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If the Right One Came Along

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There are certain things that are just – inevitable.

Sidney may have been blind to it, to the way he lit up when Geno was around or how Geno seemed to get smaller and sadder every time he heard about Sidney being with someone who wasn't him. Geno may have been blind to how every one of Sidney's rules were created to protect himself from Geno, from the possibility of loving someone and losing them, but no one else was.

Kris understands, better than Sidney might imagine. He has rules of his own, though none of them are as strict or as punishing as Sidney's. It might be easier for him, because he doesn't have the scrutiny of the entire NHL upon him, but he still has them, just to make things easier on himself.

Don't date teammates. Don't sleep with anyone who knows who you are. Don't spend the night. Don't let people see you. Don't fall in love.

Definitely don't fall in love with a straight guy.

He's broken every rule on the list at least once, has sometimes broken all of them at the same time. It was easier to stick with them when he could go out to Ohio with Sidney, fuck guys who wouldn't ask for his last name and had no idea who he or Sidney were. It was easier then to ignore the thing with Flower, the thing that he never wanted to give a name to. It wasn't dating, it wasn't love the way Sid and Geno were – it was just –

Flower is mostly straight, as far as Kris can tell.

Kris doesn't make a habit of prying into people's personal lives; he just knows that Flower has a girlfriend he's been seeing since he was fifteen and that, sometimes, Flower likes to have sex with Kris. He is, apparently, completely open about it with Véronique, and Kris pretends that he's okay with it but really? It sucks.

And it sucks even more when Sidney and Geno finally realize that they're meant to be or whatever, when the inevitable catches up with them and brings them crashing into each other, because Kris is left with the sour taste of jealousy at the back of his throat. He doesn't want to be jealous – he hates it, really, because Sidney deserves to be happy – but he can't help but look at Sid and Geno and see everything he can't have.

He tries, once or twice, to go out without Sidney, but it's harder somehow. Without Sidney, it feels more like what it really is – a way to escape the sad, pathetic fact that he has broken the one rule he had been so sure he could follow.

Kris spends the summer moping and training and trying not to be totally pathetic when Flower and Véronique finally get around to tying the knot. Flower kisses him enthusiastically at the bachelor party and says, "Last chance, my friend," but Kris can taste the moments they will never have in Flower's breath, and he doesn't want to think about that anymore, doesn't want to be reminded of his stupid, naïve daydreams. So he pushes Flower off him and retreats into a corner to drink with a lonely Sidney.

Max comes over at one point and stares until Sidney gets the hint and leaves them alone. Kris sighs as Max sits down next to him; he'd had a feeling this was coming.

"So," Max says, giving Kris a look he is uncomfortably familiar with. "How are you doing, my friend?"

"A little drunk," Kris says.

"And?"

"Tired," Kris tries. Max stares at him until Kris gives up evading the question and says, "You know how I'm doing."

"For what it's worth," Max says, patting Kris's hand, "I'm sorry."

"I thought you were going to say I told you so," Kris mutters into his beer. He deserves it, he knows that. Max had warned him to be careful, and he hadn't been. He never is very smart or careful when it comes to Flower.

"You don't need that." Max leans against Kris's shoulder for a second. He's being way too nice and gentle for Kris's liking, and Kris wishes he knew a way to make Max stop treating him like he's made of candy glass. "I tried to tell him, too. He thought I was joking."

"Tell him what?" Kris asks. "To be careful?"

Max shrugs. "You know." He clinks his glass against Kris's. "Take care of yourself, eh? Keep your head."

"I'm not going to do anything stupid," Kris says.

It turns out to be a lie, because he sleeps with one of Flower's cousins at the wedding and then slinks home to sulk. He hates trying to hook up in Canada; it's too hard to avoid people he knows or who recognize him and the whole damn country feels way too small.

Towards the end of July, he decides to go to New York for lack of anything better to do and spends some time playing tourist and occasionally seeing the guys who are in town for negotiations. He holds out on venturing into the West Village for a whole week before he breaks and texts Sidney.

Know of any good places to go in New York?

Sidney sends him a text just after lunch to say, simply, Ask Marc Staal.

Kris sighs, because that is exactly what he's been trying to avoid. He has purposefully kept the list of people who know he's gay as short as possible, just to be safe. He is pretty sure most of the guys on the team know by now, but he has no desire to pull the full Sidney and announce it in the middle of a practice.

Then again, Marc seems a relatively safe option. He's Jordy's brother, for one thing, and he's also gay, for another. And, more to the point, he lives in New York and theoretically knows the best places to go.

So he gets Jordy to send him Marc's number, ignoring Jordy's, why do u want to kno??? in reply. He sits in his hotel room and stares at the number on his cell phone until he starts to feel a little stupid. Finally, he types out a message.

Marc – this is Kris Letang. Sid said I could ask you about good places to go in New York.

He looks at that for a while longer, then hits send.

 

"Hey," Marc says when Kris shows up at the address Marc had sent to him. Marc is wearing a tight blue shirt and jeans and he looks startlingly good. Kris knows Marc is good looking – he is a Staal – but it's one thing to know that when Marc is in full pads and a helmet and another when he's wearing jeans that do a hell of a lot to bring out his ass.

"Hi," Kris says belatedly. "You sure this place –"

"You're worse than Sidney," Marc says, rolling his eyes. "Come on, I promise it'll be fine."

The bar doesn't look like much from the outside, just a set of nondescript doors and a discreet rainbow sticker in the bottom right-hand corner of the window, but inside it's refreshingly nice and clean, almost stylish. Marc greets the bartender by name and introduces Kris as, "My buddy from Canada," which is vague enough that Kris barely twitches.

"Mm, I like the hair," the bartender says, and Marc laughs when Kris flushes a little.

Marc orders them shots to start and then leans back against the bar, eying Kris thoughtfully. "So, what's your type?"

Annoying, Kris thinks. Straight.

"I don't know," Kris says. "I haven't given it much thought."

"Well, let's spot them, then," Marc says. He starts discreetly pointing out different guys in the bar, asking Kris for his thoughts on each. Marc has his own opinions, of course, one of which is that Kris is too damn picky, but he doesn't remark when Kris eventually settles on the sleek dark-haired man in the corner. Kris sees the look Marc gives him, but he appreciates the fact that Marc doesn't remark on it.

"Go talk to him," Marc says, and he buys the guy a drink before Kris is able to find an excuse not to.

The guy's name is Tomas and he is from Spain, in town for a business trip for a week, and he clearly has never seen a game of hockey in his life. Kris goes back to Tomas's hotel room, and they fuck with the curtains open. After, Kris stares out at the brightly lit skyline of the city and listens to the sound of Tomas brushing his teeth while he pulls on his clothes.

"Are you going to stay?" Tomas asks when he returns from the bathroom in time to see Kris shrugging on his shirt.

"Sorry," Kris says, and he finds that he actually means it. Tomas is nice and attractive and reasonably interesting, and Kris wishes he could have worked up a little more enthusiasm for him.

"I thought no." Tomas kisses Kris gently. "It was nice to meet you."

"You too," Kris says.

He's getting in a taxi back to his hotel when Marc texts, meet for brkfast tmmrw?

Sure, Kris replies after a moment.

 

It becomes a pattern. Kris comes into New York for a few days every couple of weeks, and he goes out with Marc to a bar. Kris picks up a guy, has sex, and then meets Marc for breakfast the next morning to talk about it. It's fun, getting to bitch about how this guy kept yanking on his hair and that guy had a terrible apartment. Marc is a good listener and is sharply funny in a way that makes Kris snort and then immediately feel guilty for laughing. Kris has always liked Marc, though they had never spent much time together, even when they had been playing for Team Canada together back in Juniors, and he wishes now that he had known about Marc. He could have used a friend like Marc back in those days.

It takes him a while to notice that Marc hardly ever hooks up himself, usually just flirting or making out with guys rather than going home with them. When Kris thinks about it on his way back from Ben's apartment (Ben is twenty-four and a PhD student in French literature), he realizes that he only saw Marc go home with someone once.

