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JT's been standing on the porch for what feels like forever. It's probably been at least ten minutes; he's kind of surprised none of the neighbours have called the cops on him yet, honestly, but with his luck, there's a patrol car on the way. He can't make himself knock, is the thing; it's incredibly stupid, because he drove all the way here more or less on a whim, but three days in the car still wasn't enough time to figure out what he was actually going to do once he got here.

He takes a deep breath. He'll count to five in his head, he reasons, and then he'll lift his hand and knock on the door. Before he gets the chance, though, the door opens, and JT blinks as Alexander looks at him. His face doesn't give anything away; he's gotten better at that, some part of JT's mind notes, or maybe it's just that JT's not good at reading him anymore. It hurts, and it's not the old kind of dull thud in his chest that he's had the past few years; it's like seeing Alexander again without the careful screen of a hockey game in between them is dredging up all of the things JT had pushed down over the past twelve years.

Alexander doesn't say anything. He crosses his arms over his chest and leans against the doorjamb, raising both eyebrows at JT, and JT figures it's the very least of what he deserves.

"So I'm sorry I kissed your brother," JT says. It's awkward, unpracticed; it's definitely not where he should have started, but Alexander snorts. He looks surprised by it, and then he shakes his head and steps back.

"Well, come in," he says, turning and disappearing into the cabin.

JT doesn't let himself think about what the hell he's doing as he follows.

-0-

Alexander's cabin is nice. It's a little rustic in a way that's more expensive than authentic, but it's perfectly Alexander, from the simple way it's decorated down to the casual way his things are scattered around. He waves JT into the living room and disappears farther into the cabin, and a few minutes later, he comes back with two mugs of coffee.

"So," Alexander says, handing one to JT before sitting in the recliner that JT hasn't claimed. It's the perfect colour; when JT takes a sip it's slightly sweetened, and he feels his insides twist at the realisation that Alexander remembers how he takes his coffee. It's not like JT has forgotten how Alexander prefers his own, but Alexander's not the one who fucked things up beyond any hope of repair, so JT kind of figured he'd have done his best to forget as much as he could.

"So," JT says, staring down into his coffee, wondering if he's reading too much into the proportions in his mug.

"Who told you where I was?" Alexander asks. "I didn't have this place when we were…"

"Tyson," JT says. He doesn't look up, doesn't try to meet Alexander's eyes.

Alexander snorts again, and this time JT can't help the way his gaze is drawn up. Alexander's holding his mug below his chin, and he's gazing out the window. "Brutes," he says, and he sounds tired but not angry. "Josty knows better than to tell you anything about me."

Alexander's not looking at him and his tone is neutral, but JT flinches anyway. "I told him I wanted to apologise," he says. "He didn't want to tell me, either."

Alexander finally looks back over at him, and JT's struck by how good he looks. It's not like he'd expected otherwise, and it's not like he hasn't seen photos and video of Alexander since they broke up, but he looks so close to the way JT had imagined he'd look when they retired together. It's yet another twist of the imaginary knife in his chest, but he swallows past it.

"Well," Alexander says. "You apologised. What now?"

JT shrugs one shoulder and takes a sip of his coffee, but it only buys him a few seconds. "I mean, I have more apologising to do, I think," he says. "To you, and to Colton, if he's around."

Alexander's mouth quirks into a smile. "He lives in Regina. He's married, has three kids. He didn't follow me to Kelowna."

"Oh," JT says. "I—yeah, that makes sense. I have no idea why I thought he might be here."

Alexander shrugs. "I'm not telling you where he lives," he says. "I don't think he'd take you showing up on his porch as well as I did."

"I kind of figured you'd slam the door in my face," JT says, looking down into his mug again.

"I was curious, can't lie," Alexander says. "I mean, you showing up here after all this time? You had something to say, and I figured it would be worth waiting to make a decision until I figured out what it was."

"So I picked a good enough opening line," JT says, the ghost of a smile crossing his face.

"It got you in the door," Alexander agrees. He doesn't say anything else, and JT again figures that's fair.

"I made, like, a dozen bad decisions after I left your apartment that day," JT says into the quiet between them. "I was… I should have just changed my flight and gone back to Denver right away."

"But you didn't," Alexander says, and his voice is back to the neutral tone from before.

"But I didn't," JT agrees. "I decided drowning my sorrows was a bad idea, but I'd already broken up with you, so why not fuck up my day a little more? And then I was just… there, and it was the same bar Colton ended up in."

 

"He told me he thought it was funny at first," Alexander says. "He—I didn't tell him that we fought. I just went to take my nap after you left, because I had a playoff game to play and I needed to focus on that. He thought that you thought he was me."

"I was drunk," JT says. "I knew it was him, though. I just wanted…"

"To hurt me," Alexander says quietly.

JT swallows hard. "Yeah."

He remembers it so clearly; he'd been drunk, but not drunk enough to forget it afterwards. He'd seen Colton walk into the bar to watch the game and stumbled over, and Colton's surprise that JT hadn't been at the game had given into amusement as JT had started clumsily hitting on him. Wrong Kerfoot, he'd said, but he'd abruptly stopped laughing when JT had said I know who you are, Colton, and leaned in to kiss him.

Regretting it the instant Colton shoved him back, eyes wide and betrayed, hadn't helped JT feel any better in the moment or in the years since.

"I don't think I actually need to confirm that it worked," Alexander adds.

"I figured," JT says. "I'm sorry."

"Yeah, you said that," Alexander replies.

JT nods and takes another sip of his coffee. It's a dark roast of some sort; part of him wants to ask, to see if it's the same kind of coffee they always got back before everything went bad, them and Josty in their house in Boulder living like nothing could ever go wrong. He's aware that he doesn't have the right to ask that, though, and it's not like he wants to know so he can get it for himself. He just wants to know if there are parts of their shared past that Alexander has clung to in the same way JT has, pieces of who they were before Alexander got traded and it all went to hell, things that have only seemed to get more important with time.

It's quiet, though, as JT sips at his coffee and tries to get his thoughts in order. He'd been in the car for three full days, but he'd spent most of that time not letting himself think about all that could go wrong, which mostly meant not really thinking about what he was doing at all. It had gotten him through the drive up here, sure, but it means he doesn't have a clue now, and he's honestly not sure if the tradeoff was worth it.

"So what's your plan here?" Alexander finally asks, breaking the silence.

"I have no idea," JT says. It's probably a little too honest, but JT's trying to be better about lying these days. He's only sometimes successful, but this one is important and he knows it.

Alexander nods slowly. "Are you staying?"

"For a few days, yeah," JT says. "I don't want to get back in the car for longer than it takes to get into town and find a hotel."

"You don't have a reservation?" Alexander asks.

JT shakes his head. "Planning really isn't my… thing."

