Mike would like to to make a list of all the things that conspired to bring him to where he is right now so he can blame them all for the hangover he’s going to have in the morning. They can’t be good things, because here is not a good place. Here is celebrating a win with his team, which includes his best friend, because that actually happened. He should be happier than this. He should be less drunk than this. He should go talk to a woman instead of feeling sorry for himself. Only feeling sorry for himself requires almost no effort so he orders another beer and settles in to wallow and reflect.
So, the things is that while Jeff was in Ohio Richie slept with a lot of tall girls with bleach blonde hair. It’s just a thing that happened. It’s not like he set out intending to hook up with girl versions of his best friend. Generally he values variety in the women he’s with, because variety is the spice of life, and what does he want his sex life if not spice? The thing with the tall bleach blondes is just him getting stuck in a rut. Rutting in a stuck?
He should be having these thoughts while less drunk, or maybe not at all.
He didn’t even notice what was happening for months. He had to get it pointed out to him by Drew fucking Doughty, who’s terrible, and too observant sometimes, but not always. Richie doesn’t get it. Maybe Drew just pays a lot of attention to what sort of girls he picks up. That wouldn’t be weirder than anything else.
It was in the end of January and he had been buying a drink for—he thinks her name was Jessica. She had really sharp white teeth that seemed just unreal, but in a good way; same with her peroxide platinum hair. She was pretty stacked but her breasts’ relationship with gravity made him think they weren’t fake. The combination of artifice and nature was bizarrely hot. When she laughed, which was often, he could see most of her small sharp white teeth. She made him eat the cherries out of her drink but stole the stems to tie in knots with her tongue.
He found Drew at the bar when he left the table to get her another because if you go out with friends it’s polite to let them when you’ve found a better way to end the evening than with them. Somewhere in their exchange Richie pointed to probably-Jessica and Drew started laughing.
“What the hell?” Richie asked. She was hot. Drew should have be feeling bad about himself for not picking anyone up, not giggling at Richie. “What’s your problem?”
“Nothing,” Drew said. “This makes perfect sense."
Richie didn’t get it.
When Drew said, “It makes sense you’re picking up chicks who look like your boy, since your boy’s stuck in fucking Ohio,” Richie choked on his beer and demanded an explanation.
The following conversation was splendidly awkward. Drew was drunker than Richie first thought. It took him five tries to correctly pronounce the word transference. Apparently Drew “totally isn’t judging him for choosing to fuck ladies who look like Jeff Carter,” because Drew “totally comprehends the magic of friendship.”
“I think it’s sweet,” Drew said. “It’s obvious you miss him a lot.”
Mike glanced back to most-likely-Jessica and really looked at her. With her heels she was almost as tall as him. Her hair was a breed of blonde not found in nature. She even had a kind of goofy smile that could remind him of Jeff. He thought back over his most recent conquests. With all of them the resemblance was there, sometimes subtle, but always present. Fuck his life.
He brought possibly-Jessica her drink, but ended up leaving alone.
Fortunately, kind of, this was right before they got kicked out of L.A. by the Grammys, off on a killer road trip where they don’t win as much as they should. It wasn’t pleasant, but it didn’t leave him any energy to think about things that weren’t hockey. He knew it would become a thing again when he wasn’t too tired to pick up, but until then repression fucking rocked.
Then Jeff got traded to the Kings. It was: magical, improbable, amazing, and insane. It was so unreal that he didn’t stop asking if it was a dream until he picked Jeff up from the airport and almost got smothered in a hug. He was pretty fucking happy in a way that eclipsed all of his other anxieties, at least for a while.
They went out to celebrate and Richie met Sera, a tiny latina chick with a nose ring and pink streaks in her hair. She didn’t look like anyone he had ever played hockey with. He didn’t exactly notice much about the girl Jeff brought home, Sera was very distracting. If he had paid attention he could have gotten acquainted with Chloe, who had short dark hair that curled around her ears and a solid muscled body.
Mike didn’t notice what was remarkable about Chloe and the girls that came after her until a month later when they went out with a bunch of guys from the team. No one had really caught his eye so he was just chilling out when Drew tilted his head to where Jeff had a curvy tattooed brunette sitting on his lap and said, “I see you’re not the only one.”
