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you know that I'd swing with you for the fences

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Connie isn’t quite sure when she decided she definitely wasn’t going into the NHL a virgin. She blames it on Stromer, half because she can and half because, well, she blames everything on Stromer. But she knows that’s probably not it.

Sometimes she thinks it was the moment she knew she was going first. Which is not a slight on Eichel, who protects the puck like no one Connie’s seen before. She’s just that damn good. She works fucking hard to be that damn good.

Which means she barely has the time, let alone the energy and inclination, to pick up. Not to mention the horror stories she hears from across the country from her fellow CHL women of the teenage male’s stereotypical inability to get a girl off to save his life. Connie does not want to put in that much effort if she can take care of it herself. And, of course, there’s the competition element. She’s seen what happens to women who aren’t careful about the people they choose and she absolutely refuses to have a scandal to her name before she’s even fucking drafted. Stromer calls it trust issues. So does Alex. Connie tells them both to fuck off.

Regardless, by the time she makes it to Florida, ready and prepared to be drafted - first , and she knows it - she also has a plan. It’s not a good plan, but even ten years into the integration, guys outnumber girls and Connie feels pretty confident she can walk away from this trip having checked ‘lose virginity’ off her bucket list.

At least it’s her main goal before Michelle latches onto her side and drags the rest of the draft-eligible ladies with her.

“Come on. We’ve got beer.”

Connie knows better than to ask where it came from and resigns herself to playing drinking games she hates because she is a) a lightweight and b) not nearly the most adventurous one in the group. But Michelle is a force to be reckoned with on a good day and really, this is one argument Connie rarely has the strength or patience for.

And that is how she gets suckered into literally her most-hated drinking game: Never Have I Ever.

“Never have I ever sucked a cock in the locker room.”

Connie wrinkles her nose as Matie, Lindsay and Hadyn knock back gulps of their beer while she twists the red solo cup in front of her. Even a good ten rounds in, it’s still mostly full.

Michelle’s already laughing as she sets her cup down, just barely managing to avoid choking. “Konecny, Crouser?”

Lindsay rolls her eyes. “Like you can talk. Is Stromer as loud as he looks?”

Connie almost drops her beer in the effort to slam her hands over her ears. This is not information she needs about her A. The girls all laugh and Connie sends Lindsay a baleful look before glaring at Michelle.

She hates this game.

“Never have I ever done butt stuff.”

Connie closes her eyes, feels the shudder start at the bottom of her spine. She wishes with all her heart she could say it was out of disgust or a prudishness she does not feel.

The thing is, talking about sex gets Connie a little hot under the collar. She kind of blames it on the virginity thing because there are a lot of sensations she’s not familiar with despite the practice she has with her own hands, but it always leaves her just a little… buzzed. She has a phenomenal imagination.

She pushes herself up abruptly, ignoring Michelle’s indignant squawk from where she’d dropped her head to Connie’s shoulder.

“Davo!”

Connie shakes her head and swallows. “I’m heading out. One of us has to be not hungover in the morning.”

It’s a flimsy excuse and they all know it. But they also know better than to push or argue, even if Michelle’s frown is fierce. Michelle even goes as far as to open her mouth before Lindsay slams an elbow into her ribs.

“Wimp,” Hadyn says cheerfully, in that strange way where it feels like a chirp, sure, but not malicious. Connie shoves her head on the way by and ignores the chorus of sound at her back.

The hall is utterly silent beyond the natural volume that she can hear through the closed door of Matie’s hotel room and Connie revels in it a little. Quiet is exactly what she needs to talk herself down off this stupid cliff, get rid of some of the ridiculous pressure she’d put on herself with the expectations of the draft weekend. She huffs and tilts her head back against the wall, willing her body to calm down, cursing herself for not being smart enough to pack a vibrator.

“If it isn’t the great McJesus herself.”

Fuck. Because her night can’t get any worse.

Jack Eichel, his stupid curls going in every direction, is leaning against the opposite wall, smirk on his face and his hands in his pockets. Cocky fucker.

“Eichel.”

“Looking a little flushed there, McDavid. You girls get up to a raunchy pillow fight?”

Connie rolls her eyes, has to or she’s pretty sure she’ll punch him. “Please,” she scoffs. “Try to be a little more creative.”

“Hmm,” he says, like he knows, and maybe he does because the next thing out of his mouth is, “Never have I ever?”

She blinks for a moment because, the fuck? “Yeah. Marns cheats.”

“She seems like the type.”

Connie’s snort is a little closer to hysterical than amused and Jack arches an eyebrow.

“You okay there, McJesus?”

“It’s a stupid game,” Connie says, shoving off the wall. Her irritation is mixing with the arousal that’s humming under her skin and she just… she needs. And she needs this virginity thing to be gone so she can just… There’s a lot of hockey players here, many of whom run on high energy like she does and she wants to be able to hit it and quit it, wants it to not matter, wants to not feel like there’s this fucking albatross hanging around her neck, separate from the one that screams First Pick. “Who cares if you’ve gone down on someone in the shower? Or whether you’ve deliberately stripped down in the locker room to see who reacts first? Or gone skinny dipping?”

“You’ve never gone skinny dipping?” Jack asks and actually looks askance. She thinks. There’s something else there as she glares at him.

“Of course I’ve gone skinny dipping, christ. My parents have a cottage in Muskoka.”

“I don’t know what that means.” But he’s smirking, so Connie doesn’t really believe him. He shrugs. “The shower isn’t everyone’s thing.”

“I wouldn’t know,” she growls. “Which is also why the game is stupid because fuck me if I haven’t slept my way through the O, okay?”

“You’ve never had shower sex?”

Connie gets right up in his face, genuinely angry now, frustrated with her friends, with the pressure of hockey, with him. “I’ve never had sex, asshole.”

Jack goes stiff right about the time Connie realizes exactly what she’s just said. “You have to be fucking with me.”

Connie’s face is already flushing in embarrassment. “Fuck. Fuck.”

But Jack doesn’t crow about it, doesn’t laugh at her. Connie has to work very, very hard not to shiver when his long fingers wrap around her wrist, where her hand is fisted in his shirt. God, she is wired. And horny. She has to be. It’s the only logical explanation for why the heated want in his eyes is something she can feel her body straining for.

“I mean, I knew your life was hockey, but this seems a little above and beyond the call of duty. You know it’s not actually possible to marry a sport, right?”

“Fuck you.” But his words don’t sting like maybe they ought to. At least, they should sting, if the media were writing the story. Connie doesn’t put much stock in media stories. “It’s a lot of drama.”

“Not if you’re doing it right.” His fingers are still wrapped around her wrist and Connie swallows around the lump in her throat.

“I wouldn’t know.”

There’s a beat, then two, but Connie can’t make herself look away.

The thing is, Co nnie has nothing against Jack. To the media, her opinions are bland with the odd shift into mild praise of his skills. In reality, her opinions on him are actually a lot of admiration of his hockey and a natural attraction to his body and fuck, those eyes. Between that and the hum of arousal from all of the sex talk, the look on his face is, well, not helping.

“Do you want to? Know?”

“Yes.” She hates the breathless quality of her voice. “God. I’m sick of it.”

Now he does laugh at her, but he’s brought his other hand up to palm her hip, his thumb absently rubbing at her t-shirt. “Jesus. You are keyed up.”

“Do you have any idea what it’s like? It’s hard to trust my own fucking teammates not to use it to get something on me, let alone a stranger.”

She can tell by Jack’s face he’s never thought of it that way. Not that she would have expected him to. Even Dylan had looked at her askance when she tried to explain it to him early on in their friendship. But the offended shock slips into determination and Connie’s stomach clenches deliciously.

“So let me do it,” he says, and it’s not as much of a shock as she anticipated.

So, she snorts and rolls her eyes. “Right. Because I’m dumb enough to step into that Black Widow’s web.”

Jack shrugs. “Your loss. It’s not like I need this to get one up over you. If I really wanted to, I’d kick your ass on the ice.”

And that makes Connie pause and actually consider his offer. Jack must sense it or something, god, because he raises an eyebrow and uses the hand on her hip to tug her a little closer.

“I know what I’m doing, McDavid. I will make it good for you.”

That she believes, if for no other reason than he’d be competitive enough about the whole thing. The best she’s ever had, even if he’s also the only. She chews her lip and asks, “You really wouldn’t tell?”

He, quite thankfully, doesn’t mock her for the vulnerability in her voice, eyes fixed on where her teeth sink into her lip. “Please. It would totally ruin the rivalry. I answer enough questions about you as it is.”

“The rivalry’s stupid.”

“Yeah well. Now we can say we have something other than hockey in common with Ovechkina and Crosby. Except, you know. Crosby’s boning Malkina. So.”

“You’re disgusting.”

He waggles his eyebrows and seriously. Seriously. This is the guy Connie is currently considering losing her virginity to. “So. You wanna?”

Connie bites her lip for another moment, then nods. “Yeah. Yes. I do.”

He chuckles. “Don’t sound so excited.”

She’s mostly nervous, actually, but she turns on her heel and leads the way back down the hall to her room, determined, if nothing else. Jack catches up to her quickly and she startles when he presses his hand to her lower back.

“You prepared for this, McDavid?”

She blinks at him a minute, sure he’s chirping her before he rolls his eyes and leans in.

“Condoms,” he murmurs in her ear.

She feels the flush race over her cheeks and down her neck. “I-”

“Lucky for you I was a Boy Scout,” he snorts.

“Bullshit,” she says out of reflex, but it relaxes some of the tension in her shoulders to chirp him again. “Boy Scouts are nice .”

“Didn’t say I stuck with it. You gonna prop the door open?”

Connie chews her lip, the doubts rising up again.

“For fuck’s sake McDavid. Stop thinking.”

He surprises the hell out of her when he cups her face in his very, very broad hands and kisses her.

They’re about level. She doesn’t have to push up like she does to hug Dylan or lean down like some of the other guys she’s considered dating material. And he most certainly does know what he’s doing, his mouth not aggressive but still demanding her response and seemingly happy to lead. His hands are against her ribs, broad and warm through her shirt, thumb stroking just under the curve of her breast and Connie grips at his hips, fisting his shirt in her hands. It feels good, really good, he feels good, strong and solid against her front; so good that she chases his mouth when he pulls away.

He chuckles and Connie thinks about punching him, until his hand comes up to stroke feather-light over her b ottom lip. “Prop the door open.”

She huffs, but nods and much to her own embarrassment, actually watches him stride off down the hall. He turns back and fucking winks, and Connie rolls her eyes.

“Get inside, McDavid.”

She does, and not because he told her to but because she’s suddenly kind of terrified she and Michelle have left the room an utter disaster. It’s not, entirely, but she does end up shoving a lot of shit into the closet to sort out later. Michelle’s going to kill her and it’s going to take forever to sort out whose clothes are whose but…

Fuck. Michelle.

Connie digs her phone out of her pocket just as the door creaks open. Jack doesn’t seem different as he steps through, but when he looks up at her that heated determination slides back into his face, his too-blue eyes. Connie lets the shiver drill down her spine as that gaze traces down her body, then back up. He lets the door fall closed.

“You sure?” he asks, voice low but testing.

Connie nods. “Yes.”

The sound of the deadbolt turning clunks through the silence that follows. Connie trembles, swallowing when he advances on her.

“I just… Michelle.”

It doesn’t stop his forward momentum, nor the way he reaches for her when she’s close enough. Connie’s eyes flutter as he slides his palm around her waist. He leans in and presses butterfly kisses to the line of her jaw.

“Text her.”

Right. That’s exactly what she’d been doing. Her hands are shaking as she types out ur w crouser tonite.

Then she drops her phone.

Jack growls into her skin and lifts his head as her hands reach for his arms. He slides a hand to the back of her neck, fingers tangling in the short waves of her hair at her nape.

“Rules,” he murmurs into her cheek, his end of day stubble scraping against her skin. Connie drops her hand to tangle in his shirt again, her knuckles going white. “You can always say no. The minute you do, I stop. Period.”

She shivers. “I won’t.”

“McDavid.” It’s a warning growl. She’s a little surprised at how that settles a large section of her nerves.

“Okay,” she rushes to say. “Okay, okay.”

“But.” She should have known there would be a catch. Jack’s eyes are serious when they meet hers, “You have to trust I know what I’m doing, okay? If you don’t like something, tell me.”

She’s… not sure she can.

“McDavid-”

“Connie.”

His fingers tighten on her skin and Connie feels her eyes flutter again. She can’t close them, won’t close them. She’s pretty sure he’d just make her open them again anyway. “Connie.”

She whimpers, can’t help herself. His voice has been dragged over gravel as he breathes her name and she leans her forehead on his shoulder. The hand not clenching his shirt drops to the hem, sneaks beneath it to find skin. He’s so warm.

She wants .

And even if this is something she’s never done before, she’s never in her life backed down from a challenge. She’s projected to go first, after all, and that doesn’t come from letting opportunities pass her by or by taking a backseat in her own life.

Some of that determination must shine through and- “Fuck," she hears him whisper before he tugs insistently on her hair. Then his mouth is on hers again and Connie leans into him. He supports her not insubstantial weight easily, spreads his legs just a little to brace himself as he kisses her. There's an edge to it, a bite that Connie definitely wants, but Jack seems insistent on taking his time. His hands, however, tell a different story: fisted in her hair, holding her still and curled into her shirt at her back, pulling the fabric taut against her body.

She whimpers into the kiss, arches up into him and lets the hand on his hip curl around to splay over his back. It isn't until he groans into her mouth that she realizes she's tracing her fingers in random patterns over his skin.

She's panting when she pulls back, just a bit. "Jack. Jack, come on. Please."

"Please what?" he asks, even as he nuzzles at her cheek, presses a sucking kiss under her ear.

She's not sure where she finds the brain power to get her other hand under his shirt, but the moment she does she's shoving it up his torso. "Come on."

His hands are slow to release her, no matter how insistent she tugs on his shirt, but it's worth it when the cotton comes over his head. She doesn't even remember dropping it, really because the minute he's free, he's after her shirt. She closes her eyes as he yanks it off and the moment she can't see him, her nerves spring back.

Connie knows she's not built like a model. She's built like a hockey player, and that is definitely not something guys necessarily like. The insecurity rises up in her, turns her cheeks pink and her body tense.

"Hey."

She shakes her head, feels the tremor shake her.

"Connie." His voice is so soft, and she can feel the heat of him, so close. She wants this. She does. She's sick of being the only virgin because she's so fucking good at hockey that she's just a notch on someone else's bedpost. She wants this. It’s just... also kind of nerve-wracking.

"McDavid. I'm stopping if you can't open your eyes."

"No!"

Her eyes fly open and he's smirking at her, eyes still full of heat and desire but also a caution she wouldn’t have expected. Not from him. Not in a situation like this.

"Fuck you," she manages, reaching out and tangling her fingers in the waistband of his sweats, just for something to hang onto.

His hands smooth down her arms as he snickers. "I'd much prefer fucking you."

She groans, and he catches the sound in his mouth as he kisses her again, dancing his tongue over her bottom lip until she opens for him. She lets herself get lost in the kiss, to forget that she's basically half-naked with Jack Eichel; so much so that she doesn't realize he's undoing her bra until the band loosens around her body, the cups shifting awkwardly between them.

He drops his hands to her waist as he pulls away and Connie blinks her eyes open.

"Okay?" he asks, her bra slipping awkwardly between them. She breathes for a moment, then another before she realizes this is a step he's making her take on her own.

"Fuck you. I said yes." She tugs on the straps of her bra, lets them fall down her arms until it joins their shirts on the floor.

When she looks up at him in challenge, his eyes are fixed on her body, caught on her breasts as they move with every breath. His hands are feather light as they dance up her ribs and leave goosebumps in their wake. His face is so full of want and heat that all but her own arousal slips away. "Shit."

"Fuck," he echoes, thumb sliding oh-so-carefully over the outermost curve of her breast. "You know you look good."

She doesn't, is the thing, but even her self-consciousness can't fight against the way he's looking at her. So she swallows, presses both her palms to his abdomen, just above his sweats. "You do too," she says, because it's fucking true. He’s strong and he’s built and he’s half naked, dear god.

She can’t help the way her breath catches as he leans down, presses his mouth to her collarbone, then her sternum. His mouth is light against her skin, the drag of his lip over the sw ell of her breast and down, until he wraps his mouth around one of her nipples.

Connie doesn’t hesitate to push into it, back arching with the support of his palm, warm and strong between her shoulder blades. His mouth is relentless on her breast and the hint of teeth he tries makes her gasp. He murmurs something then, pleased and hot against her skin and her hands dive unerringly into his hair to hold on. She stumbles when he moves into her, barely catches herself before she tumbles them both backwards.

“Jack!”

He lifts his head despite her disgruntled sound, muffling her displeasure with his mouth. He gets a hand on her ass and squeezes as he pulls away. “Bed, okay?”

The way her breath backs up in her lungs is an annoying reflex, if only because he releases her when she does it. She whimpers and feels genuinely pathetic for it, but he comes, easy as you please, when she manages to hook her fingers in the waistband of his sweats. She can’t even hate his smirk when it drops off his face as he watches her sit on the bed, then shuffle back to get comfortable in the pillows. She curls her fingers up by her head, arches her back beneath his gaze out of instinct. It’s worth it for the way his hands grip her ankles, and slide up over the bulky material of her sweats.

“Hey,” he says, eyes dancing over her stomach, her breasts, until they’re on her face again. He tugs at her pants. “Yeah?”

Connie arches her hips and shoves at her pants. It’s not exactly a scramble but it’s not near as graceful as Connie’s been led to believe. And she’s a little disappointed when he doesn’t follow her lead. Instead, he leans in and kisses low on her thigh, his thumb rubbing at what she knows is a tiny patch of stubble at the bend of her knee. She shivers and he grins into her skin.

“So responsive there. You want it?”

“I want you to do something,” she groans, her head dropping back into the pillows, eyes falling closed. “Giant fucking tease.”

He slides his hand up her leg and she spreads them at the gentlest pressure on her thighs. Goosebumps rise over her skin at the brush of his thumb in the crease of her hip and she feels the bed shift with his weight. Her breath is starting to speed up as he presses his mouth to her stomach, then up until he can wrap his mouth around her breast again. She chokes on air because he times it just right with the gentlest pressure against her panties.

Her hand curls around his neck where he’s working at her breast, completely happy and willing to bite a mark just beneath the curve of it. Connie can barely breathe, a little moan slipping out as he slides his thumb beneath her panties. She’s wet, she can feel it. Not soaked, but definitely into the way his fingers set her nerves aflame.

He lifts from her breast and shifts his weight again. He’s hot above her, settling along the length of her he best he can with his hand between her thighs. “Hey,” he says, kissing her cheek. “Okay?”

“Oh my god, fuck you,” she says and groans when he presses in again, stroking the length of her. “Yes.”

The breath he blows out against her cheek is heavier than she expected, filled with what feels, in part, like relief and part psyching himself up. Then his thumbs are beneath her panties, tugging them down her legs, and Connie works to help kick them off her feet.

“Okay,” he says, and yeah, this sounds a lot more like he’s trying to talk himself into it. He slips off to the side. “Like this.”

She opens her mouth to ask what the hell he’s talking about, but it gets cut off by a moan when he circles her clit and pleasure rockets up her body. It’s so different now, different than her own hand. Everything feels warmer, wetter, more real with the heat of him pressed all along the length of her. Including the way his half-hard cock is pressed to her hip. It’s overwhelming too, and Connie grips the comforter in white-knuckled fists and lets out a noise.

“Okay,” he murmurs and his touch gentles. She makes another noise, because she does not want less, she doesn’t. Jack makes a shushing sound that sends a flash of irritation through her. She reaches down and grabs his wrist. He stills. “Connie?”

“Just-”

“Hey.” And fuck him. Fuck him right to hockey hell and back because he sounds fucking tender and- “Trust me, remember?”

