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This Modern Love

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October 27, 2012.

Jo steals his first kiss.

It’s not like, vindictive or anything. It's not like Nate has told people that the closest he’s ever come to being kissed was when a girl at Shattuck got stuck with him for Seven Minutes in Heaven. Her name was Anna, and she had heavy brown hair that she absently tucked behind her ears every few minutes, and when they sat on her bed, Nate wiping his sweaty palms discreetly on his jeans, she hugged her knees to her chest and asked if maybe they could just sit there until the time ran out. (He nodded and tried to smile in a way that wouldn’t make his face look dumb. It wasn’t his finest hour.)

People--from his parents’ friends to his teammates--they assume, the same way they assume he's had a girlfriend (no), or that he's taken a date to a school dance (nope), or that he's into girls (questionable). The mythical time during which Nate was supposed to have done all these things, as well as getting to second base and figuring out his preferred genre of porn, passed by a while ago, but it seems nobody told him. He was probably practicing his stick-handling. Figures.

But anyway, now there’s Jo, not-vindictively stealing his first kiss. He’s celebrating a particularly spectacular goal of Nate’s during a breakaway drill in the same silly way he always does, spinning him wildly into the glass, but then he leans up just a little and brushes dry, chapped lips over Nate’s.

“Um,” Nate says, mouth dry. This, instead of, “Did you just kiss me? On the mouth? During practice?” Media training aside, he's had better moments.

“Nice goal,” Jo says, still smiling lopsidedly, cheeks pink.

“Come on, you two!” Fourns yells from the other end of the ice. “We don’t have all day.” There’s a wolf whistle, and a few catcalls, too. Jo skates back, and Nate blinks before following.

The thing is, Nate is pretty sure you’re not supposed to get crushes on your friends. Especially your teammates. You travel with your teammates, and you shower with them, and sometimes you even room with them, though Nate got over his thing for Critch pretty quickly the first time the guy’s snoring kept him up. You hug your teammates when they score, and something in Nate rebels at disingenuous hugging. It's a problem that he likes hugging Jo way more than he should, against his better judgment and all attempts at derailment, because Jo isn’t just a teammate but his best friend too. And if there’s kissing involved, well, he’s basically fucked.

When Jo scores brilliantly in the shootout drill, Fourns chases him around the goal, puckering up and making obnoxious kissy noises until he can firmly plant one on him. Nate shifts from skate to skate in line, watching Jo giggle helplessly. He's relieved the boys are laughing about all this rather than staring weirdly. At the same time, he kind of wants to punch Fourns.

“Aren't you going to rescue him?” Darcy asks, skating over to sling an arm around Nate’s shoulders. But Coach blows his whistle before Nate can say anything.

“Let’s get back to it!” he yells, waving an arm, and everyone settles back into line, Darcy included. Nate stares resolutely ahead.

The thing is, Jo confuses him sometimes. Part of what makes him such a great hockey player is his creativity, the way he does makes brilliant, unexpected moves. Nate learned months ago to expect to be surprised by Jo’s play. And Jo does confusing things off the ice, too, but--

Anyway, Nate plays best with Jo when he adapts to a sudden change in plans, so that’s what he does.

***

Fourns stands tall in the locker room after practice, ruffling Jo’s hair when he comes back from the shower despite a half-hearted attempt to duck away.

“It’s not, like, a gay thing,” he clarifies while Nate sits in the corner, head down, meticulously re-taping his stick blade. “I’m not into him. Jo’s just a good kisser. Fuck, I’m a good kisser. Really, he should be thanking me for bestowing the sheer wonder of my kissing prowess on him.”

Fortunately for all of them, Darcy whips him with a towel before he can go on to describe anyone’s kissing technique more specifically. Nate’s just relieved that nobody has tried to ruffle his hair, or ask him about Jo, or Jo about him.

He manages to slip out a few minutes later. Jo is right there behind him, hoisting his gear bag. Nate frowns and takes it from him like always, and they trudge to Nate’s car in silence.

Driving him home, Nate taps awkwardly on the steering wheel in time with the music, a Bruno Mars song whose tinny pep is at odds with the stilted silence between them. He glances over discreetly a couple of times, trying to gauge whether things are weird. They’re probably weird. Who kisses his best friend and doesn’t talk about it? Who kisses his best friend and does? Jo’s staring intently out the window, his knees twisted to face the door so his whole body’s turned away from Nate. Nate guesses they’re not talking about it.

When they arrive at his billet’s, Jo hesitates with his hand on the door handle. It’s almost dark, and his features are sharp in the light of the street lamp. It’s--well, Jo’s kind of beautiful, always has been, in a sort of unsettling, vaguely feminine way. He’s got really tiny ears, for one. It makes no sense with the rest of him, lean but muscular. But sometimes this is how Nate thinks of him, in this order, odd as it is: his best friend, a good hockey player, a boy with perfect ears.

For a moment, Jo looks over like he might say anything. Maybe it's cowardly, but Nate doesn't want him to. He's not dumb--they're going to have to talk about it at some point. Even if it's childish, though, he wants to hide from it. He doesn't want to hear Jo say he's a really good friend, or whatever. Or maybe he does? It’s not--he’s all jumbled up.

But Jo turns back to open the door, and the moment’s lost. All he says, stepping out of the car with a perfunctory smile, is “Goodnight.”

***

Nate enters his house through the garage, toeing off his shoes just inside the door. His parents go to bed pretty early anymore, but Sarah’s parked on the couch, zoned in on a quiet rerun of Friends. She’s finishing off a slice of mushroom pizza from the box on the coffee table. He sits down next to her and grabs the biggest remaining slice for himself.

“How was practice?” (Over the years, it’s replaced ‘How are you?’ as his family’s greeting of choice.)

“It was fine,” he says, taking a huge bite of pizza. Around it, he mumbles, “You coming tomorrow?”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” she says cheerfully. “Just as long as you hook me up with Drouin’s autograph. I hear that kid’s gonna be a big star someday.”

Nate pulls a mock-angry face and she laughs, but when he elbows her in the ribs she drops a mushroom on her pants. The facewash he receives in revenge is totally worth it.

When he gets into bed that night, Nate still feels unsettled, like he’s done something wrong, even though he hasn’t done anything at all. He lies on his back, watching lights scroll across the ceiling as stray cars drive by his house, and very pointedly doesn't think about Jo, and he doesn't touch his lips, not once.

