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You don’t get used to playoffs, Georgie’s learning. Or, hell, maybe you do, maybe the Penguins are all yawning after getting there the billionth time, but he really doubts it. He’s got the same mix of excitement and nerves as the other times, the burgeoning hope. They’ve got a good team. That’s an understatement. They’ve got a team that can take it. He thinks they can take it.

Melissa’s pretty understanding about the fact that he’s a distracted mess the second the regular season ends, which is good, because it’s not exactly something he can turn off. He knows the nerves well settle a little once they’re actually playing it; he’ll still be a distracted mess, but it won’t be all hypotheticals, possibility. There is no stretch of time more nerve-wracking than the time before the puck drops in the first round. Even on the ropes, facing elimination, the stress isn’t quite the same.

They take the first one at home. Melissa sits with the other WAGs, the ticket he was given, gave in turn, but asks if he can get her tickets somewhere else for game two, says it kind of sucked making small talk with a bunch of people she didn’t know while she was trying to watch the game. He definitely can’t blame her, remembering the deep unsettling feeling walking into the Caps locker room for the first time, even before he know how hostile the territory would be. Ted isn’t up there with the others, as far as Georgie knows — and he can’t see Robbie being cool about that, considering it’s a spot the cameras will find at least once a game — but still.

He gets two tickets from front office, worse but better, and her younger sister comes into town to go with her. She looks a lot like Melissa, if Melissa had decided to go the art school route. Not that Kelsey’s actually in art school, but she’s very…art-y. There’s probably a better word for it, but Georgie doesn’t know it. Alternative, maybe? Like, he asks Melissa if Kelsey owns a beret, and instead of saying ‘why would you ask that?’ she says ‘yes’ immediately.

“When she was thirteen she bought a cigarette holder thing even though she didn’t smoke,” Melissa says. Her tone’s halfway between chirp and affection, the same way Georgie’ll talk about the embarrassing shit Dicky or William did as kids. “She put straws in it and pretended she was French.”

“I was eleven!” Kelsey calls from the hall as she returns from Melissa’s room. She’s got the run of Mel’s place while she’s here, Melissa staying with him. It’s a weird time to try out the whole living together thing — not that they’re living together, they’re obviously not living together, but the staying over for days straight bit — anyway, it’s working fine. Georgie’s too stressed about playoffs to be stressed about that too. Compartmentalization.

“Not even those Popeye candy cigarettes?” Georgie asks. “At least you could have eaten those.”

“They didn’t fit,” Kelsey says. “I tried. I think the holder was for those skinny cigarettes.”

“Bitch sticks,” Melissa says.

“You’d know,” Kelsey says.

Melissa gives her the finger, and Kelsey gives her one right back, and Georgie honestly can’t wait until his brothers come to town. He misses them.

“You should take it as a sign of my affection that I’m missing the Wizards game tonight,” Melissa says before he has to head out for the pregame. She’s already got his jersey on, and it looks particularly good on her. Maybe he’s biased, either towards her or to the Dineen on her back. Maybe both. “Also quit stealing their arena.”

Georgie very clearly remembered Melissa saying she was Nats or nothing, but she’ll take any chance to stick up for the Wizards now, chirpy as anything. He finds it kind of endearing.

“Tell them to quit stealing our arena,” Georgie counters. It works out that the Caps have home-ice and the Wizards don’t have home court to start their series, but that scheduling’s going to get messy if they both go far into the postseason. “Don’t spend the whole game checking the Wizards score.”

“That’s what I brought Kelsey to do,” Melissa says. “Can keep my eyes on the play and she’ll keep me updated about the more important things.”

“Nice,” Georgie says. “Great ingenuity.”

“I thought so,” Melissa says. “Is saying good luck tainted like in the theater, or—”

“Please don’t tell me to break a leg,” Georgie says.

“Do not break a leg,” Melissa says.

Georgie’s very careful in the parking lot on his way in. He’s never been superstitious, but something about being told not to break a leg feels like it’s asking for it.

Georgie doesn’t break a leg, thank fuck. They don’t win it, but it’s a tight game, the kind that mobilizes you instead of demoralizing you. Crane’s in the zone, their D is tight, their forwards come in waves, and they lose only because of one lucky shot that squeaks by.

They split their road games too, win big and then lose small, and despite the fact they come back into Washington with the series knotted, it feels like it’s theirs to lose. Feels even more like that when they take the Rangers to task, a decisive 4-0 win, the next round just a single game out of their grasp.

