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you only kiss people you love

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Jeff's slumped over the counter, half asleep, when someone clears their throat amusedly. He startles, straightening, and blinks at-- at Eric, great, Eric Staal, hockey player and hot single dad who comes in with his kids occasionally, who Jeff is decidedly not crushing on, thank you very much.

 

Yeah, he doesn't know who he's kidding either.

 

It's just-- Eric's been coming in a lot, since Jeff started working here halfway through the summer, and they talk every time he does. It's September now, and Jeff would almost call him a friend, if they saw each other any time other than when Jeff's at work.

 

"Hey," he says, grinning sheepishly. "What can I do for you today?"

 

"Sure I'm not disturbing you?" says Eric, smirking slowly.

 

Jeff flushes, ducking his head. "Sorry, slow day," he says. "What's up?"

 

"Parker needs some new skates," says Eric.

 

"Already?" says Jeff, leaning over the counter to grin down at Parker, who smiles back and waves, vibrating where he's clinging to Eric's hand.

 

"He's growing so fast, it's crazy," says Eric. "Gonna go bankrupt trying to keep up."

 

"Right, that's a definite possibility, on the salary you're making." Jeff rolls his eyes.

 

"Shut up," says Eric, flushing a little as Jeff comes around the counter. "That's not-- kids are expensive, okay. I have two of them."

 

"Must be so hard for you," says Jeff seriously, and Eric laughs.

 

"Skates!" shouts Parker, apparently tired of Eric and Jeff's conversation.

 

Jeff chuckles. "Yeah, buddy, I'm gonna find you some skates, okay?"

 

"'Kay!" says Parker happily, letting go of Eric's hand to tumble after Jeff.

 

"We still going hockey skates, or have you finally come to your senses?" says Jeff, throwing a smirk over his shoulder at Eric.

 

"Hockey," says Eric firmly.

 

"Yeah, hockey!" says Parker, bouncing enthusiastically.

 

Jeff shakes his head sadly. "You're such a stage-dad," he says.

 

"Hey, my kids look up to me, what can I say?" Eric grins.

 

"Do they even know figure skating exists?" says Jeff, narrowing his eyes.

 

Eric shrugs. "Probably not. I still don't believe you were a figure skater, by the way." He's biting back a grin, which means he does and is just being a dork, which Jeff has realised, to his simultaneous delight and dismay, he tends to be a lot. It's really endearing.

 

"I told you to YouTube it, if you're that interested in seeing my horrific fourteen year-old hair," says Jeff.

 

Eric chuckles. "Maybe I'd rather see it in person," he says.

 

Jeff glances at him sharply. That sounds-- it almost sounds like flirting.

 

Eric maybe realises, because he looks away, flushing again, and says, "Do you still skate, I mean?"

 

"Yeah," says Jeff. "I do what I can, with the knee and all. It's better."

 

"That's good," says Eric, nodding earnestly. "It'd suck if you couldn't at all."

 

"Definitely," agrees Jeff.

 

"And you're a hockey fan anyway, right?" says Eric. "I mean, you follow the Leafs and all, but I guess that still counts. Sort of."

 

"Hey, f-- screw you," says Jeff, laughing. "The Leafs are awesome. Just because I think all forms of skating should get a fair chance."

 

"But it's hockey," says Eric blankly, and Jeff shakes his head, pulling down a few boxes from the kid's section.

 

"Okay, Parker," he says, patting the seat. "Come on, let's try some of these on."

 

Parker hops up, kicking his feet, and Jeff grabs him lightly around the ankles, laughing. "Careful, buddy, might hurt a bit if you kick me in the face."

 

Parker stills obediently, and Jeff tugs his shoes off carefully.

 

"Besides," he adds for Eric's benefit, "Black eyes aren't such a good look for me."

 

"No?" says Eric, tilting his head. "Think you could pull off most things."

 

Jeff opens his mouth, but doesn't actually say anything. God, it really sounds like Eric is flirting.

 

"Skates, skates!" shouts Parker, and Jeff jerks back to look at him, plastering on a smile.

 

"Right," he says. "Thanks for keeping me in line, Parker."

 

"You're welcome," says Parker solemnly, and Eric bursts out laughing.

 

"Shut it, you," says Jeff, throwing him a glance. Eric just laughs some more.

 

They find Parker a pair of skates that all three of them approve of; Jeff for the fit, Parker for the colour, and Eric for the quality. They make a pretty good team, Jeff thinks.

 

And then kicks himself immediately for thinking it, because what the fuck.

 

"Great," says Eric, tucking the box under his arm and following Jeff to the counter. "You can get back to sleep now, right?"

 

"I don't know what you're talking about," says Jeff, biting back a smile as he rings up the skates.

 

"Seriously though," says Eric. "You should stop by the Arena sometime. You could come on the ice after practice, show off what you got."

 

"I-- yeah, maybe," says Jeff, blinking. "I mean-- is that even allowed?"

 

"I'm the captain," says Eric, grinning at him.

 

Jeff rolls his eyes. "Way to sound modest," he says.

 

"Hey, gotta impress, right?" says Eric.

 

Jeff-- fuck, okay, he kind of can't take it anymore, he needs to know. "Are you-- are you flirting with me accidentally or on purpose?" he says, curling his hands over the edge of the counter.

 

"I-- uh." Eric blinks stupidly at him. "Maybe-- maybe both?"

 

"Okay," says Jeff slowly. He's not sure what that means, exactly.

 

"I mean," says Eric, laughing sheepishly and scrubbing a hand through his hair, "I want-- I want to flirt with you, but I kind of suck at it, so I'm not-- I just keep saying sh-- stuff without meaning to." He shakes his head ruefully at himself. "It's a bit lame, sorry. But uh. I'd kinda like to take you to dinner, if you're interested. Tonight? If-- if you want, I mean."

 

Jeff feels himself grinning stupidly. "Yeah, okay," he says. "I finish at five."

 

Eric smiles just as stupidly back, wide and bright and gorgeous. "I'll be here," he says.

 

"Great," says Jeff. He realises abruptly he's just standing there staring at Eric like a moron, and he flushes, fumbling the change, handing it over along with the receipt.

 

"Thanks," says Eric. He puts the change away but doesn't move, even though Parker's tugging impatiently on his jeans. "I, uh." He clears his throat and leans in slightly, dropping his voice. "I kind of want to kiss you right now, but I probably shouldn't, huh."

 

Jeff's heart stutters, palms going sweaty. "Probably not," he whispers, hoarse.

 

"God, Jeff," breathes Eric, eyes dropping to his mouth.

 

Jeff licks his lips, and Eric's breath hitches. "Oh my God," he says, shaking his head, trying to clear it. "Get out, or falling asleep at work is gonna be the least of my problems."

 

Eric coughs out a startled laugh, swaying back. "Right," he says. "Okay. I'll-- tonight, yeah?"

 

"Definitely," says Jeff. "I'll see you."

 

"Bye, Jeff," says Eric, eyes creasing up as he smiles.

 

"Bye, Jeff!" shouts Parker, waving over his shoulder as he follows his dad out.

 

"Bye, guys," says Jeff, laughing and tugging a palm over his face, giddy and a little bit stupid.

*

*

*

Eric is waiting for Jeff when he knocks off work and heads outside. Jeff pulls up short when he sees him, staring and swallowing. Fuck, he looks gorgeous. He's dressed up, nice dark jeans that fit him tightly and a shirt, and Jeff feels suddenly self-conscious in his work clothes.

 

"Hi," he says, approaching Eric. "You-- you look good. Sorry I didn't have time to change."

 

"You're perfect," says Eric immediately, and then goes pink along the tops of his cheeks. "Uh, sorry. I don't really do this much."

 

"Dating?" says Jeff, glancing at him as they start to walk.

 

"Yeah," says Eric. "Lame, huh? Guess I don't have much time, with hockey and the kids."

 

"Makes sense," says Jeff. "It's not lame."

 

Eric smiles at him. "What about you?"

 

Jeff bites his lip. "I don't, uh, date so much," he says, shrugging.

 

Eric snorts. "God," he says. "College kids."

 

"Hey," says Jeff. "I'm not that bad. Besides, makes you kinda special, right?"

 

"Sounds good to me," says Eric, laughing. He leads them into a parking lot with a jerk of his head. "My car's here," he says, heading towards a black, sleek-looking truck.

 

"Cool," says Jeff. "Where are we going?"

 

"There's this restaurant we go to with the guys sometime," says Eric. "It's pretty good."

 

"Sweet," says Jeff.

 

Eric smiles at him, stepping closer, and then, oh, he closes his hands over Jeff's hips and presses him into the side of the car.

 

"Is this okay?" he asks, ducking his head so their foreheads are pressed together.

 

"Oh my God, yes," says Jeff, grabbing two fistfuls of his shirt and tugging him down.

 

Eric laughs into the kiss, lifting his hands from Jeff's hips to cup over his jaw and tilt his head for a better angle. Jeff goes with it, sighing happily, opening his mouth, and Eric moans a little as he licks inside, pressing in closer with his body and kissing Jeff careful and thorough.

 

He's an awesome kisser; his lips are really soft but he's not hesitant, firm and a little bit claiming, with just the slightest rasp of stubble, making Jeff shiver and arch into him.

 

"Fuck, Jeff," breathes Eric, pulling back.

 

Jeff makes a disappointed noise and strains upwards. "Come back here," he mumbles.

 

Eric laughs, kissing him briefly, tugging on Jeff's bottom lip with his teeth.

 

"Mmm," says Jeff. "Can we skip dinner?"

 

"Probably," mumbles Eric against his mouth. Then he pulls back, frowning a little. "We shouldn't though. I'm pretty hungry. And I want-- I want to do this properly."

 

Jeff sighs, but lets Eric step away and unlock the car, because he can't say no to that.

 

The restaurant isn't too far away, and it's really nice looking. Jeff pauses outside the entrance, frowning a little. "Is this-- am I dressed okay for here?" he says, feeling dumb.

 

Eric shakes his head and squeezes his hand. "You're perfect, I told you," he says.

 

Jeff rolls his eyes. "Whatever, if you say so," he says, and lets Eric pull him inside.

 

"Okay?" says Eric once they're seated, watching Jeff eyeing the menu.

 

Jeff looks up at him, grinning. "Great," he says. "What should I get?"

 

"Um," says Eric, sort of apologetically. "I usually get chicken?"

 

"Lame." Jeff sighs, holding back a grin. "So boring. Well, I'm getting pasta. Mmm."

 

Eric kicks him under the table, laughing. "So original," he says, folding his own menu and gesturing a waiter over so they can order.

 

"So," says Jeff once the waiter's gone, grinning, "How come it took you so long to ask me out? Or did I just take a while to grow on you?"

 

"No, I-- " Eric pauses, biting down on his lip.

 

"What?" says Jeff, leaning forward a little.

 

"It's dumb," says Eric, flushing.

 

"Oh my God, now you have to tell me," says Jeff. "Don't worry, I already think you're dumb."

 

"Thanks." Eric rolls his eyes. "I just-- you're kinda young?"

 

Jeff stares at him. "Oh my God," he says eventually, and bursts out laughing.

 

"Shut up," mumbles Eric. "It's true."

 

"Were you-- wait." Jeff tilts his head, grinning. "What was it? Were you like, guilty about stealing my innocence? Did I make you feel old and sleazy? Were you actually worried I was jailbait?"

 

"Um," says Eric. "All of the above?"

 

Jeff dissolves into another fit of helpless giggles.

 

"Shut up," says Eric again, kicking him under the table. "You're not helping your case."

 

Jeff snorts, quieting a little. "I'm not, for the record," he says. "Jailbait, I mean."

 

"Good to know," says Eric dryly.

 

"I'm not innocent, either," says Jeff, dropping his voice and looking at Eric through his lashes.

 

Eric's mouth falls open. "Jesus Christ, Jeff," he says weakly.

 

Jeff smiles brightly. "In case you were still worried," he says.

 

"I-- thanks?" says Eric. "I guess?"

 

Jeff laughs. "You're also not old and sleazy," he adds. "Kinda the opposite, actually."

 

Eric ducks his head, flushing. "You're gonna drive me crazy, aren't you?" he says after a moment, but he seems more pleased than anything, looking at Jeff fondly.

 

"I try," says Jeff easily, shrugging.

 

Their food comes then, and Jeff digs into his straight away-- he's starving, work was fucking exhausting after Eric left-- while Eric starts more slowly on his chicken.

 

"Good?" he says, glancing at Jeff across the table.

 

Jeff nods with his mouth full. "Awesome," he says, swallowing.

 

"Glad we didn't skip dinner, huh?" says Eric, grinning.

 

"Eh." Jeff shrugs. "I mean, it's good, but I'd be just as happy with frozen pizza."

 

"I don't have frozen pizza," says Eric, sounding slightly affronted.

 

"Frozen peas then, whatever." Jeff rolls his eyes.

 

"I have those," says Eric thoughtfully. "Kinda have to, with all the kids and hockey players in my house."

 

Jeff laughs. "Bet you can't even tell them apart half the time, huh?"

 

"You're not wrong," says Eric ruefully. "I started yelling at Jordy-- my brother-- the other day for making too much noise before I realised he wasn't Parker."

 

"Seriously?" says Jeff, cracking up. "How'd you manage that? Aren't all Staal adults like, seven feet tall?''

 

"I wasn't in the same room," says Eric, making a face, eyes creasing with a smile. "Shut up."

 

"Excuses, excuses," says Jeff, smirking at him around his fork.

 

Eric rolls his eyes. "You never talk back this much at work," he says.

 

"Gotta make sacrifices," says Jeff, shrugging.

 

"Must be tough," agrees Eric, nodding.

 

Jeff grins. "But I must be getting something right, huh?"

 

Eric smiles at him. "Definitely," he says earnestly.

 

Jeff ducks his head, feeling his face heat up. God, Eric is just so-- so Eric, Jeff's never met anyone like him. He turns all these half-jokes and chirps Jeff keeps throwing out into totally sincere admissions or whatever, and it's-- it's really hard to stay on balance when he keeps doing that, keeps looking at Jeff with wide, earnest eyes, a stupidly fond expression.

 

"Hey, so," says Eric, "What're you majoring in? I don't think I ever actually asked." He actually sounds guilty about it, the moron.

 

"History, I think," says Jeff. "Might go into education? I'm not totally sure yet."

 

"That's cool," says Eric. "You're good with kids."

 

"You've only seen me with your kid," says Jeff, laughing.

 

Eric waves a hand. "You still have a job, so I'm guessing it translates," he says.

 

"Yeah," says Jeff. He shrugs. "I dunno, I like them."

 

"That's really good, Jeff," says Eric, smiling his stupid earnest smile again.

 

Jeff smiles back, and then blinks when the waiter comes by to clear their plates.

 

"You want dessert or anything?" says Eric.

 

Jeff shakes his head. "Think I'm good," he says. "Unless you want some?"

 

"Nah," says Eric. "Not that kind, anyway." His mouth twitches.

 

Jeff just stares at him. "Oh my God," he says, cracking up. "Oh my God, that was awful."

 

Eric's smile widens. "You're laughing," he points out.

 

"Because it was that bad," says Jeff.

 

"Whatever, you love it," says Eric, gesturing for the bill, and Jeff would argue, but he kind of does.

 

Eric keeps a hand pressed lightly to the small of his back as they exit the restaurant, and Jeff feels himself going a bit stupid with the urge to press back into it, into him, kiss him some more, touch him properly. He holds out 'til they're in the car, and then grabs Eric's elbow before he can turn the engine on. Eric looks at him, questioning, and Jeff just makes a noise and lurches forward to press their mouths together awkwardly, pushing up onto his knees to lean closer.

 

Eric brings a hand up to grip the back of his neck immediately, holding him in place, and kisses back just as desperate, hauling Jeff forward so he's straddling Eric's lap in the driver's seat.

 

There's not much room between him and the steering wheel, but that just means Jeff is pressed flushed to Eric's lean-muscled chest, and God, it feels amazing, all of it, his solid warmth and his hands palming under Jeff's shirt, over his bare back, his mouth all open and wet.

 

"God, Jeff," groans Eric, running his fingertips over the bumps of Jeff's spine. "You're amazing."

 

Jeff hums into his mouth, gripping tight on Eric's stupid gorgeous hair, licking in sloppy and frantic. He wants-- fuck, he wants everything, but Eric's mouth is ridiculous, and he kind of never wants to stop kissing it, either. He closes his teeth over Eric's plush bottom lip, like maybe he's been fantasising about for a while, and tugs, which makes Eric jerk and moan louder.

 

"Shit," he hisses, tilting his head back a little.

 

Jeff grins, tugging a little more, then licks back into his mouth, stroking his hands down over the sides of Eric's long, stretched-out neck, scratching a little to see if he likes it.

 

He must, because he rolls his hips up then, hard, keeping Jeff in place with hands digging so hard into his sides they're going to bruise, and God, Jesus, he's hard through his jeans, gorgeous hot friction rasping along Jeff's own aching dick with the movement.

 

"Fuck," groans Jeff, eyes fluttering involuntarily, "Eric, you-- fuck. I gotta-- your place?"

 

Eric pulls back enough to blink at him, dazed. "I-- " he says. "Uh, I have the kids tonight."

 

"Oh," says Jeff, stilling abruptly, even though it almost hurts to stop. "That's-- okay. I would offer my place, but I have roommates, so. I guess I can just go home?"

 

"What?" says Eric. "No, I don't-- you don't have to, it's fine."

 

"Really?" says Jeff, raising his eyebrows.

 

"They won't even wake up," says Eric, nodding. "The sitter put them down right after I left. That's not-- I just-- it's weird for you, right? Going home with someone who has kids. You don't have to, if you'd rather-- "

 

"Eric," says Jeff loudly. "Shut up. I like your kids. I like you. A lot. I kinda wanna suck your dick."

