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Everything You Hate and You Desire (Love Me Like an Enemy)

Chapter Text

You like the smell of blood
When it’s pumpin’ like a factory
You like your words to cut
You like to choose the best artillery
-Natalia Kills (Love is a Suicide)

1995-1996

\\

Patrice spends the first game in McNichols in the press box with Pierre and the rest of the players who didn’t make opening night roster. Pierre’s mostly absorbed with the management from Comcast, pressing hands and schmoozing, showing them that the Nord — that the Avalanche — were worth the investment to bring over. They don’t have much time for a third string goalie who’s bundled up in a slim cut suit and sensible heels.

Avalanche. The name still feels strange in her mouth, feels Anglo, and the small portion of herself that watched games in le Colisée shivers a bit each time she hears it. They’re her team, even more than the Nordiques were, they’re a fresh start, but . . . the Avalanche has a strange echo that doesn’t fit right yet.

They win it in regulation, which feels pretty fortuitous when they’re going head-to-head with the Red Wings. This is the team that everyone expects to win the Cup this year — hockey smart and playoff tested, their core unshaken. The Avalanche . . . aren’t much of anything yet, a former Canadian team in a market that's failed before, a young captain and an unconventional goalie situation, rated at something like 85/1 that they’ll even make it to the post season. No one expects anything from them.

“Hey!” a fan yells, waving frantically and almost falling into their tunnel as they head to the dressing rooms. “Fitz-Fizz-Fishnets. Steve. Hey, Whatever-Your-Name-Is. WAY TO GOOOO!”

Stéphane salutes him with his stick and Jocelyn spares him an expression of consternation.

“Fishnets, eh? Sounds sexy,” Patrice leers and slaps Stéphane’s ass as he waddles past her, ducking his answering swing.

“It’s Denver.” They both miss Quebec’s small but intensely loyal fans with an ache.

The guys file past her to shower and change. That leaves her at loose ends until the showers clear out and the naughty bits are covered, so she heads to the trainer’s room to check on Uwe in the meantime.

By the time Patrice reaches the trainer’s room (and suck on that, Bordeleau) Uwe’s already been prepped and sent over to get an MRI. That’s bad, that’s probably six months at minimum, and no one is looking forward to Uwe being gone for that long. She can’t bully or wheedle anything definite out of the medical staff, just head shakes and shrugs, so she makes her way back to the dressing room. The Red Wings are just starting to file out to their bus when she hits the hallway. She’s settled in and covertly watching them when an unexpected “You Roy?” comes from behind her, startling her heart into her throat for a second.

You're safe here, Joe's here, Adam's here.

The guy behind her is shorter than her. That’s not unusual — Patrice is used to towering over people, even NHL sized people, even when she’s not in heels. Blood red tie, blonde hair cut short enough that it emphasizes his jug handle ears; it gives him a youthful look that’s more impish than handsome, but he’s not unattractive. He’s too clean to have been on the ice, dry skin with no flush of exertion, and his hands are tucked into the pockets of his slacks with casual ease.

“Osgood,” she decides after a second of thought, a review of their roster inside her head.

Osgood smiles at her, looks strangely joyful with the recognition, and offers her his hand. “Hey, it’s a real pleasure to meet you. I really admire your work.”

Patrice spends a little too long staring at his hand like this is some sort of joke. She probably misunderstood, English is still a slippery little bastard, and she accepts the handshake with more wariness than it probably warrants. “Thanks? Me too.”

She can see Peter watching her out of the corner of his eye, angling Lidstrom so they can keep chatting while he keeps an eye on her, and Adam’s got himself within hearing distance, which means she’s never gonna live that down.

Nothing like some old fashioned mockery to help her English.

“You have also play a good game,” she announces firmly, as if to tell off the teammates who are watching.

Osgood’s smile is a little melancholy around the edges. “Wasn’t my game, either.” He nods at her suit, her clean hair and unflushed skin. “We’ll face each other soon enough.”

It’s not a question; she likes that. “We win that, too.” She flashes him that cocksure smile, the one that she pulls out during interviews and contract negotiations.

He blinks at her for a second, and she wonders if she translated that wrong in her head, but then he starts grinning, wide and genuine. “Looking forward to proving you wrong, then.”

“I will not be.”

Osgood laughs like she made a joke, fingers tracing against her pulse for a second before he steps back. “I mean it, you got some balls. I admire that. It’s nice to play you here.”

Big Mac is okay, but it’s not le Colisee. It’s small and claustrophobic, rickety and rough around the edges, but it’s home. She settles for “Yes, we like it here,” neutral and polite, because she’s not their captain and she didn’t even suit up for this game. Everything about this whole thing is weird.

Osgood hums, a low and pleased sound. “Well, it was nice to finally meet you, Roy.”

The feeling is . . . strangely mutual.

\\

Despite her bravado they still drop the next 3 to Detroit with Patrice in net. March 22nd is the worst, is dropped 0-7, it’s like she is made out of Swiss cheese and the rest of the team have never even seen a puck before. The Red Wings pepper her with shots and she’s pretty sure Vernon went out for pizza at some point because they never manage to get the puck over to the opposing zone for longer than a shift. Jocelyn comes in for her with 14 minutes left in the game, allows an additional two goals, and Patrice spends the rest of the game on the bench with her arms crossed, wishing dismemberment on the entire team and not trying to hide her disgust. It sits under her skin like Fredericton, like failure, and even though Crawford pulled her when necessary, didn’t leave her out to dry like Bordeleau, it still leaves her itchy and painful.

Osgood’s in the hall after the game, hands jammed into his suit pants, and Patrice is not in any mood to speak with anyone after the drubbing she got from the press (can't hold up to the pressure, emotional, weak). All she wants to do is find some way to fix it, because come the post-season that inconsistency will not stand.

He catches sight of her and steps forward, face soft and wide shoulders rising in a shrug. “Hey, Roy. I’d say tough break, but at least it’s not like Fred—”

“You don' get to say that,” she snaps, swinging her bag over her shoulder.

The papers in Detroit the next day start with “It’s time to face facts: Patrice Roy is a dingbat, a publicity stunt. She’s not an up-and-comer, she’s a never-will-be and one wonders what it will take for Lacroix to wipe the egg off his face and get to work trimming the dead wood off his roster. Let’s chalk this one up to a failed experiment and get back to real hockey”.

It gets less flattering after that.

Patrice buys the paper at the airport before they fly out, cuts the article out and carefully places it on her bulletin board at home where she sees it every time she goes to pick up her keys or answer the phone.

Privately she thanks the author for making her so much better than she was. For making her ready for the next time.

\\

They take out Vancouver in six (barely, just barely, it sets Patrice’s heart racing to think about), then Chicago in six, then turn their eyes towards Detroit and try to bury their miserable record against them in the past where it belongs.

The regular season might as well be another world at this point, long and grueling and impossibly easy.

This is the deepest most of them have ever gotten and they know, in their hearts where they can risk being honest, that this is their battle. This series against the Red Wings is the hardest thing they’ve ever done, they’re all raw edged and bloody, exhaustion settled deep in their bones. But they’re doing it, holding their own and they can win. After this everything is downhill, peaches and gravy or however that goes, a straight line to the East and the final four wins. Four games or seven, a sweep or a full series, if they can go toe-to-toe with a team like the Red Wings then they’re golden.

(“Do you think you can beat the Red Wings?”

“Tabernac, the fuck question is that to ask? Find a better one an come back.”)

The Detroit series involves either the shittiest luck for the Avalanche or the most underhanded dealings in the universe. There’s a fucking fire alarms at their hotel on game day ¬— at 3 am — and the team stumbles into the parking lot in their jammies along with the rest of the hotel’s patrons, blinking sleepily in the cold. They walk through bomb sniffing dogs to get into the Joe, Patrice has her underwear dug out of her bag for ‘screening’, and the visitor’s room reeks of paint — less like the improvement they insist it is and more like a distraction.

When they hit the ice Patrice has gone from irritated to full on pissed, and she laser focuses down to the puck, her skates, and Charlotte.

Peter Forsberg’s one of the shyest men she’s ever met, but on the ice he’s an assassin and he’s not like any other European forward out there. He’s got a mean streak a mile long and an even longer memory. He might not retaliate immediately, but he will retaliate, a raging freight-train of a hit that could put fear into even the toughest players.

Peter lays out Lidstrom early in Game 1 and that’s like throwing down the gauntlet from then on.

When it comes down to Patrice and Osgood it’s not a contest at all, that first game. She makes a diving save in the last minute of regulation to absolutely rob Larionov, and Osgood somehow misses Mike’s soft shot from the blue line in the 18th minute of overtime. It’s gratifying to finally measure herself against the Wing’s goalie in something that matters and see that she is not found wanting. It gives her a warm jolt that feels a lot like satisfaction.

“They still don’t respect us,” Mike grumbles while ripping off his tape after the game, balling it up and tossing it into the trash like it personally offended him. “They’re calling it luck.”

“Bowman does a lot of mind game for something that is not a challenge,” Patrice shoots back, and they go on to win Game 2 before heading home with that in their pockets.

Whatever advantage Detroit had during the regular season, whatever trap door they found into Patrice’s mind, it’s gone. She makes saves and shuts them down, “It’s like I say all along, the Playoffs are the Playoffs, they’re a whole ‘nother season.”

They’re about as evenly matched as two teams can be, which makes a few odds-makers out west blow up considering one of the teams is pretty much fresh off the boat.

Adam takes a sucker punch to the back of the head in Game 3 at home. He needs 18 stitches to close it, which is less traumatic than it sounds considering it’s across a face that’s already kinda ragged around the edges.

“I got you, Footer,” Claude promises, bides his time and then fucking decks Kozlov when his back is turned.

He gets a one game suspension for that one.

The whole series is played that way. This is a world away from the team that complimented them first time they played in the Big Mac, Goose and Valeri laughing and paling around with Larionov. This is a playoff team, as sharp and brutal as that implies.

The Avs have been honed sharp and brutal, too.

And when Ciccarelli camps his ass in front of Patrice, screening the net like he always fucking does it’s easy to give him an experimental jab in the balls with the butt of her stick.

Ciccarelli is a pest to goalies, he’s always right in her crease, trying to bother her, chipping at her when she has the puck. That first game at Big Mac, the lone goal was Ciccarelli's, chipped in when Stéphane was low, trying to see past the screen he was putting up. So Patrice runs that play through her mind, files it, and then pokes him right where it counts.

He yelps the first time she does that, then hunkers down to ignoring her. Unluckily for him Patrice hates being ignored.

She laughs at him a few times when he turns to cuss at her, screaming “What the fuck. Are you fucking PMSing or something, Roy? This your time of the fucking month you pussy?” She doesn’t reply, just jabs at him again until he snaps, takes a swing at her with his stick and gets an interference penalty for his trouble. Thanks to either divine intervention or blind eye refs she doesn’t get a penalty for any of it.

“Dick move, Babe,” Shanahan grumbles at her next time he floats past her net. Shanahan’s not a chirper, so she must be doing something right. So she does it again next time Ciccarelli decides to camp out.

“Which one of the refs are you fucking so they’ll ignore this?” Ciccarelli demands and she shoots back “Your wife,” before he chops at her pads again.

Patrice is a little sister, she can be a pest with the best of them. Adam picks up on what she's up to and joins in, poking and provoking until Ciccarelli spins to retaliate, trips over Patrice, and gets sent to the box for interference.

Ciccarelli really hates her now, but none of them started playing hockey to make friends.

Bowman tries his best to fuck with her in the press. He pulls out “it’s not like there were any particularly impressive saves,” after Game 4 (a lie, she knows it's a lie, she knows what she brought to that game) and Patrice responds with “It’s not like there are any ‘particularly’ impressive shots” before adding that to her mental rolodex of motivation.

It’s hard, brutal, nothing is off the table, and none of them bat an eye when Claude comes in hot on Draper in Game 5, doesn’t slow at all and just plows him face first into the boards.

It’s a stupid fucking play, illegal as shit, and Claude spends the rest of the game in his shirt and ugly sandals, cooling his heels in the dressing room. He also doesn’t inquire about Draper, which . . . is what it is. When Claude tells her that he didn’t mean for it to be as bad as it became, Patrice believes him. She’s known Claude since juniors; he’s a vicious bastard on the ice, but he’s not actually cruel.

At the end of the day none of them shed any tears over it. If there’s no regret in the playoffs then there’s sure as hell no crying, but they don’t wish Draper ill or anything.

The medics sweep Draper off the ice but the smears of blood remain.

\\

Patrice is still dripping Avalanche Ale when she staggers into the hall to catch her breath and almost runs headlong into Detroit’s backup goalie.

Osgood is standing with his legs planted, arms crossed and a scowl crisscrossing his face. He looks like he’s expecting something, like he was on his way in or waiting for someone to come out, both of which are a breach of etiquette on par with fighting the refs. It’s just not done.

Immediately Patrice shifts into defense mode, aware and prepared. She stood him up, she beat him on the biggest stage there is, and here in the playoffs that means that she’s also better than him. She’s learned to treat people in his position with caution. Even here he could still hurt her.

The look on Osgood’s face isn’t that, though. Osgood has this expression like he’s pissed at the universe in general, and Patrice is merely the nearest manifestation to swing his rage towards.

“Drapes . . .” he starts, stops himself with a shake of his head like he’s trying to dislodge the thought. That’s the first indication that maybe things went worse than any of them knew, as badly as the fleeting glimpses and drying blood implied. When Osgood gets close enough that he can glare up at her Patrice can see that his eyes are tinted towards red like repressed emotions, shoulders shaking. His whole frame is shaking. “We won’t fucking forget this.”

“You lost the series,” she agrees with smug wisdom, fluffs her hair and makes it spike in hop-drenched clumps. “Is good not to forget.”

Osgood looks incensed before it transitions to something on the other side. Something that’s somehow even more dangerous. “When you guys come back to play us, that pussy” — a sharp gesture, quick as a knife directed at their door, the sounds of celebration filtering into the hall — “better watch his fucking back.”

This is a universe away from shy smiles and welcoming them to the NHL. It's the first indication she gets of how bad it really was.

Patrice is in Osgood’s space before she’s completely aware of it, breathing in the scent of sweat and stale padding, as if he doesn’t wash his gear often enough, using the height that she has to loom over him like an impending apocalypse.

That pussy is her teammate.

“It’s over, you lose.”

He’s in her face, inches away. His breath smells like mint and mouth guard. “Are you gonna apologize for that? Are you gonna apologize, you fucking bitch?”

She’s more bemused than insulted, and not particularly concerned. “For what?”

“You fucking bitch.”

“For what?”

“For that asshole Lemieux.”

She’s not Claude’s den mother; he doesn't particularly like her. That sort of assumption, that she should be the one apologizing, makes her laugh. She doesn’t apologize for herself, fuck apologizing for teammates.

She and Osgood are tight in each other’s space, recycling air and glaring daggers and Osgood’s so close his shoulders block her periphery, huge and intimidating. Or it would be, if Patrice was the sort of person who could be intimidated.

“That’s fucking bullshit. Fuck you, you’re a fucking loser.” She narrows her eyes, shifts her hips until Osgood’s forced to take a step away from her or risk her stepping right between his thighs, intimate. “You don’ get to come here an make . . . eh vague threats at me.”

He swallows, she’s close enough to follow the bob of his throat with her eyes. “Next year, you fucking . . . You’re gonna fucking answer to us.”

“Then next season play better than you did,” she murmurs, velvet soft and cutting, lips so close to his that they almost touch. “Or I don’t see you here.”

She tries not to read into how Osgood follows her motions for a breath, like a charmed snake. He pulls away abruptly, staring at her with a mixture of fury, humiliation, helplessness.

“We’re gonna make sure he pays for this.” Osgood looks small compared to the effortlessly comfortable way Patrice takes up space in her hall.

“Va chier,” she shoots over her shoulder as she ducks back into the dressing room, holding the door open longer than necessary, the sounds of victory filtering out.

“Who were you talking to?” Adam looks curious instead of accusatory, and the new scar on his face is a livid red. That makes her decision for her.

“No one.” She flings an arm around his shoulders. “Let’s get drunk, eh?”

\\

They all stagger out of their rooms and into a media shit storm. Crawford calls them into one of the conference rooms the hotel has been providing them with, and they trade off drinking whatever noxious healthy concoction Uwe is swearing by this week as they watch.

Patrice is hung over and Mike’s coaxing her to try and drink some of it, even though it smells like ass. She does it for him.

It tastes even more like ass than it smells.

“I can’t believe I shook the guy’s frickin’ hand.”

It’s fucking hockey so they all expect Draper to shake it off, but it leads to a second of sobriety in a jubilant crowd.

It’s bad.

Joe doesn’t look surprised. He went to check on Draper after the game, no one questioned him and not a single Red Wing tried to stop him, because he’s Joe. That’s just the sort of thing he does, because he genuinely cares about people. Even people who are Red Wings.

“It’s hockey,” Claude shrugs when they turn to him. “Shit will happens. I didn’t mean it happens like that.” His fingers tremble just a little, but no one calls him on it. They all remember how he took the piss out of Craig, went right for the throat like a junkyard dog when he saw frailty there. Wol’s never going to wear an Avs jersey again because of Claude, and they're teammates.

Claude can be an equal opportunity ass, but he doesn’t do weak.

“Next year,” Joe starts, then hesitates because they all know you never talk about the future in the playoffs. He finally finishes his thoughts with a resigned, “next year they’re going to be out for blood,” in the voice of a man who knows it’s going to happen regardless of his opinions on the matter.

After all, it’s what they would do, in Detroit’s place.

Patrice chews on her lower lip and doesn’t mention what happened in the hallway.

It’s none of their business, anyway.

\\

Patrice spends her summer getting in some quality time with her family and boyfriend, sharing the Stanley Cup with Quebec City. Joe and some of the guys come up for her hometown parade, tip their hats to Quebec City for their years there and then get drunk and obnoxious. Somehow she loses her sweater during the parade and ends up picking one up from a bystander.

Claude calls her, that summer. Tells her about the letters, the times Deborah has cried and the death threats that keep hitting his phone.

“Fuck, I got kids that gotta deal with this bullshit. It’s insane.”

Patrice hums, sympathetic. "It really sucks, doesn't it? To have people hate you for existing?"

Claude goes silent. It's the closest she gets to an apology from him, but the word 'soft' doesn't get pulled out of his mouth much after that.

Considering the company she'll put that one down in her win column.

Claude never apologizes, and that’s not enough for Detroit. By the next season Michigan is howling for his blood, for vengeance, and Joe plays things close to his chest for a reason but it’s pretty clear he’s preparing for something to explode.

Chapter Text

\\

“You ready?” Then again, when she ignores him, “Patty, are you ready for this?”

Craig Billington drops across her back like a very rank, very heavy coat, covering her with stale hockey sweat and aftershave. Patrice grunts, elbow aimed backward and straight into his sternum.

She doesn’t . . . missing Jocelyn would be strange. They’d fought, tooth and nail and sometimes dirty, to win the starting position away from each other. They’d been as close to rivals as being teammates would allow, but now Jocelyn is in LA and Craig is here, watching her back and ready to step in if she falters.

It’s a strange feeling to be the one who’s left standing after a trade.

Adam edges in a little closer, wearing that look he gets when he’s not sure if he’s going to need to back her up while she rips someone a new asshole, disguising it as peeking out the door to get a reading on how the crowd’s running tonight. It’s already loud, tending towards ear-splitting, which means it’s going to go DEFCON One as soon as the teams actually hit the ice for real. It’s the first game between them and the Red Wings since Claude’s run — the McNichols crowd aren’t the only ones expecting a big night.

“Craig?” she asks mildly, instead of going with her first instinct and pointing out that he sounds like the beginning of that Queen song. “Get offa me.”

Craig laughs, slapping at her shoulders before bouncing off of her. “Sorry, pregame routine, I got it.” He holds his hands up in a placating gesture, backing away because Patrice’s pregame routine, like the Wu Tang Clan, is not something to fuck with. “Gotta have you at the top of your game. Unless you think it’s over?”

“Nothing ever blow over in hockey, that right Joe?”

Joe looks up from his stick, a last minute assessment of his gear. He looks harried.

“Despite my best efforts,” he offers finally. It’s lacking all sorts of conviction and that’s a shock. Joe can bring earnest conviction to his shopping list.

“Don’t take it so bad, Joe. It is a good thing, sometime, to get the harder part out of the way.”

He sighs, shaking his head slowly. They’re not supposed to see the affectionate smile quirking the edge of his lips.

The Avalanche are braced and ready for Detroit. There’s a low thrum of excitement in the room, anticipation of a good, hard game, preparation for whatever might happen out there after their showing in the playoffs last season.

It’s one of the most bizarrely sedate games they’ve ever played. The Avalanche are still riding high on their Stanley Cup, and there’s something almost deferential about Detroit. The checks are routine, the chirping is low, and Patrice doesn’t even have to push herself to get a comfortable 4-1 win.

It’s the opposite of what they were prepared for, and Joe gives her a look in the dressing room, a ‘what the fuck?’ all over his face. It’s so far off from what they were expecting it’s actually disappointing.

“I feel all dressed up with nowhere to go,” Adam grumps between periods.

