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When Taylor got drafted, he got an apartment with his best friend, and they spent way too much money in IKEA, getting what was basically the best couch ever – dual recliners, hell yeah – and way too much money at Safeway, getting food that they didn’t actually manage to finish before they went on a road trip and it basically rotted in their refrigerator.

What he’s saying is: it was a learning experience.

When Connor gets drafted, he moves in with Taylor Hall.

Taylor isn’t sure, but he’s got a sneaking suspicion that he’s getting the better half of this deal, honestly.

Taylor’s been living with Gazdic for a year or so now, and they have their collective shit together, or at least as together as two guys in their early to mid-twenties can do, which is to say that mostly they’re capable of feeding themselves, and of covering for it when they fuck it up. Taylor goes to sleep at a sensible time most nights, does not actually drink all that much regardless of where the Oilers have finished in the standings the last couple of years, and only intermittently makes an idiot of himself on the internet.

At least, other people - not naming any names, Whits, but also Ebs, and Nursey, and okay, half the guys from the Spitfires, god, Taylor’s friends are kind of dicks - have told him that he’s made an idiot of himself. He still thinks that whole banana thing was pretty fucking legit, but fine, whatever.

But the long and short of it is, Taylor’s got a groove now, he’s got a routine, and he actually feels like things make sense, for the most part. He’s known what he’s doing on the ice for years, sure, that was never a problem, but now he feels like he’s got a handle on the off-ice stuff as well. He pays his cable bill, he and Gazdic rock-paper-scissors over who has to call up to complain when the internet goes out or take the trash downstairs, and he cooks stuff other than KD these days. (Some stuff. As well as KD. Sometimes you just gotta go for the comfort food; that’s another Being a Fucking Adult thing, so far as Taylor’s concerned.)

But even he has a moment when the front office ask them if they’d mind having Connor move in with them.

Taylor says yes right away, of course. He’d be crazy not to; for one thing, he wears a letter these days and that responsibility is fucking important. And he’s always figured he’d be doing the whole veteran looking out for a rookie thing some day, it just takes him a bit by surprise to realize that they already think he’s there. And then he starts to think again about how this is his sixth season, they’re going into the sixth year since the Oilers drafted him, and that’s -

That’s something, for sure.

If Taylor was going to get hung up and dwell on how his team’s spent the better part of the last five years (or, okay, longer) in the basement of the league, he’d be going under for the third time about now. No good comes of that; all he can do is let it motivate him, let it feed the fierce determination burning in his chest that this year, this is the year they fucking do it. This is the year they live up to everything they’ve been hoping for with him, and with Ebs and Nuge and Nail and now with McDavid. Daver. Davo. Taylor isn’t totally sure yet what way that whole nickname thing is going to fall out, but they’ll work it out, he’s sure. And hell, like half of the rest of Canada he’s been watching Connor McDavid play hockey for years now, and it’s not that he doesn’t appreciate it, the kid plays beautiful hockey, just –

Taylor wouldn’t actually have minded if the Oilers had been out of the draft lottery, for once. It would’ve been nice to feel like they’d got somewhere other than another season as the unwilling punchline to the rest of the NHL.

He has a good feeling this season, though; he doesn’t know whether that’s the changes in the front office or behind the bench or what, but it feels real this year in a way it maybe hasn’t other times. Or maybe it’s that he’s finally healthy, feeling a hundred percent for the first time in years, and it seems like they’re gathering themselves to make a real push. And okay, fine, maybe he’s bought into the McDavid hysteria a tiny bit. Taylor is very good at hockey, and he knows good when he sees it. And McDavid is fucking good.

But more than that, Taylor kind of feels responsible for him. Not just because he’s the rookie, and Taylor’s the sixth-year veteran, although that’s a part of it for sure. Taylor’s been there, and he knows at least something of what it feels like to have the weight of this many people’s expectations hanging over your head. It has to be even worse for Connor, with the media and the fucking narrative and everything that’s gone on. So yeah, Taylor’s going to have his back.