 

Eric just stares at him, mouth open stupidly. "Yeah," he says eventually, hoarsely. "Yeah, okay."

 

Jeff grins, gathering his willpower and scrambling back into the passenger seat. Eric scrubs a hand through his hair, shaking his head a little ruefully, and starts the engine.

 

"You sure you're good to drive?" says Jeff, smirking.

 

Eric rolls his eyes. "I think I can manage not to kill us," he says.

 

"Good," says Jeff, pressing the heel of his hand to his dick to relieve some of the pressure.

 

Eric groans, eyes determinedly on the road. "Not if you keep doing that, Christ."

 

"Sorry," says Jeff. "I just-- I just need-- "

 

"Oh my God," says Eric, hands flexing.

 

Jeff laughs a little hysterically, turning his burning cheek against the window.

 

It's not a long drive to Eric's place, thank God, and pretty soon Jeff is standing behind him while he fumbles his keys out of his pocket. He pauses with his hand on the door though, and says, biting down on his lip, "Are you sure?"

 

Jeff steps forward, pressing a little against his back, and says, "Look, I can leave straight after, if that makes things easier."

 

Eric turns around to face him. "No," he says. "No, Jeff, God, that's not-- I just mean for your sake, I don't-- I-- Parker really likes you," he finishes a little bit helplessly.

 

"Uh huh," says Jeff, smiling slowly and pushing up on his toes to lick the corner of Eric's mouth. "What about you, huh?"

 

Eric grins against his lips. "I kinda like you too," he whispers, kissing Jeff slow and hot.

 

"Then stop being a pussy, take me inside and fuck me already," says Jeff.

 

Eric groans, closing his eyes and sliding his palms under Jeff's shirt, over the warm, bare skin of his hips. "I thought you said you wanted to blow me," he whispers hoarsely.

 

"What, you think we can't do both?" says Jeff, smirking.

 

Eric laughs, kissing him some more, a little more frantic this time, with an edge of promise.

 

"Okay," he says when he pulls back, grinning. "Come on."

*

*

*

Jeff wakes with a faceful of Eric's chest, which is super nice, and Eric's hand stroking slowly up and down his spine, which is even nicer. He has no idea what time it is, and he shifts a little closer into Eric's bare-skinned warmth, squeezing his eyes shut and sighing.

 

Eric must've felt him wake up though, because he murmurs, "Hey, you awake?"

 

"Do I have to be?" mumbles Jeff.

 

Eric laughs quietly. "Soon," he says, and Jeff groans a little.

 

"Sorry," adds Eric. "Kids wake up pretty early."

 

"'S fine," says Jeff, blinking up at him. He looks fucking gorgeous, still pink-cheeked from sleep, hair mussed and lips swollen from all the kissing they did last night.

 

Eric smiles slowly, bringing his hand up to curl around the back of Jeff's neck and pull him up into a kiss.

 

"Mmm," mumbles Jeff against his lips. "Morning breath."

 

"I don't care," says Eric, kissing him wetly, slow and easy.

 

"Yeah, okay," agrees Jeff, sinking into it.

 

He's just thinking about sliding down Eric's body to suck him off messy and morning-sweet when a kid starts crying somewhere down the hall.

 

Eric pulls back with a sigh, making a face. "Levi," he says. "Sorry."

 

"It's fine," says Jeff, rolling onto his back.

 

Eric sits up, groaning. "He sleeps pretty good through the night now," he says. "But once he's up he's up, you know? I'm really sorry."

 

"Eric," says Jeff, nudging him with his knee. "I really don't mind. I like kids, I told you. I like you. Do I need to write it on a post-it or something?"

 

Eric laughs. "Wouldn't hurt," he says, ducking back into kiss Jeff. "Okay," he adds, standing up. "Wanna go downstairs and get some coffee going? I'll get the kids up."

 

"Sounds good," says Jeff, stretching and yawning. "Are you sure it's okay I'm here?"

 

"Parker will be over the moon to see someone who isn't me, don't worry," says Eric.

 

"Sweet," says Jeff. "Get out of here, stop neglecting your kids."

 

Eric rolls his eyes, but goes, laughing.

 

Jeff's mostly done with the coffee when Eric comes in with Levi in his arms, Parker toddling along behind them. Parker pulls up when he sees Jeff, blinking.

 

"Look who's here, Parker," says Eric, grinning at Jeff.

 

"Jeff?" says Parker, knuckling at his eyes. "Skates?"

 

Jeff laughs. "No skates, buddy, but I can help make you breakfast if you want."

 

Parker nods enthusiastically, but he says, "Wanna skate," as Eric helps him into his chair after getting Levi settled.

 

"You've created a monster," says Jeff to Eric, laughing.

 

"I know," says Eric, looking so pleased about it, it's fucking adorable. "We could-- if you want, I mean, I have practice in a while, I wasn't gonna take the kids, but I can, we could skate after?"

 

"Oh," says Jeff.

 

"You don't have to," says Eric quickly. "It might be weird? I don't really know. I just thought-- "

 

"I'd love to," Jeff cuts across.

 

Eric beams. "Great," he says. "I'll call their mom, tell her I'm dropping them round a bit later."

 

Jeff nods, biting down on his lip. "Are you-- are you sure?" he says. "I mean, meeting your kids in the morning, being there when you practice, it's not-- it's not too much?"

 

Eric blinks at him, scrubbing a hand through his hair. "No?" he says. "I really suck at this, I told you, I don't-- you need to tell me if it's too much for you, okay? I won't mind."

 

"It's not too much for me," says Jeff. "As long as it's okay for you. I mean, that's-- your teammates, and everything, they won't care?"

 

Eric shrugs. "If they give you shit, just tell them where to go," he says. "You don't have to tell them anything about-- you know. I'll-- I'll make sure they leave you alone, anyway. They're okay."

 

"Cool," says Jeff, shrugging easily.

 

Eric smiles at him. "You can finally show me this figure skating shit," he says.

 

"Shit?" says Jeff, raising an eyebrow. "How dare you."

 

Eric laughs, pressing a quick kiss to the corner of his mouth. "Prove me wrong," he says, and Jeff laughs too, kissing back firm and warm and happy.

*

*

*

That's how Jeff ends up in a car with the Staal family, heading to the PNC to watch the fucking Hurricanes at morning skate.

 

"Um," says Eric, when they stop at a light, "You're gonna have to watch the kids while we have practice, I-- I'm really sorry, I should've checked if that was okay."

 

"Stop apologising, oh my God," says Jeff. "I already assumed."

 

"You sure it's okay?" says Eric anxiously. "Usually when I bring them to practice their mom comes too, but I-- "

 

"It's fine," says Jeff, rolling his eyes. "Parker can help me watch Levi, can't you, buddy?" He turns to the back seat to grin at Parker.

 

"Yeah!" says Parker. "Levi likes me!"

 

"Of course he does, who wouldn't?" says Jeff, laughing.

 

Eric literally beams at him.

 

They stop by Jeff's place, so he can grab his skates and change, and then Eric shows them to where they can watch at the Arena before he goes to gear up in the locker rooms.

 

It's pretty fucking cool. A few of the guys give Jeff curious looks and shout, "You got a new babysitter, Staalsy?"

 

Eric says, "Something like that," and grins at Jeff.

 

"Did you get a manny?" says Cam Ward, skating up to Eric.

 

Eric elbows him. "Don't be a dick, dickface," he says, because of how he's a giant dork.

 

It's pretty awesome.

 

Jeff spends most of the time holding Parker and Levi up alternately so they can watch what's going on, pointing out their dad so they can follow his movements, just like Jeff is.

 

Parker squirms in Jeff's arms, when it's his turn, and blinks up at him with huge eyes. "Do you skate like daddy?" he asks.

 

"Sort of," says Jeff. "I have different skates though."

 

"Why?" says Parker. "I want some!"

 

Jeff laughs. "Wait and see if you think I look cool, huh?" he says. "I might look like a dork, and you won't want to look like me anymore."

 

Parker looks thoughtful. "Okay," he says eventually. "Wanna look cool."

 

"'Course you do, buddy," says Jeff seriously.

 

"What are you telling my kid?" says Eric mock-sternly, coming up to lean against the boards. He's tugged his helmet off, and he looks fantastic, flushed and sweaty. Jeff swallows, licking his lips.

 

"Just that he should totally pursue figure skating instead of hockey," he says, grinning impishly.

 

Eric rolls his eyes.

 

"Jeff has skates!" says Parker. Then amends, "Different skates! Want some!"

 

"You haven't even seen them," says Eric, laughing.

 

"Wanna look cool!" says Parker.

 

"Okay, that is not what I told him," says Jeff. "I was totally responsible, said he should judge for himself."

 

"I think he's already decided you're cooler than me," says Eric ruefully.

 

"No way," says Jeff, shaking his head. "Trust me, he worships you."

 

Eric ducks his head, and he looks so happy, Jeff wants to kiss him kind of a lot. "We're, uh-- we're done," he says. "Wanna gear up?"

 

"Sure," says Jeff.

 

Eric grins, climbing over and taking Parker from him. "I got the kids," he says. "Come on, guys, skating!"

 

Parker shouts happily along with Levi, fighting to get their dad's attention first. Jeff smiles as he laces up his skates, crouching down when he's finished to help Eric get the kids' done up as well.

 

"I, uh," says Eric, as they climb over the barrier and lift the kids over onto the ice, "I kind of let the guys think you're a sort of babysitter? I mean, I didn't know what you-- "

 

"Eric," says Jeff. "It's fine, whatever you wanna tell them. That's your thing, you know? And we've only been on one date, it's-- you don't have to think about that yet."

 

Eric nods, maneuvering Levi around so he's standing in front of Eric and gripping his hands tight, keeping him upright as he slips and slides on his skates. Parker is already skating around on his own; he's actually pretty steady on his tiny legs, maybe moreso than he is on the ground.

 

Eric's gaze lingers on him proudly for a moment before he turns back to Jeff, pushing forward slowly with Levi. Jeff sticks to his side, getting used to the feel of the ice under him.

 

"I just don't want to make you uncomfortable," he says. "This must be really weird for you."

 

Jeff rolls his eyes. "You need to stop apologising," he says. "You have a massive guilt complex, don't you?"

 

Eric ducks his head. "Jordy says I do," he mumbles, and Jeff laughs.

 

"I don't mind, okay?" he says. "Any of it. If I did I wouldn't've agreed to go on a date with you."

 

"Okay," says Eric quietly. "I-- thanks."

 

Jeff grins, speeding up a little to skate backwards in front of him.

 

"Go on," says Eric, laughing. "Show us what you got."

 

Jeff rolls his eyes again, but he speeds up, starting a loop around the edge of the rink and then curling off into a spin; it's easy, all muscle-memory and not too hard on the knees.

 

Eric wolf-whistles, which makes Jeff stumble and crack up, and he sprawls on the ice for a moment, laughing.

 

"Rusty," says Eric, skating up to him with Levi in tow. Parker shuffles up on his other side.

 

"Jeff, Jeff!" he says. "Wanna spin!"

 

"Oh my God," groans Eric. "Parker, you don't have the right skates for spinning."

 

"Wanna spin!" shouts Parker, pouting.

 

"I probably shouldn't attempt a jump then, huh," says Jeff, giggling helplessly.

 

Eric shakes his head ruefully. "I knew this would happen," he says.

 

"Don't you wanna learn some hockey moves like your dad, Parker?" says Jeff.

 

"Spin!" says Parker again. "And hockey. Spin and hockey!"

 

Jeff laughs, climbing to his feet. "Okay," he says. "I'll teach you how to spin a little, then we can play hockey. How does that sound?"

 

"Yay!" says Parker, skating right into Jeff's side.

 

Parker mostly fails at spinning, which Jeff could've predicted, but he seems happy enough falling on his ass over and over, and he's actually got the basic technique down by the time they're done. Eric skates around with Levi in the meantime, and when Levi's had enough he comes back to play a quick game of pickup with Jeff and Parker.

 

It's just-- it's stupidly fun, and Jeff can't stop smiling as he waits for Eric to coach Parker through a faceoff, teaming up with Parker when they're done to score against Eric.

 

Eric makes a show of being upset, even though Jeff's sure he let them win, and he skates up to bump Eric's shoulder, rolling his eyes. "Nice try," he says, grinning.

 

"Beat me fair and square," says Eric, biting back a smile.

 

"Yeah, right," says Jeff, but he laughs.

 

"You're pretty good though," says Eric. "You used to play?"

 

"Yeah, some," says Jeff. "Requirement in Canada, right?"

 

"Damn right," agrees Eric, nodding. "We should do this again sometime."

 

"I'd like that," says Jeff, smiling at him.

 

"Yeah?" Eric smiles back. "Not bad for a second date, huh?"

 

"Does this count as a second date?" says Jeff, tilting his head. "I've barely been home."

 

"You changed," says Eric, shrugging. "It counts."

 

Jeff snorts. "Not like it matters," he says. He lowers his voice. "I already put out."

 

Eric opens his mouth, then closes it again, blinking. "Yeah," he says eventually, a bit strained. "But I-- it matters. I'd kinda like to go out again, if-- if you want to?"

 

Jeff nearly skates head-on into the boards, even though it's not exactly like he wasn't expecting it. He's just spent all morning hanging out with Eric and his kids, after all.

 

"Yeah," he says, checking himself just in time. "I want to."

*

*

*

Eric comes into the store during Jeff's shift before classes on Monday. Jeff breaks into a wide, helpless smile when he sees him, then clears his throat, trying not to look quite so dumb.

 

"Don't," says Eric, approaching the counter. "I like your dimples."

 

"Shut up," mumbles Jeff, flushing and ducking his head.

 

Eric laughs. "Hey, so," he says. "I have a game tonight, so I can't take you to dinner, but I got you tickets. You don't have to come, only if you're free, but I thought maybe you could bring some friends? And we can hang after, I-- I don't have the kids tonight."

 

He pulls a slightly crumpled envelope from his back pocket and hands it to Jeff.

 

"Oh," says Jeff, staring at it. "Shit, that's-- you really didn't have to."

 

"I wanted to," says Eric earnestly.

 

Jeff rolls his eyes. "Well, thanks," he says. "I-- I'm definitely free, so. I'll come."

 

"Awesome," says Eric. His eyes crease up as he leans forward a little. "Come down to the tunnel after, yeah? I'll tell them to let you through. Your friends too, if they want."

 

Jeff nods, clenching his hands so he doesn't do something dumb like reach for Eric.

 

"Cool," says Eric, stepping back. "I'll see you later, Jeff."

 

"Yeah," says Jeff stupidly as he leaves.

*

*

*

"Wait a minute," says Katie, one of Jeff's college classmates slash friends, "Eric Staal gave you a bunch of tickets to a Canes game? Why?"

 

"I don't know," says Jeff. "He comes into the shop all the time, maybe to say thank you?"

 

"That's weird," says Katie, frowning.

 

"Yeah, well, he's weird." Jeff shrugs.

 

Katie narrows her eyes. "Does he know about your giant obvious crush on him?"

 

"I-- how do you know about that?" says Jeff, flushing horribly.

 

"Oh, baby," says Katie, ruffling his hair. "Because you're the worst at hiding your feelings." She tilts her head. "Maybe this is his way of saying thanks but no thanks nicely."

 

"Why are we friends again?" says Jeff despairingly.

 

Katie grins. "Because I'm badass, and you need all the badass you can get."

*

*

*

The game is fucking awesome, predictably. Jeff takes Katie and a couple of his other college friends, Jack and Ali, and their seats are pretty spectacular.

 

It goes to OT, so there's a ton of adrenaline going around, and Eric has an assist on the winning goal, which makes Jeff clap and cheer like crazy. He's just so good out there, so graceful for all his height, and confident in a way that's-- well, it's really attractive.

 

It's probably wishful thinking, but Jeff could swear at one point Eric glances right at him, too.

 

He doesn't know, and it doesn't matter. It's just such a good night.

 

When it's over and the crowd starts filing out, he blinks, still kind of dazed, and says, "So hey, I'ma go down to the tunnel, you guys wanna come?"

 

"Is that allowed?" says Jack.

 

Jeff shrugs. "Eric said to, so." He trails off.

 

"Eric told you to go meet him after?" says Katie, raising an eyebrow.

 

"Shut up," says Jeff. "He's being nice."

 

Katie smirks. "I might leave you to it," she says. "This is too much for me already."

 

"Yeah," agrees Ali. "Maybe next time?"

 

"Will there be a next time?" says Jack.

 

"Oh, I think so," says Katie, grinning.

 

Jeff punches her lightly in the arm. "Whatever, losers," he says. "I'll catch up with you later."

 

"Say hi to Eric!" says Katie.

 

"Say thanks to Eric," says Ali, giving Katie a look.

 

"Yeah, that too, I guess," says Katie, laughing as they start heading for the exits.

 

Jeff rolls his eyes, grinning a little giddily, and moves towards the tunnel entrance.

 

They let him through without any trouble, so Eric must've made good on his word and said something. He has to wait a while outside the changerooms, since Eric is dealing with all the press stuff as well as showering and changing and whatever. He doesn't mind; it's pretty fascinating, watching everyone come and go, how it all works down here.

 

When Eric finally comes out he looks sort of beat but also really good; slightly damp from his shower, still flushed and smiling, his bag slung over his shoulder.

 

His smile widens when he sees Jeff, and he comes straight over, touching Jeff's elbow lightly.

 

"Hi," he says, voice low.

 

"Hey," says Jeff. "That was-- I don't even know, man, fucking wow. Thanks so much."

 

Eric shakes his head. "Thanks for coming," he says. "Glad we pulled out a win."

 

Jeff grins. "You were awesome," he says sincerely.

 

"Thanks," says Eric, ducking his head. "Your friends have fun?"

