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these stars will guide

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Jamie flicks off the television, closes his eyes and slowly counts to ten. Then he takes a deep breath and counts to fifty. But when he opens his eyes, he’s still stuck on his couch, surrounded by snacks and drinks and anything else he might need. Post-surgery recovery is the worst, he thinks miserably. He checks his phone but no one’s messaged or called in the five minutes since he last looked at the screen.

He’s bored as hell and even Jordie isn’t around to entertain him. Even worse, there’s no hockey re-runs to watch.

Jamie grabs a throw cushion, puts it over his face and screams out his frustration.

*

Two weeks later, Jamie’s finally back out on the ice. He’s moving gingerly, mostly because he’s under the watchful eye of two coaches, half their medical team and his consultant, but he’s out there and he feels great.

Aside from the aches and pains radiating from every single muscle in his body.

But otherwise, he feels great. Just moving his legs and feeling the ice sliding away under his skates feels good. It’s taken longer than he wanted to get back out on the rink but he puts aside that frustration because he’s here. He’s home.

He’s not allowed his stick yet, but he holds his hands out anyway, visualizing the way his body would move if he was chasing a puck. A tiny shift of weight sends a shooting pain down his side but it’s momentary. Jamie can push through that no problem. He turns casually and notes which muscles protest the move, mentally cataloguing what stretches will help to soften the burn.

Jamie pulls up off the ice and nods along with everything he’s told, most of which adds up to making sure he takes it easy. Jamie agrees – in principle. He’s not going to do anything to aggravate his healing, for sure. But this isn’t his first time post-surgery, and he’s got some hockey to win in six weeks. He’s not intending on doing anything to ruin those plans. So he nods and smiles and mumbles his thanks to everyone with handshakes all round.

Then he goes home, stands in his workout room and starts to coax his body back into shape.

*

Jamie’s distracted when his phone rings, trying to boil pasta and grill chicken while keeping half an eye on the television where the men’s basketball team are in a close run with Australia.

“Yeah?” he answers vaguely.

“Benny!”

Jamie’s attention immediately switches from the game to his phone, his smile coming easily. “Seggy, you back in the country?”

“Back in Dallas, baby,” Tyler says, sounding a lot more relaxed than the last time Jamie had spoken to him just after the playoffs had ended. “Miss me?”

“Nah,” Jamie lies, stirring the pasta as it bubbles away. “Who are you again?”

“The guy who’s gonna take that scoring lead from you this year, that’s who,” Tyler says, the grin evident in his tone. “You making dinner?”

“Yeah.” Jamie makes a mental note of how much he’s made and throws in some more pasta. “Coming over?”

“I’ll be ten minutes,” Tyler says before the line goes dead.

Jamie puts the phone down and reaches into the fridge for another chicken breast.

Tyler has never been on time for anything non-hockey related in his life so Jamie isn’t surprised when it takes him half an hour to knock on Jamie’s front door. He’s greeted by a tanned and happy-looking Tyler in shorts and flip-flops and Jamie pulls him in for a hug before he can stop himself.

“Woah,” Tyler says breathlessly, which makes Jamie ease up his hold a little. But only a little. “So you did miss me.”

“I miss talking to actual real people,” Jamie mumbles into Tyler’s neck. “Recovery sucks, man.”

“Yeah,” Tyler agrees sympathetically, patting Jamie’s shoulder. Jamie appreciates that Tyler just waits him out until he’s ready to let go and step back. “You look good, Benny.”

“Go to hell,” Jamie says cheerfully because he’s well aware that he’s a little out of shape, his hair is listing to the side where he hasn’t bothered to gel it into submission for the past three days and he’s wearing his oldest sweats that practically hang off his hips, they’re so loose. “You look like shit.” It’s a lie but it makes Jamie feel better to say it.

“Whatever you say, dude,” Tyler says, companionably slinging his arm around Jamie’s waist and steering them into the kitchen. “So really, how are you feeling?”

“Great,” Jamie says and it’s only half a lie so he just shrugs when Tyler cocks a disbelieving eyebrow at him. “Yeah, okay everything hurts but it’s getting better. How long are you back for?”

“Just a few days, then I’m off to Toronto.” Tyler grabs the pasta and starts to drain it, nudging Jamie gently out of the way. He tosses the chicken in and pours over the sauce that Jamie had put out earlier. “Get this body back in shape for next season.”

As far as Jamie can tell, Tyler looks in as good shape as he ever does, but then again Tyler is fanatical about working out in a way that Jamie will never understand. “You need to put more weight on,” is his only observation, and it’s met with Tyler’s usual eye-roll.

“How much of last season’s game tape have you watched so far?” Tyler asks when they’re sat at the table. Jamie’s bowl is, as always, piled a little higher than Tyler’s.

“All of it,” Jamie admits, rubbing the back of his neck as it heats up in embarrassment. “I’ve had a lot of time on my hands. But I’ve also got a pretty good idea of where we’re going to be this year with the new guys coming in. We’ve got a shot, Tyler. A real fucking shot this year.”

“Yeah?” Tyler looks up in interest and Jamie takes it as an invitation to spend the next half hour talking about their strengths and what each new Stars player is going to bring to the table. By the time he’s finished, their bowls are empty and Tyler is nodding along enthusiastically with everything Jamie’s saying.

“It’s gonna happen, Seggy,” Jamie swears when he finally starts to trail off. “It’s gonna be our year. We’re gonna do it. I’ve been thinking about last year, and we might have made it if we’d been at full strength.”

Tyler winces and sits back in his chair. “I know, I totally let the team down. But I’m back to full strength and everything feels good. I won’t let you and the team down this year, Jamie. I’m solid.”

“Hey,” Jamie says, hooking his ankle around Tyler’s under the table and pressing their knees together. “Hey, that wasn’t on you. You didn’t let anyone down, Tyler. We’re a team and we win and lose together. But this year, we’re going to do it. You’re fit and healthy, and I’ll be back in a few weeks better than ever and we’re going to bring the cup home this year.”

Tyler doesn’t look fully convinced but Jamie’s not worried. He’s got enough faith for both of them until Tyler starts to believe too.

“But uh, the bad news is I’m pretty sure I’m not gonna make the World Cup,” Jamie says, unhooking his foot from Tyler’s and gathering up their bowls so he doesn’t have to see the disappointment on Tyler’s face. “I wanna be there but the season is more important, you know?”

“Yeah, totally,” Tyler says, following Jamie back into the kitchen. “We’ll miss you though.”

Jamie sighs and dumps everything in the sink to sort out later. “Yeah,” he mutters. Tyler’s standing opposite him, leaning back against the counter and there’s a slight slump to his shoulders that Jamie recognizes by now. “Hey,” he says softly. “Next time, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Tyler agrees, just as quietly. “Definitely next time.”

Except it always feels like they’re saying that to each other. He definitely remembers saying it to Tyler before he left for Sochi.

“It’s gonna be our time,” Jamie promises Tyler when they’re sitting on the couch, beers in hand and lazily watching Venezuela trounce China in the opening quarter. “I can feel it, Segs.”

“You,” Tyler says, pointing his beer at Jamie without taking his eyes off the game, “have too much time on your hands, Captain.”

Jamie grins. “Doesn’t mean I’m wrong though.”

*

Jamie spends the first two weeks of September trying to pretend that he’s not upset about missing the World Cup of Hockey or wishing he could be in Toronto instead of Dallas. But he’s nowhere near full fitness yet and he’s trying as hard as he can to be ready for preseason training. He pushes himself hard enough that he misses the pretournament World Cup games, too tired to turn on the television and watch Tyler playing without him. He TiVos them though, so when he gets a text from Jordie about Tyler’s injury, his first panicky thought is his Achilles. He fast forwards through the game until he sees Tyler hit the boards, too jaded by the sport to wince at the impact but his pulse is racing all the same. He sends Tyler a quick text.

Jamie: hey man, you okay?

Tyler: stupid fucking boards! all good man, ready for tomorrow’s game!

Jamie breathes a sigh of relief and promises himself that he’ll watch tomorrow, just in case.

*

He watches Tyler’s pass to set up Duchene’s goal and he feels the burn of jealousy deep in his belly, quickly followed by the longer lasting throb of shame.

Jamie: incredible assist seggy, why can’t u stay on ur feet like that for the stars??

Tyler: :(

Jamie frowns when Tyler’s text comes through. In the entire time Jamie’s known him, and in the thousands of texts they’ve sent each other, Tyler has never, ever responded to a chirp with a simple emoji.

Jamie: seggy? everything ok?

Tyler: not sure, seeing the medical team tomoro 4 a check

Jamie: got fingers crossed for u man

*

Jamie worries about Tyler for the next few days until he sees the headlines. He calls Tyler but it goes through to his voicemail. Jamie doesn’t want to leave a message, unsure what he could possibly say.

Tyler calls him back though half an hour later.

“Hey,” Jamie says, keeping his voice gentle. “How are you holding up?”

“This really fucking sucks, Jamie,” Tyler says on a half-laugh. His voice sounds a bit muffled, like he’s got his arm thrown over his face. “I already missed so much of last season and I didn’t even get to play in the tournament. Now I don’t know if I’ll be ready for the start of this season.”

“You will be,” Jamie says, certain and determined. “Hey, of course you will be.”

“I don’t think you can just keep repeating it to make it true, Benny,” Tyler sighs. “Do you think I’m cursed?”

“Yes Tyler,” Jamie says as deadpan as he can manage. “That explains everything. Of course you’re cursed.”

“Fuck you, man,” Tyler giggles. “I might be cursed.”

“It’d explain that ugly face of yours,” Jamie says thoughtfully.

“Hey,” Tyler protests, sounding truly offended which eases the tension in Jamie’s shoulders just a little. “So, do you still think we’re destined for greatness this year or whatever?”

“Yes,” Jamie says firmly because he does. He believes it with everything he has. He’s made a career out of having belief when no one else does, he’s not going to change a winning formula now. “This is our year, Tyler. Yours and mine. The team’s. We’re gonna lead our team and be awesome. We’re gonna lift that cup, you and me.”

“Shit, Jamie,” Tyler says shakily. Jamie closes his eyes and just fucking believes for the both of them. “That’s a lot of pressure.”

Jamie knows. Fuck, he knows. The pressure to bring home the Stanley Cup has been on his shoulders for three years, maybe more. “Don’t wimp out on me now, Seggy,” he says instead. “Come home and heal. Get over it and show me what it feels like to be a Stanley Cup Champion, eh?”

There’s a long pause over the line, but Jamie’s in no rush. He can wait for Tyler to catch him up.

“I didn’t really appreciate it last time,” Tyler says eventually. He’s said it before – more than once – but usually as a media soundbite. This time Jamie takes him seriously. “I never really worked that hard for it, you know? I walked onto that team and had a ring a year later. It was a hard year but it was just one year, you know?”

God, Jamie knows. He fucking knows. He wants that ring. He wants that ring and he wants Tyler to have that ring with the right team on it. With their team. “It’ll be different this time,” Jamie swears. He’ll make sure it’s different. There won’t be any shitty rumors about Tyler’s behavior or his commitment to the team. This time, Tyler will come home a fucking hero. “So just rest up and make sure you’re ready for opening night, alright?”

“Alright,” Tyler says. “I’ll be ready, Jamie. It’s gonna be our year.”

They say their goodbyes and Jamie puts the phone down on the couch next to him. It’s gonna be their year, he repeats to himself, ignoring the low-level ache in his abdomen and the twinge in his left hip when he moves too quickly. It’s got to be their year.

*

Jamie tries not to be too pleased that Tyler turns up on the first day of training camp because he looks miserable and his face keeps falling every time someone mentions the World Cup. He spends most of his time with Tyler since they’re both injured and even though they’re both tentative on the ice in ways that come completely unnaturally to them, it’s easy to nudge Tyler and point out how skinny he is, or listen to Tyler complain for almost two hours about how terrible Jamie’s haircut is.

It’s fun and effortless and Jamie wouldn’t rather be anywhere else.

He doesn’t worry when Cody goes down in practice, even when they get the news that he could be out for a few weeks. They’ll miss him, but the team is looking great and Jamie isn’t worried about the season.

Lindy tells them the next day that Hemsky has tweaked his groin and Jamie feels a little tension creeping into his shoulders.

“We just have to make sure we’re in shape by the end of preseason,” Jamie tells Tyler as they head to the locker room, hanging back from the rest of the team. “We need to hit the ice hard.”

They both know that Jamie’s going to be cleared to play first. He’s almost ready now and he can’t wait to get going with the whole team. Tyler’s injury is going to be a close call with the start of the season, but there’s a stubborn set to Tyler’s jaw that Jamie recognizes that relieves a little ball of unease in his belly. “I’ll be ready,” Tyler says gruffly. “Count on it.”

Jamie does, clapping his hand on Tyler’s shoulder as they enter the locker room together.

*

They get the news that Mattias will be out for at least five months and Jamie spends five minutes in the showers with his head against the tiles, letting scalding hot water pour down his body while he tries to find the words to reassure his team that everything is going to be okay.

When he comes back into the locker room though, Tyler’s got a few of the guys around him and he’s giving them different options for lines already. Jamie’s always been impressed with how quickly Tyler can analyze different formations. He’s always been better at reading the situation on the ice than seeing five tactical moves ahead, but Tyler can not only see ahead, he can adapt in less time than even Jamie can.

“You trying to cut Lindy out of a job, Seggy?” Jamie chirps with an almost sincere grin.

“He’s two seconds away from sending Rous and Spezza out on the ice to see if they have chemistry,” Sharpy says with an indulgent grin that he seems to save for Tyler exclusively. Jamie knows the feeling.

“I can see it,” Jamie says thoughtfully for Tyler’s benefit. It’s worth it for the pleased expression on Tyler’s face and a quick glance around the room tells him that Tyler’s chatter has calmed everyone down a little.

“Hey,” he says quietly when he’s dressed and leaning casually against Tyler’s stall. Predictably, Tyler isn’t even close to being ready but half the room has already left. “Thanks for talking to the guys earlier.”

Tyler glances up at him, buttoning his shirt and offering Jamie a small shrug. “It’s what I’m here for, Benny. Can’t let the kids freak out, you know?”

“You’re such a good mom, honey,” Jamie says, leaning over to ruffle Tyler’s hair and laughing when Tyler pulls away with a pout.

“Fuck you,” Tyler says petulantly. “I’m not the mom.”

“Uh, yeah you are, Seggy,” Jordie says, appearing on Tyler’s other side. Jamie laughs and raises his hand for a high five that Jordie returns, to Tyler’s disgust.

“Alright but that makes you the creepy uncle,” Tyler mutters, shoving his feet into his sneakers and glaring up at both of them.

“I think you mean the fun uncle,” Jordie returns easily. “C’mon Chubbs, you can take me to dinner.”

“Wow, lucky me,” Jamie says with a roll of his eyes that’s mostly for show. He hasn’t had much time to check in with Jordie since training began and he wants to hear Jordie’s thoughts on their increasingly worrying injury list and what it means for the start of their season. “Catch you later, Seggy.”

“No that’s fine, I had dinner plans anyway! You don’t have to invite me!” Tyler yells through the door as they leave, elbowing each other and deliberately ignoring Tyler’s needy whining.

They spend the short car ride arguing over what to get their mom for her birthday and it’s reassuringly normal. Jamie even manages to put the team’s troubles to one side until they’re seated at their table and Jordie takes a casual swig of his beer.

“How are you feeling then?” Jordie asks.

Jamie considers giving Jordie the same brush off he’s given everyone else for a brief moment before he sighs and leans back in his chair. “Not 100% yet,” he admits heavily. “Thought I’d be further along than this.”

Jordie is the best poker player Jamie knows but even he can’t completely hide the worry that etches onto his face. “Take as long as you need, Chubbs,” Jordie says in his big brother voice. Jamie doesn’t bother pointing out that it hasn’t worked on him since he was fourteen.

“Do you ever think that maybe we won’t get to do this for as long as we want to?” Jamie asks. When Jordie looks back at him, confused, Jamie gestures between them. “I mean, play for the Stars. I always thought I’d have twenty years or so, you know? But then last year, my hips, man. And this year. More fucking surgery. I’m only 27, Jordie, and my body is already giving up. Everything fucking hurts.”

Jordie puts his beer down on the table and leans forward, his expression fierce. “Hey, who the fuck are you and what did you do with my baby brother?”

Jamie blinks in surprise.

“My brother,” Jordie says, with emphasis, “does whatever the hell he sets his mind to and screw everything that tells him it’s not possible.”

Jamie exhales slowly and gives Jordie a short nod. He’s got broad shoulders. He can carry the team on them if he has to because he’s the captain and this is all he’s ever wanted. A few injuries and aches aren’t going to stop him. “Yeah. Screw everything.”

“That’s better,” Jordie declares and grabs a menu from the table. “You wanna bitch about all the injuries or bitch about missing the World Cup?”

“Can’t I do both?”

“Course you can, Chubbs. It’s what I’m here for.”

*

Jamie plays for the first time in October. Tyler’s still on IR, but Jamie’s used to playing without Tyler by now. He doesn’t have to like it though.

His body doesn’t like it either. He’s passed all the tests and said all the right things to get back out on the ice. He honestly doesn’t know any other way to be. He needs to be out here with his team, leading from the front.

It’s all he knows.

*

Nothing feels quite right until Tyler hits the ice two steps before him against the Ducks on opening night. It’s not their best night, individually speaking, but the team wins anyway. Jamie’s congratulatory speech at the end of the game is brief, but no one minds.

He’ll do better against the Avs.

*

Jamie tries to brush off their embarrassing loss to the Avs, making sure to speak to each teammate individually. He makes sure they all know that it’s their loss as a team and the only way they’ll win is together. He tells every single one of them that he believes in them, and it’s not a lie.

Tyler spends most of practice laughing at his own inability to hit the back of the net. He even wheels Kari out of the way for an empty net and misses. It’s such a theatrical, dramatic miss that even Jamie can’t tell if it was deliberate or not, but Klinger and Eaves and a few other guys are laughing, while Sharpy tries to recreate Tyler’s shot with exaggerated moves that result in the two of them having a playfight.

“He’s good for us,” Jordie says, skating up side of Jamie and leaning his arm on Jamie’s shoulder. “Good for you. Terrible at shooting though, how much is his contract worth again?”

“More than yours,” Jamie says dryly, which leads to them having a friendly wrestle too.

“Yo, Big Benn and Little Benn, we’re trying to have a serious, professional training session here,” Tyler calls out.

Jamie’s got Jordie in a loose headlock and he looks down to catch his brother’s eye. “You’re Little Benn,” they both say in unison, which sends the entire team off into giggles.

Later, when Tyler’s sprawled out over Jamie’s couch and they’re watching football, Jamie pokes Tyler’s thigh with his foot.

“What,” Tyler grumbles, not looking away from the game.

“I’m Big Benn, yeah?”

Tyler throws a cushion that Jamie catches easily. “Yeah, but if you tell Jordie, I’ll deny it forever.”

Jamie grins and shoves the cushion under his head, wriggling a little to get comfortable until Tyler grabs his ankle and squeezes just hard enough to convince Jamie to stop moving.

*

Jamie walks into the locker room last and slumps into his stall.

“How’s Sharpy?” he asks the room at large.

“Probable concussion,” Spezza says, looking as miserable as Jamie feels.

Jamie tries not to visualize their growing injury list but a quick glance around the locker room tells him exactly how many they’re missing. And they don’t even know what Jiri’s come down with yet.

“Hey guys, look after yourselves yeah?” Tyler says, only half-joking. He’s already half-stripped down and Jamie can see a few bruises forming around his shoulders. “Can’t afford to lose any more of you idiots to IR.”

Jamie forces himself to his feet and he starts to strip off too, careful not to let any of his own aches and pains show on his face. Tyler might have been kidding, but they really can’t afford to lose anyone else right now.

