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really need a man (who can do it like i can)

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The thing about Jamie Benn is that he might be an Art Ross winner on the ice, but off of it he can’t score for shit.

About five minutes after arriving in Dallas for the first time, Tyler had made it her mission to help him out, which had been partially about being nice and partially about her ego--after all, she’s Tyler fucking Seguin. Getting laid is basically her specialty, and if anyone can help Jamie learn to pick up, it’s her.

Two years later, he’s finally starting to get the hang of it.

“That,” Tyler announces, “is a fucking look.”

Jamie, predictably, blushes, fiddling with the collar of his navy blue button-down shirt. “Yeah?”

Tyler nods. “Definitely. I’d fuck you.”

“Shut up,” Jamie whines, running a hand through his hair. He hasn’t gelled it yet, and it’s all rumpled and messy and soft. “Stop messing with me.”

I’m not, Tyler thinks. She’s not about to admit to it, not with Jordie in the next room. She’d never hear the end of it in or out of the locker room. That doesn’t make it any less true, though, because objectively speaking, Jamie is really fucking hot, and subjectively speaking, she knows him well enough to be able to guess that he’d be a fantastic lay. He’s the perfect mix of sweetness and strength, and while he’s sort of embarrassingly intense most of the time, she knows she could get him to soften up, bring out his goofy side. Sex with Jamie would be fun, which is Tyler’s main objective when it comes to basically every personal decision she makes.

But he’s her teammate--more importantly, he’s her fucking captain. She’s not dumb enough to go there, no matter how good it would be.

“Seriously, do I look okay?” Jamie asks, turning so Tyler can survey his entire outfit. She lets her eyes linger on his ass, because she has to make sure it looks good for, like, friendship purposes. The outfit itself is nothing spectacular, just a nicely-ironed button-down and a pair of dark wash jeans, but it fits Jamie perfectly and he’s the kind of guy who looks his best in something simple.

“Seriously, you look fucking hot,” Tyler replies, rolling her eyes. “And if you’re done primping, can we actually leave for the bar now?”

*

Tyler’s pretty sure there’s something inherently wrong with the fact that she’s an NHL star, at a bar in her team’s city, wearing a little black dress that shows off every inch of her lithe, lanky frame, and yet she’s expending all her energy trying to get somebody else laid.

“Jamie!” she calls, winding her way through the crowd in search of her line mate. For someone so damn big, he’s surprisingly difficult to find sometimes. “Bennie! Fourteen, where the fuck are you?”

Jamie appears from behind a knot of people with a drink in each hand, his face a little red. “Right here, Seggy. God, you’re dramatic.”

She opens her mouth to protest, but he’s kind of right, so she snags one of the drinks out of his hand instead and takes a sip. “Yeah, whatever. I want you to meet someone.”

"Who?” Jamie asks immediately, narrowing his eyes. As if she’s ever steered him wrong before.

“Someone,” she says vaguely, grabbing his hand and tugging him along with her back toward the bar. It’s crowded, but between her tenacity and Jamie’s size, they make their way easily enough, and before long they’re back at the bar, where Tyler’s relieved to find the girls she’d befriended a few minutes ago still chatting.

“You’re back!” one of the girls, a blonde with a perfectly wavy bob and wine-colored lipstick, says, smiling warmly at Tyler. Her name is Lauren, Tyler’s almost sure.

"I am,” Tyler laughs. Jamie’s hand is still tight around hers, and she carefully unwinds their fingers, suddenly self-conscious. “And I brought somebody with me. Ladies, meet Jamie.”

Even just a few months ago, Jamie would have hung back behind Tyler, but now he edges forward and extends his hand for introductions. “Nice to meet you,” he says, polite as ever. It’s a good look on him, an easy way to charm girls, and the best part is that Tyler knows it’s all completely genuine.

“You, too,” the other girl says, her hand lingering on Jamie’s arm. “I’m Courtney.”

Courtney is all legs and smile, her dark hair tumbling down her back in waves, and she’s sweet without being overbearing. She and Tyler had gotten into a discussion about Orange is the New Black earlier in the evening, and she’d stood her ground without getting bitchy when they’d disagreed.

Also, Tyler totally got the vibe that she’d be dynamite in bed. If she hadn’t been focused on helping Jamie pick up, she might have tried flirting with Courtney a bit more herself.

She zones out for a minute, thinking about how long it’s been since she’s had someone else’s hands on her--she’s been so damn obsessed with this thing with Jamie lately, she’s just been getting herself off, and it’s not like she doesn’t know exactly what she likes, but she knows it would be better with someone else.

When she zones back in, Jamie and Courtney are deep in conversation about a movie they’d both seen recently, and Lauren is taking a sip of her drink, her eyes on Tyler.

"So,” Lauren says slowly, drawing the word out and pursing her lips teasingly, “your boy and my girl?”

Tyler grins, proud of herself. “I’m good, huh?”

“Is that a thing for you guys?” Lauren asks. She sounds curious rather than judgmental, which Tyler takes as a good sign. “You help him meet girls at bars?”

“He needs the help,” Tyler replies, shrugging. “And I’m really fucking good at picking up.”

Lauren leans closer, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “Are you?”

“Yeah,” Tyler breathes, taking another too-long sip of her drink. She hadn’t come out tonight with the intention of picking up for herself, but if she can manage to get both Jamie and herself laid in the same night, well, gold star for her. “The best, basically.”

“Cool,” Lauren whispers, her breath stirring the hair near Tyler’s left ear. “You should show me.”

*

When Tyler wakes up the next morning, somebody’s banging on her door. She stumbles out of her bedroom to find Cash whining eagerly at the door, while Marshall watches from the rug in front of the TV, his tail thumping staccato against the leg of the coffee table.  They both look much more happy about being woken up than Tyler, who’s feeling sort of personally offended that, the morning after getting laid for the first time in at least a month (and by a hot kindergarten teacher with a filthy mouth, no less), she’s having to scramble out of bed at eight o’clock in the morning to answer the door for what’s guaranteed to be no good reason.

“Seriously, bro?” she groans when she finally swings the front door open to reveal Jamie standing on her doorstep, hair a rumpled mess and in sweats and a white t-shirt that does absolutely nothing to hide his thick frame. “Did I not set you up with the perfect woman last night?”

Jamie nods seriously, his expression unreadable. “You did. I came to say thank you.”

“I appreciate the gesture, but waking me up before noon doesn’t make me feel like you’re all that grateful,” Tyler laughs, purposefully blocking the door with her body. Normally she’d have invited Jamie in by now, but Lauren is still asleep upstairs, and Tyler’s not wearing a bra, or pants for that matter, and it’s just not a great time to play hostess to Jamie.

“I get that, but does breakfast make you feel appreciated?” Jamie asks, giving the door a little nudge with his shoulder. Before she can really think about it, Tyler yields, allowing him to brush past her and into the house, where he immediately drops into a crouch to start wrestling with Cash.

“It’s a start,” Tyler allows, closing the door behind him and resigning herself to the fact that Lauren is just going to have to deal with the Jamie Benn welcome brigade when she wakes up. Hey, it’s not like he’s hard on the eyes, although she’s not actually sure if Lauren’s exclusively into girls or not. “What’d ya bring?”

Jamie doesn’t bother to glance away from the dogs. “Bacon, eggs, tomatoes? For omelettes. I figured you’d have coffee, so.”

She does, but for some reason Tyler feels a little weird about the fact that Jamie just knew that.

“Yeah, I still have some of that locally-roasted stuff I got in Toronto,” she replies, and Jamie beams. He’s a fucking hipster, no matter how hard he tries to deny it.

“French press?” he asks, and Tyler rolls her eyes.

“If you want a French press, make it your damn self.”

He shrugs agreeably. “Sure.”

Tyler trails him into her kitchen, where he busies himself starting breakfast. Some days he orders her around, telling her to cut up fresh fruit or set the table, but today he seems content for her to take a seat at the elevated island and watch him, still not totally dressed. Which is technically sort of uncool, but it’s Jamie, and also he’d woken her up.

“Remind me why you’re here again?” she teases, watching as he whips eggs and pours them into a pan.

Jamie blushes, focusing intently on peeling the eggs back from the edges of the pan. “Told you, it’s a thank you.”

“Courtney was that good?” Tyler giggles, reaching for her phone so she can snap a picture of Jamie’s domestic prowess and send it to Jordie and Val. After a moment’s deliberation, she sends it to Brownie too. She waits a moment, then casually adds, “Lauren totally was.”

“You . . . fuck,” Jamie hisses, nearly dropping the mug of coffee he’d just poured. “Are you serious?”

“Totally,” Tyler replies with a shrug. “She’s still here.”

Jamie looks like he might pass out. “I should leave.”

“If you leave, who’s gonna cook me breakfast?” Tyler whines, slipping off her barstool and scampering around the counter to wrap her arms around Jamie from behind. She’s strong enough that he’s probably not going to be able to leave now, hopefully.

