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Burn Our Fingers and Change Our Names

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Tyler’s always been really physical, ever since he was little. His mom used to call him her little snuggle bunny (and still does, sometimes, but now Tyler rolls his eyes and makes her stop, because he is too old for that shit). It’s why he loved hockey right away, maybe: everyone touched each other all the time, like it was just a natural thing. Arms around shoulders and noogies in the locker room and wrestling when there was one stick that was really lucky and you and your best friend both wanted it.

Maybe it’s a little different in the NHL, but Tyler doesn’t think it should be that different.

“Just saying, it seems kind of weird,” Marchy says. It’s the second day of training camp, and he’s leaning against his stall, scrolling through Tyler’s twitter. “You just, like, cuddle these guys?”

“Not cuddle,” Tyler says. “We’re bros, is all.”

Marchy raises an eyebrow at him. It makes him look cool—but then, everything Marchy does makes him look cool. Tyler hopes he can be like him.

It’s only been two days, but Tyler already wants everyone to like him because he loves it here. Just being a Bruin: knowing that he’s on this team of guys who’ll have his back, who’ll fight with him when it gets tough out there. Knowing that they wanted him enough to pick him second overall.

“You’re just jealous,” he says to Marchy with a big grin.

“Oh, yeah?”

Tyler should see it coming, but he doesn’t: Marchy dives for his legs and hefts him over his shoulder. Tyler yelps and laughs and bats at Marchy as he struts around the locker room with him, triumphant and only staggering a little bit.

“Who’s jealous now?” Marchy roars, and everyone’s laughing at them, and Tyler grins hard enough to make his cheeks hurt and thinks, team, team, team.

***

“It’s just so great,” he says to Brownie on the phone later that night. “Like, in Juniors, we knew we were gonna have to leave after a couple of years, but here we could play forever, you know?”

“Not forever,” Brownie says.

“Whatever, you know what I mean.” Tyler flops down on his new bed, the big one he’s gonna make all his bros sleep in with him when they come to Boston. “And you’ll come play us and we’ll go play you, like, all the time, and it’ll be amazing.”

“We don’t even know if I’ll make the team,” Brownie says, but he’s grinning.

“Like they wouldn’t want you. You’re Brownie,” Tyler says.

“Good point,” Brownie says, and they both giggle and Tyler shows Brownie his totally sick entertainment system. Boston is going to rule.

***

There are a bunch of mandatory bonding sessions in the first couple of weeks. They’re mostly to restaurants and bars and stuff, and by the third night out Tyler’s starting to feel like he really knows these guys. Like they’re really all in it together, you know?

“Man, you are such a sap,” Marchy says when Tyler tells him this. They’re out at Tavern in the Square, lounging in some of the back booths, and Tyler may be draped a little all over him.

“’Sjust ’cause it’s true,” Tyler slurs. He’s not old enough to drink in the States, but this is the bar across the street from the Garden—no way is anyone going to deny him alcohol here.

“Sure,” Marchy says. “Here,” he says to Bergy, “you hold onto our little cuddlemonkey for a while.”

He shunts Tyler to the side so that he falls against Bergy. Tyler doesn’t like being shoved away, but he does like Bergy, so that’s okay.

“W’re all in it together, right, Bergy?” Tyler says, and Bergy laughs and ruffled Tyler’s hair.

“Sure, kid,” he says, and Tyler feels all warm and happy.

***

It’s kind of heady, playing for a team that’s as big a deal as the Bruins. Tyler was excited about the thing where they were probably going to win a lot. What he didn’t anticipate, though, was the way everyone in the city seems to know who he is and to love him for it. By the middle of the fall, Tyler can barely go anywhere without someone calling out to him and telling him how good he was on this goal or that pass or how well the team is doing.

“Told you you’d love it,” Brownie says to him, and Tyler does. Maybe it’s dumb to like it so much when strangers say nice things to him, but, like, how would anyone not?

It’s even more fun when they go out and hot girls start saying those things to him. There are a bunch who really want Tyler to dance with them, and, well, he’s not gonna say no to that.

It’s maybe a little too much in November when there are pictures on the internet of him with his hands up a girl’s shirt in a club. He has to talk to team PR about that—a bunch of stuff about keeping his private life private and not doing anything that might reflect badly on the team.

They’re right. Tyler knows they’re right. But as the conversation goes on, it gets harder and harder not to sink down to the carpet and curl into a ball.

“Aren’t there guys on the team who are supposed to be looking out for you?” his mom asks him on the phone later. “Older guys?”

“It’s not their fault,” Tyler says. His mom’s always had a thing him having older male role models, ever since his dad left when he was really little. But this is Tyler’s fault, and he knows it. He knew he shouldn’t have been doing so much on the dance floor; he just lost track of things a little, and it was so hard to stop. He remembers that she kept telling him how good he was at dancing, and how well he moved on the ice, and how turned on she got when she saw him skating.

“It’s okay,” Tyler says, even though it doesn’t feel like it right now. He’s curled up on his bed, arms around Marshall. Marshall still snuggles with him, even when he’s screwed up. “I just need to do what they told me, and it will all be okay.”

***

He means to do what they tell him. It’s just not that easy.

Tyler’s always had a thing where sometimes he gets this itch under his skin. It’s not for sex or alcohol or anything really, but he starts feeling all antsy, like he needs to go crazy, and it makes it hard to keep track of things. Things like how many drinks he’s had. Or how many camera phones might be in the crowd around him. Or what management might say if photos end up on Deadspin the next day.

He always feels really bad the next day, even if there aren’t any photos online. If he passes management in the hall that day, he has to fight not to hang his head, even though they don’t know anything about it. He knows. He knows he didn’t do what they want him to.

So he tries not to go out too often. But he’s playing in the NHL now, and there’s so much pressure to be good all the time, and the antsy thing happens more often now than it did when he was in Juniors. So sometimes he can’t resist.

***

He knows, though, that he can’t hook up with guys. That would be the thing he couldn’t come back from.

It’s February, and the team’s been playing really well. Tyler’s been playing pretty well, too—not the absolute best he can, maybe, but well enough that he feels like he’s been pulling his weight. And he’s been good for the past month or so: staying in, not getting himself in trouble with management. So maybe he’s off his guard, thinking things are good. He’s not expecting the way he feels at team dinner when he looks up to see a guy at the bar staring at him.

Tyler catches people staring at him all the time. But not usually like this, not the guys: not with eyes that are hungry, or mouths that fall open a bit before teeth snag on a lip.

Tyler flushes all over, head to toes. It’s not safe to look back; he knows that. But this guy is really hot. And it’s been so, so long since he let himself look at a guy the way he wants to.

“Hey, Segs,” Marchy says next to him. “Don’t look now, but seems like you’ve got a fan.”

“Don’t think his hockey is what that guy’s a fan of,” Tukka says, and Tyler feels his face flame.

“Gross,” he says, and adrenaline makes the word sizzle in his belly. What if they don’t believe him? What if they see—

“Don’t worry, we’ll protect you from the big bad gays,” Marchy says, throwing his arm around the back of Tyler’s chair.

“You’ll have to make him less pretty,” Wheels says, and the guys laugh, but it’s not mean laughter, so Tyler swallows against the lump in his gut.

The guy at the bar is still there, though, when they’re done with their food, and Tyler can’t help the way his eyes keep darting over there. The way he wants to look.

The thing is—the thing is that he hasn’t been fucked for years, not since that one hazy night in his first year on the Whalers when there was a house party with too much vodka and a friend of a friend with big arms and tattoos on his shoulders who pushed Tyler into the laundry room and stuck his tongue down his throat while Tyler whined against him. It was just that once, but Tyler loved it—remembers begging for more, feeling like he was going to die if he didn’t get filled right away.

He was scared the next day, because—because you couldn’t be gay in the NHL. But that guy never told anyone, as far as Tyler knows. And Tyler’s never done it again. But sometimes…sometimes he feels like he needs it.

Now is one of those times. Tyler shifts on his seat while the guys play credit card roulette, and he’s really tempted to slip away to the bathroom, make eye contact with the guy and get him to follow.

But his teammates already saw the guy, already know something’s up. It wouldn’t be safe. No matter how much Tyler’s aching for the guy to hold him down and—

The team is getting up and moving towards the door. Tyler hurries after them and makes sure to stay in the middle of the crowd, proud of himself for making a good decision.

***

He’s slightly less proud when he finds himself at Underbar two days later, alone.

It’s just—he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about it. The way he felt when the guy made eye contact with him. The way the guy would probably have followed Tyler into the bathroom and pushed him against the wall.

It’s Underbar, not Machine. Not a gay bar. Tyler can tell himself that he’s just here for regular dancing, a normal hookup with a girl. But he can’t totally lie to himself, because if he were looking for a normal hookup, he wouldn’t have come alone, and his eyes wouldn’t keep getting stuck on the guys.

He finds what he’s looking for deep within the crowd: a huge guy with killer biceps who runs his eyes up and down Tyler’s body as soon as he comes near him. It makes Tyler’s breath come faster, and the guy probably can’t hear it over the driving bass, but he must be able to see it, because he steps into Tyler’s space.

They dance until Tyler’s jeans are tight from the way the other guy’s hips are grinding against him. He finds himself clinging to the guy’s arms, mouth slack with wanting it, and when the guy slides his hands over Tyler’s ass and gets his fingers into the dip of his crack, he knows what’s going to happen.

They end up in a stall in the bathroom—not even back at the guy’s place, super dumb, but Tyler’s head is too fogged by the way the guy manhandles him to even think about it. Tyler’s jeans inch down, and the guy pulls out lube and a condom, and Tyler says, “Just the condom, man,” and the guy laughs and glides a finger over his hole.

“Ready for it, huh?” he says, and Tyler is, he so is; he’s never seen the point of lube. Not sure why everyone else bothers with it. So much better to just have someone slide his cock straight into him like this guy is doing now and aahh

The guy’s cock filling him up is ecstatic relief, like every muscle in Tyler’s body can finally relax. The guy’s cock pounds into him until Tyler can barely see straight and comes screaming over the music of the club, collapsing against the wall, feeling better than he has in years.

He feels guilty about it the next day, but he also feels so good, like his body is still halfway melted. Like he didn’t even know what it meant to relax before.

He still tries not to hook up with guys after that. But every once in a while, usually when he’s feeling antsy for no reason, he can’t resist, and it helps, it really does. It makes him feel less like he doesn’t belong in his own skin.

***

They win the Cup. Tyler’s first season, his rookie season, and they win the fucking Stanley Cup.

It’s a high like he’s never known before. The whole team is all over each other, victorious and giddy with it, and Tyler loves all of them. He wraps his arms around everyone he sees and wishes he could hold them all at the same time, burrow into the middle of them and never leave.

No one gets mad at him for partying now. There are parties that last all night, champagne that never stops flowing, and the pictures that inevitably show up online make everyone laugh instead of frowning in Tyler’s direction. It’s the whole group of them, doing this together, and Tyler hadn’t known how much he needed it.

“Bruins forever,” he slurs into Marchy’s ear, and Marchy laughs and throws his arms around him and doesn’t chirp him for it once.

Tyler doesn’t hook up much with the team all around. A couple of girls—a blowjob in the bathroom—but no guys, not when there’s so much attention on him. Besides, he doesn’t want to leave the team.

A few weeks into June, though—

It’s the tail end of the Cup celebrations. Tyler’s pretty sure he’ll, like, never actually stop celebrating, but the crazy parties are winding down and he’s sober more often than he’s drunk. Brownie’s gone home to visit his family, but he’s coming back in a few days to stay for the summer. And suddenly Tyler is going crazy with how badly he wants to have sex.

This has happened to him before, a couple of times. It’s usually right after the end of the season: like his body is so focused on hockey for so much of the year that it puts off wanting other stuff, and then when hockey is gone, it suddenly wants it really badly. Like, seriously badly. Tyler knows horny, and this is a totally different level.

He spends a whole day alone in his apartment with his dildo and his right hand. When he gets like this, just plain jerking off doesn’t do it for him as easily—he really needs something in his ass while he does it. He thinks about going out to pick up, but he actually doesn’t think he could stop jerking off long enough to do it. It’s like a wave that never stops cresting: every time he comes it makes him more desperate, not less, and he clenches down and fucks into his hand because he feels like if he doesn’t come again, he’ll die.

The second night it’s a little less crazy, so he stumbles out to Machine and ends up making out with some really built guy at the back of the dance floor. He takes the guy home and lets him fuck him—and this time he definitely remembers begging for it, practically crying at the feeling of the guy’s dick inside him, like cool water after a slog through the desert.

“Wow, you can really go,” the guy says, kind of dumbfounded, after the fourth or fifth time Tyler’s come, but he’s good about it and fucks Tyler with the dildo. He even seems kind of turned on by it, enough so that he’s up for fucking Tyler again before the night is over.

Tyler wakes up next to the guy in the morning feeling normal again, and he’s so relieved by it that he can’t even be worried that the guy will tell somebody. The guy promises he won’t, anyway, and—and it’s not like Tyler has a choice, when he gets like that.

***

Sometimes he worries that maybe he’s weird. The way he had these, like, fits of needing to have sex. But he feels normal for the rest of the summer, hangs out with Brownie, sees his other bros, works out, manages not to fuck any guys, so he figures it’s not worth worrying about.

He’s excited about the beginning of the season. It’s a different kind of excitement than last year, when he was also nervous. Now he knows these guys. They’re his.

They don’t quite feel as much like his as they did in June, though, when camp starts in September. It’s subtle—but Tyler tries to lean against Marchy in the locker room, the way he would have after the Cup, and Marchy shifts so that Tyler slips off the bench. Everyone laughs, Tyler too, but it still makes him feel small and hurt, sitting on the ground like that.

“Segs,” Chara says as they’re cleaning up after practice. “Try not to embarrass us this year, okay?” and Tyler doesn’t know what he means until he flashes him a picture on his phone, and it’s one of the pictures that got posted online last winter, Tyler in a group of girls, obviously drunk with his hand on one of their boobs.

Tyler flushes hot. He kind of wants to fall to his knees and whine until someone says it’s okay, but that’s not how it works in the NHL. He can’t just look pathetic and expect people to like him.

“You’ve got it,” he says instead, putting on as much of a smile as he can, and then he walks out of the locker room before anyone can tell that he’s not okay. Because he is. He has to be okay. It’s his team, and they want him there, and they’re just telling him what he needs to do to be a good team member. It’s all good.

He tries harder than he did last year not to go out and party, because he wants everyone to smile at him the way they did last year after the Cup. It means that sometimes, on the nights when he feels like he’s going out of his skin, he stays in his apartment and calls Brownie instead.

“You are, like, super hyper,” Brownie says one night, the fourth or fifth time Tyler’s gotten up from his laptop because he just can’t sit still anymore.

“I know.” It doesn’t quite feel like being hyper, though. Hyper is when he’s with his boys and everything is fun and funny and he can’t stop laughing. This is, like, the bad side of that, where he can’t sit still because everything’s just off. He’s inside the wrong skin and he can’t get out. “Maybe I should go for a run.”

“It’s after midnight,” Brownie says, and, yeah, okay, Tyler shouldn’t really go running after midnight. Besides, he’d probably just end up in a club.

It’s okay. He can stay in. He’ll just…walk back and forth and talk to Brownie that way. Yeah.

“At least you’re playing great,” Brownie says, and it’s true. Tyler’s game is awesome right now. The coaches tell him that, and it makes a little bit of the tight feeling in his chest go away, the one he gets every time they sit him down and talk about what kind of behavior is expected of a member of the franchise. At least he can score goals for them.

He gets invited to the All-Star Game that spring, and that’s just—like, hundreds of thousands of people voted, probably, and he was one of the ones they chose, and it’s like the feeling of scoring a game-winning goal plus making the playoffs. He goes around grinning all day when he finds out, and some people congratulate him on the street, and that’s even better.

It’s kind of amazing, once he’s there, meeting all the NHL stars he grew up hearing about. Like—Malkin is there, and Lundqvist, and the Sedins, and John Tavares, and—Tyler can’t even keep track. He’s kind of nervous to talk to them all, but he does anyway, and even if he babbles a little bit they’re really nice about it.

Jamie Benn wasn’t one of the guys Tyler was excited about meeting, but he meets him anyway, at the mixer thingy before the draft, and—wow.

Tyler hasn’t been paying a lot of attention to Jamie Benn. Like, he’s the best player on the Stars right now, so Tyler’s heard his name, but that’s about it. Maybe they’ve played against each other? But Tyler doesn’t actually remember, so maybe not. And Jamie doesn’t have one of those faces that make Tyler stop and stare when he sees it in a header on a news article.

In person, though, it’s totally different. Jamie just has this presence—this whole massiveness thing that’s really working for him—and as soon as Jamie’s eyes meet his, Tyler feels it down to his gut. Just this wash of warmth—like, heat, yes, but also just…comfort. Like Tyler wants Jamie to fuck him but also maybe let Tyler lean against his shoulder, wrap him up in those massive arms and let him close his eyes for a few minutes.

It’s weird that he feels the second thing, because, like, he knows Jamie’s a wolf. A bunch of NHL wolves came out last year after the whole thing with Patrick Kane, and Tyler hasn’t been paying a ton of attention, but he’s like ninety-nine percent sure Jamie and his brother Jordie were part of it. And Tyler’s not really sure what most wolves are like—he hasn’t met any others, that he knows of—but he would have thought they’d be scarier. Like, kind of bristly. The kind of guy you’d see in a motorcycle gang or whatever.

But the way Jamie smiles at him is the gentlest thing Tyler’s ever seen.

Tyler tries not to list towards him when he shakes his hand. Maybe he fails, because Jamie’s smile drops and he looks sort of surprised.

Tyler pulls away fast. He doesn’t want Jamie to start to think things. His heart is beating a little too fast, and he’s starting to feel panicky, so he says, “Hey, so you guys are doing a great job in Dallas.”

“Yeah?” Jamie’s face melts into a smile that’s even better than the one he gave Tyler the first time. It does funny things to Tyler’s stomach. “I mean, we still have a ways to go, but…”

“No, totally!” Tyler can feel himself becoming bouncier, the way he always does when he’s nervous. “Like, you’ll probably be contenders soon, you know?”

“I don’t know.” Jamie’s smile turns a little bashful, and he ducks his head. It’s so fucking cute that Tyler forgets to breathe for a moment. Then Jamie looks up at him, sharp, eyes changing a little, and—

Tyler feels like he’s been caught: like even though they’re not saying anything, or doing anything, he knows that Jamie knows and Jamie knows he knows Jamie knows and his mind just goes totally blank. His heart is suddenly pounding so hard in his ears he can hear it, even over the music, and his mouth is suddenly coppery with fear.

“Um, I’ve gotta,” he says, and stumbles away to find Tommy or Z or someone he already knows and can hide in the shadows of for a few minutes.

He can’t find them, but at least the draft starts soon. The draft is the one thing Tyler isn’t nervous about: a lot of the guys are joking about being scared, saying how they might win the car, but Z is one of the people picking. Tyler knows he doesn’t have anything to worry about.

Until the room starts to thin out, that is, and he still hasn’t heard his name.

He tries to squash down the little tendril of hurt in his chest. Z is probably holding off on picking him so that it doesn’t look like favoritism. Like, the team had to have a goalie, so it makes sense that he took Tommy early, and then he doesn’t want to take Tyler too and make it look like he’s just snapping up the Bruins.

It makes sense, but Tyler can’t help but feel guilty, like—like maybe he did something to deserve it. Like the times he waves Marchy over to a spot by him at team breakfast and Marchy walks right by, or the nights when no one on the team responds to his texts and he finds out they’ve all been out without him. He knows none of it means anything, not really, not when they’re his team, but he can’t help the way it aches in his chest.

He looks around to distract himself and sees that Jamie hasn’t been called, either. He wants to go over to him, suddenly—knows it’s dumb, but also knows it will make him feel better, and so he does.

Jamie looks up as Tyler slides into the booth next to him. He smiles a little, and Tyler does feel better, just sitting here next to him. The little hurt spot in his chest stops hurting as much.

“I guess they’re saving the best for last, huh?” Tyler says.

Jamie kind of grins, pleased, and his face does something complicated. “I get why—I mean, I wasn’t expecting—well, it makes sense that they wouldn’t pick me.” He shakes his head. “But you…”

The hurt spot flares up. “I guess they don’t need me,” he says, trying for casual. “Enough centers, maybe.”

It’s a lie, because Alfredsson’s team’s already chosen four centers, but Z’s team only has two. So they do need him; they just don’t want him, and that’s…

“They’re idiots,” Jamie says, heartfelt, and Tyler just wants to lean into him and let himself be wrapped up. It feels like—like it would be so restful. Like he could stop worrying about anything. Jamie has really good shoulders, and Tyler could just…let his head fall onto one of them. Let go. Jamie would probably put an arm around him, and that would almost make things okay.

He doesn’t let himself lean over. He smiles extra bright instead and says, “Hey, the car would be cool, though, right?”

“Sure,” Jamie says, and he gives Tyler this gentle little grin, and Tyler looks back at him and feels the smile fall out of his own cheeks and—

And his name is called.

“Oh,” he says.

Jamie grins for real. “Go, get out there,” he says, “you deserve it,” and he taps Tyler on the arm, and—and Tyler stumbles, because Jamie’s touch makes everything flip over: not just his stomach, but every nerve in his body, like they all tangle and cross and he can’t tell them anything anymore.

“I,” he says, looking at Jamie, not sure what he’s going for, and then he shakes himself out and turns around and goes out to the stage.

That was dumb, he thinks, as he puts on his biggest smile and comes out to applause. He can’t just act like an idiot like that, not around someone in the NHL. They’re gonna find out about him.

He doesn’t think Jamie knows anything for sure, though, and no one else would have noticed. So he’s safe for now.

That’s what he thinks, anyway, until Patrick Kane comes up to him the next day.

It’s just after the skills competition, and Tyler’s just watched Jamie Benn do the accuracy shots. And, okay, he decided that he would stop paying attention to Jamie, and anyway he knew Jamie was good, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. But he didn’t know what Jamie’s face looked like when he got all focused on a shot and he didn’t know how it would feel to watch the puck arc perfectly from Jamie’s stick to the spots on the goal, like, just really gorgeous, and—and he didn’t know how it would feel, the way his skin would buzz and his cheeks would heat, and—

“So,” Patrick Kane says, next to him.

Tyler startles. He thinks he met Kane briefly last night, when they were all drinking after the draft, and obviously he knows who Kane is. Hell, he saw the picture last year with the rest of the world. But he doesn’t know why Kane would come up and talk to him.

“So, I’m guessing you’re not out,” Kane says in a low voice, and Tyler practically falls over.

He’s not in his skates, which is probably the only reason he doesn’t actually fall over. But he does trip and sort of hurt himself over the arm of the seat behind him. I’m not gay, he wants to say, but he can’t quite find the words, not when he’s just spent the last five minutes staring at Jamie. “Um,” he says instead. “Um, what?”

“Chill, I’m not going to tell anyone,” Kane says, still talking low. “Not if you don’t want me to, that is.”

Tyler stares at him, because—is he crazy? Why would Tyler want him to? Maybe it went okay for Kane to come out, but he’s, like, the face of his franchise, and he’s dating the other half of the face of his franchise, and no one’s going to mess with that. Even if the wolf thing must have made it worse, that doesn’t mean that Tyler—

“No,” he says, voice cracking a little.

Kane just nods a little, and fuck, how does he even know? He must have seen Tyler’s face when he watched Jamie shoot. Tyler must be way more obvious than he thought he was. He’s going to have to lock it down, somehow. Z and management and everyone might not be too awful about it, if they found out about him, but if it were public, if it were a scandal like Kane’s, they might…Tyler doesn’t know what they might do. But it makes him want to throw up to think about it.

“If you want,” Kane says, “I can put you in touch with some others. Obviously I’d have to tell them about you, but—”

“No,” Tyler says, too fast. “I mean, um, no. Thank you. I just need to…no.”

“Got it,” Kane says, and he gives Tyler a smile. It’s kind of nice, even if it doesn’t change the thing where Tyler is panicking as Kane walks away.

He’s not supposed to be messing up anymore. He needs to lock this shit down.

Chapter Text

Tyler tries to avoid both Kane and Jamie for the rest of the All-Star weekend, but Kane sits down next to him at lunch on Saturday. Tyler panics for a moment and thinks about getting up, but before he can, the guy on Kane’s other side gets up abruptly and takes his half-full plate of food with him.

Tyler stares for a minute as the guy goes over to another table and sits down, and when he looks back Kane is making a face. “Sorry,” Kane says. “That still happens sometimes.”

“Wow,” Tyler says. “I, um. That sucks.”

“I don’t even know if it’s the wolf thing or the gay thing, some days,” Kane says with a little laugh. “But you shouldn’t worry too much about it.”

Tyler nods, heart beating a little faster at the mention of the gay thing. Not that he thinks anyone overhearing them would think Kane was talking about him, but— “Um, so, you have triplets?” he says.

It’s sort of a desperate subject change, but Kane’s face just lights up. “Fuck yeah, I do,” he says. “I’d show you pictures, but Jonny’s put a moritorium on me pulling out my phone to torture people.”

“No, it’s okay,” Tyler says. He’s not, like, super interested, but it beats talking about other things. “I’d like to see.”

“See, that’s what I keep telling Jonny,” Kane says, fishing out his phone. “Who wouldn’t want to see pictures of these guys?”

He tilts the phone to show a picture of three kids—maybe like a year old? Tyler can’t remember when the whole wolf scandal broke, but these kids look like they could maybe walk but probably aren’t too good at it. They’re all piled over each other in the shot, a little boy on his stomach on the carpet and a girl sprawled across him on her back, big grin on her face, and another girl leaning on them and smacking her hands on the first girl’s stomach. They’re really ridiculously cute: all curly hair and little dimpled faces. “Oh, wow,” Tyler says.

“Right?” Kane scrolls through some more, and Tyler didn’t think he was interested, but actually he’s finding it hard to tear his eyes away. They all look so happy. He remembers thinking, when the news came out, how much it must suck for Kane and Toews—that no matter what kind of trouble Tyler himself got in, at least it wouldn’t be as bad as that. But here are pictures of the two of the looking down at their babies with just the biggest smiles, like nothing could make them happier.

There’s one near the end that someone else must have taken, because it has all five of them in it. Kane and Toews are sitting on the floor, sides pressed together, and all three of the babies are piled onto them: one in human form, two as little wolf cubs. Toews is looking down at the wolf in his lap, and his face has this soft, gentle look, and Kane is looking at Toews. Like—like he loves what he sees.

