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And yet I'm still afraid to let it flow

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“My wish for 2016? For myself, probably just to fall in love. That’s all I want.”

Jordie’s head snaps up and she finds Jason’s eyes through the camera crew and the interviewer. His candidness isn’t really a surprise, but Jordie knows he’s not telling the truth. Not the whole truth, anyway. Jason’s already in love and she knows it with every fibre of her being.

Because she knows he’s in love with her.

His eyes are steady even though she’s no such thing, even as she struggles to swallow. Unlike her dumbass brother who continues to twist himself in knots over a woman who is as in love with him as he is with her, Jordie is not blind. She knows exactly what this is: a declaration. He’s not going to let her hide anymore, not from everything that’s so painfully obvious between them.

The air shakes out of her lungs when she finally manages to release it, slow enough that it kind of hurts. She’s never really let herself consider it. But there’s no way to mistake this as anything other than a gauntlet thrown. This is his declaration and she knows it long before he plops down beside her after Stars TV has chased Tyler and Sharpy out onto the ice.

“It’s no pressure,” he murmurs quietly, face earnest. It’s impossible not to believe him, despite how often those words often mean the opposite. “But it’s something to think about.”

“You want to do this? Us?” she asks quietly.

“I think we’ll regret it if we don’t at least try.” He nudges her shoulder. “Think about it, okay?”

The words haunt her through practice, and well into the Stars’ New Year’s Eve party, where she deftly maneuvers around the casino floor with Tyler’s arm looped through hers and sips whisky. It’s not that she’s avoided Jason or that she’s deliberately trying to put buffers like Tyler between them, but she’s currently grateful he’s being followed around by Stars TV and not trying to corner her.

“You’re a million miles away.” Tyler tilts her head, annoyingly perceptive. “Or maybe just across the room.”

Jordie shrugs. There’s no use denying it, not to Tyler. “His resolution was kind of…it was directed at me.”

“Everyone on the team knows that ,” Tyler retorts with a roll of her eyes. “The real question is: what are you going to do about it?”

“Still figuring it out.”

Tyler hums like she has an answer and knows Jordie isn’t going to like it. To be fair, knowing Tyler like she does, Jordie’s inclined to agree. “That would make a good resolution,” Tyler finally says, under the humming of the party and just loud enough for Jordie to hear. “Figure out what to do about the fact that Jason’s totally in love with you. Like, nice country home maybe in Quebec where he can still speak French all the time and raise your future kickass defensive core.”

Jordie’s chest hurts and she bends over, has to simply breathe .

“Oh wow, okay. Didn’t mean to make you, like, panic.”

Segs .”

Tyler’s mouth snaps shut, but she’s rested a hand on Jordie’s lower back. “I mean,” she begins after a beat, when Jordie feels like her muscles aren’t going to just seize on her anymore. “It’s mine.”

“What?”

But Tyler’s eyes aren’t bright and hopeful. They’re dim and resigned. “Resolution. About Bennie, you know? It’s…it’s been a long time and I… I think I need to just not .” She sucks in a long sharp breath. “I guess that’s how Jason and I are alike. Except, you know, the part where he’s actually going to step up and say something.”

“You could,” Jordie offers. “You know he-“

“Yeah,” Tyler cuts her off. “But I’m not going to do it to him, you know?” She shrugs but it doesn’t look anything like the Tyler Jordie’s used to, brash and confident. This time she’s smaller. Almost defeated.  “He wants forever and no matter what he feels, he doesn’t feel like I could give him that.”

Jordie doesn’t argue. She doesn’t say that Tyler could. For one thing, Tyler doesn’t need her to and she doesn’t want her to. It always makes Jordie want to slap Jamie. Or Tyler, Jordie’s never quite sure.

She couldn’t imagine doing that, being in love and not giving it a try, leaving it to fester and boil, leave things unclear and unsaid.

Holy shit .

“So,” Tyler says, breaking through the fog of Jordie’s thoughts. “We’ll step back. Well, I’ll step back. It’s fine. Got the All Star Game to focus on, you know? Hockey .”

Jordie laughs, even though she’s not really feeling it. It’s the sentiment that gets her, the whole idea of just… hockey. Hockey first and foremost.

But now, for Jordie, there’s the possibility of more .

It’s not something she’s considered for herself. Not because she doesn’t think she’s hot enough or good enough; not like some of the other women who seem to believe that they need to do things one at a time. Jordie has spent too much time in the AHL before playing with the Stars to look a gift horse in the mouth. She’s also happy with herself, with the person she is. It’s difficult finding someone who understands that she doesn’t need someone to take care of her, to cook and clean and tend to her bruises. She plays hockey for fuck’s sake. Bruises are in the rulebook.

But Jason...

She catches his eye and tilts her head out towards the casino’s patio. Jason doesn’t freeze, exactly, but he very calmly excuses himself, following her into the Texas night. She turns, aware she’s fidgeting with her whiskey glass and takes him in. His face shows no hint of apprehension, of excitement or eagerness. His face is just Jason.

“You meant it. Today. Stars TV.”

He does crack a smile, just a little one. “We’ve been over this. I’m not going to take it back.”

She paces away a few steps, comes back.

“Jor. It’s just something to think about,” he says again, as strong the first time. “I’m not asking you to marry me. Hell, I’m barely even asking for an answer.”

The air rushes out of her lungs. “But you could. That’s where this could go.” She has to swallow three times and even then, still can only manage to choke out, “Marriage.”

“It’s where every relationship could go,” he points out mildly.

Which. Point.

“If it goes bad…” Jordie begins and cuts herself off. She blows the rest of the sentence out on a gust of air. “I can’t do this lightly.”

“I couldn’t either. I’m not,” Jason agrees, tipping back his beer, eyes still focused on her. “And I wouldn’t expect you to.”

Jordie nods and lets herself pause for a moment. “You’re serious about space? About… letting me think about it?”

He laughs a little but it’s not amused. It’s more wry than anything. “Ball’s in your court, Jor. Kind of always has been.”

It’s both overwhelming and relieving. “Okay,” she says, nods once. “Okay.”

 

She doesn’t exactly actively think about it. Once the New Year's celebrations are over, there’s hockey to play and hockey has always been Jordie’s primary focus. It gets even better when they roll into New York to play the Rangers. The Rangers hold a special place in Jordie’s heart. She loves playing Marcia, if only because their friendship is one that continues to befuddle the media, on the rare occasions she and Marcia are in the vicinity of a camera.

But that means that Marcia knows Jordie, and knows her well. It’s a blessing and a curse as they bump into each other companionably at centre ice during warm ups.

“Something on your mind, rookie?”

Jordie shrugs and leans against her stick. “The game, kicking your ass. The usual.”

Marcia’s smile is sharp. “Kicking our asses, sure. Let’s pretend that’s something you can do, that way we can also pretend that when you come over we’re not at all going to talk about what Demers said.”

Jordie groans.

Except, as it turns out, Marcia’s a little psychic and the Stars manage to lose 6-2 to Marcia and her fucking Rangers.

At least Marcia has the grace to pull out the good tequila when Jordie finally manages to make it over.

“You’re going to have to set an alarm,” Jordie says mildly, even as she accepts the bottle. Rip roaring drunk wasn’t on the list of things Jordie figured she’d do tonight, but she’s seen people try to argue with the Rangers’ defenceman and, well.

Jordie knows better, is what she’s saying.

Marcia waves a hand with a deceptively delicate sniff. “I’ve seen you drink, Benn. Don’t play innocent with me.”

She can’t quite go shot-for-shot with Marcia – the woman’s a tank and Jordie’s still relatively in awe of her – but she can hold her own. It does not, however, mean that Jordie shouldn’t know better. She’s pleasantly, buzzingly drunk when Marcia sets down her shot glass and looks over with eyes that shouldn’t be that serious given how much alcohol is swimming through her blood.

“What’s going on rookie?” Marcia asks. “You look like you could do with a year’s worth of sleep and we’re only halfway through the season.”

Jordie drops her head back on the couch. “Dirty play.”

“Getting you drunk?” Marcia’s shrug is unapologetic. “Were you going to tell me sober?”

“I’m not going to tell you drunk.”

They both know better and Marcia’s always been able to wait her out.

“Jason’s in love with me.”

“No shit, James Bond,” Marcia answers. “He told the world.”

“Yeah.”

Marcia nudges her. “You love him back?”

It’s not that she doesn’t know. Her feelings for Jason definitely lean that way. It’s just more complicated than that. “I might.”

Marcia’s quiet in the way that means she’s waiting Jordie out again. When she says nothing, Marcia side-eyes her, leans back in her seat. “Benn, people who love you and me don’t do it easy. You can’t. Not us.”

Jordie’s brow wrinkles.

“It’s not just about the hockey, it’s about the rest of it. All of the conventions don’t fit us. Steph is cute. Sid is, even objectively, gorgeous. Segs is hot as fuck and everyone knows it. Latts is sweet, so is Nuge. You and me…we’re hard and tough and we pride ourselves on our physicality. That independence. That’s not everyone’s cup of tea.”

Jordie shifts uncomfortably. She’s never thought of it like that, not consciously anyway. Sure, plenty of men have tried to ‘tame’ her and failed but… Jordie’s never thought it was a problem with her .

“Not like that, dumbass,” Marcia interrupts before Jordie can spiral any farther. The punch to Jordie’s arm legitimately hurts, not that Marcia really cares. “We’re not hard to love, the love that we get isn’t easy.”

“You’re saying the same fucking thing-”

“I’m not. Look. Look at Lindsay, okay? Jesus. She puts up with so much of my shit. You guys don’t even know the half of what she puts up with.”

Jordie blinks. “But she loves you.”

“Endlessly. Unconditionally. God knows why, but she does. That is what I’m talking about. It’s not us, okay? We’re not the bad guys or the rough guys or the girls that are too tomboy for this shit. We get…” She huffs. “We get Sid’s love. The kind she gets from Malkin, you know? The shit that’s going on with fucking McJesus and the whiz kid in Buffalo.”

Marcia knows their names, Jordie knows that. They both snort. What a clusterfuck that is.

“We get that too, Benn. It’s just a little different. So this whole thing with Demers? You’re not stupid. Scared, yeah, par for the course because this kind of love is literally the most terrifying thing in the world. It’s worse than your first NHL game or that bad hit. But good God up in whatever the hell fucking hockey heaven looks like, it is also the one thing, the one thing , you will never, ever regret.”

Jordie can feel her hands trembling as she twists them in her lap. “You can’t promise that.”

“You idiot,” Marcia says, reaches out to hook her arm around Jordie’s neck. “Of course I can. I have Lindsay.”

