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Love Is A Contact Sport

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~~~


“We have to make you disappear,” Eric’s expensive lawyer said as a hello.

Eric glanced at the hospital window, almost expecting to be defenestrated as the firm’s Number One troublesome client.

“Here's the deal, son. Your club wants to place you on unconditional waivers for the purpose of terminating your contract." The lawyer smoothed his silver hair and started pacing.

"Now, the media knows. They know you're getting discharged tomorrow. They’ll be at your home, at any hotel you’d go. It’s a slow news day—and you’re on all channels, dropping the gloves.”

A junior associate arrived during this speech, armed with a stack of papers. Eric's lawyers must have caught on—that strength was in numbers when dealing with ornery hockey players.

“You don’t do well with hostile press." The new guy said as he calmly set the stack on a chair. "Getting angry on camera would only create soundbites that prove your team’s point. That you're volatile and prone to unsportsmanlike conduct. We don’t want to feed into this.”

He was tall and handsome, and that somehow made his words worse.

Eric wrestled down an impulse of hitting something. He felt this way a lot since the injury—physically helpless and spinning out of control, with other people deciding everything for him. When to pull his pants up and when to pipe down. When to eat bland food and when not to scream during physical therapy. And now, when to stay away from a fight.

Something hard in the line of Eric's jaw made the guy squint at him, perceptively.

And yet the senior partner still paced, oblivious to Eric's existential crisis. "You have to find a place to lay low for a weekend. They’ll move on—" His face lit up. "You can stay with Sam here."

"What?" both Eric and the junior associate Sam said.

"He has a new house, no family." The lawyer looked positively delighted. "He's been an informal lead on your case. You kids have fun."

Sam turned to Eric with a kind of obvious horror that made Eric want to fall down from the bed he was sitting on and break something else important in his aching body. Anything but alone time with an attractive guy who despised you.

Sam's boss was looking down from the vertiginous floor of Eric’s hospital tower, his face lit up by the growing excitement below. "The press vultures have arrived."

Still speechless, Sam grabbed his papers and Eric's bag to help—one of the many new indignities in Eric’s life. Seething in silence, Eric followed his new minder through the bowels of the hospital, to the car.

Which was tiny, silver, and impractical. Everything that Eric despised in a set of wheels.

He almost complained about it as he sat down, but Sam suddenly reached over his lap and Eric's breath caught, loud in the small cabin.

It was only the seatbelt and Sam's hand poked blindly somewhere next to Eric's hip, trying to make the lock click. Eric was used to doctors and nurses being cavalier with his personal space these days, but Sam was—not that. He was just a guy Eric's age. A good-looking guy.

Not the kind of guy Eric usually had fumbling around his hip area in a dark garage—for sure, and Eric still was mad at him for pointing out the obvious. That Eric was a good-for-nothing hothead. Still, Eric ended up flustered and putting on his sunglasses in the always-midnight of the underground garage.

By the time they hit the milky way of downtown traffic jams, Eric thought he'd stop thinking about the sprawl of Sam’s long legs and try small talk. "So, you're the lead on my case? I'm not sure we've met."

"Oh, we've met." Sam's hands on the wheel were steady. “First, you told me where to put the document we needed you to sign. Then you told me you were going to put it there yourself. It being my ass.”

Eric felt the siren of a passing cop car searing through his soul.

Sam glanced his way almost appeasingly. “It’s fine. You were on a lot of painkillers."


~~~


The tranquil street was made entirely of gingerbread houses, gleaming with early frost. Peals of children’s laughter rang in the frosty air. A big red-brick church stood on the corner, completing this look. It was only fitting that picture-perfect lawyer Sam lived inside a holiday card.

Eric unfolded himself out of the tiny sports car and whistled.

“Be quiet. All of Canada is searching for you, remember?” Sam ushered him up the steps with haste.

Inside, there were boxes, crates, and unassembled furniture everywhere. "I wasn't exactly expecting visitors." Sam acrobatically stepped over a box that said Books B-D, but still couldn’t avoid grabbing for balance onto the biggest potted plant that Eric ever met indoors. "I only moved in last week."

Eric slouched against the door, sensing that he shouldn’t make a move without permission. Instructions came soon enough.

“Take off your shoes. And your cap. And your sunglasses. It's seven o'clock at night, indoors. This is Hamilton, Ontario, not Hollywood. Don't expect any limelight."

Eric made a face that he made sure Sam read loud and clear: cheap shot.

Looking around the place, he wondered why he wasn’t at a similar point of adulthood: moving into a beautiful house, probably ready to start a family, obviously likeable enough that none of Sam’s coworkers itched to break his bones.

Oh wait, it was because Eric was a hockey player with no life but his team— and no love but anonymous one-night stands he met in gay bars. One-night was a generous way to describe what kind of stands Eric liked getting. His life wasn’t a family-friendly tableau like this one.

Belatedly remembering his manners, Sam started helping Eric get out of his large and comfortable Leafs fleece.

It so happened that underneath, Eric was wearing only a tight tank top and a fancy brace, strapped to his bare upper arm and shoulder. All these weeks of hospital stay and he was still in fine fighting shape.

For some reason, Sam started blinking and biting his lip. Surely it was his vast disapproval of anything and everything Eric.