If he can help Davo avoid some of the same mistakes he made, then that’s great, right? That’s the whole point to having a veteran roomie, instead of it being Taylor and Ebby, cluelessly muddling through on their own, with, admittedly, a lot of help from Horc, sure. When they’d let him give it. Taylor’s pretty sure living in the same house means that Connor won’t actually be able to skate on some of the stuff he and Ebs had gotten away with when they were 18 years old and high on making the NHL and actually playing hockey for a living.

… the thing that Taylor didn’t actually take into account is that, in a lot of ways, Connor’s actually got some of this stuff down even better than Taylor does.

Taylor’s not going to say that he didn’t spend some quality time on his phone looking up instructions on how to use the washing machine properly on youtube – and he’s not dumb, thanks, it’s clearly a fucking weirdass washing machine if 100,000+ other people have also had to watch the damn video. Thank god for the people who make these things.

But Connor just asks Taylor a week into living there if he can use some of his washing powder, and Taylor shrugs because sure, he doesn’t care. He just picked one that smelled good and didn’t make him itch like the one Ebs tried using a few years ago.

They’d had to give it to Cogs and Gags in the end because something about it made Taylor want to claw his skin off, and Ebs is a good bro who understands how Taylor rolls and agreed that, yeah, probably it was better if Taylor didn’t break out in an embarrassing rash. It hadn’t bothered Ebs, but their laundry got mixed up often enough that Ebs just shrugged and said it was better safe than sorry.

It actually takes them until well after training camp for Taylor to catch Connor in an obviously bad mood, and he’s almost happy about it. Taylor gets having to put a good face on things for the media and all that, but he should be able to relax at home. So the first time Connor rolls his eyes without thinking and says, “Hallsy, could you ever empty the fucking dishwasher when it’s done?” he and Gazdic actually high five.

“Glad you’re feeling at home, kid,” Taylor says, and doesn’t move off the couch.

“Hallsy,” Connor whines, and Taylor feels his eyebrows go up without his conscious permission, because, okay, now Daver does actually sound like the 18 year old he is.

Of course, the fact he’s whining at Taylor to do his own chores is probably still some kind of a role-reversal.

Taylor’s probably dragged his ass enough by this point that Daver won’t actually think he can get Taylor to do whatever just by whining enough, so he really should get up and clear out the dishwasher already, but as ever the lure of the couch – and the Daily Show rerun he was in the middle of – is pretty strong. Maybe he’ll get up after this episode.

The new couch is, admittedly, not quite as great as his and Ebs’ old one, but it’s good enough, and more importantly, it’s probably not going to fall apart as fast. Apparently there’s only so much rough-housing a bunch of solidly built hockey players and their friends can partake in before even Sweden’s finest flatpack starts to creak and sag alarmingly. Whits had made a bunch of off-color jokes about that, and Taylor only wishes he’d thought to go with the, “Takes one to know one, old-timer” comment less than a day later. It loses something when he doesn’t have a good comeback ready on the spot.

Taylor does actually get up to empty the dishwasher in the end, though.

* * *

It takes longer than any of them would like, but they pick up their first win two weeks into the season, a nice, solid, incredibly damn satisfying victory over the Flames. There’s almost nothing Taylor likes better than beating Calgary; the battle of Alberta is not going away any time soon, and shutting up the Saddledome crowd is almost worth losing four straight to get there. He gets his second of the season, and so does Connor, and they combine for Connor’s third on the powerplay in the third just to put the game entirely out of Calgary’s reach.

Connor looked good all game, did the right things, and maybe should’ve even had the hatty if Hiller hadn’t robbed him in the second. Taylor makes sure to mention it when he’s talking to reporters afterward, praises his poise with the puck, and he means every word; it is impressive.

