“So, we have a little schedule change,” Laura announced at the end of training. “Our game against the Reign has been switched with our game against the Thorns, so we’re going to Portland this weekend and Seattle the following week.”
Tobin leaned back and felt her head smack against the side of her locker. She wasn’t ready. She’d been trying to be ready for this, but she wasn’t ready. She wasn’t ready to be in the guest locker room at the stadium she’d called home for seven years. She wasn’t ready to see the fans cheering for a team she was no longer on.
Tobin shoved her cleats into her bag and pulled on her slides, not bothering to change out of her practice gear before she stood up from her seat and moved out of the room in the hopes of getting to her car and back to her apartment before she completely lost it with emotion and nerves and anxiety.
But as she turned the corner and found Christen and Phoebe chatting, she realized she wouldn’t be getting to her car unseen.
Phoebe saw her first, her face lighting up. “Tobin! Perfect timing!”
At the mention of Tobin’s name, Christen turned around and saw the brunette in her practice gear, and felt a smile make its way onto her face.
“Perfect timing for what?” Tobin asked, feeling her chest tighten with rising anxiety.
“We think goal songs specific to each player would really appeal to our fan base, the Snow Shoers,” Phoebe explained.
“That’s what they’re called?” Tobin shook her head.
“Name pending,” Christen offered with an affectionate eye roll.
“Goal songs sound great. Nice job. That’s why they pay you guys the big bucks,” Tobin mumbled, trying to sidestep the conversation.
Christen felt her brow furrow at the tone in Tobin’s voice. “Phoebe, we’ll continue this in my office. I’ll be right behind you.”
Phoebe nodded and scampered off, leaving Tobin and Christen alone in the hallway.
“Is everything all right?” Christen asked, lifting a hand as if to reach out and touch Tobin’s arm before realizing what she was doing and slowly lowering her hand back down.
“Yep, I’m good,” Tobin nodded, pulling her water bottle to her lips and taking a long sip in hopes of dislodging the lump in her throat.
“I thought we were past you bullshitting me,” Christen replied softly, concern making her green eyes darken in color just a bit.
“I’m not. I’m just- I need to go home and get ready for the travel weekend,” Tobin murmured, adjusting her bag on her shoulder to keep busy.
“Seattle should be lovely this time of year,” Christen nodded, still not entirely convinced by the charade Tobin was putting on.
“It isn’t Seattle. Schedule change. I think Laura’s still here if you need to ask her about it,” Tobin forced out.
“I wasn’t made aware of this. Where are we going?” Christen asked.
“Portland. I gotta go,” Tobin croaked, moving down the hallway toward the door that led to the parking lot.
Christen felt her stomach drop at the revelation, turning to watch Tobin leave with a heavy heart and a worry lodged deep in her chest.
Tobin’s leg was bouncing up and down incessantly. She hadn’t been able to stop it all morning. She was wired and anxious and so incredibly uncomfortable because she knew that seeing her city, her home, was going to make her chest ache more than it had in a long time.
Christen slid into the seat next to Tobin, holding a small, paper box in her hands. She noticed the tension in Tobin’s frame and the anxiety rolling off of her, and she just hoped she’d be able to help in some small way.
“You were right about the joggers. I can’t travel in anything else now,” Christen hummed, buckling her seatbelt.
“Sorry,” Tobin murmured, trying to give Christen a small smile.
“Don’t be. I’m the one who’s sorry for not returning your joggers yet. Audrey said my pair is on backorder,” Christen replied softly.
“You can keep mine,” Tobin said, glancing at her number on Christen’s right leg.
Christen cleared her throat and held out the small box. “It’s a victory in my book that you even got on the plane, considering this isn’t going to be an easy trip. So, here,” she hummed, waiting for Tobin to take the box from her.
“Laura will kill me if I eat this,” Tobin mumbled, a tiny smile finally slipping onto her face as she looked down at the chocolate cupcake with bright orange icing.
“You’ll run it off,” Christen shrugged, feeling that tiny, genuine smile hit her right in the heart.
“I’ll tell her the owner insisted,” Tobin teased weakly.
“I do insist. I just want to make this trip as painless as possible for you,” Christen said with an empathetic half-smile.