Her breath shudders as she releases it, long and slow but it relaxes her body too. Jack presses a kiss to her shoulder before stroking over her clit again. It’s not as intense this time, not anywhere close to what she wants, and she finds herself reaching out, wrapping her hand around his head to fist in his curls.

“Okay,” he breathes again, right against the corner of her jaw. His body has rolled into hers, pinning down her entire right side with the heat of him. It’s grounding in a way she’d never expected, the way she can’t arch her hips into or away from the testing press of his fingers. “I’ve got you.”

Her hips buck and her breath catches. She expects him to look triumphant when he opens his eyes, like he knows he has her now, but that isn’t even close to what’s in his face. It’s awe instead, his eyes roving over as much of her as he can take in, the clench of her stomach muscles as he draws wet circles around her clit, the way her body cants into his hands when his finger brushes over her opening.

When he finally slides a finger inside, it’s only a little uncomfortable. It’s definitely foreign, but it’s also delicious, entirely different from her collection of vibrators. He moves slowly, deliberately, watching her face every time he changes the angle. She wants to hate the easy way he can read her here, how he knows what the slightest clench of her muscles means, the smallest twitch of her hips.

“See?” he croons and her stomach clenches. “I’ve got you. Chill out.”

She thinks about swearing at him, but it’s drowned out but the press of a second finger inside her. Her upper body cants towards him,\ even as she opens her left thigh wider, giving him space and giving her leverage.

“That’s it,” he whispers, presses a wet kiss to her shoulder. She’s slick now, she can feel it, the same way she can feel when he tucks two of his fingers together to slide them inside, opening her up just a little more. She makes a tiny sound and he bites at her shoulder, gentle, but there. It feels good, and she half turns her face to hide it as much as she can.

“Connie. Connie, c’mon.”

“You come on,” she retorts and gasps when he curls his fingers, rubs just right. “Jack.”

He lets out a sound that clenches her abdomen. Her hips move faster into his hand, twisting arching as best she can beneath his not insubstantial weight. Every push of her hips rubs her against his cock and, when she can gather enough brain cells to focus on something other than the way his fingers are sliding in and out of her, she can feel his hips twitching with every press of her body.

“Fuck, Connie.”

She whimpers and twists her hips again, desperate now, the way everything is curling in a tight ball of heat. She twitches and gasps when he presses his palm down on her clit and crooks his fingers just right. It’s right there, she’s dangling off the edge, just a little… bit… more…

“Connie. Fuck. Come.”

She does, from the desperation in his voice more than anything else, like he needs to see her like this, arching and flushed. She’s not sure what sound she makes, overwhelmed and twitching. Jack shushes her, to her endless irritation, hand steady in her hair.

“Fuck you,” she gasps. It feels like she’s run sprints, her breath short and sharp. She’s shaking just a little, like she does after a really good orgasm and there’s a little part of her brain that thinks maybe she should be embarrassed by the fact that it’s Jack Eichel that’s left her that way.

Except then he leans in, bites at her ear, and Connie can’t regret anything.

Instead, she turns towards him, into him. His fingers slide out from between her thighs, sticky against her hip and she shivers, still a little oversensitive. Jack makes a low sound and captures her mouth, biting, rough, desperate. She gets that. She pulls away and takes a deep breath. “Hey.”

He looks up at her, eyes dark. She lifts her leg, hooks it over his hip, then slides her hand down his chest. She gathers her courage and snaps at the waistband of his pants. “Gonna let me see?”

He tries to suppress the shiver that works through him at her words and isn’t as successful as he wants to be. Still she waits, fingers tucked under the elastic as he watches her, steady. She’s nervous, sure, but she’s come this far and wants more. She wants to know what he’ll feel like, pressed against her and inside her, how much she’ll have to stretch to take him.

He shifts away from her, shoves his pants and boxers down in one go. His cock bounces up, hard against his stomach and Connie reaches out as he kicks to get the rest of his clothes off. He freezes when she touches him, even as tentative as she is about it. Her fingers ghost up and down his length. She can’t look at him.

“This is…”

He gasps when she curls her fingers around him. “I told you, you look good.”

She swallows, the implication settling around her shoulders. This is for her, because of her and yes, she wants . She has to swallow twice more before she can say, “Where are the condoms?”

He leans in to kiss her hard and leaves another kiss right above her belly button as he climbs off the bed and dives for his sweats. Connie lets herself look, catalogs the strength of him as he pulls a condom from the pocket of his sweats, tears it open and knee walks his way back up between her legs. He makes a show of rolling on the condom that is just so Jack it makes her smile. She lets herself reach for him as he braces himself over her.

She isn’t sure what she expects next, but it’s not for him to pause above her, hands braced by her shoulders. She looks up at him, his mouth open as he pants. “Jack?”

His eyes wander over her in a way that makes her tremble. She sees it in the way her fingers shake as she trails them over the cut of his biceps. “Still good?”

Connie can’t help the roll of her eyes. “Can you stop asking-”

“Connie.”

There’s too much packed into his voice, in the way his face looks carefully blank. “Yes.”

He shifts his weight above her to reach down and brush at her clit. She moves into it, groans a little until she feels him shift to press into her.

It’s a lot. Not because he’s objectively big - she doesn’t have much to compare it to, after all - but because it’s real. It’s real, and a little uncomfortable.

“Relax,” she hears him say softly, feels him press his lips to her cheek. His voice is tight.

“It’s-”

“I know. I know. But seriously - fuck - just-”

She tries to breathe into it, like she does any other stretch, slides her knees up until they bracket his hips. She can’t help the noise she makes when he sinks into her a little further, and digs her nails into Jack’s arms. He hisses and thrusts.

“Fuck,” she says, closes her eyes. She feels Jack drop his head to her shoulder, his curls brushing against her chin. “Jack.”

“I know, I know, I know, Connie, fuck.”

He stays utterly still as her body adjusts, doesn’t move, even when she starts to shift her hips. She turns her head, nuzzles his cheek. “Jack.”

He makes a noise Connie can’t categorize. It’s only then that she realizes his hands are fisted in the sheets by her shoulders. The air backs up in her lungs.

“Jack,” she says again, low, lips pressed against his jaw, his muscles tense under her mouth. “Are you going to move?”

He bares his teeth against the skin of her shoulder, but she feels him slide out of her, slow and smooth. His next thrust is easier, substantially better, and Connie breathes out harshly. He keeps a slow, measured pace, considerate, like he’s waiting for her. She arches her back, tries to match his pace. He groans.

“Hey,” she says, surprised at how breathless she sounds. “Hey.”

His face is a wreck when he finally looks at her, mouth in a taut line. Connie finds herself reaching for him, brushing her thumb against the corner of his mouth. His eyes are so dark as he looks down at her.

“I’m good,” she says, “I’m-” She threads her hand into his curls, brings his mouth down to hers. He kisses her back, a little desperately, with enough of a bite to make her moan. “Move.”

He does now, breath harsh on her face; long deep thrusts that make her clench her hand in his hair and arch her back. He’s not gentle, per se, but aware, tilts his hips until she gasps, then tilting her so pleasure zings through her with every press inside.

“Connie, I-”

It takes her arousal-clouded mind a moment to realize what he’s saying. “Yes,” she finally manages. “Jack.”

And maybe he’s just that close, or maybe it’s the way she says his name, but his hips pulse erratically and he groans into her ear. She wraps her hand around the back of his neck as he drops on top of her, gives into the instinct to wrap her other arm along his lower back.

He kisses her cheek when he comes back to himself, a bit of a goofy smacking kiss that makes her laugh lightly. Her body is still humming, but it’s nothing she can’t handle when he’s gone. Or so she thinks, until he reaches down and thumbs at her clit with a hum.

“Come on,” he says. “Let’s clean up. I’ll get you back in the shower.”

She opens her mouth to awkwardly tell him that it’s fine, he’s done his job, but he’s already leaning in, kissing her slowly, thoroughly, until she’s sinking into the way their lips move together. Still, when he breaks away to pull out of her and deal with the condom the thoughts come back: how courteous he’s being, how soft, and how much of a juxtaposition that is to the sassmaster he’s been since arriving in the Everglades.

Right up until he looks down at her from the end of the bed, eyebrow raised. “Come on, McDavid. You’re a hockey player and I just came my brains out. I’m not carrying you and getting injured before I’m drafted.” He wrinkles his nose. “Give Buffalo another reason to hate me.”

“That’s bullshit,” she replies, pulling herself up to reach for him. He shrugs and uses her hand to yank her up and into him with a squeak.

“Stow it,” he suggests mildly. “You’re ruining the mood.”

“I’m ruining the mood?” she asks incredulously. “First of all, what mood-”

Jack’s grinning now as he tugs her into the bathroom and the shower. He does as promised, holding her up with a strong arm around her hips as he rubs her off, mouth pressed against her shoulder.

 She leaves the draft without her virginity, but with Jack Eichel’s number saved in her contacts.

 

She spends the summer training. Gary has her routine down to a science after three years, and now there’s the added pressure of getting her NHL ready.

“It’s different than juniors,” he tells her, time and time again, like she hasn’t grown up living and breathing the sport, watching the rookies come up, how hard they have to work. “And you’ve always been light.”

Which is not an insult. She’d been scrawny when she started with him, scrawny enough that he’d been worried about taking her - “Not because you’re a girl,” he’d said point blank. “But we have to be smart.”

They’d been smart. She still thinks they’re being smart. Connie’s not adverse to hard work; she wouldn’t be here otherwise. But she wants to make it this season, more than anything in the world.

“You’re fussing,” Dylan says, both of them sprawled out in his parents’ backyard, her head on his stomach. It’s too humid for it, really - there’s sweat gathering at the back of her neck - but Dylan’s not complaining and Connie, quite frankly, is feeling a little clingy.

“It’s real now,” she answers, fingers snapping the elastic of her bikini bottoms gently. “The NHL.”

“A few months and you’ll be playing your first game.”

“You don’t know that,” she says, turns her head. Dylan’s not looking at her, even as his fingers tug gently at her hair.

“Of course I know that. You’re Connie McDavid. People knew when you were thirteen that this was inevitable.”

“There’s still training camp, and prospect camp, and the pre-season. You don’t know. There’s a lot of talent on that team.”

“Connie.” It comes out scolding, like he sounds when she gets a little too far into her own head.

“I want to earn it,” she blurts, turning her whole body this time. Dylan props his head on his arm to look down at her. “I should have to earn it.”

“You already have,” Dylan argues.

“Juniors is not the same as the show.”

Dylan’s quiet where she’d expected him to argue. “I’m not worried about you making it. I’ve never worried about you making it. You’re so good, Davo.”

“But you are worried.”

“Of course I am,” he answers. “You’re going to Edmonton . I’m not sure Buffalo or Toronto would be much better, but there’s already so much pressure on you.”

Connie’s nose wrinkles. “Stromer.”

“It’s a lot,” he argues.

“No more than what I put on myself.”

It’s not the first time they’ve argued about it, especially given the fact that there’s no OHL title on her resume. It’s not the first time Connie’s wished for someone who really understood - the pressure, sure, but also how the pressure of the population is nothing compared to the pressure she puts on herself.

“Everyone knows you and Eichs are going to have it rough this season.”

Connie goes still. “What does Eichel have to do with this?”

She’s done her best to put everything at the draft aside. She’s been successful, to an extent, but there are still nights when she gets herself off to how Jack had felt, what he’d done to her. How he’d made her feel.

“Whoa, defensive much?” He tugs on her hair until she slaps at him. “Look. It’s already Crosby and Ovechkina and you guys have literally just been drafted. We both know the media’s never moved from that. You’re going to spend your whole career getting compared to him.”

Connie rolls her eyes, but relaxes back into Dylan. As far as she knows, not even Michelle is really aware of who kicked her out of their shared hotel room in Sunrise. Connie’s happy to keep it that way: a very, very good one night stand, even if she’s found her thumb hovering over his name in her contacts more than once.

“It’s going to be fine, Stromer.”

“A franchise-”

“Because I’ve never done that before.” It’s a statement of fact. She went into the OHL draft prepared to work her ass off for the team that selected her, aware it wasn’t going to be a stellar team.

“And,” he barrels on with a frown. “No one knows you.”

“You didn’t either. And it’ll be the first time I’m not the only one with that much pressure on my shoulders. There are Oilers that know what it feels like.”

She already has messages from Edmonton’s vaunted ‘kidline’; she knows there are plenty of narratives around Oilers draftees saving the franchise with no luck. Which is why the McJesus shit is getting old really damn fast.

She turns on her side. “You’re only a phone call away.”

“There’s a time zone difference and then team schedule differences-”

She reaches for him, fumbles for his hand. “Dyls. I’m going to miss you too.”

He huffs, but clings when their hands finally tangle. “You’re going to do stupid things because I’m not there. Like not eating. And not sleeping.”

Connie’s laugh is watery than she’d like. “Back at you. What dumb pranks are you and DRads going to pull when I’m not around to call you an idiot?”

It takes a minute, but Dylan starts yanking at her arm, ignoring her loud indignant protests until Connie’s moved up to sprawl across him. If it had been too hot before, this is ridiculous, but Dylan’s arms are hard bands of muscle around her back as he buries his face in her neck.

“I’m so proud of you,” he says and she knows he’s crying now, or doing his best not to. “You’re going to be in the NHL .”

“So will you,” she murmurs back. “Dylan. I’m not doing this without you. Not forever.”

He squeezes her tighter for a moment and releases a shaky breath. “I love you.”

“I know you sap,” she says with maybe too much fondness. “I love you, too.”

“How are you guys cuddling?”

Connie doesn’t lift her head, but given the hand that she feels lift from her back, Dylan’s giving what sounds like Ryan the finger.

“It’s a million degrees and you guys are puking feelings everywhere? This is pathetic.”

Connie isn’t as offended as she could be when Dylan dumps her to the side. After all, brother rivalries – Strome brother rivalries – are serious business.

 

Orientation camp is surreal. It’s the only word for the excitement and hype around the arena, all because of her. It makes her uncomfortable. There isn’t a person around her that understands she wants to earn her spot. She gets it, because there aren’t many roster spots to compete for, but Connie has never been the type to just assume.

“They’re jealous,” Michelle says, because Michelle literally cannot be alone, but Kapanen is off with Nylander and Michelle hadn’t been in the mood to play third wheel. “Hell, I’m jealous. You’re a lock.”

“Mitchy.”

Michelle waves her hand. “It’s not self-doubt. Like, I’ve played against you, it’s just a fact.” She looks away from the camera, back at the toenails she’s painting a violent pink. “Me on the other hand. If I hear one more person – coach, player or media – call me small, I might commit murder.”

Connie rolls her eyes. Size is exactly what makes Michelle dangerous. “I can ask Gary-“

“Nope! Just sign that ELC so you can bail me out when I commit murder.”

It’s said cheerfully enough that Connie barks out a laugh. Michelle looks up when she’s done her coat of polish.

“Look, I get you’re being humble, or whatever, but you and Eichs? Like, that’s not a question, Davo. Sportsnet’s been salivating over your development camp and to say the Oilers need you is like… I don’t know, like saying you need a stick to play hockey.”

“I’m just one player,” Connie argues. “I couldn’t get the Otters a championship.”

“No, but you dragged their sorry asses there every year,” Michelle retorts, eyes blazing. “You’re a fucking phenomenal player.”

“So are you.”

“I am,” Michelle agrees. “And I’m going to go back to London and terrorize the fuck out of the O. I’m going to make everyone regret every goddamn comment about my size.”

This, Connie thinks, is why she likes Michelle: the fierce battle in her when she’s not being an obnoxious pain in the ass.

“And you are going to prove to everyone that even Gretzky’s skills pale in comparison to yours.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s considered unpatriotic.”

“He’s retired. Hating Crosby is unpatriotic. Hating Poulin is unpatriotic. Hating you is definitely unpatriotic. Saying you’re not going to make the roster is unpatriotic.”

“I get it,” Connie says, smiling despite herself. “I just want to earn it.”

“You are, dumbass. You have.”

“You sound like Stromer.”

Michelle leers. Connie winces.

“I returned him in one piece.”

“Gross.”

Michelle laughs. “Listen, just go out there and play like Connie McDavid.”

“That’s all I know how to do.”

“Exactly. So, if you make it, you’ll have earned it, because you’ll have done everything you can.”

“That was actually helpful,” Connie says, taken aback.

“Not just a pretty face.” Then she rolls to sprawl on her stomach. “Now tell me, have you actually met Hall yet? Like, in person? I want to know if the rumours about her, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins are true.”

 

The problem is, regardless of Dylan and Michelle’s belief in her abilities, Edmonton might be the actual worst. It’s not about the cold, or the people. Connie genuinely likes Hallsy, even if she can’t cook worth a shit and has a habit of whining until Connie basically gives up and texts Ebs or Nuge. Their idea of a ‘welcome package’ was pulling her aside and, with all of the affection they could muster, trying to explain Hallsy. She vaguely wonders if they were actually considering creating some sort of ‘How to Care for Your Taylor Hall’ brochure. She’s not going to suggest it.

It’s not really about Connie’s hockey either. She plays fucking amazing hockey and she knows that for a fact. She’s not even being cocky in saying it. The team, though? She cannot figure out why the hell they can’t win a game with the talent they have. And she wants to, desperately. She needs them all to play better hockey.

“Davo, you have to give it time,” Dylan says when she Skypes him to whine about it. “You’ve been following Edmonton. You follow everyone. You know rebuilds take years.”

Which, you know, does not help her anger and frustration. There isn’t a single Otter that’s much help to her either. She even tries whining to Michelle, who shoots back that at least her team is doing better than the Leafs; at least she’s actually playing at the NHL level. Even her parents can’t tell her what she wants to hear.

She’s pouting about the hell that is Edmonton when she catches the highlights of a Sabres’ game, Jack’s fifteen standing out in gold against the blue. She holds her breath as he dekes, shifts… she’s all but screaming shoot in her head, her teeth in her bottom lip. Instead, he passes, ostensibly because it looks like Kane told him to, only for Kane to miss the fucking shot. She groans because dammit, dammit Jack.

She pulls out her phone, shaking her head. It’s the first time she hasn’t hesitated over his number, the first time she’s just said something she feels. Her fingers move so fast, pent up and sick with it.

this is fucking stupid, she sends Jack, and adds another one that says, this fucking sucks.

mcdavid? comes the reply.

yeah. caught ur highlights. wide open net.

kane had a better angle.

did not asshole. next time, shoot.

who died and made you hockey queen. ur sitting at the bottom too genius.

Connie doesn’t even realize she’s smiling a little. She’d forgotten how much fun baiting Jack is, the thrill that races through her stomach. The relief she feels. nobody had to die and it’s hockey jesus, idiot.

It’s more than a few minutes before the next message comes through and it’s not the chirp Connie’s expecting.

this really fucking sucks.

Her breath stutters in her lungs, the hopelessness and struggle coming back. But it’s also the exact response she was looking for, someone also responsible for dragging their team kicking and screaming through a rebuild, through a strengthening process that has been going on since before she’d even been in the O. Through whatever the hell the Sabres are doing now.

there’s no way up, she gets after another few minutes. i could get 6pts and who cares.

because theres still no w , she agrees because those two points fucking matter, no matter how many times Dylan reassures her it’s the first year. still no playoffs

and it's our fault.

That, she thinks, is really the crux of the matter. She’s pretty good at avoiding her own press, but it’s been the constant question, day in and day out. Does she feel like she’s working hard, that the team is working hard around her, that they’re doing everything they can. Connie answers yes, because of course she does, because they’re a team, but the locker room sucks, the atmosphere sucks and there’s a weird feeling of negative inevitability - oh look, the Oilers have missed the playoffs again. 

they're not blaming u tho

It’s a fair point. Connie at least has that going for her. The Oilers aren’t magically better because of her arrival. It doesn’t mean she likes the way Taylor is taking so much heat, the way Ebs and Nuge and Yak do too. 

saviour narratives are stupid

that’s a lot of stupid, mcjesus

It shouldn’t make her mouth quirk but she feels like she gets what he’s reaching for. More than that, for the first time since she knew she was going to Edmonton, she feels like there’s someone out there that really gets the pressure and the hill she’s trying to climb. 