Richie didn’t know what that meant. He scowled and considered his choices. The last time Drew revealed something while drunk in a bar it had been scarring, but he knew that he can’t just pass up whatever it is Drew thinks he knows. He has never been the type of person who could forgo a chance for more information, even if it’s something that will make his life more difficult.
Mike glared at Drew until he started to explain.
“You’re not the only weirdo; Carter picks up girls who look like you too,” Drew said. “It’s freaky. I never wanted to consider what you’d look like as a girl. It’s strange though; now that you’re reunited can’t you just bone each other again?”
Mike wondered if there was a way he could stab Drew without hurting the team.
“Or at least chicks who look different, because, like, there can be too much of a good thing. Variety, right?”
Yeah, variety. Mike had been all about variety, until his stupid subconscious decided his type was femme Jeff Carter. And apparently he wasn’t the only one with this problem. He didn’t even have a chance to correct Drew’s assumption that he was sleeping with Carts because Drew had started talking again.
“I wonder what I would look like as a girl? Prettier than either of you for sure. I would have great hair if I was a girl. Not that I don’t already.”
Mike decided to leave Drew to his rambling and find someone prettier to talk to.
What he found was Lydia. He couldn’t decide if she passed the requirement of not looking like Carts, but he knew she was hot enough that he didn’t care. Her skin looked and tasted like chocolate milk, so there was no way her honey colored hair was natural, but it was beautiful. She had legs that went on for kilometers, and spike heels that made her a couple inches taller than him. He had to reach up to kiss her. It was really fucking hot.
After Lydia, Mike made peace with the whole thing and didn’t stop his subconscious from dictating his desires. They went out together and picked up women who looked each other. Mike didn’t even know if Jeff knew it was happening, but whatever. He made a decision not to care and worked hard to stand by it.
The problem was that he was aware of what he was doing. He would bring home a girl and know that he chose her because she resembled Jeff. He would fuck her and think about Jeff, and he didn’t like how that felt. He didn’t like how hot it was, which was very hot, and also very confusing. Especially when he would think about how Jeff was just down the hall, fucking a girl who looked like him.
So here he is, swimming in self pity. What he needs is another drink. He can recognize this: he likes thinking about Jeff in a sexual context, like, a lot, but he can’t handle that. So another drink, and no talking to women, because he’s too busy having messy feelings about his best friend.
He has a plan though, for dealing with these feelings. It’s genius. He’s going to drink and repress them out of existence.
The problem with trying to repress feelings about Jeff is that outside his stupid sexy subconscious, things with them are pretty great. He’s glad that they’re playing together again and living together is remarkably easy. The team’s doing pretty good too, it looks like they’ll get a shot at the playoffs. He’s exhausted, and they could be doing better, (he always thinks they could be doing better), but generally things are good. Except for stupid feelings.
Stupid feelings that make him sulk at the bar instead of getting laid. It’s gotten late and people are headed places. Mike doesn’t know what’s happening, then suddenly Jeff is right there. He gets to lean against Jeff in the cab on their way home. Jeff is tall and blonde and warm. It's nice.
It’s natural that back at Mike’s place they have one last beer after letting Arnold out. Well, Jeff let Arnold out, and Mike helped. Or at least he tried. And really only Jeff is having one last beer. Mike's been cut off and has a glass of water in front of him, but he's drinking from Jeff's bottle. It’s a nice way to end the night, domestic, with the dog between them on the sofa.
It makes total sense to say, "We should just fuck each other instead of wasting time picking up chick versions."
Jeff chokes on his beer. Mike is concerned, but it's still an alright plan.
"Instead of what?" Jeff asks.
"Sleeping with girls who look like each other," Mike says. "I didn't even notice I was doing it, but then Drew told me. He thinks we're precious. He's an asshole."
"Sleeping with girls who look like each other. Think of your latest pick ups. Now think of what I would look like as a girl."
Jeff's face changes the way it does when he's thinking about something really seriously, like imagining Mike as a woman is a challenging endeavor worthy of his best effort. The visualisation must ping something because Jeff goes, "Oh."
"Yeah. It freaked me the fuck out too."
