It starts off innocuously enough, with a comforting feeling Jeff gets whenever he thinks of Richie.
Brave, responsible Richie who takes his lumps and then goes about making them the best they can possibly be. As opposed to Jeff whose own reaction to being traded was to run away and hide.
It helps more than it hurts to think about Richie packing up his things and getting on a plane. The whole thing sucks, makes Jeff physically sick to his stomach, but underneath it all is the steady strength of Mike.
Sometimes whole hours pass where Jeff doesn't think about the trade, about fucking Columbus. He'll be laying out at the beach or at a bar and then out of nowhere he's thinking about Richie. Wondering if the grocery stores in Cali are different than the ones they're used to. It's weird.
It's weird, but not as weird as the dream Jeff has the night before the Columbus front office comes to visit.
Jeff went to bed around midnight, had a pretty ordinary day. He's a little nervous about his meeting, but he and the Blue Jackets are stuck with each other now. It's not like if he offends Howson he's going to get shipped to L.A.
He starts dreaming almost instantly. He's in a hotel room getting ready for a party that he doesn't want to go to. He brought the wrong clothes, thought this would be a work trip, not a party trip, so he's trying to make do with jeans and a well-fitting t-shirt. There's something weird about the t-shirt, familiar.
Jeff wakes up enough to shove his sheets off, too warm, and falls back into the dream.
He's driving now, a rental sedan. He's lost and annoyed and impatient, wants to turn the car around and go home. But he's scared too. And there is no home.
He finds the place eventually, dark and discreet and a bunch of guys waiting for him. It's familiar but wrong. Too warm, too much driving, the faces aren't right.
Inside, the bar is hopping. It's all dim lights and low tables and booths, music just the right volume to cover conversations without impeding them.
The guys cluster around him, herd him to a booth. He tries to smile and joke and carry on conversations with the guys around him, but it's like they're speaking underwater. He's just so lonely.
His bladder wakes Jeff to take a piss. He gets up and downs a glass of water while he's at it. He feels half drunk and all he's had was a beer at dinner.
He falls back asleep more quickly than usual, and back to the same dream.
He's dancing awkwardly now, with a stacked brunette about his height. She's pretty but predatory, and looks at him like he's prey. He misses Old City, where the only sharks out were him and his.
He's not in the mood for this. He tells the guys he came with goodbye. They protest and take him for sushi.
The restaurant is bright and he can't taste anything. That bothers dream him a lot. He wants to leave but stays to be polite. He doesn't want to get off on the wrong foot. Eventually the guys let him leave. It's easier to find his hotel than it was to find the bar.
He strips off his clothes and turns on Pay-Per-View.
Jeff wakes up hard at 2 a.m.
Jeff's day is taken up with the Blue Jackets. He's trying, he is. It's not their fault Richie's in L.A. and neither of them are Flyers anymore.
But, fuck, when he thinks about how it's going to be nine years before he and Richie will have a possibility of playing together again, he wants to punch something. A lot of somethings.
So the day is a lot of nodding and "yes, sir"-ing and taking deep breaths and feeling physically ill from how much Jeff misses Mike.
When he finally gets rid of the group from Columbus and checks his phone he has half a dozen missed calls, a voicemail, and a bunch of texts from Richie. The texts are all variations on a theme: 'miss you,' 'don't fuck this up carts,' 'proud of you,' 'its columbus not africa.'
Jeff sends off a quick 'thx bud. miss u 2' and then listens to the voicemail.
Mike sounds, Mike sounds pretty fucking terrible, actually. Tense and stressed out. It's not the words he says, it never is with Mike, it's the tone. The way he clips off the words in short bursts like gunfire. It reminds Jeff of listening to Richie give interviews after lost games.
He doesn't listen to the whole thing, tunes out between 'Arnold will like the beach' and 'dreamed I was in Sea Isle.' Jeff ends the call and hits speed dial 3.
"Hey," Mike answers. He isn't spitting bullets anymore. "How'd the thing go?"
"I'm gonna love Columbus," Jeff says. "It's actually a really happening city."
There's silence on the line while Mike realizes Jeff's quoting someone and then more silence while he rolls his eyes.
Jeff isn't the chattiest guy in the world, but talking with Mike is easy. Mike fills in the holes, is good with quiet when there's nothing else to say.
Eventually Jeff gets up and gets himself a beer. He sits out on his porch facing the ocean, thinks about Mike doing the same thing on the other side of the country.
It fucking sucks.
"It's not forever," Richie says, interrupting his story about Dustin Brown.
It kind of is, though.
