The text comes in at nine o'clock on Thursday. I'M CALLLLLLING YOU. FIVE MINUTES. PICK UPPPPPP.
Even without the TEEEEEEEMU label at the top, Paul would know exactly who wrote that, because Teemu can't text like a normal person. "It's good for you," Teemu always says. "It keeps you flexible." Actually, it just makes all of Teemu's texts sound oddly drawn out and excitable, which Paul guesses is a case of truth in advertising.
The phone vibrates -- three minutes early, no surprise there -- and Paul answers. "Hi, Teemu." He really hopes this is not going to be another round of "say you'll come for my last game, come on, please, PLEASE." Paul's thinking about it. He can't do better than that.
"Hi. How are you?" Teemu didn't call to ask that -- when that's his only question, he politely texts, a leftover from the days when sometimes just being asked that would piss Paul off -- but he sounds like he means it.
"Good," Paul says, meaning it. He is good, by his current standards. "How are you?"
"I have a problem," Teemu says.
Paul blinks. "Really?"
Teemu sighs. "Yes, it's one of my -- weird stuff problems."
Oh. Paul thought Teemu was making a joke, or maybe a joke on him, the first time he said, "You know, I'm part elf." It took a while for him to believe that it was the literal truth, though in retrospect it's hard for Paul to understand why he was surprised, given how Teemu is.
Teemu says, "They're recalling us."
"Calling us home." Teemu makes the same exasperated sound he makes in sudden traffic jams, which he, of course, defines as any traffic condition that forces him to go at or below the speed limit.
"Back to Finland?" It's the middle of the season. Teemu can't go back to Finland.
"No, back to -- well, call it Elfland. There's a new queen on the throne and she doesn't like Sirpa and me being here."
Paul says, totally truthfully, "I really would like to believe I'm hallucinating this."
"Nope," Teemu says, and laughs. "It's all real. Real stupid. She wants the kids back and the kids have never even been there. We don't know if they have enough elf in them to use the official circles!"
"But why? You've been here almost your whole lives."
"She's pursuing a policy of -- something or other, I wasn't listening."
"Teemu." Paul can't believe this. His whole life is at stake and he didn't even bother listening.
"It was boring, and anyway, we are not going back."
Paul's shoulders relax, just a little. "You can say no?"
"Oh, no. What the queen commands is law. We have no choice. But there's an out; my friend Riggs found it." Paul makes encouraging noises. Come on, Teemu, get to it. "If I cross over during the full moon and declare my allegiance to humanity formally before the throne, my whole family is immediately expelled from the court. Which means we won't be allowed to be in Elfland anymore, so we'll have to stay here!" He sounds delighted.
Paul makes a mental note to look up the dates of the full moon as soon as he's off the phone. "Okay, so -- what's the problem?"
"I have to be human when I do it. It's so stupid complicated," Teemu says. "Elfland is just -- stupid rules, all designed to make things difficult. But it's supposed to be an out that's just for humans, so that's the rule: you must be human. "
Problematic, given that Teemu has all that elf in him. "Are you human enough?"
"Oh, no, not even close," Teemu says. "Even the kids are for sure not human enough, and they've lived their whole lives around the things of humanity. But nice part about Elfland rules is you can always get around them." He pauses, and Paul can tell he's about to spring something big. "I need to borrow a human body."
Paul stumbles over the phrasing; at first he pictures Teemu carrying around a human corpse, stolen from some morgue. But then he gets it. "You'd need to be in a human's body."
"Like, say, mine?"
Paul can hear Teemu's smile through the phone. "Oh, Paul," he says, his voice soft, "there's no other human with body I want."
Paul thinks about it for three days. He looked it up; the full moon isn't until January 16. Plenty of time, no matter how impatient Teemu is to know.
On the third day, he comes back from surfing and takes a long, hot shower. Afterwards, he looks at his body in the mirror, tries to imagine Teemu inside it. Not the way he'd always pictured it, the way he still sometimes does, but rather -- Teemu in the driver's seat.
It's terrifying. But then he tries to imagine Teemu gone, Teemu and Sirpa and the kids all disappeared back to Elfland, far beyond the reach of phones and excessively capitalized texts and blurry Snapchats, and that is so much worse.
He sits down at the computer and looks up Anaheim's game schedule. The sixteenth falls between two games, which is lucky. Teemu can take a maintenance day and -- borrow him. He'll be back in his own body in plenty of time for game day skate. Paul writes out a careful list of questions. Then he gets in his car and drives over to Teemu and Sirpa's.
Sirpa lets him in, smiling hugely; she hugs him and hands him a glass of wine. He recognizes it as soon as he takes a sip; it's their own private label from three years back. They gave him a case for Christmas that year, and he still has half of it saved, to be doled out carefully on special occasions. It's that good -- cool and crisp, light and complex at the same time. He smiles gratefully at Sirpa.
"I'm glad you came," she says. "Not because of Teemu's idea, but just I am glad to see you here again." It's been a long time, and it's not like Paul hasn't had good reason. Coming here makes him feel things he shouldn't, want things he shouldn't. It's dangerous, and it's something he can live without.
But he's missed her, and it's nice to think she's maybe missed him, too. He smiles back at her and says, "Thank you," and hopes she knows he doesn't just mean for the wine.
A minute later, Teemu bounds in. He hugs Paul, messes up his hair, and swipes the wine glass to take a swallow. "She gave you the good stuff! You're worth it."
Paul finds himself smiling at Teemu without meaning to, the way he always does. When he looks over at Sirpa, she is, too.
Teemu's just contagious.
"So," he says, trying to keep the smile out of his voice, at least, "I have some questions."
"Let's sit down first," Sirpa says, and leads them into the living room. Teemu sprawls on the couch, while Sirpa sits in her favorite chair, legs tucked underneath her. Paul hesitates, then settles cautiously on the chair that matches Sirpa's.
"What are the chances that -- something bad will happen to my body?"
Teemu tilts his head, considering, and then says something to Sirpa in Finnish. She says, "You can never be certain of anything when you're dealing with those people --" Paul finds it interesting that she calls them those people, since they are technically her people "-- but nothing anywhere in the ritual suggests danger. So I'd put it at -- hmmm. Given who we're dealing with over there, probably 10%."
Paul's cutoff was 50%. He puts a check next to that and moves on. "So, Teemu will be in my body, right? As operator?" Sirpa and Teemu both nod. "Where will I be?" Every time he imagines being in his body, a helpless passenger with Teemu in charge, he feels breathless and sick.
"Oh, you'll be in my body," Teemu says, like that's a simple thing.
It's anything but. "You're kidding."
"For once, no," Teemu says, his whole face inviting Paul to laugh at that with him. "For how long it takes, you're me," Teemu says. "It's one reason why I want it to be you. You'll take good care of it. And you'll be able to pretend you're me, very easy."
"Very easy," Paul repeats, and rolls his eyes. "Not easy at all. But not for long, right?"
Teemu and Sirpa exchange glances. "We don't actually know," Sirpa says.
"You don't know," Paul repeats flatly.
"Everything is in," and Teemu holds his hands far apart, "big long poems."
"Big long poems."
"Yes. That's how they do the law! And sometimes they don't write things down. Especially if it's hard to rhyme." Teemu shrugs like he's saying, hey, rhymes. What can you do?
Paul buries his face in his hands. "No wonder you don't want to be related to these people," he mumbles.
"Imagine living with them," Sirpa says.
Paul can't. He goes through the rest of his list, but he already knows he's going to agree. Before he does, though, there's something he has to say. He takes a deep breath, wills his voice to be as natural as possible, and says, "There's a problem."
Teemu and Sirpa look at him intently, and they're so perfect. They're so shiny and healthy, so beautiful, and it's hard to believe they'll understand. "My body," he says, and tries to think how to say it. "It's not exactly mint condition anymore." Teemu nods like he's going to shrug that off, but that's exactly the problem. This is the kind of thing you can't shrug off. "I've learned to live around it," he says. "But you don't know how. I don't want you to be stuck in Elfland with a body that can't work right." He takes another careful breath and says, "So I'll do it, but I think it'd be better for you if you found someone else."
Teemu shakes his head. "If you're willing, you're who I want."
"But --" Paul says, but he can't finish the sentence.
"I don't need perfect," Teemu says. "I need someone I can trust."
Paul still wants something better for Teemu, a body that won't let him down. But he says, "Okay."
Paul starts getting ready immediately. He wants to hand over his body in good condition, so he schedules checkups with his doctor and his dentist. He makes lists -- one to get his house ready, one of things to pack, one of things he has to tell Teemu before he goes. He's pretty sure he can get it all done in the time, but on January 7th Teemu calls him. "Riggs found a complication," he says.
Paul sighs. "Someday I want to meet Riggs," he says. He'd like to know more about this guy who apparently reads long legal poems for fun and keeps finding wrinkles in them that mess up Paul's plans.
"Sure, come to one of our parties," Teemu says, like Paul has ever willingly gone to a party. "I'll introduce you, no problem. But here's thing: Riggs says I have to cross over no later than the 11th."
That's in five days. Paul's not going to be ready. Even worse -- "You play on the 12th."
"Yes. I never thought I'd say this, but this is more important than a hockey game."
"Wow," Paul says, stunned.
"But it's okay," Teemu says confidently. "I know you'll play as well as I can."
Paul tries to swallow, but his mouth is too dry. His head feels suddenly numb. "I can't -- I can't play," he gets out after a couple of tries.
"Of course you can," Teemu says, sounding supremely sure. "You'll do great."
Paul has to sit down. "I can't," he says, and it comes out hoarse.
Teemu picks up on that instantly, and his voice gets concerned. "Is it -- what is it called? PSTD?"
"What? No. But -- I'm retired. I haven't played in four years, I don't know your team, I don't know the system, I don't know anything. I can't play a game. Practice I could maybe do, but…" He tries to imagine it, driving back to the Pond -- except it's Honda Center now -- and parking in the player's lot, walking in, the smell of the gear and the ice.
The problem isn't the nausea in the pit of his stomach. It's the way his heart is already beating faster, the way his skin tingles just a little. It's the treacherous voice in the back of his head already singing another game, one more game, just one more time, YES. Listening to that voice is dangerous. He learned that the hard way.
"Really only that?" Teemu says, probing as carefully as he can.
"That's not -- there's no 'only' here! That's a serious problem. Or do you want to look like you're lost out there?"
"You won't be lost. You watch the games, you know the game. You're natural. Shoot from the dots, go to the net," Teemu says.
Paul tries to push past his reaction to the whole idea, the sickness and the joy both. "But why? Why do you have to go so early? The full moon --"
"Right, not until 16th. But I have to be in court by then. Apparently it's not so easy to get there from where I can go in." Paul doesn't need to see Teemu to know that he's shrugging. "I wouldn't know, I was three when we left. But Riggs's source was pretty certain."
"No Elfland public transit system?"
"If there is, it wouldn't be for humans," Teemu says. "Elves are such snobs."
"You're an elf," Paul reminds him.
"No, I'm not," Teemu says, offended. "I'm human. I just have -- leftover elf parts."
Paul snorts. Other people have marital problems. Money problems. Hypertension. Self-doubt. Teemu Selanne's big midlife crisis: leftover elf parts.
Teemu's voice gets serious and sincere. "I don't want to disappoint people. They come to see the team, they should see me play."
"They won't," Paul points out. "They'll see me."
"You're the best part of me," Teemu says. And the hell of it is, Paul knows he means it. Teemu always has. It makes it hard on Paul, to feel this way and have Teemu feel that way and still -- but he wouldn't trade it.
Teemu plays his last game before the transfer on the 9th, in Nashville. Paul watches at home, sitting in his TV room, the lights on and a notepad next to him. He knows Teemu's game, but now he needs to know it inside and out, and he's been reviewing tape like he used to, watching every move, utterly focused. He's honestly surprised to find he still has this in him.
But he does. And even if he didn't, Teemu would draw all his attention. Teemu's playing so well, pulling out his best moves for the fans, and Paul's heart twinges a little. No one knows it, but Teemu is working hard to say goodbye, just in case. To give the fans a little more to remember, to leave a little more of himself on the ice.
When Teemu scores, Paul's heart races. He remembers that grin, that hug, he can almost feel it -- and then he remembers he'll have to do it all himself, and he goes back to focusing. "Pay attention, Paul," he says out loud in the empty room.
And he does.
The next day, Paul wakes up early. He'd been planning to sleep in, but he can't. Instead, he does a gentle workout, takes a thorough shower, shaves perfectly. If he's trading keys with Teemu, he's going to make sure he's loaning out the best body he can.
He winces, thinking that, and almost cuts himself shaving. Trust might be the most important thing to Teemu, but he's probably underestimating the problems. Teemu, with his fast-healing, stupidly healthy body, has never experienced anything quite as beat up as Paul is. Paul knows it takes time to learn how to live in a body like his. Paul's learned to be careful, and Teemu's never really had to be careful about anything.
Well, that's why they're going to practice. Part of the reason, anyway. Paul checks himself over one more time, but he's as ready as he's going to get. He pulls out the packing list and fills his hiking backpack; Teemu's going to need his clothes, here and in Elfland, and a comfortable way to carry them. He puts in pants, shirts, a sweater, a jacket, underwear, and shoes, and balls up three pairs of socks to tuck in there (wool, silk, cotton). He adds in his toiletries kit, jeans and a t-shirt, and some sleep and workout clothes, for Teemu to wear before he goes. He checks the list again and adds a book, then another book. He puts in a new toothbrush, in case he needs it. He takes it out again.
Paul knows he's just putting it off, and he shouldn't do this. Letting himself get all wound up is counterproductive. And potentially dangerous. He forces his shoulders to relax and takes a deep breath. Then he locks up his house, leaves a note for his housekeeper, and gets in his car and drives to Teemu and Sirpa's place. He gets there at ten on the dot.
Teemu hugs him; he doesn't look worried, but that's fine; Paul has always done the worrying for both of them. "Sirpa's setting up in back," Teemu says. Paul raises his eyebrows at that -- somehow elven magic seems like an indoor thing -- and Teemu shrugs. "Spells that go wrong can get smoky. Better to do it outside, just in case."
"Wait. The spell can go wrong?" Paul's mind is suddenly full of horrible thoughts -- of him and Teemu stuck in some hideous limbo, watching helplessly as their bodies lurch around like zombies, of parts of their bodies falling off, of them disintegrating into piles of --
"Paul. Not like that," Teemu says, grabbing his shoulders and shaking just a little, enough to break up what Teemu always calls the Parade of Paultastrophe. "If it goes wrong, nothing happens except sometimes things catch fire." He pauses, apparently thinking back, and adds, "Or explode. Or one time there was flooding. But only one time! Very tiny flood, hardly serious at all."
"I have to know," Paul says, looking directly into Teemu's eyes, "are all elves like you? Because if so, Elfland must be a disaster zone."
"Elves are boring," Teemu says. "Elves are nothing like me."
Paul can believe that. Teemu is Teemu: unique in any setting.
In the backyard, Sirpa is setting stuff up around a grill -- not the one built in to their outdoor kitchen that Paul has seen Teemu use only a handful of disastrous times, but a cheap round-top red one that is obviously new. The interior is pristine, free of charcoal and ash, with a handful of leaves neatly arranged at the bottom. Sirpa carefully cuts two twigs into small pieces and adds them to the pile in the grill, then turns to a book she has open on a chair nearby. She reads something from it, muttering under her breath in some language Paul doesn't speak.
"Sirpa stayed in Elfland lots longer than me," Teemu explains. "She can read the language some, do magic, even."
Paul lost the ability to be surprised by anyone in this family years ago. Teemu could tell him Sirpa transforms into a bird sometimes and he'd just nod.
Teemu gestures to one of the lawn chairs and Paul takes a seat. Teemu heads back into the house and comes out with a wine bottle and two glasses. Paul eyes them. "Will this interact with the spell?" he asks, refusing to feel ridiculous about it. It is an entirely reasonable question in the circumstances; it's just that the circumstances are weird.