~~~


For dinner, Sam set out a diet-plan worthy platter of vegetables, lean chicken slices, and whole-grain toast with something green on it. So Eric escaped from the hospital for this? "No bacon?" he asked pathetically, already reading the answer in Sam's eyeroll.

"As your attorney, I advise you to make healthy choices." Sam waved the avocado toast at him. "So you can keep all that muscle."

Eric was encouraged to take a bite and it tasted a whole lot better than expected. So did the flattery or however Sam his subtly manipulative lawyer was working him. He was trying not to ogle obviously, but the sparse light was falling so well on Sam's hands. Eric was soft for beautiful hands on a guy—you never saw nice hands in hockey.

"So, where's home?" Sam asked, for whatever reason being the one uncomfortable with the silence now. "Where do you live?"

Eric thought about his high-rise bachelor pad with expensive, uncomfortable furniture. About the empty fridge and exposed-concrete walls that he secretly hated, but everybody else thought were cool. And about the ornate yet elegant trim on Sam's new house's old ceilings, about its warm and welcoming red brick.

"It’s very designer. You wouldn't like it." After a beat, Eric added honestly, "I'm not sure I do."

Sam glanced up as if Eric suddenly demonstrated a hitherto unsuspected capacity for depth. "Go on."

Eric opened his mouth, as always unsure of what was going to come out of it in the presence of someone who challenged him just by breathing—

—The noise outside made them both jump. Somebody was trying and failing to kick the door in and twist the doorknob off, at the same time, while chanting obscene limericks with Sam’s name in them.

Sam paled. “This is my brother, Billy. He can be—“

“An asshole?” Eric didn’t have to ask. Under that pallor Sam didn’t look scared but truly, utterly furious in a way one could only feel about family. Judging by it, the Miller holiday dinners were a warzone of vicious sibling fights and fantasizing about restraining orders. As miserable as the cool and disapproving welcome of Eric's dad then.

“Nobody’s supposed to know you’re hiding out here.” Sam rubbed his face. “I’ll go get rid of him before he brings out all the neighbors, the mounties, and the gossips. You go hide.”

Eric didn’t do hiding, on principle. He could do some lurking and eavesdropping though. He jogged up a flight of stairs and loitered just out of sight.

Sam’s brother sounded like a belligerent drunk problem when Eric heard him push inside.

“No, you can’t stay the night." Downstairs, Sam was talking in a fast urgent whisper. "No, I don’t have any cash on me. Yes, I think you should leave. Call mom and dad. Why are you always such an asshole— ow—”

Someone got pushed, something heavy fell.

Without thinking, Eric was halfway down the stairs.

Billy was holding Sam up by his shirt next to a toppled skyscraper of book boxes. Sam was red in the face, and yet somehow still holding onto his dignity. For some reason, Eric found he really didn’t care for Sam to be manhandled. Unless maybe by himself.

“Holy fuck, you’re Eric McNally.” Billy let Sam go with a soft thunk. “You’re the guy on TV. You’re a great fighter. And you’re— not wearing a lot?”

Eric realized he was looking too cozy for a polite visit—barefoot, in his sweats and a small tee.

"You can't tell anyone," started Sam, but both Eric and Billy flashed their hands: be quiet.

Eric felt like Sam was trying to catch his eye, but he was busy. Staring Billy down in his blue-eyed cobra way which terrified hockey players around the world when Number 25 was bearing down at them. To hit them like a freight train.

Billy took a step back.

Without as much as a word, Eric walked past the frozen Sam.

