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Summer in Raleigh is always nice, if a little hot. Eric spends two weeks up in Thunder Bay, but his house is back in Raleigh, and a bunch of the guys are spending the summer there, too. So by June he’s back home, making cookout plans with Cam and trying to figure out if Sutter’s joking about his “sweet bachelor pad” or not.

He expects Jeff will spend the summer in Ontario, so he's a little surprised when Jeff texts him three weeks into their break, telling him he's back in Raleigh for the summer.

Eric just replies telling him to make sure his air conditioner works well. He doesn't expect much. Jeff's got his own friends and life in Raleigh.

To his surprise, though, Jeff texts him back with a picture of the house he's renting. Eric's not exactly surprised he decided to make his living arrangements more permanent, but something about Jeff having a house is weird to him. "Planning on having a house-warming party," Jeff texts when Eric expresses his approval. "Not tonight though. Want to grab food or something?"

And, well, it's not like Eric had plans.

Eric's not totally sure why Jeff's texting him, since it's Friday night and everything, but he says yes. They meet up at a taco place near Eric's place. It's small enough that they wind up parking next to each other. Jeff makes a face at Eric when he does.

He owns a Toyota. It's kind of funny to watch him drive it, Eric thinks, getting out of his own car.

"Hey," Jeff says, smiling. "Been awhile."

And it has been. It was routine at first, welcoming the rookie, but they were friends by the time the playoffs came around. It's good to see him again. Eric doesn't know why he feels surprised. "Hey."

There's an awkward moment where Eric's not sure if they're going to hug or what, but then Jeff jerks his head towards the door and says, "I'm starving, how about you?"

When they sit down with their food, Eric says, "So how was Markham?"

"It was good to see everyone," Jeff says, and turns bright red.

Eric raises his eyebrows. "Oh, really?"

"Kara - an old friend from figure skating - she threw me a party." Jeff takes a huge bite of his burrito.

That's deflection if Eric's ever seen it, but he's not letting Jeff off the hook that easily. "Exactly how wild did it get?"

"Not too bad," Jeff says. "Um, we had a bonfire, there was - you know. Beer. It was fun."

Eric leans back and crosses his arms. Maybe it makes him a bad person, but he's enjoying the hell out of this. "And how hungover were you?"

"Not very," Jeff tells his plate. "But I did go home with a guy."

Eric blinks.

"I wasn't actually planning on saying that," Jeff says.

"It's fine," Eric says quickly. He's known gay guys - bi guys? Well, he's not going to ask - before. "It's not a big deal."

"Kind of is." Jeff's still not looking at him.

"Telling me, yeah. It's just not, you know. I don't..." Eric used to be good at basic things like talking. "I don't mind. Or care. It's fine."

Jeff nods. "Thanks."

There's an awkward silence, and then Eric says, "So. How much trouble were you in?" He remembers how worried about him his mom was at that age.

"Not a whole lot," Jeff says. "She knows about me, obviously, and so she was worried, but it's not like she grounded me or something. She'd rather I do it there than down here."

"I take care of you," Eric says, feeling sort of formlessly offended.

"Um, right," Jeff says.

"Anyway," Eric says, "so, what, you have a boyfriend now?"

Jeff laughs. "A long-distance relationship? Seriously?"

"I've tried it." It never ends well, though.

"It was just a hookup," Jeff says. "It was fun, that's all."

Eric's pretty sure kids Jeff's age shouldn't just be hooking up, but if he says it he'll sound like someone's grandma, so he digs into his tacos instead.

Jeff asks him about Thunder Bay, so he tells the story that will probably make the rounds about Marc crippling himself on the south fence, and about his mom starting a grease fire. "Wait, seriously, a grease fire?"

"At dawn," Eric says.

"I can't believe you grew up on a farm. That's ridiculous."

"Hey," Eric says.

"What? You're a farm boy. With hockey-playing brothers." Jeff shakes his head. "You don't think that's kind of funny?"

"Not really," Eric says, though plenty of sports reporters have asked the same kind of question.

"Okay, that was lame, sorry," Jeff says. "So, grease fire in the kitchen? I'm guessing it didn't burn your house down."

"Nah," Eric says, and he's off again.

They lose track of time. Eric gets four refills of his soda and goes to the bathroom twice, and he doesn't realize it's late until the guy behind the counter clears his throat and says, "You two planning on moving out anytime soon?"

"So, this was fun," Jeff says when they're standing outside the restaurant.

Eric agrees, but he also feels like the night wasn't over. It's past ten, though, and he's not going to push for anything else. Jeff probably has plans, and for some reason Eric is feeling kind of old and wants to go home and play Red Dead Redemption or something. "Yeah, it was."

Jeff waits a few seconds and then says, "I'll see you sometime soon?"

"Totally," Eric says. Belatedly, he realizes he's not moving. It would be smart to just stop being weird and get into his car, he tells himself. Only then he says without thinking, "So, we should have a beer."

"Underage," Jeff says.

"Are you really going to tell me you don't have beer at your place?"

"Are you inviting yourself over?" Jeff says, frowning a little.

"Um," Eric says, because he kind of was.

"I mean, it's cool," Jeff says. "Just also kind of weird."

"I meant some other day?"

"You're a terrible liar."

But Jeff's grinning, the ridiculous one he saves for when Eric's being an idiot or he scores, and so Eric relaxes a little. "Well, the night is young and all that."

"I actually don't have beer."

"I can fix that."

Which is how they end up taking separate routes home. Eric stops at a gas station and briefly wonders what the hell he's doing. But it's not like it's the first time he's bought Jeff alcohol, and usually it's shots at a bar, which is way more morally sketchy. Besides, he really didn't have plans. So he shrugs at himself and puts the beer in the back, continuing on to Jeff's.

Jeff yells Eric in. He's in the kitchen, fucking around with the coffee machine. "If I set it at the right time, I wake up to coffee," he says.

Eric thinks that's a little crazy, since it's the summer and he can wake up whenever he wants, but he's not the hyper-motivated rookie in the room. "Sure."

"Anyway." Jeff waves at the fridge. "You can put the beer in there."

The fridge is pretty well stocked. Once again, Jeff's making it easy to forget how young he is. Eric's pretty sure he lived on takeout his first two years in Raleigh. "Want one?"

"Yeah, thanks," Jeff says, so Eric pulls two out, pops the tabs, and hands one to Jeff.

Jeff takes it and wanders out to the living room. Eric tries not to be too weird about sizing up the furnishing as he follows.

"Just so you know," Jeff says, "you're making me feel a little like a zoo animal or something."

Eric turns bright red.

Jeff laughs. "So, what is it? Amazed I can live on my own."

