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The thing is Phil fucking knows it's wrong. It's so fucking wrong to fall in love with your teammate, your roommate, your best friend. Phil knows it so deeply that it's entrenched in the very core of his being. He tries to reason that it's probably because he and Bozie are so close. People like to joke that they're attached at the hip, and maybe they are, but whatever. Bozie understands him in a way that no one else does.

He doesn't connect with anyone like he connects with Bozie, that is. Sure, he's friends with other people, and he'd probably offer to put them up without making them paying rent either because, as his sister was so nice to point out to everyone on Twitter, he can be a really nice guy. That's just who Phil is. But it somehow goes deeper and more...something with Bozie.


 

He doesn't give a name to it, whatever this is that he's feeling for Bozie. He's trained himself not to look, not to be too obvious or too introspective because that way lies madness. Besides, he knows Bozie is painfully a hundred percent straight. He knows this very intuitively even though Bozie has never brought anyone home, but that's also because for eight months out of the year, Bozie lives and breathes hockey which doesn't leave a lot of time for hookups, even random, one-night stands. And Bozie has never hooked up with anyone while they're on the road either, or, not that Phil has seen specifically. And he'd think he'd know if Bozie hooks up with anyone. It's not so much co-dependency or a weird, fascinating way that Phil tortures himself with (although there is that) as it is just a consequence of being close.

Phil had asked him about it, once, when they were first starting out as roommates, and Phil was trying to lay out the ground rules for living together, back before this thing started where Phil found himself jerking off to thoughts of his best friend underneath him, hands gripping his ass in a totally-not-buddies kind of way and passionate kisses that’d lead to a lot of passionate undressing and fucking hot sex. Well…in Phil’s head it was going to be fucking hot sex—being a gay sex virgin, he didn’t want to speculate on the reality because the reality would never coalesce into anything. 

Bozie had claimed that he couldn't focus on both girls and hockey to give either the attention they deserved. And it's a plausible explanation. Even the guys in the club who have girlfriends and wives, families, often have to miss out on the big occasions, and time together; some of them even have a hard time remaining faithful. And yes, there are guys, both committed and non-committed, who find the time to have one-night stands and random flings wherever they go, but Bozie just never gave off the vibe that he was like that. And Phil would know. He is sure as he is of anything that he would.

Of course, Bozie flirts. Phil knows he flirts. That has become its own category of hell as of late.


 

 

He throws a birthday party for Bozie's twenty-eightieth because it's a fucking huge milestone no matter what Bozie says. It'll have to be a short party where they can't get too trashed.

(He might take a sort of perverse pleasure at the fact that Bozie's older than him. Okay, so it's only by about a year, and relatively, a year doesn't make that much difference in the grand scheme of things, but Phil's feelings about Bozie are very illogical, okay. Don't ask him.) This will be his present for Bozie. He doesn't think about how he'd like to give himself as a present for Bozie because he knows for certain that Bozie likes parties, but if he doesn't like Phil in that way, he can't return him for store credit, and then where would they be?

They aren't home that long before they have to be on the road again, but Phil makes sure that everyone on the team can come and contribute beer and chips. That's all they really need, so it doesn't take that much to plan. But though Phil is trying to downplay throwing a party even though most everyone knows he hates parties, it still somehow comes across as this huge fucking thing he's doing and maybe if he were less confused about his own feelings, he could've downplayed it for other people. (It is not weird that he wants to throw his roommate and best friend a birthday party. It’s not.) As it is however, Lupul is the first one to look at him strangely, beer in hand, cornering him in the kitchen.

"You know, this is a really nice thing you're doing for Bozak," he says, taking a swipe of his beer, before licking his lips dry and looking at Phil in an unnerving way. "But, man, I think you'd have better luck just telling him how you feel."

What? Phil feels like the ground has shifted beneath his feet. "What?"

