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It’s hard, leaving the Caps, but Braden knew it was coming. It was time. He was in the position to have some influence over what team he went to, and that worked the best. His agent floated Vancouver. Holts looked over the roster and talked to the management and thought ‘ yeah, why not ’.

 

So Braden goes to Vancouver, and before his tortoises can clear customs, Brandi is texting him a picture of a huge bouquet of flowers.

 

They don’t even have a house yet.

 

‘These are nice,’ she says, the picture showing a massive arrangement that must’ve cost a pretty penny.

 

‘They are,’ he texts back tentatively. 

 

I assume you didn’t send them tho’

 

‘??’

 

They’re for you ;0’

 

Braden stares at his phone.

 

And stares.

 

And stares some more, trying to convince himself that this isn’t that big a deal and he probably doesn’t have someone stalking him. The team probably sent them. House warming gift, or whatever.

 

He calls his new coach, who barely pauses when Braden admits what happened, and informs him in a bland voice that yeah, they’re probably from the boys, welcome to Vancouver, the whole nine yards. Problem solved. A little strange, maybe, but whatever. Just a welcome present.

 

He manages that excuse exactly two more times, first with the custom donuts from Tim Hortons (that’s got a signed note from the team) and then again with the little care package full of snacks and maps and brochures and a giant list of the best places to eat that's handwritten on some notebook paper.

 

Braden draws the line at the giant teddy bear.

 

 

“You’re laughing,” Braden says flatly. “There’s a six foot tall stuffed bear in our living room and you’re laughing.”

 

Brandi laughs harder. She’s almost to tears at this point. 

 

“What the hell are we gonna do with this?” He asks, the same question he asked the moving people who stuffed the thing in their living room. Of course the guy simply shrugged and said he got paid to deliver it, which told him exactly nothing about who sent it.

 

Except maybe it tells him a lot. He stands in front of the fluffy monstrosity and pulls at the jersey. It’s his jersey, number displayed proudly over Canucks colors. 

 

“I think it fits perfectly in the corner!” Brandi gasps, getting her phone out to take a picture. 

 

“We aren’t keeping it-“

 

“You get rid of that swear to god I’ll break up with you,” she says, giggling still, so the threat isn’t that legitimate. Braden rolls his eyes and stands up to go find his phone and message the group chat to which he’s a new addition to. See which one of his new teammates paid their moving people to plop a giant teddy bear in his living room.

 

“Oh my god,” Brandi gasps, then starts laughing all over again. “Braden. Braden, Braden it’s a Huggy bear.

 

“It’s a what .” He puts down his phone as she comes over with a note in hand. A little handwritten chicken scratch scribbled thing that says ‘Welcome to Vancouver! Since the real one unfortunately has his own house, please enjoy your very own Huggy bear for when you need some love.

 

Braden closes his eyes and breathes through his nose. Brandi starts laughing again. “I like it here!” Brandi calls from the kitchen, glasses clinking as she unpacks their kitchen stuff. Holts rolls his eyes and sighs, but it’s unfortunately fond. 

 

‘You guys do know that I have a girlfriend, right?’ He types to the group. Brock texts back instantly, knowing exactly what Holts is talking about, and then the rest of the boys jump in.

 

‘Huggy bear hugs hit different than partner hugs, holts’

 

‘Yeah holts, sometimes you need that platonic love, that good team shit’

 

‘He’s good for screaming too, you can just stick your face in him’

 

‘can’t do that with your girlfriend’

 

‘I mean. He certainly could.’

 

‘He can’t scream at his girlfriend wtf?’

 

‘Oh my god Quinner-‘

 

Braden locks his phone.

 

 

Things stop once the season starts. Braden doesn’t receive any more massive gifts, and so he writes it off as the Canucks being a little weird.

 

A lot of weird. They’re very weird, actually, but Braden was on the Capitals. There isn’t anything they can do that’ll phase him. He even says as much to Brandi, who just looks at him. 

 

“What? They can’t.”

 

“Okay,” she says. The giant teddy bear is still in the corner. 

 

 

Braden- he’s- well he’s doesn’t-

 

He’s not phased by this or anything. No way. He is totally handling the Canucks...Canucking. Completely. He’s got it down.

 

“...and there’s this other really cool place that lets people do open mic sets - like you can sign up and play a few songs? Or just one if you want. I think there’s a limit, but the bar is nice and the stage is cool.”

 

“Quinn, you can’t even drink.” 

 

Quinn raises his perpetually tired eyes to glare at Petey. “We’re in Canada .”

 

Brock elbows his...friend? Bestie? Whatever he and Petey are - and leans forward to look at the list on Quinn’s paper. Because that’s what Quinn did once Holts said he was mostly settled in - he found an actual notebook and an actual pen and looked up at least ten different bars (“ hipster bars, Holts, but like the cool ones”) that have open mic nights. 

 

“Oh hey, we’ve been to that one!” Brock points to number seven on the list. “They have a really wild menu.”

 

Stetch appears over Brock's shoulder and reads the name. “Yeah, it’s not exactly a place to go grab a beer with the boys.” 

 

“Well, we wouldn’t go to grab a beer with the boys, you heathen.” Elias scathes. “We’d go to see Holts play.”

 

“I thought we do that every other night we play.”

 

“The guitar , Bo.” Brock huffs, like a teenager talking to his dad. Bo catches Holt’s eye and winks, a dad intentionally annoying the shit out of their kid.

 

“What the hell is happening right now?” Braden interrupts, speaking for the first time all morning. They’re in the banquet hall of the team’s hotel, and he’d barely had time to text his wife good morning before Quinn sat down next to him with nothing but a piece of paper and his own giant tumbler of coffee. 

 

And then half the team came over and sat down next to him as well. He feels like the token cranky old guy for wanting some peace and quiet in the morning. 

 

Holts, as it turns out, is not a morning person. He doesn’t understand why people think that because he’s a goalie he should be, but he is not. He’s not even close. If he could get up at eleven every day he would. 

 

Quinn is looking at him with confusion on his face. “You like to sing don’t you?”

 

Holts blinks. “Yeah…”

 

“But not karaoke.”

 

“Two for two.” 

 

“Okay, so obviously you don’t know your way around Vancouver yet and there are some really shitty open mic bars out there. So I made you a list.”

 

Braden looks down at the piece of paper. “It’s got times on it.”

 

Quinn smiles proudly. “I also only put dates that we’d be home or have the day off. So there’s not a ton of options, but that way you can decide.” 

 

Braden opens his mouth to say something - a thank you is probably in order - but nothing comes out. His throat feels thick and his mouth is dry. 

 

He knows he’s only been on one other team but no one’s ever- sure the boys went once, but that was only because- he just- he’s never-

 

Fuck .

 

“It does come with a condition though.” 

 

Braden lifts his head to look at Bo and hopes to god his eyes aren’t glassy. Because they’re certainly burning, despite his best efforts. 

 

Bo points his fork at him. “Whatever date you pick you better tell us ahead of time, because some of us have kiddos that need babysitters.”

 

Right. Right because of course they’re going to go and watch. 