It makes Tyler ache. He’s not expecting it—kids aren’t something he’s thought about much, or at all—but looking at the picture, he wants what they have so badly it’s an actual pain in his gut. He misses his own family, suddenly, his mom and sisters, and even more than that, he wants—he wants—

There’s a prickle on the back of his neck, like something brushing against him, and he looks up to see Jamie Benn watching him from across the room. His eyes are kind of intense, and it makes Tyler’s cheeks flush. He doesn’t know what Jamie’s thinking, but the attention makes him squirm. He tears his eyes away.

“Those are just, like, painfully cute, man,” he says to Kane, grinning and standing up. “Gotta run, but catch you later, okay?”

He can still feel the prickle on the back of his neck as he walks out of the room.

***

Yeah, so steering clear of Jamie is still a go. He’s on Tyler’s team, so it’s not like Tyler can totally avoid him. But he manages not to be alone with him until Sunday night, when Tyler’s coming back from the bar, staggering a little, and he runs into Jamie in the hallway of the hotel.

Almost literally runs into him, actually. It’s not like Jamie is easy to miss, but—well, okay, maybe Tyler is more than a little drunk, and he’s frowning at the key card in his hand and trying to remember which room he’s in and whether it was on the fourth or fifth floor when he trips a little bit and he’s suddenly surrounded by a lot of Jamie.

Jamie’s hands are on his arms. Or maybe on his back, sort of, keeping him up, and Tyler’s pressed up against his chest a little, and Jamie feels really good. Like…really good. “Jamie! Hi, Jamie.”

Jamie looks down at him. “You’re drunk.”

“Yup!” Tyler’s allowed to be drunk here; it’s an NHL party. It’s not like when he goes out in Boston and people say things. “You’re not. Drunk. Are you?”

Jamie huffs out a laugh. “No.” Then, when Tyler keeps looking at him, “Still on meds for the appendix thing.”

“Ohhh. Oh, right.” Tyler’s still looking up at him. He likes that he gets to look up; there aren’t that many people he can look up to like this. Maybe he should stay here, practice. It’s probably good for him, right?

“Um.” Jamie clears his throat. “Are you okay to stand?”

“Yeah,” Tyler says, but he’s not really listening because his eyes have drifted down to Jamie’s throat. He doesn’t know why—he’s never been super into other people’s necks—but it just looks like it would be a good one to bury his face in. Jamie’s arms are really warm against him, and Tyler’s eyes are fixed on his collarbone, and maybe if he just leaned forward a little—

Jamie’s hands slide against his back. “Did you want, um,” he says, and his voice is low, but it’s enough to snap Tyler out of it. He pushes against Jamie’s arms and stumbles back.

“Sorry,” he says. “Sorry.” He was going to not be weird about Jamie anymore, and fuck, what is he doing?

“Hey, no, you’re drunk,” Jamie says, catching his arm as Tyler lists into the wall. “Let me—which room are you in?”

Jamie’s grip is really strong, and it makes Tyler want to give him more of his weight. He thinks suddenly how Jamie could probably carry his whole weight without too much trouble, and as soon as he thinks that, he wants it: wants Jamie to take him in his arms and carry him. It’s just—standing is so hard, and Tyler’s been doing it for so long—

“It’s on your key card,” Jamie says, and, right.

Jamie takes it from his fingers and looks at the number written on the back on the envelope. “This way,” he says as he slides an arm around Tyler’s shoulders. Tyler leans into it, and it’s not quite what he imagined, but it still feels good, the solid pressure of Jamie’s muscles guiding him forward. Makes him feel all fuzzy, and he does what he wanted to do so badly yesterday and tips his head onto Jamie’s shoulder and lets it loll back, exposing his throat.

“O-okay,” Jamie says. “We’re, uh, here.”

They’re here. That means Tyler should step away from Jamie. But maybe it’s the alcohol making time go all fuzzy, or maybe—maybe it’s Jamie’s face, and the way Tyler wants to keep looking at it—but he doesn’t step away, and a moment later he realizes he still hasn’t stepped away, and Jamie’s eyes are really brown.

He thinks maybe he should say the last part. “Your eyes are really brown,” he says. They have long lashes, too, and Tyler gets absorbed in watching them sweep down Jamie blinks.

Jamie makes this weird gasp-laugh sound. “You’re drunk,” he says.

“Yeah,” Tyler says happily, still watching the sweep of Jamie’s lashes. Oh, but now he’s watching the corner of Jamie’s mouth, and the way his tongue flicks out a little as he takes a breath.

“So.” Jamie swallows visibly. “You should go into your room.” He steps back and takes his arm away.

“Oh.” Tyler feels a lot colder, suddenly, and unsteady. He wants Jamie’s arm around him again. He wants—

“Good night, Tyler,” Jamie says, and he’s still standing there, and Tyler wonders if there’s anything he can do to make him touch him again. Maybe if he lets Jamie know how bad it feels not to have it anymore, if he explains. Tells him how no one ever touches him as much as he wants them to, how hard it is to be okay all the time and not let anyone see when he slips up, how he’s just tired.

But—no. He’s not allowed to say any of that. And he’s not that drunk.

“Night,” he says instead, and fumbles his way into his room and shuts the door behind him and wraps his arms around himself.

***

It’s worse, after that: the itching for something he can’t get through clubbing but tries to anyway, because at least clubbing lets him forget for a few hours. The disappointed looks from management and teammates get worse, too, and that makes Tyler feel terrible, which makes it harder not to go out, and sometimes he just wants to bury himself under his bed and not have to deal with it anymore.

But he goes on the ice and skates and that part is good, is pure, is easy. And he talks to Brownie, and his sisters, and his other bros, and it’s okay.

He slips up a couple of times that spring and finds a guy to hook up with. It’s not that he doesn’t like sex with women; it’s just that sometimes it feels like there’s a ball of frustration at the base of his spine, and nothing will get rid of it except getting fucked.

Even that doesn’t do it all the time. This one time in March—well, it’s good and all, but even when the guy is pounding into him, Tyler’s biting down on his lips against the feeling of needing something else. He’s full, so much fuller than he ever is otherwise, but he isn’t full enough. He can only ask for harder and faster so many times before it stops being hot and starts being annoying, and it doesn’t help, anyway. He just wants—more.

But he can ignore that, too. He’s good at it by now.

The thing happens again: the one where once the season is over, his body kind of gives up on whatever halfhearted repression shit it was trying and wants sex like crazy. It’s worse than last year, and he can’t even get it together enough to go out and pick someone up. He just stays in his apartment, fucking himself on his dildo and wishing it were possible to stick something larger up there because this is just not doing it.

It lasts fucking forever this time. He never thought he’d come to hate jerking off, but on the fourth day, when he’s drained and shaking and chafing and still pulling on his sore dick to try to get some relief, he wishes he were one of those asexual people he’s heard about who never have this happen to them. It seems like it would be so much easier.

Just another thing he can get through. And he does, and then it’s summer, and he and Brownie bum around Ontario and Boston and have dumb cookouts and fall asleep in the same bed (but not like that, never with Brownie) and Tyler works his ass off and doesn’t post any pictures on Twitter. This time, when he comes back in the fall, it’s going to be to a room of smiling faces belonging to people who want him there.

Only it turns out he doesn’t get to go back at all, that fall.

***

He’s lucky to be able to play during the lockout, he knows that, but Switzerland is fucking lonely.

He can make bros anywhere, but it’s a little different when the potential bros in question only speak, like, French and German. He always sucked at French in school, so it’s mostly pantomime and the guys’ broken English. Which is fun, don’t get him wrong, but it means hanging out with them is exhausting, and he doesn’t have any really good friends there the way he does at home. He spends a lot of time on Skype with Brownie and Marchy and a lot of time on news sites, trying to figure out how the negotiations are going and how soon he’ll be able to go home.

It’s kind of surprising when Patrick Kane reaches out to him. They haven’t talked since the thing at the All-Star Game, probably because Tyler didn’t want to join his gay support group or whatever, and he didn’t even know Kane had his number. But Kane’s doing all this NHLPA shit, so he must have a list.

hey its kaner, the text says. working on wolf acceptance clause in new contract. you okay with that?

Tyler frowns at the text for a minute, because what does Kane (Kaner, apparently) think Tyler is, some kind of lupophobic shithead? Obviously he’s okay with the NHL, like, not discriminating against wolves. But he figures Kaner’s probably in charge of, like, a whole survey of all the players, so he just writes back, totally. go for it, bro!

:) thx, Kaner says.

Tyler pretty much thinks that’s it, except that then Kaner sends, hows switzerland?

good but there mcdonalds is weird, Tyler says, and then, because it’s only polite, hows stuff with u?

Kaner just sends a picture back, a selfie he obviously took just now. It’s him and the babies, all three of them climbing over each other on his lap, and his shirt has some suspicious stains on it and he looks exhausted, but he’s grinning and giving the camera a thumbs up and—and pregnant. He’s pregnant. Tyler can see the swell of it under his t-shirt.

Kaner is sitting around cuddling his babies and growing more inside of him and suddenly Tyler hurts so much he has to put the phone down and just breathe.

He goes out that night, and he doesn’t even try to tell himself he’s not going to a gay bar. It’s not the States, anyway, and NHL players aren’t a big deal here like they are across the Atlantic. He puts on his tightest pants and skimpiest shirt, one that shows off his abs, and goes to a gay bar and hangs out on the edge of the dance floor until his eyes catch on a guy with broad shoulders and really solid muscles and a nice-looking face. He doesn’t think about anyone the guy might remind him of, just goes up to him, and it’s only a minute or two later that the guy has his hands on Tyler’s hips and is grinding into him, laughing a little.

He says something in French, and then, when Tyler doesn’t get it, “Eager,” in lightly accented English.

“Maybe,” Tyler says as he circles his hips against the guy’s. He gets his mouth up to the guy’s ear and breathes hot and moist against his skin. “Want you to fist me,” he whispers, and the guy flinches, hips stuttering in a way that doesn’t feel turned off, not at all.

Putain,” the guy spits, and Tyler grins, because he knows that one. He’s glad the guy seems to know what fisting is, because Tyler didn’t really want to have to pantomime that one in a crowded club. Not to say he wouldn’t have, but.

“You wanna come back to my place?” Tyler asks, and twenty minutes later, they’re going through the door of Tyler’s apartment, Tyler and Émile, and Émile’s arms are still just as good as they were in the club and Tyler is buzzing from how much he wants something up his ass that’s more than a cock. He’s never done this before, but he’s never been more sure about anything.

He might rush them a little bit through getting their clothes off, because Émile looks amused, but then Tyler rubs their bare cocks together and the amusement drops away, his eyes going dark and turned on. Tyler doesn’t need the help: his blood is running hot and there’s a knot in his gut that needs to be fucked out of him so badly he can barely see straight.

Émile takes charge in a way Tyler likes: decisive, but not so much so that Tyler couldn’t push back if he wanted to. Émile gets him face down on the bed and is above him, kissing his spine, and—and Tyler feels so safe. Like he’s been bouncing around this big wide world and now, with someone over him and pressing down, he’s finally contained. He whines and pushes into the touches and Émile says, “Lube?” and Tyler says, “No, no, just—”

Émile glides a finger against Tyler’s hole and laughs and says, “Ah yes, your kind. You like this, yes?” and Tyler didn’t think Canadians or Americans or whatever had a reputation for this kind of thing, but he doesn’t care as long as this guy keeps sliding a finger into his hole like that.

It doesn’t get tough until the fourth finger. Before that it’s just good familiar stretch, but once Émile’s pinky finger is in, the stretch starts edging over the line into painful. That’s also when it starts getting really satisfying. “It’s okay?” Émile asks when he curls the four fingers that are inside Tyler, and Tyler can only moan and roll his hips into it.

It’s like—it’s like getting massaged after a really tough game, the way his muscles feel worn out with long strain but finally about to let go. Émile’s only really touching his ass, his hip, but Tyler feels it from head to toe. It makes him shiver and make little noises as Émile nudges his thumb in alongside.

Bordel de merde, you take this easily,” Émile says, and yeah, Tyler didn’t expect that. Didn’t expect it to be this easy. But the knot that’s been at the base of his spine forever is falling apart as he opens up, nerves singing, like he’s getting high. He says, “Deeper,” and Émile goes deeper, easing his fingers in past the second knuckle, and fuck, that makes it even better.

Tyler wants to—to laugh, to dance. He wants to never let this feeling go away.

“More, more,” he says, over and over, and Émile makes skeptical noises but inches in farther, until the thickness of his fingers brushes up against Tyler’s prostate, and—

“Oh fuck,” Tyler says. “Fuck me. Just like that. Fuck me—” and he’s desperate for it suddenly, no longer floating easily on the feeling, but driving towards something, cock hard and leaking as he bucks up onto Émile’s hand. Émile cries out in surprise but does it, and pleasure screams across Tyler’s nerves. This is—it’s color and light and it’s heat and he’s dying, fuck, he’s going to die in his shitty apartment in the middle of Switzerland because nothing has ever felt like this, nothing.

He thinks he makes some kind of noise when he comes, but he doesn’t even know, because it’s all a blur. He can barely even feel his own body—only the amazing heat of it, the blazing glow of everything fitting right for once in his entire life.

He collapses when he’s done coming, and then he hears a string of French curses, and come is spattering against the small of his back. Émile collapses next to him, half against his shoulder, fist still in his ass.

Tyler feels—amazing. He clenches down on the fist in his ass and feels the bone-deep rush of satisfaction. “Ah, sorry,” Émile says, and starts to ease out, but Tyler says, “No,” a little too fast, and Emile stays where he is.

“If you’re sure,” Émile says. “If you want—”

“Yeah.” Tyler’s cheeks are hot with embarrassment, but he barely cares over how good he feels right now. “Just—a little while.”

Émile is warm against his side. It’s not quite as nice as it would be if it were someone Tyler cared about, but it’s good enough to let him luxuriate in it. Pretend, for just a few minutes, that this warmth is something that belongs to him, something that will hold him tight and shield him from the world. Something he gets to keep.

***

He’s embarrassed about it the next day, in a distant sort of way. It’s impossible for him to really feel embarrassed, because he’s too busy feeling good. Like maybe he never had sex before last night, which is dumb because he gets laid all the time, but this is so much deeper than that. His whole body feels melty and warm, and he does a way longer workout than usual because he feels too good to stop.

He almost tells Brownie about it when they Skype later that night. But he’s never told Brownie he hooks up with guys, and he—well, he doesn’t think Brownie would care, but if he did, if he flinched, or frowned, or looked away—Tyler doesn’t want to see that. Doesn’t think he could take it, from Brownie. So he doesn’t say anything. “Good workout,” is all he says when Brownie says he’s looking good, but his face must be giving something away because Brownie laughs and says, “Yeah, I bet.” And then it’s okay because Brownie thinks he hooked up with a girl, and Tyler can just grin and go with it.

He Skypes with Marchy later on, but there’s no temptation to tell him about it at all. Marchy has to go pretty fast, anyway—something about a new bar that Tyler will totally have to check out when he gets back to town. Soon, Tyler hopes.

The glowing feeling lasts for a couple of days, and then Tyler’s back to mostly just wanting the lockout to end so he can go home. He still feels a little better, though. The urge to rip things up out of frustration is a lot less than it usually is. Apparently all he needed to fix it was a good fisting—who knew?

The lockout finally ends, and he goes back to the States and gets out on the ice with his real team, the one he really belongs with. And yeah, sometimes they still have to have talks with him, tell him where he’s going wrong and how to fix it, but he knows they’re just doing what they need to to make him fit in. To make him a good team member. And he is—they don’t make it all the way in the playoffs, but the team is good, solid, and Tyler’s an important part of that.

Then he gets the phone call.

***

It’s the Fourth of July, and Blackie’s barbecuing on the deck, and someone else is throwing up in the bushes, and Tyler’s buzzed and feeling great with all his bros around, and that’s when the phone rings and it’s the GM.

“A new direction for you,” he hears, and, “Good opportunities for everyone,” and it turns out he’s being traded.

Traded. As in, not a part of the team anymore.

Tyler sits down on the floor of the random bedroom he’d wandered into. His phone is still in his hand, and he sits on the hard wood and stares at the empty dresser across from him and—

When Brownie finds him, a while later, he hasn’t moved. “Bro!” Brownie says. “Bro, what—”

“They don’t want me anymore,” Tyler says, and that’s all he can say, but it’s enough to get Brownie to put his arms around him, and that helps, it always does, even if it’s not enough. Tyler pushes himself tighter into Brownie’s hold and tries not to feel the way everything hurts.

Chapter Text

Everything still hurts when Tyler’s on a plane to Dallas. Not as much—more like a bone bruise that’s a few days old, instead of the immediate pain of a hit—but he feels it every time he breathes in.

He doesn’t have Marshall with him yet. Marshall doesn’t fly well. Brownie has him, and he’s going to try to find someone to drive him down later. But for now, it’s just Tyler. Tyler, curled up on an airplane seat with his head against the window, crossing the many miles between Boston and Dallas.

He has his phone in his hand, the one Jamie texted him on a few days ago. Let’s prove them wrong, he said. And Tyler doesn’t want that to mean a lot to him, doesn’t want to hold on too hard to what were probably just casual words from someone texting him on management’s orders. But he keeps opening his text inbox and looking at it again anyway. At least there’s someone who’s willing to say something nice about him when the rest of the world is writing articles about why he wasn’t good enough.

Jamie’s going to meet him at the airport. Tyler spends the whole flight thinking about that, because it beats thinking about other things and because—because he needs to be prepared. He can’t be weird about Jamie, not like he was in Ottawa, not if he’s going to be playing on a team with him. He can’t let this team find a reason to have a problem with him, too. So he’ll just—he’ll be normal with Jamie, and he won’t think about any of the stuff he sometimes thinks about late at night with his hand around his cock, and it’ll be fine.

He spots Jamie across the luggage carousel and his knees go all wobbly and he knows it’s hopeless.

It’s not even like Jamie’s that—well. Tyler’s not going to lie to himself and say he’s not good-looking, but Tyler knows a lot of good-looking people, and Jamie’s not, like, a standout. There’s just something about Jamie in particular that makes Tyler want to keep walking toward him until he’s in his arms. Something that makes him want to be wrapped up until there’s nothing in the room but the two of them.

Jamie hasn’t spotted him yet. Tyler wrenches his eyes away and looks for his bag.

It’s a minute or two later than he hears, “Hey! Hey, Tyler!”

He turns toward it, smile already in place. Jamie’s bounding toward him, his own smile wide, and wow, that’s just a really good smile. “Hey, good to see you,” Tyler says, and goes in for—he’s not sure what, maybe a handshake/bro-hug combo, but Jamie sweeps him up in his arms and then Tyler is being held.

Being held. And he’s shaky with rejection and fear of being found out but they still feels so good, Jamie’s arms around him. It’s been a year and a half since the last time, and it’s not like Tyler’s been thinking about it since then—really; it hasn’t been that often—but as he lets his body sink against Jamie’s chest, it still feels like a finally thing.

When Tyler pulls away, he’s dazed and scrambling inside his head, trying to find the resolution he was going to stick to ten minutes ago to be normal around Jamie. He has to blink four or five times before he notices that Jamie’s trying to introduce him to his brother.

“Hey,” Tyler says to Jordie. He gets a handshake, a good one, Jordie’s other hand on his arm, and it feels right for someone he hasn’t met before. Jordie’s face is open, smile not all-consuming the way Jamie’s is but easy, free.

They’re easy to talk to in the car. There’s still an ache in Tyler’s chest, but he can almost forget it when he says something that makes Jamie laugh, his face squinching up while he tries to focus on the road.

“You should come eat at our place,” Jamie says. “I don’t think you have any furniture yet.”

“Oh—right.” Tyler tears his eyes away from Jamie’s face in the rear-view mirror and realizes he actually has no idea where they’re going. “Um, they said they had a place set up for me?”

“Yeah, in our building,” Jordie says, and Tyler hadn’t expected that.

He must go too long without saying something, because Jamie fidgets with the wheel. “We, uh, we thought it might be good for you to live near us,” he says. “But if you don’t want to, or—I mean, it’s up to you—”

“No, no, that sounds great,” Tyler says quickly. He knows it’s just a team thing or whatever, looking out for the new guy, but he’s grinning, and he can’t quite find it within himself to stop.

***

Tyler’s not an idiot, and he knows it would be smart not to get too close to Jamie. The fluttery feeling he gets in his chest every time they’re close to each other is not safe, and he doesn’t want to screw things up this time around. But Jamie keeps seeking him out, and he and Jordie really are better at food than Tyler is, and it doesn’t make sense for the three of them to take separate cars when they’re all going to the rink to work out at the same time.

“At this rate, you’re never going to buy furniture,” Jordie chirps him the second week Tyler’s in Dallas.

“Shut up,” Tyler says drowsily. He’s lying on the Benn brothers’ couch with his feet in Jamie’s lap. It took him like half an hour to get brave enough to put them there, but when he did, Jamie just closed his hands around his ankles and held on. The point of connection is making Tyler all warm and sleepy.

That’s one thing he loves about the Benn brothers so far: they’re really into touching. Tyler doesn’t know if it’s the wolf thing or what, but they’re constantly putting each other in headlocks or slugging each other on the arm, and they don’t quite do that with him yet, but they seem to take it for granted that he’ll lie all over them when they all sit down to watch TV together. Tyler keeps waiting for the touch that will make their faces go all judgy, like everyone’s in Boston, but it hasn’t happened yet. He hopes it doesn’t.

“Why would I need furniture of my own when I can just steal yours?” he calls out to Jordie, who’s going into the kitchen for more snacks.

“Such a freeloader,” Jordie calls back, and Tyler would give him the finger, but it’s too much effort to go over there.

Jamie’s hand moves on his ankle. “I can help you, if you want,” he says. “With buying furniture.”

Tyler’s face breaks into a smile. “Yeah?” he says, and Jamie does this ducking-his-head-and-nodding thing that makes Tyler want to kiss him underneath his chin. “That’d be great.”

“Don’t trust him,” Jordie calls from the kitchen. “He has terrible taste.”

“Yeah, in brothers,” Tyler calls back, and Jamie snorts and shakes his ankle a little. He’s blushing, and Tyler thinks that he’d rather have furniture that Jamie liked than the best-looking furniture in the world, and he really is so fucked.

***

One of the reasons the Stars asked Tyler to be in Dallas so early was so he could do publicity stuff. Jamie has to do it, too, since it’s pretty clear that he’ll be their next captain, and it makes Tyler feel a little better, having Jamie nearby while he answers questions about how his old team didn’t want him.

“This must be an exciting change,” someone says in an interview, and Tyler has to put on an extra-wide grin and say something about how he’s looking forward to new opportunities. Like he doesn’t still close his eyes and picture being on the ice with his guys, the ones he won a Cup with, the ones he thought were his for the long haul. Like he doesn’t still try to figure out what he did wrong.

“I guess what they needed and what I had to offer didn’t line up,” he says in response to another question. “But I’m here now, and I think it’s gonna be great.”

“So you think the Stars can be contenders?” the reporter asks.

“Well, yeah,” Tyler says. “I mean, look at what this team already has. They’ve only been getting better, and playing with someone like Jamie Benn, yeah, I really think we can make it all the way.”

The reporter nods, and they pause for some sort of camera thing. Tyler looks up, around the room, and catches Jamie’s eye without meaning to. He hadn’t realized Jamie was listening, but he must have been, because now he’s beaming at Tyler. Just beaming, super happy and almost proud, like Tyler did something good, and Tyler just—he hopes the makeup on his face is really good, because he can feel his cheeks heating.

They finish up their individual interviews at about the same time, and Tyler thinks they’re going to head back, but then Jordie shows up and gives them a fist bump before he heads into makeup. “They’re going to ask us some wolf questions,” Jamie says. “You don’t have to be part of that if you don’t want. I know it’s not for everyone.”

“No, I think it’s totally cool,” Tyler says. “But yeah, I guess I probably shouldn’t be in there.” He wouldn’t have much to say to them, unless the question was what it’s like to hang around two wolves almost twenty-four seven. To which the answer would be, surprisingly not weird.

Jamie looks like he’s going to head into the room, but then he hesitates. “I just wanted to, um.” He sticks one hand in his pocket and raises his eyes to meet Tyler’s. “I just wanted to tell you how happy we are to have you here,” he says. “I mean, I don’t know how it was in Boston, but it seems like maybe it wasn’t—the best environment?”

Tyler first impulse is to say no—that no, Boston is the best. He would never say anything bad about it. He would still go back there if he could. But he thinks about how hard it was sometimes, how much he had to work all the time not to screw up, and then he just wants to ask how Jamie knows. Whether—whether it will be easier here.

He can’t find the words for any of that. “I’m just—I’m really excited to play with you,” he says instead, and Jamie’s smile is a slow, bright thing that warms him all over.

***

Tyler doesn’t think about the wolf thing all that often. Obviously he knows Jamie and Jordie are wolves—they’re kind of famous for it, and Tyler might have looked Jamie up a little bit after the All-Star Game. It seems like he and Jordie are the ones who came out of left field after Patrick Kane was outed and Sidney Crosby came out in solidarity. Most people hadn’t heard of Jamie Benn at that point, and Jordie wasn’t even with the NHL, but the Stars did this whole thing where they had a press conference to announce the wolves in their franchise—there was one guy in the front office at the time, too—and say how much they supported them. It was the first time a team had done that; even the Blackhawks didn’t get on it for a couple of weeks after that. And then the Stars kept putting Jamie in the spotlight, letting him take interviews and having his face on their homepage and not quietly sidelining him the way a lot of people wanted them to. And they actually brought Jordie up to the NHL level, even when it might have been easier to deal with one token wolf and avoid more controversy. Tyler thinks it was pretty cool of the team to have their backs like that, and he may have lost a few hours of his life watching interviews from 2010. So—yeah, he knows that Jamie and Jordie are wolves.

But he’s never as aware of it as he is when Jordie’s girlfriend comes to visit.

Jordie and Jessica don’t act quite like a normal couple, is the thing. There’s a ton more touching in public, and, like, in weird ways: touching each other on the neck and, like, nipping each other. Tyler swears he sees them sniff each other sometimes. It’s super weird.

Jessica still lives in Victoria mostly, but she comes down when she can. She explains to Tyler how she’s still part of a pack up there: a dozen wolves, most of them in her family, answering to her grandmother as alpha. “And someday soon maybe these two will get a real pack going here, and maybe they’ll even ask me to join it,” she says to him with a sly grin. “But in the meantime—pack is important, you know, and it’s not like I’m the NHL player.”