Yeah, it’s a common fact that Marcia and Lindsay are really fucking good together.

“Does it have to be Jason?” Jordie mumbles into Marcia’s shoulder.

Marcia’s eyes are too sharp when she lets her go. “Not if you don’t want it to be,” she says carefully. “But there’s no reason it shouldn’t be.”

“He’s my teammate.”

“You’re both professionals.” She shrugs when Jordie shoots her a look. “You’re not stupid, Benn. No matter how useless you damn well think you are.”

“Excuse you.”

Marcia’s grin is all shark. “Exactly.”

Jordie barks out a laugh despite herself, maybe a little too alcohol induced. She takes another shot anyway before she swallows thickly and says, “Is it worth it?”

“Holy shit, rookie, we are not having this conversation. That’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

“Still not a rookie.”

“Question like that? Yes you are.” Marcia reaches for her, and yes, she even cuddles aggressively. “Of course it’s worth it.” Jordie feels Marcia knock her head against hers. “It’s always fucking worth it.”

She wakes up to an alarm that is entirely too shrill for the way the back of her skull is pounding. A moment later, Marcia sticks her head through the door.

“Rise and shine, rookie! You’ve got a plane to catch.”

Jordie hates her life.

She does not, however, hate Jason, who presents her with a bottle of water, two aspirin and a Starbucks cup. “You are the absolute best human being on the planet.”

He chuckles, taking her elbow to guide her in line. “You should probably thank Segs. She passed on Staal’s message.”

Jordie groans. “Every time,” she laments. “I do this every single time .”

Jason, still the best human on the planet, guides her into a window seat and plops down next to her. “Rumour has it Staal bowls people over on and off the ice. Isn’t surviving worth a bit of a gold star?”

“You got one for me?” she asks, letting him tug on her until her head is pillowed on his shoulder.

“Nah. I’ll have to grab one when we get home.”

“You saint,” she says, and she means it with sarcasm, but the way he smiles says she missed the mark by miles.

“Good talk though?”

Jordie almost freezes. It’s a very close thing, because it’s rushing back to her now. The conversation, the heavy weight of Marcia’s point, sitting with him now like there’s nothing to it, like he’s never admitted to being in love with her.

Like nothing’s changed.

She swallows. “Yeah. Always is with Staal.”

“Somehow, I think that’s just you.” His eyes crinkle at the corners. “She’s...something.”

She can’t help but smile at that. “She is. You just need to get to know her.”

“If you say so.” He pats her head. “Sleep. I’ll wake you up when we get there.”

“Okay.”

 

They lose more than they win in the run up to the All-Star Game and Jordie is quite honestly grateful for the break. It feels like it’s a chance to breathe, if for no other reason than Tyler is adamant she come along, and because the group chat says literally every other woman that is so much as connected to the damn NHL is going. Well, most of them at least.

Not that Jordie sees a problem with that. It’s so rare that they’re all in one place at the same time and the change is nice. She’s surrounded by men and yeah, she can totally hold her own, but they don’t quite get how frustrating it can be to be asked every second day why she doesn’t wear a skirt suit instead of the pants she favours.

“No one argues with me,” Sid says in confusion when Jordie brings it up. Tyler’s busy comparing makeup tips with Mal now that Carey’s hair looks like a soft, flowing, curly waterfall and she knows Sid had been a little grateful when Marcia had drawn her into the conversation.

“Should have known,” Marcia replies and rolls her eyes. “Sid the Kid gets what she wants.”

“Hey.” But it’s a mild rebuke. Jordie will never understand what weird friendship-like thing Sid and Marcia have going on, and she’s had what feels like front-row tickets for as long as she and Marcia have been friends. Tyler likes to joke that it was a kidnapping, but that’s another weird dynamic Jordie shrugs off.

Dani herds everyone out when it’s time to go, and Jordie and Mal head over to the family section to watch the proceedings. “Think Weber is really going to let Sid draft all the girls?”

“If he knows what’s good for him.” Mal’s laugh is light and bright, and has more than a few heads turning their way. It’s the Subban charm, Jordie thinks wryly, which is hilarious because this is the first time she’s really met Mal, and it’s not like she plays PK all that often.

But Mal keeps up an effortless stream of conversation, just like she did this morning when they were wandering around the Fan Fair, and Jordie relaxes. The beer helps, too.

Sid starts off the draft in completely ridiculous competitive fashion, slapping her hand down on the podium and barking, “Carey Price!” when they ask for her first pick. It startles Jamie out of his daydreaming state (and honestly, the draft has JUST started and he’s already out of it, what the hell little bro), while Dani rolls her eyes a little.

Dani leans over to whisper something in Sid’s ear and she flushes the tiniest bit, but mostly looks unapologetic. Jamie still looks somewhat frightened. Carey walks out onstage, cool as a cucumber, and Mal stands up and honest to goodness whistles .

“Really?” Jordie laughs as she sits back down, beaming because Carey’s now squinting out at the crowd, nonplussed.

Mal shrugs. “It’s Pricey.” And that’s all the explanation needed, really.

Weber drafts PK second, and instead of going to sit next to Rinne, he plops down at the complete opposite end of the row so that he’s ostensibly closer to Carey. He leans over the riser’s railing, chin propped on one hand as he waves at her. “Hey Pricey, heyyyyyyyy.” Weber, Ovechkin, and Toews just shrug, and Carey laughs and waves back.

“We’re not related,” Mal announces to everyone around them, to a chorus of chuckles. “We found him on the curb and took him in, like any good Canadian family.”

The next few Team Weber players have to awkwardly shuffle past PK to get to their seats, which makes Jordie snicker a little bit every time. Ovechkin practically throws a tantrum when Sid ends up with Backstrom, though he’s a little mollified by the addition of Holtby. Jamie is so delightfully earnest as he goes over his notes with Sid and Marcia, a little more awake now that the draft is actually in full swing - and because Tyler’s throwing wadded up bits of her program at him. There are several pieces of paper in his hair. Jordie despairs.

Mal nudges her as the draft dwindles down and points up at the monitor showing the backstage feed. “Look at the Cold War going on there.”

Jack and McDavid are sitting on opposite sides of the room despite the poor NHL Network reporter’s attempts to get them to sit closer together. Jack is deep in conversation with Larkin - probably talking Team USA things, while McDavid not-so-subtly scowls at them in the background. “Jesus. He’s so damn obvious.”

Mal bounces a little in her seat, beaming. “Isn’t it great?”

“Depends on how long it drags on.” There’s enough of that drama going on right in front of her, Jordie shudders to think of it stretching across the damn league, with those two. “Segs has a pool going, want in?”

“Hell yes!” Mal holds her hand out for a fist-bump. “I’ll have my bet in by the end of this weekend. Research, you know.”

“Good idea.” Sid calls Jack’s name and Jordie watches as she strolls out, something like relief on her face as she takes the jersey from Dani’s hands. “It’s going to be one hell of a weekend.”

She’s groggy when she wakes up and stretches, but thankfully is not hung over. Take that Nashville. Marcia’s still just a pile of hair on her pillow so Jordie sighs and heads out. No reason to wake the dead, she figures, though it would be tempting, given just how drunk Marcia had gotten her in New York.

Payback’s a bitch, and it’s not like the women are any less spiteful about it.

She wanders a bit aimlessly down the hall and finds herself in front of Tyler’s door. Tyler looks awake when she answers, but Jordie’s spent enough time around her to know which version of Tyler’s face is hungover and which is tired.

“Party too hard?” Jordie asks, too gentle to be a chirp.

Tyler sighs. “I’m fed so, it’ll pass.”

Jordie knows better. She can see the tray on the side table of Tyler’s room. “Have breakfast with Jamie?”

Something passes over Tyler’s face. It’s a look Jordie’s seen more than once on the other woman, resigned and sad and a whole mess of emotions that Jordie hates, both because she doesn’t believe Tyler deserves to feel that way and because Jamie’s the one who inevitably, stupidly, does it to her.

A moment later though, Tyler’s collected herself. “Jack, actually. She slept with McJesus again last night, even though she tried to deny it. As if I didn’t see him leave right after her at the bar. So obvious .”

Tyler goes on about it and Jordie lets her, half because she can’t stand the dejected look from moments earlier and half because this thing between Jack and McDavid, where Jack pretends she doesn’t really like the dude, is utterly fascinating to Jordie.

So, it’s kind of a surprise when she blurts out mid-Tyler rant, “Jason and I should go on a date.”

“No shit,” Tyler continues, without missing a beat. “I’ve been telling you that for like half a year, Benn, keep up.” And then a moment later. “Holy shit, those words came out of your mouth.”

She groans. “Don’t make me take it back,” but the rebuke is half-hearted at best. She’s been thinking - overthinking, if she’s honest, and when things get to that point it’s usually better to actually do something rather than stew.

“No take-backs allowed,” says Tyler, the actual five-year-old. “Come on, I’ll buy you coffee and you’re going to tell me what changed your mind.”

“It’s not changing my mind, exactly,” she protests. Her phone blips. “Forget coffee. Marcia’s awake and wants food. It’ll be easier to tell both you together.”

Now it’s Tyler’s turn to groan. “Do I have to?”

“Yes, if you want to know the gossip.” Jordie gets it - Marcia and Tyler have strong personalities that just don’t quite mesh. It happens. But they’re some of her closest friends, and she wants them to get along. Maybe throwing them together will work. Eventually.

“The things I do for gossip,” Tyler grumbles, but follows.

 

It happens on an innocuous Tuesday, the day Jason gives a Valentine’s interview that isn’t much better than his New Year’s one and once again sends Jordie’s emotions reeling.

“Can’t you give me a damn break?” she groans, even as she drops her head to his shoulder long after the crew’s left. “You said space. Time.”

“I never said I wouldn’t plead my case in the meantime,” he replies and she raises her head to glare at him. He just smiles and nudges her shoulder. “Come over. On Sunday.”

Jordie’s breath catches despite her own resolution to ask him out first. “Like a date?”

“Like a date,” he confirms quietly.

Jordie says yes.

She doesn’t say anything to Tyler, nor does she go immediately into the group chat, so Marcia’s message, when Jordie picks up her phone again, hits a little close to home.

Jordie. Why aren’t you jumping this man, Marcia texts, along with a link to the interview.

THAT’S SO ROMANTIC!!! Steph adds about a million hearteyes emojis. So does Mike.

good. she needs someone other than me telling her to get it. Tyler, of course.

Even Jack weighs in on it. Cheesy, but cute I guess.