He asks Marc about it at breakfast the next morning. They're trying out a diner near Marc's apartment, which Marc says he has never managed to eat breakfast at, and Marc is eating a giant plate of huevos rancheros that he has slathered in hot sauce.

"Hey," says Kris, poking at his own omelet. "I noticed something."

"Yeah?" Marc asks. "What?"

"You never hook up." Kris points his fork accusingly. "You take me out and wingman me, but you never go home with anyone."

Marc shrugs. "I'm not really into that whole scene."

Kris stares at him, omelet forgotten. "What?"

"I'm not into it." Marc picks up his tortilla. "I prefer dating."

"You hooked up with Sidney," Kris points out.

"Sort of?" Marc doesn't meet Kris's eyes as he starts forking rice and beans into his tortilla. "That was different."

"How so?"

Marc finally looks up at him and – he looks embarrassed. "I just – I felt bad for him, okay? He had never been on a date."

Kris snorts. "Neither have I. It's kind of a hard thing to do."

"Not that hard." Marc nudges his knee against Kris's. "You've never met anyone you wanted to try with?"

"No." Kris looks down at his plate and pokes at his omelet. The cheese is oozing out in a slow, congealing slide. He rakes the tines of his fork through it, spinning it out into a pale yellow spiral against the white ceramic.

"Sure," says Marc, eying him.

"If you don't hook up," Kris says in a desperate change of subject, "then why do you come with me?"

Marc looks at him, eyes narrowed. "Why did you text me?"

Because I was lonely. "I was in town."

"You could have found a place on your own."

"I could have," Kris agrees. "But I didn't know where to go. And Sid trusts you."

"And you trust Sid."

Kris runs his hand through his hair and shrugs. "He is my captain. And we have a lot in common."

"I think you guys make it harder on yourself than it has to be." Marc leans back in his seat. "To answer your question – I go with you because you seem like you need a friend."

"I don't want pity," Kris snaps.

"It's not pity," Marc says, not even raising his voice. "I – look, I know I was lucky. I had three brothers who had my back and I was never the most famous of them anyway. You don't need to be alone."

Kris shakes his head. "That sounds a lot like pity."

"Then I'm not saying it right." Marc sighs and rubs his face. "I don't mind going out with you, Kris, it's fun, I promise you. I'm just looking for something longer than a night."

The waitress comes over then and refills Kris's coffee before he has time to respond. He thanks her absently, staring at Marc. He meets Kris's eyes easily and offers a small smile.

Kris looks away first.

 

Max calls towards in the middle of September and asks, "So what are your plans?"

Kris looks around his empty, lonely house and says, "I haven't decided yet. Are you and Gervais going to go through with that idea of yours? The French-Candian tournament."

"Yeah. Flower is coming up too." He pauses a moment. "You wanna join? Or are you just going to sit around feeling sorry for yourself?"

"I'm not doing that," says Kris despite the fact that it is well past noon and he has not yet put on pants.

"Sure," Max says. "Get your ass in gear and come play." His voice softens abruptly. "I think it will help."

"Really?" Kris rolls his eyes. "I think it would be the opposite of help." He thunks his head back against the back of the couch. "Does he even want me there?

"Don't be stupid, of course he does. But you wouldn't have to talk to him," Max says. "I mean, it would be weird, but you wouldn't have to."

Kris tilts his head back so he can stare at the ceiling. "Give me some time to think about it, eh?"

"All right, but don't think too long. We do need to get this organized soon." Someone shouts Max's name in the background, and he shouts back, "Shut the fuck up and relax, man!"

"I'll get back to you," Kris says. "Thanks for offering."

"Yeah. Let me know the moment you decide." Max says goodbye and hangs up. Kris swears under his breath and drops his phone on the sofa.

He goes out to a bar that night and drinks until the bartender says, "You should probably take a break," sliding a glass of water towards him. Kris thanks him and drinks it before pulling out his phone and checking for messages, not sure if he wants Flower to have texted him. They haven't spoken much since the wedding, just the occasional photo or check-in, and Kris doesn't know if that's just because Flower is distracted with being newly married or because he doesn't want to talk to Kris.

But his inbox is empty. He sighs and sets the phone down to drink some more water.

"Girlfriend trouble?" the bartender asks sympathetically. He's attractive, with large, pale eyes and thick, dark hair that looks auburn in the sickly yellow bar light. "You might want to put off calling her until you can think straight."

"Not a girlfriend," Kris says. "Excuse me."

He picks a quiet spot outside the bar and scrolls through his contacts until he gets to Marc-Andre. He pauses and leans his head against the brick.

"Call, you fucking pussy," he says, and he closes his eyes as he presses down on the number.

The phone rings three time before there's a soft click and a tired-sounding voice says, "Hello?"

It's not Flower, and it's definitely not Véronique. Kris frowns and takes the phone away from his face. Marc Staal, his phone tells him, and he groans.

"Sorry, I press the wrong number," he says, bring the phone back to his ear and doing his best to speak clearly, clinging to his English so it doesn't flee as it tends to do when he's a certain kind of drunk. "I didn't mean to – sorry."

"Kris?" Marc asks. "Are you – are you drunk?"

"No," Kris says.

"Mm hmm," Marc says. "I'm sure. What's going on, Kris?"

"I –" Kris makes a face at the sky. The sky is weirdly light, the black shading to violets and blues, and for a moment, with Marc's voice in his ear, he half expects to see the lights of New York in the distance. "I was trying to call someone."

"Who?"

Instead of answering, Kris slides down so he's sitting on the ground with his back to the building. "Max – Max Talbot – asked me to play in his – thing."

"The French Canadian league?" Marc asks with a soft chuckle. "I heard about that. Did you say yes?"

"I want to think," Kris says. "I want – I need space."

"So you're not going."

"I don't know!" Kris almost shouts. He winces. "Sorry."

"Kris –" There is the sound of Marc's sheets rustling and for a moment, Kris pictures Marc lying in bed, his hair rumpled and his eyes half-lidded. He shakes his head and blinks hard. "This is your decision. If you think – it just might be nice. To get closure."

"We had closure," Kris says bitterly. The last time with Flower had been more sober and more – careful than they had ever been before, and Kris wishes it hadn't been, wishes they could have just had another drunk fuck in a hotel room rather than Kris showing up at Flower's place a month before the wedding, sad and lonely and desperate. "It didn't change anything."

"You haven't – since –" Marc says, and Kris appreciates the fact that he's trying to avoid saying the words outright.

"No," Kris says. "I don't know if I can be there with – with him."

"You can't avoid it forever," Marc says quietly. "Isn't it better to do it now?"

Kris pulls his knees up and rests his forehead against them. "I don't know if I can do it."

"Kris," Marc says again, and Kris realizes suddenly that he loves the way Marc says his name, with soft fondness creeping in the sibilance of the s. "You can. I know you can." He pauses. "And if it's awful, you can come to New York for a while."

Kris laughs despite himself. "Thanks."

"And you can always call me," Marc says. "I know it was a mistake but – I'm glad you called."

Kris worries his lower lip between his teeth for a minute, then nods. "Me too."

 

He calls Max back the next day as soon as he's feeling functional enough to dial his phone. "Hey," he says, voice coming out scratchy. "I'm in."

Max whoops loudly. Kris holds the phone away from his face until Max is finished and brings it back in time to hear Max say, "I knew you'd come! All right, lemme email you the details and we'll figure it out. Team Motreal, eh?"

"Fuck yeah," Kris says, and he finds that he's actually grinning when he hangs up.

He spends the next couple of weeks brushing up on his hockey and working out. He hangs out with some friends from high school and meets their wives and kids and he starts to feel – if not normal – at least better. He starts calling Marc a couple of times a week, just to chat, and listens to Marc bitch about Jordan's wedding, about how Eric keeps making him babysit when he visits Thunder Bay, and the guy he's been half-heartedly seeing.

"You don't think it's going to go anywhere?" Kris asks, poking at the stir fry on his stove, the phone sandwiched between his shoulder and ear. "Why don't you break up with him?"