***

The next morning, Jo smiles at Nate as he gets in the car for a ride to morning skate. Nate’s stomach flips. They’re playing Chicoutimi, who aren’t good but aren’t absolutely terrible either. It’s the sort of team good teams lose to for lack of focus, and he'd be a little jittery even without the whole thing that is Jo.

“Hey,” Jo says.

“Hi,” Nate says, trying to smile normally.

“Ready to make it twelve?”

He winces; Jo likes to fuck with him and his superstitions (likes to win just as much as Nate, but has more fun doing it), and their winning streak has provided him with ample opportunity to do so.

“I’m ready to play,” he hedges instead, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. Jo laughs.

And--that’s it. The knot in the pit of Nate's stomach dissolves, and everything’s weirdly okay. Frankly, he would question whether yesterday happened at all, except that right in the middle of Nate reminding everyone of the holes in Chicoutimi’s penalty killing strategy, which is important shit, okay, Konrad leans down and firmly, deliberately plants one on him.

“Urgh,” Nate says with feeling, once he’s recovered from the shock.

“He shut up! It’s a miracle!” Konrad says, beaming, as Nate wipes his mouth on the back of his hand, tries and fails not to glance over at Jo. He’s looking, but then again, so is everybody else.

That night, Jo scores a hat trick of fucking filthy goals, his first in the Q. He does it all on his own, too, weaving and sniping without ever being touched. It’s beautiful.

“That was awesome,” Nate tells him, idling in front of his billet’s house.

“Yeah, I know,” Jo says, smiling crookedly in the light of the streetlamp. He’s blissed out: hair dried in all directions, cheeks still flushed, sprawled out languidly in the passenger seat. “You were okay, I guess.”

“One goal is okay?”

“Well, you assisted on a hat trick. Something to be proud of.”

“I’ll tell my kids about it someday,” Nate says. “The day I assisted on Jo Drouin’s first junior hat trick.”

“Mmm.” Jo’s smile gets a little wider before he sits up, stretches a little.

“Well,” Nate says. “Goodnight, then.”

Jo leans across the seat and kisses him, quick and close-mouthed. When Nate opens his eyes, Jo is smiling that same way, goofy and wry all at the same time.

“Goodnight,” he says, getting out of the car.

On his way home, Nate--well, he sort of runs a stop sign. Fortunately, his neighborhood is quiet at midnight, but nevertheless he pulls over and takes a moment, breathes deeply and gets himself under control before he starts driving again, biting his lip. So what that Jo stole his first kiss, and more. It’s not a thing. Apparently. Nate thinks he could have kissed back if he wanted, just a little. It’s just being a good teammate. Or something.

 


October 30, 2012.

Nate has a hard time explaining why he likes Jo so much. Hockey is definitely part of it; it was the reason he reached out in the first place, friending Jo on Facebook back when he was still just Jonathan, the guy he’d played against at the Canada Games, a great Mooseheads prospect but nothing else. He used to check up on him, send him messages about the team or nothing in particular. It seems like the power play is coming together, but we could really use you. It would be nice to have someone else at school, too. Zach is always late to class. When are you coming? And Jo would say, Sorry about the loss. Things are really good here, delicately avoiding the question until one day he said, Soon.

Now, Nate knows more about Jo. He knows his favorite color (red), his favorite diet-cheating food (chocolate, the good, dark kind), and his bad habit (chewing his lip). Jo is good at math but bad at history, has a head for numbers that aren’t dates, is a terrible golfer and a decent bowler. He pretends to be unimpressed by bad jokes, but has a secret fondness for terrible puns. He likes pasta but not tomato sauce. He calls his parents every day, even on road trips. He drinks tea.

Nate knows that Jo will lay back off the ice in a way he won’t on it, shrugging easily when Nate insists they arrive at school half an hour early, even though he could easily get his own license and drive himself later. When he gets into the car in the morning, Jo usually burrows into his hoodie, emerging sometime along the way to gripe about trigonometry, and he never argues Nate’s choice of music, eclectic though it may be.

“You still like sushi, right?” Jo says abruptly one foggy morning, a week after the kiss.

“Hmm?” Nate says, gunning it up the hill to make a light. (It was still yellow when he got to the intersection; really, that’s what’s important.)

“Sushi. That’s your thing, yeah?”

“Oh, definitely.”

“Wanna go tomorrow?”

“Like, with the guys?”

“Sure,” Jo says. “Or just us. Whatever.” He looks out the window.

“Okay,” Nate says, turning onto the main thoroughfare. “Yeah, okay.”

***

The sushi place is called Happy Sushi, because God forbid Jo take him to a restaurant with a real name.

“Explain to me why you get to pick, again?”

“I’m the one who suggested sushi.”

“And yet, of the two of us, I’m the one who’s driving.”

“Shut up. Oh, hang on, turn left here.”

Nate’s dead tired from practice, a sort of floaty ache humming in his legs. Their curfew is 10:30, but it’s 7 o’clock and he’s already yawning, stretching his legs out on Jo’s side of the booth. Jo makes a displeased noise and pokes the intrusive ankle, but after it becomes clear it’s not moving, he gives up and settles for idly wrapping his fingers around it while holding up his menu with the other hand. His hand is warm over Nate’s sock.

Nate orders three spicy salmon rolls, and Jo dithers for a full minute before ordering five different rolls, two of which he can’t even pronounce and has to point to. When it arrives, it’s an impressive spread.

“Don’t you get tired of eating the same thing?” Jo says.

“It’s spicy salmon,” Nate says, offended.

“Ah, I see. Far be it from me to separate you the only thing that makes life worth living.”

“I’m just sorry you’re stuck with five rolls that are all equally terrible,” Nate says loftily, reaching for the soy sauce.

It’s not that he’s, like, all of a sudden noticed how Jo’s eyes crinkle at the corner when he laughs, but ever since the kiss Nate has found himself contemplating the crinkly eyes more, how they make Jo look more like himself and less like the serious guy he sometimes pretends to be, how he might get Jo to laugh like that more often. He tries to keep his unimpressed stare going for effect, but ends up smiling helplessly at Jo, who muffles a final hiccupped giggle in his napkin.

When Nate has polished off the last of his salmon, Jo stares at his remaining sushi with narrowed eyes, clicking his chopsticks together contemplatively as though plotting war strategy.

“You don’t have to finish it,” Nate says.

“Yes, I do,” Jo says. “Now hush.” Piece by piece, he very deliberately finishes it off, before tossing his chopsticks down in victory.

“Wow,” Nate says. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone eat that much sushi. It might almost be impressive, if you weren’t such a pig.”

