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An Idiot's Guide to Online Dating

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Phil’s on-line dating profile reads “26-year-old Maple Leafs fan. Quiet. Sassy. Shy. Stud.”

Phil didn’t know he had an on-line dating profile. He really doesn’t appreciate finding out about these things second hand.

He stares at the e-mail on his computer.

“Congratulations! Your profile has been approved. Now you can start searching for the perfect match among our hundreds of thousands of active members. We know he/she is right here. Get started today.”

Phil stares at it. And stares at it, as the content of the e-mail refuses to change. He stares until he hears the front door open, and then he shuts his computer, pockets his phone, and leaves his room to hunt down his siblings.

He finds them in the kitchen, Blake putting groceries away while Amanda fiddles with her phone. When he comes in, she glances up and flashes him a grin, before turning back to whoever she’s texting. Phil leans against the counter, crossing his arms across his chest and, suddenly, feeling naked in only his workout shorts and a thin white t-shirt.

“So-”

“Mmm?” Amanda urges, not looking up.

“There something you forgot to tell me about?”

Blake shuts the fridge and leans against it, shrugging. “We forgot the re-useable bags? Sorry ‘bout that, but we got paper. We know you care about the environment, or whatever.”

“I don’t. Bozie does,” Phil replies, automatically. “But, not what I meant.”

Amanda raises her eyebrow over her phone. “I’ve heard you berate mom a hundred times for using plastic bags.”

Phil squirms, un-crossing and re-crossing his arms the opposite way. “Bozie’s very convincing.”

“Whatever.”

“Anyway,” Phil clears his throat. “Match.com?”

“Oh, right!” Amanda perks up, grinning as she finally puts her phone down and turns her attention fully towards him. “You can thank us later,” she winks. Actually winks.

“I can’t date on-line. I’m,” Phil glances down at his hands. He should really cut his nails. “I’m a public figure.” As much as he hates that status.

Amanda huffs. “We didn’t use your real name.” She rolls her eyes, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “God, boys.”

Phil ignores her. “I’m going for a run. When I get back we’re going to take it down.” Amanda opens her mouth to argue, but he continues, ignoring her. “It’s not up for discussion.” And he must sound enough like their dad, because she doesn’t argue as he leaves.

***

Phil’s barely through the front door before Amanda sits up from the couch, her phone in her hand and a grin on her face.

“Listen to this.”

He grunts, still trying to catch his breath as he toes off his sneakers and makes a beeline for the fridge.

“‘Hi Leaf. I read your profile and you seem like a nice, down-to-earth guy. My name is Rose and I’m 27 years old. I’m a nurse at Toronto General. Message me if you’d like. I’d really like to get to know you better.’”

Phil downs one water bottle at the same time as he grabs for a second. “Who’s Leaf?”

“The name on your Match.com profile.”

“Mandy-”

“No, just, listen.” She gets on her knees, leaning against the edge of the couch and piercing him with her best stare. “This one’s from Robin. Not sure if that’s a guy or a girl but, ‘Hey Leaf, My name’s Robin and I, too, am a Leafs fan.’ See, you already have so much in common.”

The water goes down wrong and Phil coughs, slapping his chest until he can breathe again. His eyes are watering, and his legs feel weak as he grabs the bottle and makes his way into the living room. She follows him with her eyes, sighing as he falls into the armchair.

“Don’t look at me like that. I put you down as bisexual. No one will ever know it’s you.”

“I don’t trust the Internet.”

“No shit, Sherlock. Have I met you?”

“This is serious,” he insists, finishing off his water and leaning back in the chair, resting his feet on the coffee table in an attempt to look casual, even though this conversation is anything but.

“Don’t be ridiculous. The only way anyone will ever know it’s you is if they check the IP address and, I swear to God, people don’t like you that much.” She pauses, looking at him from under her eyelashes, and he knows what she’s going to say before she says it. “Besides, you work in the most gay-friendly organization in the league. Would it really be that bad?”

Phil doesn’t want to talk about this. He’d come out to her when he was fifteen, and since then he’s lost track of the number of times they’ve had this exact conversation.

“You know the Burkes would support you.”

“That’s not the issue.” He shouldn’t have to say it. Amanda, of all people, understands Phil’s uncomfortable, somewhat antagonistic, relationship with the media. All the way back to his draft year, the media have been misinterpreting his introversion for arrogance, ambivalence, and a lack of heart. And if things have gotten better in Toronto - after cancer and years as the Leafs’ number one scorer - Phil is still awkward, borderline neurotic, when he’s asked to talk about himself. There is absolutely no way that he wants the spotlight that would come with being the first out player in the NHL. Amanda should get that.

“Ugh,” she pushes at his feet with hers, changing the subject. “Go take a shower. You smell.”

Immeasurably grateful for the olive branch, he grasps onto it as fast as he can, nearly pulling a muscle as he hops out of his chair. “Best idea you’ve had all day.” He stops at the edge of the living room. “Then I’m gonna delete that profile.”

“We’ll see about that,” she calls after him. He ignores her.

***

This whole thing started with alcohol, which, in Phil’s experience, is how most embarrassing, terrible, life-changing things start. Blake had bought the good rum, the kind that tastes a little bit like coconut, and Phil had drunk enough, fast enough, to start mouthing off about his lack of romantic prospects since Brittany moved out over a year ago. He should have worried, then, about the sly look in the corner of Amanda’s eye.

At least she was kind enough to give him the password to go with the Match.com profile – PhiltheThrill. Sometimes he really, really hates her.

Reading through the profile, he finds that thought recurring a lot.

Leaf Blake
25 year-old man | Toronto, ON, CAN | Seeking women 23-30 or men 23-30 within 30 miles

Which, unfortunately, proves Phil’s suspicions that Blake’s playing a larger role here than he’s letting on. Only his brother would do something as stupid as incriminating himself with his own name.

Phil keeps scrolling.

Profile

Relationship: Never Married
Have Kids: No
Want Kids: Someday
Ethnicity: White/Caucasian
Body Type: A few extra pounds
Height: 183 cm
Faith: Agnostic
Smoke: No Way
Drink: No answer

As much as Phil appreciates the “no answer” to the drinking question, just in case this does get out somehow, the “a few extra pounds” is an asshole move that Amanda’s going to be paying for tomorrow. Or, possibly for the rest of the summer.

Not that it matters, since he’s deleting the whole thing the minute he figures out how to. Problem is, he’s never been great with computers, and Match.com hides its delete button pretty effectively.

While he’s futzing around with buttons, he runs across his inbox and, out of curiosity, he opens it up. He knows it’s a mistake before he does it, but, seriously, some of these messages are amazingly bad. Or, come from bots or horny idiots.

Hi there,” repeated about five or six times.

Beautiful, lol,” which is strange because, one, Amanda hadn’t uploaded any pictures and, two, why does ‘beautiful’ merit an ‘lol’?

Phil is caught between amusement and offense at the “let’s get this out of the way first, the maple leafs aren’t gonna win the cup in our lifetime, so you should probably find another team, wink wink dallas wink wink” and even goes so far as to screen cap the “Ciao, my wife and I were wondering if youd like to have some fun sometime? Were looking for friends with benefits to spice up our sex life. Message if u like handcuffs” because he knows it’ll give Bozie a good laugh.

One does make him stop, though. It’s simple, sincere, just, “Hi Leaf, I see you’re a big hockey fan. So am I. Who was your favorite player growing up? LeafsFan67.” Maybe it’s because he’s using an alias, like Phil, or maybe it’s because he’s enough of a hockey fan to know, and commemorate, the last year that the Leafs won the Cup – 1967, and, Jesus, Phil really needs to bring the Cup back to Toronto before he retires - but Phil’s tempted to answer him.

Which is stupid, because Phil is not doing this on-line dating thing.

“Hey.”

Phil jumps, shutting his computer quickly and turning to see Amanda leaning against his doorjamb. She’s smirking, as if she knows exactly what she caught him doing. She probably does.

“I brought you a beer. Blake wants to watch more Walking Dead, so you’re going to need it.”

Phil shivers. The Walking Dead isn’t really his thing, mostly because he has a – he argues legitimate – fear that zombies really could take over Canada. With the snow and the polar bears and the vastness of the Northern Territories, the apocalypse could be going on for weeks before the rest of the world would even noticed that it wasn’t just a really bad winter storm.

The more buzzed he is the less freaked out he gets, though, so he accepts the can from Amanda and follows her into the living room. They settle onto the couch, Amanda curled against his left side and Blake pressed tight against his right. Phil is comfortable, and he gets through two episodes and four beers before he nods off against the back of his couch.

He wakes, disoriented, a while later, to a pack of zombies wandering through a residential neighborhood. It looks eerily like Dion’s gated community in the suburbs, and Phil thinks it’ll be a little while before he gets out there for another BBQ. Next to him, Amanda pats his hand.

“Bed time?”

He nods. “We can finish this tomorrow, yeah?”

Blake pauses the episode. “We have all summer.”

“Right.”

“Run in the morning?”

Phil gets up, stretching his hands over his head and feeling his back crack. “Probably should. I’ll set the alarm.”

He’s feeling warm, sleepy, still quite a bit buzzed as he locks his bedroom door behind Stella. She jumps directly onto the bed and, giving in to the inevitable, he joins her, dragging his laptop into bed with them.

If he’s going to do this, he’s not going to outright lie. Pulling up his profile, switches his body type from “a little extra” to “athletic and toned,” and uploads a picture of Stella so that his profile doesn’t look so barren.

Before giving in to sleep, he sends back a quick message to LeafsFan67.

I was always a fan of Mark Johnson and Joe Sakic growing up. Goal scorers, you know? Who were your favorites? I assume you’re a Maple Leafs fan?

For a non-hockey question, do you ever think about the zombie apocalypse?

***

Stella wakes him the next morning by burying her nose under his chin and whining. It would be adorable, if he didn’t have the edges of a hangover and a long, competitive run in his near future.

“Morning girl,” he murmurs, rubbing her ears and stumbling, eyes half-closed, to the kitchen to fill her bowl.

Blake’s already there, dressed in running gear and downing a water bottle in front of the open refrigerator door. He stares at Phil. “You’re not dressed.”

Phil grunts. At least he’s not the only one who’s gonna be hell on this run. “Close the fridge. You’re wasting electricity.”

“You can afford it.”

“Not the point.” Phil shuts it for him as he passes, ignoring Blake’s muttered comment about whips, and heading back to his room. He jumps in the shower, keeping the water cool enough to jump-start his system, and he’s half-dressed by the time he remembers LeafsFan67.

He doesn’t know if he hopes for a message or not, but after another flurry of “wanna threesome?”s and “hey r u hot?”s, there’s an unread message from LeafsFan67. Phil clicks on it, pulling his shoes over and putting them on as he reads.

haha, what, did my handle give me away? Yes, I am a Leafs fan, but not til I moved to Toronto. As a kid I didn’t really have a fav team. I did, however, have a hard on for Pavel Bure. Those hands. And that speed. He was my favorite kind of player.

Zombie apocalypse, huh? I try not to think about zombies much. They kinda freak me out. I mean, could you imagine zombies filling the Toronto suburbs? Shiver. I’m not one of those prepare-for-the-apocalypse freaks, though. Promise.

So, are you a Leafs fan?

At the end of it, there’s a link to a second message, and Phil clicks on it. It’s time-stamped ten minutes after the first.

I just realized that that could have been offensive. I have nothing against over-preparedness. Always good to have extra water and flashlights and beef jerky, I say. So, I don’t mind. If you’re one of them. No hard feelings?

It surprises a laugh out of Phil, and he types back a quick, “no hard feelings, promise. more later,” because he knows that, if LeafsFan67 is anything like him, he’s been really worrying about this and Phil doesn’t like to make people worry.

He’s still grinning about it, though, when he joins Amanda and Blake in the living room a few minutes later. Amanda’s already singing under her breath to Taylor Swift as she stretches, the bottom of her shoes neon pink to match the neon orange of her headphones, and Phil’s a little blinded by it all.

“Morning,” she says cheerfully between verses, and Phil just nods at her, stuffing his own headphones into his ears. He pretends to stretch as he futzes with his phone, settling on Rascal Flatts and turning it up loud enough to build his own soundscape; just him, the road, and Rascal Flatts.

And LeafsFan67.

Usually when Phil runs, he empties his mind. He’s not a really complicated guy, and he rarely has trouble thinking about nothing, but today, he can’t stop thinking about Pavel Bure and zombie apocalypses and anonymous Internet guys who seem as nervous about this whole thing as he is. He can’t believe he’s doing this. Maybe he’s not? It’s only been two messages. He can totally quit. Any time.

By the time they get home and through an hour of weights in the building’s gym, Phil has almost convinced himself that he doesn’t need to respond to LeafsFan67. He falls onto the couch in the living room with a Gatorade and a protein shake, his knees feeling weak and his earphones slipping out of his ears from the sweat. He’s gross.

“Ugh,” Amanda groans as she falls into the armchair. “That was the hardest we’ve run in weeks. My muscle aches have muscle aches.”

Phil takes a long sip of his Gatorade.

Amanda’s silent for a long moment of rehydration, then she leans forward, her elbows on her knees. “Okay, spill.”

