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Considering he hadn't been more than a few feet from Tyler in the three days since their playoff exit, it figured that Jamie was back at the apartment alone, packing, when his phone started blowing up. He was folding clean clothes into a duffle when the first text came in, and he almost didn't check it. But he thought it might be Tyler remembering some last minute detail of their Boston plans and telling him to pack a swimsuit or a leather corset or who the fuck knew, so he dropped what he was holding and dug for the phone.

It was Dills. Jamie's phone buzzed twice more while he was opening the text.

dude heads up ur boy's dick is on dspin, and a link. Jamie stopped, blinked. The phone buzzed again.

"Um." Jordie said, coming into the doorway behind him. "Jamie . . ."

"Yeah, I know," Jamie said, and tapped the link.

"I haven't seen it yet." Jordie padded up behind him. "Maybe it's not – I mean a dick pic, it's not like that's actually identif – whoa."

It wasn't a dick pic. The article was very short. There wasn't much to say, apparently; the picture said a lot.

It was Tyler on his back, visible in high definition from head-to-toe. He was lying on green grass, completely naked, smiling big and beautiful up at whoever was holding the camera. The sun was full on him, except for where the shadow of the photographer fell across his chest.

"Right," Jordie said. "So that's definitely him then." He was staring at Jamie sideways. "That's, um. Nice . . . lighting?"

"Uh-huh."

"Dude." Jordie elbowed him. "I'm trying to be supportive of your, like, arty porn, but it's kind of awkward."

"It's not mine," Jamie said. "I mean, I didn't take that."

"Oh." Jordie sucked air between his teeth. "You okay?"

"Uh—" Jamie shook himself. His phone buzzed again. "Yeah." He hit the lock button. "I'm fine. Just, you know. Not what I expected when I woke up this morning."

"Uh-huh." Jordie seemed to be thinking hard about something. When he came to a decision he stepped farther into Jamie's space. "Look, man," he said. "I've gotta ask. He's not cheating, right? That hasn't been what's eating you since, like, Christmas?"

"What?" Jamie boggled. That was so far from where his thoughts were, it took him a minute to even understand what Jordie was saying. When he got it, he stood up straight. "No," he said. "He is absolutely not cheating. And I wouldn't lie down for that, come on."

Jordie's shoulders relaxed. "Okay, good," he said, lifting his hands. "I mean, I didn't think so, not really. Just. Had to ask." He dropped his hands but didn't move away. "The thing is though," he said. "When something's bugging you this long? You tell me what it is."

Jamie winced. "I can't," he said, and turned quickly away. Jordie was absolutely right. He'd been Jamie's sounding board for their entire lives; Jamie could count on one hand the number of significant things he'd kept from Jordie, and most of those were, like, birthday presents. "I would," he said. And he wanted to, so bad it burned. "But I can't. It's not my thing, I've gotta keep it—" He closed both hands into fists.

There was a brief, confused silence. Then Jordie said, ". . . Okay, got it." He stepped back. "Segs'll be okay, right?"

It took Jamie a moment to realize they were talking about the picture again. "Oh, sure," he said. "This stuff, it doesn't really bug him."

Jordie laughed. "Right, that's what I figured. If anything, he'll enjoy that many people looking at his junk."

Jamie smiled; from Jordie's eye-roll, he could tell it was sappy. "Exactly," he said, and hefted the duffle over his shoulder. "I think I'm going to stay over at the house tonight, so let's drive separately to dinner."

"Yeah, I figured," Jordie said. "It'd probably save some time if you just told me when you're not staying over at his place."

"I was here through most of the playoffs," Jamie protested. Which was true. He and Tyler usually slept apart on the road, but Jamie did basically live at the house when they were at home during the regular season. Playoffs were different, though, as they'd discovered last year. Their coping mechanisms weren't very compatible – Jamie got quiet and intense and a little crazy, while Tyler wanted to go out every night to the loudest restaurant or bar he could find and shout with Eaks and Nishki about the last game and the next game. So they'd mostly done their own thing through both rounds this year. It was better that way. Except for the night before game 7 against the Sharks, when they'd slept tangled up together and woken up to have frantic, out-of-control sex at three in the morning. But that was playoffs for you.

Jamie got to say that sort of thing now that he had two runs and three whole rounds under his belt.

"Yeah, whatever." Jordie rolled his eyes again. "Just tell me when I can put a pool table in your room."

"I'm not moving out," Jamie said firmly. Jordie didn't need to know that it seemed perfectly reasonable to keep his half of the apartment entirely and only for playoffs. Aside from that . . . well. Living with Tyler sounded pretty great. Was pretty great. Now all he had to do was get Tyler to notice that it was already happening.

He was thinking about that on the drive over, and dinner, and the next week in Boston. So it scared the hell out of him when he let himself into the house and looked up from greeting Marshall to see Tyler standing stiffly in the kitchen doorway, absolutely white to the lips.

"Whoa," Jamie said, dropping his bag.

"It's old," Tyler said rapidly. "We weren't -- it's from before I was even traded, I swear."

"The picture?" Jamie said, catching up. "Of course it is."

Tyler paused, blinked. "Wait, you know? How do you know?"

It was Jamie's turn to be baffled. "Well, gosh," he said, falling back on sarcasm. "For starters, I trust you, how about that?"

" . . . Oh." Tyler looked like that genuinely hadn't occurred to him as a possibility. That pissed Jamie off, in a useless, undirected sort of way. He swallowed that down and stepped over his bag to go to Tyler. He offered a hug, which Tyler leaned hard into. They always talked better with their bodies, anyway.

Jamie held him tight for a minute, completely thrown by this reaction. Tyler was breathing fast into his shoulder like he was coming down from real panic. Jesus. Where the fuck was this coming from, and what was Jamie supposed to do about it?

"Also," he said, when Tyler seemed to have collected himself. Jamie tipped Tyler's chin up and flicked him lightly on the temple. "Your tattoos, dumbass. They're like rings on a tree."

". . . Oh," Tyler said again, but he sounded much better now. He rubbed a hand across his face and looked up, sheepish. "I didn't think of that."

"No shit." Jamie flicked him again. The strain was easing off Tyler's face, thank God. Jamie hadn't seen him look like that since his first few weeks in Dallas. Jamie had badly wanted to do something about it then but didn't have the right; he had the right now, but that didn't count for much when he still didn't know what the fuck to do. "Is this going to be a problem?" he asked. "Like, with management?" Jamie had never needed to learn more about PR problems than don't be one. It hadn't occurred to him to worry about it until now, but then again, when he saw the photo, he'd mostly been thinking about licking Tyler's abs.

"Not really." Tyler looped his arms around Jamie's neck, settling more comfortably. "I talked to Ian, and Molly from the front office. It's not, like, great. I'll be a punchline for a while. But the front office doesn't need to make any statements or anything. That's how you know," he added, glancing up at Jamie's expression. "When they start having meetings about what they're gonna say about you, that's how you know you're in trouble."

"But they're not," Jamie said, just to be sure.

Tyler shook his head. "This stuff . . . evolves," he said. "You never can tell where something'll go. But this isn't—" he waved a hand, the corners of his mouth turned down. "The playoffs will distract everyone. And it's not like I was fucking someone on camera."

Right. After the picture was taken was a different story, though. Jamie knew that smile, and where it led.

"Tell me if there's anything I can do," he said. "Like, I could make a comment or—"

Tyler shook his head decisively. "Yeah, no, let's keep you far away from this," he said with a twisted smile. "Things'll be weird, then they'll blow over. Don't worry about it."

The truth was, Jamie hadn't been. Not until this conversation. He would have put down money on what he'd so casually said to Jordie, that this wouldn't bother Tyler. Getting it so wrong was upsetting.

"Do you know how it got out?" he asked, trying to get a better handle on what was going on here.

Tyler looked away. "Not yet. I'm asking around. I can think of fifteen people who had that picture, and that's just the ones I know about." Jamie couldn't read his expression for all the effort in the world. "I would have said I trusted all of them, but." Another shrug.

"I'm sorry." Jamie touched his cheek, trying to hold his attention. "It could have been a mistake?" That was naïve enough to make him wince as soon as it came out. Tyler's ability – his eagerness to trust was not something Jamie could do. And yeah, it drove him fucking nuts sometimes, and scared him. But that didn't mean he was at all okay with seeing it taken advantage of.

"Maybe," Tyler said. "Probably not. But maybe."

They were silent for a minute, while Tyler thought his thoughts and Jamie rubbed his back. Eventually, Jamie blurted, "It's an amazing picture." Tyler's eyes snapped up to him, and he felt himself go red. "Really," he forged on. "It's gorgeous."

The smile, when it came, was slow and sweet. "Yeah? You like it?"

"Yeah," Jamie said honestly. "I love it."

That, finally, seemed to be some part of a right thing to say. Tyler's smile steadied, widened. "Well," he said, "I did look bangin' that summer."

True, though not entirely what Jamie had meant. He wanted to pull his phone out and look at the picture again. There was just something about it.

"Hey," Tyler said suddenly, looking over his shoulder. "We're gonna be late for dinner. Oh shit," he added, stiffening. "Your parents. Are they – should I –"

"It'll be fine," Jamie said quickly. "They still share an email address, they're not, like, plugged in." Jenny was, but no need to mention that. "And even if they did know, they're not going to hassle you," Jamie added.

"Yeah but—" Tyler chewed his lip. "This doesn't really scream good boyfriend material."

It was sweet, catching him worrying about that sort of thing. "They like you," Jamie said firmly. That was stretching the truth a bit, but not beyond reason. His parents just took a while to warm up to anybody. "What about your parents?"

Tyler shrugged dismissively. "Eh. They're used to being embarrassed by me," he said. "My sisters'll be terrible, though."

"So nothing new, then." The Seguin siblings seemed to express affection by being viciously mean to each other. Things had never worked like that for Jamie and Jordie and Jenny, and he still regularly misread Tyler's interactions with his sisters as hostile when they weren't. It was kind of stressful, but he was working on it.

"Yeah, pretty much." Tyler slapped him on the chest. "Come on, I'm hungry."

*

Jamie was always sick to death of steak by the end of every season, so they'd gone for Italian instead. Whoever made the reservation had gotten them a private room, which was a good call whenever you had two or more Seguins in close proximity.

They were the last to arrive. Jamie's parents were talking to Tyler's mom at the head of the table. Well, Tyler's mom was talking and Jamie's parents were nodding along, but it looked cordial. Their sisters were collected at the other end of the table, blatantly checking out the waiter. Jordie and Jess had come in just ahead of them; Jordie was in the act of pouring a glass of wine before he even sat down.

There was a big round of hugs, even though they'd all been seeing each other for a solid week. It was one of those things that, once Jackie started, everyone followed along with.

Jamie ended up next to Tyler with a bit of maneuvering; his mother surprised him by grabbing the seat on Tyler's other side. Jamie couldn't hear much of what they were saying; Candice, Cassidy, and Jackie were all to his left. Meeting Tyler's family for the first time had been one of those revelatory oh, so that's why things. For one, it was immediately clear how Tyler had become so outgoing and charming; he'd have no chance of being noticed, otherwise.

Dinner passed quickly. Jamie was peripherally aware of Tyler talking animatedly next to him, but his attention was held by the other end of the table.

Their families were leaving early the next morning, so they all lingered on the sidewalk when they were done eating. Jamie's mom held onto his shoulders for a while after they hugged.

"He's a good kid," she said quietly.

Jamie nodded. "The best."

She pressed her lips together. "So it's serious then."

Jamie felt himself straighten as if to a challenge. "It is," he said. It was a better answer than the truth. That was something more like I want it to be.

His mom nodded. "That's great." She hesitated. "Just, maybe he could keep his clothes on in front of cameras," she said, and turned to talk to Jordie.

" . . . Oh God," Jamie said faintly.

"You okay?" Tyler appeared at his elbow. He looked harried; Jamie had seen him with one sister attached to each arm for the past five minutes.

"Fine," Jamie said, deciding instantaneously to keep his mouth shut. "You?"

"Fine," Tyler echoed back. Jamie fervently hoped his own lie had been more convincing.

*

Neither of them quite wanted to go to sleep when they got home, but Jamie wasn't feeling up for much, so he went to bed and propped himself against a stack of pillows with his phone. Surprisingly, Tyler came with him. Usually Tyler was on or he was off; gradual unwinding was not something he did.

The left side of Jamie's ribs was black-and-blue from a bad hit in the second round. Tyler watched him shifting back and forth for a while, then silently got up and came back with a frozen gel wrap.

"Thanks," Jamie said, sitting up enough to get it situated. The bruising was too advanced for the cold to help, but it felt good anyway.

Tyler hummed acknowledgement and shook out a few Ibuprofen. Half went to Jamie, and he tossed back the other half himself before settling down with a groan.

"Back?" Jamie asked, watching him. Tyler wasn't as visibly marked up, but he was nursing a handful of strains and unhappy tendons.

"Hip," Tyler said. "Fuck, I don't want to get old if this is what it's like."

Jamie watched him settle on his back, holding his iPad over his face. Marshall padded into the room and paced around the bed for a while, clearly thinking about trying his luck.

"No," Jamie said to him, and pointed at the dog bed in the corner. Marshall thought about that for a bit, then wandered casually over to the dog bed like it was where he'd been going all along.

