Everything, absolutely everything, about their relationship comes down to distance and time.
The distance is not a metaphor. The distance can be measured in the three thousand, nine hundred, and sixty-seven kilometers from New York to Alberta. Traveling this distance would take forty four hours driving, or four hours flying. Those numbers don’t matter; there isn’t the time.
Once upon a time Sam and John lived very close to each other. They could walk the distance, and did, frequently. They were much younger then, and not in love the way they are now. It was a good time, but it’s long gone.
Now they’ve got a grown up love, and live fucking far apart. They spend most of the year on different sides of the continent, which is far from ideal, but they can handle it. There are still some times that belongs to them.
They get the summer. It is a time to remind themselves of why what they have is worth keeping despite the distance. That isn’t always easy, but they’re dedicated. They don’t waste their time, but try to savor every second.
(Sometimes Sam wonders if, even though it’s been years, they’re perpetually in a honeymoon stage. Every moment they manage together is a treat so they work hard to make the most of them. When they’re together they focus on being together, leaving the distance behind. They don’t argue. They don’t have enough time to argue, they’re too busy fighting together to find more time.
He worries that when they leave the distance behind other things are getting left as well.)
They’re going to spend the summer together. They always do, but this time there is serious intent involved. Spending the summer together is a capital letter Plan. They’re going to live together. They’ll fall asleep and wake up in the same bed for consecutive nights. They’ve been together, or something, for years, but they’ve never done this before.
It feels grown up and responsible, which is both exciting and terrifying. Sam doesn’t have a ton of experience with grown up and responsible; the little he’s got has mostly been earned in comparison to the immature and irresponsible actions of the kids he plays with. It’s only a couple of years but they make him feel old. He doesn’t like feeling old, but he does like feeling grown up and responsible, so it’s a fair trade.
Playing on a young team takes away any pressure for him to be attached. Mouson’s wife has friends she would like to introduce John to. Sam knew laughing wasn’t the nice thing to do, but he couldn’t help it. It’s alright though, John laughed too; neither of them are going to get setup with anyone.
The kids kind of know he has a thing. He isn’t sure they figured it out, but they aren’t bugging him about it, so he also doesn’t care. He overheard Taylor explaining it to Nuge last year: “Sam has this complicated long distance romance thing that he never talks about but sometimes mopes about. I don’t really know. Don’t try to talk to him about it, it makes his face go wrong. More wrong than usual.”
Sam occasionally wishes he played on a team with mature adults, but most of the time it’s fine.
They know there’s someone but they don’t know it’s John. Sam likes it this way because if he isn’t telling the whole world how stupid he is about John he’d rather keep it all to himself.
He knows they speculate sometimes, but they’re better at doing so discretely after the time he interceded to firmly inform them that he isn’t involved with Patrick Kane. (At least not anymore.)
(The thing with Kaner had been a complicated distance thing too, not because of any separation, but because they were stuck in the same place, always inhabiting the same space, young and desperate. That made it easy to be more than just buddies, to add something sexual too, even though they didn’t specifically want each other.)
John and him, they want each other specifically, but they recognize that the excessive distance and insufficient time mean that they can't always get what they want. They both sleep with other people, or at least they could, theoretically. For Sam this means that he will occasionally pick up girls during the season. He doesn’t know what it means for John. He probably should. He's pretty sure John isn't sleeping with anyone else, because John doesn’t sleep with girls and picking up guys is awkward. John might be getting laid when the Islanders play the Habs, but Sam isn’t asking. Theoretically they could have a conversation about this. That might be a mature responsible thing to do, but whatever. They sleep with each other the most, despite the distance, despite the time, because they want each other the most. That’s what matters.
They wear the same colors. It’s poetic or ironic or something. Sam didn’t pay a lot of attention in English, he was too busy playing hockey.
They’re going to spend the summer together, but Worlds come first. They probably could have stolen a week but they both wanted a chance to decompress from the season. Sam doesn’t rush to get away from Edmonton, and he takes his time driving to London.
The drive is a chance to get to known the North American continent from the ground, and realize it isn’t everything he wanted it to be.
