Jeff's not a great Guide. He's got the aptitude, but not the training, because he always wanted hockey more.
It's okay, Mike's not a great Sentinel.
"Shut up," Jeff says. He's gripping Mike's knee, heavy enough that Mike can feel it through his gear. Jeff rubs his thumb in slow arcs against the side of Mike's knee, not back and forth, just one direction. "Turn it down, you know how to do it, turn it down."
Mike focuses on the pressure of Jeff's hand, imagines pulling his senses back in with every sweep of his thumb. The roar of the crowd fades, becomes background noise, the glare from the ice dims and becomes bearable.
Sharpy's giving them the side-eye, but it doesn't matter, it worked. Coach slaps his shoulder and Mike goes over the boards for his next shift like nothing happened.
The hotels the AHL stays in are a step above a roadside motel, but it's not a big step.
The carpet feels scratchy under Mike's feet and the chemical reek of laundry detergent and cleaning solution makes his nose and the back of his throat burn. He tries to turn his senses down, but he can't focus enough.
The months in LA before Jeff got traded sucked. They still weren't as bad as getting sent down to Manch.
It's not so bad at first. The anger helps him focus, keeps him sharp. But he can't stay angry forever.
Now he feels like he's always a step behind on the ice, the noise and the glare making his head ring, slowing him down. Nothing tastes right or smells right. He hasn't zoned out yet, but it's probably just a matter of time. It's been going on for a while now, since last season really, his control of senses slipping. He doesn't know if it's the chronic pain or the concussions, but it's worse without Jeff there.
He'd never admit it, but he has the Kings schedule bookmarked, so he always knows how far away Jeff is. So he can know how long it would take Jeff to get to him if he ever called.
The knock on the door sounds too loud, and he flinches.
He takes a deep breath through his mouth, and opens the door.
It's Jeff, and he sags a little with relief. Turns out, his guess on timing was spot on.
Jeff eyes him for a long moment, then pushes past him without saying anything. He looks around the room, frowning.
"Thanks for coming," Mike says. He pulled rank, kicking his roommate out for the night, so it's just them.
Jeff transfers that frown to him, shakes his head. "What's wrong?"
"Everything," Mike says.
He means for it to be a joke, but it's a little too close to the truth.
Jeff drops the duffle bag he's carrying at the foot of the bed. He eyes the bed for a moment, lip curled, and then pulls the covers off, tossing them over the chair by the window.
He looks at Mike. "Did you bring your sheets and your pillow?"
Mike is already the bigshot whose career is flaming out. He's not going to be the prissy bigshot who's too good for AHL hotel sheets, too. "No."
"How about your speakers?"
Mike shakes his head.
"Goddamnit, Richie," Jeff says. He opens up his bag and pulls out a bundle of cloth, tosses it to Mike. "Lie down on the bed."
Mike shakes the cloth out. It's a tube of silk, the size and shape of a sleeping bag, and it smells like home, like the unscented detergent Jeff always buys. Mike spreads it out on the bed.
Jeff's pulled his portable bluetooth speakers out of the bag, too, and is fiddling with his phone. The speakers hiss to life with the sound of Mike's usual white noise generator app.
It blurs away the sound of the TV in the rooms on either side of him, the rattle of the ice machine at the end of the hall, the dull roar of the interstate just past the hotel parking lot. Mike feels some of the tension in his shoulders loosen as he lets the white noise fill his head up. It gives his senses something soothing and meaningless to focus on, instead of trying to track the endless noise of the hotel.
Jeff steps closer to Mike, sniffs at his shoulder. "What detergent are you using?"
"I don't know, Tide something," Mike says.
Jeff's frown gets deeper.
"I couldn't remember the name of the stuff you usually buy," Mike admits. "It's not a big deal."
Jeff shakes his head, but all he says is, "Take your t-shirt off and lie down."
Mike does. The fabric of the sleep sack Jeff brought feels amazing against his skin, cool and smooth and soft, so much better than the t-shirt he was wearing. He sighs and rubs his cheek against it.
"How's your back?" Jeff asks.
"Hurts," Mike says.
It's the worst thing about the senses, how he can't turn down the pain in his own body. Oxy's the only thing he's found that makes the pain go a away for a while. That, and Jeff's hands.
Jeff puts his hands on Mike's back, warm and broad. He digs his thumbs into the pressure points on either side Mike's spine, and the hot, dull pain that's knotted Mike's back up all day starts to fade.
Jeff clicks his tongue and moves his fingers to the base of Mike's skull. Mike hadn't even noticed the headache until it disappears. He feels limp and boneless, that relentless grind of pain subsiding into something manageable, ignorable.
"So what did you tell Sutter?" Mike asks, voice low and slurred.
"That I needed to come see you," Jeff says.
