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It started out innocently enough. Chucky was hosting game night at his condo downtown. Katie was particularly excited about tonight, since NHL 20 had just been released, and she was looking forward to laughing about all the inaccuracies with the guys, while simultaneously kicking the snot out of them in the game.

She’d been buzzed into the building by Rittich, who was already in Chucky’s apartment, had made it in to the elevator, and was waiting for the doors to close.

“Hold the door!” she heard someone call out, so she quickly reached out to smash the ‘door open’ button. A tall, slim but handsome man with golden hair and dark blue eyes stepped into the elevator after her, looking slightly out of breath and holding two paper bags filled with groceries. He flashed her a pearly white smile before going to press the button his floor was on, only to realize it was already lit up.

“I just moved in, don’t think I’ve seen you around here before. Are you one of my neighbors?” he asked hopefully, grin still in place.

“No, I don’t live here, just visiting a friend,” Katie answered, gesturing with the large box of homemade cookies in her arms. “Tonight’s his turn to host game night – new NHL game just came out and everyone’s dying to try it.”

“Sounds like fun, maybe I can join you sometime, I haven’t finished meeting all the neighbors yet. Hey this may be forward of me but I’d like to give you my number; you seem like someone I want to get to know better, and like I said I’m new in town. Meeting new people’s not exactly my strong suit,” he said with a laugh. “Maybe we can have coffee sometime.”

The elevator chimed, doors opening, and they both stepped out into the hallway. “My name’s Todd by the way,” he said, hastily scrawling his number onto a bit of paper he’d torn off one of his bags and thrusting it towards her. Katie took the paper hesitantly, a bit dumbfounded. “Uh nice to meet you Todd. I’m Katie. I guess I’ll see you around then,” she replied, not knowing what else to say. Neither had moved from their spot in front of the elevator, and Katie turned when she heard a door open down the hall. Rittich’s head appeared around Chucky’s door.

“Everything alright? I buzzed you in like 10 minutes ago,” his thickly accented voice called down the hallway.

“Uh yeah, sorry Dave, just meeting the neighbors,” Katie called back, giving Todd a quick smile before trotting over to Rittich and into Chucky’s apartment. Rittich lingered in the doorway a moment, making eye contact with Todd for a split second before he too disappeared into the apartment.

~

Game night was well underway, Chucky, Sean, Mang and Johnny were having a very spirited Battle of Alberta in the next room (Mang and Chucky having drawn the short straws to play as the hated Edmonton Oilers), and Katie had retreated to the kitchen to refill her drink. She was feeling quite content and pleasantly warm, a soft smile spreading across her face when she sensed the large presence behind her.

“Hey Dave, needed some peace and quiet too?” He chuckled quietly, but didn’t answer. She turned fully to look at him, and was surprised to find him hovering awkwardly near the door.

“What’s up?” Katie asked, frowning slightly.

“That man you were talking to in the hallway earlier…what did he want?”

“Oh, he moved in recently and was just asking if I was one of his neighbors,” Katie hesitated before adding, “He also gave me his phone number and asked if I wanted to get coffee with him sometime.”

“I see. Are you thinking about going?” Rittich asked, expression unreadable.

“I don’t know. I mean, maybe...it’s not like I have a lot of free time right now, trying to get ready for preseason and everything. I also haven’t really dated anyone since university, and on top of that I’ve got a team full of hockey players who love to tear any guy I bring around to shreds,” she said with a laugh.

Rittich smiled, “True, I think Chucky might have higher standards for your dating life than you do!”

“Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?!” Katie said with a scowl, swatting at Rittich’s arm with her free hand as they both burst out laughing.

Their laughter slowly faded, and Katie met Rittich’s eye again. “Do you think I should meet that guy for coffee?” Katie asked carefully, gauging his reaction. She knew that Ritter in particular had never approved of the guys she brought around, though it wasn’t like they lasted long once the rest of the team got a hold of them either.

She’d become fast friends with the Czech native when he’d been called up to play in the NHL for the first time. It was during her first year as a full-time trainer for the Flames, so he felt like a kindred spirit since they were both fresh faced and playing a little out of their league. His sense of humor and easy-going personality off the ice had sealed the deal, and he’d quickly won a place in her heart as one of her closest friends. Over time, as their relationship developed, she started noticing things about him that she never paid much attention to with the other boys, like the way his smile lit up the room, or the way he looked coming off the ice after a big win. Eventually she’d no longer been able to deny her attraction to him – she’d never seen anything hotter than the fierce, laser-focus look he got when he was in the net (and the fact that she’d seen him easily do a full split on multiple occasions never hurt). But, in her heart she knew that the friendship she had with Rittich was too important to jeopardize over some silly misunderstanding. She certainly didn’t know if Rittich felt the same way about her, and if she never put herself out there, then she couldn’t be rejected by him. She’d long since come to terms with the fact that she couldn’t have Rittich in the way that she wanted, so she settled with just being his friend.

“I think that if you want to, then you should definitely go for it,” he replied just as carefully. “What is it they say? You only live one time?”

Katie gave him a small smile. “Maybe I will call him then. He seemed nice enough.”

~

“Hey nice to meet you, I’m Johnny,” Gaudreau said, holding his hand out to Todd, who took it after giving him a quick once over.

“Yeah, likewise - you’re a lot shorter than I expected for a professional hockey player!”

