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I Feel Like I’ve Been Locked Up Tight

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So, Jamie’s apparently never going to have sex.

He goes back to his apartment and makes it into his room without seeing Jordie. Then he strips off all his clothes and shoves them into his hamper—he’s probably not supposed to wash the charcoal sweater, but what the fuck ever—and turns the temperature up in the shower and gets in.

The water’s almost hot enough to scald. That’s good: Jamie wants to wash it all off his skin. This whole night. Himself. He’s breathing hard under the water, maybe hard enough to be sobbing, but the water’s making enough noise that he can pretend he isn’t.

His cock is still half-hard. He ignores it. He doesn’t deserve an orgasm right now.

He should’ve just—Tyler was offering it. It was the best chance Jamie was ever going to get to lose this stupid fucking virginity. He’s twenty-fucking-four years old and he’s kissed two people, and that’s it, that’s the sum total, and the one person in the world he wants desperately to have sex with was right in front of him, offering it, and he said no. He’s a colossal idiot and he’s never, ever going to get laid.

He thinks all this, and at the same time he knows—doesn’t really understand it, but knows—that he couldn’t have gone through with it. That having sex with Tyler like that would have been impossible.

He’s going to have to see Tyler in the morning.

The hot water is starting to feel a little too painful, so Jamie turns it off and gets ready for bed.

It takes him a long time to fall asleep.

He wakes up with a sense of dread sitting in his gut, as if he’s nervous about practice for the first time since his rookie year. He feels like a zombie when he goes to the kitchen for breakfast. Jordie looks wryly wary. “How was your date?”

“Well,” Jamie says, feeling like he has to drag his words up from a long way down, “I actually went on this one.”

“Hey,” Jordie says. “Progress.”

Was it? Jamie doesn’t feel like he made progress toward anything last night. Built himself another wall for the box he’s living in, maybe.

He’s so focused on not looking for Tyler when he goes into the locker room that he doesn’t see Gonch until he’s in front of him. “So? How was it with Sara?”

“Oh,” Jamie says. “Actually I really liked her. She’s cool.”

Gonch’s face brightened. “So you think you go out again?”

“Yeah, maybe,” Jamie says. He can see Tyler out of the corner of his eye, by his stall, paused partway through changing. Jamie hopes he isn’t blushing. Tyler knows he’s lying now.

He feels naked as he walks over to Tyler, even though Tyler’s the one who’s shirtless. Jamie tries to keep his eyes above Tyler’s neck as he walks over—but it’s too hard, the idea of seeing what’s on Tyler’s face, so he ends up looking down at the floor.

“Hey,” Tyler says, brightly, and Jamie does manage to look up. None of the things he was afraid of are on Tyler’s face: just cheerful friendliness, the same thing Jamie’s seen from him a hundred times this year. “How you doing, man?”

“Oh. You know.” Jamie makes himself smile back. It’s not as hard as he would have expected. Thank fuck for Tyler and his ability to make things not awkward. “Pretty good. You?”

“Excited to face Pittsburgh tonight,” Tyler says, and Jamie has never been more grateful to anyone. They’re gonna be okay.

***

It takes him a couple of days to realize he was wrong.

They shut out Pittsburgh that night, three-zip, Tyler assisting on Jamie’s goal on the power play, and everyone’s in a good mood when they go out later. Jamie doesn’t really think about it when Tyler doesn’t end up sitting next to him at the table—he’s a little disappointed, but he’s still feeling weird enough about things that it’s probably for the best. He also doesn’t think it’s weird when Tyler goes to pick up. Law of averages there: if it’s been a month, then yeah, of course Tyler’s looking to hook up. It sucks but it’s what Jamie expects.

He feels like he doesn’t even have the right to feel bad about it anymore. Whatever else happened in the disaster that was last night, the bottom line was that Jamie turned down sex with Tyler. He can’t even wish to be where that random girl is, her lips locked to Tyler’s, because he already decided he didn’t want that.

“Think your boy is remembering his NDA tonight?” Jordie asks with a smirk, and—okay, Jamie would like to pretend it doesn’t hurt, but it still does.

“Shut the fuck up,” he says, maybe a little too harshly, and Jordie looks startled but doesn’t say anything else.

So maybe Jordie suspects something. Whatever. If Jamie survived telling Tyler everything he told him last night, he can survive this, too.

They have morning practice the next day, which means everyone’s dragging a little from the late night and Ruff puts them through their paces a little harder than usual. It’s not weird that Tyler’s quiet in the car on the way there and the way home, sitting in the back and not saying a lot. Jordie puts something loud on the radio and Jamie almost doesn’t notice the silence. Or, he notices—he always notices what Tyler does—but he doesn’t think it’s a big deal.