 

“Okay,” Braden says faintly, and that must be the right thing to say because they all disperse to get food or actually sit back in their seats like this was nothing. Petey and Quinn start arguing about how much coffee Quinn drinks, and Brock and Stetcher seem to be ganging up on Bo and his ‘old person’ breakfast. He’s eating the same thing as Holts.

 

Braden takes a picture of the list to send to Brandi then slowly folds it and puts it in his pocket. Staring at his breakfast, he can’t get himself to pick up the fork. 

 

His phone buzzes with her response.

 

‘Still handling it?’

 

‘Shut up.’

 

 

Braden slams the door when he gets home. He throws his keys and kicks off his shoes and he would’ve thrown his guitar if he didn’t love it dearly, just so he can keep throwing things.

 

“How’d it go?” Brandi calls from the living room. He kicks his shoes back over to where they’re supposed to be and puts his guitar down on the stairs for when he’s feeling less homicidal. 

 

Braden grits his teeth and tries to watch his tone. “I went. I played. I sang. I came home.” 

 

Brandi pokes her head out of the living room. She’s sitting on the chair next to Huggy bear (the stuffed one), glass of wine and book in hand. She raises an eyebrow at him and waves the wine glass around carefully. “Nothing else happened. That was it. Absolutely nothing else happened.”

 

Holts grabs at the back of his neck and sits down on the edge of the couch with a slow breath out to calm down. “The boys were there.”

 

Brandi tilts her head. “I thought you said they were supportive. Quinner even made you that list-“

 

“They were ,” Braden sighs. “It was- it was good. Like they were great. The place was great. The boys sorta hid in a corner booth but people knew they were there. Everyone was great about it until the end.”

 

She smiles knowingly. “Did you play your love song?”

 

I did not play my love song, I played one of Hozier's love songs and didn’t do it justice in any way shape or form.”

 

Brandi laughs. “So the problem was that people danced to a cover of yours? Don’t tell me someone gave you shit for the song.”

 

“No.” Braden shakes his head. “But someone did give Quinner and Thatch shit because they danced together.”

 

He watches his wife’s face shutter, cold anger flashing for a moment as she purses her lips. Slowly, she closes her book, sets her wine glass on the small corner table, and picks up her phone. “I didn’t think that place would attract that sort of crowd.” 

 

Her voice is flat but Braden knows from experience it’s that way to hide her ire. 

 

“From how everyone described it to me, I didn’t think so either. I mean the bartender threw them out, but there was almost a fight. The boys didn't take too kindly to someone going after one of their own.”

 

“Well, as long as there wasn’t anything that's going to land you guys on the front page tomorrow.” She’s still fiddling with her phone. “Are they okay? Thatch and little Q?”

 

Braden gives a small smile at her nickname for Quinn. “Yeah, I mean- the two guys were pretty drunk, and I think the manager threatened them with mutually assured destruction if they said anything to the media. Like if they tried to out them, we’d all press charges. But still, they didn’t really see anything, I’m sure the Canucks PR team could handle it.”

 

“That is not even close to what I meant, but I appreciate the information nonetheless.” She locks her phone and stands up marching her way into the kitchen. “Go take a shower.”

 

He blinks but nods. He didn’t think he was sweating that much, but alright.

 

Fifteen minutes later sees Braden stepping out of his shower to voices downstairs. He doesn’t pay much heed to it, thinking maybe she turned on the TV or something. He’s combing his hair back and putting some moisturizer on his face when he hears a laugh.

 

Holts straightens upright with the realization that he knows that laugh. And that voice.

 

Muttering to himself he quickly finishes drying off and tosses on some sweatpants that might not actually be his. They fit weird. They’re black and have the Canucks logo on them, but maybe they’re Brandi’s.

 

He manages to get his shirt on halfway down the stairs and oh yeah, he knows who they are.

 

“Didn’t I just see you?” He jokes, breaking into a smile when he sees Demmer. “I understand you’re gonna miss me, but I do see you again in like, less than two days.”

 

“Oh, we’re doing something tomorrow,” Quinn says from his seat on the kitchen counter. He’s kicking his heels back against the cabinets. “Petey said he’s gonna murder us.”

 

Braden blinks and raises his eyebrows. “Doesn’t sound like my kind of activity, to be honest.”

 

“We’re going mini-golfing,” Thatcher corrects. “All the SOAPs are going too.”

 

Brandi’s grin is shark-like. “Are we doing partners versus players?”

 

Thatcher laughs. “Yeah, that's the second game. It’s a pretty big place but we usually do one round of pairs, and then one of players versus. Some of the kiddos will probably be there, but I think the Canucks might do some filming, so I don’t know.”

 

“Alright, well,” Braden looks at Brandi questioningly. “You didn’t have to drive over here to tell me that.”

 

“We ubered,” Quinn says. “And your amazing wife invited us for movies.”

 

Braden closes his eyes. He knows what this means. “Oh, please no-“

 

“Disney marathon baby!” Brandi crows, then laughs at the face Braden makes. Thatch actually looks excited, and Quinn certainly seems interested so there’s no way he’s gonna be able to overturn this decision. 

 

“I’m not getting out of this one am I?” He chuckles. Brandi pads over and gives him a kiss.

 

“Nope,” she says, popping the p. Leaning closer she whispers, “I’ll make it up to you later.”

 

Braden certainly perks up slightly at that.

 

“Besides,” she says quietly. “I think they needed a little...team comfort.”

 

“Yeah,” he smiles at her and kisses her again. “They do.”



( If Braden ends up in the middle of his couch with his wife to his left and his young d-man to his right, backup goalie next to him, all of them squished together under one blanket with bowls of popcorn while they watch The Incredibles and then Finding Nemo- well, maybe he enjoys himself.)

 

(Only a little though.)

 

 

It’s barely a couple months into the regular season when Braden notices it.

 

He’s having one of the most exhausting seasons of his career, but he can’t remember ever having this much fun . The reason it’s so exhausting is that he’s not getting any down time.

 

Because his team has apparently made it the rule that down time does not exist in Vancouver. 

 

Holts is sure that he knows every decent attraction in the city. It’s November and Braden is positive that he could give a tour of the city to absolutely anyone who asked. He can even give a pretty good ghost tour, since they did like six different ones in October.

 

He figured that was just the Canucks. It was just how they operated. Just- just a new team dynamic to get used to. 

 

But then they play the Pens. And Braden realizes- maybe it’s not a team thing, so much as it is a goalie thing.

 

He’s warming up at middle ice and Tristan is next to him. They end up making idle conversation, and Braden mentions something about how Beags, Bo, Millsy and Tanner are taking him out to dinner after the game. 

 

Jars tilts his head at Braden. “You like them then?”

 

Holts laughs. “I mean if we lose, they feel guilty so they buy me dessert. If we win, they get mildly intoxicated and still buy me dessert, but I have to take them home after.”

 

Tristan gives him a smile. “Sounds like a good deal. But you know if they’re doing too much you can ask them to chill a little bit. Every game I swear the A’s have to restrain the team from following me out there. They get a little eager with their courting.”