It was quiet except for Marshall's snoring, and Tyler's breathing, and the occasional tap of his fingers. Jamie had meant to read email and shit, but he didn't unlock his phone.

The word old was still lingering in his consciousness. It shifted, without much effort, to old married. Jamie let that sit for a while. It wasn't as surprising a thought as it should have been. More like the next logical link in a chain he'd been following for a while. It sat well, basically.

His phone buzzed in his hand, and he jumped. It was another incoming text, this time from one of his old BC friends. He'd been getting a steady stream of texts all night, ever since that first one from Dills. Jamie was pretty sure he knew what it was all about, but he opened iMessage and looked anyway.

Yeah. Apparently everyone he knew – guys from Junior, guys around the league, guys from back home – all urgently wanted him to know about the picture.

Jamie scrolled down, scrolled up again, feeling himself beginning to frown. There was something . . . off about some of these texts. A lot of guys were trying to be helpful, that was clear. But some of them were also . . . there was this tone. Gleeful. Like this was making their day. Like they'd been waiting for this, or something like it.

Maybe he was crazy. Maybe he was oversensitive. But he didn't think so.

It pissed him off, getting this vibe from his friends, from the small circle who knew about him and Tyler as well as from everyone else who didn't. Jamie started hitting delete, his jaw flexing as yet another text came in while he was doing it. Seriously, fuck this.

He felt a little better when his inbox was empty. What did Tyler's inbox look like right now?

Without thinking too hard about it, Jamie flipped back over to the Deadspin article. Then he turned off the phone and swapped it out for his IPad on the nightstand.

The article was as pointless as he'd initially assumed: just some coy hintings about "sources close to Seguin," a few salacious – if totally justified – comments on his body, and some leading questions about whether his "infamous wild side" was finally re-emerging in Dallas. Jamie knew it was a bad idea, but he scrolled through the first couple comments anyway. He made a point of not reading his own press, or anyone else's, if he could help it, so he wasn't sure how typical this was. There were a lot of people going back and forth about how hard they'd hit that, one who insisted on replying to many of those to chastise them for supporting promiscuity – sorry, "promacusity," – and one person offering up a lengthy analysis of Tyler's visible muscle mass, degree of tanning, and tattoos in order to date the photo to summer 2013. Wait, that couldn't be right, could it? Then Jamie hit the first comment wondering about how fast the Stars would trade Tyler, and he was done with that.

He scrolled back up to the photo. Tyler was most of the way to hard. He could get like that just by being looked at. He was in the act of stretching; one hand was splayed low on his belly, the other curved over his head. His chin was tipped back, his eyes closed under the direct sun. He looked beautiful. And so happy it made Jamie smile reflexively back at him. That's what he'd been trying to put his finger on before, the joy all but pouring off the page.

Jamie tilted the iPad, squinting. "What's that?" he said, without thinking about it. And by the time he realized oh, awkward, Tyler had rolled over to see.

"Ha," Tyler said, getting a load of the screen. "I wouldn't have thought you'd need me to label the parts for you by now."

Well, he didn't seem bothered, at least. "No, that." Jamie pointed. There was something on Tyler's chest, small and hard to see in the center of the bar of shadow across him.

Tyler squinted alongside him for a second. "Oh, I forgot about that," he said. "It's a piercing."

"Wait, really?" Jamie looked from the picture Tyler to the real live version. "How did that work with hockey?"

"It didn't. I got it done the day after our last game and then took it out in the pre-season. I thought I could do that every year, but—" he looked wistful, "it took longer to heal than I thought. More trouble than it was worth."

Jamie set his iPad aside and rolled over, pushing Tyler with him. Tyler went, an amused quirk to his mouth as Jamie manhandled him around and reached to adjust the bedside reading lamp.

"It was horizontal," he said, and curved his arm up over his head to give Jamie more room. "If you look at – yeah, there."

Jamie leaned in and stared hard. Tyler was freckled very faintly, even though he was still hockey rink pale. And there, on either side of his nipple, was a tiny scar. They were more indentations than marks. Jamie pressed the nipple between two fingers, watching it slowly darken. That was better, he could see the tiny white spots clearly.

"I had no idea," he said, and thought why didn't I know that? That was what happened now, whenever he learned something new about Tyler, even unimportant stuff. It wasn't rational, and it probably wasn't healthy, but Jamie couldn't shake the conviction that he was supposed to just know without being told. It had started six months ago, with Tyler sprawled across his lap, drunk and earnest, right up until the moment he switched to flippant and said, still got both my kidneys, so, like it was a punchline. It had started there.

"Dude," Tyler said, "How would you know? I didn't even remember that until just now."

Jamie looked up. Tyler was laid out and relaxed under him, comfortable with the inspection.

"Though you'd better stop playing with it," Tyler added, head tilting. "Unless you actually mean to cash that check you're writing."

"Oh." Jamie looked back down to Tyler's nipple, flushed up a nice dark pink between his fingers. The urge to pinch the other nipple until it matched was automatic. Or he could lick right there between his fingers . . .

He looked up and they studied each other, mutually speculative. They could . . .

Or, Jamie thought ruefully, they could save it for a time when it didn't hurt to breathe too vigorously. Ugh. They were getting old.

He let go, and Tyler exhaled. "Rain check?"

"Definitely," Tyler said. "We've got all summer."

Jamie smiled, because aside from a week or two here and there, they did. He'd known by Christmas that he did not want to spend most of the summer apart like they had last year, when things were still pretty new. He hadn't realized how easily Tyler would fall in line with those plans, how he'd scale down his usual sprint of activities so he could spend a month in Victoria, and then just assume Jamie would come to Toronto with him without even asking.

Things like that could almost convince Jamie they were completely on the same page here. Almost.

*

Their flight was in the early afternoon, right around nap time, apparently. Tyler conked out against the window on the leg from Dallas to Charlotte, and trailed a step behind Jamie through the airport, his eyes half shut and one hand hooked trustingly through the strap of Jamie's backpack. He started perking up the closer they got to Boston, though, and by the time they touched down at Logan, he was beaming indiscriminately at the cabin crew and the baby across the aisle.

He didn't get like this for Boston trips during the season. Maybe the difference was not having to play against his boys. Or maybe it was the ink.

Or, Jamie amended to himself in the concourse, maybe it wasn't Boston at all. One minute they were walking along side-by-side, aimlessly talking about dinner, the next minute Tyler shoved his carry-on at Jamie and took off like he was on a breakaway. Jamie followed his trajectory and – ah, there was Brownie, just emerging from his own flight. He saw Tyler coming and clearly knew exactly what to expect, because he ditched his bag and braced his feet.

Tyler jumped him like a maniac, wrapping both arms and legs around him. Brownie caught him, barely, and held onto him for an impressive handful of seconds – Tyler was heavy with muscle, even at his end-of-season skinniest.

Tyler was back on his own feet by the time Jamie made it over to them, though Brownie had to untangle his arms from around Tyler's waist to shake Jamie's hand.

"Hey, man," he said. "Good to see you again. Nice work against the Sharks."

"Thanks." It hadn't helped them with the Kings, and that still sucked, but Jamie also wasn't sure if anything could have helped against the Kings.

He didn't say much on the way out to the rental car. Not that it was necessary – the two of them were chattering away like they didn't Skype a few times a week and text continuously besides. They seemed to have an encyclopedic knowledge of each other's seasons, which made sense; Jamie could often recite Jordie's stats more readily than his own.

It was nice, the way they talked about hockey. Jamie had friends from Junior, but most of them were the ones who made it. It was a lot harder to stay friends with the guys who never got out of the minors. At a certain point, things inevitably got . . . weird. Maybe it had been like that for the two of them and they'd gotten over it, or maybe they'd just never let it be weird in the first place.

Tyler had booked a hotel for them, which surprised Jamie. He'd been expecting to spend a week in someone's guest room or, quite possibly, on a fold-out couch. There had been multiple offers. But Tyler had just shrugged and given Jamie an under-the-lashes look and a slow smile, and, well. Not going to argue with that.

They had dinner at a sushi place that Tyler tried to get to whenever they were in town. "With just a couple guys," Tyler said on the way over. Jamie automatically translated this to no less than ten people, but it turned out that Tyler actually meant Freddie and three others, all of whom Jamie had met before. He had the distinct sense he was being eased gently into what was going to be an absolute avalanche of sociability. He was sure of it when they only stopped at one bar after dinner.

Their room adjoined Brownie's, and there was a comfortable on-the-road feel to everything when Tyler propped the connecting door open so the two of them could shout at each other while they wound down. Brownie came to the door at one point in his boxers, toothbrush in his mouth, to tell Tyler to his face that he was "so fucking wrong" about some obscure point of a musical debate that made no sense to Jamie. It devolved into a shoving match, and then toothbrush jousting, which Jamie watched in mild disbelief.

"I thought you were the mature one," he said to Brownie once they had called a truce.

"I am," Brownie said cheerfully. "Scary, isn't it?"

It was a little weird to be in a hotel bed with Tyler. They didn't usually do that, and Jamie kept dozing off, then snapping awake when Tyler inevitably snuggled up to him. He didn't sleep that well with someone else touching him, but Tyler was slowly wearing him down on that through a relentless – and entirely unconscious – cuddle campaign.

Jamie was developing his counter strategies, though, so he urged Tyler over onto his stomach and rested a hand between his shoulder blades. That seemed to satisfy him, and it was pretty nice, actually, falling asleep to the feel of Tyler's breathing.

Tyler was barely awake when Jamie got out of the shower the next morning.

"Hey," Jamie said, sitting on the edge of the bed. "Starbucks run. You want?"

Tyler blinked lazily at him. "Yeah," he said. "Get me – you know. The thing." Embarrassingly, Jamie did actually know the entire needlessly complicated order.

The Starbucks line was long, but fast-moving. There was a straight couple in front of him with morning after written all over them. They were leaning on each other, hands sleepily wandering, whispering back-and-forth. Jamie kept seeing them out of the corner of his eye, and, well. His ribs were feeling much better, and it'd been a while, and yeah, it made him think.

About Tyler, waiting for him in bed. Maybe he'd gone back to sleep. Maybe Jamie could come in and wake him up. Maybe he'd be inarticulate and needy the way he was first thing in the morning sometimes. Maybe Jamie could go back to bed, too, and maybe they could take it nice and slow.

By the time he made it back into the elevator, he was thinking very specifically of rubbing one out against Tyler's abs. Yeah, that would definitely do it.

Except when he swiped his card and stepped into the entryway, he could hear low voices, and he knew immediately none of that was going to happen.

Tyler was still in bed, yeah, and still pretty sleepy by the looks of it. But the connecting door was open and Brownie was there, stretched out beside him in a t-shirt and jeans. Tyler was holding his IPad, but neither of them was looking at it. They were turned in towards each other, sharing a pillow, talking softly.

"—know exactly what the problem is," he heard Tyler say.

They looked up at the same time, Tyler startled, Brownie thoughtful.

"Hey." Jamie stamped down on the reflex to ask if he was interrupting. Obviously he was.

"Morning." Brownie sat up, but showed no inclination to get off the bed. Jamie shrugged to himself and went around to the other side. Tyler scooted over for him, making grabby hands at his coffee.

"Didn't know you were awake," Jamie said to Brownie. "I would have gotten you something."

"Naw, it's fine." Brownie watched Tyler slurp down the first third of his coffee, then swiped it away from him for a sip. "Anyway," he said to Tyler, continuing a conversation Jamie was almost positive hadn't been the one he walked in on. "Looks good."

Tyler stole his coffee back and looked down at the iPad. He had to unlock it, but once he did, the sketches of his new ink popped up.

"Yeah," he said, with the secret, dreamy smile he reserved for new ink. Well, that and double-stuffed Oreos.

Tyler nearly spilled his coffee in the effort to drink while lying down, and sat up with obvious reluctance. He leaned against the headboard, sipping slowly. Then he glanced left, glanced right, and beamed.

"Aw, my guys," he said, and tucked his coffee between his knees to put an arm around each of them.

Jamie met Brownie's eyes past that blinding grin. Brownie made a face, like what're you going to do, but he was smiling just like Jamie was. Couldn't help it, either of them.

*

It was the sort of day that Jamie would call "busy" and Tyler would call "kinda slow." They did a charity football thing first. That was pretty fun, even though Jamie still wasn't really up to being tackled. The Bruins were also out of the playoffs, so a bunch of them were there too. Jamie had the weird experience of frantically trying to get around Tyler while Marchand, his captain, screamed at him to pass.

There was some local press hanging around after the game. It didn't occur to Jamie to worry about it until Tyler had been talking to one reporter for quite a while. Marchand followed his gaze to Tyler's mud-splattered back.

"Well, it had to happen eventually," he said. "I mean, if each draft class had a yearbook, Segs would definitely have been voted most likely to spend time talking to reporters about his dick."

Jamie had honestly forgotten all about it. Way to drop the ball, captain. And, for double points, way to drop the ball, boyfriend.

"Excuse me," Jamie said, and headed over. Not that he was going to be of any help; between the two of them, Tyler was far more comfortable with the media. He regularly stepped in and redirected the attention to himself in joint interviews. Jamie had started out thinking it was amazing, how Tyler always seemed to know when he was struggling. But then he'd said that to Jordie, who had made a pained face, patted Jamie on the shoulder, and said, "Chubs . . . buddy. Everybody knows."