If she stays up way later than she should, debating the NHL and the media, no one’s there to tease her.

It starts a long string of texts that never seems to end. She watches more Sabres games than she’d expected and has absolutely no time for the chirping Hallsy subjects her to. Connie will argue with her dying breath that she’s watching tape on the competition, fuck Hallsy very much. 

They text about, well, everything. Jack even provides some easy, nutritionist-approved meal ideas, out of the blue, after Connie whines that there is such a thing as too much Kraft Dinner. They talk about their games, they talk about their workouts.

They talk about their teams. 

idk what it is, Jack sends one night, after another tough loss. cursed

no such thing, idiot, she texts back. only cursed team is us

thought u were a blessing

It makes Connie laugh, something she had never been sure Jack would ever make her do. Something she’s not sure he’d want to make her do. And that’s new too, the way she reaches for him now, and not Dylan as often. Sure, maybe part of that is not wanting to rub in that she’s playing in the NHL and he’s not, but Dylan… despite how long they’d played together, how he’d been there as she’d grown from Connie to the McJesus moniker she can’t stand, Dylan doesn’t get it. 

for my parents, maybe

i've seen their interviews don’t bullshit

awww checking up on me Eichs?

i can't get rid of you

It should not make her heart flip. He doesn’t mean it like that and Connie knows that. That level of projection is just unhealthy and it doesn’t take a genius to see that. 

It doesn’t stop her face from flushing, nor does it stop her from dropping her phone, screen down, on her stomach. 

She’s in so much trouble. 

 

She doesn’t remember much of the moment she breaks her collarbone. She sees it later, of course, on screen, the way she lost an edge, the way she didn’t really stand a chance with two Flyers behind her. She doesn’t remember calling Stromer, or even the plane ride back home. She’s drugged up pretty good for the first few days and it isn’t until she can actually make out the words on her phone that she realizes Jack’s texted her.

b ok.

She chews her lip for the better part of five minutes before calling up his phone number.

“It’s fucking naptime, what the hell.”

Connie blinks for a minute before blurting out, “Sorry.”

There’s silence, then shuffling. “Connie?”

“Yeah,” she says, and closes her eyes because she should have hung up. She should hang up. It’s not her place to interrupt his pre-game nap and she hadn’t even checked for goodness sake, he has every right to be mad-

“Hey. Still with me?”

Tears well, unbidden in her eyes. “It was stupid. I was stupid.”

“It was a day that ends in ‘y’,” he retorts and Connie barks out a laugh. Her shoulder twinges painfully and she can’t help the way it turns into a gasp. “Jesus what the fuck are you-”

“I’m fine.” She’s not sure where the immediate reassurance comes from, the same way a small piece of her mind is wondering where the worry is coming from. The season’s his now, his to take and dominate and do whatever he wants. She’s out. There’s no more rivalry, no more comparison. He has no reason to be worried.

“You’re really not,” is what he comes back with, matter-of-fact and exactly what she needs. “You’re broken, for fuck’s sake.”

“Just my collarbone.”

“Uh huh.”

It’s skeptical and it makes her smile for a moment before she says, “I lost an edge.”

“I mean sure, if you want to make it all about you. Didn’t look like it to me.”

And it pulls Connie up short. In the six months since the draft, the two months they’ve been talking, Jack has never once given her any sort of comfort or coddling. There are few people who watch her games as critically as he does - and how many hours has she put in to reminding herself he’s just keeping up on the competition - and he’s never shied away from critiquing any and every part of her game.

So when he says the play that sent her into the boards doesn’t look like her fault, well. She listens.

“It didn’t?”

“Look,” he says on a huff. “I’m not… he’s another player, okay? But I don’t know if that was an accident, Connie. I don’t think it was just you.”

She swallows around the thick lump in her throat. It’s not easy. “You sound like Don Cherry.”

“That’s rude,” he says, around laughter.

Her eyes flutter closed even as she smiles. “I’ll send you the link.” 

He’s silent for a few beats. “You should go somewhere.”

“What?”

“You can’t stay in Edmonton. The first chunk of your injury you won’t be doing anything right? So go somewhere.”

“Where,” she retorts with an awkward laugh. “I’m already home and my mom is driving me nuts.”

“Moms,” he agrees, but there’s a sort of softness to it.

“I bet you love your mom.”

“We all love our moms. They really gave you the good stuff, huh?”

“I could come to Buffalo.”

His breath catches. She’s sure of it. “You could.” He sounds weird about it, weird enough that she knows it’s a no, and it pulls her up short. Her drugged up self wants to see him, wants him to hug her because he’s big and strong and she knows this from vivid real memories. But he’s saying no to all of that, and to more. Because even if it’s not about that, Buffalo’s only a two-hour drive from Toronto. Three, realistically, from her parents’ place. It wouldn’t be the weirdest distance someone’s driven for sex; Connie’s pretty sure of it.

It’s all of this – emotion, confusion, frustration – all balled up in her throat and mixed with the good drugs that has her blurting out. “What do you want from me?”

“What?” Jack asks, and he does sound genuinely startled. “Connie, come on, I don’t-”

“Everyone else does,” she says, staring down at her comforter. “Everyone wants something from me.”

His inhale is loud and shaky on the other end of the phone. It’s the sound he makes when he’s about to introduce her to something new and he’s nervous about how much she’ll like it; if she’ll like it at all. “I don’t, okay? Not like you’re thinking.”

“You want sex.”

There’s a pause this time, long and drawn out enough to make her nervous, even as she appreciates the idea that Jack is seriously thinking through his response. She ignores the little niggling thought in her head that he’s the only one who does. “I’d be lying if I said no,” he finally says, voice low and slow and she valiantly ignores the thrill in her stomach at the idea that, out of everyone, it’s Jack Eichel that doesn’t want to lie to her. “Look, you’re hot, okay? And I’ll never admit that again.”

A smile curls the edges of her mouth and she can feel the heat of her blush on her cheeks. “Thanks.”

He scoffs. “Anyway, you said it yourself, it’s not even about that. It’s stupid and dumb and the lamest thing ever, but there is no one else who gets this, what we’re going through right now. There’s no one else with an entire franchise resting on their shoulders.” There’s a beat, and then, “And yours are looking a little thin there these days.”

It’s a chirp and it makes her smile, but it’s also true. “There isn’t a diet and exercise plan in the world that’s been able to change that.”

“Maybe slow down in the stress department then,” he shoots back.

“I’m the first overall pick, a girl, and a franchise player, and you want to tell me to calm down?”

He snorts, and she’s grinning, she knows it. They’ve come a long way from when that was insulting to him, from when he cared that much about their rivalry and being better. “What are you going to be like with the C then, jesus.”

Connie’s silent. She knows it’s coming. Everyone knows it’s coming. “I don’t know.”

“Bullshit you don’t know. Everyone and their cousin knows you’re going to rock it, why are you even like this?”

“My brother says I grew up too fast.”

“You’re brother’s probably right, this is actually ridiculous. How does anyone actually put up with you?”

“You should ask Dylan,” Connie replies. “He knows.”

“Go visit him then. There’s nothing to do in Erie. You may actually, like, heal. You know, like you’re supposed to. Fuck, you’re missing our first big showdown aren’t you. Why are you like this?”

Connie’s giggling now, into the phone like the world is hilarious. And it kind of is, in that surreal way: she’s laughing with the man who’s her ‘rival’ about how she’s more than a little high strung and considering taking an injury-induced ‘vacation’ from the NHL in the same town her junior team calls home. And that’s the tip of it all.

“Erie wouldn’t be bad, I guess,” she says when she gets her giggles under control.

Jack grunts, but Connie likes to think she hears something else there too, maybe even something fond. “Be Strome’s problem for a while.” 

“He loves me.”

“Well someone better. All of your complexes are exhausting.” Except he doesn’t sound exhausted, not with her. With the grind of the season maybe, that bone-deep weary that she knows is in her voice sometimes too.

“Because you’re such a ray of sunshine,” Connie retorts, but she knows it sounds too fond. Then, after a beat, “It will be fun.”

“Text Strome then. Everyone knows he’s half in love with you.” 

There’s something in her voice that sets her on edge, separate from the assumption that she and Dylan have been anything other than friends - especially since Jack definitely knows differently. 

“We’ve never even fucking kissed,” she spits out and looks up at the ceiling because it’s one of those rumours that she cannot stand. “He’s too busy making heart-eyes at Marner, are you blind?” 

“Okay.” His voice still sounds weird, but it’s different; not grating and instead, very butterfly inducing. “Go book a flight, McDavid. Whine at Strome for a while.” 

“Yeah,” she says, and swallows. She’ll blame the painkillers later when she blurts out, “Hey. Thanks for texting. And picking up.” 

“Not about to let you win generosity points now that you’ve fucked up the Calder race. And our first big major showdown. Can’t you give me anything?” 

It’s enough to make her giggle which, from the feeling she gets across the phone, had been exactly Jack’s point. 

“Heal fast.” 

Then he’s gone. 

 

You were right , she impulsively texts Jack on Day Three of her Erie ‘vacation’. She and Dylan have been chilling on the couch all day because Connie can’t do much, bickering over the ridiculous design choices of HGTV’s top shows and it’s the most relaxed she’s felt since netting her first NHL goal. It’s no reflection on her parents or Toronto, and it’s certainly not a reflection on Edmonton, but Dylan knows her like few others and dealt with her during the broken hand phase.

Duh, he sends back, abt what?

Erie , she answers.

Ofc.

Connie kind of smiles to herself and drops her phone against her stomach. Dylan’s flipping through what she assumes is Instagram from the tapping he’s doing, so she doesn’t think much about picking up her phone again when it vibrates.

I’m glad.

She taps her hand on her phone for a minute, nervous. The news came down today, about how the doctors want her recovery to progress. How now that the initial healing has begun, they want her back in Edmonton.

i'll be back for our game.

The reply comes faster than expected. wtf

They’re shipping me back to edm, she types, i'll be in the stands.

Jesus, is the response after a moment. thought maybe trainers had lost it. No way u can skate.

No, she agrees and sends a sad face emoji. that sucks 2. Then after a beat. im making stromer watch .

She gets back several laugh-cry emojis. Hows that working out for u

I think he wants to kill me

it is depressing

thats still my team asshole

well mcdavid your team sucks

takes 1 to kno 1

“Flies all the way down here to make me watch the Oilers and still ignores me for her phone,” Dylan says, tugging her ponytail gently. “Texting your NHL buddies?”

Connie wrinkles her nose in irritation because she’s extremely defensive of the fact that Dylan’s still down in the O. “Just Eichel.”

“Eichel?” 

She huffs out a sigh. “He sympathizes with you about watching the Oilers.” 

Dylan’s quiet for too long, so she tilts her head so she can see his face. It’s wrinkled in confusion. It’s not the most unique look she’s ever seen on Dylan’s face, but it makes hers mirror the expression. 

“What?” she asks. 

“When did you get his number? When did you become friends?” 

“Unlike you, I don’t hold unprofessional grudges,” she replies primly, then squawks when he pokes harshly at her sides. 

“That is a lie, oh my god.” 

Connie laughs and tries to retaliate, her phone falling to the floor in the process. With a broken collarbone, it’s harder than she’d thought and she gasps when she twists wrong. It’s hard enough that it hurts and tears spring to her eyes. 

“Fuck, Connie-”

“It’s fine,” she says on a gasp, because half the time it is. Half the time it’s a sharp jolt of a reminder before fading to the ache she’s mostly used to. 

“Fine? Fine?! ” 

He looks panicked and it’s so Dylan to be more concerned about her goddamn broken collarbone. He solidifies it when he says, “I can’t make it worse , you have to get back on the ice! At least one of us needs to be killing it and Mitchy and I are in the O…”

She lets him ramble as the ache passes and she breathes through the worst of it. It’s actually better, easier than it has been. “Dylan. I’m fine.” 

“Fuck.” 

She wrestles him into a headlock with her good arm and ignores the fact that he makes it easy on her. “Do not start with me. I’m broken, not glass.” 

“Remember when you broke your hand and almost fucked your chances for a gold medal? What if this fucks your chances for a Stanley Cup?” 

“Dumbass, then we didn’t deserve it in the first place did we?” 

Except they both know Dylan knows better. Connie knows better. She can say the playoffs don’t matter, and there is a slim chance she means it. Playoffs aren’t everything, and sure she knows technically she can’t single-handedly take her team to the playoffs or a championship, but they both know it’s only words. She’s too much of a competitor and has been touted as a saviour too long to not internalize it. 

“That’s why you like Eichel.” 

Connie sighs. “He… the saviour thing means nothing. I don’t feel like he cares about how many points I’ve put up in a night, and was more pissed off we couldn’t play against each other than like, the fact that Connie McDavid got hurt.”

“The nation mourns,” Dylan agrees and teases sagely. 

“Exactly!”

“And that’s what you want?” 

Connie huffs. “I want someone to know when to hold me accountable. Like you do.” 

Did. Dylan’s been… distracted. Connie isn’t holding it against him. 

“I never thought I’d see it.” He dodges her good arm when it swings out at him. “He’s an asshole! I didn’t think he’d ever get over himself enough to even talk to you!”

It’s embarrassing that Connie’s only response is to think he’s my asshole though . It shows in her cheeks and she knows it. Dylan is uncharacteristically and kindly not asking. 

“Hey.” It’s gentle as he gathers her against him. He presses his mouth to her hair like the sap he is. “You know I’m glad that you’re getting what you need. Especially when it’s people who don’t pump up your ego.” 

“Fuck you,” she says as she digs her elbow into his stomach. 

Again. 

 

Connie spends too much time deciding what she’s going to wear. There’s no guarantee of, well, anything. She isn’t even sure what, if anything, she wants to happen when the final buzzer goes.

“Whoa,” Taylor says when Connie finally emerges, having struggled into an honest to god dress. “Rock it, rookie.”

Connie knows she’s blushing, even as she turns her back. Taylor doesn’t say anything as she zips Connie up and Connie holds out her hairbrush. “Can you braid it?”

Taylor’s eyebrows hit her hairline. Connie knows she really hasn’t cared this much since her second week of the regular season, but Connie can’t seem to settle herself.

“Do I need to clear out tonight?” Taylor asks. “Should I mention it to Gaz?”

“I-“ she starts as she follows Taylor into the dining room to settle in a chair. “I don’t know.”

“Huh,” Taylor says, but makes quick work of what turns out to be an exceedingly neat fishtail. She smacks a kiss against the top of Connie’s head. “We’ll clear out, just in case. You never pick up.”

“I have a broken collarbone,” Connie tries to argue.

“But not a broken sex drive.”

“Hallsy!”

Taylor just grins. “Get it, Davo.”

She has to watch the game first, up in the box where she can’t do a damn thing. After the game, she heads down to the locker room, hand clenched tight around her phone. The team’s good about keeping the media away and finally, her phone buzzes.

How is every stadium a maze?

She smiles despite herself and slips from the room, typing back, u cld just ask me to come get u .

She can almost see the smirk on his face when she gets back, nahhhhh .

He’s fucking around on his phone when she gets to the visitor’s locker room, already showered and back in a suit that looks good on him. The sound of her heels on the cement floor draws his attention.

“Seriously, the bowels of this place should not be any more confusing than the rest of the arenas I’ve ever been in. It’s magic.”

“If that’s what helps you sleep at night,” she replies and feels the weird tension leak out of her spine. “Personally, I just think you’re not brave enough to come to our dressing room.”

“Connie, that doesn’t even make sense.” Still, she lets him take her in, face blank, but something lurking in his eyes that makes her want .

It must be what gives her the courage to say. “Curfew?””

Jack’s eyes go sharp. “Bogo promised to cover.”

“Okay,” Connie says on a heavy exhale. “Um. Hallsy and Gaz cleared out. I think Hallsy’s going to Ebs’?”

He snorts, but pushes off the wall. “Can we get out of here then? I swear this place reeks of Gretzky’s disappointment.”

“Is it bad that I can’t wait for the new one to open?” she asks and turns, notices how he walks on her good side to bump their shoulders together companionably.

“Depends, I guess. Did you break your collarbone because of the famed Gretzky curse?”

Connie looks at him, narrows her eyes. “You looked that up just to chirp me.”

He scoffs. “It’s literally the top of every single Oilers discussion board and I can google with the best of them.” He promptly goes beet red.

She feels her face flush too. It feels significant and she feels the warmth bloom in her stomach. “You were keeping tabs?”

“Can’t trust you’re being honest, can I?” he retorts sharply. Connie doesn’t take it personally, especially since it’s a little embarrassing to admit she’s more honest with him than she is with even her parents. Jack keeps her silence as permission to go on anyway: “Strome’s no help either. You’d think he’d give more of a shit since you’re codependent bffs or whatever.”

“He’s got stuff.”

“Yeah, slight, small, pain in the ass stuff that is dominating your damn juniors. Fucking Canadians. It’s all O’Reilly talks about – the kids.”

“You’re a kid,” Connie says kind of absently. Michelle is another thing on the list of shit she and Dylan aren’t talking about. “By that definition.”

“I see the painkillers haven’t made you less of an asshole.”

Connie looks over, part of her ready to apologize and a bigger part of her ready to snap back at him. But there’s something in his face that stops her, a tension releasing from his shoulders that she hadn’t noticed until now that it’s not there. He’s not frowning at her and she’s not sure when she learned to read him, but she finds herself flashing him a grin. “You like it when I’m an asshole.”

“Better than the dumb boring Canadian thing you do.”

It’s not the first time he’s said it. The very first press conference she’d done after her surgery, high and exhausted, he’d chirped her for the better part of an hour about how funny it was to see the politeness give way to frustrated sass.

They talk about everyone else as they wait just inside the players’ entrance for an Uber. They’re still arguing as Jack follows her into her apartment and into the kitchen. She feels the air change when she’s reaching up with her good hand for a glass. A breath later, he’s pressed up against her back, a long line of strong, solid heat. She goes still.

“Okay?” he murmurs and a second later his mouth is brushing softly against the skin of her neck. The glass thumps when she puts it down to grip the edge of the countertop. His fingers brush tantalizingly against the skin of her shoulder as he tugs at her blazer. “Connie.”

“Yes,” she says, presses her hips into the counter to brace herself. Jack kisses her neck, this time for real, mouth warm and sure against her skin. His palm slides over her belly, palm bracing against her abs. Her hand clenches around the edge of the counter, eyes fluttering closed.

“Come here,” he says into her shoulder, putting pressure on her stomach until she’s leaning back into him. “Not here. Where’s your bedroom?”

She considers arguing with him and even opens her mouth to do it.

“Not here,” he repeats. “Jesus, you’re injured. Don’t be stupid.” And he has a point.

He lets her lead the way, hovering right at her back but not touching. He closes the door behind them and, for the first time since they stepped into the apartment, Connie turns to face him. He’s watching her closely, carefully, in a way she remembers from Sunrise. Connie finds herself swallowing.

“I’m, um. Going to need some help.”

“Duh,” he replies, even as he steps towards her. His hands are gentle as he reaches for the sling to oh-so-carefully pull it from her shoulder and lift it gently over her head. He isn’t so careful when he tosses it aside. “Now what?”

She reaches for him because it feels too vulnerable. Jack catches her wrist with an irritated hiss, tucks it up between them even as he wraps his arm around her. “You can’t just-“

Connie kisses him, in part because she needs to, in part because she needs him to shut up. She doesn’t need coddling and it makes it all the more satisfying when he fists his hand in the blazer low on her back. She can’t help the noise she releases at the desperation in his mouth. He softens it then, but there’s still a bite to it, still an urgency in the way his fingertips press into her back. Connie raises her good hand to tug at his jacket. It slips off his shoulder and she impulsively pulls away to watch her hand guide it over the broad expanse of muscle there. He shrugs it to the floor and she gives in to the urge to trail her hand over his chest.