“I’m too full to consider whacking you just now,” Jo says magnanimously, settling back into the booth, “but don’t think I won’t get you tomorrow.”

When the bill comes, Jo discovers that he’s forgotten his debit card.

“How are you even alive?” Nate says. “You don’t drive anywhere, you forget your money--”

“I could get my license if I really wanted to. I just happen to have a chauffeur. That’s beside the point, though. Pay up, I’m sleepy.”

“What--that’s not fair!” Nate protests. “Even if you were a girl, we’d still split.”

“No wonder you don’t have a girlfriend,” Jo says, and cracks up.

Nate shells out, scowling.

“There, now. I’m a great date,” Jo says as they leave.

“Sure, you are.” Nate rolls his eyes.

It’s cold outside; Halifax always is, come fall, and Nate brings a windbreaker or a fleece everywhere he goes. But Jo tends to charitably overestimate how warm it’ll be, and tonight he’s stuck wearing a thin long-sleeved shirt, his hands are shoved deep into his jeans pockets. Nate weighs the possibility of Jo getting sick against the potential for chirping if he offers his sweatshirt. Screw it, he thinks, stripping out of it and shoving it toward Jo.

“You should be the girl next time, you’ve got the curls for it,” is all Jo says, shrugging into it.

Nate checks him lightly, pulling the car keys out of his pocket.


November 9, 2012.

People who don’t play hockey tend to think road trips are like, the absolute worst part of junior. Nate can see why they’d have that impression--during certain parts of the season, it seems like they’re on the road five days out of seven--but there’s something about ten hour bus rides that brings the team together. Most of the guys tolerate road trips; some even look forward to them.

“I hate this,” Jo says, tossing down his pencil and blinking his eyes back into focus. They’ve been working on history for over an hour now, crammed into seats not made to accommodate hockey players. Nate doesn’t have to study, but he chooses to churn his way through the reign of William the Conqueror in solidarity with Jo, who has never developed the ability to sleep in a bus or on the plane.

“You hate William the Conqueror?” Nate asks. “Or history? Or buses?” Jo shoots him a look. “Right, all three. Well, we’ll be there soon.”

The problem isn’t so much the bus as after the bus. Everyone has to eat dinner before bed, and Jo especially can’t get away with skipping it; he’s far too skinny as is. But Jo’s stumbling over himself as they exit into the open air. He ends up standing quietly in the back, propping himself up with an arm around Nate’s waist while their teammates jostle and debate restaurants, Zach loudly demanding Chinese.

“Wanna splurge on room service?” Nate says.

Yes,” Jo says.

Jo drags his feet through the lobby, sags against the wall of the elevator. By the time they enter Nate and Ryan’s room, he’s dragging his gear bag so it rasps along the carpet behind him.

“Bed,” says Jo with muted enthusiasm, dropping the bag and face planting into Nate’s covers with a muffled, “oof.”

Nate gives him a few minutes: toes off his shoes, turns on the bedside lamp, hangs up his suit jacket in the closet, sets the alarm clock for tomorrow morning. Then, he checks to make sure Jo’s still breathing.

“Hey,” he says, poking the back of Jo’s head. “Wake up.”

“Quoi?” Jo mumbles.

“C’mon, you have to eat something.”

Jo turns to face the other direction, burrowing further into the covers and mumbling indistinctly in French.

His hair is mussed and there’s already a red pillow mark on his cheek. Curled up like that, he looks young. Nate feels a twinge of guilt. Most of the time, he forgets that while he didn’t have to give up anything to play for the Mooseheads, Jo left his family and his town for hockey. It’s not something they talk about, really. Nate knows Jo’s billets are nice; they feed him and do his laundry and come to games, all of that stuff. But whenever he and Jo hang out, it’s at Nate’s. Jo folds himself into a chair at the kitchen table while Nate’s mom cooks and bullies them into eating more carrot sticks while they study, and he always, always stays for dinner.

It's probably okay if he takes a short nap.

***

Jo stays groggy through the beginning of dinner, mechanically working his way through mashed sweet potatoes and broccoli, but when confronted with his pork chop, he sighs heavily.

“Do I have to feed you?” Nate lets out a quiet laugh, smiling crookedly down at Jo. He's sitting up against the headboard, but Jo is curled around his plate, his elbow brushing against Nate's thigh.

“Maybe.” Jo draws out the word while staring combatively at his fork.

"Lazy," Nate says, making a face at him, and reaches for the tv remote.

He’s flipped through two rodeos, a cooking show, and three news channels before Jo tries to steal the remote.

"Hey!" he protests.

"You flip through like, three channels a second. How are you supposed to pick when you don't even know what's on?"

"Fine," Nate says. "Whatever's on the next channel, we'll watch that."

“Ugh. Whatever."

Of course, it's a fucking chick flick.

***

“Oh my God,” Nate says, wiping his nose on his sleeve. “Why did we watch this?”

“This is your fault, Nathan,” Jo says, a little hoarse. “You picked the channel.”

“Well, you agreed to it.”

“Shut up.”

Nate gets up to grab more tissues from the bathroom. On the screen, Tim says, “She still loves you, you know,” and Jo sniffs loudly.

When Nate settles back on the bed, Jo turns over to face him. His eyes are red-rimmed, his cheeks blotchy. He scoots closer and wraps his arms around Nate’s waist, resting his head on his chest.

“We can still watch the cooking show,” Nate offers, sniffing. Jo doesn’t say anything, just wipes his face on Nate’s shirt.

It should be gross. It kind of is. Nate doesn’t change the channel.

When the movie’s over, Nate’s shirt is damp and Jo’s arms have seized tightly around his midsection, and they’ve eaten all of the emergency chocolate Jo packs in case of a bad loss. Nate’s still trying to be stoic, but his chest is heaving a little bit, and he’s run out of tissues.

“Ugh,” Jo says, muffled into Nate’s shirt.  

Nate’s eyes are sore and his throat aches. “Come here,” he says, and shuffles down the bed so he can hug Jo, burying his face in the crook of his neck. They’re clinging to each other, and Nate still hurts, but Jo’s hair is soft against his cheek, and he’s warm in his arms. Somehow, it seems natural to turn and kiss the salt from his lips.

They're rough and chapped, because Jo shuns chapstick for no good reason. But kissing him is still so, so good. For a moment, Jo's utterly still, but then he makes a small noise and reaches up tentatively to curl his fingers in Nate's hair.

Then, the door handle rattles. Nate jerks upright.

“Shit,” he says, hand to his mouth. This is the polar opposite of what he's supposed to be doing. “Oh, fuck.