It feels weird to be out there with Ebs up in the press box, though. The battle of Alberta is always, in some ways, going to come back to that: their first game, Ebs’ goal, the whole team in on it to give him the gears about it on TSN. Toe drag, forehand, backhand, top shelf, and Ebs sliding into the boards, grinning like his face was going to break. Taylor can still see it as clearly in his head as if they’d just replayed it on the video board above center ice. The guys give Taylor shit sometimes about how he’s a walking hockey reference, but he genuinely enjoys tracking this stuff, analyzing and examining as well as retaining the stats.

Mostly, though, he thinks about how Ebs is close to getting back on the ice, thinks about how good they were all doing in the preseason, and he’s bitter again about yet another fucking shoulder injury, how it seems like it’s always one of them. If Taylor actually believed in curses, he’d be suspicious as hell about how it just keeps happening over and over again.

Instead, he reminds himself that if it wasn’t a shoulder, it’d be a knee or an ankle sprain or any of the other incredibly common injuries they’ve all worked through at one time or another. At least with this kind of injury they actually have a timetable to work with, don’t have to worry about setbacks or atypical responses to head trauma or any of the stuff that Taylor knows keeps his mom up at nights worrying.

And at least it’s not a groin strain, for Ebs’ sake if no one else’s, because for one thing that’s not fun at all, and for another everyone thinks they’re the world’s greatest comedian all of a sudden, and there’s only so many dick jokes even Taylor can take.

Ebs comes over to their place to hang out after they get back from Vancouver, scuffling with Taylor on the couch over whose turn it is on the XBox, and whether they should continue their last NHL15 tournament, ie the one where Taylor was up 3-1, or just start over because it’s been like three months and also they should really pick up the 2016 game some time soon.

“You just want to check your stats,” Gazdic says sagely, and Taylor throws a piece of popcorn across the room at him and says, “Fuck off, I could look that up online if I wanted it.”

He waves his phone in mute example; Taylor is fucking awesome at looking shit up, thanks a lot, Gaz.

“Hallsy,” Ebs complains, and Taylor turns his attention back to him, and okay, sure, they can just start a new series, it’s fine. It’s not like Ebs isn’t going to lose just as fast this time either. Taylor leans in, shoulder to shoulder, and tells him as much.

He gets an elbow to the ribs for his trouble – apparently Ebs’ shoulder has healed well enough for that to be easy to do too – and without too much more delay they just get back into it.

Taylor asks Ebby if he wants to just stay for dinner by the time evening rolls around, and apparently he’s in no hurry to head back to his own apartment, because he agrees without even politely pretending like he’s not going to, just chirps them both by asking if there’s any actual vegetables in it.

“Take it up with Hallsy,” Gazdic says, and wanders back to his own room.

Taylor actually has a meal planned, and there’s multiple vegetables, thanks a lot, Ebs. He pays attention in the offseason to what his trainers want him to be eating, and he took some cooking lessons a couple of years ago; they seemed to have helped Ebs a lot back when he did the same. Ebs should know that, too; it’s not like this is the first time he’s been over for a meal since he moved out, but Taylor guesses it’s easy enough to forget when they don’t actually see each other every day now, and when he has like four solid years' worth of "mock Hallsy’s ability to do anything in the kitchen that isn’t just stirring" type memories.

It’s not like Whits had been any better when they lived with him. In fact, Taylor’s pretty sure Ebs has just memorized and recycled half of Whits’ favorite criticisms. Which is kind of nice, actually; it makes him miss him less. He should probably send Whits another text or five, since now that Taylor’s thinking of it he doesn’t think they’ve talked since Whits announced his retirement. He should really get on that.

Or he could just put something inane on twitter and wait for the inevitable DMs to start rolling in. Whits will give it to him in public without any qualms; he’s ten times worse when Taylor’s the only one who’s going to see it. It probably makes Taylor a better person, he thinks, except for when it just makes him salty as fuck, at which point he usually calls to leave a rude message on Ryan’s voicemail. They’ve got this down down to an art, really, and if Taylor didn’t have half his boys giving him shit for one thing or another he’d probably feel like the world was rolling off its axis. It’d be confusing, at least.