It’s also not a big deal when Tyler doesn’t invite himself over for dinner. Jamie’s still trying to be good about not inviting him over too much, so he doesn’t reach out, either. It’s not that unusual; Tyler probably has other plans. He does hang out with people other than Jamie and Jordie.

It doesn’t really get weird until after their game against Colorado the next day. It’s a brutal one: Dallas outshoots them 44-21, and Jamie scores once and Tyler twice, but it’s still not enough. Colorado breaks the tie in the third and they can’t get it to overtime.

It always feels extra shitty when you have a multi-point night that you can’t even celebrate because the team as a whole couldn’t get there. It’s frustrating—makes you feel like you should have been better, but there’s also the creeping thought that maybe you were fine and the team as a whole should have been better. Quashing that is exhausting, and basically Jamie wants to collapse on a couch with Tyler and know they’re both feeling it but not have to talk about it or really anything in particular for a couple of hours.

The set of Tyler’s shoulders is tired when Jamie comes up to him after media. “Hey.” Jamie taps him with his glove. “You wanna hang?”

Tyler’s smile is tired, too. “Nah. I’m pretty beat. Think I’m just gonna crash.”

Jamie’s disappointment hits him hard. He hadn’t realized how much he was taking it for granted that they’d go home together. They don’t hang out after ever game—but when was the last time they didn’t? Jamie can’t actually remember.

That’s what makes him start to think. Tyler doesn’t want to hang out today, and he didn’t want to hang out yesterday. They haven’t spent any voluntary time together since before—

Jamie’s heart is beating a little too fast as he pastes on a fast smile. “Yeah, have a good night,” he says, and walks away thinking don’t ask if we’re okay don’t ask if we’re okay.

It hurts, though, makes it hard to expand his ribs enough to breathe. Makes it hard to know what to text back to Sara. He left their date thinking, maybe stupidly, that he would rather live with these feelings for Tyler without having anything come of them than try to start a relationship with someone else. But that feels dumb two days later, when Tyler isn’t saying more than a few words to him and Jamie’s sitting alone at home feeling the ache of it. Maybe what he was really choosing was misery.

That probably means he should Sara out again, but he doesn’t. He keeps up their pleasant small talk instead, sends a laughing emoji to one of her jokes, and thumbs over to his text conversation with Tyler and stares at it for a minute before closing out of it and putting his phone away. It’s only been two days. He can give this time.

He can’t stop himself from coming up with theories, though. That Tyler’s avoiding him because he was disgusted by how awkward Jamie was at saying no to him. That now that Tyler knows Jamie’s a virgin, he doesn’t think Jamie’s worth spending time with. That they were never really friends, that Tyler was just hanging around Jamie because he felt obligated to try to help him pick up. He’s hoping it’s not that one. But he can’t quite be sure.

Jordie notices when Tyler doesn’t come over the next day, after their game against Colorado. “Tyler get a girl or something?” he asks when they’re eating dinner for two again.

Jamie stops chewing. He hadn’t even thought of that one. But—the girl at the bar three nights ago. Maybe they actually…

But Tyler doesn’t date. He told Jamie that. Why would he start now?

Jamie forces himself to swallow. “Yeah, I don’t know,” he says. “Maybe he just decided to stop bugging us as much.”

He doesn’t have any reason to think it’s the girl. But none of the other things he can think of are any better. The best option he’s come up with is that Tyler feels awkward about having offered, but that doesn’t sound like Tyler.

Or maybe—maybe he thinks Jamie feels awkward and is trying to be nice by giving him space. Maybe there’s something Jamie can do about it.

He goes up to Tyler before practice the next day. “You wanna get lunch later?” he asks, giving Tyler a hopeful smile. He tries to make it extra warm, so that Tyler knows Jamie really wants to—that he’s not feeling awkward anymore. That he hates the distance between them more than the memory of his own humiliation.

Tyler smiles back, and it looks mostly like his normal smile, but Jamie can’t quite tell. He doesn’t like that he can’t quite tell. “Sorry, can’t,” he says. “I’m having lunch with Val.”

Tyler does have lunch with Val pretty often. They don’t really understand each other when they talk, but they seem to have a good time together anyway. Tyler’s probably telling the truth. “Okay, well, come over after if you want,” Jamie says.

Tyler’s smile is still bright. “Yeah, I’ll text you.”

He doesn’t text.

Jamie does some errands and keeps checking his phone, hoping, and as it gets closer to evening the hopes less and less. He doesn’t know what to do. He can give it more time, but it’s been days, and Tyler’s not responding to anything Jamie does. Jamie feels it weighing on him, the absence, like this heavy fog that keeps him from wanting to get off the couch, to move, to talk.

“You okay?” Jordie asks him that night, when Jamie’s been sitting with his knees drawn up in the corner of the couch and not even laughing at the show they’ve been watching.

