And okay, objectively, it's stupid. It's stupid to fly to Tampa in a hurricane. And it's stupid to assume that a man you haven't seen in years (thank you global pandemic) is going to want to see you when he's either a) suffered the biggest loss of his career or b) completely focused on winning the next game. But still, PK just gets this feeling like he needs to be there for Game 5. He needs to.
In the end, it’s not all that hard to convince the execs to let him go to Tampa to cover the game. He says something about energy and footage and they quickly agree.
Still, as he boards the plane he can't help but think to himself stupid, stupid, stupid.
The game is close, intense, but the minute they pull Carey out of the net, PK feels his heart sink. He knows what it’s like to watch everything you worked for, dreamed of, get ripped away while you watch, sidelined, helpless.
The final buzzer goes, and PK doesn’t want to watch. Still, his eyes always find the distant 31. He watches the ice intently for the heavy slump of shoulders, the way Carey lines up to shake hands, exchanges meaningless words, skates slowly off the ice, and PK can tell. He can tell how it’s already begun, the careful construction that Carey does around his soft, soft heart.
PK tries his best to keep upbeat for the post-game, but the minute the camera is off his smile fades.
“Tough one,” the sound guy says as he snakes his hand up PK’s shirt to retrieve his mic.
“Yeah,” PK agrees simply. He is itching to get out of there, desperate to get to the hotel.
He makes his way through the relatively docile crowds outside the arena (PK thinks, with a pang, of what would have been the absolute chaos of Montreal). On his way, he texts a Montreal admin he was always on good terms with for Carey’s room number, he gets it almost instantly. Good people, he thinks. They deserved it.
But when he reaches Carey’s floor, stands in front of the nondescript door, he pauses, unsure if this is the right thing after all. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
He forces himself to relax, it’s just Carey, Pricey.
Still this isn’t a regular loss, this is the loss. The one that counts. PK doesn’t really know just how hard he’s taking it, how he can best provide comfort. And PK’s always had a labrador heart, desperate to be loved, desperate to do right, desperate to please.
Maybe he wants to be alone, maybe he wants to wallow a bit, maybe my energy is too much. But he also knows that’s exactly why he needs to be there. No one’s shoulders, not even Carey’s wide, lovely shoulders, are big enough to carry this burden alone.
PK takes a deep breath and knocks, “Room service!” he says in a high, squeaking voice.
He hears some shuffling behind the door.
“No, I’m okay, thank you!” An awkward, muffled voice answers.
PK smiles, always so polite.
He knocks again. “Room service! Here to service your room!”
The door suddenly swings open. “I said--”
“Hey Pricey,” PK says, his voice softer than intended, taking him in.
Carey looks the way he usually looks after a game, absolutely exhausted, hair damp, cheeks pink beneath his beard, wearing a soft blue hoodie and a pair of shorts, and those horrible old rubber slide sandals (PK makes a note to buy him something a touch more fashionable).
“PK?” Carey asks in disbelief, like PK is a ghost or a figment of his imagination.
“Can I come in?” PK asks with a grin.
Carey steps out of the way and PK strolls in, looking around the place. For all that it's dimly lit, It’s a decent hotel room, a comfortable king bed, couch, big TV, fancy shower.
“What are you doing here?” Carey asks, still clearly stunned.
“I heard there was this big game in town, thought I would check it out,” PK says, keeping it light.
“I didn’t know you were going to be here.” Carey's voice is flat, numb, it sends a chill down PK's spine.
“I wasn’t supposed to be but I thought…” And PK doesn’t finish it. I thought I should be available in case you lost and needed emotional support? Or thought we could celebrate if you won? Or I’ve been thinking about you? I never stop thinking about you? I miss you?
And suddenly Carey is hugging him, arms looped tight around his shoulders, head dipped to rest against PK’s neck and, oh, this is why he’s here. He laces his arms around Carey’s waist and squeezes. Carey tightens his grip and inhales.
“Fuck,” he whispers, breath hot across PK’s throat.
“Yeah,” PK agrees.