“That means you too,” Tyler says as he passes on the way to the showers, giving Jamie a pointed look. “Stop trying to do too much on the ice.”

Jamie just shrugs, because there’s no point in arguing. Jamie has to track back more because they’re losing the puck too often. Tyler’s always been better offensively, avoiding going to the boards if he can and skating out of trouble rather than heading for it.

Eaves goes on IR the next day. Spezza tweaks something at practice before they’re due to play the Jets. And Tyler keeps shooting Jamie looks during warm up.

“What?” Jamie growls eventually when Tyler pulls up next to him. “Stop glaring at me.”

“Stop playing injured then,” Tyler bites back with a scowl. “I know how you play, Jamie.”

“I’m fine,” Jamie mutters. He glances up into the stands and makes sure to school his expression into something less angry. “I took a maintenance day yesterday, didn’t I?”

“You shouldn’t be out here,” Tyler insists.

Jamie raises a sardonic eyebrow. “Yeah? Who’s gonna take my place then, Seggy? Should we get Sharpy out here with his concussion? Or maybe drag Jiri in, since we don’t even know what’s wrong with him.”

“You’re an idiot, you know that?” Tyler says, but it lacks heat.

“In all fairness, I do know that,” Jamie says in commiseration. “Don’t worry, I’m fine.”

Tyler doesn’t look convinced. He still looks annoyed when they do their handshake, stalking off before Jamie can say anything.

They lose 4-1.

*

On the plane to Minnesota, Jamie just wants to close his eyes and forget everything that happened during the game. He’s exhausted from trying to reassure the team that they can dig deep and win, even with their ranks decimated by injury.

He feels someone flop down next to him and he doesn’t need to open his eyes to know that it’s Tyler.

“Not tonight,” he mumbles, half-pleading. He’s surprised when it actually works and Tyler stays silent, but it’s unnerving. Jamie opens one eye and finds Tyler staring at the back of the seat in front of him, his left knee bouncing erratically and his bottom lip bright red from where he’s been chewing anxiously on it.

Jamie sighs and puts his hand on Tyler’s thigh, humming in relief when Tyler stills next to him.

“We should have converted on the 5-3,” Tyler says quickly, like he’s worried Jamie’s going to change his mind about listening. “We’re not capitalizing on our power plays and we’re giving away too many fucking penalties.”

“I know,” Jamie says, closing his eyes and letting his hand stay where it is on Tyler’s warm leg to reassure himself that Tyler’s not going to start working himself up again. “I know, Segs.”

Apparently Tyler takes that as an invitation to start analyzing their lines without half their top line offense. It’s nothing Jamie doesn’t already know, but hearing it out loud from Tyler makes his chest hurt and his breathing a little shallower.

“We just have to keep plugging away,” Jamie says, over and over again. He doesn’t know what to say, for once. He doesn’t even think Tyler’s listening to him at this point, but he says it anyway in case the rest of the team is listening too. “The guys will start coming back onto the team and then we’ll be flying.”

Tyler doesn’t even bother replying to that inane platitude and Jamie doesn’t blame him.

“Hey,” Jordie murmurs when they’re off the plane and heading to their hotel. “You okay?”

“I’m fine,” Jamie says. If he says it often enough, even he might start to believe it. “I’m fine, Jordie.”

*

They’re shut out by the Wild and lose to the Blue Jackets. Jamie ignores Jordie’s concerned looks and Tyler’s attempts to convince him to take more maintenance days. Instead, he pushes himself harder, trying to lead by example and it pays off when they beat the Blues 6-2.

“That’s what I’m talking about,” Jamie cheers when he steps into the locker room. Most of the team just look relieved to have won a game, but he pats them all on the back individually and reminds them that they’re not even at full strength yet but they’re putting away six goals and an impressive win.

“Listen to the captain, guys,” Tyler says, sounding exhausted but he’s grinning, of course. “Otherwise he’s gonna have to put us all on his back and carry us out there himself.”

“He does that anyway,” Eaves points out, clapping Jamie on the shoulder. “That’s why he’s the captain.”

“He’s got the shoulders for it,” Klinger says, grinning when Tyler laughs and pulls him in for a little wrestle that mostly looks like a cuddle from where Jamie’s standing.

“They’ve got to be to carry you losers around,” Jamie says before Jordie smacks him around the back of the head.

“Just keeping you humble, baby bro,” Jordie says sweetly.

Jamie hates him sometimes.

*

Jamie was upset at their first loss to the Blackhawks. When they lose the next night in Chicago, he’s fuming.

He doesn’t speak to the team on their way to the hotel, but no one’s really talking on the bus anyway. The atmosphere around them feels oppressive and Jamie’s too battle worn to find the words to lift the mood. Words aren’t for him anyway. He speaks when he feels the need to, or when he’s forced to. He hates speaking to the entire room, he’s much more comfortable one-on-one or showing, rather than telling. Tyler’s the one who likes words.

Tyler’s not talking either though, halfway down the bus with his hat pulled down low over his eyes, his left leg sprawled out into the aisle.

Jamie stalks off to his room alone and starts pacing. The weight on his chest feels heavier and he doesn’t know what he can do to lift it. The team is falling apart, unraveled by injury and inexperience, and Jamie doesn’t know how to hold everything together. He’s barely holding himself together.

There’s a sharp knock on the door and Jamie is unsurprised to find Tyler leaning against the door frame, looking tired and pale.

“You need to go to bed,” Jamie scolds gently, but he steps back anyway, letting Tyler into his suite.

“They were better than us, Benny,” Tyler says, flopping down onto his bed, his arms resting on his thighs as he leans forward. “They shouldn’t have been. You know we can outplay them.”

“Yeah,” Jamie says, pulling up the desk chair and straddling it backwards. “They shouldn’t have beaten us twice.”

“We need to make sure we’re on the same page here,” Tyler says adamantly.

“We are on the same page,” Jamie says, because they both know that Jamie needs to step up and lead. He’s been lazy, avoiding the team when he should be trying to encourage them. Wallowing hasn’t ever been his style, at least not for very long, but he’s finding it harder and harder to pull himself out of his own head and step up. “We’re definitely on the same page, Segs.”

“Okay, good,” Tyler says, taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly. “Good. I knew we would be but it’s been a fucking weird start to the season and I was worried, you know, but I’m glad we’re together on this. So what we need to do is-“

“It’s on me,” Jamie interrupts, because he’s not sure he can stand to listen to Tyler list his faults right now. “We both know it is. I know what I have to do to get us winning again. Trust me, yeah?”

“What?” Tyler looks confused. “Jamie, it’s not you. Or I mean, it’s not just you. It’s you and me and every single person on the team.”

“It starts with me though,” Jamie says, getting to his feet and folding his arms over his chest. “I’m the captain. I’ve got to lead better. You’ve said it before, leaders have to fucking lead, Seggy, and that’s what I’ve got to do.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Tyler protests, standing up too but Jamie knows he’s lying. He knows it’s on him.

“Can we just,” Jamie shakes his head and runs his hand through his hair, fixing his look somewhere past Tyler’s shoulder because he can’t bear to see the disappointment in Tyler’s face, aimed squarely at him where it deserves to be. “Can we talk tomorrow? I’ve got to be up early tomorrow, you know?”

Silence hangs between them, heavy and awkward in a way that it hasn’t ever been between them before. Not even when Tyler first arrived in Dallas, young and scared and trying to pretend not to be.

“Alright,” Tyler says eventually. He moves slowly towards the door, like he’s hoping Jamie will stop him but he can’t. There’s nothing left for Tyler to say and Jamie’s not in the mood to hear it anyway. He fucked up. He needs to be better. He will be better. All he wants to do is climb into bed and pull the covers up over his head like he used to when he was a kid and wanted the world to just disappear for a while.

The door closes quietly behind Tyler, leaving Jamie alone in his colorless, lonely hotel room.

*

Jamie gets up early to hit the hotel gym and spends an hour working on his conditioning. He’s got a few extra aches from the game to add to the low level pains that have become so intrinsic to his body that he barely notices them anymore.

When he drags himself to breakfast after a long, indulgent shower, he sits next to Jordie and pretends that he doesn’t see half the team giving him weird looks.

He always sits with Tyler at meals.

Tyler is holding court on the other side of the restaurant, surrounded by the younger guys who are all staring at Tyler in wonder and awe.

Jamie kind of knows how that feels, most of the time.

“Alright?” Jordie mumbles through his mouthful.

“Gonna be a long day,” is all Jamie says, but he gets a grunt in response. He glances over at Tyler once more but Tyler hasn’t even acknowledged him.

Jamie sighs and pours himself a strong cup of coffee, wondering what his next fuck up is going to be.

*

When they hit the ice for morning skate in Winnipeg, Tyler glides to a stop next to him. He looks serious, which isn’t Tyler’s usual modus operandi. It’s not that he doesn’t work harder than everyone else, he just likes to do it in a way that lifts the rest of the team. But today he’s not smiling or goofing around. He just starts running through the drills with Jamie trailing behind him.

Off the ice, Jamie pulls all the younger players together and runs through a few plays that Jamie’s seen them missing in games. He has a quiet word with each player as the others skate until he realizes their time is up on the ice.

“Good job, everyone,” he says and pats Devin on the back as they make their way to the locker room. “Keep running those drills and soon it will become second nature. You won’t even have to look to know that your liney will be in the exact spot you expect him to be.”

He ignores the sharp pang in his chest when his gaze drifts towards the stall where Tyler’s jersey hangs and focuses on stripping down instead.

*

It’s a disaster. It’s a fucking tragedy and Jamie feels like he’s having an out of body experience as he heads back to the locker room. It’s deadly fucking silent in there and even Lindy doesn’t seem to have anything to say.

He’s pretty sure he’s pulled one of his core muscles but he puts it in the ever-growing pile of things he’s ignoring and showers in record time. Shoving a hat down over his damp hair, Jamie nods when he’s asked to take media questions.

“This is pretty much rock bottom,” Jamie remembers saying in his bewilderment. “We all have to look in the mirror and figure it out.”

What he doesn’t say is that he hopes this is rock bottom, because he doesn’t know how they can get any worse.

Over on his right, Tyler’s taking questions too and Jamie doesn’t have to wonder whether it’s deliberate. They let the team down tonight, him more than Tyler, but they’re the faces of the franchise and it’s up to them to face the onslaught when they fuck up.

“It’s a matter of leaders leading the way, that’s what it comes down to,” Tyler says, sounding exhausted. “Against Chicago, the best players on their team were better than the best players on our team. Same here. We’ve got to find ways to step up. It’s gonna be a team effort to get out of this and leaders have to be accountable too and lead the way.”

It turns out that Jamie was wrong. Apparently, listening to Tyler talking about how Jamie needs to be better is his own personal rock bottom. He knows he needs to be better. He knows he can be better if he could just get his body to cooperate. He also knows that Tyler doesn’t deserve to be hung out to dry by the press, but there’s nothing he can do to save Tyler right now. He’ll speak to Lindy about it tomorrow though and see if he can limit Tyler’s exposure to the media.

He sees Lindy’s post-game interview on his phone when he’s back at the hotel. He rarely disagrees with his head coach but he’s wrong about Tyler’s game. Tyler always gives everything out the ice, Jamie knows that. The responsibility lies within himself. He’s got the size, strength and experience to defend when he needs to.

The knock on his door isn’t unexpected, this time. He steadies himself with a few deep breaths and opens the door to Tyler, who looks pissed as hell.

Jamie’s surprised enough to let Tyler push him back into the room without saying a word, the door closing behind him and leaving them in silence.

Tyler’s glaring at him. “What did you mean, the other night? When you said it was up to you to lead the team?”

Jamie blinks, confused. “I’m the captain, Segs,” he says slowly. “Of course it’s up to me.”

“Yeah,” Tyler mutters, half to himself. “That’s what I thought you meant.”

“I know I didn’t play well tonight-“ Jamie starts but Tyler slams his hand down on the table and Jamie freezes.

“Jamie,” Tyler grits out, his eyes flashing as he stares Jamie down. “Either I’m part of this leadership or I’m not. You either trust me, or you fucking don’t. You said this was our team. You fucking told me that it was you and me, yeah? And I believed you. I fucking believed you, Jamie. I believed every fucking word you told me.”

“Tyler,” Jamie says, reaching out to wrap his hand around Tyler’s wrist and holding on when Tyler looks like he wants to step back. “Tyler, of course it’s our team. What are you talking about?”

“It’s not our fucking team if you don’t trust me to lead it, Jamie,” Tyler says, frustrated. He pulls his arm away from Jamie and pushes his hand through his hair, agitated but sending Jamie a very clear signal to back the fuck off. “It’s not our team if you do everything yourself and don't let me help. I want to be fucking useful, alright? You promised me that and I know I don’t have a fucking ‘A’ but I thought it was okay because it was still our team, you know? I thought it was okay because the rookies listen to the shit I say and I try to keep the mood light when you start brooding but I can’t do any of that if you don’t want me to stand next to you, Jamie. I can’t do anything if you don’t trust me to be there for you and the team.”

Jamie’s fucking devastated. “Tyler,” he says, uncaring that his voice breaks just a little. He knows Tyler won’t chirp him for it. “Of course I trust you. You know I believe in you, more than anyone. This team doesn’t work without you. You’re the fucking key, you know?”

Tyler sighs, leaning against the desk and staring straight at Jamie. They’ve never shied away from getting in each other’s’ space, poking and prodding until one of them backs down or they find a middle ground. Jamie relies on it and his heart is pounding as he waits for Tyler to speak.

“I know,” he says finally. “But I want to be a leader. With you. By your fucking side, Jamie, not behind you while you try and shoulder all the responsibility or throw your arms out to try and protect me. I’m a big boy, I can handle it. So just think about whether you really trust me, alright? Think about it long and hard.”

Tyler stalks out of the room, practically bristling with frustration and anger, and it’s all Jamie can do not to drag him back so they can figure this out. They’ve never let an argument fester between them like this before and Jamie already feels antsy and off-center, desperate to find his equilibrium again with Tyler.

He doesn’t fall asleep for a long, long time that night.

*

Tyler keeps himself busy in the morning and Jamie suspects that he’s being avoided. So it’s a relief when Tyler skates towards him on the rink during morning skate and bumps against Jamie’s side when he comes to a careful stop. Jamie relaxes just a little, managing a smile that Tyler thankfully returns.

“Target competition?” Jamie offers softly, hopefully, and Tyler laughs, nudging Jamie with his elbow and it’s on. Kari stands in goal for them and they take turns trying to score.

It should be depressing how epically bad they are at scoring considering their form right now, but it’s just fun. Tyler pats Kari’s helmet every time he saves one of Jamie’s shots. He looks relaxed and happy, and Jamie thinks they’re going to be okay.

They’re almost through with drills when Jamie focuses his concentration on Johns. The guy looks miserable and he’s barely spoken all morning, which is unusual as hell for him. Jamie frowns thoughtfully.

“Hey,” Jamie murmurs, turning his head so he can speak into Tyler’s ear without being overheard by the rest of the team, “can you have a word with Johns?”

Tyler glances over his shoulder and it takes him less than a minute to catch on. “Yeah,” he murmurs back, already distracted. Jamie watches Tyler skate over to Johns and sling his arm companionably around his shoulders, their heads bending together almost immediately.

Within five minutes, Johns looks brighter. He's laughing and trying to trip Tyler up on the ice. Tyler, of course, is easily out-skating him. Jamie watches in amusement from where he’s stretching out his calves on the ice, cheering on Johns, just to annoy Tyler and see his cheeks pinken in mock outrage. Eventually, Tyler scoots away and drops down next to him, flushed and grinning wildly. He nudges Jamie’s thigh with his skate, and Jamie pats his head in thanks, laughing when Tyler leans into it and rubs his head into Jamie’s hand.

*

“Saw you and Tyler double-teaming Johns earlier,” Jordie says, which makes Jamie spit out his drink a little in surprise. He’d been strong-armed into going for dinner, thanks to Jordie pulling the big brother card and Jamie actually wanting to spend some time away from the rest of the team. They’ve only just ordered their meals and he’s regretting all his life choices already. Jordie isn’t bothering to hide his smirk so Jamie narrows his eyes and waits patiently for Jordie to make his point.

But Jordie has years of experience in dealing with Jamie so he lingers on his beer, watching Jamie as he tries to keep his face blank. Eventually, their food arrives and the silence is broken by both of them politely thanking their waiter.

“I’m assuming you have a point,” Jamie says finally, stabbing at his bowl of pasta.

“Hey,” Jordie says, putting down his fork and catching Jamie’s eye. “I’m just saying that I approve, okay?”

Jamie snorts. “Alright. You’ve been bitching that we’re too codependent for what, three years now?”

“Oh, you’re definitely unhealthily codependent,” Jordie says, picking his fork back up and waving it towards Jamie before he starts attacking his steak. “But this season, bro. Shit.”

“Yeah,” Jamie agrees grouchily. “This fucking season.”

“I’m not going to pretend like I don’t know that you’re still injured,” Jordie says bluntly, which makes Jamie’s shoulders hunch up defensively. “But whatever, I know better than to try and beat that confession out of you.”

“It’s just a twinge,” Jamie mutters and doesn’t have to look up to know that Jordie’s rolling his eyes at him and looking disapproving.

“Anyway,” Jordie continues like Jamie hasn’t spoken, “something isn’t working on the ice and that’s usually when you start trying to play everyone’s positions for them.”

“I don’t-“ Jamie says quickly but Jordie glares him into silence and Jamie goes back to moodily playing with his food.

“Anyway,” Jordie says with a slight bite this time, “it’s good that you’re letting Tyler help with the team. You have to let people help you, Chubbs. Fuck knows, I’ve been trying for 27 years now and all I’ve gotten is a fucking headache from banging my head against that particular brick wall.”

Jamie does, at least, feel a little bad about that. He knows his faults, alright, he’s got two older siblings who have been more than happy to point them out to him, followed by years of NHL commentators picking out his faults without taking a breath. Plus he’s got a whole locker room full of people, both management and the guys, who aren’t afraid to point out when he’s being dumb or stubborn. So he knows, and he feels a little guilty. At least he does when it comes to Jordie, who’s been putting up with his shit for his entire life.

“And after Boston,” Jordie mutters with the same deep-rooted dislike for the Bruins that Jamie’s shared since Tyler knocked on their door the day he moved to Dallas and self-deprecatingly, if achingly slowly, revealed exactly how terrible Boston had treated him. “Well, we both know he’s needy as fuck. And what he needs most is to not be that guy they made him out to be in Boston. He wants to carry the team as badly as you do, so don’t let him down, Chubbs. That’s all I’m saying. He’s good with the rookies. He fucking lights up any time you ask him to do anything on the ice.”

Jamie feels like absolute hell. He’s not oblivious, most of the time. He’s heard these words already, pretty much straight from Tyler’s mouth, although without Jordie’s insights into Tyler’s ever-present bruising from Boston.

“I trust him,” Jamie says, with more vehemence than he means to project and he takes a breath, tries to soften his voice as he confesses; “he thinks I try to protect him too much.”

“Yeah,” Jordie sighs, reaching for his beer and downing the rest of the bottle. “He hates that.”

“He needs it.” Jamie refuses to apologize for it. Tyler is his teammate and his best fucking friend. It’s Jamie’s job to protect him when he needs it, whether Tyler likes it or not.

“Maybe,” Jordie allows before he fixes Jamie with his laser glare. “But just think about all the times I tried to protect you when I was young and stupid.”

And oh. “Fuck,” Jamie breathes.

“Yeah, it’s disgusting how alike you two are sometimes,” Jordie grunts and tucks back into his steak with the relish of an older brother getting one over on his younger brother.

Jamie catches the waiter’s eye and orders another round for the two of them. It’s gonna be one of those nights, apparently.

