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Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing

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No one notices with Matt, and with Mark, it could just be a coincidence. But when Duncs brings Jeff around, it's officially a pattern.

"Jesus," Tazer says as Duncs and Jeff go to the bar for another pitcher. "I thought Kaner was bad."

"Kaner's type is 'willing', so he'll diverge from the short blondes," Sharpy says.

"Is there like, a store on Halsted where he can just go in and say 'I'd like another tall guy with dark hair and shoulders like a linebacker'?" Soupy asks. “And is there a corresponding one for straight guys?”

"Hey losers," Seabs says, dropping his coat on an empty chair. "You guys meet Jeff yet?"

"Yeah, he and Duncs are getting more beer," Tazer says.

"He's a cool dude," Seabs says. "And apparently we were both at the Brad Paisley show at the UC last month."

"You had better seats," Jeff says coming back from the bar with the pitcher in hand. "I was in the nosebleeds."

Seabs shrugs, "I know a guy."

He and Jeff laugh, but Sharpy just stares.

"Hey Seabs. What'd you do to Sharpy?" Duncs asks, carrying over extra glasses.

"Huh?" Seabs asks.

"Nothing! I'm fine," Sharp says as everyone turns to look at him. "You planning on sharing that beer, or bogarting it all for yourself?"

The conversation moves on after that, but when Duncs and Seabs take a twenty over to the punching bag machine in the corner, Sharp grabs Tazer's arm before he can follow.

"Does Jeff remind you of anyone?"

"Uh, I thought we went over this already?" he says. "He's a xerox of every other dude Duncs has introduced us to."

"Yeah, but do they remind you of anyone else you know? Say, someone you used to live with?"

Tazer's eyes go wide. "Oh wow. Holy shit." he glances over at the trio taking turns hitting the bag as hard as possible.

"How the hell did we not see that?"

"I don't know," Sharp says. "It's weird, right?"

"Yeah it's weird," Toews agrees. "It's Duncs." 
"Do you think it's on purpose?" 

"Fuck, I hope not," he says, and Sharp has to agree.

***

A few weeks later Sharpy and Abby are out with some of the guys and the wives and girlfriends and Jeff. It's a good time. Everyone's just kicking back and relaxing between games on a homestand. None of them have discussed the fact that Duncs is dating knock-off Seabses, because what can they really do about it?

But then Seabs leans forward and goes, “Oh! Did we tell you what happened the other night?”

Patrick stopped noticing the use of the couple 'we' by Duncs and Seabs about three weeks after he was traded, but it's ringing loud in his ears again.

“Nope,” Abby says. “What happened?”

“We were just grabbing drinks down at the bar, yeah?” Duncs says, beginning the story.

“And that waitress, the redhead with the-” Seabs holds his hands out in front of him “-comes by and is taking our order, when Jeff finally shows up-”

“I was at work,” Jeff says defensively, but he's laughing, and so are Duncs and Seabs, since they already know what the punch line is.

“Anyway, he sits down and she's all 'Oh my god, is this your brother? It's so nice to finally meet you!'” Seabs says.

Patrick just stares, and he can feel Abby's hand clutching at his knee. Duncs, Jeff, and Seabs are cracking up, like it's the funniest thing ever.

“I had to explain to her that Keith is nowhere near as good looking as Jeff here,” Seabs says. “Just. God, could you imagine, Duncs and Keith?”

Duncs shakes his head, “That'd be-”

“You could do so much better,” Seabs says.

“I am doing so much better,” Duncs says, throwing an arm around Jeff's shoulder.

“Seriously, you guys, it was hilarious,” Seabs says.

“Guess we had to be there,” Tazer says.

“Or the aliens that sent you to Earth forgot to teach you what humor is,” Duncs offers.

“Fuck you,” Johnny replies.

While they go back and forth, Patrick shares a look with Abby, and she mutters, “They're completely clueless. I didn't think it was possible, but they have no idea.”

That almost of takes the fun out of watching the three of them interact before Seabs splinters off to pick up a brunette in a green v-neck. Not that Patrick noticed her or anything. What's to notice when he's got Abby with him?

