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If You Were Falling

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cover by Hananobira!


It's not that unusual to have a soulmark. They show up when you fall in love -- real love, not just infatuation -- and say the exact words your true love said when you realized you were in love with them. Love is the point, here. Usually, they show up at about the same time, and almost always when the people concerned are in a relationship.

Which, altogether, is why it is in-fucking-credibly unfair that this is happening to Sharpy.

He doesn't know what possessed him to sober up before the Cup parade. Everyone else on the team is varying degrees of drunk, from hair-of-the-dog tipsy to too-little-blood-in-my-vodka-stream plastered. Kaner is, of course, the latter. He sways into Sharpy's space just before he goes up to make his speech and says, "I think I'm gonna puke."

Then he's gone, and Sharpy feels several things at once. His head throbs, because he's hungover as fuck; there's a wash of tenderness, because, oh, Kaner, will you ever learn to mix in a water, buddy? Weirdest of all, there's a sharp pain just below his left pec.

That sounds like -- no, it can't be. Someday, Sharpy will be in a committed relationship with someone, and they'll say, "You'd make a great dad," and his soulmark will come in, just like that. This is just a post-season injury, or a strange new hangover symptom.

Sharpy pulls down the neck of his T-shirt anyway, just to prove it to himself. There's a dark smudge -- definitely a bruise, then. He breathes a sigh of relief.

"Whooo, somebody's been busy!" Burish says, grabbing the shirt collar, and probably stretching it all to hell. "Who'd you convince to tattoo you last night?"

Sharpy grabs Burish's wrist. "What does it say?"

Burish squints at it. "'I think I'm gonna puke,'" he says.

"Then go find a trash can," Sharpy says, pulling away.

"No, bro, that's what your tattoo says." Burish stops. "Holy shit, that's not a tattoo, is it?"

"Tell no one," Sharpy says. "I mean it, Bur."

Burish mimes locking his lips and throwing away the key. Sharpy decides to accept that as binding.

"Chicagoooooo," says Kaner over the loudspeaker, and Sharpy's heart does the world's most embarrassing backflip. Yeah, that's Kaner being Kaner. And Kaner is -- his.

Fuck. It's real. Sharpy has a real soulmark, and it's Patrick Kane's, and they've never even kissed -- well, okay, technically, they've kissed, but it was a joke and they were very drunk and --

"You don't look so good," Burish says. "Here."

Sharpy catches the Gatorade bottle one-handed, because even in the middle of a world-class freakout, he has skills. "This better actually be Gatorade," he says.

"It's even still sealed," Burish says, "Scout's honor. You might feel better if you were drunk, though."

"It's too late," Sharpy says darkly. He opens the Gatorade and chugs it. Even if he's in love with Kaner, that's no reason to neglect his hydration.

Burish pats him on the back. "Congrats, buddy."

"Shut up," Sharpy says.

***

The parade is mostly a blur to Sharpy. He imagines it's even worse to the guys who are still drunk, but that might just be wishful thinking. Kaner seems to have a good time, anyway -- lifting the Cup over his head for the cheering crowds, pouring champagne in the general vicinity of Tazer's mouth, hugging anyone who'll stand still long enough.

Sharpy stands still long enough, more than once. He's not proud. "That goal," he says into Kaner's sweaty hair, when the moment seems to require it, and Kaner pounds him on the back.

"I fucking know, right?" Kaner is incandescent with joy, and also vodka. "I just -- and then --" He demonstrates the play for Sharpy, then flings himself into Sharpy's arms again.

"Just like that," Sharpy agrees, and allows himself another long moment of wrapping his arms around Kaner and holding on tight. God, he smells bad. Sharpy never wants to let go.

He does, though, because he's not an idiot. If Kaner felt the same way, it would be obvious. Sharpy's just walked himself into a one-way ... thing. He can handle it.

***

It's a little embarrassing when he has to go to the trainers for cover-tape. Plenty of people have to keep their soulmarks covered -- that's why cover-tape even exists, because people fall in love in all kinds of ways, and not all of them are what the kids call "safe for work." Hell, even Coach Q keeps his covered, a neat square of cover-tape on his upper arm, and nobody wonders what it says.

Okay, fine, that's a lie. One of Kaner's favorite activities when he's drunk off his ass is making up increasingly-filthy possibilities for what the Mrs. could have said to make Q fall for her -- but Sharpy doesn't wonder.