"Just curious," Eric says. "I didn't even realize you'd be getting a place."

"Yeah, I talked it over with my parents." Jeff shrugs. "I like independence, you know?"

Jeff's one of the more determined kids Eric's ever seen, so yeah, he knows. "It's nice. Not insanely huge." Probably only a two-bedroom, which is way saner than what Eric probably would've gotten at that age.

"I should do something with it, but I probably won't," Jeff says. "Half my friends from home are off in college and their places are covered with posters and stuff."

"You'll be here for awhile, at least," Eric says, because they both know the Canes are going to try and keep him.

"Yeah." Jeff flops down on the couch. "So. Xbox?"

Neither of them drink a whole lot, but Eric keeps going back out for one more beer, and by the time two AM rolls around he has to cut himself off so he'll be good to drive in an hour or so. "You can go to bed, if you want, I can let myself out," Eric says.

"Nah, I'll stick around." Jeff changed into track pants around midnight, and now he's sitting with his legs curled up. Eric blinks at him and looks away. He's bought the kid shots before, he reminds himself. He's not exactly robbing the cradle. Also, he's not - whatever. He's not a bad person, is the point. Not semantics.

He really is going to need that hour.

"You sure you're going to be good to drive?" Jeff says.

"I'm good," Eric says.

"Okay," Jeff says dubiously. He keeps up a running monologue of his plans for the house after that. Eric leans back and tries to relax, answering when it's appropriate.

After an hour and a half he says, "Okay, I'm good."

"You're sure?" Jeff says.

Eric nods. "See you."

"I'll walk you to the door." Jeff gets up. It's two rooms away, maybe twenty feet, but it's a nice gesture. Eric follows him out.

"We should do this again," Jeff says, opening the door.

"Yeah." Eric has to look away from Jeff. He's flushed and looks tired. "See you," he says, and makes a beeline for his car.

||

He gets home okay and sleeps past noon the next day. He feels like an irresponsible teenager when he wakes up, so he goes to the gym right away, and then runs some errands, and calls his mom. He's supposed to go over to Cam's for a cookout tomorrow; they'll probably end up hiding inside and making Cam's wife go out to do the grill, but it'll be fun.

Dinner is almost ready when Jeff texts him. "cam just invited me over tomorrow. you coming?"

"Bunch of us are. Should be fun," Eric texts back.

Jeff doesn't reply. Eric shrugs and digs into his food, then watches a little TV and goes to bed. Nice and low-key.

They really do plan on grilling, but it's hot as hell. Eric gets there after Colesy; Jeff arrives a few minutes later. "This it?" he says, looking around.

"Sit your ass down," Erik says. "Everyone else is off having a life. What's your excuse?"

Jeff shrugs. "Don't know."

Cody comes inside from where she was on the deck, turning the kebabs over. "Hello!" she says, wiping her hands on the towel. "You're Jeff."

"We've met once before, ma'am."

Jeff says it cheerfully, but it's obvious he's half serious. Cody laughs. "Cody, not ma'am," she says.

"I can't bring beer," Jeff says, ignoring Eric and Colesy's groans, "but I brought some sweet tea, and soda. Cam told me you'd need it."

"Few other people coming," Cam says. Eric raises his eyebrows, but Cam doesn't elaborate.

Eric's never sure why Cam hosts these things. The guy's weird. "Right," Eric says. "So what's next?"

"Someone has to make the salad, and it's not going to be me," Cody says.

"You just empty a few packets." Cam gets up and goes over, bumping her out of the way. "How hard is it?"

"You wanted pasta salad, you make it," Cody says. She grabs a beer and goes back out on the deck. Erik laughs and follows her.

Cam shakes his head as he puts a pot of water on for the pasta. "Can you imagine if we'd wound up somewhere cold?"

"Summers in Thunder Bay are nice," Eric says.

The look Cam gives him says exactly what he thinks about that.

Chad arrives while Jeff and Cody are finishing their beers, and Tim arrives on Sutter's heels. "That's it," Cam says when he sees Tim. "Close the door, you're letting the air conditioning out."

"What's wrong with them?" Sutter says, waving at Cody and Jeff.

"Freaks," Cam says, and wanders back out to the kitchen.

They end up watching a bunch of Family Guy reruns and getting systematically drunk. Eric would feel bad, except Cam and Cody are right there with them. Jeff's surprisingly relaxed, laughing and joking with the guys like the youngest one there isn't three years older than he is.

Eric keeps a bit of an eye on him, but it's not like Jeff doesn't go out with them; fake IDs in North Carolina are a joke, and anyway, people in Raleigh like Jeff. So Jeff's used to drinking, and it's just the guys. Eric probably doesn't need to watch him at all.

Really doesn't, he tells himself, but he keeps doing it anyway.

They're engaged in a furious Mario Kart battle and the sun is setting when Jeff gets up and wanders outside. It's not abrupt enough for anyone to really notice - they've all traded cleaning up duty and Brandon went home awhile ago - but Eric notices, of course, and after a second's internal debate he gets up and follows.

He switched to soda an hour ago, so he's just sort of pleasantly mellow, and there's a breeze kicking up that's cutting the heat down. He sighs a little and leans against the deck railing next to Jeff. "Hey."

"This was fun," Jeff says. "Thanks."

The Wards' house is in a subdivision, and their backyard is huge, sloping just slightly and heading out for about an acre before it becomes the neighbors' yard. Eric charts the path with his eyes before saying, "Cam invited you, didn't he? I didn't do anything."

"I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you, and you know it."

Eric's not going to deny it; it's pretty obviously true. But he does say, "They still wouldn't if you sucked, so you know. Give yourself some credit."

Jeff smiles. "Yeah."

They don't talk after that, but Eric does eventually wander over to the deck steps and sit down. Jeff sits down next to him, a few steps lower, and they watch the sun set.

It's almost all the way dark when Cam says, "Come on, you fuckers, everyone else is leaving."

"Sorry," Jeff says, but he doesn't sound guilty.

"At least you're not drooling on my couch pillow like Sutter," Cam says.

Jeff laughs and stands - and so does Eric. Jeff's head clips Eric's chin on the way up.

"Shit, sorry," Jeff says.

Eric has to bite back a yelp. He bit his tongue. "It's fine," he says, wincing and working his jaw.

Jeff's looking up at him with an unreadable expression. "I'm going to head out," he says after a second, and ducks inside.

Eric hangs out as everyone, even Colesy, leaves. "He's a good kid," Cam says when Tim, the last guy out, has left the driveway.

"Jeff? Yeah, I guess." Eric takes the plates into the kitchen and opens the dishwasher. "You could've made everyone do this, you know."

