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Beau cracks an eye open when the morning sun starts filtering in through the blinds. He’s pretty thoroughly pinned to the bed, Nealer’s arm thrown across him, face smushed against his shoulder and mostly invisible under the hair curling over it. It’s not a totally uncomfortable position, which is good because Nealer doesn’t look like he’s planning on moving any time soon. Beau wonders idly if this is going to be awkward. Dinner at Nealer’s place had seemed like a much better option than his boring hotel suite after the game. All he’d wanted to do was scream with giddiness over the win and being useful and just fucking being here, which still hasn’t quite worn off.

Nealer looked kind of amused when he asked if Beau wanted to come over and chill out, but Beau’s seen his face after goals, so he doesn’t know who Nealer thinks he’s fooling about being mature and shit over this. Nealer was the one who leaned in on the couch and offered to swap blowjobs to get rid of their jangling nerves; he seemed a lot twitchier than Beau was, even if Beau was pretty excited.

It was a good time though. It probably won’t be that weird now. He’s not sure what time it is. His phone’s in his pants which are…somewhere. Nealer has to make it to practice too, so he’s not going to worry about it. He stares at the ceiling. It’s beige and uninteresting, like basically all of Nealer’s house so far.

His stomach rumbles. Nealer makes an appalled noise into his shoulder. Beau pats his arm. He means it as reassurance that Nealer can go back to sleep, but Nealer rolls off him to lie flat on his back and rub the heels of his hands against his eyes. He makes a disgusted noise, and lies perfectly still with his hands covering his face.

Beau decides that this would be a good moment to use the bathroom, and see if he does need to make more of an exit than he thought. Nealer makes another indecipherable noise when Beau gets out of bed.

He’s sitting up when Beau comes out of the ensuite. His eyes don’t really look open, but he’s probably conscious. Beau tries to look around covertly for his clothes.

“Breakfast?” Nealer croaks.

Beau jumps. “What?”

Nealer makes another weird noise. “Mornings,” he says dismally, apparently to the far wall. “Breakfast, do you want some?”

“Uh, I guess?” Beau says. He’s hungry for sure. And he’s pretty sure he’s going to get yelled at if he doesn’t eat something before practice. On the other hand, if this is going to be super awkward, the lecture might be worth it.

Nealer looks sadly at Beau, head tilted to one side like a confused dog. “I, just, mornings,” he says, as if that explains everything. It kind of does. Beau can sympathize, definitely. He probably wouldn’t be awake either if it wasn’t too hard for him to go back to sleep in someone else’s bed. “But seriously, I can do breakfast. Just gimme a second.”

Beau leaves Nealer pulling sweats out of his drawers to go find his clothing. It’s weird going out into someone else’s kitchen naked, but his pants turn out to be puddled just outside the door. His dress shirt is draped over the couch, which he expected, but he has to search for his tee, which he eventually discovers somehow tangled up with a Pens hoodie and two throw pillows halfway under the coffee table.

Somehow, despite the scavenger hunt, Nealer takes way longer than Beau does to get dressed. Beau waits awkwardly in the kitchen, tapping his fingers on the island. He’s considering just going through Nealer’s fridge when Nealer pokes his head around the door jamb.

“Oh, I don’t actually have food,” he says quasi-apologetically. “But Pauly won’t care if you come to breakfast?”

Beau laughs. “You kidding?”

Nealer half-grins, teeth bared. “There’s no other food, man.”

Pauly doesn’t say anything when Nealer rings his doorbell, Beau in tow. Nealer somehow feels compelled to explain anyway, though at least he doesn’t actually mention the blowjobs. Pauly looks unimpressed, watching Nealer as though he’s contemplating asking what the hell, but Nealer only sits down at the bar in the kitchen, looking completely unconcerned and kind of expectant. Pauly eyes him. “There’s coffee in the pot,” he says drily.

Nealer looks pleading. Pauly’s eyebrows are still raised. He flicks a friendlier glance at Beau. “Go ahead, if you want some.”

Beau pours himself a cup. Pauly and Nealer still seem to be arguing wordlessly behind him, though Pauly says, “there’s sugar and milk and shit too,” which Beau’s pretty sure is directed at him. He doesn’t really want to go through all of Pauly’s kitchen, not that Pauly seems to care, but he finds the sugar in the third cupboard he looks in.

“Um, do either of you want a cup?” Beau asks, to break the silence more than anything.

Nealer looks triumphant. “Yeah, milk and sugar, thanks.”

Pauly snorts. “Thanks, but I’ve got one.”

Beau passes Nealer a cup and sits down next to him in lieu of anything else to do. He takes a sip of the coffee. “Anything I can do to help?” He’s bluffing on his non-existent kitchen skills here, but it’s weird letting a teammate make him breakfast. Especially a veteran teammate. Who he’s still a little bit in awe of. It’s a weird day in general.

Pauly rolls his eyes. “It’s Nealer’s turn, if it’s anyone’s. But as I’d rather not start the day with a fire…”

Nealer sputters indignantly and Pauly looks a lot happier as he turns to make eggs. It’s pretty quiet. Beau wonders if this is because he’s there, or if their routine is just going on around him, quiet and sure. He hooks his ankles around the legs of the chair and sips his coffee. Morning’s really hitting him now, like the alertness he got from waking up somewhere unfamiliar is wearing off.

Pauly’s eggs fit the most important hockey criteria: there’s a ton of them. They eat more or less quietly, except for Pauly judging both of them for putting ketchup on eggs.

Nealer swings an arm around Beau. “You’re outnumbered,” he says smugly to Pauly. “I told you it was great. You’re the weird one here.”

Beau laughs, and Pauly rolls his eyes, looking amused.

It’s a little awkward talking to be hanging out unexpectedly in Pauly’s kitchen, but Pauly doesn’t seem to care that much. He seems to be saving all of his judging for Nealer, which is its own kind of awkward, but not really one Beau has to care about. Beau calms down pretty quick anyway, when it’s obvious that Pauly really doesn’t give a shit, except inasmuch as everything gives him new ammunition for chirping Nealer.

Pauly kicks them out after breakfast, in a friendly kind of way. Nealer seems pretty content to just hang out. Beau doesn’t know if this means he should go or what. Nealer looks blank at him when he offers to call a cab. “You can, if you want? We’ve got practice in a couple hours though and your car’s at the rink. I could just drive you?”

Beau is never going to pretend that he cares a lot about clothes, but he doesn’t really want to show up at practice looking this obvious. He shrugs. “I should change though.”

Nealer squints at him. “Why are you dressed like that?”

Beau’s not totally sure how he refrains from strangling him. “What else am I going to wear?”

“You want to borrow sweatpants?”

The moment for that would probably have been before he went to breakfast looking like this, even if Nealer wasn’t actually awake then. On the other hand, he doesn’t actually want to go to practice like this, and he’s got nothing whatsoever to do back in his hotel room.