Jamie is not okay. He feels like there’s a puncture wound in the middle of his ribcage. “Yeah,” he says.

“Did you and Tyler have a fight?”

“No.” Why does Jordie think that? They didn’t; no one got mad at anyone. Jamie was a weirdo spazz and couldn’t handle Tyler trying to help him over the virginity thing, but that’s not a fight.

Maybe Tyler’s mad about Jamie not wanting to hook up with him. Like Jamie was cockblocking him or something. But no; Tyler was only offering as a favor to Jamie. And he sounded okay with it, when Jamie said no. It wouldn’t be like Tyler to be secretly mad about it for days afterward.

That’s the thing, though: this isn’t like Tyler. But Tyler’s doing it.

They have a game against New Jersey the next day, and a light practice beforehand. Jamie tries to catch Tyler’s eye in the locker room before practice, but Tyler is typing on his phone and doesn’t look up.

The girl? Jamie doesn’t have any reason to think that. Tyler has a lot of friends back home and spread throughout the League. It’s probably one of them. Jamie shouldn’t be worrying about it, anyway. Not like Jamie has a shot with him even if he’s single.

“No way,” Cody says, loudly enough that Jamie looks over. “Seventeen is not late.”

He’s talking to Brenden, who’s grinning like maybe he’s trying to wind him up. “Just saying, it’s not exactly early.”

“It’s in high school,” Cody says, and Jamie has a horrible feeling he knows what they’re talking about. “That’s early.”

“Yeah, right,” Brenden says. “If you said, like, thirteen, I’d be impressed—”

“No one has sex at thirteen,” Cody says.

“I was fourteen,” Rousster says, and shrugs when Cody starts loudly accusing him of lying.

Jamie darts his eyes over to Tyler. It occurs to him that he didn’t actually ask Tyler not to say anything about what Jamie told him. He doesn’t think Tyler would—but then, he didn’t think Tyler would ignore him for the better part of a week, so what does he know?

He still doesn’t think Tyler would. But it’s the kind of conversation Tyler would jump into, normally. He’s holding himself in a way that makes Jamie think he’s paying attention—he’s not quite sure why he thinks that, but he does—and Jamie waits for him to start saying something.

“Segs,” Cody says, making Tyler jerk his head up. “Tell them. Seventeen isn’t late, right?”

It takes a moment longer than it should for Tyler to smile. When he does, though, it looks pretty normal: that bright Tyler-grin. “There’s not, like, one timeline for it,” he says. “Why do you care if it was early or late?”

That seems to stymie Cody. He falls silent, mouth open, and in the gap in conversation, Fidds says, “Okay, but what are we counting as virginity, exactly?”

Jamie doesn’t listen to the answer. He’s busy looking at Tyler.

That answer was for him. Jamie knows it was. Tyler thought about what Jamie told him and changed what he would have said in that conversation. There are little bubbles of elation rising within him, like he has Tyler back in front of him, finally, at last—except Tyler still isn’t looking at him. He’s staring down at his phone again.

Jamie could go up to him. But he tried that yesterday, and the day before. Maybe this time he needs to wait for Tyler to come to him. He thinks he will, now.

There’s another text from Sara when Jamie gets back from practice. Jamie’s surprised to see it, even though he shouldn’t be. It feels so incongruous, when he finally had a glimpse into Tyler again, the burst of color that’s been missing from his life.

Sarah’s telling him about a street fair that’s happening when Jamie gets back from their upcoming road trip. There are only a couple of days between that and when Jamie leaves for the Olympics, and he knows she’s been angling for them to get together again. This street fair suggestion is probably the closest she’ll get to actually asking him out. That means he has to make a call.

She’s good company. It wouldn’t kill him to go out with her again. It would probably even be the smart thing to do—would be the smart thing to do even if Tyler were speaking to him. It might even make it possible for him to be normal friends with Tyler without feeling this desperation all the time.

He stares at the phone for a couple of minutes, and then he types out, im sorry. i really liked meeting you a lot, but im not as ready for dating right now as i thought. id love to go out again sometime if were both in a good place for it, but for right now i think we probably shouldnt.

He hits send and puts down the phone and feels like an ass, and also so relieved. It’s the same kind of feeling as why he couldn’t go through with hooking up with Tyler: he just can’t…squash himself into that shape.

He’s going to have to apologize to Gonch. Even that doesn’t take away from the relief he feels as he settles in for his nap.

They don’t play great that night—only 16 shots on goal, and they’re down 2-0 by the middle of the second. Jamie wonders how much of that is him and Tyler: it’s always easy to look at stuff outside the rink and wonder if it’s the reason they’re doing badly or well. Jamie’s never been the most superstitious, but he and Tyler are linemates. Chemistry is a real thing.