 

"'Course," says Jeff. "They said to say thanks. Think they were a bit overwhelmed to come down."

 

"Next time," says Eric. "Seriously, anytime you wanna come, let me know. I can always get a few extra tickets."

 

"Gonna have people stalking me at college if this gets out," says Jeff, laughing.

 

Eric waves a hand. "Let them come," he says. "More crowds are never a bad thing. So hey," he adds, grinning. "You ready to get out of here?"

 

"Definitely," says Jeff, falling into step beside him as he starts walking.

 

"You hungry or anything? We can go grab food."

 

"Nah," says Jeff, shaking his head. "You're pretty beat, right?"

 

"Sort of," says Eric, shrugging. "But I mean, I'm good."

 

"Well, save that energy for other things," says Jeff, smirking at him. "Your place?"

 

"Yeah," says Eric, chuckling. "Okay."

*

*

*

Eric presses him back against the door the second they're inside his house, groaning and dropping his bag so he can get both hands on Jeff's face and hold him there to kiss.

 

Jeff clutches at his hips, melting into it, arching into his body, his flushed, heady warmth.

 

"God, Jeff," breathes Eric against his mouth. "Wanted this, fuck."

 

Jeff groans. He doesn't get how this gorgeous person wants him so bad, but he's not going to question it. "Bedroom?" he murmurs, sliding his palms under Eric's shirt.

 

"Fuck yes," says Eric, pulling back and grabbing his wrist to tug him upstairs.

 

He tumbles Jeff back onto the bed, sprawling out over him, hot and heavy, and goes right back to kissing him, biting wetly at his mouth.

 

"What do you want?" breathes Eric, kissing down the side of Jeff's neck.

 

Jeff thinks about it, which is harder than it sounds when Eric Staal is sucking hickeys all along your skin. "I want you to fuck me," he decides, because they did that the other night, and it was awesome.

 

Eric groans again, nodding against his neck, and gets his hands down to push Jeff's shirt up under his armpits, sliding down to worry at his nipples, which makes Jeff jerk and pant.

 

"So fucking responsive," murmurs Eric, ducking a little further to scrape his teeth over Jeff's ribs. Jeff squirms, twisting a hand in Eric's hair. "Love it, Jeff."

 

He takes his time, stripping Jeff naked and getting his mouth fucking everywhere, and then he's fingering Jeff open. He teases him with one for ages, and when he's finally got two inside Jeff, twisting and scissoring and hitting him right fucking there, Jeff is biting down hard on his lip to hold in all the dumb noises. Eric reaches up to thumb his lip from between his teeth. "Don't, I wanna hear you, come on," he says, and crooks and presses his fingers hard.

 

Jeff lets out a really stupid, involuntary noise, and groans, "Oh fuck, yeah, right there, Eric."

 

Eric nods, swallowing, and says, "Yeah, that's it. God, Jeff, you're so gorgeous."

 

Jeff shakes his head helplessly, squeezing his eyes shut, and hisses, "Fuck me, Eric."

 

"Yeah," says Eric. "Do you need-- another?"

 

"No," says Jeff. "No, I'm good, come on, please."

 

"Shit," says Eric stupidly. "Okay, hang on."

 

He pulls his fingers out carefully, and Jeff makes an unhappy noise, which makes Eric huff a sort-of desperate laugh while he grabs lube and a condom from the nightstand.

 

"I got you," he says, rolling the condom on and slicking himself up. "Here, come on."

 

He hitches Jeff's legs up and nudges up against his hole, and Jeff can't fucking wait, he just wraps his legs around Eric's thighs and makes him push in.

 

"Fuck, Jeff," spits Eric, bracing himself with his arms on either side of Jeff's head. "So pushy."

 

"You love it," gasps Jeff, hitching his hips, trying to get used to the width of Eric splitting him open. "Fuck, oh, fuck, yeah, come on."

 

"Gonna kill me," murmurs Eric, shaking his head, but he tilts his hips, pushing in a little further until he's bottomed out, and they both groan, stilling for a moment.

 

"Don't go easy," says Jeff, cracked. "Don't-- Eric, wanna feel it."

 

"Okay," breathes Eric, thrusting in slowly at first, but he speeds up pretty quickly, fucking into Jeff hard and insistent, dropping his head to mouth at the corner of Jeff's lips, along his jaw, the soft stretched-out sweep of his neck. Fuck, it's so good, the way he doesn't go easy on Jeff, doesn't try to be careful just because he's smaller, because Jeff can take it, and Eric gets that, thrusts in hard over and over until Jeff is shaking and sweating, itching and almost sparking into overdrive every time Eric hits him just right inside. He keeps murmuring, "Yeah?" and, "Okay?" and all Jeff can do is nod helplessly, moaning loud and shameless, and try to get his hands around his dick and jerk in some kind of rhythm.

 

"Fuck," says Eric. "Fuck, Jeff, you gonna come for me? Show me, come on."

 

"Yeah," groans Jeff. "Yeah, fuck, just-- "

 

Eric jerks his hips in bruisingly, pushing him up the bed a little, and Jeff shouts and comes, shooting all over his chest without warning, messy and sticky everywhere.

 

"Oh-- Jesus," Eric grits out, slamming in erratically.

 

"Uh-- oh, God, yes, Eric, come on, come on," says Jeff stupidly, brain still mostly offline.

 

"Yeah," gasps Eric, shuddering and stilling as he comes too, dropping his weight onto Jeff.

 

"Fuck," whispers Jeff, smoothing a hand up his damp back.

 

"Mmm," says Eric, blissed-out. "God. Next time you can do the work."

 

Jeff huffs a laugh. "Guess I can manage that," he mumbles. "Want me to ride you? Suck you off?"

 

Eric groans. "Don't," he says. "Jesus, I can't handle anything right now."

 

Jeff snorts. "Sure you can," he says, even though he's kind of beat, too.

 

It's nice to think about though. He definitely wants to ride Eric sometime very, very soon.

 

Eric chuckles, pulling out with a heavy sigh and flopping down on his back next to Jeff, tying off and discarding the condom. "C'mere," he slurs, lifting an arm.

 

Jeff rolls into him, tucking his face into Eric's warm chest. "Nap?" he says, yawning.

 

"Hmm," agrees Eric, eyes closed. "Maybe just sleep."

 

Jeff shakes his head. "Wanna fuck again," he mumbles.

 

Eric squeezes him, laughing. "Wake me up then, we'll see."

 

"'Kay," says Jeff, letting his eyes drift closed.

*

*

*

He wakes a couple of hours later. Eric is still asleep, face turned into Jeff's hair, all warm, enticing smooth skin. Jeff figures it's still early enough that he can wake him without fucking up his schedule, so he shifts a little, grinning against Eric's pecs, mouthing and scraping at his nipple until Eric hisses and jerks awake, groaning. "Oh my God, Jeff," he says.

 

"Hey," says Jeff. "Told you I'd wake you."

 

"Mmm," says Eric, stretching. "Fuck."

 

Jeff pushes up to kiss him, catching his still slightly sleep-clumsy mouth and whispering, "Don't worry, I'll do the work this time," as he climbs over to straddle him.

 

Eric makes a strangled noise, fingertips brushing the insides of Jeff's thighs, the swollen head of his dick, and Jeff bites down on his lip as he reaches for the lube. He lets Eric watch him finger himself open; it doesn't take long, still stretched from earlier, a little bit sore, a little bit of added sensation making him arch and gasp. He's aware of how he must look, how desperate and easy, his spread thighs and his fingers in his ass, his dick straining hard and flushed towards his belly, the precome already leaking from the tip. He can't bring himself to mind though, not with how into it Eric looks, kind of like he's been punched, hands roving restlessly like he doesn't know where to settle them, mouth open and wet, a bit stupid with it.

 

"Jeff," he moans on a breath, staring. "Holy shit, you don't-- you're killing me."

 

"Fuck," stutters Jeff as he crooks his fingers. "Eric, touch me."

 

Eric groans and slides his hands up Jeff's thighs, anchoring him as he gets more shaky and curling one fist around his dick, just loosely, making him shiver.

 

"So fucking gorgeous," he whispers.

 

Jeff squeezes his eyes shut and grits out, "Condom."

 

"I-- yeah," says Eric dumbly, fumbling for the bedside drawer. "Hang on, shit-- "

 

He manages to get one on while Jeff pulls his fingers out and positions himself, and then he's sinking down onto Eric's dick, one long, stretched-out slide, both of them groaning loudly.

 

"Oh my God," says Eric. "Jeff, Jeff."

 

"Fuck yeah," breathes Jeff, lifting up a little and sinking back down.

 

Eric swears and gets both hands on Jeff's hips, holding on tight and guiding him over his dick as he starts to move; slow, dragging movements that make Jeff feel like-- like his fucking veins are shaking under his skin, just so good, little licks of pleasure tickling him everywhere.

 

"Okay?" says Eric quietly. There's sweat beading on his forehead; he's so flushed and beautiful.

 

"Yes," says Jeff, letting his head drop forward. "Oh my God, Eric, yes."

 

Eric jerks up abruptly to kiss him, uncoordinated and sloppy, and Jeff bites into his mouth before he sags onto his back again and presses a little harder into Jeff's hips.

 

The speed is good, satisfying some of the itch under Jeff's skin, and usually he'd want to go harder but it's awesome like this right now, still honeyed-down a little with sleep.

 

He gets lost in the rhythm, in the feel of Eric filling him up, and by the time he comes it's just a mess of ragged breathing and damp skin, Eric's hands jerking him off and gripping him tight.

 

Eric comes inside him about a minute later; he sits up to let Jeff sag against him and fucks up with his hips until he stills, shuddering and groaning into the curve of Jeff's shoulder.

 

"Oh my God," he says, letting them both fall back onto the pillows, sliding his hand up Jeff's spine.

 

Jeff smiles against his neck. "Awesome," he mumbles.

 

Eric laughs. "Yeah," he says. "We should shower. I'm filthy."

 

"Mmm," agrees Jeff, squirming a little to emphasise the feel of his jizz all over Eric's chest.

 

"Brat," says Eric, snorting. "You gonna get off me?"

 

"You gonna get out of me?" says Jeff, cracking up.

 

Eric pulls away so he can blink incredulously at Jeff, and then bursts out laughing too, shaking his head. "You're terrible," he says, grinning wide. "So awful, Jeff."

 

"Never as lame as you," says Jeff.

 

Eric just hums, rolling Jeff carefully off him and tying off the condom. "Come on," he says. "Shower. If we're fast enough I might even make you breakfast in the morning."

 

"Aw," says Jeff, climbing out of bed reluctantly and stumbling after him to the bathroom. "You would've anyway, stop fronting."

 

Eric just says, "Yeah," as he tugs Jeff into the shower, pressing a kiss to the corner of his mouth.

*

*

*

When Jeff wakes for real in the morning it's to an empty bed, although the sheets are still warm, and when he rolls onto his back he can smell coffee, plus something else delicious.

 

He rolls out of bed and pulls on some clothes with his eyes still mostly clothed, shuffling downstairs to find Eric standing at the stove in the kitchen.

 

"Pancakes?" mumbles Jeff, pressing up against Eric's back and tucking his face into his shoulder.

 

"Hey," says Eric, nudging him lightly. "Yeah. I used to only be able to make shitty scrambled eggs, but I figured I should add pancakes to my repertoire once I had kids."

 

"Good choice," says Jeff, sniffing.

 

Eric laughs. "There's coffee, if you want," he says. He turns around and ducks in for a slow, lingering kiss, pressing his warm fingers to Jeff's jaw. "You got classes today?"

 

"Mmm, yeah," says Jeff against his lips. "In the afternoon. You got practice?"

 

"Yeah," says Eric. "In a while."

 

Jeff nods, shuffling aside when Eric turns back to the food to grab some coffee.

 

"I have the kids the next two nights," says Eric, "And a game on Thursday, but you wanna grab dinner Friday? Maybe some drinks or something?"

 

"Sure," says Jeff. "You can be my sugardaddy, buying me drinks." He smirks.

 

"Christ," says Eric. "Don't."

 

Jeff laughs, kissing his cheek quickly before he goes to sit at the counter.

*

*

*

"So," says Katie, as Jeff slides into a seat next to her in their history lecture, "How was Eric?"

 

"Uh, fine," says Jeff blankly.

 

"Uh huh," says Katie, narrowing her eyes at him. "So what, you just went down to the tunnel, said hi, and that was it?"

 

"I-- no, we hung out a bit," says Jeff.

 

"Are you guys friends now?" says Jack, leaning across Katie to widen his eyes at Jeff.

 

"Sort of, I guess?" says Jeff, shrugging.

 

Jack just stares, open-mouthed. "How did you even manage that?"

 

"I have no idea," says Jeff honestly.

 

"Like, I know you're not from around here, but you realise that's a big deal, right? Eric Staal."

 

Jeff rolls his eyes. "Pretty sure I'm a bigger hockey fan than you, man."

 

"Lies," says Jack, narrowing his eyes. "I'll fight you."

 

"Let's go, loser," says Jeff, grinning.

 

Katie rolls her eyes. "Shut up, both of you," she says. "We need to talk about Jeff's crush."

 

"You have a crush?" says Jack. "On who?"

 

Katie elbows him hard. "Do you ever pay attention, you moron?"

 

"Nope," says Jack, grinning. "I don't even know why I'm here; I'ma just steal your notes after."

 

"Well, I'm stealing Ali's, so go for it," says Katie.

 

"Hey," says Ali mildly, pulling out her headphones. "What?"

 

Katie rolls her eyes again.

 

"You're gonna give yourself a headache," says Jeff.

 

"Your crush," says Katie, "On Eric."

 

"You have a crush on Eric?" says Jack. Katie actually groans.

 

"No!" says Jeff loudly, sighing in relief when the lecturer starts talking.

 

"He does," hisses Katie. "He told me."

 

Jeff glares at her.

 

"What?" says Katie, widening her eyes. "You did! You admitted it the other day."

 

"Shut up," mumbles Jeff. "It's not-- just pay attention, oh my God."

 

"Ali's paying attention for us." Katie waves a hand. "This is more important."

 

"Right, way more important," says Jeff. "Look, it's not a big deal."

 

"We've already covered this too," says Katie. "Jesus, having a conversation with you guys is such a fucking chore. Now, are you like, just hanging, or is this actually dating? Does he know?"

 

"What, you think I'm secretly dating him without him knowing?" Jeff raises an eyebrow.

 

"There is such a thing as one-sided dating," says Jack wisely. "Like, I'm pretty sure that's what happened with half the girls I dated."

 

"Why am I not surprised," says Katie dryly. "But seriously, do you think he knows?"

 

Jeff hesitates a moment, wondering how much he should tell them, but-- well, they're his best friends, and he trusts them, and he kind of-- he wants to be able to talk about it to someone. It's kind of huge, and a little bit overwhelming, when he stops to think about it. Plus like, he doesn't really know where it's going, yet, or what Eric wants them to be, and he wants people other than him to know what's going on, so he can-- he can freak out or whatever, as the situation demands.

 

"I'm pretty sure he knows," he mumbles in the end, ducking his head.

 

Katie stares at him. "What does that mean?" she hisses. "Does he-- you told him?"

 

"I, uh," says Jeff. "He asked me out? Last week?"

 

"What?" says Katie shrilly. The entire theatre turns to look at her; the lecturer glares.

 

"Oh my God," says Jeff, sinking down in his seat and flushing even brighter.

 

"No, seriously," whispers Katie, leaning closer. "He asked you out?"

 

"Gee, thanks." Jeff rolls his eyes.

 

"No, but." Katie waves a hand. "That's kind of huge, like, a massive risk, for him. Wow."

 

"Yeah," says Jeff quietly.

 

Katie squeezes his arm. "You said yes, obviously," she says, and Jeff nods.

 

"So you've been out? How was it? What did you do?"

 

Jeff shrugs. "Dinner, uh, we went skating with his kids. Hung out last night."

 

Katie narrows her eyes. "You totally stayed over, didn't you?"

 

Jeff doesn't answer, but he's pretty sure his blush gives it away.

 

Katie giggles, looking delighted. "Oh my God, this is fantastic," she says.

 

"He can get us more tickets, right?" says Jack.

 

"Yeah, he said he could," says Jeff.

 

"Priorities," says Katie sternly, but she smiles at Jeff, soft and genuine. "I'm really happy for you."

 

"Thanks," says Jeff, smiling back.

 

It's kind of crazy, but definitely also awesome.

*

*

*

Eric messages while Jeff's buying his lunch; just hey forgot to ask if you want tix thurs?

 

Jeff bites down on his lip. He wants to go, obviously, even just for the hockey, nevermind Eric, but he has a paper due on Saturday, and if he wants to spend Friday night with Eric with a clear conscience, he needs to get it done before then.

 

i can't this time, he sends in the end. got a paper to finish before fri.

 

that's cool, sends Eric. another time, yeah?

 

definitely, sends Jeff. good luck tho! kill em.

 

always, sends Eric. have a good day, jeff.

 

you too, says Jeff, smiling helplessly and shaking his head.

 

"Ooh, is that him?" says Katie, as Jeff takes a seat next to her on the grass.

 

"Yeah," says Jeff, ducking his head.

 

"Sending you naughty messages?" She smirks.

 

"Oh my God, why are we friends," groans Jeff. "No, just making plans."

 

"What plans?" says Katie, leaning forward curiously.

 

"Just dinner on Friday," says Jeff. "It's no big deal."

 

"Stop saying that, it really is," says Katie.

 

Jeff rolls his eyes. Ali leans in then and says, "What's going on?"

 

It's Katie's turn to roll her eyes, and Jeff lets her explain while he starts on his lunch.

 

"Oh, wow," says Ali, when Katie's done. "Are you-- is it serious?"

 

"We've been on two dates," says Jeff.

 

"Plus one booty call," adds Katie, grinning wickedly.