"And have a circus in my kitchen? No thanks."

"You're lucky I'm willing to help," Eric says, but there's no bite to it. He and Cam usually stay after together.

"You know why he decided to spend summer here?" Cam says.

Eric doesn't answer until he's loaded up the plates. "Said he wanted stability."

Cam laughs a little at that. "If that's what he wants, he'll get it."

Eric thinks of being on the other end of this, eighteen and looking to sign a longer term contract. "Yeah."

"He's not actually that young, you know."

Eric blinks. "What?"

"You watch him like he's your baby brother. He's a kid, sure, but you were that age not so long ago. We both were."

"I know that." Bowls and then silverware. "I worry about everyone."

"We know, Captain." Cam sounds wry. "Now finish loading the dishwasher. You're slower than my five-year-old niece."

||

The next few days are pretty easygoing. Jeff texts him a few times - a picture of some stuff he picked up for the apartment, a few observations on signing autographs when he's just trying to buy a new pair of shoes - and it's nice, it really is. They've half made plans to hang out again on Thursday when Marc calls and says he's coming to town for a week.

"Cool," Eric says. "Jeff's coming over Thursday. We can all hang, it'll be fun."

Marc snorts. "The rookie? Seriously?"

"You got along with him just fine, last time you were down here."

"Yeah, but -" Marc sighs. "Never mind."

Jeff just says "awesome, see you there," when Eric texts him to let him know.

Eric doesn't exactly clean for Marc, but he does straighten stuff up a little. He's carrying a box of shit out of the guest room when the doorbell rings. It's Jeff; Marc won't be back from the airport yet.

"Door's open," he calls, and heads into the garage with the stuff.

By the time he gets back, Jeff's standing in the foyer. "Wow. Cleaning?"

Eric looks down. There's grease from his bike smeared all over his shirt. "Oops."

"It's cool. I didn't realize Marc warranted home improvement, though."

"He doesn't, he's just a dick who'll judge me."

Jeff laughs. "That's what brothers are for, right?"

"Probably." Eric feels weirdly awkward. "I'm going to go change."

"Sure thing. I'll help myself to your fridge," Jeff says, and wanders out into the kitchen.

Eric just did laundry - Marc really does judge - but he just grabs the first thing on top of the clean laundry pile. It's an old shirt, a little tight, but it's not like it really matters. If Marc graduates to judging his clothes Eric will just kick him out of the state.

"So I was thinking we'd go to Brickhouse," Eric says from the living room doorway. "We'll probably have to, you know, sign shit, but they won't give you shit if you want a beer."

Jeff doesn't turn around. Apparently ESPN is riveting. "Sounds good."

Eric moves to sit next to him on the couch. Jeff does glance over at him then, and raise his eyebrows. "Planning on getting mobbed by girls?"

"Fuck you, it's not that bad."

"Uh-huh. You look like a reject from a boy band."

"You're too young to even remember boy bands."

Jeff flips him off. "A Disney boy band, which is even worse."

"Tell me again about how you know all the Jonas brothers, fucker."

"At least I have an excuse."

"All your sisters are older than you."

"Fuck off," Jeff says, but he's laughing again.

Eric feels sort of vaguely proud. It's nice being around Jeff; no one else thinks he's funny. He's going to try for another joke when the doorbell rings.

Marc lets himself in before Eric has a chance to answer the door. "Where should I dump my stuff?"

Eric gets up to help him but Jeff has good manners and gets up too, and there's a weird second where Jeff runs straight into Eric. Eric grasps his shoulders and turns him around without really thinking about it, and they go out to help Marc.

Who's looking at them like they're crazy. "I'm going to be here for a week," he says, and pulls his rolling bag inside. He's got that and a duffel, probably full of gear.

"Whatever," Eric says, and takes the duffel. "Jeff, grab his suitcase. He's too delicate to take it upstairs himself."

Marc's giving him a complicated look that Eric's pretty sure translates to 'what the hell'? Eric rolls his eyes back. "I told you Jeff would be here."

"Not that he'd be doing your dirty work."

"Carrying a suitcase isn't exactly hard," Jeff says, and takes it from Marc. He hefts it upstairs with ease.

"See? He's a hockey player, for God's sake." And built, but Eric doesn't say that part out loud.

"Right," Marc says. "So it's just the three of us?"

"Yeah, for tonight," Eric says. "Some of the guys'll probably get together this weekend."

"Uh-huh." Marc still looks vaguely suspicious. Eric will probably have to demand to know what his deal is later.
Right now, though, Jeff's coming back and saying, "Do I need to take the duffel, too, old man?"

"Shove it," Eric says, and hefts it upstairs.

Marc's the kind of guy who already has stories to tell despite being off less than a month. People approach them for autographs a few times, but they mostly get left alone, and by the time their food arrive Marc's got Jeff in stitches describing Lundqvist going completely out of his mind with rage at discovering he'd accidentally bought knockoff Chanel.

It's a funny story, Eric thinks, watching Jeff laugh, but it's not that funny.

Still, it's good having Marc around. They stay till pretty late; Jeff ends up taking a taxi home, so it's just Eric and Marc in the car on the way back.

"I won't lie, I figured All-Star Weekend was kind of a fluke," Marc says.

Eric blinks. "What?"

Marc waves a lazy hand. "You know, being friends with the kid. You were doing the team thing."

"I like him," Eric says, because it's true and it's all he can think to say.

"Well, obviously." Marc sounds a little dry. "I've got fuck and all to do tomorrow, why don't we keep the party going at your place?"

Which is how Eric ends up slumped on top of his brother, drunk off his ass at three in the morning. He's not even sure he's not imagining it when his phone rings.

It's Jeff. "Eric, you're still awake? I was going to leave a message."

"For certain values of awake," Eric mostly manages to say.

Jeff laughs, but his heart's not in it. "Never mind. I think I left my gear in my car - and my house keys, but it's fine, I got in."

"Why...why are you getting home now?" Eric frowns at the ceiling. If Jeff is awake, why isn't he here?

"This guy I know called, he wanted to hang. Go to bed, eh? You sound completely trashed."

"Marc's on top of me. He's snoring."

Jeff laughs again. "Right, okay. I'll talk to you tomorrow."

He hangs up, leaving Eric holding his phone and thinking about how he wishes he could have actually seen Jeff laughing at him. He'd never hear the end about how drunk he is, but that's okay, he's pretty sure. If he could see Jeff smile.

He doesn't get a chance to pursue the thought, though, because after that he passes out.

||

Jeff doesn't call until late afternoon. "Hey, sorry about last night. I figured your phone would be off."