It’s more awkward now than it was last night. Nealer’s still kind of bleary-eyed and not very talkative. They flip through tv channels and make small talk about the weather. Nealer chirps him about not being able to take the cold before Beau has a chance to say a single word about it, but he looks so ridiculous when he’s pleased with himself that it’s hard to take offense.

It’s easier in the car on the way to the rink when they can fight over the radio and Beau can entertain himself by going carefully through all of Nealer’s million satellite stations while Nealer tries to swat him away from the display without taking his eyes off the road. He’s not that great at it; it’s pretty funny.

By the time they’re at the rink, Beau’s feeling pretty satisfied about everything. It really wasn’t the awkwardest morning after he can think of, or even the awkwardest one he’s had. Nealer seems way chiller now that he’s awake, so Beau’s fairly sure it’s all going to be fine. Plus, the sex was definitely fine, so it can totally count as a pretty good night, Pauly’s face aside.

Not that Pauly seems to care a lot. He doesn’t say anything to Beau that isn’t about hockey during practice. He talks to Nealer some, but he always does that. Beau’s not so self-centred as to think it’s going to be about him just because this morning was a little weird.

He focuses on practice, and his primary goal of keeping his place, and, if possible, trying not to die.

 

Nealer’s scrunched up against Beau’s side in the bar a week later, even though half the guys have already made their excuses and left and it’s not really crowded enough to warrant it. He’s pretty happy with the way their games have been going, which Beau knows because he’s been telling anyone who’ll listen for the last half-hour. The beer’s probably not helping there.

“You wanna get out of here?” Nealer mumbles in Beau’s ear. Beau kind of does. It was good last time. He had fun, and it hasn’t been weird at all since, which he appreciates.

He nods, leaning into Nealer’s space for half a beat, and Nealer grins back. It’s not very subtle, but no one’s paying them a lot of attention anyway, not even when they head out together.

Nealer’s not that tipsy, but he’s pretty happy, jostling Beau in the street, and he complies easily with Beau’s suggestion that Beau’s place is closer. It’s also less likely to mean breakfast at Pauly’s, Beau thinks, but he keeps that to himself. He doesn’t really want to be thinking about Pauly when he could be thinking about the way that Nealer grins at him, a little bit sharp, but mostly open and uncomplicated.

It’s more straightforward this time. Nealer turns to kiss Beau the moment they get through the door to his suite: no feeling each other out on the couch or anything. Beau pulls him in with a hand on his hip and one curled around the back of his neck. It’s slick and sloppy and hot, Nealer’s hand curved warm on Beau’s jaw.

Nealer looks like he’s been sucker-punched when Beau pulls away; his mouth is open and a little bit wet, eyes round. He’s lucky it’s a good look on him.

Beau twists his fingers lightly in Nealer’s curls. “C’mon, I have a bed and shit in the other room.”

Nealer blinks. “Yeah, for sure.”

Nealer has wandering hands all four or five steps of the way to the bedroom, which makes Beau want to rub up against him and practically purr. He settles for pushing his way into Nealer’s space, thumbs rubbing against Nealer’s hipbones, to bite at his throat. Nealer groans into Beau’s shoulder and pulls him down on the bed.

It’s hands everywhere for a bit as they try to remove each other’s clothing without separating. Beau concedes the necessity first and tries to sit up to yank his own off. Nealer pants up at him until Beau nudges him. “Be more naked, Nealer. Let’s go.”

It’s not enthusiasm that’s lacking, it’s planning, or maybe restraint. All the skin Nealer reveals as he squirms out of his shirt makes Beau want to run his hands across it, except giving in means that Nealer tries to do the same, and Beau’s only halfway out of his own pants so mostly they just collapse in a tangle on the bed.

It’s even sillier when they finally get naked and have to separate anyway so Nealer can scoot up the bed as Beau lies between his legs. Beau wraps his hand around Nealer’s dick, trying to stop laughing long enough to be able to go down on him and not choke. He mouths lightly at the head instead, and Nealer’s own laughter cuts abruptly into a sharp inhalation, and a choked “fuck, that’s good.”

He’s talkative all the way through, hands curling and uncurling on Beau’s shoulders, carding once through his hair before stilling abruptly. He hisses yesses when Beau sucks harder, and swears when Beau licks at him.

Beau’s tuning him out mostly, focusing on the slick slide of Nealer’s dick against his lips, and Nealer’s warning sounds as breathy and profane as the rest of his monologue. Beau’s not quite expecting it when Nealer’s hips jackrabbit for a moment before he tenses into stillness and comes in Beau’s mouth, but it’s not a big deal. Beau swallows, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, and raises his eyebrows in amusement at Nealer’s rueful smile and apologetic hand in Beau’s hair.

Nealer’s generous in return though. Not a lot of finesse, but his mouth is hot and wet and pretty fucking great. His hands smooth over Beau’s thighs, thumb pressing behind Beau’s balls in a way that makes his hips jerk up. Beau’s barely aware of how he finds enough air to mutter, “sorry,” but Nealer pats his thigh and does it again so Beau guesses he doesn’t mind that much. It feels fucking great and Beau’s so focused on trying not to thrust up too much that his orgasm is almost a surprise. He makes a stupid noise and falls back as Nealer swallows around him.

Neither of them bother to suggest that he go home afterward. Beau doesn’t really mind. It’s a big bed, even if Nealer is kind of a cuddler. He doesn’t steal the blankets though, just body heat, which is a step up from some of Beau’s exes.

Nealer’s still kind of a cranky mess in the morning, but Beau finds it a lot easier to deal with when he doesn’t have to put up with Pauly at the same time. He doesn’t really have a kitchen, but he can do cereal and coffee. Nealer doesn’t seem to care much beyond the existence of caffeine anyway and takes off after breakfast easily and without needing to be pushed. Beau wouldn’t have cared that much if he’d wanted to stick around some, but he’s not put out much either way, and he appreciates it when things are chill.

 

Post-game meals are normal, but this one features just a little more closeness that Beau expected. Not enough to be weird, and certainly not that Beau minds, but enough that he feels confident leaning into Nealer’s space afterward and suggesting the two of them could go back to his place.

Nealer grins easily. “Nah, just come back to mine.”

“Mine’s closer,” Beau says hopefully. It seems stupid to admit that he’s avoiding Pauly. Nealer scowls ridiculously.

Beau sighs.

It’s probably bad that even the whininess in Nealer’s tone as he says, “c’mon, it’s my turn,” isn’t diminishing Beau’s interest in the redness of his mouth.

At the very least, that’s what Beau tells himself when he says, “fine,” slouching into Nealer to knock their shoulders together. Nealer licks his lips absentmindedly; they glisten wetly for a moment. It’s very distracting.

It feels like a justifiable distraction later when Nealer’s mouthing the head of Beau’s dick, tongue flicking at the slit. Beau’s not sure why the hell he’s even arguing this in his own head, and stifles a laugh. He buries his hands in Nealer’s hair instead, scraping his nail lightly behind Nealer’s ear when Nealer leans into the touch. Nealer groans in the back of his throat, and Beau’s toes curl against the sheets.