He easily hoisted Billy by a collar with his one healthy arm and dragged him towards the door. Billy’s kicking feet scuffled along the floor in a most satisfying way. For the first time since the injury, Eric had a chance to lay his hands on someone. It felt fantastic—and it also hurt like a motherfucker, but Eric would rather faint later than show it now.

Sam gaped at him with an expression Eric liked a lot, then helpfully held the door open.

Eric dropped the absolutely-an-asshole brother on the steps almost considerately and turned to ask Sam, “You have any other garbage to toss?”

See? Not volatile. Exceptionally sportsmanlike.

“Oh god.” Billy was already scrambling towards the sidewalk. “Are you being gay together? Because Sammy’s gay. You’re totally his type. The kind that used to beat him up in high school.”

Eric’s mind went into a nosedive.

Sam, the flawless lawyer Sam that Eric had tried his best not to perv on, was gay? Eric had shared a meal with someone attractive—and gay—and he had no idea? Even the avocado toast wasn't a clue? God, Eric's dating life was doomed if he couldn’t tell who played for his team unless they groped him in a gay bar.

Also, did the asshole brother just call Eric a gay? On the ice, Eric hurt people for less. Life used to be so simple, on the ice.

Eric slammed the door so hard, something valuable rattled upstairs.

“Have safe sex,” yelled Billy from the outside.

“He’s a client,” Sam yelled back, a little belatedly.

His cheeks were flushed and he wasn't looking at Eric. While Eric couldn't tear himself away from looking.

“Is this going to be a problem?” Sam started in a tense voice.

“Not for me,” Eric said quickly.

Sam wrinkled his nose, sighed, and locked the door.

“Did you get picked on in high school?” It wasn’t like Eric could ask if he really was Sam’s type. This train of thought only made his stomach plummet somewhere hot and dark and sexy. “Because I can rough them up for you now. For a discount on your probably very expensive services.”

“Never. And no.” Sam found his footing again. He looked weirdly touched by Eric's well-meaning if Neanderthal problem-solving skills. “I don’t believe in violence. You can always talk your way out of a fight.”

“Maybe I should have tried debating my civil rights with Bechamel before he whacked me.” Eric shrugged with his injured shoulder and instantly groaned from sharp pain. In four places.

Sam got all worked up and alarmed. It didn’t seem like mere politeness, more like the tussle with Billy finally put them on the same side. “It looks like your brace needs readjusting. Come sit here.”

Collapsing on a box of hopefully not fine china, Eric obliged. As Sam was redoing the clasps of his hi-tech brace with careful fingers, a familiar rush of post-fight endorphins mercifully drowned him. Eric could almost hear the echo of many voices chanting his name in the deafening thrum of blood in his ears. But only for a moment, and then fatigue hit.

Suddenly Eric wanted so bad to just lean against something solid, like Sam's hip. To rest. It had been four long fucking weeks in recovery. Wouldn't it have been nice to have a Sam on his side? Someone to take Eric home and fuss over him? Someone of his own? Instead of inadvertently borrowing Sam, his comforting hands, and his haven of a house?

It didn't matter. Because someone like Sam certainly wasn’t looking for an Eric.

So Eric wrestled this impulse down as well. He wanted his painkillers, he wanted to go lie down somewhere and not think about the unattainability of the ice and the sudden attainability but likely not availability of Sam.

"You look like a gladiator." The wonder in Sam’s words startled him. When Eric raised his eyebrows, Sam pointed at the white strapped brace—and at Eric's half-bared shoulders gleaming under the spotlight. "It looks like their armor, in the movies. Those about to die, salute you."

Eric didn't know if the suddenly gay Sam meant this was hot or not. He cheered up and casually flexed his healthy upper arm just in case.

"Maybe that's what you are." Sam's eyes lingered for a flattering second. "That's what the game's about, right? Hot dogs and circuses."

"I'm not a clown," Eric bristled.

Sam said very seriously as his eyes traveled over the roadmap of many small scars and nicks on Eric’s face—an enforcer’s battle history, “No, you're definitely the state-of-the-art, light-em-up, love-to-hate-you fighter."