"It's fine." Eric rubs the back of his neck, fighting down a flush. He feels like an idiot. "Sorry I was drunk at you."

"You weren't that bad. Remember my first NHL goal?"

He'd gone a little overboard getting Jeff drunk then, it was true. It's not his fault Jeff's completely hilarious when he's drunk, all young and wide-eyed and sloppy. "Fair enough."

"At least you didn't propose to inanimate objects."

Eric grins. "Good point."

"How's Marc, anyway?"

"Hungover as fuck. He had fun, though. We both did."

"Good." Jeff's tone changes a little. "You're going to be hanging out with Cam, right?"

"Maybe. Why?"

"There's a guy, I don't know. We're going to be kind of...involved? I figured maybe you'd want to meet him."

Eric doesn't have time to think about how apparently he's Jeff's big brother, too. He's too busy being weirded out by Jeff getting a boyfriend in the two seconds he's been back in Raleigh. "Oh. Well. Okay, then, um. Sure." He's happy for him, he thinks. It's good for Jeff to have people his own age to be around. And have sex with. He's nineteen, sex is a thing he can do.

"You're sure?"

Jeff sounds worried, and it occurs to Eric that he's being a dick. "I'm happy for you, man, of course I'm sure."

"Oh, good. Great. I'll see you sometime soon, then."

He hangs up before Eric has a chance to invite him over, which is probably for the best.

An hour later Marc finally wakes up, takes one look at Eric, and says, "What's up?"

"Huh? Nothing."

Marc snorts. "Right, sure. But seriously."

"We're going to hang out with Cam tomorrow," Eric says.

"You like Cam. Cam wouldn't make you look like you're going to your death."

"I'm just hungover." He really is, too.

"Right." Marc sounds dubious, but he lets it go.

His bad mood fades after awhile, which is good. He doesn't actually have the right to be cranky about how maybe Jeff will be hanging out with other people. He's just gotten used to spending time with him, and he's used to people looking up to him. It makes sense that he'd be sort of out of sorts about it, but it's not something he's going to tell anyone else, because he'd look like - and would be being - a massive dick.

||

The next day, Cam says, "Oh, by the way, I invited Jeff and his boyfriend over."

Eric doesn't do a spittake, but only because Marc would never let him hear the end of it. "Oh, that's, um, cool," he says as casually as he can.

Which probably isn't all that casually, but whatever.

"I thought so," Cam says calmly, and goes back to kicking all their asses at Mario Kart.

Jeff shows up a few minutes later. He's holding hands with a weedy-looking guy who looks college-aged. "Hey, everyone, this is Brad," Jeff says, coming in and sitting down. Brad waves awkwardly, not letting go of Jeff's hand.

He's just a kid. Eric relaxes a little. "Hey. Eric."

"I know," the kid says. He's a little red.

Cam laughs. "Picked up a groupie, Jeff?"

"Fuck you, we can't all date the same girl since high school."

"Yeah, you'd have had to meet Brad there five minutes earlier for that."

It's Jeff's turn to blush. Brad smiles at him when he does it. He looks ridiculous, Eric thinks, punching the buttons on the controller a little harder.

"Careful, you'll break it," Marc says. He's smiling a little. Eric has no idea why he's letting Marc stay with him.

Brad remains awkward and Jeff smiles at him way too much - seriously, he hasn't even done anything. He's painfully boring. But Eric reminds himself that it's good for Jeff to have someone, and anyway, Marc and Can like him. And Eric does too, totally. It's just that he's kind of boring.

Eventually Cam says, "Okay, out of my house, all of you." They all help clean up and leave at the same time, which is how Eric sees Jeff kissing Brad before they go outside.

It's not a big deal, he's just never thought about Jeff being a person who has sex before. That's a little weird.

"You were pretty quiet today," Marc says as they're driving home.

"I guess," Eric says. "Had a lot on my mind."

"Right. So Jeff's boyfriend was nice."

"He was okay, I guess."

Marc raises his eyebrows. "Okay, you guess?"

"He's kind of, I don't know. He doesn't seem like he knows that much about hockey."

Marc laughs. "You know not everyone is looking to date another hockey player, right?"

"I didn't say that."

"He's a good kid, and Jeff's a good kid. I don't know, I think they're cute together."

"So, what, you're going to knit them an engagement present, grandma?"

Apparently Marc thinks he's hilarious. Whatever.

He keeps returning to Jeff having sex with Brad. He doesn't know why it weirds him out so much. Hell, by the time he was Jeff's age he'd had plenty of sex. It's just different with Jeff. He feels like someone should have told him before it actually started happening, or something.

But he can recognize that that line of thought is weird, so he tries not to think about it. It doesn't actually matter if Jeff's getting laid, he reminds himself. That's none of his business.

He pointedly doesn't think about it for the rest of the day.

||

He doesn't invite Jeff over for a few days, because he's busy with Marc. But when Marc flies back to New York it's quiet and he's kind of bored, so he texts Sutter and Cam and Jeff, seeing if they all want to come over. Unfortunately, Jeff's the only one who says yes.

"Going to be bringing Brad?" Eric texts. He needs to know how much beer to pick up.

"nope, he's with family. just me"

Which is how they end up getting steadily drunk together. It wasn't Eric's intention, it really wasn't, but one beer leads to another leads to Jeff saying abruptly, "Hey, do you have anything stronger?"

So Eric pours shots. He's a little unsteady on his feet, and he ends up touching Jeff's shoulder when he hands the shot over. Nothing major, just a light brush where Jeff's shirt meets his skin. So, okay, more like his neck, but his shirt is really soft. Eric can't be blamed.

But Jeff takes a quick step back and downs the shot. "Right, thanks," he says, grabbing another beer and going back to the living room.

Eric's ninety percent sure he doesn't actually know what just happened.

When three AM rolls around and they're drunkenly arguing about the best plays to run against the Caps next year, Eric realizes he needs to be in bed or risk feeling like complete shit the next morning. So he says, "You can pick which guest room. There should be a toothbrush in each of them.”

Jeff groans. "So you're even good at being a host?"

Eric shrugs.

"Thanks, though," Jeff says quickly, He sways a little when he stands up. It's Eric's fault he's like that, Eric thinks, and - he has to look away. He just has to.

"Right, okay," he says, standing up too. "Goodnight."

Only they take the stairs together, and Jeff trips on the top step and comes flying forward against Eric's back. Eric turns around to help him up, and they end up way too close, Jeff blinking up at Eric in confusion.

Eric lets him go like he's been burned. "Later," he says, and heads into his room.

He flops onto the bed, wishing they'd stopped earlier. Things have never gotten weird before when he drinks with Jeff; it's obviously a sign that they drank too much. He doesn't want to make Jeff uncomfortable. That would be the worst.

