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I can't hold out forever

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Brenda knows the second the puck hits her fingers that it’s not good. It’s really not good. It is so far from good that she has to clench her teeth against the scream. Her body is shaking with mild shock as she forces herself to the bench to the trainers and their waiting hands. Nobody hesitates. She’s shuffled down the tunnel before they even ask her what’s wrong.

Not that it isn’t obvious. She has two fingers that definitely should not be bent at that angle and the pain is excruciating. She’s gritting her teeth so hard her jaw is cramping by the time someone comes over with the numbing needle.

“Fuck, Gallagher, could you have done more damage?” Claude asks as he looks over her hand. The numbing doesn’t take long to kick in and she can finally relax, even a little bit.

“Probably,” she says eventually, because it’s true. She’s tiny by hockey standards, and she makes up for it by being the little bee in everyone’s ear. She’s damn well known for driving the net and ending up in the back of it, for talking shit and refusing to take any.

“Definitely broken. You’re going to be horseshoe-up-your-ass lucky if you don’t need surgery.”

Claude’s not wrong and Brenda knows it. She grits her teeth again as they splint her fingers to get to her gear, strip her down to her Under Armour and bundle her into a car. The ride is excruciating, even with the numbing agent. Every bump feels twice as big and she hisses on every jolt, dropping her head back to the seat.

“Remind me, never again,” she says.

Claude just laughs at her.


 

She is, of course, not horseshoe-up-her-ass lucky. Surgery sucks and so does life, when you’re injured. Brenda knows this. She knows this very well. Carey’s been brutal since her injury and she’s heard the damn stories from Sid’s concussion years, Ryan’s shoulder, and that’s entirely separate from all the guys she’s seen firsthand over the years.

They all get cranky. They get grouchy, but when you’re the bright shining sunshine of the Canadiens organization - sorry PK - the grumpiness and frustration holds a whole other edge. She has a hard time even going into the locker room when the guys are there right now, even if she can paste on a smile for the trainers and the rehab staff.

She just wants to play hockey. It’s all she’s ever wanted. Not having hockey makes her...well, not the bright shining sunshine, that’s for sure. Not that she can be blamed for it, but she knows that for some of the guys it does feel like a bit of a blow. She can’t even cheer them up in the room these days.

And the other women try to help, they really do. Marcia flies in with the Rangers and in true Marcia form, gets them both spectacularly wasted. Steph sends her videos and GIFs of cute baby animals every other day and maybe Brenda’s imagining it, but there are more photos of Dani’s kids in the group chat. Even Sid sends her a message every week, as if it’s Brenda’s first time being injured and she doesn’t know how it works.

It sucks, I get it. But listen to your doctors.

thnx mom.

I’m serious, Gally.

i kno n im serious 2. Thnx.

It’s all very surreal and vaguely hilarious.

Then there’s Carey. Carey, who every fourth day or so whips up something that is decidedly not in their diet plans, not that Brenda will tell anyone, ever. It’s hard enough keeping Carey’s cooking skills secret outside the team and the women and this is something Brenda’s not willing to share at the moment. Well, she has to share with PK, but that’s par for the course.

Carey’s food is a comfort, as is the woman herself, even if others could be forgiven for missing it because all she does is scowl and stare moodily into the distance like she’s Clint Eastwood. There’s just something about the two of them being in the same boat, that there’s someone who knows exactly what she’s going through, that makes most days bearable.

This is not most days.

Brenda’s knee-deep in a moping spiral somewhere in the middle of week three when the knock sounds on her door. She frowns at it, not really looking forward to visitors and definitely not expecting anyone. There isn’t a single message that mentions someone coming by.

But, of course, Alex doesn’t always send a head’s up.

“Hey,” she sighs, and steps back. She can’t deny that she’s happy to see him because Alex won’t ask anything of her. He never has. Not more than she can give anyway, and as grumpy as he is, he always seems to know exactly what she needs the moment she needs it. If she wants silence then there’s no better person on the team to give it to her. If she wants to be grumpy, Alex isn’t going to poke her and try to make her change her mood.

“Hi,” he answers and steps in when she makes room. “Anna wanted to send you things.”

She makes a grabby hand. Alex’s mouth tilts up in a smirk that makes Brenda smile despite herself. “No fair, withholding presents from sick people.”

“You’re not sick,” he retorts, still smug, stripping his coat off his shoulders. “You’re injured.”

She waves a dismissive hand. “Whatever. You’re still hoarding presents.”

“I can keep ‘hoarding’ them if you’re not going to be nice.”

Brenda flashes him her absolute brightest smile. He’s one of the few she’s actually been able to summon it for and she sees the way he softens just the tiniest bit. “Hey,” she says, a little peppier now because she has to and she’s terrible at holding on to impulses. “I’m glad you’re here.”

“Yeah?” he asks, like he doesn’t know.

“Yeah,” she answers because it’s true. Carey’s just as grumpy as she is, and she always feels like she has to put on some form of happiness with everyone else. But not Alex. Never Alex. So she lets this smile falter just a little around the edges. “It really, really sucks, Chucky.”

He makes a disgruntled noise but reaches for her nonetheless, getting his arm around her neck to yank her in. Brenda goes and breathes out heavily when he squeezes her shoulders. “Next time maybe block the shot somewhere that has more padding.”

She whines into his shoulder, clenches her good hand in his sweatshirt. “It sucks.”

She feels his hum in his chest more than she hears it, with the way her face is buried in the collar of his shirt. “Come on. I’ll let you sulk on the couch.”

God, he’s the best.

She curls up against him, his arm along the back of her couch as she tucks herself into his side. She reaches for the bag he’s left at his feet, carefully resting her bad hand on his leg. She pulls out the Fuzzy Peaches first, a giant bag that is not at all nutritionist-approved but makes her smile. The magazines come next, trashy ones that aren’t really Brenda’s thing, but are Anna’s and come complete with a post-it note to text Anna with any commentary.

There are makeup cloths with a note that they’re good just to feel a little bit cleaner, and the good hand cream that Anna, Brenda’s sure, smuggles into the country because she has no idea where Anna gets it, but swears by it in Montreal’s winter. When she pulls out the dry shampoo, she gets teary. She can’t help herself. Showering kind of sucks and she hates that she can barely get her body clean, let alone her hair.

“It’s just shampoo,” Alex murmurs, surprised.

Brenda shakes her head. “My fingers are broken.”

“I know that,” and his voice is a little irritated and pissy.

“No but… I can’t do anything .” She sniffles again. “I can’t clean, I can’t cook, I can’t even play NHL let alone actually get on the ice. I’m never blocking another shot, to matter what Coach says. I’m not.”

“Brenda-“

“And, like, I can’t even get myself off.”

Alex goes still against her, but she’s on a roll. It’s been piling up in her, clogging her chest as she tries to deal with the fact that the one thing she wants more than anything else is something she cannot do. And Alex… He’s her Alex. If she can’t tell him, who can she tell?

“It really sucks, Chucky. It really, really sucks.” Orgasms relieve stress, okay, and she has a lot of that right now. Stress, not orgasms. Hence some of her crabiness.

“I can help.”

She tilts her head, letting it loll back in the curve of his elbow. “What, you’re going to play NHL for me? I don’t think it works that way, Chuck.”

“No.” He swallows, looking weirdly eager and weirdly awkward. “Get off.”

Brenda sits up and turns fast enough that she whacks her hand on the back of the couch. She hisses in pain and Alex shifts towards her, takes her hand softly in his own. He doesn’t do anything else, just holds it, stroking his fingers along her wrist until the pain recedes.

“Okay,” she says, once she can breathe again. “I swear you just said you’d help me get off.”

Alex shrugs, but Brenda’s known Alex too long not to see the strangeness to the movement, so small and stilted. “You can’t do it yourself.”

Brenda considers that for a moment. She probably shouldn’t, but it’s not like her libido’s taken a hit with her broken fingers. Shattered fingers, whatever. She’s been moping and pouting about it for weeks now and she, well. She really does need to get off. A good orgasm should settle down the humming energy she cannot work off.

“Chucky- Alex.”

“It’s just…” He blushes and Brenda grins. God, he’s so adorable. “It’s just once, right?”

“One orgasm or one time? Because I gotta tell you Chuck, if you’re in for this, one orgasm ain’t gonna cut it.”

He shudders, actually shudders and Brenda’s a little less cautious and a little more into the idea. It’s not like she doesn’t know Alex is attractive and she knows for a fact he thinks the same of her. They’re just teammates, bros, and not on the list of people they could actually fuck around with.

Except...

“Chuck?”

His mouth goes tense, jaw almost ticking. Determined. Brenda’s always been a fan of determined Alex. Good things happen when Alex is set on something. “Just bros.”

She gets a hand on his knee for balance as she leans in to peck his cheek. “Chucky, you’re my favourite.”

“Alex. If we’re-” He swallows. “Alex.”

Brenda hovers there, so close to his cheek. Her lips brush just barely against the patchy beard that’s still trying to grow in. She swallows in anticipation. “Alex.”

He turns his head, just a little, just enough, and they are bros, sure, but Brenda’s definitely had a couple of fantasies about kissing that mouth. Now, she can and she does, carefully, slowly, because she’s done casual sex and she knows not everyone is into kissing when it’s not something that’s going to carry past the night.

Alex though, Alex is into kissing. Definitely and really into kissing if the sound he makes against her mouth is any indication. She gasps back and there’s a split second, like they’re both just absorbing what’s about to happen. Then Alex surges up and into her, gets his hand tangled in her braid as he angles her head the way he wants. Brenda bites back, is less surprised than she’d thought when her teeth against his bottom lip makes him make a sound that is oh so close to a whimper. It sends sparks along her nerves and she leans further into him, overbalancing them both and flattening him against the couch cushions.

He breaks away with an awkward sound that turns into the edges of a chuckle. “I think we can do better than a couch.”

Brenda knows her eyes are shining and feels it in the way she grins at him. “I have a bed.”

His eyes are so blue and so hot, his fingers pressing briefly against her skull as his hand tenses. It tugs on her hair just a little and Brenda gasps. “Yeah,” he agrees, voice low and raspy. It dances along her body in trembles and shivers. “That sounds good.”

It’s a little daunting, it turns out. Her hallway isn’t long and it’s not like they have to take twists and turns or long elevator rides, but somewhere along the way, a sliver of nerves creeps into Brenda’s chest. She chews her lip as she ventures further into her room, noting the messy bed and the clothes thrown haphazardly at the bottom of the closet.

But then Alex is pressing a palm to her back, curling his fingers in her t-shirt and tugging her back against his body. His hand slides around her hip and he leans in to press the ghost of a kiss against her neck. Then his fingers are slipping down, tucking beneath the waistband of her sweats. He pauses there, like he’s waiting and it takes Brenda a minute to catch up, nerves and anticipation throbbing in her blood.

“Yeah,” she says finally, reaches down to wrap her fingers around his wrist. He towers behind her, a strange sort of surprise. She forgets that Alex curls in on himself, that she’s actually so tiny compared to most hockey players. Built, yes, but small. “Alex, yes.”

His hand slips beneath her sweats, right between her thighs where she’s already damp. She’s not soaking through her panties, not yet, but there’s a wet sort of friction when Alex presses against the cotton and puts pressure along her slit.  Her hips arch, desperate for more and her fingers squeeze. He hisses into her neck.

“Fuck, Bren. My wrist.”

It takes so much willpower to let him go, if for no other reason than he hasn’t removed his hand from between her thighs. Instead, he presses in and strokes again, bringing his other hand in to lift hers to his hair. She grips the strands like a lifeline, aware in an absent sort of way that she’s definitely pulling. Alex doesn’t seem to care, just finally, finally slips her panties to the side so he can brush against her, skin on skin.

Jesus, she loves hockey callouses.

Her body arches, trembles, but everything stops when she knocks her fingers against his forearm and pain flares enough to make her whimper. He hisses, kisses gently beneath her ear and ignores the second whimper she releases when he pulls his fingers from her panties. He hushes her softly, nips at her earlobe. She feels the cotton of her t-shirt rise against her stomach and raises her arms. He’s quick and efficient about stripping her, herding her towards the bed and Brenda can’t stop the way it makes her feel, like he has something in mind, like he’s planned for this.

“Come on, Bren.”

She tries not to tumble to the bed, she really does, but Alex is insistent against her and she sprawls inelegantly over the mussed sheets. She gets distracted when he grabs the back of his shirt and yanks it over his head - and look, Brenda is not oblivious, even she’s noticed how much more built Alex has looked this year - and shucks his sweats. There’s a bulge in his boxer-briefs that makes Brenda swallow thickly around the lump in her throat.

He surprises her when he takes the wrist of her injured hand and presses it insistently up by her ear. “You can’t move it,” he tells her, low and serious. She nods, but he doesn’t look convinced. “Promise me.”

She swallows again. This is doing it for her, the easy way he takes control, the way he thinks about keeping her from hurting even more. “Promise,” she says and god, she doesn’t really sound much better than he does. And he hasn’t even done more than stroke her a few times and strip her down to her skin.