***

A couple of months later they're on the road, and Seabs is totally late for the night's wrestling match up, so Patrick goes to his room to drag him out. He pounds on the hotel room door, but when Seabs opens it, he isn't looking up, just fumbling in his pocket for some cash.

“I'll take your money,” Sharpy says. “But I'd rather take your pride.”

Seabs looks up then and winces. “Sorry man, I meant to text you. I don't think I'm gonna make it tonight. Duncs got dumped.”

“Wait, just tonight? Over the phone?” Patrick asks. Now he can see Duncs on his bed dejectedly clicking at things on his laptop.

It's just not fair when this happens while they're in the middle of a road trip. But if your girlfriend – or boyfriend – does it when you've still got three games left to play in hostile buildings, it's just kind of a sign that they don't understand what it is that they do. And really, the guy is better off. But Sharpy's not allowed to bust out that speech until at least the third day.

“Yeah, so we're staying in with room service and he's going to point out all of the inaccuracies in Zodiac,” Seabs says.

The elevator dings and Sharpy can see the room service cart being pushed towards them. “Is there any food left in the kitchens?”

Seabs just shrugs, “It'll keep him distracted.”

“Let me know if you need any reinforcements,” Sharpy says, like Seabs isn't the team expert on Duncan Keith.

“Thanks, Sharpy,” Seabs says as he opens the door wider for the room service guy, and Patrick heads back to his room.

***

Duncs isn't exactly a serial dater, so Sharpy's surprised when he mentions that he might bring someone out to dinner with some of the guys just a few months after Jeff dumped him. Johnny shoots him a look and Sharp just shrugs. He's desperate to know if this one's going to be another Seabs clone, but it's not like they can just ask.

So as casually as possible, Sharpy asks Seabs a few questions while they wait for Duncs and his new friend to arrive. “So where'd he find this one?”

“Oh, we were at that western place with the good jeans on Armitage last month,” Seabs says, “and Steve comes out of the dressing room and asks for Duncs's opinion on the fit. Duncs liked what he saw and asked him out.”

“Smooth,” Kaner says approvingly.

“For Duncs, yeah,” Seabs says. “He's an awesome guy, really cool.”

Sharpy's pretty sure Duncs would never date someone Seabs didn't like, so that's not really a surprise. And it figures that Seabs would get along with himself.

So it's really not a surprise when Duncs comes in followed closely by a tall guy with broad shoulders and brown hair.

“Guys, this is Steve, Steve this is...the guys,” Duncs says.

“Hi Steve,” they chorus. To his credit, he only looks slightly overwhelmed.

“Who wants to play some pool?” Seabs asks, setting off a long complicated order of matches and challenges that takes over the next few hours.

“All right, all right,” Seabs says as Duncs faces off against Kaner. “I'm getting the next round.”

Sharpy's a mediocre 1-1 right now, so he stands too. “I'll help you carry.” With any luck, it might help his karma for the next game.

“Hey, Seabs,” Steve says trailing after them, “where's the bathroom?”

“Around the bar.” Seabs points past the small crowd of people.

“He seems cool,” Sharp says as Seabs waves down a bartender.

“He is cool,” Seabs says. “For their second date he took Duncs to dinner across the street from the site of the Valentine's Day Massacre. It's just some building on Clark now, but Duncs was pretty pleased.”

“Ah, romance,” Sharpy sighs, glancing back to the tables. Duncs has finished with Kaner and is weaving his way towards them at the bar. What happens next shouldn't be a surprise, except in that it hasn't happened before, considering Duncs met Steve while he was shopping for clothes at the same place as Seabs.

Patrick means to say something before Duncs wraps his arms around Seabs's waist and nuzzles the back of his neck. “Hey babe, you're going home with a champion tonight.”

Seabs just rests his hands on top of Duncs's and leans his head back. “You gonna remember to thank me in your speech this time, pumpkin?”

Duncs freezes and then steps back abruptly. Patrick wishes he could text Abby the look on his face right now, and then again when Steve emerges from the bathroom, and Duncs starts doing double takes.