You’re all assholes and I’m slamming you into the boards when you come to visit, Jordie responds and glances across the locker room. Tyler’s face is smug, but there’s a softness around her eyes that makes Jordie think that maybe she’s got this.

That certainty only lasts so long and it takes both Tyler and Jamie to calm her down the day of. Tyler, who drops her pedicure and self-imposed Valentine’s isolation to come pick out her clothes, and Jamie, who goads her out of fear and discomfort. She’s pretty sure it’s their sheer combined determination that gets her out of the house and over to Jason’s apartment.

She’s not sure what she’s expecting when arrives - okay, she does. She knows Jason. He loves celebration. He would probably go full-out for Valentine’s day, with candles and roses and chocolate…the kind of thing that might send her screaming out the door.

He’s grinning at her from his open doorway, his bare toes peeking out of the bottom of his jeans. “Hey.”

“Hi.” She feels so awkward.

And his damn perceptive face watches her climb the last few steps before he says, “Coming in?”

It is a legitimate question and for barely a breath she considers saying ‘no’, to ask him again why this, why now, why her. She does none of those things. “Yeah.”

His place looks the same. He’s not a complete slob, but considering the time she does spend here she doesn’t feel like it’s any neater than she’s used to. There are still bills scattered over a corner of the coffee table, the blanket she uses tossed over the chair where she last had it. It doesn’t feel romantic. It doesn’t feel different.

It kind of throws her, how normal it seems. None of those Valentine’s trappings are there and suddenly it hits her. Jason knows those things would freak her out. And Jason wants this to work.

“Drink?” he asks, draws her attention back to him. He’s lounging easily against the wall between the living room and the kitchen, completely at ease in a way Jordie is very much not. “I do have wine, but I know beer’s more your thing.”

Jordie knows her date answer should be wine - it hasn’t been quite that long since she was last on one - but Jason’s face is unassuming and she feels her shoulders sag just a little. “Beer.”

She doesn’t expect his grin. “Good.”

“Good?” she asks, trailing him back into the kitchen. He’s already rooting in the fridge and comes up with a bottle.

“Well yeah,” he replies, and only sounds a little bit like she should already have the answer here. “You’re a beer girl. Do you normally pick wine on dates?”

Jordie’s stomach flips. “I’m not usually on dates at guy’s houses.” Still, she accepts the open bottle he eventually hands her.

“Fair.” Once again, there’s no judgement, no acknowledgement that this is anything other than the two of them hanging out. Except Jordie’s wearing good jeans and a top that isn’t stained and it is different. It’s supposed to be different.

“Still,” he goes on, like Jordie’s not trying to get a handle on her out of control emotions right now. “Wine doesn’t really strike me as your thing.”

“It could be.” Okay, that’s a little defensive. She doesn’t need Jason’s considering face to tell her that.

“It doesn’t have to be,” he murmurs after a while. “Jordie, I-“ He cuts himself off and Jordie finds herself picking at the label of her beer bottle for more than a few breaths before he finally says, “Nothing has to change.”

“That’s the whole point of dating, isn’t it? Things change.”

“I don’t think so,” he replies and it’s only now that Jordie’s looking that she realizes he’s gone still, like any movement will spook her. She doesn’t like that feeling either. “It doesn’t have to be, you know?”

She doesn’t. She has no idea how this isn’t different, how it’s not supposed to be different. “Then how do we know it’s what we want?”

He laughs. “Jordie, I want you here all the time. That’s how I know. Because this…it’s steak and potatoes, Jor. We have this all the time, sometimes out, sometimes in, sometimes at yours, sometimes at mine and sometimes by ourselves. Did I want to put out candles? Maybe, yeah, but that’s just because I like the romantic stuff.”

Jordie knows that. She definitely knows that, has heard him talk about candlelight dinners and romantic walks.

“And maybe one day we can do it that way, but that’s not you . This is you. Low key, quiet, real. Doesn’t take away from the effort or the way I want you. I like you . Not some idealized version where you all of a sudden wear dresses and heels and laugh at all my shitty jokes.”

Jordie smiles. “You do tell shitty jokes.”

“You keep telling yourself that, Benn.” But he’s smiling, too, the easy one that’s always put her at ease. He steps closer, reaches out to tug at her elbow. “Better now?”

She blows out a breath and wills her chest to unclench, even a little bit. “You didn’t even fold my blanket.”

“Oh, it’s yours now, is it?”

She flicks her gaze up to him and can’t stop the way her stomach rolls over. He’s so close and grinning so wide and Jordie… Jordie feels the tension bleed out of her back. It’s just Jason. She likes him, likes spending time with him. She likes chirping him and poking fun at his terrible taste in, well, everything. She likes that he doesn’t wrinkle his nose when she tells him about axe throwing or rock climbing or any number of wilderness-centred hobbies that aren’t stereotypically female.

“Always been mine,” she shoots back, which is a blatant lie. It’s hers now though.

Jason just laughs. “Be nice or I won’t let you barbeque.”

He would, is the thing. There’s no doubt in Jordie’s mind that he’d be more than happy to step back and let her barbeque the steaks should she so choose. “Nah,” she says, and it comes out maybe a bit softer than the flippant way she’d been thinking. “It’s your show.”

Jason outright beams.

It does seem easier after that. He puts her in charge of the salad, yells at her through the door while he barbeques like it’s any normal night. Jordie lets herself fall into the rhythm of it, the gossip of the team, their normal debrief of whatever the hell is going on with Tyler and Jamie, the encouraging things they’d seen at practice, anything and everything they always do. She doesn’t even flinch when he crowds beside her on the counter to snatch a piece of cucumber from the cutting board, just shoves him and drops the knife to shove her hand in his face.

She tells him about Jenny and the kids over dinner, updates him on her parents and some of the gossip from the women as well. She’s loose and happy when they move to the couch, when she curls her big body in close because it feels right and natural and she can . He has the Nashville game on his PVR because they’ll be in town tomorrow and Jordie adores watching Princess Steph wreak havoc on the blue line. Jason laughs.

“Princess? Really?”

“I’m sorry, have you seen her? Spent five minutes with her?”

“You and Segs tend to spirit her away,” Jason replies, and she doesn’t bother lifting her head from his shoulder; she can hear the wry tone in his voice. It’s not that Jordie’s protective of Steph, really. She is, however, protective of her team and while sometimes she thinks unleashing Steph on the Dallas Stars would be one of the most entertaining things she’s ever see in her life, she knows if she did it would only be a matter of time before Steph had every member of the Stars wrapped around her finger. Unintentionally, of course, but the damage would be done.

“It’s for your own safety,” she murmurs, grinning as she watches Steph shove Trochek into the boards. Jason laughs and she feels him turn his head. He presses a kiss to her hair, casual and easy and Jordie can’t help the way her body freezes. He does too, a chain reaction.

“Jor?”

She turns her head to look up at him, knows her breath is caught in her chest. The thing is, it’s not like her body had frozen out of fear or dislike. It’s new, sure, but it’s not like she doesn’t want it.

But Jason looks apprehensive and his opposite hand is clenched into a fist on his thigh. Jordie acts on instinct, a terrifying instinct in a lot of ways, an instinct she’s shoved down so many times she’s not even sure what it feels like to take advantage of it. At least, not until she pushes herself up just a little, just until they’re level, and kisses him.

It’s Jason’s turn to freeze, and for a terrifying moment, Jordie thinks she’s messed everything up. But as she pulls away, Jason’s breath shakes out of his lungs and he reaches for her, cups her jaw to pull her back in and wrap his arm tighter around her shoulder. Jordie goes, getting a hand on his thigh to support her as he angles her head, tilting her chin so he can dance his tongue along her lip. It zips through her, makes her hand clench where she’s braced against the couch.

“Jordie,” he breathes into her mouth and she can hear everything in his voice. It’s what this means to him, what he feels with her, how much he wants it. She can’t deny that it makes her feel powerful too, and a little humbled.

It feels easy to sit up and shuffle towards him. It feels easy to slip over his lap and cup his face. She wants more and Jordie’s never been the type to turn down an opportunity. Jason seems more than amenable, hands coming up to spread over her waist and curve around her back. She settles on him more firmly, curls over him to meet his mouth.

There’s no question who’s in charge here. Every press starts with her, every brush of his tongue is in response to hers. He groans when she gets her teeth gently around his lip, hands going tight on her skin. His hips hitch up and it makes Jordie smile, bearing down just a little bit. Jason ducks his head into her neck and her whole body shivers with it, hands trembling as she strokes them over his shoulders.

This had not been in her plan. It hadn’t even been close to her plan, but she can’t deny that it feels good, that it’s Jason and if she can’t trust what they’re doing here then she’s not sure she could trust anything. She takes shameless advantage, rolling her hips when Jason lifts his again, curling her hand up into his hair to hold him still. He curves his hands over her ass and tips her to angle her body just right and they both groan.

Jason’s the one to break away. “Okay, okay. Jordie, pitoune, wait.”

“Wait?”

He pulls himself back, holding her steady and still. His chest is heaving and Jordie can’t help the way she slips her hand down to feel it. His cheeks are flushed too. It’s heady to see him like this, to have visual confirmation of what she does to him.

Her breath catches when his eyes open and she curls a hand around his neck. They’re so dark , his pupils blown with just the smallest ring of bright blue at the edges. “Jason.”

“We can’t,” he states and it’s not rude or panicked. “You know we can’t.”

Jordie shifts her weight back, separating herself from him just a little bit more. His hands slip along her thighs as she settles and she lets herself wrap her hands around his wrists. She closes her eyes for a moment and sucks in a deep breath to get her brain back online. “We can’t.”

Jason breathes out heavily, stroking his hands over her thighs and making her shiver. “It’s the first date,” he says. “We work together. We don’t know what’s going to happen.”

But as she looks at him, Jordie knows that’s not really the answer. “It would mean something.”

“Yeah,” he agrees. “It would mean something.”

Something important.

Because sex with Jason would never be casual. Could never be casual, considering everything between them now. She’s not ready for it to mean something, really. It’s not fair to him and his emotions when she’s not there right alongside him.

She exhales and laughs a little awkwardly. “I thought it was going to be more complicated than this.”

He’s silent for a moment, hands resting on her knees. “This is what it’s supposed to be, pitoune ,” he murmurs quietly, lifting a hand to stroke sweetly over her cheek. His eyes are flicking all over her face and Jordie knows her mouth must be a bit swollen, her hair a mess.

“Steak and potatoes and kissing?” she murmurs back, wrapping her hand around his wrist to tuck it against her stomach. It’s too close, too much, to have him keep touching her like that.

“And hockey.”

