I think he's still shaky after his concussion, wants to know that we still care about him."

Willie closes his eyes. Feels that familiar, quiet little ache. He doesn't have regrets. They all knew going into the relationship that they were on borrowed time until Willie's retirement. But even with as good as those two years were, they were there and then gone in a flash. Aaron has his own hockey career to think of, and when you're that age, all you can see is your hockey career. Over time, the phone calls got sparser and briefer. Willie says, "Does he sound like he's recovering?" They'd had a few conversations right after the concussion, too, but Willie knows how stifling everyone's concern after a bad injury can feel, so he tried not to push things too far.

Meg digs her fingers into his scalp, massaging out tension he didn't even realize he was carrying. "Yeah," she says. "It's been tough on him. All he wants to do is play. He feels like he's let his team down."

Willie frowns. His teammates should be taking better care of him. "He worries too much. Maybe I should call--" He starts to reach for his cell phone sitting on the bedside table. Willie can practically see Aaron in his mind's eye, sitting at his kitchen island by himself, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth, running his fingers through his hair, staring down at a phone in front of him. The thought that maybe he's feeling lonely, that maybe he needs more support--

Meg slaps Willie's hand. "You can't captain him forever," she says.

Willie sighs, but he still gazes longingly at his phone. Aaron, at least, is territory he's familiar with. It's something he can take care of right now. Willie has a stack of unread e-mail waiting for him regarding hotel decisions that he's going to be ignoring for the extent of Mike's stay. "I guess you're right," he says.

"You know I am," she says.

---

In the morning, Willie wakes up at the crack of dawn. A bit of hazy light creeps in underneath the curtains. Summer and its endless days are coming back soon. He can't wait.

Meg snores as he sneaks out of bed. He dresses as quietly as he can, careful not to wake her.

He's thinking that he might start getting breakfast ready, so that there will be food for when Mike gets up as well, but when Willie gets downstairs, he finds out that Mike is already awake.

"Yeah, I'll tell him," Willie hears Mike say as he turns the corner into the kitchen.

Mike pulls his phone away from his ear, hanging up. He yawns when he sees Willie and scratches at his beard. His hip is resting against the kitchen island, just-- leaning. He's dressed. His hair looks a little damp from what must have been a morning shower.

"Hey," Willie says.

"Hey," Mike says. "Carts says 'hi', by the way."

"Cool," Willie says, "tell him I said 'hi' back."

Mike shrugs. "Sure."

Willie has never asked all that many questions about Mike and Jeff's friendship, though the media was never shy about doing that for him. Willie had been in enough locker rooms to know that it was better to just not give a shit unless they made it everyone else's problem. And whatever it was, they kept it between the two of them.

Within hockey, your relationships with your teammates are easily defined. The rules for those sorts of friendships and interactions have been drilled into your head from the moment you enter your first locker room. There are things you can talk about and things you don't. It can be hard to let go of those boundaries even after you leave. That's the sort of friendship Willie and Mike have, and it works for the two of them. Don't color outside the lines.

Willie pops open the fridge, pulls out a carton of eggs, cracks a couple of them on the kitchen counter, dumps them onto a pan, Mike helps him out by putting a couple pieces of bread into the toaster, and soon enough, the kitchen starts to smell like morning, like the beginning of a new day.

Mike talks a little bit about some of thew new gear he got this past Christmas - new lures, new jibs, even a new rod. It's not that his face lights up or he talks faster or anything like that, but Willie can tell that he's another fisherman. He just-- he gets it. Willie's tried to explain it to other people in the past. He never has to explain it to Mike.

They eat their breakfast, and then they head out for the start of their day.

---

It's just the two of them on this particular fishing trip. Willie's friends in town are all busy, and Willie doesn't exactly have to worry about Mike being able to take care of himself on a boat.

As they leave the marina behind, there's a bit of wind, kicking up a salt spray right into Willie's face. The sound of gulls echoes over the boat's engine, on their own fishing expeditions. The weather is mostly cloudy, but every once in awhile the clouds will part just long enough to allow the sun through, make the water around them sparkle, the deep blues of the ocean waves all around them catching the light. It's so postcard perfect, Willie wishes he could bottle it up, save it forever.

He cuts the main engine when they get to a good spot, a school of salmon rushing underneath the boat, puts out the drift anchor. The boat rocks, side to side, in time to every dip and swell. A cool ocean breeze raises goosebumps on the back of Willie's neck.

