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Zucc skates up to Carl after he’s finished having a long talk with AV and nearly everyone else has already left the ice. That’s never a good sign.

“Scratched tonight,” he says, hitting Carl’s leg with his stick.

Carl assumed as much. “Sucks, man. Sorry.”

Zucc shrugs easily, but Carl knows better. “Come on, show me what you got,” he says and then steals the puck from Carl, speeding down the ice. Carl blinks after him, laughing, before catching up easily.

Falk joins them and they all end up shooting pucks at Hank for about a half an hour, while Carl and Zucc spend most of the time chirping Hank’s everything and loving the angry grumbles he throws back at them. Carl’s favorite thing about Hank continues to be how pissed he gets whenever he lets goals in in practice and therefore, he and Zucc make it their mission to score on him as much as possible.

By the end of practice, Hank’s feeling pretty good about himself, regardless, and Zucc is smiling broadly. Carl considers it a win-win and he’s really happy to spend some extended time on the ice like this. It’s been a bit rough, not playing, not experiencing everything the team has been. These moments make that a little easier.

Zucc walks up to him as Carl’s finishing dressing. “Seems I have the day free.”

Carl raises an eyebrow, smirking. “Yeah, whatever will you do without your scheduled nap?”

“This is what I’m asking you, Hags.”

Carl swallows, hard. He – well, they haven’t exactly hung out much lately. Not after –

“Uh, what do you want to do?”

Zucc shrugs. “I don’t know, this is Philly. Show me something American.”

Carl laughs, shaking off his nerves. “Okay, man, but we need to get back in time for game time. I’m going to the arena.” Carl enjoys supporting the boys from the box, even though it’s been really hard to watch lately when there’s nothing he can do to contribute.

Zucc nods, seriously. “So am I. Just want to forget for a bit though, buddy,” he says, clapping Carl on his good shoulder.

Carl shivers, wondering exactly what that means. He gets to looking and finds a place that’s about 20 miles out, in King of Prussia. It’s a historical park and Zucc loves shit like that.
They rent a car through the hotel and set out. Upon arriving, they explore the grounds; it’s a nice day and it feels good to walk around outside, taking in some reenactments of the Revolutionary War. Zucc asks questions here and there, because he loves learning shit, and also because he loves chirping Carl about his education in America and the fact that he was a CCHA All-Scholar three times.

“You’re always bragging you’re this brilliant Michigan college boy, so show me what you got,” he teases, bumping against Carl companionably.

“You’re just a bitter old man,” Carl laughs, ignoring his thrill at the touch.

“I’m one year older than you!”

“Exactly: old,” Carl laughs. Nevertheless, he rattles off some of his knowledge about American history as they pass through the “Determined to Persevere” exhibit and Zucc seems to hang on his every word as they touch some of the musket canons on display.

“Hey, let’s go on some of those trails,” Zucc says when they’re back outside, pointing to the tree line.

Hags looks over at him, wishing Zucc weren’t wearing sunglasses so he could read his eyes right now. “Uh, okay.”

Obviously Zucc loves hiking – they did enough of it at training camp up in Banff. But that was also the first time they… Carl shakes his head and gets moving.

They’re silent as they walk along the trails. Most are flat but there are a few inclines that Zucc suggests they take. There aren’t many people around and it’s easy to just take in the fresh air and try to focus on the smell of nature around them as opposed to the feel of Zucc’s bare elbow brushing his own as they walk. Zucc’s never had much care for personal space but Carl is sort of needing it right now. He tries to shift imperceivably, scratching at his shoulder.

“You okay?” Zucc asks, sounding concerned, and Carl can feel his eyes on him.

“Yep. All good.”

He sees Zucc nod out of his peripheral and they both climb the rock in front of them.

“Let’s take a pic,” Zucc says, and Carl rolls his eyes but allows it.

“You’re an Instagram addict,” Carl grumbles, feeling like there’s a hole burning through his shirt where Zucc is touching his back.

“You love it,” Zucc says, voice soft and low, breath fanning Carl’s cheek.

Carl suppresses a groan and slides out from beneath Zucc’s embrace. “Come on, let’s get moving,” he says, jumping off the rock and not bothering to look back to see if Zucc is following.