“I have the feeling it’s not ending,” she admits, and Adam arches an eyebrow but doesn’t push further. Instead they win the matchup, then they go on to win the next, and share matching baffled looks while trying very hard not to jinx it.

If it is a long con it’s a well-executed one; by April even Joe has begun to put the ‘96 playoffs into his rearview so he can focus on what they have coming up. It’s not like they have a false sense of security but it’s easy to forget in the heat of a game that there’s a bounty on Claude’s head for his hit on Draper, for the Wings’ humiliation in the playoffs last year, for the Avalanche’s awesome new Stanley Cup. After all that the Red Wings are bound to do something, fight back somehow, and the Avalanche have all been waiting for the moment when they finally do something about it. It’s fucking Detroit, it’s a city built out of blue collar pride, out of knuckles that have been scraped raw and the stubborn refusal to let it be done for them. The fans, the whole state, is howling for Avalanche blood. It’s just a question of when.

The first thing that happens, the first of a long line of things, is that Peter and Larionov get themselves tangled up in some sort of messy ball of limbs and skates, down near the circles.

There’s a whistle and then Patrice relaxes, swings her eyes away from the puck to watch the scuffle like everyone else.

She’s been here before; le Colissee had the same atmosphere she’s feeling now, the sensation of a powder keg overloaded, back when she was a skinny teenager in an ill-fitting Daniel Bouchard jersey. She remembers watching la bataille du Vendredi saint in person, she’d screamed her voice bloody by the end, nearly fought a Habs fan on the way out, and went home feeling more alive than she ever had after a loss. It taught her everything she needed to know about hockey; about teams and bonds and blood.

Peter’s got Larionov in a bear hug, the two of them with their arms wrapped python tight, and eventually Peter tips both of them onto the ice, hissing and spitting as he takes the top position. It’s what had to happen — they’ve been taking pot shots at each other all night and it looks like Larionov decided enough was enough and jumped him. Peter, being Peter, started swinging right back.

This is apparently some sort of Wings secret code for ‘Now is a great time to finally take down Lemieux’. Shanahan grabs hold of Adam’s arms to hold him back and McCarty breaks out like a rocket. There’s a sickening yelp, the sound of bodies slamming together, then Claude is down with McCarty on him, fists flying and a smear of cherry red blood against the ice.

Shanahan is Claude’s friend, Claude named his son after him.

He watches.

Patrice’s overriding thought becomes Claude, which translates into movement before she’s even aware of it, out of her net and coming in hot at McCarty’s back to pull him off of a Claude Lemieux who’s totally turtled up and hiding.

Something inside Patrice takes over, flowing through her like a hot, vicious wave. She is irrationally, painfully angry, and it’s frightening. Not least because it’s new and different and this is not a time to be having strangely maternal feelings at her teammates.

“You asshole, you sneaky, lowlife motherfucker, I swear to Christ —”

She’s entirely focused on getting to Claude, forgetting English and regulations about leaving the crease, so that’s when Shanahan intercepts her; it’s a total WWF move that knocks both of them off their feet, sends her spinning like a top and crashing to the ice chest-first with her teeth clicking together on the force of the hit.

“Stay out of it,” Shanahan’s screaming as he holds her down, blocks a sloppy punch with his forearm and fists in her jersey.

Adam appears right on his heels, snarling curses that make her ears ring. Adam lays into Shanahan immediately, takes the hit that was headed at her across his own shoulders, then pulls Shanahan off Patrice while she pushes up to her skates, wobbling a little and badly out of breath.

“Fucking get off.” Patrice plants her hand against Shanahan’s forehead and shoves, pin wheeling her arms to avoid falling on her ass as Shanahan takes her jersey with him, tangling up on her glove that she’s still wearing for some god forsaken reason.

Fucking Vernon gets in on it somehow, flicks his gear to the ice and starts swinging at Adam — two against one and that shit just pisses her off. She pops out of her jersey like a disoriented groundhog, and there’s Adam getting doubled teamed, Vernon and Shanahan spinning him around like a maypole. Adam’s still on his skates, cussing at them and lashing out with both fists, fighting their combined efforts to take him down to the ice until he just can’t anymore.

Adam goes down under those two bodies, still swinging, and there’s red — on the ice, smeared across the boards, between Patrice’s fingers as she tangles them in Vernon’s jersey and hauls him off of Adam with extreme prejudice.

“Get the fuck away from him,” comes out like a howl, feral and half formed, and she nearly tosses Vernon off his skates in her rage.

Her jersey is still hanging off her arms, but Patrice cocks back and nails Vernon as hard as she can anyway, knocking his helmet flying. Her hand instantly erupts into a cacophony of pain, knuckles screaming.

Vernon blinks at her a couple times like he’s trying to solve a puzzle in his brain. She takes the chance to punch him again because in for a penny and all that. She’s managed to shake her blocker, but Charlotte is hanging on and making her left hooks mostly useless.

The right he throws at her head looks more like reflex than anything but it connects, knocks her to her knees. Her fingers are still knotted in Vernon’s sweater and she uses him to pull herself up. Her head starts pounding, black spots in her vision.

“You bitch, you fucking crazy bitch what do you think you’re fucking doing?” He looks halfway to terrified even as he holds his fists up.

“You call that punchings?” she demands, lifting her upper lip into a snarl that flashes canine, daring him. Patrice isn’t a particularly looking forward to being turned into a smear on the ice, but she’s not planning on backing down either.

They’re close to center ice, spinning gracelessly around with each other and trying to get some decent blows in — Vernon’s got something like five years on her, short enough that she can see the top of his head, but he’s probably 30 pounds heavier which mostly makes up for the age and the height. Patrice manages a couple good shots, tries for an uppercut but fails miserably when her jersey and Charlotte get in the way. Vernon yells “stop fucking punching me, Jesus!” in a weirdly desperate way, throws a left that she wasn’t expecting. It staggers her and he hooks one hand around the back of her left knee and trips her down to the ice, sprawling over her and using those 30 odd pounds to keep her still while she roars at him, hitting ineffectively at his shoulders.

“Lemme go. I’ll fucking kill you. I will. I get you, you fucking asshole.”

It takes Schachte and Scapinello both to pull them apart, and when Vernon gets to his skates the crowd starts roaring and doesn’t stop, chanting his name like a prayer.

“Stay down,” Scapinello orders, hand on her shoulder and keeping her on the ice until Vernon has skated to the bench, waddling back to the dressing room with the crowd roaring his name. When he lets her sit up she feels a thousand times worse, but rolls to her skates anyway. Her eye feels funny.

“You’re bleeding. Go straight to your bench and let medical look at that.” Scapinello looks like he’s torn between impressed and stern, with his job requiring him to take the latter of the two positions. She lets him start leading her towards the bench while she touches her eyebrow curiously. Her fingertips come back smeared with blood, and huh. When did that happen?

Adam’s got Shanahan almost naked from the waist up, pads askew and jersey trailing off one arm. They’re still tangling halfheartedly, hissing in each other’s ears. Adam has a smear of blood on the bridge of his nose and his jersey is twisted up but intact. Shanahan’s watching Patrice, eyes intent and verging on murderous, so she offers him a smile as sharp as razor blades, leaning against the bench as casually as she can manage.

She flicks her sweat-soaked hair out of her eyes, accepts a towel from Aaron Miller, and starts the process of cleaning the blood and sweat off her face. Her hands are shaking with adrenaline withdrawal, bloody at the knuckles, and she knots the towel in her fist to hide it.

There’s a fair amount of blood — now that she’s paying attention to it her eye is stinging and there’s a warm, sticky stream curling around her eye socket and down her cheekbone. She has to wipe her face down twice before one of the team’s trainers deems her clean enough to patch up.

Patrice skates a slow loop of the bench while he’s putting on gloves, avoiding Joe’s eyes. Joe might refrain from yelling at her because of some sort of bizarre Burnaby code of ethics about cursing at girls, but over the years he’s learned to compensate by developing the best ‘you are such an idiot‘ face she’s ever seen.

Patrice shrugs, only a little sheepish.

When she gets back they’re ready to patch her up, and she’s forced to keep her face still while the trainer pinches the edges of the cut together and spritzes it down with some sort of strong-smelling antiseptic, hands surprisingly gentle through the sting.

“How’s it feel?” he asks as he smoothes the first strip over the cut.

“Like I got punch in the face.” No point in lying.

“Want anything for the pain before we get started?”

She arches the eyebrow that isn’t still leaking like a faucet. “Eh, no.”

Goose passes her Adam’s water bottle and Patrice squirts some in her mouth, swishes then spits onto the ice to try and wash the sour iron flavor out of her mouth. “Maybe next time you try duck faster,” he offers.

She laughs, handing the bottle back to him. “Easy for you to say, eh?”

“No, is very hard to say in English.” He skates backward out of reach before she can swat at him.

Patrice probes her teeth with her tongue while the trainer works, relieved to feel all of them standing firm under her inspection. She spits again, pushing her hair back to let the last strip be placed up close to her hairline. “Well Doc, am I gonna live?”

“Still not a doc.” He cups her chin, wiggles her head around to get a look at it. “Won’t need stitches, though. Probably it’ll scar . . . .” It trails off into a question — if she wants more reassurance, if there’s more he can do.

“Meh.”

Over on the other corner of the bench Crawford is screaming at Draper, at Bowman, at anyone within his field of vision, and she finds her attention locking on him. Adam skates over, shows them something about his fight strap, while Shanahan glowers and works on readjusting the elbow guard that’s gone crooked and useless during the fight.

Patrice shoots Adam a grin; he looks good, put together already and not at all like he was involved in a fight, only a slight purpling around one eye and the cut across the bridge of his nose. He smiles back, ducks his head so Crawford can say something into his ear.

“Jersey.” Patrice turns to see Valeri standing there, her jersey held in his outstretched hand. When she doesn’t reach for it immediately he shakes it in her direction, repeating “jersey”.

“T’anks,” she mumbles, which earns her a quick “Da,” and head bob, and she threads her arms into the sleeves, looking up at the jumbotron to check the damage.

They’re taking their sweet time getting the penalties together. Peter’s sitting in the Avs penalty box by himself, looking around with his huge blue-white husky dog eyes, blood smeared under his eye and beside his nose. Claude is already gone, back into the dressing room and probably medical after that.

She’s having a hard time getting her arms up and it takes two attempts before her shoulder joint releases enough to get her sweater over her head.

“You good?” Adam rests a hand against her shoulder, holding her still so he can peer into her eyes. He palpates at her shoulder a little and even though she’s been cleared she lets him check her over. Patrice tries really hard not to shiver when Adam brushes her hair back so he can get a better look at the way her cut disappears into her hairline.

“I’m fine.” She smiles at him, waves off the trainer and his handful of pills. “Thanks for that assist.”

The expression that crosses Adam’s face is difficult to read, a weird mixture of pride and concern, a dark slash between his eyebrows. He reaches over and taps the edge of her cut to reassure himself, then reaches and takes the pills into his own hand. “I’m supposed to get these, not you. Take the damn pills.”

Patrice swallows them dry. Adam is largely unimpressed.

“This is why you’re my favorite goalie.” Craig has a way of appearing when she least expects it, sneaky little goalie feet that aren’t so much fun when she’s on the receiving end of them. He worms between her and Adam like a wrecking ball dressed in goalie pads. “Seriously. My absolute favorite. I want you to marry me and have my badass goalie babies.”

She squirts him with her water bottle.

Any positive vibes from the fight start dissipating when the penalties start rolling in, when Crawford starts up an impressively inventive stream towards Bowman, towards McCarty, towards anything and anyone within earshot including the universe at large.

It’s always funny to watch people realize that Crawford only looks like a choir boy. He’s even messing up his hair.

Pretty soon the whole bench is a wall of cussing and anger, McCarty with a double minor for roughing and no fucking consequences. The team starts to roar their disapproval, but of course it’s Crawford who offers the most eloquent summary of their opinions.

“No balls!” is screamed at Devorski while grabbing at his own dick. “No! Fuckin’! Balls!”

There’s blood on the ice (hers and Claude’s and Peter’s all cherry red out there) and her shoulder is promising her delayed agony; Claude is getting stitched up and Renee is serving her penalty and Peter’s looking around with huge eyes, but she’s back in net.

Crawford gets as far as “You think you can han —” before she’s settling her mask over her head because fuck ‘can she handle it’. She’s the best chance they have of pulling out a win.

The Detroit crowd makes it clear how they feel about this decision. Vernon has cleared out and Osgood has to go and fetch him, a delay Patrice uses to stretch and get her muscles warmed back up, the pain fading away for that moment. Osgood looks like he’s having a particularly unpleasant crap when he comes back out of the dressing room, when Vernon takes his place between the pipes again.

She winks at Osgood as she flicks her cage down.

\\

They start the 2nd four-on-four, the ice a huge expanse in front of her and Vernon back on the other end. Neither one of them have broken the other enough to prevent their return. The boards are clean and the ice is scraped clear of blood and it’s not over — it will never be over, not since Draper and maybe even before that, and definitely not now that both teams have all opened their Pandora’s boxes to unleash all the ugliness they’ve got holed up between them.

Patrice isn’t sure what goes down. All she knows is that the whistle blows, the puck drops, and there are dropped gloves and Adam launching himself at Shanahan.

She leans back on her net and sips from her water bottle because she has nothing else that she can do. If she’s going to become anyone’s overly worried Catholic mother then Adam is the absolute worst person possible for her to worry over. He’s a warrior, tough and rough-ragged and fierce. But she doesn’t enjoy watching her friends get punched in the face, no matter how good they give it back.

Adam ends up with a tampon shoved up both nostrils. He’s panting harshly through his mouth next time he floats by her, but he guards her net and slams bodies around like it’s nothing. His nose is broken — more broken — and turning a fascinating shade of purple and black as they progress, as the Detroit crowd howls, the offense starts rolling, and the fights don’t let up. Adam doesn’t tell her what happened, just looks sheepish and fierce all at once, and tells Patrice she doesn’t need to worry about it.

That means it was about her. Adam gets pretty proactive when someone comes after Patrice.

Detroit’s Ward should know better than to ever go against Brent, because Brent is a fucking beast with his fists, even stripped down to his bare flesh — and okay, Patrice can totally appreciate the aesthetic of a shirtless and sweating Brent Severyn, fists up like a gladiator — but Mike only holds his own against Holmstrom when they tussle in front of Vernon. The whole game devolves into a blur of blood and fists, goals coming hard and fast but fights coming faster. The penalty box gets pretty packed and doesn’t seem to thin out.

Claude doesn’t even try. He comes out, stitched up and head down, and he plays fine and doesn’t spare a glance for McCarty.

(“You’re 220,” Mike reminds him in the dressing room between periods. “And you’re not a bad fighter. You fuckin’ fight back, Claude.”

“There’s no chance when you get drill like that. I got no respect with how he hit me,” Claude says, tired and defeated sounding. Patrice clenches her fist, because she’s got a black eye and she left her blood on the ice alongside his and Claude sounds like he’s given up. “But it happened. An I took it.”

Mike huffs, shrugs like he doesn’t care but holds a tightness in his shoulders that says he does. “It’s your choice, I guess.”)

Shanahan thumbs his dick at her after he ties it on the power play, and it’s only Joe aiming his best ‘pleasedon’t get ejected’ look her way that keeps her from breaking her stick on Shanahan’s face.

Shake it off. Pretend it didn’t happen. She bobs her head a few times; resets.

Crawford has blood on his mind before OT starts. “We’re not gonna lose this shit. Not to the fucking Red Wings. We’re not gonna let that” — a gesture to Patrice’s black eye — “or that" — Claude, looking like the victim of a Mac truck collision — "go unanswered. We’re not gonna roll over and make it easy for them to fuck us over. We’re the fucking Avalanche!"

The icing on top of the Shit Cake that is losing-to-Detroit is that it’s McCarty who scores in OT.

“You owe us a fucking game,” Crawford snaps at Devorski before they clear the bench. He holds his head up and he’s smiling but it has a manic edge to it, barely remaining decent. “You hear me? Why didn’t you toss that asswipe?”

“I should have pulled your goalie,” Devorski replies serenely.

“Gutless pricks,” Mike snarls, lips off his teeth, tossing his stick to the floor of the dressing room. “Fuckin’ pussies, they got no heart if they don’t have home ice, bunch of home town cowards. . .”

The whole room is a stew of venom and rage, there’s no ignoring this loss or putting it aside to focus on the next. They’re going to be dissecting this one for days, over and around, speculating about the atmosphere and picking apart the fights that helped to swing the momentum, the way the Wings suddenly skated with purpose once Draper was avenged.

Crawford stalks off. They can hear him screaming in the hall, taking the piss out of someone, but no one particularly wants to go out there and see what’s going on. A line brawl is one thing; they’re dangerously close to an off-ice fight. ‘That’s hockey, eh?’ is as thick in their veins as blood, and that’s all that stops them from piling out of the room to defend their coach.

Save it for the game the little voice in Patrice’s head that sounds disturbingly like Adam whispers.

They let Crawford and whoever he ran into scream it out and strip out of their gear in simmering silence.

Patrice has to get out and breathe. More and more she’s becoming convinced that her head might actually pop after all of this, humiliation and pain combining to make her completely explode, and she’s barely out of her pads before she pushes out of the room and into the hallway.

Whoever designed the Joe was a sadist, the hallway linking the rink to the dressing rooms set up so that the home team has to pass the visitor’s dressing room, and of fucking course there’s someone besides her out there. The night can’t possibly get any better so it might as well get a whole lot worse.

If there’s any consolation it’s that Osgood lets out a little squeak when she storms out, eyes getting wide in his face and backing up slightly. Being able to intimidate him in his own house, even momentarily, sends a little shiver of pleasure through her that eases the roiling in her gut.

He recovers quickly, slips into a pose that’s clearly been planned to give him the best ‘thoughtlessly confident’ look possible, and Patrice bites back a laugh at his expense.

P’tit christ,” she mumbles, arms crossing and hip cocking, lip twisting up. She’s got a couple inches on him, even barefoot, and she’s not above using that height to loom. “This is tradition now?”

“This is my arena. Pretty sure I can go wherever I want.” When Osgood is on home turf, when he’s comfortable, there’s a cut to his shoulders that looks very much like arrogance when he shrugs.

He’s watching her, narrowed eyes and lines between his brows. There’s a strange moment where he reaches out, his fingers hovering over her black eye while she snarls, lips lifting off her teeth like a junkyard hound. It’s a matter of quickness and her unexpected, wiry strength that allows her to take him off his guard. Osgood grumbles when she fists in his jacket, both hands digging bruises into his shoulders.

“Fuck off, Crisse.” Her head is burning and she’s running on fumes after a punishing game; Osgood wasn’t even playing. Patrice’s not up for toying with him, she just wants to shower and start drinking.

“What if I want to check Vernie’s damage?” He grins, gaze flicking toward her eye and holding.

“Fuck. You.” She releases him with a snort, takes herself out of his space.

“I should guess that’s what you’d like. You, room full of guys. Does everyone get a turn? Is this mine?” His smile never falters; if anything it gets larger, taking a deliberate edge, and it hits her like a blade between her breasts that Osgood is getting off on this.

It’s nothing she hasn’t heard before, rivals and teammates and fans, but it settles under her skin. Patrice is locked in helpless fury, her whole body vibrating with restrained motion, and Osgood fucking straightens his jacket like an offended socialite, smoothing the creases she dug into it. The cocky tilt to his hips shifts and he doesn’t even realize it. There’s something easy about his posture, like ego and sexuality go hand in hand, thoughtless.

“That what you want? You think that is new, I don’t hear all that?” She’s too exhausted to feel embarrassed or even annoyed.

“I want a fucking apology.”

“For fuckin’ what? For Claude again? You got your blood for that. I’m not fuckin’ apologizing.” It feels too much like swallowing her pride.

Her body is screaming and her head is shrinking and growing with every beat of her heart, fingers knotting with the desire to strangle Osgood, and then he touches her bruised cheek again, like a proposition.

There’s a moment where things could go either way; Patrice’s hands are curled, knuckles forming tight knots under her skin. She’s bled and fought for this shit already today, no way she’ll let him walk away thinking he won.

Osgood catches her punch, sloppy and insincere, swallows her fist with the curl of his fingers and hauls her forward. “Y’know what I hate? I hate how even when you lose you still play those perfect fucking games,” he hisses.

It comes out of nowhere, like a shot through heavy traffic, and it sets her back on her heels as she tries to understand what the fuck that’s supposed to even mean. While she’s spending precious seconds trying to puzzle out where Osgood’s coming from he kisses her, lips rough like ice and cold air make them; the hand on her back softens and then she’s kissing back, biting into his mouth. She opens to him and he groans low and deep in his chest, a damningly sexual sound. It’s not the sound someone who’s baiting her makes.

Somehow, without her noticing, everything has changed. When Osgood pulls away his eyes are dangerously, violently blue, he’s panting roughly over her lips like an enraged bull. After several seconds where she doesn’t respond he whispers out an enraged, vulnerable “fuuuck”, swipes his hand across the back of his mouth and lets her go.