"There isn't really anything to break up yet." Marc swears under his breath. "Sorry. Burned myself."

"You are cooking too?" Kris laughs. "What are you making?"

"Pasta. I'm terrible at cooking." Marc chuckles self-deprecatingly. "My brothers keep telling me I need to find a nice boy who can cook so I don't starve to death."

"You live in New York, you can find food to eat," Kris says. He carefully scrapes half his stir fry onto his plate and scoops the rest into a tupperware. "I would share mine with you if you were here."

"I wish I were there," Marc says, kind of wistfully, and Kris freezes, halfway to opening the refrigerator door. "I'm eating sauce from a jar. I bet your food is way better."

Kris swallows and forces himself to laugh. "Probably is. But I don't know if would be enough for you, I don't eat like a Staal."

"We can't help the way we're born," Marc says loftily.

Kris puts the extra food away and picks up his plate. "Yeah, it's not your fault the cloning process caused some side effects –"

"Hey!" Marc protests, and Kris laughs.

By the time the tournament rolls around, Kris is feeling surprisingly upbeat about the whole thing. He returns Max's huge hug with equal enthusiasm, pounding him on the back and grinning.

"Glad you decided to join," Max says cheerfully. He slaps Kris's back. "Come on, buddy, we got a room for you and everything."

Kris runs into Flower on his way to get ice for his room and he freezes, waiting for it to be weird, but Flower just says, "Hey, man, long time, eh? Glad you could make it." He pulls Kris into a hug, and it's not awkward, somehow.

"Me too," Kris says.

They have a raucous dinner in the hotel's restaurant with everyone who has already arrived, and Kris finds himself between Max and, of all people, Danny Brière, and across from Flower and Colby Armstrong. Colby nudges Kris under the table during a particularly loud part of dinner and leans across to say, "Hey, man, I appreciate what you did for Sid, you know?"

It takes Kris a minute to parse that, and then he frowns. "So, what, he told you?"

Colby shrugs. "I figured some stuff out. Don't worry, man, I'm just glad he had someone to look out for him."

"Sidney can take care of himself," Kris says. "You know that."

Colby rolls his eyes. "In certain things, sure. He's also dumb."

Flower turns at the last part of that and says, "You better not be talking about me," and Max says, "You're not dumb, you're just fucking crazy," and Flower looks at Kris beseechingly.

"Help me out, Tanger," he says, and Kris –

Kris feels completely normal.

"Nah, you're a goalie," Kris says. "I'm not helping you out," and Flower throws his head back to laugh. Kris reflexively traces his eyes along the line of Flower's neck, but feels absolutely nothing, no hot flare of want and no sharp pang of regret.

It's weird. But it's nice, at the same time, and Kris finally relaxes, letting the loud, half-French, half-English chatter wash over him. Brière is telling some story about his sons, slipping into French halfway through and laughing as he repeats what the oldest kid said. Max is chirping Flower in increasingly filthy French, and Flower keeps kicking Kris under the table, mouthing, help, and Kris isn't in love with him anymore.

 

The tour goes well, and it's great to be back on the ice again, to feel the rush of a cheering crowd and the exhilaration of a good save. They celebrate the last of the tour with another party, this one even more energetic. Kris drinks shots with Flower, and plays beer pong with Max, laughing when Gervais has to chug a fourth beer, grimacing the whole way.

His phone rings close to midnight, and he excuses himself to take it outside. "Salut," he says, laughing as Max shoves him out the door.

"Oh – sorry, you must be busy," Marc says. "I'll call back."

"Hey, no!" Kris says, louder than he means to. "No, you can stay. I like talking to you." He blinks; he hadn't meant to say that.

"I like talking to you too," Marc says, laughing. "But I just wanted to say, um, congratulations. I heard Team Montreal kicked ass."

"We did!" Kris says. "Thanks!"

"And – you're doing okay?"

"I'm doing great," says Kris honestly. "Much better than I thought."

"Good," Marc says. "I'm glad."

"Thanks," Kris says again. "You – you have been so great."

The door behind him opens, and he turns to see Flower peeking out at him curiously. He waves as Marc says, "It was nothing."

"It really wasn't," Kris says.

"Well, I was going to tell you that my offer of New York still stands," Marc says. "But if you don't need –"

"No, I – if it's all right, I would still like to come down," Kris says.

"Of course it's all right," Marc says, and Kris doesn't think he's imagining the slight uptick of pleasure in Marc's voice. "Let me know, eh?"

"Sure. Talk to you later." Kris hangs up and drops his phone in his pocket. "Flower!"

"Who was that?" Flower asks, slinging an arm around Kris's shoulders as they head back inside.

"Marc Staal," Kris says.

Flower's eyebrows shoot up. "Really?" He pokes Kris in the ribs. "Didn't know you were talking with him."

"He's a good guy." Kris wraps his arm around Flower's waist and ruffles his hair. "Come on, we have drinking to do."

Flower must mention something to Max, because Max catches up with Kris before they head their separate ways the next morning. "So," Max says, leaning way into Kris's space. "Marc Staal."

"Fuck off," Kris says, half-heartedly shoving Max off him. "It isn't like that."

"Yeah?" Max punches Kris's shoulder. "You sure? Flower said he thought –"

"He doesn't know what he's talking about," Kris says, rolling his eyes. "Never figured out how I felt about him, did he?"

"Kris," Max says, lowering his voice. "I tried to keep him from – but you know how he is."

"I do, I just – look, it's in the past." He shrugs and smiles. "But thanks."

"You're really okay?" Max asks, squinting at his face.

"I am," Kris says. He hits Max's shoulder. "Thank you."

"Yeah," Max says, grinning a little and ducking his head. "Anyway, travel safe."

"You too," Kris says, and he waves as he heads out to catch a cab to the airport.

 

Kris goes to New York for the last part of the month and, to his surprise, Marc meets him at the airport, looking a little excited. "Hey, man," Marc says, grabbing Kris's bag from his shoulder. "You look good. The tournament was good?"

"Thanks," Kris says. "It was great, eh? I'm glad I went."

"Good, good." Marc leads him out to his car, throwing a grin back at Kris. "So, you ready for Halloween?"

Kris frowns. "Is that – oh shit, that's coming up, isn't it?"

"I've been invited to a thing tomorrow – you want to come?" Marc throws Kris's bag into the backseat and opens the passenger door for him. "It should be fun."

"Sure," says Kris. "I don't have a costume."

Marc looks him up and down thoughtfully. "Tarzan?"

Kris punches him in the shoulder, and Marc laughs as he heads around to the other side of the car. "Nah, man," Marc says, "I haven't thought of anything either, but we'll figure something out."

They spend most of the day tossing ideas back and forth in between dropping Kris's bags off at his hotel and grabbing dinner down in Little Italy. Marc decides somewhere around Bleecker Street that he's going to be Raggedy Andy and makes them take a pit stop in a vintage store to look for clothes. Kris has to pull up a photo his phone since neither of them actually remembers what Raggedy Andy wears.

"You are going to look ridiculous," Kris says, staring at the picture.

"Oh god," Marc says, "I'm going to look like Giroux," and the two of them start laughing, leaning into each other.

Kris finds a perfect, hideous blue plaid shirt and something that could pass for Raggedy Andy's tie in the back racks of the shop, and he's handing them over to Marc when he spots a long coat and gets an idea.

"What are you doing?" Marc asks, frowning at Kris as he starts rifling through the racks. "Did you figure out a costume?"

"Yes," Kris says, "but I'm not telling you. It's a surprise."

"Oh, come on," protests Marc, nudging Kris's arm. "Not even a hint?"

"If you don't figure it out, I will be disappointed in you," Kris says. He picks up a few belts, discarding them one by one before he finds two he likes. "Do you see any hats?"

"Hats?" Marc raises his eyebrows. "Interesting."

He figures it out by the time Kris finally locates a three-cornered hat in a different store. "Ahh, you're going to be a pirate," he says, pointing in triumph. "Nice."

