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Milan has never swum with a shark. But as he goes through the motion of putting his pen to each page again and again and again, with Peter’s heavy hand on his back and oil-slick voice in his ear, it’s the image that’s sticking. His head jerks in a nod for Peter to turn to the next page. There’s calm above, flailing below. Peter’s already dragged him beneath the surface.

 

He knows Peter, trusts Peter in the uncomfortable way that you trust a used car salesman, handing over your money and hoping for the best with full knowledge that it could end up the worst. Maybe that’s unfair, because in the end it wasn’t Peter who sent him to LA to build back his life for a late round pick. That was all fucking Donnie, who treats sincerity like it’s an abstract concept. With Peter you know what you’re getting, mostly, until you don’t, but Milan is one to find solidarity in what he can. It was Peter’s first move as general manager, to pluck him from a crop of hundreds just like him. He and Peter got their names engraved on the Cup together. He and Peter got tossed out like yesterday’s rotten meat together.

 

His smile feels more like a distortion of gladness. A sense of relief mixed with dread, as he struggles into the blue and orange sweater. He doesn’t call it a sick uni this time, and covers his annoyance with a big goofy laugh when it fucks up his hair. Milan bares his teeth but not his soul.

 

Peter’s a genius with the narrative though. What a brilliant move, having Milan, just signed for seven years as a part of the Oilers' promising future that’s been hinted at and salivated over for the last half decade, put on his jersey and pose in the forefront of the Rogers Place construction. Literal bricks and beams to build a hockey palace lie in heaps, ready to take shape below him.

 

This is your future.

 

So he’s got to stop dreaming of windswept coastlines and the brine-riddled smell of the sea.

 

“A couple of interviews will be coming up. NHL.com. Some local Edmonton press,” says Peter as they walk back to Milan’s car that will take him to the airport and home to Vancouver. “You know I trust you. Just stay on point. Stay on brand.”

 

“Right, and that’s -”

 

Peter nods and presses his fingers into Milan’s shoulder. It’s sharp and it hurts, because there’s a meanness to Peter that’s raw and instinctual. Shark-like, in fact. “McDavid.” He says it like Milan’s being stupid. “You can’t wait to play with him. He’s the future of the franchise and the future of the NHL. You couldn’t pass up that chance.”

 

“Oh, sure.” Milan nods. “And also that it’s closer to my family. And a great organization. And I know you from Boston.”

 

“If you want. But it’s mainly McDavid.” Peter makes the motion of smiling but never quite achieves it, and rubs the bridge of his nose. The silicon pads on his tiny glasses have made barely visible dents there on his face, that you couldn’t see unless you were as close as Milan. Milan stares at them, and not at Peter’s pale beady eyes.

 

“And so we may have some PR to do, some camps or that kind of thing, to introduce you to the community. We’ll see. I’ll be in touch,” Peter says.

 

There’s a handshake and a tepid wave through sepia-tinted glass and when he’s finally cleared the city and driving south to the airport, Milan feels like he’s escaped the deluge of Peter’s publicity, Peter's insistent weight holding him under, and he can breathe.

 

Later, once he is back at home, with his feet propped up on the ottoman, wearing a threadbare shirt that reads Stanley Cup Champions that no one will ever see now, he answers questions for over ten minutes with the NHL Network on the phone. He talks about the strength of the organization, how it’s professional and classy, just like Boston, just like LA. He talks about his excitement to play for Canadian fans in a Canadian city who are passionate about their hockey. He talks about the kid.

 

He stays on brand.

 

***

 

When Oilers PR calls with an opportunity to do a clinic at a mini camp with some kids whose parents paid a bunch of money, in the Canadian Rockies west of Edmonton, he doesn’t say no. Instead he gets on the phone to Peter and insists, “I want McDavid to be there. I want to meet him.”

 

Peter balks. “We were thinking you and Andrew. Someone familiar. He can ease you in and it’ll be comfortable for you both.”

 

“Sure. That’s so awesome and I’m really excited to do the mini camp with Fer,” Milan says, keeping his voice steady and mature and really professional. He and Peter have been out of each other’s orbit for a year, but there are still pre-conceived notions about how this relationship here is going to go. He’s always found it’s best to exceed expectations. “I just want to get a chance to talk to him, before camp and all the other guys show up. You made me say I’m here to play with him. It would be great to actually meet the guy I’m supposedly wild about.”

 

“Okay, okay, fair enough,” Peter chuckles. He must be in a charitable mood. “I’ll see if I can get him. He may not be able to stay for the camp, he’s got other obligations too. But maybe he could come out on the weekend, a few days ahead of it, and you can get your meeting.”

 

And whatever pressure Peter is able to exert must have worked because now Connor McDavid is here, stretched out on a padded lounger by the truly spectacular pool. He’s texting on his phone and shakes hands perfunctorily in greeting after Milan says, “Hey man,” and plops down on the chair next to him. If Milan didn’t know, if he were just any of the billions of people on the planet who don’t give a fuck about hockey, he would never pick this unassuming teenager as the savior of the NHL. Connor’s wearing sweatpants cut into shorts and ratty flip flops, and his face is still soft and his eyes are still wide. His mouth looks like a ribbon of pink, a bow pulled slightly askew. There are no scars there, not yet.

