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the long neon nights

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Nate’s mom is the worst.

Not only are his parents apparently billeting Jo this season (which, what the fuck), Jo is living in his room. When Nate complains to his mom about this she just scoffs at him, and he can practically hear her roll her eyes.

“It’s not like you’re using it, Nathan,” she reminds him, “and he needed a place to live this season. I thought it might as well be somewhere familiar.”

“Yeah, but my room? Mom.”

She ignores him and changes the subject, telling him about what Sarah’s been up to lately (like he hasn’t already heard it all from her - his sister doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘overshare’) and the new pasta recipe she’d found and tried out the other night.

“Yeah, it’s great, getting all these home cooked meals,” Jo brags later. He’d come in while Nate’s mom was still talking and she’d insisted on handing the phone off, and, well, Nate isn’t going to complain. He’s not ashamed to admit he misses Jo. They’ve spent the last two years being together nearly twenty-four seven. Obviously it’s going to be an adjustment to be apart. Especially since Jo’s back home, so they’re not even going to be able to see each other at Colorado-Tampa games.

Nate tries not to think about that part too much.

“Hey, it’s late out there,” he says instead. “What have you been up to?”

“Party at one of the new guys’ house. His billets are out of town, so I ended up playing DD,” Jo says, all nonchalant.

“You drove yourself? I’m impressed,” Nate teases. “Did you get a car and everything?”

“No, I’m driving yours.”

Nate makes a very undignified sputtering sound. Jo laughs, and Nate swears in his head, because he misses that stupid laugh.

“Wait, are you taking your girlfriend out in my car?” His face screws up. “Dude. Gross. If I hear about any inappropriate behavior in my car - or in my room for that matter, and especially on my bed - you’re going to be in so much trouble.”

“Oh yeah? What are you gonna do about it? You’re all the way in Denver.”

“Not forever.”

Jo laughs like he’s fucking delighted that Nate’s so annoyed. “Yeah, okay, big talker. We’ll see. But no, I got dumped, so no dates lately. No promises about the future, though.”

Nate frowns. “Emily dumped you?”

“Yeah. Doesn’t like the crazy schedule or something, I don’t know. Maybe it’s the Movember ‘stache.” Jo doesn’t sound terribly concerned about it, so Nate just follows his lead and shrugs it off, changing the subject to how unbelievably shitty Factor’s been about rookie pranks lately, seriously, fuck him.

 

:::

 

They make a point to text every day, and talk as often as they can. Sometimes they even skype, and this time, Jo’s laying on Nate’s bed when Nate opens the call. Nate’s stomach jumps a little, and he firmly tells himself to calm down.

Now is not the time for his dumb crush on Jo to rear its ugly head.

“So, did you realize you have ten different hockey posters in here?” Jo says conversationally, hands laced over his chest. He’s got the laptop sitting on him, and he’s propped up against the pillows - Nate’s pillows - and Nate swallows, trying not to think of all the times last year that he imagined Jo there in a very different context.

He’s not fucking pining, okay, but like - this is the very definition of ‘dirty pool’.

“I did realize that, Jonathan,” he says, a bit snippily. “Since I was the one that put them up.”

“I get the Mooseheads poster, I really do. We won the Mem Cup,” Jo continues, shaking his head, “but Nate, you’ve got three different Sidney Crosby posters in here, and that’s not counting the Penguins one hanging by your closet. And the other five are all Avs posters. Old ones.”

“Are you judging me right now?” Nate’s fingers itch with how much he wants to be in that room with Jo, explaining that there’s meaning behind each poster, telling him each stupid story, grabbing him and wrestling him back onto the bed when he inevitably starts being a little shit again.

“Maybe a little.” Jo’s got that toothy grin going, eyes crinkling up at the corners, and it’s almost painful how much Nate wants.

Being thousands of kilometers away from the person whose pocket you’d pretty much lived in for the last two years is really, really hard, turns out.

Okay, maybe he is pining.

 

:::

 

But see, the thing is - the thing is - he could handle it if it was just him pining for Jo like, feelings-wise. Doing it thousands of kilometers away isn’t really that different from doing it in the seat next to him on the bus, or in their shared hotel room on roadies.

Nate’s problem is that he’s still constantly looking for Jo on the ice. It’s ingrained now, the knowledge that he could simply turn his head and Jo would be there waiting to receive his pass. He loves the guys here in Denver, and he’s gotten to play with some really talented players - Jamie and P.A. are great linemates, and Gabe’s a pretty good captain, but a better road roomie; Factor’s an asshole, but so is every other guy in the NHL barring freaks like Matty and Stamkos.