During the season Sam will visualize the land between them as towering mountains, canyons sunk deep into the earth, and other geological features that you could fall from for days. There are cliffs and waterfalls, separated by barren wastes. Sam imagines impassible perils, because it’s a distance he can’t travel, and he wants a good excuse. No one could blame him for staying home for a long weekend when the journey is as dangerous as all that.
Driving is a disappointment. He goes South and East through fields and forests, which can both be beautiful, but never intimidating. He’s used to seeing the continent from airplane windows, and from thousands of miles up and the distance blurs the details.
This effect isn’t found exclusively in geography. Sam sees it in his love life. He thinks a lot about how John makes him feel, big picture things, while glossing over a lot of the small everyday realities. He doesn’t know what John puts in his coffee, if he drinks coffee. It isn’t that he doesn’t want to know, it’s just that these aren’t the kind of questions you ask when you’re already in love, and he isn’t around to observe.
When Sam gets to London John is already in Finland, representing their country, and generally being amazing; Johnny Canuck, right where he belongs.
Sam really doesn’t mind not being at Worlds. This is a very grown up position. He’s just happy to be playing. He’s said that so many times, but people keep on asking. He doesn’t mind answering them.
Answering them is the grown up thing to do. Sam posses a combination of experience and youth that make it difficult to determine what should be expected of him; John is very mature for his age. This has transformed from biographical fact into scripture. John is very mature for his age. Sometimes even Sam gets confused and starts to believe it without qualifications. John is mature, as a player and a man, but it isn’t fair to constantly hold him to that standard. Sometimes he should be allowed to act his age; he is very young.
John is twenty one and this is the only time he’s ever been in love. Sam is twenty three, but those two years mean nothing. Neither of them know what they’re doing, but they’re trying. Being young and in love means they’re great at trying.
Hopefully they will have the time to figure out what the hell they’re doing.
The only phone call Sam gets from Helsinki is from Ebs; It’s dinnertime in Ontario, which means it must be the middle of the night in Finland. (He had looked up the time difference the day before, wanting to hear someone he trusted to tell him not to worry so much, but then hadn’t wanted to wake John up.)
Jordan rambles about winning World Junior Gold, about Taylor and Ryan, about losing, about how they lose all the time, and about how you have to play the game to win, sounding like an unconvincing motivational speaker.
Sam doesn’t think Ebs is drunk, but it’s hard to tell transatlantically. He listens as Jordan unfurls poorly constructed conflicting metaphors about the how taking risks can be rewarding, and that it’s important to play safe and smart, conservatively, because then at least you’re not fucking things up.
Eventually, Jordan pauses to catch his breath, which gives Sam a chance to say, “I can’t tell if you’re trying to talk yourself into or out of something.”
Jordan sighs. “Yeah, I’m not sure either.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
Sam doesn’t even know why he’s on the other end of this conversation. It isn’t like he’s known for giving great advice, or any advice at all really. Jordan could be asking John for advice. John is good at this type of thing, and also right there in Helsinki. Maybe Ebs didn’t want to disturb his sleep either. That thought gives Sam’s empty side of the conversation a new motivation; he isn’t just listening to Jordan ramble to be a good friend and teammate, he’s listening to be a good boyfriend.
Boyfriend isn’t the right word. They don’t have a right word, they have plans to talk about choosing one, but that conversation keeps on getting postponed in favor of doing something pleasurable, or at least less awkward. It isn’t a priority, but they should have the time to make a decision this summer.
Distance and Time sound like variables in a mathematic equation. Sam almost failed geometry, but this might be algebra even though it has to do with visualizing space. Anyway, one of those classes talked linear relationships, a phrase which could be used to describe the line running from his heart to John’s. They might as well call it that, a linear relationship because they don’t want to call in anything else.
They’re afraid of the word boyfriends. They’ve been friends since they were boys; what does removing the space there mean? There’s already so much space in their relationship, the distance between the word boy and the word friend doesn’t matter.
Jordan continues to talk for most of an hour. Sam says the right things to fill the pauses, hopefully. Jordan doesn’t seem to notice if they’re wrong, he just keeps talking. Sam never needed to know so much about Taylor Hall’s shoulder. If Hallsy comes back as a beast next season it would be great, but Sam doesn’t need to know all the gory details.