Mike's already in the process of prepping his line. Willie pulls out his own equipment to join him. They're both eager to fish, but the whole point of fishing is to take your time, to be deliberate and careful and calm. Mike rolls up the sleeves of his hoodie as he ties his hook, his line, with the practiced ease that comes from experience.

Willie gets distracted by the hairy, roped strength of his forearms.

It's a familiar burn in the pit of his stomach, that spark of attraction, of desire. It's the first time in a while that it's been associated with something so distinctly male for Willie, and it's the first time it's ever been associated with Mike Richards.

Mike's face is hidden underneath his baseball cap, his sunglasses, his thick beard, but he tilts his head to the side, and the sunlight highlights the smooth curve of his neck. His hoodie occasionally pulls tight around his broad shoulders.

Since they've found a good spot, it doesn't take long for Mike's line to go taut. The salmon fights him the whole way, thrashing as Mike reels it in. Willie gets the fishing net to help drag it on deck. It's a good size. Willie's looking forward to having it for dinner.

Mike turns towards Willie and grins, crooked in a way that matches his nose. Willie's seen Mike grin this way any number of times, but it's the first time it's made Willie think about kissing him.

Willie becomes uncomfortably aware of the fact that he's attracted to Mike at least in part because he still looks like a hockey player, is still keeping himself in hockey shape. Once, Willie was constantly surrounded by hockey bodies, frequently sweaty and smelly and naked and more often than not banged up and bruised. Now, he catches a glimpse of a guy in the market and wonders if he played in juniors, in Europe, or just never got drafted out of midget. He picks hockey guys out of crowds: something about their shoulders, their legs, the way they carry themselves. His eyes are always drawn to them, everywhere he goes. He's not sure why. Nostalgia, maybe.

Willie prepared for his retirement. He knew how he wanted to go, what he wanted to do before he was over. There was always a clear end in sight. But that doesn't mean he doesn't miss it, that there aren't days when he gets up and he would give anything to lace up his skates for a big game again.

He thinks that Mike would understand that, better than most. The loss is still fresh for him, too. But it's not one of the things they talk about, and Willie doesn't know how to make it one.

---

By the time noon rolls around, they've caught a couple of salmon, each of them large enough to feed a family of four by themselves.

In the mid-afternoon lull, as they wait for something to bite, Willie's mind drifts back to worrying about Aaron. But Willie feels ridiculous about worrying, too. Aaron's an adult now. He can take care of himself. He needs to be able to take care of himself.

"Hey," Mike says, "everything good?" There's the smallest of furrows to his brow. They're both sitting back, watching the clouds as they pass overhead. Mike has a bottle of water in one hand, and he’s drinking absently from it.

"You still keep in touch with the veterans from your rookie year?" Willie asks.

Mike shrugs. "Not really. I mean, they were great to learn from, but it's not like we were ever particularly close. It was easier to bond with the younger guys. Management never decided I needed to be adopted."

Willie hadn't gone through anything like what they did with Aaron either. He'd spent two years in the AHL before being called up to the Show, too old and too unimportant to require adult supervision. "Yeah?"

"Actually roomed with Carts rookie year. We were both kind of disasters, but we muddled our way through. I, uh, I didn't even know how to do my own laundry." He smiles a little at that, a good memory.

"And then you did it all over again when he moved to LA," Willie says.

"Nah, that was different," Mike says, but he doesn't elaborate. He takes another sip of water, and Willie watches as his throat works as he swallows. "What brought this on?"

It's Willie's turn to shrug. "Just thinking about some of the younger guys on the Panthers."

"Ekblad was the one who was living with you, right?"

"Yeah," Willie says. "Still calls us from time to time to catch up." He thinks of Aaron in the beginning, nervous and awkward and unsure of himself, and he thinks of Aaron at the end, smiling and happy and comfortable with himself and his team. It's a good memory, one that Willie's proud of.

Mike nods. "League can be pretty brutal when you're a kid, especially with that much pressure put on him."

"Yup," Willie says. He considers adding more detail. Mike understands how it is with concussions. But then Willie feels his line go tight, and he has other things on his mind to distract him.

---

Meg smiles tolerantly at them when they come home with a cooler full of fish. "I hope you're prepared to eat all of these," she says, holding open the back door for them as they lug their haul inside.

Willie takes a moment to kiss her forehead. His stomach takes that opportunity to rumble. They snacked on the boat, but that's nothing like a full meal. "Always, babe," he says.