“Dude, where are you?” Ebs says, his voice breaking into Taylor’s thoughts.

“Just thinking,” Taylor says. “I haven’t messaged Whits in a while, I should probably check in. I think he wants tickets when we’re out there to play the Bruins. You talk to him?”

“Not as often as you,” Ebs says, and shifts around on the couch, feet curled up under him, bony knees digging into Taylor’s thighs. He looks cosy and content and sometimes Taylor is actually kind of low-level mad that they don’t get to do this every day anymore.

He misses Whits kind of a lot, and he’s out in Boston; sometimes he misses Ebs even more and he just lives on the other side of town. It’s kind of fucked up, Taylor thinks, not for the first time, but doesn’t let himself dwell on it. Ebs moved out to be with his girl, but when that fell apart a while later he seemed just as happy to be living by himself, so. Taylor doesn’t get a vote in that. And probably Ebs is just as happy to not have to pick up after anyone but himself or share the PVR.

Connor comes in a little later. He’s also been holed up in his room, but he looks pretty cheerful for a guy who’s been alone for the better part of the day. Taylor figures he must’ve been napping or something; he can totally respect that. He fucks around on his phone the entire time that Taylor’s chopping stuff for dinner, making this possibly the first time that he hasn’t at least offered to do something in the kitchen to help out. Taylor usually says yes, because he only has two hands, and it’s just faster, but Daver’s good in the kitchen, too. He clearly did more with his billet family than just half-heartedly emptying the dishwasher once in a while.

Taylor has his hands full, anyway, in ordering Ebs around; he gets him to slice up the chicken because if Taylor doesn’t have to touch it then he’s not gonna. It’s not the worst but it’s also not his favorite thing about cooking, that’s for sure. Ebs gives him shit about it, but he also digs out the cutting board and takes the knife from the block without complaint, so Taylor figures he’s won this round and starts calculating how many sweet potatoes they’ll need for four of them. He errs on the side of caution; if there’s leftovers someone will eat them.

Dinner works out just fine, and Taylor’s more than a little smug – maybe a little obviously so, because after Ebs says, with more surprise than Taylor feels is quite warranted, thank you very much, “Hey, this is good, Hallsy,” he gets both Gaz and Ebs kicking him under the table at his response of “Yeah, the master is in the house.”

“Hey, watch the ankle,” Taylor protests, and Ebs just rolls his eyes and pushes some of his greens around on the plate.

“Want to get ice cream?” he asks after a few minutes, when Taylor’s gotten up and is starting to collect their plates, just dumping everything straight into the dishwasher.

“I’m good,” Gazdic says, dropping onto the couch in front of the TV and grabbing for the remote to start flipping through what they’ve got saved on the PVR.

“I don’t think we got ice cream last time we ordered food,” Taylor says, though he gets up to check in the freezer just in case. Who knows, the ice cream fairy could have visited. Sometimes Taylor makes his grocery orders when he’s really tired, or kind of tipsy, or just plain bad at clicking stuff.

“We could go out?” Ebs says, playing with his fork. “To the usual place?”

Taylor blinks. They haven’t gone to get ice cream together in a while. They used to go with Nuge sometimes, but mostly just when they were still sharing a place. Whits tended to opt out, rolling his eyes and muttering about kids these days and also about how he was watching his figure, although he liked to do that with a beer in hand anyway, which Taylor felt sort of undercut his argument about making healthy choices.

“Sure,” Taylor says, because that does actually sound pretty good. It hasn’t exactly gotten all that cold in Edmonton yet this year, not that that has ever stopped him and Ebs before anyway. “You wanna come with, Daver?”

“Nah,” Connor says, gesturing with his phone, pushing his plate away so he can lean on his elbows on the table. “Gonna call Stromer, maybe? He doesn’t have a game tonight.”

