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Duncan spends the trade deadline on a bus to Grand Rapids, not parked in front of a TV showing TSN, so he's a little out of the loop.

Half the guys are following the action on their phones and texting buddies on different teams, but Duncs just tries to rest up, because they've got a game in a few hours and he played over twenty minutes the night before.

Word of the trade comes around right before they get to the arena and the bus nearly erupts with noise. "Powie's going to the Mighty Ducks-"

"Fuck you, that's not their name anymore."

"Whatever, the point is we'll miss you, Powell."

They will. He's leading all the defensemen in assists and is huge on the power play. And he's a fun guy to have around.

Duncan doesn't get a chance to digest the rest of the details of the trade because Coach sends him over to talk with Peters who's waiting with a whiteboard. He'll be filling in on the power play for now. He's excited for more ice time and a chance to show off a little more versatility.

 

When they get back to Rockford he expects a call up from Toledo to join them and shore up the roster. So it's something of a surprise when he walks into the locker room and sees Seabs standing there shaking hands with Duncan's teammates.

He knew Seabs was in Syracuse, he was right there when the Ducks draft him, but he never thought- never even considered that he might be part of the trade.

Micks turns to Duncan, leading the introductions like a good captain."Oh, Seabs this is-"

"Hey Duncs," Seabs says, not bothering to hold out his hand. "Long time, no see."

Just over a year, Duncan thinks, but he doesn't say it out loud. Seabs probably wouldn't appreciate him bringing that up.

"Oh, you two know each other? That's awesome."

"We used to play against each other," Seabs shrugs. He makes it sound so simple.

"Coach'll be glad, if you two know each other's games some," Micks says. "Come on, I'll introduce you to the rest of the guys."

Seabs nods and brushes past Duncs without even touching him. Which is fine, totally fine, that's the way it should be.

That's what he tries to tell himself, at least, as he sinks down on to the bench in front of his locker and just stares at his equipment.

Once he gets over the shock, practice goes well enough. It's hockey, and Duncan can always do hockey, even if Seabs is leaning against the boards watching him. But he can't tell if Seabs is watching Duncs or just another teammate.

It's a little nerve wracking.

He showers and changes quickly, trying to avoid getting dragged into conversation, especially with Seabs.

"Yo, Keith, we're gonna go grab some food," Sonny says. "You coming?"

"Raincheck," Duncan says as he grabs his bag. "I'm wiped."

He sneaks a glance a Seabs, but his face is unreadable. Duncan frowns to himself as he heads out to his truck.

 

He calls Sharpy the second the door to his apartment is locked behind him.

"I was wondering when you'd be calling," Sharpy says as soon as he picks up.

"You knew?" Duncan says. "Why the fuck didn't you warn me?"

"Warn you? I figured you'd be up to date on your own team news," he pauses. "Did you really not know?"

"No, I mean, I knew there was a trade but the coaches kept me busy with my new role on the power play and I missed out on all the details."

"Shit."

"Yeah, so I get to practice today and there he is, and Richie introduced us-" Sharpy tries to muffle a snort "-and Seabs played it totally cool, like he didn't even care."

For someone who objected so strongly to getting dumped, he didn't seem to care at all.

"He knew he was going to be seeing you," Sharpy points out. "He had time to get his game face on. And now you can get yours on, you'll be okay."

Duncan sighs. Sharpy's right, but he still doesn't know what he did to deserve this. All he ever wanted was what was best for Seabs. 

"He looked really good," he adds quietly, barely able to make eye contact with the popcorn ceiling of his living room. Even after all the insane travel it had to have taken to get from Syracuse to Rockford, Seabs looked really good. And maybe he put on a few pounds of muscle since- since World Juniors.

"Oh sh- Are you going to be okay?" Sharpy asks. "I mean, really?"

"I'll be fine," Duncan says. "Game face."

 

Duncs makes it through the next few practices with his game face on. If the other Hogs notice that he's a little quieter than usual, no one mentions it. He's friends with them, but he knows he's earned a little bit of a weirdo rep. Only the goalies get away with more.

But after Brent's first game - a win over Peoria, where he almost got into a fight - Richie announces that they're all going out to dinner to celebrate.

Some guys beg off, but Snell's giving Duncs a look so he agrees, even as Micks is offering Seabs a ride, since he's not totally solid on his way around Rockford after less than a week.

Micks sees Duncan glancing over and says, "You want to hop in, too?"

"Nah," Duncan says. "Gotta swing by CVS on my way home."

He could probably use more toilet paper, so it's not a lie.

Driving himself means he's one of the last to arrive though, and Micks has saved him a seat. Which would be great, except it's right across from Seabs.

It's not that big of a deal, there's nothing special about sitting together in a restaurant with twelve other guys. It's not that different than sitting in the locker room, or when they're going to have to bus up to Milwaukee in a few days.

It's fine. Duncan doesn't even notice that Seabs still wants his burger toppings on the side. 

There is one awkward thing, when his plate comes with a pickle spear on it, and he goes to move it to Brent's plate without thinking.

He catches himself halfway across the table though, and Seabs glances up at him, his eyes unreadable.

"Um, do you?" Duncs asks.

"Yeah, sure," Seabs says and Duncan can finally put it down and wipe his hand off on his napkin.

He might see Seabs quirk a little smile, but it's not really that well lit in here.

"Wait, you two went to high school together?" Jeff asks as Duncs is picking through his food.

"Only for a couple years," Duncan says. He'd liked the second year a lot more than the first, but now he's not so sure.

"Oh man," Micks says throwing an arm around Duncs. "Seabs, what was this guy like back then?"

"He called me angry bubble boy," Duncan cuts in. He'd rather embarrass himself than leave it open for Seabs.

The table cracks up, because of course no one has anything better to talk about right now. "Oh god, I bet," Richie says.

"You wouldn't play for the Vipers," Seabs shrugs. And he's doing that thing where he's nicer to Duncan than Duncan ever expects him to be, and Duncs probably won't handle it any better this time than he did last time.

But then Seabs continues, "and he even had a high school sweetheart." That draws a smattering of coos and disbelief from the guys around them, but Duncan freezes as Seabs stares him down. "Of course then he blew it all up in college saying he loved hockey more."

Seabs looks away then and grabs Mick's beer draining it while Snell slaps Duncan on the back. "Stone cold, Duncs. Stone cold."

"I didn't," he tries to protest. "I never said that."

But no one's listening to him.

He doesn't even realize until later, when he's alone in his apartment staring at the ceiling and debating calling Sharpy or maybe his sister, how well Seabs side stepped the pronoun issue.

He'd always been good at that.

 

Duncan worries that practice might be awkward after what happened at dinner, and if it is, it's Seabs's fault. Not that it'll matter whose fault it is if the team chemistry gets fucked with.

But considering the way things went down before, and how more than half of the greater Vancouver area took Seabs's side, the cold comfort is still a comfort.

It turns out not to be an issue at all though, which is a relief, but Duncan is still jittery waiting for Seabs to say or do something in the locker room.

Hitting the ice loosens him up a bit, and he doesn't even mind when the D pairs are mixed up and he ends up with Seabs. It's just a few minutes, and it's not like either of them were unprepared for this possibility, so it's fine. They're professionals, and stymie Micks and Snell as they try to take the puck past them.

Coach looks on approvingly and no one suspects that there's anything else going on between Duncs and Seabs.

Because nothing is.

 

The next game is in Milwaukee, it barely counts as a road trip, they won't even be staying overnight in the city. So Seabs is going to have to wait til the western Canada trip before he learns why Connors was the one without a roommate.

The game goes well enough, even during the second period when Duncan can't get off the ice for a line change because the Admirals are forechecking hard and he's alone on the ice. Suddenly Seabs is out there, turning the two on one into a two on two. Duncs is able to get the puck over into the corner, but it's another twenty seconds before their forwards can get the puck through the neutral zone so he has enough time and space to change.

"Good work," Coach says as Duncan grabs for his Gatorade.

So it's not much of a surprise when he puts Seabs out with Duncan intentionally before the period draws to a close.  It's not a big deal, this is what they do and Seabs is a good player, they'll be fine.

They do better than fine, actually, because Seabs absolutely crushes the puck carrier against the boards and chips the puck over to Duncs. He's free to carry the puck out of the zone an send it up to Micks who pulls a few fancy deke moves before scoring high glove side.

They all crash in on Micks slapping him on the head and hugging. Seabs stays on Micks's other side

 

Most everyone sleeps on the ride back to Rockford, and Duncan settles into his usual spot towards the back of the bus. When he leans his head against the window, pillowing his hoodie underneath his head he can see Seabs's reflection in the glass a few rows up. The bus is quiet, save the occasional snuffling and snoring from the guys.

With a little effort, Dunc can pick out the rhythm of Seabs's snoring separate and distinct from Connors and Hayes. It shouldn't be as comforting as it is, but it reminds him of weekends spent in extra long twin beds. He falls asleep thinking of long road trips from Michigan to BC.

 

They play more together after Milwaukee, in practice and in games and it's good, sometimes great. And it gets easier to pretend that this is all they are. That all they ever were was classmates, and occasional opponents and now teammates.

Duncan knows Seabs is fitting in well with the team when he calls Nordy “sugar” and Sonny “honeypie” while they're getting changed one afternoon and everyone just laughs at the nicknames. No one even raises an eyebrow. Why would they? Seabs is straight now, and his fondness for pet names isn't nearly as weird as his pregame routine.

A few weeks later they're playing Peoria again, on a Wednesday night and it's another scrum fest from buzzer to buzzer. Seabs mixes it up with the Rivermen goons more than Duncan does, using his size to protect the smaller guys. He handles himself really well without ever having to drop the gloves. The scouts should be impressed; Duncan is.

On top of all that, Dunc is able to set Seabs up for a goal during one of the three 4-on-4s in the third period. It's not the game winner or anything, just piling on to make the lead 5-1, but that doesn't make it any less awesome.

When they get to the bar after the game, Seabs obviously agrees. “I owe you a beer,” he says as they settle in around a group of tables.

“It's not a big deal,” Duncs says. Mostly he's just enjoying Seabs smiling at him.

“My first goal as an Icehog? It's a big deal,” Seabs says waving him off.

“Let the man buy you a beer, Keith,” Hayes says, throwing an arm over his shoulder.

“Fine, fine,” Duncan says. “Since I broke his scoring drought and all.”

He tries not to think about other definitions of scoring drought while Seabs leans over to the waitress. “Get this guy a Newcastle.”

“Newcastle?” Nordy asks, raising an eyebrow. “Wow, you really rate.”

Duncan just likes it better than most of the standard stuff they have on tap at American bars, and Seabs has heard him bitch about it enough that he didn't need to ask what Dunc wanted. But Seabs looks a little flushed, since someone's pointed it out.

“Five bucks for a beer instead of three,” Duncan deadpans. “He's a real big spender.”

“Yeah, Nordy,” Micks cuts in. “Not everyone's as cheap as you.”

Duncan and Seabs both laugh, and god, it feels so good to just have things be easy between them and not tense, like Andrew Ladd goes going to emerge from the shadows and break Duncan's jaw if he says the wrong thing.

It's a good night with the guys just drinking, shooting the shit and taking turns playing darts or pool. At some point Dunc loses track of Seabs, but he doesn't really think anything of it.

Not until he's pushing his way through the crowd to the bathroom and nearly trips over Seabs and his...new friend. The blonde with curly hair who'd been sitting at the bar when the team came in, disengages from the kiss.

"Oh, uh, sorry," Duncan stammers out. Seabs's lips are redder than usual, redder than they should be even if- oh right, she's wearing red lipstick.