“You should be cooking breakfast for the girl you brought home?” Jamie sounds genuinely puzzled, like he’s never considered any other option, and somehow Tyler has known Jamie for two years and not been aware that he cooks breakfast for his one-night stands.

“Agreed,” a new voice says, and Lauren saunters into the kitchen, one of Tyler’s old t-shirts hanging loosely off of her shoulders. Her hair is an absolute mess and her makeup is smudged, and it’s really hot. If Jamie wasn’t there, Tyler would probably try to initiate morning sex. As it is, she salutes Lauren with her coffee instead.

“Trust me, babe, you don’t want my cooking.”

Jamie nods solemnly. “You really don’t. I’ve seen her burn water.”

“Once,” Tyler whines, even though she’s not actually that offended. “That was fucking once, and nobody will let it go.”

“I mean, it’s pretty pathetic,” Lauren giggles.

Tyler sticks her tongue out. “That’s not what you were saying about me last night.”

“Ahem.” Jamie clears his throat loudly, his face bright red. Lauren looks a little embarrassed, and Tyler feels bad herself--she’s never done this in front of Jamie before, obviously, and it’s not as weird as maybe it should be, but it’s still weird.

"So, Jamie’s making breakfast for us,” she announces a bit too loudly, grinning first at Jamie, then at Lauren. “Because he’s the best.”

“‘S nothing special,” Jamie mumbles, ducking his head as he turns back to the stove. “Just making sure Seggy doesn’t starve.”

Tyler beams. “See? The best.”

Lauren smiles, but it seems off. “Totally. I’m, uh, not that hungry though? And I have some lesson planning to do, so . . .”

“Yeah, that’s cool,” Tyler says, hopping off of her stool. “Walk you out?”

“Sure,” Lauren replies. “Nice to meet you, Jamie.”

“See ya,” Jamie mumbles, flashing her a quick smile. It’s not nearly as genuine as the one he usually directs at Tyler, but that’s par for the course.

Lauren waves at Jamie, and Tyler trails her to the front door, unsure whether she should suggest they do this again or not. She doesn’t usually second-guess herself like this, but this morning had thrown her off a little, and she doesn’t want to push if Lauren’s not that interested.

“So,” she finally says, hovering in the doorway. “That was fun.”

“It was,” Lauren agrees. “I know your schedule is all crazy, and I have school most nights, so it probably won’t work out as a repeat thing, but you’re a cool girl, Tyler.”

The thing is, if Tyler really wanted to make it work, she knows she could. Plenty of her teammates have wives or girlfriends who work regular jobs, and they deal with it, because it’s worth it to them. Tyler has yet to meet the person who makes that schedule, the ache of missing someone all the time, seem worth it. Lauren is great, but honestly, Tyler would rather hang out with her as friends than try to date her.

“Thanks for being understanding,” she says, dropping a quick kiss on Lauren’s cheek. “And thanks for the orgasms.”

Lauren giggles, and then she’s getting into her car and pulling away. Tyler watches until she’s safely around the corner, and then she heads back to the kitchen, pulling her hair into a messy topknot as she goes.

“I guess I’m all yours now,” she announces to Jamie, who’s dividing the food onto two plates and tossing scraps to the dogs. She should tell him not to, but he looks so damn proud every time one of them catches a crust of bread or a rind of cheese.

“Yeah,” Jamie says quietly, giving her a sweet, soft smile. “Guess you are.”

*

 

They go on a week-long road trip to California, and Jamie manages to strike out in Los Angeles two nights in a row.

To be fair, Tyler doesn’t help him out much at all, and she knows how much Jamie flounders without her, so his dry spell can’t be entirely blamed on him alone. Not that it’s her job to get him laid, because it’s really fucking not and she knows it, but in the spirit of friendship, leaving him to stutter his way through five separate bars probably isn’t the coolest thing she’s ever done.

It’s what she does anyway, because ever since that morning when Jamie had cooked her breakfast, she’s felt a little wrong-footed around him. It hasn’t showed up in their play, not yet, but she’s worried that if she can’t sort this out it will, and that’s not a chance she’s willing to take. The Stars deserve better than that, and while she’s not the sort of girl to worry about representing women in the NHL well or any of that shit--she leaves the weight of the world to girls like Sid and let’s her on-ice performance speak for itself--she also doesn’t want to prove the headlines right. She doesn’t want to be the one who brings her emotions about other things into team space, even if those things are somehow connected to Jamie.

The thing is, it’s Jamie, so she can’t avoid him for long no matter how hard she tries. They don’t share a room on the road or anything. She doesn’t have to share with anyone, which is great because she can go hang out with the guys and then come back to her own space. But they get a day off in Anaheim, and Jamie decides it’s a great idea to go to Disneyland, and nobody else will agree to go with him, and next thing she knows Tyler is volunteering to take Jamie to Disneyland.

This will be fun, she reminds herself as she’s getting ready, dusting a warm-toned brown eye shadow into her crease and giving her lashes a careful coat of mascara. She doesn’t bother to try too hard with her makeup, because she doesn’t love doing it the way some of the girls she knows do, but she likes to look pulled together and she has her go-to natural look pretty much nailed down. He’s your best friend, and it’s the happiest place on earth. You’ll have fun, dammit.

For once, she’s ready to go before Jamie is, and she’s not quite sure what to make of it. He’s taking fucking forever to do his hair, and he’s just sort of squinting into the mirror and grunting and not fixing anything while Tyler sprawls stomach-down on his bed, fiddling around with SnapChat. Abby Sharp and her girls are taking care of the dogs while Tyler’s out of town, which means she’s getting lots of snaps of Cash annoying Shooter and Maddie carefully walking Marshall. It’s all very adorable, and Tyler’s too busy giggling at a shot of Marshall wearing a bejeweled plastic tiara and a pained expression to notice that Jamie’s apparently facing some sort of hair crisis.

“This is hopeless,” he mutters, and Tyler glances up from her phone to see him glaring at his hair gel like it’s somehow the product’s fault he overuses it.

"Want help?” she asks casually. It’s far from the first time she’s offered. Jamie is completely helpless when it comes to dressing himself or doing his hair, and the fact that he even continues to try is kind of endearing.

Jamie scowls, which is as close to an answer as she’s going to get at this point, so Tyler rolls off of the bed and joins him in front of the mirror, reaching for the gel right away.

"First of all, go wash this crap out,” she orders, shoving him toward the bathroom. “You don’t need nearly that much of it.”

"You don’t even use gel in your hair,” Jamie says, but he obediently leads the way into the bathroom and waits for Tyler. “How, uh, should I do this?”

Tyler frowns, hands on her hips. He’s too tall to just lean down and use the sink the way she would. “Shower, I guess.”

It’s actually a terrible idea, because the next thing she knows Jamie is stripping off his shirt and turning on the shower, and when he’s this close and there’s no locker room full of teammates to distract her, Tyler can’t stop herself from looking. Jamie’s so solid, thick with muscle but not overly cut. He looks like could hold Tyler down, or up, which is so not a thought she should be having when he’s half-naked and waiting for her to help him, water dripping from the ends of his hair and catching on his shoulders. Tyler wants to trace their paths with her tongue.

Well shit.

“Better?” Jamie asks, raising his eyebrows like he’s noticed how suddenly useless Tyler’s become.

She gathers herself, reaching for a towel. “Yeah, much. Bend down a little for me, babe.”

It slips out the way it always has, and Jamie doesn’t react at all, because it’s nothing. She’s been calling him that since about two weeks into her time in Dallas, and it’s not like he’s the only person she uses the nickname for. It shouldn’t throw her, but it does, and she can’t think about this, not now, so Tyler bites her lip hard and throws the towel over Jamie’s head, drying his hair enough that she can work with it. She sets about styling his hair, using about a tenth of the product he usually slicks on and tousling it until it’s perfectly messy, the longer hair on top of his head a rumpled contrast to the clean-cut sides.

She can feel Jamie’s eyes on her the whole time, and she’d like to think she’s imagining the tension between the two of them, but she doesn’t think that’s the case. If their eyes met right now she wouldn’t be able to stop herself from kissing him, and she’s not going to let that happen. She knows Jamie well enough to know the two of them can’t do the friends-who-fuck thing. It’s too complicated, too risky. There’s an entire team that depends on them, and Tyler’s not overly concerned about whether or not other people think she’s responsible, but she wants to be responsible, especially when it comes to the Stars.

This can’t happen.

“You should wear your hair like this every day,” she forces herself to say, stepping back from Jamie. The distance make the air in the bathroom suddenly breathable again, even as she feels cold without the proximity of his body heat.

It takes Jamie a minute to answer, and when he does, his voice is husky. “If I had you to help me with it every day, I would.”

