"It's for charity," JJ says, leaning over the boards and waving his phone. There's something about his face, puppy-eager, that pinches Otabek, two sharp fingers on the edge of his heart.
"I haven't played in years," Otabek says. Not since he was eight and he folded his arms and stood on the sidewalk beside his gear for the whole practice until his father came to pick him up. It took three more days, one in the rain, staring at his father through the car window for two hours, but at the end of it, Otabek was out of hockey and enrolled in figure skating lessons.
"No problem, Beks, they'll fix you up with gear." JJ grins, big and shiny. Otabek is glad JJ is already out of his skates so he can't swing Otabek around the ice, spinning them both in a circle. "I'll send you the info." JJ goes back to his phone with that too-loud voice, that too-practised head flip.
By the time Otabek folds his arms, JJ is already looking away.
They're alone in the back of the limousine but JJ pulls Otabek over next to him, a lanky arm draped over Otabek's shoulders. Their suits for the party afterwards are hanging on a hook, the plastic dry cleaning bag over Otabek's rustling in the breeze from the air conditioning.
"I know all these guys," JJ says. "I play with them sometimes for fun. A few of them were at that party last week."
Otabek doesn't remember who he met at the party, just a bunch of loud voices, loud faces. JJ's arm around his shoulders half the night, steering him from group to group. Then JJ was gone, disappeared, leaving Otabek to lean against the wall with his arms folded, deflecting anyone who veered his way with a look.
JJ reappeared just as Otabek's Uber was arriving and he climbed in after, quiet for once, his hand on Otabek's thigh and smelling like beer and sweat and smoke. "You can crash at my place, Beks," he said, sour breath warming Otabek's cheek.
But when they got there, to JJ's half of his family's duplex, Otabek let JJ's hand slip off his thigh and just watched JJ amble up the walk, turning back to wave until the door closed behind him. The driver had to ask Otabek twice for his address.
"Me and Morneau..." JJ starts one of his stories, his hand brushing against Otabek's arm and his legs sprawling out to push Otabek's over.
Otabek looks straight ahead, at the rolled up window between them and the driver, smoked glass he can just barely see their reflections in. He tries to ignore the way his body wants to twist, away from JJ, towards JJ, like it has since the first time JJ skated up to him and put his arm around him.
He closes his eyes but nothing goes away.
The boots feel strange on Otabek's feet, although the fit is okay. The equipment smells like sweat – somebody else's sweat – and mildew. But the sweater is new, red with his name and number in white: Altin, 27.
"Let's go!" JJ calls on the way out of the dressing room and bangs Otabek on the back, right over Otabek's name.
The players jostle around them on their way out to the ice. They're mostly from the national juniors team with a few other celebrities. Otabek isn't a celebrity, not in Canada and not even here in Montreal. He doesn't know if they were short on players or if JJ made them take him on.
At first it seems like there's not enough room for them all at once, that's why, or it's some pre-game intimidation. But it's JJ the guys bump into, walking through him, shoulders bashing. And half of those sweaters are red.
JJ doesn't jostle back. He laughs his too-loud laugh as their heads bend towards him, muttering to him in French that Otabek can't understand.
When Otabek's blades hit the ice, he sways and hesitates before his body remembers the way to move on hockey skates. He crosses the ice a few times while he's ramping up, practising his stick handling and watching JJ's easy loping style.
They start taking shots and Otabek can tell this skill will be harder to get back. He misses, misses, and JJ bangs him on the back again.
JJ's shots are finding the goal, or at least the goalie's pads. He skates over to Otabek and taps their helmets together. "We're on the same shift; left wing okay?"
Otabek nods. At eight years old, he was on defense but he's probably equally bad at either now.
"We'll do it JJ Style!" JJ makes his hand sign, more or less, though with gloves it's harder to tell. His stick clatters to the ice and Otabek picks it up.
Then a white sweater crosses the red line and stops hard in front of JJ, spraying him with snow. "Leroy," the player says and he pronounces it lee-roy, but like he knows it's wrong and he's doing it on purpose. "My turn today."
JJ laughs and it's loud but empty too, no bluster, no JJ to fill it up. Otabek feels that pinch again inside his chest.
When the player skates away, Otabek watches him go: Klassen, number 34. Then he turns to bang JJ on the back. But JJ is already gone, skating in to take a shot on goal.
Back in the dressing room, JJ re-tapes his stick while the captain gives them a half-serious pep talk. "It's bad luck to tape before warm-up," JJ says and squeezes Otabek's knee before he starts.