Johnny chuckled and rolled his eyes good-naturedly, “Wow haven’t heard that one before - someone’s got to keep all the giants around here in check, right Mang?” He called across the room to the other forward, elbowing Katie in the side as he did so. He didn’t miss the way Todd’s eyes darted towards the motion and lingered there a moment.

“Well we’d better get going if we want to spend any time on the ice before you boys get out there and start bouncing off the boards. Come on Todd!” Katie pulled Todd along behind her as Johnny stared after them. He definitely got a weird vibe from that dude, but he’d have to check with the other guys to see what they thought. Ritter or Gio would be able to tell him if he was imagining things or if the guy was actually a creep, and he was sure Chucky was already thinking of the best ways to fight him.

~

Katie and Todd had been dating for almost three months now, and things seemed to be going pretty well. Or, at least he hadn’t been scared off by the guys yet, though he hadn’t really been around them enough to get fully vetted by the team. Even though they’d been dating for that long, she still felt like she didn’t know Todd all that well, though it was probably her fault for the amount of time she had to spend at her job, and on the road. Katie figured it was time that he got to know the boys a little better, and the perfect opportunity presented itself in the form of another movie/game night at Chucky’s place.

After finally convincing Chucky to let her bring Todd along (which only took a little bit of pleading, and a lot of bribery consisting of the promise of a few home cooked meals), the evening was finally upon them. Katie was weirdly nervous when she showed up at Todd’s door that evening to collect him, but she wasn’t sure why – the boys had hardly even been around Todd, and would surely be on their best behavior. Todd seemed a little subdued when he answered the door, and quietly followed her down the hallway to Matt’s condo. They were a bit early, so Katie was surprised to see Matt, Johnny, Gio and Mony all sitting in the living room already, Ritter having gotten up to answer the door. He greeted Katie with a warm smile, which cooled quickly when his eyes slid over to Todd. “Hey Ritter,” she greeted with a smile, peering around the stack of pizza boxes in her arms before gently brushing past the goalie who finally stepped aside to let them both in. “And here I thought we were early…what’s everyone looking at?” she asked, noticing that the four men already gathered around the TV were staring them down.

“Nothing,” Gio replied smoothly, “we’re glad you both could make it.”

“Yeah,” Mony piped in, “I think we’re all looking forward to getting to know this mystery man a little better. Todd, right?” Monahan stood to shake hands with Katie’s new boyfriend, making use of his full height to tower over the blonde by a few inches.

“Weeeell I’ll just take these to the kitchen then…” Katie trailed off awkwardly, picking up on the weird energy in the room and wanting no part in it – surely Todd could fend for himself for a few minutes.

“Here, let me help you,” Rittich offered, stepping up and grabbing the top two boxes out of her hands and following her into the kitchen. She heard the five men talking in the other room, but couldn’t tell what was being said. She hoped that having the Flames’ captain there would keep the boys in check, or at least keep them from doing permanent damage to her new beau. When she returned from the kitchen the hockey players were all looking at Todd a bit weirdly, a few half-hearted chuckles coming from Monahan and Gaudreau, who wouldn’t look her in the eye. Giordano looked from Todd to Katie, his face revealing nothing, and Chucky looked like he was seconds away from punching Todd.

“Sooo what’s going on in here?” she asked the guys, hoping for an explanation of some kind.

“Oh you know, just guy talk. Nothing you haven’t heard in the locker room from these guys I’m sure,” Todd said, barking out a laugh at the end.

“Uhh yeah,” Johhny spoke up, “and I think Chucky here was just about to boot up some games for us.” Chucky was still staring Todd down like he’d personally offended him somehow. “Right Chucky?” Gaudreau said, a bit louder this time.

Finally, Matt’s gaze shifted over to the smaller hockey player, and he seemed to shake himself out of whatever trance he’d been in, blinking a few times.

“Right. I’m on it,” he said, wandering over to his entertainment system.

After the somewhat weird start to the evening, things seemed to smooth out. Matt had brought out his SNES that night, deciding to go with some more classic games. They were several rounds in to Mortal Kombat, and Katie was nursing her second drink (though mixed by Chucky it was more like her third or fourth). Todd had called dibs on playing the winner, who happened to be Rittich after putting a finishing move on Johnny’s character. They all laughed at Johnny as his character was obliterated, and he shrugged cheerfully before passing his controller off to Todd, who had had more drinks than Katie had kept track of, and had proceeded to get quieter and quieter as the evening went on. She couldn’t help but notice the way he’d kept an eagle eye on any interaction between her and the guys, and he had her pinned, somewhat uncomfortably, between himself and the arm of the couch.

Rittich gave Todd a sound beating in the first round, and was well on his way to a victory in round two when Katie shifted in an effort to dislodge herself from the corner of the couch where she was stuck.

“Dammit!” Todd cried as his character on the screen was upper cut into oblivion. “You made me lose!” he yelled, shoving himself off the couch and unseating Katie. She would’ve fallen completely off if Matt, who was sitting nearby in an armchair, hadn’t reached out and caught her elbow. Unfortunately, this move also caused Katie’s drink to go flying, landing mostly on Todd and the carpet.

“Look what you’ve done now! Come on, we’re leaving.” Todd said, grabbing his things and heading to the door.

“Uhh,” Katie stammered, looking around at the shocked expressions on her friends’ faces, “Yeah, ok. I’ll walk you back to your apartment.” She said, standing awkwardly with Matt’s help.