Seabs looks surprised at least. "Oh, uh. Sorry about that."

Duncan coughs. "No problem, I just need to-"

"Right, yeah," Seabs says stepping out of the way.

The bathroom door doesn't shut fast enough for Duncan not to hear a soft, "Why don't we go somewhere a little more private? My roommate is over at her boyfriend's tonight."

Dunc spends about five minutes washing his hands, giving them plenty of time to clear out so he doesn't have to deal with that again.

He's not going to pretend he's not jealous – he allows himself one pity shot – it's Seabs and Duncan didn't actually want to break up with him, if there had been some way.... But it was impossible. It's better this way.

Better for Seabs, with all the guys talking about how hot that girl was, and nobody thinking it's weird that he's driving two hours to a rival school on his days off. Nobody wonders about Seabs at all. It's what Dunc wanted for him, so being really upset about seeing it in action would be stupid.

Not that he planned on seeing Seabs move on quite that up close and personal. He was supposed to be in Syracuse or Anaheim. Not Rockford.

“You okay there, Keith?” Snell asks, sitting next to him at the bar.

“Can't complain.”

“Really? You look like someone cut all your sticks too short.”

“Just a little tired,” he lies. “Think I might bail.”

“Micks is heading out soon, he can give you a ride,” Snell says, clapping him on the shoulder, instead of giving him shit about wanting to leave early.

He must look really bad, which is a problem. He'll need to fix that before the next practice, but tomorrow is a day off, so there's plenty of time for that.

 

"He probably did it on purpose," Sharpy says the next day.

Duncan frowns. "I don't think so. He looked surprised and he wouldn't. I mean... It's been a year and he's obviously over it."

That draws a snort from the other end of the line. "I would, and none of my exes... It was a dick move."

"He's allowed to get laid," Duncan points out. "I don't get to care anymore. I gave that up."

"This phone call is you not caring?"

"I'm trying."

"Yeah, well you just have to keep it up for a couple more weeks, then it's back home and all that forced interaction ends."

"Until next season."

"You need a break," Sharpy says. "I need a break from hearing about this shit. Me and the guys'll take care of you, don't worry."

 

Seabs is watching Duncan all through practice the next day, but he pretends not to notice. He doesn't know why Seabs is watching him, or what he expects Duncs to say or do. There's nothing to say, and the only thing to do is play hockey.

Not that the games actually matter at this point, since they're not making the playoffs. Normally Duncan would feel bad about how relieved he feels at the end of the season approaching. He hates losing, but Rockford is feeling too small these days and he misses the people that know him best.

They win their last game, at least, to go out on a high note and then it's time to clean out their lockers and pack up their apartments.

It's easier to fit all his stuff in the back of his SUV now that he's driving home alone, but the trip will take longer with just one driver.

At least he'll be able to pick the music the whole way.

It takes Duncan three days to make the drive back home, and he sleeps for another three days once he gets there, emerging only occasionally for food and water.

"You reek," Rebecca says when he finally stays in the kitchen for more than fifteen minutes at a time.

He shrugs and she rolls her eyes.

"The Phantoms have been eliminated, but Sharpy's up with the Flyers now, but they're down 3-1 to the Habs, so he might be back soon."

"Yeah?" he asks. His voice sounds weird, so he drinks more water.

"Yeah," she says. "And oh, I ran into Seabs outside McNulty's. That was awkward."

Duncan frowns. "Why were you at a hockey bar?"

"We went to dinner across the street," she says, rolling her eyes at him.

That's a relief, especially since she isn't actually old enough to get into a bar yet. "Was he uh, with anyone?"

The look she gives him tells Duncan just how subtle he isn't. "Just some guys from Delta. Now seriously, go shower before the smell is transferred to the curtains and the kitchen stays like this all summer."

"Yeah, yeah," Duncs says before wrapping her in a big bear hug.

"You're so gross, Duncan," she says, slapping at his arms before finally giving in and hugging him back.

Over the next few days he finally unpacks his car - by himself, because Becky claims to have homework whenever he asks – and he goes for a drive.

He doesn't have a real destination in mind, just wants to check out what's changed around town. The problem of course, is that most things in Delta and half of Vancity remind him of Seabs, or Seabs and Ladd and everyone else from the Vipers.

So after a while he turns the car east and heads for Langley, and he's practically on autopilot the whole trip down the TCH.

When he stops at the Timmy's near the Lancers' practice rink, he sits in a booth and watches groups of kids come in and tries not to feel too old.

“Duncs?” a voice asks from behind him while he's watching a group of teenagers shove at each other in line.

“Hey Bobby,” Duncs says once he turns around. “What's up, man?”

“Not much, man, just got done with school,” Bobby says. “How about you?”

“Just got back from the A, just hanging around.”

“I'm having a barbecue this weekend, you should come by, a ton of the Lancers are gonna be there,” Bobby says. “We can all catch up.”

Duncan grins, “That sounds awesome man, Sharpy should be back by then.”

“Fuck yeah,” Bobby says punching his arm. “It's gonna be awesome. I gotta go meet my girl, but I'll see you Saturday.”

“For sure,” Duncs says. It'll be awesome, getting to see everyone.

 

Sharpy's back in town on Thursday, and Duncan goes to visit him once he gets the word. Sure Sharpy's drive was longer, but he hasn't played a game in two weeks, so he shouldn't be as tired.

"Miss me Duncs?" Sharpy asks, his grin wide and easy, even though he looks exhausted.

"Nah," Duncan lies pulling him in for a quick slap on the back. "Just your parents' movie collection."

They don't talk much, mostly because Sharpy falls asleep halfway through the movie and before he even finishes his first beer. But he should be more lively on Saturday, and Duncan is just glad for a few hours around someone he doesn't have to hide things from, and doesn't share his last name.

 

It's a really nice day for a cookout on Saturday, and Bobby's got a beer pong table set up in his back yard.

"I might be a little rusty," Dunc warns Sharpy when they partner up. "I haven't played since I left MSU."

"Rockford can't be that much more exciting than Glens Falls," he snorts.

They do pretty well, sinking enough shots to get Bobby and Gordo drinking at least as often as he and Sharpy do. Duncan has a pretty good rhythm going, but it's all thrown off when, right before his shot, he suddenly hears Andrew Ladd saying, "What the fuck is he doing here?"

The ping pong ball bounces way wide of the cups and ends up landing at Ryan's feet. Of course he's here with Ladd and Seabs.

At least it's a friendly face. Not that Seabs is looking unfriendly, he's just busy trying to distract Ladd.

"It's a Lancers' party, what did you expect?" Dunc snaps at Ladd as he takes the ball back from Ryan.

"Sorry, guys, I figured last year's militarized zones were expired," Bobby shrugs.

"It's fine," Seabs says. "Don't worry about it."

He shoots Duncan a tight smile, and he tries to answer it before finishing Sharpy's beer for him.

Ryan and Seabs get Ladd over to a separate part of the yard, and Duncan tries to refocus on the beer pong game. He and Sharpy end up losing, but he doesn't really mind, since it means he gets to finish off the cups.

"I'm getting another beer," Duncan says once another pair takes over their place at the table.

Sharpy makes a face, but Duncan waves him off. "It's fine, I'm not trying to get wasted." He just doesn't want to be sober.

"I'll grab a couple burgers," Sharpy says.

It's probably a good idea, especially since Duncan has been drinking shitty American beer for the past eight months.

He heads to the cooler by the patio door and isn't surprised when a shadow falls over him while he's grabbing a couple of Molsons. It doesn't come with any blows or insults, so he knows it's not Ladd.

He sighs when he looks up and sees Ryan standing there with his shoulders stiff. "I guess I should be glad they sent you."

"No one sent me," Ryan shrugs. Duncan knows it's true, because Ladd is glaring at both of them, while Seabs grips his arm solidly enough for Duncs to see from here. Seabs isn't looking at them though, he's just chatting with Joey like nothing weird is going on.

"So how's it going, Dunc?" Ryan asks. "Haven't heard from you in a while."

Duncan shrugs, "Fine. How's it going playing with the big boys?"

"Pretty good, you know. You gonna be getting in my way next season?"

"Depends on camp, I guess. Got a bit more competition now." 

"Seabs said you guys have been playing together some," Ryan says, not bothering to talk around it.

"Some, yeah," Duncan says.

"How's that going?" Ryan presses, even though they're right in front of all the beer and not everyone here knows he and Seabs were. Yeah.

"It's fine," Duncan says. "I'm fine. He could've told you that."

He's not really lying, but even though he'd gotten used to hanging out around Seabs with the team, it's different and way weirder doing it around people who know what they used to be.

"I wanted to hear it from you," Ryan says. "We should grab a beer later."

"Yeah," Duncan agrees. He likes Ryan, he does. Sometimes he gets Dunc more than Ladd or Seabs do. "I wouldn't mention it to your boy though, he's looking a little purple as it is."

He's shooting Duncan death glares, and Duncan has to wonder why he still cares that much. Seabs has moved on, so why hasn't Ladd?

Ryan glances back at Ladd and rolls his eyes, but Duncan can see the smile tugging at his mouth. "Don't worry about him, we'll catch up later."

"For sure," Duncan says before taking his beer back to the retaining wall where Sharpy's waiting with food.

"What'd Kesler have to say?" Sharpy asks as he passes Duncan his plain burger.

"Just saying hi," Dunc shrugs.

Duncan finishes his burger and goes to talk with Harrison, because the guy's been off in Sweden for the last year. He's not avoiding Ladd, because this is his friend's place, and these are his guys.

And Ryan and Seabs are doing a pretty good job of keeping him corralled.

He and Sharpy are by the cooler later, when Seabs comes out from inside the house, accidentally bumping Sharpy.

"Oh, sorry," Seabs says automatically. He grins when he realizes it's Sharpy. "How's it going, pretty boy?"

Sharpy shoots Duncan a look before replying, and Duncan just shrugs at him. "Can't complain."

"So tell, me how are the press boxes in the NHL?" Seabs teases.

"Not bad," Sharpy says. "Food's better."

"You ate it? Didn't worry over your physique, since you weren't getting any actual playing time?"

Sharpy rolls his eyes but Duncan can't help a little grin, and Seabs catches his eye, wagging his eyebrows quickly. It's nice sharing their friends again, Dunc isn't going to go all Andrew Ladd on either of them.

"I was still practicing, dumb fuck. With a guy you might've heard of, oh, what's his name again. Pronger something."

The smug look falls off Seabs's face quickly. "Did you talk to him at all? What's he like?"

Duncan has to muffle a laugh, while Sharpy puffs up a little. "He was cool, did you want me to try to pass him a note for you at training camp? Get some pictures in the showers?"

Duncan has to laugh then, and Seabs smacks him on the shoulder. "Shut up, you're just j-"

The easy mood falls away quickly as Seabs snatches his hand away. "I mean..."

“Yeah, I'm real jealous of his brittle bones,” Duncs says lamely, trying to break the awkward silence that is rapidly forming.

It's close to what he used to say, but this time Seabs is shooting him a tense smile, not scoffing and tackling him, or kissing him to remind him which defenseman he actually had a chance in hell of blowing.

“I, uh, I'm going to go to the bathroom,” Duncan says abruptly, as Sharpy tries to fill the silence.

“Yeah, I should uh, go,” Seabs says jerking his head in Ladd and Ryan's general direction.

“See ya,” Duncan says, trying not to rip the sliding glass door off it's tracks.

It's sad, that this could be considered a high point for them.

“Smooth,” Sharpy says, when he finds him outside.

“Fuck off,” Duncan sighs.

“You ready to go?” Sharpy asks.

