It took three weeks after the playoffs for Eva to cheat on him. And the thing was, he knew she was a lousy girlfriend, he just didn’t care when he was the one she was cheating with. Once she was cheating on him it was a different story; it was easy enough to pretend their relationship was different at first, but when he walked into his apartment to find her getting up close and personal with LaFlamme he couldn’t deny it anymore.
Doug didn’t give Xavier another concussion. He wanted to, but they were still teammates, even if it was the offseason, and he knew he’d catch hell from their coach if he put LaFlamme back in the hospital right after his big comeback.
So Doug packed up his stuff and went home instead, and when Xavier tried talking and begging and then just yelling, Doug punched a hole in the wall and walked out of the apartment with his gear and not a whole lot else.
He stayed in Boston as long as he could, sulking at Pat’s place and then Ira’s when Pat got sick of him mooning about some girl he’d barely even known. And the thing was, it wasn’t really about Eva. LaFlamme was supposed to be his teammate, and he knew better than anybody how much that meant to Doug. Teammates didn’t do that kind of thing to each other, no matter how cute the girl was.
“I don’t think this is really about Eva,” Ira said after the fourth day of coming home to find Doug brooding on his couch.
“No, it’s about being a team,” Doug told him. “I already said that.”
“Sure it is,” was all Ira said, every single time, and no matter how many times Doug demanded to know what that was supposed to mean, Ira wouldn’t answer.
He was still saying it when Doug packed his gear back into his duffel bag and boarded the Amtrak for Halifax, and Doug still had no clue what he meant by it. But Ira wasn’t talking; the most he ever got was a look between Ira and his boyfriend, and Doug didn’t know what that meant, either.
He tried not to think about LaFlamme during the train ride, but his mind kept wandering back to the image of Eva straddling his lap, leaning over him while he buried his face in her neck. He was laughing when Doug walked in, and when Doug heard his own name in among whatever LaFlamme was murmuring against her skin, he knew they were laughing about him.
Laughing at him, like it wasn't bad enough that his girl and his...well, his teammate, anyway, were stabbing him in the back. At the time it felt more like they were stabbing him in the heart, and it still felt that way when he thought about it long enough.
So he tried not to think about it at all, tried not to picture Xavier's face when Doug punched a hole in the wall so he wouldn't hit Xavier and break him again. Because they were still teammates, no matter what, and that meant it was Doug's responsibility to keep him safe, no matter how much he wanted to beat him senseless when they were off the ice.
One thing he knew for sure; there was no way he could keep sharing a place with LaFlamme, not after what happened. When the train finally pulled into the station he caught a cab and headed straight for the rink, not even going by the apartment to drop off his duffel before he knocked on their coach's door.
"Hey, Coach. You got a minute?"
"Good to see you, Glatt," Coach said, and for once he actually looked like he meant it.
"Good to see you too," Doug said, taking the hand Coach extended and gripping it firmly. "I needed to talk to you about maybe switching rooms with one of the other guys. I'll watch LaFlamme's back on the ice, but I can't live with him anymore."
For a second Coach just blinked at him, and Doug was sure he was about to tell him to get the hell out of his office and stop wasting his time. But before Doug could apologize or try to take it back, Coach sat down again and folded his hands on his desk in front of him.
"You mean you didn't hear?"
"Didn't hear what?"
"LaFlamme," Coach answered, like he was really surprised Doug didn't know what he was talking about. "He got called back up to Montreal. You saved his career last season, kid. He owes you."
Part of Doug wanted to laugh, because it just figured that Xavier had gotten everything he wanted, and it was all because of Doug. He wondered if Eva had gone to Montreal too, but as soon as the thought surfaced he shut it down.
"Oh, yeah? Good for him," Doug said, but his voice sounded kind of weird, and he didn't miss the way Coach frowned at him.
"Listen, I can understand not wanting to live with the guy," Coach said, and when he grinned, Doug forced a weak laugh in return. "But from what I hear, he's getting his act together. I guess he doesn't want to blow his second chance."
Doug nodded without answering, mostly because he didn't trust himself to say anything. The last thing he needed to do was tell Coach why he'd wanted to move out, especially now that LaFlamme had solved the problem for both of them by getting himself called back up.
"I guess I'll head back to the apartment, then," Doug said, standing up and reaching for his duffel where he'd dropped it next to the chair. "It's good to see you, Coach."
"Yeah," Coach said, standing up and following Doug to the door. "Good to have you back, Glatt. First practice is tomorrow. See you then."
Doug nodded and let himself back out of the rink, walking the few blocks to the apartment he used to share with Xavier. It didn’t occur to him until he reached his building that he had no idea who he was rooming with now; some over-enthusiastic rookie, probably, and he braced himself as he fished out his keys and let himself in.
Only it wasn’t a rookie perched on the edge of the couch watching TSN; it was just Stevesie, and when he saw Doug he grinned and turned down the TV.
“Hey, Stevesie,” Doug said, tossing his keys on the counter. “Didn’t expect to find you here.”
“Oh, yeah, I was staying with my folks, but they decided to sell their house and buy a condo, so there wasn’t any room for me.”
