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The whole thing—

It's an accident, honestly.

 


 

The girl sitting at the end of the bar is the kind of manufactured pretty that Harry usually avoids; expensively dressed and immaculately groomed, all pin-straight black hair and pouty pink lips and cleavage that's either surgically enhanced or the product of a really good push-up bra. She's sipping at an enormous strawberry margarita, phone in hand, her legs crossed and her expression bored, idly scrolling through what appears to be a chocolate cake tag on Instagram. There's a Flyers game playing on the flat-screen directly in front of her. She hasn't looked up once.

And—

Okay.

Okay.

Harry is twenty-two years old. He'd dated the same girl he'd lost his virginity to for almost half a decade. He's never gotten a blowjob in a bar bathroom, or had a threesome with a teammate, or taken advantage of the fact that the North American media has been calling him the "Savior of the Franchise" since before he'd even been drafted. 

He keeps to himself.

He doesn't hook up, or pick up, or talk about hooking up and picking up when he's in the locker room. He plays hockey. He focuses on hockey. He lives and breathes and bleeds hockey; often literally.

But.

But.

He's single for the first time in his adult life. He's on a twelve game point streak, he's leading the entire league in assists, and he's been hearing chatter from the front office about maybe getting an "A" on his sweater next season.

And he knows what puck bunnies are. Just like he knows to always carry his own condoms and to never send dick pics with his face in the frame and to categorically avoid cute, inexplicably tan blonde girls in Toronto who claim not to recognize him. He knows. He's had extensive media training. He's also suffered through more awkward NHL-sanctioned lectures on sexually transmitted diseases than he's had birthdays.

So.

So.

The girl sitting at the end of the bar isn't really his type, no, but he thinks, maybe, that's the point.

"Uh, hi," he says, sidling up to her with his hands in his pockets and the back of his neck stained red. "I—can I—can I buy you another drink?"

She flicks a perfunctory glance at him, drags her eyes up, and then down, and then back up again before returning her attention to her phone. She's in a macaron tag now. There are a lot of flowers.

"You're wearing a hat indoors," she drawls, instead of answering his question. "Why are you wearing a hat indoors?"

He instinctively reaches up to fiddle with the tattered brim of his faded blue Oilers hat. He's not an Oiler. "Habit," Harry blurts out.

"Habit," she repeats, looking unimpressed. "Brushing your teeth in the morning is a habit, not—" She flaps her hand. "—that."

He clears his throat and takes off the hat, fumbling a little as he tries to stuff it in his back pocket. His hair's still kind of damp from his post-game shower, but he rakes his fingers through it anyway. It's not like it can get messier.

"Yeah, well, I mean—I'm an athlete, so it's—"

"You can buy me another drink," she interrupts, draining her fishbowl-sized glass. Her phone is on the bar next to her elbow, a blurry pink lock screen quickly fading to black. "No, actually—let's do shots." She flicks another glance at him. "Lots of shots."

A few grains of margarita salt are clinging to the iridescent gloss on her lips.

Harry suddenly feels very, very thirsty.

 


 

Her name is Pansy.

She orders an entire tray of shots, most of which Harry doesn't recognize—some have dollops of whipped cream on top, some are unnatural shades of neon red or blue or green, some are finished with a wispy layer of animal cookie crumbs and some are frothy with various fruit purees and some are so sweet that he can barely taste the alcohol.

"This is like a dessert sampler," Harry says, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose and squinting at the drink in his hand. It looks like it's been carefully dusted with cocoa powder. He tentatively pokes his tongue out. Yeah. Cocoa powder. "What is this even called?"

She shrugs. The curve of her smile is serene. "Mixology is a deeply underappreciated art form."

He furrows his brow. It's difficult to tell if she's joking or not. "Right," he says haltingly. "Mixology. Are you, uh, interested in—" A raucous cheer erupts from behind them, and Harry automatically looks up. "Motherfucker," he swears when he sees Draco Malfoy's smug fucking French-Canadian face all over the TV behind the bar. It's a highlight-reel goal; the kind that skids into the net at an angle that shouldn't technically be possible and makes Malfoy's already dumb shotgun pump celly look even dumber. "Fucking—his teeth aren't even real, did you know that?"

"What?" Pansy asks, knocking back a shot that smells suspiciously like tanning oil. Her cheeks are flushed pink. "Who—oh. Sports. Sportball. Sportball on ice. Riveting. Is it time to get out of here?"

Harry blinks in surprise. He'd sort of thought that picking up a girl would take longer. Require more effort. He'd grimly prepared himself for an hour of awkward small talk and bad flirting and—tension. Sexual tension. Casually dropping a hand on her knee, and then gradually sliding it up the inside of her thigh, and then staring at her mouth with deliberate, single-minded intensity until he got caught; he'd envisioned a moment, heated and exhilarating and brimming with anticipation.

Maybe that isn't how one-night stands work, though.

It's not like he'd know.

"Uh, yeah," he says belatedly, coughing into his fist. "I...have a room? Upstairs?"

She smirks. It seems forced. "Of course you do," she coos, tucking her phone into an oblong fuschia clutch. "Ready?"

Harry is not ready. "Sure, yeah," he lies. "Let's go."

 


 

His palms are sweaty as the lock on the door clicks shut.