“What?”

“You’re not subtle, so stop trying.” She shakes her head. “You’ve been somewhere else all morning. What is it?”

Phil finishes off his Gatorade and starts on his protein shake. It takes coordination, to do it lying down, and he concentrates for long moments before he finally turns his head to look at her. “I don’t understand why you thought on-line dating was a good idea.”

Her eyes go wide. “Wait- you didn’t delete it, did you?”

Shit. “I did. I swear. I just- I don’t get it.”

She grins, moving over to the couch and shoving his feet out of the way so that she can convey her excitement by hitting him. “You so didn’t.”

He rolls his eyes at the ceiling. “I really did.”

“Fine. I don’t believe you, but, whatever. So, what do you wanna know?”

“I wouldn’t have been able to tell anyone who I was.”

“No.”

“But wasn’t the point to meet someone?”

“Eventually, yeah.”

He drops his chin to glare at her. “That’s contradictory.”

“It’s not.” He glares and she surges forward, smiling as she rests her elbows painfully on his hip. “This is the best thing about on-line dating, yeah? You give them time to get to know you, figure out who you are under all the awkward shyness.” She punctuates her insults with her elbows. “Then, once they already like you, you tell them who you are. By then it’ll be too late.”

Phil doubts that. If his name, millions-a-year-contract, and shooting percentage don’t work to his advantage, he doubts his personality will get him anywhere. He frowns. “That would never have worked.”

“You have no faith.”

“On this? I really don’t.”

***

Still, when Phil goes into his room for a shower and a nap, he checks his computer and, in a moment of weakness, signs on to Match.com. There’s a new message from LeafsFan67.

Oh, thank god. Was worried I’d fucked this up already ;)

Phil’s chest tightens, the same way it does when he comes home sometimes, late and a little buzzed, to find Bozie lying on the couch, shirt rucked up, the Real Housewives of Vancouver on the TV, and Stella sprawled across his lap. It’s confusing.

With a sigh, he hits reply.

No, not yet, but I’m sure I’ll mess it up sooner rather than later ;) Pavel Bure had sick hands. But, he was Russian, and you know Russians - I’m a Leafs fan now, yeah. Was kinda into Boston for a while, but Toronto’s a real hockey town, you know? Live, breath hockey like Green Bay breathes the Packers. It’s my kind of town.

Zombie apocalypses freak me out, too. My brother made we watch Walking Dead yesterday and I had nightmares all night. It’s the way they walk. Wander? Shuffle?

Just read this through and – just so you know – my brother’s visiting. I don’t live with my parents, or anything. Please tell me you don’t live with your parents?

Phil hits send before he can chastise himself out of it. If he’s really doing this thing, he should at least make sure that the guy isn’t some thirty-year-old computer geek living in his parents’ basement. Right?

***

A few days later, Dion offers him tickets to the Blue Jays game and Amanda and Blake are excited enough about it that he accepts. They’re great seats, about twenty seats up from third base, and Phil wears a Jays hat low over his eyes despite the summer heat and, when he’s hungry, he bribes Amanda with beer money to get the food for them all. It’s really not Phil’s goad tonight to get recognized, by fans and media like.

It’s a pleasant evening, warm and humid as the sun sets slowly behind the stadium. He’s on his second beer by the bottom of the third because, if nothing else, the Jays are a truly horrendous team this season, high hopes and unrealistic expectations be damned. It seems to be the theme of Toronto sports these days.

It is baseball, though, and Phil likes baseball. It’s slow-paced, leisurely, just the way Phil likes his summer sports. With Amanda and Blake’s conversation rolling over him, it’s the most pleasant way to spend an evening that Phil can think of that doesn’t involved bait and a fishing rod.

In the days since LeafsFan67 confirmed that no, he did not live with his parents, and yes, he was of datable age, Phil’s downloaded the Match.com app and set it up for direct notifications. Throughout the game, he keeps up a steady argument with LeafsFan67 about the best pizza place in town, punctuated by remarks about baseball, the depression that comes with rooting for the Blue Jays, and the joys of summer in Toronto.

But, there’s no hockey.

Phil shrugs. He doesn’t know how to recreate the motion in text form. I don’t mind the break.

*Aghast* I don’t understand the world without hockey in it.

Probably why I like you.

Yeah?

Phil swallows. He’s spent so much time messaging LeafsFan67 over the last few days that he has kinda assumed that it was a given. But things aren’t so simple via messages, so, “yeah,” he types.

Good. Me too. I mean, I like you.

Phil flushes. He had kinda assumed that, too, but it’s nice to hear. He’s insecure enough to admit that.

“What are you smiling about?” Amanda asks as she grabs Phil’s phone. Phil has great reflexes – second in the whole league only to Datsyuk, maybe Kane – and not for the first time he marvels at Amanda’s abilities. If only girls could be in the NHL. He tells her so.

She grins, gentler, smoother then normal. “You’re a dork.”

It doesn’t keep her from digging through his phone, though, and squealing that high, obnoxious noise that only she can make.

“Don’t say anything,” he begs.

She bites her lip, as if she’s really struggling to follow his wishes, but it does nothing to hold back her smile. “I can’t, I’m sorry.” She elbows Blake, who’s sitting on her other side, and tips Phil’s phone so that Blake can read the screen. Phil buries his head in his hands.

“You are the worst. Ever.”

“I don’t know.” Her tone is almost singsong, her foot tapping in excitement against Phil’s shin. It hurts. “I seem to have found you a boyfriend.”

“He’s not- You didn’t-” He splutters. “I’m not talking about this.”

“You’re blushing,” Blake points out, treacherously.

“Yeah, well,” he crosses his arms, leaning back in his seat. “This is embarrassing.”

Blake laughs. “Whatever you need to do to get laid, man.”

“I don’t know,” Amanda murmurs, flipping through his phone to, Phil can only assume, read his messages. “These are more than ‘I wanna fuck you’ messages.” She hands the phone to Blake so that he can read, too, and then turns to look at Phil.

He squirms under her gaze. Her ability to make him feel guilty is so much stronger than his backbone. He grunts, uncrossing his arms and brushing his hands on the thighs of his shorts. He’s sweating, embarrassed, vulnerable, angry that he was so obvious that she figured it out. “You said he’d have to get to know me, right?”

“Well, yeah.” She shrugs. “I just figured that’d mean measuring dick sizes or whatever guys do to get to know each other, not trading childhood hockey stories.”

He frowns, legitimately a bit confused, because he’d never thought of doing it that way. This is a way to meet someone without his stardom and his insecurities getting in the way, not get himself laid. He’s never really cared about that, not like some guys have, and, really, he could get himself laid. Or, at least, Loops would be kind enough to send his leftovers Phil’s way, and then Phil could figure it out. Probably.

“But, hey,” Amanda squeezes his forearm, “whatever you need to do, yeah? It’s cool. I’m actually kinda proud of you.”

“Thanks.” Phil clears his throat. “I always appreciate love advice from my little sister.”

She releases his arm to punch his shoulder before she settles back into her seat. “The sad part is that you really do.”

Blake laughs, reaching across to hand Phil’s phone back to him. “You really do, man, just,” he shakes his head, “don’t let the guys find out.”

“Oh,” Amanda starts laughing, probably picturing Loops or Dion or someone with that information, and she leans against Phil’s shoulder, overcome by the images. “So seconded.”

Phil hates them. Both of them.

***

Phil gets the text when he’s halfway through his weights.

2 min away u better b w8ing!!!!!!!

He should be embarrassed by the speed with which he drops his free weights and races up the stairs, unwilling to chance the elevator. Except, when Bozie comes through the door, he drops his bags and wraps his arms around Phil, ignoring the sweat and the smell and the way their skin sticks together, in favor of holding on as hard as he can for as long as he can. So maybe Phil’s not the only embarrassing one here.

“Jesus, buddy, I’ve missed you,” Bozie murmurs with absolutely no discretion. Phil takes it, all of it, for the moment he’ll allow himself to breath against Bozie’s neck, taking in the way his body feels, the warmth of his hands against Phil’s lower back, the contented little sigh he makes when Phil squeezes the back of his neck.

Then Stella’s there, snuffling around Bozie’s bags and nosing their legs, and Bozie lets Phil go to squat down. “Hello, girl. I’ve missed you, too. Has daddy been treating you right?” Stella sets her front paws on his thighs and Bozie lets her lick his face.

Phil snorts. “Spoiled her, more like.”

“Ahh.” He pets behind her ears and she falls to the floor, showing him her belly. “We know who really spoils you, don’t we?”

“She’s happy you’re home,” which really means ‘we’re happy you’re home’ and, if Bozie’s blinding grin is anything to go by, he knows it.

“Did I interrupt your workout?” Bozie asks, rubbing Stella’s belly once more as he gets to his feet, wrinkling his nose. “You smell ripe.”

“’Least I haven’t been on my ass playing video games all summer.” Phil picks up the two smaller looking bags, and starts for Bozie’s bedroom.

Bozie grabs the others and follows him, Stella on his heels. “It’s good for my hand-eye-coordination. Coach says so.”

“Coach only says that to stop your whining.” He throws the bags onto the bed. “Mandy insisted I wash your sheets before you got here, so, they’re clean.”

“Ahh, she’s teaching you manners. Your mom would be so proud.”

“Fuck off.” Phil grins at him. “She’s in the guestroom and Blake’s in the game room. They’re both excited you’re here. Have been talking about it all week.” Again, he means, ‘we’ve been talking about it all week,’ and, again, Bozie knows it.

“It’s because I bring the party. I’m sure it’s boring as shit when I’m not here.”

Phil rolls his eyes. “Quieter, for sure.”

Bozie doesn’t bother responding. He doesn’t have to; they both know that, without Bozie around to force him to do things, Phil would inhabit the rink and the couch, and the only people he’d ever see would be Amanda, Blake, and Stella. Instead, Bozie shoos Stella off of his largest suitcase and starts to unpack.

“I really need a shower.” Phil’s smell is even starting to bother him. “I’ll be back in a few. Remember, our tee time’s at 2.”

“Yep. I’m sure Loops needs to be knocked back a peg or two.”

Phil shrugs. “Blake and I have been doing okay but, yeah, I’ll be glad to have my partner back.”

Bozie grins, and Phil has to literally force his feet out of the room. Stella’s head comes up, but she doesn’t move to follow, and Phil feels rather betrayed all around, by his emotions, by his body, even by his own dog.

Phil really does need a shower but he could also just use a few minutes away. In the past few weeks, he’s developed a lively, intimate, intense relationship with LeafsFan67. For as much as they still don’t really know each other, and against all odds that Phil could calculate, LeafsFan67 seems to actually like him. Enough to message a couple times a day and initiate chat conversations every-so-often. And Phil likes it. The attention, the beginnings of affection; hell, Phil just likes him.

Phil’s just not ready to share him yet. It’s still so new and confusing and fragile, and if anyone could mess it up, it would definitely be Bozie. All Bozie would have to say is ‘don’t you think on-line dating’s a little weird?’ or ‘be careful, you know that a lot of guys out there aren’t just after you for your body,’ and Phil would drop LeafsFan67 without a second thought. It’s a bit of a shock to realize how much Bozie’s approval means to him, and it’s probably a bit unhealthy, but Phil can’t help how he feels.

Phil takes his time in the shower, gathering himself, before he pulls on a pair of sweatpants and an old shirt that he realizes later is Bozie’s, and heads back to Bozie’s room. When he gets there, Bozie’s clothes are everywhere and he’s leaning against the wall by his closet, typing furiously on his phone.

“I see you’ve gotten far,” Phil comments as he moves some of the clothing and joins Stella on the bed.

Bozie looks up, almost guiltily, with flushed cheeks and wandering eyes. “I got distracted.” He shoves his phone into the back pocket of his jeans.

“It’s cool,” Phil promises, because he feels like he needs to say something, anything, to take that look out of Bozie’s eyes.

Bozie just laughs, though, tension gone, and grabs a handful of sweatshirts to hang up. “Put on some music. And something good, eh?”

“I’m not playing Miley Cyrus.” But Phil pulls out his phone, starting up his Pandora app as his phone buzzes with an incoming message. It feels weird, to open it here. But, he glances at Bozie, who’s bobbing his head and singing along to Taylor Swift, completely ignorant of Phil’s dilemma. Phil thumbs open the message.

Just got back to Toronto. Was a good trip, but I miss Toronto when I’m not here.

You’ve Got Mail is SO not the best movie of all time. And I take your Two and a Half Men and raise you Entourage.

Phil glances up, but Bozie’s in the closet, now, still swaying his hips stupidly. Phil figures he has time to type out a quick response. Except, he’s just as awkward in text form as he is in person; it’s just that, in text, he has time to read, and re-read, and edit, and re-edit. By the time he sends off a functioning-enough message, it’s been forever, and he looks up to see Bozie watching him.

“What?”

“Nothing.” Bozie shrugs. “You’re smiling. It’s weird.”

“Sorry?”

Bozie laughs. “I really have missed you, buddy.”