Afterward, Nealer’s warm against Beau’s side, thrusting up into Beau’s hand, breath hot on Beau’s neck.

In the morning Beau doesn’t even bother arguing about Pauly’s. Pauly looks unsurprised to see them both, and it’s a lot less weird this time around, even when Pauly drives them all to the rink

 

Beau’s still in awe of Sid, most of the time. Not incapacitatingly, but sometimes he does things that really need to be looked at. Beau’s mostly gotten over watching everyone else in practice, at least when they’re not doing the drills he’s supposed to be doing, but sometimes Sid does things, really cool things, that make him want to stop and stare forever. He catches Nealer doing the same thing once. It’s sort of like a moment when Nealer raises his eyebrows and hisses, “jeeeeeesus,” under his breath, grinning at Beau like they’re sharing a joke. It was sick as hell, but it’s sort of weird to be reminded that Nealer thinks so too, even after he’s been here as long as he has.

He’d been in awe of Nealer too at one point, Beau’s fairly sure. It had evaporated at some point around the time that Nealer had decided that linemates or potential linemates needed to be friends, or at least that Geno needed to stop eyeing the new guys suspiciously. Geno had spent the subsequent bonding dinner poking fun at Nealer endlessly. Nealer takes it well, but Geno’s still a little terrifying. It was, however, hard to be in awe after that, even when he does some fucking sweet shit on the ice.

It’s even harder now with Nealer flopped sadly on the couch making piteous noises. He digs his toes into Beau’s thigh when Beau ignores him pointedly in favour of his phone.

“You’re being boring,” Nealer whines, as though it’s the worst sin he could come up with.

“You wanted to go to your place, man,” Beau replies. Nealer makes a noise like he’s dying and digs at Beau’s thigh again. Beau swats at him vaguely. Bailey is telling lies about him on the internet again. He refutes her thoroughly and chuckles to himself.

Beau pats Nealer’s knee when he asks the ceiling tragically what the joke is. “My sister’s making things up about me again is all. And now she knows she’s wrong.”

Nealer perks up at once, lifting his head off the couch, eyes glittering. “Anything good?”

Beau snorts. “Like I’d show you.”

Nealer reaches lazily for his phone on the coffee table. “Maybe I’ll just add her on twitter,” he says, “I’m her brother’s good friend, you know...”

It’s a horrifying prospect. Especially because Bailey would probably think it was hilarious. Beau tries to shove Nealer off the couch instead, though he has no leverage, and Nealer is unsurprisingly resistant and tries to take Beau with him. Beau shakes himself free as Nealer’s legs slide slowly off the couch. Nealer braces himself awkwardly against the floor to keep from sliding further, propped stiffly on his elbows. Beau decides that counts as victory.

“Say uncle?” he says, leaning over Nealer.

“You wish,” Nealer says with a laugh, but he slips further when he raises one hand to draw Beau in for a kiss, and ends up thumping down finally to sit on the floor.

Beau goes for the kiss anyway. He’d gotten to the end of his twitter timeline, he might as well.

 

They lose one, and practice is fucking brutal. Beau whines at Simon until he drives the both of them back to their hotel, and annexes the couch in Simon’s suite to lie on and complain that he’s dying with an appropriately concerned audience. Or, well, what he’s hoping will be one. He’s sure Simon has to be dying too, somewhere inside, though he looks annoyingly fresh as he sits down, rather than collapsing, on a chair and leisurely puts his feet up on the table.

“Dying over here,” Beau says sadly. “Dying, like a really dead thing. Roadkill maybe. Corpses.”

Simon makes an amused noise. “You want Gatorade?”

“Gatorade can’t cure death.” Beau pauses. “But yeah.” He makes sad eyes as Simon tries to lean his chair back enough to get at the fridge, and sighs when Simon actually manages it without wiping out. Simon throws the bottle at his head.

Beau manages to catch it, even in his tragic condition. Simon laughs. “Practice sucked, eh?”

“Yes,” Beau says definitively. “And now I am dead. Like that guy in the movie from yesterday, like the Flyers’ season, like that guy who got kicked off the island.”

“Who?”

“The guy, who did the thing, you know?” Beau waves a hand expressively.

“Uh, huh,” Simon turns to his phone. He mutters something in French, it sounds disparaging, but Beau honestly has no idea.

“Dead like your chances with that girl in Florida last week,” Beau continues. “Dead, is what I’m saying.”

Simon flips him off. He says something in French with a jerk of his chin. It might be “you wish,” it might not. Beau elects not to notice.

“It’s true, I am awesome,” he says cheerfully.

Simon snorts. He says something else incomprehensible, his mouth twisted in amusement. Beau grins back.

It takes nearly ten minutes of replying to all of Simon’s French with wilder and wilder praise for himself before Simon throws something at him, and nearly fifteen before Simon swears at him in English, hiccuping with laughter. Beau puts his hands behind his head and basks in the warm glow of success.

“Call of Duty?” he says, batting his eyelashes.

“Thought you were dead?”

“Over it,” Beau says, stretching luxuriously back over the arm of the couch, and is a little surprised to find that it’s more or less true. He’s not totally unstiff, but he’s pretty nearly there. He watches Simon from upside-down; Simon looks entertainingly confused, but that might just be his vantage point.

“Yeah, okay,” Simon says finally. He makes a face when he bends over to retrieve the controllers from the floor, and rolls his head from side to side, stretching.

“Knew it!” Beau crows, sitting up to point at him accusingly.

Simon grumps, “shut up,” but passes Beau a controller. “We’re making it though, eh?”

“Fucking right,” Beau says, and fistbumps Simon’s hand where it’s wrapped around the controller. “It’s our year, motherfuckers.”

Simon laughs at him, but Beau knows he’s right. The thought buoys him through three CoD losses and almost all the way through morning skate the next day before he finds himself on the bench sucking down Gatorade and telling Simon to leave him to die. Simon does, the asshole.

 

It’s been four or five awkward breakfasts with Pauly when Beau decides he’s not doing that anymore. Nealer blinks a little when he appears at the door one evening with a bag of groceries, but he only says, “you want to put that in the fridge?”

“Your house is too damn empty,” Beau says, which isn’t precisely the point, but which is true. He waves an illustrative hand as they walk toward the kitchen. “Do you never want to use all these rooms?”

“What else could I need?” Nealer says.

“Fucking anything?” Beau laughs.

“That just proves you know I’m right,” Nealer says, leaning on the counter to watch Beau put the groceries away.

It’s nothing fancy, but eggs and non-expired milk are more than Nealer had before. The next morning, Beau’s digging through the cupboards looking for the blender, when Nealer staggers out of the bedroom, grumbling, “why’d you leave? We don’t have to be anywhere for ages.” He comes to a halt using the fridge to keep himself upright. “What are you doing?”

“Breakfast,” Beau says firmly. “Pauly’s probably tired of my face by now.”

“Pauly doesn’t mind,” Nealer says vaguely.

“Breakfast,” Beau says again, decisively, in the hopes of distracting Nealer from the question of exactly how Pauly’s increasingly knowing looks are weirding him out.

