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            “Ryan!” It was the first day of training camp, and Nail Yakupov bounded up to him like an overly energetic puppy. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins did his best to look welcoming, or at least not openly hostile.
            “Hi, Yak.” At least he didn’t have to look at Seth Jones all the time. He’d probably end up punching a wall.
            “Is good to see you, yes?” Nail asked him, grinning widely. “When not facing you.”
            “You’re facing me right now,” Ryan said, being childishly, unnecessarily precise. Nail just laughed.
            “Yes, yes.”

            “It’s like he doesn’t get it,” Ryan said over drinks at a bar with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Justin Schultz. “He seems to really want to be friends with me, and that’s weird.”

            “Maybe he just wants to apologize for that thing he said about your mom at Juniors,” Taylor said as he took a drink of beer. “Or that thing he said about your sister.”

            “I wonder if he ever figured out I don’t have a sister.”

            “Probably someone clued him in. But maybe he’s trying to make up for being a dick?”

            “Maybe?” Ryan said. “I don’t know. I just wish he’d cut it out.” 

            “He’s your fucking teammate, Nuge, do you want him to be a rampaging bitch to you?” Justin asked reasonably.

            “Kind of, yeah. Then I could be a rampaging bitch back without feeling guilty about it.”

            “Remind me to never get on your bad side,” Justin said, somewhat awed. “You can sure as hell hold a grudge.”

            “I don’t like failure,” Ryan said, aware that he sounded a bit like a spoiled child.

            “I, on the other hand, love it and seek to fail at everything I try,” Jordan said, making Ryan crack an unwilling smile. “Come on, Nuge, don’t you think you’re acting a tad bit immature?”

            “Oh, I know I am,” Ryan said matter-of-factly. “But I’m nineteen. I’m allowed.”

            “Don’t give us that I’m nineteen bullshit. You’re only nineteen when you’re acting like an idiot and want to get away with it.” Ryan just smiled angelically at Justin, who laughed. “Fine.”

            “Just don’t punch him, okay, Nuge?” Jordan said. “Anything but punching him. Promise me.”

            “I think I can manage that.”

            A week later, Ryan wasn’t so sure.

            Nail was just so there, constantly, irritatingly there. He would greet Ryan when he entered the dressing room, buttonhole him about his day, chatter away so quickly and with such a thick accent that Ryan frequently had absolutely no idea what he was saying. It got to the point where Ryan was wondering if Nail was just using him as some kind of sounding board to practice his English when he realized he’d just been asked a question.

            “What?” he asked, blinking, and Nail just looked at him, amused.

            “You and I go to bar, yes?” he said, and Ryan’s jaw actually dropped.


            “Not complicated,” Nail said. “Bar? Tonight?” It was the night of the season opener, and they were playing the Canucks in Vancouver.

            “Um.” Ryan hunted around for an excuse that wasn’t patently idiotic, figuring that if he told Nail he had to shampoo the carpet or something his teammate would see right through that. “Um. Why?”

            “Get to know,” Nail said. “We on same team, now. Talk, yes? Talk is good.” Ryan sighed heavily.

            “Okay,” he said, and Nail smiled at him widely and apparently genuinely. “After the game?”

            “No, during,” Nail said with a straight face, and Ryan couldn’t keep himself from cracking a smile.

            “Down a beer or two during intermission?”

            “Duh.” There was something very strange about hearing Nail Yakupov say the word duh.

            The Oilers won 3-2 in a shootout, and Ryan was feeling so cheerful afterwards that not even the sight of Nail coming across the room while he was tying his shoelaces was enough to crush his good mood.

            “Ready?” he asked Ryan, who nodded and stood up. “Where we go?”

            “You guys going out? Together?” Taylor asked slightly incredulously from next to him.

            “Yeah,” Ryan said. “You want to come?” Please, please, please say yes, oh please God, if you value me as a friend say yes, he tried to convey in his gaze. Taylor was having none of that.

            “Nah, Ebs and I are staying in and watching a movie. Going to the Roxy?”

            “I thought we could go somewhere quieter,” Ryan said, because he was frankly just not in the mood to get shitfaced wasted and hit on by everything with two legs that night. “Any ideas?” Taylor shrugged.

            “I don’t know jackshit about Vancouver.”

            “What is Roxy?” Nail asked.

            “It’s where hockey players in Vancouver go to get drunk and laid,” Ryan said bluntly. “We can go if you want, but I’d rather-”

            “No, is okay,” Nail said. “Where you want.”

            They ended up in a small pub near their hotel, and by the time they sat down in the booth Ryan was feeling a little better about this whole endeavor. Sure, he wasn’t happy to be out with Nail, but it didn’t feel like having his fingernails pulled out the way he’d been expecting. The waiter handed them both menus, and Nail squinted at the list of beers, looking a little lost.

            “What is good, with no alcohol?” he asked Ryan.

            “You don’t drink?” Ryan asked incredulously.

            “No,” Nail said, still flipping through the pages of the menu.

            “Then why-” Ryan broke off, and then sighed. Whatever the reason was that Nail had decided to take him out to a bar despite not drinking alcohol, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to know it. “Fuck, Yakupov, I don’t know, I just order Molson’s all the time.”

            “Your taste, bad,” Nail said without looking up from the beer list. “What is word—to act young?” It took Ryan a few seconds. Sometimes spending time with Nail felt like an actual vocabulary test.

            “Are you calling me immature?” Ryan asked, and Nail nodded, looking pleased that Ryan had gotten the point.

            “Immature, yes. At least beer.”

            “How do you know? You don’t drink.” Nail just grinned at him. The waiter showed up again.

            “What can I get you two?”

            “I’d like a Molson’s,” Ryan said. “And he’ll have a Shirley Temple.” The waiter only gave him a bit of a side-eye before he nodded and disappeared. Nail looked over at Ryan.

            “What is Shirley Temple?”

            “You’ll like it,” Ryan said, trying not to smile, and Nail shrugged.

            “Okay.” He looked over at Ryan then. “So.”

            “What?” Ryan asked as the waiter dropped off their drinks. He took a sip, wondering what exactly was behind that look in Nail’s eyes.

            “You do not like me,” Nail said. “Why?” Ryan came damn close to spitting Molson’s across the table.

            “I like you fine,” he said as he swallowed and put his beer down.

            “Hm.” Nail was watching him curiously. “Do not think so.”

            “I do,” Ryan said. “We’re cool.”

            “You bad liar,” Nail said. “Not point. We play on same team, should be friends. Anything before, stupid, no meaning. Okay?”

            “Easy for you to say,” Ryan found himself saying. “You won a goddamn medal.” The expression on Nail’s face shifted to sympathy, and Ryan was so tempted to break his word to Jordan and just punch him. The last thing he wanted in the world was Nail Yakupov feeling sorry for him.

            “You drag them. You push and push and do best--fifteen points. Bronze medal game against us, goal and three assists, you do all you can, and they lose.”
            “Thanks, Yakupov, I hadn’t realized that,” Ryan snapped, going to stand up and leave, but Nail caught his arm. “What do you want?”
            “You try,” he said, looking at Ryan, his face dead serious and displaying nothing but understanding. “You try. You do best. No shame.”
            “How the hell do you know my stats from the tournament?” Ryan asked after a silence, and Nail smiled at him.

            “I watch.” He let go of Ryan’s arm. “Drink beer. We talk.”

            “What do you want to talk about?” Ryan asked as he obediently took a sip of his beer.

            “Anything,” Nail said, his voice reverting back to that level of cheerfulness that made Ryan wonder if he was taking amphetamines or something. Probably not, as it would show up on a drug test, but honestly no one could naturally be that peppy all the time. “Hall and Eberle?”

            “What about Hall and Eberle?” Ryan asked, instantly defensive.

            “Are they…” Nail waved a hand around in the air expressively.

            “Are they what?” Ryan asked, being purposefully obtuse.


            “None of your business,” Ryan said shortly. Taylor and Jordan’s relationship was something that most of the team knew about but was never discussed publicly, and very rarely privately.

            “Is fine, you know,” Nail said hurriedly. “No problem. Curious.” Ryan looked at him and relented.

            “Yes,” he said. “They’re together. But swear to God, Yakupov, you breathe a word of this to anyone and they will never find your body.”

            “Will not breathe,” Nail said, putting his hand over his heart in emphasis. Ryan wondered if he should correct him for that and then decided no.

            “How did you know?’ Ryan asked instead, drinking some more Molson’s.

            “Easy to see,” Nail said. “Always together, touching, laughing. Very easy to see.”

            “Yeah,” Ryan said. “They’re actually really fucking adorable, although I’d kill myself before I admitted that to either of them.” That got Nail to laugh.

            “This good,” he said, indicating the Shirley Temple. “Have again.”

            “You should,” Ryan said, managing to keep a straight face. “Enjoy it.”

            Ryan got back to the hotel room he was sharing with Justin late that night, and came through the door to discover that Justin hadn’t come back yet. Ryan had a strong suspicion that he had indeed gone to the Roxy. It was right as he was putting on his pajamas that he got a text from Taylor.