Pack. Tyler knows what that means, in a vague way: he knows that Jamie’s an alpha and Jordie’s a beta, which presumably means Jamie would be leading a pack if they had an one. But he’d never thought of it as something that strong, something that would keep you from moving across the country because you wanted to stay close. He thinks—he thinks that must be pretty nice.

“It must be hard for you,” she says to him, “being so far away from home.”

“It—yeah,” he says. “It is.” His mom and sisters, yeah: he hardly gets to spend any time with them, and he remembers when they were the backbone of his life. When he felt safe and secure because he knew they were there for him no matter what. And his team, the ones in Boston who he thought were like that for him, but then when it came down to it—

“Are you making Tyler sad?” Jordie asks, coming into the kitchen. “No fair making Tyler sad.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Jessica says with a little laugh, a nice one, and Jordie nuzzles his head against Tyler’s shoulder. It’s half-mocking, but it makes Tyler giggle, and then—then arms come around him from behind, Jamie’s arms, and Tyler can’t even help the way he relaxes into them.

“Gotta be careful with our Tyler,” Jordie mumbles, hugging him from the side, and Jamie’s nose is resting against the skin under his ear, and Tyler wonders if there’s anything he can do to make them stay like this forever.

***

Jessica and Jordie are great together but kind of weird to watch. And it’s not like Tyler’s creeped out by it or anything—he’s not a lupophobe. But it reminds him that he’s not one of them.

“I should go,” he says after dinner the first night she’s there. He would normally stick around for a few hours more, but he thinks that maybe the three of them want some wolf time, and he doesn’t want to be in the way.

Jamie comes with him to the door. “Jessica’s coming running with us tomorrow, for the moon,” he says. “You—you could come too, if you wanted.”

At first Tyler’s not sure what he means: he and Jamie and Jordie go running a lot, along with all their other training, and he’s not sure why Jamie’s asking like it’s a big deal. Then he realizes: full moon, running, wolves.

That’s—wow. If they’re asking him that, it must mean they actually do want him around, that they’re not just putting up with him or whatever. It makes him want to say yes right away. But then he thinks about it: about how he felt when he saw Jessica nip Jordie’s jaw, a wolf thing that he knew wasn’t for him but which looked so nice, so familiar and playful. He thinks about what it might be like to be around the three of them when they’re in full wolf form and he can’t join them. To watch Jamie run away from him.

“That’s cool of you to ask,” Tyler says. “I’ll think about it.”

Jamie’s expression is so hopeful it almost kills him. “Sure,” he says.

Tyler does think about it. He imagines it when he’s at home that night, alone in an apartment that always feels too big and empty, even with all the furniture Jamie helped him pick out. He thinks about what it would be like to turn into a wolf. He thinks it must feel really free: like maybe he wouldn’t have to worry for a few hours about the people he might be disappointing or the rules he might be breaking without realizing it. He could stop being a stupid awkward human and turn into a wild animal that could just run and run and run.

Then he imagines standing to the side as that stupid awkward human while Jamie and Jordie and Jessica ran together as wolves, and he knows he can’t join them tomorrow. But he falls asleep and dreams about it, about the freedom of the forest floor under his paws, and he wakes up to his chest aching and the familiar knot of frustration, just above the base of his spine, like all his nerves are twisted into the wrong shape.

***

Tyler has a lot of experience telling if guys are into him in clubs, but not that much in real life. So when he starts thinking that Jamie might like him back, at first he’s sure it’s his imagination.

That explanation still makes the most sense, because—well. Tyler knows what was written about him in the press in Boston, and he’s sure Jamie’s read it, too. Jamie probably got a full briefing on their new potential problem player when Tyler was traded. That would be enough to scare anyone off. If Jamie’s paying attention to Tyler, it’s probably just to keep him from getting into any more trouble.

Besides that—Jamie’s out as a wolf. He’s the golden boy of his team. He doesn’t have to keep secrets. He could actually be gay, probably, without it being a problem like it would be for Tyler. So if he’s not out, it’s probably because he’s straight, and Tyler needs to remember that and not get confused.

But…then there are other things.

There’s the way Jamie looks at him sometimes, soft and sudden, and the way it makes Tyler’s breath catches in his chest. There’s the blush that covers Jamie’s cheeks sometimes when Tyler grins at him. There are the ways Jamie touches him—and, yes, Jordie touches him too, and so does Jessica after she’s known more than a day or two. But Jamie…Jamie comes up behind him and slides an arm around his waist while they’re standing at the kitchen counter. He lets Tyler put his head on his lap while they’re watching TV and scratches at his scalp and makes shivers run all up and down his spine. He even touches him on the cheek, once, when Tyler’s leaving for the night. It’s just a soft brush of fingers, so fast Tyler thinks for a second he might have imagined it. Then Jamie’s turning away quickly, eyes cast down, and Tyler fumbles blindly towards his apartment, floating on a haze of Jamie.

He looks like a dork when he laughs. He has the gentlest hands Tyler’s ever felt. And—and maybe there’s a tiny part of him that sees even a sliver of something good in Tyler.

It’s still crazy. Tyler’s not even a tenth good enough for Jamie. If Jamie really is into him, Tyler feels like he should probably warn him off. But he lies in the dark, after Jamie touches his cheek, and knows that he’ll never do that, because he’s selfish. If Jamie is something he can have, even for just a month or a week or a day before Jamie wises up and moves on, he’ll take it.

They go to the park together, the four of them, about a week before training camp. It’s the day after the cheek touch, and Tyler’s still flying high on it. It makes him giddy while they play Frisbee and laugh at each other and make stupid leaps that land them in mud puddles. Tyler didn’t think Dallas had things like parks with mud puddles in them, but apparently it does, and Tyler lands in basically every one of them.

He doesn’t really get muddy until the end, and then it isn’t his fault: Jamie’s trying to get the Frisbee away from him, and Tyler’s taunting him, playing keep-away, and finally Jamie just leaps at him and tackles him into a mud puddle.

Tyler’s laughing before they even land, and he squirms to get away. But then—Jamie lands full on top of him, his body pressed against Tyler’s, and his face is really close, and…

Tyler maybe imagines the way Jamie’s eyes go dark. But he’s not imagining the way a charge runs down his own body, the way every inch of him is suddenly attuned to Jamie’s touch. He swallows, and he sees Jamie’s eyes dart down to his mouth, and—

Jordie clears his throat somewhere behind them. Jamie scrambles up and helps Tyler to his feet, sheepish. “Oh, fuck, I’m sorry,” Jamie says, and Tyler realizes that, yeah, he’s sort of dripping mud.

He doesn’t really mind that much. He’s more stuck on the thing where Jamie’s body isn’t pressed against his anymore. But Jordie and Jessica are heading their way, and they stop and make gagging faces.

“Oh man, that reeks,” Jordie says. “What the fuck even is that?”

“Huh?” Tyler looks down at himself. It looks like normal mud to him. “Um, mud?”

“Yeah, but, like, the worst-smelling mud ever,” Jessica says.

Tyler shrugs. “I don’t know, I can’t really smell stuff. My mom used, like, the wrong nasal spray on us when we were kids, so.”

He looks up, and they’re all staring at him. “What? What is it?” he says.

“You can’t…smell things?” Jamie says, sounding horrified.

“That’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard,” Jessica says, like she actually means it.

“It’s not that bad,” Tyler says. They’re still looking at him like he just shot a kitten or something. “Makes locker rooms better, right?”

“Okay, but…Tyler,” Jamie says, sounding heartbroken, and suddenly Tyler gets it: wolves. They care about smell and shit. That’s why they’re being so weird about it.

“Seriously, not a big deal,” Tyler says. It’s starting to feel awkward, how much they’re all staring at him. “You don’t have to, like, feel bad for me.”

“And we do have a more immediate problem.” Jordie’s holding his nose. “Jame, Jess, you with me?”

Tyler’s not sure what he’s talking about. But the next minute they’re picking him up, Jessica and Jordie on his arms and Jamie taking his legs, and he shrieks as they throw him in the lake.

“Much better,” Jordie calls out as Tyler sputters to the surface and gives him the finger.

They all get in and splash around for a bit, and then Jamie cooks them burgers while Jordie and Jessica climb a tree (and almost fall out of it, because they are losers). Tyler stands next to Jamie and feels the heat of his arm an inch or two away more than he feels the heat of the grill on his face. He can still feel that moment in the mud, when he thought Jamie would lean in and close the space between their mouths. Maybe Jamie wasn’t thinking that at all, and Tyler’s making the whole thing up. But he stands close and thinks…maybe.

After they eat, Jamie shows Jessica how to skip rocks on the pond, and Jordie and Tyler kick back at the picnic table. Tyler watches Jamie, the careful way he explains the wrist motion to Jessica, and then looks over at Jordie and catches the expression that’s shining on his face as he watches the pair by the water.

“You guys seem really happy,” Tyler says.

“We are,” Jordie says, and it’s not wistful at all, even though Tyler knows Jessica’s leaving after training camp starts to be with her pack again. He thinks that must be really nice, having a connection you’re so confident in that you don’t feel threatened when the person is half a continent away for a lot of the year.

“Are you guys…” He’s pretty sure of the wolf terminology, but he still feels dumb saying the word. “…bonded?”

“Not yet,” Jordie says, and now he does sound wistful. “Not the right time, you know?”

Tyler nods, though he’s not sure he does know. He doesn’t know much about wolf bonds and how they work, but he thinks, if he had the chance to make a connection like that with someone, he wouldn’t care about whether it was the right time or not. He would do it in a heartbeat. Wouldn’t even stop to breathe.

He looks at the line of Jamie’s back as he shows Jessica the right way to flick her wrist. The solid strength of him, the patience.

“You know,” Jordie says, “I think Jamie’s looking for something like that in his life, too.”

Tyler sucks in a breath, hot all over and kind of dizzy. “He is?” he asks, and the words feel huge in his mouth, this almost-acknowledgment of what Jordie’s hinting at.

“Sure,” Jordie says. “He’d love to find a nice wolf to settle down with.”

And—oh.

All of the heat goes out of Tyler’s body in an instant. He feels like he’s been struck between the eyes. “Oh,” he says, and he hears himself saying it like he’s far away. “I didn’t realize.”

“Well, yeah. I mean, I think it’s what he’s always wanted,” Jordie says. Tyler can’t look directly at him, but he can tell that Jordie’s looking at him. “Someone to start a family with, you know?”

Of course. Someone who isn’t Tyler.

Tyler makes himself draw breath. It feels shaky in his chest.

It makes total sense that Jamie would want that. Tyler feels like such an idiot for not thinking of it before. All the reasons he came up with why Jamie wouldn’t want him, and he missed this one: that of course Jamie wants to end up with a wolf. Someone who can give him a pack, who can give him wolf babies. It’s so obvious, and still it makes the world tilt sickeningly, like Tyler’s taken a bad hit and is just waiting to crash into the ice.

He was so, so dumb to think he had any sort of a chance.

Jordie must know how he feels. He must have seen the way Tyler looks at Jamie, the stupid hope in it, and decided to warn him off before he makes any more of a fool of himself. It makes Tyler’s gut twist to think of Jordie watching him like these past few weeks. Knowing. And Jamie—does Jamie know? Does Jamie think—

The day feels like it’s gotten chilly, even though Tyler was sweating a minute ago. He wants—he wants Jamie to touch him. To make him feel better. But he can’t have that, and he needs to stop wanting it.

“I think I’ll go for a walk,” he says, and gets up and basically flees into the park before Jordie can say anything.

He spends a while wandering among the trees and trying to feel something close to okay. He should have guessed this; it should have been obvious—and even if it wasn’t, he already knew he wasn’t good enough for Jamie. So it shouldn’t be this hard to draw breath.

It’s just…the way Jamie looked at him.

Maybe—maybe Jamie doesn’t know how Tyler feels. Maybe Tyler can keep hanging out with them, and it’ll be okay. Even if Jamie does find a wolf to be with, Tyler can probably be okay with that, right? He can be okay, watching Jamie, like, court her, and smile at her in that really soft way he does, and pull her into his arms and—

Tyler puts his head against the trunk of a tree and makes a really embarrassing noise.

He kind of wants to leave. Just run away and curl up somewhere until he doesn’t feel quite so shaky and empty and he’s okay to see Jamie and Jordie again. But he doesn’t have his car here, so eventually he turns around and makes his way back to their picnic area.

Jamie bounds up to him, big smile on his face. “Hey! Where’ve you been?”

Tyler’s own smile feels sickly. “Just, you know, seeing the Dallas scenery.”

He must not be very convincing, because Jamie’s smile falters. “You okay?” he says, and his hand lands against the back of Tyler’s neck.

It feels so good. A warm tingle running all the way down to Tyler’s toes. It shouldn’t feel like that, now that Tyler knows what he does, but there’s nothing he can do about it. “’Course,” he says, and he doesn’t manage to stop himself before he leans into the touch. Jamie’s hand tightens just a little and makes him feel wonderful and horrible at the same time.

Chapter Text

Now is when he should really start avoiding Jamie, but Tyler’s weak. He was weak in Boston, knew it every time he let himself drift out of the house and into a club and didn’t get up in time for team breakfast the next morning. It screwed him over there, and it’s going to screw him over now.

It’s just that whenever he’s not with Jamie and Jordie, when he hangs out in his apartment alone, this heaviness comes over him and he wants to sink into the floor and never get up. It’s so much easier to just go upstairs where everything feels better. He does try to restrain himself a little—leaving earlier in the evening, ignoring the way Jamie’s eyes go sad and Jordie hints that he could stick around and watch a movie—but then he just ends up feeling awful at home. And it really does seem like they want him around. Jordie was the one who warned him away, but he must think the warning was enough, because he still texts Tyler and tells him to come over just as much as he did before. Tyler’s never been able to resist that kind of thing, even when he has to walk away at the end of the night and feel all the high of Jamie’s touches draining away into emptiness.

He knows Jamie and Jordie have noticed that he’s kind of down. He tries not to seem unhappy, but it takes a lot of work, and when he’s spending so much time with them, he slips up.

Sometimes that means doing stupid things, like letting himself crawl onto the couch and put his head in Jamie’s lap. Jamie’s hands always go into his hair right away, stroking his scalp, brushing the sensitive skin at the back of his neck. It makes the void in Tyler’s gut fill up again. It’s only making things worse, he knows, getting himself more attached, but it’s one of the only things that makes him feel better for a little while.

Then there are the times when he can’t smile at all. Those are the times when it feels too heavy, the leaden knowledge that there’s nothing here for him, and it starts being hard to hold up his end of a conversation.

Jordie corners him about it after one dinner where Tyler got caught up in his head and didn’t manage to keep up with the conversation at all. “Are you okay?” he asks in a low voice while Tyler washes the dishes. Jamie’s in the other room. “I thought you two were—”

“Yeah, no, I’m good,” Tyler says quickly. The question makes adrenaline spike through him, and he uses it to fuel a smile that he doesn’t really feel.

Jordie gives him a look, a skeptical one that Tyler knows he deserves. “Okay. Well, let me know if you ever need to talk to anyone.”

Tyler nods. His hands feel numb where they’re holding dishes under the water, and so do his arms, and his feet, and his chest.

***

But it’s okay. Tyler and Jamie are okay. They’re actually—they’re really good, once they get out on the ice at training camp, and holy fuck, the way they play on a line together. It’s electric; it’s lighting up everyone’s faces: the coaches’, the other players’. They keep scoring together in scrimmages, and every time they do, Jamie wraps Tyler up in his arms and Tyler skates off feeling giddy and sick with longing.

His buddy Chris comes by with Marshall a week into the pre-season, and Tyler’s never been so happy to hug his dog in his life.

They announce Jamie as captain after their second pre-season game. It’s not like it’s a surprise, but for some reason, the first time Tyler sees Jamie with the C on his jersey, he stops and stares. Gets a shiver down his spine. He feels like—like he should do something in response to it, something like—he doesn’t know what.

In the end he just elbows Jamie in the side and says, “Congrats.” It’s not quite what he wants to do (whatever that is), but it gets a big smile out of Jamie, so Tyler’s counting it a win.

They’re playing well, anyway, and that’s what really matters. It’s almost easy, with Jamie on his wing. Tyler played well for Boston—he knows he did—but this is a whole different level. It’s like he doesn’t even have to look to know where Jamie is on the ice, and they make each other faster, energy bouncing off each other and magnifying.

They win almost everything in the preseason. They lose to Florida in the first regular game, but two days later they beat the Caps, and the week after that they beat the Jets 4-1 and Tyler gets two goals and four points. Jamie assists on both his goals, and Tyler assists on Jamie’s, and when the final buzzer sounds they crash into each other’s arms, and Jamie screams, “That’s what I’m talking about!” into Tyler’s ear. Tyler feels flushed with the win, with Jamie’s arms around him, and it’s hard to let go.

When he finally does, Jamie catches his eyes and smiles, this slow, beautiful smile, and Tyler feels like—like—

He can hardly keep his balance as he skates off the rink, dazed and not even sure who he’s grinning at.

Brownie laughs at him over Skype later that night. “Is this what four points looks like on you? Because you look like you just got laid.”

Tyler grins. “So, what, you just called me to tell me how awesome I look?”

“Holy fuck, you did get laid,” Brownie says. “Or…” He straightens up, leaning into the camera. “Tyler Wifey Seguin, have I been replaced in your affections already?”

“As if, asshat,” Tyler says, but the smile slips off his face, his heart beating too fast. Is he being obvious again?

It makes him panicky, the idea that Brownie can see it all on his face. Tyler knows he’s not the subtlest—Jordie obviously figured out something was going on—but he’s been trying to shut things down lately. Trying to make it seem like he took Jordie’s advice, that he got over whatever Jordie picked up on before training camp. But what if Jordie can see the way he’s still being pathetic?

What if Jamie can see it?

Maybe—maybe he should do something to make it look like he’s moved on. Go out and hook up or something. He’s been trying not to party too much in Dallas—knows that they’ll be watching, waiting for him to screw up again—but it’s all about balance. If he never parties or hooks up at all, the other guys might start to think he’s weird.

And…and maybe it would make it easier to think about something other than the last time Jamie’s hands brushed his skin.

He decides to go for it when they’re finally back in Dallas, after their win against San Jose. It was a good game, and Tyler feels relaxed and content as he sits in their booth at the bar, pressed up against Jamie’s arm. Except that he’s not supposed to be pressed up against Jamie’s arm; that’s why he made this plan in the first place.

“Hey.” He nudges Jamie’s side. “What do you think about that blond girl at the bar?”

Jamie looks over at the bar, then back at Tyler, then at the bar, then back at Tyler, like it’s some kind of quadruple take. “What about her?” he finally asks.

Tyler rolls his eyes with a laugh. “She’s hot, right?”

“Um,” Jamie says.

“Totally hot,” Cody says from Jamie’s other side. “Go for it, man.”

“Thanks.” Tyler holds up his fist for Cody to bump. “You just earned yourself wingman points, bro.”

He’s not sure if he can actually feel Jamie’s eyes on him as he goes up to the bar, but he feels like he can. That’s good; that’s why he’s doing this.

It’s easy to pick the girl up. It’s always been easy, mostly because Tyler can tell when it isn’t going to work and doesn’t waste time on the ones who don’t want to talk to him. This girl is into it, though, and soon they’re dancing and swaying close and making each other laugh.

When they head out, a little while later, Tyler shoots a wave at the team’s table without looking too closely at anyone. They’ve seen him; that’s the important part. He doesn’t need to—to look at anyone in particular right now.

The girl’s name is Alissa, and Tyler likes her well enough. Kissing her is okay: nothing super exciting, but she’s hot, and she grinds up against him in a way that he really can’t complain about. “Wanna do some of that lower down?” she asks when he’s been licking into her mouth, and her hand is on his head nudging him down, and, okay, he likes this girl.

Eating her out feels surprisingly weird, though. Not like there’s anything wrong with her, just like—maybe he’s forgotten what it feels like? Which is crazy, because sure, it’s been a couple of months, but he’s done this a lot. It’s a thing he gets off on. Sticking his tongue into a wet, hot pussy—what’s not to like?

He pauses with his tongue buried inside her, pressed against her walls, and it hits him how weird this is.

But, okay, he knows what to do. He can power through this. He keeps working at her, licking and teasing until he’s making her shake and moan against him. She comes under his mouth, and her hands clench in his hair, and—and he’s not hard.

Like, not at all. That…that’s never happened before.

Okay. Okay. He’s not going to panic. He licks her a little more and strokes himself surreptitiously. It’s not doing a lot, so he lets his mind wander. The bounce of her tits as she shook under his mouth. The last guy he hooked up with in Boston. Big arms, strong hands, a slow smile against his mouth as Tyler’s pushed down to the bed…

Oh, fuck, that does it. He’s hard by the time he climbs back up the bed to kiss her. And then he stays hard while he fucks her, even if—shit, it should not feel this strange. It’s like the motions are all sideways to what he expects from sex, even though most of the people he’s hooked up with have been women. But maybe a couple of months have thrown him off his stride, because every time he starts to get lost in the feeling, he jerks out of it again, like he’s being jolted awake from sleep, and then it’s hard to keep going.

It takes him a really long time to come. That probably makes it better for her, honestly, because she smiles really warmly and gives him her number as he leaves. He manages to grin back and take it, but he doesn’t think he’ll call.

***

He goes into the locker room the next morning, and Jamie doesn’t look at him.

At first Tyler’s tells himself he’s imagining things. Jamie’s probably just focused on the upcoming practice. But then Chaser comes in the door, and Jamie turns to greet him, his eyes skipping straight over Tyler like he’s not even there, and Tyler goes cold.

He must have gone too far. He thought hooking up with one girl would be the right thing to do, would establish him as normal and straight and one of the bros, but maybe he’s not allowed to do that anymore. Maybe he messed things up in Boston too badly, and now anything in that direction is too much.

“Hey, Jamie,” he says as they head for the ice, and he has a sheepish grin on and is ready to say something self-deprecating about last night. But Jamie’s already brushing by him.

He’s gone, out the door, and Tyler tries to swallow down how much that hurts. Jordie’s still in the room, lacing up his skates, and Tyler turns to him instead. “Hey, do you know what’s up with Jamie?” he says, trying to sound normal.

He has a moment of fear that Jordie won’t look at him, either. But he does, and that’s somehow worse: a long stare, like he’s measuring Tyler up. “You’d better get on the ice,” he says finally, firmly, and then there’s nothing more Tyler can say, even if he could manage to get words out of his throat.

He has the hardest time staying on his skates that practice. He keeps having the urge—doesn’t know where it comes from; it doesn’t even make sense—to fall down to his knees in front of Jamie and Jordie and beg their forgiveness. Just beg them to smile at him again. He knows it wouldn’t help; it would just make them think he’s even more fucked up than they do now. But he has to fight against gravity for the whole practice.

He goes home afterward and sits on the floor and lets Marshall wash his face. Marshall’s really the best dog, because he seems to know that Tyler needs someone to hug, and he stays pressed against Tyler’s side while Tyler curls up around him.

He should have expected this. It was only a matter of time before he did something that made them look at him like that, like they did in Boston.

“What if you make all my choices instead,” he whispers to Marshall. “You’d be good at that, right, boy?”

Marshall pants and licks his face some more.

“You’d do a better job than me, anyway,” Tyler murmurs.

He tries to be okay for the rest of the afternoon. He goes to a meeting with sponsors and puts in some time in the weight room and tries not to think about Jamie’s face that morning. But after dinner he sits down on the couch and turns on the TV, and the couch is so big and so empty and the longer he sits there the more he feels like the empty space is pressing in on him until finally he goes upstairs and knocks on the door.

Jamie answers it. Seeing him is like a blow, and Tyler bites his lip and grips the side of his jeans to keep from falling to his knees like he wants to.

“Hi,” Jamie says, and it’s cold.

Tyler’s fists tighten. “I’m sorry,” he says, and his voice is high and weird but he gets the words out.

Something complicated happens to Jamie’s face. “You are?”

“I didn’t get it,” Tyler says. “I thought it would be okay, that it was—what I was supposed to do, I just—”

“Oh,” Jamie says, and it’s mostly breath, like it’s been surprised out of him.

“I don’t want you to be disappointed in me,” Tyler blurts out. He feels pathetic saying it, like Jamie’s going to laugh at him for being a stupid little kid, but Jamie’s eyes go wide.

“No, Tyler, no, I could never—” And then Jamie’s reaching out to him, pulling Tyler into his arms, and Tyler gets to be held by Jamie again and he doesn’t care what else happened today if he can have this right now.

Jamie’s arms are strong and firm around him. “I’m sorry I was weird about it,” he says into Tyler’s hair. His breath is warm and makes Tyler all shivery, and he lets himself sag further against Jamie’s chest. “I know there’s a lot to adjust to. I shouldn’t—expect things.”

He should, though. Tyler wants to be the kind of person that Jamie can expect things of. He wants Jamie to be disappointed in him when he fucks up, not just because Tyler should do better, but because Jamie thinks Tyler can do better. He wants to be the kind of person Jamie can be proud of.

“I think I don’t know how to make decisions,” he finds himself mumbling into Jamie’s shoulder. “Even when I think I’m doing okay, it always turns out wrong.”

Jamie’s arms tighten around him. “You’re doing fine,” he says. “You’re doing—there’s no one else I’d rather have on my team. No one else I’d rather have next to me on the ice. I swear it.”

Tyler makes a noise that’s mostly involuntary. It’s embarrassing, and he thinks it might make Jamie let go, but Jamie doesn’t. He just holds on.

Tyler’s face is right next to Jamie’s neck, and maybe it’s stupid—it’s almost definitely stupid—but suddenly all he wants is to press his face into it. He stays where he is for another moment, wanting, and then he gives in: turns his face into Jamie’s neck and snuggles in, buries his face in the softness of Jamie’s skin.

Jamie sighs and brings his cheek down on top of Tyler’s head, and his arms are around Tyler’s waist, and he just said there’s no one else he would rather have on his team. Maybe it’s not everything Tyler wants, but he’ll take it.

***

No one on the coaching staff or in the front office says anything about Tyler hooking up, so Tyler guesses they don’t know. He’s grateful that Jamie didn’t tell them, and that Jamie seems to have forgiven him. Jordie’s still distant, but maybe Jamie says something about Tyler’s apology, because at practice a couple days later Jordie comes in and slaps Tyler across the back and leaves his hand there for a solid few seconds. Tyler inhales and feels like his lungs finally expand all the way again.

He still goes out with the team after that, but he makes sure to stay at their table and only go up and dance if, like, a ton of the guys are going, and he always goes home whenever Jamie and Jordie do. It’s not like Tyler really minds—there’s no one he’d rather be going home with, anyway, even if he wouldn’t choose the part where he leaves them in the elevator and goes into his apartment alone.