Jamie scores a couple of minutes later on a pass from Tyler, though. He slams into Tyler as part of the celly, and Tyler’s right there, hugging him back, and for a minute it feels like things are normal. Tyler doesn’t sit next to him on the bench, though, and he doesn’t try to meet Jamie’s eye during the second intermission.

Tyler scores in the last minute of the third to send them to overtime. They only make it forty seconds into overtime before the Devils win it, which is crushing: they came so close. But it still feels better than some losses do. At least they climbed up from behind and got that one point, thanks to Tyler.

Tyler gets tapped to do media with Jamie. Jamie tries to keep an eye on him while he answers questions himself, and he thinks Tyler seems more like himself than he has the past few days. Not totally upbeat—they did lose—but he actually jokes with one of the reporters. Jamie’s so happy to see that he gets distracted from answering his own question for a moment.

As soon as the media is gone, Tyler turns to the room and says, “Okay, we’re going out!”

There are a few grumbles. “We didn’t even win,” Daley says.

“Yeah,” Tyler says, slapping him on the back, “but it’s my birthday tomorrow. Come on, everyone come have a drink, on me.”

Jamie’s eyes widen. He hadn’t realized. Is that why Tyler’s been so weird? Because Jamie forgot his birthday? But it hasn’t happened yet, and the weirdness started a week ago. It can’t be that.

Tyler doesn’t seem weird when they all go out, anyway. He’s the happy, vibrant Tyler Jamie’s used to seeing and hasn’t seen in almost a week. He’s buying rounds and joking and laughing with everyone—except Jamie.

Jamie wonders at first if he’s imagining it. It’s so weird, the idea that Tyler would still be deliberately avoiding him, that he thinks maybe he’s making it up. Maybe Jamie’s so focused on Tyler that the normal amount of attention Tyler’s giving him back feels like Tyler’s ignoring him.

Except…Tyler’s not looking at him at all. His eyes pass right over Jamie like he isn’t there.

Jamie catches Jordie’s eye across the table, and Jordie widens his eyes and jerks his head toward Tyler, a question all over his face. So Jordie’s noticed, too. Jamie shrugs and mimes not knowing. He really doesn’t, at this point. It can’t be about the virgin thing. Especially not after what Tyler said in the locker room this morning.

It seems like…maybe this isn’t going to end on its own. Jamie thought it would, that maybe Tyler was in a mood or something and needed time to be himself again—but he’s being himself again. He’s being himself with everyone except Jamie.

Jamie’s going to have to talk to him about it.

The conviction grows throughout the evening, a heavy weight in his gut. Jamie’s super bad at confrontation. He always feels like he’s going to ruin things. But at this point there’s nothing to lose; it’s Tyler who’s ruining things, by ignoring Jamie at his own birthday party.

The anger is a familiar heat along his breastbone. He’s not really angry at Tyler—he’s more confused than anything. But anger will let Jamie do what he needs to. He focuses on the way Tyler’s talking to everyone but him and lets himself get mad again.

It gets him through the couple of hours they’re all out. His plan is to follow Tyler home, as long as Tyler doesn’t pick up, and Tyler doesn’t show any signs of picking up. Sooner than Jamie thinks they’re going to leave, though, Tyler pops over and says to him and Jordie, “Hey, I’m catching an Uber with Dills and Fidds. See you guys at the airport.”

“Yeah, sure,” Jordie says, shooting a startled glance at Jamie, who’s too surprised to react.

“Great, have a good night!” Tyler says. He’s sort of talking to both Jamie and Jordie, but he’s not meeting Jamie’s eyes. Anger, Jamie reminds himself. Not hurt. Anger.

The whole party breaks up pretty fast after that. Tyler was the reason everyone was out in the first place, and Jamie doesn’t have any desire to put off what he knows he has to do. He and Jordie call an Uber maybe fifteen minutes after Tyler leaves.

Jordie doesn’t force him to make conversation in the car, and he doesn’t ask any questions when they get to their building. He gives Jamie a look, though, inquiring, after pressing the button for their floor.

Jamie could still just go home. It would be easier. But he breathes in and lets that coal of anger heat up and leans over to press the button for Tyler’s floor.

It seems to take a long time for the elevator to get there. Jamie focuses on staying mad, mad enough to do this. When the elevator arrives he stalks down the hall and knocks on Tyler’s door.

It’s been maybe fifteen minutes since Tyler got home, if his Uber dropped him off before the other guys. Maybe less. But the Tyler who opens the door is totally different from the Tyler who left the bar. He looks tired, like all his energy’s left him, like sometime in the past fifteen minutes he got short on sleep. He’s in sweats and a threadbare t-shirt and looks like he can barely hold himself up.

