They’re on their way to hockey practice—they agreed Scot would finish the season, at least, and if he still hated hockey he never had to play again and no, Eric would not be disappointed, even if he actually kind of would be—and Scot’s singing his heart out when Sam calls. Eric puts it on speaker, because Sam’s paranoid about him talking while driving. He thinks Eric’s (very marginally) limited mobility in his bad shoulder is going to combine with holding a phone to his ear and make him crash or something. And he never believes Eric when he says he has incredible reflexes thanks to being a professional athlete. He always just cheerfully reminds Eric he’s a former professional athlete.
“Hey,” Eric says, distracted because he’s already thinking about breakout drills.
“I’m going to the drugstore on my way home,” Sam tells him. “You’re probably almost out of deodorant, right? I think you should be but I didn’t check.”
“Oh, yeah.” Eric was down to the plastic thing this morning.
“Okay, I’ll pick some up. Have a good practice, guys.”
“Bye, Sam!” Scot calls excitedly. He goes back to singing as soon as Eric hangs up. As they turn into the rink’s parking lot, Scot asks, “Why don’t you ever say thank you to Sam?”
It takes a second for Eric to process the question, because he’s trying to figure out how to modify the drill so some of their weakest skaters can keep up. Joey won’t have to do the drill, so that takes some of the pressure off. “What?”
“Sam does stuff for you and you don’t say thank you. Is that a grownup thing? My mom always said you’re supposed to say thank you when someone does something for you but maybe it’s ‘cause I’m a kid.”
“I say thank you,” Eric says faintly.
“Oh,” Scot says, not paying attention anymore as he struggles to heave his bag out of the backseat. He bedazzled his name in plastic pink gem stones on the side and Eric still shakes his head every time he sees it. “I’ve never heard you.” Scot’s stick clatters to the ground and he bumps his head on the car door when he bends down to pick it up. Eric huffs and gets out to help him. He tries to put it out of his head. Of course he says thank you to Sam.
But Eric can’t stop thinking about it. They get home from practice and take their showers while Sam finishes dinner. Like he does every night. Has Eric ever made Sam dinner? Once, he remembers, when they first started dating, and it was a disaster. He could only use one arm and only had three recipes in his repertoire: eggs, spaghetti, and chicken with rice. Hockey player staples. He went with chicken and rice and burnt it all and then tried to smother it in barbeque sauce to hide it.
Sam had said thank you.
Did Eric thank him for eating that disaster? He tries to remember as he slides on a pair of sweats, but he can’t. He also had a concussion at the time. He does remember Sam did the dishes that night. Like he does every night now. And the laundry. And the grocery shopping. And keeping track of Eric’s toiletries and buying them. And keeping the house clean. Eric sits on the edge of the bed heavily. How could he never say thank you to Sam? You shouldn’t forget to thank the guy who willingly touches your hockey socks after a game. Sam does everything for him. Not to mention Sam’s, you know, there. It’s not like Eric’s a real catch once you get past the body. He should be thanking Sam every damn day.
In a fit of sentimentality, Eric grabs one of Sam’s shirts to put on. He goes downstairs to find Scot and Sam already at the table. Sam does a little double-take when he sees Eric’s in his shirt. It’s not like it’s never happened. They’re close to the same size, after all, and after five years together some of their undershirts have become communal property. But Eric’s the one with all the slogan shirts. This tee Eric’s wearing, from Sam’s alma mater, is the only shirt Sam owns with anything written on it.
“Hey,” Sam says, eyebrows raised but smiling. He nods at the plate he made for Eric.
“Thank you,” Eric says. He notices Scot smiling knowingly down at his plate and rolls his eyes, but it’s worth it to see the happy surprise on Sam’s face.
That kiss at the party, with all those people around, was kind of a big deal for Eric and Sam. More for Eric. He’s the one who always shrugs off Sam’s arm around his shoulder in public. It’s over the top hypervigilance, because no one would think twice about two buddies walking down the street like that, but Eric can’t really help it. You hear faggot thrown around the locker room with so much vitriol and fists for decades and it stays with you.
But Sam had been so happy about it, and Eric wasn’t exactly suffering, either. It was nice to do that, to just look at Sam and think, I want to kiss him and do it without worrying about who could see. Even at home, he’s not usually the one to initiate touches between them. He’s used to good morning and good night kisses, looks forward to them, really, and he’s certainly never had a problem taking Sam to bed. But he’s never really mastered the little things—hand holding, cuddling on the couch, that sort of thing. Sam will run his fingers through Eric’s hair, rest a hand on the back of Eric’s neck, brush his fingertips across Eric’s shoulders as he walks by, and Eric loves it. He’s just never really thought about doing it back.