"Yeah, you finally guessed." Kris grins at Marc and laughs when Marc rolls his eyes.

They eat dinner at a tiny restaurant a couple of blocks east of Lafayette Street, crammed into a corner table with their knees bumping up against each other. Marc orders them a bottle of wine, insisting that he owes it to Kris for winning his games.

"They weren't even real games," Kris protests as Marc pours him a glass.

Marc looks up at Kris through his lashes and smiles. "Live a little, Kris."

Kris feels himself going red and lifts his glass to hide his face. "You just want to get me drunk."

He regrets it the moment he says it. Marc coughs, eyes sliding away from Kris's face, and says, "Yeah, well. You don't have to –"

"It's fine," Kris says. "I'm just teasing you, eh?"

"Yeah," Marc says, and they sit in slightly awkward silence for a moment or so. Then Marc kicks Kris's foot, forcing a grin, and asks, "So how was playing again?"

Kris latches onto the change of subject and launches into a story from the first game. They eat a ridiculous amount of food and talk about the tournament, about what Marc has been doing in New York, about the couples at the tables around them. They kill the bottle of wine by the time their entrees arrive, and Kris is feeling a little loose. For once, he wants to just go out and meet someone, see where it goes rather than just hooking up and leaving in the morning.

"So you want to go out?" Kris asks once they pay the check. Marc doesn't answer for a moment, and Kris looks up from his wallet to see Marc staring at him with a weird expression. "Marc?"

"I'm kind of beat, to be honest," Marc says, smiling self-deprecatingly. "You cool going on your own? I'll take your costume back to my place."

"Uh – sure," Kris says, caught kind of off-guard. "Do you know a place near here?"

"Yeah, hang on." Marc pulls up something on his phone. He slides it across so Kris can copy down the address. "Have fun. Be careful, eh?"

"Thanks." Kris stands and hesitates. "You sure you don't want to come?"

Marc shrugs, looking away. "Drank too much wine, I think. Gonna go home and sleep."

"Okay." Kris hovers for a minute. He feels like he should protest, but he isn't sure what to say, so he settles on, "See you tomorrow."

"Yeah, call me," Marc says, waving, and Kris leaves the restaurant feeling weirdly like he did something wrong.

He goes to the bar Marc suggested and is ordering a drink when a cute guy in a blue button-down leans against the bar next to him and says, "On me."

Kris raises his eyebrows and grins a little, letting himself look his fill. The guy is a little taller than him, with a nice smile and dark hair cropped close to his scalp. "You don't want to know my name first?"

"Drinks are a good way to start," the guy says. "I'm Lee."

Lee, as it turns out, is a graduate student at NYU's business school and likes to play basketball at the courts by Washington Square. He doesn't ask too many questions about Kris once Kris says that he plays sports and instead steers the question more towards asking Kris about his accent and growing up in Montreal. They grab a table and just sit and talk for ages, and it's nice not to be too caught up in trying to hook up.

Towards the latter half of the night, Lee looks up at the clock and winces. "I have to go home – I'm catching a train out to Boston for the weekend. But if you're ever in town and want company –" and he holds out his hand for Kris's phone. He lets Lee program his number into his phone and smiles when Lee hands it back.

"Thanks," Kris says. "It was nice to meet you."

Lee flashes that smile at him again. "You too, Kris," and he touches his fingers to Kris's lightly before getting up to leave. Kris feels oddly triumphant about the whole thing.

He tells Marc that the next morning over scrambled eggs and toast at Marc's apartment. "I think he was asking me on a future date," Kris says, leaning against the bar as Marc's dog comes trotting into the kitchen, wuffling a little.

Marc crouches down to refill the dog bowl. "That's great."

"You okay?" Kris asks, frowning down at the top of Marc's head. "You seem kind of off."

"I'm fine." Marc looks up and smiles; it looks strained, more like his media smile than the effortless one Kris has, strangely enough, gotten used to seeing. "What do you want to do today?"

Kris hasn't been through Central Park yet, so they head up to 59th and walk up towards the middle of the park, not saying much. Marc brings his dog and just rolls his eyes when Kris teases him about how tiny it is.

"Rocky is great. Aren't you, buddy?" Marc scratches Rocky's head and grins when Rocky lets out a small yip. "So shush."

Kris gives in and holds out his hand for Rocky to lick. Rocky eagerly laps at his fingers and then butts his head against Kris's palm in a transparent attempt to make Kris pet him. "Yes, yes," Kris says, scratching Rocky's ears. "Kind of demanding, isn't he?"

He glances up, smiling, and Marc is staring at him with this weirdly intense expression. It's the same look Jordan used to get when he was trying to memorize a play Dan put up on the board, but Kris can't imagine how that would apply here. "Marc?"

"What?" Marc blinks. "Oh – yeah, he's spoiled."

As if to confirm this, Rocky barks and squirms to get down. Marc laughs and bends down so Rocky can leap out of his arms. Kris smiles as Rocky bounds forward, forcing Marc to hurry after him.

They buy lunch from a deli and eat in the park, Rocky's leash looped around their bench's leg to keep him from running away. Marc gets a spot of mustard on his nose from his sandwich, and Kris debates whether or not to tell him, but Marc wipes his face before he gets the chance.

"Ugh," he says when he sees the mustard on his hand. "Were you going to tell me about that?"

Kris smirks and throws a piece of bread at Marc's face. Marc sputters and shoves him off the bench, sending Kris onto his back in the grass.

"Shit," Marc says, scrambling off the bench to kneel next to Kris. "Shit, Kris – I'm so sorry." He sounds so sorry that Kris covers his eyes with his forearm and starts laughing.

"Marc," he says when he gets his breath back, "We have hit each other harder than that during games. I have hit you harder than that."

Marc smiles reluctantly. "Yeah," he says. "Still." He offers Kris a hand up. "I shouldn't have."

Kris lets Marc help him up and uses his momentum to knock Marc off-balance. Marc stumbles back a step and gives Kris a look. Kris grins, cocks an eyebrow, and crooks his finger. "Come on, ginger."

"Don't tempt me, Kristopher," Marc says, narrowing his eyes, and Kris takes the opportunity to tackle Marc to the ground.

Marc has height and weight advantage over him, but Kris fights more than he does, so when Marc tries to flip him over, he pins Marc's wrists down instead and settles his weight back against Marc's thighs. "Need more practice," he teases.

Instead of fighting him, like he'd expected, Marc just lies there, smiling up at Kris. "Yeah," he says. "I do." His hand shifts minutely beneath Kris's fingers, his wrist flexing in his hold, and Kris realizes, suddenly, that he's straddling Marc in the middle of a public place.

"Sorry," he says, climbing off Marc. He sits down next to him on the grass and starts absently pulling up blades. "I shouldn't have."

"It isn't the first time you've pinned me," Marc says. "At least you aren't hitting me this time."

It takes Kris a moment to remember the fight he's talking about. "Yes," he agrees, laughing. "And now here we are."

"Yes." Marc's smile fades. "Here we are."

 

They head back to Marc's to drop off Rocky and change into their costumes for the night. Marc, as predicted, looks absolutely ridiculous as Raggedy Andy, and Kris laughs at him for a solid minute before Marc shoves him out the door.

The party is out in Brooklyn, at the house of one of Marc's friends, and it takes nearly forty-five minutes to get there from Marc's place. By the time they arrive, the part is already pretty big, but Marc's friend, a tall woman with an impressive head of kinky curls and a Greek goddess costume, greets them at the door.

"Hey, big shot," she says, punching Marc in the arm. "What the hell are you supposed to be?"

"Raggedy Andy," Marc says indignantly.

"Oh, that won't do," she says. "Come on, you need freckles." She catches sight of Kris and eyes him with a predatory grin. "And who's the cutie?"

"Kris, this is Jade," Marc says, rolling his eyes. "Jade, this is Kris. He's another hockey player."

"I can tell," Jade says. "Y'all have got a certain look to you." She gestures them inside. "Stop wasting my air conditioning and get in here."

