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David rubs the fabric between his fingers. It’s like butter, soft and supple. The model stands in front of him, a bored look on her face as the designers lifts and tugs the lines of the dress into the right configuration.

This is perfection, right here. Watching an aesthetic come to life before his eyes, seeing the artistic vision, being surrounded by the lush rich fabrics and the elegant art boards. When Eli had pulled the rug out from under his family, he had worked his way into this job, surrounding himself with the clothes he loves, even if he can’t always afford them.

He lifts his head to look at the young designer in front of him. She’s nervous, he realizes. Nervous about what his review could mean for her clothing line.

“They’re amazing.”

With that, she smiles back at him, shyly at first and then more broadly as she guides him around the studio, showcasing her designs, one hand grasping his arm possessively as she walks him through her process from start to finish.

...and in case you’re wondering, Elizabeth Beltrain is already working on her next collection, inspired by Ancient Rome. Look for it on runways next spring.

David does a final read-through of his latest article. The up-and-coming designer’s groundbreaking Stone Age-inspired designs are the talk of the fashion world and there are already rumors that she will dress some of Hollywood’s most prominent actors when awards season arrives.

Satisfied the article is as good as he can make it, he sends it to Ronnie for her final approval. In the two years since he’s worked for the magazine, her feedback has been almost entirely through copy edits and sarcastic comments in the margins of his drafts. So he’s surprised when she emails him back right away. My office. Now.

Making his way through the clusters of offices and cubicles that make up Urban Living magazine, he taps on Ronnie’s door and she waves him inside. Maybe she doesn’t like that he’s focusing on some of the younger, up-and-coming designers in the city. Maybe he should focus on the established fashion world. “I know that Elizabeth Beltrain isn’t a big name, but she will be…”

“It’s not about that.” Ronnie gestures towards the chair in front of her desk. He perches on the edge uneasily. “Ray’s gone.”

Ray covered sports, which was distasteful enough. But he insisted on talking to David every morning about stumping the cricket batsman when all David wanted to do was eat the free donuts in the break room and flee back to his desk. “Gone as in missing or gone as in fired?”

“Gone as in quit.” Ronnie taps her pen on the desk. Tap. Tap. Tap.

“Oh.” David can’t pretend to be sorry. The magazine will reach a higher quality audience if it has less of a focus on baseball sticks and hockey bats. Even though it’s the most popular part of both the print and online editions, getting rid of the sports section will be better in the long run.

“I’m assigning his stories to you.”

“Oh. Oh no. No, no, no.” There has to be some mistake. He doesn’t know anything about sports. And he definitely doesn’t want to watch sports or talk to people who do the sports. He longs to be back in Elizabeth Beltrain’s studio, talking about thread counts and color palettes.

“Oh, yes.” Ronnie smiles at him, he knows she enjoys causing him as much discomfort as possible. “It’s good he quit when he did, we were going to have to cut a position anyway, this way it’s easy.”

“I can’t take Ray’s stories. He writes about sports and...athletes.” David’s face slides sideways in disgust.

“I don’t know what to tell you, David.” Ronnie smirks at him from over the rim of her coffee mug. “If Ray hadn’t quit, it would have been your job we cut. So, you can either suck it up and cover the sports beat and or maybe I can find someone else.” He glares at her, but she’s unmoved. “All of Ray’s notes are on the server and you have an interview at Scotia Bank Arena first thing tomorrow.”

With a huff, he leaves Ronnie’s office and heads down to the hall to see Stevie. He throws himself into the chair in front of her desk and crosses his arms. She looks up from her computer and raises an eyebrow at him. “Is the coffee shop out of cocoa powder again?”

He makes a face at her. “No. Ray quit.”

“Okay, but you think Ray is annoying.” He hates Ray’s enthusiastic personality but he’d give anything to see him come bouncing down the hall.

“Ronnie’s assigned all his stories to me. I have to interview some hockey player tomorrow. At eight o’clock in the morning!” He still can’t believe it. Tomorrow morning, he’ll have to get up at the crack of dawn and go to a sports theatre to talk to some Neanderthal with no teeth about what motivates him to smash people with his stick.

“Ronnie put you on the sports beat?” A delighted smile spreads across Stevie’s face. “Oh, this is gonna be good.”

He scowls at her and heads to his office to pull up Ray’s notes. Ray has been working on a profile of a hockey player named Patrick Brewer. Ugh. The name sounds like every beer-drinking, locker room sports bro he’s ever had the misfortune of meeting. He brings up the only photo Ray has in his files. It’s a headshot of a man with reddish brown hair and a friendly smile. He looks nice. Normal, even. Not like someone who enjoys punching people. With a groan, he scans the rest of the background information and starts making a list of questions.

***

His apartment is just two blocks from the arena, something he’s grateful for as he’s running out the door at 7:55. He flashes his press badge at the security guard and she directs him to take the elevator to the lower level.

When the doors open, a rhythmic sound cuts through the silence of the empty building.

Schwack. Thunk.

Schwack. Thunk.

Schwack. Thunk.

At the end of a short hallway, he emerges into a small box beside the ice. He shivers, the chill from the ice permeating the warm Balenciaga sweater he’d pulled on that morning. On the ice, a man is clubbing pucks into a net. There’s an easy athleticism to his swing and release. David watches, mesmerized as the bat swings backward and the puck leaps forward.

Schwack. Thunk.

All the pucks are in the net now. The man lifts his head to retrieve them when he catches sight of David. He skates over, sliding to a dramatic stop in front of him. Cocky and confident, he confirms David’s worst assumptions. He frowns at David. “Who are you? Where’s Ray?” He’s wearing a blue sweater with a white maple leaf on it. It’s a good color on him, despite what David can clearly see is a low quality polyester-cotton blend.

“Uh. Ray quit. They sent me instead.” There’s an awkward silence. “I’m David Rose. Are you Patrick Brewer?”

The man nods, he leans on his stick like it’s an extension of his body. “Oh. Too bad about Ray. He really understood the game.”

He makes a face. “Well, I guess you’re stuck with me instead.”

Patrick’s eyes narrow, little crinkles showing at the corners as he grins at David. “I guess I am.” He opens a door that leads from the ice into the box where David is standing and strides down the hallway. “C’mon.”

He follows Patrick down the hallway, trying not to focus on how his legs and ass flex from the awkward gait of his skates. At the end of the hall, Patrick tucks his stick into a rack by the door and turns into the team’s dressing room. It’s empty, a blue sweater hangs in each stall, equipment and skates are stowed neatly below. Patrick sits on the bench and unlaces his skates. He nods at David. “Take a seat.”

He sits gingerly on the edge of the wooden bench making sure the sports costume behind him doesn’t touch his sweater. Instead of sweat or feet the room smells like detergent and the overly sweet smell of lemon cleaning solution. Patrick tugs off the first skate and looks at him questioningly. “So?”

Oh. Right. He’s supposed to ask Patrick questions. He starts the recorder app on his phone and sets it beside him. “What, um, what’s your process?”

“My process?” There’s a crease between Patrick’s eyebrows and David wants to rub it away with his thumb.

“You know, to get ready for the hockey. What’s your process?”

Patrick furrows his brow, confusion evident on his face. “Well, before a game, I get to the rink about nine o’clock and we have practice, and then a team meeting and then…”

All the details about Patrick’s schedule and routine had been in Ray’s notes. David wants something more. He leans forward on the uncomfortable wooden bench. “Okay, but what are you thinking about?”

“Uh…” He’s caught Patrick off guard. “It depends.”

“On what?” He pushes, wanting Patrick to answer the question.

Patrick chews on his lower lip. He leans his skates against the bottom of the bench and looks at David carefully. “Well, if my last game wasn’t so great, then I’m anxious, hoping I don’t screw things up again and if it was good, I’m thinking about all the things that went right.” There’s a lengthy pause. David waits. He’s learned not to jump into his interviews too early, sometimes there’s more. After a long moment Patrick continues. “Mostly I’m thinking about the ice. How it feels under my skates. How lucky I am.”

“Why do you feel lucky?” He breathes out the question, not wanting to interrupt Patrick’s thoughts.

Patrick laughs and the warmth in his eyes makes David’s breath catch. “I play a game for a living, what could be luckier than that?”

“But you could get hurt.” Even watching Patrick on the ice just now, he could see the tension between the grace of his movements and the inherent violence of the game.

Patrick shrugs off the question. “I could get hit by a car crossing the street.”

Patrick stands up and before David can say anything, he strips off his sweater and hockey pants, tossing them into a hamper at the side of the room. Underneath, he’s wearing a pair of black, skin tight shorts that cover him from waist to mid-thigh. The spandex leaves nothing to David’s imagination and the seams draw his eyes down to the well-defined bulge of Patrick’s cock. He forces his gaze upwards as Patrick rummages through his locker. The muscles in Patrick’s back ripple as he stretches to take his clothes from his stall behind him.

David scrambles to remember his next question, settling instead for the soft question he uses to draw out first time interviews. “Uh, how did you fall in love with hockey?”

“You don’t usually do sports interviews do you?” Patrick turns to face him. A light dusting of auburn hair across his well-defined chest pulls David’s attention. It would be soft beneath his fingers...he’s let the silence grow for too long. David clears his throat.

“What makes you say that?” It’s not like his Balenciaga sweater doesn’t stand out amongst the polyester hockey outfits.

“Your questions are...different from the ones I usually get.”

“What questions do you usually get?” There had been a list of questions in Ray’s files, but he’d dismissed them as too pedestrian. Maybe that had been a mistake.

“You know…’What’s your game plan?’ and ‘What do you have to do to make the playoffs?’ that kind of thing.” Patrick pulls on a pair of jeans that are just as tight as the shorts he’s wearing and shrugs on a blue sweater. He hangs his skates onto a hook at the top of his stall and pulls on a black wool coat.

“Why would anyone want to know that?” Those questions are boring, he wants to know about the person. If he’s forced to interview hockey players, at least he can make it interesting. But, his reservations about interviewing Patrick are fading under the scrutiny of his warm brown eyes.

Patrick laughs at him. “I’m not sure. I need to eat. Are you up for some breakfast?”

As though it’s heard Patrick’s suggestion, his stomach growls. He coughs, trying to cover it up, but Patrick just grins at him, gesturing David ahead of him as he leaves the room.

He follows Patrick out of the arena and across the street to a diner on the corner. Art deco style neon lighting over the door announces ‘George’s Place’ in four foot high red letters. Inside, tables are crowded together over top of a black and white tile floor. Autographed celebrity photographs, actors, musicians, and sports stars cover every inch of the walls. Patrick nods to the middle-aged waitress as they come inside. Ducking around the line he leads David to a table at the back.

He raises an eyebrow at Patrick as they settle into the booth. “They just hold this booth for you?”

“Not just for me. The team comes here a lot.”

“Coffee, love?” The red-haired waitress sets a couple of menus on the table and fills their cups when Patrick nods. Her fake nails are long and a shade of red that clashes slightly with the color of her hair. “Nice game yesterday, Patrick.”

“Thanks, Maggie.” Patrick gives a bright smile that makes David’s fingers tingle. It has the same effect on Maggie, her severe expression softens as she looks at him.

The softness falls away as Maggie turns her piercing blue eyes to David. “You’re not on the team.”

He tries not to squirm. It reminds him of the first time he’d bailed Alexis out of Saudi Arabia, before he’d learned how to lie to embassies and border guards on her behalf. “No, uh, I’m a journalist.”

“Huh. Well, if you’re going to eat my food, you better say nice things about this one. He’s a particular favorite.”

“I’ll, um, do my best.” He prays Maggie never has an opportunity to find out who he is.

“You better.” She gives him a last look and turns back to Patrick. “The usual?”

“Yes, please.”

“And what’ll you have?” He hasn’t had time to even open the menu but he suspects Maggie doesn’t like excuses.

“Pancakes?” With a final, suspicious look, she takes back the menus and turns to the next table. “Is she going to poison my food?”

“Only if you don’t say nice things about me.” Patrick laughs at him.

He sets his phone on the table, turning on the recorder and going back to the question he’d asked at the arena. “So, how did you fall in love with hockey?”

Patrick takes a sip of his coffee and he stares at a spot over David’s shoulder. “When I was four, my mom taught me to skate.” A slight smile appears on his lips at the memory. “It was like I’d learned to fly.” An image of a tiny Patrick flying across the ice on tiny skates flashes through David’s mind. “And if you want to skate, that means either hockey or figure skating. And spinning makes me dizzy.” Patrick’s smile turns into a broad grin that threatens to take over his face. “What about you, what are the things that make you feel like you could fly?”

He narrows his eyes at Patrick before reaching over to pause the recording. “I don’t think this is supposed to be about me.”

Patrick’s eyes sparkle. “I’ll make you a deal. I’ll answer your questions if you do the same.”

He winces to himself. Revealing parts of who he is to anyone, let alone a stranger, isn’t ideal, but Ronnie won’t be happy if he blows this interview.

“C’mon David, answer the question.” This is ridiculous. This is an interview, he’s the one who gets to ask the questions. But there’s a spark in the back of Patrick’s eyes that he recognizes, a challenge he can’t resist.

What makes him feel like he can fly? Drugs, he thinks. Or sex. But that’s not what Patrick is looking for and it cheapens his answer to respond so flippantly. “I don’t know about flying, but when I was eight my dad got me this art set. A professional one, you know? I could draw whatever I wanted.”