Then Ebs starts talking about Nuge’s shoulder, and Sam realizes that the conversation isn’t actually about shoulders; it’s about Feelings. He doesn’t think Jordan’s realized that yet. Sam doesn’t tell him, he just listens. It must be close to three in Helsinki.
Jordan is older than John. Sometimes Sam wonders if prolonged exposure to Taylor Hall makes people stupider, but the better explanation is just that John is really mature for his age.
Eventually Jordan talks himself out and lets Sam go.
Sam can only think of one time where he’s called John in the middle of the night, which was the night after his eight point game. He went out with the team, drank a lot, got his dick sucked by a girl who he wouldn’t have called a puck bunny, except she called herself a puck bunny first, and told him how hot it was that he shared a record with Wayne Gretzky, which yeah...Sam thought that was pretty hot too. And confusing. When the kids shoved him in a cab at the end of the night he was still waiting for the alarm clock to go off and remind him that it was just a dream and he had to get up or be late to practice.
Inside, after struggling with the lock, he grabbed a bottle of water before falling onto his bed. He took his shoes off, and then his belt. He didn’t want to sleep in these pants, but he could see it happening. Getting out of them might be too much of a struggle. He had eight points, he didn’t want to fight with his pants. He didn’t want to go to sleep. Falling asleep might mean waking up, because those things can get reversed in dreams. He was only like 60% positive the game happened the way it seems. He hadn’t ruled out a brain injury.
When reality gets confusing John usually has an answer, or maybe John is the answer. He wanted to call John. Normally he wouldn’t, but he was the first, second, and third stars of the game, he deserved a reward.
He had gotten a text from John earlier in the night, just great job <3, so he knew that John knew, but he didn’t really know what John thinks. He wanted to. He always wants to. All it takes is a phone call, and tonight he’s allowed to take what he wants. Speed dial number one; if you can’t show your priorities somewhere then things are really fucked up.
John answered after only the second ring. He didn’t sound sleepy at all. “Hey stud, I saw your highlights.”
“Eight fucking points. Very impressive.” Hearing it in John’s voice made it more real. John wouldn’t lie to him. “I’m so proud of you.”
“Of course. I’m always proud of you.”
They talked for awhile, trading slow sappy remarks that made Sam’s insides warm. They considered phone sex, but it seemed like too much effort. John shamed him into taking off his pants and brushing his teeth. It was good, normal, unlike the evening that had preceded it. Sam didn’t want to hang up, and John didn’t say anything about ending the call, even though it was hours earlier on the East coast. This was what plans with unlimited minutes were made for.
Sam woke up with a terrible hangover, but it was still real; he actually did score eight points last night, and John was proud of him.
Jordan's midnight anxiety is the only phone call Sam gets from Helsinki, but he gets an email from John that says I miss you.
I miss you is the unspoken truth of their relationship; they are always missing each other, but they never ever say it. If they started saying I miss you soon it would be all they said, blotting out all other words with its truth. I miss yous would fill the space from Edmonton to Long Island, criss cross the Western and Eastern conferences, cover the entire continent. I miss yous everywhere and all the times.
It's safe for John to say I miss you now because they'll be together in a couple of days and won't be apart for a while after that. There's a definitive break from missing coming up so admitting its presence won't hurt anyone.
They can live with the distance. Really, they’ve never known anything else. They always knew they were important to each other, it just took a while to discover exactly how. By the time they realized romance isn't a bad word they were already off playing hockey, which is great, but also means that they missed most of the "normal" relationship landmarks. They've known each other for such a long time that choosing an anniversary would be arbitrary, and they'd never get to spend it together anyway.
And Sam wants to know what exactly is a date? They’ve been together for a long time and maybe have never been on one depending on the definition. They don't care, but other people might. Their relationship doesn't make a whole ton of sense from an outside perspective. The lines of friendship and romantic love and sex have been scribbled out over time, replaced by blurred borders and aching distances. It looks like an incoherent jumble, but it works for them, so fuck normal, they just want to hold hands.
The night before John’s due back Sam stays up too late worrying about contract negotiations, the air currents between here and Helsinki, and Taylor Hall’s fucking shoulder, because Ebs talks too much it’s not like he didn’t have enough things to worry about before. They should start giving out awards for being patient with other people’s emotions; he would win all of those.