 

Braden blinks. “Their what?”

 

The buzzer sounds for the end of warm-ups and Tristan gets up, leaving Holts on the ice. “Wait- their what ?!”

 

Jars gives him a wink and skates off. 

 

Later, Holts skates to his goal alone and watches as Sidney Crosby escorts Tristan to the away team's net. 

 

After that, things fall into place.

 

 

“I can’t believe I never-”

 

“Mhm.”

 

“Like they- all the shit that they’ve done, all the gifts and the team outings and mini golf games-”

 

“Tell me about it.”

 

“-and he just- I mean how many times has Huggy and Thatcher taken me out??”

 

“Many.”

 

“-then there’s Bo! I mean he’s got a kid!”

 

“A good chubby baby, that one.”

 

“And they’re all- they’re just- oh my god .” Braden flops across the bed, spent from his twenty minute rant. He didn’t go to dinner after the game. He had a ten minute conversation with the goalie of the fucking Pittsburgh Penguins, made some awkward excuses, then went straight home where he slammed the door and started yelling about his teammates courting him.

 

Brandi hasn’t moved from her spot on her side of the bed where she was sitting up, waiting for him with a book in hand. She shifts slightly to run her fingers through his hair. 

 

He loves her.

 

“So are you going to tell them to stop?” She asks idly. 

 

Braden turns his head a bit, giving her a better angle to continue playing with his hair under the pretense of listening to her. “Why would I do that?”

 

Brandi bursts out laughing. Braden doesn’t get it.

 

“What?”

 

“Nothing!” She giggles. “Nothing at all.”

 

“Brandi!”

 

“It’s nothing just-” She covers her mouth with her hand for a second before shaking her head, still laughing. “I suppose that means you want to stay here. For a while.”

 

Braden rolls over on his side to look at her for a moment.

 

“Yeah,” he says. “I think I do.”

 

 

He doesn’t want to have this conversation, exactly, but at the same time he kind of does.

 

“Thatch, I’m really flattered,” Braden sighs. “Like I’m honored, and I’m not just saying that to make you feel better. But I can’t.”

 

Demmer completely deflates and Braden feels guilt punch him in the gut. He reaches across the table and is comforted slightly by the fact that Thatch lets Braden grab his hand. “It’s not because I don’t want to. Really. It’s more….the Canucks have to have at least one functioning goalie that’s not a call up.”

 

Thatch tilts his head in confusion. “But- it would probably only be one game and I really thought you’d-“

 

You might nest only for a game,” Holts interrupts. “But if I’m your nesting partner, it might trigger me to nest, and then if I’m nesting at the same time as you, it would almost surely make your nesting period longer and we’d both be holding half the team hostage.”

 

Thatch nods in understanding but still looks small in his disappointment. 

 

“Besides, don’t you usually nest with a lot of the guys?” 

 

Thatcher’s eyes widen slightly. “How do you know that?”

 

Braden frowns at his surprise. “You’re my- our back up goalie. Really you could be starter just as easily as I am, you’re not really a back up- anyway, it’s important for me to know you and how you like to nest.”

 

Thatcher is still staring at him with shock painting his figure. “So you’ve...watched me?”

 

“Well, no, not quite,” Braden admits. “I’ve asked around. I know you’ve nested three times since I’ve been here, but I only really noticed it starting the last time. Each time there’s usually six guys out, Quinn is always one of them, but you try to alternate between Brock and Petey in case you end up going into a game day.”

 

Demmer looks startled, but oddly….happy? Pleasantly surprised? Something like that at least. Maybe it’s excitement showing in his expression, but whatever it is it’s chased away the inevitable gloom of Braden turning him down. He makes a quick exit, leaving Braden as he found him: alone with his coffee and slightly burnt toast.

 

Holts still hasn’t figured out the right setting on the old decrepit machine that sits in the players lounge. When he first asked why they didn’t get a new one, Petey said that it, quote, had an irreplaceable character, unquote.

 

Braden took that to mean someone, probably several someone’s, had tried to replace it and failed miserably. Apparently the guys were quite fond of the electrical hazard and the way it set itself on fire at least once a month.

 

“Okay!” Brock slides into the seat across from Holts, Petey next to him, Tanner next to him, and Suttsy on the end. “So what’s it gonna take?”

 

“Yeah, what do you need from us?” Stetch looks uncharacteristically eager, but sincere all the same.

 

Braden scrubs his face with one hand. Ten minutes of quiet, is that so much to ask? “Please just let me eat my toast.” 

 

Petey raises an eyebrow at him. “That’s it? That’s all it’ll take?”

 

“It’s a start,” Braden replies instantly, having absolutely no idea what they’re talking about. “And when I’m done with my toast, you can all explain to me, in great excruciating detail, what, exactly, you are courting me for.”

 

The four of them exchange glances.

 

“Is this a Bo conversation?”

 

“It’s a Bo conversation.”

 

“I’ll go get Bo.”

 

“You have until he gets back to eat your toast.” Petey tells him after Stetch launches himself out of the chair and down the hallway. 

 

“I’ll take as long as I damn please to eat my toast.” He grumps. “Who let you guys have sugar?”

 

“Probably Bo,” Suttsy says, the most calm of the group, although even he looks excited. 

 

Exactly half a piece of toast later, Stetch returns, towing Bo along with him. The captain immediately sighs upon seeing the crowd around Braden. “Would you guys please stop harassing our goalie?”

 

Stetch plops back into his seat. “We aren’t harassing him, we’re conversing with him.”

 

Bo sits down with a roll of his eyes. “Who taught you that word?”

 

“He did,” Stetcher says happily, jerking a thumb towards Holts. “And we’re talking about the whole...goalie cuddle puddle thing.”

 

“Nesting, Stetch, it’s called nesting. You’ve done it like fifty times.

 

“I think goalie cuddle puddle is better.”

 

“Okay, you also spent twenty minutes looking for your keys last night while they were in your hand-”

 

“Anyway!” Suttsy interjects, glaring at the two of them. “Are you going to explain or do I have to?”

 

“Chill out, we got it,” Brock huffs. Braden takes a swig of his coffee. He’s starting to get a little concerned here. 

 

“Well, okay so, basically,” Brock says, finally launching into an explanation of whatever the heck this is. “When we got Thatch everyone expected him to nest right away. Like, I guess no one really thought about it? Like Marky basically had a set nesting schedule, almost down to the day. So we figured Thatcher just. Knew?”

 

Brock grabs the back of his neck sheepishly. “Turns out he didn’t.”

 

“He didn’t know how to nest ?” Braden exclaims. Jesus Christ, what kind of fucked up-

 

“No, no he knew! He’d nested before in minors and stuff.” Brock is quick to explain. Braden slumps back against his seat with a heavy exhale. He’s heard horror stories - literal horror stories - of abuse and neglect and how it can damage a goalie to the point that they never nest. 

 

“He knew, but he didn’t know us,” Tanner interjects. “So Marky taught us the right way to court a goalie!”

