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Look at the wonderful mess that we made

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Jamie doesn’t think about names until his brother’s starts to appear a few months before Jordie’s thirteenth birthday. He was too young to pay attention when his sister’s came in, and now it just seems like Jenny’s has always been there.

Jordie’s he notices. It starts as a faded-looking freckle on his wrist and comes in so gradually that Jamie doesn’t remember when it stopped being just a freckle and started being something he could read.

It’s Jamie’s eleventh birthday and his family is sitting at the dining room table, eating cake. He catches sight of the darker shapes and it seems weird he wouldn’t have seen it before.

“Hey, it’s letters,” Jamie blurts out.

Jordie rolls his hand over and follows Jamie’s eyesight. “Yeah. Katy.”

Jamie regards him curiously as Jordie goes back to wolfing down the blue icing flower.

“You’ll get yours when you’re older,” his dad reaches over and pats Jamie’s hand. Jamie checks his wrists just in case. There’s nothing there yet.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie doesn’t think about names again until he turns twelve. Jordie’s had come in completely by then, carefully printed letters that seemed to grow with his body. It wasn’t even strange to Jamie anymore; just like with Jenny’s, he’s used to seeing it.

But when Jamie turns twelve, it feels like suddenly he’s counting down to when his own will come in. He checks every morning for freckles or marks, carefully cataloging any bruises or scratches that might turn into anything.

Not everyone gets a name. Some never come in at all. Sometimes a name will start to appear and then fade out for no reason. Sometimes it stays a clouded bruise like Jordie’s had been in the beginning. And Jamie heard a rumor once that if you don’t find your soulmate in time, or if you ignore it and don’t look for them, the name will just go away. He doesn’t know if that’s true, but it makes him sad. How does your name decide how much time is enough time? He hopes that’s not true.

And sometimes, people have to hide their names with wristguards, or if they want to hide it forever, a tattoo.

Jamie’s sister told him about a book she read where a girl had another girl’s name come in. The girl’s mom didn’t want her daughter to have another girl on her wrist and she tried to make her date boys instead, hide her name from other people and didn’t treat her the same anymore. What he remembers most is Jenny telling him that the girl had tried to cut the name off. It scared him to think about, and still does sometimes. Jamie doesn’t remember the ending.

In history class they talked about how people who had same-sex names used to be put in jail. A long time ago in America, some of them were even burned at the stake. It’s not like that here anymore, he knows, but he’s seen the old men in flashy suits and bushy eyebrows on the TV Sunday mornings when he’s looking for cartoons. He’s heard them talk about how people with those names shouldn’t get married, should be sent away. Jamie doesn’t know how strangers think they can decide that for people, but the guy continued on his rant about unions that make children and living the way God wants.

“But if God gives you the name, how can it not be what God wants?” Jamie had asked Jordie.

“Huh? I don’t know. What are you even watching? Batman is on channel 7.” Jamie flipped to channel 7 and let it drop.

But he knows that the guy on TV isn’t alone. He’s also seen on the news or in the newspapers how in other countries—sometimes even in Canada—things happen to those people that are worse than just not being able to get married. Sometimes they get killed.

When he sees people who wear guards, he wonders if they’re hiding a same-sex name. Or how you would even know if your name was same-sex—there are two other Jamie’s in his school and both of them are girls. He met a boy once called Jamie, but his name was actually James.

Jamie knows that people hide their names or wear guards for lots of reasons, though. When he’d asked his mom about it, she told him some people do it because they feel like their names are private, or they aren’t ready to start looking for their soulmate yet.

“What about you? Did you wear one?”

“I did in college. It was important to me to focus on school. I knew what my wrist said, but it wasn’t a priority just then. When I was ready, and I was back in Victoria, I stopped wearing it.”

“And then you met Dad?”

“And then I met Dad. And then we got married and had your sister and your brother and you.”

“How did you know he was the right Randy?” When Jamie was little, he would sit on his parents’ laps and trace over the names on their wrists, sometimes without even thinking about it. He always liked how the letters there looked the same as the letters on the notes in his lunches, the hockey schedule on the calendar, the grocery list. It made him feel safe.

“Well, his handwriting for one. But, it also just felt differently. You remember that time when you and I were at the library and Jordie got hurt at practice?”

Jamie remembers. He’d gone with his mother to run errands after dropping his brother off. Jordie had sprained his ankle pretty badly when he’d stepped on a puck during a drill, and even though Jamie’s mom wasn’t there to see it, he remembers her grabbing him by the hand and dashing back to the rink.

“With a mom and her kids, it’s a mother’s intuition. With your soulmate, it feels a little like that sometimes, but not the same. Sometimes I can tell when he’s having a bad day at work or if he’s getting sick, or if he’s excited about something.”

“Like a mind reader?” She laughs and shakes her head.

“No, not like a mind reader. More like a feeling that I have right here.” She holds her fist up to her chest, against her breastbone. Jamie reaches up and touches his own chest. He doesn’t feel anything but his heartbeat.

She ruffles his hair. “Why the curiosity all the sudden?”

Jamie shrugs and bares his naked wrists.

“Don’t worry honey, it’ll come.”

Jamie had let her think he was just impatient, but in reality, he was scared for it. When Jordie started liking girls, Jamie wasn’t interested at all.

“You’re too young anyway,” Jordie rolled his eyes when Jamie told him so. “You’ll get it one day. It’s not like they actually have cooties.” Jamie just shrugged. He didn’t think about girls in a good way or a bad way, they were just there.

But then boys on his team started talking about girls—boys his age. They talked in the locker room about who was prettier in their class, who smelled the nicest. They talked about who was getting boobs already and whose were going to be the biggest. Jamie didn’t care at all about which girls had to wear bras already; why should he?

Cory had stood in the middle of the locker room in only his underwear, laughing as he mimed feeling up some girl in his math class. He swung his hips in wide circles and moved his hands through the air like he was outlining the silhouette of curves.

The other boys whooped and hollered and threw their sweaty socks at him. Jamie couldn’t stop staring at Cory’s hips.

It didn’t get easier after that. Sometimes the boys talked about who they would kiss if they could. Alexa had really nice lips; wouldn’t it be awesome to kiss her? What about Becca? Hey Jamie, Jamie! Your sister is hot, I’d kiss her.

Jamie punched Andy in the arm as hard as he could and tried to look as pissed as possible. He was distracted though because he was also thinking about kissing Andy.

He tried to stop thinking about other boys, he really did. Anytime he caught himself, he would force himself to think about girls instead. He tried to picture their long hair and their skinny wrists and their sparkly earrings and fluttering skirts. He tried to like how they smelled like vanilla or fruit or flowers, depending on whatever type of perfume they used. He tried to think about holding their hand, with their painted fingernails and colorful plastic rings. Jamie really, really tried.

And he’s still trying when he turns twelve, but it doesn’t feel any more like he can trick himself into believing he wants it. And he definitely doesn’t think he can trick the name on his wrist. So every morning, Jamie checks his arm for any sign of something different.

He’s scared it will come in all at once, with no warning. If it weren’t summer, he’d be in long sleeves every day. Instead, he starts to hide his wrist, shoving his hand in his pocket when he’s walking around, tucking it away in his lap during dinner. He asks his baseball coach if he can try something other than pitcher, not liking the way that his wrist is exposed each time he throws the ball. He tries to love playing in the outfield.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie makes it a full year without a name.

“Mom said Aunt Wendy’s name didn’t come in until she was 17! I wonder if you’ll have to wait that long.” Jordie tells him without warning one day. Jamie really hates that his family talks about his wrist behind his back, like it’s already a concern for them.

About two-thirds of his team has names on them, or the starts of one. None of them wear guards, though. Jenny just got a few for college next year, deciding like their mom she wanted to focus on school first. Jamie wonders if he can start wearing one now, say it’s so he can focus on hockey and baseball.

He thinks about it all summer, asking for one before he needs it. In the end, he decides that he’s going to ask right before school starts. Maybe he can say he’s just nervous that he’s not gotten his name yet, doesn’t want anyone to know.

In hindsight, he wonders if that jinxed him, because he wakes up two weeks before the first day of school with a wide, soft brown splotch in the center of his left wrist that wasn’t there the morning before.

He panics.

Jamie doesn’t mean to cry about it, but the surge of terror through his body shocks him awake too quickly for his brain to keep up and he’s hyperventilating as quietly as he can so no one comes to check on him. He wipes his eyes furiously and holds his breath. He tries laying back down and waking up again. He even stupidly tries pinching himself.

The splotch is still there, and if anything, he already swears it’s darker.

Luckily, Jamie’s been hiding his wrist for so long, no one in his family notices that he’s tucking his hands into his pockets more frantically or wearing his team windbreaker around the house. When he loses the jacket to go shoot pucks with Jordie in the driveway, he’s pleased to see that his gloves cover his wrist completely.

Three days before school starts, Jamie has already picked out a long-sleeved team shirt from a summer hockey tournament to wear the first day. His mom got him a size bigger than he usually wears so he can grow into it, but Jamie likes that the sleeves are long enough that they cover half his palms when he pulls them down.

Two days before school starts, it’s his and Jordie’s turn to set the table. His mom calls them in from the driveway. Jordie bounds inside first, but Jamie hangs back, chucks his gloves back into his bag and shrugs on his windbreaker.

Jordie is sampling from the stove when Jamie comes into the kitchen and he laughs when his mom thumps Jordie on the head. She does the same to Jamie when he opens the drawer and reaches for the silverware.

“Jamie, wash your hands first!” She shoots him a look and he’s so distracted by making sure he looks appropriately sheepish that he doesn’t even think when he budges up his sleeves and reaches for the soap.

“Whoa! Jamie, you’ve got a mark!” Jordie looks over from where he’s pulling plates down from the cabinet and Jamie freezes.

His mom leans over his shoulder to look and Jamie flips his wrist quickly.

“It’s just dirt. From playing outside,” he lies, impressed with how calm he sounds.

“Let me see, honey.”

“No! Mom, it’s nothing!”

She takes his hand anyway and Jamie lets her, heart thumping loudly. “I don’t think it’s just dirt,” she rubs her thumb over the spot like Jamie’s done himself a thousand times, trying to erase it. “How long has it been there?”

“I don’t know!” He’s still shouting and doesn’t really know why. “Maybe a puck hit me! Just let me wash my hands, okay?” Jamie never shouts at his mom.

No one in his family can figure out why he’s so upset about his wrist and Jamie doesn’t volunteer it. When he asks for a guard that night, his mom and dad frown at him, tell him he’s too young for one yet.

“Maybe we can talk about it again next summer, before high school,” his mom offers, but doesn’t sound like she really means it. It’s not good enough for Jamie.

They let him wear his long-sleeved shirt on the first day and Jamie feels embarrassed that they know why. The only thing that makes him feel better is that Jordie isn’t in the same school as him this year, and he doesn’t have to worry about him blabbing about his name coming in to his friends.

It’s easy to hide at school. He’s not left handed so he can keep his wrist hidden away or his palm pressed down on his desk. No one in his year is wearing a guard yet, and it pains Jamie to admit that his mom was right to make him wait. It would probably draw more attention if he had one at this point.

As the year goes on and the hockey season starts, Jamie still spends every morning trying to pick out individual letters as the splotch bleeds together. It’s a little like watching an inkblot form in reverse, he thinks. He wants to know what it’s going to say already as much as he wants it to stay the same indistinct smudge.

By now, everyone on his team has at least the beginnings of a name. They don’t talk about them as much as they did when it was still new, but it comes up more frequently in the locker room than Jamie would like. Some of the guys have one as dark and set as Jordie’s, while others have the same faded bruise Jamie started with. He tries not to stare—for more reasons than just being nosy—but he can’t help it. He’s constantly on the lookout for anyone who might be in the same position as he is.

Cory’s name was one of the first to come in, and his Riley made Jamie wonder for a while, but when the stain had settled and the letters were clear, the handwriting is distinctly curly and girly and feminine, a little star dotting the i. Cory had groaned and rolled his eyes when it was clear enough, showing the boys in the room.

“High maintenance,” some of the guys had chirped him.

“Whatever, I bet she’s crazy hot.”

Of the guys who have names that are legible, the ones that Jamie has seen—Riley, Noemi, Caroline, Alyssa, Sarah, Kayla, Maryse—are all female.

All he can figure is that he’s been staring at his own wrist so long he’s blind to it, because that’s the only thing that explains what happens when Mark looks at him quizzically as he laces up his skates and says: “Does that say Tara?”

“Huh?”

“Your wrist? What’s it say?”

Jamie puts on his meanest face. “Fucking nothing yet, mind your own business.”

Mark pulls back a little, stung. “Sorry, I was just asking. You stare at mine.” Jamie feels himself flush.

When he gets home, he locks himself in the bathroom and stands on the sink to get as close to the vanity light as he can. It does start with a T, he can see that now. It’s blurry and spindly, but it’s definitely there, carefully crossed and slightly crooked.

It doesn’t say Tara, though. He can tell as much.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Tyler.

The first person to see it once it’s readable, but still slightly haloed and indistinct, is Jordie. Jamie shows it to him on purpose.

He’s been able to make it out for three whole weeks now, though the L and the R are the last to really clear up, but what else could it have been? It feels like all his fears have been realized and it takes him each moment of those three weeks to work up the courage to walk into Jordie’s room and bare his wrist.

He thrusts it straight out at him and winces a little, torn between watching Jordie’s reaction and shying away from it. Jordie doesn’t even notice at first, splayed on his stomach on his bed, engrossed in his Walkman and geometry homework.

It feels like an eternity before he sees Jamie standing there, fingers trembling a bit.

“What?” Jordie looks at his wrist and then up at his face. Jamie doesn’t answer, just juts his jaw and pushes his wrist forward a fraction more.

Jordie’s brow is furrowed as he pulls off his headphones and tugs on Jamie’s forearm to get a better angle. Jamie feels tears stinging his eyes before Jordie even says anything.

“‘Tyler’?”

Jamie doesn’t answer. He nods, but Jordie is still looking down at his wrist and doesn’t see. It’s when Jordie looks up at him with a question on his face that the tears finally spill over.

“Whoa, what’s wrong?” Jordie moves to sit, knocking his textbook to the floor. Jamie doesn’t know what to say, so he doesn’t say anything. He tugs his wrist back and wipes at his eyes as Jordie wraps his arms around Jamie’s waist and pulls him to sit down.

“Jamie, what’s wrong?”

“Tyler,” he croaks out. It’s the first time he’s ever said it out loud.

“What’s wrong with Tyler?”

“It’s a boy.”

“No way.” Jordie scrunches up his nose like that’s impossible, and Jamie feels so much worse. “I bet I even know who it is! My goalie’s sister is a Tyler.”

“She’s in my class, her name’s Taylor.”

“It is? Well, there’s obviously a girl named Tyler out there or else—“

Jordie.” His voice is more forceful and Jordie snaps his mouth shut. “It’s a boy.”

“Oh.”

Maybe there is a Tyler out there who’s a girl, Jamie doesn’t know. But his Tyler is not; he was never going to be a girl, and Jamie kind of hates that he’s always known that.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Tyler’s name comes in when he’s still pretty young, barely ten at the time. He’s the first person in his class to get the tell-tale darkening patch on his wrist. It fades in slowly, though—takes almost a year and a half before he can make out any letters.

He likes this nebulous Jamie right away. He doesn’t know anything about them, but Tyler thinks that they must be pretty special if they showed up so early.

His mom is excited for him and lets him babble on as long as he wants. I bet that Jamie likes… I wonder what Jamie thinks about… Do you think Jamie would ever… Wouldn’t it be awesome if Jamie…

“I’m sure she really likes Harry Potter, too, honey.”

“They.”

“I’m sorry?”

“’I’m sure they really like Harry Potter.’ Jamie could be for a girl or a boy, right?” Tyler doesn’t want to exclude his Jamie by accident.

“Tyler, you shouldn’t say that. People might get the wrong idea.”

But Tyler doesn’t care about people, just Jamie. He tells his mom as much and she snaps at him with an angry look that makes Tyler shrink back.

“Well you should care! How would Jamie feel if she knew you were confusing her for a boy this whole time?” Tyler hadn’t thought about it like that before. His mom’s name had never really come in clearer than a blur so maybe she knew what she was talking about.

He says ‘she’ now, when he talks about Jamie out loud, but in his head, Jamie is still either. Tyler keeps that to himself for the next five years.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie wants to play in the NHL. More than he wants do well in school, more than he wants to pitch again, more than he wants to meet his soulmate, meet Tyler.

“There’s nobody in the NHL with a guy’s name,” Jordie looks solemnly over at Jamie after he helped him look online for an answer to his question.

“Did you try ‘gay’?” He can feel himself blushing and Jordie quirks his lip up in a sad little consideration before turning back to the computer. He types something quick and scrolls through search results.

“There’s maybe some? I don’t know. This says that Lecavalier might have a tattoo over his name. And some guys apparently never take their guards off at all. Maybe they have a guy’s name on them.”

“Or no name.”

“Yeah, maybe.” Jordie clicks around on a few message boards. Jamie can read over his shoulder at some of the things people are writing.

Jamie’s face is burning by the time Jordie closes the tab. He feels like he did when that man on the TV said boys with boys’ names shouldn’t get married—confused, humiliated, and alone.

“M’sorry, Jamie.” Jordie bites his lip and turns to him, eyes dropping to where Jamie’s sleeve is drawn over his palm. “I know you really wanted to play hockey.”

“But why can’t I? Why can’t I play?” He tries not to let his voice crack, but it happens anyway and Jordie pretends not to notice when Jamie quickly wipes his sleeve over his eyes.

“I mean, you can, I guess. If Vinny has a tattoo or whatever. You could get a tattoo and cover it up.”

Jamie doesn’t say it, but he doesn’t think that he’d want to get one even if he could. The only time that he doesn’t loathe Tyler, isn’t completely furious with him, is when he stops thinking about him like a Name, and starts thinking about him like a Person.

There’s a Tyler out there, with Jamie’s name written on him, and when he thinks about it like that, Jamie feels something that is much closer to protective. Sure he gets mad at him, but it’s still his Tyler.

What if Jamie tattooed over his name and then Tyler’s disappeared? What would he think? Jamie thinks about how it would feel if his wrist were bare again. He thinks he would be relieved, but if it was because Tyler didn’t want him? Well, that wasn’t fair, Tyler didn’t even know Jamie! Maybe Jamie hated Tyler now, but he didn’t want to reject him forever.

“I’m not old enough for a tattoo,” he says instead. Jordie nods sagely.

“We could find another way to hide it. We could ask Mom and Dad.”

“No!” Jamie thinks about the book that Jenny told him about. How the girl’s mom was so upset at her name that she made her hide it and date boys and stopped loving her the same. He doesn’t want his mom and dad to stop loving him, and he doesn’t want to date girls. He just wants to play hockey. If he’s got to pick between Tyler and hockey, Jamie’s going to pick hockey every time.

“Well, they know your name is coming in. They’re going to want to see it eventually.”

“Not yet. I don’t want them to know just yet.” Jamie tugs on his sleeve until his whole hand is swallowed up in the fabric, tucked tight in his fist. “Maybe Jenny, though.”

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie wants to talk to Jenny without Jordie there.

It’s dumb, but she’s known their parents the longest, and Jamie figures that maybe she will have some better advice. Maybe she knows a way to hide he hasn’t thought of.

She doesn’t.

She gives him one of her college wristguards though, and a hug that feels so much like the ones that he’s too old to ask his mom for anymore, and Jamie doesn’t feel so scared for the first time in a long time.

“Jenny?”

His sister cards her fingers through his hair and rubs her thumb over the Tyler, so much clearer now that it was even last week. “Yeah, Fats?”

“D’you remember in that book that you read.” He trails off as she traces the letters, one last time, before clicking shut the snaps on the guard and pulling his sleeve back down. “In the book where the girl tried to cut off her name—”

She stills abruptly. “Jamie. Don’t you dare.”

“M’not! I won’t! Jenny, I swear I wouldn’t. I just—what happens at the end? Do you remember?”

“Mmhmm. At the end, Liza meets her Annie, who has her name, and they fall in love—because they’re soulmates.” She squeezes him a little when she says it. “And it’s hard at first, Liza isn’t sure about giving up everything else for Annie. But you know what? She realizes that what she has to give up doesn’t even touch what she gets in return. And they live happily ever after.”

“But, but she has to give things up! That’s not happy, that sucks!”

“Maybe that’s not the best way to say it. I guess it’s more like, more like what gives her up. Like her mom. But she still does all the same stuff. She goes to college and she studies what she wants and she makes friends.” A beat. “I know you love hockey, Jamie. And I know you’re scared that you won’t be able to play anymore, but listen to me. You’re the exact same person that you were before your name came in. You can still skate, you can still shoot. Hell, you’re gonna be faster than Jordie at the rate you’re going. None of that goes away because of any name, okay?”

He nods weakly. “Okay.”

“And there’s no way in the world that your Tyler would be mad at you for trying everything you could to live your dream. I don’t know Sean yet, but I know that he won’t mind that I wear the guard and go to college before I look for him. You know how I know?”

“No.”

“Because if he minded, he wouldn’t be my soulmate. My soulmate wants me to be happy, and yours does, too. Tyler is going to want you to play the best hockey you can. Maybe it won’t work out, maybe you won’t get to play in the NHL one day. But it’s not going to be because of a name, Jamie. That’s got nothing to do with it.”

Jenny shows him how to take the guard off and on. She shows him how to lock it so it won’t come off if someone pulls or if he gets hit during hockey. She promises him that she will talk to their parents—without mentioning him—and gauge their reaction before he shows them.

“I’ll do it for you, but I know they just want you to be happy, too.”

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Three days later, Jamie is an expert at taking the guard on and off in the bathroom before school. The boys in the locker room ask him about it, like he worried they might.

“Tell them that it’s a famous person and you have to hide it!” Jordie offers.

Jenny shoots him a look. “Tell them it’s private.”

Jamie does, but they don’t listen.

Is it your cousin? Your sister! Did it disappear? Is it a boy? It’s a boy isn’t it. I bet it’s a teacher here or something. Can we at least see it, Jamie? Just one time.

“It’s private.”

Pssh. I bet you’re gay and it’s a boy’s name. I bet it’s someone in this room! No idiot then someone in here would have Jamie’s name. Maybe he doesn’t have one. No he has one, I saw it before. It was Tara. Wasn’t it Tara, Jamie?

“Shut up! It’s fucking private, okay?!”

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie tells his parents on a Saturday, after Jenny talked to them on Friday night.

“They won’t hate you. I told them that my friend had a girl’s name on her wrist and she was scared and they said that was silly. I told them her parents were mad at her and mom actually wanted me to invite her over to stay here if she needed to. They’re not gonna hate you, Fats. And if they do, and I read everything totally wrong? Then I’ll take you and we’ll go live somewhere else, okay? You and me and Jordie, if he wants to come.”

“Fuck yeah, I’d come!” Jordie looks annoyed at his sister for even suggesting otherwise.

Jamie tells them at the same time, walking into their room, knowing that Jordie and Jenny are right outside the door. He starts crying before he can even get out what he wants to say, settles for wiping his eyes with his right hand and holding his left wrist out toward them.

“It’s—it’s a him.”

They don’t hate him, but it’s not perfect. His mom hugs him so tight he’s afraid he’ll pop, and when she lets go, his dad does the same. His mom is wiping her eyes, too.

“Are you mad?”

“Jamie, sweetie, I’m not mad. I’m a little sad, but I’m not angry.”

“Why are you sad?” His voice sounds so much younger than he means for it to. He’s a teenager, for god’s sake, even if he doesn’t really feel like one right now.

It’s his dad that speaks up first. “It’s, it’s not going to be the same for you. It’s not going to be as easy.”

“I know,” he mumbles into his dad’s shoulder. He does know; he’s figured as much since he read the message boards with Jordie. Since he heard the Sunday preachers on TV talk about people like him like they weren’t whole people. Since he was little and had nightmares about being burned at the stake in Massachusetts for something he can’t do anything about.

“We want you to be happy, Jamie.”

“Well, m’not. I wish it was gonna be easy. I just want to play hockey. I want. I want things to not change.”

“We’ll do what we can, sweetheart,” his dad says finally, and it feels like they’ve settled on something without telling Jamie what it is.

Jordie never talked about what he wanted to do when he grew up until after Jamie’s name comes in. Suddenly, he talks a lot about the NHL, too. He says things like, ‘when we get drafted’ and ‘when we play in the NHL’ and it makes Jamie feel more in control, like there’s someone in his corner all the time.

He ends up playing on Jordie’s teams; no one on his new team has ever known him not to wear a guard.

Jenny puts hers on long before she heads off to school. Jordie starts wearing one, too.

Then it becomes a thing, the Benn siblings all wear guards. They’re private. People who think it’s strange don’t ever guess the reason why. It’s just how they Benns are. Maybe they’re religious. Maybe none of them have names. Maybe they have really strict parents.

It makes things a little harder for Jordie and Jenny, but no one ever calls Jamie out for it.

“When we play in the NHL, we can keep them on there, too.” Jordie says it like it’s nothing.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie is playing on a team with his older brother and he’s keeping up. His massive growth spurt helps, even though he carries all his weight differently—doesn’t mean he’ll ever shake the nicknames though—and it takes him a little while to get his speed back. The aches in his joints have stopped being a constant soreness, his body felt like it had been twisted around a spool for a while. Now they’ve settled into an occasional shooting pain in his legs or back. He’s nearly as big as his brother now; it doesn’t mean that Jordie isn’t still looking out for him though, but Jamie likes that Jordie treats him like an equal and not a kid brother. He’s the one that convinces Jamie to sneak out with him to a team party.

Jamie is fifteen, and he has his first beer and his first kiss on the same night. Jordie hands him the beer, sternly telling him that he is only to have the one—he’ll get him more later if he thinks Jamie can handle it. Then later on, when Jamie is already feeling buzzed and happy, Jordie dares one of the boys—Steven, who Jamie can’t deny he’s checked out once or twice—to kiss Jamie in thanks for the beautiful pass that had set him up for his hat trick goal the game before.

Jamie doesn’t expect him to actually do it, but then Steven is grabbing him by the cheeks, turning Jamie’s head with more force than is really comfortable, and planting a wet, beer-flavored kiss right on Jamie’s lips.

“Thanks for the sweet-ass pass, Fats! You’re a doll!” Steven lets go of Jamie just as hard as he’d grabbed him and Jamie stumbles back a step.

“Ugh!” He wipes his mouth of the excess spit with the back of his sleeve and shoves Steven back but doesn’t miss the way Jordie is grinning at him like this is the best gift he could think of. Jamie rolls his eyes, but it wasn’t all that bad.

On the way out, Jordie swipes two beers a piece for them and once they sneak back into their house, they set up Jamie in a sleeping bag on the floor and sip them slowly, laughing in hushed voices until the sky is glowing navy. They’re only just settling in to sleep when Jordie whispers down at Jamie after a long silence.

“I bet your Tyler likes hockey.”

Jamie looks over at where Jordie is blinking sleepily down at him with a half-smile. Sometimes Jamie thinks it’s weird that his brother is his best friend, but this isn’t one of those times. He knows what this night was about—Jordie wanting him to feel accepted—and in this moment, Jamie couldn’t love him more.

“I bet your Katy likes hockey,” Jamie parrots—it feels rather insubstantial compared to how he’s feeling.

“She does.” Jordie whispers after a while. “I think maybe I met her.”

“What?” Jamie sits bolt upright and stares at his brother best he can in the dim light.

“I think I met her at the rink last week. She’s a goalie.”

Jamie heard stories growing up, from his parents and his classmates and teachers and teammates. All the Victoria natives have always joked about it; the locals have said it’s a part of the lore of the place. ‘People from the Island are always with people from the Island.’ That if you’re born here, you’ll find your soulmate here is one of the reasons that people always come back. It’s been that way forever. Even when you leave, like his mom did, you always come back to Victoria.

“Did you talk to her?”

“No. Well, yeah, but not about—you know.”

“Then how do you know?”

“I don't know. I guess I don't really. It just felt different. Like it was important somehow.”

“A-are you gonna do anything?” Jamie closes his hand around his own wristguard carefully. He’s even gotten used to sleeping in it. “Are you going to talk to her?”

Jordie props himself up on his elbow and looks over at Jamie.

“We’ve got to make the show first, Chubbs.” Jordie grins and then lies back down. “Besides, she’s not going anywhere.”

Jamie is quiet for a long while. He thinks about what Jordie’s given up for him, what his whole family has. And then he thinks about Tyler. What if Tyler does like hockey? What if he plays? Or what if he used to, and he gave it up to look for Jamie.

“I hope Tyler likes hockey, too,” Jamie stares at the ceiling and rolls his tongue around his mouth, tasting the stale beer.

“I’m sure he does. I bet he plays,” Jordie sounds like he’s falling asleep and Jamie feels his eyes drooping as well.

“I bet he’s better than me,” Jamie says finally.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jordie meets Tyler Bozak a year before Jamie does, but he doesn’t mention it to Jamie .

Jamie didn’t understand what Jordie meant about it feeling different until he meets Tyler, because once he does, it’s like everything in the world fucking stops. And Bozie wears a wristguard, too.

He’s cute and Jamie’s first real crush. Sometimes he catches himself flirting, leaning into Bozie when he talks, laughing too loud at his jokes, staring too hard at his fingers on his skate laces. That’s when Jamie has to rein it in, but he can’t help it. He thinks maybe he’s in love.

They play beautiful hockey together, like they can read each other’s minds on the ice. Jamie thinks about what his mom said about feeling it in his chest. It’s maybe not just like that, but Jamie knows where Bozie is without looking for him. He can find him on the ice with his eyes closed. It just feels different, and Jordie looks excited for him when Jamie admits as much.

It’s how special it feels that makes things even harder for Jamie to parse through things rationally. He can’t just go up to Bozie and ask to see his arm—for one that’s rude, but Jamie is too shy to even consider doing that anyway.

“I tried to see his name last year,” Jordie offers. “He wouldn’t show me though, even when I said he could see mine, too.”

Jamie ultimately decides that he doesn’t care what Bozie’s wrist says. It’s fun just to like him, he assures himself. He likes Bozie’s hair and his eyes and his laugh and his beautiful fucking wristshot. He likes that Bozie doesn’t treat him like Jordie’s little brother. He likes how Bozie tells Jamie he’s the best liney he’s had.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

They're deep in the defensive zone at the end of a brutally long shift when their goalie finally covers the puck and gets a couple post-whistle chops for his effort.

Jamie gets up in one guy's face and sees Jordie and his other teammates do the same to the rest of the opponents’ line.

"Watch your fuckin' stick man, fuck you," Jamie gives him a shove across the chest.

"Eh, Big Bennie, you'd probably like that too much," the other guy scowls.

"The fuck does that—”

"I played with Mark last year, says you got a guy's name on you, s'why you got a guard on already. Fucking, like Tyler or some shit. You an' Bozak getting your dicks wet?"

And Jamie fucking decks him. His aim is for shit and he mostly catches the guy in the neck and cage, but it drops him to the ice as well as any better placed punch would.

The ref yanks Jamie back before he can go at the guy again, and he’s already flushed red with anger and embarrassment when he sees Bozie looking at him with a hitched eyebrow.

He ends up tossed from the game. It means he has a long time to sit in the locker room and wonder if Bozie actually heard what the kid said. He thinks about whether or not Tyler was a lucky guess or Mark had seen Jamie's wrist better than he’d let on at the time.

Or if someone—Jordie, his brain unhelpfully supplies—said something to a guy he shouldn't have.

When Jamie asks him later, still seething from the incident, Jordie looks so fucking hurt that Jamie actually feels even worse.

"Fuck you, Chubbs. I'd never tell anyone that shit. It's our fucking business, not theirs. And fuck you again for even asking."

He says 'our' like it's just as much his concern as Jamie's. Jamie wants to be mad about that too—it’s not the same, Jordie is never going to know what it's like to need to hide—but he knows Jordie doesn't mean it that way, and he's already pissed him off enough for one day.

Instead, Jamie goes to bed angry at Tyler, for complicating Jamie's life and not even taking responsibility for it. It feels rational at the time.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie has this fantasy where they have to take off their clothes, even their wristguards, for a team physical. It’s just him and Bozie, getting called in together to speed things up. They strip naked, just the two of them, until they’re down to just their guards. Bozie slides his off carefully, eyes locked with Jamie’s, and Jamie sees his own name written there. He shows Bozie his, and they fall in love. Well, first they fuck, and then they fall in love.

But it’s just a stupid fantasy.

Bozie never says anything to Jamie about the fight on the ice, never asks what he’s got hidden under his guard, but the two of them continue to tear up the league; Jamie gets attention from CHL scouts who skipped over him when he was 16. He thinks that maybe he and Bozie and Jordie will all get picked up, even though Bozie is up against the age cut-off.

In the end, Bozie ends up committed to the University of Denver. The day before he leaves, he comes over to the house to say goodbye to Jamie and Jordie. Bozie shows them his wrist.

Amanda.

“You’re the best I’ve played with, Jamie,” Bozie says as he hugs him goodbye. Jamie doesn’t hug back as hard as he wants to. His wristguard catches on the hood of Bozie’s sweatshirt and for the first time in his life, it feels huge and cumbersome. “You’ll get what you’re looking for, okay?”

And Jamie feels so stupidly transparent because it sounds like Bozie knows, and that means Jamie was more obvious than he thought, and he’s terrified for a moment that he messed up like that. But Bozie is still hugging him, and he doesn’t seem upset. So Jamie nods and tries very hard not to cry. It’s his first broken heart.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie gets drafted. But not into the CHL.

He gets drafted in fifth round by the Dallas Stars of the National Hockey League. The fucking NHL.

And the phone doesn’t stop ringing then. By the end of a whirlwind week, Jamie goes from moping about Bozie leaving to committed to the Kelowna Rockets—and an NHL draftee.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Even though he’s done it before, playing without Jordie is strange, like he’s forgotten how to look out for himself. He’s a lot more reserved without his brother by his side and mostly keeps to himself. When he meets his Rocket teammates, he pauses a bit longer to crane his neck up at Tyler Myers, but his wrist clearly says Emily, so Jamie doesn’t linger too long.

He rededicates himself to hockey, and it scares him sometimes, thinking about how close he is to actually playing in the NHL. Jamie focuses on putting up points, improving his game, ensuring that he gets the best chance possible. He celebrates every success like he’s proving someone wrong, even if he can never tell anyone what about.

But he’s only human, and he’s also eighteen, so in the meantime, Jamie hooks up—quietly and on the outskirts of Kelowna—where guys from the college go to cut loose and be cautiously out for the first time. They’re in the same boat as Jamie and he never worries they’ll out him, too.

Armed with his fake ID, he meets nice boys—cute boys—who all wear wristguards and never ask to see what he’s got underneath his. It’s fun, and he likes figuring out how get them off as much as he likes figuring out what gets him off.

But the first time he gives a guy a blowjob, Jamie feels guilty. He thinks about Tyler, wherever he is. Jamie has long since stopped hating him, even though he thinks it would much easier to hide being gay if the evidence wasn’t printed on his body. When he gets back to his billets’ that night, Jamie takes off his wristguard for the first time in six months. He wants to make sure Tyler is still there.

He keeps it off while he’s locked away in his room. Later, Jamie jerks off with his left hand, bare wrist brushing against the shaft of his cock with each twisting upstroke. He thinks about what Tyler might look like—smaller than he is, but still strong enough to move Jamie how he wants him—how he’ll touch Jamie, how good it will feel to rub his marked wrist over the body of the man who owns it; how hot it will be to touch someone who has Jamie’s name printed on his own body.

And then he thinks about how it makes him feel to imagine Tyler out there, fooling around and falling in love with other boys that aren’t Jamie. It sets off a small twinge in his heart, but it doesn’t make him angry or anything. He hopes at least that Tyler is happy, and if that happens to be with someone else before Jamie can be there? That’s perfectly fine so long as whoever it is treats him right.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Tyler really likes Brownie. At first it feels the same as all the other friends he’s had that he really likes. Brownie is stupidly funny and he puts up with Tyler’s antics, he likes to wrestle around and he doesn’t treat Tyler like a kid even though Tyler’s only 16 and Brownie is two years older.

But then, it starts to not feel like all his other friendships. Brownie won’t always get up right away after they wrestle and he’s got Tyler pinned to the hotel room floor. He doesn’t shove Tyler out of his bed when he falls asleep there beside him, watching some dumb movie late into the night.

They sit closer together than they need to on the bus and the other guys on the team chirp them for it. Brownie doesn’t stop though. He’ll roll his eyes and then roll up his right sleeve, bearing the name Lauren for whoever is running their mouth at them. Then Tyler will pull up his left sleeve and show off his Jamie.

“Whatever, your girlfriends are probably lesbians, too.” Which doesn’t even make sense but Tyler and Brownie laugh and laugh.

Tyler doesn’t actually think it would be so bad if he had to share his Jamie with Brownie’s Lauren. It would probably mean that Tyler would get to share Brownie, too. It might even be kind of nice.

When the bus finally makes it to the hotel it’s already past midnight, but Brownie flicks on the TV in their room anyway, turning the volume down low. He leaves all the other lights off and they get ready for bed only by the flickering blue light. Eventually, Tyler climbs onto the bed next to Brownie and props himself up with an extra pillow.

“I bet your Lauren is pretty awesome,” Tyler hears himself say. He can’t exactly follow what’s happening in the movie and his mind wanders some.

“Yeah.” And then after a beat: “She’s probably not a lesbian though.” Brownie grins down at him.

“No. I don’t think Jamie is either, to be honest.” Then Tyler takes a deep breath and says quietly, “I don’t even know for sure if Jamie is a girl.”

Brownie doesn’t say anything right away and Tyler can’t read his face from this angle in the dim light. His heart is thudding in his chest and he swears he can actually hear it in the room. Maybe Brownie can, too.

It’s been quiet long enough that Tyler figures the conversation, if it even counted at one, is over. He closes his eyes and tries to settle himself, too scared to go to the other bed, like moving would shatter everything.

The gentle pressure of Brownie’s hand against Tyler’s cheek causes him to open his eyes again, the same time as he hears Brownie speak.

“Hey—” Brownie cuts himself off, leaning down to press their lips together.

Tyler thinks it’s a pretty awesome kiss.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie’s first NHL win is also the Dallas Stars’ first win of the season. The team goes out to celebrate in Calgary and is sure to get Jamie good and drunk. He wasn’t planning on going out, Jamie usually doesn’t when it’s big groups of people and he feels obligated to stay longer than he wants.

But everyone is happy and loose and it still blows Jamie’s mind that he’s actually here, a part of this team. That in two days he’ll be at the rink where he used to watch the Canucks on TV when he was a kid, on the ice. Playing against the Canucks.

The older guys all make a point to let him know that they expect him to show off a little for the hometown fans. Richards lifts his glass to Jamie’s to cheers (“For popping that first win cherry, eh, Bennie? Better try to remember ‘em all while you can. It goes quicker than you think.”) and in the dim bar light, Jamie can just make out the black rectangular tattoo across Richards’ wrist.

He flicks his eyes away quick before Brad notices, but seeing it unclenches something knotted tight in Jamie’s chest. He hears himself burst with a carefree laugh and clinks his glass against Brad’s before downing the rest of it in one go.

He made it. Now he’s just got to make sure he can keep it.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie scores his first NHL goal in Vancouver and the arena is packed with family. He spends all night shooting at the net, determined to show everyone that’s sacrificed for him and supported him that it was all worth it for this moment. He ties the game in the closing minutes of the third period. To him, the cheers sound just as loud as when the home team scored. He thinks he can even pick out Jenny’s voice from the stands.

After the game, Jordie hugs him in the tunnel, Jamie with his dripping hair in his nicest suit.

“When I score my first goal,” Jordie grabs both of Jamie’s wrists and shakes his arms for punctuation, “we’ll at least win the game.” Jamie’s never seen him smile so big.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

He’s is already hurt when the Stars make the trip to Boston, but on top of the injury he gets sick. He wakes up sweating, chest heaving, and on the verge of tears, remnants of a nightmare tugging at his brain.

Jamie hates Massachusetts. He knows they don’t still burn people at the stake, but it ignites a flash of anger and shame in his gut that makes him uneasy. He doesn’t trust the state is all, and being in Boston sets his teeth on edge.

The knee he tweaked earlier on the road trip has already knocked him out of the game tonight, but after the nightmare he can’t even bring himself to watch the game live. Instead, he does his rehab during the day and goes to bed early, alone in his hotel room.

He misses Tyler Seguin’s goal.

The Stars lose.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

They also lose the final game of the season, and thus their chance at making the playoffs.

Jamie spends the rest of the postseason getting drunk with Jordie in Dallas. Jordie had played most of his games up with the Texas Stars that year, working his way up from Allen.

“Maybe I’ll get a call up for a game or two to your club next year, hey Chubbs?” He admitted to Jamie that he was under no delusion he’d ever play a full season up there, but Jamie was insistent that anything was possible.

“We do what we can, eh? Like Dad always says?” Jordie beamed at that and let Jamie hand him another beer.

In the privacy of Jamie’s apartment, they don’t have to wear their guards. Sometimes Jamie still does, but Jordie is one of the few people he doesn’t have to hide around. This is a night for relaxing with his brother, and Jamie’s wristguard has been safely deposited on top of his dresser.

They finish off the rest of the twelve-pack and play cards for quarters until they’re laughing too hard to keep going. Jamie thinks maybe this is the happiest he’s been since he and Jordie were kids; he almost feels completely normal.

When the Bruins win the Cup, Jamie doesn’t even care.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Tyler kisses Marchy up against a wall outside Foxwoods at four in the morning.

Brad doesn't kiss back and he doesn't push Tyler away. He doesn't do anything.

"Um," is all he says when Tyler stops.

Tyler plops down on the curb and rests his forehead on his knees.

"Sorry." He mumbles into the pavement, but feels Brad stoop to sit beside him.

When he finally lifts his head, Tyler sees Brad's eyes drop to his wristguard. They're both swaying a bit, shoulders brushing and then not as they move. Tyler blames the alcohol for what he does next.

With shaking hands, he undoes the clasp. He hates wearing his guard, wishes he didn’t have to, but right around the time of his draft combine, it was being strongly encouraged from all sides—strongly encouraged in a way that implied it wasn’t up for discussion. He’d go without forever if it were up to him—what happens if he walks right by Jamie and never even knows it? It makes him sick to think about.

Tyler carefully turns his arm and shows Brad the letters, somehow both tiny and bold at once. He forgets for a moment he's not alone and traces over the J, the M, the I, the E. He saves his favorite for last: the delicate A that swoops like a typeface.

When it first came in, Tyler marveled at how fancy it looked, with the hook at the top. It was like the As that were printed in books and newspapers. He wished he could make his letters like Jamie did.

"Jamie," Brad reads it carefully, regarding Tyler after.

"Yeah." Tyler traces the A again before doing the clasp back up.

"You met him yet?" Brad asks finally. Tyler snorts and shrugs.

"Naw, haven't met them."

"’Them’?"

Tyler looks at Marchy and shrugs again. "I don't know yet, if she's a she or he's a he."

He bites his lip hard. Sometimes he thinks he knows, sometimes he feels it so deeply in his bones that it's like he's already remembering it: looking up for a kiss, shrinking down in strong arms, against a wide, flat chest. Being held down and protected and swallowed by it.

And sometimes he feels like he doesn't know anything at all.

Marchy huffs a tiny laugh and throws an arm over Tyler's shoulder.

"Only you, Segs. Only you." It sounds more empathetic than pitying though and Tyler relaxes.

They sit in companionable silence until Tyler starts to list into Marchy’s shoulder, then Brad pipes up again: "Wouldn't it all be a hell of a fucking lot easier if all our wrists just said Stanley on them?"

Tyler laughs at that, nodding until he feels like his head is swimming with it.

"Yeah. Well, we've already got the only matching tattoos that really matter anyhow."

In that moment, he means it, but the next day Tyler feels bad for saying it. He hopes that his Jamie didn't somehow feel it.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Normally, Jamie likes coming home to Victoria.

He loves the landscape and the weather, he loves his family and his friends and old teammates. He loves how he feels settled, like he’s with people that he can relate to.

Normally, he doesn’t feel so angry.

He can’t take the guard off here, not like he can when it’s just him and Jordie in Dallas. It’s always been like that here, too many unexpected visitors, people who know who he is and what he does. His jersey hangs in hockey shops downtown. It’s not safe here to be exposed.

Normally, that doesn’t piss him off.

Jamie likes to think he’s gotten past his resentment of Tyler. In a lot of ways, he has—it’s certainly not the same bitterness that he had as a teenager.

But this trip feels really fucking different. For the first time, Jamie shows up already annoyed and anxious, dropping his bags in his bedroom and kicking them for good measure. It only gets worse from there. For the first time, Jordie takes off his guard and leaves it off for the whole summer. Jamie is too pissed off and stubborn to ask him about it.

He goes golfing with his dad and Jordie, throws his clubs when he misses an easy putt. He goes camping up at Yellow Point Lodge with Jordie and some of the old Grizzlies guys and punches a rock when he accidentally burns himself stoking the fire.

It bubbles and bubbles inside him, seemingly with no end, a simmering fury that spills over at the worst of times.

And Jamie blames Tyler.

He blames Tyler for making Victoria a place that he has to hide his arm from people he genuinely loves. He blames Tyler for making him have to think twice about what he says to whom in his own hometown. He blames Tyler for being out there, doing whatever the fuck it is that he’s doing that isn’t suffering through this with Jamie. It feels like a greasy kind of rejection that he can’t shake off and can’t argue because he can’t look Tyler in the eye and tell him the fuck off for messing with Jamie’s entire life.

He wants to get back at Tyler.

Jamie makes the fucking five hour drive down to Seattle. He checks into a hotel room and then goes out drinking. He makes out with a guy in a bar whose name Jamie doesn’t even hear over the music. And then he leaves him to go make out with someone else.

He fucks a short blond who doesn’t stay the night, doesn’t even leave his number. He gets fucked by a guy who looks a hell of a lot like Daley.

It’s just one big fucking summer of firsts for Jamie.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie comes back to Dallas and pours himself a hundred percent into hockey. The summer was a shit show, settles like a bruise in the back of his mind and he tries to forget about it. Jamie just never knows what to do with himself when he’s not on the ice.

Jordie gets invited to Fort Worth for training camp but gets cut before the preseason even starts. Jamie’s glad for Jordie not to be in the Central Hockey League anymore but the twenty minute drive to see him in Allen was a lot more manageable than the two hour drive down to the Austin area.

Jamie tries to visit when he gets the chance—it’s not like he’s well-known in Dallas by any means, but Austin is lot more diverse and he’s even more anonymous down there. He hooks up with a couple guys, but mostly he uses the trips to visit with Jordie.

The team dynamic hasn’t changed much. A little less than half the guys wears guards—basically league average from Jamie’s understanding—but even most of those guys will take them off to shower or for games. Jordie told him once that it was about the same for the Texas Stars, but that the younger guys wear them mostly because they’re just looking to hook up.

“Like the opposite of a wedding ring,” Jordie grinned. Jamie kind of hopes people assume the same about him when he’s roped into going out with the team, even though he’s never trying to pick up. He flirts with girls occasionally, but only enough to make a show of it. It’s not like Jamie has really good game anyhow and everyone assumes he’s just striking out. After that he sticks with the married guys and no one really asks about it.

Burish had teased him about it once—whether or not Jamie had a secret someone back home he was keeping from them—but Jamie had been so flustered that Adam dropped it instantly. He apologized later back at the hotel, uncharacteristically sheepish for Bur, but Jamie still felt weird about it.

He’s always been a pretty quiet person. He used to wonder if he’d be the same way with a different name on him, if needing to hide made him shy like this. He spends a lot of time in his head thinking about other people, wondering what they’re thinking about him. He’s heard some pretty terrible things on the ice, things that have hit way too close to home. Some of those things have been said to him, some to other people. Sometimes it’s in his own locker room.

Jamie wonders about that the most. He hates that he has to decide if guys he plays with, guys he really likes, can be trusted or if they’d use it against him if they had a chance. Hockey is a strange world; you’re teammates with someone one day and then battling against them the next. Someone who is his friend now might not be later. Burish hadn’t said anything mean or accusatory, but he’d picked up on something Jamie tried to keep hidden, and just because no one else had ever said anything doesn’t mean they hadn’t noticed, too. All it does is make him want to keep to himself even more.

On New Year’s Eve, they’ve got a home game against Boston and the single boys are already making plans to go out after—plans that include Jamie, unfortunately. He has every intention of faking some kind of illness after the game to get out of it.

He sets up for a faceoff against Tyler Seguin. Jamie wins the draw and the game, and he doesn’t think about Seguin, not even once.

He rings in the New Year alone, driving back to his empty apartment. It’s great to close out the year with a win—over the defending Cup champions no less—but every bit of good feeling that had bloomed in him during that game starts to fade away and Jamie can’t shake off the twinge in his gut that reminds him so much more of loss. Maybe he really is coming down with something.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Tyler rings in the New Year on the team bus. He sits beside Marchy and watches the lights of the city blur together. He hears fireworks pop in the distance, sees the glow rising over the buildings as they pass. He points them out to Brad, his suit sleeve sliding down, and the distant red, yellow, green, white bursts of light reflect in the leather of his wristguard.

“Pretty awesome, eh?” Tyler tries to smile, but he feels like shit. He hates losing in general, but this one goes a little deeper than usual, settling in him like a gentle ache in his abdomen that pulses with his heartbeat.

It doesn’t go away after that, if anything it gets stronger.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

A lot happens in the next two weeks.

Jordie gets called up for his first NHL game on the third. Jamie is elated, even more so when Jordie gets his first point and Jamie adds a goal later. They lose the game, but Jamie is happy anyway.

Jordie stays in the lineup for a second game and Jamie gets another goal. In game after that, Jamie scores twice. He’s riding high to start the year, putting up numbers he’s proud of and finally playing in the NHL alongside his brother.

Then, his scoring streak ends, Jordie gets sent down, and Jamie’s appendix nearly bursts. As good as things were, they quickly go to shit.

Jordie stays with him after the appendectomy, but only until he’s got to head back to Austin. Jamie misses a handful of games, and he’s going a little stir-crazy with no hockey to keep himself occupied. The league is getting ready to head into a break too and Jamie can’t sit on his ass any longer. As soon as he’s feeling even close to better, he decides he’s still attending the All-Star game.

It’s the best and worst decision he makes.

Chapter Text

Jamie still has his prescription for pain meds when he arrives in Ottawa. He doesn't think he'll need them until he sees the list of events they have in mind for him. Hardest shot is definitely out, there's not a chance he can twist as hard as he'll need to without ripping something.

Speed skating, he flat out laughs at that. Even healthy he’d be a bit of a misfit there. He doesn't need to embarrass himself in front of the league’s brightest stars. Accuracy he could take his time with, and it's so far the best option.

Before the draft that night the players are allowed to skate around on the ice, check out the lay of the land. Jamie hits a few pucks until his side starts to protest, but the easy pace of the shooting challenges have him well and convinced that he should try to swing that for his event.

He does end up needing a pill by the time he gets back to his room to shower and change. The League asks all the players to wear a guard for the weekend, even the ones who don’t normally. He heard a few guys complaining about having to wear one earlier on the ice, but Jamie obviously doesn’t mind.

It's an honor to be there for sure, but Jamie still doesn't want to get picked last. He paces himself with the cocktails, mindful of the medication, and watches as his company dwindles down. He starts sitting next to wunderkind Tyler Seguin. The two things that interest Jamie about Tyler Seguin—his name and his looks, Christ the kid is attractive—are essentially negated by the one thing that Jamie actually knows about Tyler Seguin—he has an aggressively douchey reputation. But Jamie is kind of stuck in the corner where his crutches are so he makes the best of it. As more names are called, the guys left shuffle seats around and Jamie ends up relocating when the cameramen ask him to.

Seguin drops to the seat next to him again, picks back up talking about something that Jamie is having trouble keeping up with. He’s pretty reserved anyway, but Jamie is definitely not good at talking to guys who are that hot. On top of that, he’s nervous with all the cameras around, keeps getting distracted knowing he’ll be interviewed on live television when he gets called on stage. He’s giving the kid a bit of a brush off, smiling politely where he thinks it’s appropriate, but Seguin doesn’t seem to care too much. He laughs obnoxiously at his own jokes and keeps checking over to see if Jamie is, too.

When the cameras come around, they head right to the two of them to talk to—not him, thank god. For as loud as Seguin was being before, his interview is shy and mumbled. It’s a little endearing. Jamie starts to figure that he’d maybe be a little cocky too if he’d had a Stanley Cup ring by the time he was nineteen, but Tyler is nice balance between humble and brash. Really though, Jamie was still in Kelowna when he was nineteen and the NHL wasn’t even an inevitability for him yet—maybe the kid has earned a little bit of that arrogance.

Jamie only thinks about it for a passing moment though—he’s more focused on making sure he doesn’t puke when he goes on stage. Fuck, he hopes that he doesn’t have to say anything more than a curt thank you when he’s picked, but he knows the longer he’s back here the more they’re going to want to hear from him. Jamie hasn’t been picked last for something since he was probably twelve years old.

Once the meds start kicking in, Jamie has even more trouble following the mile-a-minute monologue Seguin is keeping up. He smiles and nods politely though and Seguin keeps beaming at him like Jamie is actually contributing something to the one-sided conversation.

