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Big Horny's Guide to Finding Love (and Then Some) for the Modern Man

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There are a lot of things about being a hockey player that are among EJ’s favorite things: the crisp smell of freshly-surfaced ice, the cool surge of adrenaline in his veins the first time the puck drops. The roar of fans at the Pepsi Center - there’s nothing like playing at home, to a crowd of crimson and blue - and the blare of the goal horn. The satisfaction in the burn of his muscles, after a win. Getting to spend the night hanging out with his boys, the beer flowing as freely as the conversation when they’re fresh off the back of a solid victory.

Especially that last one. It feels like it’s been too long since they’ve enjoyed a night out in the city.

The season has only just started, it hasn’t even been two months since camp - maybe that’s it. EJ always feels a little antsy towards the end of the summer, ready to get back on the ice, ready for everyone to come back from near and far - together again, a team again. It feels good like this, to be surrounded by his team, having a good time. So sue him - he missed this.

“What’re you smiling about all by yourself, old man?” Tyson slides into the chair next to him, wobbling precariously enough for his beer to slosh a little onto his hand. EJ raises an eyebrow at him as Tyson sets the glass more carefully down on the table and proceeds to lick his fingers. Classic Tyson, and completely, utterly gross. “You can’t be going senile already.”

“Ha ha,” EJ sips at his beer, but a grin still tugs at the corner of his mouth - he’s dealt with Tyson’s antics long enough that he knows better than to take him and his chirping too seriously. Or seriously at all, really. If you can even call it chirping. “Can’t I just bask in the win with my boys?”

“Suuuure,” Tyson drawls, knocking shoulders with him just to be a little shit. Where is Nate, anyway, that Tyson’s been let loose to terrorize his teammates by himself? “At least you’re not like these guys, totally absorbed in their phones when they have their awesome teammates to talk to.”

JT and Kerfy look up from their phones from across the table, exchanging slightly guilty glances.

“Yeah, Tyson’s right!” Josty cuts in, leaning forward on his elbows. “Why are you flirting on your phones when we’re right here to flirt with?”

Ah, Tyson Energy. EJ had almost forgotten over the summer that it was infectious.

“Speak for yourself,” EJ mutters into his beer. Of course Josty would latch on to whatever Barrie says - if not in solidarity, then in pure similarity of personality. It’s nearly uncanny, actually. They probably shouldn’t be allowed to spend time together, given how quickly their faces light up in matching grins.

“Oh no, you see - it’s that EJ can only flirt in person,” Tyson explains, and EJ’s glass returns to the table again with a little more force. He can feel his eyebrows rise to his hairline as he pins Tyson with a look, just waiting to see where this one goes. “ It’s an age thing. He doesn’t know how to use a cell phone to text, let alone flirt and shit.”

“That’s not what my active and popular instagram account says,” he counters.

Big Horny doesn’t count,” Tyson sing-songs, to a round of snickers from the rookies, “and neither does flirting with Gabe.”

“Oh, it doesn’t count when I flirt with Gabe?” EJ snorts, unable to stop the smirk forming on his face when Tyson’s ears redden. "Tyson, if you need pointers I can give you a hand. You can take notes from a master at work, I don’t mind.”

With absolutely perfect timing, Nate slides over to their table and pulls out a chair. The old marrieds he was talking with have abandoned him to head home, which EJ knows is more or less a signal that it's time for Nate to check in on his best-friend-slash-team-troublemaker. He meets EJ’s eyes and ducks his head to grin into his beer.

Good, so he caught EJ's chirping, then. EJ doesn’t even try to stop smirking.

“Are we chirping Tyson over here?” Nate says, smiling as he bumps shoulders with EJ. “Didn’t think we were due for that for another couple drinks. What’s the score, are we talking about Dairy Queen or fluffy dogs?”

“I have more than just two interests!” Tyson protests, and EJ and Nate both snort. “I’m a cultured man.”

“Please, tell me about your interests besides cheesecake Blizzards and Gabe’s hair, Tyson,” Nate says mildly, and EJ has to hide his grin into his beer.

“Anyways, Nathan, we’re ganging up on EJ tonight.”

“Trying to,” EJ mutters, and Nate chuckles over Tyson’s noise of protest. “So far I’m mostly just old and can’t flirt, which is patently untrue.”

Nate’s eyes flick from EJ’s face down to his shoulders - which, huh - before landing back on his face. God, Nate’s eyes are blue. “Definitely untrue.”

“Don’t side with him!” Tyson whines, and EJ laughs.

“You’re too much fun to pick on, TBear,” Nate grins, “and your chirping game needs work.”

Tyson takes a large swig of his beer - and okay, they’ve definitely got an audience now; Kerfy and JT have both pocketed their phones, content to watch them all bicker. Josty’s chin is propped up on his hand, eyes bright - well they’re always pretty bright - and clearly entertained.

“I just have so many choices in topic, when it comes to EJ,” Tyson says, gesturing broadly in EJ’s direction.

“Oh, do tell,” EJ smirks, leaning his cheek in one hand. “Chirp me for all my flaws, Tyson - me, Erik Johnson, first overall draft pick, star defenseman of the Colorado Avalanche, successful horse breeder and Instagram influencer.”

“Oh my god, don’t get him started on horses,” JT mutters.

Tyson rolls his eyes. “Influencer? You can barely run two accounts at once and tell them apart!”

“I get exactly what I want out of both of them, though,” EJ waggles his eyebrows.

“Flirting through Instagram, though?" Tyson shakes his head, admonishingly. "Get with the times. You’re old enough to probably not even know what, like, Tinder is. Or Grindr. Places that normal people use to find hookups rather than their secret off-brand Instagram accounts.”

“You don’t know what the Tinder is?” Sam butts in, joining their table - with how much noise Tyson’s making, EJ’s surprised they haven’t attracted an even larger crowd. “Mon chum. I can help you make a profile.”

“Or Grindr, or Bumble,” Josty pipes up, ticking them off on his fingers. “Or OkCupid, or DOWN, or Happn -”

“I really don’t know why all of your are so invested in my sex life all of a sudden,” EJ grunts. At least one of those dumb apps has to be made up, right?

“Your alt account is called Big Horny,” Josty says, and - ugh. Okay. Maybe he’s walked into this one.

“You should be glad that Gabe’s not here, he’d chirp you into next week,” Tyson laughs. “Thankfully, I’m here to pick up the slack.”

“How kind of you,” EJ deadpans, and knocks back the rest of his beer. It’s annoying, how flushed his face is getting - but it’s dark enough that hopefully the boys haven’t noticed. “A real saint you are, TBeauty.”

Tyson flutters his eyelashes coyly, and Nate rolls his eyes at the both of them. Blessedly, the conversation moves away from EJ after that - with two Tysons together at the same table, there’s plenty of other antics to get up to, and he’s happy to more or less stay on the sidelines.

Maybe EJ needs new friends, but he wouldn’t replace these guys for the world.

 

---

 

Nate skates up next to EJ along the boards before practice starts, raising an eyebrow at the expression on his face.

“What’s up with you?” he asks, shuffling a little closer so that he can gently kick at EJ’s skates with his own. “I know for a fact you didn’t drink that much last night to be hungover today. Unless Tyson’s chirping about your age is actually true, and 31 is old enough for four beers to catch up with you.”

Please, as if,” EJ rolls his eyes and shifts his weight from foot to foot, thinking. That’s been the reason for whatever expression is on his face, actually - thinking. Maybe more like brooding, if he’s being honest with himself. “Just stuff on my mind, that’s all.”

Nate gives him a small smile, something in his eyes softening. His voice is lowered, when he replies. “Anything you wanna talk about?”

“Just - !” EJ sighs explosively, spreading his arms before letting them drop to his sides. “I’ve been fine being single for a while, but with the rookies being savvy about all these dating apps -”

“Thinking about giving it a try?” Nate’s eyebrows creep up towards his hairline.

No,” EJ answers immediately. “No, I mean - doesn’t it seem like more trouble than it’s worth? Do you get any of it?”

Nate shrugs with one shoulder, pink starting to tinge his cheeks. “I guess - I don’t blame them, you know, we travel so much it’s hard to keep down something steady. Apps and stuff help with that. But it does seem like it would be hard to just meet people, period.”

“Right?” EJ shakes his head. “I dunno, man. Call me old fashioned - I’m not sure I can wrap my head around it entirely.”

“But you’re curious?” Nate tilts his head, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “Big Horny isn’t doing it for you anymore?”

“Big Horny does it for everyone,” EJ grins, gives Nate a friendly pat on the ass as he pushes off to slide across the ice.

Nate just laughs. “Keep telling yourself that, EJ.”

 

---

 

The thought stays with him after that, though; he can’t seem to shake it.

It’s not that he has trouble picking up or anything, when he’s in the mood to. EJ generally doesn’t when they’re out after a game, for reasons that are increasingly obvious re: the amount of gossip that happens amongst hockey players, not to mention the amount of shenanigans they get into when beer is involved, but he’s done it before. He just… hasn’t been inclined to, lately.

Doesn’t mean he can’t, though.

Maybe the part that’s needling him the most is the age comment. He’s been in the dating pool longer than things like Tinder and Grindr and whatever the fuck else have even existed, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t use online dating or hookup apps if he wanted to. He just hasn’t had a reason to. Hey - he’s a hockey player; his life revolves around traveling and practice and games at all hours of the day, it’s hard to maintain a consistent schedule for things like dating. And he’s been perfectly happy with that. Hockey is awesome.

But by the same token, online dating - or even just hookups - are more than he’s getting right now. EJ doesn’t consider himself a lonely person, per se - he’s got plenty of annoying friends in his life, thank you very much. But maybe it is worth looking into.

Admittedly, it has been a while. Maybe it’s worth a shot.

That’s why he finds himself, three days later, frowning down at his phone with the Bruins game on low in the background. He doesn’t really know where to start - the boys had rattled off more than half a dozen app names a few nights ago, and he’d had enough beer that he can’t remember beyond the first one or two.

And he is definitely not texting Sam Girard or Tyson Jost to ask.

Grindr is the one they mentioned a few times, right? He can at least download it and see what all the fuss is about before he invests any real time and energy into it. EJ is under no allusions that he’s going to get anything other than a deluge of dick pics when he first starts out. He’s been on the internet, he knows how guys are.

He works with hockey players, he is more than familiar with how guys are.

The app doesn’t take more than a minute to install onto his phone, and EJ squints down at the black-and-yellow app as he sets up his profile. Huh, this is - he’s actually going to have to put at least a little bit of thought into it. There’s no way he can use any variation of his real name, or a photo of his face; thankfully for both, that’s not too unusual for dating apps. It’s a little unfortunate that he can’t use Big Horny, actually, but there’s no way he’d risk any one of his dumb teammates downloading the app for fun and then finding his profile by name alone. No - he’ll have to think of something different.

The rest of the info is easy, at least. He doesn’t need to lie about his height or anything - does he, actually? Erik purses his lips. The point is to find hookups, not build a suspect profile for the police. He’s probably overthinking it.

With that, he puts in the rest of the information, leaving the display name for last.

The pictures, though - hm.

EJ scrolls through his recent photo feed - pictures of horses from the trainers that he saved, a few selfies with Sam and Gabe, a particularly good burger he’d had the night before the game in Nashville. Plenty of dog pics, and while those probably wouldn’t hurt, EJ knows that’s not what men are looking for when tap on a Grindr profile.

Ugh, he’s just going to have to take a few new ones, isn’t he?

With a sigh - mostly at himself for following through with this - EJ heaves himself off the couch, rolling his shoulders to shake out the stiffness. He carefully steps over the dogs - first one, then the other - to head for the bathroom. Mirror selfies are pretty common, right? No one on an app like Grindr will think twice about them.

Still - EJ himself thinks twice about them, as he quickly discovers how hard it is to take a flattering selfie without including his face. He frowns down at his phone as he flicks through his first few attempts, testing a few angles and doing simple poses like lifting up the front of his tee to expose the planes of his stomach.

He can’t help it - EJ’s cheeks heat even as he looks at the photos. He’s not a prude by any measure; in fact, he sees an awful lot of naked dude ass on a regular basis. It’s different when it’s a locker room thing, though, and definitely different from taking sexy photos of yourself.

Fuck. Maybe he should just own up and google how to do it. At least that would be easier to live down than asking advice from Josty or Sam.

In the end, EJ strips off his shirt in one quick motion, trying to ignore how the heat of his blush has started to spread down his chest. He looks pretty good, he thinks. A little less recognizable with the amount of stubble he has growing in - he hasn’t shaved in a few days, they’re on a home stand - but he’s still careful to keep his face out of frame, just barely showing his chin.

It’s hard - ha ha - trying not to think too much about what he’s doing lest his face burst entirely into flame, but EJ does his best as he tugs his sweatpants lower down on his waist, until the crease of his hip and the trail of dusty blond hair heading south from his navel is on full display. And, on a whim, he cants his hips to the side - catches just a little bit of the silhouette of his hockey ass. Give ‘em just a little taste of his best asset, he thinks, and can’t help the smile that quirks on his lips.

He snaps a few quick photos like that and, before he loses courage, posts the best of the three to his profile.

ExtraJuicy. EJ, for short. It’s dumb, but it’ll do. It’s Grindr, after all.

What should he say about himself? That’s a little bit more difficult, actually. Nothing that would reveal too much - better to go with something funny and sexy and memorable. There’s probably not a way to do that effectively in under 200 characters, but EJ gives it a shot.

ExtraJuicy 🍑🍑💦 Both sporty and spicy. Not a horse girl, but likes to ride. Have a sense of humor and we’ll see where it goes.

With that, EJ pulls his shirt back on and his Avs hoodie for good measure, stalking out of the bathroom and back to the couch before he can regret it.

He doesn’t have his hopes up, honestly. It’s moderately mortifying that he even gave in to his teammate’s suggestions. But hey - what does he have to lose? He’s definitely not recognizable in the photo he shared, and his profile is bare enough that the only thing ExtraJuicy has in common with Erik Johnson is height, a taste for men, and the fact that he’s looking for something fun within a twenty-mile radius of Denver, Colorado.

EJ’s barely gotten comfortable and turned up the volume on the hockey game when his phone buzzes against his thigh.

It’s a message from Grindr.

Shit, it’s - his phone buzzes three or four times in quick succession. It’s multiple messages from Grindr, from several different people. EJ snorts - how thirsty is the general Denver area, anyway? Thirstier than he expected, apparently.

Then again, maybe this is what he gets for giving himself the profile name of ExtraJuicy, complete with peach - peach - sweatdrops.

He tabs open the app, unable to stop himself from immediately satisfying his curiosity. And - well. Maybe he shouldn’t have.

Heyyyyyy hot stuff

Extra Juicy, huh? U got more than just one pic 2 prove it?

EJ swipes all the messages away, rolling his eyes. He’s not sure what he expected. There are a few more like that, along with two that really are just dick pics. EJ wrinkles his nose. Did none of them read his profile where he asked for a sense of humor?

Ugh. Men.

He doesn’t check the app the rest of the evening, content to let the dogs cozy themselves around him on the couch like the spoiled children they are, watching the hockey game until it’s time to head to bed. He lets the dogs out one last time, brushes his teeth before starfishing under the covers like he usually does.

But then.... he catches a glance at his notifications when he plugs his phone in for the night, that little yellow icon showing that he’s gotten another message from Grindr.

EJ sighs. He hadn’t thought any of the other messages were good enough that they warranted checking out the dudes’ profiles, but one more wouldn’t hurt, right? At the least, it might make for pretty good comedy material to share with the guys at practice in the morning.

Not that he was going to tell them he took their suggestion and downloaded Grindr. Scratch that idea completely. Still...

EJ swipes back to the inbox. There’s a few new DMs - man, Grindr is busy on Thursday evenings, apparently - and he scrolls through the few new messages idly until he lets one of them catch his eye.

Hey. Nice pics.

Sk8dogg’s message is... more or less normal. Certainly the most normal of the bunch he’s received so far, if nothing particularly special. EJ can’t say what compels him to tap on the guy’s profile, other than curiosity. Skate dog?

Sk8dogg. Strong on the outside and strong on the inside #VersMood 👅BA in Rimming, summa cum laude 🍑 Must love sports and dogs

And yes, one of the photos is of a dog on a skateboard. EJ has to admit that it’s actually a point in sk8dogg’s favor.

As for the other pics -

Okay. This is - this is actually what EJ is here for, isn’t it?

He swallows, surprised by how quickly his mouth feels dry as he squints at his too-bright phone in his too-dark room. The first photo isn’t all that different from the one EJ took of himself - a nondescript background, camera angled on a diagonal to capture sk8dogg’s barrel-like chest and thickly muscled waist. He’s clearly built, if the definition in his forearms is anything to go by - not to mention the muscle tone of his pecs.

Damn. It’s nearly all the things that EJ himself would notice about a dude if he was out at a bar. This guy’s put it perfectly on display, under surprisingly flattering bathroom lighting.

Sk8dogg, huh. He swipes to the next picture, and - oh.

Objectively, EJ knows that he sees a lot of naked dudes on the regular. And there’s definitely a reason that athletes are featured so heavily in porn - the weird kinky locker-room shit might not be true, but there’s something about watching someone who knows exactly how to use their body. This is - well. EJ doesn’t know what kind of athletic thing sk8dogg usually gets up to, but whatever it is, he’s willing to become a fan.

In his second photo, sk8dogg has turned away from the camera, his basketball shorts tucked underneath the swell of his ass, in the crease where his ass meets thigh. One of his hands reaches back around to grip the countertop, putting the definition of his shoulders and biceps on display, and the short-buzzed back of his neck. The photo is cut off above that - EJ can’t say he’s surprised, as much as he desperately would want to see whatever else is attached to that.

Fuck. He’s an ass man by nature, and that - that ass alone is worth replying to a mediocre opening line.

Thanks, he types out in response. Nice pic yourself. Got a license to sell that beef?

Okay, it’s not his best, but if he’s going to be flirting through a hookup app then there’s no reason to censor what Gabe likes to call his garbage sense of humor. It’s a key part of EJ’s personality, after all. He and his bad jokes are a package deal, so may as well introduce them early.

And hey, if it doesn’t work - it’s Grindr. It’s better than just getting a dick pic.

EJ shifts around in bed, turning onto his side so he can more easily cradle his phone in his hands with it still plugged in. He tabs back to the photos while he waits for a response - do younger dudes these days take classes or something, on how to take photos of themselves that look that good? He’ll have to tease Josty about it to get the full scoop.

Heh. Thanks. Not used to flaunting it, but thats what grindr is for i guess.

New to this, too? EJ asks, and blinks in surprise when the three little currently typing... dots appear in their DM thread. Huh. He’d expected to reply a few times, play a little flirty, and then head to bed. He hadn’t actually expected to find someone willing to have a conversation - if it wasn’t for how the whole hookup app thing is still making his heart race from nerves and whatever else, he’d probably be passed out right now.

Yeah, still pretty new. Seen way more dicks than i usually do and its been only a week.

How many do you usually see? EJ grins to himself as he pecks out the words.

More than u would think but not in a sexy way. I see a lot of locker rooms.

Huh. It’s innocuous enough, but EJ can feel his curious nature starting to get the better of him. He flops over in the other direction, rearranging the blankets. The point of this whole thing is to have fun and be anonymous; that should go both ways. He won’t pry. He won’t.

...Not tonight, at least.

Same about the grindr part at least. You would think dudes have figured out that it’s not a strategy to start out with.

And yet..... sk8dogg replies, and EJ chuckles.

And yet. Dudes, am I right?

U seem cool though, sk8dogg says, quickly followed by, but its hard to beat the dude that came on to me with an offer to suck my toes.

Oooh, I havent gotten a message from him yet. Guess I do have something on this hellsite to look forward to, EJ types back. Aside from talking to you.

Sk8dogg replies with a simple :) and EJ sets down his phone; his eyelids are getting too heavy to keep up a semi-flirty conversation. God knows what he’d accidentally type if he kept his phone in his hands as he was falling asleep.

He sets an alarm for early the next morning, so he has plenty of time to wake up and walk the dogs before heading to the rink for practice. And, not for nothing, EJ can’t help but wonder what kinds of messages he’ll wake up to in the morning on Grindr. All the more reason to keep his phone on silent all night and turn off vibrate - he doesn’t need to know the very second he gets another deluge of dick pics.

Sk8dogg seems...nice, though. Normal - and definitely hot enough to warrant EJ’s interest. It’s good to know that there are some people he could actually see himself connecting with through online dating. EJ wouldn’t have thought it was possible.

Maybe some people is overestimating. He’s happy to have found just one.

 

---

 

Gabe sits down next to EJ as he’s taping up his socks the next morning at practice - or, well, EJ had been in the middle of taping up his socks when he’d felt his phone vibrate under his thigh, and couldn’t help but check what garbage horny messages from Grindr were in his DMs now.

Okay - maybe he shouldn’t be taking so much weird glee in how awful dudes can be on dating apps, but so many of them make it entirely too easy to laugh at.

To his pleasant surprise, it’s sk8dogg with the early morning DM - good morning :) is it too soon 2 ask if i can have u for breakfast in bed?

EJ has to bite the inside of his lip to stop himself from outright grinning. If cheesy pun pick-up lines are going to be a thing in their conversation, sk8dogg’s not gonna know what hit him.

“You’re in a good mood this morning,” Gabe says, raising a perfectly-manicured eyebrow as he leans over to start lacing up his skates. “What happened to big, bad morning EJ? I didn’t think you had coffee before skate.”

“I don’t,” EJ chuckles, dismissing half a dozen other new DMs - only one-third dick pics, this time! - and throwing his phone into his bag at his feet. “Just finally got enough sleep, is all. And don’t talk about me like I’m the Grinch, jeez.”

Got enough sleep?” Tyson leans over from Gabe’s other side, sticking his nose right into their conversation - typical Tyson. “Is that a euphemism for sex? Because if it is, I’d say you’re three decades behind the times still, Johnson.”

“As if I’d kiss and tell,” EJ rolls his eyes, throwing a ball of wadded-up tape in Tyson’s direction. Not that there’s been much of anything resembling action yet with this foray into dating apps, besides some low-level flirting and outrageously bad photos of penises - both ends of the Grindr spectrum. And not that Tyson needs to know that, of course. “Please, I’m above such gossip.”