Jo’s lips are flushed bright red and curved in a deep frown. “Nathan--” he says.

"Look, it’s fine,” Nate says hastily. “Let's just forget this happened.”

Jo opens his mouth to say something else, but the door handle rattles again. He settles for frowning more.

The door opens and Ryan comes in.

“Hey, guys,” he says, busy with his gear bag. “How was dinner?”

“It was--good,” Jo says. He scoots off the bed, flushed all the way down into the collar of his shirt. “I’m beat, gonna go to bed. See you guys in the morning.”

He shoulders his bag and leaves without looking back.

“Oh, hey!” Ryan says, glancing at the credits as he enters the bathroom. “You were watching Dear John?” he calls over the sound of the faucet. “That’s my girlfriend’s favorite movie.” Conspiratorially, he says, “To be honest, I got a little choked up watching it, but she never gave me shit for it. You like it?”

“Yeah,” Nate says, flopping down next to Jo’s crumpled pillow. “It was cool,” he says.

sorry, he texts Jo an hour later when he can’t sleep. He’s not quite sure what he wants it to mean, if he’s genuinely sorry for kissing him, or for stopping, or sorry for the look on Jo’s face when he pulled back, which he’s still trying to parse.

it’s okay, he gets back after a minute.

He reaches over for Jo's pillow, the one he's been trying to ignore for the past hour. Hesitantly pressing it to his face, he inhales. It smells like Jo’s shampoo, faint and cottony, and a little like salt.

go to sleep, Jo texts, and he finally does.

 


November 20, 2012.

Just before Thanksgiving, Jo insists they walk around downtown after their sushi.

“It’s freezing outside,” Nate points out reasonably. “It is zero degrees. It is literally freezing.

“And that’s why people wear coats, Nathan,” Jo says, with the boundless confidence of someone who has recently discovered the efficacy of warm clothes. At least he no longer commandeers Nate’s. Mostly.

“How do people remember gloves, anyway?” Jo says, aggrieved, chafing his hands. “They’re so small.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake.” Nate strips off his right glove and gives it to Jo, then grabs his chilled left hand and shoves them both into the deep pocket of his coat.

“That was pretty smart,” Jo says, to which Nate rolls his eyes. “No, really. I’m stunned. If this hockey business doesn’t work out, you have a future in--”

“Glove distribution?”

“Yes, exactly, glove distribution. A booming industry.”

They walk in silence for a minute, and Nate becomes suddenly aware that their fingers are laced together. Inside the pocket of his coat, jostled by his stride, he and Jo are holding hands. They're holding hands. The walk seems pretty great after that.

Jo takes a photo of them for Instagram, and Nate makes the cheesiest, most over-the-top face he can. If he attempts to look cool then all the happiness he’s trying to contain will show, so he goes the other direction.

Later, when he looks at it, it’s pretty obvious anyway.

 


December 31, 2012.

Ryan Strome is an asshole. He talks too fast and he’s full of himself and really, objectively speaking, he’s a giant dick. Of course, because this is Nate’s life now, of course Jo’s been glued to his side since they got to Russia.

Part of the reason Nate hates Strome is that he himself is having a horrible tournament. Jo’s making beautiful plays on the second line, but Nate’s stuck on the fourth, yet to score a goal. It’s not so much that he’s jealous of Jo’s spot in particular, or God forbid, Strome’s. And it’s not that he’s unhappy--the team’s doing well, and that’s all that matters right now. Nate’s not contributing to that, though, so he’s instinctively inclined to glare at whoever’s doing stupidly well. He’d like to think that’s the only reason he hates how Jo’s giggling at whatever Strome is saying just down the bench.

Things with Jo have been getting weird recently, falling in and out of okay. Most of the time they’re best friends, but sometimes they collapse into stilted, tense silence, or they snipe at each other over something innocuous, and then Nate drives them to practice even more recklessly than usual. It seems the tenuousness of being friends and teammates and people-who-sometimes-kiss-and-hold-hands is catching up with them. It might help if they talked about it; then again, Nate thinks, watching Jo go over the boards, it probably really, really wouldn’t.

“Shit!” Hubie exclaims next to him as Jo gets upended, straight off his line change, Jo skidding to his knees and Strome barreling right over the top of him. Strome gets up and hurries to the puck, not even checking on Jo, who rolls over and cradles his head for a second before gingerly getting up and skating back to the bench. Nate bites his lip and tightens his grip on his stick. He wants to get into Strome’s face, to pat Jo on the shoulder or do something equally useless, but things being what they are, that would probably be going overboard.

The trainer crouches down behind Jo, but he waves him off and leans forward to call something down toward Strome, who’s on the other end of the bench from Nate. Strome laughs shrilly, and Nate kind of wants to kill him.

***

Nate rings in the New Year with the team in a private room in the hotel restaurant. There’s food and booze; Nate can’t remember what the drinking age is, but it’s not like anybody seems to care. He tried on three shirts but picked the wrong one, so he stands in the corner picking at his too-tight cuffs and gulping down something foul-tasting, trying not to look over to where Jo's talking to Strome. Every so often, Strome says something funny--funny to Jo, at least, whose sense of humor is so terrible that it doesn't take much--and Jo throws his head back to laugh. In the dim light, his neck glows white.

"Doing okay?" Nugent-Hopkins says, coming over to check on him like freaking Martha Stewart.

"Fine, good, I'm good," Nate says, nodding.

"Awesome." Ryan nods back, and then asks, in a kind of pointed casual way, "Hey, so, what's up with you and Drouin?"

"What do you mean?"

"Just, like, I thought you guys were really good friends."

"We are," Nate says, frowning a little at the back of Strome's head.

“Sure doesn’t seem like it.” Nate sends him a look. Ryan raises his hands disarmingly. “I’m just saying, if you ever want to talk about it.”

Ryan doesn’t seem like the kind of guy Nate would ever want to talk to about anything but hockey, but he nods and smiles weakly in the hopes Ryan will wander away, which he does.

***

Five minutes before midnight, Nate escapes to his room and watches the New Year come in. The Ufa fireworks are raucous and probably illegal, bigger than anything Halifax has ever done. Standing alone in the dark, Nate feels this deep, aching nostalgia come on. He’s felt wrong-footed the entire time he’s been here. He misses the simplicity of last year, or even last month, when he didn’t feel expectations pressing down on him except his own, when Jo was still unequivocally his best friend.