In the end, there's only him, Pominville, Seguin, and Couture. The four of them exchange chastened looks as they're paraded on stage. When Chara calls his name—not the very last, thank god—Jamie pulls on the dark blue jersey and takes his seat beside Seguin.

“Hi, again!”

“Hi,” Jamie mumbles. He wouldn’t go so far as to say that he’s glad they’re on the same team, but at least Seguin seems to like him.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie wakes up the next day and decides to see how it goes without the meds. The skills competition is early in the day and if he needs to take one when it’s over, he’ll still have time.

He’s dressing with Team Chara in their home jerseys, feeling a lot more alert and far less anxious than he had been the night before. He’s in a good mood; hockey is his element and he’s proud to be here and excited for the day to come.

Seguin is a few seats down the bench from him, beside Thomas and Z. The first thing Jamie notices about him is that he’s been stalling putting on his pads and Jamie can’t stop peeking glances at his ridiculous abs—he looks like porn Jamie watches, muscles upon muscles in ways he could only ever dream of having himself. He’s really having trouble tearing his eyes away and the little zip of arousal is extremely unappreciated right now.

Seguin is also a hell of lot more boisterous than he was, acting like the douchebro Jamie was expecting yesterday. Jamie hasn't heard a gay joke in a locker room in a long time—at least not since the Grizzlies. Usually those kinds of chirps stay on the ice, but he supposes it was only a matter of time.

“I’m just saying, Ebs, that goal you had the other night was fucking unbelievable. I mean, I had fucking chills watching that replay, dude. No homo or anything.” Seguin looks pleased with himself and it jolts Jamie like a bucket of ice water. He glances around to see the other reactions in the room, but no one seems put off.

Eberle is grinning at the compliment and some of the other guys are nodding in agreement.

“Like anyone needs a reminder you’re into chicks,” Lupul tosses a wad of sock tape at Seguin.

“Yeah, no kidding, Casanova,” Thomas cuts in and Seguin grins.

“Hey, man, you never know. I don’t want Ebs to get any ideas.”

“Fuck you, no! Zero percent interested.”

“Better safe than sorry. I got propositioned by that guy on Facebook like last week so,” Seguin shrugs.

“Oh god, I saw that,” Kane laughs like a bellow. He starts filling in Hossa on whatever it is that he saw and Seguin jumps in to elaborate. He recites some of the more lewd suggestions with an offended look.

“Yeah, got in a bit of hot water with management for that one.” Seguin cackles at his story and Z rolls his eyes with an exasperated smile, a there-he-goes-again look of amused frustration that says way more than Jamie needed to know about the kind of person Seguin must be in the Boston locker room.

Jamie ends up sitting next to Seguin again on the bench. He tries to ignore him but quickly discovers that without the help of the painkillers, tuning Seguin out is next to impossible, though his chatter is certainly easier to follow sober. Other than his locker room talk and a couple crude jokes about Boston puckbunnies, Seguin is funny and engaging and Jamie ends up drawn into conversation despite himself.

He keeps nudging Jamie with his shoulder and whispering these devastatingly witty little chirps about the other guys that have Jamie laughing despite himself. He’s observant but outgoing and keeps up the conversation where Jamie would let it falter. He does it so casually that it makes Jamie a little jealous. It’s how he’s always wished he could be, gregarious and carefree—not constantly worrying about what others are thinking about him.

He catches himself staring at the black wristguard locked tight in place on Seguin's wrist. He doesn’t know if he wears one normally or if it’s just for this weekend. As far as he can guess though, Seguin’s a twenty year old superstar in an Original Six market; if he doesn’t wear one by choice, the Bruins probably ask him to just so the entire city of Boston isn’t turning itself upside down looking for Melanie, or Sofia, or Alexandra, or whoever’s name he’s got stamped on him. Hell, even Jamie is a little curious.

After the skills competition, he’s got some time before the after party in the hotel bar starts. He showers again when he gets back to the room, spending way too long trying to slick his hair just right. He’s still got a bit of time to kill so he pulls out his laptop, shoots off a quick email to Jordie about the morning events, reads some shit about the upcoming Superbowl matchup, and decides to Google Seguin.

He gets a bunch of generic shit from hockey stat sites, links to the kid’s Twitter, and enough shirtless photos to stain his cheeks pink and get him half-hard embarrassingly fast. He quickly clicks over to the news section—talk about him playing for Team Chara, the goal he scored against Washington before break, and a Deadspin bit about some tweet he sent out that got him in trouble. Jamie clicks on that, can’t imagine that’s anything other than what Seguin had mentioned in the locker room earlier.

But it’s worse than he’d assumed. Seguin had straight-up outed the kid by taking screengrabs of the messages and posting them to his Twitter—without blacking out the guy’s name. Jamie feels sick. He can’t imagine the fucking fallout if someone outed him like that.

Jamie doubts anyone outside the hockey world even knows who he is—and even there he’s relatively invisible—and he’d sure as shit like to keep it that way. But if people found out about his name, knew that he’s gay, he’d be the one with articles about him. He’d be the one they were talking about on the message boards, on the news, in the locker rooms behind his back—maybe even to his face. People would look at him when they said no homo.

Jamie alternates between furious and panicky for the next twenty minutes and tries to forgive himself for thinking Seguin was just a harmless, idiot kid—he clearly doesn’t give much of a shit about who he offends or how.

He distracts himself with bad TV until Nealer shoots him a text that he’s heading down to the league party at the hotel bar and tells Jamie to join. He does end up needing to take a pill, but physically he’s not feeling nearly as bad as he thinks he could be. He hopes it might even calm his nerves some, but he still paces himself with the alcohol. It's not hard to notice that Seguin doesn't.

"He's not old enough to drink in Boston," Chara helpfully supplies when he catches Jamie watching Seguin hike his shirt up to expose his abs and try to stand on a barstool to dance to whatever song is playing. He gets the feeling that Chara spends a lot of time defending the kid to other people.

Jamie uses the rest of the night to catch up with Tavares and Eberle, talking about guys they knew from World Juniors and what they’re up to now. He and Nealer catch up and talk about what’s new in Dallas and how he likes Pittsburgh. He even talks with Couture a bit, commiserates about the experience of being last and laughs when Couture said he’s going to gift the car to his little brother.

Usually crowds like this where he doesn’t know many people more than casually put him on edge, but the alcohol loosens him up a bit and it’s a nice, easy night. By the end, Jamie’s glad that he decided he come.

Seguin comes up to him later just as Jamie is about to close his tab and head upstairs for the night. His side is starting to ache as the pill wears off and he wants to see if he can’t make it to bed before needing to take another—the faster he can wean himself off the better.

"Hey, Bennie!" He turns and finds himself face to face with tired, soft brown eyes and a wide pink-lipped smile.

"Hey Segs." Jamie can feel his skin flush with renewed annoyance and hurt—but fuck if there isn’t still attraction in there as well. Jamie frowns at himself.

"Seriously, your shooting today? Fucking aces, bro. Absolutely beauty moves from that angle. You and Ebs were just killing it, eh?"

"Thanks," Jamie quirks a smile. Somewhere in that was a genuine compliment, he's pretty sure.

"Yeah, great that you could make it after your surgery. M'glad you got it checked out and that everything went okay. We played you, a couple weeks back I think, and then my stomach was hurting and I heard about you and I freaked out at Z, thought it was the same thing as you had."

"Yeah?" Jamie looks over his shoulder and tries to flag a bartender.

"Yeah. S'all good now though. Went away on its own. Not like you."

"No, not like mine." Jamie takes his bill and signs off on it, catching Seguin's frown when he turns back.

"Isn’t that kind of weird though that we both had a thing? And I heard Thomas tell you that shit like that would have killed you back in the day—you're leaving?" He huffs it all out in one breath, question tacked on the end and he looks surprisingly disappointed.

"Yeah," Jamie gestures vaguely to where his surgical scars are still healing. "Gotta take things easy still you know?"

"Oh, yeah sure. That makes sense."

Neither of them offers anything else for a beat.

"Well, I guess I'll see you tomorrow at the game?" Jamie finally pipes up, clapping a hand on Seguin's shoulder. He doesn’t know what compels him to do it; maybe he had more to drink than he thought.

Seguin looks over at where Jamie is touching him, frown growing deeper. Jamie pulls back immediately. He probably should have thought a little more before he touched the homophobe.

"Sorry."

"No, it's. Whatever."

"Okay. See you tomorrow, Seguin."

"'Night, Jamie."

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Tyler wakes up the next day hungover as hell. He doesn’t remember much after matching Kane shot-for-shot or much before Z depositing him not-so-gently into his bed when the bar closed for the night.

He’s glad it’s only the All-Star Game and he’s not exactly expected to go out and play hard or anything. He ends up with an assist in the third period on the last goal of the 12 his team scored. It takes him about that long to sober up anyway.

He’s not feeling great, but he still tries to talk to Benn a bit on the bench—he’s always makes a point to talk to people he meets named Jamie, but Tyler had genuinely thought they’d hit it off. When he first saw him, Tyler swore he felt a little jolt of something, but his mom always told him his Jamie would feel it too and Bennie didn’t seem anything other than super shy. But he was built like a fridge, and his arms were massive, like he could have held Tyler down on that stupid couch as long as he wanted to, fucked him stupid. It was very possible the jolt had more to do with Tyler being horny to be honest, but he figured he could work with that.

It turned out Bennie was actually pretty fun to chat with, and he was adorable when he laughed. Tyler spent a good part of the skills competition flirting, just trying to get him to crack a smile, but once he’d loosened up, Bennie would chime in with these hilarious things under his breath. He had a dry, clever sense of humor and he spoke with a blush and way too much Canadian humility, like he thought Tyler wouldn’t care what he had to say or think it was stupid, but Tyler laughed every time.

He reminds Tyler of the kind of guys that he wishes he could be—the ones who people really like even when they’re sober.

He vaguely remembers they talked last night at the bar too, but not about what. He spends probably more time than he should trying to get Bennie’s attention again during the game, but he won’t even look at him. He keeps even quieter and eventually just starts ignoring Tyler altogether so he gives up on it.

He shouldn’t have had so much to drink; he’s never got his best game when he’s drunk and he must’ve said something pretty fucking disastrous to get shut down so epically the next day. Hopefully it wasn’t too embarrassing, didn’t come right out and invite him up to his room or anything. Tyler’s got more sense than that—usually. He really wants to apologize, but he can’t for the life of him remember what it was he did.

Mostly though he just wants the game to end so he can go back to his room and pass the fuck out.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Dallas misses the playoffs again.

They close out the season on a five game losing streak and Jamie is so pissed that he goes into isolation mode. Nothing in the season had felt right after the All-Star break and though there had been moments of success, both individual and as a team, it started feeling like an uphill battle. He’s been mopey ever since, turning down nights out with the team, opting to spend days off at home instead of visiting Jordie in Austin.

There are a million and one things he could blame, really. Jordie only played one more game up with the club a little later in the season before getting sent right down after and it didn’t seem like it had lasted long enough for Jamie to get used to it but maybe he had. The appendectomy had sidelined him a handful of games, maybe it had thrown him off. He’d had his most productive season and he definitely felt like he was finding his place on the team, but things weren’t clicking well enough to eke out an eighth seed.

He feels like he’s missing something and if it’s his brother or the playoffs or his fucking appendix, he doesn’t know. Now there are rumors about another labor dispute in the summer that might lead to a lockout; he was already coming up an RFA and worrying about negotiating a decent contract for himself. It’s all a lot of shit and Jamie can’t seem to shake the unsettled feeling that had seeped into his bones so slowly he hadn’t even noticed it until it was all-consuming. He just wants to wallow in it for a while.

He flips his phone to silent first, and then he gets behind on responding to his text messages and emails. He doesn’t book a flight home and he doesn’t meet up with Jordie in Austin. He also makes the mistake of not telling Jordie that he isn’t coming and it’s the eventual pounding on his door on a Wednesday afternoon—about two weeks after the last game—that wakes him up.

He’ll have to start thinking about training again in a few weeks, but it’s still a ways away and if he’s sleeping until noon because he started drinking at 3pm the day before, well that’s no one’s business but his own.

He’s still hungover when he gets to the door.

Jordie doesn’t seem to care about Jamie’s predicament because the second the door is open, he’s shouting. “What the fuck is your problem, Jamie?”

“Jesus, keep it down.” Jamie steps aside to let Jordie in, but he gets the feeling Jordie would have shoved himself through the door anyhow.

“Fuck you, ‘keep it down’. What the hell? Why aren’t you answering your fucking phone?”

“I don’t know where it is.” That’s kind of true. Jamie had it the other day and he set it down somewhere, but couldn’t be assed to look for it.

“Mom told me to come make sure you weren’t dead! She called me to see what we were up to that you weren’t answering her calls and when I said you stood me up, hadn’t even come down, weren’t answering for me either, she freaked the fuck out.”

Jamie winces. He hadn’t meant to make his mom worry.

“I just needed a break, nothing serious.” He can’t think with his head pounding and heads to the kitchen to grab a beer. It’s early, but hair of the dog and all that. Jordie follows him, hanging back in the doorway.

“What the fuck is going on with you, man? You look like shit.”

“There’s nothing fucking going on, lay off! I’ll call mom, okay? I just gotta find my fucking phone and I’ll call her back.” Jamie probably does look like shit though; he hasn’t brushed his hair in a while. He tries to smooth it down.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Is all this shit about hockey?”

Jamie doesn’t know. He doesn’t know if it’s about hockey, but hockey has been close to the only thing that’s ever mattered to him so it’s an easy out to take a huge sip of beer, square his jaw, stare Jordie down and say: “Yes.”

“Brother, I love you. Like a whole metric fuckton, okay? But you are being an asshole and a half right now.”

“M’not even doing anything to you, Jordie! I said I’d call mom and I fucking will. If you’re here to tell me what a shithead I am for ignoring her, I already know it and I don’t need to hear it from you.”

“You’ve been such a huge pill since last summer, you know that? You can’t get this damned worked up over a game. I don’t care how much you love it. It’s not fucking good for you to only care about one thing.”

“Oh, don’t start with me about that shit, okay? Hockey is my fucking job, Jordie. And it’s yours too! It’s our whole fucking lives.”

“Listen. I love playing hockey with you. It’s the greatest thing I could ever have imagined growing up—getting to do all this with you, seeing you in the fucking maple leaf, making it in the NHL, an A on your sweater. Shit that neither of us could have even conceived of when we were shooting pucks in the driveway. But.”

Jordie takes a deep breath.

“But this is not my life. I don’t need hockey. I never wanted it like you did, and when it’s over for me—probably a hell of lot sooner than it will be for you—I’ll be fine. I’ll go back to the Island, I’ll settle down with Katy. And I’ll get a job and I’ll have a family and I’ll be just fine with never putting on a pair of skates again. And I’d walk away from all of it right now if I had to choose between having that and keeping this.”

“Fuck that, we always said we’d do this together.”

“No, Jamie. You said you wanted it, and I wanted it for you. I wanted do it with you because I love you and I wanted to keep you safe and make sure you were happy and that people didn’t give you shit or tell you couldn’t because of Tyler.”

“That’s bullshit!” Jamie feels his grip on the beer tighten at the mention of the name that he’s been trying to ignore lately. That he’s been pretty damned good at ignoring lately, in all honesty.

“It’s not fucking bullshit! I’d have been fine playing college hockey, getting a degree and a job and fucking around in beer leagues on weekends with my kids in the stands cheering. It’s what I wanted way before all this! That’s the thing with you, though. You get off on this martyr shit, acting like no one gives a damn and life was so hard for you! You had it fucking easy! The world stopped for you, Jamie. The whole family changed, like we were fucking hostages to your damned name.”

“What the fuck does my name have to do with it? What does any of it have to do with hockey!”

“Because you always act like you’re so damned alone! No one could possibly understand what things are like for you, right? Doesn’t matter that I was there for you from day one, I’m the one who doesn’t get it. Isn’t that how you think? You're the one who has to be in control all the time and you fucking shut down when shit doesn’t go your way. And you’re right, that’s not just with hockey.”

Jordie takes a step toward Jamie, pointing his finger accusingly. Jamie’s never seen him so upset, and he’s certainly never yelled at Jamie like this before. But his pride won’t let him back down from defending himself. Before he can reply though, Jordie starts up again.

“You have this huge chip on your shoulder about what it was like for you but you don’t get that it was like that for all of us. We all made sacrifices and I worked my ass off to be good enough to keep up with you so that I could be by your side for all of it. No one asked me to do that, you know. Do you know how much shit I got when I started wearing my guard? Did you think mom and dad told me to do that? No! I went to them and fucking begged for it so that you wouldn’t be the weird one.

“Things didn’t just happen to work out this way, all right? I put my whole life on hold for you and you’ve never even once acted like you fucking appreciate it! It’s always about you, just like it always has been. You don’t care if you shut me out or Jenny or Dad or Mom, so long as you can maintain this delusion that everything and everyone is out to get you. Maybe it’s time that you grew the fuck up and started realizing that you’re not the only dog in the fight.”

Jordie spins on his heels and fishes his phone out of his pocket. Jamie fumes at the dismissive gesture, like Jordie didn’t just chew him out for the better part of five minutes.

“I didn’t ask you to do any of that, Jordie! If I was so fucking inconvenient for you, you could have just walked away! So maybe no one made you, but it’s not like I asked!”

“You didn’t have to ask. That’s the point! I would have done anything for you. If I had to pick again tomorrow I’d do the exact fucking same! It’s not about you asking, because I know you never would have, but you need to understand it’s not you against the world. It never was. We’ve always been here to help you, but none of us ever know whether or not you’ll be in the mood to let us. No one can read your mind, Jamie.”

The silence expands in the room until all Jamie can hear is the buzzing of the fridge and the A/C clicking on. That’s when the unsettled feeling makes itself known again—surging through his chest like something heavy crushing him.

“M’sorry,” he finally offers, setting down the beer and leaning back against the kitchen counter. “It’s not that—I don’t think it’s—” Jamie sighs tiredly. “I don’t even know what’s wrong, how to even begin to describe.”

“Can you at least try?”

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie goes back to Victoria with Jordie at the end of the week.

“I think you’re just lonely, Chubbs,” Jordie’s voice was edged with pity when he pulled Jamie into a hug. Jamie would have argued at it but after their talk, after he’d described all the shit he’d been struggling with, he was starting to think that Jordie was right.

Jamie takes his licks from his mom when they arrive, and he has the feeling he’ll be making up for ignoring her for at least the rest of the summer.

They’ve got maybe a couple days left that they can afford to put off training when Jordie springs a surprise weekend trip to Yellow Point Lodge on him.

“Time to commune with nature, little brother. Meet some fun people, drink some good beer, take in the sights of the sea. I got some friends from Texas, Bozie is gonna be there, he said he’s got some friends from Toronto coming. You’ll have fun, okay?”

Jamie rolls his eyes, but packs his bags without question.

The lot of them had already rented out a group of cottages turns out. Jamie and Jordie end up in a cottage with Dillon, Bozie and some guys Bozie knows from Toronto, Matt Frattin and Jesse Blacker. A couple other Texas Stars guys are in the cottages on either side of them.

The whole group is sitting around one of the fire pits on the first night, drinking and shooting the shit—mostly trading insults, but Jamie is kind of used to that with hockey players.

Jordie elbows him in the side after a while. “Not so lonely right now, I hope?” He gives Jamie a shit-eating grin, but under it Jamie can see the worry behind his eyes.

“Naw, bud. This is nice.”

The first full day they have, Jamie heads out with Blacker, Frattin, and Bozie to catch up and do some fishing off the boat they rented while Jordie and Dills and the boys head out to the links up the road. Again, they spent most the time drinking—Frattin a little less so as the boat was rented in his name and he still had to drive it. He’s also the only one who’s caught anything and Blacker is outwardly annoyed by that.

“Fucking nothing biting out here but flies, Christ.”

Jamie figured that he would like most of Bozie’s friends, since he likes Bozie so much, but he’d been pleasantly surprised to find out how well he and Jesse and Matt were getting on. They bicker and tease each other as much as any teammates do and it’s easy conversation with the lot of them.

“Jesse spent last summer hanging out with the Stanley Cup so everything we’ve done this summer has been a huge fucking disappointment for him,” Bozie throws a bottle cap at him. Jamie laughs when Blacker tosses it right back.

“I don’t know, eh. Maybe not everything.” Blacker shoots Jamie a stupidly adorable lopsided grin that Jamie tries not to let rattle him. “But you’re shit for company anyway, Bozie, of course the Cup beats you out.”

“You didn’t even fucking win it, asshole! You’re not supposed to celebrate until it’s yours!” Bozie cracks open another beer and passes it down to Jamie, who passes it on to Blacker.

“Thanks—see he’s just mad because he thinks I jinxed him.”

“Is that right?” Jamie muses. He takes a swig from the next beer that Bozie passes his way. They’ve been drinking for a while and the sun has baked him into a syrupy sort of laziness that’s got him slumped against the side of the boat. He hasn’t looked up at his pole in a while; he’s not even sure there’s still bait on it.

“Oh, whatever Jesse.”

“Hell, if it makes you feel better, the second I’m done here I’m headed right back to Toronto.”

“Booty calls, eh?” Frattin says it like ‘duty calls’ and Jamie scrunches up his nose at the clear inside joke. Blacker kicks out his leg toward Matt and smirks.

“Bros in different area codes,” Bozie starts crooning and it’s so god awful that they’re all cracking up before long.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

The night concludes with another bond fire and Jamie ends up crowded against Blacker.

“Budge over,” Jesse swings his hips and bumps Jamie’s shoulder.

“Yeah, Chubbs, make some room!” He shoots Jordie an annoyed look but scoots over to fit Blacker on the log beside him. He accepts the beer he’s given. Jamie already knows that he’s going to be completely wrecked when he starts up with his workouts again but he’s already made things this hard, it doesn’t make sense to start pacing himself now.

He blames the alcohol for the amount of attention he’s paying to Blacker’s tattoos. He’d obviously seen them before, but up close like this in the firelight, they’re almost hypnotic. They look like they disappear under his wristguard and Jamie wonders if he’d taken it off for the artist.

“You got any?”

“Huh?” Jamie looks up startled. He tucks his arm with the wristguard away instinctually. He doesn’t really think of it as a tattoo, but it is printed on his body.

“You got any ink?” Blacker shrugs his arm toward Jamie to indicate, but doesn’t move otherwise. His elbow is practically resting on Jamie’s own knee. He must see Jamie shying away because he adds rather casually: “Other than, you know, the obvious.”

“Uh, yeah. One.” Jamie pulls up his t-shirt sleeve and shows off the gothic lettering of his last name on his inner arm. Tyler might own his future, but he’ll always be a Benn. “Not very original, I know, but—”

“No, man. It’s good. I like it. Everybody starts somewhere.”

“Which of yours was first?” Jamie watches Jesse slide up the leg of his swim shorts and point to his inner calf. It’s hard to make out the color in the orange glow of the fire, but the shape of the ribbon and the letters are apparent.

“This one. It’s, uh, for my mom. I got it after she passed.”

Jamie blanches a bit. “M’sorry.”

“Thanks.” Jesse pauses. “She had breast cancer. It wasn’t unexpected, which sounds like a terrible thing to say. Even if you know it’s a possibility that doesn’t mean that you’re ever prepared. But it wasn’t sudden. And it’s not like I need the tattoo to remember her, it just feels like… well I’ve got this name on my wrist of someone who’ll love me forever, but my mom is gonna love me forever, too. Here or not. So she should get some real estate as well, you know?”

Jamie doesn’t know. He doesn’t know what he would do if he lost his mother or father or Jenny or Jordie. It makes something tight in his chest seize up. He nods anyway.

“The rest of the stuff, I don’t know. Some of it has meaning, some of it I just like it.”

“Just liking it is enough to mean something,” Jamie doesn’t know why his voice sounds so scratchy.

“Exactly,” Jesse beams at him and takes a long sip of his beer. Jamie watches him swallow it. “So you and Jordie been here before?”

“Yeah, a lot. We used to come every summer with our parents and our sister. Not these cottages though. We stayed in the cabins with the barracks, no running water. Very back-to-nature.”

“No lap of luxury for the Benn boys? I get it now shelling out for this place. It’s a lot more fun with the private rooms, eh?” Jesse kills the rest of his beer and Jamie feels his cheeks burning, hoping it’s not obvious in the dim light. He’s suddenly uncomfortable with the lull in conversation.

The rest of the guys are still chattering away but it feels silent around him. He doesn’t know what to say next so Jamie downs the rest of his beer too and tucks the bottle between his bare feet.

“Wanna go get another?” Jesse clinks their empties. “You can show me around, since you know the grounds so well.”

“Yeah, sure.”

Blacker gets up and turns to Jamie expectantly.

“Whoa, hey. Bring us back some, too yeah?” Dills tilts his bottle at them and then chugs the rest, turning it upside down.

“Here, have this one,” Bozie shoves one of the last from the cooler in Dills’ direction and gives Jamie a long look, one that would have turned Jamie’s stomach inside out five years ago. Jesse is already walking toward the cottage and Jamie decides to follow before he can think on it any more.

Jesse’s in the kitchen when Jamie gets there, rummaging through the fridge. The light from the open door is the only thing on in the house and when Jesse stands up with two bottles in his hand, the door shuts behind and plunges the room into a fuzzy blue darkness. The glow of the fire outside and the moon through the window is enough to keep Jamie from tripping as he makes his way over where Blacker is holding a bottle outstretched.

“So the tour of this place?”

Jamie thinks he’s asking for one but he’s not moving from where he’s leaned himself against the counter, and they’ve both already spent a night here so Jamie knows that Blacker is familiar with the cottage.

“Well, the woods are on that side and the water is on this side,” he supplies. “This is the kitchen. The bedrooms are down the hall.”

“Yeah?”

Jamie nods and takes a sip of his beer. His throat is dry all the sudden. Once he’s set his beer down, Jesse is stepping toward him.

“Stop me if this isn’t—” And Jamie doesn’t know if he leans in first or if Blacker does but they’re kissing before Jesse finishes his sentence.

They end up in Jamie’s room, Jesse pinning him to the bed with his hips. Blacker is so good with his mouth, he’s biting on Jamie’s lips between sucking on them and fucking his tongue into Jamie’s mouth. Jamie is dizzy with it, rolling his hips up against Jesse’s and trying not to moan as loud as he wants to.

He should maybe care that half his minor team is just outside in the backyard, but Jamie’s rational thought is dampened by alcohol and Jesse’s fucking mouth, he just focuses on not embarrassing himself. Jordie wasn’t wrong when he’d called Jamie lonely; it had been a long time since he’d had any kind of action. It wasn’t safe during the season and it wasn’t usually feasible on his days off.

Jamie tugs at Jesse’s shirt hem until he’s pushing himself up and pulling it off, revealing an expanse of tanned, tattooed skin.

Jamie can’t help but rub his hands over it. He’s never been with another hockey player before. He’s certainly thought about it—the furtive glances around locker rooms growing up his first and only exposure to male bodies until he was older—and many of the men he found himself drawn to now were built similarly. But none of them come close to the real thing; the muscles flexing under his fingertips are solid and warm and so fucking masculine that his brain is short circuiting.

Fuck,” it slips out like a purr.

“Yeah, that sounds,” Jesse slides back to straddle Jamie’s thighs. “I wanna—,” he reaches down to rub a hand over the bulge in Jamie’s swim trunks. “Let’s definitely do that.”

Jamie cants his hips up against the warmth of Jesse’s palm; fuck, he really, really wants to but… “I don’t have anything,” it kills him to say it. Jamie didn’t think to pack lube and condoms on the cabin vacation with his fucking brother. But Jesse just beams at him.

“I got stuff. In my room. Can you wait a sec?” Jesse looks concerned, like Jamie is going to call the whole thing off if they can’t start right now. He’s only staying in the room across the hall from Jamie’s, barely ten feet from where they are right now.

“Yeah, yeah. I can.” Blacker’s hand slides down Jamie’s length again and then away as he gets up and Jamie moves to cup himself, missing the warmth already.

“Okay, don’t. Don’t do that without me.” He pulls on Jamie’s guarded wrist, tugging his hand away. “I’m coming right back.”

Blacker practically falls over himself to get to the door and Jamie sees him caution a look in the hallway before dashing into his own room. The silence is a little sobering. Jamie can hear the faint rumble of the boys laughing outside. Their absence will surely be noticed, but no one besides Jordie, Dills, Bozie and Frattin will be coming back to this house.

Before he can freak out about it, Jesse is back and locking the door behind himself. He dumps the supplies on the bed and climbs back on Jamie, kissing him again.

“Are the guys still out there?” Jamie pants it into Blacker’s mouth.

“Think so.”

“Fuck.”

“Don’t worry about ‘em. They’re drunk as fuck, and a hundred bucks says Bozie’s figured it out already; he’ll try to keep ‘em outside.”

“Bozie knows?” Jamie doesn’t mean for it to sound like a squeak.

“I assume. I mean, he basically bribed Dills with beer to leave us alone. And he knows I hook up with guys sometimes. He’s cool.”

Jamie is stunned. He can’t imagine telling anyone on his team something as personal as that, besides Jordie who doesn’t count.

“What about…” Jesse kind of trails off, looking down at Jamie with wide, sparkling eyes. Jamie gets the distinct impression he’s not asking for his own concerns.

“Jordie. Only him. And he doesn’t know, like about this right now. But he knows that I—“

“Yeah, then we’re fine. They’ll keep the guys outside. Unless you don’t want to.”

Jamie thinks he could worry about this the rest of the night, but then Jesse is grinding his ass down on Jamie’s cock and biting at the column of his neck and all his fears are stamped down in favor of enjoying the moment.

“No! No. Definitely want to.”

“Good, me too. So shut up and take off your shirt.” Blacker leans back with a filthy smile, giving Jamie room to sit up and do as he’s told.

No sooner has he pulled it off than Jesse’s got his hands twisted up in Jamie’s hair, pulling him back in to a sloppy kiss that sets them both off.

Jamie isn’t a virgin, and even when he was he’d watched enough porn that he never felt like he was taking a shift with no play in mind. But Jesse is clearly bringing more experience to the table and Jamie is content to go along for the ride.

He steadies himself with hands on Jesse’s hips, gripping hard and helping him grind down in abortive thrusts.

Jesse untangles his fingers from Jamie’s hair and runs them over his chest, down his abs to the tie of his trunks. He keeps sucking on Jamie’s bottom lip in a way that makes Jamie push up into him.

He can feel Jesse pulling on the knot and it’s like a relief when it finally comes undone and eases some of the restriction of his cock. Jamie breaks the kiss when Jesse reaches into his shorts and closes a hand around his length. He intends to speak, but ends up breathing wetly against Jesse’s cheek.

“Wow.” Jesse tips his forehead to press into Jamie’s shoulder as he looks down the length of his body to where he’s pulled Jamie free from his shorts. “That’s a nice surprise.” He gives Jamie a filthy smile. “Is this why they call you Chubbs?”

“What!? No! Oh my God.” Jamie scrunches up his nose.

“Haven’t heard that one before, eh?” Jesse laughs and wraps a hand around Jamie’s cock.

“No, can’t say as I—” He bites back a quiet groan as Jesse slowly starts to jerk him off, sliding his foreskin up over the tip and back down. Jesse’s hips keep rolling gently and Jamie can see where he’s straining the nylon of his own swim trunks.

“You too,” Jamie’s fingers slip under the elastic waistband and pull, letting it snap back softly. “C’mon, I wanna—”

They scramble to undress after that and once Jesse has kicked off his swimsuit and Jamie has shucked his somewhere toward the foot of the bed, Jamie rolls them over until he’s got Jesse on his back. He leans down to kiss him again before moving to his neck. He feels Jesse’s hands rub up his back, over his shoulders and twist back up in his hair, pulling just short of too hard.

Jamie moves to bite at Jesse’s upper arms, over the carefully inked lines that bracket his head.

“Oh, fuck,” Jesse hisses.

He lets Jamie run his tongue over the patterns and shapes, maneuvering their hips until their lengths slot together. Jesse feels hot everywhere, sun-beaten and flushed against Jamie’s skin and tongue. He goes easy when Jesse tugs his hair to guide him back to a bruising kiss before he starts pushing his head down.

“C’mon, c’mon Jamie.”

Normally Jamie would spend some time teasing and working up to it, but he’s buzzed and impatient and Jesse smells like sunscreen and sea salt and sweat and it’s really been way too long since Jamie’s gotten laid.

He gets his hand around Jesse’s cock, stroking twice before swallowing him halfway down and tonguing the underside of the head. Jesse isn’t pulling on his hair anymore so much as he’s stroking it, brushing it back out of Jamie’s face and holding it there with a fist, and when he chances a look up, Jesse’s peering down at him with parted lips.

“Fuck, you’re good at that.” And Jamie doesn’t even feel like he’s really done anything yet so he sets a quicker pace, determined to earn the praise. He braces himself with a forearm across Jesse’s thigh and takes him as deep as he can, using his hand to stroke everything he can’t swallow.

Jamie has always liked this part, feeling a guy come apart under him. Jesse’s soft grunts and blunt nails against his scalp pull a long groan from somewhere deep in Jamie’s chest and Jesse bucks up into him. Jamie just relaxes his throat and lets him.

Eventually, he pulls back to work the head, keeping up with the steady stream of humming that seems to be driving Jesse to pieces, before taking him back down and swallowing around him. He keeps up that pattern, sucking the head and then down the length eagerly until his lips feel puffy and his teeth are starting to dig too hard into the inside of his mouth. He’s going to have cuts there tomorrow and it makes him shiver to think about.

“Shit, shit.” Jesse’s thighs clench up under his arm and he pats Jamie’s head. “M’gonna come, pull off.”

“You okay?” Jamie sits back and swipes his mouth with the back of his hand. Jesse looks glassy-eyed and he can’t help the proud smirk.

“Yeah, just, I don’t wanna come yet. Wanna ride you.” Jesse’s words hit him like a sock to the gut.

“Fuck. That sounds—,” Jamie doesn’t even know how to finish that thought so he cuts himself off, leaning down to kiss Jesse who licks back into his mouth and groans.

“Here, let me.” Jesse grabs Jamie’s shoulders and sits up, rolling them back over until he’s on top again, knees bracketing Jamie’s hips. He gropes around for the lube and condom, which have ended up under Jamie. Jamie moves to click open the lid but before he can, Jesse is taking it from him, pouring some onto his own fingers.

“Don’t let me be loud,” he smirks and Jamie furrows his brow before he realizes what Jesse means. With one hand braced against Jamie’s chest, Jesse reaches back to finger himself open.

Jamie ends up having to kiss Jesse through it, the low keening noises he makes practically echoing in the quiet room. Jamie wishes he could watch him, but it’s almost better to swallow the sounds Blacker makes and feel when he adds a second finger with the way he shivers. Jamie rests his hands on Jesse’s biceps and focuses on the twitching of his muscles as he works his fingers in his ass. Jesse breaks the kiss with an abandoned groan when he twists his hand just so.

“Sorry, sorry. I’m trying,” Jesse nips at Jamie’s lips. “I can’t help—,” he bites off his sentence as he adds a third finger, grinding down on his own hand and Jamie has to reel him back in to muffle his whine. The way Blacker is writhing against him is driving Jamie crazy and he lets his hands drop to Jesse’s thighs.

“Are you?” Jamie thrusts up and his cock rubs against Jesse’s, hard and fucking leaking, still spit-slick from Jamie’s mouth. He can feel the back of Jesse’s hand against his inner thigh where he’s working himself into a string of sounds that might be Jamie’s name. “Are you good?” Jamie asks again.

“Yeah, put it on. I’m right—shit you’re big.” He’s babbling like he’s drunk on beer and sex and sun and Jamie doesn’t need to be told twice, he’s so sex-starved and eager for it. He rips open the foil and rolls on the condom, pausing to reach for the lube, but Jesse slides his fingers out and uses his slick-messy hand to stroke Jamie once before positioning him where he wants him.

“Remember, don’t let me…” Jesse trails off with a warning glare.

“Yeah, I know, c’mon.” And the second Jesse sinks down on Jamie’s cock, he realizes what he actually meant because the sound that rips from his lungs is deafening. Jamie is frozen with Jesse contracting around him. He should shut him up, he should shush him, but Jesse feels so damned good.

“Holy fuck.” Jesse lowers himself until he’s sitting on Jamie’s lap and panting, rolling his pelvis to ease the ache.

“M’sorry, sorry.” Jamie has no idea why he’s apologizing other than the wrinkle of discomfort on Jesse’s face and the fact that he wants nothing more than to shove up into the tight heat and is afraid that he maybe already has.

“Give me a sec.”

“Yeah.” Jamie strokes his hands over Jesse’s thighs focusing on the strength of them, feeling how they shake under his fingertips. He can feel before he sees Jesse shift up slightly and lower himself back down with another long moan. “Here, c’mere,” Jamie licks his lips and reaches to cup the back of Blacker’s neck, pulling him in for a sloppy kiss.

Jesse’s mouth is open and panting breaths ghost over Jamie’s face. Jesse starts to move slowly, lifting himself and dropping back down hard enough to make them both moan. Jamie reaches to hold Jesse’s hips and guide him along. Jesse is tight, despite the hasty prep.

After a few more long, slow adjustments, Jesse sits back on Jamie’s lap and starts moving with purpose. He lets Jamie’s hands hold him up and when he throws his head back and starts rocking himself up and back on Jamie’s cock. Jamie thinks he looks fucking stunning.

Jamie isn’t exactly quiet during sex, is probably more talkative than people would assume given how quiet he is in general. But, Jesse’s loud, obscenely so. And not just in how he moans and grunts when he takes Jamie deep. He keeps up a steady stream of filthy commentary about Jamie’s cock and how good it feels stretching him and how much Jesse likes riding him like this. Jamie, for his part, tries to quiet him down, but his brain seems to forget about the guys outside when Jesse starts running his mouth like a porn star.

Eventually they settle into a rhythm when Jesse leans to bite Jamie’s shoulder to muffle himself and his hips lift enough that Jamie can thrust up into him each time Jesse rocks down. The way he keeps squirming and contracting around Jamie is driving him crazy and he knows he won’t last much longer.

“Do you need me to?” And Jamie doesn’t wait to finish his question or hear the answer before he’s wrapping a hand around Jesse’s cock which has been bobbing against Jamie’s abs thick and heavy. He’s losing control over his own thrusting but tries to concentrate on replicating the same pattern as he’d used with his mouth—tight around the head and then a torturously slow slide down the length and back.

“Shit, Jamie, just like that.” Blacker rotates his hips around as he thrusts down and Jamie must hit something great because next he knows, Jesse is melting against him, biting at the line of Jamie’s neck and winding his fingers in Jamie’s hair. He rocks himself into some shallow thrusts that keep up the pressure on the same spot while Jamie strokes him off.

He can feel him start to come from the inside first and Jesse pitches forward with a low wail into Jamie’s ear that makes it sound like he’s coming apart completely. He comes with long spurts over Jamie’s chest and a litany of swears in his ear.

“Fuck, fuck, Jamie. Jesus, c’mon. Fuck me like that, c’mon wanna feel you, too.”

Jamie concentrates on Jesse still fluttering around him and bucks roughly, like he’d wanted to. It only takes a few more thrusts before he’s shoving up and coming hard, hips making a few more abortive pushes, like he could get even deeper, before stilling. He squeezes Jesse’s hips, pulls him down and focuses on the feel of them, shuddering together sporadically as their orgasms finish up with intermittent shocks.

Jamie can feel it when Jesse goes limp, collapsing on top of him and smearing his come across their chests.

“Fuck, that was good,” Jamie hears himself say and Jesse laughs into his neck.

“Yeah, you are really very good at that,” Jesse rolls his hips in punctuation and Jamie shivers as Jesse tightens on his sensitive cock. Blacker takes it as his cue to roll off slowly, collapsing on his back beside Jamie.

Jamie says a quick prayer of thanks that each room has its own private bathroom and he excuses himself to flush the condom and wipe off. He returns to help Jesse do the same, laving his chest with the damp washcloth. He tosses it in the bathroom sink, taking a moment to notice the flush of his cheeks, his hair’s state of disarray. Jamie flops back down on the bed after a few quick, futile moments of trying to tame it.

“I swear I’ll head back to mine as soon as I can move,” Jesse laughs softy. Jamie knows that’s the best plan, especially if they’re trying to keep this not-obvious, but he’s never actually cuddled with someone after sex before, let alone shared a bed with them overnight. He takes a minute to appreciate Jesse cuddled up to his side, the dip of his back and the rise of his ass. Jamie hadn’t had a very clear view of it before now. He’s built like a hockey player, no question.

“You know, if you’re ever in Toronto and want to make a night of it,” Jesse trails off suggestively. Jamie laughs, but makes a point to get Jesse’s number just in case.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jesse sneaks back to his room about an hour later when they’re both nearly asleep and can’t put it off anymore.

They’ve got checkout the next day, Jamie and Jordie heading back to Victoria to start training, the rest of the guys dispersing back to wherever they make their off-season home.

Dills and the Texas boys head off in their carpools pretty early but Jamie and Jordie and the rest of their cottage minus Brenden stick around for breakfast and one last morning swim before packing the place up.

Bozie gives Jamie a hug when he’s done loading up his car.

“I wanted to say this earlier when we were in the water but I didn’t want to be a huge dick. But, just so you know, you’ve got a massive hickey on your shoulder,” he whispers conspiratorially before pulling back to wink and give Jamie a huge crooked grin. Jamie goes red to the tips of his ears and claps a hand over where he knows it must be.

Bozie doesn’t look grossed out or uncomfortable at all, and he didn’t say anything loud enough to be overheard by anyone else. Jamie swallows his nerves—and his pride—and lets himself laugh.

“You’re right, you’re a huge dick.” Jamie smirks and gives him a punch on the arm. Bozie’s smile softens and he puts a hand on top Jamie’s head.

“Was good to see you man,” he roughs up Jamie’s hair a bit as he says it.

“Yeah, you too.”

Jesse pulls Jamie into a bro hug and slaps him on the back a couple times before letting go. He thanks Jordie for inviting him before piling into the car with Bozie. Frattin just claps him on the shoulder and mumbles his thanks, looking confused at Blacker’s friendly goodbye.

Jordie wraps an arm around Jamie’s waist and pulls him in as their car drives off, waving dramatically and hollering his goodbye, pretending to dab at his eyes. Jamie rolls his eyes and hipchecks Jordie off him.

The two of them pack up the rest of the place, taking out the recycling and trash and loading up their car with the leftover food.

“So,” Jordie sing-songs at him as they pull off the Lodge’s dirt path onto the main stretch of road, “did you have a good time?”

“Yeah.” Jamie is busy fiddling with the radio and doesn’t catch the quirk in Jordie’s smile.

“Do anyone fun last night?”

Jamie nearly gives himself whiplash when he turns to shoot Jordie a horrified look. The fucker just bursts out laughing and Jamie feels himself blush.

“Jesus, shut up. You cackle like a crow.”

“Well, Chubbs he certainly sounded like he was having a good time.”

“Fuck, you didn’t hear us outside, did you? I thought you were talking about the hickey.” He blanches.

“Hickey!” Jordie throws his head back in another boisterous laugh. “No, I was grabbing a couple towels for the guys and I walked by your door just in time to hear him waxing fucking poetic about your dick.”

Jamie groans. “Oh, God. Did anyone else come in?”

“Naw, we all decided to go skinny dipping after you two left. I was gonna find you, tell you you were missing out on all the naked guys but, seems like you got your fill. Or did he get his?”

“Oh my God! You’re actually the worst brother, you know that?” Jamie glares at him but there’s a grin playing at the corners of his mouth that he can’t hide.

“Yeah, just remember whose idea this trip was when you’re spanking it to the memory of Blacker’s ass, okay?”

“I swear I would kill you right now if it didn’t mean crashing the car and killing me, too.” Jamie cranks up the radio to tune Jordie out but then they end up crooning along to shitty country songs all the way back to Victoria.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Brownie likes to joke that Tyler has some bro version of the Bat-Signal that he throws out in times of peril. He says it like that’s the only reason that he and Blacker show up at his place in Toronto on the same day; not that Tyler happened to invite them.

He knows that he can’t expect to win the Cup every season, and that it was near blind luck that he’d been fortunate enough to do so his first year, but the elimination this year had hit him hard nonetheless.

It didn’t help that he’d been feeling like an untethered ship since about midway through the season. It was like he couldn’t get his bearings no matter how hard he tried and it was a nagging distracted feeling of absence that Tyler was just about sick of dealing with. Unfortunately for him it had carried over to his professionalism one too many times. He’d been mocked endlessly about the missed team breakfast and been talked down to by just about everyone even a handful of days older than him about responsibility and maturity.

The whole situation had him feeling floaty and lost which translated to stupid and reckless apparently. It’s not like any of the people he’d slept with or vodka he’d consumed helped the root of the problem anyway. He liked playing hockey, liked being with the team and traveling and having a built in group of people around him taking up space and keeping him occupied. Last season, they’d been lucky enough to win and half the guys stayed in Boston deep into the summer. By the time they left, Tyler’s bros from back home had come out and he’d been busy.

With the first round exit, everyone packed up and moved out within the week. The colleges had all emptied for the summer and the streets were practically vacant and Tyler felt so fucking alone.

Freddy is out of town visiting his folks and Brownie and Blacker are off doing their own thing for the first couple weeks that Tyler is home in Toronto, and his place feels really empty with just himself in it.

He gets the inspired idea one night when he’s moping around feeling lonely and sorry for himself.

“You got a dog?” Is the first thing Brownie says when Tyler throws open the door to find him and Blacker standing, bags in hand in his hallway.

He grins down at the squirming puddle of brown cradled against his chest.

“Yeah, Marshall. Isn’t he the fucking best?” It’s like the puppy already knows his name because his tail is thumping excitedly against Tyler’s arm. Or else he’s just as excited to see Tyler’s friends as Tyler is himself. He knew Marshall was the right dog for him.

“Holy shit, that’s the smallest fucking thing I’ve ever seen!” Blacker coos, reaching out for Marshall, his bag forgotten.

Brownie ends up lugging all their shit in and he’s mad for about half a second until he gets to hold Marshall and the dog starts licking his face.

“Damn, Segs. We can’t leave you alone for a second, can we?” Brownie says it like a chirp, but Tyler’s face falls a little.

“Well now I have Marshall so I’m not really alone ever, you know? And everyone keeps saying I’ve got to be more responsible. It’s basically like having a kid. I even got him housebroken already.” So maybe it had less to do with responsibility and more to do with whatever the fuck loneliness he is going through right now, but no one needed to know that besides him.

“No more late nights breaking hearts across Beantown when you got a kid at home.” Blacker nods solemnly as he makes grabby hands for the dog. Brownie gives him up reluctantly and Tyler takes secret pleasure in seeing his friends as gaga over Marshall as he is.

Later when they’re all sitting on the floor, legs splayed out watching Marshall trip over his own feet to get at a squeaky stuffed hotdog, Brownie nudges Tyler’s foot with his own.

“Hey. I think it’s a good idea, Ty. I bet it sucked coming home to an empty apartment all year.” He smiles softy and Tyler returns it.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

The lockout sucks. Jamie decides to stick around in Victoria when Jordie heads back to Austin to start his season with the Texas Stars. He thinks about going with him for a while, but ultimately decides against it.

He’s holding out hope that it won’t last long, but staying at home is a decision he comes to regret. Jenny met her Sean sometime in February and had spent the better part of the summer traveling with him. Sean is a Victoria guy who is, according to Jamie’s parents, perfect for Jenny. Jamie should be happy for her, and he mostly is, but there’s a part of him that feels jealous, and a little like his safe place is being invaded by someone he doesn’t know.

He’d considered maybe loosening up the strict rules he’d set for himself regarding the wristguard—maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to take it off around the house. There weren’t that many uninvited visitors now that they were older and their friends all had jobs and girlfriends or families. But with Sean coming around, Jamie has to keep it on.

When he finally meets Sean, Jamie likes him, too. He’s smart like Jenny and he’s got a wit to match hers. He likes to read and he’s got an architecture degree and works doing something with corporate office buildings that Jamie doesn’t understand. It’s strange; he’s meeting his future brother-in-law, a guy who’ll be a part of his life from here on out. Navigating that situation isn’t something Jamie had ever thought about.

It makes him think about Tyler.

Jamie is a little embarrassed to admit it, but he hasn’t picked up this summer after Blacker. It’s just not something he does in Victoria, too many people know him or know someone who knows him. He tells himself he got what he needed from that night—companionship and spank bank material both—but it was easy to let himself imagine what it would be like to have that intimacy all time. Not with Blacker, but with someone.

Watching things he wants and can’t have sets the ache in his chest going again—he can’t even tell now if it’s from seeing Jenny and Sean together or knowing Jordie is playing hockey and he’s not. The easiest to address is the hockey, obviously, and it only takes a few calls to get Jamie signed in Hamburg, Germany.

An older brother of one of his teammates growing up is playing out there and Jamie thinks that being with another Victoria guy is about the best he can hope for if he’s going to make the most of the situation.

In Germany, Jamie is as anonymous as they come and though he doesn’t really go out much, he goes home with a couple guys—a local who doesn’t even know what hockey is, and he meets up twice with a Swede who’s doing financial work in Hamburg—a muscular guy with ice-blue eyes, wavy blond hair, and thick lips who seduces Jamie with his accent and his tongue—but they both know it’s just for fun.

When he heads back to North America around the holidays, he does so with the expectation that it’s for good and brings all his belongings with him. He’s glad for that when the players and the league come to an agreement a week later.

Jamie does miss a handful of games trying to negotiate a new contract but Jordie and his agent both talk him into pressing for more than the Stars first offered. It works out in the end; he gets a nice contract and a salary bump, and as much as he enjoyed the anonymity of Germany, Jamie would give all that up in a heartbeat to be playing NHL hockey.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Tyler really likes sex. It seems stupid to say because really, who doesn’t? But Tyler enjoys it a lot and he spends a lot of time in Switzerland getting laid.

When he first hears Kane is going to be on the same team as him, Tyler is fucking elated. Kaner is probably the only other guy in the league who’s got a bigger reputation than he does right now and Tyler has big plans for the two of them.

Then Kane shows up with his mom and Tyler loves his mom as much as the next guy but he’d never let her come out and live with him during what is essentially a Swiss vacation with bonus hockey.

So because Tyler spends a lot of time at bars by himself, he also spends a lot of time getting laid.

Blacker comes to visit him when he gets back to Boston in December. Freddy had moved in to take care of Marshall and Tyler is pretty sure he’s going to end up asking him to stay for the rest of the season. It’ll be good for Marshall when Tyler is on the road, to have a familiar face around, and Tyler thinks it’ll be good for him too to have a buddy who can keep him grounded. The last thing he wants is a repeat of the shit he was feeling last season.

Tyler tells the two of them about fucking his way through the Alpine towns alone.

“Sounds like you weren’t all that alone to me,” Freddy raises an eyebrow.

“Sex isn’t a substitute for companionship, you know,” Tyler frowns and throws a toy for Marshall, listening to his nails frantically clicking across the floor.

“Wow, that’s a big mark of maturity,” Blacker claps slowly for him and Tyler rolls his eyes. “For a manwhore, you are quite the romantic.”

“Fuck you, I was a romantic long before I was a manwhore.”

Tyler doesn’t talk about his Jamie like he used to when he was kid, wondering where they are and what they’re doing, but he still thinks about it. When he meets a Jamie, he always tries talking to them. He’s always looking.

Tyler loves being surrounded by people, probably more than most. But he’s always secretly harbored this hope, that when he meets his Jamie, he’ll be comfortable just being. He won’t need a constant cloud of friends around him when he’s got someone who is always going to be there. Sure he’ll still like having his bros around, but maybe it won’t feel like a craving anymore. Especially since lately that feeling has been getting worse, not better.

Tyler likes sex, sure. But intimacy can be pretty great, too.

He ends up dating a girl named Jamie for about a month and a half when the NHL season starts. She’s short, blonde, and dainty—the exact opposite of all the gut-feelings that Tyler has about his Jamie, and he doesn’t really feel anything special when they meet. He doesn’t think of it as having any relation to the conversation with Blacker and Freddy, but in the back of his mind he wonders if maybe it might.

They meet at a bar a few games into the season, right after Tyler’s 21st birthday, and about four weeks into the relationship, when they finally show each other their wrists, he finds out that she’s got Tyler on her, too. But it’s not him. And her handwriting isn’t his Jamie’s handwriting.

They laugh about it, but it’s clear they’re both kind of disappointed. Not that Tyler really wanted to be with this girl forever—she was a lot smarter than him and would get exasperated when he couldn’t follow what she was saying—but he’s never actually dated a Jamie before and it was fun and the sex was great. He kind of gets the impression that a lot of her initial interest in him was tied up in his name as well.

They keep going on dates and sleeping together, but it feels different now and they break up not long after. Even though they each say that it has nothing to do with their wrists, he’s pretty sure they’re both lying.

The Bruins leave for a roadtrip the day after the breakup and Tyler goes out that night in Nashville. He sleeps with a guy who wears cowboy boots. Tyler makes a lot of jokes about bucking broncos and cowpokes, but ends up riding him hard back at his loft until Tyler comes all over himself.

He doesn’t think about blonde Jamie again, but the disappointment takes a lot longer to go away.

He intended for this year to be better, but if anything it’s worse. He tries to behave but the stupid crushing ache in his chest stops only when he’s shitfaced. He drinks his way through the season—fucks a handful of girls he picks up in Boston and a guy he meets on the road. He drinks his way into trouble with management who tell him to shape up or ship out and he’d give a shit if he could care about anything except how miserable and pissed off he is. It’s none of their business what he does off the ice anyhow.