"I'm not saying Bozak's dumb or anything, but he might not catch onto the subtlety that is apparently the Phil Kessel charm." He shrugs, takes another gulp of his beer, totally oblivious to Phil starting to freak out beside him. 

"What?" Phil must be stuck on that word because it makes Lupes turn toward him again, and really look at him.

"Shit, dude, you didn't know?"

"What?!"

"We all know about your crush on Bozak. I'm just saying putting up with the guy and not charging him rent is really not driving the point home, so you might have to step it up."

"Everyone knows?"

Lupes might've read the terror on his face because he tries to backtrack. "Well, not everyone. Definitely not the rookies, but those of us who've had to play with you two for the past few seasons, yes."

Phil tries not to feel sick to his stomach, but he doesn't think he's doing a very good job because Lupes puts a hand on his shoulder, squeezes it reassuringly. "Hey, no one cares, okay? And if they're dicks about it, we're going to have your backs."

Well, that's certainly one of his worries out of the way, but not the biggest fucking one. Because people apparently know, and Lupes is trying to give him advice. Phil honestly thought he was doing a good job of keeping it a secret because he loves hockey more than life itself, and he doesn't want to lose it, but he's also starting to think he might love Bozie just as much. But Bozie might not love him back; hell he might even be repulsed by it and Phil was psyching himself up to be fucking okay about it, nursing his crush by his lonesome because he still had hockey, and he still had Bozie, even if it wasn't exactly the way Phil wanted him. But that was more than okay for him. At least it had to be for the time being.

Lupes's hand drops from his shoulder, and Phil feels like he's becoming unraveled at the seams.

"You can't tell him." Phil whispers, fierce. He tries not to pass out in his kitchen.

"Well, no shit, Sherlock." Lupes looks offended for a second before he frowns. "I honestly wouldn't have said anything to you either, but I really thought this was your way of telling him you wanted to hook up with him or something. And obviously, you still hadn't hooked up."

"Why obviously?"

"Because you were still looking at him with your puppy-dog eyes when we came over."

Now Phil's offended. "I don't have puppy-dog eyes."

Lupes looks ready to reply, but Kadri decides to barrel in at that moment. Both Phil and Lupes become quiet, and Kadri looks at them weird. "Need more beers, dudes."

Phil turns to open the refrigerator doors because he's closer to them, and hands Kadri the six-pack, begging him silently to go away. He doesn't want to invite more people to witness his humiliation.

"Hey," Kadri starts, "You aren't trying to hurry up the bet, are you?"

Lupes glares daggers at Kadri. "Go away."

"What bet," Phil asks, confused.

Kadri only then realizes he might be stepping on landmines. “Um, no bet. What are you talking about? I’m not talking about anything.” He hastily retreats back into the lounge with his beers.

Lupes’s face is in his hands. “I’m going to fucking kill him.”

“Wait, you two have bets on us?!” Phil thought everyone knowing was the shocking revelation of the night, but he was oh so wrong.   

“Of course, we’re hockey players, Phil. Gambling on when you two would sleep together makes this train-wreck more bearable.”

“Oh, so you do have an ulterior motive for talking to me about this?”

“Wellll…yes and no. I did bet on when you two would sleep together and when we’d find out about it. But the bet is not important, we can afford to lose a couple of hundred bucks; the point being, Phil, is that this secret is going to weigh down on you. And I, as your friend and teammate, want to help.”

There is nothing Phil can say to that without freaking out even more. He rubs his eyes, tired all of a sudden. “I’m going to go now, and we’ll pretend we never had this conversation.” He leaves the kitchen not sparing Lupes another glance.