Jamie feels the anger drain out of him. “Are you, uh. Can I come in?”

He’s not sure if Tyler’s hesitating or if he’s just tired enough that he’s reacting slowly. “Sure,” he says after a beat, and steps back to let Jamie into the apartment.

Jamie follows him into the kitchen. The way Tyler’s moving—Jamie wants to bundle him in a blanket and put him to bed. He wants to put his arms around him and hold him until he feels better.

That probably wouldn’t make Tyler feel better. Jamie follows silently.

“Do you want, like, water, or anything?” Tyler asks.

“Oh, yeah,” Jamie says. “Water would be great.”

Jamie sits on a stool at the island while Tyler goes to the fridge for the Brita filter. He’s trying not to look too hard at Tyler, who, even in nothing-clothing and exhausted beyond belief, still looks mouth-wateringly good. It’s hard not to connect it with what happened the last time they were in this room.

Tyler puts the water on the island for him, and then fiddles with the string on his sweatpants. He’s obviously waiting for something.

Can’t put it off any longer. Jamie takes a gulp of water. “So,” he says.

“I’m sorry,” Tyler says right away.

Jamie blinks in surprise. Tyler isn’t looking at him. He’s looking at the floor, like…like someone who expects to be yelled at.

“That’s…okay,” Jamie says slowly, not really sure what he’s absolving.

“It’s just—it’s been a really bad week,” Tyler says. His fingers are twisted in the hem of his t-shirt now.

Jamie’s never seen him like this before. Little glimpses, maybe, around the Boston games, but never like this. “Is there anything I can help with?”

Tyler laughs a little. It’s not his usual laugh. “Tell you my problems, and you’ll do everything you can to fix them, huh?”

It takes Jamie a sec to realize Tyler’s quoting his dating profile back to him. The profile Tyler wrote. He feels his cheeks get warm. “Uh—I mean, if I can,” he says.

“No, I.” Tyler scrubs his hands over his face. “Sorry. No, it’s no big deal. Sorry, man, it’s just a crap week, you know? It’ll be better next week.”

He’s gaining animation, putting more energy behind his words. Jamie doesn’t like it. It feels like something Tyler’s using to cover himself up. “You haven’t talked to me in a week,” Jamie says. “You wouldn’t look at me tonight.”

Tyler lets his head drop. “I know,” he says. “I’m sorry.”

“I’m not, like, mad, I just want to,” Jamie says. He runs his finger through some of the condensation that fell from his glass to the granite of the counter top. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” Tyler says immediately.

Is Jamie this bad at lying when Jordie asks him? “Okay, but it started last week, when I—I mean, if I caused any problem, I want to know about it,” he says, pushing through the panic fluttering around his core. “We have to, like, play together and shit.”

“We’ve been playing together fine,” Tyler says.

“Yeah,” Jamie admits. “But.” It’s not enough. “I don’t know. I—I miss you, man.”

Tyler’s eyes dart towards him and away. “It’s not on you,” he says quietly. “It’s my thing.”

“I did something, though,” Jamie says. Heaviness settles around his center.

Tyler’s silent for a long moment. “It’s not, like. I can’t explain it to you.”

That doesn’t seem very fair, since Jamie told him about never having hooked up with anyone just last week. That was pretty damn hard to explain. “Is it the virgin thing?”

“What the fuck, no,” Tyler says right away. “No, that’s just—it’s not that.”

“Please tell me,” Jamie says quietly. “Maybe I won’t get it, or I can’t do anything about it it, but—please.”

Tyler scrubs his hands through his hair, then leans forward onto the center island, head in his hands. “Fuck,” he mutters, a little bit of a laugh making its way into his voice. It sounds choked. “Fucking hell. I can’t—”

“What?” Jamie asks.

Tyler lifts his head. His eyes are red. “I just needed some time to get over it, okay? Sorry that I’m such a spazz, I’ll just, I’ll be fine.”

“Get over—” Jamie’s heart is pounding. “What do you mean?”

Tyler’s smiling this kind of sad smile at him. “Fuck, Jame, you need me to say it? You were there, you turned me down—”

“I didn’t.” Jamie can taste bright metal in his mouth. Tyler can’t be this upset that Jamie didn’t want to hook up with him. “I mean, I did, but only because. It was a pity offer. You didn’t really want—”

Tyler laughs. And then he puts his head and his arms down on the granite. “Jamie. I fucking wanted, okay?”

“But you said.” Jamie feels like he’s totally lost. “You said it wasn’t a big deal. Just helping each other out, like in Junior.”