Ultimately, Tyler would have drank his way through the postseason too if the coaches hadn’t camped someone outside his door the whole fucking time.

The Bruins lose in the finals—fucking momma’s boy Patrick Kane—and Tyler takes back everything he said about last year because losing when you’re this close, when the Cup is in the building, it’s much worse than losing in the first round.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Once he’s allowed to suit up with the team, Jamie plays fine. He leads the team in points, though he’s used to contributing more, and he’s annoyed at his totals even when he reminds himself the season is short. Hockey is what he does, and Jamie expected to be better.

Jordie plays up more than half the year and gets his first goal, which Jamie thinks makes him happier than scoring his own first. They go out after the game and Jags gives Jamie a hard time about it, elbowing Jordie as he does.

“We always say to him to come out with us. He never come.”

“Seriously?” Jordie gives him a look. He pulls him aside later, gives him a brotherly lecture about trust and making an effort.

“I do go out with them sometimes, it’s just weird. They like picking up and shit and I don’t want to do all that.”

“Yeah you do,” Jordie looks at him like he’s got two heads.

“I mean, yeah sometimes I do,” Jamie admits. He does though, is the thing. Winning is awesome, and getting off after a win is even more awesome. “But it’s not like I need to all the time.” Jamie is fine with the sacrifices he’s made, honestly.

He does hook up with one guy when they’re on the road in Anaheim, though. Jordie takes him out, just the two of them, to a gay bar, and the nice part about having him as a road roommate this year is that Jordie offers to cover for him if he meets someone he wants to go home with. Jamie isn’t going to take him up on it until he gets a couple more drinks in him and meets a guy who’s too cute to turn down.

Jamie feels bad about it, but he makes it up to Jordie in spades the rest of the season when Jordie hooks up and Jamie has to find a teammate to crash with—though after that first time, he has made a point not to choose a room that shares an adjacent wall with Jordie because there’s only so much Jamie can be expected to do for his brother.

They trade Morrow in March and it’s a big shock to apparently everyone but Brenden. The Stars roll captain-less into the playoff push and break .500 just barely in mid-April after a short winning streak, but they’re nearly a statistical improbability to clinch anything. Then a shitty losing streak extinguishes any hope, and they close out the year without a playoff spot.

It’s a sucky end to a strange season, and Jamie would feel a lot worse about it if Jordie weren’t there to get him out of his own head. By the time the two of them are back in Victoria, there’s plenty of other shit for him to worry about anyway.

There’s already talk that he’ll be the one to replace Morrow with the C, most of it from Jordie but some rumblings from management as well. The Team Canada invitational is coming up and though Jamie’s totals weren’t amazing this season, he’s been making a lot of improvements to his game and, allowing himself an unusual moment of arrogance, he’s at least earned himself an invite to camp. He’s in a good position career-wise, Jamie can give himself that; all the focus on hockey has been paying dividends, though he’d rather a chance at the playoffs than a letter on his jersey if he’s being honest.

He and Jordie head up to Yellow Point just the two of them before Sean and Jenny get back in town from wherever vacation they’re off on now. It’s a nice time, really. They golf and fish and drink and get some casual training in before it’s time to pick things up. Jamie tries to stick to a regimen more so than summers past, especially if he might be going to the Olympic camp.

But their last night at the Lodge, the two of them get a lot drunker than they have so far, trying to finish off everything they brought with them before heading back to Victoria tomorrow afternoon. Jordie’s got his guard off again, like he always does in the summer.

“Why’d you take it off?”

“Huh?” Jordie looks up from where he’s stoking the fire. He waves the poker around. “So the thingy wouldn’t burn when I put it in.”

“No, your wrist. The guard. Why’d you stop wearing it when we come home?”

“Oh. I don’t know. ‘Cause it’s the Island. We’re home. You could, too.”

Jamie is silent for a while. This is something he’s been thinking about. “Probably not.”

“Why not?”

“A lot of reasons. Nothing’s really changed from before, for why I couldn’t. If anything it’d be worse if people knew.”

“About Tyler?”

“About Tyler, being gay,” his voice still drops on the last word even though they’re alone in all directions. “It was bad before but I’m not even so under-the-radar anymore. Between the captaincy, maybe, and the Olympics, maybe.”

“Like there’s more people watching you now,” Jordie nods in understanding.

“Yeah. And more to lose.” The ache in Jamie’s chest swells with the thought. “Maybe I don’t need to find him. I like hockey. Fuck it, I love hockey. That could be enough, you know? It got me this far. And I don’t even know if I want all that anymore. I think I’m fine how I am.”

“All that, as in your soulmate? Someone to share your life with?” He sounds like he’s choking. Jamie just nods. “That’s insane! You can’t say that! You’ll be so lonely, Jamie, you’ll be miserable. I miss Katy all the time!”

“How? Have you even seen her since you were 17?”

“No, but I still miss her.” Jordie scrubs the heel of his hand over his chest. “I can feel it, like I know it’s her. It’s like I’m not complete. I’m not totally depressed or anything, I have a lot of stuff in my life going on that’s awesome right now, and I can feel like—like she does too? I can tell it’s not the right time, but I still miss her.”

“If it’s not the right time when why take it off?”

“Because I feel closer to her this way. Because it won’t always be the wrong time. Because it doesn’t feel so hollow here when I can see her name.”

Jamie keeps staring at where Jordie is touching his breastbone.

“You feel it?”

“‘Course I do. I bet you do, too. I mean, it’s one thing to think about it abstractly as a kid, but we’re older now. Remember last year and how much it sucked and how sad you were? It would be like that forever. Think about when you leave hockey, ‘cause you’re gonna have to one day. Are you going to want to be alone? Are you going to come back to Victoria and hang out with Jenny and Sean and me and Katy and mom and dad and sit there by yourself with your guard on? You don’t have to take it off right now. Hell, you don’t have to take it off any time this decade, but I think you're a lunatic if you say this is it you’re over it and you’re not even going to think about it anymore.”

Jamie has to look away from where Jordie is giving him a look of utter disappointment.

“I don’t know. Maybe.” Jamie didn’t think about what it would be like being the only Benn sitting alone at family dinners, the only one wearing his guard in holiday pictures.

“Is this about Bozie?”

Jamie’s head snaps back up to where Jordie is regarding him curiously. “Wait, what? Is what about Bozie?”

“All this? ‘Cause last time we came up here, he was here, too. Is this like a Bozie thing?”

“Jordie, I haven’t been in love with Bozie since I was 18 years old.”

“Okay, good.”

“Good?”

“Good. ‘Cause what’s the expression? There are fish in the sea?” He gestures out to the water. Through the moonlight glinting off the waves, Jamie can just make out the reflection of the fire that Jordie is still trying his damnedest to poke back to life. “There are plenty of other fish in the sea. Or Tylers in the sea, however you may choose to see it.”

“Tylers in the sea.”

“Exactly. And one of them is gonna make you even happier than hockey does, I promise. So, don’t decide now something that you can’t take back later.”

Jamie kills the rest of his beer and opens another. He changes the subject, speaking of fishing, and they chatter on about what time they need to wake up if they want to get in one more hour of fishing before checkout.

That night, Jamie is just on the brink of sleep when he thinks back to Jordie’s words. ‘Something you can’t take back later.’ It used to terrify him, that he might not find Tyler in time and the name would be gone. It never occurred to him that he could wish it away himself.

Jamie undoes the clasp and lock, fingers stumbling a bit, unpracticed with the task. His wrist looks extra white, his arm tanned from the week in the sun. Tyler. Still the same thin letters, crookedly printed T and Y, the LER running together quickly into one unbroken line. He runs his fingers over it, assuring himself it’s still there, still just as dark as it’s been.

When he closes his eyes and tries to imagine what it would have felt like if he’d taken off the guard and seen nothing, it makes him feel sick. His stomach churns and it makes his chest seize up exactly where Jordie had touched. Before he puts the guard back on, Jamie feels silly as he whispers ‘sorry’ down at his own hand, but it also makes him feel a little better.

On the drive back to Victoria, Jamie tells Jordie that he’s changed his mind.

“I’m not ready to take it off at home. And I’m not ready to tell anyone, not even Sean. But I’m not giving up. It’s not fair to me. Or him.” He taps his fingers against the guard.

“Good. I’m glad to hear that. You deserve to be happy just as much as the rest of us. And hockey can’t cuddle you at night, and it sure as hell can’t suck your dick.”

“I hate you so much sometimes,” Jamie punches him in the arm and spends the next several minutes listening to Jordie’s lecture about responsible driving.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Sometimes Tyler thinks it would be really nice to find a guy willing to hold him down and fuck him. He’s always either riding the person he’s with or he’s up on his hands and knees. Both are really awesome ways to get fucked, Tyler certainly isn’t complaining. But he also thinks he would really, really like being pinned on his back and fucked face-to-face.

The ache in his chest has been getting much worse lately, and even with Marshall, even with a house full of friends, he still doesn’t feel settled in his skin. It seems really fucking stupid, but Tyler likes sex enough that he’s willing to try to fuck it out of his system. Or get it fucked out of him, whatever. If a deep dicking is going to be the answer to his problems then far be it from him not to at least try.

It would be easy to go out and pick up, and it would be easier to tap in one of the few guys he’s got in town who he knows from personal experience are down to bone once in a while. But there aren’t too many Tyler trusts to ask to fuck him like he’s been craving.

Probably the only guy he can think of is Brownie.

Tyler would never admit that his Fourth of July party is an excuse to get Brownie—and himself really—good and drunk before he asks him. Mostly it’s an excuse to throw a huge party, but if getting drunk enough to ask Brownie for the favor happens to come out of that, all the better.

What he doesn’t count on is the phone call from his agent in the early evening killing his buzz. He ends up having to go outside just to hear what he’s being told—maturity, salary cap, taking things in a new direction, Dallas, new environment, thank you—and then he ends up having to hand the phone over to Brownie and sit down on the deck with his hands over his ears because he’s not sure he’s actually processing what he thinks he heard.

Brownie eventually hangs up and hands the phone back to Tyler.

“Fuck.” Brownie sighs, defeated.

“He said Dallas, yeah?” Tyler sounds small, even to himself.

“Yeah.”

Brownie sits down next to him, throws an arm over his shoulder, and they listen to the sound of the party inside. He’s not sure how long they sit out there but it’s long enough for the news to break because Tyler can hear the sliding glass door rumble open behind them and Freddy sticks his head out.

“Is this for fucking real?”

Tyler turns around and sees him shaking his phone at them with a wild look on his face. He can’t see what’s on the screen but he can assume, so he nods.

“For fucks’ sake! You were one of their best forwards this season!”

“Not good enough.”

“Did they say why?”

Tyler doesn’t want to talk about it. All he wants to do is curl up under Brownie’s arm and forget this whole fucking thing.

Instead, he drinks. He goes back inside and he drinks until he doesn’t want to cry and he drinks until he can’t tell up from down and he drinks until he finally remembers the point of the whole evening.

Tyler gets Brownie alone upstairs easily. He gets him alone in his bedroom even easier. Brownie has Tyler on his back on the bed and yes, this is what Tyler wants.

“C’mon, c’mon,” Tyler is pulling at Brownie’s shirt and he’s vaguely aware he still hasn’t asked for what he wants yet. It seems a hell of a lot more urgent now though than it did even back when the idea occurred to him.

“Segs. Hey. Tyler. Hold on, slow the fuck down,” Brownie pulls off his shirt like Tyler wanted and Tyler pulls off his own, but Brownie holds him back with a palm to the chest. “Are you okay for this right now?”

“M’drunk. M’pissed off. M’horny as shit. But I threw this whole fucking party to get you to fuck me, so.” Tyler is glad that he’s not so drunk the room is spinning, but he probably could’ve spared some of the honesty. “Yeah, I’m okay for this.”

“What?”

“I want you to fuck me. Like fuck me.”

“You threw a party to get my dick in you? Not trying to insult myself here or anything but I’m pretty fucking easy, Segs.” Brownie is looking down at him amused. He’s just as drunk as Tyler is, he can tell by the way his cheeks are pinked up and he’s smiling wide like he usually tries not to.

“I know but listen. I want you to like—,” Tyler huffs and closes his eyes. Maybe he can just show Brownie. He scoots up so his head is on his pillow and he splays out like a starfish. “I want you to hold me down. Like face-to-face.”

“Yeah?” Brownie licks his lips.

“Yeah, please. I need you to. I want, just, hold me down.”

“Yeah, yeah. Okay.” Brownie seems a lot more on board now and Tyler is so relieved he wants to cry. Instead, he throws his head back and lets Brownie crawl over him and mouth at his neck.

They get each other stripped naked between biting kisses and Brownie works him open with two wide fingers and some lube from Tyler’s suitcase.

“You ready?” Brownie eases his fingers out and slicks up his cock with his messy hand. Tyler watches him, enthralled.

“Yes. I’ve been waiting—,” Tyler nods and settles back, legs spread wide to fit Brownie between them. Brownie’s hands grip Tyler’s knees hard and spread him even wider, drawing an anticipatory growl from somewhere deep in Tyler’s chest.

He and Brownie set rules for themselves years back. Brownie is the only one allowed to fuck Tyler bare, so long as both of them always glove up for anyone else they sleep with, and only until one of them finds someone else they want to fuck bare even more. It’s uncomplicated and it works for them.

He feels Brownie brushing against his entrance takes a moment to look down his body and enjoy the unique view of it as Brownie pushes home with a low rumble in his throat.

“Yeah, Ty.” Brownie slides into him easy and Tyler grunts when he feels him bottom out.

“Is this what you wanted?” Brownie’s voice is like gravel in his ears and when Tyler looks up at him, the raw look of want on his face sends a shiver down his spine. Tyler just nods.

Brownie takes Tyler’s hands in his and maneuvers his arms until he’s pinning them above his head.

“I can do this for you.”

Tyler is absolutely leveled by the sensation of it. Brownie pulls out nearly all the way, torturously slow, before gliding back in one fluid movement that makes Tyler’s toes curl. He fights to keep his eyes open, watch the way Brownie’s brow furrows and how the sweat is starting to bead in his hairline.

“Shit, Ty.” Brownie drops down to kiss him, a filthy open-mouthed kiss that Tyler moans into when it’s paired with another long, deep thrust.

“Keep going, this is—you’re so good at this,” Tyler babbles into Brownie’s open mouth and tilts his head when Brownie starts nipping at his jawline.

They rock together in a steady, rhythmic pattern and Tyler gets his calves wrapped around the backs of Brownie’s thighs to pull him in deeper. Each sound Tyler makes seems to spur Brownie on and his hips snap against Tyler’s ass.

Brownie holds his wrists tighter, presses him harder, and Tyler feels him gripping through his wristguard even. It hits him like a white-hot spark through his whole body.

“I really need, I need to try something, okay? Is that okay?”

“Whatever you need, Ty,” Brownie whispers in his ear and then goes right back to sucking up the column of Tyler’s neck.

Tyler closes his eyes tight. He concentrates on the feel of being pinned, the weight of another man pressing him into the mattress. He concentrates on the fullness each time Brownie thrusts into him deep. He concentrates on being completely swallowed by someone bigger, wider, stronger.

He loses himself in it and lets go.

“Fuck, please, just like that. Please. Jamie.”

Brownie’s hips stutter for a moment and Tyler closes his eyes even tighter to shut it out. But it’s only a moment and then he hears the familiar voice in his ear, purring.

“No, keep going babe. It’s okay. C’mon, let me hear it. Let me hear you beg.”

Tyler lets out a broken little sob and then it’s a ceaseless stream of someone else’s name he’s never met, only ever imagined would hold him down like this. And it’s so fucking perfect.

“I need it, Jamie, please. Right there, keep going. Don’t stop, don’t let me go, Jamie. Jamie, Jamie, Jamie.”

“I got you.”

Tyler comes with Jamie’s name on his lips and without a hand on his dick. Brownie fucks him through it and comes a few thrusts after him and they stay twisted up together until Tyler can catch his breath again.

“I’m sorry, sorry. Brownie—Tyler. I’m so sorry.” His shame comes back to him when his lungs do and Tyler tugs his arms free from Brownie’s grip before wrapping his arms as tight as he can around Brownie’s back. He pulls him down into a desperate hug that causes Brownie to slip out of him.

“Hey, it’s okay. You’re okay. I’m not mad. Ty, it’s fine, babe.” Brownie kisses his neck, up his jaw and to his chin before pulling back to smile down at Tyler in a way that he’s sure he doesn’t deserve after that. “Do you feel better?”

“I don’t know.” It’s the honest answer. He can’t tell anymore if the ache in his chest is the same one he’d been trying to chase away or if it’s been replaced by a new ache—a feeling of unwanted. Unimportant. Tradable.

He doesn’t know he’s tearing up until Brownie swipes a thumb over his cheek.

“Hey, it’s gonna be all right, Ty.” Brownie kisses him slow and sweet, like he hasn’t since the very first time.

“I know,” Tyler sighs when they break apart. He isn’t sure Brownie is convinced; he sure as hell isn’t.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie snidely wonders if he wouldn’t have gotten fewer calls if he’d actually gone to the Olympic camp. As it is, he’s fielding two calls a day about how he was totally snubbed and definitely should have at least gotten an invite.

While the commiseration does help him justify his annoyance, it also reminds him how much it sucks. It’s Team Canada; he’s worn the maple leaf before in World Juniors and walked away with a gold medal and just about the greatest feeling of pride he’s ever had in his life. Getting to do that again as an adult, he can’t help but feel like it might have put an end to the insistent longing that has been dogging him for fucking months.

When the phone rings late in the evening, just before Jordie is set to grill some steaks for dinner, Jamie assumes it’s another consolatory message from one of his friends or family members.

It’s not.

Jamie listens as attentively as he can, but he’s already had a couple beers not expecting to have to talk business tonight. He can tell Jordie is eavesdropping and tries to ignore the stupid little faces he makes at him.

“All right, sir. Of course. Thank you. I’d be happy to, whenever you get the chance. All right. Goodbye.”

Jamie tries to absorb everything he just heard before turning to face Jordie who is already asking questions behind him.

“So are you captain yet or what?”

“No, we traded Eriksson. And Smitty, Fraz, and Joey Morrow.”

“Holy fuck! That’s half the team!” Jordie looks mad, and Jamie doesn’t really blame him. He knows he’s a lot closer with the Texas Stars boys than Jamie is. “Where they hell are they going? What did we fucking get for ‘em?”

“Boston. A prospect—somebody Button—Rich Peverly and Tyler Seguin.” Jamie stares a little stunned down at his phone.

“No shit? Wow. Boston isn’t fucking around with that kid are they?”

“Guess not.”

“Jesus that fuckin’ sucks.” Jordie’s face falls. “I should probably give those guys a call.”

“No, not yet. I don’t think they know yet.”

“Well then why the fuck did they call you?”

“To babysit Seguin, sounded like. To see if I’d mind.”

“Yeah, and you're not gonna be the captain,” Jordie rolls his eyes.

They eat their steaks but the mood isn’t quite so jovial. Jamie can tell that Jordie is more depressed than he’s letting on and they end up switching over to whiskey and drinking back and forth from the bottle until Jamie can get him to crack a smile. And once they’re that drunk, they might as well keep going so they switch back to beer and kill off most of that while sitting around the picnic table and watching the sky get dark.

“Hey, though, Chubbs. It’s a Tyler, yeah?” Jordie makes an abortive toasting gesture that sloshes beer down his arm. “Shit. But didn’t I tell you? Tylers in the sea and all that. Oh! Tylers in Texas!”

Jordie cracks himself up and Jamie shoves him.

“He’s a huge dick though.”

“He’s got a huge dick you said?”

“Holy fuck, Jordie,” Jamie blushes to the tips of his ears.

“Sorry! Hey, don’t hate me here, I’m trying to get you laid. Seguin is a good looking dude is all I’m saying.”

“How would you know?”

“Because half the free world has seen him shirtless bud. Nobody looks like that naked.”

“Yeah, his abs are fucking ridiculous.”

“See? I knew it! Get on that, Chubbs!”

“You are way too invested in my sex life. Worry about you first.”

“No, you’re not invested enough! And I get laid fucking plenty.”

“Whatever, I told you already. Seguin is a dick and definitely has a problem with gay people so, that’s not anything that’s happening, sorry to burst that fantasy of yours.”

“Can still be your fantasy, though.”

“Jesus Jordie. They want me to keep an eye on him not jizz all over him.” Jordie guffaws and smacks Jamie on the back so hard he spills both their beers.

“He’s not, he’s not gonna be problem for you though, yeah? With the whole homophobic thing?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so. At the All-Star Game he made some stupid gay joke and I thought maybe he was just being an idiot, but apparently he also outed some boy who hit on him. And I stupidly touched him—on the shoulder Jordie, shut the fuck up!—and he gave me this dirty look. He wasn’t being threatening or anything, but. He’s just not a great guy.”

Jordie gets an arm around Jamie’s neck and pulls him in. He’s handsy when he’s drunk and Jamie is pretty sure he’s wearing more beer from this bottle than he’s managed to drink, but he’s used to it by now.

“Well, he’s obviously an idiot. We knew that, eh? You gotta be to get yourself run out of town so spectacularly. Maybe that’ll be a wakeup call. But if it isn’t, and he’s making things uncomfortable for you, I’ll run him right the fuck back to Boston. Or somewhere way worse even.” Jordie sounds so convinced of this that he’s nearly got Jamie convinced of it too.

“Thanks.”

“I got your back, Chubbs, you know that. We’re the Brothers Benn!” Jordie jostles his arm to pull him closer and it’s choking Jamie a bit, but then Jordie kisses the top of his head and lets him go. He lifts his beer bottle for another toast and Jamie obliges.

Chapter Text

It’s not like Tyler expects fucking Brownie to be life-changing or anything. Maybe it would have been if the trade hadn’t happened to have been on the same day, but as it were, the fucking took a bit of a backseat.

What Tyler does know, now anyway, is that Jamie is probably a guy—which is something he drunkenly confesses to Brownie and Blacker and Freddy two days after the incident, once the house clears out of all his summer-only friends and acquaintances. Tyler doesn’t feel the need to divulge how he came to this conclusion, though he suspects that Brownie has a pretty good idea, but he does feel better saying it out loud. It feels like he’s making some kind of progress or something.

The rest of the night devolves into drinking games and terrible chirps about cowboys and rodeos and non-hockey markets that actually make Tyler feel better, surprisingly.

“Only steers and queers in Texas, and I’m not a cow.” Apparently, somewhere between the toast to his revelation and the tequila shots, Tyler manages to tweet that.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Management calls Jamie in the morning to fill him in on what Jim Nill is calling the “Seguin Situation.” Jamie feels like he should be taking notes at this point. They walk him through the tweet, Seguin’s allegation of hacking, and their decision to make him social media silent for a while. Jamie’s heart sinks—not that he was holding out any hope that Seguin had changed but, yeah maybe he’d been holding out a little hope. At least about not having to deal with something like this so soon.

“You’re a good kid Bennie, we think that he’d do well to kind of take your lead, so to speak. I know you already spoke with a few people about this but we were hoping you wouldn’t mind if we housed him somewhere close to you. Not with you, we wouldn’t ask you to do that,” Nill adds the last part hastily.

“That wouldn’t be a problem. I really don’t mind.”

“Great, great. We’ll send you over his information if you don’t have it already. We’re not expecting you to fly out and help him move or anything, but reach out and welcome him, be a little more engaged once you’re both in Dallas. See if he’s got any questions, you know.” The ‘try to keep him out of trouble’ goes without saying.

“Of course. I’d be happy to.” It’s a bald-faced lie but Jamie hopes he sounds convincing.

The call eventually wraps up and Jamie reports back to Jordie about it.

“‘Steers and queers’?” Jordie scrunches up his face in disgust.

“I don’t know, he’s a fucking moron, I told you.”

“Yeah, apparently.”

“Anyway, he said he was hacked or something so all his friends must be just as hilarious as he is.” Jamie collapses into the easy chair in the living room.

“Well, you have to be nice to him, especially since you’re going to be the captain soon.”

Jamie rolls his eyes. It’s been Jordie’s go-to joke all summer. “Yeah, of course I’ll be nice to him.”

“But I don’t have to be nice.”

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

The Stars management makes a big deal of moving Tyler somewhere close to teammates who will “show him the ropes.” At this point in his dealings with front office folk, Tyler knows that is code for ‘watch him like a hawk.’ It’s annoying, but he supposes he’s earned that at this point.

The tweet was a mistake. He figured that out right a-fucking-way. The phone call from his agent at four in the morning, mostly yelling and swearing, and the follow up call from Dallas PR that wasn’t as loud and didn’t contain as many swear words but had essentially the same message, had all but made that crystal clear.

He made up some garbled lie about being hacked and shut down his Twitter and tried to take his punishment with a humbled smile because Tyler isn’t about to alienate his new team before he even gets there. Mostly he’s pissed at himself for being so fucking careless.

They choose a building for him, and Tyler at least gets to pick the unit from the pictures they email him, but they’re all the same really so it’s an empty gesture. When they tell him Jamie Benn lives in an upstairs apartment Tyler gets way less angry at them. There are a lot of things that Tyler hates about Dallas before he even gets there—Jamie Benn is not one of them.

Benn might be the only thing that Tyler is looking forward to in Dallas. His memories of the All-Star Game are still on the wrong side of existing for the most part, but what he does know is that he liked Benn, he thought he was funny. He knows that Benn is fucking adorable, that his name is Jamie, and he’s definitely big enough to hold Tyler down—and if you asked him to his face he’d deny it, but that’s basically his big thing now after the night with Brownie.

He spends a lot of time studying Benn’s highlights on the NHL website—watching how he skates, noticing when he looks to pass and where he likes to shoot. The guy plays the kind of game Tyler’s always been envious of but too small to really make an attempt at; it’s rough physical hockey and it’s the first time he’s been excited since the trade.

He has to shut off Benn’s postgame interviews when Tyler’s thoughts start to stray a little too far from the ‘hockey’ and too close to the ‘rough physical’, but Tyler doesn’t think he can be held responsible for any fantasies he may or may not have about Benn’s arms.

Maybe Texas won’t totally suck.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

When camp starts up, Seguin is still living out of his suitcases and Jamie and Jordie stop in when they can, showing him where the best restaurants are, where the grocery store is, the best way to get to and from the rink and the practice facilities. They’re all pretty busy so Jamie hasn’t really spent too much time building an actual friendship with the guy, but he is friendly. He certainly spends a lot more time checking in with Tyler than he does any of the other new guys or potential call-ups.

He’s still wary of him, and actually has to pull Jordie aside on two separate occasions to tell him to ease off the kid, but fuck if Jamie doesn’t still think Seguin is hot as shit.

He tries not to stare during weigh-ins and fitness testing but Tyler’s body is fucking unreal and Jamie has to stop himself from imagining rubbing off on his abs. He can’t very well do a shuttle run with a hard-on. It’s maybe an image that he recycles later that night, but it’s not something he’s trying to get in the habit of doing. Tyler is a teammate now and by the size of his contract, likely will be for a long while.

By the time camp is over, Jordie is offered a roster spot full time and moves in with Jamie for good, taking one of the spare bedrooms. The team is looking good and Jamie is thriving with the new responsibility of what he is now kind of accepting is his inevitable captaincy. He feels whole for the first time in a long time and it’s nice to be optimistic about a season and have it validated by the sports writers for once. They have a legitimate shot this year if they can connect in the regular season like they have been in scrimmages.

Tyler is even starting to settle in and he’s taken Jamie and Jordie up on dinner offers pretty regularly. He hasn’t been the outright ass that Jamie was braced for, especially with Tyler coming off a bad-blood trade and being undoubtedly resentful of having to come to a team that’s missed the playoffs as long as Jamie’s played here. He doesn’t seem really bitter at all, apart from a few sarcastic texts over the summer that Jamie could understand. If anything, Tyler is bright and animated and happy in a way that Jamie finds himself feeding off of.

He hadn’t noticed before what a dork Tyler is when he says something he thinks is funny. Jordie is laughing at a joke Tyler made about a celebrity Jamie has never heard of, so it’s not really that funny to him, but while Jordie is cackling, Tyler blushes, hangs his head. Eventually he bites his lip and looks over to Jamie.

He’d seen some of that side of Tyler before, the bashful interviews he’d watched him give in Ottawa, but it’s the first time Jamie realizes Tyler actually is really timid about some things, that it isn’t an act. He’s certainly not as cocksure as Jamie had been led to believe. Tyler laughs at his own jokes, even checks around to see if other people are, too. He looks so damned eager that even when he doesn’t totally get the punchline, Jamie still smiles.

And the kid has had to give more than a thousand interviews about his time in Boston and being traded, and Jamie has cringed at more than a handful of things the reporters have had the nerve to ask him. But Tyler never looks flustered. When he’s asked about the tweet, or rumors about his partying, Tyler doesn’t shut down. He acknowledges mistakes without excuses and talks about wanting to be better. And Jamie is envious of the way he can outright admit when he’s embarrassed or nervous when he doesn’t know the answer to something that he thinks he’s supposed to. Jamie would clam up and stutter something humiliating if he was in that position, but Tyler laughs at himself.

When they ask Tyler about his own game, he’s depreciative. He’ll gush about his teammates in Boston—Pevs in particular, about how excited he is to get to keep playing with him—talk about how thrilled he is to come to a young team like Dallas and get to know the guys here. But when asked about what he thinks he can bring, Tyler is totally dismissive of his own talent. Jamie hasn’t heard him say anything close to bragging even once, all the arrogance of being twenty seems to have dissipated.

He’s charming, and Jamie clearly isn’t the only one who thinks so.

“He’s not the worst,” Jordie offers once Tyler heads back downstairs after one of their least awkward dinners yet. He sounds disappointed in himself for thinking so, but Jamie thinks he gets it.

“No, he’s not.” Jamie scrapes the leftovers from their plates into the garbage before handing them to Jordie.

Jamie actually likes Tyler. He looks for reasons not to, but apart from the stuff that already happened, Tyler doesn’t say anything else that makes Jamie uncomfortable—not even a hint. He’s stupidly friendly and always trying to help out, repay the favor of Jamie and Jordie’s company. He’s easy to like and Jamie is coming to enjoy having him around.

Jamie’s also always believed in second-chances and there’s something about Tyler—his fucking killer body, his brain offers unhelpfully, even though that’s really only part of it—that makes Jamie want to give him a third chance on top of it.

“Besides, if he still managed to come around after all the dirty looks you were giving him, he can’t be too bad.”

“That was combatted by your Bambi eyes,” Jordie flicks him on the forehead.

“I like him.” Jamie reluctantly offers. He doesn’t know why he feels the need to defend Tyler—after all, he was the one who’d told Jordie he was an ass—but hearing Jordie talk about him like that still sets Jamie’s teeth on edge. “He’s just a dumb kid and he’s got shitty friends, but that’s why he’s living here. And the trade had to have been a helluva wakeup call. He’ll grow up. Even you did, eventually.”

Jordie throws a wet sponge at him and Jamie hurls it back. “I take that back, you’re a child, too. It’s a wonder you don’t get along better with Seguin.”

“M’just saying, Chubbs, I think you’re a little twitterpated.” Jordie says matter-of-factly and unfortunately Jamie can’t argue with that.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

He has a lunch date with just Tyler the next day that he knows he starts off a little stiff through. Jamie is used to having Jordie as a buffer, but just as before, Tyler keeps the conversation up more than enough for the both of them, so Jamie mostly nods along and laughs when appropriate.

He’s in the middle of telling a detailed story about taking his dog Marshall to a lake somewhere in Ontario.

“Well, Brownie was convinced that Marshall wasn’t going to know how to swim. Like, dude, he’s a lab, he’s going to be fine. But then he googled it or something and found all these stories about water dogs who just sunk like stones and he got everyone else convinced that somehow Marshall was gonna be one of these dogs you know? So Blacker ended up ordering doggie water-wings that Marshall bit into and popped the second they were near him.”

Jamie kind of pauses mid-bite with that. “Jesse Blacker?”

“Yeah! You know him?”

“Um, kind of.” Jamie hopes he’s not blushing. “He came up with Bozie—Tyler Bozak—and some guys to Victoria like two summers back. Jordie and I shared a cottage with ‘em.”

“Awesome! Yeah, I’ve known Blacks for years. Great guy.”

“Yeah,” Jamie agrees and lets Tyler ramble on, finishing up his story. He can’t stop thinking about it though. He remembers vaguely Bozie chirping Blacker for spending the summer with a Cup he didn’t win. Jamie stays mostly quiet the rest of the meal.

When they part ways later and Jordie gets back from whatever he was out doing with some of the Texas boys, Jamie finally mentions it.

“You know Seguin is friends with Blacker?”

“Blacker?” Jordie draws out, waiting for elaboration, but doesn’t look up from his iPad.

“Jesse Blacker.”

“Oh! Booty-call Blacker!” Jordie looks pleased with himself. “Why didn’t you say so?”

“One, fuck you. Two, he says they’ve been friends for years.”

“So what?”

“So Bozie knew Blacker slept with guys after like six months, how could Seguin not know?”

“Maybe he does.”

“But then what about the whole,” Jamie makes a dismissive gesture that he hopes encapsulates everything he’s trying to say.

“You know, I think maybe the problem in all this is that you’ve been underestimating just how dumb Seguin is.”

That’s as good an answer has Jamie has come up with so far, though he’s loathe to admit it.

“Well, I guess it’s a good thing he’s pretty,” Jamie sighs dramatically. He tries to keep a straight face but Jordie’s dramatic eye roll has him breaking almost immediately.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Tyler likes sex but he also likes to flirt. It's a good way to gauge who's interested in the former, first of all, but he also finds it amusing to see how people respond to it. Not everybody is into it, but it’s a habit that is responsible not only for some mind-blowing sexual encounters, but some lifelong friendships as well.

He likes being the center of attention and he likes being looked at and admired. One of the fastest ways to ensure that he’s got all eyes on him is to flirt shamelessly with everyone. It’s also a good icebreaker, he’s found.

He’s usually not very picky about whom he flirts with, but he’s definitely noticed that the Benn brothers have been on edge with him since he’s arrived. He doesn’t really blame them—he’s fully aware of the Bruins management’s opinions of him and he’s sure they’ve shared them with the Stars welcome wagon by now. It’s only frustrating because Tyler likes the Benns, thinks they could be pretty great friends even, which is why he’s willing to hold back until they seem more at ease with him. Jamie especially.

Jamie and Jordie help him move in boxes as they arrive from Boston. Freddy has been mailing them as he gets to them so it’s never been much at a time, but this weekend Tyler had a few come in and didn’t feel like making six trips himself. It’s not like any of them are very heavy, but all three of them are dripping in sweat no thanks to the Texas heat and the fact Tyler accidentally left his blinds open all morning and baked his living room into an oven—even with the blasting A/C.

They’ve been goofing around most of the afternoon and Tyler is actually starting to feel comfortable in his new place. It’s not really intentional on his part, but as it ends up, Jordie is the first guy on the Stars that Tyler really turns it on for. After Jamie heads upstairs for first shower, Tyler offers Jordie a beer, one of the three things he’s got in his fridge right now.

Tyler likes Jordie—he’s like a rowdier, more outgoing, reddish-haired version of Jamie, and Tyler likes Jamie a lot. He likes that Jamie is helpful and friendly even when it’s clear he doesn’t really get Tyler all the time. He likes that he asks questions about Boston that don’t feel like he’s judging, just trying to figure things out. And he likes that Jamie is giving him a chance even though he’s fully aware Tyler’s a fuckup. Jamie isn’t really even that much older than Tyler but he’s already more together than Tyler will ever be. Jordie says Jamie is going to be captain this season; no one is ever going to let Tyler be captain of anything. So aside from his general attraction to Jamie, Tyler just flat out admires the guy and wants to prove that he’s worth Jamie’s effort.

Getting Jordie to like him seems like a good enough place to start. He gives him some of his very best game, watching the amused, charitable smile that Jordie shoots back. It’s obvious he’s not interested, but Tyler isn’t either, really.

“Oh, kid.” Jordie eventually shakes his head at him. “You are going to frustrate some people in this city.” It’s not said with any kind of threat or animosity though so Tyler doesn’t let up much.

“Is that so?” He gives him his best mega-watt smile and leans forward on his elbows to push his ass out. “Frustrate how?”

“I’d tell you, but somehow I think it would just fan the fire.” The apartment door opens loudly and they both turn at the sound. He hears Jordie lower his voice conspiratorially. “You’ll find a captive audience I’m sure.”

Jamie makes his way into the kitchen, hair still damp from the shower. “Free if you want it, Darth.” Jamie swipes Jordie’s half-empty beer and downs the rest.

Tyler rolls his eyes at the two of them. He’s already discovered that the Benn brothers have their own language. He finds it endearing, but is still amused that they don’t think it’s dorky. Tyler has thus far been highly unimpressed with their secret code words for things.

The three of them settle into a pretty easy routine in the weeks leading up to the start of the regular season. Jamie is lot different than Tyler remembers. They had texted a couple times over the summer before Tyler moved, details about the team and what not, but they hadn’t carried on a conversation or anything until he’d arrived. He remembered Bennie being pretty shy and intense in Ottawa.

But not in Dallas. Tyler doesn’t know if it’s the comfort with the environment or the familiarity of having Jordie around too, but Jamie seems so much more relaxed now. He stops looking nervous around Tyler, starts acting more like who he is with Jordie. It makes Tyler feel accepted, and all the more attracted to him. He’s been ramping up his flirting as a result. Jordie promised Tyler a captive audience and the first one he finds is unquestionably in Jamie.

Tyler is fascinated by the way he laughs—a full-bodied, gut-punched reaction that practically doubles Jamie over. He’s definitely somewhat of a control freak; even though Jordie has his own truck, Jamie drives the three of them everywhere they go—practice, restaurants, bars—if Jamie is going, Jamie is driving. And he’s very strict with things like what he eats and how he works out.

But Jamie’s laughter is the opposite of controlled. He always seems surprised by it; it explodes out of him and makes him look so fucking happy that Tyler tries to draw it out of him as often as he can. His favorite is when he can get Jamie laughing so hard that it devolves into helpless giggles. The first time it happens, he seems embarrassed by it, clapping a hand over his mouth and pursing his lips to bite it down.

“Oh geez, Chubbs. Control yourself,” Jordie smiles fondly at his brother, elbowing him in the side and turning back to their video game.

Once he’s calmed down enough, cheeks still pink with a broad smile on his face, Tyler turns back to him.

“Hey, Bennie?”

“Yeah?”

Shoehorn.”

It sets Jamie off again, giggling in fits. Jordie looks at him like he’s downright mortified to share blood with him. “Bro, you laugh like a little girl.” Then he shoots a look over where Jamie is doubled over to Tyler. “What the fuck, Segs? Shoehorn? Quit breaking my brother.”

“No, that’s surefire! If you ever get somebody in a laughing fit and they start to come out of it, just say ‘shoehorn.’ I swear it works every time.”

Jamie is nearly in tears and Marshall is running around in front of him like he can’t tell what game this is they’re playing. He stops for a moment to lick Jamie’s face and then takes off in a dash around the living room. It only makes Jamie laugh harder.

Tyler leans back in his seat to watch the deep red flush spread over Jamie’s face and neck. He looks really good like that.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie hasn’t felt like this since he played with Bozie. He doesn’t have to look to know where Tyler is on the ice. Even though they get shuffled around for a bit while the coaching staff is still trying to find spots for some of the prospects, every time they’re together they connect on pretty passes and even prettier goals. It’s obvious that management is impressed.

Nill pulls Jamie aside and asks him if he thinks Tyler would be okay with mentoring Val. The kid is a lock for the team at this point and with the language barrier, he needs someone in his corner.

“Do you think that’s something Seguin could handle? You’ve really done a great job welcoming him to the team and don’t want to put more on your plate, but I think it would be a vote of confidence if we asked Tyler.”

“Absolutely. I think he would love to.” Jamie doesn’t even have to sell his enthusiasm. He’s already seen the way Tyler has made an effort to include Val in things, even if he’s not old enough to go out to the bars with the other guys. Tyler had suggested Jamie take them all out for ice cream instead of drinks.

He’d actually asked Tyler about it later after they’d dropped Val off at the hotel.

“I was the youngest guy on a team once. It was weird. I knew I was supposed to be there but I didn’t always feel like I belonged.”

“Was it always like that?” Jamie had been given a more detailed account of Tyler’s time in Boston once he’d signed the lease in Jamie’s building. He knew about the weekly agenda reports and the fact that no one was willing to take Tyler in. It made Jamie feel strange. When he came to Dallas he wasn’t a teenager and he still had trouble adjusting to living on his own. And he’d even had Jordie just a short drive away at the time. He couldn’t imagine being totally alone as an eighteen year old kid.

“It wasn’t always that bad, if that’s what you’re asking. But I was usually lonely.”

“Oh.” Jamie frowned at the stoplight and it took him a minute to notice when it changed to green. “What about now?”

“Why would I be lonely now? You and Jordie never leave me alone.”

“Hey! That’s not—you’re the one who comes over all the time!” He looks over to see Tyler smirking at him. “You’re teasing me, aren’t you?”

“You’re too easy, Bennie.”

Jamie’s stomach does a weird flip that he can’t control. He purses his lips to hide it. “Well, we don’t mind it. Having you around.”

“Thanks.”

Tyler takes mentoring Val very seriously. Far more seriously than Jamie had taken to watching after Tyler. Tyler even lets Val take Marshall overnight—with a detailed list of local dog parks and a feed container with a silly rhyme that Tyler claims his friend Freddy came up with (“No one likes a dog that’s too fat to play; please only feed me two cups a day!”)—when he seems particularly homesick.

It shouldn’t make Jamie feel so proud to see Tyler being responsible. He’s clearly capable of a lot more than he’d been lead to believe, but it does inspire a little more trust and confidence in Tyler than Jamie had initially.

When the preseason ends and Jamie is named captain, he’s floored. He knew it was coming, but it still strikes him as unbelievable that he’ll be wearing the C for an NHL team. Later that night when he and Jordie are back at the apartment, Jordie pops a bottle of champagne he surreptitiously purchased and Jamie probably drinks more than he should because he rather emotionally confesses as much.

“I don’t know why you’re so surprised Chubbs, I’ve been telling you this since last year.”

“Yeah, but you’re my brother. You’re supposed to say nice things.”

“Actually, I think as your brother I’m obligated to do the exact opposite. But, really it was obvious. I mean, the fact you’re insanely controlling of everyone alone should have tipped you off,” Jordie smirks. “But you’re also a really great leader and you care about people, and you’re the most motivated person that I’ve ever met.” He face falls a little and Jamie is about to ask him what he’s thinking about when he starts up again. “I just—do you remember when you were, what was it, thirteen? And I said that you would probably have to quit hockey?” Jordie looks sheepish.

“That wasn’t really what you said.” Jamie remembers the conversation well.

“Yeah, but you knew that was the gist of it. And after I said that, I remember you looked at me, so upset, and you said ‘but why can’t I?’ And I thought you were totally naïve, and I was just being nice when I told you—” Jordie cuts himself off abruptly and Jamie sees that he’s trying not to tear up, too. They’ve probably both had too much, honestly.

“Jordie, you were a kid, too. You weren’t trying to be mean.”

“I know, but you were so brave. You didn’t listen to me. If I were in your place, I would have been so scared. I know I would have quit. And I am so proud of you that you chose to keep going. I know it was hard for you, still is sometimes, but you worked your ass off. I really look up to you, Jamie. No one else deserves this more than you, okay?”

“Thanks Jordie.”

Neither of them will admit how furiously they wipe their eyes when the doorbell rings a few moments later and Tyler bounds in with a second bottle of champagne and a leashed Marshall.

“Is it cool I brought him? I didn’t want to leave him by himself if I didn’t know how long I’d be here, and Val was busy.”

“Oh yeah, it’s fine. He can’t shed more than Chubbs does.” Jordie slaps Tyler on the back. “Let him run free! I’ll get him a water dish. We shouldn’t be the only ones drinking, should we buddy?” Marshall wags his tail at Jordie’s dog voice and when Tyler lets him go, he rushes to follow him into the kitchen.

“Congrats, Captain,” Tyler slings an arm over Jamie’s shoulder when they’re alone. Jamie hopes he isn’t blushing too much.

“Thanks.”

“You’re not as tall as Chara, but you’re a hell of a lot cuter.”

So much for the blushing. Jamie opts to down his drink instead of answering and catches Tyler’s smirk out of the corner of his eye. It feels a lot like flirting but Jamie isn’t about to assume anything. Tyler probably just likes to tease him about things because Jamie can take a while to catch on. And even if he ever did mean it, it wouldn’t matter because hockey has to come first, especially now that he’s captain.

Now that he’s captain.

Captain.

Jamie shakes his head in disbelief and lets Tyler laugh at him, but there’s zero animosity in it.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

When he first came to Dallas, Tyler had called Jordie ‘JB’ and Jamie ‘Bennie.’ He kept it up for about four weeks before he slipped up accidentally called Jordie ‘Bennie’.

“Why did your parents have to give you both the same damned name, anyway? You’re lucky you don’t look more alike.” Tyler had pouted.

“Our sister’s name is Jenny,” Jamie had offered and Tyler groaned.

“Hey, when you find a good pattern, you stick with it,” Jordie shrugged with a self-satisfied grin.

After that, unless they were in the locker room or on the ice, Tyler started calling Jamie ‘Jamie.’

“So Jamie, what’s the plan for dinner tonight?”

“I don’t know, Tyler. Are you cooking?” Jamie had said it teasingly, drawing out the ‘Ty’ sound like he was chirping him. But Tyler beamed, his eyes crinkling in the corners, and Jamie felt like maybe that’s what Tyler had wanted the whole time.

Once he notices how big Tyler smiles when Jamie uses his name, he starts doing it all the time. He feels a little reckless, trying to get a response from Tyler like he does, but he never gets the impression that it’s unwelcome. It’s kind of the opposite actually, and Jamie has to spend a lot of time convincing himself that liking a teammate—a teammate with a questionable past when it comes to homophobia—is a terrible fucking idea.

But Jamie is having a hard time separating the things that he knows Tyler has done, things he heard Tyler say, and the Tyler that showed up in Dallas. This Tyler has stayed thirty minutes longer after a practice to sign things for kids that were waiting outside. He’s noticed what Jamie likes to order when they go out to eat and when they’re on the road, Tyler will look up places on his phone to find somewhere he thinks Jamie will like. When Jordie teases Jamie about his clothes—Chubbs, you’ve had that shirt since you were sixteen, you look like a bum—Tyler defends him.

“Those are the best shirts! They’re worn in by then!” And he doesn’t laugh when Jamie gets weirdly sensitive and goes out shopping the next day. He even comes along, gives Jamie shit to try on that he says he’d look nice in.

He steals half of Jamie’s radio presets, though Jamie thinks some of that might have been Jordie, but still lets Jamie pick the station. Jamie sees how he is with Val and his dog, and he hasn’t made any kind of comment that’s been remotely offensive or even given Jamie pause.

But Jamie isn’t supposed to like him. Not like he does.

“I mean, I get why you do. He’s a good-looking guy.”

“Jordie. He’s pornography.”

“Okay, well that I wouldn’t know, but I see the appeal.”

“That’s the problem! There shouldn’t be an appeal! I’m not supposed to like my players like that. And obviously it’s not just that he’s good-looking. What? It’s not! He’s nice, you know. He’s—he’s making an effort.”

“I don’t know why you’re bothered. It’s not like you can help who you have a crush on.”

“Jordie, I’m serious. Even if it’s innocent on my end, what if he finds out and hates me? Then what?”

“You know, I’m not an expert on Seguin or anything, but I can’t figure why he would hit on guys all the time and then not be okay if one of them happened to end up liking him. Like isn’t that the whole point of flirting with someone?”

“He does not hit on guys all the time.”

“Yes, he does. He’s hit on me before, and he definitely hits on you.”

“He’s just like that, though.”

“Maybe. Like I said, I’m no expert.” Jordie pokes Jamie in the ribs. “Just don’t let it get to you like this. It’s fine if you like him or whatever, there’s no harm in that.”

Jamie still can’t help but run through worst case scenarios. Suppose Tyler found out and Jamie ends up outed like that other guy. What if Tyler decided to go behind Jamie’s back, tell the team about it? How could Jamie captain a team who didn’t have confidence in his authority, or didn’t respect him and saw him as some kind of freak or sad joke? What if they all though Jamie was going to try and jump them in the showers or something? What if Tyler told management and they decided it wasn’t worth the trouble keeping Jamie for the length of his contract? What if Tyler told his friends, guys on other teams, and Jamie ended up the butt of a million and one dirty hits or on-ice jokes?

It’s not something he presumes will happen, but the fact is he doesn’t know. There could be a lot of harm if Tyler finds out and isn’t okay with it, and no scenario Jamie can figure is going to be worth that risk.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jordie takes Tyler out to lunch one of the days that Jamie gets stuck back doing captain shit. He takes him to some sandwich shop with fifteen different kinds of hot sauce. The place is pretty busy, but Tyler still finds time to flirt with the guy who’s assembling their meal.

It’s not until they’re sitting down to eat that Tyler thinks anything of it—it’s just what he does.

“I thought you didn’t like gay people,” Jordie stares at him from across the table with an unreadable look.

“Um.” Tyler tries to follow whatever chain of conversation lead them to this but comes up empty. “I do?” If he figured Jordie to have a problem with Tyler flirting with guys, he’s read the guy totally wrong.

“Didn’t you out that kid once? Made fun of him and shit?”

Oh. Tyler blushes. He’ll probably never get to live that one down. ”That was a huge mistake. I wasn’t trying—it never even occurred to me that he might not…” Tyler trails off, hanging his head. He’s done so many stupid things in his life, but that’s the one he regrets the most.

“And what was with the whole steers and queers shit?”

“My friends and I were drinking. And it wasn’t, you know when I said that—”

“So it was you that said it. Not some mystery hacker?”

“Yeah. But I didn’t mean it to be anything bad, it wasn’t supposed to be a slur. It was just, I was trying to be funny. It was stupid.” Tyler contemplates telling Jordie the truth for a moment, but it’s not a conversation he’s ever had with someone outside his own terms.

Jordie seems to accept his answer, nods and goes back to eating his sandwich.

He eventually pipes up with a new subject and the rest of the meal is mostly shop talk, possible line combinations, quirks of some teammates that he should be aware of. It’s friendly, and he’s feeling less embarrassed about the earlier exchange.

“I don’t have a problem with gay people.” Tyler finally offers, toward the end of the meal.

“So you just like leading guys on, then?” Jordie looks at something over Tyler’s shoulder and he turns to see the guy behind the counter looking at him. Tyler knows that look. In a bar, that look would be his cue to up the ante, add some casual touches to press how serious the guy was about taking him home.

Tyler turns back to Jordie. His face is burning and he can tell he’s blushing.

“Hey, I’m just trying to figure you out, kid. You lay it on thick with a lot of people. I’m only looking out.” Jordie has a way of saying it like he really does have Tyler’s best interest at heart, and not like he’s trying to pry or judge him or anything. Must be magic older brother powers or something—Tyler’s only ever been one, never had one. He probably would’ve gotten into a lot less trouble if he’d had.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie doesn’t know if hockey crushes are a real thing, but if they are, he’s pretty sure that he’s had two great ones in his life. Bozie was the first, and without a doubt, Tyler is the second.

The season starts and they’re still playing good hockey together, fucking special hockey that makes people take notice. Sometimes Jamie will connect on a pass from Tyler and just stand there staring at the puck in the net—like the whole play happened on autopilot and he was just along for the ride. Tyler is the best player he’s ever played with and Jamie honestly feels like he’s stealing the recognition from him.

Tyler starts coming over more often, too. Jordie’s given him a standing invitation—and a spare key—and he’s even become his new preferred video game buddy.

“Sorry, Chubbs. He’s way better than you. It’s actually a challenge now.”

Jamie pouts over it for a while but he’s content to just sit and watch them play. Jordie gets hilariously huffy when he’s losing and Jamie can’t help but push his buttons and rile him up even more. Tyler is even more hilarious, talking to himself when he plays, quietly like he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it. Jamie sits between them for one of their NHL battles and tries not to laugh when he hears him scolding the avatar version of himself.

“C’mon Tyler, there you go,” he murmurs as he gets the pass off and Jamie’s avatar buries it. “Nice!” He smiles at Jamie like they really just scored.

And when Tyler is concentrating hard on shooting zombies or Nazis or pucks, his brow furrows and his tongue pokes out the corner of his mouth. Jamie tries not to stare or anything, but he thinks maybe Tyler likes it.

Even in the locker room, sometimes when he looks at Tyler, Tyler is already looking at him. At first, he averts his eyes right away, but he dares himself to look a little longer each time it happens. It starts to seem like Tyler is doing it on purpose because the longer Jamie looks, the redder Tyler’s cheeks get. He smiles bashfully, or he sits back and puts himself even more on display.

Jamie doesn’t feel like he’s being threatened or scowled at or rejected. He feels like he’s being encouraged.

It’s the same feeling as when Tyler goads him into something out of his comfort zone. Jamie hasn’t played his guitar in over a year. Once Jordie moved in and he didn’t really have the privacy to practice anymore, he stopped completely. Tyler found it one day when he was chasing after Marshall and brought it out.