"Thinking that you might want someone like me freaked you out, and the idea that I might want you freaks you out, and the solution to this is for us to fuck? Really?"
Mike will admit that it sounds bad said like that. "I swear, it makes sense in my head. Just—head to words: drinking—translation error?"
Jeff laughs, but not like he thinks it's funny. "Damn, you're a mess. And I thought I was bad."
"No, really, it's a great plan," Mike insists. "We fuck, get it out of our system, and then we can get on with our lives."
Jeff stands. "Yeah, I don't think so. You're gonna drink some water and go to bed." He offers Mike a hand up. "You're gonna get a good night’s sleep, and we aren't going to talk about this in the morning. Alright?"
"Yeah," Mike says. "Sure." He takes Jeff's hand. It doesn't feel like he has any other choice.
Mike wakes up and hates everything. Except for the fact that they're probably getting into the play offs. He likes that. He throws himself into hockey and ignores everything else, including picking girls up. Jeff does the same thing. Mike can't not notice this, they live together.
The living together is really good. Jeff cooks dinner and Mike walks Arnold. The house feels better. It feels like a household, instead of a place where a man and his dog happen to live. Even with the repression living together works really well. It’s maybe not great that Jeff is always right there for Mike to have feelings about, but they’re mostly domestic feelings, which are preferable to sexual feelings. Having their home life work well is also incentive to not make things weird. Living together is comfortable, he doesn’t want to mess that up.
Only sometimes, mostly when he’s falling asleep he wonders what they would be without any repression or awkwardness. Would that mean they’d be dating? What they’re doing right now is almost like dating, Mike thinks, but he can hardly remember the last time he was dating someone instead of just hooking up. He remembers sweaty hands and learning to French kiss a girl with braces. If he dated Jeff it wouldn’t be like that. Dating Jeff would be...something.
Something that he should either a) stop thinking about, or b) start doing for real.
He’s tried option A without success. The fact that he can’t ignore the possibility of dating Jeff makes B seem like an increasingly good idea.
Only dating requires two people, so he should talk to Jeff about this. They should have a mature conversation about their feelings; kill him now. He isn’t exactly excited, but this is such a better plan than drinking/repression. He might as well give it a try.
He picks one of their rare evenings off and arranges a time for Jeff and him to sit down together. He maybe makes this happen by promising a dinner that Jeff doesn't have to cook, while not mentioning the conversation that's goning to happen.
That makes it a surprise to Jeff when Mike asks, "So, do you think the girls we've been with lately are evidence that we're into each other."
Jeff coughs violently.
"Fuck, warn a man," Jeff says. "And I thought we weren't talking about this."
"I think we should." Mike doesn’t like being uninformed. Bad things can happen if he doesn’t know to prevent them.
"I don't think so." Jeff sounds so reluctant to say anything, even his refusal is hesitant.
"No, we really should," Mike insists. "You should stop fighting this. It's going to happen.” Mike is assured of this. He needs to have this conversation and there’s no way Jeff will be able to stop it.
Jeff makes a face, but he knows he's the less stubborn man in the room, and gives in. "Well, I'm attracted to you." It seems that Jeff has made up his mind not to hold back. "That isn’t anything new. My taste in women hasn't changed either. In Philly I made a point to mix things up so you wouldn’t catch on, but I got out of the habit in Ohio, and apparently you had Doughty cluing you in. It wasn’t a hardship because truth is I'm easy as long as she's hot. Or he is, but that doesn't happen as much." Apparently if Mike is going to make him ruin things, Jeff is going to go all out. "Even though I'm bi I hardly ever hook up with guys. It's not just because of hockey and the fucking Philly media. It's because I've spent most of my adult life hung up on somebody."
"Oh?" Mike has no way of processing all of this new information. Jeff looks broken. Mike is responsible for this. And he can't handle it.
"You should ask me who, Mike. Ask me who I'm stupid in love with." Jeff sounds torn to pieces, like he's been eating glass and drinking gasoline.
Mike doesn't want to know.
"Ask me," Jeff demands in a way that makes it seem like asking him, drawing out this last tightly held secret is the less cruel choice.
"Who?" He asks. He thinks he knows the answer.
"You, idiot." Jeff stands and stretches. "I'm going to bed."