“Like that?” he asks softly with a tenderness Connie kind of remembers, but still doesn’t expect. He hasn’t been soft with her over the phone or via text, but he keeps one hand gently cupped around her elbow as he tugs the blazer off her good arm. He keeps his eyes on her face as he does it, watching for discomfort. Connie watches him back as he manipulates her arm carefully to slide her blazer from her body. He discards it on top of his and her eyes are drawn to the way the fabric wrinkles together on the floor.

“Bra?” he inquires, even as he steps in again, grasping her zipper to slide it down. He’s efficient, smiles when he slides his hand up her bare back to answer his own question. But then he pauses, fingers caught in the edges of her dress. “Yeah?”

Connie rolls her eyes. “You don’t have to be… careful with me.”

He surprises her when he leans in to press a kiss over where her scar is still an angry red. Her body jolts instinctively and her eyes flutter. “Kind of do.”

She tangles her hand in his hair to pull him up, to press her mouth to his, the way she’s wanted to, the way she wants him to. “Not the way you are,” she replies. “Yes, Jack. Stop asking.”

His breath catches in a satisfying way. His hands are still gentle as he pulls her dress over her shoulder and manipulates her arm carefully until her torso is bare. He blows out a breath and Connie opens her mouth – to scold him or ask what’s wrong, she doesn’t know – when his face goes hard, intense.

“Okay,” he says, and carefully wraps her arm around her stomach. He uses both hands to skim her dress over her hips. “Jesus Connie, are you serious? Bare legs? It’s fucking-“

Connie laughs and catches his irritation in her mouth and grins, a little indulgent and touched into the kiss. Her stomach is warm as he kisses her back. “Strip,” she says when her mouth is free, and steps out of her dress to head for her bed. She doesn’t look at him as she pulls down the blankets, but hears his shirt flutter to the floor, the sound of his belt following. She turns back then, covers pulled down, to see him dig his wallet out of his pocket. He looks up at her, condom in hand and Connie finds herself smirking.

“Boy Scout?” she teases and tries not to get caught up in the bulge of his arms or the flex of his back.

He looks at her for a moment, considering. “Optimistic.”

She feels the shiver race through her despite herself. Then he’s stepping over to her, hand stroking down her arm like he just wants to feel her skin. “Now what?”

Connie sighs but indulges herself, leaning up and into him. He’s happy to kiss her back, slow and delicious. She pulls away and bites her lip. “Um. This won’t be, like. Graceful.”

He chuckles as his hand slides down her back to cup her ass. “Want me to close my eyes?”

Connie turns and looks back at him over her shoulder utterly unimpressed. Jack’s grinning at her, his hand trailing back up over her hip. She shivers despite herself, feeling the size of his hands against her skin. He hums and kisses the back of her neck.

“Not looking.”

She gets a knee up on the bed, awkwardly balances on her good arm. He presses right up against her and it takes her an embarrassing moment to realize it’s not to make her feel how hard he is, but about steadying her as she awkwardly rolls to her back with a hiss.

“Jesus McDavid-“

“I told you there was no good way to do this.”

“You can’t hurt yourself-“

“I’m fine.” She goes as far as to curl her legs around his thighs, tugging him in. It puts him off balance enough that he almost collapses on top of her. He swears as he catches himself above her, glaring when she giggles. She’s sure her face is doing something soft and maybe a little bit fond – her stomach certainly feels that way – as she reaches up for him.

He comes when she tugs, kisses her when she tilts her chin for it. He lets her lead the kiss, responds but doesn’t look for more. She tangles her hand in his hair as he moves against her, little abortive thrusts she’s pretty sure he doesn’t even realize he’s doing. 

“Come on,” she says, tilting her hips as much as she can without putting too much pressure on her shoulders. He makes it easy with how close he is, but pins her hips down with a hiss. 

“You can’t move.” 

She rolls her eyes. “It’s fine. I’m fine.”

He glares. “You’re broken-”

“You didn’t break me,” she retorts. “You can’t break me. You won’t.” 

His breath catches - why Connie literally has no idea - and leans in again to take her mouth. It feels more desperate, a little more helpless and Connie both loves and hates the way her stomach flips with it. She gets her good hand around his neck and into the edges of his curls because she likes how they feel, a little coarse against her fingers. When he pulls away, she lets out an embarrassing noise and he shushes her, kissing her cheek. 

“There are rules,” he says quietly. 

“Rules-”

“Shut up for a second.” He pushes up between her legs, inadvertently widening them as he settles his weight against his heels. He tugs her down the bed by her knees and strokes up her flanks. Then he’s reaching for her wrist, readjusting it just below her ribs. “You can’t move it.” 

Connie’s breath stutters because there’s a note in there that feels too soft, too real. “Okay.”

“Connie-”

“I won’t,” she says, totally sincere, totally genuine. She infuses that into her voice and her face, watching him blow out a breath. “Jack-”

“I know, I know.” He leans in to kiss her with that same desperation, like he needs to be calmed. “Fuck, I want you on the ice.” 

“Jack.” There’s a whine in it this time. “I’m going to be, I’m going to heal, this is not going to set me back, come on .”

She gets a palm against her lower stomach for her troubles, pressure that makes her gasp. The breath he releases shakes a little and it does nothing to calm her own heart rate, the same desperation pumping through her blood. “You move it, I stop.” 

Her fingers twitch involuntarily and he presses a little harder on her pelvis. “I get it. I promise.” She licks her lips. “I’ll be good.”

He breathes out a ‘fuck’ and braces himself with an arm by her head, taking her mouth like he wants to eat her alive. She moans and whimpers into his mouth, gets her hand around his nape again and gently scratches through the hair at the bottom of his skull. His kiss slows, and he ducks down to kiss the hinge of her jaw, down where her pulse is thundering in her neck. “What do you want?” he asks, running his hand down over her hip, dancing over her inner thigh. “My fingers?” 

“For a start,” she retorts, then hisses as she ducks her head and pulls a little too hard on her shoulder. 

“Connie.”

The warning tone of his voice makes her shiver as she says, “Touch me and come up here.” 

He laughs at her a little, but his fingers slide between her thighs and touch delicately, a tease. Connie’s eyes flutter closed and she sighs, sinks into it. He touches her with familiarity, with the same focused attention he’d paid her at the draft. He makes a dissatisfied noise when she shifts her hips, sitting back on his heels to press a palm to her pelvis again. 

“What did I say?” 

“Then stop teasing, I can - fuck .” His fingers are relentless this time, circling her clit with intent. “Jack, yes.” 

He makes a noise in response but Connie’s too busy whining for more to parse it. She wants his fingers inside her, big and thick like they were at the draft. She’s been working off of memory. She wants the real thing. 

“Jack,” she says again, too wrapped up in the slick slide of his fingers between her thighs to hear how strangled she sounds. Her hips are trying to move but he’s got a big hand braced on her pelvis. “More, please. Inside.” 

Jack huffs and Connie thinks it’s half a laugh before he’s looming up over her, leaning down to press his mouth to hers, long and wet and filthy. Her entire body tries to shift into his, but he’s got her pinned solidly on one side, fingers lighter than ever against her core. She’s about to beg him again, can feel it climbing her throat as she realizes her hand is wrapped around the wrist between her thighs. Before she can, he’s adjusting, circling his middle finger around her entrance. Everything and anything Connie had planned to say gets cut off in the sigh she releases when he finally slides his finger inside. 

“That’s it,” she hears Jack murmur, breath ghosting over her cheek. “Open up for me.” 

She spreads her leg a little further, until she feels the stretch. Her other is pinned beneath his substantial body weight, but Jack groans anyway and slides a second finger in alongside the first. 

“Fuck,” he breathes and leans in to kiss her again, breaking away to get his teeth on the uninjured side of her collarbone. It’s going to leave a mark. Connie doesn’t care. If anything, she wants it, can imagine pressing down on it and remembering the worship in his mouth and the possession in his teeth. Her hips move with his hand, free with him braced above her. SHe whimpers, clenching the sheets with her fist as pleasure rolls through her. 

Her eyes fly open when he nips sharply at her ear and says her name like he’s said it more than once. “Do you want to come on my fingers?” 

“Yes,” she says, and shakes.

He kisses her cheek. “I want to fuck you.” His thumb circles her clit like he can’t help himself and it thrills her. 

“Yes,” she repeats and gets a moan for her effort. Jack follows it up with a desperate kiss, fingers moving with new determination. Connie breaks away from his mouth to pant as he pushes her higher and higher, finally pinning her carefully under his weight as she tips over the edge. 

His hands are impatient, sliding urgently over her skin as she settles. Her breath is short and fast as her orgasm subsides and she brings her good arm around his neck. He kisses her jaw, her throat. 

“Connie.” 

There’s half of a desperate question in his voice, so Connie shifts beneath him, testing. He groans when she rocks against his cock and while it’s an accident, his reaction sends a thrill of power racing through her. It’s the same power that sparked courage in her months before, the same twenty seconds of bravery that makes a part of her truly believe he’s here because it’s her. Because he doesn’t see her as anything other than Connie the second she’s not wearing the jersey. It’s enough to spur her into taking his mouth in her own desperate kiss. 

She doesn’t go far when she breaks the kiss. She stays close enough that her lips brush against his when she asks, “Where’s the condom?”

Jack doesn’t scramble, but he certainly doesn’t move slowly, reaching above her to the bedside table. Her breath comes faster as she watches him tear open the package. She reaches for him, a reflex. He glances up at the movement and hisses, gripping the injured wrist she’d unknowingly lifted.

“What the fuck did I say?”

She growls back and gets her good hand on his bicep. “You wanted to fuck me, can you just-“

He presses her hand back to her stomach as he hovers above her, getting his hand on her thigh and gripping hard. Connie finds herself wondering if it will leave a mark, a bruise, yet he waits, patient in ways Connie doesn’t feel.

“What?” Connie breathes and arches her back, despite knowing it will shoot pain through her collarbone. She gasps when it does.

“That,” Jack grits out, hitches her leg higher and takes away some of her leverage, even as it opens her up to him. “I’m not making your shoulder worse. I-“

She reaches up, bracing her hand against the wall and tries again, this time with better results. “I’ve got it,” she replies. “I’ll keep myself steady. Jack.”

He grits his teeth, but leans in to kiss her. “If this makes it worse, we’re never doing it again.”

Connie barely gets the opportunity to open her mouth before he’s angling his cock into her. She sighs as he sinks inside, eyes fluttering closed to take in how good he feels, how much bigger he seems after already coming once. Jack groans when he bottoms out, and drops his head until his forehead is pressed to hers. “How do you feel so good?”

He slides out and back in. He feels so good himself, better with the way she’s still a little sensitive. It focuses the sensations and Connie presses her palm harder into the wall so she can move her hips with his thrusts.

“Connie,” he growls, but doesn’t try and pin her, to keep her still. She makes a vaguely triumphant noise and works to match him until every deep thrust pushes her higher and higher. She hovers there, right on the edge.

“Fuck,” she gasps, though it may be a sob. “Jack. Jack please, I-“

“Yeah,” he replies, and it doesn’t make sense, but his hand slides to her pelvis, thumb pressing perfectly against her clit. It’s not immediate, but they’re both determined. Jack is relentless and when she finally, finally comes, he doesn’t wait, just tilts her hips and chases his own orgasm. She gasps as it prolongs hers and when he come, he growls, pressing in as deep as he can. She finds herself gripping his bicep, nails digging into the skin.

There’s a split second where she thinks he’s going to collapse on her collarbone – she even braces for it – but he manages to drop his head to the pillow on her good side. His breath is loud in her ear as they settle and she gives in to the urge to wrap her good arm around his back. It’s slick with sweat but she doesn’t care, reveling in the weight of having him so close.

No, she thinks to herself, eye shooting open where she didn’t realize she’d let them close. Not him specifically, just… someone. Having someone close. That’s all this is. It isn’t – can’t be – about Jack, specifically. She’s independent, capable - for the most part - of taking care of herself. But sometimes, just sometimes, she wishes she had someone who would do the caring for her. Who would make her dinner, injured as she is, be as careful with her as Jack has been. 

And Jack’s here, bitching at her about her collarbone, watching her for signs of discomfort, infusing her body with the best kind of endorphins medicine can’t buy. She can give herself this.  

He rolls off her eventually, considerate enough to tip to her uninjured side. Connie tries to take stock as he sits up, but she’s drawn to the way he watches her before leaning in again. His kiss is sweet and Connie instinctively reaches up to cup his cheek. He doesn’t say anything when he pulls away, gets up and pads to the bathroom. He does, however, poke his head back into the room in irritation when she doesn’t follow. “Seriously? Get your ass in gear, McDavid, Clean up is going to be way easier in the shower.” 

Which is how Connie ends up with Jack Eichel rather expertly washing her hair. 

His face is a weird neutral when she turns around, conditioner rinsed out of the strands. “Need a pill?” 

She considers the question and takes stock of her body in careful increments. She’s still riding the high of the endorphins, if she’s honest, content and strangely pleased with life. But there is a twinge when she turns and shifts in some ways. When she looks back at him, she can see the annoyance starting to break through and she can’t help the little laugh that bubbles up her throat. She lets herself go with the impulse to kiss him, sighing happily when he kisses her back. 

“Yeah,” she says when she pulls away. “I could probably use one.” 

The strange look doesn’t leave his face as he watches her. She can feel where his hand is twitching against her hip. She waits him out, confused and curious in equal measure. It feels like he’s giving in to something when he sighs and reaches up to stroke her hair over her shoulder. He kisses her with the same impulse towards softness. 

“You good with wet hair?” he asks when he pulls away. 

She doesn’t mean to stare, nor look so stunned. In pure Jack form, he simply rolls his eyes. 

“If Jessie couldn’t use an arm, I’d ask her the same damn thing, okay? And I’ve heard her bitch enough about curly hair.” 

“Did she teach you to braid too?” 

“Christ,” he says as she giggles, but reaches around her to turn off the shower. 

He does help her at least squeeze out the majority of the water out of her hair, but then basically leaves her to her own devices as he heads for the kitchen. She listens to him banging around as she struggles into a too-big Otters shirt and some sweats. By the time she makes it out to the kitchen the ‘could probably use a pill’ has escalated into ‘definitely needs a pill’.

Jack’s cutting vegetables when she steps in and he glances over his shoulder. “How the hell do you find anything in here?” 

Connie feels herself blush as she settles at the island. She figures it’s smarter than risking Jack’s irritation if she were to offer to help. Meanwhile, she is staunchly avoiding thoughts about caretaking and how she could get used to this. She’s lonely, that’s all, lonely and injured. “I think Ebs organized it, honestly.” 

His nose wrinkles. “Too much information.” 

“It’s the league’s second worst kept secret,” Connie protests with a laugh. “Or third. Everyone knows.” 

“Knowing and talking about it are different things,” Jack argues, then turns. There must be something in her face because he makes an irritated noise. “Where are your pills?” 

“Bathroom,” she admits quietly. “I have to take them with food.” 

He swears. “They gave you the really good stuff.” 

“Pins and screws,” she answers, dropping her chin into her good hand. Unfortunately, it jars her shoulder and she sits upright again with a hiss. A moment later, Jack’s returning with her pill bottle, already popping it open with ease and shaking one of them into his hand. He dumps it on the counter beside her and surprises her again when he kisses the side of his head. 

“You idiot. We shouldn’t have-”

“I told you it was okay,” she argues because, look. At the end of the day she wanted this. She wanted him. And Connie McDavid is nothing if not determined when it comes to getting what she wants. “I wouldn’t have asked if I wasn’t into it.”

If I didn’t trust you

She prays to God the thought doesn’t show on her face, the startled shock of her own epiphany. She does trust him. He’s given her no reason not to. 

He watches her long enough that she feels discomfort set in. Finally, his face softens and he makes a noise before leaning in to kiss her. “Omelet okay?”

“Because it’s all you can make?” She regrets the words the minute they’re out of her mouth. It all feels too close, like the night is turning into something it’s not. She can’t play house, certainly not with him. Her emotions are already stupid about it.

He points a spatula at her and she legitimately isn’t sure where it comes from given his irritation at their general kitchen set up. “See if I put tomatoes in your omelets now.”

“Why would you do that?” she asks, knows her face shows her disgust.

“It- You don’t like tomatoes?!”

“In a salad,” Connie retorts and decides the throb in her collarbone needs to take precedence over his omelets. She hums gratefully when she finds blueberry yogurt in the fridge and makes a mental note to thank Nuge because there’s no way Taylor remembered her favourite yogurt. “But why the hell would you cook them?”

Jack doesn’t comment on her pre-dinner snack, just nudges her hip in a strangely companionable way, even as he launches into a full on rant about cooked and raw vegetables. She doesn’t miss the way those blue eyes watch her as she downs her pill.

There’s a rhythm to their bickering. It follows them through his cooking and into their meal. It settles into a contented quiet, though she absently wonders if that’s the narcotic talking. Dylan always said they made her loopy.

“What?” he asks when he faces her, dishes safely in the dishwasher.

Connie shakes her head gently. “Thank you.”

He pauses, freezes really, just long enough for her to notice. When he shrugs, it feels too deliberately nonchalant. “Movie?”

“Don’t you have a curfew?”

He definitely tenses then, watches her for a moment. “I told you, Bogo’s covering.”

There’s weight in the two simple words and his face goes blank at her blatant surprise. “Oh.”

“Oh. Jesus, McDavid-“

Her stomach flips, and it's a good and kind of sick feeling in equal measure. She forcibly shuts her brain off to lean into him and kiss him. It’s so languid and yeah, she’s feeling pretty mellow. Maybe a little loopy. “Come on,” she says, and stands, stumbles a little.

Jack’s got her though, a palm on her hip. “If you fall, I’m fucked.”

“You’re fucked,” she says on a snort, but leads the way to the couch and drops down. Jack is slower to follow and there’s something in his eyes that has heat pooling in her gut again. “What?”

Her breath catches when he drops to his knees, rucks up her shirt and tugs at her panties. She has to twist a little so she doesn’t put pressure on her shoulder, but they eventually get them tugged down. He shoulders between her legs, spreading them wide to give himself enough room. She kind of gets caught up in the breadth of him for a moment, just how wide he spreads her legs before pressing a kiss to her thigh.

“Stay fucking still,” he tells her.  

It’s the last thing he says before he eats her out – which is delightful , screw the rest of the girls who are obviously not sleeping with the right guys – leaving her flushed and panting against the couch that she shares with Taylor Hall. Well, it’s Taylor’s couch. The point is she will go to her grave with this moment because Taylor will give her hell and probably fuck either Ebs or Nuge, maybe both, on the same couch in revenge.

For his part, Jack’s pretty smug as he bites a mark high into her thigh, Connie too blissed out and still breathing hard. She thinks she may have cried out. “Cross another first off the list.”

“You’re an asshole,” but she’s laughing as she reaches for him and kisses him quickly because he tastes disgusting. “Brush your teeth.”

He smacks a sticky kiss to her stomach just to be contrary. “I’m using your toothbrush.”

“Dick.”

But when he comes back, he does so with a warm damp cloth to clean her up, then bullies her into bed. “You have an iPad. Let’s Netflix and chill where we don’t have to move when you pass out first.”

She does, hard enough from the pills that she doesn’t hear him leave the next morning. She refuses to call it disappointment when the side of the bed he’d slept on is already cold. It mellows when she hits the kitchen to find Taylor skimming her phone. She barely glances up before shoving a scrap of paper across the island, along with a blueberry yogurt, water and her pills.

McJesus – take the pills.

