Jamie is sweet, Liam thinks. Jamie’s sweet and he doesn’t care about hockey and he wakes Liam up with soft forehead kisses more often than not.
Jamie brings Liam donuts on his cheat days and cooks him dinners that follow his nutrition plan to a T on other days. He goes with him for morning runs, even though he hates running, and spots for him at the gym. He lets Liam be the big spoon even though he’s got a few inches on Liam, and is always down for whatever experiments Liam wants to try in bed. Jamie is a little bit perfect.
And Liam is trying so, so hard to love him.
They met at a house party on New Year’s Eve. Liam had been in Detroit for a few months and still marveled at how Detroit managed to make Edmonton feel warm at times, and Jamie was going to his first party since graduating from Wayne State in the fall. They were hiding in the kitchen while everyone else was busy watching the ball drop, Liam sat on the floor behind the massive island and nursed a beer, and Jamie, unsuccessfully, tried to see if he’d fit in the pantry in order to avoid another very drunk girl attempting to get her tongue in his mouth.
“Dude, there’s plenty of room over here,” Liam called over.
Jamie smiled at him sheepishly.
“Don’t mean to intrude.” He shrugged.
Liam pat the hardwood next to him and a tiny inkling of a smile settled on his lips.
“Take a seat.”
Jamie made himself comfortable, long limbs bent in the space between cupboards, arm brushing Liam’s; a shiver went up Liam’s spine at the touch.
“So,” Jamie started.
“I’m Liam.” He held out his right hand to shake and saw Jamie smile for the first time since entering the unlit kitchen.
“James, but mostly everyone calls me Jamie.”
They lapsed into silence, holding onto each other for longer than strictly necessary, Liam a little bit warm with the beer settled in his belly and a whole lot mesmerized by the hazel color of Jamie’s eyes. There were flecks of green and gold that were caught in the light that trickled in from the window, and Liam swore he had never seen eyes so pretty.
A faint chant filtered in from the main part of the house, and Liam ducked his head in a smile in recognition.
“I just want to let you know, I’m, like, really gay, and you’re probably the prettiest guy I’ve ever seen so–” Liam cut him off by kissing him as the countdown outside reached its end, announcing the new year.
They kissed for a moment, tongues slipping between soft lips and Liam nipping at Jamie just before pulling away, flushed and flustered and looking genuinely happy.
“Happy New Year’s, Jamie.”
Their first date was a hot mess.
Liam had gotten into a fight on the ice with a guy twice his size on the Islanders and walked away with the beginnings of a black eye and five minutes in the box, so he was in a foul mood to say the least. Jamie was supposed to meet up with them after for a few drinks, Liam’s sexuality being sort of an open secret on the Red Wings after a rookie had said some homophobic shit during camp and Liam had point blank said he was gay and if the rookie had any problem with that, he was welcome to go change in the visitor’s rooms. But by the time the guys had reached the bar, Jamie was there and talking to someone who was looking at him like he was a piece of candy to be devoured, not another human being, and that set Liam on edge.
Liam still wasn’t legal to drink in the US, he had another year before that was going to happen, so he nudged Staffs to get him a pint of whatever before going over to interrupt Jamie’s conversation, not particularly caring if he was being rude.
“Jamie?” He called, stopping a few feet from the pair.
Jamie looked over, face lighting up as he recognized Liam. The brightness dimmed somewhat as he took in the now-formed purple bruising around Liam’s right eye and the bridge of his nose. Depth perception was getting to be a little difficult for Liam.
“It was nice talking to you,” Jamie said, as he reached over and pat the (Liam noticed) shorter man on the shoulder before coming over to Liam and kissing him on the cheek.
“Wanna tell me what happened?”
Liam scowled, and then winced at how it hurt to pull his face like that. “No.”
“Yo, Fitzy!” Staffs called, holding Liam’s beer up for him to see.
“I better go get that,” Liam mumbled, slipping away from Jamie. He was stopped in his tracks by a gentle hand on his sleeve, and he turned to look at Jamie with a wry twist to his lips.
“Want to go get some ice for that and some ice cream instead?” He asked, nodding towards Liam’s face.
He broke into a reluctant smile.
“Yeah, let’s go.”
Sometimes Liam wakes up, curled in Jamie’s arms, and thinks “this isn’t the right person.”
He wakes up and thinks “these arms are too thin,” “this torso is too narrow,” “there’s no beard tickling the back of my neck.”
He wakes up and there’s an ache in his teeth from the saccharine way Jamie treats him, all smooth curves and no ragged edges to speak of. Never snapping at him or telling him he’s unwanted, always giving him his undivided affection and attention, letting Liam know Jamie loves him best, for every little thing about him, even the annoying parts.
He wakes up and thinks “this is wrong I shouldn’t be here, I should be in Edmonton, I should be with Mike .”
And then he buries it and slips back into sleep.
They date for a few years, celebrating Liam’s 21st drunkenly together on the rooftop of a bar in Detroit during the offseason, sweating through their clothes. Marking year after year of NYE parties with kisses that get less and less PG until one year they opt to stay home for the entirety of the evening to just have sex instead, relishing in the time they have together.
They move in together, foster a dog named Paisley that Jamie adores and Liam takes way too many photos of. They’re happy, and slowly but surely, Liam wakes up less missing Mike like something fierce, feeling like he’s betrayed him by having this life without him, feeling like he lost a part of himself. Slowly but surely he starts to feel whole again.
And then Mike’s retirement is announced.
Liam’s not stupid, knows that a retirement at 32 had to be prompted by something, something big that Mike couldn’t bounce back from. Mike’s a big guy, he can take care of himself, but something about this was nagging Liam on the inside.
So he digs, he searches, he reads every possible blip of information about the unimportant, quietly reported, and generally unacknowledged retirement of one Michael Brouwer.
And when he sees the hit, sees Mike go down and take too long to come back up, his heart stops.
It feels like every little bit of success he’s made over the years just flew out the window, every little bit of love he’s managed to push out of his heart for Mike Brouwer came rushing back in like the floodgates had broken and there was nothing he could do to stop it.
He cries, he cries for so long and so hard that when Jamie finds him, curled up in a ball in their bed, holding his knees to his chest so tightly he’s given himself bruises around his wrists, when he looks at Jamie and says “I can’t do this anymore”, when he looks up at Jamie with those big blue, red rimmed eyes, there’s nothing else Jamie can do but pack a bag and tell him he’ll call in the morning.