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“Here.”

Colin opened his eyes to Nate leaning over from his own stall, shoving a slice of pizza in his face. “I fought Reavo for this, so you better show some gratitude,” Nate said.

The smell of the grease and cheese turned Colin’s stomach. “Not hungry.”

“Fuck off outta here, yes you are.” Nate gentled his voice in that Nate-way he did, his stupid face all soft and earnest. “Don’t let this be Pittsburgh all over again, man.”

Fucking Pittsburgh, a city that Colin hated with every fibre of his being, like, hated every individual person who lived there, twice over for every person who was at that game in February to watch him fuck up the entire night for the one person he wanted to play well for. “It’s not fucking-- I’m just not hungry.”

Nate frowned and Colin jerked his undershirt over his head so he wouldn’t have to see the soft look in Nate’s eyes, that looked an awful lot like pity.

“I’m telling Teddy, he can deal with you,” Nate said, and Colin balled up his shirt and threw it at him.

“There’s nothing to tell, Jesus Christ.” But he darted his eyes to where Shea was surrounded by a media scrum, talking about his goal in the third, and probably about how the D had to step up and get their heads in the game, the same dumb shit they were all supposed to say, but Shea didn’t get to say it very often.

His beard was terrible and he had a vaguely hunted look around his eyes, but he had done great tonight, tried to put the team on his back and drag them to OT.

“It’s one game, it’s fine,” Colin said, looking back at Nate.

Nate leaned back into his stall and took a huge bite of pizza. “Sure,” he said around it.

Because it wasn’t fine. It was the opposite of fine: it was Colin falling apart when the heat was on. Like when the Bruins made it pretty explicitly clear that after Big Zee and Krugsy, they only had one spot left to protect a D, so the rest of them had a year to to fight for it and instead Colin had all but laid down on the fucking tracks in front of the freight train of the expansion draft, with a whopping 13 points on the season.

Like when they went back to Pittsburgh and even though he told himself he would personally crush the Penguins on Flower’s behalf, what actually happened was he fucked up two plays that lead to goals and then had spent the last two minutes of the game in the box, making Flower watch a 5-on-5 from the bench instead of having a man advantage.

Flower had watched him the entire time, instead of the game; Colin could feel Flower’s eyes on him from all the way across the ice, his face carved out of stone.

The same face Flower turned on him when Colin lost the puck tonight, for the longest moment of his fucking life, before he saw it slip through the lane he was supposed to have closed off, and hit the back of the net behind Flower.

“I’m sorry,” he had said dumbly, as Flower got to his skates, expecting, maybe, Flower to give him a stick tap and call him a fuckface, shake it off, as he had been doing throughout the post season so far.

But something was different tonight, they all felt it. It felt like that night in Pittsburgh: all of them crushed under the weight of wanting it too much, an edge of desperation making them sloppy and stupid. Flower gave him a long look, his eyes hard and dark behind the grate of his mask, and turned his back to grab his water bottle.

Now, across the room, Flower was in his stall, still in his leggings but stripped to the waist. He was methodically shaking a water bottle full of whatever homemade electrolyte stuff he always drank, a sickly hot pink; light caught on his silver chain as if shifted with the movement of the muscles in his chest, lean and cut. His mouth was pressed into a thin line, his eyes hooded.

They caught Colin’s, pinned him to the bench.

Flower took a long drink, not looking away, then stood, chucking the empty bottle into a recycling bin with force and finally turned away, grabbed an undershirt and slipped out to the change room.

Colin’s heart was in his throat, and he felt sweaty and shaky and something close to heart-broken.

Nate put the non-pizza hand on the back of Colin’s neck and gave it a squeeze. “You’re in way over your head, dude.”

He was right, but Colin would rather cut off his own hand than admit it. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Nate gave him a shake. “Just…leave it alone.”

Colin snapped out a laugh, thinking about the way Nate had tracked Holtby during warm-ups. “How?”

Across the room, the scrum around Shea was breaking up, and Shea heaved a huge sigh, looking around until his eyes found Colin. He smiled wryly, shrugging a little.

Nate laughed, too, the same way. “I wish I knew, man.”

Colin stood up. “Me, too.”

“But listen.” Nate tipped his head back, there was a shine of grease on his lower lip. “You’re not the only one who wanted this, and you’re not the only one feeling the loss.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Flower come out of the change room, his shirt buttoned up neat, shrugging into a vest, and slip through the locker room door. “I know.”

“Okay.” Nate shoved at his calf with a bare foot. “So go do whatever you need to do to get your head on straight.”

Colin shoved his hair out of his eyes and snagged his pack from the shelf on his stall. “For sure.”

*

“You wanna show ‘em?” Flower asked him, their first practice together.

Colin circled the net, kicked a puck back and forth between his stick and his skate. Flower’s voice wasn’t what he expected, his accent thicker than he anticipated, the timbre a little higher. It made him want to smile. “Show them what?”