Doug nodded, but he was only half-listening as he tossed his duffel in his room and slid his jacket off. He could hear Stevesie still talking in the background, but he was too busy trying not to picture Xavier and Eva on the same couch where Stevesie was sitting to pay attention to what he was saying.
“...saying it’s all thanks to you. He’s been telling the press every chance he gets.”
“Huh?” Doug said, blinking away the unwanted image to focus on Stevesie again. “What’d you say?”
“Oh, I was just saying how you must be kind of sad you didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to LaFlamme. I know he was sorry you weren’t around when he left. He’s been on Sportscentre practically every day, and every chance he gets he tells the press how his comeback’s all thanks to you.”
Before Eva, Doug would have been flattered by the praise. He would have insisted that he’d just been doing his job, that he’d only done what teammates are supposed to do. But after what Xavier had done to him, they were just a lot of empty words, and Doug knew they didn’t mean anything, even if LaFlamme had the rest of Canada fooled.
He glanced toward the bedroom that used to belong to Xavier, where Doug had first walked in on him and some girl whose name he never learned. There were plenty of girls, and Doug knew none of them meant anything to Xavier, but he’d never expected LaFlamme to treat Doug the same way he treated the women he slept with.
“I was just doing my job, Stevesie,” Doug said. “Listen, I’ve been on the train forever. I’m gonna hit the shower.”
Stevesie nodded and turned up the TV as Doug disappeared into his room, trying not to hear the familiar accent talking to reporters on the screen as he walked away.
Practice gave him the chance to work off some of his leftover anger at LaFlamme. When Ronnie and Rollie accused him of being pissed that LaFlamme got called up without him Doug just hit them a little harder, and the rest of the team enjoyed watching somebody shut them up for once, so nobody complained.
And that was the thing, because he wasn’t jealous. If LaFlamme had been called up right after their last game, Doug would have been first in line to shake his hand. He would have been happy for him; in a weird way he still was, even though he didn’t want to be. But he knew how much it meant to LaFlamme to be back on his game after being kind of a joke for so long, and Doug was glad he could help Xavier get his confidence back.
Or he would be, anyway, if Xavier hadn’t gone and ruined everything by fucking Doug’s girlfriend. And yeah, okay, she was a terrible girlfriend, but that was no excuse to stab a teammate in the back. To stab a friend in the back, except it turned out they weren’t such good friends after all.
He put a guy in the hospital during their first game of the season, but it was a fair fight, so all he got was a pat on the back from the team and a ‘good job, Glatt’ from the coach. His second game he knocked a player out cold, but that didn’t make him feel any better either. He kept hoping it would, that maybe if he hit enough guys it would make up for the fact that he didn’t hit Xavier when he had the chance.
After their third game of the season -- all he did during that game was knock someone’s teeth loose -- he let the team drag him to a bar to celebrate their victory, but instead of reliving the game play by play with the guys, he parked himself on a stool at the far end of the bar to brood. He wasn’t sure how many beers he’d had before someone sat down next to him, and Doug looked over to tell Stevesie or whoever it was to leave him alone.
Instead of one of his teammates he found himself staring back at Eva, watching her go for a weak smile and then roll her eyes when he didn’t smile back at her. “Hey.”
“Hey, Eva,” Doug said, turning back to his beer. “What do you want?”
“Look, I’m sorry, okay?” she said, like he hadn’t already heard this before. “I told you, I’m a terrible girlfriend.”
“Yeah, I know,” he answered. He lifted his beer and drained the bottle, then he motioned to the bartender for two more. When they appeared in front of him he pushed one toward her, watching as she wrapped her fingers around it.
“If it helps, I really did like you.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said again, but this time the hint of a smile turned up the corner of his mouth. And it felt weird, because he knew he should be mad at Eva too. But mostly he was just pissed at Xavier, for being a lousy teammate and then turning out to be a lousier friend, and most of all for leaving without so much as a word.
Not that Doug would listen to him long enough to let Xavier say much before Doug left the country just to avoid knocking him out, but still. He deserved...something. He wasn’t sure what, exactly, but at least now he knew that whatever it was, he wanted it from Xavier, not Eva.
“Was it worth it?” he finally asked, glancing over at her long enough to watch her frown.
“What? Your roommate?” Eva shrugged and picked up her own beer, then she set it down again without taking a drink. “I mean, the accent’s hot, but he mostly used it to talk about you.”
Doug thought about Xavier’s voice, low and rumbling Doug’s name against Eva’s neck as he laughed. He laughed, but at least Eva hadn’t been laughing with him. She wasn’t the kind of girlfriend he’d hoped for, and he was still pissed that she’d fucked LaFlamme, of all people, but he wasn’t that mad at her anymore.
It was kind of weird being madder at LaFlamme than he was at Eva, but before he figured out what it meant, she was picking up her beer and standing up. “I’m gonna go back to my friends. Listen, Doug...”
“Forget it,” he said, waving her off before she apologized again.
Eva shrugged and walked away, leaving Doug at the bar more confused than ever, and really regretting that he hadn’t decked LaFlamme when he had the chance.