The thing is, everybody assumes that cover-tape comes with a story, one that the person wearing it shares with somebody, even if it's silly or X-rated or whatever. He knows, like, a dozen couples with soulmarks, from his own parents to guys on the team, and they all have that moment to share. But not him.

Sharpy looks in the mirror as he smooths the cover-tape over the neat line of cursive writing. He picked a shade as close to his skin tone as he could get, so people might not even notice it's there.

"I can barely see it," Lisa, the trainer, assures him, over his shoulder.

"Thanks," Sharpy says. "I appreciate it."

"You could talk to somebody, if you wanted," she goes on. "About not wanting -- it happens."

"It does?" Sharpy meets Lisa's eyes in the mirror, and she looks away. That's what he thought.

"Well, it must, right?" She smiles at him encouragingly. "Anyway, I can get you a name, if you need somebody to talk to."

"Thanks, Lisa," Sharpy says automatically. "I'll think about it."

***

He actually ends up doing both -- thinking about it, then calling the therapist whose name Lisa gives him. "I need confidentiality," he tells the therapist when he gets into her office. Dr. Haeckel is a short woman about his mother's age, wearing towering heels.

"That's standard," she says. "I'm pretty good at it. Take a seat -- can I call you Patrick?"

"Sure." He does; her couch is comfortable, at least.

"You said in your message that this had to do with a one-way soulmark," says Dr. Haeckel, sitting down herself and crossing her legs. "Is that true?"

"Yes," Sharpy says. "It came in -- about a month ago."

"So, right around the time you won the Cup?" She writes something down on her notepad, then glances up. "Are you surprised? I do live in Chicago."

"I'm flattered," Sharpy corrects her, putting his hand to his heart -- which is really close to his soulmark. Shit.

From the way Dr. Haeckel's eyebrows quirk, she caught that. "I'm going to make a few assumptions, here," she says. "Feel free to stop me if I'm wrong."

"Okay," Sharpy says.

"You've heard a lot of stories about soulmarks -- I wouldn't be surprised if your parents had them -- and you've convinced yourself that since your story doesn't sound like theirs, something is wrong. Fair?"

"Fair."

Dr. Haeckel nods. "The thing is, the stories we tell are not always exactly true. Think of it like a highlight reel -- it shows the best parts and leaves out everything in between."

"And the soulmark coming in is the highlight," Sharpy says.

"Right. Now, let's say you scored two goals in a night. Your highlight reel might show them happening within moments, but in reality, there could have been 20 minutes or more between them."

"Uh-huh," Sharpy says.

"People whose soulmarks actually come in simultaneously are the exception," Dr. Haeckel goes on. "It's far more common for there to be a separation of days, or weeks. It just doesn't make as neat a story."

"We're not even dating," Sharpy tells her.

"Oh?" She makes another note. "That's hardly uncommon. Many people of your generation think dating is an outdated concept."

"No, I mean --" Sharpy runs his hand through his hair. "We're not friends with benefits, or whatever, either. We aren't --"

"I see," says Dr. Haeckel. "And how do you feel about that?"

"How do you think I feel?" Sharpy snaps, then immediately feels like an asshole. "Sorry. I'm not very good at this."

"It's all right, Patrick," she says. "I think you seem frustrated."

"True," Sharpy admits.

"It's not unheard-of for these things to take time. You're young -- you have plenty of time to figure out what kind of relationship works for you."

"With -- the person whose mark I have?" Sharpy asks. "Just to be clear."

"If it's right for both of you," Dr. Haeckel says, "then it'll happen."

"So it might not," Sharpy says.

"The mark may fade," she tells him. "Nothing is written in stone -- not even soulmarks."

"Thank God."

***

So that's that, then: the soulmark will fade with time, and Kaner will never have to know. Sharpy spends the off-season in Thunder Bay, only talks to Kaner and the boys over text message, and checks his soulmark in the mirror every day. He likes to think it's getting lighter, less crisp.

Then it's September, and the pre-season is about to start. "We have to go out," Kaner insists. "It's, like, the law."

"Well, if it's the law," Sharpy says, and gives in.

They end up at Kaner's favorite bar of the moment, and it's not long before Kaner is drunk enough to be dancing up on literally everyone who gets close enough. This includes the new guy, Stålberg.

"Whoa," says Tazer, coming back to their table with a fresh round of drinks.

"What," Sharpy snaps.