When Connie glances up at Taylor, she’s got amusement in her eyes and dancing at the corner of her mouth. “You may want to change that yogurt. Not sure how long it’s been sitting out.”

It doesn’t make Connie’s breath catch, the thoughtfulness and observation skills of a man who is supposed to be her on-ice rival; who is only with her for sex when they’re actually in the same city. It’s a coincidence he’d pulled blueberry out, her favourite. It has to be.

 

 

“He’s allowed to be thoughtful,” Nuge says a few days later, sitting in what is subjectively their favourite but objectively shitty Italian deli. “Back when Ebby and Hallsy were pretending they weren’t in love, Ebby kept sriracha sauce in his fridge because Taylor loves burning her tongue off and clearing clogged sinuses with spicy food.” He shrugs.

“But everybody still knew they were in love,” Connie protests. “Jack-Eichel-“

Nuge snorts. “Don’t stand on formality on my account.”

“Jack,” she finally says, because that is what she calls him. Nuge offers her a small encouraging smile. “He’s…it’s not like that.”

Nuge bites into his pickle, watching her, calculating. “What is it about?”

She could deflect and he would one hundred percent leave her alone, no further questions asked. She could make something up and he absolutely would not call her out on the lie. It’s the combination of both of those things that has her telling the truth.

“I’d never had sex,” she says, quietly because they’re in public. “Jack…”

“Helped you,” Nuge prompts when it becomes obvious she’s struggling.

“Yeah. But it was more than that. He made it good for me.” Her face must be flaming, but Nuge looks remarkably unaffected. “And then we got drafted across the continent and yeah, we had each other’s numbers,” and co-existed in more than one group chat, “but there was the rivalry and I was playing so well-“

“Breathe, Davo,” he encourages gently. She does, the way her therapist taught her when she was seventeen and getting compared to Sidney Crosby, despite being female.

Eventually, she says, “I was watching one of his games. They lost, but Jack played a good game and I guess I realized no one gets it like him.”

His expression doesn’t change and for the millionth time Connie thinks of how grateful she is for his bland and unconditional acceptance.

“And yeah,” she says, “We talk all the time.” There’s going to be a minimum of three messages on her phone when they wrap up here because Jack’s a notorious multi-texter. “It’s different, the expectations on us, on Jack and I.”

Something flashes in Nuge’s eyes. “It’s bullshit.”

“Of course,” she agrees and wonders if his vehemence has something to do with how irritable Taylor gets when ‘first-overall pick’ is mentioned. “But the pressure is real.”

He’s quiet for a few beats. Then he says, with tangible caution, “He’s allowed to be thoughtful. He’s allowed to be nice and want to do things for the woman he’s sleeping with.”

“Sporadically,” she blurts. “It’s not like it’s…”

“You’re friends, right?” he points out with a dismissive wave of his hand. “You know a lot about each other including things you like and don’t like.” He waits for her to nod before he says, “Then don’t read into a yogurt when he knows you have to take your pain pills with food.”

She’s blowing out a strangely relieved breath because it does feel like a weird weight has been lifted off her shoulders, when Nuge says a very ominous, “But.”

Connie glares.

“I’m just saying,” he pushes on, hands up like he’s trying to be innocent. “That maybe your reaction is more about your feelings than his.”

She freezes, quite literally, sandwich halfway to her mouth. “What?”

Nuge folds his hands in front of him, sandwich temporarily pushed aside. “Have you asked yourself why it mattered so much, that everything was casual and nothing more than a friend helping a friend through a dry spell?”

She had very actively been avoiding those thoughts and they both know it. “Why do you hate me?”

He laughs, a warm sound and Connie thinks if life was a lot different, if Jordan, Taylor and yes, okay, Jack weren’t in the picture, she might have a crush on him. “You’re allowed to have feelings for him, too.”

“He’ll never reciprocate. Why should he?”

“Because you’re pretty awesome?” he says. “Your hockey’s pretty okay too, I guess.”

She laughs, but even to her ears it sounds a little watery. She puts the sandwich back on her plate and her head in her good hand. “What am I supposed to do?”

Nuge grips her wrist. “You don’t have to figure it out now. You said it yourself, you’re across the continent. You’re young. You’re allowed to process this through.”

“Thanks,” she says with a sigh. “I guess you don’t hate me.”

“Nah,” he agrees, sitting back. “Someone has to teach you how to actually be a functioning human.”

“I’m telling Hallsy you said that.” 

 

She’s bored and he has an off day. She texts Jack incessantly, not feeling as bad because she knows he’s not doing anything. That still doesn’t stop her from being surprised at what he eventually texts back after about an hour of whining on her part.

so lets watch a movie then. rabbit.

fine. Because even if she’s seen it before, his commentary is sure to be hilarious.

He’s in his room when the video connects, hair shorter than the last time she caught him, and wearing a BU shirt that looks so soft she wants to steal it. “So, what are we watching?” she yawns.

“Whatever you want,” is the absent reply. He’s already scrolling through options.

Connie snorts. “I’m telling you, I’ve already gone through all of the good stuff and some of the bad stuff, so you pick.”

“Yeah? You better not bitch about what I pick, then.”

“I’ll probably still chirp you.” Her eyebrows go up as the title credits for Safe Haven start scrolling across the screen. “No way, you have to be kidding me.”

Jack shrugs and settles back into what looks like a mountain of pillows. “I like chick flicks. That’s no secret.”

And yes, she remembers that from the draft get-to-know-me videos, but she’d figured he was full of shit, and she says so. “Seriously, don’t pick it because-”

“Shut up, Davo,” he snaps, his face going slightly ruddy. “You told me to pick a movie and I picked a goddamn movie. It was this or Emma , so you can deal.”

That just...does not add up to the picture of him that’s in her head. Especially after everything they’ve done together. “You’re not serious. Come on, the only reason you’re actually picking these is because there’s a hot female lead, right?” Julianne Hough is beautiful, Laich better be treating her right.

He gives her the finger. “If I wanted to watch a beautiful woman and have no plot I’d pick a Michael Bay movie or something, what the fuck Davo. I actually like the storylines and now be quiet, the movie is starting.”

And it’s not an act. He’s into the movie from the beginning, attention completely riveted even though he responds to the soft comments and observations she offers up from time to time. Dylan’s never fully into a movie unless they’re at the theatre, always shifting and shoving popcorn into his mouth and Michelle just does not stop talking.

He just keeps surprising her and she doesn’t know what to do with it.

Case in point: “Are you crying?”

“Of course I’m crying, how are you not? Are you dead inside?” Jack blows his nose noisily.

She wasn’t, she isn’t, but Jack’s obvious emotional reaction makes her heart warm. He’s prickly by nature and she does genuinely like that about him, but this soft side he keeps voluntarily showing her feels special and unique. She smiles as she picks at her bedspread, charmed by him. 

“I’m not crying,” she says softly, gentle in a way she’s never had to be with him. “I’m glad you are.” 

“Glad?” he scoffs. “You going to tell your boys?”

“No,” she replies softly and feels a strange twinge of hurt. She’s been trusting him since that hallway in Florida and it’s weird to feel like that isn’t a reciprocated trust. “Jack, why would I do that?”

He says nothing for a prolonged beat, then two. When she finally looks up from where she’s pulled a thread loose, the look on his face is intense. “You wouldn’t.”

“I wouldn’t,” she agrees, though the way he’d said it with absolute confidence makes her feel at least marginally better. “You can trust me.” 

He goes back to the movie. 

It isn’t until they’re signing off, Jack’s eyes still red-rimmed and Connie’s heart aching at more than just the movie, that Jack says. “I do, you know. Trust you.” 

And no, Connie very doesn’t know, and still isn’t sure she trusts it. They get each other. That doesn’t require trust. “I know.”

Jack hangs up. 

 

Connie knows her relationship with her mother is special. All of the guys talk about their parents, how important their moms were, and teams are getting better at celebrating Moms as much as Dads. 

Connie’s relationship with Kelly is something else entirely. 

Which is to say, when her mother suggested pedicures, Connie really should have known an ambush was coming. 

“Say hi to Dylan,” Kelly says, and startles Connie into looking up. They’ve barely been on the road for five minutes. 

“What?” 

Kelly nods to Connie’s phone and eases into a left-hand turn. “I assume that’s who you’ve been talking to. You’re not usually this glued to your phone. Everything okay?” 

“Yes,” Connie says carefully. She still feels taken off-guard, and they both know she has nowhere to go. Her hackles are up in a weird sort of way where she knows there’s an inevitability to telling her mother everything, yet a reluctance to see the reaction. “It’s, um. It’s not Dylan.” 

Kelly just hums and Connie hates that she can tell all of the little emotions in the sound. “You don’t have to tell me.” 

“I know.” And she does; she absolutely does. There have been too many things Connie has wrestled with by herself before taking it to her mother. At the same time, she’s defensive of what’s going on between her and Jack, protective even. “You remember Jack Eichel?” 

“At the draft,” Kelly says after a moment, like she’d have to pull it up. “The curly-haired boy?” 

“Yeah.” 

“He went after you, I think.” 

“You think?” 

“Cut me some slack,” Kelly says on a chuckle, reaching out to squeeze Connie’s leg. “My baby had just been chosen first overall to be in the NHL. I was a little distracted.” 

Connie blushes, as she’s still irritatingly wont to do when going first is brought up. “He went second, yeah. Buffalo.” 

Kelly hums. “He was a grumpy one.”

Connie snorts because she can’t help herself. And then proceeds to relay that to Jack. She puts her phone down because she’s aware of what kind of reaction that will bring. “He gets it.” 

“Gets it?” Because even if her mother understands, there has never been a concept Kelly has allowed Connie to get away with discussing without a definition. 

It’s so complicated. Her emotions are so complicated, especially considering how much Connie knows her mother worries about her.  

“Edmonton is hard,” Connie finally replies. “Being the one everyone’s relying on is hard. Dragging a team to the playoffs is hard. Jack gets it. He understands what it’s like to have a franchise on your shoulders and the pressure. I don’t have to pretend like it’s all fine and like I’m not exhausted by that locker room.” 

“Are you?” 

Connie blows out a breath. “Sometimes. It’s not just the fans that are expecting things from me; the team expects me to drag them to the Cup, and that isn’t a team.” 

Kelly is silent, thinking Connie knows, trying to figure out how to best support what Connie’s going through. “Do we need to call Jeff?” 

It’s said so very carefully. Connie considers that before she says, “It would be the same. It’s not about the room. The guys are great. Hallsy’s great. But - “ Connie huffs. “Playing at this level is a dream come true for so many people, me included. Complaining just feels…” 

Petty. Childish. Ungrateful. 

“Except with him.” 

She hates the way her mother sounds so careful. It’s not Kelly’s style, not when she’s playing Connie’s therapist. “Yes.” 

Kelly’s quiet. Connie has done enough of these car rides to recognize it as considering and not the type of silence Connie will inevitably feel to avoid discomfort. “And you have feelings for him.” 

She cannot help the way she bristles. Kelly makes a noise before Connie can snap back at her but it’s not enough to silence her completely. She’s sick of justifying it. She’s sick of hiding it. She’s sick of feeling like it’s wrong or weird or surprising. And it makes her impulsive and leaves her spewing the whole story, from draft to today. 

“Well,” Kelly says when Connie’s done and realizes they’re parked. There’s amusement there, but the care remains. Connie feels exhausted. 

“You are my baby, so I will always worry, whether you’re breaking your hand or your collarbone, whether it’s your head or your heart.” 

Connie can’t help rolling her eyes. 

“But,” Kelly says, almost laughing because yeah, Connie’s her daughter and they’ve done this too often for Kelly not to understand. “You’re my baby and I’ve known you for nineteen years. There is nothing you cannot do if you want to. There isn’t much that’ll stop you when you decide you want something. So if you’ve decided you want Jack I’m not naive enough to tell you not to.” 

“But.” 

“Be careful. Be smart. Be safe.” 

Connie can’t stop the smile from spreading over her face. “I promise.”

 

The first text comes through barely ten minutes after the skills competition starts.

The three on three format is dumb.

She fights back a grin, already forming a response. Oh yeah? Why’s that?

You don’t need as many people in three on three McJesus, duh.

And there it is. No rookie draft, you mean.

Exactly. We’d be there any other time. If you weren’t broken.

You could still be there even though I’m broken. Even as she types it, she feels like she can see the look on his face. He’s shockingly defensive of her abilities, considering the abject hatred he often shows to the media on the same subject. 

You’re an idiot .

It makes her snort in triumph more than amusement. They’d have to make sure we were on different teams.

Duh. We’d be too good otherwise.

Connie loves and hates how her breath catches. He’s talking about hockey, of course. Connie isn’t impressed with the way her heart wants to make it something more. Except.

What if we do play together?

Huh?

The U-23 team.

It takes Jack eons to reply. She honestly second guesses even bringing it up. They’ve never played together, only against each other and she should have known that maybe he’d want to keep it that way. 

We’d dominate .

It makes Connie smirk. 

But you can’t tell me you wouldn’t be happier playing for Canada.

It takes her a few minutes to figure out what she wants to say. They’re already calling the U-23 team a joke.

They won’t say that when we’re on it.

It’s a convoluted set of emotions. Connie would rather play for Canada. She’ll tell reporters the same thing. She knows Jack would rather play for the US. They’ve both played for their national teams, both have the bug to wear the jerseys on the world’s biggest stages. Connie certainly can’t say that the World Cup is the big stage she was thinking of, but yeah okay, she’d be disappointed if she wasn’t wearing the maple leaf. 

And yet. 

She feels like she knows Jack’s hockey now. She feels like she can tell when he’s on and when he’s not and she sure as hell feels like she’d know where to find him on the ice. 

I like playing against you , she sends him. I think I’ll like playing with you

Soft, McDavid.

She doesn’t deign to reply. She’s been called soft because she’s female too many times and he cried when they watched “The Notebook”. Something, something glass houses and all that. 

And then they get to the fastest skater. 

This would have been you, he sends and Connie doesn’t really want to pinpoint why that makes her blush. Not even a question.

Would you have raced me? 

If there was literally nothing else I could compete in. She can hear his incredulous snort. 

Dylan Larkin wins. And it’s not close. Even Connie’s holding her breath as he takes his lap to break the all time record. 

Holy fuck.

She laughs. He’s your boy, isn’t he? 

He could beat you. It would be a race. 

Her back goes up, competitive as ever, but something sharp in it too, something that stings. Fuck you. I would beat him. I can beat him. 

Not broken you can’t. McBroken. 

She freezes, thumbs over the keyboard. She feels it, the snipe, the sharp stab of the reminder that she can’t play; that she hasn’t played in too long and one day, she’ll have to put her skates back on again and prove herself. 

Again. 

Tears well, frustrated, angry. He’s hit a nerve, uncaring - unaware - and she can’t handle the swing of emotion. She wants to get back on the ice more than she wants to breathe, wants to show the world that she is everything they say she is and more , and he knows that. He knows better, knows more than maybe even Stromer, and this time it hurts.  

She curls up on the couch, and flicks her phone to silent. 

 

She wakes up the next morning to too many texts, having ignored the rest of his out of petty spite. She skims them, aware that indulging his progressively weaker chirps would serve to validate him and tank her mood. Again. 

It was hard enough to be reminded there was no ASG for her because of stupid Manning and her stupid collarbone. 

But then, buried at the end is, Everyone knows you’d kick his ass. You don’t need me to back that up. 

She composes the message four separate times before she sends: No, but it would have been nice to hear anyway. 

 

“It’s like your twelfth game back,” Taylor says in their shared hotel room in Buffalo. “How are you more nervous now than you were your first game back? It defies science.”

Connie doesn’t meet Taylor’s eyes, but she makes a concerted effort to stop the way her foot is bouncing in the air as she fucks around on her phone.

“Is it because your whole family’s here? Because like, your fam loves you.”

Connie doesn’t reply.

Taylor huffs. “Are you worried Strome will be a no show?”

“He’s been Snapping me from the road,” Connie replies, because when it comes to Dylan, Taylor has a habit of waffling between ‘Dylan and Connor: Otter Buds Forever’ and a star-crossed lovers narrative that makes Connie wrinkle her nose in distaste. “Pretty sure he’s bringing half the Otters.”

“Adorable,” Taylor coos and drops next to Connie on her bed. It’ll wrinkle her suit, but it gives Taylor an excuse to visit Ebs and Nuge long before they have to be on the bus. It’s as much of a routine as the way Connie tapes her stick.

“Is it the rivalry thing? Because like, it’s an established fact that you’re better than Eichel. I don’t even know how that’s a debate.”

Taylor’s not trying to goad her; if anything, the rivalry narrative is maybe one she’s familiar with given the juxtaposition of her and Seguin. It doesn’t stop Connie from tensing up and she knows the minute she does, she’s screwed.

“Really? You never talk about him. You’ve never said a bad word about him.”

Connie sighs, exasperated now. “Why should I? We play different games on different teams in different fucking conferences. We play each other twice a year and for some reason it’s all anyone wants to talk about.”

There’s a few beats of silence. “Okay, no bad words. What about good words?”

Connie rolls her eyes, looks over at Taylor. “I know it’s hard to believe, but even when playing me, other people can be good players.”

Taylor is silent once again and Connie feels a weird surge of dread slide through her, just before Taylor asks, “How good?”

Connie’s face flares and Taylor crows. “You have a crush!”

“He gets it,” Connie says softly and it pulls Taylor up short. Her face goes startlingly blank for a moment before a myriad of emotions flash quickly over her face. “Hallsy-”

Taylor lets out an awkward laugh. “I, um. Get it.”

“It’s not that you’re not a good mentor, or whatever-”

“No,” and this time it’s a little more fond. “I do actually get it.” She shrugs. “I mean, I had Ebs.”

“I’m not dating Jack.”

Taylor tips her head to the side for a second. “Okay. But you like him.”

Connie groans because when it comes down to it, Taylor’s not wrong. Jack’s cranky, sure, and more dramatic than literally anyone she’s ever met, but when it comes to key things like listening and understanding and pulling her out of her own head, Jack can do it almost better than even Dylan. It helps that he’s hot. Like, really hot and Connie’s seen him naked more than once. Those eyes and the damn shoulders. His shoulders . She’s gotten herself off to memories of how broad they were above her, how strong it makes him.

“What does it matter if I do?”

Taylor blinks at her. “It’s kind of a big deal if you’re going to date him.” Then she snorts. “Enemies to lovers, fuck. The media’s going to eat this up.”

Connie’s frown must be fairly epic because Taylor bursts out laughing. Connie promptly shoves her off the bed. “That’s why I haven’t said anything! The media doesn’t even think we’re friends, let alone have any idea whether or not we’ve seen each other naked.”

“And have you?”

“What?”

“Seen him naked.”

Connie’s face flares. Taylor cackles.

“You have!”

Connie throws an arm over her eyes.

“Wait. Is that why you wanted me out of the house? We have rules!”

“No common surfaces were defiled when the Sabres were in town,” Connie promises. “Which I know for a fact is more than you can say.”

“Ebs lives alone, it doesn’t count,” Taylor retorts, then puts on a dramatic sigh. “If only I hadn’t wanted a rookie so bad.”

“What a sacrifice.” Sarcasm drips from every word.

“And here my rookie is, sleeping with the enemy-”

“Her rival.”

Taylor side eyes her.

“What? It’s the better story. If you’re going to be dramatic-”

“Rivalries are bullshit.”

Connie bites back a smile.

“No bullshit - is this why you’re so nervous?”

Connie sighs. “I mean, a little?”

“A little.”

“I don’t… what if we beat them?”

“If?”

That, at least, makes Connie smile, fierce and predatory. “When we beat them.”

“Better,” Taylor approves and climbs back on the bed again. “We’re disowning you if you can’t make this rivalry worth it.” Connie whacks her side, but Taylor just flops back beside her and rolls her head to meet Connie’s eyes. “You’re worried he won’t want to see you.”