“Okay,” Taylor says, not pushing it. He’s not sure what about calling your bro precludes getting ice cream with your lineys – or occasional lineys, at least – but it’s not worth giving Connor too much shit about it; he’s quiet enough around the house and in the locker room already. Taylor thinks it’s important not to put too much pressure on him at home; he gets enough of that from the rest of the world. “You wanna start the machine when you’re done?” Connor’s still picking at his plate, and Taylor cooked, so he technically gets a pass on the dishes anyway.

Taylor grabs his keys, not bothering to ask Ebs if he wants to drive; Taylor’s car is nicer and his parking space is less annoying to get in and out of, plus this way they won’t have to worry about Ebs losing the visitor’s space down in the garage. Sharing indoor parking is great for the majority of Edmonton’s winter, and anything that means Taylor doesn’t have to think about shovelling out his space or his car is basically worth whatever he has to pay for it, but splitting four visitors' spots between like ten apartments is sometimes a pain in the ass.

Ebs doesn’t say much as they drive, and Taylor takes the turns almost on automatic, it’s so familiar.

“Connor’s settling in okay, don’t you think?” Ebs asks eventually, and Taylor thinks, ‘right’, because they haven’t done the whole ‘let’s check in on our teammates and make sure everyone’s good’ thing for a while; probably should have done it sooner with Ference out, too, but unfortunate losing streak to start the season aside, things have actually been pretty good lately. Taylor doesn’t want to, like, depend on that or anything, but the room’s been pretty positive and guys seem to be getting on. No one’s gone stomping off out of a card game on the plane, or yelled at each other on the bench or anything like that. Other than the semi-usual run of injuries – and Taylor sneaks a look at Ebs out of the corner of his eye again; he’s stopped wearing the sling and he’s almost moving like normal again, fucking shoulders, Jesus – things are pretty great.

“Yeah,” Taylor says, and when that doesn’t feel like quite enough he adds, “D’you reckon he’ll spend as much time on the phone with his Junior lineys when they make the show?”

While Connor doesn’t talk a whole lot, Taylor’s pretty sure that he’s mentioned Stromer about as often as Taylor brings up Ebs. It’s good that he has such close buddies, even if they are eventually going to play with the freaking Yotes.

“Um,” Ebs says, and he sounds a little weird, so Taylor looks over again – “Eyes on the road,” Ebs hisses, like Taylor isn’t perfectly capable of driving them a whole k and a half, c’mon – and his ears are a little red, too. Huh, weird. Ebs usually only goes red like that when he’s really drunk or trying to hook up with a cute girl, or both, not that Taylor’s been tracking that kind of thing.

They pull into the ice cream place then, and Taylor’s distracted in checking he has enough change – he remembered his keys and his license, sure, but apparently his debit card is either in his travel bag still or he’s left it in the pocket of his jeans, again, shit – and after a moment Ebs rolls his eyes, hip-checks him out of the way and just hands his card over, saying, “I’ll get both of them,” to the girl behind the counter, who just gives them an easy smile and says, “Okay, what’ll you have?”

Taylor gets chocolate, just like he usually does, and Ebs gets vanilla with sprinkles, which is so fucking boring that Taylor has to chirp him about it pretty much from the moment the words are out of his mouth.

“You’re such a dick,” Ebs says, but fondly, so Taylor just steals a spoonful of his ice cream – plus a solid chunk of the sugar sprinkles – and grins at him around the spoon sticking out of his mouth. “Such a dick,” Ebs grumbles, and he curls protectively over his ice cream to keep Taylor off it. Taylor wasn’t actually going to try to get any more, he’s made his point, but some part of him will always enjoy getting any kind of reaction from Ebs.

Taylor eats enough of his ice cream that it’s not going to melt or spill out of the bowl before they get back in the car. He’s essentially licked all of it so it’s not like Ebs will be able to get any kind of payback while he’s busy driving.