Mike helps with cleaning the fish as Meg prepares the grill. Willie watches them work, separately and together, easy and comfortable in each other's space, and he thinks, maybe. The errant attraction he'd felt on the boat hasn't faded now that they're back on dry land.

Of course nothing will happen until Willie talks to Meg about it first. And he doesn't even know if Mike would be interested. He never has been before, but then again, Willie hadn't been before either.

Dinner goes by quickly. Even though Meg grills outside, they eat at the kitchen table.

Mike doesn't talk much today, but Willie and Meg are happy to fill in the empty spaces. Willie recounts stupid fishing stories, the ones he's experienced since retirement. Guys who got drunk enough to be confused about which end of the pole was which. Losing exactly one sandal in the ocean. Passing by tourists that had that "I'm on a Boat" song playing at full volume. Meg mostly just interjects color commentary. She laughs at something Willie says, something about mistaking a salmon for a halibut, but it makes her whole face light up, eyes sparkling, and Willie feels like to the luckiest man in the world, the one who somehow managed to convince this woman to marry him.

Mike glances between the two of them, the faintest of smiles on his face, but he doesn't try to insert himself in the conversation. He's not like Aaron, whose desperate need to feel included could be tricky to manage.

And maybe that is also part of the appeal. Things won't get complicated with Mike because Mike is never going to need them or their approval. Mike has his own life with his own friends and his own shit, and he doesn't seem inclined to drag Willie or Meg into any of it.

Later, when Mike's gone to bed and Willie is brushing his teeth, Meg wraps her arms around Willie's torso, leans herself against Willie's side, and says, "Something's on your mind," she says. "Is it Aaron? Because it sounds like his recovery is going well. I'm pretty sure he's just overthinking everything. You know how he can get."

Willie rinses out his mouth, spitting the toothpaste down the drain. "Not exactly," he says. He's been thinking about it all day and yet, even with the opportunity to put it into words, to say it out loud, he feels reluctant. "It's Mike."

Meg's brow furrows. Willie immediately kisses it smooth. She asks, "Is everything okay? Did something happen while you were out on the boat today?"

"No," Willie says, shaking his head. "Nothing like that. I just-- I want to know if it would be okay if I invited him to sleep with us."

There were others, before Aaron. Nothing quite as serious as he was, but he wasn't the first, and it was understood that he wouldn't be the last. Before Aaron, thirds and even fourths would flit in and out of their bed. Aaron was the first to stick around, the first to become a fixture in Willie's and Meg's life. He would grin at them during morning breakfasts and pass out next to them at night. He would steal the comics section out of the newspaper, and he'd take Pinot out for walks. Most of the time, it had just been sex, but Aaron had been something else. This is the first time that either of them have mentioned anyone since him. It feels like they're crossing a line. Meg says, "What brought this on?" It's not a no.

"I think he gets it, better than most people." Willie doesn't have to worry that when Mike looks at him, all he'll see are the Stanley Cups and the money and the whatever it is that makes people treat Willie a little weird when he walks around town.

"And you think he'll say yes?" Meg says. She presses a kiss to Willie's shoulder.

To be honest, Willie has no idea. Mike's always played things close to the chest. "I think he won't be a jerk about turning us down," he says, "and it won't make things weird if it does or doesn't happen."

"Okay, then," she says. She runs her hands down Willie's sides, like she's actively interested in this idea, too, and not just indulging one of Willie's whims. "Ask him tomorrow." She yawns. "Tonight, I just want to get some sleep."

"Love you," Willie says, because he does.

"I know," she says, grinning over her shoulder as she disappears back into the bedroom.

---

The next morning, Willie takes Mike clamming. The water's warm enough. The algae levels are good. Meg's been on a fresh shellfish kick lately.

There's this good spot on some tidal mud flats on Meares Island, so they take the boat out there and dock nearby. Willie strips off his shoes and socks as soon as possible, rolling up the cuffs of his pants past his knees. Mike copies him. Their pants are probably going to get wet anyway, but it doesn't hurt to try. Mike's calves are strong and thick, covered in dark hair. Aaron's hair was light enough that it almost seemed invisible, and Meg always shaves her legs. It's almost novel, their hairy calves next to each other, not quite mirror images, but more similar than not.

The sand is silky and smooth underneath Willie's feet. He wiggles his toes, feels the silt slide into the gaps in between. A breeze kicks up, ruffling his hair, and it smells the way no city ever smells, clean and fresh and full of wild things.

Foraging for clams is a very different thing from fishing, but Willie loves it anyway. There's less tech. More wading barefoot. More sticking your hand into the murky water, trying to unearth something hidden.