Pansy saunters past him, and he's admittedly kind of entranced by the lazy swing of her hips and the gentle arch of her spine and the delicate wings of her shoulder blades—but then she turns around, and he's instantly, irrationally grateful to whichever generic corporate decorator had decided to put that particular lamp on that particular desk, because—

She looks younger in the light. Softer. Her face is rounder, cheekbones less prominent, edges less sharp, and her eyes are a dark, dark blue, almost navy, almost slate, and he might not know what to do with his hands, might not know how to talk to her, or make her laugh, or ask her tactfully about whether or not her tits are real, but—he really, really knows what he wants.

An expectant hush descends on the room.

He kisses her.

And it's—good. It's so fucking good. She's a little tentative, a little slow, with the cushion of her lips and the slide of her tongue and the fluttering of her fingers against his ribs, but there's a hitch in her breath when he moves his hand to the small of her back, presses closer, and she tastes like rum and spearmint and the cardboard-adjacent marshmallows he always picks out of the breakfast sized boxes of Lucky Charms and he's lightheaded with it, with her, and he wants—he wants

She yanks herself out of his arms. "Wait," she gasps, "there's—um—there's a—I don't kiss. No kissing."

It takes Harry a while to process what she's saying, but then he does, and he's just—baffled. "What? Why?"

Her eyes dart down to his mouth, to where he can feel how sticky he is from her lip gloss, and she swallows. "I just—I don't like it," she says, looking vaguely uncomfortable for the first time all night. There's a fragile kind of bewilderment holding her expression hostage. "Kissing. I don't like it. Like—like this. I mean, I like it, obviously, just not. Like this."

"Like...standing up?" he tries, absently reaching down to adjust himself.

For a tangibly tense split-second, her gaze lingers on the front of his jeans.

But then she's glaring at the Do Not Disturb placard lying on the desk, lifting her chin and tossing her hair with a single well-practiced motion, and saying—

"There's a surcharge for kissing."

Harry freezes.

There are...not a lot of ways to interpret that statement.

"Oh, my god," he bleats, much too fucking late, "you're a hooker?"

Her mouth falls open. "You didn't know?"

He gestures expansively—inexplicably—around the hotel room. "How would I have known?" he sputters. "Is there—Jesus, is there a code, or something? Did I miss it?"

She presses her lips into a thin, yet still incredibly shiny line. "It took you, like, five minutes to get me into an elevator with you," she hisses. "So, yeah, you missed it."

"Well, maybe I just thought you were easy!"

She rolls her eyes. "For you?"

"What does that mean?"

"Um, it means I'm a ten, and you're..." she trails off, wrinkling her nose. "You're, like, sales rack Clark Kent."

Harry badly wants to argue with her about that—so, so, so badly—but he isn't sure there's a point. He had no idea people this disconnected from reality actually existed. "I'm a professional hockey player," he says, unable to reign in his indignation. "I don't have to—pay for sex."

She sighs—kind of dramatically, in Harry's opinion—before rolling her eyes again. "Uh, hi, can—can I—can I buy you another drink?" she mimics, lowering her voice several octaves.

Harry rears back. This whole conversation is starting to feel a lot like being viciously chirped by Malfoy in the faceoff circle does. "And your response to that should have been, 'well, you know, there's a fucking surcharge for kissing because I'm a prosti—'"

"Excuse you, I am an escort!"

"What the fuck is the difference?"

"The difference," she snaps, looking hilariously offended, "is that you're paying me for companionship."

"Companionship," Harry echoes, eyebrows flying up. "Like, talking, hanging out, being a—being a generally pleasant person to interact with. That's what people pay you for?"

"That's what you're paying me for."

Harry snorts and maneuvers around her so he can stomp over to the door. He flings it open with a resounding thud. "You're awful at your job."

"Oh?" she calls after him, sweetly sarcastic. "And you'd know that from your extensive experience with escorts, right? What's our code, again?"

He clenches his jaw hard enough to hear bone fucking creak.

 


 

Harry spends most of the Uber ride back to his condo scowling out the window.

There isn't a ton of scenery; he thinks he'd be calmer by now, less frustrated, or furious, or—whatever he is—if there were some fucking trees to look at. A rain-spattered smear of evergreen, blurry and indistinct. As it is, there are just three miles of stop-and-go traffic and too many Starbucks signs to count.

And he isn't calm.

He's a little mortified and a little insulted and a little confused and—

You're, like, sales rack Clark Kent.

Sales rack Clark Kent.

Clark Kent.

Sales rack.

What the fuck.

What the fuck.

"She wasn't a ten," Harry impulsively tells his Uber driver, a college-aged guy in a backwards Celtics hat who hadn't been subtle about the side-eye he'd given Harry when he'd pulled up to the curb. "She was, like, a seven." Harry puffs his cheeks out. Reconsiders. "Maybe an eight." He drums his fingers against his knee. "A nine, possibly, if, you know, your type is—tiny and mean. Really mean."

The Uber driver—Hi, my name is CORMAC, the bright yellow happy-face sticker on the back of the passenger seat reads—makes a commiserating noise. "Girls, man," he says, shaking his head. "So mean."

Harry slaps his hands down. "So mean," he agrees emphatically. "And it wasn't even my fault, right? The—misunderstanding. If it was anyone's fault, it was hers."

"Bummer," Cormac says, with feeling. He flicks his blinker and turns onto Harry's street. "What'd your lady do? That's got you all—you know. Upset."

Harry huffs. "She called me—she called me a 'sales rack Clark Kent', like—what? Who does that?"

Cormac shifts the car into Park. "I dunno, man," he muses. "But Superman could fucking get it. Maybe she was just trying to—what's it called—backhanded compliment you? Is that—a verb? It is, right? Or, like. Maybe she was just embarrassed. About the misunderstanding, or whatever. Hey, bro, are you famous? Your doorman looks like The Rock."