They stay like that for a few moments. PK refusing to let go first, insisting on letting Carey take all the physical comfort he needs. Carey doesn't seem to be in a rush to let go.
PK swallows, surprisingly overcome. He’d forgotten how long it had been since they’d seen each other, it feels like years and, well, it has been. And yet, here in the familiar warm circle of Carey’s arms, PK feels like no time at all has passed.
“Missed you,” Carey murmurs into PK’s shoulder.
“Yeah,” PK agrees as he breathes him in. It makes his head spin. That clean musky woodsy Carey scent, PK thinks wildly that they need to bottle it.
He trails his palms up and down Carey’s back, mapping the tension there.
“I’m so sorry,” He murmurs into Carey’s shoulder. He hears Carey’s breath go shaky, feels his stomach tremble where it’s pressed against his. “I was there, that game was--”
And suddenly Carey pulls back sharply, disentangles himself from PK’s arms, swallows and looks around the room. He grabs a folder from the desk and picks up the phone.
“Room service?” He asks, clearing his throat and flipping through the pages.
PK stares at him. “Uh, sure.”
He watches carefully as Carey goes through the motions of choosing ridiculous things to order up (burgers, extra fries, pasta, ice cream, beer, champagne, chocolate fucking cake). And it’s not a surprise, necessarily, but it is unnerving, this unbothered facade. Always ready for the next game, always already thinking about tomorrow’s practice, always ignoring that nagging ache of loss. It's what makes him a great goalie, some say it's what makes him a robot.
But PK knows better, knows how after a really big loss, after the whole robot routine for the press, Carey softens up. Checks in with the rookies, the veterans and then waits until he’s in the privacy of an anonymous hotel room to feel everything, alone. Well, alone and with PK, of course.
But tonight, after that game, PK knows he'll have to wait. And when it comes to Carey Price, he’s a patient man.
The food comes and they arrange themselves on the couch, the superfluous feast laid out on rolling tables in front of them. Carey’s settled on something mindless on the TV, a crime procedural that neither of them are really watching. They pick at the french fries but neither of them are hungry either.
So, they pretend to eat, they drink, and they do not talk about it. PK pointedly does not bring it up. He knows Carey, knows that you’ll never get an answer out of him if he doesn’t want to give it to you. Knows how he clams up if you move too fast, startles easy. So they don’t talk about it. Carey asks him instead how the broadcasting gig has been. They talk about their families, the city, they talk about the fucking weather but they do not talk about it.
Carey takes a long swig of beer and leans back, looking across at PK, extending an arm to rest on his neck where his pulse has suddenly decided to do the rhumba. He traces his thumb mindlessly up and down PK’s throat. His eyes are so, so tired, and there’s an echo of tension in his face that PK desperately wants to soothe away.
“You didn’t have to come,” Carey says in a low voice. PK knows he means, I can take care of myself.
“I know,” PK answers, but he means, you shouldn’t have to.
Outside, it’s already begun raining and PK idly wonders when the hurricane will hit.
After an hour, PK finally grabs the remote, not in the mood to see another body cut up (he’s had his fill of violence for one night). He starts idly flipping through the channels, only noticing his mistake once he's gone too far and there, in crisp bright definition is a replay of the Tampa goal.
Carey freezes. PK tries to click past it but Carey steals the remote away.
“I should have had it,” Carey murmurs, eyes transfixed on the screen, knuckles white.
“It’s not your fault,” PK says, firm but gentle. Anyone would agree, Cary Price was not to blame.
Carey shakes his head and watches over and over as he misses the puck, misses it again, misses it in slow motion, misses it from a different angle. Misses his chance at the Stanley Cup.
“Hey,” PK takes the remote gently from his hand and flips the channel to, thankfully, an old sitcom. “No one wins a hockey game on their own and no one loses a hockey game on their own.”
It sounds unbelievably flat and banal against the sharpness of this loss.
Carey shakes his head, looks up at the ceiling, blinking rapidly. PK thinks, here it comes. But instead Carey just clenches his jaw, takes a few deep steadying breaths and shakes his head again.