***

Amanda likes to go out about as much as Phil hates it. Bars are loud, in general, and even more so in Toronto, where Phil and Bozie are bound to get recognized. Even when Phil wears his tuque low over his eyes, bars are full of people. Phil doesn’t like people. At least, people who aren’t team, family, fans, or kids. Doctors, lawyers, accountants – regular people are rude and warm and stand too close together and Phil just doesn’t get the appeal.

If nothing else, though, Phil is a giant softie where Amanda is concerned. So when she comes to dinner with wide, pleading blue eyes, already rimmed with eye shadow and mascara, Phil never has a chance.

“Thanks,” she grins, kissing his cheek. “There’s this new place Elisha was telling me about. You’ll like it.”

Phil doubts that and, next time he talks to Dion’s wife, he resolves to remind her that his sister isn’t even legal yet in Minnesota.

Amanda reads his mind. She rolls her eyes. “No take backs.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Which is a downright lie, but Bozie’s the only one who knows him well enough to recognize it, and he’s too busy playing with his phone to call him on it, so no one does.

Bozie’s still on his phone when they gather at the door a few hours later. Phil’s pretty sure he’s started playing Candy Crush again, which isn’t good for anyone, but, honestly, Phil’s spending so much time on his own phone these days that he’s glad for anything that can distract Bozie for a bit.

Especially when they get to the bar and Phil opens a message from LeafsFan67 that just asks “what are you wearing?” like a porn star crossed with a romantic comedy with good grammar.

Phil doesn’t know how to answer, so he settles on a truthful, “jeans, black t-shirt,” and adds, “my roommate says they show off my ass,” because that sounds sexy, right?, and because Bozie has been known to say things like that.

Next to him, Bozie’s shoulder shakes with laughter and Phil instantly drops his phone to his lap. He should definitely not be doing this here. He can feel his heart speed up, his cheeks burn, and, inexplicable, his fingers go kind of numb.

“What?” He asks Bozie, his voice shaking embarrassingly.

“Nothing,” Bozie’s still laughing as he waves his phone. “My brother’s an idiot.”

Phil takes a deep breath in relief, reaching for his beer and downing it in one go. But, when he puts his glass down and wipes his mouth with the napkins Amanda put in the middle of the table, Bozie’s staring at him.

“You okay?”

Phil nods. “Good, yeah. Need another.”

“Ahh,” Bozie hesitates. “Yeah, right, I’ll just-” He gets up to let Phil out of the booth, their shoulders and thighs brushing as Phil passes him.

By the time he’s far enough from the table to check his phone again, he finds a message from LeafsFan67 asking “underwear?

Phil’s already half-hard and buzzed enough to type back, “no. you?,” which also isn’t a lie, although it’s seeming like a worse idea by the minute as he adjusts himself in his jeans and leans across the bar to order another round.

His phone beeps twice, “briefs” and “that’s hot,” one after the other.

next time, you should go commando,” Phil sends back before he can stop himself. He’s the worst at this.

He has to put his phone in his pocket to carry the drinks to their table, and when he goes to pull it out again, Amanda gives him a look. “We’re here as a family. Plus Bozie.” Next to Phil, Bozie shrugs and Amanda sighs. “Can’t we just have some conversation without the phones?”

“Uh,” Phil slides his phone back into his pocket, guiltily folding his hands over his new beer glass. “Sure.”

Bozie also polishes off a text, then raises his hip to slide his phone into his back pocket. Phil’s phone buzzes, and it takes a valiant effort not to check it for a new message. Silence descends on the table.

“So,” Phil starts, slowly. “What do you wanna talk about?”

“You’re a socially maladjusted asshole.”

“I see that psych class is serving you well.”

Amanda huffs, leaning back in her seat, her beer clutched to her chest. “The TA was cute.”

Bozie’s whole body is shaking with laughter and Phil leans against his shoulder, shaking his head and unsuccessfully fighting his own laughter. Under the table, Bozie squeezes Phil’s knee, and, when they regain their breaths, his hand doesn’t move.

By the time they head home a few hours later, Phil’s whole body is on edge. Amanda’s making intimations about more beer and finishing off the latest season of The Walking Dead, but Phil begs off. He locks himself in his room and lies back on his bed. He’s hard, has been for hours, and he pulls up LeafsFan67’s last messages as he flips open the button on his jeans one handed.

Things like commando and hot and I like you run through his head as he wraps his fingers around his dick. He doesn’t know exactly what LeafsFan67 looks like, but Phil imagines that he’s dark, with a nice smile to accompany his sense of humor, and a nice body under briefs and a Leafs jersey. It’s totally ridiculous and self-serving, but in his mind, LeafsFan67 is wearing his jersey, the number 81 blazing across his mind as he comes quicker than he has in months.

It’s too much, the alcohol and the teasing and the touching, and Phil just manages to shoot off a “sleep well” message to LeafsFan67 before he rolls over and dozes off.

***

“My sister told me about this thing-”

Phil looks up, his thumb still poised over the send button on his phone, as Reemer pauses for effect.

“Everyone puts their phones in the middle of the table,” Reemer continues, “and the first to take a peak has to pay the bill. Cause college girls are so attached to their phones, you know?”

“I usually pay the bill anyway,” Phil argues, at the same time as Bozie asks, “Are you calling me a teenage girl?”

Phil glances over because, honestly, he had assumed Reemer was talking about him, but Bozie’s looking just as guilty, his phone resting fake-secretly on his thighs. Huh.

“If the shoe fits,” Reemer grins. “Gimme.” He holds out his hand, wiggling his fingers and, reluctantly, Phil drops his phone into the middle of the table.

Bozie sighs. “Just give me a minute.” He’s biting his bottom lip and squinting his eyes as he types furiously, before pressing the send button and reluctantly placing his phone on top of Phil’s. Phil’s phone beeps, the special three-buzz tone that Phil attached to his Match.com app, and he has to sit on his hands not to reach for it.

In the end, it’s Reemer who, when his phone give off an obnoxious tweet, grabs his phone first. “What? Could be Loops or something.”

“So glad you’re back in town,” Phil rolls his eyes, as if he isn’t ecstatic that it’s August and the guys are finally filtering back in to Toronto.

Phil ends up paying anyway.

***

Hockey players like to chirp. Probably more then they like to do just about anything but score goals. So, after three months of purely text-based abuse, with a handful of phone calls thrown in here and there, the chirping overflows when training camp finally starts. Phil gets his fair share this year – a number of “had a few too many steak dinners there, Philly?”s and “heard Amanda’s Toronto’s favorite Kessel now”s – but, for the first time since he joined the Leafs, he doesn’t get the brunt of it.

“Dude,” David Clarkson sits down next to him, already half-dressed in his gear. “You live with Bozak, yeah?”

“Um-” Phil glances up from tying his skates. Clarkson’s barely been in Toronto an hour, and he’s already connecting Phil with Bozie. Phil really should get around to being worried about that. “Yeah.”

Clarkson nods his chin a few stalls down. “Is he always like that?”

Phil turns his head to look. Bozie’s sitting in his stall, tapping his right skate along to the awful pop tune Reemer has playing, tapping away at his phone as he hums under his breath. Phil shrugs, and turns back to his skates. “He’s always had awful taste in music.”

“Not Miley Cyrus.” Phil lets that pass, even though new guys really shouldn’t admit to knowing Miley Cyrus’ music so early in the game. “The phone thing.”

“Yeah, you’ve gotta fill us in on Bozie’s new girl,” Jay McClement’s eyes are gleaming as he peers around Clarkson to wink at Phil.

“Uhh-” Phil’s hand slips, his index finger burning as he pulls his lace too tight, and he curses.

“Sorry buddy, didn’t mean to surprise you. I figured you’d know.” Jay looks really apologetic, and Phil puts his finger in his mouth, mostly so he doesn’t have to look at him, but also to stop the burning. Jay’s eyes crinkle in the corners as he backtracks quickly. “Just, with all the time on his phone, I mean, he has to be talking to someone, right?”

His finger has stopped pulsing, so he risks another attempt at tying his skates. “He’s not-” on his phone a lot would be a total lie, so Phil settles on, “on his phone any more than usual.” Which, when he really thinks about it, is also pretty much a lie. Phil’s starting to feel uncomfortable.

Jay’s looking thoughtfully between Phil and Bozie, and he murmurs, “maybe,” before Coach comes in and Phil mostly forgets about the whole thing.

Or, would have forgotten about it entirely, if the guys didn’t bring it up again the minute they hit the locker room after practice. Phil’s checking his messages, smiling at LeafsFan67’s not-so-secret affinity for romantic comedies and superheroes - “i cry every time I see you’ve got mail, I’m not gonna lie - when Colton Orr whips a used hockey sock across the locker room and calls out, “Come on Bozie, share with the crowd.”

Bozie drops his phone into his stall and tries not to look guilty as he catches the sock and throws it back. “You’re just jealous I’m getting some.”

“Your torrid summer fling’s made you cocky, ehh?” Orrsey grins and Bozie flips him off.

“Wasn’t a torrid summer fling.” Bozie blushes. It looks good on him.

“Ahh, our little boy’s fallen in love,” Orrsey coos, as he wraps a towel around his waist and moves over to Bozie’s stall. Bozie ducks away, frowning up at him, but Orrsey just reaches out to rub his knuckles over Bozie’s hair. “Can I see a picture?”

“No.”

“Don’t wait too long. We’ll start thinking she has buck teeth or something.”

“Nah, she’s just too pretty for your old married eyes. Wouldn’t wanna give you a stroke or something.”

Orrsey just laughs, ruffling Bozie’s hair again as he heads into the showers. Beside Phil, Loops grunts and leans over to murmur in his ear, “Your face, Phil. You can’t-” Phil tares his eyes from Bozie to glance at Loops, who sighs and shakes his head. “If you don’t want everyone to know, you can’t look like that.”

Amanda’s always said that, when he doesn’t concentrate really hard, Phil’s emotions are written in bright, bold letters across his face. He knows it. But Loops eyes are gentle with something approaching pity and Phil’s confused and it’s way too. “This is my normal fucking face.”

“I know.” Loops pats his knee, ignoring the edge in Phil’s voice. “I know.”

***

Loops must talk to the guys – a conversation Phil spends a lot of time not thinking about – because they don’t exactly stop ribbing Bozie, but they do, for the most part, stop doing it in front of Phil. He doesn’t know how to feel anything but grateful for that, even though he knows he’s the most hypocritical guy in the greater Toronto area.

It’s just that Phil doesn’t know why this whole thing bothers him. Despite popular opinion (read: Amanda and his mother’s), Phil’s isn’t emotionally constipated, but he doesn’t understand why he’s so upset. And doesn’t know how to find out, because he hates confrontation. Loathes it, actually, and will do anything – absolutely anything – to get out of it.

“You’re not gonna wanna hear what I have to say,” Amanda frowns at him and, even over Skype, he can feel the full weight of her disapproval.

He sighs. “I’m not gonna talk to him. Isn’t there any other way?”

She shrugs. “Steal his phone and see who he’s texting all the time?”

That isn’t half bad. “I’ll think about it,” he tells her, and, immediately, she jerks up in bed, the computer screen falling backwards so that he’s looking at her ceiling as she rants at him.

“No, no you don’t. Phones are private. What would you think if he took your phone and discovered how much time you’re talking to a dude you met on the Internet?”

Phil shudders, and, predictably, she rights her computer just in time to see it.

“See.” She clips, but he just shrugs.

“It’s not the same.”

She sighs, long-suffering. “It so is, big brother.” She brushes her hair to the side and glances at the time. “Look, I’ve got practice in like, twenty minutes, but I need you to promise me, okay? No sneaking around Bozie’s phone. He’s your best friend, and- You just don’t want to do that, yeah?”

Phil shrugs again, unwilling to cap an argument he never really agreed to have in the first place. Even if Amanda’s right most of the time, and, he has the niggling suspicion, is definitely right this time. Just thinking about Bozie finding out about LeafsFan67 makes Phil’s skin grow hot and tight defensively.

He signs off and goes to find Bozie, mostly because he has the insane need to make sure that Bozie’s still around, still his best buddy. When Phil finds him, he’s watching old episodes of Game of Thrones in the living room and playing around on his phone. Phil’s stomach drops. He ignores it.

Bozie’s head comes up. “How’s Mandy?”

“Fine. Annoying.”

Bozie snorts. “Ping-Pong? You need to bone up before Dion challenges you to a rematch.”

Phil raises an eyebrow. Bone up? “And playing you is supposed to help with that how?”

“Fuck you,” Bozie gives him the finger, but drops his phone to the coffee table and leads the way into their game room down the hall.

They normally play best of three, but after Phil wins the first two in landslides, they extend it to a best of five. Right about the middle of game three, when Bozie’s taking a water break, Phil gathers the nerve to ask, “So, you do anything cool this summer?”

Bozie lowers his water bottle slowly, and in a tone of voice that says pretty clearly that Phil’s an idiot, “I was with you all summer.”

Phil shrugs. “Not for all of it.”

“For the interesting parts.”

“Oh.” Phil pauses. He sucks at subtlety, Bozie sucks at subtlety, and, really, he shouldn’t have even tried. Except, Phil’s even worse at feelings than he is at subtlety, so, at the end of the game, he tries again. “You know you can tell me things, right? I’m, like, your buddy.”