“Are you ok?” he asked her quietly, hand still on her elbow.

“She’s fine, now get your fucking hands off my girlfriend!” Todd growled angrily, pulling her away and propelling them both out of the condo.

The five hockey players stared at the closed door for a moment before they all stood at once and rushed to follow the couple.

“Wait,” Gio said, holding his arm out in front of the door, “let her handle this herself.” He said as they listened to the sounds of raised voices retreating down the hallway. A few tense minutes later and the door opened to reveal Katie. She stared at the group of men gathered in the condo’s entry way for a moment, and they stared back at her. Suddenly she burst out laughing and pushed her way through them into the living room. “Man, I am way too drunk to handle whatever that was,” she said once she was able to speak again.

“What the hell was his problem anyway?” Matt asked.

“I don’t know, guess he’s a really sore loser. Sorry you all had to see that, but he honestly seemed pretty normal before tonight.”

“I always got a weird vibe from him, just saying,” Johnny added.

“Yeah, that guy sucks. You should totally break up with him,” a very drunk Monahan called from where he’d collapsed back on to the couch. That made everyone start laughing again, and Katie agreed that she should definitely break up with Todd.

~

“Look Todd, I need to talk to you about something.”

He looked up from the football game he’d been watching and narrowed his eyes. “What, another week long road trip where you get to spend all your time with your precious hockey players?”

“No, it’s not about work. It’s about us.”

At this, Todd stood from the couch and approached where she was standing nervously near the door. “And what about us? You’re not thinking of leaving me, are you? I’m the best thing that’s ever happened to you,” he said slowly, eyes narrowing.

“We really haven’t been dating that long, Todd. I don’t even feel like I even know you that well, but I do think that you and I are just too different for this to work out. I love my job and right now I want to focus on that. I really just don’t have time for the kind of relationship you want. You understand, don’t you?” It wasn’t the first time they’d argued about how much time she spent at her job, or how much time she spent with the guys outside of work.

“Those asshole hockey players have been poisoning you against me from day one, they’ve hated me ever since we got together - what are you fucking all of them or something? I heard you all laughing at me after I left that asshole’s apartment that night, am I just one big joke to you?”

“What? No! They’re just my friends, nothing else. And we weren’t laughing at you, but you have to admit you overreacted a bit that night.”

Todd stepped closer and placed his hands on her shoulders, shoving her back against the door. “You’d better think long and hard about what you’re about to do. You don’t want to do something you might regret,” he growled.

“Look, I don’t want any trouble Todd; I’m leaving now. Don’t try to call me.”

“Like hell you are!” He yelled before winding back and punching Katie right in the eye.

Katie had seen a lot of punches thrown in her life, and while this wasn’t necessarily one of the better ones, it was the first time she’d been on the receiving end and it sure hurt like hell.

Her head snapped back against the door, and she saw stars for a moment. Todd stood in front of her, hand held awkwardly between them (and to be honest, she wasn’t sure if he’d ever even thrown a punch), eyes widening in surprise as he realized what he’d done. Before he could open his mouth or draw back for a second hit Katie had her hand on the doorknob, turning it and tumbling backwards into the hallway. She started to spin away when Todd’s brain finally caught up and his hand snapped out to wrap around her arm, tight enough to leave a bruise.

“Wait, I didn’t mean to –“

“Let go of me!” She yelled, struggling against his grasp and glancing down the hallway for any sign of someone to help her. She didn’t know whether Matt would be home at this time of day, or whether he’d even be able to hear what was going on out in the hall if he was. Todd saw her looking towards Matt’s door and a look of fear washed over his face before he noticed that the door was still closed, and the hallway quiet.

“No one’s around right now, so don’t go looking for your precious ‘Matty’. You’re definitely fucking that one, aren’t you? I always hated that guy and the way he looks at you -“he snarled, his face contorting with rage.

“Matt’s my friend, nothing more, I never cheated on you! Now let me go!” She screamed before finally wrenching her hand out of his grasp and turning to stumble towards the elevator at the end of the hallway. She was steps away when it dinged, and the doors slid open. “Matt!” She called, when the curly haired hockey player appeared, relief washing over her. He quickly glanced between Katie and Todd, sizing up the scene in front of him - a panicked looking Katie with an eye that was quickly swelling shut, and a furious looking Todd over her shoulder. His gym bag hit the ground and he was on Todd in seconds, ducking past Katie and shoving the smaller man back into his apartment where he landed hard on his ass.

“Did you hurt her? I’ll fucking kill you!” Tkachuk roared. He had Todd by the collar and was shaking him, nose inches away from the other man’s, eyes blazing. “Matt just leave him, please,” Katie begged, tugging on Tkachuk’s sleeve. He let go with a final shove, before collecting his bag and shepherding her towards his apartment. By the time he unlocked his door and they were standing in his kitchen, Katie realized she was shaking, her vision blurring as tears welled up in her eyes.

“Shh, it’s ok, you’re safe now,” Matt soothed, pulling her into a hug. Her hands came up around his back, and she buried her head in his shoulder as she tried to comprehend what just happened.

“Do you want me to call the police? Are you hurt?”