Harry pauses.

Opens his mouth.

Closes his mouth.

He isn't calm.

He's a little mortified and a little insulted and a little confused and—guilty. He's guilty. He'd invited an escort up to his hotel room and then he'd kissed her without her consent and then he'd fought with her about which services she did and did not offer and then he'd left without apologizing or—or—paying her for her time, which he'd wasted, and—

"Is there an ATM nearby?"

 


 

Harry slinks through the hotel lobby with his chin ducked and his Oilers hat pulled low over his face.

He has ten thousand dollars in his pocket. Cash. He hadn't wanted to ask Cormac the Uber driver what the going rate was for sleazy escort sex—with kissing, because Harry is thorough—and he really hadn't wanted that Google search in his internet history, so: ten thousand dollars. Cash. In his pocket.

He's fine.

He's fucking fine.

He manages to get all the way up to the fourteenth floor without being spotted by, like, a Deadspin informant, and then he's knocking on the door he'd slammed with what he'd assumed was finality less than an hour ago, and then—

"Oh," Pansy says when she sees him. Her voice is flat. "It's you."

She's changed out of the dress she'd been wearing and into one of the huge fluffy spa robes Harry suspects he's going to be charged for in the morning. Her feet are bare, and her toenails are painted blue, and without her heels on she's...small. Short. He thinks he might've known that already. But most of her makeup's been scrubbed off and her hair's piled in a bun on top of her head and there's a glistening bit of chocolate melting on the bow of her upper lip and—the cloudy remnants of her eyeliner make her look a little like a raccoon. Her skin is pink and clean and soft.

There's no logical explanation for how dry Harry's throat feels.

"I, uh." He tries, valiantly, to unstick his tongue from the roof of his mouth. "I have—money? For you?"

She scrunches her nose up. "Seriously?"

"Not for—for that," he hastens to add. "I don’t want...that. To do that. This isn't for that."

She stares at him blankly. "That," she repeats. "Right. Then what's it for?"

He rubs the back of his neck and glances around the hallway. "Can we maybe...not do this here?"

Her hands tighten around the knot of her robe, but then she steps back. She doesn't speak, though, not even when the door is closed and the silence is stretching on and on and on and Harry is the asshole just standing there with ten thousand dollars in his pocket and a sneaking suspicion that he's lost complete control of his life.

Honestly, he's fine.

"Here," he eventually chokes out, holding up a bulging white envelope that's stamped with Cormac the Uber driver's full name and address. It's a credit card offer. 22% APR. No annual fee. "I—obviously didn't know how much you...how much to...anyway, I wasn't sure, so. Here. For the—for you. Please, um. Please just take it."

She doesn't take it. "How much is in there?"

Harry refuses to blush. "Ten...thousand?" he hedges. "Dollars?"

Pansy's gaze...flickers. Harry doesn't analyze it too closely. "Jesus," she says, before her face hardens. "This isn't blowjob money. This is, like, weird surprise orgy money. What's your deal?"

"Weird surprise orgy," Harry echoes, kind of faintly. "Has that really—is that common?"

She snorts. "If you're looking to me to make you feel less gross about whatever it is you want to—"

"I already told you, I don't want—wait, what the fuck, I'm not gross."

She makes a frankly offensive seesawing motion with her hand. "Factory outlet Clark Kent," she says sagely. "Not gross, but—"

"Oh, my fucking—just take the money," Harry snaps, stalking forward until he reaches a room service cart and—stops. "Jesus. That is...a lot of cake."

He hears her sniff. "And champagne," she supplies helpfully, moving around him to snatch an open bottle of Veuve Clicquot off the tray. She doesn't bother with a glass. "I call it market research."

"Right," he says, tugging absently at the ends of his hair. "Market research."

She settles back on the bed against a veritable mountain of pillows—had she ordered more of those, too?—her ankles crossed and her posture casual. There's a plate of cheesecake next to her, half-eaten and drizzled with raspberry sauce, and an iPad charging in the dock on the bedside table. The in-room OnDemand welcome screen is playing the trailer for a movie about talking animals. Harry wonders if she's going to watch it.

"Well?" Pansy drawls. "Are you leaving? Or staying? Or?"

Harry startles.

He hadn't realized staying was even an option.

 


 

He wakes up alone.

The pillow next to his is still slightly warm, and it smells like roses and chocolate chip cookies and the expensive perfume samples that were always falling out of the magazines his mom used to read. There's a dull pounding in his head, a fuzzy film of crystallized sugar on his teeth, and a business card propped up against the alarm clock.

Harry fumbles for his glasses.

Picks up the card.

Squints.

It's...sparkly, an oversized rectangle of heavy, neon pink cardstock embossed with rainbow-tinted glitter. PANSY PARKINSON is printed in an elegant, all-caps font in the upper right corner. There's a phone number, too, with an area code that Harry knows he recognizes from road games. Nashville? Carolina? Dallas?

He scrubs a hand over his face and looks blearily around the empty room.

It's 9:24 in the morning. The heavy blue curtains haven't been drawn, but enough sunlight is peeking in from outside that he can see the mess of dirty dessert plates piled near the desk. Four empty bottles of champagne are inexplicably lined up on the floor, and the pad of paper emblazoned with the Marriott logo that they'd played increasingly vicious games of Hangman on is sitting in a puddle of melted vanilla ice cream.

The "DO NOT DISTURB" placard is nowhere to be found.

So.