"Which one of them are you trying to kill with your eyes?" Tazer asks.

"I'm not," Sharpy says. "This is just my face."

"That is definitely not just your face." Sharpy glares at him, but apparently Tazer is immune. "Are you afraid Stålberg is going to pick up more than you?"

"No."

"Because he is, if you keep scowling like that." Tazer slurps at his beer. "I'm just saying, as your captain."

Sharpy grabs a beer. "Captain Terrible."

"I like that better than Captain Serious," Tazer says, and gives him finger guns. "Make it happen."

Just for that, Sharpy won't.

"Sharpy!" Kaner shouts in his ear, maybe an hour later. "My man!"

"What can I do for you, Li'l Peekaboo?" Sharpy replies, as soberly as he can, which isn't very.

"Body shots! Stålberg won't," he says, sounding hurt. Stålberg shrugs unconcernedly. He's very blond.

"I will," Sharpy says, and holds up his wrist.

"Not your wrist," Kaner says. "Give me your neck!"

There are at least a dozen reasons why Sharpy shouldn't pull aside the collar of his shirt and bare his throat for Kaner, but he can't think of a single one. "Go for it," he says generously.

"You're the best," Kaner says, and, when Sharpy opens his mouth to reply, shoves a slice of lime in it. He sprinkles salt liberally all over Sharpy, licks a wet stripe up his neck, knocks back the tequila, and takes the lime out of Sharpy's mouth -- with his hand, not his mouth. There are lines, apparently. Lime lines.

Sharpy looks up, and Stålberg is looking back at the two of them, eyebrows raised. "What?" Sharpy says.

"Nothing," Stålberg says. "Just -- nobody told me."

"Told you what?" Kaner asks.

Stålberg glances back and forth between them. "I think I am being pranked," he says. "I'm going to go." And he disappears.

"Don't worry," Kaner says, close enough to Sharpy's ear that he can feel his breath, damp and hot. "Once he leaves, you'll totally be the hottest person in this bar."

"I already was," Sharpy says automatically.

"Well, yeah," Kaner says, "but the margin of, you know --" He waves his hands as he drops into the seat next to Sharpy. "-- error? The margin of hotness will increase."

Sharpy considers this. "I'll take it," he says finally.

Kaner winks broadly. "Take it wherever you want," he says. "Wanna do a body shot off me?" He waves at the small tray of shots and lime wedges he and Stålberg brought over.

That would be an incredibly bad idea. "Yes," Sharpy says, "I do." He reaches out and tilts Kaner's head to the side with one hand in his hair, salts him, and licks him -- maybe lingering a little more on that part than Kaner had, but hey, Stålberg isn't standing there judging them this time -- then remembers abruptly that he's doing something and grabs for a shot, throwing it back so fast he barely tastes it.

Now Kaner's staring at him, his eyes dark in the low light of the bar. "Need a lime?" he asks.

Sharpy doesn't answer, just grabs one and bites into it. Then he sucks the peel hard against his teeth and smiles at Kaner, like he's eight years old again and everything is perfectly normal.

"Oh, you're definitely going to pick up tonight with pearly whites like that," Kaner says, and Sharpy's stomach twists.

"Yeah," he says. "Definitely."

"We could," Kaner says, and swallows. Sharpy watches his throat move. "We could go back to my place."

"Giving up on chicks this early?" Sharpy asks, trying to keep it light.

"I don't really feel like a chick," Kaner says. "I feel like a blowjob, though --" and he wiggles his eyebrows, shamelessly.

"I could do that," Sharpy says. Belatedly, he takes the lime peel out of his mouth.

"Let's get out of here." Kaner throws a handful of bills on the table and gets up. Sharpy stays behind to count them quickly and make sure there's enough, then follows Kaner outside, where he's hailed a cab.

By some miracle of restraint, Sharpy manages to keep his hands to himself the whole ride to Kaner's ridiculous apartment. It only lasts until Kaner closes the door behind them, though -- then he shoves Kaner up against the door, yanks down his pants, and kneels down to nuzzle at his cock.

"Jesus, Sharpy," Kaner says. "I didn't mean --"

"You don't want me to?" He's half hard, but that's not the same as a yes.

"No, I -- fuck, do you want to?" Kaner has his hands in his own hair, making it look wild, Albert Einstein-y.

Sharpy looks up at Kaner's face, then back down at his cock, then back up at his face. "And here I thought I was being subtle," he says dryly.