She whisks Marc off to her bathroom as soon as they set foot on the second floor of the house. For lack of anything better to do, Kris goes looking for the alcohol and ends up talking to a guy dressed as Tintin while drinking a bottle of Stella. He doesn't even notice Marc has come back until he swipes Kris's beer and chugs the remainder of it.

"Hey," Kris says, glaring at Marc. Jade has drawn a constellation of freckles across his face with eyeliner or something, and he looks absurd. "Get your own."

"But yours is right here," Marc points out, and he takes a long pull from Kris's beer, as if to prove his point.

Jade leans over Marc's back and grins at Kris. "Do you like my work?"

"He looks silly," Kris says. "I see stars." He pokes one of the dots and traces it to the nearest one.

"Hmm. Well, let me do you," Jade says, pulling out an eyeliner pencil and advancing upon him.

"I don't need freckles!" Kris protests.

"Not that," Jade huffs, and she pins him against the counter with her hip. "Close your eyes and stay still."

"Marc? Help?" Kris says, peeking out from underneath Jade's raised arm.

Marc shrugs and drinks some more of Kris's beer. "Better to just let her do her thing."

"Don't worry, they let me do all my own make-up at my shows," Jade says, and Kris closes his eyes, resigned.

She takes her time, fingers smudging along his skin after each stroke of the pencil. Finally, she steps back and says, "There. Now you can be Jack Sparrow."

Kris opens his eyes and turns towards Marc. "How do I look?"

Marc's mouth opens slightly and his gaze goes – dark. Intense. "Like a pirate," he says.

Kris laughs and says, "Yes," and goes to get another beer, but he can feel the weight of Marc's gaze on the back of his neck.

He keeps catching Marc looking at him for the rest of the night, always with an odd expression on his face that makes Kris wonder if he's missing something. He does his best not to let it bother him, though, and gets drunk with a group of grad students who also speak French and don't make fun of him when he forgets to speak in English halfway through his fifth beer.

Marc comes over after a bit and puts his hands on Kris's shoulders. Kris tilts his head back to look at him and smiles. "Hello."

"Hi," Marc says, looking amused, and Kris realizes a moment later that he had spoken in French. "Having fun?"

"Yes, of course." Kris pats the empty couch cushion next to him. "Come, sit. They are discussing –" He frowns at the woman across from him, whose name he thinks is Leila.

"Politics," she says. "Are you voting?"

"We're both Canadian, we can't vote," Marc says, swinging into the seat next to Kris. Kris snorts and reaches out to pick up his beer, but it's empty.

"Getting another," he tells Marc. "You want one?"

Marc nods, and Kris gets up to go back to the kitchen. He keeps getting sidetracked though – people want to know who he is, to tell him his costume is good, to ask him if he knows where June is (he doesn't). Someone presses a shot of tequila into his hand, some of it spilling over his fingers, and he clinks glasses with them before downing it in one go.

"Another?" suggests the guy who is rather lazily dressed as James Bond, and Kris holds out his glass, drunk enough to lock eyes with the guy and lick his lips.

He isn't drunk enough to forget that he can't make out with someone he doesn't know in a public space, though, so after the second shot, he heads off for the kitchen again. He has to wait to get to the cooler, and he digs out the first two cans he finds. He leans against the wall to catch his breath for a moment.

"Hey, Kris?" he hears Marc call, and he opens his eyes – he doesn't actually remember closing them – and waves as Marc comes over to him.

"Hey," he says. Marc grabs his elbow to keep him steady. "I drank a little more than I thought."

"I see that." Marc takes the cans out of Kris's hands. "Come on."

Marc takes Kris upstairs to the third floor and pulls him into a bedroom. Kris tries to drag his heels, protesting, "This is someone's room."

"It'll be fine, no one sleeps here," Marc says. He sits on the edge of the bed and opens one of the beers. "Well?"

Kris sits next to him and takes the other beer from him. "What?"

"Are you having fun?"

"Yes!" Kris says. "I always have fun with you." He bumps his shoulder against Marc's. "Thank you."

Marc shakes his head. "Nothing to thank me for. I just wingman-ed you."

Kris frowns, but he's not sober enough – or possibly not drunk enough – to explain to Marc how grateful he is for someone who sits and listens and is better than Sidney at talking out problems. Kris had gotten used to keeping things to himself; most of the people he saw regularly were hockey players, and there isn't anyone who really gets it. What's more, Kris thinks he can call Marc his friend – would like to call Marc his friend – and it's the first time in a long time that he's made a friend with all the cards on the table from the very start.

He drinks his beer instead of saying any of that and lies back on the bed. "Will she let me sleep here?" he asks, blinking up at the ceiling.

"Yeah." Marc pats Kris's hip. "We can spend tonight here."

 

Kris wakes the next morning to Jade shaking his shoulder and saying, "Wake up, you're going to get stuck here."

"What?" He flails and hits Marc's shoulder. "What?"

"They're closing the subways tonight," she says. She leans over Kris to hit Marc's shoulder. "Wake up, you big lump."

"Jesus, okay," Marc says, and he jostles Kris as he rolls over. "What the hell is going on?"

Jade shows them the news on her phone and then shoos them out of her guest bedroom so she can rouse the other people who had slept over. Kris goes to the bathroom to scrub his face and take off the most ostentatious parts of his costume so he doesn't feel like a total dick on the subway. He doesn't look as bad as he feared, his eyes just a little bloodshot, and he splashes water on his face so he feels more awake.

"How am I going to get home?" Kris asks after they thank Jade and head out towards the subway. "I'm staying at the hotel until Friday. I don't think I can get a flight this soon."

"Come stay with me," Marc says, shrugging. "I have room at my place."

"Really?" Kris looks over at him. "You're okay with that?"

"I wouldn't have offered if I wasn't." Marc shrugs. "It'll be fine. We'll pick up some booze, weather out the storm in style."

Kris laughs. "Okay," he says. "Sounds good to me."

The subway is packed and the jostling of the crowd awakens Kris's hangover nausea. He sighs and leans his forehead against the glass, and Marc squeezes his elbow gently.

Kris gets off a couple of stops before Marc, and heads over to his hotel, where he changes clothes and brushes his teeth. He checks out after negotiating a refund with the concierge, and catches a cab back to Marc's apartment. Marc's hair is damp from a shower when he answers the door, and he has changed into sweats and a t-shirt.

"Oh, a shower," Kris says longingly, and Marc laughs in his face.

"Hello to you too," Marc says. "Go ahead, I think the steam has cleared out."

"Thanks," Kris says, dropping off his bags in the hall. "Where is it?"

The hot shower goes a long way towards making Kris feel less hungover and nauseated, and by the time he comes out, he thinks he could even eat something. He wraps one of Marc's towels around his waist and goes out to dig out some comfortable clothing.

Marc has moved his bags into the living room, and Kris is rooting through his duffel for underwear when Marc comes in with a Duane Reade bag. "It was crazy," he says when he sees Kris. "I've never seen it so crowded. But I picked us up water, batteries, some food, and candles."

"No alcohol?" teases Kris, pulling out a pair of briefs.

"That's tomorrow," Marc says. He sees Kris pulling out clothes and, to Kris's fascination, turns pink. "Oh! Sorry, I'll go back to the kitchen."

He's gone before Kris has a chance to say anything. Kris pulls on a shirt and his sweats, returns to the bathroom to hang up the towel, and goes to find Marc again. Marc is putting the water away into the fridge, humming to himself. He's just as bad a singer as Jordan, though not as bad as Sidney, and Kris watches him for a moment before clearing his throat. Marc jerks his head up and looks at Kris curiously.

"So what's the plan?" he asks.

The plan is, apparently, to stock up on food and liquor, which Kris helps Marc carry back home. They eat dinner on Marc's couch, feet propped up on his coffee table, and watch Comedy Central until Marc stretches and says, "I have a guest room."

"I thought all apartments were small in New York," Kris says as Marc leads him back to another room.

Marc winces. "You don't want to know how much money I spend on rent."

Kris laughs. "No."

For a moment, Marc just looks at Kris, still smiling a little. Kris shifts, looking away. "I'm – going to sleep."

