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All the Colors of the Street Signs

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1. Coach calls Nick into his office before skate, right at the point where he normally stops shooting the shit with Saader and Shawzer and actually bothers to get dressed in his hockey gear. He nods, and watches Q’s gesture to give him five. Nick sits there, dressed in his jeans and undershirt, his eyes trained on Q’s door. He counts to seven silently in his head, and while his boys walk out onto the ice without him, he heads to Q’s office with his stomach churning.

Q delivers the news carefully, and when he’s finished he rubs a hand down his face and looks at Nick with a frown. “You know it wasn’t up to me kid, the organization…” He lets out a shallow breath that makes Nicks stomach curl. “The organization just couldn’t keep you.”

Nick cleans out his stall, looking at his nameplate sadly, and his eyes drift to Saaders for a moment. “I, uh,” He starts into the empty room, but he feels like he did when he was seven, and his mouthguard didn’t fit in his mouth correctly.

[His mom had frowned, looking at the black piece of malleable plastic. Her eyes narrow, and Nick had slowly put the thing back into his mouth. “I’s bigh.” He’d garbled out behind it.]

He doesn’t know the words to say, doesn’t know how to push them past his throat. “I’ll,” he tries again, but he leaves without saying goodbye, his duffle over his shoulder and skates in hand.

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2. New York is not what Nick expects, Long Island especially. He’d visited the Coli [“Piece of shit,” Shawzer had called it, back when they visited for the first time. “Just like the team inside.”] a few times, played games there, won games there. It makes something inside him twist once again, when he remembers how Shawzy had insulted the Islanders without having played them yet.

“I’m on that Piece of Shit team now,” Nick says out loud and it loosens something in his chest.

He walks into Cappy’s office, the door wide open, to see Tavares and Cappy hunched over a small whiteboard and another guy rolling his eyes while the two chatter.

“Uh,” Nick says, wishing he could turn tail and run back to Chicago, back to Brandon.

Tavares holds out a hand, “John.” And the other guys in the room seem to take this as inclination to follow, and they do the same. Cappy introduces himself with a grin, and he chucks one thumb over his shoulder towards the guy that Nick has seen before, but doesn’t know by name.

“That’s Dougie. Weight.”

Dougie rolls his eyes, and sticks out his hand for a handshake. “It’s Doug. Assistant Coach.” He grins, and Nick follow suit; even though he knows his smile doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “C’mon kid, we’re really glad you’re here. You and Boych.”

Dougie tacks on the last part on the end, and Nick’s just staring at him for a few seconds before he reacts. “Boychuk? Like Johnny?” He takes a moment and watches the Coaches and Tavares’ face shift slightly.

“They didn't tell you?” Nick shakes his head, and Cappy coughs before continuing. “You and Boychuk are the Isles newest defenseman.”

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3. Something loosens in his gut when he realizes he’s not the only new guy on the team; even though he knows they just acquired Halak, Johnson, Grabo, and Kuli over the offseason too. Those guys though, they hadn’t been dragged along all summer, the beginning of preseason, by their old team.

He skates with the Islanders—with his team—during a light practice before the last preseason game. The guys seem really tight knit, and while he works on his stick handling he studies Cizikas and Martin for a little bit.

They remind him of Shawzer and Saader, Saader and himself even. They’re fucking around, giving each other light checks and slinging soft chirps at one another. Seeker bounces off the boards, back towards Martin, and pokes him with the butt of his stick. He whistles out a chirp, something that falls off his tongue easy as pie, and Martin laughs like it’s the funniest thing he’s ever heard.

The chirp doesn’t make sense to Nick, but he guesses its an inside joke. Tava—John—slams into him gently, nudging him out of his day dream. “It’s just an old joke. Matty said it to Miller—Detroit Miller—last year? Year before? and it had them both laughing for days.” He turns to them, leaning on his stick; “Get back to fucking work!”

He’s about to skate off, head towards the bench for some water, when John grabs his arm. “You’ll be fine, you’re a good guy.” He pauses for a minute, “We want you here, man. You’re gonna help us.”

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4. john reminds me of jon. needs 2 smile.

Nick doesn’t write that he misses Saader, though when he presses send he wishes he has.

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5. less teeth tho.

Saader doesn’t say he misses Nick either, and Nick rolls over to look at the clock on the bedside table in his hotel room and wishes it didn’t say 2:43AM.

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6. They don’t talk about it, haven’t talked about it since Nick boarded a plane and shed his Blackhawks jersey to slide on one with blue and orange.

Nick wakes up the next morning, brushes his teeth and adds an alert on his phone for the thirteenth of December.