Nealer flops down on a stool. “Pauly’s expecting us though.”

“He deals when you’re at my hotel.”

Nealer rests his chin on his arms, folded on the countertop. “That’s true,” he says agreeably. His eyes brighten. “Are you cooking?”

“Uh, like, toast and shit?”

“Cool,” Nealer says. He doesn’t move.

Beau sighs. “Seriously? Not even trying?”

Nealer grins. “You know I’m shit in the kitchen.”

Beau’s no great shakes either, but whatever. He makes toast and smoothies while Nealer watches sunnily, and the application of coffee wakes Nealer up enough that he blows Beau on the couch after. He mumbles, “Thanks for breakfast,” into Beau’s shoulder when Beau wraps a lazy hand around his dick, so it’s his own damn fault that Beau laughs too hard to get him off for several minutes, even with Nealer making offended noises and rubbing his dick pointedly against Beau’s thigh.

Beau brings groceries from time to time after that. Occasionally there are new ones when he goes to put them away, though Nealer doesn’t bring it up, and Beau guesses it’s not impossible that Nealer could have remembered to buy them.

Nealer elbows him in practice once after a roadtrip, when they’re waiting for their turn and blames him for the rotten milk he’d found in his fridge on his return, but Beau refuses to take the blame for anything other than exposing Nealer’s incompetence.

They still sometimes end up at Pauly’s when Nealer doesn’t have any food. Pauly’s pretty indifferent about the whole thing, or at least he never says much about it, beyond mocking Nealer for being a mooch. Nealer buys beer every once in a while, which he says makes up for it.

“Maybe if it was better beer,” Pauly says, but he drinks it anyway.

It’s a familiar back and forth, worn smooth before Beau ever showed up, but willing to welcome Beau’s occasional beer purchases into its judgy embrace. Beau doesn’t care. They can buy their own damn beer if they’re picky, and clearly they’re not, once the traditional whining is out of the way. It’s a comfortable fight, Beau can lounge on Pauly’s couch, and kick Nealer if he complains too much, while Pauly laughs at them. He doesn’t mind if they want to have it every time.

Nealer’s around a lot in general. Beau’s getting used to him, the way that he haunts other guys’ hotel rooms when he’s bored, the way he can’t keep track of his sweatshirts, and leaves them in improbable places in the locker room, or in other people’s cars and hotel rooms.

Mostly Geno’s hotel room, really. Or at least, Geno's the one who notices and torments him about it constantly, walking into assorted practice rinks wearing it and fluffing his hair pointedly. Nealer calls Beau a traitor when he laughs. His face scrunches up in disgust, the edge of a canine just visible in his scowl. Beau's weirdly into it. He keeps laughing.

Nealer does leave shit in Beau's room, but it's more likely to be Simon who notices. Simon seems to find him baffling at best, which is hilarious because Nealer is one of the more straightforward people Beau knows. Simon's chill though, and it's cool to have someone around who isn't yet tired of the admittedly limited attractions of the less exciting road cities, even if Pauly chirps them for their enthusiasm.

"It's just Winnipeg," he drawls, when Beau's elbowing Simon away from the window seat on the bus from the airport. “And it’s March.”

"It's not my fault I've always lived places with non-stupid climates," Beau says. “Snow is an exotic mystery.” He nudges Simon. "I don't know what his excuse is."

Simon bumps him back. "I'm from Quebec, dipshit."

"Bragging that you have less stupid weather than Winnipeg just proves how truly deprived you are," Beau says loftily. He narrows his eyes. "You don't fool me; I've seen your snowplows."

Simon's still trying to give him a noogie when the bus pulls up abruptly at the hotel, and they're tipped forward, half onto the floor, banging into the seats in front of them.

There’s a clatter of protest. Joey V. says, “watch it,” sharply, and laughs. Someone else throws a hat at them. Pauly gives them a look over the top of his glasses. He's not even pretending that he's not laughing. Beau appropriates the hat in retaliation, and feels immensely at peace with the world and his team and everything.

 

Especially because they keep winning, and Beau is getting laid all the fucking time and things are great. Except that spending all this time at Nealer’s house means being subjected to his terrible taste in tv. "Didn't we already have the fucking basketball highlights?" Beau mumbles into Nealer's shoulder. Nealer hums acknowledgement and moves his arm to wrap it around Beau's shoulders. Beau falls about 80% of the way to horizontal without its support, and he gives up, flopping down to rest his head against Nealer's thigh. Nealer's arm hovers awkwardly for a second, his hand finally settling warm on Beau's waist.

"Really?" Beau grumbles after about eight seconds of what are definitely a second set of basketball highlights that are probably exactly the same as the first. They feel like it anyway.

Nealer makes a vague inquiring noise. Beau gestures at the tv.

"It's always basketball highlights," Beau says sulkily. "I miss Canadian tv."

"That so, Cali boy?" Nealer says in what might be supposed to be an imitation of a surfer voice. It doesn't really sound like anything except possibly some kind of robot. Nealer cackles anyway.

“I'm not endorsing your country. I'm just saying, you guys have a good amount of hockey on your tv. That's all."

"It's true," Nealer says agreeably.

Beau turns his attention back to the tv. They're praising fucking cramps again. "See, it's all this shit. Fucking pointless. Worst goddamn coverage of any sport. I've done that a million times."

"Hockey's tougher, for sure."

Nealer clearly doesn't really understand the multitude of flaws in the tv crew's analysis of the incident. "You want to watch another channel?" Nealer says finally, as Beau winds down.

They've switched to golf highlights now. It's okay, Beau guesses. He thumps Nealer's thigh like it's a pillow that needs fluffing and readjusts himself more comfortably. "Nah, this is fine."

"Brat." Nealer squeezes Beau's hip briefly.

"What? Golf's way better," Beau says defensively.

"You any good?"

"Probably better than you." Beau laughs, though he honestly has no idea what Nealer's game's like.

"Bring it," Nealer says firmly, though his tone is at odds with the way his hand strokes along Beau's side.

"Next summer," Beau says. "It's on."

"Cool," Nealer says, and then they're mostly quiet again, until one of the anchors mentions Lebron completely unnecessarily, and Beau's noise of disgust is loud enough that Nealer cracks up completely.

 

The sex does make up for it though.

Nealer’s thighs are great, Beau thinks inanely. Nealer’s heavy on his lap, but it’s a good feeling, the solid weight of him and Beau’s hands spread wide on Nealer’s thighs as Nealer rocks against him. He could move, but he could also just keep holding on and let Nealer kiss him. Nealer’s thighs flex as he shifts, trying to get a better angle, tilting Beau’s chin up, his thumb brushing the edge of Beau’s lower lip.

They kiss deep and wet, Beau’s fingers digging into thick muscle, thumb rubbing along Nealer’s inseam. Nealer makes happy noises into his mouth, and squirms on his lap, cock nudging up against Beau’s.

Beau pushes back against him, mouthing along the line of Nealer’s jaw, and down to nip along his throat. Nealer groans, hips nudging up impatiently, his hands stroking along Beau's arms.