“It’s good,” Tobin garbled with a bite of cupcake in her mouth. She slid lower in her seat when she saw Laura stand up to get something out of her bag in the overhead compartment.
Christen chuckled and playfully lowered in her seat as well, keeping her eyes on Tobin. When she noticed the bit of orange icing on the tip of Tobin’s nose, she cleared her throat and then reached out to wipe it off. She used a napkin to get the icing off of her finger instead of doing something foolish like lick it off of her thumb.
“Sorry, you just had some...evidence of the taboo cupcake on you,” Christen murmured quietly.
“You want a bite?” Tobin asked, holding out the cupcake.
“It’s all yours.”
“It’s the orange color isn’t it?” Tobin chuckled.
“It’s the fact that you haven’t bounced your leg once since I gave it to you, actually,” Christen replied with a small shake of her head.
“What’s your reward?” Tobin asked, having been thinking about that frequently since shooting practice with Christen.
“You’re not getting it that easily,” Christen said, chuckling lightly.
“What if I do this?” Tobin asked, starting to bounce her leg again, this time by choice.
Christen reached out and stilled Tobin’s leg. “I’ll tell you some other time,” she said softly, retracting her touch quickly. She reached into her bag and pulled out her iPad. “Let’s watch Miracle . I downloaded it onto my iPad thinking you’d need a nice inspirational distraction.”
“Thank you,” Tobin sighed, leaning a little closer to Christen in preparation for the movie.
Whatever tenuous calm Christen had managed to wrangle out of Tobin on the flight to Portland was all but gone now.
As she watched from a box in Providence Park, her chunky sunglasses covering her eyes, Christen realized this match was just going to go from bad to worse.
Tobin had started the game heated. She’d been repeatedly booed and jeered by the Portland fans, most of them convinced she’d left them of her own volition. It made Christen’s skin crawl to hear some of the chants directed her way, and she knew Tobin heard them too.
She’d watched Tobin from the moment the whistle blew, and she’d seen her go from heated and intense, to downright volatile. She was sitting on a yellow card after a fair tackle which the referee unfairly punished, and it was just a matter of time.
Right now, the game was tied 1-1, thanks to a beautiful chipped shot Tobin took from half field, and the tension on the field was nearing a boiling point.
Christen leaned against the railing, too anxious to sit, her eyes trained on her team’s white away jerseys, tracking number seven’s movements around the field.
And then Christen saw Tobin nutmeg two Portland players in a row, and she knew it was coming.
The boiling point had been reached.
One of the players Tobin nutmegged tracked after her, sprinting to catch up to Tobin, and tugged on the back of her jersey. When the referee failed to call the foul, the Portland girl lowered her shoulder and shoved Tobin off the ball.
Tobin soared through the air and landed on the turf, hard, the crowd falling silent.
Christen white-knuckled the railing, concern for Tobin and rage at the other player running hotly through her.
But before she could even really process what was happening, Tobin shot to her feet and got in the Portland girl’s face, the two of them close to blows. It took one word from someone, Christen wasn’t sure which, before the Portland girl shoved Tobin away by the shoulders and Tobin retaliated with a right hook.
Utter chaos descended on the field as the two players were pulled apart by their respective teams, both players being shown red cards and told to leave the field.
Christen watched with a pit in her stomach as Tobin stormed off the field, kicking over a few water bottles before barreling into the tunnel. She was on her feet and leaving the suite before she could even process what she was doing.
Providence Park was like a maze, and even so, Christen tried to navigate it. She wanted to see if Tobin was okay, she wanted to check on her. More so than that, she needed to. She felt compelled to be there by her side right now, a compulsion she wasn’t quite ready to unpack just yet.
But she couldn't find Tobin.
Not in the tunnel, not in the locker room, not in the showers. Tobin was gone, as was her bag of gear from the guest locker room.
Tobin had taken an Uber back to the hotel. She couldn’t sit in the locker room or stay in that stadium. She’d gone straight back to the hotel, stripped, showered in the hottest water she could get, and pulled on her most comfortable sweat set.
And even that didn’t change the fact that she was still in a city that still felt like the ghost of home. She was angry that people didn’t seem to realize that she hadn’t chosen to leave. She was hurt that what had once been a safe place now felt uncomfortable.
