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When Tyson first met Gabe, he was dating a girl named Jenna (Tyson feels less bad about calling her a girl, given she really was one, then, and so was Tyson). Jenna was also tall and blonde, and she and Gabe looked like a matched set right out of a LL Bean catalog.

Which is what Tyson said, blurted out, the first time she met Jenna. It wasn’t malicious. It was really mostly awe.

Gabe had rolled his eyes, but Jenna had laughed. “Hopefully we’re more interesting than that,” she’d said, and her smile had been as pretty as Gabe’s. It was really a little overwhelming. Tyson was way too bi for all of this. “I really like your shirt.”

“Thanks!” Tyson had told her brightly, running a hand over her floral top. She meant it, too—Tyson had grown up among mostly boys, and the girls who did play hockey with her generally, like her, cared more about sports than clothes. It wasn’t that she didn’t like clothes. It was just that she wasn’t quite sure about them, yet. So having a girl like Jenna, who was perfectly dressed and looked like she knew what to do with her hair and knew how to stand in heels and how to do all the things Tyson’d never learned, tell Tyson that she liked Tyson’s shirt felt pretty good. “See, Gabe? Someone likes my taste in clothes.”

“She’s never seen you after practice,” Gabe retorts. Tyson wrinkles her nose at him.

“I’m sorry, we can’t all look good in whatever we wear,” she retorts. “Come on, Jenna. Back me up.”

“She’s right, babe,” Jenna had told Gabe, thus cementing her in Tyson’s affections forever. “You’re pretty boring.”

“Right?” Tyson exclaims, and ignores Gabe’s scoff to thread an arm through Jenna’s. “Come here, ditch the losers. We can be cool all by ourselves.”

Jenna, Tyson learned, that night and later, was an aspiring fashion designer, and had an awesome eye for clothes. She was also funny and sweet and managed to defuse all of Gabe’s temper. She taught Tyson about painting her nails and how to choose dresses for her body type and why Tyson couldn‘t pull off orange (“Thank god I wasn’t drafted by the Flyers,” Tyson had said, and they’d both shuddered.). Tyson was probably sadder than Gabe, when they broke up.

“I thought you were supposed to be on my side,” Gabe had muttered, which Tyson thought was pretty rich, given it was Gabe’s table she was sitting at with EJ, feeding him ice cream and petting his hair because he was pretty needy sometimes.

“I am,” she told him. “But I’m also getting coffee with Jenna once you say it isn’t weird.”

“How is it not weird?” Gabe had demanded, and Tyson had shrugged.

After Jenna there was Erin, who was also tall and blonde, but she had a wicked laugh and was pretty awesome with her knitting needles, which was sick. Tyson made her teach her how to knit, and then they sat around knitting and drinking wine and bitching about how stupid men in general and hockey players in particular were. Tyson hadn’t had time to meet anyone in Denver other than her team, let alone women; it was nice to have someone who got it.

“I don’t like this,” Nate had complained, when Tyson had come into practice one day, taken one look at all of them, and started cracking up. “Gabe, can’t you make this stop?”

“Tyson’s your responsibility,” Gabe had told him, which made Tyson’s eyebrows really go up.

“Fuck you both, neither of you make me do anything,” she informed them. “And if you think you do, you can go screw yourselves.”

Nate had flushed and looked away. “No, I didn’t mean—not because you’re a girl,” he explained, very earnest. “Just because you’re laughing at me.”

“Because I’m a girl,” Tyson fills in. “And I’m laughing at you.”

Nate bit at his lip. “Because you’re my best friend, and you’re laughing at me and not spending time with me anymore,” he said, and reminded Tyson that he was wrong but he was also very young.

She sighed. “No one tells me what to do,” she tells him again, because fuck that. “And I’m no one’s responsibility,” she tells Gabe. Gabe’s just watching her. He shakes his head.

“You’re all my—”

“No one’s,” she finishes. “Not off the ice,” she allows, because she gets it there. “Okay? Good? Can we move on now?”

“Yea please,” Nate agrees eagerly, and Tyson lets it go. She’s not here to be a warrior. She just wants to play hockey.

She still keeps have knit and bitch nights with Erin, though, even after Gabe breaks up with her.

After Erin comes Sarah, who’s brunette for a change, and the best beer pong partner Tyson’s ever had; then there’s Christina, who’s blonde again and takes no shit from any hockey players, Tyson included, and Tyson loves her; then there’s Jill, who runs even more than Tyson and Tyson wants to hate her for it except she also likes to bake with Tyson and actually helps, instead of just sitting there expecting to eat it like the guys. And then there’s Mel, who manages to be sweet without cloying and to keep up with Tyson’s jokes, and who sticks around.

The point is—Tyson likes all of them, all of Gabe’s girlfriends. All the guys’ girlfriends and wives, really—Jackie put up with EJ, which was a minor miracle, and Ashley had put up with Dutchy which was a more than minor miracle and Tyson vetted all of Nate’s girlfriends very very carefully.

But somehow, it was Gabe’s who people made the biggest deal about.

“You’re really fine with this?” Josty asked, leaning against the bar next to Tyson.

“Fine with….” Tyson trailed off, prompting him.

“With that,” Josty specified, nodding at where Mel and Gabe were cozied up on a bench. It was very sweet; Mel’s head was resting on Gabe’s shoulder, and Gabe’s arm was around her waist. Tyson definitely felt a pang looking at it, but that was a different sort of pang, one she was very used to. Gabe might have fallen in and out of love a lot, but this looked like the real thing, this time. Looked like they fit. Looked like love. 

“Yeah? I mean, I know straight people are kind of meh, but I’ve dealt with it for years?”

“No, I mean.” Josty shook his head. He looked very earnest too. “If, like, I had to see JT with a boyfriend, I wouldn’t be fine with it.”

Tyson tilts her head at him. “Um, yeah, because you’re into him. A lot.”

“Yeah, exactly.” Josty waited a beat. Tyson stared. Not because she didn’t get it, but because she was sick of this.

“I am not into Gabe.”

“Denial isn’t healthy,” Josty says, and he is like ten years younger than her, he doesn’t get to patronize her like this.

“Okay then, talk to Comphy,” she snaps, and grabs her drink off the bar to go stomp over to the team tables.

“Why does everyone think I’m into Landy?” she demands, dropping into the seat next to Colin. He scoots over to give her room, twists a little.

“You spent ten minutes talking about his hair a couple days ago,” he points out, with a lot of aplomb for someone who’s only been on the team a hot second.

Tyson snorts. “Yeah, so he’s hot. Like, that’s a fact, I’m not going to deny it. He’s—Landy. Gabe the Babe. All that. And he has a big forehead,” she adds loudly, in case Gabe could hear her.

“You say that sort of thing a lot,” Colin goes on, looking down at her in that way she’s already noticed he has, like he can see more than he’s saying. Which, whatever, she gets it, he’s deep and mindful or whatever.

“I say a lot of things a lot,” she argues. “It doesn’t mean I need rookies staging interventions. Rookies, Willy! Am I that bad?”

“I mean…” Colin says, trailing off, and Tyson snorts and elbows him. He catches her elbow, sets it aside. Normally Tyson isn’t into being moved like that, but it’s Colin. He hasn’t been here long, but she trusts him. He hasn’t said shitty things about her being his responsibility yet.

“What’s happening here?” Gabe asks. He and Mel sit down across from Tyson and Colin. It’s a lot of hot blonde happening in one place. Tyson has become immune to it, but it doesn’t mean she doesn’t notice. “Are the rookies terrorizing you again, Tys? I can stand up to them if you’re scared of some kids.”

“I was never that mouthy as a rookie,” Tyson mutters, which gets three sets of snorts. “None of you were here, you didn’t know!”

“We know,” Gabe retorts. “We didn’t need to be here to know.”

“Well I remember your rookie year,” Tyson shoots back. “Do we want to talk about embarrassing things that you did then?”

“Yes please,” Mel adds. “Please. Tell me all the embarrassing stories.”

“Tys—”

“So,” Tyson starts. She feels, rather than sees, Colin laughing next to her as she bats away Gabe’s hands trying to slap over her mouth, but whatever. She has more important things to do.

It is nice to have Colin here, though. She gets the feeling that they’re going to work well together. 

///

She’s proven right very quickly. Tyson’s not exactly a hard person to get to know and she does go out of her way to befriend teammates, because friends are awesome and also she wants people to be comfortable here, but Colin’s different. The first time she tells Colin he’s coming over for dinner, which he agrees to with a smile, they somehow sit there for hours, because he’s chill and easy to talk to and doesn’t seem to mind that Tyson doesn’t shut up and, most importantly, he listens to the same music she does, which is a massive fucking relief after dealing with the assorted awful music tastes of her teammates.

“They don’t recognize Queen as the pinnacle of music,” she informs Colin, with the solemnity such a statement deserves. “Gabe thinks it’s ABBA.”

Colin hums, thoughtful. Tyson doesn’t know him well yet, but he feels like he does that a lot—thinks. Especially before he speaks, which Tyson cannot relate to. “I think all Swedes have to think that. It’s part of the citizenship requirements.”

Tyson snorts, and steals the last of the cake off his plate. He doesn’t object, which is also an A+ in her books. Nate gets so annoying about her stealing food. “He’s been in the US for ten years, that’s enough time for him to learn. And Nate doesn’t have that excuse.” She shakes her head. “I’ve been trying to educate him, but I think it might be a lost cause.”

“He’s still young.”

“Yeah, but he better watch out. If you listen to Pearl Jam too, he might have some rivalry for BFF,” she retorts, and Colin laughs. He’s got a great laugh, because of course all of her team is way too handsome for their own good. Colin carries it differently, though, she can see that already. Not like Gabe, who is somehow always aware he’s the best looking guy in the room. Colin’s just—himself. And if that happens to be attractive, that’s a non-issue.

“I already know better than that,” he replies, and Tyson grins back.

“Let’s not tell him. He’s a lot more receptive when he thinks he might be replaced.” Colin chuckles again. Tyson gets up, grabs Colin’s plate to clear it. He gets up too, and grabs the pasta bowl from her.

“Did you make this sauce?” he asks, as they go into the kitchen.

“Yeah.” Tyson’s hackles don’t go up, but—she doesn’t know him well yet, and sometimes guys make annoying jokes about how she likes the kitchen, or whatever.

“Can you give me the recipe? It was really good,” is all he says, though, reaching around her to set the bowl on the counter. She spins to look at him, but he doesn’t look like he’s about to make a joke.

“A cook never reveals her tricks,” she informs him, and he makes a thoughtful face.

“Isn’t that magician?”

“Same difference.” Tyson shrugs.

“I suppose there’s a similarity,” Colin goes on, still with that thoughtful tilt to his head. “Both have a lot of set up, then make something new and entertaining out of that set up. And both invest a lot in making things seem effortless and simple even when they’re very complex.”

Tyson has a sudden, sneaking suspicion that Colin is actually just as weird as she is. It’s not an unhappy discovery. “Also, I’m pretty sure I watched some TV show where people got killed over an old family recipe, and I also saw the Prestige, so basically they’re equivalent.”

Colin laughs again, nods like he followed that train of thought. It’s a novel feeling, the lack of surprise at the shit that comes out of her mouth. “Also the Illusionist,” he agrees, and they smile at each other in perfect understanding for a second until Tyson decides they need to watch some British Bake Off because now she’s in the mood to watch other people bake. Colin’s never seen it, but she guesses no one’s perfect.

///

Not even Colin’s new presence in her life as awesome teammate and friend can take the sting out of how much Josty’s comment is an isolated incident, though. It’s the sort of thing that happens all the time—people being amazed that Tyson can be friends with Gabe’s girlfriends. Fiancées. Well, just the one fiancée, but Tyson loves Mel, she’s snarky and has the best wine and can do things with Tyson’s hair Tyson doesn’t understand and definitely can’t replicate but is trying and ignored all of Tyson’s protests that getting mani-pedis is useless in her profession to drag her along biweekly so that they can gossip about teammates and WAGs. And she and Gabe are so good together, like, they get each other in a way Tyson sometimes can’t look at, because it’s too intimate.

It’s bullshit and like, perpetuating a bullshit narrative about women being friends, or whatever Erin was talking about at their last knit and bitch session. Also, it’s perpetuating a bullshit narrative that Tyson’s into Gabe, which is not true. And has never been true, other than maybe a few months early on because he was really hot. Then she got to know him and realized that she would actually kill him very quickly because he was Too Much. As someone who was also Too Much, Tyson recognized the signs.

So, long story short, Tyson is not into Gabe. And no one believes it.

“You could stop complimenting him,” Colin suggests, at what has quickly become the regular occasion of them hanging out and cooking dinner together. He leans around Tyson to get some salt out of the cupboard, so he can add it to the salad dressing he’s making. For a second, she can feel his body behind her, big and solid and warm, then he’s gone, because Colin’s kitchen is a dream and she never wants to leave it. Mainly for the granite countertops.

Tyson rolls her eyes at the pot she’s stirring. “That’s not the point. I should be able to compliment my teammates and it not be a deal.”

“You don’t compliment the rest of us like you do him, though,” Colin points out.

Tyson puts the cover on the pot, and turns to face Colin. He’s not looking at her, so she can just see the breadth of his back, but still. It’s better. “So I should start calling the rest of you stallions too?” she asks. Colin gets this. Colin gets her, in a way sometimes it feels like even Nate doesn’t, because Tyson loves Nate but he’s not, like, in touch with his emotions or anything. Colin’s more in touch with his emotions than anyone Tyson knows. “I think that’d be creepy with some of the rookies. And like, I could do it for you, duh, but—Nate?” she shudders. “I love him, but that’d be weird.”

Colin doesn’t stop chopping the garlic. “I’m not sure that’s the right call.”  

“Then what is?” Tyson lets out a breath. She can deal with it, it’s not a big deal, it’s just—irritating. Like she’d fuck a teammate, anyway. She knows the shit show that can be, through the grapevine. She’s heard the horror stories about people hooking up in a locker room and then it getting super weird and how the guy started being—well, in the best of the stories, he just gets chivalrous, starts treating the woman like glass instead of a player. In the worst of the stories, the rumors circulate, the slut shaming starts.  She’s just happy her guys are generally good about playing with her on the ice.    

“I think I’ve made some good suggestions,” Colin counters. He scrapes the garlic into the bowl they’re mixing the salad dressing in.

“Hey I’ve tried scoring goals to distract, but that doesn’t work,” Tyson points out, then she regrets it, because Colin makes a face. She knows that he doesn’t feel like he’s been doing as well as he should, because he’s talked about it to her because Colin does shit like talking to her about his problems, and that it sucks and he hates that he can’t meditate it away.

So, “So you think carrying around a sign that says ‘I am not into Gabriel Landeskog’ won’t work?” Tyson asks, and Colin snorts.

“Somehow, I doubt it.”

“Ugh.” Tyson groans, then picks up the spoon to keep stirring the risotto. She thinks it’s looking pretty good, because her and Colin are a kickass cooking team.

“I know you don’t like it, but I could talk to the rookies, if you want,” Colin suggests. He’s good at suggesting shit like that in a way that makes it clear that he’s really just suggesting it, that he won’t do it if Tyson doesn’t want him to and he won’t even judge her no matter what she says.