His callouses slide over her sides, trace patterns while he watches her every reaction. She gasps when he ghosts his fingers under the swell of her breasts, his eyes fixed on the way her chest heaves. He groans and shifts his weight, leaning down to press his mouth down the line of her sternum. His hand cups her breast, palm just brushing her nipple and Brenda’s hips come sharply off the bed, her body convulsing. Alex rears back.

“No. No, no, no,” she breathes desperately, reaching out to grab his forearm, keep him close. “I’m good. I’m… really good just… sensitive.”

Alex’s adam’s apple bobs. “Sensitive.”

Brenda nods. “Come on. Touch me. Watch.”

He lets her guide his hand back to her breast until he’s brushing his fingers so, so gently over her nipple. Her eyes flutter as her back arches into the touch, body coming alive. His fingers circle the peak of her breast as he watches her face. She can feel her hips moving, little aborted thrusts as he touches her. His eyes are so intense and when she shifts against him, she can feel where he’s hard in his boxers. He groans the next time she deliberately presses into him. She moans her displeasure when he lifts his hand from her breast, even as his fingers dance down over her stomach. Her muscles tremble at the tease of a touch.

“Alex,” she breathes, “Alex, come on.”

“What?” he rumbles back. There’s still awe in his face, but there’s a smugness there too that has her flipping between wanting to slap him and wanting to pull him in and devour . “You wanted me to touch you.”

Her eyes flutter closed as he traces irregular patterns over her abs. Every brush is a thread of sensation and Brenda cannot remember the last time she’d been this wet without doing it herself. Her hips keep pushing up, wanting more. “Not to tease.”

“No?” And he is an asshole because while he does slide his fingers down over the thin skin of her hips and between her thighs, it’s without any of the pressure she really wants. It feels good, it does, but it isn’t enough. “Sure?”

Brenda groans. “You said you’d help me, not torture me.”

“You saying it doesn’t feel good?”

Fuck. Fuck. She’s done a very good job over the last couple of years very deliberately not thinking about how she would totally be down for sleeping with Alex. She’s avoiding thinking about this exact scenario, the way he’d spread her out (especially this year, Jesus, the build of him should be illegal) and it doesn’t just feel good, it feels amazing . Better than her imagination could ever conjure.

“I’ll stop,” Alex continues, almost conversationally, fingers soft along her inner thighs, one palm pressing against her lower stomach. “If you can tell me I’m not making you feel good.”

Which would be a lie and they both damn well know it. Brenda can feel the flush on her face, the way it extends down her chest and over her breasts. As if how wet she is isn’t a good enough indicator. She bites her lip for a moment before she slides her good hand down her own stomach. She slips her fingers between her folds easily, her fingers slicking up with barely any work, any pressure as she circles her clit. She feels Alex go still over her, his fingertips curling on her stomach as his other hand grips her thigh until it just hurts.

“Looks like you don’t need help.”

She shakes her head, even as she doesn’t stop touching herself, reaching for him with her bad hand. He catches her wrist easily, presses it back to the pillow. It leaves him leaning up and over her, ranging large and mostly naked and it is not a view she’s going to get over any time soon. He looks down and Brenda shudders, totally into the stern way he’s glaring at her.

“Jesus, Gally, what did I say about your hand?”

She arches up, shifting to get a leg around his hip in an attempt to pull him down against her. She wants his skin against hers while he’s doing her this awesome favour.

“Not to move my hand. See? Totally shouldn’t be left to get myself off. What if I forget again?”

He growls and it sends heat through her. She tries to pull him down again and she’s strong, but he has leverage and dammit, he does not move. “You’re a menace.”

Brenda nods vigorously, gleefully. “Gonna do something about it?”

Alex leans down and she thinks, for a moment, that he’s going to kiss her, even leans up for it. Instead, his nose nudges against her cheek, then he leans in a little further and sinks his teeth into her neck.

“Fuck,” Brenda gasps, arching up as he presses down. It pins her hips to the bed and she moans. It’s a lot all at once.

“Come on,” he says into her shoulder, sucking at her skin. It’s going to leave a glorious mark and Brenda thrills at the idea. She lets him tug her arm from her stomach, feels him pause before bringing her hand to his mouth. The hand that had just been between her thighs. He inhales and she watches his eyes flutter before he sucks on her fingers, tongue swirling around her knuckles.

“Holy shit, Alex,” she gasps and his eyes blink open just as his tongue flicks between her fingers. “Alex.”

He pulls her fingers out with an obscene pop, eyes dark and wanting. “Bren, can I?”

She swallows because it’s not her thing. She doesn’t like being exposed like that. “I-”

“Please?”

She threads her good hand through his hair now. “I don’t like it.”

“At all?” She thinks about kissing him for no other reason than the lack of incredulousness in his voice. It also gives her a moment to breathe, so she tugs him down. Alex shifts as he goes, as he kisses her, pressed against her from shoulder to hip, to knee. He shifts just a little, off to the side, and she feels his palm against her hip before he slides it in, in, and between her thighs.

Her hand clenches in his hair as he slicks up his fingers, her head tilting back and breaking the kiss. Alex wastes no time getting his mouth on her neck and throat. Brenda moans and whimpers, rocks into the way he circles her clit. It’s not quite enough, so close, and she keens.

“Shh,” he murmurs into where he’s biting at her collarbone, working on another spectacular bruise. “I’ve got you.”

He does, because he shifts again, manages to get his knees under himself enough to get his mouth around her nipple. He sucks and swirls his tongue around the tip, just as he presses in at her clit, the pressure perfect. Her brain shorts out and her body floods with pleasure.

It must take an embarrassingly long time for her to come back to herself because when she does, Alex is smirking. Brenda barks out a laugh before reaching for him. “Oh man, I totally forgot how great orgasms are when someone else is responsible.”

Alex makes a choked noise. “What?”

“What?” she replies and hums out a sigh.

He pulls back and she releases an embarrassing whine. “You get hit on all the time.”

“Do not,” she retorts as she arches her back in a glorious stretch. “Not by guys that want more than to bang an NHL player. And anyway, it’s a lot of work, hooking up.”

It’s possible Alex looks even more perplexed, even as his eyes drop to the way her breasts shift with every move she makes. “Work?”

“Well yeah,” she shrugs, but she knows she’s smirking too. “Not everyone has hands like yours.”

His eyes flare and he brings the hand in question up to his mouth. This time, it’s his fingers slipping between his lips to lick her taste off of his own skin. Brenda swallows around the thick lump that has formed in her throat. She reaches out without thinking, fingers brushing down the cut of his abs. Her eyes follow until they’re fixed on the hard length of him. She swallows again, drags her hand down until she can curl her fingers around his cock. He doesn’t make a sound and Brenda’s eyes fly up to his face. His eyes have fluttered closed and she can see the way he’s working to keep himself steady. She licks her lips, can’t help herself when Alex reaches down to wrap his fingers around her wrist.

She feels a grin curl the corner of her mouth as she shifts against the sheets, getting comfortable. “Hey Alex. Wanna fuck me?”

Air rushes harshly out of his lungs, loud in the quiet of her room. “Yeah.”

“You should,” she agrees and maybe isn’t all that surprised at the lack of resistance when she slides her hand up his cock. “There are condoms in the drawer.”

He breaks away from her to dig out a foil package and doesn’t waste time rolling it on. Then he’s sliding his fingers through her slick, testing, where the satisfied feeling of a good orgasm has shifted into aroused emptiness. She sighs.

“Come on. M’good.”

She spreads her thighs as he moves between them. He rocks into the mess of her once, then twice before he reaches down to get the right angle. He’s slow about it, whether it’s because he needs it or because he’s finally put two and two together to figure out she doesn’t do this a lot. Hasn’t done it in a while. Regardless, she’s grateful for it. He’s not abnormally huge or thick, but she can’t deny it’s a stretch.

He drops his head to her shoulder when he’s pressed deep, both of them panting. Brenda lets herself tuck her face into his neck as she adjusts around him. Eventually, slowly, she lifts her legs to curl her feet over his thighs.

“Alex. Move .”

It still takes him more than a few moments, like he has to grab hold of his wits before he gets his arms underneath him. His first thrust is something of a revelation, strong enough to force her to catch her breath. He keeps that strong steady pace, and even though Brenda knows she won’t come again, she sighs and loops her arms over his shoulders. He laughs a little, this awkward thing as his hair drops over his forehead and Brenda feels her fingers twitch with the need to brush it back.

Instead, she links them tighter, tugging his face down until she can kiss him. Well, try to, anyway. He pants into her mouth, her cheek as she peppers kisses along his jaw.

“Gonna come for me, Alex?” she murmurs right against his skin. “Fucked me so good. It’s your turn.”

The only sound he makes is the heavy exhale, but it only takes a few more thrusts before he tenses above her and lets out one long moan. Brenda’s breath catches in her chest, then releases in an ‘oomph’ as he collapses on top of her. Her heart is still pounding, loud enough that she’s sure Alex can hear it. She laughs, an ecstatic burst of sound and smacks a kiss on his shoulder. “Fuck, Alex.”

He turns his face into her neck and Brenda finds herself tangling the fingers of her good hand in his hair just to hold him a little closer. Her heart clenches in a weird and painful way now that they’re done. He has no reason to stay, no reason to…she forcibly shakes the thoughts from her head.

He does, eventually lift his head; he does, eventually pull back. Brenda inhales sharply when he pulls out, and can’t help feeling weirdly like it’s more about being morosely alone again, instead of the gross and uncomfortable feeling of him pulling out. She feels vulnerable, too vulnerable, as he looks down at her.

Alex swallows and with a strange timidity, rests his hand on the flat plane of her stomach. Brenda gropes for him, catches his wrist and holds his hand on her belly. “Um.”

Nothing follows for either of them. Eventually, Alex smiles. “Can I use your shower?”

An answering smile spreads across Brenda’s face, wide and gleeful because Alex is here . “Will you wash my hair?”

“Maybe I didn’t want to share.”

But Brenda’s already bouncing up towards the bathroom. “Come on, please? You’ve already seen me naked. It’s perfect.”

“Who does it when I’m not here.”

“Me,” she says with a frown at the weird, flat tone to his voice because isn’t it obvious?  “Badly. Come on, Chucky.”

He gives in because he always does, both hands deep in her hair, pressing deliciously against her scalp until Brenda’s knees are weak. He draws the line at brushing her hair though, and they finish out the rest of the night on her couch, watching a Bizarre Foods marathon.

“I would eat that.”

“You would not, stop lying!”

“Yes I would, unlike you, you utter chicken!”

“That’s because I’m normal, and you’re insane!”

If she had any doubts about sex making everything weird, they fly out the window after that.


 Anna Galchenyuk shows up two days later. “Come on, Gallagher, you’re coming with me.”

Brenda knows better than to argue. Anna is Tyler and Marcia put together without the muscle, and is therefore even scarier, in Brenda’s opinion. But she’s also awesomely fun, and Brenda’s always up for fun. “Where are we going?”

“Sasha said you’ve been having problems with washing your hair. Why didn’t you tell me sooner? I’m going in for my usual appointment and I made sure they had a chair for you, too.”

“Yeah?” Brenda follows her out, slinging on her coat. “I’m not kicking anyone else out of the chair, am I?”

Anna rolls her eyes. “You’re Brenda Gallagher. Take advantage of it sometime, will you?”

“Can’t, I’d probably have to turn in my Good Canadian™ card,” she jokes and has to move swiftly in order to avoid the kick aimed her way.

“You are so full of shit.”

“Polite shit,” Brenda tells her, beaming.

“You are never polite on the ice.”

“You don’t know that; you’re not on the ice with me.”

“Sasha is not a good secret keeper.”

“He is a lying liar that lies.”

Anna rolls her eyes. “I’d believe that if he talked about you less. But it’s always Brenda this, and Brenda that. I told you, he’s the one that mentioned your hair.”

Brenda doesn’t quite know how to feel about that. He’d helped her wash it after all, had he been judging it, and her, the whole time? Yeah, it was admittedly gross because there’s only so much that dry shampoo and washing with one hand can do but, injuries have to count for something. If the tables were reversed...okay, she’d judge a little, too.

Still, that doesn’t stop her from feeling a little uneasy as she follows Anna into the salon. It’s exactly the kind of place she expects women like Anna to frequent, full of mirrors, shiny black stations, and stylists that wouldn’t look out of place on runways themselves.

“Hello, Brenda? I’m Mhairi, your stylist for today.”

She looks up, and up, and up, and she’s fought Chara, okay? But Mhairi is tall , almost exaggeratedly so by how skinny she is. It’s a little intimidating, until Brenda reminds herself that she could take her in a fight. And maybe that’s something she really needs to stop thinking about when she meets new people.

“Hi, thanks for taking me on such short notice-”

“What did I say about taking advantage?” Anna interrupts, rolling her eyes. “Everyone here is a Habs fan, they were happy to do this.”