They drink enough over dinner to decide that it’s a great idea to invite the rest of the team out with them. It’s not going to be a heavy drinking session, since they’ve got the Flames tomorrow, but Jordie suggests they need some team bonding, and Jamie has had enough beers to ignore Jordie’s smirk and send a group text.

Not everyone makes it, but over half the team join them in pairs and trios until they’ve taken over half the bar. No one mentions Winnipeg but there’s a faint thread of tension on everyone’s faces so Jamie buys a round and loudly starts chirping Jordie, who starts chirping back even louder. It takes less than a minute for Tyler to jump in, then Eaves smacks Tyler around the back of the head which makes everyone else grin as Tyler pouts prettily and the tension slowly eases away. Jamie makes sure to move around a lot, slinging his arm around teammates shoulders and waists as he pokes fun at them and himself. He sees Tyler out of the corner of his eye doing the same, if slightly more handsy. Eventually, they gravitate towards each other and Jamie slides his arm around Tyler’s waist, hauling him in closer because he’s still feeling a bit light-headed and raw from Jordie’s observations about Tyler and Boston. He doesn’t ever, ever want Tyler to feel like he’s not the fucking heart and soul of their team because he is and Jamie’s a shitty captain if he doesn’t make sure that Tyler knows that every single fucking day.

He doesn’t get a chance to say much though because he catches the time and starts herding everyone back to the hotel.

“Giving Johnny a run for Captain Serious, eh Benny?” Tyler chirps, falling into step next to him as they bring up the rear, trailing the rest of the team.

“Maybe we’d be in better shape if I was,” Jamie mutters, watching Ritchie give Rous a little shove that makes him stumble. “Hey, watch it! No injuring the guys we have left!”

Brett turns around and gives them a sheepish look before he drags Antoine back into a hug. “Sorry Captain,” he yells over his shoulder. “I forgot he was a fragile little flower.”

Jamie knows it’s a chirp at Antoine, but he bristles a little anyway.

“Hey,” Tyler nudges him gently. “Relax, okay?”

Jamie doesn’t say anything, just follows the guys into the hotel and heads for the stairs, away from everyone clustering around the elevators. He know Tyler is just behind him and doesn’t even mind that much until they’re almost on their floor and Tyler’s hand comes down on his shoulder, pushing hard enough to guide Jamie back against the wall.

“Hey, I said relax, yeah?” Tyler lets his hands drop and folds his arms across his chest. “We’re gonna bounce back from this. We’ll start winning again, put some games together and figure this shit out. I’m here, alright? We can do this.”

“Tyler, you’re playing fine,” Jamie says, clenching his hands into fists and shoving them behind his back. “Alright? You’re playing like you usually do. I’m the one who’s playing for shit out there. I’m letting the team down and I’m the fucking captain. I’m fucking it up for everyone.”

“Hey,” Tyler says, stepping closer until Jamie feels caged in. He wants to shove Tyler away but he keeps his hands behind his back and grits his teeth. “Hey, you can’t take that responsibility on yourself, that’s dumb okay? That’s fucking stupid and you know it.”

“Yeah I do,” Jamie growls and gives Tyler a slight shove just so that he can breathe, Christ. “I’m playing like shit and I’m getting hounded by Lindy and I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with me but I need to figure it out fast.”

Tyler looks pissed, and Jamie can’t tell if it’s because of the shove or what he’s saying, but he gets pushed right back into the wall. “Nothing’s wrong with you! It’s a fucking slump and you’ll come out of it, alright?”

Jamie steps away from the wall, expecting Tyler to move back but he stays where he is. They’re in each other's space and Jamie feels like he’s fucking drowning and he just needs to take a breath but he can’t with Tyler so close. “Fuck off, Tyler,” he grits out, grabbing Tyler’s arms and trying to force him backwards.

“No,” Tyler snaps back, standing his ground.

Jamie shifts his weight and leans, taking Tyler by surprise. He’s never used his full strength with Tyler before, never had reason to manhandle him the way he would with an opponent on the ice so Tyler doesn’t even resist. He’s got Tyler pressed back against the wall, staring at him in dazed shock and Tyler's opening his mouth to say something, to keep fucking talking and Jamie can’t listen to him anymore. He just wants some fucking silence for a minute so he gives Tyler another shove, which makes them both freeze, and then he does the only thing he can think about right then in that moment, and he kisses him.

He can feel Tyler stiffen under his hands and he squeezes his eyes shut, promising himself he’ll pull back in a second. Just a second. It’s just – Tyler is finally quiet. But Jamie still can’t think, can’t think past the fact that he’s kissing Tyler and he’s just as frozen as Tyler is, unwilling to pull back and deal with the shitstorm that ending this moment will bring.

Except Tyler moves first and Jamie braces himself for the shove, certain that he’s about to be slammed into the wall and he’d let him, Christ of course he’d let him because Jamie’s fucked up. But Tyler’s hands aren’t pushing him away. They’re curling into his shirt, fisting around the material and dragging him in. Tyler’s lips are moving under his and they’re not cursing him, because Tyler’s kissing him back. Tyler is kissing him back and Jamie is utterly lost.

Tyler kisses with wild abandon, which takes Jamie by surprise. He assumed that Tyler would be smooth, playing hard to get perhaps, holding back a little for sure. But Tyler’s all in, pushing against Jamie like he’s desperate for Jamie’s touch, and his hands slide down Tyler’s arms, settling on his hips and gripping tight like he never wants to let go.

Tyler makes a low noise in the back of his throat and Jamie presses back, pushing Tyler hard against the wall and shoving his thigh between Tyler’s legs. He can feel Tyler’s hands scrambling against his chest, can hear the low whine that sounds like it might be coming from his own mouth and god, he wants.

They kiss hard and deep until Jamie’s panting against Tyler’s mouth, breathless and hard in his jeans. Tyler’s making aborted rutting movements against his thigh like he’s not sure what he wants, or maybe wanting everything at once, Jamie’s not sure.

A loud banging noise has him springing back, his cheeks flushed as he stares at the hallway door separating them from the rest of the hotel. Their team has taken over the entire floor and Jamie is painfully aware that anyone could walk in on them, and one glance at Tyler tells him that there’s no way they’d be able to pretend they weren’t just mauling each other in the doorway.

His head is pounding and he can’t stop staring at Tyler’s lips, slick and shiny and pink where Jamie’s been kissing him. Christ, Jamie’s been kissing him. Tyler’s panting as hard as he is and he looks debauched and wrecked and Jamie did that.

To his teammate. His best friend.

Shit.

“I’ve gotta go,” he says hoarsely, his hand half lifted to maybe press against Tyler’s cheek or something, he’s not sure, but Tyler flinches away, his eyes wide and Jamie curses silently.

He forces his body to move, to step away from the heat of Tyler’s body and walk through the door as if his world hasn’t just tilted 180 degrees on its axis. He fumbles with his keycard, stumbles into his room and crumbles to the floor, his back against the door and his head thumping against his arms, resting on his knees.

“Shit,” he says, his breath hitching over the curse. He’s fucked up. He’s fucked everything up and he doesn’t know what the fuck he’s going to do.

His head is fucking spinning, and all he can think about is the press of Tyler’s lips against his, the faint scratch of his scruff against Jamie’s sensitive skin and the frantic way Tyler had grabbed hold of him and not let go.

Tyler kissed him back and Jamie doesn’t know what the fuck is going on.

*

Jamie tries to keep his head down at breakfast, grunting at anyone who stops to say hi and focusing on his oatmeal instead. He tossed and turned all night, barely sleeping because every time he closed his eyes, he’d see Tyler all mussed from Jamie’s kiss and then in the next second, Tyler flinching away from him.

He looks like shit and he knows it.

“Hey,” Jordie says, dropping down opposite him and grabbing Jamie by the chin, forcing his head up. Jamie tries to wriggle away but Jordie’s seen enough to look concerned. “You didn’t drink that much last night did you?”

“Course not,” Jamie grumbles, shoving Jordie’s hand away and readjusting his hat so it covers more of his face. “Couldn’t sleep.”

“Shit, Jamie,” Jordie mutters. His scowl makes Jamie inexplicably feel six years old again and he stabs his spoon into his bowl a little harder, just because. “You can’t keep bottling it all up.”

Jamie wants to laugh because Jordie has no fucking idea. He’s got so much bottled up that he feels like he’s going to explode but he doesn’t know how to release the pressure even a little bit. So he pushes his unfinished oatmeal aside and gets to his feet, knocking Jordie’s shoulder gently as he passes. He takes the stairs back to his room and doesn’t even glance at the spot where he kissed Tyler just a few hours ago.

He does, however, spend ten minutes splashing water in his face and poking around his eyes to try to relieve the dark circles. Then he grabs his stuff and heads down to the bus, early enough to be the first one onboard. He takes a seat at the back, puts his headphones on and slouches down as far as he can, one hand resting on his thigh where he can massage some of his lingering aches away.

He keeps his eyes closed because he’s a fucking coward, so he doesn’t know when Tyler gets on the bus, although he’d bet his annual salary that he’s the second to last one on the coach. History is on his side.

Jamie hangs back a little when they arrive, catching Lindy’s eye.

“Jamie,” Lindy says gruffly, falling into step with him as they head inside at a much slower pace than the rest of the team. “I’m going to juggle some of the lines today.”

“Okay,” Jamie says. He’s been expecting it if he’s honest, since their team is practically decimated.

“You on first,” Lindy continues, which makes Jamie frown because he’d assumed he wouldn’t be moved. “On the left. Segs on second line. That alright with you?”

Jamie pulls up short, his heart pounding a little as Lindy pauses to look back at him, expressionless. He knows Lindy isn’t really asking his opinion. Lindy will do whatever he thinks he has to do to get the best out of the team. Today, of all days, he thinks it’s best to split him and Tyler up.

“Yeah,” Jamie says thickly, before he clears his throat, looks up to meet Lindy’s steady gaze. “Change could be good. For the team.”

Lindy nods curtly and Jamie forces himself to take a step forward, then another until they’re heading for the locker room together.

When Jamie walks in, Tyler’s half-dressed and holding court, chirping Ritchie and Johns about the night before. Jamie focuses on his stall, stripping easily and dressing by rote. He’s minutely aware of where Tyler is every single second, his attention caught helplessly.

“Jamie?”

When he looks up, Tyler’s fully dressed and waiting for him, a playful grin teasing his lips. “You coming?”

“Yeah,” Jamie says quietly, pulling himself up and biting his bottom lip. “Yeah, sorry.”

He steps onto the ice and veers left, shaking his head a little as if that will clear the fog that seems to have settled over his every thought. He’s always aware of where Tyler is on the ice in vague terms because it’s instinctual but today there’s another layer of cognizance, tuned into Tyler’s personal wavelength until he can’t focus on anything else.

“You two sort things out then?” Jordie says when Jamie joins him by the bench, leaning back on his elbows. When Jamie gives him a questioning look, Jordie nods towards Tyler, who’s giggling with Kari in goal, trying to shovel the puck past him which mostly ends up looking like they’re hugging a lot. “He’s been in an annoyingly great mood since we got here.”

Jamie’s gaze follows Tyler as he spins around on his skates and makes a dart for Rous, catching him around the waist and pretending to tussle with him. Jamie wonders if Lindy spoke to him too. Wonders if Tyler’s good mood is because they’re being split up. Wonders if Tyler thinks they’re better apart like Lindy does.

“I guess,” Jamie says with a shrug.

“Good,” Jordie says, tapping his stick against Jamie’s thigh. “Maybe now we can start winning some games.”

Jamie sighs, still watching Tyler as he circles slowly around the ice. “Yeah,” he murmurs. “Maybe.”

*

They’re two goals up and Jamie’s finally back on the scoreboard to his relief when Jamie sees Tyler take a hit into the boards. He’s on his feet, leaning over onto the ice as Tyler staggers back to his feet, clearly shaken.

Helpless, Jamie can do nothing but watch Rous skate straight for Ferland and drop his gloves. Jamie should have been out there with Tyler but he’s stuck on the bench. He’s a better target for someone looking to land a hit, drawing the attention away from Tyler and letting him skate away from trouble. But tonight Tyler’s out there alone with a huge target on his back because Jamie’s stuck on the bench, rendered powerless.

It all comes surging out when he hits the ice with Tyler during the power play in the third period. When the puck goes in off an assist from Tyler, the antsy feeling he’s had all day settles into a blissful calm. Tyler’s waiting for him and Jamie taps his chest and turns, pressing into Tyler’s chest as the rest of the team closes around them. Tyler’s happy grin keeps Jamie buoyed through the rest of the game until the clock runs out and the team starts celebrating on the ice. Winnipeg feels like a distant memory for a few minutes as Jamie heads for Kari to tap his helmet.

The mood in the locker room is electric. Jamie walks in to huge cheers and he can’t help but smile ridiculously and accept the congratulations of the whole team in varying degrees of enthusiasm.

“Alright,” Jamie says finally, lifting his hand and looking around the room, catching everyone’s gaze in turn. “Let’s celebrate this one, boys. But we’ve still got a lot to do.”

“Captain killjoy over there,” Oduya calls, throwing a towel at Jamie that he easily catches before it hits him square in the face.

“I said we could celebrate,” Jamie protests, using the towel to wipe at the sweat dripping over his brow. “We needed this win, boys. Good work out there.”

“Led by our fearless captain, hey boys?” Tyler says, slapping Jamie’s shoulder as he walks past. Tyler’s mood is generally upbeat even when the rest of the room is struggling, but even he’s been more serious than usual recently. He’s positively radiating happiness right now, and Jamie can’t help but grin, even as he ducks his head against the onslaught of cheers that follow Tyler on his way to the showers.

He doesn’t mind taking media questions when he’s dressed and feeling more energized than he has in weeks. He still hates doing any media in general, but it’s always easier after a win. It’s easier when the reporters facing him aren’t looking at him with identical pitying expressions on their face as he repeats the same thing over and over again, frustrated that he can’t seem to pull the team out of their funk. Today, though, is a good fucking day.

Tyler’s taking questions after him and Jamie hangs around to listen, hidden behind the gaggle of reporters surrounding him, just catching one of them asking about his own performance.

“He was really buzzing out there tonight,” he hears Tyler say, sounding tired and a bit flat, which is pretty standard after the adrenaline rush of the game. The flight to Edmonton will pick them all up again and Jamie already knows that it’s going to be hard for the team to refocus on tomorrow’s game, but hopefully the mood of the team will carry them through.

“That’s what we needed,” Tyler continues. “We needed a leader, especially our captain, to lead the way after the embarrassing loss we had the other night.”

Jamie knows that most of the time, anything they say to the media is a load of bull. He’s been trained to give non-answers and half-truths and media-friendly quotes – they all have. But Tyler’s words still sting. They’re still a reminder that Jamie hasn’t been leading the team as well as he should. They’re a reminder that Tyler can pinpoint Jamie’s weaknesses with unerring accuracy. They’re a reminder that Jamie needs to be better, even on a night like tonight where they came away with a win.

He slips away out of the room before the questions end, suddenly desperate to be invisible.

*

The plane ride is as raucous as Jamie expected it to be. Luckily, no one seems to mind if Jamie just stays in his seat, accepts drinks whenever they’re passed his way and no one bothers him. Tyler, on the other hand, is expected to be the life and soul of their plane party and he plays the part well. He looks unbearably happy, and Jamie can’t look at him for too long or his chest starts aching. The music is blaring and all around him, Jamie sees flushed, happy grins that should lift his own spirits. But he can’t stop thinking about tomorrow’s game and how badly they need to start stringing more than one win together. And he can’t stop thinking about how surprisingly soft Tyler’s scruff felt against his cheek. Or how he knows, intimately, how Tyler kisses. Or how Tyler’s body feels against his. Christ, he can’t stop thinking about the noises Tyler made when they kissed, high and needy and desperate.

His gaze helplessly tracks Tyler as he giggles with Klinger and Oduya, his arms slung around both their shoulders and his cheeks flushed with alcohol. He doesn’t know why Tyler turns at that moment, doesn’t know if Tyler can feel Jamie’s eyes on him, but he looks up anyway and they’re caught in a frozen moment, just staring at each other.

Tyler’s bottom lip gets caught between his teeth and Jamie knows he’s flushing. He needs to look away but he’s caught and both of them know it. It’s almost impossible to ignore the way Tyler’s face lights up and all Jamie can do is watch as Tyler laughs distractedly at something Johnny’s saying, but he’s still looking straight at Jamie.

Jamie’s relieved to get to the hotel. He’s been aware of Tyler’s eyes on him for most of the flight and it’s been unbearable. The room he’s in is small, but it feels like an oasis of solitude and he lays down on the bed, arms folded underneath his head. He can hear the rest of the guys outside, finding their own rooms and calling out to each other. It’s comforting, finding the familiar when they’re on the road and he’s tempted to just roll over and fall asleep right there, in his sweats and old t-shirt and screw his usual bedtime routine.

Just as he’s about to close his eyes, his phone flashes with a message.

Tyler: u up??

Jamie knows it’s foolish to respond. Ignoring Tyler’s message would be the sensible thing to do, but then again Jamie’s never been all that sensible when it comes to Tyler.

Jamie: yeah room 312

It takes Tyler exactly 12 seconds to knock on his door.

“Hey,” Tyler says breathlessly, sliding past him and leaving Jamie to close the door behind him. “Can’t sleep. Too fucking excited, dude.”

“Yeah, we had a good night,” Jamie says, stepping back into the room and watching as Tyler flops down onto his bed, his legs spread wide – an invitation that Jamie’s pretty sure Tyler isn’t aware that he’s making.

“We had a great night,” Tyler corrects him with an irresistible grin. “The road to the playoffs starts here, huh captain?”

“Maybe,” Jamie says, relaxing against the wall and allowing himself a smile. “Now we’ve remembered how to win games.”

“And it feels fucking awesome,” Tyler laughs, drawing Jamie a little closer. His hair is damp like he’d showered in his room again, which is a habit of his that Jamie’s always found a bit strange. But Tyler will happily shower three or four times a day, and restyle his hair as many times, in the name of vanity. It’s kind of endearing. “You led us tonight, Benny. You went out there and reminded the team who their captain is.”

Jamie can’t help the fleeting sharp stab that comes with Tyler’s words. “I dunno, but if I did then it was about fucking time that I showed up,” Jamie says shortly.

“I knew you were gonna come through for us,” Tyler continues, clearly warming up to his topic as his left knee starts bouncing – a sure sign of Tyler’s enthusiasm for his topic. “I fucking knew it, Jamie. You were buzzing out there. Everyone could see it.”

Jamie’s mouth tightens but he shrugs, and hopes to hell that Tyler will just wind himself down and stop talking about Jamie’s performance on the ice as if it was anything to celebrate. Until they can put some more wins in their pockets, tonight’s game will just be a bandaid on their deeper wound.

“Fuck, Jamie, when you made that second goal off my pass,” Tyler says, his eyes bright and his whole body leaning forward. “We killed it tonight. You killed it, Jamie. Two goals. Two sweet fucking goals.”

“Tyler,” Jamie says, his voice low as he struggles to not let his frustration boil over. “C’mon. You know I didn’t play well tonight.”

“Of course you did,” Tyler insists. “Slump’s over, man. We’re back to winning.”

“Tyler,” Jamie growls again, taking a step forward until he’s within touching distance. Christ, he wants to touch. “Shut your mouth.”

“Look, I know you don’t believe it but it’s okay because I believe it,” Tyler says stubbornly. “The whole team believes it, Jamie. You should have heard them, they haven’t stopped talking about how great you were today and that you won the game for us. Really showed them how it’s done, you know?”

Jamie’s overwhelmed and he needs Tyler to shut his damn mouth and it’s easier this time to step forward into the open invitation of Tyler’s thighs and grab a handful of soft, well-worn shirt in his hands. It’s easy, almost, to push and manhandle until Tyler’s underneath him, lips parted and eyes wide. It’s easy to slide his lips over Tyler’s, and feel Tyler’s lips moving against his because it’s already familiar.