 

“Cool hat,” Milan notes, and something about the green symbol strikes him as familiar.

 

“Tyler gave it to me,” says Connor.

 

There’s a flutter of a memory, caught on the edge of his brain, about Tyler Bozak but Milan’s not sure, so he just nods until Connor says, “We were at BioSteel camp last month. You’re friends with him, right?”

 

“Oh.” Milan pauses. The urge is to say yes , because it’s easy and at one time, it was a version of the truth. Milan isn’t exactly an old guy now so he wasn’t the old guy then, on a team full of old guys. Segs was their messiah in waiting, their superstar-to-be. He imagines that the little he and Segs had in common five years ago means there’s even less for him and Connor to have now.

 

Maybe Connor is the kind of guy who considers everybody on the team his friend, overly affectionate and attached to his small circle of comrades on the ice, who texts and calls and extends invites for movies.

 

Milan is not that guy. He likes to think he had a form of friendship, with Fer and Horty definitely, and he had closeness of some kind with all of his Boston teammates. He could’ve possibly had it with Alec or Kopi. There’s a dull hurt instead of warmth and fuzziness when he dwells on it now. So he tries not to remember what it felt like to have Soupy pressing close against his side, crowded on the couch at Thanksgiving or how Horty would meet his eyes through the throng of players after their line scored a goal and smile at him. How he wanted to fashion that look into something tangible to stow away in his pocket, to possess it and hold onto how vital it felt.

 

He’s not a creepy moody loner all the time. But Segs isn’t someone he calls, or even thinks of to call. Teammates are just teammates in the end sometimes, people who you can count on for a pass or a blocked shot or a timely hit, and that’s probably the most important thing anyway.

 

“We were teammates,” Milan finally tells him.

 

“Cool,” Connor says, and returns to his phone.

 

Milan sighs and leans back. The Rockies loom in the distance, beautiful and ominous in contrast with the soft wave of pines, the turquoise glitter of the lake, the artificial calm of the pool. It feels like rain.

 

***

 

It was foolish, definitely, to have believed he was going to stay forever among the colonial bricks and craggy beaches of Massachusetts, wrapped in the fierce love of his Boston teammates, the only place he had ever been.

 

It was foolish, probably, to have longed to make a home among the bowed palm trees and rolling surf of Los Angeles, to have thought he could establish something lasting in a place so golden and gauzy that it never seemed real. Truly moving on came slowly and he was almost over the sting when he arrived in February back in Boston. It was bittersweet and painful to pour out his feelings to the Players’ Tribune, to catch up with Krej and see a picture of his kid, to hear them chant his name at the Garden like he had been gone a lifetime.

 

Being with Andrew Ference feels like being stuck, halfway between the past and future, because he was such a tremendous part of one, and now possibly part of the other. He arrives with long hugs and backslapping and takes Milan and Connor to a brewpub in the quaint rustic downtown the night before the first day of the camp.

 

“I’m sad I didn’t get to do the personal introduction of you two,” Andrew says as they settle into the booth. “But I’m just so happy. I told you, Looch, but I didn’t get to tell Connor yet how awesome I think this is.” He picks up his beer and gestures in a makeshift toast at Milan, for Connor’s benefit. “The two of you here together. One of the greatest competitors and teammates you could hope for. And Connor, our team’s captain!” He laughs, as warm and genuine as Milan remembers, and sips his beer.

 

“Future captain, if they offer and if I accept,” corrects Connor, but he’s smiling now and clearly comfortable around Andrew. He’s relaxed back into the booth and is leaning into Andrew's casually draped arm.

 

Milan smiles without his teeth and regards them. They make a pretty picture, one of the smartest, most passionate people Milan has ever known, and this golden boy with a big grin and friendly laugh for his captain. He moves his pint glass in circles on the table and watches it catch the condensation and shift on its own, just barely.

 

Andrew must sense the disquiet because he wags a finger. “Don’t do it Looch.”

 

“Don’t do what,” Milan laughs.

 

“You’re overthinking. God, I can almost see the wheels turning in your head. This isn’t Boston, even though I’m sure you’re thinking about Peter. I had to get over shit too. He told me thanks for my service every day in Boston for the past six years and said goodbye to me, and then showed up here, two years later.”

 

“I don’t have shit to get over about Peter,” Milan says softly, and when he looks up, Connor is looking back at him now, paying attention.

 

“You have shit to get over about Don. And you have a lot that you’re still hanging onto. And I don’t know if it’s the Bruins or not extending with the Kings, or some combination of both, but this isn’t a death sentence, man.” Andrew catches his eye and looks hard, even though his voice is filled with kindness when he says, “This is your future. And it’s a good one.”

 

When Connor excuses himself to take a call, Andrew kicks Milan under the table. “Hey. He’s a good kid. He’s anxious as hell. But under all those nerves he’s a good leader. So competitive. You’re gonna love playing with him. And I think you’re going to like him too.”