“I’m not,” Josty pipes up joyfully, and god - when did all his teammates start ganging up on him like this? “Wait - what are we talking about?”

Josty’s boyish curl falls against his forehead, eyes bright and cheeks pink even though they haven’t even gotten onto the ice yet. It’s a cheerful, cherubic enough look that it makes Erik want to be grumpy again just for the sake of it - it is still not quite nine in the morning.

“Erik needs to get laid,” Gabe replies, which serves the de facto purpose of announcing it to the locker room at large. Jesus, can’t anybody mind their own business?

“I get laid plenty,” EJ grouses, pulling the tape on his other leg maybe just a little too tight over his shin-guard. “An entirely normal and thoroughly satisfactory amount of laid.”

“My dude,” JT says from across the room, “if you’re using the word satisfactory about getting laid, then it definitely isn’t as good as you’ve convinced yourself it is.”

There’s a chorus of laughter, and EJ gives his nosy teammates his biggest, widest, most-toothless smile as he says, “Fuck right the fuck off, nerds.”

“We’re just concerned about your well-being,” Tyson says, and EJ flips him off while pulling his chest-guard over his head. “And if you’re in a better mood getting some D on the regular, then it’s a win-win.”

“I am the D on the regular,” EJ deadpans, unable to pass up the pun opportunity. The locker room fills with hoots and groans in response, and Tyson rolls his eyes.

“TBear,” Nate sighs, crossing the room in his unlaced skates to give his best friend a noogie, “you have absolutely zero chill, and it’s not even your sex life. Let EJ be the mystery man he’s always wanted to be, eh?”

With that, he shoots a look at EJ over Tyson’s head - something like amusement mixed with a half-apology. It isn’t the first time that Nate’s tried to reign in Tyson’s antics; EJ can only be thankful that this time it’s in his favor. He ducks his head in a quick nod, tugging on his practice jersey and standing from the bench.

“I have some chill, Nathan,” Tyson mutters, muffled from underneath Nate’s arm. The noogie morphed into a chokehold at some point when EJ hadn’t been watching, but that is more or less standard for Nate and Tyson’s friendship. And that, at least, gets another round of laughter out of the boys.

EJ claps a hand on Nate’s shoulder on his way out to the ice, meeting his eyes again in a sidelong glance. The corner of Nate’s lips quirk up even further. It’s good to have at least one sane person in his corner.

“My hero,” EJ says, “Always saving me from Tyson’s antics.”

“Anytime,” Nate replies easily, “Someone’s gotta keep a leash on him.”

“Careful you don’t volunteer yourself too often, you know that kid’s a furry,” EJ winks, and Nate scoffs despite the pink starting to color his cheeks.

“If he hears you saying that, I’m not protecting you.”

“You say that,” EJ laughs, ruffling Nate’s hair with his gloved hand before he can dodge out of the way, “but you know my ass is one worth saving.”

Nate rolls his eyes and shoves his helmet onto his head before EJ can mess his flow up any more, but he’s still smiling. “Whatever you say, Johnson. Put your money where your mouth is during the next scrum, eh? Then we’ll see who needs saving.”

EJ smirks and salutes to Nate, who jumps out onto the ice before he can get another word in edgewise. He’s got kind of a quiet sense of humor sometimes, but EJ likes that about Nate.

“Don’t think you’re getting away with that, Mister,” Gabe calls from the tunnel, jogging out to meet him just as EJ steps onto the rink, stick in hand. Gabe’s grin is almost shark-like, in that too-perfect Swedish way of his. “I saw you smiling down at your phone, and I’ve never seen you smile down at your phone like that. You probably don’t even smile at your phone when you see it’s a text from me, your best friend.”

EJ purses his lips, trying to fight off the impending blush that this conversation will invariably lead to. He’s not quite ready to admit it to Gabe yet, that he’s started to try online dating - not to mention that the version of online dating he’s decided to go with is Grindr.

“You’re cute, Landeskog, but you’re not golden retriever puppy-cute,” he lies, making something up on the fly. Everyone thinks puppies are cute. “Keep trying, though. Maybe once you get really good, you can make Tyson skate into a wall at practice.”

Gabe’s face flames up at that, and before he can reply EJ pushes off the sideboards and skates to the other side of the rink. Practice is about to start, and he grins to himself as he does up his chin-strap, adjusts the fit of his gloves as the rest of the team shuffles out of the locker room and onto the ice.

None of them need to know that sk8dogg had messaged him back this morning.

 

---

 

ExtraJuicy

do you actually have a dog?

Sk8dogg

ofc i do, dude. he can’t skateboard tho :(

ExtraJuicy

I’m sure he is still a good boy. What kind?

Sk8dogg

he’s a golden retriever and a VERY Good boy

ExtraJuicy

Damn, so you are the complete package, huh? Cute dog and rockin’ bod?

Sk8dogg

:) ill have to send u pics sometime

ExtraJuicy

of you, or your dog?

Sk8dogg

;)

---

 

EJ will be the first to admit that he’s really an amateur when it comes to this whole Grindr thing. Not the hooking up part, per se - just because he hasn’t gotten on that horse in a while doesn’t mean he’s forgotten how to ride - but definitely the dating app part. If you can even properly call it that.

But he kind of thinks that he and sk8dogg are maybe doing it a little bit wrong.

Not that he’s complaining, really - it’s been more than a week, and in that week he’s been far more glued to his phone than he has been in a long while. It’s nice to talk to someone who isn’t totally embedded in the hockey world, but still gets sports. They’re still at the stage where they’re more or less carefully avoiding real-life topics like careers, but from what EJ’s gathered sk8dogg must be a sports therapist or trainer of some kind, maybe for one of the local universities or minor-league teams or something.

There are only so many jokes you can make about jock-straps before it’s apparent that you’re intimately familiar with them, in Erik’s opinion.

But that’s the thing - it’s mostly been conversation. Good conversation, conversation that has made Erik laugh out loud more than once, but it hasn’t been... you know.

His other instagram account’s name is Big Horny for a reason.

EJ frowns down at his phone, scratching idly at the stubble along his jaw. How do you ask for sexy pictures from the dude you’ve actually been hitting it off well with on Grindr, without turning into one of those guys on Grindr? He should feel lucky, honestly - finding a guy he can have an actual conversation with during his first 24 hours on the app must be some kind of goddamn miracle.

If another dude sends me an unsolicited dick pic im gonna scream, sk8dogg texts him, as EJ continues to contemplate his course of action. That, at least, is pretty easy to respond to.

What about solicited ones?

There’s a pause as EJ watches the ‘...’ appear once, and then again before he finally gets a response. Jeez, is it normal for his heart to pound like this while waiting for a text?

I dont remember asking for more, but if they’re anything like ur profile... ;)

Huh, EJ thinks as he feels his face heat and his eyebrows rise towards his hairline. Maybe he and sk8dogg are even more on the same page as he thought.

Where are you right now?

Like presently? At the gym. Y?

Don’t wanna get you in trouble if you’re in public ;) EJ smirks as he pushes himself upright, wandering towards the ensuite bathroom. It feels less weird this time, stripping off his shirt and opening up the camera - then again, he’s not sure if it’s because he’s done this once before already, or if it’s because it’s for an audience of one rather than the masses.

He still plays it safe - well, safe in one sense of the word. Erik flatters himself that these are even better than the first ones, though he’s still careful to keep his face just out of frame, and he has to reposition his legs when he realizes the Avs logo running up the side of his sweatpants is visible in one of the shots. But in the other sense of the word -

He has always liked to flirt with danger.

The first photo isn’t too different from the original he’d shared on his profile - a long shot of his neck and chest, following the line of his body down to where the vee of his muscles disappears under the band of his sweatpants. EJ tugs them a little lower, unsatisfied - and when that doesn’t produce the alluring shot he wants, he sticks his hand down his pants to cup his dick. And that’s -

Well. He’s not even halfway there yet, but he’s harder than he thought he’d be, at the idea of taking horny photos.

Anyway, the pose lets him flex his arm and create kind of a sexy tent in his sweats, from the bulk of his hand - he knows they’re big, he knows it’s hot - and he snaps a photo like that, hyper-aware of how a flush is starting to spread from his cheeks down his bare neck.

And for the second one, he knows exactly what he wants to do.

He turns away from the mirror, pulling his hand out of his pants so that he can tug the waistband of his pants below his thighs, out of the shot completely. It means he has to activate his core muscles to hold his phone over his shoulder at such an angle, but he leans into the wall opposite the bathroom sink to show off the flex of his body, from corded neck all the way down to his bared ass and muscular thighs. Even here he’s still a little summer-tan, with the occasional freckle and light dusting of blond hair.

EJ taps back into their DM conversation to attach the photos, trying and failing to keep his grin in check. He wouldn’t have expected taking sexy selfies to be fun, exactly, but he’s definitely looking forward to sk8dogg’s reaction.

And - he’s not usually in the business of flattering himself, let alone taking incriminating photos, but these look good. He attaches them with a concise 🍑 for good measure.

He’s out of the bathroom and sitting back against the headboard when sk8dogg finally sends him a reply, and Erik smirks.

Jesus, dude

Not my name, but thanks.

No wonder u asked what i was up to, sk8dogg says, its a good thing im at the gym working out, otherwise thered be no way to explain the sudden spike of my heart rate just now.

Erik flushes, enjoying the way his face heats, for once. He did that - whatever reaction sk8dogg had, he had caused that. And EJ has to admit, that’s a pretty great feeling.

Pics or it didn’t happen, he replies.

Sure enough, the photo that sk8dogg shares a few minutes later is a screenshot out of whatever fitness app, showing a heart-rate line graph - but that’s not what really catches Erik’s interest. No, it’s the second photo that follows on the heels of the first.

It’s clearly taken a little stealthily - which is to say it’s on the blurry side, rushed but all the more genuine for it. Sk8dogg has snapped a photo down the length of his own body, pointed towards the tiled floor of what looks like a locker room, with his sweat-damp tee pulled up and his athletic shorts tugged down just far enough to be indecent. A trail of fair hair leads down from his navel and into his waistband; his thighs look fantastically massive from this angle, stretching the fabric of his shorts so much that they seem painted on.

That’s saying nothing of the faint sheen of sweat on his abs and forearms - and when EJ follows down the length of sk8dogg’s arm, he nearly swallows his tongue.

Sk8dogg is clearly hard underneath the thin layer of his basketball shorts, tenting the fabric in a way that makes Erik’s mouth immediately go dry. He doesn’t stick his hand in his pants the way EJ had, but he’s tugging the waistband so low that it must be brushing the base of his cock. It leaves enough to the imagination while still being downright lewd, which. Fuck.

Sk8dogg knows how to give as good as he gets, that’s for sure.

Heat slides down EJ’s spine at the thought of sk8dogg snapping this picture for him - stepping away from the weights or the treadmill when he gets EJ’s text, trying not to be too obvious as he hurries to the locker room and out of sight. Waiting for a free moment when no one’s around to lift the hem of his shirt, maybe hold it between his teeth as he uses both hands to pose and take the photo.

The fact that someone could walk in at any moment, catch him in the act, undeniably hard as a rock and filling out his shorts like Adonis himself -

Goddamn. It shouldn’t be possible to get this hard this quickly from a hastily-snapped photo that’s a little blurry at the edges, but - Christ. Maybe it is worth it to look into taking sexy photos to bump his game up from amateur to - whatever the fuck this is. Incendiary. Pornographic.

Fuck it, he’s not even going to try to resist - EJ plants his feet flat on his bed, parts his thighs a little bit more so he can stick a hand down his sweats again. He’d already been halfway interested for a while, at the thrill of giving sk8dogg something to react to; he couldn’t have predicted that what he’d get in return was so deliciously up his alley.

So sue him. Sweaty athletic dudes are a little bit his type.

Like what u see? Sk8dogg says belatedly, and EJ cracks a grin, not stilling the hand in his pants. It means he has to text one-handed, but whatever. Some things are worth the inconvenience.

I need to switch fucking gyms if that’s what I get to see in the locker room, EJ replies, pecking out the words with only his thumb. That’s really fucking hot.

Is it the fact im in a locker room, or me? ;)

EJ snorts. Like you have to ask.

Still nice 2 hear it, maybe u ARE just that horny for sports

And - okay. Maybe that hits a little close to the mark, but it’s less that EJ is horny for sports and more that hockey is his life, and it’s totally normal to imagine fantasy scenarios that draw from your own life.

I haven’t gotten on my knees in a locker room before, but you make a compelling argument for me to try it, he says, and then drops his phone onto his chest to pay more attention to the quickly-hardening dick between his legs.

Damn. He’s gotten particularly lucky with sk8dogg, in all honesty. He’ll take a week of on-and-off flirting and surprisingly good conversation, followed up with some fantastic spank-bank material.

Erik grins as he strokes himself to full hardness. Who knows what the coming weeks will bring?

 

---

 

“Okay,” Gabe flops into the seat next to him on the plane with way more drama than any human being should be able to muster before 8 o’clock in the morning. He very pointedly looks at Erik over his sunglasses - which he’s still wearing on the plane, what the fuck - and raises a blond eyebrow. “Spill.”

“Spill what?” EJ asks, frowning at his best friend. “What’s there to spill?”

He’s grumbling, and a little defensive, but - okay. Gabe isn’t wrong. EJ allows a smirk to tug at the corner of his mouth as he spins his phone in his hands, a symptom of his nervous energy as the plane fills and they wait to take off.

Gabe doesn’t balk at the attempted brush-off in the slightest. “Don’t play coy, it doesn’t suit you.”

EJ wordlessly raises an eyebrow at Gabe, who huffs a half-laugh. “Okay, fine - it absolutely suits you. But what gives? I feel like we haven’t really talked in like a week, at least. I barely hear from you outside of practice and games.”

Gabe’s right again - EJ frowns at himself, willing his hands to still. Maybe he’s been so caught up at the beginning of...whatever this is, a sexual exploration of virtual companionship or whatever the fuck, that he’s neglected his friends a little bit. It’s only been about two weeks, but that’s long enough for it to be felt, apparently.

Then again, Gabe is particularly good at puppy-dog eyes and making the guilt well up in EJ’s chest faster than sweat at bag skate.

“You can quit the puppy eyes,” he says, crossing his arms over his chest - but his frown’s already softening as he looks at Gabe, he can feel it. “Sorry I...haven’t really been around. There is a reason.”

At that, Gabe pauses from arranging his bag under the seat in front of him, pushing his glasses off his nose and up into his hair. “Oh?”

“...You can’t spread it around,” EJ mutters, trying to resist the temptation to scan the plane and make sure none of their other teammates are listening in. He doesn’t want to get caught being that suspicious; there’s a high enough chance that telling Gabe means the rest of the team is going to find out in the next week as it is.

Forget Real Housewives of Wherever, hockey players are the nosiest little shits EJ has ever met, especially every single member of the Colorado Avalanche.

“Of course,” Gabe has the audacity to pretend he’s hurt at the assumption he’d tell anyone. EJ snorts. Last time EJ told Gabe something that he didn’t want spread around, Tyson knew about his latest horse issues in about twelve minutes, so there’s no way he’s buying the trusting expression Gabe’s pulling on him.

EJ sighs, and slumps back into the window seat, scratching a hand through the stubble on the side of his jaw. “I’m trying online dating.”

Gabe’s eyes seem to nearly pop out of his head, but at least he bends in close to frantically whisper, “You found someone?!”

“It’s not serious, it’s just online dating,” he mutters back, willing the flush on his cheeks to die a quick death. “Chill. I’ve just been chatting with some guys, seeing what’s out there. Seeing what happens.”

“But there’s a guy you’ve been talking to,” Gabe says, a small smile growing on his lips. His eyes are bright, calculating - EJ doesn’t pout, but he does frown a little. Since when has Gabe been able to see through him so thoroughly?

“I guess,” he finally responds, putting a finger to the center of Gabe’s massive forehead to push him out of Erik’s personal space and back into his own seat. “Like I said - just seeing what happens.”

“What’s he like?”

“An impressively good conversationalist, despite first meeting through an app and whatever,” EJ half-shrugs, almost surprising himself at how forthcoming he’s being. Well - maybe he is overdue in telling someone about this, given how much fun he’s been having getting to know sk8dogg. “He’s cool. Athletic, likes dogs. Just getting to know each other, I guess.”

“Is he hot, at least?” Gabe lets himself be bullied back into his own seat, rolling his eyes at EJ’s defensiveness.

Is he hot - god. That’s like asking if skating is fun, or if dogs are perfect. EJ, a man with functioning eyeballs and good fucking taste, kind of can’t believe the question. Of course sk8dogg is hot.

His hesitation must take a beat too long, because Gabe leans in again to reach for EJ’s phone himself, unquestionably ready to dig into what is most definitely, explicitly personal. Uh, no - that’s not happening.

“Fine, yes,” EJ sighs, swiping open his phone so that he can pull up a photo - a more innocent one - of sk8dogg. There aren’t too many of those that fit the bill, and his face heats as Gabe keeps trying to peek over his shoulder for a look. “What, you think I don’t have good taste, of course he’s hot- ”

“Is that Grindr?” Gabe gasps out, and EJ elbows him deftly in the side as several heads swivel in their direction. Fucking Gabe and his big forehead and bigger mouth. “Erik Robert Johnson, have you learned how to sext?”

“Can you shut up? Do you want to see a picture or not?” EJ hisses, and Gabe nods, clearly biting the inside of his cheek so that he doesn’t full-out grin.

He flips to one of the better, more tame pictures that sk8dogg has shared with him, and tilts the phone in Gabe’s direction. Gabe squints down at it, lips pursed as he takes in the image: it’s modestly cropped so that it doesn’t include sk8dogg’s face, but does show off the built muscles of his waist and chest, the swell of his thick thighs under a pair of soft-looking sweats. It’s the only picture EJ has of sk8dogg where his pants aren’t riding ridiculously, sinfully low.

EJ’s keeping the other ones just for himself.

Gabe looks up and punches him gently on the shoulder, smiling more broadly now. “You never fell for me and yet you go for someone who looks like this? I’m offended, Johnson.”

“It’s exposure to your personality that did it,” EJ deadpans, and Gabe makes a fake-wounded noise, pressing a hand to his chest - which is a feint, because he immediately tries to get EJ into a headlock and give him the noogie of his life. Their volume only escalates from there, and honestly - EJ shouldn’t have thought it was going to go any different.

 

---

 

U free tonight? Sk8dogg messages him partway through the flight to Montreal. EJ glances up - thankfully, Gabe is napping next to him, his baseball hat pulled down low over his eyes where he’s slouched into his seat. The rest of the plane is quiet too, as most of the team tries to nap to make up for the away-game travel schedule.

I’m not at home but I can chat, if that’s what you’re asking

Somewhere private enough? ;)

EJ shouldn’t be so quickly affected by a fucking winky-face, but apparently that’s the power that sk8dogg now wields over him. Fuck, if it’s anything like the other nights they’ve texted back and forth, slowly introducing more and more photos and dirty talk into the mix, he’s in for a really good evening.

Fuck having an early practice at the arena in the morning, along with the time zone difference. Erik’s got a single this trip and he’s going to take advantage of it.

What were you thinking?

Thatd be spoiling the surprise, sk8dogg replies, and then after a few moments EJ gets a message that’s just a line of emojis.

🍆💦👀👀

He snorts, but he can’t deny the heat that suffuses through his body, into his fingertips and toes and definitely to his dick. At least he knows what the eggplant emoji means, thanks to one loquacious T. Barrie.

I’m free in three hours is what he messages back, refusing to think too hard about what sk8dogg might be planning for them. There are hours left on this flight, and if he spends the rest of it playing through the highlight reel of photos sk8dogg has sent him thus far, even in his mind’s eye, he’s not going to be able to walk off the plane with his pride intact.

I’ll be ready, hope u will be too :)

And - fuck, why does he end up finding guys that know exactly how to press his buttons?

Sk8dogg attaches a picture to his last message, clearly taken over his shoulder and in somewhat poor lighting - but it’s the muscular curve of his back, obliques on display as he twists just so to capture the photo, leading down to the unreal swell of his bare ass.

God. EJ stuffs his phone into his pocket and carefully squeezes past Gabe to head for the bathroom. Between the cabin pressure and all of his blood suddenly rushing south, he needs to splash some cool water on his face.

For some reason, as he’s heading down the aisle towards the bathroom, Nate looks up from whatever game he’s playing on his phone to catch EJ’s gaze. It’s - unexpected, to say the least, at how dark Nate’s eyes are, something unreadable in his expression. A hot shiver runs down EJ’s spine; hopefully the plane is dark enough that Nate can’t tell how warm his cheeks are.

Fuck, he must be really keyed up - EJ doesn’t usually react like this to some accidental eye contact. Even with guys he does find attractive.

He pushes the thoughts out of his mind, snapping the bathroom door closed behind him and resting his heated forehead against the cool plastic. He needs to cool down, with how much time there is left on this flight.

But that only makes EJ’s resolve harden (ha!) further: whatever sk8dogg’s got up his sleeve, EJ plans to give as good as he gets.

 

---

 

Montreal is a blast of icy air to the face as they disembark, and for once Erik doesn’t totally hate it.

He’s got something to look forward to, after all. They honestly can’t get to the hotel soon enough. Of course, time seems to dilate and everything seems to take longer, by virtue of Erik actually having something - someone - he wants to get to, in his room.

“What’s bitten you?” Josty asks, grunting as he heaves his massive bag onto his shoulder. It looks nearly as big as he is, when he’s not bulked out by all his hockey pads. He dimples a smile up at EJ. “Didn’t you pee on the plane?”

It’s a lame chirp and EJ gives him a facewash for it, unable to stop the grin on his face even if the cold makes his exposed cheeks hurt. “Just ready to get somewhere warm, punk. Respect your elders.”

“No harassing Tysons!” Barrie shouts from somewhere behind them, his voice muffled from how thoroughly he’s buried in his scarf. “That’s a blanket rule, EJ. We’re both protected.”

“By who?” EJ bares his teeth, sticks his tongue out at the two of them. “I don’t see your bodyguard tonight.”

“Oh, Nate?” Tyson glances around them, brows climbing. “...Huh, he must have scooted off to the bus already. Those Nova Scotia boys should be able to handle the cold like this, eh?”