 

Jeff flushes. "It's not-- I don't know. I really like him, but." He trails off, shrugging.

 

"But what?" says Jack.

 

"Well, he's a pro hockey player," says Katie wisely. "Dating a guy. That's gotta be hard."

 

Jeff nods, sighing. "I'm not sure-- I don't know what he thinks about that. Plus he's got kids, and he's older, and I-- I guess we don't really know each other yet. Not like, for dating. I don't know what he wants this to-- how much he wants to keep-- "

 

"But you click, right?" says Ali.

 

"I-- I guess," says Jeff, then makes a face at himself. "I mean, yeah."

 

"Have that talk soon, maybe," says Katie. "You don't wanna get in too deep and get let down. You're already falling pretty hard, babe."

 

"I'm not falling," says Jeff, scowling. "I just-- I like him."

 

"Okay," says Katie easily. "Think about it though."

 

"I don't wanna freak him out," says Jeff, picking at his sandwich wrapper. "Two dates."

 

"Jeff, he's the pro hockey player with kids," says Katie. "I think if anyone's supposed to freak out here, it's you."

 

"I guess," says Jeff doubtfully. He doesn't really want to think about it yet.

*

*

*

Jeff's mostly done with his paper when his phone beeps on Thursday night.

 

He rubs his eyes blearily and squints at the screen; it's Eric.

 

hey you done with your paper? he says.

 

checking up on me mom? says Jeff, grinning. almost.

 

no just telling you we won in case youre too buried in hw to check the scores.

 

so lame, sends Jeff, even though he has been. but congrats!

 

thanks :) sends Eric. ill see you tomoro? pick you up arnd 7?

 

sounds good, sends Jeff. night, eric.

 

night, jeff, says Eric.

*

*

*

"Are your roommates here?" says Eric when Jeff answers his door Friday.

 

"Uh, no," says Jeff.

 

"Good," murmurs Eric, pushing him back inside and kissing him, just a little bit frantic.

 

Jeff grins when he pulls back. "Hey," he says.

 

"Hi," says Eric, smiling back. "Ready to go?"

 

Jeff nods as he tugs him back into a kiss; Eric laughs against his mouth, going with it.

 

"Where are we going?" asks Jeff, when they finally make it outside.

 

Eric shrugs. "I thought we could get takeout, watch a movie at my place?" he says. "Or if not we can go somewhere, whatever you want."

 

"Takeout sounds good," says Jeff, thinking about eating on the couch pressed up against Eric, and making out a whole lot. "Much better than some fancy restaurant, actually."

 

"If I'd known you were this easy on our first date," says Eric, chuckling.

 

"Pretty sure you knew," says Jeff, glancing at him.

 

"Yeah," says Eric. He climbs into the driver's seat and reaches over to squeeze Jeff's thigh. "Not a bad thing."

 

"Good to know," says Jeff, laughing.

*

*

*

They do pretty well with the takeout, but end up missing most of the movie because they're too busy making out on the couch. Jeff doesn't mind at all; he loves it, Eric's weight pressing him down into the cushions, his long legs tangled up with Jeff's. They kiss until Jeff's lips are bruised and buzzing, and then Eric moves to his neck, sucking livid hickeys into the skin there and groaning every time Jeff lets out a helpless noise, squirming and grinding against him.

 

He ends up sucking Jeff off, holding his hips down so he can't move and driving him crazy with his stupid, ridiculous mouth. Jeff squirms and gasps and tries to warn Eric that he's going to be done embarrassingly fast, because he can't handle the image of Eric's plush, gorgeous lips stretched around his dick, but he can't look away, either. It's way too fucking good.

 

Eric swallows when he comes, finally letting him go so he can push up, and Jeff slumps back, completely boneless, making stupid faces at the ceiling and probably smiling like a moron.

 

"Hey," says Eric, looking pleased but also kind of strained, leaning back over him. "Okay?"

 

"Fuck," says Jeff. "Fuck, Eric, yes. C'mere, get your pants off."

 

Eric huffs a laugh, but fumbles at his fly immediately. "Yeah," he groans. "What do you-- "

 

"Jerk off on me," says Jeff immediately. "I-- is that okay?"

 

He musters the energy to strip his shirt off properly, lying back so he's spread beneath Eric.

 

"Oh my God," says Eric stupidly, and starts jerking himself, tight and frantic.

 

Jeff reaches out to touch his hips, sliding his fingers over the ridges and muscles, over his thighs. Eric's mouth falls open a little, brow furrowed, and Jeff reaches up to touch those too.

 

"Come on my face," says Jeff, because shit, yes. "Eric-- "

 

"What-- you-- Jeff-- " Eric looks like he doesn't quite know what's going on.

 

"Come on," groans Jeff, palming Eric's ass and trying to push him up. "Want you to come on my face, you-- "

 

Eric groans brokenly and comes without warning, mostly on Jeff's chest, since he hasn't moved that far yet, but catching a little on his chin, his bottom lip. Jeff lets his eyes flutter closed and pokes his tongue out to taste, and Eric makes another, hurt noise, shuffling forward.

 

"Yeah," breathes Jeff. "C'mere, give it to me."

 

"Jesus Christ, Jeff, you're gonna kill me," mumbles Eric, nudging his dick against Jeff's lips.

 

Jeff opens his mouth to suck on the head, cleaning him up. Eric's breath catches, and he brings a hand to tangle loosely in Jeff's hair, guiding him a little, pushing just a bit.

 

He sucks and licks, loving the feel of Eric's messy, softening cock in his mouth, until Eric makes a soft, high-pitched noise and tightens his hand, pulling Jeff off and settling down onto him.

 

"I think the movie's a bust," says Jeff into Eric's hair, laughing. "I have no idea what's happening."

 

"Yeah, neither," says Eric. "Shower?"

 

"Yeah," agrees Jeff, trying to nudge him off.

 

Eric laughs and peels himself away, tugging Jeff upright and into a kiss before he herds him towards the bathroom.

*

*

*

Jeff wakes on Saturday morning to an empty bed and the smell of coffee again. He pulls some clothes on with his eyes still mostly closed, stumbling downstairs and into the kitchen, where Eric is at the stove making pancakes, and he glances over at Jeff with a smile and a chuckle.

 

"Hey," he says. "Your shirt's inside out. Also, I'm pretty sure it's mine."

 

Jeff waves a hand, yawning and stepping over to wrap his arms around Eric's waist from behind, pressing his face between his shoulder blades. "Is this gonna be a thing, or is this just you trying to impress when you start dating someone?" he mumbles, grinning.

 

Eric is silent for a moment, then he says, casually, "You should stick around and find out."

 

Jeff's breath hitches a little, and he feels like he should step away from Eric so he can't feel the way his heart speeds up, but maybe that would be more obvious, so he doesn't.

 

"Yeah?" he says instead, a little hesitantly.

 

Eric turns around. "I'd like that," he says quietly.

 

"I-- " Jeff swallows. "Yeah, me too," he says.

 

Eric's eyes crease up when he smiles, soft but really, really fond. "Good," he whispers, ducking in to kiss Jeff slowly, hot and firm and so, so good. Jeff tangles a hand in his hair, sighing.

 

It's-- it's a lot so soon, maybe, and still kind of huge, but Eric is also so easy to be around, and it feels immeasurably good to know he wants to do this for real, settles some of that uncertainty for Jeff, because in the end he definitely wants this, too, nevermind how quickly they got here. Wanting it matters more than some abstract schedule of what's appropriate, he figures, and he'd rather know it's going somewhere than keep wondering.

 

Maybe it won't always be this simple, but for now, this is pretty fucking good.

 

"Mmm," says Eric, pulling back and shoving Jeff away, laughing. "Sit down, the pancakes are gonna burn."

 

Jeff sighs heavily, put-upon, but sits at the counter, resting his chin in his hands. "Game tonight?" he says, yawning.

 

"Yeah," says Eric, shifting the last pancake onto the pile and switching the stove off. "You?"

 

"No, I don't have a game tonight," says Jeff, smirking.

 

Eric rolls his eyes, nudging him as he carries the pancakes to the table. "Any plans?" he says.

 

Jeff shrugs, sitting down and stacking five pancakes onto the plate Eric's set out. "Not yet," he says. "Dunno, might see some friends. No big deal."

 

Eric nods, pushing the maple syrup towards him. He's got three pancakes on his own plate, sprinkled with lemon and a bit of sugar. The freak. Jeff pools the maple syrup on his.

 

"Maybe I'll stay in and watch your game," he adds, grinning at Eric with his mouth full.

 

"I can get tickets," says Eric immediately.

 

Jeff kicks him under the table. "It's fine, save them," he says.

 

"Seriously though, any time," says Eric.

 

"I know," says Jeff.

 

Eric nods. "I have a roadtrip coming up," he says. "Monday. But we can catch up on the weekend again? That was kind of shitty timing, huh, with the whole-- " He waves a hand.

 

Jeff laughs, hooking their ankles together. "It's fine," he says. "I can get some work done."

 

"Been distracted, huh?" Eric grins.

 

"Maybe a bit," says Jeff, grinning back. "Wanna fuck before I go?"

 

Eric chokes on his mouthful of pancakes. "Jesus," he says.

 

"That a yes?" says Jeff, smirking through his lashes.

 

Eric rolls his eyes. "Always a yes," he says, ducking his head, and Jeff's just-- he's really glad Eric wants to do this for real.

*

*

*

It's a good week, even if Jeff doesn't get to see Eric. He takes some more shifts at work and gets a bunch of papers finished between, and hangs out with his friends some, too.

 

Katie leans towards him in one of their lectures and whispers, "So you talk to him yet?"

 

"Sort of," says Jeff. "We-- we're like, dating now, or whatever. Like, properly."

 

"Aw!" she says, punching his arm hard. "Going steady! Drinks tonight, we need to celebrate!"

 

"Ow," says Jeff, rubbing his arm, but he grins.

 

Eric calls him most days, too, and it's still really easy to talk to him even if they're not face-to-face; Eric gives him the run-down on his hockey stuff, and makes really lame jokes about the hotels and his teammates, and Jeff tells him about college.

 

He messages Jeff on Friday while Jeff's at work, and says, hey im home kinda beat but we can do dinner or something?

 

Jeff grins and replies, yeah at work til 6 meet me after?

 

sure see you then :) says Eric.

*

*

*

He's waiting outside after Jeff closes up, and he looks devastating, as usual. Jeff touches his arm in lieu of being able to actually kiss him, smiling hugely, and says, "Hey."

 

"Hey," says Eric, smiling just as wide. "It's good to see you."

 

"You too," says Jeff. "Wanna get out of here? How beat are you?"

 

"I napped," says Eric, shrugging. "So I'm good."

 

"Sweet," says Jeff. "I'm driving, 'kay?"

 

"Okay," says Eric easily, mouth turning up. "What are we doing?"

 

"You'll see," says Jeff. "Nothing special though, don't get your hopes up."

 

"Too late," says Eric, laughing, and Jeff elbows him.

 

He leads Eric to his crappy car, blushing a little even though Eric doesn't seem to notice or care.

 

Eric leans over, once they're inside, cupping Jeff's face in one huge hand and kissing him soft and wet, licking inside a little. "Missed you," he mumbles, flushing.

 

"Yeah," breathes Jeff, clutching at his collar. "You too."

 

Eric smiles, pressing a bit harder. "This is kinda crazy, huh," he says when he pulls back, thumbing at Jeff's bottom lip. He looks happy about it though.

 

"Kinda," agrees Jeff, because it's been like, two weeks, but feels like much longer. They were sort-of friends for a couple months beforehand, he supposes. "But good. Bet you wanted to ask me out the first time you saw me at the skate shop."

 

Eric ducks his head, going a bit pink, and Jeff, grins, delighted.

 

"Oh my God," he says. "Seriously?"

 

"Shut up," says Eric. "Why wouldn't I?"

 

It's Jeff's turn to flush, and he says, eyes on the windshield as he turns on the engine, "I would've said yes then too. For the record."

 

Eric reaches over to squeeze his thigh.

*

*

*

Jeff drives them to a playground not too far from his campus. It's a bit lame, maybe, but he's been here after dark a few times with his friends, drinking and messing around, and he likes it at night. It's getting dark now, so there are no kids or anyone around when Jeff parks.

 

"Playground?" says Eric as they get out of the car. "Are you even younger than I thought?"

 

"Shut up," says Jeff. "You ever been to one of these without your kids?"

 

"No," says Eric. "Should I have?"

 

Jeff grins and tugs him into a kiss. "It's more fun when you're drinking, maybe," he says, pulling Eric towards the equipment. "But still kinda cool, right?"

 

"I guess," says Eric, laughing and letting himself be lead.

 

They climb onto one of the towers, and Jeff sprawls back until Eric takes the hint and settles on top of him, limbs squashed up a little awkwardly in the small space, and they make out for ages, until Jeff's lips are numb and it's properly dark. After that they just lie back, and Eric says, holding Jeff close and warm against his side, "This is kinda nice."

 

"I know," says Jeff, mouthing at his neck.

 

"Hey," says Eric, rubbing absent circles on Jeff's back. "What're you doing Sunday?"

 

"Um." Jeff pulls back, thinking. "What time?"

 

"Any time," says Eric. "I have the kids, and the day off. We could all hang out, if you want?"

 

"Oh," says Jeff, smiling. "Yeah. I was going to study in the morning, but I can come after?"

 

"Only if you want to," says Eric. "I know it's not-- "

 

"Shut up, of course I want to," says Jeff. "I'll be there, okay?"

 

"Okay," says Eric, chuckling. "Sorry." He turns his head so their noses are nudging, and kisses Jeff slow and wet, licking between his swollen lips. "Hey," he breathes. "How do you feel about public sex?"

 

Jeff pulls back, staring. "How do you feel about public sex?" he says.

 

Eric shrugs. "This is kind of secluded, right?" he says, glancing around.

 

Jeff follows his gaze. It sort of is; they're surrounded by plastic turrets and battlements, so no one's gonna spot them straight away. As far as Jeff knows this place is pretty deserted anyway.

 

"Do people come here much?" says Eric.

 

"I don't think so," says Jeff.

 

"Awesome," says Eric, rolling on top of Jeff again and grinding down.

 

"Oh my God," says Jeff, letting his head fall back. "Wow, I'm a terrible influence."

 

"Mmm," agrees Eric, nosing at his cheek. "Come on, make it fast then."

 

Jeff chokes on a laugh, groaning, and rolls his hips up to meet Eric's, gripping his ass tight to hold him just where he wants him, rubbing their dicks together hot and hard through their jeans.

 

"Fuck," breathes Eric into his neck.

 

Jeff makes a wordless noise of agreement; it's not quite enough, the friction through all the layers of clothing, but he can get off like this, he knows he can, and more easily still because it's Eric's weight pressing down on him, his teeth scraping lightly over Jeff's neck.

 

"Shit, God, hang on," says Eric, and shifts so he's got a thigh between Jeff's legs instead, which is awesome, harder and a bit more weight, and he's rubbing himself on Jeff's hip. "Better?"

 

"Yes," hisses Jeff. "God, come on."

 

Eric grunts and presses down as Jeff arches up, and gets a hand in Jeff's hair, tugging a little, which feels awesome, and he moans, biting down on the sound quickly.

 

"Like that," he breathes. "Do that again."

 

"This?" says Eric, tugging again, and Jeff squeezes his eyes shut.

 

"I-- yeah," he stutters. "Can you-- fuck."

 

"Jeff," says Eric stupidly, pressing hot, open-mouthed kisses to the stretched-out, bared side of Jeff's neck, tugging his head sharply to the side by his hair.

 

"Oh my God," says Jeff. "I'm gonna come, I-- shit."

 

"Do it," breathes Eric. "Come on, let me see."

 

Jeff groans again and comes hard, shuddering, messing up his jeans completely.

 

"That's it," whispers Eric, rubbing him through it. "That's it, Jeff. So gorgeous, fuck."

 

Jeff opens his eyes, gasping. Eric smiles down at him. "Okay?" he says.

 

"Yeah," says Jeff, tugging him back into a messy kiss. "You too, come on. You're close, right?"

 

"Yes," hisses Eric, rubbing frantically against Jeff's hip. "I-- "

 

"Here," says Jeff, fumbling between them to undo Eric's fly and get a hand around his dick.

 

Eric groans, dropping his head forward, and Jeff bites haphazardly at his mouth, jerking him clumsy but fast. "Gonna mess up your shirt," says Eric tightly.

 

"I don't care," says Jeff. "Eric, I don't care, just-- "

 

Eric makes a broken noise and comes, messy, all over Jeff's fist and shirt.

 

"Yeah," whispers Jeff, stroking him through it.

 

"God," huffs Eric, rolling onto his back when Jeff lets go and doing his jeans back up.

 

Jeff laughs. "You've got a secret adventurous side," he says, turning his head to grin at Eric.

 

Eric makes a face. "Yeah, what do you know," he says wryly.

 

Jeff kisses his cheek, pressing his smile there. "I like it," he says.

 

"Good," mumbles Eric against his lips. He glances down when he pulls away, smiling ruefully. "Your shirt's ruined," he says, tugging on it lightly. "Sorry."

 

"Right, like I care," says Jeff. "You wanna go get food?"

 

"Hell yeah," says Eric.

*

*

*

Sunday Jeff heads to Eric's around mid-afternoon, after he's done doing homework in the morning. Parker and even Levi are chanting "Jeff! Jeff! Jeff!" when Eric lets him in, laughing, and Jeff drops to a crouch to greet them both, grinning. "Hey, guys!" he says. "How you been?"

 

"I made paintings at school!" says Parker.

 

"Yeah?" says Jeff. "You have to show me. I suck at painting, bet you're way better than me."

 

"I teached Levi," says Parker, nodding.

 

"Taught, buddy," says Eric.