For a while, the two of them work quietly and separately, slowly adding clams to their bucket.

"I saw Ekblad got a concussion recently," Mike says, breaking the silence. He's bent over, arms in the shallow water, rooting around for a clam he just found. He's in a t-shirt that hangs loosely around his shoulders.

"Yeah," Willie says. He's still pissed about that hit. "It shouldn't have happened."

Mike is quiet for a long moment. "None of them should."

Willie nods. "No, they shouldn't," he says. He glances over at Mike, but Mike is still staring at the ground. "That's just life, though, eh? Life and hockey."

"Yeah, sure. Life and hockey." Mike shakes his head, and that seems to jostle him out of his thoughts. He pulls a clam out of the water, brushes off the remaining sand from its shell, lobs it underhand at the bucket. It lands inside with a muted clunk.

He grins, a bright, broad smile that spreads across his face, making him look startlingly boyish for a moment. He looks-- he looks good. He looks happy. On the Kings, it was always easy to tell when something was bothering Mike. He would glower and sulk and hit harder and pick fights. It was when he was happy, when he felt calm and at ease-- that was more difficult to suss out.

Now's as good a time as any, Willie figures. "Hey, I wanted to ask you something."

Mike tenses, almost imperceptibly, but Willie's watching him closely. "What is it?" he asks.

"Just wanted to know if you'd be interested in--" Willie starts, but he's feeling a little tongue-tied, like he's fourteen and crushing on the captain of his bantam team all over again. He wraps a hand around Mike's neck and presses a gentle peck against his lips. Mike's always been better with actions than words, anyway. "--with me and Meg."

Mike's eyes are still hidden under his sunglasses. "Oh," he says. He licks his lips.

"Just for while you're here," Willie says, "if you're interested."

Mike just stands there for a long moment, considering. "You guys and Ekblad, huh?" he asks.

Willie shrugs. It's not up to him to give up Aaron's secrets, even if (or maybe especially if) they involve him.

Mike seems to accept that as an answer, because he nods. He takes a breath, blowing it out slowly. "Yeah," he says. "I'm interested." He smiles at Willie, broad enough to show teeth, and he doesn't pull away when Willie kisses him for real.

---

They fill up half the bucket with clams to bring home. Willie manages to steal a few more kisses, taking a weird sort of delight in the rough scratch of Mike's beard. Willie hasn't grown out a beard that thick since he retired. Just another thing that reminds him of hockey.

When they get home, Meg glances over at Willie, a question in her eyes. When Willie nods, she grins. "Hey, guys," she says. She lowers her lashes ever so slightly, her grin turning a little wicked. "Hi, Mike." She's flirting in a way she doesn't bother to for Willie anymore. That's always been one of the thrills of doing this. Another chance at seducing someone different, someone unfamiliar, someone new.

Mike's eyebrows climb up to his forehead, like he hadn't realized Willie was being serious about it being the both of them. He relaxes after a moment, smiles back, just as flirtatious. Willie has the realization that this is the exact sort of thing that earned him his reputation in Philadelphia just as Mike leans over and kisses her, slow and drawn out, a complete 180 from the friendly pecks that Mike's given her before.

It's definitely a pretty sight. Willie has always felt greedy, for wanting this, for wanting everything else. He's so thrilled that he's allowed to have it.

Meg pulls back, grinning still, smug and delighted. Her eyes meet Mike's, and her grin gets even wider. There's a definite heat there, a promise for later. Maybe Willie should be jealous, seeing that sort of thing pass between them, but all he feels is the pleasant burn of arousal, watching them together.

He drops the bucket on the kitchen island. It makes a loud, distinctive thunk that startles everyone out of their reverie. "Am I going to have to prepare these clams myself or what?" Willie asks.

Meg rolls her eyes at him. "Just dump them in salt water and then come make out with us on the couch."

Pinot wanders over, nudges Willie's knee, looking for affection. Willie scratches behind his ears as his tail thumps against the ground. "Hey, bud. I'm glad there's at least one person who appreciates me here."

However reluctantly, he still goes back outside, walks down to the beach and fills up enough of the bucket with salty-briny seawater. When he gets back to the house, he sees that Meg did follow through on her promise. She's straddling Mike's lap on the couch, cupping his face with both of her hands. From this angle, Willie can't see much, just dark hair mingling together. One of Mike's hands is spread out along Meg's back.

