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Amanda's flight touched down in Boston at three in the afternoon. Hilary was still at work, but she had emailed Amanda detailed instructions for getting to her neighborhood by transit, so Amanda didn't have any trouble navigating from Logan to a small coffee shop a few blocks away from Hilary's new apartment.
Amanda ordered a vanilla latte, and texted I'm here! to Hilary. She got a string of smiley faces in response.
She grinned down at her phone. It had actually only been a few weeks since she'd been on the ice with Hilary in Sochi, but it felt longer and Amanda missed her. She missed the support and camaraderie of the whole team, of course. But it was, somewhat embarrassingly, Hilary, with her infectious laugh and questionable taste in hats, that had left the largest hole in Amanda's life. It was embarrassing because, after all, Hilary was the one who once spent an entire meal reciting quotes from Anchorman, until Amanda had to resort to spilling her water on Hilary's lap to get her to stop. Hilary cheated at cards (badly), insisted on playing her eighties workout playlists at every opportunity, and had an unhealthy obsession with Licorice Allsorts.
She was also the one who would gave Amanda the last piece of chocolate when Amanda was having a bad day. She held Amanda's hand on bumpy flights. Sometimes she let Amanda talk long into the night, and she didn't say a word about being tired at practice the next day.
Amanda had made a deal with herself, back when she first started to realize girls did it for her as much as boys: no teammates. Becoming so close with Hilary over the last few months had tested her resolve. But hockey had always come first and this time there was also a gold medal on the line. Amanda wasn't going to do anything that might compromise the team.
The reminder of that last game in Sochi still lingered bitterly in Amanda's heart. She curled her fingers tightly around her mug and bit her lip. She hadn't come to Boston to relive the frustrating Olympics, or to cry on Hilary's shoulder. She was here to spend four days away from her parents' house, and catch up with some of her friends and former teammates. Hilary and the Blades had two games against the Toronto Furies this weekend, their last two games before the Clarkson Cup championship. So Amanda was going to watch Hilary play breath-taking hockey, and she was not going to dwell on the fact that she wasn't playing herself.
Also, she was maybe, possibly, going to see if she was right about the impression she had that Hilary might be into her, too.
She caught her foot tapping nervously under the table, and recklessly ordered another latte. Usually one coffee was her limit, but she was on vacation. If it kept her up late, so be it.
When Hilary turned up, she was wearing a dorky red hat with an oversize bobble, and her face was pink from the cold. Her smile widened when she saw Amanda, and her eyes lit up. She threaded her way through the small tables toward her, and Amanda jumped to her feet, grinning helplessly. Up close, she could see the deep brown of Hilary's eyes, and her breath fluttered in her throat.
Hilary pulled her into a warm hug.
"Hey," Hilary said into the top of Amanda's head. Her voice was muffled.
"Hi," Amanda said, breathing in deep. "I've missed you."
Hilary pulled back to look down at Amanda's face. "Right back atcha," she said, and her grin was impossibly bright and unbearably familiar. "C'mon, let's go sit on my couch and not move for a few hours."
Amanda laughed. "Yeah, that's what all the people have been telling me about Hilary Knight. One of those lazy ass Olympians."
Hilary knocked her elbow against Amanda's arm, and smirked. "Only when Iron Chef is on," she said.
Amanda had no idea if Iron Chef was actually on, because they never bothered to turn on the TV. Hilary poured them each a glass of wine, and started to pull things for dinner out of the fridge in the small galley kitchen.
Amanda and Hilary had both been staying with host families in Boston while they were training for Sochi. Since coming back in February, Hilary had found a short term place to last her through the summer. Her roommate was apparently working the evening shift, so they had the apartment to themselves. Everything in the place felt warm and homey, from the comfortable navy blue couch with the knitted red afghan to the wooden kitchen table with the mismatched set of chairs. There was a framed picture of Team USA on the bookshelf next to a complete set of Buffy DVDs, a faded old map of Boston on the wall, and a collection of vibrant green plants on a table under the window. Hilary's hockey gear was spilling out of the front hall closet, and her roommate's law school textbooks were stacked on the coffee table.
"Your place is great," Amanda said honestly. She waved towards the dark blue couch, and smiled. "You just need a pair of white cushions, and you'd have the most patriotic couch ever."
"I've got some on order," Hilary said, perfectly serious. "They're star-shaped."
Amanda gaped at her for a moment, and then burst into laughter. "No, you do not!"