But there’s nothing like the feeling of playing with Jo. They can practically read each other’s minds on the ice - no, there’s no practically about it. He always knows, without question, where Jo is going to be, and vice versa. It’s an incredible thing, and Nate knows how rare it is. He tried not to take it for granted, especially not those last few games when they were fighting for the championship.

He doesn’t think about it too much off the ice, unless he’s actually talking to Jo, but sometimes late at night on the road he can’t sleep and his thoughts drift until that’s inevitably where they land. On Jo, and how he was always there with the perfect pass. How he was always in exactly the right place to receive Nate’s. How he would bury his face in Nate’s neck after a goal. Little things that add up to Nate tormenting himself by reliving them.

They’re on different teams now. Even if Jo is still playing for Halifax, he got drafted by Tampa Bay, and it’ll be almost ten years before they’ll be free agents. The chances of them getting traded to each other’s team are basically nonexistent, because fate doesn’t work that way, and anyway Nate doesn’t want to leave the Avs. They’re his team, for better or worse, and he likes playing here.

Still, a traitorous voice in the back of his head reminds him, Parise liked playing in New Jersey, and he and Suter eventually made it happen.

He groans, shoving his pillow over his head to block out Gabe’s snores and, hopefully, his own thoughts. He’s got skate in the morning.

 

:::

 

One thing that Nate will never admit to is having a subscription to the Q’s online streaming service. It could be explained away easily enough given that he used to play in the Q. Watching his old junior team’s games isn’t that weird, but sometimes he gets the feeling that Gabe like, knows. He’s caught Gabe giving him sympathetic looks while he’s been on the phone with Jo in their room on the road before, and there have been leading comments that Nate hasn’t taken the bait on.

Watching Jo play is addictive, surprisingly. He’s so good this season, head and shoulders above literally everyone else in the league. There was one stretch in November where he was averaging just over three points per game, and Nate couldn’t watch his games on the plane for fear of having an incredibly inappropriate-for-public reaction.

Which just makes it that much less fun when Jo finds him out one day.

They’re on the phone, talking about anything and everything, and somehow they get onto the subject of Halifax’s recent stretch of games. Jo mentions a play he’d made, and Nate comments on how Jo looked on it before he can catch himself.

“Oh, my pass looked good?” Jo sounds smug. “Tell me more. Let’s start with how you saw it.”

“Fuck off.”

“Have you been watching my games, Nathan?”

Nate can feel his face burning. This is ridiculous. It shouldn’t be a huge deal to admit to Jo that he’s been watching the games. Most of the guys he played with are still there. Him checking in on the team is totally normal.

“Maybe,” he says finally, knowing that as comebacks go, that’s pretty much as lame as they get. “Fuck off, it’s my team too, or it was anyway.”

Jo giggles.

“Quit laughing at me, asshole.”

“No, sorry, just - Nate. I didn’t buy a GameCenter subscription to watch Tampa play.”

“...oh.”

Nate’s face is still burning, but he’s grinning as he lets out a breath that he didn’t realize he’d been holding. “Thank god. It’s a little less embarrassing if you’re doing it too.”

“Only a little, though?” Jo’s voice is low, warm, and he sounds amused, but not in a mean way, just like he’s not surprised that even with nearly an entire continent between them, they’re still this codependent.

“Some things never change, eh?” is all he says, rubbing the back of his neck in a nervous gesture he’s really trying to quit.

“Guess not.”

For a few moments they just sit there, the silence comfortable, and if Nate closes his eyes and pretends they’re back on the bus or in some random hotel room on the road, Jo feet away from him instead of thousands of kilometers, well, no one has to know.

 

:::

 

What all this leads to is that, when the Olympic break rolls around, Nate gives it all of about three minutes’ thought before he changes his plans and gets on a plane.

He’d originally intended to stay in Denver, spend some time getting to know his new city, bond with the other teammates that weren’t going to Sochi and hadn’t jetted off to parts unknown but undoubtedly warmer than Colorado in winter. But then he wakes up the morning after they get home from Long Island and realizes that Denver isn’t where he wants to be, and he finally has the chance to do something about how homesick he’s been feeling all year.

So he buys a ticket and hops on the next plane, which is soon enough that he barely has time to throw a bunch of stuff into his bags, make sure he’s got his passport, and convince Jiggy to drive him to the airport so he doesn’t have to leave his truck there for two weeks.

