Charlie gets a lot of texts after the trade goes through. He’s already said goodbye in person to his former teammates on the team plane, so he shifts his focus to his new team. He talks to Sweeney first, the typical welcome speech, a bit boring but necessary. He makes an effort to contain his excitement. He still has another year on his deal, sure, but nothing good could come from sounding like an eager fanboy during his first phone call with his new GM. Hockey is still a business.
When the formalities are out of the way, he checks his texts. Lots of new teammates, guys he’s met and befriended over the years as well as guys he’s never talked to, have sent him kind and welcoming messages. One in particular stands out to him.
It’s from Chris. The text is simple, just two words, but for some reason it’s the thing that finally makes Charlie’s face break into the grin he’s been holding back all afternoon.
welcome home :)
Charlie needs gloves.
He’s playing his first game as a Bruin in less than twelve hours, and he certainly can’t take the ice in his Wild gloves; the bright green with the red trim would stand out like a sore thumb. That’s something that one only gets away with in their first practice with a new team. He considers asking the equipment manager, but Chris beats him to it.
“Need some gloves?”
Chris doesn’t wait for an answer before handing a pair over to Charlie. They’re simple, black with red insides, and they say WAGNER above the thumbs.
“Thanks,” Charlie says, rubbing his thumb over the stitching. He slips one on. It seems to fit well, so he rolls his wrist and flexes his fingers to test his mobility and comfort.
“No problem,” Chris replies. “I’m just returning the favor, you know?”
He winks. That’s all it takes for the memory to come rushing back.
“Shit,” Chris gripes. A large hole has ripped through the palm of his left glove. He lets out a frustrated noise and picks at the hole, testing the integrity of the surrounding fabric. He must come to a negative conclusion because he shoves the glove back into his bag and sits down in his stall with a frown.
It’s only the third game of the season, Charlie’s first with the Kings. He’s in the stall next to Chris, an eighteen-year-old from somewhere near Foxborough, who had nearly been a point-per-game player the year before.
“Here, take one of mine,” Charlie says quickly. He has a spare pair in his bag, only slightly too small. He drops the left one into Chris’s lap.
Chris looks up. “Oh. Thanks.”
Charlie’s still the new kid, fresh-faced and seventeen, but he feels important after that. Like he’s useful. Chris gets a hat trick with his mismatched gloves, and in the locker room after the game he throws an arm around Charlie’s shoulders and proclaims that Charlie must have given Chris some of his talent through the glove.
Charlie blushes at the attention. He was stressed, at first, knowing how important it was for him to play well that year in order to get attention from scouts. Team bonding wasn’t exactly at the top of his list of priorities.
After that game, though, it starts to feel different. It feels easy.
“I can’t believe you still remember that,” Charlie says.
Chris shrugs. “I remember a lot about that year.”
He leaves it at that, walks to his own stall to get ready for morning skate. Charlie doesn’t even notice that he’s just sitting and staring until Torey comes in and drops his bag loudly onto the floor.
Charlie’s first morning skate with the Bruins goes well. During a three-on-three drill, he dances around McAvoy and gets in alone on Tuukka, and a chorus of oooohs erupts from the rest of the team. Chris shouts something about the gloves as Charlie skates back to the group. Charlie hasn’t felt like this in a long time, this excited about a game, so amped up he can hardly sit still. He shuffles his skates back and forth while he listens to Bruce go over their power play scheme.
After Bruce says they’re done, Charlie takes a few extra laps around the rink. He has too much nervous energy. He keeps his head down and takes a few long strides alongside the benches, not noticing that he isn't the only one left on the ice until he stops to catch his breath.
Chris is standing near the zamboni doors. He grins when Charlie meets his eyes.
Charlie laughs. He’s surprised that they’ve gone back to this so quickly, the same easy friendship they had almost a decade ago. It’s like nothing has changed between them. Chris has the same smile, the same sense of humor, the same way of laughing at his own jokes before he finishes telling them.
“Can’t look away, huh?” Charlie teases, skating up and giving Chris a friendly shove against the glass.
Chris pauses. He looks at Charlie earnestly. “Never have. All these years.”
That’s… not what Charlie was expecting.
He lets the comment bounce around in his head for the rest of the day, and he’s still thinking about it when he gets to Enterprise Center that night. He could be reading into it too much. Everyone gets a little too honest sometimes, and usually it’s easy enough to laugh it off.