More than that, she was furious with herself for letting her emotions get the best of her. The red card meant that she now couldn’t play in Seattle. She couldn’t be there for her teammates. She couldn’t do the job that Christen and Laura expected her to do.
She felt most guilty for disappointing Christen. Christen had gone out of her way to be kind, to look out for her in Portland, and Tobin had messed up. She’d lost her temper and been unprofessional, which most likely just gave all the people in Portland’s administrative offices a good laugh.
Christen was different. She was kind and she genuinely cared, and Tobin hated that she’d probably upset her. So, she waited until there was a knock at her door with the fries she’d ordered from room service, and then, she walked past her teammates' hotel room doors, making a right at the end of the hallway.
She knocked softly on room 315 and waited for Christen to answer, ready to apologize for her behavior, for embarrassing the team and Christen.
The door opened, revealing a haggard-looking Christen. Her face immediately changed, lighting up first in surprise, then relief, then moving into something beyond concern. She looked upset .
Christen simply stepped back and held the door open, waiting for Tobin to move inside.
“I know you’re really pissed. You completely deserve to be. I was reckless and out of control, and I’m sure I disappointed you and our team. I really don’t- I know that saying sorry and putting french fries on your dresser won’t make up for that, but I’ll make up for it. I’ll play-”
“You can leave the fries, but I’m not the person you should be apologizing to,” Christen interrupted softly.
“Yeah, I realize that. Fries are going to every one of their rooms too,” Tobin mumbled.
“Do more than fries. I’ll be here if you want to talk about the game once you’ve said your apologies to the entire team and staff,” Christen replied.
“Yeah,” Tobin nodded, moving back to the open door.
Softening for just a moment, Christen reached out for Tobin’s arm, her hand wrapping around the crook of Tobin’s elbow.
“Come back when you’re done?” Christen asked in a quiet, almost vulnerable voice.
“I don’t need to interrupt your night. I’ve done enough for one day.”
Christen watched Tobin go the same way she came, her shoulders dropping in defeat. She'd made the right decision, sending Tobin away to say her apologies. It was what she as an owner needed to do to maintain the culture she wanted. But she desperately wished she could have begged Tobin to stay so she could prove to her that she didn’t have to carry the guilt of this game around with her.
“Turn it up,” Sonnett called out to Cat, who held the remote in her hand. They were channel surfing, munching on the plate of fries they guessed Tobin had sent them, when they saw a rerun of the post-game news conference from tonight’s match.
Cat nodded and turned up the volume, then hopped to her feet when she heard a knock at the door. She opened it and saw Tobin hovering outside, her hands stuffed in the front pocket of her sweatshirt.
“Come in,” Cat said with a tight smile, leading Tobin into the room as the news conference continued on the screen.
“And how are you feeling about Tobin Heath’s actions on the field this evening?”
On the screen, Christen sat behind a microphone next to Laura, the two of them looking agitated.
“I wanted to apologize to both of you for how-” Tobin started.
“Shhh, we’re watching,” Sonnett interrupted.
“I think you’re asking us the wrong question,” Christen said in response, causing some murmurs to hum through the journalists.
“And what question should I be asking?” the journalist shot back.
“You should be asking how a league that prides itself on ingenuity and forward-thinking, allows its players to be treated like pawns in a chess match. You should be asking me my opinion on free agency and the empowerment of the professional athletes in our league to make decisions about their own careers. I don’t care much for how she delivered the message, but I think Tobin Heath made a pretty clear case for hers. Nobody should be pushed out of their home or their team without their choice, ” Christen replied, getting to her feet and signaling the end of the post-game interview.
A silence descended upon the room as Cat used the remote to mute the TV now that the channel had gone back to its newscasters.
“I wanted to apologize for how I handled myself on the field. I wasn’t thinking about the team, and I’m really sorry,” Tobin apologized, filling the silence.
“It’s like the Boss said, you shouldn’t have been traded like that. We support you,” Sonnett replied with a nod.
“We all do,” Cat chimed in.
“Still shouldn’t have done that,” Tobin said with a grimace.
“Probably not, but it’s cool,” Sonnett shrugged.
“Enjoy the fries. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Sonnett and Cat offered Tobin waves as she walked to the door, leaving their hotel room.
Six waved-off apologies later, and Tobin was back in front of 315, knocking quietly and rocking awkwardly on the balls of her feet.