She has to put a stop to this, so she blurts the first halfway-decent chirp that comes to mind, the sort of thing she probably wouldn’t say to Jamie normally because it’s not even a little bit true. “Yeah, like I don’t see your face enough as it is.”

Jamie’s laugh is dry, his face closed off just the tiniest bit. “Right. We should, uh, get going.”

*

Things get better once they’re in the car. Jamie is focusing on navigating the rental to Disneyland, and Tyler is forwarding Sharpy screenshots of her SnapChats (mostly just to annoy him, because she’s sure Abby’s sending him even more snaps than she’s sending Tyler). It’s still awkward, but mostly just awkward in the way that Jamie sometimes can be when he gets too much into his own head, and that’s the kind of awkward she can handle.

“I think we made it,” Jamie announces, turning into a parking lot. Tyler immediately snaps her head up, craning her neck for a glimpse of the parks.

“Where?”

“We have to walk,” he explains with a shrug, and Tyler faux-pouts, blinking up at him through her eyelashes.

“Didn’t we get more than enough exercise yesterday?” she asks, feeling rewarded when Jamie laughs.

“What, you want me to carry you?” he jokes as they both climb out of the car.

She grins. “If you can.”

Like every other hockey player she’s ever met, Jamie is basically physically incapable of backing down from any kind of challenge ever, so Tyler’s far from surprised when he darts around the car with the kind of quickness that belies his size and scoops her up. What is surprising is that he grabs her bridal-style rather than throwing her over his shoulder, and Tyler has one arm wound around his neck before she even thinks about it. They’re both giggling like crazy, and her heart is beating fast, but it’s not because of Jamie, she doesn’t think. It’s just that she’s not used to being treated like a girl, and even when she is, she’s not used to being carried around like some kind of featherweight. It’s got nothing to do with Jamie--it could happen with anyone.

"Okay, I get it, you’re a fucking ox,” she laughs, arm still tight around Jamie’s neck. It’s not that she doesn’t trust him not to drop her, exactly, but she also isn’t about to just let go and take her chances. She’s a hockey player, not a figure skater. “Now put me down.”

Jamie pauses, pretending to consider, before continuing across the parking lot, Tyler still in his arms. “I’m good, thanks.”

"No, you’re terrible,” Tyler grumbles, but the truth is, this is fun. It’s what a boyfriend would be like, probably, if she had the time or emotional energy for one.

Except it’s Jamie, and Jamie wouldn’t be her boyfriend, obviously.

He insists on carrying her all the way to Downtown Disney, like the stubborn, competitive jackass he is, and by the time he sets her down his face is bright red, but he’s grinning like this is a prouder moment for him than his Art Ross. “Made it.”

“Yeah, congrats,” she replies, wriggling away from him like she’s afraid he’s going to pick her up again. “Tell me how cool you are when your arms and back hurt like hell tomorrow.”

“Nah, you’re not heavy,” Jamie says with an easy grin, and when she doesn’t immediately agree with him his expression morphs into something firm. “No, seriously. You’re not. And if you were, it would still be cool, because muscle is fucking heavy, and you’re in such good shape, seriously, and--”

“Jamie, it’s okay,” she says, placing a hand on his arm to stop him. “You’re fine, babe. I’m not . . . don’t worry about it. At all. I know I’m hot.”

She doesn’t say I’m not like you, but the truth is, she’s not. She has her own set of insecurities, her own doubts about her maturity and tendency to self-destruct, but she’s never worried that her body wasn’t good enough. That, she knows, is closer to being Jamie’s struggle, while neither of them has ever acknowledged it and she’s not about to bring it up at Disneyland, of all places.

Instead, she pulls a face to exaggerate the joke, holding it until Jamie nods and reaches for her hand, winding his thick fingers through hers and squeezing tightly. “Okay, cool.”

"So,” she asks, “are we going to Disneyland or what?”

*

Disneyland is amazing.

“I fucking love this,” Tyler yells in Jamie’s ear, clutching his shoulder tight as their teacup spins faster and faster. She’s leaning into him even though she has great balance and the ride is kid-friendly, so it’s probably not much of an excuse. “This is the best road trip ever.”

Jamie tips his head back and laughs, long and loud. “You’re a child, Segs.”

“I’m a grown-ass woman, fuck you very much,” she replies as the ride begins to slow down. Jamie’s arm stays wrapped around her shoulders, a heavy, comforting weight. “Also we need to try to find Ariel. I’m not leaving without a picture.”

“Yeah, you’re such an adult,” Jamie giggles, leading the way off of the ride now that it’s stopped completely. Thankfully, he doesn’t try to help her down. “I don’t even know who that is.”

Tyler stops in her tracks and stares at him, hands on her hips. “I can’t believe you don’t know who Ariel is. Did you or did you not beg me to come to Disneyland with you?”

"Is that Sleeping Beauty?” Jamie asks like he’s not the most embarrassing person on the planet right now. Which, to be fair, he’s not always like this, but personally Tyler thinks she allows him to be pretty damn embarrassing most of the time, what with the horrible hair and the lame tattoos and the complete lack of knowledge about Disney princesses.

"I can’t believe you did,” he tosses back, catching up to her in one long stride. “Seriously, you’re such a girl sometimes.”

Tyler shrugs. “I’m a girl all the time, Jamie.”

The thing is, she should be annoyed at him for saying it, for implying that she’s more or less of a girl based on her interests, for suggesting that sometimes she’s not as much of a girl because she plays hockey. She could call him out on it, and some of the other girls she knows would--Sid, for sure, because Sid carries the weight of them all on her shoulders like it’s an actual superhero cape; Jess because Jess can’t let anything go ever; even PK, because when something pops into PK’s head she just throws it out there and lets it be.

But Tyler decided a long time ago that nothing about her is a political statement. If Amanda wants to wear makeup to every game like war paint and Hilary wants to check the shit out of every guy she encounters on the ice and Sid forces herself to stand up and make speeches about how far they’ve come and how much farther they have to go, she’s proud of them. She believes in it, every word, but she knows she’s not like them, can’t be a standard-bearer herself. Her parents have always said she wears her heart on her sleeve, and it had screwed her over in Boston, trying so hard to be something she wasn’t. These days, she’s just Tyler, and she plays hockey and watches Disney movies and wears pretty bras and sweats and has sex, and it’s working for her, because she’s happy.

Jamie is a major part of that, and it’s not in her nature to rake him over the coals every time he says the wrong thing. He gets the important stuff right, and he’s trying, and that’s more “You know I didn’t mean it like that, right?” he asks, and Tyler can’t help the smile that turns up the corners of her mouth.

"I know, Bennie. Now can we go find my princess?”

*

They do find Ariel, and Tyler gets her picture, only Jamie winds up in it, too, because he’s about to take it when a family with their kids who are also waiting for their turn insist on taking the pictures for them so he can be in it. They get printouts of the pictures, because what’s the fucking point of being a professional athlete if you aren’t going to splurge on pictures with Disney characters, and Tyler grins widely when she starts flipping through them.

“Your eyes are closed in half of these,” she laughs, poking Jamie in the arm until he takes the pictures from her.

He just smiles at her, good-natured. “If you wanted a Disneyland buddy who would mug for the camera you should have brought Sharpy.”

“Oh, God no.” Tyler wrinkles her nose. “And you’re the one who wanted to go to Disneyland, remember?”

“Yeah, you’re welcome for bringing you along,” Jamie says, handing the stack of pictures back to her. “I like the last picture the best, by the way.”

He strides off towards Tomorrowland, because he’s sworn he’s going to beat her on Buzz Lightyear, while Tyler hangs back a bit, checking to see which one he’s chosen.

It’s a candid, snapped near the end of their impromptu shoot. Ariel is looking in completely the wrong direction, distracted by something off-camera, so the focus of the picture is Tyler and Jamie, and they look--

They look like a goddamned couple, is what they look like, and Tyler’s never been so afraid to want something in her life.

In the picture, Jamie’s arm is curled loosely around her waist, and she’s on her tiptoes--not because she’s short, but because he’s so freakishly big and tall--whispering something in his ear, and it probably wasn’t even funny, it was probably something fucking stupid, but in the picture they look gone for each other. They aren’t at all, it’s just their friendship, but that’s what it looks like, and if Tyler’s noticing in this picture, she doesn’t want to think about what it looks like on the ice, in interviews, every time she tweets at him or he comments on her Instagram.

In real life, Jamie’s looking over his shoulder at her expectantly, his hand slightly held out. It would be the easiest thing in the world to walk over there and take it.

Instead, Tyler shoves her hands into her pockets.

*

The nice thing about being on a team in Texas is that they’re right in the middle of basically the entire league, so their flights aren’t usually that long. Still, the trip back to California will be at least three hours, and after Disneyland yesterday, Tyler isn’t interested in spending it talking to anyone. She’d managed to pull herself together and not ruin the rest of the day, kind of, but she’s not sure what to do with this new information about herself and Jamie.