He looks a little freaked, but neither Seabs nor Steve notice, and Seabs just hands Duncs a pitcher to carry back over. “Be a gracious winner, champ.”

“Hey Stevie, apparently you're going home with a champion tonight,” Seabs says with a little bit of a leer.

“Oh yeah?” Steve says. “What'd you do?”

When they laugh it's Seabs in stereo, and Sharpy's worried Duncs's head might explode. “I should bring this over-” he says, clutching the pitcher tightly.

Duncs is quieter than usual when they get back with the beer, and refills his glass a few times before he starts to relax a little.

Then Kaner says, “Jeff, there is no way you can beat me at darts.”

Duncs's eyes go wide, and all the guys wince a little, but Duncs catches Patrick and Johnny sharing an 'oh shit' look. And Tazer doesn't even know what happened at the bar yet.

“Steve,” Steve corrects, not picking up on the meaning behind Kaner's fuck up. “And I'm pretty sure a blind quadriplegic could beat you.”

“Oh, it's on,” Kaner pronounces. “Seabs! Scorekeeper.”

“Duncan are you going to come watch me school this child?” Steve asks, resting a hand on his shoulder. Duncs starts to shrug the hand off, but halts halfway. “I think I'm gonna hold down the fort, but good luck.”

The table is quieter now, and it's killing Patrick. He should really make a joke about what happened at the bar, but it would be like kicking a puppy. It doesn't help that Duncs flinches every time Seabs and Steve laugh at Kaner.

"So, did anyone catch the Stars game last night?" Toews tries.

Soupy makes a comment about Lehtonen and the conversation continues down that line, but Duncs doesn't join in.

The night ends soon after the darts game - "massacre" according to Seabs - ends. Everyone can see the dark cloud hanging over Duncs's head, but neither Steve nor Seabs can knock it loose.

"I'm just gonna go," Duncs says, standing. "I'll see you guys later."

Poor Steve has to chug his beer and grab his coat before chasing after him.

Seabs frowns a little before standing himself. "I'm gonna take off too."

Once he clears out, Tazer grabs Sharpy's arm, "What the fuck just happened?"

Sharpy doesn't even know where to begin.

***

Practice the next day is kind of weird. Duncs is withdrawn and avoiding eye contact with everyone. It reminds Sharpy of his first year in Chicago, when Duncs and Seabs were rookies. But even then when Duncs might have been kind of quiet in the group Seabs could always get him talking and laughing. Today Seabs might as well be radioactive, for all the distance Duncs is keeping between them. Seabs is acting like he doesn't notice, but if Sharpy's noticed, there's no way Seabs hasn't.

“Yo, Duncs,” Kaner says, dropping down next to him. Sharpy can't tell if he never picks up on people's 'leave me alone' vibes, or if he just doesn't care. “When's Steve coming out again? I need a rematch.”

Duncs freezes, his shoulders tense. “Uh, I don't know. We're not really. We're not seeing each other anymore.”

Seabs is staring at the back of Duncs's head like antennae have just sprouted because, Sharpy realizes, Duncs didn't tell him.

Strange things are afoot at the Circle K, and Sharpy doesn't like it. The only good thing is that it's January, so the new guys are pretty comfortable in the locker room, otherwise the weird vibes coming from Duncs and Seabs's corner could send them back underground for six more weeks of winter.

He kind of hopes Duncs will get over it on the Icecapades trip, and everything will go back to normal and he can keep dating diet-Seabses and tell Seabs all about it while Seabs hooks up regularly. That's the way things are supposed to be.

But about half way through the trip, it becomes obvious that that isn't happening. Or at least it's not happening fast enough.

There's a knock on his hotel door and when Patrick opens it, Seabs is standing on the other side. “Hey Sharpy, is Duncs in here?”

“Nope. Have you checked with Soupy?”

Seabs sighs, “I guess I'll stop there next.”

“Is everything cool with you two?” Sharpy asks. He knows the answer already, but it can't hurt to see what Seabs is thinking.