How’d drinks go with Yak?

Fine, Ryan typed back, because surprisingly, it had been fine. He knows about you and Ebs jsyk.

Figured, Taylor responded, which made Ryan feel a lot better. He’s sure as hell not dumb.

And you two aren’t subtle.

Fucking bite me.

            On Tuesday, they played the Sharks for their home opener. Ryan was on the bench and had a great view as Nail scored his first NHL goal, and the glee on his face as he celebrated had Ryan on his feet and yelling too.

            “Fucking beauty!” Taylor hollered from behind Ryan, and Nail skated by to bump gloves with the team, still smiling widely.

            “He doesn’t suck,” Jordan observed from Taylor’s other side as they all sat back down, and Ryan shook his head.

            “He’s a number-one draft pick, of course he doesn’t suck.”

            “I dunno, look at you and Hallsy,” Jordan said, and Taylor hit him.

            The Oilers lost 6-3, and after the game in the dressing room Ryan got out of his equipment and walked over to Nail’s stall.

            “Congratulations,” he said, and Nail grinned up at him as he buttoned his shirt.

            “Thank you.”

            “Only took you two games, too,” Ryan said, and Nail laughed.

            “Took you one.”

            “Still,” Ryan said, although he couldn’t keep from grinning at the memory of his own first NHL goal. “We should celebrate.” Nail arched an eyebrow at him as he stood up and pulled on his pants.


            “It means, you know, go enjoy ourselves. Live it up.”

            “Know word. Do what for celebrate? Bar again?”

            “You don’t drink. Why would you want to go to a bar with me again?” Nail shrugged. “What do you do for fun? Other than play hockey.”

            “Video games?” Nail said uncertainly. “Go to my place?”

            “Sure,” Ryan said, because he was pretty sure Justin was going out and he would prefer not to be awkardly sitting on the living room couch playing video games with his insane teammate when Justin brought a girl through. He had a (slight) reputation to defend. “I’ll pick up a sixpack for myself on the way.”

            Ryan stopped at a liquor store for his beer, and then attempted to follow Nail’s incredibly, spastically confusing directions to his apartment. When he realized he was completely and thoroughly lost, he pulled out his phone only to see that there was already a text on the screen.

lost? )))))))

            Not bothering to even wonder how Nail had gotten his number, Ryan called the number that sent the text, and Nail answered immediately.

            “Make left at third light,” he said before Ryan could say anything. “Then right at first Tim Hortons and half way down block.”

            “I have no idea where I am, Yak, that’s not helpful. What’s your actual address? I can put it into my GPS.”

            “I text you.” And then Nail just hung up the phone. Fortunately, a few moments later Ryan got a text with his address in it, and after some fighting with his GPS was able to find the right building. Nail opened the door promptly.

            “I bought you something,” Ryan said as he went inside, depositing his bag from the liquor store on the coffee table and reaching down to pet Nail’s small and adorably fluffy dog.

            “Present?” Nail asked, coming around the couch just as Ryan pulled out the bottles of ginger ale and grenadine he’d bought at the liquor store. Nail looked at him, confused. “What is this?”

            “Get a glass of ice and a spoon,” Ryan said, and Nail went into his kitchen to fetch that. Two minutes later, after a bit of mixing and taste-testing, Ryan presented his creation to Nail.

            “It’s a Shirley Temple,” he explained. “I didn’t want you to just be sitting there while I drank, you know?” Nail stared at him, and Ryan thought for a second that maybe he’d made the wrong judgment and this wasn’t quite okay for some reason. “Yak?”

            “Thank you,” Nail said finally, taking a seat next to Ryan and reaching out for the drink. “Nice.” Ryan ducked his head and changed the subject.

            “What do you want to play?”

            They ended up playing Call of Duty, mostly because it was one of the few games Nail had that wasn’t in Russian and Ryan had heard of before.

            “Do you just, like, channel all the time you spend not getting wasted into playing video games?” Ryan asked after Nail had beaten him for the third time. “Because damn.”

            “I play lot of time,” Nail said. “Not much to do when not hockey, yes?”

            “Well, you could go get laid, that doesn’t necessarily involve drinking and you are an Oiler. That’s an instant panty-dropper in this town.” Nail’s eyes lowered, and he suddenly seemed very interested in poking the ice cubes at the bottom of his Shirley Temple glass with his spoon. “Yak?”

            “Ah.” Nail looked like he was searching for the right words. “Never…I never…” Ryan nearly choked on an ill-timed gulp of Molson’s.

            “You’re telling me that you’re a virgin?”

            “I…I…” Nail looked positively agonized by this topic of conversation. “Yes?” he said finally, and Ryan stared. He couldn’t help it. Ryan had lost his virginity at sixteen, and that was considered late for a hockey player. The idea of making it to nineteen, when you could play hockey as well as Nail did, was almost inconceivable to him.

            “Is it, like, a religious thing?” Ryan asked, because that had to be it. He must have had a lot of opportunities, he was Nail Yakupov. Nail was shaking his head, though.

            “No,” he told Ryan. “Only me.” Ryan was trying to get over his shock enough to reassure Nail that his life choices were valid—as weird as Ryan might think those life choices were—when Nail went on. “I am—how do you say—like Hall and Eberle?”

            “You’re-” Ryan was actually gaping openmouthed by this point in time. “You’re gay?”

            “Yes,” Nail said, his voice a mix of defensive and vaguely ashamed. “Yes, I am gay.” Ryan struggled to pick up the pieces of his composure. “Is problem?”

            “No! Not at all,” Ryan said firmly. “I have to watch Hallsy and Ebs basically make out whenever we watch a movie together, I’ve got no problem with dudes liking dudes, okay?” Nail nodded, looking decisively relieved, and Ryan picked the controller up off the coffee table. “Want to beat me again?”

            “Okay,” Nail said, restarting the game.

            They spent the rest of the evening pretending like nothing at all had happened, and when Ryan was actually so tired he wasn’t even putting up a fight anymore Nail stopped the game.

            “Sleep,” he said firmly. “Stay on couch.”

            “I can drive home, it’s no big-”

            “Is late, you tired and had lots of beer. Sleep on couch. Is comfy.” Ryan sighed and relented.

            Ryan really didn’t want to like Nail—in fact, he spent large portions of their time together reminding himself of what an ass he’d been during World Juniors—but after he spent the night on Nail’s couch and woke up to the smell of breakfast and Nail whistling cheerily, it became almost inevitable. There was also the simple fact that Nail had trusted Ryan enough to tell him he was gay. In any other situation, Ryan would have thought it was one of Nail’s jokes, but the decisively nervous and dead serious expression on his face when he’d come out said otherwise. Ryan wondered if he’d ever told anyone else, and who.

             Two days after the San Jose game, they played the Kings at home, and just about everything went wrong.

            “You’re fucking kidding me,” Ryan said to Jordan. He was angry and frustrated and really, really wanted to punch something, preferably a referee. “You’re goddamn fucking kidding me.”


            “It was a good goal! That call was bullshit! Who the fuck is paying them-”

            “Nuge, please, calm down before you get called for unsportsmanlike conduct,” Jordan said in a low voice. “That is the last fucking thing we need right now.” Ryan took a deep breath, looking over to see Nail watching him intently. When they made eye contact, Nail smiled at him faintly and reassuringly.

            Ryan was on the ice when Nail batted a rebound out of the air and past Quick, and for a second was certain his heart was going to stop beating. He watched in stunned joy as Nail sprinted away, stick held aloft, before dropping to his knees and sliding all the way down the ice. Ryan was the first one to reach him.

            “Fuck yeah!” he yelled, grabbing Nail as soon as he was back on his feet in the tightest hug he could manage. “Holy fucking shit, man!” Nail said something back that Ryan couldn’t understand—it might even have been in Russian—but the look of exultation on his face spoke volumes.

            Sam Gagner scored the winning goal in OT, and Ryan honestly thought the roof was going to come off Rexall Place for a second. He couldn’t stop smiling, and had no idea why—it wasn’t like he’d actually scored, although he had assisted on Sam’s gamewinner—but as he got undressed, watching Nail deal with the media on the other side of the room still with a giant grin on his face, he really didn’t care.

            “Hey, Yak.” Ryan had caught up with Nail in the corridor leading out to the parking lot. Nail turned, and smiled genuinely when he saw Ryan.


            “I don’t think I’ve ever heard Rexall get that fucking loud before,” Ryan said truthfully, and Nail ducked his head, still grinning. “You looked like fucking Theo Fleury out there.”

            “The reporters—they say so, I do not understand,” Nail said, his brows furrowed, and Ryan blinked. He’d just kind of assumed that Nail knew who he had been imitating.