Mike is smaller than most of the hockey guys Willie has known -- smaller than Aaron, definitely -- but he's still twice the size of Meg. They stop kissing long enough for Meg to glance over her shoulder at Willie. She smirks, wicked, before leaning over to whisper something into Mike's ear. Mike chuckles, eyes crinkling at the corners. Meg strips off her shirt, exposing the smooth skin of her back. She isn't wearing a bra.

Willie drops the bucket on the floor, because it's pretty obvious that the clams can wait. When he makes it to the couch, he kisses Meg first. She digs her fingers into Willie's hair, scratching lightly at Willie's scalp. Mike has his face buried between her breasts. Willie only sees the briefest flash of teeth before Mike bites down on a nipple, causing Meg to moan into Willie's mouth. Willie laughs and gets pinched for his trouble.

"Hey!" he says.

"Serves you right," Meg says. She pushes Willie's long-sleeved button-up shirt off his shoulders, strips his t-shirt over his head. "I should not be the only person shirtless here."

Mike grins, eyebrows raised. "Can't argue with that," he says. He pulls his own t-shirt over his head, showing off his chest. Meg runs her hands over it. She's always had a thing for broad chests. Not that Willie can blame her. He's always been a fan of them himself.

For a moment, he considers sitting back, just watching the two of them together. He imagines Mike pushing Meg onto the couch, covering her body with his own, fucking her hard and deep the way she likes it. Willie has never had any problems with watching.

But then Mike's grabbing Willie's arm, drawing him in. Their lips meet again. Meg leaves wet kisses on Willie's neck. Her fingernails scratch down Willie's sides.

"You want to set the play or should I?" Mike asks against Willie's mouth.

Meg snorts. "Oh please, both of you are hopeless. I should definitely be the one setting the play."

Mike laughs, easy and comfortable. Aaron didn't laugh during sex for the most part. He always got tense and uncomfortable at first, like he was afraid he was going to get tested on it later. One of great pleasures of sleeping with him was getting him so lost in pleasure that all of that tension just melted away.

Willie says, "You heard the woman."

Meg drags them both into the bedroom, though their shirts still lay discarded on the living room floor. ("I am not going to figure out how to clean the upholstery later," she says.) She pushes Willie onto the bed, pushes Mike onto the bed next to him.

Mike says, "Uh..." He glances over at Willie, looking for guidance.

"She likes to watch," Willie says in a fake whisper.

"Yes," Meg says. "While you're both here, you should give me a show."

Willie taps her thigh with his foot. "Voyeur," he says, laughing. They've had more than a few encounters where Meg hasn't done anything but watch and give directions.

"Guilty as charged," she says, smirking. She smacks Willie on the head. "Get to it."

Willie draws Mike into a kiss, their knees bumping together. After an initial moment of hesitation, Mike relaxes into it. He licks his tongue into Willie's mouth, rests his hands on Willie's hips. Willie rolls on top of him, wanting to get closer. Their chests press together, Mike's hard and broad and flat beneath Willie's. Meg hums approvingly behind them.

Mike rolls his hips, presses his growing erection up against Willie's. Willie has to pull away from his mouth to gasp against his neck. He wants more, closer, wants skin. His body is buzzing with it.

Meg, who is the most amazing person in the entire world, says, "Come on, boys. Pants off."

They scramble to push their pants down, kick them off, get their socks off in the process. At one point, Willie's leg gets caught in the leg hole, and Meg laughs at him for a solid minute. Mike joins in, ducking his head as he chuckles into his beard. She stripped while he and Mike were making out, let her hair down, gloriously naked for everyone to see. Mike licks his lips, eyes drifting down to the dark thatch of hair between her thighs.

Maybe it should spark some sort of jealousy in Willie, a possessive sort of anger, but all he feels is a smug sort of pride. Yeah, that's right, Willie thinks. My wife is the sexiest thing you have ever seen, and you better not forget it.

Mike kneels in front of where she's sitting on the bed. "Can I...? he asks the room, eyes darting between Willie and Meg like he's not sure whose permission he needs.

"That's a definite yes," Meg says. She spreads her legs to let Mike in between them.

From this vantage point, Willie can't see much of the action, such as it is, but he does get a good look at Meg's reactions. The way her head falls back, eyes slipping closed. The way her lips part. The way her fingers clench in Mike's hair. The sounds she makes when he hits that one particular spot that never fails to get her going. The pinch of her thighs around Mike's head as she gets close. The arch of her back when she comes. Willie can't look away, has never been able to look away. Willie kisses her through the aftershocks. She hums, approving, from the back of her throat.