Things seemed okay when Jamie got over to them. The reporter was laughing, a little pink on her cheeks, and Tyler was smiling right into her tape recorder.

"So, I mean, it's not exactly like doing the Body Issue," he was saying. "And obviously it's not fun when something gets put out there without you knowing. But—" he gestured down his body, smile going smug "—if you've got it . . ." He flicked a quick glance up as Jamie approached. The reporter followed his look. She must be hockey media, because she clearly recognized Jamie.

"Hey," Tyler said, rocking half a step back. "Sorry to cut this short, but I've gotta run. We're on a schedule."

As far as Jamie knew, the afternoon's schedule consisted of lunch with Bruins and then drinks on someone's boat, but he wasn't about to argue. He watched Tyler extricate himself. Sometimes he felt like he should be taking notes on how Tyler did things like that, but it wouldn't do him any good. He couldn't copy that easy, smarmy charm. For fuck's sake, Tyler even winked at her as they shook hands.

"Okay?" Jamie asked quietly as they walked off.

"Yep." Tyler waved to someone across the grass, his face tilted away. Jamie couldn't tell if it was true or not.

Lunch was fun, though Tyler did take a large amount of shit from his former teammates about his dick and photographs thereof. That all seemed to roll right off him; there was no sign of the anxiety from yesterday, and Jamie was watching for it. Truth be told, if he hadn't been there himself, he would have sworn it never happened at all. But he was there, and it did happen, and he still didn't know why.

Tyler . . . accumulated people all day. Well, Tyler accumulated guys. Jamie had seen it happen before, but never quite on this scale. Every stop they made, Tyler would collect one or two – it seemed mean to call them hangers-on, but Jamie didn't know what the right term was. They were uniformly good-looking and all seemed to have the sort of names that made Jamie think of gay porn stars: Rush, and Buck, and Rod. They flocked to Tyler, overwhelmingly friendly and full of hockey talk, and seemed to multiply every time Jamie turned his back.

He knew pro athletes who treated their friends like an entourage. Tyler, on the other hand, treated his entourage like friends.

Drinks on a boat in the harbor turned out to be a rager on a yacht. Tyler's sense of scale was idiosyncratic at best, and Jamie was usually pretty good at translating what he actually meant by "some people" or "you know, the guys." But even so, he underestimated that one.

Jamie knew maybe six people there. Really not his favorite milieu, but he usually did okay with a few drinks in him. Tyler helped, too: he stuck close by for the first hour, introducing Jamie to everyone and gently nudging him towards particular groups. The entire party was hockey people and hockey-adjacent people. Jamie didn't keep up with the NCAA as much as he'd like, but there was still plenty to talk about.

He and Tyler weren't the only NHLers there, but it still got a bit weird, once in a while. Jamie didn't mind being looked up to, in theory, but in practice it usually just made him squirm. And a few guys took it to this weird place, working hard to impress him as if he had any say whatsoever in their future prospects. Tyler rescued him from a few of those, his hand casually hooked through Jamie's elbow to draw him away with a friendly smile.

He ended up on deck, watching fuzzy Youtube game footage on someone's phone, interspersed with rounds of darts. Tyler flitted in and out of his peripheral vision, moving from group to group, taking shots, talking with his hands.

Jamie didn't realize how closely he was tracking until Tyler vanished, and a slow crawl of anxiety worked up his spine. He slipped away from his current conversation and made a circuit of the deck. No Tyler. Brownie was perched on the rail in a group of AHL guys. Jamie caught his eye and made a questioning face. Brownie seemed to understand what he was asking immediately; he pointed down and mouthed something Jamie didn't quite catch.

The party was about ten times louder down in the cabins. Jamie's first instinct was to check the dance floor. This was made more difficult by the fact that the dance floor appeared to be everywhere. He wormed his way through the crowd, scanning faces, profiles, shoulders. It was like being on the ice; he knew his brain would flag Tyler for him, even if it was just from a glimpse of the back of his neck.

Tyler was, indeed, dancing. He was in a group of four or five people grinding on each other under – predictably – a spotlight. Jamie stood still and watched for a minute, letting himself come down off high alert. That happened now, too, the spikes of awful panic if he lost track of Tyler in particular situations. He dreamt about it, sometimes: playing an intense game, skating up the ice, and Tyler taking a hit behind his back, completely out of sight, so Jamie knew nothing about it until he turned around and it was already over.

Jamie never claimed to be subtle.

Tyler looked up and around like he felt Jamie's attention. He was already smiling, but he absolutely lit up when their eyes met.

"Jamie!" he shouted. It was inaudible, but Jamie could read it from his lips. Tyler extracted himself from his group with a series of friendly pats and gropes, and plunged through the intervening crowd into Jamie's arms. "Dance with me!" he said into Jamie's ear.

And wow, okay, he'd gone from comfortably drunk to cheerfully plastered. Jamie could feel it in the looseness of his body, smell it in the sticky residue spilled down his neck onto his collar. He gathered Tyler in close, looking around. Lots of people here knew Tyler, and the two of them did try not to be all over each other in public. Then again, lots of people here knew Tyler, and so would probably think nothing of it. Why the hell not?

He turned them into a dimmer corner and let Tyler take the lead. They didn't get to do this much, and Jamie knew Tyler missed club music and club atmosphere and club crowds. They'd gotten hot and heavy on one of their first dates, back when things were new and so much simpler. And there were some stolen moments in clubs in New York or Toronto. And – Jamie's favorite by far – a dizzy half hour in Fids's kitchen just after midnight on new year's, both of them giggly on champagne, dirty dancing under the florescent lights all by themselves to dimly-heard music, just because. But it had been a long time.

Jamie liked dancing once he got going, but there were always a few bad moments to start with where he couldn't remember how it was supposed to work. That wasn't a problem, though, with the liquid roll of Tyler's hips to follow.

The song changed to a mashup of Whistle with something else Jamie didn't recognize. He could feel Tyler's sudden grin against his neck, and the low vibration of his voice as he sang along. Badly, no doubt, but that hardly mattered when Jamie couldn't hear him, could only feel him mouthing along about blowjobs.

Tyler lifted his head halfway through the song. "Been a while, eh?" he shouted into Jamie's ear.

Jamie exhaled, nodding. It'd been weeks, what with one thing and another. That wasn't too unusual, though. Tyler had elevated his BJ technique to a work of sloppy, glorious art, and Jamie tried not to ask for it too often. He was afraid too much exposure would take the edge off, and more secretly afraid of how greedy and out-of-control he could get with Tyler's mouth on him. So he stretched out the time in between, blowing Tyler at every opportunity but redirecting his attention after, waiting until he was really jonesing for it like an addict. Kind of like right now.

Tyler caught his eyes and read him like a book. He nodded, smiling wide, then turned and started looking around.

It took Jamie a second to figure out what he was doing. "Don't even think about it," he shouted as soon as he did. "Not happening."

"No crime in thinking," Tyler retorted.

There sort of was, in Jamie's book. The thought of hooking up in a semi-public bathroom was terrifying and hot in equal measure. He would never let it happen, so it was best not to think about, all things considered.

"We should go, then," Tyler said, leaning into him.

Jamie squeezed his hips, rocked against the bulge in Tyler's jeans. "Yeah," he said. "….Wait. Brownie?"

"Don't worry about it," Tyler said. "We've got a deal." He pressed an open-mouthed kiss under Jamie's ear and stepped back.

"Okay," Jamie said, though Tyler wouldn't hear him. Any deal involving Tyler Brown and Jamie's sex life was definitely another thing best not to think about.

Tyler hooked a finger in Jamie's belt and wormed a path through the crowd to the stairs. Brownie had moved from his spot on the rail, but Tyler located him with an unerring turn of the head.

"Just a sec," he said, and left Jamie by the boarding ramp. He and Brownie talked briefly, heads close together to be heard, and Jamie saw the flash of keys pass from hand-to-hand.

"We're not good to drive anyway," Tyler said when he came back. "But he'll sober up or stay over somewhere. Come on, let's get an Uber."

The car was blessedly quiet, when it came. But that just meant that Jamie's brain had way more bandwidth to focus in on Tyler next to him, on his quick breathing, his hands spread over his thighs, and the scent of fresh limes coming off him.

He guided Tyler through the lobby with a hand at the small of his back. It came to rest there automatically these days. It wasn't terribly platonic, but at least it was better than the frequent impulse to stick a hand in the back pocket of Tyler's jeans like they were a couple of teenagers.

Tyler stumbled in the elevator; Jamie caught him around the waist with both hands. He thought for a second that Tyler was playing around, trying to get a grope in before they were alone. But then Tyler's head dropped onto his shoulder, heavier than expected.

"Hey," Jamie said, shaking him. "You all right?"

Tyler nodded and straightened. His eyes were a little red under the bright elevator lights. "Yeah, yeah." He was still smiling. "Just, y'know. Haven't drunk that much that fast in a while."

"Let's get you some water." Jamie walked him out of the elevator onto their floor. "You want to order something from room service? Big pile of carbs?"

Tyler laughed. He was still tucked close enough for his breath to tickle under Jamie's jaw. "No, c'mon," he said. "Jamie, focus. That's not what we're here for."

Jamie watched him fumble with the keycard for a minute, then reached over to turn it around for him.

"Thanks," Tyler said, with that carefree so I'm drunk, so what? smile. Jamie had never been able to decide whether he loved or hated that smile.

Tyler flicked on every light he passed as he went into the room. He turned around when he got to the edge of the bed, fingertips hooked in the waistband of his jeans and smile still in place. "C'mere," he said.

Jamie did. His breath was already coming faster. He'd been ready to go since the party. Hell, he'd been ready to go all day, ever since this morning's cockblocking. A bit of exercise and a couple drinks only served to work him up more.

"So," Tyler said, switching his grip to Jamie's waistband. "Blowie, yeah?"

Jamie snorted. "Classy."

Tyler rolled his eyes. "Please. You love it." Which was inarguable. Tyler ran his thumb down the hard line of Jamie's dick through his jeans. "Speaking of loving it," he said. "I want you to do something for me."

Jamie was beginning to have a pavlovian response to that phrase. Tyler had once tried to offer up a sideways sort of apology for the way he got in bed. "You can just ignore me when I get all mouthy," he'd said. "Sometimes I just like to talk." Jamie had laughed at that, because seriously, Tyler getting all worked up and telling Jamie exactly where to put his hands and what to do to get him off, with step-by-step instructions? That was pretty close to the best thing that ever happened to him.

"What do you want?" The pressure of fingers was just enough to tickle. Jamie caught Tyler around the wrist and pushed his dick into the curve of Tyler's palm.

"Nothing fancy." Tyler gripped him obligingly. "When I'm blowing you. I want you to hold my jaw. Pull my hair." His eyes were all pupil. "Hold me down where you want me, make me swallow it."

Jesus. Jamie's hand flexed on his wrist. The manipulative asshole, was he pulling this shit straight from Jamie's brain? The sort of thing he got off to in the shower, once in a while, and felt vaguely guilty about after. He sucked in a huge breath. "I can do that," he said hoarsely. And he could. Probably.

"Atta boy." Tyler squeezed his dick again, a blatant reward. "C'mon, let's go."

He hooked an ankle around Jamie's and tugged, but lost his balance halfway through, so they went down harder than expected. Jamie was on top; Tyler oofed dramatically, but then wrapped his arms and legs around Jamie, squeezing him in place.

They made out like that for a while, messy and perfect. Tyler kept his legs tight around Jamie's waist, so their dicks ground together when one of them so much as breathed. Tyler tasted like whatever he'd been drinking while he danced, and he smelled like sweat and other people's cologne. And he was really fucking hot for it, pressing needily into Jamie's hands, whining into his mouth.

"Jamie," Tyler said, and then something else that got lost between their mouths.

"What?" Jamie eased back a little, blinking. Tyler had turned on the bedside lamp. The light fell full on his face, showed his flushed cheeks, his blown pupils.

"Jamie," Tyler said again. He flexed his hands around the back of Jamie's neck, his nails digging in. "C'mon. Hold me down. Make it – I want -- hurt me."

Jamie flushed hot and cold so fast, he didn't really know which was which. His dick got harder, but that didn't seem to matter with the unease prickling down his back.

"Um," he said. "I – um."

"What?" Tyler turned his head, his eyes a little slow to track. And watching his delayed reflexes, feeling the clumsy grip of his hands, reality finally crashed in on Jamie. Oh, Christ.

Jamie sat up. "Uh," he said. "Maybe we should slow down a minute?"

Tyler blinked in blatant confusion. "What? Why?"

"You're a little out of it," Jamie said. Because yeah, now that he was paying the right kind of attention, Tyler was. He was talking and interacting, but he was also really, profoundly trashed. Which Jamie had seen, and totally ignored until now, Jesus.

"So're you," Tyler said.

Jamie shook his head. "I'm okay."

"Great," Tyler said. "Me too. Take your pants off."

"I —" Jamie swallowed. "I don't think I should."

Tyler was transitioning from confused to irritated. "Fuck's sake," he said. "Why not?"

"I don't want to—" Jamie bit off the rest of that sentence hard. Hurt you, he'd been going to say. Which he didn't at all mean like Tyler had meant it, but he didn't trust himself to get the nuance across right. "You're pretty drunk," he said, giving up and going for blunt. "I don't want to take advantage. Do anything you don't really want."