Eric decided that Sam had a deeper understanding of hockey than most.


~~~


As Sam had little in the way of furniture, he soon sent Eric to sleep in his own bed and he settled on the couch.

These were unbelievable bed sheets. The whole bed still had the new car smell, but for beds. Eric felt like he was sprawled on a cloud. It'd been forever that he slept anywhere but the hospital. Yet sleep wasn't coming.

Tomorrow was the first day of the rest of Eric's life without hockey. Away from the cocoon of the hospital, he was now thrown into someone’s real and smoothly-running life where it was impossible to ignore the burning urgency of finding himself again. Eric had to start having a plan. See past the current legal and financial clusterfuck. The thing was, he didn't know anything but hockey. Who was he even without his jersey? Without the crowd roar and the blinding Saturday night lights? Who was Eric McNally but an elite enforcer? That was how the world saw him and Eric wasn't sure if there was anything else there unseen, except for his secret hookups.

And would his shoulder ever get better? Eric didn't regret taking on Billy. He knew in his gut he'd do a whole lot more for the wide-eyed, impressed look on Sam's face, but it cost him in throbs of pain tonight.

Lastly, Eric tried not to think about this bed being a place where Sam lounged around naked. He also tried not to guess if Sam already managed to have gay sex in this bed—or not yet. He got turned on from trying so hard not to think about any of that, but it seemed so epically inappropriate to take care of his boner in Sam's bed. Without Sam in it, by some weird logic.

Eric wasn't going to get any sleep even on 500-count sheets, was he?


~~~


In the morning, Eric staggered into the bathroom. It took him a full second to realize that he walked in on Sam just standing there, both hands gripping the edge of the sink. Sam was staring into the mirror like he'd been giving himself a stern talking-to. Maybe about how his butt looked really good in those sweats.

When Eric cleared his throat, Sam whipped around.

"Ah," said Eric. "Erm. Oh. Mmnh." He waved his hand towards the shower, then looked at his brace.

It took Sam a moment to realize that Eric was congenitally unable to openly ask for help.

“Of course," he said hastily, took Eric's brace off for him, gallantly exited to make the bed as Eric showered, and then came in to help and put the contraption on again.

As the last, obstinate buckle of the strap was getting tightened, Sam inquired sort of casually, "Who's going to do this for you next week?" Eric didn't need years of law school to tell what Sam was asking. Probably gathering information as his case lead.

"There’s nobody." Eric smiled and slowly raised an eyebrow at him. "I guess I'll have to call you every time." Oh god, why was he flirting. With his lawyer!

Sam didn't even know Eric was like him, and Sam might not even be into him. Worse, Sam would definitely not like Eric at all if he learned of Eric’s past history of short volatile affairs and sudden unsportsmanlike departures.

Besides, why wasn't Eric confessing to Sam that he was also—? Not that Eric was gay. Eric was just exclusively into guys. That might have been pretty gay for some people, but definitely not gay enough for Eric. And it wasn't like Eric had to declare to every single gay person on the planet that he was into the same stuff. Like hot, athletic gay sex.

Still, it felt vaguely wrong not to be telling the nice, kind, no longer openly disapproving, incredibly attractive, so fuckable Sam. Whom Eric almost invited upstairs in the middle of last night, but found him deeply asleep.

“So, you’re gay?” Eric asked instead of all of the above.

“Yes?” Sam’s voice got high with an apprehension that Eric understood too well.

“Are you with anyone?” Eric had no filter this morning, had he? Expensive sheets and tender care were making him soft. Maybe he needed to go hit his head against a wall a few times to make him feel more like himself.

“I mean, is there a jealous boyfriend coming around and finding me going down—stairs?”

It sounded suspiciously like Sam was stifling a laugh. “Unlikely. As much as it could be entertaining to invite all of my exes, one by one, so they could keep discovering a hot hockey star in my shower. I was seeing someone, but it didn’t work out. A month ago.”

“Why?” Eric asked without even blinking. Echoing around his head like a public announcement in an empty stadium was: Sam thought Eric was hot.

Sam looked at him thoughtfully. “He took me for granted.”

Eric snapped his head. “He’s an idiot,” he said forcefully, realized what he’d just said, got up abruptly, and bumped into a door frame. Flirting was a full-contact sport when you were a hot mess of desire and deep closet. “I’m getting out of shape with all this sitting around and talking. Is there anything I can do with my hands?”