“Because they’ll listen more to a man?” Tyson stirs a little more forcefully. She knows it’d work, is the thing. Not just because she’s a woman—she’s also not the kind of person people take seriously, really—but still. She’s a vet on this team, she’s like, almost leadership. It sucks that Colin’s new and they’d still listen to him more.

“Tys,” Colin says, gentle, and his hand is on her arm, tugging her into a loose hug. Tyson lets him, tucks herself into the understanding strength of him. There’s not a lot good with being as short as she is, especially as a D, but it does make for better hugs, let her tuck herself into Colin’s shoulder and she can feel him duck his head a little, like he’s resting his face into the frizz that’s escaped her ponytail. “Whatever you want, okay?”

“Yeah.” Tyson lets out a breath. “Don’t. I don’t want it to be a thing.”

“Okay,” Colin agrees, easy. He lets her go, so she can go back to stirring the risotto.

“But I’m definitely gonna screw with Josty for this, you in?” Tyson asks, and Colin rolls his eyes, because he likes to lean into being mature and all that. “Fine, I’ll get Nate to do it.”

“You do that,” Colin agrees. She can probably convince him to cover for her, though, if she spins enough bullshit about harmony or whatever. “How’s the risotto doing?”

“Good, I think. Maybe start tossing the salad?”

“I’ll set a table first,” Colin decides, because part of being mature is like, eating at made tables and shit.

Still, it is nice, Tyson can admit, sitting a table with Colin and eating and talking. Maybe being a grown up is kind of okay.

///

“Lunch?” Nate suggests, as they’re getting changed in the locker room. Tyson knows of some locker rooms where the women either insist on getting changed with the men, or on their own locker room; Tyson’s always felt lonely in a room by herself so she’s with the guys. It’s not like she’s got anything they haven’t seen before.

“Can’t, I’m getting lunch with Erin,” she says, pulling on actual jeans. Normally she wouldn’t bother, but this isn’t just going out to lunch with one of the guys.

Nate definitely pouts. Tyson laughs, and punches his shoulder. “Don’t worry, we’ll eat together every other meal this week.”

“But it’s lunch,” Nate whines. Tyson rolls her eyes. “I’m cooler than Gabe’s ex.”

“It’s definitely even weirder that you’re friends with Gabe’s ex than that you’re friends with Mel, right?” Kerfy asks. “Gabe’s not even friends with her anymore.”

“I’m fine with all my exes,” Gabe inserts defensively, as he comes out of the shower. Somehow, he manages to have steam all around him; it looks like something out of some sort of fever dream.

Tyson hums skeptically. “That’s not what I’ve heard,” she sings.

“What? Who doesn’t like me?” Gabe demands. He takes a step towards her. “I’m very likeable.”

“Sure, bud.” Tyson pats his arm, then turns back to her stall to grab a t-shirt to pull on over her bra.

“Okay, but it’s weird,” Kerf insists. “Like, you’re team, you should be on Gabe’s side.”

“No, seriously, who doesn’t like me? Is it Jill?”

“I am on Gabe’s side. Except how there’s no sides.” She rolls her eyes, and ignores Gabe completely, because she might not know much about being a girl but she gets girl code. “Anyway, you guys don’t get it.”

“But—”

“Are you saying Gabe’s such a bad boyfriend that there are sides in all his breakups?” Colin asks, from across the locker room. Kerfy makes a noise that’s a little like a meep, as Gabe rounds on him. Tyson turns to grin at Colin, thankful for the diversion. Colin shrugs at her, his hands still above his head from where he’s toweling off his hair. It’s not like Tyson tries to ogle her teammates, but, damn, those arms, that chest. Sometimes she does appreciate his commitment to never wearing shirts.

“That’s not what I meant!” Kerfy insists, his voice getting higher. “Just that Tys being friends with the WAGs is a little weird! She’s team, she’s not a WAG. It’s weirder because it’s Gabe, but it’s not—it’s just the team thing!”

“I can be friends with who I want,” Tyson snaps. She knows he doesn’t mean it like that—it’s even a little flattering, because she knows that not everyone would say that sentence, even now, years after women broke into the NHL—but, like, fuck that. “And none of you would think it would be weird to be friends with a boyfriend of mine.”

“You don’t know that,” Gabe retorts. He’s still glaring at Kerf a little, but he’s been distracted. “We’d be friends with anyone you dated, if you dated.”

“I date,” Tyson protests.

That gets a wave of yells from everyone, objecting. It boils down to Colin, asking, quiet but somehow cutting through the clamor, “You do?”

“Yes, I date,” Tyson snaps. Maybe a little more pissily than normal, but come on. Just because she’s not like, a tall hot blonde doesn’t mean she doesn’t date. Some people, men and women, like brunettes with a pretty rocking bod who is actually pretty tall when you aren’t spending all your time around hockey players. “I date plenty.”

“No you don’t,” Josty objects. He looks at some of the older guys. “Right?”

“Right,” EJ agrees.

“I date,” Tyson repeats. She reaches up to fix her ponytail, so that the post-practice frizz monster doesn’t escape. “I date a lot.”

“She does,” Nate adds. Tyson points at him.

“See!”

“We’ve never met any of them,” Gabe objects. His arms cross over his still-bare chest. Tyson doesn’t know when this got to be about her dating life, but she is really not a fan of it. No one’s demanding to meet any of the guys’ girlfriends.

“Yeah, because I don’t want to expose them to you guys.”

“Hey!”

“Except for Willy,” Tyson allows, which makes Kerfy, who had objected, scowl. Colin doesn’t react to her statement, though—he’s just looking at her, a little confused. She does sort of feel bad that Colin’s never met a boyfriend or girlfriend; Colin would be cool, but more, he’s important. “The rest of you—if it was a girl, you guys would be weird, and if it were a guy, you guys would really be weird.”

“That’s not true,” Gabe’s looking all captainly and concerned now. “We’d welcome anyone you wanted to introduce to us, Tys.”

“You shouldn’t, Tyson has shitty taste in people,” Nate says, unhelpfully.

“Hey! You liked Jesse. And Jessie. And Juan. And—”

“The point is, you can bring anyone you wants around,” Gabe repeats, all earnest. Like he gets it.

“Yeah, we won’t be weird. We just want to make sure they’re good enough for you,” Josty adds, like he’s trying to be helpful.

Tyson rolls her eyes. “Great. Now that we’ve established that, can I go get lunch and talk about how ridiculous all you men are?” She glares around. “Great.” She grabs her bag, then tries to stalk out of the locker room with dignity, but of course she trips over nothing at all, because that’s her life.

She’s down the hall when a hand falls on her arm, and she spins, ready to spit nails or whatever if Kerfy’s come out to tell her she’s weird again or Gabe’s come out to insist that she bring whoever she’s seeing to their next get together and to be all captainly at her until she wants to punch him.

What she gets is Colin, looking down at her looking all concerned. “What?” she demands. “Are you going to tell me I’m weird for wanting to be friends with women instead of only needing you guys and that I am clearly so pathetic that I never date anyone but I should bring them by anyway because you don’t think I’m capable of choosing who to date?”

Colin doesn’t flinch, from all the stuff Tyson’s just thrown at him. “I wanted to make sure you were okay,” he says instead, sounding irritatingly gentle.

“Because they didn’t mean it? Because they’re—”

“Tys,” he interrupts before she can really get going, all understanding and calm and so fucking solid, and Tyson just—she sort of falls into his chest again and lets him wrap an arm around her shoulders, hold her against him as she hits her head against his chest—really fucking hard chest, wow—a few times.

“I know they don’t mean it,” she mumbles, after she’s gathered herself a little, breathing in the scent of Colin’s laundry detergent. “Or like, not the bad stuff.”

Colin hums understandingly. Somehow, he manages to actually sound understanding, not condescending. She looks up, and he’s watching her again, those big calm blue eyes looking at her, must her. “I should introduce you to the people I’m seeing,” she says. Colin’s face does a thing. “No, you’re—like, you’re my best friend here, other than Nate, and you won’t be weird about it, because you’re not weird—or like, not about this shit, you’re definitely weird about your hippie shit, and you should meet them. When I have someone.”

“Whatever you want,” he says, and sounds like he means it. “I don’t need to if you don’t want to.”

“No, I want to.” She smiles at him. “I mean, I don’t trust Nate’s opinion on any of them, but you’ll tell me the truth.”

“Happy to,” Colin agrees, and then his hand drops from her arm. “You have to get to lunch?”

“Oh shit, yeah,” she says, and gives him one more quick hug before she goes, because he’s the best.

If the conversation with Colin feels good, spending an hour with Erin agreeing that men are stupid and that Erin should get a puppy and discussing the latest season of the L Word finishes up her good feeling. She falls into bed almost forgetting about the whole locker room thing.

///

The thing is—she’s annoyed, but also, there’s a point there. The guys think she’s into Gabe because they don’t see that she’s dating other people. And she’s sticking with having a good reason for that, but also, if it’ll get them to stop with the Gabe thing, she’s for it.

So a few weeks later, when they have a cookout at EJ’s because he’s bored and wants to be entertained, she grits her teeth and bears it. She’s been on like, six or seven dates with Micah, she thinks that counts.

“Yeah,” Nate says, when she tells him her plan and that Micah agreed to come, “I don’t think that’s going to work like you want it to.”

“Why not? I’ll bring a guy, people will understand I date and I’m not like, hung up on Gabe, I just think he’s hot because I’m not blind.” She looks at herself in the mirror. The problem with bringing a date to things like this is then she feels, like, pressure to actually look nice, which is not her forte. “What do you think about these jeans?” 

“You’re a hockey player, your butt always looks big,” Nate tells her, but he’s not looking up from his phone, where he’s lying on the bed.

“Nate,” Tyson whines. Nate does look up at that, and his gaze scrapes over her.

“Yeah, you look nice, I guess,” he says, sounding a little unsure.

“Okay, but is it hot enough to make up for the fact that I’m going to be subjecting him to the team?” Tyson presses. She’s pretty sure she has to be super hot for that to work. For half a second she considers going with her hair loose, but that takes a fuck ton more work than she has time for, so she keeps it up in her normal ponytail. “I mean, would you fuck me?”

“Ew, no!” Nate throws a pillow at her. “Come on, Tys. Don’t make me think things like that.”

“Ugh, you’re useless.” She throws the pillow back at him, then snaps a picture to Mel. Mel replies with a bunch of thumbs up and fire emojis. She knew Nate was the wrong person to ask.

They pick up Micah—he’s already met Nate, of course, because that’s a requirement, and Nate and him get along pretty well, though he’s not happy about Tyson kicking him into the backseat for Micah—and make it to EJ’s only a little late, but late enough that when they get there and head to the backyard, most of the team is there already, and most of them look up when Tyson comes in with Micah.

She might as well go all in—she whistles sharply, gets everyone’s attention. “Yes, I brought someone, his name is Micah, be nice!” she yells, then grabs Micah’s hand and pulls him over to where Colin, Gabe, and EJ are chatting around the grill. She might as well get the worst of this over with.

“Hi,” she repeats. All three of them have turned to look at her—at them. “This is Micah. The guy I’m seeing. Micah, this is Gabe, Colin, and EJ, they’re all teammates.” She gestures at each of them.

EJ’s lips are twitching. Micah glances at all of them, then turns to her, his eyebrows raised. “Wow, am I just here to give you a flush?”

“What?” She looks at him, tall and blonde and blue-eyed, then at the guys—where Nate has joined them, to bring the number of blondes to four. “Oh. No, Mikko’s around here somewhere, I’ve already got the flush of hot blondes. You’re just my spare.” She smirks at him, to take the sting out of it. He smiles, a little confused like he doesn’t quite get it yet.

“I think we’re at least a royal flush,” Colin muses.

“Dibs on king!” Nate calls.

“No way!” EJ objects.

Tyson rolls her eyes. “Ace, king, queen, jack,” she says, pointing at Nate, Gabe, Colin, and EJ in turn. “And Mikko’s our ten to grow on. Come on, get it together.”

“You know, I’ll take it,” EJ muses. Colin’s lips are pressed together, but it’s clear he’s taking it as a compliment. This is why he’s the best.

“So I’m the nine?” Micah puts in, trying to joke. Standing next to the rest of the guys, it’s kind of clear that he’s not a professional athlete, but it makes him interesting.

“Until you make the NHL, I don’t think you’re in the deck,” Tyson tells him, patting his arm. “I told you, you’re in a different game.”

“Hm. I like that.” And there’s a smile she likes, the sly, knowing smile that first got Tyson’s attention.

Of course, Gabe has to go and ruin it. “So, Micah.” Gabe’s chest is puffed up a little, like he gets on ice when people push his team around. “What do you do?”

“I’m in data analytics,” he says, then, “At this new startup that works to diversify VC funding to smaller—”

“Yeah, babe, no one here gets that except Kerf, we can find him later for you to nerd out about,” Tyson cuts him off, before he starts boring everyone.

“No, I’m interested.” Colin doesn’t actually look like he is, necessarily, but he’s at least trying to be polite and not glaring at Micah like the fact that he isn’t a hockey player personally offends them, which Gabe sort of is. Tyson gives him a grateful smile.

“Whatever, let’s cut to the chase. We haven’t met any of Tyson’s boyfriends before,” EJ tells Micah. He’s still holding the spatula he’s using to grill, but somehow he manages to make it look menacing.

“Oh my god, EJ—”

“So why are you good enough for our girl?”

“EJ,” Tyson snaps again.

“No, it’s fine, I get it, babe,” Micah tells her, which is not the right answer. She huffs out a breath. Colin gives her a lopsided smile, so at least he gets it; Nate’s looking pretty amused by it all, like he didn’t try to give every guy she’s dated that talk before she argued him out of it.

“No, you don’t. You don’t answer that,” she orders him, and glares at EJ. “And you don’t get to ask it.”

EJ shrugs, unrepentant.

“It’s fine,” Micah repeats. He’s not looking at her; just at the guys. He’s not backing down from EJ, at least, but like. What the fuck. “I know I’m not going to get CTE, for one.” He’s standing taller too—he’s at least as tall as Colin, maybe Gabe, though definitely not EJ’s height, if that’s what he’s trying for.

“Do you play any sports?” Gabe asks, which sounds like a peace offering except he’s still got his captain voice on.

“I give up,” Tyson decides, throwing up her hands. “I’m going to hang out with sane people. Come find me when you’re done with your macho bullshit.”

She stalks off towards the lawn, where Mel and Jackie are fussing with the spread there, because none of the men could bother, apparently.

“We’re not ready yet, you can’t steal anything,” Jackie says, as soon as Tyson gets within arm’s reach.

Tyson hadn’t been planning on that, but—“Please?” she asks, batting her eyelashes. Jackie, who’s known Tyson for ages now and has as little respect for Tyson as her boyfriend does, rolls her eyes.

“Nope, no exceptions. We’ll be ready when we’re ready.”

“Not even as payment for that?” Tyson asks, jerking her thumb at where the Men™ are talking. Looking at them, it kind of is striking—like, Micah fits right in.