There’s a soft knock on the door. Of course it’s Jo, in his charcoal suit and a red tie. He usually fucks up the knot, but it’s sleek and straight this time. Someone must have tied it for him. Maybe Strome.

"You did something to your hair," Nate observes, letting him in.

"Oh--yeah," Jo says, scrubbing at it a bit. "Hubie did something. I don't really know. It’s mousse, or gel, or something."

"Does Strome like it?" Nate says, a little harsher than intended. Maybe he’s had too much to drink after all.

Jo frowns. "I don't know," he says carefully, "if that's any of your business, Nathan."

"It's my business when he's--he's a total dick. There's no reason for you to be friends with him."

"Well, he’s been nicer to me this week than some people,” Jo says, balling up his fists at his sides. “God, what is with you? You’ve either been blowing me off or snapping at me this whole trip.”

"I fucking hate this tournament,” Nate bursts out, and is immediately horrified at himself.

“What,” Jo says flatly.

“I don’t hate it,” he amends. "I just--I can’t do anything right now, nothing’s working, and it’s not like we’re losing games, but you know. I know I’m supposed to be happy for the team, and I am, but on the ice, I can’t seem to get my shit together.”

Jo frowns at him silently for a minute, long enough that Nate feels uncomfortable and looks away.

"I'm your best friend," he says. "You're still supposed to tell me this stuff. You don't talk to me for a week, and what, I’m supposed to guess what’s going on with you?"

"I don't know," Nate says, plucking at his shirt cuff miserably.

There's a bruise blooming on Jo's forehead. He keeps running his tongue over his lip, red and puffy, and Nate has never loved him more than right then.

"So did you kiss him?" he asks without really meaning to. Jo flushes.

"It's New Year's," he says, which isn't an answer, but it is all the same.

"Your lip's all--" Nate gestures towards his face.

"It'll be fine," Jo says, gently touching it.

Nate leans in and kisses him before he can think better of it, light and close-mouthed, tucking two fingers in his belt loop.

Jo looks at him searchingly. "How many more times is that going to happen?" he asks.

"None, I hope," Nate says with a sort of semi-inebriated honesty.

Jo’s face shutters and he steps back. "I should go back," he says, shoving his hands in his pockets.

"Yeah," Nate says. "Yeah, I should probably go to bed."

“Happy New Year,” Jo says with a muted smile, then he ducks out.

“Happy New Year,” Nate says to the closed door.

  


January 17, 2013.

They hold the top prospects game in Halifax, and they have him room with Jo in the hotel, even though he could have done perfectly fine at home. It’s funny--Nate had thought it might be stilted and unbearable. In the hours before bed, during dinner with the team, he imagined he’d be hyperaware of Jo lying in the bed next to him, the whispering of the sheets and his quiet, rhythmic breaths. He’s been gone on the guy for months, but it doesn’t stop him from being mildly ashamed of finding the prospect of listening to him sleep weirdly appealing.

But Jo puts on soft red pajama pants and his blue hoodie and climbs under the covers, fiddling with his phone, and Nate doesn’t feel anything more than a sort of persistent, pleased fondness, no giddy rush of anxiety, so he guesses he’s okay.

“Nathan?” Jo says, long after Nate has turned out the light.

“Yeah?”

The sheets rustle and there’s a long pause before Jo says, almost plaintively, “Do you think the Habs will be good this year?”

Somewhere inside Nate, the part of him that’s on edge eases a little. He laughs. “Yeah, maybe,” he says.

“I was pretty happy that he didn't snore, too. I don't room with him on the road and he's a good roommate. [...] Jo did ask me if I snored but I told him I didn't, so we were all good. Jo is quiet and good.” --01.15.13 


February 14, 2013.

Nate had a plan for his Valentine's Day, and that plan involved chocolate and bad romance movies and not thinking about Jo. It takes his mom five minutes to ruin everything.

“We haven’t seen Jo in a while,” she says conversationally on Valentine’s Day morning, sipping coffee in her bathrobe while Nate shovels pancakes into his mouth.

“Mmm,” Nate mumbles noncommittally, hoping to derail the topic.

“Did you two have a fight or something?”

“He’s pretty busy lately.” It’s a factually true statement. Nate has been trying to wean himself off of hanging out with Jo for his own sanity. But it only works when he can make himself tell Jo he’s too busy for sushi without caving when he looks disappointed, which, to be honest, isn’t very often at all.

“Well, your dad and I are going out to dinner, and I was thinking it would be so nice if Jo came over to keep you company! You can have a bachelors’ night in.”

Nate hastily takes a bite of cereal to avoid making a face. His mom is his mom, he reminds himself, and she doesn’t get how weird that is. She has this hopeful expression though, one utterly deluded and mom-like.

“I’ll ask,” he says reluctantly when he’s done chewing.

He contemplates various iterations of an invitation, but settles on, Practice in an hour. My mom says hi. Come over for dinner? It's enough of a discreet connection to hint that it’s not totally his idea. It's not like Nate wants to spend a dumb romantic holiday stiffly eating dinner with his best friend-slash-teammate-slash-whatever.

Okay, that's a total lie. Nate would suffer sheer, palpable awkwardness and even a hefty dose of maternal plotting to hang out in a completely platonic way on Valentine's Day. That’s embarrassing.

Jo sends back, Yes :). Then, as if Nate doesn’t already pick him up at the same time daily, 9h50?

Only if you’ll be my Valentine, Nate sends recklessly, before thinking better of it and putting his head down on the table. After a minute, his phone buzzes and he tilts the screen up apprehensively.

Yes :)

***

Nate doesn't know what he's expecting when he opens the door, but certainly not for Jo to be carrying a box of chocolates and a single pink rose.

"The rose is for your mom," Jo says.

"You got me chocolates?"

"No, the chocolates are for me to eat when we watch whatever dumb movie you pick out."

"So you didn't get me anything?" Nate feels slightly put out, even though a minute ago he didn't expect anything anyway.

"You have the gift of watching me eat them," Jo says magnanimously.

“Well, in that case.” Nate steps aside to let him in.

His mom bought one of those logs of prepackaged Pillsbury cookie dough, the kind you cut into slices and bake. They’re normally awesome, but despite his most drawn-out whine, she bought the one with various shades of pink hearts. Fortunately, Jo doesn’t seem to notice how dumb it is, or mercifully he doesn’t point it out. The whole slice-and-bake process should be easy enough, but somehow Jo ends up with pink dough smudged across his cheek and nearly into his hairline before they’re done.

“You have a talent,” Nate tells him seriously as they sit on the floor, nibbling their way through the first pan of brown-edged cookies. He scalded the tip of his tongue, but it’s worth it.