By the time they get back to the apartment the kitchen and living room are both empty; Gaz has either given up on whatever he was watching or gone out himself, and they can hear a low murmur coming from Connor’s room, with enough pauses in between that it’s an easy guess he’s on Skype or the phone or something like that. The kitchen looks cleaner than usual, another bonus; one of them must’ve been bored or feeling vaguely guilty about something.

“Hey, TV’s free,” Taylor says with a shrug, walking over to the couch, little plastic ice cream bowl in hand. He puts his feet up on the chaise, and pats the spot beside him, motioning for Ebs to come over and sit down already.

Ebs does, but Taylor thinks he must be imagining the momentary pause before he starts moving, like he’s had to weigh it up. Which is ridiculous; Ebs sits by Taylor on the couch – or on beds and on planes and on buses and pretty much everywhere – all the time; it’s not like there’s anything different right now to any of the other literal hundreds of times they’ve done this. The impression lingers, though, and Taylor finds himself chewing on his lip while he tries to work out why.

“You wanna watch something?” Taylor asks, after a moment. They can’t just sit there and stare at a blank TV, that’s dumb.

“Sure,” Ebs says, and he seems weirdly tense for a guy who just had ice cream and is about to get back in the lineup, so Taylor leans into him a bit harder, says, “All good, Ebby?”

There’s a slightly louder sound from the direction of Connor’s room then; what sounds like giggling that stops abruptly after a few seconds, a pause and then something that sounds an awful lot like –

“Hey, I bet there’s an Ice Road Truckers marathon on,” Taylor says hurriedly, and dives for the remote, turning the volume up louder than normal. He tries to wrestle his expression back into something more normal, instead of the wide-eyed moment of shock at hearing what he’s almost certain was Daver having phone sex. Jesus.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course; Taylor figures anyone with a long-distance relationship – hey, Gaz – is probably getting off that way sometimes, but he’s not used to actually hearing any of it. Maybe Connor didn’t close his door all the way or something. Taylor thought that their sound-proofing was pretty good, actually. He’s heard the occasional thump or curse as the other guys drop things or move them or walk into the bed frame when they’re drunk – which, since Gaz didn’t actually break his toe after all, was funny more than anything else – but he’s never been able to really make out more sound than that. A closed door has usually been more than sufficient to guarantee privacy.

“Hallsy,” Ebs starts to say, turning to face him, looking away from the TV.

“Yeah?” Taylor says, sneaking a look at him. Ebs still looks like he’s got something on his mind, and Taylor wants to smooth out the crease in his forehead where his brows are drawn together, can’t help but let his eyes drop to see the way Ebs is biting his lip, worrying at it while he puts the words together. For about the thousandth time, Taylor reminds himself to be a bro and not stare.

“I actually asked the guys to clear out for a bit so I could talk to you,” Ebs says, which Taylor guesses does actually explain the suspicious lack of any of his housemates.

“Uh, about?” Taylor says, feeling a tiny bit nervous for the first time in a long time. He’s much more used to feeling like he has his shit together these days. Frustration and exhaustion or joy and relief are regular companions; uncertainty … not so much.

There’s something about this conversation that makes him feel like they’re back in their rookie year again, not at all sure what he’s doing more often than not, but confident in the fact that whatever he’s doing, Ebs will have his back. Will be right there beside him.

“Fuck, I don’t know how to say this,” Ebs says, voice tight, and Taylor turns to face him, opens his mouth to tell Ebs to just spit it out already.

Which means he’s both perfectly positioned and completely unprepared for Ebs to lean in and mash his mouth right against Taylor’s.

Taylor’s pretty sure that he must be making a hilarious face right then, but that thought takes a whole microsecond before he decides that he doesn’t actually care, because Ebs apparently wants to kiss him, and it’s not like Taylor’s exactly unhappy about that, so he should actually make an effort to make it good enough that they can do this again.