“The best,” Bozie assures him, probably too quickly to be completely honest, but it makes Phil smile anyway.

It doesn’t really answer anything, though, so he glances down at the Ping-Pong table, picking at the edge with his thumbnail as he pushes on. “And if something did happen. Over the summer- Maybe, you met a girl, or something-”

Bozie laughs. “Are you trying to ask me about,” he raises his hands in air quotes, “‘my girlfriend’?”

“No.” Phil concentrates on the corner of the table, where the painted lines are starting to wear off. “Yes. You didn’t tell me about her.” It sounds accusatory and petulant and, Jesus, this is exactly why Phil keeps his mouth closed as often as possible.

“There is no girl.”

“Orrsey says there is.”

Bozie stares at him. Phil can feel it, through the top of his head.

He amends, “All the guys say there is.”

Phil finally, finally, looks up, and Bozie is staring at him, eyes wide and bright and Phil doesn’t understand why. Bozie shrugs at him. “The guys assumed and I just- There is no girl. Promise.”

Okay, but, Phil frowns, “If there was-”

“Oh, come on.” Bozie frowns back, looking strangely hurt, his eyes glistening and his mouth turned down. “Don’t be an idiot. Of course you’d be the first to know.”

“Just checking.”

“You’re the worst best friend ever.”

It’s probably true. Just hearing the moniker settles something in Phil, though, and he relaxes when, over the next few days, things go back to normal.

***

The day LeafsFan42 sends him a dick pic, he drops his phone and shatters the screen. He’s in the locker room, post-practice, and he drops painfully to his knees to grab it before anyone can glance down and see the picture. He needn’t have worried, though, as the webbed cracks spidering across the screen obscure everything. He rushes to close his apps anyway, and he’s rewarded with a series of thin cuts across the pad of his thumb. “Shit,” he whines, before putting his thumb between his teeth to counteract the sharp pain.

“Dude,” Bozie’s pulling a shirt over his head as he comes over to check on Phil. “What’d you do?”

“Nothing.” He rolls his eyes, going for self-deprecating. “I’m clumsy, that’s all.”

Bozie snorts. “No shit.”

It scares Phil how easy lying is for him these days, and how trustingly Bozie accepts every one. It’s not that Phil’s ever been the most truthful of guys, he certainly doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve or in his voice or anything like that, but he normally relies on lies of omission rather than outright deception. But, when Bozie keeps laughing at him as they brave the traffic to Eaton Centre, Phil crosses his arms over his chest and lies without a second thought.

“You wouldn’t be laughing if a fan flashed you on twitter.”

Bozie slams the brakes harder then necessary at the red light and turns his head to gape at Phil. “What? Flashed as in-” He gestures down his body and Phil rolls his eyes.

Dick. “Ass.”

“High-five.” Bozie raises his hand and Phil slowly meets him halfway. Bozie’s still grinning. “You’re growing up, Philly-boy. Was she hot?”

Phil hadn’t taken a long enough look to really notice before he dropped the phone, but he can’t really imagine an ugly dick pic, so, “Yes.”

“Can I see?”

What? “No.” He sounds aghast, even to his own ears.

Bozie sighs, turning back to the road as the light turns green. “Don’t get your panties in a twist. I understand that this is a private moment between you, a fan, and two hundred million Twitter users.”

“She sent it in a private message.” Thank god PR sits down with every player to discuss the ins-and-outs of social media, so he knows a bit about Twitter and privacy. At least enough to cover his own lies. “And I deleted it, before you ask.”

“Fine.” Bozie sighs dramatically. “No one ever sends me naughty tweets.”

Phil’s pretty sure that that’s an outright lie, but glass houses and all that, so he lets it go. Bozie’s still sending him these furtive little hopeful grins, though, so when they get home, Phil begs off for a nap and closes himself in his room to call Amanda.

“Hey bro.” Amanda waves as her face swims into view on FaceTime. She’s such a dork.

Phil doesn’t wave. He does smile, though. “Hey.”

“Did you get a new phone? You sound clearer.”

Phil tries not to look guilty or blush or anything stupid. “Ah, yeah.”

He’s pretty sure he fails, as her eyes narrow. “Why?”

“Dropped mine.”

“You’re an idiot.”

“The more you say that, the less I believe you.”

She rolls her eyes.

He pushes, because banter is better then whatever fucked up conversation he actually wants to have with her. “Like the boy who cried wolf.”

“Not a boy,” she tells him, pretty unnecessarily. “And not a werewolf. No matter how much Bozie wants it to be true.”

Phil knows that allowing them to watch Teen Wolf together was a bad idea. “He’s an idiot.”

She laughs. It’s stupid, unselfconscious, and so much like his that he cringes. “I’m gonna tell him you said that.”

“Do and you won’t eat for a week.” If nothing else, she’s a college student, a little desperate, and holding his wallet over her always works.

“They feed us pretty well at the Olympic Training Center. Something about being America’s best athletes.” She brushes her ponytail over her shoulder, and sometimes the brashness of her ego shocks him because it’s just so, so different from how he feels anywhere but on the ice.

“Right.”

Her face softens, just a bit. “Why’d you drop your phone?” He blinks. “You didn’t really think you could distract me?”

“No,” because, really, he knows his little sister better than that, but he can still hope. He sighs. “No, I didn’t.”

“So-”

“He sent me a dirty picture.”

Her eyes widen and her face swims as she almost drops her phone. “Who? Bozie?”

His stomach clenches, low and hard. “What? No. LeafsFan67. Why would you-?”

She blushes. “Oh, right, don’t know what I was thinking.” It’s fairly accusatory, and it hangs for a minute between them as Phil squirms and ignores her implications. He’s feeling raw and vulnerable, and, just to spite her, pulls up the picture from LeafsFan67 and sends it to her. He’s rewarded by her screech.

“You are such an asshole,” she grumbles, finally, as her face comes back into view. “You know I can play dirty too, right?”

He knows that better then just about anyone. “Yeah, yeah.”

“So, you gonna send him one back?”

“What? No. Maybe.” He sighs. “I don’t know if I can talk to you about this.”

“You called me.”

“I know.”

She raises an eyebrow. “What are you worried about?”

“I don’t know.” He takes his tuque off his head and rubs his hair. It’s comforting. “I don’t wanna pull a Kane and have my dick splashed all over the Internet.” He’s not sure that the Maple Leafs’ PR team would take as kindly to that as the Hawks have with Kaner. Maybe it’s just because Kaner is so damn talented. “I don’t really have that luxury.”

“You’re as good as Kaner,” she says automatically, because she knows him way too well.

“Whatever.” He brushes it aside. “That’s not the only issue. I’m a bit more-” He flounders, because there isn’t really a good way to talk to his sister about his physical insecurities. “It would be pretty recognizable, is all.”

“Because-?” She leads, and he looks away.

“The cancer, it- It’s not all there.” He glances up and she’s frowning deeper then he’s ever seen and he rushes to assure her. “It’s fine. It all works fine. It doesn’t even look all that different, but, a picture- It would be pretty obvious that I’ve had testicular cancer.”

“Oh, Phil,” her whole face drops and it’s not often that she reminds him of their mother. He doesn’t know how to relate to this gentler, more sympathetic, softly supportive version of his sister.

“It’s not a big deal. I’m sorry I said anything.”

“Don’t do that.” She shakes her head, clearing her features. “It’s no different than any of the other scars you get from playing hockey,” as if having only one testicle and a pretty obvious scar is the same as getting cut with a skate.

“Yeah.”

“Phil,” she waits until he’s looking at her. “He’s not gonna care, okay?” He gets the feeling that they’re not just talking about LeafsFan67. He shrugs.

“Yeah, I guess. I have to take a nap before the game.”

“Okay.” She pauses. “Thanks for calling, yeah?”

“Course.”

The call ends, and he flips over to his Match.com app as he lies down on the bed. He still hasn’t taken the time to look at the picture and, Jesus, it’s a pretty good pic. Mostly jeans and underwear, just the flushed head of his cock is visible and that makes it all the hotter. Phil groans, rolling over and pushing his hand into his boxers.

When he’s done, he hits the reply button, types out, “Fuck, best jerk-off session in years,” and hopes that talking dirty is enough to cover the fact that he doesn’t send a reciprocal picture.

***

In the following weeks, LeafsFan67 doesn’t ask for a picture. He does, however, seem to recognize that Phil isn’t adverse to sex, per say, just to pictorial renditions of it. So, through a series of increasingly not-so-subtle invitations, he manages to draw Phil into a number of evening chat sessions that end in rather spectacular text sex.

It’s so much better than any of the phone sex Phil’s ever had. Over the phone, he tends to get kind of wrapped up in things and frequently forgets to keep up a steady stream of conversation. And, while he’s pretty good (he thinks) at chirping, he’s never really gotten the whole talking-dirty thing down. In message form, however, he can take his time, think through what he’d like to say, Google the top 10 ways to make “jerk-off” sound unique and exciting.

Plus, it’s kind of been a while, and over the Internet, no one ever has to know that he comes in about five minutes most days, with these embarrassing little noises that, thank god, cannot be translated into binary code.

Really, Phil’s just starting to think that this whole Internet boyfriend thing is as perfect as it gets, when LeafsFan67 starts dropping hints.

It starts with things like, “I’d really like to see you naked,” and “your hands on my dick would be so much better than mine,” and “Jesus fucking Christ, if you’re this good on-line, I can only imagine how good you are in person,” which, honestly, is more nerve-wracking than hot. That last one, in particular, makes Phil nervous, if he doesn’t know exactly why.

It’s nearing the end of October before Phil figures out what LeafsFan67 is leading up to. Amanda’s up for the weekend, and they’re out with the guys, against Phil’s better judgment. His sister is still only twenty-two and blond and pretty unaware of her effect on guys, and Phil doesn’t trust any of his teammates around her. Except for Reims? Maybe? He’s always seemed like an upstanding guy, for a goalie, anyway. Plus, his wife April’s pretty awesome and-

Phil kind of hates his own headspace by the time Reims drops Mandy into the seat next to him, a little sweaty and glassy-eyed, but fully clothed and smiling.

“She has so much energy,” Reims mutters as he falls into the chair on the other side of Phil. “I don’t know how you two are related.”

“Hey,” Phil protests, because that sounds enough like an insult to object. “I don’t see you cutting a rug every night.”

Reims holds his hands up in submission. “Wasn’t complaining, buddy.” Then he frowns. “But, ‘cutting a rug’? You really are an eighty year old man at heart, huh?”

Bozie leans across the table to grin at them. “He has the sweater vests and everything.” Which is a total lie, except for the one that Bozie bought him and he only wears when it’s really, really cold outside. That totally doesn’t count.

“Assholes.” Phil complains, then, to show them that he’s not his grandfather, suggests, “Another round?” They all nod enthusiastically, and Phil is even feeling magnanimous enough to buy Amanda another, despite that fact that she’s starting to lilt a bit against his shoulder.

A couple rounds later and Phil’s feeling a little buzzed himself, which is why, he figures, it takes him a while to tune in to the conversation Bozie and Amanda are having. Their heads are bowed over their beers, and they’re speaking in low voices, but Phil doesn’t have to do much more than focus to hear them.

“I just don’t know how these things work. I’ve never been the best at, like, dating-type-things.”

Amanda rolls her eyes; Phil can feel it through her shoulders. “There aren’t any rules, Bozie.”

“Feels like there are,” Bozie mutters, and he’s frowning, and Phil kinda wants to reach across the table to comfort him.

“There really aren’t.” Amanda reaches out to squeeze Bozie’s hand. A thick feeling of jealousy blankets Phil, but he shakes it off because it’s ridiculous. Phil has no reason to be jealous. Besides, he’d know if something was going on between Bozie and Amanda. He feels better, though, when she just squeezes tightly and then lets go. “Just do what feels right, yeah?”

“I guess.”

“No, seriously, you’re not as stupid at this stuff as you think you are. If you think it’s time, it’s probably time.”

Bozie laughs. It’s low and throaty and it makes Phil hurt. Dating makes Phil hurt. It’s hard. Reading people and paying enough attention to social cues and getting all those little subtle passive aggressive remarks people leave in conversations and – Jesus – Phil’s been so stupid. LeafsFan67 hadn’t even been all that subtle, his hints not all that hidden, and Phil hadn’t gotten a single one of them. Seriously, he is the least adequate person on the planet.

“So, um,” Phil mutters, later, when they’re back at home and he’s in Amanda’s room, putting new sheets on her bed. Loops had been the last person to sleep there and, yeah, no. “I think LeafsFan67 is gonna ask to meet.”

Amanda’s lying on the floor, her arm pressed over her eyes to stop the room from spinning, and she moves it just far enough to glare at him.

“Like, in person.”

“God.” She groans, replacing her arm. “Men - you’re all idiots. The whole gender.”

Phil doesn’t really know what that means, but she’s still groaning and he drops it in favor of helping her to the bathroom.

****

He decides to try Blake next, because he’s a guy and probably understands Phil’s reluctance. It turns out to be a false assumption, because Blake is pretty unsympathetic once Phil tumbles through his embarrassed explanation.

“You’re an idiot.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Phil rolls his eyes. “So, what do I do?”