“She’s not wrong,” Mhairi laughs, ushering Brenda over to a chair. Her Scottish accent is adorable . Brenda kind of wants to hear her read the phone book. “So, you need something easy to maintain with your injury?”

Mhairi’s hair is similar to something Dani had a few years ago, with a fade on both sides and long and textured on top. “Could I have something like yours?” she asks contemplatively. “Not with the fades because I don’t think it would work on me, but…”

“Short sides and longer top, lots of texture?” Mhairi scrutinizes her, and nods. “Your bone structure is surprisingly delicate, I think I could come up with something to really play that up.”

“She doesn’t look like a shit, but she really, truly is,” Anna comments wickedly from the next chair. Brenda flips her the bird while Mhairi and Roxanne, Anna’s stylist, laugh. “See what I mean?”

“The Habs wouldn’t be the same without it.” Mhairi then pulls Brenda over to the shampooing station, and the process begins. She almost falls asleep in the shampoo chair, but who doesn’t, and she’s more than a little fascinated at the complex process Anna goes through with dyeing her hair - who knew blonde could be so complicated?

“Maybe I’ll go for color next time,” she muses. “I’ve seen all those Instagram photos with like, rainbow hair. That would be awesome.”

“Yes, when you have a functioning hand that can maintain the color properly,” Anna says. “There’s no way you could do it now.”

“Rainbow hair would be a lot of fun, just let me know when you want to do it,” Mhairi promises. Brenda laughs brightly.

“As if I would put my hair in anyone else’s hands after today.”

Mhairi places a hand over her heart. “Aw, shucks.”

Her jaw drops at the final reveal. Her cheekbones look like they can cut glass, and the way the top falls makes her eyes look huge. “Wow,” she manages, surprised by just how good it looks, and despite the shortness, doesn’t make her look like a man. “Mhairi, you’re a genius.”

“All in a day’s work! Come on, I’ll tell you how to style it like this, with or without heat.”

Brenda takes a selfie and puts it in the group chat, which promptly explodes.

Brenda, you’re gorgeous! Steph texts, followed by the heart-eyes emoji. Mike sends a couple of applause and fire emojis.

What a great cut, it really suits you, Dani says and if that isn’t one hell of a compliment, Brenda doesn’t know what is.

They meet Alex for dinner, and she can’t help but preen a little bit at the way his jaw opens and closes a few times before he manages a weak, “Wow.”

Anna smacks the back of his head. “‘Wow’?” That’s all you can say? You’re such a disgrace. She looks like a modern Audrey Hepburn, only she can kill you.”

“Never underestimate Audrey Hepburn, she was pretty badass,” Brenda comments, sliding in beside Alex. “I knew I was too pretty for words.”

He nearly spews his beer across the table. “I never meant - but I mean - you look really pretty,” he finishes lamely.

She flutters her lashes and nearly bursts out laughing at his horrified expression. A quick glance at Anna shows that she’s pretty preoccupied flirting with their waiter, but she lowers her voice anyway. “I’m sure you can inspect it in more detail later.”

“Was that your attempt at inviting me over? If so, it was terrible.” His eyes darken all the same and she can’t help the wave of satisfaction that washes over her.

“Working though,” she says, soft and just a little bit smug.

Alex doesn’t look as amused as she feels, but he does give her a once-over that makes her shiver. “It might be.”

It does.  


 

When the press asks about Brenda and Carey’s simultaneous time on IR, Brenda has a perfectly prepared, press-appropriate response. In reality, Brenda is weirdly grateful. Carey’s stone demeanour means they can be as cranky as they want in the press box and for once in her life, no one’s asking Brenda if it’s that time of the month.

“We should be out there,” she murmurs, chewing on a fingernail. Her stitches are itchy, her skirt suit is uncomfortable and she wants to be on the fucking ice.

Carey looks over at her, face mild and bland. “You could be, if it weren’t for the fact that you suddenly decided you had the skills and padding to be a fucking goalie.” Carey has violent opinions about blocking shots. Brenda’s aware that they are violent opinions she generally keeps very carefully under wraps.

“You were nicer when you weren’t getting laid.”

Carey snorts, her fingers tapping against her thigh. “Still really not in the cards, Gally.”

“Seriously? Fuck. Subby has better self-control than I thought.” She cocks her head to the side. “Also, we all owe Larry a lot of money.”

“For fuck’s sake.”

“You’re surprised?”

Carey, who is sly and a little vindictive, says, “The pool on you and Chucky is probably more. I’m more resigned, bunch of competitive assholes.”

“Me and Chucky?”

“You’re surprised?” Carey parrots and Brenda hates her.

“Why would he date me? He dates models,” she asks, brow furrowed. Are they seriously crazy, thinking that about her and Alex? Carey’s eyebrow climbs her forehead. “Sorry. Sorry.”

Because along with her violent opinions on the shot blocking she has absolutely vicious opinions on the NHL women comparing themselves to other women. They’ve had to blacklist a lot of terms for Carey’s blood pressure and the general self-esteem of the team.

(She read bad press about Latts once, and turned away three rounds of penalty shots from the entire roster in practice. Three rookies cried.)

“Just because Chucky’s dated more than PK doesn’t mean I’m the only one that’s been blind.”

“It’s just while I heal,” Brenda answers automatically, a mantra she’s been repeating to herself. “He was helping me out.”

“Brenda. What the fuck?”

Brenda startles, realizing that Carey’s moved in a lot closer. “What?”

“You’ve been sleeping with Chucky?” she hisses. Is her eye twitching?

“You’re going to sleep with Subby! A lot, because I see how he looks at you and oh my god, Pricey-“

“Brenda Gallagher, what the fuck were you thinking?” Yeah, her eye is definitely twitching.

“It was good!” Carey makes a horrified face and Brenda barrels on because seriously, why all the fuss over something that’s just buddies? “And he offered. I broke my fingers and it makes it hard to get myself off, okay?”

“That is why they invented toys , holy fuck.”

“It was his idea! It’s just bros. We promised it wouldn’t be weird and it hasn’t been. You can’t be pissed off.”

She growls. Why Brenda forgets how terrifying it is, she’ll never know because it makes the hair on her arms stand straight up. There’s a reason why you don’t cross goalies, and Carey Price in particular. “You have to know that this won’t end the way you think it will.”

“What, with me healed and less stressed?”

Carey levels her with a look like she’s actually dumb and it’s kind of not even close to fair, then punches her. Hard. “Ow!”

“You can’t do this to yourself, holy shit.”

“You’re supposed to be supportive, we’re injury buddies!” Not for much longer. The trainers are predicting Brenda will be clear to play for the Winter Classic and Brenda’s pretty pumped. Still, she’s not above using every piece of ammunition.

“This is me supportive,” Carey snaps. Then her brow wrinkles. “It’s different ,” she emphasizes quietly. “It’s a taste, Bren.”

“I’m fine,” Brenda argues. “It will be fine, Pricey.”

“Will it?”

She honestly doesn’t get why Carey won’t let this go. “Chucky and I can sleep together and still be friends.” Because if nothing else, Brenda is both persistent and stubborn and they promised it wouldn’t mess things up.

“Brenda.”

“It works,” Brenda argues. “People do it all the time.”

“People that aren’t you and Chucky,” she huffs. “I’m not saying you can’t be friends with benefits, but...it’s Chucky, Brenda.”

“And? It’s not like I have a claim on him or anything.”

Concern melts into exasperation and Carey shifts back into her seat, shaking her head skeptically.

“It’s just until I’m back in the lineup,” she insists.

Carey’s ‘okay’ is far from convincing but Brenda takes the squeeze of her arm for the solidarity it is.


 Except then she’s cleared. More than that, she’s cleared just in time for the Winter Classic. Brenda loves taking on the Bruins, loves the challenge, the narrative, everything about it. She’s excited to return to the lineup, she’s excited for Condie in net in his hometown and she’s excited for the goddamn Winter bloody Classic. Any hockey is good hockey, but something about playing outside just elevates things to another level.

It shows throughout the game, her play, her skill, her energy and the team responds in kind. She nets a goal in her return, and more than her fair share of ‘fuck offs’ from the Bruins around the net, and she’s buoyant and overflowing when she steps off the ice.

The chat is full of congratulations and praise for her goal, her play, and even triumphant messages from Jordie and Marcia for the facewash she gave Chara. She skims them, if she’s honest, because while it’s nice of them, really (even Carey, who Brenda knows for an absolute fact is missing hockey like a limb) but she can’t focus enough to absorb them, let alone process the words.

All she can see is Alex’s face, the want in his eyes when she’d dressed before the game, the way they’d gone molten when she’d scored, the sheer intensity in his expression when she’d returned to the bench after facewashing Chara. It’s the only not-hockey thing she’s been able to focus on.

She has no idea what she says to the reporters in her post-game. She isn’t sure how she describes her play or being back. She definitely has no idea how she makes it through her shower when she sees the way her hands are shaking in anticipation.

Alex doesn’t sit with her on the bus. PK’s the one that plops into the spare seat and distracts her from the heat in her belly and the way she’s already starting to dampen her panties. Alex doesn’t follow her into the elevator either and Brenda does not pout about it. She doesn’t need him. It would just… be nice not to have to go back to getting herself off.

It has nothing to do with Alex.

At least, that’s what she repeats herself as she strips out of her suit and carefully hangs it up. It’s totally fine for him to look at her like he’d fuck her silly on the fucking bench if that was something she was into and then not show up now that the moment has passed. He doesn’t owe her anything. She’s healed now. Bros who bang no longer applies because he’d just been helping her out while she was injured and-

“Fuck,” she curses when the knock sounds on the door. “Just a minute!” She yanks sweats on as she heads for the door and considers a shirt before shrugging. The lime green bra is fluorescent enough to offend any Hab enough to scare them away and Brenda’s not sure she’s up to going out and celebrating anymore. She yanks on the handle and blinks stupidly at her visitor. “Alex.”

He doesn’t return the greeting as he crowds her back into the room, but his face is a symphony of heat and want. It makes her breath catch embarrassingly as the door slams shut. It’s the crack of a starting gun; it’s the only apt description for what Alex does next: pounce.

He’s got his hands on her ass in a blink and Brenda doesn’t even get time to inhale before he’s lifting her, spreading her thighs to wrap around his hips. It’s a crazy show of strength because sure, she’s small, but she’s also dense and Alex doesn’t seem to feel an ounce.

“Fuck,” she gasps as her back hits the wall and Alex presses all up against her. He nuzzles at her neck until she angles her head just right for his mouth. She makes a noise when he does, hands grappling in his shirt for some sort of grip and grounding. She moans when he shoves just a bit harder, pinning her to the wall so his hands can roam, rough and desperate against her waist, her stomach. Her hips hitch into his on reflex, the ghost of friction a tease that makes her whine.

“Fuck, Bren,” he murmurs into her mouth, nudging at her jaw until she tips her head so he can get at her neck. “I forgot,” he says into her skin. “I forgot how good you are on the ice, what a fucking little shit you are when you drive the net. What your smile looks like under your fucking helmet.” He kisses her again, all tongue and teeth, unrestrained, not that Brenda’s complaining. Jesus, she wants this so bad she’s whimpering with it.

His hands slide around to her back, to the clasp of her bra and he pulls away to discard it, to curl his fingers around her breast. Brenda chokes on air and the noise that wants to crawl up her throat. Alex moans, ducking his head to bite on her collarbone before he hikes her up to get his mouth on her breast. This time, Brenda does cry out, and slaps a hand over her mouth because Patches is fucking next door and no one else needs to know just how awesome Alex’s tongue feels against her nipple.

He doesn’t linger. Instead, he gets his hands under her sweats to palm her ass, tipping her so she has to brace her shoulders and drops her, just a little. It’s enough to wedge his thigh between hers again. He shifts her subtly, squeezes her ass and Brenda gasps as her clit rubs against the hard muscle of his thigh.

“Oh,” she says, when he does it again, setting up a rhythm that has her writhing and shaking, her fingers and blunt nails digging into his shoulders. It doesn’t take long. In fact, she comes embarrassingly quick, hyped up on excitement and anticipation and, in part, the fact that he’s here and he’s touching her when she thought they were done. God is she glad they aren’t because his fingers are curling against her ass in the most glorious of ways, his thigh pressing just right just right and-

He swallows her cries in his mouth and gentles his hand for a few seconds as she comes down. She’s barely back to awareness when he knocks her legs to the floor and shoves her sweats and panties down in one go. His fingers are rough where they grip her thigh, lifting her to dump her on the bed. His eyes are molten blue as they watch her, pinning her under that gaze and her clit aches like she could go again even though she’s just come.

“It’s so good to see you back on the ice,” he rasps, voice like he’s dragging it over gravel. He’s watching her, the inelegant splay of her thighs as he shoves his sweats down and off. Brenda can feel the heat stain her cheeks and moves to close her legs but Alex is there with a gentle hand on her knee. He holds it there, holds her open, eyes not at all turned off by the myriad of scars that scatter her body. He kisses her knee cap slowly, deliberately, an open press of his mouth that inexplicably has her catching her breath.

