Steven has always done what was expected of him, whether he wanted to or not. It seemed like he's had expectations laid on him since the time he could walk. Work hard, do well, and be the best. Even hearing the Lightning call his name first at the 2008 Draft came with it's own set of expectations, and even after five years he couldn't shake the feeling that he was being saddled with the burdon of saving an entire franchise. Constantly trying to live up to what everyone thinks you should be - and being scrutinized when you don't - was exhausting.
That's why when Teddy asked Steven to head out for some drinks after their game against the Rangers, he didn't hesitate. He thought the time spent with his friends in a crowded bar where people were too drunk to even know who they were, let alone who he was, would be just the thing to occupy his over worked mind. On paper, it sounded great, but in reality, it felt anything but.
The small group Steven had planned on venturing out with had grown considerably, because of course Teddy couldn't go anywhere without Bugsy, and even a few Rangers had managed to show up. The atmosphere in the bar ended up being a loud mixture of conversations, all of which Steven tuned out in favor of retreating into his own mind.
Shortly after they had arrived, Teddy had wandered towards the pool table with Brian Boyle, and Bugsy had found some random blond to chat up in the corner. That left Steven sitting alone at the bar, trying to muddle through one of the worst beers he's ever tasted, and feeling stranded on the island of his own oppressive thoughts. He tried to push it all aside as he wearily shifted his gaze over the room, but looking around the crowd brought Steven's mind to the one person he wished was there, and just how empty it all felt without him, despite all the bodies crammed into the small confines of the bar. All this sent his mind back to the subject of expectations.
No one had expected Steven to fall for Steve Downie, but he had. And after three years of having Steve in his life at every second, Steven was just expected to take it on the chin when a trade had shipped him off to Colorado. Then he was supposed to just sit by and wait patiently until he could see Steve again in the off season, not even so much as looking at someone else in the mean time. He was expected to stay true to one person, without any guarantee that they were doing the same.
Steven tried to pull himself from his churning thoughts, and turned on his barstool to survey the room. Teddy and Brian were still playing pool, and judging by that same high pitched voice that always escaped Teddy when he was in disbelief, Brian was either winning or cheating. Bugsy was nowhere to be found, and Steven just assumed he had taken his newest conquest outside.
Steven was just about to slide off his barstool, and make his way over to Teddy with some bullshit excuse about needing to call it a night, when he saw a familiar face that caught his eye. What struck him first was the fact that no matter how many times he had seen Michael, just the mere sight of him always took his breath away and caused his heart to race. He couldn't help but stare at him from across the room, and let his mind take him back to the memories of Michael's lips pressed against his, or skating over his skin. It had been awhile, but Steven still remembered the storm of passion that would flash in Micheal's deep brown eyes, or the way Michael's skin felt under his trembling fingers. Steven knew every inch of Michael well, he had dragged his fingers along the ragged scar on his side, and had let his tongue explore every part of him. It was all a luxury that Steven hadn't experienced in awhile, but there were some memories time just couldn't erase.
If Steven hadn't spun back around to face the bar at just that moment, he probably would've jumped up and stalked towards where Michael was standing in the corner, alone with nothing but a long neck beer bottle cradled in his hand. All he could do instead was stare down meekly at the bar, praying that Michael hadn't noticed him. He immediately felt horrible for wishing that one of his closest friends would remain oblivious to his presence, but the truth was, Steven knew that if he found himself face to face with Michael, he'd end up either baring his body or his soul. Neither of those things sounded like a smart idea at the time. Fun? Absolutely. Smart? Not so much.
Steven continued to stare down at the bar, trailing his fingers along the wood grain, until he felt the hard bump of someone's shoulder against his, and heard the sounds of a smooth voice that he didn't even know he missed.
"Hey, Stam. I didn't know you were here."
Steven looked up to meet Micheal's rich, dark eyes, and offered him a weak smile, which of course he saw right through. The radiant expression that had been plastered on Michael's face just seconds earlier had started to fade, only to be replaced with concern.
"Something wrong, man?"
Steven didn't say anything, just shrugged and shot his eyes back down to the bar, resuming the nervous movements of trailing his finger along the wood. He let his mind play on just how easy it would be to forget everything, every single ounce of stress that had been plaguing him, and leave the bar with Micheal. For a few hours, he could just be himself. No contracts, no endorsements, no losing season, and no boyfriend on the opposite side of the country.
"Have you ever wished you were just a normal person, DZ? Just another face in the crowd, no one expecting a damn thing from you?" Steven wasn't even planning on saying anything, but the words escaped him before he could stop them. There was just something about being around Michael that made him feel safe. Steven didn't even have to look at Michael to know the expression that would be playing over his face at those words, but he wanted to none the less. He shot his gaze towards Michael, just in time to see him cock an eyebrow, and set his lips in a tight frown. Michael's eyes shifted, searching Steven's face.
"You wanna talk about it?"
There was so many things Steven wanted to do in that instant, all of them involved Michael, and none of them involved talking. He was tired of always doing what was expected of him.
"Let's get out of here, DZ."