Whatever else she does, she can’t let it affect the Stars. Her team deserves her at her best, and her best includes Jamie.

Somebody drops heavily into the seat next to her, and Tyler turns to look already prepared to glare until Val fucks off to go sit with Spezza or somebody. Instead, she’s faced with Sharpy, and even in her current mood, she’s no match for him, so she just closes her eyes and nestles back into the corner of her seat, hoping she can fall asleep soon so she doesn’t have to spend the flight with no cell service and no distraction from her own brain.

“It’s cute that you think pretending to sleep is going to make me leave you alone,” Sharpy says conversationally, settling his backpack underneath his seat.

“On any normal person, it would work,” Tyler tells the window.

Sharpy leans in closer to her, pitching his voice low. “Too bad I’m not normal, kid. We need to talk.”

“About what?” she asks, even though she already knows. Sharpy is frighteningly perceptive, and he’d taken her under his wing almost the minute he’d arrived in Dallas. Most of the time, she’s grateful for him--she knows he makes her a better player, and she’s lucky to have him on her line. When he starts dishing out the life advice, she gets a little less enthusiastic.

“About whatever’s going on with you,” Sharpy replies. “I know there’s something. You’re an open book, Segs.”

She’s been hearing it since she was a little kid. Open book, heart on her sleeve, emotional, reckless. The thing is, she doesn’t know how to do things any other way than headfirst and with her whole heart. She doesn’t want to, not really, because she knows she’s this way for a reason. It just sucks, sometimes, that when she’s upset everyone can tell, and that a few mistakes as a teenager got her branded as a fuckup for the rest of her career.

"What if I don’t want to talk about it?”

"Bullshit,” Sharpy says, not unkindly. “You literally always want to talk about everything.”

Tyler tugs at the end of her messy braid, fighting the urge to burst into tears, which is completely ridiculous. “I don’t think I’m ready, Sharps.”

Sharpy nods, curling his arm protectively over her shoulders instead. “It’ll work out, kid.”

He’s not wrong. It will work out.

She can’t afford for it not to.

*

Back in Dallas, they have two days off and then a lengthy homestand, and it’s a relief to settle back into her routine. Normally, time on the road doesn’t bother her much--it’s part of the job, and while missing her dogs sucks, the rest of it is just her life. But California had been unsettling, and just stepping through her own front door makes it easier for Tyler to breathe.

She’s just clipping the dogs’ leashes on and heading out for a run when Jamie calls her.

“Talk fast,” she tells him, tilting her head to the side so she can tuck the phone in between her shoulder and her ear. “I’m on my way out the door.”

“Friendly,” Jamie says dryly. “Can you spare time from your busy schedule to go out with us tonight?”

Tyler blinks. “Do we have a game I don’t know about?”

It’s not that Jamie never goes out when they don’t have a game, it’s just that he’s usually not the one to suggest it. This is new, and with everything else that’s been feeling new for Tyler lately, she’s not sure she’s happy about another new development, especially one that involves Jamie.

She can practically hear the shrug in Jamie’s voice. “I just thought it would be fun to go get dinner and drinks?”

"Who?” Tyler asks, trying to keep the skepticism out of her tone. Jamie’s just trying to be a friend. It’s not his fault that she’s doing everything she can to avoid getting stuck in another date-like situation with him.

“You, me, Jordie, maybe Val and Klinger? I dunno, I’m still calling people.”

Cash bumps his head into Tyler’s hand, anxious to get going, and she giggles. “Oh my God, so impatient.”

“Me?” Jamie asks. “What did I do?”

“No, Cash,” she replies, still giggling. “I was about to take them on a run when you called.”

“Want company?”

It’s the kind of offer she would have accepted without a second thought a few weeks ago, but now she’s less sure. “I’m good on my own, but I’m in for tonight. What time?”

Jamie pauses, and Tyler bites her lip, hoping she hasn’t hurt his feelings. “Uh, nine, I guess?”

“Sounds great!” she chirps. “See you then!”

She hangs up before Jamie can say anything else.

*

The dogs run her straight through a mud puddle, so Tyler winds up taking longer than she’d planned getting ready. By the time she makes it to the bar address Jamie had texted her, it’s nearly nine-thirty, and the place is busier than she’d expected.

“Sorry I’m late,” she says, slipping into their booth at the restaurant. “My hair took longer than I thought.”

“That is not a problem I’ve ever had,” Val tells her, shoving a beer in her direction.

“Shocking,” she replies dryly, “since I have literally, like, twenty times more hair than you do.”

Val takes a sip of his beer, which he shouldn’t even have since he’s not twenty-one, but given her track record, Tyler’s not about to call him out on it. “And yet my hair is twenty times better than yours.”

"That’s obviously false,” Tyler says, shaking her head so that her loose curls smack Val in the face. He sputters like he’s never smelled hairspray before in his life.

“I’m with Seggy,” Jamie puts in, reaching across Val to catch one of Tyler’s curls in his hand.

“You would be,” Jordie snickers from across the table, bumping shoulders with Demers.

Tyler narrows her eyes at Jamie, just enough to get him to let go of her hair. “I need another drink.”

Val opens his mouth, probably to point out the half-finished beer sitting in front of her, but Jamie cuts him off. “I’ll go with you.”

That’s actually the complete opposite of what Tyler’s trying to accomplish here, but she can’t very well say that in front of everyone, so she just stands up and heads for the bar, not bothering to wait for Jamie to clamber over Val and join her. He has long legs. He’ll catch up.

By the time he does, she’s already at the bar waiting on her drink--some fruity concoction that definitely won’t taste like it has alcohol in it, which is exactly what she’s craving. “Hey,” he says, nudging Tyler in the side with his elbow, “what do you think about them?”

Tyler barely glances in the direction of the knot of girls he’s indicating. “What about them?”

“Like, to pick up.” Jamie leans closer, his breath stirring the hair next to her ear. He’s too fucking close, and she wants to shove him away but she knows that would cause problems.

“Uh, I guess?” She’s so not into this, not tonight, and if this is why Jamie wanted to go out on a random night off, she’s going to punch herself in the face.

“Cool,” Jamie says as Tyler’s drink arrives. “So let’s go.”

She sighs. “I’m really not in the mood, Bennie.”

Jamie bites his lip, and for a moment she thinks he’s going to deflate, but then he squares his shoulders, squeezing her shoulder a little too hard for it to actually be friendly. “Yeah, that’s, uh, totally cool? I’m just gonna go over there by myself, then.”

Coming from anyone else, she’d read it as a passive-aggressive dig, but coming from Jamie it just sounds like he’s going to go do their thing without her. She musters up a half-hearted smile. “Go get ‘em, tiger.”

It sounds hideously fake, but it must do the trick, because Jamie smiles back and heads for the girls, drink in his hand, gait casual. He’s gained so much confidence lately, Tyler thinks, and she’s played a bigger role in that than she really wants to admit.

She made him like this, and now he’s driving her crazy.

*

She’s in a terrible mood for the rest of the night, and getting drunk does absolutely nothing to help. By the time she’s leaving the bar, hand-in-hand with Val because he’s convinced she’s not going to be able to walk in her heels even though she plays fucking hockey for a living and stays upright on ice, Tyler is torn between bursting into tears and bursting into curses.

“Seriously, who picked this place?” she whines, stumbling a little as they make their way toward a waiting Uber. “It was lame.”

Jordie shrugs. “Jamie did. And, uh, I don’t think he’s complaining.”

She knows that. She’s been watching it all night, and there’s probably not enough alcohol in the world to erase the images in Tyler’s head right now--Jamie’s head tipped back to laugh at something the girl had said, his arm slung casually around her shoulders, the slope of his profile when he looked down to meet her eyes. He’d left with her almost an hour ago, to catcalls from the other guys and a grudging nod from Tyler.

“Yeah, well, good for him,” she grumbles, doing her drunken best to avoid sounding too bitter. It’s not Jordie’s fault she can’t stop thinking about his baby brother.

“She’s usually a nicer drunk than this,” Val says over Tyler’s head, and she smacks him in the arm.

“Fuck you, I heard that,” she snaps. “I’m being perfectly nice.”

Jordie slings an arm around her shoulders, tugging until she leans on him. He’s the wrong Benn, but it feels good to have a friend close all the same. “You’re not, but I forgive you. We’re gonna take you home to the dogs and a big bottle of water, okay?”

That does sound really nice, and Tyler says so as they climb into the Uber, earning herself a snicker from Val, a comforting pat on the back from Jordie, and a suspicious look from their driver. Which, she’s not going to puke in the car, she can hold her liquor better than that. She’s not even that drunk, she’s just too frustrated to bother trying to act sober.

Once they’re settled into the back seat and Jordie has given the driver directions to Tyler’s place, Val whispers, “You are okay, though?”