“I couldn’t stop watching you.” The words press into her skin and her heart thumps. “Fuck, you belong on the ice, driving the net, fucking face washing Chara-”

She barks out a laugh, finally letting her head drop back in the hope that if she can’t see him, she won’t feel so much like he’s inspecting every blemish on her skin. It doesn’t; she can still feel the way he looks at her, the heat of his gaze like a caress that makes her shift uncomfortably.

“Alex,” she whines, and feels the quieting sound he makes against her thigh. “No, just-” She reaches down, left-handed. He catches her fingers easily, has to look down when she feels the gentle way he strokes her finger.

Strokes her scars.

Her stomach is doing violent somersaults as she watches him watch her hand, as he manipulates her fingers. It would be clinical, she thinks, if not for the way he then lifts her hand to his mouth. The whimper she releases is only a little pathetic.

“Come here,” she pleads. “Alex.”

He does, of course he does, lean in to take her mouth. It’s the only phrase for it, for the way he dominates the kiss. Not that Brenda really lets him, per se, but he gets his hand in her hair and holds her there, no matter how hard her nails dig into his shoulders or how violently she tries to flip him. She moans, whines, bites at his mouth to get him to damn well do something. He does eventually apply his mouth to her neck, biting at her collarbone and she writhes at the feel of his teeth on her skin.

“I want to try something,” he says into the top curve of her breast. “Bren-“

“Yes,” she agrees because she’ll agree to almost anything at this point, and curls her fingers into his hair. He’s stubborn when she tries to push and she almost growls as she looks down.

“You’re sensitive,” he murmurs into her skin. It’s a bit of a confusing non-sequitur until he slides his mouth down just a little bit further, exactly where she wants it, and her back bows at the shock of pleasure that zips down her spine. “Like that.”

She mewls, tries to tug him back in. He brings his hand up, pinches quickly at her other nipple and shocks her into paying attention.

“I want to see if you can come like this.”

“Huh?” she asks, so very eloquent. Alex chuckles and leans in again, flicking his tongue quickly over her breast to hear her breath catch. Fuck.

“Like this,” he repeats, wraps his mouth around one nipple and simultaneously slides his thumb over the other. Brenda bites her lip to stifle the way she wants to cry out. “Think you can?”

Well shit. It’s hot, what he wants, just the idea that he could make her come from playing with her breasts. She whines into the hand she’s clapped over her mouth, then pulls it away long enough to say, “Challenge accepted.”

The hearty moan Alex makes against her breast is totally worth it. The way he applies himself to the task is even better and Brenda finds her shoulders pressing hard into the bed just to get more of her breast in Alex’s mouth. Not that Alex seems to think the constant movement of her body is anything other than encouragement.

It’s a bit surreal. Brenda’s no saint and definitely isn’t a virgin, but it would be a lie to say her past partners had been more than wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am. It’s not that she feels like she’s missed out or anything, but Alex is taking his time with her, has been taking his time with her. He tests and experiments, figuring out what works for her as much as he remembers what doesn’t. It leaves her gasping and arching, one hand trying to muffle her sounds while the other clenches in the comforter.

“Fuck, Brenda,” he pants again as he lifts his head to kiss her, trailing his fingers feather-light over her breasts. The change of sensation leaves her mewling and trembling; her stomach clenches. “Close?”

Brenda has to swallow twice before she can say, “More.”

He’s rougher with her after that, a little sloppy with it and Brenda, well… Brenda gets loud. She tells him how good it feels, moans as he hits the right areas of her chest, her neck. He’s true to his word, doesn’t let his hands stray below her hips. Eventually though, he braces himself, thumb digging into her pelvic bone. She doesn’t know if it’s the tight grip she knows will bruise, the bite of his mouth at the sensitive curve of her breast or the way he rubs his thumb back and forth over her nipple, but it’s the final straw. She turns her head on the pillow and has to stifle the noises she makes as she comes.

She expects him to be gentle, easy now that she’s come twice, maybe a little adorable when he raises his head and asks to fuck her – which yes because Brenda’s really sure she’s incapable of saying no to that request – but Alex does none of those things. Instead, he kisses her breastbone, pushes her thighs apart and slides two fingers right inside.

She’s embarrassingly wet. It’s the smoothest slide that Brenda’s pretty sure she wouldn’t even feel if it weren’t for the fact that, after two orgasms, it rides along the edge of too much. She shudders and clenches both hands in the sheets.

“Too much?” Alex pants, raising his head. He presses his thumb to her clit and Brenda’s body arches into the pleasure-pain as she tries to catch her breath. Her head moves side-to-side, the closest negative she can offer him because fuck, the way his thumb is circling her clit so carefully and the way his fingers are rubbing against her in all the right places…

“Alex,” she gasps, and he swears, speeding up his fingers just a little and Brenda fucking comes again.

“Holy shit,” she hears Alex say just as she tumbles over the edge. Everything whites out for a few beats as Alex’s touch softens, shifting away from the arousal he’s been stoking since he shoved her against the wall. She feels him move, his fingers slipping out from inside her. Her pathetic noise is met with a gentle hum as he spreads himself over her. It’s exactly what she needs and she manages to get her arms around his shoulders, her legs around his hips and just holds on.

“I’ve got you,” he’s murmuring when her brain starts to clear. “I’ve got you.”

Brenda presses her mouth helplessly to his neck, tightens her arms and legs. Alex bites back something she thinks she could charitably call a whimper and it takes the gentle rock of his hips to remind her he’s been holding off for her.

“Holy fuck, Alex,” she says into his jaw and rocks her hips again. “How did you-?”

This time, the sound he makes is definitely a whimper as he thrusts against her hip. She threads her hand into his hair, sighs at the tired jolts of quasi-pleasure every press of his pelvis sends through her overwrought nerves. She’s done, she can’t go again but… “Want to fuck me, babe?”

He groans into her shoulder. “S’good,” is what she finally manages to make out. “Just-“

His hips start moving in earnest, rubbing himself off against her skin. Brenda bends her legs back a little further, tilts her own hips and manages to accidentally change the angle enough that he slides through the absolute mess between her thighs. The sounds he makes then is as much of a keen as it is a moan and Brenda…

“Fuck, Alex, come on, babe,” she finds herself saying, pressing her mouth to his temple. She slips a hand down to palm his ass and Alex’s hips jolt. He groans into her neck as he comes over her hips and belly.

She croons nonsense into his ear as his hands stay clenched in the sheets by her shoulders. Brenda’s heart beats hard in her chest, not in arousal, but in something else. It makes it difficult to swallow, let alone speak, so she drops her head to the pillows and just kind of holds on.

When Alex finally raises his head, it’s to kiss her. Brenda lets him, of course she does, kissing him back as her stomach ties itself in knots. It’s easy and Alex gives her a small smile when he pulls away. He looks a little sheepish and Brenda tries to keep her face smooth and neutral as he tucks her hair behind her ear.

“Wash your back?” he asks softly.

Brenda can’t stop the way everything tightens in her. She’s weak for Alex though and puts on her most disarming smile. “Least you could do. Look at the mess you made.”

Alex’s eyes go hot. She’ll give him the smugness, at least for a little while, especially since her legs collapse beneath her when she goes to stand. He guides her to the shower with a steady grip on her hips, hands soothing as he scrubs her down. He follows her back to bed after that, curls up behind her. It’s nothing they haven’t done before, but the stupid butterflies in Brenda’s stomach says it sure as hell feels different. He murmurs something into the back of her shoulder, the Russian smooth against her skin.

“Hm?”

She’s too exhausted and a little too out of it to inspect why he’s gone stiff behind her. “I just… I missed you.”

Brenda sighs and lets herself snuggle back. He’ll be gone by morning, she knows, and she’ll blame it on being needy and wrung out but for now…for now, she’ll take it.

 

Sure enough, she wakes alone, and does her best to shrug off the empty, cold feeling that takes up residence in her stomach. She sighs as she reaches for her phone and thumbs off the alarm. Then, with the impulsiveness she wishes she was a little less famous for, she taps over to her phone app.

“You are fucking dead to me,” Mike literally growls into Brenda’s ear.

Not that it fazes her. “I slept with Chucky again.”

There are some creative curse words, not all of which Brenda registers as English, but Mike definitely sounds more awake when she says, “ Again ?”

“It, uh…” Brenda swallows. “Didn’t feel like just bros, Latts.”

“Of course it didn’t, you idiot. It’s different when you’re in fucking love with each other.”

“Fuck you,” Brenda retorts, more into the pillow than her phone.

“I’m just saying,” Mike answers amicably. The shit. She laughs when Brenda says as much. “You woke me up.”

Which, fair. Mike has been known to get vicious when woken. “I just…he showed up at my door and…” She has to shake her head, the moment still crystal clear, the feeling of Alex shoving her against the wall, his thigh sure and solid between hers.

“Fuck, did he leave you any brain cells?”

Brenda laughs, then laughs harder. “Not really,” she replies when the laughter dies down to giggles. “It was my first game back.”

“We all know,” Mike says, laughter in her voice now. “I’m pretty sure I can still feel Marcia’s pride from here.”

“He just… Fuck, Mike. He remembered stuff.”

“You guys fooled around for like, what? Two months?” Mike points out and there’s rustling, like she’s given up on sleeping for the time being.

“Not long enough for him to remember shit,” Brenda argues.

“It really kind of is,” Mike retorts. “But some guys also just have a knack.” Brenda hears a door open, then a sound of quiet triumph of finding coffee already prepared. “I might marry Burky.”

“You’ll break Willy’s heart.”

Mike snorts, so disbelieving and dismissive that Brenda has to fight the urge to go and shake some sense into her. And Willy. “Focus. The point is, you’re blind and dumb to think fucking around with him is just bros. Of course Chucky remembers what you like. He wants to get you off for the rest of forever.”

“It was because I’m back in the lineup.”

“That sounds like an excuse, not a reason.”

“An excuse for sex? He didn’t even fuck me.”

“So what, you just like… got each other off?”

Brenda makes a considering noise. “More like he got us both off?”

Mike chokes. “What?”

“He kind of got me off,” Brenda says, feeling her cheeks irrationally heat up. “Then he kind of rubbed off on me?”

There’s silence. “How are we even arguing that Galchenyuk’s in love with you. How many?”

“Orgasms? Three.”

“Fuck, Bren. Find me a hookup that’ll give you three fucking orgasms in one night.”

“In a row.”

Mike curses again, viciously.

“But then he left .”

“Aren’t you in Boston?” Mike asks after a beat.

“So?”

“In a hotel? Surrounded by teammates?”

“Latts.”

“I’m just saying. If I hooked up with, fuck, I don’t know-“

“Wilson?” Brenda retorts with a smirk.

“Sure.” The eye-roll is almost audible. “I definitely wouldn’t want the team finding out. Can you imagine the shit, like, Ovi would give me? I’m pretty sure even Backy couldn’t keep him in check with that much ammunition.” When Brenda doesn’t answer, just allows the silence hang, Mike sighs. “I’m saying he cares Bren. That’s a good thing.”

Brenda takes a deep breath and releases it slowly, measured. “Chucky doesn’t date girls like me.”

“He doesn’t date girls like you,” Mike agrees. “He hasn’t married one of them either.”

“He will.”

“God, sometimes I hate you, you know that? You’re so full of fucking shit. Bright shiny star, Brenda Gallagher, unless it’s about Alex Galchenyuk in which case, you’re a goddamn thunderstorm of pessimism.”

Brenda leans back, smiles. “Are you reading Backstrom’s literature again?”

Mike growls. “All I’m saying is, this isn’t buddies. You know it’s not buddies, and I don’t want you to get hurt because it’s very not buddies and somehow your wires get crossed, because wires always get crossed and then there’s a misunderstanding when you just have to actually talk to each other.”

“It’s going to be fine. I’m an adult.”

“An adult in love with the guy she’s sleeping with. Burky reads novels like these.”

“Fucking Swedes.”

The next sound is the heavy huff of Mike’s breath. “He makes you happy, Bren.”

“I’m always happy.”

And Mike, blessed wonderful Mike, has always known when to drop a subject. She does so now, with a soft curse (definitely Swedish) that shouldn’t make Brenda feel as relieved as she does.

Because she’s read the novels too, and at the end of the day, the hero doesn’t leave the heroine to wake up alone. He’s there, waking up with her, probably getting her off again with thick dexterous fingers…

Brenda drops her head back against the pillow and resigns herself to a cold shower after she hangs up with Mike.

 

She’s a little sore as she waits in the lobby for the rest of the team to gather, half leaning on Nate because he’s the only one nice enough to let her. She groans and whines at each damn person that comes by to ruffle her hair and pretends she isn’t at all waiting for Alex to show up.

“Where is all the energy?” Larry asks, body checking her gently. Nate glares at him; Larry pointedly ignores it. “You’re back.”