“This can’t be an on-line relationship forever.”

Phil bites back the urge to ask why not, and settles instead on, “He was supposed to get to know me first, right? So that when we meet he’ll ignore how socially inept I am?”

“It’s been over four months. If he doesn’t like you yet, you should really cut your losses and run. Hell, you probably should have months ago.”

“You are the worst brother. Ever.” Phil’s fingers tighten in Stella’s fur and she whines, wiggling off his chest and settling against his side, just out of reach. Phil sighs. He even manages to scare his dog away and he loves her more than anything. “I’m just not, like, the easiest guy to get to know, yeah?”

“Mandy’s so right. You are hopeless.” Blake sighs, and Phil can picture him, lying on his bed in their childhood home, hoping for an AHL contract and hating Phil and his petty problems.

“Sorry.”

Blake sighs again, and this time it’s a little less frustrated. “Really, though, you’re not that hard of a guy to love.”

“Thanks,” Phil murmurs, because he has no idea what else he can say. His relationship with Blake has always been supportive, in a competitive kind of way. Phil has always assumed that Blake reveled in Phil’s social awkwardness; Phil got hockey, and Blake got charisma and friends and girlfriends and all the things that have never come easy for Phil.

“So, I can tell Mandy you’re gonna say yes? She’s been bugging me all week.”

The front door opens, and Stella scrambles up and stands at the door, her tail wagging in anticipation. Phil takes the opportunity to duck out of the conversation. “Bozie’s home, gotta go,” and ends the call before Blake can say anything else.

“Hey buddy,” Phil calls as he opens the door and Stella races out. By the time Phil gets to the kitchen, Bozie’s already on his knees, his fingers tight in Stella’s fur as if he was gone longer than a few hours. It makes Phil’s chest tighten, but Phil tosses it up to lasting emotions from his conversation with Blake.

“Hey,” Bozie greats as Phil walks in. “I got some salad mix. Thought we could have it with one of those lasagnas my mom left.”

“Sure.” Phil buries his head in the freezer, pulling out one of the lasagnas Bozie’s mom had cooked and frozen the last time she was visiting. Phil’s pretty sure they’d both die from sodium overdose if Mrs. Bozak didn’t come visit every month or so.

***

When the message does come, it’s easier than Phil thought it would be to say “yes” to a physical meet over coffee and quiche at Rooster. They’re coming up on a West Coast road trip, so in deference to the nerves he’s already feeling, he schedules the date for Sunday. Which only leaves him with twenty-four hours of nerves, most of which he takes out on the Pens in a fantastic 4-1 win.

When he gets home, he’s feeling jittery with the two-point night. Bozie takes one look at him, holed up on the couch and nursing his hamstring, and laughs. “Hey, buddy. You were great out there tonight.”

Phil grunts, pulling his tuque lower over his forehead and collapsing onto the other couch. “Watch the game?”

“Course.” Bozie grins. The TV is still playing Hockey Night in Canada. Phil feels like an idiot. “Sick goal.”

“The guys were great tonight,” Phil defers. “This could be our year, you know? I’m just- feeling it.”

Bozie gets this far away gleam in his eye and nods, slowly. “No jinxes.”

Phil shrugs. “Whatever,” cause he is the least superstitious hockey player he knows, but Bozie, well, Bozie’s worn the same pair of socks all year and only eats the same chicken and pasta recipe in the eight hours before every game.

“Call of Duty?”

Bozie’s predictable, but Phil’s whole body is strumming with tension, so he pulls out the controllers and settles in to take out his aggression with artificial violence. By the time Stella joins him about an hour later, resting her head in his lap and begging him to divert his attention, he’s crashing pretty hard.

He doesn’t realize he’s fallen asleep until Bozie’s pulling the controller out of his fingers and shooing Stella out of the way. “Hey,” he smiles when he sees that Phil’s awake.

“Hey buddy, sorry, I’m awake now.” Phil’s voice is sticky with sleep, and he coughs to clear his throat.

Bozie shakes his head. “Nah, I’m done anyway. Bed?”

Phil sits up straighter and his neck cracks. He frowns, but Bozie just pushes him forward so that he can slip onto the couch half-behind Phil and start massaging the sore muscles. Bozie’s hands are warm and talented, digging through his knots to the smoother, raw muscle underneath.

“Jesus,” Phil groans. “Better than the trainers.”

Bozie chuckles. “Don’t tell them that. They’ll just hand you over to me and then I’ll be your chauffer, your cook, and your massage therapist.”

“You’re not a cook.” Phil objects, and he means it to be light, funny, but Bozie’s face shutters, his lips thin and withdrawn and Phil kicks himself. “And you’re more than all that other stuff. You’re a hockey player.”

Bozie stares at him for another minute, but then he shakes his head and takes his hands back. Phil misses them instantly, and he wants to moan his protest even though he has no idea what’s going on here.

“Eventually, again, yeah.”

“What?” Phil catches Bozie’s wrist, before he can second-guess himself. “Bozie, you’re coming back. Of course you are.”

Bozie lets out this gust of breath that sounds a little like a laugh. “Thanks.” As if he wasn’t so sure, himself, and Phil saying it actually means something. Which is ridiculous, because Bozie just has a hamstring pull, and it’s painful, but it’s not anything close to a career ending injury, and it’s not like Bozie to doubt himself. Not like this. Not over hockey.

“Okay,” Phil says, slowly. “We good?”

“Always.” Bozie doesn’t look at him as he says it, though, and nothing about this is sitting right with Phil.

But, he’s still half-asleep, and his capacity for worrying is pretty much full with tomorrow’s date and the upcoming road trip, so he lets Bozie get away with playing it off as nothing. When Bozie says, “I’m gonna-” and points to his bedroom, Phil just nods at Bozie’s retreating back.

***

When Phil wakes up, Bozie’s already out. He left a note that just says “be back later. coffee’s in the fridge,” without any of the sarcastic hearts and “xoxoxo”s that he usually leaves. It’s still sending off alarm bells in the back of Phil’s mind, but he’s going to worry about it later. After his date. With LeafsFan67, who’s only known him as some nebulous collection of texts and messages and has no idea that he’s a famous hockey player or that his hair’s this weird thinning dirty blond or that he’s, deep down, just an awkward fucking guy.

By the time Phil’s showered, dressed, and given Stella her treat, his hands are shaking and his whole body is cold with nerves. He grabs a beanie on the way out, pulling it low over his ears and crossing his arms across his body in an attempt to warm himself up. Because this is stupid. The worst that could happen is that LeafsFan67 could laugh at him, which has happened to him before, so he’s prepared. Except, Phil can’t pretend he has no stake in this. He developed stakes in this relationship a long time ago.

He parks a few blocks away from Rooster Coffee House and uses the walk to give himself a pep talk, mostly in Amanda’s voice telling him to buck up and be a man and other sorts of vaguely sexist things that are meant to be laughable and supportive at the same time. He’s feeling better, his hands not shaking nearly as much, as he reaches for the door. And then, through the large glass windows, he sees him. He’s sipping coffee and fiddling with his iPhone, dressed in his best jeans and a waffle shirt that pulls perfectly across his shoulders. Phil had even told him so once, after a few too many shots, and -

It all falls into place. Bozie’s secret summer girlfriend, his obsessive texting, his refusal to talk about any of it. It all makes sense. Because, Bozie is LeafsFan67. LeafsFan67 is Bozie. Which means that Phil is Bozie’s secret summer on-line boyfriend and Phil- Well, Phil had admitted to himself weeks ago that he’s hopelessly, fruitlessly, stupidly in love with LeafsFan67. Which means that he is hopelessly, fruitlessly, stupidly in love with Bozie.

Fuck.

Bozie has no idea. He’s sitting there, grinning nervously into his cup of coffee, and suddenly last night’s conversation makes a lot more sense. Bozie was nervous, anticipating this date, looking for confirmation that he’s awesome and worthy and all the same things Phil was feeling. Because Bozie was anticipating meeting someone today, someone pretty, someone who loves fishing and watching Leafs games from his couch and who dreamed of being an architect when he was a little kid; someone who doesn’t play hockey, someone who definitely isn’t Phil.

Phil can picture it. Walking into the café and ordering a cup of coffee, sitting across from Bozie and telling him about it. The misunderstanding. The joke. And Phil would be able to read the looks of surprise and confusion and disappointment that would cross Bozie’s face as he puts two-and-two together. Bozie would offer excuses and apologies and they’d laugh it off, embarrassed and awkward, and agree to forget that the last four months ever happened. And all the while, Phil would be smiling, while he’d be cracking inside until, by the time they made their separate ways home, Phil would be destroyed. He’s honestly not sure he’d ever be able to come back from it.

So, instead, Phil pulls his toque low over his forehead and heads home. The house is quiet when he enters. Even Stella seems to sense his distress, as she follows him into his room and tries to lick the salt off his cheeks. He pushes her away long enough to send off “I’m sorry, I can’t do this” to LeafsFan67, before he curls around Stella and closes his eyes against it all.

***

Phil makes sure that he’s gone before Bozie wakes up. He leaves him a note, mostly filled with instructions to keep off his leg and how to take care of Stella, as if he isn’t familiar with her routines. Phil can’t bring himself to say anything else, though, so he leaves it at that, gives Stella and extra-long hug, and slips out the door before he can give in to the crazy, ridiculous, self-destructive urge to make sure that Bozie’s okay.

As much as Phil’s hurting, he knows that Bozie is, too. Bozie was stood up, after all, by the guy he’d spent four months getting to know intimately. A guy he assumed was smart, funny, attractive, and willing to give their thing a try, for real. A guy Bozie was expecting to bring back to his – their? – apartment. To start a life together. With Phil as, what?, the awkward third wheel who wears heavy ear plugs and pretends to ignore the copious amounts of loud, awesome sex his roommate is having, until it all becomes too much and Phil moves out of his own damn apartment.

Bile rises in Phil’s throat and he has to rest his forehead on the steering wheel for a moment. He really needs to stop drawing these scenarios for himself. He has seven days. Seven days to bond with his teammates and forget about Bozie and LeafsFan67 and all the little things that he’d allowed himself to hope for.

Phil’s head hurts.

“Missing your boy already?” Loops pats his knee as he sits next to him on the plane and, when Phil glances at him, shakes his head. “We haven’t even left the city.”

“It’s a long trip.” It’s the most Phil’s willing to admit.

“We’ll be back before you know it.” Loops squeezes Phil’s knee before removing his hand and digging through his bag. “And next time Bozie will be here to annoy us all.”

“Yeah.” That’s what I’m afraid of, Phil doesn’t add.

“Here.” Loops holds out his hand, three ibuprofen sitting in his palm. “Take ‘em. You’re making me hurt.”

Begrudgingly, Phil swallows them before resting his head back against the seat and cataloguing all the ways he can die while in the air. It doesn’t really help, because usually he gets over his fear of flying by squeezing Bozie’s hand, and now all he can think about is the warmth of Bozie’s hand, the length of his fingers, the way he quietly talks Phil through his mini-panics, breath hot and intimate against his ear.

All those Bert and Ernie jokes are starting to make a lot more sense, and it crosses Phil’s mind that it probably shouldn’t have taken four months of on-line dating for him to figure out that he has a thing for Bozie. Which probably makes him Ernie. Fuck his life.

***

Loops makes a pretty shitty Bozie-substitute, but they get to Edmonton in one piece, and he does let Phil grip his knee during landing. Phil always feels better once his feet are on land. He feels even better when they drop their luggage off at the hotel and head around the corner for a steak dinner.

It’s a sports bar and grill, and Dion elbows him towards the Ping-Pong table after they order. Phil lost the last few rounds back in Toronto, and he figures a little old-fashioned revenge is due him at the moment.

“Dude, this isn’t, like, the World Championships or something.” Reilly calls out over Orrsey’s wolf-whistles.

“Looking hot.” Orrsey laughs. Phil flips him off. “Just speaking truth, my man.”

“Save something for the Oilers, yeah?” McClement calls out.

“Just a warm up, buddy. Just a warm up.” Phil promises, which turns out to be fortuitous.

They beat Edmonton the next night 4-0, and Phil knots two goals and two assists. Beauties, all of them.

“Hey,” Dion claps him on the back as they’re leaving the locker room after. “If you’re gonna play like that, I’ll let you kick my ass at Ping-Pong anytime.”

“I’m holding you to that,” Phil promises, but he’s grinning, and it feels fun, good, pumped full of adrenaline and almost normal.

He high lasts all the way until he’s in the shower, in his CBA-approved single room, celebrating and ignoring the stupid niggling thoughts at the back of his head. He’s half-hard on hockey and scoring when he realizes, rather belatedly, that he’s been jacking off to Bozie’s dick for weeks. Because if LeafsFan67 sent him a dick pic, it was Bozie’s pic and, Jesus, Phil comes, hard and hot and so full of guilt that he barely waits until his orgasm is over before he’s sick.

It’s not, would never be, shit, could never be, anything non-consensual, but it still feels dirty, wrong, an invasion of privacy that Phil, unwittingly or not, has been repeating, over and over again, for the sole purpose of his own pleasure and release, and that’s wrong. Maybe not, like, before, when Phil had thought it was some anonymous dick pic of a guy he was falling for, but now, now he knows, and it still does it for him and isn’t this exactly the kind of thing they warned him against in sex ed?