 

"Taught," repeats Parker obediently. "I can taught Jeff!"

 

"That's not-- nevermind." Eric shakes his head, smiling fondly.

 

Jeff snorts. "That'd be great," he says to Parker.

 

"Go get your painting stuff, Parker," says Eric, rolling his eyes. "Sorry," he adds to Jeff, when Parker's run off with Levi in tow.

 

Jeff shakes his head, standing and pushing up on his toes to kiss Eric, sighing into it a little.

 

"Hey," whispers Eric, stroking a hand down his cheek. "You look kinda tired."

 

"Little bit," says Jeff, yawning on cue. Eric smiles.

 

"What you get up to last night, huh?" he says.

 

"Ugh, went out," says Jeff. "It was kinda boring, but late. Had to get up to do homework today."

 

"You didn't have to come," says Eric, frowning.

 

"Yeah, I did," says Jeff. "I'll just pass out on you if I get too beat."

 

"Seriously," says Eric. "Just say, I'll get Parker to back off."

 

"It's cool," says Jeff, shaking his head. "We're gonna paint, it'll be fun."

 

Eric laughs. "Yeah, 'til you have paint all over everything."

 

"That makes it more fun, killjoy," says Jeff, poking him.

 

Eric laughs again, and Parker comes running back in with his arms full of paper and paints, Levi stumbling along behind. He tumbles it all onto the living room floor and looks up with wide eyes.

 

"Remember what I told you about setting up, buddy? Don't wanna make a mess," says Eric.

 

"Newspaper," says Parker, nodding.

 

"Right." Eric grins. "I'll get some, okay, don't get the paint out yet."

 

"'Kay!" says Parker. "Jeff, look!"

 

Eric laughs, going to get the newspaper while Jeff goes to look at Parker's finished paintings.

 

"Oh hey!" he says. "Is that your dad?"

 

"Yep! Hockey!" says Parker happily. "Look!" He holds out another one.

 

"Who's this?" says Jeff, looking at more people on skates.

 

"You and me!" says Parker. "Spinning!"

 

"You-- you painted me?" says Jeff, blinking stupidly just as Eric comes back in.

 

"Yeah, he did," says Eric, crouching beside Jeff, nudging his shoulder.

 

"Wow," says Jeff quietly. That feels kind of huge, almost bigger than anything with just him and Eric so far.

 

"Is that-- is that okay?" says Eric carefully.

 

"What? Of course it's okay," says Jeff, rolling his eyes. "Just-- wow. Yeah."

 

Eric smiles at him. "He likes you a lot," he says.

 

"Dad!" says Parker, frowning. "Painting!"

 

"Paint!" adds Levi, banging his fists on the table.

 

"Okay, sorry, sorry," says Eric, laughing and spreading the newspaper out on the coffee table.

 

Parker sets his paints out carefully, handing everyone a brush, and Eric grabs a bottle of water to pour into the pot for the brushes.

 

"What are we painting?" says Jeff, frowning down at his paper.

 

Eric shrugs. "I'm really bad, you probably won't be able to tell what it is anyway," he says.

 

"Yeah, I don't think I'm any better," says Jeff, making a face.

 

"Everyone paint everyone," says Parker authoritatively.

 

"Huh?" says Jeff.

 

"I think he means everyone paint each other, right, buddy?" says Eric.

 

"Us! All of us!" says Parker, waving his hands. "Me, Levi, Daddy, Jeff."

 

"Us!" echoes Levi, gesturing with his brush.

 

"Uh," says Jeff. "I don't-- "

 

"How 'bout we all just paint what we want?" says Eric, flushing a little.

 

"Us!" demands Parker, pouting.

 

"Parker-- "

 

"It's fine," says Jeff quickly. "I mean-- is it weird? For you?"

 

Eric shakes his head. "What about you?" he says, frowning.

 

Jeff shrugs. "He already painted me," he says. "Guess it can't hurt. Long as you don't mind. Me butting in, or whatever."

 

"You're not butting in," says Eric immediately. "Come on."

 

"Okay," says Jeff, laughing a little. "Start painting, let's see who's worse."

 

It is sort of weird, painting and being painted like they're a-- a family, or something. Jeff doesn't-- he doesn't want to impose on Eric like that so soon, and like, get the kids' hopes up when it's still so early, but he also can't say no to Eric or his kids, let alone disappoint them, so.

 

It's just a stupid painting, anyway, he tells himself.

 

It's pretty fun, anyway, trying and mostly failing to stop Levi getting paint everywhere. Jeff winds up with brightly coloured arms all the way up to his elbows, although he steers clear of his face until Eric pokes him on the nose with his brush, grinning, and then he says, "Oh, it is on," and scrambles over him to paint bright red streaks across his cheeks. Eric tries to bat him away, laughing, but he's got one hand out to steady them and it's a wasted attempt. Jeff climbs off, flushed and grinning at his work.

 

"Hey, at least it's Canes colours, right?"

 

"Oh yeah, I feel much better," says Eric wryly, but his grin is huge. "Okay, we all done?"

 

"Hang on," says Jeff, adding a touch more yellow to his picture of Eric's hair.

 

"My hair is not that big," says Eric, peering at it.

 

"It is in the mornings," says Jeff, smirking.

 

Eric elbows him, standing. "Okay, bring them to the kitchen, guys, we'll leave them to dry on the counter. Then it's bath time, I think."

 

He doesn't let Jeff help with the baths, sitting him down forcibly on the couch and pressing the remote into his hands. "I got this," he says over Jeff's protests. "Just rest, okay?"

 

Jeff sighs but does, going to wash off in the kitchen before he turns on the TV.

 

Eric comes downstairs a while later with a much cleaner, quieter pair of kids, and he puts a movie on for them to watch before settling on the couch next to Jeff.

 

"Okay?" he says, tugging Jeff against his side.

 

Jeff sighs, letting Eric take his weight. "Yeah," he says. "Might fall asleep on you."

 

"You're worse than the kids," says Eric, chuckling quietly.

 

"Shut up," says Jeff around a yawn. "Your kids out half the night?"

 

"Touche," says Eric.

 

Jeff smiles, letting his eyes drift closed.

*

*

*

He wakes to Eric shaking him lightly, blinking disorientedly. He's not sure how long it's been, exactly, but the TV is off, so the movie must be finished, and it's mostly dark out.

 

"Wassit?" he mumbles, rolling further into the couch.

 

"Dinner time," says Eric. "You hungry?"

 

Jeff is really fucking hungry, actually. He stretches, yawning. "Hell yes," he says.

 

Eric grins. "Come on then," he says, disappearing from Jeff's view, presumably to the kitchen.

 

The kids are already in their chairs at the table, working on their food. Jeff sits in one of the empty chairs, falling on the bowl of spaghetti Eric sets in front of him.

 

"There better be more," he says through a mouthful.

 

Eric rolls his eyes. "'Course there is, we're all growing boys here," he says, settling down with his own bowl and reaching over to wipe Levi's mouth, saying, "Parker, stop getting food everywhere," absently.

 

Jeff looks at them, and it's-- it's still nice, it's not bad, but he has this strange, sudden wave of-- of awkwardness, like he doesn't really belong here, or like it's so weird that he is, eating dinner together like it's an everyday thing, painting himself into their lives, like-- like this is really his family, which is just so inconceivable and outlandish and also not true that he gets a bit panicked.

 

Like, fuck, it's been barely over two fucking weeks, and now it's actually hitting him how this is serious with Eric, this is a real thing they're doing, and that changes entirely the way his having kids looks for Jeff, no longer just cute distractions but something more, and just-- just-- holy shit.

 

He doesn't realise he's stopped eating, clutching his fork like a crazy person until Eric says, "Jeff, hey. Jeff. You okay?"

 

"Huh?" says Jeff, snapping his head up to look at him.

 

Eric frowns. "You okay?" he says again, carefully.

 

"Oh," says Jeff, shaking his head. Some of the panic recedes as he comes back to himself a little, but he still feels weird and kind of shaky, and totally uncertain all over again. "Yeah, sorry. Still tired, I guess." He forces a smile, and Eric watches him carefully for another moment.

 

"Okay," he says eventually, nodding and smiling.

 

Jeff offers to do the dishes once everyone's finished eating and Eric declares bedtime for the kids. Eric protests, obviously, but Jeff says, "I got this," over his noises, smirking a little.

 

"Fine," says Eric, hefting Levi up with one arm and grabbing Parker's hand with the other. "Say goodnight to Jeff, guys."

 

"Night, Jeff!" says Levi.

 

"Night, Jeff!" says Parker, tugging out of Eric's hold to spread his arms out in front of Jeff.

 

Jeff laughs, crouching down to hug him. "Night, buddy."

 

Eric smiles and takes them upstairs.

 

Jeff washes the dishes and determinedly doesn't think about feeling weird or anything other than cleaning them properly and not breaking Eric's shit.

 

When Eric comes back down he nudges into his side and says, "Hey, kids are down. You good?"

 

"Yep," says Jeff, wiping off the last bowl. "Done."

 

He turns fully into Eric's chest and presses close into his warmth, tucking his head under his chin and sighing, sliding his palms under Eric's shirt, no rush. Eric's hands come up to smooth over his spine, and he curves his neck down to breathe in Jeff's hair.

 

Jeff's still kind of tired, but Eric also feels really good, so he tips his face up and says, "Sex?" hopefully.

 

Eric laughs, leaning down to meet him in a slow, wet kiss, and says, "Let's go."

 

He pulls Jeff to him when they're in Eric's room, kissing him unhurried and thorough, and whispers, "You should fuck me. If-- if you want."

 

Jeff groans and nods helplessly.

 

It's-- it's really great, like, Jeff's kind of glad, in a way, that Eric asked him to do this for the first time when he's beaten down a little with tiredness, because otherwise he'd probably be over-eager and shitty and not last very long.

 

This way, though, he can hold back a little when he pushes in, and build up a slow, languid rhythm, sleep-heavy and honey-sweet, rolling all wave-like over Eric, fucking into him with long, gorgeous drags that make him sweat and gasp and ache, but in the best kind of way. Like-- like he's being burned by awesomeness from the inside out.

 

By the time Eric comes, Jeff's hand around his dick and his head tipped back beautifully, gasping through his stupid red lips, Jeff feels like his spine is about to fall out, all pooled under the small of his back, and Eric clenching around his dick does it for him; he shudders and comes for ages, it feels like, falling onto Eric and just pushing it out with his hips, over and over until he's completely boneless, wrung-out.

 

Eric steadies him with a hand on his back and whispers, "Wow, Jeff," and Jeff huffs a laugh, totally unable to move.

 

He sighs eventually, pulling out with a wince and rolling onto his back, tying off and chucking the condom.

 

"We should shower," says Eric, sounding reluctant.

 

Jeff grunts and grabs his t-shirt to wipe them off, and Eric chuckles.

 

"Yeah, okay," he says, stretching to flick off the lights and curve around Jeff's back. "Still tired, huh?"

 

"Hmm, yeah," says Jeff, yawning. He tangles his hand up with Eric's.

 

"Night, Jeff," whispers Eric.

 

"Night," says Jeff, breathing out.

*

*

*

He still feels off the next day. Eric has morning skate, and Jeff has an early lecture, so he leaves right after breakfast, kissing Eric slow and warm in the hallway before he heads out.

 

He's restless all through the lecture; the longer it goes on the less attention he pays, and he just can't-- it's so dumb, but he feels kind of weird and helpless and overwhelmed.

 

He grabs Katie's elbow hard as soon as they're out of the lecture and hisses, "I'm freaking out."

 

She blinks at him, then visibly gathers herself and nods, hauling him to the nearest courtyard.

 

"Okay," she says, when they're sitting on the grass. "Spill."

 

Jeff sighs. "It's-- Eric," he says, biting down on his lip.

 

"Oh." Katie's face does something weird. "Are you gonna break his heart?"

 

"What?" says Jeff. "No, I-- I don't-- I just-- " He cuts himself off, frustrated. "I was at his place yesterday, and his kids were there too, and it was-- it was like-- "

 

"Oh," says Katie again. "But are you having second thoughts?"

 

"No," says Jeff, frowning. "I-- I don't know. It was just so-- so domestic, you know? We were painting, and Parker made us all paint each other together, like, me as well, with them, like a-- a family or something, and it was just. Weird. I don't-- "

 

"Honey," says Katie, squeezing both his knees. "That's totally normal to feel weird about."

 

"Yeah, but." Jeff scrubs a hand through his hair. "Eric probably thinks it's weird too, you know? He said he doesn't, but he's so nice, and I-- I don't want to impose on his family like that. Parker already drew a picture of me and him skating when I wasn't even around, like he thinks I'm their-- " He stops, shaking his head. "It's just a lot. It's really fucking scary. I-- I don't know if I can do this. For them or-- or me. I don't know if I'm ready, and I can't-- I can't lead them on like this and then let them down if it turns out I'm not."

 

"Sweetie, I don't think Eric thinks it's weird," says Katie. "And of course it's scary. It's terrifying. Have you talked to him about this?"

 

"No," says Jeff. "I can't, come on. He keeps asking if I'm okay with everything, and I keep saying yes, so that's-- it's not fair. And he'll-- I don't want to-- "

 

"Break his heart?" says Katie, smirking a little.

 

Jeff scowls at her. "Upset him," he says. "He's really trying. It's not-- this is me. I just-- I'm twenty," he hisses helplessly. "And it's like I already have a family."

 

Katie stares at him. "Okay," she says eventually, firmly. "This is way too heavy to be talking about sober. We're going to get some drinks."

 

Jeff blinks at her. "It's four in the afternoon," he says.

 

"Totally acceptable time to start drinking," says Katie, waving a hand. "Come on. I'll tell Jack and Ali to meet us there."

*

*

*

She drives them to the closest bar off-campus that doesn't card, even though her and Jack are already 21. It's pretty thoughtful of her.

 

As soon as they’re inside she pushes him into an empty booth and heads to the bar with a firm, "Stay there. Don’t think 'til I tell you to."

 

Jeff rolls his eyes, waving her off.

 

She comes back with a beer and two shots; she pushes the beer towards him and splits the shots between them. "Cheers," she says, holding hers up.

 

"This is ridiculous," says Jeff, but he swallows his shot anyway, and chases it with a large mouthful of beer, because he's a moron. "Fuck," he coughs.

 

Katie laughs. "Get used to it," she says. "I'll get you another one soon."

 

Jeff snorts, sipping his beer again, which tastes a little better when it's not immediately chasing a shot of tequila, thank God. "Aren't you gonna make me talk?" he says.

 

"You already talked," says Katie. "We'll talk some more later."

 

"Huh," says Jeff. "Okay, this wasn't such a bad idea."

 

"I know," says Katie.

 

Jack and Ali arrive not long after, and it's pretty much the same as all the other times they go out drinking together. Ali's looking a little curious, nursing her vodka lime and soda, but Jack's tipping back his third beer pretty rapidly, looking totally unconcerned.

 

"Okay," says Katie, coming back from the bar and handing Jeff his fourth shot of the evening. "Drink up."

 

Jeff tips it back, swallowing, and Katie slides him a beer immediately after, grinning. "So," she says, sliding back into her seat. "You're drunk now, right?"

 

"Mmm, yeah," says Jeff languidly. He's definitely got a good buzz going on.

 

"Awesome," says Katie. "You're always more honest when you're drunk, so let's do this. You still wanna date Eric, even though he's got kids and responsibilities and shit?"

 

"Yes," says Jeff immediately and vehemently, and then blinks. "Oh, huh."

 

Katie looks delighted. "See?" she says. "Now you know it's just normal freaking out, not I-don't-wanna-date-him freaking out. Sweetie." She leans forward. "It's huge, okay, and it's fucking scary, and it's gonna take a while to get used to. It's gonna be really different to anything you imagined you'd have right now. Just breathe and think about how much you like him, and things will be fine. You can totally do it. If you like him this much, you can."

 

"I really like him," says Jeff earnestly, nodding.

 

"We know," says Katie, laughing and ruffling his hair.

 

Jeff ducks away and pulls his phone from his pocket, because this feels like something kind of important; something Eric should know.

 

hi, he texts. i reaallyyy like you.

 

Eric sends back, are you drunk? almost immediately.

 

bite, sends Jeff, then frowns. bit, he corrects. still tru thogh. kati says trueer becas durnk.

 

Eric sends back oh my god, which could mean anything and makes Jeff frown a little, but then he also sends, i really like you too, jeff.

 

Jeff just smiles really stupidly at his phone for ages; until Eric sends, also i can bite if you want me to :)

 

Jeff cracks up. omg your so laaame, he sends. its rly grret.

 

glad someone appreciates it, says Eric. have a good night, jeff x

 

"He sent me a kiss," says Jeff stupidly, aware somewhere really vague in the back of his mind that he's probably never going to live this down.

 

Katie snorts obnoxiously into her drink, and even Ali breaks down into giggles.

 

"Of course he did," says Jack wisely.

*

*

*

"Oh my God," rasps Jeff when Eric calls him the next morning. He feels like shit, not the least because of how ridiculous he'd been last night. "I'm so sorry, fuck."

 

Eric laughs. "Don't be," he says. "It was cute."

 

"Ugh," groans Jeff, flopping onto his back with a wince and squeezing his eyes shut.

 

"You feeling okay?" says Eric, still sounding amused.

 

"Not really," says Jeff, sighing.

 

Eric makes a sympathetic noise. "Drinking on a Monday night?" he says.

 

"I-- yeah," says Jeff. "It was dumb, I know. I-- I had a shitty day, I guess."

 

"It wasn't-- " Eric cuts himself off. "It wasn't because of-- of us, was it? It's not too much for you?"

 

Jeff opens his eyes, blinking. He hadn't realised Eric was so perceptive. "I-- no," he says. "I mean, okay, possibly I freaked out a bit after Sunday, but it's fine, Eric, don't-- don't feel bad."