But he’s going to. He approaches it with the same determination he used to approach hockey. Four extra bag skates after practice, twenty extra shots after the goalie leaves, fifteen extra reps than the trainer plans for him. He adds it to his mental list: don’t lecture Scot about what he wants to wear, tell Sam thank you, hold Sam’s hand. It’s sad that he has to remind himself, but he’s going to cut himself some slack on this. Sam wasn’t the first guy Eric slept with, not by a long shot, but he was the first guy Eric slept with more than twice, the first guy Eric looked forward to seeing again. He was the first guy Eric got attached to—the only guy Eric got attached to. Eric’s always been very good at not getting attached, and then Sam came along with his blue eyes and his infuriatingly calm logic and shot it all to hell. And now look where that’s gotten them: a kid who bedazzles anything you put down for longer than ten minutes. He bedazzled Sam’s computer bag last week and all Sam did was stare at it bemusedly and then thank him for it.
It’s not like Scot would care if Sam and Eric kissed in front of him, but Eric’s not quite ready for that. The kid just blabs about everything and Eric’s trying to ease into this new openness. He can’t go from completely hiding his whole life to diving headfirst. Just the thought of holding Sam’s hand as they walk down the street makes him sweat.
But at home? He can do that at home. He can.
It’s Sunday, which means Scot will actually sleep in, no hockey games to go to and no homework to finish because, to Eric’s mystification, Scot does his homework right away. They don’t even have to remind him to do it or anything. He just…does it. The point is, Eric wakes up and goes downstairs and Sam’s at the table, drinking coffee and eating toast, absorbed in the newspaper, and the house is quiet the way it used to always be. Eric used to mourn the loss of this silence as Scot stomped around upstairs and sang Christmas carols at the top of his lungs and slammed doors. He doesn’t mind so much anymore. Though he could do without the slamming doors. At least the Christmas carols have variety now that Sam taught him some Hanukkah songs, too.
“Morning,” Eric says.
“Morning,” Sam responds, tipping his head up for a good morning kiss and then going back to reading. Eric starts to move across the kitchen to get his own coffee, and then he pauses and glances down into Sam’s cup, grabbing it for a refill when he sees it’s almost empty. This isn’t a revolutionary new thing; filling Sam’s coffee cups or wine glasses was always an easy thing Eric could do, the kind of thing he knew was a good thing to do for Sam.
“Thanks,” Sam says absently, still wrapped up in the business section, of all things. The sports pages are already stacked neatly in front of the chair beside him, waiting for Eric, and Eric smiles. A lot of things have changed with Scot here, for the better, but some things didn’t need any improvement. He puts Sam’s mug down in front of him and leans down to kiss the crown of Sam’s head, then squeezes his shoulder before he sits down.
Sam’s stopped reading at this point. Eric can tell because his eyes aren’t moving, though he hasn’t looked up from the page. It’s like he thinks Eric’s a wild animal he’s going to scare away. It makes Eric smirk a little. He likes surprising Sam in a good way. He leans back in his chair, sipping his coffee, and reaches over and grabs Sam’s hand.
Sam puts the paper down. He’s looking at Eric like he’s trying to figure out if it’s really him. Eric just smiles to himself and keeps pretending to read while he secretly watches Sam from the corner of his eye. He taps his thumb lightly against Sam’s hand like he doesn’t have a care in the world. In all honestly, right at this moment, he doesn’t.
Sam waits another minute, but Eric doesn’t say anything and doesn’t take his hand back, so Sam goes back to his paper, smiling. He squeezes Eric’s hand and it makes Eric giddy for a second. Maybe it’s a little silly, getting butterflies over holding hands with the guy he’s been dating for five years, but Eric doesn’t care.
It’s not long before they hear Scot up and about upstairs, then the thump of him coming down the stairs. Sam’s watching Eric from the corner of his eye again, waiting to see what Eric’s going to do when Scot comes in. Eric had been planning to pull away when Scot got up, because of the aforementioned blabbing, but as the moment approaches, he finds he doesn’t want to. So he doesn’t.
“Good morning,” Scot sings out, like some kind of over-glittered bird. “Are you just eating toast and coffee? That’s not enough for breakfast.”
“We were waiting for you,” Eric says. “You gonna make us pancakes, Scot One T?” It’s wordy for a nickname, but it’s starting to stick. And at least it’s informative.