            “You want to go out tonight?” Ryan asked. “Because we should totally go out, if you want, but if not, I can come over and you can kick my ass at video games again. And show you the Fleury thing.” Nail looked at him sideways, and Ryan was momentarily convinced that he was going to get a comment on Ryan basically inserting himself into Nail’s evening plans. “I mean, if you don’t want to hang-”

            “You follow me,” Nail said. “So you no get lost.”

            Despite the fact that Nail drove way too fast for Ryan to follow him without running multiple stoplights, the two of them managed to get to Nail’s apartment in one piece. Once they both got upstairs, Ryan looked at Nail.

            “You got a computer?” he asked, and Nail disappeared into his bedroom before coming back with a laptop. Ryan sat down, opened it and stopped short. All the language settings were in Cyrillic.

            “How do I-”

            “What you want?” Nail asked, sitting down next to him and taking the computer back.

            “YouTube,” Ryan said, and Nail pulled the website up.


            “Uh, try ‘theo fleury celebration’,” Ryan said, and Nail typed it in. “There.” Ryan pointed at the first result, and Nail clicked on it. Ryan had seen the clip before, so instead of watching Theo Fleury slide across the ice and into the boards, flailing wildly, he watched Nail’s face, seeing the way his eyes widened and his face broke into a grin. “That’s what they were comparing you to,” Ryan said. “You’re a big fucking deal, eh?”

            “Is okay, yes?” Nail asked, and Ryan laughed.

            “Hell, Yak, after the goal you scored you should be able to celebrate however you fucking want.” Nail looked over at Ryan, the expression on his face strangely shy.

            “For you,” he said. “Happy for you.” Ryan’s mouth fell slightly open.

            “What?” Nail suddenly looked uncomfortable, his eyes dropping.

            “Your goal—no count, fucking bullshit,” he said, and Ryan had to smile at the venom in his tone at the profanities. “You try. Team should try too. I try, for you.”

            Ryan kissed him.

            It was firm and quick and closed-mouth, but when he went to draw back to evaluate Nail’s reaction Nail slammed the laptop shut, dropped it on the coffee table, and grabbed onto Ryan’s shoulders, pulling him back in. Ryan had meant to take things a little slow, since he’d definitely never made out with a dude before, but Nail was having absolutely none of that—he was kissing Ryan wet and openmouthed and sloppy, tongue tracing along Ryan’s lips to try and get him to part them. Ryan obliged, and as Nail’s tongue rubbed across his Ryan realized that Nail was not particularly good at this. In fact, his kissing screamed inexperience—eagerness, but inexperience. Ryan wished he could find it in himself to care, but instead he just buried his hands in Nail’s hair and kissed him back.

            Eventually, they broke apart, and Ryan let go somewhat reluctantly, hands coming down to rest on Nail’s shoulders as they stared at each other.

            “Um,” Ryan said finally, wondering if that shellshocked look on Nail’s face was good or bad. “I’m-”

            “Again?” Nail asked hopefully, and Ryan just kissed him in answer, this time firmly taking the reins. He shoved Nail over so he was pinning him to the couch and grabbed the hem of his shirt, rucking it up so he could run his hands over Nail’s chest. Ryan’s thigh had somehow ended up between Nail’s legs, and he could feel that Nail was hard already. Ryan had to close his eyes and pull back at that, taking a deep breath before peeling off his own shirt and tossing it onto the floor. Nail sat up a little bit, reaching out to skim his fingers down Ryan’s chest, and Ryan just had to lean back down and start kissing and licking at Nail’s neck. Nail’s hands were big and rough, callused, and feeling them roam over his chest and back was making Ryan positively shiver. He could feel Nail pressing his hips up into Ryan’s thigh, probably unconsciously, but it was that physical reminder that Ryan wasn’t the only one of them who was really fucking into things that got Ryan to reach for the fly of Nail’s pants as he bit down on Nail’s nipple. He heard Nail’s breath catch as he muttered something in Russian, and Ryan lifted his head, fingers pausing.

            “This okay?” Nail nodded so emphatically Ryan was a little worried he’d hurt himself.

            “Yes, fuck, yes,” he said, and Ryan grinned, sliding up a bit so he could kiss Nail as he undid his pants and pulled out his cock. When Ryan got his hand around the base and stroked up Nail whined against his mouth, hips thrusting up into Ryan’s fist. Ryan fell into a quick, hard rhythm, pulling out every trick he liked to use on himself when jacking off, and as he combined a wrist flick with a thumbing of the head Nail came with a yelp. Ryan took back his hand, looking around for something to wipe it off on, and had just grabbed a tissue off the coffee table and taken care of that when Nail sat up and yanked him into another kiss. “Thank you,” he said when he let go, and Ryan grinned at him.

            “Feel like reciprocating?” Nail’s eyebrows knit.

            “Re—what does it mean?” Wordlessly, Ryan gestured at the tent in his pants, and Nail understood. He reached forward with shaking hands, and Ryan helped him undo the fly. Once Ryan was sprawled out on the couch exposed, he saw Nail swallow, visibly, his eyes glued to Ryan’s cock.

            “Go on,” Ryan said encouragingly, hoping that Nail would get over his virginal freakout soon because Ryan really, really wanted a handjob. In answer, Nail reached forward and fisted his hand around Ryan’s cock, starting to stroke it slowly, and Ryan sighed, his eyes falling closed. It turned out Nail’s hands felt just as good on his cock as they had on his torso, although the fact that Nail was touching Ryan like he was about to shatter into bits was growing slightly annoying. “Here,” Ryan said, opening his eyes only to curl his hand around Nail’s. “C’mon, tighter, faster, it’s okay. You should see the things that I do to it.” That got a smile out of Nail, and as he quickened the pace and tightened his grip Ryan’s hand fell away only to fist by his side. There wasn’t quite enough lubrication and Nail’s inexperience was showing clearly, but it ended up not mattering—after only a few minutes Ryan gasped and came all over Nail’s hand and his own stomach.

            He lay there, trying to catch his breath, for a minute or so before he heard Nail’s voice.

            “Ryan?” He opened his eyes to see that he was being looked at with a worried wariness, as if Nail wasn’t sure what, exactly, Ryan’s next move was going to be.

            “You’ve never done that before, have you,” Ryan said as he reached forward to grab some tissues off the coffee table. Nail shook his head. “Shit, did you live under a rock in Sarnia?” Nail’s eyes narrowed at him, and then he just lifted his hand to flip Ryan off. Ryan laughed and leaned forward, fisting his hand in the front of Nail’s shirt and pulling him into another kiss.

            “You ever?” Nail asked when they broke apart again. “With man?” Ryan shook his head.

            “Never before.” He grinned at Nail. “Don’t think it’ll be the last time, though.” Nail grinned back widely.


            Ryan headed home soon after that, mostly because he could tell that Nail was getting tired. He was trying vainly to stay perky, but he was yawning between every other word, and his eyelids were drooping.

            “I’m heading out,” Ryan told him, standing up and stretching before making sure that the fly of his pants was done up. “See you at skate tomorrow,” he said, smiling, and Nail smiled back.


            Their next game was Saturday against the Flames, in Calgary, and they lost 4-3. Ryan picked up an assist, but otherwise it was an entirely forgettable experience. After the game, they all got back on the bus to head back to Edmonton, and Ryan was sitting there waiting for the rest of the team to get on when someone dropped down in the seat next to him.

            “Watch movie?” Nail asked him, and Ryan looked at him in surprise.


            “Yes, movie? Watch together?” Nail looked so enthusiastic about this idea that Ryan had to smile.


            They ended up watching Goon, which Nail had never seen but had recently downloaded and Ryan had seen a couple times but was always willing to watch again. Nail turned the Russian subtitles on and Ryan used the headphone jack, and it actually worked remarkably well. If he was leaning a little too comfortably into Nail’s chest and Nail’s hand was resting a little too familiarly on Ryan’s knee, well, that was nobody’s business but theirs.

            The next day was an off day. Ryan slept in, and was just lying in bed in a delightfully dreamy half-asleep, half-awake state when his phone rang on the nightstand.


            “Want to go shop?”

            “Yak?” Ryan said sleepily, sitting up. “What do you mean, shop?”
            “Need jeans,” Nail said. “Come?”

            “Are you a teenage girl? You can’t go shopping on your own?”

            “Shop, then make out,” Nail baited.

            “Meet you at your place in a half hour,” Ryan said, and then he hung the phone up to the sound of Nail’s laughter.

            Ryan got dressed and headed out to Nail’s apartment, nodding at Justin on his way through the living room. Nail was waiting for him when he got there.

            “Jesus, it’s cold,” Ryan said as he came into Nail’s flat. “You better really need jeans.”

            “Old jeans rip,” Nail said matter-of-factly. “And not cold. You weak.”

            “We’re not all from fucking Siberia, Yakupov,” Ryan teased, and Nail pretended to glare at him.

            “Tatarstan, Nugent-Hopkins.”

            “Where is Tatarstan?” Ryan was a little embarrassed to admit he didn’t know, but geography had never been his strong suit.

            “Near Ufa. Next state over.”