“I like it here,” Zucc says a little while later as they’ve found another high point on the preserve, which overlooks a few rolling hills. They’re shrouded back near the trees and Carl just takes in the scenery. He hears Zucc shuffling closer and tenses when he puts a hand low on his arm. “Reminds me of that spot we found up in Banff.”

Carl swallows hard, remembering.
______________________

They’d taken one of the trucks out and Zucc got out to explore with his binoculars. When he turned around, Carl snapped a pic of him and said he’d just found a Grizzly Bear.

Zucc cornered him against the door and demanded to see the pic, then shook with laughter.

“You’re such an ass.”

“The Rangers’ twitter will eat it up,” Carl grinned, their faces close. He felt his heart start to race as Zucc just stared up at him, happy and open. His skin began to feel itch; it was dusk and they really should’ve been heading back. Carl had been about to say as much, when Zucc tangled his fingers in his hair and pulled him down, bringing their lips together.

Carl made a small sound of surprise and brought his own hands to Zucc’s hair before he angled his head up more and deepened the kiss. Their tongues darted out to meet and glide against one another’s mouths, slow and exploratory.

Zucc tasted like the minty gum he’d swiped off Carl earlier and he sucked on Carl’s tongue like it was the only thing he wanted in life. Zucc walked him backward until he was pressed back up against the truck. Carl dragged one hand down Zucc’s back, settling over his ass and securing their hips closer together. Zucc slipped his thigh between Carl’s and rested his hands low on the back of his neck, pressing into the firm muscle.

They kissed until Carl felt breathless and dizzy, until he was getting hard and could feel Zucc’s own cock thick against his own.

“What are we doing?” Carl moaned, neck falling back as Zucc sucked hard on the base of his neck.

“What’s it look like?” Zucc kept up the pressure until Carl was sure he’d have a mark, before licking back up to his mouth, their mouths meeting hard and frantic.

Zucc finally pulled back and licked his lips. Carl took in his flushed face, his own lips feeling puffy and raw. “Let’s go,” he said, roughly, taking Carl’s hand.

“Fuck, yes,” Carl said and nearly moaned at the sight of him, needing to take a moment to adjust his dick in his jeans.

They fucked that night in lodge they were staying in, attempting to be as quiet as they could, trading blow jobs and slow, lazy kisses.

Over breakfast the next day, Carl had been anxious and unfocused, until Zucc had met his eyes and winked.

They hooked up again the next night, and the night after that, not talking about it. When they got back to New York, Carl was wondering if Zucc’s prior offer of his spare room while Carl’s apartment was being remodeled was still valid.

“Of course it is,” Zucc said, after Carl gathered the courage to ask him, shrugging like it was the easiest thing in the world.

But then… nothing happened the few nights they had together -- except a lot of teasing about dishes and meals -- and then Zucc was leaving for pre-season and Carl was left alone and confused. He joined the team at the start of the season, choosing to stay back home and work on his strengthening and conditioning rather than travel for pre-season.

By the time they saw one another again, Carl was pissed off and more than a little hurt and Zucc didn’t bring anything up. Pretty soon they had bigger problems than aborted hook-ups as the team was off to a shit start. Zucc hadn’t been avoiding him, though, and that much was good. Before long, Carl just decided it was better to be friends than to fuck things up with sex anyway. He moved back into his place when they returned home last week and Zucc hugged him as he went. And that, as they say, was that.
___________________

Except that apparently wasn’t that because Zucc was now bringing up that time in Banff which was fucking dirty pool as far as Carl was concerned.

“Yeah,” Carl replies stiffly. “It’s nice here.” He fights the desire to shake off Zucc’s touch.

Zucc’s fingers squeeze his arm. “I… I think about it, you know,” Zucc says softly.

Carl scoffs and does break away from his hold now, turning away from the green hills and back towards the trails. “Spare me.”

The anger he thought had previously disappiated has suddenly returned full force, almost scaring him at its intensity. The thing is, he’d thought they’d been moving in that direction since early summer, when they were Stockholm together. It was easy and relaxed and there’d been a few moments when Carl thought, this is it, it’s gonna happen. But it hadn’t and by the time camp started he really did think that window had passed. Until Zucc threw him for a loop, up in the fucking mountains.