 

“I believe you! You don’t have to keep selling me on everything. I know I’m here. I signed of my own free will.”

 

Andrew nods, thoughtful. “I know. It’s just not the same as really wanting it, though. And for whatever dumb reason, as your friend, and teammate, and brother, I want you to want this.”

 

“I want this,” he repeats, raising his eyebrows and making a face.

 

Andrew is laughing as Connor returns and asks, “What’s so funny?”

 

“Nothing,” Andrew says to him, enveloping Connor in his arm again. “Just Looch. He’s the best. You’ll see.”

 

Alone in his room later Milan stares at the smooth green light of the clock next to his bed. There’s nothing to do. Connor gave an apathetic wave and slipped into his room before Milan could even suggest watching television together, or checking out the bar for a drink. He halfheartedly pulls up some porn on his tablet and palms his cock through his worn out gym shorts with the thought of maybe trying to jerk off. From outside the long glass of the windows he hears a faint splash and wonders if Connor has decided to swim finally. He imagines Connor pushing deep through the water’s resistance, his body launched like a torpedo.

 

He sighs and shimmies out of his shorts, pushing them to his ankles, to stroke himself a little faster, more in earnest. He’s too sober, too broody to do more than lick his palm and close his eyes and start the quick slide of his hand.

 

I want this, he thinks.

 

***

 

This is a typical camp, the kind that Milan has done plenty of times. Day one is meeting the kids, strength and conditioning in the morning, on ice skills and drills in the afternoon.

 

“The kids really like you,” Connor says to him on the ice, when they’re getting ready to demonstrate a skating drill. “One of them was telling me that you’re funny.”

 

Milan shrugs it off with a laugh. “Kids are easy to be around and they think anything is funny. You talk about a poop emoji and they crack up.”

 

Connor smiles back and flips a puck around on the end of his stick. “You were so good at that emoji thing that the Kings made you guys do. That was actually funny. And impressive.”

 

“You watched that?” He feels strangely delighted about it. “It wasn’t hard. You could do it. Plus those other guys are idiots,” he jokes.

 

Connor turns his boyish face to Milan and he looks quietly sad, like he’s resigned himself to some fundamental truth at age nineteen. “I never know what anyone’s talking about when they ask me about pop culture things. This one guy asked me once what my feelings were about some fight on twitter between Taylor Swift and...Nicki Minaj?”

 

“The VMAs,” Milan automatically responds because he fucking knows his Taylor Swift.

 

“Yeah, that I guess. I just said I like country. I don’t really follow all that other stuff.”

 

“Well that’s okay. No one cares about that. Just do what you like and don’t feel bad about it.” Milan pauses. “You’re good at being you,” he says.

 

The kids are starting to pile out onto the ice now, well-fed with a greasy, congealed version of pizza and wobbly on the blades of their skates. The other four coaches have their work cut out for them, herding the tottering new skaters towards the cones and calling for the more advanced skaters to stop showing off and get in line.

 

Andrew glides over, breaking the bubble of intimacy. “Hey. You two.” He taps the back of Milan’s leg with his stick and proposes, “Let’s start off with a race to the goal line, what do you say?”

 

“That sounds fun,” Milan says lightly, skating over to stand in front of his group of little hockey players.

 

“I think you probably owe me beers when we’re back home, when I beat you,” Andrew chirps, and it’s in good humor and usual, but feels oddly placed to Milan right now.

 

He blinks and attempts to chirp back, attempts to make his voice sound cocky like old times. “I think I probably owe you beers for a lot of things but being beaten by you isn’t gonna be one of them.”

 

Andrew throws his head back with laughter. “Yes!” He pumps his fist and turns to the kids, as if they have any idea what’s going on. “There’s the Looch I know!”

 

Milan rolls his eyes a little and nods while Andrew gets the kids psyched up. On his left Connor’s biting his lip, watching, assessing, and Milan’s seen a look like this before, from women at the gym who think he looks familiar but can’t place him, from guys in crowded, anonymous bars who don’t know him from a soccer player or an accountant.

 

“Hey Connor,” he says, and caught, Connor’s eyes snap from being unfocused and dreamy to Milan’s face. “You’re you. And that’s so much. It’s enough.”

 

He means what they were talking about previously, or mainly that. Something about being yourself and being good at it. There’s an unexpected feeling replacing whatever he felt for Connor before: curiosity, promise, reverence. This is darker. More sad and more real and more inviting. And because he’s Milan, he wants in.

 

When the three of them race to the goal line and back, Milan lets Andrew win. Connor’s wicked fast but he knows already how this goes and slows up at the last second so Milan can finish ahead of him too. The kids are all cheering and Milan makes a show of congratulating him. Connor’s face is alive and Milan knows that look too. There’s no consequence to letting himself have it, the nonsensical hope that that look is not because of skating or hockey, but him.

 

This is Connor McDavid for fuck’s sake.

 

***

 

On the second day they stay to sign autographs late into the afternoon. Kids are the best kind of audience, fun and star-struck and comically honest.