It helps that the restlessness he used to feel in Boston has mostly gone away. He knows it’s only because he’s turned it all towards Jamie, but that makes it easier, having it localized. It means his bad decisions can be letting his fingers brush up against Jamie’s arm when they’re sitting in a booth together rather than anything that will get his names in the papers.

It also helps that the rest of the team seems to like him a lot. Tyler’s never had a problem becoming buddies with people, but there’s something different about the way the guys treat him here. Like, there’s the thing where Val will ask him advice after practice, or Cody will get him to help with his slapshot, like—like they think he’s a mentor or some shit like that.

He sort of wants to tell them they’re wrong. Laugh at them, because he’s the worst person ever to give advice. But usually by the time he realizes what’s happening, he’s already listening to the question, and then answering it, because, well, he does actually know stuff about hockey. He just would never have expected to be the one to be asked.

It feels like he’s older here than he was in Boston. Which, okay, technically, he is. But after three years in Boston, he still felt like the little kid among the veterans, and after a couple of months here, he’s the one Val turns to when he’s freaking out that Ruff might be mad at him. The one Jamie turns to when he wants to work out a new play. It makes him want to be better, to live up to the person they somehow think he is.

It also makes him nervous sometimes, when he’s lying in bed at night, alone in the dark. Like, what if they’re wrong about him, and he makes more stupid decisions and lets them down? What if they decide he wasn’t worth it?

He’s playing really well, though, and he and Jamie are good, and he shouldn’t let himself be afraid of stupid stuff. Not even about going back to Boston.

Excited for the big face off? Marchy texts a week or so before their November game, and it makes Tyler grin when he sees it.

Hell yeah. Watch ur backs, he sends back. Then, Going out after, yeah?

Wouldnt miss it :P, Marchy sends. Marchy and segs, tearin up the town.

Tyler sits next to Cody when they finally fly out and might end up talking his ear off a little. He doesn’t mean to, but he starts telling him about their plans to go out, and then he just keeps going, talking about all the places he used to go out with the team and the time Marchy accidentally hit on a hooker and another time they tried to find French fries at three in the morning and the time the guys dared him to jump into the Boston harbor, and maybe that one didn’t turn out too well, but still, it was his guys, and they always had fun, you know?

Cody starts out looking interested and ends up just looking kind of overwhelmed, and when they get off the plane Tyler’s skin feels crawly, like maybe he said more than he should have back there. He shoves his hands in his pockets and is quiet as they walk through the airport.

He goes to sit on the bus alone, figuring that’s safer, but Pevs sits next to him.

“Weird being back, huh?” Pevs says.

“Yeah,” Tyler says, and then he doesn’t have to talk anymore. Pevs gets it.

Tyler feels like he’s going to the wrong locker room once they get to the Garden. It hasn’t actually been that long—just a couple of months since Tyler would have been on the ice as a Bruin—and now that he’s back he feels almost like nothing’s changed. Like he should just put on black and gold and go sit next to Bergy and Z, but instead he’s got different guys next to him, and it’s weirder than anything has felt so far.

He skates onto the ice, and the stadium fills with boos.

Maybe he should have been expecting it. He wasn’t, though, and he almost falters on his lap of the ice. He ducks his head down and keeps going, but the sounds cut into him. It’s—do they think he doesn’t want to be there? He wasn’t the one who wanted the trade; he—

He won a Cup for this city. They picked him second overall in the draft. Last year, he walked around the streets and everyone smiled at him.

“Hey,” Jamie says as Tyler manages to stumble to the bench, boos filling his ears. “Hey, look at me. We’re going to prove them wrong, remember?”

Tyler latches onto Jamie’s eyes, like they can pull him away from the boos. A piece of his new life, the one that feels so distant right now.

“Prove them wrong, right?” Jamie prompts, and this time Tyler finds his voice.

“Yeah. Yeah, we will,” he says, but he feels small and sick as he sits on the bench, weighed down by the sound of the booing.

He plays like shit for the first period. Half of it’s the booing, and half of it is an instinctive thing: he just can’t get used to the idea that he’s supposed to be playing against these guys, the ones he fought so hard for just last spring. He doesn’t pass to them or anything stupid like that—he does this for a living, okay—but it makes him just a little bit slower off the dot, a little bit less brutal in his checks. He’s always been bad at this, at shifting who he’s playing with, but this is way worse than it ever has been before.

He plays a shift against Marchy early in the second. Marchy passes by him and says, just loud enough for Tyler to hear, “Come on, thought you’d be staying in shape in Dallas.”

It’s just chirping, and Tyler doesn’t really pay it any attention as he chases after the puck. He gets it to the boards and is fighting Marchy for it, though, and Marchy says in his ear, “I mean, unless you’re fucking up there as badly as you did in Boston,” and Tyler jerks his stick up so fast that Marchy gets the puck and sails away with it.

He—shit. Did that just—

Tyler’s shaking as he gets back to the bench. Jamie keeps looking at him—he wasn’t near enough on the ice to hear what Marchy said, but he obviously knows something is wrong. He looks like he wants to say something, but Ruff gets his ear, starts talking to him instead.

It doesn’t matter, though. Tyler can deal. He’ll just put his head down and keep playing.

He’s still sort of a mess throughout the rest of the game, doesn’t manage to score, and they go to a shootout. Bergy scores first, and then Tyler gets the puck, makes eye contact with Tuukka, and—

It’s one of the more satisfying shots of his life. It’s even better a minute later when Pevs gets one in, too, and he skates back to the bench and Tyler throws his arms around him. The two Boston rejects, cleaning up at home.

Well. Not home, anymore.

A second later Jamie throws his arms around both of them and screams in his ear, “That was fucking gorgeous!” and Tyler manages a smile.

***

He’s supposed to meet Marchy after the game. He comes out of the visitors’ locker room, and Marchy’s standing there, and for a second Tyler’s stomach twists: unless you’re fucking up there as badly as you did in Boston.

Marchy sees him and smiles wide, though, and throws his arms out and says, “Seggy!” so Tyler figures it was okay, just game-time chirping.

He grins and goes into the hug. “Sorry about that game, there,” he says. “I mean, obviously it wasn’t my fault that you guys sucked balls, but…”

Marchy shoves him away with a hand to the face. “Yeah, yeah, lucky shot.”

Tyler laughs, because, okay, this is more like what he expected out of tonight. “So, what’s the plan for tonight? Everyone going to TitS?”

“About that…” The smile falls off Marchy’s face, and Tyler’s stomach drops with it. “Plans with my girl tonight, can’t get out of them. Sorry, man.”

“Oh.” Tyler shrugs and manages to keep smiling. “Um, well, what about the other guys? Any of them going out?”

Marchy makes a grimace of sympathy. “I don’t think so. Everyone seemed kind of tired. The loss, you know.”

“Right.” Tyler hears his voice go a little high but can’t change it. “Well, no big. Catch you next time, right?”

“No doubt.” Marchy’s smile is blinding, and he slaps Tyler on the back as he walks away.

***

Tyler ends up going back to the hotel. He thinks about texting the other guys to see if anyone’s going out, but, like, what if they really don’t want to go out, and no one responds?

He shouldn’t feel bad about it. They just have their own stuff going on. He’ll catch them next time.

Someone knocks on his door, though, and he jerks up. Maybe he was wrong, and they’ve come to drag him out after all. “Coming,” he calls, and opens the door, ready to grin, but it’s Jamie.

He’s not—he could never be disappointed to see Jamie, exactly. It’s just that, for a minute there, he thought…

“So?” Jamie says hopefully when Tyler just looks at him for a moment. “We going to check out all those great spots in Boston I keep hearing about?”

“Oh.” It takes longer than usual for Tyler to paste on a smile. “Yeah, probably not. I’m kind of tired.”

“What, after that shootout goal?” Jamie’s still looking at him like he’s waiting for Tyler to pick up on his enthusiasm, and all of a sudden it feels like way too much work to do so.

He lets his smile fall, even though it means letting Jamie see him—see him not happy. “Yeah,” he says in a quiet voice.

“Hey.” Jamie takes a step closer, concerned. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I just.” Suddenly Tyler feels perilously close to tears. “I just want to sit somewhere quiet, you know?”

“Oh. Sure, of course,” Jamie says. “Do you want to watch something?”

Tyler looks at him, takes in his dress shirt, his nice jeans. “Nah, man, you were going out.”

“I don’t need to, though.” Jamie takes a step closer, inside the door. “Not if you’re sad.”

He’s looking at Tyler so earnestly. Tyler—Tyler feels so tired, suddenly. And maybe it’s dumb to give into this, but he just wants, so much.

He looks up at Jamie, at the concern in his eyes. “Yeah, okay.”

They end up sitting against Tyler’s headboard and watching The Good Wife. Tyler doesn’t know the show and can’t really follow what’s going on, but he’s not paying that much attention anyway. He’s focusing on not touching Jamie—on not inching closer, not letting himself topple over onto the comfort of Jamie’s shoulder. Then, after Jamie nudges him with his shoulder and he lets himself lean, he’s focused on the way Jamie brings his arm up around Tyler’s shoulders, on the thick solid muscle under his cheek, on the steadiness of Jamie’s breathing.

“They don’t deserve you,” Jamie whispers at some point after they’ve been watching for a while, and Tyler finds himself blinking hard. It’s such a lie—the idea that Tyler could be too good for one of the best teams in the NHL—but Jamie’s arm is tight around him, and Tyler doesn’t argue.

Chapter Text

Jamie comes knocking on his door a few days after the thing in Boston, when they’re back in Dallas. “I was thinking we should go out,” he says, and it’s too easy for Tyler to fall into step behind him without even thinking.

They end up at one of the team’s favorite bars, and Jamie buys Tyler a drink—“I still owe you for that shootout win,” he says.

Tyler scoffs. “Yeah, right. You got the first goal in that game, remember?”

“Well, yeah.” Jamie ducks his head a little. “But—”

“But you’re super modest and can never admit how good you are,” Tyler says, and the tops of Jamie’s cheeks go pink.

Jamie’s phone is face-up on the bar and quiet, but Tyler still can’t help looking around. “So when are the other guys joining us?”

Jamie’s head comes up. “Huh?”

Tyler waves his hand, the one with the beer in it. “The other guys. Are they meeting us here?”

“Oh.” Jamie rubs the back of his neck. His cheeks are still pink from the chirping. “Uh, I thought maybe it would just be us tonight.”

Tyler’s hand tightens on his beer. “You didn’t tell them?”

Jamie looks startled, and he can probably see the way Tyler’s gone cold and panicky, but Tyler can’t rein it in: he’s too caught in last year, in the feeling of knowing his teammates went out the night before and didn’t let him know. “Um, no,” Jamie says. “I thought—”

“You have to invite them.” They’re—the two of them are important guys on the team now. They can’t make the others feel left out. Tyler picks up Jamie’s phone from the bar and holds it out. “Come on, Jamie, they need to know we want them here.”

Jamie takes the phone, slowly, like he’s still not sure. “Okay. If you—okay.”

Jamie’s quiet while they wait for the other guys to show up, and it makes Tyler edgy, like maybe he’s done something wrong. But then Connie and Cody and Val show up and seem really happy to be there, so Tyler feels good about it: he guessed right, thinking they’d want to be asked. Plus, it means they can sit in a booth and he can have an excuse to press his arm against Jamie’s, and it’s one of the things he totally shouldn’t enjoy but he does, so much.

He’s still a little nervous that Jamie’s not happy with him, because he’s being quiet even for Jamie. But he presses back when Tyler’s arm nudges his, so Tyler figures he’s forgiven. It’s a good thing; he can never quite relax when he doesn’t know where he stands with Jamie.

***

There’s a fair amount of talking on NHL ice, but it’s mostly chirping. So Tyler’s surprised when Patrick Kane says to him, in the middle of a fight over the puck in their first game against Chicago, “Hey, adjusting to everything all right here?”

It’s not even a chirp, is the thing: it actually sounds like he wants to know. “Uh, sure,” Tyler manages to say before he wins the puck and skates up the ice. It’s true—he is—but he’s not sure why Kaner would care.

“Good. They seem like a really supportive team,” Kaner says when they’re in the Stars’ defensive zone later, and that’s just weird.

Apparently they’re friends or some shit, though, because when the Stars go up to Chicago in early December, Kaner texts him beforehand, come over after the game and meet the bbs!

“Come over and meet the be back soon?” Jamie says, because he’s sitting next to Tyler on the bus and being nosy.

Tyler rolls his eyes. “Babies, dumbass.”

“Oh,” Jamie says, and Tyler’s phone buzzes again: u can bring jamie if you want ;).

Tyler feels himself flush, because Jamie definitely saw that, too, and it’s not like Kaner knows anything about his thing for Jamie, but it still hits too close to home.

No getting around it now, though. “Hey, uh, want to go meet the Kane-Toews kids after the game?” he asks Jamie.

“Oh. Sure,” Jamie says, and he does sound kind of uncomfortable, so maybe he noticed the weirdness.

Tyler ducks his head and looks out the window. He’s still kind of hoping Jamie doesn’t know anything about how Tyler feels—or, if he does, he thinks it was maybe a little bit of interest at the beginning of the season. Not the thing where when Tyler can’t sleep he imagines being wrapped in Jamie’s arms. But sometimes he thinks maybe Jamie can see it in every move he makes, and that’s when his chest starts feeling tight like it does now.

They don’t go see the babies after the game, because games end late and babies go to bed early (like any idiot could tell you, at least according to Jonathan Toews, who is not at his best after a loss. If he ever is.) But they’re not flying to Toronto until the next afternoon, so the next morning Tyler and Jamie take a cab out to the Kane-Toews house in the suburbs.

It feels weird, going with Jamie and not Jordie, but Kaner didn’t invite Jordie. It gives Tyler a little bit of a rush, going off with Jamie alone, even though he knows he shouldn’t think of it that way. But it’s nice to imagine for just a second that they’re a couple, going to visit another couple and their kids.

The Kane-Toewses (Kanes-Toewses? Tyler isn’t sure how to pluralize it) have this stupid-big house, all lawn and, like, a million windows and shit, and when Kaner opens the door, he has a huge smile on his face and a baby in his arms.

“Hey! This is Joey,” he says. “He really wanted to meet you guys.”

Tyler’s skeptical that this kid cares about meeting him, but he’s not going to say no to an adorable baby being handed to him. He’s handled enough little cousins and stuff to know where to put his hands and shit. The kid is like a year old, maybe, and Tyler bounces him up and down. “Aren’t you a cute little future hockey player,” he says, and Joey pats him on the cheek and babbles.

Tyler turns to say something to Jamie, and Jamie’s—Jamie’s staring at him.

There’s no other way to describe it. Jamie’s not just looking; he’s staring. Tyler’s heart speeds up, and he can’t remember what he was going to say. He wants to check if he has something on his face, or if maybe he’s holding the baby wrong, because the way Jamie’s eyes are fixed on him—

“Oookay, then,” Kaner says after maybe too long a pause. “I’ll just…get Jonny.”

Jonathan Toews comes to the door a minute later, along with the nannies (Molly and Kayla, who are definitely holding hands when they come into the room, so that’s a thing). He grudgingly says they can call him Tazer, even though he doesn’t seem like he’s forgiven them for the win last night. But he brings their four other kids along with him, so Tyler can overlook that.

“Oh my God,” Tyler says, grinning, when there are three three-year-olds and two one-year-olds running around at their feet. “You guys have way too many kids.”

“I know, right?” Kaner says happily. “Come on, kids, living room!”

It’s really amusing to watch the one-year-olds try to run after their siblings. Tazer looks like he’s two seconds away from scooping them up to avoid bodily harm.

Jamie hangs back a little. “You really think five is too many kids?” he says to Tyler in an undertone.

“Huh? Oh. I don’t know,” Tyler says. He’s watching the super adorableness that is tiny running baby legs. “It’s just a lot, right?”

“I guess,” Jamie says. He sounds uncomfortable. “But—”

“Holy fuck, look at that,” Tyler says, cutting him off, because one of the kids just turned into a wolf.

It’s not like Tyler didn’t know that was a thing. Jamie and Jordie do it, presumably—when they go running for the full moon, at least—but Tyler’s never seen it happen. He didn’t really expect the…suddenness of it. One moment there’s a toddler in front of him, and the next moment there’s a little wolf cub wriggling out of a pile of clothes and shoes and hair bows and nipping at her siblings.

Apparently that starts a trend, because three of the others change into wolves in the next few seconds, and then all of them—human one-year-old included—are tussling in a pile on the carpet.

“Motherf—uh, crap,” Tyler says. “Do they just—do that?”

“What,” Tazer says, “didn’t you?”

It takes a second for Tyler to realize that Jonathan Toews, master of the straight face, is cracking a joke. “Yeah, right,” he says, barking a laugh.

One of the kids hasn’t changed: the littlest girl, one of the twins. She’s toddling around, pulling at the wolves’ fur. They’re biting at each other, but when they turn to her it’s just to nuzzle her with a closed jaw.

“Does she do that a lot?” Tyler asks. “Not change?”

“Not a wolf,” Kaner says.

He says it like it’s no big deal. And maybe it’s not, for him—Tazer’s in their family, and he’s not a wolf, so they must all be fine with it. But Tyler can’t imagine being a little kid with all of his brothers and sisters changing and not being able to do it himself. He wonders if she’s figured it out yet, that she’s different; that the others all have this thing she doesn’t have.

Jamie’s hand brushes the small of his back, and Tyler feels the same stupid sense of comfort he always gets when Jamie touches him. “You okay?” Jamie asks.

Tyler swallows so that his voice will be steady. “It’s just—she must feel like she’s missing out, you know?”

“Hey,” Tazer says from the couch, and he actually sounds offended.

Tyler looks at him in surprise, not sure why he’s glaring, but Kaner speaks up first. “Jonny just doesn’t want to admit he’s jealous of our luxuriant fur,” he says in a stage whisper, and when Tazer turns his glare on Kaner, it isn’t really a glare at all. Kaner grins and nestles against his side, and Tazer throws an arm around him and presses a kiss to the top of his head.

Tyler looks away from the display of affection. He thinks he maybe said something dumb there, but he’s not sure what. He’s afraid he’s going to say something even dumber, like how, yeah, he’s jealous, too, so he’s glad when the wolf cubs decide they’re interested in him and come over to paw at his legs.

He drops down to say hi, and they jump up and push at his shoulders. “Whoa,” he says, but doesn’t fight it as he goes down to the carpet.

It’s kind of awesome, lying down with four wolves and one toddler climbing all over him. They snuggle into Tyler’s neck and lick at his ears and one of them lies down right on top of his chest and growls at all comers—except the human girl, who is allowed to climb up and sprawl on top of him. Tyler rubs behind various fuzzy ears and feels laughter bubble out of him.

He looks up and catches Jamie looking down at him with the most ridiculous smile on his face. “Oh look, kids, Uncle Jamie wants to play,” Tyler says, and one of the three-year-old wolves goes over and tugs on Jamie’s pant leg until he flops down on the carpet and lets the kids climb over him, too.

It’s one of the more awesome mornings of Tyler’s life. And if Jamie’s arm brushes against his while they’re lying there on the floor, and if Tyler leaves it there for as long as he can get away with it—well, he just won’t think too hard about that.

One of the three-year-old girls—Tricia, maybe?—is showing Tyler her tiny hockey stick a little bit later when Kaner sidles up to him. “So, Jamie seems nice,” Kaner says in a low voice.

“Yeah, everyone likes Jamie,” Tyler says, and then, to Tricia, “Yeah, there you go! There’s your shooting grip.”

“No,” Kaner says, “I mean, he seems nice.”

He’s smirking at Tyler. Tyler feels his cheeks go hot. “It’s not like that.”

“It’s not, huh?”

Kaner’s smirk should probably be classified as breaking NHL regulations. Tyler doesn’t know how Tazer puts up with him. “No,” he says. “He’s, uh. Not interested.”

The smirk falls off Kaner’s face. “You’re kidding.”

Tyler gets the sinking feeling in his stomach he always gets when he thinks about this too much. “Nope,” he says, aiming for cheerful, and then Tricia is waving her stick in his face again, and he gets to pick her up and help her get into a shooting stance and pretend he’s not deliberately avoiding the conversation.

Jamie’s quiet on the cab ride back to the hotel, and Tyler nudges him. “You okay?”

“Yeah.” Jamie looks at him, and God, the way his eyes go dark and intense when he’s really focusing on something. It always gives Tyler a thrill even when he knows the thing he’s focusing on isn’t Tyler. “What they have is just really nice, you know?”

Tyler has to swallow against the lurch of his internal organs at that, because yes. He’d never thought of himself as someone who wanted a family before he was done with hockey, but fuck, that big household full of kids. If he had something like that to come home to. If he had—

He bites both his lips and crushes that thought down. He knows that he can’t have Jamie. And even if he could, they couldn’t have a family like that. That’s not something Tyler could give him.

“I’m sure you’ll find it,” he says, like he’s just a supportive friend. Like he doesn’t have a stake in his conversation. He thinks he comes pretty close.

“Yeah,” Jamie says, and then Tyler has to turn away to avoid the wistfulness in his gaze, the wistfulness that isn’t for him.

“Um,” he says, looking out the window. “I was just, uh—there’s no way for that little girl to become a wolf, right? No way to, like, change her?”

“What? No,” Jamie says with surprising emphasis, and oops, he’s staring at Tyler like he’s said something awful. “You know all that biting stuff is just a myth, right? There’s not—you have to be born with it.”

“Oh, yeah,” Tyler says, “that’s what I thought.” And he tells himself he doesn’t care; that he was only asking for the little girl who couldn’t shift like her siblings could. That he doesn’t care about the answer for himself.

***

Jason Demers gets traded to the Stars, and the team has a welcome barbecue, because Dallas weather is freakish and early December is still practically summer. They have it at Golly’s house, because he actually has a house, and at some point in the afternoon, Tyler’s sitting around drinking a beer and helping the other guys low-key chirp Cody for his socks and sandals combination, and he realizes that being chirped isn’t something he’s afraid of anymore.

It’s startling, because he hadn’t thought he was afraid of being chirped before. Chirping is just a thing hockey players do. It would be like—like being afraid of wearing pads or something. But maybe he was on edge about it, because he’s watching Cody and thinks, out of the blue, how weird it is that Cody’s laughing it off like he really doesn’t care. And then he thinks that if they started chirping him, he would be able to laugh it off like that, too, and mean it—and it’s like a tight band has just vanished from around his chest.

His first thought is that he wants to tell Jamie about it. He doesn’t know how he’d describe it—hasn’t thought that far ahead—but he feels great, and he wants to tell Jamie, and he spots him across the yard by the grill and heads over without a second thought.

Jamie’s talking to Jordie and Demers and doesn’t look over as Tyler walks up. Then he must hear him coming or something, because he turns to look, and the smile that spreads across his face makes Tyler stop in his tracks and forget what he was going to talk about entirely.

“Hey,” Jamie says, while he’s busy dazzling Tyler with how wide he can smile. He’s holding two beers, and he holds out the unopened one, still wet with condensation from the cooler. “I thought you might want another beer, so I grabbed one.”

“I—yeah,” Tyler says, and it’s stupid how much his stomach flutters just from that gesture. He can feel the way his face is stretched into a dumb uncontrollable grin. “Hey, thanks.”

“Cool,” Jamie says, and Tyler can feel his eyes on him as he drinks. It makes him press the beer can to his cheeks even though it’s barely twenty degrees out. He wants to keep Jamie’s eyes on him, wants to live in that gaze.

Then Tyler meets Jordie’s eyes, by accident, and the smile drops off his face. He almost forgot—it’s so easy to forget, sometimes, when Jamie looks at him and makes him go warm and fuzzy like that, that it’s not like that for Jamie. That Jamie’s not looking at Tyler and seeing the future.

Jordie’s looking at him like he knows what he’s thinking. Tyler feels suddenly really obvious, and really dumb because of it. His cheeks are hot for a different reason.

“I’m going to—house,” he says. “You guys need anything?”

“Uh. No,” Jamie says, and Tyler’s already putting on a grin and brushing by them, retreating inside where he can hide in a corner until the hot waves of embarrassment stop coming.

***

The thing is, it’s just really hard to remember. Jamie will brush up against him and send shivers into his belly, and a moment later Tyler will remember that it doesn’t mean anything, but it’s too late. The moment has already shot him high, and it’s a long way down.

It’s really bad in bars. Tyler doesn’t try to orchestrate it, but he doesn’t avoid it, either, and he somehow always ends up sitting next to Jamie. They’re big guys, and bars are crowded, so their elbows or knees always bump into each other, and it makes it hard to focus on anything else.

They go out with Demers one night in December, Tyler and Jamie and Jordie, and it’s really bad. Tyler’s half-hard almost from the moment they sit down, from the way Jamie’s mouth looks on the rim of his glass and the way Jamie will nudge his arm every time he has something to say to him.

“It’s just kind of different,” Jason’s saying, two beers in. “I’ve never been on a team with wolves before.”

Tyler’s beer goes a little sour in his mouth, and he has to work to swallow it. It’s not like the wolf thing is ever far from his mind; it’s just he doesn’t like being reminded.

He sees Jamie and Jordie making eye contact. “What is it about it that’s weird to you?” Jamie asks slowly.

Jason shrugs. “Oh, just, you know, that I never hung out with any before. It’s pretty cool.”

Tyler can see Jamie relax. “Yeah, we’ve been pretty lucky,” Jamie says. “It’s a good team for it.”

Jason smiles, wide and lascivious. “So, give me the deets,” he says. “Does the wolf thing make it easier to hook up, or harder?”

Jordie barks a laugh. “You know, hard to say. I mean, I have a girlfriend and Jamie…well, he has a whole other thing going on.”

The thing where he wants to end up with a wolf, presumably. Tyler sneaks a look at him: Jamie’s tense again, shoulders up and eyes on the table.

He can’t say he wishes Jamie were more into hooking up. That would suck to see. But if he were—well. Tyler probably still wouldn’t have a shot. But maybe he would, just maybe, and the thought of having that—even just for a night, even knowing that he’d lose it the next day—licks through Tyler like fire.

“What do you think, Tyler?” Jason asks. “Easier or harder?”

Tyler puts on his party grin. “Probably just have to have game either way, right?” he says, and it works, because Jason laughs.

He jerks off when he gets home that night, frustrated in a way that his hand on his cock won’t satisfy. He’s restless in the way he used to get in Boston, but this time it’s aimed at Jamie, at a thing he can’t have. It might be better if he could go for a run—but he can’t do that at midnight, so he settles for fisting his cock as he remembers the way Jamie’s arm brushed his skin at the bar, the way Jamie would make eye contact, tantalizingly close.

