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I Feel Like I’ve Been Locked Up Tight

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Jamie’s not sure where he missed the boat on the whole sex thing. He’s pretty sure it was somewhere in between starting high school and getting to the NHL—that somewhere, in that stretch of years, something was supposed to happen. He’s not really sure how it was supposed to happen: something about crowded parties, lots of alcohol, a girl putting her hand down his pants. Or maybe he was supposed to date someone, take her out in his parents’ car and get it on in the backseat in an empty field somewhere. He’s not sure. It just never—the pieces never came together.

It’s not that he doesn’t like girls. He’s known he does, ever since he sat next to Lindsay Eckhart in junior-year Poli Sci class. She had a curly black ponytail and a habit of cracking her gum and answering back to the teacher so that everyone in the room laughed with her. They were study partners, and Lindsay sat with him and his friends at lunch sometimes, and Jamie came away from conversations with her dizzy with the feeling he got when she met his eyes.

From the way she looked back at him, he thought maybe she felt it, too. He would lie awake at night that year feeling the possibility bubble under his skin like soda water. It took him until the spring to find the courage to talk to her about it, and when he did, stumbling over the words and just barely getting them out, she got a look on her face that made him wish he hadn’t.

“Sorry if I made you think,” she began, and Jamie wanted to die, wanted to crush his body into a little ball of nothing so that he couldn’t feel anything at all.

So that was the first time. When he thinks back on it, it’s just a haze of pain over the whole second half of junior year: she said they could still be friends, and Jamie said yes, of course yes, but it turned out he couldn’t. He couldn’t even sit next to her at lunch without fumbling his milk carton and stuttering half his words, and he got a C instead of a B in Poli Sci because he couldn’t focus on studying when she was sitting there. He convinced his friends to let her and her date into their limo for junior prom, even though they didn’t really fit, and then he spent the whole evening watching them slow dance and feeling miserable.

Then Jordie came home for the summer, watched him mope for two days straight, and told him he needed to get laid. He even had some suggestions on how to do it—but Jamie couldn’t imagine putting his hands on anyone’s body but Lindsay’s. Not that he’d ever done that with her, but the idea of doing it with anyone else was unthinkable.

By the time school started in the fall the feeling had faded a little, into a dull pain behind his breastbone when he thought about it for too long. That was when he should have gone up to girls at parties, probably, gotten a little bit of experience. But dancing with other girls didn’t have the same charge as it did when he thought about dancing with her: thoughts of her were all warm with golden light, and the girls in front of him were clouded and dim. They didn’t brighten, even when the light around Lindsay began to fade.

After a while he started thinking maybe Lindsay was it for him—that what he felt for her was so strong that it wiped out any possibility of anyone else. He was even kind of glad, like maybe it proved that his love for her was real and special, even while he ached for a real person to touch.

Then he met Melanie.

He was twenty-one by then, on the Stars and working so hard to earn his place that he wasn’t thinking about girls and sex and dating. He barely had time to miss home, let alone things he’d never had. His teammates sometimes went out to bars and clubs but Jamie usually needed the sleep. He went to team stuff, though, barbecues and dinners and shit, and that was where he met Melanie.

She was a teammate’s girlfriend. Jamie had known her for a while in a casual way, but he’d never paid much attention to her. Then one day another WAG said something kind of mean about Melanie’s outfit and Melanie made a self-deprecating joke that made Jamie snort salsa out his nose. She caught his eye afterward, a bright grin on her face, and he thought, Oh.

She had wavy hair with bright highlights and little wispy tendrils that came loose around her face. Her eyes changed color when she smiled. The curve of her shoulder and neck in her workout gear made a perfect S.

Jamie tortured himself for weeks with the fantasy that something might happen. Like, they would be at a team event, and maybe they’d both hang back a little until the others had moved on, and she would step close to him and whisper. Touch his wrist. Lean her body in close to his and run her hand up his side and wake up all the nerves that had been asleep for way too long. It always had to be her, making the first move in his fantasies, because he couldn’t be the one to do anything—couldn’t do that to a teammate—but if she did it first it would be okay, it would mean that she didn’t really love Alex, and then he could taste her mouth and press his body against hers and…

Well, it was hard to carry the fantasy much farther than that, because what was he going to do, start secretly having sex with his teammate’s girlfriend? Even if she and Alex broke up, Jamie couldn’t date her. Then she’d be a teammate’s ex. But by that point in the fantasy he’d usually already come, so.

He jerked off to thoughts of her for weeks and felt terrible about it every time. At first he tried to make them about a faceless woman, because jerking off to real people felt weird even when it wasn’t betraying a teammate, but Melanie’s face would always creep into things and he couldn’t stop. He couldn’t think about anything but her.

It got to the point where he felt sick about her all the time and started having trouble eating. His stomach was in a constant state of nervous excitement that didn’t mix well with food. He thought he could fix it by avoiding her at team gatherings, but by the end of the evening he always gave in and gravitated towards her, towards her easy laughter and bright smile. Then he went home and jerked off in a bed that was too big and cold around him and felt twisted up inside and empty and desperate.

No one ever found out. Jordie wasn’t on the Stars at that point, or he would have noticed in a heartbeat. But Jamie hadn’t really found his footing with the team yet, and the others just seemed to think he was being quieter than usual. The trainers told him to eat more protein. And Jamie was alone with his suffocating want and the memory of how Melanie’s hand had touched his one time when she’d handed him a beer.

He doesn’t know how he would have gotten over her, except that Alex got traded to the Blues. In a burst of self-destructive desperation, Jamie asked Melanie out to coffee to say goodbye, and they had a perfectly nice conversation where she told funny stories about her movers and asked about the shot she remembered he was having trouble with and Jamie wondered if there was any non-offensive way to ask to kiss her just once. Most people would be willing to do that, right? Give someone a pity kiss?

He didn’t ask. They finished their coffee and walked outside, and he gave her a hug that was maybe a shade too long and too tight, and then she was waving goodbye and heading toward her car and out of his life.

It took six months before Jamie could fall asleep at night without thinking of her. After that he tried to get out more—drink with teammates, dance with girls at clubs and shit. But none of the girls he danced with made him feel anything like he had with Melanie. And what was he going to do, take them back to his place and explain fumblingly that he didn’t know what he was doing—that he, an NHL star solidly in his twenties, had never even kissed a girl? He’d missed the window when it was okay not to know what he was doing. By this point, the only thing he could do was hold on tight and hope no one noticed.

***

“So we’re going to fuck, right,” Brenden says when they’re out one night after a game—just Jamie and Brenden and Jordie and Tyler; no one else had wanted to go, but Jamie’s the captain now, and it’s important that he go to things. “Only she wants to do some porn fantasy thing first, where I’m, like, a plumber who shows up to fix her sink or whatever—”

“Right, right,” Tyler says, waving his hand, like this is nothing new for him.

“And then when we finally get to it, she keeps talking about my wrench,” Brenden says. “Like, ‘Stick your wrench in me.’ ‘Fuck me with that wrench.’ ‘God, your wrench is so big.’”

By this point, Tyler’s doubled over with giggles. Tyler’s only been in Dallas a couple of months, but Jamie’s already used to the way he gives himself over to it, like he’s nothing in that moment but laughter. “Maybe she wanted you to use the actual wrench,” Tyler says.

“We were in a hotel room, dude. We didn’t have an actual wrench,” Brenden says. “Anyway, so I think, maybe if I get her to come more quickly, she’ll shut up about it—”

“Did it work?” Tyler asks.

Brenden gives him a dead-eyed stare. “It was wrench talk for a solid twenty minutes.”

“Twenty minutes?” Jordie asks with an eyebrow raised, while Tyler dissolves into laughter again.

“Well, it’s not like I was timing it,” Brenden says. “I was too busy wrenching her.”

Jamie’s laughing, but he’s taking mental notes, too. Twenty minutes is too long; it comes off exaggerated—

Tyler wipes tears from his eyes and slaps Jamie on the back. Jamie’s hoping the story is done and they’ll change the subject, but Tyler says, “I don’t know, man. Still not as bad as the girl who bit me.”

“Biting’s not all bad,” Jordie says with a little leer, which, ew. Jamie doesn’t need to know that about his brother.

“It is when she’s giving you a blow job,” Tyler says.

“Oh shit,” Brenden says, his face going all shocked.

“Yeah, she’s all, ‘You look so delicious. I wonder if you taste as good as you look?’” Tyler says. “And I’m like, okay, she’s going to swallow, awesome, but then she gets her teeth around me and—”

“Holy fuck,” Jordie says. Brenden cracks up again, and Jamie laughs, too, even though he’s wincing at the same time. He doesn’t have to have had a mouth on his dick to know how bad that would be.

“I swear. I couldn’t move my legs for like ten minutes,” Tyler says. “I’m lying there, hoping my dick doesn’t fall off or bleed out or something, and she keeps going, ‘Are you all right? Do you want me to start again?’ And I’m like, no, fuck, anything but that, except somehow she takes ‘anything’ as me wanting her to finger me—”

Brenden howls, and Jamie makes a face. “TMI, dude,” Jordie says.

“So what happened?” Brenden asks.

“Well, I say no to the fingering, obviously,” Tyler says. “And then she asks—get this—she asks if I’ll eat her out.”

“Did you?” Jamie asks.

“Fuck no,” Tyler says, giggling. “I’m like, no, maybe if you’d asked me ten minutes ago when my legs still worked. So then she—she—”

“What?” Brenden gasps through his laughter.

Tyler’s laughing almost too hard to continue. “She says that’s okay, she’ll just sit on my face!”

That sends him and Brenden into gales of laughter again. Jordie’s doing his “silly children” thing, where he shakes his head and pretends he doesn’t find them amusing but can’t quite hold back his smile. Jamie chuckles what he hopes is the right amount.

The laughter finally turns into little gasping breaths, and Tyler raises his head and looks at Jamie and asks the question Jamie’s been dreading for the past ten minutes. “How about you, captain? Worst sexual experience.”

Jamie knew this was coming, but that doesn’t help with the flutter of panic in his gut. “Come on,” he manages to say, “like I’m going to talk about that with my brother here.”

“Aw, Jamie,” Tyler says, giving him the big eyes. “Come on, please? We told you ours.”

“I can leave,” Jordie says with a wry look.

“Dude, no, stay here and tell us yours instead,” Brenden says.

“Um, I don’t want to hear that, either,” Jamie says, which is true.

Jordie leans back and folds his arms behind his head. “Don’t worry. You guys can’t handle my worst sexual experience.”

Tyler’s eyes light up. “Can so.”

“Come on, dude, fair’s fair,” Brenden says.

Jordie grins. “Let’s just say…not everyone involved was human.”

“Dude,” Jamie says in horror. Tyler and Brenden look suitably impressed.

Jamie decides it’s time to go to the bar for another drink.

Tyler follows him. Jamie likes Tyler a lot, but he isn’t thrilled about having him follow him right now. “You’re quiet tonight,” Tyler says.

“I’m always quiet,” Jamie says.

“I know, you should talk more,” Tyler says. “Give us your captainly wisdom.”

“I don’t think my captainly wisdom has a lot to do with my worst hookups,” Jamie says.

“You could talk about your best hookups instead,” Tyler says, smirking and slouching against the bar.

People are looking at him. There are always eyes on Tyler: women, even men sometimes. Jamie goes back and forth on how aware of it Tyler is. “Maybe you should go out there and get some more stories to tell,” Jamie says, nudging Tyler’s shoulder toward the dance floor.

Tyler slides his eyes speculatively over the room and then back to Jamie. “Maybe we should get you some stories instead.”

It’s not the first time Tyler’s suggested something like that. Jamie tries to take it the way Tyler means it, as Tyler being nice to a guy he’s becoming friends with, not a thing meant to make Jamie’s palms sweat and the room feel more crowded.

“How about her?” Tyler gestures to a woman farther down the bar the bar—a woman who’s so far out of Jamie’s league she couldn’t find it with a telescope. Jamie just stares at Tyler. “What?” Tyler asks.

“Have you seen her?” Jamie asks.

“What, you don’t like her?” Tyler asks.

“No, she just—she looks like a Victoria’s Secret model,” Jamie says.

“And?”

“And I don’t,” Jamie says, and he knows something’s wrong with that as soon as he says it, but it’s too late: Tyler’s already giggling.

“Dude, if you looked like a Victoria’s Secret model, I’d totally watch the two of you hook up,” Tyler says when he stops for breath.

Jamie flushes. He doesn’t think anyone’s likely to be able to tell in the darkness of the bar, but he feels the heat of it.

“Why’s Jamie looking like a Victoria’s Secret model?” Jordie asks. He and Brenden have come up to them at the bar.

Brenden narrows his eyes at Jamie. “He’d need some major support,” he says, and the conversation turns to what kind of lingerie Jamie would need to wear in his appearance in a Victoria’s Secret catalog. Which is embarrassing, but not in the same way, so Jamie can laugh it off.

Tyler does pick up later that night, this gorgeous tiny blond girl in a sparkly dress, and Jamie thinks, yeah, that seems about right.

***

Jamie was a little skeptical when Tyler was first traded, but he came around on him pretty fast. Tyler’s killer on the ice, raises everyone’s game, and off the ice he’s friendly and silly and charming and fun. Jamie wouldn’t have any complaints, except for the thing where Tyler talks about sex more than anyone Jamie’s ever met. And Jamie’s a professional hockey player.

“Man, you are totally lying,” Cody says one night, when they’re out at a bar after a win over San Jose. “No way did you do it in an IKEA showroom.”

“I swear!” Tyler says, laughing. “She said the closet thingy didn’t look very sturdy, and I said, well, there’s one way to test it…”

“What were you even doing with a girl at IKEA?” Daley asks.

“She was my neighbor. She needed help moving stuff,” Tyler says.

“If that’s what they’re calling it these days,” Jordie says, and Daley laughs and slaps him on the back.

Jamie tries to imagine it: going somewhere with a woman he’s friendly with, just casually suggesting sex in an IKEA closet. He can actually see it a lot better than he can imagine having sex with any of the women in the bar. He would know her, at least. But it still seems impossible.

Cody shakes his head. “Okay, I’ve been missing out.”

And then, the turn that conversations take way too often these days: “How about you, Jameson?” Tyler asks. “Weirdest place?”

Jamie forces a laugh. His stomach freezes up a little, but the bar is dark and maybe no one will notice how uncomfortable he is. “Don’t you want to use your imagination?”

A chorus of oohs from the guys, like he’s just issued a challenge, and Tyler’s eyes go wide and delighted. Jordie tips his head back and laughs. “By that, he means he’s only ever had sex in a bed, looking soulfully into a woman’s eyes.”

“Missionary’s a classic for a reason,” Jamie says, and they’re all laughing and crowing at him too much to notice that his smile is pasted on over the empty feeling clawing its way up his windpipe.

“Come on, missionary?” Tyler asks, making a skeptical face. “You gotta at least like doggy style, man.”

What’s the difference? Jamie half-wants to ask—but that’s not the real question, anyway. He knows the difference between missionary and doggy style. What he doesn’t know is how they feel: whether it feels different on your dick, or if it just changes things to have your partner facing you or on her back or on her side or whatever. What it feels like to have someone naked with you, no barriers, wanting you desperately.

He tries to imagine it later that night, when he lies down and slips his hand inside his shorts. Fucking into a girl while she’s lying on her back, her boobs firm and round with their hard little nipples pointing up at him. That sounds pretty good, in theory. Then tries to imagine fucking her while she’s on her hands and knees, tries to see which one feels hotter. But he can’t really imagine the way the angle or whatever would feel, and anyway, it all feels too unbelievable to be really hot. Who is this woman, and why does she want him? Can she tell he doesn’t know what he’s doing?

He switches it to Tyler in his head, and—he knows he shouldn’t, it’s creepy to think about a teammate like that, but it’s instantly better: he can totally imagine Tyler and this anonymous girl being hot for each other. The way people look at Tyler—yeah, this woman has been getting wet for him all night. Tyler sees the way she’s looking, and it makes his cock hard, ready to slide into her wet folds. And then—because Tyler knows how to do this, because Tyler’s done it dozens and dozens of times—they’re fucking. Tyler’s screwing his face up and slamming into her, sweat standing out on his brow while she cries out underneath him.

It doesn’t matter what position Jamie imagines it in. It’s hot no matter what.