“And still got it,” Brenda agrees with eighty percent of her regular grin. “Where were the rest of you assholes?”

There’s general sputtering and Brenda can’t find it in herself to care whether they’re doing it to humour her, or whether they mean it.

When Alex finally appears, it’s from the outside, and he’s holding a box of Munchkins. Brenda lets out a little gasp and immediately makes grabby hands. “Miiiiiiiiiiiine.”

“Who says those are yours?” Nate asks indignantly. “Maybe Chucky wants to share with all of us.”

“Or maybe they’re all for the game MVP...which was me. I’ll share them with Pricey, though!” she calls, pitching her voice across the lobby to where Carey is lounging on a sofa scrolling through her phone. “Pricey always deserves donuts.”

Carey flashes her a thumbs-up. “Even if they’re imitation Timbits.”

“Dunkin’ Donuts is older than Tim Hortons!” Alex protests.

“Timmies is still better,” Brenda says, taking advantage of his indignation and snatching the box out of his hands, laughing like a loon as she takes off towards Carey.

“You-!” Alex dives after her in an attempted tackle and just ends up wiping out across the lobby floor. Everyone bursts into hysterics, and both the valet and the concierge look both concerned and resigned. Whatever, it’s Boston. They’ve definitely seen worse. Alex scrambles to his feet and Brenda takes off again, cackling as she weaves in and out of the team. She cries out when he catches her and wraps his arms around her waist.

“All’s fair in love and Munchkins,” he says smugly, his fingers digging into her sides.

Brenda squeals and hugs the donuts to her chest, squirming as she laughs until she can’t breathe. PK saunters by on his way to Carey, his eyebrows wiggling like mad.

“I don’t even want to know,” Patches mutters from PK’s other side, giving them both confused and oddly judgmental looks, like he suspects something’s up and really doesn’t want to know. Brenda smiles back innocently and he rolls his eyes at her. “Bus. In an orderly fashion. Can we handle that?”

“Aye aye, captain!” they chorus.

“I hate all of you.”

Brenda crams a donut into her mouth and does a little jig.


 

The season, with the way they’re losing, turns into a long grind after the All Star Game. It feels worse and worse the longer it drags on and Brenda feels constantly exhausted, constantly worn down and it’s driving her insane.

“I mean, at least you’re playing?” Mike points out when she calls to whine.

Playoffs ,” Brenda replies with emphasis.

“It would probably feel better if I thought I contributed.” Brenda catches a grumble before Mike says, “Shut up, you deserve this.”

Brenda leans back into her couch cushions with a heavy sigh. “Wilson?”

“Yeah. It’s naptime for baby hockey players.” There’s more grumbling, followed by Mike’s laughter. It’s so warm and affectionate that Brenda feels like an intruder. “That reminds me, did you get the wedding invite?”

“Wilson napping to weddings. Is there something you need to tell me?” She groans as she pushes herself up, her entire body protesting any and all movement. She walks over to the fridge to peer at the yellow and green invitation held up with one of her emoji magnets. “Everyone got a plus one, right?”

“Yeah. Steph’s being coy on who she’s bringing which means there’s absolutely no chance that it’s Josi.”

“Damn.”

“You’re telling me. I’d have them together by wedding’s end for sure.”

“You’ll have to find another unwilling victim,” Brenda murmurs thoughtlessly as she looks over the invitation. Has Alex even been to BC before when they’re not there to face the Canucks?

Mike hums. “You going to bring Galchenyuk?”

“Maybe,” Brenda replies. “Haven’t really thought about it. Don’t think he’s ever been though and we all know how awesome the mountains are in the summer.”

“You should.”

The innocent tone catches Brenda’s attention. “No.”

“What?” But there’s laughter in Mike’s voice, like she’s already planning shenanigans that Brenda will not stand for.

“You are not locking Chucky and I in a closet, what the fuck.”

“Would serve you and your denial right,” Mike answers.

“I’m not in denial! Chucky and I are friends .”

“That sleep together. Statistically speaking it’s only a matter of time before one of you catches the dreaded feelings.”

“Don’t be dumb. We both know the score. We’re not going to get invested.” Especially if she keeps ignoring the way her chest tightens and her stomach flips over.

“You sure?” Mike sounds both skeptical and smug. Brenda goes stiff.

“Yeah.”

Mike hums. “Well, bring Galchenyuk. I love winning money off of Marcia.”

“Fuck you.” But her stomach is flipping over in earnest now. She knows what it means when the women start a betting pool and it’s never good things. Brenda should know, by nature of how many she’s participated in and is currently part of. Not to mention her residual frustration on not winning the money from the PK and Carey pool.

“Don’t swear at me. She’s the one who doesn’t think you have the balls to own up to your emotions.”

Brenda snorts, but has the presence of mind to keep her mouth shut about pots and kettles because she is a supportive friend, thanks Marcia.

“Well, or the balls to expose him to all of us at the same time.”

“That’s it. He’d never survive.”

“Coward.”

Brenda laughs. “Maybe.” She picks at a thread on her sweats as the laughter dies out. “You’re really bringing Wilson?”

“Yeah,” and Mike’s voice is back to that dumb fondness now. “I know we’ll have fun.”

“Gally would be fun,” she admits.

“And you really don’t want to go alone,” Mike points out. “Pretty sure even the rookies are bringing dates.”

Brenda groans to cover the way a shiver drills down her back at that word. Date . Alex would be her date.

“Come on. Ask him. He says yes, I’ll even give you, like, a quarter of the money.”

Brenda sits up. “Seriously?” Because it feels like a set up.

“Yeah. I’ll even text you about it.” Which is as good as a pinky swear. “Marcia’s face alone would be worth giving up my hard won money.”

“Fair,” Brenda replies, and glances up as her door clicks open. She shoots Alex a quick finger wave. He rolls his eyes as he tucks his shoes neatly against the wall and side-eyes her shoes scattered over her entrance. It’s a bit of a minefield, but he picks his way through without dropping any of the bags he’s carrying. Brenda, very maturely, sticks her tongue out at him.

“He’s so dumb though,” she tells Mike loudly before she can think better of it. “Maybe I don’t want to ask him.”

Mike laughs in her ear as Alex’s brow furrows. “He’s there, eh? I’ll let you go. I don’t need your whiney texts about getting cockblocked.”

“We’re watching Netflix,” Brenda groans. “Why do you hate me?” Better yet, why is she friends with such assholes?

“Uh huh. Netflix. Subtle, Gally.”

“Sorry, my mistake. I hate you .”

“Just hang up and ask him. Fuck, you’re high maintenance-”

Brenda viciously stabs the end button and tosses her phone across the couch.

“Latta?”

Brenda hums and cranes her neck to see Alex rounding the couch. The bags he’s carrying smell like the secret stash of Russian foods that Anna treats him to and Brenda reaches out with grabby hands.

“What does she want you to ask me?”

The thing is, Brenda knows she could lie. She could say just about anything. She could make up a question for Pete’s sake. But her heart is thundering hard in her chest, and she can hear Mike’s ‘coward’ ringing in her ears. “You know Nuge is getting married,” she says as he sits down beside her.

“Yak’s mentioned it.” Which, of course. But all Brenda can see is the weird stiffness to his shoulders as he pulls Tupperware from the bag. “That’s the wildflower thing on your fridge?”

“We’re all invited. Plus, plus ones.”

His shoulders don’t relax and Brenda finds herself chewing her nails before blurting out, “You should come. With me.”

He goes utterly and completely still and for more than a split second Brenda’s sure she’s fucked up. It’s not a bros thing to do, inviting him to a wedding as her plus one. It’s an actual thing and while yes, they are still friends, there’s an ugly weight to the air that puts her teeth on edge.

“It’s in July, right?”

Brenda’s heart scrambles with a fucked up feeling of hope. She can see the lines of his shoulderblades through his t-shirt and she just itches to reach out and rest her hand between them for no reason other than want. Yeah, no. She sits on her hands instead. “A bunch of the girls are projected for playoffs, so yeah. And Segs is Nuge’s maid of honour, so-”

“Yeah.”

“-we definitely can’t - what?”

His back is still to her, sitting on the edge of the couch like he is and his back is tensing and releasing as he moves containers around. She watches the way his muscles ripple as he shrugs. Her stomach warms and she has to shake herself when she hears him say, “I’ll go with you. If you want.”

“Yeah?” It’s stupid and breathless and she sits up, giddy in an excitement that probably feels too good. “Thanks.”

She smacks a kiss to his cheek without much thought and pulls up short when she realizes just how warm his face is under her lips. Too warm. He’s actually blushing and she feels her own flush flare up on her face. Then he’s glancing over. In a split second, everything goes still and silent and she watches as his eyes dart down to her mouth. Brenda jolts forward.

Alex tilts her head, lines everything up just right and for the first time it doesn’t feel desperate or frantic. It doesn’t feel like it’s leading to anything. She reaches out and fists her hands in his shirt near the bottom of his spine. His slip around to run down her side, brushing feather light beneath her clothes, along the strip of skin exposed by the way she leans into him.

It breaks naturally and Brenda licks her lips absently. He lets his hand drop away and clears his throat. “Just get me the details, yeah?”

“Look them up,” she retorts. “They’re on the fridge.”

“I’m the guest!”

“You know exactly how to stack those containers in my fridge, there is no way you’re a guest anymore.”

The bickering makes her feel like she’s floating, normal and easy and not like she’s taking her friend-with-benefits-slash-teammate to a wedding. Alex will have fun, she knows, and she’ll have fun because Alex is, but it feels big. It’s a friend accompanying a friend, she knows that. But she can’t help thinking it also feels like this date to a wedding means something a little bit more.


 

Alex scores his thirtieth goal in the last game of the season.

“Thirty goals,” Brenda lets herself say breathlessly, crowding him into the locker room, both because really, his skill is hot as hell, but also because he looks like he’s up for it. No one’s ready to brush off the milestone in favour of the lacklustre season.

And Brenda wants.

The way Alex’s face transforms says she’s not being subtle about it either and she giggles a little hysterically as she keeps bumping him, herding him away from the door. “Thirty,” he agrees, voice low. Brenda swallows.

“No sex in the locker room. Those are the rules.”

Brenda wrinkles up her nose as her stomach does some weird twisting and flipping. “Ew.”

Nate shrugs. “It’s not my rule.”

“Shut up.” She shoves him. “What even. You’re so dumb. Sex in the locker room. As if.”

Nate catches her in a headlock and ruffles her sweaty hair. He makes a disgusted noise when he does, and drops her. “That’s so gross.”

“I just played a professional hockey game,” she says, all but bouncing to her stall. She strips down efficiently, but can’t help the way her eyes are drawn back to Alex, time and time again. Everyone comes by to congratulate him and Alex glows under the attention. Brenda can’t stop smiling, buoyed in this dismal season by everything Alex.

The celebration that follows is more reminiscent of a playoff clinch than a goal milestone. Brenda will take it, happily and easily slipping into the excitement, delight and alcohol. She loses sight of Alex in the chaos, but it doesn’t much matter. There’s music and joy and her favourite people.

Including PK, who still dances like a dream. Brenda lets herself get lost in it until she feels a long line of heat up her back. PK barks out a laugh and that, more than anything, tells her it’s Alex. Well, that and the surprisingly proprietary hand that snakes around her hip.

“There you are.”

Brenda actually giggles and tips her head back. She needs to stop forgetting how big he is, or at least stop forgetting how small he seems to make her feel. “Where else would I be?”

He frowns. It’s too cute. “Anywhere? This place is packed.”

“Celebrating you ,” she reminds him, spinning in his arms. His palm slides easily around her back, bunching her shirt a little in its wake. His pinky presses warm against her skin. She shivers pleasantly.

He’s grinning now, swaying with her, leading her with the power of his hips and thighs. “Thirty goals.”

“Stud,” she agrees smugly, then shrugs, pretending it’s put-upon. “I guess it’s hot.”

“You guess,” he mocks, and presses closer. Brenda lets him. The place is dark enough she figures they won’t draw much attention. “I saw your face.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she replies, pressing back against him until it feels perfect and delicious. “My face didn’t do anything special.”

Alex tucks his face close to hers. “Bullshit,” he drawls, sure and sly. “You’d have jumped me in the dressing room if the team hadn’t been there.”

Brenda doesn’t gasp as he straightens again, but it’s a close thing .This feels too forward, too deliberate to be the ‘just buddies’ they’ve been keeping to. He’s not wrong, but he’s never called her out like this. “You think so?”

He sneaks his hand down to squeeze her ass quickly, daring in the dark. “I know so.”

It’s a goddamn tease and Brenda feels justified arching her hips into his, a solid grind. “Confident.”

He leans down and in and she’s sure he’s going to kiss her until there’s a strong arm thrown around her neck.

“How about not here?” PK suggests, happy and jovial but with an awareness Brenda doesn’t think he should have. She’s prepared to tell him to fuck off, that they can take care of themselves, but Alex looks down at her.

“That’s a great idea.”