 

 

Of course, his house is currently occupied by giant hockey players that make the huge apartment seem small and crowded. There is nowhere he can go to be in private because everywhere he turns he bumps into someone who wants to talk to him. He avoids the game room on principle, knowing Bozie’s there with whomever he managed to con into playing a pool game with him. He feels Lupes’s eyes on his back, following him everywhere he goes. He goes for the plate of cookies on the table, takes the whole thing and retreats to his balcony. It’s March, but it’s still chilly at night, and Phil’s berating himself for not thinking of putting on a coat or a toque before he went outside, though seeing as he hadn’t anticipated being driven out of his own home either, he hadn’t anticipating needing winter wear.

The stars are out, shining beautifully, and even a metropolis such as Toronto with its spiraling, tall buildings can’t obscure them. He thinks back to the encounter he just had with Lupes and feels silly that the only recourse of action was to get away from everyone as far as possible. But Lupes can’t just drop that bombshell on him and accept that Phil would not freak out about it. He isn’t even sure he can handle knowing his own feelings, but to also suddenly find out that pretty much the whole team knows and is betting on them?

Phil chews on a chocolate chip cookie forlornly. It’s alright for Lupes to say he needs to tell Bozie how he feels. Joffrey Lupul has probably never had to deal with possible rejection. He’s probably never had to deal with unrequited love either. What does Joffrey Lupul know with his pretty face and head full of hair? Joffrey Lupul knows nothing.

Phil sighs. Okay, so Joffrey Lupul is a pretty good friend. It’s not his fault Phil is scared of screwing everything up.        

He starts shivering, the cold getting to him when the balcony door opens and Phil’s startled to see Bozie coming out.

“Hey, whatcha’ doing out here? Lupes said something about breaking you? Was he joking? If he was, it wasn’t a very good one.”

Phil nods, still chewing on his cookie. “You know Lupes,” Phil says, swallowing the cookie, and wiping at his mouth discreetly. “He shouldn’t tell jokes. It never ends well for him.”

Phil’s stomach turns nervous somersaults when Bozie laughs at that. He has to look away from Bozie even though it’s dark and he can’t see Bozie anyway, but he has to look away regardless. Has he mentioned that he’s become very illogical lately?

“Oh, hey, do you have the chocolate chip cookies there?”

Phil looks down at his hands, having all of a sudden forgotten the plate and cookies. “Hmm? Oh yeah, want one?”

In lieu of answering, he feels Bozie come closer and snatch one or two away from him. They’re too close for comfort, and if it was daylight Phil might’ve been close enough to see Bozie’s dimples. As it is, Phil’s just very aware of how close they are unexpectedly in the darkness, a strange case of nerves fluttering around in his stomach at how very intimate it all feels. They aren’t doing anything but standing around, but it feels like Phil only has to turn his head a tiny bit, and he’d be there kissing Bozie, out in plain view of anyone who might be looking their way. His apartment is high enough that no one would bother looking their way, but there are probably a bunch of curious party-goers inside who might.  

He thinks he feels Bozie’s eyes lingering on him a moment too long, but it’s probably just wish-fulfillment.

“What were you and Lupes’ talking about that made him joke about breaking you?”

Phil looks away, like he was caught staring and Bozie was breaking the awkward silence as some kind of admonishment to keep his thoughts pure.

“Just, um, shooting the breeze.”

“Okay.”

But Bozie doesn’t sound very convinced. At least he drops it, turning to go back inside. Phil takes a moment to shake himself out of his stupid stupor and follow Bozie.


 

 

Once Phil is inside with Bozie, he finds that Lupes keeps his distance, probably thinking that Phil’s mad at him or something. He’s not, exactly, but he’s also…distraught is the best word he can come up with. Surprisingly, after Phil’s had some time to dwell on it, it’s not so much Lupes knowing he’s possibly in love with a guy (and not just any guy, but Bozie) that’s making him distraught so much as it’s the thought of Lupes knowing his secret and just…well, having that knowledge when Phil doesn't want anybody to have it in the first place.