Teemu shrugs. "Never has before." He pours a healthy glass for Paul. "You'll like this one."
Paul takes a sip, and Teemu's right, he does. But he doesn't plan on finishing the glass; he doesn't want to hand his body over even a little bit more impaired than he has to. Teemu's going to need it to work, after all.
Teemu's going to need his body. In Elfland. Paul snorts, can't help it, and Teemu looks over, eyebrows raised, face ready to smile. "What?" he asks.
Paul gestures at the grill, at Sirpa, at Teemu, at himself, and then just shakes his head, and Teemu laughs -- genuinely, sincerely, like he always seems to. Paul joins in. After a few moments, he manages to get control of his voice enough to say, "Seriously, Teemu, this is ridiculous." And then he loses it again.
When he's done laughing, Sirpa is standing over them, a hand pressed to her mouth, eyes soft.
"See?" Teemu says. "This is why I love him."
"I know," she says. "Come on, let's do this. If we have to do it fifteen times to get it right, I don't want to end up going to bed at three."
In the end, it's pretty anticlimactic, this elf body transfer magic spell. Sirpa has them push their chairs closer together, so that Paul and Teemu can comfortably hold hands. Then she holds her hands over the grill, palms down, and says what sounds like poetry, in a language that is definitely not English or Finnish. After a few seconds, there's a loud whump, and Paul feels suddenly, profoundly sick. He tries to drop Teemu's hand, but he can't let go, and then he can't figure out which end is up, and he squeezes his eyes tight trying to make the world make sense again. He's breathing harshly through his nose, and he tries to calm it down some, slow his heart, but it's not working. Someone retches.
"It worked," Paul hears someone say. Not Sirpa. Not -- Teemu?
He pries his eyes open, and he's looking in a mirror, except he's not. But that is definitely his body, his face -- his face when he's about to puke, actually. Paul winces, and Teemu-in-Paul's body leans over the other side of the chair and vomits on the flagstones.
"Ugh," Teemu says. Then he shrugs. "Well, it worked!" And Paul's face breaks out into a happy grin. "Thanks for the loan," he tells Paul seriously. "I'll bring it back at good shape."
"I got the better deal," Paul says, looking down at himself. At Teemu's body.
Teemu's smile gets bigger. "Feel free to take advantage," he says.
Sirpa comes back; Paul didn't even notice her going, too distracted by the strangeness of looking at his own face sitting across from him. She hands them both glasses of water, and Teemu a wet cloth. Paul takes a careful sip, and then he almost drops the glass, because he never knew water had a taste, but it does, and now it tastes different, just noticeably enough to make Paul freeze up. And once he starts noticing, there are so many differences that he can't take them all in. There's a bruise on his ass, probably from falling on the ice, even though he hasn't skated in three years. The colors all look just a little off, a little changed from a minute ago. His neck -- he's been telling doctors it doesn't hurt for years, and he thought he was telling the truth, but he was wrong. This is real absence of pain, and it almost feels like his neck is missing.
He feels his heart rate pick up and tries to stop thinking about it, stop noticing. That gets markedly easier when Teemu stands up and immediately falls sideways back into his chair.
The next twenty minutes leave Sirpa helpless with laughter and Paul and Teemu just kind of helpless. It's hard to stand, and then it's hard to walk, and nothing is where either of them expects it to be. Paul keeps almost falling and he can't keep his balance and he feels like the world shrank a little. Teemu is reeling like he's drunk. He's also reeling from laughter, which isn't helping.
"Hey," Teemu chokes out at Sirpa. "This is not easy! You try it someday. Everything feels different. I'm over there and I'm over here and the ground is too close and my balance --" and he trips again and catches himself on the garden wall, laughing too hard to finish speaking.
Sirpa wipes her eyes and looks over at Paul, who is trying not to smile, but Teemu's face just seems to want to. "I'm worried he'll strain something," he tells Sirpa. "My body's not used to laughing like that." It was supposed to be a joke, but she actually stops laughing for a minute. Then Paul tries to walk again -- he's pretty sure this is what newborn lambs feel like, all, what are these leg things? and how do they work? -- and she's right back to it.
Eventually, they figure it out. It takes concentration to walk, which is weird, but first Paul gets it and then, maybe a minute later, Teemu does. It feels almost like dancing.
Almost like moving right after a bad head hit, when your body doesn't work right anymore, but Paul's not sharing that insight.
They walk carefully into the house and up the stairs, Sirpa going last to spot them even though they both point out that she shouldn't try to catch them if they fall.
They don't fall. At the top of the stairs, Paul automatically turns right, heading for the guest room, and then pauses. "Uh --" he says, because he's in Teemu's body. And if Teemu goes to sleep with Sirpa, and Veera wakes up in the night and goes in there, what she'll see is Paul's body.
Sirpa and Teemu get it, too. "You both sleep in the guest room," Sirpa says quietly; Veera's a notoriously light sleeper. Paul isn't sure how that will help, but Teemu nods and follows Paul to the other end of the hall.
Once the door's closed Paul says, "Uh, but -- the kids will notice?"
Teemu shrugs. "Sometimes when I'm too bruised I'll sleep down here so Sirpa doesn't wake me up in the night. And I'm gone lots. If Veera goes into our room, she won't be that surprised." He makes a face. "Okay if I have first shower? I still feel disgusting from puking."
Paul nods and Teemu heads into the guest bathroom. After a few seconds, Paul realizes that Teemu's going to be in there washing Paul's body, and his heart rate picks up. He automatically takes a deep, calming breath -- no, he is not getting turned on right before he shares a bed with Teemu -- and. It doesn't work. His standard relaxation and calming pattern -- breathe, count, breathe, count -- doesn't have any effect on his blood pressure or his pulse at all.
Wearing Teemu's body is going to be weirder than Paul thought.
But now he's antsy, and Teemu's in the shower, and Paul doesn't want to think about that anymore, so he heads downstairs for the backpack he brought with him. He's back in the guest room and reaching into it before he remembers: these clothes won't fit this body. He carefully picks out sleep shorts and a t-shirt -- and if he'd known he'd be sleeping with Teemu while he wore these clothes, he'd have packed sweatpants instead -- and leaves them neatly folded on the bed, right where Teemu will see them when he comes out of the shower. Then he heads down the hallway to Sirpa and Teemu's room.
The door is open, but he knocks softly on it anyway, and Sirpa calls, "Come in."
Paul walks in. Sirpa's brushing her hair in front of the vanity, wearing an old t-shirt that obviously once belonged to Teemu and nothing else. Paul finds his eyes catching in places they normally wouldn't -- on her breasts, where he can see her nipples through the thin fabric, he realizes, and then his eyes drop helplessly to her thighs, and then he wants to punch himself.
"Sorry," he says, hoping that covers both the intrusion and the inappropriate staring. "I need some of Teemu's pajamas." If he were in his own body, he'd know for sure that his face was flushed, but Teemu almost never blushes out of embarrassment, and Paul's never known if that's because he's so rarely embarrassed or because his body just isn't wired that way.
Sirpa smiles at him. She gets up and crosses to the dresser, and Paul watches her body move so gracefully, and she's so beautiful, and it's like this fucking body is programmed to find her attractive -- which, yeah, of course it is. Paul just didn't know that Teemu's attractions would transfer along with his dick.
Paul needs to stop thinking about that.
Sirpa comes over and hands him a worn pair of boxers. "That's all he sleeps in," she says. "I can find you a t-shirt if you want, though."
Paul hesitates for a second, then shakes his head. If the kids see him, they should see him the way Teemu always looks.
"Goodnight," she says, and moves towards him, then pulls back. She laughs. "I know you're Paul but I see you and I still expect the goodnight kiss. This is so strange."
"It is," Paul says, really meaning it, and escapes down the hallway.
Teemu, like all hockey players, showers fast, and he's sitting on the bed, wearing just the shorts Paul put out for him. "Where did you go?"
Paul holds up Teemu's boxers. "Next time, you go," he says, and he's so off balance from the night that he says more than he means to. "I think you loaned me more than you meant to."
Teemu raises his eyebrows, already smiling. "What?"
"I -- uh," and now it's awkward and Paul wishes he hadn't said anything. "Sirpa," he finally says.
Teemu laughs. "She's very lovely," he says. "It's only sense to think she's hot."
"I'm gay," Paul says, more firmly than he meant to. It's just -- it's unnerving, it's weird. Not attracted to women has been a thing Paul's known about himself for close to thirty years.
"So now you can see how the other half lives," Teemu says enthusiastically, and then he blinks and looks worried. "Does this mean I'm not into my own wife anymore?"
"I doubt it," Paul says, without really thinking that part through.
Teemu looks over. "How you know?"
And, well, that's difficult. Paul knows because he's still attracted to Teemu, to his body -- the one Paul is currently wearing -- and to his personality -- currently sitting over there in Paul's familiar, unattractive body. He groans. "This is way too complicated." He doesn't want to say out loud, I know because I still want you. Teemu's known about Paul's thing for him since the day they met, and he's never had a problem with it, but Paul -- Paul has enough dignity not to want to talk about it. Instead he says, "I think some attraction is up here," and he gestures at his head, "and some is down there. You should still have the head part of what you feel for Sirpa."
Teemu thinks about this, closes his eyes and really focuses for about a minute. Then he opens them up; his face is softer, a little flushed. "You're right," he says, and his voice is a little rougher, and also relieved. "There are some things I wouldn't feel like me if I didn't have them," he says, and his eyes are warm and Paul -- Paul enjoys it. More than he should.
"Some things don't change," Paul agrees.
Teemu nods. Then he looks over at the clock and makes a face. "We have to sleep," he says.
Paul's exhausted, actually; he feels like someone put a tap in him and drained all his energy out. He decides not to shower; he just brushes and flosses his -- Teemu's -- teeth, and that takes more effort than he expected. Everything's just different enough that he has to concentrate, and that basically consumes the last ounce of energy he's got, even in Teemu's body. Paul heads straight for bed.
"Goodnight," he says before he turns out the light.
"Night," Teemu says softly, a warm presence Paul can sense on the other side of the bed.
It's comforting, and Paul's so tired. He's out in seconds.
The next morning, Paul wakes up slowly, comfortably. He's in the guest room at Teemu's house and for some reason he slept in. Then he stretches and his whole body feels wrong and he remembers: Teemu. Elfland. Body transfer.
He checks the time: 8:00. Will the kids be gone yet? He wonders if he should hide in the guest room until they're definitely gone. But Teemu is out there, in Paul's body, presumably trying to pretend like he doesn't know his own kids that well, and that's it, Paul's getting up. Teemu thoughtfully left him some Teemu-sized clothes on the chest at the end of the bed, so Paul can even appear downstairs reasonably dressed, although he's going to give Teemu shit about buying Lululemon forever. The man is in his forties. He needs to learn to dress with dignity.
He brushes his teeth and heads downstairs to controlled chaos. Sirpa is having an argument with Leevi, something about homework and Minecraft. The older boys are gone. Teemu is sitting at the counter with a mug of coffee, looking half-dead. Paul winces, goes over, and grabs it.
"Hey," Teemu says, offended, but he'll thank Paul later. Paul's body isn't used to caffeine anymore.
Leevi breaks into his argument with Sirpa. "Faija," he says, followed by a few very aggrieved-sounding words in Finnish. Then his eyes widen and he looks between Teemu and Paul. He looks cautiously at Veera, who is toying with some kind of brightly-colored cereal, and then he mouths carefully at Paul, did it work?
Paul nods. He's surprised, but of course it makes sense; the boys are old enough to know, and they'd certainly notice something was weird. Of course Teemu and Sirpa told them.
"Leevi," Sirpa says, adding something else Paul can't understand. She's gesturing at the front of the house, though.
Leevi's apparently forgotten the whole Minecraft thing. He grabs a piece of toast from the table, shoves it into his mouth, and picks up his bag. Then he waves goodbye, hesitating next to Teemu for a second, until Teemu looks up and smiles at him. "Have a good day," he says. "I'll still be here when you get home."
That's obviously what Leevi wanted to know. He yells, "BYE!" and bolts for the front door.
Fifteen minutes later, Sirpa chivvies Veera out, and then they're alone.
"Her day to drive Veera's carpool," Teemu said. "We thought not to change it."
Paul nods. "The boys know?"
Teemu shrugs. "We had to tell them. We weren't sure about Veera, but we didn't say anything in the end. She doesn't know about the elf thing yet."
Paul blinks at him. "You didn't tell her she's part elf?"
"We wait until they turn eight. Otherwise we worry maybe they think everything they read in books and see on TV is real."
It makes a certain amount of sense. Paul nods. He takes a sip of the coffee he stole from Teemu without really thinking about it, and it's good, holy shit. Teemu's taste buds like this way more than he does these days. Or maybe it's that Teemu's body doesn't remember the month where he threw up every time he even smelled coffee. Whichever. It's a chance to enjoy coffee the way it used to be, and Paul takes another sip, savoring the warmth, the bite, the smooth, almost nutty taste.
"Anyway. Thing is, boys will help you if you have problems being me."
Paul sighs. "I'm less worried about your kids and more worried about your team," he says.
Teemu looks up from mournfully watching Paul drink his coffee. "No," he says emphatically. "Paul, no. If I -- if there is problems, team matters, of course it does. Fans matter. But take care of the kids first. Kids and Sirpa matter most."
"I thought --" Paul hesitates. He hasn't really been thinking about it, because it doesn't bear close thought. But of course there is the chance Teemu will run into trouble in Elfland. He hasn't made it sound particularly welcoming or fair.
If Teemu doesn't come back, Paul will be in this body for the rest of its life. If Teemu doesn't come back, Paul will be Teemu.
Shit. That's an absolutely impossible task.
Paul takes a deep breath. It's too late to back out now, and this is still the best of the options. "I swear," he says. "You're going to be fine, you always are, but if something goes wrong I promise I'll be here for the kids and Sirpa."
Teemu nods. "I know," he says. "See why it's you? Who else could I trust with them?"
Paul knows Teemu will be fine. Teemu's always fine.
And if not, well, Paul will just have to do the impossible.
They tote their gear bags to the car; for the first time ever, Paul's carrying a Ducks bag, filled with Ducks gear, because the Mighty Ducks are no more. It's a weird feeling. Skating before practice isn't ideal, but they don't have a choice, so they drive to Anaheim Ice early.
Since this drive is one of the few times Paul can guarantee he'll be alone with Teemu, he takes a deep breath and makes himself say it. "There are a few things you should know about -- uh, about my body."
"Okay," Teemu says.
"Try not to -- if you get too stressed, you might get a headache, and the headaches can be really bad. Try to make yourself calm down."
"I don't think it'll be a problem," Teemu says, unconcerned, and that's exactly the problem.
"Teemu. You don't get stressed, I know, but right now you're in my body, and I do." Paul considers trying to teach him all the techniques he's learned, every little trick he knows, but it's hopeless. Instead, he says, "If you feel tightness in your scalp or any serious pain in your neck, try to get somewhere dark. Keep your eyes closed. Take deep breaths. If you can do that right away, it probably won't get bad."
Paul has to keep his eyes on the road, so he can't see Teemu's response to this, which is actually an advantage. Teemu's one of the only people he knows who has never treated him like a tragedy, and he'd hate to see pity on Teemu's face now.
Teemu reaches over and puts his hand on Paul's thigh. "This leg, watch out for it," he says. "It never came all the way back from the skate cut. Try to take everything you can with the other leg."
Paul nods. "For me, it's the other ankle, so it'll be tough. I'll do my best."
Teemu sits back in his seat. "I know you will," he says. "I will, too."
A few minutes later, they're at the rink.
As soon as they enter, Paul is the focus of attention, and it's about ten minutes before he can join Teemu on the rink they rented. Which is next to the one where Paul will be practicing with the Ducks later on.