“Joey and I read a book about France yesterday,” Scot says. Eric’s learned to wait for the seemingly-off-topic sentences to circle back around and make sense. “And I was thinking about crepes. That’s something they eat in France, you know. My mom took me to eat crepes when we went to Quebec one time, but we had to share it so I didn’t get very much. Have you ever had crepes?”
“We ate a lot of crepes in Paris,” Sam tells him.
“You’ve been to Paris?” Scot gasps.
“Twice,” Eric says.
“Twice?” Scot echoes.
“Maybe we can go again this summer,” Sam adds nonchalantly. Scot screams. Out loud. Sam and Eric both jump.
“Holy crap,” Eric mutters.
“My ears,” Sam agrees.
“I will die if we go to Paris,” Scot tells them seriously.
“Okay, we won’t go,” Eric teases.
“I will die if we don’t go to Paris,” Scot amends.
“I’m getting some very mixed signals here,” Eric says to Sam.
“I never even said we were taking him with us,” Sam adds completely deadpan, making Eric crack up laughing. That kind of teasing is usually Eric’s deal.
“Sam,” Scot says worriedly. “Are you joking?”
“I am joking,” Sam assures him. “We will consider a trip to Paris this summer, depending on work stuff, and of course we would take you with us.”
“Oh my God,” Scot says, with the utmost solemnity. “Can I make crepes right now to get us ready?”
Sam smiles at him. “Of course. But how about I help you? Crepes are a little tricky.” He gets up, and before he can let go of Eric’s hand, Eric raises his to his mouth and kisses Sam’s knuckles. Sam seems to lose his train of thought for a second, just standing there smiling at Eric, Eric smiling right back.
“Wow,” Scot breaks into their little reverie. “That was a really gay thing to do, I think.”
Sam covers his eyes with his hands and Eric laughs out loud. “It sure was,” Eric agrees. “You want to know why?”
“It’s ‘cause we’re gay,” he says sagely. “Everything we do is a gay thing.”
“Oh.” Scot climbs up onto the counter to get to the fancy mixing bowls Sam put specifically out of his reach. “I guess that makes sense.”
“Don’t climb on the counter,” Eric says automatically. He notices Sam smiling softly to himself the whole way through the crepe making process, and Eric pats himself on the back. That was a win if he ever saw one.
One thing Eric’s always been good at is setting a goal and following through on it. It’s the strategy that got him into the NHL, moved him up the stat sheets, and got him through rehabbing his shoulder. Now that he thinks about it, those are the only two contexts he’s ever used it. He’s never set a non-hockey goal, not that he can remember, and if he did he probably didn’t stick to it. He certainly never had any academic goals. Well, whatever, it’s the same principle.
He’s doing great with thanking Sam and holding his hand. Sam’s even stopped looking surprised about it now. But if thank you and hand-holding become just another routine, it’ll lose impact. Eric’s got to step it up. He starts with laundry. He can do laundry, even if he doesn’t do it often. Or…pretty much ever. While he was playing, Eric never had to worry about washing his own gear, and he paid for a laundry service for everything else, and Sam’s always done the laundry since they moved in together. Sam took a week-long business trip to China once, two years ago, and Eric did some laundry then. His own, nothing of Sam’s, and he hadn’t actually folded it or anything, but he did it.
Doing the laundry actually takes some stealth, because Sam has a very strict schedule. It takes Eric almost two days to realize he can just wait until Sam goes to work and do it then, because Sam leaves way earlier than Eric. Give him a whiteboard and ask about hockey plays and he’s all over it, but apparently his brain’s worthless for anything else.
“What the hell?” Eric mutters as he examines the thousand different bottles of detergent Sam’s got down here. What happened to the powder stuff? He squints at the labels. Laundry detergent, fabric softener, color saver, bleach. He almost adopts Ryan’s attitude of fuck it and leaves, because hey, it’s not like Sam’s ever complained about doing the laundry, right? But he shakes his head. Get a grip. Sam’s dropped hints that Eric’s been all too happy to ignore. He can’t just bank on that happening forever without some kind of consequences. And besides, it isn’t fair. Sam deserves better.
Objectively speaking, if someone asked Eric what he thought of Sam sticking with a guy who never helped around the house and never even thanked Sam for doing it all, he’d say Sam should kick that guy to the curb. Eric might offer to do it for him. Sam deserves to be…pampered, or something. He’s not really into spas or whatever people usually mean when they talk about pampering, but the least Eric could do is help out with messes he contributes to.