 

Eric's silent for a moment. "Is it the kids?" he says quietly.

 

"No," says Jeff immediately, wincing at how loud it comes out. "It's me, I'm dumb, okay, and I'm over it. Don't freak out. I love your kids. They're great. You're great."

 

"What was it then?" says Eric.

 

Jeff sighs. "I don't even know," he says. "I was really tired, okay, I wasn't even functioning properly, and I guess I just-- had a moment. About everything. It is kinda huge. But I realised it's not huge in a bad way, like. I'm really happy, you know? So fuck it."

 

Eric pauses another moment, but then he chuckles quietly, and Jeff feels the tension seep out of him. "Okay," says Eric. "I-- I know it's a lot, especially so fast. I don't know how, but I forget how young you are, sometimes. I guess 'cause you're so good with everything. Just tell me if it's ever too much, okay, and we can fix it. I don't wanna scare you off. I-- I told you, I really like you."

 

"Yeah," says Jeff softly, smiling. "Okay. Thanks for not freaking out."

 

"Oh my God, I'm not that bad," says Eric huffily.

 

Jeff snorts. "You kinda are," he says.

 

"Whatever," says Eric. and then, more quietly, sincere, "Thanks for telling me even though you thought I'd freak out."

 

"You're welcome, I guess," says Jeff, laughing.

 

"For the record," says Eric, "You're really great with the kids. If that makes it-- if that helps at all. You'd make a great teacher."

 

"Oh," says Jeff, blinking, heart stuttering. "I-- thanks."

 

"You're welcome," says Eric warmly. "You got classes today?"

 

"Ugh, yeah, later," says Jeff. "Gonna lie around and feel sorry for myself til then."

 

Eric laughs. "Sounds good," he says. "Go back to sleep. I'll see you later, okay?"

 

"Yeah, okay," says Jeff. "I-- thanks. Again. Just-- thanks."

 

"You're welcome," says Eric again, quiet and fond.

*

*

*

Jeff blinks awake a while later to someone knocking on the door. He glances at the clock, but it's still too early for anyone to be searching for him about classes.

 

He stumbles to the door, and blinks at Eric, standing there looking kind of sheepish.

 

"Hey," he says, staring at the two huge bags of McDonalds in Eric's hands. "You throwing out your diet?"

 

"They're for you," says Eric, ducking his head. "I, uh, didn't know what you like, so I got-- a lot. I hear it's good hangover food."

 

Jeff giggles, kind of delighted. "Oh my God," he says, drawing Eric into a warm, messy kiss, biting down on his bottom lip a little. "You're the best."

 

Eric looks pleased, and Jeff grabs the bags, stepping back and tilting his head. "Wanna come in?" he says. "Roommates are out for the day."

 

"Sure," says Eric, grinning and following Jeff back to his bed. "So this is where you live, huh?"

 

"It's pretty shitty," says Jeff, shrugging. "But whatever."

 

"I like it," says Eric. "Very college kid chic."

 

Jeff cracks up. "Yeah, I'm a trendsetter," he says dryly.

 

"Eat," says Eric, nudging him, and Jeff does, digging through the bags and pulling out eight different burgers, holy shit, plus four large fries.

 

"You weren't lying, holy crap," he says, trying to figure out what the burgers are without unwrapping them all entirely. In the end he goes for a Quarter Pounder, because fuck it, he's hungover, and nudges the rest towards Eric. "You eat too," he says.

 

"I shouldn't, oh my God," says Eric, even as he picks at the wrappers curiously.

 

He ends up eating one of the grilled chicken burgers, even though he makes faces and says, "The trainers are gonna kill me, fuck. You're the worst influence."

 

"Excuse me, you bought this shit, loser," says Jeff around a mouthful of fries. "So don't tell them."

 

Eric makes more faces, and Jeff laughs.

 

"You totally think this is worse than the public sex, don't you?"

 

"No," lies Eric, and Jeff just laughs some more. "It's just so good."

 

"Mmm, fries," says Jeff obnoxiously, and Eric kicks him, grinning.

 

"Don't get my kids into McDonalds," he says. "Figure skating I can deal with, but-- "

 

"I'm not letting you forget you said that about figure skating," Jeff cuts across. "And I wouldn't. With the McDonalds. And unhealthy shit."

 

"I know," says Eric. "I was joking. About the figure skating too, by the way." He smirks.

 

"Your jokes are the worst," says Jeff, shaking his head sadly. "The worst."

 

"I know," says Eric, sighing.

 

Jeff giggles, listing into his side. "I still like you," he says.

 

"I'm really glad," says Eric earnestly, putting an arm around his shoulders.

 

Jeff closes his eyes, smiling to himself, kind of glad for the hangover, in a weird way, because he got to this point, got over the freaking out, and he feels good, and Eric is really warm, seeping into him and loosening his slightly aching muscles.

*

*

*

Eric messages him on Wednesday saying hey, you free tomorrow morning sometime?

 

uh i can do lunch??? replies Jeff, biting down on his lip. He can't really skip his morning tutorials.

 

has to be quick but sounds good, im flying out at 2 roadtrip, says Eric.

 

i can pick you up/drop at airport if thats easier? says Jeff.

 

yeah if you dont mind that would be great, replies Eric.

 

no problem ill come round quick as i can after class, sends Jeff.

*

*

*

Eric is in his travel suit when Jeff picks him up, and he stares openly as Eric climbs into the passenger seat, dumping his bag in the back, because it looks really good on him.

 

"Hey," he says, grinning. "Lookin' good."

 

"Thanks." Eric laughs a little self-consciously, leaning in for a kiss.

 

Jeff hums against his mouth, straining into it a little before he pulls back. "Okay, where are we going?"

 

Eric shrugs. "Thought you might wanna pick," he says.

 

"You're just lazy," says Jeff, pulling out onto the street. "I'll go to McDonalds."

 

"Don't you dare," says Eric, chuckling.

 

"Hmm," says Jeff, pretending to consider it. Eric rolls his eyes. "Okay. You like Mexican?"

 

"Sure," says Eric.

 

"There's this awesome place near my campus, they have the best stuff," says Jeff.

 

"Great," says Eric. "You sure you're okay to drop me after?"

 

"If I wasn't, I wouldn't've offered," says Jeff, and Eric ducks his head in acknowledgement.

 

It's a cute, brightly-painted little restaurant; Eric looks pretty out-of-place in the sharp lines of his suit, and he actually gets asked for a couple of autographs, which is weird, but no one really glances at Jeff twice, so he figures it's pretty normal for hockey players to be out with friends or whatever. When Eric's done signing things and posing for a couple of pictures they grab a hidden-away table squashed into a corner.

 

"Sorry," says Eric.

 

Jeff shakes his head. "Gonna happen sometimes, right? It's fine."

 

"Yeah," says Eric, picking up the menu and smiling. "So what's good?"

 

"Everything," says Jeff.

 

Eric rolls his eyes. "Helpful," he says dryly.

 

"I'm getting the nachos," says Jeff.

 

"Hmm," says Eric. "Kinda hungry for nachos."

 

He ends up ordering a burrito, grinning as he hands the menu to the waiter.

 

"So hey," he says. "Free Saturday night?"

 

"For you, baby?" says Jeff, fluttering his lashes.

 

Eric snorts, choking on his water. "Oh my God," he says.

 

Jeff grins, laughing. "Yeah, I'm free," he says.

 

"Cool," says Eric. "I get back early, like, around six? I won't have the kids, so you wanna come over, hang out?"

 

"Course," says Jeff, liking the way Eric's eyes crease up as he smiles.

 

"Awesome," he says. "We can get takeout, I'll be too beat to cook."

 

"You cook?" says Jeff, smirking.

 

"Hey, shut up," says Eric. "You liked my pancakes."

 

"Sure, I just didn't know your repertoire went outside breakfast foods."

 

"It totally does," says Eric. "I can boil pasta with the best of them."

 

"Oh right, the spaghetti," says Jeff. "I've never had better."

 

"Damn right," says Eric, laughing.

 

Jeff rolls his eyes. "So you got the Penguins and Philly, right?" he says.

 

"Yep." Eric nods. "Should be a good couple games."

 

"You'll get Philly easy," says Jeff. "Penguins not so much."

 

"No confidence in me?" says Eric, raising his eyebrows.

 

"Totally confident, sorry," says Jeff. "You'll kill 'em."

 

"That's better," says Eric. "You gonna watch?"

 

"Definitely," says Jeff.

 

They eat their food in comfortable silence; Eric hooks his ankle around Jeff's under the table and steals a handful of his nachos, grinning.

 

"Cheat," says Jeff, leaning over to take a bite of Eric's burrito right out of his hand.

 

"Thief," says Eric, flicking his cheek.

 

"Mmm," says Jeff obnoxiously, and Eric laughs.

 

"We should probably get going," he says regretfully, finishing off the last of his burrito.

 

"Yeah." Jeff sighs. "No time for a quickie?"

 

"I wish," says Eric, sighing.

 

Jeff laughs. "Come on," he says, standing up.

 

He tugs Eric towards him in the car, licking into his mouth and kissing him thoroughly before he lets go with a sigh and turns the engine on.

 

"Saturday," says Eric, thumbing the corner of his mouth.

 

"Yeah," says Jeff. "Gonna blow you so hard."

 

"Don't," groans Eric, tipping his head onto the back of the seat.

*

*

*

Eric's not home yet when Jeff gets there Saturday, so he sits on the front step, waiting, until Eric's cab pulls up in front of the house and he gets out, grinning at Jeff.

 

"Hey, sorry," he says as he approaches. "Been waiting long?"

 

"Nah," says Jeff, pushing to his feet. "Hey. Congrats. Both games!"

 

"I know," says Eric, grin widening.

 

"Totally deserve that blowjob," says Jeff, and Eric fumbles his keys, swearing.

 

"Hurry up," whispers Jeff, pressing up against his back.

 

He ends up sucking Eric off against the door, groaning around his dick as Eric tugs on his hair, drawing out his taste and helpless noises until he comes down Jeff's throat.

 

"Fuck," gasps Eric, tipping his head back and breathing out. "Fuck, Jeff."

 

"Hey," breathes Jeff, standing and pushing up to kiss his mouth, press his hips to Eric's thigh.

 

"Hey," whispers Eric, cupping his face. "Hey, come on. Couch."

 

Jeff lets Eric push him, sprawling back on the couch and tugging his jeans open.

 

Eric gets a hand around his dick, jerking him tight and fast, and Jeff was close already, so it's not long before he's coming all over Eric's fist, twisting and moaning.

 

"You're so hot," whispers Eric, stroking him through it. "So gorgeous, Jeff."

 

"You should get naked," says Jeff stupidly, stretching his neck out, breathing hard.

 

"I just came," says Eric, laughing. "You blew me, remember."

 

"Mmm, I remember," says Jeff, licking his lips. "Should still get naked."

 

Eric laughs, stripping his shirt off indulgently. His pants are still open, and he does them up, which makes Jeff frown.

 

"That's the opposite of naked," he says.

 

"I'm half naked, oh my God," says Eric. "C'mere."

 

He tugs Jeff so he's seated and gets him settled against him. It's kind of nice, actually-- or okay, really nice-- his smooth, warm skin against Jeff.

 

"Movie?" says Eric. "I can fuck you after, if you want."

 

"'Course I want," says Jeff, scoffing. "Okay. Sounds good."

 

Eric laughs again, grabbing the remote and turning the TV on.

*

*

*

Eric has the day off Sunday, so for once Jeff's awake before him.

 

He spends a disgusting amount of time staring like a moron at Eric's sleeping face; the soft part of his lips and the gentle flutter of his eyelashes, his sleep-pink cheeks.

 

When he manages to shake himself out of it he heads downstairs, shucking on a pair of boxers, thinking he'll get some coffee started, only he runs straight into someone-- into, shit, Eric's fucking brother, Jordan fucking Staal.

 

"Uh," says Jeff, freezing up completely.

 

Jordan just gapes at him. "Aren't you the new babysitter?" he says eventually.

 

Jeff says, "Oh, uh-- " and blanks out at that, and Jordan rolls his eyes and shouts, "Eric! Why is your manny half-naked in your kitchen?" and then, at a normal tone, "Sorry, thought you'd rather he do the explaining."

 

Jeff musters up an awkward smile at that, and says, "Yeah, definitely."

 

Eric comes thundering down, looking mortified, and snaps, "Jordy, don't be an asshole," and then to Jeff, "Jeff, oh my God, I'm so sorry."

 

"Oh my God," says Jordan, staring. "This is Jeff? Jeff as in the dude you're dating now?"

 

"Yeah, what?" says Eric, frowning between him and Jeff.

 

"Are you-- is this your midlife crisis?" says Jordan, waving a hand.

 

"Fuck you, I am not middle-aged," says Eric, scowling.

 

Jeff snorts, then coughs to cover it when Eric glares at him.

 

"You act like it though, am I right?" says Jordan, looking at Jeff for confirmation.

 

Jeff shrugs. "Wouldn't know," he says, smirking. "He's like a horny teenager in bed."

 

Jordan and Eric both stare at him. Jordan sputters, and Eric looks like he's trying to pick an expression between pleased and horrifically embarrassed; his cheeks are bright red.

 

"Well," says Eric eventually, "I guess you'd know."

 

"I'm twenty, fuck you very much," says Jeff, folding his arms and scowling.

 

Jordan collapses into laughter, and doesn't stop for a good five minutes.

*

*

*

They end up having breakfast, the three of them, in Eric's kitchen. It's kind of weird, and even weirder when Jordan looks at them across the table and says, "No, but is this-- are you serious about this?"

 

"Jordy," says Eric quietly, glancing at Jeff. "That's not fair, come on."

 

"Maybe," says Jordy, eyes on Jeff. "But this is kind of huge, you know that, right? For Eric."

 

Jeff bites his lip and nods. "I know," he says. "I don't-- I don't wanna make things difficult."

 

"You're not," says Eric immediately, squeezing his thigh. "Jordy, leave him alone. We haven't even been dating that long. It's-- I want to, you know, keep dating, but." He shrugs.

 

"But what?" says Jordy.

 

"This is not your conversation to have," says Eric sharply.

 

"Okay," says Jordy slowly, holding up his hands.

 

"Um," says Jeff. He has no idea what to say. "I'm gonna-- I'm gonna go shower."

 

Eric sighs. "Okay," he says, touching Jeff's thigh. "I'll see you in a bit."

*

*

*

Eric ends up climbing into the shower with Jeff, pressing up behind him and wrapping his arms around his waist, and says quietly, "You know I-- I want this, if you do, right?"

 

"This is kind of a weird conversation to have while we're naked and wet," says Jeff.

 

"It's kind of a weird conversation to have, period," says Eric.

 

"Yeah," agrees Jeff. He bites his lip, nodding and flushing. "I just-- it's on you, you know?" he says. "I don't want to sound like-- like I'm copping out or anything, but I can't push you. It is huge. If you want it though-- " He shrugs. "I'm not going anywhere."

 

Eric bites his lip, looking away. "I do," he says. "I don't-- I mean, I have no idea what to do, honestly, what's gonna happen, but I-- I really like you. I don't wanna give that up just because-- I think I'm old enough to deal with whatever happens, you know? I'm the captain, I can't just-- I can't be shitty like that. Plus you know how I-- I'd never forgive myself. If I chose being safe, not getting a bunch of media shit or whatever, over you. That's-- that's not okay."

 

"Guilt complex," says Jeff, smiling a little. "Look, Eric, seriously, whatever you want. I-- I really like you too, and it's not an issue for me, obviously. I just-- like you," he finishes lamely.

 

Eric smiles at him. "Are you-- what about everything else?" he says.

 

"What everything else?" Jeff frowns.

 

Eric sighs. "I just-- I don't wanna freak you out, you know? It's kind of huge already, and we haven't been dating that long, and I-- nevermind all that, but I'm so much older, and you're still in college, and I have kids, for God's sake, and I can't ask you to-- "

 

"We are not going there again," says Jeff, rolling his eyes. "Eric, we've been over that, come on. I'm in college, so I get to do what I want, and what I want is to date you, okay?"

 

"I-- okay," says Eric, smiling slowly. "Sorry."

 

"It's fine," says Jeff. "And look, don't worry too much about the other stuff either, okay? Just-- I don't know, talk to some people maybe, but we don't-- we've done okay so far. We don't have to do anything 'til you're ready, 'til we've been in this a while. I'm good, you know? I mean, if you are."

 

"Yeah," says Eric, looking at him fondly. "God, Jeff, I'm really good."

 

Jeff leans in to kiss him, grinning against his mouth. "Tell Jordy to quit freaking out," he says.

 

Eric rolls his eyes. "He likes to pretend he's my older brother too," he says.

 

"Well, someone's gotta take you down a notch," says Jeff, laughing.

 

"Shut up," says Eric, kissing him again, and Jeff grins at him, eyes bright, and says, "Make me."

*

*

*

Jeff hangs out a bunch with Eric and Jordy after that. Jordy gets way more relaxed, so Jeff figures Eric's spoken to him, or that he can see something in the way they interact, maybe.

 

It gets even better once Jordy realises Jeff's into hockey almost as much as he is, apart from the whole playing professionally thing. It's really easy to shoot the shit with him, and Jordy and Eric bicker constantly in this familiar, affectionate way that Jeff is endlessly amused by.

 

It reminds him a lot of him and his sisters, which makes him feel simultaneously at home and homesick. Basically it's really nice.

 

Like this one time, heading towards mid-October, and they're at Eric's place watching movies and eating gross unsalted popcorn. Jeff is dozing on Eric's shoulder; it's late and he's had classes all day, plus a ton of papers to finish up all week. As far as celebrations go it's pretty tame, but much as he'd freaked out about it at the start (or well, that one time), Jeff's finding he still doesn't mind being here with Eric over going out and getting trashed or whatever.