“Matty says you’ve got a cannon. He remembers from Junior.”

Colin laughed, and made a mental note to threaten Muzz’s life via text the minute he got back to his phone. “Well, I haven’t had much of a chance to use it, I guess.”

Flower took a long drink from his water bottle, spat onto the ice in his crease. “Now’s the time, eh?” He shoved the water bottle back into its holder, dropped into his starting stance, knees together. “Don’t disappoint me.”

Colin felt the challenge vibrate through him, and he kicked the puck out, chased after it to gain speed, then looped around and came back along the boards to the right side. He wound up at the high slot and dropped to one knee and fired a shot towards Flower’s glove side.

Flower sprawled out, caught a piece of the puck and it went end over end to ping the crossbar and into the netting behind him.

“Close!” Flower called, as Colin stayed on one knee, let his momentum carry him into the crease.

Flower stood and towered over him, looked down through the golden grate of his mask, his eyes bright, his wide mouth pulled into a smirk. “Not bad.”

“Not so bad yourself,” Colin shot back, and Flower laughed, high and bright.

Behind him a few guys wolf-whistled.

He was fucked.

*

Down in the parking garage, Flower was standing next to his car, one hand on the roof, rubbing methodically along the luxurious curve of it. He was on the phone, speaking in a low voice, maybe in French? Colin didn’t want to startle him, but also he didn’t want to barge in in a orivate conversation.

As he got closer, he could hear that it was definitely French. His voice was lower than when he spoke English, but he still had his little pauses, like his brain was going faster than his mouth could keep up with. Colin was about to scuff his feet to signal he was there, when Flower sniffed, and then laughed, a little watery.

“Kristopher,” he sighed.

Colin froze.

His bag swung against his hip, and his fucking, what, his travel coffee mug or whatever the fuck he even had in there, rattled against whatever else he had in there, echoing through the parking garage.

Flower looked over his shoulder and looked at him.

“Uh,” Colin said. “Sorry.”

And he high-tailed it to his car; he could feel Flower’s sad, dark eyes on him the entire way.

*

He pulled into Shea and Tuchsy’s place, parking terribly in the spot that he had come to think of as his, since he was mostly the only one who ever used it, and had the gate code memorized. Colin fumbled three times for the key to the front door, given to him two days after New Year’s Eve, when Shea and Tuchs had somehow both lost their keys and they crashed on Colin’s couch and floor, respectively.

Tuchsy was in the kitchen, standing at the open fridge and starting into it, a plastic container of what looked like leftover pasta in his hand. He looked over when he heard Colin’s feet on the lino. “He’s in the game room.”

Colin licked his lips. “You okay, man?”

Tuchsy laughed a little. “Can’t sleep. Just keep seeing that fucking paddle when I close my eyes.” He looked down at the container in his hand. “The net was wide open. I had it. I could feel it.”

Colin nodded. His problem was that he wasn’t feeling it, that he felt lost all game. But maybe it would feel worse to have been in the zone and still have lost. Maybe it would have been worse to have a chance and get it slammed shut in his face.

Tuchsy shrugged, put the container back. “Is it weird that I’m okay, though?”

Colin blinked at him. “Are you?”

“I mean, yeah, I think so.” Tuchsy shrugged, scratched all his fingers through his beard. “Maybe it’ll hit me tomorrow but...hey, if I’m gonna fuck up, at least I did it in the fucking show, right?”

“Yeah,” Colin smiled. “That’s a way of looking at it.”

Tuchsy slapped him on the back as he headed back to his room. “All the ways, why not that one, right? Don’t stay up too late, we’re flying out early and Teddy sucks as a seat mate when he’s tired.”

Colin pushed open the door to the game room, a fancy name for a tiny, mostly unfurnished room with a futon and a desk lamp on the floor and four different consoles hooked up to a massive television that took up most of one wall.

Shea was slouched on the futon, half reclined where he had it shoved up against the far wall. He had a headset on, like a fucking dork, and there were bags under his eyes, the thin skin red and wrinkly.

“Hey,” Colin said, and Shea grunted.

Colin settled in to watch as Shea took out a cryptid nest because Shea liked COD Ghosts because Shea was wrong about a lot of things.

“Where’d you go?” Shea said, suddenly, and Colin startled. He had been thinking about Flower’s face, about the thin, miserable line of his mouth, how skinny he looked in his suit.

“Uh.”

“I looked for you, after the media scrum.” Shea took off his headset and was looking at it. On the screen, red blotches blocked the view as his character was shot multiple times.

Colin took a deep breath. “I went to look for Flower. Just wanted to talk.” But he stumbled a little over the word talk, and Shea narrowed his eyes.

“This ain’t the B’s all over again,” Shea said, “You don’t need to prove yourself to anyone.”

“Don’t I?’