He can’t stop thinking about it. He spends the next two days in an uncomfortable state of vague arousal crippled by overwhelming guilt and an ever-present sadness. Because this is his life now and now matter how many “It Gets Better” videos he watches on YouTube, he’s not sure it will. This is his new normal. His new normal is the worst.

They win in Calgary, 4-2, but he doesn’t net anything other than a rare interference penalty. The subsequent ribbing in the locker room would have been funny if it wasn’t so out of character. And Phil’s always been a worrier, but he thinks he’s justified in worrying that, maybe, this is the way it is now. A new, angrier, more aggressive, nothing-to-lose him to go with his new normal.

As if to prove all his fears right, he fights Alex Burrows in Vancouver three days later. It isn’t much of a fight, and Phil has the sick feeling that it’s going to end up on more blooper reels than on hockeyfights.com, but he did drop his gloves and lose his helmet and get in a couple of good punches. They lose 0-4, though, and, perhaps more importantly, they lose Bolland. Indefinitely.

When Phil gets back to the locker room at the end of the 3rd, he has three texts waiting for him.

Bozie’s just reads “ouch.” Although it’s followed by “ice packs waiting in the freezer when u get home :)” which makes Phil’s stomach turn.

Blake’s text orders, “u need to stop watching Goon w/Mandy.”

And Amanda’s says “don’t ruin those precious hands, asshole, they’re worth $$$” and he can see her grinning as he reads it. He types back a quick, “if I have a tragic hockey injury, Ill expect u to support me” before shutting his eyes for another terrifying Bozie-less flight back to Toronto.

Usually, Phil likes coming home from road trips. He likes being home, sleeping on his own mattress and lounging on his own couch, but not this time. He’s still obsessing over Bozie, made all the worse by the sting of their awful showing in Vancouver and the entire week off before their next game. Phil likes time off as much as the next guy, but now that he’s got this thing, complete with feelings and boners and, fuck, he’s really not looking forward to this time off at all.

They don’t land in Toronto until 7 am, and Phil pulls up to the apartment about an hour later. His palms are sweating and his knees are shaking and his only hope, he figures, is that Bozie’s decided to sleep in and maybe, just maybe, Phil can slip in, shower, and head to bed without Bozie ever knowing.

Bozie’s a morning person, though, and he doesn’t disappoint. “Hey,” he calls as Phil opens the door. Phil waits until he’s toe-ed off his shoes and placed his keys in the bowl and done just about everything he can to delay before he looks up. Bozie’s standing at the edge of the kitchen, dressed in boxers and one of Phil’s old shirts and the “Kiss a Hockey Player” apron their mothers bought them last Christmas, holding a spatula and smiling at Phil as if everything’s normal. And Phil almost gives in, tells him about Match.com and the coffee shop and his feelings. All of it.

“Welcome back, world traveler.”

“We didn’t leave Canada,” Phil protests, because there’s nothing else he can say that doesn’t give everything away and doesn’t make him feel like he’s splitting in two, right here, in his own damn kitchen.

Bozie rolls his eyes, but before he can say anything, Stella’s rushing out from the back bedroom and Phil forgets about everything for long enough to squat down and gather her close.

“She’s missed you,” Bozie says, and there’s something in his voice, something strangely soft and vulnerable, but when Phil looks up, Bozie’s already turned back to the stove.

“I’m, ahh,” Phil stands, his knees clicking unpleasantly, and points towards his bedroom. “Long flight, no sleep, yeah? So, shower. Unpack. Nap, probably.”

Bozie nods, flipping a pancake onto a plate already piled pretty high, then holds out the plate. “Take these with you. I know what you’re like when you have to fly without me.”

Phil doesn’t know what to say to that. He accepts the plate, “thanks,” and retreats to his bedroom as fast as he can balancing pancakes and his suitcase with Stella in between his feet.

He doesn’t come out for the next two days, bar practices and walking Stella and PR stunts. Every time they have a string of off days, management finds increasingly embarrassing ways to fill it. This time, namely the Blue and White Dinner, where Phil has to talk about his bromance with Bozie, while coming to the private and rather terrifying realization that they’ve been acting like a couple for years.

Then, the team spends an afternoon at SickKids Hospital, which also includes cameras and pictures and talking about himself, but is all okay because he gets to talk with kids with cancer. Bozie even runs interference with PR so that Phil can organize a secret game of knee hockey with the kids instead of answering questions about his own run-in with cancer.

Amanda calls later that afternoon, after the pictures go up, and Phil answers reluctantly. “Mandy?”

“Hey big brother.”

“Hi,” He replies, slowly, because she only calls him that, in that tone, when she’s about to up-end his life.

“Whatcha up to?” Her voice is too bright, too crisp, and Phil sighs.

“Amanda,” Phil warns, and his anxiety must be palatable because Stella raises her head from his knee and snuffles.

“Right, sorry.” He can hear her contrite smile through the phone. Kessels have never been good at subtlety. “So, you’re off this week, yeah?”

“Um,” Phil presses the phone between his ear and his shoulder so that he can wrap his fingers in Stella’s fur and calm her. “Yeah.”

“I was thinking, maybe, you should come to Boston.”

“I have a game on Friday,” Phil says, because it’s true and, mostly, because he needs a minute to think.

“I know. It would be a quick trip, but isn’t your sister worth it?” She puts a lot of bravado into it, but he can tell that she’s biting her lip, the same way he rubs his jaw when he’s nervous. He hates when she’s nervous.

“Yeah, uh-” Phil shakes his head. He knows her team has a game tomorrow and he really hasn’t seen her in a while. He’ll have to talk to Carlyle, but, “Of course. I’d love to see you play.”

“Coach won’t mind?”

“Nah.” Phil flinches. That’s an outright lie.

“Awesome-sauce.” She sounds up beat again. He cringes at her word choice, but her moods have always been infectious.

“Yeah, yeah, ‘course.” He pulls his laptop closer and opens Kayak. “I’ll text you my flight info.”

“Cool. Oh, and say hi to Bozie for me, yeah?” And then she’s gone.

She had said it casually, as if she assumed Bozie was in the room with him, which, normally, Phil realizes he would be. They typically spend off days lounging on the couches, catching up on old TV, ordering take-out, and entertaining Stella. His hand must tighten in her fur, because she whimpers and looks up at him, her eyes big and sad and, “Yeah, girl, I miss him too,” he murmurs.

***

Phil books a flight for obscenely early in the morning, and he has to beg Amanda to get out of bed. She’s waiting for him in Boston, looking impatient and tired with her beanie pulled far down her forehead. When she sees him, though, she grins, big and stupid and wonderful, and her whole body opens up to gather him in a hug.

“Hey, sis,” he murmurs, kissing the side of her head. She punches his shoulder, but when he tries to pull away, she tucks herself under his arm. It’s a movement she hasn’t done un-ironically since she was twelve, and he wants to question her, but settles for squeezing her shoulders tightly.

It’s a game day and if Phil is known for being pretty laid-back, routines-wise, Amanda’s superstitions make up for it. So, after a nap and a shower back at the hotel Phil booked near the rink in Bedford, he takes her and a number of teammates out for a pre-game pasta meal at Café Luigi.

“So,” Phil says, slowly, once they’ve ordered and the table’s gone quiet. Phil tries to remind himself that these are hockey players, not Amanda’s middle school sleepover buddies. “Host families treating you all well?”

Amanda hits him, high on the shoulder where everyone can see. He grimaces, clutching his arm, and Amanda rolls her eyes. “What was I thinking? Telling everyone you’re cool.”

“Me?” Phil widens his eyes purposefully. “Never.”

“She also told us you’re an asshole,” Megan assures him.

“With video evidence,” Hilary adds, patting his forearm where it rests on the table. He stares at her hand, warm and calloused against his skin, realizing, belatedly, that he hasn’t been touched like that since he started the thing with LeafsFan67 and stopped looking for anything else. He mentally chastises himself. The thing with Bozie. Phil’s breath catches, and he covers it with a sip of water that goes down the wrong way.

Amanda leans over. “Stop being weird.”

Which isn’t really fair, because Phil can’t stop being who he is.

“I know, I know.” She rolls her eyes, reading his mind and pushing the breadbasket his way. “You are who you are, or whatever.”

He’s about to retort when the waitress brings them their food, and then Amanda’s too busy eating to listen to him. Besides, Hilary’s leaning over to speak to him quietly. “Don’t worry. I’m a little off after break-ups, too.”

“I don’t-” Phil stares at her, his ravioli forgotten on his fork. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She shrugs. “Mandy said you were having a hard time of it. Which is cool. I usually spend a week with a pint of mint-chocolate chip and a years’ worth of game tape.”

“I’m good,” he tries, but his voice is high to his own ears. What has Mandy been telling people? “It wasn’t a big deal. Really.”

“Cool,” Hilary grins at him, twirling her spaghetti around her fork and taking a huge bite. “We’re going out after the game, anyway. Alcohol’s always good.”

“Are you even old enough to drink?” He tries to joke, but he’s having trouble breathing.

“In Canada, at least,” she winks at him, doing a valiant job of ignoring the way he’s hyperventilating over his pasta. He finds his breath just long enough to pay the bill and drive them to the rink, before he falls onto the bleachers and drops his head in to his hands.

He doesn’t know how much time passes before the bleachers clang and Amanda pushes a sharpie into his clenched fist. He looks up to see her, mostly dressed in her gear, with socks and shower shoes on her feet and her jersey pushed up to her elbows. She’s biting her lip as she holds out her wrist.

“Will you-?”

He pulls the top of the sharpie off with his teeth and takes her wrist, perhaps a little rougher than he would normally. He starts drawing the outline of her ritual arrow, knowing full well that she’ll take the opportunity to talk to him while his mouth is full and he won’t be able to defend himself. If he weren’t so angry, he’d be proud of her.

“Hilary talked to me. She was worried that she pissed you off at lunch. Said you went all quiet, which I told her was normal, but-”

Phil finishes the outline and starts coloring in the lines.

“Anyway, I know you don’t want to talk about it, and I don’t know exactly what went down between you and LeafsFan67, but, you’re miserable, Phil. Hil’s oblivious to everything, and even she could tell.”

Phil finishes the arrow and lets go of her wrist, spitting out the top and frowning at her. “You can’t talk to people about my life like that. I’m a public figure in Toronto. And I know that makes me sound like an asshole, so you can stop looking at me like that.”

She rolls her eyes, cradling her wrist. Maybe he did press a little hard with the sharpie. “I only told Hilary. And she won’t tell anybody.”

“Did you-” He takes a deep breath, because he’s not sure which would be more embarrassing, if she told Hilary that he was on-line dating, or that he was queer, or that he chickened out on meeting the guy; or whatever story he told Amanda. He settles on, “What did you tell her?”

Amanda shrugs. “Just that you were with someone. And happy.” She frowns. “And now you’re not.”

He glares at her.

“What? I needed to give her some reason for your visit.”

“I’m your brother. Isn’t that enough?”

She shrugs, lowering her eyes. “Look, when you’re miserable, I’m miserable, and I needed someone to talk to. I didn’t tell her much. Not how or why or even who the guy was. Didn’t want you to embarrass me,” she tries to joke.

He isn’t laughing. “But,” air is rushing past his ears and he has to take deep, purposeful breaths so that he doesn’t faint. “You told her I was gay?”

“Gay, bi, questioning, whatever. She doesn’t care.” She stares at him, begging him to get it, and he does. He knows the codes.

“Yeah, okay.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes,” he repeats, a little sharply. “Just, stop talking about me with your teammates.”

“Sure.” She’s grinning again, reaching forward to give him a messy kiss on the cheek, before bounding down the bleachers. He shakes his head. She really is something else.

***

It’s an exhibition game against Boston College, so it doesn’t mean much, except that Team USA is already jelling months before Sochi. Half the team is too young to drink in the US, but the Boston girls lead them down the street to celebrate at a local pub that will turn the other cheek at a group of hockey players willing to spend good money in exchange for a little discretion.

Drinking with the national team, and a large part of the Boston Blades and the BC Eagles, isn’t all that different from drinking with the Leafs. Phil buys rounds, ignores their ribbing about beer and calories and extra pounds, and spends most of the evening chirping Amanda for her vodka-cranberries.

She’s on her third when she leans over, her drink spilling over her hand and into Phil’s lap as she laughs against his shoulder. “Darts?”

He eyes her carefully, reaching out for a napkin to dab at his pants. “Sure you wanna do that?”

“Me?” Her eyes go wide, and she grins, already pushing him out of their booth. “I can shoot straighter drunk than you can sober.”

Which isn’t true, but Phil also isn’t exactly sober, so he figures it’s not worth arguing. Plus, he’s feeling pretty competitive, his hands strumming with the adrenaline of the game, and if he can’t beat Amanda on the ice at the moment, darts will do.

“Cricket?” He asks, digging quarters out of his pocket and shoving them into the machine. It’s possible his hands are shaking as much with the four beers he’s had as with adrenaline.