Mike snorts. "What did he think about that?"
Jeff makes a sharp little noise that's almost a laugh. "Probably what everybody's been thinking for years, that we're fucking."
Mike's breath stutters. He'd always wondered what the rest of the guys thought about their weird co-dependency, but he's never asked.
Jeff gets up and gets a bottle of water out his bag. This isn't the kind of place that has a minibar.
Mike rolls over onto his back, and looks at Jeff. Jeff looks tired, his anger gone, or maybe just worn down into something dull and pointless.
He understands why everyone thinks they're fucking. The things Jeff does for him don't make any sense if they're not. Sometimes, even knowing the truth, Mike doesn't understand why Jeff does all of it.
Jeff takes a sip of water and Mike watches the flex of his throat as he swallows, the wet, pink shine of his mouth as he takes the bottle away.
Mike hasn't hooked up with anyone since he started losing control of his senses again. He's afraid the senses will spike or he'll zone out in front of a stranger. Now, watching Jeff's lips curl around the mouth of the water bottle, the shape of his words, he's remembering how Jeff and him used to pick up girls together when they were rookies, before his control got better. The memory sends a shiver of heat through his gut.
"Hey," Jeff says. "Come back."
Mike blinks. He hasn't zoned out, but it's close, that rapt feeling.
On impulse, Mike leans up and brushes his mouth over Jeff's. It's the lightest of touches, but it's a tidal wave of sensation. Jeff's lips are chapped from the cold air of the rink, and the dryness catches at his own. The prickle of Jeff's stubble makes the skin around his mouth tingle.
Jeff's breath catches as Mike pulls back. His eyes are open, wide and uncertain.
"Richie--" he breathes.
"Shhh," Mike says. "Please, I need--"
He doesn't know what he needs. He wants to feel Jeff's lips again, wants to taste Jeff's mouth. It makes the pain subside, makes the raw noise of the senses fade, to focus on this one thing. Mike does it again, and it's the same rush of sensation, but he can catalog the tiniest differences in the angle, the shiver of Jeff's breath.
Mike flicks his tongue over Jeff's lower lip, and the contrast between his chapped lip and the soft, slick skin just inside it takes up his whole attention.
"Richie, what are you doing?"
"C'mon, you're not so off your game that you don't remember what making out is?" Mike says. He brushes their mouths together again, to feel that slide of skin on delicate skin. God, he'd forgotten how sensitive lips are.
"Fine," Jeff says. "Why are you doing it?"
"Because it feels good." Mike doesn't want to think about, doesn't want to have this conversation. He traces the seam of Jeff's lips with his tongue. "Doesn't it feel good?"
Jeff opens his mouth, maybe to answer, and Mike licks into his mouth. It's almost overwhelming, the hot, slick feel of Jeff's mouth, the taste of him, familiar somehow, almost like his scent.
"Please," he says against Jeff's mouth. "Nothing feels good anymore."
"Goddamnit, Richie," Jeff says, soft, but he doesn't argue anymore.
Mike sinks into it, into the feeling of Jeff's lips and stubble. Jeff doesn't push him, doesn't try to control the kiss. He lets his tongue slide against Mike's and Mike shudders all over at the sensation. Mike bites Jeff's lower lip, just to feel the give of it between his teeth, another kind of sensation. He sinks his teeth in too hard, and Jeff's blood wells up between them, hot and salty and metallic.
Jeff makes a tiny noise, and Mike eases up immediately. He licks over the bite, the taste of the blood and the feel of Jeff's lips mingling together.
Mike grips Jeff's t-shirt and pulls, and Jeff follows him down, until Mike is lying on his back and Jeff is curled over him. Jeff braces his hand next to Mike's head, holds his weight off of him, so only their mouths are touching. There's a sharp twist in his chest, anger and gratitude both, that Jeff knows without asking the press of his body against Mike's would be too much.
His fingers dig into Jeff's shoulder, and Jeff lifts his head. His eyes are dark and dazed, his lips shiny and soft and red, and Mike's anger dissolves.
Mike tugs on Jeff's shoulder and Jeff slides their mouths together again, gentle, gentle. Mike sighs. Everything, all the pain, all the frustration, is dissolving into the feel of Jeff's lips, his scent, his taste.
Mike closes his eyes, and the world becomes nothing but their kiss.
It's an hour or so before Mike has to get up, when he opens his eyes again. Mike hasn't sleep that well in months, and his senses are calm. The speakers are still there, white noise filling the room, but it's Mike's phone connected now, not Jeff's.
Jeff is gone.
It's what Mike was expecting. Jeff's got a game tomorrow and there's only so much slack Sutter will cut him. Mike's still disappointed.
But there's a text from Jeff waiting when he picks up his phone. i'll mail you the fuckin detergent
Mike smiles and closes his eyes again.