Teemu is in the bench area, leaning on the boards. He's blinking at the ice, and his eyes are squinting like -- well, like the light reflecting off the ice is making them hurt, which is actually what is happening. Shit. Paul skates over, focused enough on Teemu that he doesn’t even register the transition to skating or his first step on the ice in years. "Headache?" he asks, putting his gloves and stick down on the boards next to Teemu.
"No, just," and Teemu rubs his temples, giving lie to the word, "eyes feel weird."
"Yeah. Try to relax, it'll help." Teemu makes a face. Right, of course, Teemu doesn't know how to make himself relax. But that should be okay; Paul's body knows what to do. He puts his hand over Teemu's eyes, to block the light, and Teemu lets him. "Take a deep breath," Paul says. "Slow, deep breath." He counts the four beats of the inhale for Teemu. "Now hold it for four," Paul says, and counts that out, and the exhale, too. He goes through four cycles -- Paul's always liked the number -- and then says, "Try to feel the muscles in your back and neck, relax them." He traces his hand down the muscles Teemu needs to relax, and Teemu, as always, pushes a little into the touch.
"That part's not hard," Teemu says, and they go through another cycle of breathing. "Hey," Teemu says, surprised. "This works."
"You're benefitting from my decade of practice," Paul tells him. "You can thank me whenever."
"How about you thank me after you benefit from my legs?" Teemu says, smiling up at him, and Paul laughs without meaning to.
They only skate for about half an hour, and most of the time Teemu is quietly talking Paul through things he'll need to know, do, say. Then Teemu says, "Uh-oh. Saku's here."
Paul looks up, and, yeah, Saku Koivu is watching them from the end of the rink, near the net. He's already dressed for practice; he must have come to the rink a little early. This is a problem. "I don't speak Finnish," Paul points out tensely. He can understand a little, but trying to speak any is a sure way to make Teemu laugh until he's dizzy. He's not going to fool a native speaker.
"We stay English during practices and games," Teemu says. "Should be okay." He claps Paul on the back and says, "One more time!"
Once they're done, they head off the ice, and Koivu's waiting by the door. Paul sticks close to Teemu; the presence of an English speaker should prevent any Finnish conversation, at least.
But Koivu, it turns out, is not waiting to talk to Teemu. Instead he says quietly, to Teemu-in-Paul's-body, "Good to see you out there."
"Thanks," Teemu says, glancing over at Paul like he wants to say something. He doesn't do a bad job of sounding like Paul; maybe the body helps with the accent. Koivu nods, shoulderbumps Teemu, and says to Paul, "See you at skate." Then he walks off, obviously giving them some time alone. Koivu crosses the hall to the other rink, and Paul can see a couple of other guys in Ducks practice gear down there. Koivu says something to them, and they all walk off together.
"See?" Teemu says quietly to Paul. "Isn't just me." That's been one of his arguments all along -- that it would mean so much to Teemu to see Paul at his last game, yes, but also that it would mean so much to other players. Paul cannot imagine why they'd care, why Saku Koivu, who never shared a locker room with Paul, would want to see him back on the ice. But maybe Teemu's right.
Maybe it does mean something to them.
Practice is hell. Paul thought the problem would be the drills, the skills, but that's not it; the actual practice part of the practice goes fine. It's the rest of the team. They all want to ask Paul about what it means that Kariya was out there skating with him, if he's better, how he's doing, if this means he's coming to a game soon. Paul wants to tell them it's none of their business, but Teemu would never do that, so he can't. Instead, he shrugs. "Up to Paul," he says, over and over. And, once, because Teemu would, "I hope so."
"He's doing good, right? He's skating," says Etem, who is a child; he had to have been about ten the last time Paul played for the Ducks, and it seems beyond the realm of the possible that he would care. He looks so hopeful, though.
Paul envies the hell out of this kid, but he still doesn’t have the heart to disappoint him. He's too young to really understand that hockey endings aren't always fair, and that not everyone gets a comeback story. In the end, Paul just smiles at him. "Maybe so," he says.
Etem grins hugely at him, clearly delighted, and slaps him hard on the shoulder. "Keep up, old man," he yells, and skates away.
Paul's doing a pretty good job of imitating Teemu's accent, he thinks. He's proud of that. And he's doing a better job of imitating Teemu's moves on the ice, except it doesn't feel like imitation, exactly; it's like the hockey part of his mind is hooking up with Teemu's hockey instincts so that they're working together, a seamless, one-body Paul-and-Teemu team. It feels good. It feels great. It feels like playing with Teemu used to on their best days.
Paul pushes himself hard enough in the skate to be legitimately breathless for most of it, which helps keep the conversation to an almost bearable level.
And the level of focus it all requires -- faking it through the unfamiliar practice, doing moves he hasn't in a while, dealing with Teemu's teammates, remembering his accent -- keeps Paul from reacting to being on the ice again, being in a team again. Except it's more like it keeps the reaction at bay -- he can feel it building up. He's tense. His eyes feel full. He simultaneously wants to hug and punch all the guys out there. By the end of the practice, it's hard to stay focused.
Afterwards, he hustles through the shower and changing, and all anyone says is Getzlaf's knowing, "Kariya's waiting, huh?"
Yes, Teemu is waiting for him, but that's not why Paul needs to get the fuck out of here.
Teemu's in the car, like they agreed, and Paul climbs in and leans on the steering wheel for a minute, just breathing, but of course Teemu's body doesn't respond to that, and Paul's brain can't stop thinking that he's overstimulated, this is dangerous, he's going to get a headache. His focus is shot. "Maybe you should drive," he finally says, and they switch sides.
"You did good," Teemu says, halfway through the ride home.
"I --" but what the hell can Paul say? He liked it, he hated it, he'd go back to playing in a second if he could? He loved the backslaps from the guys when he scored on Andersen, he loved the way the ice smelled? That it's the first time in years he's been able to look at the ice and not worry about a headache? That he knows none of this is his to keep? He can't say all of it, so he doesn't say any of it.
Teemu keeps on talking, though, changing the subject so smoothly it's like they've been talking about something else all along. "Your body doesn't like french fries. How can you really not like french fries?" He sounds sad, like he's learned something terrible about the world.
"They're greasy," Paul says, feeling his nose wrinkle. "They taste like salt and oil."
"Salt and oil are good things to taste," Teemu says, offended.
"I forget, are you forty or fourteen?"
Ten minutes later, they're back at Teemu's house, and the argument has progressed to Teemu's crime of attempting to eat french fries with Paul's taste buds. "I had to know if you lying all these years about not liking," Teemu protests. "Very important! Otherwise curiosity could kill me!" Paul's smiling helplessly as they walk in.
He'd like to think he's smiling so much because he's in Teemu's body, but the thing is, he's always like this when Teemu's around.
They eat lunch. Paul takes Teemu's nap, and Teemu tries to nap and complains bitterly about how Paul's body doesn't want to sleep in the middle of the day. By the time Paul's been awake for thirty minutes, there's a clock ticking in his head.
Teemu has to leave today.
Sirpa comes back from Pilates and picking up Veera, and Leevi's car pool drops him off shortly thereafter. Paul finds himself in the kitchen, assembling snacks according to Sirpa's directions, while she packs non-perishable food into Ziploc baggies. Apparently it's better that Teemu not eat too much food in Elfland.
"Your body has to stay human," Sirpa says.
Paul blinks at her. "I am human," he points out carefully. "My parents are human, my entire family tree: all human."
Sirpa sighs. "I'm mostly human, but not enough to understand this obsession with blood and sperm," she says. "You -- look. You're Canadian."
"But you live here now. You did for a long time. Aren't you kind of Southern Californian, too? Aren't my kids, even though they're Finnish?"
Paul thinks about it -- thinks about surfing, about his secret belief that good avocados are one of his fundamental rights as a human being, about the way he calls freeways things like "the 405" and "the 22." Those things didn't come from Canada with him. "Your kids probably a little more than me, I guess. But I'm still mostly Canadian, and they're still -- at least half Finnish."
"Well, you can be born from all humans, but if you spend long enough in Elfland, you might end up some parts elf." She shrugs. "My mother told me you have to spend seven years there, but Riggs thinks it's more about the law of contagion. So Teemu's going to be careful not to eat food there if he can help it."
"Or drink the water?" Paul says. He had no idea he might end up with leftover elf parts from this.
"Or drink the water," Sirpa agrees. "I guess I just pack water bottles. I couldn't find anti-elf water tablets at the camping store." She snorts.
Paul nods and brings the snacks out to where Teemu's hanging out with the kids. He's got Veera in his lap, her head on his shoulder, and Leevi is sitting next to him, explaining something apparently complicated about Pokemon. Paul delivers the food -- peanut butter and apples for Veera, two almond butter sandwiches for Leevi, and a protein shake for Teemu -- and tries to leave again before remembering that as far as Veera knows, he is her father. So he sits next to Teemu on the couch.
"Isi!" Veera says, and abandons Teemu's lap for Paul's. Teemu covers for it well, but Paul knows his own face; he knows how much that hurt. Veera's Teemu's girl, always has been. She's never preferred anyone else's lap before.
"Veera," Paul says, keeping his accent as close to Teemu's as he can. "Tell Paul and me about your day." She does, going immediately into a long and basically incomprehensible story about what Owen and Isis said to Parson, and he puts her in between him and Teemu on the couch. Over Veera's head, Teemu turns and smiles at Paul, then leans against Veera a little so she's pressed against both of them. It feels. It feels nice.
"Paul, you're squishing me," Veera says.
Teemu grins at her. "Maybe I squish you flat," he says, and pretends to flop down dramatically on her. Veera squeals in glee and starts giggling, her limbs flailing in all directions.
Five minutes later, Teemu's lying on his back, his head on Paul's thigh, Veera perched on his chest and shrieking with triumph. "I win!" she shouts, and then, to Paul, "Isi, I win! I beat Paul! I'm king!"
Paul reaches over and messes up her hair. "Yes, Vekkuli, you did." He uses one of the two pet names he's heard Teemu call her, and he must do okay with it. She and Teemu have expressions of happiness and triumph that are worryingly identical, given that Teemu's current body is not related to Veera's.
Veera goes back to talking, this time about My Little Pony, and Teemu settles in comfortably, still with his head on Paul. When Paul glances down at him, it's clear he's happy, his face soft as he listens to Veera.
An hour later, Eetu comes home, slamming the door and making several loud thunking noises on his way in. He pokes his head in to the family room. He looks at Paul, then at Teemu, then back at Paul. "When's Dad leaving?" he mouths.
Paul looks at the clock -- already almost five, holy shit -- and holds up four fingers. They agreed Teemu would leave after Veera was safely in bed.
Eetu nods and leaves again. When Paul looks over, Teemu's watching him go.
Dinner is painful; it feels both drawn out and too short. Paul has to make a conscious effort to eat in-season amounts of food. After, he finds himself intimately involved in the bedtime ritual, and he can't get anything right. He doesn't know where the pajamas are, or how many books Veera is allowed, or that she gets a small bottle of water on her bedside table that she brings herself from the upstairs refrigerator. At one point, he's got a toothbrush in his hand and Veera on the bathroom stool and she's saying something in Finnish that's he's pretty sure is "Not like that!" and Paul is for the first time grateful that he never had kids, since he clearly sucks at it. A minute later, Sirpa bustles in and takes over, and Paul feels utterly useless.
After Sirpa's done with the hygiene, Paul hugs Veera goodnight and turns out the lights, and then, when Veera protests, Sirpa turns the lights back on, closes the closet door, and turns them out again.
Eventually they're done. "Sorry," Paul whispers to Sirpa. "I'd be more useful if I wasn't actually here."
Sirpa just gives him a half-smile. "You did about as well as Teemu ever does," she says, and Paul laughs. He can't help it. There is something Teemu is bad at: bedtime routines. This is knowledge he's glad to have.
They head downstairs, where Teemu is sitting with Eemil, Eetu, and Leevi. They're all talking in Finnish, quietly and intently, and Paul just kind of hovers in the doorway while Sirpa heads in. She listens, head tilted, mouth tense, and Paul feels a strange urge to go over and wrap his arms around her from behind. It's visceral, a need he can feel in his whole body, and he knows precisely what it would be like.
That can't be all muscle memory and body reflexes, can it? Or is that much of Teemu really rooted in his body, left there for Paul to feel?
Paul stays where he is, wishing desperately that there was an elf magic wiki he could look stuff up on, while Sirpa says something to all four Selanne guys. Eetu and Leevi make protesting noises; Eemil just nods once. Teemu hugs each one of them goodbye, fiercely and intensely, and then they head for the stairs. Leevi stops and looks back once; the older boys don't.
"I told them they can't watch the magic," Sirpa explains. "We don't want them to get more elvish."
Teemu gets up from the couch. Paul can tell he's feeling the day's exercise a little; surfing is great, but it doesn't work your body like skating does. But he still looks energetic, ready to go the way he always is, and for the first time Paul wonders how much of that is his superior body and how much is his will alone. "Okay!" Teemu says. "Let's do this."
"I'll get your stuff," Paul says, and leaves; he knows Teemu and Sirpa will want to say goodbye. He brings it all out to the back yard and arranges it neatly near the red grill.
Fifteen minutes later, Teemu and Sirpa follow him out. They're walking arm in arm, and it's like looking into a different universe, one where Paul wasn't gay. Teemu and Sirpa look so good together, so comfortable, even with Paul's body there instead of Teemu's, and Paul feels a weird rush of emotion -- jealous and envious, sad, and some part of him desperately wants to hug them both.
Underneath it all, there's a thrum of arousal. In an attempt to distract himself from these stupid feelings, Paul thinks that right at this moment his ideal porn would probably be watching Teemu and Sirpa have sex, and that sends a jolt of heat through his entire body.
Shit, he thinks, and forces himself to stare at the red grill.
Before long -- before Paul is even close to ready -- Teemu is there in front of him, holding out his arms, and Paul goes into them, adjusting some for height. "Take good care of them. Take good care of you. I'm back soon," he says. Behind him, Sirpa is checking through her book.
Paul closes his eyes and leans into the hug, and for a second it just feels normal. He takes a deep breath and realizes that Teemu's doing the same, which makes him grin; they've always had a problem with doing the same thing at the same time. He remembers Cully yelling, "Jinx!" whenever they'd do something like that. That was a long time ago, though.
"Jinx," Teemu says, and Paul laughs.
"Okay," Teemu says. He turns to Sirpa. "I'm ready, I guess."
Sirpa is kneeling in an area that, the last time Paul looked, had a rosebush in it. Now it has soft dirt and a bunch of small flowering plants and twelve rocks arranged in a circle. "I think this is ready," she says, and stands up and dusts herself off.
Teemu picks up his backpack. "You should probably check that everything's there," Paul points out, and it's only partly that he wants to put this off a little. Paul and Sirpa packed that thing. They didn't even ask Teemu what he wanted. What if they forgot something?
"I know you two do better job than me anyway," Teemu says cheerfully, and shoulders it. "Although -- you pack rocks in here?"
"Water weighs a lot," Sirpa says.
Teemu turns to Sirpa and puts his hand on her shoulder, and she says, "If I cry, I can't do magic." She smiles, clearly forcing it. "Anyway, I know you be back."
"I'm coming back," Teemu promises.
Sirpa holds out her hands and starts chanting.
The air starts to look -- weird, and Paul takes an involuntary step back. A minute or so passes, and the rocks in the circle start to glow. Then the circle expands, with the light increasing so that Paul has to squint against it, and he can see -- something, something green and bright, right over the rocks. He hears bells and laughter. And then there's a flare, so bright it hurts, so strong it bleaches Paul's vision. When he's done blinking the tears out of his eyes, Teemu's gone.
Paul wakes up the next morning very conscious of the day's plan. Teemu has a game today. Paul has a game today -- in Anaheim, at Honda.
He hasn't walked through those doors since 2003. He was a different person then. But Teemu does this all the time. It's going to be fine.