 

“I didn’t like you on the Bruins,” one girl reveals only after he signs her McDavid jersey.

 

“Do you think you can like me here?” he asks and watches as she scrunches her nose up. “I could try to win you over.”

 

She eventually smiles, small and innocent, and concedes, “Maybe.”

 

“You handled that really well, that she didn’t like you as a Bruin,” Connor notes as they spill out of the courtesy van back at the resort.

 

“We can’t all be anointed like you.” Milan swipes his keycard for his suite and Connor follows him in, unlike the first night.

 

Connor grumbles, “I’m not. That’s -” he pauses. “That’s just another thing they want me to be.”

 

“Which means it’s true.”

 

It hurts sometimes, to be the thing they want you to be - this isn’t news to Milan. He’s a bruiser, the quintessential power forward, a guy who smashes players through the glass, a guy who would issue a threat before a handshake, a guy who is gritty. Fearless. A big nose and a big ego. A small brain. A smaller soul. To not be any of those things, to be mature and skilled and fucking polite, hockey’s brand of perfection instead, can’t be all bad.

 

“I’m kinda wiped,” Milan says, thinking about dinner. Andrew had understandably ditched to go on a hike with Ava, so tonight there would be no middle-man to make things comfortable for them. “I can maybe make us something to eat here. Or were you thinking we should go out? It’s later than I thought.”

 

Connor’s been staring at the pool, visible from the tall windows. “Whatever you want,” he says without turning around.

 

There’s a bag of salad mix in the fridge. Milan opens a cabinet to find some mismatched bowls, maize and coral colored terracotta, and deep enough for his purposes. It’s a surprise not to have the same perfect ubiquitous white dinnerware that’s in the restaurant at such an impeccable resort, but he likes it. At home he has some dishes with a swirled pattern and scalloped edges that he got as a gift, he’s pretty sure. And these bowls wouldn’t fit in with that collection either, but he says, louder so Connor can hear him, “It’s sort of nice to just eat at home for a change.”

 

He washes his hands and heaps the salad mix into the bowls, along with whatever else he can find in the fridge and the pantry that someone on the Oilers stocked a few days ago. There are walnuts, which he chops, and some avocado, and half a breast of cold chicken, trotted back from the brewpub the other night. At the last minute he remembers a cool thing he learned, from Thorty, back in Boston.

 

He cracks two eggs and drops them in their own shallow coffee cups and salts the water to make a whirlpool bath. Gently, he sets the egg in the center of the swirling water and places the stainless steel cover on the pot. He checks his watch. “Five minutes, no interruptions,” Thorty had said and was meticulous about it. “You would never have this perfection if you had peeked,” he reminded Milan afterwards, breaking open the silky white of the egg to show him. “It’s always worth the wait.”

 

“Is it ready?” Connor interrupts the memory and notices Milan’s faint smile. “Everything good?”

 

“Yeah,” says Milan. “Really good.” He fishes out some forks and knives out of the cutlery drawer to hand to Connor. “There’s just one more thing. A little surprise for the top, to show you that I’m worth having around for my cooking skills. It’s always worth the wait,” he echoes, talking about the egg, sure, and maybe not openly flirting yet, but testing what might be there.

 

Connor flushes and shakes his head. “I’m sure you’re worth it or whatever,” he attempts and Milan puts his hand out, to rub Connor’s shoulder. 

 

“I’m just kidding, Connor,” he points out. “It was stupid. Just ignore me.” Milan uses an oven mitt to lift the top of the saucepan and angles it so that the fluffy round egg slides onto his spoon in one motion. He sets a poached egg on top of the salad for each of them and takes them to the granite countertop bar where Connor has gone to sit. He's playing with the tines on his fork, pricking his skin with the metal in the exact same spot.

 

“Cool,” Connor nods appreciatively, when he sees the salad and the egg, but his mouth turns down, fights against a real smile. “You could show me sometime?”

 

“Sure,” says Milan. Instead of sitting on one of the stools next to Connor, he leans his hip against the lower counter and stays opposite, on the other side of the bar. When he drizzles his salad with some oil and vinegar it seeps from the cruet onto his finger and he licks it off. Connor’s watching him again, not as light and daydreamy as before, and Milan makes a show of using his tongue to trace the oil, and sucking lightly to the knuckle.

 

“I know that Jasper isn’t the height of the Alberta dining scene. Everything’s for tourists. But there are some decent restaurants in Edmonton. It’s not Vancouver or Boston or LA but I think you’ll find something that you like.” Connor is staring at some spot on the kitchen wall, behind Milan’s head now. His voice is still so soft.

 

“Yeah?” Milan asks. “What kind of food is your favorite?”

 

Connor has sliced his egg with his fork and is moving the yellow liquid to let it permeate the greens of his salad. “I like pasta. Good pizza. Italian I guess.”

 

“I miss this place in Boston that I used to go, in my neighborhood,” Milan admits, thinking of Monica’s. “All of us on the team loved it there, it was like a little market that has meats and delicious stuff and the best pizza. I fantasize about it sometimes, it was that good.”