So.

Harry carefully tucks the business card into his wallet—he's still wearing his jeans, and his watch, and his fucking shoes, god—and then rolls over to the other side of the bed.

He inhales deeply.

He goes back to sleep.

 


 

Harry doesn't call her for a while.

Well.

Four days.

He doesn't call her for four days.

 


 

"Who is this," Pansy demands when she answers her phone.

"Um," Harry says dumbly, because he'd kind of been operating under the delusion that she was, like, waiting to hear from him. "It's—Harry? Potter? From the other night? The, uh, the hockey player?"

"Okay," she says, dragging the word out. "Harry the hockey player. Hi. What do you want?"

"Um," Harry says again, even more dumbly, because he'd also kind of been operating under the delusion that she would, like, do this for him. "I just thought I'd—ask—how you're. You know. How you're doing."

She doesn't say anything for a few seconds. "You want to...know how I'm doing," she repeats. "Really."

Harry furrows his brow and stares down a small brown stain on his living room rug. It's shaped like a shamrock. "Yes?"

There's a long, not entirely friendly beat of silence. "I'm okay," she eventually says, something quiet and inherently unreadable creeping into her voice. "How are...you?"

"Oh, I'm fine," he replies, prodding at the cushions of his couch with his bare toes. There's a stain there, too. He still doesn't really understand how to take care of leather. "I was just...yeah, I was just thinking, you know—how, uh, how's Pansy doing, right? So I. Uh. I called."

"Right," she says, and—oh, she's amused now. "Anything else you were thinking about doing, Harry the hockey player?"

His lips part.

 


 

It's disturbingly easy, after that.

Harry leaves for a grueling, eight day road trip, up and down and then back up the east coast, and he's using his phone so much that he actually has to charge it at night. He extends his point streak, assists on the game-winner against the Leafs, and gets a pretty decent punch in when Malfoy tries to fight him in the middle of overtime in Philly. Harry's good mood is impervious to the shitty weather in Ottawa, and the shitty media coverage about their playoff chances, and the shitty clicking sound his wrist keeps making when he practices slapshots.

It's just—

Easy.

It's easy.

It's easy to listen to her give him scathing play-by-plays of whatever trashy reality show she's watching while he ices his knees and flips through a room service menu and pointedly doesn't think about champagne or cheesecake or the mutinous slant of her jaw when he'd beat her at Go Fish; and it's easy to text her pictures of the bruises on his ribs and the icy slush on the ground, easy to complain to her about the trade rumors and the stalled contract negotiations; it's easy to talk to her and it's easy to talk at her and it's easy to figure out that she's smarter than she lets on and that she never mentions her family if she can help it and that she laughs a little too hard at her own jokes, like she's trying to prove something to herself.

She hates raisins.

She likes snakes.

She has opinions about the culinary industry's over-reliance on stand mixers.

And it's easy, easy, easy.

It's easy to forget, too, that he'd probably be paying her for all of it if he wasn't three thousand miles away.

 


 

Harry's been home for an hour when his phone buzzes with an incoming text. 

(4:45 pm) are you busy tonight?

He stares at the message until his vision swims and the individual letters begin to pixelate. He isn't not busy—he has vague, mostly formless plans to unpack his suitcase and defrost the chicken in the freezer and maybe finally get around to that Lost re-watch he's been putting off for a few years. Nothing concrete, though. Nothing important. He doesn't even have to skate in the morning, if he doesn't want to. It's optional. He could take a maintenance day. 

(4:52 pm) nah  

(4:52 pm) dinner?

Harry is really, really fine.

That's his mantra as he showers and shaves and awkwardly scrambles for a last-minute reservation at a steakhouse with, like, a cigar room and a lot of five-star reviews on Yelp. But then he's putting her address into his car's GPS and he's cracking his knuckles every time he drives through a yellow light and he's pulling up to a neatly terraced row of luxury townhouses with red brick exteriors and navy blue doors and tiny wooden signs posted on the trees—the trees—reminding residents about leash laws and speed bumps.

Harry parks in a daze.

It occurs to him, as he's lifting the gleaming brass knocker on Pansy's front door and straightening his tie, that this is a date. Basically. It is basically a date. Granted, he hasn't been on a date in a while, but he's pretty sure this is how they start. Which is—weird, maybe, since Pansy's an escort, but he has a bulky Bank of America envelope in his jacket pocket and no real idea, still, of how much she actually charges for...whatever, so.

So.

He's fine.

And then the door swings open, and he forgets how to fucking breathe.

It's not—

It's not because of anything obvious. Her dress is short and tight and green and lacy, cut to emphasize how her waist dips in and her hips curve out, and her lips are glittering a dark, glossy red that he's more or less convinced is supposed to remind of him blowjobs, and her hair is pulled back in some kind of artfully messy nest of braids at the nape of her neck and there's a tantalizing hint of shimmery bronze powder dusting the apples of her cheeks and it's—it's not that. It's not any of that.

It's.

It's.

She's smiling, he realizes. Small and close-mouthed, visibly nervous, trembling and a little playful, too, and it's—honest. Genuine. He'd spent hours with her in that fucking hotel room, and they'd shared an Asian pear parfait and he'd taught her about backchecking with the room service salt and pepper shakers and she'd ruthlessly mocked him for knowing all the words to Pitbull's verse in "Timber"—and not once, not once, had she fucking smiled at him like this. Like she meant it.

"Uh, hi," he croaks.

Her smile twitches wider, and she twists her fingers into the hem of her dress. "Hi."