Tyler's face closed down like a slamming door. There were a couple beats of increasingly chilly silence, then Tyler moved. Jamie was still straddling his hips; he scrambled backward in response to Tyler's shove. Tyler rolled away from him fast and got his feet on the floor. He sat on the edge of the bed for a second, his breath rushing audibly.

"You know," he said to the far wall, and what Jamie knew, instantly, was that this was going to hurt. "The thing I wish most is that I never told you. Not a fuckin' word." He started to stand up. "Don't touch me," he barked over his shoulder, and Jamie snatched his hand back, scalded. Tyler took a step, stumbled, and caught himself with a hand on the nightstand. "For the record," he said, "that's what I'll say when I don't want something. As opposed to, for example, 'do it to me baby.' Since you seem entirely unclear on the difference."

He straightened up, shoulders setting the way they did after he took a bad hit and didn't want anyone to see him falter while he got off the ice. And he left, pushing his way through the connecting door into Brownie's darkened room.

*

Jamie was pulled out of sleep by the sound of the shower. He stayed still for a minute, eyes closed, feeling the tug of exhaustion. Then he remembered why he was so tired, and sat up, wide awake.

The connecting door was closed, but there was a t-shirt draped over the back of a chair that Jamie didn't remember from last night, and that was definitely someone in the bathroom. It was only 8:30; he'd been awake half the night, and slept badly after that.

Jamie dragged himself out of bed. He was mildly hung over, just some cotton-mouth and a faint headache, but it felt like an insurmountable problem, as tired as he was. Kind of like everything did.

In moments as bad as these, Jamie found himself falling back on every cliché his parents and coaches had ever fed him. Which was more helpful than expected because, when you came right down to it, problems truly didn't solve themselves.

Jamie sat on the edge of the bed for a while, trying to figure out where to start. Definitely not by going to join Tyler in the shower.

They used to argue on the ice all the time. That had faded a bit as they settled in to each other, learned to make space for each other's egos and drive. There were spats at home, too, now, stupid disagreements over chores or food or dog parenting. The sort of shit that could drive Jamie absolutely insane, but that he also weirdly enjoyed bickering about because it was such couple stuff.

There had never been anything like last night. Jamie couldn't even call it a fight, exactly. It felt different. Like a more fundamental fracture.

And now he had to fix it. Without any clear idea of how it had happened, or why.

Okay. Okay. First things first. Tyler would be much more hung over. Probably why he was up so early. He'd want coffee, not his usual sugar bomb but a straight up Americano. That was a place to start, at least.

The shower was off by the time he got back from Starbucks. Jamie came around the corner from the entryway, coffee in each hand, to find Tyler sitting fully dressed at the foot of the bed, tying his second shoe.

"Hey," Jamie said cautiously, and extended a cup.

Tyler lifted his head. He looked as tired as Jamie felt, and equally uncertain. But he accepted the coffee.

Jamie watched him sip at it. He was more relieved than he probably should be at the success of such a tiny gesture.

Tyler drank steadily for a minute, his eyes closed, then tucked his nose down by the opening in the lid, breathing deeply.

"Breakfast?" he asked, his voice gravelly.

"Yeah," Jamie said. "I can order room service?"

"Nah." Tyler heaved himself to his feet. "I know somewhere."

The restaurant Tyler led him to – in uncomfortable silence for all three blocks – was a busy café with over a dozen kinds of pancakes and not a single egg white omelet on the menu. It was exactly the sort of place Jamie liked, which he decided to read as a return gesture of good faith. They got a booth in the back, and Tyler ordered more coffee before they even had menus.

Jamie opened his, but kept catching himself watching Tyler over the edge of it. He wanted to apologize, to make this awful tension go away. But then again, he wasn't sure how he was in the wrong, and pride was winning out. For the moment, anyway.

The waitress came to take their order. She arrived with a cheerful smile and left with a frown, catching the mood. Tyler's hands lay loose on the table once she was gone, his eyes focused somewhere off over Jamie's shoulder.

Jamie started to reach for him, then hesitated. "Uh," he said. "Can I?"

Tyler twitched like an irritated cat. "What, you're going to ask every time now?"

Jamie gritted his teeth. "No," he said, exercising his patience already. "But last night you told me not to touch you, and I didn't know if that still stood."

Tyler snorted like that was the stupidest thing he'd ever heard. But he reached out and slapped his hand down in the middle of the table like a puck in the faceoff circle.

Jamie met his challenging look and covered Tyler's hand with his. They didn't really ever do the hand-holding thing, and Jamie didn't know where the impulse was coming from, but he didn't have anything to go on here except for his gut. And his gut was saying grab on, don't let go.

He squeezed tight, waited. Tyler didn't react for a long minute. Then he exhaled an audible sigh, turned his hand, and squeezed back.

"Okay," Jamie said quietly, more to himself than Tyler.

"Is it?" Tyler said. He still sounded like he was braced for a fight, though his grip on Jamie's hand was strong.

"You tell me," Jamie said.

Tyler shook his head with a faint eye roll. "Yeah, no," he said. "You're the one with the problem here."

Jamie bit back his first response -- you're the one who walked out. "What do you mean?"

Tyler waved his free hand. "Come on. You know."

"Pretend I don't," Jamie said. "Spell it out for me."

Tyler pressed his lips together, looking about as excited as he would before dental surgery. There was a long silence that Jamie classified as Seguin stubborn. He waited it out, because what else was there to do?

"You can't let it go," Tyler burst out. His face worked in sudden frustration. "I can see you thinking about it all the fuckin' time. And you think it matters, every second of every day, even though I told you it doesn't." He shut up just as abruptly, looking startled at himself.

Jamie nodded slowly. His heart was racing. He'd been desperate to talk about this for months, even though he didn't know what he wanted to say. But it wasn't like he could be all, Hey, by the way, about that time some animal drugged and fucking assaulted you. So okay, yes, he'd thought about it. A lot. And not nearly as covertly as intended, it turned out.

"Do you want me to forget it?" he asked unsteadily.

"No." Tyler puffed out his cheeks in frustration. "I haven't forgotten, not really. Just . . . let it go, okay? Can't you do that?"

Because, Jamie realized with a miserable lurch, watching Jamie utterly fail to deal made it harder for him, in some way.

"I don't know if I can," Jamie admitted. "I don't know how."

Tyler looked back at him, stymied. "You just . . . put it away," he said with a helpless gesture. "It was a long time ago. You don't have to forget, but you don't have to remember either, you know?"

Jamie shook his head slowly. "No, I don't know," he said. "I don't think I work that way." Their hands were sweaty where they gripped each other across the table.

Tyler broke into an unexpected smile. "No shit," he said. "You've gotta throw down with an opposing d-man before you can deal."

"Yes," Jamie said, smiling back involuntarily. Tyler was dead right. Jamie didn't really get worked up about a lot of things, but when he did it boiled and boiled, and the only thing that could help was the satisfaction of dropping the gloves with someone who could hit just as hard as he could.

Problem was, this time there was no one to hit.

Jamie caught the waitress coming out of the corner of his eye. He extricated his hand reluctantly, with one last squeeze, and sat back to make room for their plates. Tyler had ordered an elaborate pancake tower, complete with Nutella swirls and mountains of whipped cream. It was the sort of thing he only ordered at the end of the season and just after, when he was desperate enough for carbs to sacrifice some protein calories for them. And also when he wanted something comfortingly sweet.

Jamie waited until they had each taken several bites. Talking shit out like grownups was exhausting. "So, last night," he said, and Tyler set his fork down immediately.

"Yeah," Tyler said. The smear of whipped cream on his cheek couldn't hide the unhappy clench of his mouth. "You can't do that to me, man," he said, looking at Jamie straight on. "You just can't."

"I can't worry about you?" Jamie said incredulously. "Because I hate to break it to you, but aside from everything else, that's actually one of the things they pay me for these days."

"No." Tyler shook his head, made a face. He was so glib and outgoing that it was a shock to see him struggling for words like this. It was always over the things he felt intensely, the few times Jamie had seen it.

Tyler started to say something twice, stopped himself, and hunched over his breakfast for a while. "Okay, look," he said, sitting up straight. "If I tell you I don't want to fuck a certain way anymore, you're not going to try to talk me into it anyway, right? Like, you won't be all, 'oh, you don't really mean it, I know better.'"

Jamie blinked. "No. Of course not." He hesitated. "Is this a hypothetical, or—"

"Hypothetical," Tyler said. "Like I'm gonna limit our repertoire, come on."

"Okay," Jamie said. "So what's your point?"

Tyler stabbed a strawberry. "My point is, if you wouldn't do that, what makes it okay for you to do that when what I'm saying is that I do want to fuck a certain way."

Jamie opened his mouth. Shut it again.

"I mean, if you're not into it, whatever," Tyler said. "But you totally were, so."

"I . . . was," Jamie said. He could still hear Tyler in his ear, breathy and wanting, saying hurt me like he was asking for a kiss. They’d played . . . little games before. Seemingly harmless things where Tyler goaded him into pinching his nipples harder than must be comfortable, or into digging his nails in while they were screwing. Jamie always wanted to do it in the moment. It was easy to want to, with Tyler all but giving him a roadmap. But that didn’t stop him feeling vaguely uneasy later. It was one thing to really get off on getting your boyfriend off. It was another thing to really get off on hurting him, even when that turned out to be the same thing. The conflict had always resolved itself in favor of getting off, before. But Tyler had never said it so plainly before. And it had never specifically occurred to Jamie before that there was possibly one other person who had hurt Tyler, and Jamie hated that person so much it made him dizzy sometimes. "You were really drunk, is the thing," he said.

Tyler shrugged. "Yeah? Because I wanted to be. And I knew who I was going home with. So the fuck what?"

Jamie nodded slowly. The sinking awareness of having gotten this really, really wrong was settling in his stomach. "Okay," he said. "I see where you’re coming from, yeah. I'm sorry I did that."

Tyler waved the apology away immediately, like always. He would pout and demand one over the littlest damn thing, and then duck it the instant he got it. Jamie didn't get that.

"The thing is, though," Jamie continued reluctantly. "I really don't know if I can stop. Thinking. Feeling this way." He dragged the words up with effort, out of the hurt, sick anger he'd been nursing for months. It was stupid, it wasn't even his hurt. But he couldn't make it stop.

Tyler stared down at his plate, drawing patterns in whipped cream with the tines of his fork. "You're just being you," he said, sounding profoundly tired. "Normally, I'm down with that." He hesitated, obviously reluctant. "Look," he said. "If you want. If you think it would help. I can stop drinking if I think we're going to fuck."

Jamie put down his water glass, caught off guard by this gesture of compromise. "Wow, that's really – are you sure?"

Tyler shrugged. "Yeah. For a little while, anyway." He seemed unwilling to meet Jamie's eyes, as if embarrassed to be making an effort.

Jamie thought about it. It was a good idea, at least on the surface. Then again, how long would it be before Tyler resented the necessity? And how much would it really help, anyway? The alcohol hadn't been the problem last night, he could admit that now.

“Can I ask you something?" Jamie said.

Tyler shrugged again, wary. "Sure?"

"You talk to Brownie about it, right?"

"Oh." Tyler looked relieved. "Yeah. I talk to Brownie about everything."

Jamie nodded. That was what he'd figured. "So, okay," he said. "How about instead of me cramping your style, I get someone to talk to?"

"You mean Jordie."

Okay, that was a pretty obvious call. "Yeah."

He could see the instant no on Tyler's face. But then Tyler stopped and seemed to consider. "I'm not talking to him about it," he said.

"No, no." Jamie touched his wrist. "You don't have to know anything about it."

Tyler chewed his lip. "That seems fair," he said at last. "If I get Brownie, you get Jordie."

Jamie hadn't been thinking about it that way at all, and he almost wanted to argue the point, because this really wasn't about fairness to him. But he was tired of arguing.

"Thank you," he said. "I think that'll help. And I'll try to stop—" he gestured nebulously between them "—you know."

"Okay." Tyler looked about as relieved to have gotten through that as Jamie felt. It was kind of nice, actually, the realization that they'd been pulling hard for the same thing here, even when it hadn't felt like it.

He let the silence settle between them as they both cleaned their plates.

"Shit, I've got to hydrate for today," Tyler said after a while, and flagged the waitress down to get more water. "Just bring me like four glasses all at once," he said, exercising a smile on her. "Thanks."

"What time's the appointment?" Jamie asked, checking the clock on his phone.

"Eleven. But we can kinda show up whenever, Duncey won't mind." Tyler gulped down his first glass of water in a long chug.

Jamie watched the tilt of his head as he drank, the cock of his wrist. He always liked looking at Tyler, but there was an extra compulsion to it this morning with – he could think it now that it was past – a potential breakup avoided.

"Hey," he said, because it seemed like small potatoes now. "Can I ask you something else? Totally different topic."

Tyler looked up from the check. "What?"

"That picture of you," Jamie said. "On Deadspin. You were pretty upset over it. What was that about?"

Tyler looked back down at the check. "I wasn't that upset."

"Okay," Jamie said mildly. "But it did bug you, yeah?"