She feels a sudden rush of affection for Val, because honestly, when did he grow up enough to be the one worrying about her? “I’m okay, kid. Promise.”

It’s not exactly the truth, but it will be soon, she thinks.

When they drop her off Jordie insists on walking her to the door, which would make her smack him if she wasn’t sure he’d do the same for any of the guys who was drunk enough to need it. Once Tyler has fumbled her keys into the lock, he drops a quick kiss on her forehead, smoothing her hair back from her face.

“Jamie shouldn’t have left you tonight,” he says.

Tyler opens her mouth to argue--it’s not Jamie’s fault at all. He’s a big boy with a life outside of her, and she shouldn’t be so upset about a stupid attraction that’s never going to lead anywhere.

“He really shouldn’t have,” Jordie insists, turning to head back down the sidewalk. “He’ll figure himself out, Segs. You’ll see.”

It’s intended to be comforting, she’s sure, but it’s mostly just confusing.

*

The dogs are sleeping when she gets inside, and they’re relaxed enough that getting them to settle back down after greeting her doesn’t take long. After a glass of water and a piece of toast, Tyler is changing into an oversized t-shirt and crawling into bed, sure that she’ll be out the minute she closes her eyes.

She’s wrong, because the minute she closes her eyes, all she can see is Jamie.

Jamie, shirtless in the hotel bathroom in Los Angeles, water droplets falling from the ends of his hair onto his shoulders, and this time she gives in to her impulse and traces them with her tongue. His skin is warm and damp against her lips, and the minute she touches him he makes a half-surprised, half-eager noise that makes her giggle and graze his skin just slightly with her teeth. He reacts by planting one big hand on her waist to pull her closer to him and tangling the fingers of the other in her hair, and yes, this is what she wants. This is going to be fun.

This is a terrible idea, Tyler knows. She shouldn’t allow herself to go there, not even just as a fantasy, but she’s just drunk enough to feel like she needs it, and she can’t stop herself, her hand is finding her cunt under the covers and God, she’s already starting to get wet just thinking about Jamie.

She takes her time, teases herself with the lace of her underwear against her clit and a hand on her breast until she’s desperate for more, for tension and something to fill her. Jamie would be so fucking good at this part, she knows it--he’d need coaching for the foreplay, but the fucking probably comes naturally to him. The last thing she’d want would be for him to be gentle, and she’s seen Jamie play hockey, bets he fucks like he plays, all intensity and speed and strength.

“Fuck,” she whispers, sliding a couple of fingers into herself and using her thumb and index finger to work at her clit, hard and rough as she can manage. The fingers don’t do nearly enough, not when what she’s thinking about is Jamie’s cock in her, but the combination gets the job done, and she comes with Jamie’s name on her lips, his face in her head.

In her fantasy he’s naked and gasping through his own orgasm, but when he finishes, his smile is the same one he saves for her after every shared goal.

*

Amazingly enough, things get worse before they get better.

She’d known she was opening a door by allowing herself to think about Jamie that way. It was one thing to catch glimpses in the locker room and wonder if his arms would hold her up with no problem, and it was another to fall headfirst into fantasizing about the way his thick fingers would feel pumping in and out of her. This has progressed from mildly irritating fixation to full-blown disaster in one night, and Tyler has no idea how to fix things.

Now that she’s let herself start wanting Jamie, she can’t stop.

She keeps a lid on it around the team, because she’s not a complete disaster and she refuses to be that unprofessional. She doesn’t get herself off thinking about him again, either, and it makes for a lot of less-than-satisfying nights. It’s stupid and embarrassing, and she feels off about the whole thing, even though they’re playing well and she’s scoring often enough.

Things boil over after a win in Columbus. Tyler scores twice herself and assists Jamie to a hat trick, and while Ohio isn’t exactly hopping, Val and Demers manage to figure out somewhere for the team to go and they clean up and head out. She does her makeup in the back seat of an Uber, squished between Sharpy and Jordie, both of them watching in horror as she successfully curls her eyelashes while their driver winds her way through the city traffic.

“That’s terrifying,” Sharpy says, shifting in his seat like he’s afraid that if he bumps her she’ll poke her eye out.

“I can’t believe you’ve seen your wife push out two babies and yet somehow me curling my eyelashes is terrifying,” Tyler chirps, shoving the eyelash curler back into her bag and digging through it until she finds a tube of mascara.

Jordie shudders. “Please don’t.”

As much as she loves the guys, sometimes Tyler really has to fight the urge to smack them. “I have literally seen your limp dick,” she tells him. “You can handle casual mentions of birth.”

“I need this conversation to stop,” Eaks says from the front seat. “I’m begging.”

Tyler stops talking, not because she’s interested in making the guys feel more comfortable but because she’s trying to put on mascara now, and she’s not an idiot.

When the driver finally pulls up in front of the club--she can tell Val picked it, because the sign is neon lettering--there’s a palpable sense of relief in the car.

*

This is the best night Tyler has had out with the team in months. Everyone is in high spirits, and even the older, married guys with kids come out on road trips. It’s not as weird for her not to be tossing back shot after shot with the younger players when Sharpy and Spezza are there and content to nurse their beers in a booth. She’s happy to hang out with them, chirping back and forth and cooing over pictures of their kids. In return, they pretend to be just as enamored with her dogs, which is gratifying.

“Hey, you,” Jamie says, hovering at the edge of the booth uncertainly, like he thinks maybe she’s going to chase him away.

A rush of guilt hits her, and Tyler smiles extra-wide instead, reaching for his arm without allowing herself to overthink it. The pleasant, humming warmth of vodka in her system helps, but mostly she just wants to make sure things don’t get too weird between her and Jamie. “Hey, Bennie. C’mon, sit down.”

Jamie doesn’t need to be told twice--he happily climbs into the booth next to her, elbowing her until she scoots toward Sharpy to give him more room.

“What’s up?” Tyler asks, accepting the beer he offers her. It’s from a brewery she doesn’t recognize, probably somewhere local knowing Jamie, but she trusts him to pick out something she’ll like.

“You were fucking incredible tonight,” he says earnestly. Tyler’s gaze catches on his lips, and she has to force herself to focus enough to respond.

“I mean, you’re the one with the hatty, babe.”

The endearment slips out before she can second-guess it, and it takes a moment for her to realize she hasn’t used it to refer to Jamie much lately. Suddenly, she kind of hates herself for how hard she’s worked to pretend she doesn’t want him. It’s stupid to act like nothing has changed.

“Yeah, well.” Jamie shrugs. “I’m not exactly going to get much of a chance to celebrate tonight, so.”

Tyler frowns. “We’re all here, aren’t we?”

Jamie makes a noncommittal noise, and Tyler gets it.

“Oh. I could, uh, try to help you find someone?” she offers, trying not to let her reluctance show in her voice. Part of it is down to the fact that she doesn’t feel like letting someone else have Jamie, but she’s also just not that confident about even her own ability to help Jamie score at this place. It’s a Tuesday night in Ohio, and she’d overheard the bartender earlier saying that it’s dead week for the college. There just aren’t that many options, and she’s not about to send Jamie home with just anyone.

He looks like he’s considering it, but he just shrugs. “I guess?”

She’s not anywhere near drunk, so there’s no excuse for what Tyler does next.

“Or,” she suggests quietly, fixing her eyes on his, “you could just celebrate with me.”

This time, Jamie’s the one who takes a minute to catch on, but once he does, Tyler goes breathless at the way his eyes darken.

“Don’t,” he says quietly. “Don’t make fun of me, Segs, it’s not--”

If they weren’t in public, she’d lean over and kiss him right now. “I’m not,” she tells him quickly, her hand finding his thigh under the table and squeezing. “Look, we’re both single, we both want to fuck. Why not?”

It’s not everything she wants, but it’s close enough. It has to be.

*

They don’t actually stay at the club for much longer, but it feels like it takes forever for enough of the older guys to decide to leave and give Jamie and Tyler a chance to duck out without looking too obvious. By the time they finally get an Uber back to the hotel, just the two of them, Tyler is about one more lingering glance from Jamie away from exploding out of her own skin.

She sits in the front seat and leaves Jamie in the back, because she needs a minute to herself, one last chance to back out. It’s easier and harder to breathe without him sitting next to her, and the distance does nothing to make her think they should stop. If anything, she just wants him more.

When she twists in her seat to look back over her shoulder, he’s watching her, his bottom lip caught between his teeth. The look in his eyes is half-shy, half-tender, and it sends a shiver down Tyler’s spine.

The driver pulls up in front of the hotel and Tyler scrambles out and heads for the door, not bothering to look back and see if Jamie is following--she knows he’ll be right behind her, an awareness built from spending so much time together on the ice. He’s always where she expects him to be. It’s why she loves him so much.

Shit.

It’s not the love part that hits her, really. She’s known she was headed that way with Jamie since their first practice together. The chemistry is just so much, so strong, that they couldn’t have ended up any other way. What’s scary isn’t loving Jamie, it’s how close she is to doing something about it.