Alexander snorts. "Neither is researching anything about where you're going," he says. "There's some kind of nature convention in town. There's no way you're getting a hotel room."

"Uh," JT says, blinking. "That's… shit."

"Yeah," Alexander agrees. "You'll probably have to drive halfway back to Grand Forks to find anything."

JT bites at his lip to keep from blurting out but there's nothing I want to see in Grand Forks or something equally mortifying. "Well," he says, glancing out the window. "I guess I should get on the road or something. That's… far."

Alexander sighs, and when JT looks over, he's looking out the window too. "You can stay," he says quietly.

"I," JT says. He's not the most talkative person in the world and he'll be the first to agree if someone points it out, but he's rarely at a total loss for words like he is right now. "What?"

"You can stay," Alexander repeats, standing from his recliner. "I have guest rooms. I'm not going to make you drive two and a half hours to find a hotel just because you can't call ahead."

"You probably should," JT says.

Alexander finally turns to look at him. He's got a crooked smile on his face, and it's small, but it is there. "You made the first step," he says. "I can be not an asshole here."

"You don't owe me anything," JT says. "Honestly, you letting me in the door was more than I expected. You can throw me out and tell me not to come back, and—"

"JT," Alexander says, and the amusement in his voice shuts JT up faster than anything else could in this moment. It's almost visceral, the way it hits him, and JT can only watch as Alexander's smile widens on his face. "Shut up and give me fifteen minutes to make up a spare bed. If I was going to throw you out, I would've done it already."

"Oh," JT says. "I… yeah. I can make a bed up, though. Just point me in the right direction."

Alexander nods and jerks his head down the hallway. "Follow me."

-0-

It might be chickening out to disappear into the bedroom Alexander shows him to, but now that JT's driven all the way here and said what he's pretty sure he came here to say, he doesn't know what else to do. He's at least half sure that Alexander's at just as much of a loss, so it's very possible that staying in the bedroom is the nicest thing he can do in the moment.

It's also entirely possible that he's bullshitting himself, but at least he's aware of that.

He's not sure what to do in the bedroom, either; Tyson had told him that Alexander spent his summers relaxing on the lake and that the place was "kind of in the boonies," but JT hadn't actually expected that to mean that there wouldn't be a television to distract him. He's got 6G and a charging pad for his phone with him, but he has the feeling that screwing around on the internet isn't going to help him with much right now.

His phone buzzes as he's trying to weigh his options, and when he glances over, it's to see a message from Josty on his phone.

Josty: hey what's up? wanna talk to peanut?

JT blinks and smiles. Josty's baby is adorable; Dante's sister and her husband are the official godparents, but Josty keeps saying that JT is her unofficial godfather, too. He loves the shit out of that kid, and he pretty much always wants to see her.

JT: If I can get enough signal, yeah. I've had kind of a weird day.

Josty: signal?

His phone dings before he can say anything else, and JT accepts the FaceTime call. He's already smiling when the screen resolves to show Josty relaxing on the sofa in his living room, Luci conked out and drooling onto his shirt.

"How's my girl?" JT asks, watching as Luci breathes, her tiny back rising and falling.

"We're just chilling," Josty says, hand rubbing gently at Luci's back. "Dante took the boys to the fair today, but we didn't want to worry about the sun with Luci, so I'm in charge of making sure there's food here when he gets back with them."

JT laughs. "Poor Dante."

"He volunteered," Josty says, shrugging. "As long as they don't con him into getting cotton candy, he'll be fine."

"Poor Dante," JT repeats, and Josty laughs. It crinkles up around his eyes like it hadn't the last time JT and Alexander had spoken, and the reminder makes JT's smile slip from his face. "So, uh."

"So," Josty echoes. "I can't help but notice that you are very much not at home right now, unless you moved without telling me."

JT shakes his head and glances around. "I don't think I'd just up and move to Kelowna without telling you, bud."

Jotsy doesn't say anything, and when JT looks back at his phone screen, Josty's staring at him. "Kelowna," he repeats. "JT, you didn't."

JT shrugs. "I might've."

"JT," Josty says, and this is a tone he hadn't had in his voice when everything went wrong. This is the guy who had been JT's alternate captain for a year blended with the dad of three-year-old twin boys, a mix of stern exasperation and a dash of disappointment. "Tell me you're not in Kelowna to see Kerfy."

"I didn't call you so you could talk me out of it," JT begins.

"No, I called you," Josty says. "And you shouldn't do it. You need to let him live his life, JT, after you—"

"I'm in his guest bedroom," JT blurts out, and Josty's mouth snaps shut.

JT looks around again, and this time it's less to take anything in and more to avoid looking at Josty.

"You," Josty says, and when he sighs, Luci makes a tiny noise against his chest. "JT. Bud."

"I wanted to tell him I was sorry," JT says. "And I did, and then I was going to get a hotel room, but he offered to let me stay here."

"Kerf," Josty says, more of a sigh than a word. He's quiet for a moment before sighing again. "Listen. You cannot fuck this up again, okay?"

JT bristles. "I'm not going to—"

"Can it," Josty snaps, and JT is suddenly reminded that Josty hadn't spoken a single non-hockey word to him for six full months after everything had gone down. "I'm dead fucking serious, JT. I don't know why you decided to drive all the way there, and I sure as fuck don't know why he let you in the door, but you cannot fuck this up again."

"I'm really trying not to," JT says quietly.

"What are you trying to do?" Josty asks.

"Apologise," JT says, shrugging one shoulder. "I know how much I fucked up. I guess I wanted to try to make it better."

"Make it better," Josty repeats. "You know it was twelve years ago, right?"

"You know I've had to talk myself out of doing this for the past five summers," JT counters.

Josty shakes his head and sighs deeply enough that Luci stirs, batting at his chest. Josty rubs soothingly at her back, and JT wishes for a split-second that he'd flown to Vancouver instead, where he could cuddle with Luci and listen as Robbie and Josh chattered about the fair. He's here instead, though, and he might end up regretting the trip, but he won't regret that he at least gathered up his courage and tried.

Josty sighs again, and Luci finally wakes, making the little grunting noises that precede her gearing up to cry about how she's not already being fed. "If he calls me drunk and crying again, you and I are having a really, really long talk," he finally says. He stands carefully and gestures once he does, and the camera switches to follow him into the kitchen as he heads for the bottle warmer. "You can't do this to him, JT. You just can't."

"I'm not here to hurt him," JT protests. "I didn't ask to stay. I was going to get a room in town, but there's some sort of festival going on. He told me that I'd have to drive back to Grand Forks, and then he offered me the guest room. I even tried to talk him out of it."

Josty's expression goes a little rueful. "Once he's got an idea in his head…"

JT feels a faint smile cross his own face, remembering Alexander deciding a hundred little things, believing in them wholeheartedly and not stopping once he'd made a decision. "Yeah," he says quietly. "I guess it's nice to know that some things haven't changed."

