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“Jacqueline Trouba punched me in the face one time. It was awesome.”

Jake reaches across the distance between them to slug him again, in the shoulder this time. “Dude, this is a serious interview, be a fucking professional.”

Dude, take your own advice,” he retorts before turning back to the guy from ESPN who’s waiting patiently, trying to hide a smile behind a professional demeanor. “Sorry about my, ah, cohort here.”

“You’re apologizing for me? You’re the one that started quoting Mean Girls.” The aforementioned cohort rolls her eyes and gives Custance her brightest grin. “Sorry, so you were saying?”

Custance clears his throat. “Right. I assume your relationship has changed since becoming teammates, then, if she punched you in the face once? You certainly seem like you like each other these days.”

Jake laughs brightly, throwing her head back. “A little bit, yeah. I guess he’s okay.”

Mark shifts uncomfortably in his seat.

 

:::

 

october 2013

It’s when they’re all piling onto the bus early in the morning, getting ready to head to the airport and to their next game, that Mark figures out that he’s well and truly fucked. He’s in his seat in time to see her climb up the steps and stumble her way down the aisle, still half-asleep, and she’s got her hair piled on top of her head in a messy bun, a horrific pair of enormous sunglasses covering her eyes, ratty old sweatpants shoved into navy sequined Uggs she swears she wears for “team spirit”, and all he can think is that she’s the most gorgeous thing he’s ever seen.

“Hungover much, Jakey?” Bogo chirps from a couple rows behind Mark. She just flips him off and falls into the empty seat between Mark and the window.

“Rude. I was gonna move over there,” he says. Jake just shoves at his shoulder, grumbling something about “fucking mornings, man”, and pulling her knees up to her chest.

She did play like twenty-seven minutes last night, and it is seven am. Mark guesses she’s allowed to be a little grumpy.

He’s not going to admit that out loud, though.

“You are a hot mess this morning, Trouba.”

The glare he gets for that is nearly enough to make up for the fact that he also had to drag his ass out of bed this early.

So yeah. He’s maybe in over his head here. And he has no idea when it happened.

 

october 2013

In October, Jake fucks up her neck going into the boards in a game against the Blues and Mark nearly has a heart attack. Not because she’s a girl or anything, just — that looked like it fucking hurt, and she’s so still that he’s pretty sure he doesn’t breathe until he sees her skate move. They take her off on the stretcher, and after that Mark’s just focused on making it through the game and then jumping in the car with Bogo to head to the hospitaL.

(There’s gonna be some great quotes from him tonight, he thinks, because he doesn’t remember a damn thing he said to the media.)

Mark lets out a breath he hadn’t quite realized he was holding when he walks into the ER lobby and sees a nurse wheeling her out toward them, and he doesn’t feel bad about it because Bogo’s next to him doing the same thing. Jake’s got a brace around her neck, and someone’s pulled her hair up on top of her head in a messy knot, but she’s laughing at something the nurse is saying and her eyes light up when she sees them.

“Look at that, my guys came to get me!” she announces, and Mark chuckles despite himself, because there are definitely painkillers involved here.

“So what’s the verdict, kid?” Bogo asks, nudging her leg with his foot when he’d normally ruffle her hair.

“Sprained neck. Hurts like fuck, but I’m not like, dead or paralyzed or anything, so as far as I can tell I’m in pretty good shape,” Jake tells him. “Are you here to get me out of this hellhole? No offense, Sharon,” she says to the nurse.

“None taken, honey. You just go home and get better.”

Jake wrinkles her nose up. “That’s the plan.”

Some guys from the front office are there to deal with the paperwork, so they let him and Bogo take her, though the nurse has to wheel her to the car. She bitches the entire way back to Bogo’s place, and she still hasn’t said anything directly to Mark. He’s looking up the number of a cab company as they pull into the driveway so that Bogo doesn’t have to take him home or to his car at the arena when Jake grabs his arm.

“Hey, hang out for a little while. Watch a movie with me or something. Bogo’s just gonna go all googly-eyed at Bianca, and then what am I supposed to do if I need painkillers or whatever?”

Mark rolls his eyes. “Yeah, okay, I see why I’m wanted here.”

Jake grins, and doesn’t deny it. “Plus, y’know. We can make fun of the googly-eyes.”

“If you say anything about me and googly-eyes in the same sentence again, your neck will be more than sprained,” Bogo says, totally invalidating any actual threat his words might’ve held by helping a somewhat wobbly Jake out of the car. “Now go to your room.”

“Yes, mom.”

Jake swats Mark’s hands away as they head into the house, bypassing Bogo and Bianca’s hallway makeouts to get to the stairs.

He doesn’t go home that night. Jake falls asleep on him, and he doesn’t have the heart to move her when she actually looks comfortable. As comfortable as she can be in that brace, anyway. He isn’t remotely comfortable, propped weirdly against the headboard, his neck at a weird angle, but he’ll be fine. It’s just one night.

 

december 2013

“It really doesn’t bother you?” he asks her after yet another game that floods her twitter mentions with the hashtag “#Troubacca”.