“That Nathan MacKinnon,” EJ rolls his eyes, “Our star forward, known for his scooting.”

They pile onto the bus, and all EJ can think about is the phone in his hand, hot to the touch as he turns it over and over in his hands. Nervous excitement warms his cheeks and his gut, a pleasant swirl of anticipation as he plays through various scenarios in his head for what sk8dogg might have in store for them.

This is something distinctly different from just exchanging photos like they have in the past; it’s almost like a date. A fixed time and place. Well - more like a hookup, albeit through an app. Maybe it shouldn’t be getting EJ this excited, all fluttery-warm nerves fizzing in his blood, his heartbeat loud in his own ears, but hey - he likes sk8dogg. EJ likes the way he looks. And he’s pretty sure that sk8dogg likes him, too.

So what’s wrong with looking forward to having a little fun?

Nothing, EJ decides for himself. Thankfully, the bus is dark enough to hide the fact that his cheeks are filling with color - he can feel the warmth in them against the cold air. Why is he cursed with being so easy to blush? At least it’s fall and they’re in Canada and it’s cold as balls, and he can easily blame it on that.

It’s easy enough to collect his key card and head up to his room at the hotel - everyone’s pretty wiped from the travel, and with a single to himself EJ doesn’t have to deal with any haranguing about going to somebody’s room to play card games or whatever. He can just close the door and stay out of that nonsense tonight - which is exactly what he does.

Finally alone and relaxing, he messages sk8dogg as he tugs off his scarf and hat, tossing his bag on the other double bed and skimming off each layer of clothes. The nervous energy in his gut has only doubled since they landed and got off the plane; hopefully sk8dogg won’t leave him hanging for long. He gets comfortable as he waits for a reply, kicking off his loafers and hanging up his blazer and slacks - he’s not a heathen, thank you - as he works through his evening routine with a moderate amount of flushed anticipation.

EJ plans on getting into bed and staying there until he really needs to get up tomorrow morning.

Good ;) hope ur ready

Sk8dogg’s message makes something inside EJ go hot and liquid and molten, just at the sight of it. It feels like he’s been ready for literally hours; it’s been a long time since he’s been this worked up on sheer anticipation alone. And they haven’t even done anything yet, this time or ever before. Maybe EJ’s getting a little ahead of himself, but he has a feeling that the wait is going to be worth it.

He slides backward on the bed until he’s sitting with his back against the headboard and shucks off his shirt, wincing a little at the cool wood at his back. He’d turned up the heat already, but more than that - it’s like he can feel every nerve in his skin dialed up to eleven, excitement brewing just underneath the surface. His cock is filling out already, the outline visible and growing underneath the fabric of his boxer-briefs.

Heh. Y’know, maybe it’s his turn to respond with a photo.

It’s only the work of a minute or two - EJ’s getting better at this - to angle his phone perfectly, turn on the lamp at the bedside table to cast a warm glow on his exposed thighs and the bulge between his legs. He plants his feet flat on the bed, cants his hips slightly to make the muscles in his legs flex just right. He hums to himself as he presses send, unable to help the pleased smile on his lips.

Yeah. That’ll do the trick.

Sk8dogg responds almost immediately. No fair - didnt think u would start without me

Then you better catch up, EJ replies.

So eager for me :) Sk8dogg says. U gettin hard just from the idea of what im gonna send to you?

EJ flushes, feeling it all the way to the tips of his ears. So what if I am? Don’t you like what you see?

The next message is an image - pretty similar to the one EJ himself sent, actually: sk8dogg reaches down with one hand to cup at the hardness tenting his dark boxers, one knee cocked up and the other flat on the bed as he spreads his legs wide. From this angle, his thighs look so thick - thick and bite-able, in EJ’s opinion. His mouth waters when his gaze focuses on the wet spot darkening sk8dogg’s boxers. Fuck.

U know i do, is sk8dogg’s reply. I’ll show u mine if u show me urs

EJ grins to himself. He didn’t really want to keep his underwear on anyway.

He slides out of his boxer-briefs in one move, dragging the fabric off his thickening cock and down his thighs with a quiet hiss. It’s flushed root to tip and still filling out, and he gives it a few pumps as he brings up sk8dogg’s most recent photo again. Jesus - he can’t help the heat curling deep in his stomach, the spike of curiosity at what sk8dogg looks like, feels like, tastes like. EJ wants more, and after hours of waiting and stretched-thin patience, he doesn’t want to wait a single second longer.

Still - there’s something to be said about putting on a good show.

He tries a video, this time. Nothing far beyond what he’s done already - jacking himself nice and slow, showing off the length of his cock and how it fills his hand, how it looks to have his fingers wrapped all the way around it. EJ knows that does it for some guys - how big he is, how broad his hands are fully splayed, how thick and blunt his fingers are. He has to admit, it makes a rather pretty sight as he plays with his own cock. Pleasure slides down his spine and his hips snap into his own grip when he smooths his thumb over the head, spreading the precome there into a glossy layer that makes it obscenely shine.

There. That’ll do the trick. Sk8dogg can complain about EJ starting without him if he wants, but EJ’s gonna do his best to put on a show, too.

Jesus dude u got an ass like that and ur cock is perfect too? ExtraJuicy, Im gonna swoon

That’s all the blood going to your dick, EJ grins through his teeth as he responds one handed, his rhythm slowing as he types.

If I swoon Id rather it b because youre going down on it

EJ’s pulse jumps at the next message - a video clip, like the one he’d sent. Sk8dogg gives him the big reveal, pulling his underwear down tantalizingly slow so that his cock pops free, slapping gently against his belly. It’s - EJ swallows thickly.

It looks so good, a perfectly-sculpted fat mushroom head with a thick shaft, thick enough that it would make EJ’s jaw ache to get his mouth around it. Precome smears along the underside of the head, and it twitches in sk8dogg’s palm when he gets a hand on it. Sk8dogg pulls it away from his body and the dense thicket of light-brown curls at the base so that EJ can see the impressive length of it, too.

You’re right, I want that in my mouth, he pecks back, desperately trying to ignore how the words make his face flush. He’s never really been one for dirty talk before, especially over text, but this - it’s like sk8dogg is creating porn just for him, exactly to EJ’s tastes whether he knows it or not. Saying these things is working him up nearly as much as sk8dogg’s photos; EJ didn’t think that was possible.

I bet u’d look really good with something in your mouth. Give u something to shut u up with, so i dont have to hear ur bad jokes

And they say romance is dead, EJ exhales a snort, but he can’t deny how appealing it is, the images that immediately spring into his mind at sk8dogg’s suggestion. It’s been a while since he’s given head, but it’s always been something he’s enjoyed doing for his partners.

He lets himself indulge in it, lets the fantasy spin out: getting between those thick thighs, spreading them with his palms and laving marks up between them until he gets to his real goal. It’s hard to tell what the size difference between them would be, but EJ has a big imagination and he rolls with it - he’d wrap his hand around the base, kiss a line up the underside of sk8dogg’s cock and get him nice and wet before he went to town. Suck him down to the base, paying special attention to the sensitive crown with his tongue all the while, get a nice rhythm going as he works on taking sk8dogg down to the root.

I’m sure you would really like my mouth, he types back hastily. It’s almost a shame that he can’t make a joke about blowjobs and his teeth. I know exactly what to do with it to blow your mind.

Tell me, sk8dogg says. Would you make it extra juicy?

EJ’s face flames. Of course, I have a reputation to maintain. I like to tease until you get nice and wet without the help of my mouth, and once I get my mouth on you, make you drip all over my tongue. Feel you get harder in my mouth while I suck you down in one go but then pull back just to lick and taste you.

Sk8dogg takes a good thirty seconds to reply, this time. i have no idea how u manage to type all that with ur dick in one hand, and spell it all correctly too

It’s a natural talent, EJ grins when he hits send, attaching another picture of his cock in his fist, his fingers catching on the underside of the head with every stroke. It makes his breath stutter in his chest, and he languidly rolls his hips in time with his hand, fucking up against his fingers to chase his pleasure.

Mm, what fun they’d get up to if Sk8dogg was actually here. Erik wasn’t kidding when he bragged that he knew what to do with his mouth; having seen what sk8dogg’s packing, he’d gladly get all up in that and show him a good time. It’s been a while, and he does like giving as much as receiving - all the more reason to take it nice and slow, enjoy every moment and every sound he could wring out of sk8dogg. Would he like it if EJ was a tease? Peppered in his bad jokes every time he pulled off his cock with a wet pop, grinning all the while? Shutting EJ up by pushing his cock between his lips, cutting him off mid-word?

Christ, does EJ want. He can feel the spit gathering in his mouth as he imagines it, and has to bite his lip as he groans through a particularly good stroke that sends a shiver up his spine. No - he can do better than that. He pulls his hand away from his cock so that he can sink three fingers into his mouth, swiping across his tongue before returning them, spit-slick and dripping, to his aching cock.

God, he usually doesn’t get this wet, this worked up. Masturbating doesn’t usually do it quite this much for him - he squirms against the duvet, trying to adjust the angle of his hips, all the more sensitive with the added wetness. But this - with sk8dogg - is downright fun. Downright addicting.

I bet u like gettin a little messed up, sk8dogg says. U ever let someone cum on ur face?

EJ burns, his breath nearly punched out of him. I’d let you, he texts back, but I’m a gentleman so I usually swallow

Fuck, thats hot, sk8dogg’s reply comes quickly. U close?

Yeah, EJ admits. This is - this is doing a lot for him, and for some reason with sk8dogg he’s not afraid to admit it.

Show me.

EJ’s flush has long since swept down his cheeks and neck to his chest, but he doesn’t realize quite how bright it looks until he opens up the camera again. Jesus, what about sk8dogg and their conversation does this to him? He likes being mouthy, likes the mid-sex banter with his partners and goading each other on. He wouldn’t want it any other way, honestly - being able to tease and laugh during sex is fun. But this dirty talk has him fucking up into his hand like a goddamn horny teenager, cock swollen and red and harder than he’s been in weeks.

Erik would know. He’s had plenty of time to get acquainted with his right hand these past few months.

He really wants to put on a good show for sk8dogg - something that’ll tip him over the edge, drag him right up there where EJ is. His cock is slick and hot in his fist as he works over himself in a rhythm that’s as languid as it is punishing - and it’s near-torture, at this point, to slow his hand to take a good picture.

But he does. He licks his lips, glancing over the details before he hits send - the clench of his thighs as he rolls his hips, the glisten of precome welling at the tip of his cock and coating his hand. The vein on the side of his cock bulges obscenely, the curls of hair at the base clearly dark and damp.

It makes for a good picture, and something deep in EJ’s gut clenches when he hits send. He’s particularly proud of that one.

Fucklasdjfkdf

EJ smirks. That was the reaction he was looking for.

For the record i would return the favor. Get on my knees between those thighs, finger u as i swallow u whole and not let up until you cum down my throat.

And fuck, yes - fuck. Sk8dogg’s words and the image they paint is enough to punch the air out of EJ’s lungs yet again as he imagines sk8dogg’s hands and ripped forearms holding his hips down as he gets fingered and sucked to oblivion. EJ tilts his hips just so and strokes once, twice - three times more and shouts as he comes, phone dropping onto the duvet beside him as his fingers spasm. He rides out the crashing waves of it with a high wine, thighs clenching as his hips stutter and come paints the planes of his stomach, coats his still-moving hand, oozes thick and creamy from the flushed, swollen head of his cock.

EJ collapses back onto the bed like a puppet with its strings cut, with an exhausted exhale. His vision’s nearly swimming - what the fuck.

“What the fuck,” EJ whispers out loud to himself. It feels like all the bones in his body have simultaneously been liquified, and every worry he’s had in the past week has been wrung out through his dick with a physical force he wasn’t entirely in control of.

He’s practically fucking floating. This has definitely never happened before.

There’s a buzz-buzz by his fingertips, and EJ tosses his head to the side to spot his phone. It takes more of a Herculean effort than he wants to admit to twitch his fingers and grab it, squinting as he brings it up to his face. Since when did he end up flat on his back on this bed?

Holy shit i hope that was good 4 u as it was 4 me

Sk8dogg’s final photo is another slightly blurry snap, but EJ can’t find it in him to mind. His dick twitches at the sight, despite himself and despite the brain-wrecking orgasm he’s barely come down from: it’s of sk8dogg’s aftermath, come pooling on his abs and belly, just the pretty pink head of his dick visible in his grip.

EJ swallows thickly - his throat’s pretty dry. If he was any younger, he’d be halfway to hard again, probably. Sk8dogg is going to be dangerous for his health, if he keeps getting photos like this.

From the looks of it, I think it was, he replies, and drops the phone on the duvet again to cover his face with his hands as he stretches, toes curling. Thank you, holy shit

Thank YOU ;) sk8dogg replies.

Thank god there’s something like nine hours before he has to be in public and stand upright and be seen by other humans again. One wank session with some dirty-talk sexting shouldn’t be enough to wipe him like this.

One thing’s for certain, Erik decides as he finally winches himself up to sitting and gingerly walks to the ensuite bathroom, intent on getting a towel and a glass of water before he falls the fuck asleep.

When he gets back to Denver, he’s going to rock sk8dogg’s world. Maybe in person, this time.

 

---

 

Tyson nearly drops his weird-ass bowl of oatmeal and açaí and whatever the shit when he catches sight of EJ the next morning.

How,” he stage-whispers, in a way that’s menacing - well, especially menacing, considering how he narrows his eyes in scrutiny. “How can you go to bed with the rest of us at ass o’clock, looking like a tired gremlin, and show up at team breakfast like - like that?”

EJ sighs at Tyson’s dramatics, trying - and failing - to ignore how several heads turn in their direction. The real question is how Tyson manages to have the energy and volume at this hour, honestly. “It’s called beauty sleep, TBear. You should try it sometime.”

Tyson makes a disbelieving noise in his throat, weaving through chairs to sit across from EJ at his table. And here Erik thought that maybe, for once, he’d have some breakfast with a side of peace and quiet.

Actually - he can admit it to himself, in his own mind - EJ’s surprise at how well rested he looks and feels this morning, too. He didn’t think it would be so obvious that anybody else would notice, though. Then again, Tyson has basically taken it upon himself to make everybody else’s business his business, so EJ should have expected this.

“I don’t know what other answer you wanted to hear,” EJ continues, when Tyson keeps staring him down as he shovels oatmeal and fruit into his mouth in concerningly large bites. “You said it yourself - I was on the plane and then straight back here, just like everybody else. I didn’t stay up late playing poker with the noobs, like some people here.”

“Then what did you do last night, Johnson?” Tyson’s narrow-eyed look of attempted intimidation would really be a lot more effective if he didn’t also look like Alvin the Chipmunk in a crimson beanie.

“He’s right, though,” Gabe says, choosing that moment to pull out a chair and join their table. Ugh. Why is team breakfast a thing anyway, and why does he have the nosiest friends-slash-teammates in the entire league? “You look particularly... refreshed this morning.”

EJ catches Gabe’s eye and glares, unflinching at the way Gabe’s small smile turns into a flat-out grin. Don’t, Gabriel, EJ tries to say with his eyes, but Gabe doesn’t get the message.

Or chooses to ignore it. Their friendship works in mysterious ways.

“That’s what I’m saying,” Tyson replies to Gabe, gesturing at EJ’s... all of EJ. “It’s not natural. Erik Johnson is not a peppy person, but this is - he’s practically glowing, he’s so well rested. What’s your secret?!”

“Drinking the blood of other D-men while they’re sleeping,” EJ deadpans. Tyson flicks a blueberry at him.

“Children, please,” Gabe sighs and pinches at the bridge of his nose. “Can’t you save this energy for practice in an hour? Get it all out on the ice, rather than bickering over breakfast?”

“You like bickering over breakfast,” Tyson mumbles with his mouth full, and EJ sticks out his tongue.

“You all start early, eh?” Nate takes the chair next to EJ, setting down a plate loaded with a mountain of eggs and home fries. “You’ve been down here ten minutes and you’re already chirping and busting each other’s balls?”

“It is my sworn duty, dogg,” Tyson says, “to - as you say - bust those balls.”

“Tyson,” Gabe groans, dropping his fork to bury his face in his hands - but EJ tunes out their argument, frowning down at his own plate.

Dogg. The word shouldn’t send a jolt of heat down his spine - it’s just a word - but he can’t deny his body’s reaction to hearing it out loud. The double-G is a Nate-and-Tyson thing he doesn’t even attempt to understand, but it’s a weird coincidence he’s going to have to live with.

He doesn’t want to have this reaction, this - distraction every time the wonder duo chirps at each other. But there’s a part of him that delights at it, anyway. That over the course of a few weeks and some great conversations and even better sexting, there’s a person that immediately springs to mind, and a warmth that comes with it.

It’s actually...nice.

“Earth to horse girl,” Tyson waves a hand obnoxiously in front of his face, snapping EJ out of his wandering thoughts. “Are you even paying attention? That beauty sleep’s really only skin-deep, huh - doesn’t seem to have done anything for your brain.”

“I’m going to squish you into the boards like a bug at practice, four,” EJ says evenly, looking up from his plate to give Tyson a totally normal and non-threatening smile, and Nate snickers. “You never learn to pick on someone your own size.”

“Ouch,” Tyson pretends to rub at his shoulder, “such mean chirping, so early in the day! That’s the morning EJ we know.”

EJ flips him off. It’s shaping up to be a normal team breakfast, after all.

“What’s your excuse, Nathan?” Tyson turns to his best friend instead, taking the hint that EJ wants to eat his breakfast in peace. “You were in bed early last night, too.”

“And also looks well rested for it,” Gabe says, eyes keen now that he’s most of the way through his cup of coffee. EJ snorts. It’s nominally nicer when your friends’ nosiness is pointed in someone else’s direction, for once. Not that Nate’s any stranger to being on the receiving end of the Tyson-Gabe chirping tag-team, which has become more and more frequent as of late.

That’s definitely something EJ is keeping an eye on. It never hurts to have more material to needle Gabe about.

“Gee, it’s almost like getting enough sleep is good for you or something,” Nate snarks, rolling his eyes at the sudden attention. “It’s not my fault you stayed up way too late with Cale and Josty catching up on The Bachelorette or whatever. Some of us like being awake enough to pay attention during practice.”

“And not all of us can flirt with the captain to avoid running drills,” EJ chimes in, and grins into his orange juice as Gabe goes pink and Tyson splutters an excuse in surprise.

“I don’t flirt with - ! Listen, Erik Jerik Johnson- ”

“Come on, that’s not how it works- ”

EJ meets Nate’s eyes over the rim of his glass, watching the knowing smile unfold there. They make it too easy to tease them, especially about each other. Honestly, it’s gotta be only a matter of time.

But Gabe isn’t wrong - for someone that’s usually so tired and so uptight, so hard on himself, Nate looks unusually well-rested and relaxed this morning. His shoulders aren’t drawn up and stiff under his hoodie with the weight of the world, his brow smooth rather than creased with concern. EJ knows that Nate’s still probably mentally preparing himself for the game ahead, they all are - but something looks different, with Nate.

It’s a good look on him.

“You switch to decaf?” he asks Nate as Tyson and Gabe shift from defending themselves against EJ’s chirps to bickering with each other - which, in Erik’s personal opinion, basically amounts to flirting anyway.

Nate snorts, but finishes chewing before he responds. Because he’s got some manners, unlike one Blizzard-obsessed disaster bi at their table. “Nah, man. Just managed to have an evening alone to relax and get to bed early. When you’re road roomies with Tyson, it can be rare to get... alone time.”

EJ has no doubt about that in every sense of the word, and apparently Nate only catches the double meaning after he’s said it; he blushes a rather fetching pink, pretty obvious against his Canadian skin, and EJ can’t help but quirk a grin. It suits him.

Not that he’d judge Nate for whatever he was doing in his alone time. EJ himself had spent the better part of an hour jacking off with his...whatever sk8dogg is to him, last night.

“Well,” he replies, picking up his cup again to tap it against Nate’s coffee mug. “Here’s to getting better sleep than those knuckleheads. They’ll never know a true night’s rest until they figure themselves out.”

Nate shakes his head in amusement, but doesn’t stop smiling. “Sure, Johnson. Whatever you say.”

 

---

 

The next day and a half is a whirlwind of going to and from the arena for practice, a quick nap before the evening game, beating Montreal in a rather decisive victory and then getting on the plane again to head to Toronto. It’s not ideal in a lot of ways - EJ feels like he barely has time to nap, let alone look at his phone and keep up a normal, human conversation - but at least they have the evening off after the Toronto game, since it’s a Saturday afternoon game.

Of course EJ wants to catch up with sk8dogg, but it feels like it’s been too long since the Avs have gone out together as a group, too, what with the busy season schedule. They may be nosy, pain-in-the-ass gossips, but they’re Erik’s nosy, pain-in-the-ass gossips. It’s important for morale, for the younger guys and the vets alike, to spend some time together relaxing somewhere besides a metal tube in the sky.

And there’ll be beer. EJ will make sure of that - if he survives the Toronto game and Gabe’s scrutiny more or less unscathed.

“So tell me more about your mans,” Gabe comes up behind EJ as they head for the hotel elevator, slinging an arm around his shoulder in a way that’s equally companionable as it is threatening. Gabe’s three inches shorter than he is - the difference is even more noticeable when they aren’t in skates - but it’s not an idle threat. “Are you being safe and having fun on Grindr?”

“Shout it to the winds, why don’t you,” EJ rolls his eyes and pushes the elevator button - thankfully, they’re the only ones on this floor ready to head down to the bus. “I don’t need a lecture, thanks. I know what I’m doing.”

Do you?” Gabe asks, eyebrow quirked. His hand slides to EJ’s shoulder. “I’m not saying you’re not responsible, I’m just saying - it’s been a while for you, and whatever.”

It’s Erik’s turn to raise his eyebrows. “Speak for yourself, Landeksog. How’s it going with Tyson? You know what you’re doing there?”

Gabe doesn’t flinch, but he colors instantly - nearly to the roots of his perfect blond viking hair - and that tells EJ all he needs to know. “That’s different and you know it.”