“Do you still draw?” Patrick seems genuinely interested. It’s disconcerting. Most people aren’t interested in the details of his life. Since his family lost the money, people have cared even less.

“Some. Sketches mostly.” Before he can get lost in the memory, Maggie sets two plates in front of them.

“Do you need anything else?” She smiles at Patrick before giving David a less friendly look.

Patrick looks at David and he shakes his head. “I think we’re good, thanks Maggie.”

The pancakes are golden brown, butter melting on the top, starting to run down the sides. A small pitcher of syrup sits on the side of the plate. David reaches over to turn on the recording again. “What are you obsessed with?”

“Ah…” It’s one of the standard questions that he asks fashion designers, but he seems to have caught Patrick off guard. Patrick takes a bite of his hash browns and David can tell that he’s stalling. Finally, he puts down his fork. “I used to be obsessed with stats. They tell you not to, but I went to business school, I can’t help but love numbers.” Patrick takes another bite. Do most hockey players go to business school? It seems unlikely. “It was good for a while, motivated me to beat the records, you know? And then I had a terrible year. And the stats weren’t fun anymore.”

David takes a bite of his pancakes. They might be the best he’s ever had. He lets them melt in his mouth as he waits for Patrick to continue. “And now?”

“Is it a cliche if I say I’m obsessed with getting better every game?”

“A little.” He likes that Patrick takes his questions seriously, that he’s trying to be thoughtful with his answers.

“I used to play for everyone else, to set the best records?” Patrick hums for a second, lost in thought. “Now I play for myself, I think.” Patrick takes another bite of his eggs and smirks at him. “Your turn.”

David huffs at him and flips off the recorder. He should hate that Patrick’s making him do this, but somehow...he doesn’t. “Good food, designer clothing and anything recommended by Oprah.”

“I see.” Patrick laughs at him. “Now I know why you’re on the sports beat.”

“Trust me, it wasn’t my idea.”

“Regrets?” Patrick stares at him as he takes a sip of his coffee.

“No...no regrets.” It’s true. He’s enjoying his conversation with Patrick. He flips the recorder back on. “What do you think people see when they watch you?” The words tumble out before he can think about the fact that Patrick will make him answer the same question.

“You’re not pulling any punches, are you?” He shrugs, he’s not sure what that means, it must be a hockey reference. “People see hockey players for their value to the team. Someone who can score goals, someone who can block shots.” Patrick rolls his shoulders as though he’s trying to brush away the question.

“So how do they see you?” There’s a deceptiveness to the way Patrick looks as though the longer David spends with him, the better he looks. His smile and his laugh animate his otherwise ordinary features.

“They see me as an average Canadian kid who can put the puck in the net.” There’s a note of something like bitterness in Patrick’s voice.

“Is that not how you see yourself?” Pucks and nets aside, Patrick is the definition of an average Canadian kid. David wonders what’s lurking beneath the surface.

“That’s not the deal. Answer the question first.” Whatever was in Patrick’s voice is gone, replaced by his familiar teasing.

David pauses the recording again. “People see someone who’s too much.” His voice is clipped, he doesn’t want to delve into all the things people have told him as they’ve left him and thrown him away.

“Huh. That’s not what I see.” Patrick smirks at him, daring him to ask the question.

He shuts his mouth with a snap, knowing Patrick won’t tell him what he sees. Patrick shoves half of a piece of bacon into his mouth. David can’t help but follow the motion, his eyes lingering on Patrick’s lips. “Do you want some?” He shakes his head and Patrick smirks at him as though he knows what David is thinking.

He wants to ask how Patrick sees himself but he doesn’t want to answer that question, doesn’t even want to let it wander through his mind for fear of what his own answer might look like. He presses the button and asks his next question. “How do you define cool?”

Patrick laughs, fully and genuinely. “You’re asking me that? Are you just fishing for compliments?”

“Do you think I’m cool?” He’s never been popular enough to be cool. Too edgy, too precise, too much to be cool.

“I mean, look at you?” Patrick waves his empty fork at him.

“So is that how you define cool, then? How someone looks?”

“Hmm.” Patrick takes a bite of his eggs. He’s stalling again. “I think it’s about not being afraid to show people who you are.” His eyes challenge David’s. “How do you define cool?”

He hates this. He wishes he’d asked questions about the hockey or Patrick’s childhood or anything that wouldn’t have led him down this path where he’s revealing parts of himself to this person he barely knows. He waves a hand and Patrick’s eyes follow it before returning to his. “Exclusive, effortless. Like these shoes.” Patrick raises an eyebrow at him. “I got these at a boutique in Prague that’s only open on Sunday nights.”

“Huh. That doesn’t sound very effortless.” Patrick is teasing him. He can’t remember the last time someone teased him. Well, except for Stevie. But there’s an undercurrent to this that feels different.

“Well, you also have to not care what other people think.”

Patrick pushes his plate to one side and rests his clasped hands on the table. His hands are deceptively large and David’s gaze gets stuck on the vein in the back of his hand. “All done, love?” They both nod and Maggie scoops up their plates. “Anything else?”

“No, thank you.”

“So, you’re coming to the game tonight?”

Ugh. He’s going to have to go to a game. Ronnie won’t let him file an article about sports that doesn’t have any actual sports in it. He plasters on a smile. “Of course.”

“Good.” Patrick’s voice drops and the moment becomes unexpectedly intimate. His eyes drop back to Patrick’s hands just as Maggie returns with the bill. She sets it in front of David without asking and he hands over his credit card. She hands back his receipt with narrowed eyes. Patrick watches her leave before he turns back to David.

“Anything else? I should get back to the rink.”

He’s reluctant to let Patrick go. “Uh. Maybe I can follow up after the game?”

“Sure, let me give you my cell.” He turns off the recording and hands his phone to Patrick, letting him add his name and number to David’s contacts. Patrick slides out of the booth. “I’ll see you around.”

***

“I can’t believe Ronnie is making me do this.” He should be at his desk, transcribing his interview with Patrick and checking his notes for the game tonight. Instead, he’s back in Stevie’s office, eating Twizzlers and complaining about having to go to the hockey performance.

“Honestly, I can’t believe it either.” Stevie’s voice is dry. “Tell me about this hockey player, was he missing all his teeth?”

He thinks about how Patrick’s smile lit up his face. Patrick had defied his expectations. Funny. Well spoken. Good looking. No noticeable injuries. “No. No, not exactly.”

“Oh my god, you thought he was cute, didn’t you?” Stevie can see through him with her eyes closed.

“Well, he was very snippy. He insisted I had to answer the questions too.” In hindsight, he can’t quite believe he’d let his guard down so easily.

“But you don’t know anything about hockey.” Stevie points her Twizzler at him and props her feet up on her desk.

“I didn’t ask him about hockey, I asked him about other things.” If it wasn’t for the competitiveness and the clothing and the overall sportiness of it all, interviewing athletes might not be all bad.

“What did you tell him?” As usual, Stevie hones in on the part he doesn’t want to talk about.

“It doesn’t matter.” He waves a hand at her. “I’m more concerned that I have to go to a hockey concert tonight.” His voice rises at the thought. “I need you to come with me.”

“Why would I do that?” Stevie pulls the package of Twizzlers out of his reach and tucks them into her drawer.

“Because you value our friendship?” Guilt never works on Stevie, but it’s worth a try.

“Do I, though?”

He tries a different, more likely approach. “Because you’ll be able to watch me suffer.”

“Mmm, closer.”

“And I’ll buy your drinks.”

“Deal.”

***

At the rink, he and Stevie show their press badges and take the elevator to the press box. The suite is filled with reporters and David can hear snippets of ‘need to be better on the power play’ and ‘odd man rush.’ He and Stevie wind their way through the crowd and take their seats at the top of the stands.

On the ice below, the two teams skate in circles at opposite ends of the ice. The blue team is closer to their seats and David tries to pick out Patrick from the other players but they all look the same.

It’s organized chaos. Players are skating in a circle, like a school of fish from a David Attenborough nature program, moving together in a single, swarming mass. Pucks ricochet off the walls of the hockey court, he ducks as one flies towards them, before it gets tangled in the overhead netting.

Slowly, the chaos resolves itself into an organized rhythm. He pulls up the cast list for Patrick’s team on his phone. He picks Patrick’s number 14 him out of the mass of players, watching as he fires the puck into the empty net. He leans into Stevie. “Are there supposed to be so many players on the ice?”

Stevie gives him a disbelieving look. “Oh my god. I can’t believe Ronnie gave you this assignment.”

“Me neither.” He hunches into his seat, the padding is already too thin and the seats in front of him are too close for him to get comfortable.

“This is just the warm-up. The game starts in five minutes.”

A horn sounds, making him jump and the players file off the ice. “Where are they going?”

“Did you not do any research for this story?”

“Of course I did.” He had read all of Ray’s notes about Patrick and looked up the details about the team’s uniforms and logo but he assumed he’d figure out the hockey bits as he needed to. The lights dim and there’s a roar from the crowd as the announcer dramatically welcomes the team.

After a few more preliminaries, the black-and-white striped men drop the puck and the players leap after it. He approves of the referee's costume choices; they remind him of his mom’s Alexander Wang sheath dress, although much less elegant.

The game is impossible to follow. As soon as he tracks Patrick’s movement on the ice, he’s leaving or falling down or hiding behind the other team’s net. A cheer goes up when one of Patrick’s teammates puts the puck in the net with five minutes to go. Good. Patrick’s team will win and then he can go home. The horn sounds, making him jump for the hundredth time since he sat down and the players file off the ice. He gets up, looking expectantly at Stevie. “Let’s go.”

“Go where?” She doesn’t move.

“It’s over. Let’s go.” He waves towards the people who are lining up and trekking down the concrete staircases, presumably eager to leave.

“David, it’s the intermission. There’s two more periods to go.”

“Ugh.” With a groan, he folds himself back into his seat, tipping his head back to stare at the ceiling. “Why is it so long?”

The next two periods don’t offer any additional clarity about the game he’s supposed to write about. Pucks go in the net, or don’t. Players hit each other or fall down. The crowd cheers or groans. It’s not unlike the theatre, a spectacle with predetermined parts where everyone knows their role.

Patrick’s team wins the game, by a score of 4-2. He checks the notes on his phone, but all he’s written is Patrick’s name.

***

David sits in the chair across from Stevie’s desk and tries not to fidget. After what feels like twelve hours, but is probably closer to fifteen minutes, she lets out an indeterminate sigh. “Hmm.”

“You hate it.” Of course she hates it. It’s terrible. How can it be anything other than terrible? Ronnie is going to fire him for this, he should have just quit, at least his pride would still be intact.

“No, I don’t hate it.” Stevie says the words slowly, weighing every one. “There’s some good stuff in here, things no one else would have gotten from an interview. It’s just…”

“It’s just, what?” Either she likes it or she doesn’t, she needs to make up her mind.

“There’s not a lot of hockey in here.” Stevie gestures at the screen. “It’s supposed to be an article about a hockey player, but you’d never know it.”

“I don’t like the hockey parts.” He tries to take the sulkiness out of his voice, but Stevie sees through him.

“Just call him and ask him some questions about hockey and write down his answers. Better you do it now, than after Ronnie makes you.”

“Fine. But I’m leaving in all the other bits, even the ones about the incorrect team uniforms. Did you know their sweaters are made from a special blend of polyester that repels sweat? It’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard in my life!”

Back in his own office, he pulls up Patrick’s name from his contact list. He taps his number, waiting as it rings and rings, finally going to voicemail.

“Hi David, it’s Patrick.” Fuck. Now Patrick will think he’s more of an idiot than he already does. He charges ahead. “I, uh, have some follow-up questions? For the article?” Something about Patrick Brewer makes him sound like an awkward sixteen-year-old. “Anyway, if you could call me?”

He sets the phone down, drumming his fingers on his desk. He wants to call Patrick back, to leave him a better message. He shoves the phone away. There’s no point in leaving ten more messages, that would definitely be too much.

He pulls up the CBC Sports website, looking for highlights from last night’s game. He watches Patrick race down the ice. He’s quick, David likes how he flies up the ice with his two teammates, passing the ball between them. How does he always know where they are? There’s a choreography to it that reminds him of ballet, the ebb and flow of the players on the ice as they chase the ball. He turns off the sound and watches it again, lost in the elegant movement. His phone buzzes on his desk, making him jump.

“Hi Patrick, it’s David.” Patrick thinks he’s very funny. “I got your message. Why don’t you meet me for a drink, we can talk in person?”

It’s not really a surprise. He’s lost track of the number of hook-ups he’s had after he’s done an interview. The first few times he’d taken it seriously, like it meant something, but now he knows it’s just a quick moment of fun. “Sure, nine o’clock?”

Back at his apartment, he surveys his wardrobe. The black leather jacket is an automatic yes, as is the black t-shirt to wear underneath it. After a moment of consideration, the Neil Barrett acid wash jeans join the pile. It’s a look that says he’s up for anything, no strings attached. Exactly what he wants.

***

The bar is overflowing. He peers through the crowd, but there’s no sign of Patrick. Scowling at the group of frat-boys who are cheering loudly over a basketball game, he takes a seat at the bar, ordering his usual vodka soda. He feels Patrick’s presence before he hears him as his solid body slides onto the stool next to his.