***

That should probably have been a clue. But Tyler talks about sex all the time—of course Jamie thinks about him and sex together. And Jamie’s not having sex, which means he thinks about it a lot. It’s easy to tell himself that’s all it is. Even when they go to Detroit, and Tyler starts making out with a girl in the corner of the bar, and Jamie watches a little too long for it to be curiosity.

He goes back to his room that night and feels emptier than he has in a while. It’s not that he wanted to be making out with that girl—but he wants to be making out with someone. Touching someone. He wants there to be someone he wants to touch.

“Do you think Tyler hooks up too much?” he asks Jordie when they get home.

Jordie looks at him for a minute. “Define ‘too much.’”

“I just—do you think it’s safe?” Jamie asks. “He doesn’t know these girls.”

“I’ve hooked up with girls I don’t know,” Jordie says.

“But what if they like. Take his picture and sell it or whatever?”

“I’m sure he has a pile of NDAs he carries around,” Jordie says, rolling his eyes.

Jamie’s never actually considered that possibility. “Do you have a pile of NDAs you carry around?”

“I’ve never been as famous as Tyler,” Jordie says. And then adds, pointedly: “Or you.”

Oh. Shit. He shouldn’t have said that—he’s usually better at not exposing himself with questions like that. He doesn’t know if Jordie knows or not; he kind of hopes Jordie figures Jamie got his first time over with sometime between Jamie leaving home and Jordie joining him in Texas. “Uh, maybe I should start carrying one, huh?” he says weakly.

“If you want to,” Jordie says, neutrally.

Shit. Jamie ducks his head. “I just—I think Tyler should be careful, is all.”

“Uh-huh,” Jordie says, still in that neutral tone, and Jamie leaves the room before he can say anything else dumb.

***

When Jamie does finally figure it out, it’s a couple of days later, during a game. They’re in Calgary, and Jamie’s already been thinking about what will happen after the game: whether Tyler will hook up if they go out, or if Jamie can get him to hang out, either at their table or somewhere in the hotel if they all stay in. But then they start playing and he’s just thinking about the game—and the game is going really, really well.

It’s one of those games where he feels like he and Tyler are connected with a thread: Jamie assists on Tyler’s first two goals, and Tyler assists on Jamie’s goal, and it’s like everything they touch turns to victory green. Tyler’s staring hard and focused in the face-off circle, and Jamie feels like they can charge through every barrier Calgary puts up, and when Tyler knocks in his third goal of the night Jamie lifts him off the ice in the celly.

Calgary starts fighting back pretty hard in the third, but it’s too little, too late. It’s 6-3 with less than five minutes left. And then—Calgary’s getting sloppy, taking dumb penalties—Jamie passes to Tyler on the power play, and Tyler snipes it in right past Rama.

Jamie jumps up like he’s been electrified and Tyler’s there, smashing into him, before Jamie can even look for him. “Four goals!” Jamie shouts. He’s never even—four goals. “You fucking beauty!”

“Thanks to you,” Tyler says, gripping him hard, and Jamie lost his glove somewhere in the last ten seconds, and when he goes to hug Tyler back his bare hand ends up on Tyler’s neck, where the ends of his hair are curling damply, and—

Oh, he thinks. Oh.

He’s too dazed to remember the rest of the celly. They calm down pretty fast after that anyway—not good manners to brag about a goal when the other team’s losing that badly. But still, four goals for Tyler, six points for Jamie: the whole team is flying high. Jamie lets himself get swept up in it.

It’s such a good night. Even with the annoyingness of being in Calgary, a city that cares about hockey and just saw their team get demolished—it’s not Toronto or Edmonton; they can still go out without risking their lives. They end up having the kind of night that Jamie would normally feel it’s his captainly duty to put a stop to. But they don’t have another game for four days, and the guys keep buying him and Tyler drinks, and Jamie isn’t gonna say no.

The drinks make him lean against Tyler’s side when they’re slumped in a booth. He can feel the closeness buzzing through him like the alcohol. Tyler’s all lit up tonight, laughing and happy, and Jamie wants to touch the light. Wants to put his hands all over it. He doesn’t, but his thinks about it. Follows Tyler when he gets up to go to the dance floor. No girls tonight: just the team, dancing and making idiots of themselves. “Just team tonight,” Jamie says, reaching clumsily for Tyler’s shoulder, happy when he feels the firmness of muscle beneath his fingers. Tyler laughs and says, “Whatever you say, bro,” and Jamie sticks close and doesn’t let himself think about what any of this means.

***

He wakes up the next morning with a headache and the feeling that nothing that happened the night before was real.

The goals were real; he knows that. The celebrating was real. But the way he felt about it, the way his body hummed every time Tyler was close, that wasn’t real. That doesn’t even make any sense. Jamie’s not…he doesn’t…

He thinks of Tyler’s head pressed against his pads, Jamie’s hand on the back of his neck, and his stomach flips giddily.

No. He’s not…he wasn’t gonna do it again. The next time he fell for someone it was gonna be better. Not like Melanie. He’s not gonna do that to himself again. It’s not real. He just got caught up in the game.

Jamie gets out of bed and puts himself in the shower and packs his stuff up all neatly and goes downstairs to the team breakfast buffet. He fills a plate with eggs, and Tyler’s not in the room yet, and it doesn’t mean anything that Jamie notices. He was thinking about Tyler this morning. Of course he notices. That’s all it is.

Tyler’s still not there when Jamie sits down with Jordie and Fidds. It’s kind of hard to eat, but that’s normal the morning after drinking like that, and Jordie and Fidds tease him a little about his hangover. “Yeah, a six-point hangover,” Jamie says, and they grin and Jordie starts to say something else and that’s when Tyler comes in.

Jamie remembers this feeling from Melanie. From Lindsay, in the school cafeteria. The way they’d walk into a room and he’d be physically incapable of focusing his attention on anything else. He doesn’t know what Jordie’s saying; he can only watch Tyler come in. Even when he turns his eyes back to his food he’s not aware of anything but Tyler.

Tyler needs to come sit with them. It would be better if he didn’t, obviously, and there’s a small corner of Jamie’s mind that’s aware of that. But most of him is busy wanting with everything he has for Tyler to come sit with them.

Tyler comes to sit them. He slides into the chair next to Jamie, and his eyes are smiling when they brush Jamie’s face, and his knee is warm where it brushes Jamie’s leg, and Jamie can’t remember what to do with his knife and fork.

“Shit, we shouldn’t have drunk so much last night,” Tyler says, grinning.

“No kidding,” Jordie says dryly. “Jamie here’s been a zombie all breakfast.”

Tyler laughs, eyes going to Jordie, and Jamie’s jealous. He wants Tyler’s eyes on him. Then Tyler does turn his eyes on him, making that amused face that crinkles up his eyes and nose, and Jamie rides that eye contact for a full thirty seconds before he wants more. Wants Tyler not to look at anyone else.

Fuck. What is even wrong with him? He must just think—he got stuck on the idea, and—and he wanted someone to like, so—

Tyler’s telling the story of how he couldn’t find his key card this morning, how he finally found it in his toiletry case. Jamie’s laughing, helpless not to.

“You know, you don’t actually have to turn those in,” Fidds says. “They don’t really keep track. They’re like two cents each.”

“Shit, really?” Tyler laughs. “I’ve been killing myself over them for like three years. I can’t believe no one told me.”

“Hazing,” Jamie says, which doesn’t really make sense, but now Tyler’s laughing with him, specifically, and that’s all he wants. All he needs.

Shit. Jamie is so screwed.

Chapter Text

Jamie sits with Tyler on the plane back from Calgary. He tells himself he shouldn’t, but he knows that if he doesn’t he’ll spend the whole plane ride letting it tear him up inside. Better to slide into the row with Tyler and let the ball of crazy in his gut calm down.

It does, as soon as Tyler turns to smile at him. “I was gonna watch some tape, you in?”

“Yeah,” Jamie says gratefully, and they spend the flight dissecting the moves that got them a fuckload of points last night and Jamie is fine. He’s fine.

He starts getting antsy again when they get back to Dallas. The car ride will be okay, because Tyler drove with him and Jordie to the airport, so Jamie knows he gets to have him in the car for the ride back. But then they’ll probably go to their separate apartments. And that’s good; that’s normal. Jamie knows he’s being crazy here. He knows he doesn’t actually need to spend every minute of the day with Tyler and that it will actually be way better for him if he doesn’t. He should just let this happen.

He makes it until they’re pulling into the parking garage at their building before he says, “Hey, you coming up?”

“Nah, not right now,” Tyler says. “Got some stuff to take care of.”

Of course he does. They’ve just gotten back from a three-city road trip. It’s fine. Jamie will see him—soon. Definitely soon.

He goes to his room to unpack but ends up sitting on the end of his unmade bed. He remembers this feeling from before. He used to spend days thinking up ways to see Melanie, even for a ten-second glimpse, waving hi in passing. He had a free period in the middle of the afternoon junior year when he used to walk by Lindsay’s English class to see if he could see her through the window. It was just the back of her head, part of her shoulder maybe if the kid behind her was sitting the right way, but he did it multiple times per week. He knows this feeling.

It can’t be, though. He can’t be—not for Tyler. That would be a disaster.

“Are you okay?” Jordie asks, doing a double take when Jamie finally comes out of his room a few hours later.

“Yeah, of course,” Jamie says, even though he doesn’t feel okay. He feels strung out, like the hangover from this morning has gotten worse somehow. “Plans for tonight?”

“Uh, going to bed early?” Jordie says, still looking at him in concern.

It’s not the answer Jamie wanted. It’s been so many hours since he’s seen Tyler. Or, okay, like five, but it feels like longer. He doesn’t want to be the one to bring up his name, though. “Video games?” he suggests instead.

“Yeah, sure,” Jordie says, and it’s not enough, but Jamie’s going to be okay with it. He has to be.

His phone buzzes during their first round of MarioKart. Jamie’s been sticking to his phone pretty closely, hoping for a text he has no reason to expect, and he has to fight the impulse to look at it right away even though he’s in the middle of a race. Jordie’ll think it’s weird, the text’ll still be there in two minutes, it’s probably not even from Tyler—and Jamie’s so focused on not looking at his phone that he loses by an entire lap.

“And the best man wins,” Jordie crows while Jamie dives for his phone.

It is from Tyler. Jamie’s heart starts beating faster just at the name on the notification. And then at the message: u guys up to anythng?

It’s just to Jamie, not Jamie and Jordie. Jamie probably shouldn’t read into that but he’s going to anyway. “Tyler wants to do something,” he says, hoping his voice sounds normal. “Should I invite him over?”

Jordie shrugs, like it’s not a big deal to him. Jamie remembers that feeling. It feels like a long time ago. “Sure, tell him to come up.”

Tyler shows up five minutes later, and it’s like the moment of putting down a set of free weights that were just a little too heavy. Jamie feels buoyant, full of energy as he ushers Tyler in, hangover symptoms gone entirely.

Tyler sits on the couch with them and bumps Jamie’s arm while they play and makes his brain fuzz over. He laughs at himself when he goes off the track, and the whole evening feels different, better, just from having him there.

“We should go out,” Tyler says after a few rounds.

Jamie’s fingers stop on the controller. “We should—what?” he stutters.

“Uh, I think the track is the other way,” Jordie says.

Jamie can’t even see the track. Tyler just said—but he can’t mean what Jamie wants him to mean. Can he? “We should go out?” he repeats.

“Yeah, like tomorrow night, with the guys,” Tyler says, and oh. Okay. That’s all he meant. “I still haven’t gotten to wingman you, remember?”

Right. Jamie had forgotten about that. But of course Tyler still wants to do it; nothing’s changed for him, even if the whole world feels different to Jamie.

“Yeah, totally,” Jamie says.

“You’re wingmanning Jamie?” Jordie snorts. “Good luck with that.”

“I don’t need luck, I’m an awesome wingman,” Tyler says.

“Yeah, but your material…” Jordie’s smirking in Jamie’s direction.

“What are you talking about? Jamie’s totally hot,” Tyler says, elbowing Jamie, and Jamie’s stomach jerks as his face flames up. He knows Tyler doesn’t mean anything by it—he’s heard Tyler say stuff like that about plenty of the guys he calls his bros, even some of their current teammates. It’s, like, a secret power of Tyler’s to be able to say shit like that and not have it make him seem gay. Probably because he usually says it right before finding the hottest girl in the room and sucking face with her.

“I’m not—I mean,” Jamie mumbles.

“Hey, don’t let this hater get you down,” Tyler says. “We’re gonna have women fighting each other to get at your dick.”

“Oh my god,” Jamie says faintly, while Jordie cracks up across the room.

***

A few of the other guys take Tyler up on his invitation, so there’s a little crowd of them at the bar the next night. Jamie’s spent the whole day simultaneously eager for it and dreading it. On the one hand, he doesn’t want to get hooked up with some woman he’ll just be awkward towards until she makes him go away out of pity. On the other hand—Tyler will be there.

“So tell me about your type,” Tyler says, resting his chin on Jamie’s shoulder in their booth when most of the other guys are up getting drinks.

Jamie can’t think with Tyler’s face this close to his. Does he even like faces other than Tyler’s? “Uh,” he says, stalling for time. “Um…dark hair, I guess? And—” Shit, what else did Lindsay and Melanie even have in common? All he can think about is the scruff of Tyler’s beard, the brightness of his eyes. “And someone happy,” he says, ducking his head. “Someone who’ll—yeah. Make me laugh.”

“Okay, I can work with that,” Tyler says, and he turns away from Jamie to scan the room and Jamie can breathe again without bursting into flame. “How about her?” he says after a minute.

Tyler seems to be good at picking out the hottest girl in the room. Which makes sense, since Tyler can probably get the hottest girl in the room. “Think she’s more your speed,” Jamie says.

Tyler whacks him on the chest. “Come on, you could totally get a girl like that.”

Jamie could not get a girl like that. His track record doesn’t suggest that he could get any girl at all, but definitely not a girl like that. “Yeah, right.”

“Come on, I’ll show you,” Tyler says, and takes his wrist to tow him across the room.

Jamie doesn’t know how Tyler does it. But Tyler says a couple of things, and smiles a couple of smiles, and Jamie ends up dancing with this girl with a pink minidress and a pixie cut.

She’s cute, he guesses—no, she’s definitely cute. But when he looks at her he doesn’t feel anything like what floods through him when he looks at Tyler.

Is he gay? Is that what this is? What he felt for Melanie and Lindsay wasn’t very gay. But this girl is dancing all close to him and he doesn’t feel anything. He looks at her chest, outlined in the pink fabric, and, okay, it’s a good chest. Then he thinks about the way Tyler’s pecs pull against the tight t-shirt he’s wearing tonight, and his whole body goes hot with want.

He can’t let Tyler know. He should—he should hook up with this girl. She’s cute, and she’s dancing with him, and she probably likes him, and he’s not gonna get a better opportunity than this. He catches sight of Tyler, watching him from the edge of the dance floor, and Tyler grins and gives him a thumbs up.

Just do it, Jamie thinks to himself. Just lean in and kiss her.

He’s not drunk enough for this. He didn’t think it was a good idea, getting drunk when he was going to be hanging out with Tyler all night—but it would probably help. If he weren’t quite so aware of himself.

The girl is pressing so close to him. Jamie guesses it’s not actually closer than some of the other people around him, but it feels really, really close. She meets his eyes again, smiles tentatively.

What if he just did it? Brought her back to his apartment? She probably wouldn’t tell anyone if he was bad at it. He’s watched porn; he had that condom lecture in health class. He could make it work. He could get through it.

“Are you okay?” she shouts over the music, and he realizes he’s stopped moving his hips. His hands are shaking.

“Sorry, I’m not—feeling well,” he says. “It was really nice to meet you—”

He makes himself meet Tyler’s eyes when he goes back over even though he doesn’t want to. “Did it not work out?” Tyler says.

He can’t let Tyler figure it out. There’s only one thing Jamie can think of worse than having a hopeless crush on his teammate for the next however-many years, and that’s having a hopeless crush on a teammate who knows about any of the messed-up stuff that’s going on with him.

“She just—she said something really shitty,” Jamie said.

Tyler’s expression goes immediately sympathetic. “Dude, that sucks.”

He’s going to find someone else to set Jamie up with. Jamie knows it. Any second now Tyler’s eyes are going to start scanning the room.

“Actually,” Jamie says, “uh, actually, it’s probably good. I’m, uh, I’m not feeling all that great.”

