Charlie wakes up to the sound of an alarm that isn’t his. He opens his eyes and squints against the sunlight coming in through the gaps in the window shade, slowly remembering where he is and why he’s there. The bed shifts as Chris leans over to the bedside table to hit snooze.
“Good morning,” Charlie says. His voice is rough.
Chris rolls over to face him. His hair is flopped over his forehead and there’s a mark from the fabric of the pillowcase on his cheek. He looks adorable, a content smile on his lips and a hickey on his neck, half-hidden by the collar of his t-shirt. Charlie’s heart swells.
“You stayed,” Chris says, barely above a whisper.
Charlie doesn’t know how to react to that. Of course he stayed; he hadn’t given it a second thought.
“Yeah,” is all Charlie says in response.
Chris stares at Charlie for a long beat, then turns his face into the pillow and makes a noise somewhere between a laugh and a groan. His ears are bright red.
“Everything alright?” Charlie asks. He doesn’t dare move. His anxiety heightens, heart thumping in his chest, waking him up from the morning bliss that had been draped over the two of them. Had he overstepped? Was he wrong to assume that Chris wanted him to stay?
When Chris’s face emerges, it’s as red as his ears. He’s smiling.
“I’m just happy,” he says. His smile widens. “But also your morning breath is awful.”
Charlie laughs, letting out the breath he had been holding. Something about the statement is so typical, so Chris, simple and honest and funny. Charlie wonders how he could ever be doubtful of Chris’s feelings. There’s so much he wants to say that his brain can’t get a handle on all of it, so he settles for reaching out to tilt Chris’s chin up and kissing him as gently as he can bear to. It starts slowly but devolves into desperation and scrambling pretty quickly, Chris’s hands all over Charlie and their legs tangled up beneath the sheets.
They’re interrupted by Chris’s alarm going off again. Chris pulls away reluctantly and picks up his phone, sighing when he sees the time. They have a game that night, and morning skate must not be too far off.
Charlie sits up and stretches his arms above his head. “What’s for breakfast?”
“Whatever it is, you’re making it yourself,” Chris says, standing up and padding across the room toward the bathroom. “I don’t do breakfast in bed after the first date. You’ve gotta earn it.”
Charlie laughs and throws a pillow at him. It misses.
When the clock runs down to zero, Charlie throws his arms up in the air and goes down easily when Chris tackles him in a hug. The rest of the team piles on top of them. It’s hard to hear anything over the shouting, all of them together, but Chris’s mouth is right next to Charlie’s ear and he can pick out the familiar voice.
“Fuckin’ right!” Chris yells. “That was all you, baby!”
It wasn’t, in fact, all Charlie. He had scored the game-winning goal, but Brad had shut the door in the final minute despite being peppered with shots and Nolan had broken the tie in the second period. Chris, of course, had set Charlie up for his goal with a gorgeous cross-ice pass.
They’re going to the championship game. Charlie had told himself, before the season, that he didn’t care where the team ended up as long as he played well. However far they went in the playoffs would just be a bonus. Now, he sees it differently. He sees how much it means to everyone, he sees how much Chris wants it, and he wants it too. It isn’t about the trophy. They want to win because they know they can, because it would be a representation of everything that they achieved that year.
They know that they aren’t done yet, but they still celebrate the win. Coach Harlow’s wife brings an armful of Dunkin Donuts munchkin boxes out to the rink lobby after everyone is dressed and showered. After letting his parents fawn over him for a bit, babbling about how they’re so proud and so happy for him, Charlie grabs a handful of chocolate glazed and makes a beeline towards the corner where Chris is momentarily alone.
“Where’s the entourage?” Charlie teases. “Thought you’d be more popular.”
Chris rolls his eyes. “Paul dragged Mom and Dad off to talk to Coach about getting him on the team in a couple years. You know, typical little brother. Can’t let the spotlight stay on me for too long.”
“Just wait ‘til we win the championship,” Charlie says. “Nobody’s taking that spotlight.”