He falls asleep still thinking about Jeff.

||

He's in bed and sleeping, and then he's awake and Jeff is straddling his lap with no lag between the two.

So he knows it's a dream. He does. But Jeff's skin is exactly as soft as it was when Eric touched it earlier, and his shirt is rucked up and showing a bit of skin, and it's so easy to cup his hands around Jeff's face and kiss him.

He's hard, but somehow he feels like doing something about it would be weird, so he and Jeff just keep kissing. Jeff's making tiny, encouraging noises, and grinding against Eric slowly, and fuck, but it's good. Eric would think about Brad, and wonder about Jeff getting practice with younger guys and maybe girls, except Jeff is here now. Jeff is his.

He pulls back to breathe, and Jeff opens his eyes and smiles at Eric. It makes something in the pit of Eric's stomach twist -

And then he's waking up. Fuck, he thinks, what the fuck is even wrong with him?

But he’s drunk, and so his panic mostly just resolves itself into exhaustion again, and he gets back to sleep pretty easily.

||

Jeff is sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee when Eric gets up the next morning. "Hey," he says blearily.

"There's more," Jeff says. "Good thing it's the off season, right?"

Eric snorts. "I wouldn't do that during the season." He gets some coffee, not looking directly at Jeff. He's already made things weird enough.

"Yeah, probably not," Jeff says. "You don't get as sloppy during the season."

Something in his tone makes Eric look sharply at him, but Jeff's grinning, so Eric relaxes. "Yeah," he says. "Anyway. You got plans for today?"

"Go home, shower. Nothing big."

"You can shower here, if you don't want to drive home gross."

Jeff raises his eyebrows. "Seriously?"

There's no reason to feel defensive. "Yeah, I mean - whatever. Only if you want." He takes a sip of too-hot coffee so he won't be tempted to say anything else.

"Sure, thanks." Jeff shrugs and stands up. "I should probably get out of your hair, anyway."

"I don't mind."

"Yeah, well." Jeff makes an aborted gesture. "Anyway," he says, and goes upstairs.

Eric glances at his ass, then looks away, turning bright red.

Jeff's a kid, and it was a stupid dream. There's no need to treat it like anything serious. It's not like he actually wants to fuck him. Eric's had sex with four guys in his life, and it was great, but if he were going to date a guy it wouldn't be Jeff. He's a teammate, and he's young, and anyway he's dating weedy little Brad, so clearly Eric isn't his type.

Not that it matters.

Eric groans and rubs his temples. He's being so stupid. Maybe he should just never drink again.

Jeff comes back downstairs fifteen minutes later. His hair is wet and sticking up in tufts, and his shirt is clinging to his chest a little. It looks good. Eric keeps his eyes carefully trained on Jeff's face.

"All right, I'm heading out," Jeff says. "See you later?"

"Yeah, totally," Eric says, and waves.

It's an automatic kind of gesture; he knows it looks dorky, which means he knows it'll make Jeff laugh. Jeff obliges, his eyes crinkling up as he smiles. He grabs his keys and lets himself out.

And, okay, Eric tries to make him smile. So what? Plenty of people try to make Jeff smile. When Jeff smiles the whole room lights up. Eric can't be blamed for wanting to see that.

It is a little weird, granted, but how's he going to stop? Jeff will notice if he stops trying to make him laugh. And anyway, he doesn't want to stop. He'll just stop thinking about Jeff naked. It'll be great.

He spends the rest of the day not thinking about it. He's got some errands to run, so he does those, and then he goes to the gym, and when Jeff texts him a picture of some fish he's thinking about buying, he takes a few hours to answer, just to generate some space between them.

He can handle this just fine.

||

A few days pass with nothing to mark them as particularly exceptional. Jeff keeps texting Eric, and Eric tries to respond normally. It's hard, though, because now that he's thought about having sex with Jeff, he's constantly reminded that he went there, and that it's not really okay. And that it's especially not okay the way he keeps thinking about Jeff blowing him

Chad puts together a trip to the Outer Banks for the weekend after that; Eric wouldn't have called him being able to twist enough arms to make it happen, but there it is. Jeff texts him to confirm that he'll be going, and he doesn't have the balls to say no.

He spends that Saturday at Cam's place. Cam once again proves himself to be freakishly good at interpreting Eric's emotions by not bringing Jeff up a single time. It's nice and relaxing, and Eric doesn't check his phone a single time.

He does check it when he gets into the car, though, and there's a text from Jeff there. "want to do coffee tomorrow? heading to gym early, will be downtown later."

Eric knows he should say no, but before he starts his car up, he texts back, "Sure. Time?"

They arrange to meet up at two the next day. Jeff's waiting when he gets there, wearing clothes that are probably actually perfectly normal but that look way too tight on him for Eric's peace of mind. Why can't he dress in baggy clothes? Isn't that what kids his age are supposed to be doing?

"Hey," Jeff says. "The line's getting worse, so I picked you up a coffee."

It's probably exactly what he always drinks at the perfect temperature. He takes a sip; it is. "Thanks."

"How've you been?"

Eric shrugs. "Enjoying the summer."

"I've been trying not to go crazy," Jeff says. It has the air of a confession, like he honestly thinks Eric expected him to relax or something.

"You get used to it," Eric says. "How's, um, Brad?"

He's being the bigger person. It's got to be impressive, right?

"I haven't seen him that much," Jeff says. "He goes to Duke, and he has summer classes, so we're keeping it casual."

"But you brought him to Cam's," Eric says, then winces. He sounds like a jealous lunatic.

"Yeah, but Cam suggested it."

Eric stares.

"So I've been spending a lot of time at the gym," Jeff says, apparently oblivious to Eric's surprise. "Which, honestly, I feel like I need to start reading or something."

Right, being sweaty and panting all the time is really horrible for him. "Brad's influence?"

Jeff makes a face. "I just said, it's casual."

"Right, sorry," Eric says, and forces the completely irrational jealousy from his mind. "The gym's not so bad, though. It'll make coming back less of a shock."

"Unless I do shit wrong and get yelled at by the trainers."

"You could always hire one of your own. Some of the guys do."

"Maybe."

Eric takes another sip of coffee. When someone tugs on his shirt, he pulls back - and then stops. It's a little girl in a Hurricanes hat, holding a book that looks like a diary. She doesn't say anything, just solemnly hands it and a Barbie pen over to Eric.

"What's your name?" Eric says.

The girl blinks at him.

"Okay," Eric says, and signs it, adding a smiley face. When he hands it back, the girl toddles over to Jeff and repeats the process.