Now Zucc was trying to act like he wasn’t the one putting on the breaks this whole time, like he had some right to think about it, to miss it.

“Hags!” Zucc calls after him, and he can hear him rushing to catch up.

Carl turns around on his heel and Zucc almost slams right into him. He pokes his finger at his chest. “No, seriously, what the hell was this about, huh, bringing that up finally – and here of all places? Does the great outdoors make you horny or something?”

Zucc half winces-half smirks. He’s taken his sunglasses off now and has them hanging off the front of his shirt. “Something like that?”

Carl rolls his eyes. “You’re a fucking dick.” He can’t help but be a little charmed, though, by Zucc’s shy smile and the flush on his cheeks. He exhales tiredly. “Tell me what gives.”

Zucc looks up at him, shrugging a little. “I was an idiot? I dunno, I thought maybe if I ignored it, once we’d get back to New York, it’d go away but it didn’t. I just – didn’t want to confuse shit between us but we were already confused, huh?”

Carl laughs, running his fingers through his hair. “You could say that, man.”

Zucc smiles, eyes bright and hopeful. He reaches out to take Carl’s hand, rubbing his fingers over the side of his wrist. “I’m sorry.”

Carl feels something release in his chest. “Well, good,” he replies, smugly. “Because you’re an ass.”

Zucc nods, sagely. “I know.”

“And you can’t just keep taking me out on hiking trails, expecting to get in my pants,” Carl adds.

Zucc’s lips quirk up. “I know.”

“I’m not that kind of boy.” Carl can barely keep a straight face now and Zucc looks like he’s ready to lose it.

“Mmm,” he says, stepping close to Carl and slinging an arm low around his waist. “Of course not.”

Carl tilts his head as Zucc’s mouth latches onto his neck, right at his collar. “I’m serious,” he says, hitching in a breath. “I expect wining and dining. And not your home cooking either, man, we both know I had to make all the meals during our abbreviated living arrangement.”

“Whatever you say, Hags.” Zucc laughs, nipping at his neck before licking a slow line up to his ear.

“We’re totally gonna get spotted,” Carl gasps, but doesn’t move away, just slides his hand to the small of Zucc’s back.

Zucc tugs on his earlobe. “Okay, okay.” He nuzzles his nose along Carl’s neck, breath puffing hot against him his skin. Carl shivers, his dick starting to get with the program.

“Let’s take a pic, though, okay? Capture the moment.”

Carl laughs as Zucc digs out his phone.

“You’re a sap.”

Zucc grins, brilliantly. “Shut up and smile.” He pulls their heads close together and Carl does, lips stretched wide, feeling better than he has in a while.

Zucc shows him the pic, and Carl loves the way they look together – loves the clear emotion he can see shining on Zucc’s face.

“Hey,” he says, catching his hand briefly and squeezing it. “Don’t put this one up, okay?”

Zucc nods slowly, like he knows exactly what Carl is thinking. He wants this one to be just for them – symbolic. The start of something new.

“Let’s go, huh? Getting late. ” Zucc says. They take a trail back, their hands brushing together the whole time, anticipation thrumming through Carl like a drum. He can’t wait until after the game – can’t wait to get his hands on Zucc, feel him everywhere.

“Did you plan this whole thing?” Carl asks as they climb into the car.

Zucc looks at him, laughing. “Did I plan to get scratched?”

Carl flips him off. “You know what I mean – what, were you like, rehearsing how you were gonna bring it up while I was teaching you about Baron Friedrich von Steuben?”

Zucc grins sheepishly. “Maybe. “

“‘Maybe,’ my ass!” Carl says, shoving at him. “I should give you a written exam.”

“What do I get if I pass?” Zucc asks, waggling his eyebrows exaggeratedly.

Carl snorts. “You get to take me to dinner.” He may be ready to drop to his knees tonight, but that doesn’t mean Zucc needs to know that.

“You got it,” Zucc says sincerely. Carl looks at him, heart thumping in his chest.

This could get a little messy, probably isn’t the best idea either of them could have, but Carl also knows they can’t go backwards or even stay status quo. The motto for the season has been clean slate: grab it; he plans to.

END.