“Is that the boy?” Jackie demands, craning her neck. “Wow, you really are a hockey player, huh?”

“What’s that mean?”

“You all go in for blondes,” Jackie chuckles, running a hand through her own perfect blonde hair. Tyson, as usual, watches in a bit of awe. How does she make it so smooth?

“No, he just happens to be blonde,” Tyson retorts. “And so is your boyfriend, so I’m not seeing many legs for you to stand on.”

“I’m just saying. Apparently hockey player type transcends gender.”

“Come on, I’ve dated non-blondes before. Right, Mel?”

“Does strawberry blonde count?” Mel asks, smirking, and Tyson huffs out a breath and grabs a leaf off the table to throw at her. Mel knows perfectly well she’s dated non-blondes, because Mel with a bottle of wine and a rom-com is a dangerous, dangerous thing.

“You’re as bad as your fiancée,” Tyson informs her. Mel doesn’t look like she understands how much of an insult this is.

“Are they being bad?” Mel asks. “I know Gabe was excited to meet him.”

“What’s there to be excited about? He doesn’t worry when the guys bring a new girl,” Tyson points out. She edges around Mel a little to see if she can get closer to the food; Mel shifts to block her.

“Yeah, well.” Mel shrugs. “You’ve never brought anyone around before.”

“Yeah, and this is why.” Tyson steals another glance over at the guys. They seem to be talking okay, even if Gabe and EJ still have that look they get around other teams, like they need to puff themselves up. At least Colin’s there so Tyson trusts it won’t get too out of hand. But sue her, she’s nervous. Especially for when or if it switches from interrogating Micah to telling embarrassing stories about her.

“He’s protective of you.” Mel says, sounding resigned like she’s learned to deal with her boyfriend’s annoyingly chivalrous instincts. Maybe she has—it’s probably not as bad when you aren’t getting hit by large men professionally. “He cares about you.”

Tyson tilts her head at Mel. She’s smiling at Tyson, and Tyson doesn’t think, but—“You know I’m not actually into Gabe, right?” she says, which maybe is an awkward thing to say, given how Mel starts, but hey, awkward’s Tyson’s jam. “Like, it’s a joke and all, but—that’s not a thing.”

“Yeah.” Mel’s recovered, because she’s used to Tyson, and also is very good at not seeming like ridiculous things are happening in front of her. It’s an important skill in a WAG. “You know it would be okay if you were, though, right? I wouldn’t be mad.” She grins a little. “He is pretty hot.”

“Of course you wouldn’t be threatened, you look like that.” Tyson gestures at her. “Like, you’re both intimidating, it’s not fair.”

“You can be into EJ if you want,” Jackie offers. “I’d be happy to give him up.”

Tyson shudders, which gets the other women to laugh. “Anyway,” Tyson says loudly. “How’s Zoe? Gabe hasn’t shown me pictures in like two days, I’m getting worried.”

Mel laughs, and they turn to looking at pictures of various dogs, until Tyson feels an arm wrap around her waist. Honestly, that doesn’t give her a lot of clue of who it is; neither is the blonde hair in the corner of her eyes. But she gets the pictures pretty quickly when the rest of the guys gather round too.

“You guys are done, then?” she asks, glaring pointedly at all of her teammates and leaning back into Micah’s arms.

“Yep,” Gabe says, unrepentant. “We like him.”

“I’m so glad my dating life has your seal of approval, Gabriel,” Tyson retorts. “Now I can marry him in peace.” She can feel Micah start next to her. “Not really,” she rolls her eyes, then turns in Micah’s arms to look at him. “They didn’t scare you too badly?”

“I don’t scare easy,” he informs her, which is a good line.

“Awesome. Can we please eat now?” she asks of Mel and Jackie, who finally let them eat.

It’s a nice barbeque, really. The food’s good, none of Tyson’s teammates embarrass her too badly in front of Micah even though EJ definitely starts trying. Micah doesn’t fit in, per se, but he doesn’t stand out more than any of the WAGs.

Then he finds Kerfy, and Tyson loses him completely. Tyson tries to listen, she really does, but gives up after thirty seconds of them nerding out and goes to get another burger.

She finds Gabe and Colin back at the food table. “Lost Micah?” Colin asks. Tyson gestures to the chairs where it looks like now Kerfy’s drawing a graph.

“I left the nerds together,” she says. “Want to join them, Landesnerd?”

“I didn’t even say anything,” Gabe complains. Tyson shrugs. She’s not going to pass up a time for a joke because of a little thing like that.

“You were thinking something.”

“Some of us are usually thinking,” Gabe retorts. He has a blob of ketchup on the edge of his lips. Somehow he even manages to pull that off. Tyson’s amazed on, like, a scientific level. 

“Some of us don’t need to work that hard at thinking,” Tyson shoots back.  

Gabe snorts, and shakes his head. “He seems cool, though.”

“Such a tone of surprise,” Tyson huffs. “I can get cool boyfriends. I’m cool.”

That gets two sets of laughter. “Hey!”

“You’ve never been cool in your life, Brutes,” Gabe tells her.

“I’m sorry, I don’t take coolness evaluation from someone who likes boy bands,” Tyson shoots back. “Back me up here, Willy.”

“She’s got a point,” Colin agrees. “You have awful taste in music.” Tyson flashes a grin at him. She knew he’d have her back.

“Well, I don’t take music advice from haters,” Gabe informs them, waving a celery stick in their direction. “And I’m going to find people who aren’t haters.”

“Good luck!” Tyson throws at his back, then takes his place right next to the table. “So,” she asks Colin. “What did you think?”

“Hm?”

“About Micah.” She waits a beat, as Colin munches thoughtfully on some kale salad. He looks like he enjoys it, too, because he’s like that. “I told you, I need your opinion. Nate’s always pissy whenever he thinks I might like someone more than him, and Gabe’s all rah-rah captain, and EJ’s EJ. I need you.”

Colin glances down for a second, then back at Tyson. His smile isn’t his biggest, lovely crinkly-eyed one—it feels like it’s somehow hiding behind his beard—but it’s as sweet as always. “He seems like he likes you a lot, which is enough for me.”

Tyson can feel herself get red, because she can’t deal with that sort of statement. “Ugh. Stop.”

There’s a real Colin smile. “Okay,” he agrees easily. “Did you see there’s a new season of Queer Eye out?”

“Yes! We’re watching it after practice tomorrow,” she tells him, and they spend another few minutes discussing which person on their team could best use a Queer Eye makeover—Tyson nominates herself, Colin’s for Z just to get Tan’s commentary on his fashion choices—when there’s raised voices and Tyson goes over to referee what appears to be a dispute between G and Mikko that’s mostly not in languages Tyson understands, but she manages to shove food into both their mouths anyway and it calms shit down. So, basically, a normal team thing.

Tyson goes home with Micah after, and they fuck around for a while before he goes home, and it’s all good. The sky doesn’t fall. The guys even ask after him for the next few weeks, tease her a little about getting laid, and seem legitimately bummed when she tells them that she and Micah ended things and only threaten to go beat him up a little, and hey. Maybe it’s okay.

///

Of course, she started them off easy.

“Okay, ground rules. No one is going to be weird about this,” Tyson had told the locker room, as they all milled around after a game and she had already set up the afterparty and gushed a little to the camera about how hot Gabe’s gamewinner was. “But my girlfriend’s going to meet us at the bar.”

That had gotten the clamor she’d expected, but, “We won’t be,” Gabe had promised, like he meant it. Tyson had glared around the room, trying to impress that upon them too.

It hadn’t worked. Shari had shown up, and she at least wasn’t tall and blonde; she’s shorter than Tyson and dark haired with smooth brown skin that’s addictively soft to touch. The guys don’t try to interrogate her at least, though that’s maybe a deal all its own; they’re just—weird. Gabe’s super earnest, like he googled something about like, talking to lesbians, and is really trying to follow it; Nate and Shari have given up trying to have real conversations, though Tyson thinks they don’t dislike each other; the other guys have clearly been lectured and are on their best behavior, which is also weird as fuck because they’ve never behaved once in their life and it makes them not say anything.

Finally, Tyson gives up, and steers Shari over to Colin. “Please, save us,” she demands, sitting down across from him and tugging Shari in next to her. “Everyone else is being weird.”

“They’re adjusting,” Colin allows, but he smiles at Shari. “Hi, I’m Colin.”

“Shari.” Shari’s hand looks very small in Colin’s, but it looks small in Tyson’s too. “I’ve heard a lot about you, right?” she asks Tyson, who nods.

“Somehow, it being Tyson, I’m not surprised,” Colin drawls, though he looks pleased, and Shari laughs. It’s always surprisingly throaty; Tyson really loves that laugh. “I’m glad you decided to come.”

“Yeah, it kind of goes against all my brown lesbian in public school instincts to hang out with a bunch of jocks, but I’ve got Tys to punch anyone who tries to bully me this time around.” She grins at Tyson, leaning against her shoulder.

Tyson snorts. “If you’re counting on me to fight, you’re out of luck. I can get Gabe to do it, though. He’s usually easy to get to fight people. Or Z! Z’d throw down for anyone.”

“Not you?” Shari asks Colin. She’s not really a hockey fan, which isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker but it does make it harder, and it means things like this come up more.

Colin shrugs. “I’m not a big fighter.”

“He’s the closest thing you can get to a pacifist and still be a hockey player,” Tyson tells Shari.

“That sounds healthy.”

“I like to think so,” Colin agrees, encouraged like being called healthy really means something to him.

It’s nice, with Colin, at least. He’s just—Colin, like usual; quiet and easy to talk to and only weird in his idiosyncratic Colin way and not the way the rest of them are, and he gets Shari into conversation about her social work and they’re bonding over like, juices or some hippie shit like that. But Tyson’s team is Tyson’s team, and pretty soon Colin’s shoved into the side of the booth by Josty and JT.

“Were you not going to introduce us?” Josty demands of Tyson, jostling against Colin’s side. Colin scoots over more to make room for them. “Come on!”

“No, I don’t introduce people to children,” Tyson retorts. Josty pouts. He looks a little more drunk than usual—he’s been having a rough streak; Tyson doesn’t blame him. “You get introductions when you can drink.”

“I can drink!”

“When you can buy your own drinks,” Tyson amends.

Josty blinks. “Why would I ever do that?” he asks, and JT sighs heavily as Tyson laughs and holds out a fist for Josty to bump.

“You’ll do, for a namesake,” she tells him. “Josty, JT, this is Shari. Shari, this is Josty, the junior Tyson, and JT, his keeper.”

“Hey,” Both rookies object at once.

Tyson shrugs. “I said what I said.”

Shari chuckles, a little uncertainly. “Nice to meet you guys.”

“Nice to meet you too.” Josty turns to Tyson. “See? I told you we wouldn’t be weird.”

“You do realize you saying that makes it weird, right?” Tyson asks.

“No it doesn’t! It’s cool,” Josty tells Shari. “We’re like, boning. We get it.”

“Oh,” Shari says, admirably straight-faced. Tyson thunks her head against the table. “That’s—good for you?”

“Yeah,” Josty agrees, looking soppily at Comphy. Comphy’s ears are as red as his hair, but he rolls his eyes fondly back.

“So, are you, um. How did you meet?” Comphy tries, in a valiant attempt at small talk that Shari clearly grabs with both hands, telling the story of how they met at a bar when Tyson had escaped her teammates and then managed to spill wine on her shirt and apparently that had been charming.

“You okay here, babe?” Tyson asks, when their drinks are empty. “I’ll get us a refill.”

“I think I’ll survive,” Shari replies dryly. Josty perks up.

“I’ll come too, you can get me more.”

“No, I don’t buy drinks for babies,” Tyson tells him, but she waits as he clambers over JT. Instead, she looks at Colin, tries to communicate with her eyes to please make sure Shari isn’t traumatized. Colin must get it, because he does that; he nods, smiles. “Okay, mini-me, let’s go.”

“Shari’s cool,” Josty tells her, as they head over to the bar. He’s enough taller than Tyson that he is useful as a wedge through the crowd. “I wouldn’t think she was your type, though.”

“Why?” Tyson asks, only a little on edge.

“Because she’s not blonde?” Josty suggests. “We all know you’re into blondes.”

Ugh, that. “I can like many people.”

“Then why don’t you ever talk about how hot I am?” Josty pouts. “You talk about Gabe all the time.”

“Because I’m old enough to be your mother,” Tyson tells him, which isn’t true, but feels close enough sometimes. She ruffles his curls instead.

Josty’s still pouting, but he leans against the bar as Tyson orders. “Whatever. She’s still cool, though. Way cooler than I thought you could manage.”

“I know, right?” Tyson maybe should be offended, but it’s not like he’s wrong. “But—see!” She points emphatically at him. “See! You don’t think it’s weird that you’re cool with my girlfriend.”

“Yeah, because I’m not into you.”

“Hey!”

“No, I mean, you’re hot, but I’m—”

Tyson decides to let that go for the more important thing here. “Yeah, I am, but—come on. Are you back on the Landy thing?” She’d hoped she was making progress with the team, at least.

“I’m just saying!” Josty holds up his hands. “Like, I get it, crushes suck, and like, who doesn’t have a crush on Landy? Who doesn’t sometimes talk about him in bed? I—”

“Wait, what?” Tyson pauses. “No, we’re tabling my thing, what do you and Comphy get up to?”

Josty smirks, like the good Tyson he is. “That’s for us to know, right?”

“If our bond as namesakes matters to you, you will tell me right now. Do you like, roleplay? Is there a blonde wig involved? Who wears it?”

“I—” Josty shuts his mouth, looking thoughtful. “Do you think we could get one?”

“You are my favorite rookie,” Tyson tells him, and means it, holy fuck. “And a fitting heir to the Tyson name.”

Josty actually blushes at that, a little. “Yeah?” he asks, and it’s—Tyson knows what a bad streak feels like, what it feels like always be wondering when you’re going to be sent down, if you’re going to be sent down. If you’re worth being up in the show. If this year is the last year on this team.

“Yeah,” she says, gentler. “You are.”

Josty looks down, away from her, because like all Tysons he doesn’t know what to do with emotions. “Thanks,” he mumbles.

“You got this,” Tyson tells him, punches his shoulder, then puts a drink in his hand. This is why she’s the cool aunt of the team, not lame dad like Gabe or weird uncle like EJ. “Okay, now I need to save my girlfriend from—everyone, apparently,” she finishes, because in the time she’s been gone the booth’s filled up.

“Don’t worry, Willy’ll take care of her,” Josty tells her, but he grabs Comphy’s drink too to start heading over. “He like, gave us all a lecture after practice so we wouldn’t be weird. I mean, Gabe tried, but, you know. Willy was the one who really made the point. I mean, the point was mainly just treat her like any other WAG and not to be stupid with what we said, but. He’s up on it, you know Willy.”

“Yeah.” Tyson looks over again. Colin’s leaning closer to look at a phone with Shari and Z—which means probably looking at pictures of Z’s kid—his blonde hair and her dark hair a pretty yin/yang sort of contrast thing. “I do.” Colin always does that, gets what she needs. She shakes her head. “Anyway, I’ve got to go save her, because like, even if they’re being cool no one on our team is cool.”