“Didn’t expect you to come back,” Christen said as she opened the door, her brows knit in surprise.
“I said the apology, but now I’m saying thank you for the press conference,” Tobin replied, offering a tight smile.
“Oh, umm, it’s not a problem,” Christen waved off, leaning against the open door.
“No, it’s...it’s a big deal, and I really appreciate it.”
“I just hope you’re seeing that we’re trying to be a different kind of club,” Christen said in reply.
“I do see that. I’ve been seeing that,” Tobin assured, running a hand through her hair.
“Good. So you know I technically have to say, ‘don’t do that again’ as the owner of the Avalanche, but as...someone who cares, I hope the punch felt good,” Christen grinned.
“Honestly, yes and no. I’m glad I used my right hand, though,” Tobin chuckled, lifting up her right hand where bruises were starting to form around her knuckles.
Christen dropped her eyes to the hand and felt her eyes widen. “Oh my God, are you okay?” she asked, reaching out to take ahold of Tobin’s hand, her touch gentle.
“I tried to ice it sort of,” Tobin shrugged, “but then I got distracted by ordering room service fries.”
“I’ve got ice,” Christen offered, stepping back into her room and letting Tobin’s hand fall from her own. She walked into the room, not bothering to look and see if Tobin had followed her. Instead, she unfolded a cloth napkin from room service and dumped some ice from her ice bucket onto it. “Here,” she said, turning with the wrapped ice in hand.
“Thanks,” Tobin hummed, settling the ice on her knuckles.
“We can go out on the balcony. I have a tendency to fill up every inch of my hotel room,” Christen chuckled, gesturing at the clothes and shoes spread out around the room, leaving no space to sit.
“I can see that,” Tobin grinned, looking at the piles of clothes, a dark, lacy bra definitely on top of the pile which she desperately tried to ignore.
Christen pulled open the sliding glass door and gestured for Tobin to move outside.
“I didn’t get a balcony,” Tobin said, poking out her bottom lip in a fake pout, abandoning the ice on the balcony railing.
“I assumed you wouldn’t want the view. Apologies if I assumed wrong,” Christen replied, joining Tobin at the railing and looking out across downtown Portland, her hands holding onto the railing in front of her.
“You assumed right,” Tobin sighed, looking out at the city and easily picking out her first apartment building and the last condo she’d lived in before buying a house.
Christen found her focus drawn to the woman beside her and not the night skyline. The deep furrow in Tobin’s brow and the thin line her lips were pressed into captured Christen's attention.
“I got our flight time moved up so we leave early tomorrow. No sense in staying in this city any longer than we have to, right?” Christen found herself saying, wanting to fill the silence.
“It’s a nice city,” Tobin sighed, reaching out on the balcony railing and brushing her hand against the side of Christen’s.
“It wasn’t nice to you,” Christen observed in a breathy voice, her pointer finger reflexively reaching out to run along Tobin’s.
“The city itself is nice,” Tobin shrugged. “I lived in that building when I was first drafted,” she added, pointing at the tall building in the distance.
Christen felt a fond smile make its way onto her face as she followed Tobin’s direction and looked at the building. “It looks nice. Would you…if there are places and people you’d like to see, would you want to stay longer? I’m sure I can work something out with the flights.”
“No,” Tobin shook her head. “I hope someday it won’t hurt, but right now isn’t that time.”
Christen let out a soft hum in acknowledgment, looking away from the building and back at Tobin, her pointer finger moving against Tobin’s again in solidarity, in understanding.
Tobin caught Christen’s index finger with her hand, lacing her fingers with Christen’s as she continued to stare across the horizon.
If she’d been smart, Christen would have pulled her hand away and kept things professional. But the draw was too strong, the compulsion too much to deny. Especially now, with the moonlight playing off of Tobin’s tormented features.
“I’m glad I ended up in Denver. Took me a long time to feel that way, but I am glad,” Tobin whispered, squeezing Christen’s hand and finally turning her head to look at her.
Christen let out a shaky breath and unconsciously tightened her hold on Tobin’s hand under Tobin’s intense, watchful gaze.
“I’m glad our club finally swayed you,” Christen replied softly.