"Right," Marc says, and he backs out of the room. "Sleep well, eh?"

 

Kris does sleep well. He sleeps so well, in fact, that he sleeps well past his usual wake-up time and doesn't stir until Marc comes to shake him awake. He rolls over, rubbing at his eyes, and squints up. "What time is it?"

Marc frowns at him. Kris's brain fires up a few more cylinders, and he repeats, in English, "What time is it?"

Marc's expression lightens. "Almost noon." He smacks Kris's chest. "Get up, lazy, I made lunch."

Kris groans, but pulls himself out of bed and follows Marc into the kitchen. They eat standing up, with Rocky weaving in and out of their feet, and it feels so comfortable, so much like home that the longing for stability starts to pull at Kris's stomach again.

"What?" Marc asks Kris, and Kris realizes he's staring.

"Nothing," he says after a moment.

The storm hits late in the day, and Kris looks up from his phone at the sound of rain hitting the window. "It's here."

"Then I say it's time to start drinking," Marc says, and he leaves for a moment. He comes back with his arms full of bottles and two plastic cups. "Pick your poison."

Kris points at the bottle of whiskey and helps Marc set the bottles down on the floor in a nice arc. "Cards?" he suggests, nodding to the pack of cards on the coffee table.

"Poker," Marc says decidedly.

Marc has a terrible poker face, Kris soon learns, and he always knows when Marc has a good or a bad hand. The fourth time that he wins, he says, "I think you are hard to guess, usually, but with poker, you're easy."

Marc laughs. "It's easier, when it isn't a game, for some reason." He nudges Kris's knee. "You're never easy to read. I can't ever tell what you're thinking, unless you come out and say it."

"Really?" Kris sets his cards down. "You always know what to say."

"Do I?" Marc picks up his cup, makes a face, and adds more rum to it. "If you say so."

"Here," Kris says impulsively, and he plucks the cards from Marc's hands. "Truth or dare."

"We aren't kids," Marc says.

"Fine, I'll go first," Kris says. He points at Marc "Truth. Who was your last boyfriend?"

"That's not how you play," Marc laughs, pushing Kris's hand away. "You're supposed to let me pick."

Kris shrugs. "I figure, we ask questions, we have to answer."

Marc smiles and shakes his head. "That's not really a game."

Kris just waits. After a moment, Marc sighs and says, "Might as well," before throwing back whatever is in his cup. "My last boyfriend," he says when he sets the cup down, "was called Frankie and he worked at the Natural History Museum."

"Really?" Kris laughs. "Geek?"

"No," Marc says. "Well, yes. But about dinosaurs." He grins. "Parker – Eric's son – loved that."

"Yes." Kris lifts his cup in a salute. "Why did you break up?"

"One question at a time," Marc says, but after a moment he sighs. "He thought it would be okay, being on the down low – but after a while, he said it was too hard." He pauses contemplatively, finger absently tracing the rim of his cup. "He's getting married in a few months."

"I'm sorry." Kris fiddles with the hem of his shirt. "That sucks."

"It's okay. We're friends." Marc spits out the word, face twisting a little. "I – sorry."

"Did you love him?"

"Yes," Marc says, like it's simple, easy, to admit such a thing.

"Oh," Kris says. He leans back against the couch, head sinking into the cushions. "And now?"

"Now I'm not." Marc kicks Kris's foot. "Your turn. Who was the last person you slept with?"

Kris has to actually stop and think about it. "The last time I was here, I think," he says eventually. "Unless I'm forgetting someone."

"Wow," Marc says. Kris turns his head to see Marc straightening up. "That's a long time."

"I think I'm done with hooking up," Kris says by way of explanation. Marc raises his eyebrows, and Kris shrugs. "It was just – a distraction."

"From –" Marc hesitates.

"From Flower, yes," Kris says, and it's a relief to finally give voice to it, to acknowledge the feelings he had carried around for so long. "I'm not – I don't love him, now."

Marc reaches out and rests his hand on Kris's knee. It's a nice hand, Kris notes, wide and warm with blunt fingers. It spans most of Kris's thigh, and it's odd, because Kris knows he isn't a small guy, but he feels so tiny next to Marc. With some guys, it's intimidating to be the smaller one, but with Marc he feels safe.

"I'm happy for you," Marc says, but his voice sounds – off. "Are you going to call that guy, then?"

It takes Kris a moment to remember who he's talking about, too distracted by the soft movement of Marc's thumb along the seam of his jeans. "Oh – Lee? I don't know. Maybe."

"You should," Marc says. He takes his hand off Kris's knee.

"I don't know," Kris says. "He doesn't – he is nice, eh? But it's hard, with people who don't know you."

He isn't sure that he's making that much sense, but Marc is nodding. "Yeah," he says. "He doesn't really know who you are. It was the same with Frankie; he didn't know, when we started dating."

"You didn't tell him?"

"It's hard to slip, 'Hey, I'm a not-exactly-low-profile athlete and we have to keep this secret,' into a pick-up line." Marc just barely avoids sounding bitter by laughing, loudly and sincerely.

Kris considers this. "You could try," he offers, but Marc is shaking his head before he even finishes.

"No one wants that," he says, mouth curving up in a wry twist.

And that's the real trick of it, Kris thinks, to find someone who knows and understands the kind of pressure they live under and wants to date them anyway.

"Your turn," Marc says, and he leans up against the wall. "Ask away."

They trade soft, easy questions – foods they like, the last movie they saw, team they hate the most – as the night wears on. Kris is working through his sixth drink when the lights sputter and then flicker out entirely, leaving them in complete darkness.

"Shit," Marc says, and Kris listens to Marc stumble to his feet. "I'll be right back."

Kris nods, then realizes Marc won't be able to see him. "Okay," he says.

Marc moves away. He returns a minute or two later with a lit candle that he sets down on the floor between them. "I'm surprised I didn't set myself on fire," he says wryly.

Kris laughs and leans back. "That would be bad," Kris agrees. "Whose turn is it?"

"Mine, I think." Marc looks off into the distance, clearly thinking. "Who was your first kiss?"

"Boy or girl?"

"Boy."

Kris smiles. "Philippe Gerard."

"You like them French, eh?" Marc winces immediately and raises his hands apologetically. "Sorry."

"No, it's true. He played hockey too." He chuckles. "Not a goalie, though."

"He was on your team?"

"Yes." Kris nudges Marc with his foot. "We were on a team, once. Remember?"

"More than once," Marc says. "I liked watching you, then."

"I was nothing special."

"Come on," protests Marc. "We won gold two years in a row in Juniors."

"I wish we had been friends," Kris admits quietly. "Things could have been easier."

"Maybe." Marc gets that weird look on his face again, the one that Kris cannot parse for the life of him. "Okay, your turn. Ask a question."

Kris has to stop and think for a moment before he asks, "What do you want the most right now?"

Marc laughs. "Power?" he suggests, and Kris snorts. Marc sobers quickly, though, his smile fading back to that strange expression that's even more impossible to read by the flickering candlelight. "Actually," he says, voice growing heavy and dusky, "I'd really like to kiss you right now."

Kris sucks in an involuntary breath. Marc isn't looking at his face, and Kris doesn't want that. He wants to see Marc's face, to try to read his expression. "Dare," he says, and Marc looks up sharply, eyes wide. "I dare you to kiss me."

Marc's mouth falls open slightly in shock, but he's keeling forward, like he can't help himself. "Kris," he says, and Kris shivers at the way his name comes out hoarse, the s nearly cut off when Marc's breath catches in his throat. "You already had your turn."

"Okay," Kris says. "Then ask."

"Truth." Marc leans in and lifts his hand to rest along the curve of Kris's jaw. His palm is a little clammy, but his fingers have the same familiar calluses of a hockey player. His thumb moves restlessly beneath Kris's cheekbone. Kris turns his face into the touch. "Would you like me to kiss you?"

"Yes," Kris says, and he keeps his eyes open as Marc closes the distance between them.