Jordie’s heart flips over. It’s something so few people seem to understand about her life and it shouldn’t surprise her that Jason does. “Of course hockey.”

But she can’t deny that it all feels better now. Real, sure, but also something solid, like the idea of her and Jason actually making it all work isn’t quite as insane as she thought it would be. Like maybe she could make this work in ways she’s not sure she considered before.

Objectively, it’s an understatement to say there haven’t been many men in her life that have understood her the way Jason does. Whether it was boyfriends in high school that couldn’t seem to get through their heads just what Jordie was willing to do for her brother, or men now that she’s an NHL player that can’t seem to understand she’s not looking to hang her skates up anytime soon. She’s dealt with men who just don’t get that she isn’t the biggest fan of most traditionally feminine things and why she’d rather go bouldering instead of romantic candlelit dinners.

Jason’s never asked her to be anything or do anything she doesn’t want to. He’s never compared her to other women in or out of the league and he couldn’t care less about the fact that marriage and kids are ten years down the road in Jordie’s mental plan. He always watches her with avid eyes when she talks about the way she loves climbing, how it makes her feel to slam an axe into wood and hear it crunch; the smell of a campfire or the chill that comes from damp days in tents.

He doesn’t flinch at her bruises. She’s seen him watch her as she presses into one and gasps. It makes her shiver to even think about.

“Jordie?”

“This is what it’s supposed to be,” she repeats, realization dawning.

There’s a moment where he goes tense, like this is a bigger moment, her words a bigger declaration than the reassurance it was for her. “It’s the way it’s always going to be.”

“Yeah?” she asks, feeling a twisted challenge rise up in her.

His eyes flare with it, reading it in every line of her body. “Yeah.”

Not like Tyler and Jamie. Not like Sid and Malkin or Steph and Josi. Like the relationships their teammates have with those who don’t play hockey, who don’t live this every day.

Jordie’s chin comes up. “Prove it.”

He does not back down. “Let me.”

Let him in. Let him see her. Let him try .

She holds out her hand for him. “Deal.”

 

If feels like it should be a cosmic shift. It feels like she’s just deliberately shoved two tectonic plates together - and fuck you Jamie, she listened in science - for the hell of it and that means there should be mountainous changes.  

But. There aren’t, not really. Not in the ways that Jordie would have thought would matter. They still play hockey, they still work out and go to practice but sometimes...sometimes she gets to lean over and kiss him. Sometimes, she lets him curl up into her side.

Sometimes PR gives them the awesome opportunity to hang out with dogs for a day. It’s not just her and Jason, of course. Stars PR sends them with Tyler and Sharpy to an ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center.

“Our mission here is to help the dogs that are considered ‘unadoptable.’ These are dogs that have come from really hard places - puppy mills, hoarding cases, and are incredibly fearful. Through this program, we get them used to human presence, human touch, and the kinds of situations everyday dogs go through so that they can eventually find their forever home.”

“Hoarding cases?” Jordie asks curiously, thinking that that can’t possibly mean what she thinks it means.

Nora, their ASPCA representative, nods solemnly. “The compulsion to hoard can sometimes extend to animals. I’ve seen single family homes with up to 200 dogs.”

Tyler gasps and Sharpy and Jason blanch. “That can’t be good for them,” Tyler remarks, looking sick to her stomach.

“It’s just about as bad as you might think,” Nora replies. “I won’t be graphic, but it’s incredibly inhumane.”

Jordie’s stomach turns over. She knows that Diana was lucky. Her mother was a stray with a litter of puppies, so Diana’s known pretty much nothing but human love and affections. These dogs, though? She almost cries during their orientation, at the videos that show just what kind of life some of these dogs have led before coming here, crammed into cages and living in filth. Tyler does cry and Jordie reaches out to her with one hand, fumbling for Jason’s hand with her other.

His grip is warm, reassuring. Their fingers slot together perfectly, like puzzle pieces. It’s enough to startle her for a moment as she glances down at their hands.

God. Can she get any more cliche?

“Okay, we’re going to pair you guys off with one of our trainers and they’ll take you through some of the training exercises we use to help rehabilitate these dogs.” Nora hands Tyler a box of tissues with a sympathetic smile.

Jordie’s paired with a trainer named Surya and a little collie mix named Tippy. Tippy is glued to Surya’s side, eyeing Jordie warily. For someone who loves dogs as much as she does, it’s heartbreaking. She can only imagine how Tyler feels - her dog was actually shivering with fear when she went into her kennel.

“We’re doing a novel person exercise with Tippy today,” Surya explains, leading them outdoors to one of the open pens. “Jordie, you’re going to be the new person.” She hands her a pack filled with little bits of cheese. “The goal is to eventually get Tippy to take the treats directly from your hands.”

She watches Surya carefully then follows her lead, tossing bits of cheese at varying distances to see what Tippy considers comfortable. “Hi beautiful girl,” she croons,  tossing some cheese over her shoulder. The collie seems more amenable to approaching her from behind. “I have treats for you, don’t you want some?”

“Excellent, Jordie,” Surya says approvingly from the other side of the pen. Tippy keeps looking over her way, but is coming closer to Jordie. “Just keep talking to her. Let her get used to the sound of your voice.”

Well. She can certainly oblige. She talks about hockey and she talks about Diana. She even asks Surya to tell her about some of her experiences working for the program. She’s vaguely aware of the Stars’ TV crew outside the pen, of Sharpy helping his dog up and down the stairs and Tyler trying to coax her dog to play in the kiddie pool. All she really cares about is how Tippy gets closer and closer, until she’s finally nosing at her hand for treats.

“What a good girl!” she murmurs while Surya exclaims happily. Tippy even accepts a stroke or two through her fluffy, multicolored coat, though she prefers the cheese.

“Knew she couldn’t resist you for long.”

Jordie glances over to the next pen, where Jason is tossing around a squeaky toy for a pitbull that just seems to adore him. It’s constantly climbing into his lap as it brings the toy back, licking at his face and hands at every opportunity.

“What about you?” she says with a grin. “Looks like you’ve found a new best friend.”

“It’s amazing,” his trainer replies. “We’ve never seen Cookie take to anyone quite like this.”

Jordie feels her heart squeeze at how gently Jason’s handling Cookie despite her rambunctiousness. How he tips his head down and speaks in French and yes, she recognizes the look on his face. It’s the same one she got when she met Diana for the first time: a helpless sort of adoration.

Must love dogs, she thinks, feeling her insides go all gooey. As if she needs another reason to fall for this guy.

Or, scarier still - like it’s too late to need a reason.

Like she’s already there.

 

Except hockey comes first, so Jordie pushes aside the introspection in favour of the Stars’ red-hot run to the playoffs. They come barreling into cities and leave more devastation than they themselves feel. The next thing she knows, the Stars are sitting at the top of the conference and there’s no question.

The playoffs.

They’re in the playoffs.

It’s not their first game, not by a long shot, but Jordie thinks she’ll always look at playing in the playoffs as a little surreal and a lot insane.

“I still don’t know how you do that.”

She grins at Jason as he settles in beside her, watching her hands weave her hair around her head. “Practice,” she answers, like she has a hundred times. She’s no Carey Price, Jordie has no idea how the woman knows so many crazy, intricate braids. Jordie prefers the more straightforward approach.

Her phone interrupts Jason’s next words. He glances down with a frown, if only because it’s not normally Jordie’s habit to leave her phone on during pre-game.

“Segs?” Jordie asks.

“Yeah. No preview?”

“I’m not stupid,” she replies and she knows exactly what the text is about. With Tyler injured and Dani out of the playoffs, it had made sense to go bridesmaids’ dress shopping while they had the time before Ryan’s wedding.

Ryan’s wedding. It makes Jordie smile to think about. She isn’t the closest with Ryan, but Tyler definitely is and Jordie likes Ryan well enough. Jordie’s invitation is sitting on her dresser at home, burlap pattern with a delicate gauzy bow flattened over the top.

Jordie reaches for a bobby pin. “Open it?”

Jason doesn’t hesitate on her password even once. “Holy shit.”

Jordie hums a question as she pries the pin open with her teeth. Jason holds up the phone to show her the picture. It’s Tyler, of course, tattoos on display in a pale yellow dress. It cuts off between mid-thigh and her knee and ties around her neck in some sort of floaty fabric.

“Tell her it’s nice but her boobs look huge and there’s no way Dani’s agreeing to that hemline.”

Jason taps her screen and starts typing. “You know what a hemline is?”

“Hard to spend time with Segs and not know that shit,” Jordie answers and pries open another bobby pin. One day, she’s going to chop all of her hair off just so she can throw out her pins. Maybe try an undercut like Dani, though she’s doubtful about her ability to pull it off nearly as well.

“More importantly, since when do Segs and Sedin hang out?”

“Since they’re both in Nuge’s wedding party,” Jordie says like it should be obvious. “You know about that.”

Jason blinks. “Didn’t know Nugent-Hopkins would be picking anyone outside of the Oilers.”

“Ha! How many times have I told you not to underestimate us women?”

Jason looks a little afraid (not as much as Jordie would like and she needs to rectify that, pronto) then gets distracted by the phone again. Jordie figures it’s another text. “She says the boob part is the point. Do I have to talk about Segs’ boobs?”

“My mom always said you can’t talk about it you shouldn’t be doing it,” Jordie retorts.

Jason snorts but he’s smiling. “Do we have to talk about Segs’ boobs then? I like yours better.”

“Gross.” She shoves at him with the one free hand she has before picking up another pin. “Ask her what Dani likes.”

There’s more than a few beats before the next text and Jordie only knows because she catches Jason’s jaw dropping out of the corner of her eye.

“S’it?”

Jason holds up the phone and even she has to do a double-take. Compared to some of the pictures Tyler’s sent, this dress is almost demure. Lace crawls up the bodice and curls up over Tyler’s shoulders. It reminds Jordie of Ryan’s wedding dress with the same neckline and what’s almost a cap sleeve. The pale yellow makes Tyler’s hair so dark, all of her tattoos on display down her arms. It’s obviously a picture Dani’s taken too. Tyler’s twirling, the skirt floating out while she laughs.

“What the fuck has you two - oh.” Sharpy drops down hard on the other side of Jason, all three of them staring at the phone. “Who…is that Seggy?”

“She’s a bridesmaid,” Jordie finds herself murmuring. She doesn’t see Jamie sit down beside her.

“Segs is-”

He cuts himself off and even Jordie knows all eyes have swung to him. She shouldn’t let him, but Jason snaps a picture of Jamie’s flabbergasted face and sends it, handing it to Jordie so she can type out: I think this is the one .