Georgie meets up with Melissa and Kelsey by the dressing room after, gives a thankful nod to the security guard that must have accompanied them, since it’s a bit of a maze if you don’t know where you’re going, and Melissa’s never been back here before. Kelsey’s wearing his jersey, and Georgie thinks she must be wearing the one he got Melissa, because Mel’s got a whole other name on her back.

“Excuse me?” Georgie says, and she doesn’t even pretend not to know what he means.

“He’s a baller,” Melissa says, and Devon is, has been standing on his damn head all series, so he can’t even be upset about it.

Well, a little.

“Don’t be wearing that when you meet my family,” Georgie says.

Melissa’s face is very expressive, and what it is expressing right now is panic. Kelsey’s is pure amusement. Apparently it’s not just little brothers who find it hilarious when you’re panicking. “When’s this?” she asks.

“They’ll come to town if we make the second round,” Georgie says.

“You need to lose…two straight for that not to happen?” Melissa says, and laughs when he elbows her gently in the side. “Wanna stretch the series to seven, give me a chance to prepare?”

“It would mean we win at home,” Georgie says agreeably.

They don’t win at home, but Georgie can’t exactly complain seeing as they win it. There’s no big celebration this time, everyone piling on the plane right after. No one’s sleeping or anything, or even attempting to since occasionally the plane breaks out with intermittent cheers, and there’s a fair amount of beers cracked on the way, but Georgie doubts anyone but some of the younger guys are planning on heading anywhere but home once they land, the ones who just won their first ever playoff series. For the rest of them, it’s a breath of relief, sure, but it’s also just the first step of four. Winning a series is the absolute minimum expected of them from their fans by now. That’s the problem with being a contender.

Not that Georgie’s complaining. Years without playoff berth in Cleveland, years of washing out, he’s never going to complain about high expectations anymore. It’s better to try to match them than play for a team whose fans are resigned to your mediocrity.

He doesn’t drink — his car’s parked at the airport, and it’d be a pain in the ass to Uber home, Uber back the next day. Besides, Melissa says she’s got champagne waiting when he gets home. He can wait. It itches, but only a little.

As Georgie suspected, some of the younger guys stay huddled together after they land, probably making plans. It isn’t Georgie’s job to interfere with that — and Cap Q, whose job it might be, clearly has an eye on them too — and none of them have to be at practice tomorrow anyway. Everyone else starts breaking off in ones and twos to head home, and Georgie texts Melissa with an ETA, responds to a few congrats from the family one handed while he tries to find his charger in his overstuffed bag, because at the rate it’s blowing up, the battery sinking below ten percent, it’s not going to last even the short drive home.

“You want to ride with us, Bardi?” Dougie says.

“Ted’s picking me up,” Robbie says, then, “Oh, Georgie, hold up, before I forget.”

Georgie stalls in his search, feeling a little wary. He isn’t sure why. Maybe the way Robbie’d flipped between Ted and him in a single breath, like it was easy. Maybe it is.

“What’s up?” he asks.

“Okay, so like, this makes me sound like a psycho,” Robbie says, which, as starters goes, would be something that would generally make Georgie warier, but with Robbie it does the opposite.

“Game tape?” Georgie asks.

“Fuck yeah,” Robbie says. “I mainlined basically the entire Bolts series once it became pretty fucking clear they were going to take that shit, and there’s like — obviously coach is going to give us all the rundown, but I noticed some things.”

“How do we kill ‘em?” Georgie asks.

“So first off,” Robbie says. “I’m at least 80% Lauer is already playing injured. He’s pulling checks, and flinching before he takes one, and it’s going to be easy as hell to take the puck from him if they’re stupid enough to keep him in.”

“Who’ve they got to replace him?” Georgie asks.

“That’s the thing,” Robbie says. “They’ve got killer depth on the right side, but left? They’re genuinely fucked. So they play him injured or they call up a career AHL dude. Which is going to fuck their pairings up. Like, if we’re playing first, we’ve got some competition, but even their second’s going to be a goddamn joke right now, and if their third’s stuck against us—”

“I feel like I’m interrupting some very important hockey conversation,” Georgie hears, and, of fucking course, it’s Ted.

“Oh shit,” Robbie says. “Was I keeping you waiting?” He’s grinning, that mega-watt one only select people ever get.