“I dunno. I think Gabe is cool,” Josty says, and Tyson nearly snorts out her drink.

“Yeah, I bet you do,” she drawls, and then shoves at the rest of the team until they let her in next to Shari. “Okay, here’s your drink, I’m sorry for everything they said it’s probably all true but you didn’t need to hear it.”

“It’s fine,” Shari says, putting a hand on Tyson’s arm. Her nails are a perfect dark red. “They’re behaving.”

“Are they?” Tyson asks. She gets a bunch of offended yeses and a nod from Colin, which reassures her.

Still, in the car home, Tyson glances over at Shari. “They didn’t traumatize you too much, did they?” she asks, looking more at Shari’s thigh then at her face. “I know they’re a lot—they mean well but they’re like, not the most thoughtful people all the time, and they can sometimes say shit that—”

“Hey.” Shari catches Tyson’s face, tilts it up to hers. “Hey, I mean, I get it, but it was fine. It was cool to meet them.”

“Yeah?” Tyson asks. She wishes she could look away, even if she really likes looking at Shari’s face.

“Yeah,” Shari repeats, firm. “But, wow, you hang out with a lot of guys all the time. Like, really guys guys.”

“I know,” Tyson groans, and lets herself lean over onto Shari’s shoulder. Shari laughs, and tugs Tyson’s hair out of its ponytail so she can run her fingers through it, gently detangling the curls. It’s going to be a mess when she’s done, but it feels good. “I love them, but—I know.”

“And so many of them are hot,” Shari goes on. “Is that true of all hockey guys? Or is it just your team? I mean, I’m not even into guys, and I can tell.”

Tyson lifts her head up. “Right!” She repeats, loudly. “Wait, no, can I record that so that they get it? They think I have to be into someone to notice that they’re like, super attractive, but I don’t! That’s not how it works!”

“Nope. I mean, I’m no expert, but if I were even a little into guys I’d see how Colin’s beard felt on my thighs,” Shari chuckles.

Tyson pauses. Tilts her head. “Willy? Really?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Not Gabe?”

“No, Gabe—the captain, right? He’s attractive, but, like. Colin…” she trails off. “There’s something lesbianish about his soul. I can sense it.”

Tyson’s never thought about it that way before, but, “Yeah, I get that,” she agrees. “But I’m still recording you saying that. Maybe it’ll finally get them off my back.”

“Hm.” Shari’s fingernails tug in Tyson’s hair, just the right amount. “And here I thought you liked being on your back.”

Tyson maybe moans a little, but it’s totally not her fault.

///

Bringing out the people Tyson’s seeing doesn’t always go as well as it goes with Shari. Tyson had thought the guys and Kim would really get along, because Kim’s a sports wonk too, but she and EJ take an instant dislike to each other, and that makes it weird, and then she complains about them the next day and Tyson’s not going to put up with that. It’s still better than Ryan, who is just clearly intimidated by all the guys and the shovel talk they give him even though Tyson’s told them how much she doesn’t want them doing that, and then gets all macho and weird about it himself.

After Ryan, Tyson stops. Bringing people around, but also dating. It served its purpose—the teasing about Landy’s died down, because apparently what convinces a team of guys that she’s not into one person is dating a bunch of other people, and Tyson’s gotten laid a bunch. But dating like that is exhausting, as she tells Jenna while they browse for gowns to the Avs holiday gala.  

“Amen,” Jenna says, flipping through dresses. “We’re taking this one.” She pulls a red dress off the rack. “Yes?”

“No.”

“Yes,” Jenna says, and drapes it over her arm. “But if you don’t want to date, you shouldn’t.”

“It’s not that I don’t want to date,” Tyson explains. She sees some sequins and pulls out the dress that’s attached to it, then makes a face. That’s too much even for her. “I just—don’t want to deal with it going bad again, you know? Like, when it’s casual it’s fine, but then I get invested and it breaks and it sucks.”

“Maybe that means you’re dating the wrong people,” Jenna suggests. Tyson snorts.

“No kidding,” Tyson retorts. “But it’s not—I’m on the road all the time, or hanging out with the guys. I don’t exactly have time to go out and meet non-hockey people. I barely met you.”

“Then meet people through hockey.”

Tyson snorts again. That is spoken like someone who isn’t in the hockey world. “Who? The guys are bad enough as it is, can you imagine what they’d do if I dated someone associated with another team?” she shudders. “And our team would be a mess.” She catches sight of Jenna’s thoughtful face. “And if you say I should date Gabe, I’m leaving and not coming back.”

Jenna chuckles, which she somehow manages to make sound delicate. “God, no. I dated him, remember? I wouldn’t suggest that.” She pauses, and her smile turns a little wicked. “Except for, he does this thing—”

“I don’t want to hear it!” Tyson yelps, clapping her hands over her ears and starting to hum. Then she pauses, drops her hands. “Wait no, I do, that’ll really freak him out. What does he do?”

Jenna’s laughing again, and she leans over to rub her hand over Tyson’s forearm, gentle and encouraging. Tyson maybe leans into it a little. She loves her boys, but—this isn’t something they’re good at, the gentle. “You’re great, and you’ll find someone who wants that.”

“As long as they want it with hockey, too,” Tyson sighs. She’s just—men who care about sports get freaked out about her playing hockey because it feels emasculating, and women who care about sports get freaked out because they know a little about what it might entail and how many men she spends her time with; any gender who doesn’t care about sports doesn’t get the time commitment, how all encompassing it is. Why she would want to do something like that. It’s just—Tyson never wishes she didn’t play hockey, but sometimes, in her weaker moments, she wishes she knew how to fit in one world. To be a hockey player, or a woman, and not to have to figure out how to be both. Not have to find the apparently non-existent someone who doesn’t mind that she is both. Who sees all of her.

Jenna rubs at her shoulder again. “Look at it this way,” she says. “If your gross hockey boys found people to love them, then so can you.”

“Yeah, that’s easy for them to say when they’re all tall and blonde and hot,” Tyson retorts, and glares at Jenna. Then she takes a breath, because she is not going to wallow. Wallowing is for people who don’t get shit done. This is her life, and she likes it, and she’s not going to bitch about it. Even if sometimes it feels like all the guys are finding their lovely wives and she’s…not. “Whatever. I’m going to look kickass for the banquet and everyone will be falling all over me,” she decides, and Jenna grins.

“Hell yeah you will,” she agrees. “Now let’s go try some things on.”

“I’m not wearing the red dress.”

“Try it on, you never know!” Jenna urges, herding Tyson towards the dressing rooms. “Maybe it’s time for a change.”

///

Tyson does, if she’s being honest with herself, look really fucking awesome for the gala. She talked Jenna out of the red dress, but instead she’s in a green dress that’s high in the front but dips daringly low in the back, and Jenna comes over to do her makeup, because Tyson has learned to do serviceable makeup but she’s not good at anything fancy, and to do her hair so that it actually behaves in real curls when it’s loose, and when Tyson looks in the mirror she sees—she looks like a woman, but the dress also shows off her hockey shoulders and ass and she likes that, too.

She also, she has to say, likes how Nate blinks when she comes out of her house, only wobbling a little on her heels, to get into his car. “You look nice,” he says, sounding surprised.

“Wow, thanks,” Tyson drawls. She reaches over to straighten his tie, then sets her purse down. “Let’s go get smashed, please.”

“And there you are,” Nate rolls his eyes, and pulls out of her driveway.

She also likes the looks she gets when she and Nate walk into the ballroom. It’s not, like, full princess entrance the whole room hushes or anything, because Tyson doesn’t want that. Well, she does, sort of, because what girl doesn’t, but she doesn’t really.

Anyway, she gets a surprised little yelp from Josty and a, “Damn, T-Bear, you’re hot,” from Comphy and a “Aww, Brutes, look at you!” from EJ so she feels like she wins. That’s right, she wants to tell all of them, she is a woman, and they should remember that.

So she does tell them that, because Tyson has never seen the point of not saying something.

“Hey,” Comphy objects. “I remember you’re a girl. You talk about your period like, all the time.”

“I mention it occasionally,” Tyson retorts. “When necessary. Also, bro. You’ve got sisters. You should not be so grossed out by it.”

“That’s different.” Comph mutters. “Anyway, we know you’re a girl. Just not, like. A hot one.”

“Ouch,” Nate throws in, and Tyson flips Comphy off, then smiles sweetly.

“It’s okay, I don’t remember you’re hot, ever.”

“Stop bullying him,” Josty protests, throwing an arm around Comph, who looks more pleased about the arm than hurt by Tyson’s comment.

“I’m not bullying him. I’m just reporting on what I think about his attractiveness at any given moment.” It’s maybe not strictly true—Comphy cleans up nice—but whatever, Tyson’s on a thing. “Anyway. You don’t remember I’m a girl except when you’re being weird about it, so that doesn’t count.”  

“You don’t remember you’re a girl unless you’re being weird about it!” Josty throws back defensively, and Tyson—she looks good and she feels good and that’s going to be her night, so she decides to roll her eyes and ruffle Josty’s hair.

“Tyson’s always weird, that doesn’t count,” Nate says, and Tyson throws him a thankful look. He smiles back at her—he clearly doesn’t get what’s wrong, but he knows something is, so that counts.

“And don’t you forget it,” Tyson tells them, stabbing a finger at them. “Okay, I’m getting a drink. Nate, you coming?”

“I—” He looks at Comphy in the way that says clearly he wants to talk about Fortnite with someone. Tyson sighs, and shares a look of understanding with Josty. “Okay, you stay here then. See if I take you as my date again.”

“Like you could find someone better,” Nate retorts, but he’s already busy, so Tyson rolls her eyes and heads to the bar. She spends some time there talking to Soda and Z and their wives, then she wanders off and finds herself where Gabe and Mel and Colin are talking, conveniently near the food.

“So this is where the cool kids are,” Tyson says, inserting herself into the conversation and stealing a pig in a blanket off of Colin’s plate. He just shifts the plate over so that she can take another one, which is why he’s her favorite.

“Well, not anymore,” Gabe retorts. Tyson makes a face at him. He and Mel, of course, look fairy-tale perfect, all tall and blonde and regal looking, and Tyson really should hate them. “Look at where the neighborhood’s gone.”

“Yeah, we’ll see what happens when the karaoke afterparty starts,” Tyson replies, and Gabe chuckles. “People who live in boyband dance houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

“I have no regrets,” Gabe informs him, which is probably true, in the way that beautiful people don’t have regrets.

Mel rolls her eyes at them. “I love your dress, Tyson,” she says, because Tyson had kept it a secret mainly because Mel got so annoyed at them. Tyson grins and spins a little, just to feel the skirt swirl.

“Right? Even Comphy said I was hot.”

Colin snorts. Gabe and Mel both laugh. “Hey! I am,” Tyson protests. “I mean, I’m not, like, prince and princess charming,” Tyson says, gesturing at Mel and Gabe, “But I am.”

“You are,” Mel agrees. Gabe nods.

“Having all your teeth is a bonus.”

“Oh, fuck off, I’d be hotter than EJ even if I didn’t have my teeth.” She turns to Colin. “Right? Back me up.”

“Sure,” Colin agrees. He looks—there’s something weird about him. Tyson can’t figure out what, because Colin’s so baseline easygoing that it’s hard to tell what’s chill and what’s not, but she knows that something’s off.

Still, he’s useless, so Tyson turns to Mel. “Right?” she asks again.

“I don’t get the toothless thing,” Mel says, raising up her hands. “If you ever lose your teeth, babe, I’m dumping you,” she tells Gabe, who makes a mock-devastated face.

“I knew you only loved me for my smile.”

Her hand is light on his arm, and their smile is—just the two of them. It’s very sweet, and Tyson isn’t jealous of that little world at all. “Yep, that’s all.”

“Definitely no other reason to be into all that,” Tyson mutters, “It’s not like he’s got the hair and the arms and the—all that.”

It’s mainly to Colin, because she doesn’t want to interrupt their Moment—he smiles, even if it’s still a little wry—but Tyson’s never been able to be quiet so Mel hears and laughs again. “I suppose the all that is okay,” she says, and kisses Gabe’s cheek, easy and casual. Gabe’s face is ridiculously besotted.

“Okay, I’ve had enough of you two being sickening, I’m moving on,” Tyson announces. She grabs Colin’s wrist. “Come on, Colin.”

“We’ll stop,” Mel looks away from Gabe. “We’re done.”

“Yeah, we’re done,” Gabe agrees, though he’s giving Mel a look like they aren’t really. “Did you see Z’s suit?”

“See, blinded by—is there a difference?”

“It’s very adventurous,” Colin agrees, and they chat about their teammates’ horrible fashion choices for a while until Gabe has to do his captain thing and mingle. Tyson, happily, does not have to move, and waves cheerfully to Mel as she’s swept away with a heartfelt sigh.

“God, I am glad I don’t have to do that,” Tyson says, closing the circle just to Colin.

“I can’t believe that,” Colin tells her. “I’ve seen the footage of you hosting the Mile High Gala. You love an excuse to talk to everyone.”

“Oh god.” Tyson can feel herself flush. That was not her finest moment. Well, according to some people. “You’ve seen that?”

“I think that was the first thing I saw of you,” Colin says, chuckling. “You were very… enthusiastic.”

“At least I didn’t interview Landy in that, everyone would have gone insane,” Tyson sighs. “But like, that’s different. I can flirt with any of the guys like—that’s not hard. You’re all hot, it’s fun. But schmoozing is…” she shudders. She’s had to do enough of it. “I leave that to Landy. He’s charming enough to be good at it.”

Colin hums in agreement. Tyson shakes her head, lets it go. She can just enjoy herself. The music’s starting up too, which is always when things get good. There’s very little funnier than watching a bunch of over-sized hockey players try not to embarrass themselves on a fancy dance floor.

“So,” she goes on, glancing up at Colin. “Nothing about how I clean up nice? You’ll get replaced as my favorite if you’re not careful.”

Colin looks down at her, and there’s—Tyson knows what it looks like, when a man is appreciating how she looks. It…doesn’t look unfamiliar, which is weird, now that she thinks about it. “If you think you need to clean up for me to remember you’re beautiful, you’re wrong,” he says, easy and honest, and Tyson can feel her cheeks go red. It’s just Colin, just another of the guys complimenting her, but—it’s not. But somehow it’s Colin knowing exactly what to say.

“Yeah, I look great post-game drowned rat, I know,” she agrees, mainly to her hands. “That’s really what brings all the boys to the yard.”

“No, that’s your Dairy Queen addiction,” Colin replies, and Tyson snorts and looks up. Colin’s still just—looking at her.

“I can stop any time I want,” Tyson tells him, probably lying. “I have a diet plan. I stick to it.”

“Okay,” Colin agrees, even though he knows it’s a lie, because he’s often the one watching her do it when she needs a cheat day. But of course he doesn’t call her on it, because Colin’s Colin, and he believes in letting things happen and not bossing her around.

“We can’t all actually enjoy your gross smoothies,” Tyson tells him, and Colin grins.

“Tell me that when I’m still going at 60 and you’re falling apart.”