If he wanted Tyler’s attention on him, he should have just said that earlier. Jamie feels guilty about how much he enjoys the way Tyler’s hand goes to his arm and Tyler’s eyes start scanning his face instead of the room. “Are you okay?” Tyler says. He puts his other hand on Jamie’s forehead, and Jamie fights the urge to sway toward him. “Do you want me to go home with you?”

Jamie does want Tyler to go home with him. He wants it so badly. He wants Tyler to go home with him, and keep putting his hands on him like that, and climb into bed with Jamie and let Jamie put his hands on him back. And then maybe…

“Nah, it’s okay,” Jamie says. “You stay out. Enjoy yourself.”

Tyler still looks torn. “Okay,” he says. “But we’re gonna hook you up soon, okay? Wingman rain check.”

Jamie’s stomach tightens. “Yeah,” he says, putting on a smile. “Count on it.”

He thinks about it on the way home. There are only so many times he can go out with Tyler and come up with excuses for why he’s not hooking up. It’s not gonna get better, either. If Jamie couldn’t manage to make anything happen the past few years, he’s sure as fuck not going to be able to do it now, when his head is full of Tyler. Sooner or later Tyler’s going to think it’s weird that Jamie never manages to hook up, and he’s going to realize that Jamie never hooks up.

Jamie’s going to have to say something to him. One excuse that will cover everything.

His stomach is jumping while he and Jordie drive in to practice the next morning. But he needs to do it sooner, rather than later: it’ll just be weirder the longer he waits, and if he doesn’t do it now, he’s gonna lose his nerve.

Tyler’s already there, had a meeting with the trainers beforehand to check out some shoulder strain he’s been having. “How’re you feeling?” Tyler says, putting down the stick he’s taping as soon as he sees Jamie.

“Uh, yeah, lots better,” Jamie says. It’s not actually true: his stomach feels like it’s trying to eat itself. “Um. Listen. About the stuff last night. I don’t think I can, um—I don’t think hooking up like that is gonna work for me.”

Tyler immediately looks serious. “Bro,” he says.

Jamie feels like his face is a million degrees. Maybe he shouldn’t have tried to have this conversation in the locker room. “I just—I don’t like hooking up with people I don’t know,” he says.

“What, not at all?” Tyler asks, honestly surprised.

“Uh, I mean.” Jamie shoves his hands into his pockets to keep them from shaking. “It’s just better, you know, when I know someone a little.”

“Oh yeah, that makes sense,” Tyler says, and Jamie breathes a little easier. “Hey, you should have said.”

“Well, I didn’t want to, like. You were really into wingmanning me,” Jamie says, ducking his head.

“Okay, but wow,” Tyler says. “You must have crazy self-control. I would go insane if I never let myself hook up with randos.”

Jamie laughs. He tries to, anyway. “It’s not really about not letting myself.”

“No, I get it,” Tyler says. “You want to date first.”

“Yeah,” Jamie says, so relieved at how he’s taking it that it doesn’t even occur to him that Tyler’s gonna say—

“So we just have to find you someone to date.”

Oh. “Uh,” Jamie says. “I mean, um. How?”

“Dude, like I know?” Tyler says, laughing. “I don’t date people.”

Right. Of course he doesn’t. Another reason why it’s dumb for Jamie to be feeling like this about Tyler: Tyler doesn’t date anyone, let alone his male teammates.

“Brownie does, though,” Tyler says. “I’ll ask him. We’ll figure it out.”

Just what Jamie needs: more people being pulled into this disaster. “Sounds good,” he says weakly.

***

Tyler doesn’t follow up on the dating thing right away. He’s in Jamie and Jordie’s apartment a lot of the next few days, while the team is at home, and he’s different when it’s just the three of them: a little chiller, happy in an easier way, not quite as full of crazy sex stories. Jamie likes it way more than he should, and he starts to relax into it. Tyler probably wasn’t serious about the dating thing anyway; he likes wingmanning when they’re out at night, in bars and clubs. Why would he care about helping Jamie date?

He starts thinking Tyler forgot about it, actually. Which is why he’s so surprised when Tyler brings it up.

“So I googled that shit,” Tyler says, sitting down next to Jamie on the plane to Ottawa.

“Huh?” Jamie says. He has no idea what Tyler’s referring to.

“Dating. You know,” Tyler says, and oh, right. Fuck. “Brownie just laughed at me when I asked, so I decided to look it up.”

Jamie would kind of like to meet Brownie. He sounds like he has a good head on his shoulders. Except Jamie would probably just be jealous of him. “And?”

“And I think you should get on a dating site,” Tyler says.

Jamie stares at him. “What.”

“No, no, it’s, like, cool now,” Tyler says. “I looked it up. There are lots of people who meet their person on dating sites now.”

“You want me to go out on dates with random strangers,” Jamie says.

“No—well, I mean, yeah, but they’re random strangers who want to date, so they’re not going to think it’s weird if you want to get to know them before sleeping with them,” Tyler says, beaming triumphantly.

Jamie’s terrible talking to strangers. It’s bad enough when it’s just hockey sound bites. Talking to a stranger he’s trying to date sounds like a nightmare. “You really think I’d be good at that?”

“You’d be super great at it,” Tyler says. “So, what do you say, you going to let me sign you up when we get back?”

There’s something off about his tone. His knee is bouncing up and down, coming just short of the tray table. Jamie narrows his eyes, decides he’s probably not imagining it, and says, “Are you okay?”

“What? Of course,” Tyler says a little too quickly.

Jamie casts his mind over recent events to see if anything seems like it would have caused this. They lost their game a couple of days ago, but Tyler didn’t play badly or anything. And they’re about to play the Sens, who are terrible this year, and then—then Boston—

Oh. Jamie feels like an idiot.

He should have seen this coming. It’s so obvious. He’s been so focused on wanting Tyler that he forgot to think about—Tyler.

“Anyway, you’re gonna let me?” Tyler asks, that slightly too-bright edge to his voice again.

“Yeah, ’course,” Jamie says. “As soon as we get back to Dallas.”

Tyler beams.

***

Jamie keeps an eye on Tyler the next couple of days in Ottawa. Not that he wouldn’t be keeping an eye on Tyler anyway. But now he’s looking not just to see if Tyler’s looking back, but to see if Tyler’s okay.

Tyler seems mostly normal. But there are times when he’ll do or say something that seems a little off. Jamie keeps getting déjà vu, and finally he realizes it’s because Tyler’s acting like he was when he first came to Dallas back in August. Tyler had seemed pretty okay then—had been optimistic when he’d talked about his future with Dallas, all the opportunities that came with a fresh start. Jamie remembers being surprised by how good his attitude was. But now, seeing him be the same brand of overly cheerful, he sees how fake it is.

This isn’t Tyler’s normaly kind of cheerfulness, the kind Jamie likes. This kind is forced and wavery around the edges. It makes Jamie want to pull Tyler aside and do something dumb and girly like pet his hair or hold him until he feels better. But that wouldn’t work, so instead he sits with Tyler on the plane and lets him ramble about dumb stuff for the first twenty minutes of the flight.

Once it seems like Tyler’s words are petering out, Jamie yawns even though he isn’t really tired. “Is it dumb to nap on such a short flight?”

“Nah, go for it,” Tyler says, and he’s already tipping his head back, eyes closing.

Jamie takes a minute to study Tyler’s face. There are dark circles under his eyes that weren’t there a couple of days ago, and his face is already slack, like he was waiting for an excuse to drop all the expressions he’d been working so hard to maintain. He’s been growing a beard, and it’s coming in well so far. It makes him look older, in a good way, not like the circles under his eyes.

When Jamie realizes he’s starting to think about what that beard would taste like if he mouthed over it, he closes his eyes.

***

Boston boos Tyler when he hits the ice.

Jamie wants to fight every member of the Bruins just for that. But he doesn’t want to start trouble if trouble isn’t going to start itself, and he can see the way Tyler’s braced against it, tension visible in the way he holds himself outside of play, just a little too cool and casual to be natural. Jamie wonders how many others in the arena can see it. Tyler’s former teammates, probably. Jamie wants to stand in front of Tyler to shield him from their sight.

The game doesn’t go too badly, though. They win in a shootout on Tyler’s goal and Pevs’s, and if that isn’t the biggest fuck-you possible to Boston, Jamie doesn’t know what is. He doesn’t even think anyone from Boston is too shitty to Tyler—but maybe he missed something, because Tyler is definitely off in the locker room after the media’s gone. Pevs goes up to him and says something that makes Tyler give this forced laugh, and then Pevs leaves and the smile falls right off Tyler’s face like it was never there.

Jordie catches Jamie’s eye across the room and tilts his head at Tyler significantly. Jamie shrugs: he doesn’t know, either. Jordie makes another significant face, and Jamie realizes after a minute that Jordie wants Jamie to do something about it.

Yeah. Jamie should do that. He’d want to even if Jordie hadn’t suggested it, even if he weren’t the captain. But Tyler gets into the showers before Jamie can talk to him, and then Val starts asking Jamie in his halting English about his shot, and Jamie doesn’t get a chance to grab Tyler until Tyler’s slipping out of the locker room.

Jamie’s shirt is only half-buttoned, but he runs out the door out the door after Tyler anyway. “Hey,” he says, grabbing Tyler’s arm. Tyler turns around, and—there’s something off. He looks almost normal, but not quite. “Good game.”

“Yeah,” Tyler says. “We really showed them.”

The words are right, but the tone isn’t. Jamie can’t even put his finger on how. “We going out?” he says. “Celebrate the victory?”

Tyler’s face twists into something that’s probably supposed to be a smile. “It wouldn’t be a good idea for me to go out in Boston.”

He sounds weird. He sounds—like he’s quoting someone. Jamie frowns. “Did someone—”

“Look, Jamie, I’m good,” Tyler says. He’s putting on a brighter tone, putting more life in his face. “I’m just gonna go to the bus, okay?”

“But—” Jamie doesn’t know what else to say, how to break through what Tyler has going. “Let’s hang out,” he says. “In the hotel. We can rent a movie or something.”

“Nah, just gonna sleep,” Tyler says. He’s pretty good at this. Jamie almost can’t tell he’s faking. “Catch you later, cap.”

He taps Jamie on the arm as he leaves. It’s the first time in the past two weeks that Tyler’s touched him and Jamie hasn’t enjoyed it.

***

Jamie might stay up a little too late that night, wondering who said that to Tyler about going out in Boston. It might have been Jim: he was pretty nervous the first month or two Tyler was in Dallas, checking in with Jamie to make sure Tyler wasn’t going to run wild the way the rumors painted him in Boston. But he hasn’t done that in months. Everyone’s chilled out about Tyler’s behavior by now. At least, Jamie thought they had.

He checks his phone for the nth time, even though he would have heard it chime. Nothing from Tyler. But maybe he should stay up a little longer, just in case.

He does eventually fall asleep, early enough that he’s not totally dead for the trip to Montreal the next day. Tyler, though. He looks like he barely slept at all. He hunches over his cup of airport coffee like he’s trying to keep the world at a distance.

Jamie almost doesn’t sit with him on the plane. The way Tyler held him at bay last night—Jamie isn’t sure Tyler would want him to. He’s about to walk past Tyler’s row without sitting down when Tyler looks up, a quick dart of his eyes before he looks away again.

Jamie hesitates. Then abruptly slides in and sits.

It’s awkward for the first few minutes. Jamie doesn’t usually end up in this situation with Tyler; Tyler always has something to say. But he’s picking at his armrest right now, looking like all the light has gone out of him.

“Long trip,” Jamie says, even though it isn’t. Three cities, that’s nothing crazy.

Tyler lets out a huge gust of air. “Yeah,” he says, with so much feeling that he’s obviously not talking about the number of cities either.

Jamie searches for something to say to keep him talking. “Are you…” he starts to say, and then wimps out. “Do you want to sleep?”

“Yeah,” Tyler says. He’s leaning toward Jamie, a little—or maybe it’s Jamie leaning toward him. “That would probably be good.”

“If you want, you can, uh.” Jamie shrugs the shoulder nearer Tyler. “Sleeping on the headrest kind of sucks, so.”

There’s a moment of hesitation. Jamie’s surprised by that: Tyler touches people so easily, his hands all over his friends and teammates in ways that took Jamie forever to get used to at the beginning. But everything seems to be different here in Boston. For a second Jamie thinks Tyler will make some dumb crack and refuse, but then he slumps down and lets his head sag against Jamie’s shoulder.

His head is a heavy, warm weight that gets heavier as Tyler slides toward sleep. Jamie maybe would have been sleepy on this flight under other circumstances, but now he’s wide awake. He sits there, perfectly still, and lets it flow through him: the connection to Tyler. The trust. Never mind that Tyler would do this with any guy he’d met more than once. Right now, Tyler’s doing it with him.

The flight feels too short. But Tyler looks better rested when they land, and he smiles to Jamie as they deplane, and Jamie’s so happy he’s floating on air.

Chapter Text

Tyler seems okay once they’re back in Dallas. He’s back to his charismatic self, the brightest spot in any room, and if Tyler sad made Jamie want to reach out and touch him, Tyler happy makes Jamie crazy.

He just wants to be around him all the time. Tyler already spends a lot of time in the Benn brothers’ apartment, but it’s not enough for Jamie. He has to ration himself: if he invites Tyler over twice, he has to wait until Jordie or Tyler initiates it before he can do the inviting again.

They have an afternoon off a few days after the road trip, and Tyler comes over for dinner uninvited after Jamie typed out and deleted like six separate texts to him. He brings his laptop, though, which is unexpected.

“Hey, you promised,” Tyler says, setting up at the kitchen table while Jamie and Jordie chop things for dinner. “What do you think about BigBenn14?”

“Are you asking him what he thinks about himself?” Jordie asks.

“No, it’s a username,” Tyler says. “We’re gonna find Jamie a date.”

Jordie’s eyebrows go up. “You’re gonna what?”

“I sound like a clock,” Jamie mumbles over the chicken he’s chopping.

“No. You sound like you’re bragging,” Jordie says.

“Hey, not like it’s a lie,” Tyler says, leering.

Jamie ducks his head to hide his flush.

“Why be so coy about it?” Jordie says. “Cut out the mystery. Just call yourself BigDick.”

Tyler giggles. “I like it,” he says, typing.

“No,” Jamie says. “Come on, you can’t say that.” But his hands are covered in chicken, and he doesn’t want to trail it across the room.

“Okay, so I need to write some stuff about you,” Tyler says. “Big Dallas Stars fan, good with a stick…let’s say very good with a stick…”

“Oh my God,” Jamie says.

“It’s important that they know your skills,” Tyler says, cheeks dimpling up. “Let’s see. Looking for the right net to sink my puck into…”

Jordie is cracking up. Jamie feels like he might be physically dying. “You can’t—you can’t write that,” he says faintly.

“People will think it’s funny,” Tyler says.

“I certainly think it’s funny,” Jordie says.

“See?” Tyler says, like Jordie wouldn’t happily see Jamie humiliate himself anonymously on a dating site.

“You have to change it,” Jamie says, hovering near the island with his chicken-y hands held in front of him. Tyler’s still typing. “Ty? Are you changing it?”

“I’m writing about how you’d treat a woman,” Tyler says.

“Ah, no, you can’t say that, you have to be realistic,” Jordie says, smirking.

Jamie glares at him. He’s not supposed to be outing Jamie to Tyler. Not that Jamie’s gay. Or—okay, the Tyler thing’s pretty gay. But the rest of it.

“I’m being realistic,” Tyler says. “How do you spell ‘vibrator’?”

“Tyler!” Jamie lunges for the laptop while Jordie cracks up again. Tyler gets the laptop out of Jamie’s reach lightning-quick, and then he holds him off, hands around Jamie’s wrists while Jamie tries to smear the chicken goop all over him. Tyler’s giggling madly, and the push-and-pull of it feels really good, and Jamie finally backs off and lets Tyler push him away when he realizes he’s starting to get hard from it.

“Ha,” Tyler says, grabbing the laptop and going around to the other side of the island. “Jordie, control your brother.”

“Like anyone can,” Jordie says.

Jamie’s a little ashamed of his actions there. Or maybe just his reactions. He goes to wash his hands.

“Now, where was I?” Tyler asks, while Jamie’s hands are under the hot water. “Oh yeah. Gotta find a hot picture of you.”

Jamie decides to keep washing his hands for an extra minute or two. He definitely doesn’t want to watch the search for something that doesn’t exist.

The food’s ready a few minutes later. “So, are you actually going to post this?” Jordie asks while they eat.

“Oh, I already did,” Tyler says.