He ends up biting down on his knuckle while he does it, and after he comes there’s a deep line of red teeth marks across his finger. He’ll have to hide that from Jamie if it’s still there tomorrow. But it helps a little, and for a moment, when he comes, the knot in his stomach is able to relax.

***

It builds again, though. December turns into January, and nothing much changes outwardly, but the Stars go on a losing streak, and Tyler’s frustration starts reaching Boston levels of unbearableness.

There’s one night in mid-January when he almost goes to a club alone, the way he would have in Boston. But he thinks about how Jamie would look at him the next day and is shaken badly enough to keep him inside.

He calls Jamie instead. “Hey,” he says, and he hates how small his own voice sounds on the phone. “Um, are you up to anything?”

It’s not like it’s weird for them to hang out on a night when they don’t have a game. But Jamie must be able to hear that there’s something going on with Tyler, because he sounds different when he answers. More careful. “Not really,” he says. “Jordie’s out with Jessica, so I can head down if you want.”

Jessica’s in town for a few weeks. Tyler got dinner with her and the Benns last night, and it was surprisingly good to see her. He hadn’t thought, really, about Jordie being out with her when he called Jamie, but his insides leap as soon as Jamie says it—because Tyler’s dumb and doesn’t know what’s good for him and has been fighting this frustration all day until he feels like he’s going crazy.

Marshall’s picked up on Tyler’s antsiness, and he goes crazy at the sound of a knock on the door. Tyler has to run a soothing hand over his head a few times, and then he can finally open the door to reveal Jamie on the other side.

He looks like he always does, and just really, really good. Tyler wants—he doesn’t even know what he wants, really, but it involves giving up all control of his muscles and maybe falling onto the ground, or maybe onto Jamie, and asking him to make it better.

He doesn’t, but it’s a near thing. He can feel his legs trembling as he smiles brightly. “Hey! Movie?”

Jamie’s staring at him. Like maybe he’s noticed something, and Tyler’s pulse jumps higher. “Yeah,” Jamie says after a long moment.

They go to the couch, and Jamie sits down close to him. Close enough that Tyler’s skin is prickling, and he knows he should move away—but this fucking neediness is clawing at his belly, ripping at him after a day of winding him tighter and tighter, and he can’t bring himself to move away.

He’s not going to touch Jamie, though. That would be—bad, when he feels like this. Too much. He digs his fingers into his thighs instead, and tries to focus on the Star Trek movie. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are hot, but not as hot as Jamie, and every time Tyler looks at them his thoughts are dragged back: to Jamie, breathing right next to him, making Tyler’s breath short and shallow and his teeth dig into his lip.

He’s not going to touch. Not going to touch.

Jamie leans forward to grab the remote, and his shoulder brushes Tyler’s. Tyler can’t help it: he makes a noise, short and strangled from between his clenched teeth, and Jamie looks over at him. The next thing Tyler knows, Jamie’s hand is on his back, heavy between his shoulder blades.

“Hey,” Jamie says. “You okay?”

Jamie’s hand is on him, thumb stroking slowly up and down. Of course Tyler’s okay now. “Um,” he says, and Jamie’s eyes are so brown and so deep and so focused on him that he feels like he might tip over into them.

“You’re okay,” Jamie murmurs, and then Tyler’s being pulled in: Jamie’s big hands drawing him close, bringing him in to lean against his shoulder.

Tyler’s skin is buzzing. Up close like this, it’s almost harder: he’s alight with all the things he wants to happen next, with the way he wants to turn his head and brush his lips against Jamie’s skin and see where it takes him. He’s practically vibrating with the thought.

But then Jamie’s hand comes up and settles on the back of his neck, warm and heavy, and all of the tension drains out of Tyler’s body. Jamie’s fingers dig in just a little bit, pressing into the muscles on top of his shoulders and then relaxing, and Tyler’s head wobbles on his spine like he’s been drugged. He leans more heavily into Jamie’s shoulder and floats in a daze.

They watch the movie like that, Jamie’s hand covering the back of Tyler’s neck, and Tyler’s frustration is gone. He feels safe and warm and at peace.

I wish this could last forever, he thinks hard in Jamie’s direction as the final battle comes to a close and he can see the end drawing near. I wish we could sit like this every night, and that you’d never leave. I wish—I wish I were a wolf.

The last thought hits him, a swift blow right under the solar plexus, and he’s never wanted anything so much. He feels like he would give anything in his possession—maybe wouldn’t even stop at hockey—if he could just be a wolf. Because then he could be Jamie’s.

But he’s not a wolf, and that can never happen.

He makes himself stir a little as the credits start rolling. Doesn’t want Jamie to be the one to pull away first. Jamie lets him move, loosens his arms, but as Tyler pulls away, Jamie strokes his thumb down the side of Tyler’s neck, and—and Tyler’s body ignites.

It’s as fast as a sweep of brushfire. One second he’s sleepy, on the verge of dozing off, and the next second he’s panting with hunger. His whole body draws tight and his cock is so hard it aches.

Jamie’s looking at him, eyes trained on Tyler’s from less than a foot away. Tyler hopes he doesn’t see—hopes he can’t tell the way Tyler’s blood is pounding—but he can’t control the way his chest is heaving as he drags in superheated breaths. Jamie’s thigh is hot against his, and he’s dying for more of that heat, to turn so that his cock brushes against Jamie’s leg, so he can just get a little relief—

Jamie’s tongue darts out to lick his lips. Tyler’s eyes drop to it, and his mouth goes wet, and he wrenches his gaze away.

“Um, I guess I should go to bed,” he says, twisting away. “Early practice tomorrow and everything.” His voice sounds shaky.

There’s a pause from behind him. “Yeah,” Jamie says, pitched low.

The sound of it skitters down Tyler’s spine. His nipples are hard peaks against the cloth of his t-shirt. He needs to move away so badly.

“So, great, I’ll see you in the morning!” he says, moving up and away from the couch so quickly he’s in the kitchen in seconds. He doesn’t actually have anything to do in there, but he clinks some mugs in the drainer so that it sounds like he’s doing something while his pulse thuds in his chest and in his groin.

He can still feel Jamie in the living room, in some way that doesn’t quite make sense: like his stupid desire is a line connecting the two of them. He puts his hands in the counter and drops his head between his shoulders, breathing shakily.

He comes out of the kitchen a minute or two later. Jamie is by the door, putting his shoes on, and he looks Tyler in the eye as soon as he comes in.

Jamie’s gaze is soft and—and hurt, maybe. It hits Tyler deep in the gut and punches breath out his nose. Jamie probably thinks Tyler is being weird, like maybe he’s mad at him, but there’s nothing Tyler can do about it. He can only keep eye contact for a moment before he looks away.

“So—so I’ll see you tomorrow, yeah?” Jamie says when he’s at the door, hesitating with his hand on the frame, and Tyler digs beneath the layers of panic and flailing in his chest right now and finds him a small smile, tremulous but real.

“Yeah. Tomorrow,” he says, and it must be enough, because Jamie nods and leaves.

Two minutes later, Tyler’s on his back on his bed with his cock in his fist, and it’s only a few minutes before he cries out and comes, the memory of Jamie’s thumb on his neck hot as a brand.

Chapter Text

Tyler Skypes Brownie the next day after their game, and Brownie does a double-take. “Bro, have you not been sleeping or something? I thought you’d be all happy and shit.”

Tyler is happy. Sort of. They just broke their losing streak with a 5-2 win against Edmonton, and Tyler only got an assist, but it was a good one: smooth as anything to Jamie in the power play, and Jamie threw his arms around him after even though Golly was closer. The game is what Tyler called Brownie to talk about. Instead, when he opens his mouth, what comes out is, “I’m in love with Jamie Benn.”

There’s a short pause. Then, “Bro,” Brownie says.

Tyler takes in a shuddering breath. He didn’t mean for that to come out, except that maybe he did, and now he’s shaky with adrenaline. “Yeah.”

“That is intense.” Brownie looks at him with wide eyes. “Wow. Like, in love, in love?”

“Yeah,” Tyler says. There’s pretty much only one kind, as far as he knows. But maybe sometimes it doesn’t hurt as much as this.

“Does he not…” Brownie says. “I mean, is he…”

“I don’t know.” Tyler lifts a shoulder. “It doesn’t really matter. He’s a wolf.”

Brownie frowns. “And you don’t want to date a wolf?”

“No! It’s not—my problem.” Tyler pulls his knees up to his chest, even though it looks totally stupid over Skype. “It’s Jamie. He only wants to date a wolf. And, like, I’m not, so…”

Brownie’s face goes all sad. “Duuuude,” he says in the softest voice.

Tyler swallows. He doesn’t have anything to say, and he couldn’t say it anyway, with the lump in his throat.

“He doesn’t know what he’s missing,” Brownie says. “Like, seriously.”

Tyler laughs a little. “Yeah, right.”

“Hey,” Brownie says, indignant. “That’s my best friend you’re talking about.”

“Yeah, okay,” Tyler says, even though Brownie’s wrong. Jamie could obviously do so, so much better. Tyler’s lucky to have him as a friend, even.

They talk about some other stuff, the game, the Whalers, and—and Tyler’s glad he told him. It feels better, having Brownie know, even if it makes it a little hard to look him in the eye.

They’re about to say goodnight when Brownie says, “Wait, so how sure are you about this? The not dating humans thing? Like, did he tell you?”

“No, Jordie did,” Tyler says.

Brownie makes a psh noise. “Okay, but what does he know? Was it even recently?”

“I mean, it was at the beginning of the season,” Tyler says. “But—”

“So, fuck, he’s probably changed his mind by now,” Brownie says. “Or he will, now that he knows you.”

Tyler shakes his head quickly. “It’s a—a family thing, I think. Or a—pack thing? I don’t know. Jordie sounded pretty sure about it.”

“Well, I don’t buy it,” Brownie says. “The guy would have to be an idiot not to go for you. You’ll see.”

Tyler shakes his head again. It’s nice to hear—and Brownie is just the awesomest friend, which Tyler already knew—but he’s definitely not right about this one.

***

It sticks in Tyler’s head, though.

The thing is: he’s pretty sure Jordie knows what he’s talking about. Almost totally sure. But what if there’s even a tiny chance he doesn’t? What if maybe, just maybe, Jamie’s more flexible than that? There are a million other reasons he still wouldn’t consider Tyler, but even the tiniest possibility makes Tyler’s heartbeat thunder in his ears.

He thinks about it for the rest of January, while they lose a few games—one of them to the Bruins—and then start winning, and he keeps thinking about it through the beginning of February, when they win some more. The Olympics are coming up, and Jamie’s radiant with excitement, and it makes Tyler want harder than ever. But it also makes him reluctant to mess things up: not now, when Jamie’s so great to spend time with.

Jessica’s still around; she and Jordie are going on a trip during the Olympic break. But she doesn’t go on the road with them in early February, obviously, so Jordie spends a lot of time Skyping her instead. It leaves Jamie and Tyler alone a lot: either going out with the guys and heading back to the hotel together, or staying in, inevitably ending up in the same room as the evening winds down.

It’s peaceful, ending the day with Jamie quiet on the other pillow as they watch game tape or talk about the day’s plays. Jamie will turn on his side, eyes on Tyler’s face as he talks. It’s about hockey, usually, and that makes his face light up and his hands move. Sometimes his hands will brush against Tyler’s—and sometimes, sometimes their hands will be resting on the bedspread next to each other, and they’ll come into contact, and Jamie won’t move away. They’ll both stay like that, fingertips just barely touching while they dissect a game and Tyler’s body goes taut with desire.

He doesn’t want to break any of those moments. But no, that’s not it—it’s not about the moment they’re in. It’s about all the moments that might follow. The way Jamie would start keeping his distance, turning away instead of turning toward him. Going back to his own room instead of lying close and whispering to Tyler at the end of the day. The way Tyler would stop having something to hope for.

He knows he should say something before the Olympics. Otherwise he’ll have to wait those two extra weeks. But he still hasn’t said anything by the night of their last game, the day before Jamie leaves. They’ve just had a shootout loss to San Jose and are in Jamie’s hotel room, and they’ve been talking about the Olympics: who’s playing on the various teams, what the line matchups are likely to be. Jamie’s being a little hesitant about it, and Tyler’s pretty sure Jamie’s trying not to make him feel bad about not going. Tyler doesn’t care, though—well, not much. He doesn’t care enough to keep him from being happy for Jamie.

He says that, and Jamie’s eyes go soft in this way that makes Tyler have to stop and catch his breath. They’re lying on their sides again, each on one of Jamie’s pillows, and they’re so close. If Tyler moved his knees a few inches, they’d be brushing Jamie’s.

“Jamie,” he says into the silence, and as soon as he does, his pulse rockets, because he knows what he’s going to say next. “I wanted to—Jordie said something to me. About you.”

“Yeah?” Jamie says.

Tyler’s stomach is churning, sickness spiking through his gut with the act of doing this. “He said—he said you wanted to date a wolf.”

The quality of the air in the room changes. Jamie’s face had been soft, a little sleepy, and it sharpens. “Yeah,” he says, voice low.

The word flutters around inside of Tyler. “Yeah, like…”

“Yeah, I want to date a wolf.” Jamie’s eyes are intent on Tyler, and his voice is quiet but strong. Determined. Like…like there’s no room for doubt.

All the air goes out of Tyler’s body. “Oh,” he says flatly. He feels—like he took one last shot on goal during a losing game and missed. He feels crushed. Empty.

He wants to press his face in the pillow and hide it from Jamie, but that would probably be too obvious. He looks down at his hands and fights to stay in place against the buzzing in his head.

Now Jamie sounds unsure. “Is that…”

“No, yeah, I mean, that’s good. More power to you.” Tyler’s losing control of his voice. He can hear the waver in it, and now he does let himself roll over, onto his back and then up to sit at the edge of the bed. “I guess I should probably go to bed—flight tomorrow and all.”

He can hear Jamie moving behind him, sitting up. “Sorry if that’s—I mean—”

“No, no.” Tyler gets up, dredges a smile up from somewhere, pastes it on. “That’s totally—um, an omega, right?”

He catches Jamie’s eyes more by accident than anything else. It’s like a physical pang, the way it makes his chest hurt. “Yeah,” Jamie says softly. “I mean, if that’s…a possibility.”

Of course. Jamie’s an alpha, and alphas want omegas. Tyler knew that; he just—

His eyes are blurring, and he has to get out of there. “Right,” he says. “Well, I’ll see you in the morning,” and then he’s out, through the door and into the hall before Jamie can get a good look at his face and know just how much he cared about the answer to that question.

Of course Jamie wouldn’t want him. Jordie knew it and tried to warn him; Tyler was the only one dumb enough to question it.

He goes back to his room and lies on the bed and presses his face into the pillow. Jamie wants an omega. Not a random non-wolf who couldn’t join his pack or have his babies. Not one who’s a general fuck-up anyway. Jamie’s going to find a nice sweet omega—a girl, probably—and she’ll have his babies and there’ll be pictures of them, a few years from now, sitting side by side with their kids climbing all over them, just as happy as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, and Tyler will be—still here. Playing with the Stars, if he doesn’t fuck this up, or maybe shipped off somewhere else. Somewhere he doesn’t even get to see Jamie every day.

Fuck; it shouldn’t hurt this much. Tyler knew all this already. He turns out the lights and crawls under the covers, and it’s late on the east coast, but he calls Brownie anyway.

“Say something nice to me,” he whispers, and there’s a pause on the other end, and then Brownie says, “You’re the best fucking bro a guy could ask for. Anyone would be lucky to have you,” and Tyler buries his face in his pillow and bites down on the sounds that want to come out.

***

Jamie doesn’t really talk to him, the next day. It could be a coincidence—they have an early flight, and then Jamie has to get ready to go across the planet for the most important hockey of his life, so it might not have anything to do with their conversation last night. But Tyler knows Jamie by now and knows he would have found time to talk to him normally. So yeah, it’s not a coincidence.

It sucks. It means that Tyler must have been doing a good job of not letting Jamie see how he felt, if this is how Jamie reacts to finding out. If Tyler just hadn’t said anything, Jamie still wouldn’t know, and they could have gone on doing whatever they were doing. And then Tyler would have at least some part of Jamie, instead of none.

There’s a knock on his door late in the day. Tyler’s just come back from a workout, and he’s not expecting anyone, so he’s covered in sweat when he answers the door.

It’s Jamie. Of course it’s Jamie. Except that Tyler wasn’t expecting him at all, and he’s struck sort of dumb.

“I just wanted to say goodbye,” Jamie says.

Goodbye. Fuck. Tyler’s not going to see him for two whole weeks. “Um. Yeah,” he manages to say, barely audible.

“Can I…” Jamie says, opening his arms a little, and Tyler’s pulse spikes.

“I’m all gross,” he says, to cover up the way he’s suddenly gone dizzy.

“I don’t care,” Jamie says fiercely, and then he pulls Tyler into his arms, sweat and all.

Tyler is just—he’s never going to get used to this. All his muscles go lax, and he takes in a breath that’s practically a sob. Jamie’s holding on so tight: it might be too much if it weren’t for the fact that Tyler could never get enough of this. He fists his hands in the back of Jamie’s jacket and holds on tight right back.

“Knock ’em dead,” he whispers into Jamie’s ear, and Jamie laughs a little.

“I’ll do my best,” he says, as if he ever does anything less, and Tyler—Tyler loves him: this stupid unattainable beautiful man who’s holding him like he’s keeping him from falling down.

Jamie pulls back. “See you,” he says softly, and then he’s gone, and Tyler can shut the door and lean against it and slide down to the floor and stay there until Marshall comes over to lick at his ears and it stops hurting quite so bad.

***

The Olympic break is—well. Tyler starts out thinking that it will be a good thing: he can get some space from Jamie, start to move on. Maybe it was even good that they had that disastrous conversation, because now he knows that he should move on. So obviously the thing to do is go out and hook up.

He puts it off for the first few days because he feels awful, actually. Like, flu-awful: achy and drained and not wanting to eat anything or stand up at all. Jamie’s already in Sochi and Jordie and Jessica have set off for somewhere tropical, so Tyler lies on his couch for a while and lets Marshall lick his fingers while he tries to find the will to get up and get more Gatorade.

This is a thing his body does sometimes: it waits until he doesn’t need it for hockey anymore and then gives in to whatever sickness it was probably trying to fight off before. He knows he just needs to wait it out. But it really sucks that it’s happening now, when he’s alone and depressed and just wants Jamie.

He should probably have found some bros to hang out with this week. It’s what he normally would have done. But he was so…distracted by Jamie, he guesses, because yeah. He hasn’t really been able to think about anyone else for the last month. So now he’s alone, feeling utterly shitty with no one to make him feel better about it.

He watches Canada play Norway a few days into the break. He’s listing against the arm of the couch when they start—it doesn’t help that he has to watch at some ungodly hour to catch it live—but maybe watching hockey helps, because he starts to feel a little better as they start playing.

He doesn’t even try to keep his eyes off Jamie. He knows it would be pointless. Jamie looks so good—not surprisingly, since he’s been tearing it up on the ice for Dallas, but Tyler doesn’t usually get a chance to sit back and watch the way Jamie moves without having other things to pay attention to, like the Stars’ plays or his own technique. Definitely not for this long. Jamie just…he looks really good, okay?

It’s weird, though, seeing him on the ice with people who aren’t Tyler and their other teammates. Weird and wrong. It starts bothering Tyler more and more as the game goes on, even though Jamie’s playing for Canada and that’s Tyler’s country and they’re winning and Tyler should be happy about this. But every time Jamie passes to, like, Jonathan Toews, or Sidney fucking Crosby, Tyler’s jaw clenches.

It’s bad enough that by the end of the game, instead of slumping back against the couch cushions like he would have yesterday, Tyler is buzzing with annoyed energy. He doesn’t want to—to care about who Jamie passes to, or who he hangs out with and bonds with off the ice, or how well he’s playing for a team that isn’t Tyler’s. But Tyler’s body doesn’t seem to care about what he wants, because he can’t even sit still anymore after watching all that.

Yeah. He’s definitely picking up tonight.

***

It’s been so long since he last did this. Kind of crazy long, actually. Possibly this isn’t the best idea—he hasn’t forgotten the way Jamie and Jordie looked at him the last time—but they’re not around, and it’s been months, and they can’t actually expect him to live like a monk, can they?

He’ll just have, like, one drink, start talking to someone, and invite her home. Nothing that would result in crazy pictures on Twitter. Nothing Jamie and Jordie even have to hear about.

When he’s standing at the bar with his one beer, though, he looks around and there are no hot girls. Like, there are a bunch of girls around, and Tyler can see how someone would maybe argue that they’re hot, because they have nice-ish faces and shiny hair and big boobs, but they’re really not. They’re all too…boring, or something.

It’s weird, because the guys around are way hotter.

Tyler isn’t supposed to be looking at the guys. That’s way more likely to get him in trouble, and he’s not going to take stupid risks here like he did in Boston. But his skin is still buzzing from this morning and wow, that guy who’s looking at him now is really hot. It makes sparks go off in Tyler’s stomach, and he’s looking back before he can think about it.

The guy comes over after a minute, and Tyler prepares to play it cool, because maybe this guy knows who he is and wants an autograph or something. It’s hard to play it cool, though, because this guy is bigger than he is and really built and Tyler can imagine what it would feel like to be held down by him.

“Hey,” the guy says, smiling, and Tyler is readying his fan smile, just in case, but then the guy brushes his fingertips against Tyler’s arm and Tyler shivers and lets his eyes close instead and that’s that.

He shouldn’t dance with this guy in public. Really shouldn’t, even if this is Dallas and not a big hockey city and he probably won’t be recognized. It would be super dumb. But the guy has his hands around Tyler’s wrists and he’s tugging him out to the floor and Tyler’s only had half a beer, but he feels like he’s been drugged. There’s a little voice in the back of his head saying that this is a bad idea, but it’s drowned out by how good it feels to have someone steering him like this. His body sways towards Dave’s involuntarily, and then they’re dancing, the beat deep and throbbing and slow, Dave’s hands on his hips guiding him through a rolling grind.

It’s really hazy and good until Dave dips his head down and presses his lips to Tyler’s neck, and then Tyler tenses up and flinches away.

It startles him as much as it does Dave. They’re still touching from the waist down, Dave’s hands firm on his hips, and they look at each other in surprise for a moment before Dave grins. “Hard to get, okay,” he says over the music, and his hands slide around to Tyler’s ass and squeeze and he leans in to kiss Tyler’s neck again.

This time Tyler puts up with it, but it’s wrong, really wrong. The brush of Dave’s lips makes his skin crawl, like something wet and slimy is sliding down his spine. He goes rigid as it goes on and on, and he tries to move away without really moving, but Dave’s lips follow him and—

“No,” he gasps, finally, and Dave’s lips leaving his neck are such a relief that at first he doesn’t notice the way Dave’s hands tighten on his ass.

He does notice the roughness in Dave’s voice when he speaks again, though. “What do you mean, ‘no’?” Dave says, and there’s still something playful about it, but it’s on the edge of angry.

Tyler gapes at him. Dave’s fingers are biting into meat of his ass, and he feels suddenly very small and very weak.

“You’re a fucking cocktease, is that what you’re telling me?” Dave says, jerking his hips against Tyler’s and bringing his face close again.

Tyler lets out a small sound. He—he goes up against guys this size on the ice all the time, and it’s not a problem, but he doesn’t feel like he’s on the ice right now. His head feels fuzzy, and all he wants to do is drop down and curl up at this guy’s feet and wail until the guy is nice to him. That’s all he wants. Tyler could be so good, if only—

He puts a hand on Dave’s chest to push him away, because his face is too close, but he doesn’t put a lot of effort into it and Dave wraps a hand around his wrist and wrenches it away.

“Should learn some fucking gratitude,” Dave says, and bites down on his ear, and Tyler gasps and twists, trying to get out of his hold, but he can’t and—

“Hey,” someone says, a new hand on his shoulder. “This guy bothering you?”

Tyler sags in relief as Dave lifts his head away. He tries to say something, but all that comes out is an inarticulate whine.

Dave glares at the interloper. His hand is still on Tyler’s ass, anchoring him to him. “Stay out of this, man. None of your business.”

The new guy doesn’t back off. He gets his shoulder in between them, actually. “My business if you’re going after someone too drunk to say yes.”

Dave’s eyes go harder, and Tyler feels a flash of fear. Dave’s going to fight for him, and then he’s going to win, and—

“Whatever,” Dave says, letting go of Tyler’s hips so that he staggers backward. “Not worth the effort.”

He turns and disappears into the crowd. Tyler rights himself, shaking. He can feel his pulse in all the places Dave had his hands: his hips, his ass, his wrist.

“Hey.” The new guy is in front of him, standing close but not touching. Tyler notices vaguely that he has a mop of fluffy red curls. “You okay?”

Tyler nods. He tries to take a step, but he stumbles a little, and then the guy does touch him: a hand to his shoulder, keeping him up but not holding on. It feels only a little bit wrong.

“Let’s get you a ride home, okay?” the guy says.

Tyler lets himself be helped off the dance floor, even though he’s not drunk, not at all. He sort of feels like it, though: he’s listing to the side as the guy walks him out, and he pushes into the guy’s touch even though he’s trying not to. He wishes the guy would just—put an arm around him or something—not leave him exposed like this. It would be okay, probably, if this guy did it. He wouldn’t try to kiss Tyler’s neck or anything wrong like that. He would just be…safe.

“All right,” the guy says when they reach the front door of the club. “I’m going to put you in that cab there. Is there anyone you can call? Someone who can be on the phone with you while you go home?”

Jamie, Tyler wants to say, but he knows that’s wrong. Jamie’s too far away, and he’s mad at Tyler, anyway. He wouldn’t want Tyler to call.

The guy repeats his question, and Tyler realizes he’s been staring for a long time without talking. He fumbles his phone out of his pocket and finds Brownie’s number instead. He presses call, and when Brownie says, “Hey, dude, what’s up?” Tyler finds that he can’t say anything.

He can hear Brownie on the other end going, “Hello? Hello?” and the red-headed guy takes the phone.

“Hey, I’ve got your friend here, and he’s pretty messed up,” he says. “I’m gonna put him in a cab, but I was hoping you could—yeah. Awesome.”

Tyler gets put into a cab a minute later, and the phone is back in his hand. “Brownie,” he says, and Brownie says, “Yeah, I’m here, dude,” and Tyler hugs the phone to his ear all the way home.