Black around the blade, same as everyone in the room. But JJ wraps the grip in bright red, a shade too orange to match their sweaters. When JJ picks up his gloves, Otabek can see they're stained with the dye.
Otabek holds onto his own stick, not worrying about luck, but whether he'll fuck up and cost them the game. Whether his father will somehow find out and look a little wistful on their next Skype call.
On their way to the box, the right winger on their line – Cardinal – holds out his fist and Otabek bumps it. JJ pushes between them, arms over both their shoulders. "Let's skate to win, boys!"
Cardinal catches Otabek's eye and they share a look. Otabek feels badly, even though he does the same every day at the rink with Bossé, the scrappy junior who shares Otabek's coach. But that's there and this is here.
They're on the bench for the puck drop but the shifts are on the short side so it's not long before they're clambering onto the ice. Otabek nearly falls going over the boards, but he catches himself in time and skates out into the fray.
He tries to remember their coach's advice but the truth is he's not even sure what most of the jargon means so he just skates like hell, half an eye on that red stick, and when the puck slides his way, he slaps it over to JJ.
Back in the box, they shuffle down the bench. Otabek squeezes water into his mouth and watches the ice. When he's out there, it feels frantic but he can tell the game is actually so slow, it's almost lazy. All the juniors are laughing, hardly paying attention.
Their captain scores and JJ jumps up while everyone else just bangs their sticks. Otabek looks up at JJ, yelling and waving, and think he's actually wishing that had been him.
Cardinal swears and, when Otabek looks over, mutters, "Just lost two hundred bucks."
Then they're back on the ice, skating, skating. Otabek fumbles his stick at the blue line and turns over the puck while he's trying to pass. He looks up at the red stick and sees a white sweater bump JJ's shoulder, even though neither of them are anywhere near the puck.
On his fourth shift, Otabek finally clicks into hockey mode, and he's skating easier, handling his stick decently. He chips the puck to Cardinal. Cardinal slides in it just past the goalie's skate.
"Good pass!" Cardinal bangs Otabek's helmet and smiles like Otabek is an okay guy. But when JJ skates up and slaps his back, Cardinal shoves with his hip and knocks him back, just enough to be obvious.
When they head back to the bench, Otabek makes sure he's between them.
In the second period, JJ gets delayed in the corner and it disrupts the lines for a while. And that's when Otabek really sees it. There's some contact on the ice, of course, it's hockey, but it's an exhibition game with celebrity players; the juniors have been warned, multiple times, to back off. And they are.
Except with JJ. They're still bashing him with a shoulder, just enough to throw off his balance. They're still crowding him, still getting in his face. And, just like in the tunnel, some of those sweaters are red. It makes Otabek's chest tighten.
Their line is back together just before the end of the second. They're on the ice, scrambling after the puck, but Otabek has his eyes on the red stick.
So he sees number 77, Leroy, get the puck in the corner. And he sees number 34, Klassen, fly in and check JJ against the boards, full body contact, with a thud that echoes in the arena.
He sees JJ's face, visor twisting, pressed against the plexiglass, grimacing with his eyes squeezed closed. And Klassen leaning over his shoulder, holding him there, and saying something that makes him grin.
It's not until Cardinal comes up beside him that Otabek realises he's dropped his stick on the ice.
"Are you okay?" he asks JJ in the locker room.
JJ reaches for Otabek's stick and Otabek lets him take it. "Your grip is messed up." JJ pulls off the frayed white tape and replaces it with a long strip of red, winding it carefully so that it lies perfectly flat.
"Thank you." Otabek holds out his hand but JJ takes a marker from his equipment bag and at the bottom of the grip he writes JJ Style!
Otabek waits until the marker dries to touch his thumb there.
In the third period, JJ comes alive. He skates faster. He yells louder, bangs his stick more. Slaps more backs and calls more names. On the bench, he tightens his arm, hand still in his glove, around Otabek's neck.
And Otabek can't watch anyone else. On the ice, players are still bumping JJ but now JJ is leaning into it, looking after them with an expression Otabek can't read.
So Otabek just keeps his eyes on JJ. When the puck comes his way and he's lucky enough not to be covered, he passes, red stick to red stick. He doesn't look to see who else is open.
But he looks for number 34, Klassen, and keeps his body between them as much as he can. Klassen doesn't bump him when he gets too close, just grins behind his visor and skates away.