"You look good," he says, scratching at his jaw. He'd nicked himself shaving earlier. He hopes he isn't still bleeding. "I like your—hair, with the...the braids. It's, uh, it looks good."

"Good," she says dryly, before ducking her chin. "Um, I just need to grab my bag, if you wanted to come in?"

He manages to nod, just barely, and then he's stuffing his hands in his pockets and following her up a narrow, dimly-lit staircase.

And it's nice inside. Really nice. Like, nicer than Harry's condo, which he'd spent enough of his performance bonus money on for it to technically qualify as an investment property. And Harry tries, and fails, not to think about why Pansy's place is so nice; about how Pansy's place is so nice; about other people, people who aren't him, paying her to drink champagne and watch Zootopia and definitely not have sex—

"Hey, did you want a cookie?" Pansy calls out, inadvertently saving him from himself.

He wonders if she offers everyone cookies. "Sure? Yes?"

She appears from a hallway to his left, an oversized black coin purse tucked under her arm, holding a square blue plate and a wine glass full of milk. She deposits the milk on the coffee table, which, he notes hysterically, is a stainless steel elephant with a rectangular sheet of glass strapped to its back.

"Here," she says, passing him the plate. "It's—it's, um, kind of experimental?"

Harry stares.

It's a sugar cookie, he thinks. Shaped like a sunflower and beautifully decorated with pale yellow icing and shiny green fondant and elegant swirls of melted chocolate. He chokes on a moan when he takes his first bite, spilling crumbs down the front of his shirt, because it's sweet and light and buttery and has a vague undercurrent of something spicy, too, a pleasantly rich warmth lingering on the back of his tongue as he swallows.

"It's—it's okay if you hate it," Pansy assures him, chewing on her bottom lip. "I mean, it's like I said, I was just kind of, um, trying a new—"

"Holy shit," Harry coughs, swiping his hand over his mouth. "You made that?"

She doesn't move. "Yes?"

"Holy shit," he says again, mostly because he can't think of anything to say that isn't some thinly-veiled variation of, 'wow, you're really fucking talented, why are you a hooker?' and he has doubts about how well that would go over. "That was—that was amazing. Seriously. Seriously amazing."

She turns a quietly pleased shade of pink. "It's—cardamom," she blurts out, like she can't help herself. "Well, it's a blend, but there's—I mean, a lot of people use nutmeg, which is fine, but I added green tea once and it was incredible so I thought about, you know, using other spices, and—"

Harry watches her talk, a strangely electric surge of protectiveness needling at his conscience. The Bank of America envelope is heavy in his jacket pocket, weighing him down, almost, and he very abruptly doesn't want to give it to her. He hadn't wanted to earlier, either, of course, but there hadn't been any urgency to the feeling. She was an escort. He was her customer. Client. Whatever.

Now, though.

Now.

"—orange zest, right, but with gingerbread it's just so...obvious, and—oh, hey, didn't you say you made reservations? Are we going to be late?"

He blinks.

Shakes his head.

Forces himself to reach for the envelope.

"Yeah, yeah, we should, uh, get going," he replies. "But, uh, before we go, I should—give you this? Right?"

Her expression ripples with...something before going shuttered and a little cold. "Oh," she says, and the tone of her voice is all wrong. It's almost too blank. Too flat. Too indifferent. "Right. Thanks for remembering."

She brushes past him on her way to the stairs.

Harry shoves his glasses back up the bridge of his nose as he trails after her.

 


 

Ominously unspecified "engine trouble" grounds the team's plane in Winnipeg for four hours.

Most of the guys hole up at one of those artificially upscale, dark wood-paneled sports bars with a name like Champ's, or Duke's, or Slugger's—they have bison nachos, Goldstein informs Harry gleefully, and a little chalkboard sign behind the hostess stand counting the days since the Jets' last loss at home.

Even Flint winces at that.

Predictably, Harry winds up sprawled out in a too-small chair at the empty end of Concourse B with all the married guys who are calling their wives and FaceTiming their kids and, like, checking in on their pet-sitters. He chooses not to dwell on the implications of that.

He is fine.

He also chooses not to feel weird about Pansy's contact icon taking up the entire first page of his Recent Calls list. Because that's—normal. He travels a lot. It's important to stay on top of scheduling his appointments. With, like, his dentist. And his escort. Who isn't his escort at all, actually, because even thinking that he would really like her to be is inexcusably creepy and irrationally possessive and—

He presses DIAL, and Pansy's phone rings.

And rings.

And rings.

And just as he's resigning himself to an afternoon spent agonizing over what—or, god, who—she was too busy doing to answer—she answers.

"Hey," she says, kind of breathlessly, like she'd just come back from a run, or moved a very heavy piece of furniture, or—"Aren't you supposed to be on a plane?"

"Um," Harry says, clearing his throat. "I'm—engine trouble, we're, uh, stuck here for a while. Are you...in the middle of something?"

"Not really. Just got out of the shower."

Harry's mind goes—not quite blank.

Because he's never seen Pansy naked. He's gotten glimpses—of her thighs in a pair of tiny silk pajama shorts, of the hollow jut of her hipbones peeking out from the bottom of her shirt, of her legs in short skirts and her ass in tight skirts and her breasts pushed up and straining against the flimsy lace of a camisole—and he can put all of that together, he can make an educated guess about what she looks like, or feels like, or—or. But he doesn't want to guess, is the thing. He wants to know.

"Oh," he says, licking his lips. He huffs out a laugh. "That's—that's a nice...that's a good thought. Image. Picture."