He wakes up to a grey sky and a familiar body radiating heat. John isn’t sleeping; it’s early afternoon in Finland. Sam scoots closer, which John encourages, pulling them together so Sam’s head is resting against his shoulder.
“I thought you weren’t flying in until tomorrow,” Sam says. “You should have called. I would have picked you up.”
“Somebody canceled and I was able to catch an earlier plane.” John is mumbling into his hair. “It was sort of last minute, I would have had to figure out how phones worked in Iceland and that seemed like too much work. I have a key for a reason. And I didn’t want to wake you up.”
(John does have a key now; it’s part of the responsible boyfriends initiative. It was new years eve in New York when he gave John a key to a house in London that neither of them would see for months. It was an empty gesture that felt like a promise of, like, growth and commitment, good things like that, but it also felt really ridiculous and Sam knows he was all kinds of stuttery and pink when he handed them over. He’s glad he did it, because it meant that instead of driving anywhere in the middle of the night he gets to wake up to the best company possible.)
They don’t move. They stay close now that they can, but Sam’s awake and there are cogs turning in his brain, too many thoughts.
It’s good, it’s really good. They’re always good together. It can’t last.
The thing about distance and time is that they’re both infinite, spreading endlessly away from the two of them shacked up for the summer.
It is easy to say next time, eventually, and in the future. It is easy to make plans for the days that aren’t here yet, still invisible over the horizon. They can talk on the phone. They can compare what they want out of life sometime when they aren’t so busy living it.
It doesn’t matter if they talk about the future, it’s still coming for them. The season’s will start soon enough; hopefully. If there’s a lockout again, god forbid, they might get to play together in Sweden or a former Soviet bloc country Sam can’t name. It would be another good-bad failure-reward, like the long summer. It isn’t anything they want to happen, but they’re very aware of what the silver lining would be.
It’s an appealing prospect. Forget about separate conferences, if they were on the same team he’d never let John out of arm’s reach.
He’s already afraid that the summer is going to be too good. He doesn’t imagine it will make going their separate ways in the fall hurt any less. He doesn’t really care.
A whole season with John might make things even worse; even one stranded somewhere in Europe would be too much like real life. It would make them notice the jagged edges where they don’t fit together right. It would make their relationship mundane and open to criticism.
That might be good for them, but Sam doesn’t want to look too closely. They’re totally fine; they’re happy. They’re really happy and don’t need to talk about anything.
Sam needs to stop having these thoughts, he needs a distraction, and John’s right there. It’s been ages since they’ve touched each other, since they’ve kissed. It’s easy to forget about his worries, because this is good, very good.
A week after John gets back, Sam gets another phone call from Jordan. This time it’s middle of the night for both of them. It’s four in Ontario so it’s three in Alberta. Sam is supposed to wake up for his workout at six thirty. Jordan seems to be operating exclusively in bad metaphors. Sam would be pissed but anger requires being more awake than he is.
Sam has no idea what Jordan’s saying. It involves horses and football and shoulders. Sam is pretty sure it isn’t anything that would make sense ever, no matter how well rested he happened to be.
Sam lets Ebs talk for a full six minutes straight before interrupting. “Why are you calling me?” Sam has to ask. It doesn’t make sense.
“I dunno,” Jordan admits. “I knew you’d pick up the phone.”
“That isn’t a very good reason.”
“Yeah. I dunno. I just had to talk to somebody, alright? I don’t know if he told you this, but I talked to Johnny at Worlds. He was talking about how he couldn’t wait to get home, and I was so surprised, because you know him, he breathes hockey, so I asked why. At first he wasn’t talking, but we were drinking and he started to loosen up some, so later on he let on that he had someone waiting at home. He sounded stupid-happy. He didn’t say much but I know him, and I know you, and I’m not stupid; I can put these things together.”
Ebs is rambling again, but at least now it’s about something Sam cares about.
“And even later I think he forgot I didn’t know, or something. I should maybe apologize for getting your boyfriend drunk—is that something that I should apologize for? I wouldn’t mind if...Well, sorry.”
“I don’t care.” John is very mature for his age and can make his own decisions.