            “Oh.” Ryan considered this. “Is it as cold as Ufa? Because Ufa was really, really fucking cold.”

            “Pussy,” Nail said offhandedly as he went into the closet to get his coat.

            “It’s impressive, you know, that you speak broken English but can still curse pretty much fluently,” Ryan told him. “Shows where your priorities lie.”

            “Like to see you learn Russian,” Nail retorted, shrugging on his coat and then zipping it up. “You done at different letters.”

            “Oh, fuck yeah,” Ryan agreed, because frankly, the Cyrillic would be the least of his problems. “I can’t even fucking pronounce the name of the team you played for in Russia. Like, not a bit of it.”
            “Is easy. Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk.” The words rolled of Nail’s tongue easily, and Ryan was suddenly wondering how he could get him to speak Russian more often. It was unbelievably attractive.
            “What does it even mean?”
            “The Nizhnekamsk—ah, what is it—oil chemists.” Ryan gaped.
            “You’re joking.”
            “No joke.” Nail looked amused too. “Terrible name.”

            “What the fuck was your logo? A mad scientist?”

            “Show you later. Now, we go shop.”

            Ryan had always hated the West Edmonton Mall—it was just too fucking big, frankly, unreasonably big—but it was apparently Nail’s first trip to the monstrosity, and he was really enjoying himself.

            “Cool,” he commented as they wandered through the hallways, studying the window displays of various stores. “I like.”

            “They don’t have giant fucking shopping malls in Niz-whatsit?”

            “Nizhnekamsk,” Nail pronounced carefully. Ryan guessed he wasn’t taking offense out of appreciation for the fact that Ryan was really that hopeless with non-English words. “And no.”

            “Good for them,” Ryan said dryly, and Nail laughed. “Where do you want to go for jeans?”

            “Anywhere,” Nail said. “Where has jeans?”

            “Like, half these fucking stores,” Ryan said. “I had a girlfriend who dragged me through this place a couple times.”

            “Hm.” Nail shot him a sidelong look. “Bad thing?”

            “With her? It was a bad thing because she expected me to buy her shit,” Ryan said. He’d broken up with Tara after it had become clear that she mostly appreciated him for his Visa.

            “I can buy own shit,” Nail told him reassuringly, and Ryan had to laugh.

            “I’d hope so.”

            They ended up at Gap, and Ryan poked around in the T-shirts section while Nail picked out some jeans.

            “Ryan!” He looked up to see Nail standing at the entrance of the dressing room. “Advice.”

            “Really?” Ryan said, walking over to lean against the wall next to the mirror as Nail surveyed his reflection. “I am the actual least fashionable person, you know that, right? My mom has to buy my ties for me.”

            “Have eyes,” Nail said. “Help pick.”

            “Fine,” Ryan said, his eyes drifting down to look at Nail’s ass. The new jeans actually fit, and emphasized what a nice butt he had even more. “I like these.” Nail followed his gaze and snorted.

            “Ah,” he said. “See.”

            “Go try on the next pair,” Ryan said, grinning at him. “You’ve got my attention now.”

            Ryan helped Nail pick out a few new pairs of jeans, if by “helped” one meant “ogled,” and they left the mall at around three in the afternoon.

            “So,” Ryan said as Nail drove them back to his apartment, “you promised me something.” There was a brief silence. “Yak?”

            “Am driving,” Nail said. “Not now. Car crash, we die. Very sad.”

            “As long as you remember,” Ryan said mildly, and Nail shot him a sidelong look.

            “Hard to forget.”

            The moment they got inside Nail’s apartment, he grabbed Ryan by the front of his shirt, slammed him back into the closed door, and crushed their mouths together. When Ryan came with Nail’s hand on his dick fifteen minutes later, bracing himself against the door so that he didn’t just up and fall over, he had the dim thought that the way Nail was really fucking quick on the uptake boded well for him.

            “What’s up with you?” This was Justin, before a game against the Avalanche in Colorado. It was a 1PM start, and they were in the dressing room taping their sticks and otherwise getting ready. “You’ve been acting weird for ages.”

            “Weird how?” Ryan asked innocently.

            “You’re not coming out with us any more.” Ryan shrugged. It was true that he hadn’t gone out with his friends in a while, instead spending his nights that week having sloppy, enthusiastic hookups either at Nail’s apartment or a hotel room while one of their road roommates was otherwise occupied.

            “Haven’t been in the mood,” he said, just as he caught Nail’s eye from across the room. Nail was clearly listening to every word they were saying, and as Justin turned back to his gear Ryan winked at him.

            They lost to the Avalanche, and on the plane ride back to Edmonton Nail and Ryan sat together and watched Die Hard on Ryan’s computer. Nail had bought a headphone splitter at some point in time, so they were both listening and Nail was watching it without subtitles, probably because the movie was rather self-explanatory. Ryan had brought a blanket, and midway through the movie he pulled it out and casually draped it over both himself and Nail.

            “Thank you,” Nail said, making himself comfortable, and underneath the blanket their hands brushed together. Ryan paused for a second, and then grabbed onto Nail’s hand, interlacing their fingers. Nail didn’t look over at Ryan, but his eyes widened a little, and Ryan was wondering if he’d made the wrong move until Nail squeezed his hand lightly. Ryan squeezed back.

              “Um, Ebs, Hallsy?” This was two days later, and Taylor and Jordan had come over to Ryan and Justin’s apartment to hang out in the time between morning skate and their game against the Canucks that night. Justin was in his room napping, but the three of them were currently making lunch.

            “Yeah?” Jordan carried his sandwich over to the couch and took a seat next to Ryan. “What’s up?”

            “Are blowjobs hard?” There was the sound from the kitchen of Taylor choking on his own sandwich. “Jesus, Hallsy, you okay?”

            “Fine,” Taylor coughed. “Just—surprised-”

            “Are you asking out of curiosity or necessity, Nuge?” Jordan asked, and unlike Taylor, he looked incredibly amused.

            “Um.” Ryan avoided Jordan’s eyes. “Both?”

            “I see.” Jordan sounded like he was barely suppressing laughter by then. “So how long have you been hooking up with Yakupov?”

            “You knew?” Ryan said incredulously, and Jordan nodded like it was obvious. “You fucker! How did you know?”

            “Oh, come on. You’ve been showing up with weird hickeys and you keep ducking out of going drinking so you can hang out with him, so connecting the dots was pretty easy there. Seriously though, I didn’t realize you swung that way.”
            “I-” Ryan realized he now couldn’t in good conscience say he didn’t swing that way. “Can you just answer my question?”

            “Is he really asking us for gay sex advice?” Taylor asked, walking over to sit down next to Jordan on the couch. “Gay sex advice so he can blow Yakupov, of all people?”

            “You know, the two of you are not making this easy,” Ryan said irritably. “I come to you and, like, ask fucking nicely for you to share your collective wisdom, and instead I get-”

            “Nuge, thinking about Yak’s dick might get you all warm and tingly in your special places, but you’re definitely alone here on that one, so excuse us for not wanting to think about our nineteen-year-old teammate and friend with someone’s cock in his mouth, okay?” Taylor gulped down some milk. “Also, they’re totally not hard, just go slow and careful and you’ll be fine.”

            “Don’t try to deepthroat your first, like, ten times, either,” Jordan said. “Staying shallow is okay, he’s lucky to have you blowing him at all, he’ll still enjoy it and you won’t be hacking up a lung every five seconds.”

            “And you might not want him to come in your mouth the first time or even ever, but that’s up to you and whether or not you think it’s super fucking gross.”

            “Is it?” Ryan asked.

            “Eh, slip him some pineapple juice first and it’ll be good,” Taylor said casually. “Mix it with vodka if you want him to drink it.”

            “He doesn’t drink,” Jordan told Taylor.

            “What? He’s Russian!”

            “Tatar, actually,” Ryan said, because even his brief relationship with Nail had taught him that Nail differentiated very strictly between his Tatar ethnicity and his Russian nationality.

            “But anyway,” Jordan said, “even without the pineapple juice, it’s not that bad. You’ll be fine. Just breathe through your nose.”

            “Okay, great,” Ryan said. “Can we, like, forget that we ever had this conversation now?” Jordan and Taylor exchanged amused looks.


            They lost to the Canucks in overtime, and after the game Ryan made eye contact with Nail in the dressing room. Nail nodded, and Ryan nodded back, hurrying to get his pads off.

            “Going to Yak’s?” Jordan asked from next to him, his voice neutral, and Ryan glared. Jordan smiled back angelically. “Be safe,” he said sweetly, before standing up and following Taylor out of the dressing room.

            Ryan arrived at Nail’s apartment after him, because Ryan had a proper appreciation for Albertan traffic laws and Nail seemed to disdain their very existence.

            “It’s a miracle you’ve never gotten a ticket,” Ryan commented as Nail let him into the apartment. “Your driving is fucking insane.”

            “Stop once,” Nail said. “Officer know me.” Ryan snorted.