Jake shrugs, slipping on one of the t-shirts left in their change room lockers (that absolutely swallows her, it must be Bogo’s, Mark thinks) and shaking her head to get her hair to settle. “Not really,” she says finally, her voice a little raspy from the cold she’s trying to get over. “Makes sense. I’m like, stupid tall for a girl, I’ve almost taken some guys’ heads off lately, and my hair is getting kinda shaggy. Hey Bogo!” she yells, pitching her voice to carry across the room. “Remind me to get Bianca to trim my hair this weekend.”

“Yeah, I’ll get right on that, Jakey,” Bogo says, rolling his eyes.

Jake flips him off, giving Mark a long-suffering look. “He’s kind of the worst,” she says, but Mark can hear the fondness for their teammate in her voice.

“Not at all, though?” He slides his coat on and grabs his keys, making sure his phone is in the pocket of his sweatpants. “Hey, you’re still coming over, right?”

“Yeah, we can go.” As they head down the hallway toward the exit to the players’ lot, Mark repeats his earlier question and Jake’s nose wrinkles up. “Seriously, dude, not at all. It’s like - Winnipeg’s a tough town to play in, you know? You see what the media does to Kaner and Buff. So I kinda figured when I got drafted that, like, I’m a girl and more than that I’m a girl playing defense. I’m screwed, they’re gonna rip me to pieces up here.”

She shrugs, zipping her jacket up further as they step out into the frigid night. “And I was right, mostly, the media’s a bunch of assholes, but the fans have actually been pretty great? I’ve read the tweets. They’re way better than I expected, and the fans slapping a nickname on me means that they want me here. If they didn’t they’d just stick to calling me all kinds of the same misogynistic crap I’ve heard my whole career.”

“I guess that makes sense,” he says slowly. He never knows what to say when she starts talking about what it’s like being a woman in the NHL - it’s not unheard of anymore, but there aren’t many in the league, and even less on defense. Jake’s one of three - Danielle Girardi in New York and Brianna Campbell in Florida are the other two, so Jake’s the only one in the West, even - and the rest are all forwards and goalies, people like James Neal, Jo Toews, Roberta Luongo.

Winnipeg (and Atlanta before the move) has never had a girl before Jake. Mark remembers reading all the articles leading up to the draft that called management insane for even considering it, but in the end they hadn’t been able to pass up the defenseman so talented USA Hockey had petitioned for her to go to World Juniors with the boys, arguing that she’d been part of their National Team Development Program and that women’s hockey was an entirely different game and Jake hadn’t ever actually played it.

“Helloooooo,” she’s saying now. “Scheif. I can’t get in the car if you don’t unlock it, and it’s fucking freezing out here.”

“Right, yeah, sorry.”

He presses the button on his remote, climbing into the driver’s side and immediately turning the seat warmers on, because Jake’s huddled against the door like the cold is personally offending her. It probably is, never mind that she’s from Michigan and it’s not exactly warm there.

“Well, if it doesn’t bother you, then it doesn’t bother me. I just wanted to check,” he says, and immediately feels stupid. Jake doesn’t need him protecting her, she’s proven that. More than that, she’s outright stated in the locker room before that she doesn’t want any of them protecting her.

She just laughs, though, bright and delighted. “That’s really sweet, Scheif. But I promise I’m good. There’s no need to go nuts on fans on twitter. At least it means they’re watching the games, right?”

“Yeah, sure.” Mark starts the car, backs out of his space, and tries not to look over at the streetlights reflecting off of her hair.

 

january 2014

Calgary is fuckin’ cold in January, and Mark plays in Winnipeg, he knows from cold. And instead of being huddled up in his nice, warm, insulated hotel room, he’s trekking out into the winter storm because Jake’s all panicky about her old boyfriend and for some reason Mark is being dragged along on this quest.

“Patty!” she yells as they enter the coffee shop, causing all the studying student types to glare at them. Mark tries for an apologetic smile, because they’re not going to get anything from Jake; she’s already launched herself at Sieloff and is hugging him tightly enough that Mark wouldn’t be surprised if his face started turning purple from lack of air. He’s laughing, though, hugging her back just as tightly and rolling his eyes at her.

“Not gonna die, Jacq,” he tells her, stepping back and raising a hand to wave at Mark. “What’s up, Scheifele? Good to see you again.”

Mark doesn’t mention that the last time he and Sieloff saw each other was at World Juniors, when Sieloff and Jake were terrorizing the world and Mark went home without a medal. He figures it would just make him look like a sore loser.

“Yeah, you too. I’m gonna go grab some coffee, either of you want anything? You should probably like, be sitting or something, right dude?” He gestures to the couch and armchair area Sieloff’s stuff is thrown all over. Sieloff shrugs halfheartedly, but falls back onto the couch, pulling Jake with him.

Mark takes that as his cue to head off to the counter, even as Jake calls, “Mocha for me please! And this loser likes americanos for some reason.”

When he gets back with the drinks, he takes the armchair, since there is definitely no room on the couch, what with Sieloff sprawled out and Jake tucked into his side, long limbs taking up whatever room is left. Her eyes are bright and she’s talking fast and Mark feels like an outsider in a way that he’s not really used to feeling with Jake anymore.