“You okay?” Jamie asks, coming up behind her as she waits for the elevator and placing his hand low on her back. She leans into him.

“More than,” she replies, looking up at him. God, he’s so fucking tall--she’s not short, not even really by hockey standards, but he makes her feel absolutely tiny, and she’s way too into it.

Jamie absolutely beams back at her. “Good.”

After that, neither of them does much talking. It’s all Tyler can do in the elevator not to jump Jamie the minute the doors close, but she’s determined to wait until they get back to her room, until they can do this right, or as close to right as they can manage in a hotel room in Ohio.

She’s a little worried she’s going to fumble the key card in the lock, with Jamie breathing down her neck and her hands shaking, but instead she gets it on the first try, and then they’re into her room, the door shut tightly behind them, and the only thing stopping Tyler from kissing Jamie is her own self-control.

“Hi,” Jamie says, and then he takes a step forward, crowding her against the door. His hands find her hips, and she reaches up to wrap her arms around his neck.

Tyler grins, rubbing her fingers against the nape of his neck. “Hey.”

When he dips down to kiss her, Tyler can’t wait, and she meets him halfway, pushing onto her tiptoes even though she doesn’t actually need to get taller to kiss him. She’s had dozens of first kisses before, ranging from sloppy and eager to tentative and awkward, but kissing Jamie is like nothing else Tyler has ever done. It feels familiar, like an extension of every friendly smile, every perfect pass and beautiful assist, every celebratory hug and casual touch and shared meal.

Kissing Jamie for the first time feels like coming home.

She presses herself closer, and his hands slip from her hips to her ass, squeezing lightly. Tyler giggles into his mouth, nipping lightly at his bottom lip. “Don’t be shy, babe.”

Apparently that’s all the encouragement Jamie needs, because he lets out a low groan and kisses her harder, tongue licking into her mouth, huge hands grabbing her ass much more firmly this time. It’s not hesitant, but it’s also not aggressive--it feels like they’re exploring each other, learning how to connect this way the way they learned to connect on the ice and as friends.

He pulls back just enough to mumble, “Your mouth,” and then he’s pulling her closer to him again, picking her up like she’s half the weight her stats give.

Tyler laughs, hooking her legs around his waist and allowing him to carry her toward the bed. “What about it?”

"You’re mouthy,” Jamie whines, lowering her carefully onto the bed--which, honestly, she’d sort of like him to use some of that strength, but she knows asking him to leave bruises the first time out will probably just make him panic.

She smirks. “Yeah, and you like it,” she tells him, tugging at the hem of his shirt until he lifts it over his head and she’s suddenly distracted. “Shit, Jamie.”

Jamie blushes, and Tyler cups his cheek in her hand and kisses him softly, trying to reassure him. “That’s good. You look fucking good.”

He doesn’t look totally convinced, and Tyler figures it’s only fair for her to start getting naked too, so she sits up on the bed and scoots around so her back is to Jamie, gathering her hair over her shoulder. “Unzip me?”

She can hear his sharp intake of breath, and then she feels Jamie’s lips on the back of her neck, slowly unzipping her dress and chasing the zipper down her spine with tiny, whisper-soft kisses. When she turns back around, dress unzipped but still hanging off of her shoulders, he’s wide-eyed and pink-cheeked, and she’s never wanted anyone more.

“You should tell me what you want,” she suggests, watching gleefully as Jamie’s cheeks go even pinker. “We’re celebrating your hatty, bro.”

Jamie works his jaw for a moment, like he’s trying to make a decision, and then he reaches out to tuck a strand of Tyler’s hair behind her ear. “Can we just, like, play it by ear?” he asks, and Tyler has to laugh.

“I told you, babe, whatever you want,” she tells him.

He grins and leans in to kiss her again, easing her back until they’re stretched out on the bed, mouths moving together slowly. Jamie’s a good kisser, a little gentle for her taste but thorough, and determined the way he is on the ice.

Once he gets a little more practice, he’s going to fucking destroy her.

“Can I . . .” Jamie trails off, gesturing vaguely at Tyler’s body, and she bites back a groan.

“Literally anywhere. Just touch me. Please.”

The please must do something for Jamie, because he kisses her again, harder this time, his tongue finding its way into her mouth and massaging against hers, while one huge hand cups the back of her neck and the other winds up on her thigh, rubbing back and forth until he’s close to the short hem of her dress and Tyler’s whining a little, encouraging him to take more.

Jamie toys with the bottom of her dress, pushing it up her hips until it’s out of his way, and then he’s running his thumb over the scrap of lace covering her pussy.

“God, you’re wet,” he mumbles, pressing just enough for the lace to rub against her clit. Tyler pushes back a little, craving the friction. “Fuck, Segs.”

It’s the exact same thing he’s said to her so many times before--after a sweet goal, or a long run, or a loss in a video game tournament, but his tone is one she’s never heard before. He sounds like he’s in awe of her, and it’s intoxicating.

He rubs again, harder, and Tyler whimpers a little, partly for show but mostly because she wants more from him, wants him closer.

Another kiss, this one lingering and sweet, and then he’s scooting down the bed, situating himself between her legs. Tyler props herself up on her elbows to watch him, giggling when she catches his eye and sees how red his face is.

“Thought you didn’t do this, Bennie,” she teases, because she’s never, ever going to get tired of giving him shit about that particular social media disaster.

Jamie rolls his eyes. “Oh my god, stop talking,” he says, and then he’s pushing her dress up a little higher.

“Here, let me take it off,” she suggests, shrugging the dress off of her shoulders.

“I thought I told you to stop talking,” Jamie snipes, but there’s no heat behind it, and he drops a kiss on the inside of her knee before helping her shimmy out of her dress. When she kicks it off of the bed and sprawls back out, his hungry gaze makes her feel much, much sexier than her mismatched bra and underwear probably are.

She smirks. “If you want me to stop talking, you should make me.”

Jamie just looks at her for a second, and then he licks his lips and gets back between her legs.

He places a hand firmly on her hip, looking up at her through his lashes, and then he noses along the waistband of her underwear, pressing soft, close-mouthed kisses to the sensitive skin of her tummy. Tyler tangles a hand in the longer hair at the top of his head, not really tugging yet, but figuring she might as well get ready. If she knows Jamie half as well as she thinks she does, this is going to be a wild ride.

“I’m, uh, not that confident about this,” he admits, his cheeks going pink again.

Tyler grins. “I am.”

She’s pretty sure he honest-to-God rolls his eyes at her, but then he hooks his fingers in the waistband of her underwear and pulls them down, his breath hot over her center, and she’s not thinking about what his face looks like anymore, because she’s too busy thinking about getting his face in between her legs.

It’s slow going, which is about what she’d expected based on Jamie’s initial hesitation. She does her best to coach him through it, making sure to be as vocal and responsive as possible. He’s a quick learner and a hard worker, and it turns out that those traits are just as valuable in the bedroom as they are on the ice.

“Oh my God,” she gasps, her hips bucking as Jamie sucks hard on her clit, slipping a finger into her at the same time. “That’s it, babe, I’m so close.”

He doesn’t respond, just slides another finger in and twists, fucking in and out of her and giving her the friction she so desperately needs right now. His technique isn’t the best she’s worked with, not by a long shot, but he’s going for it, and that’s incredibly hot.

Tyler comes hard, cursing up a storm and bearing down on Jamie’s fingers as he works her through it. When she’s done, she flops onto the bed, overwhelmed. She hadn’t expected sex with Jamie to be quite so intense, physically or emotionally.

He crawls back up the bed toward her, slotting himself in beside her and brushing her hair back from her forehead. “So,” he starts.

"Please don’t tell me that’s all you’ve got,” she cuts in, catching his hand in hers and flipping them over so she’s on top and straddling his torso. “Because I haven’t even returned the favor yet, and I’m going to be really disappointed if I don’t get the chance.”

Jamie opens his mouth, then closes it again, nodding fervently, which Tyler takes as a sign that he’s up for the challenge. When she shifts experimentally, grinding their hips together, his obvious hardness gives her the rest of the answer.

“You’re pretty hard for somebody who doesn’t like to go down,” she observes, giggling when he glares at her while still working his hips against hers.

“And you’re pretty fucking talkative for somebody who just begged me to touch her,” he manages, which is actually a pretty solid point.

She grins, toying with the button on his jeans. “Are you suggesting I find another way to use my mouth?”

At this exact moment, Jamie looks like he’s not sure what to say next, and Tyler doesn’t bother to wait for him, just unbuttons his jeans and unzips them, tugging at the fabric until he lifts his hips off the bed to help her slide them off. Once she’s got him naked, she just takes a moment to look, because this has been a long time coming and she’s not in the mood to rush now.