“What?” Jamie says, sitting straight up. He hadn’t realized—well, he’d thought Tyler would post it eventually, but—

“Yeah, it’s a thing where you post each section while you write it,” Tyler says, looking a little surprised at the reaction. “You wanted me to, right?”

Jamie…definitely did not want that. “Um, yeah, sure,” he says, ignoring Jordie’s raised eyebrow. “You can, uh, show me it after dinner.”

He’s dreading seeing what Tyler wrote in the profile. But he figures he has to find out eventually, so he sits down next to him after they’re finished eating.

“Huh,” he says when he sees the screenname.

“You like it?” Tyler asks.

“Yeah, I do,” Jamie says honestly. He was worried about BigBenn—and BigDick, of course, for other reasons less related to name recognition, but what it says across the top of the screen is CanadianCaptain1491.

“Ninety-one?” Jordie asks.

“Just fourteen was taken,” Tyler says. “Had to add the best number.” He elbows Jamie. “Hey, maybe you should find whoever took it, probably a fan.”

“Probably a dude,” Jordie says.

“Oh right,” Tyler says, giggling, and Jamie really hopes he isn’t blushing. Tyler added his number to Jamie’s. Tyler obviously didn’t mean anything by it, but Jamie can’t stop looking at it.

It’s easier than looking at the rest of the page. The picture Tyler found of him is actually a good one—it shows his face, which is maybe sucky if he doesn’t want to be recognized, but then, it’s Dallas. There aren’t a lot of women using this site who’ll be paying attention to hockey. And then the summary—

There’s no mention of vibrators. It starts out like Tyler said it did: Big Dallas Stars fan. Then, Warm, down-to-earth guy, kind of shy in groups. I like to laugh but it might take me a little time to open up enough to joke with you. I like chill things, bars with good beer and movies with good jokes, losing to my friends at video games. Expert cuddler. Tell me you’re problems and I’ll listen and do everything in my power to fix them.

Jamie stares. He knows Tyler’s waiting for a response, but he can’t find any words right now. He’s just laid out there, like—is that how Tyler sees him? It feels almost accurate, things Jamie would never have thought about himself, but now that he hears them from the outside he can almost believe they’re true. Wants to believe they’re true.

“So?” Tyler says.

Jamie has to say something. He can’t just sit here staring at the profile all night. “I’m not an expert cuddler,” he manages, his voice coming out strangled.

“You are so,” Tyler says, leaning against him and hooking his arm around Jamie’s, and right then Jamie does feel like an expert. He feels like he could cuddle Tyler all night long.

Jordie is watching them. Jamie feels embarrassed, but not so embarrassed he’s actually going to shake Tyler off. Hell, if Tyler never decided to move, Jamie would probably sit here until they both died of dehydration.

“Yeah, it’s. It’s good,” he says. “I like it.” It’s such a tiny portion of the things he feels when he looks at the page, but it still feels like sharing too much.

“Awesome. Wait till you see the women you can like,” Tyler says, navigating away from the page that’s torn open Jamie’s ribcage and toward a list of hot woman he’s supposed to date and fall in love with.

There are so many of them. A lot of them are pretty, but Jamie doesn’t know how he’s supposed to choose. “How about Andrea?” Tyler says, after they’ve been through a dozen profiles. “She’s, like, killer in-shape, but still has a good rack, you know? Plus, it says she likes outdoor stuff. That’s a good sign.”

Jordie leans over their shoulders. “Those boobs are totally fake.”

“What? Are not,” Tyler says. “I have touched boobs that looked like that, and let me tell you, a hundred percent real.”

“Maybe if she’s in zero gravity,” Jordie says.

“Come on, Jamie, back me up here,” Tyler says.

Jamie has no idea if her boobs are fake or not. He didn’t even know that was the kind of thing you were supposed to be able to tell by looking. “Sure, let’s message her,” he says.

“Yessss,” Tyler says, and starts typing a message.

By the end of the night they’ve messaged a half-dozen different girls, and Jamie doesn’t remember who any of them are. Tyler’s still touching him, though, their arms separate but Tyler’s bent knee on top of Jamie’s thigh.

“I’m gonna turn in,” Jordie says. “You kids have fun.”

“Nah, I think we’re done,” Tyler says, cutting off Jamie’s short-lived vision of the two of them staying up late together.

He walks Tyler to the door to get his shoes, though. “You feeling good about your options?” Tyler asks.

Jamie’s feeling good about having sat for a whole night with Tyler pressed against his side. He’s feeling like he wants that to continue, without any pictures of hot Texan girls in front of them. But if he has to look at the pictures of girls to get that, he’ll do it. “Definitely.”

Tyler gives him a blinding smile. Jamie leans against the door and watches him leave. 1491, he thinks.

***

He knows it’s a mistake to start to hope. It’s the shittiest thing about whatever passes for his love life: each person he’s fallen for has had less of a chance of working out than the one before. And even the first one hadn’t worked out. He can’t really blame them for not falling for him, when one of them had a boyfriend, and another one is Tyler Seguin. It’s probably Jamie’s fault, for falling for them instead of… but who should he be falling for? One of the girls on the dating site, the pretty blank faces he’s never even seen in motion?

“Bro, that’s awesome,” Tyler says at practice the next morning when Jamie says Andrea’s messaged him back. “She was smokin’.”

“Right?” Jamie says, trying to look appropriately enthused.

He must not succeed, because Tyler says, “Hey, are you worried about it? Don’t be. Even if she wouldn’t be, like, insane to turn you down, you already know she likes you. That’s why she messaged you back.”

She likes the person Tyler described in the profile, anyway. Warm, down-to-earth… Jamie’s been repeating the phrases to himself all night. Especially that last part, about how he’ll listen to all your problems and fix them if he can. He wants to fix all Tyler’s problems.

“I mean, I guess,” Jamie says.

Tyler laughs and slings an arm around his neck. Expert cuddler, Jamie thinks, warmth running down through his back and up through his neck.

“Plus, great rack,” Tyler says, giggling into his ear a little.

Jamie forces a grin and tries to hold onto the warmth, but it’s fading.

***

They play Philly that night, and Tyler gets a hat trick. Jamie’s hoping it’ll be like the time in Calgary where Tyler stayed with the team all night, but instead he ends up making out with a girl in the corner of the bar a half-hour in. Jamie tries not to look over but keeps doing it anyway, and every time his eyes pass over the two of them it’s like being struck with an illegal check from behind.

Not new information. Jamie knew this was what Tyler wanted. Jamie wishes he could want it, too: it would be so much easier.

Tyler comes back to the table to leave some money and grab his coat. “Heading out with Julie,” he says, grinning at them.

Jamie can’t figure out how much eye contact to make. “You have fun,” someone says, Dales, and that means Jamie doesn’t have to say anything, can just look at the wood grain of the table.

Tyler might look at him again before he leaves. Jamie can’t tell.

He lets himself imagine it a little, on the way home. What it might be like if Tyler were going home with him instead. The way Tyler’s eyes might shine when he looked at him, the way the air around them would be full of laughter, the way Tyler would tease and say nice things. He’d lean against Jamie while Jamie pulled his shoes off by the front door, kissing his neck and making Jamie giggle and grab him and kiss him back.

“Sleep tight,” Jordie says, going into his room, and Jamie’s alone in the hall, alone as he goes into his bedroom.

He wants to know what it feels like. He can sort of imagine it, but there’s no way of knowing how close he is to the reality of it. A hand on his dick—he knows what that feels like. But would it feel different if it were someone else’s hand? How different? How about another tongue against his?

What if he never finds out?

The idea throbs in his temples. He gets into bed to distract himself, stripping off his clothes and getting under the covers. He tries to imagine what Tyler’s doing right now, with the girl—but that’s no good, either. He goes back to the version of the evening where Tyler left with him instead of that girl. A different version than the one he imagined in the cab. No, Jamie would have said when Tyler came over to say goodbye, come home with me instead, and Tyler’s eyes would have darkened and the air would have thickened between them and they would have held onto each other’s hands desperately in the cab ride back. Then they’d be in Jamie’s bedroom, and Jamie would say, I’ve never, and Tyler would kiss him and say he didn’t care. Tyler wouldn’t care, he’d just pull Jamie’s clothes off, eyes hungry for Jamie’s body. They’d both be panting, and sweating, and then, fuck, Tyler’s naked body, his cock up against Jamie’s, his head thrown back as he—

Jamie comes, and then he lies there, panting and sticky and alone. No soft, panting mouth against his. No Tyler—no world in which there would be a Tyler, not in Jamie’s room, not wanting him back the way Jamie wants him.

His phone chimes. He has a message from Andrea.

***

The thing is, sometimes he can’t believe Tyler doesn’t like him back.

You’ve felt this before, he reminds himself as Tyler laughs so hard at a joke Jamie made he ends up choking on his SmartWater and finally looks back up with a brilliant smile, like he’s inviting Jamie into the joke of how ridiculous both of them are. Jamie felt this with Lindsay. With Melanie. The feeling that what was between them was so good and so shared that it was impossible they didn’t feel the same things he did when their eyes met. But they didn’t. Tyler doesn’t either.

“You hear from Andrea again?” Tyler says. Happily. Like he’s hoping the answer is yes.

“Yeah,” Jamie says. It’s been five days of sporadic messages. “I was thinking—I don’t know. Do you think I should ask her out?”

He knows that’s the whole point of the online dating thing. But he’s still kind of hoping—“Yeah, go for it,” Tyler says enthusiastically. “Dude, go get some.”

“Okay,” Jamie says, because he can’t think of a reason not to. “Okay, I will.”

***

Fortunately—for Jamie, anyway—there’s no time to set up a date before their pre-Christmas road trip out west. They win in a shootout against San Jose and smash the Kings 5-2, three points for Jamie and two for Tyler. Normally they fly back the night of a game when the team can arrange it, but in this case half the team is flying directly to other places for Christmas. The Dallas-bound team members head out after the game, and the rest of them, Jamie, Jordie, and Tyler included, hit the town.

Jamie’s always a little stymied by the L.A. club scene. They’re NHL players, so it’s not like they aren’t a big deal, but…not a big deal by L.A. standards. Jamie doesn’t even feel like a big deal compared to the random pretty people who crowd into clubs with their shiny hair and perfect teeth and who probably aren’t famous at all.

Tyler fits right in, of course. It’s like a superpower or something: the ability to fit seamlessly into any crowd and seem like he’s in the top twenty percent by coolness. Tyler’s from Brampton, Ontario, hasn’t spent more than three days in a row in L.A. his whole life, but he smiles at the girl behind the bar and holds himself so that heads turn and comes back with a tray of glowing purple shots that make Jamie feel like he’s in a science fiction movie.

“Pretty cool, right?” Tyler says, nudging a shot toward Jamie and sounding like an overenthusiastic kid. And yet somehow still cool enough for this club.

“You’re ridiculous,” Jamie says.

“Not as ridiculous as your goal in the second,” Tyler says, clinking his shot glass against Jamie’s. Jamie watches as he tips his head back and closes his lips around the glass, Adam’s apple jumping in the light from the bar.

Tyler lowers his head and looks at Jamie and laughs. “Bennie! You didn’t do yours!”

“Oh, right,” Jamie says. His mouth is really dry, and his tongue is taking up too much space in it. He’d rather lean in and lick the liquor out of Tyler’s mouth, but instead he tips the shot glass back.

He’s not prepared for it, and he chokes on it going down. “That tastes like grape soda,” he says when he can breathe again.

“I know, right?” Tyler says happily. “It was called the Grapeful Dead.”

Jamie laughs, still choking on the shot. “That’s awful.”

“Why, what would you call it?” Tyler asks.

“Um.” Jamie’s never been good with words. “I don’t know. Whatever liquor is in it?”

“Boring,” Tyler says. “Concord and Discord. Arbor Day—no. Unsafe Arbor.” He’s smirking at Jamie, like he knows how clever he’s being. “How’s that?”

Jamie’s missed his laugh cue. He’s busy staring. “What?” Tyler says when Jamie’s quiet for too long.

“You’re really smart,” Jamie says.

It comes out wrong. He’s not sure how it was supposed to come out, but it comes out a little too earnest. A little too intimate. The smile falls off Tyler’s face right away. “No, I’m not,” he says, looking away.

“Yes, you are,” Jamie says. It feels important that Tyler believe it.

Tyler’s gathered his smile around him again. “Are you kidding? I failed senior English.”

“No, you didn’t,” Jamie says, rolling his eyes. People didn’t fail—then he sees the way Tyler’s face falls again. “I don’t care,” he says, and that’s almost worse, like he feels like he’s in a position to give Tyler approval or something. “You’re still smart,” he says instead. “That name was fucking brilliant.”

“Maybe I should go into drink naming,” Tyler says, and that takes them into a discussion of what their bar would be like if they opened one, and it’s back to safe topics again.

It’s one of the nights when Tyler doesn’t hook up. Jamie loves these nights, when Tyler stays with the team and gets happily drunk instead, when he dazzles them instead of the girls around the bar. Tyler gets handsy when he’s drunk—well, even handsier—and somewhere around one a.m. he’s leaning against Jamie’s chest and mumbling about how good Jamie’s points were tonight, and how their PK fucking killed it, and Jamie thinks, I could kiss you right now.

He can picture it so clearly: the way Tyler would yield to the shape of his arms and tip his head back to be kissed. It’s incredible how well he can picture it, Tyler giving his mouth over, considering he’s never had it. His lips are buzzing with it and his mouth is full of metallic adrenaline and his heart is going a million miles per hour and he can see how it would go.

He takes a step back, terrified. Tyler sort of goes with him and sort of doesn’t—sways and grabs the edge of the nearest booth to stay up. “What’s wrong?” he asks muzzily.

“Nothing,” Jamie says. The room is spinning around him. “I just think—we should go back to the hotel.”

“Oh yeah, flights,” Tyler says, and then he’s leaning on Jamie again, hanging off Jamie’s arm while they get their suit jackets. It’s okay, though. The moment’s passed where Jamie thought he might actually go for it. He has control of himself again. Even when Tyler presses his mouth against Jamie’s shoulder in the Uber, Jamie knows he’s not going to do anything.

“Dude, it’s Christmas Eve,” Tyler says sleepily when he catches sight of the car clock. “Make a wish.”

One kiss, Jamie thinks. The thing he was going to ask of Melanie: one kiss, just to know what it felt like. Then another kiss and another and your body under my hands forever.

“I don’t think Christmas Eve works that way,” he says out loud.

“Oh yeah,” Tyler says, burrowing deeper into Jamie’s shoulder. His breath is hot through the fabric of Jamie’s jacket, deep sleepy breaths, and Jamie thinks that maybe he’ll be okay without getting his wish. Maybe if he can just keep this, it’ll be enough.

Chapter Text

Saying goodbye to Tyler at the airport the next morning feels like ripping out his stomach lining. Jamie’s tired and hungover, and on the cab ride there he has Tyler bleary-eyed and tactile next to him, and he’s still there on the way to the check-in counters, and as they go through security, and then they’re supposed to walk in different directions and Jamie doesn’t know how he’s supposed to deal with that.

“Gate’s this way,” Jordie says, looking at the airport signs, and Jamie’s eyes dart immediately to Tyler. He doesn’t know if this is the moment Tyler branches off, or if it’s later, or—

“Ugh, I’m all the way down here,” Tyler says, looking in the other direction.

Is now when Jamie hugs him? Or will that be awkward? He shifts from foot to foot, wondering if he should let Tyler hug Jordie first. Tyler’s standing there, fiddling with the handle of his luggage, looking half asleep. Maybe Tyler isn’t with it enough to instigate anything. Maybe Jamie should—

“Well,” Tyler says, “bye, dudes,” and then he’s rolling his suitcase away down the airport corridor, and it’s too late.

Jamie’s insides shrink five sizes, and he follows Jordie to the plane.

Christmas didn’t fall during the time he was into Melanie. It did while he was into Lindsay, in the middle of his junior year, and he remembers missing her the whole week of Christmas break. It didn’t feel like it does this time, though. Jessica is there to greet Jordie at the airport, leaping into his arms, and Jennie’s at his parents’ house being adorable with her husband Brian, and every time they touch each other Jamie feels like there’s a chasm opening beside him and within him. He keeps looking around for the other person who should be there.

He can’t help but imagine it, just briefly. That Tyler’s there, slipping his hand into Jamie’s. Leaning against him with sleepy eyes at Christmas breakfast tomorrow morning. Laughing at the present Jamie gives him. The two of them a little contained unit like Jordie and Jess or Jennie and Brian, out there where everyone can see.