“Nah, Matty and Wheels saw me outside, told me you were sticking around to talk shop,” Ted says.

“Hi Ted,” Georgie says, because it’s polite.

“Hey man,” Ted says neutrally, like he’s just any of Robbie’s teammates, or even like he’s trying to place him, has totally forgotten his name. Georgie wonders, not for the first time, whether Robbie’s told him anything. It wouldn’t be like Robbie not to, but the way Ted acts around him, it’s like he didn’t.

He could just be a good actor. Georgie doesn’t know anything about the guy, really, except that he uses the same nicknames Robbie does for Elliott and Dougie, that of all the nicknames he could have for, what, Edward? Theodore? — he picked Ted, he says the phrase ‘talk shop’ without any irony, and he makes Robbie deliriously happy. Maybe Ted just doesn’t think Georgie’s anything to worry about, what with all that delirious happiness he’s wringing from Robbie.

“Nice goal tonight,” Ted says, so Georgie guesses he does know who he is.

“Thank you,” Georgie says, knee-jerk polite again, though he doubts it’s coming out that way, can tell by the way Robbie’s looking at him, even without looking back. He wonders if Robbie’s enjoying this. It’s hard to know. Sometimes he feels like he’s finally figured out what Robbie’s like, who he is, not the kid in college Georgie was completely obsessed with, but something harder, more brittle, a little cruel. Not that he didn’t have that mean streak in him all along — Georgie used to affectionately call him a little ball of hate for a reason — but it got sharper in the ensuing years. It’s the least Georgie deserved from him, Robbie would say, but then, Georgie’s not the only one he’s seen Robbie aim it at.

“You ready to go, Rob?” Ted asks, like he doesn’t know Robbie hates that almost as much as Roberto. At least it’s not something saccharine like ‘babe’.

“Yeah, sure babe,” Robbie says. “Talk about it next practice, Georgie?”

“Sure,” Georgie says. He guesses it wasn’t so time-sensitive after all.

He finds his charger, plugs it in the jack when he gets to his car, and his phone’s back to a safe level of charge when he gets to Melissa’s. He feels bone-tired, but the win is still simmering in him, if quietly, and he doubts he’s going to sleep, hopes she doesn’t mind. Thankfully Kelsey headed back home after their last home game. Georgie genuinely likes her, but it’d take effort, making conversation with her when he’s feeling like this. Melissa’s easy.

“Champagne?” Melissa greets him. She’s wearing the Crane shirsey again. If the Caps knew they’d chirp him into oblivion. “Well, sparkling wine, you’re the millionaire.”

“Yeah, sure,” Georgie says.

She doesn’t bother with flutes, just pours small measures into juice glasses, returns from the kitchen with a couple beers too, already cracked, his a stout he’d had a few bottles of at his place, one she must have noticed, picked up for him. Georgie likes her so much, might like even more how uncomplicated the feeling is. Simple, but not in a bad way, not even a backhanded one.

“To moving forward,” Melissa says, and Georgie will drink to that.

The wine’s fizzy, sharply dry, and Georgie switches to the beer once he’s finished his measure of it, listens to Melissa’s impressions of the game. She’s picking things up quick, considering she didn’t watch hockey before she met him. Thrown right into the fray, he guesses, and she’s smart, the kind of smart that he’s never been, the kind that can pick things up all over the place, not just the stuff in her own lane.

“You’re leaning,” Melissa says.

“Hm?” Georgie asks.

“Bed,” Melissa decides.

“I’m probably not going to be able to sleep right away,” Georgie admits. He probably was leaning, feels a little like he’s wrapped in cotton right now, distant from his own body, but the restlessness is still there, trapped under that.

“I’d be pissed if you did,” Melissa says.

“I mean after,” Georgie says.

“Don’t worry, if I can’t sleep through your fidgeting, I’ll kick you out,” Melissa says.

“Oh, thanks,” Georgie says. “So much for the big celebration.”

“Some of us still have to work tomorrow,” Melissa says. “And I’ll show you big celebration.”

She’s as true as her word. She has no trouble sleeping after, which makes sense — it’s late. He figures he’ll hold out for a bit, make sure she’s sleeping deeply enough he won’t wake her if he needs to head out, toss and turn in his own bed, endure himself the way she shouldn’t have to. But it’s a moot point in the end. He falls asleep just fine.