Jonathan passes, and Sasha shoots.
Jonathan passes, and Sasha scores the goal.
Sasha passes, and Jonathan passes back, shouting at him and pointing to the net. Shoot it, shoot it! What are you doing?
Sasha hides a smile and lets the puck swing wide. He knows they’re going to tease him, all of the guys, the press, everyone. That’s okay.
“Someday they’re gonna make you do real interviews, Barky.” Yandle shakes his head and throws some tape Sasha’s way. “Ones where you talk about your feelings and your childhood and cry a little. On camera! It’s gonna happen.”
Sasha throws the tape back and laughs. “No way.” That’s not him. It’s not Finnish, in general, but it’s really not him. Even if he felt more solid in his English, he wouldn’t want to do that.
He prefers to do rather than talk. He’ll keep doing things until people notice, just like he always has. Keep working hard until the team notices. Keep scoring goals until the league notices. That sort of thing.
He looks down the row of lockers to where Jonathan is looking at Scev’s phone and laughing. Jonathan catches him from the corner of his eye and turns his smile toward him. “Barky, hey, you’ve got to look at this.”
Sasha obediently goes to join them, knowing that the joke must not be entirely reliant on English if Jonathan wants him to join in on it. Jonathan lives in the space between English and another language, too, even if his space overlaps much more than Sasha’s does.
It turns out that it’s not a wordplay joke at all, but a video of a goat wearing a sweater, which is the kind of thing that’s always very good. Sasha laughs, too, and lets himself lean against Jonathan’s shoulder for a moment before he goes back to his own place on the bench.
He can keep waiting until Jonathan notices. He’s very patient. It’s fine.
Morning skate before a game, and Sasha’s taking long, slow laps around the rink, testing the tense and give of each muscle. He feels good, strong. Nothing is sore today, not even his back, though he’ll ice it anyway just to be safe. Really he feels too good for late-season. It’s funny.
Ek skates past and barks at him, breaking off into giggles. Sasha sighs and shakes his head, picking up a bit of speed and swinging his stick at Ek’s heels. The chase goes on for a lazy double circuit of the ice before Jonathan skates over to fall in at Sasha’s side and he lets Ek pull away.
“If you have shots lined up tonight, take them,” Jonathan says, bumping Sasha with his hip. “No passing them off. Boogey’s gonna kill you if you keep doing that, you know?”
It’s true, Coach has been saying all year that Sasha needs to shoot, not pass. Sasha sits patiently through the lectures; he even listens. He knows it’s important to take the shots. But he has his own judgement, and he knows how to play hockey. Sometimes it just feels more right to pass. He likes giving Jonathan and Evgenii their chances. He liked setting up Jags, before. He doesn’t need all the goals for himself.
“Behave,” Jonathan says, mock-sternly. He bumps Sasha again, then reaches over and cups his glove over the top of Sasha’s head and ruffles his hair. “You’re our superstar, you’ve gotta show off.”
“I’m not a superstar.” Sasha will correct him every time. Not all of the rest of them, not every time, that would be exhausting, but—it’s important to correct Jonathan. Not let him get wrong ideas like everyone else.
Jonathan laughs and skates away, just before Boogey blows the whistle to bring them in together at center ice. Sasha goes, because he loves this part, he loves practice—it’s hockey, he loves hockey—but part of him wishes they could have kept skating for a while, him and Jonathan, and maybe he would have thought of something else, something better, to say.
They lose in Tampa. It was a good game, a strong game, and they didn’t give up; the mood on the flight home is subdued but not crushed. Sasha knows how things feel when the team is really defeated, when they don’t know why they’re still trying, when they don’t even want to do this anymore. It’s not like that tonight. There’s still a good chance for the playoffs, and they all know they didn’t give up and fold. They feel strong.
But they’re also tired. Sasha stretches his legs out and blinks up at the ceiling. The little fan is blowing air directly at his eyes, which isn’t pleasant, but he can’t quite muster the energy to reach up and redirect it or turn it down. He closes his eyes instead, letting the air press against his eyelids. Still unpleasant but not quite so much.
He knows that Jonathan is to his left, headphones on. He knows that Jonathan is not quite asleep, because every so often he hums along with the music. Sasha’s fingers twitch back and forth against the armrest as he thinks about reaching over, letting his fingers brush against Jonathan’s wrist and the back of his hand. Find Jonathan’s own fingers and weave them together in a gentle hold.
Nobody would notice in the dark of the plane. Maybe Jonathan wouldn’t even notice, not in his conscious mind. Maybe he would just enjoy the gentle touch, and just let things be quiet.
Sasha curls his fingers into his palm to keep himself from reaching out, then pushes himself up out of his seat and reaches for the air vent. He twists it off sharply and flops back down, burying his face in his hands for a moment.