 

Braden raises an eyebrow. “Which is...with giant teddy bears.”

 

“Well- alright, that was a bit of a half gift half prank,” Stetch admits. “But we didn’t know when your next nesting period would be, because we didn’t know your nesting cycle, so we figured we would start right away.”

 

“And we still kinda don’t, so if you ever want to drop some info on that…” Tanner mutters, and gets elbowed by Bo. “What? We don’t! How are we supposed to know how much time we have if we-“

 

“I don’t have one.”

 

All eyes shoot to him. “Huh?” 

 

Braden glances at Tanner. “I don’t have a nesting cycle.”

 

In the silence that follows, he feels something cold settle in his chest. Courting is starting to sound like a lot more than general bribery with gifts. Braden is starting to feel less like the normal one, and more like the anomaly for never having even heard of courting before.

 

“Wait,” Petey spread a hand out flat on the table. “Wait a second. You’ve been courted before, right?”

 

Braden looks between them and slowly shakes his head. It must be the wrong answer, because the reaction of the group is immediate. Elias clenches his hand into a fist and sits back, anger clear on his face. Tanner clenches his jaw and crosses his arms across his chest while Stetch and Brock’s expressions read shock-horror. Bo is the only one who manages a neutral expression. 

 

“Braden…” his captain starts, then stops, trying to get his thoughts together. “Courting is something that a team does to a goalie before they nest, often regardless of how long they’ve been on that team. It’s our way of showing appreciation and affection, and it’s a chance for players who really want to be your nesting partner to show you that they’d be a good fit.”

 

“Okay?” Braden doesn’t get the big deal. So what, the Caps didn’t shower him with gifts, that was fine. He’d been with the team long enough. He had his routine. 

 

“It’s also to tell you that you’re safe ,” Bo continues. “That you belong here. That it’s okay to be in a vulnerable state like when you’re nesting.”

 

“That’s why Thatch didn’t nest with us at first,” Petey inserts seamlessly, anger still clear in his voice. “He didn’t know us, he didn’t know the arena. Not only did he feel like he wouldn’t have had even one nesting partner-“

 

Braden winces at the idea of nesting alone and Petey’s eyes soften. “He also didn’t feel like he was really, truly safe. Not for a while, at least. That’s a big part of why we court. I know other teams focus solely on courting for partners during nesting, but it’s not only that for us. It’s making sure you’re secure enough that you want to nest.”

 

“It’s why Thatch asked you to nest with him - he wanted to show you that it’s safe,” Bo says gently. “He thought it would be the perfect move - if he can nest with you then you’d...know .”

 

Holtby stares at his plate for a long moment. His toast now on the wrong side of lukewarm. Not that it really matters, because he feels sick enough he couldn’t think of continuing his breakfast now. 

 

“Oh,” Braden says softly. 

 

He doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know how to respond to any of this. They’d been doing this from day one, trying to show him that he was- that they were going to take care of him, that they trusted him, that they cared about him - and what did he do? Nothing. He’d not once returned the gesture or even acknowledged that it was happening. 

 

Then Thatcher - Thatcher was asking him to be his singular nesting partner, an incredibly intimate act from a goalie that usually has five or six people in his nest. And Braden told him no because of the team .

 

Fuck.

 

“So if you don’t have a cycle, then how do you know when you’ll...um. I mean- how are we supposed to-”

 

“Maybe you shouldn’t,” Braden interrupts Tanner. “I mean I- I really, really appreciate everything, and I don’t want to sound ungrateful or rude or- I mean none of this happened on the Caps, and I was fine!”

 

He’s lucky, probably, that the boys take it as well as they do. Only Brock seems really upset at the idea of no longer ‘courting’ Braden, but that seems to be the only positive reaction. The rest of them are now looking at him with something like pity. 

 

“I was- I am fine,” he reiterates. “You really don’t have to do all this extra stuff to make me feel safe, or whatever. I’m used to nesting with a lot less.”

 

“You’ve been in the league over ten years, and you don’t have a nesting cycle,” Elias points out, frustration still coloring his voice. “I don’t think that's fine .”

 

‘Then it’s a good thing you’re not the one who’s nesting,’ Braden thinks angrily, biting his lip to keep the words from coming out. He knows they don’t mean to imply that he’s nesting wrong, but for some reason it feels that way. They’re angry because they feel like courting is something extremely necessary, but Braden doesn’t feel like he’s lost anything by never being courted before. It’s not like he’s ever looked forward to nesting. 

 

“Okay,” Suttsy says before Braden can figure out a response. The Alternate shares a glance with Bo, both of them clearly reading Holt’s body language. “I’m sorry that we sprung this on you, but I’m glad we had a...talk. We’ll give you some space okay?”

 

He all but drags Petey out of his chair, and the rest of them follow with a bit more grace. Except Brock. Brock stays, almost wringing his hands together with nervousness. Braden raises an eyebrow.

 

“Hey- um,” Brocks starts, then heaves a sigh, running a hand through his unusually messy hair. “I know this is a lot to ask, maybe, but- but if you could, don’t tell Quinner? He’s- he cares about you. A lot. And he has a tendency to think the worst of everything, so if he hears about his conversation-”

 

“He’s gonna think I hate him, all of you, and am immediately requesting a trade?” Holts gives him a small smile. “I won’t tell him, Brock, don’t worry about it.”

 

Brock smiles, relieved but still tense. Braden catches him as he goes to stand. “Hey, you know I don’t...I don’t mean anything by it, I just- like a little space is good, you know? The Caps were- I mean I spent my career with them, and they never…”

 

He’s doing such a bad job of explaining himself today, it’s embarrassing. 

 

“Oh, yeah, I know,” Brock says, bypassing Bradens miscommunication. “You’re used to something different, and we are a lot to handle. I mean we do more than most teams, and you’ve never had courting at all so...I get it. I’ll talk to them.”

 

“Thanks Boes,” he mumbles. Brock disappears into the hallway and leaves Braden sitting alone at the table with nothing but a cup of cold coffee and a soggy plate of toast.

 

He downs the coffee and goes to call Brandi.

 

...

 

Things slow down dramatically for a few days. He explains what happened to Brandi, and she understands where he’s coming from at least, but he can tell she’s not happy about it. He feels bad about it, because this has been hard for her. He was very honest and upfront about the situation at the end of his contract, and she knew, but it’s still rough. They made a home in DC for nearly a decade and she was ripped away from all of it to come with him to Vancouver.

 

And now she doesn’t even get to see her new friends. Because Braden was an idiot.

 

“You weren’t an idiot,” she tells him, but her face says otherwise. “Here, slice those. You were…reacting to a whole lot of new information and you didn’t know how to respond to it. That’s all.”

 

Braden grabs the peppers she shoved at him and gets to work. “I didn’t think they’d…give me that much space.”

 

Brandi dumps the shallots into a pan. “In my experience, hockey players are very much on or nothing at all. They don’t know how to do stuff halfway. You said you needed some space, they probably thought you were being nice and now they’re giving you a lot of space.”