“I’m worried he’s going to be angry when he does.”

Taylor’s nose wrinkles. “That’s kind of petty.”

“He’s kind of a diva,” Connie answers.

“And you still like him.”

“I like you.”

Taylor gasps. “Are you implying- I am not a diva!”

“Drama queen?” is Connie’s innocent reply. Taylor yelps and rolls on top of her. They wrestle, neither of them giving much of a care for their game day suits. They’re only interrupted by a knock on the door. It’s Taylor who shoves herself to her feet with a laugh and finds Jordan and Ryan on the other side.

“Are we interrupting?”

“Just rookie angst,” Taylor replies and steps back.

Connie squawks her protest, but even she has to admit she’s lighter now.

“Channel it onto the ice, Davo,” is Ryan’s careful advice. “And in the meantime, let’s get the wrinkles out of those suits.”

 

She opens the scoring thirty seconds in, then nets the game winner off of Jack’s missed chance. It’s wonderful and she’s flying and this is hockey , but when she gets off the ice and looks at her phone for the first time, her elation dims. He’s probably livid. She’s all but sure he’ll blow her off. It’s with a heavier heart that she drums up the courage to type: headed back to the hotel. 625.

She makes a pitstop to hug her parents, to let Dylan and Alex crow about beating Jack Eichel and it’s buoying enough that she can muster some excitement for her teammates, equally as elated at her two-goal performance against her arch rival in his home arena. It’s not enough to drown out the frustrating sense of disappointment when none of the messages she receives are from Jack.

She begs off the celebrations with a mix of rookie exhaustion, a hard-played game, and wanting to baby her very healed injury. Taylor tries pouting, but pulls Connie in when she stands firm.

“Don’t wait up,” she murmurs into Connie’s ear, then looks back over her shoulder to where Ebs and Nuge are doing a fairly convincing job of casually idling. Taylor grins, wide and bright. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

Connie’s heart clenches as she watches Taylor walk away; watches Ebs draw her in when she’s close enough. She tries to swallow it down and resolutely keeps the screen of her phone pressed against her stomach as she makes her way up to her room.

It’s only when she’s there, when the door has clicked shut behind her, that Connie lets herself whip the phone into the pillows on the closest bed – Taylor’s. It doesn’t help and she forces herself to take a deep breath and strip methodically out of her gameday suit. Her shower is long and thorough because she can, because no one’s around to chirp her for sulking when she’d dominated the game and scored the game winner.

She pulls on sweats – a pair she must have stolen from Dylan at some point, given the fit – and an old Otters shirt when she’s out and hates the way she’s still disappointed when there’s nothing from Jack.

he’s sulking , she texts Michelle because she knows Dylan will be entirely unsympathetic. It’s barely half a beat before her phone’s chiming with the FaceTime call.

“And so are you,” is Michelle’s choice of greeting. “Is that even your shirt?”

“Yes.” Then, after a beat, “The pants might be Stromer’s.”

“Three thousand miles and still codependent as fuck.” The picture shifts as Michelle does. “You surprised?”

“At Jack?” Connie blows out a breath. “No.”

“Me either. What a diva.”

Connie rolls her eyes and bites her lip, because she can’t stop herself. “Mitchy. This is different.”

Michelle’s eyes widen. “Holy shit. He matters.”

“Too much, maybe” Connie admits after a few seconds of picking at her bedspread. 

“What did you expect? That he’d be waiting for you outside the dressing room?”

Connie laughs incredulously. “God no. Not even if they’d won.” There’s a beat, but Michelle can wait; she always does when she knows Connie’s sitting on more. “I wish he’d at least… text me, you know? I get it, but it’s not my fault. He could have ended that game ten seconds before I did.”

“The age-old Davo versus McDavid debate.”

Connie huffs. “We’re the same person.”

“Sure,” Michelle agrees amicably. “Except it’s not Davo they’re going to be talking about in all the articles is it? The media doesn’t care about Davo. The media cares about the fact that Connie McDavid went up against her arch rival Jack Eichel and won. They care about the fact that the Oilers’ sensational first pick continues to live up to the hype despite injury.”

“I said I understand,” Connie snaps. Michelle widens her eyes dramatically and Connie releases a long, slow breath. “He knows me,” she says quietly. “He knows about the pressure to perform. He’s seen me play.”

Michelle shrugs. “That’s all logical. But Connie…look, I love you to death, okay? You are a glorious and fucking gifted player. But 2015 will always be Connie McDavid’s draft. The rest of us may as well have been drafted in the seventh round for all they care about us. Which,” Michelle holds up a finger. “I’m not saying you didn’t deserve it or work for it.”

“You sound like Stromer,” Connie says.

Michelle laughs. “He talks about you all the fucking time. His eventual wife had better not be the jealous type.”

It pulls Connie up short for a second. “Aren’t you guys dating?”

“He tell you that?” Michelle inquires after a moment, voice very suddenly very carefully neutral.

“No.” It’s strong and vehement. “But-“

“It’s buddies,” Michelle interrupts, bright smile and light tone back in place.

Connie has an argument, but it’s interrupted by the knock at her door. When she looks through the peephole her breath backs up in her lungs. “Mitchy. I have to go.”

She hangs up before Michelle replies and fumbles embarrassingly for the door. “Hi.”

Jack arches an eyebrow at her. “Why are you surprised? We said we were hanging out, didn’t we?”

Connie shifts, put off and feeling frustratingly awkward. “You lost.”

His face shutters for a moment and he stuffs his hands in the pockets of his coat. “So?”

“I.” She swallows. “I figured you weren’t going to come.”

He eyes her from under a Terriers hat. “Are we going to talk about the game?”

“No,” she says immediately because honestly, she’s not in the mood to rehash it.

“So let me in.” And his hands come out of his pockets to grab her hips and usher her back. She lets him, heart pounding.

“Nice,” he says, taking in the room.

“It’s a hotel room,” Connie retorts with the roll of her eyes. Regardless, she can feel the way her smile curls up the corners of Jack’s mouth. It makes her stomach feel warm.

“Hall?”

Connie shrugs. “Said not to wait up.”

Something flashes over Jack’s face that has Connie remembering her apartment and a very similar hotel room in Sunrise. But all he does is shrug off his coat to toss it over the back of the desk chair and flop on the bed she’s claimed as her own. He makes himself at home there, wiggles until he’s comfortable and snatches the remote off the bedside table to turn on the television. Then he has the audacity to raise an eyebrow at her. “Coming?”

She glances down at her phone out of reflex and to avoid his gaze for another moment. Michelle’s texted her the eggplant emoji. Connie huffs and tosses the phone on Taylor’s bed before climbing on hers, right next to him.

The late game’s on, Islanders and Canucks and she can’t help the noise she makes when he flips past it.

“Seriously?” he asks.

“What?” she argues. “We never said anything about shit-talking someone else’s game.”

It’s the right thing to say and Jack spends the next five minutes bitching out the Islanders’ penalty kill. Connie laughs herself through it and feels the way she leans helplessly into him as it does. She’s not sure when Jack lifts his arm or how he gets it wrapped around her shoulders because she’s too busy either laughing or arguing.

It dies down at intermission and makes Connie all the more aware of where she’s pressed up against him, where she’s leaning into him. He’s not curled around her, but it’s comfortable.

“You’re staring.”

Connie smiles, a reflex, and she knows it must be such a soft expression on her face. “I’m glad you came by.”

“Me too,” he replies. “I’ve never met someone whose opinions are so fucking wrong .”

She almost actually giggles. To keep herself from doing it, she moves with the impulse to press her mouth to his cheek. He freezes for a moment, long enough for Connie to be well into panic before he says, “What was that for?”

Connie shrugs, but refuses to look back up at him, even kind of resists when he slides his fingers under her chin in an attempt to turn her head.

“Hey,” he says quietly, and Connie has to swallow before she can look at him. He leans in and it’s plenty of time for her to pull away. Connie does not.

His mouth is soft against hers, coaxing. The bite that is in everyday Jack is gone, leaving only the same quiet confidence that has characterized all of their other kisses. He leads and she lets him, a hand curling in the cotton of his sweatpants. His arm curls a little more firmly around her neck.

She’s not sure how long they kiss before he pulls away, tongue flicking out over his bottom lip like he’s chasing her taste. “I, um. I didn’t come here for that.”

“Okay,” she says, feeling the thrill race through her and the blush stain her cheeks. “But we can, right?”

Because she can’t say she hasn’t been thinking about it. It’s not his fault hooking up still makes her nervous, especially in Edmonton. But Jack- Jack is safe. He’s proven he’s safe. 

Jack laughs, amused but light, and, in a move that seems too smooth, flicks off the television and rolls to straddle her thighs. “Yeah, we can.”

He sounds just a little mocking and she frowns, even as she tilts her head back when he nuzzles at her jaw. Her breath catches as he presses his mouth just under her ear and bites a little at her pulse. Then he’s pulling back, all the way to his knees so he can whip off his shirt. She honest to god whimpers and his eyes go hot. 

“Strip,” he says, voice low, and ignores her indignant noise when he gets off the bed. Except then he strips down, right there, jeans and boxers off in one swoop. “Hurry up.” 

It’s not elegant, by any extent of the imagination. She yanks her shirt over her head and scrambles quickly out of her sweats. It’s absolutely more utilitarian than they have been, focused on naked and fast, not seduction. Connie’s absolutely into it, thrilled that he can’t be bothered this time, that he wants her more than he wants to seduce her. He almost rips her panties in his need to have her naked.

Except, the moment they are naked he pauses to look. He’s done it before, with a look that feels a little like she’s not real, and this time it makes her heart clench almost painfully in her chest. It’s a flashback to how careful he was with her and how careful he is when they’re together like this. His hand is soft, light as it slips up her thigh. She shivers and presses her head back into the bed. Goosebumps pop up over her skin. He hums, almost like he’s considering what to do. 

“Sensitive?” he murmurs.

“Feels good,” she replies and lets her neck arch a little because she knows it gets to him, knows sometimes he has a possessive streak that she’s willing to play into. He growls and it’s satisfying, even more so when he leans down to bite at the scar on her collarbone. Connie’s not even sure what sound she makes when he does it, but finds her hand tangling in his curls, holding him there. 

He laughs into her skin, softens his mouth and tilts her chin to press butterfly kisses to her jaw. “Connie.” 

She wraps a leg around him and presses her hips up. “Jack.” 

It’s another thing she knows gets to him and he kisses her, hard and demanding. She sinks into it, whimpering as he pulls away. 

“We’re not in a rush.” he reminds her, kissing her again, slowly but no less thoroughly. Still, he shuffles off her to dig in his sweats and pull out a condom. “Are we? Somewhere you have to be, McDavid?” 

“What if I don’t want to? Go slow.” 

He smirks. “You’ve liked the other times. We didn’t rush through this last time, or the time before.” 

“You said you wanted to show me everything,” she retorts, sliding her hand around his ass as she watches him roll the condom on. “You’ve shown me slow.” 

A shockingly complex series of emotions flicker over his face before he rolls his eyes, a little smile curling up the corner of his mouth. “Quick is for when there’s no time. We have time.” 

They have plenty of it, when she considers sacrificing sleep. She can sleep on the plane, and if he’s dead set on taking it slow, she definitely wants to make the most of the time. 

“Before you leave,” she says and tilts her head again. It draws his mouth to hers and she sighs. “Morning quickies are a thing, right?” 

He laughs into her neck and the vibration distracts her from the idea that she just assumed he’d stay the night. He lifts his head to kiss her, gets his fingers on her jaw to tilt her head exactly where he wants. Connie finally lets herself fall into it, following her instincts to press against his back to bring him closer. He responds by sliding his knees apart, spreading her legs. His hand hikes her knee up beside his hip, his fingers stroking her thigh. It turns into his huge hand cupping her hip, tilting her pelvis as he breaks the kiss. “Okay?” 

She’s been aroused since he surprised her by showing up. She’s not soaked, not like she has been for him, but it’s enough. She nods.

The slide of him inside her is slow, drawn out, and still makes her feel every goddamn inch of him. It feels like the longest few moments of her life, and she can’t help the groan it rips from her throat. He loves it. His eyes are focused on her face when she forces herself to open hers, watching her reactions. Connie rolls her hips because she can, and because it makes him swear gratifyingly. 

“I get it,” she says, though she sounds breathless. “Your cock is huge.” 

The groan he releases does not sound pleasured, and he drops his head to her collarbone, shoulders shaking. “Fuck, never say that again.” 

Connie cups his face, drags him in and kisses him. “Then fucking move.” 

He does with purpose. It’s her favourite part - well, so is Jack’s foreplay, and so is… maybe it’s all of it and she just needs to focus on, “Oh my god.”

He swears back, kissing her cheek with more spit than finesse. She doesn’t care, not when she’s rolling her hips to meet his thrusts, fucking him back and wrapping her thighs around his hips. It’s not that she’s unaware of the power in his thighs - she’s seen him skate, admired it, but it still feels different with that power directed here, into making her eyes flutter and her fingers clench on his bicep. 

She loses time to the feeling of him siding inside and pulling out again, the rhythm so easy to follow here, her focus solely on this. He’s the one that gets impatient, that slips his hand down to press deliciously on her clit until she’s coming, unable to do more than gasp. It takes him longer and she’s happy to let him fuck her through it, the stretch that same post-quality workout soreness that makes her sigh. He collapses against her for a few beats, but they both know he’s too heavy to stay there. It makes her smile when he finally rolls off of her with a ‘oomph’ of effort. 

It’s a thrill that she leaves him like this. So sue her.  

“You did look good out there,” he says when they’ve caught their breath. “For what it’s worth.”

Connie looks over at him, assessing. “You mean it?”

“I always mean it,” he retorts, tone biting. “What kind of a-”

“It’s different.”

He eyes her for a minute, careful and self-aware. It makes her feel like he’s about to crack her open and there’s nothing she can do to stop it. It’s thrilling and anxiety inducing in equal measure. “I hate McDavid,” he says, carefully, and it echoes the exact conversation she’d had with Michelle. “I think there are a lot of people who hate Connie McDavid.” He shrugs and she feels it through his entire upper body. “It’s easy to hate the legacy, especially for me.” 

“It’s not a legacy-”

“Connie.” His face is calm and clear. She huffs and looks up at him and lets him tip her head to kiss her. It’s quiet and soft and Connie sinks into it until they break apart naturally. “Connie’s pretty okay though.” 

“Mitchy said the same thing.” 

“She’s pretty smart,” Jack replies because he’d spent some quality time with her at the draft and Michelle’s one of the more active participants in the 2015 draft group chat. “Which is good, since Strome is dumb as a post.” 

She smacks his chest gently. “That’s my best friend you’re talking about.” 

Jack adjusts her against his chest. “Their entire relationship is a lesson in effective communication.” 

Connie chews her lip for a moment, unable to stop the habit. She inhales sharply when Jack presses his thumb to that lip and nudges it free. “We’re not rivals.” 

He stares at her for a moment like she’s grown an extra head. “If we are, we’re not great ones.”

“You get mad when I win.”

“I get mad when Larks wins. I’m livid when Noah wins because he’s a dick when he wins. Matts is insufferable when she wins.” His eyes are calm as they watch her. “I play them more often than I play you. No one’s out there pumping up the BC-BU rivalry and that makes much more sense.” He shrugs. “Sure, we’ve played each other a bunch on the international stage, but what does that really mean now that we’re here? I see you literally twice a year on the ice. How is it a rivalry when we don’t play each other? When we’re a continent away?” 

Connie’s heart thumps, and she’s not totally sure if it’s all related to the way he’s being so dismissive of their media narrative. They are across the continent from each other. They do see each other twice a year, and whether she wants to consciously acknowledge it or not, it puts a damper on nights like this. 

“You’re the one that plays it all cool in interviews,” Jack points out. “You shut them down just as fast as I do. So where the hell is this coming from?”

“I beat you,” she says, and watches his eyes flash. “We made these plans, and then I beat you, and I didn’t know if you were going to show up.” She feels almost too vulnerable, more naked than she’s ever felt without her clothing. 

His eyes are too aware as he watches her. “You said the same thing when I got here,” he murmurs. “Like you don’t trust me.” 

She lets herself think about it and is grateful he seems willing to give her that space. “I trust you here,” she says slowly. “I trust you on the phone, when we’re not playing.” She pauses, blows out a breath. “I hate not knowing how you’re going to react. If you’re going to hate me when I get first star of the week or score more than you-“ Her mouth snaps shut when he sighs, the breath shaking his entire chest. 

“It’s not you,” he says, and makes it sound like it’s the 200th time he’s said it. “It’s never about you.” 

She pauses here again, taking a moment to really consider whether or not she wants to say what’s on her mind. He’s breaking her wide open and it feels unfair because it’s not doing the same for him. “But it is me. The hockey player you hate is still a human with feelings that get hurt and when you ignore me because the media talks about my successes....” 

He is so, so quiet. So painfully, terrifyingly quiet. But that’s not really what hurts. What hurts more is that when she pushes away; when she gets up and murmurs something about a shower, he doesn’t follow. He doesn’t say anything, and he makes no move to follow her and she cannot stand the way the tears come to her eyes. 

She feels stupid. She feels so incredibly stupid for hoping or thinking that… god she’s not even sure what she wanted, other than to not feel the anxiety of waiting for him. And maybe this is the conclusion; this is the last time they’re going to do this. It’s certainly the last time she can, for her own good. 

She curses herself for not locking the door when she hears it click open. She curses herself for not telling him to get out when he pokes his head in the shower door. She hates that he’s seeing her like this. 

“Can I?” 

She wishes she had the strength to say no. 

Jack draws her in, pulls her close. “I wish it was different,” he says into her hair. Connie clenches her hands into fists against his back. “I wish I could promise you it can be different.”

Tears spring to her eyes. She’s so glad he’s talking to her head. “I wish the media didn’t get to you so much.” 

He laughs and it’s tight and awkward. Connie’s not sure what it is about the sound that makes her lift her head. Her breath backs up embarrassingly when she catches the look on his face. And then he says, “Me too.”  

 

 The preliminary roster for the U23 team comes out the next day and is a collection of not-shockers. Connie almost doesn’t check the list, not because she’s that full of herself but because the damn coach is her coach and he’s been not-so-subtly hinting about leadership and chemistry with different linemates. It would be easy to chalk it up as McLellan simply trying to find things that work for the Oilers at the end of another disappointing season, but Connie is no longer on the good meds and in control of all of her brain power.

She has the page open on her tablet in her hotel room, because Sportsnet wants to make a big deal out of it. They’re going to call Jack too, she knows, so she has the television on as well.

She hasn’t spoken to Jack since he walked out of her hotel room. She’s too raw, too cracked open, and they’re going to ask about him. She’s been doing everything in her power to fortify herself against spilling everything, telling everyone on national television that he’s hers. 

Her phone chimes – Michelle’s been texting her all day with predictions while she tries to goad Connie into guessing how many women will make each roster. She’s been biting her lip against the idea that she wishes it were Jack, that she wishes she maybe had more guts, or he was strong enough to push back. 

sejia aho’s nuts, Michelle’s message says.

Connie vehemently disagrees and tells her so. She’s debating Ovi and Malkina’s inclusion on the Russia squad when her phone rings. The Sportsnet PA is nice enough and Connie scrambles to find better light and a spot that doesn’t include her lounging against her bed.

She’s not totally sure what she says, honestly. She thinks it’s just a lot about how excited she is to play with a lot of those players, some sort of platitude about how there isn’t really a rivalry in the locker room because so many of them aren’t the same age. 

Then Jack’s there, on the screen, blurry and tinny through the phone even on Sportsnet’s massive screen. 

“Uh, I don’t even know if we’re rivals.” 

Connie blinks at the TV, glued to her seat. Despite what he’d told her, there was still a piece of her that hadn’t believed it, not completely. It’s been A Thing since World Juniors, since before that, long through first and second in the draft. 