Tyler made a production out of finding his credit card. "I guess," he said eventually. "I just . . . y'know. It was taken right after the Blackhawks beat us for the Cup." So right before he was traded, then. "I don't know. I liked that picture. It was a good day. A really good day, after a shitty season. Shitty year. I don't really like everybody looking at it. That it's not just mine anymore. It's not a big deal."

So he'd gotten it right, after all, at least partially. It wasn't exposure in general, it was that particular picture. "Okay," Jamie said. "I was just curious."

Tyler shrugged it off. "Yeah, well, don't worry about it. I'm not." He pushed out of the booth. "C'mon. It's tattoo time, baby."

Jamie followed him back out to the street. He sort of wanted to see the picture again, but he didn't actually need to. He'd studied it long enough to remember how Tyler looked: happy and sexy despite a Cup loss. And after a shitty year, with all that might encompass. All that he knew it encompassed: a slump in play, tensions with management, a bad ride from the Boston media. And, well. Maybe it was a shitty time for other reasons, too. Maybe, when he'd asked about the picture, it wasn't as separate a topic as he'd thought.

He'd second-guessed the picture, he remembered clearly. Once he'd known when it was taken, it had seemed somehow incongruous. Like Tyler wasn't allowed to be happy and sexy, not then, not that year.

But that was dumb, wasn't it? The picture was real; Tyler wouldn't be upset about it otherwise. And it was beautiful. And if there was anything Jamie knew about him, it was that Tyler's capacity for happiness was deep and resilient. Jamie loved that about him.

He caught up to Tyler at the first corner and slung an arm around his shoulders for a quick sideways hug.

"What?" Tyler said, eying him after what might have been too tight a squeeze.

"Nothing," Jamie said. "Just really proud of you."

". . . Okay then, weirdo," Tyler said, and bumped their shoulders together.

*

Tyler had warned him ahead of time that watching would get boring, that he'd need a tablet or something. Jamie had never sat for more than about forty minutes at a time himself, though he was starting to think that would change soon. Tyler was scheduled for at least five hours of work today, and another six tomorrow to finish the full second sleeve and do touch-ups on both arms.

But Jamie didn't have a chance to get bored for quite a while. Tyler had also warned him that he had a hard time in the beginning of every session. "I spazz the fuck out," were his exact words. The warning was unnecessary – Jamie had tagged along to a fifteen-minute touch-up Tyler had gotten in L.A. last year. He'd watched as Tyler gritted his teeth and twitched through the entire thing, his hands locked together and his face gray. Jamie had been completely baffled about how he'd gotten such extensive ink, if it sucked so much for him, let alone why he'd wanted to. Tyler had said only that he settled down after about twenty minutes, and based on other things he'd said later, he apparently did enjoy the process. Eventually.

Duncey's shop was crowded. With employees, not customers, Jamie realized as Tyler made the rounds, greeting everyone by name. Apparently almost everyone had worked on him at one time or another. They all hung around talking while the final designs were discussed and Tyler was sterilized from wrist to armpit.

Duncey shooed most people out once they were done with the preliminaries, though. "Right," he said, gloving up. "Let's get the shitty part over."

The shitty part was, in fact, far shittier than Jamie remembered. Tyler was lying on his side, arm stretched out in front of him. He was breathing fast before the gun came anywhere near him. Duncey apparently knew exactly what to expect, because he barely touched Tyler's bicep on his first pass, then withdrew the gun, timed perfectly to Tyler's flinch.

"Sorry," Tyler muttered, resetting his arm.

Duncey shrugged. He'd been a loud, big-gesturing presence when they came in, but an eerie calm seemed to settle over him when he got down to work. Jamie liked it, the sense that Tyler was in competent hands. "Just gotta do that a dozen more times," Duncey said. "You with me?"

"I'm good," Tyler said. "Go."

Even Duncey's calm frayed a bit after he was able to get maybe five minutes of work into the first half hour.

"Dude," he said mildly, setting the gun down and shaking out his hands.

"Sorry, sorry." Tyler had been looking increasingly miserable.

Duncey brushed that away. "Naw, man. This is just weird for you. You're usually cool by now." He hesitated, flickering a quick look at Jamie across the room. "Do you want something?" he asked Tyler, with a covert gesture that probably indicated a joint.

Tyler actually seemed to think about it, which was surprising. For a guy who could throw down vodka like water, he had some really strong feelings about putting recreational drugs in his body. It was a silly line to draw, but Jamie was not going to argue with him about it, even if he did kind of wish Tyler would join him and Jordie in their traditional mid-off-season smoke-up at the cabin.

"No," Tyler said at last. "I think that might actually freak me out at this point." He pressed his lips together. "I'm just really tired today, I guess. Can we keep trying?"

"Yeah." Duncey considered him. "I'm betting you don't want me to tie you down?"

That actually got more thought than the joint had. "No," Tyler finally decided. "But—" he glanced over at Jamie for the first time in a while. "Come distract me?"

Jamie had been itching to do something for twenty minutes, but he wasn't sure he would be allowed. Yesterday he would have just tried anyway. Today, not so much. He came quickly over, rolling up the extra stool Duncey indicated.

"How about we try it where you can't see it coming?" he said, then to Duncey, "Can he roll over?"

They got Tyler onto his stomach, his head turned away from Duncey. Jamie retrieved Tyler's phone and held it so he could see, slowly scrolling through his twitter feed. He spread his other hand between Tyler's shoulder blades, wincing to feel the slick of stress sweat at the back of his neck.

It did seem to help, at least a little. Tyler's breathing was still too fast, and Jamie could feel small jumps in his muscles, but he wasn't twitching so hard that Duncey couldn't work. Jamie had a perfect view. It was mesmerizing, watching the flicker of the needles, the tiny beads of blood that Duncey dabbed away.

Jamie fell into rhythm with the work. He leaned into the hand on Tyler's back, anticipating his next flinch as Duncey started in on the sensitive skin near the inside of his elbow. Tyler exhaled a huge breath under Jamie's weight. The tension in his mouth began to bleed away, bit by bit.

"Good," Duncey said quietly. He gestured to Jamie, pointing to indicate what he wanted. Jamie nodded, and set the phone down. Tyler wasn't looking anymore anyway.

"Close your eyes," Jamie said, brushing a hand down over Tyler's face and waiting until he complied. Then he accepted a glove from Duncey, put it on one-handed, and leaned way over to press down just above Tyler's elbow.

"Okay?" he asked.

Tyler nodded. His breath heaved under Jamie's hands, then steadied, calmed.

Jamie nodded to Duncey, who bent back to work. And bit by bit, Tyler relaxed in Jamie's grip, his shoulders uncurling, his neck unknotting. He stopped twitching under the gun, and his breathing slowed and deepened, even as Duncey went back and forth over his radius, right where it probably hurt like hell. Jamie watched the ink go down, moving his hold as Duncey indicated, occasionally checking Tyler's face. Tyler's color was coming back; he was obviously still awake, but Jamie had only ever seen that peaceful expression when he slept.

It was a surprise when Duncey called a break. Jamie straightened slowly, his back aching. Tyler blinked up at him, visibly confused.

"Get some water, stretch your legs," Duncey said, flicking the top of Tyler's head.

"Sure," Tyler said absently, eyes still on Jamie.

He perked up with a glass of water in him, and part of another dumped over his face. Jamie was expecting to have to start all over again once the break was done, but the atmosphere was entirely different. Duncey left the door open to the back room where they were working, and turned the music way up. Tyler practically bounced back into the chair, grinning widely, and settled down into the pain with only a few gasps.

Jamie hovered over him for a while, but his presence seemed unnecessary now. Tyler and Duncey were chatting, catching up on mutual acquaintances, but Tyler was distracted, his mind obviously elsewhere.

Jamie went out with one of Duncey's employees to fetch everyone sandwiches for lunch. He lingered in the front for a while after that, watching college students make a series of dubious tattoo choices.

He checked in on Tyler, and instagrammed a few photos of the work-in-progress, per request. It looked pretty gross, but Jamie figured it was no worse than hockey injury pics.

Brownie showed up in the middle of the afternoon. Tyler wasn't surprised to see him; clearly this was part of the plan that Jamie hadn't been told about. Normally, that sort of thing got under his skin. He liked knowing who would be where when, what was coming up. But this didn't seem the time to make a thing out of it. And they'd both been thinking about other things all morning, anyway.

He met Brownie in the doorway to the back room where Duncey was working on Tyler's other arm, now.

"Hey," Jamie said. It only occurred to him, far too late, to wonder when exactly Brownie had gotten back to the hotel, and what he thought of finding Tyler crashed out in his bed.

Brownie gave him a cool, level look, which pretty much answered that. Well . . . shit. Jamie had previously entertained only vague concerns about how it would be for the three of them to be living out of each other's pockets in the Toronto apartment. Those concerns abruptly seemed a lot less vague.

"He's doing good," Jamie said quickly, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. "Kind of rough at first, but much better now." He shut his mouth, startled to find himself nearly babbling. He couldn't remember the last time he'd actually been intimidated by a guy smaller than him. And Brownie wasn't even doing anything, for fuck's sake.

There was another deliberate, awkward beat of staring. Then Brownie said, "Good to know," and brushed by him to go talk to Tyler.

There was a tiny break room down a narrow hall at the very back of the store. Jamie had been told that he was welcome to the single chair there, or the fridge full of energy drinks. He found the room empty in the mid afternoon, and quietly closed the door behind him.

There wasn't room to pace, so Jamie perched on the edge of the tiny counter space, kicking at the linoleum as he tossed his phone from hand to hand.

Jordie picked up on the third ring once Jamie finally got his head together enough to call.

"Yo," Jordie said. There was a clatter in the background, which Jamie immediately identified as the sound of Jordie loading the dishwasher. "How's Boston?"

"Good," Jamie said. "You?"

"Whoa," Jordie said, and the clattering abruptly stopped. "What's wrong?"

Jamie tipped his head back against the cabinets behind him. Damn Jordie, for knowing him so well. . . . Bless Jordie, for knowing him so well.

"So that thing that's been bugging me," Jamie said. "You can't tell anyone about this. I mean, no one. Not even Jessica."

"Okay," Jordie said. Then, after a brief pause, "Pinky swear."

Jamie smiled to himself. They'd never stopped saying that as they'd gotten older, they'd just started saying it more and more sarcastically. Jordie hadn't sounded sarcastic right there, though.

"Okay," Jamie breathed out. "Um. A couple years ago, before he got traded, some bad shit happened to Tyler."

"Yeah?" He could hear Jordie walking, and the background murmur of the TV shut off. "Everyone knows that."

"No, I mean." Jamie had gotten a lot of practice since becoming captain at keeping his voice steady, even when it was really hard. "Someone drugged his drink at a party. He doesn't remember much of what happened, but, um. He remembers enough to know what they did to him." There was a brief, uncomprehending silence. "Someone raped him," Jamie said. He didn't stutter.

". . . Oh," Jordie said quietly. Then on a long exhale, "Jesus."

"Yeah." Jamie squinted at the opposite wall, hard enough to make his eyes swim. "He told me about it and I, you know. I kind of freaked out."

"Yeah." Jordie sounded like he might be freaking out a little bit, too, which was not helpful. Jamie abruptly realized what he was expecting out of this conversation. And what, it became increasingly clear as the silence stretched out, he was not going to get. But there was a part of him that was always going to expect Jordie to know what to do, to have been there before and figured out all the answers.

"I don't know what to do," Jamie confessed anyway.

"What do you mean? Did they catch the guy?"

"No. I don't think a police report was ever filed." Jamie had spent a long, sleepless night back in January reading about date rape drugs and investigations and arrest rates and conviction rates. And even if he thought there was a chance in hell of getting anywhere after all this time, he knew Tyler wouldn't go for it. Jamie was pretty sure the thought of pursuing it had never even occurred to him. And even if it had, well. Tyler's tolerance for invasive press attention was generally amazing, but there had to be limits. Definitely were limits, he amended, thinking of that photo.

"Okay," Jordie said slowly. "So . . . what are you trying to do?"

"I don't even know." Jamie closed his eyes. "We sort of – things are kind of weird right now. He wants me to stop thinking about it so much." Jamie had been tempted to ask over breakfast, in the rush of relief when he'd known they were going to get through this, if Tyler had really meant what he'd said last night. If he really wished he'd never told, or if he'd just known, with that vicious accuracy of his, exactly what bomb to throw.

"Yeah, right," Jordie snorted. "You still think about, like, shit that bugged you in grade seven."

"I know." Jamie scuffed both feet along the floor. "He doesn't, though."

"Is he—" Jordie hesitated. "Right, dumb question, probably. But is he . . . okay?"

Jamie had never known anyone who was hurt like that before. So he didn't know where he'd gotten the idea that he was supposed to be able to tell just by looking at someone. That didn't make any sense, but it was what he thought anyway. But Jamie knew Tyler better than almost anyone, and he'd been thinking about it for months, and yet he still didn't know for sure. He could convince himself yes, this or that particular facet of Tyler was a reflection of damage. Then he could convince himself just as easily that no, it wasn't, it was just Tyler, being weird and complicated like he was.

Jamie was coming to think it was a useless question. What was the point of hunting for damage? It wasn't like a potato, where you could just cut out the bad bits. And even if you could – was there really such a thing as damage? Jamie hadn't known Tyler before it happened, hadn't loved him. Wasn't it just all part of the package now? Maybe trying to separate it out was as pointless as wishing for a time machine to go back and make it never happen.