He turns his gaze back to the TV and apparently the conversation is over. And, okay, PK thinks. I can just sit here and watch sitcoms for the rest of time if necessary, whatever he needs.
Then suddenly, Carey shifts and leans into PK’s side and, oh, this is familiar, PK thinks. The two of them, quiet, close, watching something mindless and just letting the feeling of loss fill up the room around them. Carey always needed physical comfort after particularly tough losses, a service PK was all too happy to provide.
PK extends his arm across the back of the couch and Carey takes the hint. He whips the hood of his hoodie over his head, a protective gesture, and shuffles in, resting his head across PK’s chest.
The familiar weight makes PK want to cry.
But he doesn’t. He just lets himself feel that pressure on his chest, lets them sit in silence. He knows how much the rest of the world demands Carey’s words, insists on access to his feelings. They always have, which is partly why PK thinks he guards them so carefully. So, if this is what he needs, fine. PK can do that. No one would ever believe it but PK can be quiet, when it matters, when it’s for him.
His arm drifts to Carey’s lower back, at first just resting there. Then his fingers start to wander, tracing up and down his spine, drawing small circles and patterns. Carey sighs and his breathing slows.
After a few episodes, convinced Carey is asleep, PK lowers the volume and turns on the subtitles.
But Carey shifts, opens his mouth, closes it again.
“The guys,” Carey says suddenly, so quiet PK almost misses it. “They wanted it so badly. It’s not fair to them. I’ve… they’ve been through so much this year. It’s not fair.”
PK exhales and nods. He knows what it’s like to be in a locker room after a big loss. Worse than a funeral.
“I…” Carey starts again, stops, his voice clogged in his throat. “Fuck, I really wanted it this time. I tried so hard.”
It’s as much as PK has heard him admit in years.
When they were younger, with the brash confidence of youth, he’d convince PK how they would do it together, they would drag the whole damn team with them to the Cup if they had to, shutouts all the way. He spoke like they could swallow the sun. But superstition and injury and reality had dimmed all of that bright young faith, had cooled Carey into a sort of humble resignation.
PK lifts his hand and starts stroking through Carey’s hair, lightly scratching across his scalp like he knows he likes.
“I know you did,” He says softly.
“I just…” Carey starts. PK can’t fully see his face but he can feel his chin tremble, his jaw go tight, his voice ragged. “I really thought we could do it. I fucking let myself hope. That’s what hurts.” It comes out like a confession, the kind you can only make in the darkness, in an anonymous hotel room, to the heart of someone who loves you.
And oh, if PK doesn’t understand. He understands the way hoping makes it worse, how getting a taste sharpens the want to a point, makes the not-having that much more painful.
He remembers back in those early golden days when, sometimes, in the dark corners of the night, desperately in love, he would let himself hope, welcome that sting. He takes a deep breath.
“Yeah,” He says simply.
“It’s never going to happen is it,” Carey says, so quiet and broken it makes PK want to bundle him up, lock him away from a world that is capable of hurting him so. “It doesn’t matter how hard I try, how good I am. It’s just never going to happen.”
And PK, well, he can’t lie to Carey, never could. He knows how it works, he knows what they signed up for. He knows that you can do everything right and still lose, he knows you can be the most deserving person out there and still never be rewarded. He knows the end of this story. He’s watched as the legends around him play until their bodies give out, until they get injured, until their brains are shot and their will is broken. Legend turned to cautionary tale, hope turned to dust.
And suddenly PK notices a faint wetness on his chest through his t-shirt, and Carey’s crying, crying big silent tears, and PK’s heart breaks.
He gathers him up in a loose embrace, and Carey goes easy. He maneuvers them off the couch and through the dark of the room to the bed. He is careful as he lays Carey out on his side and slots in behind him, an arm around his middle, pressing their bodies together.
And Carey’s making these panicked little gasps, tears flowing freely now. PK holds him tightly, as if he’s holding him together, as if he’s keeping him from falling apart.