Sam stared back doubtfully like he suspected Eric had an undiagnosed concussion.


~~~


After breakfast, they decided to put together some bookcases for Eric to feel less restless and for Sam to unpack his thousand book boxes. In a mutual reversal of fortune, Sam would have to be the brawn and Eric the brain of furniture assembly.

This was the moment Eric's sister called and this was the only call Sam cleared him to pick up. It took Joan all of sixty seconds to pry out of Eric that he was staying with a guy.

It took Eric all of the next five minutes of whisper-shouting to entirely fail to convince her—and the potted plant in the hallway—that there were a thousand reasons he couldn't date Sam.

"He's a lawyer?" Joan exclaimed. "You could be his trophy boyfriend. Go put the moves on him. What you have going for you is that you're pretty. Maybe take your shirt off." She blew him a kiss and hung up.

In this shaken state of mind, Eric walked into the room and froze in shock: Sam was doing the unthinkable. He was holding up a—

"What are you doing?" Eric asked, scandalized.

"I'm reading the instructions?" Sam used his speaking-to-children tone that would become all too familiar to Eric in the years to come.

"Who raised you? We're not reading the instructions." Eric firmly handed Sam the first nail.

It turned out that Eric also had to hold Sam’s—smooth, eager to learn—hand to show him how to properly hold a hammer. Eric tried very hard not to ask if Sam needed anything else held. Because he couldn’t treat a guy like Sam like one of his hookups and because there had to be a better way of coming out to someone than groping them. So they both ended up blushing and being excessively polite to each other.

In the end, they stood shoulder to shoulder and admired the tall bookcase.

Eric was too busy thinking about where to hide the somehow-extra screws hidden in his palm, so Sam wouldn’t notice that Eric’s furniture-building method had flaws—that he didn’t catch soon enough that Sam had been trying to say something.

“I know how to put up a bookcase now. And it’s so easy.” Sam sounded delighted, but also like he was choosing words very carefully. “Nothing about this is like I expected. Especially you.”

Touch me, Eric begged silently. It must not have been loud enough because Sam abruptly turned and ran off upstairs, into the attic.

Maybe he could find the key to Eric’s closet in there because fuck if Eric knew where it was. Or what it could unlock.


~~~


After lunch, Sam produced the papers he’d brought to the hospital. Eric eyed them like every leaf in the stack was about to attack him.

“We need to practice your statement and answers for your press conference on Monday,” Sam spoke in a less of a lawyer and more of a friend's voice. “Don’t stress about getting piled on. It will be a controlled environment and I will moderate questions, but we need to walk you through what we expect. I’ll let you read through it first.”

In panic Eric stared at a wall of text, occasionally broke up by paragraphs.

His first, second and third reads were obviously so terrible that Sam was wincing. The last thing Eric needed right now was to feel the burn of Sam’s disapproval on the soft places of his unprotected soul. He was pacing around, stiff and cranky because his shoulder was acting up.

“You have a lot of charisma,” Sam didn’t sound disapproving at all, but sympathetic to Eric’s struggles with legalese. “It’s one of your biggest strengths, you need to use it more. You need to believe in what you’re saying.”

“These aren’t words I ever use. Or even know.” Eric stabbed the printout with his finger. “What the hell is misfeasance? This isn’t what happened that day anyway.”

“Tell me about it then.” Sam spread his hands. “In your own words.”

Eric got nervous because long speeches were not his area of expertise, but Sam just sat there, undemanding and infinitely patient.

“What guys like me do, it’s misunderstood,” Eric started cautiously, bracing himself for Sam to roll his eyes.

Instead, Sam lit up with a genuine curiosity.

“Yeah, it's causing terror and it’s inflicting pain, but—I protect my team from getting injured. I'm not the biggest guy, but I have a gift: I can lay anyone out. And I know how to intimidate without a fight. When someone with my reputation is on the ice or even just sitting on the bench, the other team doesn't mess with my skill players. Because they’ll have to answer to me.” Eric flashed a shark’s grin and Sam’s eyes flickered to it.

"And that's fair. What's not fair that the league tells you to do it, but the league can turn on you so easily.”

Eric was finding that he couldn’t catch his breath. “For bad press, for anything. As if they don't make you take boxing classes. As they don't say if you can't beat them in the alley, you can't beat them on the ice. As if they don't say we gotta score those dirty goals. As if they don't say go kill ‘em. As if I can say no and stay on the team.”

And now the worst part, the anger that kept Eric up at night. “That morning—somebody wrote Erica—and fag—with lipstick on my locker. One of my own players did it. I sacrifice myself for them and they still don’t give me respect? I was sick of it.”