"Okay, then -- yeah, okay, fuck," Kaner says.

Sharpy wraps his hand around the base and sucks as much of Kaner's cock into his mouth as he can. Kaner makes an appreciative noise and reaches down to pet Sharpy's hair. He pulls out all the stops, hollowing his cheeks, running his tongue along the underside, rolling Kaner's balls in his fingers.

"Sharpy, Jesus, fuck," Kaner says, stroking the side of Sharpy's face. "You're so -- fuck --"

"Mmm?" Sharpy says, hoping that will encourage him to go on -- hey, who doesn't like a compliment? Better men than Sharpy, maybe -- but Kaner just groans, his hips jerking forward.

"I'm gonna come," Kaner says. "Are you gonna take it?"

"Mm-hmm," Sharpy says, and Kaner comes in his mouth. He swallows it all, or enough for government work, and keeps working Kaner's softening cock with his lips and tongue until Kaner finally pulls out.

"You've got some --" Kaner says, and swipes at the corner of Sharpy's mouth with his thumb. Sharpy catches his hand by the wrist and licks it clean.

Kaner's eyes are wide when Sharpy looks up to meet them. "So how was I?" Sharpy asks.

"Oh, you know, not bad," Kaner says, blushing, and clears his throat. "Can I return the favor?"

"If you want," Sharpy says casually.

"I want," Kaner says. He half-kneels, half-tackles Sharpy, so they're flat on the floor in Kaner's foyer, Kaner plastered full-length against Sharpy. It can't be comfortable to have his naked cock rubbing against Sharpy's slacks, but Kaner doesn't seem to care; he just kisses Sharpy, sloppy and rough and, God, perfect.

His hands fumble at the buttons of Sharpy's shirt, and Sharpy grabs them by the wrists. "Don't fuck around," he says, and moves Kaner's hands somewhere much safer -- that is, his crotch.

"Okay," Kaner says easily, and opens that button instead, drags down the zipper, and pulls out Sharpy's cock. The cool air is almost painful where he's wet with precome. Sharpy hisses in a breath. "No worries," Kaner says. "I got you." He moves down to straddle Sharpy's legs and then, oh, fuck, that's Kaner's mouth on him.

"Oh, fuck, Peeks," Sharpy says, pushing up on his elbows to watch. Kaner gives head exactly like Sharpy thought he would -- and he's not even going to pretend he hasn't thought about it, because he really, really has -- messy and full of enthusiasm, humping Sharpy's knee even though he just got off and making happy little sounds in the back of his throat. His lips are red where they stretch around Sharpy's cock, and Sharpy can't help but reach down to touch the corner, shiny with spit.

Kaner looks up at him through his eyelashes, and Sharpy's heart clenches -- or maybe it's his soulmark. Fuck. He squeezes his eyes shut and fists his hand in Kaner's hair instead, as his orgasm hits him blindside.

"Sorry, sorry," Sharpy says, and Kaner rolls his eyes.

"Thanks for the warning, bud," he says, but he doesn't actually sound mad, and he didn't, like, gag or anything.

"I'm nothing if not a considerate lover," Sharpy says, and pushes Kaner's hair back off his forehead before he can think better of it.

Kaner grins. "We'll see about that," he says.

Sharpy moves his hand back like Kaner's skin burned him. "What do you mean?"

"Well, this was good, right?" Kaner waves his hand in a gesture that takes in their whole... situation. "So why not do it again?"

"We can't," Sharpy says immediately.

"Why not? I liked it, you liked it, and I've been told by reputable sources that sex gets better the more you have it with the same person." Kaner pats Sharpy on the thigh. "We have nowhere to go but up, buddy!"

There is something very wrong with Sharpy's sense of self-preservation, because instead of saying something reasonable, he leers at Kaner and says, "You mean fuckbuddy."

Kaner beams. "All right!" He fist-bumps Sharpy, then leans in for a sloppy kiss.

Sharpy is so, so screwed.

***

At first, they keep it a Chicago thing, just when they have some down time between games and practices and stuff, and neither of them feels like trying to pick up anybody else. Sharpy usually goes over to Kaner's and presses him up against the door or the counter and blows him or jerks him off until he's too fucked out to care that Sharpy's not taking his shirt off. He usually reciprocates, too.