“Hey.” Patrick nods at the bartender, who hands over a beer bottle. This must be one of Patrick’s regular haunts, just like the diner. “Thanks for meeting me.”

“It’s no problem.” He runs his eyes over Patrick. He’s wearing a loosely fitted blue henley that clings to him in all the right places. He wants to run his hands over him, to feel the curves of muscle that the shirt only hints at. “I just had a few follow-up questions.”

“Sure.” Patrick scans the bar, his eyes landing on an open booth at the back of the room. “How about over there?”

He follows Patrick through the tables, a few people recognize him, they smile politely and one person stops him to ask for an autograph. They make it to the back of the room and he slides into the booth across from Patrick. “Does that happen a lot?”

“Mmm, depends. Lots of sports fans come here, so I expect it.” Patrick takes a drink of his beer, the vein in his hand flexes, telegraphing his hidden strength.

“Why not go somewhere else, then?”

Patrick shrugs and looks embarrassed. “I like it here. And it feels like I should give back, you know? Not just hide away. And I’d rather give a few autographs than be chased by reporters.” He shakes his head, his eyes meet David’s, they’re warm, like whisky. “You had some questions?”

Right. He needs to focus. He pulls out his phone and brings up the list he’d prepared earlier. “Tell me about the game. Yesterday? How do you think you did?”

Patrick gives him a peculiar look that’s both warm and amused. “It’s always good to get the win, but we gave up too many goals. We need to tighten up our D next time.”

That can’t possibly mean what he thinks it means. “And, uh, how do you do that?”

“We’re leaving too much space between our forwards and our defense. We need to be more aware on the ice.”

“Uh huh.” He doesn’t know what that means either, but it reminds of how choreographed the players had looked. “So how do you do that, choreograph all the steps? Does the other team know where you’re going to go on the ice?”

Patrick laughs and his knee bumps against David’s under the table. “Ideally, the other team doesn’t know, no. But we use set plays so everyone knows where they should be on the ice.”

“Hmm.” David bites his lower lip, slowly releasing it through his teeth and has the satisfaction of seeing Patrick’s eyes go dark. Beneath the table, he feels Patrick’s foot tangle between his own. “I think that’s all I need to know.” He lets his voice drop, as he hoped, Patrick responds by tipping back the last of his beer.

“Is it?” He can hear the challenge in Patrick’s voice, low and rough on his skin. He lets his eyes meet Patrick’s, the heat is expected and welcome. “Let’s go.”

Patrick leads the way out of the bar, not looking back to see if David is following. Outside, Patrick pulls him into a doorway just down from the bar. It’s a bookstore, he can see the title of the latest bestseller displayed in the window. And then Patrick is kissing him. He kisses the way he plays hockey, with determination and finesse. One hand cups the back of David’s head, tilting his head down, his lips hot and seeking. David’s hands fasten themselves to Patrick’s shoulders, for far too long a moment, all he can do is hang on as Patrick threatens to take him apart.

He tilts his head back against the wall and Patrick lets his teeth graze the spot beneath his ear that makes his knees go weak. “My, uh, my place is close.” He squeezes the words out. He doesn’t want Patrick to stop what he’s doing, but he doesn’t want to do this in a doorway, either.

“Yeah.” Patrick gives a final nip to the point of his jaw, sending a shiver down his spine. He steps back, letting David pull his clothes back into some semblance of order. He’s glad it’s dark, that no one will see just how much a little kissing has affected him. Patrick holds out a hand. David stares at it for a moment, it’s more soft and intimate than he expects from a casual hook-up but Patrick laces their fingers together like they’re dating and steps out onto the street.

They make it all the way to his apartment building and up the elevator holding hands. It’s ridiculous, like being in middle school, not that he’d know, having missed out on most typical middle school experiences. He resents it, resents how warm Patrick’s hand feels, resents the thrumming, pulsing burst of desire that the grip of Patrick’s fingers sends through his entire body. At his apartment door, he uses his keys as an excuse to disentangle his hand. Patrick gives him a knowing glance, but doesn’t say anything, choosing to let his hands drop to David’s hips instead, pulling David back against him with a single sharp tug.

“Are we done holding hands now?” He asks archly, as he pushes the door open, pulling Patrick into the apartment behind him.

Patrick spins him around and pushes him hard against the wall, the solid weight of his body holding him there. Even as Patrick’s mouth is pressing against his, his left hand finds David’s, weaving their fingers together again. “Nope.”

He can feel every inch of Patrick’s body hard and insistent against his own. Patrick’s lips chase his, his tongue following, forcing a deep whine from his throat. It’s easily the best kiss he’s had in a while and yet it’s the feeling of Patrick’s fingers between his own that’s setting him on fire.

“You know…” He’s breathless in a way he hasn’t felt in years. “...if we were going to...if we wanted to do this against a wall, we didn’t have to come back here.”

Patrick chuckles as he gives him one more kiss, his tongue teasing against David’s. He steps back far enough to release David from his hold against the wall and gestures towards the apartment with his free hand. “Lead the way.” His other hand is still tangled with David’s, and David can’t decide if he loves or hates him for it.

He guides Patrick into his bedroom, giving him a gentle push onto the bed. He shimmies towards him, shedding his clothing as he goes. Patrick takes the hint, stripping out of his obscenely tight jeans and sweater, propping himself on his elbows as David moves towards him.

It’s the same amount of skin as he’d seen in the locker room, but seeing it in his bed makes his mouth go dry. He stops at the edge of the bed, suddenly uncertain as Patrick smirks up at him. Patrick wraps a hand around his wrist and tugs, forcing David off balance. He catches himself with one hand on Patrick’s shoulder before he ends up in his lap. And then, with a smirk that’s become all too welcome, Patrick is kissing him.

The first kiss is soft, almost curious and then, Patrick grasps the back of David’s head, tilting it to just the right angle and the mood shifts, his intention clear. Patrick guides them backwards onto the bed, with David on top of him. Despite having Patrick beneath him, he’s never felt more out of control. Patrick’s nose nudges his. “What do you want tonight, David?”

Patrick offers himself up, a smorgasbord for David to take and sample with too many options. He forces a hand between them, feeling the heft of Patrick’s cock through his briefs. Patrick moans, his head tips back, the first time he’s come close to losing control since they met in the restaurant. David moves his hand again, more roughly this time and Patrick clutches at his shoulders. This is what he wants. To take Patrick apart, to make him lose control. He wraps his fingers firmly around Patrick’s dick and whispers in Patrick’s ear. “What do you want?” Patrick’s hips buck into his hand. “Mmm, I can work with this.”

He grinds into Patrick, letting his weight settle into his hips as their cocks rub together. Patrick’s eyes are blown wide and David kisses him, taking back the control he’d given up. Patrick pants beneath him. He slides down the bed, resting on his heels between Patrick’s legs. Softly, he runs a finger along the band of Patrick’s briefs, his stomach quivers at the touch before he pulls them down and off, freeing his cock to rest against the reddish-gold hair on his lower belly.

He pulls his hands away from Patrick’s body, resting them demurely in his lap. “You never told me what you want, Patrick.”

Patrick whines at him and David can see him pulling the pieces of his tattered restraint back together. “You could start by sucking my cock.”

“Mmm.” He pops a finger in his mouth. Patrick’s eyes flutter closed, flying open as he glides it up Patrick’s dick, his hands clench in the sheets.

“David…” Patrick’s voice is low and breathy, it turns to a gasp as David swallows him down, the weight of his cock heavy on his tongue, the stretch firm against his lips. Patrick fights to stay in control, the line of his hips taut as he forces them back against the bed. His hand fumbles in the sheets until it finds David’s, lacing their fingers together.

As Patrick’s dick slides between his lips, looking up at Patrick’s flushed face. “Patrick. Let go.” He turns the words into an order and Patrick gives a muffled cry, his hips canting off the bed as soon as David’s mouth is around him, both of them moving together as Patrick hurtles closer and closer to the edge. Patrick thrust upwards one last time, it’s almost too much and then he’s coming down David’s throat, his hand holding David’s so tightly that the tips of his fingers turn numb.

David stretches out beside Patrick, waiting for him to regain his composure. Patrick’s grip on his hand has lessened slightly, his thumb rubbing lazy circles across the back of David’s knuckles. His cock is throbbing, and he reaches down to stroke himself with his free hand, hoping to ease the pressure.

Patrick knocks his hand away. “No.” He straddles David’s hips, still holding David’s hand like a character from a teen rom com. “It’s my turn now.” David makes an embarrassing mewling noise, far too turned on by the look in Patrick’s eyes. Patrick holds out his free hand. “Lube?”

He scrambles around, pulling open the drawer of the bedside table, his motions made doubly awkward by Patrick’s refusal to release his hand. Squirting an excessive amount into Patrick’s palm, his eyes slide closed as Patrick wraps a slick hand around him, with a pressure that’s almost too much. He thrusts into Patrick’s clenched fist, letting desire take him and then, when Patrick raises their clasped hands to his lips, pressing a featherlight kiss to his knuckles, he comes with a loud cry, harder and faster than he’ll want to remember in the morning.

Distantly, there’s a soft chuckle from somewhere above him and Patrick kisses his hand again before the bed shifts and there’s the sound of water running in the bathroom. Patrick runs the warm cloth over his chest before flipping the covers over them both. The last thing he remembers before he falls asleep, is Patrick’s arm, heavy and comfortable across his chest.

When he opens his eyes, Patrick’s body is pressed against his, warm and comforting. It’s been a long time since he’s woken up next to someone, falling asleep together isn’t a typical part of his repertoire. It’s too inviting to cuddle into Patrick’s arms and pick up where they left off the night before. Before he can figure out how to extract himself from this situation, Patrick’s lips press gently against his.

“Good morning.” Patrick smiles, quick and bright. “I have to get to practice.”

“Oh.” A wash of relief follows Patrick’s words. “Well, if you have to go…” Patrick fumbles by the bed for his clothes, pulling his t-shirt and henley on in one motion, making David wince for his clothes.

Patrick’s hand cups his face and he kisses David again, lingering this time. “I had a good time last night.”

“Me too.” He had too good a time, to be honest. He wants to do it again, which is not a good look for something that won't last.

“Okay.” Patrick pulls on his jeans and sits on the edge of the bed to tie his shoes. He bends to kiss David one last time. “I’ll text you later?”

“Sure…” He watches Patrick’s perfect ass and thighs as he leaves the room, regretting that he won’t get to see them again.

***

It’s been a week since he hooked up with Patrick. As promised, Patrick had texted him later that day and several times after that. David hasn’t responded to any of his texts. He pulls them up on his phone to read them again.

Patrick: I had a good time last night, I’d like to do it again
Patrick: Maybe I could buy you dinner tonight?
Patrick: David, are you there?
Patrick: If you don’t want anything further, that’s fine, but the least you could do is say so

The last text is from two days ago. He wants something further, is the problem. He’s woken up every day this week wishing Patrick was there beside him. But it’s better this way. Even telling Patrick that nothing can happen between them is opening the door to something more. Ghosting him is the only way he can be sure he’ll put a proper end to things.

Patrick was nice. And funny. And sexy, with an athleticism that David wishes he’d been able to explore more thoroughly. That he’s still thinking about Patrick a week later doesn’t mean anything. It’s undoubtedly a symptom that comes from having to finish this article. It’s hard to forget about someone when your job is to think about them all day. He gives the article a last read through, hoping he’s incorporated enough information about hockey to pass Ronnie’s muster.

He emails the finished article to Ronnie and flips through the story list that Ray had left behind, searching for something that didn’t make him want to retch. Football? No. Curling? What? No. Wrestling? Probably not as sexy as he’s hoping. Boxing? Definitely not. Maybe this profile of a teenage tennis sensation? At least the outfits are cute. His email pings with a message from Ronnie.

My office. Now.

His stomach sinks. He should have known she’d hate it. In her office, she waves him to a chair in front of her desk, staring at him over the top of her laptop. “I can rewrite it—”

She interrupts him. “Good job.” He breaks off, shocked. Ronnie never gives compliments. If she likes it, she publishes it, that’s as far as her positive feedback extends.

“Ah…” Surely Ronnie didn’t bring him here just to compliment him.

“We were talking in Editorial about expanding it and using it for the April cover story. How do you feel about that?” He’s never had a cover story before. He’d dreamed of a cover that featured his story with a photo of the latest fashions, not a feature on a hockey player.

“Expanding it how?” He’s said all he has to say about Patrick Brewer.

Ronnie taps her pen against her teeth. “A full-on behind-the-scenes profile. Get into the locker room, talk to his friends and family, the whole thing.” Oh god. He’s going to have to talk to Patrick again. After ghosting him, he’s going to have to call him up and ask him more questions and talk to his teammates and his family.

“Can’t someone else…” This nightmare is never-ending. He might never get off the sports beat. He might be stuck in the second circle of hell, interviewing Patrick Brewer over and over.

Some of his revulsion must show on his face because Ronnie nods sympathetically. “I know, I hate that cocky bastard, too. But you got him to talk about things that no one else ever has, so you’re up.” Rifling through the papers on the side of her desk, she hands a thick packet to him. “Your itinerary.”

He flips through the pages, his eyes catching on a particular entry. “This says I’m supposed to go on a road trip? With the team?” His voice is getting higher with each word, like he’s doing scales, but without the music.