She launches a stream of Quebecois curses at him before he cuts her off with another kiss, presses into her like they were made to fit this way, and so she braces herself against his smaller frame and consumes him. Osgood’s blonde stubble is so pale it’s almost invisible, not like Mike, like Pasqual, and it’s tearing up her face and it burns. She’s braced for physical confrontation but not like this, pressing her tongue past his teeth while Osgood fists in her short hair.

“We can’t do this here.” It’s the first logical thing either one of them have managed, and it comes after several minutes of dry humping in the hallway, playing roulette with their careers. It assumes a continuation, and Patrice would laugh in his face and stalk off except that she’s aching, hips rolling thoughtlessly against his thigh. If Patrice can’t fight she wants to fuck, ride Osgood (Red Wing) to the floor and wring everything out of him and leave him behind.

“This is your fucking shit hole,” she says —dares— and Osgood is shorter than her but thick, almost lifting her off her feet in a quick scramble across the hall, the click of a door handle in her periphery and then a dim room lit with a few bare bulbs. Not a room anyone is meant to see, or linger in. A cleaner’s closet of some sort, chemicals and mops and rags draped everywhere to dry. Some of those rags might have her blood on them, or Claude’s, and that thought has Patrice biting down on Osgood’s lip hard enough to taste iron, feel the skin split.

“Ow, fuck.” He grinds the delicate bones of her wrist under his fingers. “Fuck, you’re such a cunt.”

She laughs. “Oh, it’s way too late to flatter me now.”

It’s a bad idea, a catastrophically bad idea, a career endingly bad idea, but all Patrice can think about is how satisfying it would be to watch him fall apart. She tightens her fingers on his ass (his unsurprisingly magnificent ass, damnit) to urge him forward and he bucks against her, against the circles her free hand is rubbing against his cock, tugging the zipper down.

They’re keyed up and he’s easy, hot and thick in her hand as she shoves his slacks and underwear out of the way so she can get her hands on him. He’s leaking from the tip already, matching the hot slick between her thighs, and she curls her fingers around him, pressing her palm against his mouth to conceal his groan so they can both deny how much it sounds like relief.

She strokes him dirty and rough, it’s too dry but each swipe of her hand draws out more precome to slick the way and Osgood makes these stupid faces, a low grunting sound in his chest as he grips her hips. Patrice swats his hands away before resuming her strokes, curling her body down over him and enveloping.

Adrenaline makes messes of emotions. Patrice bites his lip again as he starts to come, pulls her hand back and lets him wet the front of his slacks and button-down. Osgood lets out a broken, desperate sound and grabs at himself, bucking into his own fist and wringing himself out.

“Maybe I have my whole team. Maybe one by one or all at once,” she snarls, and she hates how her voice shakes and turns smoky with sex, with want so sharp it makes her knees ache. “Either way, this is the closest you get to what you want.”

“My fucking pants,” he grunts.

There’s not much to say to that. Patrice sees herself out (of the fucking closet, fuck that she is a lady with class). The slick between her legs is making her thighs slip awkwardly as she walks; hopefully the showers have cleared out.

\\

Patrice blanks on getting Osgood off in order to make it through the rest of the evening, showering and dressing, hopping the plane and getting the fuck out of Detroit because they are not spending even one night there.

There’s no one she feels safe opening up to, no confessional aboard to unload her conscience. It was stupid and dangerous so she locks it away and huddles up with Adam and Goose at the back of the plane, listening to Marshy and Peter play video games and dissecting the game minute by minute, pulling the stats out of her head while they’re fresh. Patrice is awesome at compartmentalizing; she’s an athlete.

She gets in some quality time with her vibrator when she finally stumbles home, biting at her wrist to erase Osgood’s fingerprints from the skin. She’ll deal with it another day, when her body isn’t starting a slow revolt against her.

She’s just done with the whole thing.

\\

Her eye is puffy and almost swollen shut when Patrice wakes up, a spectacular shiner, and she holds a frozen bag of peas over it as she makes breakfast, ladles it onto her plate and meanders into the living room to turn on SportsCenter.

That’s her face on the TV; there has to be some sort of color editing going on because there’s no way the blood was that bright against her face, that ostentatious and out there. She wasn’t that pale, she’s certain.

“There’s a reason women don’t play in the NHL,” the commentator is saying, his voice oozing respectability and reasonableness. From a certain angle it looks like he’s genuinely concerned about her well-being. “And it’s this situation, right there. A hockey fight is an ugly thing, and it’s distressing to watch Roy get into it with Vernon. Hockey is a violent game and there’s no reason at all to expect women to take on that risk.”

Not everyone is that carefully polite in their biases.

“Mark my words, we’re gonna be seeing new rules about fighting in the NHL if the Avalanche let Roy play again after this. The GMs and Bettman, they’re gonna make this game soft, because seeing her like that is bad for business. There’s already outcry from a bunch of different groups – these are the same groups that pushed for Roy’s signing in the first place, chew on that for a second. Don’t be surprised if we see fighting turned into an automatic expulsion after this, take all the teeth out of the game. The best thing the Avalanche can do, for Roy and the NHL, is to keep her out of the line-up until they can find a way out of that contract. Even a payout is worth it to preserve the tradition of NHL hockey as we know it.”

They’re right about one thing — SportsCenter treats the footage like a snuff film, like they shouldn’t be showing it, and then put it on a loop anyway. Patrice looks angry and magnificent, blood smeared across her face and hair in mangled waves, jersey hanging off her arms. She’s immensely proud of that video. She records it on VHS and mails a copy to her family.

The Free Press has a clever headline about women and bleeding. They call her unbalanced and over emotional, all the bad qualities women are naturally prone to. Patrice laughs the first time someone faxes it to her, short and sudden like a surprise, wondering absently if this gem is going to end up in her maman’s scrapbooks, or if she’ll decide to pass on this particular bit of journalistic wordplay.

Joe calls to ask how her head is doing, when what he really means is have you heard the press? Patrice makes the decision not to call him on the ruse because Joe is a damn good captain, but even more than that he’s a truly decent guy, and his concern is genuine if misplaced.

“You’ve got a team that’s got your back,” Joe reminds her, because from the beginning he’s been concerned about her tendency to go off half-cocked and without backup.

In her defense, she’s had teammates that would gladly throw her under the bus and ones that would take a bullet for her, and sometimes they’ve even been different people.

She makes a face. “I know, Joe. One of them need my help.”

There’s a long pause, then a soft “yeah,” that sounds like relief.

A few other guys call after that; Claude sounds embarrassed and Peter sounds exhausted and Craig keeps proposing to her. She’s starting to suspect it might not be a joke.

Adam calls five minutes after everyone else and laughs at her because he’s a massive dick who has somehow become her best friend, and the past 24 hours slide off her shoulders like sloughing snow. It’s all so stupid. It’s a distraction.

Once that’s over Patrice cuts the article out carefully, all smooth and straight, and tacks it on her cork board next to her grocery list and the phone number to that pizza place Adam loves (and one of those two things gets more use than the other). She puts the tack in between the word Bleeding and the period point, presses a kiss to the newsprint before she grabs her keys off the counter and takes off for practice.

\\

(She hears from Pierre about two days after the whole mess.

“Papillon. You can't be a normal goalie for me, can you?”

Patrice gives him a flat look, but he’s got enough collateralized respect for her to settle on “goalies are never normal.”

He’s in his office, coffee on his desk and stacks of paperwork strewn everywhere, and somehow he manages to look like she’s still his biggest headache at the moment.

“This is absolutely ridiculous, Pierre. You have to realize that. First they say I’m gonna ruin hockey with my weak girly nature, and now they’re pissed off because I fought someone and it wasn't girly enough. They gotta pick a goddamned side with this one, because I’m getting fucked either way.”

“I agree. Which I why I fought it out for you.”

There were, apparently, a few hurried calls between Bettman and the GMs, a lot of threats and calls for action.

Pierre is a GM’s GM, there’s a lot of respect there. He very calmly made it clear that hockey is hockey, that any relevant penalties were served in the game, and anyone who doesn’t understand what that means doesn’t get to have a say in how he runs his organization.

What he says carries weight in ways few other people do.

It takes longer to show, but the fight has another interesting side effect. People who before called her soft, doubted her ability to play with the big boys, some of those people turn it around. In the following weeks more than half the commentators defend her actions, some quite vocally.

“Stop the presses and ring the bells!” Woody Paige writes in the Post, complete with his usual abuse of exclamation points. “The world has finally seen in Roy’s defiance of the Dead Wings what we in Denver have always known: St Patrice is the real deal. She can hang, she’s one of us! This is a goalie who’s going places, and it’s on the back of her own effort and indomitable will.” The Roy, 33 jerseys sell out, even outside of Colorado and Quebec. Someone whispers that Patrice is almost as famous as Mario Lemieux, and she laughs and laughs.

The NHL sends Patrice and Manon through a press tour that summer. The suits insist it’s totally unrelated, but they stress the importance of being charming and approachable and not at all surly while looking squarely in Patrice’s direction. The press take a lot of photos, Manon looking beautiful and fierce and Patrice looking utterly lost with the attention.

Sometimes she watches Manon braid her hair before bed, scratches absently at her own short crop and wonders what it’s like to be hockey’s Golden Girl instead of its biggest headache.)

\\

Jean Martineau isn’t anywhere to be seen at practice, and normally he’s the one who greets her at the door after any sort of PR related incident. That bodes well, means maybe she won’t have any above-and-beyond interviews scheduled and that they trust her to handle herself like a hockey player with the press. Jean’s always been pretty good about letting Patrice be a goalie first, even though his primary job is worrying about her or, more specifically, what comes out of her mouth.

Patrice spends practice skating the same drill over and over, post to post, until her hip flexors are screaming murder and her knees are shaking.

François barks “Reset!” at her in Quebecois until her body snaps into position without thought. She keeps at it long after François gives her permission to move on.

The team skates, and skates, and Crawford paces and yells and sends them out “again, dammit! Until you get it fucking right. Jesus Christ.”

They shower and get dressed in silence. Patrice has every intention of going home and drinking, trying to forget the game and the fight and especially what happened after. Her head is starting to ache again, and it’s making her nauseous.

Instead there are interviews. A lot of reporters asking her what she was thinking, what prompted her to skate out and engage like that, and it’s nice to not need to think when she says “I have a teammate who is getting jump. I can help, an I did.”

“What do you say to people who think it was distressing to see a woman in that position? It can’t have been easy for your father.”

“I tell them it’s worse for me, watching Claude get hurt. An I say I already have a papa; he’s great. He call me this morning to remind me to take my glove off next time.”

It makes sense that someone will walk out with her after the media coverage following the fight. That’s Pierre’s rule, any time Patrice shows up in the news for something that might piss someone off, and she’s silently grateful for his concern considering some of the messages she’s passed to the DPD. There’s more that she doesn’t see, ones that make Pierre and Jean pale around the lips, and those she’s fine with leaving to them.

Adam’s appointed himself her security detail, partially because he can handle it but mostly because he’s the only person she won’t scream at for following her around like poorly-dressed Secret Service.

Patrice is a loner, partially from inclination and partially because even now, years after Fredericton, trust is still hard to come by. She’s a goalie, the last defense, and she’s used to not depending on anyone too much, but somewhere along the way Adam became indispensable without her even noticing. Sometimes she worries about that, but ultimately the decision to trust Adam has already happened, happened a while ago and so subtly that she can’t really pinpoint when. All she can do is accept it, and prepare herself for the possible consequences of it later.

“Thank you,” she says, because it’s only polite, and tosses her stuff into the back. Adam tosses his in after her.

He’s never followed her all the way home before, and it’s a little baffling why he’s decided to do it now.

He and Jennifer did go off-again a few weeks ago; maybe he’s lonely or something.

“What’s going on, Footer?”

“So, the fight.” Adam clicks into his seat and she groans, dropping her head to the steering wheel.

“I fight him because it seem like a good idea then,” she muffles into the wheel. “I am the one who can help, so I help.”

Adam whistles, a low roll like Crawford uses to indicate something was wrong with the play he just saw. “If you wanna fight someone that’s not my business.”

“Then what do you want?” Now she’s curious, and Adam is the first person she’s spoken to today to take the fight at face value, accept that it was a thing she needed to do and move on from that.

“Didn’t your brothers teach you anything about fighting?”

She snorts. “You kidding? My maman barely lets me play hockey with them until I am too old to tell no. She will kill them if they teach me fighting.”

He nods like he’s hearing exactly what he expected. She’s a little offended; she didn’t think her fight was that bad, all things considered.

“It wasn’t that bad,” Adam agrees, “but since you’re gonna try that again you need to be better at it. Makes it easier for me to clean up after.”

Patrice blinks at him, starts maneuvering towards her house. “What do you mean, since I’m gonna?”

“Since you’re gonna try again you need to be better at it,” he repeats patiently. Adam’s job is being protective of her, he has a hard time letting it go sometimes.

She flips a semi-legal U at the intersection. “Fine, but we’ll go to your place.”

\\

“Harder.”

She pushes, brings her weight to bear and —

Harder.”

Patrice flicks her hair out of her eyes, slicks it back with sweat and water, and glares at Adam. He grins at her over the edge of his fists, the fucker, his hands still held up. “I am going harder.” With any luck Patrice is never going to need to know how to beat the shit out of anyone else, but with the way the games with Detroit are trending she’s not holding her breath.

She’s exhausted; they’re fresh off practice and even with her knuckles wrapped in medical tape they ache after the abuse she’d put them through. Her shoulders aren’t used to the motions and they’re burning, but Adam’s right there with a taunt or a jab to provoke her into going again.

“C’mon, Patty. You’re holding back.” Adam jabs her on the shoulder, hard enough to jar her and send a snarl of pain through the bite mark he doesn’t know Osgood put there. Adam’s nose is a livid, violent purple, tinting towards black and even green at the edges, and his left eye has a shadow of a bruise that makes him look sleep deprived. The whole center of his face looks puffy and painful, but he ran the drills without complaint, panting harshly through his mouth. “We can’t let those fucking assholes beat us to the punch again.”

She rolls her shoulders to relieve the burn then brings them back up like he’s trying to model for her, places her feet and imagines doing this on skates. “You said I wasn’t too bad.” Right-right-left.

“You left your glove on. I may have been exaggerating a little.”

Adam will never tell her he was worried. They have carefully cultivated their friendship around the unspoken agreement that they will never, ever worry about anything that’s just a part of hockey. Patrice is a goalie and Adam’s a fighter; hockey related risk taking is part and parcel of who they are. But he’s showing her what to do next time, letting her land punches on his shoulders and chest, which is as close to protecting her as she’ll ever let him get.

“Now, like you mean it. Like I’m Osgood.”

Everything flashes red. She swings forward, throwing her whole shoulder behind her fist, slamming into Adam’s palm with a meaty thump.

The look he shoots her is feral and joyful, dark around the edges. “That’s what I want. Again.”

\\

“You just gotta keep hitting.”

Patrice stretches her legs out, wiggling her toes until they crack. Probably she should look into repainting her nails. “Eh?”

He swirls his beer around for a couple seconds. They’ve dropped onto the couch after their impromptu boxing lesson, and Patrice has flicked on the TV to some soft and inoffensive sitcom so she won’t have nightmares later. Adam grabbed two beers out of his fridge, cold and American, and for once she’s not going to complain because the alcohol soothes her nerves and the cold can feels like heaven on her black eye. There’s an array of Italian takeout on the coffee table; the delivery guy had appeared deeply concerned when Adam had opened the door with Patrice at his elbow, both of them sweaty and looking like they’d gone 10 rounds with Apollo Creed.

“In a fight. If you have another one. Don’t stop punching. If you never give them a chance to get their bearings then you sorta win by default.” There’s a hint of sweat along his hairline, and Adam swipes at it before it can run.

She wrinkles her nose at him. “Default?”

“You win automatically because the other guy can’t do shit about it.”

“Ah.” Patrice takes a drink of her beer, stops to consider what he’s suggesting. “Who tells you that?”

Adam has sisters, and aside from some typical childhood scraps with his twin she’s not sure where he would get that knowledge. He seems to think Patrice should have gotten it from her brothers, after all.

“My coaches, mostly.” He shrugs; there’s a story there she’s a little too drunk to suss out. “You just gotta keep hitting and hope you take them down before you get too tired to keep going. That’s all it is.”

He makes it sound so simple. “I remember that.”

“That’s why I want you to learn before you need to.” That flares something warm in her gut; she’s never really had that sort of concern directed at her. Her maman and papa, bless their hearts, were mostly focused on trying to keep her away. Adam’s going out of his way to teach her how to keep herself safe, and there’s a concern there that she’s not sure how to accept.

“Santé.” Patrice taps her can to Adam’s and goes back to half paying attention to the show, munching on her spaghetti.

“Yeah. Good talk.” Adam groans as he gets off the couch, a display of discomfort he saves for Patrice and Goose — his friend and his D-partner respectively, people he can afford to be defenseless around — and Patrice steals his space on the sofa for her legs, burrowing into the warm spot he left behind.

“I got up for napkins,” he grouses, tosses them onto her stomach so she can wipe up the tomato ring she’s developing around her mouth. Patrice swings her legs up, lets Adam sit before insinuating her toes under his thighs for warmth.

Adam gifts her with the longest-suffering sigh in the world before he takes the remote and switches over to baseball. She makes sure to jab her toes into him more than necessary.

She ends up sleeping in the guest room, Adam overriding her protests that she’s not that drunk, and she uses his shower before finally trundling home something like 18 hours later smelling like Adam’s body wash and stale clothes.

\\

Patrice tries to put what happened out of her mind; frottage and a hand job don’t mean anything has changed, Osgood still sets her teeth on edge and she still despises the Red Wings, so lingering on it doesn’t do any good.

This is the playoffs — everything in the world, every petty slight and moment of discomfort becomes insignificant in the face of one looming, overriding goal.

The Avalanche make short work of the Oilers and the Blackhawks, and Roenick keeps his mouth shut for once. It’s a little disappointing; he’d been a distraction last season, but it was a welcome one. There’s nothing that makes Patrice feel as alive as proving someone wrong, it’s better than sex, and without that challenge she feels a little unmoored. It makes the playoffs feel different somehow.

May 15th rolls around and the Red Wings hit Denver.

“The fuck are they doing?”

Mike’s the first to draw her attention to Scotty Bowman and his team of helpers, lugging a six-and-a-half foot bench up to the visitor’s area, clearing the existing bench and folding chairs and replacing it with their own construction.

“Can they do that?”

Crawford’s face is set in furious lines. “I’ll take care of this with Pierre.”

Apparently there’s nothing that can be done, because come game time the Red Wings are sitting on their homemade bench, and Crawford looks as pissed off as they’ve ever seen him. Scotty Bowman is radiating a smug calm, and when he shoots a “like my improvements?” at Crawford it takes both assistants and Brent to keep him from exploding over the boards.

“It’s bullshit, and that’s why we’re gonna kick those motherfucker’s asses,” he announces in the dressing room, pacing. “This is our fucking house.”

Joe’s the voice of reason in a room that’s getting less reasonable by the minute. “Just nobody go off half cocked. We gotta play this smart.”

Patrice shares a little smile with Adam and Sevy, both of whom immediately begin looking more innocent than seems humanly possible considering what she knows about them. “If Peter keeps his hands off Larionov.”

“That was once,” comes an anguished cry from somewhere near the back of the room.

Adam drops into her stall next to her, edging Craig away. Craig, puppy of a goalie that he is, bounds off to investigate Goose and Valeri, see what they’re up to in the Russian Corner, even though he doesn’t understand a word of it. Adam elbows her, murmurs “hey” and holds up her game puck in one hand, safe and secure.

He puts the puck in her hand, heads over to his stall to finish dressing. No drama, no fuss. No one bothers Patrice once her puck is in her hand — focus is the most vital thing in the world for a goalie and they’re not gonna mess with a good thing by distracting her, talking to her, even expecting common courtesy like having her move out of their way. She could sit down in the middle of the room and the flow of the room would adjust to her presence without comment.

She needs that peace more here, possibly, than she does anywhere in the world. Detroit and Colorado — even without the clarity that distance gives she can already tell it’s going down into legend.

Big Mac is as lit up as it’s ever been, and the Wings have their bench solution, but the Avalanche have Patrice Roy. The Wings put 35 shots on net and she holds them to one goal, she gives their sluggish offense a chance to win.

After the win she prowls the halls, searching Osgood out like a bloodhound. Patrice is high on victory, adrenaline bubbling through her veins like light, and all she can focus on is the desire to find Osgood and rub his face into it, she’s starting and he’s riding the bench through yet another playoff series and they won.

It’s a burn, a compulsion she doesn’t understand or even own, it’s a foreign object under her skin and she can’t root it out.

She catches Osgood in the hall, chimes out “Hello, Crisse,” and from the resigned set of his shoulders he was expecting her. Osgood Baiting is all sorts of fun, gives him an angry red flush that she enjoys seeing for reasons that she doesn’t want to examine too closely.

Game 2, and Patrice is superb, as close to technically perfect as it’s possible to get, and they still lose it 4-2. Patrice is the only thing even holding them in the game, Joe and Peter have done some sort of collective disappearing act, and they lose it in the last five minutes with both goals sitting like bruises on Patrice’s shoulders. Uwe is out with his back again, and Detroit is fucking manhandling them out there. That game, the brawls . . . it showed the Red Wings something, some underlying weakness or discord, and they’ve latched onto it like a leech, vile and impossible to pick off.