 

Maybe because he knows Eric doesn't mind, actually wants him to go out and have fun more than Jeff himself does, and when the two options are there to choose from, Jeff's gonna pick Eric pretty much every time.

 

"Hey, Eric," says Jordy lazily, smirking. "You gonna put your third kid to bed anytime soon? He looks beat."

 

"Shut up, Jordy," snaps Eric, although he doesn't move.

 

"Seriously though, look at the kid," says Jordy.

 

"'M still here," mumbles Jeff. "And I'm not a kid."

 

"You are if you have to say it like that," says Jordy, cracking up. "Don't worry though, we all know it's just that Eric's old."

 

"I am not-- "

 

"You really are," says Jordy, grinning.

 

"Fuck you, you have a big nose," says Eric.

 

"You have a stupid girly face," says Jordy without missing a beat.

 

"Yeah, well you-- "

 

"Oh my God," says Jeff loudly, standing up and trying to look stern even though mostly he wants to giggle. "I'm going to bed." He stretches, making sure his t-shirt rides up and Eric can see a wide stretch of his bare stomach, keeping his eyes on him. "Eric, feel free to join me."

 

Eric snaps his mouth closed around the comeback, eyes wide. "Yeah," he says kind of hoarsely, swallowing.

 

"Gross," says Jordy, dumping the last of the popcorn on Eric's head. "I'm leaving."

 

"Jordy," says Eric.

 

Jeff rolls his eyes and turns towards the stairs.

 

"Jordan Staal," says Eric in his dad voice. "You better clean this shit up before you go. I already have two kids."

 

"Don't you mean three?" says Jordy, cracking up while Eric tries to beat him down with a cushion.

 

"Not unless that includes you," says Eric, letting up once they're both suitably tousled and pink-cheeked. "Now clean up, and lock the door behind you. I'm going to bed."

*

*

*

Jeff's at Eric's place the Sunday before Canadian Thanksgiving. Eric dropped the kids at Tanya's place in the afternoon, and now Jeff's here to hang with him.

 

He's just done fucking Eric on the couch; he's shirtless and damp, sprawled half on the couch, half on Eric, and he's still kind of out of it, stuck on the image of Eric's long, long legs spread wide, one slung over the back of the couch, letting him in.

 

Eric's tracing lazy fingers over his stomach, dragging them through the sweat and flecks of Eric's own come. "Hey," he mumbles, turning his face into Jeff's hair. "What're you doing tomorrow?"

 

Jeff hums, stretching a little. "Skipping classes," he says. "Skyping my family. Thanksgiving, you know."

 

Eric nods. "Are you-- are you going anywhere? 'Cause if you're not, I-- you should come over. I know it sucks, not being able to get home. You can bring your laptop and Skype your family from here, if you want. We can do dinner or whatever, it might be nice?"

 

"Oh," says Jeff, twisting to look at him. "Really? You don't have plans?"

 

Eric shakes his head. "We do something when the whole family can be together," he says. "But I'd-- I'd really like to spend it with you. If you're free."

 

"Of course I'm free," says Jeff, stretching up to kiss him.

 

Eric's smiling, when he pulls back, and says quietly, "Great."

*

*

*

Jeff winds up spending the night, because he can't exactly go home and sleep in his empty bed when there's no reason for him to leave, when the alternative is staying with Eric and curling up into his warmth, into Eric's arm slung over his waist.

 

He heads back to his place after breakfast to grab his laptop and a change of clothes, and then just goes straight back to Eric's, getting Skype set up for whenever his family calls.

 

"Hey," murmurs Eric, leaning down to peer over his shoulder. "When are they calling?"

 

Jeff shrugs. "Dunno," he says. "Whenever they can stop eating long enough."

 

Eric laughs, nuzzling into his neck.

 

"Speaking of," says Jeff, turning his head to catch Eric's mouth, "What's for lunch?"

 

"Oh," says Eric, grinning sheepishly. "Takeout?"

 

Jeff bursts out laughing. "Proper Thanksgiving food, huh?" he says.

 

Eric smiles ruefully. "Figured you'd appreciate it more than my cooking."

 

"That's probably true," says Jeff, smirking.

 

"Or I can do spaghetti, or pancakes," says Eric. "Chicken? Your choice."

 

"Takeout sounds good," says Jeff.

 

They end up getting Chinese. Eric eats a truly intimidating amount of dumplings, which makes Jeff giggle helplessly, and Eric just grins and says, "It's Thanksgiving, fuck it, and fuck you," popping another dumpling into his mouth.

 

Jeff nudges him approvingly, leaning back into the couch, thigh pressed warm against Eric's, and thinks this is actually a really surprisingly nice holiday.

 

Not that there was much danger of it being shitty, spending it with Eric, but the last couple of years have been kind of hard around this time, spending the day by himself or in classes and thinking about his family spending the holiday together back home.

 

They call around two in the afternoon, and Eric goes to clear away the takeout containers while Jeff answers, grinning at his parents and sisters crowding to get a look-in on the screen. "Hey, guys!" he says, laughing. "How's it going?"

 

"We're doing fine, baby," says his mom, shoving Erica aside to get her face onscreen. "How are you doing? You're not alone today, are you? You look too thin."

 

Jeff rolls his eyes. "You say that every time you see me, mom," he says. "I could weigh three hundred pounds and you'd still think I was too thin."

 

"Don't be ridiculous," says his mom. "You do. You should eat more."

 

"I just ate my weight in Chinese takeout, I think I'm doing okay," says Jeff.

 

"You had takeout on Thanksgiving?" says his mom, frowning.

 

"It's not Thanksgiving here, remember?" says Jeff.

 

"Where are you?" Jilly cuts across, sticking her head up in front of their mom. "That doesn't look like your dorm."

 

"No, uh, I'm-- I'm at Eric's," says Jeff, glancing over his shoulder, but Eric must still be in the kitchen.

 

"Eric Staal?" says Erica shrilly. "I thought you were messing with us about that."

 

"Why would I mess with you?" says Jeff blankly.

 

"Because we're all hockey fans and it's totally something I'd do," says Erica.

 

"Well, you're an a-- a jerk," says Jeff, glancing guiltily at his mom's half-obscured face.

 

"But are you actually dating him, or just hanging out?" says Andrea.

 

"I said I was dating him, why would I lie?" says Jeff, flushing, because God, his mom is there.

 

"You're dating Eric Staal?" says Ben loudly. "Why did no one tell me?"

 

"Because you're a guy," says Andrea, waving him off.

 

"Jeff's a guy," says Ben, frowning.

 

"He could still be messing with us," says Erica. "Is he actually there? I want to see him."

 

"You are not meeting him over Skype," hisses Jeff.

 

"Oh, come on, honey, we just want to say hi," says his mom.

 

Jeff narrows his eyes. "No questions," he says. "Not even 'how are you.' And only if he agrees."

 

"Of course," says Erica, grinning evilly.

 

Jeff glares at her, and says, "Fine, I'll go ask him, hang on."

 

"Done already?" says Eric, when Jeff heads into the kitchen.

 

"No, I-- uh," says Jeff awkwardly, palming the back of his neck. "My family wants to say hi? To you. Only if you want though, you don't have to. I just-- I have to ask, you know."

 

"Hey, no, I'd love to," says Eric. "Um. Do they-- do they know?"

 

"Yeah," says Jeff. "Sorry, I should've asked if it was okay. I just-- I tell them a lot."

 

"You don't have to ask, Jeff," says Eric, squeezing his shoulder. "They're your family. And I-- I'm really glad. That you can tell them. That you want to tell them."

 

Jeff smiles at him, and says, "Okay. Try not to freak out. They're kind of-- intense."

 

Eric laughs. "You haven't met the rest of my family yet," he says, following Jeff back to the computer.

 

"Okay, guys," says Jeff. "This is Eric." He waves in Eric's direction, and Eric sits down next to Jeff to get his face on the screen.

 

"Hi," he says, smiling. "It's nice to meet all of you. Wow."

 

"There's a lot of us, I know," says Jeff's mom. "It's lovely to meet you, sweetie."

 

Jeff groans.

 

"What did I do?" says his mom, frowning.

 

"Sweetie?" says Jeff. "Really, mom?"

 

Eric laughs. "It's fine," he says, elbowing Jeff. "It's nice."

 

"Hi, Eric," says Jen, smiling as she comes into view.

 

"Hi," says Eric. "Sorry, I don't know which one of Jeff's sisters you are."

 

"I'm Jen," says Jen, laughing. "The oldest, the wisest, et cetera."

 

Eric laughs. "Well, it's nice to meet you."

 

"You too," she says. "I hope you're treating my little brother right." She's smirking slightly as she says it, but Jeff still groans again, blushing even brighter.

 

"Jen," he hisses.

 

"Had to say it, sorry, little bro," she says. "But hey, I speak for everyone, so at least you'll only hear it once, since we're all here together."

 

"Good point, I guess," says Jeff. "Anyway, that's enough of that. What's been going on?"

 

Eric slips quietly away again as everyone starts filling Jeff in on their various lives. They talk for almost an hour, and he feels good when he hangs up, the nagging undercurrent of homesickness appeased, and Eric comes back in, sitting down and slinging an arm around Jeff's shoulder. "Okay?" he says quietly, smiling down at Jeff.

 

"Yeah," says Jeff, breathing out contentedly. "I'm great. Thanks for talking to them."

 

"Happy to," says Eric. "They seem really great."

 

"They are," says Jeff. "It's always kinda crazy, you know, with so many of us, but I guess it's just-- it's home."

 

"Yeah," says Eric. "It must suck, being so far away."

 

"Sometimes," says Jeff. "Skype is good though. And I'll see them at Christmas."

 

"Definitely," says Eric. "So hey, what do you feel like for dinner?"

 

Jeff groans. "We just had lunch," he says.

 

"Well, I was thinking we could burn some of that off before we eat again," says Eric, ducking his head to graze his smile over Jeff's lips.

 

"So lame," murmurs Jeff. "But also yes, definitely. We should do that. Like, right now."

 

Eric laughs. "Sounds good to me," he says.

*

*

*

Eric calls Jeff the day before Halloween and says, "Hey, so you probably have plans and all with your friends, but I'm going trick or treating with the kids tomorrow, and I want you to know you're totally welcome."

 

Jeff does have plans, actually, but he kind of wants to see what lame costume Eric will come up with, and also just, it's Eric, and maybe he's turning into one of those lame relationship people but he doesn't really care; he just likes Eric a lot.

 

He says, "No, I don't. Have plans, I mean. So I'd love to."

 

Eric sounds surprised but pleased when he says, "Oh, awesome. Six, my place?"

 

"Sure," says Jeff.

 

"Great," says Eric. "It'll be nice to avoid all the 'you'll find someone soon' talks from the moms. It's worse than Valentine's Day, because I don't go out on Valentines Day."

 

Jeff laughs and says, "You're so lame," fondly before he hangs up.

*

*

*

"Oh my God," says Jeff when he gets to Eric's place at six on Halloween.

 

"What?" says Eric, blinking.

 

"A hockey player?" says Jeff, indicating Eric's outfit, which is basically just his jersey over a pair of jeans. "That is so lame. No effort at all, dude! It's not even a costume, for you."

 

Eric says, "Seriously? A cowboy is better?" grinning at Jeff's costume.

 

Jeff folds his arms. Cowboy is a totally legit and totally awesome costume. "Well, I'm not a cowboy in real life, so yeah," he says. "Also, I'm Canadian, come on. I never got to be a cowboy growing up."

 

"Too busy dressing up as a hockey player?" says Eric, smirking, and Jeff cracks up, stepping over the threshold and leaning into him, laughing.

 

Eric smiles, catching his chin and tipping his head up so he can duck under the brim of Jeff's cowboy hat and kiss him. He ends up giving Eric the hat, actually, once Eric stops kissing him, which Jeff doesn't really want, but the kids are making noise in the other room, so he probably should.

 

He settles the hat on Eric's head, grinning, and says, "I still look like a cowboy," indicating himself, the boots and chaps and vest, the plaid shirt.

 

They follow the kids around the neighbourhood; Parker takes the lead, guided by Eric chipping in quietly to set him back on course now and again. It's a nice area, lots of kids and parents around, and plenty of candy at every door they try.

 

Jeff tries his best not to look awkward, to make it look like he belongs but not, like, as Eric's boyfriend or whatever-- he doesn't want to raise uncomfortable questions. He's pretty sure he makes it work. Eric seems really happy, anyway. The kids only last a couple of hours before they crash, Levi settled in Eric's arms and Parker listing tiredly into Jeff's leg, and Eric smiles at Jeff over Levi's head, leading them back to his place.

 

Eric gets the kids to bed while Jeff waits on the couch; he offers to help but Eric insists, and then Eric comes downstairs and digs out a bottle of vodka and a couple of glasses.

 

Jeff raises his eyebrows and says, "Really? The kids are in bed."

 

Eric grins and says, "Right, time for papa to start drinking," and then laughs at himself and adds, sinking onto the couch next to Jeff, "I'm not getting drunk. Just-- loosening up."

 

Jeff laughs and climbs over to straddle Eric's lap, murmuring, "You look plenty loose to me, cowboy," tipping the hat back so he can kiss Eric.

 

Eric laughs against his mouth, holding him close with a hand settled against the small of his back, fingers snuck up under his shirt, while he pours them a couple of drinks.

 

"Cheers," says Jeff, tipping his back and wincing, leaning in immediately to chase the taste in Eric's mouth.

 

"Mmm," says Eric after a couple of drinks, the same routine, tipping them back and making out slow and wet in between, lazy and languid and awesome. "I have something for you."

 

"Is it your dick?" says Jeff. "I could go for your dick."

 

Eric snorts. "You think I'm awful," he says, shaking his head. "No, here." He reaches over the side of the couch to hand Jeff a box. It's a bunch of expensive-looking candy.

 

Jeff stares at it and says, "What's this for?"

 

"It's Halloween, moron," says Eric, rolling his eyes.

 

"I didn't know you were supposed to do presents on Halloween," says Jeff.

 

Eric flushes a little and says, "Uh, it's also-- we've been dating for two months now. I thought-- it's good, right? Like, worth celebrating. I know things have been moving kind of fast, and it's-- it's cool we can say we've been dating for a couple of months. Better than counting in weeks, like, I figured it'd be less scary for you that way, with the way things have moved."

 

Jeff just stares, and Eric adds hesitantly, "Sorry, should I-- was it a bad idea? Am I freaking you out more?"

 

Jeff shakes his head wordlessly and jerks forward to kiss him, pushing a hand up the back of his neck into his hair and mumbling, "It's awesome, you're awesome, oh my God."

 

Eric smiles and says, "Oh, good," making the kiss deeper, drawing Jeff closer.

 

Jeff makes a noise against his mouth, wriggling his hips a little, and Eric gasps, breaking away. "Clothes," says Jeff. "They should come off."

 

Eric hums. "I dunno, I kinda like the cowboy thing," he says, smirking and tugging Jeff's vest a little.

 

"So keep them on, just-- " Jeff breaks off on a groan, trying to press his dick harder into Eric's thigh, get some more friction.

 

He winds up on his back with his shirt undone, vest pushed wide, and Eric takes his jeans and boots off, pushing his legs apart so he can fuck into him in short, sharp thrusts that leave Jeff gasping wetly, dick smearing slick all over his stomach.

 

Eric is just staring, eyes so wide, mouth parted stupidly, and he mumbles, "You look so hot like this, Jeff, Jesus Christ, like fucking porn, you-- "

 

"Harder," moans Jeff. "Make me come, Eric, please."

 

Eric nods, gasping, and thrusts his hips just like Jeff wants, making him shake, and he comes without being touched, messing up his chest and belly, damp all over.

 

"Oh my God," says Eric. "Jeff, I don't-- I-- "

 

Jeff pushes Eric back and scrambles up, trying to shake off his post-orgasm slowness. He sinks to his knees in front of the couch, stripping off the condom and swallowing Eric down.

 

Eric makes a hurt noise, tangling his hand in Jeff's curls, and Jeff hums encouragingly, too desperate for finesse, going as fast as he knows how, letting Eric fill him up and tug on his hair and thrust up into his throat a little, over and over until Jeff is tearing up and Eric comes, biting back the noises and guiding Jeff's head gently to rest against his thigh.

 

"Holy shit," he says quietly.

 

Jeff hums agreeably, sliding back onto the couch to list into Eric's side.

 

"You're amazing," breathes Eric, twisting his fingers in Jeff's hair again, almost petting but not quite. Jeff pushes into it, smiling quietly.

 

"Yeah," he says. "You too."

*

*

*

Jeff's college workload starts getting bigger once November gets properly underway. He has a fuckload of papers to write and hand in before he can start studying properly for finals, so he cuts back on his shifts at the skate shop and spends the time he isn't with Eric or his friends holed up in his apartment trying to get them done.

 

Eric is really great about it; he picks Jeff up for study breaks between practice and games and the kids, taking him to dinner and sometimes the movies. They even go back to that playground and make out a whole bunch at the bottom of the slide.

 

Jeff makes sure to give himself a few nights off so he can spend them at Eric's place, with or without the kids there, and it helps him not to get too buried in his work, waking up in Eric's bed, curled up warm against Eric's body, and tangling their legs up under the table over breakfast. Eric makes pancakes some days, and others Jeff cooks eggs, since he's decided he's marginally better at them than Eric. They go skating again with the kids too, and Jeff spends most of the time coaching Parker through his spins.

 

The work drops off a little once Thanksgiving gets closer, partly because Jeff has been proactive and made sure to give himself a bit of a break before intensive finals study.

 

Eric calls him on Monday the week of Thanksgiving, and says, "Hey, so I'm having a grill tomorrow at my place for the guys, if you wanna come?"