Ronnie doesn’t so much as glance up from her computer. “Yep.”

“I— You can’t— What about—” He can’t go on a trip with a hockey team. With Patrick. He’ll have to go to more games and talk to Patrick again. No. He can’t.

“Nope.” Finally Ronnie looks over at him. “You’re going on the trip. End of story. Now go tell Brewer that he’d better get used to having you around.”

“Yeah.” Five days on the road. To Michigan, Tennessee and Missouri. With Patrick. And a gang of hockey barbarians. He gags a little. Fuck. This is not going to go well.

“Oh, and David?” He looks up from the itinerary. “Be sure to file Ray’s usual stories about each game.” He wishes she’d hated the article. Then he wouldn’t be in this mess. Mumbling what he hopes is an affirmative reply, he goes back to his office and pulls up Patrick’s texts again.

...the least you could do is say so…

Well, he’s going to have to say something now.

***

In the end, he emails the media liaison for the team and confirms the arrangements. Two days at the arena, shadowing Patrick and talking to his teammates and coaches and then the road trip, five days spent in planes and hotels in close quarters. He flips through the information packet again. The research department has put together background information on Patrick’s family, the town he grew up in, his fiancee. His fiancee? Huh. He can just imagine how impressed Patrick will be when David digs into his past and phoning his friends and family.

He’s read Patrick’s texts dozens of times, trying to craft some a response before he sees him again tomorrow. He assumes the media liaison will fill Patrick in on what’s happening, but seeing him again won’t go well. He puts down his phone and preps his notes for the next day.

He can’t concentrate. All he can think about is the teasing glint in Patrick’s eye as he refused to let go of David’s hand, the soft press of his lips against David’s knuckles as he cried out and came. As usual, he’s screwed this up. And tomorrow, Patrick will probably make him pay the price.

The next morning, team practice is at eight o’clock. Which, honestly, is just one more sign of how things are going to go. He pulls on his Canvas ‘No Touch’ sweatshirt, hoping that will send Patrick the right message.

The team is already on the ice when he gets to the rink. The players kneel in a rough semi-circle as the coach talks.

“...they’ve got an aggressive forecheck...we need to stay out of the box...Brewer, watch for the backcheck on the cycle…”

David starts at the mention of Patrick’s name. The team is wearing the same outfits that Patrick had been wearing that first day at the rink. Without the numbers on the jerseys, it’s harder, but eventually, he finds Patrick in the middle of the group nodding along as he listens to the coach.

“You the reporter?” He turns to find a tall, well-built man in a Hugo Boss suit standing behind him.

“Yeah. David Rose.” He holds out a hand. The other man takes it, his grip is uncomfortably firm.

“Kevin Cassidy. Assistant GM.” David gives him a blank look. “Assistant General Manager. I look after all the media interactions. You’re not a sports reporter, are you?” David shakes his head. Ronnie is definitely going to fire him after this is over. “Well, come on, I’ll give you a tour then.”

He follows Kevin through the building as he shows him the team locker rooms, the gym, the medical facilities, the place where they keep the snow plow that cleans the ice. They end up back at the player’s bench where they’d started. On the ice, the players are racing back and forth, skating forwards and backwards around pylons. He should ask some questions, he’s supposed to be interested in something other than the way Patrick’s thighs move as he does a fancy skating manoeuvre on the ice. “Why did you pick Patrick for your team?”

“We knew we wanted him, but he’s not very big, so we waited until the fourth round until we selected him in the draft.” Kevin laughs. “We were so nervous that someone else would scoop him up, but no one wanted to take a chance on a smaller player. I’d say it’s definitely paid off.”

“Yeah.” David makes a note to google ‘hockey drafts.’ He looks back at the players. Patrick carries himself so confidently that David hadn’t noticed his height. But now that Kevin has mentioned it, he can see that Patrick is smaller than most of the other players on the team. “So what does that mean, him being smaller?”

“Well, if you’re smaller, you have to be better. Good hands, more skilled with your stick.”

David smirks to himself. Patrick is definitely skilled with both his hands and his stick. “Mmm hmm.” On the ice, he hears Patrick’s laugh ring out and he jerks his head up. His eyes meet Patrick’s and Patrick’s smile fades.

Kevin claps him on the shoulder. “I have a call. Try to stay out of the way, but otherwise, I’ll make sure you have all the access you need.” With that, he’s gone, leaving David alone on the bench, watching the last moments of practice.

The players come off of the ice, talking and laughing as they file past David. Patrick is the last one to leave, he comes to a halt in front of David, his eyes narrowed. “So here you are.” There’s a sharpness to his voice that David hasn’t heard before and it makes him wince inside.

“Look, I’m sorry…” He trails off as Patrick interrupts.

“Save it. You don’t owe me anything. Well, a text might have been nice, but it’s a bit late for that now.” The warmth is gone from Patrick’s eyes. He gestures to where the other players are disappearing down a hallway. “After you.”

He can feel Patrick’s eyes on his back as he walks down the hallway to the team dressing room. Awkwardly, he comes to a stop in the doorway. The players sit in their wooden cubicles around the edge of the room. Many of them have stripped off their practice clothes and are clad only in their athletic underwear. An industrial laundry bin sits in the centre of the room on top of the team logo, jerseys and hockey pants are tossed around it. As he stands there, one of the players wads up his shirt into a ball and launches it towards the basket, a couple of the players yell at him mockingly when his shot falls short.

Patrick shoves at his shoulder to move him out of the way and takes his place on one side of the room, bending down to unlace his skates.

“Hey Brewski, who’s this guy?” A player on the other side of the room nods at David as he hovers in the doorway. Why did he come here? He should have found another way to write this story. He takes half a step back when Patrick’s voice freezes him in place.

“David Rose.” Patrick’s voice is curt. “He’s doing a profile for Urban Living magazine.”

“Ooo, someone’s a big star.”

“We’ll all chip in to get you a new helmet, your old one won’t fit that fat head of yours.”

“Will you give me your autograph when it comes out?”

The teasing comes from all corners of the room. David glances at Patrick, worried that his presence will make things even more uncomfortable, but Patrick just grins at his teammates. “Fuck off, all of you.”

Patrick strips off his practice clothes and throws them towards the laundry bin. Unlike his teammates, he makes the shot perfectly, the clothes landing in the centre of the bin. A couple of the other players whistle appreciatively. David can’t take his eyes off of Patrick’s body as he turns to pull a towel out of his stall. Without a word to David, he heads for what David assumes is the shower at the back of the room.

“Is this your first time?” The question comes from the player who’s sitting closest to the door. He’s watching David with narrowed eyes. “You don’t look like a sports reporter.”

“Um, budget cuts.” He doesn’t want to get into it with this stranger.

“Hmm. Brewer doesn’t seem to like you much.” It’s a casual statement, the way you might say you didn’t like broccoli or the Givenchy fall collection. “Which is funny, because he likes pretty much everyone.”

“Yeah, that is funny.” Patrick’s animosity will make talking to his teammates difficult. This man has lots of questions, but he’s not giving up anything and David knows better than to push him.

“Is this just a one-time thing?” The man nods towards Patrick’s empty stall.

For a split second, David thinks he means his night with Patrick. Has Patrick confided in this person? Oh. He means David being here with the team. “Uh, I’ll be going on the road trip? Next week?”

The other man nods at him before one of the other players pulls his attention away. Should he try to talk to some of Patrick’s teammates? None of the other players are paying any attention to him. He stands just inside the door, spinning his rings and listening to their conversation.

“...that fucker tried to spear me last game…”

“...he hates it when you chirp him…”

“...if you could hit the net once and awhile…”

“...fuck you, Hally…”

This is such a mistake. Maybe if he begs Ronnie, she’ll give him another assignment. As he’s trying to come up with an excuse to get out of the story, Patrick emerges from the showers. He has a white towel wrapped low around his waist and he takes David’s breath away. He tosses his underwear into the laundry bin on his way past. Patrick raises an eyebrow when he catches David watching him, the tips of his ears turn a beautiful pink color as he turns his back to David and reaches for his clothes.

It’s too much. Pushing down the emotion that’s rising inside of him, David turns and leaves the dressing room. Blindly, he makes his way through the labyrinth of hallways until he emerges at the team entrance. Taking a deep breath, he pushes open the door and steps outside. The winter air cuts into his face as the door shuts behind him, separating him from Patrick.

***

“So let me see if I’ve got this straight.” Stevie is sitting cross-legged in the middle of David’s bed as he surveys his closet, trying to pack for the hockey road trip. “You hooked up with Patrick, had some of what I believe you described as ‘the best sex you’ve ever had’ and then, when he wanted to have more of this great sex, you ghosted him?”

“You missed the part where he hates me and that I have to go on a five-day road trip with him and his team.” He takes an armful of sweaters out of the closet and sets them on the bed. The hockey stadiums are cold, he’ll need to stay warm. And he wants to look good, to put a buffer between himself and Patrick.

“I didn’t miss that part, I was just saving the best for last.” Stevie smirks at him as he adds a couple more sweaters to his suitcase. What even is proper attire for a hockey road trip? What do the players wear? Sweatpants, probably. The thought makes him want to retch.

“This is very helpful, thank you.” Fuck it. He adds his favorite Givenchy to the suitcase. It’s not like he’s trying to impress anyone on this trip. Except Patrick. Ugh. Five days where he won’t be able to avoid him.

“You could apologize. If you cared about what he thought.” He might have to apologize if he wants to get this article written. He grimaces at the thought, folding his clothes to fit in his suitcase.

“How am I supposed to apologize? Sorry about the sex and the ghosting, but now that we’re here, maybe we can be friends?”

Stevie gives him the look that he knows means that she thinks he’s being ridiculous. “You’re making this more complicated than it needs to be.”

“Am I?” He’s packed twice as many sweaters as he’ll need. That will have to be enough.

“Just tell him you lost your phone.”

Great. A lie will work perfectly until the first time he needs to text somebody. “Do you have any helpful advice?”

“Try to avoid hooking up with him again until after you finish the article?”

Whatever happens, he’s sure hooking up with Patrick again is off the table. He zips the suitcase shut and sets it by the door. “Thank you for that.”

“That’s what friends are for.”

***

The next morning as they wait for the team bus, David is surprised to see the players dressed in bespoke suits. There’s Tom Ford, Gucci and a few other brands he approves of. A couple of the players are wearing fedoras, which he secretly loves and one or two are wearing toques, which he hates. Through a cruel twist of fate, because the universe isn’t done toying with him, he ends up next to Patrick as they wait to hand their bags to the driver.

“You look good.” Patrick’s Richard James suit is custom tailored, the steel grey color looks wonderful against his translucent skin.

“Thanks.” There’s an interminable pause and David feels Patrick take a quick breath, as though he’s come to a decision. “It’s protocol to dress up for game day.”

Patrick stows his bag on the bus, turning away and losing himself in the crowd of players and team personnel without another word to David.

David boards the bus with trepidation, at the back of the group of players who are quickly filing on board, well-practiced at the familiar ritual. On board, he’s relieved to see a luxury coach with a single row of leather seats on each side of the aisle. At least he won’t have to share a seat with someone. He spots Patrick’s chestnut-colored hair about halfway down, directly behind the first available seat. Squaring his shoulders, he shuffles down the aisle, tucking himself into the empty seat.

Across the aisle, the player he’d talked to in the locker room the day before nods at him. It’s the only remotely friendly face he’s seen, no one else notices he’s there, except Patrick, who narrows his eyes as David takes his seat and turns away. He returns the other player’s nod and sinks into the seat. Thankfully, it’s more comfortable than it looks.

“I’m Curtis.” The man holds out a hand for David to shake. Like Patrick and all the other players, he’s wearing a nicely tailored suit, this one is a deep burgundy and it’s cut to emphasize his shoulders and his legs. David stops himself from lingering over the man’s well defined thighs.

“David.”

“Is this your first road trip?” One of the other players pushes down the aisle, interrupting their conversation.

“Mmm hmm. Yep.” Curtis is the only person who has shown any interest in his presence, other than Patrick, who David can feel behind him, deliberately not listening to their conversation. “What, um, part do you play in the cast— I mean, team?”

Curtis chuckles but he doesn’t take offense at David’s mangled question. “I’m the backup goalie.”

“What does that mean?” The goalie is the player that the other players shoot the pucks at, he knows that much.

“I fill in when Cal can’t play.” Curtis gestures towards the front of the bus where a large blond-haired man is bopping his head to the music in his large headphones.

“Oh, you’re the understudy.” Why does sports have to have all these weird terms when there are perfectly suitable words that anyone can understand?

“Sure. Something like that.” Curtis chuckles, but it’s friendly, not taunting.

“So I’m guessing sports isn’t your regular beat?” David makes a face and shakes his head. “Where did you come from? Arts?”

“Fashion actually.”

“No way.” For a second he thinks Curtis is making fun of him, but he seems genuinely interested. “Lots of the guys are really into fashion. We have to get dressed up all the time and it just kind of becomes a thing, you know?” He gestures to David’s sweater. “Is that Dries van Noten?”

“It is.” This was not what he expected. Instead of toothless barbarians, he’s surrounded by well-dressed men wearing high-end fashion.