Eric hadn’t told any of this to the other lawyer, to his coach, to his sister, to anyone. Just to Sam who was searching his face with his dark-blue eyes as if something about Eric was finally making sense.

“I know it’s not an excuse, but I snapped. There's an enforcer code: don't hit a guy who isn't ready to fight and I broke it. And I got hit back for it. It’s my fault, Sam. I fucked it all up. Because I'm gay.”

A breathless, loaded silence fell.

Then, finally—Sam exhaled. Quiet and private, like he’d been holding it in for a while.

Swift, he reached out and squeezed Eric’s hand. “You’re an absolute madman, but you didn’t deserve this. Not the locker, not the broken bones. We’re going to make this right. Do you hear me, Eric? I’ll make them.”

Eric's face flared red and he made a move to kiss Sam, but Sam obliviously let his hand go. His mind was on some faraway lawyer plane of existence, thinking ten miles a second. “I’m going to go write you a new statement. And a couple of letters. You rest.”


~~~


As he got bored by simply resting, Eric hooked up cable. Unpacked some books and organized them on the shelves by color. Voluntarily washed some healthy fruit. Decided where the cutlery and bowls went in the kitchen. Thought about how easy it was in the end to tell Sam that he was a kind of a gay.

Day bled into night and the Leafs Saturday game started, but Sam was still frantically typing away in his office. So Eric man-spread on the couch with some fucking excellent washed fruit and started mouthing off at the TV as usual.

Nothing could dampen his enthusiasm for the sport. He might have started playing it to make up for the fact that he wasn’t into girls, but he stayed and went pro for the love of the game.

What Eric missed the most was the real, live music of hockey: the click of the puck, the singing ping of the crossbar, the excited tapping of sticks against boards. Puck rebounding off the goalie’s pads. Sharp sounds of your skates carving the ice.

At some point, he felt that Sam was there in the room, without saying anything or watching the game. Just watching Eric making whooshing sounds and explaining plays before they even happened.

When the Leafs were starting to have a hard time and Eric tensed up, Sam settled next to him. Close enough to feel comforting and warm, but not too close—not close enough to feel Sam’s solid heat that Eric ached, but didn’t have the courage to openly ask for. These few empty inches between them were more devastating than his team possibly losing tonight. Maybe he should have taken his shirt off.

The commentator suddenly said with a crystal and bitter clarity, “Again, Eric McNally’s presence is thoroughly missed in the game. He truly made justice reign under the lights. Where is McNally now?”

That was when Eric knew exactly where he was—just a guy sitting next to a guy, afraid to ask him to love him, even a little.

Eric grabbed the remote and the TV was off. As he twisted in his seat, his knee leaned heavily on Sam’s lanky thigh—and neither of them moved away.

Sam’s lips parted like he had no idea what was about to happen, but he truly expected anything and everything.

“Let’s get out of the house,” said Eric. “Come on. Live a little. Just some fresh air, go around the block. Who’s gonna know? I need somewhere more romantic than this couch for what I want to say.”

“You are—” Sam looked completely thrown and somehow delighted. “Let’s get you a coat. If we run into anyone, you’ll have to kill them. With your healthy arm.”

The streets were dark and windswept, and they felt giddy, running along the parked cars and past the occasional passers-by towards the lake, for an apparently million-dollar view according to Sam. As soon as they arrived at the shorefront railing, a cheering and a honking began to build behind their backs. The best sound in the world, the one Eric knew in his bones: a hockey victory.

"Turrrn it up!" he yelled and he could have sworn he could see fireworks burst over the stadium from across the lake.

Sam was laughing. "Pay attention to me, not hockey." He grabbed the back of Eric’s neck and kissed him suddenly, fiercely.

It was the kind of kiss that meant things, the beginnings that would take more than one night to unravel into something much bigger. It was also shockingly public, but Sam put some tongue into it and this obliterated Eric’s self-control. It might have even made Eric moan into his mouth. Might have made him spread his legs a little and grind into Sam. Who made some kind of very un-Sam-like sound and Eric was gently and yet somehow dirtily pushed against the iron railing—with a million-dollar view that neither cared about.

“You can be my type,” Eric gasped when they broke off. "If you want it.”

"You're so built," Sam sighed, putting his cold hands under Eric’s fleece, favoring his unbroken side. "And so frustrating. And so clever. I never thought you'd be so much fun. What am I going to do?"