 

“Maybe you’ll take me there, when we play in Boston this year.”

 

"Maybe,” he jokes, expecting it to fall flat again but Connor ducks his head with a smile.

 

“What else did you like about Boston?” Connor asks him.

 

“Everything?”

 

That’s not the truth, but a version of it that’s replaced reality through the years. On some days traffic stretched through the tunnels, across the bridges and seemed endless, and there were confusing rotaries and tourists riding around in duck boats and the summers were too hot, and there was pressure, so much pressure.

 

But there were his Pats, and the charm of his neighborhood awash in pink that could surprise him on just a simple walk around it in the evening, even though he had seen a sunset, of course he had, a hundred times, and a locker room full of expectations and leadership and respect. On any given day, that last memory is it, everything he ever wanted, and it’s the version of reality that he holds onto.

 

“I’m not like some of my teammates,” he says. “They’re planning to live there after they retire, that’s how ingrained the city is to them. I want to be close to my family in Vancouver. I’ve always said that. That’s always been important to me.” After sopping up the last of his egg with the remains of salad, he pushes the bowl aside and leans on his elbows to try and explain. “I don’t know how you feel about Edmonton and the Oilers, it’s only been a year. But Boston was my first adult home and the Bruins were my first family that wasn’t related to me. I grew up there. This probably sounds dumb or naive, but it’s like falling in love with something that loves you back for the first time.”

 

Connor shakes his head quickly. “Not dumb. That stuff that you said, about growing up and falling in love. You didn’t get to choose Boston and I didn’t get to choose the Oilers. But you found something there worth having. I still want that too.”

 

In his career Milan feels light years away from that time when he didn’t know if loving some place meant an ELC and three years or your entire lifetime. All Milan has had until the moment he chose Edmonton was hope. Boston was everything; LA is a blip in comparison now. But that inevitability of knowing you were going to be #1, he’s never had that. And the knowledge that you were going to Edmonton, a place where #1s went to play, and languish, that could’ve been crushing. But this is only the beginning for Connor; there’s still time to fall in love.

 

Suddenly he thinks of Segs, baby-faced and crying, hoisting the Cup at nineteen and not even knowing what he was in for, tattooed and dancing on a bar with Marchy, surrounded by his makeshift family, promising the city that he’d come back and run the marathon some day once he was older and he knew what there was to regret.

 

“You can have it. You already have it,” Milan says in a rush, with more emotion behind it than he expected.

 

“I think so.” Connor pushes his bowl away. “I hope so,” he amends.

 

Milan rinses the bowls in the sink and dries his hand on a dish towel, thinking about how unsatisfied he feels about this whole meetup idea. He wonders if Connor feels it too, how they’re seeing the same thing, or what seems like the same thing, but then suddenly changing course, like railroad tracks in a constant switch. The pool must be mesmerizing because Connor’s back to standing before the windows, hands scrunched in his jeans pockets.

 

“Hey,” says Milan, over his shoulder. “Let’s get dessert.”

 

***

 

The only ice cream shop in town is in a stone alpine building next to a place called the Edelweiss Shop. It’s more like a convenience store with a counter, lacking the charm of the old-fashioned ice cream parlors of Cape Cod, or the clean brightness of Manhattan Beach. But it has fifty flavors and Milan cheerfully pays for his own coffee heath bar and Connor’s mint chocolate chip cone, while Connor skulks around, hat pulled low.

 

“I think we signed autographs for everyone in Jasper already, so you don’t have to worry if someone is gonna recognize you. And if they do they're gonna worship you,” Milan marvels as they sit outside on a gummy bench painted a shade similar to pepto bismol, and he hands Connor his cone.

 

“No, I know. There’s just something different about signing autographs at a kids clinic and being spotted getting ice cream or whatever.” Connor takes a tentative lick. “So it never bothered you, giving up that much of your privacy?”

 

It did bother him, sometimes. But that doesn’t seem the right way to answer this reluctant hero of the game. And while Milan knows he was tremendously popular in Boston, he never carried, and will never carry, what this young player does. So he says as judiciously as possible, “People did sometimes bug me, when I was just trying to get coffee at Dunkin, or just wanted to have a beer on my own. But mostly it was nice, to be appreciated by fans in a place that really really loved their hockey team.”

 

“Yeah,” Connor says slowly, staring intently at his ice cream. “When we were at the Cup Final last year we met Jonathan Toews and we talked about how he even does regular stuff in Chicago, they love him so much there. I said something about it being like Tom Brady in Boston and Eichel, he just laughed at me and said no, Tom Brady can’t even go out in public in Boston.” Connor laughs and shakes his head at himself. “He was kind of an asshole about it.”

 

“Well, you’re not from Boston and you’ve never lived there or played there. How would you know that.”

 

“Right!” Connor’s face lights up. “Exactly,” he says, and he bumps against Milan’s shoulder casually. “You get it.”

 

“Is that something you’re worried about?” Milan rewinds the conversation past Tom Brady and Jack Eichel and Boston to the crux of what seems to be bothering Connor.