Hilary grinned back at her, and then made her start chopping vegetables for stir fry. "We may be vegging out on my patriotic couch, but we're not eating pizza," she said, twisting her hair into a messy knot on top of her head. Her throat was long and smooth, and Amanda had to tear her eyes away from the freckle just under Hilary's collar.
"But I like pizza," she said, just to be a brat.
"Hey!" Hilary said, elbowing her gently in the ribs. "You don't have to play two games this weekend!"
That stung unexpectedly, and Amanda looked down at the cutting board to hide the expression on her face. She always missed hockey when she wasn't playing; that wasn't a secret. But right now its absence in her life felt especially gutting, and she didn't want that to spoil the first night she was in Boston.
She tried to think of a witty answer before Hilary noticed her awkward silence, and finally managed, "So I guess that means no dessert?"
Hilary laughed obligingly, but she shot Amanda a considering look. Amanda distracted her by asking questions about her hedgehog, Quinton, and Hilary turned into a gushing sap at the chance to show him off. He was even more unbearably cute in reality than he was in photographs and videos, and Amanda cooed at him until he curled up and went to sleep again.
After dinner, they settled on the couch and Hilary summarized the most recent episodes of Scandal, complete with voices and extravagant miming, until Amanda's stomach hurt from laughing. Everything felt so comfortable and so familiar that Amanda was surprised to realize it was already ten thirty when Hilary's roommate came home. Gabby waved a tired hello, helped herself to the leftover stir fry, and disappeared into her room shortly after.
"Guess it's probably bed time for you, too, huh?" Amanda said.
Hilary gave an exaggerated sigh. "It is," she said. "But, hey, I've got a workout tomorrow before practice. Wanna come with?"
"Definitely," Amanda said, and she was so happy about the prospect of training with Hilary again that she forgot to ask what horrible time of the morning Hilary intended to get up.
As it turned out, they slept until seven and, despite the inadvisable lattes, Amanda slept surprisingly well on the couch. She hadn't been keeping herself in training shape since the Olympics, though, so Hilary easily outpaced her at the gym even though it was only a light game day workout.
Hilary had practice later that morning, too. Amanda tried to be unobtrusive, not wanting to get in the way of Hilary's routines, but Hilary didn't seem to notice. She cheerfully made Amanda a protein shake, invited her along to the rink, and then invited her into the locker room after practice. The sting of not playing herself was still sharp, so Amanda's gut twisted up a little when she walked into the room. But it was Hilary and Kelli and other familiar faces who greeted her, and it meant the world to be welcomed by them.
When they got back to the apartment that afternoon, Hilary went to nap before the game. Amanda settled on the couch under the red afghan, intending to read or, more likely, fiddle around on her phone. She found herself unable to stop thinking about Hilary instead. While they were teammates, Amanda hadn't let herself indulge in any of the warm, fluttery feelings she felt around her. Not to mention the way her eyes sometimes slipped to the smooth skin of Hilary's collarbone, or the curve of her ass. They had been good friends and good teammates, and Amanda had very firmly kept them there.
But now -- now there was clearly no getting around the fact that she liked Hilary. A lot.
They weren't teammates anymore. They were both working on putting the Olympics behind them. Hilary was focused on the Blades and the Clarkson Cup, and Amanda's final year of college was starting up again in the fall. They lived in different states, of course, but --
Okay, Amanda was getting ahead of herself.
It was just that now there was no reason to stop herself from -- from feeling anything. If she wanted to. If Hilary felt the same.
She texted Phil, Crushes are hard.
She wasn't really expecting him to respond right away, but he wrote back with a sad face almost immediately. Unrequited?
Not sure yet, she typed. Then she added, Cheering for Boston over Toronto tonight, sorrynotsorry.
Traitor, Phil sent. Disowning you as we speak.
She typed a few sad faces, until Phil, who was pretty sharp sometimes, added, Hilary, eh?
He'd left himself wide open with the eh, but Amanda didn't take the opportunity to mock him. She just texted, Yeah.
She let out a long, slow breath. That was actually the first time she'd admitted her crush on Hilary to anyone else. It wasn't coming as a complete surprise to Phil; she'd told both her brothers she was bisexual when she was eighteen. But she'd never dated a woman, and she was aware that up to now it was sort of, well, theoretical.
You have a pen? Phil wrote back, endless moments later.
Amanda frowned down at her phone. Yeah?
Hold out your left hand and draw your arrow on it.
That's for games, she pointed out.
It's for hockey, Phil said. Important things.
The superstition about the arrow had started when she was playing for the Golden Gophers. She'd had more than a few rituals for game days back then, which her teammates used to tease her about, and the arrow had been one that stuck permanently. She had someone draw it on her left hand before each game as a reminder to stay positive, and she'd used it to help her push herself forward.