“Sure it is,” EJ agrees easily enough, “but I don’t think it puts you in any position to tell me what to do with my romantic life. It’s going fine, for the record - he’s hot, he’s fun to talk to, I’m going to see what happens when we’re back home. Maybe meet up with him. See how it goes.”

“Meet up with him? Wow,” Gabe looks surprised, but not displeased. A slow smile blossoms on his face, and EJ resists the urge to scowl in response. He doesn’t want to know what gears are turning in his best friend’s giant head - whatever it is can’t be good. “I’m guessing your sext game must have vastly improved, if you’ve managed to keep him hooked this long.”

“Fuck you,” EJ grumbles, hating how quickly his cheeks heat - not from Gabe’s chirping, but from the images of sk8dogg that flood into his mind. And - okay, also the array of photos he’s been sending in return. He has been getting better at it, not that Gabe needs to know that. “I’m a built fucking hockey player, everybody wants a piece of this ass.”

“Uh huh,” Gabe smirks, leading the way into the elevator when the doors slide open in front of them. “They must, I’m sure. If you ever want some tips to take your game to the next level, or constructive criticism, I’ll- ”

EJ actually burst out a laugh, at that. “What, you? You see my bare ass every other day, Gabriel. Who are you to be an expert on taking sexy photos, anyway? Surely you’re not sending any to Tyson.”’

Gabe flushes, but he gamely keeps grinning despite the pointed chirping. “When it’s between friends it’s called frexting, and it’s a service I would happily provide to you, Erik.”

Frexting, oh my god.” Does Gabe even hear the words coming out of his mouth? “In your dreams, Landeskog. I see enough of you on the regular.”

Amazingly, Gabe just grins at him and doubles down. “Oh, but haven’t you seen me? I’m a Swedish model. A stallion.

“Not with that hair, you’re not,” EJ smirks.

“What hair?” Gabe frowns at him, and then turns to look at the mirrored panel in the elevator. He squints at his reflection and finds that it’s still perfectly combed into place, and EJ’s smirk only grows. “It looks fine, EJ, I don’t- ”

It’s the perfect opportunity to pounce, so Erik takes it. The height difference works to his advantage as he muscles around Gabe’s arms, tousling as much of his hair as he can reach as they squabble. Their game-day suits limit their movement but even twenty seconds in an elevator is enough for EJ to totally fuck up Gabe’s flow, snickering when he lets Gabe finally push him away. Mission accomplished.

“You’re such a brat,” Gabe narrows his eyes at EJ, already trying to comb his hair back into place. “Don’t think this means you’re getting away with anything. I won’t forget what we were talking about.”

“Oh, no - I don’t expect you to. You’re too nosy to mind your own business,” EJ waves off Gabe’s threatening look. This is an entirely normal part of the balance of their friendship - Gabe prying where he doesn’t belong, EJ prodding at Gabe in return. “Grill me about it after the game, or whatever. But don’t expect to see any more pictures.”

The elevator dings open, and Gabe loops his arm with EJ’s as they stride out into the lobby. A group of the Avs are milling about by the door, waiting for the bus to pull up - Tyson and Nate, mostly, surrounded by a few of the rookies. Out of the corner of his eye, EJ catches a glimpse of Gabe’s sly smile just a half-second too late.

“No sexy photos of you?!” He announces loudly, squeezing EJ’s arm with his own rather forcibly. Oh, Jesus fuck. Tyson visibly perks at the sound of Gabe’s voice, and JT and Josty peek around him with wide eyes. Nate turns, raising an eyebrow in their direction, and EJ feels his face heat when Nate’s eyes lock with his. “You’re so mean to me, Erik Johnson. A real friend would share, you know.”

EJ watches with mounting dread as his teammates react, and leans down to Gabe before they reach the huddled group. “I’m going to shove ice down your jersey, Captain,” he whispers. “That’s a threat.”

Gabe grins right back at him. “I’d like to see you try.”

 

---

 

They win against the Leafs in a game that feels maybe a little too skin-of-their-teeth to be a solid victory, but it means that EJ gets his wish: he’s going out with his boys tonight. They’re going out to a bar to draw out the high of the win, to escape the icy Toronto night air and drink shitty beer and celebrate a hard-earned two points.

Hell yes, EJ thinks as he follows the rowdy group of his teammates through the windy streets. He can’t help it - the mood is infectious even with the chill coming off the lake that makes his cheeks burn with cold.

JT bumps his shoulder, taking a few jogging steps to get away from Josty behind him - EJ absolutely very doesn’t want to know what that’s about - and grinning at EJ over his scarf. His cheeks are nearly as red as his hair, with the biting cold. “What are you thinking about, Johnson? Smiling to yourself over there?”

“Just enjoying the night, is all,” he says, a little bit of a dare in his grin back to the younger forward. He has to admit - he’s got maybe a soft spot for his fellow American. Not that he’d let any of the guys believe he has a favorite rookie. The more they are in awe and scared of him, the better. “You gonna enjoy that point you picked up tonight?”

“You gonna enjoy those two points tonight?” Compher shoots back, and EJ laughs.

“Just watch me,” he says, and wraps an arm around JT’s shoulder to guide him into the bar.

It’s a little bit nicer than a dive - a respectable bar, in the sense that it can accommodate over twenty ready-to-celly hockey players without the atmosphere changing significantly by their presence. The floors aren’t tacky with dried beer, EJ’s pleased to notice, and there’s nothing remotely to do with hockey as far as decor goes.

Pretty rare for Canada, actually. But it means they can have a good time without worrying too much.

The thought of going incognito sparks something in the back of EJ’s head, a thought he keeps circling back to: it’s nice that in getting to know sk8dogg, they’ve been more or less chill about their respective careers. Without really talking about it, they established an amount of privacy - actually, EJ still doesn’t even know sk8dogg’s actual name, hasn’t seen his face. It doesn’t sit wrong with him, per se; they really haven’t needed to get any more personal, so far.

Well, for a given value of personal, since they do send each other nudes.

But if EJ wants to meet up with sk8dogg in Denver - get to know the guy behind the wildly hot photos, in both the biblical and non-biblical sense - he’s going to have to own up to not just being Extra Juicy, but Erik Johnson, defenseman of the Colorado Avalanche.

EJ makes a face as he takes the first swig of his beer. Now that’s something he’s gotta think about. There’s probably a bad way and a good way to break that kind of news to someone, right? He knows sk8dogg is into sports and his career has something to do with athletics, but that’s different from finding out the guy you’ve been sexting is a minor celebrity. Or something.

Is he a minor celebrity in Denver? EJ doesn’t fucking know anymore - he plays hockey, and that sort of makes him famous, not that he particularly cares about the fame bit. How do normal people even do this online dating thing?

“Don’t burst a blood vessel there, hot shot,” Gabe slides onto the stool next to him with a beer of his own, leaning his elbows forward on the bar so he can bump EJ’s shoulder companionably. “What’re you thinking so hard about on a night like tonight? We won, you got two points - you should be finished with that beer already and having a good time, rather than making that face.”

“I have no idea what face you mean,” EJ says, and takes another pull of his drink - not because Gabe told him to, but because he wants to, damnit. “Just thinking about... you know.”

Gabe’s mouth twists into a smirk and he waggles his eyebrows provocatively, because he knows it jerks EJ’s chain. If he didn’t have a beer in his hand EJ would be giving him a facewash with his beanie already.

“Not like that, you dolt,” he rolls his eyes at Gabe’s antics. “Just, like - I dunno. What you said earlier got me thinking. Is it a weird thing to find out the guy you’ve been...anonymously flirting with is semi-famous?”

Anonymously flirting is a cute euphemism for sexting,” Gabe comments mildly, and EJ smacks at him with the back of his hand. “Ow, dude. But seriously - this is about maybe meeting up with him once we’re home from the roadie?”

“Yeah,” EJ admits, something deep in his gut fluttering to life with nerves. Excitement. That’s as close as he can identify it, at least - that first-date feeling, at just the thought of getting to meet sk8dogg face-to-face. “Not that I think we’re all like, actually famous or whatever - but we’re known. We’re on TV regularly for a living, deal with the press, all that shit.”

“You’re worrying too much about it,” Gabe says, wiping away the foam that clings to his upper lip after a long sip of his beer. “It’s not about you being famous or not - he’s gotta like you for who you are regardless of all that. If he doesn’t, or he only cares about the fact you’re a minor celebrity or whatever, then he isn’t worth it. Case closed.”

EJ wrinkles his nose. “Since when did you get decent at giving relationship advice?”

“Anyway,” Gabe entirely breezes by EJ’s question, making pointed eye contact as he grins. “The real question is, have you told him about your teeth situation? Because I know what you’re thinking, but if you pitch it like an upgrade to every blowjob he’ll be getting the rest of his life- ”

Erik’s able to bark out a laughing “Fuck you!” before he reaches out to fuck with Gabe’s hair again, and of course that’s when the volume of their conversation and/or the indignant squawk Gabe makes attracts the attention of the rest of the team. The ones who don’t know well enough to ignore their shenanigans, that is.

“Are you touching Gabe’s hair again?” Tyson asks, sidling up between them at the bar. “He’s like a cat. It has to be his idea for you to pet him.”

“Cute,” Gabe snorts, and EJ carefully studies how quickly Gabe’s cheeks go pink just from Tyson’s presence. If they don’t do something about this thing between them before the All-Star game, EJ’s going to lock them in a broom closet on their next road trip to Philly and leave the key with Gritty.

Nate meets EJ’s gaze over Tyson’s head and rolls his eyes. At least EJ knows he’d have a willing accomplice.

“We were talking about what kinds of mating calls Erik here needs to master in order to win potential boyfriends over without his teeth in,” Gabe says, and EJ glares daggers at him. Everybody underestimates how much of a petty bitch their captain can be, but EJ knows. Gabe smirks at him from above his glass.

“Just talk about blowjobs,” Tyson advises, and grins when he’s quick enough to dodge EJ’s reactionary swat. “There, problem solved. One and done. See, now Nate here- ”

“Don’t start, Tys,” Nate groans. Tyson doesn’t even close his mouth.

“ - Nate’s been trying online dating. That way, he doesn’t have to worry about scaring someone off with the smell of his gym bag first,” Tyson dimples a grin in their direction, and Nate looks like he wants to put his face in his hands. Actually - EJ’s never seen him blush quite like that. Maybe it’s the beer, combined with the goal he scored tonight in getting him to loosen up and relax.

“Aren’t there just a different selection of strange people, that way? Rather than going on blind dates?” Gabe asks.

Nate half-shrugs. “Haven’t quite gotten that far yet. Just seeing what happens, that’s all. Nothing else was really working out.”

“There was a guy who offered to suck on Nate’s toes,” Tyson says gleefully, and EJ violently chokes on his beer. Gabe throws back his head back and laughs, prompting Tyson to fall into a fit of giggles.

“That was one time, and I blocked him,” Nate sighs like this is something Tyson likes to bring up frequently - which knowing Tyson, is most likely true. Gabe still hasn’t stopped laughing.

EJ thumps himself in the chest a few times, blinking a few times to clear the tears from his eyes. “What dating sites are you on, MacKinnon?”

“The normal ones,” Nate says, though the tips of his ears have gone pink. Jesus. Maybe there is some truth to what sk8dogg was saying, then - that there’s a dude out there in Denver trawling for his foot fetish on Grindr, and god knows where else.

EJ’s almost offended that he hasn’t gotten one of these messages himself.

“You gotta stay away from Craigslist,” Gabe quips, face pink from laughter, and that sets off the group of them again. EJ has a feeling that the night isn’t going to end before someone shoots beer out their nose.

That’s okay. After all, what’s a night of good-natured chirping between friends?

 

---

 

Is it weird that i miss u?

EJ blinks down at his phone, slowing the pace of his tooth-brushing with his other hand. He’s not so tipsy that the room is spinning, but it takes extra effort to squint down at the square of light in the otherwise dim hotel bathroom.

He definitely didn’t read that wrong the first time, and EJ is helpless to stop the flush of heat that spreads across his bare chest and up his face at the words. Does sk8dogg have any idea what he’s doing to him? Entirely through the phone?

No, he pecks back one-handed. Not weird at all.

The other nite was rly hot, sk8dogg replies as EJ’s rinsing out his mouth and washing his face. He pauses, not caring that he’s dripping all over the counter and sink. But i also just like chatting w u, u know?

EJ did not expect to be getting the warm fuzzies from his sort-of hookup just before midnight tonight, but hey - he’ll take it.

Me too, he replies as he’s sliding into bed. I’m sorry I don’t have the time for anything... extracurricular tonight.

Dw about it, sk8dogg says. We can just talk and chill :)

And as EJ settles back against the pillow and turns out the light, cradling his phone in one hand and tucking the other behind his head - yeah. He lets himself smile down at the screen, knowing that it makes him look like a bit of a dope and finding that he doesn’t care in the slightest.

It sounds like the perfect way to wrap up a great night.

 

---

 

Just because he’s been busy - with the road trip, and hockey, and his dumb best friends, and hockey - doesn’t mean that Erik doesn’t want.

In fact - it’s hard to remember a time before this when he has wanted something - someone - so much. And not just an abstract want, a desire to scratch an itch; thoughts about sk8dogg keep invading every part of his day, whether or not EJ’s phone is in his hand.

Gabe has reminded him with pointed looks more than once now that he’s become one of those guys that smiles down at their phone when they get a text, knowing exactly who it’s from. EJ checks Gabe into the boards during practice just for the hell of it. So what? He can smile all he wants. He’s got a - whatever they are to each other.

A sk8dogg.

It’s probably overdue that they have a conversation about that, actually. But EJ can’t help but bask in the fun that is getting to know someone, with the flirting and back-and-forth questions and everything else that comes with it.

Do u have a beard? Sk8dogg texts him when they’re in Winnipeg. EJ sinks lower into his seat on the bus; it’s dark enough that having his phone screen on is a siren call for the boys to come bother him and see what’s up.

He runs his fingers along his jaw, thinking of how to respond. He’s not at playoff-beard levels, but he’s always reluctant to shave when it starts to get colder. And it doesn’t help that in this week they’ve been deep in fucking freezing Canada. Even Natemac’s been looking cold.

Pretty scruffy at the moment, but usually I just keep it to stubble. Why? Imagining my face?

:) sk8dogg replies. Somethin like that.

It’s probably Pavlovian at this point, how quickly EJ’s heartbeat trips in his chest and something warm and heavy settles in his gut. He crosses his legs, slumping further in his seat as his face warms. How can he tell sk8dogg’s tone so easily, from a few words and a smiley face?

I was just thinking...

EJ’s stomach flips in a way that’s entirely, totally chill as sk8dogg keeps typing. Sounds dangerous.

How do u feel about rimming?

If EJ’s face wasn’t flushed before, it most definitely will be shortly. He tries not to reel a little bit from the question; it feels normal and honest, to be asking about preferences. It’s just, y’know. It’s sk8dogg, who sends him post-orgasm selfies of his chest all messed up with his own jizz and his cock still in hand, who has talked him through more than one A-grade, top-notch solo sessions in the last few weeks.

It’s been a while, EJ manages to reply through the haze of images that suddenly flood into his brain in an X-rated downpour. But I like it. Heard you have a degree in it?

You know it ;) Its one of my favorite things 2 do with a partner, sk8dogg says after a few minutes. Mostly askin bcause I’ve def got a bit of stubble lately too and it would probably rub u raw when i eat u out. Make it so u cant sit the next day without feeling it and remembering ;)

Jesus Christ, this man is going to be the death of him.

The bus ride is quiet - it’s late, they’re three games into a four-game roadie, and they have practice first thing in the morning. But that doesn’t mean Erik wants to get an un-hideable hard-on in front of thirty of his coworkers, let alone his asshat friends that think prying is an acceptable form of affection.

Fuck, he still replies to sk8dogg, I’m not young enough to get this hard this quickly without losing a few IQ points.

Ill take that as a compliment :) sk8dogg replies, the cheeky little shit. Good thing EJ likes it, likes that they have a similar enough sense of humor to seamlessly blend between flirting and chirping.

Still...

I’ll need a name to shout when I take care of this later, he says, fingers flying over the keys and hitting send before he can regret it. Fuck, okay. There. That’s one way to ask, hopefully one that amuses sk8dogg as much as convinces him.

EJ’s ready to call him something other than sk8dogg in his head. Especially when he’s touching himself.

Im flattered u will be thinking of me ;) sk8dogg says. Its Cole, btw.

Cole. EJ’s fingertips float over the keyboard - not from uncertainty but more from basking in the knowledge of sk8dogg’s name. He lets himself enjoy the way warmth suffuses through his gut and up into his chest, taking up residence somewhere between his ribs. God, he’s fucking smiling without even realizing it. His name is Cole. It’s...cute. It fits.

And u?

EJ’s face heats, and he pecks out his name - only to pause over the send button. Would it be too easy, too obvious to tell the truth, and let sk8dogg put two and two together with Erik and Extra Juicy? He deflates a little bit as the thought worms its way deeper into his head. Should he...? He’d asked first, and sk8dogg willingly gave his name. They’ve known each other for weeks, now; what’s the harm?

Maybe it’s that he’s getting a little old for online dating, but EJ can’t help but go with his gut. He certainly feels a little old-fashioned, to have this hesitation. But he backs out Erik and types out Rob :) complete with a smiley face, because he’s a little mad at himself for backing down from the truth. Surely if - or when? - they meet up in person back in Denver, EJ will be able to explain.

Nice 2 meet u then, Rob :) sk8dogg - Cole - replies, and even though it’s his middle name, Erik can’t deny the heat that sparks down his spine at the sight of Cole using his actual name.

Hopefully, he’ll get lucky enough that he’ll be able to hear it in person.

 

---

 

“Ah, fuck.”

EJ frowns down at the blade of his stick and the roll of tape in his hand - the empty roll of tape in his hand. He’d hoped to get at least one more game out of that one, considering it had given him pretty good luck on this road trip, but no dice. Ugh. And they’re due to head out onto the ice for warm ups in something like six minutes, too.

With a sigh, he bends to root around in the gear bag at his feet, trying not to frown when he comes up empty. It’s fine, it’s just not a great way to start the night. Not that EJ is superstitious, really - but after the season they had a few years ago, maybe he’s a little gun-shy about threats to their success. Even if it’s superstitious.

Even if it is just a roll of stick tape.

“Here,” Nate calls from two stalls away, reaching out to hand his own stick tape over to EJ. His mouthguard hangs out of the side of his mouth as he chews it idly, smoothing down his own tape job. “It pays to be prepared, Johnson.”

EJ grins at him, stretching to take the tape from Nate’s hand. His fingers are warm where they brush together, a brief moment of contact - well, Nate always runs a little hot. And he’s always been a bit of a boy scout, when it comes to having his gear together.

He’s heard stories about Crosby - maybe it’s a Nova Scotia thing.

“My hero,” EJ says, fluttering his eyelashes at Nate and receiving an eye-roll in response. He turns back to his stick to finish the job, carefully layering the tape up the blade and smoothing out the surface on both sides with his thumbs. “Thanks, man.”

“Anytime,” Nate shrugs with an easy smile when EJ passes it back. This time, he knows to expect the warm contact - but for some reason, his gaze catches on Nate’s hands.

Something coils in his belly, warm and dark and entirely unexpected. Well, not entirely - EJ’s intimately familiar with his own preferences at this point and yes, that includes men with big hands and a competency kink. But the rush of heat is foreign when its source is a teammate. His teammate and friend, Avs wunderkind Nathan MacKinnon.

He glances away, tries to ignore the buzzing in the back of his brain that urges him to sneak another look. It doesn’t work, of course. Erik’s never been particularly good at denying himself anything he wants, for better or worse.

EJ looks. Nate’s entirely focused on peeling off his old stick tape to apply a fresh layer, biting his lip as he picks at it with a blunt fingernail. His hands are - they’re big like EJ’s, a little pale against the dark sleeves of his UnderArmor, strong knuckles standing out against his skin as he moves. Nate’s fingers are long, not as thick as you’d expect from a hockey player.

Warmth creeps up EJ’s neck, and he can feel the thud of his heartbeat there, too. Nate’s undoubtedly talented; he knows exactly how to use those hands to make plays, score goals. Soft hands.

He has no idea where this is coming from, and EJ shoves it out of his mind as he slips on his helmet and stomps out towards the tunnel and onto the ice for warm-ups. No one says anything, if they notice he skates with a little extra vigor while they’re doing passing drills.

It’s probably just that Nate’s hands remind him of sk8dogg’s - Cole’s - or something like that. That’s probably it. Although - if EJ was hoping to finish warmups with these kinds of thoughts banished from his mind, that is certainly the wrong path to go down.

He shakes his head, trying to clear it. He’s here to play hockey. After tonight they are only one more game - one more win - away from finishing this road trip and heading home to Denver.

And EJ’s looking forward to that more than anything.

 

---

 

They win, again. EJ celebrates by having just two drinks at the bar and heading home with the old marrieds so that he can have a nice night in masturbating in peace, bringing up sk8dogg’s - Cole’s - photos one by one in turn. He saves the best few for last, the ones that have already become his personal favorites: the shot over Cole’s shoulder, looking down at the ripe swell of his bare ass; Cole with his dick in hand, pink and shiny and throbbing; the aftermath of their shared session, with the evidence striping Cole’s toned stomach.

Honestly, EJ doesn’t know how he got this lucky, but he’s achingly aware that he wants to move on Cole, stat. He’s gotta meet the man of his increasingly frequent fantasies in person, once he’s back home in Denver.

Got another one 4 u, Cole texts him as he’s coming down from a post-orgasm high, having wrung one out of himself with two fingers in his ass, wishing they were Cole’s. EJ’s feeling pretty languid and boneless, but he manages to pick up his buzzing phone from the bedside table - after wiping the lube off his hands, of course.

Another message from Cole follows quickly on the heels of the first, and when EJ gets a glance at the photo he fumbles his phone right out of his hands and nearly onto his face. Fuck.

Cole’s wearing... he’s wearing... fuck.

EJ’s face is nearly enflamed, and when he can get his fingers to work again, he brings the phone close to his face so he can examine every pixel of the photo. His heart feels like it’s tumbling end over end in his chest, and he tries to take a deep breath to steady himself. It doesn’t really work.