It’s not actually that great of a kiss to start, but as soon as he realizes that Taylor’s kissing him back Ebs loosens up a lot, and then it gets better.

Taylor has his eyes closed and his hands caught up in Ebs’ shirt by the time the jump in volume from the TV signaling the start of an ad break makes him startle and pull back. It seems to take more energy than it should to open his eyes, but it’s totally worth it for the way that Ebs looks dopily happy, cheeks flushed, blinking hard.

Taylor takes a slow, deep breath in, lets it out, and does that again before he can actually put the words together to say anything.

“Uh, not like I’m complaining, but … what just happened?”

Ebs looks caught somewhere between self-satisfied and wildly embarrassed, and he leans into Taylor’s side more heavily.

“I thought you might still,” Ebs shrugs, licks his lips, and Taylor kind of wants to make out some more but no, Jordan’s his best friend, they really do need to talk about this. “It seemed like maybe this could work now,” Ebs says after a moment’s thought. Taylor gets the impression that wasn’t his first choice of how to explain this, but it’s good enough for him.

“I was never sure you were actually into this,” Taylor says after a moment. “I mean, obviously anyone would be into this,” his gesture covers from his shoulders to his thighs, because Taylor works hard and he knows he looks good, no false modesty here, “but, like. When nothing happened our first year here I figured we were just friends. Who napped together a lot.” Taylor doesn’t think he’s going to win any awards for eloquence any time soon, but whatever, that can be Ebs’ job; he’s the one who picked up academic achievement awards.

Ebs gives him a solid punch in the thigh, which – is not making Taylor stop thinking about anything more R-rated, actually, so way to backfire, there, Ebs. “I wanted to,” he admits. “But I didn’t want to mess anything up, and it never felt like the right time, you know?”

Taylor guesses he can kind of see that, for sure. And it’s not like he was pining or anything; he’s known Ebs for like half his life now, and sometimes that meant finding it hard not to notice how much he likes him, getting his eyes caught on the way he moves, his soft hands and sharp vision, his ability to find Taylor in a crowd on or off the ice.

It’s not even like Taylor hasn’t kissed a dude before; him and Ells had been spectacularly terrible at picking up in the O, and it was just as easy to help each other out then. So Taylor’s got this, Taylor has totally done this, and the only reason he’s feeling nerves still is because it’s Ebs, and Ebs is too important to mess this up with.

“Yeah,” Taylor says slowly, “I think I know what you mean.”

Ebs is looking at him, so steadily, and it makes Taylor sit up straighter, makes him want to get this exactly right. It shouldn’t be hard, or at least, only the kind of hard that’s fun too, and worth working for, the kind of thing that takes everything you put into it and turns it into something even better. They’ve always worked together better than they are apart, on the ice and off.

Taylor lets his eyes linger on Ebs’ face, the way color sits high on his cheekbones, eyes steady and clear, lips parted, the stupid gap between his teeth that Taylor’s been combination chirping him over and daydreaming about since he was old enough to realize what it meant to look at someone and want.

“So,” Ebs says, and his hands are steady on Taylor’s shoulders, too, and if it wasn’t for the fact Taylor’s well aware of how a sudden motion could still fuck with Ebs’ shoulder, he’d already be pushing him back into the cushions and climbing all over him. He can save that for later, though. They’ve waited this long, they’ve got plenty of time. “You wanna do this, then?” Ebs finishes.

“I really really do,” Taylor says. “You think I let just anyone cheat at hangman for, like, years?”

“I don’t cheat,” Ebs protests, and when Taylor just raises an eyebrow he mutters, “Whatever you have to tell yourself, Taylor.”

“Jordan,” Taylor says, matching his tone, but also enjoying the way it makes Ebs’ eyes widen just the slightest bit. “Stop arguing and make out with me some more.”

“ 'Kay,” Ebs agrees, maybe a little too easily, but he lets Taylor lean into him for another kiss anyway.