“’Course.” Amanda pulls out a stool, dumping her purse and their coats on it, before tapping out an impatient rhythm with her foot. Phil rolls his eyes, handing over the darts and, graciously, he thinks, letting her go first. He regrets the decision when the game ends swiftly and decisively.

“Booyah,” she exclaims as she hits the winning shot, spreading her arms and puffing her chest into Phil’s.

“Luck,” he promises, digging into his pockets for more quarters and coming up empty. “I’m gonna get change from the bar.”

He hands over a couple of dollars, and the bartender wanders away to help other customers before he changes Phil’s bills. He sighs, impatiently running his hands through his hair as he waits, nearly jumping a foot when Hilary appears at his elbow.

“So,” she starts, looking extremely guilty. “Sorry, about earlier. I didn’t mean to say anything stupid.”

Phil wants to ignore her, but she’s Amanda’s best friend and she’s looking sorry enough that he can’t leave her hanging. “You didn’t. I’m just sensitive.” Not something he should be admitting, probably, but beer and issues and Phil’s terrible at talking to people, Jesus. He adds, “or, so the media tell me.”

She laughs. “Don’t pay attention to the media.”

“Yeah. You, you know, you too.”

“Yeah.” She smiles, and it’s kind of small and shy and, from here, he can see why someone would call her pretty. “This is the last I’m gonna say of it, but, I’m not going to say anything. To anyone.”

Phil’s chest tightens painfully, and he nods. “Thanks.”

The bartender returns and she holds her hand out to take the quarters. She pauses, though, halfway through turning away. “Okay, so, I lied. I have one more thing to say.”

His heart is pounding too hard for him to think. He thinks he grunts.

“If you’re this miserable without him, it’s not worth it. Fix it. Whatever you have to do, fix it.” She pats his hand, touching his skin for the second time today. “That’s it. I’m done. Promise.” She releases his hand and heads back to the group crowding around the dartboard.

Phil doesn’t follow her. He’s feeling raw, scratched up with questions and doubts and uncertainties, and he’s not in a position to pretend that he’s okay. Not when Amanda would take one look at him and drag him into a corner for a heart-to-heart. Right here, in this bar, in this city that still hates him and would relish the opportunity to sell his private life to the tabloids.

So, when the blond next to him leans over, her voice warm as she asks, “fight with your girl?” he ignores everything telling him to shut up and order a beer and go back to playing darts, and smiles at her.

“She’s not my girl.”

“That right?”

“Promise.” He slips into his role. Just because he isn’t a people person doesn’t mean that he doesn’t know how to play this game, and, in some dangerous and devastating way, it’s comfortable.

“Girlfriend at home?”

“Nope.” He shakes his head. “No girlfriend.”

“Well.” Her lips are painted red, pretty when she smiles, and she’s wearing a sheer lacy top to match. She’s easy, simple, smooth against his ragged edges and, if only for a short time, she feels good.

He takes her back to the hotel, kissing her in the elevator, and against the door to the hotel room while he fumbles for his key card. She’s into it, pulling him closer and slipping her small hands under his shirt, when he realizes that he’s fooling himself. He doesn’t want smooth or comfortable or beautiful. He steps back, away from her, Hilary’s words playing through his head, you’re miserable without him, fix it, fix it. As much as it hurts, he doesn’t want to smooth over his raw bits, and, as he pushes this girl away, he accepts, stupidly, irrevocably, that he is stubbornly in love with Bozie. And that’s not going to change.

She looks confused, as if she’s never been rejected before. She’s blond and beautiful and totally into him, and he supposes she probably never has been. “I’m an idiot,” he tells her, probably the most truthful thing he’s said all day. Because he was just about to invite her in, fuck her, in the room he’s sharing with his sister, before throwing her out with a final kiss and a fake number, and he’s the guy his parents always warned him about.

“I don’t mind,” she murmurs, surging forward, but he puts his hand up to hold her off. She bites her lip, and its swollen, her cheeks flushed red, her chest heaving as she catches her breath. It does nothing for him.

“I do. I-” He shakes his head. “You seem like a nice girl, you really do, and I’m just using you here, so-”

“Maybe I wanna be used.”

If he’s played any part in making her feel that way, in making her desperate enough to beg for him, when he is so not worth it, he’s going to hate himself a little bit for a very long time.

He slips away from her, sidestepping her batted eyelashes. “You should go. Please, just- Here.” He digs into his pockets and pulls out a couple of 20s. He pushes them into her hands. “Call yourself a cab. On me.”

She sighs, but accepts the cash, and he lets out a breath that he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.

“Sorry,” he apologizes, fruitlessly, and watches as her face falls from angry to hurt. It’s his fault.

“Asshole.” She clutches the money to her chest and turns on her heels, all beauty and elegance and hurt and he watches her get on the elevator before he slips his key into the door.

He doesn’t know how long he sits on the edge of the bed with the drapes open, looking out over the city of Boston and thinking over the totality of his life and coming up depressingly, achingly empty before the door slams and he tilts his head to see Amanda standing over him.

“What the fuck is the matter with you?” Her hair is pulled up and away from her face so that he can feel the full force of the anger in the slant of her mouth. “Did you bring her here?”

“No,” he promises, too fast, and amends, “I sent her home.”

“Well, that’s something, at least.” She sits down next to him on the bed, throwing her full weight into it and knocking their shoulders together painfully. When she speaks again, her voice is a little softer. “I don’t know what to do with you.”

“There’s nothing you can do. These are my problems.”

“That’s not-” She looks frustrated, her hands clenching on her thighs, and he has no idea why. “I’m fucking this up.”

“Ahh,” Phil starts, then stops. He has no idea where her anger went and it’s a little frightening. “Okay,” he says, slowly, neither agreeing or disagreeing.

She stares at him, little lines forming around her mouth, before she finally lets out a heavy, disappointed sigh. “I can’t believe you picked up. Here, in Boston, with me.”

Phil shrugs. He’s the worst brother in the world and desperately wants her not to realize that. He doesn’t know what to do, though, so he tries for joking - “A guy can wanna get laid, yeah?” - and settles right around smarmy.

“Gross, ugh,” she bumps his shoulder, hard, and hides her face in her hands as she starts laughing. Her whole body is shaking against his and he’s beginning to feel delirious. “You’re the worst at this.” Her voice is muffled by her palms. “Don’t be that guy. You can’t pull it off.”

He really wants to protest, mainly for the sake of his masculinity, but she’s right. He’s a romantic, whether he likes it or not. He sighs, dropping his head back into his right hand and turning to look at her. “I was trying to move on.”

“What?” She looks up, her eyes bright from her laughter and her lingering anger. “By fucking some blond chick you picked up at a bar rather then sucking it up and meeting the guy you’re dating? You are such an asshole.”

He closes his eyes. She’s not wrong. He is an asshole, just not in the ways that she thinks. That raw, scratched feeling comes back and hopes that she can’t hear it in his voice. “I met him. We set a date and I went and- I saw him.”

“What?” She jumps up, her eyes wide and so blue and she looks happy and surprised and, inexplicably, vulnerable. “You saw him?”

“Yeah, I did.” He swallows past a lump in his throat and his palms feel sweaty and he doesn’t know where all this moisture is coming from except something deep down inside of him, where’s he’s pushed all the things he never, ever wants to talk about.

“Oh, Phil,” she kneels down in front of him, and he doesn’t understand her face at all. It’s sad and worried and, maybe, she’s about to cry. Which doesn’t make any sense.

“It wasn’t LeafsFan67.” Phil tries, then stops, and starts again. “Well, it was, but, it was Bozie. All this time, I’ve been falling for Bozie and, Mandy, I am so, so screwed.”

“Fuck,” she whispers, leaning her forehead against his. He closes his eyes, against her, against the tears threatening to fall, against the memory of standing outside that coffee shop and hearing his world fall into place with the most sickening crack. “What did you do?”

He shakes his head, his forehead moving against hers, warm and clammy. “What could I do? Laugh it off? Tell him not to be too disappointed that the man of his dreams was an ugly joke. I couldn’t.” He sounds bitter, even to his own ears, and he swallows against it. “So, I let him down easy. Went home, told LeafsFan67 I couldn’t do it anymore, end of story.”

“You are such a jackass.” Amanda presses forward for another moment, then sits back on her heels. Phil feels cold, without the warmth of her body in front of him, a barrier between himself and his feelings. “He’s been miserable for weeks and you thought- In your infinite wisdom you assumed- I called you here to pull your head out of your ass, but I never thought-.”

She can’t seem to finish a sentence, but it doesn’t matter. Phil’s still fixated on, “miserable?” because that doesn’t make any sense at all. “Amanda?”

“Yeah, yeah.” She waves him off. “I think it’s time I catch you up.”

“Yeah,” Phil agrees, slowly, a stupid, dangerous hope beginning to grow.

“So, here’s the thing. Bozie’s known it was you. All along.”

“Since-?”

“The very beginning, yeah. Bozie’s been in love with you for ages, and we thought, maybe, after he moved in you’d figure it out. But, you’re the most oblivious guy I know and you never questioned why a guy who makes millions of dollars a year would voluntary live in your guest room.”

Phil knows the answer to that. He’s been telling the media for almost a year. “I don’t charge him rent.”

She rolls her eyes, letting him know exactly what she thinks about his media-approved justifications. “So, we came up with a new plan. Well, I came up with a new plan. Bozie wasn’t so sure and, judging from your face,” she frowns, tilting her head and squinting at him, “I’m willing to admit that this wasn’t my absolute best idea.”

“Mandy-” Phil growls, because as much as he likes hearing her admit that she’s wrong, there are more important things at stake here.

“It wasn’t so different from what I told you, really. We’d get you to sign up for on-line dating. You’d meet a funny, handsome, hockey-obsessed guy. You’d fall for him. Then, you’d meet him, figure out the guy is Bozie, then realize that you’ve been in love with him for years. Then, you’d live happily-ever-after and I’d take all the credit.” She frowns. “In theory.”

“Worked until the end,” he admits, a little begrudgingly, a little incredulously.

She shrugs. “It might need a little tweak.”

“Your plans are the worst.”

She shrugs. “I admit nothing.”

“So, Bozie-” Phil starts, because this is ridiculous, improbable, impossible, and he needs to make sure.

“Has been miserable for weeks, yeah. As have you, apparently.” She eyes him, and he squirms.

“I don’t look that bad.”

“You fought Burrows.”

“Yeah,” he admits. “I’m blaming you for that, by the way. If mom asks.”

“I can accept that.”

“I blame you for other things, too.” He promises her, his voice low and slow and dripping with the emotion of the last month or so. She bites her lip and nods, accepting it without argument. The room feels oppressive, too many emotions spread out between them, and his shirt still smells like beer and peanuts and sweet perfume. “I’m gonna take a shower.” He retreats to the bathroom.

***

Amanda drops him off at the airport after extracting a promise to call her immediately after he works things out with Bozie. If he works things out with Bozie, which Amanda seems to think is a certainty, but he’s not willing to count on. He had thought LeafsFan67 was a sure thing, and see how that’s turned out.

Stella greets him as he enters the apartment, and he bends down to bury his head in her fur and ignore Bozie, who’s standing awkwardly at the edge of the kitchen, hands shoved into his pockets, tuque pulled low over his eyes and looking like he hasn’t slept or showered or left the apartment to even see the trainers since Phil’s been gone. Out of the corner of his eye, Phil takes stock of Bozie’s condition and, if he’s really honest with himself, Bozie does look miserable.

It gives Phil the confidence to push Stella away and, without stepping any closer, stop the charade they’ve been playing for months. “What I don’t understand,” he starts with, because, when he gets right down to it, it’s all he really wants to know, “is why you didn’t just tell me.”

Bozie flinches, visibly twisting away from Phil as if his emotions are so raw at the moment that they manifest themselves physically. “I’ve been going over it, again and again, since Mandy called-” of course she did – “and I don’t know what I can say that will make you believe me.”

Phil shakes his head. “How about the truth? From my perspective, we’ve done enough dancing around it to last a lifetime.” He frowns. “And I’m a terrible dancer.”

Bozie looks like he wants to laugh, but he stops himself halfway there with an awkward twist of his lips. “I wasn’t lying.” He shrugs. “Well, not about most of it.”

Phil wants to ask. Does most of it include ‘you’re sexy’? Does most of it include ‘I’m falling for you’? Or were those the other part, the white lies part. His head itches, and he reaches under his toque to scratch.

“And,” Bozie continues, when Phil doesn’t say anything. “You were lying too.”

Phil knows that under anger is fear or hurt, every psychologist he’s ever gone to has told him so, but Bozie’s anger is ridiculous and frustrating and so, so normal that he almost wants to laugh. Almost. “It’s not the same.” He says, slowly, quietly enough that Bozie has to strain to hear. “You knew it was me. All along. For months. And I’m dumb enough that I had no fucking idea.”

Bozie starts, an aborted motion forward, as he bites out, “you’re not dumb,” probably out of habit. Then, he bites his lip, and continues, so quiet and so serious that Phil’s skin crawls with it. “I wanted to tell you. So, so many times.”

“But you didn’t.” Phil shakes his head. They’ve circled back around to, “and this is the part that I just don’t get.”

“I couldn’t bear it.” Bozie looks up, his eyes too bright.