"You should fuck me like this," Nealer says cheerfully, punctuating it with a roll of his hips, his thighs working under Beau's hands, and Beau is so fucking on board with that idea.

"Yeah?" he says, head tilting to one side.

Nealer licks at his exposed neck. "Yeah." He pauses. "Well, like, on the bed. My shit's in the other room."

Beau laughs, and Nealer grins at him. He drags Beau off the couch and pushes him towards the bedroom with a hand on his ass. It seems easiest to fall back on the bed while Nealer digs through his dresser, tosses packets onto the bed, and strips with the speed of a million dressing rooms.

He makes a face at Beau's sweats and crawls onto the bed to get the lube. Beau reaches for him, but Nealer swats his hands away. "You just get more naked, eh?" he laughs.

Beau's not sure him trying to get undressed while Nealer preps himself right there is actually more efficient. He's not really watching what he's doing and he's all thumbs as he watches Nealer fuck himself on his own fingers, eyes fluttering shut as he makes some seriously stupid faces. Beau's mouth goes dry. He scoots up the bed to lean against the headboard, tugging Nealer by the wrist to straddle him.

He's trying to help, honestly, but Nealer’s really fucking hot like this, and Beau just wants to touch him, put his hands back on Nealer’s thighs, try to kiss him again. Nealer makes an impatient noise, his own hands busy with a condom, with bracing himself.

His hand on Beau’s shoulder is suddenly heavy, and then he’s sinking down, and Beau’s in, and oh, fuck. They’ve fucked before, but not like this, not Nealer heavy on him, and still moving. Beau could watch this all goddamn day, if his dick wouldn’t kill him long before that.

"You going to do any of this fucking work?" Nealer pants. He's flushed all the way down his chest, but his thighs are barely trembling at all as he rocks himself down on Beau's dick.

"Maybe?" Beau offers, focused on the curve of Nealer's ass under his hands.

"Fucker," Nealer says happily into Beau's mouth. It turns into a hiss as he rises up and sinks down slowly and god, that feels fucking amazing. Beau's hips jerk and Nealer looks smug as hell.

He melts as Beau fucks up into him, his weight on Beau’s shoulder, curving down to meet him like his spine’s gone liquid. He’s so open about it, noises against Beau’s neck when they move together, a mix of encouragement and begging when Beau slips a hand around his dick. Beau breathes ragged and open-mouthed against his shoulder, desperate to keep moving against the counterweight of Nealer slowing down as he gets close. His shoulders tense up first, and he babbles, “fuck, yes, just like that, right there,” as he comes shakily between them, fingers digging into Beau’s flesh.

Nealer won’t lift his head, but he hums happily when Beau starts moving again, fast and desperate, hands slipping against Nealer’s hips. He gasps for air when he comes, and feels Nealer’s lips brush the side of his neck. Beau could probably let Nealer squash him comfortably like this for ages, so it feels too soon when Nealer disentangles them.

He doesn’t move far, just slumps to the bed looking immensely satisfied, which adds an enjoyable fillip of smugness to Beau’s post-coital glow. He pulls Beau in when he’s disposed of the condom, and Beau is in too much of a good mood to complain about the way he arranges them to cuddle.

Beau dozes against Nealer’s chest until he starts moving. He doesn’t know why Nealer would make a terrible decision like that and grumbles his displeasure into Nealer’s shoulder.

Nealer catches his flailing hand and ruffles his hair. “If we shower, we can go steal Pauly’s food.”

That sounds like a much better idea, and Beau allows Nealer to move from underneath him before falling asleep again. Nealer wakes him later, dripping cold water on Beau's neck as he sing-songs, "fooood," in his ear.

Beau's awake enough to be amused by Pauly's token protest when they arrive expectantly at his door. He doesn't even pretend he's not going to let them in though. Nealer smiles sunnily and obliviously at the suggestion that he should still be paying rent, and barely retaliates when Beau pokes him and calls him a mooch.

Pauly's mouth twitches as he looks at Beau. "What are you then?"

"A guest, of course," Beau responds, and looks innocent right up until Nealer hipchecks him gently against the wall.

 

Getting sent down for a day was weird, even if Beau was assured that it was mostly administrative. Getting sent down at the end of March is worse. He hopes he’s going to be back, it doesn’t seem impossible. Coach says he’ll probably be back, but no one’s making promises. Beau understands it, but that doesn’t make him less cranky about it, not that he’s dumb enough to show it at the rink, manages to wait until he gets home and can take out his frustrations on packing badly.

He doesn’t have a lot of stuff, which helps, but there’s a lot more Pens shit than he thought he had, until he starts checking the labels and half of it turns out to be Nealer’s. Those ones go into a separate pile. It ends up being giant. Beau’s pretty messy, but somehow Nealer’s crap seems to have taken over his hotel suite anyway. He’s not even sure how he’s managed it when Nealer always wants to go back to his house.

Most of it goes back to him, but Beau turns around when he’s crammed his suitcases as full as he can get them to discover the final pile of shit that he’d set aside has vanished, probably into his bags. It would be work to take it out, and clearly Nealer doesn’t miss it that much; it can probably wait.

 

Beau’s just left when Pauly busts his wrist. He hears about it, but it's quickly overshadowed by Sid's jaw, which is scary as shit. He texts Pauly once about it, but it's one of a million wrist things he's seen happen to teammates, he's not that worried and Pauly's reply is more resigned than anything.

Nealer texts him a lot while he’s down. He texts like he's fifty or something, which is great. Beau sends him random shit, just to confuse him, and makes fun of his text speak.

He gets back sadfaces and complaints about having to cook his own meals.

Uh, do you mean, make your own delivery calls? Beau replies absently and receives an indignant picture of burnt eggs on Pauly's counter.

Sorry about your life. Beau sends Pauly. He doesn't reply, but Nealer says fuck u so Beau assumes it reached its target.

 

Coming back up should probably be just as much fuss, but Beau never managed to unpack one of his suitcases, and the other one's still half full, so he shoves his laundry on top and lugs it back to his now oddly empty hotel suite. He considers unpacking, but they're leaving tomorrow for Carolina so it's probably pointless.

He goes to practice instead, too happy to be back to care about the inevitable chirping. Nealer offers dinner after practice, so Beau goes home with him. He's a little surprised when they drive directly into Pauly's driveway, but not enough to stop him from settling onto Pauly's couch to watch him and Nealer fight about who's going to defrost dinner.

Nealer clearly thinks he's being subtle when he starts sidling toward the kitchen. Pauly strides ahead of him, and Beau follows them, laughing at the way Nealer whines when Pauly hipchecks him out of the way.

"I've never broken an oven," Nealer scoffs as Beau pulls up a stool to spectate.

"Yet," Pauly says darkly. He's not quite barricading the fridge from Nealer's attempts to get into it, but it's something close. It wouldn't be that effective, but he's got his wrapped wrist on the door handle and Nealer keeps sneaking glances at it when he'd normally be trying to wrestle Pauly out of the way.