Though this is the first he’s hearing about it, he somehow instinctively knows Lupes doesn’t care that he’s gay for Bozie—if he had cared, if any of them had, things would’ve turned awkward a lot sooner than tonight. He also isn’t afraid of Lupes’ blackmailing or outing him, but this is his secret, his alone. And the thought of other people knowing it too feels like a major invasion of privacy. He trusts Lupes and the other guys on the team implicitly, no question about it, but he doesn’t want them to know how pathetic he is. He doesn’t want their pity or knowing looks when they’re all together. He just wants to nurse his pathetic crush alone, have it settle as a heavy weight on his shoulders and bear it as well as he can.

Phil’s stuck on autopilot, so deep in his thoughts that he doesn’t realize he’s following Bozie’s lead until his butt hits the leather sofa on the other side of JVR and Kadri, who are both too enthralled with playing Call of Duty to pay much attention to them. Phil only realizes it when his thigh ever so lightly presses against Bozie’s, a comforting pressure, but it makes Phil freeze on the spot. If he moves now, it’d be obvious what he’s up to; he doesn’t want Bozie to think he’s trying to get away, but he knows being this close to his best friend brings danger of its own kind. Phil swallows and tries to look straight ahead at Kadri and JVR, who are safe to gaze at. But the whole time he’s sitting there, he’s conscious that his face is heating up and not just from how warm the room is.

He suddenly springs up, jerking Bozie’s face to him, his attention momentarily turned away from chirping Kadri, who’s getting killed on the screen, and Bozie tilts his head sideways in an adorable gesture of confusion. Phil is so fucking gone on the dude even his confused faces looks adorable to him now. (If Bozie ever found out Phil thought that about him, he probably wouldn’t be able to play hockey ever again.)  

“Just wanna get a beer? You want one?” he jerks his hand vaguely toward the kitchen.

“Sure, sounds good.”

“Oh hey, get me one too,” JVR chimes in, eyes completely focused on the screen.

Phil finds himself retreating back into the kitchen, somewhat ironically, but thankfully it’s empty now, everyone else pretty much mingling in the lounge, and other parts of the loft.

He gets the beers out of the fridge, touching one to his face, sighing at the relief the cold condensation brings. He has no idea how his life has spiraled this out of control, but he needs to derail somehow before shit blows up in his face.

It’s sadly a little too late for outright denial. And Lupes wouldn’t think of interfering. Probably. Jesus, Phil hopes not.

He tries to linger in the kitchen, delaying returning to the lounge, but he can only linger for so long before JVR and Bozie would come looking for him, demanding their beers.


 

 

Three beers later, he relaxes enough to let his guard down. He’s feeling a little buzzed, warm and comfortable reclining next to Bozie on the sofa, with Bozie’s arm near his shoulder. Phil should hide it better or something. It’s not exactly cuddling, but they’re practically in each other’s laps. If almost everyone knows he’s crushing on Bozie, he might as well milk it for all it’s worth in his own home. 

Mason ends up calling it a night early because Max comes down with a cold, and Mason can’t stop worrying about him enough to actually enjoy the party. Everyone else pretty much voluntarily leaves around midnight; they have practice early in the morning and back-to-back games during the weekend.

Lupes, the last one lingering by the door, asks Phil if they’re alright.

Phil punches him lightly on the shoulder. “Yeah, man. Don’t worry about it. As long as you all are okay with it…?”

Lupes gives him a smile. “Don’t you worry.”

Phil hopes that this is the last time Lupes will bring up his sexuality—actually, anyone’s sexuality, as far as he’s concerned.

He goes back to the lounge, intent on shutting off the entertainment system before calling it a night as well when he finds Bozie standing beside the sofa, looking at him curiously.

“What?” he asks. He takes a cursory look around the apartment, groaning at how messy it’s gotten. He’s already making plans in his head to call a cleaning service in the morning before he goes to practice. He definitely doesn’t want to deal with anything tonight if he can avoid it.

“Did ya know that our teammates have a pool on when we’d hook up?”