Mike pulls back, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, and it's just filthy enough that Willie has to kiss him next. He can taste Meg on Mike's lips, and even as good as watching was, he wants-- needs to get involved right now.

"Hey," Willie asks, pulling back so he can look Mike in the eye. "What would you like?"

Mike blinks at him, hesitating before saying, "You could fuck me?"

Willie gets the impression that this isn't something that Mike asks for or offers up lightly. "Sure," he says, because he's definitely not objecting to the idea. He roots around the nightstand, looking for the lube.

When he finally finds it, Mike is already on his back, one arm thrown over his eyes as Meg kisses her way across his collarbone, her hands roaming over Mike's chest, his hips, his neck.

"Hey," Willie says. He puts a hand on Mike's thigh, just above the knee, just so Mike knows he's there. "I'm gonna--"

Mike sucks in a deep breath. He nods once.

Willie takes his time prepping him, because Mike is tight and tense, even as his hard cock bobs against his stomach. Willie slicks up his fingers with too much lube, presses them in one at a time, feels the way Mike relaxes, second-by-second around him. Meg cups Mike's balls in one small hand. Mike groans, low and deep. A muscle in his thigh twitches under Willie's palm.

When Willie can finally get three fingers in, Meg tears open a condom packet, slides it onto Willie's cock. She lubes him up and gives it a squeeze for good measure, and Willie can't help the slight whine he lets out at the feel of it, the tightness and friction.

His hips jerk forward, pressing his cock against the curve of Mike's ass.

"Come on," Meg says. She's watching intently, her eyes dark and intense. One of her hands is between her thighs. "I want to see it."

Mike clears his throat. "Yeah," he says, and his voice is a little shaky, but he also sounds certain. "Come on."

Willie lines himself up, pushes in. His eyes slide closed. If he looks-- sees himself, sees Mike, sees Meg, it'll be too much. As it is, it's too much. The clench of Mike's ass around his cock. The smell of sex in the room. Meg's whispered encouragements.

He tries to pick up a good pace, steady and strong. Willie opens his eyes again once he feels like he's gotten control of himself again. Mike's legs come up, wrap around Willie's waist. Strong, thick thighs. Hockey thighs.

Meg kisses Mike again, her hands petting his hair. "Yeah," she murmurs. "Like that. You two look so good together. Love seeing you guys like this."

At her words, Mike relaxes even further, his body going pliant underneath Willie's own. He pulls his arm away from his face, and now they can see his eyes, dark and a little glassy with arousal.

Willie wants-- he leans over, covering Mike's body with his own. Gets close enough to feel the heat and the breadth of his body. Close enough to see the shine of Mike's pupils. The slick red of his lips. The dark fuzz of his beard.

Meg reaches between their bodies, lazily wraps one hand around Mike's cock, and begins to jerk him off. "Come on," she says. "Let go. Let go for us."

And Mike-- who keeps everything bottled up until he's on the ice, who hates to let anyone see how he feels about almost anything, squeezes his eyes shut, tosses his head back, and comes with a strangled groan, face flushed, mouth hanging open.

Willie waits him out until the shudders subside, then pulls out, careful. Willie hates being fucked after he comes, and even though Aaron liked it, he usually stops just as a courtesy. Meg is right there, stripping the condom off and then sucking him down without preamble. The sudden shock of heat and wetness on his bare skin makes him moan, and he was so close, riding the edge before Mike came that it doesn't take much for him to come as well.

They clean up, lazy and unhurried, and then end up sprawled together on the king-size bed, a comfortable pile of limbs. Willie dozes off.

"What about the clams?" Meg asks eventually. Her voice is a little muzzy with sleep.

"The clams can wait," Willie says.

Mike laughs, a rumble in his chest that Willie can feel against his own.

---

In the morning, Willie's knee aches when he wakes up, a dull throb that spreads through his entire leg. He extricates himself slowly and quietly, hobbles downstairs to the kitchen, where he downs two ibuprofen and closes his eyes as he waits for the painkillers to kick in.

"Alright?" Mike asks. He's come downstairs after Willie, barefoot and shirtless still. His eyes are curious but not probing.

Willie tries to smile through his grimace. "Yeah," he says. "Just an old injury acting up." Just the price he's paid for doing what he loved for so many years. The price every hockey player is willing to pay. You pay and you keep paying, though, even after the hockey is gone.

Mike nods and doesn't press further. "I'll get some toast started," he says, and if Willie were capable of moving, he would probably kiss Mike again.