 

“No.” Connor crunches his cone and stretches out his legs, crosses his sandaled feet. “I don’t think so. I don’t know. I’m not actually sure if I can know or not know right now.” He wipes off his hands with his napkin and looks over at Milan. “But don’t you wish sometimes that you could just be sure of people?” he asks, suddenly unguarded and frank.

 

There’s something about the way he says it, with hurt in his voice, that makes it sound like he’s thinking of someone specific. “Yeah, man,” Milan says, puffing out a little breath, somewhere between shock and a nervous laugh. “Of course.”

 

On the quick drive back, Connor is quiet and moody. He stares out the window even though the river is dark now and the moon doesn’t produce enough light to break through the clouds to light the sky. Before they get out, to go back to their rooms at the lodge, Connor braces his hands on his thighs and purses his lips to say something.

 

Milan pities him. “Connor, whatever this is about, you don’t have to make some big statement to me. I get it, you know, if you’re not necessarily a fan of me. A lot of people aren’t. We don’t have to be buddies. I just wanted to meet you and get to know you and I’m honestly sorry they dragged you here for this.”

 

“No. I am. A fan of you. I always have been. I was pissed that you kept calling me ‘the kid’. That you said you signed for me.” Connor frowns, that little mouth of his drooping at the corner. “Everyone wants a piece of me. I thought you just wanted a piece of me.”

 

Milan has the odd thought that he wishes he rented a convertible, so he could roll the top back, recline their seats, and stretch out. If there were stars, they could watch them move through the night, and like a scene from the movies, he would settle his arm around Connor’s shoulder. He would inhale and feel the night air settle in his chest. He would lean into Connor’s space and draw in a breath and like smoking, would absorb some tiny part of Connor McDavid.

 

Instead he reaches over and puts his hand gently on Connor’s neck so Connor will turn and look. He shakes his head and says, “I honestly just wanted to meet you.”

 

Connor smiles, surprised and pleased, and nods slowly, like he’s just understanding a new fact for the first time. “I know,” he says back, before he licks his lips and tilts his head. “Come on.”

 

And he lets Milan inhale and breathe him in.

 

***

 

Swim at your own risk, the sign on the pool gate advises. The ominous roll of thunder belies the sunny sky. Conditions can change quickly in the mountains. The air smells like electricity.

 

Milan floats on his back. In the line of his sight, Connor appears by the edge of the pool deck, toes curled around the concrete lip like he’s worried about falling in. “I think it’s going to rain,” he says.

 

“Not yet,” Milan answers. He flips and paddles to the wall where Connor is standing. The air is chillier on his wet skin than he thought. “Are you going to come in?” he challenges. “You could swim with me.” He wraps his big hand around Connor’s ankle, rubs the protruding bone with his thumb.

 

“I don’t know.”

 

Milan flicks his finger over the ankle bone again and watches while Connor strips out of his t-shirt and throws it carelessly aside, just missing a lounge chair. “I guess I will,” he says, after an uncertain pause, giving Milan a once-over with his gaze. And yeah, Milan knows he looks good, in his best form of the mid-summer where he’s still slim from the season, but has put just enough muscle back on his body to show off how big and sturdy he is.

 

Connor does a flip into the water and swims over to where Milan has sunk back in, holding on to the ledge. “Hi,” Connor whispers, mimicking Milan’s pose and bringing his dripping wet face so close that they’re almost touching.

 

There’s no use, Milan has to kiss him now and he does, quickly, just a tease, because they’re outside in the afternoon, and Connor has made his stance on public recognition pretty clear. “You look good,” Milan whispers too.

 

Connor smiles and laughs hard and replies, “You look better,” before darting quickly underwater to go towards the deeper end of the pool.

 

The sky changes to a lumbering gray and then an apocalyptic purple as they swim back and forth, trading splashes and breathless kisses barely above the rise of the water. Against the wall in the deepest part of the pool, his arms locked and stretched over his head, his legs entwined around Milan’s hips, Connor hangs on and lets Milan explore his neck, lets Milan slide his tongue in and out of his mouth until his dick is a rigid line pressing against Milan and he’s squeezing tighter, bucking his hips, and it’s finally raining.

 

“We should get out,” Milan proposes, extracting himself and wading to the shallow area so he can hoist his body up to sit on the pool ledge.

 

Connor follows but instead of getting out he tries to move Milan’s ass closer to the edge and his fingers start to work at the white drawstring tie on Milan’s swim trunks.

 

“Hey. What’s going on?” Milan asks. He feels horny as fuck, but despite the storm and the abandoned pool, nothing about this situation has changed to make it more private, more secluded, or more of a good idea.

 

Connor’s summer-blond hair is wet and almost dark now, his head still bent over Milan’s crotch, still working on the string. At last he frees Milan’s dick from the waistband and he looks up, with round, serious eyes. “Oh fuck,” Milan heaves when his dick is engulfed in the warmth of Connor’s mouth. He tugs a little bit on Connor’s hair and says, “You don’t have to, we can wait.”