He didn’t follow LaFlamme’s big comeback with Montreal, but being on a hockey team meant he heard all about it anyway. Even if they hadn’t been talking about it in the locker room, there was no way he could avoid knowing what Xavier was up to with Stevesie around. It was like the kid never did anything when they weren’t on the ice besides polish Gord’s gear for him and watch TSN, and every time LaFlamme showed up on the TV he made sure to tell Doug all about it.
That was the only reason Doug knew that LaFlamme seemed to be cleaning up his act, skating well and scoring goals and keeping himself out of the gossip column. He hadn’t had a drug bust since he left Halifax, and nobody had seen a new sex tape in months.
Not that Doug cared about any of that; as far as he was concerned LaFlamme could do whatever he wanted, as long as he kept doing it far away from Doug. But Stevesie was a nice kid, and he caught enough crap from the rest of the team, so Doug let him talk about LaFlamme like he was some kind of hero, and he never let on that it bothered him.
After a while he got used to it, at least enough that hearing LaFlamme’s name didn’t make his stomach feel the way it did when he was a kid and he and Pat rode the roller coaster after too many corn dogs. A month or so into the season the feeling had settled into a dull ache, like when he thought too hard about what Pat and Ira were doing without him.
He didn’t miss Xavier. There was no reason to miss him, because he’d been kind of an asshole for most of the time they lived together, and even once he got over himself they weren’t best friends or anything.
But they might have been, if Xavier hadn’t done what he did, and if he hadn’t gotten called back up to Montreal. So maybe Doug was just missing the possibility or whatever. He didn’t really have anybody else on the team; Stevesie was a good kid, but he spent most of his time following Gord around, and the rest of the guys were okay, but they could be kind of...weird.
So mostly he just kept to himself, and when he got too lonely he called Pat and let him talk for a while. It worked for a couple months; he showed up at the rink and did his job, then he went home and ignored Stevesie and did his best not to think about what Xavier was doing. He didn’t wonder if Xavier missed him at all, if all that talk to the press was his way of apologizing, or if he really meant it when he said Doug was the reason he’d come back.
It was after their first loss of the season that Coach called Doug into his office. He was pretty sure it wasn’t about the loss; Doug hadn’t caused it this time, and if he had, Coach would have been more than happy to tell him about it in front of the entire team.
Still, his stomach felt a little queasy as he knocked on Coach’s door, and when he called Doug into the office, Doug took a deep breath and pushed the door open. “You wanted to see me?”
“Yeah, Doug, come on in,” Coach said, waving Doug inside and gesturing toward the seat opposite his desk. “Listen, son, when my brother sent you up here, I didn’t exactly have high expectations. But you’ve proven that not only can you do your job, but you’re a team player. So I’m sorry to lose you, but I’m not surprised it’s happening already.”
“What are you talking about, Coach?” Doug asked, frowning when the other man grinned at him.
“You’ve been called up, kid. Montreal wants you to report at the end of the week.”
“Yeah, kid, Montreal. Word is that LaFlamme’s been talking you up to management. I guess it’s his way of paying you back for what you did for him last year.”
“Thank you, sir, I mean...I appreciate the offer and all, but if it’s all the same, I’m happy here.”
‘What are you talking about, kid?” Coach said, sitting forward in his chair to fold his hands in front of him. “No, it’s not all the same. We’re talking about the majors, Doug. NHL. It’s what every guy out on that ice dreams of.”
The thought of going to Montreal and facing LaFlamme – worse, the thought of going to Montreal thanks to LaFlamme – made his stomach twist into a tight knot, but he couldn’t tell Coach that. He couldn’t explain why he didn’t want to see LaFlamme again, and he definitely couldn’t explain why the idea was so bad he was willing to give up what was probably his only shot at the NHL.
“Can I think about it?”
“Think about it all you want, but you’re going to Montreal,” Coach said. He stood up and walked around the desk, then he pulled open his office door and waited until Doug took the hint and followed him.
Doug paused in the doorway and looked over at him, wishing more than anything that he could just explain why he didn’t want to go. Except he couldn’t even explain it to himself, so there was no way he could make anybody else understand. “Thanks, Coach.”
A hand landed on his shoulder and squeezed, just for a second, then it was gone again. “This is a great opportunity, Glatt. You deserve it.”
Doug nodded and left the office, hands in his pockets and not looking back to see if the coach was watching him go. He grabbed his gear and walked the few blocks to his apartment, ignoring Stevesie’s greeting and crossing the room to close his bedroom door.
He called his dad first, then Pat and finally Ira. His dad didn’t really get what the problem was, but then again, Doug wasn’t positive he even knew what the NHL was, so he wasn’t surprised.
“Don’t be a douchebag,” Pat said when Doug told him the news. “Of course you’re fucking going. It’s the frigging NHL, Dougie.”
He kept saying it, over and over, no matter how hard Doug tried to argue his case. Every time he brought up Xavier and Eva, Pat just told him to stop being such a pussy, then he said, “the NHL, Doug,” like that overruled everything else.
Once he hung up with Pat he dialed his brother’s number, and when Ira answered Doug told him the story all over again.
“Really? The NHL? I’m proud of you, Doug, I really am,” Ira said.
“Thanks,” Doug answered, grinning into the phone for a second before he remembered why he’d called in the first place. “But I can’t take it. No way am I going to owe LaFlamme, not after what he did.”