“This yours or Jordie’s?” Tyler is holding up the guitar by the neck, smiling way too big. Jamie thinks about lying, Jordie isn’t home to correct him but Jamie is a terrible liar.

“Mine.”

“No way, do you play?”

And no, the thing is Jamie really doesn’t. He knows maybe seven chords, and he’s probably forgotten at least three of them, and he could only ever play one Third Eye Blind song and one Johnny Cash song when he did play.

“I did, a little.” And Tyler was crushed when Jamie said that he’d stopped.

“You should start again! I think it’s so cool when people play instruments. I’m so bad at stuff like that, it blows my mind when people can do it. I mean, I try but just, no way.”

And so Jamie started practicing again. He learns a couple new songs and relearns the chords he forgot, and Tyler sometimes asks him if he can play random songs and Jamie usually can’t, but he always tries to learn them in case Tyler asks again. He’s not even good at the guitar, but Tyler looks at him like he’s completely amazed and god, he must know how bad it sounds. But he still loves listening to Jamie try and Jamie loves seeing Tyler smile at him like that.

So maybe it’s not a hockey crush—this is so much more than it ever was with Bozie—maybe it’s an actual crush crush. With feelings.

Jamie tries not to beat himself up so much when he catches himself flirting back, because Jamie is starting to think Tyler is maybe doing it intentionally.

“No, feel, you’ll see what I mean,” Tyler sticks out his arm, holding up his sleeve with the other hand to expose his bicep. Jamie runs his finger over the part of the design that Tyler is talking about. “I swear, sometimes when there’s about to be a storm or something, the ink gets raised there. Only in Texas though. I think it’s a humidity thing.”

Jamie runs his fingers over each of the swirls, feeling the difference between the one Tyler is talking about and the others that are still flat, stretched taut over his muscle.

“Weird. I’ve never had that.”

“Me either,” Jordie cuts in from his corner of the sofa, looking over at the two of them. Jamie ignores his smug tone, the one he gets every time he cuts in on their conversations.

“Just reminding you there’s another person in the room,” he told Jamie once.

Tyler shivers when Jamie hits a swirl close to the back of his arm. “Tickles,” he offers, but doesn’t move away. Jamie eventually pulls his hand back, but Tyler keeps his sleeve rolled up to his shoulder the rest of the night.

Jamie feels a little bolder when Tyler does little things like that. It’s worse when Jordie isn’t around; when Jamie forgets that he’s supposed to be careful. Doesn’t have anyone to clear their throat and make him reign it in.

Jordie is out to lunch with Eaks and Dills when Tyler brings Marshall over after a short run to the dog park and back.

“It was empty, only like two other dogs and they were both tiny. No one there to tire him out for me,” Tyler complained. So now he’s down on the floor, wrestling his dog in the middle of the living room.

His clothes are rucked up and rumpled, damp patches from Marshall’s drool on his cotton athletic shorts. When he rolls on his back, the legs ride up and expose the bottoms of his boxer briefs. Jamie gets a flash of himself on the floor, wrestling Tyler and getting him flushed and sweaty like he is, pulling his briefs off with his teeth.

Marshall’s loud bark startles him out of it and he looks back to see Tyler on his elbows and knees, back arched, ass up in the air, Marshall’s toy in his teeth. Marshall copies him, falling down till he’s face to face with Tyler, trying to get it back.

Tyler growls at him and wiggles his hips in a way that is downright indecent and Jamie helps himself to a decorative pillow for his lap. Marshall bests Tyler but is bored of the toy once it’s not being kept away from him and wanders off to lap loudly at his water dish.

Tyler climbs up on the couch beside Jamie, flopping on his back, head nearly in Jamie’s lap, not bothering to readjust any of his clothing. He scratches idly at his belly where his t-shirt slid up and looks back, upside down, smirking at Jamie—like Jamie might tell him he’s not allowed on the furniture or something.

“You sure you’re not part dog?” Jamie teases him.

“Maybe I am.” Tyler stretches out, one of his legs over the arm of the sofa, the other dropping down to the floor, splaying his legs open. Jamie is so, so fucked.

“And if I scratch you behind the ears?” Jamie doesn’t know where that came from, he hopes he isn’t blushing too much. He reaches out haphazardly and runs his nails over a spot behind Tyler’s ear. He’s already said it, he may as well do it.

Tyler tilts to the side to give Jamie access to his neck and speaks in a quiet voice. “I like being pet, too.”

Jamie damn near chokes on his tongue. The hand holding the pillow over his lap clings a little tighter, but he reaches up to rub a hand through Tyler’s hair anyway. Tyler sighs and pushes into it some, exactly like a dog.

“Good boy,” Jamie means for it to come out mockingly but it’s much too close to sincere. He swipes Tyler’s hair away from his forehead where it’s sticking with sweat. The room is heavy with a tension that makes Jamie feel nervous and anticipatory and fucking horny.

Jamie drags his fingers over Tyler’s scalp until Marshall comes clicking back into the room to see what the humans are up to. The face full of dog breath has Tyler groaning and jerking away and Jamie pulls his hand back, keeping it tucked safely away from temptation.

It’s torture, is what it is. Jamie knows he’s spending too much thinking about it. He catches himself after they’ve been hanging out or had practice, running through entire conversations in his head, trying to decipher what Tyler meant when he said this or what he was thinking when he did that.

“Jamie, dude.” Jordie is flicking water from his glass at Jamie’s face.

“Ugh,” he kicks at where Jordie is sitting on the other side of the couch and scrubs his face with the back of his sleeve. “What the hell, asshole?”

“I’ve been trying to get your attention for five fucking minutes, gimme the remote!” Jamie throws it at him a little harder than necessary.

“Jerk,” he mumbles weakly.

“Why are you being so Jamie right now?”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“This silent meditation thing you’ve been doing for weeks. It’s freaky.” Jordie starts flipping through the channels. “Are you thinking about hockey?”

“No.”

“Are you thinking about food?”

“Fuck off.”

“Are you thinking about starts with Tyler ends with Seguin?”

Jamie wishes he didn’t blush so easily.

“Yeah, thought so.” Jordie settles on some outdoor show in the upper channels and turns the volume down. “D’you wanna talk about it?”

“No.”

“Okay.”

Jamie stews for a while, ignoring the expectant looks Jordie keeps giving him, until finally he’s annoyed into submission.

“Fuck, okay. Fine. Jesus Christ, stop staring at me.” Jordie looks way too pleased. “Just—why the fuck does he do it?” Jamie’s given himself a headache mulling over that question before. “Why does he flirt with everyone so much?”

“Everyone? Or you?”

“Both! I mean, you hang out with him sometimes when I’m not there. What’s he like with you?”

“Like normal.”

“What does that mean?”

“He’s loud, he talks a lot. Makes a lot of claims about his video game skills that are bullshit. Tries to get me to cook that weird shit he’s got in his fridge for him. Sometimes he flirts—I’ve seen him shirtless far too many times for my liking—he loves the attention, obviously.”

Jamie really doesn’t mean to feel so fucking disappointed, but there it is.

“But Jamie, I’ve also seen him with you. And I can say, with a hundred percent certainty, he is not like that with anyone else. I’ve seen him try to hold your hand, okay?”

“But I thought he was—” There a million things Jamie thought about Tyler when he showed up in Dallas. That he was straight, that he was an asshole, that he was a drunk, that he was lazy, that he didn’t take hockey seriously, that he was homophobic. That he wasn’t worth Jamie’s time. Some of those things Jamie knows aren’t true now. It’s all the stuff he’s still unsure about that makes him anxious.

“At the All-Star game,” Jamie finishes lamely.

“I’m not sure any of that was ever really as black and white as we thought.”

But Jamie likes things to be black and white, predictable. He likes being in control.

This is so out of his control.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie drives Tyler and Jordie out to one of their regular lunch spots on an off-day. He’s very particular about where they go and Jordie is always teasing him about it, how he thinks he’s their dietician.

“How come you get to order the regular Coke and we can’t?” Jordie kicks Jamie in the shins under the table and Tyler feels him flinch.

“Because I did an extra workout this morning and you two fuckers slept in, that’s why.” Tyler had sacked out on the Benns’ couch the night before and vaguely remembered Jamie nudging him awake to see if he wanted to go for a run sometime before the sun even came up.

“I remember when you used to eat two lunches,” Jordie grumbles as he starts on his chicken sandwich—‘light on the mayo, Jordie!’

“Is that why he calls you Chubbs?” Tyler picks the onions off his turkey burger and slides his pickle over to Jamie’s plate before Jordie can snatch it.

Jamie is blushing and staring furiously into his grilled chicken. Tyler beams; he’s adorable when he’s riled.

“Oh, yeah. And it wasn’t just two lunches either. He was the size of two kids. Tell him what Jenny called you.”

“Still calls me,” Jamie mumbles, but doesn’t offer more. Tyler turns back to Jordie expectantly.

“Jenny started calling him Fats when he was like two years old. Pretty sure your whole team called you that up till peewee too, eh? Chubbs came later.”

“I wasn’t fat, I was just short.”

“Jamie, you were fat.”

Tyler giggles as he tries to picture it. Jamie isn’t small, and he’s not nearly as trim as Jordie is, but he’s definitely still more muscle than fat, even if it doesn’t show on him like he would like—Tyler’s seen him frowning into the gym mirror before.

“I was 5 foot 4, Jordie, of course I looked fat.”

“Holy crap! How old were you?” Tyler tries to picture Jamie ever not towering over him and comes up blank.

“He was fifteen!” Jordie sounds absolutely gleeful. “And he weighed about what he does now.”

“I hit my growth spurt late, that’s all. And now I’m taller than you,” Jamie kicks his legs out at Jordie under the table.

“So, what was I then, 12? Jesus, I was taller than you!” Tyler is absolutely floored. He laughs as Jamie shoves a forkful of rice into his mouth and sulks.

“Yeah, the doctor told him he was probably gonna be five-nine tops and he was so pissed. Then over-fucking-night it was like a weed. I think he was eating dad’s Miracle-Gro.”

“Shut up, Darth.”

Tyler takes another bite of his burger to hide his smile, but he keeps looking over to where Jamie is squirming at being the focus of the attention.

“He was a pill for that whole year.”

“I grew seven inches in nine months! That shit was painful!”

“And you ate enough for three grown men.” Jordie pauses. “Chubbs.”

Jamie rolls his eyes and goes back to his food, but makes a big deal out of enjoying his Coke until Jordie swipes it and steals a few sips.

It makes a little more sense to Tyler now why Jamie is so strict with himself about his food and his workouts. Tyler was already six foot when he was fifteen and he hadn’t been five-four since he was probably eight years old.

“Well, for a fat kid, you look really good.”

“I wasn’t fat, I was short.” Jamie mutters with a mouthful of chicken, but his cheeks flush pink and he won’t look Tyler in the eye.

“Po-tay-to po-tah-to.” Tyler gives him a playful smile and a shove with his elbow. “Just promise I’ll get to see pictures sometime.”

“Fat chance.” Jamie’s face goes slack when he realizes what he’s said and Jordie cackles with delight. “Oh, fuck me.” He drops his fork and puts his head in his hands in mock frustration.

Tyler reaches out to pat Jamie’s thigh in placation. He can’t help drawing his palm over the solid muscle hidden under Jamie’s jeans—he’s all dense power, Tyler can’t picture him as anything but the strong, hard body he is now.

Not until Jamie looks over with an unreadable expression does Tyler realize he’s been squeezing his leg. He gives Jamie a soft, contented smile before letting go.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie doesn’t like Massachusetts, never has. But it’s not himself he’s worried about when the plane touches down in Boston early-November.

“Are you gonna be good?” Jamie already knows the press will be dogging Tyler from start to finish and he doesn’t want to leave him stranded if he’s going to need an excuse to bail.

“Gotta face the music sometime,” Tyler shrugs. “And I’m going out with Marchy later, hopefully catch up with some of the guys, so at least I’ve got that to look forward to.”

Jamie thinks Tyler does a good job of looking like he means it, but there’s something in his eyes that isn’t as convincing. He’s always been good at projecting himself as the picture of confidence—something Jamie has caught himself envying—but he turns it on ten-fold in Boston. It seems hollower.

Tyler is extra antsy before the game, a lot more nervous chatter and his laughter is louder, but flat. Jamie wants to win the game for Tyler probably more than Tyler wants to win it for himself. He doesn’t like seeing him so rattled and the need Jamie has to protect him surges like an ocean every time he catches Tyler looking off with an introspective stare.

Jamie scores the first goal of the game, but they end up tied and headed to a shootout after a scoreless overtime. He’s first up and is pissed when he can’t bury his attempt, but Tyler and Pevs score on theirs and they topple the Bruins on the back of the two Boston acquisitions.

Tyler smiles easy for the first time in the locker room and Jamie can almost feel the relief radiating off him—which is why he’s not too worried when Tyler wraps up his interviews and claps Jamie on the shoulder, tells him he’s headed out with some of his Bruins boys and he’ll see him in the morning. He certainly deserves the reward.

Jamie isn’t asleep; the painful, greasy feeling of discomfort and desertion has settled in his gut nearly twice what it was after the win. He really hates Boston. He has no idea how long he’s been tossing and turning when his phone starts chirping on the nightstand. It’s nearly two in the morning and nothing good comes from phone calls at that hour.

He grabs for it and checks the screen. Tyler. Jamie’s stomach drops.

“Hey, Tyler?”

“Jamie?” He sounds so far away.

“Tyler, what’s up, where are you?”

“I can’t find my room.” He sounds like he’s trying to whisper, but it’s slurred and broken.

“I—your hotel room? Are you in the hotel?”

“Mmhmm. I don’t remember where my room is.”

Jamie is up and scrambling for his room key. He doesn’t even bother grabbing a shirt or sweats, which he thinks he might regret if he ends up having to comb the hotel to find Tyler.

But it doesn’t end up being an issue. Jamie steps into the hallway and sees Tyler sitting next to the elevators in his game day suit, back to the wall, knees pulled up high as he cradles the phone.

“Tyler,” Jamie hangs up and starts walking toward him. Tyler doesn’t seem to realize the voice isn’t coming from the phone.

“Yeah?”

“Tyler,” Jamie squats next to him.

“Oh, hi Jamie.” Tyler hangs up carefully. “Which is my room? They all look the same.”

“C’mon.” Jamie helps Tyler stand; he smells like several different kinds of alcohol and sweat. He leads him over to his own room; no way in hell is he leaving Tyler alone like this and he’s got a spare bed—a perk of being captain is no longer having to share.

“This is your room,” Tyler observes, once Jamie lets him in.

“I know, but it’s okay. You can sleep in the other bed. We’ll find your room in the morning.” Probably Tyler will remember where it is by then.

“No, you don’t want me here. I can find my room, it’s okay. You don’t have to.”

“No, I want you here. I think you should stay.” Jamie sits Tyler down on the other bed and despite his protests, he’s already stripping off his suit and tossing it on the floor.

“Nobody does.” Tyler kicks off his shoes and shucks off his pants until he’s sitting in his underwear. Jamie tries not to look. He shuffles over to his own bed and perches awkwardly on the corner, keeping an eye on Tyler in case he happens to faceplant on the floor or something.

“Nobody does what?” Jamie keeps his voice calm and even, but he’s still surprised when Tyler’s face pinches for a moment before he’s suddenly crying into his hands.

Tyler mumbles something in answer but it’s lost in his quiet, stuttering sobs. Jamie forgets to be embarrassed about their lack of clothing when he’s jumping up and pressing a hand into Tyler’s warm back. His heart hurts for him, like he can feel it in his own chest.

“Nobody does what?” He asks again carefully, and if this is something that Marchand did to Tyler he’s going to find him and he’s going to kill him because Tyler is the most unshakable person Jamie’s ever met and here he is wiping furious tears from his face.

“Wants me. At all. Not in Boston, not in Texas. Not at home, not you. Not anybody.”

“I—what? Of course we want you.”

“No, nobody does. I’m just, I always mess it up and I don’t even know why. And then they didn’t want me, and it was my fault because I messed it up like I always mess it up.”

“You didn’t mess up. Trades happen,” Jamie thinks that’s what they’re talking about. He puts an arm on Tyler’s shoulder and Tyler leans into him. He can feel his tears on his bare chest and no, Jamie’s not thinking about that right now.

“It’s always like this. Why can’t I just be like, like you.”

“Like me?” Jamie stiffens.

“People like you all the time, they want you around and stuff. And they like you even when you’re just, when you’re just Jamie and you’re nice. And nobody worries about you like you’re going to make a mistake all the time and they want you and they make you the captain and you’re good at it. And I messed up so much and people always are gonna look at me and see that I’m a mess and they send me away.”

“People like you, Ty. I like you, Jordie likes you. The whole team likes you. You’re more than your mistakes, you know.”

“M’not.”

“Yes, you are, okay? We want you here. We want you here because you’re really fucking talented—and fuck Boston, all right? Their loss—but also I want you here because you’re my friend. And I like you when you’re just Tyler.”

Tyler finally looks up at him, tear tracks staining his cheeks. “Just me?”

“Yeah. Isn’t that, haven’t you been just Tyler the whole time?”

Tyler shrugs weakly, puts a hand on Jamie’s bare thigh and he can’t stop himself from tensing up. Tyler pulls back immediately and sags his shoulders, looking back down at the floor. The bile in Jamie’s stomach surges for a moment and he gets lost in the swell of it.

“I’m really glad that you’re on our team,” he finally adds, but it sounds too formal. “And I want you here.”

“Promise?”

“Yes.”

Tyler nods and inhales sharply before wiping his nose on the back of his arm. “Thanks. M’sorry that I—”

“No, don’t apologize. I’m glad you called, okay? You’re my friend.”

Jamie thinks he hears Tyler huff a small laugh at that, but he can’t be sure. He doesn’t have much time to think on it though because Tyler is sliding out from under Jamie’s arm and climbing into bed.

Jamie leaves him to it without another word, settling back into his own bed. He’s awake for a lot longer than Tyler, staring at the ceiling. He’s always thought that some of Tyler’s bravado was for show, but that’s true of nearly everyone in the league. You can’t make it this far in the sport without a little bit of egotism; but this was Tyler the worst he’s ever seen him—maybe the worst he’s ever been.

And Jamie is realizing he’s actually a very fragile person.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Tyler wakes up in Jamie’s room. He can tell it’s Jamie’s because this isn’t normally the side of the room he sleeps on, and because Jamie is sitting in the corner sipping shitty hotel coffee and watching him. His hair is damp, like he showered a while ago, and the TV is on but muted.

Tyler doesn’t think he’s hungover from the drinking so much as whatever happened after. His head aches, but it’s mostly pressure behind his eyes, like he’s been crying.

Which he probably was, shit. He’s got vague feelings of unwanted crawling under his skin and it makes him feel oily and surrounded.

The night had derailed around the third bar, though it’s possible there were more after that Tyler can’t recall. Marchy was his usual unpredictable self, switching between too-harsh chirps about Tyler leaving and too-close-to-home comments about Jamie and his wrist. Tyler'd told him to shut up, bought him drinks and distracted him, but it lingered through the night anyway.

He’d nearly gone home with this girl at one point, but something held him off. Then he’d come back to the hotel and cried on Jamie, though the details of that are fuzzy. He remembers touching him and Jamie jerking away.

He remembers that some of the unwanted was because of that.

The thing is, Tyler hasn’t hooked up with anyone since the trade—hasn’t even wanted to. It’s too much fun trying to get Jamie’s attention. He does it both in and out of Jordie’s presence. Sometimes Jamie will shrug him off carefully or give him a look, but he never tells Tyler to stop or shoves him away with rejection. He does notice that Jamie will tolerate a lot more touching and flirting when his brother isn’t there, but in general, Tyler feels encouraged.

But last night, it seemed different. Everything seemed different now, like Boston wasn’t his anymore.

They don’t talk about the night before. Jamie hands Tyler a cup of coffee and makes sure he remembers his room number and has his key card. But just before Tyler is about to head back and shower and pack up, Jamie pulls him into an awkward, one-armed hug. It’s not like how Jamie usually is with him.

“I want you here, okay?”

It feels like mixed messages. It feels like everyone knows what’s happening around him but Tyler. When they’re safely back in Dallas and Tyler is curled up in bed recovering from the whole trip, he calls Brownie about it.

“So you seriously haven’t hooked up with anyone yet this season? I thought you said you went out with Marchy?”

“Yeah, but. I don’t know. It was weird. Boston is weird now.”

“Okay, but at home then. Why aren’t you lining ‘em up and knocking ‘em down, dude? Everything’s bigger in Texas, eh?”

“I don’t know. Just exploring my options.” He bites the bullet. “Marchy, he said something though. About my wrist name.”

“Something shitty?”

“No, something, something I’ve been thinking about.”

“Okay,” Brownie prompts.

“Can you meet your person and have them, like, not want you? Or not like you?”

“Wow. Um, I don’t know. Marchy said that to you?”

“No, not exactly. I just, he was making a joke about someone that I think I like and I’m pretty sure it’s mostly on my end.”

“Who are we talking about here?”

“…Bennie?”

“Oh, geez. Tell me it’s the brother, right? Jordan or something?” Brownie sounds cautiously hopefully, though he knows he’s full of shit.

“Jamie.”

“Dude.” Brownie says it like a warning; like Tyler isn’t already well aware he’s playing with fire.

“I know.”

“So? You think it might be him but he’s not interested? Have you asked him about his name? Does he wear a guard?”

“Yes he wears a guard, no I haven’t asked about it. Jamie and Jordie are both fucking uber-private about that shit.”

“Well, do you know he’s not interested?”

“No. I don’t know, it’s—he’s complicated. I don’t think he’s interested in actually doing anything. But I see him watching me sometimes and it doesn’t always look like he’s just making sure I’m not gonna go drink myself dumb. More like he just wants to look.”

“Just wants to look? You say that because he hasn’t pinned you down and made out with you yet. Not everyone is as forward as I was.”

“Well, you’re something else. And he wouldn’t do that, Jamie is—he’s shy. But, even if he’s not my Jamie, I just, I kind of like him anyway.” Tyler cringes at the uncertainty in his own voice.

“Teammates though Segs? That’s kind of a big risk, isn’t it?”

“Brownie, you were my teammate.”

“Yeah but we were young and dumb then.”

“And now we’re older and just as dumb. And fuck you, I’m way hotter now than I was when I was sixteen. Unless you’re just into that underage, jailbait thing.”

Brownie ignores Tyler’s attempt to bait him. “I spent the best years of my life teaching you how to give decent blowjobs, if you’re gonna tell me that was dumb—”

“Jesus dude.” Tyler claps a hand over his face in embarrassment. He never needs to be reminded of the first couple times he’d tried to go down on Brownie—way too much spit and way too much teeth.

“No, no, that’s fine. I mean, the scars are barely visible now, and it’s not like I didn’t get anything out of it myself, so.”

“You do not have fucking scars, don’t be so dramatic. And whatever, that’s not the point anyway. I like him is all and I’m trying to figure out if he’s into it or just too nice to let me down gently. In the meantime, all the big stuff in Texas is a strictly look but don’t touch kind of thing.”

“Hmm. So, if you’re not getting laid, what’s the plan when I eventually come visit you out there? You gonna put out for me at least?”

“Depends, you gonna treat me right?”

“You know I always do.” Brownie’s voice goes syrupy and Tyler knows exactly where this is going. He really needs this right now.

“Oh, yeah? How so? What’re you gonna do for me?”

“Fuck Ty, you’re a fucking tease.”

“Me? You’re the one sweet talking the guy who hasn’t gotten laid since the fourth of fucking July, okay?”

“Jesus was that really the last time?”

“Yeah.”

“That was so fucking good though. I loved holding you down, fucking nowhere for you to move, could only buck against me.”

“S’that right?”

“Hell, yeah. Fuck Ty, you were so good for me.”

“Shit,” Tyler can’t wait any longer. He snakes a hand into his basketball shorts and starts palming himself to full hardness. He can hear Brownie panting and knows he’s doing the same.

They don’t say much else, the rest of the call filled with mostly breathy swears and low groans. Brownie sounds wrecked, like always, and Tyler loves how deep and gravelly his voice gets. It’s easy for him to close his eyes and picture Jamie with him. Not like last time with Brownie, not some vague image.

Bennie. Jamie.

He probably sounds so fucking sweet when he comes—Tyler wrenches the phone between his shoulder and his ear and reaches down to cup his balls. Jamie would probably be a little rough with him, like a puppy that doesn’t know its own strength. Tyler grips himself a little harder than he usually would, till its edging toward uncomfortable.

He wonders if Jamie is loud or quiet. He’s probably pretty quiet, as shy in bed as he is in crowds, when all eyes are on him. Or maybe he’s loud, bossy, the way he is when he’s on the ice.

“Gonna come?” Brownie whispers. Tyler doesn’t bother to respond with words. He grunts loudly as his orgasm hits him hard—it’s so easy to picture Jamie hovering above him, eyes a deep sparkling brown, flush high on his cheeks.

He’d love watching Tyler like this—he loves watching Tyler in general, always sneaking glances when he thinks no one is looking. He’d give Jamie such a fucking show. Tyler is stroking himself through the aftershocks when he hears Brownie come, long and low like a deep purr in his ear.

Tyler wipes his hand on his shorts and flops back, grabbing the phone before it slips onto the floor. He waits for Brownie’s breathing to even back out before he speaks again.

“So, you’re in New York the next couple days?” There’s no such thing as an afterglow with them anymore.

“When are we not. I think we left the state for one game this month?”

“Shit.” Tyler yawns and hears Brownie do the same. “Well, I’ll be sure to show you a good time when you come to Texas.”

“Yeah, and try to get laid before then. Your stamina was for shit tonight.”

“Guess that’s what happens when I’m not picturing your ugly mug.”

“You wound me, Ty, you fucking wound me.”

“Yeah, yeah. ‘Night Brownie.”

“’Night, Segs.”

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Tyler is very affectionate when he’s tired. He’s actually pretty handsy most of the time, but particularly when he’s tired. When he’s not cuddling, he’s petting—Jamie’s arms, his hair, his hands. Usually he ends up crashing on the couch in their living room and either letting himself out in the morning or sticking around for breakfast. Sometimes, but less and less often, he’ll stand up, yawn dramatically, and go back to his own apartment. Tonight, Tyler’s got Marshall to take care of and he seems poised to head back to his place.

Jamie doesn’t stare at the exposed line of skin where Tyler’s shirt rides up when he stands and stretches—even though it’s right in front of him because Tyler’s just extracted himself from where he was curled around Jamie for the last hour.

Tyler rubs a hand through Jamie’s hair and mumbles goodnight, fistbumps Jordie on the way out, and closes the door carefully behind him.

Jamie cautiously brings it up to Jordie when Tyler is safely three floors away. The problem is he can never tell if he’s noticing something that’s meaningful or if it’s something normal.

“Tyler acts like Marshall when he’s tired, eh? Like they want to climb into your lap or something.”

Jordie snorts.

“What? You don’t think so? He sprawls out like a dog.”

“Yes, he does. I’m surprised he doesn’t drool on you like Marshall, too.” He says it like he thinks Jamie is dumb or something.

“He does it to you, too!” Jamie is fairly certain he’s seen Tyler cuddle up to Jordie before.

“Oh yeah, all the time, sure.”

“He does, I saw him the other day when you guys were playing video games.”

“Yeah, he sat on my arms so I couldn’t make the save on his penalty shot. Totally the same as snuggling during Mad Men.”

Jordie slides over to take the seat beside Jamie that Tyler had wormed his way into when they’d queued up the Netflix. His favorite seat has always been between squished up between the two of them.

Jordie grabs for the remote and starts flipping through the crummy late night TV before settling on NHL Network. “Besides, you’re the one who indulges him.”

“Well,” Jamie opens his mouth to deny it, but it’s true. “It’s kind of nice. I don’t mind cuddling, and I never really get to.”

“Relax Chubbs, you don’t need to give me an excuse, I know you like him. And it’s stupidly obvious he likes you—apparently not to you, but.” Jordie shrugs.

But really, that’s the problem. Nothing is obvious to Jamie because he can’t afford to assume. It’s not something he can expect Jordie to understand because Jamie doesn’t always get it himself. He likes knowing what motivates people. It makes it a lot easier to know who to trust and how to navigate relationships—personal, professional, whatever.

Jamie is motivated by hockey; ever since his name came in and he was afraid his dream would end before it had ever started, he was determined to succeed. Sometimes he thinks he’s motivated by spite—proving wrong strangers who are convinced that who he sleeps with will affect how he skates and scores—but Jamie knows that’s only a fraction of it.

Jordie is motivated by family; Jamie has seen him go out of his way for their parents or Jenny. He’s been more than a foundation in Jamie’s life, and without him he’s not sure he’d even be half as far as he is now. But Jordie also likes to think about the future, having a family of his own someday, and Jamie knows that is what drives him.

Tyler is an unknown. He talks about hockey like he loves it, but before they’d gone back to Boston, Jamie had wondered if that wasn’t the whole of it. Jamie never would have risked losing his career over a few stupid parties, but Tyler had. Though after the breakdown in Boston, Jamie started to think Tyler just wanted to be needed, feel like people want him around. So, sometimes he thinks he’s motivated by companionship; he needs people to like him no matter what and occasionally he does shitty things because of it. And sometimes Tyler will say things, do things that throw Jamie for such a loop, he doesn’t even dare to guess the reasons behind it.

Tyler is always playing with Jamie’s hair. It first starts in one of his sleepy moments when he’s nearly wrapped around Jamie. He’ll run his hands through it until the gel is flaking and Jamie’s hair isn’t so much slicked back as it is rucked up and mussed. Sometimes Tyler twirls it around his finger almost absently while they watch a movie.

It feels good, and Jamie always lets him, even if it means that he has to detangle it extra afterwards. Once, Tyler comes over before Jamie’s slicked it and it’s still hanging damp around his ears. Tyler seems extra excited then.

“Segs, did you braid Jamie’s mullet?” Jordie stares, mouth agape in horror.

“It’s a French braid, actually.”

Jamie reaches up and feels the intertwined strands. “Jesus, what did you do to me?” It had felt good, so Jamie hadn’t thought to question why Tyler had climbed up to perch himself on the back of the sofa behind him.

“It was soft today.” Tyler just shrugs. “I like it.”

“How do you even know how to do that?” Jordie is squinting at Jamie’s head in fascination.

“Outnumbered by sisters with Barbies,” Tyler grins unapologetically. He cards his fingers up from the base of Jamie’s skull and undoes the braid before brushing it back the way Jamie usually wears it.

A week or so later, they’re watching another movie when Tyler reaches up to ruffle his hair and pulls his hand away with a curled lip.

“Ugh. You’re sticky.” Tyler pouts and wipes his hand on his jeans while Jordie cracks up.

“I am not! I showered today!”

“And then you bathed yourself in gel.” Jordie pipes up.

“Yeah, so?”

“Usually you’re just crunchy, but this is sticky.”

“Well, maybe it didn’t dry yet,” Jamie flushes in embarrassment.

“I like it better when it’s floppy.”

Jamie shrugs it off, but he maybe starts using a little less gel than he normally would after that.

But then comes December; things fall apart in December.

Jordie is out with some of his boys from the Texas Stars who came to town to see him and Dills, and Jamie had turned down the invitation in favor of catching up on sleep and getting in an extra workout. Tyler is still recovering from his concussion and he’s missed a few games. Sometimes he’s a little loopy and forgetful, but it’s been much better recently.

“I let Val take Marshall tonight. Is it cool if I come over later and keep you company?” Whenever Tyler asks to come over, he phrases it like he’s doing Jamie and Jordie a favor, but Jamie’s got Tyler figured out. He only ever asks when he’s scared the answer will be no.

“Sure. I was just gonna watch crap TV and eat leftovers, but you’re always welcome.” Jamie can’t help but return Tyler’s beaming smile. He won’t admit it, but he also likes having Tyler close to him while he’s recovering, just in case anything should go wrong. Jamie is captain, it’s his job to mother his teammates.

The two of them watch a lot of garbage TV before the food starts conking Tyler out. He’s got himself wedged up against Jamie enough that he’s nearly on his lap, his left arm bent behind Jamie’s head to play with his hair. Jamie hadn’t gelled it after his post-workout shower—and he’s comfortable enough he can admit to himself it was in expectation of this.

When Tyler starts massaging his fingers into Jamie’s scalp instead of just twisting the strands around his fingers, it feels so good that Jamie’s eyes slip shut. He kind of forgets where he is for a moment. It’s been a long time since anyone has paid him attention like this and the body shoved up against him is warm and solid and male and Jamie is already half-hard by the time he starts to realize it, remember that he’s supposed to behave himself with Tyler.

The noise he lets out is more in frustration than anything but the fingers in his hair don’t stop moving and Jamie only needs to shift his legs a fraction—lift his thigh enough to force Tyler’s body more under him than on top of him—to hide himself.

His eyes are still shut, concentrating on turning off his imagination before his situation becomes more dire, he doesn’t even feel Tyler moving until he already has.

And then Tyler is kissing him, just barely, on the side of the mouth. His lips are dry and it’s not a particularly passionate kiss, more chaste and sweet, but Jamie goes from half-hard to insistently pressing against his zipper almost instantly. It feels like something lights up inside of him and his stomach flips in arousal. His eyes are still pinched closed and maybe his heart has even stopped; Jamie is completely frozen.

Tyler isn’t moving either. His hands have stilled in Jamie’s hair, his lips still plush against Jamie’s, and he can feel Tyler’s breath puffing hot against his cheek. But then he pulls back just as unexpectedly as he’d leaned in.

“Fuck. Fuck. Jamie, I thought—I’m sorry.” Tyler’s voice sounds loud in his ear before he starts scrambling away, away from Jamie, nearly tripping over his own feet in his efforts. “M’sorry! I’ll—um. Sorry.”

Jamie is still motionless on the couch, blinking at the Storage Wars credits in disbelief when the door slams shut, but he feels like the floor is falling out from under him.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie stops inviting Tyler over, but Tyler stops coming anyway.

“What the hell happened, we were in the middle of a tournament!” Jordie has the Xbox already cued up when he gets the text from Tyler that he’s busy.

“I don’t know, maybe he’s got friends in town.”

“And the whole locker room didn’t hear about it already?” Jordie scoffs and tosses a controller at Jamie. “Well, I cleared my afternoon for this so you’re gonna have to step in. But we’re starting a new tourney, I’m not letting you ruin Seggy’s stats.”

Jamie sulks for the first couple minutes but he gets pretty into it, even if Jordie does wipe the floor with him.

“You sure something didn’t happen?” Jamie swears sometimes that Jordie has magic older brother powers when it comes to knowing what’s going on in his head.

“Pretty sure,” he lies, rather convincingly he thinks. Jordie drops it either way.

Jamie thinks a lot about the kiss in the next couple days. He knows why he’s avoiding Tyler, but the trouble comes when he can’t figure out why Tyler is avoiding him. Did Tyler mean it to be a joke and he got freaked out when Jamie seemed too into it? Did Tyler try to kiss his cheek and miss? Was his concussion worse than the doctors had previously thought? Was Jamie supposed to push him away or something so Tyler didn’t think he liked it? Could he tell Jamie was hard?

Did he mean it and then realize Jamie wasn’t anything special and regret it? Did Tyler mean for Jamie to follow him? Was that how he would know that it was reciprocated?

Even if that were the case, Jamie wouldn’t have followed—he’s at least 75% sure of that. Tyler is dangerous. He represents nearly everything Jamie has been actively trying to avoid in his life. He’s flashy and he’s boisterous—the opposite of discreet. He’s confident, daring, risky. He’s got a public persona that people are actually interested in talking about, good and especially bad. When Tyler fucks up, people notice—some people even seem to celebrate it.

That’s nothing Jamie needs to be mixed up in, no matter how hot Tyler is.

He starts to think maybe he ought to try to get down to the Austin area before they’re too deep in the season, work some of this out of his system, get himself over Tyler. He could probably convince Jordie to come down with him, get hotel rooms and spend some consecutive off-days getting drunk and laid.

Jamie swears he’s gonna bring this plan up to Jordie any day now.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Tyler isn’t going to make a big deal of this. He’s certainly not going to cry about it, at least not longer than an hour or two.

It’s not as though he was holding out any kind of real hope that Jamie was his Jamie. He still wondered a little bit, especially because Jamie had been flirting with him more than usual and he’s big and he looks like everything Tyler always thought his Jamie would be.

But the second Tyler kissed him—and he hadn’t expected it to be like a fairytale or anything but—nothing happened. Jamie froze, clammed up like Tyler had slapped him.

It was disappointing, embarrassing even. And Tyler didn’t want to be dramatic but it also hurt. He had wanted to ask what it was—was Jamie not into guys? Not into Tyler? It wouldn’t have been the first time that Tyler misinterpreted some mutual flirting. But Jamie seems so intentional in everything he does. He’s the opposite of Tyler—he’s controlled and he has foresight, everything is with purpose. He really loves that about Jamie; it feels like they complete a set. Rejection always hurts, but rejection from someone who you sincerely like hurts the most.

He can’t bring himself to be around him afterwards. Jamie stops asking him to come over and hang out and it’s clear that he doesn’t want Tyler there. It sucks to have to turn down Jordie too, but the Benns are a package deal. Even if Jamie hasn’t told Jordie—and he clearly hasn’t or else Jordie wouldn’t keep asking him to come over—as soon as he does Tyler will stop being welcome.

Sometimes, when Tyler is halfway to asleep, he imagines things about his Jamie. He’s not just bigger and stronger, but he’s sweeter—always kinder to Tyler than he deserves, willing to give a hug or a word of encouragement. His Jamie is the kind of guy who wants Tyler to be better, not because he’s broken but because he knows Tyler is more than he thinks of himself.

It used to be, when Tyler was halfway to asleep, he had a Jamie in mind. Now he’s got to train his brain out of that image, and it’s a challenge. When he was younger, he’d picture some invented guy based on an actor or someone he played against. The face was always fuzzy, but the thought was nice. Having a Jamie, an actual Jamie who really did encourage Tyler and bring out his best, it was an easy jump to substitute him in. He wishes it were so easy to subtract him out.

The worst part though, the absolute worst part is that he still needs Jamie as his friend and his linemate and his captain. They’re stupid-good together. Tyler’s never felt more settled or wanted than he has in Dallas. He misses Jamie—his dumb slicked back hair and his dad jokes that he cracks himself up with. His terrible taste in music and his embarrassing singing voice. His really good advice about how to set up a play so Tyler is always thinking one step ahead of the defense. He needs all of that that, so Tyler knows that he’s going to have to swallow this lump of rejection and apologize if he wants any part of it back.

He is a complicated package, he’s aware of that. He comes with baggage and a troublemaker label that the Stars didn’t have to take on. Sure the Benns were asked to watch him—he’s not an idiot, he knows that was the arrangement—but they didn’t have to be his friend. A lot of people have taken countless risks on Tyler and he would be insane to throw that away over a silly broken heart.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie is still psyching himself up to ask Jordie for a mini-vacation to Austin. He’s got dates picked out and everything. If they go in late December they can have a whole long weekend to themselves. Maybe Jenny and their parents can come down for a day of it or something.

He doesn’t get a chance to ask because Tyler corners him first.

They’ve just finished up after an optional practice. Jordie was taking a maintenance day but Jamie had offered to drive Tyler, captainly duties and all. He hadn’t expected Tyler to accept; Tyler was still doing his level best to avoid both of them and had turned down other ride offers already.

Jamie is done showering first and he waits for Tyler in his stall, fiddling on his phone and shooting off a text to Jordie about maybe discussing December plans later.

The drive back to the apartments is as silent as the ride there. Jamie is pulling into his spot and turning off the ignition when Tyler finally pipes up.

“I’m sorry.”

“No, you’re fine. It was a confusing drill and I wasn’t really where I was supposed to be either. I don’t think Ruff was actually—”

“Oh, no. I didn’t mean that. Um. I’m sorry about that too, but also I’m sorry because, I guess—I shouldn’t’ve kissed you. It was stupid, and I didn’t mean anything by it. It was dumb.”

“Oh.”

“I don’t know what I was thinking and if we could just, forget it happened. I really miss hanging out with you guys and I promise I won’t do it again.”

Jamie is still staring at the parking brake, but he forces himself to nod. He was right at least about Tyler thinking it was a mistake.

“No, it’s fine. Totally didn’t mean anything. I’m sorry I was being weird about it. Just—” Jamie takes a deep, shuddery breath, and twists his fingers together, “just don’t do it again.”

Jamie doesn’t know if he imagines it or not but Tyler looks like he deflates. He must be extremely relieved to hear that Jamie has no interest in kissing him back, that he doesn’t expect it to keep happening.

“No problem.” Tyler gives Jamie a flat look.

The awkwardness lasts for another hour or so. Jamie invites Tyler over for lunch expecting Jordie will be home, but he’s off somewhere, probably Christmas shopping. They eat in uncomfortable silence until Jordie gets back—arms loaded with shopping bags that he quickly hides away in his closet.

“Seggy! Nice to see your ugly mug back ‘round these parts.”

“‘Round these parts’? You been in Texas too long, JB!” Jordie claps Tyler on the back, probably way too hard, but the crack of it seems to shatter the tension and like that, things start to go back to normal.

Tyler is back to being a staple on their couch and Marshall runs through the whole apartment smelling everything like he’s convinced Jamie and Jordie replaced it all while he wasn’t here. And Tyler is still a flirt. He still hangs off Jamie and teases him and laughs at jokes that Jamie knows are stupid and is just… Tyler. He keeps being everything that made Jamie like him in the first place. At least now he knows for sure it means nothing.

Jamie never ends up mentioning the trip to Austin. He tells himself every morning for a week that he will, but then Tyler does something that makes his stomach flip and Jamie loses all interest in other guys. He means to get over it, he really does—and it’s totally possible that hooking up with someone else will help with that—but every time he even thinks about it, he realizes all over again whoever he chooses, he won’t be Tyler.

The team breaks the .500 barrier in the middle of December and between him and Tyler, they’ve got damned near half the teams’ goals. They’ve got a nice long homestand to close out month and start the New Year and Jamie is looking forward to it.

Tyler even does a gift exchange with the Benns. He gets Jordie a nice new game system and a handful of games that Jordie swears up and down Tyler probably already practiced. He gets Jamie a really nice leather bracelet and an expensive, framed vintage map of Victoria that Jamie does not cry over in homesickness. At least not sober.

The two of them pull some strings and wrangle the equipment guys into giving them the jersey Tyler wore his first Stars game. Jamie gets it framed with a little plaque and has the team all sign the back side. Tyler gets a little misty-eyed and hugs them both a long time when he opens it.

They even get gifts for Marshall, some expensive canine-cognitive toys that are supposed to grow his brain or something.

“I mean, I know he eats his own poop sometimes, but maybe these will teach him that’s not a good idea?” Jamie shrugs but Tyler bursts out laughing.

“We can only hope.” He looks down at Marshall, already trying to eat into the cardboard containing the toy. “Those are the worst kind of kisses, aren’t they buddy?” Jamie likes Tyler’s puppy-voice.

When the New Year finally comes, he feels good. He feels like the team is on the right track and his game is the best it’s been. Even knowing that, Jamie’s still floored when he gets named to Team Canada.

Tyler and Jordie take him out and get him way too drunk for a weeknight, but they’ve got a day off and he can afford to take it. He ends up accepting half his congratulatory calls completely wasted, but even his mom seems understanding. Tyler keeps giving him proud looks and Jordie keeps repeating to himself that his brother is an Olympian, like it means just as much as to him as it does to Jamie—and Jamie feels everything so strongly in that moment. He doesn’t want to let either of them down.

They took a cab out and around last call they pile into another and head home. Jordie holds the elevator for him while Jamie walks Tyler to his door.

“Thanks for coming out. And celebrating with us.”

With you? This was my idea, you know,” Tyler looks smug. “Ask Jordie.” They’re both pretty drunk and Jamie can’t tell if he keeps listing forward or if Tyler is. For a moment, he thinks Tyler might even kiss him again, but then Jordie is calling at him to hurry up, the room is spinning on him, and that’s the end of that.

“‘Night, Mr. Olympian.” Tyler waves at him from down the hall.

“Night, Ty.” Jamie hates how much Tyler’s affectionate tone gets to him, even now after everything that’s happened between them.

Despite the dumb feelings for Tyler he has that won’t go away, things are going pretty damned great for Jamie. And as far as the crush is concerned, he is absolutely going to be shutting that shit down because now he’s got the Olympics to focus on, and the Stars are entering the second half of the season with the playoff push just on the horizon.

All that comes way before sex; Austin be damned.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Today was supposed to be an off-day but the schedule changed at the last minute because of the brutal six-game losing streak they’d kicked off the year with. There’s also an unexpected visit by a big-wig in the front office who Tyler doesn’t know well enough yet to care about. He does care about the fact that he’s got to drive all the way up to Frisco well before noon, when he still intended to be sleeping, but at least it’s not bag-skates.

And at least he’s not Jamie, who’d had to leave two hours before Tyler did because of some captainly responsibility to kick off whatever ‘not-all-hope-is-lost’ press conference and then hang around and look interested. He guesses he should be grateful for that.

Some of the guys are in the room already dressing when he gets there, but Tyler’s definitely not last. He’s been dutiful so far about showcasing his responsible nature and proving he’s worth his salt in Dallas. It’s not the same pressure as in Boston, but the last thing he needs a reputation that turns him into a journeyman before he’s 25. That would suck.

In the spirit of accountability, Tyler makes a point to check the schedule in the locker room every time he’s in there. It changes up frequently, but there’s usually some combination of notes and events and reminders and workout schedules meticulously written by the trainers and coaching staff on the whiteboard.

It's the same as every other day except:

Players only meeting @1:00 in lounge

Tyler freezes.

It’s a last minute addition to the neatness of the regular agenda. The pen is half dead and so some of it has been traced over a few times, and the time is underlined way more than necessary. But he’s not looking at any of that.

Tyler is looking at the letters.

One letter.

His whole world condenses down to a single swooping line, curled over, in on itself, and back again. He stares at the letter A until Fidds laughs at him, asks if he's having trouble reading.

“Sound it out, bud. Captain wants us in the lounge at 1:00.”

“Bennie wrote that?” Tyler is surprised to hear himself speak. He’s still kind of staring and pointing weakly at the A.

“Yeah. Want me to ask him to teach you how?”

Tyler pulls himself together enough to realize he’s being chirped and throws a weak middle finger at Fidds. He doesn’t notice that he drops his hand down after to thumb at his wristguard.

After it hits him, really and completely hits him, Tyler fucking panics.

He has a lot of half formed ideas about getting Jamie to print something for him to check his wrist against—making a shopping list, asking him to write directions somewhere, tricking him into handwriting analysis. They’re all terrible and Tyler knows it.

But Tyler knows it. He doesn’t need Jamie to write out anything for him because Tyler fucking knows it’s him. He can’t even explain it to himself, truthfully. He’d sat through Jamie’s rally speech and tried not look sick, tried not to stare at Jamie’s guard the whole time. When he got home after, he’d immediately locked his door and taken off his own guard and just stared at the letters again. The same A. He knew that A.

It’s in his head like a mantra: I knew it I knew it I knew it I knew it.

The nagging tightness in his chest that he’d been consumed with for years, that he’s tried to fill with Marshall and house parties and tattoos and sex and way more alcohol than he should, he hasn’t felt it, hasn’t even thought about it for months. If he closes his eyes and concentrates he can feel where it used to be, but it’s not like a black hole anymore. It feels like a crackling wire looking for a complete circuit.

But that stupid kiss, the one he was sure he’d wrecked their whole relationship with—the one that Tyler was convinced would give him the answers he wanted. Tyler hadn’t felt anything life-changing and Jamie hadn’t done anything back. Tyler assumed he was uninterested, straight. ‘Don’t do it again’ Jamie had said, and Tyler felt like his whole chest had been cut open. But if it’s Jamie, why didn’t he want it too? What if Marchy had been right? Do wrists ever make mistakes? It’s not the first time that he’s wondered as much, but it’s the first time it feels tangible.

He sits down for three days and parses through every interaction as far back as he can remember. The All-Star Game, where he’d spent the whole time following Jamie around and trying to make him laugh. The gross pit in his stomach the next day when Tyler thought he was hungover and Jamie ignored him because he’d made an ass of himself. But what if it had nothing to do with alcohol at all? What if it was rejection? What if it’s still rejection?

Just the thought fills up his gut with an oily, acrid feeling. Tyler wants to call his mom, but he’s not sure how she would respond. She still calls his Jamie a ‘she’ and Tyler hadn’t thought to share his big gay revelation with her.

He Skypes Brownie instead and is almost disappointed that he doesn’t seem surprised, even when he mentions the kiss that lead to nothing.

“If you know it’s him then just show him, bro. I think we both know you’ve known longer than just a few days. Maybe he already knows, too.”

“But what if it’s not? We met before, like ages ago, and it wasn’t like anything.”

“How do you even know that’s how it works?”

“My mom always said that—”

“No offense but your mom doesn’t have a clear name. And my parents never said it was like that. Maybe it isn’t like that for everyone.”

“But wouldn’t he have said something then? Like, if he has 'Tyler' on him?”

“Well, did you say something to him then?”

“Maybe. I barely even remember; I was shitfaced! He was the one who was basically sober.”

“I don’t know Ty, maybe he’s dumb.”

“Fuck you! He’s not dumb!” Tyler frowns.

“Well, maybe he did feel it and didn’t want to say. Maybe he thought it would be weird to show a guy he barely knows what his wrist says. I mean, think about it. He runs into you one time, something feels different, he shows you his wrist—basically saying ‘hey, it’s a dude named Tyler’—and it’s not you… Why would he do that? Why would he trust you? What if you went and told everybody about it? Isn’t Texas like, super conservative or something? He doesn’t know you’re not gonna out him, and you said he’d just met you—everything about you screamed asshole then.”

“That wasn’t even that long ago!”

“And you’re still an asshole. But I don’t think him not saying anything to you then means that it’s not him now.”

“Even after I kissed him? Doesn’t that tell him that I’m not that going to do that? Shouldn’t he see he can trust me?”

“You said you told him it didn’t mean anything!”

“And he said never to do it again.”

“It could still be him.”

“What if he doesn’t want me?”

“Then he’s a fucking asshole and I’ll break his face. But Ty, even if that’s the case, you deserve to know for yourself.”

“What if it’s not him? Then I’m in the same position, showing him my wrist and basically saying ‘hey, it’s a dude named Jamie’ right?”

“So what? You know the guy now. Is he a huge bigoted douchebag that’s gonna give you a hard time for it? You think he’s gonna go tell everybody that you’re into dick?”

“No.” Tyler sinks down deeper into his couch. “Jamie wouldn’t do that.”

“So… …it’s different.” Brownie trails off with finality. Like this is it, it’s decided. The silence drags for a moment. “Tyler?”

“Yeah?”

“It’s him.”

“You don’t know that,” Tyler scoffs.

“But you do.”

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie thought they were over this.

But suddenly, Tyler is avoiding him again. He doesn’t talk to Jamie during drills, he doesn’t come over for dinner, he doesn’t invite him to go on walks with Marshall. For a while, Jamie thinks maybe Jordie did something to Tyler, or said something that upset him, so Jamie texts Tyler to see if he wants to go out for dinner, hang out just the two of them, but he never hears anything back. It’s complete radio silence.

He wonders if he should be doing his duty as captain and asking Tyler if there’s a problem, either with the team or something in his personal life. Boston is set to come to town in a few days and he could be upset about that. He remembers how bad it was when they played them last time. But Jamie can’t shake the feeling that the problem is him.

He’s feeling pretty crummy when Goose invites a bunch guys out to some new barbeque place that just opened up downtown. Jamie begs off with a headache that he mostly makes up, but he notices that Tyler does, too. Jordie calls them both some vulgar names and heads out with the rest of the guys.

Jamie gets home and is barely out of his shoes when Tyler shows up at his door.

“Hey, what’s up?” Jamie tries to hide his surprise, but Tyler looks skittish when he comes in. “Everything okay?”

Tyler takes a deep breath and then starts talking, nearly a mile a minute. “I’m sorry I kissed you because it messed things up, but I’m not sorry that I kissed you. I needed to know because, I do, you know… with guys, sometimes. Hook up with them. Girls too, obviously, but like, not for a while now. Not, not anyone for a while now.”

“Oh.” Jamie struggles to keep up, piece together what he’s saying.

“And I acted like it was a mistake because I thought you were mad at me, but it wasn’t, and if you meant what you said, I’ll respect that and I told you I wouldn’t do it again, if you don’t want me to, and I won’t. If you meant it. But, I just, I saw you—see you—looking at me sometimes and it seems like maybe you might. And you let me get up in your space, and you don’t do things by accident ever. It’s not like how it is with other guys because it’s like, with you it’s like you want me to.”

Jamie’s feels like he’s just been dumped in a tub of ice water. He has no idea what’s happening where Tyler is going with this—he feels terrifyingly vulnerable. “Tyler. I’m—I don’t really know what you’re getting at but I’m not—”

“Just, hold on Jamie. Please? If I’m wrong, I’ll fucking stop, okay? I swear I won’t mention it again and I’ll leave you alone if that’s what you want, I promise.” Tyler keeps fidgeting around and Jamie wants to grab him and hold him still and make him slow down because Jamie thinks maybe he’s asking if Jamie is gay and that’s not—he feels like he might throw up or have a heart attack or both.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

“Wrong about what? About me? Because Tyler, I’m not—” Jamie ends his thought abruptly and hangs his shoulders in what looks like defeat and Tyler can’t handle seeing Jamie like that. “Why are you asking me this?”