Even with the warm lighting, it’s undeniable: Cole is wearing Avs colors.

Maybe it’s just that EJ is so used to seeing the crimson and blue splashed all over the rest of his life that it’s a little jarring to see it under these circumstances - these circumstances being in the form of really low-slung sweatpants. They’re doing quite an admirable job of showing off Cole’s ass with just the right amount of cling, EJ thinks, unsure of if the frantic beat of his heart is excitement or fear or what, exactly.

At least he can rule out horniness... maybe.

Anyway, it’s not like it’s a totally unusual thing for someone living in the larger Denver area. They’re a major sporting team, of course people like to wear their colors and shit. And he knows Cole likes sports - it’s really not that weird. It’s not weird.

Is it?

Those look good on you, EJ manages to text back, despite the fog in his brain that seems to be preventing him from thinking straight. Cole is wearing their colors, in a way that is very nearly obscene. Understandably, Erik has a series of rather conflicting emotions. Would look better on the floor though :)

Such a sweet talker ;) Cole messages back, but doesn’t send back a follow-up picture. EJ’s too nervous to ask, and honestly, he’s not sure he even wants to know the answer to whether or not Cole keeps up with the Avalanche.

He won’t admit it to his best friend’s face, but Gabe is right - whether or not Cole cares about hockey or not, he has to like Erik for who he is, not the fact he’s on a major league sports team.

EJ has to admit, though - as much as it has sent his pulse skyrocketing with nerves, there’s a part of him that really likes seeing Cole in his colors. He’s not a particularly possessive person, not really. But there’s something about seeing Cole decked out in Avs colors that has a caveman part of his brain shouting mine, and EJ doesn’t try very hard to tune it out.

Hey, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the view. And Cole makes dark blue look really, really good.

Go out with me next week, EJ finds himself typing, a spur-of-the-moment impulse that he doesn’t resist. His heart jumps up to his throat as he sends the message, kicked into overdrive as he makes the metaphorical leap. In person. I really want to meet you.

Me 2 :) Cole responds almost instantly, and cool relief washes through EJ’s blood at the same time as a bright, unbidden blush. The contrast makes him shiver. Id really like that. Bout time u asked ;)

He doesn’t look in a mirror, but EJ’s sure he’s blushing to the roots of his hair. I’ve been wanting to, he admits. Didn’t know if that felt like rushing things.

Not at all. Not with u.

EJ groans, tips his head back against the headboard with a thunk. How does Cole say these things so easily, so effortlessly? Does he have any idea what he’s doing to EJ?

And since when did Erik have such a hard-on for this romantic stuff? Ugh. Cole continues to be frustratingly perfect for him, and frustratingly out of reach. He’s more than ready to be back from this road trip.

We’ll make it happen next week, he texts back, when his blushed has calmed enough that it doesn’t feel like heat is frying his brain cells. Friday night?

Just tell me when and where and ill be there :)

 

---

 

It’s only partway through the second period when Nate takes a bad hit into the boards and doesn’t get up.

It’s agonizing, to be on the bench; the seconds feel like years to EJ as he watches Nate’s form crumple, head bent and back curling to protect himself against the impact. It’s not enough. He bounces hard against the board and EJ practically feels the rattle of it in his teeth. Nate comes out of it laying on the ice and clutching at one knee, the one that had been crushed between the weight of the other player and the boards.

And then Nate doesn’t get up, and the refs don’t blow the play dead for another eight fucking seconds, and EJ is about to jump over the boards and storm the ice to get to Nate himself when some asshole finally whistles for the game to be stopped.

Tyson and Big Z are immediately at Nate’s side - followed by Cale, the entire squad of Avs on the ice circled around him protectively. EJ can barely see Nate shifting on the ice as he carefully pushes himself onto his hands and knees, and his jaw clenches. That was a nasty hit, at such a bad angle and right into the boards like that. No pro hockey player is a stranger to injury from an aggressive cross-check; that doesn’t make it any easier to witness plays like that, even when it is unintentional.

But, honestly, fuck whether or not it was intentional. EJ’s going to give someone a piece of his mind - especially the refs - if Gabe doesn’t beat him to it first. He can feel the anger coming off of Gabe next to him in waves, and it’s another few tense seconds of waiting before Gabe hops over the bench and heads right for where the refs are huddled as they review the play.

The Avs bench is quiet as one of the trainers shuffles across the ice in his shoes, helping a slow-moving Nate upright and then skating back towards them, towards the tunnel, to a round of applause and stick-taps. EJ clenches his mouthguard in his teeth so hard he wouldn’t be surprised if it snapped. Fuck.

Jesus Christ. This road trip was going so well - they can afford not to have Nate on the ice for the rest of this game against the Knights, but that means nothing if he’s seriously hurt in the long run. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, to hope that they could get through a five-game road trip without somebody getting injured.

Hockey can go fuck itself, sometimes.

---

 

Nate’s not in the locker room when they return from the second period - which is maybe a good thing, that he doesn’t see them. They’re all tense, angry, wound tight as springs with aggressive energy close to the surface, underneath their skin. They don’t need a pep talk from Bednar - they’re ready to go back out in the third and pound the Knights into their own ice. Vegas isn’t gonna know what’s hit ‘em.

Nate is back at the end of the game, though, waiting tiredly in his stall as the team filters back in. He’s a little pale - paler than usual, Tyson would quip - and out of his pads and skates. It makes him look even smaller, somehow, not to mention how he’s slightly hunched with pain. It’s good to see him, even though they ended up losing the game. Maybe that’s all the more reason why it’s good to see him, right now.

Typical Nate - hurting and trying not to show it, to put on a good face for the guys. EJ’s stomach twists; Nate’s too good for them in a lot of ways.

Each and every one of the Avs heads over to Nate for a fist-bump and well wishes - except Tyson, of course, who nearly tackles Nate to the ground despite the way he’s clearly favoring his left leg and how it’s carefully splinted from the knee down. He’s got crutches propped up next to him, too; they’re definitely being cautious with him.

“Don’t give him another injury, TBear, seriously,” EJ says, but he can’t muster the annoyance with Nate looking so much better than he had right after that hit. Which - maybe that’s not saying much, but he’s sitting up, at least. EJ resists the urge to hover, propping his hands on the blade of his upturned stick to grin toothily (or, un-toothily) down at the two of them. “Wrestling only works as an excuse once per dumbass.”

“Very funny, Johnson,” Tyson rolls his eyes, but doesn’t move from where his arms are wrapped around Nate’s shoulders. Okay - Tyson does look like he’s being careful not to jostle Nate’s mummified leg. “What’d they say? Thumbs up, thumbs down?”

Nate shrugs with the exhausted acceptance of a player that has had far too many injuries, given how young he is. “They wanna do an x-ray, the trainers suspect a fracture below the knee based on how I fell and the bruising from the impact - and the fact I can’t really put any weight on it. I’ll know more once I’m back in Denver.”

Denver?” Gabe grimaces, pacing over to them and hovering at EJ’s shoulder. “They’re sending you home?”

“Yeah - not that I’d be able to help much in Phoenix if I came with.” Nate sighs, but manages to give them a small smile. “And not that you need the help, eh? It’s the Coyotes.”

“Sure,” Tyson says, a frown still knitting his brow, “but we'd rather have you in good enough shape to play with us, anyway.”

EJ’s throat clicks as he swallows, so he just nods. He couldn’t have put it better himself.

Some of it must show on his face, because Nate gives him kind of an odd look - and EJ feels himself flush, just a little. What, he can’t be concerned about his teammate? He doesn’t need Nate worrying about him, not when Nate clearly should be focused on himself and his unfortunate, shiny new injury.

“Well, you didn’t need to go and get yourself hurt just to escape from Tyson,” EJ says, mouth twitching into a grin as Nate smiles and Tyson positively squawks, “but I guess you’ll get to enjoy some peace and quiet anyway.”

“You have to tell us if you need anything,” Gabe tells Nate, disgustingly earnest and so clearly concerned - not that EJ can blame him. Nate just smiles tiredly at their antics, nodding at Gabe in reply. “Really - anything. And let us know as soon as you hear more after your x-ray.”

“You all just concentrate on the next one,” Nate says, which is so very Nathan MacKinnon that EJ can’t help but give him a smile in return. A Nate that can think about hockey and worry about the team is a Nate that’s not in too much pain, at least. The fact that the trainers let him out here to see the team is a good sign, too - at least, EJ hopes so.

Nate secretly has a stubborn side that’s nearly as bad as Tyson’s. Erik has no doubt that, if push came to shove, no one would be able to stop Nate from doing what he wanted to do, anyway.

“Worrying is my middle name,” Tyson says to Nate, and EJ snorts.

“We’ll get you that win, MacKinnon,” he says, tossing his gloves and helmet into his stall before he takes a seat on Nate’s other side. Nate’s smile broadens, though from this close, EJ can see the lines of exhaustion under his eyes, around his mouth. Damnit. A surge of protectiveness sweeps through his chest, and he has to look away as he shucks his sweater and starts working on the straps to his chest pads. “You focus on healing that bum leg, and we’ll focus on beating the Coyotes.”

Nate’s smile still lights up the room, despite it all. “I know you will.”

 

---

 

They win in Phoenix, too. Not that EJ was expecting it to go the other way, but it’s still a good feeling - still good to have it done. Never let it be said that he doesn’t enjoy playing hockey, but for the last two days... well.

He’s been pretty excited to get home to Denver. The reason why definitely rhymes with goal, has an ass like a peach, and actually wants to meet EJ in person. To say Erik's ready for this road trip to end is a supreme understatement.

It’s maybe a little hard to concentrate when you’re achingly aware of every passing minute, every hour, counting down the time - but EJ can’t help it. The thought keeps echoing in his head: he’s going to meet Cole in a few days’ time, and that distance is growing shorter and shorter. Cole, Cole, Cole.

Hockey games always pass by in a flash, and this time EJ’s grateful for it. The final buzzer blares and the Avs pour onto the ice from the bench, back-pats and fist-bumps all around as they form a line out to Grubi. EJ dutifully joins the procession, even though he’s already itching to get off the ice. His fingers twitch inside his gloves, and he drums them against his leg.

Two days feels like a million years when you’re excited about something - and EJ knows it’s been a while since he’s been this amped up about a first date. If you can call it that - they have been getting to know each other for a while, and pretty intimately.

Fuck it, yeah. It is pretty much a first date, and EJ won’t apologize to himself for being excited about it.

“What’s gotten into you?” Gabe laughs, wrapping an arm around EJ’s shoulders. Even in skates, he has to lean up a little to do so, and EJ grins. “You’re, like, vibrating out of your skin. A win against the Yotes doesn’t do that to people.”

Gabe’s not wrong. “Ready to be home in Denver, that’s all. And a win’s a win - I won’t say no to that,” EJ replies, shrugging out from under Gabe’s embrace so that he can give a quick hug and helmet taps to Grubi.

It’s only a few seconds before Gabe catches up to him again, though, pulling off his helmet and shaking out his mane of hair. He quirks a knowing eyebrow. “That can’t have anything to do with a certain someone waiting for you back home, can it?”

Screw his meddling, know-it-all friends. “Maybe,” EJ says - as good as admits, when he can’t stop the smile that breaks out on his face. Damnit. Gabe punches him lightly in the shoulder, nearly beaming himself.

“Erik - that’s awesome. You gotta tell us how it goes.”

“Yeah,” Tyson pipes up over Gabe’s shoulder, squeezing between the two of them as they head towards the tunnel. It’s actually impressive, considering how much shorter he is than either of them. He looks between EJ and Gabe, dimpling a grin. “You gotta give us all the deets, EJ. The deets about - what?”

“EJ’s got a date with his internet boyfriend when we get home,” Gabe says, before EJ can smack a glove over his mouth to shut him up. Predictably, Tyson’s face nearly splits with his wide smile.

Internet boyfriend?” Tyson asks, with barely-restrained glee. “Erik Johnson, what have you been up to?”

“Nothing I’m telling you about, Barrie,” EJ huffs out a laugh. Even Tyson’s fourth-grade chirping isn’t going to get under his skin tonight - not when the last big obstacle between him and getting home to Denver is out of the way. Second-to-last, if you count the plane ride home.

The locker room is loud and full of boisterous laughter post-game, the team’s spirits buoyed by the win and the fact that it’s the last away game for a while - they’re all ready to be back home. EJ isn’t even mad that they’re showering and changing only to jump onto a late flight to Denver - it isn’t a long flight, at least. And it means he gets to sleep in his own bed tonight, after more than a week away.

It also means that he’ll be in the same city as Cole again, and that thought puts a little more pep in his step as he shucks out of his pads. He can feel Tyson’s gaze on him the entire time, from when they pile into the locker room all the way ‘til they board the bus for the airport. He’s undoubtedly trying to read EJ’s mind and glean any more info about the supposed internet boyfriend. Gabe knew exactly what he was doing, when he said that in front of Tyson.

Tyson’s like a very intent bird, not even bothering to disguise the fact that he’s outright staring, like EJ is a puzzle he can solve. It’s almost cute, but really it’s mostly ridiculous.

EJ’s in such a good mood that he can’t even bring himself to be annoyed at Gabe for spilling the beans on him. He’s not so superstitious about things outside of hockey that he doesn’t want to talk about it - it’s just that EJ is generally kind of a private guy and doesn’t need his business announced to the whole team. He knows what kind of trouble that can get him in. But Gabe isn’t entirely wrong; hopefully, by the end of the weekend, Erik will have something like an internet boyfriend.

Or - a boyfriend that he met through the internet. Nobody really needs to know the Grindr part, except him and Cole.

Boyfriend, though. Damn.

And speak of the devil -

EJ’s phone buzzes in his pocket as he dumps his bag onto his usual seat on the plane, intent on grabbing a late-night snack from the fruit spread before they take off. It’s only a two-hour flight, but EJ knows himself well enough to know that despite the late hour, he’ll be a ball of nerves until they land. Snacking, at least, passes the time.

He pops a grape into his mouth when he settles down into his seat, stretching his legs out all the way - the perks of a private jet built for hockey players - and fishing his phone out of his jacket.

It’s Cole.

Sooooo, about friday

It’s embarrassingly fast, how quickly EJ’s stomach flip-flutters at the sight of Cole’s name and the familiar cadence of his words. When EJ’s texting with him, his face does things entirely outside of his control - like how right now he’s beaming down at his iPhone and not really caring whether or not his teammates see it.

What about Friday? EJ texts back.

It’s a few minutes before Cole responds, and he does so with a picture, as is often his modus operandi. But - EJ frowns when it loads. It isn’t a cute or sexy picture of Cole - not that he was necessarily expecting one of those in particular - even though it’s still a photo looking down the length of his body.

He’s dressed, for one. But more obviously, his leg’s bundled up in a maroon cast, carefully propped so that it’s elevated from where Cole lies on his couch. And not that EJ doesn’t appreciate the peek of muscular thigh where his basketball shorts ride up; he can’t help but grimace down at the photo. Oh, no.

U ok with doin something where we stay in at mine? Cole asks. Just got the diagnosis and im gonna be an invalid for a while. Sorry :(

Don’t apologize, EJ immediately types back. You sure you still want to meet? What happened?

Long story but its a small spiral fracture, Cole says. I def still want to meet if a chill movie night sounds good to you :)

EJ can’t resist the joke. Netflix and chill? ;)

Well see how much im up for ;)

Cole responds just as Gabe collapses into the seat next to EJ, sighing heavily and letting his head rest on EJ’s shoulder without preamble. Erik just grunts at Gabe, entirely too absorbed with his conversation - and with scrolling back up to look at the picture Cole sent again. Well - shit. It’s not exactly what he’s been hoping for, as far as first date activities, but there are worse things than hanging out and watching a movie together, getting to know each other. It gives them an excuse to get cozy on the couch, actually, so long as they’re careful of Cole’s leg.

Mostly, he feels bad that Cole is injured at all. But that doesn't mean they can't have fun together.

EJ has to consciously let himself slump back into his seat again. Yeah - that’s the right attitude to have. He and Cole have good chemistry; it shouldn’t matter what the do to have a good time, so long as they’re in each other's company. And maybe not the first time they meet up, but certainly in the future EJ can prove to Cole that just because he’s got a broken leg doesn’t mean he’s entirely an invalid, wink-wink nudge-nudge.

Erik’s got experience with that from both sides, after all.

Gabe yawns into his shoulder and then peers blearily down at EJ’s phone; Erik doesn’t have the energy to stop him, even if he was really inclined to. It’s just Gabe, who already knows about Cole - sk8dogg - anyway.

“Oh,” Gabe says, blinking against the harsh light and squinting more carefully at the image on-screen. “Nate sent you a photo already? I haven’t heard from him at all. That’s rude.”

“Nate?” EJ frowns, his brain sluggish to catch up. “No, this is- ”

EJ’s thoughts grind to a screeching halt.

Nate?

“If he’s in a cast already, did the doctors tell him what’s up?” Gabe asks, reaching out to tilt EJ’s phone in his direction when EJ himself doesn’t move. He can’t move; his breath is suddenly caught in his chest, every muscle locked and paralyzed as his brain trips over itself. Static white noise is -

Fuck, it can’t - there’s no way, right?

“Erik?” Gabe raises an eyebrow, looking up at him with concern when he barely reacts, frozen in place. “Dude, you’re kind of pale - you okay?”

“I’m- ” EJ takes a shuddering breath, unable to tear his gaze away from his phone and the photo of - the photo of who? “It’s- ”

It’s Nathan MacKinnon. Cole is actually Nathan MacKinnon - Nate, his Nate, his teammate and friend of the last six fucking years, who he’s apparently been flirting and sexting and starting to fall in love with -

It’s been Nate this entire time.

EJ exhales messily, dropping his phone into his lap like it’s too hot to touch, scrubbing his hands over his face. What the fuck. What the fuck. How had he not noticed all those little coincidences adding up? How did all that still not paint a clear enough picture for him to notice he was more or less dating Nate MacKinnon, a guy he sees at least five days a week?

His gut churns at the realization, EJ’s heart in overdrive and trying to pound out of his chest as, rapid-fire, images appear in his brain: Cole’s - Nate’s - thick fingers wrapped around his own cock. Nate’s small, hidden smile in the locker room, sharing a joke just the two of them. The way Cole always seems to add smiley faces to the ends of sentences, whenever they text. The undeniable drive in Nate, on and off the ice. The photos he sends, especially the hot ones.

The way he describes eating ass, and the fact that he loves it. Fuck, how had Erik not put two and two and two and two together?!

Jesus Christ. This is going to drive him to a premature grave at the ripe old age of 31.

What the hell is he going to do?

Gabe’s still looking at him like he has two heads, and EJ’s distantly aware of the heat spreading across his face and down his neck as the memories flicker through his head, a dirty slide show designed to make his blood pressure skyrocket. Every blistering hot photo from Cole gets paired with a moment he remembers of Nate, and there’s really no denying it - they’re one in the same. EJ can’t unsee it.

“I’m fine,” he says to Gabe, lying through his teeth. He can hear the wobble in his own voice. And he doesn’t have a lot of teeth.

There’s only one thing to do at this point - on the plane back to Denver, two hours from touching down, less than two days from meeting up with sk8dogg - Cole - Nate and his broken leg on Friday. Besides freak the fuck out, that is.

The unflappable Erik Robert Johnson locks himself in the airplane bathroom.

 

---

 

Here’s the thing - EJ doesn’t lie to himself in the privacy of his own head. Why would he need to? Most of the time, he’s reasonably certain he’s got a handle on what’s going on in his life, and knows himself well enough that he can call his own bullshit. He’s over thirty, for god’s sake, a veteran hockey player and well-rounded dude.

Or at least he thought he knew what was going on in his own life, until about thirty minutes ago. Now EJ doesn’t know what the fuck to believe.

Okay, one thing at a time.

Here’s what he knows: he signed up for Grindr after reluctantly following the advice of several well-meaning but probably mischievous rookies, and it didn’t take long for him and sk8dogg to find each other, all things considered. Christ, maybe Nate had signed up for it that night, too - he had been at the bar, then, right? Jesus.

Anyway - they’d really hit it off, had some good conversations and a lot of fun. At least EJ certainly had, but it definitely changes something, that it’s been Nate this whole time. Now that EJ knows that those muscular thighs and that dirty fucking mouth belong toa guy that he knows is a pretty fucking great catch, well...

Erik doesn’t know what to think. What’s the protocol in situations like this, when you suddenly find yourself in the position of being a lot in lust and a little in love with a teammate-slash-coworker-slash-buddy?

Because to be honest - it was one thing, when sk8dogg was a nameless, faceless dude that he could have fun with on Grindr, having flirty conversations that kept him more than entertained on a lonely night at home, or with spare time on a road trip. An anonymous sexy, flirty friend is one thing.

It's entirely different now that sk8dogg is Nate - and EJ can't help but superimpose his face onto all the photos he’s been getting, and oh. It's -

It's a thing Erik didn't allow himself to want, didn't know he wanted until it slammed into him with the force of a truck. Teammates have always been off limits in his mind, a carefully cordoned off-area with bright yellow tape and a warning: do not cross. Don’t even go there, dude.

But fuck, Nate - EJ does want. And it's an impossible task, to unsee this. To go back to acting like there isn't this spark of something between them - between sk8dogg and ExtraJuicy, between Nate and EJ.

Erik doesn’t know how long he sits there with the lid down over the toilet, head in his hands as his thoughts run in circles. There’s no easy answer. And there's definitely no going back.

Once Nate knows that ExtraJuicy is Erik - is he going to feel the same way, about wanting to meet? About maybe wanting to date?

The bottom drops out of EJ’s stomach. He’s pretty sure he knows how Cole feels about Rob. He has no idea how Nate might feel about Erik, in the same context.

A knock at the bathroom door makes EJ nearly jump out of his skin, heart lodged into his throat.

“EJ?” Gabe calls quietly through the door, clearly doing his best to not wake the whole plane. “You okay in there? Are you feeling sick?”

EJ sighs; his stomach is tying itself into knots, but not in the way that Gabe probably thinks. He stands anyway, knees protesting from being scrunched into such a laughably small space for so long. Being in here certainly isn’t going to help him figure this out; he may as well be miserable in a more comfortable seat.