“He gets sappy when he’s drunk. Or at least he did then, but maybe it’s just like, the air in Finland or something. I could believe that. Anyway, he kept on talking about how great you are. It was pretty hilarious.”
Sam has idea where this is going. “I’m glad you think we’re funny?” He doesn’t want Jordan to mock them about this; it’s too important.
“No, I’m, not like, belittling? Or whatever. What the two of you have sounds really nice. It’s just, god, that can’t be easy.”
“It isn’t. The distance and time makes it very challenging.”
“But, it’s worth it, right?” Jordan asks.
“Yeah.” It might be the best thing in Sam’s life. No matter how hard he misses John he can’t imagine giving him up.
“It’s worth it because you’re in love, and no matter how complicated it seems like something might be it’s worth it if you’re in love, right?”
“I guess I called hoping that eventually you’d say that.”
When Sam goes back to the bedroom John is only half asleep.
"You talked to Jordan about us?” Sam asks.
“I didn't think you'd mind.”
“I don't.” It might be nice to have somebody in Edmonton that knows. “Apparently you're like, really into me.”
“Yeah,” John admits. “Apparently I think you're a total beauty and the best thing since forever. In my defense we had lost and I was pretty drunk, but yeah, I think you're great.”
“Jordan didn't tell me all that,” Sam says. “He just said you were talking stupid.”
“I'm not embarrassed. I've accepted that I’m really into you.”
That makes sense. They’ve had a long time to get used to the idea. It’s hard for Sam to remember a time when John wasn’t one of the most important people in his life. He can’t just say that though. “That's sweet of you. You're getting sappy in your old age, JT.”
John is younger than him, but he’s very mature for his age.
“Just shut up and get back to bed. You're crazy about me. You love me like crazy.”
“Well yeah...” This isn’t something he can lie about. “That doesn't mean I'm not going to give you a hard time.”
“That's terrible. You’re terrible. You’re lucky I love you; nobody else would be that stupid.”
“Yeah, sure, alright.” Sam does listen; he wants to get back in bed, it's soft and warm and has John in it. There are some fun possibilities possible to be had in that bed, but really Sam wants to go back to sleep. They’re supposed to be awake again way too soon.
Sam hadn’t thought before answering the phone. If he had there’s a good chance he wouldn’t have picked up, but he didn’t check the caller ID. During the season there’s only one person who calls him in the middle of the night, and he will always answer the phone when John’s on the other end.
In general they have a schedule, setting up times to talk or Skype on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Having a schedule is good for them. Time passes better when it’s made predictable. It makes the missing easier.
It’s a great plan, but it doesn’t always work. Sometimes prearranged moments aren’t enough. And sometimes John calls him in the middle of the night. There isn’t any pattern behind it. Sometimes it happens twice in a week and then not again for months.They’ve never talked about why John’s calling; Sam assumes it’s because he can’t sleep, and needs something to make the distance feel less intense, for just a little bit.
They don’t talk about serious things in the middle of the night, and they hardly talk about hockey. Mostly they remember.
The times behind them are always relevant. Their relationship was built out of their shared past; it wasn’t romantic from the start, obviously, but their years of childhood friendship were the foundation of everything that came after.
John will call him in the middle of the night and Sam will lie in bed with his eyes closed listening to John’s voice, and for a little while the distance doesn’t matter.
The distance doesn’t matter right now; the distance is non existent.
He falls into bed. This is their bed. How weird is that. It’s good. They are actually functioning adults with a shared bed. It is so fucking cool. John more or less climbs on top of him, pinning him to their bed with his warm heavy body.
“I turned off the alarm,” John says. “We can sleep in tomorrow; you had to listen to Ebs talk himself into sleeping with his linemates, that must’ve been exhausting.”
Sam hadn’t realized that was what Jordan had been doing, but it would explain some things. They’re going to be so annoyingly happy next year. Good for them. He doesn’t want to think about his teammates’ sex lives.
Instead he can think about how his boyfriend is sacrificing training in favor of a good night’s rest. Now that’s a grand gesture. “I love you.”
There is no distance between them; They have plenty of time. Everything's fine.
The last thing Sam hears as he falls back asleep is John mumbling against his skin, "Yeah, I love you too."