“You sure?”

“I've heard all the interesting stories,” Sharpy shrugs. “And all the good beer is gone.”

It's a lie, but Duncan appreciates it.

 

Duncan doesn't run into Seabs much over the next couple of months. He's not actively avoiding him or anything, but they do have different friends and places they like to hang out.

Ryan follows through on their plans to grab a beer. It's only a little awkward when half of his stories involve something about Ladd or hanging out with Seabs. But he's got good stories about bouncing back and forth between the A and the big leagues.

"So, are you seeing anybody?" he asks as they're finishing up their food.

Duncan stares at him, because he would've thought that was obvious. "No. Just...focusing on hockey."

Kes starts giving him that sad twist of a smile, so Duncan follows it up with, "And Rockford doesn't have much of a club scene."

Ryan laughs. "I bet. But hey, maybe when you get to Chicago, yeah?"

"Yeah," Duncan says. "We'll see."

"Seabs says you guys have prospect camp soon."

"Next weekend. Should be fun."

"Try not to scare the newbies, Dunc."

 

He shouldn't be surprised to run into Seabs at the gate for his flight back to Chicago, but for some reason he is. He hesitates for a minute before dropping into the seat across from him.

"Oh, hey," Seabs says, pulling off his headphones. "Fancy meeting you here."

"Yeah," Duncan says. "Should've realized..."

Seabs just shrugs. "I didn't even consider it, but hey, we can split a cab to the hotel."

"Yeah," Duncan agrees. He hopes rooms are already assigned, and it's not determined by who you show up with. "So um, how's your summer going?"

"Good, you know, training with Ladd and Kes. Keith just got drafted."

"I heard," Duncan says. "The Flames, yeah?"

"Yeah. He's being obnoxious about it, but that's not really a surprise."

Duncan grins, because he remembers what Seabs had been like when he went in the first round their year. "Wonder where he gets that from."

"Don't be a dick," Seabs says, kicking Duncan's foot. "But uh, speaking of. Sorry about the whole cookout thing. I know it got kind of weird-"

"It's fine," Duncan says quickly. "Seriously, don't worry about it. Kes already apologized for the stick up Ladd's ass."

"Yeah, sorry. He's...weird. But we're good, right?" 

"Definitely," Duncan says as firmly as he can.

"It'll be good to see the guys," Seabs says, changing the subject.

"And actually play," Duncan agrees. "Even if it's just scrimmages."

"Gotta impress the brass."

 

They're on the same flight together again a few months later for training camp, and Seabs swears they even have the same flight attendants. At least it's less awkward hanging around the airport with him, both of them too excited for camp to care too much about the old days.

"You nervous?" Seabs asks as they wait at baggage claim in O'Hare.

"Nah," Duncs says. "Did okay in prospect camp."

Even though, or maybe because he spent more than half the time partnered with Seabs. He's not sure if that will happen again now that they'll have the regulars to mix and match with.

Honestly though, he doesn't care, as long as he makes the team. Besides, it's just practice and games, they can handle that much. They'll probably have to handle it in Rockford, so they might as well do it in Chicago.

"Well I hope you rub off on me," Seabs says. His eyes widen when he realizes what he's said. "Oh, I think I see my bag."

So that was weird, but they'll get to the hotel soon and the other guys will be there.

Except when they finally get to the hotel to check in, the desk clerk hands them both keys and says, "Room 804."

"Wait, both of us?" Duncs asks. 

"Yes sir, Mr. Keith, is there a problem?"

"Um, no," Duncan says. "Thank you."

Seabs doesn't say anything while they head to the elevator, and they run into Micks almost the second they get off the elevator.

"Hey!" he says patting them both on the shoulder. "What room?"

"804," Seabs says and Duncan just nods.

"Both of you? They're not being subtle with the blue line matchmaking, are they?" he laughs.

"Uh. Guess not," Duncan says. "We've gotta put our stuff away..."

"Yeah, yeah, I'm in 819, we're going for dinner in a bit."

"Sounds good," Seabs nods as he begins heading down the hall. Duncan has to hurry after him.

"You want the window, yeah?" Seabs says, even as he drops his stuff on the bed nearest to the bathroom.

"Thanks," Duncan says.

He remembers the first time he and Seabs were in a hotel room together; he'd had to jerk off after watching Seabs and Sharpy wrestle on the floor. He wishes he could say for sure that he wasn't going to need to do so again at all over the next few weeks.

"So um, do you think we'll have time to unpack before dinner?" Seabs asks.

"Maybe," Duncan shrugs. "But I should probably get a change of clothes out, so I don't smell like airport."

"You don't smell like airport," Seabs says. Then he pauses, "Or maybe I just smell like it too and can't tell."

"Eau de recycled air."

Seabs cracks a smile and starts going through his own bag, and they settle into a quiet rhythm before Seabs's phone buzzes.

"Lobby in fifteen," he reads off.

There's about fifteen guys in the lobby and Duncan knows them all from either Rockford, prospect camp or last year's training camp.

He breaks away from Seabs and heads for some of the guys who'd been called up from Rockford the previous year.

"So which one of you is picking up the tab?" Duncan asks. "Since you're making the big bucks now."

"Keith, you're even crazier than everyone thinks if you think I'm paying for these animals," Rob says.

Smith snorts in agreement.

"Jackie boy!" Seabs says, coming up from behind Duncan and quickly beginning an elaborate handshake with Duncan's old roommate.

"Oh shit, Seabrook, the rumors are true!" Jack laughs.

"You two know each other?" Duncan asks, feeling a little lost.

"World Juniors! Gold Medal brothers," Jack says laughing.

"You don't remember the entire roster?" Smith asks. "I thought that was a citizenship test."

"I was kind of sick through that tournament," Duncan explains. "It was hard to watch."

That's mostly true. After Canada's second game CBC had done a little two minute profile on Seabs and Duncan had spent the next two weeks convincing himself to do the right thing. He lost five pounds during that break. His coach had been baffled when they got back to school.

Seabs is very pointedly not looking at him, which is good, fine, whatever.

“We were fucking awesome, weren't we pumpkin?” Seabs says to Jack.

“It was too much to hope you'd dropped that, wasn't it?”

"So where are we going to eat?" Duncan asks, maybe a little too loudly.

Seabs sits at a different table than Duncan when they finally get enough room at the restaurant. It's fine with Duncs, they're already rooming together and it's not like Seabs doesn't have other friends on the team.

Still, somehow from two tables away Seabs catches him checking out one of the waiters when he clears their bread plates. Duncs reaches quickly for his water and tries to focus on the conversation at the table.

He's pretty sure Seabs is the only one that noticed, and at least Duncan knows he doesn't care.

Still, he makes a point of smiling at the pretty waitress, too, just in case anyone else is watching.
Seabs is quiet and trying to pretend like he isn't annoyed about something when they get back to their hotel room. Duncan assumes someone insulted Brad Paisley or something and doesn't press. It's not his job to make sure Seabs is happy.

It's still fairly early, so Duncan pulls out a book, but Seabs crawls into bed, not even bothering with the TV. He turns the lights off on his side of the room, but does that passive aggressive huffing as he rolls to face away from Duncan's lamp.

On principal, Duncan reads ten minutes longer than he was planning on before turning off the light.

 

Fortunately, Seabs's weirdness doesn't last through until morning. They're all too excited and distracted by the prospect of heading to the arena – a real, NHL arena – for a meeting before they hit the practice rink down the block.

The Ice House isn't the United Center, but there are still more fans and reporters than Duncan has ever seen at one of his practices before.

Training camp is a lot like last year's, a lot of the same faces, same coaches, similar drills and systems for practicing during scrimmages. There are a few differences though, Duncan is less nervous and awed than he was last year. He's more comfortable in his practice jersey and can tell which guys were just drafted or have been playing in college or the CHL just by looking at them.

And Seabs is here. Playing with him is so easy, even with less than two months of actual playing time together. Duncan's glad his unfortunate hyper awareness of where he is at any given moment is finally doing some good.

Quennville mixes up the pairings a lot, but it's still not a surprise when the day before their first exhibition game against the Stars he says, "Keith, Seabrook, you two are gonna go tomorrow night."

They share a look, and nod. They can do this.

"It's not like we'll be playing that many of the Dallas Stars," Duncan points out, as they try to calm down enough to nap before the game. "It's going to be a lot of the same guys we saw in Austin."

"It's going to be on TV," Seabs says.

"IceHogs games are on TV," Duncan points out. Channel 57, and not in high def, but they're on TV.

He can practically hear Seabs's eyes rolling. "Take your nap."

The game is a shoot out, a 6-5 win for the Hawks, and the defense doesn't exactly shine for either team, but Duncan gets an assist on the power play and that almost makes up for the minus two.

He's still running high on adrenaline after the game, but after grabbing a beer with some of the guys in the hotel bar, he's wiped out and heads up to the room. He feels a lot less lame when Seabs follows fifteen minutes later as Duncan finishes brushing his teeth.

"You look like shit," Seabs says genially as they trade places in the bathroom.

"Fuck off," Duncan says, turning the lights off on him.

Seabs yelps and Duncan grins as he crawls into bed. He's asleep before Seabs finishes in the bathroom.

 

He wakes up some time later, his bladder full and insistent that he wake up and deal with it immediately. He stumbles to the bathroom, not bothering to even open his eyes fully. It's not like he needs to be awake to do this.

He pisses on autopilot in the dark, and then heads back to bed, nearly tripping over someone's shoes in the process. Duncan catches himself on the wall and glares before shuffling over to the bed. Seabs is sprawled out and hogging most of the mattress, but that's no surprise. Duncan knows how to fight for his share.

He reaches for the covers, but is confused when they're still mostly tucked in under the mattress. Duncan's got them half pulled out when he realizes what he's doing and he backs off so quickly that he slams into the wall. He freezes, praying the noise doesn't wake Seabs and that he can just get back to bed without him realizing what Duncan almost did.

Jesus.

Seabs rolls towards Duncs but doesn't actually wake up, letting him escape to his own bed. His own, separate bed.

He can't go right back to sleep because his brain now fully awake and supplying him with horrifying and embarrassing "what if?" type situations.

What if Seabs had woken up while Duncan was trying to get into his bed? Would he have known it was an accident? Would he have cared?

Or what if Seabs had slept through it and Duncan hadn't realized what he was doing was wrong? That would have made for an awkward morning.

But, Duncan admits, some really nice sleeping. Better than the last time they shared Seabs's Twin-XL in Ann Arbor.

He rolls to face the window and tries to relax.

It was a mistake. He's just tired, and it's not likely to happen again, if only because they could be cut tomorrow and sent back to Rockford. That thought isn't particularly calming.

But even if neither of them are cut, there's only another week left in the preseason and then the training camp rooming assignments will be done with. Duncan can handle another few days.

 

Practice is light the next afternoon for the guys that played, and Coach Q sets the roster for the game the next night. Duncan isn't on it, and neither is Seabs.

It makes sense, there are plenty of guys they want to look at, it doesn't necessarily mean anything else.

“Maybe they don't want to tire us out too early,” Seabs says as they grab protein bars from the table outside the locker room.

“Maybe,” Duncan agrees.

Seabs shrugs and breaks off to go talk to Snell and Johnson, leaving Duncan alone to mull it all over.

“Keith, Seabrook,” the trainer calls out. “Bowman wants to see you.”

It can't be a good sign. Well, it could be, but it probably isn't.

Rockford's not that bad, he reminds himself, he'll have his own place and you never know what's going to happen over the course of a season.

“Breathe,” Seabs says, elbowing him gently as they head up to Bowman's office.