She pulled back for a moment, fingers gently prodding her swollen eye, and then the back of her head. There was no blood, so it must not be too bad, although there would definitely be a good-sized bump if the throbbing was anything to go by. Nodding, she stumbled deeper into the kitchen, Matt’s hand tightening around her arm to keep her from falling. Grabbing an ice pack out of the freezer – and she knew exactly where they were thanks to Chucky’s tendency to fight well above his weight class - she retreated to the kitchen table, taking a seat and holding it against her face. Matt left for only a moment, and she heard him speaking to someone in the next room, before he returned and sat next to her, rubbing soothing circles on her back. “The police are on the way...and so is Ritter.”

Her head snapped up at that. “You called Dave?”

“Yeah,” he said, looking at her carefully, as if she might break.

Katie sighed, gaze dropping back to the table as her face heated up. It was embarrassing enough to be tossed around - by a guy that everyone had told her was bad news - in front of Chucky, but Rittich was a whole different story. None of her family or friends lived in Alberta, and she’d thrown herself entirely into her job when she’d gotten it, so she really had no life outside of the team. Next to Chucky, Rittich was the person on the team that she was closest to, and it made sense that Matt might want some backup to help her deal with all of this. However, that wouldn’t make facing the big goalie any easier - she was ashamed that she couldn’t handle herself and had to be rescued like some damsel in distress.

~

Eventually the police showed up to take a statement and pay a visit to Todd, who had holed up in his apartment not long after the confrontation. Katie figured that having the police show up at his door would scare him enough that he would avoid contacting her ever again. They were almost through taking Katie and Matt’s statements when Rittich showed up. Katie saw him appear in Matt’s doorway over the shoulder of the officer she was speaking to; her breath caught in her throat when she saw his expression. The normally stoic, good-humored goalie looked ready to kill someone, gaze roaming around the apartment until it landed on her. He softened immediately, crossing the room to stand next to her.

“Are you alright?” he asked quietly, his Czech accent more pronounced than usual.

Katie nodded mutely, staring up at him. He looked as if he wanted to say something else, but the RCMP officer chose that moment to close her book and stand up from the table.

“Are you sure you don’t want to press charges ma’am?”

“I’m sure. I really just want this whole thing to be over with. I don’t think he’s going to be bothering me anymore.”

“Alright. If you need anything else, or if you change your mind, don’t hesitate to give us a call.”

“Thank you again, I’m sorry if I caused any trouble.”

“No trouble at all, just be safe out there.” She nodded at the three of them before joining her partner in the hallway and gently closing Matt’s door behind her.

Rittich took the seat vacated by the officer, and an awkward silence followed as both men watched Katie carefully to see what she would do.

“So Matty, you have anything harder than Gatorade around here to drink? I think I could use a little pick me up after that.”

“Yeah of course. I’ll get you something,” Matt said, standing and crossing the kitchen to where his booze was stashed.

“I’m so sorry this happened. I feel like it is my fault for telling you to go out with that kretén. I should have known he was bad news; I always got a bad feeling from him.”

“It’s not your fault Ritter, he seemed like such a nice guy at the beginning. That last game night at Chucky’s was the first time I even noticed that there was anything weird about him, and I tried to break it off immediately, but he wasn’t having it. Kept implying that I was sleeping around the locker room with you guys,” she added the last part quietly. “This is all so embarrassing,” she said, dropping her head into her hands.

“You have nothing to be embarrassed about. I’m just glad Chucky showed up when he did or who knows what might have happened,” Rittich said darkly. Matt chose that moment to drop the (hopefully very stiff) drink that he’d made in front of her.

“Maybe this will help. Wanna boot up the Xbox? Shooting a bunch of people might make you feel better.”

She nodded, taking her drink into the living room and getting comfortable on the couch. Matt and Rittich both followed and plopped themselves on either side of her, close enough to be comforting but not so close that she felt trapped.

Several (read: many) drinks and rounds of Call of Duty later, Johnny and Gio had also shown up to Chucky’s apartment to offer their support. Gio promised to speak to Katie’s boss at practice in the morning about what had happened, and would also let all the other guys know what was going on with her. Katie was dozing, still comfortably settled between Chucky and Ritter on the couch, with some lousy action movie playing in the background and the boys talking quietly to each other.

“Hey guys, I, uh, think I’m ready to head home.” Katie said through a yawn, her head drooping onto Ritter’s shoulder.

“You sure? You can stay the night if you want, couch is pretty comfy,” Chucky offered, looking concerned.

“Yeah, I just want to have a long shower and sleep in my own bed tonight. Thanks, Matty.”

Rittich piped up, “I’ll give you a ride, your place is on the way home for me and I don’t think you’re in any shape to be driving.”

“That’d be great, thanks Dave.”

The drive home was quiet, but not awkward. Car rides had always put Katie to sleep and the alcohol in her system, the soft pop drifting through the speakers, plus the late hour made it nearly impossible for her to stay awake.

She woke an indeterminate amount of time later to the steady strobe of streetlights going by as they cruised down the mostly empty highway. Katie turned her head to catch Rittich looking at her with an expression she couldn’t place, or at least hadn’t seen on the easy-going goalie’s face before.

“What’s up?” she asked sleepily.

“Nothing,” he replied quickly. “I - are you sure you’re okay? Really?” he sounded worried and kept taking his eyes off the road to stare intently at her, as if he could get his answer if he looked hard enough.

“Yeah. Or, at least I will be. You guys get pushed around all the time and it never seems to bother you,” she joked half-heartedly.

“That’s different. I mean, it’s different when you’re not expecting it, when you aren’t used to it.”