"It's not the only thing," Josty says, but when JT opens his mouth to ask what he means by that, Josty shakes his head. "So tell me about Jesse's hockey school."

Alexander's like a dog with a bone when he sets his mind to something, yeah, but Josty's even worse; if he doesn't want to explain whatever he just said, then nothing JT says or does will persuade him to. "It's good," he says before launching into a story about her latest group of campers.

-0-

There's a soft knock on the door that jerks JT out of the half doze he'd fallen into, and he rubs at his eyes as he gets out of the bed. Alexander's on the other side of the door, and he looks a little wary when JT opens it. "Dinner," he says. "I was planning to order in tonight. There's a good Thai place in town that doesn't use nuts in their sauces. I think they have soy noodles, so there should be stuff you can eat, too."

"Oh," JT says. "Uh, yeah, Thai sounds good. I guess I'll get—"

"Pad see ew," Alexander says along with JT, and that small crooked smile is back on his face. "I'll order it. It'll probably be about an hour, so if you want to nap until it gets here, go for it."

JT isn't sure what the right answer is here; his gut instinct is to let Alexander have his space, but him following his gut instincts is what made everything go so pear-shaped in the first place. "Could I," he says, clearing his throat slightly. "If you'd rather I hide out in here, I'll do that, but…"

"You don't have to stay in here," Alexander says, taking a step back. "Feel free to sit in the living room or the kitchen or whatever. Just, like, don't go poking around in my bedroom."

"I won't," JT says quickly.

"I figured," Alexander says, glancing down the hallway. "I'm gonna go order. You do… whatever you're gonna do."

"Yeah," JT says as Alexander turns and walks back towards the kitchen. "Sure."

It would be weird to sit in the bedroom after asking if he was allowed to be somewhere else, JT decides, so he grabs his phone from the bedstand and cautiously walks back towards the living room. It's nice, he notes; part of him wonders what of this is actually Alexander's doing and what's from other influences, but he decides that he doesn't really care. It's homey in a way JT wasn't exactly expecting but isn't surprised to find, and he doesn't let himself think about how easy it would be to feel at home in a place like this.

There are a few books on the coffee table; JT bites his lip so he doesn't comment on the fact that Alexander has McDavid's book sitting under Nate's, despite having played out the end of his career in Edmonton and only seeing Nate a handful of non-hockey times after the trade. It could just be that he got it more recently, JT reminds himself. It doesn't have to mean anything, and JT shouldn't be looking for meaning in places he's bound to only find more heartbreak.

"It'll be here in about an hour," Alexander says, startling JT from his thoughts. When he looks up, Alexander has that faint smile on his face again. "How weird is this going to be, do you think?"

"Probably pretty weird," JT admits. "I'm, uh. I wanted to talk more, I guess, but I'm also okay not doing that if you don't want to hear it."

"I'll admit it, I'm curious," Alexander says. He's still standing in the doorway between the living room and the kitchen, and JT can't help but notice how good he looks, arms still toned and strong even though he's closer to forty than the fresh-faced college graduate JT had met half a lifetime ago. "Did you seriously drive all the way here from Chicago?"

"Yeah," JT says. "I didn't want to deal with trying to find a flight."

"It would have given you the chance to change your mind," Alexander says, nodding slightly.

JT shakes his head, though. "I've been changing my mind about coming up here for a while now," he says, glancing away. "There was always something else that I could use to distract myself with, though. Training. Family. My Cup day. Your Cup day. But now…"

"But now we're both out of the game," Alexander says. "And family will only distract you for so long."

JT huffs out a laugh. "Jesse's going to murder me when I get home," he says. "Or worse, she'll tell her wife to stop making me food. That's a fate worse than death."

"Jesse's married?" Alexander asks, and when JT turns to face him, he's smiling. It's a full, genuine smile, and JT remembers how well he'd gotten along with Jesse and Morgan both. "Are you—can I ask about her?"

"Yeah, absolutely," JT says. He pulls his phone out of his pocket and opens Instagram, going to Jesse's profile. "She and her wife have been married for six years. They've got a four-year-old who can't decide between hockey and painting."

"Why choose?" Alexander asks as JT swipes to a photo of Marina holding Landon.

JT laughs. "That's what I keep telling him," he says. "I think he's pretty good at both, but I'm biased as hell."

"He's a cute kid," Alexander says, smiling down at JT's phone. "What about Morgan? Your parents?"

It's easy to talk about his family; Morgan and her husband have three kids, and his parents are loving the grandparent life. There aren't too many land mines to navigate around in the conversation, and JT's surprised to find that it's been an hour when the security system informs them that there's someone at the door.

It could get awkward with the interruption; it probably should get awkward, if JT's being honest with himself, but instead he follows Alexander to the door to grab the food and then trails him to the kitchen, and they move from talking about JT's family to talking about Alexander's, about how Colton and Daniel are doing, about Soleil's wedding the year before. It's like falling back into old patterns, the two of them finding the push and pull that they'd had as friends before they'd had it as more than that, and something in JT relaxes that he feels hasn't relaxed in years when he realises it.

"So," Alexander says as they clean up their dishes after they eat. There's something tentative in his voice. "This was… good. Right?"

"I thought so," JT says. "It felt…"

"Like it used to," Alexander fills in when JT can't bring himself to. "Like Boulder."

"Like Boulder," JT agrees.

Alexander nods slowly. They're both quiet as they finish the dishes, and then Alexander sighs. "I think I'm gonna head to bed," he says. He glances at the clock and JT's gaze follows; it's barely nine, but JT can still read Alexander well enough to know that this is more about a retreat than about him being tired. "I'll… I'll see you in the morning."

"I can hibernate if you want the living room," JT offers, more because he feels like he should than anything else. He wants to keep this going, to see if the connection he's feeling is just nostalgia or if it's more, but he also doesn't want to chase Alexander back into his bedroom.

Alexander shakes his head, though. "I'm supposed to talk to Daniel tonight, and he's gonna yell when he finds out you're here," he says, smiling briefly. "Don't worry about it, JT. I wouldn't have offered to let you stay if I couldn't handle you being here. I'm not that self-destructive anymore."

The anymore echoes in JT's head, but he forces himself to nod and smile as Alexander turns and heads out of the room.

-0-

JT sleeps better than he thought he would; his shoulder hasn't really been right since he took a bad hit from some Jets rookie trying to make a name for himself two years ago, so he tends to sleep badly in beds that aren't his own, but he wakes up feeling better than he has in ages. It figures, JT thinks wryly, that the place he'd be most comfortable in is Alexander's space.

There's no smell of coffee in the house when JT steps out of the bedroom, and a glance down the hallway shows that the door Alexander had closed behind him the night before is still shut. Asleep, then, JT guesses.