“Tell me that when you have to eat all your kale and I’m enjoying my taste buds.”

“You liked the kale we made last week, with the chilis,” Colin points out.

“Well, yeah, because we’re great cooks,” Tyson agrees, because it’s true. They’re kickass cooks together. “That’s us, it’s not kale.”

Colin smiles at that, pleased. But still, “It’s a good way to get your vitamins.”

“Yes, mom,” Tyson drawls. “Now, can we go find the cake and get some non-vitamins?”

“I think non-vitamins would be inedible,” Colin says, but he’s turning towards the dessert table, letting Tyson tug him over there with her hand on his wrist.

Nemo and Barbs and their girlfriends are over there, so they chat for a while. Then Barbs is dragged off to the dance floor, and Tyson looks over there. It’s not like when they go to a club, and they’re all just sort of flailing—this is nice dancing, like, what Tyson thinks of as wedding dancing. Everyone’s all paired off, and Tyson can see where Mel’s arms are wrapped around Gabe’s neck, the love hot between them. It’s beautiful. It looks—easy, with them.

“Do you want to dance?” Colin asks.

Tyson blinks up at him. “Yeah,” she decides. She does want to dance. She knows she’s not Mel, not any of the WAGs all tall and graceful and effortlessly feminine and beautiful, but she does want to dance.

They set down their wine glasses, then sweep onto the dance floor. It’s not even awkward—because of course it’s not, with Colin. Tyson puts an arm on Colin’s shoulder and he takes the other, so they can sway with the music, and it’s—surprisingly easy. Tyson doesn’t even feel like she’s going to trip over any feet, despite her heels.

“Next time,” Tyson says, under the music, “We’re definitely coming together. You’re way better than my date.”

This close, she can feel Colin falter, just a bit. “You brought a date?”

“Eh, Mac’s around somewhere,” Tyson says, gesturing with their clasped hands. “He drove me, so that counts.”

Under her hand, Colin’s shoulders relax. “Didn’t want to be DD?” he asks, and Tyson snorts.

“You know me so well, Willy.”

Colin hums again, and his hand shifts as they move, warm on her bare back. She can feel the faintest hint of his callouses, how big his hand is against her spine. It’s not—she’s tactile with her team, always has been, but something about this makes her shiver. Maybe it’s just been a while since she got laid. Maybe it’s Jenna’s talk, about teammates. Maybe—probably—it’s Colin calling her beautiful, in just the right way.

It’s not like they’re particularly good dancers, honestly—Tyson’s not graceful on her best days and heels get rid of any possible grace she might have, and Colin’s trying but he’s a hockey player, not a dancer. Still, they manage it, and Tyson can still feel Colin’s hand lingering on her back, and when she looks up she can see him looking down at her, and then that’s too much so she ducks her head again, rests it on his shoulder.

She can feel the hum through him, feel the low chuckle. “How drunk are you?”

“I’m not drunk,” Tyson tells the scratchy fabric of Colin’s coat. She’s telling the truth. She’s a little tipsy, maybe, but she’s not drunk. “You can tell ‘cause I’m not dancing on a table.”

That definitely gets a laugh. “Good point,” Colin agrees. “This music would be hard to do that too, though.”

Tyson looks up again. Colin’s grinning at her, that big smile under his beard. “That sounds like a challenge.”

“It is not a challenge,” Colin states, in the tone he gets when he thinks Tyson is being ridiculous but he’s going to keep Tyson from hurting herself. “No tables.”

“Not in heels,” Tyson agrees mournfully. “I don’t think my cred could take breaking my leg dancing on a table so soon after the Worlds debacle.”

“How did you—”

“Not now, Willy,” Tyson cuts him off, because she’s not going into that. “That’s cone of secrecy stuff.”

“Fair enough,” Colin says, shrugging. It’s almost enough to make Tyson want to tell him. But only almost. She does still have some pride.

They shift a little, and Colin’s hand is on her spine again, totally in a normal place except for how it feels hot. Tyson wants to shiver, if she did shit like that. If she did shit like that with Colin. Her teammates have touched her millions of times, and it doesn’t feel like this.

It’s—Tyson doesn’t know what to do with it, really. So she does what she does best, and doesn’t deal with it. “Oh, there’s Nate,” she announces, nodding over to where he’s standing, chatting with some people who probably paid for their seats. “Let’s go say hi.”

She can feel Colin’s intake of breath, how rough it sounds, but then he’s moving away, and she can’t feel the heat of him anymore. “Yeah, okay,” he agrees, and they go.

It’s a fun night. Tyson dances a bit with the rest of her boys, drags Mel and Jackie out into a line dance, manages to break exactly zero heels and ankles—there was a brief possible casualty of Comphy’s toe, but he really deserved it—eats dinner, drinks maybe more than she should, but it’s fine. Everyone’s drunk, and she’s not driving.

It still gets her hours later, sitting at a table alone because standing up is hard and she’s tired and her feet hurt. The music’s gone slow again, and all the couples are out there swaying back and forth. She can see Mel and Gabe looking all sweet and perfect again, and even EJ looks picturesque with Jackie, and Z and his wife are of course the cutest. It’s all very nice, very sweet. Tyson is too drunk for it.

“Okay?” Colin asks, coming up next to her. She’d lost him for a while, but he’s been around, always; a hand on her back to alert her to another drink, dragging her away from a quickly-escalating argument with Gabe that she’s definitely going to finish tomorrow because Gabe thinks that just because he’s pretty he can get away with shit, slipping in next to her when she’s dancing with all the guys. Looking at her, sometimes, in ways she doesn’t quite know how to see. 

“Okay,” Tyson agrees, and waves a hand at the dance floor. “I mean, look! They’re all adorable. So sweet. Who couldn’t be okay, watching that?”

Colin raises his eyebrows. “You, maybe?”

“I’m fine.” Tyson shakes her head. There’s a pin in it somewhere, fixing the curls just right, that’s digging into her skull. Colin still doesn’t look convinced. “No, I’m tired,” she decides. She looks at the dance floor. “Where’s Nate, I want to go home.”

“I saw him talking about karaoke with Josty,” Colin tells her, and Tyson sighs. Normally, she would be very into watching her teammates humiliate themselves and then showing them how it’s done, but tonight—she’s not in the mood, or something.

“Ugh, fine.” She tilts her head back. “I’ll call an Uber.”

“I can give you a ride,” Colin proposes. He sets down his drink. “If you want.”

“You don’t have to leave just because I’m in a weird mood,” Tyson gestures to her head. Colin shrugs.

“I’m ready to go,” he says, and reaches out. “Come on.”

Tyson takes his hands, lets him pull her to her feet—then lets herself collapse into him, when her feet hurt too much standing up. Colin stumbles back but he catches her, holds her steady. “Can you carry me?” she asks, and Colin rolls his eyes and shakes his head.

“Nope, I’m already giving you a ride home.”

“Colin,” she whines. “You get to wear real shoes to dress up, it’s not fair and you should give me a piggy back ride.”

“Heels are a weapon of the patriarchy,” Colin agrees. His hand’s on her back again, not even quite touching, as they head towards the door. Somehow it’s brushing the ends of her hair. “I’m still not carrying you.”

“Is it because you can’t?” Tyson challenges. It would work with a lot of the guys—it definitely has worked with plenty of them—but Colin just chuckles.

“Yep,” he agrees, which makes Tyson make a face at him. She bets it’s not true, anyway. Colin’s not, like, as in your face big as Z or someone, but she’s seen him shirtless. She hasn’t looked, but she’s seen him. “One foot in front of the other, come on.”

“Thank you, I hadn’t figured that out,” Tyson snarks back, which gets another laugh from Colin. She manages to make it to the valet, where they wait for his car, then into his car, before she immediately kicks off her heels. “Oh thank god.”

“That bad?”

“Heels are the worst,” Tyson informs Colin. “Or maybe it’s just me—none of the other WAGs seem to mind. Jenna says it’s because I don’t have the right heels. I think it’s because I don’t have the right feet.”

“Maybe your feet are just meant for skates,” Colin says, easy. “To each their own.”

Tyson smiles down at her hands. She can feel her cheeks going red, which is stupid, because it’s barely a compliment. It’s definitely not the sort of excessive shit Gabe and Nate say about her sometimes, the praise that they’re so easy with because apparently that’s what leaders—and best friends—do. But it’s just…Colin somehow knows the right compliments.

Colin doesn’t say anything more. Tyson glances over. He’s watching the road, not her; he’s so comfortable.

“I’m hungry,” she decides. That’s easier than thinking about all the rest of the stuff that’s coming up.

Colin snorts. “You were literally just at a banquet.”

“And now I’m hungry,” Tyson informs him. “I’m a hockey player, if you hadn’t heard, it’s allowed. And I want a burger. Can we stop at—”

“No,” Colin interrupts. “No, we’re not giving in to your shitty food addiction.”

“But I don’t have food at home,” Tyson says. Now that she’s said it, she really is hungry, maybe. There’s a McDonalds coming up. What’s a diet plan, anyway? She’s already broken it today. “Colin—”

“You could come over, if you’re not too tired,” Colin suggests, before she can really get a good whine going. His hands shift on the wheel. “I’ve got some stuff for a healthy snack.”

“You’re so boring,” Tyson sighs, but, “Yeah, that sounds good.” That’s even better, honestly. She’d like a burger, but if she goes to Colin’s then she can get comfortable more quickly. Also, she’ll never object to spending more time with Colin. She throws a smirk at him. “That the line you use on all the ladies? I’ll make you healthy food, baby?”

Colin laughs, though his cheeks are probably a little red around his beard. “That’s definitely my usual approach,” he agrees.

“Knew it,” Tyson says. She leans back in the seat, tilts her head back. “This is why you’re going to be such a great husband. Why go for big gestures when you could get fed?”

Colin hums. Tyson doesn’t look at him, and starts to mess with the radio instead.

///

They make it back to Colin’s, and then Tyson demands something to change into because she’s done with the dress, so she goes to raid Colin’s closet while he makes them a snack.

She looks at herself in the mirror, while she’s changing into Colin’s too-big sweats and a generic Avs t-shirt. The night’s taken a toll—her makeup’s smudged and her hair started to go to frizz. She looks very far from elegant, not even the sort of tempting mess that some of the guys pull off after a game.

Then she goes back downstairs. Colin’s shucked off his jacket and taken off his tie, and he does look that sort of elegant dishabille—the lines of his chest coming through the open collar of his shirt, the just on the good side of messy hair. She’s always known Colin’s attractive, obviously, because she has eyes and he’s even more allergic to shirts than the rest of the guys, but—there’s something about tonight. Something about it striking her, especially as he looks up and smiles at her, like he’s so pleased to see her.

“We’re having eggs, because that’s all the energy I have,” he says. “That okay?”

“Yeah.” Tyson leans against the island. She does this all the time—they do this all the time. She doesn’t know why it’s different, why she’s watching the muscles of his arms, the deftness of his hands, the way his lips rest in an easy smile. “Need help?”

“Can you chop the peppers?” he asks, gesturing towards the fridge. That’s all she needs—she knows where the peppers are, where the knife and cutting block is, how to pass them over. Once that’s done, she grabs plates and sets them next to the stove, and two forks to set on the island, as Colin pays attention to the stove.

“Here,” he says at last, and sets a plate in front of her.

“Cheers.” Tyson takes a forkful, toasts him. He laughs and does it back, grinning at her.

“Best way to end a night,” Tyson says, digging in. It’s good. Of course it is.

“I told you it’d be better than a burger.”

Tyson rolls her eyes. “At least it’s not a smoothie.”

“Smoothies are—”

“I am not having your smoothie, Willy. I don’t care if it’s a magic health potion.”

Colin tips his head back to laugh at that. It’s—he has a good laugh. Tyson looks down at the remnants of her eggs, moves them around a little. Her hair’s starting to bother her, or it’s something to do, so she pulls a hair tie off her wrist to put it up into its usual ponytail. It might not be as fancy, but it keeps the frizz away.

It makes her have to look up—have to see Colin, watching her. And it’s…it’s how he looked, when he said he always thought she was beautiful. She’s a mess and she’s the farthest thing from elegant as could be and he’s still looking at her like—like she just won them a game in OT. 

Colin looks away, as soon as he sees her look up. But Tyson doesn’t.

Colin was—well, she knows what it looks like when people look at her like they want her. She knows, and Colin was watching her like that, and she looks at the line of his throat, the stretch of his shoulders.

It’s probably a stupid idea. Tyson knows all the shit about being a woman in the locker room, and all the shit with Gabe that started just because she flirted a little. She knows how fucking teammates can go wrong.

But—it’s Colin, and Tyson can still feel the warmth of his hand on her back, and he wouldn’t. Not Colin.

Colin gets up, grabs her plate to take them to the sink. He doesn’t ask her to talk, to be more. He’s never asked her to be anything.

Tyson’s never known for making good decisions, anyway.

“Hey.” When Colin turns around from putting the plates in the sink, Tyson’s there. Colin freezes, looking down at her. He looks—wary, but not displeased.

“Want more?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Tyson says, and looks pointedly at his lips.

Colin breathes in, quick and harsh. “Tys…”

“Yeah?” she asks. Then she makes herself shrug. “No pressure if you don’t want to.”

“If I don’t—” Colin shakes his head. “Are you drunk?”

“Wow, super flattering.” Tyson rolls her eyes. “You know I’m not. We’ve been together all night. Are you drunk?”

“No.” Colin’s hand twitches, like he wants to reach out. “Are you sure?” and he sounds so serious.

“When have I been sure of anything?” she asks, which is maybe the truest thing she’s ever said. “Let’s do it anyway.”

“Tyson,” Colin breathes, then he does touch, tips her head up to kiss her.

It’s—she should have guessed Colin would be good at this, because he’s the kind of guy who would be, but he’s really fucking good, the sort of slow thorough kissing that takes her out at the knees, as much as she tries to hurry him up, press into him. She gets her hands in his hair to pull her up, pull her closer, she needs to get closer, his kisses are spreading heat through her.

“God, Tyson.” Colin breathes again, as he drags his mouth from the side of her mouth, down her neck. His beard scrapes against her skin in the best way, that sends shockwaves of heat through her. Tyson wants more.

So she gets her hands on his collar, tries for the buttons, except they’re trapped between them. “Get this off,” she tells him, pulling away enough to fumble at the buttons. Colin laughs, lit up, then he does as she asked, shrugging off his shirt. Of course he’s casual, he knows how good he looks without a shirt, Tyson thinks, in a way that could be grumpy if she wasn’t also tracing her hands over all that skin that she’s only seen before, watching as the goosebumps follow her fingers.

She traces her finger up between his pecs, then to has to look up—Colin’s looking, his eyes blown, and Tyson has to kiss him again, has to feel those clever lips, and feel all that heat. She gets her hands around his neck, pulls herself closer, wanting more—his hands are moving now too, down her back, to her ass, which good she has a great ass he should appreciate it, and she—

Then she yelps, as he boosts her up, lifting her off her feet. She wraps her legs around him, clutching, and kisses him harder now that she doesn’t have to think about things like standing.

But also, “I thought you said you weren’t carrying me,” Tyson points out, between kisses.