Tobin turned her body slightly so that she could look more directly at Christen. She ran her thumb along the back of Christen’s hand, looking into the green eyes that she’d been thinking about for most of her time since moving to Denver.
“I don’t think it was solely the club,” Tobin mumbled, unconsciously moving closer.
Christen couldn’t help but move closer as well, even though she knew she shouldn’t. It felt inevitable, the erasing of space between them. She was answering a siren’s call, unable to do more than lean into Tobin.
“I’m happy you came to Denver,” Christen whispered, standing so close to Tobin now that their noses almost bumped, their bodies almost coming into contact.
Tobin reached up with her left hand and cupped the side of Christen’s face before she leaned forward and finally pressed a soft kiss to Christen’s lips, something she’d been thinking about for an embarrassingly long time.
She’d underestimated just how soft Christen’s lips would feel against her own and just how sweet her lips would taste. She hadn’t thought about how amazing Christen would smell because she hadn’t been this close to her before.
It took all of Christen’s strength to pull back. To put a stop to the kiss she desperately wanted to continue. Kissing Tobin had felt perfect and right and she was a fool to have let it happen.
“We can’t,” Christen breathed out, her forehead pressed to Tobin’s, her free hand gently gripping onto Tobin’s waist.
“Right, yeah,” Tobin nodded, wanting the complete opposite because her stomach was flipping and her heart was racing for more than just one kiss.
“God, we can’t,” Christen sighed, her eyes squeezed tightly shut as her lips tingled and her heart cried out for more.
Her hand flexed against Tobin’s hip, and she wasn’t entirely sure which one of them made the next move, but what only should have happened once, was now happening again. It was as if they had never stopped their first kiss, the two of them seamlessly picking up where they had left off, lips pressing softly, chastely against one another’s.
And in hindsight, Christen realized it was entirely her fault for the kiss moving into something more.
Without conscious thought, Christen parted her lips and deepened the kiss, moving her hand to grip tightly onto the front of Tobin’s sweatshirt, pulling on the soft Adidas material and bringing their bodies flush together.
Tobin’s arms were around Christen in a second, grasping at her back and pulling her impossibly closer. Her tongue was brushing along Christen’s bottom lip and a soft moan was slipping from her lips into Christen’s mouth.
Christen moved her hand into Tobin’s hair, finally running those effortless waves through her fingers like she’d longed to as she matched Tobin, pace for pace.
Gentle nips of teeth and teasingly slipped tongues through parted lips were traded back and forth as hands roamed and the crackling tension between them was finally explored.
And Tobin never wanted to stop exploring. She sucked gently on Christen’s bottom lip and slid her hands up and down Christen’s sides, squeezing her hips with each pass of her hands.
A few times she felt her thumbs catch on the hem of Christen’s sweater, but she didn’t allow herself to fully slip her fingers under the fabric, to feel Christen’s warm skin against her own. She held her hands back but that didn’t mean she kept her tongue from sliding along the roof of Christen’s mouth. It didn’t stop her from trailing her lips along the underside of Christen’s jaw, down to her pulse point, and back up to her lips, nipping and kissing and soothing Christen’s skin with her tongue.
Christen had never felt this level of desire in the wake of someone’s touch. Her heart was racing and her skin was tingling and she felt hot all over. She could feel every single place where Tobin was touching her, every single place where Tobin’s lips or tongue had been. She was both completely grounded and present, while also completely transcending out of her own body.
And she couldn’t find it in herself to bring a stop to this.
Christen pivoted and pushed Tobin against the balcony railing with her hips as her lips marked a blazing trail down the hard line of Tobin’s jaw. She gently nipped with her teeth and soothed with her tongue as she moved down Tobin’s throat, smiling a bit to herself when she could feel Tobin’s fluttering pulse beneath her tongue.
Tobin couldn’t stop the way she was clinging to Christen or the breathy gasps that were leaving her lips. She couldn’t stop the heat that was coiling low in her stomach or the warmth she could feel radiating from between her legs.
Christen swallowed the next breathy gasp with her lips, kissing Tobin in a desperate sort of way she couldn’t fully understand. It was as if she were trying to seize the moment while she could, clinging to it so tightly because she was afraid it would slip away.
So, she made the absolute most of it.