They go fishing inshore that day, where the water is calm and they can see the lush green mountains that rise up over the city. White clouds linger overhead and on the horizon. Every day, Willie falls in love with Tofino just a little more. Every day, he becomes just a little more aware of how fragile, how delicate this interlocking web of their environment is. He wants to know it all. He loves each new tidbit that he gets.

Fishing always relaxes Willie, but Mike actually seems on edge, tense like he's about to go into a playoff game. Apparently, he's not one of those people who gets languid and relaxed the day after really good sex.

It's not until they've cast their lines, waiting for the fish to bite that Mike turns to Willie and says, "I think-- I think I'm retiring for real." His mouth is pulled into a grim, straight line. This wasn't one of the things they talk about, but maybe-- maybe now it is. They've already redrawn the lines of their relationship once during this trip. Maybe they don't just have to keep their conversations limited to their families or their dogs or their most recently acquired fishing gear any longer.

"Yeah?" Willie asks from where he's sitting by the edge, leg propped up to give it more time to rest. "That's not a decision any of us make lightly." He remembers his own long conversations with Meg, the sleepless nights wondering if it was the right call, for himself, for his body. Even when he misses hockey with every fiber of his being, he knows now that he made the right choice. There's just so much to the world outside of hockey. He thinks of his hotel, waiting for him at the end of this trip, that familiar heady mix of dread and excitement for the unknown.

Mike nods, a little jerkily. "Yeah. I was thinking of maybe going to Europe if I couldn't get an NHL contract, get through a few more of my playing years before I walked away for real."

"But?" Willie says.

"But I think I'm ready to be done. Not have to deal with the same bullshit on a different continent. Get to stay close to my family."

"I'm sure they're happy about that," Willie says. His own parents were thrilled to have him close by again, even if they did like the excuse to fly to LA or Florida.

"I haven't told them yet," Mike says. He sighs, heavy, deep from inside his chest. "I haven't told anyone else yet. They're just-- they're trying to be supportive, but that also means-- I don't want them to know until I'm sure."

Willie waits for a moment. The wind whistles by, ruffling his hair. "I'm glad-- I'm glad you trust me enough to tell me."

"I don't know what I'm going to do, after," Mike says. He's staring at one of the spare lures in his hand that he's been fiddling with.

"You don't have to," Willie points out. "We've got time to figure this shit out. It doesn't have to be all at once." He puts one hand on Mike's shoulder, squeezes it.

Mike stays quiet. His shoulders rise and fall with every breath he takes. "I just-- I just thought that I'd have more time," he eventually says, his voice barely loud enough to be heard.

"I think we all do," Willie says. "But it's up to us to make the most of the time we do have, you know? Nothing in life lasts forever, and shit always changes faster than you expect it to. Hockey's not any different."

Mike cracks a smile. "You practice that speech in the mirror, Mitchie?"

"Not recently," Willie says, grinning back, "but old habits die hard."

Mike punches him in the side. "Thanks," he says. His smile turns sweet. His gaze turns towards the horizon. Away from the ice, Mike has always been like this: quiet and thoughtful and turned inwards, but being on the water has always brought that out more.

"You should tell them," Willie adds. "Your family. It helps, knowing that they've got your back."

"What did Meg say, when you told her?" Mike glances up at him, teeth worrying his bottom lip.

Willie laughs. "It was more of a negotiation than an announcement."

"Two more years in Florida and then that's it?"

"Those were the terms of our agreement." It had been a lot of talking, a lot of back and forth. Weeks and weeks of weighing their options. Tense dinners. Chatty breakfasts.

Mike lets out a slow breath. He nods. "And now you're here."

"And now I'm here," Willie agrees. He glances around, at the mountains, at the ocean waters, at the islands that dot the horizon. He breathes in that smell -- cool and salty and perfect in a way that LA and Ft. Lauderdale could never replicate. "To be honest, there's nowhere else I'd rather be. I don't have regrets about the years I played hockey, but I'm glad-- I'm glad that I can put them behind me." As he says the words, Willie can feel how true they are. He does still have pangs of longing for the past, colored by nostalgia, but they're fleeting, insubstantial. This is where he wants to be.

"I think-- I think I know that feeling," Mike says, and Willie can tell he's thinking of home.

"It's scary, but, you know, that's okay. It's like that for everyone." And Mike-- Mike has never been the sort of person who backs down from anything just because it's difficult. He's going to be fine.