Chapter Text

Tyler’s not hungover the next morning, but he wakes up feeling awful and not knowing why. Then he remembers Dave’s lips on his neck and has to bear down against the urge to throw up.

He ends up curling up in bed and hugging his blanket for a few more hours. It’s the total opposite of how he usually deals with things: usually he’s all about getting up, distracting himself, keeping busy. But he feels so out of energy right now.

Brownie calls him later that morning, and it’s Brownie but still Tyler can barely find the will to answer it. He does, though, and Brownie says, “How the fuck are you, man?”

“I think I fucked up,” Tyler says, his mouth full of cotton, and then he tells Brownie the whole story of last night, of the last week, of telling Jamie and then trying to move past it and crashing and burning.

Brownie makes lots of sympathetic noises, and then he says, “Maybe you just don’t want to hook up right now. That happens sometimes. Bodies are weird, man.”

“Yeah, but.” Tyler does. He really, really does. He squirms a little on the bed, because his ass feels empty and he hates that. “I don’t think that’s—it?”

“Okay,” Brownie says, grin in his voice, “so maybe you just need to hook up with yourself.”

“Douche,” Tyler says, but he giggles, and Brownie giggles too, and it’s ridiculous, but—

It’s the middle of the afternoon when Tyler goes to the sex shop. He figures, everyone’s looking for people to be sketchy at night, so if he does sketchy stuff, it should be during the day, right? It makes sense in his head, but then he’s getting out of his car in front of Condom Sense and he feels like maybe everybody is staring at him.

He puts on his most at-ease grin as he goes inside. Nothing to see here, folks, just a guy in search of a new dildo. Maybe one of those big purple ones over there. Yup. Those are…yup. They’re really big.

Tyler stops in front of them and tries to pretend his body isn’t tingling at the sight. He could, like…he could put one of those inside of him. Tonight. They vibrate.

He swallows and slips one into his basket and then he’s going to check out and leave. He really is, except on the other side of the aisle there are big weirdly shaped things like deformed cocks, made of shiny glass, and the sign underneath one of them reads “anal plug,” and—

Oh, fuck. Is that supposed to go up your ass?

Tyler stops and stares at them and feels his cock stir in his pants. He flashes back to the time in Switzerland, the time he had Emile’s entire fist up his ass, and he imagines not having to take it out. Feeling full like that for…for hours. Sitting around, watching Jamie’s game with—

He throws one into his basket and gets the hell out of there.

He goes home and decides not to use it. It would be too weird. But then, that night before he goes to sleep, he takes the plug out, and…maybe he’ll just unwrap it. Just to see what it looks like.

It’s got two bulges, one at the tip tapering to a blunt point, and a bigger one near the base. They’re both really thick, thicker than the dildo that’s still in its packaging. Thicker than anything he’s ever had inside of him. Tyler runs his fingers over the bulges, does it again, again.

His breath is coming short, and his cock is nudging against the front of his sleep pants. It wouldn’t be bad to try it, just to see what it feels like, right?

The instructions on the package say to use a lot of lube, but Tyler’s never bothered with that. He lies down naked on his back and presses the tip of the thing against his hole. It’s kind of shivery, like when he fingers himself, but different because it’s not his own skin he’s feeling. It could be someone else touching him right now. It could be—

He lets his eyes slip shut and imagines Jamie pressing this into him. Gotta get you ready for my cock, phantom Jamie says, and Tyler’s breath shudders out of him. His hole is twitching against the cool glass, and he gives a push and the head of the plug pops inside.

Tyler gasps and twists, whether into the sensation or away from it he’s not sure. He feels so full, like when he’s being fucked, but this is different: hard glass instead of cock or the silicone of a dildo, and the way it presses against him is different, more. He’s greedy for it suddenly, even though he hasn’t quite adjusted, and he pushes more of it in until the second bulge pops inside and—

“Oh,” he says, “oh,” because it’s pressing against his prostate and that is so good, it’s so good, it’s sending waves of pleasure up his spine every time he twitches. He clenches around it frantically. He’s only just put it inside, but already his cock is standing up and drooling on his stomach, and his legs are shaking.

He imagines Jamie watching this, murmuring to him. Yeah, taking it so good. You want me inside you next, don’t you, Tyler?

“Yes,” Tyler says out loud, moans. “Yes, Jamie.” His fingers are wet and sticky as he twists and jabs at the base of the plug. Even tiny nudges are enough to make his nerves blaze with fire, and he twists under imaginary Jamie’s gaze. “Yeah, Jamie, put your cock in me, fill me up, I need you,” and Jamie lies down on top of him, crushing him, and Tyler’s coming, cock spurting into thin air as he clenches hard around the plug.

His arms and legs are trembling as he comes down from it, sweat cooling on his skin. He clenches down again around the plug, and everything shivers.

Okay, he’s, like, never taking this out.

***

Obviously he has to take it out sometimes, like when he works out, or goes to the rink. But the rest of the time…

It should be too much, but it’s not. It’s not enough, actually. It doesn’t take away all the empty feeling at the base of his spine. But it helps a little.

It’s not even a sex thing, most of the time. It’s only a few times a day that he starts thinking about Jamie and how Jamie might look at him if he knew he had this inside of him and then he has to lie down and rock the plug against his prostate and pull on his cock until everything goes fuzzy and bright. The rest of the time, he just needs it because otherwise he feels like he’s drifting around an empty space with nothing to tether him to the ground.

He fucks himself on the new vibrating dildo, too. It’s a totally different sensation from the plug. It sends him high, makes him babble and shake and come all over himself, and then when he’s coming down, he wants the plug back inside. Doesn’t want to let it go.

He watches Jamie’s games with the plug inside of him. Comes a few times watching Jamie soar around the ice. There’s one time Jamie gets a goal and Tyler’s just come but he gets hard again immediately, jerks off watching the replay and then watches it again against the inside of his eyelids as the harshness of his breathing fills the room.

It’s always Jamie’s hands he feels on him when he jerks off with the plug inside him. And afterward, it’s always Jamie’s arms he wants around him as he comes down from it, but he’s always alone.

***

Canada wins gold.

Canada wins gold, and Jamie comes back, and he’s so happy. The whole team goes out for drinks the night he gets back, and Tyler walks into the bar, and Jamie turns to him, face shining, and Tyler feels something inside of him snap into place like a puck hitting the back of a goal.

He spends the evening sitting next to Jamie, as close as Jamie will let him get. It’s not close enough, obviously: if he had his way, he’d be up on Jamie’s lap, Jamie’s arms around him, nuzzling close. But sitting by Jamie’s shoulder is good, too. Every time their arms brush, Tyler’s skin tingles, like a limb that’s been asleep and is finally, finally waking up. Like—like he hasn’t eaten for two weeks, and Jamie’s presence is feeding him at last.

He wonders if maybe Jamie would just let him sit next to him like this forever. Obviously Jamie is going to find someone else to marry, to mate with, but maybe he’d let Tyler stay near. Live next door, come over in the mornings just to get his daily fill of Jamie’s smile. He thinks he could survive on that.

Jamie’s not avoiding him like he was before the break. He lets Tyler inch closer as the night goes on, and he keeps turning to look at him with laughing eyes. Every time they toast, he holds Tyler’s gaze, and it makes Tyler’s cheeks flush and his stomach fizz.

“It’s all thanks to you, you know,” Jamie says later in the evening.

“It is? What?” Tyler is tipsy and warm from the way Jamie’s voice is pitched low, head bent close to talk.

“Would never have gone to the Olympics if you hadn’t been here to make me look good,” Jamie says.

The words are like fireworks in Tyler’s stomach. “Made yourself look good,” he mumbles.

“Couldn’t have done it without you,” Jamie says, his eyes intent on Tyler’s face, and Tyler can barely keep himself from leaning in and kissing him. He has to look down and stare at the table until his mind clears and he can think again.

A little while later, he’s coming back from the bathroom, and Jordie snags him by the bar. “You need to stop,” he says.

“Hm? Drinking?” That might be a good idea. Jordie knows this stuff. Even if what Tyler really wants is to keep drinking and then lean against Jamie while the world spins around them.

“No.” Jordie tilts his head towards their table. “Whatever you’re doing. With Jamie.”

Tyler’s mouth falls open, and the warmth inside him shrivels up and goes cold. “Oh.”

“He told me you guys talked before the break,” Jordie says, “and…”

“Yeah,” Tyler says. “We did.” He remembers Jamie’s face so close to his, the intent look in his eyes when he talked about wanting to date someone who wasn’t Tyler.

“So you need to stop,” Jordie says. “It’s not fair to either of you.”

Tyler’s head is dropping before he can think about it. He wants to whine for forgiveness: he didn’t mean to do the wrong thing. It’s just, Jamie’s so hard to resist. “I’m sorry,” he says, barely making sound.

“Hey, it’s okay.” Jordie’s hand lands on his shoulder and gives it a shake. “Just give him some space, okay?”

“Yeah, I will.” The words are churning around Tyler’s stomach. He wants to crawl away into a hole, hide there. “I’m sorry,” he says again. “I didn’t know.”

“No worries. It’s all good.” Jordie puts his arm around Tyler’s shoulders, and that feels nice, makes him want to snuggle closer so Jordie will pet him a little. But Jordie’s mad at him. Jordie thinks he did the wrong thing with Jamie.

He’s so tired, all of a sudden. “I think, um, I’m gonna head out,” he says. “Will—will you tell him I left?”

Jordie’s eyes go soft. “Yeah,” he says. “For sure.”

It’s hard, walking through the crowd to the exit. Tyler’s skin hurts, and he wants to shrink into himself every time someone brushes against him. He gets into a cab and curls up against the door until he gets home.

***

It’s a good thing hockey’s starting up again. Everything’s easier when there’s hockey.

Jamie is there, all the time, at practices and games. Tyler can feel him every time they’re in the same room together—like pressure on his skin, a magnetic force drawing his body—and he doesn’t know how not to want.

Jamie’s eyes, looking at him like he matters. The slow softness of his voice. The way his words spool out, one idea at a time, quiet but sure, until Tyler is wrapped up in them. Wrapped up in Jamie.

Tyler doesn’t know how not to want all of that. But he manages to turn away, to sit on the other side of the locker room and not meet Jamie’s eye. Not seek him out, not talk to him unless he has to.

Jamie notices. Tyler can tell from the way his eyes sometimes linger on Tyler across the locker room, or from the other end of the bench. He wonders if Jamie feels bad for him, and it makes sick hot embarrassment run through him: that Jamie can tell how much this hurts.

“Only a couple of months till the end of the season,” Brownie says to him over Skype.

“I don’t want it to be over, though,” Tyler says. No matter how bad it is right now, the thought of being apart for Jamie for a few months is terrifying.

He starts sleeping more. He doesn’t feel anything when he sleeps. And it means he can be wrapped in blankets the whole time: not the same as being held, but something a little bit close. He feels so exposed, whenever he’s out in the world these days. Like someone will bump up against him and it will hurt.

“Dude, are you okay?” Demers says to him a week or so after the Olympics, when Tyler shows up to practice still trying to shake off the grogginess of ten hours of sleep.

“Yeah, of course,” Tyler says, stifling a yawn.

Demers grins and elbows him. “Hungover, eh?”

“Heh,” Tyler says, even though he hasn’t had anything to drink since the night Jamie got back. But it’s less embarrassing than the truth.

He sees Jamie looking at him, though, listening to the exchange, and he drops his head. He doesn’t want Jamie to think he’s screwing up again. He just can’t—even when he’s not doing anything he’s not supposed to, he still can’t keep it together.

Tyler’s sluggish during practice that day. He tries to pep himself up, calling good-natured chirps to the other guys, but it’s like he doesn’t have quite enough energy to go around, because when he tries to go faster he gets sloppy. He catches the coach watching him as they go off the ice and ducks his gaze, hoping not to get yelled at.

It’s Jamie who corners him, though, when they’re done showering. Tyler doesn’t see it coming. He’s putting his stuff in his bag at his stall, and he knows Jamie’s in the room—can’t help but keep track, these days—but he doesn’t know he’s so close until he turns and Jamie’s right there. It’s like an electric shock to his chest.

“Hi,” Jamie says, and he’s looking at him, and Tyler can’t breathe.

He hasn’t been this close to Jamie since the night at the bar. “Hi,” he says, when he manages to get breath for it, and he gives Jamie a crooked grin.

The relief on Jamie’s face is noticeable. “Hey, I just wanted to say, um.” He lowers his voice, so that the other guys in the locker room wouldn’t be able to hear if they were listening. “When I said the thing before break, I didn’t mean—like, you don’t have to stay completely away, you know?”

Tyler’s pulse is going crazy in his throat. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Jamie says. He ducks his head a little. “I—don’t want you to.”

Fuck. There is no fiber of Tyler’s body strong enough to resist that. “Okay,” he says, and the smile he gets in return is just the best thing he’s ever seen.

“Okay,” Jamie says, and now Tyler can hear the relief in his voice. “So, did you want to get lunch?”

It’s so easy to follow Jamie to the restaurant. They’re both a little awkward when they sit down, but it’s still so much better than the last week of Tyler’s life. Just having Jamie there, sitting across from him. Looking at him. Tyler’s giddy with it.

Jamie’s hand brushes against the small of Tyler’s back when they get up to leave. It’s probably accidental—they’re both putting on their coats in a tiny space—but it makes him go all shivery and weak, and for a second he wants to beg: please, please, anything, just touch me again. But he doesn’t, and they get in separate cars and leave.

It’s—enough. Almost, anyway. It gets Tyler through the rest of that day, anyway, and the next day while Tyler’s packing for their trip to Columbus Jamie knocks on his door to see if he wants to take Marshall out to the park.

“I thought it would be nice to get some air before the flight,” Jamie says, shrugging, hands in his pockets.

“Yeah,” Tyler says immediately, even though he took Marshall out for a jog before breakfast. “I mean, I already—but yeah, sure,” and Jamie’s shoulders relax a little.

It’s really dumb how much it makes Tyler’s stomach flutter, walking next to Jamie. Jamie’s being quietly funny, telling the story of how Jordie fought with the dishwasher last night, and Tyler giggles so hard he drops Marshall’s leash and they both have to run after him.

“I thought this was supposed to be low exertion,” Jamie says when they finally catch him.

“What, is this too much for you?” Tyler asks, tip of his tongue between his teeth, and Jamie laughs, and—and Tyler wants—

“Oh hey, is this your dog?” a woman’s voice says, and Jamie’s head whips around to her.

She’s maybe in her twenties, in running gear, hot, and Marshall is sniffing at her legs. Tyler’s stomach clenches.

“Uh, yeah, sorry about that, he’s mine,” he says.

She looks up at him and does a double-take. “Oh my God.” She puts a hand to her chest, laughs a little. “Sorry, I wasn’t expecting it to be you guys.”

Her being a fan makes it a little easier for Tyler to put on a smile, even if he doesn’t like the way Jamie is still staring at her. “You a hockey fan?”

“Yeah, my brother and I watch you guys all the time.” She flips her hair over her shoulder, bares some of her neck. Tyler kind of hates her. “He’s just back there, getting water, but I know he would love to meet you. Would you guys mind?”

She looks from Tyler to Jamie. Tyler opens his mouth, trying to find the will to say something nice, and Jamie gives a gruff, “No, yeah, of course.”

“Awesome. You guys are just—the best.” She runs off, and Jamie stares after her, still all tense.

“Um, are you okay?” Tyler says, even though he’s pretty sure he doesn’t want the answer.

“Oh. Yeah.” Jamie shakes himself a little. “Just, you know. Omega from a strange pack, don’t want to say the wrong thing, you know?”

“She—” Tyler stares at the cluster of trees where the girl ran off. His stomach gets tighter. “She was an omega?”

“Well, yeah.” Jamie gives him a strange look. “Did you not know that?”

“No,” Tyler says. It explains so much, though. The way Jamie went all alert as soon as he saw her. “Was I supposed to?”

Jamie’s still looking at him weirdly. “Um. I mean, she’s sweating. I can still smell her from over here.”

“Oh.” Are people supposed to be able to smell who’s a wolf? Maybe Tyler’s been missing stuff all this time. “My sense of smell is shit, remember?”

“Oh yeah.” Jamie’s eyes go wide. “Wait, fuck, does that mean you can’t—”

“Hey!” The girl and her brother are back, running out of the trees. “Hey, guys, thanks so much for waiting.”

Her brother looks a lot like her: shiny dark hair, open features, but way more solid. The kind of guy Tyler might pick up in a club, if he still did that kind of thing. “It’s such an honor to meet you guys,” he says really seriously, and it makes Tyler want to straighten up. There’s also something in the guy’s gaze that makes Tyler want to take a step behind Jamie and hide, a little bit.

They’re fans, though, and it’s not like he has anything against wolves. So he grins and signs some things for Matt and Allison and manages not to grimace when Allison keeps talking to Jamie.

“It’s been amazing, having you guys on the team,” Allison says. “I mean, there aren’t a lot of wolves in Dallas.”

“Yeah, I guess I haven’t met many others,” Jamie says.

“Hey, you should come out with us,” Matt says. “We could show you the scene.”

“Oh. Um, I don’t know,” Jamie says. “We have a game in Columbus tonight, so.”

“Tomorrow, then.” He flicks his eyes to Jamie, then back to Tyler.

“Um, sure. I guess that could be fun,” Jamie says slowly. “Tyler?”

Oh. Tyler hadn’t realized he was going to be invited. He kind of wants to say no—he doesn’t want to spend any time near Jamie when Allison’s looking him like that. But then he imagines himself sitting at home, wondering how it’s going, and—“Yeah, of course,” he says, putting on an easy-looking smile.

“Awesome,” Allison says again, and then she’s giving Jamie her phone number, and Tyler bends down to pet Marshall so he doesn’t have to watch.

Then they’re gone, and Tyler wants to—he wants to touch Jamie, put a hand on his arm, brush up against his shoulder, something to claim him. But Jamie isn’t his to claim. Someday soon, maybe, he’ll be Allison’s.

***

Tyler doesn’t get much sleep on the flight. He keeps thinking about the way Allison tilted her head and smiled when Jamie’s eyes were on her. He wonders how long it takes alphas and omegas to mate—if it’s like regular people dating, where it’ll be a while before it gets serious, or if it’ll be, like, next month. He wonders how long he has before she takes Jamie for good.

Jamie comes up to him when they’re getting into their gear, before the real pre-game rituals start. “Hey, sorry if I kind of forced you into that thing tomorrow,” he says. “If you don’t want to, or whatever, you shouldn’t feel like you have to.”

Tyler darts a glance at him and tries to figure out if he’s hinting—if he wants Tyler to stay home so he can spend more time alone with Allison. He can’t tell, and the thought makes his stomach hurt. “No, I’m okay with it.”

“Oh,” Jamie says, kind of flat, so maybe that was the wrong answer. He’s fiddling with his gloves, looking down, and when he looks up, it’s swift. “You, uh, you know I’m an alpha, right?”

“What? Yeah, of course,” Tyler says. Everyone knows Jamie’s an alpha.

“Oh,” Jamie says again. He shakes his head as if to clear it. “Sorry, I just—because of the smell thing. Wanted to make sure you knew.”

“I did,” Tyler says, and he can’t help the way his voice goes small.

“Okay,” Jamie says. “I’m…gonna go put on the rest of my gear.”

“Right.” Tyler looks down as he goes.

Sooner is probably better, for the mating thing, if it’ll help Tyler get over this. But he hopes it’s later anyway.

They lose to Columbus that night, and Tyler doesn’t get any points. Jamie scores on the powerplay when Tyler’s not on the ice, so Tyler doesn’t even get to hug him in the celly.

He thinks about not sitting with him on the plane ride back. He’s not going to—he promised Jordie he’d give him space, after all—but he’s walking down the aisle, and Jamie’s sitting by the window with an open seat next to him, and he looks up and catches Tyler’s eye, and—Jamie has a date with an omega tomorrow. If Tyler’s going to lose him to someone else so soon, he’s at least taking this one plane ride.

Jamie gives him a little smile and offers him one of his earbuds so he can watch the second Hunger Games movie with him on his iPad. Tyler pays attention for a little bit—the girl who plays Katniss is super hot, and so is the guy who gets beaten up for her in the town square—but he hasn’t seen the first one, and Jamie’s shoulder is, like, right there. Tyler makes it about five minutes before his head is resting on it, and another two before he’s asleep, the hum of the airplane around him and Jamie’s t-shirt soft under his cheek.

The next thing he knows, his eyes are blinking open to Jamie’s face, peering at him from really close. For a second Tyler can’t do anything but look—God, Jamie’s eyelashes are pretty, and his mouth is right there. Tyler could kiss him. No matter what happened afterward, he would know what it feels like to have Jamie’s mouth on his, just for a second. He wants it so badly that it’s all he can do to not lean forward and—

Then he remembers where they are and realizes he spent the whole flight sleeping on Jamie’s shoulder. “Shit, sorry,” he says, pulling back.

“No, it’s—it’s fine,” Jamie says. He’s looking at Tyler with this really soft smile, and all Tyler can think is that this girl had better really, really deserve him.

Chapter Text

This girl does not deserve Jamie. She doesn’t deserve him at all.

She spends the first, like, five minutes they’re in the restaurant talking to Jamie about how good his last few goals have been. Which, obviously, but clearly she just googled that shit and doesn’t really know what she’s talking about, like, not like a real hockey player would. And then she goes on about how great the Stars were for supporting him when he came out as a wolf, and that’s just sucking up, okay? And…and she has stupid hair.

Okay, so maybe Tyler’s not being totally objective here. So sue him.

“So how’ve you found Dallas?” the brother asks Tyler. Matt, that’s his name. Tyler wrenches his eyes away from where Jamie’s blushing a little under Allison’s compliments.

“Um, great! Yeah. Great.” Tyler grins, tries to remember how this socializing thing works. Matt’s just like one of his hockey bros. Tyler can talk to him and not pay attention to what’s happening next to him. “It’s, uh, obviously very different from Boston.”

“Yeah, you had kind of a tough time there, didn’t you?” Matt says, and Tyler feels his grin slip.

“Um,” he says. It’s not like he expects things about his life to be secret at this point, but wow, he wasn’t expecting this conversation to go there. He tries to remember any of the things he said to reporters at the beginning of the year. “Yeah, it was—well—”

Jamie’s hand lands on his shoulder, cutting him off. “Hey, you okay?”

Tyler relaxes. “Yeah, we’re good,” he says. “We were just talking about, uh, Dallas.”

“Oh, yeah, it’s a great city,” Jamie says to Matt. “I mean, you like it here, right?” he says to Tyler, like he needs to check.

Tyler snorts, because Jamie is ridiculous. “Of course,” he says, and the media answer is easier to find with Jamie’s hand on his shoulder. “Yeah, it’s not as much of a hockey town as Boston, but it’s been a great year with the team, you know?”

Matt’s eyes are oddly intent, like he really cares about the answers to his small-talk questions. “So you’re planning to stay a while?”

“I mean, fortunes of hockey and all that, sometimes hard to control. But I hope I’m here for the long haul.” Tyler flashes a grin and goes for the subject change. “What about you guys? Been here long?”

They’re originally from Dallas, it turns out, and Tyler gets Matt talking about that so he doesn’t have to answer any questions for a couple of minutes. Next to him, he can hear Jamie and Allison talking about similar things: the big family pack Allison and Matt are both a part of, parents and aunts and uncles and a shitload of siblings and cousins.

“We’re both at an age when we’re thinking about branching out, though,” Matt says, and Tyler can’t help but think that that’s what Allison is trying to do with Jamie. He wonders, if Jamie bonded with someone, would Jessica come down and they’d finally be a pack? An official pack. One that would do stuff together and not want random human teammates tagging along. He has to look away from Allison’s smile.

By the time they’re done with dinner, he’s heard all about Matt’s teaching career and Allison’s graphic design studies and Allison has flipped her hair about a million times. Tyler doesn’t know much about how omegas flirt, or wolves in general, but he feels like the way she keeps baring her throat in Jamie’s direction is probably part of it.

“We were planning to take you guys to wolf night at a club downtown,” Allison says when Jamie and Matt have split the check (they both insisted). “Up for it?”

“Oh,” Tyler says. “Is that—I mean, do you think that’s a good idea?” he asks Jamie. He’s not really sure what the rule is on humans at wolf night.

“It…could be fun,” Jamie says. “But if you don’t want to—”

“No, I do,” Tyler says, because he can’t imagine letting Jamie go off with Allison right now. Just—can’t.

Matt ends up in the front seat of the cab, and Allison’s in the back between Tyler and Jamie. Tyler tries not to look in that direction too often so he can’t see how much they’re touching.

The club is pretty normal, as clubs go, except that like a quarter of the patrons are furry and on four legs.

“Holy fuck,” Tyler says when they walk in.

“Yeah, there are a few of us in the city,” Matt says.

“It’s totally cool to transform,” Allison says. “So, you know, if you want.”

Tyler hopes that Jamie doesn’t, even though that’s selfish. It’s probably important for Jamie to be here among his people or whatever. It’s not on him if Tyler feels left out.

Jamie’s just behind him at the moment, close enough that Tyler accidentally bumps into him when someone passes them by. He goes to move away, but Jamie puts a hand on his hip and that makes him not want to move away ever.

“You okay here?” Jamie says—shouts—in his ear.

Tyler’s honestly not sure. He likes crowded clubs in general, but something about the atmosphere in this one feels overwhelming. Makes him want to press back into Jamie.

He doesn’t, though. He can keep it together. “Sure,” he says.

They manage to find a tall table near the back of the room where a few people have abandoned drinks. Tyler ends up towards the wall, with Jamie next to him, and just having Jamie between him and the mass of people makes him feel better, somehow.

Matt goes to get them drinks, and while he’s gone, Allison leans in toward Jamie. “So, you wanna dance?”

“Oh,” Jamie says. His eyes cut to Tyler. “I mean, I would, but I don’t know if we should leave Tyler.”

Allison turns to look at him, too, and—what is Tyler supposed to say? No, he doesn’t want Jamie to go dance with this girl who’s perfect for him, because he wants to keep Jamie all for himself? The bro code is pretty fucking clear on this one. “Go for it,” he says as brightly as he can, and Jamie looks at him for a minute, biting his lip, before he finally takes Allison’s hand and leads her to the floor.

Then Tyler’s standing alone at their table, trying to look anywhere other than the dance floor and totally failing.

Jamie and Allison are at the edge of the mass of bodies—human ones; Tyler guesses that wolves don’t do a lot of dancing when they’re on four legs. Jamie puts his hands on Allison’s hips, and he’s so much bigger than her that she has to tilt her head back to look up at him, her body curving into his and her neck a long line of skin.