She pressed Tobin back against the railing and snaked her hands beneath the hem of Tobin’s sweatshirt, gripping tightly onto her bare sides and sighing at the warmth radiating off of Tobin’s skin. She explored every inch of Tobin’s mouth, earning more sighs and gasps with every flick of her tongue against Tobin’s.
With a tentative touch, Christen ran the pads of her fingertips across flexed and tensed abs, charting across skin she’d seen one too many times and finally got to feel. And she wished for time to freeze so she could stay suspended in this moment forever.
Tobin couldn’t hold back the moan that fell from her lips at the touch. She’d wanted this touch. She’d wanted to touch. So, she slid her own hands under Christen’s sweater and matched her touch. She kissed down the column of Christen’s throat, walking her back toward the door to the hotel room and pressing her against it as she touched and kissed with more passion than she ever had with someone.
“Wait- shit- why do you have to-” Christen gasped, a war waged between continuing and stopping as she leaned her head to the side to give Tobin more room to work.
“What?” Tobin asked, pausing with her lips on the corner of Christen’s jaw, her tongue still moving, still soothing a spot where her teeth had just scraped.
“You’re so good at that but we- we can’t ,” Christen said with a breathy sigh, somehow finding the strength to put a pause to this.
If they hadn’t moved toward her room, she might have indulged a little bit longer. But the intent was clear, as was the desire. And even if they both wanted it, they couldn’t continue.
She slowly removed her hand from beneath Tobin’s sweatshirt, loosening her other hand from the hair at the back of Tobin’s head. She gently cradled Tobin’s cheek and pulled her away, leaning her forehead against Tobin’s and taking in a few deep lungfuls of air.
“Are you sure we can’t?” Tobin asked, letting out a quiet, hoarse laugh. She pulled her own hands away, straightening Christen’s sweater and resting her hands on Christen’s now fully covered hips.
“I want to,” Christen whispered, a shaky breath leaving her lips as her hands cradled Tobin’s cheeks. “But you’re…I sign your checks and four hours ago you punched a Portland player because you’re still hurting. So as much as I want to, we can’t.”
Tobin let out a long breath of air that definitely came out like a whine. She squeezed her eyes shut and let go of Christen’s hips, opting to stick her hands into her pockets so as not to do anything that Christen had just stopped.
“I’d still want to kiss you if I hadn’t punched a player,” Tobin mumbled, still feeling her lips tingle with all that they’d touched.
Christen managed a small smile, tracing her thumbs across Tobin’s cheekbones reverently.
“I’m still going to want to kiss you even though I sign your checks,” Christen admitted softly.
“We could just kiss really secretly,” Tobin sighed, leaning into Christen’s touch.
Christen let out a soft laugh, dropping a fleeting kiss to the corner of Tobin’s mouth just because her resolve was already weakening.
“I don’t think it would be good if we got caught doing that,” Christen replied softly. “And as much as I love being around you, you have to go or I’m going to…not be able to stop myself from kissing you.”
“So, you’re gonna be super strong and not do this again?” Tobin asked, taking a step back and reaching for the door that led into the hotel room.
“We can’t,” Christen repeated, her hands falling to her sides.
“That wasn’t the question,” Tobin grinned, sliding the door open and stepping into the room.
“It wasn’t a fair question,” Christen called after Tobin.
“I’m just asking if you’re gonna have great willpower and never do that again? Because I’m planning on wooing you,” Tobin shrugged, shuffling backward toward the door, her lips set in a playful smile.
“I’m a very strong-willed woman,” Christen said, crossing her arms over her chest and going for calm and collected. But the blush in her cheeks and her kiss-swollen lips made her look far more affected than she wanted.
“And if I said that I’m planning to pursue you, would you be upset?” Tobin asked, leaning back against the door with her hand poised on the handle.
“I would remind you that we really shouldn’t be pursuing anything,” Christen replied, knowing her answer wasn’t really an answer. Again. “I’m your boss.”
“That wasn’t really my question. Would you like me to not pursue you?” Tobin asked, clarifying what she was asking.
“Tobin, I…” Christen sighed, her green eyes flashing with hope while her arms remained tightly crossed in front of her chest. “Of course I want you to, but I can’t-”
“Let me know if that changes,” Tobin interrupted with a nod, pulling open the hotel room door and slipping into the hallway.