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7. When Nick had received The News—capital T, capital N—that he’d been heading to New York, he’d prayed that the Rangers had wanted him. The Islanders, he figured, would play like shit—shit enough that they wouldn’t make the playoffs, good enough to have that feeling of hope spring in each players chest—and he wanted to be on a good team.

[Chicago was a good team, he’d thought bitterly, shoving his socks down into his duffel as he’d packed up his stall.]

The Rangers hadn’t picked his contract or him up though, and there he was, headed to Nassau County.

Then, the Islanders had started winning. They started by beating the Canes on opening night in Raleigh, then the next night at the Coli. It continued on, and the Islanders had the best record, the most winningest record until they played the Pens. It picked back up again though, win after win after win—their longest losing streak only skidding three games.

By Thanksgiving, they were still in Playoff contention.

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8. Nick wakes up in his apartment on the thirteenth to someone thudding on his door. He rolls over, buries his head back into his pillow, and while the knocking persists he looks blearily at the alarm clock. 4:27AM.

Nick lets out a groan, lets his head thud back down into his pillow, before he walks out of his room and into his entry way. He tugs the door open, ready to yell, and stops.

It’s Saader—Brandon—and he’s looking at Nick like he hasn’t seen him in months. [He hasn’t, and that knowledge makes Nick want to vomit a little.]

“I,” They both start at the same time. Sadder stops, but Nick waits for him. “You have morning breath.” Sadder says after a few seconds of awkward silence, and it breaks.

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9. Saader is on his knees in Nick’s small living room, mouthing at Nick’s dick through his boxers. There’s a wet patch staining the front, and by the way Brandon hasn't yet used his hands to do anything more than plant Nick’s feet in front of him, it’s going to grow larger.

Saader is on Nicks New York living room floor.

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10. He gets an assist during the game, meanwhile doing a sweet poke check to stop Saader from scoring on Jaro. He slams into Johnny on the ice, afterwards, big smile and all. His eyes are focused on Saader though, sitting on the bench, his head down.

The Islanders win the game, three goals to two, and it feels bittersweet.

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11. He inks his name on the dotted line to add seven years to his contract in February, and it untangles some of the pressure that’s been building in his chest. Sadder texts him when the article comes out, splashed over SportsCenter and NBCSN. congrats.

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12. “I miss you,” Nick breathes into the phone, drunk and tongue heavy. “I miss you.” It’s Saader’s message machine—they’re playing a game against Philly right now, and Saader’s scored a pretty spectacular goal. “Like, a lot.”

He breathes into the receiver of his phone for a while, his thoughts swirling steady, and his hand wanders down under the elastic of his boxers. His hand tugs at his dick, palm pressing down on the short hairs. “Your goal was really great. Like, really great.” Nick says, tugging his dick, thumb pressing against the head.

“Made me hot.” He mutters nearly silent against the bottom of his iPhone, his fingers twitching. His dick is hard and heavy in his hand, and he knows he’s almost there. “Even your hockey gets me hot Saader, even hockey. Your hockey.”

He blows his load in his boxers, wipes his hand on the top of his thigh and falls asleep with a glass of whiskey on his bedside table and his phone dying slowly.

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13. By March seventeenth, Nick still isn’t cleared to play. He sits in the press box and watches as his old team massacres his new one. Chicago wins four to one, and it feels like a weight on his heart.

Brandon doesn’t score, doesn’t get an assist, not a single point. For some reason—some reason—that sits heavier than the loss for the Islanders.

He doesn’t go out with the boys for drinks later, instead he’s corralled into Saader’s apartment—with Shawzer’s shit fucking everywhere. “What the fuck?” He says after a few minutes, once he’s tripped over a shirt and a mouthguard. “What the fuck?”

Saader rolls his eyes, shoves all the shit off the couch, and pulls him down onto it. Brandon is taller, just by two inches, but he manages to move Nick so that he can rest his chin on Nick’s head.

They watch stupid cartoons, like The Simpsons and Family Guy, and for a second Nick can pretend that nothing has changed. They laugh at unfunny jokes, eat more popcorn than they probably should, and they fall asleep like that.

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14. Nick wakes up with a crick in his neck, Brandon’s drool in his hair, and the urge to go to the bathroom. He disentangles himself from Brandon’s octopus like hold on him, and goes into the bathroom.

He’s washing his hands when he notices the differences; and they make him pause. There’s only one toothbrush in the holder by the sink, one bottle of ‘girly’ shampoo that Brandon claims is for his mullet during the playoffs only, and… and there’s still a post-it note on the corner of the mirror.

we can go get chipotle after practice, okay? left early—see you there

He remembers writing the note, scrawling it down and praying that the water still dripping from his hair wasn’t going to smudge the ink. He’d written it on the day that Q had broken The News; and… and obviously Brandon hadn’t just left it sticking to the mirror since Nick had left it there.