 

“I’ve just wanted to suck your dick all day,” says Connor. “So let me. Let me make you feel good.” Whether this is some form of dirty talk, or Connor’s just actually this frank once you get to know him, Milan’s not sure and probably doesn’t care when Connor goes back to fucking Milan with his mouth and using his hand in a tight grip up and down until Milan is about to lose it. It’s crazy and fucking sexy and Connor wasn’t kidding about making Milan feel good because he’s so good at this. Better than good at this.

 

“You’re gonna make me come,” Milan warns and it exposes them more, but he can’t help but lean back and drink in the sight of Connor McDavid swallowing him down, Connor McDavid taking a mouthful of Milan’s come, feeding on it.

 

Milan slinks back into the pool, despite the rain and the fact that his heart is about to burst out of his chest, to latch onto Connor. He grabs Connor and breathes hard against his neck. “My jizz is in the pool now because of you,” is all he can think of to say and he starts laughing, slightly hysterically, about how dumb and amazing that is.

 

“Chlorine kills everything,” Connor says with a snort, laughing too. The statement is confident and unexpected and funny and Milan suddenly wants to be in the warm shower, twisted up in the sheets, watching Connor’s expression change while fucking him on the floor, anywhere but floating in this gigantic puddle.

 

He kisses messily at Connor’s face, more of a movement of lips than anything. “I want you so much,” he says. “So let’s get out of here.”

 

“Yeah.” Connor reaches down between them to clasp Milan’s hand. “Yeah.”

 

***

 

Milan likes to fuck. This isn’t a revelation.

 

He likes long hair and hips that he can hold onto and the sensuality of another person’s mouth moving, wet and wanting against his. He likes when he gets to the point where he can’t stop, it feels too good to stop and he knows that he’s got to keep fucking. He likes the tightly drawn lean lines of an athlete’s back, someone less muscular than him, panting and groaning and looking needily back at him over his shoulder. He likes to fuck messily into his own hand, hold himself a little tightly and make himself come hard while thinking about guys, girls, forgettable strangers, beloved friends, without compunction.

 

The shapeless drawn-out hours of downtime at a resort in Jasper are now delineated not by a schedule of activities that he must be present for, but increments in his brain where the question When can I fuck Connor again is answered by now .

 

Connor’s so pretty, when he’s on his hands and knees, looking back at Milan with soft eyes and sweet hot breaths every time Milan snaps his hips against Connor’s ass. Every quick drag and clench of Connor, slick and bare against Milan’s dick pushes him closer and closer to not being able to stop, the reward of being relentless as the frenzy, then the free fall.

 

“You feel good,” is what Milan manages to say, and he’s so close to coming.

 

“I fucking love it, don’t stop,” Connor grunts, and Milan pretends it’s a sigh instead of whispered through gritted teeth as he comes, thick and wet and pulsing, while still inside Connor.

 

As he pulls out with his hand tight on Connor’s hipbone, he lets some of his own jizz drizzle onto his fingers. Connor has collapsed slightly onto the bed, his summer-light hair mussed as he hangs his head between his bent arms. Milan knocks him off balance and catches him by surprise when he drops his weight over Connor’s body and touches his come-streaked hand to Connor’s lips.

 

“You were so fucking good, so fucking amazing on my dick,” Milan babbles incoherently in a post-orgasm haze. Connor opens his tiny, crooked-heart mouth to suck at Milan’s fingers.

 

Milan replaces his fingers with a kiss and moans almost in spite of himself as Connor opens so easily to kiss him back. Connor always lets his eyes close and tilts his head to the side so Milan can stroke his face and press against his neck, and he does it so simply and surely like they’ve been doing this for a long time, not merely a few days. It’s almost romantic. Has Connor looked like this for other people that he’s fucked, so pliant and giving of himself that it feels real?

 

This vulnerable, self-doubting, good-hearted person has quietly consumed Milan.

 

He works his way down Connor’s body, kissing all the places he thinks will make Connor feel good and all the odd spots he just wants to worship, his shoulder blade and his lean pale stomach and wiry-soft curls of hair that smell dark, like sex, and the curved shell of his ear. Eventually Milan cups Connor’s balls and takes Connor’s half-hard dick into his mouth. He’s not done this yet.

 

Again, though, there’s something about the gasping pleasure of Connor when he whispers, “Oh shit, yes,” that makes Milan want to work a little harder, makes Milan want to do this really well like he knows he can. When Connor goes to put his hand on Milan’s head, Milan grabs the wandering hand and pins it to the mattress.

 

“Nope,” he responds quickly, playfully even, and then goes to work with hand, lips, tongue on Connor’s dick, again and again, pressure and heat until Connor is swearing, “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” and struggling to move his hand out of Milan’s grip. He takes as much as he can of Connor, as deep as he can, breathes through his nose and swallows, his throat tightening, miniature surges of spontaneous compression. There's the sign, Milan feels it, the swell of Connor’s dick, growing bigger and bigger as he gets close, and the involuntary twitch and pulse of it before he’s about to come. He pulls off half way, lets his tongue and hand do more of the work now while Connor spills into his mouth.