Brenda shivers in earnest, but it’s Alex that winds their hands together and starts to lead them through the crowd, completely disregarding not only their team, but their damn coats too. She shivers as he pulls out his phone for the Uber.

“You realize you just announced to our entire team we’re sleeping together?” she asks, and hates the way her voice sounds weirdly wary somewhere between teeth that are starting to chatter. She barely resists the urge to curl into him, but moves without much coaxing when he wraps a warm arm around her shoulders. He doesn’t reply, just hums a little bit as he rocks them from side to side as they wait.

The mood shifts in the car. Alex weaves their hands together once their seatbelts are buckled and spends the ride playing with her fingers. It’s sweet and Brenda feels the regular heated anticipation of being alone with Alex shimmer and mellow into something more content. She gets a little lost in it, so much so that it feels a little strange when they have to separate to get out of the car. She shakes herself and starts up the walk, half way through a pep talk about how that is not what they are and don’t you dare get any ideas Brenda Gallagher

“Hey,” she hears and a moment later Alex is jogging to catch up to her. He takes her hand again and she feels the instinctive smile stretch over her face. She turns her head into her shoulder to hide it as they make their way to the door of her building. He crowds up behind her when they reach her door, muscling her through when she pushes it open. She giggles and stumbles a little under his weight as she tries to kick off her shoes.

They stumble into the wall, just barely avoiding the little decorative table Brenda’s mother and Anna had both insisted on when she’d moved in. She laughs for real this time, and lets herself lean into the wall to feel the weight of him, to press her cheek against the cool paint. He runs his nose up the side of her neck, hands falling to her hips. Her laughter cuts off abruptly in favour of basking in the feeling of Alex surrounding her, close and there and real.

He’s easy when she starts to turn, gives her space enough to face him before he takes her mouth. Brenda expects it to be the same desperate, dirty slide of lips and tongue, the way that feels routine when they fall into bed together - a ‘routine’, like this is normal and not a way to scratch an itch until he finds something better. But Alex teases. He’s got her hips pressed to the wall, keeping her there as they kiss. She has no choice but to sink into it, let him kiss her and move her however he wants. She’s not about to rush him along if this is what he wants, not when it still feels good.

He sighs into her mouth when she links her wrists behind his neck, sliding his hands up and taking her shirt with them. She expects things to escalate from there now that there’s skin involved, but Alex’s palms stop just below her ribs and stay there, paused. Her mouth feels used and swollen from the slow, increasing intensity of Alex’s kisses. She doesn’t mind, really, even if her mind is clanging with warning bells - this certainly isn’t buddies. Not like this.

Finally, finally , he pulls her shirt over her head, forcing her to unlink her hands so he can discard her shirt beside them. Brenda takes the opportunity to return the favour and releases an embarrassing sigh once all that skin is on display; all that muscle. Alex should never wear shirts, and she says that in the way her hands stroke over his chest. He distracts her when he cups her cheeks in his palms, directing her head up for another kiss, then two, then more.

“Come on,” he murmurs into her mouth, then kisses her sweetly and tangles their hands together. He surprises her again when he doesn’t head for her bedroom. He settles on the couch instead, tugging her in to straddle his lap.

“What are you doing?” she murmurs, allowing herself to give into the impulse and card her hands through his hair. He pulls at her hips again, like he wants her weight on him, but Brenda stays on her feet, scratching his scalp and letting out a giggle when he moves into it. Alex the cat.

“Want you here,” he finally answers, and unfastens her pants while he’s at it. He takes her panties with them, strokes the fabric down her legs and leaves her standing there in just her bra. “Bren.”

She steps out of her pants with a shiver, leaning over to brush her mouth against his. “I have a bed.” But her hands reach for his belt, his fly. He stops her with his pants halfway down his thighs and tugs his wallet from his pocket, offering her arched eyebrow a bit of a sheepish smile.

“Unless you’d like to go get them from the bedroom.”

“Nah,” she answers with a smile and pulls his pants the rest of the way off.

“Now, come here.”

Brenda lets him take her hands, uses the grip to steady her weight as she settles on his thighs. She leans forward, into him, presses against the hard length of his cock. He hisses and gets his hands on her hips again, stilling her.

“What-” she starts, but Alex kisses her with that same breathtaking intensity. She feels his hands slip her bra off, skim up her body to cup her breasts. She gasps into his mouth and arches into his hands. He’s no faster here than he was against the wall, slow, methodical,  mapping her every reaction as he plays with her breasts, gets his mouth on one so he can slide a hand between her thighs.

It’s so different like this, the heat building slowly in her core. Alex is painstakingly slow about it all, watching her climb, climb, climb, then tumble into her orgasm. She trembles with the long, rolling waves of pleasure.

By the time she’s caught her breath, he’s sheathed himself, holding steady and waiting until she opens her eyes.

“Again.”

Brenda manages to get her hands on his shoulders for balance, just as he presses insistently against her entrance. He keeps her steady, makes that first thrust a long, slow slide that she can’t get away from. She can’t help the noises she makes as he bottoms out, the same way she can’t help the little jerk of her hips once she’s seated on his lap.

“Fuck,” he breathes, and finally lets go of her hips to tangle his hands in her hair. He presses their foreheads together, holds them there. Her chest goes tight with how close and intimate it feels, the slow grind of her hips she can’t seem to stop. Alex groans as she moves, pressing his mouth to hers in unpredictable intervals as they both pant.

This is an even slower climb than the last and Brenda is overwhelmed with how it feels, how he won’t let her back away, or speed up, or turn this into anything other than an intense grind. It takes her forever to realize the little hiccuping breaths are hers, the aborted sounds climbing the back of her throat.

“Brenda,” he groans, and follows it up with a string of Russian and English she’s too lost to parse. His hand shake as the stroke her arms, her flanks, her thighs. He shifts then plants his feet so he can push up into her and get his thumb on her clit. It doesn’t take much longer for her to shake apart, her muscles locking up for a long wonderful moment before she starts to tremble with the aftershocks. Alex is one, two, three thrusts behind her, hands tight on her thighs as he comes.

Brenda curls into him as she comes down, hums when he wraps his arms around her and holds her so, so close. His heart thunders under her ear until he finally kisses her temple. “Come on, shower.”

She whimpers.

“I have to deal with the condom, Bren,” he says with a quiet laugh, but doesn’t dump her off him like he has a hundred times before in the locker room, on the bus, in hotel rooms on the road. Instead, he keeps his hands stroking at her back, through her hair, down her arms. Brenda luxuriates in it for another beat before finally standing. He reaches for her again the moment they’re both on their feet.

It feels domestic and sweet. They wash each other with hands that are intimate but not arousing and crawl into her bed together. It’s her turn to push in close, to cuddle because not touching him feels like devastation, like the place he’s carved out in the last hour or so is going to crumble if she can’t feel him against every possible inch of her. He’s not calm either, palms restless on her skin until she’s sprawled over his chest.

They make out lazily, like they can’t stop but with no real intent. Brenda’s chest feels full and warm with Alex. Eventually, the too tender touches, the quiet kisses, dwindle away as they drift off.

 

She wakes up in the morning to quiet sounds and it takes her a moment to parse that it must be Alex in her kitchen. She’s grateful she doesn’t feel hungover, sighing as she flips the blankets off only to yelp at how cold it is. She’s tossing on a sweatshirt when he pokes his head in the room.

“Morning.”

“Hey.” And her voice sounds so soft, but his face is so dumb and he’s holding a cup of coffee. “Yours?”

He goes red and Brenda arches an eyebrow. “Uh. Yours.”

She smiles, her heart feeling too full, but she reaches for the coffee, wraps her hands around the mug and pointedly doesn’t think about the way his fingers feel brushing against hers, how domestic it is to have him here, making her coffee like this is a regular day.

“Practice at eleven,” he says softly, like anything louder will break this weird spell.

“I have to shower.” She sways into him, drawn. His hand cups her elbow, holds her there, tugs her in.

“You should,” he agrees.

The last thing Brenda knows she should do is invite him along. That isn’t what they do, that isn’t what they are. But they also don’t bring each other coffee, ostensibly in bed. They don’t smile softly or cling to each other. And he certainly should not reach down to tug at the bottom of her sweatshirt, pull it up and up and up…

“Coffee,” she mutters, right against his mouth, unaware she had moved that close. He surprisingly smooth when he lifts it from her hand and sets it on her nearby dresser.

“Shower,” he replies, and kisses her, easy and soft. She revels in it more than she should, lets him drop her sweatshirt to the floor and shoves his sweats down after. They carry the same bubble into the shower, easy, like they do this all the time, like it means more than it does.

And if they both have a little bit more pep in their step for practice, only PK chirps them about it.


 

Brenda flies out to BC early. Well, early-ish anyway. Early enough that she doesn’t miss the bachelorette party, but late enough that she doesn’t have to participate in setup. Which is fine by her. She’s happy to ride a tame little pony - Cinnamon, apparently - into the woods to go glamourous camping. It’s entirely her style.

Tyler splits everyone up into little chore groups and she has to admit that she’s more than a little suspicious when Marcia volunteers to help her feed the horses. Marcia takes one look at her expression and laughs, a deep belly roar that startles a few birds. “Look, the way I see it, better me than Dani.”

She actually feels herself blanch at that because no, Dani’s interrogations are patently horrifying because she’s so bloody calm , which just sets Marcia off again. “Come on, Gally. Let’s feed some horses. You okay with the water, Eichs?” she calls. Jack, empty buckets in hand, waves one in the air.

Once they’re out of earshot, Marcia wastes no time. “So. Galchenyuk, huh?”

Brenda makes for the feed container, like if she feeds the horses fast enough she can get away from Marcia. She might not want to face Dani, but this really isn’t that much better. “What about him?”

“Oh no, you’re not going to play that with me, Brenda. I’ve been dealing with my dumb-ass brothers and hockey players for too long.” She flips her braid over her shoulder and rolls her eyes. “Don’t act like bringing him isn’t significant.”

“What do you mean? It isn’t,” Brenda insists, trying to ignore the way her back has gone tense. Alex is doing her a favor by coming to the wedding. They’re buddies. As far as Brenda knows, Alex doesn’t even have another non-familial woman in his life. And Alex would tell her. It is not a goddamn big deal that he’s here, no matter how many significant looks Mike keeps sending her.

“You’re serious.” Marcia replies in a flat voice that, even after spending hours and hours with Carey’s bland face, kind of takes Brenda aback. Marcia doesn’t do flat. Marcia does explosions and she should know, because she’s been on the receiving end of them before. “Actually, no. You’re blind . Actually medically blind. Because that is the only way on the face of this planet you’ve managed to miss this.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” It’s not exactly what Brenda wants to say, but it’s the only logical reaction to such a ridiculous statement.

“Brenda Gallagher. You invited him to a GB wedding. And he said yes. What the hell did you think this was?”

“A friend helping a friend out,” Brenda snaps back, feeling hunted. “He’s been doing that all season!”

She immediately regrets that torrent of words. Marcia puts her feed bucket down, looking very much like her soul has left her body, and stares up at the sky like she’s praying for strength. She mutters something under her breath, something that sounds suspiciously like, “Dammit, Latta,” before swiveling around to pin Brenda with a thousand-yard stare. “That’s my point.”

Brenda growls.“What do you mean, that’s your point?”

“The boy is ass-over-teakettle in love with you.”

Brenda curls her hands into fists. It won’t do anyone any good for her to punch Marcia in broad daylight. Mostly because Marcia would fight back and then Tyler will bitch at them about having to cover bruises with concealer. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Bullshit. The stupidest thing you’ve ever heard is the consistent denial you’re in.”

“Denial?” Jack’s back, carting two full buckets of water like they weigh absolutely nothing. “We talking about Gally and Galchenyuk?”

“Traitor,” Brenda mutters as Marcia gives her a high-five. And then, because she can’t resist poking the bear: “How is McDavid, Eichs?”

Jack’s face goes stone-still and she puts down the other bucket so hard that water goes sloshing over the rim. “Fuck you.”

Brenda arches an eyebrow as she storms away. Marcia watches her go, and shakes her head. “Not worth it.”

“And I am?”

She puts her hand out palm down, shifting it from side to side - the universal sign for maybe, maybe not. “They’re a problem for another time. Look, there are clearly feelings on both sides, otherwise you wouldn’t have invited him and he wouldn’t have accepted. You need to think about that.”

“Marcia, it’s seriously just buddies, why won't anyone believe me?” Her throat closes up and she’s that close to just throwing a temper tantrum and just...jumping in the lake.

“Okay.” Marcia puts her hands up. She watches Brenda for another moment and it’s beyond disconcerting, the way that she seems to see everything , even the things Brenda doesn’t know. “Just do me a favor, all right? Listen, really listen to the vows during the ceremony, and then just think about it.”

Brenda frowns, looks away. “Fine.” It’s not like she’s never heard wedding vows before, so she doesn’t get what Marcia’s saying.