“I guess. He punches like a little girl. Or at least like a little girl in the body of a full-grown man. Think I’m going to have a black eye tomorrow?” Katie asked with a slight chuckle.
Rittich tensed slightly at that, opening his mouth like he wanted to say something, and then snapping it shut. He shook his head slowly, without saying anything.

“I’m going to be okay. Really.” She echoed Rittich’s earlier question quietly, but with determination in her voice. “Thanks Dave.”

~

It had been two weeks since the ‘Incident’. The bruises had faded and the guys had mostly stopped walking on eggshells around her, though it did seem like something had shifted between she and Rittich that night. The goalie hadn’t necessarily been treating her differently, but she kept catching him looking at her strangely, and he’d offered to drive her home on more than one occasion where she’d usually just take the C-Train.

It was on one such day when Rittich had offered to give her a ride, but she’d declined, having to stay behind to help with Gio’s PT. By the time she was ready to leave it was evening, and the sun was setting. She started to walk out of the building with Gio, but he’d forgotten something and had to run back inside. It was too cold to stand around and wait on him, so she continued on towards the nearest train station, clutching her coat tightly as her scarf whipped in the wind. Suddenly she became aware of someone following her. Glancing over her shoulder, she spotted a figure beelining towards her out of the corner of her eye.

“That was fast – did you not drive today Gio?” she called to the figure behind her before spinning around and stopping dead in her tracks. “Todd? What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to see you again. I need to talk to you, I want you to know that I’ll still take you back, even after what you did,” Todd said in a rush as he quickly approached her.

“After what I did!” she sputtered, taking a half step back. “I don’t have anything to say to you. You need to leave me alone.” Katie said, voice shaking at the end as she began backing away from the crazed looking man in front of her.

“Look this whole thing is a big misunderstanding, just let me explain myself –“ he started, reaching towards her, but was cut off by a hand landing heavily on his shoulder.

“You should listen to Katie. She doesn’t have to talk to you, and trust me if ANY of the other guys catch you anywhere near her, you’ll be lucky if you don’t leave in an ambulance,” Giordano growled from behind Todd.

Todd’s eyes widened and he turned to face Giordano. “You-you can’t talk to me like that. Are you threatening me?”

The Flames’ captain remained silent, tightening his grip on Todd’s shoulder to the point of pain.

“Fine - fine, I’ll leave. Fucking hockey players,” he muttered under his breath. “Guess I’ll see you around,” he said to Katie before shrugging off Giordano’s hand and walking away from them.

Gio watched Todd’s retreating back until he was out of eyesight before turning back to Katie. “What was that all about?” he asked quietly.

“I don’t know, he just grabbed me and then he said he would still take me back, even after what I did. Can you believe that? After what I did! He’s the one that hit me!”

“That guy is bad news. Trust me, someone who’s capable of doing that once is capable of doing it again. Promise me you’ll stay away from him, he’s not worth your time. If he tries to contact you again, I think you should go to the police.”

“Don’t worry dad,” she teased, “I’m definitely not giving that creep a second chance. He just better stay the hell away from me before I send Chucky after him,” she said as they continued their trek to the train station, where Gio waited with her until her train arrived.

~

The team was absolutely buzzing after their latest win in the Saddledome. They had just come off of a fantastic week long road trip, and the entire team was full of energy. Katie was standing near the bench, passing out fist bumps and clapping shoulders as the players streamed off the ice and into the locker room. Ritter and Chucky were always the last off the ice after The Hug, and Rittich had had a particularly good night, stopping almost 40 shots and keeping the Flames in the game for the first two periods before they ran away with it in the third. As soon as he stepped off the ice, he wasted no time in striding up to Katie, wrapping his arms around her in a bear hug, and lifting so her feet dangled several inches off the ground. He spun her in a circle, both of them laughing as Katie clung to his shoulders, before setting her back on the ground and striding into the locker room to a chorus of whooping and hollering. Chucky followed behind him, raising his brows at Katie who just shrugged and offered him a fist bump, huge grin still on her face.

She slipped into the locker room after him and stood to the side with the rest of the training staff to listen to the coach’s quick speech, then headed over to Hanifin to check on his hand, which had taken a hit near the end of the game when he blocked a slap shot. She determined that it was just bruised and not broken, but decided to get him some ice and wrap it up just to be safe.

Upon leaving the locker room, she immediately noticed that the hallway was surprisingly empty. Usually the equipment manager and some of the interns would be rushing around or tidying up, but they must have still been in the post-game debrief, and the interviews with the media wouldn’t be starting just yet. Not thinking too much of it, she made her way down the hall, still smiling as she let her mind wander back to Rittich’s hug. All of a sudden, she noticed movement in a dark hallway ahead of her.

“Hello?” she called, voice echoing off the concrete as she continued towards the medical area. Just as she was passing by the hallway an arm flashed out, grabbing her from behind, and a hand clapped down over her mouth.

“I don’t need you screaming and alerting all those stupid jocks, I just need you to come with me quietly.” Todd said, pulling her towards him and into the darkness. “If I move my hand, you have to promise you won’t scream. I’m not going to hurt you,” he said, flashing her a slightly off-kilter smile that made it hard to believe him. Katie nodded, eyes bugging out of her head, and Todd slowly lowered his hand from over her mouth.

“How did you even get back here? You’re not supposed to be here,” she started, but he immediately shushed her.