It's not a perfect kiss, not by a mile – they're both loose and a little sloppy from alcohol – but Marc cradles his face like he's something precious, and that's new. Flower had always kissed him messily, carefree and guileless, and Kris had taken it because if that was all he could have, then he wasn't going to say no.

But there's a whisper of a promise in Marc's kiss, in the way he strokes his fingers through Kris's hair and pulls him closer. It isn't something that Kris had ever imagined he could have, anything he ever imagined he could want, but it fits the way nothing – no one – else ever has. Kris clutches to the front of Marc's shirt helplessly and finally closes his eyes.

"We don't have to do this if you don't," Marc starts to say when he pulls back for air, and Kris just reels him back in, wrapping his hand around the back of Marc's neck.

"Stupid," he mutters against Marc's mouth.

"Not stupid, this was my idea," Marc protests. Kris rolls his eyes, then breaks away so he can blow out the candle. "What are you doing?"

"Your apartment will burn," Kris says. He curls his hand around Marc's wrist and tugs him up onto the couch. "More comfortable here."

Marc laughs, a puff of breath against Kris's mouth, and says, "Fair enough," before pulling Kris down on top of him.

They make out lazily for what feels like ages, though Kris knows it can't be that long, until Kris's lips are humming. His hands have worked their way beneath Marc's shirt to rub absently along the line of Marc's ribs. Marc tucks Kris's hair behind his ear and nuzzles his jaw affectionately. Kris arches up, pressing his knee up between Marc's thighs, and grins when Marc chokes.

"Bed?" suggests Marc, and when Kris nods against him, he pulls Kris up and leads him back to his bedroom.

It's so dark that Kris can only just see the outline of Marc's face and he wonders if maybe they should have grabbed the candle when Marc kisses him, a little off-center, and he forgets to worry. Marc pushes him back onto the bed and starts fumbling Kris's shirt open, muttering under his breath about flannel as he does so.

They don't have enough coordination or light to do much more than jerk each other off, breath pooling between them when Marc presses his forehead to Kris's. Kris presses his free hand to Marc's chest and closes his eyes when he comes, his strokes stuttering and stopping. He squeezes lightly and mutters, "Come on, Marc, come on –"

Marc groans and kisses him again, coming over Kris's hand. He keels forward onto Kris, smearing come between them. "You were speaking French," he says, voice muffled by Kris's shoulder.

"Sorry," says Kris, stroking his hand down Marc's back absently. "I slip, sometimes."

"No, I like it." Marc turns his head and kisses Kris's ear. "It sounds nice."

"Oh, you like it," teases Kris, and Marc rolls off him, laughing. Kris's eyes have adjusted enough to the lack of light that he can just make out the curve of Marc's smile. "Is that why you like me?"

"I like a lot of things about you," Marc says.

"Like what?"

"Your hair." Marc tugs Kris's hair gently. "The way you stay quiet until you're really comfortable or drunk. How you're a good friend. How you make me feel optimistic. Your eyes." He trails his fingers down to the corner of Kris's mouth. "Your smile."

Kris is abruptly glad that it's too dark for Marc to see his face. He closes his eyes and smiles. "I like you too."

"Good." Marc kisses Kris's shoulder. "We may as well just go to sleep." Marc's voice is already growing vague. "Maybe we'll have power in the morning."

"Okay," Kris says, and he turns his face into Marc's shoulder and goes to sleep.

 

They don't have power in the morning, they discover upon waking up to the weak, grey light filtering in through Mark's windows and the eerie stillness of an apartment without electricity. Kris tries to get up, but Marc pulls him back down and kisses him, and they lose what's left of the morning to lazy kisses and soft touches.

They manage to get out of bed around noon. Marc checks on his neighbors while Kris starts the stove with a lighter so they can have hot water for tea. He comes back with a girl from down the hall who borrows their lighter with a sheepish grin.

"Ours ran out of butane," she says to Kris when he hands it over. "Thanks."

"Good luck," he tells her, and she laughs.

"Yeah, you too." She flicks the lighter on and off, then thanks Marc before slipping out the door. Marc comes up behind Kris and wraps his arms around his waist, tucking his chin against Kris's shoulder.

"We should go eat somewhere, call our families," he suggests. He kisses Kris's cheek, their stubble scraping together. "Let them know we're all right."

"Tea first," Kris says, turning his face a little more so he can kiss Marc full on the mouth.

They nearly burn themselves on the stove.

The streets are quiet when they head out, the pavement soaked and covered in scattered puddles and leaves. There are a surprising number of people out, though, all of them clearly having the same idea of finding food and power. Marc and Kris end up in a diner on 34th Street, crammed into a corner table with huge plates of eggs and bacon. Kris calls his parents as he's working his way through his eggs and assures them that he's all right, that he's staying with a friend, and he'll be home soon.

When he hangs up, Marc is on his third phone call, saying, "Yes, Eric, I swear I'm – yes, I have water." He rolls his eyes at Kris. "I don't know. I – I guess I can come home. I'll see if my car's all right."

Kris pokes at his egg, smiling, and tucks his ankle behind Marc's. Marc stutters a little, cheeks flushing, and kicks him lightly. "Yeah. Yeah, I'll call Jordy."

He hangs up a moment later and makes an apologetic face. "Sorry," he says. "Lots of family to reassure."

"Tell Jordy I say hello," Kris says. He tries to steal some of Marc's breakfast potatoes. Marc smacks his hand away without even looking.

"Three brothers," he reminds Kris.

Kris listens absently to Marc's half of the conversation, which is along the same lines as his call to Eric, and then Marc says, "Oh – and Kris says hi."

Kris looks up. Marc is looking at him, smiling fondly. Then he says, "Yes, Kris Letang. You – okay." He shrugs and holds out the phone. "He wants to talk to you."

Instead of hello, Jordy opens with, "What are you doing with my brother?"

"Hello," Kris says pointedly. "I'm good, thank you for asking."

"Yes, hello," Jordy says impatiently. "What are you doing with my brother?"

"I don't know what you mean." Kris breaks the yolk on one of his eggs. "I am staying with him."

"Kris, he – look, I know you guys are friends, but, um." Jordy sounds pained. "I just, you know, worry about him. He likes you a lot, you know?"

Kris frowns at the phone, then glances at Marc who is watching him with a small smile. He covers the mouthpiece and asks, "Can I tell him about us?"

"Probably for the best," Marc agrees, lifting his coffee cup to his mouth as he starts to laugh. "He thinks you're going to break my heart."

"Yeah." Kris wishes very much that he could lean across the table and kiss Marc; but they'll have time for it later. "I can tell."

"Kris?" Jordy says in his ear.

"Sorry," Kris says, uncovering the phone. "You don't need to worry."

"Kris, it's not like, you know, just a friend thing – wait," he says suspiciously when Kris lets out an involuntary snort. "Are you and he – oh my god, I never thought – when Sid – Heather!"

"Please don't be too excited," Kris says desperately, holding the phone away from his ear. "Jordy?"

"Heather, Marc isn't going to die alone!" Jordan yells, loud enough for Marc to hear.

Marc buries his head in his hands. "Give me the phone," he says.

Kris readily hands it back and watches in amusement as Marc tries, apparently with limited success, to get Jordy to calm down. Eventually he manages to get off the phone and gives Kris a wry smile. "I think you've officially been welcomed to the family."

"A bit early, isn't it?" Kris asks, raising his eyebrows.

"Never too early for them to start teasing me," Marc says, and he reaches under the table to squeeze Kris's knee before he goes back to eating.

"You're going home?" Kris asks as they leave the diner, having left a healthy tip for the frazzled waitress.

"I may as well," Marc says. "My mom – she's been following all the New York news – says it might be a while before I get power back."

"My mom wants me home too." Kris bumps Marc's shoulder. "You could come with me."

Marc slants Kris an amused look. "Really?"

Kris shrugs. "I visit you so often, it's only fair you visit me."

Marc smiles and brushes the back of his hand against Kris's thigh, drawing an involuntary shiver from Kris. "Sure."