"Take me home?" Eric asked, warming his hands on the back of Sam's neck, on his grinning cheeks. He—needed to feel Sam's fresh stubble burn on some really private places. "Before somebody finds me and ruins everything?"

At home, Sam’s new bed got its first gay action, but not before the kitchen counter did.

When Sam’s mouth first closed hot around him, it was like the ground shifted. Eric needed something to hold onto—his hands digging into Sam's shoulders, his palms soothing over Sam's working throat, his fingers tugging Sam's curly hair. So fucking tender, as if Eric never used his hands for anything else, as if they weren't still beat-up and rough from brawls. Sam wanted it so bad, he was choking a little, and this was the new best sound in the world.

Sam had to practically drag Eric upstairs afterwards because Eric was so beat, and still all hands, all over him.

On Monday, Eric gave a great presser where he convincingly used long and short words, with Sam at his side shutting down any reporter who tried anything dirty. After that and some heated closed-door conversations with Sam, team lawyers backed down to a reasonable settlement. Artfully, Sam twisted their arms into something a lot more generous. Considering the damage they had done to his client's reputation.

In a couple of weeks of frantic handjobs and going down on each other in every room in the house, Sam cleared Eric for the full-on sex. He actually and embarrassingly conferred with Eric’s damn physical therapist and Eric threw a hissy fit about the impropriety of that until Sam pushed him flat on the bed and yanked his pants off.

Eric never thought he could like someone inside him, above him this much. He’d spent his life fighting to stay on top of everything and everyone. Sam’s clever fingers inside him, the slow dragging thrusts inside him, the livewire pleasure inside him were a revelation. Sam’s braced arms cradling his head, Sam’s weight anchoring him, Sam looking down at him with dark eyes like Eric was everything he ever wanted—taking forever, smiling sometimes as he kept fucking Eric through an orgasm and a half.

After, Sam said breathlessly, “I’d ask you to move in with me, but you never left.” His fingers were stroking Eric’s sex-damp hair. The thing about Sam, he wasn’t afraid to get close up in your space—and Eric wasn’t afraid to let him.

“My cunning plan all along. You have some prime real estate here,” Eric deadpanned into the pillow, but his heart leapt.

“There’d be ground rules,” warned Sam.

Sure, thought Eric. How hard could it be.

He grossly underestimated his skills negotiating with a motivated lawyer and a proud house owner. They had a few productive—and clothed—relationship talks where Sam spoke a lot and Eric was allowed to grunt monosyllabic answers. A compromise was established that Eric set the relationship rules for outdoors and Sam— for indoors.

So every time the Leafs won and Sam had to sit through the yelling and the motor-mouth commentary, Eric paid up by wearing his Number 25 jersey to bed and nothing else—this was the only way Sam liked his hockey. Eric did have to pick it up from the floor pretty quickly—that was the way Sam liked his floors.

Eric would often send gifts to Sam’s office: chocolate, weird green smoothies, heritage-collection paint samples. With blank cards. He never could come out for holiday parties or summer barbecues. There was always a last-minute excuse that Sam always saw coming from a mile away.

And yet Sam would never stop passing along the invitations. He just wanted to be normal, out there in the world with his hot and built former-hockey-star practically-husband. Yet even Sam’s court skills were of no help when confronting a fighter who didn’t want to fight. Eric knew it’d come to a head one day, but some bruises took longer to heal. So he dodged, with a professional ease.


~~~


After a couple of years of uber-intense physical therapy and house renovations that were more anger outlet than fine craftsmanship, Eric suddenly turned up at Sam’s favorite and nerve-rackingly public healthy-food lunch spot. In a sharp suit and one of Sam’s ties instead of his usual well-worn sweats.

“Hey, I need a lawyer.” He kicked a chair, so he could sit. “To look over a job contract for me. For any really fine print.”

Sam was gripping his fork, for once at a loss for words.

“It’s with Canadian Sports Network.” Eric took a carrot straw off Sam's plate. “I’ll start as one of the contributors. If I screen well, there’s a half-hour show possibility.”

“With those blue eyes? And your fifty colorful ways to describe fisticuffs between two consensual adults? Move over, Don Cherry.” Sam reached for the papers with a bloodthirsty grin. “Let’s find those loopholes.”

"Sammy, I could kiss you right now," said Eric under his breath.

"It's the thought that counts." Sam discreetly brushed his knee up Eric's leg under the table. "—For now.”