It's fine; he can work a coffeemaker, assuming Alexander is still a fan of the cheapest model he can find at the store. Sure enough, there's something branded Mr. Coffee on the counter when JT walks in, and he doesn't bother to hide a smile at the simplicity of the machine as he opens cabinets to find the filters and the grounds. Alexander's functionally useless in the mornings, and it's another thing that hasn't changed.

He falters for a moment when he pulls the coffee out of the cabinet, but he tells himself firmly to make the coffee and not read too much into it. He wonders, as he's measuring grounds into a filter, if he's going to keep tripping over things like this.

"Oh," JT hears as the coffee finishes brewing, and when he looks up his heart stops in his chest for a moment. Alexander's standing there, hair still a mess from sleep, barefoot in his pajamas. He's blinking slowly like he doesn't quite believe what he's seeing, and JT has to force himself to turn and pull another mug from the cabinet so he can busy himself pouring Alexander some coffee instead of staring at him.

"Here," JT says, handing it over. "Careful. It's hot."

Alexander nods slowly, then raises it to his lips and drains half of it in one go. It's every morning in Boulder ringing in his head all at once; the difference here is that JT can't reach out and grab Alexander's hand, and that realisation is almost physical.

"There's more when you finish that," JT says, probably several beats too late, but Alexander just nods again and takes another sip of the coffee, still looking at JT.

This could be awkward, too, but there's still a part of JT that's used to coffee zombie Alexander, so he just grabs his own mug and walks around Alexander in the doorway so he can head out into the dining room. There's nothing to distract him there, but at least he's not watching Alexander caffeinate himself awake and reminding JT that he could've maybe had this, if he hadn't fucked up so badly.

JT's long done with his coffee by the time Alexander wanders in, looking far more awake than he had before. "Hi," he says, and his voice still has an early morning edge to it. "Sleep well?"

"Yeah, actually," JT says, rolling his shoulders. His left one is barely even stiff, which is something he rarely manages these days. "You?"

Alexander grimaces. "Once I did, yeah," he says. "Daniel kept me on the phone late."

"Oh," JT says, "Everything okay?"

"He's questioning my life choices," Alexander says, lifting one shoulder and letting it drop. "I mean, I sort of woke up assuming you showing up here was a weird dream or something, so maybe he's right."

JT hunches over his empty coffee mug. "I can go," he mumbles. "I swear I didn't show up here to be an asshole."

"I know that," Alexander says, sipping at his coffee. "If Tys thought you were gonna be even a little bit of an asshole, he wouldn't have told you where I was, and he's a better judge of character than any of us ever gave him credit for."

JT shrugs. "If I'm making you uncomfortable—"

"I think you're the more uncomfortable one here," Alexander says, putting his mug down. "What gives, JT?"

JT tries to laugh, but he doesn't even come close to hitting the mark. "Nothing. Everything. You still order the same coffee fourteen years after we stopped living together, and that's fucking me up for some reason."

"Oh," Alexander says, glancing away. "It's… I like it."

"I remember," JT says. He'd brought home a dozen samples from a nearby store after Alexander had bitched about shitty grocery store coffee, and Alexander had only ever tried three before declaring a favourite. Tyson had drawn a big heart on every bag of beans JT had brought home after that, and JT can still hear him laughingly calling it love coffee over the sound of Alexander grinding some up in the morning.

This time the silence is a little awkward, but JT knows he only has himself to blame for it. For a lot of this, he knows; he hadn't been the only one fighting about their relationship way back when, but he'd started it, and he'd sure as hell ended it, too.

"So," Alexander starts, and JT looks at him again, at the way the smile on his face is strained, but maybe less than JT thought it would be. "You said you wanted to talk more."

JT laughs and stands up. "Yeah," he says. "But I need at least two more cups of coffee for that."

"That's fair," Alexander says. "You, uh. You know where it is."

JT nods and does his best to walk at a normal pace towards the kitchen, so it only mostly feels like he's running to escape the conversation.

-0-

There's no good way to bring it up; JT drank three mugs of coffee trying to figure it out, and then he showered, and now he's got a pit in his stomach instead of an idea in his head. He's sitting on the back porch with Alexander as Alexander reads the honest-to-god newspaper, and JT means to think about it more, but instead he opens up his mouth and hopes whatever comes out next isn't going to get him thrown out.

"I should have waited until the summer," he says.

Alexander hums, then folds the newspaper and sets it on the table beside him. "It's summer now."

JT shakes his head. "Before, I mean," he says, looking out over the lawn, down towards the lake. "I thought—I knew we weren't okay, and I knew I probably couldn't make it right in the few days I could spend in Toronto before I had to be back for our playoff series. I kept thinking that maybe I could just say something that would make it work for a little while longer, and then we'd have time."

"But I was too stressed out," Alexander says. "With all the injuries moving me around the lineup, and with all the pressure of the playoffs in Toronto…"

"I couldn't let it go," JT says softly. "When you opened the door, when your whole expression just fell, I knew—-knew we were probably over, and there was nothing left for me to save."

Alexander sighs. "I was stressed," he repeats. "I should've asked you to stay at a hotel. I knew I'd pick a fight just to vent."

"And I was expecting to be the one that picked the fight," JT says.

"I beat you to it," Alexander says. JT can hear the mix of emotions in his voice; he doesn't have to look at Alexander to know there's a faint wry twist to his lips.

"You did," JT agrees. It's the truth, and JT has the feeling that Alexander remembers the whole thing in detail that's just as vivid as JT's memories. "And I just…"

"You got defensive," Alexander says quietly. "Because I asked you what the fuck you thought you were doing."

JT nods. The pit in his stomach is worse, open and clawing at him, and he swallows, hoping it helps but unsurprised when it doesn't. "For what it's worth," he says, and he can hear how quiet his own voice is, "I really wanted to fix it. Fix us."

"I promise I only ever doubted that for a little while," Alexander says. "You're not a bad person, JT. Even as we were fighting, I didn't think you flew to Toronto just to fight."

"If I wasn't a bad person," JT starts.

"Don't," Alexander cuts in. "Don't. We both made mistakes."

JT laughs roughly. "You're saying that you calling me a couple of names is the same as me kissing your brother?"

"No," Alexander says quietly. "Look, correct me if I'm wrong on this, but part of you coming here was to… be friends again."

JT shrugs, but then he nods. "I think so, yeah."

"Then we need to agree that we both sucked at the end," Alexander says bluntly. "I should have talked to you about how shitty Toronto was after Tyson left instead of pulling back and making you wonder. I should never have made Josty my go-to instead of you."

"I should've at least let you know I was coming," JT says. "Or I should've let Josty tell you once I was on the plane. I was too afraid that if you knew I was coming, it would end badly."

"I don't know if it would've changed anything either way," Alexander says. "I would've told you not to come. I would've told you to wait, that we could talk it out over the summer."