Jamie’s not even looking Tyler in the eye and he looks so scared, but Tyler gets it. He does, because he remembers how it felt when he first told somebody—told Brownie—that he liked guys too, and it was terrifying. He feels the same right now, actually.

“Wrong about,” Tyler swallows, his tongue feels thick and his throat is dry. He can’t even say it.

He’s shaking as he undoes the lock on his guard. He chances a look to Jamie whose eyes are impossibly wide and panicky as he watches with erratic breathing.

Tyler has to look back down to unhinge the clips before letting it slip off. He feels naked without it on, and though he’s gone without before, it’s been a long time. He's nervous, fingers trembling as much from that as anything else, but the hum of anticipation is there too, and Tyler is dizzy with it.

He holds his wrist out and the sound Jamie makes—a cut off exhale—punches the air right out of Tyler's lungs.

“I needed to know, Jamie. I needed… I needed you.” He doesn’t mean for it to sound so desperate. Tyler’s throat is closing up and he wants to cry but it comes out more like a gasp for air.

Then, Jamie's got him pulled into thick arms, stretching around his back, just keeping him there. He sounds like he’s hyperventilating too but he’s warm and he’s thick and his arms are heavy and hard and holding Tyler so tight that it settles him enough to breathe.

The hug feels like an answer. His whole body sags in something so much bigger than relief—it feels like liberation.

Tyler lets himself shrink into it. It’s like déjà vu, every last part of this feeling something that he’s tasted before and been chasing since. It doesn’t feel like coming home, it feels like finding it.

“You’re Tyler," Jamie sounds strange, voice tinged with a calm disbelief.

Tyler almost can’t believe this happening. He feels like he’s in a dream and suddenly it’s so important that he have proof this is the moment he’s been thinking about since he was ten years old.

"Yours? Jamie, please, can I see?" Tyler tilts up to look up at him and Jamie’s face goes cold.

"I haven't—no one but my family has ever seen—”

He can feel Jamie's panic rising, the way his heart races harder under his skin where Tyler's cheek is pressed, his erratic breathing stirring Tyler's hair. Tyler pulls back and tries to smile, offer any comfort that he can.

“Jamie, I've already seen it. I've seen it since I was old enough to spell my own name. Right? Jamie? I've seen it. I just need you to show me. Please show me it’s me.” He stares down at where Jamie's wristguard is peeking out from his sleeve.

“I can’t.”

"Just show me, please. I need to see. Please." He’s starting to feel his own panic rising.

“Tyler, I can’t.

Tyler doesn't want to admit that the jolt of those words feels more like rejection than hesitation. He’s shivering and he tries to step back out of the hug but he can’t bring himself to pull away.

“But it’s me, right? Jamie—it’s me?”

“I can’t.”

Jamie was the first reach out and is the first to let go. Tyler stands in the living room trembling, watching Jamie pace. He waits for Jamie to say something but quickly grows impatient.

“I don’t understand, don’t you want this too? I thought—we were good together. I thought you liked me.”

“Tyler.” It sounds like a plea. Jamie stops abruptly and turns, his eyes are huge and wet.

“Are you scared?” Jamie doesn’t answer, doesn’t even break their stare. “Is—is it someone else on your wrist? You can tell me if it is.” Tyler slowly sinks his hand into his pocket, pressing his name hard into his side. “Or d’you just want it to be?”

Jamie sighs heavily and then the silence lingers.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie is sitting on the couch when Jordie gets home. The TV is off and the lights aren’t on, and he’s sure he looks a spectacle of misery, but Jordie doesn’t bat an eye.

“Hey, Chubbs.” He flicks on a light and kicks off his shoes. “I brought you leftovers. You eat yet?”

Jamie hasn’t. He hasn’t even been hungry. Tyler left an hour ago after pleading to see Jamie’s wrist and Jamie refusing until it was actually hurting him inside. When he’d finally said, ‘not yet,’ Tyler agreed to press pause. He hadn’t cried, but his eyes were rimmed red and Jamie felt sick that he’d done that to him.

He hasn’t moved from the couch since Tyler closed the door behind him.

“Yo! Jamie! Are you alive!” Jordie shouts at him.

He sees Jordie’s reflection behind him in the dark of the television screen. He even sees him reach out to punch him in the arm, but he doesn’t flinch from it.

“What is your problem, bro?”

“It’s Tyler.”

“Ugh. What did that dumbass do now?” Jordie leaps over the back of the couch and into the seat beside Jamie.

“No. No, it’s Tyler.”

He sees Jordie scrunch his face in confusion until he spots Jamie’s wristguard discarded on the table. Exactly where he’d set it down the second Tyler was gone. Maybe hoping he’d come back. Maybe.

Your Tyler?” He catches Jordie looking down at his wrist.

Jamie inhales sharply.

“Same Tyler.”

Saying it out loud makes him feel like he’s being strangled and before he knows it, Jamie is gasping for breath. He closes his eyes and tries to settle himself but all he sees is Tyler seconds away from crying over Jamie and it just makes him feel worse.

He doesn’t think he passes out, but there’s lot of missing time before he sorts himself enough to hear his brother’s voice saying something to him. “Hey, breathe, Jamie. Calm down.”

Jordie’s got a hand on each of his shoulders as he kneels in front of him and Jamie’s face is buried in his hands but when he opens his eyes, all he sees is the name. Tyler. Same handwriting that it’s always been, and now he knows whose it is.

“Fuck, fuck.” He can’t even parse the emotions flowing through him right now. He feels whole and scared and alone and elated and unprepared and a million other things that would all be overwhelming in their own right. But absolutely none of it was on his terms and Jamie wasn’t prepared for this. Of all the things he expected to happen with Tyler, this wasn’t even a passing thought and shit shit shit, he’s spiraling again.

“Buddy, Chubbs. Hey. Look at me for a second.” Jordie looks alarmed and it makes Jamie feel guilty on top of everything. “You’re gonna be fine. Breathe. I need you to talk me through this, what the fuck is going on?”

Jamie recounts events with hitched, shaky breathing that slowly steadies as he goes.

“He wanted to see mine. I—I didn’t show him.”

“Wait, why?”

“I can’t. I’m not—I’m not ready, Jordie. This isn’t something that I can do right now.”

“Why the fuck not? Don’t you like him?”

“I do. I like him a lot, and—I know he likes me.” Jamie looks down at his arm. “He kissed me, before Christmas.”

“What!” Jordie looks genuinely shocked. “When the fuck were you gonna tell me that?!”

“He said it was a mistake.”

“When? Like right after?”

“No. After I started avoiding him.”

“Jesus, Jamie.” He throws his hands up and it makes Jamie feel worse.

“I just can’t do this right now, I’m not ready. It’s not a good time.”

“How is there a bad time for finding the person—Christ, for finding Tyler. The guy you’re meant to be with?”

Jordie is the only person that Jamie knows who’s met his person and walked away. He tells him so and Jordie looks so aghast.

“First of all, I was seventeen years old then. You’re 24.”

“That doesn’t feel that much older to me.”

“Yeah, but I wasn’t even out of high school yet, Jamie, I had nothing. You have a career—one you’re fucking excelling at right now—you’re in a good place in your life. Hell, Mom met Dad when she was 22. It’s not like you’re a kid.”

“I need to focus on hockey, Jordie, on the Olympics. I’ve spent my whole life working for this, I can’t stop now.”

“Why the hell do you have to stop? Hockey is Tyler’s life, too. You think he’s gonna want you both to just quit and walk away tomorrow?”

Jordie looks so upset, Jamie wilts. “No.”

“Did you even ask him what he wanted?”

He tries to stutter out a defense—but Jordie is right; he didn’t even think to ask Tyler what he wanted.

“It’s just not the right time.”

“Listen, you can do what you want. It’s your choice as much as it’s his and if you’re not ready you’re not ready. But Tyler is a good kid, okay? You need to talk to him first—to him, Jamie, not at him—and you need to be honest with him, what you’re deciding and why. Don’t do that thing you do, don’t make him guess.”

Chapter Text

Hockey is Jamie’s passion; it’s his life. If he knew that he had only one day left on earth, he’d spend a pretty big chunk of it playing hockey with Jordie—preferably at home in Victoria. Hockey is the one thing that Jamie’s really worked at his whole life, the one thing that’s his, that he earned.

His family he was lucky enough to be born into, Tyler was decided for him long before Jamie was even born, probably—at least the way he likes to think of it. Those are constant, but hockey is fleeting. He’s always been fighting the feeling that if he slips, doesn’t work as hard as he can, if someone finds out about his name, it will get taken away from him. Sometimes he feels like he tricked people into thinking he belonged out there.

It’s stupid, and Jamie knows now that he’s talented and he’s got every right to his ice time, but for all the skill he has, that insecurity never really goes away.

Hockey is his passion, and right now, everything else has to come second.

Even Tyler.

Jamie doesn’t phrase it exactly like that when he talks to him, but it’s the gist of it.

He takes a few minutes to compose himself and put his guard back on before going downstairs. He doesn’t take the elevator, choosing the walking time to think about how he wants to do this.

Tyler opens the door slowly and his face is still blotchy. Jamie feels like shit.

“It’s not someone else.” He blurts it out before Tyler can usher him inside.

When the door is shut behind him, Jamie stays close.

“But you won’t show me?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t show you right now. I’m not ready,” Jamie has to focus on his breathing to speak with any coherency.

“Do you not want me?”

“Of course I do, that’s not—don’t think that. Not even for a second, okay?”

“How can I not?” Tyler frowns.

Jamie gets out the carefully practiced speech, though it’s awkward and stilted—more like a press conference than a conversation, but Tyler stays silent while Jamie does his best to explain himself.

When he’s finished, he asks Tyler what he wants.

“You.”

“Tyler.”

“No, Jamie. That’s what I want, okay? I’ve been waiting for you, I’ve been looking for you. For years. And now here you are. And you don’t want me?”

“I do want you, that’s not what this is. I just can’t right now. We’re hockey players first, Tyler. That’s who we are.”

“But why does it have to be one or the other, Jamie? Why can’t we have both?”

“What if people find out?”

“Find out what?”

“About us, Ty! What if it gets out and then the whole world knows. It’s all people will talk about. It’s all we’ll be to them! No one is going to care about our hockey at all.”

“But we don’t have to tell them! This is our choice, Jamie. We don’t have to say anything. How will they find out? Who’ll tell them?”

“You will! You’ll tell them! Not even on purpose, you’re just—you’re reckless. You don’t even mean to do half the things that you do, but then there they are! Even if we don’t tell them, it’ll only take a few weeks before they find out.”

Tyler stares at him with a hurt look. “You really think that?”

“Ty—”

“No, you do, don’t you? You really think that I’m that big of fuckup that I’d—” Tyler sucks in a huge breath. “Jamie, I—this is—” he flails his arms around. “But we’re—you’re Jamie. This is you.” Tyler points at his wrist, still bare from earlier.

“I don’t think you’d do it on purpose,” Jamie says quietly. “But people wonder. They ask questions, they look for things. There are no other people like us in the league.”

“What, who’ve found their soulmate? Who’re lucky like we are? Like us how?”

“With another man’s name! You know that!”

“But there is, though! There has to be!” Tyler stamps his foot and Jamie frowns.

“Do you know any?”

“No, but that doesn’t mean—”

“I know it doesn’t mean they don’t exist but I don’t want to be the guy who goes first, who has to find out what happens if people know.”

“But it wouldn’t just be you. It would be both of us.”

“Tyler, I can’t. We can’t. I just got the C, you just got traded here. We’re not in a position where we can do what we want. There’s a lot still to lose. They could take it all away if they wanted.”

“You’re worth it to me.”

‘And I’m not to you,’ is what Jamie hears and feels his blood turn to ice; Tyler sounds so broken. He’s moving before he even realizes, pulling Tyler into a tight hug. It’s only a moment before Tyler hugs him back.

“I’m not saying we won’t have this,” Jamie tries to memorize the way Tyler melts into him. “I would never ask you to wait forever—I don’t want to wait forever. But this can’t be priority right now. We can’t let ourselves get distracted. Think how hard you worked for this, to be where you are, how hard we both have. There’s a lot left we have to do first.”

“Like what?” Tyler pouts.

“Like make the playoffs, get you another Cup tattoo.” Jamie puts a hand over where he knows Tyler’s is. “I want to do that together and we need more time for that stuff. That’s where our focus needs to be. We’ve waited this long, I’m just asking for you to wait a little longer. Please, for me.”

Jamie pulls back, lets himself cup Tyler’s head just behind his ear, feel the way his hair is soft and warm near the nape of his neck. Tyler looks so young blinking up at him, Jamie can’t help himself. He leans in and kisses him. Tyler’s lips are warm and soft and dry; he kisses back with a quiet desperation that makes Jamie ache.

When he pulls back, it takes him a moment to open his eyes again. Tyler is looking back with a sad smile.

“Okay,” he finally breathes, biting his lip like he can still feel where Jamie’s mouth was. “Hockey first.”

“We have our whole lives, you know,” Jamie tries to sound teasing but it’s mostly flat.

Tyler nods anyway.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Tyler lets himself mope for a couple days, but not outwardly. He’s always been very good at burying things like that, laughing when he doesn’t really feel like it.

Val probably knows what’s up. Tyler keeps Marshall with him on a day he’d previously promised Val, but he really needed the company. Instead, he’d invited Val over and he knows he’s a lot quieter than he usually is. Val still doesn’t speak a whole lot of English so Tyler tends to fill the voids in broken conversations with incessant chatter, but this night, they mostly play video games in silence.

Tyler has been trying to be good with Val, prove that he’s worthy of the trust placed in him, but tonight, he brings out a bottle of vodka—a nice Russian brand that the man at the liquor store had promised was actually imported. Val raises an eyebrow at him but accepts the drink.

Tyler mixes his with a half empty Gatorade bottle from his fridge but Val crinkles up his nose when Tyler offers.

“Just vodka.” He looks legitimately upset and Tyler throws up his arms in placation.

“Okay, okay. Just offering.” He pauses and considers. “You probably shouldn’t mention this to anyone, that I’m giving you this.”

“Can drink in Russia,” Val says defiantly.

“Yeah, but I could go to jail in Dallas, so it’s just between us.” Tyler doesn’t think Val totally understands but he nods anyway.

They play video games for a while—a universal language—but Tyler’s heart isn’t really in it. He keeps catching sight of his wristguard and sighing. He’s beyond his drink-to-get-drunk phase, he thinks, but this feels like slipping; it feels like unwanted. It wasn’t even three days ago that Jamie had stood right over there, kissed him, and then turned him down. Walked away.

It’s only for a little while, Tyler tries to reason with himself like he’s been doing a lot these days. The worst part is that he doesn’t even think Jamie is wrong to be cautious. He likes that Jamie thinks things through. It’s not what Tyler wants, obviously, but he understands. He’s been out to his friends for a while, but that doesn’t mean that he’s ready to be out to everyone, or that he’d ever ask Jamie to do the same.

“All right?” Val’s stilted English pulls Tyler from his inner monologue.

“Yeah, just thinking.” Tyler pulls his hand away from where he’s been worrying at the latch of his guard.

“Is girl problem?” Val nods at his fidgeting fingers.

“Basically.” Tyler looks over to Val’s wrist. His wristguard is a lot more utilitarian looking than most that Tyler has seen, but he supposes they all serve the same purpose. “Have you met your person yet?” He doesn’t know what makes him blurt that out.

“I meet?” Val blushes like he always does when he doesn’t completely understand what he’s being asked.

“Your name. Have you met them?”

“Do I meet her?”

“Yeah.”

“No, she in Russia.”

“How do you know?”

“Is kirillitsa.” Val lifts his arm and lets it flop back down.

“It’s what?”

“Her name is letters of Russia.”

Tyler nods his understanding. Val takes another sip of his drink.

“Would you have come here if you met her in Russia? Like, would you still play hockey?”

“Yes! Only she also come.”

“What if she had a job in Russia, and you met and she didn’t want to come?”

Val crinkles up his nose as he repeats Tyler’s question quietly to himself. When his eyes light up with understanding, he throws his head back and laughs. “She come! She come to Dallas. Then I her job.”

“Oh.” Tyler doesn’t know a ton about Russian culture, but he understands things work differently there. “Okay, but what if you didn’t want her to come yet. What if you thought, you know, hockey comes first and she might just distract you?”

“Distract?”

“Like, you wouldn’t be able to focus on hockey if she were here.”

“If I think she bad for hockey then—,” Val furrows his brow and looks down at his drink. He’s quiet for a long time before finally: “Maybe wait.”

Tyler sighs heavily and downs the last of his drink. “Yeah. Maybe wait.” It’s easy enough to say, but for the first time in his life, Tyler kind of hates hockey.

He still likes Jamie and he wants to be around him, but he also wants to give him space. And he doesn’t want things to be different. It’s still Jamie and he wants them to have a good relationship, even if they can only be friends for right now.

If that’s what Jamie wants, Tyler can kill him with friendship. That seems like as good a plan as any.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie doesn’t know what he expects after the conversation in Tyler’s apartment. Tyler doesn’t avoid him or anything, but for the few days after he stops dropping in for dinner or video games or just to hang out. It’s not exactly the same as after the kiss, Tyler isn’t completely absent—he’s still texting Jamie and talking to him at practice.

But Tyler was always so happy; Jamie envied how people fed off that. Now he’s just, now he just looks happy. He can tell it’s an act because apparently, Jamie is actually really good at reading Tyler. Val seems to be as well because Jamie’s noticed him trying to cheer Tyler up, being extra goofy to get him to laugh. Jamie feels like shit that it’s his fault they’re in this position.

He knows this isn’t what Tyler wants, but it’s what Jamie needs. He tries to navigate their new relationship carefully, giving Tyler a wide berth but still trying to be accessible as his captain and friend. It gives him time to get used to the idea, too. This is his Tyler. This is the person whose name he’s been carrying with him since he was thirteen years old, the one he used to imagine protecting, keeping safe. And now he’s here and Jamie can’t do any of those things for him yet. This wasn’t a part of the plan.

Even with all that baggage, the strangeness between them doesn’t last very long—it never does, Jamie is coming to find. When he gets back from a run one day, Tyler on the couch, engaged in a bitter shootout with Jordie—Whalers vs Allen Americans.

“Tourney part two, Chubbs!” Jordie practically shouts at him when he accidentally walks in front of the TV screen.

He expects his presence will wreck things, that Tyler will head back to his place as soon as the game ends. But he doesn’t.

He stays for dinner, smashes himself between Jamie and Jordie on the couch to peruse Netflix, shouts his preferences like he lives there. He doesn’t just seem like he’s pretending either.

Jamie keeps trying to catch Jordie’s eyes over Tyler’s head, get some kind of indication from his brother as to what’s going on, but Jordie tips his head in a weak shrug.

When he gets tired, Tyler folds himself up next to Jamie like always, shoves his feet under Jordie’s thighs and leans back against Jamie’s side. It feels so natural to wrap his arm around Tyler when he’s cuddly like that, just like he used to, but Jamie has to stop himself before he does. It scares him how good it feels just to have Tyler near him, like this is how it’s supposed to be.

It’s how he felt before too; it’s what made his crush so hard to shake. He’d never felt anything like it before, even with Bozie, because what he has with Tyler is as good as it gets. What he’s going to have.

The adrenaline surges through him with that thought and Jamie can’t breathe he’s so overwhelmed with it. He needs space, he needs—he needs to not indulge himself like this, not if he’s going to stay sane. He wiggles his elbow into Tyler’s spine, nudging him until Tyler gets the hint and sits back up. Jamie can’t look at him for the rest of the night, and eventually Tyler slaps both him and Jordie on the knee and says goodnight.

“Did you tell him to come over?” Jamie finally asks when he’s gone.

“No, he came over on his own, said he wanted to hang out. Even asked where you were.”

“Did he say anything about what happened? Did you ask?”

Jordie gives him an annoyed look and stands up. “No, he didn’t mention it and I didn’t either. It’s none of my business what you two decide to do.” He walks away dismissively.

Jamie sighs, but he can’t really argue it.

Things carry on like that; Tyler keeps touching him and flirting with him, the same as before. He comes around with Marshall, eats their food, steals Jordie’s shirts, wrestles the remote away from Jamie when he decides he’s had enough Duck Dynasty for one evening. It’s too normal; Jamie is practically annoyed by it.

“You know I told Jordie,” Jamie blurts out.

Jordie’s out on a date with some girl he met at a bar and it’s just him and Tyler hanging out waiting for Sunday Night Football to start. Tyler is on the floor wrestling with Marshall while Jamie watches pregame coverage. He keeps growling at Marshall to rile him up and barking in a voice so stupid that Jamie can’t help but love it.

“Told him what?”

“About us.” Tyler can’t really not know, can he? “About, you know.”

“There isn’t any us.” He says it with such finality that it knocks Jamie with a wave of nausea.

Tyler goes right back to baby-talking Marshall and Jamie tries not to look like he was just smacked in the face. But once the game starts, Tyler is clambering nearly into Jamie’s lap and asking attentive questions about the Seahawks’ roster and their record this season.

Tyler’s birthday comes and goes and the season keeps rolling on. The two of them are having career years playing together, and Jamie is enjoying every moment of it. The hockey parts of it.

In everything else, it feels forced. He’s lonely. Jamie doesn’t really know what he expected, but maybe part of him thought that it would be more intimate than this—that they could talk about their future just between the two of them, keep things on the horizon as a compromise.

He tries not to bring up the subject of them again, but it’s like a scab he can’t stop picking. It’s not often, except sometimes he can’t stop himself and it comes up like word vomit, reminding Tyler that they’re great linemates sure, but there’s so much more behind it. He only ever does it in private and never overtly, but even then Tyler shuts him down every time, with remarkable detachment, Jamie notes.

The only time Tyler ever mentions it himself is a few weeks before the Father’s trip. He corners Jamie in the kitchen when he’s washing their dinner plates.

“Listen. My dad doesn’t know about you and I’m not going to tell him so if you could cut it out with all the hinting shit that you keep doing—especially while he’s around? I’d fucking appreciate it.” Tyler looks angry and Jamie didn’t even do anything to him. He thinks he looks appropriately stunned but Tyler just stares at him in silence for a minute before giving a sound of disgust and spinning on his heels.

Jamie hears the front door open and slam and Jordie is in the doorway a few seconds later.

“Dude, what the fuck was that?”

“I don’t know.”

The whole incident is unsettling and Jamie wants to apologize, but the next time he sees Tyler, he’s still acting like nothing’s changed, so Jamie doesn’t get a chance until much later.

It takes Jordie a week to convince Jamie he needs to tell their dad about Tyler.

“He’s going to ask anyway. Every Tyler you’ve ever played with they ask you.”

“Doesn’t mean I have to tell him.”

“Yeah, lie and then down the line when you bring Segs home, that’ll go over real well.”

“I can always tell him I don’t know.”

Jordie gives him a devastatingly skeptical look. “Look me in the eye tell me when was the last time you lied to dad successfully. Please, because if it was any time in the last 24 years, I must’ve missed it.”

Jamie has to give him that, but it doesn’t make things any easier when he realizes he should probably give Tyler a heads up about it.

They’re past knocking when they show up at each other’s places, even now, but Jamie still likes to give a curt rap on the door when he comes to talk about something serious. If Tyler isn’t in the mood, he doesn’t have to answer—an easy out.

“Hey, what’s up?” Tyler lights up when he sees Jamie and ushers him in. Jamie squats to give Marshall some attention so he stops jumping up to lick him and keeps his eyes trained on the dog when he speaks.

“My dad’s coming in tomorrow, he got a couple extra days off work so he wanted to come down early.”

“Sweet! Papa Benn, can’t wait to meet him.”

“Yeah, so. I know you said that your dad doesn’t know, and I won’t tell him—I know you were worried about that, and I’m sorry if I made you think that I would. But, I was going to tell my dad if that’s okay with you? I’d told you before that Jordie already knows, and your name is Tyler so he’s going to ask me anyway.”

Tyler doesn’t say anything right away and Jamie chances a look up to his unreadable expression. Jamie turns back to Marshall, at least he’s smiling.

“I’ll make sure he knows not to say anything to your dad, and he wouldn’t tell anyone else. Probably my mom and Jenny, but they won’t say anything to anybody—not even the rest of our family. If it’s okay with you. It’s—you’ve always been a well-kept secret I guess you could say. I just know he’ll be really excited is all, he’ll want to meet you.”

The silence lingers again and Jamie is about to get off the floor and show himself out when Tyler finally speaks.

“It’s fine.”

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie’s dad hugs Tyler so tight that he almost can’t breathe for a second.

“So happy to meet you,” he mumbles in Tyler’s ear and pats him on the back before pulling away. Tyler thinks he looks a lot like Jordie, without the beard and with kinder eyes.

“You, too Mr. Benn.” Tyler sounds distressingly shy.

“Randy.”

Tyler nods. “I gotta go, uh, pick up my dad from the airport.” He does, it’s not a lie, but not for another two days. Tyler just needs a bit of space right now. Jamie’s dad is beaming at him like he’s genuinely thrilled to meet Tyler, and Jamie is standing back with a quiet, shy smile watching them. This feels like—like just way too much for him to deal with.

“That’s okay. I’ll be seeing more of you, I’m sure.”

“Yeah. Sometime, I guess.”

Jamie walks him to the door—ever the chivalrous one, Tyler holds back a bitter laugh.

“Um, thanks.” Jamie moves to hug him but Tyler steps back. He gives him a flat smile instead and heads back to his own apartment.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie has been going out a lot after games with the boys this season. He started doing it more last year when Jordie was playing up with the club, but Tyler had quickly become the one to start goading Jamie into tagging along. Having those two around, it was easy for him to be more sociable. It even became something he looked forward to rather than an uncomfortable chore, part of his duties as captain.

In the beginning of the season, Tyler would hang close to the Benns, straying occasionally to get a refill, but for the most part sticking near Jamie, flirting like he liked to do—with Jamie and other teammates. At first Jamie figured that he was trying to shake the party boy reputation, pacing himself and trying for Tyler’s version of his best behavior. The guys sometimes gave them a hard time, about not seeing each other enough already, but Jamie never minded spending time with his brother and Tyler.

It’s one of the only things that changes between them when Jamie asks Tyler to wait. It started gradually; barely a week after Tyler shows him his name. Now it happens nearly every time they’re out.

It doesn’t matter if they’re on the road or in Dallas, it always ends up the same way. Tyler hangs near Jamie and Jordie like before, but then he’ll wander off. He hangs around the bar or dances with whoever will give him the time of day.

The absolutely worst is the flirting. It never bothered Jamie before, he’d seen Tyler bat his lashes and flash his smile for strangers, even when he was tucked up beside Jamie at the time. But this flirting is different and Jamie can’t stand it. He watches Tyler, leans against the wall near their table or perches on one of the bar stools and stares.

“Chill, you’re going to burn a hole in him,” Jordie nudges none too gently.

Tyler crowds up against the bar patrons—cute girls in tight dresses and built guys with stupid haircuts—he never seems to care who they are so long as they’re hot. Jamie would never be so brave as to hit on a guy in a straight bar, or any guy in any bar for that matter when it’s in front of his entire team, but Tyler doesn’t care. Sometimes whoever it is will ignore him, but sometimes he’ll hit on someone who flirts back. The girls usually do, but Tyler never pays them much attention after buying them a drink and maybe sharing one dance.

When Tyler finds a guy who’s interested, the men are always much more aggressive with it. Jamie watches with gritted teeth as some bro-looking asshole puts a wide palm on Tyler’s back and pulls him in to whisper in his ear. How Tyler puts a hand on the guy’s waist in the guise of steadying himself, when really it’s just an excuse to slide his thumb over the muscles there.

Jamie hates it.

He wants to grab Tyler’s wrist, the one with his name, and drag him home and fucking yell at him until cries, touch him everywhere he can and claim him. It’s so animalistic when it surges in his gut that it scares him the first few times. Tyler is his.

Jamie must’ve said that last part out loud.

“No he’s not, Chubbs. You kinda made that clear. What is he supposed to do?”

“He’s only doing it to make me jealous.”

“Yeah, so what? It’s fucking working, isn’t it? And even if he was gonna go home with that guy, you still have no right to be mad at him. It’s a total dick move to expect him to save himself for fucking marriage or whatever it is you’re telling him to fucking wait for.”

“I’m not fucking talking about this in public,” Jamie hisses, his eyes not moving from where Tyler has his mouth practically against this guy’s ear, murmuring something close enough to draw his lips against the man’s earlobe.

The guy is pushing his luck now, Jamie can tell. He’s tipping his head to the side and trying to get Tyler to leave with him. Tyler gives a dangerous little smirk and shakes his head, moving toward the dance floor instead. The man follows right behind him, plastered to Tyler’s back.

“Fuck!” Jamie grips his glass so hard he thinks he could break it in his hands.

“You’re being a huge fucking ass right now, you know that? The kid can do what he wants and he doesn’t have to run shit by you first.”

“You’re supposed to be on my side.”

“And if you were actually in a relationship with him right now, I would be, but this caveman shit you’re doing is gross and it’s annoying the fuck out of me. You said no, you deal with the consequences. Either get over it or stop fucking coming out with us.” Jordie grabs his beer and walks over to where Dills and Chaser are engaged in some animated conversation, leaving Jamie to stew.

He watches the guy dance with Tyler, pressing against him in a way that makes Jamie want to punch him, until he can’t stand it anymore. He heads back to the hotel early and doesn’t look back to see if Tyler even notices.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Tyler never even kisses them. He picks the hottest people in the club and he dances with them until he’s hard—more from the possessive looks that Jamie shoots him than his chosen partner—and then excuses himself to the team table for the rest of the night once Jamie leaves.

“I know what you’re doing,” Jordie tells him after the third time. “I hope you do, too.”

Tyler shrugs. He doesn’t really know anything anymore, but it’s comforting to pretend. Tyler’s not holding out hope that Jamie will come around any time soon—he knows how stubborn Jamie can be—but if he wants to keep teasing him with shit that he can’t have, why the hell shouldn’t Tyler give as good as gets?

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Tyler is amazing. He’s fun and he’s funny and makes Jamie want to try things he’s never wanted to before. He never brags about himself, even though he absolutely could, and he thinks the silliest things are cool. He always has a good story to tell and he is fiercely loyal to anyone he’s ever considered a friend. He laughs at himself, somehow always gracefully, but he’s still comfortable being the center of attention.

He never laughs at Jamie, even when Jamie sometimes deserves it, and he tells Jordie to shut up when Jordie is being too mean. He thinks Jamie’s terrible guitar skills are good enough to keep asking him to play for him, and he gives Jamie all the pickles that come with his meals, even if Jordie asked for them first.

He respects all of the dumb pregame rituals that Jamie has, including the ones that are inconvenient for him, like having to sit in the AAC lot with the engine running until the clock is on an even number or running down to his apartment to get bread when Jamie ran out and he needed peanut butter toast. He cuddles like an overgrown puppy, and when he gets knocked down, it’s never for very long. He’s got a porn star body that Jamie has long since stopped pretending not to think about when he jerks off.

He’s his own toughest critic and he tries harder than anyone Jamie has ever known, but he doesn’t give a shit what people who don’t matter think about him. He plays fucking beautiful hockey, especially with Jamie, and he’s never too proud to tell him so. He makes friends with anyone and everyone and he’s outgoing in a way Jamie can only wish he was. He’s brave; brave enough to stand in front of Jamie with a bare wrist.

And by February, Jamie can’t fucking stand it anymore. He can’t stand even one more night of watching Tyler rub against strangers in bars because Tyler is his.

And Jamie fucking loves him.

The thought strikes him like a lightning bolt one night when he’s walking furiously home from another bar. It feels too raw and new to poke at even in the privacy of his head, but it’s familiar too, like it’s always been there and is just now coming to life.

They’re headed into the Olympic break off a win at home against Phoenix. Tyler has talked enough about his plans in Cabo that Jamie practically has his flight schedule memorized. He’s known about it long enough to make himself sick thinking about it, what Tyler might get up to, who else will get to touch him before Jamie does.

Jamie doesn’t own him, he knows that, but the proprietary ache in his chest has a mind all itself.

But more than jealousy, more than possession, Jamie just needs Tyler. He’s about to head to Russia, take on the world’s biggest stage playing for his fucking country in the Olympics. It’s the biggest moment in his entire hockey career and the thought of not having Tyler—his soulmate—to share it with one day, of being too proud or too nervous or too afraid to have that memory together, it physically hurts.

He understands that he can’t bring Tyler with him, that even if he could, it wouldn’t be smart—Jamie knows all about the laws in Russia regarding same-sex names and he was as glad as anyone when Russia’s campaign to record wrist names during the Olympic physicals was met with refusal by the IOC. But Jamie wants Tyler there, and he wants it so much that it spurs him to action.

Jamie drives Tyler and Jordie back to the apartment building and Jordie knows something is up because Jamie doesn’t fight him on the radio for once. All he can think about is that he flies out tomorrow afternoon to meet the rest of Team Canada in New York and Tyler has a day before he’s headed to Mexico. Then they’ll be on opposite side of the globe and Jamie won’t get to see him for two weeks.

They part ways with Tyler at his floor and it takes the short ride up to his own before Jamie’s worked up the courage. He keeps switching his weight from foot to foot and Jordie’s shooting him questioning looks before nudging him with his elbow.

“Nervous?”

“What?”

“‘What’? For Russia!”

“No.”

The doors open and Jordie steps out. Jamie hits the button back to Tyler’s floor before Jordie can turn back to see if Jamie is coming with.

“Good luck,” he hears, before the doors slide back closed with a heavy thunk.

He stands outside Tyler’s door for a long while, left hand raised to knock. He can hear Marshall growling and barking and running across the hardwood, chasing some toy Tyler’s thrown from him.

Jamie barely notices his wristguard anymore. He’s never taken it off longer than a day at a time, and probably fewer than fifteen times since he first put it on—mostly to size up. It stands out to him now, like a flashing goal light.

Before he can change his mind, Jamie undoes the latch, dismantles the lock. He feels more naked with his wrist bare than he does actually nude.

He knocks.

Tyler opens the door, cheeks pink from chasing Marshall, who is current nosing at the backs of Tyler’s legs to try and see who’s in the hall.

“Hey! Figured you’d be calling it a night already.” When he smiles, the corners of his eyes crinkle and Jamie wants to press his lips against them. Tyler grabs Marshall’s collar and steps aside to let Jamie in.

But Jamie doesn’t move. He can hear himself breathing, ragged shallow breaths that make his heart race even faster. Tyler gives him a worried look.

“You look sick, dude. You wanna sit?”

Jamie runs a hand though his hair, still damp from his postgame shower. He’s not even thinking about it, just a nervous tick he’s always had, but he remembers his wrist is bare when Tyler’s eyes go wide.

He lets go of the collar in surprise and Marshall seizes the opportunity to dart into the hallway, sprinting up and down in excitement over Jamie and freedom.

“Shit! Marshall, no! Come! Marshall!”

Jamie kind of forgets what he’s doing here and stoops to beckon the dog back. Marshall makes a mad dash for him and starts licking Jamie’s face, staying still long enough for Tyler to grab him again and pull him back inside. Jamie takes a few steadying breaths before standing back up and following. He’s got his hands tucked into his back pockets mostly out of habit.

The door shuts behind him with a quiet sealing noise and Tyler is up in his space immediately, hands out like he thinks Jamie might bolt.

“You don’t have to.” He’s struck by how scared Tyler seems. He’s not supposed to be afraid of Jamie.

“I know.” He tries to hide the shakiness of his voice. “But it’s okay. I want to.”

Jamie stands still, fists balled at his sides. He doesn’t even move when he feels Tyler reach out to wrap his hand around his forearm. He lets Tyler lift and rotate his arm slowly, exposing his wrist.

Tyler makes a small noise in his throat and Jamie shuts his eyes when he feels fingers run down the length of his inner arm, pausing at the letters. No one has ever touched his name except his sister, just the once when she was fitting his first guard, and the feeling of Tyler’s fingers, now stroking him there, feel more intimate than anywhere else he could touch. Jamie shivers and he’s a little embarrassed at the arousal pooling in his gut.

“M’sorry I have such shit handwriting.”

It strikes Jamie as so hilarious in that moment that he can’t help the punch of laughter. It feels like relief when it escapes. He’s nearly doubled over with it but Tyler holds fast to his arm, smiling down at him in that dopey way that he does until Jamie can breathe again.

“No! No, I like it.” Jamie’s still mostly breathless as he looks down at it. It’s been covered most of his life, but he’s never once forgotten what it looks like. “It’s swoopy.”

Tyler keeps touching him, tracing the letters like they’ll disappear any minute.

“Why now?” Tyler’s voice is barely a croak. “Why didn’t you—before when I showed you mine.”

“I was scared.” Jamie feels bold enough to admit that with Tyler touching him like he is. “You’re—you’re scary, you know?”

Tyler looks up at him with a hurt expression. “I scared you?”

“You’re you. You’re—” Jamie takes a breath to compose himself. “You’re loud and you’re confident and you like being in the spotlight. And, you’ve done things, before you came to Dallas that made me worry you weren’t, that you wouldn’t even be okay if you knew that I liked guys, let alone liked you.”

Tyler’s shoulders sag and his eyes drop to a spot on Jamie’s chest. “M’sorry.”

“Even when I thought you might like me too and even after you showed me. I like my privacy. It’s how I control things—how I handle not being so…like you are.”

“I was scared, too. Before I showed you, I thought—I was afraid that it wouldn’t be you. But I was most afraid that it would be and you wouldn’t want me. By then you were the only person I could imagine.”

When Tyler looks back at him, his face is open and raw. He looks so content and so comforted and so fucking pretty in a way that Jamie doesn’t even think he deserves. Tyler keeps stroking his wrist and Jamie can’t tell if it’s because he doesn’t know what it’s doing to Jamie or because he does.

Tyler’s biggest fear was that Jamie would reject him and he had. And Tyler is still looking at him like he hangs the moon.

“I’m not ready yet.” Jamie blurts it out. “I’m not ready yet to be in a relationship. I still think that hockey needs to come first, that we should focus on that and take our time with this.”

It’s important that they do this slowly, Jamie knows. He’s got a much better chance of controlling the outcome if they move together, same pace.

“But then why are you—”

“Because I will be. I’ll be ready, I’m working on it. I thought I could wait until we were done with hockey but I can’t. There’s no way.” Tyler’s lips quirk into a small smile.

“Tell me about it.”

“But this season, this is important for us. You and me, we’re supposed to be proving them wrong, remember?” Jamie knows Tyler remembers sending that text, hasn’t let him forget throughout the year.

“And you did,” Tyler smiles.

“But we’re not done yet. And a huge reason that I’m even going to Russia is because of you. I don’t just mean on the ice, either.” When Jamie’s dad came, he couldn’t stop talking about how much happier Jamie seemed, how he carried himself more confidently. He’d thought at the time it was just fatherly affection, but Jordie had agreed.

“The kid is good for you, whether you guys are whatever you are or not. You gotta see that, Chubbs.”

Jamie hadn’t then, but he’s getting there. “I wanted to share this with you, and even if I’m not ready yet, this is as much yours as it is mine, okay? And this is a promise that it’ll be soon.”

“How soon?”

“This summer. We’re gonna make the playoffs, you’re going to get the last laugh, and then it’ll just be you and me.”

“Just you and me.” Tyler inhales sharply with a thoughtful smile, but his eyes darken abruptly with something else. “I don’t think I can wait that long. I’ll—I’m going to miss you. Not just in Russia but, all year. I just, I always miss you.”

“Tyler,” Jamie starts, but Tyler shakes his head.

“I’m not saying I won’t, but just. What about tonight?” Tyler bites his lip like his challenge.

“Tonight…”

“You’re leaving, and I’m—I know you’ll be back but. Jamie,” Tyler huffs his name and it’s wrought with such a deep familiarity that isn’t from being teammates or friends; it comes from something much more profound. Jamie watches him lick his lips. “I’ve been waiting.”

“I know you have, Tyler. Me too.”

And Jamie can’t stand to make either of them wait any longer. With the hand Tyler isn’t holding, Jamie cups the nape of his neck and pulls him in for a bruising kiss. Tyler whimpers into it and Jamie just wants to swallow him, but then Tyler is kissing right back, just as demanding.

When Jamie was little and he thought about his Tyler, what he would be like, he always felt like it would be his job to protect him. He’d get these feelings of being bigger and stronger and sturdier. It scared him sometimes, made him wonder if he would ever be good enough or brave enough to protect someone who needed him like that.

What he wasn’t counting on was Tyler being even braver, on needing Tyler just as much as Tyler might need him.

For all the babysitting that management thinks he needs, Jamie knows the truth. Tyler doesn’t need to be protected; he’s not a feral thing in desperate want of domestication. Tyler isn’t like that at all. All the things that Jamie is envious about are things that he loves most about Tyler—the way he can plunge into things headfirst without fear, the way he goes about his life not caring what people think of him, the way he thrives on attention.

Tyler was the one that came to him after all, put all his cards on the table and didn’t completely collapse the way Jamie knows he would have if he’d been shot down the same way. Tyler had taken the lead and then let Jamie come around on his own.

Jamie thinks that’s the kind of bravery that should be rewarded.

He bites at Tyler’s lower lip until he feels him growl and open up, letting Jamie slide his tongue along Tyler’s. Their kiss before had been fleeting, Jamie barely allowing himself to enjoy it before pulling away. This one is nothing but want.

Jamie kisses Tyler like he could lick away the taste of any other person who has kissed him before, like it needs to last him until the summer. The hands gripping Jamie’s arm drop away and Tyler grabs Jamie’s shoulders to steady them. He loves how Tyler opens easy for him, lets Jamie invade his space.

The closer he gets, he can feel Tyler getting hard against his upper thigh, pressing into him and twisting just enough that he’s rubbing against Jamie when he does, like he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it. It does nothing but encourage Jamie and he finally, finally runs his left hand up the front of Tyler’s shirt, feeling his abs flex under his fingers like he’s wanted to since he first saw Tyler. Every bit of contact to Jamie’s wrist is like a livewire and he can’t wait any longer, tugging on the hem of Tyler’s shirt and pulling it up, off. They have to break the kiss to get it over Tyler’s head.

“Is it weird if I say I’ve been thinking about this since I was 10?” Tyler’s eyes sparkle when he leans back into kiss him and Jamie is leveled with how fond he feels.

“Probably a little.” He runs the flat of his palm over Tyler’s stomach, trying to get as much skin in contact with his wrist as he can. “Is it weird if I say I’ve been thinking about this since I met you?”

And before Tyler can answer, Jamie sinks to his knees. He loves how Tyler flexes under his lips when Jamie kisses down the line of his muscles, it feels like he’s fighting not to pull away under the magnitude of it all.

Tyler buries his hands in Jamie’s hair and squeezes his fists tight enough to hurt, but Jamie understands the neediness.

He looks up the long, lean length of Tyler’s body to where his lips are red and swollen from Jamie biting them. He’s tenting the front of his slacks, hard enough now to make a visible outline and Jamie is so fucking gone for him—like every fucking guy he’s ever been with was just practice for this moment.

He wants nothing more than to take Tyler apart with his mouth, see him come to pieces, see him come. He starts to unbutton his pants, but pauses before the zipper. Jamie nips at the hard muscle beside Tyler’s bellybutton before looking up at him.

“Tyler, look at me. Can I?”

“Yes, fuck, of course you can,” it comes out like a hiss.

“Can’t wait to see you come, Jesus, you have no idea.”

“Wait, if this is—I don’t mean to be a sap, but if we’re only doing this one time until, I want to do it not in my hallway. With my dog watching.” Tyler blushes deeper than Jamie thinks he’s ever seen him. It mottles his skin down to his chest and Jamie is absolutely floored by how gorgeous Tyler looks when he’s turned on.

“Yeah, of course.” Jamie laughs, looking over to where Marshall is sprawled on the couch, eyes trained on them. He kisses Tyler’s stomach a few more times, loving how warm and soft his skin is there, stretched over hard, toned muscle.

Tyler’s erratic breathing at just that small gesture sets another spike of arousal through him and he doesn’t let go of Jamie’s hair even when Jamie starts to stand up, keeping their bodies crowded close together. He can feel again how hard Tyler is now against his leg and the contact sends Tyler listing forward into Jamie’s thigh.

“Fuck,” Tyler pulls him in for another kiss, pushing Jamie’s cock into Tyler’s lower abs. It’s perfect and Jamie grabs Tyler’s hips harder than he intends to keep them pressed together. The action draws a surprised grunt from Tyler that makes Jamie pull back to look at him.

He looks wrecked already, eyes shut tight, biting at his own bottom lip as he rolls his hips forward against Jamie. His eyes flutter open when Jamie doesn’t lean back in to kiss him again fast enough.

Tyler rolls his hips again, face splitting into a dangerous grin. “C’mon, Bennie. Thought you wanted to see me come?” His voice is light and teasing and Jamie is a little embarrassed how big an effect it has on him.

“Let’s go then, Seggy,” he tries the same playful tone but he doesn’t think he manages to pull it off quite like Tyler did. Jamie starts walking Tyler backwards toward the bedroom, tightening his grip on Tyler’s hips when he stumbles.

“Shit.” Tyler hisses and Jamie worries for a moment that he’s squeezing too hard. He eases up some.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, yeah. I like that. I like that you’re—” Jamie presses his fingers in again, loving the way it makes Tyler trail off.

“That I’m what?”

“That you're bigger.” His voice is so earnest, Jamie’s cock twitches.

Jamie walks Tyler to the master bedroom, pushing him down onto the bed and up against the headboard, crawling between his legs. He has to kiss Tyler nearly raw before he will let go of Jamie’s hair and let him sit back. Jamie doesn’t get far, the way Tyler’s arms splay out and put all his muscles on display has him immobile.

He lets himself look for a minute—now that he can—but then he can’t stop himself from reaching out again, rubbing his hands over his abs and pushing his fingertips in to feel the give of his skin as Tyler flexes against the pressure. Jamie’s eyes fixate on his exposed wrist against Tyler’s naked skin; the Tyler on his arm doesn’t even really stand out against the ink on Tyler’s body. It looks like it belongs on Jamie the way his hands look like they belong on Tyler.

“Fuck, look at you.” Every fantasy that Jamie’s had about Tyler’s abs flashes through his mind. Nothing compares to the real thing, though. Jamie strokes his hands down Tyler’s arms, tracing over his tattoos, down to his wrist. Tyler still has his guard on and he seems to realize it once Jamie does.

“Here, here. Let me.” Tyler scrambles to remove it and Jamie watches with hungry eyes. He’s only seen Tyler’s wrist the once, when he first showed it to him with shaking fingers. While he’s waiting for Tyler to undo the lock, he thinks back to the first time he saw the guard—how his name was under that leather in Ottawa, Jamie’s handwriting. Once he’s taken the wristguard off, Jamie allows himself to look his fill.

That’s him inked dark and black onto Tyler’s body. His first tattoo.

Tyler seems just as fixated on his name on Jamie.

“Jesus, that’s hot,” Tyler goes breathy when Jamie skims his hands over Tyler’s ribs. He lets Jamie look for a bit before he starts squirming around impatiently. Jamie stills him with a flat palm to his chest and Tyler stops immediately.

“What do you want, Ty?”

“You, fuck. I want to see you, too.”

Jamie stops touching Tyler only long enough to pull his own shirt over his head. “Not as much to look at,” he offers as an afterthought. He’s not shy about his body like he used to be, but Tyler is cut like a marble statue.

“The hell you aren’t!” Tyler stares at him a moment, pinching Jamie’s thigh. He carefully reaches out to touch and Jamie feels him trail fingers from his shoulders down over his biceps. “You’re so strong,” Tyler sounds hoarse and his eyes are glassy.

After a moment of that look, Jamie doesn’t even think Tyler is lying. He lets him grope at his biceps for a bit before Tyler pulls back with a wicked grin.

“What did you think, when you met me? The very first time.” He’s still kneading at Jamie’s arms.

“Truthfully?”

“Is the truth mean?” Tyler’s face falls and Jamie leans in to kiss the frown away.

“No, it’s just not… romantic.”

“Tell me.” Tyler rolls his hips again up against Jamie, pressing the thick line of his cock up against the spread of Jamie’s legs. Not romantic doesn’t seem to be much of a problem right now.

“I wanted to hold you down and rub off on your abs. Thought about what it would be like to come on you.”

Fuck.”

“You like that?” Jamie is only mildly surprised, but he’s pleased nonetheless.

“Fuuuck, yeah. You should—that is something you should definitely do.”

Jamie smirks. He’s already unbuttoned Tyler’s slacks and reaches down to the get at the zipper as well, sliding it slowly, letting his knuckles brush against the outline of Tyler’s cock.

“What did you think when you met me?” Jamie asks as he peels the fabric down Tyler’s legs, exposing too-tight boxer briefs that leave nothing to the imagination.

“Truthfully?” Tyler grunts when Jamie cups him through the thin fabric, rubbing slowly at the head of his dick and watching the slowly growing damp spot. “It’s also not romantic.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Tell me.” Jamie crooks his fingers into the elastic of Tyler’s underwear.

“I thought you were adorable—”

“Adorable?!” Jamie squawks.

“Yes, okay!” Tyler throws his head back and bucks up into Jamie’s hand. “I made you laugh, when we were on the stupid couches waiting to get picked at the All-Star Game—oh!” He breaks off in a gasp when Jamie squeezes his length. “A-and you blushed like I thought you would if I kissed you, and you were so attractive, even with your greasy hair.” He smiles like a challenge. “I kept flirting with you so you would laugh again.”

“That’s kind of romantic.”

Tyler sits up on his elbows and whispers conspiratorially. “And you were built. Like, when we were changing, and I saw your arms?” Tyler drags his hands down Jamie’s arms again, cupping his elbows before sliding back up.

“What about ‘em?”

“When I was traded, the only thing I knew about the Stars was you. I watched hours of your tape, jerked off so many times thinking about your arms pinning me down, like as a welcome to the team.”

“Hmm,” Jamie makes a contemplative sound, “I don’t usually welcome people like that.” He smiles when Tyler snorts a laugh. “But I could probably do that for you if you asked.”

“Yeah?”

Jamie leans in to kiss him in answer, a rough, filthy kiss that gets Tyler rutting up against him. Jamie grabs his hips again and pins him to the mattress, swallowing Tyler’s responding noises. When he curls his fingers, they slip under the elastic waist and Tyler tries to push up against him.

“C’mon Jamie. Please?”

“Yeah, I got you.”

Jamie slides Tyler’s boxer briefs down over his hips, careful not to tangle him in the too-tight fabric. He’s seen Tyler naked in the showers; hell, he’s seen Tyler naked probably more than teammates he’s had for years—the guy has no shame when it comes to stripping down in front of others—but when again, why should he? So, Jamie has seen Tyler’s dick before—knows that he’s cut, that he trims his pubes short—but Jamie’s never seen him like this. The second the band is lifted, Tyler’s cock flips up against his belly, the pink tip shiny with precome.

Tyler’s hips jerk up again, leaving a shiny trail across his abs that Jamie wants to lick away, but he forces himself to wait. When he finally gets Tyler naked, Jamie puts his hands flat on his chest wrists touching skin. He runs his hands—Tyler’s name—down the length of his stomach, down his legs, and back up before finally wrapping his left hand around Tyler’s length and stroking.

“You look good like this,” he hears himself say. Tyler’s blush has continued down his chest the more turned on he gets and his breathing is wet and ragged the more Jamie touches him. He wants to take Tyler apart, hear the sounds he’ll make, see how flushed and sweaty he’ll be.

He slides down the bed until he can get his mouth on Tyler, taking him deep as he can right away. When Tyler groans and thrusts up, Jamie is torn between pinning his hips like Tyler seemed to like and reaching up to feel his abs clench with the effort of staying still. Jamie selfishly chooses the latter, sliding his palms over Tyler’s stomach and pressing in hard to afford himself leverage to bob his head.

“Fuck, Jamie.” Tyler’s hands hesitate on Jamie’s shoulder. He pulls off, letting Tyler’s spit-slick dick flop back against him.

“You can touch,” Jamie rasps before sucking Tyler back into his mouth. He’s never been shy before and the fact that he is now, that he’s vulnerable for Jamie, makes his heart swell.

He works the head of Tyler’s cock until he feels his fingers threading through the longest part of his hair—familiar as many times as he’s done it before, but so different at the same time. Jamie rewards him by sliding down to take him deeper. He uses his lips to apply pressure up the length of his shaft, licking at the slit and then sinking down again.

Between the feeling of Tyler’s fingers running through his hair and his muscles clenching and unclenching under Jamie’s hands—against his bare wrist—Jamie is painfully hard himself. If he rocks his hips just right, Jamie can take Tyler deeper and rub against the seam of his pants at the same time. It doesn’t feel great, but it’s better than nothing. He hums at the small relief and Tyler makes a sound like he’s been punched.

Jamie takes his time to figure out what Tyler likes, where he’s most sensitive, what makes him loud and what makes him whimper. When Jamie flickers his tongue under the ridge of the head, he hears Tyler’s head thump back against the headboard and the fingers in his hair twist tight. When he tries the same thing again, this time sliding down and up Tyler’s length, barely any pressure, but letting his lips catch on the same ridge—almost pulling off completely before gliding back down—the sounds Tyler makes turn Jamie’s stomach to liquid.

“Your lips, Jamie. Fuck.”