"Melancholy fucker," Richie says fondly.
They talk a little while longer about nothing important and then Richie needs to go, meeting the brass for dinner.
"They're wining and dinning me out here, man." Richie chuckles. "Last night a bunch of the guys took me to this bar. But then it was kinda lame so we got sushi instead. I was home by 11 and watching porn."
"What? That I was watching porn? Or that I was home by 11?"
"That I dreamed that exact thing last night. And," Jeff says, "I'm pretty sure I didn't say 'that's weird' out loud."
Richie scoffs. "What are you saying?"
Jeff has no idea. Or. He has a vague half a notion. But it's insane.
"I think you might be psychic."
"You're right," Richie agrees easily.
"That is insane."
Jeff sighs. He misses Mike, but that doesn't mean he's in the mood to be mocked. "Go to your dinner. Try to quit reading my mind."
Mike hangs up, and Jeff can't stop thinking about it. The idea that Mike could be psychic. It makes sense, how Mike can always read him better than anyone else.
He gets a text. 'if im psychic how come i dont pick up more?'
It's a good question. Mike's always saying the wrong thing at the last moment and getting shot down by the girl he really meant to go home with.
But Mike's never said the wrong thing to him.
Jeff pictures Mike in the rental sedan he dreamed last night. He imagines Mike's hands clenched around the wheel.
'Maybe it's just me,' he thinks. 'Maybe it's just me. MAYBE IT'S JUST ME. M A Y B E I T S J U S T M E.'
He focuses so intently and thinks so hard that he gives himself a headache. And that's just dumb.
His phone trills another text. 'maybe.'
Jeff flops back on his bed, tired and annoyed. Richie doesn't even seem phased by the whole being psychic thing. Which just figures. Richie's never phased about anything. Not about getting traded. Not about packing up and moving across the continent. Not about leaving Jeff.
'That's not fair,' says a voice in his head. It sounds like Richie. It sounds a lot like Richie. 'It's not even true.'
"Hey!" Jeff says out loud. He feels stupid doing it, but his head hurts. "Get out of my head! Don't you have a dinner?"
'I can multitask.'
And that's just fucking eerie.
'Besides, I think you might be psychic too.'
'What? No way.'
'How else can you hear me?'
'Maybe you're calling me.' If Jeff kind of lets the thoughts bubble up and then sends them off it's not so painful.
'I've been asking Coach to pass the salt for like five minutes. You hear me easy.'
Jeff sits up and wanders over to his computer. He types in 'how does tel-' and Google autofills 'how does telepathy work.'
'Maybe we're not the first ones to have this problem,' Richie suggests.
Jeff snorts. He has no idea how to convey what he thinks of that suggestion with his mind.
Despite how eager Google was to tell him about telepathy, its results are pretty much useless, all directions on how to develop telepathy. As if that's a thing that actually happens.
Richie goes back to paying attention to his dinner and Jeff jerks off out of spite.
He's not surprised at the annoyance he feels from Richie, he is a little surprised by the flare of lust.
Richie picks up a girl and fucks her as payback for Jeff jerking off at dinner. Jeff knows this because he can read Richie's mind. The revenge would be fine, deserved and all that, except that it is four in the damn morning and Jeff still has a headache.
Richie ignores that thought. Richie is apparently a very selective telepathy partner except when it comes to sex.
This is going to kill them. Jeff is going to fly to California just to murder his best friend. At least they'll be used to separation.
Richie doesn't say anything to that, but Jeff feels suddenly soothed, like a blanket's been pulled over his mind. Richie is amused by the thought. Jeff rolls over and goes back to sleep.
Jeff and Richie spend a lot of time practicing their telepathy. It's not that they're crushingly lonely without each other, they're practicing their telepathy.
A rush of bravado that isn't his own fills him when Jeff steps off the plane in Columbus. He has strong approval for a kitchen that he's never seen.
They gradually get better at it. Jeff learns how to think at Richie without getting a migraine. They figure out how to turn the volume down on each other, how to bury their most private thoughts, and even how to block each other out. They do it for one excruciating day and never again. Jeff's head echoes without Mike in it.
They never quite master keeping their emotions from bleeding through to each other. Jeff suspects that they don't really try. It's nice, being given wordless comfort when you're having a shitty day. It's nice being able to make Mike smile with a thought.
They go over game play and strategies when they're sitting on their respective benches. It feels a little like cheating.
Then there's the sex thing.
Jeff could lie to himself and say he's not really thinking about blocking his thoughts when he's about to get laid. The problem is, he can't lie to Mike. Who can read his mind and knows full well that Jeff wants him there.