The note had layers upon layers of Scotch tape on the top, dirt stains and smudges on the bottom, and it had a few minor rips in it that someone had taped sloppily back together.

Nick leaves without saying goodbye, he just leaves the post-it note on the living room coffee table with a new one written next to it.

i had to go catch the plane. call me.

Theres a dark ink blotch at the end where he’d hesitated, paused for a few seconds and pondered if he’d still had the right to scribble a quick ‘i love you’ on the bottom.

[Nick decides he doesn’t, but when the apartment lock clicks behind him he wishes he did.]

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15. The Islanders make the playoffs, first in the Metro division, and the boys drink until Johnny is slurring his words. [“All you have to do is get him to loosen up, just a little bit.” Moulson says, slapping at Johnny’s face lightly. “You okay kid?” Moulson asks, and Nick doesn’t know if it’s directed at him or Johnny.]

Moulson stays to watch the first game of the series, which isn’t until a few days after that, so Nick learns a lot about him while the boys hang out.

They only do light skates, backyard barbecues, and small get togethers until playoffs start. It’s fine with Nick, he’s a little unused to it because Jon had made them practice like a fire was going to start burning under their asses if they didn’t before playoffs started. Moulson corners him when they’re hiding out at Dougie’s house, and the boys are giving Johnny shit because “Aww, remind you of rookie year kid?” “ Bet you called your Momma crying every night on his house phone, didn’t yah?”

“Hey—what’s up?

Nick is startled, and some of his beer slops over the rim of his cup to land on the grass by his feet. “Uh, nothing. Just,” he gestures at the other 25 hockey players spread out over the backyard. “Thinking.” He finishes at Moulson’s look.

Theres a nod, and then an arm being wrapped over his shoulders, steering him away from the group. “Y’know,” he starts, sounding eerily like Seabs did back when he was trying to wheedle Jonny into doing something he hadn’t wanted to do. “You look kind of sad.” He paused, forcing Nick to look at him. “Like, all the time. The guys’ve noticed, but they just think it’s about the trade still or something.” He rolls his eyes, “They’re a bunch of dumb-asses.”

Nick feels his shoulder slump and he swallows a large sip of his beer.

“C’mon kid, talk to me. I know I’m not on the team, and you don’t really know me, but…” He trails off, and his words sound sad.

“You fit.” Nick blurts out, and he swears that it’s just the beer getting to him. “You still fit, with your old team, y’know.” He shrugs, staring at the nearly empty glass in his hand and watches the dregs float sadly. “I don’t know, I don’t know if I’m still good with the guys back in Chicago.”

Moulson looks at him, his smile sad. “You were banging one of them, weren’t you?”

Nick just nods slowly, too caught up in his head to notice. “Yeah, uh, Saader and I…” he trails off, not sure how to continue. “Saader and I were.” He finishes, and swallows the dregs of his beer with a grimace.

Moulson just pats him on the shoulder once, then twice, before glancing back at the team. “Maybe you and Johnny should talk.”

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16. Johnny calls Sam while he’s drunk, and it’s the best and worst conversation Nick has ever heard one half of before. He knows what Moulson was talking about before at the barbecue now, if theres any indication by the way Johnny is bemoaning about the lack of Sam’s dick being within sucking distance.

“I miss it. You. It’s like, super far away.” He whines, and then continues on once he’s swallowed—sort of—another mouthful of beer. “You’re super far away.”

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17. Nick calls Saader the next morning, his fingers tapping in a number he knows by heart, while he's sitting in his kitchen wearing his boxers and an old Chicago Blackhawks t-shirt. “Hey,” he says into the receiver, “I think we should talk.” There’s a pause, and Nick continues after a few seconds. “About staying together. About,” He sucks in a deep breath, “about doing this.”

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18. They raise the Stanley Cup together. Nick is still wearing his blue and orange, the retro fisherman feels heavy on his chest, and Brandon is still draped in Chicago red. There’s a new shiny ring on his finger, his index, and it makes his heart swell up a little bit.

“I did it,” he mutters silently, and Brandon’s face lights up as he nods.

“You and your shitty team did it,” he mutters as he ducks under the Cup and presses his lips to Nick’s, and Nick has to pull away because he’s laughing.

“Yeah well, that “shitty team,” he says, rolling his eyes as Brandon muffles his laughter in Nick’s shoulder, “Just won a Stanley Cup. You can’t be shitty and win the Stanley Cup,” Nick persists, letting the aforementioned cup rest on the table next to them. “It’s just not right!”

Brandon laughs again, and finally pulls back a little to look at Nick. “Just wait until next season,” he says, shaking his head. “Those guys are going to have one big playoff hangover.”

Nick rolls his eyes and Brandon bumps into him a little, and something inside of Nick settles when he grins at Brandon.

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