There's a long, long pause. "Oh, my god," Pansy hisses. "You're—are you trying to—you're in an airport!"

"Yeah, but you're not," Harry blurts out before he can stop himself.

"Oh, my god," she says again, more weakly.

"I just," he hurries to explain, "you sounded like—when you picked up—"

"Yeah?" she interrupts, and he doesn't think he's imagining the slightly quavering uptick in the pitch of her voice. "What did I sound like, Harry?"

He swallows, glancing up to make sure no one's within earshot. This feels—significant, somehow. Like the kind of moment he's going to be able to look back at, later, weeks and months and years later, and he's going to remember it. He's going to want to remember it. The enormity. The potential. The shift, subtle and smooth and tinged with the weirdest sense of inevitability, like—like a hundred different choices, a thousand different possible outcomes, and they've all led him here.

"You sounded like you were about to come," he finally says, softly, deliberately—because she's into this. He's half-hard in a ratty pair of jeans he's been wearing since his draft year and there's an Air Canada advertisement playing on the flat-screen behind a nearby check-in desk and Pansy is into this.

Into him.

 


 

If pressed, Harry wouldn't have been able to articulate what it is, exactly, that he expects from their next—date. Encounter. Meeting.

But.

But.

It's probably not for absolutely fucking nothing to have fucking changed.

Pansy invites herself over, brings along a Blu-Ray of The Cat in the Hat and a pastel purple bakery box full of honey glazed croissants; Harry prods uselessly at an overflowing pot of spinach ravioli while she whines about the specialty store around the corner from her house being out of the really good European butter and how it had fucked with her pastry and caused her buttercream to separate and, god, ruined her whole fucking week, from what Harry can tell; and then he announces the ravioli is tragically inedible and they're going to have to order in and she stuffs half a croissant into his open mouth, instructing him to chew with a single raised eyebrow and a tersely drawled, "Well?"

"That's amazing," he offers, words coming out a little garbled. He runs his tongue over his teeth to chase the taste of lemon and lavender. "That's really—that's really, really delicious, what the fuck."

Pansy preens, and then magnanimously directs him to a stack of takeout menus.

He lets her pick the pizza toppings.

And.

And.

It's a good night. It is. There's a bottle of fruity white wine with a mostly French label that Goldstein's girlfriend apparently buys by the case, and there's, like, light cuddling, Harry supposes, if the way Pansy curls into his side and buries her face into the crook of his neck is any indication, and the movie is bizarre and objectively pretty bad but he can't even bring himself to fucking care because Pansy doesn't move away from him when it ends, doesn't fake a yawn or stretch her arms over her head or make an incredibly transparent excuse about how it's getting late and she has to be up super early and she'll see him soon, okay?

He's fine.

And her palm is flat on his chest, her fingertips gently skimming the worn cotton collar of his t-shirt, and her breath is swirling against his throat, hot and a little shaky, and if he concentrates, if he closes his eyes and focuses on all the parts of her body that are touching his, that he hasn't had the chance to memorize yet, he thinks he can feel her lips sliding, roving, slick and soft and—

His cable box automatically switches back on.

Hockey highlights from the past two weeks begin to play on a loop on the NHL Network. Malfoy apparently scored a hat trick tonight, but Harry registers only the mildest twinge of irritation as goal number three is shown in excruciatingly explicit detail, frame by frame. Because Pansy's shoulders are relaxed, her breathing slow and even, and the fit of her in his arms, under his hands; it's...distracting.

No.

No.

It's more than that.

It's better than that.

 


 

He wakes up alone.

His bed smells like brown sugar and gardenias and the expensive perfume samples that were always falling out of the magazines his mom used to read, and there's a smear of lip gloss on his forehead and a cloud of blue-black mascara on the pillow next to his and—and—

The giant FedEx envelope that he'd left for her on the table in the foyer is gone.

 


 

Harry has a seven game goal drought, and the media is fucking brutal about it.

He goes out with some of the younger guys after their latest disaster of a home game—he'd finished with zero points and eight penalty minutes and a minus-fucking-three, god—and he sulks in the very farthest corner of the semi-private booth they crowd into at a trendy downtown wine bar. He orders one beer, and then another, and then another, and then another, and then his phone is buzzing with a text and his vision is a little blurrier than normal and he's accidentally mashing the little green button at the bottom of his screen and—

"Pansy," he sighs reverently. Across from him, Goldstein snorts vodka soda out of his nose. "Pansy, you—did you watch? The game? I was—Pansy, I was so bad."

"Were you?" she asks, and he thinks she sounds tired and impatient but also kind of...helplessly charmed, which is—good. That's so good.

"Yes," Harry insists, "I was, and I'm gonna get—they're gonna trade me, like, like, that's how bad I was—hey, would you come? If they traded me? You would, wouldn't you? I'd—I'd want you to."

Dimly—instinctively—he's aware that he's maybe said something he shouldn't have. That he's crossed a line, or pushed a boundary, or—something. Something bad. Something he's going to have to apologize for in the morning.

Because.

Because.

Because there's a sharp inhale, and then an audible sniff, and then she's saying, "You're drunk, Harry," in that coolly detached, completely expressionless voice that he fucking hates, and—

God, he hates it so much.