So Eric picks the most straight-forward bottle and he skims over the directions on the back and shrugs. This isn’t so hard. He piles in jeans and sweaters and so many socks. How did the three of them go through ten thousand socks in like four days? Then he turns on the washer and nods. Task completed. Or part one of task completed, at least. He leaves it running and goes to get ready for work. He moves the mass of wet, twisted clothes to the dryer before he leaves and rushes home from work early to be there before Sam so he can fold it all.
He starts pulling wrinkled clothes out of the dryer when he notices something weird and frowns. It’s one of Sam’s sweaters, a nice green one that looks great on him. Except it’s now a crop top with sleeves that will never fit Sam’s arms, which Eric doesn’t think Sam will enjoy much, even if Eric gets a little laugh out of picturing Sam wearing it. He puts his hands on top of his head and tries to think.
But then the door opens, and it’s Sam and Scot, laughing about something, and Eric’s caught. “Eric?” Sam calls. He sounds happy. “You’re home early.” He sees Eric in the laundry room and stops. “What…?”
“I did the laundry,” Eric says. “I—tried to do the laundry.”
Sam laughs as he comes closer. “Uh oh. What happened?”
It’s nice that Sam’s laughing, though Eric doesn’t think that’s going to last long. “I don’t know.” He hangs his head as Sam takes a look.
“Oh, wow,” Sam says. “Wow. Eric.”
“I’m sorry,” Eric blurts out. “I didn’t mean to ruin it. I didn’t—I mean, I don’t even know how it happened. I know you like your things just right and I ruined it and I…” He pushes a hand through his hair, biting at his lip. “I’m sorry.”
Sam takes a deep breath. Then another. He really likes things just so, like the magazine pictures, and this is not even close to that. Eric should’ve just left it to him. He’s good at things like shoveling the driveway and mowing the lawn. He should’ve played to his strengths.
“Okay,” Sam finally says. “It’s okay.”
“I’m sorry,” Eric repeats faintly.
“It’s okay,” Sam assures him dubiously. He finally turns to Eric and his face softens. “Eric, it’s just a sweater. A really expensive cashmere sweater that can’t go in the dyer, but.” He pulls up a smile. “Thanks for doing laundry.”
Eric starts laughing. This whole situation is ridiculous. “I ruined an expensive sweater and you’re thanking me?”
Sam pulls Eric closer and rests their heads together. “You’re trying. I can…Scot can have this one and I can just buy another sweater.”
“I didn’t know there are clothes that can’t go in the dryer.”
“You know your base layer can’t go in the dryer,” Sam points out, a little sharp before he takes yet another deep breath and schools himself. “It’s actually dry clean only. I shouldn’t have put it in the laundry basket because that’s confusing. I just never expected you…I really do like that you did the laundry. Although, um, next time you should separate the colors and the whites.”
“Oh.” Eric blinks. “Next time?”
“Well, yeah.” Sam smiles. “You’re not getting off that easy.”
Eric raises an eyebrow. “Hm. Can I get off hard?”
Sam cracks up and buries his face in Eric’s shoulder. “God.”
“Yeah, that’s what you usually say.” Sam’s shaking with helpless laughter and some of Eric’s worries are sliding away. “But really, I can stay out of your way here and do the…the menial tasks. More my speed.”
Sam narrows his eyes. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I don’t know.” Eric bites his lip. “You know, the physical stuff. That’s what I’m good at. Anything that needs, like, brain power or consideration or a delicate touch is pretty beyond me.”
Sam shakes his head. “That’s completely untrue.”
“No it’s not,” Eric protests. “You’re the smart one here.”
“Eric,” Sam sighs, sounding frustrated. “Why do you always do that?”
“Why do you think you’re not smart?” Now Sam’s sad. This whole plan is backfiring spectacularly.
“Because I’m not,” Eric says quizzically. “It’s not…I mean, I’m not upset about it. I just know my own strengths and weaknesses. Good at hockey, bad at school.”
“Being bad at school doesn’t mean you’re not smart,” Sam points out. “It means, for example, you care more about hockey and you’re bored in the classroom, or, for another hypothetical possibility, you have undiagnosed ADHD that makes it difficult to learn the way conventional teaching presents learning to you.”
Eric blows out a breath, because Sam’s hinted at this before. Eric’s never seen the point of going to a doctor about it now, though. Even if Greg fired him tomorrow, Eric has more than enough money to live off, and Sam makes a lot of money. Eric doesn’t have to worry about going back to school to support himself or anything like that. “So the moral of the story is I’m doing more laundry?”
Sam looks like he’s going to keep pressing, but then he purses his lips and decides to let it slide. “Yes, please.”