“Nice. I really liked the fall collection this year.” Maybe he can salvage something out of this situation. Hockey players aren’t the first thing he thinks of when he thinks of fashion but this trip might not be all bad. “Hey, Matty!” Curtis stands up and yells at a player a few rows back, making David cringe. “David here used to be on the fashion beat.”

“You’re kidding!” The next thing David knows he’s being peppered with questions from half a dozen different players. It’s like being back in high school, except this time the jocks think he’s cool. He darts a glance behind him at Patrick, but he’s staring studiously out the bus window, avoiding David’s eyes.

The bus pulls up to the hotel in Detroit. David hangs back, staying well out of the way as the players go through a well-practiced ritual of getting their bags and checking into their rooms. The team liaison had assured him he’d been included in the roster for rooms and he’s happy to wait until the jostling group of men sort themselves out.

“Hey David, maybe we can get a drink after the game?”

“Sure.” He nods at Curtis as he wheels his suitcase past David to the elevator. Finally, the crowd clears and he makes his way to the desk.

“David Rose?”

The woman at the desk nods and types his name into the computer. She hands over a keycard. “Room 618. Enjoy your stay.”

In the elevator, he pulls up the itinerary on his phone. The players will drop their bags and head to the rink but the game doesn’t start until seven o’clock. He can write up his notes and questions from this afternoon and go to the arena at six.

He gets off the elevator on the sixth floor and turns right towards room 618, only to run headlong into someone coming down the hall.

“Fuck.”

“God, sorry.”

Patrick reaches out an arm to steady him, his look of concern retreating behind a mask when he registers David’s presence. They stand together for what seems like an eternity, easily the same amount of time needed to design the Givenchy spring collection.

“Listen, Patrick…” What can he say? A hotel hallway is not the place for this conversation, but he might not get another chance.

Patrick’s hand falls away from his arm. “I have to get to the rink.”

“Okay.” Patrick ducks around him and David can hear him jabbing at the elevator button.

“Fuck.” He mutters the word to himself again before taking the handle of his roll-on suitcase and striding down the hall to the door of Room 618.

Inside the room, he flips on the light, stopped short by the sight of another set of bags on the bed closest to the door. He drops his bags by the door. Why are someone’s things in his room? Obviously there’s been some mistake. He calls down to the front desk.

“Hi, this is David Rose? You just checked me into room 618? I think there’s been a mistake? Someone else is checked into this room?” His voice rises with each question. He shakes his head, annoyed with his own apparent uncertainty.

“Just a moment.” The woman’s voice is sterile and conciliatory. “Yes, that’s correct.”

“What’s correct?” Just once he’d like to have a conversation with someone that made sense on the first try.

“That’s correct. There are two people checked into room 618.”

“Okay, well, since there’s been a mistake, can you give me a different room?”

Through the phone he can hear her typing. “No, there’s no mistake.”

“Clearly, there’s been some mistake.” He bites back his frustration. Yelling at this incompetent woman won’t help anything.

“The room was booked for two people and two people have checked into the room.” The woman sounds like she’s explaining colors to a five-year-old. “And, unfortunately, we’re fully booked. Do you want me to cancel your room?”

“No, no. Thank you for your help.” He hangs up the phone, staring at the other person’s bags resentfully. This is intolerable. He can’t share a room with someone who won’t appreciate his nine-step skin care routine. With a scowl, he takes his toiletry bag into the bathroom and carefully arranges everything the way he likes it, placing each bottle in order.

He emails Ronnie and texts Stevie about his predicament, not expecting either of them to respond with anything helpful. Before he has time to do much more than write out his notes and prepare some questions for that night’s game, it’s time to leave for the rink.

He’s early enough that he doesn’t have to deal with the crowds. Showing his press badge to the overly cheerful teenager at the gate, he follows the signs to the East Press Level.

He chooses a seat at the far end of the counter. The room is still mostly empty, a man in a tailored suit leans against the far end of the bar, a plate of nachos in front of him. When he sees David, he picks up the plate and takes the seat beside him. “David, right?”

“Yeah.” Closer up, the man looks familiar.

“Matty. Well, Matt, but everyone calls me Matty.” At David’s blank look, he continues. “From the team bus this afternoon?”

“Oh right, you’re the one who likes Tom Ford.” He’d missed most of the player’s names on the bus, but fashion designers always stuck with him. The smell of the nachos wafts over to him, making his stomach growl.

“You want some nachos?” At his nod, Matt, David refuses to call a grown man Matty, waves to a server who nods and disappears through a side door, presumably where the nachos are.

“Shouldn’t you be down there?” David waves towards the ice where the first players are coming out for warm-up.

“Oh, I’m scratched tonight.”

David stares at him, trying to make sense of that statement. Finally, he offers the only thing he can think of. “Like by a cat?”

Matt laughs, rich and full. “No, no. It means I don’t get to play tonight.”

“And you’re okay with that?” The server returns with his nachos, making his stomach growl even more loudly than before.

Matt shrugs. “That’s what happens when you’re the seventh D.”

David narrows his eyes at him, sure that Matt is making fun of him. No matter how nice they are, he’s never trusted the athletic kids. “Okay?”

“Seventh defenseman.”

“Oh.” David takes another nacho. Behind them, the press box is slowly filling up. “You know that’s what I hate about all of this. The hockey is fine, but it’s like you guys speak a different language.”

Matt laughs again and David thinks it’s a sound he could get used to. “I can translate if you want.”

“You’re being suspiciously nice.”

“Patrick and I go way back.” Matt plays with his coaster for a second. “And, I thought you might have some connections.”

“Trust me, this is not a good time to go into journalism.”

“No, not journalism. Fashion. I have some ideas.” With that, Matt starts a lengthy explanation about the need for more stylish options for men and women athletes with unusual body types. It has potential, David thinks as he watches Matt’s hands dance along the top of the bar.

On the ice, the players are gliding in a circle, firing pucks at the net as they pass. He can see Patrick in the middle of the pack, his hands sure on his stick. His thoughts bounce back to what Matt had said earlier. “You’ve known Patrick for a while?”

“We were in junior together.”

“Junior high?” He understands the words but none of them mean what he thinks they should mean.

“Junior hockey. Before we were drafted.” Matt laughs at David’s incredulous look. “Before a professional team selected us. Anyway, Patrick and I spent a lot of time together. Patty and Matty.”

David can feel his face twisting into a grimace of disgust at the names. Below, warm-up is over and the players are leaving the ice. The press box is full now, other sports writers have filled the bar with their laptops and phones. On the jumbotron, the clock counts down thirty seconds to the opening faceoff.

The lights dim and the announcer calls the names of the Detroit players as they step on to the ice. The crowd roars at each name, the loud noise making David wince. Red and white strobe lights sweep through the crowd, landing on the six players who will start the game as they lean on their sticks at center ice.

The anthem singer, a teenage girl with a clear voice, finishes the Canadian national anthem and the lights come up. Patrick lines up on the left side of center ice, his stick on the ice as he jostles with number 18 from the other team.

The puck drops and the players leap after it, like dogs after a ball. David can see the patterns now, like viewing an elaborate free form dance, the ebb and flow of the chase of the puck, the way the defensemen linger behind the play, the watchfulness of the goalie as he waits for the puck to come towards him. Beside him, he can hear Matt muttering a disjointed play-by-play under his breath.

“...watch out for the forecheck…”

“...get into the slot…”

“...oh no, not the poke check…”

The words might as well be in a different language, like Matt is narrating a bad porn video. Before he can ask, Matt whoops as Patrick snatches the puck from another player and flies up the ice towards the Detroit goaltender. “Whoo! A breakaway!” Matt raises his arms in the air as Patrick fires a shot that misses the net.

“Was that good?” Isn’t scoring goals what matters?

Matt slaps him on the shoulder. “It would have been better if he’d hit the net.”

He scowls at Matt in mock annoyance. “I managed to pick up that part of the game.” Matt laughs at him. He must be the easiest going person David has ever met, he refuses to take offense at anything David does. The thought only makes him scowl harder.

“Oh, come on!” An opposing player sprawls on the ice at the blue line, number 18 outlined on his back. “That’s textbook diving.”

“Uh…” He knows they haven’t gone from hockey to aquatics.

“He’s faking it, Patrick barely touched him.”

“So nothing to do with swimming then.”

“Ha. No, not swimming.” Matt turns back to the ice. “I can’t believe he got two minutes for that.” Below, the referees are leading Patrick to the far side of the rink.

“Is he going to hockey jail?”

Matt laughs again. “I like you.”

Number 18 bounces back to his feet as the referees Patrick lead away, a grin on his face. “What’s that guy’s problem, anyway?” It’s not very sportsmanlike, faking an injury so someone else gets in trouble. David frowns, troubled by the injustice of it.

“Oh, he and Patrick go back to the playoffs last year. Patrick made him look bad on a play and then he butt ended Patrick.”

“I’m sorry? Butt ended?” That can’t mean what he thinks it means.

“Speared him with his stick?”

David suppresses a shudder. Nothing from the best fashion runways in the world had prepared him for this casual violence. Not that things didn’t get heated backstage on the catwalk, but the bloodshed happened with words as weapons, not with actual weapons as weapons.

On the ice, Detroit has Patrick’s team surrounded as they pass the puck crisply between them. David can see that the Toronto team is fraying at the edges, losing their formation until the red jerseys push forward with a burst of energy and the puck is in the back of the net.

The horn sounds as the red light behind the net goes on and the crowd leaps to its feet. Beside him, Matt swears and punches the tabletop with his fist. “Dammit, Cal, watch the five hole.”

“You’re just making things up.” He glares at Matt. “Five hole can’t be an actual thing.”

With that, Matt stands up and spreads his arms and legs wide, like he’s imitating the Vitruvian man. “One, two, three, four.” His hands gesture to the quadrants above and below his arms. “And five.” He gestures between his legs, making David flush. Matt smiles knowingly, raising a cocky eyebrow as he takes his seat.

The horn blows again, making David jump and the players file off of the ice. As they leave, an enormous purple octopus is slowly lowered from the rafters to a team of jerseyed handlers. Two spectators, each clutching a hockey stick in their hands, make their way to center ice where a contest is being set up. A clock on the jumbotron counts down the fifteen-minute intermission. The speakers crackle with a burst of words from the announcer.

Ladies and gentleman! A round of applause for our two contestants in the Break the Ice competition!

A sudden thought makes David turn back to Matt, who’s scrolling through his phone. “What do the players do during intermission?”

“Hmm. Depends. This game is close and we’ve played pretty well, so they’ll probably talk about the penalty kill and ways Detroit is struggling. So we could take advantage.”

“And what ways would that be?”

The look Matt gives him is sharper, more focused than before. “They leave too much space between their defense and forwards. And their goalie is weak on the left side.”

Strangely, he’s reminded of his first fashion show. He’d been a lowly intern, but his parents’ money had bought him a seat at the table with Anna Wintour. Through some greater sense of grace, or perhaps, self-preservation, he’d kept his mouth shut, watching in awe as she’d maintained a running critique of the runway in front of them. He had thought he’d known the language, but she’d seen things that it had taken him years to find with his own eyes.

There’s more happening on the ice that he realizes. More than a violent, furious game, there’s a dance and a strategy that he can’t quite see. He chews on his cheek as he thinks it over, watching the players file back onto the ice. He can see Patrick’s number 14 in the middle of the pack as he hops over the boards to line up for the face-off. “Show me how you know that.”

It sounds like a demand, but Matt just grins at him affably. The whistle blows and the players chase the puck, Detroit pushing it in behind the Toronto net. And then, in an instant, the play changes and three Toronto players are driving a single Detroit player back into their own end. The Toronto players pass the puck back and forth. One. Two. Three. The puck is on Patrick’s stick and he fires a shot. It doesn’t miss this time, sailing over the left shoulder of the goalie and into the net.

“See?” Matt gestures to the ice where Patrick is hugging his teammates. “They left Valimaki exposed and Patrick took advantage of it.”

He can’t quite see it, but he can see the idea of it, as though the full understanding lurks just out of the corner of his eye, disappearing when he turns to look directly at it. He watches the game for a few more minutes, following the ebb and flow of the players as they come on and off the ice, the up and down race and crash as they chase the puck. His eyes follow Patrick whenever he’s on the ice, trying to predict where he’ll go next. Patrick fires two shots at the opposing net, both times the goalie stops him easily. “Why does he shoot if it’s not going to go in?”

“He’s looking for a rebound.” Patrick shoots the puck again and this time the goalie scrambles out of position. As he’s searching for the puck, Patrick’s linemate finds the puck and puts it in the net. Matt cheers loudly. “Like that!” He claps David on the shoulder before raising his arms in the air.

To David’s eyes, the rest of the game is uneventful. He types up his notes into a recap of the game, being sure to spend some extra time discussing the contrasting team colors and how the red and white Detroit jerseys pop against Toronto’s blue and white. The game comes to an anti-climatic end and David follows the gaggle of other reporters down to the staging area for the post-game interviews.

The other reporters swarm Patrick. He stands against the wall, clad in a white undershirt that clings to his body. His hair is wet and dark, a towel looped around his neck. Dutifully, David turns on the voice recorder on his phone to record Patrick’s answers.

“What do you think was the turning point in the game?”

“It felt like there was a lot more energy coming into the third period. What was the dressing room like in the second intermission?”

“You’re on a ten-game point streak, just two games away from the record. How does that feel?”