In Sochi, Phil had drawn the arrow before their semi-final against Sweden. He'd been careful about it, but it still came out a little awkward and lopsided. "I could do a better one," he'd said.
"Shut up, you dork," she'd replied, rolling her eyes. "The looks aren't the important part."
They'd won the game, six to one.
So, you know, Phil was texting, this weekend, if you need some courage, or a reminder, you'll have it.
Amanda stared down at her phone.
She remembered the way Hilary used to curl her fingers around Amanda's wrist to keep her still, just that simple, careful touch forcing all the breath out of Amanda's lungs. Everything would go bright and sharp, narrowed down to the pressure of Hilary's fingers on her wrist and the movement of the sharpie on her skin.
Hilary would blow against it gently, and then look up and grin at her, after. Her arrow always looked straight and strong and true.
Amanda's phone buzzed. Did you do it? Phil asked.
Amanda got up and found a sharpie on top of Hilary's fridge. She drew the arrow on her left hand, the shaft of the arrow thick and straight, the tip crisp and precise. It stood out starkly on her skin, seeming even more obvious when she wasn't dressed in her pads and her jersey.
Yeah, she wrote back to Phil. Thanks.
It was strange not to be getting ready for a game together, and Amanda had to force herself to sit on her hands while Hilary gathered up her gear to head to the arena. Amanda was going with her old host family and some other friends, but she still had lots of time to meet up with them and get dinner before puck drop.
"We'd take you out drinking after," Hilary said, sounding apologetic. "But we've got the game tomorrow at one-thirty."
Amanda rolled her eyes. "Don't worry about it," she said. "You know me. I'd rather see hockey, anyway."
Hilary flashed her a grin, and pulled a too-large Washington Capitals baseball cap down over her hair. Amanda smiled back, and held up her mug of tea in salute.
"Hey," Hilary said, pausing. She was staring at Amanda's hand. "What's that about?"
Amanda glanced down too, even though she knew what Hilary was looking at. She'd never drawn the arrow for anything except games she was playing in, and Hilary knew that. "Just -- a good luck thing, I guess," she said. Then she added, in a rush, "It feels weird not to be suiting up with you."
Hilary nodded. "Yeah," she said, still looking wide-eyed at Amanda from under the brim of her hat. "Yeah, it feels weird for me, too."
"Yeah," Amanda repeated. "Have a good game," she added.
"I'll look for you out there," Hilary said, and her voice was half-teasing, half-serious. Amanda's heart thudded a startled rhythm in her chest.
"Yeah," she said, her throat dry. "I'll be the one screaming your name."
The look Hilary levelled at her was dark and heavy. Her eyes focused intently on Amanda's face, and Amanda felt herself flush a little. She tried to concentrate on breathing in and out, in and out, and kept her eyes locked on Hilary's.
"Can't wait," Hilary said, and then she was out the door and gone.
When Amanda could breathe properly again, she texted Phil. Pretty sure it's requited.
She rubbed gratefully at the arrow on the back of her hand and, even through the nerves tangling in her belly, she grinned.
Hilary was all smiles after the game, riding the high of racking up two goals and an assist, not to mention being named first star of the game. The locker room was boisterous with laughter and adrenaline, and even though Amanda hadn't been on the ice, she felt as though she had something of a contact high. She kept catching Hilary's eye and bursting into a happy grin.
She made Hilary hot chocolate when they got back to the apartment. Gabby was nowhere to be seen. "Boyfriend's," Hilary explained, crooking a smile in Amanda's direction.
Amanda had no idea how to interpret Hilary's expression, so she just smiled back, and carefully poured the hot milk into mugs.
"Kes, Kes, Kes," Hilary said, flopping down on the couch. "I'm so happy you're here."
Amanda stirred the hot chocolate. "Me too," she said honestly. "Even if I can't be on the ice with you."
When Amanda looked up, the smile was fading from Hilary's face. Amanda's stomach dropped. "I didn't mean --" she said, and stopped.
"It's okay," Hilary said softly. She sat up on the couch. "You don't know how much I miss being on the ice with you. And as for you and hockey, I mean -- I can't even imagine what it's like not to have a team right now."
"I just -- miss it," Amanda said, and looked up to meet Hilary's eyes. She clenched her fists on the countertop. "Every goddamn day. I -- I want a fucking redo on that fucking game. And fuck, I know I'll be playing again this summer, but --"
She drew in a deep, shuddery breath.