            “Of course. Careful, Yak. One day you’ll end up with a cop who doesn’t watch hockey.” Nail tilted his head to one side, looking at Ryan curiously. “What?”

            “Never say Nail,” he pointed out. “Always Yak. Why?”
            “I butcher it,” Ryan confessed, and Nail laughed outright.
            “Say Nail.” He pronounced it like the English word. “That fine.”
            “But it’s not right.” Nail leaned in and kissed him, quickly.
            “No care. I no say Ryan right. I still say.”
            “Okay,” Ryan said. “Nail.” That got him another, longer kiss, and when Nail went to pull back that time Ryan just tugged him back in.

            Nail had improved at kissing since the first time they’d hooked up, Ryan realized. They had ended up on his couch, sprawled out half on top of each other and stripped down to just underwear, making out like—well, like teenagers, Ryan thought wryly.

            “Hey, Nail?” Ryan finally mustered up the courage to say as Nail’s mouth moved to his neck. Nail looked up at him then, a faint smile on his face, and Ryan gulped. “Can I suck your dick?” he blurted out, and Nail gaped.

            “What?” Ryan felt himself flush.

            “Um, I was wondering if it would be cool if I-” But Nail was nodding, emphatically, eyes wide and pleading on Ryan’s.

            “Da, yes, please,” he said, his voice choked with want, and Ryan grinned, rolling on top of Nail and starting to kiss his way down his bare chest. He could hear Nail’s breathing grow heavier the farther down he got, until Ryan hooked his fingers in the waistband of Nail’s boxers and tugged them down. Suddenly, he was eye-level with Nail’s cock, and glanced up nervously only to see that Nail was propped up on his elbows staring down at him.

            “Don’t get mad at me if it’s not good,” Ryan said, and before Nail could answer he wrapped his lips around the head. Nail yelped, and Ryan lifted his head nervously. “Did I-” Nail wordlessly shoved his head back down, so Ryan guessed he hadn’t.   

            Giving a blowjob was way less weird than Ryan had thought it would be, too. It took him a minute or so to get his tongue, lips, and teeth properly coordinated, but he knew when he did because Nail started talking, in Russian, gasping out what even Ryan could tell were disjointed phrases. The desperate arousal in his voice was incredibly hot, even if Ryan couldn’t understand the slightest bit of what was actually being said, and he just sucked harder in approval. When he rubbed his tongue under the head Nail moaned loudly, his hips thrusting up, and Ryan flung an arm across his stomach to pin him down to the couch. It was then that he realized, as he repeated the motion with his tongue and listened to Nail bite out his name along with a string of words that were probably highly profane, that Nail wasn’t the only one really getting off on this.

            “Ryan,” Nail said hoarsely, after a few minutes of Ryan doing his best to melt his brain. “Ryan, stop, going to…going to…” Ryan lifted his head to grin at Nail, who stared down at him with an almost awed expression on his face.

            “Are you saying you’re about to come, Nail?” Nail nodded, looking relieved that Ryan understood.

            “Da, yes, come soon-”

            “Good,” Ryan said, his grin widening, and then he slid Nail back into his mouth. Nail whimpered—yeah, he fucking whimpered, Ryan was fucking awesome at this blowjob thing—and thirty seconds later moaned Ryan’s name as he came down Ryan’s throat. Ryan drew back, looking up and locking eyes with Nail as he swallowed, and the way Nail closed his eyes and inhaled a shuddering breath was enough to make the ick factor not really matter in the end. Ryan sat up, watching as Nail collected himself, trying as hard as he could for patience when his cock was throbbing. Eventually, Nail opened his eyes. “You okay?” Ryan asked, trying not to sound smug.

            “Done before?” Nail asked. His voice was still shaky. Ryan patted himself on the back for that.

            “No.” Nail then looked down at the front of Ryan’s boxers, before looking up at Ryan again.

            “Want me to…” He sounded uncertain, though, and a little scared. Ryan shook his head.

            “Handjob’s fine, just, seriously, touch my cock and I’ll be happy.” Nail cracked a smile, but he didn’t move.

            “Do not know how,” he confessed. “Never before.”

            “You’ve given me plenty of—you mean blowjobs?” Ryan blinked, wondering why they were still having this conversation when he’d just told Nail a handjob would be perfectly sufficient. Also, if Ryan didn’t come soon, his balls were going to fall off. “It’s fine, seriously, just make me come, okay?” Nail still didn’t move.

            “Tell me how?” he asked, and Ryan realized where this conversation was going. He thought it was a miracle he didn’t just up and come that second.

            “You really don’t have to, your hand’s fine,” he felt compelled to say, even though the idea of Nail blowing him had him dizzy already. Nail’s brows furrowed.

            “You no want?” he asked, and Ryan had to laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of that statement.

            “You’re fucking kidding me, right? I’d fucking love your mouth on my cock, but you’re obviously-” And then the next thing he knew, Nail had tackled him down to the couch, kissing him thorough and messy as his hands tugged Ryan’s boxers off.

            “Do not move,” he said as he moved down Ryan’s body, and Ryan held stock still even as he could feel Nail’s breath on his dick. Nail looked up at Ryan, as if for reassurance, and Ryan smiled down at him.

            “It’s okay, you know,” he said. “Even if you fuck up, it’s okay.” He saw Nail’s eyes warm, and then he nodded and leaned down.

            It actually took all of Ryan’s concentration to keep his hips still when he first felt Nail take him into his mouth, and Nail paused, glancing up at Ryan again. The sight of Nail looking up at him with his lips stretched around Ryan’s cock had Ryan closing his eyes and trying to remember how to breathe. When Nail started to blow him, Ryan thanked every deity he could think of that Nail apparently didn’t need active step-by-step instruction, considering that Ryan was having trouble forming thoughts in words.

            The thing was, it wasn’t a great blowjob. Nail had very clearly never done it before, and he was hesitant, almost timid. Ryan reached down to run his fingers through Nail’s hair, trying to calm him, and in response Nail did something with his tongue that made Ryan choke back a whimper of his own. It wasn’t a great blowjob, but it was Nail, and that was apparently what really mattered to him.

            “Gonna come,” he warned, because as desperately as he wanted to come in Nail’s mouth he probably wasn’t ready for that yet and would want to pull back. Nail didn’t even pause, and Ryan wondered if maybe he hadn’t quite understood. “Nail—gonna come-

            “Mm-hm,” Nail hummed around Ryan’s cock, looking up at him again, and that was it, goodnight and goodbye, Ryan was done. He came, gasping out Nail’s name, and as Nail sat back up again and swallowed all Ryan could do was close his eyes and try to slow his heartbeat back down to something like normal. “Ryan?” Nail asked after a few minutes of Ryan lying there panting. “You okay?”

            “Okay, ha,” Ryan said, opening his eyes to smile up at Nail. “I’m fucking great.” Nail smiled back, looking happy and relieved and kind of blissed out, actually. Ryan wanted to see that look on his face over and over. “Hey, Nail?”


            “Can we, like, cuddle, or is that too-” Ryan stopped himself before he said gay, because he’d just given another dude a blowjob. This whole experience was gay in the most literal of senses. “Weird?” he finished, and Nail stood up. Ryan hurried to backtrack. “I mean, we don’t have to-”

            “Bed,” Nail said simply, and Ryan grinned in relief.


            The two of them climbed into Nail’s giant, unmade bed, and once Ryan got settled he opened his arms and Nail came over to press himself against Ryan, burying his face in Ryan’s neck. It felt so comfortable and natural lying there with him that Ryan was halfway asleep by the time that Nail spoke.

            “Why now?”

            “Hm?” Ryan asked sleepily, tangling his fingers in Nail’s hair and pulling him in for a lazy kiss.

            “Why now, blowjob?”

            “Felt like it,” Ryan said, because that was really it. He had wanted to do that for Nail; the awkward question then became why. Nail didn’t ask, though.

            “Stay night?” he offered, and Ryan nodded. Nail leaned in to kiss him again. “Good.”

            “Yeah,” Ryan said, closing his eyes and holding Nail a little tighter. “Good.”

            The next morning, Ryan got up before Nail and made him scrambled eggs. When Nail staggered out of his bedroom with half-open eyes and hair messy from sleep Ryan presented the (admittedly somewhat burned) eggs with a flourish, and instead of sitting down and eating them Nail pulled Ryan into a long, thorough good-morning kiss.

            “Hi,” Ryan said when Nail finally let him go, and Nail smiled up at him, arms looped around Ryan’s neck.


            “I made you eggs,” Ryan said, and Nail laughed.

            “See. Thank you.”

            “They’re probably terrible,” Ryan warned him. “So we might as well just make out, you know.” Nail’s eyebrows knit, and rather than try to explain that in words he’d understand Ryan kissed him again, which seemed to convey his point very well.