He still feels a little sick when he drags himself from the guest bed and dresses in Teemu's shorts and t-shirt. When he gets downstairs, he's missed the chaos; all the kids are in school and Sirpa is sitting in the kitchen, carefully and precisely knitting something. The TV is on, showing something about -- witches? Paul can't even tell.
Sirpa puts down her knitting, gets up, and pours Paul a cup of coffee. "I don't --" he starts to say, and then remembers that right now he does. He takes a sip, surprised that even the temperature feels good, feels right.
Sirpa nods. "I have a protein shake for you, too. But you'd better start with coffee or you'll never get moving."
He finishes his coffee in the kitchen with Sirpa, both of them quiet. Then he grabs the protein shake -- Sirpa's already made it and has it ready to go in an insulated cup, and Paul says to her, "Teemu's not good enough for you."
She smiles at that. "No, but I love him anyway." Her face goes a little tight.
She walks him to the door. Paul stops there, waiting, and he'd just -- it would feel wrong to walk through that door without saying goodbye to her. Teemu's body doesn't want to. In the end, he says, cautiously, "Hug?" He holds his arms open the way Teemu sometimes does for him when he's cranky or hurting, to let him decide if he wants to touch or not.
Sirpa wants to. She presses herself into his arms, which fold around her like that's how they were always meant to be. She clings, holding onto Paul tight, and she says, "I know he's fine, he'll be fine, but --" and then she buries her face in Paul's shoulder for a minute. He holds on and strokes her hair. Eventually she takes a deep, shaky breath, then another steady one, and steps back.
Paul wants to say something, he should say something, but he doesn't know what. In the end, he goes with, "I'll be back after skate." And then he's out the door.
Driving to Honda from Teemu's house requires just enough concentration that Paul doesn’t have to think about the destination too much. Well, that and sorting through Teemu's genuinely awful music; Paul has his phone now, of course, and that means he's stuck with Teemu's hideous collection of Scandinavian metal, and he might have Teemu's ears, but that's not enough to make him like this crap. No power on earth -- or in Elfland -- could make him like this.
He keeps his mind on the music and the traffic until he gets off the freeway and Honda is there, big and lurking, with a new name but the same shape, the same everything. Paul drives into the players' parking area and sits there in his car for ten long breaths that don't calm Teemu's body down at all.
He can do this. He has to, so he can.
In the end, he lets instinct take over and get him inside. He walks in the door and it's like he has two sets of memories -- his own and Teemu's. At the same time, he's surprised by the new carpet and finds it comfortably familiar under his feet. He notes that the coffee machine is on the other side of the kitchen even as his hands move automatically to pour a cup. He walks through to the trainers' room, and he doesn't recognize the guy who greets him, but he still says, automatically, "Morning, Mike."
It's disorienting. It's hallucinatory. And it only gets worse. By the time he's on the ice, Paul is just grateful to be somewhere where his vision and instincts aren't doubled; on the ice, he and Teemu were always so compatible that it's like he's turned back into one person. He pays attention, he does the drills, he stays focused, he tries not to push it, to listen, to save some for the game tonight. He's pretty sure he's doing a good job, but halfway through skate Getzlaf stops in front of him. "You okay?" he asks.
"Yeah," Paul says, smiling at him. "Great. Just -- thinking."
"Kariya gonna come out again sometime?"
Paul hesitates for just a second, mentally tripping over the phrasing, but he doesn't think Getzlaf notices. "It's not up to me," he says. "I hope so."
Getzlaf nods. "Shit, I would have liked to see him yesterday. Can't fucking believe I missed it. Text me next time, you fucker. We all would have been there." And then he skates off.
By the end of the skate, Paul's tired -- not his body, which is holding up better than he'd expected, but his mind. Honda's too much, practice is too much, the team is too much. He drives home, bolts down his lunch, and collapses into bed for his nap.
Paul has a serious case of pregame nerves. It's familiar and it's not. He felt some version of this for most of his life, especially in season openers and playoff games, not to mention every game his first two NHL years. He remembers it winding him up, though, making him tense; he had whole pregame routines designed to soothe his brain enough that he could ride that edge between too tense to play well and too relaxed to give it his best.
Teemu's body does tension differently. Instead of turning the muscles of his shoulders to concrete and making him shake, Paul mostly feels -- excited. He can't sit still.
And he's horny. Paul is going to give Teemu so much shit about that when he comes back. Or -- maybe not, given the embarrassing details Teemu might know about him by now. He hadn't expected this whole body transfer thing to be quite this … intimate.
Then he realizes what he just thought and wants to hit himself. Good one, Paul, he thinks. You thought you could share your body with someone casually. This is why your relationships never work out.
Paul eats a pregame meal, then rattles around the house restlessly for an hour before Sirpa politely kicks him out. "Time for you to head over to Honda," she says firmly. "This is when Teemu always leaves."
Paul nods, kisses her cheek, and goes. It's not until he's halfway to Honda that he realizes he maybe shouldn't have kissed her like that.
Once he's parked in the lot, Paul starts to feel -- weird. Partly it's the doubled memory thing -- his hands know where things should be even while his head remembers them somewhere else -- but partly it's. He's lightheaded. He's shaky.
He's terrified and he's thrilled all at once, and this, this is the feeling that makes him love surfing. Except here it's multiplied by a thousand. He wonders if he was just habituated to this before, or if somehow the interaction between Teemu's body and his brain is making it worse.
He goes through game prep in kind of a hypersensitive daze and he knows the guys think he's being weird, but he can't stop. His brain has all it can handle. More.
He stays numb until they head out for warm-up. The first step out there feels like it takes ten minutes, like he's crossed the Grand Canyon on a rope bridge. He skated on this ice earlier, so it shouldn't feel like this, but it does. It's a Sunday game and LA crowds are always late, but even so, it's so loud. There's so many people here. It's so bright. He's on the ice and he doesn't even have a fucking helmet on. He has to fight with the instincts that tell him to get away, get away, this is a guaranteed headache, this is dangerous, and his heart is pounding way up past the cardio zone. In the end, he falls back on what he remembers Teemu doing so many times before, going through the motions, trying not to look like he's panicking. As soon as the first guy leaves the ice, he's gone.
He heads for the bathroom and spends a few minutes trying to breathe through it, even though he knows it won't help.
Although it seems to. Just a little. Huh.
He doesn't have time to think about that, though. As soon as he's pretty sure he's not going to give Teemu a heart attack, he heads back out and sits in his stall, mentally rehearsing the game plan.
Thank God he's not starting. He'll have a little time to get into it.
And he does, but it doesn't help that much. He feels like he's playing from a distance, like he's not quite in his own (well, Teemu's) body, and it shows. He's not any slower than Teemu is, but he's half a beat off all the time he's out there. It's not clicking, and it's fucking frustrating. Eventually, the frustration drives out some of the weird distanced feeling, but by then Boudreau is understandably cutting his ice time. To top matters off, it's a tight fucking game -- no score in the first, Cogliano scores for the Ducks in the second. By the third, Paul's on edge enough that he takes a stupid penalty for tripping.
It's not like anyone could forget the feeling of sitting in the box thinking please don't score, please don't score while your team kills your penalty. Paul sure hasn't. And the four years it's been since he last did this haven't made it any more fun. He's pissed off at himself, and the two minutes take an hour, and the fact that the Wings don't score only helps a little.
He leaves feeling like he let everyone down: the team, the coach, the fans. Teemu. It's frustrating as hell. He drives home and lets the horrible Scandinavian metal play as he tries to let it go.
Teemu's better at that. He always was.
He gets home -- back to Teemu and Sirpa's -- late, but there's a light on in the house. Sirpa, it turns out, is waiting up. She smiles at him tentatively. "You won."
"Cogliano won," Paul says, forcing himself to shut the door carefully. Children are asleep in this house, after all. "I was worse than useless out there. I've got to do better."
Sirpa nods, but not like she agrees. She hands him a mug of what turns out to be tea and pulls a plate out of the fridge. "The team won," she says. "That's what matters, right?"
Paul eats in irritable silence. He's never been good at being around people when he's mad at himself, and he really wishes Sirpa would go to bed and let him sulk in peace.
She doesn't, though. She sits across from him, quiet and calm, and watches him eat. When he's almost done, she says, "You played." Paul tries to point out that he played badly, but she holds up her hand to stop him. "You played. And Teemu would be the first to tell you that a lot of what he gives the team these days doesn't show on the box score. That's what it means to be playing at this age, whether you're Teemu Selanne or Paul Kariya."
Paul knows she's right. He just can't feel it yet. He's still too mad.
"Teemu told me you would do this," she says.
He can't make himself respond well to that, so he doesn't say anything at all.
"I DVR'd game for him."
He stares at her. "Why would Teemu want to see his own body playing badly?"
She stares back for a long, long beat before she says, gently, "He wants to see you playing." Paul breaks eye contact and looks down at his plate. "He cried when you retired," she says. "When you called to say it was over, you'd retire at the end of the year, he cried. On the phone with you, even. He tried be sure you didn't know."
"I didn't know," Paul says. He can remember that phone call, but it's like looking through fog; the memories he does have from that time are always hazy, dulled, weird. But he remembers how he was feeling then, because it's how he felt all the time: angry, depressed, volatile. Post-concussion, basically. And he thought his life was ending, that it was over. Losing hockey felt like dying.
But it wasn't actually like dying. It didn't turn out that way. And now, because Teemu Selanne is a giant freak in every single respect, from his playing longevity to his species, Paul has one more chance with hockey. Not a chance to play well, to get back to being the guy he'll never be again, but a chance to do what Teemu's doing this year. To say goodbye on his terms.
Paul realizes he spent the game chasing the wrong goal. He won't make that mistake on Wednesday. He'll fucking enjoy it, and he'll try to give Teemu something to watch on that DVR. That's what he can do. He feels the goal slot into place in his head, replacing the "be perfect" that is his default expectation for himself, and takes a deep breath.
Sirpa makes a relieved noise. "Okay, you look better," she says. She's right; his body is finally unwinding from the tension of the game.
"Still have at least a half-hour before I can sleep," he says ruefully.
Sirpa considers him with a clearly practiced eye. "An hour," she says. "But you aren't waking up with kids tomorrow. I am."
Paul stands up. "Goodnight," he says.
She walks over and wraps her arms around him, and his come up reflexively to close around her. She smells so good, he thinks, and she feels so good against him, soft and warm and sweet. He kisses the top of her head and she says, "Goodnight, Paul."
He's suddenly aware that he is really, really horny. The way he used to get after every game, but more, and he has to wonder if that's Teemu or that's just him not being used to it anymore. Either way, it's a good thing Sirpa is headed to bed. It's going to be quite a while before he can sleep.
Paul wakes up the next morning when it's nearly afternoon. He wakes up hard, which is not a typical feature of his life these days, either as Paul or as Teemu. He can feel the sheets moving over his body, and it feels really fucking good.
He's got his hand on his dick before he thinks about it. And then he jerks it away again, because that's not actually his dick. It takes a second to get the self-control to push himself out of bed and towards the shower, but he is not going to do that.
He made it through every single game day without getting off, for his whole career. And now he's almost forty -- and his body is actually forty-three. He can wait three more days until Teemu comes back and he can jerk off without feeling guilty about it.
The shower ends up being a lot colder than he'd like.
He heads downstairs afterwards, and Sirpa's there. She studies him, clearly still thinking about his mood last night. "How are you feeling?"
Paul considers it for a long moment before he answers. "Pretty good, actually."
She smiles at him, a big generous open smile, and says, "Good." She considers. "Normally, on off days at home, Teemu and I go out to lunch somewhere. You want to?"
"Actually, yeah." Before, when Paul and Sirpa spent time together, Teemu was there, and Teemu took up most of their mental space. But Paul always knew there was a lot to her. Now he's interested in finding out what that is.
Sirpa picks the restaurant and drives them to it; Paul relaxes in the passenger's seat. It's nothing like driving with Teemu; there's no moment when he has to surrender his fear of death. When they get there, he finds himself smiling; Sirpa picked a place with a gorgeous setting, nice modern décor, and outdoor seating. It's a perfect compromise between "romantic lunch with my husband" and "friendly lunch with one of my husband's good friends." Maybe being part elf gives her special skills with handling the weirdness of elf magic.
There's a wait for tables, but not for them.
Sirpa barely glances at the menu; she's clearly been here before. Paul considers it carefully. This is not the kind of place he'd normally go. Mostly, he eats at home, food he cooks or that his personal chef delivers. When he goes out with someone, he avoids places that might look date-like. Two men at a place like this -- well. He's probably got nothing to worry about. He's not news anymore. But he'd still never do it.
So it's nice to be able to do this now, safely, with Sirpa. It probably says something weird about all three of them that Paul going out with his friend's wife is the innocent option.
He picks his order, then remembers that he doesn't actually know his own taste buds that well right now. "I was thinking the snapper?" he says. It's protein, it sounds a little spicy, and the team nutritionists always push fish on everyone like they get a commission on every bite. It will be good for Teemu.
Sirpa nods approvingly. "You'll like it."
That settled, Paul sits back. The waiter swoops in as soon as he does and takes their order, and then there's the business of picking out wine. And then silence.
Paul is not the maker of conversation that Teemu is, unfortunately.
Teemu is clearly on Sirpa's mind, too. "I keep wondering where he is," she admits. "When he's traveling with the team, I always can picture it. I know the hotels, always the same, the cities."
"You don't know Elfland that well?"
She fiddles with her silverware. "I was nine when we left. Quite old, really. But my memories are -- it's hard to explain. It is like pushing against a curtain, to push my mind back there. I remember my family very well, events pretty okay, but the place itself --" she makes a gesture like she's pushing against something without a lot of give.
"Yeah," Paul says, agreeing without thinking about it, and then his face goes a little hot. That was a stupid thing to say. This is why he thinks before he speaks, damn it.
Sirpa studies him, surprised, and then she says, "The concussions are like that?"
"A little," he says, and now it's his turn to fiddle with the silverware. But he's too curious to be embarrassed for long. "What was it like, to leave there?" He mostly just wants to get her talking. Teemu always answered his questions with "I don't remember," which makes sense. But Sirpa does remember, at least some. Paul wants to know.
She considers. "Much like moving to US, except for adjustment sickness. Elfland is I guess a bit addictive, and when you leave, your body misses." One corner of her mouth tilts up. "I don't remember how we came across, but I remember adjustment sickness. Like food poisoning." She shudders.
Paul wonders if Teemu will be able to play when he gets back. And then he realizes no, the adjustment sickness will be his; Paul's body will have it, and Teemu will get back this one. Well, Paul's spent enough time vomiting that a little more for a good cause won't be a big deal.
Sirpa says, "Can I ask question? We can trade, maybe?"
"Sure," Paul says. There's nothing interesting in his life like Elfland, though.
"What was retiring like?" She must see something on Paul's face -- Teemu's face, rather, which she knows much better -- because she adds quickly, "I'm not asking just for fun. Teemu," and she sighs, "he's never known how. He's tried and he just. He can't not play. But soon he has to."
Paul thinks about it, swirling the wine around in his glass. "For me, it was like a terrible breakup," he finally says. "It hurt, and I was angry, and also I felt sick all the damn time. That didn't help. But. This is why I keep telling Teemu we'll play golf every week after he retires. You have to find your life on the other side. You have to find out who you are without hockey."
Sirpa shakes her head. "Teemu so completely clueless for that. He knows nothing of life without hockey." She rolls her eyes, and Paul laughs.
Their appetizers arrive -- artichokes and some biscuits Sirpa insisted on. Everything smells delicious, and for a few minutes they just eat. She was right; the biscuits were absolutely worth the wait, and Paul cannot get over how much he likes them. She watches him, smiling.
It's strange sharing appetizers like this with her. It's not something he would normally do with anyone, and it feels weird. He wonders if it does for her, or if this just seems almost like sharing a meal with her husband. Thinking that makes Paul realize that he came here to learn about Sirpa and got distracted into talking about Teemu. He tries to turn it around. "What about you? What about your life after hockey?"