"No faith," Nealer sighs dismally.

Beau says, "Nope!" loudly, and Nealer abandons the fridge to try and put Beau in a headlock.

"No lip out of you," he say, laughing, the vibration of it loud where Beau’s head is squashed up against his chest.

"I'm just being honest," Beau says, muffled against Nealer's arm, and squirms up enough to see Pauly taking frozen meals out of the freezer one handed, undisguisedly laughing at the two of them.

Beau puts an elbow into Nealer's stomach. Nealer drops his head and tries to join Pauly at the stove. Pauly slams the last tray in the oven as he steps up beside him and looks Nealer smugly in the eye.

Nealer punches his shoulder. "See if I try to do anything for you again."

"If there'd been a first time, I'd be worried," Pauly drawls, and Nealer kicks out softly at his ankle, but doesn't follow up when Pauly steps easily out the way.

Beau chirps Nealer for failing and dodges his retaliation, so they shove at each other all the way back to the couch. They threaten to fight for the remote, until Pauly coughs from his chair and waves it smugly at them. Nealer looks like he's contemplating going after him for it, but flops down on the couch instead, head in Beau's lap.

Pauly snorts. "Damn straight." He flips through a couple of channels, settles in on SportsCenter. Nealer mumbles argumentatively into Beau's leg, but it doesn't really make words so Beau ignores him.

Nealer's fidgety, but that's fairly normal. He doesn't move until the timer in the kitchen rings, when he bounces out of Beau's lap like he's been shot.

Beau blinks at him. "It's just the oven," he says. "Chill." Pauly chuckles and Nealer rolls his eyes.

"Whatever, I'll go take dinner out, eh?" He narrows his eyes at Pauly, but Pauly doesn't look like he's even thinking about moving, his chair reclined back all the way. He waves pleasantly.

Nealer's pretty loud in the kitchen, but Beau figures if something actually goes wrong he'll probably start swearing, so it's fine. He leans over instead to say, "hey man, sucks about your wrist" to Pauly.

"Thanks," Pauly says, shrugging. "I'll be back soon, probably. It's nothing much. You'll just have to pick up the slack, baby Pen."

"I can do better than that," Beau says airily. Pauly grins at him, and they turn back to the tv for a moment before Nealer is shouting from the kitchen that they need to move their lazy asses.

He waves at them from the table, when they come into the room, and says, "what?" through a mouthful of food when Pauly laughs at him.

Beau's kind of eyeing Pauly, but he seems fine as he serves himself casserole. He figures Nealer's probably calmed his shit about Pauly's wrist when he doesn't look up from his food until they sit down at the table.

It's a false hope. Nealer won't stop poking at Pauly about his wrist all meal. He nags him absently, but consistently about his rehab, though it sounds to Beau like every other wrist injury he's ever heard of.

Pauly looks resigned. He sighs at Nealer, reminds him whose food he's stealing, and tries to distract him by chirping Beau about leaving them.

Beau sticks his tongue out. "Not my fault you all fall to pieces when I'm gone."

"You wish," Pauly says. "Don't lie, you came back just in time to go to Florida. Can't take the cold, eh?"

"I lived in Denver for forever!" Beau protests.

Nealer cracks up. Beau makes a face at him.

Pauly appears to be judging both of them.

"Both of you are wusses about that shit," he says decisively, and chuckles when Nealer sputters at him.

Beau opts to look smug, and dodge Nealer's kick under the table.

Nealer laughs, but he's not distracted from Pauly's injury for that long, and by the end of the meal, Pauly's looking as homicidal as his general Midwestern thing can get.

Beau swings an arm across Nealer's shoulders. "Take me home," he stage-whispers in Nealer’s ear.

"Hmmm?" Nealer turns his head, breath hot against Beau's cheek. Beau squeezes his shoulder and grins.

Pauly groans at them. "God, I don't want to know, assholes."

Beau drapes himself more heavily on Nealer's shoulders and scrunches up his nose in Pauly's direction.

Pauly's sigh is mostly amused. He claps Beau on the back wordlessly as Beau more or less pushes Nealer out the door.

Beau winks at him. "See you at breakfast."

"I take that back," Pauly calls after them.

Nealer eyes them like they're nuts. He looks like if he's deciding if he wants to know, but it's only two steps across the road, and when they get in the door, well, Beau wasn't entirely being selfless in hitting on him. Nealer's so damn easy, and Beau's really fucking into the way Nealer leans into him and licks at his neck when Beau tugs him in close.

 

Florida is so glorious that Beau doesn't even give a shit that Duper picks 'Sunshine' back up and infects everyone. He's not sure he even hears his own name until they get back to Pittsburgh, but it's hard to care when everyone's in such a damn good mood.

They have an off day, and there's a pool and Beau could sit here forever.

Nealer leans over the back of Beau's deck chair, dripping cold water on his face. "Thinking of getting traded to Tampa?" he says with a grin.

Beau wrinkles his nose. "Nah. Though, if the Pens wanted to move somewhere warmer, I wouldn't say no. Or Pittsburgh could succumb to global warming faster. I'm flexible."

"Oh, I know," Nealer says, low voiced, attempting a leer.

Beau grins back, as lasciviously as he can manage, which might not be that much, but the tips of Nealer's ears go red anyway. Unless that's the sun.

It might be the sun, they probably all get a little much UV that afternoon. At dinner people are turning assorted shades of pink, and there’s a lot of chirping. Beau’s not too badly off, which Nealer pokes him for later, when they’re hanging out in his room.

“Dick,” he grumbles, stroking down Beau’s increasingly tanned arm. “Were you tanning in the secret tropics of Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, or what?”

Beau settles his head more comfortably against Nealer’s thigh and reaches up to poke the tip of his nose, which is pink between the freckles. Nealer jerks back from where he was leaning over and scowls. “Just lucky, I guess.” He pokes at Nealer's sunburn again.

Nealer grabs at his hand. "You'd think you'd be a little nicer to your pillow."

Beau grins up at him. "Oh, well, if you need me to be nice... I guess you're too burned to screw?"

Nealer pokes him in the side. "Never. You owe me one for this insult."

Beau stretches, arching his back across Nealer's legs. His shirt rides up, and he can see Nealer's eyes flick down. "Sounds like fun."

 

Nealer’s unusually insistent that they go back to his place after the roadie. It’s a little weird, but Beau’s place is still mostly full of suitcases, so what does he care? He’s slouched in the hall, pretty much just waiting until Nealer finishes taking off his shoes to grab his ass, when Nealer straightens abruptly and says, “oh, hey, I’ve got something to show you.”

Beau blinks. “Okay.” Nealer grins at him, and puts a hand on the small of Beau’s back to usher him into one of the many rooms Beau mentally wrote off as empty and boring ages ago. He’s not sure if this bodes well for whatever surprise Nealer’s got in mind.

Nealer looks devastatingly proud when he says happily, “Look! I bought a table.”

It definitely is a table. Chairs too. A full set. That is totally furniture, yes.

“Cool?” Beau tries.