"Duncan, Brent, please have a seat," Bowman says, gesturing to two of the chairs in front of his desk.

Duncan doesn't actually want to sit down, but he has no reason to insist on standing, so he sits and tries to stay still. Seabs's leg is bouncing, but it's below the top of the desk, so Bowman probably can't see it.

"I just want to say what a thrill it is to have the two of you playing for the organization," he begins and the rest of his words wash over Duncan as he waits to hear the inevitable.

Rockford's not so bad, really.

"-and we're looking forward to seeing what the two of you can do for the Blackhawks this year."

Duncan doesn't gape, but that's only because he isn't sure he can move. Seabs isn't having that problem though, his smile takes over his whole face and he slaps Duncan on the back and reaches out to shake Bowman's hand. Duncan finally remembers to do the same.

"Thank you," Duncan says. "I- thank you."

"No need, just go out there and play like we know you can," Bowman says. "Now we'll be looking to get you boys settled in the city as soon as possible, I know living out of a hotel isn't much fun."

He has no idea. Duncan almost melts with relief – he doesn't have to share with Seabs anymore. There won't be any more close calls like last night.

"I've been talking with Joel and the staff in Rockford, and we think it'd be best if the two of you shared a place this year. Normally rookies stay with one of the older guys, but we think it'd be best for your development if you two spent time getting to know each other and the city."

Duncan has to school his features into something bland and unconcerned, even as he wonders what exactly he did to deserve this. Well. He knows what he did, but it's still a cruel joke.

"How does that sound to the two of you?" Bowman asks.

Terrible, Duncan can't say. He can't explain that it's an awful idea, because they used to date and sometimes Duncan thinks sharing a locker room is pushing the limits of his sanity. He's not sure he'll be able to survive the year in the same apartment.

"Sounds great," he years himself say.

Out of the corner of his eye he sees Seabs shoot him a look, but Duncan keeps his attention on Bowman.

"Excellent," Bowman smiles. "We'll get you two set up with a realtor soon."

"Great," Duncan says.

"Thanks again," Seabs finally says.

"So who are you going to call first?" Duncan asks, breaking the long weird silence as they head back down to the locker room.

"Huh? Oh, my parents, probably," Seabs says. 

Duncan doesn't need to be a Seabs expert to tell that he's not particularly thrilled by the idea of living together – for obvious reasons – so he grabs Seabs's arm and pulls him to a stop next to a pile of gear.

"Listen," he begins, "I know the living arrangements aren't exactly ideal, but it's only for a year, and whatever it takes to make the big show, right?"

"Whatever it takes," Seabs echoes.

Duncan hopes he doesn't visibly flinch, and just keeps talking. "We'll find a place where we can stay out of each others' hair and it'll be fine. It's only for one season." Nine months at the max if they get lucky.

"Yeah, sure," Seabs says.

"Okay," Duncs says.

"You gonna let me go now?" Seabs asks.

He hadn't realized he was still holding on to Seabs's arm. It's more defined than it used to be, Duncan notices. "Oh. Right, sorry." He lets go and steps away.

"Right, so, I'm gonna call my folks."

"Yeah, me too," he agrees quickly.

 

"We have an appointment with a realtor the day after tomorrow," Duncan says, lifting his beer to his mouth.

Sharpy inhales through his teeth and reaches out to pat Duncs on the shoulder. "That's rough, buddy. You gonna be okay?"

"It'll be better than sharing a hotel room. We'll have our own rooms, bathrooms. Really it's just the kitchen and the living room. It's not a big deal."

"Right, yeah, just fifty percent of the living area," Sharpy says, signaling the bartender for another round. "You can't hide in your room all season."

"I won't," Duncan says sullenly. He's still going to try to make an argument for the bigger bedroom, if they aren't the same size. Just in case.

"Have you tried talking to him?"

"And say what?" Duncan asks. He then lowers his voice, though he doubts anyone in this Philadelphia bar recognizes them. "Sorry about dumping you a week after World Juniors? I know it's been a year and a half, but I was hoping-"

He cuts himself off. "It doesn't matter, even if we're living twenty feet instead of twenty states apart the rest of it's still true. It's too risky, even if he did want to."

Sharpy pays the bartender as he drops off another pair of Yuenglings. Duncan was supposed to be buying tonight, since they lost the exhibition game, but Sharpy's forgotten about that.

"It's getting better though, right? I mean, if guys like Avery can lobby-"

"Lobbying's not the same as coming out and saying..."

"But maybe in a season or two?"

Duncan doubts it'll be that soon, but even if. "By then Seabs will probably be married to some pretty blonde he can take to parties and bars and not have to worry about assholes trying to make trouble."

He finishes his beer and reaches for the new one. "Hell, I don't mean to be a downer. You were pretty okay out there tonight. You think you'll stay up for the whole season this time?"

"I hope so," Sharpy says, letting the subject change without comment. “Did you hear about the Islanders?”

 

There's a glass of water on Duncan's side of the night stand when he wakes up the next morning, which means that he wasn't as quiet as he'd thought he'd been coming in the night before, but Seabs isn't pissed or anything.

The shower shuts off as Duncan drains the glass, which is good, he'll have a chance to hop in there before the team breakfast.

Seabs smirks at him when they switch places, but doesn't actually try to engage in conversation, thank god.

Of course, the cost of his consideration comes once they've sat down to breakfast with the rest of the team.

"So how is Hot Stuff?" Seabs asks casually as Duncan grabs a piece of toast.

"Hot Stuff?" Rob asks from the other side of the table. "Did you get some action last night?"

"Sharpy's doing well, he said to thank you for that pylon impression in the second period."

Seabs's mouth drops open in outrage. “I wasn't a pylon.”

"Patrick Sharp?" Nordy asks. "Hot Stuff? Really Seabs, you shouldn't get our hopes up like that."

"He's got an inferiority complex," Duncan explains. "Just can't handle Sharpy being prettier than him."

He's treading on shaky ground, but Seabs started it.

"He does have nice eyes," Rob concedes.

"Sharp's a fucking dreamboat," Ollie grumbles.

"Yeah," Murph chimes in, "if I were a chick, I'd do him."

Duncan's spent most of his life playing hockey, but he's still surprised at just how gay conversations can get sometimes.

He sits there dumbfounded as the conversation turns to ranking who at the table would be the most fuckable, if there was some weird sci-fi thing happening.

"Come on Duncs, help me out, wouldn't you want a piece of this?" Johnson asks, grinning widely to show off his missing teeth.

"Yeah, who would you go for?" Rob asks.

He can't help glancing briefly at Seabs who is watching him expectantly. "Why am I limited to you fuckers? I've got Sharpy on speed dial."

That gets a round of laughs from most of the table, but Seabs starts attacking his omelet with a vengeance.

The subject changes soon after, which is just fine with Duncan, it means he can hyperventilate in peace.

 

The meeting with the realtor the next day is a marathon of awkwardness. They'd mostly recovered from yesterday's breakfast by the time they boarded the plane back to Chicago, and practice was fine.

But now as they drive around in Laurie's alarmingly clean Lexus it starts to feel like some sort of bizarre purgatory.

"Have you two discussed what neighborhoods you'd like to start looking at first? Or any preferences on what you'd like in your building?"

"Um," Seabs glances back at Duncan. "Not really, we're both new to the city, so..."

"A balcony might be nice?" Duncan tries.

"And not too far from the UC."

"Excellent, I've got a few properties in mind for the two of you, so we'll start there."

Duncan nods even though she can't see him and stares out the window at buildings that are starting to look familiar.

He wonders if Seabs feels like they're being treated like a couple. His casual use of 'we' without explicitly checking with Duncs is just adding to the strangeness.

It's not that he needed to check with Duncan or anything, and Seabs has always been the chattier one so it makes sense, it's just familiar, and that's weird.

Neither of them like the new condo in the loop. It's big, and it's nice it's just...

"Too sterile," Seabs says after bumping into a glass table.

"Yeah," Duncan agrees. He's not sure he could ever really relax in a place like this.

They visit a few other places, none of them really stand out to either of them before winding up in a high rise on the edge of Lincoln Park.

"It's a little further from the arena," Laurie says, "but I think it's more your style."

It's a newer building, but it actually looks like a place where people live, and they've got a great view of the lake.

"A bit bigger than Okanagan, eh?" Seabs asks.

Duncan is a little startled, he thought Seabs was checking out the bedrooms with Laurie. "Yeah," he finally says. "It's pretty."

"Yeah," Seabs agrees. "Listen, Dunc-"

Laurie calls for them down the hall, cutting Seabs off.

"I guess we should finish the tour."

Neither of the bedrooms or bathrooms are obviously flawed, so when Laurie asks if they're ready to visit the next place, Seabs stops her.

"I don't think we need to. Dunc?"

"We'll take this one," he agrees.

"Excellent!" Laurie chirps. "I have to say, this has been one of the smoothest processes I've had with guys from your organization. You two are just going to love it here."

Duncan smiles tightly, and glances back out the window, where someone is playing fetch with a black dog down in the park. "Yeah."

"For sure," Seabs agrees.

 

They sign the papers and get some furniture in the place between the end of the preseason and the season opener. Boxes from BC show up before the home opener, but there's no time to unpack because there are interviews, and new suits and hockey.

And fans. A lot of fans.

They cheer loudly when Duncan's name is announced for the first time at the UC, like they have any idea who he is. He's trying not to fidget too much through the anthem, which is loud, really loud. Even compared to the preseason.

It's a relief when the game actually starts and he can focus on the hockey and tune out everything else.

Most of his minutes are with Seabs, but he gets some with Johnson and Murph, too, and manages to avoid fucking up terribly to help the Hawks get their win.

They have to go out and celebrate, and even Duncan isn't going to say no, not their first night out as actual members of the team.

Two hours later, he's regretting that decision, as Seabs slips out of the bar with his hand resting low on the back of a woman who is wearing shoes that could double as weapons.

He stays a while longer, so it doesn't look like he's leaving in a fit. He doubts that anyone is paying attention to him, but it he doesn't want to attract too much attention.

He's answering texts from Becky and Cam while he opens the door to their apartment, so it takes him a minute to realize what he's hearing.

Duncan saw Seabs leaving with that woman – he knew why they were leaving together but he hadn't considered that they'd be coming back here, or that he would have to listen –

Seabs is louder than he remembers, but the last time they had sex, it was in the dorms at U of M. Apparently he's loosened up a little since then.

He should go to his room and put on his new noise canceling headphones and just sleep and pretend it doesn't bother him. But he can't.

He can't stay here.

Duncan considers calling a cab once he gets back downstairs, but he doesn't know where he'd tell it to take him, so he just starts walking. It's still nice enough out, even with the breeze off the lake. It's after two am so most of the bars are closed, but there are still groups of people wandering the streets. He just shoves his hands in his pockets and tries to look like someone who wants to be left alone.

Eventually he finds an all night diner that isn't too full of college kids, and orders enough cups of coffee and the occasional food item to keep the waiter busy. He tries not to mope and think about anything else, but by the time four am rolls around it's just no use.

That should be him back there touching Seabs, seeing what noises he could draw out of him with no one else in the apartment, making him sweat and moan and then doing it all over again.

But he doesn't get to do that anymore, not after what he did after the last time they were together.

He should've done this at the beginning of the weekend, instead of dragging it out the whole time, but he wanted a chance to say good bye. He knows he's freaking Seabs out a little, by being so weird, and he's doubting his decision every second that he's here and Brent is smiling at him.

“So I'll call you when I get to Syracuse,” he says as Duncan repacks his duffel bag.

He takes a deep breath. “I don't think that's really necessary.”