Which Jamie did wish for, actually.

And anyway, before Christmas, Jamie would have confidently said that he didn't know anyone at all who'd been hurt like that, and he would have been amazingly wrong. So what the fuck did he know about anything?

"He's okay," Jamie said. "I think." He chewed his lip. "Don't, uh. He doesn't want to talk about it with you." Or anyone aside from Brownie, and Jamie wouldn't swear to Brownie, either. "So don't, like, bring it up, okay?"

"Dude." Jordie puffed out a humorless laugh. "I won't. What the fuck would I say, anyway?"

"Yeah. Tell me about it."

There was a pause. "That's heavy," Jordie said quietly.

"Yeah," Jamie said again. "Yeah, it is." He scrubbed his free hand over his face. Things that just fucking sucked: 1. Magical big brother wisdom: 0. "Anyway. I should get back. Thanks for – yeah."

"Sure," Jordie said. "Do me a favor?"

"What?"

"Give him a noogie," Jordie said. "And don't tell him it's from me."

Jamie snorted. "Do it yourself," he said. "We'll be home in just a couple days."

"Okay," Jordie said, sounding far too sober. "I'll do that."

*

The drive back to the hotel that evening was quiet. Brownie didn't say much at the best of times, and Tyler was visibly wilting from the long day.

"Don't know why it's so exhausting to just lie there," he muttered, slumping against the passenger door.

"You hungry?" Jamie leaned forward from the back seat. Other people's driving made him twitch; he could only deal with riding shotgun to Jordie after years of exposure. He'd kind of wanted to protest when Brownie headed for the driver's door, but then again discretion was probably the better part of not starting shit here.

"Yeah," Tyler said. "But I'm not really up to going anywhere."

"Also, you look like you got taken to the boards," Brownie said. It was true – Duncey had carefully covered the work in progress, but Tyler was moving gingerly, like everything hurt.

"We can order in," Jamie said. And an early night sounded really good to him, too.

They ended up with takeout instead, with Tyler's muzzy input from where he was sprawled across the foot of the bed. Jamie glanced up from studying the menu, only to find Tyler had dropped off to sleep between one sentence and the next.

"Well," Jamie said quietly to Brownie. "Clearly he needs it."

Brownie tipped the iPad to see the menu. "Yeah. He'll want the –"

"The pad see ew with beef, I know." Jamie stopped, exhaled. Tyler wasn't the only tired one here. "I can call it in and get it. Unless you want to go?"

Brownie considered him thoughtfully. "We should probably both go," he said.

Oh. Great.

They left Tyler where he was, snoring faintly the way he did when he was truly exhausted. The Thai restaurant was just a few blocks away; Brownie was unpromisingly silent all the way there.

"Look," Jamie said, when they were seated at the bar to wait. Better to get this over with, whatever it was going to be. "Tyler and I worked our shit out this morning." So stop measuring me for a shallow grave, he didn't add.

"Good," Brownie said. "I'm glad."

". . . You are?" Okay, maybe he could have sounded a little less incredulous there.

Brownie rolled his eyes. "Oh please. Obviously you're good for him." He paused. "Most of the time."

Jamie resisted the urge to say I am? like a moron. Instead, he went with, "I like to think so. . . . Most of the time."

"Great," Brownie said. "So you and I are fine. Most of the time."

"Right." Jamie leaned his elbows on the bar. Not like he could resent Tyler having someone in his corner that way. He just wanted to be that guy, too. Thought he was being that guy. Until last night. "Can I ask you something?"

Brownie sighed. "Go for it."

"He talks to you," Jamie said, staring at the napkin dispenser. He could feel his ears turning red. Ugh, how grade seven was this? "Does he talk about us? Him and me?"

"Oh." Brownie sounded surprised. "That's all? Yeah, dude. Try getting him to shut up about you."

"No, I mean." Jamie shifted his shoulders. "Does he talk about the future, ever?"

Brownie did a slow blink. "Okay, look," he said. "You've gotta understand, Segs doesn't . . . do that. He's, like, the most present guy ever."

"I know that," Jamie said quickly. "Believe me, I know. That's why I – I just wondered."

Brownie turned sideways on his stool to stare directly at Jamie. "What's this about?"

Jamie chewed his lip. What did he have to lose here, after all? Aside from pride, and that was already taking a beating today, so what the hell.

"I'm about ready to go ring-shopping here," he said. The words came out easily, considering he'd never said them before, not even to Jordie. "It's just really hard to tell where he is. On something like that."

Brownie whistled lowly. "Damn," he said.

"Yeah." Jamie tipped his head back and stretched his neck. "I'm not asking for, like, insider info or anything. I was just wondering."

Brownie was quiet for a long time. Eventually he said, "I have to remind him about, you know, the existence of summer. Every year. No joke, I have it on my calendar for March -- talk to Segs about summer plans. And he's surprised every time."

Jamie caught himself smiling fondly in the mirror behind the bar. That sounded about right, yeah.

"Point is," Brownie added. "You ain't getting anywhere if you're waiting for him."

True. If entirely unhelpful on the more fundamental question: what would Tyler actually want, if prompted to think about it?

"Yeah," Jamie said, and reached for his wallet as their food arrived. "I got this."

The walk back was quiet, too, but far more comfortably so. "Hey," Jamie said as they were coming into the lobby. "What did you think I was going to ask you, back there? You seemed surprised."

"Oh," Brownie said casually, punching the elevator button. "I thought you were going to do the whole 'tell me the truth, you guys have totally hooked up,' thing. Everyone does it eventually."

Jamie snorted. "Naw," he said, following Brownie into the elevator. "I don't need to. I know you did." Just once, and hilariously badly, according to Tyler. Turns out straight guys don't like dick that much, he'd concluded the story, laughing.

Brownie's head snapped around. "He told you that?"

"Uh. Was he not supposed to?"

"No, that's fine," Brownie said slowly. "We just . . . don't, usually. It's easier that way. Huh." He gave Jamie a long, thoughtful look, and it was entirely by accident, but Jamie thought he'd regained some respect.

*

The three of them spent a quiet night in, eating takeout and watching mindless action movies. Tyler visibly struggled to stay awake, drooping over his dinner or onto Brownie's shoulder.

Brownie went to bed early, leaving the two of them to move around each other in a careful silence. They were okay, Jamie was pretty sure, but it still felt . . . delicate.

He waited for Tyler to fall asleep beside him, with a comfortable foot of space between them like there always was at the beginning of the night. But this time Jamie was the one to roll closer, to lean into Tyler's side and put an arm around him. He wasn't going to go to sleep like that, but he stayed there for a long time.

Brownie was scheduled to fly out the next morning. Jamie had seen it before; he knew that, no matter how little time they spent together, the two of them always had to make an effort to come unglued from each other again. So he wasn't surprised to wake up to an empty bed, and to hear a low murmur of voices coming through the cracked open door.

They were still talking when Jamie got out of the shower. He debated tapping on the door, decided it would just be weird, and stuck his head around it instead.

"You guys eat?" he asked.

"No time." Brownie stood from his spot at the foot of the bed. Tyler was sprawled lengthwise, his hands linked behind his neck. "I've gotta go." Brownie leaned over Tyler, and the two of them bro-hugged from a weird angle. "Text me tonight," Brownie said.

Tyler nodded. "See you in a month."

Brownie hoisted his bag over his shoulder and turned to Jamie. They eyed each other, then mutually settled on a handshake. "See you in a month, too," Brownie said. It was faultlessly civil, which boded well for domestic harmony when they were all sharing the same space for weeks on end.

Tyler and Brownie texted each other almost continuously until Brownie's flight took off, and by then it was time to head back to Duncey's. Jamie had expected the beginning of the session to be like yesterday, but he couldn't have been more wrong. Tyler twitched through all the preliminaries, but it was with impatience, not worry. He relaxed at the very first touch of needles, his head tipping back.

Jamie watched, surprised. It eventually dawned on him that Tyler might have left the shop with them last night, might have been walking and talking and eating, but in Tyler's head, he'd never really gotten out of the chair.

Jamie stuck close for most of the session. Partly he was fascinated by Tyler's calm. And partly he just liked watching the work.

He'd thought, at first, that Tyler was impulsive about his tattoos. After watching the design process for this work, though, he had revised that opinion. Tyler was instinctive about his tattoos. He came to snap decisions about what he liked and what he didn't at a single glance, and he seemed to pluck ideas out of thin air and then abandon them just as easily. But for all that, he had a streak of painful perfectionism that had driven him – and Duncey – to near insanity over a handful of seemingly innocuous details.

The sleeve came together steadily throughout the day. It didn't look its best, and wouldn't for several weeks, but Jamie was convinced it would be awesome. More than once, when he looked out of the corner of his eye, Jamie had the brief illusion that the flicker-flicker of the needles was sewing Tyler into a new skin entirely.

Tyler was subtle about it, but he didn't seem to want to look at the work in progress. He hadn't even peeked last night, Jamie realized. For some reason it struck him as sweet, like hiding the wedding dress before the wedding.

Tyler did look, at the very end. Jamie waited while he bent his head and turned both arms, inspecting from every angle. Duncey watched too, distractedly cleaning up but clearly waiting for the verdict.

When Tyler lifted his head again, he was smiling, big and amazed.

"What you wanted?" Duncey asked, visibly relaxing.

Tyler nodded. "Perfect," he said. "I'd hug you, but it'd be kind of gross."

"Rain check," Duncey said. "You remember all the aftercare stuff, yeah?" He went through it with them both anyway, checking to be sure Jamie was listening because Tyler so obviously wasn't. He was too busy beaming over his new ink.

"Let's go out," Tyler said unexpectedly on the sidewalk.

"Out like dancing?" For once, Jamie was totally down with that idea. It actually sounded really nice, hitting rewind back to a couple days ago, before things went wrong. But dealing with a club crush with fresh tattoos sounded like hell.

"No," Tyler said, though he was clearly tempted. "Like dinner." He twitched one hand towards his arm, then yanked it back. "Though I need to shower first. Ugh."

Jamie stretched out on the bed back at the hotel, catching up on email while Tyler got his shower. A lot of people were really excited that Jamie was going to be in Toronto for part of the summer instead of "hiding out" in B.C. Jamie had a pile of requests and invitations to go through. He and Tyler should compare notes on that stuff sometime soon.

The shower switched off, and Tyler clattered around in the bathroom for a while. He seemed to be taking longer than usual; normally, he was one of those people who could hop in the shower for three minutes, wave his hands vaguely around his hair, and be out the door looking perfect.

He stuck his head out eventually, holding up a bottle of lotion. "Hey, can you help me with this?"

Jamie was off the bed so fast, he might have sprained something. "Yeah, of course," he said, trying to slow down and not sound overeager. They'd been just that little bit standoffish with each other since yesterday. Nothing huge, but it was a sharp lesson in how often they had their hands all over each other normally. Jamie had felt startlingly connected to him, holding him down for the first part of the ink yesterday. But once that was over, it only made the distance feel emptier.

Tyler was naked and damp, with a crumpled towel dropped at his feet.

"Everywhere?" Jamie asked, quickly scrubbing his hands and accepting the lotion.

"Yeah. And use lots." Tyler extended one arm.

Jamie started by rubbing the lotion between his palms and then into Tyler's skin. But that didn't feel right, so he switched to smoothing the cream in with his fingertips. He covered Tyler from shoulders to wrists, old ink and new alike. Some of the new tattoos were putting off heat, palpably irritated.

Jamie went carefully over the most sensitive areas, the thin skin inside the upper arm, the line of bones close beneath the surface in the forearm. He glanced up, checking Tyler's face. Almost said, Am I hurting you? but stopped himself, because the answer was obviously yes, he was.

"Doing okay?" he asked instead.

Tyler nodded. Their eyes met briefly in the mirror, held, slid away.

They'd screwed once, after a game, with Tyler stripped to his skin and Jamie still in his full suit. Tyler had orchestrated the whole thing, and Jamie hadn't been about to argue with the stream of filthy suggestions -- Come on, just unzip and get it in me. He was reminded of that every time he was dressed and Tyler wasn't. Which happened quite frequently, given that Tyler was the kind of guy who was, random example, disinclined to keep his damn clothes on while running around outside in a Colorado snow storm.

"There you go," Jamie said, clearing his throat. He let go of Tyler's wrist and turned to wash his hands again.

"Thanks." He could hear the rustle of dressing. "Food?"

They went with Indian, after a frustrating negotiation in which both of them attempted to defer to the other's wishes. Tyler got exasperated with that quickly and made a snap decision. Jamie was happy to follow his lead, and even more so when the cab dropped them off and he realized Tyler had chosen somewhere nice. Really nice, with artfully isolated tables and candles everywhere. This was a date night place.

The waiter brought them the wine list first. Neither of them knew shit about wine, so they played their usual game of looking for something that sounded like it could also be French for a sex act. Jamie boggled a bit at the price next to Tyler's ultimate selection, but didn't protest.

He and Tyler had generally compatible ideas about money. Jamie was more likely to gravitate to the sale rack whereas Tyler never did, but neither of them had the desire to spend every dollar that piled up. Except once in a while, Tyler would get in a mood, and he'd gleefully splash cash around on ridiculous things, stuff he wanted or extravagant gifts for friends, until he got over it again. Apparently, it was going to be one of those nights, starting with a $1900 bottle of wine.