Gabe’s hovering when EJ emerges from the airplane bathroom, even from where he’s leaning against the opposite wall. He doesn’t bother to disguise his obvious concern for him when EJ steps out of the stall, shoulders hunched and gut rolling.

“What’s going on?” he asks, putting a hand on EJ’s shoulder and scanning his face. “You just like - bolted.”

“Yeah,” EJ exhales messily. Where to even fucking begin? He looks out over the rest of the darkened plane - pretty much all the guys are asleep or have headphones in to zone out as they finally make the trip home. The back of the plane is pretty empty anyway - there’s no one to overhear. “You, uh. Saw that photo of Nate?”

“Yeeees,” Gabe drags out the vowel, eyebrows climbing as his curiosity spikes.

“Well, I- ” EJ turns, clenching his hands into fists. There’s no space in the tiny cabin to move - to pace back and forth, anything. It’s hard not to feel a little like he’s trapped in the whirlwind of his thoughts. Gabe’s looking at him with growing concern, crossing his arms over his chest. “It didn’t come from Nate.”

Gabe’s brow furrows. “What? I don’t follow.”

No shit. “It’s probably easier if I show you,” EJ grumbles, digging in his pocket for his phone. He shuffles over to Gabe, leaning against the bulkhead next to him so that Gabe can look down at his screen, too.

EJ very deliberately opens Grindr. He opens his conversation with sk8dogg.

And there, in the string of their conversation: the photo looking down Nate’s body at his leg, elevated and mummified in a cast. The peek of hockey-thick thigh, the obvious choice of maroon for the cast. Sooooo, about friday...

“Waaaaaaait,” Gabe says slowly, reaching out to tap at EJ’s phone, scroll up through the conversation. “Wait, are you saying- ”

“My Grindr date,” EJ says quietly, something running up his spine at speaking the words out loud - because somehow, this makes it far more real than just saying it in his head. “My internet boyfriend. The guy I’m supposed to meet up with this weekend that I’ve been... getting to know. It’s Nathan MacKinnon.

Gabe’s eyes are as wide as dinner plates; there’s still a small part of EJ that’s able to find that funny, way in the back of his mind. “Your boy is Nate? Our Nate?! Didn’t you, like - exchange names with him by now?”

“He said his name was Cole,” Erik grumbles, starting to flush. “And to be fair, I didn’t give my real name, either. That was apparently enough for neither of us to figure it out.”

“Oh my god,” Gabe whispers, eyes wide. “I don’t know whether to be entertained or horrified by the fact you’ve been sexting with our top forward without either of you realizing who the other was. We’ve all been teammates for years.”

“Don’t remind me,” EJ pockets his phone, aware that his face is burning hotly. Good thing the plane is plenty dark enough to hide it. “If this was someone else’s crisis, I know I’d find it funny. But I’d appreciate some support from my best friend, here.”

“Okay, okay,” Gabe says, exhaling a sigh. “Just - wow. Nate, huh.”

“Yeah,” EJ sighs too, and slides down the wall to sit on the floor. It’s suddenly become that kind of day. “Nate.”

Gabe’s a good friend; he joins EJ on the linoleum, knocking shoulders with him gently. “Well - it’s not the worst thing that could happen, right?”

EJ tilts his head to look at Gabe with incredulity. “How is this anything other than actually the worst?”

“Well,” Gabe shrugs, gesturing vaguely in the air in front of them. “You know what his face looks like, at least. And you know he’s not a total creep, and he’s not catfishing you or anything like that.”

“It’s like a reverse-catfish, if anything,” EJ allows. “A two-way catfish. But no - that’s exactly the problem.”

“What’s a problem? That it’s Nate?”

Yes!” EJ cries, tipping his head back against the wall behind him. It makes a satisfying hollow thunk - the wall, not his head. He groans; this is agony. How does Gabe not get that? “He’s a catch, don’t even deny it.”

“And you’re not?” Gabe shoots back.

“I’m- ” EJ purses his lips, tipping his head back and forth as he searches for the right words. “He doesn’t know it’s me. And even if he did, he wouldn’t be interested.”

Gabe’s properly frowning at him, now. “You don’t know that until you ask Nate yourself. But - Erik. You are, then - interested? In Nate?”

EJ swallows thickly, wiping his damp palms on his thighs. His heart seems to throb in his chest. “I mean... yeah. I really liked getting to know Cole. And even though it was Nate the whole time, that doesn’t mean that what we were building wasn’t...real, right? I don’t think I want to let that go.”

“Then don’t,” Gabe gives him a small smile - like it’s that simple and easy. EJ snorts. “No - really! What’s the harm in going to him and laying it all on the table, seeing what happens? If the chemistry is as good as you say it is, it shouldn’t matter that you’re not who he expects. That’s what I’ve been telling you all along.”

“I don’t think it’s that simple, Gabriel,” EJ says, but he turns the idea over in his head. Gabe’s not wrong, exactly, even if EJ doesn’t want to admit it. He and sk8dogg have been getting to know each other for only a little over a month, and EJ does know Nate MacKinnon. He’s a good guy and a better friend - and, EJ blushes to admit even to himself, probably a pretty good lay.

Ugh, damn it. EJ can feel himself warming up to the idea. What’s the worst that could happen? He and Nate would have an awkward meeting, a week or two of weirdness before being able to laugh off the fact that they essentially catfished each other on Grindr, of all places? But on the other hand -

They could be something good, maybe. If Nate’s willing to give it a shot too. Because Gabe’s right - EJ keeps hitting it lucky. Dating Nathan MacKinnon, hockey genius with soft heart and even softer hands, a subtle but wicked sense of humor and a known kink for eating ass - well.

Well. EJ wouldn’t kick him out of bed for much of anything.

Goddamnit. Curse Gabe and his powers of logic and rational thinking.

“What’s this pow-wow down here, eh?”

Gabe and EJ look up in unison, and EJ immediately rolls his eyes. Tyson yawns down at them, grinning despite how tired he looks - no doubt amused and finding them like this, side-by-side on the floor in the back galley of the plane.

“None of your beeswax, TBear,” EJ says, which does absolutely nothing in deterring Tyson from stepping over his outstretched legs to join them on Gabe’s other side. “Go get that beauty sleep you so desperately need.”

“Hold on, hold on,” Gabe says, holding out a hand - and EJ’s stomach twists at the look of cunning on Gabe’s face, because there is no way that this can be good. “Maybe Tyson can help with this... predicament.”

EJ glares so hard that he should, by rights, set Gabe directly on fire. “Don’t make me strangle a man,” he warns, aware of the heat coming off his skin with his blush. He hasn’t decided yet if the one he’ll have to strangle is Gabe or Tyson - it depends on what comes out of Gabe’s mouth next.

Chill, Erik, you know that’s not my kink,” Gabe waves off his threat with an easy smile. “No, I mean - Tyson. Tell us more about Nate’s forays into online dating.”

“Nate?” Tyson’s brow creases in confusion, but he gives them an easy shrug. “You know how the Dogg is, he plays it pretty close to the chest. Especially when it comes to somebody he likes.”

“Oh?” Gabe prompts, maybe a little dramatically. But - well, EJ can’t help himself. He’s too curious to hear what Tyson’s answer is going to be.

“Uh, yeah?” Tyson’s looking between the two of them like they’re moderately insane - which, debatable - but he barrels on anyway, because he has no filter. “He’s doing that thing he does when he’s really into someone, which is clam up despite the fact that I already know he’s got some kind of crushin’ going on - I have eyes, I’ve seen how he grins down at his phone when he thinks I’m not paying attention, and how much time he’s spent in hotel rooms compared to staying out late. Whoever it is better live up to their name of ExtraJuuuohhhh my god?!”

EJ’s going to put his head through the wall behind him, at this point. “I am in awe of our collective stupidity. This is a new low for all of us.”

ExtraJuicy!?” Tyson screeches at him - well, stage-whispers; at least he’s aware of the fact that it’s basically midnight and the rest of the team is trying to nap, despite being trapped on an airplane with a highly concentrated number of excitable dumbasses. “You came up with a Grindr username that’s still basically the same initials as your actual name? And Nate still hasn’t figured it out?! And he - and you - ”

“Yes!” EJ hisses back, face aflame. He points an emphatic finger in Tyson’s direction. “And you are absolutely not going to tell him that it’s me. You are forbidden from texting him for the next 48 hours.”

“Dude,” Tyson whines, crossing his legs to sit pretzel-style and scoot even closer. “Come on. This is too funny - he can’t not know about this!”

“You can wait two days, Tyson,” Gabe chimes in, raising an eyebrow. “Give EJ a chance to go talk to Nate himself, eh? Clear up the whole thing between the two of them, ask Nate on a proper date as himself and all that?”

Oh my god, his friends are the worst. “Don’t talk about me like I’m not right here, guys- ”

“That does appeal to my romantic comedy sensibilities,” Tyson says, actually stroking his fucking chin like he’s considering it. EJ’s going to disown both of them. “I was going to go over to Nate's sometime tomorrow to help him out - y’know, with the cast and all. He’s probably asleep already tonight anyway, pain meds usually knock him right the fuck out. EJ can go first thing tomorrow, instead of me!”

“Perfect,” Gabe says. He and Tyson are practically beaming at each other at the sound of this plan that neither of them are really a part of, aside from being entirely annoying, well-meaning, meddling idiots that are choreographing EJ's love life whether he likes it or not.

“Am I going to be consulted about this plan at all?” EJ asks, and unfortunately for him, it comes out lacking bite.

“I mean,” the look on Tyson’s face shifts into something uncertain rather than his usual pure, unfiltered, earnest optimism. “You did want to talk to him about it anyway, right? He doesn’t say it in so many words, but... I dunno. He seems like he’s into... all this you’ve got going on.”

EJ tries to ignore the heat that trickles down his spine when Tyson makes a vague hand-waving gesture at... pretty much all of him. “He’s into it when it’s ExtraJuicy. Erik Johnson is maybe going to get a different reaction.”

Tyson sits back with a frown. “What!” he says, loud enough that Gabe and EJ both shoot him matching glares - god, he shouldn’t be surprised, Tyson is the king of Lack of Volume Control. “What are you talking about? Anybody would be lucky to get all up on that.”

“I keep telling him this and he doesn’t get it,” Gabe shakes his head, like he’s disappointed, and Erik’s really just about had enough of his friends talking about him like he isn’t sitting a foot and a half away from them. “Dude, Nate likes you as a friend already. You’re just as much of a catch as he is, how do you not see that? ExtraJuicy and EJ are both you. It’s gonna be fine.”

Tyson nods encouragingly along with that, though the expression on his face is a little strange - smiling but purse-lipped, a little more squirmy than usual. Well, whatever. If he’s agreeing with Gabe about Nate, then Erik can forgive him his Tyson Strangeness.

EJ sighs, uncrossing his arms so that he can scratch through the scruff on his face, feeling some of the stress leak out of him. It’s not that Tyson and Gabe are particularly convincing - but he gets the point. The thing that really matters is that they’re here for him and support him, whether that means he wants to try and let the whole thing go, or actually give it his best shot and go to Nate.

And yeah - maybe it is a little encouraging to hear that Nate’s best friend thinks he has a shot. Not that he has any idea what to expect, really, when it comes to what to say to Nate and break the news that ExtraJuicy and EJ are one one in the same, and have been the whole time. And that despite the fact that they’re coworkers as well as already friends, he thinks that the thing that’s been slowly building between them is awesome enough to give an actual, real-life, non-Grindr shot.

Jeez. When he puts it like that...

EJ coughs into his fist. “You guys are the worst at pep talks,” he says, and watches as Tyson’s face morphs into an exaggerated pout and Gabe just rolls his eyes and grins at him. “But...thanks. I think that... despite the mess we’ve kind of made of it, it’s worth giving us a chance. I’ll figure out what the fuck I’m going to say and drop in on him in the morning.”

“Hell yeah!” Tyson pumps a fist - and keeps a lid on his volume, this time. “Go get your man, EJ! And then tell us all about it - except for the parts where you gently and romantically fuck him so that it doesn’t mess up his leg. I don’t wanna hear about that.”

“I already told you, I don’t kiss and tell,” EJ grumbles, and reaches out to mess up Tyson’s curls while he’s not expecting it. “And I don’t want any more romantic advice from you goons after this, got it? Figure out your own bullshit.”

That sets off both Gabe and Tyson protesting again - thankfully, they both keep it to a whisper - and EJ smirks.

But yeah. Maybe.... maybe this isn’t the worst way things could have turned out. All that’s left to do is wait and see.

 

---

 

In a world in which Erik did not play the fifth hockey game of a five-game road trip that night, followed up by an extremely draining revelation about the guy he’s been more or less courting through the notorious queer hookup app Grindr, he would have gotten right off the plane and gone to Nate’s house, intent on revealing the truth and professing his something-like-love, and getting on his knees then and there. Not to propose, but to - you know.

That is not what happens.

EJ doesn’t remember most of the drive home from the airport; Denver passes in a twilight blur of orange streetlights and barren trees and mowed-flat fields covered in a dusting of snow. It’s far too late for his brain to keep up with much of anything at this point, wrung out as he is. His thoughts keep following the same circular path anyway, to the point where EJ thinks he’s going to be dreaming about this tonight: sk8dogg is Cole is Nate. His friend and teammate Nate - Nate, who he’s found more and more attractive of late, not just in the abstract way of having a hot teammate but something else. Who he’s had dozens of conversations with and gotten to know better and better, despite the gauzy layer of fake names and identities between them. Who he’s -

Erik shakes his head, trying to clear his thoughts as he puts his truck into park and steps out into the chill mountain air. He can worry about all of this tomorrow, when it actually comes to going over Nate’s house and figuring out what the fuck he wants to say so that the whole thing doesn’t explode his face.

Christ, that feels like a tall order. At least he’s bone-tired enough from the trip that he doubts he’ll have trouble falling asleep. It would be like him, too, to be kept up with worry and doubt, examining every conversation he had with sk8dogg, every photo Cole had sent to him, looking for the seams where it’s clear that they are one in the same. And EJ’s sure that the proof is there, if he looks hard enough.

But he rather figure this out with Nate in person. Hear it from the man himself. Tell Nate what he wants, kiss him like he’s been craving for a while now.

That’s the last thought he has before he collapses face-first into bed with an exhausted groan. In the end, he doesn’t remember falling asleep, because he’s right - he passes out before the thoughts of Nate cloud his mind so much that he can’t relax.

If he dreams, he doesn’t remember that, either.

 

---

 

Never let it be said that EJ doesn’t follow through once he has a plan. This time - well, he’s only got sort of a plan, but he’s going to do it anyway. Wingin’ it isn’t always his style, but it’s more or less worked out for him in the past. Sometimes the best plays, the goal-scoring moments, are entirely instinct with no forethought involved.

No forethought involved. Yeah, that pretty accurately describes this situation, EJ thinks as he bundles himself into a scarf and gloves, says goodbye to the dogs and locks his front door behind him. No going back now, even though he has only half a fucking clue as to what he’s gonna do once he gets to Nate’s.

At least step one is pretty easy, and he didn’t even need a suggestion from Tyson to figure it out.

EJ stops by the deli for coffee and breakfast sandwiches - an acceptable protein-focused brunch, not that Nate needs to be crazy strict about meal plans now - before he heads in the direction of Nate’s place. He can feel his nerves creeping up on him as he gets closer: the sweatiness of his palms, the heat that won’t seem to leave his face and the back of his neck, the pinch of his heart in his chest as it beats too loud. He aches at the thought of laying it all out there for Nate to... for Nate to what?

Fuck, EJ has no idea what he’s doing. This isn’t even the kind of thing you can fucking Google.

And that’s too bad, because all too soon he’s pulling up to Nate’s house, and his feet carry him all the way to the front door before he can second-guess himself even further.

He stops on the top step, hesitating a half-second before he locks his jaw, curls his fingers into half a fist and gives the door a few gentle knocks. The lights are on, but it’s mid-morning; hopefully Nate’s napping on and off anyway - that’s about the best thing you can do to pass the time with an injury like that. EJ knows from experience.

EJ’s just about convinced that Nate is napping off a painkiller and that the breakfast sandwiches are all for him when there’s a shuffling sound behind the door, and then it opens with a comical slowness.

Nate peers out at him, squinting at the winter brightness and mid-morning sun. He looks - EJ swallows. He’s adorably sleep-rumpled, in an Avs hoodie that’s maybe a size too big and still not big enough to avoid stretching around the toned muscles of his forearms. It’s attractive despite the pale draw to his skin, the bags around his eyes - and, of course, the slight stoop of his posture to account for the crutches.

“You’re not Tyson,” he yawns, and EJ’s hyper-aware of the way his ears must be turning pink. At least he can blame it on the cold.

“I volunteered,” EJ says, and holds up the cups of coffee and bag full of hot, greasy food - and that’s all it takes for Nate’s face to break out in a smile. He backs away from the door carefully, enough to let EJ pass and come inside.

For his part, EJ tries to ignore the way his stomach is flipping and flopping in his belly like a fish. The smell of Nate as he steps inside - fleeting but clean, masculine - makes him nearly trip over his own feet, and he wastes no time in heading straight for Nate’s kitchen to put down the coffee before he spills it all over either of them.

Nate trails him into the kitchen, the uneven thunk of his crutches and careful steps loud against the wood floor. EJ busies himself with unpacking the sandwiches - he’d gotten, like, four of them because they’re hockey players, and if this goes south then hey, at least he has a few breakfast sandwiches - and Nate quietly watches. Whether it’s from confusion or exhaustion or whatever else, EJ can’t really tell. When he looks up, Nate’s just watching him - and, okay, maybe there’s a combination of at least those two things on his face.

EJ slaps two sandwiches onto a plate and sticks it in Nate’s microwave. Now or never, huh. “You should sit down.”

Nate chuckles, but drags out one of the chairs so that he can sit heavily, propping his crutches up against the wall. “Feels like all I’ve been doing the past few days is sitting, and that’s all I’ll be doing for a while now. Tyson told you about it?”

“Yeah,” EJ winces; lower-body injuries are seriously no fun. “Yeah, well - sit down anyway, I’ve got something to tell you.”

EJ leans back against the countertop and rubs his hands together, trying to steel himself against the tumultuous riot of sensation in his belly - his stomach rolling and clenching in turns, the pound of his heart against his ribs. It feels like all the blood in his body is heading north, for once, towards his face. The microwave is a low hum in the background as the moment stretches, and EJ swallows thickly as he tries to figure out what he wants to say.

“I’m...” EJ trails off, and looks away. Fuck, what are words? Nate deserves to hear this from him, though; he looks back at Nate, maintains the eye contact despite how wild his heart is racing in his chest. “This is gonna sound crazy, but… your internet dating thing. It’s on Grindr, right?”

There’s no missing the way Nate’s face flushes, but he manages to quirk an eyebrow, too. “Got it in one.”

“Yeah, well,” Erik fidgets, doesn’t know what to do with his hands, resists the urge to touch his face or wipe his hands on his jeans. Jesus, he’s not gonna survive this. “Uh, me too. After the guys harassed me about it at the bar like a month back - I joined Grindr.”

“Oh,” Nate’s not quite frowning, but he tips his head to the side, curious. “Small world, I guess?”

EJ can’t help but huff a laugh that maybe borders a little on hysterical. “I mean - about that. Uh. I think we… I think we managed to find each other. Because I didn’t use my real name, and my profile is flirty and stupid and I used the same initials, but... it’s me. I’m ExtraJuicy.”

Nate stares. And then he blinks, and bursts out in a quick peal of laughter.

“Come on, EJ. Did Tyson tell you to say that?” Nate shakes his head, still smiling, and EJ’s insides turn to ice. “Because - oh.”

Nate pauses, arm lifted to scratch at the back of his neck, and he’s looking right at EJ - right through him, it feels like - and suddenly the air is sucked out of the room.

EJ can’t breathe. God, somehow this is even worse than his own revelation on the plane last night. He’s got a front-row seat to watching the gears turn in Nate’s head as all the pieces fit into place, as it dawns on him that EJ isn’t joking, that he is ExtraJuicy, and that both of them have created kind of a ridiculous mess for themselves without having any fuckin’ clue.

“Oh,” Nate repeats, cheeks closer to red than pink. “Oh my god.”

“Yeah,” EJ exhales, crossing his arms over his chest. “I - yeah. Pretty much.”

“How did I not - oh my god, there’s a horse joke in your profile, isn’t there,” Nate groans, and okay - EJ has to smile a little at that.

“If it’s any consolation, I had no idea it was you, either,” he says with a sigh. “Of course reading your profile now is…”

Nate looks up at him, eyebrows raised, and EJ shrugs. They’re both idiots. “The fake names didn’t help either, huh.”

“You’re telling me,” EJ says, smoothing a hand down his face. “Robert is my middle name - I don’t know if you remember, for how many times Gabe likes to call me Erik Robert Johnson, but I shortened it to Rob for... god knows what reason.”

Nate clears his throat, glancing up at EJ and then away again. It’s almost - okay, it’s definitely a little cute. “Cole is for Cole Harbor. Tyson thought it was dumb, but I guess... I couldn’t give out my real name just yet. I didn’t know how the meeting in person would go, if he... if you found out that I was actually. You know.”

It’s not dumb, but EJ doesn’t say that - it’s more or less the same reason he had for not giving out his real name. He hums thoughtfully, turning the information over in his mind. “Wait - you told Tyson?”

Nate gives him a wry look, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “And you didn’t tell Gabe?”

“Well,” EJ says, heat rising to his face. God, he wishes he weren’t so easy to flush, especially right now. “I told him I was online dating. He was the one who did the whole captain thing and figured out there was... someone.”

Nate’s eyes cut to his again, and - how the fuck does this keep happening? EJ’s lungs feel tight, too big for his chest, as he gets swallowed by Nate’s gaze and the keen interest in them, something he’s never seen on Nate’s face before. It’s something electric; it makes the hair on his arms stand on end with the intensity behind it.

Intense, but not bad. Actually, EJ would say it's kinda like -

Something like hope starts to swell under his ribs, and EJ’s quick to clear his throat, to break through the heavy silence. “I... honestly didn’t know you were sk8dogg, or that he was you, until that picture with the cast. I mean, I wasn’t looking for clues or anything, I just...”