Phil has the awful urge to turn and flee, like he had at the coffee shop, like he has since Bozie moved to Toronto and they started playing together and Phil fell for him. And fuck, Amanda’s right about Phil loving him since the beginning, and that is not the kind of revelation that he should be having now, when Bozie’s staring at him with those eyes. All Phil can manage a nod for him to continue.

“You were supposed to get to know me, think about me in a different light, but it didn’t work. Because you fell for the lie, LeafsFan67, not for me.” Bozie sighs, shaking his head, and it’s so sad that all thoughts of fleeing leave Phil’s mind. “I love you and you love LeafsFan67. And maybe it makes me the shittiest fake boyfriend ever, but, as long as you didn’t know, I could still pretend that you wanted me. Tyler. Bozie. Me.”

He hits his chest, the sounds echoing in their quiet house, and it sound pulls Phil out of his stupor. He steps forward, crossing to Bozie in three strides, and grabs Bozie’s fist before he can hit himself again.

“I want you,” he murmurs, voice low and weak, because he only just figured most of this out, and saying it out loud is so much more important than saying it in his head. “It’s only been you. For years.” He smiles ruefully. “Just took you and Mandy and this idiotic plan for me to figure it out. So, win?” He shrugs, going for funny, and Bozie lets out a wet laugh, thumping him on the chest with their combined hands.

“I hate your sister.”

“Get in line,” Phil promises, even though he has the sinking feeling that Amanda’s going to be taking credit for this.

Then Bozie’s kissing him, and Phil forgets to care about Amanda or her epically bad plans because Bozie’s lips are warm and his hand slips under Phil’s henley and Phil could care less who takes credit as long as Bozie doesn’t stop. Which, it doesn’t really seem like he is, if the way he’s moaning and twisting into Phil’s grip is anything to go by.

Phil’s been dreaming about this, about long fingers and warm brown eyes and Bozie’s mouth, for a long time, and he’s tempted to take what he can get, right here, before Bozie has a chance to reconsider. Except, Bozie’s fingers are clammy against the skin of Phil’s lower back and his whole body is trembling slightly and Phil is only a little bit of an asshole.

Phil figures it’s his leg. Or, at least, hopes it’s his leg and not Bozie coming to his senses and realizing that Phil is so not worth the trouble.

“Stop thinking,” Bozie murmurs, wrapping his hand around Phil’s neck and pulling him forward. “I’m the easiest lay you’ve ever had.”

“It’s been five months,” Phil protests automatically. “I’ve never worked harder.” Phil’s aiming for self-confident, but it comes out low and nervous and truthful and totally doesn’t merit the way Bozie’s eyes go wide and dark.

“Worth it?”

“Don’t be an idiot.” Phil presses forward, lifting his thigh and letting Bozie feel just how stupidly gone Phil is on him.

“Fuck,” Bozie surges forward, catching Phil’s lower lip between his teeth and groaning halfway between pain and want. “Bed. Now. Before my leg gives out and you change your mind.”

“Seriously, stupid,” Phil reiterates, pulling Bozie away from the wall and dragging him down the hall to his bedroom. From her place on the couch, Stella follows them, probably hoping that she can cuddle and watch TV or something, and she whines unhappily when Phil shuts her out.

“That’s just sad,” Bozie observes, leaning against Phil’s back and slipping his hands under Phil’s shirt. Phil is about to agree, but then Bozie thumbs across his nipple, and Phil decides that Stella can suck it up for a little while. Judging by how hard he is already, it’s not even going to take very long.

Bozie tugs on the hem of Phil’s shirt, and he willingly raises his arms, letting Bozie pull his shirt off. It’s stupid how ridiculous and vulnerable it leaves him, as if Bozie doesn’t see him every day in the locker room. Bozie’s never looked at him like this, though. Phil knows that he doesn’t have a hockey body, not the way that most hockey players have a hockey body. He knows he’s good, he’s fast, with incredible hands, but he can’t make out the muscles in his stomach or his biceps or his thighs, not like he can when Bozie strips his own shirt off a few moments later.

“Stop staring,” Bozie elbows him, pushing him onto the bed. “It’s weird.”

“Sorry,” Phil apologizes, because it’s true, he is weird. Then he backs up that thought by saying, because he has lost all control over his mouth, “It’s just, I’ve been jerking off to your dick for months, and now-” He motions to Bozie’s body, spread about beside him.

Bozie chuckles, raising himself on his elbow and, gently, resting his hand over the zipper of Phil’s jeans. Without thinking about it, Phil’s hips buck, chasing the pressure of Bozie’s hand. Bozie chuckles again. “It took me forever to take that picture. I was so afraid that you’d recognize it or think that it was dumb or something.”

Phil shakes his head, barely able to think over the rhythm his hips have set against Bozie’s hand. “It was so hot I broke my phone.”

“I remember.” Bozie grins, leaning down to kiss along Phil’s neck, pausing to worry at the skin that connects his neck and shoulders. Right before he reaches Phil’s nipple, he let’s up, raising his head again. “I was so close to just owning up to it, but then you lied about it, and, well-”

“Sorry,” Phil repeats. He’s probably going to be saying that a lot over the next few weeks.

Bozie shrugs, letting out a breath that flutters across Phil’s raw skin. He shivers, pressing harder into Bozie’s hand, and Bozie reaches for the button of Phil’s jeans. Phil stares at Bozie’s hand, and barely hears when he teases. “You know, you never did send a picture of your own.”

“No, I-” Phil can’t look away. “You should know. The cancer- It- I’m fine. Functional down there and everything. But, it-”

Bozie ignores him. He pushes away the hand that Phil tries to stop him with and, in one motion, has the button and zipper of Phil’s jeans undone. “Come on, buddy,” Bozie murmurs, and, throwing all his trust and insecurities into the movement, Phil raises his hips and helps Bozie pull Phil’s jeans and boxers to mid-thigh.

Bozie reaches out, cupping Phil’s ball as if it’s something precious and worthy of worship rather than ridicule. It’s the hottest thing that’s ever happened to Phil, and he twists the fingers of his left hand into Bozie’s hair as he mutters, truthfully, “I am so fucking stupid for you.”

Bozie laughs, throwing his injured thigh over Phil’s body and settling himself carefully against the length of Phil’s body. “Good. We’re in this together, then.”

It’s so much more than Phil ever expected, it’s almost too much. Phil’s skin feels as if it’s on fire, red with embarrassment at the compliments and flushed with the feel of Bozie’s skin against him. He needs more, more of everything, and he slips his hands into the back of Bozie’s sweats, pushing them down as far as they’ll go and snaking one hand between their bodies to wrap his fist around Bozie’s dick.

“Fuck,” Bozie groans, dropping his forehead to Phil’s chest and breathing hard. Next to his head, Bozie’s arms flex, and Phil can feel Bozie’s thigh trembling against his hip.

“Hey, here,” Phil offers, holding carefully onto Bozie’s leg so as not to jostle it as he rolls them over. He settles himself between Bozie’s spread thighs, ready to do the work, when their dicks come into contact and they both let out deep, primal groans. This really isn’t going to take a lot of work on his part.

Phil thrusts carefully into the hollow of Bozie’s hip, already wet with sweat and pre-come and, god, Phil hasn’t seen anything as beautiful as Bozie naked, flushed, and spread out before him. It’s utterly ridiculous that he gets to have this. Now. And, if Bozie’s to be believed, for as long as Phil wants, which basically means forever.

“Do something,” Bozie complains, thrusting a little, but greatly hindered by his injury and the bulk of Phil’s weight resting between his legs. “You so owe me, come on,” he begs, dropping his hand between their bodies until Phil gets with the program and knocks Bozie’s hand away. He doesn’t think he’ll last a second if Bozie touches him right now. Not that he lasts long after he wraps his own hand around them both, thrusting his hips and feeling the slick slide of their dicks as he moves, but at least this way Bozie finishes before him.

“Competitive freak,” Bozie complains as Phil rolls to the side, giving Bozie space to stretch his legs out.

“When you’re better you can make me come first,” Phil promises, because this is nothing if not an equal opportunity relationship. Or, so he’ll tell Bozie, at least.

Bozie’s already half asleep when Phil gets up to grab a washcloth and to let Stella into the room. She looks at him, confused for a moment, before jumping onto the bed and curling into the nook of Bozie’s knees.

“Hey girl,” Bozie tries, giving her a half-hearted pat that makes Phil love him even more.

Phil gives her ears a quick tug, before he climbs in on the other side of Bozie.

***

Epilogue

They don’t move Bozie into the master bedroom until after the 24/7 cameras leave. If it had been up to Bozie, they would have done it earlier. He’s been grumbling for weeks about how cold the walk is from Phil’s bathroom to Bozie’s closet; Phil had even caught him bemoaning the situation to Loops of all people. As if they aren’t getting ribbed enough by the team as it is.

Phil hates cameras, though, probably more than he hates the Bruins, so in deference to the uproar it would cause in the Toronto media horde, they wait until they get home from the Winter Classic to do the moving. Then, they enlist a number of their teammates to help, even though Bozie really doesn’t have a lot of things. Mostly clothes and shoes and video games and a bedside table for his side of the bed.

The whole thing is really just an excuse to bring the guys over and feed them pizza and beer and watch football while a few – mostly D and Reemer – move Bozie’s things under Amanda’s supervision. She’s up from Boston for a few days, fresh off her official naming to Team USA, and taking all the credit for getting Phil and Bozie together. Whenever she tells the story, she conveniently leaves off the part where she made both their lives a living nightmare for weeks. It’s obnoxious.

“Hey, Philly, where do you want this ridiculous box of face creams to go?” She pokes her head into the living room, smirking when Loops laughs so hard that he falls off the couch and Phil turns read in embarrassment. He has no idea why he thought it was a good idea to invite her up for this.

“Give me that,” he mutters, grabbing the box from her and heading back to the master bathroom. It’s not his fault that hockey is hard work and, when the sweat pools under his helmet, he breaks out. This is a problem many hockey players have, he’s sure.

Stella’s lying on the bed, her head on her paws as she surveys the moving, but when Phil enters she lifts her head and thumps her tail happily. Phil puts the box down to pet her. “Hey girl. You making sure everything’s going alright in here?”

She thumps her tail and head-butts him. At least she appreciates him.

“Mmm,” Phil feels Bozie’s hand at his hip and leans back into it. So, maybe he has two people who appreciate him. “How are the Packers doing?”

Phil shrugs. “Down by three.”

“Sorry,” Bozie sounds sincere enough, but his hand is slipping under Phil’s shirt and Phil still has a hard time thinking when Bozie’s touching him.

“Eww, parents having sex,” Reemer exclaims as he comes into the room, dropping the handful of dress shirts he’s carrying with a squeak.

Phil freezes, and Bozie pulls his hand out from under Phil’s shirt, but doesn’t step away. Phil turns his head to see Reemer’s put-upon expression, and Bozie just laughs against him, burying his forehead in Phil’s shoulder.

“Someday you will understand, young Padawan,” D squeezes Reemer’s neck as he steps around Reemer into the room with his own handful of clothes.

“Fuck you,” Reemer bites out, his neck red as he bends to pick up the hangers he had dropped. “Fuck you all.”

“Come on,” Phil reaches back to pat at Bozie’s hip before he slips away. “We should stop scaring the little ones.”

“Too late for that,” Bozie mutters, and Phil trips as he tries not to catalogue the number of times Amanda’s caught them making out over the past couple of days. Having her around is really crimping what little style he has.

Except, later, after the Packers have officially lost and Bozie’s fully moved in and the guys have gone home, Amanda offers him a beer and falls next to him on the couch. She’s biting her lip, and Phil automatically mutes NHL Overtime.

“We need to redo Bozie’s old room. So that it’s livable next time I visit,” she tells him, matter-of-factly.

“You already have a room here.”

She shrugs. “It’s small. Blake can have that one.” Which, Blake will approve of. Usually he has to sleep on the pull out couch in the game room.

“Okay, sure.”

“Really?” She sounds almost surprised, which is so unlike her that he turns to really take her in. She looks a little nervous.

“Sure. I’ll hire a decorator next week.”

“Good. Don’t wanna see what it’d look like if you tried,” she jokes, hitting him on the arm. She still looks nervous.

“Mandy-”

“Sorry,” she blurts out. “I mean, I’m not really sorry, cause it worked out exactly how I planned. But I am sorry. For the middle parts.” The parts that sucked balls.

“And for lying to me?” He prompts.

“Yeah, that too.”

“Okay.”

“Okay?” She asks.

“Yes.” He rolls his eyes. “We’re good.”

“Promise? Cause you seem-” She waves at him, gesturing to the weird atmosphere that’s been between them since Phil’s trip to Boston almost two months ago.

“I’m good,” which is probably the understatement of the century. He has Bozie, they won the Winter Classic, and he’s going to represent his country in Sochi in six weeks. It’s about time he stops punishing Amanda for his good fortune.

He raises his arm and she doesn’t hesitate curling into his side. He presses a kiss to her forehead. “I wasn’t for a while, but, we’re here now. Thank you, for that.”

She hits his chest, but doesn’t move away from his side. “I hate you.” He doesn’t believe that for an instant.