“Shit,” Adam mumbles, hip propped against the boards and sharing his water during a TV time out. “Osgood looks like he wants your head or something.”

Patrice looks over, focuses on the glare Osgood’s giving her and winks, slow and deliberate like a joke. “Yeah, something,” she agrees, puts it away until it’s time to deal with it.

After Game 3, Patrice would be content to never see Kozlov or hear “Hi-de-ho, boys” ever again. Crawford goes off in the dressing room, about lethargy and self-satisfaction, about how they don’t deserve to win with the way they’ve been playing. Mike is a veteran, he’s a winner, and he looks around the room and says, deadly calm, “We’re sick to fucking death of the goddamn passengers on this team. Contribute, or get out.”

The rest of the evening is a study in awkward guilt, everyone either silent or silently furious, a snap and a spark away from igniting into something dangerous.

Patrice then takes it one step farther, a mixture of boredom and frustration and stupid fucking questions at the after-action presser settling under her skin and making her itch. She’s so completely over it. “Let’s play.”

Her chair drops to four legs with a loud thump, and she pushes herself to her full height slowly. The microphone is too far away, and she takes it off the table, holds it like she’s preparing for a sideline report. “We don’t care what happens so far. It’s what happens now until the end that matter. As a team, we gotta be more tough on their players. We gotta make Detroit pay that price. I know my team, I know we wanna win an I know we gonna come out tougher that we ever done. We’re not gonna do cheap shots, but we gonna prove to them we want to win this Cup as much as they do, prob’ly more.”

She drops that challenge there, sets the microphone back in place with more care than it warrants, and stalks out to a barrage of follow-ups and camera flashes.

They trundle out to the bus in that same surly silence, that same implicit threat over their heads.

“What did you mean, exactly?” Joe’s arms are crossed and he’s got that look, the Joe-Sakic-Is-Not-Impressed look that Patrice privately loves because Joe gets perturbed so rarely. He’s had Detroit so deep up his ass it’s a wonder he can skate and if it’s because of that or because of some other issue he’s struggling. Joe keeps his head up and he plays clean, he’s quick and he’s absolutely deadly when he has the puck but that’s no defense against the constant, looming threat of Detroit’s defense.

Joe’s a great skater, and a pretty playmaker, but he strikes fear into precisely no one. He’s a class-act, and that’s not what they need.

“I mean what I said, Joe. We gotta tough up an take the fight to them, not let them ride us like easy whores the whole game.”

“Casseau, we’re on the run this series and you gotta spit right into their face like that?”

She tenses at the old name, the weight of years that it has on it. “Maybe we are not suppose to be running, Joe. Maybe we win the Cup last year an gotta play like that again.”

“Patty’s got a point, Joe.” Mike’s hand settles around her elbow. She hesitates, shoulders gone tight. Mike’s got a hard edge around his eyes, and a posture like a challenge. “Dammit, we gotta show them we’re not just pansy-ass figure skaters.”

Every conversation between her and Mike has been awkward and stilting since what Patrice privately calls the Stanley Cup Incident; Mike says they’re okay and she believes him because the alternative is to actually hash out what happened between them and Patrice is not going near that conversation if she can help it. Mostly they avoid hanging out, or talking, or looking in the same general direction.

“I’m not saying she doesn’t.” Joe spares her a look, a faint nod of agreement. Patrice accepts it. “But we don’t target people. We’re a team, we work like a unit.”

“The unit’s busted, Joe.”

“The whole point of a team is to have each other’s backs. I’m not pleased with how we’ve been playing, but sometimes we all pull extra weight if we have to, because we are a team. We don’t point fingers. We do our job.”

“I can punch Osgood,” Patrice mutters darkly. Joe rolls his eyes towards her and very nearly snaps. “You’re not our Goon, Pat. You can’t be.”

“I’m not scare of anyone in the whole damn NHL, Joe. You wanna know? Konstantinov laugh in our face when we say we gonna play more dirty hockey. He thinks we can’t do anything.” She throws her hands up, disgusted.

Joe shakes his head, arms easy at his sides. “Someone starts playing dirty, you know who they go after? Peter. And Pete’s already got most of Detroit riding his ass, you want to paint a target on his back for the rest of them?”

Mike’s starting to tinge as red as his hair. “Then we fucking fight back, we push where they push and then push back harder!”

“That’s what they want. They want us to try and play dirty, because they can out dirty us any damn day of the week. You have got to realize that.”

“How can you say that when we aren’t even fucking trying?”

“I’m saying it because we can’t give them an excuse to bring up last year. They’ve got a lot of emotion and motivation tied up in that; we don’t wanna give them fuel.” Joe’s a thinker — he’s lethal but he’s strategically lethal. “We can go back and forth on this for-fucking-ever, Mike. But I say we don’t hit unless it’s to answer back and that’s how we’re gonna play this. We gotta be smart.”

Mike spits, “It’s not smart, it’s weak, Joe.”

Joe gets mad like a blizzard, freezing the air around him and turning every word whip-sharp. “We’re not here to start fights, we are here to win games.”

“This is fucking stupid,” Patrice snaps — macho posturing aside, she’s exhausted. She’s pacing and wrung out and so fucking over this, crisse. “How is this gonna help the team, eh? We gonna fix all this now by fighting here? Then bring it on, cause I wanna win. I’ll say that to anyone who get in my face to ask.”

“You’re playing right into their fuuu —” Joe stops himself, takes several deep breaths, clearly fighting between emotion and his Burnaby Code of Ethics, his eyelids tinting red when he closes them. It takes a second; two. Joe takes a breath and pulls back from the edge, slips into his calm, bland public persona. Joe never does that to his teammates, because Quoteless Joe Sakic and Team Captain Joe Sakic, are different people. It feels like he’s hiding from them. “I don’t want to hear another word from anyone about this before tomorrow. We can discuss this then.”

Mike pulls back like he’s been hit, and Patrice turns toward the bus without looking back, clenching her fists so hard the knuckles crack, loud in the sudden silence.

“Yeah team,” Mike mutters under his breath as he follows her onto the bus.

\\

The thing about a team, the big thing, is that it’s a unit made up of people. Even with a singular goal they don’t always agree about how to get there, or where to start, or on anything at all.

It’s a crack. It’s tiny, but the playoffs magnify things to a ridiculous degree. Those little cracks become chinks, become liabilities, and become insurmountable. Patrice and Joe never come to an agreement on this, and it turns out having Joe Sakic ice you out is a pretty shitty experience. The team starts to subdivide along those lines, and they never come back from that.

Game 4 is an abysmal effort.

Devorski and Patrice, they have a history after her fight with Vernon. There’s a penalty call she’s positive he fucked up on, there’ve been so many bad penalties, and she snaps out “Goddammit, Paul, get your fucking eyes open.”

He pivots smoothly, skates back for a second. “You gonna apologize for that language, Roy?”

“Fuck your fucking apologies, that was a weak call an you . . .”

Devorski calmly announces “Colorado, number 33. Ten minute misconduct.”

Patrice somehow fucks up five of her twenty shots-against and gets pulled for Craig. Craig’s a good goalie, but he’s not ready to star in the playoffs.

Craig does his best.

Peter limps to the bus with an injured hip after the game, just like Joe predicted, and it doesn’t take long for Crawford to look around and say “We lost Peter for Saturday. I have no idea after that, because we might not fucking get an ‘after that’.”

Game 5 is do-or-die, it’s three games down and that’s the sort of game Patrice was born to play. She puts everything behind her, because Game 4 doesn’t mean a thing anymore. The team chases Vernon off the ice and get their lumps in against Osgood, and Patrice hangs on in her end and posts a shutout.

She’s absolutely magnificent.

It’s not enough.

Detroit finishes them off in six. Game 5 turns out to be all they had, a champion’s punch that left them open to that final right hook. They fought with tooth and nail, but the team’s splitting apart at the edges and it’s impossible to say if it’s a Stanley Cup hangover, or a case of too-much-too-fast, or if they’re just not as good as they were the year before. They’re not cohesive, there are stress fractures.

They lose in front of the Detroit crowd who’re howling to split the flesh off their bones, and they group in the dressing room afterwards because no one wants to be the first to go out there and face them again. After that shit-storm of an experience all they want is to stick together, huddle in their safe space and try to work out where, exactly, they went sideways.

Crawford is disgusted with them, like they’ve failed just to spite him. Joe’s face is locked in the intense-disappointment-cum-sadness look he gets when someone has fucked up, which is somehow worse considering how imperturbable he normally is. And Patrice is nursing a strange, empty space that she can’t seem to fill up. She stalks out of the room ahead of the rest of them, stinking of sweat and trembling, fists knotted and roiling in every direction at once until she’s dizzy with it.

Patrice wants someone to push her buttons, because her body is jointed funny and her skin is a size too small and she feels helpless and vicious and so very, very angry. She needs Osgood’s rage, the way it matches and somehow dulls her own, takes the edges off and makes it bearable.

Osgood is where she was hoping (was worried) he would be, he’s scented like alcohol and Western Conference Champions is stretched across his chest like a taunt; she fists in those words, watches them bunch and become unintelligible under her fingers. It’s almost as good as erasing the victory that gave the words to him.

He tries to push her back, put some distance between them. His nostrils flare like he can smell instability. “Fuck, Roy, you —”

“Shut up.” Patrice’s not interested in hearing arrogance, sympathy is somehow worse. All she wants is to wipe him out of the universe, take his place and win by proxy.

His hair is wet and sticky between her fingers. It must hurt him to pull away, with the grip she has on his hair. “I don’t —” he starts.

have time, have protection, understand.

“I really don’t care.” When Patrice breathes in his scent — sweat and confidence — she can almost remember what this felt like last season, when she was riding high on the best game of her life and before Mike decided they were a mistake.

“Roy.” Osgood growls at her. “You have any idea what the fuck you’re doing?”

The flair of anger is a relief, it’s steady footing after the hesitation and flash of humanity, and Patrice lunges, throws the first punch with a kiss that bruises and stings.

“Don’t tell me I don’t know what I’m doing.” She’s supposed to be making different choices, better ones, Patrice’s supposed to be the better person in this whole mess and it sticks with her that she’s not.

Patrice has some rather athletic sex with Osgood in the trainer’s room, face down and draped across the table, and Osgood striking but never filling that blank spot in her chest. Osgood has a hand curled around her neck tight enough to hurt, lips against her ear and hissing painful, dirty, brutal things but he’s filling her thick and hard and just right, her face pressed to vinyl seats to muffle the breathy gasps she can’t seem to hold back.

She sounds out-of-breath and broken. It’s the worst sort of relief because it’s for the wrong reasons, dancing too close to violent and reckless and there are going to be bruises on her hips and back in the morning.

“Oh, fuck.” Osgood pulls out, comes into his fist and across the backs of her thighs with that low, rolling moan that’s becoming frighteningly familiar to her.

He cleans and tucks while Patrice tugs her pants back on, smoothes her hair and sniffs herself to see how thick the smell of sex is on her, if it’s obvious and damning. Their mingled fluids are slick between her thighs, wet and uncomfortable; suddenly more than anything she wants a shower, wants to wash away the feel of failure and Osgood that’s lingering on her skin.

“I hope you lose,” she says, without any meaning behind it, refusing to turn around and look at him, sex rumpled and warm. She can’t handle Osgood being human right then.

Osgood laughs from behind her her, all charming control, smoothes a piece of her hair and says “Thanks for the motivation. You running your mouth really got our team fired up. I’ll be using that, too.”

She elbows him in the chest.

“You still played some great games, though,” Osgood says from behind her, sudden and sincere, and that’s all it takes for the energy reserves she’s been tapping into to drain, puddle on the floor and leave her exhausted and sorrowful and weak from orgasm.

But he’s right. About all of it. It puts her teeth on edge for days.

\\

Rather than feeling at-ease, or at least settled, the sex has left her feeling fragile and dangerous, a grenade made of patchwork glass. She yapped her mouth off right when it would hurt the most, but she’s too vain to admit she made an irrevocable mistake by baiting the Wings, too arrogant and stubborn. If she could’ve just swallowed her pride, but she didn’t.

Downtown Detroit is a bitch at the best of times, and the traffic is a massive clusterfuck, and they’re not exactly dealing with the friendliest crowds as the bus winds towards the hotel. So Patrice isn’t sure if it’s bad luck or deliberate intent that has them trapped in the bus in the middle of downtown when traffic jams up and doesn’t move for over ten minutes. Detroit’s celebrating, they’re gonna keep the Avs right where they are.

It’s about six blocks to the hotel when something snaps in Crawford and he stomps off the bus, screaming over the protests of their driver to just “open the fucking doors so we can get the fuck out of this shit stain of a town.”

Their driver opens the door under protest, and Crawford stomps off, still screaming curses at Bowman, the Red Wings, and Detroit itself. Most of the team follow him off. Even Joe files out, looking like he’s torn between embarrassed by Crawford and embarrassed on his behalf. Patrice trails out after Adam, leaving the bulk of her gear to be dealt with later. There’s a slight wind that serves to make the evening even more miserable.

Patrice is cold and sore and fuming by the time they finally trundle through the door, shaking from adrenaline withdrawal and hunger. There’s still three flights of stairs awaiting her, and she seriously considers risking the elevator with some of the others. In the end she makes it all the way to the doors, Adam and Baby Lacroix looking at her suspiciously, before she starts shaking and feeling ill, so she just sucks it up and walks up the stairs. She’s tired, but at least the stairs can’t break and trap her in a slowly enclosing tomb with a quarter of a hockey team taking up her precious and increasingly depleted air.

Patrice is up all night stalking the hotel, not anywhere in particular, just moving. She’s walking off the tightness in her hip and the sting of the bruises when she finds Craig in the hallway, arms draped over his knees and staring down the row of identical doors with a blank look on his face.

“Well, this sucks,” he announces to the hallway in general before rolling his eyes up to meet hers.

“It sucks,” Patrice agrees, dropping to sit next to him. Her voice sounds dead, hollow, while the thing inside her chest roars and snarls. She curls her legs up and drapes her arms over her raised knees, focusing on the middle distance. “Never stops sucking, if I’m gonna be honest with you. It’s not suppose to.” She sighs, shakes her head and jostles Craig with her shoulder. He blinks at her.

“We are all piss off,” Patrice admits after a few minutes where neither of them speak. “But we will get over it. Team’s stronger than a loss. Even a loss against the fucking Wings. Even a playoff loss.”

“So, what do we do now, eh?”

It’s a good question; moving on, that’s her gift. More than anything Patrice has the ability to shake off anything and start over after a very short time, because the past does not dictate the future. She’s psychologically the strongest player in the NHL because she’s had no other choice.

Craig is around to give her days off when she needs them, shore her up if she tires and back her up if she falters, but not because they're afraid she'll break. This situation right here is where she can return the favor.

She puts an arm around him and he leans into her shoulders a little. “We go home to our houses, take a long shower, sleep in our beds, and then we kick their ass next year.” There’s no hesitation there.

Craig gives her a little smile, nods slowly. “Yeah, okay.”

\\

Sometimes, after regular season losses, they all head out to a bar. Doesn’t matter what kind – Joe normally picks a county bar, Peter heads towards dance halls, and Sevy always takes them to strip clubs. They wind down, knock back a few, and make a plan for the next time they run into the team that just beat them. Sometimes there’s some off-key singing if the music is catchy or the drinks are strong.

They don’t go out after this one.

Mike takes a contract with the Rangers over the summer, gets out of Denver without a word to anyone, and Patrice does everything in her power not to miss him, even though she knows she will.

At some point down the road and after a lot of water has passed under that particular bridge, she swallows her pride and apologizes to Joe. Not for anything in particular, just for the way the season went.

Joe shakes his head, looking deeply disappointed in a way that makes her want to shuffle her feet. “I shouldn’t have gotten so upset with you. You had a valid concern. I took it way too far.”

“You get fed up with me an Mike pushing at you. You can get piss off sometimes too, Joe. It’s allowed.”

He smiles sideways, the scar on his lip twisting his mouth into something rueful and almost dangerous. “If only it were that simple.”

It occurs to her, and not for the first time, that Joe is almost definitely a better person than her.

Chapter Text

First game against Detroit involves traveling into the belly of the beast. Craig is going out there in her place, and Patrice is twitchy and punchy and angry, but Crawford is holding his ground on this one.

“We’re putting this behind us. That’s that, Patty.” He doesn’t look up from his plays, sketching something out on the whiteboard before erasing it and replacing a few positions, shuffling coverage. “Craig’s earned the start, and he doesn’t cause the same Detroit riots that you do.”

“Craig –”

“Is a professional goaltender in the most elite league in the world. I’d say he’s more than capable of winning this for us, wouldn’t you?”

She’s used to being able to bully or cajole Crawford at least a little at this point in her career. She doesn’t much like the look of Inflexible Crawford. Patrice settles for, “That’s rough to throw into my face."

It’s hard to explain ‘I want to go out there instead of him because I got shit to settle’ when that’s exactly what Pierre and Crawford want them to not focus on.

‘Because I heard Osgood was gonna get the start’ opens up a whole can of worms that she’s not going to explain to her coach or GM.

It’s possible she’s fixating on Osgood too much. But she’s a goalie, her job is to fixate.

"Craig lets some soft ones in on his blocker side. Adjust for coverage on the PK units.”

“Yes, Patrice.” But Crawford sounds mostly amused, and he shifts Uwe’s marker to the indicated area.

It’s not like she’s gonna throw Craig under the bus, either.

\\

“I’m gonna do it.”

Day of the game, and Claude sounds like he’s psyching himself up. No one asks what he means, because he keeps looking at Jeff Odgers like he wants his roommate’s opinion. “Crow want me to do it, and I do it. I’m gonna fight McCarty, eh.”

Claude doesn’t look at Patrice. He’s never quite forgiven her for going to center ice for him last year, and she’s given up trying to make peace with him over it. It wasn’t any sort of masculine slight but he carries it like it was and that’s his issue.

Patrice resumes stretching, watching Craig covertly for any indication that he’ll struggle going out there in her place. Craig looks mostly preoccupied with warming up his eyes and arms.

“Stretch your groin,” she advises into his ear, jerking her chin to the offending body part. “You’re sometimes weak in your five hole.”

Craig grunts softly but leans deeper into the stretch because he’s learned to never question Patrice if she’s willing to offer advice. Patrice still wants to win, even if it’s not her win to earn.

“This is a bad idea,” Jeff mumbles, shaking his head. Jeff’s their enforcer this year, and it’s not his natural position but Crawford always wants somebody, and Adam gets too many minutes each night as it is. “Just let me or Frank handle it.”

François shakes his head, a little amused by the suggestion. “I teach Claude already, the fightings. He is fine.”

“I gotta do this thing,” Claude snaps, glares at Jeff like defiance. “It’s the way to end it.”

So three seconds into the game Claude tosses down, lands some good shots on McCarty while the rest of the team cheers him on, slapping their sticks against the boards. It’s not pretty, but it’s efficient. Claude throws a left, hits McCarty in the chest hard enough that McCarty stumbles a little as he absorbs it, and they’re off.

It’s a quick thing. Jeff skates over to keep an eye on Claude, but Claude gets some decent blows in before McCarty knocks his helmet off of him, gets him in the face and wrestles him to a draw.

Claude gets some hardy slaps, enough to rock him back and forth between the blows, and when Patrice shakes his hand he offers her a tight smile, which is the closest he gets to anything like gratitude where she’s concerned.

Craig is on that night, gliding across the crease and watching the puck like it’s the size of a beach ball, easy confidence in his saves. Even when the Wings get desperate in the third, throw everything but Osgood at him, Craig holds his ground and posts a shutout, whooping like a child when the horn sounds.

“Good job, kid.” Fact is Craig’s not much younger than her, but he grins with naked admiration at Patrice when she taps their foreheads together, palms the back of his helmet with Charlotte and shakes him a little. “You’re very sharp.”

“Hell yeah I am!” he chimes, slaps her ass and skates away before she can smack him back.

Osgood keeps eyeing her from the bench. There’s nothing particularly unique about that; the whole bench down to the trainers are huddled together and trying to kill them with the collective force of their eyes. Osgood is looking different, though. He looks kinda good, vulnerable with the loss.

Fuck it. Osgood shouldn't be the only one to get orgasms out of this arrangement.

It’s two words, her room and the hotel, and Osgood gives her a sharp, curt nod. She throws it out like a challenge, cocky and certain, then skates back to her team and disappears with them, and Craig keeps asking her questions with his eyebrows but says nothing.

\\

“Roy.”

How Osgood beat her to the hotel she will never know; fast cars or maybe weasel tunnels through the heart of Detroit. Point is, he made it to the hotel before her, is standing outside her room in his game day suit, looking like he’s fresh out of an interview and Adam’s about half a step behind her coming up the stairs, his loafers clicking on the concrete steps.