Brent laughs, “I know you won't think I've died on the bus if I don't like my mom will, so I'll call you second.”

“No, I mean. I don't think you should,” he braces himself, like he would for an incoming hit. “I don't think we should do this anymore.”

“Do what?” Seabs asks. He's not getting it and it's killing Duncan. He had no idea this was coming.

“This. Us. You don't really think us being in different states is going to make for a rock solid relationship, do you? I don't see you enough as it is and it's only an hour drive between Ann Arbor and East Lansing.”

“Syracuse isn't that far- Dunc,” Brent protests.

“But in a few months I'm probably going to Rockford-”

“We'll play each other!”

“What, twice a year? Be realistic. And then if you go out to California. It's better to do this now, we shouldn't drag it out. Neither of us can afford that kind of a distraction.”

“But I love you,” Seabs says. Duncan can barely look at him, because he looks like he's going to cry, or hit something and all Duncan wants to do is apologize and make it better.

“I need hockey,” he forces himself to say. “I don't know who I am without it. And I can't risk messing up my game because I'm stressing about a long distance relationship.” Or what might happen if someone found them out.

He can't say that part out loud, because Seabs would figure him out in an instant, they've had that fight too many times.

“Duncan-”

“I should get going, I have homework I need to do when I get back.”

“Dunc, wait.”

“Good luck in Syracuse.”

The diner he had to stop at just outside of Ann Arbor to get himself together had had better coffee than this. Of course, it had been the middle of the afternoon, not, shit, four in the morning. He should go home. There's no way they're still going.

The apartment is dark and quiet when he lets himself in for the second time that night, a welcome change. He finally lets himself feel the exhaustion he was fighting off in the cab as he falls into bed. The pregame ceremony feels like it was days ago, but he's dead to the world before he can calculate exactly how many hours have passed.

 

There's coffee brewing in the pot when he finally gets up the next morning, and Seabs is already dressed when Duncan goes shuffling past him. As far as he can tell, they're the only two in the apartment.

“Hey, didn't hear you come in last night.”

“Was out late,” Duncan grunts.

“You have fun with the guys?”

He shrugs. “Went exploring.”

“Oh. Cool,” Seabs says. “I guess I'll leave you to your coffee then.”

Duncan waves at him and pulls up a chair next to the coffee maker so he won't have to travel too far for his next cup.

 

The rest of the day is mostly a waste, but Duncs makes a point to unpack more of his stuff, because it means he's not just sulking in his room between naps. Which isn't to say that he's not sulking, but at least that's not all he's doing.

When he digs an old Michigan sweatshirt out of a duffel bag Duncan feels pretty pathetic. Especially when he still, even after last night, wants to pull it on over his shirt and pretend it still smells like Seabs. He just holds it, and stares at it for a minute before shoving it under his pillow. It's probably not much better than wearing it, but at least Seabs won't accidentally see him in it.

He doesn't see much of Seabs until they're leaving for practice the next morning. Duncan is waiting for him by the door, and Seabs hesitates by the closet with their coats, licking his lip like he's about to say something. But if it's something that he's nervous about saying or feels awkward about, it's probably about the night before, and Duncan really doesn't want to hear it.

“Ready to go?”

“Uh, yeah,” Seabs says, glancing around. “You got the keys?”

Duncan just holds them up and opens the door out to the hall. Talking about things would just make it all worse.

 

After Seabs brings home different girls each of the next three weekends they're at home, and does god knows what in the bathroom of a bar in Los Angeles, Duncan is really glad they didn't have a talk. At least this way he didn't have to look Seabs in the eye and pretend like he doesn't care and tacitly endorse it. Not that Seabs needs his permission, and he obviously doesn't think so, so they really didn't need to talk.

Besides, Seabs's dates have given Duncan more time to hang out with his teammates. Whenever Seabs leaves the bar early, Duncan does his best to close it down with Jack or Rob or who ever's still up. It's better than sulking over bad coffee, and it's good for the team.

“You never partied like this in Rockford,” Jack says, one night shortly before last call.

Duncan doesn't really think trading 'the worst penalty I ever took' stories in a dimly lit bar counts as partying, but he gets what Jack is saying. Still he shrugs, “Bars weren't as much fun in Rockford.”

That gets a laugh from everyone at the table and he's pretty sure he's slowly shedding the team weirdo label. Or at least none of these guys are going to give him serious shit for it. So really, it's not so bad, this arrangement he and Seabs have.

He's noticed that if he lingers outside the bar while Rob debates borrowing a cigarette from a guy down the block before catching a cab back home, Seabs and his hook up are usually done by the time he gets there, or are doing it all very quietly. Duncan appreciates it, because really, it's the least Seabs can do.

But once when he decides to stay home rather than go out, he's nearly asleep when he hears Seabs and the click-click of heels on hardwood. Whoever she is laughs, and Seabs shushes her, “My roommate's asleep.”

And Duncan tries to sleep, he really does, during the lull in audible action as they turn into Seabs's room. But it's just not enough time before he can pick out the thumps and sighs and moans coming from the adjacent room. And fuck his fucking dick, because it can't just ignore the sounds Seabs is making, because Seabs sounding like that meant so many good things for Duncan and his dick for so long.

He tries to ignore it, and the sounds, but he can't help trying to picture what Seabs is doing that's making him sound like that. Did she find one of those spots that turns him from big strong athlete to a malleable ball of mush that can just be pushed around as needed? Or is she blowing him, and does Seabs still like to bury his hands in Duncan's- her. Her hair.

Duncan bites down hard on his lip. Maybe, maybe if he just jerks off and gets it over with, he'll be able to ignore it all and just go to sleep. He could go to the bathroom, but one of them might hear and realize he's awake and try to be more quiet, and even if they didn't, he wouldn't be able to hear as well in the bathroom and, he hates himself when he admits it but, he kind of wants to hear. It will certainly speed things along.

The woman gets noisier than Seabs as Duncan pulls the lube from the bedside table, but he doesn't really mind, he knows how enthusiastic Seabs can be. He's probably not on his knees for her, which is a shame, really, because it's a good look, and if she's like most of the girls that hang around with the team at bars, he could probably keep her upright with one hand, no matter what the other one and his tongue might be doing.

His hips jerk at that thought, and he lifts himself enough that his free hand can tease his ass just a little, not even pushing in, but just being there and it's enough to push him over the edge.

Duncan's pretty sure that whatever noises he might've made were covered by the ones they're making next door.

As the endorphins fade, reality comes rushing back in. Fuck, he'd dealt with the fact that Seabs still stars in ninety percent of his fantasies, even if it is awkward now that they live together. But fantasizing about Seabs, or getting off to a memory is one thing, it's an entirely different creepy and pathetic kettle of fish to get off to the sounds of Seabs fucking someone else next door.

He pulls out his headphones, like he should have the second they came home, and puts the volume up loud enough to drown them out. It's not easy to fall asleep that way, but eventually he manages.

 

The circus kicks them out of the United Center for two weeks a couple of days later, and Duncan is so grateful. Seabs didn't act like he'd noticed anything, and Duncan played it cool enough despite feeling incredibly guilty, but two weeks on the road means two weeks of rooming with Jack instead of Seabs and not having to pay attention to or over hear his post game activities.

It doesn't mean he doesn't notice the way women make a point to brush against him, or the way Seabs makes them laugh with some dumb joke - Duncan assumes it's dumb, because Seabs doesn't like good ones - or the way tugging on a lock of hair is still a big part of his flirting repertoire.

Duncan briefly considers getting a hair cut while in Edmonton, but remembers in time that he looks like a total dork with short hair.

Vancouver means dinner with his family and then drinks with Ryan, and it's only after agreeing to a time and place that he realizes Seabs is probably invited, too.

It's good to see his parents, and even Cameron has made it back out to see him play, which is great, and it's just nice to have some family time for a few hours.

Until, of course, his mom asks, "So what else are you going to do while you're in town?"

"Meeting Kesler for drinks later," he says.

"Oh that's nice," she says. "He's doing very well this season. Tell him we say hello."

"Will do," Duncan nods.

He's trying to stay relaxed and not stress about it, it's not like they don't go out together with the guys all the time.

Becky picks up on it, and can't leave well enough alone. "So just you and Kesler?"

He glares at her. "No, Seabs is probably coming, too."

"Ah," his dad says.

"I'm glad you two are friends again," his mom says.

"Yeah," Duncs agrees, even though he's not sure that's the right word for whatever they are now.

"I could go with you," Becky points out, and then drops her voice, "Run interference."

Great, his baby sister thinks he needs protecting. "No, you couldn't. It'll be fine." He should maybe sound more enthusiastic. "It'll be great."

 

The bar Kesler picked is a shitty little dive that Duncan has been to once before.

"What, don't they pay you?" Duncan asks, glancing at the two dollar Miller special advertised on a chalk board.

"You're the one who told me about this place, you liked it."

Duncan's recommendation had more to do with what he and Seabs had gotten up to in the bathroom that night than the bar itself. But beer is beer, so he doesn't make a fuss.

Kesler's ribbing him about an edge he lost in Edmonton, and Duncs is trying to pay attention, and not catalog how the bar apparently hasn't changed at all in two years, even the burnt out L in the LaBatt's sign behind the bar.

Hopefully Seabs and Ladd still come here a lot, or Seabs doesn't remember that night at all.

He almost jumps when Seabs shows up suddenly, like he heard Duncan thinking about him. "Jesus, Kesler, this place? I haven't been here since before sophomore year."

So much for that then. Duncan turns to look at the taps along the bar, like he's trying to decide what to order.

"Well now you don't have to stick to the Miller Light specials," Kesler chirps. "Or if you two want to keep bitching about it, we could go somewhere that'll charge you twice as much for a Molson."

"It's fine," Duncan says. "I'll get the first round."

Duncan tries not to notice how Seabs looks a little strained when he gets back to the table. He'd want Seabs to do the same for him, and not make a huge deal out of it or anything.

It takes a couple of beers, but eventually they slip back into an almost easy conversation. Almost easy, because Duncan is trying his best not to care while Seabs calls Ryan 'baby' and flirts shamelessly. It's not like it means anything, he does it with most of his friends and has for years. It took two weeks of Seabs calling Kes 'pretty boy' before he'd stop flinching. Now he doesn't even blink when Seabs leers and asks him about his 'stick handling'.

"Need some help in that department, Seabs?" Ryan asks with a smirk.

"From you? Always," Seabs says, unable to keep the grin off his face.

It's just stupid jokes, Ryan is stupid about Ladd and Seabs would never. Although Duncan kind of wonders what might've happened the summer before last- And no. He's not going there.

"Maybe you should ask Datsyuk about his dangle?" Duncan chimes in.

That surprises a laugh out of Seabs but Kesler just rolls his eyes. "You two are terrible."

"You love it, baby," Seabs says.

"Whatever helps you sleep at night."

"I gotta piss," Duncan says, rising from the table.

The paint is still peeling under the harsh unshielded fluorescent bulbs, and there's still a dent in the drywall. Seabs claimed it had been there before he shoved Duncs up against the wall and pinned him there, but it's exactly at elbow height, so Duncan's not too sure.

Christ, they'd been young and stupid and way too into public bathrooms for their own good.

The door swings open behind him, and Duncan half expects to see Seabs sneaking in to join him, but it's just the old guy who's been sitting at the bar all night.

He can't wait to leave Vancouver.

 

They win in San Jose and that makes five points on the trip so far, so everyone's in a pretty good mood, especially with the day off for Thanksgiving the next day.

"We should go out," Jack says as the bus drops them back off at the hotel.