He has to crane his neck some, but when Jamie glances up, Tyler looks wrecked. His lips are swollen where he’s bit at them and Jamie’s mouth feels about the same. His eyes are barely open, like he’s fighting shutting them but can’t look away. Jamie knows that he’s good at this; he’d felt a little guilty after the first time, but when he was younger—mostly in Kelowna, anonymous and practically vibrating with hormones—handjobs and blowjobs exchanged with guys from the university were how Jamie learned. He’s not regretting that now.

Jamie can feel Tyler tense up when they make eye contact and he’s expecting it when the tugging on his hair gets more insistent.

“Jamie, m’close.” Tyler pulls at his hair again and normally Jamie would have no problem finishing Tyler like this, but he wants to see Tyler’s face, wants to see what he looks like when he lets go.

Jamie pulls off and scoots up, kneeling on either side of Tyler’s hips. He keeps one hand splayed over Tyler’s ribcage—holding him down hard like Tyler had asked—while the other reaches down to stroke him. Jamie loves how Tyler’s back bows into the movement, pushing himself up and thrusting into Jamie’s fist. Tyler lets out a whine that has him bashfully pinching his eyes shut and blushing even more, and Jamie can’t stop himself from leaning in to kiss him.

Tyler kisses back uncoordinated and sloppy, breaking it to gasp into Jamie’s mouth. Jamie rests his forehead against Tyler’s and watches him, watches his eyes squeeze shut, the deep furrow of his brow. His cheeks go deeper red and he lets out a broken groan that hitches loudly. Jamie can feel Tyler’s whole body tense underneath him as his mouth drops open and he comes.

Jamie tries to memorize Tyler’s face before glancing down to watch him spill in hot pulses over his own stomach and Jamie’s fist. Jamie rubs him through it, careful to ease off some of the pressure and stroke only a few more times before stilling his hand and listening Tyler try to reign in his breathing.

He can’t stop staring at the mess Tyler’s made of himself, thinking about how much he wants to rub through it, feel Tyler’s muscles flexing against the underside of his dick, nothing slicking the way but his own come. Jamie doesn’t realize he’s panting until Tyler’s hands are on his shoulders.

“Do it,” Tyler’s voice snaps him out of it.

“Huh?”

“I know you’re thinking about it, do it.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, c’mon. You said you wanted to, I want to watch.”

“Don’t move,” he presses his hand into the center of Tyler’s chest and climbs off quickly to disrobe the rest of the way. He can feel Tyler’s eyes on him.

“Shit,” Tyler trails off in a low groan. Jamie has seen enough guys in his life that he knows he’s not small, would maybe even forgo some of the Canadian humility to say he’s above average, but hearing Tyler’s reaction, seeing his face as he takes Jamie in, it’s an ego boost.

“Yeah?”

“Holy fuck, yeah. Jamie, Christ. You’re so damn thick.” Tyler tips his head back against the headboard.

He straddles Tyler again with a dirty grin, knees bracketing his hips and when Jamie leans in to kiss him his cock slides through the mess on Tyler’s stomach and he groans in to the kiss.

“Come on, Jamie.”

Jamie steadies himself with a left hand on Tyler’s shoulder and sits back on his heels. He’s shaking as he slides back his foreskin, but the sounds Tyler is making fuel him on. Jamie lets his knees sink and spread into the mattress, lowering his hips, and then he’s pressing forward again.

“Oh, fuck, Ty.” Jamie has to pause to breathe when he finally leans into Tyler’s abs, but Tyler has other ideas. He wiggles a bit, making his muscles flex and harden. “Holy fuck.”

Jamie tries to kiss Tyler again but it’s messy and he mostly misses, sliding his lips over Tyler’s chin.

“Do it, I want to see you.”

Jamie keeps his grip firm, using his thumb to press the head of his cock into hard expanse of skin. He rocks his hips, gliding over each contour. Every ripple sends a white hot spark up his spine and he can’t control the grunts punching their way from deep in his chest.

Jamie loses himself in it, thrusting his hips in a steady rhythm. He’s smearing come all over Tyler and he can’t stop staring at how good he looks like this, how good he feels.

When Tyler closes a hand around Jamie’s forearm where he’s still squeezing Tyler’s shoulder, there’s a beat before he feels teeth pressing against his wrist, into Tyler’s name. It’s been a litany of noises spilling from him so far, but when Tyler bites down across the exposed letters, Jamie can’t stop them even if he tried.

“Oh, fuck Tyler. Tyler, you’re so, fuck.”

He presses harder with his thumb and cants his hips forward and back. Tyler’s moved on to kissing his wrist, casting sideways glances at Jamie’s face with half-lidded eyes.

“Jamie. Come on, mess me up.” Tyler’s lips move against the thin skin of his inner arm and Jamie digs his nails into Tyler’s shoulder. He’s close, every fantasy he’s had about this moment barely comparing to the real thing.

Tyler’s breathing heavy again, too and Jamie is torn between watching his dick on Tyler’s abs and watching Tyler’s face, clearly loving this as much as Jamie. The thought makes his breath hitch and he can feel Tyler’s cock—not hard but filling out again—twitch against his balls.

That’s enough to push him close to the edge. “Ty—”

Tyler turns his full attention, his other hand grabbing Jamie’s bicep where he’s straining from holding his cock as his hips stutter. Tyler digs his fingers in and it’s the bite of his nails that causes Jamie to rut forward, catching the underside of his dick on Tyler’s belly button and gliding up his six-pack and that’s it. He’s coming in long spurts over Tyler’s chest, high enough to hit his pecs and collar bone while Tyler whines underneath him.

And his brain short-circuits at the sight of it. Mine mine mine, he thinks blindly as looks down at Tyler between his thighs, striped with Jamie’s come.

Jamie rocks a few more times until the flexing starts to feel too tender and he sits back a fraction to break the contact. He strokes himself a couple more times, sliding his foreskin up and over, squeezing out the last bit over Tyler’s belly.

“Jamie,” Tyler reaches out to pull him in for a kiss. It’s lazier than the ones before, slow and biting and easy in a way that makes Jamie’s cock twitch again.

He pulls away when he can feel the wetness trickling down and pooling against his knees.

“I should probably help clean you up.”

Tyler swipes for a tissue box on his nightstand but he can’t quite reach so Jamie pitches forward to grab it. He wipes Tyler up of the worst of the mess and swipes it over his own cock before fetching a damp washcloth from the bathroom.

Tyler has slipped down so he’s propped up against the pillows and he smiles sleepily as Jamie wipes him down more thoroughly. He stays quiet and keeps his hands uncharacteristically to himself; Jamie notices how his fingers keep tapping where they’re laced together.

“So,” Tyler starts hesitantly as Jamie runs the cloth over his side. “Are you going to have to go now? So you can get to the airport tomorrow?”

Jamie’s never spent the night with anyone he’s hooked up with before. He’s barely even cuddled after. Probably the longest he’s spent with someone was Jesse that summer and they’d only laid in bed for two hours tops.

“Jordie was going to drive me around 8, but I’m already packed.” He lets it hang there. Jamie feels vulnerable like this, waiting for Tyler to either ask him to leave or ask him to stay. Or maybe Tyler is waiting for Jamie to decide.

“I could sleep here, if you don’t mind me having to wake up pretty early.”

Tyler’s face splits into a devastating grin. “No way, man. Not at all.” He throws back the covers and slips easily under them.

Jamie goes to rinse out the washcloth and hang it dry before untangling his boxer-briefs from his slacks and fishing his phone from his pocket. He double checks his alarm, sets it for a half-hour earlier so he has time to wake up and make his way upstairs, shoots a quick text to Jordie to let him know he still needs a ride, and then joins Tyler in bed.

He rolls his eyes when he throws back the covers to find Tyler is still naked but he’s not surprised. “You would sleep nude.”

Tyler doesn’t answer, just cuddles up to Jamie’s side and throws a leg over him. He stretches out the same as Marshall does, long limbs and warm breath against Jamie’s neck where Tyler’s burrowed his nose into the crook of his shoulder.

“Is this okay?” He sounds unsure.

“This is perfect.” Jamie pulls him even closer and Tyler settles in. The only place his sprawl seems intentional is where his fingers wrap tight around Jamie’s bare wrist.

“I wish you didn’t have to put it back on,” Tyler’s breath is heavy and his voice is sleep-tinged already.

“I know,” Jamie turns his head enough to press his chin into Tyler’s forehead so he can feel him say it.

Tyler is as touchy in his sleep as in waking and his skin flushes hot, like a heater where they’re pressed together. Jamie wakes up in the middle night sweating with Tyler twisted around him. Tyler looks warm too, his brow damp and his cheeks a flushed pink.

Jamie tugs the blankets down around their waists and lets the air-conditioned air sweep over them, lulling him back to sleep.

When his alarm goes off in the morning, Jamie kisses Tyler awake, long and slow until Tyler is starting to fill out where he’s pressed against Jamie’s leg.

“Can’t, I have to leave.”

Tyler lets out a sound in protest but allows Jamie to get up anyhow. He pulls his clothes on but Tyler catches his wrist before Jamie can relatch the guard.

“This?” He curls his fingers around his own name and stares at Jamie with such intensity. “This means you’re mine, you know.”

“Yeah—” and it’s a little distracting when Tyler turns his arm to kiss him there. “Always have been.”

He leans down to kiss Tyler goodbye—the last time until the season ends, he tells himself, and tries not to let the bite of sadness bleed into it. Tyler’s got the sheets rucked down to his hips exposing inked skin. Jamie lets himself look when Tyler tucks his hands behind his head to show it off.

“Bring me back something tacky from Mexico,” Jamie teases, but his voice sounds a little strangled.

“Yeah. Bring me back something gold from Russia,” Tyler winks.

“I’ll try.” He pats Tyler’s flank and leaves.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Tyler heads to Mexico feeling better than he has in months. While he’s gone, he can pretend the separation is by force rather than Jamie’s choice.

He is happy for now to take what he can get.

DZ is annoyed when Tyler won’t pick up with him, but he gets over it when every girl that Tyler turns down ends up draped on DZ’s arm. He doesn’t tell Michael about Jamie, they’re not that kind of friends just yet.

He knows that DZ’s wrist says Michelle because he’s heard other guys razz him about it, but he’s never asked to see, and Michael’s never asked Tyler either.

“Whatever, Segs. I hope she’s worth it.”

Tyler thinks about Jamie, wearing the maple leaf and representing their home country in the biggest tournament in hockey. His chest fucking swells with the pride of it. He couldn’t even be happier if it were himself. He holds out his arms and gestures at himself. “Obviously, bro. You think I close this shop for just anybody?”

The US v Canada game starts way too early for Tyler to want to wake up and watch it, so instead he just never goes to sleep. He sticks to Red Bull until around puck drop at 9, when he gets so nervous that he’s into the hard liquor before long.

When Jamie scores early in the second, the first goal of the game, Tyler wakes DZ up screaming.

“The fuck, dude.” Tyler is standing on the couch when DZ drags his ass into the room, still in his bathing suit that he’d passed out in the night before.

“Fuck off, it’s a big game.” Tyler takes a swig right from the tequila bottle and hands it over when DZ comes to sit next to him.

“Well sit the fuck down then and watch it, Segs, fucking asshole.”

Tyler slinks back into his seat and takes the tequila bottle back. Tequila makes him horny and turns out so does watching Jamie score.

By the end of the game, Tyler is a mess. He’d started chugging right around the time Quick was pulled and once he hits the adrenaline crash after the win—Canada is fucking playing for gold!—he heads to his room to pass out before they hit the bars later.

Tyler watches the replay of Jamie’s goal in bed. Then he watches his sweaty postgame interview and spends the entirety of it wanting Jamie to fuck him stupid. He should call him or something. It seems like a really great idea to call him and tell him congratulations.

He gets Jamie’s voicemail, like he figured, and Tyler is so fucking hard from the tequila and the goal and Jamie’s stupid voice on the recorded message that he ends up just reaching down to readjust himself—but it feels so good he doesn’t think to stop when he starts talking.

“Fuck—oh, hey. Jamie, um. That was a sick fucking goal, Christ.” He pants into the phone while he tries to collect his thoughts. “M’sorry, I’m a little drunk and Jesus, Jamie, that goal. You’re—oh fuck—you’re so fucking good. And I know you want to wait, but like, you can’t score goals like that and be that fucking hot and expect—” he hisses when the ridge of his knuckle slips over his slit. “That it’s not gonna—”

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

“—make me hard. Shit. Oh, god I wish you were here,” Tyler’s voice goes breathy and he whines so quietly that Jamie has to strain to hear.

He’d started to listen to the message on the walk back to the village but the second he figured out what Tyler was doing, he’d hung up and called voicemail back from his bathroom. The shower is running to cover any noises Jamie may or may not be making as he pictures Tyler laid out on his bed, stroking himself to the thought of Jamie.

Jamie perches on the toilet lid in his underwear, letting the steam from the hot water fill the room. He’s hard as a rock, one hand sliding over his length as he listens to Tyler do the same.

“Miss you so much. Can’t stop thinking about your, Jamie your arms.” Tyler gasps, then lets out a long keening sound and the message cuts off with a loud beep as the recording ends.

“Fuck,” Jamie tries not to throw the phone in frustration. He’ll have to remember to delete the message—after he listens to it one more time. Jamie starts the message over, closing his eyes and covering one ear to hear Tyler better.

“…You’re—oh fuck—you’re so fucking good…” It’s practically a purr.

He’s been in the bathroom long enough that Keith probably already assumes he’s jerking off in the shower—so he supposes he may as well.

The hot water soothes his muscles, wrung out still from the game, and relaxes him enough that he’s able to turn his brain off completely. Jamie closes his eyes and pictures Tyler there with him, the water sluicing over the cut muscles of his body.

He’s seen Tyler in the shower countless times; sometimes he’s even let himself watch more than he should, so he knows how the hot water turns his cheeks pink. He knows how Tyler’s hair clings to the back of his neck when it’s long and how it spikes up when it’s short.

Jamie curls a hand around himself and lets his mind wander. If Tyler were here, Jamie would try to get him to make those sounds again, hear them echo in the tiny bathroom. He’d push him against the shower wall, pinning him there with an arm across his chest. Tyler would like that, he’d make the prettiest sounds if Jamie put a little weight into it.

He wouldn’t touch him yet, though. He’d kiss him stupid and wait for Tyler to beg for it, stand just far enough away that he couldn’t rut against Jamie’s thigh like he’d want to. When he was incoherent with it, that’s when Jamie would touch him.

He’d step into his space, get Tyler’s cock sliding against their slick skin, pressed up hard and dripping between them. Jamie would reach around behind him, cupping his ass and letting Tyler hike his leg up on Jamie’s hip to open himself up. He’d beg for Jamie’s fingers in him.

‘I need it, Jamie, please.’ Jamie would run his fingers between Tyler’s cheeks, rub against his hole.

“S’this what you need?” Jamie whispers. He would bite at Tyler’s jaw and feel him nod.

Tyler would be tight, with only the water to lube up Jamie’s fingers he’d have to go slow. Tyler wouldn’t want him to, he’d want Jamie to hurry up, fuck him right there—but Jamie wouldn’t. He’d open Tyler up until he made that quiet whine again, too desperate for actual words. When he had Tyler good and worked up, just fucking him with his fingers, Jamie would finally relent. He would press against his prostate and rock his body against Tyler’s until he was coming hard, tightening up around Jamie’s fingers and splashing come over both of them.

He’d have to pin him there harder to keep him from collapsing.

And Jamie comes all over his fist picturing Tyler’s blissed out face, his desperate noises as Jamie works him through it.

“Fuck.” When he’s wrung out, he tips his head back under the spray and lets the water clean him up.

By the time he dries off and exits the shower, Keith is gone and Jamie collapses on his bed. He thumbs through his phone before going back to the voicemail. His finger hovers over the delete button before he finally sighs and erases it.

It’s a little past midnight for him, but he has no idea what time it is for Tyler. He calls anyway and isn’t surprised when it goes to voicemail.

“Hey, um. It’s me—uh, Jamie. I got your message. About the game.” He’s pretty sure that ‘I just came so hard thinking about the sounds you made’ is too hard to imply with tone, but he hopes he comes at least close. “I hope you’re having fun in Mexico. I, um, I miss you, too. Bye.”

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

They hang the medal around his neck and Jamie can’t even breathe. Holding it in his hands, feeling the weight of it, it still doesn’t seem real.

He holds it in his left palm and watches how the arena lights flash off the shiny surface and cast a golden reflection across his wristguard. Jamie thinks about his parents and Jenny at home in Victoria. He thinks about Jordie in Dallas. He thinks about Tyler in Cabo.

He thinks how lucky he is to know exactly where all of the people who love him are right this very second, at the proudest moment of his life.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Tyler opens the door to Jamie's knocking with bright, almond eyes and a warm smile, innocent like he didn't keep Jamie half-hard thinking about the sounds he makes when he comes. Like he wasn't leaving obscene voicemails after the gold medal game that Jamie couldn't even listen to all the way through the first time around.

Like he wasn't the reason Jamie spent most of the flight back to the states with a balled up sweatshirt in his lap. He wonders if his face isn't giving that away because Tyler isn't looking quite so bright anymore. His eyes darken and his smile falters until his lips are parted just enough that Jamie can hear him breathing through them.

Jamie doesn't wait for Tyler to move aside and let him in, just steps forward into his space and forces Tyler to step back for him or risk Jamie knocking him over. The door shuts behind them.

“Welcome back.”

“Thanks.”

“Did you miss me?” Tyler’s face splits into a mischievous grin as Jamie walks toward him until his back is pressed into the wall. Jamie braces his hands against it on either side of Tyler’s shoulders.

“That wasn't very fair, Tyler,” Jamie tries to keep the wild edge out of his voice.

“I know. I'm sorry.” He doesn't sound very sorry.

“We talked about this. We said this summer.”

“I know. But this—Jamie you have no idea,” Tyler’s hands run up the front of Jamie’s chest, “how fucking hot you looked with that medal around your neck.”

Jamie stills Tyler’s wandering hands with a tight fist around his wrists. “But we’re not doing this now.”

“I know.”

“You keep saying that, but you’re not stopping.” Jamie lets Tyler go, fully expecting him pull away.

“So make me.” Tyler’s hands sweep down to Jamie’s sides and slide around his waist, cupping his lower back and jerking him closer. Jamie stumbles forward with it and he can tell Tyler feels how hard he is. He can feel Tyler too, pressing insistently into his thigh.

“Tyler,” he means it like a warning but it’s more of a sigh.

“Just let me show you how proud and how thankful I am. For Canada.” Tyler licks his lips and smiles sweetly.

Tyler’s last voicemail had been an obscene play-by-play of the blowjob he planned to give Jamie, how badly he wanted to be on his knees for him and show him how great he was and how much his country needed him. It was a pornographic, patriotic rambling that Jamie wished he hadn’t had to erase like all the others.

Tyler apparently decides that Jamie has expired his time to protest and is shoving him up against the wall with desperation.

“Just once, let me. Just this one time I promise and then we can wait.” He’s already sinking to the floor as he swears it.

“Just once,” Jamie manages to rasp, “for Canada.” But Tyler’s already undoing his belt and fly and shoving Jamie’s pants and underwear down like he can’t even fucking wait for it.

“Fuck, Jamie. You’re so—Christ, you’re so big.” Tyler is practically nuzzling him with his face, his lips, his fucking tongue, licking over some places and then swallowing him down.

“Yeah, Ty. Just like that.” Jamie pets his hair and does his damnedest not to shove himself deeper than Tyler wants him.

And he doesn’t know how Tyler does it, but he manages to replicate his narrative from the voicemail to a T.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Sometimes the team goes out drinking after games. They have their favorite spots in Dallas and Tyler is always up for a party with friends. He still flirts, but no longer with the purpose of pissing Jamie off. Now he just flirts with Jamie—and occasionally Jordie or Val or Nauts or whoever else on the team is around to avoid suspicion. He wouldn’t normally bother, but Jamie never likes it when he’s the only center of Tyler’s attention. Reckless, he says, dangerous. Like Tyler is a time bomb.

Sometimes Jamie comes over to his place after, scolds him for teasing, for making Jamie want him. Tyler never tells him that’s the point; he thinks Jamie understands without it being said.

But Tyler grasps at whatever he can get. He walks the line and knows it, pushes buttons to get Jamie riled up: touches him too long, too high on the leg. Looks at him too long. He never goes too far when team is around—unless Jordie counts which Tyler doesn’t think he does—but when they’re in one of their apartments, where it’s safe and things are easy, Tyler likes to push.

Sometimes Jamie lets him. Sometimes Jamie initiates it.

If he wants to blame Tyler for what they do next, as long as Tyler gets orgasms out if it, gets to cuddle with Jamie and have him close for a little while. As long as he gets to pretend that they’re not stuck in some needless limbo because of Jamie’s arbitrary timeline, Tyler is happy. Or something very close to it.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

For the last month, Jamie has felt like he’s trapped himself in some nightmarish cycle of penance. His game has been suffering, his chest aches like before.

He lets Tyler goad him into giving in, and then he feels like shit about it because afterwards, Jamie leaves. He goes back to his bed or sends Tyler to his and he’s a coward for it.

His reasons feel real enough to him: the relationship can’t be a distraction, hockey comes first for both of them, they have a job to do here, people are depending on them to give the game their all. That’s what’s important right now—this is what has a time table.

But Jamie isn’t even strong enough to stick to his own rules. He’s come to a place where he knows that he needs Tyler. He needs him on the ice and off, and so Jamie takes. He siphons off the top of the relationship that he knows Tyler wants and leaves the rest hanging there.

Jordie has made it perfectly clear how he feels about the matter and it hasn’t made Jamie feel any better about things.

“You’re really fucking the kid up.” Jordie doesn’t even stick around to watch the implosion anymore. He’s learned to read the cues better than Jamie and retreats to his room with disapproving looks.

Jamie made one attempt to justify himself but Jordie shut him down.

“You’re full of shit. Figure out what your fucking hang up is, because I’ll tell you right the fuck now, it’s not hockey, Jamie. This shitty fuckbuddy dance you’re doing with him is messing up your game way more, and it’s sure as hell fucking with his head.” Jordie didn’t talk to him for the rest of the day.

Tyler comes over after a team night at a local bar and predictably, Jordie storms off.

“What the hell is up with him?” Tyler cuddles up to Jamie and Jamie puts a hand on his knee. It always makes Tyler inch closer and this time is no exception.

“He’s in a mood—I don’t know.” Jamie does know. Tyler keeps folding himself into Jamie’s lap. He’s still a little buzzed, but Jordie’s got him anxious. The first time he sat next to Tyler on any couch, he wasn’t this close but nearly. Close enough to touch, laughing in Jamie’s ear. Ottawa feels like a world away now, but he remembers. “Hey, can I ask you something?”

“Yeah, anything?” His voice is breathy and if Jamie weren’t already feeling so bad about himself right now, he might drop the whole thing and go along with Tyler’s plan—he usually does.

“The All-Star Game,” Jamie starts, but he doesn’t really know where he’s going with it. Tyler sits back and gives him an inquisitive look.

“What about it?”

“When we were in the locker room.”

“And you were checking me out?” Tyler gives him a coy smile and wiggles down on Jamie’s lap. Jamie feels a little sick, because yeah, he was—and then Tyler had made him feel awful for it, mentioned the guy who’d propositioned him, and Jamie had looked it up and he saw what Tyler had done and said and it’s like everything comes rushing back in one moment and his stomach plummets to his feet. He pushes Tyler back a little until he’s sitting next to Jamie, a couple inches between them.

“And you used the word ‘homo’ and you talked about that guy that hit on you.” Jamie doesn’t mean to sound like he’s still so upset about it, but maybe Jordie was on to something with his hang ups comment because Jamie realizes suddenly that he actually is still upset about it.

“Wait, I what?” Tyler looks confused.

“Before the skills competition, you were talking to someone and you said ‘no homo’ like it was so fucking awful if someone assume that about you for even a second. And then you were talking about that message you got from that boy. Acting like a huge homophobic asshole.” There’s a tinge of hysteria to his voice because how the fuck can Tyler not remember this? Jamie hasn’t forgotten at all. It’s most of the reason he wanted nothing to do with Tyler when he showed up in Dallas.

“But I was hitting on you,” Tyler’s face contorts into something Jamie can’t read. “I—the day before, the whole draft. I saw you and I thought, you were Jamie and I thought you were maybe mine, ‘cause—we played you guys right before and I got really sick after and then, then you got sick and you were Jamie.”

“What?” Now Jamie is the one not following.

“I thought maybe because of before that you could be my Jamie but, but you didn’t do anything like you felt it too and I always thought that—but then I was talking to you and I really liked you and I thought you were maybe flirting back, but suddenly you were ignoring me and I figured I said something too forward and maybe you were mad or disgusted, that you were straight.”

“But I’m not! I’m not, Tyler! And you said those things in a locker room full of strangers! In front of me, and what was I supposed to think about you after that? How do you think I felt? And why would you even, if knew that you weren’t, too?” Jamie crosses his arms.

“Jamie, I’m sorry. I was just, I was worried. And—I said it because sometimes people think things about me when they meet me and, if I bring it up first then maybe they won’t—I know it was stupid, okay? It doesn’t even make sense to me now, but—but, I thought after that, at the skills part, we were really good together!”

“I didn’t know you’d fucking outed that kid then! If I’d known, I wouldn’t have even spoken to you.”

Tyler looks like Jamie just slapped him. His breathing gets shallow and his eyes look shiny.

“Why’d you even do it in the first place, Tyler? Did you even fucking think? What if I did think it was you when I met you. What if I thought you were my Tyler and I’d sent you a message like that and you posted it up for everyone to see?”

“I wouldn’t’ve—”

“But you did! You did! You would’ve wrecked everything for me! How do you know you didn’t wreck everything for him, too?”

“I don’t.” Tyler shrinks in on himself.

“And now I’m supposed to just—just to trust you not to go and do the same thing to me!?”

“Jamie, no! I wouldn’t! I’m sorry! I’m really fucking sorry, I shouldn’t have done that. I wasn’t thinking and it was stupid and awful and I feel terrible about it and Brownie yelled at me and Jesse yelled at me and Jordie yelled me and strangers yelled at me and I wish I could undo it, Jamie. I really wish I could take it back, but I can’t.” Tyler gasps in a breath.

“I was scared when read the message and he said he could tell I was gay, too! I panicked okay? He didn’t even know me and if he could see it, I was afraid everyone could, and I wasn’t ready for people to—people I didn’t tell myself to know that about me. So I posted it so everyone would assume that—that I wasn’t. And I didn’t think about what would happen to him and it was selfish and it was so fucking stupid, Jamie. I wouldn’t ever do that again to anyone, and I wish to God I’d never done it in the first place. I’m sorry, okay? Please, why don’t you believe me?”

There’s a creak of a door and Jamie fumes, but Tyler turns to look over his shoulder, wiping his eyes furiously. Jordie cautiously steps into view.

“Hey, um. I think maybe Tyler needs to go now, yeah?” Jordie sounds calm and gentle.

“Yeah, he does,” Jamie spits.

Tyler gets up, legs wobbly, without saying any more to him, and Jordie walks him to the door. Jamie can hear him whispering quietly, more apologies to Jordie. Jordie replies with something too low for Jamie to make out and then the door is shutting and it’s just the two of them.

Jamie is fucking shaking. He’s furious and he’s hurt and he’s confused and he’s lost—fucking lost with all this.

“Well, do you feel better?” Jordie isn’t as gentle with him. He sounds mocking and annoyed.

“Yes, obviously. I feel fucking fantastic.” His chest aches with something caustic and sharp, an unwelcome aside to his fury. He presses his fingers into the pain and tries to will it down.

“Jamie—” Jordie starts, but it hangs there unfinished. He exhales loudly.

“What?” His voice is clipped.

“You really are trying your hardest to ruin this, aren’t you?”

“I’m not ruining shit. I’m trying to keep it from getting ruined.”

“Holy fuck, do you even hear yourself right now? Because that sounded like full-on fucking warfare from my angle. Did you get anything out of that? Did that answer whatever questions you had left or something? I did yell at him about that, by the way. Probably one of the first fucking talks I ever had with him, and he said the same thing to me. He could’ve lied, he didn’t know me from Adam. But he said the same. Fucking. Thing. That it was a mistake he wishes he could take back. And you sit there and think he’d lie to you? Are you crazy?”

Jamie can’t even concentrate over the agonizing bubbling in his chest. It’s practically crippling. Jordie gives him a look like he’s utterly pathetic and starts to walk off.

“That’s probably fuckin’ him, you know,” Jordie sneers and gestures to where Jamie is digging his fist into his breastbone. And then his bedroom door is slamming shut and Jamie is alone.

And this, this feeling is so much worse than the one that comes with slinking back to his own bed. He just took out on Tyler all of the anger he has at himself for being a hypocritical coward. And the more he concentrates on the burning feeling, the more Jamie can separate out two distinct voices.

Tyler feels broken in his chest, fractured bits of hurt sitting heavy in his lungs. He’d crumbled completely, and Jamie hasn’t seen him that upset since Boston—when he told Jamie how unwanted he felt. Jamie’s blood goes instantly cold.

He made Tyler feel unwanted.

He’s the worst person ever. Jamie sits in the dark in the living room for what feels like ages, wallowing in it—the tangible swamp of rejection that he just dumped on Tyler. Jamie is the reason they feel like this, Jamie is the reason Tyler feels like this. It’s a sewer in his ribs, dark and foul and agonizing.

This is his fault; not anyone else’s.

He’s dialing the number before he knows what he’s doing.

“Jamie, I can’t do this anymore tonight,” Tyler sounds small and shivery.

“I trust you. Tyler, I trust you. And I’m sorry that I ever made you think I didn’t. That I said I didn’t.” Jamie’s head is pounding.

There’s an extended silence with only Tyler’s wet ragged breathing.

“And I’m sorry that I’m ruining things,” Jamie admits.

"I just, I don’t understand how it is that you keep hurting me and I keep letting you. It’s only with you, you know. There’s not another person on this earth I’d let treat me like you do.”

Jamie exhales, but doesn’t say anything.

“I’ve loved you since I was ten years old, and nothing is going to change that. But I can’t put myself in this position anymore, not even for you. It’s too hard to have you for a second and then lose you the next, and it’s not fair. ‘Cause, I’m starting to think that I never really had you at all. I know that I’m a fuckup okay, and I’ve done some really shitty stuff, but that doesn’t mean I deserve—I’m not your punching bag, Jamie. You don’t get to decide everything for us. So, you need to figure out—either, either you want to do this with me for real or you don’t, but I won’t do this back and forth anymore.”

Jamie feels gutted. “I know.”

“You know what?”

“I’m taking the wrong parts. I’m-I’m,” Jamie has to pause and wipe his eyes. “You're right. I’m—this is really scary for me. And you’re the one who has to keep being patient and brave and instead of being grateful I’m just, I’m doing it all wrong and it’s not fair to you. It’s not fair to only offer pieces to you when you—you deserve the whole thing. And you’re not a fuckup, okay? You’re not.”

“It’s scary for me too, you know. It’s not like we get a do-over on our names.”

“But—I don’t want a do over, Tyler. I’m happy it’s you; I don’t want it to be anyone else.”

“I—me either.” Tyler sounds guardedly hopeful and it breaks Jamie’s heart, but that ache is all his own. “So where does this leave us?”

Jamie sniffles. “At the beginning. Starting now, starting with I am so sorry Tyler that I made you think I didn’t want you or that I didn’t trust you. I do, so much that it’s completely overwhelming and, that’s the part that you deserve.”

“Well, now who’s being brave,” but Tyler’s laugh still sounds broken at the edges.

“You are worth it, okay? You are to me, too.” And he hopes Tyler can hear how much he means it.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Tyler jerks when he hears a door opening and he kind of forgot the world was bigger than this couch for a moment.

“Hey, um. I think maybe Tyler needs to go now, yeah?” Jordie gives him a long look.

“Yeah, he does.” Jamie sounds disgusted by him and Tyler wants to disappear. He wills himself to stand, but everything is sore and cracked and he has to concentrate on each step to keep from giving up.

Jordie pushes Tyler toward the door and it feels like he’s being dismissed again. Tyler is about five seconds away from collapsing because it’s Jordie—Jordie feels like Tyler’s brother sometimes. Like he’s supposed to love him no matter what, even when Jamie can’t. But, yeah, maybe he should’ve seen this coming because the Benns are a package deal and now the whole floor has been pulled out from under him and—

Tyler hears himself talking, but doesn’t have control over the words. Jordie grabs his shoulders and squeezes enough to get him to shut up.

“Tyler. Yes, you fucked up, we know that. You know that. But no, you don’t deserve to lose all trust forever because of it. And he doesn’t get to treat you like this just because his name is on your body.”

Tyler snuffles and tries to breathe; Jordie fists a hand in the hair at the back of his head and forces him to look him in the eye. Jordie looks manic, fury and pity and so many things that Tyler doesn’t want to see from a guy he thinks of as his own big brother.

“Go home, go to sleep. I’ll come get you before practice, okay? Just me. You understand?”

Tyler nods and Jordie lets go, then he’s being hustled out the door. He meanders down the staircase to his door, wiping silent tears and trying not to feel the boiling hurt in his chest.

He’s angry with himself for fucking up and part of him wonders if he deserves this because of it—deserves to have Jamie take the things he wants and then push him away. But, Jordie said. Jordie said that Jamie doesn’t get to do that just because he’s Jamie. Tyler tries to let that sink in. He tries to imagine that Jamie were anyone else making him feel like this.

When Tyler gets back, he cuddles with Marshall and feels downright pathetic when he lets him lick the tears off his face. The revelation actually makes him roll his eyes, and he laughs at himself until Marshall is wagging his tale and barking gently.

When he’s calm enough, he sorts through his thoughts. Tyler’s always been a guy who needs time to put himself together before he can express himself. He knows how he feels and what he thinks, and he knows right from wrong, but sometimes he needs a minute to process and articulate it. It’s gotten him in trouble more than a few times, and he’s been accused of shutting down, avoiding confrontation, or trying to escalate things. But that’s not it at all; he just needs a moment to find the right words.

Without Jamie staring him down, Tyler can figure out all the things that he should have said. He settles himself and concentrates on what he wants, how to tell Jamie what he needs.

When the phone rings later, he almost doesn’t answer, but now all the things he wants to say are on the tip of his tongue and Jordie is right, it’s not okay. So Tyler answers, and he tells Jamie everything.

He feels better after hanging up, marginally optimistic —he hopes that’s not stupid of him.

Jordie comes over the next day, much earlier than Tyler was expecting. He’s apparently been there a while before he even thinks to wake Tyler up because he’s already made breakfast and brewed coffee.

“Get dressed and come eat. All the way dressed—underwear only is not suitable for company.”

“You’re not company,” Tyler mumbles as he tries to wake himself up the rest of the way. “Company is invited.”

“I invited myself, that’s good enough.” Jordie flicks him in the bottom of the foot and then heads back to the kitchen.

Tyler joins him a few minutes later in shorts and a sweatshirt, which he makes a point to model to Jordie’s sarcastic applause.

“I already took Marshall out. He’s a terrible guard dog by the way. I could’ve robbed you blind by now.”

Marshall wags his tail when he hears his name and Tyler reaches down to pet him before getting himself some coffee and slumping down at the dining table. Jordie sets down a plate with an omelet and toast in front of Tyler and then gets one for himself.

“So, are we gonna talk about any of that?” Jordie cuts right to the chase and Tyler frowns down at his eggs but doesn’t speak.

“Listen, I love Jamie, obviously. But he’s an idiot. Ever since we were little he’s been paranoid about what people think about him or might do to him or something. He needs to be the one in control; it’s how he feels safe. It’s always been hard for him to look beyond his comfort zone. And it’s not just with you, it’s with everyone. Me, our parents, Jenny.”

Jordie takes a bite of toast and chews slowly. Tyler picks apart his meal with his fork. He can’t decide if it makes him feel better or worse that Jamie is treating him like he apparently treats everyone else.

“Hockey is the only thing Jamie’s ever wanted; to him it’s the only thing he’s ever even been good at. That’s not true, but if you asked him to describe himself, the first thing he’d say is he’s a hockey player. Even when we were little it’s the thing he wanted most. When his name came in, we didn’t think—he didn’t think he would be able to do it.”

Jordie starts ripping his toast into little pieces.

“And we all kind of reinforced it, accidentally. Made him think he had to choose between having his mate and hockey.”

“And he picked hockey,” Tyler deduces.

“I think he’s still convinced that it’s going to get taken away. And maybe it will, none of us can promise that it won’t be you know? You guys’d be the first.”

“I know.”

“But maybe it won’t. Not everyone is out there to get you two. But Jamie,” he sighs. “The worst part is that you can show him as much as you want that you can be trusted, but he still doesn’t always—like I think he needs to be told sometimes, in addition. And it sucks, because it feels like well, what the fuck do you think I’ve been doing your whole life, you know? But that’s just how he is.”

“Oh.” Tyler thinks back the phone call; Jamie had sounded like he was genuinely sorry.

“When we played together, that first year we were on the Grizzlies, I remember it was his first fight—even though you weren’t allowed to fight then, and he got tossed. Because some guy, in a scrum, implied that he and this other kid on our team were—you know. The other kid unfortunately happened to be named Tyler and so Jamie thought that meant that the guy knew what his wrist said—of course the guy didn’t know, he was just trying to get under Jamie’s skin. But to Jamie, he didn’t see it that way. He figured well, obviously someone must’ve told the guy or how would he have known? He asked me if I had, accused me really.”

Jordie puts his elbow on the table and rests his chin in his hand. He looks hurt, and Tyler takes a bite of his food to give Jordie a minute.

“Anyway. I just wanted you to know that, it’s not just you that he’s like that with. But also, how he’s acting, the way he’s treating you. It’s absolutely unfair. I would never try to tell you two how to manage your relationship but, Tyler, what this is right now is not a relationship. And you’re getting hurt and he’s getting hurt and it’s not good for anyone.”

“I know. I—he called me. Last night, after.”

“Yeah?”

Tyler nods. “I told him he had to choose. That we either were going to do this all the way or no way, because I hate having him and then giving him up and it’s just. He’s Jamie, you know?”

“Yeah, I know.”

“But, he said, he said that we could do it all in. That I’m worth being brave for.”

Jordie quirks a smile and it makes Tyler feel better, like Jamie wasn’t lying or just saying what he thought Tyler wanted to hear.

“I never told him this because it seemed kind of selfish to say when he was so distressed sometimes, but I was always really excited. Like, I was gonna get to have two extra brothers when I grew up. And Jamie and I were really close and he’s obviously my best friend still, but even then. I figured that Tyler was going to be awesome because Jamie was awesome. So, I got really used to that idea, of you being in my life, too. And you're supposed to be,” Jordie reaches over and wraps his hand around Tyler’s guard. “You’re supposed to be in our lives, okay? That means a lot to me.”

Jordie pats him once before letting go, reaching to take a sip of his coffee.

“I think Jamie knows that, too. But, even if—if things are too hard for him right now? I still really like having you around. And I don’t want you to think that what he decides for himself is what I’m expecting too.”

Tyler bites his lips to try and hide the smile threatening to take over his face.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie wants to see Tyler first thing but Jordie won’t let him.

“You need to step back for a second. Let him decompress. I already told him I was taking him to practice. Maybe you can take him home, but that’s his call,” Jordie scolds him.

“Yeah, okay.” Jamie busies himself until he can’t stand it anymore and heads to Frisco early.

Jamie has felt a lot of things about Tyler, both before and after knowing him; terrified was never one of those things until today. He’s petrified that he’s wrecked things, that Tyler won’t forgive him. That even after their conversation last night, Tyler will decide that Jamie missed his chance.

Tyler and Jordie arrive a good thirty minutes after Jamie’s already showed up, hit the bikes for a brief warmup, and started dressing for the ice. He tries to calm himself down, make sure he looks normal, but all he wants to do is hug Tyler until he’s sure that he’s not gone for good.

“Hi,” it comes out in a fractured squeak and Jamie flushes in humiliation.

“Hey,” Tyler plops down beside him, as sunny as always, elbowing him gently in the side.

“I-I’m…” Jamie sighs. “Tyler.”

“Hey, we can talk later, okay?” Tyler pats him on the arm.

“Yeah. D’you need a ride back? I mean, I can take you if that’s okay.”

“Sure. That would be great.”

It’s probably the first practice that Jamie half-asses in his life, but he can’t wait for it to end, get Tyler alone and be able to talk to him in person. He rushes though his cool down exercises, through his shower, dresses so fast that his hair ends up dripping water all over the collar of his shirt.

But it’s worth it. In the forty minute drive back to the apartment—Jamie might be going a little under the speed limit most of the way, and he might accidentally slow down for several yellow lights, just afford them more time to talk—Jamie apologizes. They talk enough that Jamie is able to reassure himself that he hasn’t wrecked things for good, and that Tyler still wants him. Jamie sets out to prove that he can be worth it.

“I haven’t done this relationship thing before,” Jamie confesses, because it feels like a good thing for Tyler to know, even if it does embarrass him to admit.

“It’s not all that different than what we had. Before, I mean.” Tyler doesn’t need to clarify for Jamie to know what he means—before they knew. Back when it was easy conversation and cuddling and teasing. If it’s all that with sex on the side, Jamie thinks he could be pretty good at it. It’s just combining the two parts of Tyler he’s already had.

“I want to do it right. Just, help me make sure that we’re doing it right.” Jamie reaches over the console and grabs Tyler’s hand. When he squeezes back, Jamie thinks they’ll be okay.

They leave for a road trip the next day, Winnipeg and the Pennsylvania teams, and drop all three games badly. The guys go out after the gutting loss to the Jets and Tyler starts off the night hanging on Jamie as usual. When it starts to get to the point when Tyler normally would slink off to bother someone else, Jamie holds his hand under the table. In Philly, he rubs Tyler’s knee.

Tyler still flirts with the other guys, but not strangers anymore. Jordie is used to shrugging Tyler off him and pointing him at Jamie to worry about. The other guys pick up the habit pretty quickly, too. It’s not until Horc is depositing Tyler in Jamie’s lap and he sees Tyler wink that he figures out it’s on purpose. Jamie puts an arm around his waist.

Things settle on the ice when they get back to Dallas. They climb above .500 and stay there, with the playoff push coming, that’s a nice place to be sitting. The two of them are playing their best hockey together since the start of the season when they were raking in the points.

Jordie stops running off to his room when Tyler comes over in the evenings. They fall back into a comfortable routine, but now Jamie cuddles Tyler back—like he wanted to before but didn’t allow himself. He likes how touchy Tyler is, always has, and it’s so much better when he lets himself enjoy it.

They’re hanging out on a Friday night, watching the end of the Canes and Hawks game. Tyler has been pressed up against Jamie’s side for most of the third period, knees bent over into his lap, head on his shoulder. Jamie keeps an arm around him to make sure he stays close. When Jordie gets up to put away the leftover pasta from dinner, Jamie looks down at Tyler. He waits for him to notice and then kisses him.

He feels bad when he pulls back and Tyler actually looks surprised. That’s not how he’s supposed to look after Jamie kisses him—so he does it again. He does it over and over until Jordie gets back and it’s too embarrassing to keep making out in front of his brother. But it’s not because he’s embarrassed of Tyler. It feels good to realize that.

The last break between games comes the following week and Jamie asks Tyler if he can come over and make him dinner.

“You cook?”

“Well, I mean. I can read a recipe.”

As it turns out, Jamie can’t read a recipe. He doesn’t think to shop for what he might need beforehand and stupidly tries to cover up his mistake by substituting the things that he and Tyler actually have in their kitchens. It might have been edible if Jamie hadn’t been confused about the difference between the Bake setting and Broil setting and ruined the whole thing that way.

“Fuck, that was stupid!” Jamie rereads the damned recipe for a third time after taking the burned chicken out of the oven and flipping on the overhead fan. Tyler keeps giving him endeared little looks that make Jamie feel even more like a failure.

“Well, my mom taught me how to do laundry over Skype when I was in Switzerland—and I never got the hang of the dishwasher, so. The fact you even managed to defrost the chicken is impressive to me.” Tyler stands up on his toes and kisses Jamie’s nose.

“Ugh. Well, I’m sorry. This was supposed to be a nice, time-to-get-ready-to-make-the-playoffs meal. Something we did as, you know.” Jamie feels his face flush, “as a couple.”

Tyler ends up ordering them take-out—the healthiest they can find that’s still open—and Jamie swears him to secrecy over the change of plans.

“You can tell Jordie in no less than seven years. Hopefully by then I will have redeemed myself.”

They end the night with Netflix and cuddling with Marshall on Tyler’s couch. Tyler keeps twirling Jamie’s hair between his fingers, tugging occasionally to move his head in order to kiss him. He climbs nearly into Jamie’s lap instead of just tucking against him and Jamie lets him, pulls Tyler even closer and doesn’t try to hide the subtle quickening of his breath.

It feels like they’re racing in the same direction, in the same car, without acknowledging the other is beside them; but it’s exciting and it feels new and secret, and even though Jamie has seen Tyler naked before—even though they’ve gotten each other off—they haven’t had sex yet. It’s the feeling of the inevitability that gives Jamie chills when Tyler exhales against his neck.

Tyler asks him quietly if they can take their guards off, timidly like he thinks Jamie is going to shoot him down.

“Yeah, we can do that.” Jamie makes quick work of his own, angling his body away from Tyler out of habit as his fingers work the lock. Tyler’s got his off first, tossing it on the coffee table but keeping his eyes averted to give Jamie privacy. Jamie sets his beside Tyler’s. They half-watch the television, but Tyler is distracted by Jamie’s wrist and Jamie is distracted by the way Tyler is tracing the letters. It’s a different kind of intimacy.

“You know, you could stay over. There’s nothing we’ve got going on tomorrow.” Tyler bites his lip as he crooks his neck to look up at Jamie.

Jamie knows that, it’s most of the reason he’d picked tonight for a date night. He kisses Tyler gently in answer, but things escalate quickly from there and Tyler moves until he’s straddling Jamie’s thighs. He keeps his hands threaded through Jamie’s hair, moving him where he wants him to deepen the kiss.

Jamie sinks back into the couch and lets Tyler direct for a while. They’re in no rush and Jamie loves the slow build in Tyler’s movements. He licks his way into Jamie’s mouth and darts back playfully, almost daring Jamie to chase him, sitting back with an impish grin. When Jamie’s had enough of the teasing, he reels Tyler in, kisses him with a bite to his bottom lip in warning and feels Tyler melt into it.

They make out, trading slow, languid kisses until Tyler is rocking his hips, pressing down against where Jamie is already straining at the front of his jeans. When he sinks lower, Tyler whimpers into Jamie’s mouth.

Each time they pull back to catch their breath, Tyler buries his face in Jamie’s neck and Jamie has to push on his shoulders in order to look at him. He looks wrecked, eyes wide and dark, a deep flush settled high on his cheekbones. He’s gorgeous like this, Jamie thinks.

He wraps his hands around Tyler’s hipbones and pulls him lower, rolling his hips up to meet the motion. Jamie watches Tyler’s mouth fall open, his tongue darting out to flick against his lips, like he can’t help it.

“Ty,” Jamie’s voice is rough. “C’mon.”

“Yeah?” Tyler looks devastatingly hopeful, like he can’t believe Jamie is thinking the same thing and it’s overwhelming.

Jamie hefts him up by the waist in one quick movement, standing with him until they’re pressed chest to chest. Jamie thinks Tyler’s eyes get even darker at that and he can feel him, hard and insistent when he rocks forward against Jamie to get closer.

They undress each other with fumbling movements as they try to stay touching all the way to Tyler’s bedroom. It’s even harder when Marshall decides to follow them, weaving around their legs, his tail flicking like a whip.

“No, go lie down in your bed,” Tyler laughs, breathless as Jamie steadies him with one arm and tries to shove his jeans down with the other. “Go on, good boy—oh.” Jamie cups Tyler’s ass and squeezes.

Eventually, they end up alone in the bedroom, door safely shut, mostly undressed save for Jamie’s underwear which Tyler is carefully pulling off the moment they flop down on the mattress.

“Off, off. C’mon Jamie.” Tyler lets him take over, going back to nosing at his neck and kissing his collarbones.

As soon as Jamie’s kicked them off, he pushes Tyler until he’s on his back with Jamie curled up next to him on his side. He’ll never get tired of rubbing his hands over Tyler’s abs.

“You’re seriously the hottest person I’ve—” Jamie starts, but cuts himself off when he realizes how embarrassing that sounds. Tyler doesn’t tease him though, he just arcs his back to push against Jamie’s palm even more. For as much as a rush he seemed before, Tyler lets Jamie touch.

Jamie allows his hand to wander, over the stretch of Tyler’s thigh, down the length of his inked arms, over his ribs, back to the cut muscles of his stomach.

“Please, Jamie.” Tyler thrusts his hips again and grabs at Jamie’s shoulder like he can pull him to where he wants him.

Jamie leans down to kiss him as he takes Tyler’s cock in his hand and strokes. Tyler’s whole body curls into him, hips moving to fuck into Jamie’s fist and maybe they’ve been teasing too long because just seeing Tyler fall apart like that is making Jamie leak precome over Tyler’s leg.

“Do you have stuff?” Jamie pants into Tyler’s open mouth and Tyler scrambles to get it from the nightstand, shuffling back next to Jamie with lube and a condom.

“Come on, Jamie. I swear I’ve been thinking about this since—god since forever.”

“I know, you told me when I was in Russia.” Jamie reminds him with a sly smile, tucking the condom under his side and taking the lube. He shivers when he remembers one of his favorites of the voicemails Tyler left him—the way he sounded, the way he’d narrated fucking himself open on his fingers, how bad he wanted it to be Jamie spreading him open like that.

Jamie slides his left arm under Tyler’s shoulders, splaying a hand on his shoulder blade and pulling him in to kiss him again, fucking into his mouth with his tongue.

“I want to, like this,” Tyler pants, rutting against Jamie’s stomach.

“Like…?” They’re face-to-face on their sides and Jamie isn’t sure he could get much leverage like this, but Tyler hikes his left leg up on Jamie’s hip, sliding it higher and higher, inching up until his calf is hooked almost over Jamie’s right shoulder. He folds himself neatly, eyes trained on Jamie as he does.

“Does this work?”

Jamie hooks his elbow under Tyler’s leg to hold him there and looks down the length of their bodies, at the way their cocks are perfectly aligned and Tyler’s spread open wide. Jamie rubs his right hand down the length of Tyler’s spine, between his cheeks and over his hole.

“I—yeah. This is perfect, fuck, Ty.” Jamie will make it work, for this view, he’s willing to try.

“That’s what I’m hoping for,” Tyler smiles, all teeth and dimples that make Jamie’s heart clench.

He fumbles for the lube, opening it up behind Tyler’s back and slicking up his fingers. He makes sure Tyler is comfortable like this before he reaches down to rub over his entrance with his fingertip.

“Yeah, this is exactly how I—I like you holding me.”

Jamie slips one finger in easily. He has a lot more control than he’d expected and Tyler keens when he goes deep without any resistance. He’s able to add a second without much extra work and carefully works them apart and together, stretching slowly.

“I—Jamie. If, if I come like this, I still—you should still fuck me,” Tyler grunts into Jamie’s chest, pressing sloppy kisses everywhere he can reach. Jamie looks down and Tyler seems embarrassed to be so close already.

“You sure?” He pushes his fingers in deeper, twisting them around until Tyler clenches down on him and his mouth drops open with a broken noise. Jamie curls his fingers again in the same way, rubs against his prostate, easing back only when Tyler starts to get too tight around his fingers.

“Yeah, f’you keep doing that then it’s not gonna be—” he doesn’t finish his sentence and Jamie doesn’t press him. He slowly adds a third finger, pulling Tyler closer to kiss him as he does. Jamie quickly discovers how much he loves feeling Tyler moan against his lips.

When he’s confident Tyler is relaxed enough around three of his fingers, Jamie starts with a steady rhythm, fucking him slowly on them.

“Fuck, fuck. Oh, fuck, Jamie.” Tyler writhes against him, trapped close to Jamie’s chest by the arm still wrapped behind him. He thrusts up against Jamie in a sloppy pace that rubs his cock against Jamie’s stomach, the crook of his hips.

Jamie wants to see him fall apart like this, see if he can make Tyler come on his fingers like Tyler had on the voicemail. How sweet he sounded when he let go, Jamie’s name on his lips. Jamie grunts remembering it.

He works his fingers a little deeper until can press into Tyler’s prostate on each thrust. Tyler comes with a surprised yelp, biting down on Jamie’s collarbone as he spills hot between them without warning. Jamie slows his fingers, but keeps up with a gentle slide, feeling Tyler’s body clench and unclench around him desperately.

“Yeah, Ty. Fuck, you’re so pretty,” Jamie relaxes his hold to look down at him. His face is pink and sweaty, eyes shut tight and mouth open, shaky wet breaths escaping. There’s come over both their stomachs, though most of it ended up on Jamie. He presses on Tyler’s prostate once more experimentally and watches as his dick jerks, another bead of come pulsing from the tip.

Tyler’s eyes crack open slowly and Jamie feels a little guilty at the swell of pride in him that he put that dazed look on his face. Jamie pulls his fingers out gently, kissing at the furrow of Tyler’s brow when he does. Tyler collapses on his back, still clinging tight to Jamie’s shoulders.

“Jesus that was, oh my god,” Tyler chuckles airily and lolls his head to the side. “You gonna fuck me now or what?” Jamie snorts.