"I'll call my parents, tell them we're coming." Kris, feeling brave, hooks his pinky around Marc's, just for a moment. Marc ducks his head, cheeks flushing, but his smile grows a little wider.

They spend the rest of the day trying to plan for the drive and eat a dinner of cold chicken and bread while sitting on Marc's bed with the map Marc had printed out at a Kinko's spread out between them. "We're going to need to wait or find a third person to ride with us," Marc says eventually. "I heard someone talking about the carpool rules."

"Or we could wait," Kris says. He tucks the tag of Marc's shirt back under his collar and lets his hand rest there. "I don't mind."

Marc turns his face to rub his nose against Kris's. "Neither do I."

Kris moves the map away with his free hand. "Are you done eating?"

"You know what, I think I am," Marc says, and he lets Kris push him back into the pillows, and Kris shifts down to take Marc in his mouth.

"Are we dating now?" Kris asks afterward, wiping off his mouth and tossing the tissue he had spat into at the trash can. Marc pulls Kris closer and trails his fingers through Kris's hair.

"Do you want to be?" he asks.

"Yes," Kris says without pausing to think.

Marc beams at him and kisses him slowly, thoroughly, his fingers still restlessly moving against Kris's scalp. "Good," he says when he pulls back. "We should go on a proper date some time."

"We'll have to be careful," Kris says. He tucks his head against Marc's shoulder. "But yes, I would like that."

"I'll take you out to a nice steak dinner," Marc says, a little drowsily, "and walk you to your door and I'll be the perfect gentleman."

"You don't need to do that," Kris says. "I like you already. And –" He laughs. "If that's your date, we have been dating for a while now, I think."

Marc kisses the top of Kris's head. "I was trying, but I think I was being too subtle about it."

"I didn't realize," Kris says. "I'm sorry."

"You came around eventually."

"Yes."

They lie together in silence for a few minutes, and Kris slowly realizes that they're breathing in sync. It's been a long time since he's fallen asleep with anyone – Flower only spent the night in Kris's bed when he and Véronique were on the outs – and he had forgotten that it could be this easy, this comfortable. He is utterly at peace, anchored in place by the steady rise and fall of Marc's chest. Outside, the city is dark and still, and there is nowhere else Kris would rather be.

 

Epilogue

They pull into the driveway of Kris's house a little after ten p.m., having stopped for lunch and dinner along the way (and at a motel at one point, after Marc insisted that he didn't want to have an arrest for indecent exposure on his record). Marc is fading in the passenger seat, even as he insists, no, he's awake enough to help carry their bags inside.

"Come on," Kris says, gently tugging him out and handing him the house key. "Go, wait, I will be inside with the bags soon."

"Okay," Marc says. He kisses Kris absently and wanders into the house like a very large lost puppy. Kris watches him go and shakes his head affectionately. He had been a little worried about the two of them being in a car together for a long time, but it had been nice. Relaxed. Easy.

Kris brings their suitcases inside and kicks the door shut behind him. Marc isn't in the bedroom, to his surprise, so he drops the bags there and then goes to look for him.

Marc had apparently seen the couch and given up on going any further, because he's sacked out across it with his feet sticking off the end. Kris snorts and straddles Marc's hips, stroking his hands down Marc's arms until he opens his eyes.

"Mm." Marc smirks sleepily, sliding his hands up Kris's legs. "What?"

"I have a bed," Kris points out. "One that is long enough for you to actually sleep on."

Marc dips his fingers into the waistband of Kris's jeans, just over the swell of his ass, and says, "I'm comfortable right now."

Kris shifts deliberately to watch Marc's mouth fall open and smiles. "We have more room on my bed."

"Meaning?"

Kris leans down and whispers in Marc's ear, "You can fuck me."

"Oh," Marc says, and he sits up quickly, bringing Kris with him. "I'm going, let's go, where's your bedroom?"

They have lazy, sleepy sex, Kris's legs hitched up around his waist and Marc pressing into him slowly. They leave the lights on – Marc has become obsessed with learning every inch of Kris's body, memorizing every line of ink and every stray freckle – and after, Marc rests his head on Kris's shoulder while tracing patterns in the drying come on Kris's stomach.

"We should shower," Kris says, even though he's pretty sure he's never moving again.

"We can do that in the morning," Marc says. He kisses the underside of Kris's jaw. "And then I'm taking you out to lunch."

Kris smiles and says, "Sure, all right."

Naturally, they're woken the next morning by both of their phones ringing and a loud knocking at the door.

Kris swears violently, scrambling for his phone, and asks, "Who the fuck is this?"

"Open your front door, it's cold and we're not dressed properly," says Jordy.

"What?" Kris asks, frantic, and he looks over in time to hear Marc says, "You're where?"

They exchange looks and then leap out of bed at the same time. "You use this bathroom," Kris hisses, "I will use the guest one."

"Thanks," Marc whispers, and they scatter to make themselves look vaguely presentable.

Kris is finished first, and he opens the door to find three grinning Staals, all of whom clearly know that they interrupted and don't care. "Hello," Kris says, sighing, and he opens the door wider to let them in.

Jordan hugs Kris, then punches him in the shoulder and says, "I didn't even know about you for a long time, you know, and then you end up with my brother. You're sneaky, Kris."

"Um," Kris says, just as Jared calls, "Don't you have any beer?"

"It's nine in the morning," Marc says, coming downstairs in a pair of sweatpants and a shirt that Kris thinks might actually be one of his.

"We're here to check out your boyfriend, he might need it," Eric says wryly. He gives Kris a sharp nod.

Marc sighs and tugs Kris to the side. "I'm really sorry," he says, making a face. "They said something about visiting since I was coming here and not Thunder Bay, but I never thought –"

"It's fine," Kris says, squeezing Marc's hand. "They're your family."

"They don't have to be," Marc says hopefully. "I can have them killed."

"It's fine," Kris insists. "We can deal with them for a few days, right?"

"I wanted you to myself a little more," Marc says, pouting.

Kris rolls his eyes. "We have been together for the last week."

"Never enough." Marc sighs. "Fine. Let's go entertain them. Try not to judge me too hard for being related to them."

"It's what a boyfriend does, eh?" Kris tucks his hand into Marc's. "Come on."

Marc lets Kris lead him back into the kitchen and starts shooing Jared and Jordan out of the refrigerator. Kris digs up some take-out menus and gives them to Marc so they can argue over what to get. Kris is about to go find the beer out in the garage when Eric touches his shoulder and says, "Hey, let me help you."

They make it all the way out into the garage before Eric very casually leans against the door, blocking Kris's way out. Kris has been expecting it; he knows Eric pretty well, all things considered, but he also knows that Eric is the one with the strongest protective streak of all of the Staals. Kris leans against the box of beer and waits for Eric to start talking.

"Marc doesn't tell us everything about his personal life," Eric says without preamble, "but when he first told us about you, he said that you were trying to get over someone. That isn't what this is, is it? Not a rebound thing? Because Marc really likes you."

"I know," Kris says quietly. "I wouldn't do that to him. This is real."

Eric eyes Kris for a long moment before laughing. "Well," he says, "you haven't kicked us out yet, which is more than I can say for Jared's last girlfriend."

Kris smiles and says, "And if I break his heart, you know where to find me."

"True." Eric grins, sharp and feral. "And all three of us play on the same team. You'll never be safe."

"Good to know," Kris says. "Now help me carry this box inside."

Marc takes Kris's hand when they come back into the kitchen, ignoring the gagging sound Jordan makes in response, and asks, "Everything good?"

"Yes." Kris kisses him gently and smiles. "Very good."

Marc squeezes his hand, then turns to argue with Jordan about whether it's too early to order pizza and what places are even open at nine a.m., and Kris watches him without taking much in. He's weirdly at peace with being invaded by the Staals, and it isn't just that he likes them. It feels like the first step towards something long-lasting, like he's never had before, and he realizes that he can't wait to introduce Marc to his own family. It would be nice, like Marc says, to have more time alone, but they have plenty of time for that. Kris can wait; Marc isn't going anywhere and neither is he.