Fortunately, Mike's got a bit of an exhibitionist streak himself.
When Jeff messes up his foot again, Mike's right there with the first wince of pain. He's comforting and distracting and Jeff can almost forget how miserable he is trapped in Ohio and now unable to even play hockey.
It's dumb, he knows, but Jeff really likes Skyping Mike. For all that they talk borderline constantly, there's something really nice about seeing Richie's face and hearing his voice.
Richie thinks he's a sap. Richie also happens to agree with him and doesn't bother trying to hide that thought very deeply.
Maybe they're both saps.
Being telepathic saves a ton of money on phone calls. It also prevents some ill-advised hookups, a couple of fights, and saves Mike's life.
Jeff and Mike try to mostly stay out of each others heads during games. It's distracting and stressful and generally unnecessary.
After Mike gets hit in the game against the Panthers, Jeff can tell something's off even before he finds out Mike left the game early.
There's static between them, the signal is distorted, and when Jeff tries to see through Mike's eyes, the images are cloudy and dark.
Mike insists that he's fine, just tired and sore. He passes the quiet-room tests, but Jeff's pretty sure that being telepathic skews the results.
Jeff knows that Mike doesn't want to hear that he's hurt. He already knows it, even if he can't admit it to himself or anyone else. But Jeff is the literal voice inside Mike's head and he's not going to let Mike hurt himself.
Besides, Jeff hates the concussion that makes it hard to hear Mike. Makes it hard to give comfort and communicate. He hates the many ways he can't be there for Mike.
If Jeff has to call up Dean Lombardi himself and tell him not to play Mike, he will.
'Don't do that. I'll tell them,' Mike says. He sounds weak and Jeff doesn't know how much of that is the injury and how much is blocked signal.
He's not used to not knowing.
Mike survives the concussion, even if he's back on the ice sooner than Jeff would like. Their communication is still crackly, but Richie insists and there's only so much Jeff can do about it.
The season wears on. It's a grind for both of them. Jeff doesn't remember hockey ever feeling so much like work before.
Mike chides his attitude but also agrees. He doesn't like California, doesn't feel like the Kings are utilizing him properly, has a litany of complaints that outnumber Jeff's.
Jeff feels like 'Ohio' pretty much covers it all.
He's been back from his foot thing for a month when he separates his shoulder in a game against the Ducks.
Jeff's embarrassing first instinct, right after sudden searing pain, is to want Mike. Even though he saw Mike yesterday. He mentally reaches out like a child as he's still skating to the bench, shaking his head at Arniel, and sliding onto the bench.
He doesn't want a trainer to look at him. He wants Mike to run his fingers through Jeff's hair and make him feel better.
'It'll be a couple of hours before I can make it down to Anaheim,' Mike says, calm and composed in the back of Jeff's mind.
And shit, that's embarrassing.
'You have to skate in the morning.' Jeff points out. He knows the Kings' schedule better than he knows his own.
'If you need me, I'll be there.'
It's not like Jeff hasn't known that all along. Richie is his best friend. He'd do the same for him. But something about the words, the actual acknowledgement of the sentiment, makes Jeff feel warm despite the ice on his shoulder.
And then Mike distracts Jeff with a recap of the shitty reality show he's watching. He babbles through the x-rays, through the sling and instructions, through the painful bumpy ride back to the hotel, until they both fall asleep in their separate beds.
Jeff picks up a girl. She's hot, blond, indistinguishable from the others of her type.
It isn't the first time he's fucked someone with Mike in his head. It isn't news that he likes Mike watching and feeling what Jeff feels, almost as much as Jeff likes feeling what Mike feels.
They don't talk much when one of them's getting laid. The occasional 'Do her tits feel as good as they look?' maybe, but mostly it's just a feedback loop of feeling good.
So it's weird that this time, Jeff can't stop thinking about Mike.
It's good sex, Jeff's not bored or anything. He's just more interested making it good for Mike than for the girl he's actually thrusting into.
Mike comes first.
Then Jeff does, privately blaming it on the endorphins coursing through his system from Mike's orgasm.
'Believe what you want, man,' Mike says, blissed out.
After that it's some awkward fingering until the girl comes and goes without offering Jeff her number.
'You should have eaten her out.'
Mike has a secret. Jeff can tell. There's a blank spot in his mind that he keeps worrying at like a bruise.
Jeff doesn't know what the secret is, and he tries not to pry, but the fact that Mike's keeping something big from him is worrisome.