He shouldn’t be able to picture things so clearly when they’re so impossible.

His dad calls him over for pie, and he lets the daydream drop. It leaves a sour-edged ache within him, though, and it’s hard to swallow more than a few mouthfuls of pie.

He doesn’t hear from Tyler until that night. Jamie’s not actually expecting to hear from him at all. He’s been coaching himself not to expect it: it’s only a few days; they’ll all be back together for skate on the 27th. Tyler will be busy with his family and won’t be thinking about Jamie.

His phone chimes, though, while they’re watching It’s a Wonderful Life, and as soon as Jamie sees the name on the screen he can’t see or hear the movie anymore. He tilts the phone so that no one else can see—dumb; what does he think Tyler’s sending him?—and thumbs it open.

look at this good boy, Tyler’s sent. It’s written over a snap of his dog, Marshall, wearing a victory-green scarf around his neck. Tyler’s face is in the picture, squashed in selfie-style, and he’s smiling at the camera which means he was smiling for Jamie. Or maybe for a bunch of his bros; Jamie didn’t notice how many people Tyler sent this to. But it feels like it’s a smile just for Jamie. Jamie’s going to pretend it is.

He doesn’t even think before screenshotting it. Tyler will just take it as a compliment to his dog.

lookin sharp, he sends to Tyler.

yah takes after his dad, Tyler sends back, and Jamie knows he’s smiling a super dumb smile right now, but he can’t help it. It doesn’t even mean anything that Tyler would send this to him. But he did.

Jennie elbows his raised knees, jostling him. “Hey, who’re you texting?”

“Oh,” Jamie says, turning his phone screen off immediately. “Um, no one.”

“Really?” Jennie asks, smirking. Jamie doesn’t know why he thinks of her as the less annoying sibling. Maybe because she’s not around as much.

“Tyler signed him up for a dating site,” Jordie says—because, yeah, this is why Jordie holds the title. “He’s been talking to girls all week.”

“Ooh, really?” Jennie asks, leaning in. “Let me see.”

Jamie holds his phone to his chest. He could find Andrea’s picture, but it’ll be obvious that he wasn’t texting her just now. “I don’t, um. There’s one girl, I guess.”

“What’s her name?” Jennie asks.

“I hope you’re being careful,” their mom says. “I know lots of people meet online now, but for you boys, I don’t know. It’s so easy for strangers to take advantage of you.”

“I know, this one’s been taking advantage of me since day one,” Jordie says with a broad grin, nudging Jessica, who shoves him back.

“I think it’s nice that you’re meeting people,” Jessica says. “Lots of my friends have done the online thing. Let me know if you need pointers.”

“Thanks,” Jamie mumbles. He likes Jess a lot, and she’s being more helpful than anyone else in the room. But he thinks he has all the advice he can use.

When he checks his phone again a few minutes later, Tyler’s sent another snap, this time of Marshall licking his face. Jamie curls his knees closer to his chest and leans his head against the arm of the couch. Only two more days—and then Jamie will be right back where he was, closer but not close enough. There is no amount of time that will get him what he wants.

***

Jamie and Jordie fly out the night of the twenty-sixth. Their parents and Jessica drive them to the airport, and their mom gives Jamie a long hug as they drop them off in Departures.

“I’m glad you’re talking to people,” she says into his ear as she hugs him. “I worry about online dating, but you’ve been so—I would love to see you happy.”

Jamie’s glad she can’t see his face right now, and that no one else is looking at them. He hadn’t realized she could tell. It makes him feel guilty, not being happy, like he’s failed them as a son somehow. They raised him in a happy family; his parents met each other and fell in love and have always been had a good relationship. Jordie and Jennie grew up and found people and did the same thing. It’s only Jamie who can’t, and he doesn’t know why.

He has to end the hug before he starts crying in the Departures lane of Victoria International. “Yeah, it should be good,” he says, pulling back and straightening up. Don’t look at me, he thinks. Don’t make me look at you.

“You boys had better get moving,” his dad says, and Jamie gets to turn away, pick up his bag, go into the airport.

They’re flying nearer to Tyler. It’s such a dumb thing to think, but it’s on Jamie’s mind the whole flight back. He knows Tyler landed a couple of hours ago, because he was texting with him earlier this afternoon. Tyler’s probably in his apartment right now. Jamie could make up an excuse to—but no, they’ll see each other tomorrow morning. Jamie doesn’t need to be dumb and obvious about this.

It’s just—he feels like he’s been stretched too far. Like he’s a stress band, stretched to the breaking point, and he won’t go back to normal until he can see Tyler again. It feels impossible to wait until the next morning.

He changes his mind about it half a dozen times on the way back from the airport but manages not to text. He puts his phone on silent and sticks it in his back pocket. He doesn’t even glance at the other number buttons once they’re in the elevator. They’re going back to their apartment; Jamie’s going to go to bed early, and he’ll see Tyler in the morning. He can wait that long.

Jordie gets a call as they’re unlocking their apartment door. “Yeah?” he says. Then, to Jamie: “Hey, why aren’t you answering your phone?”

Jamie gets a little jolt of desperate hope. “What? Who is it?” he asks, but he’s already pulling out his phone to see Missed call from Segs across the front.

“Tyler, he wants us to come meet his dog,” Jordie says.

It takes too long to drop their stuff off in their apartment. Jordie hangs up his coat and plugs his phone in to charge and all sorts of reasonable normal totally unimportant things and Jamie is trying not to fidget in the foyer. Then they’re in the elevator and going back down to Tyler’s apartment and the door opens on Tyler.

He’s fluffy-haired and beaming at them. It’s so hard for Jamie not to hug him right away. Not to touch him, cross that humming barrier of air and pull him close. But there’s a dog jumping up on their legs.

“Hey dudes, meet Marshall,” Tyler says, dropping down to ruffle behind his ears. “Best dog in the world, meet Uncle Jamie and Uncle Jordie.”

He is a good dog. Jamie manages to interact with him for at least thirty seconds before he looks back up at Tyler. “I thought he wasn’t good at flying?”

“The vet tried him on something new, it was great,” Tyler says. He’s glowing, obviously so happy to have Marshall with him. He drops down to the floor with them, rubbing his face in Marshall’s side and laughing as he tries to grab the toy out of Marshall’s mouth, and then he ends up sitting against the wall next to Jamie, shoulders pressed together, grinning as Marshall licks his face.

Tyler smells amazing. He feels amazing, pressed against Jamie’s shoulder. Jamie can picture this life: the two of them with a dog, playing and wrestling with it on the floor of their apartment, Tyler always this happy. The two of them in a bubble of their own happiness.

This already is his life. Jamie’s already here. He should focus on that, not on the parts that could come next: the way he could turn to Tyler and join their mouths together, press him back on the tile.

“I’m thinking about getting another dog,” Tyler says, as he ruffles Marshall’s ears some more, Marshall’s face in his.

“Really?” Jamie says.

“Yeah, another lab puppy,” Tyler says. “You guys can come pick it out with me if you want.”

It’s so close to what Jamie wants. It’s close enough that he shouldn’t be complaining about any differences. “Yeah,” he says, getting his hand in Marshall’s fur. Close to where Tyler’s petting his ears, but not too close. Not close enough for it to get weird.

Half an hour later, Jamie has to pull his shoulder away from Tyler’s and go back up to their apartment. But he’ll see Tyler tomorrow. Close enough; it has to be close enough, because he’s not getting anything more.

***

They have a string of five home games after Christmas. Jamie has no excuse not to ask Andrea out.

Fortunately, they have a game on New Year’s Eve, so he has a ready-made excuse not to ask her out then. They set up dinner for the 3rd instead. It’s four days away, and it still feels way too close.

The Stars play the Kings on the 31st. Jamie gets an assist on Tyler’s goal, and the team’s reserved a lounge for all the players and their families for afterward. “So we don’t get too drunk,” Fidds says wisely as they all drink champagne amid the victory-green decorations. They don’t have a game the next day, but they do have one on the 2nd, and no one’s drinking much under the eyes of the coaches.

Jamie doesn’t care. He feels drunk anyway, having Tyler two feet away from him, bright and happy. Tyler’s wearing this suit that’s cut really perfectly on him, and a minute ago he was talking to Lindy’s wife, all charming and polite, but now he’s turned to Jamie and his smile has totally changed and Jamie feels like he’s chugged two bottles of champagne.

“We need resolutions!” Tyler’s shouting in his ear, even though it’s only barely loud enough in here to make that necessary.

I want to know what you feel like under that suit, Jamie thinks, and the heat of that thought runs down his body and makes it impossible to come up with a real one. “Um,” he says after a minute. “Playoffs.”

Tyler’s face lights up. “No,” he says. “No, Cup,” slinging his arm around Jamie’s neck, and his head is near Jamie’s and his breath on Jamie’s cheek is making Jamie’s heart do a crazy dance and Jamie doesn’t know how the things that feel the best in his life can also be such torture.

“Yeah,” he says. “I wanna win with you.”

“Deal,” Tyler says, grabbing his hand and shaking it. His palm is warm and dry and it doesn’t really feel like holding hands but for a moment Jamie can imagine it does.

There are probably other things he should be resolving. To meet other people; to figure out a way to finally kiss someone this year; to move on. But right now, with Tyler grinning at him like they’ve already won, Jamie doesn’t want to move anywhere.

***

He doesn’t get a lot of sleep the night before his date. It’s not like he’s never dated before: he went on a few awkward dates with friends of friends in Kelowna, and once or twice when he first got to the Stars. But it’s been a while, and mostly he remembers feeling vaguely terrified the whole time and relieved when it was over.

He’s not sure he’s hoping for anything better than that from this. Andrea seems fine from the text conversation they’ve been having, but Jamie doesn’t really know her. He probably should be hoping for something to happen—a way out of this hopeless thing where all he wants is someone who isn’t going to want him back—but he doesn’t want anything to happen. That’s the whole problem. If he were capable of not wanting Tyler even in the abstract he wouldn’t be in this situation.

“This girl’s actually going out with you,” Jordie says that morning. “You bribe her?”

“No. Shut up,” Jamie mumbles. He doesn’t want Jordie to talk about his date at the rink. It’s embarrassing, that this even rates as something worth discussing, and anyway—he doesn’t want Tyler to know it’s today. He doesn’t want Tyler to see what a wreck he is about it.

“That’s good. Girls don’t like it when you try to pay them to date you,” Jordie says dryly.

Jamie spends the afternoon getting progressively more nervous. Jordie gives up on him around four and goes to chill with some of the other guys—“Just try not to wear a hole through the floor,” he says as he leaves.

Jamie stops pacing and sits on the couch.

He’s not even sure what to wear on this date. They picked a pretty laidback restaurant, but maybe he should still wear a suit? He was a twenty-year-old kid last time he went on a date. Maybe things have changed.

He decides to start getting ready a little early. To be on the safe side, and also because he doesn’t want to sit around doing nothing for another minute. He’s just pulling shirts out of his closet when his phone buzzes.

It’s a text from Tyler. dude i think im sick, it says.

Jamie drops the plaid button-down he was holding. oh no! you call the trainers? he sends.

yah they said its the flu or whatev

Jamie looks at the clock. He shouldn’t offer—but he did give himself some extra time to get ready. want me to come over?

It takes a minute for the response to come. no dude im sick you dont have to do that

Jamie looks at the screen for a minute. It’s always hard to tell over text: Tyler might actually mean that he doesn’t want Jamie there right now. But he also might just be being nice by not asking. And it’s Tyler. Jamie strongly suspects it’s the second one.

i have tylenol and shit i can bring, he sends finally, to test it.

This time the response comes right away. yah ok

Jamie rushes around getting painkillers and Gatorade from the kitchen. And tissues—he wouldn’t count on Tyler to be fully stocked in anything that didn’t come from his meal service. He can drop this stuff off, stay a couple of minutes, and still be on time.

Tyler opens the door looking pale and shitty and really happy to see him. “Being sick is the worrrrrst,” he says, slumping against the wall as Jamie comes in.

It’s amazing how much Jamie wants to touch him even when he looks like this. His hair is sort of flopping over his eyes, and he’s smiling a little but also he’s leaning like he doesn’t have the energy to stand, and Jamie wants to be the one to be holding him up. Wants to take hold of his body and take care of it.

He holds out the bag of stuff instead. “I brought—Gatorade. Tylenol. You know.”

“Awesome.” Tyler reaches out a limp arm and takes two tries to grab the bag. “I just—dude, I feel like I can barely walk, you know?”

Jamie thinks that’s a hint. But what if he’s wrong? What if Tyler doesn’t really want help walking, and he’ll think Jamie’s super weird if he tries to touch him?

“Uh, do you want…help?” Jamie asks, shifting in place a little.

“I don’t want to get you sick,” Tyler says, but it’s like the text from before: it’s not a no.

“You won’t,” Jamie says. “I don’t get sick easy.” He doesn’t know where to put his hands. “I can—”

Tyler goes to him so easily at the first touch, leaning forward into Jamie’s shoulder like it’s all he wanted in the world. “Shit, I’m sorry, I get like this,” he mumbles. “When I’m sick.”

Jamie doesn’t think it’s anything to apologize for. He’s breathless with the feeling of Tyler against him, Tyler’s long warm body pressed up against his.

He puts one hand on Tyler’s back and the other in his hair. Then he thinks maybe that second one was too much, but it’s too late, and it would be even weirder if he moved it now. “Do you want—the couch?”

The bed would probably be better, but Jamie couldn’t really stay with him if it were the bed. If it’s the couch, maybe he’ll get to stay for a few minutes.

“Yeah,” Tyler says, and they shuffle over, Tyler’s arm going around Jamie’s waist.

Jamie helps Tyler down onto the couch and then hesitates. He doesn’t want to do too much without an invitation. Then Tyler looks up at him, looking sleepy and helpless and gorgeous, and says, “Stay?”

Jamie swallows down the lump in his throat. He shouldn’t stay. He’s supposed to leave the house in half an hour tops; there’s someone expecting him. But there’s no question in his mind about what he’s going to do. “Yeah,” he says. “I just, uh, need to send a text.”

He sends the text while Tyler leans against his shoulder, eyes closed. so sorry, just had a sickness come up in the family. im not going to be able to get away tonight. can we rain check?

It’s not a very good text. Probably he should apologize a lot more, tell her how it’s not her and he would so much rather be on their date, try harder to reschedule. But Tyler’s breathing softly against his shoulder and Jamie can’t bring himself to lie that much.

He puts the phone away, and Tyler nudges him into a better position: leaning against the arm of the couch, his legs stretched along its length, with Tyler stretched out next to him under the same blanket with his head on Jamie’s chest.

It’s so good Jamie can barely bring himself to breathe. He feels like he’s just woken up from a dream and found everything he wanted had been delivered to him while he slept. Tyler’s head is on his pec and his arm is around Jamie’s waist. Just, around Jamie’s waist, like it’s not a big deal. Jamie didn’t know he’d have so many feelings about that. He knows he should feel bad about being so happy when Tyler’s not feeling well, but he can’t help it. The feeling of Tyler against him fills his head, a bright hum that covers over any other thoughts.

“How you feeling?” Jamie asks, voice quiet. It feels like speaking in a church: talk too loud and he might break this.

“Whole room’s spinning,” Tyler says, holding onto Jamie’s waist a little tighter. “Don’t wanna fall asleep.”

“You can,” Jamie says. He would happily stay here all night if Tyler wants him to.

“No, you probably got…stuff you gotta do.” Tyler nuzzles in a little closer. Then, like he’s reading Jamie’s mind: “Hey, you plan a date with that girl yet?”

“Uh, yeah.” Jamie’s gut contracts a little with guilt, and then he says something he hadn’t been planning on at all. “We went out a couple of nights ago.”

“What?” Tyler jerks his head up, then lets it fall again, chin resting on Jamie’s pec. “Dude. You gotta tell me these things.”

“Sorry.” Jamie lets his hand rest on Tyler’s back.

“So?” Tyler’s shoulder blade shifts under Jamie’s hand. “How was it? You get some?”

“Um.” Jamie’s heart is beating too fast. He hopes Tyler can’t feel it. “You know how sometimes you meet fans who are super into you as a player, and it’s almost a little creepy?”

“Ohhh.” Tyler leans his head against Jamie’s chest again. “She knew who you were?”