“Let me talk. One of the security guards remembered me from when you brought me to a game and let me in.”

She silently cursed herself for not letting security know to be on the look out for Todd since he’d shown up after practice that day, but she’d honestly thought he would have taken the hint and given up by now. He was either much braver, or much stupider than she’d realized.

“Now, I feel like you’ve been avoiding me. And that’s not very nice – that’s not something a caring girlfriend would do, is it?”

“Todd, we broke up. I’m not your girlfriend anymore, I just want you to leave me alone. Please,” she begged, struggling against his vice-like grip. Katie knew that eventually someone would have to walk past where Todd had pulled her aside, but she wasn’t sure that anyone would be able to see them.

“No. Quit trying to get away from me, I know you love me! If I can just get you away from those stupid hockey players, I know you’ll come around. I’m really a nice guy, they’re just filling your head with lies about me! We’re going to leave here together, and we’re going to go back to my apartment where I can show you how much I care about you. C’mon baby you know you want me,” he breathed into her ear, pressing his face into her hair and running his hand down her side.

Realizing that she wasn’t going to be able to talk her way out of this one, she took a deep breath and screamed at the top of her lungs. Todd cursed and pressed his hand back to Katie’s mouth, but the damage had been done. She heard a door open down the hallway in the direction of the locker room as Todd began forcibly dragging her in the other direction, hand fisted in her hair.

A huge, dark silhouette appeared behind them, and though Katie couldn’t tell who it was at first, it quickly became clear that they were huge because of all of the goalie equipment they were wearing – and they weren’t alone. Rittich made it to them first, though she wasn’t sure how with the amount of gear he had on. One second Todd had his arms wrapped around her, dragging her down the hall, and the next he was being lifted clean off the floor and slammed against the wall. She could distantly hear Chucky yelling something at them, but she was too focused on Rittich to tell what he was saying. In the next second she was scrambling off the floor and grabbing at Rittich’s arm.

“Don’t, he’s not worth it!” she cried, trying to pull the pissed-off goalie off of the smaller man before he did something he might regret. Rittich looked between Katie and Todd, seeming to come to a decision. Keeping his eyes on her, he stepped back and let Todd drop to the ground, as security arrived to ‘escort’ him out.

“This isn’t the last time you’ll see me Katie – no one will ever love you like I do!” Todd yelled as two security officers dragged him out of the arena.

Katie listened as Todd’s insane rambling faded out of earshot, and was surprised to find Ritter standing only inches away when she turned back around. Rittich’s eyes hadn’t left her since he dropped Todd on the ground, and there was a quiet intensity in his gaze that Katie didn’t quite know how to handle.

“Th-thanks Ritter,” she started, but he shook his head, stepping even closer so she could feel the heat radiating off of him, and she had to crane her neck to see into his eyes.

“You don’t need to thank me. Are you alright?”

Katie started to answer him, but suddenly they were being swarmed by the team and Flames staff. Gio and some of the coaches quickly started corralling everyone away from Katie, leaving her to answer the security guards’ questions about what had transpired with Todd.

~

It seemed Todd had been busy while Katie had been travelling with the team, which she found upon arriving home to a stoop covered in flowers and love-letters. The next day she’d planned on meeting Johnny for coffee at their favorite place – a weekly tradition when they were in Calgary since they lived so close to one another. She hadn’t told Johnny about what she found when she got home, but as they were exiting the coffee shop, talking, laughing, and not paying much attention to their surroundings, she caught a glimpse of bright blonde hair down the street. She stopped in her tracks, grabbing Johnny’s arm and pulling him to a stop as well.

“Wha-“ he started, following her gaze. “Ugh, not that guy again. You want to come back to my place?” he asked with a frown.

“No let’s just go back inside, I’m sure he won’t try anything in public.”

~

Later that night, she had just finished getting ready for bed, and was settling in to watch TV while she drifted off. She’d told Johnny about the letters after they’d gone back into the shop, and he had made her agree to call the officer who had been on her original case to tell her what was going on with Todd. Katie had plans to call first thing in the morning, and even go down to the police station if needed, since Todd didn’t seem to be taking the hint to leave her alone.

As she lay in bed, she heard something outside her apartment window. She was on the first floor, so it wasn’t unusual to hear people walking by at night, or even to hear cars driving by, but this sounded like something bumping into her window. She decided to get up and check it out, hoping it had just been some animal attracted by the light in her room.

She padded lightly over to the window, grasping one of the blinds and lifting it to peer out into the night. It took her eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness, and she blinked a few times before freezing. Staring back at her from the other side of the window were two bright blue eyes. She screamed, dropping the blinds and jumping backwards, fumbling for her phone where she’d dropped it on the ground. She dialed the first person she thought of, gripping the phone tightly to try and still her shaking hands.

“Hello?” a sleepy sounding, heavily accented voice came through the speaker.

“Dave? Can you come pick me up? Please I don’t want to be alone right now,” she choked out, trying to push down her rising panic.

“Where are you?” asked the suddenly much more alert sounding Czech.

“In my apartment. I saw Todd outside, he’s here.” She heard a lot of noise coming from the other end of the phone, then “I’m on my way. Just close your blinds and make sure everything is locked. I’ll be there soon,” Rittich replied before the phone went dead.