Colin chuckles. “Should have known you’d convince me.”

“I am very convincing,” Tyson agrees. “Now carry me to bed.”

She can feel Colin’s full body reaction to that, and kisses him again. She can feel the bulge growing in his pants, too, and she wants that shit.

Colin doesn’t quite carry her to bed, because she’s not actually letting him throw out his back on the stairs, but somehow they make it there anyway, into Colin’s room.

He lets her down there, but he doesn’t let her go far, his hands staying on her hips, his thumbs tracing over the skin over her sweatpants. “Your turn?” he asks, tugging on the shirt.

She grins at him. “It’s your shirt.”

Colin hums, but his hands slide up her sides, bringing the shirt with it. She can feel the hitch in his breath when he can feel she isn’t wearing a bra—did he think she could, with a backless dress?—but then she’s distracted by the way his hands ghost of the side of her breasts as he gets past them. She raises up her arms so he can pull the t-shirt off the whole way, and then the shirt’s gone and she can see how Colin’s staring—like he had at her in her dress, like he had at her in his sweats. Like he never has in the locker room.

“You’ve seen them before,” she points out. She can feel herself going red, but—she’s not one of the WAGs but she’s all right.

“I haven’t looked,” Colin murmurs, then he’s palming over them, and Tyson can’t hold back the moan as he scrapes gently over her nipples.

“Colin,” She moans. “Come on.”

Colin just hums again, but he lets her tug him backwards onto the bed, so he can get his mouth on her breasts until she’s hot and wet and squirming and needs more, now, which she tells him in no uncertain terms.

That gets her a hum and him trailing down her stomach until he reaches the waistband of the sweats.

“This okay?” he asks, and Tyson huffs out a breath.

“No, I’m definitely objecting.”

“Tyson.”

“Yes, it’s okay, come on, Colin—” that gets her a grin, and then he’s pulling down the sweats, so he can see the panties that she’s wearing, lacy things a far cry from her usual sensible cotton. It makes her want to blush, of all things.

Then she’s distracted, though, because Colin’s pulling them down too, and then—

It’s not like she’s thought about Colin’s mouth, but, fuck Colin’s mouth. Tyson normally doesn’t let guys get away with not reciprocating oral because she doesn’t live that kind of life, but Colin does it like he enjoys it, like he’s reveling in it. Like he’s exploring or something, slow and inexorable and not just getting her there even when she’s ordering or begging or just moaning his name, and it just builds, all heat and need until she breaks, shaking apart on his tongue.

“Fuck, Colin,” she mumbles, and tugs until he comes back up. His mouth’s sticky-shiny, and his beard’s a little matted, and he’s got that proud look that guys get when they make women come. It looks really fucking good. “You’re good at that.”

“Yeah?” Colin says. He’s holding himself up over her, looking down at her, and it still has that look.

“Yeah, and you clearly know it.” Tyson kisses him again, because she can. She can feel how hard he is now, and—she’s still coming back but she wants that in her. “Now fuck me.”

His hips jerk against her, and he drops his head a little. But he doesn’t ask her if she’s sure again, just kisses her again, hot and intent and something desperate in it.

“Tys—”

“We need your pants off,” she tells him. Colin sits up, rolls off of her for a second to kick off his pants, his boxers, and grab a condom from somewhere in his bedside table. Then he’s back, and Tyson doesn’t pretend not to look, because she wants to, and—yep. She definitely wants that in her.

Colin’s watching her look, and he’s got a look on his face she can’t quite interpret.

“Can you—is it okay if I take down your hair?” he asks. Tyson pauses, but shrugs.

“Yeah?” she agrees, and sits up a little. “I mean, it’s a frizz monster right now, but if that does it for you…”

“I love your hair,” he tells her, and then his hands are in her hair, easing back through them until he catches her hair tie, tugs it out.

“My hair is a mess.”

“Yeah,” he agrees, and Tyson knows she’s red at that, after everything, as his fingers card out her hair.

She can’t handle that, so she tweaks his nipple, then grins as he jerks at that, and reaches down.

Colin moans when she gets a hand on his dick, his head resting on the nape of her neck. It makes her feel a little better. “Tyson,” he mumbles, and she grins to herself.

“Yeah,” she agrees. “Come on, fuck me.”

She puts the condom on him, teasing because she like the sounds he’s making, how he looks at her, how all his chill is gone and he’s coming undone. Then he’s over her, and pushing into her, and she feels stretched out and lit up and Colin’s face is—she can’t look at him as he starts to move, thrusting in and out the same sort of inevitable as before. She gets a hand between them, to rub at her clit to get her there too, and his hand is tangled in her hair again, squeezing so it tugs just right, and—it’s too much, and she closes her eyes against it, as they move together, and it works because of course it does, it’s the two of them, it always works.

“Tyson,” Colin gets out, his voice hoarse. “Tyson, open your eyes.”

Tyson shakes her head. She can’t. If she does, she’s going to explode.

“Tyson, please,” Colin says, and—he doesn’t do that, Colin doesn’t ask for things, never does, and so she can’t not give him this, even though she knows it’s the sort of thing that’ll change everything. “Tyson, look at me, please,” he says, and Tyson opens her eyes.

Colin’s already looking at her, and if she thought the look in his eyes was a lot before, this is—she’s never seen that sort of naked emotion before, the way he looks at her like he’s seeing through her, seeing all of her, and wanting all of it.

She can’t keep looking at that, can’t keep seeing him, so big and handsome and wanting her and hers and—but she can’t not look, he asked—and it’s that strained needs and Colin moving in her that makes her crumble again, as it ripples out from her core to her toes, her fingers, every part of her.

Colin swears, low, then he’s kissing her again, fierce and hot and the sort of kiss she could drown in before she feels his hips jerk and he’s coming too, falling onto her.

She runs her hands over his back as he lies there, tracing the patterns over the strong muscles there. This wasn’t a stupid idea at all. This is Colin. Of course it’s not stupid.

They stay there until it starts to get uncomfortable, then Tyson pokes his shoulder. “Come on, up. Move.”

“Right.” Colin gets up, strips off the condom, as Tyson goes to the bathroom to pee and clean up. When she comes back, he’s lying on the bed on his back, looking sated and pleased and still with that way of looking at her that makes her shiver.

“Hi.” It’s a stupid opener, but it’s all she can think to say. “I can call an—”

“Only if you want,” Colin says, simply. “Or you could go to a guest room. Or—” his eyes are fixed on hers. “You could stay here.”

She shivers again, but—she knows what she wants. “Budge over, then,” she says, and climbs back into bed. Colin smiles, and it’s—almost overwhelming. She distracts herself by figuring out how to lie next to him—they’ve watched movies together in hotel beds, but she feels like more cuddling is in order here. She arranges herself next to him, then he throws an arm around her shoulders, and she leans into him.

“So we should talk,” Colin says. Tyson sighs.

“Do we have to?”

“Yes.” Colin’s arm doesn’t move, but his arm tightens a little. “We should have before we had sex, but now we really should.”

“Why? I’m on birth control and we used a condom, I’m clean, you’re clean—”

“How do you know that?”

Tyson blinks. “You wouldn’t have let this get this far if you weren’t,” she says, because that’s obvious. It still gets a quick, rueful smile out of Colin. “So I don’t see what else we have to talk about.”

“Tyson.”

Tyson sighs, and turns her head into his shoulder. He’s playing with the ends of her hair, twisting them between his fingers. It’s calming—he’s calming. Tyson wants to go to sleep here.

“We had sex, Colin. It was really good, is that what you want to hear?”

“I’m not against hearing it,” Colin says, a smug little attractive smirk playing over his lips for a second. “But—can I ask why?”

Tyson shrugs. She doesn’t know, and normally she’d feel weird saying that, but—this isn’t just anyone. “I don’t know,” she admits. “You—I mean, obviously you’re really hot, that goes without saying, but I just…” she trails off. Colin’s the one who’s good with feelings here, not her. “I wanted to.”

She’s close enough that she can feel the stiffness come back into Colin. “So it was because I happened to take you home?”

“Don’t be stupid.” Tyson pokes at his chest. “It was because it’s you. Because I wanted something good, and something—I don’t know, everyone was dancing and they all looked so good and happy together and I wanted—you looked at me like—you always say the right things,” she ends with, because that’s it. “You always know exactly what I need to hear.”

She managed to look up at Colin by the end of that little speech, and so she catches the smile there, a little incredulous but pleased. “Can I ask why?” she demands. He was there too. He was definitely into it.

Colin blinks at her, and there’s a little color in his cheeks. But, “I’ve thought about it before,” he admits, except it doesn’t feel like an admission. Just like he’s laying it out. “I told you, I’ve always thought you’re amazing.”

Tyson can feel her cheeks flood red. “You said beautiful, not amazing.”

“Then both.” God, Tyson is probably bright red. She can’t—she’s not made to handle this. This feels like…like how Gabe and Mel are together, like how good relationships are. Like, she’s seen, or whatever.

“Okay, then, that’s still years,” she points out, fiddling with a loose string on the duvet. “We could have been doing that for years and you didn’t say anything?”

“You never seemed interested.”

Tyson raises her eyebrows. “You know I think you’re hot, we’re friends, why wouldn’t you say something?” It’s not like Colin to keep secrets.

“I never meant to say we weren’t friends. Our friendship is important, and—”

Tyson knows from talking around something. “Colin,” she says, a little nervous. What isn’t Colin saying?

His gaze slides away from hers, and that’s worse. That means she’s definitely not going to like this. “It didn’t seem like you were emotionally available.”

“Because I’m a dumbass? We’re all dumbasses, if you didn’t notice. Like, emotional intelligence is not a hockey player skill set.” That’s not too bad. He’s not wrong. Tyson never claimed to be smart on any axis. She’s better than some people, but that’s just because some hockey players are really emotionally unintelligent.

But Colin’s still not looking at her. “No,” he says. “No, because your emotions were already involved with someone else.”

Tyson goes still. “Someone else,” she repeats, slowly. “As in, Landy.”

Colin does a thing where he nods and shrugs at once. Tyson takes a breath. “So, you decided not to say anything about how you thought I was fuckable-hot for two years because you thought I was in love with Landy,” she says. Her hands are curving into fists. “Even though I have said, over and over, that I’m not.”

“I didn’t want to risk—”

“So what changed?” Tyson demands. She can hear her voice getting higher, and she hates it. “What changed now that you let us fuck? What finally convinced you that I was telling the truth?”

Colin opens his mouth, but he hesitates, and his gaze skates away again, and Tyson chokes out a laugh. “Oh my god, you still don’t! You still think I’m in love with him!”

“Tyson—” Colin starts, but Tyson’s lurched out of bed. She grabs a t-shirt, tugs it on.

“No, I don’t—do you know how many fucking times I’ve said that I am not into Landy?” she chokes. She finds the sweatpants she’d been wearing earlier, tugs them on. “For years. You didn’t—what, did you think that was just for fun? That I was lying?”

“Not to me, but to—” Colin’s on his feet now too, still naked. Tyson pulls the pants on faster.

“Oh, so I was lying to myself and you knew that, excellent. That’s great. Glad you think that of me. Glad you know me better than I do.” Tyson laughs. God, he thought—and she thought—“Where’s my fucking phone?”

“Don’t—it’s late, you don’t have to—” Colin reaches out, concerned, and Tyson takes a step back.

“Don’t fucking—no. No, I am leaving, you don’t get to—none of this.” She shakes her head. She can feel tears prickling at the corners of her eyes, but fuck that. “I don’t want to be here.”

“You shouldn’t go home alone,” Colin counters—he’s still a good distance away but Tyson can see the concern in his eyes, sincere, and fuck, why does he have to be like that?

“I’ll get home how I please,” Tyson snaps. “Just not with you. I can take care of myself, you know. I am capable of it.”

“I know, Tys, I didn’t mean—”

“Yes you did!” Tyson yells. She refuses to cry. “You clearly don’t think I can think for myself, so—fuck, Colin. Why the hell are you in love with me if you think I’m so—is that what you want? Someone who you know better than? Who can’t think for themselves? I expected it of everyone else,” she spits out at him, in the doorway. “But I thought you were better.”

He flinches at that, which, good. Tyson wants him hurt. Tyson’s hurting too, feels slashed open, worse than any time she’s been hit on the ice. She stalks downstairs, finds her purse with her phone.

Can you pick me up? she texts Nate. It’s not that late.

Yeah sure where are you? comes back, almost immediately. She can hear movement upstairs, but Colin doesn’t come down.

Colin’s, she tells Nate, and doesn’t elaborate. Nate doesn’t ask.

Fifteen minutes, is all he says.

She spends fifteen minutes stalking around the house gathering up her shit. Colin is definitely still moving upstairs.

Nate honks fifteen minutes later, and Tyson leaves without a backwards glance. She can hear someone on the stairs as she leaves, but nothing else—he doesn’t even come after her. She slams the door decisively, then slams the car door, too, for good measure.

Nate’s eyes are wide when he looks at her, glancing up and down and clearly taking it all in—the messy hair and too big sweats and bare feet and the way she’s clearly seething.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she says, and jams the seat belt into place. “I just want—ice cream.” Nate opens his mouth. “If you say one word about a diet plan I will punch you so hard,” she warns, and Nate shuts his mouth.

“Okay,” Nate agrees. He looks a little terrified. “Is, um. Is Willy okay?”

“I don’t fucking care,” Tyson spits, and Nate’s eye go even wider as he pulls out of the driveway.

Tyson stares out the window. It’s dark and she can’t see anything, except a hint of her own reflection. Nate’s quiet, thank god, just drives. It’s good until—

“Do you think I’m in love with Gabe?” she snaps. Nate’s eyebrows go up, but he answers fast and sure.

“No.”

“At least someone fucking gets that!” Tyson rests her head against the cool window. It’s all a mess—she’s a mess. How could Colin not get that? She thought he knew her. She thought he got her.

“Um, yeah.” Nate still sounds kind of hesitant. “Tys, what happened?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Tyson repeats. She doesn’t. She really fucking doesn’t.

Nate, thank god, shuts up, though she can feel the worried glances he shoots at her the whole ride home. Tyson ignores them. She doesn’t care what Nate thinks, she just can’t—fuck, it had only been a little while ago she’d been looking at herself in Colin’s bathroom mirror, and hadn’t minded what she looked like because Colin had looked at her like she was beautiful anyway. Except he hadn’t, really. Hadn’t really seen it.  

Her eyes sting with tears again, and she blinks them back. She’s not going to fucking cry. Tyson hasn’t cried in years and she’s not starting now.

Nate pulls up to her house, turns the car off, and follows her in. Tyson considers being annoyed at that, that he’s just coming into her space, but—she doesn’t want to be alone. She doesn’t want to be alone, and Nate’s big, warm concern is nice.

“I’m taking a shower,” she announces. She needs to wash all this off, wash Colin off, and then get out of his clothes. “You get the ice cream.”

“Okay.” Nate pauses, though, in the hallway, looking up at where Tyson’s started up the stairs. “Tys—are you okay? What happened?” he asks again.

“What do you think?” Tyson gestures to herself. She knows what she looks like.