"For sure," Rob agrees. They were all kind of wiped on their day off in Vancouver after three games in four days, but everyone is feeling buoyed tonight.

"We could go up to San Francisco.”

"Anyone know any good bars or clubs?"

Seabs laughs, "The only good bars I know you guys would be afraid to go into."

"Fuck you, no we wouldn't," Jack protests. "Tell us where."

"They're all in the Castro," Seabs shrugs. Duncan bites his tongue, because he wants to yell at Seabs for being stupid. "Some friends from Michigan came out for Pride last summer," he continues.

"I'm not afraid of gay bars," Jack scoffs. "My sister goes to them all the time, and fewer straight dudes means less competition."

"I don't know," Rob hesitates.

"What, are you afraid none of the boys will think your pretty enough to hit on?"

"What, no!"

"I bet I get more drinks bought for me than you do."

"No way."

Duncan just watches this all take place in some kind of a weird haze. Like he's not too sure he didn't get hit on the head at some point during the game.

"You coming, Duncs?" Seabs asks.

"I, uh-"

"You can't be any weirder in a gay bar than you are at a regular one," Jack assures him, throwing an arm around his shoulder. "Way fewer chicks to scare off. It'll be fun."

It's not actually that fun, at least not at first, because it's a busy club and it's loud. Seabs doesn't mind, he hits the dance floor and has four people surrounding him almost immediately.

To their credit, Jack and Rob are very friendly with the crowd at the bar, and Duncan just shakes his head as Jack takes pictures with his admirers and send them to his girlfriend.

"Hey, I don't think I've seen you in here before," a guy says, coming up next to Duncan along the side of the bar.

"Oh. Um, no, first time," Duncan finally answers. "From out of town."

"Oh yeah? Where from?"

"Chicago."

"They have names in Chicago?" the guy asks, his smile obviously teasing.

"Duncan," he says, holding out his hand.

"Toby," Toby offers. He stares at Duncan's hand for a second, long enough for Duncs to consider pulling it back, before shaking it. "Are you here alone?"

He bites the inside of his cheek, considering. "I'm actually with that sideshow," he says nodding towards Jack and Rob, and Seabs on the dance floor.

"Oh. Wow."

"Yeah. No one looks too bothered, do they?" Duncan asks, surveying the group.

"They're fine, the bartender will probably start bitching to me if it gets to be too much."

"Thanks," Duncan says. "So, um-"

"Why don't I buy you a drink?"

Duncan is aware that Toby is kind of flirting with him, but he doesn't seem to be working too hard at it, so he doesn't feel like he has to explicitly turn him down.

Besides, he's easy to talk to, and Duncan doesn't want to be the loner weirdo in the corner not talking to anyone. He's not bad to look at, either.

"So are you seeing anyone?" Toby asks, after Duncan buys their next round.

His eyes flick over to Seabs who's sweating through his shirt on the dance floor. "No, not for a while."

"Ah," Toby says.

Duncan almost curses out loud. He's not supposed to be so fucking obvious. Toby must see the panic on his face, because he reaches over and rests a hand on Duncan's knee.

"Hey, it's okay. I'd ask if you were military, but that's over with, and well, your hair isn't exactly regulation."

"No, just. Our line of work isn't the most queer friendly."

"That blows," Toby says sympathetically. "Or I guess the problem is it doesn't."

It's a bad joke, but Duncan's a sucker for them. "Yeah," he says with a little laugh.

"Ugh, this calls for shots, my treat," Toby says, waving the bartender over.

Duncan clinks his shot glass against Toby's before knocking it back. The vodka is still burning his throat when he realizes Seabs has suddenly appeared next to him.

"Hey Duncs, do you mind if I finish this?" he asks, not really waiting for an answer before reaching between him and Toby to snag Duncs's beer off the bar.

"You know that's not the best way to rehydrate, right?" Duncan asks, trying not to stare at the way Seabs's shirt is clinging to his everything.

"You know we've got tomorrow off?" Seabs asks, bumping Duncan as he puts the empty bottle back on the bar, and signaling for two more. "Aren't you going to introduce me to your friend?"

"Seabs, this is Toby, Toby, this is Seabs."

"I've been keeping Duncan company while you were busting a few moves out there," Toby says.

"I can see that," Seabs says. 

Duncan realizes Toby's hand is still on his knee and can feel his face heating up. Seabs can't really be mad about it, not when he's been fucking girls in their apartment constantly.

"It looks like Rob and Jack are starting to fade," Seabs continues, "so we should probably get going. Sorry Toby."

"It's no problem, I've got to head over to the East Bay early tomorrow," Toby says easily. "But Duncan, let me give you my card, and maybe we can meet up the next time you're in town."

Duncan takes it, even though he can feel Seabs standing stiffly next to him the whole time.

He and Seabs abandon their beers on the bar to wrangle Jack and Rob, making sure their bar tabs are settled up and detaching them from their new friends before shoving them back in a cab that's willing to make the trip down to San Jose.

Seabs takes the front seat, which is fine, because Duncan doesn't want to spend the next hour pressed against his side as his sweat dries. He ends up sitting behind Seabs and spends the long ride back to the hotel counting the little flecks of glitter sticking to the back of his neck when a passing car's headlight makes them shine.

 

They're all a little cranky after losing in Anaheim, so Duncan is having a hard time telling if Seabs is still being weird after what happened in San Francisco or if he's just tired of the road. He knows he's being avoided either way, so he's not sure whether or not he should be looking forward to going home.

They eke out a point in Los Angeles, and it's better than a loss, supposedly, but Duncan doesn't care. He's just done with being on the road and barely makes it back into the apartment before sitting down on the couch and staring out the window. Chicago became home at some point over the past two months, and it's kind of awesome.

“I never want to see another goddamn airplane ever again,” Seabs grumbles, kicking his duffel bag down the hall to his room.

“I hear the train is very nice,” Duncan says. He's going to get up off the couch any second and go to his room. The cleaning lady has been by, which means he'll have clean sheets on his bed, once he finally gets there.

“Ha. Ha,” Seabs calls back. It's not a genuine laugh or anything, but he seems to have lightened up a bit.

Duncan still hasn't moved when Seabs comes shuffling back out into living room and dropping down onto the recliner. Duncan glances at him, blinks and looks again. Seabs is wearing Duncan's sweatshirt. Well, Seabs is wearing the Michigan sweatshirt Duncan's had for the last two years, but at one point it was his.

“Does that even fit anymore?” Duncan asks as casually as possible. It's tight across his shoulders, he doesn't know how Seabs got it on. He just wants to take it back, but he can't exactly rip it off him, or tell Seabs that he's been keeping it the past few years.

“Barely,” Seabs shrugs. “I think it's been living at the bottom of a bag for a while, I just found it in my laundry, but it's still the softest thing I own.”

“Yeah,” Duncan agrees, but quickly adds, “All my State stuff is really worn in.”

He wonders if it'd be possible to steal it back, like maybe Seabs won't notice it disappearing again for a while. But probably he will, now that he doesn't have eighteen of them strewn across the floor of his room.

Duncan sighs and forces himself to look away, before he starts glaring at Seabs over something so stupid. He thinks it might be too late, so he needs to stop before Seabs catches him doing it.

"You okay, Duncs?" Seabs asks.

"Fine," he snaps. "Just- just fucking tired."

"Missed your nap today?"

Duncan glares at him, even though it's true, be was playing cards on the plane instead of sleeping.

"I'm going to my room," Duncan announces, finally standing.

"You do that," Seabs says, kicking him as he passes.

It takes him a while to fall asleep without the hoodie balled up under his pillow, but he gets there eventually. He's an adult. He plays in the NHL. He doesn't need a security blanket.

 

About a week after they get back from California, Duncan's old roommate from MSU comes to town with the Panthers and drags him out for a cup of coffee.

It's good to catch up with Adam. They kind of lost touch after Duncan left for Rockford before the end of sophomore year, and they always got along well.

“-so really, Florida's not so bad,” Adam says, draining his paper cup. “How about you?”

“I'm pretty good,” Duncan shrugs. “Getting minutes.”

“Man, I was so glad to hear that you and Seabs are living together.” Duncan's brow furrows in confusion, but Adam just keeps talking, “I mean, just getting to play for the same team was awesome enough, but I could've told any other roommates that they might as well not bother.”

“I, um-” Duncan says, not entirely sure what words he should be trying to form, because he's not quite sure if he knows what Adam is saying, and he doesn't want to say anything he shouldn't.

“It's just good that you get to be happy, you know? Because you were a miserable fuck after winter break that year, Jesus. At first I thought it was just cause he went off to the A, but you didn't spend nearly enough time on the phone.”

“Sorry,” Duncan mumbles, staring at his coffee. Adam can't possibly be saying what Duncan thinks he is.

“Shit, I probably would've been worse if Jessica had dumped me,” Adam says. He glances down at his phone. “I've got to get back to the hotel, but I'll see you on the ice, yeah?”

“Unless you're scratched,” Duncs manages to chirp, despite the fact that he thinks he might pass out at any moment.

“Fuck you,” Adam says with a grin. “Say hi to Seabs for me.”

Duncan watches him leave, and has to ball his hands into fists until they start to cramp just to get them to stop shaking.

Adam knows about Duncan. He knows about Seabs. He knew about Duncs and Seabs and he didn't ever say anything. He never asked to switch rooms. Duncan realizes that it probably wasn't a coincidence that Adam spent the night in Jessica's room most nights Seabs came to visit.

Jesus, he'd been so sure that he'd been keeping their secret so well, even from his roommate. But if he'd been wrong about Adam knowing, who else might know?

The thought makes his stomach turn, and he quickly stands to toss his cup and escape out into the cold air.

 

He wants to ask Seabs about it when he gets home, but he's not sure how to ask, “Hey, did you know Adam knew we were fucking and didn't care?” without it getting weird. And he hangs up before completing the call to Sharpy, because admitting that other people know about him, knew about him and Seabs. It feels like a failure. He fucked up.

He probably should tell Seabs, just so he knows that someone else knows, even though he always claimed he didn't care.

He doesn't do it before the game, because he doesn't want to throw Seabs off, especially since he's not sure how steady he'll be. And after the game he's just too tired for that kind of conversation.

There's no good time to do it over the next few days, not even when Jack wonders aloud if his girlfriend will send him pictures of her with other girls for Christmas, since he sent her all of his on Thanksgiving.

And, okay, Duncan knows it's stupid, but now that he knows that Adam knows, he half expects everyone else to know, too.

Of course they don't, but on an overnight trip to Columbus he thinks maybe it wouldn't be the end of the world if he told Jack. Just like, while watching the Daily Show in their hotel room, he could mention it casually.

Except he's pretty sure it'd be anything but casual, since the idea makes him feel like he's been skating suicides.

 

They play a game in New York, and Duncan finds himself pulling up a little when checking Sean Avery into the boards. Only a few times though, he's not going to risk the game just because the guy is cool about the gay thing.

He kind of wishes he was on the Rangers, or no, he wishes Avery were a Blackhawk, because then maybe he could talk to him about this shit. As it is, he's not really in the mood to dump on a guy he barely knows, especially not someone who's kind of a dick.

"Don't tell Avery," Sharpy says over the phone a few nights later. "He'd make a way bigger deal out of it than you would want."

"Yeah," Duncan sighs. "I've just been thinking..."

"Thinking's good," Sharpy says. "Just, maybe try thinking about guys you know. Guys that aren't assholes."

"Yeah. I will."

 

He can't quite work up the nerve to say anything yet, but he stops trying so hard to look like he's interested in the women that come around when he's only out with a few of the guys.

He doubts anyone even notices, probably not even Seabs, but it feels good just the same.