But this time they’re in Jamie’s room, hidden behind a locked door with no threat of being interrupted and god, Jamie wants this. He wants Tyler under him, begging for more and to give Tyler everything he wants.

Tyler’s mouth is, frankly, obscene and his kisses are rough and warm and fucking intoxicating. Jamie groans, shifts his hips so he can rub his increasingly interested dick against something, anything, and finds the perfect amount of pressure in Tyler’s thigh. His hands slip down Tyler’s body, exploring with quick deftness, memorizing every contour and line along the way.

When his hands slip under Tyler’s shirt, he hears Tyler’s soft “Fuck,” whispered into his own mouth and he shudders, breaking the kiss to press his mouth to Tyler’s neck, needing just a second to steady himself.

“C’mon,” Tyler says urgently, tugging on the hem of Jamie’s shirt until Jamie rears up and just rips it over his head. “Oh fuck, Jamie, c’mon, yeah.”

Jamie cups his hand around the back of Tyler’s neck and pulls him up, his neck arching vulnerably before Jamie kisses him until they’re both panting helplessly into each others’ mouths.

Tyler’s hands are busy smoothing over the muscles of Jamie’s back, pressing him into Tyler’s body until he’s certain that he’s too heavy but Tyler keeps urging him on, his hips moving endlessly in an effortless dance that Jamie can’t hope to match. His own hips move jerkily, his hands too big and clumsy for Tyler’s sculpted, lean perfection but Tyler won’t let him move away, wants Jamie closer.

Jamie can scent the faint trace of Tyler’s ridiculously expensive skincare product as he presses kisses to Tyler’s cheek, trailing down over his jawline and down his neck, nuzzling into the curve of his shoulder where he knows Tyler is sensitive. It earns him a groan and Tyler bucking up against him and Jamie wants more. Holy shit, he wants so much more of this. He wants Tyler’s hands on him always, his grip strong enough to bruise, adding his own brand to the battle scars of the game and the deeper, longer-lasting scars of surgery. He wants to watch Tyler fall apart, to learn the secrets of Tyler’s body until it’s as familiar as his own.

Fuck, he needs Tyler to be naked. Can’t believe he’s not already, in fact.

He easily manhandles Tyler out of his shirt, half-throwing it over the side of the bed before he turns back to Tyler, who’s straddling his hips and looking debauched as hell, thanks to the ministrations of Jamie’s hands and his mouth. He settles his hands on Tyler’s thighs, squeezes hard and bucks his hips up, pleased when Tyler closes his eyes, throws back his head and lets out a throaty moan. He’s just as wanton as Jamie suspected he’d be in bed, but it’s for Jamie and that’s fucking staggering.

“Yeah?” Jamie says, not recognizing the huskiness in his own voice. He curls his hand around the back of Tyler’s neck and tugs hard enough to pull Tyler down, inches away from him. This close, he can see the dilation of Tyler’s pupils and the flush in his cheeks. And when Tyler’s tongue pokes out to lick across his bottom lip, Jamie can’t help but drag Tyler in for the dirtiest, sloppiest kisses he’s ever given.

“Fuck yeah,” Tyler mumbles into his mouth, and that’s all Jamie needs to reach down and slide his hand into Tyler’s sweats, whimpering just a little when he realizes that Tyler’s not wearing any fucking underwear.

“Shit,” he mutters, his hand brushing against Tyler’s hard dick before he takes him in hand. Everything else tonight has been surreal as hell but this he knows how to do. He keeps his grip loose, tipping his head back a little so he can watch Tyler’s face. Then he decides that this isn’t enough, it isn’t quite right so he takes his hand off Tyler’s dick, which earns him a pained groan, and rolls them until Tyler’s underneath him. He’s probably too heavy but apparently Tyler likes that so Jamie isn’t that concerned. Especially when Tyler rocks up against him, squirming and biting his lips like he’s trying to keep quiet.

Jamie doesn’t want him to be quiet. He wants to hear every single noise Tyler makes when he gets off.

This time Jamie’s less gentle when he shoves his hand into Tyler’s sweats and wraps around Tyler’s dick with a firm, rough grip. Tyler whines against his throat where he’s pressing his face into Jamie’s heated skin and Jamie thinks yes, and fuck yes. Jamie shifts up onto his knees, bracketing Tyler in and he watches intently as Tyler’s head falls back against the bed and his eyes close, eyelashes fluttering prettily against his cheeks.

He lets his thumb glide over the head of Tyler’s dick, collecting the precome that’s pooled there and smears it over his hand, hears Tyler’s grunt of approval as everything becomes wetter and Jamie’s strokes smooth out.

Jamie tears his gaze away from Tyler’s face and glances down, his own hips shifting painfully when he sees Tyler’s dick, angry and red and so, so hot in his hand as he jerks him at an easy pace. He’s so hard, agonizingly and achingly hard and he needs friction but not as badly as he needs to make Tyler come. His gaze drags back up Tyler’s body, lingering for a moment on Tyler’s ridiculously hot abdominal muscles as they contract with Tyler’s shortening pants of breath, before he leans down and kisses him. Or tries to, since they’re both lacking any pretense of technique, too aroused and too desperate to coordinate.

He can feel Tyler tightening up underneath him and knows he’s close. “C’mon, Seggy,” Jamie whispers because he’s a fucking idiot sometimes but Tyler whimpers anyway, his hands clinging tightly to Jamie’s arms and his nails biting into Jamie’s skin painfully. Jamie twists his wrist and squeezes before he gives up and just starts to pump Tyler’s dick fast. Tyler’s saying something – babbling, Jamie thinks foggily because he can’t make sense of it – and he’s getting louder and louder so Jamie reaches up with his free hand and shoves it over Tyler’s mouth to keep him quiet. Tyler’s lips move underneath him though, his eyes wide and Jamie hesitates for a second before he slides a finger between Tyler’s slick, pink lips.

He almost comes at the sight of Tyler’s eyes rolling back into his head in pleasure, his tongue swirled around Jamie’s finger as he starts to suck. Jamie doesn’t have the coordination to keep fisting Tyler’s cock as well as fucking his mouth with his fingers, but he slides another finger in and lets Tyler go to town on him.

“So fucking hot,” he hears himself say. “You’re the hottest thing I’ve ever seen,” he says breathlessly, biting down hard on his own bottom lip when he sees Tyler’s eyes slide open, dazed and molten.

Tyler comes all over Jamie’s fist in hard, heavy spurts and his fingers slide out of Tyler’s mouth. Jamie knows what Tyler looks like when he comes now, flushed pink and mouth wide open, eyes half-closed and his body taut as a bow. He’s prettier than anything Jamie’s ever seen in his life before, and Jamie’s seen a lot.

“Jamie,” Tyler croaks, his hands pushing at Jamie, scrambling at Jamie’s waistband where he’s tenting his own sweats. Jamie shifts up a little, lets Tyler hook his fingers into the material and he tugs them down, his boxers going too, until they’re bunched under his ass and his dick is finally free, curved up towards his belly. He’s already leaking and he’s pretty sure that all Tyler has to do is lick his lips one more damn time and he’ll be coming like a damn teenager but for once, thankfully, Tyler keeps his tongue in his mouth.

“I can just-” Jamie motions towards himself, breath hitching as he stares at Tyler’s chest and thinks about how it would look with his come splashed all over it. His dick twitches and Jamie reaches down to squeeze himself at the base, gritting his teeth so he doesn’t make any embarrassing noises.

“Fuck you,” Tyler says, sounding more like himself as he bats Jamie’s hand away and oh, Jamie thinks blindly, he’s licking his damn lips.

Jamie shouldn’t be surprised that Tyler’s technique is a fucking tease. He alternates between a rough, hard grip and a loose, slow tug that drives Jamie insane. He’s already so close to the edge that he can almost see over the crest, but every time he thinks he’s going to come, Tyler backs off and bites down on his shoulder or his neck or his chest. Not hard enough to mark, but with enough pressure that Jamie feels it, powerless to stop himself arching into Tyler’s touch.

“You can,” Tyler says, startling Jamie into looking up into his eyes.

“What?” he asks dumbly.

“Come on me,” Tyler says, wriggling down on the bed a little so he’s positioned right underneath Jamie. “You can come on me. If you want to.”

“Shit,” Jamie swears, his hips stuttering as he closes his eyes and feels like he’s going to pass the fuck out. “Holy fucking shit, Tyler.”

“Just do it,” Tyler mutters, his hand tightening around Jamie’s dick and finally, finally finding a pace that makes Jamie’s legs shake a little and his core muscles tighten up. Jamie can’t tear his gaze away from Tyler’s chest, panting as he races towards the finish line, one hand flat on the bed for support.

He comes so hard his vision blurs. He’s vaguely aware of the faint splash of his come hitting Tyler’s chest. He can hear Tyler cursing under his breath and he knows he can’t hold himself up for much longer. He manages to overbalance as he falls, landing somewhere next to Tyler, face-first on the bed. His entire body feels lax and a little shaky but even in his post-coital state, he can feel the familiar traces of guilt and anxiety creeping in.

He needs a few minutes to just breathe, horribly aware that Tyler isn’t moving next to him. When he finally gets up the courage to look, he sees Tyler sprawled out under the sheets, drying come splattered across his chest, his eyes closed and with what Jamie can only describe as a satisfied smile playing on his lips.

It’s easy – or perhaps cowardly – to wait until Tyler exhales slowly, his breathing evening out in sleep. Jamie slips off the bed as silently as he can and pads over to the bathroom to clean himself off. He can’t look at himself in the mirror where he’ll see the evidence of Tyler all over his body.

He takes a damp washcloth back into the suite and very carefully cleans Tyler’s chest while he sleeps. Even asleep, Tyler looks relaxed and happy with his hand fisted around a pillow. Jamie sighs but he doesn’t have the heart to wake him and send him back to his own room. There’ll be time enough for regrets in the morning, but tonight, they won a game, he’s drowsy from sex, Tyler’s in his bed, and Jamie seriously needs to get some sleep before tomorrow’s game.

He curls up on his side, facing towards Tyler, and lets his hand rest between them, almost touching but not quite. Then he closes his eyes and waits for sleep to claim him.

*

Jamie wakes up before his wake up call, overheated and pinned down to the mattress. Apparently, Tyler’s an octopus in bed because at some point in the night he’d rolled over and is sprawled on top of Jamie, his face smushed against Jamie’s chest. Jamie can feel his even breaths ghosting across his skin.

Which is about the time Jamie realizes that he’s got his arms wrapped around Tyler, their legs tangled together and yep, they’re both hard.

Jamie wants to shift away and get some space between their bodies so he can calm down but he also really doesn’t want to wake Tyler yet. He’s perfectly happy to avoid the inevitably awkward morning-after conversation they’re going to have to have.

He’s still trying to wrap his head around Tyler liking guys. Or more specifically, Tyler liking Jamie. Part of him feels a little hurt that Tyler hadn’t ever confided in him, since Tyler’s known about Jamie’s bisexuality since their first New Year together when Jamie had blurted it out in a drunken confession. He’d been worried that it would ruin everything since he was painfully aware of Tyler’s reputation, but Tyler had taken in his stride, squeezing Jamie’s shoulder and bussing his cheek. And the first time Tyler had been there when Jamie picked up a guy, he’d given Jamie two thumbs up, made obnoxious kissy faces at him as they left and the next day, Tyler had even commiserated with him over below-expectation blowjobs and shitty one-night stands.

But not once had he mentioned that he liked dudes too.

Hell, Tyler’s never even had a girlfriend, let alone a boyfriend. Commitment isn’t exactly part of Tyler’s psyche and he plays the role of single bachelor better than anyone else Jamie knows. Jamie isn’t even sure if Tyler is capable of being serious over a girl – or guy.

And Jamie, well, he’s a long-term guy. He’s not 24 years old anymore and he isn’t interested in hooking up just for fun these days. Tyler, on the other hand, is all about fun and hooking up and doing whatever the hell he wants to do to satisfy whatever needs or wants he has. Whatever the fuck they’re doing, whatever this was, Jamie can’t do it again. He can’t risk the team for this. He can’t risk himself. And he really, really can’t risk Tyler.

That’s what forces him to take his hands away from where they’re resting on Tyler’s warm back and to roll out from under him. Tyler mumbles something into the pillow and Jamie freezes, but Tyler doesn’t make any other movement so he disappears into the bathroom and steps into the shower to wash the remnants of last night off his body. It’s almost impossible not to trace the marks on his skin left by Tyler. Red fingertip-shaped marks trace down his hips, up over his chest and there are some scratch marks that he doesn’t remember Tyler leaving but he can feel them now. He brushes the underside of his thumb down a particularly angry red line and shivers under the hot spray of the shower.

When he gets out, he wraps a towel around his hips, exhales slowly and pushes the door open. He’s greeted by Tyler hopping around, trying to tug his sweats on and looking decidedly sheepish and disheveled. Jamie hates how good it looks on him.

“So late,” Tyler says, finally dressed and shoving his hands in his pocket to pull out a keycard. “Shit, sorry. Be down for breakfast in like, five?”

Jamie knows this is the moment to tell Tyler that this was a huge mistake. He knows it. But Tyler looks adorably happy, scratching at the back of his head and clearly waiting for Jamie to say something.

“Yeah,” Jamie says finally, his cheeks hot and his hands feeling awkward as they hang uselessly by his sides. “I’ll save you a seat.”

“Thanks Benny,” Tyler says, taking a step forward and closing the space between them. He slides his hand up around Jamie’s neck and tugs Jamie down for a brief brush of lips. “Uh, see you in a bit then.”

Jamie watches Tyler peer out of the door before he sends Jamie a thumbs up and disappears, leaving Jamie alone to stare at the bed they shared last night, the sheets tangled and screaming with evidence of what he and Tyler did.

He can’t worry about that now though. They’ve got a game tonight and Jamie needs to focus.

*

The problem with focusing, Jamie realizes, is that he’s mostly focusing on Tyler rather than the game tonight. He spends half of his breakfast watching the elevators, waiting for Tyler to appear and then when he finally does, dropping down into the chair next to Jamie and bumping their knees together, Jamie spends the rest of the time surreptitiously watching Tyler cheerfully chirping the rest of the table and nudging Jamie to encourage him to join in.

“Someone got lucky last night, eh?” Jordie says tiredly as they wait for the bus in the lobby. When Jamie looks up, startled, he sees Jordie watching Tyler as he talks to Patty, looking as excited and restless as a puppy.

“Uh,” Jamie says dumbly before he clears his throat and deliberately turns to look out of the front window, his back firmly to Tyler. Not that it helps much when he can hear Tyler’s loud giggle anyway. “Probably?”

“I don’t know how the hell he does it,” Jordie says almost admiringly. “After a game and a late night flight. It’s superhuman.”

Jamie shifts uneasily because Jordie isn’t stupid. Tyler’s options for hooking up last night are vastly narrowed to someone in their hotel, and Jamie hasn’t managed to sneak a lie past Jordie since they were both teenagers. “I guess some people are into sweaty, tired, cocky hockey players with lame beards and shitty defensive skills,” he says, frantically trying not to reveal that it’s him. He’s the one who can’t apparently resist that combination when it comes to Tyler.

“Don’t be jealous, bro,” Jordie says, and Jamie sighs in relief because Jordie’s turned away from Tyler to sling his arm around Jamie’s shoulders. “You’re not in Tyler’s league, but you do okay.”

“Better than you,” Jamie chirps back almost by rote, laughing when Jordie shoves at him, feigning indignation.

*

They beat the Oilers 3-2. Jamie spends most of the post-match locker room celebrations trying to hide his surprise and relief at the win, since they’re still not playing as well as they should be. He’ll take the back-to-back wins though and the two assists he pocketed take some of the pressure of his shoulders.

The flight to Vancouver is pretty quiet. It’s been a rough trip for most of them and although they’ve got with two wins, the Winnipeg loss is still pretty raw. The music stays low and mellow, conversations between those still awake are quiet, sometimes whispered, and Jamie spends most of the flight staring out the window into the night sky, his thumb tapping out an unrecognizable beat against his thigh.

Tyler’s fast asleep next to him, his face turned away.

Everyone’s tired as hell when they finally get to the hotel – last one, Jamie thinks, then home – and Jamie’s hyper aware of Tyler next to him as they check in. Neither of them talks in the elevator and when he stops at his room, Tyler stops too.

“Hey,” Tyler says quietly when they both step inside, dropping his bag on the floor and the keycard to his room on the table and shoving his hands into his pockets. “Uh, is this okay?”

Jamie doesn’t say anything as he unpacks quickly, leaving Tyler to lean against the wall to watch him.

“So last night.”

“Yeah,” Jamie says awkwardly as he avoids Tyler’s direct gaze.

“I had fun,” Tyler says slowly, straightening up and moving slowly towards Jamie until he feels a little caged in. Which is ridiculous because he’s got an inch and several pounds on Tyler, easy. “Did you have fun?”

“I had fun,” Jamie admits huskily. Tyler grins and his hands settle either side of Jamie’s hips and presses him against the wall, bracketing him in. He takes a deep breath and lifts his hand between them, intent on pushing Tyler away and explaining very clearly that this is a huge mistake, whatever the fuck it is, and that Tyler should perhaps go home.

Except Tyler kisses him, his hands fastening around Jamie’s hips and Jamie doesn’t know how to push him away. Fuck, he doesn’t want to push him away.

He opens up, lets Tyler fuck his tongue into his mouth and swallows every moan they both make. His hands start wandering, feeling the tightly corded muscles that Tyler works so hard for, is so proud of, under Tyler’s shirt and he growls a little, drawing a surprised huff of laughter from Tyler but Jamie doesn’t care because he just wants to feel Tyler’s warm skin against him. He tugs Tyler’s shirt off, his hands coming up to cup Tyler’s face before the shirt even hits the carpeted floor and he’s kissing Tyler with all the expertise he has, making pleased sounds when Tyler whimpers against him and scrambles to get closer.

“Jamie,” Tyler says roughly and Jamie pulls back, frowning until he sees Tyler trying to wrestle with Jamie’s shirt. “C’mon, get naked.”

“Alright,” Jamie says easily, stripping his shirt off and pulling Tyler back in for more kisses and a grope of Tyler’s ass. His arms are strong around Tyler as they stumble towards the bed. Something goes crashing to the floor when they bump into a table and Jamie diverts to push Tyler back up against the wall and fasten his lips to Tyler’s neck, sucking long, sweet kisses into his skin. He doesn’t know if Tyler will carry his marks in the morning but Christ, he wants him to.

Then it’s Tyler who pushes Jamie against the wall, Tyler who kisses his way down Jamie’s neck and to his chest.

It’s Tyler who drops to his knees between Jamie’s spread thighs, who looks up at Jamie with a hopeful, pleading gaze.

It’s too much for Jamie as he drops his head back against the wall and palms himself through his jeans, too close to the edge already.

“Jamie, I want-“ Tyler says throatily and Jamie opens his eyes just as Tyler’s licking his lips.

“Yeah, me too,” Jamie admits because he’s never lied to Tyler. Never wanted to.

Tyler sits on his heels, his hands palm down on his thighs as he watches Jamie unsnap his jeans and pull down the zipper. He wonders if he should make this look sexier, draw it out a little or something but then Tyler bites down on his bottom lip and Jamie groans and shoves his jeans and boxers down in one semi-fluid movement, stepping out of them and reaching for Tyler at the same time.

“God, Jamie,” Tyler says almost reverently, his hands coming up to rest on Jamie’s thighs. His thumbs rub small circles against his sensitive skin and Jamie sucks in a breath, tries to remember that it’s impolite to just shove his cock down Tyler’s eager throat and fuck him hard. It’s never really been his style before, happy to just let whoever is down there take their own time, but then again, he’s never had Tyler on his knees for him before.