Phil freezes, wondering if he should play dumb or not. If Bozie had only asked him before tonight, his surprise would’ve been genuine. “Uh.”

“You do?” Bozie looks surprised, not outraged, or—thank goodness for small miracles—disgusted.

“I just found out tonight. But it’s completely crazy. Completely. I have no idea where they even came up with such a thing. It’s not like they’re not busy being professional athletes or anything.” Phil’s laugh is forced, and he’s not trying to look at Bozie.

“Is the idea of being with me really so crazy?” Bozie sounds strange.

“Well—not crazy crazy, I just meant that uh, well the idea of you and me…well, not the idea of you and me, specifically, but the idea of someone like you liking someone like me is kinda crazy.”

“Why would that be crazy?” Bozie sounds so genuinely curious, not an ounce of derision in his voice at all, and Phil’s heart squeezes painfully. He won’t hope; it’s a useless emotion. All of his desires and wants are staring him in the face, but Phil doesn't think he's brave enough to confront them face on. 

“Listen, it’s okay. I’ll get over it. It doesn’t have to mean anything.”

“Wait, Phil, what?”

“I mean, I get the urge to kiss you senseless sometimes,” oh my god, he's really just going to stand there and blurt everything out, isn't he? Where is the ground opening up and swallowing him when he needs it to? “But it doesn't have to change anything between us and you can just forget I mentioned anything, actually, if you could manage that-”

"Phil, Phil, Phil-" 

He clamps his mouth shut, and waits for the inevitable. 

"Well, are you going to kiss me senseless, or are you just going to stand there awkwardly?" Bozie asks eyes dark and penetrating and still on Phil.

Phil wants to desperately move toward Bozie. He's had this fantasy in his head that he'd tackle Bozie up against the wall and kiss him breathless. It'd be so fucking hot, Bozie would forget who was kissing him enough not to punch Phil.

But Phil's feet won't move. He does just stand there awkwardly.

"Oh, for fuck's sake!" Bozie curses, but it's equal parts frustrating and fond, indulgent like he's not really sick to his stomach at the thought of Phil loving him. Phil's confused, and it shows on his face. Before he can do or say anything more, he catches Bozie moving toward him. They're suddenly pressed chest to chest, and Bozie's hands are cupping his face before he's kissing Phil.

He's fantasied about kissing Bozie hundreds of times, but the fantasy is nowhere near the reality.

"Best fucking birthday ever," Bozie tells him when he gets Phil horizontal on the couch. More like shoves him back onto the leather, and Stella runs off, mad that they're ignoring her and goes off into the bedroom, presumably to get away from the stupid people interrupting her sleep. Phil feels bad for a fleeting minute, but then Bozie's mouth is back on his and Phil finds it difficult to really focus on one thought. Bozie keeps breaking away to suck kisses down his chin, and the hollow of his throat. It’s sloppy and wet and harsh and makes Phil dizzy with want and need. He closes his eyes, throwing his arms around Bozie’s neck, trying to get him closer but they’re already pressed so close, atoms would have difficulty getting between them.

He hisses in pleasure when he feels Bozie’s hand sneak under his shirt, finding bare skin. They’re making out like horny teenagers.

The need for oxygen makes Bozie break away again, breath harsh against Phil’s throat. They’re both breathless, and Phil’s shirt is rucked up enough to expose skin and Bozie’s hair is wild and unkempt from Phil running his hands through them. Bozie gives him a shy smile before he buries his nose in the crook of Phil’s throat. Bozie’s hands are still under his shirt, a soft pressure he’s conscious of.

Phil’s hands are clammy, and adrenaline is coursing through him like it does when he’s on the ice and trying to score. Bozie kisses him again, but this time it’s much slower, Bozie taking his time tasting Phil’s mouth. It might be less hurried than before, but not any less passionate, and Phil’s uncomfortably hard against his pants. And everything suddenly feels like it’s too much, too quickly. Tyler Bozak is about to fuck him. He's about to get fucked by Tyler Bozak. How is this his life? But he has never been with a guy, and all he's had for these years is his hand and fantasies, and, sure, Phil had a girlfriend and sex shouldn't be any different than it is with a girl except for the different equipment, but that doesn’t make Phil feel any prepared.