'It's not a bad secret,' Mike assures him. 'You'll find out soon. You just can't know yet.'
That's all Mike will say on the subject, It's enough to reassure Jeff, but that doesn't stop him from teasing Mike with increasingly absurd guesses about what his secret might be.
'You've decided to run away and join the circus.'
'The Kings are actually a front for the Antarctic mob.'
'You're pregnant.' That one actually makes Mike spit-take.
'You have superpowers.'
'Of course I do, I can read your mind.'
Jeff isn't thinking about the trade deadline, not really. He doesn't think Columbus could trade him even if they wanted to, at this point. And he has no idea if his no-movement clause got traded with the rest of his contract.
It's just another date on the calendar to him.
Jeff knows he's lying to himself. He's always lying to himself, even now that he has Mike in his head to contradict him.
It's a surprise when Howson calls him in, and Mike is giddy in the back of Jeff's head, distracting him from what Howson's saying. That he's been traded. To L.A.
Mike is celebrating and Jeff's trying to concentrate long enough to thank Howson for his time and lie about how much he has enjoyed playing for the Blue Jackets.
'You knew,' Jeff accuses Mike once he's packed up his things and is out of Nationwide.
'Lombardi asked me and Gags some questions about you. I had a feeling.'
Jeff pokes around in Mike's brain and tries not to crash his car while doing so. The big blank spot that's been there for weeks is gone. 'This is what you were hiding?'
'I didn't want to get your hopes up.'
God, Jeff can't imagine how that would have felt, thinking that he was getting out of Ohio, getting Mike back, and then having it be a lie.
Even though it's true, Jeff still can't believe it.
He focuses on the minutiae, packing, figuring out how to get to L.A. and where he's going to stay.
'With me.' Mike sounds almost offended.
That settles that, at least.
Old habits die hard, and even though Mike can hear him, Jeff's nervous about seeing Richie.
'We talk constantly and you saw me last month.'
But that was on the ice and then for a drink after. It doesn't count. It doesn't consider the thing growing between them that they both feel but don't acknowledge. Yet.
The whole thing makes Jeff feel like a 15 year old girl.
'You are a 15 year old girl.'
Jeff can't remember why he likes Richie at all.
It's weird having Mike meet him at the airport. It feels too significant, like a girlfriend rather than a psychic best friend.
'It's exactly the right kind of significant,' Mike corrects. He's sheepish, but also practically vibrating with excitement. It's a decidedly unusual emotion on Michael Richards. 'It's not every day that you... we... I... us...'
He tiptoes awkwardly around The Thing They Don't Discuss (Yet).
'I you-we-I-us you too,' Jeff teases. Being nervous about Mike is dumb. It's just Mike.
'I told you so.'
Mike's waiting for Jeff at the baggage claim.
He pictures running in slow motion into Mike's arms and sees Mike crack up at the image. Then he walks at a normal speed and greets Mike awkwardly. "Hey."
It feels strange, actually speaking to Mike face-to-face.
Mike hugs him quick and light and Jeff feels a crackle of something delicious between them.
Shit. It feels so good to be standing next to Richie again. How could Jeff not remember this? His whole body feels like it's singing, like walking away from Mike might literally kill him. How the hell did Jeff survive in Columbus without this?
'I don't think it felt this way before.' Mike clears his throat and says out loud, "I don't think it felt this way before. I think it's new."
Which is weird, but they're telepathic hockey players and Jeff has Mike back, so he's prepared to let the weirdness slide.
They bask in the feel of their reunion while they wait for Jeff's bags and all the way back to Mike's SUV.
On the road, though, things get start to awkward. There's no small talk to be made. Mike knows how Jeff's flight was, he was as good as there.
They just keep shooting 'Awkward, awkward, awkward' at one another and then looking at each other and laughing.
It still feels fucking amazing.
Though they have yet to put their relationship into words, there is an implied obligation to their having sex.
Jeff doesn't know exactly what to do about it.
It's strange, because on the one hand it's Mike, who Jeff knows better than is humanly possible and whose skin he wants to burrow under to live as close to as he can. On the other hand, it's Richie, Jeff's bro and teammate.
He's reconciled the two in his head, but he still hasn't figured out how to kiss the guy.
And the mind-reading, it doesn't help anything. Mike and Jeff just keep circling each other like wary predators.
And then Jeff can't take it anymore and goes for it.
He doesn't think about it is the thing, and so the press of his lips to Mike's is a surprise to both of them. And Mike doesn't think about opening his mouth, and Jeff doesn't think about responding, so it's all going pretty well.