 

He thinly slices the peppers and purses his lips, trying to think back to their conversation. He doesn’t know that he actually said he needed some space. He said maybe they shouldn’t court him, but he didn’t think that equated to absolutely no contact outside of the rink. Which is basically what happened - everyone backed off, and a bunch of stuff they were going to do with different parts of the team has all been cancelled.

 

“I guess it’s kind of nice,” Braden offers tentatively. “We have more time to do stuff, just me and you.”

 

Brandi turns and snatches the bowl of sliced peppers straight from Bradens hands. If it were possible to aggressively dump vegetables into a pan, she certainly manages it. “Is that what you want?” 

 

Braden sighs, dragging a hand over his face and slouching against the counter. “No,” he admits. “This sucks and I hate it.”

 

It’s been barely four days, and Braden doesn’t know what to do with all the time he suddenly has. He knows this is about what it felt like in DC, but it’s late January, and he’s been used to constant outings since August. He likes a little down time, but not this much.

 

He misses his team. That’s what it comes down to. They still see each other at the rink but it feels so formal, and he hates it. He’s barely had them a half season, and he misses them. He misses how they were. He doesn’t want to be looking out at the next few weeks and only seeing hockey and home.

 

It’s also not even been a week. Not even a week, and they’re both thrown off their rhythm. 

 

Some of the tension that she’s been carrying since Braden called her drains from Brandi’s shoulder. “This does suck.” 

 

He stabs at a piece of pepper still on the cutting board. “I don’t know what to do about it.”

 

She twirls around to face him and raises an eyebrow. “I mean you could try explaining a bit better. You clearly don’t want to stop...everything, right? Just the courting part.”

 

Braden stabs the pepper again. 

 

Brandi ducks her head to try and make eye contact. “Do you want them to stop courting you?”

 

“I don’t know ,” Braden growls, slamming the knife down so it’s stuck in the cutting board and pushing his hands through his hair. “I- I thought I did, but that apparently means they stop being my friends too, and I don’t want that.”

 

“Okay, so we tell them that. I’m pretty sure the team-wide mini golf tournys weren’t for courting, and going to dinner and seeing movies and stuff- that shouldn’t be a part of courting. Right?”

 

“Right…” He agrees tentatively. “Right. Okay, so I can...talk to them again?”

 

“You can get the other box of pasta out of the pantry, and then finish cutting that pepper,” Brandi says promptly, setting her phone down. Braden didn’t even see her pick it up. “We’re going to cook for a few more people.

 

“Wait, what?”

 

Holts gets exactly twenty seven minutes to figure out what he’s supposed to say and how he’s supposed to say it, because that's how long it takes for Thatcher and Huggy to get to their house. The pasta is done by then, but the sauce will take another twenty minutes or so. Brandi is the happiest she’s been all week, opening one of her favorite bottles of red and pouring a glass for each of them.

 

“So,” she says once they’ve mostly settled. “Thatch, did Braden show you his new guitar yet?”

 

Braden blinks a couple of times. “Um. My new- ah ,” he hisses as she sends an elbow into his side. “Yeah, Demmer, c’mere a sec.”

 

Thatch raises an eyebrow but follows him to the living room. Braden haltingly manages an explanation that he thinks adequately explains his issue. Thatcher stares at Braden for a moment before giving him a small smile. “So...you missed mini golf.”

 

“I- yeah, sure,” Holts sighs. “I mean, I missed- I don’t want to have absolutely nothing to do with you guys.”

 

“No, I get it. They were really happy you were here and they went a little overboard. I promise they weren’t ever this bad with me.” 

 

“Okay, cool, so we can...not be isolated from the team anymore?” 

 

Demmer sucks in a breath, eyes wide. “Did you think- christ, we fucked this up.” 

 

“I mean everything we were gonna do with the team got cancelled. Instantly.” 

 

Thatch nods, sighing. “I’ll talk to the boys. They didn’t really know what to do, to be honest. Well fuck, I’ll be honest, I don’t know what to do. I’ve never met a goalie who doesn’t have a nesting cycle.” When Braden tenses, he’s quick to rush to cover himself. “But that’s not a bad thing! Like I said, we didn’t know what to do. That doesn’t mean we should’ve reacted the way we did.”

 

“Are you two done in there?” Brandi calls out. Thatcher promises he’ll talk to the boys, and Braden feels better, even if he’s not totally sure they’re going to be okay. He doesn’t trust the team gossip train to get the correct message to everyone, but he does trust Thatch to explain things to Quinn now that they’ve talked. 

 

Speaking of Quinner, he and Brandi are happily conversing while dishing out the pasta like he lives there.

 

Which. He kind of does . They’ve got poptarts in the pantry for Quinn and rum in the freezer for Thatcher and they’ve got their own pillows on the couch and- 

 

Yeah. He would’ve really missed this.

 

...

 

Braden thinks they’re over it. They’ve finally figured out how to make this thing work. Thatch clearly talked to the team, because they had another sort of impromptu meeting with Braden about what was too much.

 

Setting boundaries, and things. Like Adults.

 

Go them.

 

They still do all their outings, Petey dragging them to the golf course and the team dragging Braden to open mic nights. They still do almost all the things they did in the first half of the season, but with slightly less frequency. 

 

Braden can call Brandi on road trips again, because they don’t go out as much. Sometimes Thatch and Quinner will come over after practice, but not so much on late games anymore. Although Brandi’s sort of adopted them, so he doesn’t see their movie nights stopping any time soon. They’ve even taken over the guest bedroom at Braden’s house. 

 

It doesn’t last. With the team talking amongst themselves as much as they have to Braden, it was bound to get out that he didn’t want to be courted in the traditional sense. Something must get told to Quinn, because a few weeks after reaching an equilibrium, he comes into the locker room visibly upset.

 

He won’t even look at Braden. 

 

Holts doesn’t know what to do. His instinct is to talk to Q, but he’s sure he’d make things worse. He’s not even sure about his decision anymore. It was new to him, the whole idea of goalie courting. It was new, and it touched on the fact that he nests differently than every other goalie. Braden tries to not to let it bother him, that he’s nested so few times, but it still gets to him sometimes.

 

So maybe- maybe he might like it. Being courted, that is.

 

Maybe.

 

The game that night is a rough one, the Blues playing scrappy as always. They’re landing big hits and they’re sneaking illegal hits and no one is getting the whistle. The Canucks are down by one going into the second, and Braden can tell the team is mad about it.

 

Braden doesn’t get mad on the ice anymore. He does his job to the best of his ability, and nothing else.

 

That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have the urge to snap his stick in half when one of the Blues’ defensemen flips Brock head over heels and there’s no whistle. The puck wasn’t even near him. 

 

It’s not his job. There’s nothing he can do about it. He can’t turn back time to stop it. 

 

His job is to stop pucks, so that’s what Holts does. 

 

(He stops the puck a lot .)

 

At least that’s what he’s doing until there’s about seven minutes left in the second, and then he’s stopping a puck and a player from the other team. One of the forwards got a breakaway and barely managed to get around Quinn, using way too much speed to do so. That speed means that he loses control of the puck, and Braden stops it easily.