“Not to anyone but yourself, just like the rest of us.” Shea frowned, twisting the mic, which he never used but refused to unclip from his headset, between his fingers. “You know that, right?”

“That’s easy for you to say.” Colin felt his cheeks burn.

“Is it?” Shea looked at him square. “Why?”

Colin looked up at the too-fancy ceiling fan, something the owners had installed to replicate Vegas from the 50s.

“You like to think you’re alone, dude, but you’re not.” Shea huffed out a weird, hurt noise. “I know I’m not him, but.”

“Don’t,” Colin ground out, a flush sweeping the entire length of his body.

“You want to prove something to him, but he doesn’t need that from you. He doesn’t need it from any of us. You just think it’ll mean more, if you do.”

Colin felt like all his skin was being flayed off, a strange nerve pain sparking along his muscles. “I don’t want to talk about this.”

“You wanna replace Letang?” Shea barreled on. “You wanna be his new number one D?”

Colin pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes. “Shut up,” he said miserably.

Shea grabbed his wrists and pulled them away. “It doesn’t work that way.”

“The fuck do you know?” Colin yanked his hands back, and Shea came with them.

He planted a hand on Colin’s thigh, the other behind Colin on the futon, so close Colin could feel his breath, yeasty and warm, against his mouth. They stared at each other, and then Shea said, “Oh, fuck it,” and kissed him.

Colin’s heart stuttered against his ribs, and he sat stupidly for a second, frozen.

Shea broke away. “Millsy--”

Colin clutched at him and crashed their mouths together; a second later Shea had his hands in Colin’s hair, his tongue in Colin’s mouth.

Colin fumbled to get at Shea’s shirt, nudging him back so he could yank it off, then get his mouth on Shea’s shoulder, his collarbone. Shea was still thick somehow, and Colin couldn’t help himself, he nipped at the curve of a pec. Shea made a noise and shoved him back hard, bearing him down to the futon. “Fuck, Millsy,” he said breathlessly. “Colin.”

Colin sprawled his thighs open and arched his back, grinding his dick against Shea’s. Shea bent his head, his eyes screwed shut, and groaned, his arms shaking as he held himself above Colin, scrambling to get his knees under him.

Colin reached down and yanked open the button and zip of Shea’s shorts, lifting his own hips so Shea could shove his sweats down. He kicked them off and Shea rolled their hips together, the hard line of his dick through his briefs catching on Colin’s.

“Wait, can we just--”

“Shut up,” Shea said and got a hand between them his rough palm tight around Colin’s dick, so fast it made Colin’s head spin.

“Shit,” he gasped, watching the head of his dick pushing into Shea’s fist, and he was suddenly right at the edge, embarrassingly fast.

“Yeah?” Shea bent his head, slid his mouth against Colin’s cheek, his ear. “Is it--”

“Yeah, fuck.” Colin put his hands over his head to grab the edge of the futon.

“You and me,” Shea said, and a rush of feeling blazed through Colin’s entire body, from the soles of his feet and through his dick and his belly and up his spine.

“Yes,” Colin gasped again, and shoved his hips up hard and came.

Shea made a low noise and sat back, his hand, slick with Colin’s come, jacking himself hard and fast. He shuddered and came a second later, striping Colin’s still half hard dick with come.

“Fuck,” he sighed, long and low, and he sagged to the side, his sticky hand on Colin’s belly.

Colin let his body go limp and he stared at the slowly turning ceiling fan, his mind a blissful white-out of endorphins.

Shea fumbled for Colin’s shirt, swiping at the mess on Colin’s belly and dick, making Colin hiss a little.

“Sorry, sorry,” he said, and collapsed onto his side, crawling up until he could

Colin was halfway to sleep when the futon shifted; Shea got up to turn off the light, then lay down again on his side, sliding a hand around Colin’s middle, his palm against Colin’s belly, his forehead against the cap of Colin’s shoulder.

“What if we lose?” Shea said quietly after a long silence.

Colin breathed in, breathed out. “What if we win.”

“It won’t fix everything.”

Colin huffed out a laugh. “It probably won’t fix anything.”

“No,” Shea exhaled, his breath hot against Colin’s skin. “Do you need it to?”

Colin blinked against the half dark, his eyes suddenly stinging. He felt a swell of something huge in him, something tender and terrifying, familiar but undefinable; the same thing he felt when he watched Shea do his interview earlier, fluffy beard and the whites of his eyes showing, only magnified by a thousand.

He tilted his head against the top of Shea’s; his soft hair tickled Colin’s nose, smelled like the shampoo from the locker room showers. “I don’t know.”

Shea hmmed.

Above them, the ceiling fan pushed around the over-chilled, recycled air, and outside the desert stretched to the edges of the mountains.

“Millsy,” Shea said, his voice low.

Colin opened his burning eyes and croaked out, “Yeah, Teddy.”

“What if.”

“Yeah.” Colin put his hands over his face to hide his smile. “What if.”

*