“Shut up,” Jo says, his lip quirking up anyway.

“No, really, I mean it. Aren’t these supposed to be mess-proof?”

Jo scrubs at his face, but the dough only flakes and smears further. It looks like he has some kind of obscure skin disease. Nate huffs a laugh.

“Hey, would you mind?” Jo gestures at his face, and Nate’s mouth goes dry.

“Sure,” he says, and scoots closer.

Jo’s hair is stiff but soft, and all Nate can think of as he carefully brushes the flecks from his forehead is that it’s been a long time since they touched like this. It’s probably the closest they’ve been since Ufa, but this seems lighter than that, somehow. Jo’s smiling at him slightly, and Nate stares pointedly at his cheekbone so not as to look at his lips, but he ends up there anyway.

“Are you going to kiss me?” Jo says.

“No,” Nate says crossly, meeting his gaze for a moment before glancing away again.

“But you want to,” Jo says, not a question. Nate scoots back to his spot on the floor.

There’s a long pause, during which Nate tries to think but has little success. Jo is sitting right there, waiting like he knows what Nate’s going to say, which is funny, because Nate doesn’t. It’s true that he wants to kiss Jo. He’s been a little bit in love with him for months, but there’s this vague, pervasive fear he can’t put into words. There are what ifs he can’t speak, and though the last time he was truly nervous for a game was back in bantam, there’s something similar about the way his palms have started to sweat now that, at last, they’re here.

“Yes,” he says finally, staring determinedly at his napkin.

“Okay,” Jo says.

“What?”

“I said okay.”

“Yes, I heard you,” Nate says. “I just. What?

“You’re acting like this has to be a thing. I don’t know why--Nate, I’ve been trying to date you for months.”

“You have?” Nate says stupidly.

“Did you honestly not notice?” Jo says, taken aback. “The sushi, the kissing--”

“Well, I didn’t exactly associate it with an agenda.”

“Oh my god, Nathan, you are the dumbest person I have ever met,” Jo says, and kicks him in the shin.

“Ow!”

“You deserve it, you dick,” Jo says, smiling out of one side of his mouth. “Keeping me strung along for months.”

Nate’s stomach drops. “I want to, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.” The smile disappears.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Jo says after a moment. “You should do what makes you happy.”

“Look,” Nate says, scowling, “it’s not that simple. We’re--we’re on the same team, and even then there’s like a 90% chance we’re going to different cities next year anyway. There’s a reason you’re not supposed to date the people you work with. It always goes to shit and you end up stuck with someone you hate and who hates you back.”

Jo looks at him inscrutably for a long moment. “So what you’re saying,” he says finally, picking at the threadbare knee of his jeans, “is that it’s not worth it.” For you, Nate hears.

“Yeah,” he says. His voice cracks a little, and he hates himself.

Jo stands up abruptly. “I should probably go,” he says, shoving his hands in his pockets.

“Okay,” Nate says, suddenly exhausted. There’s nothing more to say.

“I’ll wait outside for my ride.” But before he reaches the door, Jo turns around. “I’m sorry you’re scared,” he says carefully, staring at a spot somewhere over Nate’s shoulder. “I--you know I think you’re a great friend.”

“Me too,” Nate says immediately. “You’re my best friend. Always.”

“Okay then.” Jo scuffs his shoe. “Well, goodbye.”

“Night.”

It turns out, Nate gets to stick to chocolate and bad romance movies after all.

 


April 14, 2013.

There’s a guy named John Moore who’s the radio announcer for the Mooseheads. He’s a good guy, travels with the team and makes videos of them chirping the rookies, or interviews them after a game. When he asks if he can ride to practice with Nate and Jo and videotape it for his YouTube account, it’s a little weird, but only a little.

Things are--well. They’re talking now. They’ve slipped back into a semblance of how they used to be, though it’s almost a mockery to go out to sushi with Jo and Zach and they pretend like he doesn’t want to eat off Jo’s plate. If anything, it makes Nate think that from the start, everything about their friendship was bound up in their feelings for each other, whether they knew it or not. He wonders if he’d change anything, if he even could, but he honestly doesn’t know.

“We come early and leave late,” Nate says gamely, when Moore asks about their punctuality. “That’s our philosophy for academics, and it’s really paying off on our report cards.” It comes out like a trained media quote, but it’s true--Jo’s got straight A’s though you’d never know it, and Nate wants people to appreciate that.

“I don’t know what I’d do without Nathan,” says Jo, unprompted, from the back seat. Nate curls his fingers tightly around the steering wheel.

“You don’t know what you’d do without him?” John says.

“I’d probably have to ask my billet to drive me to stuff,” Jo says, smirking. “Way better than Nathan--it’s more safe.”

John asks some more questions before Nate gets them to practice, and Nate’s pretty sure he answers them all without making a fool out of himself, but until he hits the ice, he’s stuck on the expression on Jo’s face when he spoke up, like he didn’t mean to say anything at all, like he especially didn't mean to say that.

  


May 26, 2013.

The room is silent except for the sounds of gear: the susurration of jersey fabric, the ripping of tape, the clack of sticks on the floor. Nate feels just a bit sick, sort of light-headed and queasy. There’s no reason he should feel differently about the Memorial Cup than World Juniors, but there it is nonetheless.

Across the room, Jo is taping a fourth stick with deft strokes, frowning with his bottom lip tucked between his teeth. Nate has played with him for over a hundred games, has fallen in love with him across the locker room, watching him tape stick after stick after stick. But as he looks across the room, drumming his fingers on his leg, he feels the certainty set in: wherever they’re drafted, whatever happens, this will be the last game he plays with Jo for a long time.

“You ready?” Jo asks as they shuffle from skate to skate in the tunnel.

Nate looks at him and smiles tentatively. “Yeah, I’m ready.”

  


May 30, 2013.

“Not you again,” Seth gripes good-naturedly, opening the hotel room door to find Nate flicking through all the available channels.

“At least we get along,” Nate says, getting up to hug him. They've been roommates at least five times over the past couple of years, for tournaments and media stuff and prospect games. Nate doesn’t mind, though. Seth has his shit together, hangs up his clothes and doesn’t mind watching whatever show Nate picks.

“They have to run out of opportunities at some point, right? Tournaments, combine, draft. I think that’s it.”

“Don’t underestimate Pat,” Nate says. “Who knows what else he can concoct.”

“How are you?” Seth asks. Of course they played each other in the Final a few days ago, but by unspoken agreement they aren’t talking about it. It’s nice to fall back into loose friendship again.