She flicks her phone off then, and shoves all the guys back to getting ready. Just before she pulls her jersey over her head, she glances over at her phone. The rest of the women have agreed (and Jordie assumes Ryan vetted it before the picture made it into the group chat).

Jamie Benn, eat your heart out, Marcia writes and Jordie swallows.

Maybe not, comes Tyler’s response. Brownie’s pretty excited about a wedding.

That is less of a surprise to Jordie than she’d thought. She sucks in a breath and tucks her phone away in her bag to head onto the ice. Jamie’s there, and she adores her brother but Jesus is he blind to this. He mopes, she pokes and teases and tries to sister him out of it in all the ways she knows best, but eventually, even she has to give up. She corners him, shoving him into the boards.

“You’re allowed to have it, Jamie.”

You’re allowed to have her.

Jamie’s smile is gross and bitter. “No, Jor. I’m really not.”

He pushes away to run drills with Eaves and Jason snows his way to a stop beside her. “What was that about?”

Jordie reaches for him in an uncharacteristic display of affection. But it’s these moments she needs him most, when she’s so grateful to him for pushing them to begin with. Moments where she’s so glad they chose to take that leap, to try this, even if it’s just to see if they can make it work. “Just… weddings.”

Jason’s gaze is knowing from behind his visor. “Still won’t jump, eh?”

“Nope.”

Jason nods with a vaguely pitying look Jordie wholly understands. She sighs but then nudges him, trying for a more sincere smile. “Hey. You want to come?”

“Where?”

“Ryan’s wedding. We all have a plus one.”

He blinks at her for a minute before the smile blooms over his face. It’s her smile, the real one, and it makes Jordie’s stomach warm. “Yeah,” he answers. “A date to a wedding sounds good.” He knocks at her arm. “Gonna wear a dress?”

Jordie offers Jason one last grin. “You’ll have to show up to see.”

He crowds up behind her, even as they skate towards the team. “Can’t wait.”

 

Turns out, getting eliminated from the playoffs never gets easier, no matter which round you go out in. Jordie hates the feeling in the dressing room. It gnaws at her stomach as she strips out of her pads and showers. Jamie looks devastated and lost and it isn’t the first time Jordie has wished Tyler were around, if only because few people know how to handle Jamie like Tyler does.

She sighs and heads back to the locker room, prepared to plop down beside Jamie and do her sisterly duty. Except Sharpy’s there already, head bent with Jamie’s. Spez is on the other side, boxing him in and Jordie stops, frozen and unsure.

“They’ve got this,” Oduya murmurs on his way by. “They’ve done this before.”

So has she, she thinks. It’s always been her job to do. Oduya nudges her along. It’s kind of a blank walk; she doesn’t know how she ends up at her stall.

“Hey.”

She blows out a breath and raises her head. Jason doesn’t look better than she does, though he is freshly showered and back in his suit. Right. Clothes. She needs to put on clothes.

“It’s…there’ll be other years, you know?”

Jordie snorts. “That helping you right now?”

“No,” he readily admits. “But you don’t usually look like this, pitoune .”

She blinks at him for a moment, taken aback. She guesses it’s true, really. Usually she has Jamie or Tyler or someone else she can focus on, someone she can channel that frustration and disappointment into. But Tyler’s in Dallas and Jamie’s got the team dads on his side and Jordie…adrift. “I…” She swallows, trying again. “We lost.”

“Yeah Jordie, we did.”

“I didn’t want to lose.”

He snorts. “Of course not.” He kicks gently at her bare feet. “Come on, get dressed. I have American Ninja Warrior on my iPad and maybe a surprise in my carry on.”

“Surprise?” she asks, trying to blink out of the fog. She does love Ninja Warrior.

“Something I’ve been hanging on to for a rainy day.”

Jordie’s breath hitches and she reaches out, gripping his hand. He weaves the other one into her hair, worry in every line of his face.

“Jordie.”

“Sorry,” she whispers, the words coming out more like a gasp. “Usually it’s Jamie.”

He steps into her, his hand cupping the back of her skull. Jordie lets herself be pulled forward, resting her forehead against his stomach. “Do you want me to get him?”

No ,” she responds immediately, reflexively. She doesn’t feel so adrift, not with his hand on the back of her head. “No he…he’s got his own things.”

She can feel the way he’s curling over her body, there but not touching more than she’s asking for. “Then get dressed, mamour . Let’s get on the bus.”

The bus sounds good. It sounds great, actually, away from Scottrade and everything it means. All the sadness clogging her throat.

She does most of it on autopilot. There’s a buzzing murmur of people talking, a muffled quiet in the way their stuff gets packed up. Jamie’s not in the locker room when Jordie’s ready to go and Jason reaches out for her. She lets him take her hand when they’re usually not quite so obvious, walking out to the bus together. Jamie’s there and offers her a shaky smile from the window seat beside Sharpy. Jordie tries to give one back but knows she fails. She’s not there. She can’t be that for Jamie.

But she doesn’t have to be.

Jason takes them to the back and empty set of seats behind Rous and Janmark. He tucks himself into the window seat, giving her the aisle and immediately diving for his iPad. Jordie accepts it and leans back in her seat to plug in his password and pull up his videos. He shuffles through his bag while she scrolls through her options. Whatever he tugs from it shakes and Jordie raises her head.

“Snickers bites,” she says quietly, watching him as he tears open the bag and offers it to her. She looks up at him for a moment, then slides her hand into the bag. “You’ve been saving them?”

He shrugs and offers her a smile, the iPad, and an open arm. Jordie goes easily, curling up and into him as she scrolls through to find his collection of American Ninja Warrior episodes. Episodes she knows for a weirdly certain fact he only keeps on here for her.

She can’t settle, though. There’s something twitchy and nervous inside of her, leaving her tense and on edge despite the candy and her favorite show.

Jason’s hand strokes through her hair. “Hey. Everything all right?”

“M’fine,” she mumbles. He snorts, disbelieving. “I’m fine ,” she repeats. “I don’t-”

He makes a disgruntled frustrated noise. “Hey, stop.”

She swallows. She’s not here to make it worse, she just doesn’t know what she wants. Him, of course, but not because he pities her; not because he thinks she needs it.

“Jordie.”

She forces herself to turn her head and look up at him. He’s sad too, she can see it in the back of his eyes, but there’s frustration there. Frustration she put there and it makes her want to just say fuck it, stand up and go sit with Jamie’ shove Spez and Sharpy out of the way because that’s her little brother and they get each other.

“Do you want me to back off?”

Her breath catches. Her mind whirls.

“You know I would,” he continues. “If you want to go sit with Bennie, you can do that. Forget Sharpy and Spez. If you need him and he needs you, go.”

There is a part of her that is screaming to do just that, to go and comfort her brother, to go about their normal routine after a rough loss like this. But there’s another part of her that’s settled here, screaming at her that she’s safe and secure. As much as she and Jamie sulk in the same way, holding each other up, she and Jason are kind of doing that for each other too. She looks up at him.

“I’m not going to stop you from doing what you need to do,” he tells her with both a quiet certainty and a tentativeness that tells her he doesn’t know the next step. He doesn’t know the right move.

Ball’s in your court.

“No,” she finally says, soft but certain. “I think...I think I’m good here.” The tension rushes out of her with that admission, like all she needed to do was say it.

She is too, for the entire bus ride. She’s comfortable in a way she’s not sure she would be with her and Jamie curled together in their misery. Instead, Jason runs his fingers through the scraggly end of her braid, head resting quietly on hers as the bus moves slowly and steadily towards the airport.

It’s nice, she thinks. Like their quiet afternoons on the couch at home. He’s not telling her to get over it or placating her with promises of ‘next year’. He’s letting her do what she needs to do, letting her cope the way she knows how.

He lets her be herself.

So as the bus slows and turns into the airport, she hits pause and asks, “Come to mine?”

She feels Jason press his mouth to her head. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” she says. “Just…”

“Don’t want to be alone.”

Jordie relaxes, a tension she hadn’t realized flowing out of her shoulders. “Yeah.”

He wraps his arm around her shoulders, draping it across her collarbones until his palm rests, warm against her sternum. “Sounds perfect.”

 

Dallas is quiet when they return. It’s too early for anyone to be functioning and Jordie’s grateful for it. There’s nothing she wants more than to go home and curl up and let herself wallow. Give Diana a million hugs. She doesn’t feel quite as taken apart, mostly just sad now.

They don’t talk much on the way back. For the most part, they let the radio drone on, soft but there. He shadows her up the front walk, standing close but not crowding her as she unlocks the door. Diana greets them with a wagging tail and Jordie feels more of the sadness leak from her bones.

“Hi pretty girl,” she croons and rubs at Diana’s head until the dog is pulling off the full-body wiggle. It makes her laugh quietly, a sound Jason echoes. She glances back to where he’s still holding his bag. “Just leave it here. We’ll get it in the morning.”

They trudge up the stairs together, go about their evening routines like they’ve done it a hundred times instead of a handful. She blows out a breath as she slides between the sheets, closing her eyes for a moment to relish her bed before the mattress dips under Jason’s weight. It’s quiet then, and Jordie sighs.

They’re out of the playoffs. It’s just the summer stretching out in front of her now and as much as she likes Victoria and getting back to her roots, climbing and hiking and preparing for the new season, this time it also feels daunting. She has a contract to negotiate, after all, her and Jamie, not to mention a handful of other players.

Including Jason.

She sucks in a breath, sharp and loud.

“What?” Jason asks, immediately alarmed.

“Nothing,” she says. “Nothing, I’m good. I’m fine. I’m-“

“Jordie.”

The breath shakes out of her as she thinks for a minute, trying to get her emotions under control before she blurts, “Come to BC this summer.”

It’s impulsive and she knows it, even without the way Jason flinches. “Jordie-”

“No.” She shoves herself up on her elbow and looks down at him. Now that she’s voiced it, it’s something she wants so badly. “After we go to the wedding. Come back to Victoria with me for a bit. Hang out with my family.” She swallows. “You’ve met them before, it’ll be easy.”

“I like your family,” he agrees softly.

Her phone chimes softly from the side table. Jordie pulls it over with a sigh and is less surprised than she should be at Tyler’s name on the screen.

I’ve got him .

She blows out a relieved breath. She may have a different opinion in the morning but right now, she’s just glad Jamie’s not alone. Thanks.

“Jamie?” Jason asks.

“Segs. Jamie’s at her place.”

Jason frowns. “Is that a good thing?”

“I don’t know.” Jordie drops her head to Jason’s chest. She swallows. “We promised we wouldn’t be like them, right?”

“Jordie-”

“No, that’s what we said. That’s what we promised, that we were going to try this.”