It's good. Fuck, it's so good. Sharpy is turning into the most embarrassing kind of romantic, because he doesn't even mean that it's nice to get off fairly regularly, or even that Kaner's blowjob skills are really improving. He just likes being close to Kaner, he guesses. It feels -- good. Really good.

Then Kaner pulls up their stats on his phone while they're catching their breath, pantsless, on the floor, just after the end of the preseason. "Check it out," he says.

"Check what out?" Sharpy glances over. "We haven't won a road game, I know."

"That's not all," Kaner says. "Every time we get busy, we win the next game."

"You're kidding," Sharpy says -- but, no, it looks like Kaner's right. The two of them hook up, and then the Blackhawks win.

"Clearly, we have to take this show on the road," Kaner says.

"Clearly," Sharpy says, because how the fuck is he going to argue with that?

***

They leave for Buffalo the next day.

"Don't you want to see your family?" Sharpy asks when Kaner corners him in his hotel room, a little desperately, hoping to maintain some dignity.

"Later," Kaner says. "Right now, I want to suck your cock." He hooks his thumb in the waistband of Sharpy's slacks and glances up at him. "Unless you, like, mind?"

"I don't mind," Sharpy says.

"Good." Kaner drops to his knees, dragging Sharpy's pants down with him. Sharpy's already half-hard, of course, because he's lost control of his life. Kaner licks and sucks and nuzzles until Sharpy is groaning and tugging at his hair, then takes him as deep as he can, and Sharpy comes apart.

"Fuck," he says, when he can find his tongue again. "Someday, you're going to make somebody very happy, Peeks."

"Someday?" Kaner repeats, raising his eyebrows.

"Not that I'm not --" Sharpy scrambles.

"I'm kidding," Kaner says, patiently, for him. "Jeez, did I suck your sense of humor out through your cock?"

"No," Sharpy says, "you were never funny in the first place. Get up and let me jerk you off."

"Well, when you put it that way," Kaner says. He gets up, drops his pants, and flops on Sharpy's bed, giving what he probably fondly imagines is a come-hither look.

Sharpy tucks his cock back in his pants, then gets on the bed behind Kaner, spooning up close. Kaner relaxes against him, letting Sharpy wrap his arms around Kaner's solid chest before reaching down to fist his cock. It feels good, having Kaner so close to his soulmark, even through the layers of shirts -- Sharpy's private little guilty pleasure.

"Yeah," Kaner says, when Sharpy starts to stroke in earnest. "You know me so well, you know my cock so well." He rocks his ass back against Sharpy as he says it, and, God, if Sharpy were any younger, he'd probably be getting hard again already.

"Yeah," Sharpy says, twisting his wrist a little. "I'm pretty much the greatest."

Kaner arches his back so he can kiss Sharpy over his shoulder. "You know it," he says, and tugs Sharpy's lower lip a little with his teeth. He's gotten better at kissing, too: more focus, less slobber.

Sharpy could keep doing this forever -- holding Kaner, getting him just to the edge of orgasm, kissing him and kissing him -- so he speeds up, ready to get it over with. He times it perfectly to grab a handful of Kleenex, too.

"Thanks," Kaner says, and rolls over onto his side to kiss Sharpy more thoroughly.

"My pleasure," Sharpy says, and hates himself a little.

***

The hell of it is, it kind of works. The correlation isn't perfect, but through the rest of October, the more Sharpy and Kaner hook up, the better the Blackhawks do.

So, of course, out of some twisted combination of denial and masochism, Sharpy tries to break it off at the beginning of November. They slump, and Kaner gets angrier and angrier at him, until right before they play the Ducks, when Kaner literally shoves Sharpy into a gear closet and deep-throats him until there are tears springing to both of their eyes.

"Not again," Kaner says fiercely. "It's not just about you, okay?"

"Okay," Sharpy says. He can do this. He can. "Okay."

***

They get a couple of runs of wins: 2 in a row, 3, 2 again. It's Christmas Day when Kaner texts Sharpy: if we make it 4, ur cock, my ass. its happening

Sharpy, shocked, bites his tongue so hard it bleeds, and he has to deal with his mother hovering and making him do warm saltwater rinses until his spit runs clear again. When he gets back to his phone, there's a new message: so hot u had 2 jerk off? i know me 2

you're a menace, Sharpy texts back. Then he actually does go jerk it, because, Jesus, he's only human, and Kaner's ass is really worth thinking about.