 

"Oh," says Jeff. "Is it-- what am I meeting them as?"

 

"I-- whatever you want," says Eric. "Cam knows, he's my best friend, and Jordy, obviously, but I-- this is your thing too, you know, I don't want to make you uncomfortable. We don't have to say anything, they won't ask questions."

 

Jeff says, "I really don't mind, Eric. Whatever you want, okay? Are you even-- are you sure I should be there?"

 

"Yes," says Eric. "I want you to meet them. I mean, only if you want to, obviously, but you know Jordy, and Cam is cool. So are the others."

 

"Okay," says Jeff, swallowing. "I'll come. I don't-- maybe we can just see how it goes? It doesn't have to be a huge deal, right?"

 

"It isn't," says Eric, chuckling. "I really hope-- I just want you to like them, you know? And they'll love you, Jeff, you're so great. I promise. It'll be fine."

 

"Okay," says Jeff again. "Thanks for asking, I mean, you didn't have to."

 

"I wanted to," says Eric. "Come over around one, okay?"

 

"Cool," says Jeff. "Need me to bring anything?"

 

"It's all set," says Eric. "Just yourself."

 

Jeff laughs, because Eric is lame, and hangs up. His palms are a little sweaty, and it's-- it's fine, if a bit terrifying. Cam Ward is kind of scary-looking. But Eric will be there, and Jeff trusts him, plus he's cool with Jordy now, and. He can totally do this.

 

He wants to, because it means a lot to Eric, and Jeff likes Eric. A whole fucking lot.

*

*

*

Jordy answers the door when Jeff gets to Eric's the next day, and grins, shouting, "Jeff, my under-aged bro! You bring your fake ID? No card, no drinks."

 

"Ha ha," says Jeff, rolling his eyes and pushing past him to get inside.

 

"Jordy, quit being a dickhead," shouts Eric from somewhere in the house. "Jeff, in the kitchen."

 

Jeff heads there, grinning. Cam Ward is also there, standing by the counter with a beer watching Eric cut up vegetables, so Jeff doesn't go for a kiss like he normally would, but he does press up beside Eric and say, "Need any help?"

 

"I got it," says Eric. "Help yourself to a beer. Oh, this is Cam, by the way."

 

"Hey," says Jeff to Cam, smiling a little hesitantly.

 

"Hey," says Cam, looking at him scrutinisingly and nodding.

 

"Don't mind him," says Eric, rolling his eyes. "He's an asshole to everyone."

 

"It's true," Cam tells him seriously, but he cracks a smile after, and Jeff relaxes a little.

 

"Other guys should be 'round soon," says Eric as Jeff grabs a beer. "It's not a huge thing or anything."

 

"Cool," says Jeff, sliding onto one of the stools at the counter. "When's food? I'm starving."

 

Eric laughs. "Jordy's getting the grill going," he says. "So soon."

 

"Awesome," says Jeff, and Eric smiles at him, eyes bright.

*

*

*

It's actually a lot less awkward than what Jeff was prepping himself for. The guys are really cool, easygoing like Eric, and they don't ask questions when Eric introduces him as a friend, just talk to Jeff like a regular dude or whatever.

 

Eric catches him on his way to the kitchen to get another beer, after he's eaten, and pushes him up against the wall, kissing him and murmuring, "Hey, everything okay?"

 

"Apart from the bit where we haven't made out all day?" says Jeff, grinning. "Yeah, great."

 

Eric laughs, kissing him again before he pulls back and says, "You sure? The guys are cool?"

 

"Really cool," says Jeff, nodding. "You have good taste in teammates."

 

"You'll have to thank Rutherford for that," says Eric, chuckling. "But thanks."

 

"So about that making out," says Jeff, and Eric groans, kissing him frantic and a bit brutal. Jeff slides up the wall a little, t-shirt rucking up, and Eric settles his palms around his hips, thumbing at the grooves and licking hot into Jeff's mouth.

 

"Take it to the fucking bedroom, Eric, Jesus," says Cam, and Eric jerks back, flushing.

 

"Shut up," he says, kicking Cam as he passes.

 

Cam just rolls his eyes and keeps walking.

 

"Sorry," says Jeff, biting his lip.

 

Eric laughs a bit breathlessly, shaking his head. "My fault," he says.

 

"Can't get enough of me, that makes sense," says Jeff, grinning.

 

"I can't," says Eric seriously, thumbing his mouth open.

 

Jeff bites down, smiling around it, and Eric breathes out, groaning quietly. "Later," he says.

 

"Definitely later," agrees Jeff.

 

"Beer, come on," says Eric, stepping away and tugging him to the kitchen.

*

*

*

"That went well," says Eric after the guys have all gone, sinking back into the couch with a sigh.

 

"Yeah, it did," says Jeff, lying down with his head in Eric's lap. He's warm and drowsy, buzzing pleasantly from the beer, and full of awesome food.

 

Eric drops a hand absently to his hair. "Thanks for coming," he says. "I really appreciate it."

 

"Anytime," says Jeff, yawning. "Free food and beer, not gonna say no."

 

"College kid," says Eric, laughing.

 

"Mmm," says Jeff, letting his eyes drift closed. "You like it, don't lie."

 

"I like you," says Eric, tugging lightly on his hair. "Hey, you going home for Thanksgiving?"

 

Jeff shakes his head. "Not really Thanksgiving," he mumbles.

 

"Yeah," says Eric. "Still."

 

"Going home for Christmas," says Jeff. "Gonna get started on studying."

 

"You got finals coming up?" says Eric.

 

"Yeah." Jeff makes a face. "I'm gonna be really boring the next few weeks."

 

"I don't mind," says Eric. "You can study here anytime, if you want a change of scenery. I won't bother you. I'll make sure the kids don't either. Or you can just come when they're with their mom."

 

Jeff smiles at him. "I will," he says. "I mean, anytime. I don't mind if the kids are here."

 

Eric smiles back; he looks really pleased. "Thanks," he says quietly.

 

Jeff shakes his head, and he's tired and slow, but not enough to forgo straining up to kiss Eric, hooking a hand around the back of his neck and licking into his mouth.

 

"Bed?" whispers Eric against his mouth. "I'm gonna blow you."

 

Jeff makes a helpless, wanting noise, and nods.

*

*

*

Jeff goes to Eric's the Monday after Thanksgiving. The kids aren't there, and it's really good, studying in Eric's living room; his roommates have finals too and it gets shittier the closer the exams loom, all that stress cooped up in one tiny apartment.

 

Eric doesn't bother him; he's out for practice most of the morning, and Jeff gets a whole lot done, enough that he feels fine hanging with Eric in the afternoon.

 

He knows it's gonna get worse, in terms of his own freaking out, as the weeks pass. Still, he figures he has a pretty good study schedule, and he's started super early.

 

The kids are around some days, but he doesn't mind; it's actually no worse than any of his roommates get, with the added bonus of them being super cute.

 

Eric gets kind of ridiculous, a few weeks in, handing Jeff food at intervals and trying to get him to stay over more nights, make sure he gets enough sleep.

 

Jeff rolls his eyes a lot but mostly indulges him; it's not unhealthy and it's not like staying over is a chore. Fooling around is a great way to send him off to sleep.

 

It's when he hits the two weeks 'til finals mark that things get a bit worse. It's just that he worries, like, he doesn't have skating to fall back on anymore, and he has goals but they depend on him getting good grades, on passing in the first place.

 

He's not even doing badly or anything, but papers are a different drill to exams, and retaining all that information is more stressful than having it at hand when he writes essays. Plus a few of his subjects rely mostly on finals for the overall grade, which is lame, but it means he has to put more into this study than he has the rest of the semester. He starts sleeping less, heading home at night more often so he can get in a few extra hours of study. He doesn't want to do it at Eric's; he could stay up there, but he doesn't trust that Eric won't hover and lose sleep too, and then Jeff will have the entire Hurricanes franchise out for his blood, nevermind his own guilt.

 

It sucks, because the lack of sleep combined with the stress means he gets more irritable and easily frustrated, and he doesn't want to be, he can see it happening but there's not a lot he can do to fix it, because that would impact his peace of mind in regards to getting enough study in.

 

He's there with Eric and the kids on a Thursday; Eric doesn't have a game, and Parker has spent the last half hour trying to get Jeff to paint with him.

 

He's not getting snappy at Parker or anything, he doesn't think he could ever do that, but he's frowning a whole lot and starting to get a headache. He's read the same sentence three times in a row, and he sighs, throwing his book aside.

 

Eric is trying, he knows that; he's told Parker off three times already, and he says again, glancing at Jeff, "Parker, I told you, Jeff has to study, leave him alone."

 

Parker frowns and says, "But I want to paint! Jeff paints good!"

 

"I know, buddy, I'm sorry," says Jeff. "We can paint all the time after my exams, okay?"

 

Parker pouts.

 

Jeff sighs again. "Look, I'm gonna head home," he says to Eric, starting to gather his stuff.

 

"You don't have to," says Eric immediately. "I'll take him outside, it's-- "

 

"No," says Jeff. "I mean, it's not fair on him, come on. I'm going."

 

"Jeff-- "

 

"Just." Jeff shakes his head. "Leave it, okay? I'm going."

 

He feels super guilty, because Eric is frowning and looking really upset, but he just-- he needs some space, and hopefully his roommates will be a little less demanding of his attention. Not that Jeff minds that Parker wants to spend time with him; it's really nice, and he's really glad, but he just-- can't deal with it right this minute. He wants to be good for the kids and it's not gonna happen today, is probably better in the long run if he heads out now and makes up for it later.

 

Eric follows him to the door, frowning all the way, and says, "Are you sure? I can seriously-- "

 

"Oh my God," says Jeff. "I'm not mad at you, dumbass. I don't care, stop apologising. I just-- I just need some space."

 

Eric looks really sad, and Jeff is irrationally angry for a moment before he just feels another wave of guilt. "Okay," says Eric, sighing. "Get some sleep, okay?"

 

He touches Jeff's arm tentatively, and Jeff leans up for a kiss, sighing into it.

*

*

*

Eric messages him the next morning, says, hey you coming to study today? it's quiet.

 

Jeff says, yeah, be there soon. sorry i was a dick yesterday, because he feels awful, and it's really not so bad at all, studying at Eric's place.

 

it's fine jeff you weren't a dick, says Eric.

 

Jeff shakes his head, smiling fondly. i was but whatever not gonna argue :) he sends.

 

"Hey," says Eric, opening the door to a conspicuously Parker-and-Levi-free house.

 

"Hey," says Jeff. "I thought you were supposed to have the kids today."

 

"I got Tanya to take them a day early," says Eric.

 

"Oh," says Jeff slowly. "Eric, you didn't have to do that, it's fine, I-- "

 

"You weren't getting any study done," says Eric. "It's fine, Jeff."

 

Jeff opens his mouth, and then closes it again. God, he feels awful. Eric just-- he loves his kids, loves having them with him, and Jeff just-- just because he was a dick, made Eric feel like he had to send them away, which is not okay at all. He's mad at himself, too, because part of the reason he got over his family-related freakout was that he'd thought he had a decent shot at being good at it, not making things worse.

 

He can't exactly not study here now, though, so he heads inside, frowning.

 

"It's fine, Jeff," says Eric again, squeezing his arm. "Just study, okay?"

 

"I-- yeah," says Jeff.

 

He gets as much study done as he can while the guilt is nagging at him, but he can't stop focusing on the quiet, on how the kids should be here and it's his fault they're not, his fault Eric lost a day with them. When it starts getting dark he stretches and says, "You have morning skate, right? I'm gonna go home tonight, got study group tomorrow."

 

It's just-- he can't do it, spend all night lying guiltily next to Eric and knowing the kids' rooms down the hall are empty when they shouldn't be.

 

Eric frowns and says, "Oh," quietly, and then, "Yeah, okay."

 

He walks Jeff to the door, still just looking super sad and a little bit confused, and kisses him goodbye. It's slow, but there's a weird edge of almost-desperation.

*

*

*

Jeff doesn't go back to Eric's place the next few days. He just-- he doesn't want to accidentally be a dick again, or have Eric send the kids away on his day because he thinks that's what Jeff needs, or whatever.

 

He throws himself into study, and he's pretty much constantly exhausted. He's burning himself out a bit, he knows, but he figures at least it's for a good cause.

 

The fifth day he's half-dozing on his couch, in the late afternoon, with a book open in his lap when there's a sharp knock on his door. He jumps, the book tumbling to the floor, and goes to get the door.

 

It's Eric. His eyes are huge and he still looks really sad, and he says immediately, "I'm not-- Jeff, what did I do?" kind of desperately, eyes roving Jeff's face.

 

Jeff sighs, scrubbing a hand through his hair. "I don't want to get between you and your kids," he says quietly, not meeting Eric's eyes.

 

Eric just stares at him, and reaches out to grab his wrist tightly. "You're not," he says incredulously. "Jeff, I never thought that at all, what-- "

 

Jeff looks up at him fiercely then, and says, "You sent them away so I could study. That's not-- you don't have to do that. I don't want you to resent me for not being able to spend time with them. If I'm gonna be around I want to be good, not make things shitty for you guys."

 

"Oh," says Eric after a moment, biting down on his lip. "I should've asked you about that. I'm really sorry, Jeff."

 

Jeff shakes his head. "No, you don't, I mean, I'm not-- it's not my business, but I-- I made you feel like you had to, and you don't, Eric, you really, really don't, I don't care, I like them. I was just stressed about my own stuff, it's-- I really don't mind."

 

Eric sighs, curling a hand over the side of Jeff's neck. "I just-- I worry, you know? You're so young, you could-- you could be with anyone, someone who doesn't have kids, you know? Who's not-- it'd be a lot easier."

 

Jeff glares at him, and hisses, "I don't want easy, I want you."

 

Eric laughs quietly, a little choked, and whispers, "I know. I'm sorry. I should-- it's dumb, I just worry. A lot."

 

"I fucking know," says Jeff, rolling his eyes. "Just-- just try not to, okay? I told you, I wouldn't be dating you if I didn't want your-- your everything, okay?"

 

Eric nods earnestly and says, "Okay."

 

Jeff nods too. "Cool," he says. "And uh, I'll try-- I'll try not to get so pissy next time. Sorry, that was kinda my fault too."

 

Eric smiles at him and says, "You wanna come back? Parker misses you."

 

"Sure," says Jeff, because fuck, he misses Eric and Eric's place and Eric's kids too.

*

*

*

"You gonna study?" says Eric, when Jeff just dumps his stuff next to the couch sinks down with a groan.

 

Jeff shakes his head. "Need a night off, right?" he says.

 

"Yeah," says Eric, smiling.

 

"Jeff!" shouts Parker from where he's camped out on the floor with Levi. "Staying?"

 

"Yeah, buddy," says Jeff.

 

Parker grins wide. "We're watching Nemo," he says.

 

"Yeah?" says Jeff, smiling. "Mind if I watch with you?"

 

Parker shakes his head, turning back to the TV.

 

Eric sits down on the couch too, in the middle so he's pressed right up against Jeff, and smiles when Jeff glances at him. Jeff sighs contentedly, breathing out, and leans into Eric's shoulder until Eric takes the hint and slings an arm around him, tugging him closer.

 

"Thanks," mumbles Jeff.

 

"What for?" says Eric.

 

Jeff shrugs. "Just-- thanks," he says. "This is-- this is nice."

 

Eric's smiling really fondly, when Jeff looks up at him, and he ducks in to press a kiss to Jeff's mouth, soft and lingering, before they both turn back to the movie.

*

*

*

Jeff's half asleep when the movie finishes and Parker climbs onto his lap. He jerks, putting out a hand to steady Parker, and says, "Hey, buddy, what's up?"

 

"Where did you go, Jeff?" says Parker, looking up at him.

 

God, he really inherited that ridiculous earnest look from his dad.

 

Jeff swallows, feeling horribly guilty, and puts his hand on Parker's back. "I went home to sleep a bit, buddy," he says. "Guess I was really tired." He bites down on his lip.

 

Parker just frowns at him. "We have beds," he says. "Don't need to go away."

 

Jeff laughs. "I know," he says. "I'm sorry."

 

"You gonna stay?" says Parker, eyes wide.

 

"Yeah," says Jeff. "I mean, I think it's okay with your dad. He likes me, right?"

 

Eric snorts.

 

"Daddy loves you," says Parker confidently, and Jeff coughs, flushing.

 

"Uh," he says.

 

"He kisses you all the time," continues Parker. "You only kiss people you love." He nods wisely.

 

Jeff bites down on his lip. He has no idea what to say; thankfully Parker tumbles back down to the floor then to keep playing with his toys. Jeff chances a glance at Eric; he looks kind of pink along the cheeks, eyes fixed determinedly on the kids.

 

"Okay, guys, bedtime," he says. "Put the toys away, come on."

 

Parker sighs but starts packing up obediently, and Eric stands, stretching.

 

He hesitates visibly for a moment, then reaches out to press his fingertips lightly to Jeff's jaw, tilting his face up, and leans in to kiss him slowly and really, really deliberately.

 

Jeff can feel the heat coming off Eric's cheeks, and his own chest feels suddenly way, way too small; he's pretty sure he knows what Eric is trying to say.

 

"Oh," he whispers when Eric pulls back, still flushed, so fucking gorgeous it hurts. "I-- me too."

 

Eric smiles, wide and happy, and reaches out to thumb at Jeff's temple. "God, Jeff," he whispers, and then blinks a little dazedly when Parker tugs on his jeans.

 

"Okay, buddy," he says, clearing his throat. "Let's get you guys to bed."

 

He sends a glance at Jeff over his shoulder as he goes, hot and full of promise and also just so fond, and Jeff scrubs at his cheeks when he's alone and wonders how the hell he got here. How the hell he got this, and how it's so fucking awesome.