“Whatever you want, Seggy,” Jamie says, softer than he means to. His hand stays gentle on Tyler’s cheek, his thumb tracing over Tyler’s half-bitten lips and slowly pulling his bottom lip down until it springs free of his touch.

Tyler flashes him a quick grin that’s so achingly familiar despite their very unfamiliar positions that Jamie’s chest aches. It settles him and he manages to return it somehow. Tyler shifts on his knees, relaxing into his stance and Jamie’s hips jerk a little, despite his best efforts to keep still.

“Sorry,” he mumbles and strokes his hand over Tyler’s head, threading his fingers through Tyler’s soft, unstyled hair. Tyler licks his lips and shit, Jamie has to grab his dick and squeeze, trying not to shoot off too early.

Then something occurs to him and he uses his hand to tilt Tyler’s head back, his thumb skating over the curve of Tyler’s exposed neck and resting against his jaw. Tyler looks up at him questioningly, still completely relaxed.

“Have you done this before?” Jamie asks softly. He’s curious but the easy way Tyler sunk to his knees is almost an answer but he needs to know for sure.

“Yeah,” Tyler says, swallowing hard. “Yeah. I know what I’m doing, Jamie.”

Which makes one of them, Jamie supposes.

Then all thought leaves his head in one sharp move as Tyler leans forward, lips parted and licks at the tip of Jamie’s cock. It’s a tease and a promise and Jamie is pretty sure he’s going to be utterly ruined by the time Tyler’s done with him. Tyler takes his time, like he’s getting acquainted or something with Jamie’s dick, licking and suckling gently until Jamie’s half-mad with want.

Jamie wills himself to calm down, still terrified that he’s going to come too soon when he wants to savor the moment. Wants to remember everything so he can jerk off to the memory in the not-so distant future.

Then Tyler sucks him down, taking the full length of Jamie’s dick into his mouth without warning and Jamie swears loudly, his head thumping back against the wall. His hands clench in Tyler’s hair, pulling without any intent, and groaning when he feels Tyler moan around his cock. Tyler’s hand circles around the base of his dick, not really moving but a firm enough grip to make Jamie’s knees shake a little.

Tyler’s mouth is beautiful; wet and warm around him. Jamie lifts his head to watch, panting as he watches his dick sliding in and out of Tyler’s red, slick lips, vaguely aware that they’re going to be bruised and puffy in the morning. Jamie’s dick throbs at the thought and he’s so close to the edge. Too close.

“Tyler.” Jamie’s throat is too dry, his voice cracking as he tries to pull his hips back, only to be held in place by Tyler’s hands. “Gonna come, babe. Let me? I’ve gotta pull back, Tyler. C’mon.”

Tyler shakes his head just a little, his mouth still wrapped around Jamie’s dick and Christ, he comes down Tyler’s throat, breathing hard and feeling like he’s just had a hard punch to the gut. When he’s spent and he can look down, Tyler’s wiping his mouth clean and using his thumb to swipe the come that’s dribbled down his chin away, his tongue flicking out to wipe his thumb clean.

Jamie drags him up by his arms, twisting to get Tyler up against the wall and kissing him desperately. He can taste himself on Tyler’s tongue and it’s heady enough to make Jamie’s head spin.

He doesn’t remember falling to his knees, or who strips Tyler naked. But he remembers the first feel of Tyler’s weight on his tongue. Remembers with crystal clarity the sound Tyler makes when Jamie sucks his dick for the first time.

“You can fuck my mouth,” Jamie says, his voice already wrecked as Tyler trembles in front of him.

“Yeah?” Tyler sounds a bit shaky too.

“I like it,” Jamie admits shyly before he opens his mouth and Tyler feeds his cock inside. He’s gentle at first while Jamie just sits back on his heels and lets Tyler figure out the pace. He’s already breathing heavily through his nose, his mouth wet and willing. He wants his jaw to ache so bad that he feels it in the morning, at least. He’s always liked this but most of the blowjobs he’s given have been with guys that seem too intimidated by his size to take up his invitation to be rougher if they want to be.

Tyler doesn’t have that problem though as his hips speed up and his cock nudges against the back of Jamie’s throat. He keeps his gaze locked on Tyler’s and arches his head back just a little to find the right angle. It must work since Tyler swears long and loudly, his hand tightening around the back of Jamie’s head as he pushes in deeper until Jamie thinks he’s going to gag. But then Tyler pulls back and if Jamie hadn’t already come so hard a few minutes ago, he’d probably be embarrassing himself and coming in his jeans.

“Jamie, Jamie, Jamie,” Tyler chants thickly, and Jamie pulls back, keeping his lips wrapped tight around the head of Tyler’s dick and he sucks as hard as he can. Tyler comes just a few seconds later, filling Jamie’s mouth as he swallows once, twice, and a third time. He doesn’t spill a single drop and catches Tyler as his legs give out from underneath him, keeping him upright.

It takes a bit of wrangling to get Tyler to the bed, since Tyler seems happy to just wrap his arms around Jamie’s neck and let himself be carried.

“You know you weigh a ton, right?” Jamie mutters when Tyler finally drops down onto the mattress and rolls onto his back.

“All muscle baby,” Tyler mumbles, a dead fucking weight as Jamie tugs and pulls until Tyler’s head is on a pillow and he’s starfished in the middle of the bed. And of course he’s fast asleep, snoring gently as Jamie stares down at him.

“What the fuck are we doing, Seggy?” he asks quietly, knowing that Tyler can’t hear him and can’t possibly answer. He’s not sure he wants to know the answer, anyway.

*

Jamie opens his eyes to find Tyler’s face inches away from his, staring at him. He yelps and flinches back while Tyler lets out an amused giggle.

“What the fuck, man,” Jamie grumbles, closing his eyes because he can’t deal with Tyler in his bed, looking sexy and scruffy. He’s weak.

“You drool in your sleep,” Tyler says, which has Jamie’s eyes flying open and his hand wiping frantically at his mouth. “Nah, just kidding.”

Jamie blinks, his hand still on his mouth. “Get out of my bed,” he says gruffly. Tyler, of course, ignores him and yawns instead.

“You showering?” he asks, kicking at Jamie’s ankle.

“Nah, you can go first,” Jamie says because he’s pretty sure that Tyler sneaking out of his hotel room at 7am would definitely not go unnoticed by the team, trying not to sound as awkward as he feels. He kicks off the covers and sits up gingerly, trying not to flush as he spies his boxers on the floor where he’d kicked them off last night. He’s slow to get to his feet, trying not to show any pain on his face when his body protests.

It’s horribly domestic to hear the shower running while he pads around the suite, calling for room service while the kettle slowly gurgles to life. He recognizes the Bieber song Tyler’s singing off-key, loud enough to reach him, and Jamie sits down heavily on the bed and reminds himself that this isn’t really real.

He’s managed to get to his feet, their room service trolley delivered and coffee unmade, when Tyler walks out of the shower, a small towel wrapped obscenely around his lean hips. “Water pressure is shit,” Tyler says cheerfully, stepping right into Jamie’s space and pressing an oddly-shy kiss to Jamie’s cheek. “Hey, you okay?”

“Sure,” Jamie says automatically. He experimentally puts his hand on Tyler’s hip, much lower than he would usually casually touch Tyler. “The whole team are on this floor.”

Tyler hums thoughtfully but he doesn’t move away from Jamie. “Sneak down just before the bus gets here?”

Jamie thinks it’s probably as good a plan as any. And it’s not like Tyler isn’t in and out of his hotel room usually anyway. He gives Tyler a gentle squeeze before he takes his turn in the shower and very politely does not jerk off with Tyler in the next room.

*

Jamie’s nursing his second beer in the bar Hamhuis dragged them all to, still silently fuming about Tyler being dropped to second line for another game. He’s not really paying attention to the conversation flowing around him – he thinks Patty is ripping on Hamhuis for being a Canuck, which is usually something Jamie would jump on board with, but he’s too busy staring into his beer to keep up with them.

“Hey man, you alright?”

Jamie looks up to find Adam watching him with a frown.

“Yeah man,” Jamie says, managing a tired smile as he picks up his beer and tips it towards him. “Just tired and thinking about tomorrow, you know?”

Adam’s frown smooths out and he raises his eyebrows at Jamie’s beer. “Want another one?”

He probably shouldn’t, but he nods anyway. He’s not really paying attention but his eyes follow Adam to the bar, where he slaps Tyler on the back and clearly asks him if he wants another drink too. Jamie’s too far away to see his answer but he watches as Tyler leans over the bar and flags down the female bartender, shoving Adam away and laughing as he gives her their order.

Jamie’s seen Tyler flirt before. Anyone who’s known Tyler for more than five minutes has seen him flirt. It’s part of his genetic code, Jamie supposes. Charm and flirtation come as easily to Tyler as breathing, and Jamie’s pretty sure Tyler isn’t even aware that he’s doing it half the time. Years ago, when Tyler first came to Dallas, Jamie had written it off as part of Tyler’s natural personality, coming with the territory of being a handsome guy with a lot of money in the bank.

Now he knows it’s at least partially due to Tyler’s inherent need to be liked by everyone he meets. Tyler, Jamie knows, is both incredibly simple to understand, and yet also stupidly complex. He’s a fucking conundrum that Jamie thought he’d finally worked out, and then Tyler had kissed him back and thrown everything Jamie thought he’d known out of the window.

So he knows it’s entirely possible that Tyler’s flirting with the pretty brunette with the long silky hair and killer smile just to get some drinks. He also knows that it’s possible that Tyler will end up sneaking her into his hotel room for a few hours before sneaking her back out with a charming smile and sheepish apologies for kicking her out of bed at 4am.

Jamie clenches his bottle so hard that he thinks it cracks a little and he has to put it down on the vaguely sticky table, silently count to ten and remind himself that Tyler isn’t his and can flirt – or have sex – with anyone he damn well pleases.

It’s just fucked up that Jamie has to be a front row spectator to it.

He’s tempted to head back to the hotel early and bury himself under the covers but Jordie’s been not-so-subtly watching him all night and the last thing he needs is for Jordie to pick up on anything weird between him and Tyler.

So he sits back in his chair and tries to focus on a story Johns is telling them rather than the stunningly petite blonde girl who’s stopped Tyler on his way back to the table. Jamie’s worst habit is his mulishness, apparently, so he doesn’t turn around even when he hears Tyler’s unmistakable laugh and he doesn’t pay any attention to how long it takes Tyler to get back to the table, even though it’s been well over ten minutes and Jamie’s fucking parched.

“Sorry boys,” Tyler says eventually, dropping everything on the table and squeezing himself in between Jamie and Devin, who doesn’t even blink because Tyler always sits himself next to Jamie, regardless of who else is sitting there and smiling sweetly even when the whole table has to move to accommodate him. Everyone indulges Tyler, even when he’s being a selfish asshole. “Can’t turn away my fans, can I?”

“Some girls have terrible taste in hockey players,” Devin chirps wistfully. “You must be losing your touch, Segs, if you struck out with her.”

Tyler shrugs, the movement causing him to jostle Jamie just a little as he scowls into his beer and tries to pretend that he doesn’t care who Tyler hooks up with. “You know me, guys. Consummate professional. Can’t be bringing girls back to the hotel the night before a big game.”

The entire table turns to stare at him because Tyler hasn’t ever given a damn what night it was when it came to getting laid by pretty, willing girls.

“Yeah right,” Patty says dryly, finally breaking the stunned silence around them.

“Uh, is this some new team rule or something?” Devin asks, looking at Jamie in horror. “Jamie, tell me he’s just fucking around.”

“I think the point is that he’s not, in fact, fucking around,” Jamie says, deadpan.

It elicits a guffaw from Johns and Hamhuis, and soon the rest of the table are chirping at Devin with suggestions that it wouldn’t make a difference to his game anyway, since he can’t score off the ice with a sure thing.

With Tyler’s warmth pressed against him, Jamie starts to mellow enough to relax against him. Until two girls stop at their table and angle themselves at Tyler, who smiles easily for them and invites them to pull up a few chairs to the table. Jamie silently fumes as the boys eagerly shuffle around for them so they can sit between Tyler and Devin, who both start flirting shamelessly. Jamie swallows around the lump in his throat and downs the rest of his beer before reaching for another.

Jamie’s slowly working himself into a temper when Adam kicks him under the table to get his attention.

“C’mon, we’ll win tomorrow and really get this season started,” he says quietly enough that the rest of the table doesn’t pay them any attention. “We’ve got this, Chubbs.”

Jamie nods because he doesn’t trust himself to speak right now.

“Hey,” Tyler whispers, wrapping his arm around Jamie’s waist and digging his fingers in just a little too hard against Jamie’s hip. “Can I stay in your room again tonight?”

Jamie frowns, glancing behind Tyler but one of the girls has left – the one sitting directly next to Tyler – and the other has her hand on Devin’s arm and he looks smug as hell. “Uh,” Jamie fumbles a little, his anger gone as suddenly as it appeared. “Don’t think that’s a good idea, Seggy.”

Tyler’s mouth shifts into a pout and he looks like he wants to argue but then his face clears and his pout shifts into a wry smile. “Yeah, no distractions for tomorrow’s game,” he says, and that’s not what Jamie meant. Jamie’s taken girls back to his room the night before a game – not as often as Tyler has, but enough that he knows it doesn’t affect his performance on the ice the next day. He doesn’t correct Tyler though, because he doesn’t want to have this conversation in front of their team. In fact, he’s more than happy to never have this conversation because he’s a jealous asshole and Tyler never needs to know that about him.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Tyler murmurs, and his fingers soften into what Jamie can only describe as a petting motion. “After, yeah? We’ll beat the Canucks and celebrate in style.”

“Stop whispering sweet nothings into the Captain’s ear,” Patty says, leaning over Adam to swat at Tyler’s head. “No one likes a kiss-ass, Seggy.”

“Can’t help it if Jamie likes me best,” Tyler returns with a smug smirk. “Don’t you, Benny?”

“Maybe if you score tomorrow,” Jamie says, leaning back just a little into Tyler’s side. “Patty’s catching you up on goals, Seggy.”

“Patty’s got as many goals as you,” Tyler mutters childishly.

“Got a great beard too,” Adam pitches in while Patty laughs and ducks his head a little.

“Such pretty eyes,” Jordie adds, leaning over Jamie to snag a beer. “Prettier than yours, Segs.”

Tyler looks genuinely offended.

Jamie’s mood immediately lifts.

They only stay for the rest of the round before heading back to their hotel. Jamie says goodnight to the team and tells them to get a good night’s sleep before disappearing into his room and going through his bedtime ritual. He’s almost done when he hears a tap on his door, light and almost easily overlooked.

Tyler’s on the other side, looking sleepy and soft with his hair flat against his head, dressed in what look like black silk shorts and one of the hotel’s robes.

Jamie steps back to let him in before anyone sees him.

“I know,” Tyler says, his voice thick with drowsiness. “You said no sleepovers tonight, but I just wanted to say goodnight, yeah?”

“You’re half asleep,” Jamie accuses gently.

“Big day tomorrow,” Tyler yawns, lifting his arms to place his hands on Jamie’s chest. “Need my beauty sleep.”

“No, you don’t,” Jamie says because he’s an idiot and he can’t seem to stop himself, not when Tyler beams back at him. “But you do need your rest for the game.”

“You’re such a fucking sap,” Tyler grumbles but he falls back against the bed, his weight pulling Jamie down with him, their bodies sprawled together over the covers. “Kiss me goodnight.”

“Yeah, I’m the sap,” Jamie says sardonically, but Tyler’s pinned underneath him and he’s looking up at Jamie with soft, drowsy eyes so Jamie gives in and kisses him. It’s soft and sweet and completely unlike any other kiss they’ve shared so far.

Tyler protests when Jamie pulls away but he only goes as far as to pull the covers up over them, flick off the light and reposition Tyler so they’re front to back, with Jamie as the little spoon this time. “Go to sleep,” Jamie mumbles, letting his hand cover Tyler’s where it rests on Jamie’s chest. This is easy, he thinks as he listens to Tyler’s breathing evening out, ghosting over his neck where Tyler’s buried his face against Jamie. Falling asleep in Tyler’s arms is probably the easiest thing for him to do in the world. But he doesn’t know what it means, and that confuses the hell out of him. Tyler doesn’t do serious. Tyler doesn’t do girlfriends – or boyfriends – and yet he knocked on Jamie’s door knowing that they wouldn’t be fooling around, and he’s crashed out in Jamie’s bed without either of them putting their hands – or anything else – on each other’s dicks.

It’s just loneliness, Jamie realizes. He’s even guilty of it himself on occasion. Being on the road away from home is fucking lonely sometimes, even when they’re surrounded by their team, and wanting to not feel alone for even a few hours can become desperation sometimes. Tyler is by far the handsiest member of their team, always ready and willing to hug it out or press himself against whoever he’s next to.

It’s got to be loneliness, Jamie tells himself sleepily. Anything else is too scary to contemplate, and he’s hardly going to ask Tyler what the hell he’s doing in Jamie’s bed tonight. He’s not ready for any conversations about them and this thing they’ve fallen into, because Tyler’s answers will undoubtedly break Jamie’s heart.

*

Jamie’s mood in the morning is pretty terrible. He’d woken up to find Tyler gone and he’d rolled onto his back and stared up at the ceiling for answers he doesn’t even know the questions for. He’d spent so long wasting time in his room that he’d only just made it in time for breakfast and the whole day looks like it’s going the same way.

Especially when Jordie knocks on his hotel door twenty minutes before Jamie wants to settle in for his game-day nap, looking anxious. Which, well, for Jordie that’s saying something.

“You gonna tell me what’s up or do we have to dance around it first?” Jordie says, getting straight to the point as he settles himself on the desk chair and leans his elbows on his knees.

Jamie flops down onto the bed and gives his brother a considering look. He thinks about lying, but even as the thought crosses his mind, Jordie scoffs and shifts to cross his arms over his chest, looking vastly unimpressed. It’s a look Jamie’s much more comfortable with, which is why he finds himself blurting out: “Tyler and I are kind of having sex?”

Jordie, to his credit, only blinks a few times before he sighs. “Start at the beginning, Chubbs.”

So Jamie does, leaving out only the more graphic details, and even then Jordie looks like he knows more than he wants to about Jamie’s sex life.

“So essentially, you and Tyler are dating,” Jordie says when Jamie’s finished.

“No,” Jamie says tightly, because what the fuck, hasn’t Jordie listened to anything he’s said? “It’s not serious, Jordie. It’s Tyler, of course it’s not fucking serious. The only thing Tyler’s ever been serious about in his life is hockey, c’mon.”

Jordie looks at him like he’s judging Jamie hard right now. “Jamie. Are you for real? You’re better than this, dude. You’re Tyler’s best friend, you shouldn’t be jerking him around like this, or being so fucking flippant. Stop being an asshole.”

Jamie’s eyes widen in disbelief and he ignores the tiny ache inside of him that he gets whenever Jordie expresses his disapproval of Jamie’s life or his choices. It happens so rarely that it hurts like hell when it does. “What the fuck, man,” Jamie sits up and glares at his brother, who just glares back even harder. “What are you talking about? Tyler’s the one who’s not being serious about this while I’m freaking the hell out. Tyler’s never serious about anything, he just does whatever he feels like at any given moment.”

There’s a moment when Jamie’s genuinely worried that Jordie’s going to swing at him. He sees Jordie visibly hold himself back though and he exhales slowly. “If this was anyone else on the team saying this about Tyler, I’d have flattened you five minutes ago,” he says through gritted teeth. His hands are clenched into fists but he keeps his tone even, and for the first time, Jamie’s glad that out of the two of them, Jordie’s the more even-tempered one. “You know Tyler better than anyone. Or I thought you did, bro. Tyler just bought another house. He’s renovating. He’s got long-term plans in Dallas, Jamie. He’s got two freaking dogs that he treats like his own kids. He’s practically building a home for a nice boy or girl to settle down with, you see that right?”