“Fine.” And this amicable, reasonable Marcia is an outright lie; Brenda hates it. Dylan is not this logical or sincere or pragmatic. She’s impulsive and crazy and more prone to solving things with her fists, not words. “Okay, intervention done. Now let’s get that bonfire going."

 

So two days later, full of beautiful sun and so much laughter with women she admires and yeah, sometimes doesn’t understand, Brenda listens. She listens to Ryan pledge herself, her love, to Hall and Eberle, listens to them give it right back to her without reservation or fear and feels a lump rise up in her throat.

She wants that, she wants all of it, and she knows that in the same hazy way that she associates with other future events, like kids and retiring to the countryside with horses. The difference is that now she knows that she wants it with Alex . She’s been so obsessed with putting limits on what they have, of defining every aspect of their relationship when she wants the opposite.

No limits. Just everything.

It rushes at her in a blink, filling her chest in ways that make it impossible to breathe. Fuck, fuck . Everyone, from Carey to goddamn Dylan was right. She has feelings, genuine feelings for a man who’s her best friend and occasional booty call.

She’s such an idiot.

She ducks her head, blinking at the stupid tears that are starting to gather in her eyes. She feels Alex nudge at her shoulder and can’t stop the way that she leans back into that touch, just for a moment. She knows her smile wobbles when she finally looks at him, at the soft look in his eyes and a much more stable little smile. There’s warmth on her leg a moment later and she looks down to see his hand, palm up on her knee.

It’s so easy to tuck her hand in his, to weave their fingers together as Carey asks for the rings. It’s a move she’s seen so many couples do and she can’t help the way she clings a little more.

So much for not catching feelings.

It changes the reception, at least for Brenda. It feels a little charged as she and Alex sit pressed close. She can’t help the way she kind of orbits around him, even with all of her favourite women there. She finds herself seeking him out, just to make eye contact, an affirmation that he’s still there, that he’s having fun with PK and Yakupov.

She always comes back to him.

She’s on her way to do so when Mike cuts her off, wrapping her fingers around Brenda’s wrist.

“Hey,” she says, eyes darting between Brenda’s. “You okay? You’re like… clingy.”

Brenda starts. “What?”

“With Galchenyuk. I know I tease you and everything but Bren-”

“I-”

The lights slide over Brenda’s face and there must be something there because Mike’s fingers tighten on her wrist and she sees her sharp inhale. “You’re coming with me.”

Brenda opens her mouth to argue, even turns to where she’d seen Alex last. He’s still there, watching, and Brenda wants to go over there, wants to be there beside him, dance with him…

“Fuck. Jesus. Put those away. Five minutes, I swear, then you can go take him back to your hotel, okay? Just come on. Brenda .”

She’s not sure what does it, what makes her follow Mike back towards the bar and outside. In hindsight, it’s the tone of her voice when Mike says her name, pleading and urgent. “What?”

“What the fuck is up with you?”

Brenda’s breath catches. “I don’t-”

“You do, you are not that dumb.”

“Hey!”

Brenda , I swear to fucking god-“

She braces her hands on the bar and briefly contemplates how much it would hurt to just bang her head against it one or two times. “I’m in love with him.”

To her credit, Mike doesn’t immediately respond with ‘I told you so’. In fact, for all she’s been harping on Brenda for months now that ‘of course she’s in love with Alex’ and ‘how is she so blind not to see it’, Mike actually says nothing.

“You’re handling it better than I expected,” Mike says eventually. “I expected more hysterics.”

“I’m not a drama queen.” She plays like one on the ice, but in real life she’s always been more of a go with the flow kind of person. But given the history between her and Alex, it’s harder to go with the flow when hearts are on the line. As it is, it’s taking everything she has not to burst into hysterical laughter. She’d even crushed on him at the beginning, when they were young and infinitely more stupid, attached at the hip and so content to be Les Gallys. Those superficial feelings had deepened into something more concrete, their friendship rock solid.

He’s her best friend and she loves him.

“You kind of are. Especially where Galchenyuk’s concerned.” Mike reaches out and wraps her fingers around Brenda’s wrist. It’s more steadying than she wants to admit. “You should say something.”

“Like what? It’s always been just bros, Latts. No one was supposed to catch feelings.”

“Someone always catches feelings, number one. Number two, feelings were already there. And you’re really not helping your case right now either. You can’t stay away.”

That’s not something Brenda can argue; at this point, it’s just a fundamental truth. She can feel it itching weirdly under her skin. “I can’t tell him.”

It’s just friends helping friends out, he’s made that clear from the beginning. Even if it wasn’t...no, she can’t lie to herself like that. She’s seen the women he picks up, the women he dates. He’s never looked at her the way he looks at them, intent and a little coy from beneath his lashes. He’s more subtle about how he moves into their space, fluid like when he’s at the peak of his game. He’s different with her. He doesn’t dress up for her, open doors for her, none of it.

She’s not even a blip on that radar.

Mike puffs out her cheeks on a heavy sigh and Brenda knows she’s off the hook. If anyone understands what this feels like, it’s Mike. And Steph, but she was the smart one who brought her brothers and not the man she’s in love with. She squeezes Brenda’s wrist. “I know it’s too late,” she says, “but be careful, okay?”

Alex finds her the moment she steps back into the reception. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah,” she replies, but latches on when Alex reaches for her hand. “Everything’s great.”

Alex nods and looks back at the crowd for a moment. He turns back to her and asks softly, “Want to get out of here?”

Brenda’s nodding yes before she really thinks about it.

No one chirps her when she makes the rounds to say goodbye. Brenda isn’t even sure Ryan understands what’s going on, given the way Hall has wrapped himself around her. Eberle thanks her with the utmost sincerity and Alex shakes his hand like they’re buddies. Mike is the only one who makes a big deal, yanking Brenda in and holding tight for maybe a few beats too long. A laughing Wilson eventually has to pull her away.

Alex’s hand doesn’t leave hers. It’s the thing that stands out the most about the ride to his hotel. His fingers stay woven between hers through the cab ride and into the elevator; he even unlocks his door with one hand. He uses that grip to pull her close once they’re inside. His other hand slides up into her fancy curls, cradling the back of her skull.

It’s different; that stands out too. There’s still a charge in the air, but it’s softer, more subdued. Brenda feels it in the way Alex lingers, the way she doesn’t feel like this is rough or desperate. She lets her hand hover over his waist as he pauses above her mouth for one beat, two, before finally kissing her. It’s light, a little exploratory and Brenda feels her chest hitch. There’s no way to get away from the emotion, and not enough of her own strength to resist giving in to it.

She’s not sure how long they kiss. It’s long enough that her mouth feels swollen and beard burn is inevitable. Her free hand has tucked itself behind his back, low around his waist. Alex is still cradling her skull, using it to tip her head wherever he pleases.

“Alex,” she finally murmurs and yanks at the back of his shirt. Her hand slips beneath it when it comes free from his pants. She brushes her fingers against his warm skin and Alex shudders.

Only then does he release her hand. He slides his arm around her, pulling her flush to his body. Brenda sighs happily and gets her mouth on his neck, sneaking an arm between them when even his two undone buttons at his neck aren’t enough. Still, she takes her time, lets herself follow each undone button with her mouth. Or, she tries to anyway. She only manages to make it halfway down his chest before he tugs her back up again.

His kiss stays slow, his hands too as they slide her zipper down slowly. Brenda, now finished with his shirt buttons lets her hand linger, drifting teasingly over the cut of his abs. He pulls back when her dress is undone – not far, but far enough that when she lifts her arms just a little, at his gentle urging, the dress drops to the floor.

Alex holds her still, his hands on her hips, and just looks. It’s nothing he hasn’t seen before. It’s not like the lace boyshorts and strapless bra are anything special either, even if they are the most feminine things in her closet.

“What?” she finally asks softly when he seems in no hurry to move. Her finger slip over his belly to the waistband of his slacks.

“Nothing,” he answers, just as quiet. Yet he stays still when she uses the opportunity to raise her hands to his shoulders and pushes his shirt down his arms. It catches on his elbows and she laughs at him when she has to tug his hands from her body. They both laugh when the shirt catches again on his wrists.

She isn’t sure what makes her take his hand in hers and raise it between them. She doesn’t know what comes over her as she undoes the cuff of his shirt, then repeats it again with his other cuff. All she knows is the tight swell of emotion in her chest when he leaves the shirt fluttering to the floor. He raises his hands to cup her face and kisses her fiercely. She hooks her hands over his wrists like she needs to hold him there.

He’s the one that eventually nudges her back, that catches her around the waist when she stumbles and tumbles her to the bed. He’s the one that makes quick work of his belt and drops his pants to the floor to climb over her in his boxer briefs. Brenda’s not complaining. She just reaches for him when he’s close enough and lets her fingers trail over his arms, feather-light and teasing.

“What do you want?” he asks after a few beats where the only movement beyond Brenda’s fingers is their breath. She closes her eyes for a moment, lets the picture form in her mind as Alex leans in to kiss her cheek, her forehead, even her nose just to make her smile. He’s smiling back down at her when she opens her eyes and goes easily when she tips them over.

He can’t do this, she thinks wildly. He can’t smile at her like that, like she’s the center of his universe, touch her like she’s something delicate and precious when she’s so far from either one of those things. Friends can excuse that, up to a point. Friends with benefits cannot because it skirts so dangerously to that edge that she’s already fallen over and...she just can’t take it.

The smart thing to do would be to just pin him down and take. If she’s rough and demanding, she can at least pretend that feelings have nothing to do with it. Just sex because that’s all this is to him.

Alex’s hand brushes her hip and suddenly he’s sitting up, forehead pressing to hers. “Hey. Everything all right?”

And that’s it. All her good intentions to just fuck him into the mattress go flying out the window. Because while Alex is a stubborn asshole who never gives her an inch, his heart is soft and endlessly giving.

“The wedding...it was special, wasn’t it?” His hands shift, sliding up and then down, applying gentle, soothing pressure. Nothing sexual about it, for all that they’re in their underwear. Just comfort. This is the Alex she wants to think of as hers and hers alone, one who cares, one who loves.

Why . Brenda closes her eyes, unwilling to let him see how much it affects her. Let him think her hammering pulse is because of what they’re doing. “Yeah. I guess it made me more emotional than I thought it would.”

She can feel the way the skin of his forehead wrinkles against hers. “I can see that. We can just cuddle, if you want.”

And somehow that’s even worse. She clenches her teeth at all the words that want to come tumbling out and makes her decision. One more night. One more night where she can pretend. Then it has to stop. For her own sake, and for his.

For Les Gallys.

 

Carey’s house is quiet when she lets herself in the following morning. The coffeemaker is already on though, and she knows the cute little breadbox where Carey keeps her pastries. She peers inside, and quietly cheers when she discovers a few pain au chocolat.

The tent is still up in the backyard, and the view of the wildflowers and the mountains never, ever gets old. She gets why Carey loves this place so much, and why Ryan wanted to get married here.

Thinking of the wedding makes her think of last night, and her stomach drops.

“Okay, there’s something wrong with this picture. You have this beautiful view, a cup of coffee, and some of Pricey’s excellent pastries, yet you look like someone’s told you the tooth fairy actually charges you for all the teeth that fall out.” PK stares pointedly from over the rim of his own mug, and she must have been really out of it if she missed him joining her on the back porch. “And I know for a fact that you, unlike some people in this house, actually got some sleep last night.”

“Go Pricey,” she laughs.

His smile is besotted and smug, something only PK can pull off. “Gally, come on. You already missing Chucky?”

Jesus, why were all of her friends going straight for the jugular? The morning had been weird enough, getting Alex packed and over to the tiny Anahim Lake airport alongside some of the other wedding guests. She felt like a period drama heroine, wanting to clasp him to her nonexistent bosom and beg him to stay. Love her. Whatever.

And because she’s utter and complete crap at acting, some of that must have reflected on her face. Alex, more quiet and skittish than usual, left with nothing more than a hug and a promise to call and text.

Brenda groans and tries not to faceplant into her pastry. “I am such a fucking idiot.”

“Hey now.” PK leans forward and gently flicks her forehead. “Don’t say bad things about my friend.”

Dammit. Things must be pretty damn dire if PK’s not giving her any shit. They live for chirping each other. “Even when it’s true? I’m in love with him, PK. That’s just...no.”

He looks genuinely distressed by that statement. “Gally. It shouldn’t...love shouldn’t make you feel like that.”

She snorts. “I’m going to forgive you that one, since you’re in love with the coolest woman on the face of the planet, and she loves you back.”

“Because we talked ,” PK replies, not falling for her attempted deflection. Dammit. Usually, getting him on the subject of how great Carey is secures at least fifteen minutes of gushing. “Does Chucky even know you want to bang him on the regular, maybe with dating and kissing and sappy romance?”

Brenda rolls her eyes. “Of course not-”

“Communication is very important in every relationship.”

I know . It’s different though. He could never-” She snaps her mouth closed, hard enough to jar her teeth.

“You’re not different. You’re Les Gallys.”