“Crisse,” she hisses, more to herself than anything, but Osgood perks like a dog who knows his name. That would be hilarious if there was time to be entertained but there’s no time, she drags her key card out of her pocket and slams it into the lock hard and fast, knots her hand in Osgood’s tie and tosses him through the door in time for Adam to close the stairwell door behind him, glance around the empty hall and Patrice, clutching the key and hand on the doorknob.

“Drinks?” he offers, shoving a hand through his hair. It’s something they’ve done after a win ever since she opened up enough to tell him about Fredericton, about Bordeleau and how he banned her from drinking in public.

“Yes,” she chimes, a little too loud as Osgood’s questioning voice rises from inside her room. “I gotta shower first, but I’ll be meeting you in fifteen minutes.”

Adam looks amused. “You could just shower at the Joe. We’d make sure everything was okay.”

“I know, but . . .” Patrice has no aversion to showering at home, in Big Mac, but something about washing off in the Joe gives her hives. Even with the knowledge nothing would ever happen to her with Adam on the other side of the doorway, because she’s known since the moment they met that Adam takes his role as defenseman serious as blood.

He catches her flat look, shrugs. “I’ll meet you in the lobby in fifteen or whatever.”

She leans against the door, waits until Adam’s behind elevator doors (because he will humor her need to sleep close to the ground level, but he will never use the stairs if he doesn’t have to) before she pushes the door open. Osgood’s sitting on the edge of her bed, tie off and shirt open to the third button.

Patrice leans back against the door, because she has to know for sure that it’s closed. “You asshole. Fuck you, you goddamned fucking asshole.”

“That was the plan, yeah.” The smirk on his face shouldn’t read as charming, except that it does.

“You scare the fucking shit of me.”

Osgood stands, unbuttoning his cuffs. “You invited me.”

“Yeah, I’m starting to think I regret that.” But she closes the distance between them, pushes Osgood back until his knees bump the edge of the mattress, until he has nowhere to back away to, and then she closes the space between them and kisses him.

It’s not a nice kiss. It leaves blood in her mouth when she pulls back.

Osgood scrubs at his mouth with the back of his hand. “Jesus Christ, why are you such a fucking psycho?” is grunted out as his fingers tangle in her hair, hips rolling against her. He’s pulling just to the pleasant side of too hard, sending little shivers down her spine from the tiny pricks of pain, and her nails curl into his bicep hard enough to leave marks.

“Because you piss me off, you asshole.” She tugs at his belt, works it out of the loops with a whisper of leather and knots it around her fist. Her fingers curl into the waistband of his slacks, knuckles skimming the soft flesh of his belly and resting there. He’s almost on his tip-toes, asking to be touched, asking for more.

“You wanna fuck?” she whispers, tossing her hair out of her eyes. “Or just whine like a baby?”

Osgood hisses at her like a cat, sharp and bloody and filled with a want that takes her breath away for a moment.

Osgood’s fingers are rough and stricken with small tremors as he reaches between them and fuck, that’s hot, seeing him shake as he works her slacks open, pushes them down so he can cup her ass, fingers pressed into the skin. He makes an impressed sound.

“Fuck,” he gasps, rubbing his cheek against her throat to burr up the skin. Patrice shakes, the scratch going straight to her clit. Osgood’s hands slide up her ribs, press into the spaces between them, the hollows of her clavicle and the arch of her shoulder blades. She’s always tended toward thin, sharp angles and drawn-tight spaces, and Osgood tests his fingers against all of them in secret before working her blouse over her head. Her bra is navy and trimmed in delicate burgundy lace, dark against her skin where it cups her breasts.

Thank providence her game day apparel has improved from the cotton monstrosities Adam bought her that one time.

A second later she wonders why she cares what Osgood sees her in.

A second after that it becomes obvious why. It’s because of the look on Osgood’s face before he shutters off, amazed and a little intimidated, the slight shake in his fingertips as he rests his fingers against her belly, pulls her underwear down low on one hip to expose the full length of her appendectomy scar.

She cocks her hip and waits, huffing out an impatient breath, but all he does is press his thumb to the white scar, feels the ridge of it, before sitting on the mattress to tear his shoes off. Osgood strips between one moment and the next, sliding out of his clothes in near record time and leaving them weirdly neatly on the nightstand, laid out and smooth. He’s not wearing anything under his slacks.

“Cocky,” she muses, and she doesn’t mean for it to be as much of a compliment as it sounds. She’s seen it before (granted not all at once and fuck, his ass is still pretty magnificent) but she’s not about to let anything show on her face.

“Like you don’t want it,” he says, placing his hands on her hips and pulling her close. She plants a knee on the bed beside him, crowds him against the headboard and settles on his lap, thighs on either side of his hips.

“You gonna do some fucking, or just look?” She slips out of her bra, a small sound escaping because it is always a good part of the day when she gets to take her bra off.

She’s thin, and they’re small, and Patrice has never thought of her rack as particularly remarkable but Osgood jerks up against her with a desperate sounding grunt, reaching up to palm her breasts. They fit easily into his hands, palms scraping over the nipples.

Patrice rocks back on him to hear him lapse into incoherent sounds, his cock grinding against her ass. His fingers grip her hips, hard enough to leave marks behind, though he’s cautious and almost fearful of the skin around her appendectomy scar.

Dry humping is okay, it’s fine, but it’s not enough to do more than shift the dull ache of arousal into something uncomfortably urgent, and from the flush on Osgood’s cheeks he’s definitely getting more out of it than she is.

Osgood came prepared in more ways than one. When she shifts to kick her underwear off he rolls to the side of the bed, fishes into his neatly arranged slacks and comes up with a condom in one hand and slick in the other.

Patrice is still more irritated than turned on, though the two emotions are almost indistinguishable when Osgood is the focus, and she watches him roll the condom down from the edge of the bed, snatching the lube from his hand while he’s distracted.

Osgood stops to watch her and she smiles, all teeth, pops open the lube and slicks a finger into herself to ease the way. Patrice works her legs wide and watches him watch her, working her fingers inside herself until she’s wet and ready. He makes a rough sound, deep and desperate, squeezing the base of his dick.

Her body feels low centered and hot, a dull pleasure. She presses her palms to Osgood’s shoulders, pushing him to the mattress. He goes down easily, eyes dark and eager as Patrice throws a leg over him, reaches back and guides his cock inside her. Osgood lets a little whine escape his throat as she sinks down, slick and ready, and she takes that as a sort of victory.

She rocks on him, seating Osgood deeper, the hot length of him stretching her open. She arches her spine as she settles over him, and Osgood slams his eyes shut.

A dark, smoky chuckle works out of Patrice’s mouth. She tightens around him, rocking down and swaying from side to side, taking him as deep as she can. Osgood groans, arches under her and writhes. One of Osgood’s hands slaps in frustration against the comforter, and she lifts almost completely off of Osgood to offer him an expression that’s all teeth and aggression.

It’s the opposite of a smile.

“You’re such a — God, fuck you,” Osgood growls, but his eyes are still closed and his head is tilted back. His hand is fisting convulsively, unconsciously, like he’s struggling to hold on.

Patrice settles, a slow motion roll, and watches him, the way his eyes are flickering under the delicate skin, his face red and flushed. His hips are jerking and circling, desperate, not enough for relief. “You wanna go? You wanna get off? Then you make it good for me.”

There’s moisture along his lash line. “You frigid, controlling, crazy-ass bitch.”

She laughs, head back and throat bared. “Music to my ears, Crisse.”

When he groans “Fuck, don’t fuck, don’t stop please,” she crows happily, resumes a pace that’s nothing but lazy punishment. Osgood’s eyes fly open and he curses again, hand scrambling between them to rub at her clit.

Her orgasm has no sort of buildup. It hits sudden and piercing, has her doubled over, the muscles of her legs shaking as it rolls through her in a warm pulse. Patrice stills as the pleasure settles inside her, throbbing.

Osgood curses, hands twitching around her waist, flips them and fucks into her with rushed, off center thrusts, their hips colliding hard enough to sting a little. Patrice gasps, squeezes around him through the lazy rush of aftershocks until he’s whining and grunting deep in his throat and biting off a plea as he comes, as she milks it out of him with deliberate rolls of her hips.

Her body feels soft and open, tension drained and replaced with shivers and sweetness. Osgood is sprawled across the bed, eyes closed, red marks down a flushed chest, panting heavily. Her slick is shining on his cock and thighs, and she leans down to pluck the condom off him, padding to the bathroom with it held between thumb and forefinger.

She comes out still bare-ass naked and bends to grab her bra off the floor. Osgood rolls over and stares, the angry flush on his face evening out to a blush. Interesting; Patrice files that information away as she buckles it on, adjusting her breasts in the cups. She considers and then rejects putting the briefs on. There’s too much precome staining the delicate material to make it worth salvaging. They get tossed into the hotel trash and she pulls on a pair of jeans commando.

When she turns around Osgood is still sprawled over the rumpled sheets, breath evening, slowing like he’s trying to fall asleep in the middle of a bed that probably still smells like her perfume.

That calls for a change in plans. Patrice raps on the adjoining door, yells “Footer! I’m gonna get drinks!” It’s a convenient excuse to get rid of Osgood quickly.

To her dawning horror there’s a knock back.

There’s a choking sound from behind her. When she turns around Osgood is sitting up, and he’s coughing like his spit is putting up a fight. She’s a couple seconds from joining him, honestly, because Adam was supposed to be waiting for her at the hotel bar.

“Your room adjoins with Foote’s?” Osgood manages after he slaps his chest a few times. His voice is now a low, rasping hiss which is a lost cause considering how loud the sex had been.

“F’course. Footer got my back.” She’s trying very hard for nonchalance, when the monologue inside her head runs like fuck, fuck, Adam heard, Adam had to hear fuck fuck.

She swallows the panic, bad to show that much feeling to someone like Osgood. The pass card is on the dresser and she plucks it up before scrawling her pager number across the room service menu. “Thanks for the sex, Crisse. Beep me if you want another.”

Adam’s in the hall waiting for her, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed. He grins the grin of the intrigued when he sees her come out the door, tugging her blouse straight.

“Holy shit. You’re getting fucking laid, aren’t you.” It doesn’t sound like a question.

It really shouldn’t be a question anyway, what with the sounds they were making. Patrice has just enough mortification left after some decent sex to blush. “I got a thing.”

“Is this on the regular? I’ve sure as hell never heard that before.”

She makes a face at him, does her best to ignore the high spots of color on his cheeks. “It’s Detroit, not like it’s a real thing.”

“In that case, please never have sex with that person ever again.” Adam looks pained, eyebrows drawn low over his eyes.

“Maybe stay at the bar when you say you are gonna be, maybe?”

The red has started tracing down his neck and across his shoulders, and he holds the stairwell door for her to duck through. “Well, that was longer than 15 minutes.”

“Well, it was good sex.”

He shudders. “Please don’t. But you’re buying.”

Adam’s back on-again with Jennifer, but she’s back in Denver so Patrice figures she kinda owes it to him considering she and Osgood didn’t even try to be quiet.

They stagger back to the room drunk about four hours later, and Adam was clearly drinking like someone trying to forget something, while Patrice was drinking like she didn't want him to be alone. Adam’s arm is around her waist and Patrice is draped over his shoulders, laughing too loudly in his ear. It’s debatable who’s carrying who, and they both end up sleeping on Adam’s bed because he’s the one who can actually find his key.

Adam kisses her before he conks out, slurring “good night” into her ear. And somehow listening to Adam’s death-rattle snore will always be preferable to smelling Osgood on her pillows.

\\

The next time they hit Detroit Patrice struts into the Joe with an Olympic Silver Medal in her (metaphorical) back pocket, and it’s not like she needs that validation but she’s not gonna kick it out of the bed, either.

She leads them onto the ice like always, Marshy at her back, and she skips over the blue lines with an easy motion that’s mostly thoughtless by now. The whole arena loses their damned minds as the Avs hit the ice, boos and jeers echoing and building on themselves. Patrice takes a deep breath, holds it, and waits for the rushing in her ears to replace the voices.

It happens fast; that’s always a good sign. She sprints to the net before turning at the last second, scooting ass first into the net and settling in.

Patrice doesn’t flinch when Adam appears next to her. “Don’t look behind you,” he advises, stick rapping against her shin.

She doesn’t even have to ask what he means. It always seems to be the same fan, must be some sort of season ticket holder or just someone with more money than sense. Every game she’s played here since the brawl has included the charming addition of a huge sign: ROY CHOKES.

This isn’t the first stadium to have a sign like that, and it won’t be the last. She takes a moment to internalize it, feed off it, before she waves at the fan. He flips her off.

Adam frowns up at the sign, which is an impressive expression on his face. The fact that he’s generally more affected by these things than she is makes her love him a lot. “We could . . .”

She raises her mask up to her forehead, takes a deliberately slow gulp of water. “Winning, Adam.”

He keeps looking back there but after a second he nods, turning back to her. His blue eyes are warm. “I’ve got you.”

That’s never been a question, and she’ll never stop being grateful and worried in turn. “I know.” She snaps her mask down and drops down to her knees in one smooth motion, Peter careening at her yelling “Roy, Roy, Roy!” as he flicks that deadly laser at her face.

She catches it, holds the puck above her head before dropping it with finality. Peter whoops at her, grin bright.

She feels good, solid and certain, and that’s what prompts her to slap the puck down the ice.

It’s almost impossible to make eye contact over this distance, but for a second she’s pretty sure it happens anyway, gazes locking and holding, Osgood with his stupidly archaic cage and Patrice with her elongated chin cup.

She hates . . . the way he inclines his head, almost differential, it makes her want to throw something at his head and that little thing uncurls in her gut, flares with a spike of arousal that makes her gasp a little.

Patrice bites into her cheek, hard enough to draw blood. She is not getting wet in her jill for fucking Osgood. This is . . . What they do, it’s off ice and it’s thoughtless. It doesn’t flow over into the game or anything else that’s important.

Thank fuck whatever this thing is didn’t start with Vernon. If Patrice was fucking Vernon she would have to seriously start reexamining her life choices. As it is she’s going to have a chat with her libido as soon as this is over.

The nod that Osgood offers her from down the ice looks less respectful and more like a challenge and Patrice reaches back blind to tap her uprights. She lets the anger and the sharp violence the rivalry brings out flare up, turn the edges of her vision red, before she tucks it into the little box where it belongs and settles in to her net.

\\

So, the game doesn’t go according to plan. It’s some bad plays and some flashes of brilliance from the Wings and a crowd that wants to peel the flesh from their bones with the force of their voices.

The Avs end up in the dressing room getting ready for the third two goals behind and a fat goose egg on their end. Joe looks disappointed in that way he has, the one that says he’s gonna be shouldering the whole game himself — offense, defense, it’s all on his shoulders because it’s his job to lead. He’s all about leading through example, and when there’s no chemistry out there it’s his fault in some way that no one but Joe can explain. Crawford keeps on with his diagrams, cussing like a sailor but with no real malice behind it, and they sit and listen.

Craig slumps next to Patrice with a low sigh, slouching with his hands between his knees.

“Fucking Red Wings,” he grunts, closing his eyes. Patrice murmurs agreement immediately — Fuck those guys. Not for anything in particular this time around, just generalized fuck those guys. They’re the worst. Joe doesn’t answer Craig but he rolls his attention to them for a moment, watching. It’s no secret Joe’s not nearly as fond of this rivalry as the rest of them are, that he wants a clean game and a win to push them into the playoffs, because this mess of press makes it too easy to remember the playoffs last year and how the fights hadn’t swung their way.

She curls her fingers around the rubber of her puck, lets the tension in her shoulders roll down her arm and settle in her fingers, squeezing until her joints creak.

“This is their arena; we all know how hard it is to play here. So we have to cut the shit and get their feet out from under them.”

“Also, this is the fucking Red Wings,” Fitzy mumbles. He’s only been with them since March, but he’s bought into the rivalry wholesale. It helps that he’s from Florida and is pretty into the excitement of a Colorado season. “We can’t let these motherfuckers think they got our number.”

Their eyes roll, more or less in unison, towards Adam. He gives them a hockey grin — crooked nose and ragged edges. “Shany’s always up for a go,” is all he says, cool confidence and certainty.

Patrice goes back to juggling her puck, distances herself from the sick feeling that always settles in her gut whenever Adam starts looking for a fight. Adam’s a warrior, and he knows how to handle himself. But a small part of Patrice, the part that looks at Adam and thinks maybe when what she should really be thinking is no, absolutely not, wishes she could protect him somehow.

Joe looks resigned. “We have to play this smart.”

Craig bumps shoulders with her companionably, mistaking the origin of her shudder and offering his support.

Patrice just strokes her fingers down the edge of her puck and tucks herself back into that safe place where Patrice fades away, and all that’s left is ice and blue lines. That headspace doesn’t have room to be worried about anyone.

\\

The powder keg finally blows to her left, along the boards.

Patrice is used to the world narrowing down to nothing except the whisper of her breath against the inside of her mask and the black speck batting around the ice. The whistle snaps her back into the real world; it takes her several seconds to come back into herself, and once she does shit is apparently going down. There are gloves flying everywhere — it’s like Fall in there — and her lips twitch up because finally.

It’s not Adam, for once. It’s strange to look over there and not see a 52 darting back and forth in the chaos, but Adam and Goose aren’t the D pair out there and it’s not really worth clearing the benches. At least not yet. Patrice huffs out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding. Gregson’s just standing by with his arms crossed, looking bored with the proceedings, all but snapping his gum at them. It’s a pretty valiant show of ‘not impressed, ladies’.

Her shoulders feel tight, muscles drawn up and twitching, and she shakes her blocker off onto the top of the net in some sort of haze, everything feeling distant and a little unreal. Charlotte takes longer, hangs on by the wrist strap until Patrice can get her unhooked, dropping her safely on the net, because she’s learned from her mistakes. It’s only after that that her helmet comes off, everything slow and precise, deliberate in her movements as she skates over to the tussle. She fists in a white jersey, trying to pry him off her teammate, hissing threats.

Patrice feels hands on her jersey and sees a flash of white and black and then Gregson is starting to pull her back, draw her away from the altercation along the boards and directing her into the net. It’s the first time he really lets on that maybe this is a big deal, that maybe he’s not 100% blasé about the fight, and everyone knows what’s coming if the goalie leaves the crease.

“This isn’t your fight,” he keeps repeating, quiet and eerily calm, skating her backward and trying his damndest to keep this thing from escalating on his watch. He gets closer and hisses “I’m not Devorski. I will expel you.”

That threat has absolutely no weight right now, when the energy is spiking to dangerous levels, and that is overriding every thought with the pulse of the building and the burn of team pride. All she knows is she has to do something, she’s in this as deep as anyone, and the team needs a rallying point.

Sylvain looks over at her, growls “Get back into the fucking net, you god damned idiot,” in urgent Quebecois, hauling Warren and the guy he’s fighting — Maltby, the little weasel, she can see the letters now — up by the jerseys as he tries to work his way between them. “They’ll bench you for sure this time.”

“Then make sure you guys fucking fight,” she snarls back. This isn’t a goalie’s job, or it isn’t supposed to be, but fuck this shit, someone has to do something to pump them up, or they'll never win. They need a rallying point.

All Patrice has to see is Osgood gliding slowly out of his net, toying with the idea of approaching her, and that hot thing inside her belly ignites, flares up with the force of the two goals that got behind her and the smug satisfaction of the shutout Osgood is maintaining well into the third.

Shit, it worked for Detroit last season.

“Let me go.” Patrice is almost shocked by how quiet she sounds, how reasonable, when inside her there’s a howling thing, feral and darkly vicious, that sees Osgood and reduces him to a target. “I have . . . Let me go.”

“You don’t want this fight.” And maybe Gregson is right, maybe she shouldn’t, but she does.

Patrice apparently has no survival instinct at all. Adam is never going to stop laughing at her.

“I have to do this,” is all she can say, followed by “let me go.” There must be something in her tone that hits him, because Gregson drops her jersey like it’s on fire and she darts around him with all the grace she can muster in her pads. It’s not much, which means he’s letting her go, and then everything narrows down to Osgood, his hated jersey and his stupid cage, the way her fists are curling up as he cradles his stick, watching her curiously. As though he doesn’t know what’s gonna happen.

She starts skating forward, bellows out a challenge in some mixture of Quebecois and English that makes no sense even to her, and jabs her finger down to the ice. Right here, it’s saying. You face me here.

Patrice hasn’t forgotten that she lost her last fight. She remembers the feeling of Vernon’s fist when it made contact and the sharp sting of her split eyebrow, the way her knuckles ached for days and she had to play the rest of the game through a web of drying blood. She hasn’t forgotten any of that but she skates out to do it all over again anyway.

Osgood’s helmet goes flying to the ice and he drops his stick, flicking his blocker and mitt off as Patrice circles him, bouncing back on her heels to center herself.

They lock arms, Osgood grips her shoulders and fuck he seems so small. Small and startled like a deer, eyes wide in his face as she lands a hard right to his cheek. That seems to snap him out of it; he retaliates with a left and the pain blossoms. Patrice shakes her head, bares her teeth with a vicious little smile and hauls back to hit him twice, right jabs that don’t do much but catch him off guard.