Nealer’s mouth twitches as he looks away to beam at his new furnishings. “I don’t know, it just made a lot of sense when you said it. My house is kind of empty. So now we have a dining table.”

Beau digs his hands deep in his pockets. “It’s, uh, great, man.”

Nealer elbows him lazily. “Yeah, whatever. It’s just a table.”

Beau grins. “Aww, all grown up, aren’t you? Good job.”

Nealer leans sideways to bump his shoulder against Beau’s. He stays pressed up against him, heavy against Beau’s side as he says, “Don’t talk to me like that, kid. Who’s been here longest?”

Beau licks once at Nealer’s ear, sloppy and annoying. “You want to bring that up now? Really?”

Nealer shivers and pushes Beau up against the doorjamb, hands curling around Beau’s hips. He leans in close. Beau grins. “Hey, old man.”

Nealer screws up his face in disgust. “Ugh, c’mon, don’t. I’m hitting on you here.” Beau cracks up. Nealer pinches him. “I’m serious,” he whines. “Don’t. That’s gross.”

Beau has no idea why Nealer cares this much, but his face is really funny when he does. He cackles harder, resting his head on Nealer’s shoulder when it feels like too much damn work to hold it up and laugh at the same time. Nealer pokes him in the stomach again, but doesn’t make him move. It’s not even that funny, except that Nealer’s face really, really was.

“Hey,” Beau says finally, as he hiccups himself to somewhere near calm, “want to make out?”

Nealer makes a wordless noise of complaint, but his fingers are twisting in Beau’s shirt, tugging him closer. Beau noses at Nealer’s neck, kisses him behind his ear to feel him shiver. Nealer rolls his hips against Beau, impatient and eager. His hands are cool when they creep under the edge of Beau’s shirt, and he makes a sharp sound in the back of his throat when Beau twitches away from the chill.

Nealer’s mouth is soft against the corner of Beau’s mouth, wetter as he moves to kiss him more fully, quick and sloppy, again and again. They press closer and closer, hips rolling, until Beau breaks a kiss with a gasp.

“You want to move before we have sex on your new table?” Beau says, a little breathless.

“It’s a very good table,” Nealer says. The earnestness and sincerity in his eyes is disconcerting compared to the way he’s still rocking against Beau and grinning.

Beau laughs, peeling himself off of Nealer. “Yeah, man, but beds.”

“City living’s made you soft,” Nealer says, shaking his head.

“Where the fuck do you think I’m from?” Beau mutters, but Nealer’s dragging him out of the room and he lets it go.

 

It was a good roadie, but it’d be hard for the rest of the season to compare to March. They don't do too terribly, but everyone's a little twitchy because of Sid, and then Geno, and Dan reorganizing everything every practice.

They wind down on a high note, and then Beau feels like he maybe wants to go hyperventilate in a paper bag or something because playoffs. He doesn't, celebrates with everyone instead, listening to Sid lisping earnestly about how proud he is of everyone and how well he expects them to do, and Cookie puncturing the moment with sly questions about how many painkillers he's still on. Kuny tells an insane number of playoff horror stories to the point where it would be impossible to believe him even if he had a poker face.

Playoffs mean more free time, but at ever weirder intervals, and getting scratched a lot. Nealer seems to be there all the time, hanging out on the road, and taking him home so they can steal Pauly’s food together and fuck, constantly, in Nealer’s bed.

Nealer’s getting shaggy and he sheds everywhere, long brown hairs and coarse ginger ones in Beau’s sheets, in his bathroom. Beau complains about it sometimes when he leans over to kiss him and hair gets in their mouths, or when Nealer lounges against him on the couch and leaves hair caught in his sweater. Nealer just laughs and says that at least he’s trying to help the team here, flicking Beau’s chin. It’s not like he’s shaving. Nealer can fuck right off.

It’s the only time they really talk about the playoffs though, and even then it’s not really talking. Beau doesn’t really know what to say about them though, and Nealer seems unwilling to bring it up. He’s not playing a lot, which he expected, but that doesn’t make it less frustrating. He doesn’t know if he could have seen things the same way from on the ice, if he could have done better, but it’s hard not to think about the places where people fucked up when he’s in the press box, or bored after the game. He doesn’t say as much to anyone, he’s not a moron, just goes and rides the bike after the game with half the team, like he’s got anything to work out of his legs.

It sucks, but also it’s pretty cool being here sometimes. He goes for smug when Sid says that he is part of the team, but he’s fairly sure the squishy feeling in his chest is coming out on his face.

He wonders if Nealer feels the awkwardness too or if he’s just one of those guys who’s too superstitious to say anything while they’re still going on. It’s weird going places with the team after scratched games, their elation and deflation strangely alien, even if everyone in the scratched group cares just as much about how the team does. Beau hangs out a lot with the other healthy scratches. They don’t talk about the games a lot either, so maybe it’s not that Nealer’s weird. It’s a good kind of not talking, really. Everyone knows what needs to be done, and they’re all on board to do it.

Whatever’s up with Nealer, however, doesn’t really stop Beau from banging him a lot. It feels like they’re spending even more time than usual in hotels, though it’s probably not true. When they get home, it still feels like time’s suspended: everything focused on the rest they all know they desperately need. Beau’s not sure if any of this is why he still goes home with Nealer, or ends up in his hotel room even when things are weird.

It’s never weird in bed though, so maybe that’s why he keeps coming back.

 

Beau does play the last two games. It’s better, it really is, though it’s weird to say that when everyone else around him is glum. It fucking sucks to lose, for everyone, the mood universally shitty on the bus, and the plane, and in the inevitable conversation afterward about whether or not it's worth it to go get drunk at 2am.

Some guys probably do, but Beau crashes instead. There's tomorrow to get drunk in. There's a whole fucking summer to get drunk in, and that's exactly the kind of thought that makes him want to pull the covers over his head and sleep for a million years. Sid remembers to say goodbye to everyone as they get off the plane, to remind everyone about the team party, and clean out, but everyone else is varying degrees of withdrawn. Nealer's been quiet longer than Beau can remember, though he pats Beau's shoulder wordlessly when they all separate.

Beau doesn't sleep for a million years, but things look better in the morning anyway. It's sunk in more, but so has the fact that the he played in the playoffs. The NHL playoffs. For the Cup. He's sort of stoked, in a weird way.

Simon understands, when he actually condescends to answer Beau's texts. "I was sleeping," he says sadly when Beau calls him out for his delinquency, but he eventually makes his way down to Beau’s floor to play MarioKart.

They don’t really acknowledge it, but it's kind of celebratory MarioKart. Competitive, because nothing is ever going to stop that, but they’re both weirdly happy. They avoid mentioning the night before without even thinking about it, but that’s not the point. The point is that Beau is winning now and Simon is barely even threatening him with death for cheating.

They can only ignore their phones for so long though. Beau waves as Simon takes off to go reply to what's probably nearly everyone he knows, if Beau's phone's any guide. "Told you so," Beau shouts at his back. Simon makes a face at him. "We made it through, bro. Told you so."