Before Ira could answer, Doug heard another voice in the background, muffled like it was farther away from the phone. “Who is it?”
“Did he make up with his boyfriend yet?” Ira’s boyfriend asked, and Doug frowned when Ira shushed him.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing,” Ira answered, and Doug could practically hear him rolling his eyes. “It’s just...you spent an awful lot of time this summer talking about this hockey player of yours.”
“Yeah, but not in, like, a boyfriend way,” Doug said. “He slept with my girlfriend, Ira.”
Ira made the same sound he used to make whenever Doug started complaining about Xavier, and for the first time he thought he might understand what it meant.
“Listen, Doug, I think you should go to Montreal. Talk to your hockey player or don’t, but don’t throw away this opportunity just because you’re still hurt.”
“Dude, I’m not hurt. I’m worried that if I see him again I’m going to break his jaw, and then they’ll probably kick me out of the country.”
Ira laughed, then Doug heard him say something away from the phone, muffled like he’d put his hand over it. A second later Richard laughed too, and Doug frowned and contemplated hanging up on both of them.
“Look, Doug,” Ira said before Doug made up his mind, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I agree with Pat. You have to do this. If you don’t, you’ll spend the rest of your life regretting it.”
“I’ll probably end up regretting it anyway,” Doug answered, mostly so he wouldn’t have to admit out loud that Ira was right. It was the NHL, and no player in their right mind would turn that down, no matter how they got there.
There was another muffled laugh in the background, then Ira cleared his throat. “Richard sends his love.”
“Tell him hi,” Doug said, then he sighed and hung up the phone.
He understood why everyone kept telling him to do it. He knew he had to, for all the reasons they said. But going to Montreal meant he and LaFlamme would be teammates again, and Doug wasn’t sure how he was supposed to do his job if he couldn’t trust a member of his team.
A week later he still hadn’t figured it out, but he boarded the plane for Montreal anyway, and when he walked out of the airport with his gear on his shoulder, there was an actual car and driver waiting for him. Like he was somebody important, not just some loser who used to work the door at a dive bar in Boston.
He still had a roommate, but it wasn’t LaFlamme, and that was all he cared about. It was a nicer apartment than the one in Halifax, bigger and newer and the couch didn't smell like a bar. The view was pretty good, too -- it would impress his dad and Ira, anyway -- but Doug barely even noticed.
On his first night in town he was too busy worrying about practice the next day, and once he got to practice he was too busy resisting the urge to break something Xavier would need later. And he'd actually showed up for practice, which was a change from Halifax, but Doug figured they wouldn't put up with him skipping practices in the majors, no matter how many goals he scored.
Doug was expecting LaFlamme to ignore him the way he’d done back on that first day in the Highlanders locker room. That was what he’d been hoping for, anyway, but he should have known better than to think it would go down that way. Not when LaFlamme had been the one to put in a word for him with their coach; he was probably expecting gratitude, like Doug was going to thank him after what he’d done.
The plan was to pretend Doug didn’t even see him and hope LaFlamme took the hint, because Doug wasn’t sure what would happen if he actually tried to start a conversation. He didn’t want to knock out one of his teammates and get sent back down on his first day, but as soon as he saw LaFlamme again that was exactly what he wanted to do.
His fingers itched with it, and when he felt his fists clenching he sort of hoped one of the guys from the team would challenge him like they had back in Halifax, just so he could hit somebody.
But when the coach introduced him the team just nodded in acknowledgement, and even though they sized him up, not a single one of them laughed at the thought of him enforcing for them. There wasn’t so much as a grunt, and Doug was left feeling twitchy and restless as they spread out on the ice for their first practice.
When he checked his second new teammate a little too hard, the coach called out, “Hey, Glatt, it’s just practice. Save it for the game,” but he didn’t call Doug off the ice, so he figured he hadn’t messed up too badly.
After that he worked harder to keep his aggression under control, and by the end of practice he felt a little less like killing the next person who looked at him wrong. He made it off the ice and all the way to the locker room without running into LaFlamme, and when he got out of the shower and put his street clothes back on he started to think that Xavier really had taken the hint after all.
He grabbed his gear and made it all the way out of the locker room, but when he reached the exit that would lead him out of the rink, he stopped short to scowl at LaFlamme where he was leaning against the wall by the door.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Doug asked, gripping his duffel a little tighter to keep from doing anything they’d both regret.
“It is good to see you, Doug. I’m happy that you took the offer,” Xavier answered, and Doug knew he’d come around looking for a thank you, but that didn’t make it any easier to hear.
“I heard you were the one who put my name out there. Don’t hold your breath waiting for a thank you.”
Xavier shrugged like maybe he’d expected Doug to say that. “I asked the coach to give you this chance for my own sake, but he would not have done it if he did not see your potential.”
Doug wanted to ask what that meant, ‘for my own sake’. He wanted to know if it was because Xavier felt guilty, or if he was sorry he’d thrown away their friendship for a girl. Doug wanted it to be the second one, but there was no way he was going to give Xavier the satisfaction of asking.
“Yeah, well, I didn’t take it because of you.”
LaFlamme nodded, glancing toward the door before he turned back to Doug. “I could give you a lift, if you like.”