            They arrived at practice on time but barely, mostly because Nail had insisted that they take a shower together and that had ended in handjobs, just as anyone would expect. Ryan did his best to not spend the entire practice making eyes at Nail, and was fairly successful, especially after he glanced over in what he thought was a particularly sexy manner to see that Nail was just pulling silly faces at him. Ryan burst out laughing in the middle of Coach Krueger’s speech, making everyone turn to look at him.

            “What the fuck, Nuge?” Taylor asked in a low voice as Ryan tried to regain his composure.


            A week later, Ryan, Taylor, and Jordan were out getting ice cream when Ryan’s phone rang. It was a number he didn’t recognize.


            “Nugent-Hopkins?” The voice on the other end was vaguely familiar but highly unfriendly.
            “This is Alex Galchenyuk.” Ryan nearly dropped the phone.
            “What do you want?”

            “We need to talk,” Alex said, and his voice was dead serious. Ignoring the confused looks he was getting from Jordan and Taylor, Ryan shrugged his coat on and stepped outside.

            “Talk about what?”
            “How serious are you about Nail?” Ryan was actually struck speechless for a second.
            “Wait. He told you?”

            “Of course he told me. He tells me everything. And he’s new to this kind of shit, he doesn’t need you dicking around with his feelings. So how serious are you? Because if you break his heart, I don’t fucking care if you meant to or not, I’ll fucking rip your fucking-”

            “How did you even get this number?”

            “Malcolm Subban.” Ryan made a mental note to call up Malcolm and yell at him for handing out his phone number to Alex fucking Galchenyuk. “So?”

            “I’m not going to break his heart,” Ryan said firmly. “We have a good thing going, I’m not planning on ruining it.”

            “You didn’t answer my question. How serious are you?” Things were starting to process for Ryan—slowly but surely.

“What the fuck do you mean, dicking around with his feelings?” Alex laughed outright at him.

            “You’re fucking kidding me, right? What are you, blind?”

            “I mean-” Ryan stopped. Took a deep breath. “I’m the first guy he’s ever been with, he’s probably confused.”

            “So you know that he’s, like, fucking in love with you, right?” Ryan had to lean against a nearby telephone pole at that, as his legs suddenly didn’t want to work quite right. “Like, you’re admitting you know that?”

            “What the fuck is this, Galchenyuk, a cross-examination?” Ryan snapped. “I don’t know. I don’t know if I knew, and I don’t know how serious I am. But I’m not about to throw this—thing—I have with him away just for shits and giggles, so back the fuck off and let us figure this out on our own, okay?” There was a long silence from Alex’s end of the phone.

            “Okay,” Alex said finally. “But if you fuck with him, my threat stands, okay?”

            “Yeah,” Ryan said. “Could you do me a favor, though, and not mention that we had this conversation? To anyone?”

            “What, trying to stay in the closet?” Alex sounded amused by this.

            “More like I don’t want to have to find you and kill you for telling all of Team USA who I’m boning,” Ryan said, and Alex laughed at him.

            “I forgot what sore losers you Canadians are. I had to text Subban, like, five times and bait him with juicy gossip before he’d speak to me long enough to get your number.”

            “Maybe you shouldn’t have said that thing about his five-hole,” Ryan commented, and Alex laughed.

            “There is that. Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me. And Subban. And possibly Jones.”

            “Fuck no, Galchenyuk, you tell Seth Jones anything about this I will come to fucking Montréal and find you.”

            “Bye, Nugent-Hopkins.”

            “Fuck you!” Ryan yelled into the phone before hanging up.

            “Nuge?” Ryan looked up to see that Taylor and Jordan had come out of the ice cream place and were looking at him curiously. “You okay?”

            “Fine,” Ryan said with a sigh.

            “Who was it?”

            “Alex Galchenyuk.” Taylor and Jordan exchanged shocked looks, and Ryan explained. “Nail told him about us.”

            “And he called you?” Ryan nodded. “How the hell did he get your number?”

            “Malcolm Subban has some major explaining to do,” Ryan said, flicking through his address book to the S’s as they headed down the street towards Taylor and Jordan’s apartment.

            “So you’re boning Yakupov,” Malcolm said when he answered the phone.

            “Fuck you,” Ryan groaned. “And fuck Galchenyuk, too, just for good measure.”

            “Hey, hey, Nuge, you might swing that way, but Galy and I don’t, so I think you’re shit out of-”

            “Oh, shut the fuck up,” Ryan said irritably. “And for your information, what Nail and I do is not in the least your business.”

            “So he’s Nail now, is he?” Malcolm said aptly. “I see.”

            “Seriously though,” Ryan said. “You tell anybody—and I mean anybody, I definitely include your loudmouth brother on that list—I will make your life a living hell all the way from Edmonton. Okay?”

            “Like I’d tell PK,” Malcolm said, pretending to be offended. “Pernell Karl can’t keep his mouth shut about anything, and even if he is hetero life mates with Price, I don’t think he even understands how gay sex works. Wouldn’t breathe a word to him.” There was a beat of silence. “Dougie, though, he’s a total possibility.”

            “Really? I’d rather you told PK than Dougie. The last fucking thing I need—like, ever—is Seguin calling me up with gay sex advice.” That made both Taylor and Jordan double over with laughter.

            “He will fuck anything that moves,” Malcolm said through his own set of stitches. “He’d give great advice. He practically has his own gay harem.”

            “I have other sources,” Ryan said. “Sources with one hundred percent less herpes.”

            “Yeah, tell Hall and Eberle I say hi.” Ryan’s back stiffened.

            “Didn’t say it was them.”

            “Oh, come on, Nuge, do you think I’m stupid?” Malcolm scoffed. “They’re, like, hiding in plain sight. Very gay plain sight. One of them should just put a ring on it by now, everyone fucking knows.” Ryan looked over at Taylor and Jordan, who were walking along a little closer than friends would, trading smiles and quietly talking about whether or not Tyler Seguin had herpes.

            “Just because everyone knows doesn’t mean you can talk about it,” Ryan said in a fierce, low voice. “Did Nail tell Galchenyuk?”

            “Fuck if I know. I heard from PK.” That made Ryan feel a lot better. It was one thing for Nail to tell Alex about their relationship; if he’d outed Taylor and Jordan, Ryan would have had to deal with things completely differently, probably involving Nail getting punched. Ryan had very little tolerance with people messing with his friends. “Calm down,” Malcolm said, reading his mind. “If there’s one person out there who knows shit about staying in the closet, it’s Yakupov. He wouldn’t do that.”

            “He’s still getting talked to,” Ryan said grimly, and Malcolm sighed.

            “Just, you know, don’t flip out at him? He’s confused, and probably scared shitless. I get the impression he talked to Galy because he doesn’t really have anyone else to talk to. Also, just so you know, Galy’s ready to drive to Edmonton and kill you with his bare hands if you hurt his bro. He made that very clear to me.”

            “I’m not going to hurt his bro,” Ryan said wearily as they stopped in front of the door to Taylor and Jordan’s apartment and Jordan fumbled in his pocket for the keys. “I do need to talk to him, though.”

            “Yeah, you guys need to have a real deep conversation, sounds like,” Malcolm said. “Good luck with that.”

            “Thanks,” Ryan said dryly.

            Forty-five minutes later, Ryan knocked on the door of Nail’s apartment.

            “Coming,” called a voice from inside, and a few moments later, the door was opened by Nail, wearing pajama pants and an abused Team Russia T-shirt. “Hello!”

            “Hi,” Ryan said, managing a weak smile.

            “What is up?” Nail asked as he stepped back to let Ryan in.

            “We need to talk,” Ryan said as he leaned down to scratch Khadi behind the ears. Nail suddenly looked nervous.


            “Yeah,” Ryan said. “You know, I don’t really mind you talking to a friend or two about the fact that we’re hooking up, but I would really, really prefer that if I’m going to get a phone call from an overprotective Alex Galchenyuk I have some kind of warning.”

            “What?” Nail demanded, looking simultaneously horrified, embarrassed, and furious. “Alex what?”

            “I’m guessing you didn’t know, then.”

            “No.” Nail was cracking his knuckles by then. “Did not know. What he say?”
            “A lot of things.” Ryan was watching Nail closely. “He seems to think that you…that you’re in love with me.” Rather than protest, Nail’s whole face fell, and he suddenly looked almost forlorn. “Nail?”

            “That what Alex say.” Nail’s voice was dull. “Ah.”

            “Oh, fuck, it’s true, isn’t it?” Ryan said, sitting down on Nail’s couch more because his knees had just given out than for any valid reason.

            “What difference?” Nail demanded, his voice shifting from dull to angry on a dime. “What difference it makes, true or no true? I ask for nothing. I look for—for nothing. What-”

            “Christ, Nail, can you shut up for a second so I can process this?” Ryan asked wearily. Nail stood there, lips pressed into a line, looking furious and miserable, and Ryan looked up at him. “I’m not in love with you.”

            “Out,” Nail said, pointing at the door and looking like he was barely managing not to cry. “Out now.” Ryan didn’t move.