White tie up the score with five minutes to go and the crowd wakes up, yelling and cheering. The juniors catch the excitement and the game turns almost serious. Even Otabek feels it. He skates like he means it, follows through when he passes. If his father saw him now, Otabek would almost be glad.
They pile over the boards for their last shift of the game and spin out onto the ice. Otabek is looking for the puck, where's the puck? A defenseman almost barrels into him, veering at the last second.
Otabek moves down past the blue line, looking everywhere, feeling the ice through his skates, through his stick. Then it happens, everything in slow motion. Cardinal comes up the right side with the puck on his blade. He taps it and it goes right through a path between three white sweaters and onto Otabek's stick.
It's there, the perfect shot. Otabek can see it. All he has to do is flick his wrists and the puck will slide so sweetly into the corner of the goal.
But in the corner of his eye, he sees the red stick. And he passes, following through with his whole body and turning so his eyes are on JJ's face.
JJ shoots. He misses. And he bangs Otabek's back on the way to the bench. "Great pass, Beks!"
"Why didn't you take a shot?" Cardinal says to Otabek, when they're through the door. "I have five hundred dollars on us to win."
The buzzer sounds. JJ puts his arm around Otabek's neck. "Good game!" he yells. "Good game!"
Otabek looks down at his gloves. The palms are stained with red.
In the locker room, Otabek collapses on a bench before starting to undress. His muscles burn, arms mostly, but a little in the thighs too. He's not used to skating with this gait.
Inside the unfamiliar boots, there's a place rubbed raw on his left foot. That's going to hurt at practice for a week. But Otabek nearly can't feel it now, the adrenaline of those last few moments is still buoying him up.
Beside him, JJ is calling out names as he undresses, good game, good game, we crushed it. He's down to his boxers, stowing his equipment haphazardly into his bag. His cheeks are flushed. They're all a little red and sweaty but JJ seems hectic, glassy-eyed like he has a fever.
"You did great!" JJ bangs Otabek on the back. "We did great!" He hangs his arm around Otabek's neck, even though Otabek still has his shoulder pads on.
Otabek finds himself leaning into it, the warmth of JJ's forearm across his throat. He wants to make this go away for now: this sweaty room, these yelling boys. Just quiet, just cool air. Just JJ's weight pushing him off-balance.
"You did great," Otabek says to JJ and JJ's bright eager smile pinches Otabek's heart.
Otabek piles his borrowed gear on the bench but he folds the sweater and tucks it in his bag. His stick is lying on the floor and he sees JJ's scribble on the grip. He pulls the tape up gently so he can tear off that piece and put it in his wallet.
They shower and Otabek dresses for the party. JJ is slower, fussing with his hair, his shirt and jacket hanging in the locker beside him. His cheeks are still flushed, his eyes still brilliant, and he jitters in a way that's unfamiliar to Otabek. Sharp nervous movements with his hands in his hair. Not those wide easy gestures that always draw Otabek's eye.
The room is emptying out, and Otabek wants to stay here instead of heading for the party to have the noise and crush of bodies all over again.
"You go ahead," JJ says. He doesn't bang Otabek's back. "I'll meet you by the door."
"I can wait." And Otabek realizes his arms are crossed across his chest.
JJ turns those brilliant eyes on Otabek. "Just go."
There's a spot at the back of JJ's head where his hair always goes funny. It's standing up now, that flippy cowlick, and Otabek's hand itches to smooth it down. But he lets his arms fall to his sides and he goes.
Otabek is halfway down the corridor when he meets someone coming the other way. One of the juniors, big and blonde and swaggering. When he grins, Otabek realizes that it's Klassen.
Otabek keeps walking, ten more steps, before he stops. His stomach twists. He feels that check against the boards like it happened to him instead of JJ, slammed and squeezed by that weight against his back. He keeps breathing, ten more breaths, before he turns and walks back to the locker room.
He sets down his bag and takes the door handle. He stops to listen first. But whatever is happening inside, Otabek can't hear it through the door.
So he slips into the room, setting his feet as softly as he can. And he can hear them now, not fighting. He knew they wouldn't be fighting.
"You were waiting for me," Klassen says.
"Yeah, we're friends," JJ says, too loud, louder than too loud.
Otabek's heart bangs on his ribs, like a fist beating at him. He steals forward until he's by a gap in the lockers and can just see JJ's flushed face. JJ's bare and tattooed arms.
"Put your fucking shirt on, Leroy." Lee-roy again, flat and contemptuous.