Simon barks a laugh as he shuts the door.

 

The team party is less depressing than Beau thought it might be. Sid sent the mass text, but he definitely didn't pick the bar. The music’s a little more country than is really Beau’s thing, but it’s not too terrible, there’s a shit ton of booze, and everyone’s a lot less down than they were the last time he saw them. They’re not really talking about the season much, though there’s a round of shots that come from somewhere, and Duper demands that they all toast March.

Beau alternates between dancing - which he is amazing at, thanks very much, Pauly - and trying to convince Nealer to dance. It gets a lot easier several drinks in, and the results are as spectacular as Beau hoped they would be. There's not a lot of rhythm there, but Beau can appreciate the view of his ass in those jeans, even if half the team is shouting at him to sit down.

Nealer flips them off, but does, slumping into the seat next to Beau, and swinging his arm across the back of Beau's chair to survey the room.

“Brutal,” Beau says, leaning back into his arm.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Nealer says, loose and relaxed. He shaved somewhere in the interim, but his hair is still long and curling in the heat. Beau’s drunk enough that tugging it seems like it would be funny. He keeps his hands to himself.

“You keep telling yourself that.”

Nealer makes a face at him, and starts heckling the dart game. Flower shouts something back that might be French, or might just be too much accent for Beau to deal with when they've both drunk this much. He laughs and Nealer pokes him.

"Do you even know what he said?" Beau asks.

Nealer nudges him. "Nah, but don't agree with him, man." He shouts, "nice one!" at a shot that ricochets off the wall and nearly hits Borts’ girlfriend.

Adsy flips him off and throws another one that lands equally wide. Nealer hoots and he makes a feint in their direction. "You wanna say that to my face?" he says fake-threateningly. Nealer beckons him in and he takes a couple more steps, posturing like he's looking for a fight.

"See ya," Nealer says with a wink, and vanishes into the crowd.

 

Beau’s drunk as shit when the party starts thinning out. Nealer was over by the bar talking to Tanger for a while, but he pops up out of nowhere at Beau's elbow at about the same time he starts thinking about cabs. He says he’s looking for Pauly, but Beau’s pretty sure Pauly was making out with that girl like twenty minutes ago, and doesn’t want to see them.

“She can share the cab too, there’s room,” Nealer says, like it’s obvious.

It’s a stupid idea, and Beau says so. Several times, possibly, he’s that kind of drunk: giggly and very, very into the way that Nealer feels against him as they wrestle over Beau’s insults all the way to the curb, and into the cab, where they’re separated by seatbelts, and whatever vestiges of Beau’s self-preservation instinct remain.

They hold it in until the cab pulls up at Nealer’s place, but are all over each other the second the front door shuts behind them. Beau thinks of it in flashes of skin and touch and clinging to one another. It’s the end of something, but when Nealer sinks into him, holding him tightly, it doesn’t feel at all like good-bye.

 

They didn’t drink enough water the night before, but Nealer is a comfortable person to have a hangover with. He lies limply on the couch, while Beau sprawls bonelessly on the blissfully cool floor, and doesn’t protest too much when the prospect of standing up seems impossible and Beau appropriates his Gatorade.

He does whine when they run out of fluids, but shares his couch when Beau returns from his difficult and manful stagger into the kitchen with more glorious water.

They’re quiet for a while. Nealer’s warm and solid at Beau’s side. He’s very comfortable to lean on, his arm tucked loosely around Beau’s waist. He hums quietly, like he’s on the verge of speech, just putting the words together, and it vibrates pleasantly against Beau’s back. “Next year,” Nealer says firmly, which is a bit of a letdown after that much cogitation, but also makes Beau feel warm inside.

“Yeah.” It’s weirder to say it to Nealer than Simon for some reason. He’s not superstitious, that would be dumb. He just doesn’t want to jinx it.

Nealer leans on him harder and ruffles his hair. “Nah, seriously. Next year, I mean it. You and me, and all of us. Definitely.”

He looks so pleased with himself that Beau can’t do much except laugh into his shoulder.

They drop it and talk about summer plans. Nealer seems to be playing in every charity golf event on the continent. It’s almost like responsibility, but Beau is basically obligated to say, “it’s just for the course time, isn’t it?” and poke him.

Nealer nods solemnly and cracks up.

Beau’s summer plans at the moment are more or less exclusively beach related. Nealer looks dubious about Beau’s explanation of the joys of skimboarding, but says thoughtfully, “I should hit up Cali some time this summer, eh?”

“Where were you thinking of going?” Beau asks, turning over tourist shit in his head. He should probably be better at this, he gets asked it often enough, but it’s a big ass state.

“Dunno,” Nealer says, nudging him. “Where’re you going to be?”

“Just at home. You know it’s not all tourist stuff, right?” Beau grins. “There’s a beach near us, but it’s not exactly Malibu.”

“C’mon, of course I want to see you,” Nealer says. “You can take me to dinner, eh?”

Beau cackles. “Should have known the real reason you wanted to stop by.” He elbows Nealer. “Mooch.”

Nealer pulls him in closer and rests his cheek on the top of Beau’s head. “Not the only reason.” He’s very comfortable. Beau leans back into him.

“I’m not that easy,” he says, still laughing.

“It’s not easy if we’re dating,” Nealer says into Beau’s hair. His voice is light and he sounds a lot more off-handed than makes any kind of sense. It might be a joke. Nealer’s not very good at those, despite how many he makes. Beau relaxes again.

“You wish,” he says a second time.

Nealer makes an interrogative noise. Beau blinks at him. “But we’re not dating.”

“Of course we’re dating. I bought you a table,” Nealer says immediately.

“What the actual fuck does that mean?”

“You know, the table.” Nealer looks at him seriously. “I don’t buy tables for just anyone, man.”

Beau’s head tilts more and more to the side, like Nealer is going to make sense eventually, if he can just get horizontal enough. Technically, it has worked before, at least inasmuch as Nealer is rarely this baffling when they’re fucking. “You bought you a table,” he says finally.

“But, like, for us,” Nealer says. He doesn’t seem as perturbed by this conversation as Beau. His arm around Beau’s shoulders is relaxed, and the brush of his thumb against Beau’s skin is calm and familiar.

“Has anyone ever used it?” Beau says, even though he knows the answer.

“You can if you want.”

Beau stares at him. “That is so not the point. Since when are we dating?”

Nealer looks up at the ceiling like it contains the answer. “Not sure,” he says slowly. “Does it matter? We go out and we’re fucking, and you’re always here, so…”

“Well, when you put it like that…” Beau drawls, just to be annoying. Actually, when Nealer puts it like that, it really does sound like they’re dating. Cool.

“Guess you’re right,” he says, cuddling back against Nealer’s side. Nealer tucks his arm around him, hand warm and possessive on his hip. “If we break up, I get the table,” he adds.

“Done,” Nealer says. “I’ve been leaving my mail on it for months, by the way. And I’m not moving any of it.”

Beau elbows him affectionately and Nealer laughs like it’s the best thing that’s happened to him all day.