The food was fantastic. Jamie had built up a substantial tolerance for tex-mex spices by now, but that apparently didn't apply to different spice palates, because the vindaloo nearly took his head off. Luckily, he liked that sort of thing. Tyler tasted it, despite Jamie's warning, and spent a solid minute with his head indecorously down on the white tablecloth, gasping and whimpering. Jamie poured him more wine and tried not to laugh at him.

Laughing would have been okay, though, he was pretty sure. Tyler was, well, turning it up to eleven, basically. He was a charming motherfucker when he wasn't trying; when he was making an effort, it was overwhelming.

Tyler was bright-eyed and attentive, his hand always somehow right there to tangle with Jamie's when he reached into the basket of naan. Tyler ordered an extra two appetizers just because Jamie was mildly curious about them, and licked plum sauce off his fingertips with such blatant innuendo that he cracked himself up.

Jamie felt a little whiplashed, but, well. This was how anger worked for Tyler, he'd seen it before: it blew in hard and overwhelming, and then cleared just as fast. Jamie didn't understand how he could get over something like that. But that was part of the problem, wasn't it – this was how Tyler worked, and Jamie didn't get it. And it seemed crazy to complain that Tyler forgave too quickly, trusted too easily, when Jamie was the one he was trusting.

They didn't quite finish the bottle of wine, which horrified Jamie. Tyler just didn't seem that interested in drinking. Honestly, he was reading as tipsy before his first sip; the tattooing went to his head more than the alcohol ever could. And then they ended up confessing to each other that neither of them actually liked the wine very much, no matter the price tag.

"Whatever," Tyler said, pushing the bottle away and sniping the check with his other hand. "Just leave it, then." He flashed Jamie a look under his lashes. "Let's get out of here."

Tyler was restless in the cab, one knee bouncing relentlessly. Jamie didn't figure out what was going on until he saw Tyler's hands twisting around each other in his lap.

"Hey," Jamie said, catching both of Tyler's hands under one of his. "Don't scratch."

"I'm not," Tyler said. He seemed completely unaware of the fact that he'd started scratching at Jamie's wrist. "It's usually not this itchy so fast," he added, flexing his biceps like that might help.

"We can put more lotion on," Jamie said, reaching for his wallet as the cab pulled up at the hotel.

Tyler flung his shirt off when they got upstairs. He did that all the time, but he didn't usually make it look like clothes were tormenting him. But because he had hilarious priorities sometimes, he took the bottle of lotion out of Jamie's hands and dropped his phone in its place.

"Need a pic for twitter," he said.

It took them a few minutes to get it right. Tyler ended up standing next to the bed, his arms extended into the light of a lamp and the rest of his body in shadow. Jamie took different shots, a couple over Tyler's shoulder, a couple from above. Tyler scrolled through them when Jamie was done, mouth pursed consideringly. His face was only visible in one shot, a weird angle where the light had caught him just right and his eyes and the edge of his smile showed. Jamie was oddly relieved when Tyler scrolled past that one and picked a simple overhead view of his arms. It was stupid, but Jamie didn't want anyone else seeing the soft, adoring way Tyler looked at his ink.

Jamie washed his hands and collected the lotion while Tyler was still tweeting. He nudged Tyler down onto the edge of the bed and stood in front of him, gently working up one arm and then the other. He was concentrating so hard that it startled him to look up and find Tyler looking back, phone discarded on the bedspread. He turned obligingly under Jamie's hands, letting him easily get to every inch. And he didn't say a word when Jamie's hands wandered up his shoulders onto unmarked skin.

Jamie dug into Tyler's shoulders, rubbing the excess lotion in. Tyler was relaxed, muscles loose the way it was really hard to sustain during the season.

Jamie kept working upward until his hands met at the nape of Tyler's neck. Tyler tilted his head back into them, staring up.

Jamie swallowed. He leaned down, taking his time. This was just as nerve-racking as the very first pass he'd made, over a year ago now. It didn't seem to matter that he'd been pretty sure then, as he was pretty sure now, that he wasn't going to get shot down.

They kissed softly. That was like their first, too, the sense of feeling their way into it. Jamie eased back, breathed, kissed him again. Tyler's tongue flirted against his lower lip, then retreated.

Jamie leaned down into him, planting a knee between Tyler's legs. Tyler went with it, tipping back into a controlled fall and pulling Jamie down over him.

They made out like that for a long time, draped uncomfortably half off the bed, kissing and touching without hurry. Jamie's focus narrowed to the smell of Tyler's skin, the catch in his breath whenever Jamie did something he liked, the taste of sweat gathered in the hollow of his throat.

He came abruptly back to awareness when Tyler hissed, jolting violently under him then freezing.

"What--?" Jamie said, pushing up onto his hands. "Oh. Geez, sorry." Tyler was cupping a protective hand over the extensive block of new ink on his forearm where Jamie had accidentally pressed down.

"No, it's." Tyler caught his breath and began to relax. "It's fine. Just didn't see it coming."

Jamie considered the color in his cheeks, and thought back to a conversation from the winter, the wistful way Tyler had talked about the sex they wouldn't be having in Austin. That night had loomed large in his mind ever since, but generally for other reasons. He measured his own bravery. He'd done a lot of filthy shit at Tyler's instigation, and enjoyed the hell out of pretty much all of it. So why was it so hard to be the one to make the offer? "If you—" he said, then reconsidered and went back to the beginning. "I can do that some more," he tried. "If you want me to?"

Tyler's eyes widened. "Yeah," he said. "If you're cool?"

"Let's see." Jamie considered his options. He spread Tyler's arm out, baring the vulnerable underside, and let his hand hover, choosing his spot. Tyler watched, his breath already coming faster.

Jamie pressed down with the palm of his hand, carefully at first, then harder in slow increments. He watched Tyler's eyes; Tyler started to turn his head, and Jamie tapped his cheek sharply to keep his attention.

"Yeah," Tyler said breathlessly. "Keep going, yeah."

Jamie did, fascinated by the tiny back-of-the-throat sounds Tyler made every time Jamie pressed a little bit harder. He shifted, curious, and wedged his knee farther up between Tyler's thighs. And yeah, Tyler was hard in his jeans. He moved into it, pressing his dick into Jamie's thigh and his arm into Jamie's hold in the same motion. Then he slumped back to the bed, panting.

Jamie let go slowly. "Yeah," he said unevenly. Tyler was looking at him with stars in his eyes, wow. "Yeah. I can do that." Hurting Tyler accidentally still made Jamie a little sick to think about. But counterintuitively, doing it on purpose was entirely different. If it was on purpose, Jamie could control how and how much. And he could watch Tyler get off on it, which was crazily hot.

Also, he wasn't actually sure this was hurting. Or not just hurting.

"So do it," Tyler said, chin tipped up.

Jamie almost did, his hand starting to close again. Then he paused. Tyler glared exactly like he did when Jamie was playing with his dick but not giving him what he wanted.

"No, I've got you," Jamie said quickly. "Promise. Let's just get more comfortable first, yeah?" Because if they didn't now, they weren't going to, he was pretty sure.

Jamie stood up to get undressed. Tyler didn't bother; he just kicked his shoes off, shucked his pants with a wiggle, and rolled into the center of the bed. Jamie was still in the process of unbuttoning his shirt, distracted by the show.

"C'mon," Tyler said, and posed like a pinup.

Jamie snorted, but it did get him moving. He crawled onto the bed once he was naked and hovered over Tyler for a minute. He was having an idea. A pretty weird one. A pretty hot one.

"What?" Tyler said.

"Nothing." Jamie touched his shoulder, ran a hand slowly down his arm. "Ready?" Tyler nodded quickly. The two of them inhaled at the same moment, and Jamie pressed down.

It wasn't as easy as it looked. Jamie could press the heel of his hand or his fingertips down and Tyler would flush and take shivery breaths, but Jamie thought he could do better here. He spent a long time experimenting. Tyler shied under light brushes like it tickled, but quickly got impatient with that. He started to struggle as the pressure increased, with himself, not Jamie. He would bite his lip, flex his arms, toss his head around. At least up to some ever-shifting threshold Jamie couldn't quite pin down, where he would suddenly go limp into it, mouth open and face sliding towards something that looked like serenity. It was fascinating, and Jamie chased that for a long time.

They were both breathing hard. Jamie was tempted to ask if Tyler liked it, which would doubtless trigger some extraordinary porn monologuing. It usually did. But then again, the quiet between them felt . . . special. Important.

And he didn't really need to ask, anyway. Neither one of them had so much as breathed in the direction of Tyler's dick, but he looked painfully hard, leaking steadily onto his stomach.

Jamie branched out. He rubbed over Tyler's nipple, exactly the way he liked best, at the same moment he pushed his fingers hard into the inside of Tyler's elbow. Tyler moaned in loud surprise, his head tossed back. Jamie wondered what that felt like, the mix of pleasure and pain. He felt vaguely obligated to try it himself, just to know exactly what he was doing to Tyler. But he didn't really want to, was the thing. And even if he did, it wouldn't be the same, would it? He was pretty sure he wouldn't be able to get out of it anything like what Tyler was.

"What're you thinking about?" Tyler asked, his voice rough. It was a reversal for them; Jamie was usually the one nudging Tyler to talk. Not that it took much. Jamie was never compelled to say stuff in bed, and normally Tyler was fine with that.

"Just thinking about how good you look," Jamie said honestly. He licked his lips. He'd been rolling this idea around for the last ten minutes, and it was only seeming better and better. Impossible to guess what Tyler would think, but only one way to find out. "I want to try something," he said.

Tyler made an open-handed gesture like he was presenting his body to Jamie on a platter. "Working out great so far."

"Yeah." Jamie swallowed. "But what I want is to take your picture."

Tyler blinked. Jamie didn't think he'd ever caught him quite so by surprise. "Really?"

“Yeah. On my phone.”

Tyler’s lips parted; Jamie could see the interest on his face, feel the yes coming. Then Tyler hesitated. “So, like, don’t take this the wrong way,” Tyler began. “. . . What?”

“Nothing,” Jamie said hastily, tamping down his smile. There probably wasn’t a way to explain that he was so fucking proud of Tyler for thinking about it and looking out for himself. At least no way without being a dick about it. “My phone is fingerprint locked, you know that,” he said. “And I would get them off of it and put them somewhere safe as soon as we get home. No copies. I promise.” He was already thinking of the best way to do it. Cloud storage was right out. Maybe a new external hard drive, password locked and never used for anything else.

Tyler was still hesitating. “But, um. They’re just for you, right?”

Jamie swallowed down a laugh. Exactly who did Tyler think he would be circulating pictures like that to? Not everyone had what Tyler euphemistically called porn friends. “Just for me,” he said. “No one else will ever see them.”

That was apparently all Tyler needed, because he immediately nodded. “Yeah, okay,” he said. “How do you want me?”

“Just . . . do what you’re doing,” Jamie said, stretching to retrieve his phone from his pants pocket. “I’m not sure . . . yeah, like that.” Tyler flirted with cameras more instinctively than he flirted with people, if that were possible. Jamie only had to lift the phone and Tyler was sliding into a warmer, more open smile, his hands moving down his chest to draw attention there.

Jamie snapped a few quick shots, not sure yet what he was going for. “Yeah, do that,” he said, as Tyler brushed over his nipples. “Do it the way you like it.”

“Oh,” Tyler said, smile going sly. “So it’s like that.”

“Shut up,” Jamie muttered. “You knew it was like that.”

Tyler didn’t answer verbally. Instead he pinched at his nipples, pressing them until they flushed up between his fingers.

“S’better when you do it,” he said. “I punk out, let go too soon.”

“I’ll do it for you,” Jamie promised. “Just a sec.” He backed up a bit, got a couple shots of Tyler’s dick and the long stretch of his torso. Tyler lifted one knee, and reached down to play with himself. “Fuck,” Jamie muttered, trying to get a good picture of Tyler’s fingers sliding down behind his balls and rubbing. It was hard to do. A lot of these weren’t going to come out that well, actually. Except that the camera loved Tyler; he would probably be sexy and glowing in at least a few, just based on pure personal magic.

Tyler flowed from pose to pose, only getting looser the more pictures Jamie took. A lot of it was corny, obvious stuff, but he made it work. Jamie was particularly enamored of a whole sequence of Tyler's fingers in his mouth.

“Jamie,” Tyler complained eventually.

“Yeah.” Jamie switched the phone to his other hand. He leaned over Tyler and flicked his nipple – the one that had been pierced – and then pinched it. He came on slowly, like he had been all night, working Tyler up until he was panting. Jamie got a picture of his swollen nipple, then his face, then just his eyes.

“Do it again,” Tyler said.

Jamie did. This time he got a picture with his hand in frame. It was sort of fascinating, seeing how large his hand was against Tyler’s not insubstantial chest. The camera was weird that way. Looking through it, Jamie had the impression that he was really seeing what was there, things he hadn’t seen before suddenly obvious.

“Again,” Tyler demanded.

“No,” Jamie said, just to mess with him. Then, as Tyler opened his mouth to complain, he darted a hand out and pressed lightly just above Tyler’s wrist. “This instead,” Jamie said.