Otabek's whole body tightens and his fists clench. He should go out there, stand between them. Shove Klassen up against the wall and see how he likes it.
But JJ's face as he slides his arms into his sleeves and buttons his shirt pins Otabek where he is. "It's from the JJ Collection," JJ says and his voice is high, stretched thin as a wire. "Send me your size and I'll get you one."
"You've been waiting for my turn." Klassen steps forward and Otabek can see the side of his face: the tops of his cheeks are almost as red as JJ's. Klassen is six or seven centimetres shorter than JJ, but that doesn't dim the arrogance in the way he looks up at JJ. In the way he crowds JJ's space.
"I like all you guys," JJ says. "We're all friends." His cowlick is still sticking up and the sight of it makes Otabek's eyes sting.
"You know what you are." Klassen moves closer, hands at his sides, and Otabek wishes, bites his lip and wishes hard, that Klassen would just try to hit JJ so Otabek could run out there, step between them, and fold his arms.
JJ laughs and he moves his head like he's expecting Klassen to tip his face up and kiss him, even though nobody in the room really thinks that that will happen.
"Come on," Klassen says. "Don't act like you don't want to."
And Otabek holds his breath as JJ sinks to his knees and puts his hands on Klassen's waistband.
Nothing about this is a surprise. Otabek has known it was coming since he met Klassen in the hallway. Since he saw JJ's flushed face in the locker room. Since Klassen slammed JJ up against the boards. Since Klassen crossed the red line during warm up.
Since JJ crawled into Otabek's cab after that party.
The only surprise is how it makes Otabek feel, sick and sore and so turned on. He should close his eyes. He should slink away. But he stares, heart throbbing in his throat, as JJ unbuckles Klassen's belt and opens his fly and pulls out his dick.
Klassen is halfway there but so is Otabek. And when JJ strokes his thumb up the underside of Klassen's cock and flicks his tongue out over the head, Otabek can't stop his hand from creeping down to hold his own cock through his trousers. Can't help feeling it swell under his fingers.
Klassen is swelling too. JJ opens his mouth, jaw cracked wide. Klassen pushes in, thrusting already. He's not giving JJ any time, his hand tight on the back of JJ's head, JJ's cowlick sticking through his fingers.
Otabek has had a few blowjobs in his life and he can feel them all right now, hot wet mouths around his dick, tongues working him. But he's never leaned in and jammed his hips, slammed in his cock like Klassen is fucking JJ's mouth right now.
He imagines it, sliding past JJ's lips, pushing until his cock hits the back of JJ's throat and JJ opens wider. He curls his fingers tighter, not rubbing. He can't come here, can't come in his good trousers before a party. He can't come while he's watching this.
"God, you'll take it from anyone," Klassen says. "You don't care who it is." He twists his fingers in JJ's hair.
And Otabek doesn't know if that's true, but he watches JJ's face, jaw stretched so far, saliva stringing from the corner of his mouth. His eyes looking up at Klassen the same way he looks down at Otabek. Every day.
It takes Otabek like a elbow to the gut, sucking out his breath. He bites his lip and keeps looking, he's got to watch until the end, even if he's nearly swaying from the pain in his chest and the heat in his groin.
"You'd do the whole team, everyone in the locker room," Klassen says. And Otabek wonders if JJ would, moving from player to player, letting them use him up.
Klassen keeps thrusting and now Otabek imagines that he's JJ, his jaw aching and his knees aching and Klassen's cock nearly choking him. He hates it, he hates it.
He hates watching JJ's eyes, still looking up. He hates holding his own cock and blinking away the stinging in his own eyes. He hates it when Klassen finally pulls away.
"Got something for you," Klassen says and he comes all over JJ's face, his ropey semen spattering JJ's cheeks and nose and lips. A glob drips onto the front of JJ's shirt and this – this – is what makes Otabek have to dig his nails into his palm so that he won't run out and knock Klassen to the ground.
JJ slumps back onto his heels, hands at his sides. He stretches out his jaw a few times. But he doesn't touch his face.
"You're almost pretty like that." Klassen pulls out his phone, of course he does, and takes a picture.
Only then does JJ pull a towel from the bench and wipe his face. And he's still looking up.
Otabek's stomach churns. He turns and leaves the locker room as fast as he can and still be quiet. He grabs his bag and ducks into a bathroom down the hallway. And he locks himself into a toilet stall. It only takes a minute before he's coming into a handful of tissue, hand on his dick and JJ's glistening face inside his eyes. He hates it.