David watches with narrowed eyes as Patrick recites his answers. These questions are useless. They’re as much of a dance as the game on the ice, pat answers given to questions that Patrick has probably heard a hundred times before. There’s a lull in the chatter, so David calls out the question that’s been on his mind since the first period.

“Why did you take that penalty if you knew it would give the advantage to the other team?”

Behind him, someone chuckles, almost nervously. Patrick tilts his head and stares at him for a long moment. “I made a mistake.”

David meets his eyes, the silence rolls between them for nearly an eternity. “Me too.”

Patrick frowns, his eyes still glued to David’s. “What?”

“Nothing.” He shakes his head, looking down at his notes. “You take a lot of shots but most of them don’t go in the net. Why is that?”

Patrick’s lips quirk in amusement and there’s a spark in his eyes that David hasn’t seen since the night they spent together. Patrick must be thinking of that as well, the tips of his ears are red. “Well David, you miss a hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.”

“Or maybe you just need more practice.” He fires back the retort before he can think it through and Patrick laughs. Before he can respond to David’s jab, one of the media handlers from the team breaks up the scrum and ushers Patrick back into the locker room. David grins to himself, running his eyes along the line of Patrick’s shoulders as he disappears down the hallway before he heads back to the hotel to finish his article about the game.

In his room, there’s no sign of his mysterious roommate. Giving a scowl to the unwelcome suitcase, he puts his laptop bag on the far bed. It’s not that late by his usual standards, but the wear and tear of travel and dealing with strange people all day has been exhausting. He pulls his black sleep pants and his long-sleeved Comme des Garcon shirt out of his bag and goes into the bathroom.

He smiles at himself in the mirror, thinking of the smile on Patrick’s face when he’d teased him. Maybe they can move past this tension to at least be civil with one another. He pats his face dry and dabs moisturizer onto his skin. He misses Patrick. Misses the feel of his hands on his body, the huff of laughter in his ear. Still, it’s for the best. It’s not like either of them are looking for a relationship. What are they going to do, go on dates? Cuddle in front of the TV?

Skincare routine completed to his satisfaction, he pulls out his laptop and reads over the article he’d crafted during the second intermission.

...despite the win, the more complex footwork feels a bit out of reach for this team and the inspiration for some sequences is lacking…

Chewing on his bottom lip, he plays back Patrick’s post-game interview and adds a closing sentence.

...with a goal and an assist, star Patrick Brewer proved his value to the team, however, he might be well served to practice more, as very few of his shots made it into the back of the net.

He sends the finished article to Ronnie and closes the laptop, placing it on the table on the far side of the bed. He’s just about to text Stevie when the door of the room swings open. Even back lit by the light of the hallway, he can tell from the silhouette who it is. He should have known who it would be; his luck isn’t good enough for it to be anyone else.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” Patrick sets his bag down by the door and shuts it behind him.

“That’s a question I’ve been asking repeatedly, unfortunately it hasn’t made any difference.”

Patrick stares down at him, his arms crossed on his chest. With a sigh, he sits on the edge of the bed opposite David’s. “Listen, David…”

“No, you listen.” He needs to clear the air if they’re going to share a room. “I’m sorry...about before. Maybe we can start fresh?”

For a second he thinks Patrick might argue or explain or draw things out in some direction that he is not interested in exploring. But he bites back whatever he was about to say. “Sure.” Patrick pulls a toiletry bag and some clothes out of his suitcase and David hears the water running in the bathroom.

He tips his head back against the wall, tucking his legs beneath the crisp white bedspread. He can do this. He can spend time with Patrick, alone in this room. Together. Like two adults who are definitely not attracted to one another. That is definitely a thing he can do.

He snuggles down into the pillows, closing his eyes. The water is turned off in the bathroom and the door opens. He cracks one eye open, watching Patrick, now wearing a t-shirt and plaid shorts, as he hangs his suit up in the small closet. Somehow, the loose fit of the shorts is even more alluring than a tighter fit would be, the materials stretches and moves along Patrick’s ass, reminding him of how tight it had felt beneath his hands. He squeezes his eyes shut again, listening for the rustle that means that Patrick has tucked his all too appealing backside into bed, out of reach of David’s eager eyes.

“Goodnight, David.”

He opens his eyes just enough to meet Patrick’s, his hand rests on the light switch between the two beds. “Goodnight, Patrick.”

***

“What the hell is this?”

David’s eyes are barely open when the phone lands on the pillow beside him. Squinting at Patrick, he fumbles for the phone, holding it up above his face so he can read the words.

Just Good Enough. Leafs eke out win; Brewer needs more practice

He wrestles his unwilling body into an upright position, desperately wishing for coffee. On the nightstand beside him, his phone buzzes. And again. And again. And again. Fuck. This can’t be good. Patrick glares at him from the end of the bed, his eyebrows raised. “Um, I don’t write the headlines?”

“No, but you wrote the article.” Patrick snatches the phone from his hands. “Look, that’s your name, right there.” He points angrily at the screen. “You said, and I quote that I ‘betrayed my linemates by taking a penalty’ and ‘proceeded to miss the next five shots on net.’ What does that even mean?” Patrick paces between the two double beds and David’s phone buzzes yet again. “Do you need to get that?” The sarcastic edge to Patrick’s voice says he isn’t serious, but David reaches for the phone anyway.

“Yes, thank you.” Patrick huffs at him and goes to the window, drawing the curtains wide. David blinks, his eyes watering in the bright light. Patrick is fully dressed already, a freshly ironed steel blue shirt tucked into his tailored dark grey suit pants. A matching jacket is draped across the back of a nearby chair. Tom Ford, David thinks. No, Dolce and Gabbana. It fits him like a glove and all David wants to do is strip it off of him. Instead, he opens the notifications on his phone.

The worst of it seems to be from Twitter. He leaves the 75 notifications for a moment and opens his messages.

There’s a line of laugh-crying emojis from Stevie and a single line from Ronnie. “Nice job, hot shot.”

More notifications come from Twitter while he’s reading the texts. With a grimace, he opens the app.

Finally, someone telling it like it is.
Who is this guy? Clearly he knows nothing about hockey.
I’m sorry, did you win the Hart Trophy last year?
Patrick Brewer deserves better than this.
Glad someone can see this team for what it is. Keep up the good work!

He scrolls through the rest of the messages. Two-thirds of them seem to think he’s done Patrick a grave injustice while the other half are glad he’s ‘telling it like it is.’ He looks up at Patrick, who is still staring out the window, an angry set to his shoulders. “What’s a Hart Trophy?”

“That’s what you want to know?” Patrick turns around, his jaw clenched. “You write an article that makes me look like an idiot and that’s what you want to know?” David narrows his eyes at Patrick, his response is out of proportion to the article. He’s said worse things about people with bigger egos and had less of a response than this. “It’s bad enough that you ghost me after some very nice sex…” Patrick is yelling now, his hands balled into fists.

Oh, so Patrick’s not mad about the article. Now’s as good a time as any to get into it. At least they aren’t in public. “It was better than nice.”

The statement brings Patrick up short. “Oh, I’m sorry, did I not compliment your sexual prowess highly enough?”

“Look, it’s nothing personal.” Lying in bed in his sleep clothes while Patrick is fully dressed makes him feel exposed and he pulls his knees up to his chin. “I don’t do...stuff…”

“Stuff? Like returning text messages?” Patrick paces across the room in front of the bed, each step highlights the curve of his ass beneath the tight fabric.

“Like morning afters or relationships or phone calls or whatever.” He plays with the edge of the sheet, running the crisp cotton through his fingers. “And no one wants that from me anyway, so a nice, clean break just works better. It’s less messy. It hurts less.” Fuck. He hadn’t meant to let those last words slip out. There’s no going back now. He stares at Patrick defiantly.

Something he’s never seen before flashes across Patrick’s face, a fleeting glimpse that reminds him of afternoon tea and sunny mornings. “We’re not done with this conversation.” Patrick’s voice is soft now. David searches his face for the usual emotions, pity, derision, regret, but there’s nothing. “We have to leave for the airport in half an hour.”

“Half an hour!” With a yelp, David leaps out of bed for the bathroom, closing the door firmly in Patrick’s face.

Twenty-eight minutes later, he and Patrick and the rest of the team are milling around the lobby, waiting for the bus to take them to the airport. David had grabbed a much-needed cup of coffee from the hotel breakfast bar. It’s terrible, but he nurses it gratefully anyway, gripping the paper cup in both hands.

“Hey Brewer!” Matt calls to him from across the hotel lobby. “You better make sure you get in some extra practice this afternoon.” A ripple of laughter follows his words, making David cringe. He dares a look at Patrick’s face. Surprisingly, he’s laughing back at Matt.

“Fuck off, Matty. At least they let me play.” David winces the underhanded comment but Matt just laughs it off. This is why he’s always hated the sporty kids, with their private language and the insults that roll right off of them. With a sigh of relief, he sees the bus pull up. Gathering his bag, he joins the crowd of players as they form a rough queue through the door.

“That article was pretty savage, Rose.” Curtis smirks at him, holding out his fist. Awkwardly, David pats the top of it with his hand, making Curtis laugh even harder.

It’s early enough that most of the players are content to stare out the window with their headphones in on the brief drive to the airport. David sips his coffee, glad for a few minutes to gather his thoughts, to think about Patrick and how to get through the rest of this road trip. St Louis should be better. They won’t be in the same room, they can be professional with each other. Everything will be fine.

The bus takes them to the private terminal at the airport. He follows the players and team personnel onto the charter jet, taking the first available seat. He sinks into the soft leather of the window seat. Looking out past the wing the baggage handlers are loading the luggage onto the plane.

The seat shifts beside him as someone settles next to him. “Is this seat taken?” Patrick. He shakes his head. Anxiety builds inside him. He was so rushed leaving the hotel that morning that he’d forgotten to take the emergency Xanax he kept in his toiletry bag, now tucked safely in the luggage compartment of the plane. “Are you okay?”

“Fine.” He closes his eyes and digs his fingers into the armrest, taking a deep breath like his therapist recommended. “I hate flying.”

“Don’t you fly all the time?” He’s heard all the arguments. It doesn’t matter. He hates it.

“Of course.” He doesn’t see how that’s relevant. He cracks open an eye and looks at Patrick. “Are you trying to logic me out of my irrational fear of flying?”

“Is it working?” For the first time on this trip, the teasing tone he remembers from before has returned to Patrick’s voice. He wants to dislike it but it makes him feel better.

“It’s really not.” But he feels a bit better at having Patrick beside him. He bites his lips together to hide the smile that wants to form without his permission. Patrick holds out his hand, palm up. David eyes it suspiciously. “What’s that for?”

“I’m just worried you’re going to leave permanent fingernail imprints in the armrest.” Patrick’s hand hovers between them and David’s mind flashes back to Patrick holding his hand and refusing to let go as David had sucked him off in his apartment. “C’mon David, I promise it doesn’t mean anything you don’t want it to mean.” He rolls his eyes, but twines his fingers with Patrick’s, letting Patrick bring their joined hands to rest in his lap.

Intentional or not, Patrick’s distraction works. David glances out the window to see the city of Detroit growing smaller and smaller beneath the wing of the airplane. He takes a deep breath at the sight and Patrick’s thumb rubs across the back of his hand. It’s the farthest thing from calming, each brush of Patrick’s thumb over the ridge of his knuckles sends tiny shockwaves through him, like the ripples of a stone in a pond. It’s not soothing but it is pushing his anxiety to the back of his mind, replacing it with a tension of a different sort. “I’m sorry.”

Patrick’s thumb stops moving. “About what?”

“About the article. But also, about not texting.” The apology comes more easily than he’d thought it would.

Patrick is silent for a long moment. His hand is still and warm in David’s. “I don’t care about the article.”

They’re at cruising altitude now. He can see Lake Erie far below them. Patrick gives his hand a soft squeeze. “Better?”

“Yeah. Thanks.” David expects Patrick to pull his hand away, but he doesn’t and they sit, side by side, holding hands. David feels his anxiety tick up a notch. He’s never done this before, held someone’s hand with no expectations except comfort. Yet he doesn’t want to let go. With his right hand, he fumbles his phone out of his pocket. “I have some questions.”

Patrick laughs. It’s the first time he’s made Patrick laugh since the night in his apartment and he didn’t know that he missed it until now. “Of course you do.”

He asks the question he’s been curious about since he first saw Patrick on the ice. “Who designed your skates?”

Patrick laughs again. “Well, they’re Bauer.”

“Eddie Bauer?” He cringes at the thought, remembering the three weeks he’d dated Vincent who had insisted on wearing Eddie Bauer fleece and plaid unironically.

“No, different Bauer. They make hockey equipment. Although I own Eddie Bauer too. I wear it when I go hiking.”

David tries and fails to keep the disgusted grimace off his face. “So the team doesn’t use the same designer, then?

“No, a lot of the guys like different skates.”

“Doesn’t that make your look kind of incohesive? If everyone is wearing a different thing?” Everyone knows the key to a good look is in the details.

“Well, the look isn’t the most important thing.” Patrick is definitely laughing at him now, even as his thumb resumes the motion on the back of his knuckles.

“Says you.” The right attitude flows from the right look. Perhaps this is why Patrick had struggled on the ice last night.

“Plus a lot of guys have sponsorship deals, so they have to wear that brand of skate.”