“Segs,” Jamie says softly, and she looks up to find him staring at her, bottom lip caught between his teeth. He looks nervous, which is ridiculous because he’s already gone down on her tonight and also because she’s seen him wearing Mickey Mouse ears and Mardi Gras beads.

She can’t take the look on his face, and she scoots back up the bed as quickly as she can, planting a bruising kiss on his mouth, licking into him until he’s shifting under her and making needy little noises.

“You’re so fucking hot, Jamie,” she says, peppering kisses over his face. It’s a little too intimate, too close to the kind of thing she’d do for a boyfriend, but she can’t stop herself when they’ve already come this far. “I want you so bad. I want you to tell me what you want, babe.”

Jamie groans. “I don’t even know, I just . . .”

“I’m going to suck you off,” Tyler decides, pressing one more kiss to his lips. “Does that sound good?”

“Yeah,” Jamie manages, his mouth kiss-swollen and red. “Yeah, sounds great.”

“Fucking right, it does,” Tyler tells him with a grin, giggling when he shoves lightly at her shoulders like he wants her to get on with it already. Teasing Jamie is fun, but Jamie getting assertive with her is even better.

When she takes his half-hard cock in her hand, he moans a little, and when she begins jerking him off lightly, just the bare minimum to get him fully hard, his eyes close and his head falls back against the bed, his lashes dark against his cheeks. “Fuck, Tyler . . .”

It seems like as good a time as any to swipe her tongue over the head of his cock, licking away the drop of precome leaking from its tip. Jamie swears, which is delightful, really--he’s never particularly composed, but he’s coming completely undone with her right now, and Tyler’s always loved the feeling that goes along with being able to take someone apart with just her mouth.

When she takes him down in one smooth swallow, the stretch of him makes her eyes water, but it’s worth it for the way he tenses, like he’s trying his best to be good and not choke her. Jamie’s fucking big--she’s worked with bigger, barely, but she’s never felt quite this motivated to deliver a stellar blow job before. Tyler throws herself into it, bobbing up and down on his cock with her best technique, using her hand to make up for what won’t fit in her mouth. She works her tongue along the thick vein on the underside of his dick, and Jamie curses, hips bucking up. “Shit, sorry.”

Tyler pulls off of him with a slurp, glancing up through her eyelashes. “Nah, I like it. You can fuck my mouth, if you want.”

“Oh my God, Seggy,” Jamie whines, tangling a hand in her hair. “You can’t just say shit like that.”

“I’m not,” she tells him, laughing a little at the wide-eyed look on his face. “I’m into it, so if you want to . . .”

He groans. “Yeah, definitely, please.”

She takes him into her mouth again, as far as she can go, hollowing her cheeks and sucking before pulling back just a little and looking up at Jamie, doing her best to appear as encouraging as possible. She wants this, and she can tell he wants this, and since she can’t exactly tell him that with his cock in her mouth, she’s hoping he’ll get the idea.

“Holy shit, babe,” he says, reaching out to trace the line of her jaw, the outline of him in her mouth. “Tyler.”

And then he’s moving in earnest, pulling out of her mouth only to slide back in again, building into a rhythm that has Tyler’s eyes tearing up and her breathing coming in short little puffs and her whole body quivering. This is so good, so much better than she’d dreamed it could be, because it’s the real thing. She’s choking on Jamie, gagging for him, and his face when he looks at her is fucking reverent.

Maybe she’s showing off a bit, but when he comes she swallows him down--it’s never really been her favorite, but she’s pretty sure it’ll do something for Jamie, and that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

“C’mere,” Jamie mumbles when he opens his eyes again, reaching for her hand and tugging her toward him. “You’re fucking incredible, you know that?”

“Obviously,” she tells him flippantly, but she’s humming inside, and she’s never really understood what an afterglow is until right now. “So do you feel, like, properly celebrated?”

He snorts. “Sure, Segs.”

She smacks at his arm, wrinkling her nose when a wisp of hair falls across her face. “No, seriously. This was about you, so . . .”

“Both of us,” Jamie cuts in, frowning. He trails a hand along her cheek before brushing her hair back from her forehead, tucking it behind her ear and leaning in to drop a kiss on the tip of her nose. “It was about both of us, don’t be dumb.”

“You’re dumb,” she jokes, sticking her tongue out. “And I’m sleepy.”

Jamie rolls away from her, already off of the bed and searching for his clothes before she’s processed what he’s doing. “Yeah, I didn’t think about that. You’re probably tired. I should, uh, head out.”

“What?” Tyler sits up, running a hand through her tangled hair. “I mean, you can stay, if you want.”

It’s a stupid offer to make, she realizes that the moment she says it. They’ve blurred the lines enough already by doing this, and sticking around afterward will just make things worse. But she can’t stand the idea that she might have messed things up between them, that this could affect their on-ice chemistry and off-ice friendship. They’ve cuddled plenty of times before this, and there’s no reason they can’t cuddle now--or there wouldn’t be, if they hadn’t just gotten each other off.

“Yeah?” Jamie blushes, and Tyler can’t stop herself, she reaches out her hand to him, and he takes it and allows himself to be pulled back onto the bed, and this is the stupidest thing she’s ever done, but she catches his mouth in a soft, lingering kiss.

“Yeah.”

*

Tyler sneaks out of her own hotel room before sunrise, packing her stuff as quietly as possible so as not to wake Jamie, who’s sprawled across the bed, still naked and snoring lightly. His hair flops across his forehead, one arm pillowing his face, and she’s so, so tempted to do something stupid like kiss him on the cheek, only she knows that if she stops she won’t go at all, and she can’t wake up in bed with Jamie and pretend nothing’s changed for her.

Everything has changed, and she’s sick with worry, and she doesn’t know where to go with this. Normally Jamie is it for her, the safest place she has outside of her family, but he’s also someone she can’t talk to right now.

In a daze, she winds up doing what she probably should have thought of months ago, and calls Sid. They’re not that close, not really, but as a member of Team Canada, Sid is technically her captain, and she has her number, and fuck it, Tyler thinks, if Sidney Crosby can’t help her figure this out, there’s not a person in the world who can.

“Hello?” Sid’s voice is confused and grumpy, and Tyler doesn’t realize she’s crying until she opens her mouth to speak and what comes out instead are pitiful half-sobs.

“Tyler?” To Sid’s credit, she sounds much more awake the minute she figures out Tyler’s crying, which actually makes Tyler cry harder. She’s on the phone with Sidney Crosby at four o’clock in the morning, having a breakdown because she’s gone and fallen in love with her captain.

Apparently, she’d learned exactly nothing from everything that had happened in Boston.

Sid sounds a little frantic right now, which is fair because Tyler hasn’t actually said anything yet, just cried. “Tyler, what’s wrong?”

“Do the Pens want a new star center?” she cracks, trying for humor, and it falls completely flat because of course it does.

"There’s no way in hell you’re getting traded in the middle of the season,” Sid says flatly. “Or at all.”

Tyler sniffles, swiping at her eyes. When she pulls her hand away, there’s mascara all over her index finger. So fucking much for waterproof. “Maybe I want a trade.”

“From Dallas?” Sid sounds incredulous. “Based on what you said this summer, the only negative about Dallas was that they weren’t the ones who drafted you in the first place.”

“Yeah, well,” Tyler sighs heavily. She doesn’t want to be overly dramatic, but she also doesn’t want Sid to think this isn’t serious. “That was before I figured out that I’m in love with my captain.”

Sid groans, and Tyler can picture her in her mind’s eye, dark curls a wild mess from sleeping on them, probably wearing a Pens t-shirt and shorts, and definitely, definitely pinching the bridge of her nose hard, because Tyler is that much of a headache. “Oh, Tyler.”

“It’s not like I’m the first person it’s happened to, right?” There’s no way. “I can’t be.”

“Of course you’re not,” Sid snaps. Tyler doesn’t bother to take it personally--Sid is just stressing right now, and it’s not like it’s unwarranted. “Don’t be dramatic. Plenty of people work through it. That’s professionalism.”

“I think I crossed the professionalism line already,” Tyler admits in a small voice. The last thing she wants to do is disappoint Sidney Crosby--it’s like disappointing Jamie, only somehow worse, because disappointing Sid makes her feel a bit like she’s let down the sport of hockey itself. It’s ridiculous, because Sid is just a person, just another girl who loves a sport, but she’s also Sidney Crosby, and even after playing on a team with her, Tyler sometimes struggles to differentiate between the two.

“Tyler,” Sid groans. “Please tell me you didn’t sleep with Jamie.”

She’s got a headache coming on, and Tyler tugs at the hair tie holding her waves in their messy bun, fiddling with it until they’re free. Maybe that’ll help--or maybe it’s from crying. “I did. And it was good, Sid. We’re fucking good together.”

“Cutting you off there,” Sid tells her in a strained voice. “I’ll give you life advice, but I have zero interest in your sex life.”