Jamie should have someone like that. Someone who fits so well against his body, into his life. Someone who can give him all the things he’s always wanted. But it hurts every time Jamie touches her, and when she leans up to say something into his ear, Tyler can’t help but hope it’s something awful, something that will make Jamie not like her. He knows he shouldn’t want that, though. Tries to breathe through it. Reminds himself that Jamie’s his friend, that if Tyler can’t have him, he at least wants him to be happy with someone else. Really, he does.

Allison leans her head against Jamie’s chest, and Tyler has the sudden urge to do actual, physical violence.

He’s still trying to recover from that impulse when Matt gets back to the table. “Well, I see we’ve been abandoned,” Matt says, sliding four beers off a tray. He doesn’t sound too upset about it. “What do you say we drink a couple of these and get out there and join them?”

The look in his eyes is definitely suggestive. Tyler feels a flash of surprise. He hadn’t realized it was that kind of evening. Maybe he should have known—he hasn’t really been paying enough attention to Matt to know if it was obvious or not—but Matt is a wolf. Tyler isn’t used to thinking about wolves actively wanting to date non-wolves. And—and what makes Matt think Tyler dates men?

“I’m not,” he says, almost choking on the words. “I mean, I don’t.”

Matt smiles and slides a hand over his. “Chill,” he says, leaning closer. “It’s wolf night. We’re not in the habit of outing people for anything.”

Tyler guesses that’s true. But—doesn’t really want to. Matt’s objectively hot, but the touch of his hand makes Tyler want to cringe away. He’s not sure it would be cool to say no at this point, though, and, well, his alternative is standing in the corner staring pathetically at Jamie as he dances with his perfect woman.

Matt slides his hand under Tyler’s and takes it in his grasp. Tyler lets him.

Matt’s grip is firm as he leads him to the dance floor, and so is the way he turns Tyler’s body towards himselfIt makes him easy to follow, but it sits a little wrong, like a tickle under Tyler’s skin.

Still, dancing in a club: he knows how to do this. His hips move to the beat without him having to think about it.

Matt’s eyes are fixed on him as they move. “You’re really good at this,” he says over the music.

It’s a compliment, but it doesn’t make Tyler happy the way compliments usually do. He manages a weak grin. “Just, uh, like to move, I guess.”

“Lucky me,” Matt says, and the words curdle in Tyler’s stomach uncomfortably.

Tyler would kind of like a little more space between them. This seems to be normal, though, from what he can see of the couples around them. He takes a couple of deep breaths, tries to relax into the music. It’s just dancing; he can close his eyes and move.

“Seriously, where’d you get so good at this?” Matt asks a minute later, and Tyler flashes to Boston: to a dozen nights when he couldn’t stay inside his own skin and had to get out, drink, move, fuck away the desperation. It must make him go stiff, because Matt’s stroking a hand up his back. “Whoa, hey,” he says. “You okay?”

“Just some bad memories,” Tyler says, trying to make it sound light.

Matt gets this concerned look on his face. His hand slides down to the small of Tyler’s back, and somehow they’ve gotten even closer. Tyler’s finding it a little hard to breathe. “No one should ever treat you bad,” Matt says, his breath hot on Tyler’s cheek.

Their hips grind together, and oh, Matt’s a little bit hard. Tyler’s really, really not, and the bulge in Matt’s pants makes his squirm.

“I would never make you feel like that,” Matt says in Tyler’s ear, and the words and the touch of his breath crawl over Tyler’s skin.

He turns his head, trying to get some air, and catches Jamie looking at him. He’s just a few feet away, Allison still in his arms, dancing. His eyes are locked on Tyler over her head, and when their eyes meet, Tyler feels a jolt of adrenaline.

It’s like stepping into a patch of breathable air. Tyler already knew he didn’t want to be here, in Matt’s arms, but now it feels so absurdly wrong that he can hardly stand it. Jamie should—Jamie should rescue him.

That’s what should happen. Tyler can see it so clearly: the way Jamie would step in, the way his hands would separate Tyler from Matt. The way Jamie’s arms would feel totally different around him. Tyler shivers a little, wanting it, and he tries to tell Jamie through his eyes.

He thinks Jamie’s got it for a moment. Sees a spark of something in his eyes, maybe recognition, sucks in breath in anticipation—

Jamie turns away, breaking their gaze, arms still around Allison.

Tyler sags in Matt’s hold. He turns away from Jamie and feels like he’s moving underwater. He can hear the water rushing in his ears, and he blinks against the sudden heaviness. Like every movement takes way too much effort.

Matt’s arms are still around him. He hears Matt’s voice in his ear, but he can’t quite make out the words. There’s something wrong here—he doesn’t like this—but he can’t quite figure out why. It’s just on the edge of his thoughts, and he can’t grasp hold of it. Can’t think. He feels like he’s had ten beers instead of one, and they’re all weighing him down and making things groggy, slow.

Matt’s head is still bent towards his neck. “Mm, you look so good like this,” he says, and then he puts his mouth to Tyler’s neck and scrapes his teeth over the skin.

The panic is instantaneous. It’s not even much contact, just a brush of teeth, but Tyler needs to be away, far away—he can’t do anything to make that happen, though, because his whole body goes rigid and stops responding to him. He can’t even think, just a wail of NO NO NO, and Matt’s teeth are up against his skin, Tyler can feel them, and it’s so wrong, it’s so wrong, and—

“Hell fucking no,” he hears, bellowed over the music, and then other hands are on him, pulling him away.

Tyler slumps immediately, all the tension going out of him, because these hands are Jamie’s. He’d know them anywhere. That’s Jamie’s chest underneath his cheek. Jamie.

“What the fuck is wrong with you, man?” Jamie’s shouting over his head. “Can’t you recognize fucking involuntary thrall?” But Tyler doesn’t care about the shouting or about what’s going on behind him, because Jamie’s arms are around him. Jamie’s arms. They take away the panic skittering over his skin and make everything warm and safe.

“It’s okay,” Jamie says, his voice soft and right up against Tyler’s ear. “It’s okay. I’ve got you.” Tyler whimpers and pushes his face into Jamie’s chest. Jamie will make everything all right

He must lose some time after that, because the next thing he surfaces they’re outside; the air around them is cooler. Jamie’s still close to him, not even a foot between their bodies, and his hands are on Tyler’s shoulders. “Tyler,” Jamie’s saying. “Tyler, did he hurt you?” And Tyler can only look up into his face, because he doesn’t need to worry about things if Jamie’s there to take care of him. Tyler wants Jamie to take care of him forever. Maybe if he’s good enough, Jamie will do it. Jamie will never let him go.

“Your—” Jamie’s hand brushes over his neck, over the spot where the wrong guy’s teeth were against his skin, and Tyler’s eyes flutter shut because Jamie’s touch is shivering over his skin. It’s Jamie’s fingers are magic because they make him tingle all over. He whines and pushes closer.

“Fuck.” Jamie’s forehead comes to rest against his. “You’re really deep into it, aren’t you?”

Jamie’s so warm. His skin feels warm everywhere they’re touching: blissful heat that’s bathing Tyler’s skin. Tyler rubs his head against Jamie’s cheek, follows the line of his neck down to brush his lips against Jamie’s collarbone. All that skin, all so close to him. He can’t understand why he didn’t do this before.

Jamie’s breathing hard. His hands are big and strong on Tyler’s shoulders. “Tyler. You’ve got to snap out of it. It’s involuntary thrall, okay? It happens sometimes, when an alpha isn’t careful—but you have to shake it off. You don’t want this. I know you don’t.”

Tyler shakes his head, because doesn’t Jamie get it? “I…want,” he says, lips moving against Jamie’s skin, and just getting those words out costs so much effort. “Jamie.” He tilts his head up, and his mouth is against Jamie’s jaw, and oh, that’s good. He touches his tongue to it, sucks a little, feels heat ripple down his body.

“But you wouldn’t if—okay, fuck, this needs to stop,” Jamie says. He takes a step back, using his hold on Tyler’s shoulders to keep him from following. Tyler chokes on a noise. Jamie is so far away now. Does he not—what’s going on?

But Jamie keeps a hand on him and then gets his arm around Tyler’s waist so that they’re moving together, and that’s okay. “Just going to get us home,” he says, and Tyler likes the sound of that. The two of them, going home.

They get into a cab, and Tyler gets to melt into Jamie’s side. He has a vague memory that they were in a cab like this earlier, but it was different—that there was something between them, something keeping them apart. That was awful, but it’s okay now because they’re right up against each other and Jamie’s arm is around him, keeping him close. Tyler can feel the whole line of it, curving around his back and making him want to wriggle with happiness. He does, a little bit: buries his face in Jamie’s shoulder and rubs it around and makes little humming noises.

“That’s it,” Jamie says, really quiet. “You’re doing so good. We’re just gonna get you home, okay?”

Home, and then Tyler will keep being good for him. He sucks happily on Jamie’s skin, flicks out his tongue and feels Jamie shudder beneath him.

“Fuck,” Jamie says. “Not—not yet, okay?”

His hand comes up to cradle the side of Tyler’s head, and, oh, that’s good; Tyler likes that. He turns his face into Jamie’s palm, nuzzles against it. He wants Jamie’s hand other places. He turns over so he can tilt his head back at Jamie, arc his stomach up. Maybe—maybe Jamie will touch him there, run his hand down Tyler’s chest—

“Thank God,” Jamie says, and there’s cold air again.

Tyler whines at being moved. He was really comfortable there. But it’s Jamie moving him, so he doesn’t resist. He pushes into everywhere Jamie’s fingers touch: waist, shoulder blade, bottom of his ribs. It’s all so good. His Jamie is so good at this.

“Just a little farther,” Jamie says, but Tyler doesn’t care. He’s floating. Jamie is all around him, and he knows what comes next.

As soon as his apartment door closes behind them, Tyler plasters himself over Jamie’s front. Jamie’s hands come around and support his back, yesss, and now Jamie’s gonna kiss him. Now Jamie has to kiss him, because Tyler needs to be kissed. He needs Jamie’s hands on him, taking him apart. He’s so ready and he’s been good for so long. He tips his head back, parts his lips, closes his eyes so he can focus all his attention on the way Jamie will press his mouth to his—

“Tyler.” It’s a shaky exhale. “Tyler, baby, I’m so sorry.”

Jamie’s hand comes up to cup his cheek, smooth a thumb across his cheekbone. Tyler opens his eyes. Jamie’s looking at him, and—and he’s sad, which is all wrong. Tyler wants to be good for him.

“If this were a different night,” Jamie says. “If you weren’t—if that guy hadn’t done that to you, and you knew what you were doing—I mean, fuck. If I thought you wanted it, even a little bit, I’d—”

He drops his head, bends it towards Tyler’s shoulder so that Tyler can’t see his face. Tyler feels a prickle of fear. This isn’t how it’s supposed to go.

He makes a noise, because words aren’t his right now. Jamie looks up at him, and that’s good, except that Jamie’s face is still sad. Tyler doesn’t want it to be sad. It’s all wrong.

Maybe Tyler hasn’t been good enough. Maybe Jamie doesn’t get it, how much Tyler’s giving himself to him. Maybe Tyler needs to make it clearer.

He lets his body go loose against Jamie’s again, curving into the circle of his arms. Then he tilts his head back, lets it fall to the side, lets Jamie see the line of his exposed neck. What Tyler wants him to take.

“Fuck,” Jamie says. Tyler can feel his chest heaving. “I’m—I’m so sorry. But we can’t.” And then—then he takes his arms from around Tyler’s body and steps away.

He steps away.

Tyler’s knees give out. He crumples to the floor.

It’s like being plunged into a pool of cold water. It hits him with a shock: all the dreamy floatiness gone. He’s on the floor, alone. He’s on the floor, because he just—

Oh, fuck. Did he really—

The events of the last hour come back to him with sick clarity, all the haze gone off of them. Matt at the club. The way he put his mouth on Tyler’s neck, and the way Tyler stopped being able to think. The way he sank into Jamie’s arms and pressed up against him and—fuck, fuck. The way he came onto him, so shameless Jamie couldn’t possibly miss it.

And the way Jamie stepped away.

Tyler is shaking a little. His body feels cold, really chilled, like he was just outside in a Boston winter without a coat and the cold’s gotten into his bones.

“I’m so sorry,” Jamie says above him. He sounds awful, like he’s the one who’s broken and not Tyler. Broken, at Jamie’s feet. “If I thought for one second that you actually wanted it—”

There’s a short pause, and Tyler can see his feet shuffle back and forth. “I’ll send Jordie down to put you to bed,” Jamie says finally. “That should be…safe.”

He turns, and the footsteps move towards the door.

It takes Tyler a couple of tries to find his voice, but he does. “If…if you thought…”

The footsteps stop. Tyler looks up and catches Jamie looking back, surprised. Tyler’s kind of surprised, too; two minutes ago he wouldn’t have been able to say three words to save his life.

He takes a deep breath, and he knows he’s probably going to get broken again, but he has to say it. “If you thought I really wanted it, you’d—you’d say yes?”

Jamie’s eyes are fixed on his face. He looks like he’s barely breathing. Tyler climbs to his feet, slowly.

There’s a moment when neither of them moves, while Jamie regards him across a dark foyer. Then he says, “You really…”

Tyler knows this is the worst idea ever. He knows that he’s going to regret it like hell come morning, when Jamie grins at him and rolls out of bed and goes off like it’s been a great one-night stand between friends. But if, for just one night—if he can feel what it would be like, to have Jamie as his—he knows he won’t say no.

“I do,” he says, voice cracking. “I really—Jamie, fuck, I really do.”

Jamie doesn’t move for another long moment. Then he steps forward, slides his arms around Tyler, and kisses him.

Chapter Text

Jamie kisses him, and it’s breathtaking. Tyler feels like he’s been punched in the chest for how hard it hits him. Nothing about Jamie is sharp or violent—just warm, sure, determined—but his touch changes Tyler’s world instantly, completely. Jamie’s mouth is hot and firm and sends flutters all through Tyler’s stomach, and then his lips part a little and Tyler just sinks into it.

His kisses are hot and deep and making Tyler’s whole body tingle. But they’re fast, like maybe Jamie thinks this will be over quickly, and Tyler hopes not. It will all be over soon enough—but if he only gets Jamie this once, he wants it to include a whole lot of Jamie’s tongue sliding against his. Just like it’s doing now. Fuck, he can’t even—

Jamie bites at his mouth, teeth sinking into the flesh of his lower lip, and Tyler whines, back in his throat. Jamie makes a broken sound and kisses him harder.

“Fuck, Tyler,” Jamie says, breaking off the kiss to gasp for air. “You just—you taste—”

“Mm,” Tyler says, and he licks at Jamie’s open mouth. Tasting Jamie.

Jamie groans and dives back in.

Jamie’s arms are so, so strong around him. Tyler lets himself melt against his chest. He feels like he could give up every piece of control, and Jamie would still support him. Jamie would still be holding him up and just, fuck, kissing him like he’s never going to stop.

They end up against the wall. Tyler loves that: the hard surface at his back, Jamie’s body pressing in. It’s not quite enough, though—Jamie’s hips aren’t pressed against his yet, and Tyler needs that. Needs Jamie to just shove him up against the wall and grind into him.

He gets his hands on Jamie’s ass and pulls, whimpering into the kiss. Jamie hisses and jerks his hips forward, and yes, yes, Tyler can feel the bulge at the front of his jeans. He rolls his hips forward to rub against it, and Jamie shudders and presses harder against him, pins Tyler to the wall with his mouth and his hips and his cock and oh fuck.

For a minute it’s blinding pleasure, all of Jamie grinding against him and his tongue plundering Tyler’s mouth, and then Jamie breaks away from the kiss to pant. Tyler doesn’t like that—doesn’t want Jamie’s mouth off him—but then Jamie tilts his head and presses his lips to Tyler’s neck and—

Tyler’s knees liquefy. He’s always liked to have his neck kissed during sex; it’s always been sensitive, always gotten him revved up; but that was nothing to this. Jamie’s lips barely even touch his skin, and Tyler can’t catch his breath.

“Oh,” he says. “Again, like that—”

Jamie does it again, his hands firm on Tyler’s arms while his mouth moves so gently. This time the tip of his tongue is between his lips, grazing the skin, and Tyler shivers and goes even slacker in Jamie’s grip. He’s basically a puddle of feeling as Jamie’s lips travel over what feels like every inch of skin on his neck. It’s still so delicate—nothing like the roughness Tyler usually goes for—but Jamie has him held fast, and Tyler feels like he’s floating suspended in a wash of pleasure.

It takes Jamie what feels like five torturous minutes to reach his opposite ear, and Tyler’s not complaining about any of it. Jamie brushes his lips against the sensitive spot behind the ear—oh, yes, there—and then he opens his mouth, grazes just the tips of his teeth over the skin.

Tyler gasps like he’s been punched. “Yeah, that,” he says, or some garbled equivalent, and Jamie bites down.

The feeling goes straight to Tyler’s dick. He bucks up, pinned to the wall by Jamie’s weight, and Jamie bites a line down his tendon. They aren’t hard bites, not hard enough for hickeys, but they’re zinging across Tyler’s skin. And then Jamie reaches the base of his neck and— “Augh,” Tyler cries out, and his hips jerk as Jamie bites down hard.

“You like that, huh?” Jamie murmurs. He’s breathing hard, and he licks a line across Tyler’s skin before he bites in again. “Yeah, thought you would.”

Tyler’s gasping, mouth working desperately, fingers scrabbling for purchase on the paint. Jamie leaves his teeth sunk into the skin, hard enough to leave a mark, and Tyler can’t even think.

“Jamie,” he wails, and arches into the line of his body. He feels like his nerves are spasming all over the place, like he has no control over any part of himself anymore. All he can do is hold on as the pressure of Jamie’s teeth crackles down his spine. He feels—he feels so fucking claimed.

“I just,” Jamie murmurs into the skin of his neck as his cock nudges up against Tyler’s, “I just want to eat you up,” and Tyler would let him.

He’s drenched in sweat, soaking through his shirt, and his dick is so hard it’s practically drilling a hole through his jeans. He’s nothing but a loose collection of nerve endings and pleasure. He slides his hand up the slick nape of Jamie’s neck into his hair, threads his fingers through and presses Jamie’s face closer. He throws a leg around Jamie’s thigh and grinds in against the rigid bulge of Jamie’s dick. Jamie moans and digs his fingers harder into Tyler’s back, and Tyler wants—he wants—

“Jamie,” he says, fighting for enough air, “you have to fuck me,” and Jamie bites down even harder, practically breaking the skin.

“Yes,” he rasps, and then his hands are on Tyler’s ass, digging into the meat of it and lifting him up. Tyler goes, he goes so easily, wraps his hands around Jamie’s waist and lets Jamie shove him against the wall again. Jamie tilts his head up and takes Tyler’s mouth again, and then Tyler’s lost to the kissing: every part of him dedicated to kissing back and feeling Jamie’s tongue take ownership of his mouth.

“Gonna,” Jamie breaks off to kiss, “fuck”—kiss—“you”—kiss—“so”—kiss—“good.”

Tyler whines, because he has literally never wanted it more than he does now. His hole is clenching involuntarily in rhythm with his pulse, and it aches with how empty it feels. He wants Jamie in there, like, two years ago. He wants Jamie to fucking ruin him.

He mumbles some of this, and it makes Jamie gasp and knead Tyler’s ass. It’s so close to what Tyler wants, but not actually enough, and it’s driving Tyler crazy.

“Come on, man, bedroom,” Tyler says, and then Jamie just—he just moves away from the wall, holding Tyler up and still kissing him, and maybe Tyler’s dick shouldn’t twitch at the reminder of how strong Jamie is, but it does. He loves the way Jamie’s taking his whole weight. He wants Jamie to pick him up and hold him like this for the rest of their lives, and—

He’s not going to get that.

The thought is like cold air in his face, the reminder of what they’re doing here. He keeps kissing back, but some of the eager heat is gone, and he feels like he should be memorizing this, taking notes because in a little bit it’s going to be gone.

“Hey.” Jamie pulls back a little, stops moving down the hall. He presses Tyler even closer even as he creates some space between their mouths, one hand firm on his ass and the other sliding up to cup the nape of his neck. “You okay?”

Tyler nods against Jamie’s shoulder. He’s still so insanely turned on, and he’s in Jamie’s arms. He wants Jamie where he should be—inside of Tyler—and he doesn’t want to mess it up with feelings or whatever, but the feelings are there now, and he’s having trouble pushing them back down. “Jamie,” he says, helpless.

“I got you.” Jamie’s eyes are big enough to get lost in. He leans in and presses a kiss on Tyler’s mouth, so gentle, comforting, like he knows how frantic and nervy Tyler’s feeling and knows that this is the way to make him feel safe. Like it’s easy, to stand there in the middle of the hallway holding Tyler up with only one hand under his ass while he presses sweet kisses to his lips.

They kiss until Tyler starts to feel desperate again. “Do you still want?” Jamie says softly, when their lips part. “We don’t have to, if you don’t.”

Tyler wants Jamie’s arms to stay around him. He wants Jamie’s hands and Jamie’s mouth. He wants so badly he’s going to fall to pieces. “I want,” he says, nodding.

Jamie kisses him again, eats into his mouth. “Thank fuck,” he says, and he carries Tyler into the bedroom and sets him on his feet and strips him, all the while pressing great searing kisses on his mouth. Tyler barely notices his clothes disappearing, only notices the way Jamie’s hands travel over the uncovered skin. They run over the cuts of Tyler’s hips and smooth over the bottom of his rib cage and press into his belly button. Then they slide up to his nipples, thumb the hard peaks, and Tyler gasps into the kiss and thrusts his hips against nothing.

“Jamie,” he says. “Please, I need—”

“Yeah,” Jamie says, and drops down and gets his mouth on Tyler’s nipple, which wasn’t what Tyler meant, but oh fuck. Tyler cries out and threads his fingers through Jamie’s hair as his hips buck into thin air. Jamie closes his lips and sucks as his fingers fumble at Tyler’s fly.

He somehow manages to slide it down without giving Tyler any real friction, and Tyler practically sobs from how much more he needs. There’s an electric current running from his nipple to his cock, and Jamie’s hands are so close but not close enough. Tyler bites down on his lip against the sharp desperation of it all.

“God, you’re gorgeous,” Jamie whispers as he pushes Tyler’s jeans and boxers to the ground and Tyler’s cock springs up. He’s so, so hard, unbelievably hard, and it’s such a relief when Jamie straightens up and pulls him in close to his body to kiss him. Jamie still has all his clothes on, but Tyler ruts against the front of his jeans, not caring about the roughness of the fabric as long as he can get friction.

Jamie digs his fingers into the swell of Tyler’s ass, and Tyler mewls. He wants, he wants so badly, and if Jamie doesn’t hurry—

Jamie does hurry. He pulls off his own shirt fast, does it without letting go of Tyler—that shouldn’t even be possible, but there’s never a moment when Tyler doesn’t feel like Jamie’s all around him. Jamie’s rolling their hips together, fingers flexing on Tyler’s ass as Tyler’s naked cock rubs up against Jamie’s clothed one.

 

“Need you,” he whimpers into Jamie’s mouth, and, “Don’t make me wait, Jamie, I’ve already—”

Jamie makes a sound, a little strangled thing, and his hands go to his own fly. Tyler’s sure he’s not making it easy, the way his hips are bucking, but then Jamie’s pants are down and Jamie’s naked against him, almost, just his boxers in the way. Tyler wants to pull down their boxers, but he doesn’t have that kind of control right now. He whines instead, rubs his cock against Jamie’s, and Jamie does it: strips his boxers down in one quick move and gets his hand on Tyler’s ass again, and his cock is pressing against Tyler’s, and it’s huge and solid and Tyler’s going to go crazy.

Maybe he does go crazy a little bit, but it’s okay, because Jamie’s going crazy right along with him. Jamie’s grinding against him, biting at his mouth and making these low rumbly sounds that go straight to Tyler’s cock. Tyler melts into the line of Jamie’s body and lets Jamie hold him up and maybe he should be embarrassed at how he’s going to pieces but he can’t possibly be, not when Jamie’s holding him like this. Not when he feels entirely surrounded and claimed.

Jamie backs him up towards the bed, kissing him the whole way. Tyler’s knees hit the edge of the mattress and they stop and—and Jamie pulls back, just a few inches. His lips and chin are red with beard-burn and his hair is rumpled and his eyes are wide as he looks at Tyler. His gaze pulls on something in Tyler’s chest, tugs and hurts and Tyler feels like his heart is tumbling around in his rib cage, wild and dizzying and free.

“Jamie,” he says, frightened, and Jamie leans in and kisses him sweetly and topples them to the mattress.

If Tyler thought it was good being pressed against the wall, it’s nothing to being under Jamie’s weight. He thinks his brain might short out from how thoroughly he’s being held down. Jamie gets his hands around Tyler’s wrists and pins them to the sheets and they kiss, hungrily, and Tyler’s hips are rolling helplessly against Jamie’s, rubbing up against his hard, hot cock. He can’t stop making little sounds, high noises that Jamie swallows.

“Bet you’re ready,” Jamie murmurs against his lips. “Can smell that you’re ready,” and Tyler’s hips jerk up at the idea of Jamie being able to smell his arousal.

“I’m so,” Tyler says, breaks off to gasp. “Please. Just—”

Jamie shifts up, just enough so that he can get his hand onto Tyler’s ass. Tyler shivers when it slides over the cheek, cries out when one finger slips into the crack, spasms and thrusts his ass into Jamie’s hand when a fingertip strokes over his hole.

“You—oh, fuck, you really want this,” Jamie says as his finger dips into the slick bud of muscle. Like this is anything new, like it isn’t obvious from the way Tyler’s writhing on the bed or from every single thing he’s done since he came to Dallas. “I didn’t think you’d—”

“Yes, please, come on,” Tyler says, because the way Jamie’s lying, Tyler can just see his cock. It’s long and thick, so much so that Tyler’s mouth is watering, and there’s a little bead of precome glimmering on the end. Tyler wants it inside of him. Wants it inside of him right now, doesn’t care about condoms, doesn’t care about being stretched first, just wants to be filled. He feels like a string drawn so taut it’s going to snap.

“Tyler,” Jamie says, and fuck, Tyler can’t focus on anything right now, but something in Jamie’s voice makes Tyler’s eyes snap to his face. He looks really serious. “You—you really want this?”