That goes on for a while, and Taylor’s just starting to think about maybe trying to push his luck with what Ebs is willing to do in a shared space. He’s about the only guy Taylor’s been on teams with who doesn’t just hook up in front of his teammates without really blinking, which, of course, always just meant he got teased twice as hard in the locker room the day after. Okay, probably Jordan is not gonna go for it if Taylor suggests making this a pants-less zone, but Taylor opens his mouth to ask if he wants to go back to Taylor’s room at least.

And that’s when they both hear a door being opened down the hall, and Gaz calling out – without stepping out of his room, thankfully, although Taylor and Jordan have already pulled apart a little guiltily anyway – “Are you guys still decent? Because I left my phone out there but also there’s some shit I do not need to see, if you get me.”

Taylor gives Jordan a look of betrayal. “Does everyone but me know about this?” he hisses, because it sure sounds like Gaz knows something is up. And Taylor doesn’t think they’ve been that loud.

“I had to say something to get him and Daver out of the way!” Jordan replies, at about the same volume. “He guessed, anyway.”

“What about Connor?” Taylor asks, a little fatalistically. It’s sort of embarrassing to consider the rookie might know what’s up with Taylor’s love life better than Taylor himself did.

“Uh,” Jordan says, clearly not wanting to answer that, which is as good as a yes. “He told me not to worry about pretending to sleep in the guest room next time I stayed over.”

Taylor blinked. “You did sleep in the guest room, though.” Eventually. After he and Taylor woke up about 2am and rolled off the couch, anyway.

“Apparently we’re ‘not subtle’,” Jordan says, with the edges of an unwilling smile starting to pull at his lips, and okay, sure, Taylor can kind of see the funny side too. Even though it’s also totally embarrassing.

“Not subtle?” Taylor repeats, indignant. “Big talk from a guy who can’t go two days without calling his best bud Dylan Strome – oh,” and Taylor stops dead, blinking while he wraps his brain around what he’s just realized. In hindsight, it’s kind of obvious. And it’s also pretty obvious exactly why Connor clearly jumped to the same conclusion.

“Guys,” Gaz yells again. “My phone,” and Taylor looks at Jordan, shrugs and mouths "oops".

“We’ll bring it over,” Taylor yells back, standing up and digging around on the coffee table till he unearths Gaz’s phone, buried underneath a pile of old THN magazines that they should probably recycle at some point. He reaches out to wrap his hand around Ebs’ wrist – on his good arm – and tugs him to his feet, as well.

“Wanna go hang out in my room?” Taylor asks, raising an eyebrow and giving Jordan his best effort at a leer.

“I really kinda do,” Jordan says, grinning helplessly at him.

“Hey, Gaz, got your phone,” Taylor calls, knocking on the wall beside his door with the hand that’s holding the phone; the other one is still very firmly attached to Jordan.

“Thank you, and goodnight,” Gaz says, as he opens the door, and Taylor snorts with laughter, because he’s holding one hand out for his phone, sure, but the other one is covering his eyes.

“Just for that we’re gonna bone on the couch some day and never tell you,” Taylor says, only about fifty percent meaning it but unable to resist the urge to fuck with him.

“I heard that,” Connor yells from his room, “I have to sit on that couch, too, Hallsy,” and Taylor just shakes his head and pulls Ebs towards his own bedroom, because apparently that’s the only place he’s going to avoid the near-constant efforts of his friends and teammates at mocking him.

“I’m not banging you until we’ve had at least four dates,” Ebs tells him, smirk firmly in place, and okay, apparently nowhere in Taylor’s house is free of totally uncalled-for chirping.

“Ebs,” Taylor says, knowing his reply as easily and confidently as he’s taken every other pass Jordan’s sent his way, “Even if we just count our rookie year we’ve already had, like, sixty dates.”

“Okay, good point,” Ebs says, and yanks at Taylor’s shirt like it’s personally offending him. “Let’s not drag this out any longer, then.”