Osgood shifts his grip, tries to pin her arms down, and she muscles him off, left hand fisting in his jersey as she strikes again. Something starts aching in her right hand as she gets him in the side of the head, hauling him up by the jersey and halfway stripping it off his back.

After that the blows start to string together. Patrice sees an opening and takes it, rapid right hooks like Adam taught her, shifting to an uppercut and then another right. Osgood has his face ducked into his shoulder guards, and she’s got him pretty well tangled up in his jersey. He’s absorbing the hits with his shoulder and arm but she still manages to clip him good across the ear, feels his fist connect with the ribs on her left side while she’s congratulating herself.

The crowd is going crazy, they haven’t hated Patrice Roy as much as they do right at that moment and she lets that power her up, settle into her bones and give her the strength to keep punching. There’s a feral smile on her face. This is an alpha-fight; it’s about dominance and control, and she’s got it all wrapped up.

It might be seconds or hours or days later — paradoxically it feels like she’s been fighting too long and not long enough, her shoulders and fist are aching, trembling with exhaustion, and Osgood bulldogs his way through. Osgood gets hold of Patrice and throws her off balance, uses that to take her down to the ice. He’s not gentle about it; the impact between ice at her back and Osgood at her front knocks the wind out of her and she grunts as Osgood scrambles to pin her. Patrice can hear the Wings bench howling, hears the home crowd roaring OZZY, like he did anything more notable than drop down over her like a fucking dead weight. Patrice only realizes how close Osgood has pushed her to the wall when she feels the boards against her back, feels sticks and gloves slapping at her.

Every nerve in her body is on fire. Osgood smells like sweat and sickly hockey pads and, against all logic, her brain equates that scent with sex, sending a lightning hot bolt of arousal through her from head to toes, settling in her belly and making her tremble from adrenaline and anticipation.

The other goalie is straddling her face and Patrice is pissed off and exhausted and really fucking turned on, because her body clearly never learned about appropriate responses. She’s about two seconds away from head butting him in the balls when Osgood lets himself be pulled away by the refs, shoulders curled inward to protect his likely aching torso. She scrambles to her feet without help, flicks her hair back and grins at him, eyes flashing.

“Holy fuck Patty, you won. You fucking won!” Adam is elated, he looks like a proud papa as the linesman escorts her past the roaring bench. The linesman gives her a little tisk when she throws her arms in the air, waves like a pageant queen at the Detroit crowd, blows kisses to them while they bowl carnal threats.

“You’re asking them for trouble,” he grunts, palm flat on her back and giving her a shove toward the bench. “Get back in your room and don’t walk out alone.” He looks genuinely concerned for her; Patrice wants to pat his cheek because she’s heard much worse, when she was much younger, but he looks disturbed enough.

She looks up at the display, 12:49 in the third, and heads back without any further prompting, doesn’t wait to hear the penalties get doled out.

Leaving the crease. Misconduct. Game misconduct.

Everything’s empty and silent in the dressing room, and she strips her gear and packs it up into her stall before taking a shower. The rest of the team still has a game to play, and she hopes like hell they rally because she can already feel the bruises forming across her shoulders and sides.

Bruises are nothing new, but these feel different, ache in a different way, and they’re harder to ignore.

Patrice has played hard games, has held a shutout for over 100 minutes of play, but she’s never been more exhausted than she is after that fight, that weak and trembling. Despite the high emotions that are intrinsic to a helter skelter fight like that she’s mostly tapped out and exhausted now that she’s washed the sweat and adrenaline away. She drops into her stall and starts the suddenly exhausting work of pulling on her clothes, slipping her feet into her trainers and pulling on her shirt.

“Roy.”

She jumps — Osgood is at the door, shoulders low. He’s leaning against the frame with forced nonchalance.

Patrice is not in the right place for surprises. Especially not Red Wings shaped surprises. Considering how pissed off she can get just by being reminded that the Red Wings exist, it’s pretty gutsy of Osgood to show up after a fight.

“You fucking . . .” She darts to her feet, snags his arm and drags him away from the door where he’s like a flashing sign declaring ‘This Is Wrong’. “What you want, Crisse? You wanna fight more? You wanna finish this or something?” She knows she looks intimidating even like this, mostly naked and still wet.

She doesn’t want to deal with Osgood. He’s looking at her and she doesn’t understand him at all, because he looks almost reverent.

Just her luck, somehow Patrice punched feelings into him or something.

“I want to eat you out.” His shoulders are back like defiance, hands held in loose balls. He spits it out like a challenge; he’s bleeding from a split in his lip and she can already tell the black eye she gave him is gonna be a masterpiece. “Please.”

It’s the please that tips it. She feels rattled, disconnected from a lot of things and still living in the moment of the game, the moment where everything becomes about that present second, with no past to examine or future to look towards.

“Make it worth my time, then.” This she can do, nod and watch Osgood drop to his knees in front of her. His thick fingers hook in the waistband and work her compression tights over her hips, down her thighs. Once she’s naked from the waist down she drapes her leg over his shoulder and he leans in, breath hot where he presses a kiss to her inner thigh.

Patrice digs her heel into his back, ostensibly a ‘hurry up’ when what she means is ‘don’t you dare be tender now’, and he moves to put his mouth on her, wet and hot.

Osgood is . . . not bad at giving head. He spreads her open with his fingers, tongue tracing the swell of her clit, fucks her open with spit and tongue until she gets wet enough to drip. His lips and chin are shiny, he’s making the most obscene sounds, and there’s a sheen of sweat over her body and pooling in her hips.

Her hands knot in his hair, tugging his head into position and he doesn’t even argue. Just keeps licking and sucking, until she’s cursing and ready, her body tingling but not there.

“Fingers,” Patrice barks. She’s so wet.

“Bossy.” Osgood pulls back, licks at his lips, and he’s wet to the chin, slick with her.

“Assertive,” she fires back, arching her hips as he slips a finger into her, hooking it and stroking over her spot with the rough pad of his finger.

“Bossy.” Osgood nudges her clit with his nose, tongue joining his finger to urge her to take another.

It takes a huge effort of will to not start fucking herself on his fingers, when he hums contentedly, sends electricity through her belly and chest. “Fuck you, Crisse, fuck you.”

She comes with a little cry, muffling it down against her bicep because this is a locker room, and therefore a less than optimal space to be getting off. Osgood keeps rubbing at that spot inside of her and draws her orgasm out. It feels like she comes for a very long time, body trembling through the aftershocks, and the sensation of vulnerability that hits once she’s back inside her own skin is new and different.

This thing between them has never been about pleasure before. Somewhere — maybe just in her head, but that still counts — somewhere there’s a score to settle, and winning always matters even if it’s in the bedroom and settled with orgasms.

Osgood is hard and sweating, flushed a rosy color over his cheeks and neck, but he doesn’t make a move to touch himself. She pokes at his crotch with her foot. He winces and bites his lip, still watching her.

“Alright, Crisse. Go ahead.”

“I don’t need your permission,” he grumbles, ducking his head and working his pants open.

He jerks off, keeps his eyes locked with hers like a dare, only breaking away when she twists her fingers around his. Patrice jerks his cock a couple times and Osgood’s coming, broken sounds in the back of his throat and his lip breaking open again as he bites at it.

They don’t say a word to each other after that. Osgood goes into the team bathroom to clean up, leaves Patrice to pull her clothes back on and get her hair under control. He slips out without a word, a high color on his cheeks.

When the team trudges in minutes later she can tell it was a loss. Joe’s face is as impassive as ever, impossible to read even to someone who’s seen him both high and low but the defeat is sitting on everyone else’s shoulders, a palpable cloak of despair that’s weighing them down and making their eyes dark and impenetrable.

It settles inside her gut like a razor blade.

The room is silent as they strip and make their ways into the showers. Patrice sits in her stall, head low, and focuses on her breathing, on the red-hot rage behind her eyes that burns out everything.

Joe drops into Craig’s stall without a word, stretching his legs out and staring at the same spot on the floor that Patrice is focused on. It’s probably the most intimidated piece of carpeting in the world.

Joe carries the C with a composure that very few people can manage and even Patrice, with her myriad authority issues, can concede that. Patrice would be captain on any team she’s on except this one because this team has Joe, and Joe is one of the most respected men in the game. He makes the team better by holding himself accountable for all of them, until they’d rather die than disappoint him.

Patrice has had a shitty day, and Joe just keeps looking at her, sorta heartbroken looking, and it’s starting to drive her even crazier than she already is. It’s taking pretty much all of the self-restraint she has left to not throw her arms into the air and yell fucking what at him just to break the stalemate.

“Patrice,” he says finally, combing his hair back from his forehead. He’s quiet; it feels like hesitation, but when Patrice glances over Joe is moving his mouth on silent words, the same way she does when she’s trying to find a phrase in English. “You’re a leader in this room. We can’t give you the A, but everyone looks up to you for what to do when the going gets hard. That’s why I need you to understand where I’m coming from when I say this. I didn’t say it right last year, and that’s on me. But this rivalry . . . this has gone too far. It’s counterproductive. We’re here to win the game, not draw blood. We’ve lost sight of that and look where we’re at. During the playoffs, we can’t afford that.

“I need you to help me lead this team. We have to bury this.”

Her pride is thick in her throat, won’t let the words get out of her mouth, but Patrice touches Joe’s wrist and hopes he understands.

Chapter Text

Crawford jumps ship somewhere in the off-season.

There’s not much official word on why to start with, Pierre has always been a paranoid bastard when it comes to sharing information. When the locker room rumor mill finally winds its way to Quebec Patrice gets an earful from Adam about vacancies in Toronto, about contract buyouts. Now the only coach Patrice has ever had reason to trust is in Vancouver of all places and they have Bob Hartley, some assembly line worker who hasn’t even played NHL hockey, calling the shots.

It’s a little frightening. Too much of her history has trained her to distrust changes, and maybe it’s unfair but she’s been thrown to the wolves one too many times to discount experience. The tiny voice in her head, the one that got stronger with contract negotiations that stretched into September, still whispers ‘you can't do this. You’re a fraud’, doubling the effort to drown it out. She comes back to Denver early, airs out her condo, and starts training with real intent.

It’s a side she never shows anyone, but Adam has seen a lot of sides of hers over the years. He won’t pull away from her but he will keep chipping at her until she crumples and tells him why she’s really back in Denver so early, why she’s showing up at his house to go for jogs and staying through the evening to drink wine on his porch and stare at the mountains. “If the new guy decides he wants me to be on the bench . . .”

Adam gives her a soft look, one that very clearly tells her ‘You’re an idiot and I will give you a lecture about all the ways that we value you, but my girlfriend is here and yelling would annoy her.’

It takes a few minutes of companionable silence before Adam finally vocalizes, “There’s a lot of us who’d have something to say about our best player getting benched.”

Patrice grips his forearm, nails leaving tiny dents in the skin. He rests his hand over hers, curling their fingers together.

“I mean it, Patty. Joe, Peter . . . They’re all going into the Hall someday. But you're something else entirely. You're going into history by the time you decide you’re done.”

She’s still holding on when Jennifer joins them, curling up next to Adam on the deck chair and sipping a glass of her own.

Somehow the story of the season is fucking Eric Lacroix, though.

Patrice is used to thinking of Baby Lacroix as nothing much at all. She practically grew up alongside Eric, slept in his bedroom amid his horrible St John’s memorabilia that one, traumatic week that ultimately led her here. But they're not close, don't radiate towards each other the way Patrice and Adam do. His contract had nothing to do with her settlement; that was fought out with Pierre and the rest of upper management – and fuck that shit, it only counts as a contract holdout if she wasn’t worth twice what they were initially offering. And unless he makes a stupid play on the other end of the ice he doesn’t really impact her at all. Some of the guys are seriously pissed though, guys who think they got less than their fair share, guys who run their mouths and snipe and focus on anything besides playing their game.

It’s not really a surprise when they drop the first four games of the season, especially after their anti-climactic first round exit in the previous year’s playoffs. The team isn’t jiving yet, and there are plenty of people who think they know who to point their fingers at.

Patrice is impatient and cranky with the losses, stops hiding it somewhere around game three of their slide, and she doesn’t miss how people start avoiding her, how Adam and Craig are the only ones who approach her in the dressing room. It’s a matter of accountability; they’ve got a baby coach who doesn’t know how to enforce that, behind-the-scenes drama they don’t need, and it’s all combining to distract from the real goal, which is to win the fucking games.

She makes her irritation about this abundantly clear after game 4, no wins on the board and a team that’s gone stupid with distraction.

“I don’t wanna know what things happen in your heads, but winning has to be one of them. I didn’t re-sign here for us to forget who we are. You wanna make it deep in the playoffs this time? We don’t make it at all, playing like we are now.” She slams her water bottle down to the floor, stalks around the room. “I give you the best chance I can to win, but I cannot score the goal for you. So do your fucking jobs so I can do mine.”

Hartley watches her go, nods but doesn’t step in.

They get better after that, a little, but they still play inconsistently. And then one day there’s some sort of article in the paper, because Hartley calls them into the dressing room and he’s holding The Denver Post in his hands like it’s already been used to potty the dogs. Patrice only gets the full story about Baby Lacroix then.

What that means is that Hartley spends 30 minutes pacing and waving the newspaper around, demanding to know who went to the press about Eric Lacroix being the source of their woes while Joe looks on, arms crossed and his best ‘Joe Sakic Advises You to Cool Your Jets’ face leveled at him.

“Like, ah. I don’t got a problem with Eric here, so I wanna know who does. You understand? Who says this?” Hartley’s turning red, tinting into purple.

“We’re sure as shit not gonna admit anything to you.” Marshy has his arms crossed, defiant and surly, shaking his head at Hartley and his bluster. “We’re not fucking stupid.”

“So you are saying it is you has the problem with Eric being on the team?”

“We’re not saying fucking anything.” Marshy looks around the room, and there’s a slow nod that circles it. “Nobody on the team is gonna tell the coach he has a problem with the GM’s son, just so you can go rat us out.”

Hartley spins, changes directions and tactics with “And you, Hejduk? Like, ah what have you got to say about this?”

Milan startles a little when he hears his name, blinks at Hartley with total incomprehension and then looks nervously at Peter, seated next to him. “I say anything?” he asks plaintively, Czech accent thick.

“Milan barely speaks English, Bob. He’s not gonna bad mouth anyone.” Peter’s already pretty protective of their rookie – Milan’s one of the sweetest people any of them have met, and Patrice shakes her head at the idea of Milan being the one to complain about Baby Lacroix, let alone go to Kiszla to do it.

“Fuck, was it bad like this when I come on the team?” She’s mostly thinking out loud, but Adam goes quiet and still next to her, which means yes, and possibly much worse.

Hartley is pretty invested in the idea Milan is the leak for some reason, and Milan is starting to look more and more terrified, looking at Joe, at Peter, repeating “No, not me. Not me. I don’t talk.” They don’t really know what he understands, what he doesn’t. For all they know he thinks he’s about to be deported.

Joe, always the voice of reason, plants himself in front of Milan and faces down Hartley’s withering stare himself. “Stop it, Bob. You’re way outta line talking to Milan like that. Some of the team have issues; fine. But it’s not a witch hunt. That’s not how we run things around here.”

“So you got a problem?”

Some people do.” Joe looks around the room, shakes his head sadly. “It’s obvious that they do. But that’s their story to tell, not mine. Getting written up in the Post isn’t the best way to address the issue, but it’s out there now. It is what it is. So where do you wanna take it from here, Coach?”

Hartley watches him for a few seconds, and Joe just stands under the scrutiny, easy and calm. Hartley exits the impasse first, bows out of the room with the paper clutched in one hand and a sharp slope to his shoulders. “I will have talks with Pierre.”

Joe stays standing, differential, and Milan lets out a shaky breath, looking to Sandis and Peter with an expression that seems to say ‘protect me’.

“Anyone has a problem in this room, you come to me, not the press.” Joe’s voice is iron and frost. “That should have been obvious.”

\\

Turns out that’s just the start of their problems.

Pierre trades Eric to LA a few days later, and when he steps into the press conference to announce it he cries, breaks down in messy, silent tears.

Pierre’s a man’s man. He practically raised Patrice into that same macho stoicism; watching him have feelings about a move that was necessary for team dynamics leaves Patrice profoundly unsettled for far longer than it should.

“You feel good about this?” Patrice whispers to Adam as the room lets out a collective, painfully awkward breath when Pierre finally leaves the podium.

“Wait and see, I guess.” He shrugs, rubs at her wrist, and she focuses on that instead of the red cheeks and glinting eyes of a man they all should trust to do the right thing.

Pierre is still the boss. He exacts pretty revenge in his trade maneuvers, cuts the suspected dissidents and sends them east and west, out of his sight and sometimes for far less than they’re worth. It’s not exactly a witch hunt, but the similarities are close enough to be cousins. Kiszla starts to wonder if this has broken Pierre in some way, made the savvy businessman who wrangled everything he needed to make the Avalanche into a first year Championship team into something erratic and prone to impulse.

Patrice gets embarrassed, bad, in early November. It’s a long story, kinda stupid in retrospect, but Patrice is always stupid when it comes to her pride.

She ends up on the outs with Adam and Valeri, and Valeri holds a grudge for months but the week she spends estranged from Adam is by far the worst, because Adam means something to her. The worst part is that he has every reason to be pissed at her, which she could admit if she could swallow her pride long enough to say it.

Into all of that the Red Wings roll in, early December when Colorado is struggling and Detroit is hot off back-to-back Cup wins. The Avs are still reeling from their early exit from last year's playoffs, from their new coach, new system, the Eric Lacroix Incident, all the little distractions and confusions that have put them so far off their game that they’re braced for a blowout.

The game doesn’t flow the way it normally does when the Wings are in town, which is to say off the rails. There wasn’t any sort of memo or anything, but in the end Joe’s meeting with Patrice settled something inside her that she was holding onto, and even Claude is working to move beyond it.

Patrice settles in easily, naturally, and holds the Wings to 2 while the Avs proceed to start rolling. Their rookies get a couple goals and the team flows to a nice, clean win. Adam doesn’t even need to punch anyone, which is a novel experience for him.

Adam stores her puck in his locker that evening, offers it to her the next game with a look like he's scared to death that she'll reject it. She wants to kiss him for his forgiveness but settles for taking the puck out of his hand, pulling him into a one-armed hug and nestling into his chest.

\\

Columbine happens.

\\

The playoffs that year are painful and slogging. San Jose — previous to this series Patrice would be prepared to swear she had nothing personal against Vernon even after their fight, it was all just part of hockey being hockey and Vernon being a Red Wing, but having him almost stand her up in that series changes her mind real fucking quick. They play one of the strangest and most grief-riddled series in the history of the NHL, pin columbines over their hearts and grind their way through because they have to. Hockey is the only way most of them know how to process this.

They win two in San Jose and lose the first two at home, in front of a Colorado crowd that still feels shocked and fragile. Patrice can feel Hartley’s breath on the back of her neck. Her nightmares are a cycle of images, the six on the scoreboard and the nine minutes left to play when Hartley called her in, Craig going out so San Jose could get their lumps in against him, too. Patrice dreams of Hartley watching and assessing, shuffling between her and Craig, and she has been in this league too long to put up with that shit.

Patrice never has two bad games in a row. They play their third game in a row in Denver and do to San Jose what San Jose did to them, blow them out of the water, and Marshy starts calling Theo ‘Quint’ while Theo grins sheepishly and tries to pretend he’s not hung-over as fuck.

Six hours south the Red Wings sweep the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Ranford allows six lousy goals against, and Patrice buckles down and works her ass off, watches tape at night in the hotel and practices her butterfly on the comforter, sliding back and forth across the spongy mattress.

Detroit is Detroit and Colorado is still reeling.

Game 1, McCarty’s skating like an asshole, big and aggressive and dangerous, he locks in on Claude and rides his ass all night. Literally, at one point, straight into the glass and then he takes off, leaves Claude sprawled and shaking on the ice, his bell rung but good. Adam’s right there, circles Claude and ultimately helps him to his feet. It takes ridiculous, crucial seconds for Claude to gather his stick up, wiggle his helmet down onto his head with a wince and start skating again.

They fail to capitalize on the resulting power play.

Peter watches and half a period later he railroads Shanahan, straight into the glass from behind. Shanahan keeps skating but he leaves a smear of blood across the glass. It dries to a gritty brown, and the gash on Shanahan’s forehead bleeds sluggishly for the rest of the game. Peter gets tossed out for the hit, a misconduct penalty and no second chances.

The crowd in Big Mac loses their fucking minds over that; Joe takes to center ice and ducks heads together with the refs, gestures sharp and curt, but he skates back to the bench with a shake of his head and a frankly disgusted look on his face.

“Blood trumps everything,” is all he says, grim and quiet. “That’s the rule.”

Adam explodes, Scott explodes, Hartley explodes, and Joe looks after Claude and leaves the yelling to them. Claude is left shaken and fuzzy, his head’s not right for days after that hit and he throws up in the dressing room after practice the next day.

The Wings win on a Maltby goal, which is simultaneously insulting and infuriating because none of them have even an ounce of respect for that little flop artist. Patrice detests him like she detests all small and slimy things.