It’s cheesy and too optimistic, a bit out of character, but it makes Chris smile.
“That’s the spirit,” Chris replies. There’s a bit of jelly filling on his lip.
Charlie wants to see him this happy forever, maybe.
The whole team goes to the other semifinal game the day after their own. The New Hampshire Junior Monarchs, the best team in the league that year, are heavy favorites over Boston. The Kings had finished the regular season three points behind them. It’s a close game, back and forth with great goaltending on both sides, but New Hampshire pulls out the win in regulation.
“We lost to these guys last year,” Chris says, keeping a steady tone as they watch the New Hampshire players spill off the bench to celebrate. “Let’s not do that again.”
He speaks with the calculated confidence of someone much more experienced. It’s easy to forget, sometimes, how young Chris is. Charlie can see why their coaches put so much trust in him. Chris is the kind of person that you drop everything to listen to, the kind of person that makes you want to do better because you know how much he cares.
The other guys who had played the year before, Sean and Nolan, give solemn nods. Charlie can see how much it means to them.
He wants it, too, so badly it hurts.
Chris invites Charlie over again after they skate circles around Tampa at home. Charlie is still riding high from the win, unsure of what to do with all of his extra energy. He drums on the steering wheel and taps his right foot against the floor during the drive over.
When Chris opens the door, he’s wearing a long-sleeved Bruins Hockey shirt with the number 13 in large print on the left side of his chest. Charlie’s mouth goes dry. If there was ever a doubt in his mind that Chris is consciously trying to rile him up, it has since vanished.
“What are you doing?” Charlie asks as he steps inside and closes the door behind him.
Chris has a sly smile on his face. “Huh?”
Charlie just gestures to the shirt and tries his best to look exasperated.
“I don't know what you're talking about,” Chris says, feigning innocence. It's unconvincing, considering he's wearing Charlie’s shirt and definitely playing up how big it is on him, letting the sleeves go almost to his fingertips and lifting one shoulder so that the collar hangs loosely.
Chris looks absolutely delighted when Charlie takes a step forward, crowding him against the wall.
“Where'd you even get this?” Charlie asks, rubbing the seam at the collar between his thumb and forefinger.
Chris swallows, his adam’s apple bobbing. “You left it here last time.”
Charlie gives him a look. “So you thought you’d keep it all week and wear it just to get me to...”
He glances down at his knee where it has settled between Chris’s thighs. “Do this.”
“It worked, didn't it?” Chris says, biting his lower lip.
Charlie can’t argue with that, so he just kisses Chris until he’s breathless. He lets himself get completely lost in it. He’s never felt this comfortable in a situation like this, but here he is for the second time in a week, both of them knowing exactly where it’s going. It feels like both of them have wanted this for so long that it almost comes naturally. Their teeth don’t click together, their noses don’t get in the way, there’s nothing awkward about the height difference. At the risk of sounding naive, Charlie doesn’t think it could ever feel much better than this.
They make it to the bedroom without tripping over anything, Charlie isn’t sure how. He ends up with Chris settled in his lap, pressing kisses along his jaw and the side of his neck.
“Fuck, I needed this,” Chris sighs against Charlie’s skin. “You have no idea.”
Charlie scoffs. “And here I was thinking you invited me over because you enjoyed my company.”
“I do enjoy your company,” Chris amends. “I just also enjoy other things about you.”
He rolls his hips deliberately against Charlie’s, and laughs when Charlie gives him what must be the weakest glare he’s ever seen.
It’s a lot less desperate than the first time they slept together. There’s a sort of mutual realization that they can afford to take their time. Charlie drinks in every sound that Chris makes, every warm slide of skin against skin. Chris’s wrists look silver in the moonlight as he reaches up to grip the headboard. His breath drowns out the creak of the bed frame, labored but steady, keeping perfect time with the movement of Charlie’s hips. His lashes cast shadows on his cheeks when he closes his eyes.