Then she notices he’s back and turns her grin on him. “You’re so awesome,” she says, taking her mocha and Sieloff’s americano, passing the latter over. “I don’t tell him that too often,” she tells Sieloff conspiratorially. “He’s Canadian, so I can’t let him realize I actually like him.”

Mark hides his instinctive smile with his coffee cup.

Later, when they’re back at the hotel in their room and Jake is drying her toque with a hair dryer, she flashes him that grin again. “Thanks for tagging along. Making the trip back by myself would’ve sucked, who knew the snow was gonna kick up like that again?”

“Yeah, snow in Calgary, who’d expect that,” Mark drawls from his prone position on his bed, arm thrown over his eyes. The hair dryer noise stops, and a moment later the edge of the bed dips.

“Hey.” He feels her poke his arm, and when he moves it he can see that she’s sitting right next to him. “Seriously. Thank you. I’ve been really worried about Pat. This staph thing has been fucking terrifying, and getting to see him today and like, see for myself that he actually is okay really helped. And I appreciate you coming with me.”

Mark just shrugs as best he can lying down. “Like I was gonna leave you alone in this mess.”

Jake’s smile is softer this time, and Mark barely has time to register it before she’s leaning down and kissing his cheek lightly. “Seriously, I know we have this whole friendship based mostly on mutual asshole behavior, but you’re great. And I realized when I was talking to Pat earlier that I maybe don’t tell you that often enough. Or ever.”

Then she springs back up off the bed, shaking her long hair so that water from the melting snow flies everywhere, and between Mark’s disgusted groan and her delighted cackle, the moment is ruined.

 

march 2014

“Ow, be careful,” Mark whines, sticking his good knee into Jake’s back. They’re laying on his bed watching a movie he picked out for once, because it’s his birthday and his knee is fucked and his season is over.

Curling up behind Jake helps, when she isn’t fidgeting and knocking against his bad knee. He’s got his face tucked into the curve of her neck, his arm slung over her waist, and it’s the most relaxed he’s felt since the injury. It’s probably her dumb shampoo that smells like lavender, isn’t that shit supposed to be calming or something?

“Yeah,” Jake says when he asks. “It’s supposed to help you sleep, too, not that I’ve ever had any trouble with that.” She relaxes back into him, eliminating any space that might’ve been left between their bodies. “Why did you pick this damn movie?”

“Uh, because it’s awesome and has sports in it?” He’ll defend all three High School Musical movies (and his love for them) to the death, but he’s got a soft spot for this one because he loves baseball.

“You know those two are totally boning, right?” she says after a minute.

“What? They’re totally not.”

“Mark, seriously, that song was full of blatant pitching and catching metaphors and they swapped clothes after the game, what more do you need?” Jake turns over to face him, tugging her toque down further on her head.

He pulls it back up a little. It’s weird not being able to see her eyes. “They totally weren’t boning. You wear my clothes all the time and we aren’t having sex.”

“Not for lack of me trying. It’s not my fault you’re a dumbass.”

“Wait, what?” Mark blinks down at her, and Jake rolls her eyes, leaning up to press her mouth to his while he’s still floundering a bit. “Jake.”

She shrugs. “You never got the hint.”

Mark’s still spluttering. “What hint?”

Of course, as soon as he says it, his mind helpfully supplies examples: Jake curled up on the couch in his sweatpants, stumbling into the kitchen rubbing her eyes on mornings she crashes there (earning him super judgy looks from Jimmy); the way they don’t nap without each other before road games anymore; how she has no compunction about changing in front of him, although he figures that one has more to do with her years of playing hockey with gross teenage boys. Still, he guesses he gets what she’s talking about.

“I was focused on the season,” he says lamely.

Jake’s answering laugh is bright, her head thrown back. “God, you’re such a loser,” she says, but when he opens his mouth to respond she leans in to kiss him again, and - yeah, that’s actually pretty great.

His arm is still slung around her waist, and his hand drifts until it rests on the curve of her hip, her skin warm where her shirt has ridden up. Jake tastes like vanilla lip gloss and those stupid smoothies she brought over earlier and something else he can’t quite place, and can’t be bothered to try.

She pulls back, nudging gently at his shoulder until Mark rolls to his back, being careful of his knee. That done, she moves over him to straddle his hips, her hair falling down around their faces as she kisses him again.

“We definitely should’ve been doing this all season,” he says to the soft skin behind her jaw as he maps it with his lips.

“Yeah, it’s really too bad you’ve had your head up your ass all year,” Jake drawls. He pinches her side, hand still beneath her shirt, and she yelps. “I can leave, you know.”

“You could,” he agrees easily. “Or you could stay. Jimmy won’t care.” Much.

“Hmm.” She curls back over him, just laying on him now, her head tucked into his neck and her weight centered well away from his knee. “I could probably be persuaded.”

“We should finish the movie,” he suggests.

“Meh.” Jake waves an aimless hand. “I know how it ends. They get back together and live happily ever after, blah blah.”

“That’s not technically till the third movie.”

“Details.”