He pictures it in crystal-clear detail, the way Kaner will be bossy right up until he has Sharpy's fingers in him, and then he'll just -- melt. He wants Kaner on all fours, bucking up into him, so he can lean forward and press his chest, his soulmark, against Kaner's back.

Sharpy bites his lip hard as he comes into his fist, so he doesn't say anything embarrassing, like, oh, Kaner's name.

***

Apparently, Kaner's ass was exactly the motivation Sharpy needed, because they take down the Blue Jackets 4-1 -- and Sharpy scores twice.

"Gonna score again?" Kaner asks him in the locker room, over Toews' head.

"I'm feeling lucky," Sharpy says, and pulls his undershirt on.

They eat with the team, then go back to Kaner's, where they traded pre-game handies on the couch. This time, though, Kaner drags Sharpy right into the bedroom.

"Classy," Sharpy says. "Where do you hide the lube and condoms -- sock drawer?"

"Hide?" Kaner says. Sharpy glances over -- there they are, in plain sight, on the bedside table. "What? It's not like I let the cleaning people in here."

"Fair," Sharpy says. "Take off your pants."

"I'm taking it all off," Kaner announces, and strips off his game-day suit, piece by piece, draping it on the hooks on the back of the bathroom door.

"Good work," Sharpy says, looking at him. He takes off his own jacket and pants and button-up, then goes over to the bedside table in just his undershirt and boxers to grab the supplies. He taps Kaner on the shoulder. "Hands and knees," he says.

"Fine," Kaner says, like it's a pain, but he does as he's told, wiggling his butt in the air. Sharpy smacks it, just lightly, and Kaner laughs breathily. "Maybe next time," he says.

Sharpy's heart twists painfully at that. "Sure," he says, forcing himself to sound light. "Whatever you want."

"I want," Kaner says, "your cock in my ass."

"I think I can oblige you there," Sharpy says. He rolls on the condom first, then slicks up his hand and starts teasing Kaner's hole, gently circling the rim.

"Come on," Kaner says, and pushes back against Sharpy's hand. "I'm not gonna break. Stick it in me."

"I'm getting there," Sharpy says calmly. He keeps teasing for a moment, just because he can -- and he likes the whiny, desperate noises Kaner's making. Then, finally, he slips one fingertip inside. "God, you feel good," he says, almost to himself.

"I bet I'd feel better --"

"On my cock, I know," Sharpy says. "Hold your goddamn horses." He's not going to let Kaner get to him; he's going to take his fucking time. He stretches Kaner slowly, adding one finger at a time, until he's so hard he can barely think and Kaner is slick and open.

"That's enough, Sharpy, Jesus, please," Kaner begs, and Sharpy's strong, but he's not that strong.

"Okay," he says, and gets up on the bed to line up his cock with Kaner's ass.

"Wait," Kaner says, and rolls over on his back.

"You sure?" Sharpy asks.

Kaner gives him a withering look. "Maybe I want to look at your beautiful face," he says.

"You have a point," Sharpy says, and gives him a toothpaste-ad smile.

"Get in here," Kaner says. He wraps his legs around Sharpy's waist to pull him closer.

Sharpy's more than willing. He slides into Kaner, just the tip, and waits, thighs quivering with effort.

"Oh, ha ha," Kaner says. "I remember before you were a never-nude, I know you've got more than that."

"I'm not a never-nude," Sharpy says, and snaps his hips forward, driving into Kaner.

"Oh, fuck, yeah, like that," Kaner says, and Sharpy thinks he's distracted him, which is flattering. "No, you undress in the locker room, but never here."

Sharpy thrusts harder, pushing Kaner up the bed and making them both groan. "Maybe I'm cold," he says. "You too cheap for heat, Mr. Trump Tower?"

"You're sweating through your shirt," Kaner points out. "Did you get a weird mole or something? -- oh, fuck, do that again -- because you should really --"

"I do not have a weird mole," Sharpy says.

"What if I want to play with your nipples, huh?" Kaner demands, and skims his hands up Sharpy's sides. Sharpy just has time to suck in a breath before Kaner's fingers brush the cover-tape. "What the fuck?" Kaner rucks up his shirt to stare at Sharpy's bare chest -- bare except for the neat rectangle of cover-tape.

"It's --"

"I know what cover-tape is," Kaner says. "Get off me. Now."