He hates how it makes him feel and he hates how it makes her act and he hates that she only ever uses it when he's fucked up, when she's upset, with him or with herself or with—whatever—and it's bullshit, it is, because she does it on purpose, she shuts him down when he asks her questions about her past and she pulls away when he starts to lean down, starts to lean in, and she puts this obvious, insurmountable fucking distance between them, this veritable ocean of space that he'd need both a life raft and a lifetime to figure out how to navigate, and it's—it's mean, and it's stupid, and he doesn't understand. He doesn't understand why she won't let him fix it, won't let him try, won't let him—

"I'll call you tomorrow," Pansy continues, interrupting his increasingly nonsensical—no, his increasingly desperate, increasingly muddy, increasingly pathetic train of thought.

She doesn't bother waiting for him to respond before she hangs up.

 


 

Three weeks go by, and they're mostly normal.

Pansy doesn't bring up the drunk dial, and Harry doesn't bring up the avoidance tactics, and they coexist in this weirdly tense, weirdly annoying stalemate; he finds himself searching for hidden meaning in everything she says, listening for clues—about what, he doesn't fucking know—and for hints—that she, god, that she cares about him—and for evidence, maybe, some kind of tangible proof that he's as special to her as she is to him; but it's all pretty useless, honestly, because he's about as naturally observant as a fucking houseplant, and he's killed, like, six of those in the past year alone.

So.

So.

Three weeks go by, and they're not really normal at all.

 


 

"Hey," Goldstein grunts after a particularly grueling morning skate. "Your girl, Pansy—you're, like, helping her open a bakery, right? Silent partner, or whatever? "

Harry shakes the sweat out of his hair. "Yeah, I'm—wait, what?" he asks, and he's abruptly, uncomfortably, ridiculously confused.

"That's what she told Daphne at dinner," Goldstein says, kind of slowly, like Harry's an idiot.

Harry is...almost certainly an idiot.

Because he doesn't—he doesn't actually know what he's paying Pansy for. Or what he's doing. Or what she's doing. He isn't sleeping with her, but he also isn't sleeping with anyone else, and she Skypes with him every night before she goes to bed and he occasionally texts her while he's jerking off when he's delirious with exhaustion and can't remember why he shouldn't—and she comes over on the weekends he has home games, brings him experimental truffles rolled in dried chilies and pink sea salt and powdered espresso, plies him with freshly baked cookies and tiny glass jars full of this vanilla caramel mousse that definitely isn't on his diet plan but that he can't seem to stop eating, regardless; and she always has little bits of fondant stuck under her nails, and she never fails to furiously overreact when he teasingly informs her that his favorite kind of chocolate is the white kind, and sometimes he wants to kiss her more than he wants to breathe, more than he wants to play hockey, and that's—a problem, probably.

So.

So.

He doesn't actually know what he's paying her for—except he does, he absolutely does, and it's never been for sex.

"I, uh, yeah," Harry says, belatedly. "A bakery. She's—really good at, um, all of that. She made these cupcakes that looked like penguins? The night we played Pittsburgh? But they were, like, all—injured? Like, crutches and Band-Aids and stuff." He laughs at the memory, slightly incredulous, more than slightly fond, and—

Yeah.

Yeah.

It's a problem.

 


 

Harry miraculously manages not to crash on the drive over to Pansy's.

His hair is still damp with sweat, and he smells like IcyHot and Old Spice and the cheap industrial soap that comes out of the dispensers in the locker room. He's wired, antsy, fidgeting restlessly with the various buttons on his steering wheel, flipping through radio stations so quickly that he only catches revolving split-seconds of muffled guitar riffs and discordant harmonizing, teeth whitening commercials and mid-afternoon trivia games and record-scratching static—but as soon as he parks his car, his muscles lock up, turn sore and tight and sluggish with a peculiar reluctance to move

Harry is impulsive.

Reckless.

A dozen different intermission hockey experts on TSN have commented on his woeful lack of offensive forethought, his inherent inability to construct a play in advance, his penchant for risky passes and his dependence on lucky bounces; they've analyzed his speed and his stickhandling and his talent for absorbing particularly bad hits, and they've criticized how emotionally he plays, how hotheaded and bullheaded and—whatever-headed he is; but.

But.

But Harry is the savior of the franchise.

And sometimes—sometimes, that means he just has to dig his skates into the ice and fucking drag his team to a win.

 


 

After he knocks, it takes Pansy exactly forty seconds to open her front door.

Harry knows that because he counts every last one of them. 

He's probably not fine.

And she clearly hadn't been expecting him, or maybe anyone, because she's wearing a pair of plain black yoga pants and an oversized gray hoodie, bangs swept off her forehead with a faded pink headband, and there's flour on her chin and splotches of food coloring on her fingertips and—

"You're...you're opening a bakery?" Harry blurts out before he can think of anything better to say.

Her eyes widen—

And then she slams the door in his face.

"Pansy!" he yells, unable to decide if the lurch in his gut is due to irritation or exasperation or, like, forgetting to eat after practice. "Pansy, I just want to talk, I'm not going to—I don't know—I’m not going to be a dick about this, I just really—"

She flings the door open again.

"You're not going to intentionally be a dick about this," she corrects him, her expression quivering with—with anger and frustration and fear and uncertainty and—

"What?" he asks, shoving his hands into the pockets of his sweatshirt. "What does that—what does that mean?"

Her nostrils flare. "It means," she hisses, "that there's a reason I never confided in you about that aspect of my life, and—"

"Oh, yeah?" Harry snorts. "Is there also a reason you confided in—what's her name—Goldstein's girlfriend? Because last I checked, she's a stranger—"

"Daphne," Pansy bites out, crossing her arms over her chest. "Her name is Daphne, you—you asshole."