“I mean, we had my picture on the site.” Jamie feels kind of sketchy for lying to Tyler like this. It’s not really hurting anyone, but it’s making him feel twisted up inside. “I think…maybe online dating isn’t a good idea for me.”

“Yeah, that’s fair,” Tyler says. “We’ll find you someone some other way.”

You don’t need to, Jamie thinks, desperately enough that it almost feels like Tyler should be able to hear him. Tyler’s nestled in again, his head cushioned on Jamie’s pec, his hand resting on Jamie’s ribs. Jamie doesn’t want anything other than this: Tyler pressed against him, letting Jamie take care of him.

“Sorry,” Tyler says into his chest. “Know I’m clingy. When I’m sick.”

“No,” Jamie says. He wants this always, even when Tyler’s not sick; wants the right to bend down and press a kiss to the top of his head where his hair is a little bit sweaty and gross. “No, you’re good.”

You’re good,” Tyler mumbles back at him, and Jamie wants to bottle those words and pull them out whenever he wants. All the time.

You are the best thing in my life, he thinks, and startles a little. When did that become true? But it is: there’s nothing in his life as bright as the presence of Tyler beside him. Even the Stars—it’s all wrapped up in having Tyler next to him on the ice, beaming at him in cellies.

It’s already a problem. Tyler keeps trying to set him up with women; the problem’s only going to grow. But Jamie wishes, all reason aside, that it could just…not be one. That things with Tyler could just stay the way they are now, and that Jamie could be okay with that. Because Tyler’s right: they are so good together.

Jamie gives in to the thing he’s been wanting to do for the last five minutes and lets his hand on Tyler’s back move a little, gliding slowly over warm cloth and firm muscle. Tyler makes an mm sound, and Jamie closes his eyes and lets himself melt into this.

Chapter Text

Jamie does end up sleeping in his own bed that night, after Tyler wakes up and complains sleepily about Jamie letting him take advantage of him (or something like that. Jamie’s more focused on the feeling of waking up with Tyler stretched against his body). He feels like he’s still in a warm cloud when he wakes up for practice in the morning.

“You’re in a good mood,” Jordie says over breakfast. “Date go well?”

“Yeah, it was fine,” Jamie says. He doesn’t want to talk too much. Doesn’t want to burst the happy bubble he’s in.

Tyler’s still sick, so they don’t drive him in to practice. He’s there when they’re done with practice, though, talking to some of the guys outside the trainers’ offices, still pale but smiling.

“Yeah, stay away, I don’t want to get you guys sick,” he says, and then, spotting Jamie, “Not this guy, though. He’s already a hero. Gave up his Friday night to keep me in Gatorade and Tylenol.”

He thumps a hand on Jamie’s shoulder. Jamie forces a grin, but he can feel Jordie’s eyes on him. He should have thought this through. Should have…well, he’s not sure what he should have done. But it’s too late now, anyway.

“Yeah, well, knew you couldn’t survive on your own,” he chirps, and Tyler mimes being shot in the chest.

Jordie doesn’t say anything right away. Jamie ducks his head on the walk to the car, and hopes that somehow, impossibly, Jordie didn’t put it together—but the silence is a little too heavy for that.

“So, that’s interesting,” Jordie says finally, once they’re in the car and driving. “When you said you had a date last night, you didn’t mention it was with Tyler.”

Jamie grips the steering wheel a little too hard. “It wasn’t.”

“See, that’s what I thought,” Jordie says. “Which is why I’m confused about how you told me your date went well, but you apparently spent last night with him.”

“He was sick,” Jamie mumbles.

“Yeah, clearly on the verge of death,” Jordie says. Then, before Jamie has time to figure out how to respond to that, “No, I mean—okay, so you went over to help him, whatever. Just—sorry. Are you guys secretly dating?”

“What?” Jamie hits the gas a little too hard and has to pull back, pulse pounding in his ears. “Why would you think that?”

“You went over to take care of him and lied to me about being on a date,” Jordie says, his voice gentle.

Jamie really should not be having this conversation while driving. “No. That’s not what’s happening.”

“Okay,” Jordie says, a question in it.

“It’s…” Shit. “I really did have a date scheduled last night.”

“Which you skipped. To go take care of Tyler.”

Fuck. Jamie navigates them through a stoplight. He feels sick, his stomach quaking and heat climbing up his sides. It wasn’t about Tyler, he wants to say, but he knows better than that—knows that more than anything that will make it seem like it was about Tyler. “I’m not very good at dating,” he says instead.

“Well, we all knew that,” Jordie says. “But this was a first date with someone from the internet, Chubbs. It’s not like you were supposed to propose.”

“I know that.” Jamie thinks he would actually have been better at a thing where he was supposed to propose. By that point he’d probably want to be with the person, at least.

“Did you not like her?” Jordie asks. “You don’t have to go out with people if you’re not into them.”

Then how does anyone end up going out with anyone? Jamie wants to ask. “No, she was—whatever,” he says. He navigates them into the parking garage. “She was fine. I just—haven’t done that a lot. You know.”

“Okay, but it’s not like you’re a virgin,” Jordie says.

The car fills with silence.

“Jamie.” Jamie’s trying to pull into a parking space and doesn’t look at him. “You’re not. Are you?”

Jamie isn’t in the spot yet, but he stops anyway. Puts the car in park before he can crash into anything.

“Shit,” Jordie says. “I never…I always figured, in Kelowna or wherever…”

“No,” Jamie says. His hands are shaking, and he wraps them around each other in his lap.

“Are you gay?” Jordie asks.

“What?” Jamie says.

“Well, I just thought, that might explain—”

“No.” Jamie shakes his head. “You remember Lindsay.”

“Yeah, but you never got with her, so I figured…” Jordie trails off. “Did something happen? Did someone do something to you?”

“No. Of course not—no.” Jamie feels the urge to move, to pace, but they’re inside the car. He hasn’t even parked it yet. “I just—never did.”

“Why?” Jordie asks, and isn’t that the question? If Jamie knew the answer to that—maybe it wouldn’t be true anymore.

“I guess…no one ever wanted to have sex with me,” he says.

“Bullshit,” Jordie says, so strongly that Jamie feels his eyes prick hot. “You’re a pro athlete, you’re rich, you’re not ugly—there’s no way no one would have wanted to have sex with you.”

But they didn’t. None of the people Jamie ever wanted to have sex with, anyway, and no one else wanted it enough for Jamie to notice. “I don’t know. I guess I’m just bad at that stuff,” he says, trying not to let the lump in his throat crawl up too high.

“Hey. It’s doesn’t, like—it doesn’t matter.” Jordie sounds deeply uncomfortable. “Sorry. I’m just trying to figure it out.”

“Join the club,” Jamie says, and then wishes he hadn’t. He tucks his hands under his thighs.

“Hey,” Jordie says again, nudging Jamie this time. “You want to fix it? You want me to take you out, get you a little drunk, find someone to make it not such a big deal?”

Jamie thinks about it. It sounds a little like all the stuff Tyler’s been trying to get him to do this year. But it would be different, going into it with someone who already knows he hasn’t done this before. And—and he would love for it not to be a big deal. “Yeah. Let’s do that.”

***

The next time they have two days without games is their upcoming road trip to New York. It’s not ideal to do it on the road, but otherwise they’d have to wait until the end of the month, and three-plus weeks is more than Jamie feels like he can go with this hanging over his head. If they’re going to do this, he wants it to be before he loses his nerve.

“Plus, maybe it’ll be better if you’re somewhere different,” Jordie says. “Not like anyone knows you on Long Island. You can be whoever you want, right?”

Dallas isn’t so small or so hockey-crazy that that would likely be a problem even if they were at home. But Jamie does like the idea of distance. Anonymity. Even if the person he’s trying to be is the person he’s supposed to be anyway.

They get steamrolled in their game against the Isles, one goal from Jamie but a hat trick from John Tavares and a final score of 3-7. No one’s feeling much like going out and celebrating after that, and Jordie takes care of separating himself and Jamie from the pack hanging around the hotel. “Brother bonding night,” he says, clapping a hand on Jamie’s shoulder when they’re getting their stuff off the bus.

“What?” Tyler looks up from fiddling with his bag. “You guys are abandoning us?”

He’s joking, but there’s also an invitation in his voice. If Jamie stayed here at the hotel, a bunch of them would probably end up crashing in someone’s room for a couple hours, and Jamie might get Tyler warm and sleepy against his side, cracking jokes and making everyone laugh. He wants that fiercely, all of a sudden—even tell himself that it will happen on other nights doesn’t make the urgency in his gut go away. But he agreed to do this with Jordie. He doesn’t want this virgin thing to be a thing anymore.

“Yup, sorry,” he says, softening it with a smile. “Brother privilege.”

Jordie slips him a couple of condoms in the Uber. “Hey, gotta do my brotherly duty,” he says to Jamie’s outraged look. “I didn’t know if you’d have any.”

“I have some,” Jamie mumbles. Though actually it’s only one and it’s probably expired by now. He put the ones from Jordie in his wallet.

Jordie takes them to some night club with neon on the outside. “I have it on good authority that this is just the right level of trashy for us,” he says.

Jamie doesn’t want to know who he asked. Even Jordie knowing about this feels like a lot to him.

Jordie gets him shots to start out with. “Have two,” he tells Jamie, and then gets him a beer. By the time Jamie’s drunk a third of it, he’s starting to get pleasantly fuzzy.

“What level of inexperience are we working with here?” Jordie asks while they drink their beers. “Like, you’ve gotten a blowjob but you’ve never gone down on a girl, or…”

“Oh.” Jamie takes a gulp of his beer. “Um, that’s not. No.”

“Less than that?” Jordie’s looking at him. “Have you made out with people?”

Jamie can tell his face is getting hot under the club lights.

“Shit, I am, like, the worst brother ever,” Jordie says.

“It wasn’t you,” Jamie mumbles into his beer.

“Nah, but we’re going to fix this,” Jordie says. “See anyone you like?”

“That’s not—” Jamie shakes his head. His stomach is already dropping low. “That never works. You just pick someone.”

Jordie looks at him for another few moments, but then he turns to look around the floor. “Let’s go talk to those girls,” he says, and steers Jamie toward a couple of girls talking by the bar.

By the time Jamie’s dancing with one of the girls, he’s had another beer and is definitely feeling the accumulated effects. It occurs to him that he didn’t really eat anything after the game like he usually does. He wonders if that was Jordie’s plan.

The girl he’s dancing with is cute, not too short, dark bangs swept to the side of her face and a bright coral-colored top. Annie. She’s an accounting student—Jamie doesn’t remember what school. She’s probably smarter than he is. She seems happy to be dancing with him, though. She’s moving her hips with his and laughing a little, tilting her head back. Jamie does his best to grin back at her over the feeling of fluttering anxiety in his gut.

The space between her mouth and his just seems so…definite. How is he supposed to cross that? It feels like the most awkward thing in the world. But he’s going to have to, if he ever wants to do anything like this. He’s not going to get a better opportunity than this. She probably even expects him to. Maybe she came here to hook up with someone; he knows people do that. He could be the person she hooks up with.

It’s so weird to think of himself that way. One step at a time: his mouth on her mouth. He can do this.

The song changes, something with a stronger beat, and she leans in to laugh in his ear. “I love this song!” she says.

What is he waiting for? She’s happy, she’s touching him, it’s not going to get any less scary. Count of five, he tells himself. One…two…three…four…

He doesn’t miss her mouth with his mouth. That was the biggest thing he was worried about as he moved in for it. He puts his lips on her lips, and then their lips are touching.

He’s not really sure what to do next. His mouth is a little open, and so is hers, so he puts his tongue into her mouth a little, and of course it’s wet but somehow he wasn’t expecting that and it weirds him out.

Should he stop? He doesn’t know how long to do this for. People seem to kiss for a long time, but Jamie’s not sure what they do while they’re doing it. He wishes suddenly, frantically, that he were a girl, because it seems like the guy is always supposed to kiss the girl and it would be easier if he could be kissed without having to know what he was doing with it.

He starts sort of a rhythm, licking into her mouth and sucking on her tongue a little, and he starts to feel good about himself because, okay, he’s getting the hang of this. It’s not bad. She tastes a little weird but not terrible or anything. He can handle this.

He kisses her until he feels like it’s been long enough, and then he pulls back. She’s smiling at him. She runs her tongue over her upper lip for a sec and then leans back in.

Jamie’s so startled he almost jerks back. Then she’s kissing him: her mouth still wet, still soft, and how many times is he supposed to do this?

He’s not supposed to just do this, he remembers. He’s supposed to take her back to his hotel room and have sex with her.

The enormity of that just feels like—like having to play all sixty minutes of a game, no shift changes, maybe a couple of overtime periods thrown on there too. Jamie can’t possibly keep this up for that long.

Maybe…maybe kissing someone is enough. He’s never done that before tonight. Maybe that can be enough of a first step.

He pulls back from the kiss finally, after what seems like a really long time. “Thanks,” he says, and then feels totally dumb for saying it. “Uh, I’m gonna get another drink, do you want anything?”

Annie’s smile has dimmed a little bit. “No, I’m good,” she says. “Thanks, though!”

He nods, and smiles, and turns away from her and feels like ten thousand pounds of weight fall off his body.

Jordie’s standing by the bar, talking to the bartender; Annie’s friend isn’t around anymore. “Got you another drink,” Jordie says, sliding something over to Jamie. Some kind of cocktail. “Where’s Annie?”

Jamie sips the drink, tastes whiskey. “Well,” he says, “I can’t say I’ve never kissed someone now.”

Jordie’s face breaks into a smile. “Hey! That’s great! So where is she now?”

Jamie grips the condensation-slick glass of his drink. He doesn’t know how to—of course he doesn’t know how to explain it; he doesn’t understand it himself. He just didn’t feel like he was kissing a person when he was kissing her. Her tongue was in his mouth, and there was an adrenaline bump from the closeness, but that was all it was. “I think maybe that was enough,” he says. “I don’t—I think kissing was enough this time.”

“Okay,” Jordie says slowly. “Yeah, no, we shouldn’t do more if you don’t want to. We can do this again sometime.”

“Maybe,” Jamie says, but the bass from the club is pounding in his head as he leaves, saying, no, no, no.

***

Jamie has a thick hangover headache the next morning. He didn’t even really drink that much, but he didn’t have much food post-game and he didn’t drink enough water. He helps himself to a lot of both at the team breakfast buffet.

Tyler sits next to him, looking sunny, like he didn’t do anything stupid like have five drinks on an empty stomach last night. “Jordie show you a good time?” he says.

“Urgh,” Jamie says. He knows from experience that food will make him feel better, but it’s so hard to get himself to eat it.

“Aw.” Tyler’s teasing him, but there’s also real sympathy in his tone. “You wanna fall asleep on me?”

They’re sitting on chairs in one of the hotel conference rooms; it doesn’t actually make sense for Jamie to fall asleep on him. But Tyler’s saying it like it’s a real offer. Jamie looks at him and thinks, you I only I want you.

It’s a bright thought, even if it’s doomed. Jamie’s not going to be able to kiss Tyler like he kissed that woman last night. But if kissing other people feels like that—feels like so little—then Jamie doesn’t want to do it at all. He’d rather sit next to Tyler, unable to touch, than keep kissing other people until he finds one he doesn’t hate.

Even if he did find someone else he liked. They wouldn’t be Tyler.

It’s the kind of thought he’d never say out loud to anyone. It’s so obviously dumb to stay so close when he’s never going to get what he wants out of it. But he’d rather do that than put any more distance between them.

“Yeah, later,” he says, and Tyler beams at him.

***

The team goes on a losing streak for the first two weeks of the new year. They lose all three of their games in the New York area, which brings them to five losses in a row, and then they go back to Dallas and lose to the Isles again. Everyone’s crabby about it, and Jamie hasn’t scored in three games. Tyler hasn’t had a point in five. Tyler snaps at Jamie in the locker room after the game against the Isles, and Jamie knows not to take it personally, but he still goes home feeling small and hurt and takes too long falling asleep that night.

Tyler knocks on their door the next morning before they were planning to meet up to drive to practice. “Sorry,” he says, when Jamie opens the door, surprised to see him there.

Tyler looks hangdog, like maybe he’s not sure of his reception. “You’re such a dick,” Jamie says, pulling him in, and he should probably do a bro hug, hands clasped between them, but it’s early and he’s relieved and he pulls Tyler in for a real hug before he can think better of it. He feels Tyler relax against him.