I didn’t look too hard, because I was having so much fun, the back of EJ’s brain supplies. And, ugh - he’s not going to say it, but he knows in his gut it’s the truth.

Nate shifts, his fingers unable to stay still with what must be nerves. He glances up at EJ, licks his lips. “You’re not... disappointed that it’s me?”

What? No,” EJ frowns, brow creasing at the question. “Of course not, you’re- ”

He makes a waving gesture at - well, at all of Nate, and it’s a little gratifying that Nate’s ears turn a flattering pink in reaction. That swelling warmth in EJ’s chest fizzes out to the tips of his fingers.

The microwave dings. They both ignore it.

Nate, thankfully, doesn’t ask what the hell EJ means. “I gotta admit,” he says, rubbing a hand over his face, “part of the reason why I went on Grindr is the first place is because I had a crush on a teammate, and... that didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I was trying to get over it - and, well, Tyson pushed me into it. But then it all turns out that you’re my Grindr crush too, and- ”

“Hold up,” EJ blinks, mind spinning with what he’s just heard. “You just - I - I was your Grindr crush too, as ExtraJuicy.”

“Yes,” Nate admits.

“But you had a crush on me, EJ? As in Erik?” EJ points to himself, and after a beat, Nate nods.

Nate’s face must be burning, but - EJ can’t stop the slow smile from spreading across his own. He likes EJ, has liked EJ since before this whole thing began? And then with a coincidence like this -

Butterflies doesn't even begin to cover what's happening in the vicinity of EJ's stomach. Or heart. Whichever.

“Jesus,” EJ huffs out a laugh, almost lightheaded from the buoyant brightness in his chest. “This is going to make for some good material for Tyson’s best man speech someday.”

The words are out of his mouth before EJ’s brain can catch up with it, and - well, fuck. Way to go jumping about fourteen steps ahead, Johnson. It’s a minor miracle that Nate just ducks his head for a moment, a small and amused - but not displeased - smile dimpling the corner of his mouth.

“So... would you want to go on a date with me? Not just sk8dogg, or Cole?” Nate asks. It’s a pretty calm delivery, but EJ catches the nervous bounce of Nate’s good foot, the flush on his face working its way down his neck. It’s actually a little bit...charming.

As if EJ is going to say anything other than yes, holy shit.

“That was gonna be my question to you, actually,” EJ smiles. “You think you like Erik Johnson as much as ExtraJuicy? We are the same person, and that does mean you’re gonna be subject to a lot of shitty jokes.”

The smile that blooms on Nate’s face makes EJ’s stomach flip again. “Maybe I like your shitty jokes.”

“Do you?” It’s EJ’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “I hope you know what you’re getting into, NateMac.”

“I have some idea, yeah,” Nate laughs, and cups his cheek in one hand to give EJ a fond once-over. “I was - I am really into both Erik and ExtraJuicy. Lucky for me that you’re one in the same, eh?”

EJ doesn’t want to argue about who’s really the lucky one here, because his Grindr sort-of-hookup, sort-of-(maybe?)-boyfriend is Nathan fucking MacKinnon, and he’s not particularly interested in jinxing this fragile thing between them.

Not when it’s working out astronomically better than he could have predicted.

But then Nate gives him this look again. EJ doesn’t know where he’s hiding it, this ability to turn something on and set the room ablaze with a single look. It lights a fire in EJ’s belly and sparks something that makes his breath catch in his chest at the intensity of it.

It’s like suddenly every fiber, every nerve under his skin is tuned to Nate. Like a switch being flipped, EJ’s no longer satisfied with the four feet of distance between them.

Fuck, he’s hot.

EJ swallows thickly, aware of his own body temperature rising and the tempo of his heart steadily increasing in his own ears. This is definitely where all that really fucking sexy dirty talk comes from, the same place from wherever Nate is pulling these goddamn spine-melting bedroom eyes out of.

“How’s the leg doing?” EJ asks, and Nate tilts his head at the abrupt turn in the conversation. The dark heat doesn’t leave his eyes.

“Well, I mean, it’s definitely broken,” he says, a smirk tugging at his lips. Fuck, it’s a good look on him - a little smug, a lot attractive. Give Nate an ounce of confidence and he’ll turn any room into a sauna, apparently. But maybe that’s just EJ. “Why? What were - ”

Whatever else Nate was going to say gets cut off by a noise low in his throat when EJ takes two big steps across the kitchen and carefully wraps one arm around Nate’s waist, the other hooked around the underside of his thigh. EJ spares a moment to be grateful for his hockey ass and all the squats he’s been doing as he bodily lifts Nate - paying careful attention to how he maneuvers Nate’s injured leg - and deposits him to sit on the countertop. Nate’s arms come up to loop around his neck for support, which has the side effect of keeping EJ close - close enough to kiss.

Their faces are at matching heights now, with EJ’s hands loose on Nate’s hips and his body undeniably wedged between Nate’s spread knees. When Nate swallows EJ can hear it, feel the gentle thud of his pounding heart through the layers of their clothes, where their chests are pressed together.

“What the fuck,” Nate whispers, and EJ’s stomach flips - definitely a that was fucking hot kind of what-the-fuck, from the blown-out blackness in Nate’s pupils. EJ smirks at him.

“You good?” he asks, giving Nate’s hips a squeeze. “Both you and Bednar would kill me if I injured you just so we could make out.”

“Oh, is that what we’re doing?” Nate says against his lips, huffing a laugh that EJ feels fan across his face. They’re so close their lips are brushing with every word; Nate’s eyes are half-lidded, his eyelashes golden in the mid-morning light streaming in through the kitchen window. God, EJ’s going crazy for Nate - and it’s only gonna get worse the longer he goes without kissing him.

So he does.

The first brush is tentative, warm; they feel each other out, a tender press of lips that lingers, gentle. Nate’s got a little stubble - not that EJ’s complaining, but it makes his stomach flip-flop again, to remember who he’s kissing. One kiss bleeds into the next, their lips moving against each other in a languid push-pull as their patience starts to tip and urgency takes the wheel.

Hell yes.

EJ shivers when Nate sends his fingers into the short hair at the nape of his neck, tilting EJ’s head as he opens his mouth, coaxes EJ’s tongue inside. Nate’s mouth is hot, his tongue deft and slick, and EJ finds himself pressing into it until they’re plastered all over each other, chest to chest, one long line of heat.

Nate growls into the kiss when EJ skirts a hand up under his shirt, feeling up the dense muscle of Nate’s obliques in teasing millimeters. He nips at EJ’s lower lip in response, smirks into the kiss at the gasp he gets. That hot, heavy weight settles in EJ’s gut, his skin over-warm and over-sensitive everywhere Nate touches. It’s - it’s intoxicating, and he can’t stop himself from groaning when Nate breaks the kiss to lick a stripe up the column of his throat, worrying a mark into the juncture of his neck and shoulder.

Fuck, it isn’t something they talked about, but suddenly EJ wants it - to be peppered with marks that will last for days to come, undeniable evidence that he is Nate’s.

“Ah - Nate,” he manages to choke out when Nate moves to the other side of his neck, gently fitting his teeth there. He doesn’t really bite down - just sucks, open-mouthed, until an undeniably massive hickey forms on EJ’s skin. He can feel it, the heat of blood rising to the surface, sensitive as Nate laves and kisses over the mark to soothe the sting.

EJ anchors his hands on Nate’s waist and grinds forward, sure he’s leaving bruises along Nate’s flank with his fingertips - not that he complains at all. He just groans into EJ’s mouth, barely pausing for breath as his hands begin to wander, too. It isn’t hard to give in to the instinct to push into Nate’s touch, suck a little harder to see what other sounds he can get from Nate’s mouth.

Everything about Nate is searingly hot, from the tongue exploring his mouth to his kiss-bitten lips, to the fingers inching their way into the backs of EJ’s jeans to squeeze his ass. EJ moans low in his chest, rocking his hips into the undeniable hardness in Nate’s pants - one of the many virtues of sweatpants. Nate sucks harder in response, tugging aside the collar of his sweatshirt so he can get better access to EJ’s skin.

Christ, Nate is everywhere, all over him - and EJ is ready to drown in him.

“Can we make this work?” Nate asks breathlessly, when he finally pulls back from mauling EJ’s neck. He draws his hands away from EJ’s ass to tap at his own leg - gesturing down to the maroon cast that envelops his leg below the knee. “Because I really want you to fuck me, but you’re right - the trainers will have my head if I make this any worse.”

EJ’s brain short-circuits.

“Uh,” EJ says intelligently - and it must show on his face that all his blood has rushed south towards his dick, because when he catches Nate’s gaze, he’s smirking. “I mean - I don’t want to hurt you either, and we all want you back on the ice.”

“I think we can be careful enough if we try,” Nate says. “If you want to, that is.”

“I don’t know what to think about the fact that apparently you think I’m the kind of girl who puts out on the first date,” EJ teases.

I think you like to be ridden hard and put away wet,” Nate smirks. “At least, that’s the impression I got from ExtraJuicy.”

“You’re not wrong on both counts,” EJ grins, giving in to the impulse to grind a little into Nate again. “Still don’t wanna hurt you.”

“Is that a no?” Nate raises an eyebrow, and EJ snorts.

“Of course not,” he says, leaning in to mouth at Nate’s neck this time - and something curls low in his belly when Nate tips his head back to give him better access, exhaling a sharp breath. “Give me some credit, Nathan. I know what I’m doing.”

“Didn’t - ah! I didn’t say you didn’t,” Nate replies, breath hitching when EJ scrapes his teeth gently down the side of his neck. EJ smiles when Nate’s hips start to rock into his, rutting up to seek out that delicious drag of their cocks together. Even through the layers of clothes, it sends sparks of heat down EJ’s spine every time they line up just right - no small feat, considering Nate’s leg and the difference in their heights, even with him seated on the counter.

“Couch?” EJ mumbles into Nate’s skin, kissing his way across Nate’s jaw and back to his mouth. Maybe it’s unfair, to ask a question and then dive in for his lips again; EJ really isn’t sorry, though, not when Nate kisses back so deep and thorough. His tongue sweeps and curls around EJ’s, wet and hot and insistent on exploring every inch of him. It’s a kiss so consuming that it’s easy to forget to breathe.

“Bed,” Nate gasps when they pull apart, panting into the humid air in the scant space between their lips. His eyes are wide-blown black, the blue consumed by his pupils. EJ can’t help but stare at his lips - kiss-swollen and bitten so red that he wants to swoop back in, explore them again with his own.

He knows he will - but for now, there are more important things to get to.

EJ helps Nate down from the counter and together they shuffle out of the kitchen and towards the stairs. Even Nate’s sort-of hobble with the crutches doesn’t dampen EJ’s desire; the urgency in Nate’s movements and the heat in his eyes when he looks over his shoulder at EJ is more than enough to keep the spark in his gut alight.

They stumble onto the bed together, too eager to do anything besides grope at each other and tug at the layers of clothes, connected at the mouth and unwilling to part even for a second. Nate loops his arms around EJ’s neck again, pulling them down together when he bends to lay flat on his back against the duvet.

And - fuck, if this isn’t even better than EJ could have imagined.

He exhales a breath as he looks down at Nate, drinking in the sight of him. His eyes skim over the shirt rumpled from his wandering hands, pushed up to reveal the firm stomach and light-brown trail of hair leading down into Nate’s sweatpants. Nate’s skin is pleasingly flushed, his ears as pink as his cheeks - and those kissable lips redder than EJ’s ever seen them. His arms are stretched over his head, in an unintentional but very appreciated flex of his biceps, and there’s no way EJ can possibly ignore the obvious hard-on tenting his shorts.

Christ, Nate looks like a wet dream, spread out for him like this. It’s more than enough to make EJ’s mouth water.

“What are you waiting for?” Nate murmurs, a smile blooming on his face as he watches EJ. Jesus, what is it about Nate that makes his heart tumble in his chest?

For his part, EJ has no idea what Nate sees in his expression, besides the dumb happiness and broad smile he can’t keep under wraps.

“Nothing,” he says as he leans in to kiss Nate again - because he’s right, why should he wait a single second longer? He lingers on Nate’s mouth, languidly dipping in to taste him, a slow-burning kiss that scorches from the inside out.

He sets a knee on the bed between Nate’s thighs, pressing their chests together - and you know, that’s not enough, now that they’re horizontal. Like this, it’s easy to sit upright again and shuck his sweatshirt and tee; the heated look Nate gives EJ when he does so is a pleasant, spine-tingling surprise.

This time, when Nate pulls him down, it’s with skin-on-skin contact - and fuck, does that make all the difference. EJ licks his lips as he dives in to kiss at the marks he’d left on Nate already, getting them nice and pink under the attention of his mouth. Nate’s hands smooth down his sides to cup his ass, urging EJ to thrust lazily against him. It’s entirely unfair - despite his leg, Nate manages to grind up into the contact in return, the flex of his abs shifting against EJ’s belly.

That shouldn’t be as hot as it is, but Jesus - maybe everything Nate does is hot to EJ, now.

Nate squirms a hand between them, scrabbling for EJ’s button and fly; just the touch of Nate’s hand through the denim of his jeans is enough to make EJ’s dick twitch in his pants. Fuck, it’s been long enough that he’s really sensitive - or, it’s just Nate. Potato potahto. Either way, it’s surprisingly quickly how Nate manages to worm his hand past the layers and get his fingers wrapped around EJ’s cock, pulling back from the kiss so he can smirk at EJ’s bitten-off groan.

“You’re way too good at this,” EJ huffs, hips hitching into Nate’s grip. He can’t help it, not when Nate twists his wrist just so and uses his thumb to spread the slick around the head of his cock in one smooth motion. Fuck, how does he do it? Nate does not have small hands, and EJ may or may not have worn a pair of his tighter jeans over here, just to give himself the boost of confidence if nothing else.

“Didn’t you hear? I’m a pro at stick-handling,” Nate has the audacity to quirk and eyebrow on top of that more or less deadpan delivery, and that’s it - EJ can’t not be kissing him right now, for that dumb fucking joke.

Nate grins into the kiss, and soon enough they’re laughing as much as they’re kissing, pawing at each other indiscriminately and unhurriedly. God, this is - his daydreams never got close to what it’s like to really have this. Sure, he’s hard as fuck and really fucking looking forward to having fun with Nate, but the warmth spreading out from his chest and into each and every one of his fingers and toes is more than just pure lust.

EJ knows the difference. This is something else entirely.

“Move up the goddamn bed, Nathan,” he says an indeterminate number of kisses later, ready to turn up the heat again and taste more of Nate for himself. A little thrill runs up EJ’s spine at hearing his own voice - undeniably roughened already and they’ve only just begun. And that’s not to mention Nate’s reaction to it, the obvious dilation of his pupils at the sound of EJ’s voice. Fuck.

Nate gives him one more parting kiss before doing his best to squirm up the bed while keeping his knee carefully supported and stable. It’s not exactly sexy, but it gives EJ a moment to breathe and shuck his jeans and socks. It brings down the tempo of his heart just enough so that he doesn’t spontaneously combust when Nate carefully lifts his hips to do the same, pulling down his basketball shorts with obscene slowness. It’s gotta be a show for EJ’s benefit .

When he looks up to meet Nate’s eyes, he’s shamelessly smirking. Definitely a show, then - and Jesus, he’s so hot.

Nate makes a soft sound in his throat when the waistband of his shorts catches on the head of his cock. EJ watches, rapt, as it springs up when Nate pushes his shorts further down his thighs. He kicks the shorts down to his feet as best he can with one leg, but EJ’s eyes are already stuck on the hard, thick curve of his cock.

EJ has to swallow with how quickly his mouth waters at the sight of Nate’s cock; it’s heart-pounding and downright erotic, to have Nate spread out on his bed like this, bared and flushed and downright edible.

“You’re too far away,” Nate complains, and that’s all EJ needs to propel him forward, crawling onto the bed and settling himself in the vee between Nate’s carefully-arranged knees. He pulls a pillow off the headboard and stuffs it under Nate’s cast for good measure, making sure it’s nice and steady before skimming his hands up Nate’s bare thighs. A shiver runs up Nate’s skin at the touch, and EJ smooths over every inch he can reach with his palms, mapping every muscular plane and dip with his fingertips.

Nate’s a well-built athlete; there’s plenty of him to savor and enjoy and explore.

“I should’ve known you were a tease,” Nate grumbles without heat; something warm and electric pulses down EJ’s spine at how kiss-roughened his voice sounds, too. He - EJ - did that. He’s the reason Nate’s flushed down his chest like a sunburn, dick standing tall and wet against the swell of his thigh, mouth swollen from kiss after kiss after kiss.

And that’s not even to mention the constellation of love bites that EJ has left up and down Nate’s neck, across his collarbone and shoulders like a tattoo. There’s no way he’s going to be able to hide all of that for the next few days, let alone weeks. Enduring Gabe and Tyson’s teasing is going to be entirely worth it, if it means Nate keeps looking at him like this - all liquid heat and unrestrained lust, impatient for the slide of their skin together.

EJ can only smirk back at him. “Who, me? That doesn’t sound like me at all.”

“Just get up here already, Erik,” Nate says, and damnit - he shouldn’t go so weak at the knees for Nate just saying his name. But he does, and he goes, and -

Christ, this is going to be the death of him.

If EJ thought that the press of their bare chests together had been incendiary and perfect, it’s nothing compared to Nate’s cock finally, finally pressed up against his.

They groan in unison at the first touch, Nate's spine bowing as he arches into the contact. EJ's eyes flutter shut and his shoulders round as he collapses forward, only just planting his hands on either side of Nate's chest to keep himself upright. Fuck, Nate feels so good - EJ looks down between them and gasps a half-breath at the sight.

Nate's cock is nearly as long as his, but it's definitely thicker - a comparison EJ couldn't make when sk8dogg was only sending him solo pics. The heat of him is unreal as EJ ruts against him; Nate runs hot anyway, and the flushed red of his blood-hot cock makes EJ's mouth water. Christ, he wants it in his mouth, making his jaw ache from the stretch and the weight of it on his tongue. The fat head would feel so good against his lips - and oh, the noises he’d wring out of Nate.

Later, though. Nate’s told EJ what he wants, and EJ plans to deliver.

First things first: he reaches between them and grasps their cocks together in one hand, pressing their cocks even further together. Nate groans, reaches up and stuffs a pillow under his neck so that he can look down the length of his body at what EJ’s doing. The look in his eyes is all hazy lust, pupils blown even blacker than before, and fuck if it doesn’t make EJ’s dick twitch.

EJ pulls his hand back to stick two fingers in his mouth, getting them nice and wet before slicking their cocks with it. Nate’s eyelashes goddamn flutter at that - EJ’s gonna be riding that high for the next week.

Fuck,” Nate enunciates, letting the consonant land heavy as he rolls his hips into EJ’s grip. The movement makes the head of his cock catch on the ridge of EJ’s with every syncopated thrust, and soon they’re both breathing ragged. It’s only getting wetter with both of them leaking everywhere; EJ can smell it in the air between them, and that’s... he’s never noticed that with a partner before, but it’s really, really fuckin’ hot.

“Yeah?” EJ asks, breathless, when Nate whines at a particularly rough downstroke. The pace of his hand keeps increasing and he varies the pressure of his fingertips, swipes through the precome welling from the tip of Nate’s cock to keep them both nice and slick. Nate reaches blindly for the headboard and when he can’t quite get a good grip, goes for Erik’s shoulders instead; the bite of his fingernails is undoubtedly going to leave crescent-shaped marks along EJ’s skin.

He can’t wait to see them, later. He wants to be marked as Nate’s as much as he wants Nate marked as his.

“You gonna give me what I asked for?” Nate grunts out, planting his good foot on the bed so that he can winch his hips up into EJ’s grip, putting a little more muscle behind his thrusts. EJ’s stomach twists pleasantly at the heat in Nate’s eyes, the challenge - he wouldn’t expect any less, knowing Nate. Competitiveness is in their blood, of course it extends to this.

He didn’t expect to enjoy it so much, now that he’s in the bedroom with another hockey player, but - hah - he’s not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth.

“Well, I would say I’d fuck you until you can’t walk,” EJ says conversationally - or tries to, the effect is really ruined by how much he’s panting at this point - and grins when Nate rolls his eyes. “But I think you’re probably not going to be going anywhere tomorrow anyway.”

“That’s not an excuse not to put your back into it,” Nate shoots back, raising an eyebrow. And, well - if Nate has the presence of mind to do be mouthy, EJ’s not doing his best. They can do better than that.

EJ gives their cocks a particularly wicked twist of his wrist, smirking when Nate throws his head back onto the pillow again. “Lube?” He asks, patting Nate’s thigh with his other hand.

“Left drawer,” Nate waves a hand vaguely in that direction, watching with hooded eyes as EJ extricates himself from between his legs, leaning over to pull out the drawer. Even just sitting up EJ can feel the difference, away from Nate’s body heat, and a shiver runs down his spine. Thankfully, it’s not too hard to locate the tube of lubricant and a condom, and he’s settling back down into Nate’s arms only a moment later.

He takes another moment to look down at Nate spread out underneath him as he rolls the tube between his big hands, warming it. Nate’s breathing hard, like he’s taken a hard shift; with every breath his obliques and abs flex, hard-won muscles on display. It’s heady as fuck, to have those strong thighs parted for him - so thick and firm, more than enough for EJ’s hands to hold on to.

As he watches, Nate shifts his hips and draws his foot up, hooking one arm under his good leg to draw it further up into his body, and - Christ, Nate’s flexible. His cheeks get redder as he knowingly exposes himself, his gaze a challenge.

EJ’s super, super into it. Someday, when Nate’s back to full health, he’s going to fucking bend him in half.

“You good?” EJ asks, popping the cap of the tube with a snap.

“Quit keeping me waiting,” Nate says, and EJ’s discovering that he likes this side of Nate - the smirking, confident side of him that’s usually reserved for his good fucking hockey but also makes EJ’s pulse thunder in his ears in the bedroom.

The more they do this, the more that the lines between Nathan MacKinnon and sk8dogg start to blur. Sk8dogg always seemed to know what he wanted, with no hesitation around being vocal about his desires. And this Nate is too, in a way that rises to meet EJ’s personality perfectly. And, y’know, gets his heart pounding. Maybe EJ’s got a little bit of a thing, for Nate being pushy and telling EJ what to do.