She has him and she knows it. Jason closes his eyes, pressing his head back into the pillows. “Jordie.”

“Come to Victoria with me. Please,” she whispers again. “We’ll hang out, go hiking…see the ocean.”

Jason looks at her, his eyes darting all over her face. Eventually he raises a hand to thread it into her hair, scratching her scalp. “Okay,” he agrees. It doesn’t sound like he’s excited about it, but she chalks that easily up to the fact that they’d been kicked out of the playoffs. “Okay.”

Jordie leans in and kisses him, as slow as she can make it, thankful as she can make it. Then she lets her body drop, curls up against him, and waits for sleep to take her.

 

They go their separate ways before the wedding. Jordie watches Sid win her second Cup, watches the way the media catches her and Malkin weaving in and out of each other’s orbits.

Think she pulled the trigger? she texts Marcia, with a link to a picture of Sid with Malkin looming behind her, the Cup and the Conn Smythe in front.

More important question: think he fucked her over the Cup?

Jordie’s nose wrinkles. Gross . Then: I don’t want to be thinking that when I lift it next season.

In your dreams, rookie.

She also monitors the way Tyler goes quiet, the way she’ll happily respond to messages Jordie sends her, especially pictures of cute animals, but seems to keep herself withdrawn in the group chat. She sees it because she’s looking for it, otherwise, Jordie can’t blame the women for getting caught up in not only the wedding, but whatever drama is Brenda’s emotional crisis with Galchenyuk.

I’m glad we’re not like this , she texts Jason on a whim, attaching a screencap of the shit show that is the group chat because Brenda’s bringing him to the wedding.

LOL . Jason responds. No drama here, baby.

That is exceedingly accurate. She blinks at the message for more than a moment, then scrolls back up. They talk every day, little things here and there. She smiles to herself as she reads them through, glancing through the pictures she’s sent him through her hikes.

I want to see it with you one day.

I’ll take you up a mountain in BC. It’s almost the same.

There’s a break then, long enough that her next message back is timestamped. You’d love it here.

Then his response, innocuous at the time, and she remembers how it makes her smile before she tucks her phone away again and heads home.

I miss you, too.

 

She’s true to her word when he arrives at Carey’s. They spend the day before Ryan’s wedding most of the way up a nearby hiking trail. He doesn’t stop smiling the whole time and she’s pretty sure she’s not much better. It’s a good day, the type that makes her feel like they’re still going to be so good, that they’re still incredibly solid.

And when he kisses her in a clearing half way through the trail, well, Jordie loses a bit of time in having him there, so close, so warm, so solid against her. She practically floats to the hen night thing, and luckily Tyler’s too busy making sure everything’s perfect to give her grief about it.

The day of the wedding is not much different. In fact, it’s just as easy, just as certain that he’ll be there when she makes her way to the seats with her arm linked with Mal. He reaches for her the moment she’s close and links their fingers. “Three seats?”

“Yeah,” Jordie agrees, even as she squeezes his hand. “Can’t leave this one floating on her own.”

Mal’s not, of course. PK joins them not long after, bouncing and giddy in his PK way. They talk hockey because Jordie has a thing about talking defense styles with every d-person she comes into contact with and PK’s style is definitely all his own. She misses Jordan and Taylor’s entrance, but there’s a hush that falls over the crowd when Dani, Tyler, and Ryan show up.

Even Jordie, who has already seen Ryan, feels her breath catch as she comes down the aisle. Jordie thinks maybe it’s more about the radiant smile on her face and the wonder in her eyes, like she’d never expected to get this and is so grateful she does.

And Jordie… well, she’s not really the type to get sentimental over weddings, but she feels like her entire being is focused on Ryan, Jordan and Taylor and everything the three of them represent to everyone gathered in Carey’s backyard.

“Ryan’s asked me to keep it informal because Taylor doesn’t stand for that,” Carey begins and there’s a twitter of laughter that ripples over the crowd. “We all know why we’re here. Because there’s actually something Ryan values above hockey-”

“Hey!” Ryan protests.

“Though goodness knows why there’s two of them-”

“Rude,” Jordan comments mildly.

Carey’s grinning though and Jordie finds herself doing the same. It’s just happy. Everyone’s happy and none more so than the woman and men standing up with the Habs’ goalie.

“We’re here to do a wedding. Well, a binding ceremony. A hodgepodge, I’m told, of different ceremonies that means Taylor, Jordan and Ryan are pledging to love each other long after they lose hockey.” Carey steps back and waves absently. “To the vows.”

Jordan and Taylor say nice things of course, sincere and real, and Jason’s hand is squeezing hers the whole time, fingers pressing into the back of her knuckles. Jordie sighs, letting herself sink into Jason just a little bit more as Ryan sucks in a deep breath.

“All I wanted when I got drafted was to play hockey,” she begins and gets a twitter of laughter from all of her fellow women. Even Jordie gets that. “But when I got to Edmonton…”

The entire audience is holding their breath as Ryan shakes her head, trying to gather her thoughts. Jordie isn’t close to Ryan, not really, but even she can feel the way her heart clenches at the way Ryan seems to helplessly step towards Jordan and Taylor.

“I just wanted hockey,” she says again and Jordie can see the way she swallows, thick around the emotion so plain on her face. “But I got you, both of you, and that’s better .”

Jordie’s heart hitches and she has to glance around to get a hold of herself. It doesn’t help much, not with the way PK’s eyes are fixed on Carey, bright and shining like they’ll be next. Not with the way Dani’s two are curled into her lap, Marinette pressed as close as she can get to both of them; Tyler up there, watching Ryan and, Jordie knows, thinking of Jamie. Even Marcia has Lindsay’s arm wrapped through hers, smiling in the sappiest way Jordie has ever seen.

Eventually, her eyes track helplessly back to Jason. He’s looking at her and it shouldn’t make her stomach twist like it does, shouldn’t make her breath catch. His hand stays tight on hers as he shifts, shuffling until his shoulder’s pressed to hers, his leg a long line of heat against her thigh. He lifts her hand to his mouth and kisses her knuckles, light as air, and settles their entwined hands on his thigh.

Jordie doesn’t know what to do with herself or the emotion that’s clogging her chest. She doesn’t like being vulnerable, hates this knotted feeling and the way she wants to say things , things about tomorrow and the next day and ten, twenty, fifty years down the line. She’s thinking of picket fences and rocking chairs, camp fires and endless evenings watching the stars blink into the sky.

There isn’t a single one of those thoughts that doesn’t include Jason.

He’s been right the whole time. Nothing has changed except for the fact that she gets to sit here and hold his hand. Except that she misses him all the time now when they’re not together, how he’s the first person she thinks of when she has something funny or does something amazing.

But now, with everything up in the air, Jordie’s back to that place where she doesn’t know what’s coming next. It was worth it in Dallas, where they could see each other all the time, where it was easy to just show up at his door or have him show up at hers. It won’t be like that if he signs somewhere else, and she thinks that’s probably in the cards with the way negotiations are going.

What if it’s not easy?

What if it all changes?

What if everything he said only worked when they were in the same city and on the same team?

He could go anywhere now that Dallas hasn’t presented him with a qualifying offer. There are a plethora of teams looking for a solid defenseman, and some of them are not only across the country but in a different conference. She doesn’t know what she’d do if she were only guaranteed to see him twice a season and the summer months.

“Hey,” he leans in to whisper, letting his mouth brush a little butterfly kiss against the shell of her ear as they make their way over to the reception tent. “You’re a hundred miles away.”

More like thousands, really, and months ahead, where things aren’t easy and they’re really, really hard.

Jordie doesn’t do hard.

“I’m fine,” she says instead. “Just. Thinking about BC.”

If Jason can tell she’s lying, he doesn’t call her out on it. Instead, he lifts her hand to his mouth and presses another gentle kiss to her knuckles. “It’s going to be fine. You said it yourself: your parents already love me.” He shakes her hand a little, playful. “We can get there.”

Jordie hates that she doesn’t feel near that certain. About him, about the Stars or about them. In a way, she feels like she should. It’s not like Jason’s given her reason in the last seven months to believe anything else.

She’s ready to shake herself out of the spiral when Steph plops down beside her. “Okay, but seriously, do you think the Oilers will do the smart thing this year?”

It takes Jordie a moment to catch up, blinking at Steph and turning to see that Jason’s escaped to what looks like the bar. It’s not the first time she and Steph have talked defense prospects - Jordie is still set that Chychrun will make a high choice, no matter what the scouts say - but it still feels jolting when Jordie had just been thinking about… marriage.

“It’s a better question for Ryan,” Jordie says diplomatically. “But we both know how rare it is for D to go top three.”

Steph snorts. “Okay but like… they need defence. There’s no way the Wild give up Dumba, not even for one of them.” She waves at Ryan, Hall and Eberle, beaming radiantly as a photographer flits around.

“Don’t soil their day,” Jordie replies mildly.

Steph’s eyes flit around. “Well, who else? Demers?” She scoffs. “Like he’s leaving Dallas.”

Jordie goes still. “They uh. Haven’t given him an offer.”

“Yeah but they will. You guys are so solid. It’s like Sid and Geno.”

“No one is like Sid and Geno.”

“Okay.” Steph rolls her eyes. “Like them then.”

Jordie follows the wave of her hand to Ryan again, how easy and beautiful and at home she seems wrapped around Eberle’s arm, laughing as Hall looks on.

“Or Subban and Pricey if you want. I’d like to say he’s mellowed her out but Mal says she’s just as hardcore as ever.”

“She doesn’t really come with an off setting,” Jordie agrees. “But… we’re waiting it out.”

“We? Or you?”

These are the moments that always make Jordie wrinkle her nose. Steph sounds twice her age when relationships come up, regardless of the couple and it never ceases to make Jordie feel like she’ll never get her shit together. Even if Steph’s not much better than the rest of them when it comes to falling in love with teammates.

“It’s harder when we’re apart.”

“Well yeah,” she retorts. “But that’s what makes it worth it. Time apart makes time together that much better.”

“It’s supposed to be easy,” Jordie argues. “That’s why we started this in the first place. Because it wasn’t complicated.”

“Okay. And somehow after what, six months?” Jordie nods and Steph barrels on. “After six months it’s suddenly going to get too complicated because you’re geographically separated? Didn’t you spend most of your summer in like, Canada?”

“He’s Canadian, too.”

“That does the exact opposite of helping your argument.” Steph looks deeply unimpressed, crossing her arms over her chest. “Do I need to get Dani or Marcia over here? I’m sure they’d be happy to explain how long distance can work.”