She laughs. "I'm not making plans until I'm sure it is life after hockey. It never was yet." She takes a bite of artichoke. "But," she says, after carefully wiping her mouth, "I have plans. For if it is." She tilts her head and smiles at him. "Right now, I'm not saying." She looks a little amused, a little smug. Paul has no idea what that means.
"What do you do now?" He realizes that makes it sound like he thinks she does nothing all day. He knows that's not true. "I mean, do that's just for you."
Sirpa studies him for a long moment before she says, "I do Pilates. I play golf, I run." She hesitates. "I play piano. But mostly, my life is children. Now they're all in school, in some ways I'm retiring too, a little."
"You can play golf with Teemu every week, then," Paul says.
She gives him a flat, unimpressed look. "That is your job."
Paul holds his hands up in surrender. "I won't make you deal with retiring Teemu all by yourself," he promises.
"I hold you to that," she says. "I hold you to that."
The next day, Paul leaves early. Plenty of time to switch the music to the playlist he added to Teemu's phone last night. Plenty of time to get there and settle in. This is his last hockey game. The last one he will ever play. And he has the gift of knowing that this time around. He's going to do it right.
This time, he doesn't have the weird double vision thing walking into Honda, maybe because he already knows what it looks like in the here and now. It's almost familiar, like he belongs here.
He doesn't, though, that's the thing. This is all borrowed -- the team, the game, this body. It stings to think that, but it helps, too. He's here to say goodbye. He's going back to his real life tomorrow.
And the real Teemu will be back then. That's why he's doing this, that's what he's playing for. It helps to remember that, too.
Paul tries to soak in every minute of it, every sound and sight and smell. He actually enjoys Boudreau's pre-game talk; normally he's too tense by that time to listen closely. Or that used to be normal for him. None of this is normal for him now. So he listens. He mostly notices that NHL coaches have not lost any of their facility with the word "fuck."
He watches Perry go through his pre-game rituals with a sense of -- not exactly longing. He was that guy. He misses the hockey, but not the sense of terrible responsibility to get every single thing right, the sense that if he didn't, disaster would follow and it'd be all his fault. He envies Perry, but he doesn't envy the way Perry's feeling right now.
"Hey," Beleskey says, tapping him on the shin guard. "Dreaming about the old days again? With the horse-drawn carriages and the no passing across the blue lines?" Paul probably laughs too much at that, but right now he's Teemu, and Teemu's allowed to do that.
The team hits the ice for warm-up, and this time, Paul is paying attention. He really sees the clusters of fans waiting by the team entrances, the kids pressed up against the glass -- and he can remember when those kids waited for him; he can remember when he was one of those kids. He scans the crowds the same way Teemu does, and makes sure to toss a puck to every kid with a Finland sign.
He spots a guy holding up his kid at the glass; the kid's wearing a modern Getzlaf jersey, but the dad has an old Mighty Ducks one on, and when he turns around to say something to the guy behind him, Paul sees the 9 on it. Sees his name on it. It's -- he hadn't expected to see that. Hadn't expected any of the fans to still think well of him after all this time. He tosses that guy's kid a puck, too.
He skates around, warming up as carefully as he can, making sure to pay attention to the leg Teemu said might be a problem, though he doesn't notice a difference. He takes a couple of shots on net, just gentle ones, and stays out as long as he can, soaking up the edgy excitement. He knows this isn't Teemu's routine, but he figures it won't matter too much, this once. When he finally goes back in, only Perry's left out there.
Getzlaf holds up his fist for a bump as Paul heads back into the locker room. "Have a good game, eh?"
"I'm going to have a great game," Paul says, and he can tell the guys nearby are a little surprised, but he's not jinxing himself. It's true. Whatever happens, it's great that he's here, that he gets to play.
When he comes back out for puck drop, he feels amazing. His body is singing with the tension and the smell of the ice and the noise, and he's utterly focused on the game. He feels his mind narrow down until there's nothing in it but hockey, and it's been so long since he's felt like this, and it feels so good.
They get a power play towards the end of the first. They're already up one, and Paul feels in his gut that this game is theirs, but he's not going to let that make him stupid. When it's his turn to go out, he does exactly what he knows he should. He skates hard to the net, and he's there to redirect the shot in over Lack's shoulder.
The rush hits him stronger than it used to -- the triumph, the satisfaction, the rightness of doing what he was born to do. He knows he's beaming, knows he's radiating delight, but he can't help it, and Beleskey and Vatanen slam into him, wrap their arms around him and yell, and he loves this. He loves it.
He loved it.
The announcer says, "GOAL, by number eight: TEEMU SELANNE" and the crowd goes wild, cheering for Teemu's name the way Paul thinks they always should. It doesn't matter that it isn't Paul's name; this is still his game, his goal, and he'll remember it forever.
The rest of the game feels like a dream, and not just because the Ducks score like there's no one in net. Paul feels like his skin is humming, like his whole body is tuned to the game and the crowd and the team.
Lack gets pulled and the backup doesn't do much better. The Canucks get one, but the Ducks get four more, and it's 6-1 going into the third. And the third is a gongshow. The Canucks have decided to go down fighting, clearly, and they lose their minds out there. Paul feels like the hockey gods decided to give him the full run, show him the good, the bad, and the ugly, all in one game.
By the time he gets his second, Paul is past celebrating. He's almost embarrassed by it, by the largesse, by the way the Canucks are getting run around, by this whole stupid, beautiful game. But he closes it out with an assist in the final seconds, because the chance is there and he can't not take it. He was made to take chances like this, he thinks. These are the kinds of risks he was made for.
Three points. Paul can't stop grinning, all the way through the interviews, the shower, the food, everything.
He flies home up the 5, driving way too fast, his body still alive from the game. When he gets there, Sirpa's waiting, and this time she's beaming. "Crazy game, but you had fun," she says.
He throws his arms around her, can't help it, and squeezes her tightly. "I had the most fun," he says. "Not like those poor Canucks goalies, holy shit."
Sirpa hugs him back, a full-body hug, and says into his shoulder, "I'm glad you got this." She drops her hands down to his hips, then brings them back up to his upper back again, and he lets her go, but reluctantly. His body wants to keep on holding her. Or he does. It's hard to be sure which.
"Me, too," Paul says. "Me, too." He finds himself laughing without really meaning to. "This game, I'm watching with Teemu. I want to see his expression."
Sirpa's face does something strange. "He'd love that," she says. "He'd really, really love that."
Paul can imagine it now. For years, whenever he's thought about Teemu, there's been love and desire and resentment, all together, and he never wanted to risk the resentment coming out when Teemu was around. He could barely stand to watch games, never mind watch them with someone who still had hockey.
Now, though. He just wants to share this ridiculous game with someone who will really understand it. And that's Teemu.
"I'll love it, too," Paul tells Sirpa.
Sirpa looks him up and down, a long, considering look, and she says, "I think probably I should go to bed." She flushes a little when she says it.
Paul's face won't stop smiling. "Don't want to stay up and celebrate with me?"
She gives him half a smile and bites her lower lip. "I'm sure it'd be lots of fun," she says. "Just, I'd better not." It makes sense, Paul figures; she has to get up in the morning, after all.
Paul will be lucky to be asleep by morning. His whole body is humming. "Goodnight," he says.
She squeezes his shoulder and disappears up the stairs.
After a few minutes, Paul goes up, too, just to change out of his game-day suit. Then he heads back downstairs because he needs to move. He's almost vibrating, roaming the lower floor of the house because he can't sit still, pacing through the living room, the family room, the formal dining room. He goes outside through the patio toward the pool. He seriously considers stripping off his clothes and going for a swim, just because it would feel good -- the cool water touching him, sliding over him.
Oh, shit, Paul thinks, as he realizes he is really fucking horny. He considers a swim for another reason -- it might calm him down -- but he figures he'd better go inside.
He forces himself to eat the food Sirpa left out for him, and it doesn't help at all. He wishes she'd stayed downstairs -- well, no, he doesn't, under the circumstances, but being used to eating alone doesn't mean you always like it. He goes into the sunroom, which is dark and still, and tries meditating, something he learned from a surfing buddy. Teemu's body does not want to meditate. When Paul closes his eyes and breathes, he thinks about sex, about the way dicks taste, about hands on his body, about wrapping his hand around Teemu's dick --
Paul gets up from the floor, moving more carefully now because he's half hard. It's an effort to keep from pressing the heel of his hand down on his dick. And he's, fuck, he's so sensitive. He's wearing yoga pants and an ancient Ducks t-shirt of Teemu's that's been washed to softness, but he can still feel the fabric moving over his skin, touching him. He really, really wants to be touched. He'd take any hands on him; even his own would be a relief. As a compromise, he rubs his hands over his arms, along his sides.
He's so aware of his body, of this body. It wants to be touched, and he can't help doing that, touching his thighs, his hipbones, his pecs -- but they aren't his, they don't feel the same, and the zing from even that gentle touch on his nipple is new and intense and incredible. It's almost like touching someone else, almost like touching Teemu, and it's so easy to imagine Teemu doing this to him, him doing this to Teemu, and -- fuck, he's standing in Teemu's living room rubbing his hands along his sides with -- he looks down -- his dick visibly tenting his pants.
Teemu's dick visibly tenting his pants. Paul shudders and heads for the stairs.
He locks the bedroom door behind him, because he does not want anyone walking in on him right now, and tries to figure this out. The clothes are driving him crazy, but taking them off would be worse, and taking a shower worse still. In the end, he decides distraction is probably best; he clicks on the TV, lies down on the bed, and starts watching.
He can't focus on anything. Sports, news, random late-night shows: he doesn't really see any of it, because he's too distracted by his body, by this body. Every tiny move drags his underwear over his dick, stretches his shirt across his pecs and rubs against his hard nipples, teases him in some way.
Sex hasn't been this urgent for him in -- Christ, he can't even remember. The last time was probably fifteen years ago, when sex with men seemed dangerous and forbidden and so, so necessary, and he'd go out to get it, end the night with his shaking hands in some guy's hair, his whole body begging for the guy's mouth on his dick.
Paul groans. "Jesus fucking Christ, Teemu," he says out loud. This has to be Teemu's body, doing this to him, making him want it this badly. And that train of thought is as frustrating as the last one, because of course now he's imagining it, imagining Teemu doing him, and -- Paul realizes he's got his hands digging into the mattress so hard his fingers are turning white.
This is ridiculous. He rolls onto his stomach without really thinking about it, and the pressure of the mattress against his dick feels so good. His hips jerk reflexively, and he actually moans into the pillow.
Fuck it. Teemu almost certainly wouldn't mind, and Paul can't wait anymore. He rolls back over and palms himself once, just once, through his pants, and gasps at how good it feels. This body is desperate for touch, and he wants it, too. He pushes down his pants and boxers, hesitates for just a second before peeling off his t-shirt. And he should really get some lotion or something, but he just has to touch himself a little first.
He gasps with relief as he wraps his hand around his dick, and he knows he's not going to stop, can't stop. Paul's always loved this moment, taking another man in hand, learning what he likes, learning how to make him ache for it, how to give him almost what he wants until he's shaking for it. He does that now, stroking himself with just two fingers and a thumb, and it all feels so damn good. He forces himself to wait through one more stroke like that before he wraps his whole hand around his dick, and that feels so good he has to shove his other hand over his mouth to keep from making noise. He's leaking a lot, he realizes, and reaches down to rub the palm of his other hand over the head, and -- fuck, Teemu's not circumcised, he loves that, and then he raises his palm to his mouth and he's tasting Teemu. Paul bites down on his hand and comes, hard, his whole body clenching with it.
He feels light afterwards, loose and good, his brain zinging. Paul never -- he's learned to keep things easy, gentle, not to push his body or his brain too hard, and he doesn't let himself have orgasms like this anymore, ones that feel like a lightning bolt to the spine.
Paul giggles a little in the empty room for no other reason than that he feels so damn good. Teemu's body is a fucking Lamborghini.
After a minute or so, the come starts to feel gross, and Paul gets himself out of the bed on still-shaky legs and goes to shower.
Paul drives to practice the next day knowing it's his last one. It's the 16th. The full moon is tonight. Teemu's going to come back and this weird interlude will be over.
Paul's going to miss some stuff -- feeling useful, not worrying about headaches, hockey. He's going to miss being around people, too, actually; he always thought living with someone would drive him crazy, but it's been nice having Sirpa and the kids around. People to talk to, people living their lives. The house feels alive even when they're not there.
And the team -- well. He spent his whole life in teams, hanging out with teams, until his retirement. It's no surprise he'd enjoy being in one again, even if he envies these guys in a way he never envied another teammate.
But even if he's going to miss some things, the important thing is that Teemu's coming back. He and Sirpa and the kids will get to stay in the real world. They won't have to go back to Elfland. They'll be here, and that's what really matters.
He still makes sure to enjoy the practice, which is light-hearted and a little dumb, thanks to the ridiculous win last night. Everyone's pranking, chirping, doing tricks out on the ice; even Boudreau is fairly relaxed. This was never Paul's favorite kind of practice; he always loved the clean focus of morning skates, everyone serious and paying attention, everyone thinking about the game to come. But it's fun. Getzlaf snows every player except Penner, who keeps dodging, skating away, refusing to let him. Early on, Lovejoy comes out with a bucket of pucks and starts handing them to everyone who scored last night. "And you get a point," he says, passing out pucks, "and you get a point, and you," he says to Perry, "Get four points, you fucking monster." And then he throws the whole bucket of pucks in the air and shouts, "Everybody gets a point!" Paul laughs with the rest of them, but he keeps the puck, puts it with his gear to take home.
Then they get down to practicing.
After, Paul takes it easy driving home. Teemu's not coming back until tonight, so there's no point in rushing. He gets home a little bit after Veera, and Sirpa reminds him that it's Eetu's game night. "Do I go?" he asks, trying to think if that would be a good thing or a bad thing.
"Teemu does, when he can." Paul looks at the clock, and Sirpa answers his thought. "Teemu won't mind waiting a few hours to switch back, and it would be nice for Eetu, I think." It's a point; Eetu, more than most kids, probably plays a lot of games without anyone in the stands for him. Maybe he'd like it.
In the end, Paul decides to ask Eetu. It might be weird, after all; Paul's not his father, but he currently looks a hell of a lot like him. "It'd be cool, if you want," Eetu says, not looking up from the plate of pasta he's eating at the speed of light. "And that way I'd have a ride."
Paul figures that's as solid a yes as he can get, so he goes. The drive up the 5 is long enough to make him say, about ten minutes in, "Why did they buy a house halfway to San Diego?"
Eetu rolls his eyes. "They get stupid about sunlight. Like, come on, it's just the sun, but they do. They liked how bright and warm it was, how pretty."
Paul shakes his head. He remembers what the winters here felt like after growing up in Vancouver, and Vancouver's weather is a far fucking cry from Helsinki's. "Okay, California boy," he says. And then he remembers Sirpa saying her Finnish children were partly Californian, and -- well. He shouldn't be surprised that she's so right, maybe, but he is. "Hey," he says experimentally. "Do you like avocados?"
Eetu looks over at him like he's crazy. "Um, yeah?"
Paul laughs. If Eetu moves back to Finland, he will for sure have some leftover California parts.
Paul wonders if he's going to have any leftover elf parts when he gets his body back. Or -- leftover Teemu parts, maybe. It's a weird thought, and it's not one he wants to contemplate right then. He pushes it away and focuses on the drive.
Eventually, they get to the rink, which is way the hell up in Lakewood, and Eetu hauls his gear in and disappears. Paul wanders around a little, checking out the place. There's a public skate on the other rink that's equal parts figure skaters and wobbly-legged people in rental skates, and Paul grins, seeing them. Sometimes he forgets that ice is about this, too.
And the hockey game itself is just -- familiar. Comfortable. It's a rink and a bunch of kids and parents, a coach with a whistle. The clean smell of the ice and the rank smell of old hockey gear, but without the NHL overlay. The parents mostly nod at Paul; clearly they've grown used to seeing Teemu Selanne at the occasional game. He'd think they didn't know who he was, except one dad leans over and congratulates him on the win last night.