Charlie must doze off afterwards, because when he opens his eyes the television is on. Chris is watching the replay of their game a few hours prior.
“Couldn’t wait to admire our own highlights?” Charlie asks, amused. His voice is raspy.
“I’m watching film,” Chris retorts. “It’s called being responsible and prepared. Maybe you should try it some time”
Charlie snorts. “Sure, whatever you say.”
They watch the game for a while, occasionally pointing out good plays or mistakes that one of them had made. At some point, after Charlie sits up, Chris scoots over and rests his head on his shoulder. Charlie kisses the top of his head so softly that Chris might not even feel it.
The moon is bright behind the window blinds. The two of them sit half-asleep in the glow of the television, quiet and blissful.
Charlie’s never felt happier.
Charlie is having a rough game. He has a few turnovers, and the puck keeps jumping over his stick. He whiffs on a slapshot with a wide-open net to shoot at on the power play. The game is still tied, but he slams his stick against the boards when he skates back to the bench.
He feels someone throw an arm around his shoulders.
“You’re okay,” Chris says calmly. “Just focus on the next shift.”
He does. He throws all of his mistakes out the window, hops over the boards when Coach taps his shoulder and plays as hard as he ever has in his life. He gets steadily better as the third period goes on. With each shift he can feel himself settling into the game, and every move he makes comes without hesitation.
When you play like this, there isn’t a single thing in the world that can keep you from scoring, Coach Harlow had told the team a few weeks before, after they had scored five unanswered goals in the third period to beat Jersey. Charlie had a hat trick. Remember what this feels like.
Charlie remembers. When he meets Chris’s eyes as they step onto the ice for their next shift, just a minute left in the game, he knows Chris remembers, too.
The goal isn’t Chris’s fault. His shot deflects wide off of a defenseman’s stick and takes a strange bounce off of the end boards right to one of the opposing forwards. Nolan had just gone off for a change, so the point is vacated for just a second too long. Charlie is at the bottom of the left circle, and he can only watch helplessly as the New Hampshire player streaks down the ice and beats Brad on his glove side. The rink erupts in cheers.
Charlie’s heart drops to his feet.
In the locker room, the whole team seems deflated. Coach Harlow gives a speech, emphasizing how much they achieved and how they should be proud of themselves, but it doesn’t sink in quite yet. Everyone goes through the motions in complete silence. A few players stay seated in their stalls, unmoving, as if they’re still trying to figure out what happened.
Chris is crying. Charlie stands a few feet away, mouth curled into a frown. He’s still holding onto his helmet by the strap as it dangles by his side.
Chris forces a smile when he sees Charlie and wipes at the tear tracks on his cheeks.
If it’s even possible, Charlie’s heart breaks all over again.
“What are you sorry for?” he asks.
“I don’t know,” Chris manages through a half-sob. “It’s just a stupid game.”
He’s right, in a way. One game won’t change the direction of their lives, championship or not. That didn't mean it was pointless, though. They poured everything they had into it. They believed, truly believed, that they could win it. That meant something.
“That doesn’t mean you can’t be upset,” Charlie says.
Chris sighs. “I know. I just… I don’t want you to see me like this, honestly. It’s embarrassing.”
He forces out a laugh and rubs his eyes with the sleeve of his jersey. “Besides, this won’t matter when you make it to the NHL.”
Charlie feels suddenly optimistic, and he isn’t sure if his brain is overcompensating for the dismal mood in the room or if he’s being genuine.
“We’re both gonna make it,” he says.
Chris sniffs. “Yeah?”
Charlie nods. “And when we play against each other, I’m not gonna go easy on you.”
He’s trying to make Chris smile or laugh or do anything besides just look sadly at the floor. Maybe the future isn’t the best thing to focus on, uncertain as it is, but it’s all he has at the moment.
Chris does lift his head at that. He looks thoughtful. “What if we play together?”
Charlie hadn’t dared let himself hope.
“Then we’ll win.”