“What about you? Does someone make you wear a certain type of skates?” Maybe someone is forcing Patrick to dress the way he does. It’s unfair how good he looks if that’s the case.

“No deals for equipment, no.” So it’s not someone else’s fault, then.

But there’s something Patrick’s not saying. “But?”

“But I am the spokesperson for Dove Men’s 2-in-1 body wash.” David can’t stop the full body shiver of revulsion that passes through him. “And I’m also sponsored by Head and Shoulders 2-in-1 men’s shampoo and conditioner.”

“Oh god, stop. You can’t possibly— They can’t possibly—“ He lowers his voice to a whisper. “They don’t make you use those products, do they?”

“Make me? No, they don’t make me.” Patrick pauses, an impish look in his eyes. “But they send them to me for free and I hate to see them go to waste.”

“No. No, no, no.” David waves his hand at the airplane cabin. “When we get out of here, I am designing a proper hair and skincare routine for you.” It’s distressing how good Patrick’s hair and skin are now that he knows how badly Patrick abuses them. “What about the rest of your outfit? And your accessories?”

“Well, we’re on the same team, so we all wear the same jersey. It would be very confusing otherwise.” Patrick’s teasing is relentless, mirroring the movement of his thumb on the back of David’s hand as it traces slow circles that he doesn’t think Patrick is even aware of.

“Okay, but what about your mittens? And your stick?”

“Gloves, stick, pants. We choose our own.” It’s distressing to think of the team dressed in slightly different outfits, like one of those optical illusion puzzles that’s just out of focus.

“And do you use a different stick for each game?”

“Sure, they break all the time.”

“Why don’t you get better ones? Maybe a nice hand-crafted model that’s more durable?”

“Sometimes they just break. When you take a hard shot or someone slashes you. I tape my sticks myself, though.” He pictures Patrick taping parts of his stick together with Scotch tape. That can’t be right. Sensing his confusion, Patrick continues. “We tape the blade with hockey tape to make the puck easier to handle.”

“What about—” The plane drops suddenly, bouncing through a patch of turbulence. He grips Patrick’s hand so tightly he’s surprised he doesn’t protest. From a far-off distance, he hears his breath coming in quick gasps.

“Shh, I’ve got you.” Patrick’s breath is hot on his cheek, his lips so close that they’re nearly touching his skin. “Close your eyes and listen to my voice.” David manages a short nod and Patrick starts to talk, he’s telling the story of the first time his dad took him to a hockey game, how he got over-excited and cried when the other team scored. It’s a silly, rambling story and he stops listening to the words and just listens to the rise and fall of Patrick’s voice, calm and steady. After what feels like a lifetime, but is probably just five minutes, the plane evens out and he takes a long, deep breath, opening his eyes.

Patrick’s whiskey-colored eyes meet his. “Okay?”

“Thanks.” His voice is indistinct, not quite a whisper. He’s not sure how to escape Patrick’s eyes. They look at him, warm and fond. Fuck. He’s in so much trouble. Just when he thinks he can’t take it anymore, the captain’s voice comes over the intercom, apologizing for the turbulence and announcing their descent into St. Louis. He’s never been so glad to have a flight come to an end and that includes the time Alexis had made him fly to Marrakech with the Olson twins.

Gently and carefully, Patrick untangles their fingers. Giving David’s hand one last squeeze, he stands up and retrieves his suit jacket from the overhead compartment, pulling the perfectly fitted fabric over his broad shoulders.

The plane lands without incident and the team and their luggage load onto the bus that will take them to the hotel. David loses track of Patrick in the crowd. He can’t shake the feel of Patrick’s fingers between his and the sound of his voice murmuring softly in his ear as he tries to stitch the remains of his composure back together. All things considered, he’s not sure it’s working.

“Okay, listen up.” A man with a clipboard stands at the front of the bus. “We’re going to get to the hotel at ten o’clock. Morning skate is at eleven. Don’t be late.” He looks out over the rows of seats in the bus. “That means you, Sully.” He continues over the laughter and jeers. “Lunch is in the banquet room at the hotel at one o’clock. Be at the rink by four thirty. Any questions?” Seeing none, he glares around the bus and sits down as the players resume their chatter.

At the hotel, David waits for the players to find their rooms before he checks in. Room key in hand, he makes his way to the eighth floor. A gaggle of players step into the elevator as he gets off. He heads down the hall to room 823, eager for some peace and quiet. He opens the door, only to find Patrick reaching for the handle on the other side. They stare at each other for a long moment before Patrick sidesteps into the bathroom to give David room to maneuver his suitcase through the door.

“So, this is going to be a thing, isn’t it?”

“Looks that way.” Patrick pauses, his hand on the door handle. “Listen, I can talk to someone, get the room assignments changed…”

He shakes his head. “It’s fine.” It’s probably not fine, not with the way his heart is racing just from seeing Patrick standing in the doorway. But he doesn’t want to make a big deal of it and draw attention to it, not after he’d insisted to Patrick that there could never be anything between them.

“Okay.” Patrick hesitates again. “Look, I have to go. I can’t be late.”

“I know. They said.” Patrick gives him a tentative smile and David watches for far too long as the door closes behind him.

He should probably tag along to the morning skate, get more background for the profile piece but he’s restless. Maybe there’s a nice park nearby, something classy, with an English-style bench and a well-manicured lawn. He flips open his phone and pulls up the document that the research staff at the magazine had given him. Maybe he’ll do a different kind of background research instead.

He finds a park, a couple of blocks away from the stadium. Manicured grass is interspersed with concrete seating and a fountain, overlooked by several large trees. It’s March, so the weather is cool, but with his wool coat and his warmest sweater, he’ll be fine. He pulls out his notebook and dials the number.

“Hello?” The woman’s voice is soft and friendly and there’s a lilt to it that reminds him of Patrick.

“Hi, Mrs Brewer? My name is David Rose, I’m writing a profile of Patrick for Urban Living magazine.”

“Okay?” Her voice is cautious now.

“I was hoping I could ask you some questions about what Patrick was like as a kid, just to round out my piece.”

“Does Patrick know you’re writing this article?” He’s not sure what Patrick’s mom looks like, in his mind’s eye he pictures a shorter woman with Patrick’s features and redder hair, but he suspects that Marcy Brewer will hunt him down if he dared to hurt her son. “Um, yes, I’m on the road with the team right now.”

“Okay, dear, what did you want to know?” If niceness was a currency, Mrs Brewer would be a millionaire.

“What kind of kid was he?”

“Cheerful.” David notices she doesn’t say happy and he’s not sure if she means the same thing. “Competitive. Even as a little kid, he wanted to win. I can’t remember how many times his dad tried to talk him out of being a sore loser.”

“Did it work?” He can’t imagine Patrick, who seems so easy-going and contained, throwing a tantrum because he lost at a game. “Eventually. He was always a popular kid, so that helped.”

“He likes to be liked.” He shouldn’t say that to Patrick’s mom. She might not like a journalist, a stranger, pointing out Patrick’s flaws.

There’s a pause and then Marcy laughs. “Yeah, I guess he does.”

“Did he always want to play the hockey?”

“Mostly? He almost quit, right after high school. He dropped out of college, broke up with his girlfriend, said he was going to quit hockey too.” David lets the silence build as he listens to Marcy remember a different Patrick from the one he’s starting to know. “And then it was like he put all the pieces back together and everything was fine after that.” He wants to ask about the girlfriend. Surely his parents must know that Patrick is gay. He’s far too high profile to hide it for long. If he’s not, then hooking up with a sports reporter was a gloriously intemperate thing to do. Mrs Brewer’s next words put his fears to rest. “Of course, in hindsight, we know why things didn’t work out with Rachel.”

David laughs along with her for a moment. “How do you feel about the fact that he could get hurt?”

“I hate it.” Her answer is quick and firm. “But he loves it and sometimes that’s what being a parent is all about.”

“Well, I’ll have to take your word for it.” He thanks Mrs Brewer for her time and hangs up the phone. He’s getting a picture of what the younger version of Patrick must have been like. While it’s still fresh in his mind, he jots down his notes, circling questions to ask Patrick and making a list of childhood contacts to follow up with. His stomach grumbles, forcing him to check the time. It’s almost four o’clock, he just has time to go back to the hotel room to get his laptop before he goes to the game.

He’s the first one in the press box. He sets up at the far corner of the desk. Feeling more familiar, he orders pizza from the server, debating between the margarita chicken and a classic pepperoni.

The team is in trouble as soon as they step onto the ice. What had looked like a series of coordinated dance moves the night before is choppy and disjointed. Passes are too early or too late and the other team swarms the Toronto goalie, shooting at will. After numerous calls, Matt teaches him the meaning of both icing the puck and offside in the first five minutes. An opposing player is knocked down at the blue line and the whistle blows, bringing the play to a halt once again. The referees escort the Toronto defender to the penalty box.

“Oh come on.” Matt mutters the words into his cheese fries.

“Why are they so much worse tonight? Did they forget how to play the hockey?” On the ice the other team is playing keep away with the puck. David watches it go back and forth slowly but surely drawing the Toronto players away from their marks until, without warning, they fire a shot that goes into the net. The crowd erupts as lights and sirens go off.

“Maybe.” Matt groans and eats more fries. “Back-to-back games are tough. Not enough sleep and your routine’s all messed up.”

The second period starts with Toronto down three to nothing. It’s not nearly as much fun when they lose and David finds his attention wandering. He can’t stop thinking about Patrick. It’s his job to think about Patrick right now but the things he’s thinking would never be suitable to print.

If he closes his eyes, he can feel the relentless press of Patrick’s thumb against his hand, can hear the cadence of his voice as he’d talked David through his panic on the plane, Still, there’s no chance that Patrick will want anything from him now, not after David rejected him not once but twice.

Patrick is on the ice now, doing his best to weave away from a player who looks to be a foot taller than he is. As Patrick tries to escape after the puck, the other man slips his stick between his feet, bringing him crashing to the ice.

“Is that allowed?” Even to David’s eyes, it seems both unfair and unsportsmanlike to trip someone from behind.

“No.” Matt’s answers have become shorter and shorter as the game has continued to deteriorate. Patrick pops back to his feet, looking for a call from the referee but there’s nothing. He’s angry, David can see it in the set of his shoulders. Even from hundreds of feet above David flinches away as Patrick smashes his stick against the boards at the bench, slamming it down over and over until it shatters in two.

It’s frightening and primal, the intensity of it belaying a strength that he’d guessed Patrick possessed but that had been hidden behind his broad smile and nicely tailored suits. “What’s wrong with him?” He whispers the words to Matt, as though Patrick’s violent outburst is a secret, not something that’s just been witnessed by twenty thousand people.

“Should’ve got a call. When Krakosky tripped him like that. Goddamn refs are blind this game. He’ll get over it.”

David watches Patrick closely during his next turn on the ice and other than a line of tension that’s taut through his body, his play isn’t out of the ordinary. Despite scoring one of their own, Toronto gives up two more goals that period and all the players look sad as they leave the ice down five to one.

“Does, um, Patrick do that a lot?” As exciting as it is to see Patrick erupt with passion, he’s not too eager to see that much emotion up close.

Matt laughs, some of his typical good humor returning now that the players have left the ice. “No, he gets mad like that maybe once or twice a year? Just watch, he’ll score like five goals next game to make up for it.”

“And in real life?” David’s not sure he wants to manage a boyfriend who picks fights with strangers. Boyfriend? What is he even thinking? Watching hockey must be damaging his brain cells.

Matt chuckles and shakes his head. “Nah, I’ve never seen him so much as slap a mosquito in real life. He just dials it up for the game.”

The team plays better in the third, but even David can see that it’s too late. The game ends with a score of 6-2. David squishes into the elevator with a bunch of other reporters who are headed to the post-game interviews. He tries to keep the grimace of distaste off of his face at being held in close quarters with a group of strangers. He stands near the back, trying to block out their conservation.

“Krakowsky sure had that Brewer kid’s number.” The man directly in front of David snickers, his sizeable frame is running to fat the way that large men sometimes do and his broad shoulders nearly block David’s view of the doors.

“It’s not like that smartass Brewer doesn’t deserve it. I’m glad to see that hotshot taken down a peg or two.”

“Too bad Krakowsky’s stick didn’t come up higher, if you know what I mean.” All three of the men laugh loudly. “Isn’t that right?” The man beside him tries to nudge him with his elbow, which David evades at the last second.

“Excuse me. Patrick is better than any of you will ever be.” He’s interviewed enough wannabe fashion designers to know jealousy when he sees it.

“Aren’t you the guy who said that Brewer needs to practice more?”

“Yeah, that was great. Really knocked him off his pedestal.” The other men are nodding along.

“That’s not what—” It’s not worth his time to argue. “Violence doesn’t solve anything.” These men don’t even know Patrick. And there’s an unpleasant edge to their comments. He crosses his arms, wedging himself into the back corner of the elevator until it comes to a stop outside the team’s dressing room.

None of the players are available for interviews, something Matt tells him is common after a bad loss. Instead of lingering, he heads back to the hotel to put the finishing touches on his article.

...Patrick Brewer’s temper tantrum was the high point of the game for the uninspired Leafs…

...altogether, tonight’s performance came with the same level of courage that can be found in the team’s polyester uniforms…

He’s putting the finishing touches on the article when he hears a key card in the lock. From the line of his shoulders, David can tell that Patrick is still angry. There’s a tension to him that reminds him of an elastic stretched too tightly, of that moment before it either snaps or breaks free to ricochet around the room.