“Thanks,” Eric suddenly says. Sam looks up at him, confused.
Eric shrugs. “Um. Everything?” He smiles ruefully. “All of this. Staying, um, with me.” He may be a TV guy now, but Eric’s never really been great with words. He didn’t need them much on the ice, and a lot of what he does now is scripted beforehand.
Sam puts his hand on Eric’s cheek. “Where would I ever want to go?”
Eric laughs mirthlessly, looking away. “Literally anywhere. Somewhere you’d be, you know. Appreciated.”
“Are you saying you don’t appreciate me?” Sam asks neutrally. Eric thinks of this as his lawyer voice. No emotions but politely engaged. He usually only uses it at home to make a point, but sometimes he does it to keep his cool. Eric can’t tell which case it is right now.
“I do,” Eric admits. “But I don’t…tell you.”
“Ah.” Sam nods. “And words are the only way to convey messages.”
“I could use some words to convey your message right now,” Eric mutters. “I don’t know what’s going on.”
Sam pulls Eric back in close and just holds onto him for a second. Eric sighs a little, almost against his will. Sam learned how to calm him down on about their second contracts meeting and he never looked back.
“I know you appreciate me,” Sam tells him quietly, right in his ear. “You do plenty to tell me. You show me.”
“Like what?” Eric surprises them both by asking. “I don’t do anything for you.”
Sam’s running his hands up and down Eric’s back, soothing him. “You order me takeout when I have to stay late at the office. You don’t complain when I get mad about you leaving one shirt on the bathroom floor for ten minutes because you accidentally dropped it and I’m in a bad mood. You bought this house and told me to do whatever I wanted to it and helped me paint every time I changed my mind. You kept coming back to me even though you were terrified someone was going to find out. You told your dad about us.”
Eric huffs. “Yeah, that was a great day.”
“It wasn’t,” Sam concedes. “But it was great that you did it.”
“I guess. I just want you to know I…” Eric shrugs. “I love you.” He doesn’t say it much. Maybe once a year, on Sam’s birthday or their anniversary. Sam knows how Eric feels, but Eric’s family has never been big on emotions. Eric’s dad never told him he loved him even once before he died, and Eric’s only told his sister he loves her twice. It’s just never been how they operated. It’s a given, so why talk about it? Except he’s starting to realize why. It feels good to say it. And it feels good to hear it, too. He should say it more often. To Scot, too.
“I love you, too,” Sam says, smiling wide. He leans in and kisses Eric and Eric’s eyes slide shut without him even thinking about it.
“I’m going to do more to show you,” Eric promises. “I’m going to start helping more.”
“You really have these last few months,” Sam says. “With Scot. I’ve never seen you so…” He tips his head, considering his words. “Don’t take this wrong way, but I’ve never seen you so thoughtful.”
That kind of makes Eric feel like shit, because they’ve been together for five years and Sam shouldn’t have had to wait that long, but he pushes that to the back of his mind. He’s fixing that.
“Well, get used to it, okay?” He says. “This is the new me.”
Sam brushes his thumb over Eric’s cheekbone. “Maybe just a new side to you. I didn’t have many complaints about the old you.”
Eric laughs. “You’re too good for me.”
“I know, but I’m a glutton for punishment, I guess.”
Eric shoves at him a little, but hangs onto him so he can’t go far. “I want to make you happy.”
“You always have,” Sam promises him.
“Good,” Eric says. “Because I signed you up to chaperone the team overnight trip for regionals.”
Sam sighs. “Boy, you sure buttered me up for that one.”
Eric pats his back before moving away to start pulling clothes out of the dryer. “Hey, you were going to come with us anyway, right?”
“We get our own hotel room,” Eric wheedles.
“We do?” Sam asks. “Together?”
To anyone else, the question might seem supremely obvious. They live together. Of course they’d be in the same room. But for their entire relationship, anything related to hockey has been completely separate. They had a meeting with the front office about what to do with Eric’s contract after he couldn’t play anymore and Eric acted like he barely knew Sam even though they’d spent the night before together. Eric could just never handle the thought of anyone confirming suspicions he was sure they already had about him.
“Together,” Eric confirms, meeting Sam’s eyes. “Always, from now on. That okay with you?”
Sam stands beside him to help fold the clothes, a little smile on his face, and nods. “Yeah. I think I can work with that.”
Eric smiles too, focusing on folding a bright pink sweater with unicorns on it. He doesn’t even know where Scot gets these things. “Good.”
Sam leans a little closer so their shoulders are pressed together and echoes, “Good.”
And it is. It really, really is.