Harry rolls his eyes. "Fine. Whatever. Daphne. Is there a reason she was—was somehow more—" He breaks off, clenching his jaw. "Have you just been...using me? Is that why you never—"

"Come inside," Pansy snaps, pursing her lips. "I have nosy neighbors."

She doesn't give him a chance to reply, just spins around and stomps back up the stairs. Harry follows, mostly on auto-pilot, a strangely unsettling blend of dread and indignation and determination taking root in his chest. He isn't totally sure what this fight is about, but he is sure that not knowing—not being able to articulate what's wrong—is why they might be fighting in the first place.

"I haven't been using you," Pansy finally says on a messy exhale, snatching a thick stack of official-looking paperwork off the breakfast bar. "Here. Look."

Harry looks.

And he sees—

"Is this...a loan?" he asks, squinting at the fine-print on the page. "From, like, a bank?"

"Yes, Harry," she drawls. "It's a loan. From, like, a bank."

"Oh."

"I just," she continues, gaze resolutely trained on a spot just above his right shoulder, "I needed collateral before I could get one, since my income isn't...it's hard to report to the IRS, obviously, so I had to wait until I paid off my mortgage—well, technically, it was my dad's mortgage, but since he's, you know, incarcerated, it's not—"

"You got a loan," Harry says blankly. "You got a...small business loan."

She shrugs, but the movement's jerky. "The night we met—you were supposed to be my last client."

"Ever?"

"Ever."

"And you...left me your card," Harry says slowly. "Even though you were—done."

She fiddles with the strings on her hoodie. "I don't actually—there was never actually a surcharge for kissing."

He blinks. "I don't...I don't understand."

Except.

Except.

He's starting to think, maybe, that he does.

"You said you didn't want me," she says, clamping her lower lip between her teeth. "Like—like that. You said..." She huffs, flat and humorless. "You said it, like, five times."

"I didn't mean—I meant I didn't want to pay you for—for—"

"Pay me for what?" she asks evenly. "You've definitely been paying me for something."

He flinches. "I wouldn't—I don't expect—"

"Good," she interrupts, "because I don't owe you anything."

"I just—I thought." He shakes his head. "I don't know what I thought."

"It's not..." she trails off, clearing her throat. "Harry. I didn't tell Daphne about...about all of this because I trusted her more than you, or—it wasn't like that. I just..."

He swallows. "You just what?"

"It's just been a really long time since I've done anything I could brag to a stranger about," Pansy confesses, and there's a vaguely defensive, distressingly bitter undercurrent to her words that Harry wishes he didn't recognize. Wishes he'd never heard before.

Because.

Because.

"I'm really in love with you," he says, maybe a little too honestly, but he's never been great at hiding his feelings, and he just...doesn't see the point in trying anymore. Not now. "I'm really, really in love with you, and I don't want—" He stares down at her, and she stares up at him, and he wonders what she's seeing right now; wonders which parts of him are on display, raw and real and new to her. It's kind of terrifying, actually; the scope of his own vulnerability. It's kind of exhilarating. "I just really don't want to have to stop being in love with you, okay? So can we maybe—"

She kisses him.

She fists her hands into the front of his sweatshirt and she yanks him forward, yanks him closer, and it's hard and it's rough and he's backing her up, stumbling over a discarded pair of UGGs and nudging her thighs apart and pinning her to wall; and her head falls back with a thump, rattling a gaudy gilt-framed Van Gogh print, and the line of her neck is long and smooth and suddenly right there and he's sucking a bruise into her skin, teeth grazing her collarbone, and she's clutching his shoulders and she's rolling her hips and—laughing.

She's laughing.

"You thought—you thought—" she gasps, shoving him back before collapsing sideways onto her couch. "Oh, my god."

Harry furrows his brow, but doesn't try very hard to repress his grin. "I thought what?"

"You thought sex with me was worth ten thousand dollars," she says, muffling a giggle into one of her peacock feather throw pillows. "I can't believe—"

"To be fair," he interjects, plopping down next to her and wrestling the pillow out of her arms, "you called me gross, like, more than once, so—"

"Oh, no, no, no," she retorts, flashing him a brilliant, slightly crooked smile, "I have been waiting months to make fun of you for this, I am going to savor it, okay?"

He looks at her—at her face, flushed pink with something he really wants to think is happiness, and at the little white scar slashed through the wing of her left eyebrow, and at the lone ring of brown circling the outer edges of her eyes, thin enough that he'd bet a lot more than ten thousand dollars no one else has ever noticed it before—and he lifts his hand.

Cups her jaw.

Traces his thumb along the curve of her lower lip, dry and warm and just the tiniest bit chapped.

"Okay," he says simply, and then kisses her.

Again.

And again.

And again.

 


 

(7:22 pm) okay 

(7:22 pm) so

(7:22 pm) im watching your match

(7:22 pm) i don’t get this at all 

(7:23 pm) oh my god that guy just THREW YOU into the WALL 

(7:23 pm) don’t they have to check you for a concussion now

(7:25 pm) why are you still playing!!!!! 

(7:26 pm) this seems negligent

(7:28 pm) whatever im so bored i can barely tell which one is you

(7:30 pm) oh my god

(7:31 pm) stop making out with your mouthguard its obscene 

(7:33 pm) and kind of gross 

(7:38 pm) if i have to suffer through this instead of practicing souffles you could at LEAST score me a goal 

(7:44 pm) OH MY GOD 

(7:44 pm) THERE IS A PENALTY CALLED """"""HOOKING""""""""

(7:44 pm) HARRY