He washes his hands and blows them dry and doesn't look at himself in the mirror. His gut still hurts. His feet still hurt.
When he gets out to the entrance, JJ is already there, leaning back against the wall and checking his phone. His face is clean but just under the lapel of his jacket, Otabek can see the stain on his shirt. He wonders why JJ didn't bring more than one shirt with him.
JJ looks at Otabek with that same open face, those same eager eyes. "I thought you were lost."
Otabek reaches into his bag and takes out his tube of product. "Your hair," he says and smooths down JJ's cowlick.
The party is across town. In the limousine, Otabek is the one who can't relax, leaning forward, leaning back under the guilty weight of JJ's arm.
"Great pass," JJ says again and Otabek can't make out what he's talking about at first. "We almost had the game."
Otabek reaches for the window button, then pulls his hand away. He watches the city lights flicker over the interior of the car. There's always another party, he wants to say.
When they arrive at the reception, the night air is already cool. But when they get inside, a line of sweat is beading along Otabek's hairline. He wipes it away with his hand and thinks he can still smell the semen on his fingers.
The rest of the players are already there. A knot of them are crowding around Klassen, looking at something on his phone.
Blood rushes into Otabek's head. His vision narrows and his heart pounds. His calves tighten to spring. His fists clench to fight.
"Beks," JJ says, in a voice so soft, Otabek isn't sure he really heard it.
But he doesn't fling himself across the room to fight. He stands and breathes, JJ beside him, until his vision clears. Then he reaches up and puts his arm around JJ's shoulders and they walk into the room together.
That's where Otabek stays: beside JJ, all night. Arm on his shoulders, even when it starts to prick and tingle. He eats when JJ eats, drinks when JJ drinks. Smiles when JJ laughs.
And when Klassen starts in their direction, Otabek crosses his arms and stares him down until he veers away, to the buffet.
"Let's go," Otabek says, when he's had so much more than enough. "We have practice in the morning."
From then, it's inevitable. Walking out together into the summer night, climbing into the back of the car. JJ looking over, moving his head like he's expecting Otabek to lean up and kiss him.
And Otabek does, fuck what the driver thinks, just presses JJ back against the leather seats and straddles his lap while the car is still pulling away. Hands on his face, mouth on his mouth. JJ's hands under Otabek's jacket, under his shirt, trailing sparks on Otabek's skin.
Otabek's gut still twists cold and tight but the rest of him is so loose and warm and free. He can taste the beer on JJ's tongue but what he sees inside his closed eyelids is JJ's mouth stretched around Klassen's cock. He can't help wondering if some of that sharp taste is Klassen. He can't help thinking about how many hockey players have looked down at JJ while he sucked them off.
And Otabek isn't any better because he lets JJ twist him to the side and off onto the seat. He lets JJ look him in the eyes while he slides down onto the floor of the limo. He lets JJ unbuckle his belt and unzip his fly and palm him through his boxers until he's hard and sucking air through his open mouth.
Otabek reaches out and touches JJ's face, brushing his fingertips along JJ's cheek. Then he lets JJ take out his dick and give him the best blowjob of his life.
Otabek wants to lean his head back and close his eyes but he looks down at JJ instead, at the cowlick slipping back up. He keeps his hips still as JJ slides his wet mouth over Otabek's cock, as JJ swirls with his tongue and braces his hand on Otabek's thigh.
It's sweet and tender and utterly consuming, every pulse of Otabek's body focused there in his cock, there in JJ's mouth. Every muscle pulling tight, every breath stopping in his throat.
Otabek can't even choke out a warning. All at once he's just coming, jerking his hips after all, light-headed with pleasure.
JJ takes it all and doesn't even frown. He squeezes Otabek's thigh as he swallows and Otabek feels that pinch again, those sharp fingers squeezing at his heart.
When JJ sits back down beside him, Otabek pulls himself back together. He puts his hand on JJ's thigh and slides it upwards in a question. But JJ just slings his arm around Otabek's neck and pulls him close.
Otabek leans his leg against JJ's, he leaves his hand on JJ's thigh. He rests his head back on JJ's arm. And he feels JJ loosen, relax, settle.
"Beks," JJ says, in his too-loud JJ voice. "Do you want to crash at my place?"
Otabek touches his pocket where his wallet is, with the strip of red tape tucked inside it. "Yes," he says.
When JJ's arm tightens around him, Otabek smiles.