Sharpy pulls out immediately. "Kaner, I --"

"You're in love with somebody," Kaner says. "It's like you're cheating on them with me. That's not cool." He gets up and gathers up Sharpy's clothes, bundling them into his arms.

"It's not like that," Sharpy says.

"It's exactly like that," Kaner says, and shoves him out the bedroom door. "Get out."

"Kaner," Sharpy says desperately, but there's no answer. Fuck.

***

Everything is awkward. Kaner resolutely ignores Sharpy everywhere but on the ice, and everybody notices. They drop four of the next five games. Sharpy doesn't know what to do. His soulmark hurts all the time, like a pulled muscle.

January passes, though, and Crawford even hits a hot streak for a while in the middle -- so at least the Blackhawks can still score, even if Sharpy can't.

Then it's the All-Star break, and Sharpy's never been so relieved in his life to have to go somewhere else and mingle with guys he doesn't know very well. Raleigh is nice even at the end of January, and the food is incredible.

Eric Staal picks Sharpy in the fantasy draft, making him the only Blackhawk Kaner doesn't take for Team Lidstrom. He tells himself that it's not weird; it'll just make things less awkward. It almost works.

"Things're just... weird," he finds himself slurring into Staaler's shoulder that night, after maybe a few more shots of vodka than were strictly advisable. "You know?"

"Totally," Staaler says agreeably.

"D'you have a soulmark?" Sharpy asks, looking up into all four of Staaler's dark eyes. That seems like too many, but he's too drunk to complain.

"Sure do," Staaler says, and bends over to roll up the leg of his slacks. Neatly printed on one calf are the words "You complete me."

Sharpy's not sure if it's the sentiment or the vodka that makes his stomach turn over. "That's sweet," he manages to say. "Really sweet."

Staaler grins. "I know, what?"

"I bet Tanya's is just as sweet," Sharpy says.

"It's the best," Staaler tells him earnestly. "I gave her this teddy bear, right? And I told her, 'You make me BEAR-y happy.'"

"You're kidding me," Sharpy says. "Your wife's soulmark is a terrible pun?" He shakes his head -- oh, bad idea. "No, wait. Of course it is."

"Yup," Staaler agrees. "So, wait, do you have one? I didn't know you were seeing anybody! Congrats, man!" Sharpy just looks at him, until his face falls. "Oh. Awkward."

"It sucks," Sharpy says.

Staaler pushes his vodka shot across the table. "Take this," he says seriously, so Sharpy does. He might technically be older than Staaler, but he's not immune to the big-brother voice. "Do they know?"

"That I have a soulmark? Yes. That it's theirs? No." Sharpy rubs his forehead.

"Oof." Staaler winces. "That's rough."

"Yeah," Sharpy agrees.

"Well, you should tell them." Staaler slaps the table with one hand, like it's just that easy. "They'll understand! Especially once their soulmark comes in."

"Maybe you're right," Sharpy says. "Maybe I just need to tell them."

"That's the spirit!"

***

Shockingly, things are not that easy the next morning. For one thing, Sharpy is so hungover he can't even crawl out of bed until after noon, which puts a dent in his talking-to-Kaner plans. For another thing, when he finally does get himself looking pretty good and feeling almost human, he can't get Kaner alone. He's always with somebody -- Tazer, or Byfuglien, or Duchene, or, weirdly enough, Kessel.

Sharpy is so distracted thinking about what Kaner could be getting up to with all those other guys -- Kessel, really? -- that he barely even makes fun of Tazer for demanding a video review of their accuracy competition. Maybe he's coming down with something.

"Don't let it get you down," Staaler says, pounding him on the back, because apparently he's a one-man pep squad or something. Sharpy takes it to heart, though. The next day, he gets a goal and two assists, and they make him MVP. It looks like he can do this thing whether or not Kaner knows the score.

Kaner claps for him. He tries not to be too happy about that, but it's hard.

***

February is -- good. Kaner stops avoiding him so ostentatiously, at least, and Q puts the two of them back on a line with Tazer. Not to oversell it, but it's like magic. They just keep connecting, pass after pass, and yelling compliments at each other, and it's great.

Kaner scores the game-winner against the Blues on assists from Sharpy and Tazer, and it's fucking poetry in motion. "That's hockey, boys!" Sharpy yells, flinging himself into their arms.

"Yeah," Kaner says, looking dazed. "That's hockey."