“Yeah, no, not really?” Seabs says. “He's being really weird.”

“Weird for normal people or weird for Duncs?”

“Weird for Duncs,” Seabs says before pressing his lips together. “He's not not speaking to me, but he's not saying anything, you know?”

Sharpy makes a sympathetic noise.

“And he won't tell me what's wrong, and if I even try to ask he gets all cagey and weird and disappears.”

“Like now?”

“Yeah,” Seabs sighs and runs a hand over his hair. “I'm gonna go see if I can find him.”

“Good luck, Biscuit,” Sharpy says.

***

He figured that was going to be the low point of Duncs's freak out about his taste in dudes, but a week after they get back from the two week road trip, the guys are all out drinking, and Duncs comes rolling in with this blond guy.

Immediately, everyone turns to Seabs for the low down.

He just makes a face. “His name is Chad. He's twenty two. I...I don't understand it.”

What Seabs was polite enough not to mention is that Chad is a dick. But Sharpy's never met anyone named Chad who wasn't a dick, so it really shouldn't have been a surprise.

It's a painful sort of evening, and Sharpy says so, once Chad leaves, unfortunately taking Duncs with him.

“You hate him?” Seabs asks.

“Dude, don't sound so surprised,” Tazer says. “He called me Jonathan.”

“He was drinking douchey beer,” Kaner adds.

“He was a dick,” Sharpy agrees. “Why wouldn't we hate him?”

“I dunno,” Seabs says. “I thought maybe it was just me.”

“Dude,” Johnny says. “Even Kaner thinks he's a douche.”

“Hey!” Kaner protests.

***

No one is particularly excited when Chad comes out for the Friday night post game dinner the next week. But Seabs just looks like he's in pain the entire time they're waiting for a section to be cleared for all of them.

When they finally get settled, the waitress starts taking their drink orders.

“I'll have a 312,” Seabs says. “And he will too,” he adds jerking a thumb towards Duncs, who's taking a sip of his water. Duncs nods to the waitress, confirming

“Funny,” Chad says. “I thought I was his date.”

Everyone freezes, except Duncs, who chokes on his water. He coughs loudly while Seabs chews on his lip and stares intently at the menu. Meanwhile, Abby's digging her fingers into Patrick's thigh, and it's totally unnecessary, because, yes, he does see the soap opera playing out in front of him.

"Jeez, Duncs, we know you don't need teeth to play, but I think lungs are kind of important," Abby says trying to break the awkward silence.

"We're not supposed to make fun of his drinking problem," Soupy says from down the table.

There are a few scattered laughs, and the situation is mostly diffused, but everyone tries to avoid talking to Chad as much as possible.

It doesn't really work though, because while Duncs is off in the bathroom or at the bar – Sharpy wasn't really paying attention – and Brouwer and Carmen are showing off new pictures of their dogs.

“Not quite ready for kids, you know?” Carmen says. “But the puppies are good practice.”

“Brow's gonna love playing dress up with things required to wear clothes,” Sharpy says. He never subjects Shooter to such indignities.

“Ugh, breeders,” Chad says loudly.

Brouwer's smile falls off his face and his eyebrows draw together in confusion. “I- what?” he asks.

“Ugh,” Chad says again, rolling his eyes. He opens his mouth to say more but Seabs slams a clenched fist down on the table.

“Shut up, Chad,” he grits out.

“Oh, please, I'm not Duncan. I'm not going to sit up and beg just because you snap your fingers,” Chad sneers.

Sharpy can actually see Seabs's knuckles turning white, and he pushes his own chair back when Seabs stands suddenly. “I'm out of here.”

“But your food hasn't even come yet,” Abby says.

“Give it to Shooter, or split it with Ari,” Seabs says over his shoulder.

The table is quiet again when Duncs comes back to the table.

“Where'd Seabs go?”

“He had a thing to do at home,” Tazer says.

“Uh, yeah,” Sharpy agrees. A thing called not punching Chad.

The rest of the meal is awkward, but no other bombs are dropped, so things finish in relative peace. Still, Sharpy makes a note to tell Duncs what happened if Brouwer doesn't first, tomorrow after practice.