He can feel Bozie’s hand lie on the flat plane of his stomach. He’d only need to move down an inch and two, and Phil would probably orgasm just from that touch alone. The thought makes him wrench away from Bozie, putting as much distance between them as the sofa will allow.

“W-wait,” Phil gasps, trying to get his heart and breath back in control.

Bozie untangles himself from Phil, and Phil opens his mouth to explain that he wants this, so desperately, but he’s not ready and he’d like to take it slow, but Bozie huffs out a little breath, laughing softly to himself and Phil is mesmerized at how utterly debauched Bozie looks. “Sorry,” Bozie says, running a hand through his hair, making it even messier than Phil did. He doesn’t look disappointed though, and Phil’s heart unclenches. “This is moving a little too fast, isn’t it?”

“I want to,” Phil tries to imbue everything he’s feeling into those three words, but they still somehow feel insignificant. He grabs at Bozie, the other man moving back easily into Phil’s space. “But I’ve never—that is I’m not…” He doesn’t know how to finish the sentence without making himself seem like a naïve teenager about to lose their virginity.

“I know, buddy. It’s okay. We can take it slow. I’m not going anywhere.”

Phil licks his lips, his hand moving up and down Bozie’s arm.

“But um…where do you stand on kissing? Is that okay for now? I’d really like to kiss you again,” Bozie says, eyes drawn to Phil’s mouth.

“Oh, kissing is okay.” 


 

 

Phil expects things to get awkward and weird between them when they don't have their mouths on each other. But honestly they aren't. Why's he even fucking surprised? Bozie is like invulnerable to any lingering awkwardness. If he was a superhero, that'd probably end up being his superpower. Well, there’s still the playing a very manly sport that’s notorious for its homophobic tendencies to handle.

"Jesus, your feet are fucking freezing," Bozie swears, sliding into bed behind Phil. He feels a slight tingle that's not at all connected to the cold when Bozie's feet crowd his, Bozie's arm sliding around his waist protectively.

"Why am I the fucking little spoon," he grumbles, though he doesn't mean it. He just wants to focus on something besides his heart beating too fast, and feeling like it's going to rip out of his chest, and the fear that this is a dream. Everything is sliding so perfectly into place, Phil's waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"I'm older," Bozie says, his voice sleepy and fond. "And taller." Bozie's lips skim across the corner of Phil's mouth.

Phil snorts. "Only by an inch."

"It's a very important inch."

"Ugh, go to fucking sleep already."

"Yes, Mr. Grumpypants." Bozie's voice hasn't lost the tinge of fondness, and Phil smiles to himself in the dark.

He thinks Bozie has fallen asleep, though Phil doesn't know if he will get the luxury seeing as he's still feeling the adrenaline of the make-out session on the couch and...maybe more when they don't have to get up ridiculously early in the morning for morning skate and a game, when Bozie says, very quietly, "We can switch who cuddles whom, if it bothers you so much."

"Did I say it bothered me?" Phil asks.

"You can't see me right now, but I'm rolling my eyes very hard at you right now."


 

 

Phil wakes up the next morning, nervous still. He and Bozie slept together last night—not slept slept together. They had just snuggled close, drifting off, close and content. Though Phil has fantasized about having sex with Bozie, he doesn’t want to move too fast precisely because he has zero idea what he’s doing. Basically, he foresees a lot of porn watching in his future. And hopefully Bozie will be patient through all of it.

The very fact that Bozie hasn’t pushed for things to go too fast between them in the carnal sense either said something, although what, Phil doesn’t quite know yet. He'll have time to figure it out though.