“So I’m a coward,” Tyler says, raising his head, half turning away. “It’s not like you would’ve—but, look. You don’t have to stay here, I told you, I’ll get over it—”

“Tyler.” Jamie stands up, and Tyler falls silent and seems to get smaller as Jamie comes closer. “Did you really?” His words are all backwards. “Want, I mean. Not just it. Me. Did you?”

Tyler looks up at him. He’s not that much shorter than Jamie, but right now he’s looks it. “Motherfucker,” he says. “Yes, I did, okay?”

Jamie leans in and kisses him.

Tyler’s taken by surprise. Jamie spares a thought to be surprised by the surprise—and then Tyler’s mouth is opening under his, and it’s as good as before. It’s the hot skin of Tyler’s back under his hands, it’s the taste of Tyler’s mouth on his tongue, it’s—

Tyler pulls back. “What,” he says.

Doubt trickles through Jamie’s sureness. “You—you said you wanted—right?”

Tyler takes a step back, out of his arms. “You said you didn’t want—someone who didn’t matter.”

“I didn’t say that,” Jamie says blankly.

Tyler turns to him, and this time Jamie gets to see anger in his eyes—anger and hurt. “Yes, you fucking did. You said you didn’t want it with someone who didn’t—”

“No.” Jamie catches his arm. “Tyler. I said I didn’t want it if it didn’t matter. If—the sex didn’t matter. I would never say that you didn’t matter.”

There’s silence while Tyler looks at him. “Why would I?” he says, voice cracking a little.

It’s a serious question. Jamie stares at him for a moment, not believing he would even ask that—but he is. He’s looking at Jamie like he really doesn’t know. “You matter more than anyone,” Jamie says.

Tyler gives him a skeptical look.

“No, I mean, you—to me,” Jamie says, frustrated. He never thought Tyler wouldn’t get this. “You matter more than anyone to me. I really, um. Remember that girl last week? She was great, and I turned her down because I didn’t want to like her more than—more than I liked you. Even if you never liked me back. I wanted you even if I didn’t really get to have you.”

Tyler’s listening now. He’s wary, but he’s waiting for Jamie to go on.

“I’ve only fallen for, uh. Three people,” Jamie says. “The first two times sucked, and I thought this time was gonna be—worse. Because it was you. You’re so—everyone wants you,” he says, smiling weakly. He feels desperate saying it, but it’s true. “And no one wants me, not really, and wanting you was so dumb but I couldn’t help it. And it’s not just ’cause you’re gorgeous, though you are, it’s because you have this—like, the way you smile, the way you laugh, everything is just better with you. I’m better with you. I want that more than I want sex, or love, or, or, even the stuff we can do on the ice, that’s not even what it is anymore. I just—I want you.

Tyler’s staring at him. “You…really?”

“You don’t have to, um.” Jamie looks away. “I told you, I decided I wanted to be around you even if I couldn’t, you know. You don’t have to feel like you have to give me anything. I know you don’t date or whatever. I just wanted you to know.” His heart is going like a bass drum.

Tyler laughs, disbelieving. “Jamie. The dating thing, it’s—who would ever want to date me?”

“Huh?” Jamie says.

“I’m a fuckup,” Tyler says, a small, horrible smile on his face. “That’s why I’m here. People want to fuck me, they don’t want to—”

“I do,” Jamie says. He reaches out for Tyler’s wrist, feels awkward, slides his hand down until it meets Tyler’s. “I want to date you.”

The smile’s fallen off Tyler’s face. He’s looking down at their joined hands.

“I don’t believe no one’s ever wanted this with you before,” Jamie says.

“Yeah, well, I don’t believe no one’s ever wanted to fuck you,” Tyler says, looking up, and Jamie sucks in a breath at the heat in his eyes.

“Do you really?” he asks. Their faces are so close now he only has to whisper. “I mean—not just to teach me, or for fun or whatever, but because you—”

“Everyone I’ve fucked for the last four fucking months, I’ve pretended it was you,” Tyler says, pushing their foreheads together, and Jamie pushes out a breath and leans in and kisses him.

Tyler lets out a laugh into their kiss: surprised, happy. Relieved. It’s like Jamie pictured it, once, back when he was first coming to terms with this all-consuming fucking desire for Tyler, but so much better. Tyler’s mouth is on Jamie’s, his hands are tugging at Jamie’s shirt, palms stroking up Jamie’s back like he wants him. Tyler wants him.

Jamie’s shaking. He buries his hands in Tyler’s hair to keep them from trembling too much. Tyler’s doing things with his tongue, and Jamie lets him, tries to imitate them, feels them going straight to his knees. It’s so much—overwhelming. He’s already gasping, little explosions going off in his lungs and his stomach and his thighs.

He puts his hands on Tyler’s back in the hopes of steadying himself, but that just brings their bodies together so that their hips meet. Jamie gasps and breaks the kiss off to rest his forehead on Tyler’s shoulder.