“Pretty good. Coming back home was fun. Family’s good, all that stuff.”

“How’s Drouin?”

“He’s--good.”

If Seth notices the hesitation, he doesn’t comment on it. There’s a knock on the door then, someone come to collect them for media time.

On another day, it might actually be fun. But Nate can feel Seth’s eyes on him as he and Jo circle around each other before exchanging awkward back slaps, and he’s not looking forward to that conversation. He’s a shitty liar.

***

“So,” Seth says fake-casually, pulling off his media-ready white polo in favor of a red tee. “When did you break up?”

“What?” Nate asks shrilly. “Um. I haven’t been dating anyone. Not Jo.”

“Not Jo,” Seth repeats, raising his eyebrows.

“We weren’t dating.” Horrified by himself, Nate throws himself face-down onto a pillow.

“Well,” Seth says. “Okay, then.”

***

"So you turned him down on Valentine's Day."

“Things are terrible and it’s all my fault,” Nate says gloomily. Seth offers him another KitKat from the minibar, which is terribly enabling of him, but also highly appropriate given the circumstances.

“Okay, let me rephrase this,” Seth says, settling onto the other side of the bed. “The guy kisses you and you write it off. You basically date each other for a year, you’re in a relationship with pretty much everything but the label, and then you cut it off at the last hurdle. Why didn't you just agree to try it for real, once you had all your cards on the table? You like him, he likes you. There you go.”

“It’s not that simple. We’re--well, he was one of the guys, you know? It would have been weird.”

“Is that why?” Seth asks tentatively. “Because you don’t want to--”

“No,” Nate interrupts. “I mean, I don’t even know if I--if it’s just Jo. But I’m okay with that.”

“Then why not go ahead now? You still like him, right?”

“Of course,” Nate replies immediately, flushing. “But we’re going to different teams next year.”

“That’s bullshit,” Seth says surprisingly firmly.

“What?”

“If you’re going to turn this down, at least be honest about why you’re doing it. It’s not because you’d have to Skype and text all the time or whatever. Don’t lie to yourself.”

Nate looks at the ceiling for a long moment, frowning at a tiny crack. Then he says, “I guess I’m scared,” and turns over to bury his head in the pillow.

“Of what?”

“Of everything,” he tells the pillow, squeezing his eyes shut. It’s true. There’s this wide, paralyzing fear inside him, a sickening spiral into panic about some nebulous future possibility. It's been months since it first cropped up but he still can’t articulate what or how or why.

The bed shifts a little and there’s a hand on his shoulder. “You know,” Seth says thoughtfully, “at some point you’re going to have to find something you’re willing to open yourself up for.”

“Well, hockey,” Nate says reflexively, turning to lay his cheek on the pillow.  

“No, not hockey. It’s different. I mean, hockey is great and we love it, but it’s a job. I’m talking about people. If you wanted to, you could live your life like this, and you could avoid risking ever being hurt. But opening yourself up, choosing to live with all the highs and lows...it sucks, but it’s great.”

Nate’s quiet again. He feels like he’s sparking at the edges, like all the feelings still swirling inside him are rushing to his fingertips. He wants to believe Seth, and he does, logically--he wants to be with Jo, of course he does. But making the first move to break their stalemate is fraught with all the worst possibilities. What if Jo’s moved on? What if he’s decided the long distance thing isn’t worth it? What if he’s met someone? What if they smile at each other in front of Nate?

“Stop overthinking,” Seth chides. “He’s probably scared too.”

Everything falls into place. Jo is a person too. He’s been building Jo up as this faceless thing that can hurt him, and that’s not untrue, but he’s been missing the point. He knows Jo. He’s been playing with him for almost two years, and they’ve been living out of each other’s pockets for practically that whole time. He knows everything about him, even the dumb stuff, even how he chews on his pencil eraser without realizing it. Jo isn’t a god. He’s just a guy, and Nate knows him better than anyone. And he loves him.

“Okay,” he says at last. “You’ve made your point.”

Seth pats him on the head. “Good. Get up and go see your boy, we only have half an hour before dinner.”

“Where’d you learn all this stuff?” Nate asks, trying and failing to fix his hair.

Seth smiles, just a momentary quirk of the lips.

“Around,” he says, before shooing Nate out the door.

***

Standing in front of Jo’s door, Nate lifts his fist, then lowers it, then takes a deep breath and lifts it again—and Jo opens the door. His smile drives everything Nate planned to say out of his head.

“Hi,” Nate says. “Uh.”

“Hey.” Jo sticks his head out and looks up and down the hall. “Do you need something?”

“I’m sorry for fucking up Valentine’s Day.”

Jo blinks. A few times.

“You know what?” Darnell says carefully, maneuvering around Jo in the doorway. “I’m gonna go hang out with Seth.” He claps Nate on the shoulder as he goes, a gesture that seems to communicate both ‘good luck’ and ‘you’re bad at this and I feel sorry for you.’

“Do you want to come in?” Jo says.

“Um, sure.” Nate’s reeling a bit from Darnell hearing him confess his feelings or whatever, (and his suspicious lack of surprise), but Jo sits on his bed, drawing his knees up to his chest, and Nate perches on the edge.

“So. You wanted to talk.” Jo sounds a little wary and Nate doesn’t fault him.

“I fucked up. I should have been more honest with you.”

“Huh,” Jo says. “Okay.” He leans back, picks studiously at the hem of his combine shorts.

“I was a coward. I didn’t want to mess up our friendship and I didn’t want to get hurt, but then we weren’t really friends again, or at least I don’t think we’d been just friends for a really long time, and I still got hurt. So all of it sucks a lot.”

Jo’s silent for a moment, biting his lip. Then: “When I kissed you--the first time, I mean--I probably should have said I wanted to date you.”

“That might have helped some,” Nate deadpans.

Jo laughs a little and Nate feels all the tension that’s built up between them since February dissolve. They’re left beaming at each other. Nate’s so full of relief he’s almost giddy with it.

“God, we are so dumb,” he says.

“I know,” Jo says, the corners of his eyes crinkling. “Um, hey. I have a question.”

He tugs down the hem of his shirt, smoothes his hair, brushes a few suspiciously chocolate-like crumbs from the covers. Then he leans forward and says, “Would you like to go out sometime, Nathan?”  

“Well, I don’t know, Jonathan. I’m a very famous hockey star. Lots of people want to go out for sushi with me.”

Jo socks him in the arm.