This isn’t the first time, though.
Chris tosses his Xbox controller onto the couch next to him. “You’re too good at this.”
Charlie shrugs. “Maybe you just suck.”
Chris gasps in offense and lunges over to jab Charlie in the side. Charlie tries to jab him back and they break into a mock wrestling match, the game of Halo forgotten. Their controllers clatter to the floor. Charlie doesn’t have to try very hard to get Chris pinned, using his size to his advantage. Chris isn’t small, but he certainly isn’t as big as Charlie. Not many people are.
Instead of struggling to get free, Chris just tips his head back against the arm of the couch and looks right up at Charlie. The room is quiet, save for the faint music coming from the TV. Their faces are so close that Charlie can feel Chris’s breath against his cheek.
Charlie has always wondered, somewhere in the back of his mind, about this. These moments where they both go quiet and an uncertain feeling overtakes them. Charlie always thought he was overthinking it. Now, though, Chris’s eyes are wide and dark and Charlie doesn’t think anyone would blame him for where his mind goes. It’s at once thrilling and treacherous. There’s a line that, once crossed, they couldn’t come back from.
Charlie’s heart is beating so hard that he can feel it in his throat.
Just when it feels like the tension is going to become unbearable, the basement door opens. Charlie pulls away so fast he nearly stumbles, scrambling to sit on the opposite side of the couch. Chris sits up and grabs his controller.
Chris’s little brother appears at the bottom of the stairs. He seems entirely oblivious of what had just been happening. “Mom says it’s dinnertime.”
Charlie can’t decide if he’s thankful or disappointed. Maybe both.
It never comes up again. Chris doesn’t act like anything is different, acts just the same as always in the locker room and on the ice the next day. He still invites Charlie over to play video games in his basement. He doesn’t shy away from giving Charlie his trademark bear hugs when he scores. Charlie is left wondering how much of it was all in his head.
Charlie has just finished his media availability in the locker room when he overhears Chris saying his name. His attention piqued, he stops what he’s doing and tries to listen in over the other voices throughout the room.
“I think the world of him,” Chris says. “Great player. Two-way player. Hard. Heavy. Skates well. Skill.”
He catches Charlie’s gaze and winks, then goes back to answering questions. None of the reporters gathered around him seem to pick up on it.
If Charlie didn’t know any better, he’d think Chris was flirting with him. He doesn’t know how else to explain the constant attention, the teases and playful shoves, the smiles from across the ice. It’s only been a few days but it’s already a problem. After years of having this in the back of his mind, even when he went months without talking to Chris at all, he doesn’t know what to think now that their relationship is basically back to where it had left off. He’d be lying if he said he never wondered about what could have happened if, one of those days, he’d just finally closed the gap. If he’d kissed Chris that day on the couch in his basement. Or if Chris had kissed him. It had been easier to act like he was over it when he wasn’t seeing Chris every day.
Charlie lingers a bit longer after he finishes packing up his things and cleaning up his stall, but Chris is busy talking about his success alongside Noel and Sean. The moment has passed him by.
The anthem ends, and Charlie runs a hand through his wild curls before putting his helmet back on. His whole body is tense with nerves. It’s the first playoff game of the year, and though they’re playing a clearly inferior team, there’s nothing guaranteed. Coach Harlow had drilled that into their heads in the locker room before the game. Success is earned, not awarded. Never take a shift off. Stakes are high, and there’s a pretty big crowd in the stands.
Chris skates up behind Charlie and taps him on the shin pad with his stick.
“Lotta scouts in the crowd today, huh?” Chris says brightly.
“Better get a hatty, then,” Charlie says, grinning back at him. “Make it worth their while.”
Chris goes quiet for a moment, contemplative. He looks at Charlie and his gaze is intense, even through his helmet cage, something beyond his usual game face.
“They’re here for you.”
The breath rushes out of Charlie’s lungs.
It’s not fair, that Chris can say something like that in a situation like this and make it sound so simple. It isn’t just flattery, empty words to boost Charlie’s ego. It’s honest. He says it because he believes it.