“Go to sleep, Barky,” he hears from the row behind him, and he reaches back to swat vaguely in the air until Bjugy’s hand meets his in a gentle fist-bump. “Don’t be grumpy.”
“Not grumpy.” He feels stupid. But no reason to tell Bjugy that, either. “Just tired.”
“No late-night skating when we get back, eh? Go home and sleep.”
“I know.” Usually he doesn’t mind when they tease him about his extra workouts, but tonight he just can’t find the warm place where he keeps his affection for them. He’s tired and stupid and he can’t even make himself take little steps, do little things. He can’t even move his hand a little bit to the left, toward Jonathan.
Bjugy falls silent and sits back, and Sasha closes his eyes again, counting to one hundred and back, trying to center himself. Next to him, Jonathan hums softly again, and taps his fingers on the armrest between them. Sasha listens, then startles, as suddenly the tapping is coming against his own wrist instead.
He opens his eyes, meeting Jonathan mid-smile. Jonathan stops tapping and lets his fingers rest on Sasha’s wrist for a moment, with a gentle lift of his eyebrows, a silent you okay?
Sasha nods, feeling himself blushing, hoping it’s hidden in the dark.
“How do you feel about the line changes?” a reporter asks him, in some locker room, somewhere in the rush toward the end of the season and maybe playoffs beyond. “You and Huberdeau were great on the same line, but the coaches have moved him down to the second. What do you think about that?”
Sasha hates these questions. He hates all the questions, really, all the interviews. They can never say what they really think; there are right answers to everything and they have to say them. But even if they didn’t, he only has one answer to anything anyway: I just want to play. Nothing matters as long as I’m playing, and working hard, and getting better.
Instead he shrugs and says “I play with anyone, any line, whatever the coaches want. All that matters is playing hard and doing what’s best for the team.”
They don’t look satisfied—they’re never satisfied—but they thank him and move on to talking to Yandle or Reimer or the others. Sasha looks down the bench and catches Jonathan’s eye.
Jonathan smiles at him and shakes his head a little. “It’s crazy, isn’t it?” he says, like he knows just what Sasha was thinking, like he knows how silly it all is, like the things that matter to Sasha are what matter to him, too.
Ek throws a party after the matinee game against Philadelphia. His girlfriend has classes the next day, so it can’t run late or get too wild, but that’s fine. They can grill things and drink and talk about how they’re definitely going to make the playoffs, absolutely. Maybe.
Sasha takes a cocktail with cucumber and gin and sits down with his feet in the pool. Troch and Bjugy are playing bocce ball on the lawn nearby, not very well. He sips his drink and watches them for a while, wondering if he should go over and help them, but—no. Let them have their fun, even if it’s wrong.
He flexes his toes under the water and turns his attention to Ek and Yands at the grill. They’re bickering about something to do with the steaks, Yands saying that his wife told him to one thing and Ek insisting that his way is better. Sasha watches and listens and finishes his drink by the time they agree to do half the steaks one way and half the other.
“What are you laughing at?” Jonathan sits down next to him, sliding his feet into the water. “It’s a party, Barky, you’re not supposed to sit all by yourself.”
“I’m not all by myself.” Sasha moves his empty glass to his other side, so it’s not between him and Jonathan. “You’re sitting with me.”
Jonathan laughs and rolls his eyes. “But I wasn’t before!”
“It’s fine now.” Sasha ducks his chin and smiles as Jonathan laughs more and finishes his own drink.
“You’re crazy, man,” he says, throwing his arm around Sasha’s shoulders. Sasha wants to lean into that, to cuddle into the curve of Jonathan’s body. He would, if they were on the ice, it’s fine there, with their pads on and sticks in hand it means something different. It’s neutral. Here, though. They’re uncovered and unarmed, and it’s too warm.
Ek appears with another pitcher of cocktails, squatting down to refill their glasses. “You guys are gonna come eat, right?”
“Yeah, of course.” Jonathan takes his arm away from Sasha to mess with Ek’s hair, which makes him squirm and make pained noises, and Sasha moves down the edge of the pool away from them. The moment’s lost, which is probably good, even though he feels it like a pain in his stomach.
“There’s hors d'oeuvres inside, and stuff,” Ek says when he frees himself, holding the pitcher in one hand while he tries to smooth his hair with the other. “Dayna made most of them while I was getting the steaks and ice and stuff, so please eat them, I don’t want her feelings to be hurt.”
Jonathan laughs again and gets to his feet. “She’s really in charge here, isn’t she?” He offers Sasha his hand, and for a minute that same sharp, anxious part of Sasha’s mind that is aware of how warm and uncovered it is wants to refuse it and stand on his own. But the rest of him, the part that reached for Jonathan on the plane, the part that blushes in the dark, the parts that want things, can’t resist taking that hand and letting it pull him up.