They win the next night, 5-2 against Edmonton, and Tyler assists on Jamie’s goal. The whole team is bright with relief in the locker room afterward, and Jamie can finally face the media without cringing. “We’re all goin’ out!” he calls to the team once the media’s gone, and they whoop.

It’s one of those nights when the whole team is full of energy, enjoying each other’s company as much as the opportunity for drinking and hooking up. Jamie doesn’t remember as many of these nights before Tyler joined the team. Or maybe he just wasn’t there for as many of them.

He’s hoping Tyler decides to stay with the team tonight instead of going to find someone to bring home. Tyler’s hasn’t moved away from them so far, sitting next to Jamie and laughing while Cody chirps him.

“Tyler hasn’t hooked up in like a month,” Cody says, his second glass of beer almost empty in front of him and his cheeks flushed.

Jamie tenses, wondering if Tyler will take that as a challenge. But Tyler just laughs, body still lax against Jamie’s side. “Yeah, like I don’t get five times as much as you.”

Five times, no way,” Cody says. “You haven’t even left the table tonight.”

Has it really been a month since Tyler hooked up? Jamie hasn’t been tracking it, but he definitely notices every time Tyler does hook up, and yeah, he hasn’t seen it happen in a while. Not since that game against Philly in December.

“Maybe I’m working on my standards,” Tyler says. “Taking a leaf out of Bennie’s book here.”

He thumps Jamie on the thigh. Jamie’s face is getting hot, and he can feel Jordie’s eyes on him. Jordie knows it’s not just a question of high standards. Jamie opens his mouth, not really sure what he’s going to say, but Jordie speaks up before he figures it out. “Yeah, so where’s all this action you’ve been getting, Eaks?”

“Hey, there were totally, like, a bunch of girls in the fall,” Cody says, and then the attention’s on him. Jamie lets himself relax a little against the side of the booth.

He’s still worried Tyler will leave to hook up, or will start talking to Jamie about hooking up again, but he doesn’t. Instead he rests his chin on Jamie’s shoulder and says, “Dude, I can’t believe you’re gonna get to go to the Olympics.” Jamie flushes for a different reason and lets himself get pulled into a conversation about how the Canadian team lines up against the competition.

It should be an uncomfortable conversation. Jamie hasn’t talked to Tyler about this yet, not in detail, and he wasn’t planning on bringing it up at all. But Tyler’s being really—is mature the right word? Jamie can’t tell; mostly Tyler just seems happy for him. Jamie starts out hesitant, not wanting to say too much in favor of the players who are going, but Tyler scoffs at him for downplaying Sidney Crosby and Jamie lets himself be riled a little.

“It would be better if,” he lets himself say after they’re done going through the potential D-pairings. “I mean. You should be coming with me.”

Tyler just rolls his eyes. “Don’t be dumb.”

Jamie’s not being dumb. It’s obvious, or it should be to anyone with half a brain: Tyler should be on that Olympic team. He should have at least been invited to camp. Probably a lot of it was about stuff that went down in Boston, but Tyler’s shown that he’s different this year. There was no good reason not to invite him. “Don’t yell at me for not respecting Crosby enough if you’re gonna say the same things about you.”

Tyler shrugs his shoulders, uncomfortable in a way Jamie’s rarely seen him. “I screwed myself over for that one,” he says, looking up at Jamie—smiling a little, sheepish, but there’s something real in his eyes. Something like regret, or maybe acceptance.

Jamie wants to kiss him so badly he can’t even move.

It’s startling, despite how much Jamie’s thought about kissing Tyler over the past couple of months. It reminds Jamie of the night before Christmas, but he’s not drunk this time: he’s clear-headed, and Tyler is looking at him with so much feeling in his eyes, and Jamie feels like he needs to kiss him. Desire hits him, a delayed wave of heat crashing over him: the way Tyler’s mouth on his would light up his body like Annie’s didn’t. Kissing Tyler would be real, would be a culmination of everything between them. Jamie almost can’t imagine not doing it.

He tears his eyes away, breathing hard. “I still think you should be there,” he says, lamely, and Tyler laughs and presses their shoulders together. Jamie leans his head against the side of Tyler’s, and that feels safe, a deniable touch that won’t let him lean in any closer. But even that makes his body ring like a vibrating bell.

Tyler doesn’t leave the table to hook up that night. He doesn’t suggest that Jamie leave the table to hook up. Jordie goes home early to call Jessica, and Tyler’s still there at the end of the night, waiting for an Uber with Jamie.

“Hey,” Jamie asks while they’re hanging out in front of the bar, Tyler checking the app on his phone for the car. “Uh, is it true you haven’t hooked up in a month?”

He probably shouldn’t be asking this; it’s just that he hasn’t quite been able to clear it from his mind all evening. Tyler raises his head from his phone and laughs. “Oh, come on, a month is not that long.”

This is one of those times where it would be so easy for Jamie to give himself away. “I mean,” he says, hedging. “It wouldn’t be for me, but…”

“I’ve done way longer than that,” Tyler says. “Like, in Juniors, I think it was seven months once?”

“Wow,” Jamie says. Not that seven months sounds long to him either, but it does sound longer than he’d expect from Tyler. “I mean, I guess you were younger then.”

“Yeah, but man, going without sex when you’re seventeen? Not fun,” Tyler says. “Good thing I had teammates to help me out.”

He’s kind of smirking, like there’s a story there. “They hook you up?” Jamie says.

Tyler’s grin broadens, like Jamie’s being funny. “No, Jameson, we helped each other out,” he says. He smacks Jamie on the arm. “You know.”

Jamie suddenly thinks he does know. His whole body floods with heat. “You…you really…”

“Yeah. You know,” Tyler says. “Can’t get a blowjob, have to get a brojob.” He’s smirking again. “You never did that?”

“Uh.” Jamie’s throat doesn’t seem to be working right. He’s caught on this image of Tyler, going to his knees. “Uh, no, I’m pretty sure we didn’t.”

“Man, you were missing out. I would not have survived Juniors without that.” Tyler’s fiddling with his phone again, checking on the car.

Jamie’s body might spontaneously catch fire. He’s actually a little afraid to move in case it happens. He clears his throat a couple of times. “Uh, did no one think that was…kind of gay?”

He knows it’s a mistake as soon as he says it. Tyler just scoffs, though. “No, come on, Jame, it was just helping each other out.” He thumbs something on his phone. “Oh, hey, the car’s here.”

The car pulls up in front of them. Jamie climbs in clumsily, legs not quite cooperating.

Tyler used to give…he probably didn’t like them. Probably didn’t get off on giving them. But he did it. Has done it. That mouth, that one right there, Tyler stretched that mouth around another guy’s hard cock and—

It’s a good thing Tyler doesn’t want to talk much on the way home. Jamie keeps his jacket bunched up in his lap.

Jordie’s already in his room with the door shut when Jamie gets back to the apartment, and Jamie goes to his, shutting the door and pressing a hand to the bulge in his pants as soon as he hears the latch click. Tyler. Tyler, on his knees, drooling around someone’s cock.

Jamie’s never been that into porn. It never seems like the people in it are really into whatever they’re doing. He likes the noises they make, though—likes lesbian porn a lot because they make really good noises, and he’s watched some gay porn the past couple of months since he’s realized how he feels about Tyler. He likes it better when there’s no one who looks anything like him and he can imagine these two people are really into each other rather than having to make himself be into one of them.

He finds a video now, some guy moaning while giving another guy a blowjob, and puts in his earbuds and closes his eyes while he strokes his hand over his cock. He’s been most of the way hard since that conversation in front of the restaurant, and his hand on his cock feels good right away, making him sigh with relief. He can so easily imagine Tyler on his knees, sucking on a cock and making the noises he hears coming through his earbuds. In his imagination, Tyler is into it, has been hungry for this cock ever since he saw it in the showers, has touched himself imagining it, and now he’s hard just from having the cock in his mouth. His pink lips are stretched around the cock—no beard, he’d have been younger then—and he’s so hard he has to pull himself out of his pants and start jacking himself in rhythm with his sucks.

Probably the guy getting his cock sucked is super into it, too, especially once Tyler starts jerking off. How could anyone not be into it, having Tyler whimpering around his cock? The guy probably gets even harder, leaking precome that Tyler laps up hungrily, and soon it’s too much, soon the guy’s balls draw tight and he comes, right in Tyler’s mouth. Yeah—yeah—he fills Tyler’s mouth with his come, and Tyler probably loves it, swallowing greedily. Maybe he comes when the guy does—or, no, maybe he’s just really close, and he’s whining because the guy’s taking his cock out of his mouth, and the guy pulls Tyler up into his arms and takes over jerking him off. Tyler’s probably super close at this point. He’s moaning and gasping, just like the guy in the video, and he’s falling apart in the guy’s arms. The guy—oh yeah—he probably gives Tyler his fingers to suck, because Tyler needs something in his mouth, and Tyler loves that, he’s sucking hard, bucking his hips up desperately, shivering, and—and—

Jamie arches and comes all over his chest, imagining Tyler doing the same thing. Tyler, with his teammate’s hands on him.

He turns off the video and lies there gasping. He doesn’t really like examining what he thinks about when he comes. This one, though—well, he doesn’t need to think too much about this one to know how much of a problem it is.

Chapter Text

Boston comes to town two days later. Tyler’s nervy about it again, maybe more so than last time—or maybe Jamie’s just better at picking up on it by now. Maybe Tyler’s more comfortable showing him by now. Jamie hopes so, even amid his guilt at how turned on he is every time he’s around Tyler now.

It’s not like that’s a new thing. But now he has the imagine of Tyler’s Juniors teammates’ hands on his body, and, okay, it was probably nothing like what Jamie’s imagining—they probably just jerked each other off, no-homo style, not a close sweaty urgent grapple with someone licking up Tyler’s abs and chest like Jamie keeps seeing behind his eyelids—but he feels like he can’t even be in the same room as Tyler now without getting at least a little bit hard.

It’s embarrassing, especially when Tyler’s obviously not feeling great about seeing the Bruins again and Jamie should be there for him as his friend and teammate. They have skate the morning of the game, and Tyler’s driven and focused and significantly less smiley than usual. Jamie goes up to him afterward, making himself focus on the frown etching itself between Tyler’s eyebrows and not on the breadth of his bare shoulders. “Hey,” he says. “Hang out till our naps?”

Tyler looks up at him, and Jamie can see that he’s thinking about saying no—that he’s considering closing himself up in his apartment with everything he’s feeling about tonight’s game. But then: “Yeah, sure,” he says, a smile ghosting across his face, and Jamie feels like he’s won something.

Tyler’s standing easier by the time he leaves for his nap, but the game that night isn’t awesome: they’re down by one, and then Jamie gets a goal and Tyler assists on another one, but they end up losing 4-2.

It’s never easy to lose. It’s never easy to talk to the media after a loss, though Jamie’s getting better at it with all the practice this year. Tyler doesn’t have to do it quite as often, and he’s usually better at it when he does—but tonight of course everyone wants to ask him about facing off against Boston, and Jamie can see the strain on his face from across the room.

“I thought we played pretty good tonight, but obviously not good enough,” Tyler says. “We just need to keep making those chances, keep converting them.” It’s a speech Jamie’s heard him give a half-dozen times—one he’s made himself—but it usually has more life to it than this, when Tyler’s the one giving it.

His face is closed off when he’s changing after. Jamie remembers the way Tyler turned away from him after their last game in Boston, even after the win, and he wonders if maybe he shouldn’t go up to him this time. But he can’t just leave him looking like that without at least trying.

“Hey,” he says, punching Tyler in the shoulder a little, and then feeling awkward about it and shoving his hands in his pockets. “My place?”

If Jamie thought he knew how badly this loss was hitting Tyler, he has a whole new perspective on it after the look Tyler gives him. Tyler looks away fast, though, his face closing off a little, and Jamie knows that this time it’ll be no. Hell, it’s Tyler’s right to say no. Jamie gets sometimes needing a little space to lick your wounds in private. So he’s startled when Tyler says, softly, “Yeah.”

“Oh,” Jamie says. “Oh, great,” and then grins at himself a little for acting so dumb about it. Tyler grins back, a little, fleeting thing.

He’s quiet in the car ride with Jamie and Jordie back to their building. Jamie and Jordie don’t say much, either—they just lost a game, too, and anyway a Tyler this quiet is enough to dampen everyone’s mood—and when they get to their apartment, Jordie says, “You guys hang without me. I think I’m going to talk to Jessica.”

Jamie’s first impulse is to object: Jordie shouldn’t just leave them like that, when Tyler so obviously needs cheering up. Then he remembers that Jordie just lost a game, too, and that maybe his experience isn’t entirely focused around Tyler the way Jamie’s is.

It’s sort of embarrassing as a reminder. Jamie bites his lip and goes to the kitchen to make them some food.

There’s something satisfying about putting food into Tyler after a game like that. Jamie can’t make him feel better about the big stuff, but he can make him less hungry, make everything a little better that way. Tyler does seem to relax a little after one heaping chicken sandwich, settling into a sleepier kind of quiet.

“It was a good game,” Jamie offers when they’re done eating.

Tyler shoots him a look, and Jamie makes a face. Yeah, okay.

“I mean,” Jamie says. “We didn’t play that badly. It was just, you know.” He lets himself trail off. Neither of them likes the kind of thinking where it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose as long as you play your best. It always matters if you win or lose.

“I just really wanted to show them, you know?” Tyler says. “What we can do.”

His voice is quieter than it usually is, more serious, and Jamie’s heart is beating fast because Tyler doesn’t say this stuff. About the team, sure, but not about himself—not about how he feels about Boston.

“I’m pretty sure we are showing them this year,” Jamie says.

“Yeah. We are.” Tyler picks himself up a little, puts on a smile. “Sorry, I was just—”

“No, it’s okay,” Jamie says, a little too quickly. He’s so bad at this shit. He doesn’t know how to make it clear that he wants Tyler to keeping talking, without making it weird. “That’s gotta. It has to suck.”

Tyler lets his head fall sideways against the back of the couch and gives a tired grin. “Yeah. It does.” He stretches a little—they’re sitting at opposite ends of the couch, facing each other, and Tyler stretches so that his leg presses against Jamie’s where they’re overlapping.

Jamie’s mouth is suddenly dry. He knows it’s totally, entirely the wrong time—there is no right time, but this is worse than most of them. Tyler’s sad, Tyler’s saying real stuff about feelings, and all Jamie can think about is Tyler saying we used to help each other out.

Jamie’s not kidding himself about this. Whatever shit Tyler used to do with his teammates back in Juniors, he’s not going to want to start it up again now that he’s and adult and famous and has no trouble picking up girls. Less trouble than anyone Jamie’s ever seen, really. Tyler wasn’t trying to hint at anything when he told Jamie about him and his teammates helping each other out. If Jamie tries to imagine that he was, he’s going to drive himself insane.

He might drive himself insane anyway, Tyler’s body pressed up against his like this, a sleepy smile facing him from the other side of the couch. Plus, Jamie keeps thinking, even if Tyler wasn’t trying to hint at anything, maybe he’d be open to—

“Hey,” Tyler says. “We still gotta hook you up, right?”

Oh. Right. That’s what Tyler actually wants to do with Jamie: find him a woman to hook up with.

“Oh. Yeah,” Jamie says, trying to put some enthusiasm in his voice.

“I’m thinking, I should get the guys to submit candidates,” Tyler says. “Then I can pick the best ones. Find someone who’s worthy of Jamie Benn.”

They’re going to have a lot to live up to, Jamie thinks involuntarily, looking at Tyler’s sleepy smile down the length of the couch. This feeling, the one he gets when Tyler’s sitting close and they’re being tired and comfortable together—Jamie can’t imagine it being any better with someone else.

If only Tyler didn’t keep trying to hook him up.

It is, to be honest, the only thing Jamie would change about Tyler’s company: the thing where they keep talking about who Jamie’s sleeping with. That, and the thing where he’s not allowed to kiss Tyler when he wants to. But if he could just change the first one—that would be better. He feels guilty thinking it, but it would be so nice not to feel like he has to evade constantly. To just be himself around Tyler, without any pressure.

He doesn’t know how to say that to Tyler. He doesn’t know what he could offer as an excuse.

“I don’t want, like, a big deal about it,” he mumbles.

Tyler waves a hand. “Nah, I’ll just ask around. Come on.” He nudges Jamie in the thigh with his toes. “You deserve someone.”

Does he? That’s never gotten him anyone before. If the universe really owed Jamie someone, he and Tyler would be lying in a very different position on this couch. “Okay, sure,” he says.