By the time he gets home it’s early evening, because layovers are stupid and taxis are terrible, but his mother’s face when she opens the front door (his hands are full, shut up) makes it totally worth it.

“Oh, honey, it’s so good to see you,” she says again once she finally lets him go. They haven’t made it out of the foyer yet. When Nate steps back, he sees that she’s kind of dressed up.

“Good to see you too, Mom. Are you going somewhere?” he asks, gesturing to her outfit.

“Oh, your father and I are going out for dinner. We don’t have to, though,” she hurries to add, but Nate shakes his head.

“I’m here for like two weeks, Mom, go.”

They do leave, but only after his father hugs him (once) and his mother hugs him again (about six times). Nate has the house all to himself then, and it’s nice and quiet, no kids running around and making noise. Thinking longingly of a nap after all the traveling he’s done today, he swings his bags over his shoulder and heads upstairs. He barely manages to stay awake long enough to strip his shirt off and change to sweatpants before he completely passes out.

When he wakes up, still groggy, it’s a lot darker. The lamp is on, and Jo is sitting beside him, alternating between staring at Nate and tooling around on his phone.

“That’s fuckin’ creepy, Jo,” he says, rubbing at his eyes, not even bothering to sit up. “Why are you in my bed?”

“Technically this is my room right now,” Jo reminds him. “So you’re the one sleeping in my bed, Goldilocks.”

Nate shoves at him weakly. “My room first.” He yawns, struggling to pull himself into a sitting position. “Did you guys beat Moncton?” he asks on another yawn.

“Yep.”

“And how many points did you have, Super Mario junior?”

“Four.”

“Of course you did.”

“Would’ve had five, but the fuckers called off one of my goals.” Jo puts his phone to the side and finally turns to look at Nate. “Hey.”

Nate grins. “Hi.”

If you asked him later what prompted him, he wouldn’t be able to tell you, but there’s something in Jo’s face that looks promising, there has to be, because there’s no other reasonable explanation for why he leans over and captures Jo’s lips with his own - just a quick, light kiss, but one that’s got his heart racing nonetheless.

Fuck. This is why he came home.

Jo narrows his eyes at Nate, though, and Nate feels like he’s going to throw up.

“What?”

“Well, nothing, I just thought you had a rule about no ‘inappropriate behavior’ on your bed,” Jo says slowly. His eyes are shining, crinkled up at the corners because of his stupid smile, and Nate shoves him in the shoulder. Hard.

“Fucking - I hate you,” he says adamantly, and then completely ruins that statement by sliding his hand around the back of Jo’s neck and pulling him in for another kiss. There’s nothing light or quick about this one. It’s drawn out, his lips returning to Jo’s over and over, like he can’t get enough. Jo’s hand landed on his thigh at some point, and he’s squeezing, and Nate groans, because his parents are going to be home far too soon for this to go anywhere that he wants it to.

When he voices this thought, though, Jo just grins at him again. “Yeah, but they both have work tomorrow, and I don’t have practice.”

Nate rolls his eyes, dragging his lips down Jo’s jaw to mouth at his neck. “Because we totally have that much self control.”

“You could always go sleep on the couch.”

“Fuck off, it’s my room.”

“Then I guess you’re just going to have to deal with sleeping next to my hot bod.”

“Say hot bod again, see if I don’t stop.”

He actually does stop after a while, but it’s okay, because by then he and Jo are curled around each other and pretty drowsy. “Hey,” he says quietly, dragging his fingers across Jo’s skin just because he can, taking advantage of where Jo’s shirt’s been rucked up.

“Hmm?”

“I missed you. Like, a lot.”

“I had no idea,” Jo drawls quietly. He yelps when Nate slaps him, palm open, on his stomach. “Ow, tabarnak, Nate, fine, I missed you too.”

“Good, I’m glad,” Nate says, well aware of how petulant he must sound. “Just - it’s good, in Denver, but it’s not the same without you.”

“I know what you mean.” Jo drops a kiss behind Nate’s ear like it’s the easiest thing in the world. “I like being back with the guys, but I feel like I’m always expecting you to be out there with me, you know?”

Nate snorts. “Yeah, I know the feeling.”

“One day,” Jo murmurs. He’s already almost asleep, head tucked into the curve where Nate’s neck meets his shoulder. “Suter and Parise, just like I said at the draft.”

“Mmm, okay. If you say so.” Nate smiles to himself, wiggling down a little bit so that he can pull the covers over both of them.

One day.