It’s the same thing Jamie asked before. But now Tyler feels scraped raw by it. He has a vague sense that maybe he shouldn’t be totally honest, but he couldn’t find a lie right now if his life depended on it. “Yeah,” he whispers, and Jamie kisses him, dives into his mouth like he’s dying for it.

“Fuck, I need to be inside of you,” Jamie says, breaking off the kiss, and yes, Tyler agrees, finally, Jamie’s getting it, maybe now he’ll—

Jamie slides a finger into him instead. It’s good, but it’s not his cock, and Tyler whines his frustration.

“I know, baby, I know,” Jamie says. He runs a hand over Tyler’s stomach. “Gonna take care of you. I just have to, first—”

He slides in two fingers, and that’s a little better. They brush against Tyler’s prostate and send shivers all over his body, and Tyler likes that but it’s not Jamie inside of him. It’s not pleasure he wants, it’s Jamie. He arches his back, fucks himself on Jamie’s fingers, opens his mouth in a silent plea for more.

Jamie’s ring finger slides in, and it barely takes the edge off what Tyler wants. “I—God, you’re so open already,” Jamie says. He’s staring at the place where his finger disappears into Tyler’s ass, tongue running over his lips. “I’m just gonna—”

“Yes, please,” Tyler says, barely able to find the words, and Jamie fishes his jeans off the floor and gets a condom. It’s not what Tyler wants, it’s not Jamie’s bare cock pumping come inside him, but he guesses it’s safe or whatever and fuck, if Jamie doesn’t—

“Fuck, you’re amazing,” Jamie says, and leans over him and kisses him. They’re both panting into the kiss, and Tyler’s ass is empty again, actually empty, and he’s clenching down on nothing while Jamie tongue-fucks him. His gut is aching, this awful empty ache at the base of his spine. He tries to put all that desperation into the kiss, can hear himself moaning, and finally Jamie pulls back half an inch and whispers, “I’m gonna,” and then, finally, fuck, yes, the tip of his cock is pressing against Tyler’s hole and Tyler squeezes around it like maybe he can draw Jamie in but he doesn’t need to, because Jamie pushes in by himself, a single long, smooth motion and oh fuck Jamie is inside of him.

Tyler tips his head back and cries out. The relief is instantaneous. He’s full, finally, can feel his body singing over it: the hard length of Jamie’s cock finally where it belongs. His hands scrabble for something of Jamie to hold onto, end up on his sides, on the thick pads of muscle over his ribs, and Jamie’s cock is inside him.

“Wow, Tyler,” Jamie says, and Tyler looks up to see Jamie gazing at him in astonishment. It suddenly hits him that this might be the only time Jamie looks at him like this, that he might never see that look in Jamie’s eyes again, and he can’t look away. Just for right now, he wants to believe there’s nothing in the world but the two of them, that this will never end.

“Yeah,” Tyler whispers.

Jamie rolls his hips, and oh.

He starts thrusting slowly, holding Tyler’s gaze, each slide of his cock a delicious torture. Tyler wants it faster, but he also doesn’t want to give up a second of this excruciating feeling. His body is a fire that Jamie knows how to stoke, and he’s been fucked so many times before but this feels totally different. New. He rolls his hips up to meet Jamie’s thrusts, slides his hands over Jamie’s sweat-slick torso, gets absolutely lost in the rhythm of it.

Jamie’s cock is so thick inside of him. Tyler clenches around it as it slides in, makes Jamie’s head drop and his breath gasp out and his powerful hips snap forward. “Fuck, you’re gonna make me,” Jamie says, and he snags Tyler’s hands in his own and pushes them above his head and laces their fingers together, bracing himself on their joined hands as his slow strokes turn to quicker pounding ones that leave Tyler flayed open and raw.

Tyler tosses his head, mouth working, and Jamie dips down and kisses him every few seconds. Half the time it’s not even a kiss, just a shared breath, mouths straining at each other. Tyler’s cock is leaking against his stomach, but he doesn’t worry about touching it. Not when Jamie’s grinding against his prostate—not when Jamie’s there, getting him drunk with his presence and mouth and the look in his eyes when they dart to meet Tyler’s.

“I—never thought—this would happen,” Jamie says as his cock lights Tyler up again and again. Tyler mewls and digs his heels into Jamie’s back and urges him faster. He’s close, so close, soaring high on the way Jamie’s muscles flex and his breath punches out and his sweat drips onto Tyler’s chest. The way Jamie’s body is inside his own. He clenches down and rolls his hips up and feels the pressure building in the base of his cock—

“Jamie,” he wails, and Jamie’s hips start stuttering irregularly.

“Oh, fuck,” he says. “Oh, fuck, Tyler, I think I’m gonna—is it okay if—”

Tyler doesn’t know what he’s asking, but he doesn’t care anymore. Jamie can have everything. Jamie can have his body and use it and throw it away if he wants; Tyler is his; doesn’t Jamie know that? “Yeah, anything, everything,” he pants over the slick sound of Jamie pounding into him, and Jamie actually growls.

The next time he thrusts in it feels like there’s a little more resistance, like something’s happening to Tyler’s hole. The next time there’s even more, and then Jamie isn’t even pulling out anymore, he’s just grinding in and in and—

“Oh fuck,” Tyler says, because all of sudden he’s way fuller than he ever was before. It’s like there’s something swelling at the base of Jamie’s dick. Jamie’s head is tipped back in ecstasy, and his cock is filling Tyler like nothing has before—like the fist of the guy in Switzerland, except more—and Tyler has this gorgeous rolling feeling of rightness, like his body is complete for the first time ever, like his body is this way larger thing he didn’t know about that encompasses his and Jamie’s both, and then Jamie nudges against his prostate and it all goes blinding white.

Tyler comes for what feels like a solid minute. He convulses around Jamie’s enormous cock. When he comes back down enough to open his eyes, Jamie’s shaking on top of him: coming inside of Tyler, filling him up even more.

Jamie’s arms go limp after that, and he half-falls on top of Tyler. He manages not to put all his weight on him, but Tyler doesn’t think he’d care even if he did: he feels so good right now. Glowing all over, better than he has after any other time he’s had sex in his life. Jamie’s cock—whatever happened to it—it must be some kind of miracle, because it’s filling up his ass in ways that maybe should hurt but are actually just—a relief. It’s like he’s at ease for the first time in years.

And Jamie’s here, wrapped around him.

Jamie’s hand finds the side of his face. He turns Tyler’s head, just a little, so that he can kiss him: gentle kisses, slow and sweet. “That was amazing,” he breathes, resting his forehead against Tyler’s.

Tyler’s too blissed out to say anything but mm. He reaches out, finds Jamie’s hand, grasps it like that’ll let him hold onto this.

Jamie laces their fingers together. “Are you—are you comfortable?” he asks, voice soft. He rubs his nose against Tyler’s cheekbone. “It’ll probably take at least fifteen minutes to come down. I’m not sure; I’ve never knotted anyone before.”

Knotted. The word floats through Tyler’s brain. He’s heard it before in conjunction with wolves, but he didn’t know what it meant. He’s a fan, though, if it means he’s filled up this well. Especially if it means he gets to have Jamie inside him for another fifteen minutes, before he has to think about what comes after. “Yeah, I’m super good,” is all he says.

Jamie moves them a little anyway—it was probably getting hard for him to hold himself up like that. They end up on their sides, Tyler’s leg slung over Jamie’s hips, Jamie’s face close to his. It might make Tyler feel too exposed, except that Jamie’s cock is still inside him. So full. So good.

Jamie’s still focused on Tyler’s face. He seems fascinated with it: he’s running his fingers over it, tracing the lines very faintly, cheekbones, nose, beard, lips. His fingers are a tingly feather-touch and Tyler loves it. He wants Jamie to do it forever—to look at him forever like he’s looking at him now—and it’s just starting to break through his sex-haze, the idea that he won’t. That this thing he wants, with every fiber of his being, is about to end.

He doesn’t know how he’ll handle it when Jamie pulls out.

He gets about twenty minutes before Jamie’s cock starts to go down. Tyler can feel it happening, even though he tries to clench down and pretend that nothing’s changing. It sends him into a panic, heart rate jumping again, fresh sweat bursting out where his skin was finally dry.

Jamie notices, of course. “Sh, sh,” he says, stroking a hand up Tyler’s back as his cock slips out. He reaches down and does something quick with the condom, and then—oh, he’s not pushing Tyler away. He’s gathering him in, pulling him close to his chest with arms and legs around him.

“I’m just—I can’t even believe how good that was,” Jamie whispers into the hair above Tyler’s ear.

Tyler presses his face into Jamie’s chest and squeezes his eyelids together. He loves hearing that and hates that he loves it, because it’s not gonna be enough. He’s so glad Jamie’s arms are around him right now, even though he knows that’s pathetic. He thinks he might be falling apart if he were alone.

He’s going to be alone tomorrow, when this is over. He’s going to have to see Jamie on the ice and pretend this didn’t break him.

“I can’t believe it was you,” Jamie says, and that’s even worse. That Jamie’s still boggled by—by Tyler in a sexual context. Like it was just chance that he did this with Tyler, when it’s what Tyler’s been dreaming about for months.

“I, you know, I always knew I’d do this with someone someday, figured it would be good,” Jamie says. “But to have it be you.

The wonder in Jamie’s voice is slicing through Tyler’s skin. He wishes…he almost wishes Jamie would stop. That Jamie would hold him a little less tenderly. It’s going to make it even harder to let go.

“It was even better than I ever thought,” Jamie whispers into his hair, and the words make Tyler’s stomach go hot.

He wonders if maybe Jamie would be willing to do it again. Just to bide the time until he finds his real person. It would be a mistake—Tyler knows it—but he doesn’t think he’d be able to say no. Not if it meant Jamie’s mouth against his own and Jamie’s hands on his skin. Until—until Jamie found the wolf he was going to marry. Until he did this for real.

“I’m just so glad that you didn’t want to hold off on mating,” Jamie murmurs, drawing Tyler closer, and Tyler goes stiff in his arms.

Jamie notices. Of course he notices. “Tyler?” He pulls back far enough that Tyler can see his face. “You okay?”

“I just—” Tyler blinks against the fuzziness inside his head. Maybe he misheard. He must have misheard. “Mating?”

“Well, yeah, I mean, I know knotting doesn’t always lead to bonding, but.” Jamie ducks his head a little, smiles shyly. “Well, it’s you, so.”

Tyler almost doesn’t notice the way Jamie’s fingers come to rest against his cheek. His brain hurts from how hard he’s trying to get this to make sense. “I don’t.” He cuts off, tries again. “I thought…mating was a wolf thing.”

“Well, yeah,” Jamie says, like it’s obvious. “I guess there are exceptions, like Kaner and Tazer, so, um, not always? But mostly, yeah.”

Tyler shakes his head a little. “But you. You wanted to mate with a wolf.”

“Yeah.” Jamie’s smile is slow, stretching his cheeks until Tyler has to look away because it’s too good.

His heart is beating hard with confusion. “Did you just, um. Change your mind?” he asks, and he’s fighting against the wild hope, because maybe he misunderstood, maybe he’s been reading this all wrong, but if he isn’t, then—

“Of course not,” Jamie says, really emphatically.

The words make Tyler’s stomach flip over. “Oh. Okay.” He starts trying to pull away, but Jamie stops him.

“No, I mean,” Jamie says. “I wanted to mate with you.”

“But—” Tyler thinks he’s going to cry if this doesn’t start making sense soon. “Right, so—”

“Tyler.” Jamie has a vaguely perplexed expression on his face. He frames Tyler’s face in his hands. “I meant it. I wanted to mate with a wolf. I wanted to mate with you.”

Tyler laughs. Just a short, barked thing, because as soon as he starts, he realizes—Jamie is serious. Jamie actually thinks—

He pushes himself out of Jamie’s arms, scrambles backward a few inches on the bed. “Jamie,” he says. “Jamie. You know I’m not, right?”

“What do you mean?” Jamie asks.

Panic is thundering in Tyler’s chest. “Not a wolf,” he says, and it’s hard to breathe.

Jamie’s face goes through a weird series of expressions. “What are you talking about?”

Oh fuck. Oh fuck. Jamie thought— “No,” Tyler says. “I’m so sorry, Jamie, really. But I’m not. I’m really, really not.”

Jamie’s face settles somewhere between puzzled and smiling. “Tyler,” he says, sitting up. He puts a hand on Tyler’s shoulder, and Tyler flinches away. “Are you—are you joking? Or—”

“Fuck, I’m so sorry.” Tyler can’t quite look at him. “I didn’t mean to, like, lead you on, or whatever. I—”

“Hey. Look at me.” Jamie’s voice is gentle. Tyler makes himself meet his gaze, and Jamie’s looking back kindly—like he doesn’t get it yet. He reaches out a hand like he’s going to touch Tyler again but drops it to the bed. “I’m not really sure what’s going on,” he says. “But, um, you’re definitely a wolf.”

“I’m not, though,” Tyler says faintly.

“Have you never shifted?” Jamie asks. “Never turned into a wolf?”

Tyler shakes his head. Of course he hasn’t. Normal people don’t just do that, if they’re not wolves. And Tyler isn’t a wolf. He couldn’t be. He…

“I don’t know…how you wouldn’t know,” Jamie says, voice still gentle. “But, look, I can promise you that I’m not wrong about this. It’s—the smell alone, there’s no way to doubt it. I could bring Jordie down here, and he’d say the same thing. You are a wolf. You’re an omega wolf.”

Tyler’s head is buzzing. He doesn’t—Jamie can’t be lying to him. Jamie wouldn’t do that. But it must be a lie, because otherwise—

“Oh fuck,” he whispers, and gets up and stumbles out of the room.

Chapter Text

Tyler keeps one hand on the wall to keep himself from falling over as he goes down the hallway. He doesn’t know where he’s going, just that he needs to be…away. He starts to go into the living room—but no, he’s naked and covered in come; he can’t sit on the couch. So he ends up in the kitchen, hands braced on the counter, staring vacantly at the toaster oven.

Jamie thinks he’s a wolf. And Jamie should know. But Tyler’s twenty-two years old, and he would know, too, and…

The guy in the club tonight. Matt. Was that why he was hitting on Tyler? He thought Tyler was an omega. And Allison, in the park yesterday, talking about representation. Maybe she meant Tyler, too. Have other people thought that over the years? Did they—did they think it in Boston?

He feels like he’s concussed. Like nothing in the world is adding up right.

If he’s…if he’s really a wolf. If that’s even possible. He should be able to shift, right?

He feels the damp coldness of a memory. He hasn’t thought of it in years, but it comes back to him: the woods at night, dark, chilled. Not being able to find his mom. Stumbling along and hurting his feet on pine needles. Falling down and curling up in some wet leaves, so scared he can barely think, and then…falling asleep, maybe, or going into shock, because his skin isn’t skin anymore and there’s something soft like animal fur between him and the leaves and the world smells strong and strange.

But that—that was a dream, wasn’t it?

He has clearer memories of the next morning: waking up to voices calling his name and his mom pulling him into her arms. Everyone making a fuss because he doesn’t have clothes on, and him feeling bad about it but not being able to explain. Just having a vague impression of lying down in the leaves, the world going fuzze around him.

Because he turned into a wolf.

Tyler’s breathing too hard. He feels like that little kid again, half-paralyzed with terror. It was a dream. It must have been a dream. If it wasn’t a dream, he would have changed again.

If it wasn’t a dream, he’d be able to change now.

Tyler takes one hand off the counter and stands up straight, dizzy. He’ll—he’ll try it right now. And if he can’t, well…maybe that won’t prove anything for sure. But it’s something he can tell to Jamie, tell him how it doesn’t make sense.

He doesn’t really know how to go about it. If he were a wolf, he’d already know, wouldn’t he? But—but he has to try. He has to know.

He closes his eyes and thinks about being a wolf.

Right away it feels totally dumb. He’s just, like, standing in his kitchen, imagining what it would be like to have fur. And paws. And, like, four legs, he guesses? Yeah, wolves have those weird back legs that bend in the opposite direction. And a snout, with, like, huge teeth. The teeth would probably be cool. And big pointed ears, and a tail, a waggy one like Marshall’s—

And then the ground is rushing towards him, and his body is prickling all over, a weird grinding sensation in his bones. He feels like he’s falling, and it’s terrifying to be this out of control. He wants to cry out, but something weird is happening to his throat and he can’t say anything. His eyes, too: a bunch of colors are gone, and he’s standing on four legs, and this isn’t a dream and what the fuck.

There are suddenly a million smells flooding him. He can tell that humans have been here: mostly just himself, which is super weird to recognize, but also a dog, and there are food smells everywhere. And then there are the smells from the outdoors, and some weird chemical things, and he doesn’t know how to process any of it and he’s a fucking wolf and—

“Tyler?” Jamie’s voice comes from the hallway, and Tyler spins around just in time to see his eyes go wide. He yips in distress—panic—and Jamie rushes over and he’s burying his hands in Tyler’s fur and smelling fucking amazing and Tyler doesn’t know how he does it, but he’s human again, shaking in Jamie’s arms.

“I didn’t know,” Tyler says. His voice is wobbling all over the place. “Jamie, I didn’t know, I never—I never knew, I…”

“I’m so sorry,” Jamie says. “Fuck, Tyler, I didn’t realize.” He’s sitting down now, pulling Tyler into his lap. He’s wearing pants again, and Tyler doesn’t like that, but it makes it less complicated to press against him. Tyler sags against Jamie’s chest and turns his face into Jamie’s neck. Just like he did when he was a wolf. A wolf. A fucking wolf.

“I’m so sorry,” Jamie says again. “I had no idea. You must be so mad at me.”

“No. What?” Tyler lifts his head so he can see Jamie’s face. “Why—why would I be mad at you?” His heart pounds in fear that he should be, maybe, that Jamie did something he’d be mad about.

“I knotted you.” Jamie’s voice sounds strangled. “I knotted you, and you didn’t know what it meant.”

“I…wanted you to. It was, um.” Tyler’s cheeks go hot at the memory of how it felt: Jamie’s knot swelling inside his ass. “It was really good.”

“No, but.” The furrow between Jamie’s brows is really deep. “You don’t get it. Knotting, it’s—it doesn’t always lead to a bond, but if there’s already groundwork…” He bites his lip. “We might not be able to undo it. I’m so sorry,” he says in a rush.

Tyler feels his shoulders drawing together, even though Jamie’s arms are still around him. “Do, um.” He worries at his bottom lip. “Do you want to undo it?”

“No!” Jamie says quickly. “I just thought, I mean, you didn’t know you were agreeing to it, and if you didn’t want…”

“I do,” Tyler says. This is one of the few things all night he’s been sure of. “Fuck, Jamie, I really, really do.”

All the tension goes out of Jamie’s face. “Oh, thank God.” He leans forward and presses their foreheads together.

“I thought you were gonna bond with someone else,” Tyler whispers. “You kept saying, a wolf.”

“Oh my God.” Jamie breathes out a long stream of air, ends in a little puff of laughter. “And you kept—I would say it, and you would just turn away. I thought you didn’t…”

“I did.” It feels so good to be saying this inside the circle of Jamie’s arms. “It was all I wanted, Jamie, fuck.”

Jamie slides their cheeks together and buries his face in Tyler’s neck. Tyler tucks his head into Jamie’s shoulder, nuzzles in as close as he can. Feels the relief of doing so, like he can finally let go of a weight he’s been carrying for months. Years, maybe.

“You know I would have wanted you anyway,” Jamie mumbles into his neck. “Even if you weren’t a wolf.”

Tyler startles a little. “But—you said…”

“I was trying to tell you I wanted to date you,” Jamie says, and Tyler—Tyler wants to laugh, or cry, or he doesn’t even know what. He can’t believe he missed that for so long.

“I wanted you from the first minute I saw you,” Jamie says softly, and the words send a tingle down Tyler’s spine. “That all-star game in 2012.”

“Really?” Tyler says.

“Yeah. It was dumb, because I didn’t really know you,” Jamie says. “But I saw you, and you said hi and smiled at me, and I thought, yes.

Tyler shivers again at that, partly at the words, partly at the way Jamie’s breath is brushing his neck as he talks. “I. Wow.”

“I’d dated, I guess, some before that,” Jamie goes on. He shifts, rubs his cheek against Tyler’s hair. “And when I got back from the game, Jordie wanted me to keep doing it, but it kind of felt like—like I was going through the motions, I guess. Like I was just biding my time until I ended up with you.” He presses his nose against Tyler’s neck. “I guess that sounds pretty dumb,” he says, muffled.

“No,” Tyler says. “The, uh, the guys I picked up all had a lot in common with each other, after that weekend.”

It’s crazy how he can feel Jamie’s smile growing against his neck, and even crazier the way it makes his nerves skitter. “Yeah?”

“Mm-hm.” Tyler lifts his head, and Jamie looks at him, eyes dark, and their mouths fit together perfectly.

“You know,” Jamie says a couple of minutes later, when they’re both breathing hard, “they say our chances of bonding double if we knot twice in the same night.”

“Do they really?” Tyler presses his cock against Jamie’s leg, and Jamie growls and lifts him off the ground.

***

It all feels different this time. Jamie slides into Tyler, and Tyler can feel how much Jamie wants him. How this means forever to him. His knot swells inside Tyler, and Tyler feels owned.

“You really never had any idea?” Jamie asks after, when they’re lying in Tyler’s bed, chests heaving and sweat cooling on their skin.

“I guess…I guess I don’t know how I would have known.” Tyler’s splayed across Jamie’s chest, Jamie’s arms tight around him and Jamie’s cock snug in his ass. “No one ever, like, mentioned it to me.”

“Not even your parents?”

Tyler shakes his head. “I don’t think my mom knows anything about wolves. And my dad left when I was really little, so.”

Jamie gets his hand in Tyler’s hair, cups the back of his skull. “He shouldn’t have left you to deal with this alone.”

Tyler kind of wants to speak up, defend his dad—maybe he wasn’t even a wolf—but his dad doesn’t really deserve it, and anyway Jamie’s pulling a little at the hair on the back of his head, and it feels so good. Makes him drop his head down and close his eyes.

“The thing I really don’t get is, like.” The fingers of Jamie’s other hand skim down to trace the edge of his hole, making Tyler shiver. “You get so wet. None of your sex partners ever said anything to you?”

Tyler’s mouth falls open. That…never occurred to him. “I just always thought gay guys were weird for wanting to use lube,” he mumbles, and Jamie laughs.

“You thought—oh my God, Tyler,” he says, and his giggles are ridiculous and adorable and that is just not fair. “That’s, like, the most omega thing in the world.”

“Shut up,” Tyler says, hitting him on the shoulder, but his mouth is curling up a little. “How did you know about yourself, anyway?”

“Well, my parents are wolves, and they would have told me,” Jamie says. “But also I first shifted when I was six months old.”

“Oh fuck,” Tyler says.

“It varies a lot,” Jamie says. “Some wolves don’t do it until they’re way older. But I’ve never heard of anyone just not doing it.”

“I think I…did, maybe,” Tyler says. “Once when I was really little. I was, like, lost in the woods, and I thought I was making it up, and…it was kind of scary. That night.”

Jamie presses a kiss to his forehead. “I wish you hadn’t had to feel like that,” he says, and Tyler tilts his face up and so that Jamie can kiss him long and hard.

It’s a couple of minutes before Tyler pulls back for air. “Shit,” he says. “That’s why you were so freaked out about the smell thing.”

“Oh. Yeah,” Jamie says, when he stops looking dazed from the kiss. He slides his thumb down Tyler’s cheek along the edge of his nose. “I’ve never heard of a wolf whose sense of smell was injured before. That’s usually, like, how we recognize each other.”

“I guess you’ll just have to help me out there,” Tyler says.

“Not just me.” Jamie’s eyes light with quiet happiness. “Our whole pack.”

“Yeah?” Tyler grins. “Really? You’re gonna have an official pack?”

Jamie nods. “I think it’s time.” And then there’s nothing Tyler wants to do more than kiss him, so he does, a lot and for a long time. He’s pretty much planning on never stopping.

***

“I’m sorry,” Jordie says the next day. ”Explain this to me again. You didn’t know you were a wolf?”

Tyler glares at him. It’s hard to glare too severely, though, because he’s curled up on Jamie’s lap on the couch and it’s way too comfortable. “You heard us.”

“Yeah, but I’m still missing the part where it actually makes sense.” Jordie’s grinning really widely. “You actually thought you were a human?

“I mean, it sounds dumb now,” Tyler mumbles. Jamie leans in and bites him reassuringly on the neck, right over one of the bruises from last night.

“Ew.” Jordie turns away, holds up his hands to block his view. “I don’t need to see that kind of thing.”

“But he tastes so good,” Jamie murmurs, and Tyler giggles.

“Can we go back to the thing where Tyler thought he was a human?” Jordie asks. “Because I’m still not over that. Oh, and the thing where he didn’t notice that you were insanely in love with him, somehow, even though everyone in a ten-mile radius could pick up on it.”

Jamie makes a noise against the side of his head. “It’s okay,” Tyler says softly to him. “I know now.” He turns his head to give Jamie a kiss, and then when Jamie doesn’t let him pull away, a few more kisses. Maybe a few more than are really appropriate in the living room, but whatever.

“Um, we do have other chairs,” Jordie says loudly. “Other couch space, even. No need to double up for my sake.”

“Definitely not for your sake,” Jamie says against Tyler’s lips.

“Uh-uh,” Tyler says, and mm, inside Tyler’s mouth is definitely where Jamie’s tongue belongs.

“Babies!” Jordie says, loudly enough that they break apart in surprise and turn to stare at him. Jordie grins. “Yeah, that’s right. Haven’t had that talk yet, have you? Thought that might ruin the mood.”

Tyler turns back to Jamie. “So I really, really like kids.”

“Me, too,” Jamie says. “Let’s have a bunch, okay?”

“Sounds good me.” Tyler leans in and brushes his lips against Jamie’s neck. “You wanna start now?”

“Mm, okay,” Jamie says, and their lips find each other again.

“That’s it, I’m going for a walk,” Jordie says, and Tyler can feel Jamie’s lips stretch into a grin against his mouth before Tyler slips his tongue in between them again.

Tyler’s phone buzzes before they can get too far into it. It’s a message from Kaner: u thought what?????

“Oh, yeah,” Jamie murmurs. “There’s a group chat I should probably introduce you to.”

***

They beat the Canucks 6-1 that night. Tyler gets a hat trick.

Jamie’s arms go around him on the ice, and Tyler’s never been so happy. There are all kinds of things he needs to figure out—like what the deal is with shifting, and does any of the rest of his family know about this, and what does being bonded mean, anyway?—but there are some things he’s absolutely sure of.

He leans up and kisses Jamie, right at center ice.