"Is that your mom over there?" Jeff says, signing the book. "Tell her she's got a daughter with good taste." He grins broadly, and the girl laughs as she takes the book back.

When she leaves, Eric says, "Still not used to it?"

"It's not as weird as it was in the beginning, but yeah. Not really."

Eric would bet good money that Brad had never seen a hockey game in his life before meeting Jeff. Not that he's going to say that.

"Eventually you will," Eric says. "You'll end up with a C someday for sure."

Jeff shakes his head. "Pretty sure of it, are you?"

Eric shrugs. "I call it like I see it."

"Right," Jeff says. "Anyway. The Outer Banks should be fun."

"I think Chad rented us out a villa, or something."

"They probably won't let me go to the gym, huh."

"You can swim forever, though."

"True."

They both drink their coffee. Eric hasn't missed the wary way Jeff's eying him, but he doesn't say anything until Jeff blurts, "Is it a problem?"

"What?"

"Brad. You're being weird about him."

Well, fuck. "It's nothing," he says. "I'm just surprised, you know?"

Jeff gets a stubborn look on his face. "I can have sex."

"I never said you couldn't."

"Sure, but -" He shakes his head. "Ribbing in the locker room is fine, whatever, but I'm not actually fourteen, you know?"

"I know." God, does he know. "I'll quit being weird."

"Thanks."

They spend two more hours at the coffee shop, just talking about whatever comes to mind. Jeff's big on rookie gossip, and Eric's not going to lie and say he's not interested - though he can't quite keep the frown off his face when Jeff mentions Subban. In return, Eric tells stories about the lockout and coming to Carolina at Jeff's age, trying not to cringe when Jeff gives him shit for being an old man.

By the time they've drained their coffee, Eric's starving. "We should go. I need to eat something before I fall over," he says.
"You want to head back to my place?" Jeff says. "I was going to order Chinese."

It's not like Eric has other plans. "Sure."

Jeff grins. "You can pick up some beer," he says.

Eric might be in trouble.

True to his word, Jeff orders a ridiculous amount of Chinese. Eric figures he can get away with it since he's apparently living at the gym. They end up eating it out on Jeff's patio, talking about the relative merits of Jeff centering a line.

"I'd rather be on your wing, to be honest," Jeff says, taking another bite of lo mein. "I mean, I'm here either way, but we'd raise hell."

"I've thought about it," Eric says honestly. "But they'll try you on both."

"Come on, let yourself fantasize for a second," Jeff says, nudging Eric's leg with his foot.

Eric closes his eyes very briefly, then opens them. "Right, yeah, it'd be cool," he says, making his voice as steady as possible.

"I thought about it," Jeff says. "When I was drafted, I mean."

"Aiming high?"

"Where else?"

"Fair enough."

"Are you -" Jeff looks away. "Never mind."

"What?"

"Nothing."

"No, seriously." Eric kicks him. "What?"

"I said nothing," Jeff snaps.

Eric's never seen him look that pissed off the ice. "Yeah, okay, sorry," he says, and goes up to get a beer.

He doesn't hear Jeff move, so it's a bit of a surprise when he turns around and Jeff is standing there, looking determined. It's a bigger surprise when Jeff kisses him.

For a second he can't react. Jeff's warm, and his lips are soft but a little chapped, and he's got a hand cupping Eric's face, which is weird, because he has to reach up pretty far to do it. Then it hits him that they're kissing, and Jeff is dating someone else and also nineteen years old, and Eric has to push him away.

"Wait," he says. "Wait, stop, no, this is - no."

Jeff takes a step away. His expression is careful, watchful. "You don't want to."

"I don't - you have a boyfriend!"

"Brad and I really aren't serious," Jeff says. "Really, really not."

"He's coming to the Outer Banks with you and it's not serious?"

Jeff shrugs. Eric wants to tear his hair out. "No, okay? We can't."

"I know," Jeff says. "I mean, I wasn't planning on saying anything. You were just - there. And checking me out, earlier."

"I wasn't," Eric says, except for how yeah, he totally was.

"It wouldn't have to mean anything." Jeff tilts his head. "I can do no strings attached."

Oh, God. "No," Eric says, as firmly as he can.

After a second, Jeff nods. "Okay," he says, and takes the beer from Eric's hands.

||

Eric doesn't get drunk. He barely even gets buzzed. But apparently being buzzed is more than enough to completely screw him up, because he's buzzed and so is Jeff and Eric can't stop touching him.

And Jeff's not stopping him. Eric rubs his thumb over Jeff's neck and waits for Jeff to say something, and he just doesn't.

Eric wants him. He wants to take Jeff up on his offer, despite knowing how stupid it would be. He wants so much, and he can't quit touching Jeff, and he loses it for a second and says, "Come here," and kisses Jeff.

Jeff moans into it, moving closer without breaking the kiss. And it's good, it's way too good; Eric's screwed.

"Just so you know," Jeff says, skimming his hand over Eric's back, "if you stop, I'm going to kill you."

Eric's not going to stop. It would be nice, actually, if he could - but he can't. Jeff's already pressing closer, kissing him again and running his fingers through Eric's hair. It feels weirdly proprietary and Eric wants more.

"God, you - " Jeff shakes his head and kisses Eric again.

Eric winds up leaning back with Jeff on top of him, not doing much except kissing back as Jeff against him. They're both hard, but Jeff seems perfectly happy to just kiss him, and it's becoming increasingly obvious to Eric that he's pretty much happy with whatever Jeff wants.

Finally, though, Jeff rocks against him and says, "Planning on doing anything about that?"

It's the work of a minute to get their jeans down, even considering how tight Jeff's are. Jeff gasps and his hips stutter against Eric's when Eric gets his hand around his dick.

"You too," Jeff says, thrusting his hips. "You -" He spits on his hand and reaches between them, knuckles brushing Eric's dick before he manages to wiggle his fingers in with Eric's. It's not the most graceful of movements, but it makes Eric groan, his head falling back.

"Fuck yes," Jeff says, and moves his hand, nudging Eric's into motion, too. It's fast and almost painful, right up until Jeff says, "Hang on," and reaches around Eric to pull a tiny bottle of lotion out of his jeans pocket.

"How," Eric says, but he never gets a chance to finish, because Jeff dumps the lotion on them both and grips Eric again, hard.

It's close enough to perfect that Eric almost comes right then. He's stopped by Jeff saying, "Not yet," as he leans forward and kisses Eric again.

Eric lets himself just get lost. He's got lotion on his jeans, Jeff's panting against his neck, and he's so turned on he can barely think.

Finally Jeff says, "Okay, okay, come on," and bites Eric's neck, speeding up his hand. Eric's gone after that, his own hand going still as he comes.