"And I would've ignored you," JT says, smiling faintly. "Maybe we're both too stubborn."

"That's not news," Alexander says, and when he laughs, JT's smile widens.

"Josty probably thinks so," JT says. "Speaking of which, I should probably check in with him at some point today. He, uh. He wasn't super thrilled to find out I was here."

"Don't worry about him," Alexander says firmly. "We've been texting. He promised to keep his shit together and not fly out here."

"If he wants to bring the baby..." JT starts.

"She's so cute," Alexander says, warmth in his voice. "God, she looks so much like Tyson."

JT laughs. "Dante swears she'll act like him to make up for it."

"I don't think that's as much of a consolation as he thinks it is," Alexander says. JT chances a look over, and he's smiling, face crinkling up with the force of it. There are more laughter lines there than JT recalls, but he can't be mad about that.

JT forces a laugh, glad he's not in his twenties anymore, because it would have come out almost breathless. "He'll learn."

"He will," Alexander agrees. "But I told him not to come out here, and that I'd let him know if something went south." He hesitates for a moment. "And that I wasn't expecting things to go south, not this time."

JT blinks. "You're not?"

Alexander shakes his head. "We're not kids anymore," he says, echoing JT's thoughts from a moment ago. "And I… I want to see if we can get there. If we can figure this out enough to be friends again."

"I hope so," JT says.

"I think we can do it," Alexander says, smile wide on his face.

JT smiles back, trying to ignore how the pit in his stomach has turned into a swooping feeling at the sight of Alexander smiling at him, because that's—that's not better, not really.

-0-

Alexander says he has something to do in town; JT isn't sure if it's something real or something he invented to give himself a little space after their conversation, but either way, he nods when Alexander brings it up and mentions calling his sister. He didn't have plans to, but as soon as the words leave his mouth he knows that he should do it anyway.

"Hey," Jesse answers. "On a scale from one to ten, what's the emergency?"

JT blinks. "What?"

"You never call," Jesse says. "Not without texting and me browbeating you into it. I'm supposed to go with Marina to Landon's parent-teacher conference at preschool, but if you need me, she can handle it."

"No, don't worry about it," JT says, frowning. "They have parent-teacher conferences in preschool?"

"It's part of their whole 'transition to kindergarten' program," Jesse says. "He's starting in the fall, so they're doing a year-end one before he goes to summer camp. It's fine, though, so stop trying to change the subject and tell me—"

"I drove to British Columbia," JT blurts out.

Jesse's quiet for a long time, and then she sighs. "Let me go talk to Marina," she says, and before JT can protest, he hears her put the phone down and call for her wife.

She's back a moment later, and she doesn't beat around the bush at all. "Why?"

"You know why," JT says, staring out the window at the trees next to the house.

"Okay," Jesse says. "You drove to British Columbia so you could get a really nice black eye. That's a weird way to start your first summer after retiring."

"He let me in the door," JT says quietly. "He—I'm, uh. Staying in his spare bedroom."

Her silence is longer this time. "Okay," Jesse finally says again, drawing the word out this time. "That's—I think I need you to start from the beginning, JT."

It's not a long story; Jesse knows about the many and varied ways in which JT fucked up in the past, so he doesn't have to drag himself through that again, and he hasn't actually been here for that long, so there's not a ton to tell. She's quiet again when he finishes, but then she sighs.

"Do you know what you're doing?" she asks.

"No," JT says. It's the truth, one hundred percent. "I wanted to clear the air. I think we mostly cleared it, but I don't want to leave, and I don't think he's pushing me out the door, either."

"Did you tell him you bought him a condo?" Jesse asks.

JT squeezes his eyes shut. "I didn't—"

"JT," Jesse says. "You not meaning to do it doesn't mean you didn't do it. We've been over this."

"I haven't told him," JT mutters. "How do I even bring that up?"

"Well, you drove all the way there with no plan at all," Jesse says. "So just do it how you've been doing everything else."

"Saying whatever pops into my head and hoping it doesn't go over badly?" JT asks. "That doesn't sound like a winning strategy."

"Life's not a hockey game, bud," Jesse says, but it's kind. "Sometimes honesty is the best strategy, and sometimes winning isn't as important as just saying things."

JT makes a face. "How do you coach a hockey school?"

"By saving the life advice for when nobody has skates on," Jesse replies. "Are you going to talk to him, or are you going to just stay there for a few more days and then leave without saying everything you went up there to say?"

"I apologised already," JT says. He knows it's weak even as the words are crossing his lips.

"If that was all you were there to do, you'd be in your car back to Chicago by now," Jesse says. "Also, you drove? Really? All the way to Vancouver?"

"He's in Kelowna now," JT offers.

Jesse snorts. "So it was, what, thirty hours of driving instead of fifty? Never mind, that's super reasonable. I don't know what I was thinking."

JT makes a face, knowing she'll know he's making it even if she can't see it. "I didn't exactly plan this in advance."

"You don't say," Jesse says dryly. "You haven't told Morgan yet, have you?"

"No," JT mutters. "You're an easier first call."

"I'll text her," Jesse says. "But you should call her tonight, after she's had the chance to cool off a little."

"Thanks," JT says gratefully. Jesse had been pissed at him when everything went down, but Morgan had given him the cold shoulder for a full week, and JT knows they haven't been as close since. He gets why; Morgan had just gone through a rough breakup of her own, so finding out that her brother had pulled the bullshit he'd pulled had really thrown their relationship. JT's been trying to rebuild that bridge, but he's not even sure what steps he needs to take at this point.

"I'll tell her to text you when she chills out," Jesse says. "And hey, JT?"

"Yeah?" JT asks.

"Don't do anything stupid," Jesse says. "Like, I know you still have feelings for him, but don't—"

"I won't," JT cuts in. "That's not why I'm here. I swear, Jesse."

"Okay," Jesse says. "I didn't think it was, but at the same time, I'm glad that it isn't."

"It's not," JT says again. He stares harder at the trees outside, watching as a lazy summer wind lifts a few of the leaves. "I just… I couldn't keep going on thinking he hated me, not if I hadn't at least tried to fix anything. I wanted to apologise, and how could I even start doing that over text?"

"Yeah, you definitely couldn't," Jesse decides. "You know you're a lucky son of a bitch, right? He should've slammed the door in your face."

"Yeah, I told him that, too," JT says. "He's…"

"He's still Kerf," Jesse finishes when JT can't decide on a description. "Which means he's a better person than the rest of us combined."

"That's what the Lady Byng says," JT agrees. "Thanks for the talk, Jesse. And sorry for making you miss the parent-teacher conference."

"Don't worry about it," Jesse says. "I'll make dinner to make up for it, and Marina and Landon can tell me all about it. We'll be fine over here."

JT smiles. "Give them my love."

"Will do," Jesse says, and JT can hear her smiling as they hang up.