“Seriously? Dude, just stay away from me. I don’t want anything from you,” Doug said. He shoved past LaFlamme and pushed the door open before he could answer, and when he glanced back over his shoulder Xavier wasn’t following.
After that LaFlamme kept his distance, and Doug thanked him by watching his back on the ice. Not because he cared one way or the other what happened to Xavier, but because it was his job to protect his teammates, and Xavier happened to be one of them.
The rest of his teammates warmed up to him once they saw he was actually pretty good, and after he knocked out one of the opposing players during his first game, they all dragged him to a bar to celebrate. It was a lot like playing back in Halifax, except that there were cameras and press waiting outside the locker room this time, and more press outside the bar waiting for one of them to do something worth printing in the tabloids.
“Used to be that was LaFlamme’s job,” one of the guys said. Doug wasn’t sure who it was, but the rest of them laughed like it was a joke they’d heard before.
“Maybe the rookie will take over for him.”
“Maybe that’s why LaFlamme wanted him called up so bad.”
A few of them looked back at him for his reaction, but if they were hoping for a fight, they weren’t going to get it. He’d promised himself he wasn’t going to let LaFlamme cost him his shot, not if he could help it. He’d promised his brother, too, and his dad might not get the big deal about playing for the NHL, but Doug wasn’t going to embarrass them by getting kicked out in his first season.
Instead he pretended he didn’t hear them, then he pushed his way through the crowd to the bar, flagging down the bartender and ordering a draft. He found an empty seat at the end of the bar, away from the noise of his teammates celebrating their victory.
It was kind of weird, drinking in a bar where everyone in the place knew who they were and actually cared. People kept clapping him on the shoulder and saying things like ‘good game’, and after a while he lost count of how many beers people had bought him.
He was on his fourth – fifth? – beer when someone sat down beside him, and Doug looked over to find his roommate gesturing to the bartender.
"Hey," Doug said, raising his beer in his roommate's direction. "Good game."
"Yeah, you too."
That was the end of the conversation until his roommate's drink arrived, and when the bartender set a beer down in front of him he nodded his thanks and tossed some money on the bar. Once he had his drink Doug expected him to join the rest of the team again, but instead he stayed where he was, elbows resting on the bar and his hands wrapped around the glass.
"You know, we've see the tapes."
"You and LaFlamme, back in Halifax." His roommate took a long pull of beer, then he set the glass back down on the bar and turned to face Doug. "It's pretty clear things didn't end well between you two, but you haven't let it affect your game, and the guys really respect you for that."
"Yeah, well, we're teammates. I'm just doing my job," Doug said.
"Sure, but it must be pretty tough to play with your ex, eh? I mean, when LaFlamme made such a big deal out of getting you called up, we figured you were still a thing. But then you got here, and...well."
"Wait...what?" Doug asked, because he'd had a lot of beer, sure, but he was pretty sure his roommate had just implied that there was something going on between him and Xavier. "Dude...what?"
"Yeah, okay, so some of the guys don't love the idea," his roommate said, hands on his beer and turning the glass around and around. "But most of us are cool with it. As long as it doesn't affect your game."
"Dude, Xavier's not my boyfriend. I'm pissed at him because he stole my girl."
"Oh," his roommate said, and he looked so surprised that for a second Doug wondered if he was the one who'd gotten things wrong. "Well, whatever. As long as..."
"Yeah, I know, as long as it doesn't affect my game," Doug interrupted. "Thanks, man."
His roommate nodded, then he stood up and picked up his beer. "Cool. Well, see you later, bro."
He clapped Doug on the shoulder, then he disappeared back into the crowd surrounding the team. Once he was gone Doug glanced around the bar, and when he spotted Xavier leaning against the wall watching him, Doug’s stomach did that thing it always did right before a fight.
It made him want to go over there and break Xavier’s nose, just to prove to everybody in the bar that Doug didn’t care about him. Except apparently they already thought the reason he and Xavier weren’t joined at the hip was because they’d had a bad break-up, and knocking out Xavier for looking at him wasn’t going to change their minds.
Instead he turned back to the bar and downed the rest of his beer, then he tossed a few dollars in the tip jar and pushed his way through the crowd to the door. He heard a couple of the guys calling after him, but Doug didn’t even pause long enough to wave goodnight. He didn’t stop until he was outside, taking a deep breath to fill his lungs with cold Montreal air.
It was a long walk back to the apartment, but the fresh air helped sober him up, and by the time he finally reached his building he’d gone from wanting to kill Xavier to wondering if he’d gotten everything totally wrong. But he knew what he’d seen, and that was Eva and Xavier making out on his couch. It sure as hell wasn’t Doug that Xavier had hit on, so there was no reason for the rest of the team to assume he was in love with Doug.
Except Xavier was the one who kept giving him the thousand yard stares, and he was the one who’d gotten Doug this shot in the first place. The shot that took him away from Halifax and Eva and any chance of them getting back together, not that Doug had been planning on giving her another shot.
But Xavier didn’t know that, and getting Doug called up was probably the only way he could make sure of it.
The weird feeling in his stomach started again as he rode the elevator up to his apartment, and when it stopped on his floor and the doors slid open, his stomach tried to crawl up into his throat.