When he's done he reaches down and stops Jeff from jerking himself off. "No, here," he says, replacing Jeff's hand with his own.

And this is good, because this way he gets to watch Jeff close his eyes and bite his lip, bracing himself on the couch as he thrusts into Eric's hand. His jeans catch on Eric's a little, but he's pretty sure Jeff doesn't give a shit, if the little noises he's making are any indication.

"You," he says, reaching up with his free hand to cup the back of Jeff's head, "look really fucking good right now."

"Oh, God," Jeff says, and comes.

Jeff slumps against Eric, breathing hard. The fact that it's right in his ear shouldn't turn Eric on, but there it is. "Wow," Jeff says finally. "I didn't think - I - wow.'

Eric would feel smug, except it's finally occurring to him exactly what he's done, and with whom. "Oh God," he says, pushing Jeff away.
Jeff's face falls. "Eric."

"I have to go." Eric yanks his jeans up, heedless of how messy they are, stumbles into the foyer, takes his jacket and keys, and runs out the door.

Jeff doesn't try to stop him.

||

He's done a lot of stupid things in his life, up to and including getting arrested in Minnesota while blindingly drunk, but he's pretty sure this is the dumbest. He's not too buzzed to drive, but he is shaken up enough that it takes him a few minutes of breathing carefully before he can make his hands stop shaking enough to start the car.

He had sex with Jeff. In Jeff's house. While Jeff was dating someone else. Fuck, fuck, fuck, what is wrong with him?

He drives home soon after, profoundly thankful that Jeff doesn't come outside and ask him what the hell he's still doing there. Maybe Jeff was actually drunk, and that's why he had a slip in judgment, and Eric just didn't realize. That would make him a terrible person, but it makes sense. Maybe they both just lost their minds very briefly, and they'll be fine tomorrow. Maybe Eric's ruined everything.

It would be really, really nice if he could just go to sleep.

He doesn't end up sleeping. He doesn't end up doing much of anything, actually, except staring at his ceiling and hating himself. When morning comes he gives up on trying to sleep and texts Jeff. "I'm sorry."

Jeff's reply comes almost right away. "that was pretty obvious. if you didnt want to you should have said"

Eric stares at his phone. He has no idea how to respond to that. Of course he wanted to; that's the problem. "It never happened," he sends after a few minutes.

"sure whatever"

Okay, then. That's done with.

He spends the rest of the day being insanely tired and cranky. Fortunately, he's not supposed to see anyone. He doesn't even go to the gym; he just lies around being annoyed with everything. It's immature, no doubt, but he doesn't really care.

||

They don't text each other after that. It takes two days for Eric to realize it's going to be incredibly awkward going into the weekend.

There's a heat wave, so on the drive down Eric blasts the air conditioner and doesn't take his shades off from Raleigh to Fayetteville. He's behind Cam for most of the way, but he doesn't worry too much when he loses sight of him. It's a nice, lonely trip. And, okay, it makes him a little more self-pitying, but whatever.

It turns out losing track of Cam was a bad idea, though. When he gets to the beach house, Cam says, "You're the last in. You're rooming with Jeff."

Eric's not totally sure what color he turns, but Cam quirks a side of his mouth up and wanders away.

There's nothing to be done about it, so Eric shoulders his bag and heads upstairs. He finds the room by process of elimination and tosses his bag on the bed. He's about to head back out when someone wanders out of the bathroom.

Jeff stops dead and blinks at him. Of course he's not wearing a shirt, Eric thinks desperately. Of course. This is the beach. Soon he won't be wearing a shirt, either.

"Hi," Jeff says.

"Cam's a dick," Eric says in reply.

Jeff nods. "I mean, he's a good guy. He doesn't know -" He looks away, flushing.

"It's okay," Eric says. He can be cool about this. "So you already claimed a bed, huh."

Jeff nods. "I'm going to -"

"Yeah, totally -"

"Go," Jeff finishes. "See you." He bolts out.

Eric sits down heavily on the spare bed. This is supposed to be fun, a weekend of fucking around with the guys. He isn't supposed to have these feelings.

But it's a nice day out and Eric can hear everyone else fucking around, yelling about going down to the beach, so after a brief internal debate he puts his trunks on and goes down to join them.

"Staal, fucking finally!" Chad claps him on the back. "My man, be the mom and tell Brandon to put some damn sunscreen on."

"I'll be fine," Sutter says.

Eric looks at him dubiously. "Okay, who's got the SPF?"

After he's tackled Sutter and forced him to wear sunscreen, they all go down to the beach. Skinner and Rutuu are fucking around, and Eric isn't jealous, because that would be insane.

It's an obnoxiously gorgeous day, and Eric lets himself get distracted by ganging up on Tim and dunking him, and then racing Chad out to the pier. It's fun, and Eric doesn't look at Jeff too much, or think about how the day seems a little brighter when he laughs.

As the sun sets, he and Cam migrate from the water to the sand. They flop down without towels; the house is right there, so they can just rinse off in the water and head back up when they're done.

"You're going to have to look at him eventually," Cam says quietly as they watch everyone else swim.

"What do you mean?" Eric says, but he knows it's useless. He's never been able to lie to Cam.

But Cam doesn't push. "You're a good guy," he says, and leaves it at that.

Which is funny, since Eric doesn't feel like a good guy.

It's hard not to be mellow, though, when they all go back in and order pizza, and end up staying up till three, drinking just enough to stay buzzed and just fucking around, playing Guitar Hero and watching TV and hanging out. Eric stays away from Jeff, but he notices when Jeff slips away, and stays up for about a half an hour after, hoping Jeff will be asleep by the time he comes up.

No such luck, though. Jeff's on his computer when Eric gets in. There's no internet, so he's got to be playing Solitaire or something, but he looks totally engrossed. He barely even looks up when Eric shuts the door behind him.

Eric's pretty sure he owes Jeff an apology, but he's equally sure he has no idea what to say, so he goes into the bathroom and showers and changes into boxers. Jeff still doesn't look up when Eric comes out.

Eric's just going to go to bed. He's not going to say anything stupid. Except he can't really stop himself from saying, "So you decided not to bring Brad?"

Jeff's head snaps up and he blinks at Eric. "Are you serious?"

He's made a misstep, then. "Um. Yes?"

"No," Jeff says, "I didn't bring Brad. I told you -" He stops, turning red, and then goes back to his computer.

Right. Because that never happened, because Eric said it never happened. That's a good thing, Eric reminds himself as he gets into bed.