“I’ve got you,” He whispers, placing a kiss on the soft, secret space behind his ear. “Let it out.”
And Carey’s gasps turn to jagged, laboured sobs, wrenching themselves out from somewhere deep. It’s all PK can do to not break down with him. Instead he keeps murmuring softly I’m here, I’ve got you, and rubbing at his chest, kissing gently into his hair.
It feels like it lasts for hours.
But nothing, not even pain, can last forever. Eventually it tapers down and PK reaches across to the nightstand for a water bottle. Offers it to Carey who takes it wordlessly, sips awkwardly, spilling some down his face. PK mops it up with his sleeve and maneuvers Carey around to face him.
The lights of the city filtering through the window illuminate Carey’s features and PK can’t help but trace his fingers across them. His soft arching brow, the gentle line of his nose, the dip above his lip. He maps out the dimples hidden in his cheeks, the sharp hinge of his jaw, the tiny, perfect freckle on his ear. I love you, I love you, I love you, his heart beats out over and over again.
“I’m so sorry,” he says as he brushes a thumb under Carey’s eyes, those lovely sad eyes, and sweeps away the wetness there.
“I’m a loser PK,” Carey says, quiet and shameful, as if he’s just realizing a secret that everyone else already knew.
“Hey,” PK smiles softly, “that’s my favourite goalie you’re talking about.”
The corner of Carey’s mouth twitches in response. Almost a smile.
PK continues, “You know you’re the best goalie I’ve ever played in front of, right? The best in the world. Hall of fame.”
Carey lets out a little sigh, closes his eyes and PK knows it’s to stop from rolling them. He never was good at accepting praise.
“But you’re so much more than that,” PK hates how his voice trembles. “You’re a fucking inspiration, you’re a good man, a generous person, you’re kind, loving,” PK could go on but he stops himself. “You work so hard. You’ve built so much here.”
And Carey opens his eyes, red-rimmed but still beautiful. His gaze catches and lingers across PK’s face.
“And what do I have to show for it?” Carey says quietly, seriously. “What have I grown except loss?”
It feels like a punch in the gut, it takes PK’s breath clean away. Because, yeah. And PK feels it too, sharply feels all over again the sense of loss that rooted in his stomach the moment he was traded so many years ago. And, for a moment, PK allows himself to feel it, to feel the pain of being ripped away from the city he’d come to love, his boys, his legacy, his best friend. The pain of settling somewhere new only to be tossed around again. The pain of never feeling at home. The pain of losing, losing, losing. He thought he’d moved on, but here, next to Carey, he knows that was never an option.
The question lingers around them. PK lets it hang, doesn’t answer, doesn’t feel the need to offer placations. It’s not what Carey needs. The rest of the world can tell him that there’s always next year. Everyone else can forecast and analyze until their throats are raw with it.
Not PK. PK is here to wade into this great pain with him, to hold his hand, to see him raw and laid bare, feelings flayed open, and love him anyway. He doesn’t need to solve this suffering.
“Painful things are allowed to hurt,” PK whispers. Carey looks up and suddenly smiles, a big soft smile, dimples and all that makes PK’s chest feel tight. He knows he remembers - it was exactly what Carey had said to him, on that awful Paris phone call, so many years ago when they found out he’d been traded.
Carey reaches up and gently cups the side of PK’s face.
“Thank you for being here,” He says softly.
“Always,” PK says, embarrassingly sincere. Where else would he be?
And he can’t help but thrill a little as Carey inches forward, scooping his arms around PK, pulling him into a tight embrace, pressing his wet face into the crook of his neck, breathing slowly in and out. Carey wants him here, takes him seriously, lets him and only him into these big feelings.
“Thank you,” He says again, his lips moving against PK’s neck.
PK’s heart stutters, he has to stop himself from shivering. “You deserve it.”
And Carey lets out a soft, broken noise. And PK knows, knows how being offered a simple tenderness is sometimes the incontrovertible proof of how broken you are.
“Love you PK,” Carey whispers.
“Love you too,” PK whispers back and thinks,if that ain’t the understatement of the century.