***

Sharpy doesn't get a chance, and neither does Brouwer, because the second Q whistles the end of practice, he hears Seabs say to Duncs, “We need to talk. Now.”

He doesn't follow them back to the locker room exactly. Everyone is headed there, but he maybe hurries off the ice a little faster than usual. It's no use though, because Seabs drags Duncs into one of the side rooms. Either Seabs didn't remember that the wall is half glass, or he just doesn't care.

Sharpy does his best to lean real casually against the skate grinder, but Clint is giving him weird looks. Whatever, Clint is totally watching the muted telenovela playing out on the big screen in front of them too.

It's all Seabs at first, pacing and pointing until Duncs knocks Seabs's hand out of his face and starts gesticulating back. Sharpy has to figure that it's just a matter of time before they accidentally clock one another the way they're waving their arms about.

Finally, Seabs goes pushing past Duncs and storms back into the general locker room, and everyone has to pretend to be busy again.

“Yeah, so uh, I lost an edge out there-” Sharpy says to Clint as Seabs goes stalking by.

“I'll uh, take care of that for you,” Clint says when Duncs follows him out.

He wouldn't have thought it was possible to create that much space between two guys changing at adjacent lockers, but some how they manage.

Once they're all showered, Sharpy throws Seabs's toque at him. “Hey, Biscuit, Brouwer had to leave already,” (mostly because Sharpy shoved him out the door) “I'll give you a ride home.”

Sharpy fiddles with radio until he finds a station playing Pearl Jam while Seabs stares out the window. He waits until he's pulling on to Madison before saying, “So that was kind of intense, you and Duncs.”

“Huh?” Seabs asks.

“After practice. That training room has glass walls you know, and it was kind of hard to miss.”

“Oh. Yeah. I just wanted to let him know what happened with Chad,” Seabs says.

“Duncs didn't take it well?” Sharpy asks.

“Not really. I don't even know why he'd want to defend that jackass. I don't know why Duncs even talks to him let alone-” Seabs bites back on the rest of whatever he was going to say. “He's not Duncs's type at all.”

Sharpy makes a right turn just so he can get a look at Seabs for a minute. Maybe he's more aware than he and Johnny have given him credit for so far. “Yeah, Chad's not really-”

“He's a douche. Duncs doesn't date douchebags. They're not worth his time.” Seabs drums his fingers on the car door and Sharpy exhales while he tries to figure out how to get back to his usual route.

“Yeah, I mean he usually goes for nicer guys,” Sharpy agrees. “And you know, taller-” Seabs snorts something that sounds like 'inferiority complex'. “-and I think this is the first time he's introduced us to a blond.”

“He gets it highlighted,” Seabs mutters. That doesn't actually surprise Sharpy at all.

“Well I doubt it's going to last,” Sharpy says. “Because like you said, Duncs doesn't date douchebags.”

“He just deserves so much better,” Seabs says. “Someone who gets him, you know?”

“Everybody does,” Sharpy says. He wants to make another turn so he can figure out what Seabs is thinking, but they're approaching Seabs's street, and he'd probably notice this time.

“Like you and Abby. You two are awesome and she's not a complete douche-”

“She'll be happy to hear that.”

“- and I just want him to be happy.” Seabs sighs and fiddles with the hem of his coat as Sharpy pulls up in front of his house. “How did you, I mean, how did you know that you wanted to get married and do all that with her?”

This conversation requires more alcohol, or maybe nail polish and copies of Tiger Beat. “Um, I don't know. The thought of getting married was less scary than the idea of not spending the rest of my life with her. She's my best friend.”

Seabs freezes for a second, but then he quickly unbuckles his seat belt. “Thanks for the ride, Sharpy.”

“Seabs, hold on-” but Seabs has already slammed the car door shut behind him and is jogging up the steps to his house.

He should really be getting hazard pay for this.

***

They leave for a road trip the next morning. It's a short one, only three games, and honestly Sharpy's glad, because being stuck on a plane and in a hotel with each other for a few days always knocks shit loose. It's a whole lot harder to avoid people or the elephant in the room.