It seemed like an eternity later (though Rittich had to have been driving at breakneck speeds to arrive as quickly as he did) when a loud knock sounded at Katie’s door, startling her from where she was sitting in her dark bedroom. Carefully she stood and crept over to the door, peeking through the peep-hole, and was relieved to see Rittich’s warm brown eyes on the other side. Quickly, she unlocked the door and stepped out, overnight bag in hand.

“Can I stay with you? I don’t want to be on my own tonight.”

“Of course, let’s go,” Rittich replied, placing a hand on her back and gently guiding her towards his car. The apartment complex was eerily dark and quiet, and she glanced over to where Todd would have been standing to see in her window as they walked past. He must have run off after she screamed, as the area was currently uninhabited, and there was no one around to ask if they had seen him.

They made it to the car without incident, and were well on their way back to Rittich’s when Katie noticed him glancing in the mirrors. “You don’t think he’s following us do you?” she asked, eyes widening. It never crossed her mind that Todd might try to follow them back to Rittich’s place, and the last thing she wanted was to put Ritter in danger after all he’d done for her. She expressed as much to him, and was shut down immediately.

“You’re not putting me in danger. I dare that kretén to follow us, I would make him regret ever laying eyes on you.” He said, eyes flashing towards her in the darkness. He softened when he saw the fear on Katie’s face. “You can stay with me until the police get this all straightened out, as long as you need. But for tonight let’s just try to get some sleep; I’ve been told I have a very comfortable guest room and it’s all yours.” He gave her a small smile, then turned his attention back to the road.

~

The next morning Katie called the officer who had given her a card after the first incident with Todd and agreed to head down to the police station before she had to be at the team’s afternoon skate. Rittich was already making breakfast when she finally made it to the kitchen, and he pressed a mug of steaming coffee into her hands, which she gratefully accepted.

“I called Officer Mitchell this morning and she wants me to come down to the station ASAP, so I’ll head down there after we eat and then go straight to practice afterwards.”

“I’ll drive you,” Rittich replied easily as he slid a plate of eggs and bacon across to where she was seated at the kitchen island.

“You don’t have to –“ she started, but Rittich cut her off. “I know. But I will anyway. You shouldn’t have to do this alone,” he said kindly, sitting down next to her with his own plate of food.

“Thanks Dave,” she said quietly, not quite able to look him in the eye.

Later, after she’d given a full account of the last few days – which Rittich had sat next to her the entire time for, a growing look of horror on his face – the two arrived at practice. They had both agreed to keep the events of last night and that morning to themselves, and it wasn’t as though arriving or leaving together was unusual for the pair. Practice was uneventful, and they’d gone out with a few members of the team for dinner afterwards. Neither of them was very tired when they got back to Rittich’s place, so they settled in to watch a movie. Throughout the movie Katie found herself becoming more and more anxious, and drifting closer to Rittich, though she was hesitant to break their companionable silence. Every sound coming from outside the house – every passing car, every neighbor’s voice, and every dog barking – caused her to flinch and tense up. She knew Todd was still out there, and had no way of knowing if the police were doing anything about her accusations yet.

At some point during the movie Rittich had casually slung his arm across the back of the couch, and seemed to be trying to comfort her. A sudden loud noise in the movie caused her to jump, gasping and grabbing Rittich’s leg unconsciously. Finally, she could take it no more.

“Dave, do you think he’s still out there? Do you think he knows where I am? I said I didn’t want to put you in danger, but I can’t help feeling like he’s going to show up at any minute –“ Rittich cut her increasingly panicked rambling off, dropping his arm from the back of the couch to rest on her shoulders, “You’re safe here. Even if he knows where you are, he won’t dare to come after you with me around. If he does, he’ll regret it. I promise I’ll keep you safe,” he said sincerely.

Katie nodded, not quite convinced, turning back to watch the last few minutes of the movie. Once it was over, Rittich stood up from the couch, and offered his hand to Katie, pulling her up after him. She yawned, rubbing her eyes and glancing at the clock – when had it gotten to be this late? – and then turned her attention back to Rittich, who was standing much closer to her than she’d realized. She took a step back, face heating up and a hand going up to rub the back of her neck.

“Well it’s pretty late, guess I should be getting to bed,” she said, trying and failing to sound casual. Rittich hummed in agreement, nodding his head.

“Good night Katie. Sleep well.” He said, turning to double check that the doors were all locked as Katie made her way to the guest room. She gathered her things and slipped back out of the room to head to the bathroom to get ready for bed, when she heard a loud crash coming from the front of the house.

She poked her head out of the bathroom and looked to the end of the hall where Rittich’s room was. The door was closed with the light on, and she could hear water running from the shower in the master bathroom. She heard the sound of footsteps crunching across broken glass at the same time as the water cut off. Her breath caught in her throat and she stood, frozen to the spot, as the footsteps got closer. Finally, she mentally shook herself free and started backing towards Rittich’s room, eyes glued to the opening at the end of the hall.

Todd appeared where she’d been staring, not 15 feet from her, and they both froze for a moment, eyes locked onto each other. He looked much worse for the wear, eyes bloodshot, with a five o’clock shadow dusting his jawline and hair sticking up like he’d been pulling on it. He moved his hand, drawing something out of his pocket which glinted in the moonlight shining in from the windows. A knife. He’d brought a large, nasty looking switchblade with him, and was brandishing it at her as he approached. Then, everything seemed to happen in slow motion. Katie spun around, trying to run away, but Todd lunged towards her, grabbing her roughly. She screamed, then abruptly stopped as he pressed the blade against her back.