“So,” Tyler says into his ear. His voice is so happy, like Jamie’s never even heard it; Jamie wants to eat that happiness, wants to hold it inside his body forever. “You want to get rid of that virginity?”

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” Jamie says. Tyler’s trailing fingers up his back, and his body is dissolving like sugar crystals in water. “I mean, I’ve watched porn, but, uh.”

“In person is better,” Tyler says, putting his mouth on Jamie’s neck.

Jamie’s body jerks. He didn’t know he was sensitive there. He arches his neck and lets himself feel it. Tyler’s licking in this little circle, tip of his tongue trailing along Jamie’s tendon, and Jamie’s cock is throbbing against Tyler’s hip and taking all the blood away from all the rest of him. He does want to—he thinks he wants to. He doesn’t know if he’ll be able to live without doing it, now that he has Tyler under his hands.

“We should, uh, go to the bedroom,” he says shakily, because he’s pretty sure he’ll fall over if they don’t.

Tyler laughs and pulls away, taking Jamie’s hand to lead him.

Jamie watches him and can’t believe Tyler wants him. Tyler’s a wet dream—almost literally: he has featured in Jamie’s wet dreams. Jamie wants him when he wants almost no one else. Of course, he’s pretty sure that has more to do with Tyler himself than with his body. But with a body like that—Jamie can’t believe Tyler wants to touch him. Can’t believe he still wants it even when he knows Jamie has no idea what he’s doing.

Can’t believe he’s going to touch him, and soon.

They get to the bedroom, and Tyler pushes Jamie to sit at the edge of the bed. Then he climbs onto his lap and straddles him and kisses him.

It’s better, doing it sitting down. Jamie isn’t as worried about falling over. He can let Tyler kiss him dizzy, fill his head with the little noises Tyler makes when Jamie swipes his tongue into Tyler’s mouth. He learns that Tyler gasps in this really stomach-melting way when Jamie nips his lip, and when Jamie runs his hands down to Tyler’s ass, it makes Tyler wriggle against him and rub their cocks together so that Jamie can’t think of anything else.

Is this what it’s like for Tyler when he hooks up at bars? It can’t be. If it is, Jamie can’t believe he doesn’t do it all the time. He can’t believe Tyler doesn’t pick up every night.

“God, Jamie,” Tyler says, bending to kiss his neck, and Jamie holds on and digs his fingers into Tyler’s ass whenever Tyler hits a really good spot.

“So what have you been thinking about?” Tyler asks, pulling back. He’s settled with their cocks nudging against each other, and it’s wonderfully distracting. “Have you been touching yourself, thinking of me?”

“Yes.” Jamie’s too turned on not to be honest.

“Yeah?” Tyler circles his hips. “What did you picture me doing to you?”

“I mostly, uh.” Jamie’s got his hands clenched on Tyler’s ass, and he’s trying to urge him into moving like that again, which Tyler obligingly does. God, he can’t think—“I mostly pictured you with, uh, other people. Because, um. It felt too unbelievable to picture you with me.”

The mischief drains out of Tyler’s face. He looks at Jamie seriously, and then he bends to kiss him again, slow, deep, taking him apart.

This is what Jamie wanted. This is what he was holding out for, that night a week ago in Tyler’s kitchen: the feeling that he’s holding all of Tyler, and Tyler’s holding all of him. That Tyler sees him, and knows him, and wants him anyway.

Tyler gets him stretched out on his back on the bed, their shirts off and his hands trailing up and down Jamie’s chest and stomach while they kiss. Jamie’s the one whimpering now, moaning every time Tyler brushes over a nipple. He feels like all of his skin has been electrified.

“God, Tyler, just,” he says.

Tyler pulls back and looks at him with that spark of mischief in his eyes again. “There something you want?” he asks.

He’s flushed and bright-eyed and his mouth is swollen and red from their kisses. “I want you,” Jamie says, and Tyler closes his eyes and lets his breath shudder out.

“Fuck, Jamie, you can’t just,” he says, and bends to kiss him again, and starts to undo his fly.

Jamie’s left a wet patch on his boxer-briefs. He arches up as soon as Tyler closes his hand around his cloth-covered cock, feeling like he’s been punched in the stomach. “Are you—what are you gonna do?”

Tyler kisses his chin through the beard. “I was thinking I’d make you come. That okay with you?”

“Yeah—yes. God, yes.” Jamie’s breathing so hard he might pass out, just from the light touches of Tyler’s fingers.

Tyler pulls down his underwear and takes hold of his cock, and Jamie cries out and bites down on the side of his hand. Tyler takes the hand out of his mouth and replaces it with his mouth, kissing Jamie as he strokes his cock, slow and then faster. Jamie feels his orgasm coming already, and it feels so different from when he does this alone. He feels like he’s going to explode, like he’s going to have a heart attack. He feels like he’s not going to survive this.