“Oh.” Nate goes stiff. “He didn’t do—anything you didn’t want, or—”

“What the fuck, Nate, no,” Tyson snaps. “Come on.”

“I don’t know!” Nate’s voice is getting high. “I don’t know, you’re—you’re crying and I picked you up in the middle of the night and Colin texted me to make sure you were safe and—”

“He texted you?” Tyson demands. Fuck, of course he did. He didn’t even think she could get herself home safe. God, and she’d felt so—“I can’t. I need to—” She shakes her head. The tears are coming despite themselves. If even Colin couldn’t get it…

“Okay,” Nate says again, his voice still high pitched. “Okay, go, shower, I’ll get ice cream and like, Great British Bakeoff queued up.”

Tyson’s lips twitch despite herself. He’s such a guy, but she does love him, her oaf of a best friend. “Yeah,” she agrees, and goes upstairs.

She showers quick and too-hot, until everything’s washed clean, then she pulls her hair up as tightly as she can. Fuck him and how he’d looked at it. Maybe she should shave it all off.

She gets dressed in her own sweats and a woman’s team Canada t-shirt and goes back downstairs. Nate has, indeed, gotten out ice cream and has Netflix open.

Tyson throws herself down onto the couch next to him. He’s watching her all big-eyed and clearly afraid to say anything.

“I’m not going to fucking break,” she snaps.

Nate pushes a bowl of ice cream towards her. “Are you sure?” he asks, and it’s only because he’s Nate that she doesn’t hit him for that. “You really don’t look great, Brutes.”

“Yes I’m sure,” Tyson retorts. She stabs the spoon into the chocolate. “I slept with a teammate and then he told me he’d been into me for ages but hadn’t done anything because he’d decided he knew my emotions better than me, but I am not going to break.”

“You—what? He is? He what?”

“I—” Tyson throws up her hands. “We fucked, and it was great and I thought—but then he told me I was in love with Landy, so.”

“Oh. But you said you weren’t, right?”

“No fucking duh!”

“So what—”

“He was supposed to get it,” Tyson mutters. Fuck. “You get it.”

“Yeah, but—”

“No, he was supposed to, and he didn’t. He was supposed to…” There’s a knock on the door. Tyosn swings to Nate.

“If you fucking called Colin—”

“Of course not.” Nate looks actually offended. “Come on, Tys. But I did, um. I wasn’t sure what to do, and it seemed like you needed someone so, I did call reinforcements.”

The door opens, which immediately narrows it down, but Tyson definitely doesn’t expect to see Mel coming in. She’s washed off the makeup of the gala and is in what looks like Gabe’s sweats and an oversized sweatshirt that makes her look charmingly disheveled and Tyson can only think of what her and Gabe looked like dancing together and how for a second Tyson had thought that she’d had someone who looked at her like that and a tear’s on her cheek.

“Fuck,” Tyson mutters, and brushes it away. Nate looks really terrified now. Mel takes in the room, then she’s on the couch next to Tyson, pulling her into a hug.

“Hey, it’s okay, babe,” she murmurs. She smells clean and fresh and a world away from Colin and Tyson buries her face in her shoulder. “It’s okay.” She rubs a circle at the back of Tyson’s neck, and Tyson sniffles despite herself. “You want to say what happened? Nate wasn’t very specific when he called in a panic.”

“I wasn’t panicking,” Nate mutters. “I just thought you needed a girl.”

Tyson ignores him. “I made a stupid choice. Of course. Because what else do I do? I don’t know how to make good non-hockey choices. Good girl choices.”

“Hey, no. That’s not true. You make good life choices,” Mel chides. “Like, your dress tonight? Good choice. Good girl choice, if that’s a thing.”

“It wasn’t, though, because it made me think—he was just, his hand, you know how like, when it’s on your spine? And the butterflies? And how a guy can call you beautiful, the right way, and then apparently my mind just—” she waves a hand.

“Colin?” Mel asks. Tyson nods. “I thought you guys were good,” Mel says, gentle. “What happened?”

“We fucked.”

“And?”

“And it was really good,” Tyson fills in, despite herself. Nate makes a choked sort of sound, but he’s heard plenty about her sex life over the years, he can deal. “Like, his mouth, Mel, and—”

“Yeah, we’ll circle back to that,” Mel cuts Tyson off, smiling like she means it. “So what went wrong?”

“He said—he wanted to talk after, right? Because of course he did, he’s Colin.” Tyson rolls her eyes. “Then, I don’t know, maybe it’s stupid.”

“I doubt that.”  

“He—fuck, apparently he hasn’t said anything before about how he’d like to get all up in this is because he, like the rest of the fucking world, didn’t believe me when I said I wasn’t in love with your fiancée.” Tyson drops her head again. She doesn’t want to see someone tell her she’s being stupid and emotional and blowing things out of proportion.

“Ugh, really?” Mel sounds irritated, and when Tyson looks up again, she’s wrinkling her nose. “Isn’t he your best friend?”

“No,” Nate inserts, sounding defensive.

“One of your best friends?” Mel amends, halfway between irritated and amused.

“I thought so.” Tyson tips herself back on the couch. “I thought—but he clearly just, didn’t believe me. Like, even now. He was supposed to—” Tyson swallows. “He was supposed to be better than that.”

“Oh, honey.” Mel’s fingers are on Tyson’s shoulders. “I know.”

“I thought I—that it was—it felt right, before. Like he really saw me, you know? Then he ruined it, and I shouldn’t have done any of that, and maybe I should shave my head.”

“Let’s not do that,” Mel says, firm. Tyson shakes her head.

“No, it’s, like—it’s just a mess and it never looks like yours and it gets in the way and—”

“Your hair’s great, we’re not shaving it,” Mel says. “Let’s eat some junk food and not talk about boys instead.”

“That sounds good,” Tyson mumbles, and lets Nate and Mel feed her ice cream until they put her to bed.

“Hey,” she says, when they’re leaving. “Thanks.” She means it. To Nate, for getting what she needed. For Mel, for being there.

“Any time,” Mel says, and sounds like she means it.

///

Tyson spends the off day sulking around her apartment—she cleans up everything at least twice, then makes a mess again baking a chocolate torte she’ll give to Mel as thanks, then works out to burn off the chocolate she ate making it. She keeps an eye on her phone, but there’s nothing. Well, Nate checks in incessantly, and Mel a few times, and Tyson’s in the middle of a long debate with Erin about Wonder Woman and is busy trash-talking Jamie in preparation for when they play each other later this week, but there’s nothing from Colin. No apology. No explanation. No—maybe he decided she wasn’t worth it. He did for years, apparently. Maybe he’s fucking meditating it away, or whatever the fuck he does.

She decides to call home that afternoon, which is yet another bad decision—her dad has some things to say about the last game and the one bad turnover she’d had, and her mom saw pictures of the gala and wants to gush about her dress and how pretty she’d looked, which normally Tyson would like but now just feels like nails on the chalkboard of her mind a little.

She sleeps badly, all things told, and shows up to practice the next morning still tired despite the coffee Nate had poured into her before they left. The noise of the locker room doesn’t help—normally she’s good with it, she loves it and all her boys, but today she just…

Well, mainly, it’s because she comes in and sees Colin, getting dressed across the room from them; he looks up and meets her eyes and Tyson doesn’t know what she sees in the look but she knows she can’t handle it. Fuck him. Fuck him for making her feel like this, for disappointing her, for not calling, for not believing her, for making her think he wanted all of her.

“Hey, Landesnerd,” She says, and throws herself into the stall near Gabe’s. Gabe raises his eyebrows at her. “Have a good off day?”

“Sure,” Gabe agrees, a little wary. “What are you up to, Four?”

“When am I ever up to anything?” she asks. She’s definitely—she’s pouring it on, the waggling eyebrows, the way she’s leaning closer, and she doesn’t fucking care. Whatever, she likes to flirt. Apparently she’s in love with Gabe and nothing she does will convince even fucking Colin that she’s not, so she might as well lean in.

“All the time,” Gabe tells her, smiling. “I know your tricks.”

“You don’t know all my tricks,” Tyson retorts. “I’m very tricky.”

“Sure you are.”

“You don’t even know how tricky I am, because you’re busy being a nerd,” Tyson throws at him. It’s easy, the banter, even if she’s throwing it on thick. “I could show you.”

Gabe’s eyebrows go up even more. Tyson can feel people looking at them, but, whatever.

“That sounds dangerous.”

“Could be,” Tyson agrees. “Never thought you’d be scared of a little danger.”

“Brutes, let’s get changed before you’re late again,” Nate says, suddenly appearing with a hand on her shoulder. He tugs, and she lets him pull her away. She can feel Colin looking at her again, which, good. This is what he wanted, right?

“Now you’re being weird again,” Josty complains, changing nearby.

“I’m always weird,” Tyson retorts. “You always say I am, anyway.”

“Yeah, but. Are you okay?”

Tyson snorts. “What, is flirting with Gabe being weird now? I didn’t think you’d think so.”

“Tyson!” Josty yelps, glancing over at Gabe, who is pointedly ignoring everything. Tyson can still feel someone watching from Colin’s general direction.

“What? Gabe’s a very attractive, very flirtable sort of man. Who could resist all that?” She laughs. It comes out a little off, but whatever. “Isn’t that the idea? Gabe the babe, who can’t be into that?”

“Okay, yeah, you’re definitely being weird,” Josty says, and takes a step back. “Is it—”

“If you ask about my period I’ll bleed on all your jocks,” Tyson snaps, and Josty makes a face.

“Tys! Gross.”

“Deal with it,” Tyson tells him. She tugs on the last of her pads, and then heads out to the ice.

It’s relaxing out there—she takes long, slow laps around the rink. This she knows, this she can do. She doesn’t make stupid decisions here; here it doesn’t matter what she has between her legs. She can score goals on anyone.

She gets through practice riding that and ignoring the looks she’s getting from—well, from everyone; Colin’s not being subtle about staring and Nate’s hovering and Gabe’s got his captain thing going. But no one says anything, which she’ll take, even if it’s just because men don’t know how to deal with a woman having emotions.

After practice she heads to the workout room, to cool down and maybe keep going in her not thinking about thing. It’s mainly empty, so she can relax, until the bench next to her is filled.

She glances over, and decides not to be disappointed when it’s Gabe, and not anyone else.

“Hey.” She nods.

“Hey.” Gabe sits on the bike but doesn’t start pedaling. He’s got his captain face on. “We going to talk about what was happening before practice?”

“If it’s not on the ice—”

“Tys,” Gabe interrupts. He’s looking all earnest and serious. “Are you okay?”

“People need to stop asking me that.”

“Does it have something to do with where Mel went the night of the gala?”

Tyson slows down her pedaling to look at him. “She didn’t tell you?”

“She said it was none of my business.” Gabe looks a little put out about that, which Tyson thinks is probably good for him. “But I know she went to yours, and Nate was there.” He pauses, then adds, “And I saw that you and Colin left together.”

Tyson lets out a long breath. “Yeah.”

“And?”

She gives him a look. “And what do you think? Do you want a play by play?”

“Not particularly.” Gabe kicks at her thigh. “But I don’t like how it ended with you like this. Especially when it seems like it had something to do with me, given all that up there.”

“Wow, way to be a narcissist, Landy,” Tyson shoots at him. Gabe snorts.

“I wasn’t the one throwing themselves at me,” he retorts, and Tyson makes face.

“There was no throwing involved. Maybe some light tossing. Nothing more.”

“Yeah. So?” Gabe doesn’t move, just looks, all captainly earnest. Tyson looks back at him. He really is so handsome, and so earnest and great and she loves him, she does, but—there’s nothing. He’s one of her best friends. It’s like thinking about Nate.

“You know that it’s not actually about you, right?” she mutters. They don’t talk about it, really—that their dynamic is mainly made up of bantering that runs the line between mean and flirting. What everyone says about her.

“Yeah, I caught on to that when you’ve always taken my exes’ side over me,” Gabe replies, still sounding pouty.

“There are no sides,” Tyson says, like she has for years. “I like both of you.”

“But you like me more, right?” Gabe demands.

“Sure, we’ll go with that.” Gabe wrinkles his nose. Tyson snorts. “Fine, you big baby. You’re my favorite—well, you’re one of my favorite blondes. Like, maybe third.”

“Who knocked me out of second!” Gabe kicks her again. “Five years, Barrie, and I’m in third?”

“It’s not my fault you have so much competition,” She retorts. “And you know Nate’s always my favorite.”

“Yeah, sure. But—” Gabe pauses. “Really?”

“I don’t know.” Tyson lets out her breath. She’d thought—they’d been such good friends. She thought he got her. Gabe’s still watching her, her stalwart captain. It’s his job to listen to her shit, she guesses. “I thought that it was the right decision. I thought it couldn’t not be. Not with Colin.” She shakes her head. “I guess it’s just…what it is. This is what it means to be me.”

“That’s bullshit.” Gabe’s glaring, the look he gets when he’s ready to fight someone. “You shouldn’t—look, I’m not asking what happened between you and Willy, I have a feeling I don’t want to know, unless I have to know?” he pauses, but Tyson’s definitely not telling him. “Okay then. Well, communication is key.”

“Wow, brilliant insight Landy, I never would have guessed that.”

“I’m just saying. You’ve seen all my relationships since I was eighteen. Only reason this one worked is because Mel makes me talk.”

“No one’s ever needed to make me talk—”

“Tyson,” Gabe interrupts. He gets up, pats Tyson on the shoulder. “You know, if you need anything—I mean, as captain, I can’t take sides. But if someone needs to be punched—”

“Then I’ll punch them myself,” Tyson tells him, but she smiles. She appreciates the thought. “Thanks, Landy. I’ll figure it out. And not overwhelm you with the flirting anymore.”

“I never said I was overwhelmed,” Gabe retorts, then shakes his head and leaves.

Tyson finishes up on the bike, then pulls out her phone. She’s not ready to go home yet.

///

Conveniently, Erin’s free for coffee. She listens to the whole saga, everything that pours out of Tyson, because she needs someone who doesn’t know anything, and then gets the satisfaction of Erin half rising from her seat.

“Fuck him!” she snaps, maybe too loud. Tyson doesn’t care. “Fuck that, no.”

“It’s not—I mean, a lot of people think that,” Tyson feels compelled to say.  

“Yeah, but you put up with so much shit, about the men and women can’t be friends shit, and—”

“Did you feel threatened?”

“What?”

“By me. When you and Gabe were dating.” Tyson drags a finger around the rim of her mug.

“I mean, honestly?” Erin hums, sits back down. “A little.”

“What?” Tyson has to look at her for that. “Why?”

“Because you’re hot and funny and clearly a good friend of his and you get the whole hockey thing?” Erin shrugs. She doesn’t look like this is weird. “I mean, I knew it was bullshit so it didn’t matter, and it’s not like you guys were actually into each other, but—you were kind of a model of what he could be with, you know? Someone who got him.”

Tyson blinks again. “But you’re—” she gestures, up and down all of Erin, from her long legs to her delicate fingers to the perfect, sleek knot of her hair.

Erin rolls her eyes. “Yeah, and you’re,” she drawls, gesturing back at Tyson. “You pull off the t-shirts and sweats.”