Tyler nodded, lips parted. He uncurled the arm, baring the underside. Jamie took a picture of that, the vulnerability. Then he pressed down, hard right away, and zoomed in on Tyler’s face and caught him, snap snap snap, right through the whole thing. And there, that was what he’d wanted. Jamie dropped the phone, not even bothering to scroll back through and look. He knew he’d gotten the good stuff: the hectic flush, the struggle, the surrender.

“Want more?” he asked.

“Yeah.” Tyler licked his mouth. “Don’t fuck around, okay? Really do it.”

Jamie paused. “Do you think I’ve been fucking around?” Because he really, really hadn’t been.

Tyler shook his head. “No, just. I meant don’t go easy on me.”

“I won’t,” Jamie promised. He swung a leg across Tyler, but kept his own weight on his knees. “Do you want to get off this way?” He paused. “Can you?”

Tyler laughed incredulously. “Uh, yeah,” he said. “I totally can.”

Jesus. There was something amazing about the idea of watching Tyler get off in a way Jamie knew he couldn’t himself manage.

“Okay.” Jamie set one hand on either arm, over the intricate new work and the heaviest re-touching. And he didn’t go easy.

Tyler clenched his mouth for a few seconds, then gasped and whined through his teeth.

“You can make noise,” Jamie said, suddenly realizing that Tyler might be holding back for fear of freaking him out. He didn’t think he would be freaked out. He just wanted to hear it, whatever it would be.

He let go, gave them both a chance to breathe. Tyler sounded like he was coming off a hard shift, until Jamie started in on him again.

Tyler made noise, like he'd been hoping. Jamie thought distantly of their neighbors, but for once in his life, just couldn't care. This was – not at all what he had expected. Jamie had been living with the feeling of being in over his head for so long now, he hardly noticed it any more. At least until it was suddenly gone, and instead he felt calm, competent, steady.

"Need more hands," he said absently, letting go of one of Tyler's arms to rub a hand down his chest.

Tyler smacked at him. "Stoppit, keep going," he said nonsensically. "I got it."

Jamie went back to what he'd been doing, one hand pinning each of Tyler's arms. Tyler wiggled in his grip, making himself more room, and went right for his own dick. He didn't mess around or work up to it, but got both hands on himself right away. He jacked off fast, tugging at his balls with the other hand. Then he paused long enough to stick his fingers in his mouth again, licking wetly at them. It was inartful this time, not deliberately pretty, and all the hotter for it.

Jamie had a running debate with himself over which he liked seeing more: his fingers going into Tyler, or Tyler doing it to himself. Someday, he was going to have to ask if they could run some sort of experiment. All he knew for the moment, though, was that his grip on Tyler's ink loosened more and more as Tyler pressed himself open on two fingers.

"Hey," Tyler said, kicking at his back.

"Sorry." Jamie refocused. His breath was rushing in his chest. He really wanted to put his dick where Tyler's fingers were, but then again, that would be even more distracting. "Here," he said, and gently ran his nails over Tyler's fresh ink.

They got him off together. Tyler rode his fingers, jerking off with the other hand, and Jamie hurt him in slow, controlled bursts. Tyler wasn't fighting anything anymore; his face was intent and seeking, the sort of expression Jamie would expect to see on the ice. Jamie wished he could get a picture of that, too. He wanted pictures of everything. Not just to look at, though he'd do that, too. But just to have and know he had them, somewhere safe that no one could ever reach but him.

Tyler came, perfectly timed to the press of Jamie's fingers. Jamie worked him through it, hardly able to blink. One of them should be paying attention, anyway, and Tyler was just gone.

"Jamie," he sighed afterward, sweet and admiring like he'd never been done so well. Which Jamie totally didn't believe, but it was a nice thought.

He leaned over Tyler for a while, smoothing his hair back, touching his face. It dawned on him, eventually, that his back kind of hurt. To say nothing of his balls.

"Hang on a sec," Jamie said. He kissed the tip of Tyler's nose, just a momentary weird impulse, and slid off the bed to get a washcloth.

Tyler was more with it when he got back. He tugged briefly at the washcloth, but gave it up when Jamie resisted. Jamie wanted to clean up the mess himself, and then to carefully inspect each of Tyler's arms, even though he knew he couldn't have done any damage to the tattoos, or to Tyler.

"Feel okay?" he asked anyway.

Tyler rolled his eyes. Yeah, definitely back to himself. "Obviously," he said.

"I meant nothing hurts," Jamie said repressively. "Right?"

Tyler shook his head. "No. But if it did, not sure I could even tell right now. It's fine," he added, off Jamie's expression. "I'm just, you know." He gestured with both hands around his head, fingers flying out every which way as he made a buzzing sound.

"You're . . . a beehive?" Jamie hazarded.

Tyler giggled. An actual giggle, complete with crooked smile. "No, dork. I was trying to say that you blew my mind." He hooked one arm up around Jamie's neck. "I get to return the favor now, right?"

"Yeah," Jamie said on a relieved breath. "Um . . ." He glanced around, not sure what he wanted, what to ask for.

"Here." Tyler took over seamlessly. He pulled Jamie down onto the bed and maneuvered him until his back was propped against a stack of pillows. "Gonna keep this simple, okay?" Tyler said. He pushed Jamie's legs apart and settled on his belly between them.

"Oh." Jamie cupped a hand over the crown of his head. "Yeah. Please."

Tyler stretched for a condom, and applied it with a furrow of concentration between his brows. "Wow, you're not arguing with me about this," he said lightly. "You must be desperate."

"What?" Jamie said, startled.

Tyler looked like he wished he hadn't said anything. He leaned down and licked at the head of Jamie's dick, deliberately distracting.

"No, but," Jamie said, hissing between his teeth. Yeah, he ducked blowjobs sometimes, but he'd comfortably assumed Tyler never noticed. But as demonstrated a couple times this week, Tyler noticed plenty of things about Jamie. Finding out that Tyler was paying that kind of attention was a revelation. Too bad Tyler was clearly misinterpreting things in this case. "It's because I like it," Jamie said. He felt the heat rising to the tips of his ears. "I like it a lot. Too much."

Tyler blinked. Jamie could see the concept of avoiding something because you liked it too much completely failing to compute. "The hell?" Tyler said. Then his eyes narrowed. "So like it," he said. "Like it too much, whatever the fuck that means." And he slurped Jamie down with a wet noise.

He sucked hard, cheeks hollowing, head bobbing. He came up gasping. "Is that what you like?" he asked.

"Yeah." Jamie's hand flexed in his hair. "I like all of it, but – yeah."

Tyler pushed up into his hand like a cat. "So like it," he said again.

Jamie could really, really do that. He smoothed Tyler's hair down with one hand and held the back of his neck with the other, just to feel the way he moved. Tyler wasn't wasting any time. He worked Jamie over with a steady, relentless rhythm.

Jamie squeezed his eyes shut. He reflexively tensed from the shoulders down, trying to stay still. As usual, he wasn't terribly successful at it. Tyler rode his erratic, jerky movements like he was reading Jamie's mind, though.

"Oh, God. You don't even know," Jamie said helplessly. He touched Tyler's cheek, running the pad of his finger against the grain of the stubble over and over again. His thumb curved under Tyler's jaw, and Tyler suddenly stopped moving.

Jamie blinked down, overwhelmed and confused. Tyler looked back at him, eyes calm, the very tip of Jamie's dick resting between his lips, his jaw tipped into Jamie's hand. There was a long, drawn out silence.

". . . Oh," Jamie said quietly. "You want me to – oh."

Tyler eased back half an inch. "Do over?" he said quietly. It was the first time he'd referred to their fight, even obliquely, since breakfast the other day. It was actually reassuring to know he hadn't forgotten it; Jamie wouldn't put it past him.

Did he want a do-over? Stupid question. Better question: could he do it? Tyler had forgiven him with that instantaneous magic of his. But it was scary to be trusted again when Jamie wasn't sure, now, if he could trust himself. But maybe he didn't have to. There were two of them in this, after all.

He breathed in, breathed out, and trusted what Tyler was saying, what he'd said two nights ago.

Jamie nodded. "Yes," he said. "Yes, please."

"Okay." Tyler smiled at him. "You're up, then."

Jamie inhaled from deep in his gut. He tipped Tyler's mouth open with one hand and held him by the back of his head with the other. "Tap out if you want," he said, looking at Tyler's hand on his thigh. Then he pushed into Tyler's mouth and kept going.

Tyler didn't have a gag reflex, at least not one Jamie had ever run across. He still went carefully, though, pushing until he could feel the flutter of Tyler's throat, then pulling back. Tyler's eyes had drifted shut, and he was making these amazing, happy sounds of liquid pleasure.

Jamie pulled Tyler's mouth open wider. Tyler stuck out his tongue at once, letting Jamie rub his dick the full length of it.

"Oh God," Jamie said faintly, watching that. He tapped Tyler's jaw, pressing his mouth closed again. "Can you – yeah, like that." Tyler sucked hard, exactly the way Jamie liked.

Jamie squeezed his neck, getting braver. He guided Tyler back into a rhythm, pressing him down and then drawing him up with careful tugs to his hair. Tyler liked that part, apparently.

"You're so—" Jamie said. He pushed up helplessly into Tyler's mouth. His eyes kept closing on him. He would force them open to get a look down at Tyler, at the blissed-out expression on his face, and then they would shut again.

He pulled Tyler off, giving them both a second to breathe.

"I'm so what?" Tyler asked. He was already getting hoarse, but Jamie could still recognize teasing.

Jamie shook his head. There were a lot of words that could go at the end of that sentence: amazing, beautiful, dirty. Jamie'd said most of them at one time or another. None of them adequately encompassed what he meant. How it felt to be trusted with this right now.

He touched Tyler's full lower lip and then slid his dick over it and in. Tyler swallowed him right down, and Jamie knew this was it, he wasn't going to stop again.

"Love you," he said quietly. He didn't mean to, it was just what came out as he screwed up into Tyler's mouth, increasingly frantic. "So much, love you."

Tyler sucked him through his orgasm, taking over as Jamie's hands went limp on his head. He eased back eventually, resting his cheek on Jamie's thigh and patting affectionately at the other.

"Oh God," Jamie said to himself. Partly because yeah, that had been amazing. And partly because shit, he really did say that back there. That . . . was probably not within the scope of a do-over.

But it was out there, and given the past few days, Jamie couldn't just decide that Tyler hadn't heard it. So. Okay. This was happening now.

He stroked over Tyler's hair, then rolled away to get the condom off. Tyler hadn't moved when he was done, so Jamie just slid down the bed to lie next to him.

"So," he said.

"Mmm?" Tyler was lying on his side, one arm flung over his head. He blinked sleepily at Jamie, swollen mouth curved in a smile. "Wasn't so bad, was it?"

"That was amazing," Jamie said immediately, and got to watch Tyler laughing at him. "But I, uh, wanted to get your opinion on something."

"Yeah?" Tyler stretched slowly, from toes to fingertips.

"Well, more like let you know," Jamie amended. "Sort of . . . give notice."

"Huh?"

Jamie swallowed. "I'm pretty serious about you," he said. "I think we've got something good here, so, yeah. Just wanted to put that out there. You can – I just wanted to make sure you're thinking about it."

"Okay," Tyler said easily.

Jamie blinked. "It is?"

"Sure." Tyler had one hand over his face. He slid it down to squint at Jamie, then frowned. "Wait . . ." he said slowly. "You're not talking about ditching condoms, are you?"

Jamie gaped, then turned his face into a pillow and laughed so hard he nearly choked. "Oh my God," he said, and almost blurted out I love you again.

"Because I would be totally down with that," Tyler said, blinking worriedly at him. "And it would be super hot."

"It would," Jamie said weakly. "We can do that, yeah. I'd love to."

"Awesome." Tyler smiled widely. "So that was what you were getting at?"

Oh God. Jamie adored him and his priorities, but fuck this was awkward. "No. I was – that was step one in the plan to make this . . . permanent. It's a multi-step plan," he added off Tyler's blank look. "Lots and lots of steps."

Tyler mouthed the word permanent to himself, baffled. Then the light dawned. His lips parted in visible astonishment and yeah, Jamie'd had this dead right, the thought hadn't so much as ever crossed Tyler's mind.

"Just think about it," Jamie said. "That's step one. You thinking. That's it. Okay?"

". . . Whoa," Tyler said. "Yeah. I can do that." He blinked rapidly, visibly collecting himself. "But step zero is you barebacking me, right? 'Cause I've totally thought about that."

Jamie slapped a hand over his face. "Yeah," he said, muffled.

"Cool." Tyler turned over and scooted back into him. He pulled Jamie's arm over his side, snuggling gratuitously. "Nice facefucking technique, dude," he said, tapping Jamie's bicep like he'd do after a good shot.

"Ugh," Jamie said, equally flattered and horrified.

They were quiet for a long time. Jamie didn't think he'd ever felt closer to Tyler, or anyone else. It was probably the afterglow talking, and the relief of getting through the past couple days and finding they were still them on the other side.

Jamie had broken his wrist as a kid, and promptly panicked that he'd never hit a baseball or shoot a puck again. His dad had talked him through it, and showed him the x-rays and explained how PT would work. "And sometimes, you'll heal stronger," he'd finished up. "If you do the work. If you're lucky."