Osgood is out; something about lower body injury, but the Wings win both in Denver anyway. Ranford’s playing completely out of his mind, somehow shuts them out in Game 2 and McNichols is filled with hisses and boos like “you’re better than this”, like “we paid for this shit?”

“We are better than this.” Marshy is as steely and taut as any old cowboy. “We have to win every game after this. We don’t get any excuses anymore.”

“We gotta see the Big Mac off right.” Sandis looks nostalgic, looking around the room. No one’s ignorant of the fact that this might be the last game Big Mac sees, 24 years of the Flames and the Rockies and now them. It’s the first real home Patrice has had, and she loves it in that way she loves everything that’s ever conspired her to give her a chance, even if the dressing rooms are outdated and she’s been showering in a hastily converted janitor’s closet ever since they came over, a closet that still seems jerry-rigged even after years of work. It’s home, it’s not top of the line but it’s home despite that and they’re gonna miss the physical manifestations of the memories they have here.

“We’ll be back.” The room rolls over to silence immediately. Joe normally leaves the big words to other people – he’s busy doing something about it. When he talks, he means it. “Not one more game.”

The confidence there is unshakeable.

\\

The papers all write them off as dead and buried – two games in and even Woody Paige is throwing in the towel on their playoff run, directing his attention towards the off season and healing. Detroit’s crowning themselves the victors, the Free Press calling on the Wings to bury the Avs fast and move on.

Strangely enough, no one stops to ask the Avalanche what they think.

They’re not ready to hang up the towels yet. There's pride, and there's pure bloody mindedness, and there's still hockey left in them. They’re not ready to write themselves off, which is all that matters in the end.

Flying into Detroit is always an experience. It’s late when they get in, everyone’s ready to get their ties off and get to bed, and the terminal is swamped with United Airlines workers holding push brooms over their heads, a unified chant of “Sweep! Sweep!”

The team, to a man, pause in their tracks to watch the entertainment. The moment gets heavy like Detroit steel between them, a moment when they could go very bad very fast. There’s a painful anger forming in Patrice’s belly, cold and dangerous.

Adam grips her wrist, squeezing a warning.

Into that heaviness comes François who turns to Claude and says, “Please no fight them. We hafta catch a bus.”

Peter cracks up first, though Theo follows him in short order. The team collapses into laughter, Claude holding up his fists as they all push past the crowds.

The laughter takes some of the bravado out of the hecklers, so they keep it up all the way out. It’s not until everyone’s on the bus that the mask drops quickly, almost simultaneously.

It's one more jab, one more joke at their expense that lodges into Patrice’s throat and sticks there.

Adam takes his seat next to her, leans forward and meets her eyes. He’s appraising for a few seconds.

“I’ve known you a long time Patty, and I know that look. You're gonna steal this series for us, aren't you?”

Goose and Valeri, on his first game back from a shattered forearm, both turn in creepy Russian unison, staring at her.

“Not one more game,” she says quietly, not looking away from Adam. “They don’t get even one more game from me.”

Valeri shakes his head, turning to face forward. “You are scary lady, Patty.”

He’s still pissed at her; so be it. As long as he does his job it doesn't matter.

Detroit comes out firing. Yzerman scores only a few minutes in when Patrice over commits and can’t recover fast enough, and it’s only with some help from her posts that he doesn’t score again shortly after.

“Thanks, guys.” Patrice pats the upright, a moment of gentle affection before she barks “Now someone else gimme that help, yeah?”

Claude gets the message. He scores on the power play after Flower gets high sticked –

(“Any stick on Flower must be call low-sticked,” Claude teases later.)

– and then it’s off to the races for the Avalanche.

Ranford, for some reason Patrice doesn’t want to speculate on, goes through one of the more spectacular goalie collapses Patrice has ever had the pleasure to see. The guy who held a shutout the game before, who held Anaheim to six lousy goals-against their whole series, he’s suddenly lost in the woods without a guide. He’s flailing out there, gets replaced by Norm Maracle late in the second and it doesn’t do Detroit a damn bit of good because then Maracle pulls an Osgood and allows an uncontested goal from the blue line.

Kiszla doesn’t pull any punches the next day. “I invite anyone in Detroit who accuses Patrice Roy of a ‘feminine meltdown’ to take a good look at their own goaltenders. They sure don’t want to look at Roy – in those steel blue eyes they’ll see a truth so real it’s frightening. After a 5-3 victory on Tuesday the hunger was back in Roy’s eyes with a vengeance. In this best-of-seven series the Wings are now the hunted.

“The Wings should be very afraid.”

Just like that the Avs are back in it – they’re mad, and they’re hungry, and they’re fighting back. Peter does that thing where he explodes at exactly the right time, plays hard and fast and perfect.

“You been good,” Patrice says conversationally, slouching into the seat next to him. "Since that first game."

Peter blinks his huge eyes at her, visibly startled when she materializes next to him and takes Marshy’s seat. Marshy’s his best friend on the team, apparently not as good as Naslund but close, and they normally ride together after games. Marshy’s in the back with Adam, the two displaced partners banding together because Patrice has wisdom she needs to impart.

“Thanks,” he says, finally. It sounds more skeptical than she thinks she really warrants.

“I mean it. Sometimes you let them get deep inside your head, an that hurts your game. Like the first game. This time, I think, you are not letting them throw you.”

Peter gives her a shy smile, looking pleased with himself. “I feel good, for sure.”

“Excellent. Keep it up. We gonna win the series this year, an you're gonna be a big part of it.” She claps his shoulder, and they spend the rest of the ride in companionable silence, Patrice looking out the window.

They embarrass the hell out of Detroit. Ranford collapses like a fragile house of cards, folds in on himself and allows the Avalanche to skate all over him. Peter keeps his word, keeps his head up and doesn't let himself get distracted from the overall goal. He’s really a sight to see when he's on his groove.

Maracle comes in at the start of the second. Ranford is tucked into a ball of misery on the bench, strange and disconnected from the game. He has the look of someone who’s done, who’s just waiting for permission to exit.

Detroit is in a bad place – Maracle’s a third stringer no one thought would see significant ice time, let alone in the playoffs, and Osgood is still out with his mysterious lower-body injury. It’s the biggest gift the Avalanche could ask for, and they dance all over the Joe’s ice, they burn Maracle to the ground and shoot pucks through the ashes.

In the end they leave Detroit with a tied series and a decimated goalie corps – fuck being done – and they’re back to Big Mac like promised.

Uwe gets hit in the head with a half empty cup of beer on the way out to the bus, the liquid sloshing through his hair and dripping down his neck. He’s the tallest person on the ice, easy to pick out in a crowd, and he erupts into a torrent of German that rises in volume and violence quickly. They pivot to find a group of drunk, angry fans gathered at the fence, cups clutched in all but one of their hands, red faced and screaming.

None of them are particularly sensitive; they’d have been chased out of hockey long before now if they were. It’s not what’s being screamed at them that’s worrying, it’s the absolute sincerity of the threats.

The team slips into their default positions on the ice without breaking stride. Joe shifts forward silently, takes point between Peter and François and making himself the main target with the certain knowledge than no one will try that shit on Joe Sakic, not even drunk Wings fans. Patrice’s ego is a little bruised as she gets shuffled towards the middle of the group with Flower and Claude, a gathering of the most hated and the most vulnerable, but she’s actually got a survival instinct despite what Adam seems to think and she recognizes the necessity of it. Adam and Goose take defensive positions like they would if they were trying to defend the net from a shot from the point while Valeri and Marshy slip in towards Patrice’s six. The rest of the team falls into line with them, shifting to provide a unified front. Hartley starts talking to his assistants casually, all of them moving closer to the exit from the Joe so they can dart in for a phone if they need one.

“Keep going. It means we’ve got them on the ropes.” Joe starts immediately riding herd on the team. They all keep walking – even Uwe, smelling of beer and dripping slightly.

The threats that are being thrown out attached to Patrice’s name are vile even for hockey, have Adam and Craig clustering in close to her and trying to shield her from sight with their bodies – a lost cause, she’s as tall as or taller than both of them but they do it anyway. Adam’s making a soft sound like repressed pain, and Patrice is shaking by the time she gets into the bus; the dinged metal of the steps and dim interior look like the most welcoming thing she’s ever experienced.

She curls up against Adam, feet on the bench seat and arms draped across her knees. He settles an arm around her, fingers twisting absently in the ends of her hair.

“Not one more game?” he asks, and he’s smiling weak and thin. The crackling edge of his voice has her more tangled up than any threat a distant fan could level at her. He sounds afraid.

She turns her face into his neck, breathing in the scent of his skin and soap. “Not one more goal.”

\\

Patrice spends the night in Adam’s room, lets Craig have her single suite so she can have the sound of someone breathing (snoring) around her, so she’s not alone.

She’s learned that Adam can be trusted with everything; tonight he’s the only person in the world outside her own family that she trusts enough to fall asleep around. Not even Joe is inside that box in her head.

It helps chase away any lingering discomfort from the encounter outside the Joe, reminds her she’s not alone and not in danger as long as Adam is there. She’s gone by the next day, secure enough to be back on her own, but she still checks in with Adam when she leaves the hotel alone for any reason that series, and lets him know when she gets back.

\\

Patrice skates into Big Mac ready to face Ranford, ready to show him up yet again, and there’s fucking Osgood on the other end of the ice, not just taking shots in warmup but actually in net at the start of the first.

There’s no explanation, no nothing. Last game in Detroit Osgood was sitting out and presumably injured, and now he’s in net blocking the friendly shots directed at him and struggling to look healthy.

Struggling – maybe not to anyone else but Patrice has a goalie’s eye, and she can see the difference between Osgood at 100% and Osgood where he is now, maybe 90% and scared of his knee. Patrice wouldn’t wish that on anyone, not even Osgood. She’s done it before, her first season with the Nords when Stéphane was lit up and Jocelyn was injured and Patrice was hiding an appendix trying to burst its way out of her stomach like that disgusting Aliens movie she still hasn’t forgiven Adam for watching around her. Playing injured is a given in the NHL; playing injured in the playoffs is a necessary cruelty, but it’s cruel none-the-less.

Patrice stretches slowly on the ice, watching Osgood and the cautious way he’s moving. “Joe. Theo.”

Joe and Flower skate over, settle next to her and flick the puck back and forth to stay warm. “Yeah?”

“Osgood.” Patrice jerks her head that way but refuses to look at him. “He’s not back cause he is heal. Something else is up. He’s playing soft on his right side. When it opens, shoot there.”

It's something they would have figured out soon enough, but Patrice is a goalie and can read the signs better than anyone. She's not above coaching her teammates when the chance is there.

It’s clear from the beginning what Bowman’s strategy is. He’s got his defensemen buzzing around Osgood along with most of his forwards, and they're playing passive D rather than trying to score. Clearly he knows that Osgood isn’t at his peak and he’s trying to pack his team around their injured goalie. That doesn’t give the Wings much chance at all to score, so Hartley just watches for a couple shifts and then throws everything at them except the kitchen sink.

“I’m focusing on offense, so you’re not gonna be getting much support from the guys tonight,” Hartley warns her when she skates in during the first TV time out. “You can handle that.”

She appreciates that it’s not a question.

The Avalanche push and punch. Osgood's knee isn't holding up to the onslaught and they score early in the first, tack on in the second. Patrice squares off with Detroit’s shooters, stands her ground and doesn't give them an inch.

The Avalanche give Denver the game that they deserve, a shut out on home ice, and then finish it up in Detroit because Patrice is absolutely true to her word.

Not one more loss.

\\

They win. After a season of bullshit and distractions they pull out a win in six and send the Wings packing in their own building.

After they win Patrice has to put out an honest effort to find Osgood. He’s not underfoot like he normally is, hanging out somewhere obvious to gloat and flirt at her. She has to go find him, a compulsive need she can't explain, but he's almost hiding. Not exactly; hiding is that corner of the dressing room where not even the press can address you. He’s out where he can be found, but he looks distinctly unsure about why that’s the case.

“Roy.” His voice comes out slow, tired, like a sigh. He’s visibly favoring his left knee and looks like he wants to bolt. “In case you fucking missed it, this isn’t a great time for me.”

“Can’t get it up? Too sad after we beat you?” That isn't even what she wants from him this time, but fuck him. She is a fucking joy to be around, it's his privilege.

Osgood fists in her blouse, hauls her close. She smirks at him until he lets her go.

“I shouldn’t have had to fucking play.” Osgood sounds weird, vulnerable and broken in places, exhausted in a way that cuts straight through to the bone.

“I dunno what goes on in your room Crisse, but there’s no way you should’ve be out there like this.”

H“Oh, fuck you.” He turns his back to her, a soft sound of pain in his throat. “I did what I could.”

“I know.” And she does, the weight of a single error, the pressure of injuries compounding on top of the need for perfection until either the body or the mind breaks, slips and shatters and lets that one goal in, what it feels like to know that one goal is all they need. She knows all of that, and it sucks, and sympathy is a lost cause this far down the line but maybe empathy shouldn’t be.

“I don't want your fucking pity,” he grunts even as he eases closer on a breath; there’s a hint of the admiration he used to watch her with reflecting in the back of his eyes, where he doesn't know it's there. “I did my best.”

The scar on her hip is old and white now but it still puckers the skin. This late in the season it’s extremely prominent, when she's at her lowest body fat, skin pulled taut. “I play through two fucking series when this happen inside me, fuck your pity.”

Osgood reaches out, and this time she lets him touch her, thumb brushing the edge of the scar. He makes a sound, quiet and deep and broken, fingers tangling into the short hair behind her ears. It feels like empathy, like shared experience, and for a split second it feels like they're dangerously close to an understanding between them. Patrice pushes into his hand and he proceeds to eat her alive.

They’re ending way too many encounters like this, anymore. They use sex as a substitute for messy, human problems, problems like the rivalry, like feelings, like what the ever ready fuck are we doing?

Denial, Patrice thinks as she opens to him, sucks at his tongue, is part of who they are at this point. After all, they’re both still living in a mythical place where this isn’t a regular thing, where they don’t use each others bodies to cope with the feelings of uselessness and rage that are part of every loss, where they don't understand each other better than their own teammates some days.

She likes that little island of denial, likes the way it gives her a shot to do this without actually thinking, reacting, or suffering consequences from any of it.

She ends up blowing Osgood in the training room, trying not to think about the way he winces when he walks, how the act of sitting looks like a barely controlled tumble onto the trainer’s table. She definitely doesn’t think about the way he feels in her mouth, the strange vulnerability in his face as he watches her, carding his fingers through the hair at the nape of her neck, how the curses he’s spitting out sound more like a novena.

Patrice takes it slow, teasing and testing Osgood, but the more she hears the broken edge to his voice the more she realizes she doesn't have the stomach for this right now. It’s not even the sex that she’s afraid of. It’s absolutely possible to screw the hell out of someone you hate and come out of it no fonder of them than you were when you went in. It’s the fact she actually, sorta, in a way, is concerned with Osgood’s feelings, about this knee and his backup situation and all of that.

There’s a long road to the Finals still ahead for Patrice and there’s nothing more destructive to a team than a creeping sense of satisfaction when everything’s still on the line. It’s one more layer of frustration in her playoff arsenal, one she’s certain they’re all staring to feel, so she takes it and buries it deep in her gut where she can draw off of it and finishes Osgood with her hands, wipes off on the hem of his slacks because ruining his clothes is a thing she just does at this point.

“Bill’s done.” Osgood is carding his fingers through her hair, brushing the sweaty strands out of her face. “I don't know what the fuck happened but he’s done with hockey. He’s not gonna be back.”

Patrice pushes into his hand, storing that information in the back of her brain where she stores everything about hockey, everything important.

“Stop being sad.” Patrice doesn’t like what a confused and vulnerable Osgood, dick softening and eyes wide open, does to her. “It is less fun that I beat you if you are weak.”

“I’ll try and remember that.”

\\

Debbie gets really sick. Joe does his best because he’s captain, because they need him, but it’s his wife in the hospital. That kinda puts a lot of life in perspective and he comes out of it silent and drawn tight, not unlike he gets every year on the anniversary of Swift Current.

Peter and Claude try to pick up the slack, get some unexpected assists from Sandis and Goose, but it’s not enough. The team without Joe isn’t the Avalanche, they’re just a disjointed group of players who are left wondering how in the world they got here.

Flower has his demons, and they derail him that series. He has enough self-awareness to not apologize for it.

They go down in seven against Dallas, the crowd chanting “Eddie’s Better” and in that particular series Patrice is forced to face facts that Belfour is. Not really, not long term and not once history has had time to judge them, but that does her fuck all good skating off the ice and knowing they’re going home.

Dallas wins everything, in the end. If they have to go down, better to go down to the winners, she supposes. It doesn’t actually help any, not any more than the epic bender they go on once they reach Denver, but it seems like the classy thing to say anyway.

The season ultimately ends up going down in team lore as the season of “Fuck You, Fuck This, Everything is Fucking Bullshit”.

Chapter Text

Alex Tanguay is a puppy. A 20 year old, eager, floppy puppy.

Patrice meets him at training camp. The kid flashes her the most ridiculous, wide eyed expression before stuttering and forgetting English, lapsing into urgent Québécois that has Marc and Eric snorfling undignified sounds into their sleeves while Patrice glares death lasers at them. Alex calms down after a few minutes when Patrice fails to break any records, switches to English with a sheepish grin.

“I’m sorry, it’s such a great, big honor to get to play here with you.” His eyes are kinda stupid big, blue and honest underneath an impressive set of eyebrows. Patrice keeps looking for a joke in there somewhere, and there just isn’t one. He’s actually that earnest.

“Thank you, I am glad you have opportunity an play here.” Patrice gives him her most reassuring smile, the one Adam calls her ‘rumors about me are hugely exaggerated’ smile. “We have a good team, I think, this year.”

“I hope I get to stay the whole year this time. That would be. That would be really great.” Of course the rookie is already better at English than she is, far and away better than she was at his age, so when he ducks his head and mutters something under his breath she can’t catch it.

Marc keeps giving her significant looks all through warm ups, grinning like he’s got a great big fucking secret he can’t wait to share with her.

She ignores him. It worked well enough with Craig, and just her luck that once she finally had him mostly trained he was shipped off to Washington with a surprisingly heartfelt goodbye. She’s had very little time to get used to Marc, and there’s something about his gaze that starts an itch at the base of her hairline.

“What?” Hartley’s off chasing the defensemen down, and Allaire has given Patrice and Marc a few minutes breather before he shifts focus.

“What what?” Marc grins at her, clearly finding himself hilarious, hoses his face down with his water bottle and smoothes his hair back, sweaty palms and sweaty scalp turning it into a mess of curls and whorls.

Patrice gives him a flat stare, her best goalie look, and waits him out.

It doesn’t take long. Her best goalie look is really, really good.

“Tangs,” he says, shit eating grin firmly in place. “Kid’s pretty impressed by you, am I right?” She follows his gaze and, sure enough, Alex is watching them from the corner of his eyes, hands crossed over the butt of his stick. When she catches him looking he smiles, a little crooked and shy, before he goes back to watching Peter and Milan run through their drill.

She sighs, sincere and long-suffering. “When the fuck did I get old enough for rookies to start getting all starry-eyed over me?”

Marc stares at her, bobs his head to maintain eye contact as she tries to look away. Whatever he sees makes him whistle, low and harsh. “Holy Christ, you really think that’s all it is, don’t you?”

Patrice would actually welcome a little hero worship from Marc. “All what is, Marc?”

“Tangs wants you to jump his bones, you idiot.”

Patrice snorts. “Don't be crass.” But she looks over at Alex, who is looking at her again, and after a second of watching his shy smiling she returns the gesture, quick and sincere, just to see the way he lights up like a candle.

It’s nothing like how Osgood looks at her, like he knows she’s dangerous, like he’s torn between dread and awe.

She finds that she likes the way Alex looks at her.

\\

The NHL doesn’t actually have fraternization rules. It’s something that the League never put any thought into, because the general consensus at the time was that they would never need them. After all, hockey is a man’s game.

(Patrice has played with at least one man who is gay, confided it to her after a night of heavy drinking and strip clubs that did nothing for either of them, and of course there’s Peter who’s up for anything that can lead to orgasms. They’re not the only ones, she is sure. The NHL agrees to leave them alone if they agree to pretend.

The NHL has no idea what to do with her, because Patrice is never going to try and pretend that she is a man. Not again, at any rate.)

Any rules they could come up with after the fact would be mostly useless at this point, anyway. Manon married Gerry last summer to much acclaim, Hayley has somehow managed to maintain a space between hockey and dating, and Patrice has a personal grudge against any rule they try to apply to only her.

They spend October almost entirely on the road, which conveniently postpones any conversation, though Alex doesn’t stop looking. Adam has a walker delivered to her room when they check in, then takes her out to celebrate when they beat the Preds on her 32nd birthday, just the two of them. Alex watches with a heartbroken look when they leave the hotel together, and she would need to be blind to miss that.

They lose in Detroit on the 27th and she pages Osgood with her room number afterwards, lets him take her against the wall with enough force that her shoulders bruise. They have rage sex that leaves dents in the sheetrock, his fingerprints red around her wrists for days afterward, holding nothing back. It’s spectacular.