-0-

"So I had to go grocery shopping," Alexander says as he walks back into the house. He's got a few bags in his hand, and JT stands up and reaches for them, years of living together reminding him that Alexander doesn't mind going to the store but he doesn't love putting things away. Alexander hands the bags over on what looks more like autopilot than anything else, if the way his brow creases is any indication, but JT turns to take the bags into the kitchen before it can get weird. Weirder.

"I figured I'd cook tonight," Alexander continues as he trails after JT. "I don't have a huge repertoire, but I figured that you wouldn't mind steak and vegetables on the grill."

"You don't have to cook for me," JT says, pulling the food from the bags.

"You came all the way here," Alexander says lightly. "The least I can do is make you a single meal."

"The steaks do look good," JT says, glancing up so he can meet Alexander's eyes as he grins.

Alexander laughs. "They are," he promises. "I've never gotten a bad cut of meat from the butcher in town, and I've lived here full-time since I stopped playing."

"So three years," JT says before his mind can stop his mouth.

Alexander's eyes widen a fraction, but it's his only reaction. "Yeah."

"Sorry," JT says, looking back down to the groceries. "I promise I wasn't, like, checking up on every move you made."

Alexander snorts. "I made several," he says dryly. "That would've been exhausting."

"It paid off," JT says, shrugging. "You've got me beat in Cups."

"Believe it or not, Cups aren't everything," Alexander says. "Don't get me wrong, they count for a lot, but…"

JT nods. "There's other stuff," he says. He takes a deep breath and looks around the kitchen. "So I've got all this stuff out of the bags, but I don't actually know where you keep things other than the coffee mugs."

Alexander's laugh is full. "Cups aren't everything," he says again, patting the cabinet where the mugs are with a grin as he walks to JT's side. "It's mostly where you think it is. I'll help."

The kitchen reminds JT too much of their place in Boulder, but he bites his lip and doesn't say anything as he helps Alexander put the groceries away. Alexander smiles at him as they finish, and he leads them out to the porch again before it can get awkward.

"So," Alexander starts. "Tell me… tell me about you."

JT grimaces. "You know me."

"I knew you," Alexander corrects gently, but it still makes JT wince. "What have you been up to for the last decade? Other than the hockey. I know about the hockey."

"I live in Chicago," JT offers. "I bought a condo. It's nice, has a great view of the skyline. The sun sets behind it, so I get great views at night."

Alexander whistles. "Sounds great."

"It is," JT agrees. He thinks back to his conversation with Jesse and argues with himself briefly, but he knows he was always going to bring it up. He laughs roughly. "I, uh. Part of me always wanted you to see the view."

There's quiet for a moment before Alexander shifts. "JT,' he says, and there's something a little cautious in his voice.

JT shrugs and doesn't look at him. "You like sunsets," he says. "That's why we watched so many of them, right? You thought they were romantic."

"I still think that," Alexander says quietly. "You… when did you get it?"

"2022," JT says. "I was home for the Olympic break, and I toured a few places while I was back, and…"

"And you bought me a condo," Alexander says. JT can't identify the emotion in his voice at all. "Almost a year after we broke up."

"To be fair, I didn't realise I'd bought it for you until the summer," JT says. "Jesse pointed it out when she was helping me paint."

Alexander's laugh is incredulous. "And you've just… lived there ever since? Even though…"

"I mean, I bought it for me, too," JT says before he realises that that's worse, that's too much. It's out there now, though, and he can't take it back.

"JT," Alexander says. His voice is quiet, careful, and JT startles when Alexander's fingers land on the back of his hand where he's gripping the bench. "I don't… I don't know what you want me to say here."

"I don't need you to say anything," JT says firmly. "I wouldn't… I promised Jesse that I wouldn't put anything on you, and I'm not. That's not why I'm here."

"Okay," Alexander says. His voice is still so, so careful. "I think..."

JT finally looks over at him, and he's all too aware of the heat of Alexander's fingers against his hand. "I can go."

Alexander shakes his head immediately. "I think I need you to confirm what you just told me," he says. "If you're comfortable doing that, I mean. You don't owe that to me."

JT swallows. "Are you sure you want to hear that?"

"No," Alexander says, blunt and honest as ever. "I think I should hear it, though."

JT nods and forces himself to keep looking at Alexander as he opens his mouth again. "I flew to Toronto even though I knew it wasn't going to work out because I was so in love with you that I had to try," he says. "And that didn't stop after… after everything. Hasn't stopped since then, either."

"JT," Alexander says. His expression is so open right now that it hurts to look at him, but JT can't look away. It's the first time he's been able to tell what Alexander is really thinking since he got here, and it's—

JT stands, nodding sharply at the house. "I'm gonna, uh," he says, and then he opens the door and walks inside. He shuts the door behind himself and heads quickly for the spare bedroom, and he doesn't let himself miss the way Alexander's fingers had felt against his hand.

-0-

"You're an idiot," is what Morgan says when she picks up the phone.

JT blows out a breath. "I mean, yeah."

"JT," Morgan says. Her voice is tight, unhappy. "Why in the world did you think it was a good idea to drive to Kelowna and show up on the doorstep of the guy you screwed over more than a decade ago?"

JT stares at the bedspread he's got clenched in his hand. "Because I'm still in love with him?"

"You," Morgan starts, but she goes quiet.

"I'm still in love with him," JT repeats. He's been turning it over and over in his head since he ran from Alexander earlier, and the more he thinks the words, the more true they feel. "It's not—I knew it before now. I just didn't really let myself…"

Morgan hums. "You didn't think about it, because thinking is hard."

"I mean, it's not really my thing," JT says. shrugging even though she can't see him.

Morgan sighs. "And what does he have to say about it?"

"Well, uh," JT hedges.

Morgan's sigh is louder this time. "You blurted it out and then you left," she says flatly.

JT winces. "It's possible." When Morgan doesn't say anything, JT shakes his head and goes on. "Look, I told him about the condo, and then he asked. I'm not going to lie to him, Morgan."

"Personal growth," Morgan says. It could sound sarcastic, but there's a slight approving note in Morgan's voice. "I'm not going to say that I think this whole thing is a good idea, but that… that's good."

"Like you said, I screwed him over," JT says. He doesn't mean for his voice to go quiet, but here he is anyway. "And I did it because I couldn't keep a lid on anything, whether it was a good feeling or a bad feeling. I put everything out there, made him deal with everything I was dealing with. It's literally the least I could do to not start that whole cycle over again."

"Again with the personal growth," Morgan says, and JT can hear the smile in her voice. "So what's your plan from here?"

JT scowls. "You think I have a plan? I haven't gone through that much personal growth."

Morgan laughs, and it eases something in JT's chest. Maybe, he thinks, maybe this whole impromptu trip will help him fix more than just his relationship with Alexander.