“Are you sure you want to right after you—”

“Am I sure? It’s the best right after, I—” Tyler blushes. “It’s like I can feel it more. Everything’s all sensitive and it’s like sparks up my spine.” His hips jerk again subtly and he licks his lips. “Is that okay?”

“Yeah, of course that’s—of course.” Jamie nods, probably manically because Tyler is smirking at him.

He pulls the condom out from underneath his side and Tyler watches him open it and roll it on.
Jamie crawls between Tyler’s spread legs and slides his hips up the ramp of his thighs, the head of his cock brushing against Tyler’s hole—pink and open still from Jamie’s fingers.

“C’mere, I wanna kiss you,” Tyler reaches up with grabbing hands and Jamie goes easily. He reaches down to line himself up as Tyler licks into his mouth. Jamie pulls back to watch him when he pushes in. He wants to remember this. He wants to see Tyler’s face.

Jamie pushes in slowly. Tyler is looser, but it’s a stretch the last inch and Jamie doesn’t know he’s holding his breath until he’s bottoming out and realizes that’s him gasping for air.

Tyler. Tyler.”

Jamie tries not to crush Tyler as he moves but Tyler keeps pulling him closer and closer until he knows that he must be bearing most of Jamie’s weight. Tyler seems to like it that way though, so eventually Jamie stop trying to sit back and lets him. He already knows he won’t be winning any awards for stamina, but each long, slow glide makes Tyler shudder and tighten around him and he’s wild for it.

“Jamie, Jamie,” Tyler keeps sighing his name and pushing back against him. “God, Jamie, please.”

Jamie moves faster until his hips are snapping against the backs of Tyler’s thighs and he’s so close to letting go. There’s sweat beading across his forehead and back and he shivers when the air hits him just right. His hair is a mess, flopping down in his eyes and across Tyler’s forehead where they’re touching. Tyler keeps reaching up to brush it back.

“Tyler, I’m gonna,” and the sentence dies somewhere in his throat because Tyler is nipping at his earlobe and murmuring low and sweet.

“C’mon, I wanna feel you come, Jamie.” Tyler pushes his shoulders and Jamie sits back enough that he can see Tyler’s face, open and awestruck. And that’s all it takes to push him over, thrusting erratically as he comes hard, eyes locked with Tyler’s the whole time.

This isn’t the first time Jamie’s had sex, not by a long shot, but it’s the first time that he’s felt exposed by it, like Tyler can feel what he’s thinking. It’s the best kind of scared Jamie’s ever felt.

He collapses on Tyler when he can’t hold himself up any longer, letting the warm feeling blooming in his chest bleed into his limbs.

“D’you feel that, too?” Tyler sounds small and hesitant beneath him and Jamie rolls off slowly, feeling himself slip out. He looks down at where Tyler is touching the center of his torso, then back to his eyes, wet and wide with cautious amazement. “Is that you?”

Which would make Tyler the warmth in his chest, the affectionate wave of calm washing over him. “Is it a good feeling?” Jamie asks cautiously. He’s happy, he knows that he is, but it doesn’t mean he isn’t still worried that his wires are crossed or something.

“It’s—I’m,” Tyler frowns and Jamie’s stomach drops for a moment. “It’s amazing,” Tyler finally settles on, pulling Jamie down to kiss him again.

They clean up in comfortably quiet, though Tyler keeps glancing over at Jamie like he wants to say something.

“You’re gonna stay, right?” Tyler eventually asks, averting his eyes. Jamie doesn’t think he could leave now if he was expected to; all he can do is nod.

Tyler cuddles up to him, beaming.

When Jamie wakes up in the morning, his chest is still fluttering—an indistinguishable happy pulse that makes him smile; Tyler is asleep, curled up beside him with a sheen of sweat dotting his brow. He’s hot everywhere they’re touching and Jamie nearly forgot how Tyler becomes a furnace when he sleeps. He pulls the comforter down to cool them off and wraps his arm around Tyler’s back.

He almost reaches for his phone to check the time, but changes his mind. He doesn’t have to rush off this time, and they don’t have anywhere to go. They can just be—it’s wonderful and Jamie doesn’t think he’s been this happy in his life.

And he feels normal. Not close to it, not almost. Completely.

Chapter Text

Jamie thinks the best part about being in a relationship with Tyler is the way that Tyler smiles at him every time he sees him, like Jamie is something to smile about.

Jamie thinks the worst part about being in a relationship with Tyler is that he’s petrified of losing it. Jamie’s conditioned himself to be protective of things that he’s scared to lose, but Tyler isn’t predictable like hockey is. He’s not something that Jamie can train in and strategize about, that he can pour his energy into like he does with the sport.

And the thing is, Jamie doesn’t know if he’s got it in him to put as much into Tyler as he does into hockey. He feels awful about admitting that to himself, but hockey is still important—hell, it’s just about the only thing Jamie’s ever been good at in his life. It’s comfortable, he knows what he’s doing there.

He’s not exactly practiced at being part of a couple and sometimes he fucks it up. He can usually tell, when Tyler’s face falls and he goes uncharacteristically quiet, and Jamie spends the rest of the night in his own head worrying about what he did or what he said, and how he can do it better next time—like a hockey play he’s trying to get right.

He knows he’s trying though, he hopes that Tyler can tell.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

When Tyler was younger and his parents would fight when they thought he couldn’t hear them, he would run to his room, sit on the floor of his closet, and trace Jamie’s name. It felt good to know that no matter what happened to his mom and dad, Tyler had a name, something that couldn’t get taken away. He had a person out there who was born to love him—someone who didn’t just have to because they were family.

He felt safe and special.

“What was it like for you, when your name came in?” Tyler idly traces over the letters on Jamie’s wrist, curled up beside him in bed. He enjoys how it never fails to make Jamie shiver.

“I cried.”

Tyler isn’t prepared for the way the answer makes him feel.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

The Stars have a five game road trip coming up and then four more games after that to close out the season, and with a playoff spot on the line, it’s all business.

Jamie institutes a no-sleepovers rule that Tyler doesn’t actually fight him on, but there’s a little pushback when he adds that there will be an additional no-sex stipulation should they manage to get into the playoffs.

“Like the whole time?”

Jamie nods.

“You know sometimes they go until like, mid-June!”

“God willing,” Jamie shrugs.

They come back from the trip with only six of the ten points and normally Jamie would feel pretty good about that takeaway, but the Stars are still shy of a guaranteed playoff appearance and things are tense all around. Jamie and Jordie snap at each other more than usual, Tyler seems lost at times, and Jamie is becoming increasingly frustrated with the uncertainty and the prospect of facing yet another April on the golf course.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

He doesn’t even really remember how they got to this point, but Tyler is about five seconds away from punching a wall—or Jamie—whichever is closest to him first.

Sometimes Tyler thinks that Jamie wants him to apologize for something—he gets sulky when Tyler talks about his buddies and the stuff they got up to when he was younger. Tyler knows Jamie is shy, that he has only a small group of guys that he considers friends, and that all of them were friends with Jordie first and him second.

Initially, Tyler assumes Jamie is just a little jealous of the fact that he’s always had his boys, but he’s starting to feel like it’s evolved into something else when Jamie cuts in with snide comments that Tyler doesn’t know how to take.

Things like ‘I bet it was nice for you, not having to wear a guard everywhere you went.’ ‘Pretty lucky for you there were so many female Jamies out there.’

It fucking hurts to hear Jamie like that. Tyler tries to ask questions about what it was like for him, he wanted to know if Jamie ever thought about him the way he’d thought about Jamie. Those conversations never go the way Tyler hopes they will and he eventually stops asking. It’s hard to keep pretending that the gutted feeling Jamie’s stories leave him with doesn’t mean anything.

He tries to ignore it most of the time—Tyler is a pretty patient guy and he’s come to realize that Jamie’s ego is startlingly more fragile than Tyler’s own. Jamie can be a difficult person, and he doesn’t really know how to see two sides of things. Jordie says it’s because he’s never tried and no one has ever made him.

“He’s the baby,” Jordie had said. “He’s used to getting his way.”

Tyler tries to be understanding, but sometimes it catches him in a bad mood, strikes him as intentionally combative, or just rubs him the wrong fucking way and Tyler wants to fight back.

Jamie was driving them back to their building after a lunch out and something they’d seen had reminded Tyler of a time when Brownie had visited him in Brampton. Jamie wasn’t really listening, but had made some sarcastic comment that Tyler wasn’t in the mood for. Sometime between the freeway exit and the front door to Tyler’s apartment, things had escalated significantly.

“I don’t know why you always act like this has been so fucking easy for me!” Tyler screams so loud that Marshall goes skittering off into the guestroom to hide.

“Because it wasn’t the same, Ty! It wasn’t like how it was for me!”

Tyler kicks off his shoes toward the doorway and they nearly hit Jamie in the shins. Jamie scowls and slams the front door.

“You don’t know that, Jamie! All you know is what I’ve told you, because you’ve never asked. I know all about how it was for you. I know how fucking miserable and sad and resentful you were of me for even having the nerve to exist, okay? I know that you felt guilty because your brother and sister had to hide like you, for no good reason.”

Tyler balls his fists at his sides to keep from throwing punches like he wants to. He continues.

“I know all that shit because it’s all you talk about. When I ask about what it was like growing up, all I hear is how shitty I made things. Have you thought about how that fucking makes me feel?”

“I—,” Jamie starts.

“You haven’t, have you? You don’t even care. It wasn’t so much fucking fun for me either, okay? Maybe I never had to hide it the same, but I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone that you might have been guy or my parents got pissed. For the longest time I didn’t even fucking know if you were a guy and I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it. The only person I thought I had out there who would understand all that was you.

“I know I’ve fucked up in the past, okay? I know it better than anyone because I’m still fucking standing in the fallout of it, and if part of you wants to hate me for that forever you have every right to. But Jamie, Jamie. You can’t hate me for things that I didn’t do. I hate that you had to hide, I hate that I took away your chance just to be a kid and have fun and pitch fucking baseball like you wanted or hang out with your teammates. But I didn’t do that to you. This isn’t going to work if you hold that over me.”

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie—

Jamie feels like shit. He doesn’t want Tyler to think that part of Jamie is going to hate him, or that he even for a second deserves someone who is going to hate him forever for something he did once in a moment of fear and impulsivity.

Fuck, if that were true, Jamie deserves for Tyler to hate him ten times over. And he doesn’t. And Jamie doesn’t. And Tyler is standing in front of him looking like he doesn’t know if he should scream or cry or both.

“I don’t hate you. I don’t hate you for anything.”

“Then stop acting like it! You think just because of how I am now that I didn’t worry about the same things as you when I was younger? That there aren’t a thousand fucking people in the world who felt the same? You’re not alone, okay? You weren’t then and you’re not now.”

“I know.” Jamie does know, is the thing. He’s heard this before. “I know that I’m not.”

“You said that we’d start from the beginning, that’s what I want. But the beginning of us. Not all the way back to who I was to you before you even knew me. That’s not fair. Things sucked, I’m sure. But they sucked for me, too. And the point is that they aren’t supposed to now because we have each other.”

Tyler slumps against the back of his couch and Jamie moves slowly, inching to sit next to him. He expects Tyler won’t let him, but he does—moves closer to him even. Jamie probably doesn’t deserve someone so damned patient with him.

“I do want to know what it was like for you,” Tyler glances at him earnestly. “Because it makes me think I can make sure everything from now on is awesome. Like, I want you to think this was worth it, you know? I do.”

Jamie rests his hand on Tyler’s and exhales when he laces their fingers together.

Jamie looks down at his feet. “I always felt like I wanted to protect you, wherever you were. And I feel like shit that I’m the person I should have protected you from.”

“Jamie, that’s not—that’s not at all what I’m saying, okay? We just need to be more understanding. We’re different people, we’re always going to be different people. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

“I don’t either,” Jamie’s voice shakes.

Tyler asks about Jamie a lot, when he was a kid, what he was like. Jamie doesn’t remember the last time he asked Tyler anything about when he was younger. Sometimes he asks about Boston, but it usually has to do with hockey. He feels guilty.

“Can you tell me about your parents?” Jamie swallows hard.

“My family really,” Tyler sighs. And Jamie has vague recollections of Tyler crying in his room in Boston, feeling unwanted at home, and his heart aches so sharply remembering because Tyler has been trying to tell him this for so long. Jamie just wasn’t listening.

“I talked about you a lot. When I got my name, it was really exciting. My parents were fighting a lot and—my mom never had a name come in all the way, and my dad wouldn’t ever talk about his. Like, my mom’s name was on him, but I don’t think it was her writing, I never asked—but anyway. It was about a year before they split up and I was really happy because I’d always been afraid that maybe I wouldn’t get one. It came in when I was ten, and no one else in my whole grade even had a mark yet and I thought that, Jamie must really love me if they’re coming so early.”

“They?” Jamie looks at him curiously. It’s something he’s noticed before, as well—when Tyler talks about him, the time before they knew each other, he calls him ‘they’.

“I didn’t know. I’d known girls and guys named Jamie and I thought it could be anyone. When I got older and I started being attracted to people and stuff, I thought maybe I’d figure it out then. But turns out, it wasn’t any clearer then either. So I always said ‘they’ because I thought it wouldn’t be cool to decide what you were before you could show me.”

“That must’ve been confusing,” Jamie tries to imagine it for himself.

“Well, it made sense to me. But my mom—I said that I’d talked about you a lot, but when my mom called you a ‘she’ and I corrected her, she wasn’t really happy about it. I tried a few times after that to tell her that you could be a boy too, and she started getting mad. By then my dad moved out, and when I told him, like I thought he would be on my side,” Tyler scoffs and looks down at where they’re still holding hands.

“My dad was even madder than she was. He said if it was true that Jamie was a boy then I couldn’t play hockey anymore, he wouldn’t pay for me to do it. I think maybe he just wanted to scare me, so I would stop saying it, but I heard them once when they were on the phone. I knew they were talking about me so I picked up the other line to listen, and they were blaming each other for it. That I was confused because my mom didn’t have a proper name or that my dad went against his so I didn’t understand. That if I was gay or didn’t understand, it was because of something they did or didn’t do—not because it’s actually how I felt.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Jamie, I don’t want you to be sorry, I want you understand. It’s okay that we felt differently about our names, we only had our own situations to go by, you know? But that doesn’t mean that you were alone or I was alone or one of us had it so much worse and there’s no way we can relate to each other. Things were different, yeah, and we both went through shit that sucked. But it all led us here. And things are good here.”

“Yeah. They are.” Jamie brings their joined hands up and kisses Tyler’s palm before wrapping him into a hug.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jenny comes to visit just before the end of the season. Jordie and Jamie both pick her up from the airport and she holds off mentioning the elephant in the room until they’re about a mile from the apartment.

“So I’m gonna get to meet Tyler right? Because Dad got to meet Tyler and so it’s not fair if I come all the way out here and I don’t get to meet him, too.”

“You’ve seen Tyler,” Jamie blushes.

“Yeah—on TV, Fats. That’s not the same.”

“And here we thought you were coming to see us,” Jordie pouts.

“Oh, shut up Darth. I see the two of you plenty.”

“On TV, Fiver, that’s not the same,” Jordie mimics in a nasally voice and Jenny flicks his ear. Jordie jerks to try and grab her fingers before she can sit back but he misses.

“Hey, you two. I’ll turn this car around,” Jamie tries to look stern but his older siblings both shoot him a dangerous look and he focuses back on the road.

They set Jenny up in the guestroom and spend some time catching up, hearing about Jenny and Sean’s latest vacation to Hawaii, Sean’s next project at work, the new article she’s been working on for Travel magazine.

Jamie’s texting Tyler about what time to come over for dinner. The Benn siblings have been known to kill bottles of wine like they’re going out of style, so he’s sure to text him now before he forgets. It’s probably not the best idea to be drinking so much with the postseason still on the line, but Jenny is always a special occasion.

Jamie thinks he should probably also warn Tyler that the bizarre Benn vernacular extends well beyond just him and Jordie, but he’ll figure that out soon enough.

“Is that you boyfriend?” Jenny singsongs and waggles her eyebrows while Jamie makes his best pissy face and hits send on the text.

“Yes. I’m telling him to stay home tonight because my siblings are monsters who cannot be trusted.”

“Monsters? Chubbs, I’m offended. You know I prefer the term yeti, and Tyler likes me way better than he likes you anyhow.” Jordie refills his and Jenny’s glass and Jamie downs his own to catch up.

“Why does he like you better?”

“Because it turns out that one over there is a mess at romantic relationships.”

Jamie dips his head a little in shame. He knows Jordie is just teasing him, but he’s not wrong.

“Why are you a mess, Fats?” Jenny keeps her tone light, but her voice softens.

“I don’t know. All this shit is new for me. I haven’t really dated before.” Jamie picks a piece of lint on the couch.

“Wait, I thought you were dating in Kelowna you said,” Jenny furrows her brow and Jamie flushes bright red.

“Those were one night dates,” Jordie says matter-of-factly.

“How do you know that?” Jenny gives Jordie a once over.

“’Cause look at him! He’s a tomato! I’m right, aren’t I?”

“I saw some of them more than once, but it wasn’t like. None of them were my boyfriends or anything.”

“Well, what’s really the difference except you’re hanging out as friends before and after the sex. How are you messing that up?” Jenny frowns. “Unless it’s the sex part you’re messing up and then don’t tell me because you’re my baby brother and—” Jenny covers her ears, “—la la la, I don’t want to know, look it up on the internet!”

“No! Fuck you both, it’s not a sex thing. It’s not even a dating thing exactly. I just wasn’t super nice to him at first, that’s all.” He shoots Jordie a look. “Thanks for ratting me out, Darth.”

“Hey, she’s a good person to talk to! Fiver’s the one with her own boyfriend. I just make this shit up.” Jordie shrugs.

“Yeah, like that wasn’t obvious.” Jamie catches the cork before it hits him in the head.

“Well,” Jenny continues on, ignoring them. “The best advice I can give you on that front is that you need to remember it’s still important to work at things. Like, just because Sean and I have our names on each other doesn’t mean that everything comes easy and we always agree or get along. If you think it’s going to be like that, you might as well expect failure.”

Jamie looks down at his empty glass and hands it to Jordie when he reaches.

“You’re a pair, not the same person, so you’re going to disagree and you’re going to have arguments. That’s the way of the world. As long as you’re compromising equally and working as a team, you’ll sort all the hard parts out. Just remember that it’s a relationship, not a right.” Jenny pats his knee.

“Yeah, I think that’s the part I need to keep reminding myself.”

“I’m sure Darth’ll remind you.” He takes his now-full glass from Jordie and ignores his flattered smile.

“He is very forgetful! He needs my constant supervision.” Jordie isn’t as quick to dodge the cork Jamie throws back.

The three of them end up getting take-out because none of them feels much like cooking after they get into the third bottle of wine. Jamie knows Tyler’s order anyhow so they’re sure to get enough food for all four of them.

The food gets there before Tyler, but he’s not far behind.

“Hi,” Jamie answers the door, leaning against the frame and letting the door rest against his shoulder. He’s already smiling so hard that his cheeks hurt and seeing Tyler makes him smile more, “hi.”

“Hi hi yourself, Drunky.” Tyler smiles fondly and Jamie feels himself blushing to the tips of his ears. Jamie just stares at him for a minute. He really likes Tyler’s face, and his hair, and his scruff that he’s growing for some reason. And his body is awesome, and Jamie can kind of see his muscles through his t-shirt when they’re out here in the fluorescence of the hallway. Tyler stifles a little laugh. “So, can I come in?”

“Yeah, just—” Jamie pokes his head out a little, checks left and right, but there’s no sign of the delivery guy or anyone else.

“What’re you—” Jamie cuts him off with a kiss. He pulls back with what he hopes is a flirtatious smile but he can’t feel his nose anymore and his lips are probably tinted purple so he guesses he mostly looks like a huge dork. Tyler smiles back at him anyway while Jamie ushers him in.

“Now, you should be prepared because three Benns is way worse than two, or so everybody tells us.”

“I can handle some inebriated Benns, no problem,” Tyler boasts at Jamie leads him to the kitchen.

“You’re not handling anyone but Chubbs,” Jordie yells way too loudly and Jenny shushes him with a punch on the arm.

“You promised no sex jokes,” she hisses.

“No, god. No sex jokes!” Jamie scrunches up his nose and tugs Tyler a little closer. “Tyler, this is Jenny. Jenny, Tyler.”

Jamie means to be embarrassed when Jenny grabs Tyler by the shoulders and looks him over like she’s assessing him, but it gives Jamie a chance to look him over as well. Jordie notices and clucks his tongue but Jamie ignores him.

“You are adorable,” she finally concludes, letting Tyler go.

“How did you do it? How did you manage to fool both of them?” Jordie shakes his head in mock exasperation and Tyler shrugs with a grin. But Jamie agrees, Tyler looks adorable, and it seems like a great idea to wrap him up in a hug right there in the kitchen, even while Jordie is droning on about being the smartest JB.

Jamie makes a valiant effort to catch Tyler up to them with drinks, but they’re several bottles ahead of him and don’t slow down to give him time. The rest of the night, Jenny and Jordie make their best attempts to embarrass the shit out of him with stories from when he was kid.

“He was so shy, when he started Kindergarten, Jordie was in grade two at the time, I had just started grade five. His class had a bathroom break and I guess somehow he got left behind or was hiding and he got lost.”

“Oh god,” Jamie shrinks down and hides his face in Tyler’s shoulder.

“This is a great story,” Jordie assures Tyler.

“So Jamie can’t find his way back to the Kindergarten rooms, and this teacher ended up finding him wandering around crying. And he wouldn’t tell her his name, he kept saying he was Jordie.”

“I didn’t tell her I was Jordie, I was looking for Jordie,” Jamie mumbles into Tyler’s shirt and Tyler pats his thigh, but Jamie doesn’t like how hard he’s already laughing.

“Whatever you were doing, she couldn’t understand you. And Fats was so short when he was little, they didn’t even know if he was a student there or if he was visiting another kid with his mom and got separated. But then he said my name, and it ended up the teacher knew who I was and knew I went to school there so she called over the whole school’s PA system for me to come get my little brother from the office.”

“You know this is embarrassing for you, too,” Jamie gives Jordie a look, but he doesn’t seem anything besides amused. “Let me tell the end.”

Jenny gestures for him to go ahead.

“So I was in the office crying and Jordie came running in, sobbing just as hard, because he thought I was in trouble or sick or something.”

“I ran right out of math class and didn’t look back,” Jordie nods.

“When I got there, the both of them were sitting in the office, hugging, bawling. And the principal couldn’t get either of them to stop, and I couldn’t get either of them to stop, and Jamie refused to go back to Kindergarten and Jordie refused to leave Jamie. So they had to call mom to come get both of them and take them home.”

The night continues on like that and Jamie is at a serious disadvantage because he wasn’t old enough to remember half the embarrassing stuff that his brother and sister did, but they eventually turn on each other and Jamie just sits back and listens to them bicker.

He’s used to Tyler being the touchy one, and Jamie can tell Tyler is also a little surprised at how physical Jamie is being with him, but it’s nice. Jamie likes having almost all his favorite people in one place. He’s drunk and loose and happy and Tyler is warm and smiling at the jokes his sister makes and giving it back to Jordie as good as he gets and he’s snuggled up to Jamie’s side like he belongs there. So it’s only natural that Jamie would pull him closer, keep an arm around his shoulders and lean in when he laughs, press his nose into Tyler’s hair and just enjoy being with him.

He almost breaks his own rule and asks Tyler to stay, spend the night with him, but with a house full of family, he’s not sure that’s the best idea. He’s pretty sure Tyler can tell off his look what he’s thinking.

“S’okay babe. I gotta get back to Marshall anyway, he’s probably getting lonely.”

The endearment makes Jamie’s heart flutter. “I wish you could though,” he rests his hand on the back of Tyler’s neck.

“Me, too. But I’ll see you tomorrow? Not too early,” Tyler winks. “But text if you want to do something later?”

“Maybe breakfast with us? Whenever we get up.”

“That’d be awesome.”

“Okay.” Jamie kisses him at the door, soft and slow. He ignores Jordie’s hollering and catcalling, but catches Tyler tossing a middle finger his way.

He laughs into the kiss before pulling back and seeing Tyler out.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie takes Jenny’s advice to heart. His relationship with Tyler is not a right—he has no more claim to him because of the name on his wrist than he does to anyone else in the world. He works hard at hockey and this is something he needs to work hard at, too.

When the Stars clinch a playoff berth on the second to last game of the season, Jamie is elated. He bumbles his way through a thank you speech to the fans and takes the subsequent ribbing from teammates and press in stride.

“Not exactly the most eloquent, are you?” Whits slaps him on the back.

“I don’t think anyone here is really surprised by that,” Jamie runs a hand through his sweaty hair. He gives a second speech to the team, a lot easier to give than the first, and he hopes everyone leaves the AAC feeling ready for the postseason.

It doesn’t hit Jamie until he’s back in his apartment, watching NHL Network with Jordie and Tyler. Tyler keeps staring at the two of them with a strange expression and Jordie looks dazed in general.

“What?” Jamie finally asks. They’ve just started talking about the clinch on TV and Jamie cringes when they replay part of his address to the crowd.

“You two haven’t stopped smiling since we left the ice.”

“Oh, like you’re the chiseled veteran,” Jordie rolls his eyes, but Jamie thinks Tyler is right. His face is starting to hurt, even. It feels fantastic.

The highlights loop back around and Jamie has to shut it off when they get to his speech again.

“Hey! I like that guy,” Tyler pouts and Jamie pokes him, but it’s getting late anyway.

Normally the three of them would be crashing already at this point in the night, but Jamie suspects Jordie and Tyler are still feeling the adrenaline of success as well.

“So, um,” Jamie starts without any real direction. He stands suddenly and looks down at the two of them. “We’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

“Oh. Um, okay.” Tyler stands and starts to move, but Jamie grabs his wrist.

“I meant,” he lowers his voice a little. “Jordie, we’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Gross.” Jordie adds nonchalantly, reaching for the controller. “Don’t wear yourselves out, we need our top line in game shape!” He calls after them.

“I thought you said no sleepovers,” Tyler whispers in the elevator.

“This is just for sleeping,” Jamie gives him a pointed look and chuckles at Tyler’s frustrated groan.

They’re both too exhausted to do much when they make it back to Tyler’s anyhow. They say hello to Marshall, Tyler gives him a half-scoop of food, and they make out on top of the comforter for a while.

“You know,” Jamie interrupts Tyler’s mouthing at his neck.

“Know what?”

“You could tell some people about us, if you wanted to.” Jamie is feeling particularly brave today. He doesn’t know if it’s the win or the berth or the familiarity of Jordie’s teasing and Tyler’s lips on him. He talked to an arena full of people today, they cheered for him, for the team. The guys in the room were loose and excited. They were a team.

He wants this feeling to be permanent, and when he looks at Tyler, he knows that it can be. It will be, if he’s willing to relax a little. Compromise, Jenny says. Not being egocentric, Jordie says.

“I um, maybe already told somebody.” He can feel Tyler stiffen, like Jamie might be upset.

“Hey, that’s okay. You’re—you’re allowed, you know?”

“I should’ve asked first.”

“Why? I didn’t ask first when I told Jordie.”

“Yeah but family’s different.” Tyler sits back and considers him for a moment. “You’re not mad?”

“No.”

“I told Brownie. Right after I first thought maybe. When I saw your note in the locker room and, your handwriting was the same. I told Brownie that I thought it might be you. And then, you know, after. When it turned out it was.”

“He’s probably not my biggest fan then, eh.”

“No, he likes you fine. He told me the other day actually, that it was good for me that you were resistant at first.” Tyler rests his chin on Jamie’s chest and Jamie cards his fingers through Tyler’s hair. It’s still damp from the postgame shower and smells like the generic shampoo they all use, but it’s still a distinctly Tyler smell.

“Why?”

“‘Cause I’m not always the best at thinking about the big picture. And I’m not super great at discretion when I’m being impulsive.” Tyler gives him a playful grin, “He says I would’ve tweeted it.”

“Ah yes, the ‘I-found-my-wristmate selfie.”

“There’s still time,” Tyler winks and pretends to grab for his cellphone. Jamie twists him up in his arms and holds him down, pinning Tyler’s bare chest to Jamie’s own. Tyler bites at the column of his neck and Jamie makes a quiet, pleased noise.

“And anyway,” Tyler mumbles into his bare skin, “Brownie knows that I can be needy sometimes and that it occasionally gets me into stuff before I’m all the way ready.”

“I don’t think you’re needy. Impulsive, yes. Maybe sometimes you can be, but that’s not bad.” Jamie strokes his fingers down Tyler’s spine, and then again when he gives a small whine and pushes into it. “Jordie actually says that’s something I should try to do more.”

“Oh yeah?”

Jenny and Jordie both had talked to him after the four of them went out to breakfast together.

“You’re a lot more laid back around him, it’s nice,” Jenny had started when Tyler went back to his place after. Jordie had agreed.

“You really are more fun. I mean, you’re always gonna be a huge dork but—don’t push me, you know it’s true!—he’s good for you, Chubbs. That’s the whole idea of the soulmate, right?”

“You’re supposed to complete each other, bring out the best in the other person. Look at Mom and Dad. Mom is as insanely high-strung as they come and Dad would have let us eat hotdogs for dinner every night if we’d asked. It’s a balance.”

Jamie liked that idea a lot, that he didn’t have to change himself to be with Tyler, and Tyler didn’t have to change either. They just had to find a middle ground.

Jamie rubs his hands down the length of Tyler’s arms. “I like those things about you. You’re different than I am, and that’s not always comfortable for me. But you still feel like you’re safe.”

Tyler sits back and it takes Jamie a minute to meet his eyes, but it still doesn’t make it any easier to read the range of emotions flickering across Tyler’s face. At least not until it splits into a wicked, tilted grin.

“So the no sex during playoffs thing, is that a hard and fast rule?”

Yes,” Jamie pokes him. “I told you, this summer. When playoffs are over.” In June, Jamie hopes.

“Not even like, hard and fast?”

“Oh, my god.”

Jamie dedicates himself to the playoffs wholeheartedly. He expects his team to do the same and it’s important to him as the captain that he set the example. Tyler gives him some shit for it, but it’s always in jest and he hasn’t pushed Jamie on any of his self-imposed rules.

The Stars drop the first two games in Anaheim but only by a goal each. They look good and Jamie knows they’re still in the race.

“C’mon boys. We’re still in this. We got ‘em coming to Texas not knowing what to expect. The games have been close, we’re outshooting them, playing more disciplined. It’s a couple things bouncing different out there and the game is ours. So let’s fuckin’ take ‘em back to Dallas and get this done at home, boys, c’mon.” Jamie sits back in his stall and Tyler pats his knee.

The guys all grunt in agreement, slap each other on the back and bring the energy level up.

The thing is, Jamie isn’t actually worried. They haven’t lost at home; they’re not in bad shape at all.

The first game in Dallas, they shut the Ducks out 3-0. Things are a lot more chippy, and Jamie makes sure the bench knows that if they keep level heads out there, they can goad Anaheim into penalties all night.

They win the next game in Dallas as well; another rough and physical game that devolves a bit in the third, but they come away with the win.

But just like that, their luck changes. They lose the game in Anaheim—and it isn’t close—and in a must-win situation at home, they give up a 4-2 lead headed into the third and end up losing in OT.

It’s fucking gutting.

The rest of the night and the next day is a blur of anger and disappointment and way too much alcohol and by the time Jamie’s finished all the end-of-season pressers, he’s wrung out emotionally and physically.

Tyler spends the night with Jamie but they’re both too exhausted to do anything and Jordie is too exhausted to even tease them about it. Jamie lets himself mope until it starts being more of a chore to be upset than to let it go.

He should be proud. No one came into the year with the expectation that the Stars would make the playoffs and they had. No one had expected them to give the Ducks any kind of fight and they did. No one expected they’d be any kind of team to look twice at, but they were.

“You did prove them wrong, you know,” Jamie looks over to where Tyler is perched next to him on the sofa.

“Hmm?”

“You proved them wrong. Like you said we would. So we didn’t win it all, we weren’t going to. But no one is going to overlook us next season. We’re on the verge of something really, really good.”

“Yeah. I feel that, too.” Tyler smiles easy.

“You know, that was my first NHL playoff elimination.” It sounds silly to say to someone like Tyler, who’s not only won a Cup, but who’s been eliminated on the brink of doing it again. But Jamie knows Tyler will understand what he means, he always does.

“How does it feel?”

“Sucks. Really fucking sucks. But does it sound too much like a media answer to say that I’m grateful for the opportunity?”

Tyler barks out a laugh. “Yes, actually. That’s a very press-savvy thing to say, Captain.”

Jamie shrugs, but he’s smiling anyway, even more so when Tyler reaches over to cover Jamie’s hand with his own.

“Yeah, it sucks, but I was really looking forward to the off-season.”

“Hmm? Why’s that?” Jamie loves that Tyler isn’t ever one to beat around the bush. Jamie could skirt saying what he means like it’s his job—it kind of is, the way he’s got to deal with reporters, where one wrong answer ends up being the headline of the story—but Tyler isn’t like that.

Tyler takes what he wants and says what he means, and he’s currently climbing up to straddle Jamie’s lap, his hands splayed out on Jamie’s shoulders for support.

“Well, because this guy I really, really like promised me a great summer.” Tyler’s grin doesn’t falter but his eyes darken when Jamie grabs his hips instinctually.

Jordie chooses a very inopportune moment to finally emerge from his room—packed already for the trip back to Victoria. He groans loudly.

“Perhaps you’ve forgotten that some people who are not at all interested in watching their brother get a lap dance are still residents in this apartment.”

“No one is dancing,” Tyler looks over his shoulder to where Jordie is depositing his bags by the door, but he doesn’t move off. Jamie loosens his grip on Tyler just a little, but he doesn’t push him off either. Jordie can deal with it, all the times he’s teased Jamie about his sex life, he’s had this coming.

“Good, because Chubbs can’t dance to save his life.” He passes behind them on his way to the kitchen, messing up Jamie’s hair as he passes.

“He already knows that!” Jamie tips his head back to call after Jordie, already out of sight.

“Don’t wanna know how!” Jordie calls back.

Jamie chuckles to himself but it turns into something else when Tyler leans down to kiss at the side of his neck where he’s exposed it. “Tyler, c’mon. Wait till Jordie’s gone. I’m taking him to the airport in less than an hour.”

“After?” He speaks right into Jamie’s neck, the vibrations making him shiver.

“Yes. After. Promise.”

“Good.” Before Tyler moves, he’s quick to lick up the length of Jamie’s neck and jump away before Jamie can swat at him.

“Ugh. You are as bad as Marshall.”

“Like father like son!” Tyler looks pleased with himself as Jamie wipes his neck. Tyler can’t keep himself from touching though; he reaches up to smooth Jamie’s hair back from where Jordie’s ruffled it. He looks so pleased with himself that Jamie has to kiss him.

He fists his hand in the front of Tyler’s shirt and pulls him forward just enough, swallowing the filthy noise that Tyler lets out.

“Still here!” Jordie walks back into the living room with a container of leftovers and a bottle of water. He very pointedly sits on the far end of the easy chair, away from them.

Tyler flops on his back when Jamie lets him go, taking up the rest of the sofa. “Don’t look at me, I was behaving. He was the one who kissed me.”

Jamie rolls his eyes but lets Tyler use him as a footrest anyhow.

“You think that stuff is gonna fly around mom, you’ve got another thing coming,” Jordie cracks open the water and takes a swig. “Jenny says she and Sean still can’t sleep in the same bed when they visit.”

“But Jamie promised me a cottage. Isn’t that right?”

“He told you there’s an ocean there too, right? And a forest and wildlife and golfing and beautiful scenery. Not just a cottage. Assuming either of you leave the bedroom long enough to see any of it.”

Jamie and Jordie bicker until it’s time for Jamie to take him to the airport. When they’re out of Tyler’s earshot, Jamie already expects Jordie to have questions for him.

Tyler has some friends coming to Dallas next week and Jamie had promised that he would stay and meet them. It was important to Tyler and Jamie was willing to put off his flight home for it.

“You nervous at all?” Jordie asks once they’re alone in the truck.

“About what?”

“Isn’t meeting Tyler’s friends like the same as meeting the parents in most relationships?”

“I guess. I mean—” Jamie frowns. “Tyler hasn’t even told his family about me yet.”

“Oh,” Jordie frowns. “I hadn’t realized.”

“No, I didn’t mean it like—it’s the smart decision to wait on them. They’re not—” Jamie gestures abstractly. “And you’re right anyway—meeting his friends is way more important to him.”

“And you're prepared to come out to all of them?”

“Well, he said Brownie already knows about the both of us? And Jesse obviously, about me. And all three of them already know about Tyler and they love him. They’re not going to run around and tell everyone we’re in big gay love or something if it’ll hurt him, too. Even if they totally hate me.”

“‘Big gay love’ eh?”

“Something like that. And I trust him. He wouldn’t tell anybody if he thought there was a chance they might, you know. Not be down.”

“His words?”

Jamie shoots him an obviously look.

When they get to Departures, Jamie helps Jordie unload his shit and when he turns to hug him goodbye, he notices that Jordie’s already got his guard off. This time, Jamie smiles when he sees.

“See you couple weeks, Chubbs. Try not to fuck on every surface in the apartment okay?” Jordie pats him on the back. “I’d like to get the deposit back one day.”

“Jesus Christ, you don’t change do you?”

“Why would I? I’m awesome.” He pulls back and gives Jamie a teasing grin. “It’ll go fine, I’m telling you. But, call if you need me to talk you up or something, yeah?”

“Sure thing.”

“Love you, Chubbs.”

“You too, Darth.”

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

When Brownie and Blacker and Freddy get into town, Tyler goes to pick them up at the airport while Jamie stays back at his apartment and tidies up—not because Tyler asks him to but because Jamie doesn’t know what else to do with himself.

He’s not nervous, he’s just not not nervous.

Marshall keeps following him with a judgmental look that Jamie is pretty sure he’s just projecting, but then he goes and plops himself in front of the front door and exhales in whistling little whines like Jamie is stressing him out.

So Jamie stops cleaning, stops fussing at his clothes and his hair and his phone, and sits down on the couch to wait for them to get back.

Marshall hears them before Jamie does and he’s up and barking excitedly before the doorknob turns.

“Hey buddy!” A whoosh of people and suitcases and barking and cooing suddenly fill the living room and Jamie is left standing awkwardly in front of the couch.

Blacker gives him a brief surprised look before taking his turn fawning over Marshall but the other two don’t pay him any mind.

Tyler lugs in a few bags and then gestures to Jamie. He tries not to slink over to him.

“Um, could I take off the guard to tell them?” Tyler whispers, his body turned away from the guests who are now rolling on the floor with the dog.

Jamie nods, because he can’t think of any good reason to say no, and when Tyler’s face lights up he knows he made the right choice. Jamie tries not to stare while he slips it off and shoves it in his back pocket before clearing his throat dramatically.

“You guys can spoil my dog later,” Tyler rolls his eyes when they don’t all immediately turn to him. “So this is Jamie.”

Tyler holds out his hands like he’s Vanna White, motioning down the length of Jamie’s body with a huge grin. Jamie doesn’t know why he expected anything less theatrical from Tyler, but he’s more endeared than embarrassed surprisingly.

The way Tyler has his arms turned, he’s showing off his name, too and Jamie is struck by how proud he looks.

“Hi,” he adds with a weak wave.

“Jamie, this is Freddy, that’s Brownie, and I think you and Jesse said you met before?”

“Yeah, uh—”

“Wait, Jamie Jamie!” Freddy is scrambling to his feet.

“Yep!” Tyler rocks on his heels and looks over at Jamie, beaming.

“Wait, seriously?! Holy shit, that’s awesome!” Jesse looks like he’s just catching on, but Brownie is grinning at them both.

The room devolves into a lot of chatter and hugs and congratulations and then predictably celebratory drinks that Jamie thankfully accepts. He’s feeling exhausted and relieved and frayed but Tyler keeps looking at him like he’s grateful and Jamie doesn’t even feel a moment’s hesitation when he reaches out to hold Tyler’s hand.

Tyler puts the guard back on before they go out later and no one asks about it. No one even asks Jamie why he didn’t take his off. They’re a good group of guys, he decides.

Jamie likes Brownie a lot. He initially wasn’t prepared to, though he won’t admit it was mostly out of jealousy and the expectation that Brownie wouldn’t like him, but he’s actually incredibly nice to Jamie and he complements Tyler in a way that Jamie doesn’t. He’s the closest Tyler has to a brother, and apart from their previous physical relationship—which Tyler explained to him and Jamie can’t really be upset about—Jamie can see a lot of himself and Jordie in the way the two of them interact.

Jesse, well Jamie is obviously familiar with him. Tyler nearly dies when he finds out about the night at Yellow Point. He doesn’t embarrass them in front of the other guys, but Jamie can tell he knows something is up when Jesse gave Jamie a hug earlier and they had both blushed a little too hard. Tyler texts him from across the room.

OMFG u and Blacks totally hooked up tht summr didnt u!

Jamie somehow gives himself away, but Tyler is giving him a filthy grin and he’s clearly not upset by the revelation.

U are tellin me abt this later in DETAIL! :O!!!

Freddy is kind of shy, but he comes to life around his friends. They hit it off especially well and when the five of them go out to a club that Jamie’s never even heard of, he spends most of the time talking to Freddy in the corner—both of them avoiding the mash of people.

The second night, Jamie gives the four of them their space and stays in, but Tyler sneaks up to Jamie’s place when the rest of them are conked out. He begs Jamie for the blow-by-blow of his night with Jesse—“Please please please, Jamie! He wouldn’t tell me anything and I asked him all night!”

It’s followed by Tyler giving his own account of sleeping with Blacker the summer of his Cup win, and then by their attempts to recreate all the best parts of each hook up with each other—which they both agree is a million and one times better.

By the third night, Jamie feels like they’re his friends. They stay in and challenge each other in video games and pool and poker. Freddy plays bartender and then breaks out his guitar until suddenly it’s already the next day and Jamie hasn’t felt like he wanted to beg off to his place even once.

With the company, Jamie has been content to sleep without Tyler in his own apartment, but Jamie’s had enough to drink that he’s pliable and persuadable when Tyler comes at him with puppy-dog eyes and asks him to stay over. With Blacker and Brownie claiming the guestroom and Freddy and Marshall sharing the couch, Tyler’s bed is the only free space.

Tyler cuddles up to him right away, kisses his shoulder. “Thanks.”

“What for?”

“For staying back to meet them, for letting me tell them, for staying over. Lots of stuff.”

Jamie is quiet.

“I know you’re private about this. And even though I know them and I can tell you until I’m blue that they’re good guys, I know I asked a lot of you, to trust a bunch of strangers with that, to come out to that many people at once, you know? And you didn’t have to do it, so thank you.” Tyler looks at him earnestly and Jamie’s chest bubbles with something that feels safe, proud.

“You don’t have to thank me for that, Ty. You deserve it.” He kisses him and Tyler goes pliant under him. It’s easy to slip down beside him and mouth at his neck, loving how Tyler turns automatically to expose it. Jamie’s got one hand splayed out on his belly to steady him while he kisses along his shoulder.

“Still can’t believe Blacker got to sleep with you before I did,” Tyler mumbles, but his voice is light and breathy when Jamie’s lips hit the hollow of his neck.

“Hey, you too!” For that, Jamie bites on his collarbone and Tyler lets out a yelp. Jamie laves his tongue over the spot in apology before sitting back to look Tyler in the eye. “How did you end up with such a harem of guys anyway?”

“First of all,” Tyler sucks his teeth, “it’s called a stable when it’s boys.” Jamie rolls his eyes and pinches him on the ribs. “What? It is! I looked it up!”

“You would.” Jamie smirks and watches the happy blush rise in Tyler’s cheeks.

“And second of all,” he plows on, ignoring Jamie’s teasing, “I don’t even know.”

“You’re like a magnet for the bicurious.” Jamie runs a hand over his stomach. “I think it’s your abs.”

“Hey, some of them are actually gay. Or legit bisexual—like honestly, try to get Blacks to choose between chicks and dicks. It’s hysterical.”

“Tyler,” Jamie uses his exasperated voice.

“I don’t know, though, truthfully. I guess I just wasn’t ever really that secretive about liking boys sometimes. I mean, it’s not like I went around telling everyone I met, but I like flirting.”

“No way, you?” Jamie loves how Tyler blushes when he chirps him.

“Shut up.” He says it with a smile though and Jamie knows he’s not actually mad. “It’s mostly just having people that I don’t need to hide around, or have to worry about censoring myself for or something.”

Jamie watches Tyler trace around the edge of his wristguard before he continues.

“You could have had the same though maybe, you know? If you’d told more people than Jordie.”

“My parents and Jenny know.”

“Yeah, but I mean like guys your age—friends. People who could have helped you pick up, or to pick up. You’re not talking to your parents about people you’re looking to hook up with.”

Jamie bites his lip. He’s never really let himself wonder how things would have been different if he’d not tried to hide his name from everyone. Maybe he could’ve trusted a few friends with it, have what Tyler has.

“I don’t know,” Tyler seems to want to backtrack when he sees Jamie’s face. “Maybe you didn’t need more people than Jordie to know. He was probably a pretty great wingman for a straight dude; he’s very ruggedly handsome, and he’s got that bear look about him now.”

“Don’t ever say that about my brother, oh my god.”

Tyler looks genuinely appalled. “Jordie didn’t help you get laid?”

“Gross. He already butts into my sex life enough without me actually inviting him.”

“Oh,” Tyler makes a dirty noise in his throat and Jamie claps a hand over his mouth.

“And if you ever want to get laid again, you will stop that thought right there.” Tyler licks his palm and Jamie jumps back, wiping his hand on Tyler’s pillow. He just laughs at him.

“Oh, come on. Jordie is an attractive guy!” Jamie makes a strangled noise in indignation. Tyler lets him stew for a second before putting him out of his misery. “But you’re obviously the best Benn.”

“Damn right.” He’s still mock pouting when Tyler wraps his arms around Jamie’s waist to hug him.

“It’s okay you only told your family. You know after I told my mom and dad—,” Tyler trails off and Jamie leans down instinctually to kiss the furrow in Tyler’s brow. “I think I kind of felt like I had to put together another little family when my own didn’t want to hear that you’d be anything other than the perfect NHL wife.”

“I am not gonna be your wife.” Jamie gives him a pointed look and Tyler counters with a crooked grin.

“I know that,” Tyler pinches him on the arm. “You can’t even cook. What am I supposed to live on burned chicken and peanut butter toast?”

Jamie grabs Tyler’s arms and maneuvers him until he’s got Tyler pinned entirely beneath him on the mattress. He loves how ticklish Tyler is, how his whole body becomes a giant tender spot when he’s laughing. When he’s like that, Jamie doesn’t have to do more than poke him in the stomach to make him giggle and try to squirm away.

The wrestling turns back into kissing after a while but Jamie can’t keep the admission from gnawing at him. Tyler has a great relationship with Jordie, they talk a lot and Tyler seeks his approval as much as he does Jamie’s. Jamie certainly notices how Tyler lights up when Jordie gives him the same teasing comments and playful shoves that he gives Jamie.

He sit back, ignoring Tyler’s small whine of protest.

“What about your sisters?”

He hates the way Tyler’s face falls. He can feel his whole body sag against his own in answer.

“They’re just, you know.” Tyler shrugs dismissively. “I don’t think they totally get it. I tried to tell them once, a few summers ago when Brownie came to Toronto and he and I were still, whatever it was. They kept wanting to know what Jamie would think when she found out and even when I tried to explain it,” Tyler looks away. “It was clear they didn’t want to know.”

Jamie does his level best to kiss away the frown but when he pulls back, he can see in Tyler’s eyes that he’s still thinking about it.

“Tyler, they love you. And they’ll come around, okay?”

Jamie slides his fingers up Tyler’s arms, over the carefully inked skin, pausing at the numbers representing each member of his family. He traces circles into the muscle there, and he knows that he killed the mood but it’s more about comfort than anything, and this is important to him. “And if they don’t, I can share Jordie.”

He adds as an afterthought, when Tyler’s eyes sparkle with something akin to mischief: “As a brother.”

There’s the smile he loves so much.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie was nervous about bringing Tyler to Victoria right up until Jordie picks the two of them up from the airport. Jordie hugs them both hello—“Mom is freaking out about meeting you, she’s seriously been cleaning the house for like three days straight. I thought she was gonna make me sleep in the truck so I couldn’t mess anything up.”—and then Tyler is the one who looks petrified.

“Hey, don’t worry. It’s gonna be fine,” and Jamie puts an arm around Tyler’s shoulder before he remembers that he should care who sees. But he just doesn’t, and it feels nice. Jamie even opens the truck door for him.

“What if I’m not what she expects?” Tyler worries at his lip while they wait for Jordie to finish throwing their bags in the truck bed. “What if I’m like, way too crude or something.”

“I wouldn’t worry about that, Dad and Jenny already love you to pieces, and Jordie has the monopoly on vulgarity in the Benn house.” Jordie climbs in just as Jamie says his name.

“Jordie has what now?”

“A foul mouth. S’why mom likes me better than you.”

“Among other things,” Jordie mumbles and pulls out of the airport.

“Jordie was a bit of a hellion. All the trouble we ever got in was basically his idea,” Jamie nods sagely. “Mom and Dad always knew it was, too.”

“That’s ‘cause you were so damn shy! You wouldn’t do anything unless I was there, too. Obviously much has changed since then,” Jordie’s voice drips with sarcasm and Jamie scoffs.

He feels Tyler poking at the back of his arm and turns around to catch his crinkling smile. He already looks more relaxed and Jamie can’t help but smile back.

They ride in silence for a little ways before Jordie pipes up. “I think Jenny and Sean were planning to come over later for supper.” He gives Jamie a look. “I don’t think Jenny knew what you wanted him to know so I don’t think she told him anything.”

“Good, that means I can tell him,” Jamie glances back at Tyler in the rearview mirror. He’s looking out the windows in awe.

“You know, I’ve never been to the Island before. It’s fucking beautiful here, no wonder you two are so obsessed with it.” Jordie snorts.

“We’re not obsessed, it’s just, you know. Home.” Jamie shrugs.

“And it really like, never snows here?”

“Hardly ever,” he turns around and smiles at Tyler.

Once they get to the house there’s a while before the meal is ready. Most of the time is spent with his mother tutting over Jamie and Tyler, especially Tyler. They make Jordie put Tyler’s stuff in Jordie’s room and Jamie ignores the ‘I told you so’ look his brother gives him.

Eventually though it’s time to start cooking and Jamie’s parents retreat to the kitchen while Jordie heads out to buy wine and beer.

The living room is an embarrassing shrine to all the Benn children, but Jamie’s section is a little more filled out with mementos. He rolls his eyes when he sees his mom put his World Junior and Olympic gold medals out on display.

Jamie is setting out some snacks on the table when he sees Tyler across the room, sucked into the wall of family photos. Tyler glances over his shoulder at him.

“You weren’t that chubby,” he offers. “If I were you, I’d be more embarrassed about some of these hairstyle choices, though.”

“Oh, god. Don’t look at those.”

“But you’re so cute!” Tyler coos over one of the pictures.

Jamie comes over quickly to see exactly what photos his mom has hanging up these days. There’s nothing too humiliating—a lot of him and Jordie playing ball hockey in the driveway, some ridiculous professional shots of the three of them in coordinating outfits, some school photos and team photos littered in.

He wraps his arms around Tyler’s upper body from behind and loves how he relaxes into it, hands coming up to hook on Jamie’s forearm and hold him close. He feels bold, surrounded by family that has always loved him unconditionally, in a place he’s comfortable.

“You sure did wear a lot of long sleeves.” Tyler sounds pensive and Jamie drops a quick kiss to the side of his neck while he’s sure they’re still alone. Comfortable is one thing, but Jamie’s never been much for PDA.

“And,” Tyler continues hesitantly, his fingers brushing over Jamie’s wristguard. “You started wearing one pretty young, huh?”

“Yeah,” Jamie hooks his chin over Tyler’s shoulder. “I was about thirteen or so.”

“I’m sorry.”

Jamie freezes. “Why are you sorry? You didn’t do anything.”

“I know it wasn’t easy for you. You look—really smiley when you were little. In some of these other ones. I don’t know, you seem… sad.”

“Well, I was pretty fat,” he jokes, but Tyler doesn’t laugh. “Hey, Ty.” Jamie turns him around and puts two hands on his shoulders. “I know I was kind of jerk about this before but, I wasn’t unhappy when I was a kid, okay? I was scared, sure, and definitely a little lonely. Sometimes I was mad at you because I couldn’t be like everybody else, but… I never didn’t want you.”

Tyler bites his lip and looks off to the side.

“Right after I first told Jordie, he said I should get a tattoo to cover it up.”

Tyler snorts a broken little laugh. “That sounds like him.”

“And I don’t remember what I told him about why I couldn’t, maybe I was scared of the needle or something,” Jamie quirks a half smile when Tyler meets his eye again. “But I didn’t want to because I was afraid then it would be gone. I’d lose you before I even had you. And that was the scariest thing, way worse than someone finding out and hating me.”

Tyler is silent for a moment before his eyes sparkle and he smiles bright. “Well, you didn’t lose me.” He turns back to look at the pictures, pulling Jamie’s arms back around him.