But this is just more than he’s seen of Nate before, and that makes EJ’s blood run hot, too: to think that he gets to see this private, demanding, sexy side of Nate that few others have. That somehow, Nate sees something in him that he wants, too.

It’s a pretty heady fucking feeling, actually. If he were a lesser man, EJ would already be on fire.

EJ chuckles when he accidentally squeezes too much lube onto his fingers, dripping a little onto the bedspread between Nate’s knees. Nate’s expression goes from exasperated back to lust-filled pretty fucking quick, though, when EJ skims a finger down behind his balls and gently presses against his hole. An exhale punches out of him at the sensation; that’s something EJ’s not gonna forget anytime soon. It’s a good thing he doesn’t have a hand on his own cock, or he’d be dangerously close to shooting off already.

He owes Nate a good time, and he’s damn well going to give him one.

Fuck, Nate’s tight. EJ carefully watches the play of expressions on Nate’s face as he eases a finger inside, spreading the lube as he sinks into Nate’s vice-like heat. It’s been a while since EJ’s done this, but he likes the prep as much as the act itself - getting his partner ready as well as winding them up until they’re begging for it, ready to fuck themselves on his cock.

Huh, maybe he is a bit of a tease.

Nate moans low in his throat when EJ adds a second finger, gently pressing his thumb against Nate’s perineum as he scissors his fingers, presses deep but gentle in a slow slide. If it burns at all Nate doesn’t show it; his eyes are closed, but as EJ begins to carefully withdraw his fingers and thrust inward again in a languid rhythm, his hips hitch to meet him.

Yeah - it’s really, really sexy to see Nate take what he wants. At this point, EJ’s going to have a list of things he wants them to do together, both before and after the cast comes off.

“You look amazing like this,” he murmurs, bending to drop a kiss on Nate’s folded knee. “You feel amazing, like this.”

“Just wait,” Nate huffs, rocking his hips further onto EJ’s fingers. God, the heat of him. EJ already feels like he’s burning up and he’s only got two fingers inside of him.

EJ drizzles more lube onto his fingers before he works in a third, blood rushing to his cock at the little sounds that Nate keeps making. Both of them are approaching that point of no return, that dizzy-lust frenzy where they can’t keep their hands off each other, eager to touch and feel and taste. Every time EJ’s cock grazes Nate’s thigh he can feel it twitch, he’s so ready; if the increase in Nate’s volume is anything to go by, he’s pretty much ready, too.

The air between them feels humid and heady as they pant into each other’s mouths, pressed as close together as they can be. It isn’t much room for EJ to move his wrist, but he’s working with it - and it’s worth it, for the sloppy kisses they keep exchanging, open-mouthed and wet. Nate sucks on EJ’s tongue when he sweeps it into his mouth, bites at the corner of his lips when they pull apart just far enough to breathe.

“Come on,” Nate exhales raggedly, hips canted into EJ’s with every single one of his thrusts. His thumb catches on Nate’s rim and Nate keens, fingers digging into the meat of EJ’s shoulders. “C’mon, EJ. Please.”

EJ doesn’t need to be told twice, not with Nate’s chest heaving under his, his eyes dark and locked on EJ’s and his powerful hips working like - fuck, like that.

The condom slips in his slick fingers, but it’s only a moment before EJ tears it open with his teeth. It’s maybe a little embarrassing, that it makes his blood surge when he takes his cock in a loose grip to get a condom on. EJ doesn’t regret neglecting himself to focus on Nate’s pleasure, of course. He’s not one to get performance anxiety, but with Nate looking at him like that, all liquid heat and laser-focused intensity, he doesn’t want to fumble this.

Because Christ, this is more than EJ knew he wanted, more than he knew to want, and there’s maybe still a part of him that is a little worried about fucking this up.

He gets the condom on in one go, thank fuck, and proceeds to spill probably more lube than necessary onto his cock. Nate’s lips twitch up, but he doesn’t snark - they’re both wound too tight to joke about this now, the final breathless moments before they do this. Before this something between them vitally, irrevocably, changes.

EJ shifts his weight, wedging his thighs a little further underneath Nate’s so that his knees take less of the brunt of their weight, and they both gasp when the head of EJ’s cock nudges at Nate’s entrance. Jesus, Nate’s as blood-hot against his cock as he was around EJ’s fingers, even through the insulating layer of the condom. EJ’s heartbeat roars in his ears, sweat slicking his grip on his dick as much as the lube, and it feels like both of them hold their breath as he slides inward, slides home.

Fuuuuuck,” Nate exhales a long breath - which is hopefully good in a few ways, EJ thinks giddily; at least the breathing helps with getting Nate relaxed and used to the intrusion. He watches Nate’s face for every micro-expression as he keeps pressing forward, a slow burn of a slide as they both get used to the sensations. Sweat beads EJ’s brow, the back of his neck; he can feel the dampness in the hair at his nape, feels the tickle of a bead of sweat tracks down his bare back.

But he only has eyes for Nate. Nate, who’s already twitching his hips in minute rocking motions, easing EJ even further into him; Nate, who visibly shudders and whose fingers spasm on EJ’s bicep; Nate, who bites his lip to stifle a groan when EJ’s hips meet his ass and he’s fully hilted, languidly writhing against his sheets - because even in this, apparently, Nate sets a pace that leaves EJ rushing to catch up.

It’s - a lot, and EJ exhales messily again, trying to catch his breath. Underneath him, Nate’s face is creased a little bit, brows drawn together, but the high flush on his face and chest only seems to get brighter. He’s clearly still getting used to the sensation, but it’s also clear that he can’t keep himself still if his life depended upon it.

He’s doing a pretty fucking good job of moving, actually, for a dude with one leg in a cast from the knee-down.

“Nate,” EJ sighs out a breath, heart tumbling helplessly in his chest when Nate’s eyes focus again and train right on him - blue, so blue against the pretty flush on his cheeks. “God, you’re so - you good?”

“Mm,” Nate hums, shifting his hips experimentally again. The rocking motion he can make with his leg propped up like this still gives him more than enough leverage to play with - at least when it comes to wringing EJ’s brain out of his dick, via Nate’s incredible hockey ass. Fucking hell, how did he learn to do this? Is there some magic to the squats Nate’s been doing that EJ needs to learn, stat?

“Words, Nathan,” EJ chides gently, when it’s clear that Nate could spend the next forever just shifting up and down, seeing what his body can do like this. When Nate’s eyelashes flutter at a particularly good rock and nearly makes EJ swallow his tongue, he has to concede that maybe Nate’s playing with his patience, too.

“‘M good,” Nate says thickly, and EJ’s eyes get stuck on his Adam’s apple when he swallows. “Fuck, you should - you should move.”

“Roger that,” EJ quips, and before Nate gets the chance to shoot another one-liner right back at him, he steadies his hands on Nate’s hips and withdraws, thrusting back home in a single long stroke.

It’s a good thing they’re starting slow; it’s been long enough for EJ that it’s what he wants anyways, particularly with Nate. But it also means they have plenty of time to shift and adjust as they pick up a rhythm, arching into each other and the slide of their bodies together. The angle’s pretty good to start with - better, when EJ uses his grip on Nate to cant his hips to get a little deeper, not breaking rhythm at all as he slams home.

Every sound Nate makes is liquid fire in EJ’s veins. It’s not long before EJ’s panting something ragged, in no small part because Nate’s putting all of his senses into overdrive. He’s not a quiet lover, not like EJ would have expected from his outward demeanor. Knowing sk8dogg, though - maybe EJ shouldn’t be surprised.

“Fuck,” Nate chants again, fingers skimming up and down EJ’s arms like he isn’t sure exactly what he wants to do with them, like there’s too much of EJ to touch. He ends up knotting his fingers in the short strands at EJ’s nape, tugging him downward so their lips can meet. It’s a messy kiss, panting damply into each other’s mouths and catching each other’s lips where they can.

But fuck if it isn’t one of the hottest kisses they’ve shared yet.

Bent over like this EJ feels like he’s splitting Nate nearly in half, Nate’s good knee bent at an angle that must only be possible with pilates and sheer horny determination. But it means they can sort-of-kiss, wet and sloppy and getting sloppier as EJ thrusts faster. Nate’s cock between them gives a particularly vigorous twitch when EJ gives him a few staccato thrusts, drooling precome on both of their bellies.

EJ can’t bring himself to look back down between them where they’re joined, either. If he does... shit, he knows that would send him over the edge, right then and there.

“This you putting your back into it, Johnson?” Nate manages to grunt, his voice so gravelly it sends a shiver down EJ’s spine. With his head tipped back just so, baring his neck and looking up at EJ from underneath his light eyelashes, EJ knows a challenge from Nate when he sees it.

He was never very good at saying no to those.

“What, you want to be ridden hard and put away wet?” EJ pants, giving a few more sharp thrusts and grinning when he feels Nate’s toes curl against him. He squeezes Nate’s hips reassuringly, smoothing down the ladder of his ribs, his sweat-damp sides. They’re both going to be sore and bruised in the morning, probably, if they both get their way. “Don’t hold back on me, Nate. I wanna hear you.”

Nate’s smirk curls up at the corners, and he throws his arms behind his head to grip the headboard. And yeah, fuck - EJ’s on board with this, when it’s just enough leverage for Nate to roll nearly his entire fucking body, arching into him in a sinuous, sinful rock that puts his arms and abs on display. He grinds down on EJ in a way that nearly makes EJ’s eyes roll back in his head, goddamn.

Sex with fucking pro athletes: who knew?

“Hear me, huh?” Nate bites out before a drawn-out groan, not stopping for a second as he half-fucks himself on EJ’s cock. “Knew you liked it when I talked dirty. You want me to tell you how good it feels, being fucked open like this, pinned down as you give it to me just how I like it? Because it does. It’s fucking - not fair, Erik, that you manages to press all my buttons on the first try. If I didn’t have a bum leg I would have already flipped us over and ridden you ‘til you couldn’t form words anymore.”

“Jesus, Nate,” EJ shudders, a hiccup in the tempo of his hips as Nate’s words surge over him. Nate clenches down on him on a particularly strong thrust and EJ practically whites out, his vision going blurred at the edges as his consciousness narrows to that hot point of contact between them, the vice of Nate’s body around him.

Nate is a study in contrasts: the unceasingly hard line of his dick rutting up against EJ’s abs, the plush cushion of his hockey ass against EJ’s thighs. His red, red lips and those words spilling out of them, a fountain of searing thoughts and images that EJ can barely keep up with as they wash over him.

Fuck, Nate’s enough on his own without the dirty talk; EJ has no idea how he’s going to keep up with him.

He really, really wishes Nate’s leg wasn’t in a cast. Then again - if it wasn’t, then maybe neither of them would be here. At this point it’s unfathomable to him that this could have ended some other way, that maybe they might not have ended up here, together.

EJ’s not one to really go in for destiny or kismet or all that shit, but - well. Maybe it’s one of those days where he has balls-deep revelations along with the best lay he’s had in literal years.

Because this is - this is more than he thinks anyone could have known to ask for, out of something like a blind match. Nate’s not just the hottest piece of ass he’d happened to stumble upon, though he’s absolutely that as well. He’d gotten under EJ’s skin in a way that no one has in a long time, that Nate-the-teammate had only scratched the surface of. Something about the anonymity, the paper-thin barrier of the app allowed them to build something unlike anything EJ’s had before in a burgeoning relationship. And that’s -

Nate’s eyes are intensely blue on his, holding his gaze as he pants, open-mouthed, in time with EJ’s thrusts. God. Time seems to dilate around them, stretching every moment into a long thread that EJ can’t seem to find the end of. But what matters is that he’s here, caught in Nate’s big hands as they press fingertip-bruises into his ribs, forging something that’s as exciting as it is scary.

EJ didn’t know how to ask for this, but somehow, the universe knew what to give. And it gave him Nate.

He’s mid-thrust when Nate pulls a hand away, runs his palm up EJ’s side to his muscular shoulder, down his bicep and forearm to tug his hand away from the sheets by Nate’s hip. It takes a little bit of rebalancing on EJ’s part, but - it’s worth it when Nate laces their fingers together, guides their pressed palms to lay flat on the mattress again. EJ’s stomach and heart do a precarious tumble together, and his rhythm stutters.

Goddamnit if that’s gonna be the thing that makes him come, Nate wanting to fucking hold hands. But it’s absolutely the sort of calm, quiet act that belies the depth in Nate and finally, unequivocally, demonstrates what’s going on in his head.

“I’m kinda crazy about you,” EJ blurts, barely finding the space to breathe, now, with the punishing pace of them rocking together. Nate’s meeting him thrust for thrust; EJ has no doubt that both of them are going to be sore tomorrow from using muscles they don’t generally use for hockey. “I - God, Nate. You have no idea.”

Nate whines, squeezes EJ’s hand in a white-knuckle grip. “You’re going to make me come if you keep talking like that.”

That punches a breathless laugh out of EJ and he slows a little, focuses more on the drag of his cock in and out of Nate’s body, glancing deliciously over his prostate, and Nate positively writhes. “Yeah? And here I thought the dirty talk was kinky - “

“Erik,” Nate moans, kicking at EJ’s flank with the heel of his good foot. “Honestly, if you had no idea about what I’ve been feeling -“

“Tell me,” EJ pants, grinding so sweetly on the thrust in that he can feel Nate tremble around him, see the jumping vein in his neck with how hard his heart’s pounding, too.

“It’s you,” Nate says, and heat flashes through EJ all the way to his fingertips. There’s probably enough warmth in his face alone to melt a rink. Nate’s head thrashes when EJ gets in a particularly good thrust, his dick jerking between them, so wet and probably rubbed raw. “You’re just - you have no idea what you do to me. You take up so much space it’s impossible to ignore you, with your dumb sense of humor and your fucking hands and just - I’m never able to keep my eyes off you.”

Fuck, fuck, fuck. There’s no way Erik is going to be able to survive this.

EJ ducks his head, nostrils flaring as he catches sight of Nate’s heaving chest and sweat-slicked skin, and when he lifts his face to meet Nate’s eyes again, he’s made up his mind. Dark heat coils in his belly; they’re both more than ready for this, scrabbling towards the precipice with no care about what’s at the bottom.

“Then don’t look away,” EJ says, and manages to give Nate a grin - like he still has the energy for grinning - and shifts his thighs under Nate’s to hit the perfect angle. “And come for me, Nate.”

It’s instant, and it’s absolutely incandescent - Nate is incandescent - as something inside him ignites. EJ feels it, the shudder of his body as the spring inside him coils and then releases with force. Nate clenches around him with vice-like heat that makes EJ swear aloud as he keeps thrusting, working Nate through it. Nate moans, back arching off the bed taut as a bowstring, flushing vividly down his chest as he comes, untouched, all over their chests. His lust-glazed eyes catch on EJ’s, and hold, and fuck - that’s enough to send EJ over the edge, too.

EJ didn’t think it could get any hotter, but it feels like liquid sunlight pouring out of him, into Nate. The aftershocks are just as intense, and Nate gives a full-body twitch with his last few thrusts, sloppy and extra-slick with his come. He rides it until neither of them can take it, grinding little thrusts that only really spread the mess on their chests, and eventually Nate releases his hand so that he can bat at EJ to stop, oversensitive.

EJ sighs out an exhale that’s commensurate with all the weight on his shoulders from the past few weeks lifting all at once. Beneath him, Nate gives him a soft, slow-blooming smile.

Wow. That was just -

“Wow,” Nate says, licking his lips - they’re bitten so red that EJ would have said he’d gotten into a fight, or maybe decided to get amorous with a bear.

Tthe time is long past for blushing, but EJ almost feels like he could, looking down at the evidence on Nate’s body. The hickeys, the scattering of freshly-formed marks on his hips from EJ’s fingers, the high color on his cheeks and the pools of slick on his belly - EJ did that.

“Yeah,” EJ agrees, unable to keep the smile off his face. “That was - “

“Yeah,” Nate’s full-on grinning, though he grimaces a little bit when he lets go of his thigh to let his leg splay back onto the bed. “Jeez, it’s a good thing I’m not skating tomorrow - for more reasons than one.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” EJ waggles his eyebrows, and Nate laughs hoarsely. “Your leg okay?”

“Little stiff, but that’s going to be my life for the next forever, so,” Nate waves away his worry, dragging their clasped hands up to his mouth to plant a kiss on the back of EJ’s hand. What the fuck, that shouldn’t still make EJ’s insides twist like a balloon animal. And yet! “Do you mind getting a towel though?”

“Say no more,” EJ says. Pulling out makes them both wince at the sudden rush of cool air, and EJ slides off the bed with a surprising amount of wobble in his step. Huh. Well, it had been that good. “I’m a goddamn gentleman, Nathan, of course I will.”

He’s aware of Nate’s eyes following his bare ass as he heads for the master bath, and he resists the urge to swagger more than he needs to. In the mirror, though, he lets himself grin toothily.

Hell yeah. Nathan fucking MacKinnon, baby. EJ’s locking this right down - and thankfully, the thought seems to be mutual.

Nate makes grabby hands when he returns with a damp washcloth, but EJ settles next to him and makes quick work of helping him clean. Fuck this broken leg business, honestly. It’s bad timing, but - well, at the same time, EJ doesn’t hate the opportunity to take care of Nate, who never seems to let himself catch a break or be taken care of. Doing this for him is... nice.

“Thanks,” Nate says, and when EJ tosses the washcloth in the direction of the bathroom and turns back to him, Nate’s making grabby hands for him. It’s more than easy to go, curling up into him and putting his head on Nate’s shoulder, somewhere over his heart.

“Knew you’d be a cuddler,” Nate chirps without heat; EJ can feel the smile on Nate’s face when he leans down, presses a kiss somewhere in the vicinity of EJ’s hairline. Maybe someday, the soft little things like that are going to stop getting to him, but that day isn’t today. “Little spoon or big spoon?”

“Either,” EJ yawns into Nate’s skin - and then presses a kiss there, just for the hell of it. Because he can now, and that novelty isn’t going to wear off anytime soon. “Both. Right now this works well, though, with your leg and all. Just tell me if I’m squishing you.”

“Squish away,” Nate chuckles, and EJ grins as he feels that, too, reverberating from Nate’s chest and into his own. “You’re warm.”

Yeah, he’s not going to get over any of this for a while.

“What would you have done,” EJ wonders aloud, tilting his head to look up at Nate, “if I was the Denver Footfucker? Or if ExtraJuicy was somebody else, but not me.”

“I’m glad we’re not living in either of those timelines,” Nate says, and EJ laughs. “Really, EJ - I’m glad it’s you.”

That liquid-warm sunshine feeling fills EJ’s chest, until he feels like he’s practically floating in it, weightless and buoyed only by Nate’s arm wrapped around his back.

“I’m glad it was you, too,” EJ says, after a beat. “What’re we gonna tell Gabe and Tyson?”

“Get ‘em a fruit basket and a bucket of condoms, and not say another damn thing,” Nate deadpans, and EJ snorts. Yeah, that would serve them right, for what nosy busybodies their two best friends can be. “I dunno - I’m fine with them knowing, maybe the rest of the team in a month or two, if...”

Nate trails off, and EJ squints up at him. He lightly whacks Nate’s chest with the back of his hand, scoffing.

When,” he corrects, and gets treated to Nate’s sunrise-like smile. “Y’think sending them a post-coital selfie to brag is in bad taste?”

“Is it gonna stop you?” Nate quirks an eyebrow, but he doesn’t complain when EJ rolls to the edge of the bed, fishes around for his discarded pants - actually pretty far across the room, amazingly - to get to his phone. “No nudes for other people, EJ.”

“We can still gloat and keep it classy,” EJ reasons, and Nate rolls his eyes outright at that. “Hey, think of it this way - we used Grindr and still got our shit together sooner than those two. If they need a kick in the pants to sort themselves out, I am happy to provide that.”

“In the form of a bedroom selfie,” Nate says more than asks, and EJ flops back down in bed next to him - carefully flops, with the leg - and spoons back up against his side. Nate’s arm curls around him again, like reflex, like habit - and EJ could really get used to this.

“Well, yeah,” EJ swipes open his phone, tapping a few times to get to the camera. “That’s the gloating part.”

Nate chuckles, and EJ snaps a few photos just like that - his head almost pillowed on Nate’s bare chest, smiling wide enough to show off his teeth. It’s more of a smirk, really, when he goes back to choose which one to send - which, actually, good. EJ’s not gonna apologize for being smug. He’s fucking Nathan MacKinnon, and they’re more or less going steady now.

What isn’t there to brag about?

Grindr Dating Goes Better Than Expected for Local Hockey Players Already Crushing On Each Other, EJ pecks out. #boyfriends #getonourlevel

He shows the screen to Nate before he hits send, trying not to think too hard about boyfriends, holy shit - but Nate’s smile is broad and easy, when he reads the screen.

“Boyfriends, eh?” he says, settling more comfortably back into the pillows. “Sure did that out of order.”

“I’m not gonna complain if it got us here,” EJ grins and hits send, spamming both Tyson and Gabe with their fantastically smut photo. They both deserve the motivation to figure it out between the two of them. And they deserve each other, for being such dumbasses about it.

Hell, if he and Nate could figure it out, maybe there’s hope for them, yet.

“Anything else you need to tweet before I throw your phone out the window so we can nap?” Nate asks, hiding his mouth as he yawns. The corners of his eyes crinkle as he smiles, which EJ hopes will happen literally every time forever. “I’m still up for movies and various levels of chill if you are, I didn’t have any other plans today.”

“Ditto,” EJ says, squirming to get more comfortable. Neither Tyson nor Gabe have texted him back yet, but he’ll check for their reactions whenever they do see it - he can do that later and cuddle Nate now.

But actually...

“Yeah, just one more thing,” EJ says, swiping through the menu screens until he gets to the right app. Nate hooks his chin over EJ’s shoulder to watch as he taps a few buttons, fingers running up and down the bare skin of EJ’s arm in a way that brings pleasant shivers to the surface of his skin.

EJ uninstalls Grindr, tosses his phone to the other side of the room, and twists in Nate’s arms to reach his mouth for a kiss.

He doesn’t need that bullshit, anymore. Not when the real deal’s within reach.