"Well," she says briskly, "you should figure something out. And quickly, too, because you blurting your feelings everywhere and then running away isn't going to actually get you out of dealing with it."

"Yeah, I know," JT confirms. "I'm staying in his house. If nothing else, I won't be able to leave without him noticing me doing it."

"Oh boy," Morgan says, a mixture of amused and sympathetic. "Well, there goes the suggestion of sneaking out the back door."

"Probably, yeah," JT says with a sigh. "I should… I should talk to him about it. Right?"

Morgan hums. "That depends on what you want this trip to be, I think."

"I don't know that, though," JT says, frowning.

"Then that's your first job," Morgan says. "Everything else aside, what do you want your relationship with Alexander to be when you leave? Do you just want him to forgive you, or do you want to be friends, or…"

Or, JT thinks, and the way his heart tumbles around in his chest is familiar and distant all at the same time. It's not that he hasn't dated since he and Alexander broke up, but it had never been serious with anyone else. He'd sort of figured that he didn't want to let himself get hurt again, but he's starting to realise that holding a torch for his ex had probably gotten in the way of anything else happening.

"Okay," Morgan says, and her voice is soft. "Then you need to decide if it's worth telling him that, and you need to be prepared for him to not want you anymore, JT."

"He has more than every right to not want me anymore," JT says, taking a deep breath and forcing his fingers to let go of the bedspread. He winces slightly; his fingers cramp sometimes, and keeping the muscles tensed for so long sure didn't help with that. "I keep expecting this whole thing to be a really weird fever dream. I didn't drive up here at all, and I didn't stand on his porch for ten minutes, and he for sure didn't invite me to stay with him."

"That's a weirdly specific fever dream," Morgan says. "Also, there's usually more, like, random flying cars or stuff like that in a fever dream."

"A flying car might make more sense than him wanting to try again," JT says.

Morgan doesn't really have an answer for that.

It's not long before they hang up, and JT's left to think. He hadn't just been joking with Morgan; he's pretty sure that part of being a successful pro athlete is learning how not to think in a lot of situations, and while it served him well in finding Josty for the overtime goal that won them the Cup, it means he's got shitty coping skills without a stick in his hands.

Or, he thinks again. He wants Alexander's forgiveness; from everything they've talked about, though, everything Alexander has said, he's pretty sure he's got that already, even if he doesn't understand why or how. He wants Alexander's friendship, too, wants to be able to text him stupid memes and ask for advice on what to get his sisters for their birthdays again.

He swallows past the instinctive reaction telling him how impossible everything is and thinks about more than that: about catching up on stories, about learning all the new things that have happened in Alexander's life, about spending time with him here in Kelowna, or back in Chicago in the condo that JT's always been too able to picture him visiting.

He wants it, he knows, beyond everything telling him to stop thinking about it, far beyond everything that's happened telling him it's impossible. He came here and apologised, he thinks, and Alexander invited him in, and that's already so much more than JT ever thought he'd get, but—

But the look on Alexander's face right before JT had leapt up and ran inside flashes in his mind, and he thinks: maybe.

-0-

Alexander is on the sofa in the living room when JT forces himself to get up and leave the bedroom, and he stands and faces JT when JT lingers in the doorway.

"Hey," he says. "We don't have to talk about it, and I'm sorry that I pushed you into saying something."

JT swallows. "I don't think it's gonna change anything, whether we talk about it or not," he says. "I just… I didn't come here to say that. Like, very specifically, I wasn't going to say anything that might make you feel pressured to do anything."

Alexander shakes his head. "Why would I feel pressured?"

"People feel things," JT says. "Kind of all the time. It's the whole human thing."

"The human thing," Alexander echoes, and his smile is amused.

JT shrugs. "You're the Harvard grad, not me."

"As if that means a damn thing," Alexander replies, and it's—that's not how the script goes, not at all. JT's used to Alexander playing at being smug, being able to tease him about it afterwards, but Alexander's standing in his living room with his arms across his chest, both eyebrows raised, and JT wants—

JT wants to kiss him, to see if that's something he can put in the same column or if it's something different. He takes a step back instead.

"Well, uh," he says, probably several beats too late, but Alexander doesn't mention it. "Whatever."

Alexander shakes his head, but he smiles as he drops his hands to his sides. "I was going to spend some time down by the lake before I put the steaks on," he says. "Want to come hang out?"

JT nods, more on autopilot than anything else, and then he frowns. "I didn't bring anything to swim in," he says.

"I can lend you some trunks," Alexander says, voice light in a way that seems careful, as if sharing clothes isn't a big deal. It probably isn't, JT thinks, and he wouldn't blink at borrowing clothes from any other former teammate, but something about putting Alexander's clothing next to his skin is making him want to quickly accept and to quickly throw the idea out and leave, so he settles for thinking for a solid three-count before giving an answer.

"Sure," he finally says. "That's… yeah, sure."

"Okay," Alexander says, walking past JT and into the hallway. "C'mon, follow me."

JT's feet don't falter even as his mind does, following Alexander down the hall and into his bedroom. He doesn't let himself look around much, taking in some of the details but mostly glossing over everything, choosing instead to watch Alexander pull open a dresser drawer and take a pair of swim trunks out. He turns and smiles at whatever look is on JT's face, and it's soft, too familiar and so, so foreign all at the same time.

"Hey," Alexander says, walking over and stopping before he runs into JT, but only just. "Can I…"

JT makes himself swallow. "What?"

"Just," Alexander says, and his voice is barely above a whisper. He's close enough that JT can watch the way his eyelashes fan against his cheek when he blinks, and he knows what's coming, knows every single tell Alexander's ever had like they're secrets shared between them, and somehow he's still surprised when Alexander leans in and kisses him.

JT kisses him back because he doesn't know how he'd ever do anything else, and it's slow, soft, neither one of them pulling back or pushing for more. Needing to breathe feels like his body absolutely betraying him, but JT doesn't go far, letting his forehead rest against Alexander's and looking down at him.

"What," he says, and his voice is so quiet in the air around them.

"I don't know," Alexander replies, voice just as soft. "I… you're still in love with me, and I…"

JT lets himself inhale, careful and measured, and then he takes a step back, letting his hands fall to his sides. He needs to pick and choose his words here, he knows, and it's only the memory of how badly it went the last time he acted without thinking it through first that makes him actually do it.

"I didn't come here to…" JT says, trailing off. He looks at Alexander, at his mouth, behind his shoulder at the bed, sheets carelessly tossed back because of course that's the same, his inability to make his bed in the morning. He clears his throat and looks back at Alexander. "And yeah, I mean. I'm still… I still love you, but we're not on the same page here. And that's okay," he says hastily when Alexander opens his mouth to speak. "But I can't… I can't just do this. I can't mess around and hope you fall in love with me again, not like I did when we were kids."