"Yeah," Mike says. "You're-- thank you." He squeezes Willie's bicep, once, and then he turns back to his line, back to the water, away from the future and back to the present.

---

They eat the fish and clams for dinner. Meg grumbles about shucking the clams by herself, but Willie knows that she likes it the way some people like popping bubble wrap. Mike tells them a story about the first time he and his brothers ever had seafood and how they horrified everyone else by becoming more interested in the lobster claws as weapons and chasing each other around the restaurant with them. Meg laughs and slides more fish onto Mike's plate.

After dinner, they end up on the couch, too full of food to think about sex just yet. and Mike tells them, hesitantly, about what he's thinking of doing afterwards. "I like-- I like working with the kids. I really do think I would have been a teacher if the hockey thing didn't work out for me." He has his head resting on Meg's shoulder, Willie's head in his lap.

Meg runs her hands through his hair. "Plenty of teams are looking for coaches." She doesn't have to add that that Mike's resume could get him a position pretty much anywhere without much effort at all.

"Yeah," Mike says. "I couldn't commit to anything long term while I was still hoping for-- but maybe, maybe now I can."

Willie nudges his shoulder with one hand. "You've got all sorts of time now."

Mike smiles at him, small and fragile and real. "Yeah, I guess I really do."

They have sex with Mike again that night. This time around, he's a little looser a little easier with himself. Meg rides him while Willie licks her clit, and Willie gets to feel the both of them come against his lips. He makes out with Mike afterwards, rubbing his hard cock against Mike's thigh and coming all over Mike's hip.

Mike wraps one hand around the back of Willie's neck and grins that tiny half-grin at him, and yeah, Willie thinks he's going to be okay.

In the morning, Willie sees Mike off at the airport. Mike's still carrying his two bags. The brim of his cap isn't pulled quite so low.

"Thanks," Mike says, "for everything." His voice sounds a little raw, but it's also warm, filled with the same affection that he has when he talks about his family.

"Anytime," Willie says. "I mean it. Whatever you need."

Mike nods. He pulls Willie into a hug, arms wrapped tight around Willie's back. He gives an extra squeeze before he lets go. "Come up to Lake of the Woods this summer," he says. "Bring Meg with you. You guys can stay at my place."

"It's a plan," Willie says. Bass and walleye and long summer days. Willie's looking forward to it.

"Good," Mike says. He pulls back, gives Willie one last nod before heading towards the airport entrance. The automatic doors slide open for him and then close behind his retreating back.

Willie wouldn't have said Mike looked particularly tense when he first showed up, but he does-- he does seem lighter now. A weight's been taken off his shoulders.

When Willie gets home, he finds that Meg's gone out to go grocery shopping, leaving him with an empty house. Well, except for Pinot, who is chewing on a beat-up tennis ball in the back yard.

Willie checks his phone for the time, does a quick time zone calculation of the difference between here and Florida, and then makes the call. Aaron picks up after the fifth ring.

"Mitchie?" he asks, and he, as always, sounds so goddamn young.

"Hey, bud," Willie says. "How's it going? I heard your head's feeling better these days."

"Yeah," Aaron says. He sounds tired but hopeful. He still plays hockey. He still has his whole career in front of him. Maybe once, there would have been a trace of jealousy, as faint as it would be, but now all Willie feels is an overwhelming sense of pride. Aaron's amazing. He's going to do great things.

"I'm glad," Willie says. "I just wanted to tell you to-- I don't know, enjoy it while you can. It'll be over before you know it."

"Yeah, sure," Aaron says, like he's heard the same speech a million times before, and maybe he has. It's impossible to know, to understand, at that age, how fleeting everything is.

"And take care of yourself. Concussions are no joke. Meg and I-- maybe it's not like that anymore, but we do still love you. We want to make sure you're okay."

Aaron chuckles a little, and Willie can just imagine the giddy smile on his face, the one that always made him look his age. "Thanks, Mitchie. Tell Meg-- Tell Meg that I love you guys, too."

"I will," Willie promises. "We'll catch up with you later."

"Definitely," Aaron says. He hangs up after that.

Willie takes a moment to breathe into the silence. What he has right now -- the people, the places, the things -- they're amazing and perfect and just as fleeting as his hockey career was. He's taking his own advice. Slow down for a moment. Stop, even. Just-- enjoying it while it lasts.

Then he pulls out his computer, starts to read through the e-mail that's been piling up over his mini-vacation. He has a hotel to run. He has the rest of his life to live.

 

FIN.