 

Milan lets it dribble out past his lips and down his chin. He’s always loved the taste of someone else, the fact that he’s made someone feel so good that he’s expended them. Depleted them. He wipes Connor’s come from his mouth and licks it off his fingers and when he looks at Connor he must still look hungry because Connor groans and covers his face with a pillow.

 

“Don’t hide,” he teases, lapping at Connor’s spent dick one more time, trying to taste every inch of him before easing the pillow away.

 

“I’m gonna get hard again if I look at you like this,” Connor admits in a quiet voice, gripping Milan’s back tightly. “I’m gonna want you inside me again.”

 

He says it like he’s reluctant, or ashamed of needing to get fucked so much, even though his legs are spread open like an invitation and he looks used and slutty, practically a canvas for fucking, with Milan’s saliva and sweat and come painting his body.

 

“Tell me you want more,” Milan instructs, harsh and gravelly, even though he’s spent and couldn’t go right now anyway. But to hear Connor, all needy and insisting he could get his ass fucked again is hot.

 

“I do, I want to feel your dick,” assures Connor, with his eyes still closed. “I could take it.”

 

“Tell me what I look like,” Milan demands instead and braces himself on his forearms so he can stare into Connor’s face.

 

Connor opens his eyes. “Like everything I ever wanted,” he answers, and Milan is so unprepared for that response, he kisses Connor’s face everywhere, tiny bursts of affection all over, before rolling to lie next to him.

 

Then, Connor curls up, exhausted, his head resting on the slope of Milan’s tanned shoulder and it has to be uncomfortable, but he sleeps through it somehow. His breath is slow, sticky warm and slightly stale near Milan’s mouth. Milan pulls him closer, nestles Connor into the tight circle of his arms, protection from everything that lies beyond the sanctuary of this bed and the walls of his heart.

 

***

 

On the final morning the sky is back to a tranquil shade of blue. Milan didn’t wake Connor and instead showered alone. Wrapped in a fluffy bathrobe post-shower, he finds Connor up but still under the covers, reading on his ipad. The whole thing is so unbearably domestically simple, he thinks of an impossible thing: that there might be room enough in Connor’s life and space enough in Connor’s heart for this to happen again, someday. That Connor might want it too. How or where or when he’s not sure, but he tucks the thought away, a chance to wait for, a fantasy to dream on.

 

Now, while he still can, he crawls back into bed next to Connor and nips teasingly at his shoulder. “What’re you reading?”

 

“I was reminding myself of how I shouldn’t have assumed stuff about you and what you wanted from me when they made me say that I wanted you for protection and your big body.” Connor gestures at the NHL.com article.

 

Well,” Milan twists his mouth into a smirk, making what he knows is a bad joke but Connor laughs anyway and touches his head to Milan’s with affection.

 

“Oh jeez,” Connor sighs, before turning serious again and saying, “All of the rest of it is true. Even if they told me to stick to the message and I was annoyed by that. I’m happy to have you. That’s the truth since the beginning.”

 

“That stuff about providing protection, that’s not just some line. You can ask Pasta when you see him at World Cup. I did it in Boston and I was good at it. You can definitely count on me to protect you here,” Milan insists.

 

“I know,” Connor says, a defiant, challenging look in his eyes. “And I want you to.”

 

That, honestly, is one of the hottest things he has ever heard and it makes him want to climb onto Connor and suck on Connor’s nipples until they’re shiny and soaked and he’s writhing and begging. It makes him want to rid Connor of his boxers and fill Connor up with his dick so that Connor won’t forget the sound Milan makes as he crests to an orgasm, or the expanse of his chest when it’s pressed against Connor’s, or the way he can cradle Connor perfectly in his arms when they sleep.

 

Loyalty and possession rolled into one unstoppable force, that’s the Lucic brand.

 

“Don’t let Eichel be an asshole to you. Tell him if he is I’m going to fuck him up later,” says Milan instead, touching his lips to Connor’s with a tenderness that he hopes sums up the broad sweep of feeling he has.

 

“It wouldn’t even be fair,” Connor laughs again, kissing Milan in return. “But I would love to see it.”

 

The flight from Edmonton back to Vancouver takes only ninety minutes but Milan drifts off anyway, like he’s traveling to a far away place, the view of snowcapped peaks in summer the last thing in his sight.

 

***

 

“Looch,” Connor calls out as they’re about to skate before their fans for the first time, in public warmups. And he’s been called that by countless people many times before, but he swears it sounds different coming from Connor. It’s never sounded so bright, so brand new. “This is awesome, right?” he asks.

 

The crowd is energized - not yet the uncontrolled frenzy of 2011 when Bobby Orr waved a flag from the balcony - but that’s fine. The lost restless dreams of Boston and the sheen of LA seem diminished now, in the spotlight of Rogers Place, with Connor there.

 

Milan is lifted up. Restored.

 

Connor’s voice is even softer now, close to his ear, so Milan has to bend his head to hear him above the music and the cheering. “They love you back,” he promises.

 

Milan turns and taps his hand lightly against the orange C on Connor’s sweater before jumping through the door onto the ice.

 

He believes it.