“Xavier,” he said, blinking at the person leaning against the wall next to his apartment door. “What...how’d you get here so fast?”
“I had my car,” Xavier answered. “I would have given you a lift.”
“I wanted to walk. Clear my head, you know?” Doug said, gesturing uselessly with one hand, and he expected Xavier to laugh at him, but instead he nodded and pushed himself off the wall.
“And your head, it is clear now?”
“Not really.” Doug shook his head and reached into his pocket for his keys. “Look, what are you doing here, anyway?”
“I wanted to speak to you. I assume you have heard the talk by now.”
“What, about you and me? Taylor just told me the whole team thinks we’re fucking, if that’s what you mean.”
“No,” Xavier said, and when he took a few steps forward Doug’s stomach did a full loop. “They do not think we are fucking. They think we were fucking, and that I did something to hurt you.”
“Well they’re not wrong about the last part, anyway,” Doug said. He tried not to picture Xavier and Eva, but the memory came anyway, hitting him full force in the gut and making him grip his keys even harder. “Look, I’m tired, dude. Just...go home.”
“I would prefer it if you invited me in.”
“Listen, Xavier, you’re my teammate and I don’t want to hurt you. I’ve been doing an okay job of that since I got here, but if I let you in I think we both know I’m probably going to end up hitting you.”
“What was it you said? ‘When you deserve a beating, you take it’?”
“You want me to hit you?” Doug said, his keys dangling forgotten from his fingers.
“Not particularly,” Xavier admitted. He shrugged, but his mouth turned up in that little smile that told Doug he was trying not to smile, and Doug was too tired to bother holding back a laugh. “Let me in, Doug.”
“Why?” Doug asked. There was a ball of tension in his stomach, and when Xavier’s voice dropped an octave it got even tighter. He remembered what Eva said, about Xavier’s accent being sexy, but how he’d mostly used it to talk about Doug.
Even when Doug had walked in on them, he’d heard Xavier say his name, and at the time Doug figured he’d just been laughing about what an idiot Doug was, but now...now he wasn’t so sure.
“Because you also said that our stomach lights need each other,” Xavier said. He took another step forward, then another, until he was standing right in front of Doug. “I did not know what the fuck you were talking about at the time, but I believed you meant it nonetheless.”
“I did mean it. But I was talking about hockey. Jesus Christ. Are you seriously in love with me?”
Instead of answering Xavier just shrugged, but he took a step back, and Doug’s fingers clenched around his keys like they were trying to get him to grab Xavier and drag him close again.
“I’m not sorry about your girlfriend. She was not right for you.”
“Eva’s a nice girl,” Doug said, though why he was defending her to Xavier he couldn’t say. “She’s just not all that big on commitment.”
“As I said, she is not right for you,” Xavier answered. He took another step forward, not quite as close as he had been, but close enough for Doug to feel the heat coming off him. He was still cold from his long walk, and it made the heat coming off Xavier feel even more intense.
“Yeah, well, at least she was upfront about it,” Doug said, but it was hard to focus on the conversation when he was busy trying to figure out what Xavier wanted from him. “You were supposed to have my back, dude.”
“Do you know why I let them post all those videos and pictures of me on the internet? Why I did the drugs and let the tabloids make me into their poster boy?”
“I figured you just liked it.”
The laugh Xavier let out sounded kind of painful, and Doug wished he could take it back. He didn’t want to feel sorry for Xavier, no matter why he’d hit on Eva, but she wasn’t here now and he was having a hard time remembering why he’d been so mad.
“There are two ways to be famous, Doug. You are either the best at what you do, or you’re the best at being the worst. When I failed as a hockey player, I had to give them some reason to keep me around. People wanted to see what I’d do next; that was the only reason they didn’t cut me loose.”
“That’s pretty fucked up,” Doug said, and when Xavier laughed this time it sounded like plain old Xavier, the one Doug had promised to protect no matter what. “But none of that explains why you hit on my girlfriend.”
Xavier didn’t answer. There wasn’t really anything to say, because they both already knew why he’d done it. Doug was still trying to figure out what he wanted to do about it when Xavier moved even closer, reaching up to press a warm hand to the side of Doug’s neck.
They’d touched each other plenty of times before, mostly on the ice or in the locker room, but this felt different. Xavier’s fingers were moving on his skin, then he pulled Doug close and kind of lunged forward like he was afraid Doug was going to push him away. His lips were dry against Doug’s, hard and demanding and nothing at all like the soft kisses he shared with Eva.
Those were romantic and kind of sweet, but this...this made him feel the way it did when some big guy came at him on the ice, when he knew a fight was coming and his heart pounded so hard he wasn’t sure his chest would hold it. He kissed back the way he fought, fast and aggressive and Xavier just took it, let Doug back him up and pin him hard against the wall.
When he realized what he was doing he pulled back, staring wide-eyed at Xavier’s swollen red lips and the way his eyes went even darker than usual.
“Hit me if you like,” Xavier said. His tongue slid along his lower lip as though he was tasting for blood, or maybe he was just tasting Doug. “I won’t report you.”
“I don’t want to hit you,” Doug said, before he even realized he was thinking it. Once he said it he knew he meant it, though, and the weird ball of tension in his stomach loosened a little.