Ek is talking, lecturing Jonathan about how his relationship is healthy and normal, but Sasha doesn’t think Jonathan is listening. Their hands are lingering together, palm to palm, fingers tangled and calluses pressed up against each other. Sasha can feel his own pulse throbbing in his fingertips, and it’s easy to think that maybe he can feel Jonathan’s, too, maybe they even match, hearts beating in a rhythm like they understand each other.
“All right, all right,” Jonathan says. “We’ll go eat your damn snacks, calm down.”
Sasha drops his hand right away, curling his fingers into the hem of his t-shirt, but Jonathan isn’t looking at him. He’s shaking his head at Ek, who flips him off and heads back to the grill, and Sasha wonders if he missed something, or misread something, if there was a message he missed in that moment he was distracted by Jonathan’s hands.
The hors d’oeuvres are set up on the counter in the kitchen, along with extra pitchers of lemonade and cocktails. Jonathan takes one from each plate and balances them on his open hand, trying a bite from each in turn. “Ah, these are good. Here, Barky, try these ones first.”
Sasha starts to reach for the plate, but instead Jonathan turns his hand toward him, offering the one he’s already taken a bite from. Maybe that’s odd, but it feels nice, right now—Jonathan is smiling at him, offering it—and so Sasha takes it carefully, his fingers lingering against Jonathan’s palm again. It’s a little pastry shell with spinach dip, nothing fancy, but Jonathan is right, it’s very good.
Jonathan watches him chew and swallow, and Sasha smiles at him with his mouth full, nodding to signal that he likes it. His stomach jumps a bit when Jonathan sets his other half-eaten snacks down and reaches for another one of the spinach dip shells, this time bringing it right to Sasha’s mouth, his fingertips bumping Sasha’s lips and chin.
“Gotta eat up,” he says, his voice slightly rough all of a sudden. “Growing boy and all that, eh, Barky?”
“Not any taller,” Sasha mumbles, before he accepts the pastry into his mouth. He feels a bit of the dip brush off on his lip, but before he can try to lick it clean Jonathan is carefully wiping it away with his thumb, a warm and solid press of skin on skin.
“You’re a good height the way you are.” Jonathan is blushing as he pulls his hand away, and Sasha doesn’t let himself think, just reaches out to catch it.
“Thank you,” he says, meeting Jonathan’s eyes, trying to put something in his face that he can’t say in words. If anyone can understand what he means without him having to say it, it’s Jonathan. They find each other on the ice, after all. They know each other’s movements.
And either Jonathan does understand, or he’s thinking the same thing, because he draws Sasha in closer and kisses him.
It’s a good kiss—slow and careful, lingering. When Jonathan pulls away, Sasha blinks at him slowly, pressing his tongue to his lips so Jonathan’s taste can’t escape.
“Was that all right?” Jonathan asks, the edge of worry in his voice reminding Sasha that he ought to say something.
“Yes.” He nods and touches his fingertips to his lips, too, wishing that Jonathan was already kissing him again. “Yes, it was nice.”
“Oh, good.” The breath goes out of Jonathan in a rush, and he blushes pink, laughing a little. “I was worried, you were so quiet.”
“It was a good quiet.” Sasha hesitates, then steps closer. “Let me do it again?”
It lasts longer this time, or turns into more, something like that. Anyway, they kiss long enough that Sasha’s hands take on a mind of their own and move to Jonathan’s hips, his fingers brushing the strip of skin exposed where his t-shirt rides up. That makes Jonathan sigh against his mouth, a sigh with a soft sound in it, and Sasha’s pulse jumps, racing in his throat and his fingertips.
Sasha jerks back, looking up to see Troch and Matheson standing in the kitchen doorway, staring at them. For a minute Sasha’s vision narrows and his throat tightens up like he’s going to stop breathing. Jonathan’s hand catches at his wrist, holding on and anchoring him in place as Troch starts to grin and then claps his hands.
“Damn! Fucking finally, you guys! It took you long enough!”
Sasha sags forward, letting Jonathan’s hand hold him up. “Fuck you.”
Matheson is grinning, too, shaking his head at them. “Seriously, though, what took you so long?”
“None of your business.” Jonathan squeezes Sasha’s wrist gently, and Sasha glances at him out of the corner of his eye. Jonathan’s face is as red as Sasha’s own feels. They’re in this together, at least. “Go away.”
That earns a scoff from Troch. “We don’t have to go away! We’re getting snacks. You go away.”
“Go back to your place and make out like normal people, instead of lurking in Ek’s house like weirdos.” Matheson turns back to the hors d’oeuvres. “We’ll tell him you said goodbye.”
Oh god. “Don’t tell anyone anything,” Sasha says.