So he's in a pretty good mood when he comes home from dinner with Jack and Snell, who's filling in while Johnson's on the DL. He's a little buzzed, and it's just adding to his over all contentment.

He grabs a beer from the fridge and is headed out to the living room to watch catch up on the DVR when he hears laughter from the hallway outside their door keys jangling. Duncan would open the door for Seabs, but he'd rather see how long it takes him. The current record is about two minutes, the night he got his first NHL goal. He'd been too stubborn to let Duncan help him, even though Duncan had done far fewer shots.

It doesn't take that long in the end, which is good, because they have practice the next day and Seabs probably shouldn't be too hungover to follow the drills on the whiteboard.

But it's not Seabs who comes in the door first. It's not even a woman. It's some guy in tight jeans and a half untucked shirt.

"Um, hi," the stranger says. The skin on his neck is red and angry, and Duncan doesn't have to guess why.

Seabs follows the guy in, and the top three buttons on his shirt are undone.

"You have got to be fucking kidding me." The words slip out before Duncan can stop them.

"I thought you were going out with Jack and Snells," Seabs says.

"Yeah, to dinner," Duncan answers in clipped tones. What was Seabs thinking? Picking up some guy in a bar is dumb enough, but apparently making out in the cab, and if the cabbie isn't a hockey fan pushing it further by groping each other in the hall? The folks in 14B know exactly who they are.

To the guy's credit, he looks super uncomfortable, but Duncan isn't feeling very charitable at the moment. "Uh, maybe I should go-"

"No," Seabs says quickly. "Stay."

Duncan's hand clenches around his beer. "Brent, you are not this fucking stupid."

"Fuck you," Seabs bites back.

"Yeah, I'm gonna go. Brent, uh, I'll call you." The guy, who isn't even that hot, slips past Seabs and out the door they just came in.

"What the fuck was that?" Duncan asks.

"You're one to talk. Fuck, Dunc," Seabs's jaw clenches. "It's none of your business what I do, or who I do it with."

"It is when you go splashing it around half the city! Should I check the Trib tomorrow to see if you and your friend made 'About Last Night'?" Duncs can feel his voice rising and he slams his beer down on the end table. "You think your plus-4 is so important to the team that Wirtz might decide you're to valuable to ship back to Rockford? Or down to Toledo?"

"You're so fucking paranoid!" Seabs yells.

"Someone has to be, because you don't think about it at all! You live in some idealistic bubble that has no relation with the real world or things like consequences. What if everyone found out? What if something happened to you? Do you even think about what that would mean for me?" He used to have nightmares about something happening to Seabs, but he was supposed to be safe now.

Seabs shakes his head. "Have you always been this self centered? Jesus."

"You're supposed to date girls."

"What, you thought you were the only guy for me ever? You didn't make me bi and you didn't make me straight," Seabs is starting to turn red and he's punctuating every sentence by jabbing his finger at Duncs. "You don't get to care what I do. You dumped me two years ago."

"Because I fucking love you!" Duncan yells, grabbing Seabs's wrist to get his hand out of his face.

He freezes when he realizes what he just said, and he feels like his stomach is going to drop the fourteen floors down to the sidewalk. But the next thing he knows, he and Seabs are kissing. He's kissing Seabs.

And Seabs is pissed. He shoves Duncan back against the wall and pins him there, and Duncan's entire world narrows down to Seabs's lips and tongue and teeth and the weight of him. He's going to have bruises from Seabs's fingers and one of them might wind up with a bloody lip, but Duncan doesn't care, because it's Seabs.

He should stop him, and figure out why Seabs is doing this, but he's not willing to do anything that might make Seabs reconsider. It's been nearly two years since Seabs or anyone touched him like this and he needs it too much to stop.

Duncan is getting hard and he's not being subtle about it, grinding his hips against Seabs and gasping at the friction. He lets go of Seabs long enough for Seabs to shove a hand down between them, and he can't begin to fight the needy noise he makes when Seabs brushes his cock through his pants as he fights to get them open.

“You're so fucking...” Seabs mumbles against Duncan's neck. So fucking what? He's not sure it would be a compliment so he doesn't bother trying to form the words needed to ask.

“Seabs, Seabs, please,” he begs instead, as Seabs quickly finds spots on Duncan's neck that Duncan had forgotten about. Ones that make his limbs jerk and his whole body shake.

He doesn't tease, just shoves enough clothing out of the way so he can wrap his hand around Duncan's dick. It's rough and dry but not only is it not Duncan's hand, it's Seabs's and in no time at all he's bucking into his grip and just hanging on to Seabs as best he can as the orgasm hits.

Some of the anger seems to have bled out of Seabs, his shoulders are tense for an entirely different reason. “Fuck, Dunc,” he says, wiping off his hand and licking his lips. They're red and swollen and Duncan has to kiss him again. He reaches for Seabs's pants, but at the last second, he drops to his knees.

“Oh Jesus, Duncs,” Seabs bites out.

He's a little rusty, but he's counting on Seabs not being too critical. It helps that Duncan's thought about this a lot since he last did it, and Seabs has learned a little more restraint since then. Girls he picks up in bars probably aren't as forgiving if he starts pushing for more, Duncan thinks a little bitterly. He still tugs and pulls on Duncan's hair though, especially the parts that curl behind his ears. It means he can't quite hear whatever it is Seabs is babbling, but he doesn't mind. He just wants to make this good.

“Fuck, Dunc. Duncs,” Seabs says insistently, tugging him back.

He backs off just enough so he won't choke, but swallows everything he can, while Seabs shakes over him. Duncan's impressed that he's standing as well as he is.

Reality settles back in as Seabs zips back up and Duncan realizes he has no idea what the hell just happened.

He opens his mouth to say something, but nothing really comes to mind. He just wishes he knew what Seabs was thinking. It doesn't get any less confusing when Seabs offers him a hand up and pulls him down the hall to Seabs's bedroom. The longer either of them go without saying anything, the more Duncan feels like he can't say anything, even as they strip down to their boxers and get into Seabs's bed.

Seabs rolls away from Duncan, and he stares at the line of his back, wondering why the hell he's even there. He knows himself well enough not to expect even a minor debate about getting up and going to bed alone.

 

He wakes up half on top of Seabs, and arm sprawled across his chest and his face nuzzled into his neck. Well, at least he can count on his subconscious to take an opportunity presented to him. He watches Seabs sleep for a while, until even he starts to feel a little bit creepy about it.

Seabs didn't even want to look at him when he went to sleep last night, so Duncan's face probably isn't the first thing he wants to see when he wakes up. He forces himself up off of Seabs, trying not to wake him, and pulls the blankets up over him so he won't get cold.

His beer is still on the table in the hall, so he trashes it and makes himself a cup of coffee before heading into his room to put on some clothes. It's kind of early, but not so early that Sharpy can really complain, especially since he's an hour ahead.

So he takes his phone and his coffee out onto the balcony, brushing snow off the wooden chair he keeps out there and settles in to make the call.

"I did something really stupid last night," he says before Sharpy can even complain about the time.

"Well I'm going to assume you didn't knock anyone up," Sharpy says with a yawn.

"Sharpy."

"Fine, right, yeah, what happened?"

Duncan stares at the steam rising off his mug. "I slept with Seabs."

"Yeah? You two crazy kids worked it out?"

"No," Duncan says. Whatever that was, it wasn't working it out.

"Aw hell. How drunk were you?"

"Not very," he admits. He takes a long sip of his coffee before sketching out what happened to Sharpy. "So maybe he just wanted to get laid, and I was there and..."

"He wouldn't do that. And if he would, then he's a bigger jackass than any of us realized and you dodged some major bullets by dumping him."

"Yeah," Duncan knows he's right, but he's still not sure what's going on. Maybe it was just Seabs's version of breakup sex.

"Go back to bed. His bed. Talk to each other," Sharpy says. "Stop freezing out on the balcony."

"It's not that cold," Duncan says, and he can practically hear Sharpy shaking his head at him before he hangs up. He does finish his coffee and head back inside, but he's too awake to go back to sleep, in either bed, so he takes a shower instead.

Seabs doesn't get up for a while. Duncan can't tell if he's just sleeping in or if he's forgoing coffee to hide out in his room. He can't really check, because if it's the latter, that would just make things worse.

So he gets dressed, makes a couple of smoothies, and puts one in the fridge for Seabs, who emerges just before they have to leave for practice.

“Thanks,” Seabs says, grabbing the smoothie and his coat.

And that's it. They drive to practice like it's any other day, and Duncan's stomach seems to harden into a rock. So that's how it's going to be. Well, at least he didn't make an idiot out of himself by staying in Seabs's bed this morning. It was nice while it lasted, but it's over. Nothing's really changed, they're in the same place they were before last night.

He acts as normally as he can, because now is really not the time. Christmas is coming up soon, he can get good and drunk then. Again.

 

Practice goes well enough, but Duncan's reflexes are just a split second too slow. He's not sure if anyone else notices; Q gives him a few long looks, but doesn't actually say anything. He has to get over this by the game tomorrow.

He hits the showers with the rest of the guys, and as they change back into street clothes, Jack whistles. “Wow, Duncs, where did you pick up a live one last night? You said you were just going home.”

“Oh, um-” Duncan says, his hand reaching up to a hickey left on his neck. The hot water always makes bruises look more intense.

“Apparently you're the one that's been salting his game,” Rob says. “It's about time the boy got some action.”

“Three million people in this city, he finally found the one that's into his shy nerd schtick,” Murph says, slapping Duncan on the shoulder.

He can't look at Seabs. He absolutely cannot look at Seabs. (When he sneaks a glance, Seabs is pulling on a shirt, paying no attention to him.)

“Is this gonna be a regular thing?” Jack asks him.

“I. Um,” Duncan says.

“You ready to go, Duncs?” Seabs asks, saving him from having to answer.

“Uh, just a second,” he replies, quickly pulling on his shirt – it doesn't hide the hickey at all – and reaching for his coat.

Seabs doesn't really say anything in the car, but he lets Duncs pick the music since it's not a game day. He's tempted to go really metal, but ends up just picking AC/DC, and Bon Scott is the only one that says anything the entire drive home.

 

Seabs makes a sandwich in the kitchen before disappearing into his room, and Duncan tries not to mope too badly at being so thoroughly ignored. He goes to get something to eat himself, and realizes there's a turkey sandwich with no tomatoes waiting for him on the counter. He stares at it for a minute, wondering if it's a trick, not that he's sure what kind of trick a sandwich could be.

Eventually he takes it back to his room to eat, and he spends more time than he'd like to admit trying to figure out what the sandwich means. Maybe it's just payback for the smoothie this morning, but usually they just trade off who makes them, so that doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

He falls asleep worrying that the sandwich wasn't for him after all.

 

When he wakes up, it's to the sound of the door slamming and a much darker sky. As his higher brain functions come back online, he realizes it smells like pizza. Duncan can't remember the last time Seabs ordered a pizza sober. He can't help going out to see why Seabs is suddenly risking the wrath of the nutritionist without empties set up as defense.

The box is sitting on the table, with two plates and two beers set out.

“Hey, I got dinner,” Seabs says easily, like it isn't one of the first things he's said to Duncs all day that wasn't at the UC.

“Pizza. Feeling rebellious?” Duncan can act casual, too.

“Something like that,” Seabs says. That sounds ominous, but Duncan takes his seat anyway.

He's had about two bites of pizza, triple sausage, before Seabs looks over at him and says, “So explain to me how exactly dumping me because you love me makes any goddamn sense?”

Duncan almost chokes on his beer, and Seabs just quirks a little smile at him.