His keys were still gripped in one hand, and when Xavier reached up to take them, Doug didn’t stop him. “Then invite me in.”
Doug nodded, letting go of Xavier and taking a step backwards. He let Xavier open the door to his apartment, then he let Xavier put a hand on his arm to steer him inside. It felt kind of like walking through mud, and he wasn’t sure if it was the beer or the fact that he’d just made out with his teammate that was causing it.
“Xavier,” Doug said once the door was closed and locked behind them. “I don’t...I mean...”
“Doug,” Xavier interrupted, stopping in the middle of the hallway to drag Doug forward and kiss him again. “Please shut up.”
“No more talking,” Xavier said, and when he kissed Doug this time it was fierce, like he was proving a point.
“Okay,” Doug breathed when Xavier released him, and when Xavier looked around as though he was trying to figure out where he was, exactly, Doug gripped his hips and pushed him backwards toward his bedroom. “Yeah, sure, no talking.”
“Good,” Xavier said. He dragged Doug into his bedroom and shut the door, then he reached up to unzip his coat and drop it on the floor. Doug’s brain kicked back in long enough to realize he was wearing his coat too, so he slid the zipper down and then pulled it off, tossing it in the direction of his chair before he turned back to Xavier.
Xavier who was already down to his jeans and a pair of socks, and as soon as Doug realized what he’d gotten himself into, his mouth went dry. “Dude...”
For a long moment Xavier just looked at him, then his shoulders sort of fell and for some reason Doug felt like the biggest asshole on the planet. Which was pretty funny, considering Xavier was the one who’d stolen his girlfriend, and he was the one standing half-naked in Doug’s bedroom.
“I am moving too fast.”
And it was kind of weird, because usually Xavier was sort of a dick, but right now he looked really...young. Young and unsure of himself, and knowing he was the one who’d done that to Xavier made Doug want to punch himself in the face.
“Look, it’s not...I mean, I don’t think it’s you. It’s just...I didn’t even sleep with Eva right away. I think she liked sex more than me, to tell you the truth.”
“Perhaps the problem is not the sex,” Xavier said, and when he took a step forward, Doug didn’t try to move away. “Perhaps it’s who you’ve been having it with.”
Doug had to admit he had a point, or he would have if Xavier wasn’t kissing him again, one hand curved around the back of his neck and the other pressed to his chest right above his heart.
“They told me how you lost your mind and got yourself suspended, when that goon put me back in the hospital. When I heard about it...after all the ‘stomach light’ nonsense, I thought...I thought perhaps it was about more than just hockey.”
It hadn’t been, or at least Doug hadn’t thought it was. But now that he knew Xavier wanted him – loved him, even – Doug wasn’t so sure. Doug nodded and gripped Xavier’s hips again, fingers brushing the bare skin above his jeans as he dragged Xavier backwards. When his thighs hit the edge of the bed he sat down hard, and when Xavier climbed onto the mattress after him, Doug moved back onto the pillows to give him room.
It was kind of weird, making out with another guy, but Doug couldn’t say he hated it. All he knew for sure was that he wanted Xavier around, even more than he wanted to be mad at him for that whole mess with Eva.
A hand pushed under his flannel to tug his undershirt out of his jeans, and when Xavier’s fingers brushed bare skin Doug gasped against his mouth. It got him a laugh, but it sounded more affectionate than he’d ever heard, and Doug’s heart clenched at the thought. He slid his arms around Xavier’s shoulders to hold him close, legs parting to let Xavier settle between Doug’s thighs, and when Xavier rocked against him Doug moaned into the kiss and pressed up to meet him.
“Xavier,” Doug heard himself say, murmuring the name against Xavier’s lips.
“Hmm?” Xavier answered, breaking the kiss to work his way down Doug’s neck. When he found a sensitive spot under Doug’s chin he teased it with his tongue, then he sucked hard until Doug was panting and straining up against him.
“Dude, stop, seriously, I can’t...” Doug babbled, though he wasn’t sure what he was going to do if Xavier didn’t stop. Come in his jeans, probably, like some high school kid. Or maybe just fly apart, and wouldn’t it be embarrassing to die before Xavier ever got him naked.
When Xavier laughed Doug figured he must have said at least some of that out loud, but before he had time to be embarrassed Xavier was sitting up, knees planted on either side of Doug’s thighs and reaching up to unbutton his flannel.
Once the last button was undone Doug pushed up off the mattress long enough to pull the flannel off, and when Xavier reached for the hem of his undershirt, Doug didn’t stop him. He didn’t argue when Xavier went for the fly of his jeans, either, and once he’d tugged them open Doug lifted his hips off the bed and helped Xavier slide them down.
He’d been naked with other guys plenty of times. There was Pat and his brother, but they didn’t count, because they were both family, and anyway they hadn’t been naked together since they were kids. But there were the guys on the team, and after spending even a little time in a locker room, he’d pretty much forgotten any modesty he’d ever had.
But it was different when it was just him and Xavier. Even though neither of them was totally naked, he felt way more exposed than he ever had in the locker room. Part of it was the way Xavier kept looking at him like Doug was something amazing, like this was the one thing he’d always wanted and never thought he could have.