"Yeah," Hilary murmured. She stood up and reached out with her stupidly long arms to pull Amanda into a hug. She smelled like the citrusy body wash she always used in the shower after games, and Amanda drew in a deep breath and pressed her face into Hilary's shoulder, digging her fingers into the fabric of Hilary's USA Hockey hoodie.
"It sucks, Kes," Hilary was murmuring into her hair. "I can't even imagine how much it must suck."
Amanda nodded, keeping her face tucked against Hilary's warmth. "I'm sorry," she muttered. "I didn't mean to -- not after you won and everything. I'm sorry."
"Shut up," Hilary said, but her voice was soft. "Or I'll tell Julie who really replaced all her skate laces with those neon green ones. That was hilarious, by the way."
Amanda managed a weak smile, even though she was still crying. "You wouldn't dare."
"Come on," Hilary said. "Let's go to bed."
She tugged Amanda down the hall, and Amanda let out a startled, watery laugh. "The couch is fine, I swear."
But Hilary was already leading her into the bedroom and pushing Amanda's University of Minnesota pyjamas firmly into her arms. Amanda didn't put up much of a protest, though, because for the first time since Sochi, the ache in her heart didn't feel quite so raw.
When Hilary lay down next to her, Amanda let out a long, shaky breath. And slept.
It felt even stranger to watch Hilary gearing up the next morning. Amanda made eggs while Hilary showered, and tried not to think about the fact that she'd woken up with Hilary's face mashed in her neck.
Hilary hadn't said anything except, "I really am glad you're here, Kes," and Amanda had nodded. She was, too -- helplessly, gratefully glad.
After breakfast, she watched Hilary get the last of her gear together. She was fiddling with her iPod, her coat tossed carelessly over her arm.
"Wait," Amanda said, and Hilary turned in the doorway to look back at her.
Amanda rubbed her thumb across her left hand, where Phil's arrow was still fading on her skin. She walked across the room until she was right in front of Hilary and had to crane her head to meet Hilary's dark brown eyes.
Hilary blinked down at her.
"I know it's not your thing," Amanda said, her heart speeding up, "but I thought -- well, maybe it will help."
"What?" Hilary said.
Amanda held up a blue ballpoint in one hand and held her left hand out. Hilary looked down at it and back up again, and it wasn't until Amanda raised her eyebrows demandingly that Hilary smiled and shrugged.
"Okay," she said. "Do your worst."
She put her left hand palm up in Amanda's. Amanda inhaled shakily, and curled her fingers around Hilary's hand, anchoring Hilary's palm more firmly in her grip. She pushed up the sleeve of Hilary's hoodie to expose the thin delicate skin of her wrist. Hilary's pulse was fluttering there, and Amanda touched the warm skin with her index finger, softly, gently. Hilary made a tiny noise, but Amanda didn't look up. She wasn't sure she wanted Hilary to see the expression on her face right now.
She carefully drew three identical small hearts across Hilary's inner wrist. Three blue hearts, bright against Hilary's skin. Then she leaned down and blew gently, just as Hilary had done to her.
"There," she said, and had to clear her throat. "There," she said again. "Courage. Strength. Teamwork."
Hilary hadn't moved her hand, and when Amanda finally looked up, there was a strangely vulnerable expression on Hilary's face.
Amanda cleared her throat again, her heart still pounding in her chest. "Now go kick some Toronto ass! And don't tell my brother I just said that," she added.
"Right," Hilary said slowly. Her eyes were locked on Amanda's for long enough that Amanda's stomach twisted into a thousand knots and she had to swallow down her uneasy laughter. Hilary's hand was still in hers, and Amanda let go of it abruptly.
"Kes," Hilary said finally.
But Hilary still had a game to win. It was still a bit of a wound in Amanda's heart that she wasn't out there, too, but after last night, she wasn't as torn up about it anymore. So all she did was smile at Hilary, and said, "Afterwards, Hils, okay?"
HIlary nodded. Then she winked, ridiculously lewd and goofy, and while Amanda was laughing at her, she threw open the apartment door. "See you at the game," she called back to Amanda, and it sounded like a promise.
"So," Hilary said. She rubbed her thumb over her left wrist, seemingly unaware of what she was doing. Amanda could still see the three blue hearts inked there. She knew Hilary didn't really believe in hockey superstitions, but if that had helped Hilary pull out an assist on the overtime game-winning goal, well then. Amanda would draw them on Hilary's wrist every time she played, if Hilary wanted her to.
"So," Amanda said, shrugging off her coat and draping it over one of the kitchen chairs. She looked over at Hilary. "So I guess it's obvious that I have a crush on you."