“I- you-” Duncan starts. “I didn't want to get you into trouble. Not because of me. You got featured on CBC and then what, three thousand people tried to add you on Facebook? I couldn't. I didn't.”

He's probably not making any sense, and Seabs looks more than a little annoyed.

“So you figured I'd quit being gay if it wasn't for you?”

Duncan cringes. “No, I just. You can be with women, I thought- I thought it'd be better for you.”

“You thought wrong. Fuck, Dunc,” his voice gets a little strained at the end. “You're an asshole, you know that?”

Duncan shrugs, not quite meeting Seabs's eye.

“I had a plan for us,” Seabs says. “If you would've just fucking talked to me-”

“I couldn't,” Duncan says. “I could barely- It wasn't easy. If I talked to you...” it wouldn't have worked, he doesn't say.

“I would've told you how stupid it was.”

“And your plan was foolproof?” Duncan snipes.

“Yes,” Seabs says. “We'd keep it on the down low for a few years, see if anyone else came out first, win some Stanley Cups, a Norris or two, maybe a few more gold medals, and no one would care when we finally got to come out together because we'd be fucking amazing hockey players and they'd be crazy not to want us on their team.”

“You really think you'll win a Norris?” Duncan asks, like that's the important part of what Seabs just said.

“Fuck you,” Seabs says easily. “You really thought I'd just get over you and start banging chicks like you didn't matter at all?”

“Didn't you?” Duncan's not sure that the number of women he's seen Seabs with could be counted on his hands.

Seabs just shakes his head, like Duncan said something completely ridiculous and not the least bit true, even though he did, and stands. For a brief second, Duncan thinks Seabs is going to walk out, or when he moves around the table to Duncan, hit him. He's not expecting to get dragged up by his shirt front so Seabs can kiss him.

It's better than last night, since they aren't both angry at each other, and Seabs is just kissing him like he could do it for the next three days without coming up for air. “So fucking stupid,” Seabs mumbles.

“All those women,” Duncan replies, wrapping his hand around the back of Seabs's neck. He doesn't want to think about them, now.

“Weren't you,” Seabs says, pressing his lips against the hickey he left last night.

“But-” Duncan gasps.

“No buts,” Seabs says. “I love you, you dumb fuck.”

It's a lot less romantic than it was the first time Seabs ever said it, but Duncan almost likes it better. He laughs a little, and runs his hand through Seabs's hair.

“You're not going to try to pull this shit again, are you?”

“No,” Duncan says, tightening his arm around Seabs's back. “I almost came out to Sean Avery last week.”

Now it's Seabs's turn to laugh, and it's been way too long since Duncs got to be the one to make him look like that, so he has to kiss him again.

“I wanna get you naked,” Seabs says, pulling Duncan with him down the hall to Duncan's room this time.

“And then I'm going to blow you,” Seabs says, “Jesus, do you know how long it's been since I blew someone?”

“Just like riding a bike,” Duncan manages to say as Seabs throws him down on his bed. He'd object more to getting manhandled like this, but Seabs has put on at least fifteen or twenty pounds since they last did this and it's fun, feeling what he can do now.

Duncan strips off his shirt while Seabs pulls down his sweats, apparently done with foreplay since Duncan obviously doesn't need it. And wow, the sight of Seabs on his knees in front of him... Duncan had done his best to think about other things, other people while jerking off over the past couple years but it always came back to Seabs.

And now he's here, stroking Duncan's cock with one hand and licking his lips like he's some kind of porn star or something. “Seabs, please,” Duncan begs. He needs this too badly.

Seabs grins up at him, looking a little nervous, which is just dumb, before he finally, finally wraps his lips around the head of Duncan's cock. It takes every bit of stamina he has to hold back while Seabs slowly takes more of him into his mouth. The gasping, inarticulate noises Duncan is making while he holds onto Seabs's head seem to give him enough confidence to really get going.

It's wet and sloppy, like back in Duncan's truck in high school, but occasionally Seabs will bust out a more advanced move and it's all just fucking with the parts of Duncan's brain that aren't being sucked out through his dick.

“Fuck, Seabs, fuck,” Duncan moans. He's not sure he knows any other words at the moment.

Seabs doesn't mind, he's getting more creative and Duncan's not going to last a whole lot longer, not when his tongue is moving like that and his free hand is teasing his balls like that and slowly moving back.

He feels like his spine has been twisted into knots, and it's almost a surprise when he finally lets go. “Seabs, I'm-” he gasps out a belated warning before coming into Seabs's mouth and falling back against the mattress, since his arms can't hold him up anymore.

He can hear Seabs coughing a little, and he feels bad until Seabs crawls up onto the bed with him laughing a little. “Probably not as good as the last guy who did that for you.”

“There were some strong similarities,” Duncan says, wiping at the wet spot at the corner of Seabs's mouth.

Seabs's eyebrows draw together in confusion, so Duncan has to clarify, “You were in mid-season form then.”

“Wait, no one? In two years, no one?”

Duncan shrugs and starts pushing at the waistband of Seabs's sweats. “No one else seemed worth it.”

Seabs kisses him then, and even though he'd had plans for Seabs's dick, Seabs won't stop kissing Duncan long enough for him to use any of them, content to rub himself off on Duncan's leg with his sweatpants around his knees while making out lazily. And not so lazily as things progress.

“It probably makes me a jackass,” Seabs says later, as they lie together, sweaty and sticky but not grossed out enough to move just yet. “But I'm kind of glad. That you didn't. Kes said you were being a martyr, but I didn't think-”

“You called Ryan?”

“You were messing with my head,” Seabs says. “I needed back up.”

Duncan debates whether or not he wants to know what exactly was said, and winds up on a more important question. “So I can cancel the security detail for Raleigh in February?”

Seabs laughs and Duncan can feel the way it moves through his chest. “I'll guard your body, babe.”

Fuck, he missed Seabs's stupid jokes and terrible puns so badly, and hadn't even realized it until just now. He rolls them over, so he can pin Seabs to the bed and kiss him everywhere he can reach.

 

Seabs keeps looking over at him and smiling as they drive to the UC the next afternoon, like he can't quite believe that this is happening again. Duncan doesn't mind, he's free to stare at Seabs the whole trip, since he's not driving.

They get a little handsy while waiting at red lights, and as they turn on to Madison, Duncan has to say, “No making out in the players' lot.” He's not sure who he's reminding.

“But you're thinking about it,” Seabs says gleefully.

Duncan just squeezes his thigh in response.

 

No one comments on their changed moods from the day before, except Rob who says, “Worked shit out. Good.”

Duncan doesn't bother to point out what a massive understatement that is.

By the middle of the second period, the game is pretty well in the bag and on its way to being a blow out. Jack has two assists and Duncan manages to pot a shortie, thanks to a ridiculous defensive breakdown by the Wild's power play unit. The crowd is rocking and it's awesome, Duncan can't remember a better game than this one.

So it's not really a surprise when one of the Wild's fourth liners drops the gloves with Seabs. Duncan hesitates to call it a fight since Seabs just absolutely pummels the guy before he finally taps out.

“Someone had his Wheaties this morning,” Ollie announces to the bench.

Duncan's barely paying attention because Seabs catches his eye as he's escorted to the penalty box and just smirks. Duncan can't believe there's still twenty eight minutes left to play.

A shot blocked with his thigh on his very next shift keeps things pretty well under control
until Seabs comes back to the bench and leans over to ask, “Think that's going to be a two beer bruise?”

“We'll find out,” Duncan says. It wasn't meant to sounds like a promise, but Seabs grins at him like it was.

 

There's no getting out of going out for drinks with the team after a 6-1 blowout, unfortunately, and it doesn't help when Seabs comes up behind him at the bar and leans over to place an order with the bartender.

“Very smooth,” Duncan says under his breath, even as he leans back against him.

“I got moves, babe.”

Seabs does a little wiggle, and Duncan absolutely does not blush, but he can't help the little grin that stays in place while Seabs calls Jack over. “Sugarpie, it's shots time!”

“To the shortie!” Jack cheers, both arms over his head.

Duncan's grin grows as Seabs passes him his shot and keeps very deliberate eye contact while toasting and knocking it back. Duncan does the same, and just to make sure he's not the only one feeling uncomfortable, he licks his lips to make sure he's got all the alcohol.

Jack has to elbow Seabs to get his attention back to...whatever they're talking about. “Jeez, Seabs, how many have you had?”

It only takes another round for Duncan to casually lead Seabs into the bathroom and pin him against the door so they can make out like teenagers. It's stupid and risky but Duncan doesn't care at all, he just needs to touch Seabs everywhere he can reach and work his knee in between between Seabs's thighs just because he can.

“I should get into fights more often,” Seabs pants.

“When can we get out of here?”

Seabs swallows. “I'll get a cab, you grab our coats. Just say bye to everyone, don't get stuck in any conversation.”

Seabs kisses him again as Duncan tries to nod. He's not sure he could say much anyway, so it shouldn't be a problem. Seabs takes a second to fix Duncan's hair before slipping out the door.

Duncan stays a second at the sink until his breathing returns to normal and his face is a more acceptable shade of red before following him out.

 

He keeps meaning to come out to Jack at least, but doesn't get around to it until after the new year, when Sharpy comes to town with the Flyers and prods at him, after wrestling with Seabs on the floor of their living room, like the world's most elaborate secret handshake.

Jack wants to check out the penguins at the Shedd and Duncan lets himself be dragged along, and well, it's as good a time as any.

“Oh shit man, for real? Wait wait, let me guess, you and Sharp?”

Duncan laughs, a little hysterically, because whatever reaction he'd be expecting it wasn't that. “No, no. He's straight-”

“How bad were you dogging that at fifteen?”

“He wasn't that great then,” Duncan protests. “He had braces.”

Jack snorts.

“By the time the braces came off and he didn't have little chicken legs anymore... There was Seabs,” Duncan says the last part quickly, and watches the beluga whale turn in the water. Which means he's not expecting the swift punch in the shoulder.

“You're the son of a bitch that broke his heart!” Jack says accusingly. “The high school sweetheart he was so stupid over at World Juniors!”

“Yeah, well. I'm unbreaking it now,” Duncan says, rubbing at his arm. “Ow by the way, when did you become such a goon?”

“I've got hidden depths. No shit man, that's awesome.”

“Yeah,” Duncan agrees. His reflection is grinning pretty stupidly.

They tour around to see the sea lions and otters before heading back downtown.

“I need to get you guys a cake or something,” Jack says, pulling up in front of Duncan's building.

“It doesn't need to be in the shape of dick,” Duncan says quickly.

“They do that?” Jack asks delightedly.

“I'll see you later,” he says, bailing from the car.

When he gets inside, Seabs is sprawled out on the couch, faking casual about as well as his mom used to when he'd be out on a date. “So how'd it go?”

“Fine, he wants to get us a dick cake,” Duncan says, leaning down to kiss him.

Seabs laughs, “I told you.”

“He also thought I was sleeping with Sharpy,” Duncan adds, just to knock the smugness out of Seabs's voice.

“Pfft, what would you want with someone like that when you can have all this?” Seabs asks, gesturing at his stunning outfit of sweat pants and sweatshirt.

“That's my hoodie,” Duncan says.

“Oh, were you a Wolverine and I just missed you in the locker room all those years?” Seabs asks.

“You had it for like a month, I had it for three years,” Duncan says.

Seabs looks at him, confused for a second and then he grins wildly when he finally gets it. “Well if you want it back, you're going to have to take it.”

Duncan can handle that.

Especially when the next morning, Seabs rolls into the kitchen wearing a pair of Spartan green sweatpants that are an inch too short.