He’s basically sobbing by the time it hits him, and he has to stop kissing Tyler and throw his head back and let it happen. He feels Tyler all through it: Tyler’s hand on him, Tyler pulling it out of him and holding him as he breaks open. His orgasm is made of the two of them.

He kisses Tyler again as soon as he has the breath, slowly, tasting how much Tyler enjoyed that. He wonders if Tyler can taste how good it was for him. He hadn’t realized you could communicate mouth to mouth like this.

“You,” he says, running his hand down Tyler’s chest to those abs that make his own stomach clench with want even when he’s just come all over himself. “I want to—for you.”

Tyler’s already fumbling his own pants open, a little wild-eyed. “’Mnot gonna need much,” he says, learning in to mouth at Jamie’s lips. “You’re so fucking hot.”

Jamie isn’t sure he quite believes that, but he does feel hot right now, wrapped in the haze of that explosion Tyler just worked in him. And Tyler’s cock is hot for him, straining against the cloth of his underwear and leaping into Jamie’s hand as soon as it’s free.

This part, Jamie’s a little more nervous about. Tyler’s been with so many people—and Jamie’s jerked off lots of times, but never someone else, never without the direct feedback of what feels good on his dick. He doesn’t know if he’ll be good at this.

Tyler’s eyes flutter when Jamie tightens his hand and twists at the head. “Mm, like that,” he says, burrowing closer to Jamie’s body. “Yes, fuck. A little tighter at the top. Told you, don’t need much. I, oh—”

Jamie holds him with one arm and kisses him while he jerks him off. He likes doing it as much or more when his own arousal is less urgent: he can take in all the little stuff Tyler does, the way he sucks harder on Jamie’s tongue when Jamie jerks him really good, the way he gets slick with sweat. The way he clings harder the more turned on he gets.

Jamie pulls back and watches his face as Tyler’s comes. He expects to like watching it, but he’s not really prepared for how hard it hits him: the way Tyler’s face goes slack, all the barriers gone. His body out of his control and in control of the pleasure he’s taking from Jamie.

Tyler closes his eyes and pants, his face turned into Jamie’s arm, his breathing evening out. Then he smiles at Jamie, eyes bright and shining.

Jamie smiles back without even thinking about it. Tyler laughs, eyes crinkling up, and kisses Jamie, and they’re both trying to kiss each other while smiling too much to really be able to do it.

They settle into a more comfortable position after a while, Tyler lying on Jamie’s chest and Jamie holding him. “So, you’re not a virgin anymore,” Tyler says.

“Aren’t I?” Jamie says. He’s still grinning helplessly. He’s not sure he’ll ever be able to stop. “Don’t you have to, I don’t know, fuck someone?”

“Nah, I think this counts,” Tyler says. His hand is stroking casually over Jamie’s nipple, keeping the arousal simmering in Jamie’s belly. Jamie loves that: the idea that it isn’t over when they’ve each come once, that they’ll get to do this again and again and again. “But we can take care of that later if you want to make really sure.”

Jamie laughs and pulls him up to kiss him breathless. Yeah, they’re definitely gonna do that.

***

He doesn’t get home till the next morning. Jordie is already up, drinking coffee in the kitchen, and he does a double-take when he sees Jamie come in.

Jamie shifts a little, self-conscious. “Good morning.”

“Are you—” Jordie’s face looks disbelieving. “Were you at Tyler’s?

“Um.” Jamie ducks his head and feels his face get hot. “Maybe?”

“Jamie!” Jordie says, laughing joyfully. “All right. Get it!”

Jamie grins despite himself. “Yeah, well,” he mumbles, and lets Jordie pull him into a headlock.

“You showered, right?” Jordie says once he already has Jamie in a hold, and he shoves Jamie away even when Jamie insists that yes, he showered.

He doesn’t mention that it was with Tyler. There are some things a brother doesn’t need to know.

“Really, though,” Jordie says a few minutes later while Jamie’s getting food. “How did it go? I mean, was it okay?”

There’s still a smirk pulling at the corners of Jordie’s mouth, but it’s a serious question. Jamie considers for a moment. “Worth every second of the wait,” he says, and Jordie makes a grossed-out face and laughs at him again.

Jamie doesn’t mind, though. He doesn’t mind having taken years longer than any of his teammates to get here. He doesn’t mind the loneliness or the months he spent thinking Tyler wouldn’t want him, or the months he wasted earlier on people who really didn’t want him. He walks into the airport lounge for the team flight that day, and Tyler looks up at him and beams, and it doesn't matter how long he took to get here. Jamie wouldn’t change this for anything in the world.