Jonathan’s hand loosens on his wrist, and Sasha shakes his head quickly, turning away from Troch and Matheson for a moment. “No, I didn’t mean like that, I’m not… I’m not ashamed or anything. I just don’t want them to tell everyone for us. We should tell people. If we want to. If this even is anything.”
Jonathan cocks his head, and Sasha can see that the uneasiness and worry hasn’t actually budged from his eyes. “Is it anything? Do you think?”
“Well.” He hadn’t planned on talking about this with Troch and Matheson standing there staring at them and eating pastry cups. But he hadn’t truly planned on talking about this at all, so, might as well be one thing as another. “It could be. I think it could be. Do you?”
Jonathan smiles at him, the tension easing, the worry fading back. “Could be. Yeah.”
“Do you think they’re right and we should go somewhere else?”
“Yes,” Troch says loudly, but Sasha ignores him, keeping his eyes on Jonathan’s.
“They won’t leave us alone if we stay here.” Jonathan nods and looks down at their hands, like he’s just realized he’s still holding on to Sasha’s wrist. “Your place or mine?”
Sasha thinks for a minute, watching Jonathan’s thumb moving over the wristbone. “Mine,” he says finally. “It’s closer.” And he always feels more at ease in his own space; maybe he’ll be less likely to say something dumb or wrong and ruin the moment. He doesn’t want to ruin anything about this.
“All right.” Jonathan finally lets go, reaching into his pocket for his keys. “I’ll meet you there. Do you want to say goodbye here?”
“No.” Sasha doesn’t bother looking into the kitchen, but he knows Troch and Matheson are still watching and eavesdropping, and that they’ll do exactly what they said and tell Ek all about it. There’s no stopping them or making them behave, whatever he and Jonathan might say.
He trusts their team, though. He wishes they wouldn’t be so involved in his personal business, but since they will be, at least he knows that they’ll be kind. If he does ruin this, if he and Jonathan decide they can’t do anything else, well. At least they won’t lose their team.
“I’ll meet you there,” Jonathan says again, softly, and Sasha nods, and follows him out the door.
He doesn’t check his phone again that evening, between one thing and another, but when he does, there are so many texts, some individual and some filling up the group chat. His teammates are kind, but they are also juvenile and stupid.
“Love ya, boys,” Ek wrote, and Bjugy followed up with a row of little hearts. That’s the sweetest part. Sasha shows it to Jonathan, who covers his face and laughs.
“They’re never going to let us live this down, you know.”
Sasha shrugs. “That’s okay.”
Jonathan’s hand closes lazily around his wrist again, thumb rubbing over the tendons on the underside. “You’re not embarrassed?”
“Of course not.” Sasha glances down at him out of the corner of his eye. “Are you?”
“No.” Jonathan shakes his head and pulls Sasha down to the mattress again. Sasha goes willingly, letting the phone fall away from his hand and bounce across the floor. He’ll remember it later; it’s okay for it to be forgotten right now. They don’t have anywhere to be but here, or anything to do but learn each other.
The season ends with not a whimper, but a dull, sucking absence of sound. Without the playoffs.
Sasha lost his edge, toward the end, even before the bad hit that knocked him out of the last two, and he can’t forgive himself for it. He should have worked harder. He shouldn’t have let himself get tired.
The team scatters off in their different directions, but Sasha lingers in Florida. He goes to the beach a few times, to remember what the sun feels like. He goes to the rink alone and skates slowly, to remember how that feels, too, skating without pressure or hunger.
Jonathan lingers, too, and they see each other almost every day. It’s not something they talk about; they just make sure it happens, that they go to each other like that’s where they belong.
They don’t talk about the season behind them, or the season to come. It’s nice just to float in-between.
“I’m flying home in two days,” Jonathan finally says, one night when they’re sitting on Sasha’s couch together, fingers entwined, watching basketball because it’s safe, and distant, and Sasha loves it, anyway.
Sasha knew this was coming. “My flight is the day after, I think.”
“I know we’ll text and snap and things,” Jonathan says, looking down at their hands together on the couch. “And I’ll see you at camp.”
“Before camp, even,” Sasha corrects. “I’ll come back a few days or a week early, you know.”
Jonathan smiles slightly, but his eyes don’t waver. “I’ll see you before camp. But will we…”
Sasha waits patiently for a moment before prompting. “Will we what?”
Jonathan shrugs. “Will we see each other? Like this.”
“Oh!” Sasha laughs and squeezes Jonathan’s hand, coaxing him to look up and meeting his look with a kiss. “Yes, I think so. If you still want to.”
Jonathan’s face is flushed red, warm against Sasha’s mouth and then his skin when he rests their heads together. “I’m pretty sure that I will.”
“I’m pretty sure, too.” He’s more than pretty sure, really; he knows, the same way he knows where Jonathan will be when he drops a pass across the ice. He doesn’t need to say all that out loud. That’s not who he is, and it’s all right just to know.