 

The forward then loses control of his skates too, and Braden can’t stop a two hundred pound man that easily.

 

They actually knock the net off one of the posts as they tumble backwards, and the whole time he’s swearing viciously in his head while simultaneously begging not to get to the end of their little tumble and be injured. 

 

Once they’ve stopped sliding, the forward gets off him pretty quickly. His weight disappears anyway, so Braden can lay still for a moment and get himself organized. Once he realizes the pain he was expecting isn’t coming, he quickly tunes back into his surroundings. There’s a lot of yelling, which he expects since the Blues just ran over the Canucks goalie. 

 

Holts tries to never get involved in that sort of thing. He appreciates it nonetheless. 

 

That’s how he’s used to being appreciated. Seeing his whole team at their feet, those on the ice already fighting, that’s how he knows he’s cared for. That was the normal way.

 

Normal for the Caps, anyway. Not here. 

 

There is something strange though. He’s been prone on the ice for long enough that he’d expect someone to see if he needed a trainer. Seeing how Vancouver is, he’d expected it to be one of his teammates.

 

Yet. Here he is, a few feet from the endboards, all by himself. There’s a lot of yelling too, yet there’s...no sounds of a fight. No sticks banging, no whistles from the refs, no ‘ alright we’re done! ’ which feels very wrong. And the crowd is quiet as well.

 

He gets to his knees and looks around, trying to locate what the hell is all the commotion about and that’s when he sees why none of his teammates have come to check on him.

 

Quinn is in a half crouch in front of him, growling so loud he’s positive the mic’s on the cameras are picking it up.

 

Well. Fuck.

 

 

Braden’s only nested six times in his professional hockey career.

 

He knows that’s a pretty low number, not just for a goalie but for a goalie that’s been playing in the NHL for ten seasons. He always figured it was just him - every goalie is different. Some nest almost every other week, but their nesting periods are less than a day. Some nest once or twice a year, but for days, even weeks at a time. 

 

Brayden was neither of these. He rarely felt the urge to nest, and when he did, it was like getting a twenty four hour stomach bug or something. He usually nabbed Andre or Vrana, tucked them into his bed, fell asleep and woke up totally fine. Both Burky and Jake were great about it, letting him coral them into the side of the bed that touched the wall and cover them with blankets. Brandi too, although she would usually figure out what was happening before Braden did (and was the reason their bed, which was usually in the middle of the room, was always pushed into a corner before he even got home).

 

He always figured it was a tribute to how touchy the Capitals were. No one knew about personal boundaries there. The Vancouver guys seem to be pretty touchy too, so he assumes he won’t feel the need to nest anytime soon, but if he doesn’t he’s got a few people he figures would be fine with it.

 

Braden made plans for this. He knows his spot, knows what he likes in his nest, knows what he needs. He’s got his plan ready. He’s had to, since sometimes moving to a new team can trigger a goalie’s instinct to nest.

 

Braden knows how to handle nesting.

 

He’s got no idea how to handle a nearly feral baby defenseman.

 

They’re not really feral - it’s actually called something like Reverse Transgression Associative Syndrome. Or maybe its Subversive Transgression? Regardless it’s like the opposite of when goalies get aggressive towards their teammates during nesting. It’s when a defensemen - or any player really, usually defensemen because they’re often close to the goalie on and off the ice - gets aggressive towards other players because something happened to the goalie.

 

It’s considerably less common than unplanned goalie nesting. Shit, unplanned goalie nesting is so common that the NHL has protocols for what to do when it happens. 

 

A goalie steals the puck and won’t give it back? No problem, the med staff know how to coax a goalie off the ice. 

 

A d-man falls stopping a puck and now the goalie is crouched over them snapping at anyone who comes near? Cool, the refs and players are trained for that. 

 

Opposing player slides into the net and now the goalie won’t let them go? Book them a different flight, they’ll be back a couple hours later than normal.

 

But a player showing his teeth and snarling at everyone on the ice because someone just ran over their goalie? Shit. Braden’s the goalie who just got run over, and he doesn’t even know what to do.

 

He can count on one hand the number of times it’s happened in his career, and not a single instance was during his game. Once he was with Bergeron in Boston, although he’s part defenseman anyway, so he doesn’t really break the mold. Another time happened in Toronto with a young Morgan Rielly, and he remembers there was a third with Tanger back when Flower was still on the Pens. 

 

No one was hurt during any of these instances, they got everyone off the ice just fine, but he knows they had to use sedation for at least two of those incidents. He doesn’t want that to happen to Quinn.

 

“Quinn,” He breathes. “ Quinn .”

 

The kid doesn’t so much as turn his head, legs apart and knees bent, hunched but ready to pounce if anyone gets close. Sitting up, Braden can see that Quinn has his gloves off, pale hands wrapped around his stick and keeping it close to his chest. Good. He’s not brandishing it at anyone, but seems to be holding it like a warning. He’ll use it if he has to.

 

Hey .” Braden sharpens his voice. It makes Quinn twitch, his head jerking just slightly to the side. He’s heard Braden, but he doesn’t want to listen. “Quinn, look at me.”

 

The trainers are on the ice now. The other team has backed off, getting as far from the snarling defensemen as possible, the refs depositing the trainers near the blue line and then backing off as well. Brock and Bo are on the ice now, and he assumes someone is getting Petey.

 

He hopes. He really fucking hopes someone’s getting Petey.

 

“Quinner, c’mon,” he coaxes gently. “Look at me. Look at me Huggy, c’mon. It’s alright, I’m alright.” He aims the last part at the trainers, making direct eye contact with Sandy and putting a hand out low. Their head trainer narrows his eyes but nods anyway. 

 

Quinn turns his head more this time, still not looking at Holts but definitely indicating he’s heard him. “Okay.” Holtby doesn’t know what he’s doing or what to say or where to go with this, but talking seems to mean that Quinn isn’t biting anyone, so that's what he’s gonna do. “Okay, hey, you’re doing great, okay? Just talk to me, what’s-”

 

Quinn !” A voice yells, grabbing Bradens attention and making Quinn’s head snap to the other side, growling turning into a near snarl. Petey is sliding his way across the ice on his dress shoes with the help of Thatcher. While they’re both good additions, he doesn’t know that having so many people on the ice is good for this.

 

But then maybe it’ll help, because Quinn is pretty close with most of the team, but he doesn’t know, because Braden’s never seen this before. He hopes he never sees it again. It is fucking terrifying.

 

“Quinn, Quinner, hey-” Petey reaches out with his good hand, and Quinn jerks, lashing out with his stick and nearly catching Elias. “Quinn!”

 

The team on the ice all start forward on instinct. Brock barely catches Petey as he recoils, and a trainer darts forward, to get to Quinn or catch Petey, Braden can’t tell. Elias is yelling, a sharp cry of “No, wait-” but there isn’t anybody listening. Quinn lashes out again, a wordless yell coming from him when everyone starts to close in on him. 