It feels fucking amazing. Like all of the good things Jeff has ever felt are centered in his lips, at the press of Mike's hand to his neck and back, to where he's got Mike by the hips.
This could actually work.
'Shut up and kiss me.'
Mike's mouth on his isn't enough. Jeff wants skin-on-skin. Wants to be marked and make his own. Wants to emblazon Mike with himself so that they can never be separated again.
On his neck, Mike's grip turns bruising and Jeff answers the touch by tightening his grip on Mike's hips until his hands are all but clenching.
Mike tilts his head back and groans. Mike wants whatever Jeff wants, right now. He wants to be bitten and lead.
It gives Jeff pause, while he is biting a hickey against Mike's collar bone and Mike is petting his hair.
Mike likes control. Likes being aggressive and dominant with the girls he sleeps with.
His fingers tighten in Jeff's hair.
'I trust you.'
'I really want to blow you.'
It's something Jeff's been thinking about for awhile, now. He's kept the idea hidden away, but the idea of being on his knees for Mike makes his mouth water.
Mike's up for the sex, but he really likes the visual Jeff has inadvertently sent his way.
They have to separate a little to get Mike's pants down, and it sucks. Any moment that he spends not touching Mike feels wasted to Jeff.
But since they already aren't touching, Jeff goes ahead and strips down efficiently. He's saving time later, hopefully.
Mike's into watching him take off his clothes, sitting back on the couch with his eyes wide, even though it's nothing he hasn't seen a thousand times before.
"It's different now." Mike's voice is low and hoarse. "Come here."
Jeff goes eagerly, kissing Mike eagerly before sinking to his knees.
It's weird, being eye-level with a dick. Intimidating in a way.
"Just start off easy," Mike advises. "Jerk me off."
And, yeah, Jeff can do that.
He spits into his hand and slides it up Mike's shaft. Their feedback loop of shared simulation goes staticky with pleasure.
Jeff knows what Mike likes. All that time stuck in Mike's brain while he was getting laid or rubbing one out is really paying off.
Mike chuckles. The sound breaks into a gasp as Jeff gets brave and presses a kiss to the tip of Mike's cock.
From there it isn't difficult for Jeff to open his mouth wide and let Mike slip in.
Mike needs him to suck. Harder. Tighter. Faster. Jeff experiments, twisting his wrist, licking at Mike, trying to emulate highlights of other blowjobs Mike's had. Jeff can feel it all, like the most elaborate jerk-off ever. He's pretty good at this, if he does say so himself.
Jeff's jaw aches, but he kind of likes it. It reminds him of the burn of muscles after a hard fought game.
Mike's hips jerk and Jeff pulls away as Mike comes with a groan.
Jeff's nearly there himself. Blowing Mike would be enough of a turn-on as it is, but the shared sensation has Jeff shaky and desperate.
'Wait, wait.' Mike wants to be the one to get Jeff off. He pulls Jeff up next to him and wraps a hand around his dick.
Mike. Touching him. Reunited. Never letting go. So hot like this. Love. Lovelovelovelovelove.
Jeff comes embarrassingly quickly.
With his last remaining energy, Jeff pulls Mike down next to him so that they can both pass out sticky on the couch.
They spend the rest of the night screwing around, getting to know each others bodies as well as they know the rest of each other.
There are the strangest moments of cognitive dissonance. Jeff never thought he'd find himself debating which side of the bed to sleep on with Richie. He's so, so happy to be here, but it's not something he'd seen coming a year ago.
'You've seen me coming now,' Mike leers.
In the morning they drink fancy coffee and eat bad cereal. Jeff vows to start cooking.
Mike has decided that they can't fool around before work. It's probably a pretty good rule, but that doesn't mean Jeff likes it.
Instead Jeff gets to spend the morning freaking out about meeting a new team and playing well and trying to get the Kings into the playoffs and handling the media.
Mike laughs at him. Mike is seriously the worst.
Mike replays scenes from last night into Jeff's head.
Mike is great. Jeff loves him a lot.
There's a lot of press in L.A. giving him a lot of flack, but Jeff's so happy he has to fight not to smile the whole time.
From somewhere in the bowels of Staples Center, Mike's helping him, feeding him sound bites that make him sound like more than a petulant child who has spent the last eight months sulking.
'Tell them it's a new chapter of your career.'
'Tell them we've got a lot of work to do here, but that you're excited.'
'We do have a lot of work to do,' Jeff replies. 'And I am excited.'
'Good.' Mike's giddy enthusiasm flows through Jeff.
They're going to do great things together in L.A.