Just the thought that somebody could feel that way about him made Doug’s heart beat faster, and he reached up and gripped the back of Xavier’s neck to pull him into a hard kiss. Xavier made a sound against his mouth that could have been surprise and kissed Doug back, hands sliding up his sides and then back down again, like he was trying to touch every inch of Doug’s bare skin.
Doug’s hands slid down his back, fingers dipping under the waistband of his jeans and making Xavier shudder against him. He dipped his head down to mouth his way along Doug’s neck, along his jaw and up to his his ear.
“I did not sleep with your...”
“Eva,” Doug supplied when Xavier paused. “Can we not talk about this right now?”
“I did not sleep with your Eva,” Xavier repeated. His mouth was still pressed against Doug’s skin, vibrating just below his ear and sending shivers down Doug’s spine. “It is important that you understand.”
“Yeah, I get it.” Doug slid his hand into Xavier’s hair and tugged, dragging him away from Doug’s neck to kiss him again. Because he didn’t want to talk about it; there was no point, not now. Anyway, it didn’t matter whether Xavier had fucked Eva or just made out with her. He’d proven his point, and now that Doug knew why he’d done it, there was no use rehashing it anymore.
He shoved a hand between them to fumble with the button on Xavier’s jeans, struggling to get it open while Xavier was kissing him like he needed Doug to breathe. Finally Xavier took pity on him and pulled away long enough to lift his hips up, tugging his jeans open and shoving them down to his thighs along with his underwear.
Doug barely had a second to panic before Xavier was surging forward again, mouth pressed against his and panting into the kiss as he rocked his hips into Doug’s. Their dicks slid together through the thin fabric of Doug’s underwear, and when Doug hooked his leg around Xavier’s thighs to pull him even closer, Xavier moaned against his mouth and came.
For a minute he laid there panting against Doug’s neck, hips still moving slowly in time with Doug’s thrusts. When he caught his breath he pushed up on one elbow, then he reached between them and pushed his hand inside Doug’s underwear to grip his cock.
Doug hissed at the sensation, and when Xavier laughed above him he couldn’t help smiling. Doug blinked his eyes open to find Xavier watching him with that look on his face again, the one that Doug was pretty sure meant Xavier really was in love with him. His heart pounded hard at the thought, and he reached up to slide his hand around the back of Xavier’s neck.
“Shh,” Xavier murmured, then he leaned in and pressed a soft kiss to Doug’s lips. Doug pressed up into it, mouth open and his grip on Xavier tightening to pull him closer.
The grip on his dick got a little tighter, and Doug rocked up into it, moaning against Xavier’s mouth when his thumb slid across the head. He thrust up into Xavier’s grip, then again, fingers digging into Xavier's biceps hard enough to hurt. But Xavier didn't complain; he just adjusted his grip and moved even faster, keeping time with the rhythm of Doug's hips.
His hands were calloused and rough, nothing like any of the girls Doug had ever been with, and he wasn't afraid to grip Doug hard and jerk him off fast the way Doug liked it. Doug expected it to be kind of weird, letting another guy touch his dick for the first time, but now that he'd done it, it turned out he kind of liked it.
So maybe Xavier was right and he just hadn't been with the right people, or maybe it was just that he and Xavier clicked in a way he'd never felt with anyone before. The thought made the want curling in his stomach tighten even more, and he thrust up one last time and came in Xavier's hand.
He sort of expected Xavier to complain about the mess, maybe to climb out of bed to wash his hand and leave Doug to deal with the rest of it himself. But Xavier didn't go anywhere; he didn't even let go of Doug, not until Doug pushed at his shoulders and begged him to stop.
And he did, long enough to get his pants off the rest of the way, but as soon as they hit the floor he was back, pressing kisses to Doug's parted lips and his cheeks and his neck. He kept kissing Doug until he caught his breath, and when Doug slid a hand into his hair and dragged Xavier into another kiss, he felt Xavier smiling against his mouth.
"So," Xavier said when Doug let him up for air, "that was not so bad, eh?"
Doug let out a tired laugh and shook his head against the pillow, then he pulled Xavier down next to him and pulled the sheet up over them. "Not bad."
"Good," Xavier murmured, his lips brushing Doug's shoulder as he pulled Doug close. And he never would have pegged Xavier for a cuddler, but when his arm slid around Doug's waist and his chest pressed against Doug's back, Doug discovered that he'd been wrong about something else where Xavier was concerned.
"You know if Taylor finds you here in the morning, the whole team will hear about it."
"Good," Xavier said again, but his voice was heavy and Doug could tell he was already half-asleep. "It will save us the trouble of telling them ourselves."
Doug wasn’t really sure how he felt about the entire team knowing he was sleeping with Xavier, especially when he hadn’t figured out how he felt about it yet. But they all already thought he and Xavier were dating, so maybe it didn’t matter much that it turned out to be true. Nobody had hassled either of them about it so far, anyway, and as long as they kept their heads in the game, they’d be fine.
“Doug,” Xavier said, voice slurred with sleep, and Doug’s heart thudded in his chest at the sound. “You are thinking too hard. Go to sleep.”
“Sorry,” Doug said, and when the arm around his waist squeezed, Doug figured that meant he was forgiven.