"Thanks," Paul says, smiling, and settles in to watch hockey.
It's a chippy game, pretty even, and Paul enjoys it more than he expected. The coach isn't playing the kids exactly the way Paul would, and, of course, by the halfway mark of the game he's got way too many opinions about that, but he keeps his mouth shut tight on any criticism. He cheers for Eetu's team, and applauds politely for the opposing team, and feels deeply happy when Eetu's team gets the win.
He leaves feeling good, satisfied, in a way he hasn't in years. "Thanks," he says to Eetu, once Paul has him stuffing his face with drive-through food. "That was fun."
Eetu just nods and inhales his second hamburger. After he's done eating, they talk about the game, just a little; Paul limits himself to mentioning a couple of the best moments. He remembers too well how, at this age, post-game talks could end up feeling like post-mortems, long lists of all the things he'd done wrong. Better to enjoy the fun, he thinks.
Eetu fades out by the time they hit Irvine, and Paul's pretty sure he's nodded off. But when they're almost home, Eetu says, "Why did you do the body change thing with Dad?"
"Because he needed a human body to borrow." Paul's surprised; he assumed the boys knew that.
"Right, but. Why did you say yes?"
Paul can't figure out what Eetu's asking. "Because I could?" he finally says, and it comes out sounding hesitant mostly because he's not sure if he's answering Eetu's question.
"Okay," Eetu says. "Fine. Whatever."
Paul's pretty sure he didn't navigate that conversation successfully.
By the time they get home, Veera and Leevi are in bed. Eemil and Sirpa are sitting in the family room, pretending to watch TV. It's very clear that Teemu isn't back yet, but Eetu asks anyway. "Faija?"
"Not yet," Sirpa says. "Probably not until late tonight; you should go to bed." They aren't entirely sure, but the safe money is apparently on Teemu being booted out of Elfland as soon as he's banished from the court, as if the entire place has rejected him. So it should be tonight.
Eetu looks torn, but he just played a hockey game on top of a full day of school, and he's got school again tomorrow. He yawns hugely, and that decides him. "Okay. Goodnight." And he trudges upstairs.
Paul looks at Sirpa and Eemil. He doesn't say what they're all thinking, which is that the full moon has been up for hours. He really thought Teemu would be back by now. Shit. He heads for the kitchen, pulls out a bottle of water, and joins Eemil and Sirpa in the wait.
At midnight, Sirpa sends Eemil to bed, against his protests. And at one, she says, "Okay, that's it. When he comes back, he can get some rest, and we can switch back in the morning."
Teemu has game day skate tomorrow, so Paul needs to get him some sleep. It's the only thing that makes him walk upstairs.
Teemu's not back in the morning. Paul keeps calm through the morning rush, through Veera's sudden bout of serious uncooperativeness about shoes, even through Eemil's whispered, "This is bad, isn't it?"
And then the kids are gone and he and Sirpa are staring at each other across the coffee table and he has no idea what to say.
Sirpa talks first. "I'm not giving up," she says, and she sounds determined but so tired. "But the moon set three hours ago."
Paul still can't figure out what he should say, but he can't let her be the only one who's brave. "I'm not giving up, either," he finally says. "But I promised I'd be here for you and the kids if something went wrong, and I will be."
"Okay," Sirpa says. "We'll deal today, and we'll hope tonight." Her voice is a little shaky, but her eyes are dry.
Paul agrees. The whole day has a grim cast to it, though. He drives up to Anaheim for game-day practice, and he manages to focus only intermittently. People pick up on his distraction, and Saku gently chirps him about it, but Paul's mind won't stay on the ice.
He wishes he knew what Elfland was like, what might be happening, the exact text of the laws Riggs found. He kicks himself for not insisting on reading them beforehand. He should have done more research, been on top of this. He knows what happens when he trusts preparation to other people; it never works, things go wrong, he gets hurt. But this time, maybe it's Teemu who got hurt, and that -- that's even worse.
Paul really wishes he knew where Teemu was. Even an idea would be better than nothing.
The game's bad. The Blackhawks win, 4-2, and Paul doesn't contribute anything except a hooking penalty in the second. But afterwards, going through the post-game routine, Paul can't find the anger that usually comes with a bad game. All he can think about is the text from Sirpa, sent to his phone right after the game ended:
Paul gets out of Honda as quickly as possible and drives home with his phone on the seat next to him, hoping every minute that it will chirp to indicate a text. It never does.
When he gets home, he heads in feeling sick. Sirpa's up, as usual, but she looks awful, drawn and sad, and she's wrapped in an old bathrobe that's far too big for her. It has to be Teemu's.
Paul's heart kicks painfully when he sees her, and he wraps his arms around her without thinking about it. She hugs him back tightly and buries her face in his shoulder. It takes a minute or so for Paul to realize that she's crying. He doesn't let go; he just steers them to a couch and pulls her down onto his lap, and she stays there, curled against him, her body shaking even though her crying is mostly silent.
After five minutes or so, she pulls away. She moves to sit next to Paul on the couch and takes a few deep breaths. She wipes her eyes and blows her nose on tissues she pulls from the bathrobe's pocket, and she says, "Sorry."
"Don't be," Paul says.
"I'm just scared, that's all," Sirpa says. She pulls out a fresh tissue and dabs at her eyes, even though she's not crying anymore.
Paul swallows hard. "Me too," he says.
Sirpa looks down at her hands; she's shredding the tissue into tiny fragments. "I know -- I know it's less to be scared about for me than for you." Paul stares at her. It's her husband who is maybe lost. He loves Teemu a lot, but Teemu doesn't belong to him. He has no idea what she means until Sirpa glances up at him and then looks down before she says, hesitantly, "What will your family think?"
It hits him like a blow to the stomach: if Teemu never comes back, Paul Kariya is gone. He doesn't have a body to be Paul in. He tries to imagine what will happen -- eventually his parents or brothers will call the police, probably. They'll search for him and not find anything, just a missing car that's -- fuck. Parked here, at Teemu's house. He'll have to drive that back and email his family. And then he'll just -- disappear.
Paul tries to think about his family, what they'll think, how they'll feel, and suddenly he can't breathe. His throat closes up and he just. He can't do this tonight. "We'll manage," he finally chokes out. "But I don't want. I don't want to think about it now."
"Me either," Sirpa admits. She gets up, goes into the kitchen, and comes back with a small glass of amber liquid and a bottle. "I don't drink hard liquor," she says, and tosses it back in three gulps. "Except tonight." She pours another slug into the glass and passes it to Paul.
Paul drinks it without really thinking, and it helps numb things a little, enough to get him moving. And once he's moving, he knows how to keep moving: he thinks about the next step, and the next, and nothing any further ahead than that. He breaks the time down into tolerable moments, bearable actions, and gets through each one. That gets him to the top of the stairs, following after Sirpa.
She turns to him. "I don't want to be alone tonight," she says, her voice rough.
Paul doesn't either. He turns the wrong way down the hallway and heads to Teemu and Sirpa's room.
He's never slept in here, but his body knows where everything is; he pulls out boxers and a t-shirt automatically, his hands going immediately to the right drawers. Sirpa goes to brush her teeth, but she leaves the bathroom door open, and Paul hesitates for a second, thinking he should maybe wait to change.
Then he remembers that he, very literally, has nothing she hasn't seen a thousand times before. And he's too tired to care beyond that; he changes, brushes his (Teemu's. His?) teeth, and climbs into bed, letting his body guide him to what must be Teemu's side, given the magazines stacked on the bedside table.
Sirpa gets into bed on the other side and clicks the light out. They lie there for a second in the dark, and it feels awkward and tense, and then Sirpa makes a small noise that sounds almost like she's been hit, and she curls toward Paul in the bed.
It's so easy, so natural to press up against her, to settle his arm around her. Her head feels right on his shoulder, and more than anything, he just appreciates her warmth, the knowledge that his world may be ending -- again -- but this time he's at least not going to have to deal with that alone.
After a few seconds, it occurs to him that Sirpa might want to hear that. "You're not alone," he says out loud. "No matter what happens. Even if -- you still won't be alone."
Sirpa hugs him a little tighter and says, "Same for you. Either way."
Paul didn't think he'd be able to sleep, but he's exhausted. He feels beaten. His eyes close and he's gone.
Paul wakes up the next morning with the sun just barely up and isn't sure why until he sees Veera at the side of the bed. She says something in Finnish, and Sirpa replies sleepily. Veera climbs into bed, settles between Paul and Sirpa, and goes back to sleep.
Paul can't. Now that the leaden exhaustion has cleared a little, his brain just darts between one thing and another, over and over. He thinks about his car, about his family, about the meal delivery coming to his house on Monday. He thinks about the team, about Teemu's parents, about -- fuck, the Olympics. Teemu's going to play for Finland. What if -- what if he's not back by then?
Sleep is impossible. Paul slides carefully out of bed, leaving Veera and Sirpa curled up together, and heads downstairs. It's so early that he's the first one up and the house is quiet. He gets out a protein shake and a pad of paper and starts making a list, trying not to think too much about it.
1. Car back to house.
2. Email Mom, Dad, Steve, Marty, Noriko.
3. Call Alisa, check will.
As soon as he writes the word "will," Paul's brain locks up. He folds the paper and slides it into his -- into Paul's -- wallet. He hesitates for a second, then picks up his phone and turns it on.
One text, from Steve. Hey, how are you? The standard check-in Paul agreed to four years ago, if he went too long without getting in touch with anyone in his family.
Paul sorts through his email quickly; most of it is spam. There's one from his financial manager, touting a new hedge fund, and there's one from the guy who maintains his pool, saying that the heater's about to go. Nothing has to be dealt with today, and Paul turns the phone off again, feeling relieved. A little sad, too; if he's really leaving this life behind, he wishes -- he wishes he had more to leave. He always thought he'd do more stuff, and if this is the end of Paul Kariya, well. There's not much for an obituary.
Paul shakes his head, trying to clear it of morbid thoughts. No one is actually dying.
Paul turns around. Eemil's come down, still dressed for bed and with terrible bedhead. He looks at Paul for just a second and his face goes tight. "He didn't come," Eemil says.
It wasn't a question, but Paul nods anyway. "I'm sorry," he says.
"What do you -- what will you do if he doesn't?"
Paul hasn't thought about this, about how the boys will be grieving for the loss of their father with someone who looks exactly like him in the house. Maybe he shouldn't be here. He'll have to ask Sirpa. "I don't know," he says honestly. "I didn't make a lot of plans for this."
Eemil nods, like that makes sense, and the room goes silent again. It's early, but Paul doubts Eemil's going back to bed. Finally Paul says, "Do you know how to make the coffeemaker work? I'll trade you breakfast for coffee." He knows this morning fog would be better if he had some, but the state of the art in coffeemakers has come along too far since he last owned one.
Eemil tilts his head, eyes narrowed. "Are you as bad a cook as faija?"
"No one is as bad at cooking as Teemu," Paul says, but Eemil just waits, clearly unwilling to take that on faith, so Paul adds, "I've been making my own breakfast for twenty years now. And --" I'm still alive is what Paul meant to say, but he can't bring himself to. Instead he finishes, "-- you don't have any better offers right now."
"Facts," Eemil says, and heads over to the coffeemaker. He presses two buttons and the thing springs to life. He turns back to Paul, eyebrows raised. "Breakfast?"
Paul has no idea what Sirpa normally makes for breakfast on the weekend. After checking the fridge, he makes Eemil eggs, bacon, and french toast, and Eemil inhales everything.
Eemil's still at the kitchen table, playing something on his phone, when Sirpa comes down, Veera right behind her. "Good morning," Sirpa says. "Something smelled so good it woke me up."
"Paul --" Eemil says, and then he looks up, sees Veera, and switches, "-- faija made bacon."
Veera asks a question in Finnish that Paul can't follow, and Paul realizes, numbly, that they're going to have to tell Veera. He mentally adds that to his list, to join the three items he wrote down earlier, and lets it go. Get through breakfast, he tells himself. "Want some?" he asks Sirpa.
She nods. "I'm going to check on the boys. I'll be right back."
Ten minutes later, Paul has a lot more eggs, bacon, and french toast on the table. Eemil eats another full breakfast, while Paul watches with slightly horrified fascination; he remembers the days of eating like that, but he doesn't miss them. Veera refuses the eggs and french toast and ends up with pink cereal and bacon. When they finish, Paul starts loading the dishwasher, working out Sirpa's system from the half that's already filled, and Sirpa figures out the plan for the day.
Paul had no idea weekends were so complicated when you had kids. Veera has horseback riding and a birthday party, Eemil has soccer practice, Eetu has some sort of club meeting and plans tonight. Leevi has hockey practice and has to get a swimming lesson in before. They need some groceries, and someone needs to buy a baby shower present for a friend of Sirpa's. Sirpa writes down the list, shows it to Paul, and says, "What can you do?"
In the end, they get together a schedule that works for everyone. Paul is honestly just glad to have a way to get through the day, a list of things to do. It's not until afternoon that he has time to think again.
He wishes there was a practice, just to give him more things he has to do, but there's not, so after his nap he sits down with his phone. He texts Steve back first: I'm fine. He's so glad Steve won't be able to sense the lie through the phone. He thinks for a few minutes, carefully, trying to balance it out, but he can't see any problems with it and he wants to be as honest as he can for as long as he can, so he adds, Been with Teemu and Sirpa.
Steve's return text comes in so fast Paul's surprised. Is that good news or bad news?
I don't know. Paul hits send and turns his phone back off. His family has gotten used to it being difficult to contact him.
As soon as it gets dark, Paul starts getting tense. He looked up moonrise for tonight, even though he's not sure it has any meaning at this point.
Sirpa's on edge, too. She makes everyone leave the kitchen while she cooks dinner. Veera, by now, is aware that everyone in the house is tense, and she's responding by demanding constant, unwavering attention.
After dinner, Eemil catches Paul and Sirpa cleaning up and says, "Should I cancel my date?"
"No," Sirpa and Paul say together. Sirpa continues, "Go on. There's nothing you can do here anyway."
Eemil looks between them, shakes his head, and goes upstairs, presumably to get ready. A couple of Eetu's school friends come by shortly after, and Eetu disappears with them. As soon as he's gone, Sirpa puts in a movie. That gets them through the evening, and then it's bedtime for Veera.
And then the kids are upstairs, Leevi in his room, Veera asleep in bed, and there's nothing more to focus on. No more distraction. The house gets heavy and silent.
"I'm waiting up for the boys," Sirpa says. Her tone says I'm not waiting for Teemu but they both know that's not true.
"Then so am I." There's nothing to do now but wait, and he'd rather do it here than upstairs.
Eetu comes home, then Eemil.
At 1:30, Sirpa falls asleep on the couch, and Paul shakes her gently. "Come on," he says. "Might as well sleep in bed."
She stumbles upstairs, yawning, and heads immediately to bed. Paul hesitates, not sure where he should sleep, and he's just about to go to the guest room when Sirpa says sleepily, "Come to bed?"
He does. It takes him a long time to fall asleep, but once he's out, he sleeps like he's been drugged.
Someone shoves at his shoulder. It's too early. It's way too early; the room is barely light. Paul's eyes don't want to open. "Hey, move over."
Paul does, without thinking about it, and goes right back to sleep.
He wakes up two hours later because he's sweating. He feels like he's sleeping in an oven. He tries to roll over and can't. Sirpa's holding down one side. And Teemu's pressed against the other. He'd recognize his own body anywhere.
"Holy shit," Paul says, and his voice cracks. He says it again, louder. "Holy SHIT. Sirpa. Sirpa, he's back."