After their first home stand in early November, when it’s clear he’s going to be sticking around, Alex comes up to her stall after the press have cleared out and only stutters a little when he asks her out to dinner.

Marc teases, “We always go out to dinner after a win.” But Patrice knows what Alex means, would be able to figure it out from the hot flush at the tips of his ears even if she didn’t. She takes a little too long to answer, torn between flattered and amused. It’s the first time she hasn’t been the instigator in a very long time, and she takes a second to relish the feeling.

“Unless you have plans with Adam . . .” he trails off, looking at her with a hopeful need that confirms exactly what she thinks it means.

Marc snorts like as if, and Patrice tries to ignore the little twist in her gut. “It’s not like that with us. I’d enjoy getting dinner with you.”

Alex is a good-looking guy, after all.

\\

Turns out that game in October is Claude’s last game against the Red Wings in an Avalanche uniform. Pierre won’t give him the contract extension he wants so that’s it, headed east to New Jersey where he’s always been most at home.

The ratcheting down of the tension between the two clubs is palpable next time they meet. The Avs still have plenty to hate Detroit for, and vice versa, but Claude was the poster-boy for the conflict. McCarty still skates with vengeance in his eyes, and Adam will still throw down with Shanahan, swinging with barely restrained rage when he makes a run at Patrice, but that's just what they are. It's not personal anymore.

They’ll never like each other, they’ll fight and scrap like the two biggest dogs in the junkyard, but they don’t go straight for the throat the way they used to. When Patrice sees Osgood in the hallway there’s a strange feeling of maturation between them, like sometime between last season and now they’ve both grown up. She can’t say they’re friendly but it is a small easing of the violence, letting them focus on what they really need to be thinking about.

\\

Sweat’s cooling across her body, pooling in the hollows of her hips and making her hairline itch with it. There’s a drowsy pleasure settled into her bones, even as her heart settles back to a leisurely pace. Patrice has long since stopped examining the whys or wherefores, relaxed into the fact that it’s a thing, they both know it’s a thing but they don't acknowledge that they know that the other knows that it’s a thing.

It . . . gets pretty complicated.

“So, I heard you’ve been seeing someone.”

Patrice slits one eye, sweat stinging a little when it slides into her lashes. “Hear from who?” She can’t imagine anyone on the team who would want to sit around with Osgood and have a nice chat about her and Alex. But the NHL runs a lot like a high school and there’s always someone who’ll talk to someone who’ll share with someone else. Gossip is golden, and she’s dating a much younger guy who happens to also be a teammate. She’s stunned no one important has found out about this – it probably says more about her reputation than she wants to think about.

Osgood’s propped on one elbow, looking down on her. He looks pretty offended by her response. “Does it really matter?”

She considers that for a second. “I guess not,” she says thoughtfully.

He rolls over, drapes his arm across her belly in a twistingly proprietary way and snuggles into her side. Osgood, she’s discovered over the years, will absolutely go again if she sticks around long enough for him to recover and suddenly she's not sure if this is the time or the place for it.

Osgood grunts after a few minutes of silence. “You’re. Uh. You’re not saying that you aren’t.”

Patrice isn’t sure where exactly he’s going with that. They are both steadfast in the idea that this thing between them is not real; it’s not built on compatibility or affection or resilience. They fuck because it’s easy, because it scratches an itch for both of them. They do not share tender feelings or softness, it’s about getting off, blowing off some steam after a game without needing to worry about what the other person is getting out of the encounter.

If anything Osgood's a habit. Falling into bed with him is something that happens because it always happens. Problem is, she never intended for it to become a regular thing.

Hell, she and Tangs have a better chance of lasting long-term than her and Osgood, and Alex is still 12 years her junior and all but dropping flowers at her feet when she walks by. At least she enjoys spending time with Alex outside of sex.

“I guess yes, I have found someone.” Patrice rolls out of bed, slips out from under the hand that flops out to try and pull her back in.

“You going somewhere then?” Osgood turns away from her to fish over the side of the bed for his pants now that he knows she’s not gonna come back to bed for another round.

“I think that I should, yeah?”

Osgood finishes tugging on his boxers, waistband riding low on his hipbones. Patrice wonders if anyone else could see the curve of her lips bruised into the skin, or is she sees it because she knows it’s there. “Fine, whatever. I got a thing too, so whatever.” He sounds vicious.

She’s never been celibate in-between this thing with Osgood. She suspects he’s been the same but knowing for certain there’s someone out there – that triggers a very Catholic response in her, a mixture of remorse and resentment. There’s an uncomfortable weight in her chest resting somewhere between her throat and her lungs and tasting a lot like guilt in the back of her throat, like bile.

“I think this one’s the real deal.”

He says it like he wants it to hurt her. Patrice doesn’t have that to give him. It’s not the way she saw it going down in her head but it’s not like she was getting around to dumping him, either. “To be honest with you, it seem we both got people we care about. We should stick with them, seeing as they’re worth it.”

The dopey look that crosses Osgood’s face faster than he can stop it tells her more about this thing he has going than his words ever could. He has the look of a guy who’s ready to go all in, and maybe he’s not ready to admit it in his mind, but his heart is already there. Patrice has seen that look enough in the past few months to recognize it in that flash, because Alex is there even if she’s taking her time. She doesn’t have who she wants but she has Alex, who is kind and sincere and a damn good hockey player.

Maybe it's past time for him to have her, too.

When Patrice goes to leave she lets Chris kiss her, deep and disturbingly genuine, and she fists in his hair and kisses back. It feels very much like goodbye.

\\

“Missed you,” Alex mumbles in slurry Québécois when she crawls into bed, hair still wet from her shower. His breath is sleep-hot against the back of her neck, barely awake.

He’s been in her bed more often than not, lately. She’s not really sure why Adam is maintaining the charade that the rookie is living in his basement; it’s clearly more for her benefit than Alex’s, but she’ll take her wins where she can get them. The team and staff are all aware of the situation, but she’s not ready to deal with the press just yet, so she keeps it casual.

“Sorry,” she murmurs, scooting back until he’s a warm line against her spine. “I had a thing.”

“S’kay. Love you.”

Luckily he’s asleep before she has to decide how she wants to answer.

\\

2000, it turns out, is almost as big a deal as all those psychics tried to make it out to be in the waning months of the 20th century.

Adam proposes to Jennifer at the team’s New Year’s Eve party, gets ready to start a new life in the new millennium, and everything is so fucking new.

Alex officially moves in with Patrice a week after that.

Any rumors about cause and effect are ignored, because Patrice is an adult who makes her own choices and doesn’t need anyone to see patterns where she doesn’t want them to see patterns. Adam’s getting ready for a real, adult type of life with a wife and maybe some kids – he doesn’t need their rookie living in his basement and Patrice loves Alex in a fierce, protective sort of way. It’s good. It's very good.

Ray Bourque saunters into the visitor’s room in Calgary on March 7th, all cool confidence and legs like an oak tree, physically huge and yet still smaller than his reputation. It’s stupid, because they’re all humans who have learned the difference between reputation and reality, but in that moment none of it matters because Ray Bourque is in their room and they’re on a mission from that second on.

The whole room goes silent for one beat, two. Adam has gone so still Patrice has to look away from Ray to see if he’s still in the room. Marc is making weird, worrying squeaking noises in the back of his throat like he’s forgotten what breathing is. Alex starts shaking like an aspen.

Joe gets to his feet with smooth grace, offers his hand to the legend who’s hulking over him with a bright, sincere smile. “Honored to have you with us, Ray. Equipment has you over here by Adam – he’s gonna be your d-partner going forwards. Your gear’s already been set up.”

Ray clasps Joe’s hand between his two, swallowing the smaller man’s hand. “I’m excited to be here. Thank you so much for having everything so well prepared.”

The room exhales one collective breath. Ray ends up in the middle of the most polite swarm in history, everyone coming over to welcome him to the Avalanche, to Denver once they finally get there, and Ray takes his time to greet every person with equal graciousness. He apologizes to Goose for stealing his d-partner and Goose just gives him a beneficent smile, forgives him with a laugh about being too old to play the minutes a top-two defenseman is required to play even though none of them have a damn clue how old Goose is, not really.

There’s only a handful of players who aren’t intimidated. Peter, because Peter is shy and polite but also absolutely cognizant of his own place in history. Joe, because anything short of Swift Current will never really phase Joe again. And Patrice, because she looks at Ray and all she can see is kin, a twin to her own ambition.

“So,” Ray says with a soft smile, his English also better than hers damn him. “I finally get the privilege of playing in front of Saint Patrice.”

She nods, slow and serious. “I am finally become unbeatable.”

“You think you need me for that?”

“To be honest with you, not really. But it can’t hurt.” That startles a laugh out of Ray.

Patrice meets his eyes and yes. Yes, he will be a good friend to her. One of the best possible, on equal footing and wanting nothing more or less than that.

\\

“So, I maybe did something really stupid.”

Patrice says it casual, in the middle of some sitcom that Adam let her turn on. This is a thing they still do, and a lot has changed in the past year (since Alex, since Engagement) but watching TV in Adam’s room together, arguing over the programming until someone tears out the pillows and it turns into a free-for-all, that’s a thing they collectively and silently agreed they still do.

She doesn't want to talk about it; she feels like she might puke. But the words are out, so she has to finish the thought. Why it feels like now is the right time she can’t really say. It’s like this: No time will ever be a good time, but there are definitely times that would be better than others. A lot of Patrice’s life is focused on instinct and reactions, and in that moment it just comes out because it’s the moment when it needs to happen. They’re in Detroit for the last of their regular season series, everything between herself and Osgood is settled and not likely to repeat itself, and it’s a secret she’s done keeping.

Patrice is stretched out on her stomach, feet tucked under the warmth of Adam’s bicep, and he’d grumbled at her but didn’t push her away. His feet stop tapping in her periphery, and she looks over her shoulder to see his reaction for herself.

“‘Hurt yourself’ stupid, or ‘PR nightmare’ stupid?” he finally prompts when it becomes clear Patrice isn’t going to elaborate that single thought.

“I been fucking Osgood.”

Patrice winces; that was possibly the most graceless way to handle it, but it feels very much like pulling off a Band-Aid that’s holding the moment together.

“. . . That is a really weird joke.”

“It really isn’t.”

The cursing goes on for quite a while, and spans three languages between the two of them.

By the time they both peter out Patrice is pacing by the air conditioner, swallowing and blinking reflexively, the same ticks she has on the ice that almost never manifest in real life. Adam’s at the other side of the room, still as a mannequin. He’s staring at Patrice with an expression like betrayal, like her fucking Chris has done something to him personally and not just been a massive cock-up in a general, rivalry sort of way.

He looks heartbroken.

“Just. Why? Son of a bitch, why him?”

“I’m allow to do things, Adam. Have a life.” There’s an edge of defiance there, like ‘just try and prove me wrong’. She gets a truly impressive look in response, changes tactics. “Why did it matter why I do it? He’s not Shanahan or McCarty. Only I fight Osgood, I get to make the choice.”

“With a Red Wing? It’s . . . he’s the fucking enemy.” He looks at her, hands settling restlessly. There’s a shake to them that he hides by tucking his fingers together until the knuckles turn translucent and bloodless. His voice sounds smoker-rough, holding back emotion. “Just. How?”

Adam’s trying to figure it out but it’s impossible to explain, make it make sense the way he wants it to make sense. “It’s hard to happens by accident. But no. I don’t want sex, to be honest with you. It starts when I fight Vernon, that one time. I’m angry, Osgood is a Red Wing. It all moves from there.”

That look he’s giving her deepens before it fades into something horrific.

“Oh fuck, does that mean I heard you having sex with him?” She can see Adam making timelines in his head, matching up dates.

The thought is suddenly a lot more mortifying than it was before Adam phrased it that way. “You listen?”

“I was right next door!”

Patrice snaps her mouth shut so fast she tastes blood. She’s heard Adam a time or two, when they were traveling, and —

Fuck, she probably knows more about Adam’s sex noises than anyone who’s not directly involved with them should.

Her silence must tell him everything he needs because he lets out a weird whimper, bonks his head against the door with a dull thud, hard enough to leave a red mark across his forehead.

“Hey, hey! No hurting your brain. Someday you retire and need that.” It’s a weak attempt to break the awkward stand-off. Patrice wraps one hand around the back of his neck, fingers cradling the curve of his skull. He closes his eyes and leans into her touch, still making the same small, broken sounds deep in his chest.

“Is this some sort of weird goalie thing?” It’s the tone in his voice, practically begging, that drops her anger from ten to zero in a split second, so fast she’s dizzy and sick. He can’t even meet her eyes.

“It involve goalies, so I guess.” A part of her is tired of everything she does being dismissed just because goalies are weird and play their own long games. Another part of her is slowly releasing because not once has Adam looked at her like this information has changed anything important. “It’s a me thing, anyways.”

Adam finally pulls away from her, murmurs “Fucking goalies,” as he drops to sit on the edge of the mattress. She’s not sure how to take that. “What about Alex?”

Patrice sits next to him. “It starts before Alex. It ends after him.” I really care about Alex.

She doesn’t say it, but Adam knows. It breaks her into all sorts of pieces, the way Adam always knows. Except when he doesn’t.

There’s silence for a while, and silence between them has never felt uncomfortable until now, when it is really, really terrible. Adam’s pressing his fists to his temples, anger making his neck red and splotchy.

“Are we okay?” It scares her a little, how badly she wants them to still be okay. Adam’s . . . He’s her best friend, and he’s more than that. Adam means stability and protection and the certain knowledge that there’s something out there that means more to Patrice than even hockey does, even if he only knows a fraction of that.

“Depends. You were safe?”

She will never lie to him about that. “I’m a grown adult; I know what I am doing.”

Adam lifts his head from his hands, and the look on his face is fragile. It makes her think yes, maybe when all of her should be focused on no, never.

His threat still carries all the menace he can bring to the words. “If he fucks you over I’ll kill him.”

He’s Adam Foote — it’s a lot of damn menace.

“That sounds right by me.” She wasn’t aware that was what she was looking for until she sees it, that flash of anger and protectiveness. He looks indescribably beautiful to her.

Patrice cautiously scoots onto the bed and then flops onto her belly when there’s no fallout from that. She’s lost the thread of the plot at this point but even an incomprehensible TV show is preferable to more of the terrible silence.

“Your TV show sucks,” Adam says after a few minutes.

She bites her lip, buries the smile. “Do something about it, then.”

The pillow smacking her in the back of the head knocks something loose inside her chest, and she jumps onto Adam to wrestle the pillow away, laughing like a child.

\\

They lose again to the Wings the next day. Their regular season record against them has gone all to hell, and the only consolation is that both teams are playing some of the best hockey in the world during those games, tight and pristine. Detroit is just playing inside those tiny fractions of seconds that mean everything. Osgood flips her off with a smirk as the benches clear and Patrice cusses him out in Québécois, and it’s still the most civil they’ve been with each other since Claude and Draper and blood.
The Wings have Lidstrom, and they still watch Ray with a wary awe as he plays, because Ray is just that type of player, that once-in-a-generation talent that everyone respects and recognizes. He’s impressive in the game, plays like a seasoned veteran who is simultaneously much younger than he really is, and he ices his knees after the game and shrugs sheepishly when the trainers scold him.

It’s not the optimal way to introduce Ray into the rivalry that he’s now intrinsically part of, whether he planned to be or not. But Ray’s a Bruin at heart; he understands bloody rivalries like most people understand oxygen. He’s ready for it either way. He wants to contribute, especially to a rivalry that’s as hot as this one. Even if he’s sore and a little regretful the next day.

“Are we ever gonna win against these guys?” Alex is grumpy with the loss, kicking at the carpet with the toe of his trainer. It’s a silly reminder of how young he is, one that Patrice isn’t looking for.

“Yes,” she says simply, voice coming out harsher than she intended. She softens considerably in the next moment, tempering irritation with her genuine affection. “What happen now doesn’t matter. The final score happen in the Playoffs.”

Alex still looks sulky, looks personally offended by the loss which is something they’re all trying to avoid now. Patrice contemplates taking him aside but decides it’s really more Joe’s shtick than hers. It’s one of the only things that dating Alex has made awkward, but it is awkward. She’d rather avoid it when possible.

Ray catches her eye with a shared look of comprehension.

Ray’s done the whole hyped up rivalry thing; he can take this one. He takes Alex to the side before they clear out the dressing room, hand companionably clasped over his shoulder and speaking in low, soothing Québécois. Alex lifts from morose to sulky to thoughtful in minutes, the rapid fire emotions that come with youth.

Patrice focuses on cooling down and passing her puck back to Adam for safe keeping. A lot has changed between them since Alex, since Adam took her ring shopping and she came out of the store with a necklace she didn’t ask for and a ring that belongs to someone else. But that doesn't change, trust doesn't change, trust and routine.

“We’re still doing this.” It sounds normal enough, but she knows Adam’s tone better than most. What he’s asking is do you miss seeing Osgood?

She makes a face but all she says is, “Of course we do. We always will.” It has a ring of finality to it. Nothing changed about their routine when it was going on, damned if she'll let it change just because Adam knows.

If she places the puck in his hand with more force than necessary, well. There’s only the two of them who know that.

Patrice doesn’t go looking for Osgood and he doesn’t page her, and she still despises him with a fierce determination so she doesn’t miss it at all.

\\

Detroit annihilates LA in a clean sweep and Phoenix makes a hard go of it, but Colorado takes them down after a solitary hiccup. It’s starting to look like the NHL should be cutting the Avalanche and Wings some sort of bonus checks for the extra viewership they reap whenever the playoffs roll around and they end up facing each other in the Western Conference semi-finals yet again.

By the second round Adam and Ray are gelling like nothing Patrice has ever seen. The Wings, with their regular season scoring record and effortless offense, suddenly can’t beg, borrow, or steal a point. Ray in particular is merciless and if they slip then Patrice is there, as tough as always in the playoffs.

Yzerman takes to giving her looks between plays, dark and cloudy things, evaluating without reaching a satisfactory conclusion. He doesn’t say anything – if it wasn’t for the reality that she’s heard his voice in passing she’d almost suspect that he was incapable of speech.

When Ray wrenches his knee in Game 3 they drop their first game of the series, the first on the Joe’s ice. There’s a quiet moment on the team where they collectively decide that yes, even without Ray they got this, they’ll win it for him if they can’t win it with him, and Ray sits in the dressing room with them every game. Even when they lose Game 3 after a couple bad plays, by a couple tough goals, by Detroit’s final, desperate push.

“This isn't about me,” Ray says, voice sure. “This is about the team. About what we can do when we do it together. Detroit’s playing stupid, we can wrap this up in five if we just stay focused and draw those penalties.”

This year Detroit is all about their stupid penalties, and the Avalanche out play them. Plain and simple, they’re just the better team. In Game 5 when Osgood lets in a Forsberg slapper from out past the circles – it’s something he’s prone to doing, letting those stupid long shots in, Patrice is endlessly grateful for those lapses making her job easier – the Wings crumple. They play the rest of the game in a fog, and the Avalanche take the series. McCarty and Osgood look almost shell shocked in the handshake line, but there’s an earnest sincerity as they tell Ray that since it can’t be theirs, they want it to be his.

It’s a class move Patrice really kinda wishes they didn’t display. It complicates too many things.

\\

It’s strange, in a lot of ways, how Chris still manages to find her. Even with sex off the table he circles around until he finds a place to land with her, like it’s a drive that he can’t ignore.

There’s something reassuring about that; Patrice is a creature of habits, particularly in the post season, so it settles something inside her that she wasn’t aware was at odds until it happens.

“This season’s been fucking bullshit. Darren’s been–” Chris sounds angry, but the slump in his shoulders reads as pure defeat. He’s done; he needs this offseason more than he needs a Stanley Cup, in a way. Being able to rest is almost a reward, after a season like that.

Chris is vulnerable, for a split second he’s hurting and unsure in front of her. This could never have happened as long as Claude was with the Avs, as long as Chris was furious and Patrice was fighting for her teammates.

He blinks, and it’s gone. “Fuck.”

“You need time,” she offers, voice light and neutral. Patrice almost wants to reach out to him. It’s vulnerability, one he shouldn’t be showing to her but is anyway. It’s very strange. She wants to hug him.

She’s been there on the other side of needing a hug, but it’s still a weird feeling you won’t share until much later, with family or friends. Never teammates. Never the opposition.

“You don’t gotta act like it’s such a strange thing, for me to say that,” she snaps, after his look of consternation starts to get on her nerves. “We all get tire sometimes.”

“You don’t.” He blinks, swallows around the words like he didn’t mean for them to come out.

The persona that she’s built is a secure thing that doesn’t falter, doesn’t hesitate, and certainly never gets tired. If they get eliminated it’s almost always another factor, anything from lack of offense to weak neutral-zone forechecks. It’s rarely placed on her, she’s their ace in the hole.

“Yes. Well.” She shrugs, pats his shoulder condescendingly. “To be honest with you, you can never be me.”

“I still got two Stanley Cup rings, though.”

The rage is a comfortable, reassuring burn. “Fuck you, Crisse.”

\\

Fuck Dallas.

The best team loses, and it’s on the back of the weirdest goals she’s ever had go in on her.

Just.

Fucking fuck Dallas.