            “No.” He took a deep breath. “Because I like you. I really, really like you, a lot. More and differently than I’ve ever liked anyone else.” He watched Nail’s face closely, desperately hoping to see understanding dawn. “Do you get what I’m saying?”

            “Explain more,” Nail said, but he didn’t look on the edge of tears any more. Instead, he looked almost hopeful.

            “I don’t love you,” Ryan said, trying to figure out how to condense the swirling mess of emotions in his chest into words Nail would comprehend, words Nail would believe. “Up until about a month ago, you annoyed the shit out of me, frankly. But I…I want to see what happens,” he said, looking up at Nail as earnestly as he could. “I want to see, because I do like you a whole fucking lot, and I’m not promising you anything, but I want to see what happens. This is so fucking new to me, in so many ways, and I know it’s new to you too, and I don’t want to tell you that I love you because I know it’s what you want to hear. When I tell you that I love you, I want to fucking mean it, to really be certain that it’s true, and I’m not there yet.”

            “Yet,” Nail said, watching Ryan carefully. “You say yet.”

            “Do you know what it means?”

            “Yes. Means—will be later-” Ryan grinned up at him, nodding as he stood up and walked over to where Nail was standing, reaching out to rest his hands on Nail’s hips and tug him forward.

            “Come here,” he said, but Nail didn’t move, putting his hands on Ryan’s shoulders to hold him off. “Nail?”

            “Never…” Nail looked like he was struggling to enunciate a concept in English. “Never—ah, fuck, no words,” he said, frustrated.

            “Shh,” Ryan said, reaching out for him again. “It’s okay. You’re upset.” Nail batted his hands away.

            “I love you,” he said, and there was such raw honesty in his tone that Ryan’s knees went rubbery again. “Cannot—cannot pretend, cannot forget now, is said.” Ryan nodded.

            “I know. And I want to hear you tell me that every fucking day. Just give me some fucking time, Nail, I care about you too much to fuck this up by being halfway honest.” He took a deep breath. “You said you asked for nothing, and that’s true. I’m asking for you to be patient. Please.” Nail stared at him for a long moment, eyes dark and unfathomable, and Ryan was about to beg some more when Nail took a step forward and then his mouth was on Ryan’s.

            The kiss knocked Ryan cold. It was a lot like their first one—messy and untutored and fierce—but this had an edge of desperation that was new, desperation and uncertainty. Nail’s hands were holding onto Ryan’s shoulders, gripping for dear life, and Ryan wrapped his arms around Nail and kissed him back fervently, trying to pour as much reassurance as he could into it. Eventually, Nail pulled back, and Ryan didn’t let him step away, tightening his hold.

            “No you fucking don’t,” he said, his voice ragged, and then he kissed Nail again. When they broke apart once more Nail didn’t try to get out of Ryan’s grip, and the look on his face made Ryan breathe a sigh of relief. He was smiling—faintly, but that was a definite, genuine, non-sarcastic smile.

            “Okay,” Nail said, looking up at him. “Patient.”

            “Great,” Ryan said, aware he sounded incredibly relieved. “Fucking great.”

            “Okay, too much feeling talk,” Nail said, his voice going very businesslike suddenly. “Want blowjob?”

            “You sure as hell know the way to a man’s heart,” Ryan said, allowing Nail to pull back enough to grab his hand and lead him through his apartment towards his bedroom. Nail shot him a wordless grin over his shoulder, and Ryan sighed, shaking his head with a smile.

            A few weeks passed, thankfully without any threatening phone calls from Alex, and Ryan could feel that yet growing closer and closer. Everything Nail had done that Ryan had used to find grating, he was now finding endearing, and had started just outright blowing his friends off on a regular basis to spend time with Nail. Even Justin had come to a grudging acceptance of the two of them, although it had taken Jordan and Taylor having a private conversation with him to calm him down after Taylor let it slip.           

            “I guess that’s okay,” he’d said finally, after apologizing to Ryan for calling his boyfriend a fucking Russkie. “He hurts you, though…”

            “Yeah, yeah, if we break up you and Galchenyuk can have a bitchfight,” Ryan said on a sigh. “I get it.”

            “I’d win,” Justin said defensively.

            “No comment,” Ryan told him, and then Justin hit him.

            “Ryan?” It was a few nights after this conversation. They had just gotten home from a marathon nine-game road trip, and Ryan was over at Nail’s for the night. They were sprawled out in bed, having just exchanged lazy handjobs, and Ryan was contemplating sleep when Nail spoke.

            “Yeah?” Ryan turned his head so he could dot a row of kisses along Nail’s collarbone.

            “Can we, ah, sex?” Ryan froze, before slowly lifting his head to look Nail in the face.

            “What?” He was suddenly wide awake. Nail looked away, clearly embarrassed.

            “Never mind.”

            “Hey, no,” Ryan said, pressing a quick kiss to the corner of Nail’s mouth. “You want to fuck me, huh?” Now Nail looked back at him, eyes wide, and Ryan grinned. “I’ve thought about it too.”

            “Can we-” Nail began, and Ryan nodded.

            “Of course we can.” He put his head back down on Nail’s shoulder. “Not tonight, though.”

            “No,” Nail said, but the happiness he was feeling came across clearly in his voice. “But soon.”

            It was the next evening when Ryan booted up his laptop in his room and started looking around for gay porn.

            He knew some details about gay sex already. He knew that it involved lube, because he’d been witness to some rather scarring conversations between Taylor and Jordan concerning whose turn it was to buy the stuff at the grocery store, and a quick perusal of a few how-to articles had explained to him the necessity of fingering first, but Ryan was a visual learner. He pulled up an innocuous-looking clip and grabbed a notepad, intent on gleaning as much information as he could from something entitled “Horny twink takes it up the ass.”

            He’d gotten halfway through the 20-minute clip when he groaned, put the pen down, and somewhat reluctantly shoved his hand down the front of his pajama pants. It wasn’t the porn itself that was turning him on, really—although it certainly wasn’t helping—it was the fact that his brain kept replacing the two guys with disturbingly big cocks on the screen with himself and Nail. He hadn’t quite realized how desperately he wanted Nail Yakupov to fuck him until he couldn’t get the image of getting bent over some disgusting porn-set couch out of his mind.

            “What?” It was a few days later, and Nail was staring at Ryan like he’d gone completely insane.

            “We should watch porn together,” Ryan said, aware that he was using the same upbeat and enthusiastic tone his camp counselors had always employed when trying to sell an activity. “You know. It’ll give us a better idea of what to do.”

            “Porn,” Nail said carefully. “Together. For idea.”

            “Yeah. Come on, I bookmarked a couple good ones and brought my laptop.” Nail gave him a funny look.

            “You have problem? Watch porn all the time?” he asked, and Ryan glared.

            “I thought you wanted to have sex. I’m doing all the legwork here, the least you could do is watch porn with me.”

            “Is…you make hard,” Nail said. “Not hard.”

            “Look, it’s easy for you, you’ll be the one sticking it in,” Ryan told him. “I want to do this, don’t get me wrong, but I’m kind of freaking out at the same time, so could you just watch the damn thing with me? It’ll make me feel better.” Nail rolled his eyes, but he was smiling.

            “Okay, get laptop,” he said, climbing onto the bed and propping some pillows up against the headboard. “Will watch.”

            They got the laptop set up the same way it was when they watched movies in bed together, and Nail leaned back against the pillows as Ryan started the first clip. It started off with just kissing, a lot of wet, dirty kissing.

            “Think we know this, Ryan,” Nail said, glancing over at him. “Hurry up?” Obligingly, Ryan leaned over to fast forward, and they ended up right in the middle of the blowjob scene. He saw Nail swallow, visibly, transfixed by the screen, and leaned back on the pillows, watching Nail rather than the computer. “Know this, too,” Nail said eventually, although his voice was a little hoarse.

            “Okay,” Ryan said mildly, clicking forward again, and he watched as Nail’s mouth fell slightly open, eyes big and round. “See, that’s the fingering bit, that’s the first thing you’ll need to do to me,” Ryan said, and Nail nodded, eyes glued to the screen. “You want me to fast-forward through this part too?” Ryan asked teasingly, and Nail shook his head without looking over. Ryan kept one eye on Nail and one eye on the computer as the couple onscreen finished with fingers and then assumed what looked like a rather precarious position with one of them kneeling on the couch and the other standing. As the two of them actually started to fuck, Ryan saw Nail swallow again, and realized that not only were his hands clenched into fists but there was some serious tenting going on in the front of his pajama pants. “Any questions?” Ryan asked, more as a joke than anything else, but then Nail looked over at him.

            “Want to fuck you,” he said, his voice low and rough enough to make all of Ryan shiver.

            “Now?” Ryan asked unsteadily, because he wasn’t sure he was prepared mentally for that, but Nail nodded.

            “Now.” Ryan glanced back at the laptop as he took a deep breath, imagining Nail doing that to him, and then found himself nodding.

            “Do you have lube and condoms?” Nail’s face fell, and Ryan knew the answer. “We kind of need those.”