“Exactly,” Brenda agrees softly. “Teammates.”

“Because he doesn’t know more is an option.” PK flails for her hand. “You have to say something.”

“No,” Brenda replies. “And you won’t either.”

His chest puffs up, very much the big brother. “Look, if he’s being an idiot, I have every right to-”

“He’s not being an idiot.” He’s actually the sensible one, following the rules they set at the beginning. She’s the stupid one for breaking them and she cannot blame him for what he doesn’t feel. And she’s definitely not going to let PK go after him for not feeling the same way. No one deserves to have that coming down on their head. “These feelings are on me, okay? And I can make them go away.”

He makes such a sad sound, and it makes her feel like crying too. Luckily, her eyes are dry. “Gally. Feelings like that just don’t go away because you decide they should.”

“Good thing I’ve got the summer to get a head start, right?”


 

She doesn’t mean to stop talking to Alex. After talking with PK, she resolves to text him, talk to him, put everything back on an even keel after their overly emotional night. It turns into her intention to Snap him at the airport, to text him to let him know she’s landed safely on the other side… before she knows it, it’s been days, and then it feels too awkward to start now.

Anna texts her though - Alex doesn’t reach out, and she feels sad, bitter and weirdly validated. Anna texts and posts about her summer with Alex on social media. It gets bad enough that Brenda considers blocking her to get a break from all the tanned, shirtless, summer buff pictures of Alex. That’s not the worst of it though. The worst is all of the other pictures: their friends, Alex, Anna, living it up, gorgeous and happy and glamourous. Anna’s friends are all Alex’s type; it certainly doesn’t help. She can’t even resent them for it. It’s not their fault. Brenda’s just… not like them. She’s bitter and pining and she has absolutely no claim over Alex. She never did.

And it’s no one’s fault but her own.

It makes a mess of her and erodes the trust she has in herself to not just spill her entire bleeding heart all over their message thread.

So, she puts their thread on DND - not that she needs to because he’s not reaching out to her either - and throws herself into training. If asked, it’s because she’s determined to actually play eighty-two games this season. In reality, she uses it to try and figure out how to claw her way back to something resembling normal. She doesn’t have a choice. In September, she’s going to have to work with him again. She’s going to have to practice and play games and not hurt over the fact that she can’t have him the way she wants.

She hates it.

“So talk to him,” Jordie says, bright against the BC sun of the cabin she and her family are sharing for a few weeks. Her nose wrinkles. “Jason is the emotionally aware one in my relationship. How did I end up here?”

“Carey won’t pick up when I call.”

“You’ve finally driven Pricey insane? Is that possible?”

Brenda shrugs and tries not to pout because she hates not talking to Carey. “It’s easier than you think.”

“There’s trade secrets in there.”

At least that makes Brenda laugh. “I can’t talk to him now. It’s weird.”

“Because you’re making it dramatic. And I’ll remind you, again, not the poster child necessarily for excellent communication in relationships.”

“Why are you not more helpful?”

“Because I’m not telling you what you want to hear. If you want someone to validate some sort of out of sight out of mind thing - which is a lie when you have to see him as of training camp and considering the whole being in love with him thing -” There’s a pause for a moment. “Very not me. Maybe Mike.”

“She won’t pick up either,” Brenda groans. “And answers my Chucky-related messages with gifs and emojis.”

Jordie’s silent for an equivalent of too long. “Brenda, look. If you’ve pissed off Pricey and you’ve pissed off Mike enough that they won’t answer your Galchenyuk messages, I feel like that’s way more indicative of how you’re going to deal with seeing him every day.”

“It’s going to be fine.”

“It’s not,” Jordie says, and Brenda hates her a little. “So talk to him, get it off your chest. Tell him and then you can like, move on.”

“He’ll say no.”

“Then that’s closure isn’t it? Better than this stupid assumption thing you’re doing that is totally wrong, because anyone who has spent five seconds with the two of you knows he’s just as into you as you’re into him. But since you’re living in the best kind of denial…” It’s weird to feel like she can feel Jordie shrug, even through the phone. “No is an answer, right? Like, he’ll let you down easy because you’re you and then you can… move on.”

It sounds shitty. It sounds like the worst outcome.

“It’s fine,” she finally says, and takes a deep breath like that’s going to magically strengthen her resolve. “Training camp will come and we’ll get so stuck in hockey we’ll all forget about it. We’ll all go back to the way it was.”

“I wish I could live in your level of denial.”

Brenda nods once to herself, hard and resolutely ignores Jordie. “It’s going to be fine. It’s going to work out. It won’t be awkward.”

She’ll stay off social media, stop watching his summer with hot women, one of them the perfect hockey wife. She’ll go back to training and ignore everything. She’ll prove everyone and the naysayers wrong.

In September, she’ll be fine.

It’ll be fine.


 

Training camp is a shit show, but Brenda knows it always is. She focuses on the puck, on Patches and having Carey back in the lineup, how stabilizing it feels to have her between the pipes and not at all at how weird it feels to have Alex back and not talk to him.

She just… doesn’t know what to say. Every starter comment feels less, somehow, like the elephant in the room is something neither of them will ever address. It feels weird and it leaves her off-kilter and clinging to Larry. It makes her a bigger shit, to the point where even PK shoves her away in irritation.

By day four, it’s buzzing uncomfortably under her skin. It makes her chippy, anxious, and she makes more mistakes during practice than she ever did as a rookie. She hates not talking to Alex.

It’s one of those drills where she’s driving the net (her damn job, more than basically anything else), eyes on the prize and playing bug in Carey’s ear. She goes a little too hard, though, and all but knocks Carey into the net. She hears the growl and the whistle blow before she gets too many pounds of pissed off goalie on her back.

“The fuck do you think you’re doing?” Carey hisses as she pins Brenda to the ice. Brenda squirms but Carey’s heavier, bigger and doesn’t let up. “Whatever the hell has you twisted up in knots you fucking fix it, do you hear me?”

Brenda doesn’t move as Carey rolls off of her and pushes herself up on her pads.

Bren .”

“Yeah,” she says breathlessly. It’s not better. It’s still buzzing there. It’s uncomfortable and gross and she needs to work it off, get it out of her system, stop her mind from flashing to Alex pinning her the same way on a hotel bed in BC.

Carey pats her ass with her goalie glove and gets back to her feet. Brenda’s slower to follow and runs the rest of the practice on autopilot. She actually volunteers to collect the pucks, and whether the team just knows or whether they’re not asking, Brenda’s not really going to think about.

It’s short work, getting them all in the bucket, born of long practice and a lot of situations where she and Alex had, as rookies, been in charge of cleaning up. She leaves one puck out though, skates a couple of laps with it before she stops and just… flips it around. She likes the focus, the concentration it takes to keep the puck from skittering away. Stick handling isn’t really her forte, so it requires enough focus that she misses the moment Alex steps back onto the ice.

He’s not padded, down to his Under Armour, but he slides out onto the ice in his skates, stick in hand like he expects to scrimmage with her. “Gally.”

The puck does skitter away this time because she jumps high enough to almost end up on her ass. “Hey.”

She makes herself turn to look at him and regrets it almost immediately. He doesn’t look any better than she feels, if she’s honest. It looks worse on him though and it makes Brenda hate it all even more.

“That’s it?” he asks and she hates that tone on him, always has. “You don’t talk to me for months, barely acknowledge me at practice and all you can say is ‘hey’?”

It a lot of time spent with Alex that keeps her from sniping back at his pissy expression. She chews her lip instead, reaches out to get her stick around the puck and reel it in. “I, uh, don’t know what you want me to say?”

His growl echoes in the empty rink. At least, that’s what it feels like to Brenda’s ears. She flinches.

“Ask me about Russia, about my summer, about Anna or line combinations or rookies. Brenda…”

“I missed you,” she is what she blurts out and scrapes the edge of her skate against the ice. She glances up and has to look away again. “When you were in Russia. A lot.”

“You didn’t talk to me,” he repeats and instead of sounding pissy he sounds… wounded. “Not a word.”

“Neither did you,” Brenda points out, and she’s surprised that it comes out as calmly as it does. “I mean… I figured the wedding freaked you out.”

He offers her a strange shrug. “A little.”

“I figured it was because you didn’t want that. With me. That you regretted going.” The words feel so odd and stilted as they fall out of her mouth, like little chips of ice.

He shifts awkwardly on his skates, taps his stick against the ice. “I...” His face twists so oddly as he shrugs and leaves it at that. Either he doesn’t have the words or he just doesn’t want to leave them out there between them.

She nods. She’d suspected. She’s not stupid. The only thing she’s got going for her is her bright disposition and she knows it. The sunshine in the Habs locker room. She flips the puck up on its edge as she breathes through the rejection and the frustration. God, hadn’t she known from day one that falling for Alex was stupid? She’s not like Carey, solid, steady, dependable. She’s not like Anna or Anna’s friends, beautiful and poised and so very perfect.

“Yeah,” she forces herself to say and knows the rise and fall of her shoulders is dramatic when she takes a deep breath. “And it’s hard for me because... “ Her laugh is awkward. “I mean, I want it with you. That was what I figured out in BC. Before that, maybe. That we were kind of stupid to think that one of us wouldn’t catch feelings, the way we kept sleeping together.”

She chances a glance at him and winces because he looks like she’d just slapped him. That hurts too. She winds up and slaps the puck at the wall, watches it skitter and bounce away.

“So,” she shrugs and watches the puck come to a stop because she cannot look at him. She can’t. “I, uh, have to find a new normal, you know? Because we can’t anymore. I can’t keep…” She sucks in the deepest breath she can. Her whole body sags when she lets it out. “I don’t know how to talk to you right now. I don’t know how to be just friends with you.”

“So don’t.”

This time, looking at him is a reflex. She can’t stop herself from doing it because he sounds breathless. He sounds weirdly and wonderfully breathless. His face is a mess and Brenda can’t… “Don’t… be friends?”

“Just friends. Don’t be just friends with me.”

She shakes her head. “I don’t-”

He drops his gloves to the ice and his hand reaches out for her practice jersey, gripping it so hard his knuckles turn white. “I missed you, when I was in Russia,” he blurts out and Brenda’s caught by the tone of his voice, the desperate grip he has on her jersey. There’s a quirk to the corner of his mouth that looks painful and maybe a little reserved. “I-” His Adam’s apple bobs. “Something happened. At the wedding. I didn’t know what it was-”

I realized I was in love with you . That’s what she wants him to say. She swallows instead.

“I didn’t know how to…” He waves with his stick, eyes determined, blazing. “And then I had to go. We needed to… to actually talk and I-”

Couldn’t.

Yeah, she gets that. Her hand comes up, gloves and all, and curls around his wrist. She needs it, to hold him there. To keep him there.

“I didn’t know how to start. I don’t.”

She barks out a hysterical laugh. “I- God, we suck at this.”

His eyes go hard, determined and Brenda’s back goes straight. She knows that look, that challenge.

“It wasn’t that I didn’t want that with you. The wedding.”

Her vision blurs around the edges.

“It was that I wanted it too much. And I wasn't sure if you did. And then we didn't talk and it seemed...”

Brenda isn’t quite sure what sound she makes. Beyond recognizing what he’s done - and it’s more than throwing down the gauntlet, it’s running over every miscommunication and fear and bulldozing through wall after wall that they’ve both been trying valiantly to maintain - it’s surreal in more ways than she can count. Her heart is thundering and she can’t see properly, can barely make out the fact that he has a face, let alone whatever emotions are crowded on it.

Alex looks away, maybe where her puck’s skittered to, maybe just the ice.

“I’m in love with you,” she blurts. “Like. Gross in love with you.” She laughs, relieved and nervous. “Oh my god, Alex.”

He reels her in closer, as close as her pads will allow. She goes, pushes with him, sends them gliding backwards. Neither of them notice, too focused on the way Alex bends his head and Brenda, even in skates, cranes up to meet his kiss.

It’s not the first, of course - the first of many, maybe, but Brenda’s not that kind of cliche - but this one feels like the wedding, like when he’d agreed to go to the wedding. There’s something quiet about it, more real than any of their passionate kisses had been. Alex cradles her head, grips her jersey, and she fists her hands in his Under Armour and holds on. It’s everything she wants and he’s handing it to her.

“Me too,” he says against her mouth when he pulls away. “I’m…” She feels the way his face shifts with how close they still are, his nose brushing against hers. “Gross in love with you, too.”

She smiles, grins really, laughs a little too because it feels so surreal to be here. She buries her face in his shoulder, clings to him more than a little. He kisses her temple holds her close.

“You’re so dumb,” she murmurs.

“I’m dumb?” he asks, and there’s an indignance to his words, offense, but she can hear the fondness now too. “How long did it take you to figure it out? We went all summer without talking. You’re dumb. Not talking to me-”

Brenda lets him guide her off the ice, chirping her the whole time, but she can’t resist the thought that maybe she’d been a little dramatic in believing she’d get over it, that she should get over him.

Getting this is so much better.