He doesn't fall asleep until Jeff's computer closes and his breathing evens out.

||

Eric sleeps late the next morning. It's noon and he's thinking about getting out of bed when the door creaks open.

"Hang on," Jeff says quietly to someone in the hallway, and he slips in.

Eric hears movement for a few minutes, and then quiet. Figuring Jeff has slipped out, he sits up, yawning and stretching before he opens his eyes.

Jeff is holding a pair of flip-flops and blinking at him. He's shirtless, Eric notes sleepily. "Sorry," he says quickly. "I didn't mean to wake you up."

"No, it's fine. I was awake." Eric squints. The sun is really bright. "Boys back down on the beach?"

"Yeah." Jeff holds his flip-flops up. "I was gonna -"

"Right, yeah, totally." Eric makes himself look away from Jeff and stumbles into the bathroom. By the time he gets back out, Jeff's gone.

Two Red Bulls and a slice of cold pizza later, he's challenging Chad to a race down to the beach. "I'll beat your beanpoley ass," Chad says, swinging his arms back and forth.

"We'll see," Eric says easily, and then they take off.

Things are fine until mid-afternoon, when Cam says, "I'm starving. Who wants to order food?"

"Make the rookie do it," Sutter says.

"Because your pimply ass is pretty much ancient," Jeff snorts, but he heads for the house.

And - okay. Things have been rough. Eric knows he's been kind of a jerk, even though he really doesn't mean to. So he gets up and follows Jeff in.

Jeff doesn't even show a sign of knowing he's being followed until they get to the house and he turns around. "So, what's this about?"

"I wanted to apologize," Eric forces himself to say.

Jeff's expression, if anything, gets more shuttered. "For what? Nothing happened."

"I didn't -" Mean it like that, Eric wants to say, except it's a lie. "It was a dumbassed thing to say," he says instead.

"Yeah," Jeff says. "Look, I'm going to get Cam his food."

"Can we." Eric stops, unsure of what to say. "I just - I don't want to be the reason things are awkward here."

"It's a little late for that," Jeff says. "Seriously, did that even mean anything to you? Or do you just really like them young?"

"I didn't do it on purpose!" Eric says, and then winces at how loud he is.

"Oh, so I was, what, a mistake? That's so much better." Jeff looks flat-out furious.

"No," Eric says. "I mean, it was a mistake, but you weren't...we didn't..." He can't make himself say anything even remotely intelligent. "I wanted you. I didn't think about it, and then I did, and it was all I could think about."

"So you were getting me out of your system?"

"No! I was -" Not drunk. Barely buzzed. "Being stupid," he finishes lamely.

Jeff shakes his head. "Right, whatever."

"You have a boyfriend," Eric says desperately. "It was a mistake for both of us."

"He knew I was hung up on you!" Jeff snaps - and then rears back, looking completely horrified with himself and suddenly, incredibly young.

Eric can't speak. He can barely think, actually, and he definitely can't move.

"I'm going to go," Jeff says, sounding miserable, and runs upstairs.

The door frame is right there, so Eric leans against it, mind reeling. Holy shit. Just - holy shit. Why didn't he figure it out before? He should have. He's not stupid, and Jeff's not that good at hiding things. He should have known. Then again, he probably should have known he wants Jeff, too, way before he realized it.

It solidifies Eric's certainty that this whole thing was a mistake. A really, really unfair to Jeff mistake. And it's Eric's responsibility to set things right. He squares his shoulders and goes upstairs, trying to focus on what he's going to say, and not how knowing Jeff's into him knots his stomach up.

"Jeff," he says when he opens their door. Jeff's sitting on the bed, his back to Eric.

Eric takes a few more steps forward. "Jeff, I didn't know."

"You weren't supposed to," Jeff says quietly.

"If I had -"

"What?" Jeff stands up and turns to look at Eric, finally. His face is blotchy, upset. "You wouldn't have done it?"

"I can't. It's not right, not if you -"

"It's not right either way. You made that pretty clear." Jeff shakes his head. "Look, it'll be fine, okay? Just give me a few days."

"Jeff." Eric moves forward again, so that they're only a few feet away. He's going to say something comforting, something that isn't just him sticking his foot in his mouth.

Or at least, he was going to. Because right then, Jeff kisses him.

His head is sort of spinning by the time Jeff pulls back. "This is good," Jeff says. "This is so good, why can't you see that?"

"We can't," Eric says weakly. Jeff looks so fucking serious. He hasn't smiled at Eric in days. And Eric misses that, he does, but there's no way he can agree to this.

"We did," Jeff says. "We can again." He kisses Eric again.

Eric doesn't mean to sit down on the bed, but Jeff is pushing him back and kissing him deeply and Eric honest to God cannot think even a little bit.

"God, I spend all fucking season thinking about this, and then you -" Jeff shakes his head. He's still shirtless, and when he pushes Eric far enough back that he can kneel over him and kiss him again, Eric can't stop himself from running his hands over his back, feeling the soft skin at his hips. All season, fuck, how did he hide it? Eric can't hide what he wants for shit and he's only known about it for a few days.

"Please," he hears himself say, and then Jeff is gone and he's stupidly cold.

But Jeff just goes to the door and locks it. "Get your shorts off," he says, looking so intense and determined that Eric immediately obeys.

And Jeff's right, it's good. From when he grinds against Eric to when he says, "I'm doing this because I want to," and blows Eric, it's fucking good. Especially when Jeff lets Eric push him back against the pillows and return the favor, and Eric looks up to see Jeff biting his own arm to keep from crying out.

Afterwards, Eric moves to get up, and Jeff reaches out and grips his wrist tight. "Not yet. I ordered Cam his pizza while you were downstairs freaking out. We have time."

This is bad. It's really, really bad. But Jeff is slumped back against the pillows and he's watching Eric closely, and Eric - Eric's going to try not to fuck this up.

"Right," he says, and lies back down.

Jeff smiles then, hugely, his eyes crinkling up. Eric can't help it: he ducks down and kisses him.

"I'm not done freaking out," he says when they pull apart.

"But you're done being a dick about it?"

He deserves that. "Yeah, I think so."

"Good," Jeff says, and presses a little closer.

When they finally shower and go back downstairs, the pizza's long since arrived and been eaten. It's about three, so the sun is hot enough that everyone's inside.

Cam glances at both of them and nods once.

"Where were you assholes?" Chad says.

"He was showering, like a prissy asshole," Jeff says. "My mom called."

Chad snorts. "God, you fucking infant."

Jeff ducks his head and grins, a reaction calculated to get good-natured jeers from the rest of the guys. Eric punches Chad in the shoulder and goes over to the couch, not looking back at Jeff.

There's a distinct possibility this weekend isn't going to suck after all.