Hilary let out a startled laugh. "Do you?" she said, her eyes bright. "That's awfully convenient, seeing as I have a crush on you, too."
Amanda exhaled, quick and surprised. It had seemed like they were on the same page, but to hear it out loud felt -- good. Amazing.
"Oh," she said, smiling helplessly at Hilary. "Well, I was hoping. I mean, I know we live in different cities, and that we were teammates just a few weeks ago, which is complicated and everything. But -- um, yeah, that's good."
She couldn't stop looking at Hilary, now that she was allowed to, now that Hilary was looked back. Her dark hair was falling over her shoulders, and her mouth was open in a wide smile. When Hilary reached out to cup her cheek gently, her fingers were warm on Amanda's skin. Her eyes flicked down to Amanda's mouth and then back up to meet her gaze. There was a pink flush on her cheeks, and Amanda could feel her whole body start to thrum with anticipation.
Hilary tilted her head and leaned down to kiss her. Her mouth was soft and sure, and Amanda pressed up into it, pushing onto the balls of her feet, her pulse thundering in her ears, not willing to miss a moment. She curled her hands around Hilary's hips and tugged her closer.
Amanda wasn't sure how long they kissed, dizzyingly hot and sweet, before she lost her footing from straining too far on her toes. She stumbled backwards, but Hilary followed easily and steadied her against the wall. Amanda blinked up at her, and Hilary made a small impatient noise, and crowded up tight against her and kissed her again.
Amanda gasped into the kiss, wet and open-mouthed and graceless. She'd never made out with a girl before, and while she'd been thinking about what it might be like with Hilary, she hadn't actually realized. How she'd be able to feel the curve of Hilary's breasts pushing against her own chest. How it would feel to twist her fingers in Hilary's long, dark hair, still a little damp from her post-game shower. How Hilary would smell of citrus and cinnamon and taste of her favourite mango lip balm, and how everything would make Amanda moan and chase after her mouth again.
When Hilary pulled away, just far enough to press a sucking kiss on Amanda's neck, Amanda was panting. She didn't want to be anywhere else in the world right now.
"When you first said," Hilary was muttering against her sensitive skin, "that you wanted," and her tongue flicked against the hinge of Amanda's jaw, "to come to Boston," she found the impossibly sensitive spot behind Amanda's ear, "I thought maybe this was why."
Her fingers had slipped under the hem of Amanda's shirt and were burning against her skin.
"Yeah?" Amanda said breathlessly. Since Hilary still seemed preoccupied with her throat, she turned her face into the hand Hilary was still using to cup her head, and blindly found Hilary's inner wrist with her lips. She kissed it softly, her mouth open against the three hearts she'd drawn there, her tongue on the hummingbird flutter of Hilary's pulse under her thin skin.
Hilary let out a moan. "I was trying not to get my hopes up too much," she muttered into Amanda's neck. Her fingers tightened on Amanda's hip.
"Oh my god," Amanda managed. "Can you stop being perfect already?"
Hilary pulled back to look down at her. Her mouth was red from kissing, her hair mussed. Her expression was dazed, but still that mixture of fond and teasing that made Amanda's heart leap in her throat. "Perfect?" Hilary said, her eyebrow arching, and her voice sounded dark and throaty and promising. "Said the pot to the kettle."
She was perfectly impossible, so Amanda did the only thing she could, which was push up on her toes and press her mouth against Hilary's ridiculous smile.
"You should take me to bed again," she said, and ran her hand down Hilary's side to cup the curve of her ass.
"Okay," Hilary said breathlessly. "Let's do that."
Later, Hilary propped her head up on one arm, and ran her fingers lightly over the arrow on Amanda's left hand.
"I thought this was for hockey," she said.
"Hockey, and sometimes other important things," Amanda said.
"Yeah?" Hilary said. Her smile looked soft and shy and vulnerable, and Amanda wanted to kiss her forever.
"Yeah," she said. "Be positive and just kiss the girl -- that was my brother's advice."
Hilary's fingers were trailing up Amanda's bare arm and sending featherlight shivers across her skin. She looked amused. "So you're telling me you already used all your best moves."
"Well, they worked, didn't they?" Amanda said. When Hilary laughed, she gave in to her impulse and leaned up to kiss Hilary's smiling mouth.
Amanda wasn't sure what came next, but she wasn't worried. They had time to figure it out. For now, she had Hilary in bed, naked and beautiful and laughing, and Amanda didn't need an arrow on her hand to remind her that, this morning, the future was looking bright and brilliant and hopeful.