Jamie shakes his head because he knows all this. “He picks up a different girl almost every night, Jordie. You were saying it just the other day, right? That’s not settling down. That’s what rich, good-looking sports stars do when they’re looking to have fun and not get serious.”

“Tyler’s not a fucking saint, man, and we both know it. Hell, neither of us are saints either, but does that mean you’re not looking for a nice boy or girl to get serious with? I thought you knew Tyler better than that. You’re letting Boston cloud your fucking judgment and Tyler deserves better than that. Hell, Tyler deserves better than you, Chubbs, if you think he’s that shallow and selfish. Boston fucked him up. Don’t make it worse, Jamie, fuck.”

“Fuck you,” Jamie says quietly. He’s almost shaking in anger and now he’s the one trying to keep a hold on his temper. “I’m not fucking him up, Jordie. I’m the one being fucked up. I didn’t even know he liked guys! Did you?”

Jordie purses his lips but he shakes his head and Jamie lets out a sigh of relief. He was still hurting over Tyler’s lack of trust in him, but if Jordie had known while Jamie was in the dark, he’s not sure he’d be able to look Tyler in the eye again.

“He picks up girls. Exclusively. And he’s never had more than a handful of dates with any of them,” Jamie says, his anger slowly, slowly ebbing away until there’s nothing left but an aching hurt that keeps growing inside of him, and it’s worse than any physical pain he’s ignoring. “Remember that prank call I made to Mom about getting engaged on Valentine’s Day? He said he was too young to get married at 23.”

Jordie’s back to looking like he wants to smack Jamie around the back of his head, but a little more fondly this time. “Well, he’s 24 now, maybe he’s ready now.”

“Shut up, that’s not funny,” Jamie mutters into his hands. “Tyler loves being single. He’s not serious about me, Jordie. He’s not serious about anyone like that. But it’s my life, Jordie. It’s my team. It’s Tyler’s life. Fuck, Jordie, it’s your life too. I can’t mess with that.”

“Don’t you fucking dare,” Jordie says, reaching out to grab Jamie’s wrist and yanking it away, forcing Jamie to look up at Jordie’s annoyed expression. “Don’t you dare put this on anyone else, Jamie. It’s on you and it’s on Tyler. You need to sort your shit out right now before you fuck everything else up even more. Stop bottling shit up like you usually do and just talk to him. Tyler’s put in too much work to loosen you up, and fuck knows I thought he was fighting a losing battle. Don’t ruin everything you two have done together. Talk to him and for fucks sake, make sure he knows you’re into him. Spell it out slowly if you have to, Jesus fucking Christ.”

“Uh,” Jamie says dumbly before he flushes bright pink. “I’m pretty sure he knows I’m into him, Jordie.”

“Jesus, Chubbs,” Jordie winces hard and closes his eyes. “I don’t want to ever hear anything else about your sex life. I swear to God, if you ever say blowjob and Tyler in the same sentence again, I’m putting in for a transfer.”

“You wouldn’t,” Jamie says confidently. “You’d actually have to start paying rent if you moved out.”

“Fuck you, bro,” Jordie says easily, opening his eyes again and grinning. “Fuck you.

*

They lose to Vancouver in overtime, which is a fucking tragedy, then head home only to lose to the Devils in overtime too. Jamie’s run out of words for the team when he knows he’s the main cause of their shitty record this season. Physically, he’s feeling better this season than he has for the past few years, but he’s starting to suspect that he no longer knows what his body is meant to feel like when it’s 100% healthy. Mentally, he’s fucked. His head is all over the place, on and off the ice, and he doesn’t know how to focus again. Usually he just steps onto the ice, puts his head down and works as hard as he can to get the puck goal-bound. Now though he’s pulling out of shots and passing instead of driving forward himself. It’s a shitstorm of a show and he doesn’t know how to swing back out of this slump.

They beat the Avs but no one feels like celebrating. Jamie’s too tired to pretend that this season isn’t unravelling in their hands. Winning every other game isn’t good enough and the whole team knows it.

*

When they beat the Wild in overtime, the whole locker room lights up in a way it hasn’t for so long, even after their other wins. Jamie’s on a fucking high; he can’t stop smiling or pulling teammates in for a one-arm hug or a teasing ruffle of freshly showered hair. He can see Tyler everywhere he turns, his grin as bright as Jamie’s and his laughter ringing through the rest of the noise in the room. Even Jordie’s letting out some belly laughs and when Jamie yells that the first round is on him, the room cheers. Jamie finally feels a little pressure roll off his shoulders. Not all of it by any means – it’s only one win. But he scored the game winning goal, fed a pass from Tyler and with his brother on the ice completing their trio. As much as Jamie loves this team, there’s no two other people he’d rather be on the ice with. For Jamie, the team starts with the three of them. They’re the foundation of everything this team is and could be. They’re home and tomorrow and the future and forever, all wrapped up together.

The club is loud and the drinks flow freely. Jamie’s lost count of how many shots have been pressed into his hand but he feels loose and happy.

So when Tyler stumbles into his side, Jamie wraps his arm around Tyler’s waist and pulls him in a little closer than he should, but he doesn’t care tonight. “Easy,” he says, laughing when Tyler pouts up at him. “Having fun?”

“We fucking did it, Benny,” Tyler says with a burning light in his eyes as he stares at Jamie until he feels like they’re the only ones in the club. “You and me. And your bro, but mostly you and me.”

Jamie nods, because he knows exactly what Tyler means. He doesn’t mean that they won the game, although that’s definitely a good feeling that Jamie wants to repeat again and again this season. Hell, he’d take the next handful of games, even. “Back together,” Jamie says, his fingers brushing under the hem of Tyler’s shirt and sweeping gently against warm skin. He watches Tyler’s gaze darken and his tongue flick over his bottom lip in a careless gesture that quickens Jamie’s pulse. “You and me.”

“Dynamic duo,” Tyler says huskily, arching his body ever so slightly against Jamie. “It’s been a while, Benny.”

“Too long,” Jamie murmurs. He’s staring at Tyler’s mouth but he can’t seem to drag his gaze away. He wants to kiss him. He wants to put his hands all over Tyler, to relearn all the secrets of Tyler’s body and draw every single moan from his lips.

“Dance with me,” Jamie says, his voice deeper than usual. He puts his half-empty bottle on the table behind Tyler and lets his hand casually fall, brushing against Tyler’s free hand. For a moment, he lets their fingers tangle and he feels Tyler shiver against him.

“Not here,” Tyler says, squeezing Jamie’s fingers and then letting them drop away. He moves closer though, his thigh pressing against Jamie’s. “Think anyone would miss us if we left?”

Jamie lifts his head and glances around. The rest of the team is milling around, barely a few steps away from them and none of them have noticed how close Jamie and Tyler are standing to each other. Jordie hooked up half an hour ago and Jamie’s pretty sure he’s heading back to the girl’s place tonight. “No,” Jamie says, turning back towards Tyler. He’s not sure what’s written on his face but Tyler swears under his breath and they both take a step back from each other.

No one really tries to stop them leaving, although Jamie sees a few of the guys throwing Tyler confused looks. Tyler rarely leaves a club early, and almost never without a hot girl on his arm. Jamie tries not to think about it as they flag down a cab and very carefully sit apart. The cab driver either doesn’t recognize them or perhaps he pretends not to know them, but either way, Jamie’s grateful.

The dogs start barking out a welcome before Tyler gets the front door open and they’re met by two excitable labs, their tails wagging furiously as Cash pushes his nose into Jamie’s hand and woofs loudly.

“Sorry,” Tyler says, laughing as he hooks his fingers into Jamie’s belt loops. “Want me to shut them in the kitchen?”

Jamie wonders if that’s what Tyler does when he brings a girl home. Then he wonders how Marshall and Cash behave around Tyler’s hook ups. He places his hands on Tyler’s hips and leans in, shifting at the last second to press his lips to Tyler’s jawline. “It’s their home. Seems a bit mean to lock them up.”

“Yeah?”

“We could lock ourselves in though,” Jamie continues, ghosting his lips down Tyler’s throat and backing him up towards his bedroom.

“They’ll scratch at the door,” Tyler gasps, his hands gripping Jamie’s shirt hard enough that he’s surprised the fabric doesn’t rip. “Could kill the mood.”

Jamie huffs out a laugh. “Don’t think that’s possible,” he admits, rocking their hips together to emphasize how hard they both are when they’ve barely started.

Tyler whines and pulls away, grumbling as he grabs the dogs’ collars and drags them into the kitchen and opens the back door for them to roam out into the backyard. Then he closes the kitchen door and stalks towards Jamie, who just laughs and backs down the hall towards Tyler’s bedroom. Tyler reaches him just as he gets to the door and they tumble through together, Jamie catching him and letting the momentum carry him down onto the bed with Tyler sprawled on top of him. They’re both giggling when Tyler scrambles up onto his knees, straddling Jamie’s torso and his fingers going straight for the buttons on Jamie’s shirt.

“You’re so hot,” Jamie blurts out. He’s staring at Tyler’s face, frozen in concentration as he continues to tug and tear at Jamie’s shirt until they get it off between them.

“Yeah?” Tyler sounds distracted, since he’s now smoothing his hands down Jamie’s chest and letting his thumbnails trail gentle scratches against Jamie’s skin. “I knew you only liked me for my body, Benny.”

Jamie hasn’t even undressed Tyler yet or thought once about Tyler’s body. He knows Tyler is solid muscle, on the leaner side of the guys in the locker room but still absolutely solid. He knows Tyler works hard to maintain his physique and takes pride in how he looks. Anyone who’s seen his ESPN Body Issue photoshoot knows that. Jamie’s not that interested though, if he’s being honest. “Wasn’t even thinking about it,” he confesses, keeping his gaze locked onto Tyler’s face as he efficiently strips Tyler of his shirt. “Everyone knows about your body, Segs. You can’t stop showing it off.”

“Hey, I’m a generous guy,” Tyler teases, his laughter easing into a hiss when Jamie flicks his thumbnail over one of his nipples. He arches into it, which doesn’t surprise Jamie in the least because Tyler has always been a little too shameless in all aspects of his life.

“You are,” Jamie says, a little too honestly. “Not with this though,” he murmurs, reaching up to cup Tyler’s cheek. Then he trails his hand down until it rests against Tyler’s chest, where he can feel Tyler’s heart beating under his touch.

“Jamie,” Tyler says, licking his lips. “Don’t you know I’m a little bit in love with everyone?”

“I know,” Jamie says ruefully. Jamie wants all of him, can admit it to himself now in this moment of candidness. But even if Tyler wanted the same thing, he’s not sure that anyone can truly have all the pieces of Tyler because he gives bits of himself away so freely.

But Tyler chooses that moment to pull Jamie up into a filthy kiss that escalates so quickly that before he knows what they’re doing, he’s urging Tyler to ride his thigh, both of them still dressed in their jeans which is doing both wonderful and terrible things to his dick, friction-wise.

“Not coming in my pants like a fucking teenager,” Tyler swears between open-mouthed, sloppy kisses.

Jamie takes the thinly-veiled hint and strips Tyler out of his ridiculously skinny jeans, shifting him upwards and pressing biting kisses to his thighs as he reveals each inch of skin. Since he doesn’t want to come in his pants either, Jamie lifts his hips, Tyler balanced above him biting his lip and watching with eyes heavy-lidded. Fuck, it steals his breath away.

Tyler settles back, easing down over Jamie’s hips, his dick straining obscenely against his black briefs. His mouth waters as he stares, his hands possessive on Tyler’s hips.

“You just gonna look or are you actually gonna touch me?” Tyler asks. If Jamie didn’t know him as well as he does, he’d think Tyler was a cocky, arrogant dick. And sure, there are times when Tyler can be. But he hears the hitch in Tyler’s voice. He’s always listening for it because he never wants to miss it. Tyler’s tells are almost imperceptible but Jamie’s spent a lot of time learning and studying them over the years.

“I’m gonna touch,” Jamie says, aiming for a lazy confidence he’s not sure he feels. But Tyler’s eyelids flutter down and Jamie can’t stop himself from reaching between them and taking Tyler’s dick into his hand, his thumb brushing over the soft cotton.

“Tease,” Tyler mumbles, his knees clenching around Jamie’s hips.

Jamie bites down on his bottom lip, waits for Tyler to open his eyes and feels a rush of warmth when Tyler does and curses under his breath. “No, Seggy,” he says softly. His other hand runs up Tyler’s thigh and over his hip, pausing for a second before he continues his journey over the curve of Tyler’s ass and squeezes. Tyler’s got the worst hockey ass Jamie’s ever seen, but he fits in Jamie’s hand so nicely that he squeezes again, kneading Tyler’s ass until he’s swearing profusely at him. “This is me teasing,” he says, laughing just a little as Tyler glares down at him while he grinds their dicks together.

“Or maybe,” Jamie continues, his hand slipping under the waistband of Tyler’s shorts, “this is me teasing.”

He slides his finger between Tyler’s cheeks and bites back a groan when Tyler hisses at him, his cheeks flushed and his eyes bright. Tyler pants over him and wriggles back, his fingernails biting into Jamie’s shoulders when he circles Tyler’s hole.

“Lube,” Tyler gasps desperately, lunging forward to yank open the drawer in his nightstand and flinging it at Jamie’s head.

“Easy,” Jamie says, his own heart pounding almost out of his chest as he tugs Tyler’s shorts down under his ass and leans up to hook his chin over Tyler’s shoulder so he can see what the hell he’s doing. His hands are trembling, from want, from nerves, from having Tyler’s leaking dick pressed against his chest, waiting impatiently for Jamie to finger him to an orgasm.

Shit.

Jamie goes slow when he slips the tip of his finger inside Tyler. He doesn’t want to miss anything – the way Tyler sucks in a harsh breath, the tautness in Tyler’s face as he concentrates on staying relaxed, the slow exhale he makes when Jamie gently pushes deeper inside until he’s buried knuckle deep.

“Tyler,” Jamie says helplessly.

“Fuck,” Tyler moans, shifting his legs a little wider. “Please, Jamie. Fuck, you gotta, just-“

“I’ve got you,” Jamie tells him as he presses another finger inside. It’s tight but Tyler keeps making these gorgeous noises that go straight to Jamie’s dick until it’s almost unbearable to have Tyler all but riding his fingers, his dick sliding back and forwards over Jamie’s belly.

He’s pretty sure he’s going to come in his shorts after all.

He knows when Tyler’s close and he pulls back, easing off until Tyler’s whining and pawing at his chest. Jamie wants to remember this forever - the desperate look on Tyler’s face as he begs Jamie to give him more. Jamie opens him up enough to press a third finger inside and swallows every moan Tyler makes into his mouth. When Tyler rides up to a crest again, Jamie slides his other hand between them and manages to wrap his fingers around both their dick, keeping his hold loose enough that they slide against each other with just the right amount of friction. He thinks he just finds Tyler’s prostrate when Tyler stiffens against him, his whole body going tight and bowed. He lets Tyler’s dick slide out of his hand and squeezes the base of his own dick, trying to hold off as Tyler comes over his belly, Jamie’s fingers buried inside him.

“Shhh,” Jamie says hoarsely, taking care to slide his fingers out carefully before he wipes them over the sheets and reaches up to stroke Tyler’s back while he trembles above him. “It’s okay. Shhh, I’ve got you.”

Eventually, Tyler goes slack and tucks his face into Jamie’s neck. “Your turn,” he mumbles between fast, biting kisses. “Come on, Jamie. Your turn.”

“Okay,” Jamie says. It takes almost all the strength he has left after watching Tyler come apart in his arms to flip them, manhandling Tyler until he’s laid out beneath Jamie, his thighs spread wide where Jamie’s knelt between them. He can see Tyler’s still slightly stretched, pink and wet, his dick softening slowly, sticky and spent. Jamie’s hand is slick with lube and Tyler’s come and he fists his dick slowly at first, his gaze locked on Tyler’s dick before he lets himself look up. Tyler’s watching him with lazy intent, one arm folded behind his head while the other lingers in Jamie’s hair.

“Wanna watch you come,” Tyler says almost possessively and that’s it, Jamie comes over Tyler’s soft cock, bowing his head to rest against Tyler’s shoulder while he ekes out the last of his orgasm.

He’s vaguely aware of a hand brushing through his hair and that he’s probably squashing Tyler but he’s so comfortable that he doesn’t want to move. It’s entirely possible that he dozes for a few minutes because the next thing he remembers is Tyler shoving a washcloth into his hands for him to clean up before he’s being rolled onto his back. Tyler curls up next to him, warm and solid and kicking at his legs until he shifts so they can tangle together, his hand on Tyler’s waist and Tyler’s face buried in his shoulder.

He falls asleep feeling better than he has in a long, long time.

*

Jamie wakes up to Tyler’s off-key singing and the shower running. There’s a horrible moment when he realizes he’s smiling dopily at the ceiling but then he figures there’s no one to see him making an utter fool of himself so it doesn’t really count.

He can hear the dogs barking, so he climbs out of bed and stretches, feeling the familiar aches of his body as well as some news ones. He snags a pair of Tyler’s sweats and makes his way through the house, yawning and patting absently at his hair, trying in vain to flatten it a little. Cash is the first one through the door, tail wagging as he tries to climb up Jamie’s body. Jamie laughs and scratches behind his ear with one hand while the other flicks on Tyler’s fancy schmancy coffee machine.

“Sorry buddy,” Jamie murmurs, bending down to give Cash a full belly rub that sends the dog into a frenzy. Marshall leisurely walks in halfway through, so when Tyler walks into the kitchen, he finds Jamie buried underneath them, dishing out pats and rubs and trying to keep his face away from their slobbery tongues.

“Need a rescue?” Tyler asks dryly. He’s only wearing sweats too, his hair damp and curling around his ears and looking so good that Jamie’s mouth goes dry.

“Just saying sorry for banishing them last night,” Jamie says. He takes Tyler’s offered hand and gets to his feet, only to find himself crowded against the counter, Tyler’s hands on either side of him and pinning him in.

“Morning,” Tyler says huskily before he leans in and slants his mouth over Jamie’s. It’s slow and thorough and Jamie can’t remember ever being kissed this way before. Tyler’s hands wander over his body like they belong there, and in no time at all they’re slowly grinding against each other. They’re both hard but there’s no sense of urgency, which is why Jamie’s orgasm takes him by surprise. He’s still gasping through it when Tyler arches against him and comes too, his arms looped around Jamie’s neck for support as his body trembles through it.

“Morning,” Jamie says, when he can manage words again. He can feel Tyler laughing against him and he smiles into Tyler’s neck, opening one eye to find both dogs sitting quietly to the side, watching them with interest. “Uh, we had an audience for that, by the way.”

“Those dogs have no shame,” Tyler says, turning his head to look at them while his hand wanders down to stroke Jamie’s ass with feather-light strokes. “Don’t know where they get it from.”

Jamie looks at him blankly which sends Tyler into a fit of giggles.

*

After they beat the Avs, Jamie follows Tyler home after the club. He bends Tyler over the kitchen counter and fucks him right there, their jeans and boxers around their ankles as he thrusts into Tyler until Tyler’s screaming his name. There’s come on the kitchen cupboards and Jamie’s left a trail of hickeys on Tyler’s neck and down his back. Jamie slides down onto the floor and catches Tyler when he tumbles into Jamie’s lap.

“Fuck,” Tyler says, and Jamie couldn’t agree more.

He knows they need to talk, but every time he gets Tyler alone, they end up eye-fucking each other or making out and suddenly Jamie’s on his knees with Tyler’s cock in his mouth – a commiseration blowjob after they lose to the Oilers - or Tyler’s naked in his lap and fishing Jamie’s cock out to jerk him off – after they beat the Wild in overtime. And when they’re not chasing orgasms together, they’re lazing around in Tyler’s bed, or taking the dogs for a walk or Jamie’s trying to beat those goddamn three holes in Tyler’s backyard until Tyler drags him away for food or more sex.