“He’ll never be there, Steph,” Jordie hisses, angry now about something that’s only a possibility, but might become a reality. “Eight months out of the year and I’ll see him a handful of times, assuming he doesn’t go to an Eastern Conference team. Then it’s twice a year. Twice.

Steph shrugs. “Jack and McDavid are going to make it work.”

“Eichel hates him.”

“Yeah, she kind of doesn’t, but let’s not let that debate change the subject.”

Jordie narrows her eyes. “If you have an inside track-”

“No more than you do on Sid.”

Which, sure, Ryan and Sid talk, and Ryan and Tyler talk, so Tyler and Jordie talk because Tyler is often incapable of not being a gossip - and Jordie’s Fort Knox about this stuff - but it’s not like Jordie is any closer to winning that pool because of it.

Jordie .”

Her mouth snaps closed from where she’d opened it to point out that exact fact and she blinks at Steph. There’s a real seriousness in her eyes now, something that makes Jordie sit up a little straighter.

“There are a hundred cliches for this but don’t borrow trouble. You guys could have so many more issues than just distance and you’re solid. So don’t make this contract negotiation stuff worse than it has to be. He wants you. He wants to stay with you, regardless of what team he plays for.”

Jordie looks over at Steph, really looks. There are so many things Jordie wants to say, about optimism and Steph’s penchant for looking only at the glass half full and not the ways it’s also half empty, but Steph is also the only one who brought her brothers. Even Mike dragged Willy along and while Tyler’s kind of a mess - or Jamie is, whatever - Steph is the one pining from afar.

“I think you’re a fighter,” Steph goes on, like she knows she has the most captive audience. “I think… I think you got here because of grit and hard work and if you think Jason isn’t worth that too, then maybe think about it.”

They both know it isn’t true. Jason will always be worth it, whether to Jordie or someone else. And Jordie knows it’s hers to claim, hers to take if she wants it.

If she has the courage to take it.  

If Jason’s noticed she’s gone quiet, he’s keeping it to himself. Jordie thinks she shouldn’t feel so grateful about it, about having the space and the time to really consider the implications of what happens now.

His feelings haven’t changed. She knows that, she can see that every time he reaches out for her in what feels like reassurance, but whether it’s for him or for her, Jordie’s pretty sure she’ll never figure out. And she doesn’t really try.

 

By the time they get to BC, her family descends upon them and she’s easily absorbed into the usual Benn summer. After all, there’s baseball to be played and hikes to go on; campfires and family dinners.

Jason, of course, fits in seamlessly.

She shows him her mountains, her forests, her training facilities and the easy way hiking, bouldering and camping make up the majority of both her summer and her off-season training regime. She wants to hate how easy it is, if only because it would make the decision of how they go forward so much easier.

It doesn’t.

Instead, she dwells on it, probably more than she should. Sits on it and lets it percolate, hopes to all the hockey gods that maybe Dallas will change their minds, maybe somehow the decision will be made for her.

It’s not.

“You know,” her mom says one night, washing the dishes while Jordie dries after another rambunctious family meal. “When you started playing hockey, I wasn’t sure you’d ever get married.”

Jordie doesn’t exactly drop the pot, but she does jerk against the counter. She can’t look over at her mother and just swallows around the lump that’s forming in her throat. “What’s that phrase you’re always using? ‘Don’t put the cart before the horse?’”

Heather laughs. “Not any time soon. But that’s where this is going, isn’t it? It’s why you brought him home.”

“He’s met you guys before.” And she is not whining. She’s not. No matter what her mother’s judgmentally raised eyebrow wants to think. “Mom, come on.”

Heather washes a few more dishes before she says, “It’s different now.”

“It doesn’t have to be,” and she can hear the desperation in her own voice. “It’s not. It’s not different.”

“Okay.” God, Jordie hates her mother’s soothing, placating tone.

“It’s not different,” she says stronger. “It’s not - we promised .”

“Okay,” Heather says again, this time even gentler than the first.

Tears blur in Jordie’s vision and she has to set the next pot back into the drying rack to lean against the counter. “Mom-”

“Oh honey.”

Heather wraps her up, even though Jordie’s bigger, broader. She feels like a child again, scattered and unsteady, clinging to her mother like she hasn’t since she promised Jamie years and years ago that they’d make it. She’d make sure they made it, that they’d play in the NHL. It had been her goal for so long, the only thing that mattered. She wanted to be like Dani, to play really awesome hockey with her brother and now that she has that, now that she’s re-signed with the Stars….

Jordie doesn’t know how to take anything else. Or if she even should .

“He’s not going to be in Dallas,” she whispers into her mother’s shoulder. “He has to go somewhere else.”

“So?” Heather asks, only a little impatient. “It doesn’t seem to matter to him.”

“Long distance? With hockey?” Jordie shakes her head. “It’s asking for trouble.”

“Families do it all the time. You know that. How many of your own teammates have to work at long distance relationships?”

Many and Jordie knows that, but none like this. Even Ryan and Carey play with their significant others. Lindsay and Marinette don’t really count either. “It’s not the same.”

Heather sighs. “I didn’t teach you not to fight for what you want, Jordie. I didn’t teach you to give up. Where’s my strong girl that shoved around the kids that bullied her little brother? Where’s my determined baby that looked up at me and said she was going to play with her brother in the NHL, huh?”

“This isn’t hockey,” Jordie whispers. “Hockey… when hockey hurts, it always heals.”

“Not always,” Heather argues with a healthy dose of sympathy. “Players retire from injuries, from too many concussions.” Her smile is too thin. “Broken hearts heal. Guaranteed. But sweetheart, when I look at that man… It’s never been about a broken heart. He looks at you like he’d do everything possible to make sure you never worried again.”

He does everything possible to make sure she doesn’t worry. Jordie swallows. “And if he can’t?”

“Then he’d fix it. Come hell or high water, honey, he looks like a man that would fix world hunger if it would make you happy.”

Her mother sounds so sure and it makes Jordie blow out a heavy breath. “I’ve been trying not to think about it,” she admits, because it’s too hard, thinking of Jason in a colour that isn’t victory green.

“And how’s that working?”

It’s not. At all. She’s fretting and fussing and worrying and…

“Talk to him,” her mother urges. “Ask him about what he wants. You can’t guess that for anyone else.” Heather kisses her head. “And I think you’ll find that what you want and what he wants are the same thing.”

It’s impulse and the discussion with her mother that brings her to Jason’s room long past the time when everyone else is asleep. She raises her hand to knock and hesitates. What exactly can she say? It’s all been too much these last few days, between Ryan’s wedding and her mother...well, her mother all but adopting Jason into the family.

Screw it. It’s Jason. He’s still her friend, just like he promised, and that’s never been hard. She owes him at least this much, as his friend if not…

If not someone who is willing to spend forever with him.

It’s important for her to think, to put a label on what she wants. She wants more innocuous text messages. She wants dumb chirps and his stupid face on her phone, if that’s what it takes. So she knocks, pasting on a wobbly little smile when the door opens. “Hey, just wanted to make sure my family-” Her eyes catch on the open suitcase on his bed and the t-shirt in his hands. “Didn’t scare you off,” she finishes slowly.

For one moment, her thoughts swirl in ugly circles. He’d lied to her, gone back on his promise that it would always be easy, always be them. It’s ending, right here, right now, because she can’t tell him that he’s done it, he’s proven that they can be easy. He’s decided it’s too hard now, that working at her is too hard and-

Jason takes one look at her face and drops the shirt to the ground, reaching out for her. “Jor. Jordie. It’s definitely not what you think.” He doesn’t give up when she flinches away, but slowly takes her wrist in his hand, his thumb rubbing soothingly over her rabbiting pulse. “At least, not exactly.”

“You’re leaving.”

“For Edmonton,” he explains. “They’re courting me. I figured I’m kind of in the area anyway, might as well see what they have to offer.”

Since the Stars aren’t renewing his contract.

“But-”

“And I should go,” he continues, maneuvering them over to the bed. He sits down and takes her hands in his, gazing up at her. “Because Jordie, I’m completely in love with you. The marrying-I-want-to-have-kids-with-you kind of love. All you have to do is say the word and I’m yours. Forever.” Her fingers clench around his at the quiet conviction in his tone and the sheer force of his longing. “But you have to know that if you don’t say the word, I understand.”

Jordie stares at him in confusion. “I-what?”

“The decision’s yours. It’s always been yours. And now...” He sucks in a breath, expression shifting to mildly self-deprecating and it’s like a punch to the gut. “You can have some space to think this through. Without me trying to tilt the balance in my favor.”

She opens her mouth but the words won’t come. Maybe something about him being ridiculous and he doesn’t have to go anywhere. And he sees it, in the way he always has when it comes to her. “No rash decisions, Jor.”

There’s a sense of finality in what he’s saying, An ultimatum. It leaves her feeling absolutely sick. “You would just walk away? If I thought it wasn’t going to be easy anymore, if I thought that the promise was a lie… if that’s what I want?” Her voice is so small.

Jason’s face falls and for the first time Jordie truly sees how much it’s been killing him, to prove to her that they can do this; to feel like she always has one foot out the door. Every time she’s pulled back, it was like she was stomping on his heart.

He drops his face to their joined hands, his beard scraping against her skin. “Jordie. I want you, I really don’t know how to make it any clearer. But I get it. I get why it has to be easy for you. I get how, maybe now, it isn’t.”

It’s on the tip of her tongue to finish this, to tell him everything he wants to hear. It wouldn’t be a lie. She does want him, that’s not in question. She’s not even sure there is a question. She hates the unknown and to say yes, to commit, wholeheartedly, right now, would be jumping head first into that. And she can’t .

“No rash decisions,” he says again, quiet and convincing. “We need-” He stops himself, swallows. She feels it from where he’s pressed their hands against his Adam’s apple.

It’s her turn to swallow thickly. She’s having a difficult time breathing, is the thing. There’s an uncomfortable lump in her throat and it takes Jason shaking her hands just a little to help her notice she’s gripping his tight enough that her knuckles are white.

“We’ll take time, okay? I won’t walk away. But we need this, Jordie. I think you know that.”

She doesn’t like it. She hates it. She hates the idea of him going anywhere that isn’t Dallas, hasn’t liked it since Dallas hadn’t immediately resigned him. The idea of him never being there, of her never being able to just pick up the phone and talk to him, let alone summon him over so she can kick his ass in MarioKart and Halo, makes her stomach churn uncomfortably. She feels like it’s all slipping through her fingers.

“Jordie.” His voice is so soft and so serious. “This isn’t goodbye. Not matter what happens in Edmonton or elsewhere-” He cuts himself off when she reflexively squeezes his hands. Fuck, she doesn’t want him to go. “This isn’t goodbye,” he repeats.