***

“What? Of course Jamie’s okay with it,” he hears Tyler saying to Brenden at the airport the next day. “You think I would just do this without asking him about it?”

Jamie can guess what it’s about. He hunches farther down in his seat.

When he looks up a moment later, Jordie’s raising an eyebrow at him. “What?”

“Tyler’s still trying to hook you up, huh?” Jordie says.

Jamie’s not sure what the undercurrent is there—what Jordie assumed from their failed attempt to get Jamie laid a couple of weeks ago. He hasn’t suggested doing it again, anyway. “I told him he could.”

“I could say something to him if you wanted,” Jordie says.

Oh God. Jamie doesn’t know what Jordie would say, and he doesn’t want to; he just—“No,” he says hurriedly. “No. It’s fine. I’ll tell him if I need him to back off.”

That’s…pretty much a lie. But anything’s better than Jordie talking to Tyler about this.

It’s not a great road trip. They lose in overtime to Minnesota and outright to Nashville. They go home and win a couple of times—including a fucking awesome blowout against the Leafs where Jamie has a goal and three points—and Jamie doesn’t overhear Tyler talking to any more of their teammates about setting him up. He’s kind of hoping Tyler’s forgotten. So it’s a surprise, and not the good kind, when Tyler comes over the afternoon after the Leafs game and sits on the couch next to Jamie with his phone out and says, “Okay.”

There’s a picture of a girl on his phone. She’s standing on a street, wearing sunglasses and laughing at something off-camera. “Okay?” Jamie says.

“Okay, so this is one of the girls you should date,” Tyler says, and Jamie’s muscles draw up tight.

“Tyler—” he says.

“No, she’s really cool,” Tyler says. “Her name’s Sara. Gonch’s wife knows her, she’s twenty-four and works with preschoolers.” He swipes over a photo. The girl is bending down amid a crowd of tiny kids. “See?”

The kids are pretty cute. The girl is, too. Jamie wonders whether she knows her pictures are being shown to random teammates of her friend’s husband. “I don’t know,” he says.

“Okay, no worries, this is the next one,” Tyler says, swiping to the next picture. “Libby—she’s in law school, wants to do human rights stuff.”

“Oh my God,” Jamie says. “Tyler. I can’t date someone that smart.”

“Don’t be dumb.” Tyler bumps his shoulder against Jamie’s. “You deserve, like, the best person.”

“Not someone I have to talk about human rights with,” Jamie says.

Tyler laughs. “Okay, yeah, good point.” He swipes again. “This is the third one, Lauren. She’s waitressing and also modeling, which—you can see it, right?”

Jamie can. The girl takes a good picture. She’s also way out of his league. They all are, really. There aren’t that many girls in Jamie’s league.

Tyler could probably go out with them. He’d tell jokes and make them laugh and they’d take one look at his smile and his neck and his arms and fall in love with him. And then he’d break their hearts, like he’s breaking Jamie’s.

“So?” Tyler asks. “Do you like any of them?”

The idea of going out with any of them makes Jamie want to lock himself in his room and never come out. He could get out of it, say he doesn’t like any of them—but that would just mean another round of Tyler asking their teammates for suggestions. He doesn’t need to drag this out.

“Sara,” he says. At least she’ll have cute stories about little kids to tell him.

“Ooh, nice choice,” Tyler says, talking his phone back and typing out a text. “Are you free Sunday?”

“Sunday?” It’s only Friday now. “Uh, yeah, but—”

Tyler looks up at him, his eyes all big and innocent. He’s not trying to screw Jamie over here, Jamie has to remind himself. “Is that not good?” Tyler asks.

“No, that’s fine,” Jamie says. Might as well get this over with.

***

“You make good choice,” Gonch says to Jamie at practice the next day.

“Yeah?” Jamie says, swallowing down a burst of nerves. “You think I’ll like her?”

Gonch nods. “Excellent girl. Very good for you.”

“He just wants the bragging rights,” Golly calls over. “You’ll see, Cap. After Sara doesn’t work out, then you can come back and date Libby.”

Oh fuck. He’s probably going to have to, isn’t he? And he can’t just pretend to date this time; these are people who know his teammates. He forces a laugh.

Tyler beams at him when Jamie drifts over to him a few minutes later. “See? They all think you deserve someone awesome, too.”

Make out with me, Jamie thinks desperately. It doesn’t have to be a big thing—just pretend I’m one of your teammates from Juniors—

He’s not supposed to be thinking like this. He’s supposed to be enjoying Tyler’s friendship. He’s supposed to not be driving himself any crazier than he already is.

“Yeah, it’s really nice of them,” he says, and swallows down the images of Tyler’s mouth on his, their foreheads pressed together. No space between their bodies.

This time there’s no hiding from Tyler when his date is, since Tyler helped him arrange it. Tyler comes over an hour before Jamie needs to leave. “Time to make you look cool,” he says.

“Are you saying I don’t already look cool?” Jamie says.

“Jamie, I love you, but you are wearing a T-shirt with the neck chewed out of it,” Tyler says.

Jamie isn’t even offended. Tyler said he loved him. Plus, it’s not like it isn’t true.

Jamie takes a shower, and then he and Tyler break down in giggles trying to style his hair. “Why won’t it do stuff,” Tyler asks, wheezing against the counter.

“I don’t know,” Jamie says, poking at it forlornly.

Tyler finally manages to get into respectable shape—“No, ew, don’t get more gel, it’ll be all crunchy,” as if Jamie’s planning to have anyone but himself touch it—and puts Jamie in a charcoal sweater that Jamie’s pretty sure his mom bought for him.

“You’re sure it isn’t too dorky?” he says.

“No,” Tyler says, patting him on the chest. “You look hot. Get over it.”

Tyler just said he looked hot. Jamie’s definitely not getting over it. Especially not with Tyler’s hands still on his chest: he’s picking off a few little pieces of fuzz, and Jamie has tingles running all down through his legs.

Don’t make me go away from you, he thinks. Don’t make me pretend I want to spend the evening with someone who isn’t you.

Tyler looks up at him then, and Jamie’s face must be doing something weird, because Tyler says, “What?”

Jamie can’t find any words for a minute. Tyler’s standing so close to him, his hands resting on Jamie’s chest over the sweater like he’s forgotten they’re there, and he’s so gorgeous. Everything else aside, Jamie doesn’t know what he was thinking, wanting someone so gorgeous. Jamie isn’t even worthy to touch him.

“Sorry,” Jamie manages to say, through the sadness dragging down his mouth. “I’m just nervous.”

“Are you kidding? She’s going to be so lucky to go out with you,” Tyler says—and he’s moving away, and Jamie wants to catch him and pull him back, but he can’t. He doesn’t have any excuse to.

His stomach is small and tight and sick as he says goodbye to Tyler in the elevator. The floors tick down toward Tyler’s, and Jamie thinks, one last frantic time, that he should reach out—grab Tyler, pull him close. Not that it would make a difference. Even if he could get Tyler to stay on the elevator, he couldn’t get Tyler to come into his arms, to kiss him, to want him.

Jamie will go on his date. And then tomorrow morning he’ll see Tyler like he always does, and things will be the same as always and Jamie will keep bashing himself against this impossible thing he can’t help wanting.

“Have fun,” Tyler says, flashing him a bright smile as he steps out. The doors shut behind him, and Jamie’s stomach sinks with the elevator.

***

Jamie’s dreading meeting Sara, but she’s surprisingly easy to talk to. They meet at the restaurant, and before they even order, Jamie manages to get her telling stories about the kids she works with. Jamie laughs at the stories and tries to ignore the feeling in his chest like he recently tore something vital out of it.

“I feel like I’ve been talking about myself all night,” she says when their entrees come. “Tell me about yourself.”

“Oh, um.” Jamie pokes at his steak. “I’m not, uh. I’m not very good at talking about myself.”

“Sergei says you guys sometimes pull pranks, right?” she says, and, yeah, okay, he can tell some of those stories.

Maybe it’s because she’s used to working with little kids, but Sara manages to pull words out of him for most of the night. Jamie even finds himself relaxing into it a little. It helps that he’s pretty sure she doesn’t expect anything to happen tonight—she’s friends with his teammate; this isn’t going to be a quick pickup. This can be a date where they just get to know each other, and that means that by the time the evening draws to a close, Jamie’s actually having fun.

The realization startles him. They’re waiting for the check to come back for his signature, and—and he hasn’t been wondering why it’s taking so long. He’s been feeling okay with her.

She looks up and sees him looking and smiles. “I had a really nice time tonight,” she says.

“Me, too,” he says, though it’s no longer true. All his internal organs have seized up. He doesn’t want to be having a nice time with her. He wants—

He wants to go home to Tyler.

There’s something cold creeping over his body, sharp, like a slow wash of adrenaline. He’s been telling himself that he can’t help this Tyler thing, that he’s not stupid enough to choose to feel like that about a teammate who doesn’t want him back, but now he has the option of something else and it turns out he’s exactly that stupid. He doesn’t want to fall for Sara’s smile instead of Tyler’s. Even if Sara might want him back—Jamie doesn’t want that. He wants Tyler.

He’s a little bit in a daze while they walk back out to their cars. He thinks they say something about doing this again, and there’s a goodbye hug, but he’s not really paying attention. Then he’s driving home, staring absently at the road and getting mad.

He doesn’t have a good reason to be mad. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. But he’s driving, and he’s getting madder and madder at Tyler, this hot anger that lives just beneath his breastbone. So what if it’s dumb for Jamie to be hung up on his teammate instead of dating some perfectly lovely woman who could actually make him happy. Jamie’s allowed to make dumb decisions if he wants. Tyler shouldn’t be forcing him into this. Tyler doesn’t know anything about him, about his dating life—he should keep his opinions to himself and let Jamie stay stupidly hung up on him if he wants to. Who’s Tyler to tell him otherwise?

Jamie’s still angry when he pulls into their building. He’s encouraging the anger at this point, trying to keep it alive, because he knows he has to say something and this is the only way he’ll be able to do it.

Tyler answers the door when Jamie knocks. Tyler looks startled, probably because he wasn’t expecting to see Jamie again tonight and also because Jamie’s breathing hard and might look a little like a crazy person. “Hey. How was your—”

“I don’t want you to set me up anymore,” Jamie says.

“What?” Tyler steps back, lets Jamie through the door. “Why, was it bad?”

“No. It was fine.” Jamie goes ahead of him into the apartment. “I don’t want you to set me up anymore.”

“I mean,” Tyler says, the beginning of a smile in his voice, “I can try to set you up on dates that aren’t fine if you want.”

“No, just—” Jamie goes into the kitchen. He’s not really sure why. He has to finish saying this. “She was great. I liked her a lot. I just don’t want to go out on dates, okay? Not with people who are fine, or people who are great, or anyone. I don’t want to online date or pick up in bars or any of it.”

“Okay.” Tyler’s not smiling anymore; he mostly looks confused, standing in the doorway of the kitchen. “I mean, that’s kind of all of it, though.”

“I know.” Jamie squeezes his eyes shut, opens them again, turns them down to the counter.

“But—” Tyler still sounds hopelessly confused. “If you don’t like dating, and you don’t want to pick up, like, how do even find people?”

“I don’t.” Jamie feels like the floor is falling away from him, and all he can think is, let it fall. “I never have.”

“Huh?”

“I’ve never hooked up. With anyone.”

There’s a silence. Then Tyler says, “You’re a virgin?”

Jamie’s staring at the faucet of the sink on Tyler’s kitchen island so hard the chrome is blurring. “I guess.”

“Jamie.” Tyler comes closer to the island. Jamie can see him, his hands, his torso, but he can’t bring himself to look at his face. “Are you joking? Is this a joke?”

Jamie shakes his head. Now the world is blurring for different reasons, and he grits his teeth together hard. He is not going to tear up. He’s making enough of a fool of himself already.

“But.” Tyler still sounds disbelieving. “Look at you. That’s—why?

Jamie shakes his head again and clears his throat. “There’s not, like—a reason. I just. Never have.”

“That’s why you didn’t want to hook up with girls in bars,” Tyler says. He’s coming around the side of the island; Jamie’s tracking his progress, though he still can’t look at him. “Because you never have.”

“It’s not like I don’t want to hook up,” Jamie says thickly. “I like girls—” A few of them, anyway. And one very distinctive guy.

“No, I get it,” Tyler says. “Oh my God, that makes so much sense. You can’t, like, bring one of them home if you’ve never done it before, but then you still haven’t done it, so.” He sounds like he’s happy about how well these pieces fit together.

Jamie digs his toe into the grout between the tiles. “Yeah. It’s a shitty problem to solve.”

“No, it’s totally easy.”

Jamie’s eyes fly up to him. Tyler’s beaming, like this is great, like it’s wonderful that his friend and teammate has never gotten to touch another human being.

“Jamie. I’ll teach you.”

Jamie stares at him. He feels the ropes he just got out of tightening around him again. Lessons with Tyler, in bars, learning to kiss people, being expected to take them home to practice. “I don’t want—thanks, that’s nice of you, but—random women, I don’t want—”

“No.” Tyler’s laughing a little. “Not random women. I mean, I can teach you.”

It takes a minute for Jamie’s mind to catch up to that one. His body already gets it, heat prickling all over his skin, everything racing to wake up.

“Unless you’re too good to do it with a guy,” Tyler chirps, tongue sticking out between his teeth.

“No, I.” Jamie’s mouth is too dry for speech. He swallows a couple of times. “It’s just—do you want to? Like—”

“I told you, we used to do it in Juniors,” Tyler says. “It’s no big deal.” He puts his hand out, closes it around Jamie’s elbow. “Yeah?”

Jamie’s mind has stopped working. This is so far from anywhere he thought he’d be that he can’t even process it. Tyler’s still looking at him, eyes bright, hopeful, and Jamie manages to nod, and then—then Tyler is kissing him.

It’s a revelation. Tyler’s mouth is soft and wet and like an electric charge. Jamie gasps into it. Then he’s kissing back: easy, instinctive. No thought needed. Which is good, because his brain is gone, vanished the moment Tyler’s mouth touched his.

His brain is gone, and his body is—it’s all changing: Tyler’s mouth on his is working great tectonic shifts so that Jamie doesn’t know where he is anymore. Like he was a desert, and everywhere Tyler touches, rain forests are springing up: lush and hot and oh Tyler’s tongue. Tyler’s tongue is teasing the tip of Jamie’s, fire flooding down his throat, and Tyler makes this little noise and Jamie wants to swallow it down.

He presses closer and opens his mouth and kisses Tyler back. He can’t get enough. He’s going to go insane with this. Tyler’s hand is firm around the back of his neck and his tongue is in Jamie’s mouth and Jamie’s wanted this so badly. Tyler, pressed against him; Tyler in this with him; Tyler finally feeling all the things Jamie—

Jamie pushes it away. It doesn’t disappear, though: it curls up in his stomach, a cold sickness that grows even as he keeps kissing Tyler. He wants to keep doing this. Of course he does. It’s Tyler; Tyler’s in his arms. He doesn’t want to stop just because Tyler’s doing him a favor by being here. He doesn’t want—

He can tell when Tyler notices the way he’s gone all stiff and tense. Tyler’s tongue is still in his mouth, and they’re frozen for a moment, and then Jamie pulls away, jerkily. “No.”

Tyler looks confused: wide-eyed, red-mouthed. “What?”

“No, I.” Jamie pushes his way out from between Tyler and the counter and braces himself on the island, leaning forward onto his hands. “I don’t want it. Not like—no.”

“Okay.” Tyler sounds lost behind him. “Is it, um. What?”

Jamie’s still breathing hard. He needs to say something, but the only things in his head are the truth, and they’re too hard to say. “I don’t, um. I don’t want to do this where it doesn’t—matter.”

“Oh,” Tyler says, voice small. Then, in a brighter voice, smoothing things over: “Hey, that’s okay. You should only—yeah. No worries.”

Jamie kind of wants to crawl under a rock and die of shame. “Thanks,” he manages to say. “I should probably, uh, go.”

“Yeah, that sounds good,” Tyler says. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Tyler doesn’t sound mad. Tyler sounds normal, sounds like he’s trying to be helpful. He’s so much better at this than Jamie is. Jamie wants to look back at him—but that would be dangerous in its own way. Want is still burning through his body, warring with the coldness in his gut, and if he sees Tyler, with his kiss-swollen lips and messy hair—

Yeah. He needs to get out of there.

Chapter Text

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.