It's early and they haven't finished dinner, but Mike lets him go. It's for the best.
Jeff retreats upstairs and Mike breaks out the hard liquor. This situation requires tequila. He's two shots in and barely buzzed when he remembers that there's practice in the morning and a game later in the afternoon, making heavy drinking a startlingly bad idea. He puts the bottle away and is left alone with his thoughts.
Jeff is in love with him. Fuck.
This isn't what he expected to get out of the conversation. He was ready to own up to his own lust and act on it. They were supposed to be making out right now. The L world was not supposed to enter the picture. He had no idea.
Mike understands Jeff's reasoning for keeping things from him, but it still hurts. They're best friends, which means they shouldn't have secrets. Mike doesn't keep secrets from Jeff. He plans nice sit down dinners for them to share their emotions. Yeah, that went really well. Fuck.
He doesn't know what to do, but knows he can't leave things as they are. He's almost positive that if he doesn't act fast this confrontation will get swept under rug like it never happened and he can't ignore this anymore. Not after Jeff said...
Jeff is his best friend. He has been for years. Jeff is one of Mike's absolute favorite people in the entire universe. Mike has recently realized that he likes Jeff in an annoyingly middle school manner, only ideally with more debauchery. Mike had hoped that tonight's conversation would lead to casual dating or adding some new benefits to their friendship. He was not ready for the word love.
It is just so far outside of his comfort zone that it's not even funny.
He tries to watch tv but can't concentrate because Jeff loves him, and what the fuck. It doesn't feel like a shock; it actually explains some things. It's not even new, but his knowledge is; new and loud, buzzing in the background like a mosquito, demanding his attention.
He decides the best play would be to go talk about it right now. It's not even nine, there's no way that Jeff is actually sleeping. He's probably just as miserable as Mike is, only in a different part of the house. It would be beneficial if they were miserable in the same place while trying to fix things.
Obviously Mike has no idea how to do that, but it's a better plan than to sitting and feeling sorry for himself, especially if he isn't drinking.
He takes the stairs two at a time, but stands outside of Jeff’s bedroom door while waiting to gather up the courage to knock. He can have this conversation, he just needs a minute first. His knocking gets ignored, but he’s persistent. “I’m not going to leave,” he tells the woodwork. He knocks again.
“Fine, just come in,” Jeff yells through the wall. “You’re starting to give me a headache.”
Jeff is curled up on the bed, looking smaller than he should. Mike lies down next to him. Lying next to each other on a bed like this is normal from years of hotel rooms.
“Are you mad at me?” Jeff asks. “I can go if you want.”
“No, you should stay,” Mike says. “Arnold would miss you if you left.”
Arnold had followed Mike into the room and up on the bed. He was sprawled at their feet, unconscious of any tension between the humans above him.
“I’m not mad,” Mike says. “I should probably apologize for making you talk.”
“Saying you should apologize isn’t the same thing as apologizing.”
“I know. I’m not sorry, because if I hadn’t acted like such a dick you wouldn’t have told me anything.”
Jeff gapes at him. “You kind of suck.”
“Eh,” Mike shrugs. “At least now I know.”
“Can we go on pretending that you don’t?” Jeff asks. “Things were alright like that.”
“Um.” Mike isn’t exactly sure how to make this work, but he knows denial and repression aren’t the solution. “I actually had another idea?”
Jeff seems skeptical, but resigned to letting Mike give it a try.
“I maybe don’t know what I’m doing,” Mike says, which is a hard thing for him admit. He says “I know you’re important to me,” which is an understatement. “I don’t know exactly what that means yet, but I was wondering if you’d let me try something?”
“What?” Jeff asks. He looks so sad, like the pictures Mike saw of the press box in Ohio, only worse. Mike didn’t want to know that was possible.
He wonders if this is the right thing to do. It’s one of the few courses of action that could actually make things more terrible than they are right now, but it’s also the one with the biggest chance of fixing things. “Um,” He leans closer. “This.”
It’s a nice kiss. It makes him wonder why they haven’t been doing this forever. Jeff smiles and kisses back, pulling Mike closer. Jeff is very warm, and bigger than Mike. It already feels comfortable. It already feels like home.