The thought of how close he might have come to it still scares Jamie more now than the fear of being found out ever did. “Thanks for not letting me.”

Then Tyler is pointing and giggling at picture of Jordie as a toddler, squishing baby Jamie in his arms with a beaming grin. “I recognize that one.”

“Ah, yes, the helpless years. I’m pretty sure I’ve always been Jordie’s favorite toy.”

When Jenny and Sean arrive, Jamie asks Tyler to hang back while he talks to Sean, but he does ask Jenny to be there. Sean is elated for him.

“So much for ‘People from the Island are always with people from the Island’ eh?” He hugs Jamie tight.

“Yeah,” Jenny ruffles Jamie’s hair. “Fats is pretty lucky he found him, all right.”

Jamie mentions that he and Tyler aren’t telling other people just yet, which isn’t the whole truth, but Sean nods in understanding either way.

Dinner is amazing; Jamie finds that he and Sean get along even better than he’d thought they had before, now that he isn’t trying to keep him at a distance. Tyler is enjoying being fawned over by Jamie’s mom and Jordie is appropriately inappropriate enough to keep what could be a stressful situation loose and casual. Tyler seems extraordinarily settled here and Jamie’s chest feels full to bursting with affection.

Mom and Dad go to bed first, and Sean and Jenny head back home an hour or so later. Tyler has an air mattress in Jordie’s room, but Jordie sneaks him out and into Jamie’s as soon as he can.

“Can’t listen to him drone on any more about how great you are, Chubbs. And he made a big deal out of telling me he sleeps naked, so, here ya go.” He winks and shovels Tyler at Jamie, forcing Jamie to catch him before Tyler stumbles.

“You’re so embarrassing, ugh,” Jamie sticks out his tongue at his brother—something about being home always makes the two of them more immature—and pulls Tyler to his chest, walking them back toward Jamie’s room.

Jordie sticks out a finger in warning. “Be quiet you two!”

Jamie blushes but he catches Tyler’s lewd tongue gesture and Jordie’s disgusted face—serves Jordie right, he smirks.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie’s bed at home is smaller than his bed in Dallas, but Tyler usually cuddles up to him enough that it’s more than enough room.

“I got Jordie’s extra-long mattress as soon as I was taller than him,” Jamie boasts and tangles his legs up in Tyler’s.

They don’t do more than cuddle, but Tyler makes a point to whisper in Jamie’s ear, low and murmuring in the way that always makes him shiver and lick his lips. “You promised me at the cottage, though.”

“Yeah,” Jamie’s voice is deep and gravelly and it’s a good sound on him. Tyler is trying to ignore that he’s half hard against Jamie’s thigh and he can see Jamie filling out even under the blankets. “Definitely at the cottage.”

They make out until the point where they need to either escalate things or cool off and Tyler is already starting to yawn into the kisses a little, making Jamie do the same, and they settle on sleep. Tyler gets a leg over Jamie’s hips and spoons up to his side.

“Hey, Tyler?” Jamie’s voice sounds calm and thick but he follows it with a shaking inhalation.

“Yeah.”

“I’m really glad you’re here.”

Tyler smiles up at him, “Me too.” But Jamie doesn’t look any less anxious. “Y’okay?”

“No, I’m—like I’m really, really glad.” Jamie presses a kiss to his forehead and Tyler wrinkles his brow in confusion.

“Okay? Same.” Tyler brushes his hand over Jamie’s chest and feels his heart racing. “Jamie, are you sure you’re—”

“I love you.”

Tyler stops.

“Maybe it’s, I’ve never said that before, I don’t know if you were—” Jamie has his eyes pinched shut so he isn’t expecting it when Tyler kisses him hard.

“Shhh, shut up. Jamie, I love you, too. I have for like, ever. I mean, I loved Jamie before I knew you were Jamie, but then even when I didn’t know that you were my Jamie but I knew you, I still loved you.”

Jamie kisses him this time, face split in a huge dopey grin. “Shh, shut up.” He gives Tyler a weak face wash and Tyler scrunches up his nose.

“Hey, I was the one who was trying to sleep, Romeo.”

“Yeah, yeah.” But Tyler can tell by how he’s biting his lip that Jamie is trying to hide how much he’s still smiling. He kisses him quick again and snuggles in closer, loving how Jamie’s arms tighten around him.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jordie’s scheduled a week at Yellow Point like always, but Jenny and Sean have work so it just ends up being the three of them.

The morning they arrive, Tyler pulls Jamie aside and asks him if he can take his wristguard off.

“Not all the time, I’ll put it on when we get back to the city, but just for right now. While we’re here? I don’t have to. I just thought it might be nice. And you don’t have to do it too if you don’t want. It’s for me.” He’s rambling like he’s nervous to ask and Jamie cuts him off with a kiss—forgetting they’re standing in the middle of the cottage driveway, but even when he remembers he doesn’t care.

“Of course you can.”

The first couple days are filled with all the usual, sunbathing and boating and fishing and swimming and drinking by the fire. The sun sets at nine and the three of them stay up well past midnight until it’s finally too dark, even by the waning firelight, to stay up any longer.

Jamie was worried at first that Tyler wouldn’t love this place as much as he does, but it’s a fear soon put to rest. He’s constantly smiling, bright and easy, and it’s such a good look on him—Jamie wants to devour him.

He’s all hard lines and swooping black ink, skin tanned already from the sun. Tyler hasn’t worn a shirt more than an hour since they arrived, and Jamie isn’t even sure that he packed more than the one. But he’s certainly not complaining at all—even endured Jordie’s eyerolls and snorts when he’s caught Jamie looking.

“Oh, geez,” Jordie snapped him with his towel when Jamie ended up slaw-jawed over Tyler’s swan dive in to the water. Even worse when he’d watched him hoist himself back onto the dock using only the power of his arms, the way the water had beaded off of him, dripping all the way down to Jamie’s name.

Jamie’s mouth waters remembering. The best part, the part that never stops flipping his stomach and setting off a warm curl of arousal, is the look of Tyler’s bare wrist. The way he’s already starting to tan over Jamie’s name, like he’s never covered it at all.

They just headed in for bed and Tyler’s got his back to Jamie, rummaging around in the top drawer of the dresser for something. Jamie uses the opportunity to pin him there with his body.

Tyler tenses for a half-second before looking up into the mirror hanging over the dresser. It’s high enough that they’re only visible in it from the midsection up, but Jamie catches Tyler’s lazy grin as his eyes flash in recognition.

“Hey there,” Tyler’s voice is low and Jamie shivers with it.

He wraps his arms around Tyler’s waist and presses his bare chest to Tyler’s back, hooking his chin on Tyler’s shoulder to watch him in the mirror. The flush starts high in his cheeks and works its way down, blooming a blotchy pink over his neck and down his chest. He kisses behind Tyler’s ear before answering.

“Hi.” He’s already bordering on fully hard, has been partway there off and on the whole day, watching Tyler swim and sunbathe, showing off his abs in a way that he knows makes Jamie crazy. He rocks himself into Tyler’s lower back, just above the swell of his ass, before dipping his knees to grind lower.

“Shit, Jamie.” Tyler’s hands come up to brace himself on the edge of the dresser as he pushes back into the pressure. He’s watching Jamie in the mirror, lets out a strangled little sound before Jamie even lowers his head enough to suck at the junction of his neck and shoulder.

“I’ve been waiting for this all day,” Jamie bites down softly before sucking a little harder.

“Me too, god, you have no idea,” Tyler tilts his head to the side to give Jamie more access.

“I had some idea. You’re kind of a show off.”

Jamie locks eyes with him in the mirror before sliding a hand down his chest, feeling Tyler’s muscles jump under his touch. He cups him over his swim trunks, hard and straining like Jamie suspected he’d be. His eyes flutter shut and his mouth drops open, his head lolling forward. Jamie thinks he’s beautiful like this.

His left hand is still holding Tyler tight against him and when he moves, he can see the marks in his skin where Jamie’s guard has pressed into him. He strokes Tyler once before pulling both hands back, ignoring the sound Tyler makes in objection.

He tries to turn around but Jamie’s hips shove forward and pin him effectively.

“Don’t move.” Jamie slides his left hand from Tyler’s shoulder down to where his hand is gripping at the wood of the dresser. He places his hand over top and looks down at it. “I want you to take it off.”

Tyler tries to pull his hand away to the get to the waist of his bathing suit but Jamie stops him.

“No, no.” He presses Tyler’s hand down tighter. “I want you take off my guard.”

He watches Tyler’s reaction in the mirror, the way his eyes go wide as he looks right back at Jamie. He cranes his neck over his shoulder to look Jamie in the eye.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.” Jamie doesn’t move his body, but he frees Tyler’s hands, flips his left arm over so the clasp is exposed. Tyler runs his fingers over it carefully.

“Tell me how.”

“Push in on the clasp.” Tyler obeys eagerly and Jamie watches as he flips open the latch to expose the lock. Tyler’s finger trails down the five small levers slowly. Jamie watches him touch each part of the mechanism in reverence, like it’s the inside of an expensive wristwatch.

As little as a month ago, Jamie would have sooner given his ATM pin to someone than the combination to his wristguard. Not even Jordie knows how to take it off.

“Now what?” Tyler speaks carefully.

“The first one, pull up and push it to the right.” It comes undone with a small snick. Jamie kisses the back of Tyler’s shoulder. “That one, the second one, goes left and push in. Good. Next one is in and to the left, yep, like that. That one, pull up and then to the right again. And the last one, push in and slide it to the right.” The last small lever comes unlocked with tiny click. “And that’s it. Hold the little button on the bottom down and pull the sides apart.”

Jamie watches Tyler pull on the lock carefully, then with more force until finally the clasp separates and it pops off. Tyler places Jamie’s guard on the top of the dresser and turns back immediately to run his hands over the exposed skin.

“Jamie,” Tyler sounds overwhelmed as he presses into each letter with his fingertips. Jamie’s cock twitches where he’s still snug up against Tyler’s ass.

“Love when you do that,” he drops his forehead to Tyler’s shoulder and mumbles it into the warm skin of his back.

“Love doing it.”

Jamie lets Tyler trace the letters as many times as he can stand before he’s fucking leaking in his shorts.

“Let me touch you, please,” he gently tugs his hand back and goes back to palming at Tyler’s stomach before reaching down to pull his swim trunks off. They’re still damp from the ocean water and the hot tub and Tyler’s skin smells like salt and sweat and Jamie wants to touch him everywhere until he’s begging to be fucked.

The suit pools at Tyler’s feet and he kicks it away as Jamie reaches down to wrap a hand around his cock. Tyler tries to watch him in the mirror; Jamie can see him fighting to keep his eyes open as he rolls his fist over the head of Tyler’s dick. He’s hard and leaking too and it makes stroking him easier.

He watches Tyler’s eyes glaze over, the way his pupils expand and he’s licking his lips like he’s absolutely hungry for it.

“I want to touch you, too. C’mon,” Tyler reaches sloppily behind him to try and get at Jamie’s shorts, but he can’t get a good grip.

“Not yet, wanna watch you like this a little more.” Jamie can’t get enough of the rosiness in Tyler’s cheeks, how debauched he looks already. He keeps licking his lips, biting at them when Jamie finds a particularly sensitive spot near the head. “You’re so fucking pretty Ty.”

Tyler tries to duck his head at the compliment.

“No, you know you are. C’mon, look at me.” Jamie catches his own reflection in the mirror and he looks manic. His eyes are huge and dark, his hair flopping into his eyes, limp from swimming and the sweat prickling at his scalp. Tyler lets out a small hurt sound before looking back up, staring Jamie down like a challenge. “You see how good you are like this?”

Jamie watches his eyes dart quickly over to his own face. He lets out a strangled little noise, tipping his head back to rest on Jamie’s shoulder as he pushes forward into Jamie’s fist.

“Yeah,” Tyler manages to rasp. “It’s—Jamie, don’t tease. You too.”

“Yeah, yeah ok.” Jamie steps back only far enough to let Tyler turn around and face him, leaning back against the dresser now as his hands immediately get to work on Jamie’s fly. As soon as Tyler’s got him pulled free, Jamie’s mouth is on his, tongue sliding against Tyler’s lips until he opens up for it.

Jamie gets his hands back on Tyler’s hips and pulls him off the dresser, walks them both backwards until he feels the bed at the backs of his legs, then spins and drops Tyler down on the mattress with loud creak.

Tyler winces at the sound and Jamie cautions a look to the locked door in the direction of Jordie’s room.

“Serves him right for taking the room with the quiet bed,” Tyler grins.

“You tested the beds?” Jamie leans down, bracketing Tyler’s head with his hands and lowering himself until they’re pressed together. His hair flops in his eyes and Tyler pushes it back for him.

“Yeah, but he took the room before I could claim it, so. He can deal.”

“S’what headphones are for,” Jamie smiles back and lets Tyler pull him in for another kiss.

They rut against each other until Jamie is burning with it, panting into Tyler’s skin and fighting just to keep himself propped up. Tyler isn’t fairing much better. His legs shake where they’re wrapped around Jamie’s waist, trying to pull him closer, and their rhythm is getting sloppy and uncoordinated. Their kisses are bordering on filthy, Jamie trying to fuck Tyler with his tongue, Tyler biting at Jamie’s lips until their red and puffy.

“I want you to fuck me,” Tyler finally whines. “I need you in me.”

“I know, I know. Fuck, I want that too.” Jamie presses his forehead, now damp with sweat, into Tyler’s pec and arcs his body away from where Tyler is still trying to rub against him. He has to reach down and grab himself to keep from coming just over the sound of Tyler’s pleading voice.

When he finally extracts himself from Tyler, he hurries to his bag and fishes out the lube and condom. He turns back to the bed to see Tyler rolled over on his belly, propped on his elbows with his hips bowed over the edge of the bed. The bed is high enough that he’s not on his knees or anything, but his legs are bent and his toes are pushing into the carpet for leverage. He’s still rocking into the comforter and Jamie stills him with a wide hand against the small of his back.

“You want it like this?”

“Yeah, I—,” Tyler sounds uncharacteristically shy all the sudden. “So I can see your wrist?”

Jamie drops the stuff on the bed beside Tyler and plasters himself to his back. He’s able to prop himself up mostly with his knees on the side of the mattress and feet firmly on the floor. He crooks his left arm through the space between Tyler’s body and his arm and uses his right hand to rub up Tyler’s flank. Jamie takes a tentative thrust, concentrating most of the effort in his legs. His cock settles against Tyler’s ass as he does and Tyler moans, shoving back.

“Like this,” Tyler confirms, but it’s mumbled where his lips are back on Jamie’s wrist, pressed into his skin. Jamie doesn’t mind this at all, it leaves his right hand free to work. He rubs his fingers down Tyler’s arm, over his ribs and the swell of his ass, squeezing as he goes. Tyler’s tracing the letters in his name with his tongue and then biting down softly overtop of it.

“Hey,” Jamie presses his lips to Tyler’s ear and whispers deep and low. Tyler hums in question but doesn’t stop licking Jamie’s wrist. Jamie brings his right hand around to cup Tyler’s chin, pressing his thumb against Tyler’s lower lip and pulling him gently away. He runs the pads of his index and middle finger there next. “Help.”

Tyler gets the idea right away, sucking Jamie’s fingers into his mouth enthusiastically.

“Fuck, Ty. Your mouth is so good.” Every swipe of Tyler’s tongue over his fingers is like a jolt right to his dick and Jamie grinds himself into the cleft of Tyler’s ass while he drools messily over Jamie’s hand. “God you’re so good.”

He loves how Tyler lights up with the praise, always working twice as hard to keep hearing Jamie’s approval. He works his mouth around Jamie’s fingers like he’s trying to kill him with it, putting on a show with each flick of his tongue and scrape of his teeth. Jamie has to grit his teeth to keep from pinning him down and rubbing off on him just like this.

Jamie is loath to stop him but there’s a task at hand. He slides his fingers out slowly and Tyler lets him, so Jamie takes it upon himself to slide them back in, fucking between his lips carefully. Tyler’s moan vibrates through the both of them. He slides them back out all the way this time, kissing praise into the back of Tyler’s neck.

“So hot, Ty. So fucking perfect,” he nips at the start of his spine.

Jamie moves to wedge both his knees between Tyler’s, spreading them apart and creating more room to work. He can feel when Tyler relaxes into it, his shoulders slumping, head tipping down to press his sweaty hairline into where his and Jamie’s hand are intertwined.

“C’mon Jamie, please.”

“I got you.” Jamie circles Tyler’s hole with spit-slick fingers and wraps his left arm tighter around him when he bucks into it. They’re sweating enough that they slide together easily and Jamie is able to ride each movement of Tyler’s hips as he sinks his middle finger into him. He doesn’t plan to do much more without the lube, but Tyler never minds a little burn in the beginning.

Jamie knows his fingers are big, Tyler’s told him, spent enough time touching them and holding his hand, eyes dark. He doesn’t try to add the second, just drags his index finger around where Tyler is stretched around him.

“I want it, come on Jamie, fuck me.” Tyler thrusts back on Jamie’s finger hard enough that he nearly gets his wish.

“We got all night, Ty.” Jamie bites at his earlobe. “Why the rush?”

“I need it,” Tyler’s voice cracks and it tightens in Jamie’s chest.

“Shh, okay. Okay, you’re okay.” Jamie uses the distraction to press his second finger in and Tyler fucking keens for him. “F’you want more though you gotta get the slick, okay?”

Tyler nods like he’s not even hearing the words and stays silent until Jamie starts to fuck him slowly on his fingers. He does it maddeningly slow, feeling Tyler tighten around him each time he moves. He twists his wrist when he pulls out just past the knuckles and then pushes back harder. Each movement coaxes a broken grunt from Tyler’s lips, Jamie can feel him breathing open-mouthed against his wrist. When he tips his head to the side, sucking in a deep breath, Jamie can see his brow furrowed, like he’s concentrating on each feeling.

Tyler keeps thrusting back onto him and rubbing his ass against Jamie in a way that makes it hard for him to keep up the rhythm. The spit is starting to dry and it’s not making things much easier. Tyler whimpers when Jamie pushes in once more and he can tell he’s had enough like this. Jamie glides his fingers against Tyler’s prostate as he pulls out for good and shushes him with a kiss between his shoulder blades.

“Sorry, sorry. Hang on, okay?”

He twists around to grab the bottle of lube and has Tyler help him coat his fingers. Jamie starts right off with three, pushing back in and swearing when Tyler squeezes around him with a quiet sob.

“I just want you, Jamie. Please, please just fuck me.”

“Almost, I promise. You’re so close. Almost ready for me.” Jamie doesn’t make Tyler wait this time, gliding against his prostate with every thrust until he has to pause and make Tyler promise to quit rubbing off on the bed before he comes already. He knows Tyler loves being fucked after he’s come, but Jamie also really likes feeling Tyler come around him and fucking him through it.

That’s what he wants and Jamie has to stop when he gets impatient himself. Tyler feels so hot around his fingers and he’s dizzy with the prospect of getting in there himself. He slides out slowly so Tyler knows he’s pulling out completely and can brace for it. He still lets out a bereft mewl when Jamie pulls away.

“Hand me the condom.” Tyler whimpers again but doesn’t move. “Ty, baby, you gotta get it for me. I can’t reach it when you’re holding my hand.” Jamie wipes his other, messy hand on the edge of the comforter and promises himself that he’ll wash it before they check out.

“Don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

“Just you, Jamie.”

“Just me?”

“Yes, I don’t want anything but you. Please?”

“Tyler,” Jamie tries to shake away the fog of sex and focus on what Tyler is asking. “What—we haven’t even.”

“Please Jamie?” Tyler looks over his shoulder and Jamie’s hips move without his permission when he catches sight of him, eyes wet and dark, lips bitten a deep red, his cheeks stained high with arousal. “I’m clean, I got tested at the end of the season. And I’ve only ever done it like that with one person, he only ever did it with me and he got tested, too.”

Jamie bites his lip. There aren’t too many people Tyler could be talking about, really. “Brownie?” It’s an educated guess.

“Yeah, just him. And not for a long time now.” Tyler pushes his ass back against Jamie’s cock. Maybe it’s strange, but that actually makes Jamie feel better. Brownie wouldn’t lie to Tyler and he knows Tyler wouldn’t lie to him. “Have you ever before?”

“No, I’ve never. Never without anything.”

“Then please? Just you this time. I want to feel it when you come.”

“Okay, fuck Tyler, that sounds—” He leans down to kiss him, a dirty kiss that leaves them mostly breathing into each other’s mouths as Tyler blindly adds more lube to Jamie’s hand. It’s probably not enough, but he knows Tyler would prefer that to too sloppy and wet, mess rolling down his thighs—more than there already will be, Jamie shivers as he slicks himself up thinking about it.

He slides back his foreskin and steadies himself at the base, kneeing Tyler’s legs farther apart.

“C’mon Jamie, I want to feel you.”

“Hold on, hold on, let me,” he slips over Tyler’s entrance twice before catching enough pressure to push in the head.

“Shit,” Jamie lets out a full body shudder and Tyler bucks back in response, forcing Jamie deeper. The noise Tyler lets out is loud and absolutely obscene.

Jamie uses his whole body to press Tyler into the mattress, sucking a deep bruise into the crook of his shoulder as he eases himself down, sliding into Tyler bit by bit until he’s giving him all his weight and Tyler’s filled completely.

Jamie’s on fire with it, the tight heat surrounding him with nothing in between. His cock twitches and Tyler grunts when he feels it.

“So much better like this, Jamie. Just you.”

Jamie nods, forehead pressing hard on Tyler’s shoulder as he tries to find words. Tyler speaks again before he can.

“Move, c’mon. Fuck me.” Tyler growls. “Been making me wait all day.” Jamie chuckles at that.

“’Kay, m’going.” Jamie tucks his right arm like his left, crooked under Tyler upper body so he can prop himself up on his elbows. His hand wraps around Tyler’s shoulder and he pulls experimentally. It forces Tyler back on his cock harder and they both groan.

“Yeah, keep doing it like that, come on.”

It’s a balance between Jamie shifting his hips back, sliding almost all the way out, and shoving back in, then pulling Tyler back on him at the same time. He sets a slow place, but the power behind each thrust is maddening. Tyler keeps slipping up higher on the bed with each shove.

When he starts to feel Tyler pushing back into him, Jamie speeds up. Tyler goes nearly limp beneath him, noises spilling from his mouth when Jamie’s cock finds his prostate. He’s going too hard to aim well each time, but the unexpected bursts of it have Tyler tightening around him sporadically.

“You’re so fucking deep, Jamie. Jamie, I can feel it. C’mon, like that. I need it, please!” Tyler isn’t shouting, but he’s not quiet either, like he can’t quite control his volume.

“Shh, I’m not stopping.” Jamie keeps his thrusts hard and deep, pulling back only a bit before pushing in fast. He tilts his hips to keep up the rhythm when he finds a way to hit Tyler’s spot each time. Jamie can tell he’s close, the way he’s mostly babbling, but he won’t come like this chafing against the bed.

Tyler’s still clinging to Jamie’s left arm for dear life and Jamie’s maneuvered his right around Tyler’s head, fisted weakly in his sweaty hair so Jamie can twist him around to kiss him as he pleases. The kissing somewhat quiets the steady stream of noises that Tyler hasn’t stopped with. He’s louder now than he’s been, without having neighbors to worry about—though he’s almost certainly woken up Jordie at this point, if not driven him outside for a late night walk.

“I can’t reach you, Ty. You gotta let go of me or pull up some so I can—”

“Not letting go,” Tyler buries his face into Jamie’s inner arm and gasps out a breath. He tries to lift himself, Jamie can feel his thighs shaking with the effort of it, but Tyler barely moves. Jamie pulls back enough to take some weight off, letting Tyler raise up and dig his knees into the mattress beside Jamie’s. It elevates his pelvis off the bed enough that Jamie can finally get at him.

He lets go of Tyler’s hair after one more sloppy kiss and runs his hands down his back, around his ribs to his chest. Tyler’s abs spasm under his touch with the effort of balancing himself and Jamie will never get tired of touching them. Finally he’s reaching down between Tyler’s legs, finding him hard and waiting.

He’s heavy and hot in Jamie’s hand, slick all down the length from his rutting into the bed. Jamie loves that he’s like this, that Tyler likes getting fucked so much he’s hard through it. He works his hand quick and loose, careful not to go too rough where Tyler’s been rubbing against the bedding.

“You want to come like this? Me fucking you? Or want me to blow you after?”

“No, like this. M’so close, Jamie, please.”

Jamie’s barely pulling out with his thrusts, mostly using the weight of his body to rock into Tyler, pushing him forward into Jamie’s fist. It won’t be enough for Jamie to come, but Tyler loves it like that, the extra weight of Jamie’s body forcing him even deeper.

When Tyler starts to come, Jamie hears it before he feels it. His mouth falls open wider, cheek pressed hard into where their hands are still tangled together. He lets out a broken sob, eyes slamming shut, and then Jamie feels it. Tyler clamps down around him so hard that Jamie pitches forward into him without meaning to, and then he’s splashing Jamie’s fist.

Tyler bucks through it and Jamie has to still his thrusts to keep his grip. He sounds fucking hurt, the way he’s crying with each spasm and Jamie kisses down his spine to soothe him through it.

“So good, Ty. Fuck you’re so pretty.” Jamie keeps stroking him, slowing his pace each time until Tyler whimpers and tries to move away from it. He doesn’t like being touched after, but he loves being fucked. Jamie is already so close, feeling Tyler still fluttering around him, knowing there’s nothing separating them.

His first thrust rips another wrecked sound from Tyler’s lips and he tightens up once more, like his orgasm wasn’t quite done yet. Jamie plasters himself to Tyler’s back again and starts moving his hips fast, slamming into Tyler hard and deep.

The noises Tyler make fuel him on until he’s at the very edge.

“Gonna feel you come,” Tyler manages between punched groans.

And that’s all he needs. Jamie pushes in one more time, back going rigid, and comes so hard his knees jerk into the bed.

“Oh my god, Jamie,” Tyler keens like he can feel it, too and it only makes Jamie come harder. He gives a few abortive thrusts with each spasm, working himself through it, before collapsing the last of his weight on top of Tyler.

“Holy fuck.” Jamie doesn’t think he’s expected to be eloquent right now anyway. They pant in silence for a while, Jamie pressing soft kisses into Tyler’s sweaty back, until he feels Tyler squeeze around him with a quiet chuckle.

“I can feel you.” He does it again and Jamie winces, still tender from coming. “Also you’re squishing me into the corner here, babe.”

“Fuck, sorry.” Jamie sits back some to see where he’s got Tyler nearly bent in half over the edge of the mattress. He takes hold of himself at the base and slowly eases out, trying not to groan too loudly when some of the wetness drips out too. It’s nearly to Tyler’s thigh when he speaks.

“You gonna stare or you gonna help?” Tyler gives him an impish look, far too coherent for someone who just had the coherency fucked out of him.

“Both?” Jamie stumbles back for the tissue box on the nightstand, watching the dribble down Tyler’s inner leg. “Shit. You look—,” Jamie huffs in disbelief. The same proprietary feeling as when he sees his name on Tyler’s wrist wells up in his chest. “This is like the X-rated version of having my name on you or something,” he finally finishes.

Tyler bursts out with a laugh. “Yeah, I guess it kind of is.”

He stays patiently still when Jamie wipes him up, first with the tissues and then with a washcloth. Tyler climbs into bed naked as usual, and watches Jamie fish out some clean boxer-briefs from his bag.

The room is warmer than usual so Tyler doesn’t tangle himself up in Jamie too much, but he gets close.

“Can I see your arm again?” Tyler kisses his neck.

“Yeah.” Jamie hands his left arm over and lets Tyler touch it.

“When I was a kid, I used practice writing my A’s like you do.” Tyler traces over the letters slowly.

“A’s?”

Tyler flips his wrist over to show Jamie his own name. “How you make the letter A. I like it. It’s so fancy looking.”

Jamie’s chest tightens at that—thinking about Tyler as a kid, looking down at his wrist and being excited about it, wanting to show Jamie off, liking things about him that were so trivial. It’s so opposite from the experience Jamie had it seems foreign.

He wants to offer up something of his own, something that will make Tyler feel just as needed as he’s always made Jamie feel, even before he knew him. But he can’t even come up with one distinct moment to share.

It’s all bled together into one entity, a vast floating feeling that’s filled his chest, filled every empty aching space that he’d carried for so long, that he didn’t know what to do with or how to fix. As slowly and as stealthily as it had taken over his life, Tyler had come and replaced it.

“Tyler. I—I trust you, you know?”

Tyler looks over at him with an open smile. “I trust you, too.”

“You, um.” He takes a deep breath. Knowing that he means what he’s about to say doesn’t make it any easier to get out. “You know the combination to,” he flexes his wrist gently, “you know it now. And I want you to help me choose.”

Tyler leans on his elbow and looks down at Jamie. “Choose…?”

“Help me choose when I take it off. It’s—I’m okay with it not being up to just me anymore. You know me, you know me better than I think I do sometimes. And, I might not think I’m ready, but you wouldn’t ever—you would never push me too soon, but you always know when I need a push.”

“Jamie.”

“So, I want us both to decide. Because I trust you, and I love you. And—” Tyler is staring down at him with an awed expression—pink lips parted and eyes shining—and Jamie has to kiss him. He feels the warm weight of it blooming in his chest. “And I am so glad you found me.”

Tyler settles back in against Jamie’s shoulder and pulls him in for a tight hug. “Me too.”

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie wakes up the next morning to an empty bed. He is usually up way before Tyler, but checking his phone he figures out it’s not that Tyler got up earlier but that he slept in. It’s not even 9:30 yet, but they’ve only got a week at Lodge and there’s a lot he still wants to do, wants to do with Tyler.

He grabs a plain white undershirt off the floor that smells clean enough and slips into a pair of athletic shorts before setting off in search of coffee.

There’s a pot already brewed in the kitchen and Jamie grabs a mug from the cabinet. The window over the sink is open and he can hear Jordie talking outside.

“I can’t believe you let him mark you up like that. Looks like a Hoover got at you.”

“It’s not that bad, asshole. And anyway it’s your brother you’re talking about, you weirdo. Don’t be gross.” Tyler snorts a laugh.

Jamie winces at bit at the implication of Jordie’s chirping and goes for the creamer.

“You’re the one parading your love bite around in front of me. And you’re basically my brother now too, you know. If I can’t give you two shit then what’s the point of my existence!”

Tyler laughs at that, but Jordie’s words make Jamie’s stomach flip with something that he can’t place.

He stirs in the creamer and joins them on the deck. Jordie and Tyler are both already in swimsuits, though Jordie has a tank top on and Tyler is shirtless, revealing a small purple mark just at the base of his neck. Jamie blushes.

“Jesus, finally! I thought you’d sleep forever.” He rolls his eyes at Tyler’s exaggeration before plopping himself down between the two of them.

“Guy needs his rest after the night you two had.” Jordie slaps him on the back and he and Tyler both grimace.

“You’re really terrible at boundaries, you know that,” Jamie gives him a pointed look before blowing on his coffee.

“You keep me up all night, I get to tease you. Them’s the rules.”

Jamie takes a sip of his coffee and hears Tyler’s breath catch beside him. He looks over and sees Tyler staring at his bare wrist. He looks quickly back to his own coffee when he sees Jamie notice.

“Chubbs, you up for taking the boat out again today? Supposed to be a really good spot to fish out a little ways but the guy in the Lodge said they stop biting around two.”

“Yeah, sounds good.”

“Sweet. I was telling Seggy we could try to hit the links after that. He hasn’t been out that way so maybe we can take the long drive up.”

Jamie looks over at Tyler. “Do you even have a shirt to wear golfing?”

“Shut up, I can totally borrow one. I’m sure you both packed a bunch of polos for you vacation,” Tyler sets down his mug and leans back against the deck rail, stretching out his torso and tucking his arms behind his head. Jamie watches him show off. Probably longer than is appropriate.

“Oh, Christ. Well, we lost Jamie.” Jordie moves to stand up, whacking Jamie on the back of the head as he does. “Try not to fuck away the morning, boys. I’m gonna go shower and when I get back, I expect everyone will be fully clothed,” he gives Tyler a look, “or as clothed as they get, and then we’re fishing.”

Jordie slides the glass door closed behind him leaving the two of them on the deck.

“You look good this morning,” Tyler nudges Jamie with his foot. He reaches down to pluck at the thin fabric of Jamie’s shirt.

“My hair is a mess.” Tyler goes to touch that, too. He smooths down some of the more unruly spots, brushing it back like he always does.

“I like it. And your wrist.” He brings his hand back carefully into his lap. “Do you think you would want to leave it off today?”

Jamie looks over and Tyler has this hopeful look on his face. It pains Jamie to do so, but he wants to be honest. “On the boat, I don’t mind. But, at the golf course, probably not.”

Tyler nods in understanding. “Should I wear mine? When we go?”

“I don’t mind if you leave it off when we’re here, in Victoria,” Jamie measures his words. “But I don’t think I’m ready for you to have it off all the time.”

“No, I know. And I’ll put it on if you want me to, if we go out. Obviously when we’re in Dallas.” Tyler sucks in a deep breath like he’s preparing for something. “But one day? Do you think you’d be okay if we took them off for good, if we told people eventually?”

Jamie doesn’t answer. It’s fine that Tyler’s friends know—his family eventually, when Tyler wants to tell them—and he’s okay if his own family and Sean, and Katy sooner or later, he supposes, know as well.

“Listen, I’m not saying that I want to do it tomorrow, okay? That’s not it at all. But I don’t want to wear the guard forever. I want to be able to show you off, hold your hand and walk around with you and shit. Go on dates and run errands and—” Tyler trails off. “Not making a huge deal, but just not hiding it. I want to do all that dumb couple shit with you, in the open. Don’t you think about that?”

Before Jamie met Tyler, his future with him was an indefinable thing. He was an obstacle. He was the person standing between Jamie and the hockey career he wanted. When he met Tyler, he stopped being nebulous and started being a tangible entity. It’s scary how easily he slots into all the places in Jamie’s life where something seemed missing.

These are the things that Jamie knows:

When he retires from hockey, he wants to go back to Victoria. The Island will always be home. When Jamie goes back to Victoria, he wants to coach in the local leagues that he played in, he wants to drive fifteen minutes to the beach or the mountains or the city. He wants to be close for when Jenny and Sean get married, when Jordie finds Katy and settles down, close enough to babysit their kids. He wants to buy a house that he can fill with mementos from his career.

And he wants Tyler there. He wants to take Tyler to the Lodge every summer and show him how beautiful the long drives can be. He wants his house to have a yard for Marshall and his living room to have space enough for all Tyler’s accolades alongside his, things Tyler’s won on his own, things they’ll win together. He wants to have enough guestrooms that Tyler’s friends can stay with them and that Tyler’s family can come visit—because Jamie believes in his heart that they’ll come around.

And he doesn’t want to wear his wristguard for any of it.

He looks over at where Tyler is waiting for his answer. He’s sitting up again, propped with his elbows on his knees, hunched forward over his coffee—black, because Tyler has a thing against creamer that Jamie can’t figure out—exposing the curve of his spine and the purpling bruise Jamie left at the base of his neck. He sees Jamie notice it and waggles his eyebrows, breaking into a huge grin.

He’s unashamed, self-assured, and brave, everything Jamie has always loved about him.

“Yeah.” He threads his arm through Tyler’s and wraps his hand around Tyler’s bare wrist, squeezing. “I definitely think I could be okay with it one day,” Jamie finally says. He watches Tyler’s face light up.

“Cool.”

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Chapter Text

When Vinny and Brad are fifteen, their names come in on each other. It’s barely gradual—a dark stain for a week and then deep black letters and scratchy writing that unmistakably belongs to one another.

Brad doesn’t talk to Vinny for four days and it hurts, like a bruise in the center of his chest that he can’t get his fingers on to press.

He’s downright miserable at night, lying on his back and staring up at the slatted bunk above him. He knows Brad is up there, feeling just as upset.

“M’sorry, okay? I didn’t mean for this to happen,” Vinny finally says, because he feels like he needs to. He probably won’t even ever know if it was really his fault—if wanting him so much could have caused this—but maybe Brad just wants him to say so. Then he adds, in a quieter voice, “but you kissed me back.”

“I know.” Brad croaks finally and Vinny exhales. “I’m not mad at you, okay? I’m just scared.”

“Me, too.”

They plan to go together to the tattoo shop. Brad manages to scrounge up someone in the senior class who can make fake IDs and Vinny gets his hands on enough cash, saved from birthday cards and unexpected treats from his mother in care packages, that they can probably bribe their way around anyone who knows they aren’t 18.

The night before, Vinny and Brad lay side by side on Brad’s bunk. It takes Vinny twenty minutes to work up the courage to reach out and take Brad’s hand. When their fingers lace together, the names touch.

“We can still be together, even if we can’t, you know. Be together,” Brad promises solemnly.

“Yeah.” Vinny’s already gotten used to waking up each day and seeing Brad’s name. When he goes to bed tomorrow, it’ll be the first time he wakes up without it in over a month.

Brad sits up suddenly with a crooked smile and looks down at Vinny. “I’ve got an idea!” He scrambles over Vinny without waiting for him to get up and drops with a muffled thump when his socked feet hit the floor.

“Vinny, c’mere,” Brad says after rummaging at his desk for a while. Vinny climbs over the side of the bed as well, much shorter of a drop, and Brad rolls his eyes at the smirk.

“What?”

“Just, give me your wrist.” Brad holds out his hand and Vinny places his right wrist out. He watches as Brad lines up a sheet of notebook paper and writes his name in black marker, same letters that Vinny knows so well.

“Your handwriting definitely gets nicer when you get older,” Vinny watches over Brad’s shoulder.

“Shut up,” but he says it with a laugh. Brad admires his work and then caps the marker, sliding the paper away from Vinny’s wrist.

“Here, you keep this.” He folds it up tightly and puts it in Vinny’s still-outstretched hand. “Now do mine.”

Vinny places paper over Brad’s wrist and writes his name as neatly as he can. When he’s done, Brad takes it from him, folds it up as small as the other and fishes his wallet out from his backpack, slipping it inside.

Vinny crosses the room to his desk and does the same.

“There. Now even when we can’t see it, we’ll know it was there.” This time it’s Brad who reaches out for Vinny’s hand.

They fall asleep, side-by-side, in the bottom bed.

Sometimes, when Vinny wakes up in the middle of the night, he looks down at the black bar on his wrist and wonders if he can’t still make out what it used to say. Sometimes, he unfolds the piece of paper, delicately enough not to rip the already worn creases, and holds it over where he knows the name used to be.

Brad is right in the end; they can still be together, even if they’re not together. Vinny is proud of their careers and the things they’ve achieved, and he’ll always think that Brad Richards is the greatest player and most amazing person he’s ever known.

He doesn’t even usually mind that he has to keep it to himself.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jordie likes going to the rink in Saanich because the ice time is a couple dollars cheaper than in Victoria. It’s not too bad a drive and he’s done it countless times before.

Coach wanted him to work on speeding up his transitions and improving the accuracy of his shots from the point. He’s glad to see there’s a couple goalies who’ve come out as well, it’s always better when there’s someone to shoot on.

He feels weird the second he steps on the ice. Jordie does a quick equipment check, makes sure everything is secure and on the correct side—he’s only done up his shin guards on the wrong leg one time, but Chubbs hasn’t let it go since.

Everything is fine, but Jordie can’t shake the feeling that something is strange. He starts his warm-up anyway, skating a few laps and stretching out. A few other guys are here working on passing and taking shots on the goaltenders.

He finally gets his bearings once he’s back into his routine. His transitions go well—Jordie has been working really hard on getting the hop out of his backwards crossovers and he’s finally getting the correct muscle memory going. He wants to get some shots in before the goalies leave.

The goalies switch out while he’s getting his pucks lined up and he politely waits for the new netminder to give him the go ahead before he starts with some easy warm-up shots. A few other skaters shoot some easy pucks before the goalie waves them to start.

Jordie starts with his wristers, which have always been pretty accurate. He gets all but one on net, though only two make it in. He goes to fetch his pucks for some slapshot practice but makes sure to check with the goalie first that it’s okay. Not everyone likes their practice sessions to involve screaming slapshots to the head.

“Hey,” Jordie taps the goalie across the pads. “You cool with some clappers?”

“Yeah, let ‘er rip, bud.” Jordie has played hockey with girls before, of course he has, the Island’s hockey programs aren’t that big. But he’s still a little surprised to hear the voice.

He’s even more surprised when she turns to give him a huge grin and his heart does some fucked up flutter that makes him flush hot and cold at once. He can see through her cage that her face falters, too.

Jordie feels frozen to the ice until an older guy skates up on the other side.

“Katy, we got about ten more minutes before mom picks us up, okay?”

“Yeah, Dad.”

Jordie waits until the man skates away before tapping the goalie’s pads again. “I’m Jordie.”

“Katy.”

“Nice to meet you.”

Jordie gets about 70% of his slapshots on net but only buries one, blocker side. Once his pile is gone, Katy waves the other goalie over to take her spot.

Jordie is fetching his pucks when she skates by and thumps him across the chest with her glove.

“I’ll see you in a while, yeah?”

Jordie gives her his biggest grin. “Oh, count on it.”

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Bozie lives with Phil for two months before he stops wearing his guard at home. He jammed his wrist a few games back and the guard makes him stiff, especially when he sleeps in it. He still puts it on when they go out in public, but around the house it doesn’t seem like such a big deal.

“Holy shit!”

Bozie has his cereal spoon halfway to his mouth when Phil is suddenly shouting at him from a foot away.

“Bozie, holy shit! Holy shit!”

“What? What the fuck?” His mouth is full of Cheerios and he whips his head around to see if there’s something behind him.

Phil doesn’t answer, he just grabs Bozie’s hand with the spoon still in it, spilling milk and cereal all over the counter. Bozie is about to swear at him again until he sees Phil is reading his wrist. He’s tanned a little around the guard and the black lettering stands out more on the pale skin.

“You know?” Phil is smiling now and shaking Bozie’s arm at him.

“Know what?” It occurs to him for a moment that Phil might be sleepwalking or something. It is still kind of early.

Amanda?”

“No?” Bozie doesn’t know her, not as anything more than a name just yet. He’s not been not looking, but his mom always told him that things happen for a reason and she’ll come into his life when he’s ready.

“My sister?”

And, oh.

Bozie’s mouth gapes as he starts and stops a sentence, nonsensical syllables spilling out. “I—what?” is what he settles on.

“Shit, Bozie.” Phil is still holding onto his arm tightly, keeps turning Bozie’s wrist to read it again.

“Are you sure?”

“Asshole, I know my sister’s handwriting, c’mon.” He finally lets go, and Bozie brings his wrist up to look at it. It’s familiar to him, too, but it’s been covered for a lot of his life.

He huffs a disbelieving sort of laugh at it. “Well, shit.” He can feel the smile tugging at his lips. He knows of Phil’s sister, but he’s never met her himself. “And she’s got—”

Phil nods. “Tyler, yeah. Since she was like eleven.”

Bozie lets out an airy sound and stares down at his arm.

Phil’s punch to his shoulder knocks him out of his daze.

“Bozie!”

Phil never takes off his guard. Not ever. Bozie’s never even asked about it. Phil is such a private guy that Bozie assumed he’d probably get beat up for even thinking about it too hard.

But now, Phil is fucking beaming at him, palm to his forehead and shaking his head slowly like he can’t even fucking believe it, and Bozie can’t stop the glance up to his guard.

Phil sees him but just shrugs, smile not once wavering. “S’nothing.”

Bozie furrows his brow a bit. “You know, I knew a kid, back in Victoria. I’m pretty sure he had a guy’s name on him.”

He lets it hang there for a minute but then Phil throws his head back and laughs. He laughs so hard that Stella comes running in and weaves around his feet. His laughs so hard that Bozie thinks he’s wiping tears from eyes.

“Is that what you think?” Phil finally gasps out. “You think I’m hiding some guy’s name?”

Bozie just shrugs. He doesn’t really know what he thinks, but he figured he would say it just in case. It hadn’t ever bothered him when he was a kid, the way Bennie looked at him. They were great at finding each other on the ice and did basically everything else well together, sometimes Bozie thought it would have been pretty fucking simple if they’d been soulmates.

“Oh, Bozie,” Phil is still smiling like his cheeks will split and gently undoes the lock on his guard. He holds his arm out without even a moment of hesitation that Bozie would have expected from a guy who acts like any direct attention is an actual death march.

The skin is smooth and white and bare. Phil doesn’t have a name on him.

After a beat, Phil lights back up all over again. “Oh, Jesus, I gotta call Mandy. Is that okay with you? I mean, you can call her if you want. Or we don’t have to tell her at all.” His face darkens for a moment. “But she’s really fucking awesome Bozie, so you should definitely want to.”

“Why don’t you just invite her over to stay here next week? It’s American Thanksgiving so she’d be out of class right.”

“It’s regular Thanksgiving. But, yeah. Yeah, that’s a good idea.” Phil beams at him again. “Man, I can’t fucking believe it.”

Phil insists on beers to celebrate that night and they play a few games of pool, shooting the shit like they usually do. Phil leaves his guard off, and jokes with Bozie that if he did have a name, it would probably be Stella—she’s the only girl that he’ll ever really love.

Phil laughs about it, but Bozie can’t bring himself to.

When Bozie lines up to break for the third game, Phil puts a hand on his wrist before he can, turning it over to look at the Amanda one more time.

“I’m so fucking happy,” Phil is beaming at him. Bozie knows he genuinely means it.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Brownie has never worn a guard in his life. Well, once or twice when it was an event that asked for it, but he’s never owned one himself or wore one by choice.

But he still finds himself at 35, single, without having even met his soulmate. When he stopped playing hockey, he dated around a while and it was nice; he could’ve settled down with a few of the women he met, maybe even one of the guys, but none of them were his. While that didn’t get in the way exactly, there was always an undercurrent of ‘temporary’ working to dissolve things.

He’s just gotten home from a quick vacation to visit his family when Brownie gets the invite in the mail—Tyler calls to invite him personally about three hours later.

“You have to come see the place, bro. It’s amazing.”

“Yeah, of course I’ll be there, man. The pictures you sent look awesome.”

“It’s way better now. We actually have our shit moved in and Jamie’s become some landscaping guru or something. The whole backyard looks totally different.”

“How’s he doing with the retirement?”

“He’s doing well, real well. I mean, his knee still bothers him off and on, but the last surgery helped a lot. He’s still upset about it, obviously, but like I tell him, it just wasn’t in the cards, you know?”

Brownie had been keeping up with the Stars, and Tyler obviously gave him a lot of the inside scoop, but it was still big news when Jamie blew out his knee two seasons back. He’d had something like a dozen surgeries but it still wasn’t enough and he’d been forced into retirement with a year left on his contract.

“He actually should be able to do some skating by winter so we’re looking into maybe starting a youth camp. Right now though he’s been talking about putting in a rock retaining wall or a retaining rock wall—something-or-other in the yard, I don’t even know. It’s his new summer project.”

“Well, I can’t wait to see you two, and the new place.”

Brownie flies out a day earlier than the housewarming party to spend time with Tyler and Jamie beforehand. He’s never been to the Island and Tyler is more than happy to show him around on the drive to his new house.

“It’s gorgeous, man. Like you can’t even imagine. Nothing like Toronto.”

“And it really never snows?”

“Dude, hardly ever, thank god. If I had to shovel our driveway every winter? Fuck it, we’d just end up snowed in for months.”

Tyler tells him more about the house buying process, his off season so far, plans for training camp in September. When Jamie retired, Tyler elected not to re-sign with the Stars.

“I figured I’d miss him too much. We’d already done that whole season apart when he was rehabbing. But man, I tell you, Free Agency was a shit show. I was convinced I was gonna end up somewhere in fuckin’ Carolina or something.”

“I thought they’d offered you something.”

“They did, a ton, but that’s even farther than Texas, man.” Ty had ended up taking a massive pay cut to sign a one-year contract closer to Jamie.

“Can’t believe you’re a fuckin Canuck, though,” Brownie shakes his head with a joking smile. “What would nineteen year old Tyler say?”

“A lot of shit he shouldn’t,” Tyler smirks. “But I tell ya, Jamie’s family is fucking tickled about it, and I wanted to be closer to home.”

“So here’s home now, huh?”

Tyler grins in answer.

Brownie discovers that Tyler wasn’t exaggerating about the house. It’s gorgeous. Not extravagantly large or anything, but it’s on a nice bit of land with beautiful views, and now that they’ve painted and moved the furniture in, it really does look way better than the pictures he’s seen. And the backyard absolutely looks like something off HGTV.

“Jesus, Jamie did all this?”

“Yeah, most of it. I mean the builders did the deck and the brick and all that, but he did the fire pit and the garden, everything in the back there. He even made that bench, can you believe that? He made that, dude. It was like, wood one day and I came home and bam! Bench.” Tyler glows and tosses a ball for Cash toward the back of the yard.

“And there’s the retaining wall I was telling you about, he wrapped that up like two days ago. Now we’re gonna plant herbs there. He’s got a total eye for this stuff and apparently a green fuckin’ thumb, too. Who knew?”

Brownie walks the perimeter, checks out the bench, the fire pit. The retaining wall with the small memorial rock for Marshall in it. Brownie runs his fingers over it.

“That was a surprise. He took the brick somewhere and got them to engrave it,” Tyler smiles sadly.

“Looks amazing, dude. M’glad you guys are so happy here.” Brownie means it, he really does, but that doesn’t mean he can help the tiny twinge of envy. He’s old enough now that domesticity is appealing.

Jamie is out picking up last minute stuff for the party when they arrive so Tyler settles Brownie’s stuff in the guestroom.

“Sorry about the mess. Jamie’s sister’s family was here last weekend and we just threw her kids in here. Linens are clean though. I’ll clear this all out for you.”

“Yeah no problem. Hey, are Blacks and Paul coming?”

“Oh! Yeah, I forgot to tell you. They’re flying into Vancouver tomorrow and then renting a car and ferrying out. They were gonna go to Kelowna next week anyway I think he said, for Paul’s birthday.”

“What about your family?”

“Mom and Jeff are coming next week. The girls were planning to come with, but I think it depends on their schedules.” Tyler starts loading the explosion of toys into a trunk.

“What about your dad?”

“Yeah, I’m not really holding out much on that front anymore.” Tyler shrugs.

“Sorry man.”

Once Jamie gets back, the three of them spend the rest of the day grilling and catching up, but in the morning, Brownie gets put right to work.

“You sleep here, you work here,” Tyler points a finger at him, but Brownie doesn’t mind helping. Jamie is still limping a little with the heavier stuff, but Brownie is good to carry things so he helps where he can.

By noon, the whole house is full and the yard is packed. Brownie caught up with Blacks and Paul for a while and then found himself meeting probably everyone who’s ever played NHL hockey out of Victoria. He’s chatting with Tyson Barrie and Tyler Bozak and his girl Mandy—who apparently has more Olympic hardware than everyone at the house combined—when Tyler finds him again.

“Jeez, Ty, how many fuckin’ people do you guys know?”

“Islanders are weird, I’m telling you. They honestly know everyone. It blows my mind sometimes how many people we run into that Jamie knows from school and shit. It’s like you're always surrounded by friends. The Island’s a cult, it's crazy.”

“And you're one of them now,” Brownie points out, taking the beer Tyler offers him.

“I know,” he beams, “I fuckin’ love it. Oh, shit! That reminds me, you gotta meet my new nephew dude, he's amazing. You remember Jordie, right?”

“Yeah.” Tyler is already dragging him off in one direction.

“He and Katy just had their first kid like four months ago? He's fucking adorable. C'mon.”

Tyler drags him over to where Jamie is talking with a few people and practically pries an infant out of his hands.

“Hey, I just got him!” Jamie pouts.

“I’ll give him back in a minute, relax Uncle Jamie.” He turns back to Brownie. “This is Jonny, and he’s gonna be the new star forward of the Benn family because daddy and mommy can’t decide between defense or goalie,” Tyler coos. “But no worries because Uncle Jamie and Uncle Tyler are gonna fix that real quick.”

A guy Brownie recognizes as Jordie scoffs a little and Tyler suddenly seems to remember there are other people here.

“Oh yeah, you remember Jordie? This is his wife Katy. She made half this little dude—the non-ginger half. And this is their neighbor, Lauren—another forward when she played.” Brownie senses some history to this conversation but Tyler plows on. “Jonny, Katy, Lauren this is Brownie.”

Brownie rolls his eyes at Tyler's half-assed introduction and holds out his hand. "Tyler. Also Tyler," he corrects. “Nice to meet you.”

“You too, Tyler.” Katy shakes his hand and he turns to Lauren, but she’s looking at him like he’s from another planet right now. Brownie looks down to take her hand, she kind of already started to reach for him, but he stops. He’s staring at his own name.

"Um."

"Bro, don’t be—holy shit!" Tyler is the first to notice besides the two of them. "Oop! Sorry, sorry," he covers the kids ears too late and Brownie is vaguely aware of Jordie reaching over their frozen, outstretched hands to grab his kid back from his foul-mouthed uncle.

Katy notices next. “Holy shit!”

“Jordie, I was supposed to get him back after. Why the he—heck are you guys—” Jamie sounds confused as fuck and yeah, Brownie can relate. “Oh.”

Finally he reaches out and takes her hand. “It’s really, really nice to meet you.”

“Likewise,” Lauren absolutely beams at him and it feels like every stupid, cheesy romance movie he’s ever seen in his life.

And it’s awesome.