“No one other than Landy pulls those off,” Tyson retorts, on instinct, even though—some of the other guys do too. Colin—but Tyson cuts that off. Instead, she thumps her head down onto the table.

“Am I being an idiot?” she asks, hopefully loud enough for Erin to hear. “He’s into me—like, I don’t think I’m seeing things there, he clearly wanted to fuck and we’re good friends and he’s—like, there’s no one better than Colin. I’m definitely not going to find anyone better than him. I shouldn’t…”

“No, fuck that.” Erin’s hand’s gentle, scratching over Tyson’s hair above her ponytail, but her voice is fierce. “You shouldn’t settle. If he’s into you but he doesn’t respect you, that’s not going to last.”

“I know.” Tyson does. She does. It’s probably why, deep down, she doesn’t date teammates—she loves them but they’re dicks and she doesn’t want to shift into girl box with them, doesn’t think they could handle that shift and then it would be shitty. She’d thought Colin could handle it. “Dammit.”

“I can be your date next time,” Erin suggests. “We can flirt a lot and make all of them jealous and confused.”

Tyson looks up. “You aren’t into women.”

Erin sighs. “I know,” she agrees mournfully. “I could still be a great date.”

“Next time,” Tyson agrees. Then, “But also keep doing that with my hair.” Erin laughs, and does. It makes Tyson feel a little better.

///

It’s only when she gets home that, finally, there’s a text from Colin.

Can I come over? It asks, and Tyson makes a face at it.

Yeah, she replies. It’ll take him fifteen minutes or so to get here, so she goes upstairs, and she finds herself starting to think about putting on makeup before she stops. It’s not like he doesn’t know what she looks like. And it’s not like he gets—they need to talk because they’re teammates and Tyson does get that they need to be, like, professional or whatever, but she doesn’t dress up for teammates. So she doesn’t put makeup on, and she doesn’t change out of the jeans and t-shirt that she’d worn for lunch, and she keeps her hair tied back.

There’s a knock on her door sooner than she expected, and when she opens it Colin’s there. He looks—he always looks good, Tyson didn’t magically stop noticing that, but he looks tired.

“Hi,” he says. “Can I come in?”

Tyson pauses. Colin doesn’t move, doesn’t push past her—he waits until she steps aside.

She doesn’t go towards the kitchen, though; she goes toward the living room. She doesn’t want Colin in the kitchen when she’s still mad at him. The kitchen is supposed to be their space.

“Took you long enough,” Tyson tells him, as she leads the way towards the living room.

“I wanted to give you space,” he replies. She gets to the living room, then turns around and crosses her arms over her chest. Somehow she still feels ripped open, here, under the way Colin’s looking at her. “And I needed to get my thoughts in order.”

“So texting Nate to check on me was giving me space?” she demands. Colin shrugs. He doesn’t look repentant.

“You were upset. I wanted to make sure you’d actually gotten Nate to pick you up and hadn’t decided to try walking home.”

“Because I’m an emotional, irrational woman?”

“Because you were upset,” Colin replies. “It sounded like something you might do.”

Tyson huffs, but he’s not wrong, per se. She’s not that much of an idiot, but she’d lie if she hadn’t been tempted. “Okay. Fine. You had something else to say?”

“We should discuss what happened,” Colin says. He sounds calm, but it’s the sort of calm Tyson’s seen him get after a bad game where he’s decided to keep it together. The sort of calm that’s more aspirational than real.

“Last time talking didn’t work so well.”

“We didn’t finish that talk,” Colin retorts. He takes a breath. “I think we need to finish it.”

“Why?” Tyson glances away.

“Because—I don’t want to leave it like that,” Colin replies. He’s just looking at Tyson again, and it’s that—it almost feels how he looked at her at the gala, in his kitchen. In his bedroom. “I don’t want to leave us like that. Friends shouldn’t.”

“We are friends? I wasn’t sure.”

Colin winces. Tyson tells herself she doesn’t feel bad. “Can you explain why you were so angry? I’ve been thinking about it, but I don’t want to put words in your mouth.” His lips twist. “Again. And I want to make sure I’m addressing what you’re mad about.”

Tyson huffs out a breath. Dammit. That’s the right thing to say, again.

“Fine.” She drops into an armchair. “It just sucked, okay? I get that shit a lot.”

Colin doesn’t sit down. It makes Tyson feel a little like she should have stayed standing, and then maybe stood on a stool. “I’ve seen that. I’ve seen you laugh it off, too. But this time you didn’t.”

“Yeah, because it’s usually not you,” Tyson snaps. Fuck, she doesn’t want to be saying this. Doesn’t want to be talking about this. She glares at the floor instead. “It just—it sucked. It’s all the time, I’m weird because I’m a woman who plays hockey and I’m weird because I’m a hockey player who wants to be friends with women and I’m weird because I can’t not say what I think and I’m weird because I’m not pretty enough to be on TV and I’m too small to be a defender and I don’t know—” She shakes her head, as the words get caught in her throat. They’ve been living there for so long. “You weren’t supposed to think that.”

“And what I said made you think I did?” Colin asks. He doesn’t sound judgmental. He never does.

She looks up again. He’s just looked at her again, those even, kind eyes. “You were supposed to see me,” she says. She needs to stop fucking almost crying. “All of me. You looked at me like—But if you don’t believe me then you don’t respect me and then you definitely don’t see me.”

“I—” Colin cuts himself off, takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry for making you feel that way.”

“Congratu-fucking-lations.” Tyson stares down at her hands until her eyes are dry again. “You still did. And normally I can deal, but—not with you. Not after that night.”

“Tys…” She can hear Colin’s breath, a rough sound. “Okay, that all makes sense. Can I explain now?”

“I don’t know, are you not going to think you know better than me again?”

“I don’t—Tyson, please?” Colin sighs, and he sounds tired, and Tyson—she doesn’t actually want to hurt Colin. Not really.

So, “Yeah, fine.”  She gestures grandly, if blindly, across from her.  

Colin sits down too, on the couch across from the chair. He rests his elbows on his knees, and it’s enough in Tyson’s eyeline that her gaze catches on the corded muscles of his forearms. “I thought that I believed you were in love with Gabe because when I got here, everyone already took it for granted. Everyone joked about it, and you know how you talk about him. I saw that Valentine’s day video, way before I met you.”

“Oh, god.” Tyson’s cheeks are red. That one had gone a little overboard. “So I like to flirt. Whatever. I talk about all the other guys like that too.”

“Not really,” Colin says, but then he shakes his head. “But that’s not the point. I spent some time over the past day thinking it out, doing an emotional scan—” God, he’s such a nerd, Tyson thinks, fondly despite herself—“And if it was only that, then you would have convinced me otherwise.”

“So?” Tyson gestures at him to hurry up. “What is it, then? What did your meditating come to?”

“You don’t think when you meditate, it’s—”

“Yes, you’ve explained it, that is very much not the point!” Tyson’s voice is maybe getting higher. “What did you figure out when you were thinking very deeply about it? Nerd.”

Colin’s lips twitch, but then he gets serious again. “I think that I was scared.”

“Scared? You don’t get scared.”

Colin smiles, rueful. “That if I let myself believe that you really weren’t in love with Gabe, I’d have to deal with how I felt.”

“You definitely don’t get scared about emotions, come on.” Colin’s, like. The most emotionally intelligent person Tyson knows.

Except he’s not saying that. He’s just shaking his head again, though he’s still making responsible eye contact with her. “Of course I do. And if I believed you weren’t in love with Gabe, then—I’d have to work through what it meant. How I felt about you.”

Tyson’s heart definitely doesn’t do anything when he says that. When he’s just—looking at her. “What do you mean, work through? So you were into me, you work that through by saying hey, Tyson, let’s bone. Historically, foolproof.”  

“I didn’t know.”

“What?”

“I didn’t—” he looks ashamed, now. Annoyed at himself, like when he misses a goal he thinks he should have gotten. “Until you said it. I knew I was attracted to you, and I liked you, but I didn’t—I clearly hadn’t done the work of interrogating that feeling, because you said I was in love with you and I was surprised.”

“What?” Tyson jerks. She barely remembers saying that—it had been something else to throw at Colin, something she’d seen and wanted to hurt him with. “Did I know something more about emotions than you?”

“I guess.” Colin gives her a little, wry smile. “But when you said that, I realized it was true. And believing you were in love with Landy and so there was no point in thinking about you in any romantic way—that let me avoid that realization.”

Tyson looks away again, down at her hands. “Because being in love with me is that bad? I mean I get it, I’m a lot and I won’t ever be a WAG and—”

“Because being in love is scary,” Colin interrupts. “And yes, being in love with you is more complicated. We’re teammates, Tys. And honestly, if something went wrong in the room, I’m the one who would end up being moved.”

It’s Tyson’s turn to look up at him for that because she is very not sure that’s true, to bite out a “Colin—”

Colin shrugs, doesn’t quite meet her eyes. “We both know that’s true. And I like it here. So maybe that was what I was scared of. Or maybe it was just that you’re—that you really never did seem interested, and being in unrequited love really sucks. Or maybe it was that I like our friendship, and being in love would complicate it.” Colin bites at his lip, and he looks unsettled. Tyson’s not she’s ever seen him unsettled before, not her solid Colin. “I don’t know. But I do now, and I’m sorry that it took me to a place that upset you.” He takes a breath. “I do believe you, about Gabe. And I’ll do better, now I know what I’m dealing with.”

Tyson looks at him—she jokes about how earnest Gabe is, but she’s not sure he’s got anything on Colin, that steady determination, the way he’s always been there for her, the way he commits to being better. The way he’s looking at her like he means it, like he’s committing to that.

He’s so good at that, that she forgets, sometimes—a lot—that he’s got his own shit going on. That trades suck and that Colin’s got his own interiority or whatever about his role on the team and like, her apparently, and all this other shit. She’s so used to him being better, the best, but maybe—maybe it’s not settling to say that he can be human, too.

“What does doing better mean?” she asks. Colin looks up, and—god, that look. It’s still the same one. The one she thought meant…

“What do you want it to mean?” he replies. He looks—cautious. Hopeful.

She can’t look at him as she says it. “I mean. I don’t know. I just—you know I’m not, like, at the gala all the time, right? You see me most of the day, I’m in shitty sweats and I’m a mess and I’m not ever going to be a WAG and I’m probably gonna be bruised all the time and I don’t know how to be, like, feminine or—”

“Tyson.” She looks up. He’s not looking at her any differently. “You’re not telling me anything I don’t already know.”

Fuck it, that’s—he does know that, and he fell in love with her anyway, and he’s going to try to be better. If he’d said she was wrong she’d know he was bullshitting, but of course. Of course he didn’t.

“How the fuck do you always know what to say?” she demands, then she gives up on this whole thing and shoves her way into his lap, straddling his hips. Colin rocks back, his eyes wide open as he hands land on her waist, steadying her. 

“We should talk about this,” Colin tells her. His hands are warm through her t-shirt. “We’re teammates, and we should set expectations and—”

“You think too much,” Tyson informs him, and kisses away his laughing protest. She trusts him. She’s pretty sure that’s what matters.

///

“So, Kerf.” Tyson grins at him from across the booth. He looks a little scared, which means Tyson’s doing her job right. “I hear you’re bringing a guest tonight.”

“No. No, no one’s coming.”

“That’s what she said,” Tyson says, and gets a laugh from Josty, who’s sitting next to Kerf, and a snort from Colin, who’s sitting next to her with his arm loose around her waist. “Or, fuck, I hope not. Do I have to give you a birds and the bees talk, Kerf? So with women, it’s about—”

“I know what it’s about!” Kerf cuts her off, blushing a little. “That’s not what I meant. Kelly’s coming here, it’s no big deal, we’re all going to be normal.”

“Yeah, good luck with that,” Colin points out.

“I’m very normal,” Tyson protests. “So normal. I just want to meet her! I want to see who’s smart enough for our Harvard boy.” She reaches out to ruffle Kerf’s hair, but he dodges her.

“Colin, your girlfriend’s being weird,” Kerf complains, as she tries again.

“Yep,” Colin agrees, and doesn’t move except for how his fingers are toying with the ends of her loose hair down her back. It’s a little distracting, but not like he’s trying to distract her, just like he’s got a thing for her hair and she’s got a thing for him having a thing for her hair.

“Fuck you, I’m not being weird. I’m making sure you look good.”

“You’re going to scare her away.”

“Excuse you, I’m the only reason any of you guys have girlfriends.”

“She’s right,” Mel says, slipping into the seat next to Tyson. Gabe takes the chair at the end of the booth. “I’d have gotten bored if not for her.”

“See?” Tyson grins at Mel, who grins back.

“So you’ve moved on from stealing my girlfriends to stealing Kerf’s?” Gabe asks.

“You’re done. I’ve got to move on,” Tyson tells him, and ignores Gabe’s offended huff. “So, Kerf—”

“If you start talking about Kerf like you talk about Gabe, I—” Josty cuts himself off, glances at Colin. “Sorry Willy.”

Colin shrugs. “I’d be interested to hear what adjectives she comes up with,” he says, and Tyson can feel that he’s a little tenser than before but then she rolls her eyes and laughs and elbows him and he relaxes.

“I mean, after that last fight, maybe I will,” she says, fluttering her eyelashes at Kerf. Kerf shudders.

“Stop it,” he orders. “You’re freaking me out. I can’t be freaked out, not today. You’re already wearing your hair down and that’s as much as I can handle.”

Colin’s hand is warm on her side, and Tyson takes a breath. “Well—”

“Why shouldn’t Tyson wear her hair down?” Mel asks. It sounds like an innocent question, but there’s a hint of steel there.

Gabe jumps, like he’s just been punched. “Yeah,” he adds, glancing at Mel, then Tyson. But he’s smiling his captain’s smile. “Tyson can wear her hair down if she wants.”

“Gee, thanks,” Tyson tells him. Mel shrugs at her. Tyson shrugs back. He tried. It does matter, that he tried.

“It looks like you have plenty of gel in there too,” Colin puts in. “Worried about wearing your hair down?”

Tyson snorts, and leans over, resting her head on Colin’s shoulder as Kerf instinctively puts a hand up to his own hair. Colin’s hand’s on her thigh now, big and comforting and grounding.

“Hey,” Kerf mutters, as the conversation turns. “Is my hair really okay?”

Tyson resists the urge to ruffle his hair, which should probably win her medals. “It looks great,” she tells him, because the poor boy looks nervous. “Don’t worry. I won’t let them scare her away. Or you.”

“I’m not—” he cuts himself off, and Tyson sees her, a pretty blonde girl—of course—who’s looking around the bar. Kerf lifts a hand, waves her down; she comes over to slide in next to him.

“Hi babe,” she says, and kisses him on the cheek. His face goes red. It’s very sweet.

“Hi, Kelly.” He smiles back at her, then, “Um, this is everyone. Guys, this is Kelly, Kelly, this is the team.”

“Hi,” Tyson jumps in, before anyone else can start. Kelly smiles at her, clearly nervous too. Well, fuck that. “I’m Tyson. We’re going to be great friends.”