And Jamie panics every moment that he’s alone because he’s fucking addicted to Tyler and he doesn’t know how to stop fucking everything up.

The night before they face the Penguins, Jamie’s in Tyler’s hotel bed, trying to catch his breath. It’s not his fault that he’d walked into Tyler’s room to find Tyler wearing only a towel wrapped around his hips, fresh from the shower, and decided that the only thing Jamie could do was strip Tyler of his towel and blow him right there in the middle of the room. Somewhere along the way, Tyler had figured out that Jamie liked having his hair tugged when he gave blowjobs, and Jamie had learned that, unsurprisingly, he liked hearing Tyler talk dirty to him. That afternoon, they’d both learned that Jamie also liked fucking Tyler’s mouth.

He liked it so much that Jamie had fucked Tyler into the mattress until Tyler was all but sobbing with Jamie’s fingers in Tyler’s mouth to keep him from screaming too loudly. He’d cleaned Tyler up and then climbed into bed. He’d manhandled Tyler, who was as weak as a goddamn kitten, into his arms so they could drift off for a nap before they’d have to go down for dinner with the team. But he can’t sleep with his heart still pounding after the best fucking sex he’s ever had.

“Stop thinking so loud,” Tyler grumbles, swatting at Jamie’s still damp chest. “Trying to sleep, here.”

“Sorry,” Jamie says automatically. He thinks that perhaps he should go back to his own room and let Tyler sleep in peace, but he’s become addicted to these post-sex cuddles where he keeps expecting Tyler to kick him out of bed but he never does.

“Are you worrying about the game?” Tyler asks sleepily, shifting a little until he’s found a more comfortable position on Jamie’s chest.

“Not really,” Jamie lies because he’s always worrying about the next game. This season has been horribly average in a way that Jamie’s not used to anymore. Not since Tyler arrived to kick them into another gear.

“Then what?” Tyler asks because he’s annoyingly tuned into Jamie all the time. “Tell me then go the fuck to sleep, yeah?”

“What are we doing here?” Jamie doesn’t mean to say at all. He wants to grab the words back and shove them down his own throat but he can’t. Fuck.

“Well I’m trying to sleep,” Tyler shoots back before Jamie feels him go tense in his arms. Then he’s scrambling up onto his elbows, staring at Jamie in confusion. “Wait, what? What do you mean?”

“I mean this,” Jamie says miserably because apparently they’re having this conversation. “Us. This,” he gestures between them and keeps his gaze locked on the ugly grey sheets that adorn the bed.

Tyler doesn’t say anything for long enough that Jamie curses under his breath and slides out of bed, pulling on his boxers and searching around for his sweats.

“Jamie,” Tyler says carefully. “What do you think we’re doing here?”

“I think that we’re going to fuck up the team,” Jamie says before he can stop himself. It’s like word vomit, every single worry and anxious thought he’s had for the past few weeks are rushing up to tumble out of his mouth, and there’s nothing he can do to stop it. “I can’t do this, Tyler. I can’t risk the team and you and me for a few really fucking good orgasms.”

“A few good orgasms,” Tyler repeats, his eyes narrowing as he stares up at Jamie.

“Really fucking good orgasms,” Jamie mumbles, because that’s important. “You’re my best friend, Tyler. You know that, right? You’re my best friend and we’re fucking everything up. Messing around like this is fucking everything up.”

“Messing around?” Tyler echoes and Jamie pulls his shirt on in frustration because Tyler just keeps repeating what he says and fuck, Tyler’s the one who has all the words for this shit, not Jamie. Jamie’s terrible with words. He’s terrible at talking. He’s especially terrible with words when they mean so much.

“This isn’t serious,” Jamie says, letting his frustration bleed into his tone. “And I can’t do that. Not with you. I can’t do this with you and keep worrying about when you’re going to get bored of me or tell me to fuck off because you’re bringing someone else home or fuck, I don’t even know how serious you are about the whole guy thing. You never told me you were into guys, Tyler. What the fuck else haven’t you told me?”

“Fuck you,” Tyler says quietly, making Jamie flinch. Jamie’s temper runs hot, burning bright and fast before it fizzles out into nothing. Tyler, on the other hand, never loses his temper. He goes quiet and he bites and nips and tears into people until someone drags him away. “Fuck you, Jamie. What the fuck?”

Jamie watches as Tyler climbs out of bed, completely naked and makes no attempt to cover himself up. “You think I’d fuck with the team like this? You think I’d fuck with you? Are you for fucking real? I wouldn’t risk this team for anything except for you, Jamie. I’m such a fucking idiot that I’d risk everything for you, and you still don’t fucking trust me. I don’t know what the hell you want me to do to prove myself to you. You haven’t learned a goddamn thing this season. I thought that after – fuck. I thought you were trusting me. All this time and I thought you’d figured it out. But you’re still trying to do all this shit alone.”

He pulls on a pair of boxers and shoves a hand through his hair. “You’re still closing yourself off, and I can’t fucking do that, Jamie. I can’t do that with you. I’m not fucking built that way. I don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t trust me because I don’t need to feel shit about myself anymore. I’m past that shit. I’m so fucking past it. You think I’m still that kid that Boston tossed out of town, but I’m not. So fuck you. Fuck you.”

Jamie’s fucking paralyzed, watching Tyler’s anger build until he finds himself being shoved out of Tyler’s room, letting Tyler push him out and slam the door between them.

“Shit.” He turns towards his room, which he’s barely been in since they landed because he hadn’t wanted to be alone. He’d wanted to be with Tyler. He’d wanted to soak up every moment before it ended, and now it has but it’s his fault, not Tyler’s. Everything’s his fault and he’s still fucking everything up. He’s always fucking everything up.

He stumbles into his room, closes the door and sinks down to the floor, his head resting on his knees, and tries to stop his hands from shaking.

*

Jamie doesn’t sleep well that night, and he emerges from his room bleary eyed and desperate to find Tyler to talk to him. He doesn’t see him until they hit the ice for morning skate but there’s no time to talk. He’s expecting Tyler to ignore him, but Tyler bumps his shoulder and passes him the puck like yesterday never happened. They run drills together and Tyler teases him about being too slow and Jamie feels like he’s missed a step, or maybe twenty. He feels slow. He feels sluggish and confused and he can’t stop staring at Tyler, who’s laughing and shooting the puck like everything’s normal while Jamie flounders.

Tyler bumps into him during their match warm up and he offers his fist for a simple handshake as usual before they hit the ice.

They lose anyway. They lose and it hurts. Jamie tells the team that they’ll win next time, that they’re getting better, getting back to full strength. Tyler stands behind him, a solid wall of support that Jamie doesn’t deserve right now.

*

The next few days are awful. Tyler continues to confuse the ever-loving fuck out of him by being his usual self, laughing and teasing and sitting next to him on the bench to talk through the game.

Jamie wants to ask Tyler how he can just put everything behind him and carry on as normal when Jamie is a complete wreck.

He can’t stop thinking about what Tyler said and analyzing the truth of it. He knows how fucked up Boston was for Tyler and how hard he’s worked to put it behind him. He’s watched Tyler in the locker room, putting in the time and effort to win the trust of the entire team; not just the players but everyone who works for the organization. Everyone adores him, it’s almost impossible not to.

But he keeps coming back to Tyler questioning his trust. Does he trust Tyler? His instinct says yes. Everything inside of him screams hell yes. But Tyler doesn’t think so. And he needs to answer that question, with absolutely no fucking doubts, before he tries to talk to Tyler and figure out if he can save what’s left of them. And there’s no question in his mind that he wants every single part of Tyler that he’s allowed to have.

*

Of course it’s Jordie who notices first.

“You’re here,” he says when he walks into their house and sees Jamie lying on the sofa in silence, staring up at the ceiling.

“It’s my house,” Jamie says flatly. “Where else would I be?”

“At Tyler’s?” Jordie returns in the same tone. “Where you’ve been for the past few weeks?”

Jamie briefly closes his eyes and considers whether it’s too late to kick Jordie out of his house and maybe suggest a trade to the Leafs or something.

“What’s happened?” Jordie sits down on the huge coffee table in front of Jamie and great, he’s wearing his concerned big brother expression. “You two argue or something?”

Jamie’s not sure what expression is on his face but whatever it is, Jordie scowls and punches him in the arm. “What the fuck did you do?”

“Fucked everything up,” Jamie says softly. “Really fucked it up, Jordie. I think I hurt him.”

He hears Jordie exhale slowly and he braces himself for another hit because honestly, he definitely deserves it and they both know it.

“You’re a fucking idiot,” is what Jordie finally says.

“I know,” Jamie agrees fervently.

“Figure your shit out, Chubbs,” Jordie says, but it’s not as sharp as Jamie’s expecting. “It’s got to be exhausting in that dumb head of yours.”

Jamie doesn’t tell him that he’s right; Jordie’s ego is inflated enough as it is.

*

They lose to the Flames.

Jamie’s still no closer to finding an answer – on or off the ice.

*

They’re back on a starting line against the Predators, alongside Spezza. Jamie gets his 200th NHL goal, Tyler scores and they each get an assist on each other’s goal. He hasn’t felt this good on the ice since their win in overtime against the Devils, and even then, this feels better. This feels good, finally. He telegraphs exactly where Tyler will be for his goal, relying on instinct alone.

He's starting to trust his instincts on the ice again. Now, perhaps, he needs to trust them off ice as well.

*

But instead, after a disastrous roadtrip which leaves the whole team feeling low, Jamie starts withdrawing more into himself. He knows he’s the weak link at the top of the chain and even Lindy’s calling him out by name now. He can see the frustration on everyone’s faces and their play is suffering for it. Jamie’s run out of platitudes and clichés, they’ve never been his thing anyway. He’s always been a lead-by-example type of captain but he doesn’t know what to do when even that slips away from him. Tyler is still playing well, sitting right on target for his projection for the year while his own stats keep sliding down and he’s heading for his worst season in years.

Jordie tries to draw him out but he starts hiding in his room like a fucking teenager, watching replays and analyzing team stats in the hopes that he’ll find a magical cure for his loss of form. Intellectually, he knows he’s carrying too many injuries, but that’s never stopped him before. Playing through an injury is just what they all do. Maybe not to Toews’ extremes, but they all do it nonetheless.

Their topsy turvy season continues with a win over the Ducks and a loss to the Rangers. Then they’re facing the Flyers hot streak and Jamie hasn’t got any words left for his team. Sheer force of will has gotten him this far and he’s not going to give up now, but he feels hypocritical trying to convince the team that they can turn this around and how they’ve just got to keep going when he knows the team are trying their fucking hardest. He’s the one who needs to turn it around but he doesn’t even know anymore which direction he’s meant to be going in.

He stands by the door, offering his glove to every player as they go past. There’s a mixture of defiance and frustration and anxiety on most of his players faces, but above all, there’s determination to win. Spezza stops on his way past and for a moment they stare at each other before Spezza nods, leans in to touch his helmet to Jamie’s, and then it’s just Tyler left. He holds out his hand and Tyler taps it twice before he turns his own glove for Jamie to tap twice. Tyler nods at him, his eyes burning with intensity and then he follows Tyler out the door and onto the ice, letting the noise of their fans drown out any other thought he might have.

*

Jamie isn’t even that surprised when Spezza drops his gloves. He can hear the vague murmurs of disbelief coming from the bench to his right but Spezza will always have a captain’s instincts, whether he wears the C or not. And his instincts, like Jamie’s, are screaming at him to change the momentum of this game before they allow another goal and the win drifts out of their reach. But while Jamie is on the bench, waiting to get back out on the ice, Spezza is already there, pounding on Manning and firing the team up.

“Look at him,” Tyler says from his left, even though they’re both watching, glued to the scene in front of them. Jamie glances up at the screen to get a better look and sees Spezza yelling at the bench as he’s guided away. “Spezz can fucking go.”

“Yeah,” Jamie says, watching Spezza in the penalty box. He’s still yelling, still mad as hell and not afraid to show the team some fighting spirit that’s been sorely lacking recently.

Faksa nets a rebound that puts them back on equal ground and when Jamie glances towards Spezza, he’s sitting calmly in the box, watching the replay with the tiniest of smiles lighting up his face.

They win the game, ending the Flyer’s winning streak and Jamie doesn’t quite believe it. Spezza is whooping and yelling in the locker room and it’s infectious for the whole team. Jamie cracks a smile as Ritchie and Cracknell re-enact Spezza’s fight and even Lindy seems a little happier than usual tonight.

Jamie slips into the showers and lets the hot water cascade down his body, washing away sweat and disappointment in his own game tonight. All anyone’s talking about tonight is the end of the streak and Spezza’s fight, and Jamie wonders how long it’ll be before someone starts talking about making a change to the captaincy. He’s been ineffective at best this season, unable to bury the puck in the net more often than not and unable to spur his team into winning more than one game at a time. Spezza’s a born captain, able to lead both on and off the ice, capable of stringing more than two coherent sentences together and far more media friendly than Jamie.

He sighs, turns the water temperature up even higher, and tries his best to clear his ragged mind.

*

“You’re an idiot,” is what Spezza says to him later that night in the club. It’s a rare night that Spezza makes it out with the team for more than a cursory drink before he heads home to his girls. But tonight he’s the star of the show, and he’s on his third beer.

Jamie grins easily. “Tell me something I don’t know,” he says, tipping his beer in salute.

“Alright,” Spezza says, leaning in and wrapping his arm around Jamie’s shoulders so they’re pressed together and Spezza can yell directly into his ear. “You’re the captain of this team, Jamie. You’re the heart and soul.”

Something in Jamie’s chest contracts painfully and he ducks his head.

“I know you’re playing injured, you asshole,” Spezza continues, sounding fonder than he should. “You can’t be everywhere at once and you can’t do everything by yourself. I’m your A, Jamie. That means I do things for my captain when he needs me to, when he can’t do it himself. I’m behind you all the way, no matter what, even if you are dumb enough to keep on playing injured. The whole team is behind you. And you’re an idiot if you ever think different.”

Jamie drags in a shaky breath and blindly grabs at Spezza’s shoulder, desperately holding on for a few moments while he tries to compose himself.

“Thanks, Spezz. For like, everything, you know?”

“I know,” Spezza says magnanimously, laughing when Jamie rolls his eyes good-naturedly. “You owe me, by the way. My wife’s gonna kill me for fighting.”

Jamie grimaces in sympathy.

“Nah, you threw like, four punches max,” Eaves says as he joins them, grinning at Spezza’s scowl. “Barely a scrap, old man.”

“Fuck you, old man,” Spezza mutters, pulling Patty into a headlock and twisting until they’re both laughing like loons.

Jamie slips away, leaving them to wrestle it out to the hoots and catcalls of the rest of the team. He watches Tyler laughing next to Jordie, leaning his arm on Jordie’s shoulder, and forces himself to look away.

*

They’ve got two days off and Jamie spends an hour online, trying to do all his Christmas shopping in one hit. He’s already got the tree up, with Jordie’s help and there’s obnoxiously bright lights twinkling in almost every room. He’s got the stockings up on the mantelpiece, their names stitched in festive red across the top and the food his mom orders every year turned up this morning so their kitchen is actually fully stocked for once.

Jordie wanders in with his phone pinned to his ear and nods at him. “Mom’s on the phone,” he says, holding it out for Jamie to take. “She wants to make sure everything got delivered and to remind you not to eat all the ham before she arrives.”

“I’m not gonna eat the ham, Mom,” Jamie says in lieu of a greeting. “It’s not cooked. What do I know about cooking ham?”

“I’m sure you’d figure it out if you were hungry enough,” his mom says dryly with the wisdom of raising two hockey players. “And tell Jordie not to drink all of his dad’s beer.”

“Mom, no one likes Dad’s beer,” Jamie says patiently. “We’ve got our own beer.”

“Just remind him all the same please, Jamie,” his mom says pointedly.

“For sure,” Jamie agrees with a sigh. “Are you all packed up and ready to come down?”

“Nearly. Your sister is flying in an hour before us so make sure you get to the airport in time to pick her up.”

“Yes Mom,” Jamie rolls his eyes. “We won’t be late, I swear.”

“Good,” his mom says firmly. “Now, how are you? Your brother tells me you’re moping.”

“Am not,” Jamie says grumpily.

“Yes, I can tell,” his mom says sardonically before her voice softens. “Is everything okay, darling?”

Jamie flops back against the sofa and runs his hand through his hair. “I’ve fucked up, Mom.”

“Language,” comes the gentle rebuke, which never fails to raise a smile from him. He hasn’t been in any fights on ice recently otherwise he’d be getting an earful about that too. His mom is the best.

“Mom,” he says, and it comes out a little lost. “He thinks I don’t trust him.”

Because his mom is the greatest mom ever, she doesn’t ask who he’s talking about. She just sighs softly. “And do you trust him?”

“Yeah,” Jamie says. “Of course I do.”

“You’ve always been the most independent, you know,” his mom says, sounding wistful. “Of the three of you. Jordie always wanted to be a good big brother and Jenny was tucked in the middle, protected by the two of you whether she wanted to be or not. And you were my baby. But as soon as you could walk, you were forever running away from me or your dad, and it was always Jordie who had to follow you to make sure you didn’t get lost or hurt.”

“Sorry, Mom,” Jamie mumbles.

“It didn’t matter how many times we told you to stay put, or warned you of the dangers of running away,” his mom continues. “You’d just toddle off by yourself, Jordie following right behind. You’ve always wanted to do things your own way. You get your stubbornness from your father, you know.”

Jamie smiles helplessly. “You always say that.”

“That’s because it’s true,” his mother says primly. “But my point, darling, is that you’ve never been very good at letting people all the way in. You never listen and you always think you know best. You get that from your father too.”

“Obviously,” Jamie says dryly, swallowing hard.

“But you’ve got such a good heart, baby,” his mom tells him. “Such a good heart. You’re strong and brave and you deserve to be happy.”

“Thanks Mom,” Jamie whispers.

“That’s what I’m here for,” his mom says, her voice sounding a little teary before she clears her throat. “Now, do I need to adjust my seating plan for an extra person?”

“Probably not,” Jamie admits. He doesn’t know Tyler’s plans but he’s pretty sure they won’t include coming to Jamie’s for Christmas.

“You’re going to sort things out with him though?”

“Yes, Mom,” Jamie says with a sigh. “I promise.”

“Good. I’ll see you Christmas Eve then.”

“Okay. Love you, Mom.”

“Love you too, darling.”

*

The loss to the Blues in overtime is still painful when Jamie wakes up the next day and he gives himself the morning to clear his head. He convinces Jordie to go for a run with him but he only manages an hour before he heads home, leaving Jamie to run by himself with nothing but his thoughts for company.

Which probably explains why he ends up at Tyler’s house, dripping sweat with his hair clinging to his scalp under his toque. It takes him a few minutes to catch his breath, doubled over by the front gate before he slips inside and leans on the doorbell.

And that’s about the time that he freezes because he hasn’t thought this through at all and it’s entirely possible that Tyler either isn’t home, or he’s home and not alone. But before he can slide into full-on panic, the door is opening and Tyler is glaring at him, looking sleepy and soft.

“Get the fuck off my doorbell,” he says, smacking Jamie’s hand away from where he’s still leaning on it.

“Sorry,” Jamie says, trying not to stare at the pillow crease on Tyler’s cheek. It’s stupidly adorable. “Um, are you alone?”

“Sure, apart from that orgy happening in my backyard,” Tyler says flatly. “Are you fucking serious right now?”

“Right, sorry,” Jamie winces. “Um, can I start again?”

Tyler sighs loudly and scrubs a hand over his face. “What do you want, Jamie?”