 

“No!” Braden yells, not thinking about anything but making sure Quinn’s okay. Kicking out with his blade to slide across the ice, still on his knees. He crosses the mere feet between himself and Q and stands quickly in front of him, blocking Quinn’s view of the rest of the ice. “No. No .” 

 

It has the desired effect - Quinn stops moving towards Elias, and the rest of the team, including the med staff, stop moving towards them. However, it also puts Holts face to face with his currently extremely overprotective teammate. 

 

Quinn’s eyes are wild, pupils blown so wide he can barely see any color. He’s pale, lips bloodless and his hair is plastered to his forehead with sweat. Up close like this, Braden can see the tremors running through his body, can see the way Quinns hands are shaking so bad he can barely hold onto the stick. 

 

“It’s okay,” Braden says quietly, wiggling his fingers a bit and shaking his blocker off. Quinn keeps staring at him, but the growl is low, weak. He doesn’t think Q can see that it’s Holts in front of him, but he thinks maybe he senses it. Slowly, he raises his arm towards his head. 

 

“It’s okay.” He repeats when Q growls a bit louder. “It’s alright. It’s me. It’s Holtby. It’s Holts.” He gets his hand on the edge of his mask and takes it off in one smooth movement. Dropping it on the ice sounds too loud in the way too quiet building. He’d never have known there were ten thousand fans in the building, how silent everyone is. 

 

Braden takes a deep breath, searching Quinn’s eyes for even a spark of recognition as he says forcefully, “you know me.”

 

Nothing. Not even a blink. Just a blank, dazed, stare in return. 

 

Holts swallows. “You know me, Huggy bear. I’m okay.” Slowly, with the greatest caution, he reaches his fingers out toward the stick still clutched in Quinns hands. “You did so good, making sure I was safe. But I’m okay now. I’m alright. I’m safe.” 

 

His fingers wrap around the middle of the stick, applying the slightest amount of grip. He knows he can get Quinn off and can see how close they are to the door at the end of the rink. It’s already open for them. “I’m okay, buddy, but I need you to give me the stick.”

 

If Quinn drops it, then the trainers will probably let Braden get them both off the ice. 

 

Probably. 

 

“It’s okay Quinn,” Braden says softly, tightening his grip. “I’m okay. We’re okay.” 

 

Braden tugs on the stick experimentally, and when there’s little resistance, slowly peels the hockey stick out of Quinn’s grip.

 

The second Quinner’s let go of it Holts tosses it aside and pushes closer to him, wrapping his right arm around him and using his glove to cup the back of Quinn’s head and press him to his chest. Quinn struggles slightly, but doesn’t really give much protest, settling once he gets a fistful of Braden’s jersey in each hand. 

 

“Okay, you’re okay,” Branden moves quickly, skating backwards towards the open side door. “Just relax, buddy, you’re doing great, doing so good just come with me, that’s it, that’s it kid, c’mon- here, step- there you go.” 

 

He keeps up the running monologue as he walks backwards down the tunnel, being careful not to do something stupid like trip and fall on his ass. Quinn stays with him, pressed to his chest protector. Braden doesn’t like how he can hear Quinner’s heaving breaths, can feel him shaking from where they’re pressed together.

 

Somehow they make it to the locker room - he came off the ice on the same side as the benches, so they didn’t have to walk as far - Holts rearranged them so they were walking side by side. He’s got no idea what’s going on with the game, only aware of Quinn and the few staff following a safe distance behind them.

 

He sits Quinn down in front of his stall and gets on his knees in front of him, untying his skates and pulling them off. Q’s jersey comes next, then his pads and his shin guards. His pants are a little more difficult, but eventually Huggy’s left in just his under armour and his socks.

 

Quinn’s blinking slowly by the time he’s done, swaying while sitting down. Braden sits back and two trainers swoop in, getting Quinn to his feet and walking him into the med room. 

 

Braden waddles to his stall and starts taking off his gear. Thatch must’ve gone in, since the crowd noise is rising and falling in tandem with the game. 

 

They were in the middle of the second, and Holtby can’t find it in himself to care about the game. All he wants to do is be next to Quinn. 

 

———————

 

Quinn.



Quinn comes too and enjoys a split second of blissful, comfortable peace. 

 

Then the feeling returns to the rest of his body and that peace is gone. There’s a whole body ache that’s more like a throb, and his head is the worst. He scrunches his eyes up in pain, shifting slightly to try and relieve the deep ache. He doesn’t get very far though.

 

A strong set of arms still his movements at the same time that he realizes the thing he’s laying is breathing, Quinn’s head rising and falling with the rhythmic movements. He stills immediately, relaxing again as a hand presses against the side of his neck, making him feel safe. Fingers comb through his hair, nearly sending him back to sleep. If it wasn’t for his apparent need to take some pain meds, he would’ve gladly slipped back into unconsciousness.

 

Slowly, Quinn manages to open his eyes. The room they're in has the lights dimmed, or perhaps they’re off completely because he isn’t immediately blinded. An arm of the person swims into focus. He immediately recognizes the tattoo.

 

“Holts,” he rasps, voice scratchy like he’s been screaming. The fingers stop going through his hair and his body tenses up.

 

“Huggy?” His name is a soft, tentative thing. “You with me?”

 

“Yeah,” Quinn whispers, feeling like his brain isn’t back online. There was something he was supposed to do. “Are you okay?”

 

“I’m okay, Quinner.”

 

“Are you- are you-” his tongue feels thick in his mouth. Braden was- something was wrong. With Braden. “Did the trainers check you out? Is- is the game over, are you- are you safe ?” 

 

He can feel panic start to claw at his throat, but Holt’s keeps breathing steady, hand still pressed to his neck. When he speaks his voice is firm but calm. “I’m safe. I’m okay. The game’s over, we won three to two.” 

 

Quinn swallows. “My head hurts.”

 

“Yeah, I bet,” Braden chuckles. “I can get the trainers-”

 

“No!” Quinn yelps, then quietly, “I don’t want to move.”

 

To his surprise, Holts relaxes. “Okay. The trainers are probably gonna come back eventually, though. We can grab you some Tylenol then.”

 

“Okay,” Quinn sighs. “As long as- as you’re okay.”

 

He doesn’t know why, but every time he thinks about getting up, he gets a super intense feeling of anxiety in his chest, so much it makes it hard to breathe. Braden runs his hand up and down Quinns back, murmuring to him every once in a while. 

 

They must be one of the quiet rooms, because the space feels too small to be the larger med room the trainers use. The dim light is filtering in between the cracks of the door and the closed blinds. 

 

He doesn't remember taking his gear off, but he must’ve at some point. The cool air from the AC makes him shiver slightly. “How long have we been in here?”

 

“Forty minutes or so,” Holts says casually. It doesn’t help Quinns anxiety by any means. “You slept for most of it.”

 

Second period then. “What, um.” He swallows. He would really really love to chug a bottle of water right now. “What happened?”

 

Holtby doesn’t reply for a while. Quinn is still using Holt’s chest as a pillow though, so he can feel the sharp intake of breath and knows he’s not going to like this.