“We’ve played against each other a handful of times, but now it’s two different divisions, opposite sides of the continent, so.”

too bad the media doesn’t think like eichs, Michelle texts. 

“I guess we’ve been paired together for a while, but it’s going to be a great experience.” 

Connie shivers. It feels so different to watch him. It feels like she knows all of his tells, that she knows that while he’s carefully constructing his answers and definitely knows how to stick to the talking points, he means what he’s saying. 

Everything in her is haywire, on edge and poised to fall or to fly, Connie’s honestly not sure. She doesn’t want it to mean anything, Jack calling out the way the media is doing the work of creating a rivalry, that he has no need for it. But she’s sick of burying her head in the sand too, tired of pretending that to the rest of the world, he doesn’t mean something to her. She’d called him out on hating the media narrative just the night before; here he is, trying to put it to bed. 

That can’t be a coincidence. 

it is going to be a good experience, she types back to Michelle, then, after a long moment of deliberation, copies the text and sends it to Jack. 

An olive branch. 

no shit sherlock, he sends back, complete with an eye roll emoji. Olive branch accepted in full. 

She grins and feels her heart swell in her chest. Pride maybe, that he’s not hiding. Hope, maybe, because he answered. 

 

The next major announcement to come out is the Calder and Connie is…more than a little unimpressed. Flattered, maybe a little bit but she barely has 50 games under her belt.

“I haven’t earned it,” she says to Dylan the day after the list comes out.

Dylan hums. “Maybe, but you know how well the Oilers have done without you. I know how well the Oilers have done with you, versus without you.”

“That doesn’t make me the best.”

“You’re not. Yet.” He huffs. “Davo, you know how I feel about rehashing conversations.”

“It’s useless when it’s not about you?”

“Rude.” But Dylan sounds amused and not pissed. Connie lets herself smile with it. “Just because you’re jealous of my skills...”

She laughs and can all but hear Dylan’s satisfaction down the line.

“Plus,” he says once her laughter has died down. “It was always going to be you.”

“It should be Jack,” she blurts out before she’s really thought about it. Dylan’s silent long enough she goes on to say. “He’s just as valuable to his team as I am to mine.”

Except, she also knows the damage is already done. She holds her breath for it, but, after a pause, Dylan says, “They’re still at the bottom of the conference.”

“So?” And if there’s relief in the word, she will never admit to it. “That doesn’t mean anything. The Oilers still suck.”

“We already know they’re better with you. With or without Eichs – or sorry, Jack-“

Connie groans and almost drops her head into her hands. Her face feels warm.

“-the Sabres can’t say the same.”

She is very grateful they’re on the phone and Dylan can’t see her flushed face. “Shut up.”

“No, no,” he says. “I let it go the first time, but I’m not a saint. Tell me more about Jack , Davo.”

Connie is going to tell him to fuck off. She’s going to tell him he’s being a dick and they should go back to talking about hockey and the awards. But when she opens her mouth, nothing comes out. It drags the silence on long enough for Dylan to connect the dots.

“Shit.” It’s the moment she loses all chance of plausible deniability. “Holy shit, Davo, really?”

“He gets it,” is the only excuse she can come up with. She hates the way her voice rises defensively. She’s said it to Michelle, out loud. Why can’t she say it to Dylan?

“Sure,” Dylan agrees amicably but Connie knows she is not off the hook, by a long shot. It’s not Dylan’s style. “You think he should win the Calder. You know enough about him that you think he should win the Calder. How many Sabres games have you watched this year?”

She says nothing, couldn’t get the words out if she tried. And she is trying, trying to push them past the lump in her throat and not even sure if it’ll be denial or agreement. 

“Hey,” he says quietly. “It’s okay, you know?”

“Is it? I’m in so deep, Stromer,” she answers. 

Dylan laughs kindly. “Davo. Take it from me, a guy doesn’t just text a girl because he wants to be friends. Not with a history like you and Eichs have.”

She drops her head into her hands, trying with all her might to keep her emotions at bay. It’s not going to do her any good to vomit them on Dylan. How many people does she need to tell? How many times does she need to open herself up to this?

“Like, I know the NHL has this whole narrative going but-“ He goes silent and Connie holds her breath. “The draft.”

Connie feels the hiccup rock through her chest.

“He’s the reason Mitchy showed up at my door,” Dylan finally says, like the world makes sense.

Connie bites her tongue against that reply.

“Holy shit, you lost your virginity to Jack Eichel and fucking fell for him. Your rival. Do you have a contract with Disney you didn’t tell me about? This is fucking gold.” 

“You’re an asshole.” And the reason she didn’t want to say anything in the first place.

“Is that why he called out the media? Is that why he keeps saying that you’re just players of the game? Jesus, Connie, it’s too perfect! Why wouldn’t they want to make a movie about it.”

“It’s not the same for him!” she snaps out, the words clipped and short. 

Dylan goes silent and Connie winces. Her chest is tight with frustration and with loneliness and trying to keep her damned self together with everything whipping through her. Her own private unwelcome hurricane. 

Because she and Jack haven’t talked about it. They’ve talked, sure, about hockey and diets and workout regimes, how tired and sore they are this deep into the season, but they haven’t talked about it. Hell, they haven’t talked about anything that matters and Connie’s nerves are shot. She can’t do it - won’t do it - won’t be the one to open it up and put herself there again. And she knows, maybe better than most, that he won’t either. 

Stalemate.

“Davo,” Dylan begins again, softly this time. “I told you. A guy doesn’t text you like you guys text or call you like you guys call, if he’s not into you.” 

“Being into me and...” She sucks in a deep breath, embarrassed at the words she knows are going to come next. “Keeping me,” she chokes out, “are two very different things.” 

“Connie.” 

She blows out a breath that shakes and makes her stomach turn over. “You’re wrong. He’s already said he can’t.”

Not the whole truth, but not a lie either. He won’t, she’s pretty sure. And that hurts in its own way.  

There’s a silence that Connie can’t read, and she hates when she can’t. He’s Dylan, he’s not supposed to be like anyone else. He’s not supposed to make her second guess. 

“Okay,” he finally says, almost a whisper. She expects more and when she doesn’t she huffs. 

“Dylan.” 

He laughs, like he always does when she turns whiney or petulant, but she’s not blind to the weird sound in it, like he’d be shaking his head at her. Like he knows better, which is the most hypocritical thing, coming from him. “I’m not going to argue with you when I know I can’t win.” 

“You’re the worst.” 

“I’m not,” Dylan answers carelessly. “D-Rads is the worst. Did I tell you what he did to Raddy the other day?”

“No,” Connie replies and takes the out he’s offering her. Dylan’s not the worst, not by far. 

“You’d think that as brothers Raddy would know, you know? He’d know what to look for. But nope! We’re on the bus, right, because we don’t have fancy NHL planes, and everyone knows Darren’s got something up his sleeve-”

 

She doesn’t win the Calder.

She’s grateful for it for the most part, and lets herself get a little more drunk than she would have had she won and had to face the media. It’s good, it’s light, but as the night wears on, it also feels a little empty.

She slips away long before the party winds down and heads back to her room, thumb hovering over her phone. The heels go first when she pushes the door open and she sighs in relief before hitting dial. She shouldn’t - it’s an ungodly hour of the morning on the east coast - but she can’t quiet the part of her brain feeling like at least some of the emptiness is because Jack isn’t here.

She expects his voicemail, so it takes her fuzzy mind a few beats to realize he’s picked up and is just breathing into the phone.

“I’m glad I didn’t win.”

There’s a sharp inhale, followed by a snort. Connie feels herself smile a little bashfully. He picked up. It feels like a twisted miracle.

“No, I am.”

There’s a beat. Then, in a voice hoarse enough to confirm she’s woken him up, he says, “Because you didn’t deserve it?”

His voice zings through her, makes her shiver a little with the idea that he hasn’t hung up . He wants to talk to her. He wants to talk to her about this: the deep things, the rivalry, the way they can’t escape each other and the stories others want them to be. God, she is definitely intoxicated. “I barely played enough games to qualify,” she agrees. “But not winning means you can’t be mad at me.”

There’s a sound she can’t decipher before he says, “You have to stop calling me under the influence.”

Which hurts, sucks all of the warmth out of her. She’s embarrassed to feel tears spring to her eyes. “Sorry. I’ll go. I know I woke you up-”

“Connie.”

His voice holds enough bite that her mouth clicks shut.

“It’s not-” He huffs out a breath and she honestly cannot tell if he’s more frustrated with her or with himself. “You’re too honest like this.”

“So?”

He laughs, but it’s an ugly sound. “Never mind.”

And that’s just annoying. “Jack-”

“Me too.”

That pulls her up short. “What?”

“I’m glad you didn’t win it too.”

“Because it’s not something the media can hold over our heads?”

There’s another beat of silence, but it’s contemplative. Connie bites her lip to wait him out, glancing out across the bright lights of the Strip. Eventually, he says, “Because I don’t want to be mad at you either. And I would have been.”

It’s a big admission, the kind she’s been waiting for, and Jack clears his throat awkwardly when Connie doesn’t have a reply.

“I…” he says.

“No,” she interrupts, because he cannot, cannot, take it back. Not if she’s going to survive this embarrassment. “It’s-” She huffs. “You should be here. I wish you were here.”

His breath shakes as he releases it. “Me too.” It’s another massive admission, even if it’s easily filed away under Jack just wanting to be nominated; to win. “You looked beautiful.”

There’s a part of her brain that thinks this feels like a dream. “I’m still wearing the dress.”

His laughter is soft now, indulgent. “Why? You going back to the party?”

“No. It’s not-” Fun. Easy. Near as exciting as it should be under the circumstances.

“So take it off.” And he sounds amused, but she shivers nonetheless, heat licking quickly through her veins.

“Yeah?” she asks, breathless and tentative. The mood shifts, just a little, just enough. There’s an intensity sitting there now and she feels like she can hear his breathing change. “Jack-”

“Not like that.”

“I-” She cuts herself off, unsure and off-kilter.

“Hey.” He’s soft again in the way he really only is when she’s unsure, but with the layer of steel that had her giving in that first night - that led her to trust him. “You’re drunk. And trust me, it’s never as go od as in person.”

Connie wants to huff and she wants to sigh. She can feel the hum in her body, and she hates that it feels like he’s handling her. She doesn’t need to be handled. Least of all by Jack Eichel. 

“Look, just… put me on speaker.”

“Why?” But she does, dropping her phone to the bed.

“Because you’re going to need both hands for that zipper. Then drink some water.”

It makes her laugh, even as she twists her arms around to slide her zipper down. He starts talking as she does, telling her about training as she shimmies out of the dress and lays it over a chair, about Hanifin as she cracks open a water bottle and sedately works her way through half of it. There’s a part of her that recognizes the domesticity of it, the uselessness of what he’s saying, but the way she listens nonetheless. It settles into her as she sinks into the plush Vegas mattress. 

“I can deadlift him for fuck’s sake, I have no idea why he felt it was a good idea. Like, there’s video evidence.” 

Connie feels a shiver drill through her as her mind pictures it. Jack is strong, so strong. It’s one of the clearest things she always remembers about him, one of those fundamental pillar descriptions of who he is as a human. “Is the video on the internet?” 

Silence greets her for two, maybe three long seconds before she hears. “You want a video of me lifting?” 

The tone isn’t incredulous per se, but it is a little… off. Warm, sure, like he’s confused between being weird about the whole thing and loving that she wants it, yet also surprised. Connie feels the thrill go through her, feels it shimmer through her blood. It always feels like something big when she takes him off-guard. There are days he seems to know her so well and she revels in the small moments where she can throw in a little piece he wasn’t expecting. 

“If you have it on hand,” she replies, and hits nonchalance better than she’d expected. 

“I’m not that vain,” he retorts, but misses irritated by a mile. It makes Connie giggle, loose and happy with him in her ear. 

“You are, a little.” He squawks and she laughs for real this time. “It’s okay. I like it.” 

“You like it,” he repeats, and the shiver races through her again. It feels like he’s choosing his words carefully when he says, “You like what?”

Connie sighs. “How strong you are.” She would bet the entire total of her ELC that he’s preening. She likes that about him too, the confidence in him. 

“I don’t know what you want here.”

“I want you here.” It doesn’t feel as vulnerable as it should. It doesn’t feel like a risk. 

“Where’s here, Connie.” 

“Here. In Vegas, in Edmonton, in Toronto.”

“Can’t be in three places.” But there’s something there, something her drunk brain can’t quite put its finger on. 

“I want you with me.”

There’s a sharp inhale. “Jesus Christ, you’re going to be the death of me.” 

Conceivably that shouldn’t be as thrilling as it is. She hums and lets her eyes fall closed. 

“Connie?” 

“Hm?” 

He swears. She can’t understand why. She’s just a little tired. “Hey. Did you finish the water bottle?” 

“Don’t want to.” The mattress is comfortable, though she’s a little cold. She says the latter out loud. 

“Then get under the covers, Davo.” He sounds fond. She can pinpoint that much. “It’s a hotel bed in Vegas. Aren’t the sheets like, a million thread count?” 

“What the hell do you know about thread counts?” 

She falls asleep to his indignant ranting.  

 

ft me

Connie blinks at her phone for a moment, then has a mild panic attack that something’s happened and scrambles to find Michelle’s contact number for FaceTime.

“I didn’t mean now,” Michelle answers in amusement.

“So everything’s okay?”

Michelle blinks, then her face softens. “No one’s dying, McMom, settle down.”

“Then why the SOS?” she replies in exasperation. She takes her fair share of drama queen accusations, but it’s nothing on Michelle.

“Not once did I indicate any reason to panic,” Michelle points out rationally. “We haven’t had a chance to catch up.”

“Goddamn it, Mitchy-”

“You have something better to do?”

Connie could probably come up with an excuse. Knowing Michelle, however, she absolutely knows Connie’s between engagements and training. Ambushing is Michelle’s superpower. So Connie huffs. “Hi Mitchy, how are you?”

Michelle hums like she’s considering, pressing an emery board dramatically against her cheek. “Taking a break from the massacre I made of juniors this season.”

Connie’s grin is real and honest and predatory. It’s easy to be supportive of Michelle’s hockey, especially when Michelle isn’t set to be Connie’s opponent any time soon. “Hell yeah you did.”

“And you?”

Connie sits back on her bed. It’s a leading tone if Connie’s ever heard one, even if Michelle isn’t looking at the camera. “Training,” she says carefully. “I know you watched the awards.”

Michelle’s grin flashes and her filing halts for a split second, but it’s enough for Connie’s stomach to drop with the realization she’s walked into a trap. “Ah yes. The awards.”

“Just spit it out.”

“Buzzkill.” But Michelle shifts and leans forward. “I got an interesting text from Hanifin.”

“You guys talk?” It’s not a friendship Connie would have expected, even with the amount of time they all spent together during the prospect stuff. Hanifin hadn’t gotten along with Michelle like a house on fire.

“Turns out, there are bigger gossips out there than I am, and ones with looser lips.”

Connie arches a skeptical eyebrow.

“Okay, and Stromer wouldn’t bite. You know whining and gossip give him hives.”

“Okay. So what?”

“So. Apparently Eichs is the one that suggested they have an awards party. And Hanny says he heard Jack on the phone in the middle of the night.”

Connie feels the heat rush to her cheeks. “Yeah?”

“Anything you want to tell me?”

Connie grips her comforter tight. “Should there be?”

Michelle shrugs. “Hanny says Eichs refused to say who it was.”

Connie just barely manages to inhale without a sound. In repressing the gasp, however, she leaves the silence hang and, quite obviously, doesn’t quite school her face.

“I knew it!” Michelle exclaims and sits up.

“I didn’t say anything!”

“Your face did. You guys are still fucking.”

“Not since I was in Buffalo.”

Michelle cackles. It’s the only word Connie has for the way Michelle’s head tilts back, laugh loud and obnoxious. Connie makes a mental note to maybe shove her a little too hard into the boards the next time they meet on the ice. When Michelle makes the Leafs next season, holy shit. “You called me!” 

Hurt and angry. It’s not a night Connie is going to forget for too many reasons. As it is, she’s still pissed that she can’t remember what she said to him, drunk in Vegas. The whole conversation is fuzzy, even if the emotions are real and true. She’d woken up hungover, but with the feeling that she knows now. She knows he’s in this too, knows he’s fighting. She just doesn’t know what to do about it. 

“He wants you.” 

Connie takes a deep breath and takes her time doing so. There’s no reason to lie to Michelle, no reason to deny it. Want has never been the problem. “Yeah.”

There must be something in her voice because Michelle pulls up short. “Connie?” 

“That’s not the problem,” is what Connie settles on after a few minutes of silence. 

Michelle’s eyes flash, angry in a way that is out of proportion with the conversation. “Bullshit.” 

Connie sits up. “Mitchy-” 

Michelle waves a hand, dismissive, but Connie isn’t blind to the hard line of her mouth. It’s a nerve, and Connie didn’t know, and Connie hates, hates , hurting Michelle. “That’s bullshit, Connie. Anything other than wanting you is bullshit. Very few people are as stubborn as you, as stubborn as Jack, and instead of working through the bullshit, you’re leaning into it? You spent how many years proving every narrative wrong and this one you’re just going to let yourself, and him, run with it?”

Connie is frozen. She knows this Michelle, is aware of what the passion in her face means, the frustration flashing in the blue of her eyes. Everything about her is sharp and icy, hurt and also fighting for something that Connie can’t figure out.  

It’s all gone a moment later when she says, “Look. The World Cup will be here tomorrow.” 

Not quite. 

“And you’ll be together like, 24/7.”

There will be 21 other young players, not to mention literally the rest of the league’s stars. 

“Maybe take some time to really think about it, okay? I don’t know, pretend you’re actually in a relationship or something. See what happens.” 

Yeah, that’s a terrible idea and Connie knows that. There’s never been a lie between her and Jack. She’s always asked for what she wants, and he’s always told her when she’s being ridiculous. She won’t add lies to it now. 

That’s not what she tells Michelle. 

“Good. Then maybe you can put all of us out of our misery. I swear to god, Hanny’s whining about the pining, and I’m whining about the pining and Dylan is the worst because he’s bitching about the pining and-” 

“You and Stromer are sure talking a lot, Mitchy. Anything you want to share with the class?” 

Michelle hangs up. 

And there’s a blinding clarity as to why Michelle is hurt and angry and calling Connie on everything between her and Jack. 

Connie’s never actually had to hurt Dylan before, but she thinks maybe there’s a first time for everything. 

 

Come by. 615.

Connie doesn’t think about it for more than half a beat, having arrived in Montreal before him. Jo’s out with MacKinnon - and Connie’s valiantly not thinking about what they’re likely to get up to and if she needs to clear out for the night; if Jack would let her crash with him - and she, well. She feels like maybe there’s pressure on her shoulders here too.

So she goes.

He’s on the phone when she gets there, rolling his eyes when they meet hers. “Hanny,” he says. “On mute though, I love the dude, but he fucking talks .”

She laughs softly and slips around him, absently listening to something about Jess Skinner and the Staals that Connie is going to very actively not think about after this. Jack rolls his eyes again and makes faces at her, but the minute the door’s closed he reaches for her.

Connie goes.

He makes a noise as she curls into his body, startled, probably, but doesn’t even stumble as he takes her weight. His arm curls around her hip until she can feel the heavy weight of his arm against the bottom of her spine. Connie feels a lot of things drain out of her, some of the pressure, the worry, the way no one seems to have faith in them as a team. 

Jack tucks his cheek against her head and lets her just kind of stand there, her arms wrapped around him. He lets her just breathe. 

Connie thinks of Michelle, of pretending. Of this being her reality if she wanted it. If she believed. 

“Hanny thinks Skinner’s sleeping with all the Staals,” he finally murmurs into her hair. Hanifin does sound pretty indignant about something, maybe a little grossed out, but Connie just laughs into his neck.