“I wanted to say that I’m sorry,” Jamie says before he loses his nerve. “I’m sorry about what I just, um, kind of implied, but I’m also sorry about before. About everything, really. I fucked up and I was stupid. I was an asshole and you were right about everything. I fucked everything up and I never, ever want you to feel like less than you are, because you’re my best friend and my favorite person – probably in the entire world – and I’m going to make it up to you, I promise. So uh, that’s what I wanted to say.”

Tyler doesn’t say anything but he’s standing a little straighter and staring at Jamie with a sharp, focused gaze.

“I trust you,” Jamie says, wishing that he wasn’t drenched in sweat and so tired that he’s not sure his legs are going to hold him up when he walks away. But he powers through anyway because that’s what he does. “You’re keeping the team together while I’m fucking falling apart. So, um, thanks. And I’m sorry.”

He catches his bottom lip between his teeth and worries it nervously. He nods awkwardly when Tyler stays silent and turns to walk back down the driveway. The walk back home is longer from Tyler’s new place but it gives him enough time to sort through his muddled thoughts and he arrives home feeling lighter than he has in weeks.

*

Jamie steps out onto the ice at the start of practice and heads straight for Tyler, bumping his shoulder gently. “Hey,” he says, keeping his voice light. “You ready to put some real effort in, Segs?”

Tyler blinks at him from under his visor. “That sounds like a challenge, Captain.”

Jamie grins at him before he leans down and very precisely puts his stick to the ice.

“You’re on, Benny,” Tyler says, mirroring his pose before they both shoot away, skating hard over the ice. Tyler’s faster but Jamie’s got a shorter stopping distance so they’re pretty equal as they compete over every drill and through every practice shot they take. Jamie can’t remember the last time he laughed so hard during a morning skate. It seems to have an immediate effect on the team too as Jordie races past him in a battle with Cracknell that ends with Jordie shoving Adam into the boards and cross-checking each other with wide grins.

Jamie skates towards the bench and grabs a water bottle and throws it to Tyler before he picks up another one and takes a long drink. They lean back against the boards, barely an inch between their bodies as they watch the third and fourth lines on the ice.

“Devin’s looking good,” Jamie says quietly as they watch him skate past. “He shoots wide more times that he hits the target though.”

“He’s still learning,” Tyler points out, but he’s watching Devin thoughtfully, which is exactly what Jamie intended.

“You should have a quiet word with him,” Jamie suggests casually, fighting a smile when Tyler turns to look at him with his eyebrows raised. “He’s rushing during games. Needs to take a moment to choose the right spot.”

“Alright,” Tyler says eventually. “Sure. No problem, Captain.”

Jamie sends him a wink before he pushes off the boards, heading for Sharpy to check in on his progression and see how he’s feeling today.

He catches Tyler watching him curiously during the rest of practice, but he keeps his concentration focused on his own drills.

*

Tyler stops him outside the locker room after warm ups as they’re making their way back out onto the ice and waits until the rest of the team has gone, leaving them completely alone.

“Benny,” Tyler says, keeping his voice low and holding out his glove for their pre-game ritual. Jamie bumps it dutifully and follows Tyler’s lead through one of their most complicated handshakes. “You’ve got this, yeah?”

Jamie looks at him – really looks at him for perhaps the first time in forever. Christ, he’s missed him. He’s missed this. “No Seggy,” he says, leaning in to bump his helmet against Tyler’s. “We’ve got this. You and me.”

Then he walks out to the roar of the home crowd and knows they’re going to win tonight.

*

It’s already midday but Jamie’s only been awake for half an hour when he hears someone knocking on the door. He’s in the kitchen in a ratty pair of sweats that he’d pulled on after he’d stepped out on the shower, his hands wrapped around a mug of steaming coffee. He thinks about answering the door but he can hear Jordie moving through the house so he leans his hip against the counter and stares out of the window. They’ve got four hours before they need to get to the airport to pick everyone up and he’s considering going back to bed because fuck it, he’s on vacation.

He hears a noise behind him and turns his head to find Tyler staring at him. Or more accurately, staring at his bare chest. Jamie ignores the urge to cover up but only because he recognizes the look on Tyler’s face. He’s seen it a lot recently, although not in the last few weeks.

“Hey,” he says, his voice still rough with sleep.

“Hey,” Tyler echoes, his gaze lifting and setting Jamie’s pulse rocketing.

“Oh my God,” Jordie says and Jamie belatedly realizes his brother’s been behind Tyler the entire time. He flushes guiltily but Jordie just rolls his eyes at them. “Fine. I’m going out, you losers. And I’ll pick up Mom, Dad and Jenny from the airport so you two can pretend to be adults and sort this shit out.”

“Thanks man,” Tyler murmurs just loud enough for Jamie to hear. “We appreciate it.”

“Yeah well,” Jordie mutters, clapping Tyler on the shoulder and glaring at Jamie over him, “I’m the best.”

Jordie disappears and they listen to him stomping through the house, moving around until they hear the front door slam and Jordie’s truck start up, obnoxiously loud as he backs out down the drive and leaves them in complete silence.

“You’re an idiot,” Tyler says, folding his arms across his chest. He looks so good, Jamie thinks helplessly and puts his mug down in the sink.

“I’ve missed you,” Jamie blurts out because he can’t not tell him. He’s spent a lifetime not saying things when he should, and he doesn’t want to make that mistake again with Tyler.

Tyler rolls his eyes but he moves a little closer anyway. “I’ve been right here, you asshole,” he mutters, then he takes that final step between them and places his hands on Jamie’s chest, and shoves.

Tyler kisses him like he’s pouring all his anger and frustration into Jamie, so he plants his feet, wraps his arms around Tyler to keep him – them – steady, and lets Tyler do whatever the fuck he wants to do.

Apparently, what Tyler wants to do is fucking maul him. He’s already hard before Tyler gets his hands in Jamie’s hair and tugs, and he almost comes untouched right there in the kitchen when Tyler drags his head back and latches his mouth onto Jamie’s neck to suck what Jamie assumes is going to be the most obnoxious hickey into his skin. He’s not going to be able to cover it up unless he wears a scarf indoors and his parents and Jenny are going to see and he’s going to get so much shit for it. He slides one hand down to Tyler’s hip, slips under his shirt and places his hand on Tyler’s back, urging him closer and letting out a loud moan as Tyler sucks harder.

“Fuck, okay,” Jamie murmurs, grinding his hips into Tyler’s and letting his body go lax when he feels Tyler’s dick straining in his jeans. He’s too desperate to wait. His hands fumble with Tyler’s fly and he shoves his jeans down a little, just enough for Jamie to cup him through his boxers and earn himself a broken whine from Tyler. He squeezes Tyler just once before he rubs the heel of his hand down Tyler’s length, his other hand wrapped firmly around Tyler’s waist to keep them upright but he wants to hear Tyler gasp his name. He wants to feel Tyler come apart in his arms. He needs Tyler to feel as shattered as he does right now.

“Want you to come,” Jamie pants, tipping his head forward and catching Tyler’s lips in a filthy kiss that’s wet and loose and so fucking good that Jamie wants to fucking sob. He shoves his hand into Tyler’s shorts and jerks him off, using short, hard strokes that make Tyler tremble against him. “I need you, babe. I need you so fucking much.”

“Jamie,” Tyler gasps, arching up, his body tightening. Jamie kisses him through his orgasm, holding him up until he sags against Jamie. Jamie murmurs words to him, like I’ve got you and I need you and please don’t go.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Tyler says eventually. He sounds wrecked. Then he lifts his head and fuck, he’s a goddamn mess and Jamie loves him. He loves him. Fuck, he fucking loves him.

Then Tyler lifts Jamie’s hand and licks his own come slowly and methodically off Jamie’s palm and his fingers until Jamie’s so hard he thinks he’s going to explode.

“How do you want this?” Tyler asks softly when Jamie’s hand is finally clean. He’s standing there with his jeans halfway down his thighs, his softened dick hanging out of his boxers and he looks like the best thing Jamie’s ever seen in his life. Fuck, Tyler’s always looked like the best thing in Jamie’s life.

Which is probably why Tyler ends up gripping the sink, head bowed as he faces the window utterly naked with his legs spread and Jamie rimming him with fast, even strokes that make Tyler gasp and pant and his strong, beautiful legs shake helplessly.

“Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me,” Tyler chants when he’s wet and sloppy and Jamie’s got three slicked up fingers and Jamie’s tongue inside him.

“Yeah,” Jamie says, leaning back to watch his fingers slide into Tyler. He feels the hard punch of desire and need in his gut before he swears loudly. “Condom?”

“Pocket,” Tyler whines, one leg kicking at his discarded jeans on the floor. Jamie reluctantly pulls out of him, steeling himself against Tyler’s impatient whimpers while he digs into his pockets and pulls out the condom and rolls it on, reaching for the lube that he’d left in a cupboard from the other times they’ve been too desperate to leave the kitchen to fuck. When he’s ready, he lines up behind Tyler and presses a kiss to the back of his shoulder and guides himself in slowly. Tyler breathes slowly as Jamie pushes in, inch by careful inch, until he’s balls deep inside and they’re both panting, trying to hold off until Tyler nods just once. Jamie snaps his hips, unable to stop himself, and Tyler cries out, arching back and greedy for more. Jamie’s more than happy to oblige, driving into Tyler’s tight warmth again and again until he’s on the edge of the precipice.

He holds on though, wrapping a slick hand around Tyler’s dick and jerking him off hard and fast. It doesn’t take very long before Tyler’s coming over his hand and fuck, Jamie needs to come. He pulls out slowly, keeping his breathing as calm and even as he can manage when he’s this close. When he wants this much.

“Turn,” Jamie pants, “around.”

Tyler’s weak from his two orgasms but he manages to turn, holding onto the counter and staring up at Jamie. Then he sinks to his knees and carefully pulls the condom off. Jamie wraps a hand around the base of his dick and uses his other hand to slide around the back of Tyler’s head, his thumb stroking Tyler’s neck.

“Yeah?” he asks, trying to keep the desperation out of his voice.

“Fuck yeah,” Tyler says, closing his eyes and tipping his head back just a little.

Jamie comes over his lips, his throat and down onto his chest before he collapses, his legs giving out as he tumbles to the ground and pulls Tyler down with him. They’re breathing hard and everything’s sticky and cold but Jamie doesn’t give a damn, just strokes his hand up and down Tyler’s back until their breathing evens out and Tyler shifts a little between his legs.

“Are we dead,” Tyler mumbles, his lips tickling Jamie’s skin.

“Think so,” he replies.

Tyler makes a sound that Jamie doesn’t know how to interpret.

“This floor is uncomfortable as fuck,” Tyler says eventually, lifting his head and laughing when he looks up at Jamie. “You look wrecked.”

“I feel wrecked,” Jamie admits and pulls a face when Tyler’s grin turns smug. “Shut up.”

Tyler leans his arms over Jamie’s chest and rests his chin on his hands to look around. The kitchen is pretty much ruined and Jamie’s got about two hours to bleach every surface before his parents arrive.

Totally worth it though.

“We need to open the windows in here,” Tyler says, and he’s got a point since there’s a distinct smell of sex in the air.

Jamie groans and rolls Tyler off of him and gets to his feet. He leans over the sink to push the windows open and ignores Tyler’s wolf whistle of approval.

“Get up,” he grumbles, offering his hand which Tyler cheerfully takes. “You wanna take a shower while I clean up in here?”

It takes him half an hour to get everything straight and spray two whole cans of air freshener until he’s coughing and backing out of the kitchen. He finds Tyler freshly showered and sprawled out on his bed on top of the covers, completely naked aside from a small towel that’s only half-heartedly covering Tyler’s non-existent modesty.

His dick twitches in his pants and when he looks up, he’s pretty sure Tyler knows it too.

“Shower. I’ve got to. Um. Shower,” Jamie mumbles, his cheeks heating as Tyler grins at him. He disappears into the bathroom and scrubs himself clean, conscious that his entire family are going to be walking through the door in about an hour and a half.

When he walks into the bedroom, scrubbing at his hair with a towel, Tyler’s still lounging on his bed looking like he’s not intending on moving any time soon.

Jamie throws the towel down and climbs onto the bed, crawling up between Tyler’s spread thighs and settling himself over his hips. Tyler grins up at him, his hands settling on Jamie’s hips and his thumbs brushing over the tiny scars left by Jamie’s surgery.

“Hi,” Tyler says, bright-eyed and relaxed.

“Hey,” Jamie murmurs, leaning down for a soft, easy kiss. When he pulls back, Tyler smooths his hands down Jamie’s thighs and squeezes.

“So we should probably, you know, actually talk about all this,” Tyler says carefully.

“I hate talking,” Jamie says with a sigh, but he quirks his lips up into a smile and he picks up one of Tyler’s hands and threads their fingers together. “So I’m an idiot and I can’t do everything alone, apparently.”

“Jamie,” Tyler says, staring at their joined hands. “You probably can do everything alone, and still be the fucking best at it too because you’re a competitive, stubborn asshole. The point is, you don’t have to do it alone. Not if you don’t want to.”

“Yeah,” Jamie says quietly. “Since you got traded here, I’ve always thought of this as our team, you know? Yours and mine, and maybe a bit of Jordie’s too. But mostly me and you.”

“Me too,” Tyler admits, twisting his fingers until the back of his hand fits into Jamie’s palm.

“And like, maybe not just the team either,” Jamie says nervously. “Like, it’s always us. Before I knew what the fuck that meant. In my head, it’s always you and me.”

“So what happens when I get bored of you and decide I want to bang a chick instead?” Tyler asks evenly. “Or another dude?”

Jamie swallows painfully. “You won’t,” he says as confidently as he can. “You’re kind of obsessed with me, dude.”

“Fuck you,” Tyler says, but when Jamie looks up, he’s fighting a grin.

“If you’d like,” Jamie says with a shrug, which has the incredible effect of wiping the grin off Tyler’s face until his lips part and his eyes darken.

“Yeah?” Tyler asks huskily.

“I’m kind of obsessed with you too,” Jamie says, although he rolls his eyes because it’s hardly a secret. “You’re really hot.”

“And sexy,” Tyler supplies helpfully. “And I’m really good at hockey too.”

“So modest,” Jamie sighs as Tyler grins up at him. “We should probably date.”

“Benny, are you asking me to be your boyfriend?” Tyler flutters his eyelashes because he’s an asshole. Jamie’s dick stirs because he’s stupidly, stupidly into it. “Can I think about it?”

Jamie cocks an eyebrow. “You’ve got 30 seconds because we’ve only got an hour before my parents arrive and I’d rather they didn’t walk in on me being fucked in this bed by my idiot boyfriend.”

Tyler pretends to grumble but he’s reaching over to the nightstand to grab two condoms and the lube.

“Two?” Jamie asks, huffing out a laugh. “Someone’s feeling confident.”

“I’ve got a whole hour,” Tyler says, his fingers ghosting over Jamie’s ass and making him shiver in anticipation. “And I’m very, very motivated.”

As it turns out, they only need one and they’re still trying to catch their breath when they hear the front door open and Jordie stomp in making far more noise than he usually does.

“Shit,” Jamie mumbles. His face is buried in a pillow, his ass feels pleasantly used and he can say with confidence that his muscles won’t be working for at least another hour.

“If we just lie here, very quietly, maybe they’ll think we’ve gone out,” Tyler suggests hoarsely. He’s half-sprawled out over Jamie’s back and making no effort to move either.

“Your car’s out front, isn’t it?”

“Fuck,” Tyler grumbles, his arms tightening just a fraction around Jamie.

They lie there in silence anyway and Jamie’s almost lulled to sleep by the rise and fall of Tyler’s chest against him when there’s a knock at the door.

“Chubbs?” Jordie calls, sounding smug and terrible and Jamie hates everything. Except Tyler. He really, really likes Tyler. But everything else, he hates. “We’re going out for a really early dinner. Should be back in about three hours, if I get Mom and Dad drunk. You owe me so bad, little brother.”

“You’re the best,” Jamie says fervently.

“Oh, and Mom says hi, Tyler,” Jordie adds, because being an asshole runs in the family. “She said she’s making extra tomorrow in case you want to stay for lunch and meet the family officially.”

“Mom’s met Tyler like, a hundred times,” Jamie yells back.

“But not as your boyfriend,” Jordie singsongs.

Jamie manages to twist round and throw a pillow at the door, even though he can hear Jordie’s chuckles getting fainter as he leaves.

“I don’t know if I’m ready to meet your parents,” Tyler mumbles from where he’s fallen onto the bed. He’s looking up at the ceiling thoughtfully. “I mean, it’s kind of sudden, don’t you think?”

“Shut the fuck up,” Jamie says, hitting him with a pillow for good measure. “My parents love you. You’re the son they wish they had. You’re going to charm my mom, like you always do, and you’re going to talk football with dad and make Jenny laugh at embarrassing stories about me.”

“Yeah, I am,” Tyler says, smiling dumbly at him.

“And then after,” Jamie says thickly, rolling Tyler on top of him, “we’re going to your house because I want to hear you begging me to fuck you over and over and over again.”

Tyler stares at him for a moment before he lunges for the unused condom. “Pretty sure I can’t go again,” he mutters before he pulls Jamie down for a kiss. “But fuck if I’m not going to try.”

“Atta boy,” Jamie mumbles against his lips.

*

Jamie’s flushed when he greets his parents and Jenny when they get back to the house after dinner. Tyler’s standing next to him, looking completely innocent even though not an hour ago he was fucking Jamie so hard that Jamie passed out for a few moments on Tyler’s dick.

Jamie curls his hand around Tyler’s waist and smiles when Tyler leans into him just a little. His mom beams at them and his dad looks quietly pleased. Jordie rolls his eyes but winces when Jenny punches him in the arm, and Jamie knows how hard she hits. She’s a Benn, after all.

“I asked you if they were fucking and you said no,” she hisses.

“Jenny, language,” Mom says in disapproval.

“You asked me two years ago,” Jordie protests. “They got together like, a month ago. No wait, more like 12 hours ago.”

“You asked about us two years ago?” Jamie asks in surprise.

“Oh please,” Jenny says dismissively. “You’re always the last to catch on, Fats. Snails move faster than you do.”

“She makes a good point,” Jordie says, still rubbing his arm. Jamie hopes he gets a bruise so he can tell the team exactly how he got it.

“Jenny, leave your brothers alone,” Dad says calmly and starts leading her out of the kitchen, throwing Jamie a wink over his shoulder. “Jordie, fetch me a beer won’t you?”

“Sure Dad,” Jordie says, opening up the fridge and taking three bottles out. “You still owe me, bro.”

“Family doesn’t owe favors,” Mom says primly. “Now, Jordie, let’s go join your sister and your dad, and leave these two alone. Jamie, if you want to stay at Tyler’s place tonight, that’s perfectly fine. Jordie will look after us, won’t you Jordie?”

“Yes Mom,” Jordie says dutifully before he trails out of the kitchen.

“I’m so pleased you worked things out,” his mom says, leaning in to kiss Tyler’s cheek and smile up at him. “Now go on, get out of here. I remember what it’s like, you know. That first flush of –“

“Mom!” Jamie bursts out, his face flaming as Tyler starts laughing next to him.

“Goodnight, boys,” his mom says innocently before she walks out, leaving the two of them alone.

“You’re never gonna have sex with me again, are you?” Jamie groans.

“Oh please,” Tyler scoffs. “You’ve met my mom, right? She’s been dying to show you my baby pictures for years.”

“Oh, has she now?” Jamie says, his voice lowering as he backs Tyler up against the fridge. Christ, he can’t get enough of Tyler now that they’re really doing this. “Years?”

“Shut up,” Tyler says, and it’s his turn to be embarrassed now as his cheeks pinken prettily. “You wanna go back to mine?”

“Yeah,” Jamie nods. “Yeah, I really do.”

Tyler grins up at him and slides his hand into Jamie’s like it’s the most natural thing to do in the world. Like they’ve been doing it for years already. “Then let’s go.”