“My sex life is awesome. Way better than yours,” Tyler chirps half-heartedly, but it’s not the time and she knows it. “I mean, the sex wasn’t really the problem, though. The feelings are the problem."

“You said love earlier. Is that true? You’re in love with him?”

She doesn’t have to think about it long. “I am, yeah. I wish I wasn’t, but I am.”

Sid is silent for so long that Tyler would think she’s fallen asleep, only she knows Sid would never do that to her. Finally, she says, “You have to tell him.”

It’s a good thing Tyler is already sitting on the floor in the hallway near the ice machine, because if she’d been sitting on a chair or couch, she probably would have fallen off. “No fucking way.”

“You have to,” Sid says firmly. She’s using her captain voice, which is usually sort of inspiring, but right now Tyler’s just trying to figure out if she’s lost her actual mind. “I’m not saying make a big romantic declaration, we both know you’d fuck that up. I’m saying that as his teammate and his linemate and someone who’s going to be wearing the A for him within a few years and probably playing with him for the rest of his career, you need to talk this through with him if you want the team to be successful.”

It makes sense, which is completely terrifying. Tyler knows Jamie, knows that no matter what his gut reaction, they’ll figure this out and make it work. Sid, as usual, is right--it’s the best possible solution if she wants to stay with the Stars, and God, she wants that more than anything, wants to win Cups with her boys, wants to play with them for years and years. Still, she can’t help protesting a little. “I’m scared.”

“More scared than you were to enter the draft?” Sid asks, and she has a point. Tyler’s the only woman on the Stars, one of a handful in the NHL. A measly conversation about feelings shouldn’t have her feeling so damn afraid.

“The draft didn’t make me worried I was going to lose someone,” she whines, because at the heart of it, that’s what has her shaking. She can’t stand the thought of losing Jamie, can’t stand the thought that it might already be too late.

“Didn’t it?” Sid asks, her voice gentle. “How many boyfriends broke up with you because you were too busy with hockey, Tyler? How many times did you have to miss birthday parties for friends because you were traveling for games? We all lost a lot of people to get to where we are. I don’t want to see you lose Jamie, too.”

“I don’t, either,” Tyler says softly, twirling a strand of hair around her finger. “How do I do this, though? Just, like, corner him and vomit my feelings at him?”

Sid laughs, but it feels like relief. “I can’t tell you how to do everything. It’s you and Jamie. You know what will work. Just talk to him.”

It makes sense. It makes a lot of sense, actually, and Tyler finds herself nodding even though she knows Sid can’t see her. “Right. Yeah. I can do that, I think.”

“You can,” Sid says firmly. “Let me know how it goes, okay?”

“For sure. Thanks, Sid.”

“Anytime,” Sid tells her. The truly amazing thing about Sid is that Tyler knows she means it.

*

She’d promised Sid she’d talk to Jamie, and she’d meant it, but Tyler figures a plane is the wrong place for the conversation, so she boards the plane early and, when Val wanders past her with his headphones on, grabs his arm.

“Sit with me or I’ll make you wash my practice clothes for the rest of the season,” she says through her teeth.

“You make me do nothing,” Val scoffs, but he drops into the seat next to her obediently and pulls his headphones off. “Want to talk?”

She shrugs. “Not really. I just . . .”

Jamie walks past them then, frowning, and when Tyler catches his eye, she can feel herself flushing. He opens his mouth to say something, and she narrows her eyes just the tiniest bit.

“I get it,” Val says as Jamie keeps walking.

Tyler slouches in her seat, pulling the hood of her sweatshirt up over her head. “You definitely don’t.”

*

When they file off the plane in Dallas, Jamie comes up behind her and puts a hand on her shoulder, and Tyler doesn’t hesitate.

“Come back to my place,” she tells him, already making a beeline for her car. “We’ll talk, promise.”

*

The drive back to her house seems to take forever, and Tyler turns on the radio and cranks it up loud, rolling down the windows and counting on cool air and pounding music to keep her from overthinking. By the time she pulls into her garage, Jamie pulling his car into the driveway behind her, she’s nearly shaking with nerves.

 

“Hey,” Jamie says, walking up next to her and placing his hand on the small of her back. Tyler leans into the touch despite herself, hating how reassured she feels just by having him near. If this goes wrong, she’s going to lose everything.

 

She takes a deep breath, wrapping her arm around his waist and squeezing. “Hi.”

 

When Tyler unlocks the garage door to let them in, the dogs are on the other side, whining like crazy. Cash jumps on them the minute they’re inside, while Marshall watches more sedately. Tyler immediately drops her bag on the floor and reaches for them, Jamie right beside her.

 

“Hi, babies,” she coos, scratching behind Marshall’s ears with one hand and rubbing the itchy spot on the underside of Cash’s chin with the other. “I missed you.”

Jamie snickers, his arm pressing against her shoulder. “You’re lucky I think this is cute, or I’d be recording it right now to play in the locker room.”

Her heart squeezes a little at the word cute, but she shrugs it off momentarily in favor of chirping back, “Please, they’d all think it was precious.”

"I mean, it is,” Jamie says with a grin. “It’s just also embarrassing.”

She turns her face toward him, planning to faux-glare until he apologizes, but he catches her off-guard by leaning in and catching her mouth in a sweet, gentle kiss. Without thinking, Tyler kisses back, letting things move just a little farther than she’s planned before Cash whines, annoyed about being ignored, and pulls her back to reality.

“I spent the whole plane ride thinking about doing that,” Jamie tells her shyly, reaching for her hand.

“Me too,” she confesses. “But, uh, I’d like it if we talked first.”

Jamie frowns, but he doesn’t let go of her hand. “Yeah, of course.”

He stands, pulling her to her feet as well, and leads her toward the couch. They sit down on opposite ends--she doesn’t want to let go of him, but she needs to, knows this conversation has to happen with as clear a head as she can manage.

“So,” she starts, tugging the loose waves of her hair over her shoulder and beginning to work tiny braids into them, just for something to occupy her hands. “We had sex.”

“Yeah.” Jamie blushes, and Tyler resists the urge to dive back across the couch and kiss him. They have to have this conversation, and the sooner she can spit the words out, the better.

She squirms, trying to settle into a more comfortable position. As if this conversation is ever going to be comfortable. “And, uh, it was fucking awesome,” she continues. “But I have to say something, and I get it if you aren’t comfortable with it, and I’m sorry, I am, because it’s going to fuck up everything, but--”

"Tyler,” Jamie says, his voice soft. “Whatever it is, just say it.”

On the plane she’d mulled over this, imagined clever segues and brave speeches and dramatic kisses, but she can’t find it in her to be any braver than staring at her hands and whispering, “I love you.”

“What?”

"I love you,” she repeats, louder this time, meeting Jamie’s eyes as she says it.

He doesn’t look nearly as shocked as she’d expected. “I love you too, Segs. You’re my best friend.”

“Not like that,” she blurts, digging her nails into the palms of her hands. “I’m in love with you. Like, romantically. Boyfriend and girlfriend. Valentine’s Day. Adopt dogs together and shit. That kind of love.”

Now he gets it, and he’s just staring at her, eyes the biggest she’s ever seen them. “Fuck, Tyler,” he says, running a hand through his hair. “Fuck.”

She can feel tears starting to gather in the corners of her eyes, and she wants to let them fall but also doesn’t want to lay any more on Jamie than she already has. “It doesn’t have to change anything, okay? I just thought you should know, so we could talk through it, but nothing’s going to change.”

“Don’t be an idiot,” Jamie says, his voice hoarse. “This changes everything.”

Tyler’s going to throw up, and then she’s going to cry, and she’s going to hide in her room with ice cream and her dogs and never, ever come out. When Sid had said everything would be okay, she’d wanted to believe it so badly that she’d convinced herself it was true, but she’d been stupid to think that someone like her could make something like this work. She fucks up every good thing in her life, and the only real surprise is how long it’s taken her to fuck up the Stars.

“I’m sorry,” she croaks, willing the tears not to spill over until she can get Jamie out of the house. “I’ll start looking for a trade tomorrow.”

“What?” His voice is sharp enough to make her look up again. “Why would you do that? I don’t . . . you can’t . . . Oh my God, Tyler, fuck . . .”

Nothing he’s saying makes sense to her, but what does get through is the way he scrambles out of his spot on the couch to pull her into the tightest hug she’s ever felt. She’s crying now, and she thinks she can hear him sniffling too, and it’s all hideously embarrassing, but when he pulls back just enough for their eyes to meet, the smile on his face makes it feel like the best thing that’s ever happened to her.

“You’re not going anywhere,” he tells her fiercely. “I’ve been in love with you for months now.”

Apparently now it’s her turn to be struck dumb. “Holy fucking shit, Jamie.”

“I know,” he says, and he’s laughing and leaning in to kiss her, and Tyler’s so in love. “I know.”