“I guess,” Nate allows, grinning so hard his face hurts.

“I’m gonna kiss you now,” Jo says. His voice is sober, but he’s still wearing a giddy grin.

“Okay,” Nate says, and tilts his head up.

Kissing is rather difficult when you can’t stop smiling, he finds.

***

“Hey,” Jo says a while later.

“Mrph.” Nate’s stretched out on top of him, hands carding through Jo’s hair as they exchange lazy kisses. It’s stupidly perfect.

“Do you think Darnell’s coming back?”

“I don’t know,” Nate responds, irritated with the interruption of his exploration of Jo’s jaw. “Does it matter?”

“They’re taking everyone out to dinner,” Jo says.

“I’m not hungry.”

“Well, they’ll probably be gone for a while, traffic being what it is.”

“Oh. Ah. I see. Well, we’ll just have to find some way to occupy ourselves until they’re back.”

Jo slips out from under him (despite an embarrassing, bereft squawk that Nate refuses to acknowledge occurred) and slips the chain on the door.

“Okay. Take your shirt off,” he says, dropping his own to the floor. “We have like, two hours free time for the next three days.”

“Good point,” Nate says faintly, distracted by the faint trail of hair just below Jo’s belly button. It doesn’t make sense that these things are so hot to him when he’s seen Jo in various states of nudity for hockey over the past two years. He must be especially good at compartmentalizing.

Jo kisses him a little urgently, his fingers meandering down his biceps to his stomach and then to his hips. Nate shivers a little and falls back onto the pillows, tugging Jo along with him.

For a few torturous minutes, Jo just plays with the waistband of his jeans, rubbing slow circles down his hipbone and looking back up like he’s checking to see if Nate’s still breathing.

“Oh my god,” Nate says, pulling away for a minute, “you are a monster. I’m just gonna, um.” He hops up and shimmies off his jeans. He’s getting hard in his boxer briefs, though it seems his dick is still catching up with recent revelations. Nevertheless, he crawls back between Jo’s legs and returns to the important task at hand: seeing if Jo is ticklish everywhere Nate thinks he is. Gently blowing into his ear sends Jo into a squirming fit of giggles, which--wow. Nate blinks. Jo really needs to take off his shorts now, and they need to do that again.

“What are you doing?”

“Taking off your pants, dummy.”

“Let me help--”

“No, it’s fine, I got it, just lift up your--”

There’s a long ripping sound, and Jo goes pink before having another giggling fit.

“Obviously, the NHL doesn’t care about the quality of their combine apparel,” Nate gripes, tossing aside the fabric in his hand in disgust. Jo puts a pillow over his face to muffle his shrieking laughter.

In the meantime, Nate pulls off the offending shorts (or what’s left of them) and throws them into a corner.

“Are you done?” he asks finally.

Jo lets out one last hiccupped giggle before sighing, “Yeah, I think so.”

“Good,” Nate says, and leans forward to roll their hips together.

“Ah,” Jo says faintly. “Oh my God.”

Nate magnanimously chooses not to laugh at the vaguely stoned expression on his face, and instead efficiently strips off his boxer briefs and Jo’s, pausing for another moment of amazement that yes, he is within a foot of someone else’s dick. It’s not like it’s even attractive, so much--Nate still doesn’t know all that much about what is supposed to make something hot in a gay kind of way--but it’s Jo’s, Jo’s dick is right there, and that reminder itself pulses through Nate’s body and straight to his cock.

Getting off has always been something Nate looked forward to, like he looks forward to video games or ordering delivery pizza in sweatpants. But this--

With Jo, it’s like there’s this heightened awareness of everything his body is doing and everywhere they’re touching, and he hears every soft choked-off noise Jo makes, and he sees the way his cheeks are flushed and his pupils are blown wide. Every time he grinds forward and there’s that sweet, sharp friction, Jo’s hands make this helpless clutching motion at his waist and his breath catches. He wants to make him feel like that forever.

“Can I try something?” he says into Jo’s ear.

“Yeah, sure,” Jo mumbles, his eyes half-closed. Nate’s not even sure he was listening, but he pulls back anyway, despite the groan of protest.

Nate finds the way Jo’s dick leaks precum messily to be super hot. He touches his slit with one finger and spreads the precum around a little, enjoying the way Jo’s face scrunches up, like he’s trying to drag it out as long as possible. Then, he loosely grasps Jo’s cock and slowly pumps up and down, just once, like he usually starts to get himself off.

“Do you want me to do anything?” he asks, mouth dry, as Jo’s hips reflexively fuck up into his grasp.

“Keep--just keep doing that,” Jo says. One hand comes up to twist his nipple and the other remains on the bed, clutching and letting go of the sheets in time with Nate’s hand.

Nate keeps going, building up the pace a little when it makes Jo bite his lip, and when he twists his wrist under the head to catch that spot he always likes himself, Jo chokes off a gasp, his hips stuttering, and cums all over Nate’s hand with a whine.

Calisse,” he mutters faintly, his eyes closed.

“Good?” Nate asks, wiping his hand on the sheet.

Jo peers over at him. “That is--do you realize we could have had that months ago? We suck.”

Nathan grins fondly. “We do.”

“Come here, I want to--” Jo gestures and Nate lies back against the pillows, hard again.

Jo goes slower than Nate did, and it feels like revenge, but there’s something dark coiling in the pit of Nate’s stomach and he wants that as long as he can. It’s like flying and being on the verge of flying all bound up into one. He doesn’t think it’ll take too long, though. He feels like he’s been ready to cum forever, leaning back into the pillows and thrusting up into Jo’s grip with his eyes shut.

Of course, Jo decides to one-up him by leaning down and swirling his tongue experimentally around the head of Nate’s cock.

It’s not Nate’s fault he comes on Jo’s face.

Petulant Jo is normally a laughable sight, but petulant Jo with a streak of cum on his cheek is about a hundred times more hilarious than usual. Coming down from the best orgasm of his life, Nathan musters a small giggle.

“Shower?” he suggests when his language skills have returned.

“Half a shower, exactly what I want,” Jo grouches, but he goes nonetheless, one hand resting casually on Nate’s butt.

For all his talk of being shortchanged though, it’s Nate who ends up shivering and trying to force himself under the spray.

“Who said you get all the hot water?”

“Your cum on my face.” Jo points emphatically.

“Okay, I didn’t mean to, you’re the one who—“

“Shower war twenty thirteen!” Jo interrupts with crazy eyes, arming himself with the shampoo, and Nate is deeply, unfortunately, catastrophically in love with him.