“Says the guy leading the whole league in points,” Charlie says finally, forcing a laugh in an attempt to cut through the sudden tension. The way Chris is looking at him is enough to make the crowd seem miles away, their cheers just a faint hum drowned out by Charlie’s heartbeat thrumming in his ears.
The official at center ice blows his whistle and gets in position to drop the puck.
Chris taps his stick on the ice. “Let’s go win this thing.”
They beat San Jose in Charlie’s first home game. It’s an indescribable feeling, jumping off of the bench at the end of the game to celebrate, listening to the cheers from his hometown crowd. He’s always been careful to keep his expectations in check, but it’s hard to avoid getting caught up in the excitement. All of the guys feel it. There’s something in the air in the locker room that has everyone buzzing; Charlie’s too superstitious to try to name it.
He still can’t help but skim through some articles. He allows himself to listen when the Globe calls this team special, dares to consider what will happen if they’re right.
He goes to Chris’s for dinner the night after the win over the Sharks. It’s casual, just Chinese takeout on the couch with Netflix on in the background (you have to watch Peaky Blinders, Chris had told him. The whole team does.), but it’s nice. He feels more grounded, in a way, when he’s with Chris. More than anyone else on the team. It’s a reminder that, no matter what happens on the ice, he’s just a kid from the South Shore who loves hockey more than anyone should probably love any single thing. He’s lucky to be where he is. He knows without asking that Chris feels that way, too.
It’s late when they finish their third episode of Peaky Blinders, and Charlie figures it’s time for him to leave before he passes out on Chris’s couch. Chris walks him to the door, saying something about making sure Charlie knows how to get back to his hotel, and follows Charlie out onto the front step. The door swings closed behind him.
The night is clear, but cold. Charlie shoves his hands in his pockets and turns back to look at Chris.
“Thanks for dinner,” Charlie says, almost a whisper.
Chris doesn’t respond, just runs his tongue over his lower lip, his gaze almost daring Charlie to make a move. The air is cold and sharp against their cheeks. Charlie is painfully aware that, even though Chris’s front step is partly obscured from the street by an iron gate and a winter-bare hedge, they’re still very much in public. He’s sure that the frigid temperatures aren’t enough to deter every potential passer-by.
Chris’s breath is warm against Charlie’s skin. He isn’t here because he thought Charlie needed help getting back to his hotel. Charlie knows the city, Chris surely doesn’t doubt that. There’s only one reason that they’re both here, only a few feet apart, right outside Chris’s front door. Charlie knows this moment all too well. Somewhere in his mind, he still remembers what it was like to let it pass him by. Charlie isn’t a teenager anymore, though, and he isn’t letting it happen again. He’d probably never forgive himself if he did. There are no little brothers here to interrupt them, no excuses to be made, just the two of them in the February air.
So he skims a hand over Chris’s jaw, settles it on the back of his neck, and kisses him.
Chris kisses back without hesitation, leaving no time for Charlie to feel even a shred of worry that he’d been misreading things. His lips are chapped but warm and he leans so heavily into the kiss that Charlie nearly staggers. It's as if whatever had built up between them over the years finally cracks open, so intense and all-consuming that Charlie lets himself get lost in it. He pays no mind to the quiet street behind him.
Chris makes a soft noise when Charlie gets an arm around his waist to pull him impossibly closer. Charlie could do this forever, probably, except he can’t really breathe with the way Chris is sucking on his tongue. So he forces himself back, separating himself from Chris. His lips still tingle from the contact.
“Oh my god,” Chris pants, red in the face and wide-eyed. “Finally.”
He goes in to kiss Charlie again, a bit uncoordinated and a lot desperate, and Charlie allows it for a few moments before pulling away again.
“Wait, wait,” he says, the frigid air making his chest hurt as he takes in heaving breaths.
Chris’s face falls. “What?”
Some small, logical part of Charlie’s brain is telling him he needs some sort of clarification. Of what this is, what Chris wants, what they both understand their relationship to be.
The rest of him, however, is telling him that that can wait.
He gives Chris a lopsided smile. “Let’s take this inside before my toes freeze off.”
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.”
the south shore kings really did lose in the championship game the season charlie and wags played for them. and wags did, in fact, lead the ejhl in points that year. charlie was fifth. the teams are real and everyone mentioned by name is real. all other details are made up by me!
thank you so much to fridgefish for encouraging me to finish this, ily!