“It feels like it.” She hates herself for saying it the minute the words come out of her mouth, even more when he gets that wry smile on his face again.

“I promised you that would never happen,” he says and fuck, his face. His face makes her want to say everything, to just spill it all: how much she wants him around, how he’s been so good at working with her, and giving her the chance to learn how to do the same for him. “I will keep that promise.”

He will. Jordie knows that, the same way she knows the season will start in October; the same way she knows her mother will send her a picture of the first snow.

“I don’t like it,” she finds herself saying. “I- If they just fucking signed you, this wouldn’t be a fucking problem.“

“I’m trying to tell you it doesn’t have to be,” Jason replies and there’s a thread of something there, something frustrated and passionate that should probably surprise her, but doesn’t. He huffs out a frustrated breath. “Jordie, I don’t know what happened. I don’t know what’s given you so little faith in relationships. Whatever it is, I wish it hadn’t. I wish it was different. I wish the idea of me being outside of Dallas didn’t terrify you when when I’m here, I’ve been here, and it’s been amazing.”

Jordie’s hands are shaking in Jason’s grip, her fear and trepidation coming through. “This is when they leave,” she whispers. “Because hockey comes first, it always comes first, it has to come first and you can’t do that when all you have is borrowed time.”

“You think I don’t know that?”

“It’s not the same,” Jordie insists.

“That’s the point. It’s not the same. We’re not the same. We’re not like other relationships, we’re not like other people. We’re different and up until now we’ve never let the world choose for us.” He sucks in a deep breath. “But Jordie, this is one decision you have to make without me. This is a decision you have to make for you and-” He swallows, and Jordie can see what this is costing him. “I can’t be here when you do.”

She hates the smile that he gives her, a twisted and ugly thing, but she can’t find the words to make it go away. She’s still silent when he squeezes her hands once more and murmurs, “Go to bed, okay? I’ll say goodbye in the morning.”

Jordie goes. She’s not sure why or how. She has no idea if anything happens between Jason’s room and hers. She feels raw, carved out, too open and too vulnerable. She feels like he’s pulled the rug out from underneath her again and this time he won’t give it back.

She curls up on top of her comforter and doesn’t remember falling asleep. So much so that for a few moments, when she blinks her eyes open, she thinks it must have been a dream. But then Jason’s suitcases are by the front door and Jamie’s telling her he’s going to do the driving and Jordie…

Jordie thinks, for just a second she tells herself, that maybe her heart’s going with him.  

 

She doesn’t hear from him for over a week. It’s difficult work, not talking to her best friend, but Jordie isn’t quite sure what else to do or how else she’s supposed to take the time and space he’s presented her with and use it.

Then the text comes in: Signing with Florida. Wanted you to know first.

Jordie’s pretty sure she’s never felt the bottom drop out of her stomach the way it does as she reads the text once, then again. Florida. Her vision blurs a little around the edges.

“Jordie?”

She sniffs, and swears under her breath. “M’fine.”

“You, uh, don’t look fine,” Jamie remarks, stepping up next to her.

She swears again, then one more time because it feels good.

“I left the door open,” her brother says softly, amused and nervous. “Pretty sure Mom can hear you.”

“Jason’s signing in Florida.”

Jamie straightens. “They give him the best offer?”

“Guess so.” She glances over to see Jamie’s put his captain face on. She sighs and waves her phone around. “He didn’t say?”

Jamie’s calm, stoic face cracks just a little. “Did you ask?”

“This is space,” she huffs. “Decision time and we’re both-”

“Jordie, you’re crying .”

“Am not.” Maybe she is. Her eyes are leaking, anyway.

Jamie waits, always, always patient until Jordie looks at him. “You can have this, you know. Jason. That’s… okay.”

“Hypocrite,” she mutters without heat. She’s not looking to go down the Tyler rabbit hole for the moment, even if Jamie’s sad smile says he gets it anyway.

“I think you’re missing the point though,” Jamie says instead. “It was never a choice you had to make.”

“Jamie,” she starts and she knows she sounds exhausted. “It’s not like that-”

“We do this every year. Twice when your contract is up.” Jamie grips her bicep. “If this is about the Stars, that’s stupid. You’re still here, still up, still proving to the organization and the fans that you’re worth being in the lineup.”

“It’s not,” she says, because that much is true. Hockey is hockey; hockey will always be hockey, even if it isn’t as great without Jason.

“You’re the best sister. I know how hard you worked and I know a lot of it was for me.”

“Don’t get a big head.”

Jamie chuckles. “I’m good, Jordie. I’m really good. It’s your turn.”

“But you’re not. Good.”

“That’s not in your control,” he replies. “It’s not your responsibility to take care of me anymore. Someday, you’re going to have to start taking things for yourself.”

“He’s in Florida,” Jordie whispers. “How is it worth it?”

Jamie doesn’t reply immediately. He lets the question hang in the air, like he wants her to take a moment to make sure it’s what she wants to say. It isn’t until Jordie look over at him, maybe a little pleading, that he speaks.

“You know it is,” he answers quietly. “You’re scared.”

“Of course I’m scared.”

Why? You’re the only person that refuses to believe forever is possible. Forever with him even.”

“You can fall out of love, especially when everything’s too hard.”

When I’m too hard.

“Not Jason. Not this love.”

“You’re so sure,” Jordie huffs. “It’s not even you and you’re so sure.”

“Because I know what it’s like, being in love like that, feeling like there’s no one else in the world that’s going to fit the way she does.”

Jordie doesn’t breathe for more than a few beats. She has no idea what to say to that. “He doesn’t-”

“Jordie. Don’t be dumb,” Jamie says. “Please, just this once, don’t be dumb.” He squeezes her arm. “You know there’s no one else for him.” He smiles, this genuine broken thing that just rips her apart because she knows who he’s thinking of when he says these things. “His world is brighter because you’re there.” Because Jason is the kind of guy who when he was devoted, he devoted everything of himself. There’s no one who knows that better than Jordie, herself.

Tears prick at the corners of her eyes. “You’re a sap.”

“But I’m right.”

The breath Jordie releases shakes violently. “When did you get so smart?”

“Not in a way you should ever do,” Jamie says with a bitter laugh. He looks at her, eyes so incredibly earnest. It always makes her think of her brother begging her to play hockey when they were little, all round cheeks and wide eyes. “Don’t make the same mistake, okay? Promise me that you won’t let him go to Florida dangling on this rope.”

“I’m not sure what I want.”

He laughs, this time a little more genuine. “Yeah you do, you idiot.” He punches her shoulder. “You’ve been sure all along.”

 

She gets a three-year extension and calls Jason the minute she’s back in her truck. It’s bittersweet to have to call him rather than show up at his door, but he answers before she has time to sink into that funk.

“They finally sign you?”

“Three years.”

Jason whoops on the other end of the phone and Jordie knows her grin is wide and stupid, so much so that she can’t even put her truck into park, can’t trust herself to drive. “Yeah, baby!”

Jordie laughs. Everything feels warm.

“I’m so proud of you,” he says and she aches with how much she wishes he were here with her.

She feels the hitch in her chest and finds herself blurting out, “Find a place yet?”

He laughs, but gives her the subject change, and it settles her enough to back out of her spot and get on the road.

“A few guys have offered up their spare rooms but I think I want a place of my own. I’ll need to do it soon so I can get my stuff out of storage,” he’s saying as she turns into her driveway. He’d been terrifyingly efficient after signing with Florida, getting movers to pack up and transport all of his stuff and then signing over his place.

She’s glad she was in BC and didn’t have to see that. It must be worse for him though, not being home, stuck in a hotel and trying to find a new place to settle in.

All of this, and he still hasn’t said anything about the two of them or even attempted to say something to try and sway her.

It goes against everything they are. They’re professional athletes. No one gets to this level without fighting for everything they have and still wanting more. They’re simply not bred to think that way. So it’s nearly impossible to think that Jason would actually walk away from this, from her , if that’s what she wants. That he would actually clamp down on the instincts that have brought him so far, all to protect her - who is she, that he would do that?

Why would he break his heart to save hers?

It infuriates her. Jason is wonderful. Jason is one of the best people she knows. He deserves better than that. He deserves someone who will fight for him too, who will promise to be his friend, come hell, high water and playoff berths.

I think you’re a fighter, Steph had said.

And fuck it all if she’s not going to be that person. If he’s going to try and make that sacrifice, then she can damn well fight for him. For them.

For everything that they can be.

“I’ll come give you a hand,” she finds herself saying. “We’ll make a weekend of it, find you somewhere close to a good trail.”

There’s silence, and for a beat she’s actually scared she’s misread something, that maybe she is too late.

“Really?”

“Yeah,” she says slowly. There’s a brief flicker of doubt - is she too late? But then there’s a soft exhale and he’s laughing, low and impossibly fond.

“Sorry, that came out weird. Of course I want you here, Jor. Text me your details and I’ll be there, okay?”

Jordie laughs a little too, that weight lifting off her chest. “Sounds like a plan.”

Tyler laughs herself sick when Jordie Facetimes her later in the day. “Jesus, Jordie, when you go in, you go all in, don’t you?”

“What - no! What are you talking about?”

“House-hunting together?” Her grin is so gleeful. “Come on. You might as well be putting a ring on it.”

She scowls back, unamused. “It’s not like I’m putting my name on the mortgage!”

“Please, you’re going to be looking for a place that suits both you. Close enough.”

And well, she can’t deny that.

 

Florida is hot and sticky, and if she’s honest, a little gross, but Jason’s there at the airport, greeting her with a shameless grin and open arms.

And Jordie had arrived with a plan, a way to show him that she’s all in by finding a place that is theirs , exactly like Tyler had said. A place for both of them. But she’s not that patient and the words come tumbling out because she just can’t keep it to herself any longer, how important he is to her.

“You were right,” she blurts. “This - us - is easy. Loving you is easy, maybe one of the easiest things I've ever done.” His eyes go so bright but she barrels on because she needs to say it. “The rest of it won't be, I know that. But I hope that this...this is enough. Me, loving you, and being willing to face the rest with you.”

“Jordie” he breathes, reverent and surprised but absolutely certain. “Of course it’s enough. It's more than enough.” He smiles at her, his eyes full of everything she’s tried to put into words and reaches for her, pulls her into him. “Finally caught you.”

Her breath catches in her throat. “Yeah.” It comes out hoarse. She knows now just how impossible a task it was, trying to keep her heart safe from him. Stupid. She should have known it would be safest with him. “I knew you would.”