 

“Little over halfway through the second, one of the other team's players had a break away. You got the puck away from him, but he was going way too fast, tripped, and ended up running into me.”

 

So that’s why Quinn was worried about Holts.

 

But that doesn’t explain why they’re in a dark room still after the game ended.

 

“You… took issue with that,” Braden finishes lamely. 

 

“Oh Jesus, tell me I didn’t get in a fight and then get knocked out,” Quinn groans. He can’t imagine he would get that angry - nor can he imagine that the trainers wouldn’t send him to the hospital if he’d been knocked out - but he was already upset enough before the game. Being told hey, you’ve been courting a goalie who doesn’t want anything to do with it and you’ sucked. A lot. 

 

He really really wanted Holts to stay. He misses Marky of course, but Holts has been such a good friend and teammate, he wanted to make Braden feel as at home as he had in Washington. 

 

But clearly there’s something that got lost in the teammate gossip train. He doesn’t think Holts would let Quinn cuddle him if he was that upset with Q.

 

“Ah, no,” Braden says. “Have you- did you ever see what happened with Letang and Fleury a few years ago?”

 

Quinn tenses up. “During their cup run?”

 

“Yeah,” Holts sighs. “It’s called Reverse Transgression Associative Syndrome, and it’s like when goalies get aggressive towards outside teams, but…”

 

“But instead it’s me,” Quinn feels cold. “I was feral?”

 

“It’s not really feral , it’s- whatever. You’re talking and you’re coherent. You’re fine.” Braden sounds like he’s convincing himself more than Quinn. 

 

“Is everyone okay?” Quinn whispers, embarrassment heating his cheeks. “I remember- Petey?”

 

“Oh, he’s fine,” Holts waves a hand around. “No one got hurt. I got you off and they checked you out and now we’re here.”

 

He still can’t believe he- it feels surreal. Like that doesn't happen . It wouldn’t- he wouldn’t-

 

But considering their current positions, the fact that he remembers getting dressed for the game but not playing it, and the strange heightened anxiety he has whenever he considers leaving Bradens side…it fits. 

 

He opens his mouth to say something, apologize probably, but a soft knock on the door stops him before the words get out. Once the trainer sees that he’s awake, it’s a whirlwind of tests and questions and being poked and prodded. Quinn still feels anxious when Braden strays more than a few feet from him, but the goalie stays close, assuring him it’s no problem. 

 

When trainers finally okay him to go home some fifteen minutes later, Quinn stumbles out into the locker room to find it nearly empty. It’s almost forty minutes after the end of the game, but he’s surprised and grateful there’s no one but Brock and Petey left.

 

Petey and Brock each give him a hug; Elias gives him a critical eye, like he’s making sure the trainers properly put him back together. “You’ll be okay.” Petey says, like he’s daring Quinn to prove him wrong. 

 

“Petey, I-“

 

“If you apologize, I might physically harm you.”

 

Quinn blinks. “I…will talk to you tomorrow?”

 

Elias grins. “Cool! Don’t worry about the team, Bo basically had to threaten to bench them to get them to go home, so you’ve got tonight to get your shit straight before you get smothered tomorrow.”

 

They leave Braden and Quinn alone in the locker room, the staff milling around and cleaning up after the game. 

 

“You didn’t have to stay,” Quinn says as he goes to his locker and shoves his gear in his bag. His whole body still feels achy and his muscles are now tight. 

 

“I’m driving you home, so,” Braden shrugs. “It’s not that big a deal. Plus, they said you should probably stick close to me.”

 

At the mention of home, Quinn remembers he’s got text Thatch. The team must’ve sent him home in case Quinn somehow triggered Thatch to nest again, even though he was nesting a couple weeks ago. 

 

“And also, I was hoping we could talk?”

 

Quinns exhaustion must show on his face, because Braden hurries to assure him. “It won’t be a lot, I promise.”

 

“Sure.” He nods. “You’re the one driving me home.”

 

“If you’re lucky, I’m driving you home,” Holts corrects. “Brandi is currently making the strong case to take you back to our place.”

 

Quinner ducks his head to hide his smile. 

 

Brandi’s the best.

 

 

They make half the drive in silence, Quinn struggling not to fall asleep against the window. His head is pounding, and he wants to take an hour long shower but he’s so worn out he might sleep on the couch for a while instead.

 

“So,” Holts starts, then swears as someone cuts him off. “I guess you heard something about me and…courting.”

 

“I heard you didn’t want to be,” Quinn replies sourly. “That I- we made you uncomfortable? I swear I didn’t- we didn’t mean to do…that.”

 

“You didn’t,” Braden replies. “You didn’t. I was…I’ve never been courted before, I didn’t even know what it was, but you guys never made me uncomfortable or anything. It was a lot. That’s all.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“I mean it Quinner, you didn’t-“

 

“I said okay.”

 

Holts gives Quinn a look. He sighs. “It sucks and I feel bad, Holts, and I also like. Freaked out on the ice in front of you. For you. When you didn’t want that.”

 

“Well, no, in general I don’t want any of my teammates to be so stressed they do that for me, but it wasn’t as if it got me angry with you.” Braden glances at Quinn. “You realize that right? I’m not angry at you, at any of you for doing what you did.”

 

“I know.” He didn’t. But it’s nice to here. “I know, so why are you telling me all of this?”

 

“Because I’m trying to explain something, and I’m doing a shit job.”

 

Quinn purses his lips to keep from smiling. Holts glares at him. 

 

“I’m trying to say that I like it, okay?” Braden grumbles after a moment. “I liked it.”

 

“You- really!? ” Quinn perks up as they pull into the parking lot of Quinns apartment complex. “You’re not saying this because of what happened today right you’re not like- pressured or anything?”

 

“No, I’m not pressured, Jesus,” Holts rubs at his eyes. “I’m just telling you because you deserve to hear it from me. First this time, because it goes through the team.”

 

“Oh,” Quinn unbuckles. “Well, uh, yeah. Thanks. For telling me.”

 

He slides out of the passenger seat with a muffled groan as his muscles protest. Grabbing his bags he’s halfway across the parking lot when Holtby yells for him.

 

“Oh, and Huggy?” Quinn turns back, adjusting his backpack. Braden’s got the window rolled down so he can talk. “Thanks. For protecting me.”

 

Quinn blinks a few times then manages a strangled laugh. His little incident is going to be a part of every talk show for the next decade, but hey, at least his goalie is happy. He waves goodbye and makes the slow climb up to his and Thatcher's apartment. 

 

He’d already texted his boyfriend when he’d be home, so the door swings open easily and shuts behind with a small click. He can hear the shower going and yells to Thatch, who yells back…something that’s muffled. Keys, coat, shoes and half his clothes all come off into a pile in the bedroom and Quinn crawls into bed.

 

He’ll have to change the sheets later, but whatever. It’s been a long fucking day.

 

He sighs, curling into a small ball under the covers. His phone vibrates with a text. It’s from Holts, to the group chat.

 

‘My house tmr, bring a t-shirt. Preferably one that doesn't smell disgusting but has been worn by you’

 

Despite himself, Quinn smiles.