Alexander takes a breath, and it sounds loud in the room around them. "I don't want to hurt you," he says, and JT believes it, couldn't possibly interpret the last two days in any other way.

"But," JT says.

"But," Alexander echoes, and he closes his eyes and smiles briefly. "But you're right."

JT swallows down every word that wants to leap out of his mouth, and he chalks one up to personal growth. "Okay," he says, and his voice is steady, calm. "Then I think… I think maybe I should go."

"You don't have to," Alexander starts.

"Kinda do," JT says, cutting him off with as much of a grin as he can manage. "I only have so much self-control, and I'd rather leave here on good terms."

Alexander's laugh is short, more an exhalation than anything else. "Okay," he says. "I… yeah, okay."

JT nods and takes another step back, then another, and then he's standing in the hallway, looking at Alexander barefoot in the bedroom, spare swim trunks still clutched in his hand.

It's difficult to force himself to turn and go pack up his things, but he makes himself do it anyway.

Epilogue

JT's pretty sure that fall is always going to be his favourite time of year; just because he's not playing anymore doesn't mean his body forgets what it means when the season changes, when the cold starts to settle in. It's nice to experience it in Chicago for once, too, like he hasn't since he was way too young to bother forming memories of what it was like.

He's on FaceTime with Morgan and Laurie, listening to an animated post-dinner-and-dessert retelling of her first day of kindergarten—and can Uncle JT believe that she and Landon are in the same class with the same teacher—when there's a knock at the door.

"Delivery again?" Morgan asks, raising an eyebrow and smirking at him. "JT, you can come over. Charlie would be happy to make another person's worth of food."

"I'm making tacos tomorrow," Charlie yells from the next room.

Morgan rolls her eyes. "The kids talked him into it."

JT laughs as the person knocks again. "It's not delivery," he says. "I guess it's a neighbour or maintenance or something. Let me go get it, and Laurie, I'll come over tomorrow so you can tell me all about your teacher, okay?"

"Okay!" Laurie says happily, waving at the screen. "Bye, Uncle JT!"

JT grins as the video cuts out, then stands. "I'm coming," he calls when the person knocks again, quieter this time, and JT's brow creases. Whoever's outside definitely knows he's home, with how loud Laurie's goodbye had been, but it sounds like they're not sure he's going to open the door. He grabs the handle without looking out the peephole, yanks it open, and—

"Hi," Alexander says, smiling tentatively at him.

JT blinks a few times. "Hi."

"I, uh," Alexander says, and that's when JT notices that he's got a backpack slung over his shoulder and a small rolling suitcase behind him. It's his standard supplies for a week's road trip, JT's memories remind him, ever helpful. "I told Brutes he owed me your address, since he gave you mine."

"Oh," JT says. "I—yeah, that's fair."

"Can I come in?" Alexander asks, and everything about this is so hesitant.

"Yeah, of course," JT says, almost stumbling over his feet as he backs up into the condo. He holds the door open and Alexander walks in, putting his bags down before stepping out of his shoes as JT shuts the door. "So, uh, what's… happening here?"

"Well, step one was seeing if you'd let me in the door," Alexander says, and JT flashes back to the start of the summer, standing on Alexander's porch and trying to summon up the courage to knock.

"Were you out there for ten minutes like I was?" JT asks.

Alexander laughs and shakes his head. "I knocked," he says.

"You knocked," JT agrees. "Now what?"

"Now," Alexander says, and he steps into JT's space and JT's already reaching out to settle his hands on Alexander's hips, tilting his head and leaning down that little bit when Alexander kisses him.

It's the same slow kind of kiss that JT's thought about almost every day since he left Kelowna; there's something in it that feels like coming home, or like curling up in the same hotel bed together just to sleep, or like letting Josty pick the movie because neither of them cared as long as he took the recliner and left them the sofa. It's a kiss he could drown in, one he has happily drowned in before, and he wants, but he also…

He pulls back, just as he had last time, and it's like history repeating itself, him leaning his head against Alexander's and watching his eyelashes flutter. "You know I'm gonna ask, right?"

"I don't know if we're on the same page yet," Alexander says, "but I think we're in the same book, and I want to try to rewrite the ending."

JT laughs quietly. "How long did that one take you?"

"Most of the plane ride," Alexander admits, and JT can see the crinkles at the edges of his eyes when he smiles.

"And you said that Harvard degree didn't mean anything," JT says. He can't make himself pull away, can't let go of Alexander, can't do anything except hold him in the entryway and try to keep his smile from taking over his whole face.

Alexander laughs. "Anyone can come up with terrible metaphors."

"I don't know, I kind of liked it," JT says. "It was a good line."

"Yours got you in the door," Alexander says. "Did mine maybe get me anywhere, or should I try again?"

JT leans back in, kissing the corner of Alexander's mouth, the apple of his cheek. "Maybe it got you somewhere," he says, arms sliding around Alexander's waist, and he closes his eyes and lets himself sink into it when Alexander hugs him back.

"Just so we're clear," Alexander says, only just loud enough to hear, "I'm not here on a whim. This isn't some spur of the moment thing."

"Well, you bought plane tickets, which is more planning than I managed," JT says.

"No, I mean..." Alexander laughs, and JT can feel it with how they're pressed together. When he drops his arms JT does, too; he's itching with the need to keep Alexander close, but he's smiling as he steps back, and JT sternly tells his emotions to behave. "Almost as soon as you left, I wanted to chase after you, but I made myself think about it. I even gave myself a time limit. I wasn't allowed to come before September, because I knew that if I came, I had to be sure."

"And you're sure," JT says quietly. "You want to try again, after…"

Alexander smiles at him, and it's bright, a little mischievous. "Colton actually talked me out of the last of my doubts."

JT can feel his eyes go wide. "Colton did? Seriously?"

"I think he was just as surprised as you are," Alexander says, laughing. "I told him everything, and he came out to visit me twice. He's pretty smart, when it comes down to it, and he helped me figure everything out."

"I wasn't expecting that," JT says. "I kinda figured he'd still want to punch me or something."

Alexander grins. "He told me to tell you that if you fucked up again, he would," he says. "And he also said that he doesn't think I've ever been happier than when things were good between you and me, not before and not since, and if I thought that we could get back there, then I owed it to both of us to try."

"You're right," JT says, smiling so hard he feels like his cheeks might be sore tomorrow. "He is the smart one."

Alexander laughs and JT reaches out again, and this time he's not surprised when Alexander's arms go around him and they settle together. There's so much going through JT's head right now but he's not focusing on any of it; they'll have to talk more, he knows, figure out the big things and the little things, but right now he's got Alexander in his arms and he's going to get the chance to start over, and the rest of it can wait until tomorrow.

He doesn't move until Alexander lets out a noise, and when JT glances down, he sees Alexander smiling as he looks out the window at the Chicago skyline.

"Oh, wow," Alexander says, voice soft. "Look at the sunset."