Sirpa jerks awake, looks over, and makes a high-pitched, wordless noise. She clambers directly over Paul and wraps herself around the still-sleeping Teemu, talking in Finnish. Paul scoots back to give them room, over to Sirpa's side of the bed. Teemu's coming awake slowly, eyes squinted, but he's already talking back to Sirpa, rubbing his hand over her shoulders in a way that looks oddly familiar to Paul, kissing her face without ever really stopping talking.
After a few seconds, Paul realizes he needs to get out of here. He is the living definition of a third wheel right now. He stumbles backwards off the bed and quietly heads for the door.
"Paul," Sirpa says, and Teemu says, overlapping with her: "Where do you think you're going?"
"Uh, I --" Paul gestures towards the door. "I think it's time for the reunion scene, guys." And he's back to being an extra here.
"Exactly," Teemu says, and the voice is Paul's, but the eyeroll is all Teemu's. "Get back here." Sirpa's already climbing off Teemu, standing up, and Jesus Christ, Paul is fucking this up just by being here.
He takes another step back, but Teemu's sitting up, shading his eyes with his arm so he can focus better, and the look on his face says Paul had better not move any closer to the door. Sirpa comes around the bed, takes his hand, and says firmly, "Paul. Come get your hug." She leads him back to Teemu's side of the bed and wraps her arms around him. Teemu comes up and hugs him, too, and for a minute, Paul's in between both of them, tightly squeezed, and he thinks -- he thinks Teemu's body likes being hugged a lot more than his does.
Sirpa takes a deep, shaky breath against his shoulder and pulls back. "Okay," she says to Teemu, "go tell the boys you're back, they've been worried. Then we'll switch you back, and then you'll tell us where the hell you've been."
Teemu says, "We maybe should wait a little before we switch back." He makes an apologetic face at Paul. "I was a little harder on this body than I meant to be."
Paul shakes his head. "I'm used to it," he says, and then realizes how that sounds. "I know how to deal with it when I'm healing."
Teemu pats him on the shoulder and heads off to talk to the boys. Paul, watching his careful movements, grimaces. Apparently his left side is about to hurt like hell.
The switch back doesn't take long at all; undoing a spell is apparently a simple matter, and they don't even have to go outside. They all sit on Teemu and Sirpa's bed, and Sirpa whispers under her breath and breaks a stick.
Paul has his eyes shut tight in preparation. There's the same loud noise, seeming to come from inside his skull rather than out in the world, followed by intense nausea. This time, he's the one who retches, and when he does, he can feel bile stinging the back of his throat. Shit, shit, he's going to vomit and he can't open his eyes enough to get to the bathroom.
He feels a hand on his neck and wants to jerk away, but he realizes in time that it's Sirpa's, that she's moving him forward. Something's pushed into his lap, and, yeah, that's a bowl. He brings up bile and retches again, and then he manages to get his stomach back under control. He stays exactly where he is, panting harshly, feeling hot and cold and like his body doesn't end where it's supposed to.
Sirpa takes the bowl away after a while, and a while after that he manages to take stock of his body. He hurts, especially all down his left side; he'd think boarding bruises, except this body hasn't been playing. There's a dull throbbing at the base of his skull and his head feels too tight, never a good sign. He's thirsty and tired and he feels like he's exercised way too hard.
Next to him, Teemu says, "Okay, so this should not be so hard this time, right? Lots of experience in this body."
Sirpa says, "Still a good idea to be careful," and then, "were you feeling okay before the switch? Paul doesn't look so good."
Teemu says, "Elfland sucks," and his voice is tight and tense. That's a good thing; it means there's probably an actual reason Paul feels like shit. Not just his dumb body acting up for no reason.
Paul pries open his eyes. The room looks too bright. His mouth tastes terrible. He needs -- "I should shower."
"Can you stand?" Sirpa says, and he looks up at her. Her brows are drawn together, her face worried.
Paul shrugs carefully, just one shoulder, and tries it. Turns out he can. He tries to head for the guest room -- Teemu has his own body back, which means it's definitely time for Paul not to be in this room anymore, but Sirpa and Teemu make almost precisely the same protesting noise.
"Shower in here," Sirpa says. "Leave the door open."
Paul would rather take care of himself, but. She's probably right. He goes into their shower, turns on eight of the shower heads to a nice medium temperature, and climbs in. He hisses in pain immediately; his back and left side sting when the water hits them. He manages to check out his side, and what he expected to be bruising is instead weirdly reddened skin, raised, warm and sensitive to the touch.
His feet hurt, too. And his left arm. Paul stands under the spray, acclimating, preparing himself for the soap and shampoo part, which right now sounds pretty daunting.
Teemu knocks on the shower door. "Hey," he says, much more tentative than usual. "Can I come in?"
Paul blinks. "Into the shower?"
Teemu takes this as a yes; he steps into the shower, closing the door behind him. He's naked. "I know what hurts," he explains.
"Teemu," Paul says, and Teemu tilts his head, looking back at Paul, waiting.
"Okay?" Teemu says after a few moments.
Paul knows he shouldn't do this. It's a bad idea. He has boundaries with Teemu for a reason. But he's tired, he aches, and he's. He can let himself have this, he reasons. This once. "Okay," he says.
Teemu starts on the right side of Paul's body, where nothing hurts an unusual amount, and Paul tries to focus on something else besides Teemu's hands on his body. It's clinical, he tells himself. Basically medical. It only feels good because he's getting clean.
Before he can get too mad at himself, though, Teemu switches to Paul's left side. "Sorry," he says. "I fell against some ice."
"Ice?" Paul repeats. "Feels like a burn."
"Not our kind of ice," Teemu says. "It was cold and it burned, both."
"Elfland sounds wonderful," Paul says dryly.
Teemu makes a considering noise as he gently washes Paul's left arm. "It was very pretty. And almost every pretty thing had spikes or poison or burned or stung." He pushes his body into Paul's a little, turning him around. "Sorry," he says again, as he gently smoothes soap across Paul's back, leaving streaks of pain behind. "The queen has very sharp nails."
Paul doesn't like any of the mental images that gives him. "Why, uh, why was she scratching your back?"
"I am uncooperative and don't take orders well, she said." Teemu rinses Paul's back.
Paul chokes on a laugh that's partly a hiss of pain. "You take orders fine," he says. "As long as they're exactly the ones you want to hear."
"Not true!" Teemu says. "I take orders pretty okay." Paul lets his silence speak for him, and Teemu adds, "From some people." Paul still can't endorse that one. "I listen to my coaches," Teemu finally says. "And I do what you and Sirpa tell me."
Paul considers that for a second. "Okay," he says. "Add sometimes in there twice and I'll let that go."
Teemu ignores him completely, proving Paul's point pretty effectively. "Going to wash your hair now," he says, and does.
Teemu lathers up Paul's hair and then massages his scalp, rubbing with the pads of his fingers, gently tugging on Paul's hair. It feels good, especially after the pain from washing his back, and Paul closes his eyes, leans into it. After a minute or so, his body sways towards Teemu's, and Paul remembers that he's back in his own skin, and he's not used to being touched like this. He can't do this. "Okay, enough," he says.
Teemu rinses his hair, holding his hand carefully to keep water out of Paul's face. He says consideringly, "Conditioner?"
"Don't need it. I don't have fancy hair," Paul says. The truth is, though, that he's just too tired, too overwhelmed. He needs to go lie down somewhere and get his head back together.
Teemu wants to dry him, too, but Paul doesn't let him. "I can do this," he says. "I'm not helpless."
Teemu reaches for his own towel. "I know," he says, smiling at Paul. "But I still might like to."
Paul shakes his head. When he's dry, he reaches for the toothbrush he's used the last two nights; he still needs to get the taste out of his mouth. He hesitates, because it's technically Teemu's toothbrush, but in the end he's not willing to bother hunting around for a new one. They shared bodies; if they have to, they can share a toothbrush.
There's a knock on the door, and Teemu says, "Come in."
Sirpa comes in. "Everything in that backpack is disgusting," she says. "Paul, I put it all in the wash, but we might end up throwing it away."
Paul shrugs. "I have other clothes." And then he realizes what she's saying. "Not here, though."
"I put out some of Teemu's things that should fit," Sirpa says, and then she apparently sees his back. She makes a hissing noise and says, "First, though, we put something on those cuts." Paul realizes suddenly that he's naked, and this body is one Sirpa hasn't seen a thousand times before. He should definitely feel weirder about this than he does.
He lets Teemu guide him to the bed, and he lies face down while Sirpa checks out his back and side. Sirpa says, "Maybe he should see a doctor."
Paul feels the bed dip on the other side and a hand in his hair again. "Don't know what a doctor could do for elf injuries."
"Then maybe I should call my mother," Sirpa says, and she touches his back carefully, tracing out what he knows must be the scratches with something cold that leaves numbness behind.
Paul thinks Teemu agrees, but maybe not. He's not focusing that well anymore, and he stops trying to follow the conversation.
He doesn't even realize he's falling asleep; he just goes.
Paul wakes up a few times, once to stumble to the bathroom, once to drink most of a bottle of water that someone left on the bedside table. He doesn't really focus his eyes until it's dark out again, though, and then it's because Teemu wakes him up.
"You should eat," he says. He's carrying a tray that Sirpa clearly put together, judging by the complete lack of burned food.
Paul hauls himself into a sitting position, taking stock of his body as he does. The ice burns still hurt, the scratches have reached the point where moving tugs on them, and he feels drained. Just sitting up is exhausting.
He remembers something from Dracula and narrows his eyes at Teemu. "You didn't meet a vampire in Elfland, did you?"
"No! Just lots of elves. And one talking dog. But just one!" Teemu sets up the tray next to Paul on the bed and sits down carefully to avoid jostling it. "Come on, eat. Sirpa's so worried."
"Just tired," Paul says, but he picks up a fork and starts eating. Sirpa made him scrambled eggs, toast with peanut butter, and soup.
"We think maybe you have adjustment sickness," Teemu says.
Paul eyes his forkful of eggs warily. "Sirpa said that was like food poisoning. Shouldn't I be puking?"
"When she has it, she was nine years in Elfland. You -- I -- your body was there for a week." Teemu shrugs. "So maybe you just feel like crap."
Paul manages to get through most of the eggs before the last of his energy disappears and he drops the fork. "Done," he says, and tries to lie down, but Teemu's faster, in there with a hand behind his back.
"Wait. Drink some water first." Paul isn't sure he can, but Teemu holds him up and helps him drink.
Paul's back asleep before he's all the way lying down.
Paul blinks awake and realizes he feels a whole lot better. His side and back still hurt, but he no longer feels like he has the flu. He's still in Teemu and Sirpa's bed, but they're there, too, both asleep, with Teemu in the middle this time. Paul heads to the bathroom.
When he's done, he goes back out into the bedroom, then hesitates. It's the middle of the night, not yet light out, and he's not sure where to go. He doesn't belong here.
Teemu raises his head. "Paul," he says, "if watching sleep is what does it for you these days, you can do it from bed. No need to stand there."
Paul hesitates a second longer, then slides back under the covers; Teemu moves towards Sirpa to make room for him. He feels like he's breaking the rules. Or getting away with something. He's not sure which.
"Feeling better?" Teemu says, rubbing his shoulder, his good one on the right side.
"Yeah," Paul says.
It's dark in the room, but Paul's eyes are night-adjusted enough that he can see Teemu watching him. Teemu's not going back to sleep, apparently.
He's still touching Paul's shoulder and Paul can't stop feeling it, noticing it. It's like he's still in Teemu's body, but maybe it's just that he's getting used to his again.
"When I was there," Teemu says softly, "there was a time when I think maybe I'm not coming back."
Paul nods. He'd guessed as much from the injuries.
"And I think, you know, I did okay with my life. I did mostly what I wanted to do."
Paul laughs quietly. "Teemu, you've had a charmed life. You are the definition of a charmed life."
Teemu tilts his head. "That's true," he says. "But there's stuff I didn't do, and that's what I'm thinking about. In Elfland. And since I got back."
The dimness and the quiet and the stillness make Paul feel wrapped up, protected, and maybe that's why he says, "I thought that, too. Here. That there were things I didn't do that I wanted to, and that it was maybe already too late." Paul remembers his phone, empty of messages except from his dutiful brother, and wonders what he’s done in the last four years just because he wanted to do it.
"Paul," Teemu says. "You said -- a long time ago, you told me you couldn't take risks. That you didn't want to lose any more."
Paul remembers that, vaguely, from back when they both played for the Avalanche. "I thought I could hang onto what I had," Paul says, remembering back. He'd had hockey, but he hadn't been happy. It's weird to think of that.
"Maybe it's time for some risks, though?" Teemu says hopefully.
Paul has never been good at telling Teemu no. He doesn't think anyone is. And he was willing to risk his body for Teemu; there’s probably not many risks he wouldn’t take, if Teemu wanted him to. "Like what?"
Teemu moves closer, closer, and suddenly Paul's heart is beating much faster. He just watches, unable to move, unable to say anything, as Teemu reaches out and touches Paul's mouth, softly traces his lips with his fingers. "Okay?" he says.
Paul's whole body is hot, and no, no, this is not okay. "Teemu. You're married. You're -- we're --" he can't even put into words all the ways this is wrong. "You can't cheat on Sirpa," he hisses.
"That's your only reason why not?" Teemu says, and he's smiling now.
It's. There's a whole list of reasons, Paul knows, but he can't remember any of them right now. "It's a big fucking reason," he says.
"Sirpa," Teemu says out loud. "Sirpa, wake up."
Paul flinches. Teemu hasn't moved at all, he's still almost on top of Paul, looking down into his face, touching him; it looks like they've been doing more than they have, it looks nothing like innocent.
"Mmm?" she says. And then she rolls over, looks at them, and smiles fondly. "Oh, good," she says, and her eyes are soft and warm on them, with none of the anger Paul was bracing for. "Can I stay?"
"See?" Teemu says to Paul.
Paul looks between the two of them, and they both look -- they look so much the same, wearing similar smiles and watching him with the same fond expression, and he knows without having to think about it exactly how they're both feeling, thanks to a week inside that relationship. But he still has no idea what to say. He shouldn't do this, he knows that. It's dangerous and it's something he can live without.
He really wants to, though.
Teemu pushes the covers down to Paul's waist. Sirpa says, "Teemu." He stops, looking abashed, and she says, very clearly, "Paul, do you want to do this?"
Paul's heart rate kicks up another couple of notches. His mouth goes dry, and he knows better than to take this risk, he knows he has to maintain his boundaries, but the boundaries moved on him and he's not sure where they are anymore. He feels a little dizzy, a little lost, but there's only one honest answer to her question. "Yes," he says.
"Just Teemu? Or can I stay?" she says. "It's okay, whichever way, but he'll tell me all about it after even if I'm not here. You know how much he talks when he’s happy."
Paul has no idea what he wants, what's going to happen, if he can even do this, but that's a very easy question she's asked. "Stay," he says.
She smiles. "Okay, Teemu, now you have to ask." Teemu opens his mouth, obviously about to protest, and she smacks him lightly on the shoulder. "You have to ask," she repeats.
Teemu looks down at Paul, and his face is, for once, totally serious. "Paul?" he says. "Do you want to be with us?"
They keep asking him easy questions. Not if it's safe, or if he needs to, or if he can handle it. Just what he wants. And Paul knows what he wants. "Yes," he says, feeling like that first step back onto the Honda ice.
Teemu kisses him.
Teemu kisses like he does everything -- with his whole body, no holding back. Suddenly Paul has Teemu pressed against him, full length, his lips on Paul's, and it's like being surrounded by Teemu. So good, but it's -- even as his dick begins to harden, as his skin tingles from the unfamiliar contact, the monitor that keeps track of these things warns him: dangerous. The spike in his pulse isn't all from arousal.
"Wait," he gasps. Teemu pulls back, just a little, just enough for Paul to see his ridiculously long eyelashes, his dark eyes focused on Paul. Paul’s breath catches at Teemu so close, Teemu’s body pressed against his, Teemu watching him, and he says, "Could I -- can I -- just watch for a while?"