“Make any more noise and I’ll put this blade between your ribs,” he growled, his breath hot against her face. He reeked of alcohol, and his words were slurring as he swayed back and forth. Suddenly light poured into the hallway as Rittich’s door burst open with a bang.

“Katie!” he called, stopping abruptly and holding his hands up in a placating manner as Todd pulled the knife away from Katie’s back and pointed it at Rittich.

“Take another step and I’ll cut the bitch’s throat,” he said, his voice hoarse and his hands trembling as they pressed the knife into her throat.

“Todd, you don’t want to do this,” Katie started.

“NO!” Todd shouted, “You don’t get to tell me what I want! What I want is for you to come with me and for things to go back to the way they were. I thought we had something special!”

“She doesn’t want to go with you. Just let her go, no one needs to get hurt here,” Rittich stated in a level voice, stepping towards them while keeping his hands raised.

“I said don’t move!” Todd yelled, taking the knife away from Katie’s throat and pointing it back at the Czech goalie. At that moment, Katie dropped down below Todd’s outstretched arm, wrenching herself out of his grasp and spinning away from him. Rittich saw an opening and rushed down the hallway, throwing his entire weight into Todd and sending them both crashing into the floor. Todd took a swipe at Rittich with the knife, but Rittich was faster, catching his wrist and pushing it away. As they struggled on the floor, Katie cast around the room for something to help, and spotted Ritter’s equipment bag abandoned earlier by the door. In his desperation Todd had managed to throw the much larger goalie off of him, and caught Rittich across the forearm with his blade. Rittich kicked out at him, scooting backwards away from the deranged man and keeping his hands held out in front of him as a shield. Todd was fast though, and his crazed state made him deceptively strong. He was closing in on Rittich, an unhinged look on his face, when – crack! – he suddenly slumped over, unconscious, revealing Katie standing behind him, gripping Rittich’s goalie stick in her hands like a golf club. She looked down at Todd as if deciding whether to hit him again, before dropping the stick on the floor as she began to shake. Rittich scrambled back to his feet, grabbing the switchblade and chucking it across the room. He disappeared for a moment back down the hallway, reappearing with his phone pressed to his head, talking quickly into it.

Katie walked backwards, eyes glued to Todd, until the back of her legs hit the couch, and she sat down heavily. At this point, she distantly realized that she might be hyperventilating, and her vision started to blur over. The couch dipped next to her, and a strong arm wrapped around her.

“Just breathe. You’re okay. We’re okay.” Rittich said, rubbing soothing circles into her back. After a moment her breathing became easier, and she looked up.

“You’re bleeding!” she gasped, grasping Rittich’s arm and turning it to see the thin red line running the length of his forearm. He looked down at it, as if noticing the wound for the first time.

“It’s just a scratch,” he mumbled as Katie stood from the couch, suddenly alert as she snapped into her athletic trainer mode, reserved for when one of her boys was hurt.

“You have a first aid kit around here?”

“Under the sink. The police will be here soon,” he added, walking over to Todd who hadn’t moved from his place on the ground, and nudging him with his foot. When the blonde man didn’t move, Rittich made his way to the kitchen, where Katie was pulling things out of his first aid kit and placing them on the table. She made quick work of cleaning and bandaging his arm, and the police arrived soon after.

Todd, who had finally started regaining consciousness, was taken into custody, and the police took statements from both Rittich and Katie, and then they were left alone, still seated at the kitchen table.

“I-,”

“Do you-,” Rittich and Katie both started speaking at once, and then stopped.

“Go ahead,” Rittich motioned to her, and she dropped her head into her hands.

“I don’t even know what to say. I can’t possibly begin to thank you, or apologize enough – I don’t know what would’ve happened if I was alone when he attacked me. You might’ve saved my life tonight Dave, how can I ever repay you?” Katie blurted out, sniffing as tears dripped down her face and refusing to meet Rittich’s eye.

“Hey,” he started softly, reaching gentle fingers across the table to lift her chin. “You don’t have to repay me for anything; and you don’t have anything to apologize for. I just wish I would have told you how I felt in the first place instead of pushing you to accept his invitation. I was afraid you would reject me, but tonight has shown me there are worse things to be afraid of.”

Katie gaped at Rittich, blinking in surprise. She slowly, hesitantly reached a hand up to cover Rittich’s much larger one where it rested on her cheek, her face breaking out into a shy smile, heart threatening to beat out of her chest.

“I never knew you felt the same way – I mean, I’d always hoped, but our friendship was too important to me, I didn’t want to risk losing you.”

“You won’t.” He stated confidently, brown eyes smoldering in the darkness.

In the blink of an eye they were both out of their seats, chairs knocked over and table pushed to the side as they collided in the middle of the kitchen. His mouth was like a fire on hers, teeth clacking together and tongues fighting for dominance. Katie’s arms snaked around him, coming up to rest on his shoulders, one of his hands sitting heavily on the back of her neck, and the other around her waist, pulling her hard against him.

After a few moments they broke apart, gasping for air.

“I love you.” It was something she’d thought a thousand times before, but never thought she’d get to say it out loud, and the revelation made her giddy.

“I love you too,” he murmured back, tightening his hold on her. “Now let’s go to bed,” he said, the promise of something more in his voice.