But Sharpy should really stop underestimating Duncan Keith.

Seabs is barely even paying attention when they have their wrestling match in Sharpy's room. Sharpy pins him like three times in ten minutes and Seabs doesn't even notice.

“Dude,” Sharpy says. “If you didn't want to do this now, you should've just said so.”

“Huh?” Seabs asks. “Oh, sorry it's just-”

“Duncs?” Sharpy guesses.

“Yeah,” Seabs says. “He's doing the ghost thing again.”

“You could always just camp out in his room,” Sharpy suggests. “Soupy'd totally let you in.”

Seabs grimaces. “No, if he doesn't want to hang out I'm not going to force him.”

Jeez, this is hitting critical levels of tragic. “You wanna grab some food? There's that steak house next door.”

“Nah, I think I'm just going to take a nap for now,” Seabs says.

As Sharpy pushes the beds back into their usual positions his phone vibrates across the nightstand. duncs is driving me crazy Tazer's text reads.

Seabs is moping. Make it stop. Sharpy sends back. At least he's not the only one playing Dear Abby. Speaking of Abby, he should give her a call.

***

They split the first two games of the trip against Dallas and Phoenix, and Seabs is still moping and Duncs is still being squirrly. Sharpy can't help being a little annoyed at Duncs, so he makes him the target of his next prank.

He's barely even got the lids off of Duncs's toiletries before the lock to the room disengages. Soupy promised they'd be gone for at least half an hour, so Sharpy has to flick off the bathroom lights quickly. He almost slams the door shut, but catches it at the last minute.

“-you can't keep ignoring me, Dunc,” Seabs says slamming the door shut behind him..

“I'm not ignoring you,” Duncs says.

“Avoiding, whatever you want to call it.”

Their voices are a bit muffled as they move past the bathroom, but Sharpy can still make them out.

“I'm not-”

“You're being a shitty friend and I want to know why,” Seabs says.

“I- I can't-”

“Is this because I called Chad a dickbag? Fine, I'm sorry.”

“I dumped Chad,” Duncs says. Sharpy does a fist pump in the bathroom. “Before we left.”

“Oh.”

“You were right, he is a douche,” Duncs says.

They're talking softer now, so Sharpy pushes the door open a little wider. He could try sneaking out now, but they're making real progress here, and if they saw him creeping out the door it'd just derail everything for another two weeks. So he stays put. For the good of the team.

“Oh,” Seabs says again. “I still don't understand why you were even going out with him.”

“I just wanted to mix it up,” Duncs says. “Break from type.”

“I like your usual type. Your usual type is-”

“You.”

Sharpy has to hold his breath in case he misses what's going to be said next.

“...I was going to say 'way better',” Seabs says.

“I'm sorry, Seabs, I didn't even realize until that night at the bar-”

“-so suddenly you decided to try dating Kaner instead?”

Sharp has to bite back a snort.

“Oh god, don't even say that,” Duncs says. “I'm sorry, I know it's weird, but I swear I didn't know I was dating your doppelgangers or whatever.”

“Don't be sorry,” Seabs says.

“Huh?”

“I mean, unless you don't want to be dating guys like me.”

“Seabs? What. I don't-”

Duncs cuts off abruptly, and Sharpy waits for one of them to say something. And then he waits some more. And then there's a wet sort of sound followed by a thump over a creaking mattress and oh. Oh.

He hears a sigh and someone – Seabs, presumably – growls Duncs's name.

Sharpy trips over himself trying to get out of the bathroom and towards the door.

“What the-” Seabs says.

“Carry on!” Sharpy calls over his shoulder. “I'll keep Soupy busy. Congrats!”

He sends Johnny a quick text, just so he's kept in the loop. He gets so bitchy about wearing the C if he gets left out of things.

Duncs is buying designer.

***

Soupy ends up spending the night in Seabs's room with Bolly, and Sharpy makes sure the champagne brunch is delivered to Duncs's room at 6:30 the next morning. It's the least he can do.