            “Be back soon,” Nail said, getting up and yanking on a pair of jeans.

            “Nail-” But he was already jamming shoes on and out the door.

            Nail returned fifteen minutes later, walking into the bedroom and dropping a plastic bag on the bed. Ryan looked up from the computer, where he’d been doing some extra research on the Internet.

            “That it?” Ryan asked, closing the laptop and putting it down on the nightstand, and Nail nodded.

            “Check, make sure,” he said, and Ryan opened the bag to see a bottle of K-Y and a box of Trojans.

            “Great,” he said, taking the supplies out of the bag and putting them down on the nightstand too, tossing the bag onto the floor. He looked up at Nail, who was still standing there, staring at him almost hungrily. “Nail?”


            “Can we…go slow?” Ryan would have died before admitting it, but he was just as scared as eager, and Nail seemed to see this.

            “Do not have to do,” he said, frowning. “I want, but if you no-” He broke off when Ryan stood up and peeled off his shirt, before stepping forward.

            “Kiss me,” he said, shooting for commanding and failing. It didn’t much matter as Nail curled a hand around the back of his neck and tugged him down. They stood there and kissed for a very long time, slow and easy, Ryan’s hands on Nail’s shoulders and Nail’s thumbs rubbing familiar circles on Ryan’s hipbones. “Nail,” Ryan said eventually, pulling back a bit, “we should, um…”

            “Bed?” Nail asked, clearly trying to keep his voice neutral but with hope showing through. Ryan just had to kiss him again for that.

            “Yeah, bed.”

            Once they stripped naked and got on the bed, Ryan was expecting Nail to reach for the lube immediately. Instead, he rolled on top of Ryan and kissed him some more, deep and thorough, his fingers carding through Ryan’s hair in a sweetly intimate way as his hips moved against Ryan’s. It didn’t take long at all for Ryan to be arching up into Nail’s body, whining little pleas for more in the back of his throat. Nail didn’t stop, just kept kissing him, the gentle rolls of his hips not enough to do more than tease, until Ryan was so keyed up he was having trouble remembering what he’d been so nervous about. It was then that Nail broke the kiss to whisper in his ear.

            “Now?” And Ryan found himself nodding.

            “Yes, yes, please.” He heard Nail swear softly in Russian as he sat up and grabbed the lube off the nightstand, and when Ryan closed his eyes and spread his legs Nail swore again, louder, this time in English. “Fuck.”

            “That is the idea,” Ryan said breathlessly as he heard Nail messing around with the lube.

            “Look good,” Nail said, resting one hand on Ryan’s thigh as he slowly slid a finger inside. “Pretty.” Ryan tried to find it in himself to be annoyed that Nail had just called him pretty while prepping him for gay sex, but the way he was working his finger in and out of Ryan was too distracting to let him muster up any irritation. Also, Nail’s English was hardly flawless when he wasn’t rock hard and very much otherwise occupied. “Is okay?”

            “Try another,” Ryan said, and obligingly Nail eased in a second. Ryan bit his lip, opening his eyes, to see that Nail was watching him closely.


            “Okay,” Ryan told him, trying to make sure his voice didn’t crack in the middle of trying to be reassuring. “Um, you should add a third.” Nail did so, and Ryan sucked in a breath. There was the burn he’d been expecting.

            “Ah!” Nail froze, and Ryan grabbed his wrist to keep him from pulling his fingers out.

            “No, no, don’t stop,” he ordered, because Ryan knew that if they stopped now he would never get up the guts to try it again.

            “You sure?” Nail asked, and Ryan nodded.

            “Just, you know, if you found my prostate sooner rather than later, that would be good,” he said, and Nail looked a little confused. “Feel around,” Ryan told him, and obediently Nail started to curl and scissor his fingers. It didn’t take very long for him to brush up against something that made Ryan gasp, hands fisting in the comforter. Nail paused, and then he pressed against that spot again, much more deliberately. “Holy shit,” Ryan breathed, closing his eyes again as Nail started to rub there.

            “Good?” Nail asked, but the smugness in his voice said that he already knew.

            “Y-yes,” Ryan managed, and Nail leaned down to kiss him before pulling out his fingers. Ryan rolled over and got up on his hands and knees, spreading his legs, and he could hear Nail putting on one of the condoms and slicking himself up.

            “Love you,” Nail said, just as Ryan felt a sudden pressure that had him biting his lip again, and before he could respond Nail pushed in. All Ryan could do after that was moan. “Ryan?” Nail’s voice was tight but worried. “Okay?”

            “Fuck me,” Ryan panted, because he sure as hell wasn’t turning back now, and Nail made a relieved noise and thrust, once, hitting Ryan’s prostate on the first try.

            Ryan screamed.

            “Oh, fuck, there!” And then Nail was moving in earnest, pressing against that spot over and over, and Ryan was babbling, sobbing out Nail’s name in desperate want and thanks. He was so overwhelmed with how good it felt—it was somewhere beyond good, it was like every nerve in his body was alive with pure sensation—that it took him a few minutes to realize that Nail was talking again, gasping out words in Russian as he fucked Ryan’s brains out. When Nail grabbed Ryan’s cock and started to jack it roughly Ryan found himself actually struggling to breathe, let alone think, and his words switched over to broken, delirious moans. Nail said something in Russian, his voice ragged but commanding, and thrust back in just hard enough to push Ryan over the edge, coming shouting Nail’s name with Nail buried deep inside him.

            He lay there facedown on the bed, trying to come down from the clouds, when he felt Nail sprawl out next to him and kiss his shoulderblade. Ryan turned his head to smile sleepily at him, and Nail smiled back.

            “Good?” he asked, clearly trying not to seem nervous. Ryan rolled over on his back and stretched.

            “Very good,” he said, smiling up at Nail. “Very, very, very good.” Nail leaned down to kiss him.

            “No hurt?” Ryan shifted a little, evaluating the answer to that very question.

            “A little,” he said. “Not badly.” He suspected he’d be sore in the morning, but that wasn’t something Nail needed to hear about right then. Nail was looking for reassurance that he hadn’t broken Ryan, which Ryan was only too happy to provide. Nail nestled in under Ryan’s arm, kissing Ryan’s chest, cuddly and affectionate like he always got after coming.

            “Love you,” he said sleepily, and Ryan’s fingers paused and tightened where they had been running through his hair. Confused, Nail lifted his head. “Ryan?” Ryan took a deep breath.

            “Ya lyublyu tebya,” he said carefully, the Russian phrase he had taught himself from Google Translate while Nail was at the pharmacy so that there would be absolutely no question in Nail’s mind exactly what he was saying. Ryan wanted no ambiguity with this, no chance for a mistaken meaning. Nail stared at him, mouth hanging slightly open, and Ryan felt the sinking feeling of doubt. “Nail?”
            “Say again,” Nail told him, and Ryan licked his lips and repeated himself.
            “Ya lyublyu tebya.” Nail closed his eyes for a second, and when he opened them again he was smiling, wide and overjoyed.
            “Accent, is shit,” he said, and Ryan punched him in the upper arm.

            “I’m baring my fucking soul to you and you’re making fun of my-” Nail cut him off with a kiss.

            “Ya tozhe tebya lyublyu,” he told Ryan when they broke apart, and all Ryan could do was smile.

            The next morning, as Ryan cooked eggs for a still-sleeping Nail, he dug out his phone and dialed Alex Galchenyuk.

            “What?” Alex answered the phone rudely. “Whoever you are, make it quick, I’m a busy man.”

            “Thank you,” Ryan told him.

            “Nugent-Hopkins? What the fuck do you want?”
            “I told you. Thank you.” There was a brief silence from Alex’s end. “Galchenyuk?”

            “Do I want to know what you’re thanking me for?” Alex asked eventually, and Ryan grinned to himself.

            “I’m sure Nail will tell you soon enough.”

            “Oh, God,” Alex groaned. “This involves assfucking, doesn’t it.”

            “Of course it does,” Ryan said. “I just wanted to thank you for calling me up and threatening me. It really fucking helped.”

            “That threat stands, you know,” Alex said, although he seemed a little amused now. “I will kill you, and make it look like a horrible accident. Something embarrassing, too. Give me time and I’ll think of it.”

            “You don’t have to kill me,” Ryan said as Nail came out of the bedroom, blinking and yawning. “I’m learning Russian.”

            “Get the fuck off my phone,” Alex said tolerantly, and Ryan laughed and hung up.

            “Who?” Nail asked as he walked over to inspect the eggs Ryan was cooking.

            “Galchenyuk,” Ryan said. “I was calling to thank him.” Nail gave Ryan a very impressive side-eye.

            “Thank Alex.”

            “Yeah. Partly genuinely, but mostly just to dick around with him.” Nail cracked up at that, before pulling Ryan down into a kiss.

            “Act young,” he said, and Ryan grinned at him.

            “I’m nineteen.”

            “Me too. Excuse,” Nail said accusingly, and Ryan just laughed.