Teemu's eyebrows draw together, and he looks concerned, but Sirpa says, "Yes, of course, if that's what you want," and she moves close to Paul, close enough that she and Teemu can kiss without Teemu really moving.
Watching them feels safer, a little insulated, and this way he can -- he can let himself have it, let himself enjoy it. He watches as Teemu kisses Sirpa, the same way he kissed Paul. She responds to it like she's used to it and like she loves it both, pressing up against him, one hand in his hair holding him against her.
Paul finds his eyes moving between their mouths, their hands, the way Teemu is lying on top of him and Sirpa both. And at this distance, there’s nothing to fear. The beat of his pulse, the heat in his stomach -- it's all arousal.
Sirpa tugs on Teemu’s hair to pull him back just a little, to break the kiss, and Teemu makes a soft noise of protest. She looks over at Paul, smiling at him. "He likes this," she says, and bites Teemu, all the way along his jaw to his ear. Teemu flushes, and Paul can feel him rocking his hips slightly, feel him getting hard.
Paul bites his lip.
Sirpa moves again, biting Teemu's neck, and Teemu moans. Sirpa pulls back, dragging her teeth along his neck as she does, and says, "Lie between us," to Teemu. She moves over some to make room.
Teemu moves fast, clearly motivated, and soon he's lying on his back with Sirpa straddling him, sliding her hands along his sides. Paul, watching that, shivers; he remembers how good that felt when he was in Teemu's body, how much Teemu's body likes to be touched.
Teemu pushes up a little into Sirpa's touch, and reaches out his hand to take Paul's. Sirpa licks Teemu's nipples -- gently, and Paul remembers how sensitive Teemu's nipples are, how good it feels when they're touched -- and Teemu squeezes Paul's hand tighter.
"He likes to be bitten here, too," Sirpa tells Paul, "but not until later on, when he's closer. Now it's all too sensitive," and Paul nods, because he remembers that. When he looks back at Teemu, Teemu's watching him lips parted, face flushed, pupils blown.
Teemu strokes Sirpa's side down to her thigh, and Paul's eyes track down with Teemu's hand. There's something painfully erotic about that, about his big hand on her small thigh, and Paul remembers thinking, back when they first changed over, that Sirpa and Teemu having sex would be his ideal porn. He's back in his own body now, and it's still true; he wants, fuck, he wants to see Teemu finger her, wants to see her ride him, he wants to see everything, and he already almost knows how incredible it would be. He says, his voice hoarse and low, "Take -- take this off?” He tugs uselessly on her t-shirt. “I want to see you."
Sirpa pulls off the t-shirt she was sleeping in, and now she's just in panties, and Paul stares at her helplessly. He's never actually found a naked woman erotic before, but he does her, like his brain still remembers how she felt and looked when he was in Teemu's body. And then his eyes drop to where she's rubbing against Teemu, and Teemu's still wearing sleep shorts but Paul can see his dick outlined in them, hard and gorgeous, and he knows, after all; he knows exactly what it looks like. His mouth waters, he wants to taste Teemu so badly, and without thinking he brings Teemu's hand up to his mouth and sucks two fingers in.
Teemu swears sharply and curls his hips up against Sirpa, and Paul moans around his fingers and sucks harder. Sirpa reaches over and runs her hand through Paul's hair, down to his neck, and Paul looks up at her. Her eyebrows are raised in a way that Paul knows means she's asking if she can, and he nods. She drags the pads of her fingers down his neck, his chest, and to his nipple, and Teemu says, his voice rusty, "He likes it hard there, harder than me," and Sirpa pinches Paul. He gasps, his mouth falling open, and Teemu makes a protesting, pleading noise.
"Do you want to suck him off?" Sirpa says as she moves her fingers to his other nipple. "He likes that. He'd love it, your mouth on him."
Paul does. He really fucking does. But he wants -- first he wants -- "After you ride him," he says. "I want -- after. Save him for me?"
Sirpa's whole face flushes and her mouth drops open. "Yes," she says huskily, and lifts up enough so she can pull Teemu's boxers down. Once he's naked, she drops back down on him, still with her panties on, and grinds. Teemu gasps and says, "Fuck me," to Sirpa, pleading.
"When we say so," Sirpa says, still circling her hips on his cock, and Teemu shudders. Paul still has one of his hands, just holding on to it, and Teemu twists his hand so that he’s gripping Paul’s tightly.
Paul can see that Teemu’s leaking, and when Sirpa lifts up her hips to take off her panties, he can see that they’re wet from her. Paul’s mouth suddenly feels so empty, but it's not time to go down on Teemu yet, so instead he leans over and kisses Teemu, and it feels risky but also necessary.
Teemu's mouth opens against his, and Paul lets him lick his way in, until he can't resist anymore and sucks on Teemu's tongue. He hears Sirpa moan at the same time as Teemu gasps, but he doesn’t look up, doesn’t stop; he wraps his hand around the back of Teemu’s head, angling just right so that he can suck on Teemu’s tongue the way he wants to suck his dick.
He's in this far, and disaster hasn't struck. He's going to let himself have this.
Underneath him, Teemu gasps, his body going tense, and Paul realizes Sirpa must be riding him now, and he wants to see that. He doesn't know why, but he's reached the stage where why doesn't matter anymore. He pulls back and Teemu tries to follow him, tries to get his mouth back, but Paul keeps going.
Sirpa's on top of Teemu, rolling her hips. Her chest is flushed, her nipples hard, and Paul's eyes drop to where she and Teemu are joined together, and he -- fuck, he just wants, wants so much his dick throbs with it, and he shoves down his boxers and wraps his hand around his dick.
"Wait, I want, can I?" Teemu pants out, and Paul feels a spike of heat through his entire body. He's had his hand on Teemu's dick, but he's never had this, and he wants it, wants Teemu to touch him. He shifts in the bed so that Teemu can get his hands on him, and Teemu does, and it's not -- Paul's had sex with men who hesitated when it came down to touching another guy's dick, and he feels something unwind in him when Teemu doesn't hesitate or pull back or laugh. Teemu sighs a little, actually, like it’s a relief to get his hand on Paul, like he wants to touch Paul as much as Paul wants to be touched, and that's, fuck, that's so good.
Paul can't help pushing his hips up, fucking into Teemu's fist, and it's like Teemu knows exactly how to touch him, how to make Paul feel good.
And then Paul realizes that maybe Teemu does know, maybe he was curious about Paul's body, maybe he jerked off while he was wearing it, and Paul has to press his hand to his mouth to keep from making noise.
Sirpa says, "Paul, I really want to hear you," and Paul wants to give her what she wants, so he pulls his hand off his mouth and puts it on her hip. He can feel every thrust this way, feel her fucking herself on Teemu’s dick.
Sirpa starts to make soft, desperate noises, and Paul realizes he's squeezed his eyes shut. He opens them and looks at her, and she's leaning forward now, her hands on Teemu's chest, and gasping with every rock of her hips, and then she starts to shake.
Teemu groans. His hand stills completely on Paul’s dick. Paul props himself up to get a better view, and from this angle he can see the tiny thrusts of Teemu's hips up into Sirpa. Teemu’s clearly trying to hold still, and just as clearly unable to manage it. "I -- close," Teemu says, and Sirpa pulls off instantly.
Teemu's hips curl up after her, and then he gets control of himself and drops back down, and Paul, Paul has waited long enough. "Can I?" he says to Teemu.
"Please," Teemu says, and then pulls Paul down for a kiss, desperate and biting now, none of the finesse of before. Paul kisses back, losing himself in it for a few seconds before he remembers he has another goal.
He pulls back. "It's like you don't want your dick sucked," he says, and he feels a flush of confidence even saying it, because he can tell Teemu does. Teemu wants him. It's impossible and true, both.
"I, no, I definitely -- please," Teemu says, and Paul goes down.
He takes his time with this because he can, because he loves it and too often he can't let himself have this. He kneels between Teemu's legs, arranges them how he wants them, and gives himself a moment just to look. Teemu's dick is desperately hard, the head of it dark red, and it's wet with Sirpa and precome. Paul wants that in his mouth, but he doesn't rush it, leans over and takes a deep breath, smelling the two of them together.
Teemu gasps, and Sirpa reaches to put her hand on his hip, holding him down. Paul remembers being in Teemu's body, how when he was turned on every sensation was intense and incredible, and Paul wants to give Teemu more of that. He licks him once, from base to head, just to taste, and then he wraps one hand around the base and slides his mouth over the head of Teemu's cock.
He's sucking Teemu's cock. And, more importantly, Teemu loves it. He gasps and moans and Paul has to help Sirpa hold him down. Paul sucks Teemu slowly, trying to get all the taste and smell and feel of him he can, and Teemu starts to talk incoherently in a mixture of Finnish and English, moaning, "Kyllä, fuck, olkaa hyvä, Paul, yes."
Paul can't rub off against the bed in this position, but his hips won't keep still. His dick is aching for something, anything, and he'd reach between his own legs if he had a hand free.
Sirpa makes a noise, and then her hand is there, on Paul's dick, stroking him, and fuck, it feels good, good enough that Paul moans around Teemu's cock. He's lost in it, giving himself up to this, to the pleasure from Sirpa's hand, the pleasure from Teemu's dick, all of it winding up his nervous system just right.
Teemu's thighs start to shake and his words devolve into desperate moans. Paul takes Teemu in as deep as he can, sucks hard and fast, and Teemu shouts and comes in Paul's mouth.
Paul comes a second later, with his mouth full of Teemu and Sirpa's hand pulling the pleasure out of him, and his vision goes white.
He sort of stretches out and collapses onto Teemu, his face pressed into Teemu's chest, and Teemu twitches -- his dick is oversensitive, Paul knows -- and laughs. He looks over and Sirpa's wiping her hand on the sheet; then she lies down next to Teemu, her head on his shoulder, and puts a hand in Paul's hair.
Paul's still coming down; his body is absolutely not used to this level of pleasure or stimulation or touch, and he feels tingly and loose, wrung out. He moves almost automatically through his body checks -- head, neck, hips, knees, back -- but there's no new pain, there's no weird patches of lost sensation, there's no sense of tightness in his scalp. He did what he wanted, he got what he wanted, and it doesn't seem like he's going to have to pay for it.
"That was good," Teemu says, sounding deeply satisfied, his voice rough and well-used. "Yeah? Paul, you liked that?"
He said it like a question but he has to know the answer. "You know I did," Paul says. "You know I did."
"Still nice to hear," Teemu says. "Sirpa?"
"Very good," she says, and she scrunches her fingers in Paul's hair. "Very much worth doing again."
"Soon?" Teemu says hopefully.
"For me, yes. It's up to Paul." Paul's heart rate spikes, because that -- he can't think about that. "You don't have to decide now," Sirpa tells him. "Right now, I think, is time for sleep."
"Mmmmmm," Teemu says, and Paul realizes Teemu plans to sleep like this, with all of Paul and half of Sirpa on him.
Well, Paul realizes, this is probably Teemu's ideal way to sleep. It's not Paul's, though. In a few seconds, he'll move, get comfortable. He'll only stay like this for a little while.
He can only stay like this for a little while.
He waits until Teemu's breathing is deep and even and Sirpa's snoring just a bit, and then he disentangles himself. He goes to the bathroom, cleans himself up, and spends a few minutes breathing, staring in the mirror, trying to see himself. Trying to see the Paul Kariya he knows he is, the person he's learned to be.
The Paul staring back at him seems a little different. Just different enough to scare him.
Paul heads back out, looks at Teemu and Sirpa curled around each other, and he can't. He can't get back into that bed.
He dresses and heads downstairs.
The house is quiet and still, but it won't stay that way; Paul slept through Sunday, and now it's Monday again. It's been just over a week since Paul and Teemu changed places. It's been three days since Paul played his last hockey game, for real and for certain this time.
Paul takes a deep breath and starts picking up the strings of his own life, the one that belongs to him. He turns his phone back on and leaves it on; there are three texts from Steve, the last one pretty irritated. You could try being around.
Sorry. I'll try to do better. Paul hits send and then winces; it's 5:30, and Steve's back living in Vancouver, he's pretty sure. Paul hopes he sleeps with his phone on silent.
Probably that is something Paul should actually know about his brother. Probably he should also be sure about what city his brother lives in.
Thumping feet on the stairs signal the arrival of Eetu -- or, actually, Teemu, as it turns out. Like father, like son, at least in the way he gets downstairs. "Go to sleep," Paul says. "You have practice today."
Teemu rubs his hand through his hair. "Eh," he says, and makes a throwing gesture. "Maybe I have jetlag."
"You didn't take a plane, and that body didn't go anywhere."
"Not really tired," Teemu says, and then yawns hugely. Paul refuses to comment on that one, just raises his eyebrows in a way that has said you can't bullshit me, Teemu for the last fifteen years. "Look, just. Don't go anywhere, okay?"
"You want me to stay in the living room?"
Teemu folds his arms across his chest. "I want you to stay in this house."
"I have a lot to do at home," Paul says. "It's been a week."
This time, it's Teemu's turn to raise his eyebrows. "Oh? What do you have to do this morning, right now?"
Paul can't come up with anything good, which is exactly the problem. "The pool guy says I need a new heater?"
Teemu throws his hands up in the air. "Then swim here! Our heater perfectly good!"
Paul weighs it out in his head. He can say no. Teemu isn't going to force him to stay; Teemu's never made him stay anywhere or do anything. He can drive home and start rebuilding all the boundaries that fell apart over this last week. He can do that. He should do that.
But maybe it doesn't have to be today. Paul looks over at Teemu, who is just watching, waiting for him to finish thinking. "I'll have to borrow a swimsuit."
"You know where they are," Teemu says, and goes back up the stairs.
Paul does. Sirpa keeps swimsuits in the bathroom off the patio, along with a drying rack and pool towels and sunscreen. Paul can't even remember how he knows that, but he does. He's been in and out of this house for years. He knows it, and the people in it, better than he realized.
He's cut a lot out of his life, these past four years, everything he could stand to lose. He couldn't cut out Teemu. He couldn't cut out this place or this family. Maybe that means something.
Paul walks to the swim room and pulls out one of Teemu's swimsuits. He actually could swim here; there's nothing stopping him.
But he's tired, now that the adrenaline rush is gone. He could maybe sleep some more. He heads back upstairs, into the bedroom, and pushes at Teemu's shoulder.
Teemu opens his eyes; he clearly wasn't sleeping. "Hey," he says. "Coming back to bed?"
"Yeah," Paul says, and climbs in next to him. Teemu wraps an arm around him, and it doesn't actually take too long to fall asleep.
"You ready for this?" Paul says, and he's sort of joking, but he's sort of not. Teemu's been saving this for a long time, so long Paul was starting to wonder if they were ever going to watch it. But apparently they are.
"Now is right time," Teemu says. "You watched my last game. Now I watch yours."
Of course. Paul swallows hard and shifts so he's sitting a little closer to Teemu. Sirpa comes in with a bowl of popcorn to go with the beers already sitting on the coffee table, and Teemu says, "Oh, we're eating traditional snacks tonight."
"How else?" Sirpa says. She bypasses her usual chair and settles next to Paul on the couch.
Paul normally wants to be on one of the ends, one side free, but it's good to have them on either side of him right now. "You ready?" he says, and when they both agree, he hits play.
Paul knows what's coming. Every second of this game is inscribed on his brain. But his breath still catches at 17:57, when he redirects the puck into the net. Sirpa makes a quiet noise, and Teemu -- Paul looks up from watching the celebration, Vatanen and Beleskey hugging him, and Teemu's smiling that same smile, but he's got tears in his eyes. Paul pauses the game.
Teemu turns to him and kisses him hard. "No, no, we're not stopping now," he says as he pulls away. "It's just been so long." He gestures around the room, at Paul, at himself, at the game paused on Paul-in-Teemu's delighted face, and Paul knows what he means.
"Yeah, it's been a while," Paul says.
"But we're here now," Sirpa says, and reaches over to hit play.