In the locker room, Sharpy thinks he sees something on Kaner's lower back -- but no, that's ridiculous. It's just a bruise.

"Nice tramp stamp," Duncs shouts, obviously seeing the same bruise, and Seabs hoots with laughter. "You taking fashion advice from Ovechkin these days?"

"Ha ha, very funny," Kaner says, and puts on his shirt.

Duncs and Seabs exchange a glance. "Okay," Duncs says. "Have it your way."

"I will," Kaner says, and that's the end of that.

***

Except it's not. They're dressing for the game against the Preds three days later, and the dark smudge is still there when Sharpy lets himself steal a glance.

Tazer apparently does more than that. "I know you've enjoyed our line being reunited," he says, studying the upper curve of Kaner's ass, "but I think it's a little soon for a commemorative tattoo, eh, bud?"

"Quit joking," Kaner says. "We have a game to play."

Wait, what? Tazer looks bemused. There must be some kind of prank going on, but Sharpy doesn't know what the fuck it's about, and people usually tell him these things -- but there's a fucking game to play, so he has to get his head in it.

Kaner gets two assists, so clearly he's not having any trouble. It's not until after the game, when Bickell says, "Seriously, what is that?" that he loses his cool.

"What the fuck are you guys talking about?" Kaner demands, twisting to try to see his own ass.

Sharpy can't hold out any longer -- he grabs Kaner's shoulder to hold him still and gets a good luck. "It says 'that's hockey, boys.' Holy shit."

"It does not," Kaner says, jerking out of his grasp.

"It really does," Tazer tells him.

Kaner goes pale. "Oh," he says, and pulls on his underwear.

"Kaner," Sharpy says, mouth dry.

"I have to get out of here," Kaner says. His hands are shaking as he gets back into his clothes. The locker room is silent.

Then Kaner slams out, and suddenly everyone is talking at once, it seems like. The word "soulmark" comes up more than once. Sharpy feels lightheaded. "I have to go," he says.

Tazer raises his eyebrows at him. "Go get him, tiger," he says.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Sharpy says, and makes his exit with dignity.

He barely breaks any traffic laws on his way to Kaner's apartment, which he thinks is a victory. The doorman waves him right up, and he bangs on Kaner's door. "Let me in, Kaner!"

"No!" Kaner shouts back.

"I have to talk to you, so unless you want your neighbors to know your business, you'd better open up!" It's dirty pool, but Sharpy really doesn't care.

"Fine!" The door swings open, and Kaner is standing there in his underwear with a bottle of tequila in one hand. "Come in, asshole."

Sharpy does. "I have to talk to you," he says again.

"What, you want to rub it in my face that I've got a one-way soulmark?" Kaner shuts the door and leans against it. "I'm sorry, okay? I didn't ask for this."

"Who says it's one-way?" Sharpy starts to smile.

"What the fuck are you talking about?" Kaner narrows his eyes. "I know you already have one."

Sharpy undoes his shirt, going slowly so his hands don't shake. "Yeah," he says. "I do." He picks at the edge of the cover-tape until it comes loose, then peels it off all the way. "See?"

Kaner stares at it, swaying slightly. "'I think I'm gonna puke,'" he reads. "So you're in love with some drunk? Congratulations. I hope you're very happy together."

"I hope so, too," Sharpy says, and kisses him. He can feel the exact moment when Kaner gets it, a warm glow on his soulmark, and he rests his hands on the swell of Kaner's ass so he can feel his, too.

"You fucking asshole," Kaner says into his mouth, pressing closer. "Why didn't you say something, like, six fucking months ago?"

"I didn't think you'd want to hear it," Sharpy admits.

"I would've," Kaner insists. "I would've told you that I don't even care that you get way more pussy than me!"

"How romantic," Sharpy says.

"You don't want romantic," Kaner says, with certainty. "You want me."

"I really, really do," Sharpy says, and kisses him again.

"Let's bang," Kaner says, sticking his hands down Sharpy's pants.

"Yes," Sharpy says. "Let's." He takes his shirt off the rest of the way, and Kaner touches his soulmark gently, deliberately, before tugging him into the bedroom.

"So you're really not a never-nude, you just didn't want me to know how much you love me," Kaner sing-songs.

"Shut up," Sharpy says, and shoves him down onto the bed. When he presses inside him, though -- finally, fucking finally -- he whispers it into Kaner's hair: "Love you, love you."

"I know," Kaner says smugly.