“I could check.”

“Ew, no, gross.” But she thinks she can hear amusement under it all. “You and your elaborate girl chat phone tree can definitely keep that to yourself.”

Connie laughs into his skin. “I can see it though. Jess. Decision making is not really her strong suit.”

“That is too much information, McDavid, what the hell.”

“You asked.”

“Hanny asked. They are not my team, I do not care.”

She’s shaking with laughter at his outrage and disgust, like he isn’t equally as into the gossip tree as she is. She knows for a damn fact he’s as in the know about gossip as Michelle, and nothing gets passed Michelle. “Thank the hockey gods for that. Hallsy’s ridiculous with Ebs and Nuge and I had to live with it.”

“Why do you insist on corrupting me this way.”

But his hand is skimming up her back, long, relaxing strokes like he can tell she’s already less stressed than she was when she’d shown up at the door.

“Jack? Jack. Did you fucking put me on mute again-”

Connie giggles, tries not to squeal indignantly when he pokes at her sides. She shoves her face into the pillow as he pulls Hanifin off mute, snipes at him about what kind of friend he would be if he’d put his best friend on mute and Connor lays there, lets him run his hands over her back and slip under her shirt. There’s nothing sexual about it, a gentle hello that makes Connie shiver nevertheless. It’s soft of him, easy. 

“You going to fall asleep on me, McDavid?” 

“Going to be mad if I do?” 

There’s a moment she thinks his breath catches, swears she can feel it under her ear. Then he says, “No.” 

It feels weighted, but Connie’s half way out of it and lets herself drift the rest of the way off with Hanifin nattering away. 

 

It’s not really real until she’s suiting up for their first exhibition game. The C feels heavy on her chest, a test when it shouldn’t be. 

“You have to stop reading Twitter,” is what Jack had said when she’d confessed to the pressure. “And Sportsnet. And ESPN. How has no one taught you to stop reading your own damn press?” 

It doesn’t soothe much, really. She still feels it, still picks at the C because they’re here as underdogs and Connie doesn’t like being an underdog. She works hard to keep from being just that, pushes herself more than is healthy sometimes to make sure they’re the threat, not the easy-to-beat opponent. 

“Hey,” Nuge says, nudging her shoulder. He’s been deceptively calm through the whole process. Connie’s kind of jealous. “We’ve got this.” 

Connie breathes out slowly, steadily. “No one believes in us.”

The calm demeanour fails to show the heat of determination in Nuge’s face. It’s on him too, in a way, with all the changes the Oilers have made and are making. She knows Taylor’s trade is still fresh in his mind, the reality of living across the country from the woman he loves. “They don’t have to.”

“It doesn’t bother you?” she can’t help asking. “It doesn’t- We’re a joke.” 

“Right now maybe,” he agrees. Then he nudges her shoulder again. “Since when has that stopped you?” 

And Connie, well. Connie’s been proving herself her whole life. She looks around at the team - her team, their team - feels the weight of the C on her chest. The last face she finds is Jack’s, sharp in the harsh light of the locker room. His eyes glint ice cold as he rolls his shoulders, his neck. His eyes meet hers when he straightens again, meets her gaze steadily for a few seconds.

She nods. “Let’s do this.”

And they do it, only losing one of their pre-tournament games to the Czech Republic. The media is buzzing over them in a way they hadn’t been, going into the group stage, but Connie’s trying not to think about it and just play.

Marcia texts her the night before the group stages begin. Beware the Russians. Text Dani if things get out of hand.

Which is a little rich, coming from Marcia. Connie winces a little bit at the memory of the morning after her first game in New York. Taylor had only been slighter better by a small margin, and they’d both been pathetically grateful for Lindsay’s homemade hangover remedy. It had been vile, but enough to get them down to their Uber and over to the airport without too much fuss. The games in Pittsburgh and D.C. had been tame by comparison, but she’d been dragged along with large contingents of both teams, in those cases.

The door opens. “Hey Jo, did you get a text from-”

“We’re being kidnapped,” Jo announces from the doorway, her tone wry.

Connie glances up, alarmed, as Sascha bounces into the room. “McDavid! Come on, you’re the last one. We’re drinking tonight!”

Over her shoulder are Gina, Brandi, Jo, Josie, Auston, TJ, and a very confused looking Seija. That, if anything, gets Connie moving because like Auston, Seija’s never played an NHL game and clearly no one’s warned her about this particular aspect of it. “Yeah, I’m coming. Um, where’s Dani?” Surely Dani would have warned Seija, Finnish and Swedish rivalries aside.

Sascha waves a hand. “Swedes are doing weird Swedish bonding things. It’ll be just us tonight, okay?” She slings an arm around Connie’s shoulders and steers her out the door. “We’re going to have so much fun!”

Three shots and two drinks later, TJ, Brandi, Auston, and Josie are proclaiming, at the top of their lungs, the travesty that is Team USA’s snub of Phyllis Kessel.

TJ slams her palm down on the table. “I almost didn’t go but Phil told me I needed to because the team needed me.” She frowns angrily. “The team needs her , what the fuck.”

“Look, we knew the brass was going to fuck it up anyway,” Josie insists. “They had the chance to ice the greatest possible integrated team and what did they do? You’re the only woman on the team, TJ - no offense.” TJ shakes her head, indicating no offense taken.

“USA has no centers, my ass.” Auston is the most animated that Connie’s seen, but then there haven’t been many opportunities to see her in that context. “They could have had Decker, Carpenter...and let’s not even get into the d-men, because Bells and Marvin can go in circles around some of the guys on the roster-”

Connie’s half listening. Well, seventy-five percent listening, because her phone vibrates with Jack’s name and Connie checks it out of a twisted sort of habit.

Where the fuck did you go? No one’s answering your door.

Kidnapped , she types out with a single finger. Ovi and Malkina found me .

LOL . Need a rescue?

Connie looks up at the girls, thinks about being with Jack. She has no obligation to be here, either as a woman, nor as a captain, but she’s looking at them all, all of these fucking women, playing in the top league in the world. Later , she sends, and settles in again. 

He’ll still be there. She’s sure of that. She couldn’t say for certain why she’s so sure, but she knows. She’ll stay out with the girls tonight, maybe text to see if he’s up later. If not, she’ll catch him tomorrow, early. If she’s lucky, early enough. 

Because she knows with complete certainty, that he’ll be there. 

It makes her shiver. It’s a bubble, and Connie’s very aware of that, aware that tournaments are weird and things happen at tournaments that would never happen anywhere else. There’s a reason the IOC provides condoms. 

But. The bubble also breaks and Connie is not immune to the way the news is reporting on The McEichel Saga now, versus what they’ll say when she and Jack are facing off at centre ice. 

“Earth to McDavid. You with us?” 

“Yeah,” she says, shaking her head and tucking her phone back in her pocket. 

Jack Eichel can wait. 

 

It doesn’t take them long at all to fucking fly. It’s everything that no one believed they could or would do and Connie is riding the high of it, same as anyone else. And then Matts gets the puck at the blueline and sneaks by the defender. She takes the shot, misses, but Jack’s there. Jack’s right there to poke at it. But he too, skates too far, and the puck is right there, right there for Connie to flick up and over the goalie. 

Connie loses it. 

Jack’s bounced off the wall before Connie’s on him, screaming in his face and hugging him. The thrill is real and true and he looks elated, eyes aflame as he screams back at her. And then, with nineteen thousand fans in attendance she feels the smack to her ass as they skate back to the bench. 

“Let’s fucking go.” 

Jack’s whole face is determined and thrilled when they settle back on the bench and for the first time, for the very first time, she thinks maybe they can really do something here. 

Maybe they can make history. 

And they win, they beat Finland, and Connie can’t breathe. The pre-tournament proved they were worth watching, and now, now they’re in the real thing, and they’re not just playing, they’re winning

It is a goddamn miracle they make it back to Jack’s room and Connie knows it. She knows the high of winning, knows what it does to her. Knows how many nights she wished she felt like she could call Jack when she’s riding this high, not getting herself off to memories that fogged over time. 

It doesn’t matter, she has the real thing now. 

“Holy shit,” he says as they blow into the room, getting her up against him with a twirl that might be romantic if either of them had been more coordinated. As it is, she stumbles into him, and they hit the door, already laughing. He’s holding her close, his arm strong around her back while the other cups her cheek. “We won.” 

“We won,” he echoes with the wide stupid grin on his face. “You scored.” 

“I do that.” 

He kisses her, gently, slowly. It’s half a tease, half just a hello. “On occasion.” 

“Occasion, okay hot shot let’s see you-” She’s laughing when he kisses her again, still just… romantic, sure but not like he’s angling for anything else. It’s sweet and intimate and Connie finds herself once again loving and cursing the bubble the tournament has created. A few weeks out of time. 

But, that’s not now. Now she gets this, gets him humming into her hair a little before padding across the room to his suitcase, right beside hers, their Team NA clothes tossed together. There’s no his and hers, no tailored shirts or closer fitting pants, just hockey comfort and no way to tell if it’s his shirt or hers. Well, mostly. His shoulders are a little broader, so she’s pretty sure she’s been sleeping in his shirt, not hers. 

Nobody has said a thing. 

It’s the realest this has felt, the closest it’s come to feeling like they both understand there’s no one else. 

“Hey. I lost you.” 

“I’m right here.” 

“You weren’t.” Because dammit, he’s also perceptive. 

Because he knows you , Michelle’s voice says in her head. He knows when you’re sad and when you’re happy because he’s taken the fucking time to learn

“Like that. You went away again.” 

It’s the eight-hundredth opportunity he’s given her to talk about this, the way everything feels like it’s growing and shifting and building into something so much bigger. Connie hates that she’s a coward here. 

“Just spit it out.” 

“What if we’re knocked out.” 

He groans. She knew he would because any talk about the pressure and commitment and tournament when they’re supposed to take a break drives him insane. She isn’t really expecting him to come back to her - for her - tugging her along. He gets his arms around her before flopping to the bed, and she lets out an unattractive squeak. 

“You’re going to hurt yourself, holy shit-” 

“I didn’t. You’re not that heavy.” 

And he’s definitely that strong. Connie doesn’t think about it when she can help it. It only leaves her wanting him all over again. 

“Connie.” 

He’s frowning now, more force behind the words. “Sorry,” she says, and doesn’t mean it. “I know you don’t like being ignored.” 

“I don’t like you when you do this kind of high pressure, mighty saviour thing,” he snaps. Connie recognizes the heat and wisely doesn’t respond. Instead she’s tentative where she drags her finger on the bedspread beside his shoulder. He huffs. “McDavid.” 

“It’s fine-” 

“No, look.” He shrugs his shoulder until she meets his gaze. “This doesn’t mean anything. You know that. You’ve said it. This tournament doesn’t mean shit because it’s not our national teams.” 

“I still want to win.”

“You know that’s not what I mean.” But his fingers are trailing up her back and it is soothing, even through the hoodie she’d tossed on. “This tournament is about, like. Matts. You and I, we have our places. We have our teams. Nate? The same and you know it. Provvy even. I hate how much clout you give people who have never even fucking met you.” 

And there it is, the kind of talk she figures happens in real relationships. It’s supportive and kind, even if he’s harsh about it. So she leans up and kisses him, soft and gentle because really, at his core, he is both of those things. “I just don’t want the tournament to end.” 

She knows it all goes back to ‘normal’ when it does. They’ll go back to being across the continent and she’ll go back to suffering in silence, wanting him and only getting him twice a year. And he’ll be fine in Buffalo, playing hockey, hanging with Sam, calling and texting her. 

She hates that she’s mad about it. 

His hand slides into her hair and grips there, holds her steady. “It’s not about the tournament. You just did it again.” 

Got lost. Went into her head. Started thinking of things that make her sad. 

“I’m fine.” 

“Sure.” 

She knows he absolutely does not believe her, but he doesn’t push her either, just lets her tuck her head back to his shoulder and grip his tshirt until her knuckles are white. 

 

She does everything she can to keep things normal after that. She practices, she plays, she lets herself gravitate toward Jack whenever the need strikes. It feels so close to what she wants full time, the comfort in knowing he’ll be there, but that sometimes he’s off doing his own thing and he comes back to their room to find her curled up watching Big Brother and slides in behind her and just breathes. 

She thinks they’re getting som ewhere, both as a team and as a couple when they get unceremoniously eliminated. It hurts. More than Connie had expected, if for no other reason than it had been entirely out of her control. She’d wanted more. She wants more.

“Your phone still works,” Jack snipes at her, not unkindly. “It’s not like you’ve left me alone for any extent of time.” 

“It’s not about that,” she retorts, frustrated and angry and so, so, so bad at losing. 

“Davo.” The tone is harsh, but everything about him is soft when she looks up at him. “Are you going anywhere?” 

He doesn’t mean physically. Edmonton, Buffalo, neither of them need to verbalize that. It feels weirdly solid, weirdly certain. And despite the way her heart hammers, Connie finds herself saying, “No.” 

“Then let it go. Take the C off for five seconds. Losing is fine.” 

“I know all about-” 

“For fuck’s sake, woman.” 

 

And then he goes and gets hurt in a goddamn practice of all things. 

Jack’s high ankle sprain is marked with a number of differences to Connie’s collarbone fracture. For one, it doesn’t make national news, for which Connie is personally grateful because there are only so many times she can watch the way his ankle buckles. For another, it feels different. She doesn’t feel strange about calling him or Facetiming him from her brand new condo to ask about what the trainers said. 

And yet it takes her a hundred years and a very blunt and frank conversation with Michelle before she sends, I’m in Buffalo next week

It’s stupid because they’ve been talking about what’s going on, about how he’s feeling and how long the trainers are projecting he’s out. They’ve talked about the scooter and Sam and what the organization is doing to keep him from losing his mind. It’s not like she can’t reasonably expect him to want to see her. 

Coming by?

Her breath catches. There’s an assumption there that makes her feel… Well. Makes her feel like the things people are telling her about Jack are maybe more true than false. Maybe she can settle all of the doubts in her head. I can.

Don’t be stupid.

Which is as much of an invitation as she’s going to get. It’s the only kind of invitation she needs: proof of the implication he wouldn’t expect her to be anywhere else. Then yeah, she sends back. I’ll come by.

 

She’s excited to see him. Even if he is injured, even if his face is actually grumpy. She can hear Noah Hanifin’s soft Boston accent through the phone - one hundred percent on speaker - in his hand. 

“Dude has the actual worst timing,” he says when he opens the door wider. Connie steps in and glances around. Hanny’s talking about a new workout thing he’s doing with Jess, of all people. “What do you think?” 

“I mean, sure you can. If you think she can teach you something that your own fucking skating coach can’t,” Jack answers as he pulls her in.

“Shee figure skated,” Connie murmurs. “He’d teach things a skating coach wouldn’t.” 

“How do you know? Your skating coach is an actual figure skater.” 

It makes her smile because it’s murmured into her hair, a consequence of the way he’s wrapped himself around her. She’s definitely taking more of his weight than usual, but she can’t say she’s upset about it. She’s made it clear on more than one occasion how much she likes the physicality of him. 

“Jack?” 

They both freeze. He hadn’t put them back on mute. 

“Who’s there?” 

Jack looks at her

“You said someone was coming by. You made me think it was a girl.” Hanifin says, sounding like he’s been putting it together. 

“I am a girl,” Connie finds herself saying, nervous now, on edge. 

“Then there was all the texting over the summer and the fucking All Star break- You've been sleeping with McDavid?!"

Connie's face flares red hot at the surprise is Hanifin’s tone and she shoves herself away, throat thick with embarrassment. 

She doesn't hear what Jack says next, can't hear a damn thing over the blood rushing in her ears. But she does feel his hand grip her wrist, much tighter than she expected.

"What?" he says, but it's not angry or annoyed. In fact, there's no tone to it at all, the same way his face is utterly void of emotion. She shakes her head, looks away, but no matter how hard she pulls, he refuses to release her.

"Let me go," she says softly, and hates the burn of tears she feels. Of course he wouldn't want her. She knew that. She knows that.

"No."

He doesn't say anything more, doesn't unwrap his fingers from her wrist. She feels the hysteria rise up, tries with every piece of her legendary self control to tamp it back down, to no avail. It's coming, the explosion, and she tries to bite her lip against it.

But, as he's done so many times before, Jack waits, patient as ever.

"You didn't tell anyone. You didn't say a word."

She thinks his silence is telling until he answers, "I didn't think you wanted me to."

"What?"

He reaches for her other hand and she lets him take it. "The first thing you told me, when we slept together at the draft."

She blinks. "I'd never had sex."

"After that. The reason you hadn't had sex."

"Because someone would use it against me."

He nods. "What did I say?"

She glowers. "That you could beat me on the ice if you wanted. Which you haven't, by the way."

"Couldn't do it at the awards either. Your broken collarbone ruined everything."

She barks out a laugh because she can't help herself. He's smiling at her, just a little and slides his hands over hers until he can tangle their fingers together. Connie shivers.

"I told you I wouldn't do that to you. But I don't know who will."

Connie's breath catches.

"I just didn't take that risk."

She has to swallow twice before she can ask, "Not even Hanifin?"

"He's a mouthy drunk," Jack replies with a roll of his eyes. Connie knows. Michelle had said so. 

But Jack… Jack hadn't wanted to take the risk. That's what he's telling her. He hadn’t wanted to leave her that vulnerable or give someone the opportunity to prove her correct.

"I can call him back, if you want. Make him swear to pretend he doesn't know."

"No," she says immediately and chews on her lip. Jack's eyes drop to her mouth and she squeezes his hands reflexively. “I- You were protecting me.”

“Am,” he retorts. “Are you serious? Have you seen you? Jesus. Somebody has to and it sure as fuck isn’t Strome anymore.”

But that feeling is churning in her gut again, the strange certainty that has settled there all season when he’s there with her, on the phone, on Facetime, or right here, alive and warm. It’s jarring, maybe more so than it should be. “It didn’t have to be you either.”

“Who then? Fucking Hall? You lived with her for a year, you think she’s capable of that? She’s not even in Edmonton anymore.”

But Connie’s already moving into him again, the smile curving up the corners of her mouth. He looks down at her and sure, there’s disdain in his face, but it’s a face Connie’s really fucking familiar with now, all the little things under the disdain that tell her what she needs to know.

“What the fuck is your face doing? What do you expect? You think I want any of the questions either? Like, okay we’re-” He goes bright red and cuts himself off and Connie laughs, delighted and so sure now, almost cocky with it.

“You like me,” she murmurs, letting her own affection bleed into her voice. She knows her cheeks are kind of pink too when she says. “You were going to say we’re dating.”

“Sleeping together.” But he’s not moving away. He’s not hiding.

“And Facetiming and texting and calling and,” she laughs a little. “You swore at me when I said I’d stay in a hotel.”

“Do you know how much shit I’d get if I made you stay in a hotel? Reino would have actually murdered me. I’m being nice , for fuck’s sake. You’re always telling me I should be nice.”

She lets her lips brush over his, feather-light. A tease. “Jack.”

His breath ghosts over her mouth as he wraps an arm around her. “You’re a menace.” But it’s not an insult. If anything, coming from him, it’s as much of an endearment as ‘sweetheart’.

“I like you, too,” she answers instead.

“Of course you do, I’m a fucking delight.”

She laughs against his mouth, so close. “You want me.”

And it’s more than that, so, so much more, but it’s the line that makes him smile right against her lips. “Yeah.”

“You think I’m gorgeous,” she murmurs, kisses him, just a quick brush. “You want to kiss me.”

He groans, but doesn’t push her away. If anything else he pulls her closer, splays his hands over her back. It always feels like he’s so much bigger when he does that. “I made you watch that movie. I taught you that line. And this is how you repay me?”

“You want to hug me,” she sing-songs. “You want to love me. You want to smooch me.”

She’s not even mad when he kisses her to shut her up.