“Hi.” David tries to put some of the calm that Patrick had given him on the plane into his voice, but it doesn’t come naturally and the word sounds strained.

“Hi.” It’s short and curt. Patrick shrugs off his blazer and hangs it in the closet, bending to untie his shoes. David tries and fails to pull his gaze away from the swell of Patrick’s ass. Without another word, Patrick closes the door of the bathroom behind him and David can hear the shower running. He reads over the article one last time and sends it to Ronnie.

He’s not sure what to do now. He opens his phone, but nothing catches his attention. His focus is held by the sounds of the shower in the bathroom, by the faint hint of citrus, by the line of light he can see beneath the door. He knew that seeing Patrick again was a mistake. It was the reason that he had ghosted him in the first place, knowing that continued exposure would make him want in a manner that is untenable, that can never be reciprocated.

He wants all those parts of Patrick that he’d had before. The clench of his hands, the press of his lips, the thrust of his hips. And he wants more.

The shower shuts off. With a groan, David flings himself backwards on the bed, staring up at the textured ceiling.

“Are you okay?” Like a cat, Patrick has snuck out of the bathroom to stand at the end of his bed as he towels off his hair. As short as it is, it still stands up in multiple directions, making him look younger, more vulnerable. David longs to brush the strands into place with his fingers. He tucks his hands under his back to keep them out of harm’s way.

“Shouldn’t I be asking you that question?” Patrick shrugs, draping the towel around his neck. The white terrycloth contrasts with his navy t-shirt and David can see his muscles flex beneath the tight cotton. A bead of water runs down the side of Patrick’s face, David can smell a hint of the citrus shower gel he used and he longs to nuzzle the side of Patrick’s neck, to breathe it in.

“It’s nothing.” Patrick gives his hair a final rub with the towel, avoiding David’s eyes.

“It’s obviously something. You smashed your stick into smithereens.” David sits up and Patrick takes a step back as though he’s worried David might reach for him.

“It stays on the ice. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“God, I wish my life was that easy. Just box things up and put them out of reach until I decide to look at them again.”

“Do you want to hear about it?” Patrick swings around to look at him and his eyes are hot. “Do you want to hear how I felt when I lost control? How I thought I might unravel on the ice in front of all those people? How it consumed me?” David wants to hear about those things but he’s afraid that hearing them might cause one or both of them to burn to ash. He can’t speak, so he shakes his head, rejecting Patrick’s words. “That’s what I thought. The bathroom’s free.” With that, Patrick crawls between the white sheets on his bed, opening his phone and ignoring David.

When David comes out of the bathroom, Patrick’s bedside light is off, his back turned pointedly towards him.

“Goodnight, Patrick.” There’s no answer.

***

“So is this how it’s going to be?” Once again David wakes to the sound of Patrick’s voice, but there’s a note of amusement this morning that had been missing yesterday. Patrick’s phone lands on the pillow beside him.

Leafs Loss Inspires Brewer Tantrum

He pushes himself into a sitting position at the head of the bed. “Are you saying it’s not correct?”

“Nope.” Patrick hands him a steaming mug.

He takes a cautious sniff, eyes narrowed. “What’s this?”

“It’s coffee, what does it look like?” Patrick smirks at him and David is glad to see that the tension that had filled him the night before has evaporated. Or has been locked away in whatever box Patrick keeps it in.

“You’re not trying to poison me in revenge for the articles, are you?” He wraps both hands around the cup, letting the warmth soak into his skin.

“Yes, because they’ll never trace it back to me, your roommate with an obvious grudge.”

David takes a cautious sip. “It tastes like poison.”

“Well, you’ll have to take that up with guest services.”

He takes another sip. It’s still terrible, but at least it’s coffee. “Is this when you tell me we have to leave in fifteen minutes just so you can laugh at me?”

“No, you’re good.” Patrick checks his phone. “There’s no game today, so we’ve got an hour and a half.”

“That is barely enough time.” He’d had to cut his skincare regimen short yesterday morning, he’s not prepared to do that two days in a row.

Still, he takes the time to savour his coffee. Or at least as much as he can, given the quality. Annoyingly Patrick thrusts open the curtains and stands by the window, his hands shoved deep in his pockets. “I’m sorry about last night.”

“You don’t owe me anything.” Patrick doesn’t turn from the window. “Besides, I enjoyed seeing that side of you.”

That makes Patrick turn towards him, an eyebrow raised. “Oh?”

“You’re so contained. I like knowing you can lose control.”

Amusement, followed by a flash of heat slides across Patrick’s face. “I’ll keep that in mind.” He goes to the closet and pulls out his garment bag, busying himself by arranging his suits inside. “There’ll be some time when we get to Nashville? If you, uh, wanted to do something? Together?”

“Like a date?” David would prefer another hook-up to a date. Something clear and easy with no expectations. Except they’d tried that before and look where they are now. Patrick is definitely the kind of guy who goes on dates. He was the kid in high school who showed up with flowers and chocolates to meet someone’s parents and get his photo taken. He opens car doors and insists on paying the bill.

“That depends. Which answer is more likely to get you to say yes?”

He wants it. He wants it so badly but the fear rises inside him, forcing aside his acceptance. “I don’t really do dates.”

“You don’t do dates.” Patrick tucks the sports coat he wore yesterday into the garment bag. “Then let’s not call it a date. Let’s call it two people spending time in the same space at the same time.”

His coffee is gone. He pulls himself out of bed, gathering his clothes and toiletries so he can get ready for the trip to Nashville. “It’s not the semantics I have a problem with. It’s the logistics.”

“Oh, the logistics.”

He senses that Patrick is mocking him but somehow it’s like he’s on David’s side at the same time. “I’m supposed to be impartial. Or something. And if we go on a date, then you’ll expect things of me. And I’ll expect things from you. And it will just get messy.”

“Tell you what.” Patrick zips closed the garment bag. “I’ll text you the list of places I’m going to go and if we go together, well that’s just you being a talented journalist, how’s that?”

“Fine.” He slips past Patrick into the bathroom, letting the shower heat up. Maybe if he just gave in and fucked Patrick again, then he wouldn’t have to think about dating and relationships and spending time together. He wants all of those things, but it’s too much, they crash together in a tangled pile in his brain, threatening to overwhelm him.

The day unrolls much like the previous one although David feels less rushed and more harried by his own thoughts. He follows the team from the hotel to the bus to the airport to the plane. Once again, Patrick slides into the seat next to his without question. He holds his hand out to David.

David stares at it for a long moment, his eyes flicking up to Patrick’s face. His eyes are warm and gentle. He can’t figure Patrick out. He offers parts of himself so freely, parts that David knows can flay the skin from his body, leaving him exposed. And yet other parts of him are locked away, carefully controlled. He takes Patrick’s hand.

“So where are we going today?” If Patrick wants to do this, then they can do this. Patrick will learn why it’s a mistake soon enough.

“I didn’t think we were going anywhere.” The squeeze of Patrick’s fingers belays his teasing words.

He can’t do this anymore. He can’t pretend that they’re maintaining some professional relationship. That had broken down weeks ago with Patrick in his bed, his skin hot under David’s hands. “Fine. You win.”

“I win? What do I win exactly? Is there a trophy? Or a cash prize? Or a participation certificate at least?”

“Don’t gloat.” David bites back his smile. “Just take the win.” He turns to look out the window at the tiny farms and towns far below. He can feel Patrick smiling at him. “Stop that.”

Patrick leans close, his breath feels hot against David’s cheek. “We’re going to have so much fun today.”

It turns out that Patrick’s version of ‘today’ means ‘tonight’ since the team has an afternoon practice followed by a team meeting. David stays in his (their) room, waiting for Patrick to return. He tries to work on his article, but he can’t concentrate, his thoughts circling around what Patrick has planned for their date. Sick of staring at his blank computer screen, he calls Stevie.

“How’s the road trip?” He can hear the sarcasm leaching through the call. The normalcy of it grounds him, taking his mind off Patrick.

“It’s fine.” It’s not fine, he hates almost every minute. Except for the times he spends alone with Patrick.

“Well, that’s a relief, because the comments on your articles, made me think you were revisiting some childhood bullying experience.”

“You know I stopped reading the comments after that time I wrote about how leggings aren’t pants.” The comments section of the internet is a breeding ground for freaks. And, he’s already seen the reaction on Twitter. But he knows Stevie won’t miss the chance to harass him anyway.

“Well, half the people think you’re an idiot. Which totally tracks. Like this one from Brewski1487. ‘This is the worst hockey article ever written. Patrick Brewer is the best thing to ever happen to this team, so suck it.’”

“Oh my god.” Hockey fans are so crass. But he was once called out by Iris van Herpen for misidentifying the type of material in her Sensory Seas collection. This is mild by comparison.

“Brewerstan2020 would also like to have a word with you. ‘How dare you? I bet you’ve never played hockey in your life.’”

“Well, they’re not wrong.”

“And the other half think you’re the truth-telling saviour that they’ve been waiting for. Like Leafs4ever who says ‘Finally someone says what we all know, that Patrick Brewer is highly overrated.’” Stevie pauses, waiting to see if he’ll respond. When he doesn’t, she continues. “So...how does Patrick feel about what you’ve written?” She gives P in Patrick an extra pop.

“He’s fine with it.” Given their close quarters, he should be glad that Patrick finds it funny. It’s too much to hope that he hasn’t seen the comments and social media posts.

“So he’s speaking to you again, then?”

“As a matter of fact, I’m waiting for him to come back from practice and then we’re going to hang out.” He can’t bring himself to say the word ‘date’ to Stevie, but predictably, she senses there’s something more.

“Hang out? Is that a euphemism for something?” Stevie cackles at him.

“We might go on a date. Except it’s not a date, because I don’t do dates. So we’re just hanging out together.”

“How very middle school of you.”

“I can do relationships that are more than just sex.” Surely there’s been at least one occasion where he’s gone on a date with someone? Nothing comes to mind.

“Can you?” Stevie packs a lifetime of doubt into the two words.

“I can try.” He lets the words sit there, unsure if either of them believe them. “I’m, uh, I’m going to go. I have no idea where Patrick is taking me tonight, so I need to consider and reject all of my clothing options.”

“You’re in Nashville, so I’d recommend the cowboy boots.”

Oh god. What if Patrick expects him to wear cowboy boots? No. Patrick would never. But what if Patrick wears cowboy boots? Or even worse, a cowboy hat? “This is a terrible idea.”

“Two seconds ago, you said you were going to try.”

“Two seconds ago, the possibility of having to dress like someone who knows what the inside of a barn looks like wasn’t on the table.”

He hangs up with Stevie and checks the time. Patrick should be back any minute. He flips through the clothing options in his suitcase but none of them are saying what he wants to say. Which makes sense, because he’s not sure what he wants to say. Even Givenchy can’t quite muster the delicate mixture of apology and anticipation and attraction that he’s feeling. He goes through the pile again, at the very bottom is his Neil Barrett lightning bolt sweater. Maybe that’s the right mood to capture the nervous energy that’s careening through him. He pulls it on and is fussing with his hair in the bathroom mirror when he hears Patrick’s key card in the door.

“You look very nice.”

“Thank you.” The shared space feels intimately awkward. He retreats to the far corner of the room and pretends to focus on his phone as Patrick pulls his own clothes out of the closet and takes them into the bathroom.

He emerges a handful of minutes later. He shouldn’t be captivating the way he is, but he holds David’s attention, the mid-range denim, the blue button-down shirt. “Ready?” David nods, trying not to stare at the way Patrick’s jeans perfectly accent the curve of his ass. Patrick tugs on a perfectly cut sport coat and David pulls his hands back into fists to prevent himself from tearing it off of him.

“Where are we going?” He’s dreading the answer. This is still Nashville, the town that revels in neon lights and country music.

Patrick just smiles and shakes his head. “Can’t spoil the surprise. C’mon, the Uber’s here.”

Their car leaves downtown behind. David can see the bland beige and grey houses of the suburbs pop up on the side of the roadway. “Are you planning on dumping my body in the suburbs?”

Patrick’s grin gets even wider as the car comes to a stop in front of a shopping mall. “C’mon, David.” Patrick slides out of the car, holding out his hand for David. Patrick is trolling him but that doesn’t stop David from taking his hand.

“This is even worse.” Fish the Finest A giant red sign proclaims on the outside of the building. “Are we going...fishing?” Not even Patrick would dare to take him fishing on a date, would he? No, surely not.

“No, no. There’s a restaurant here that has great seafood.”

That doesn’t inspire confidence. “Do we have to catch it ourselves?”

“Do you trust me?” The question makes him clench his teeth. He trusts Patrick more than he’s willing to admit in ways he’s never considered before. But he definitely doesn’t trust him on this.

“With this situation?” David waves vaguely at the boats on display outside the mall. “Absolutely not.” Patrick pulls him towards the entrance. The sign over the door reads ‘Welcome Fishermen, Hunters and Other Liars.’ Before David can process anything that’s happening, Patrick is opening the door, dragging him inside. It’s horrifying. It might be the worst experience of his life. Dead fish and animals line the walls. On the floor, he can see plaid shirts and jeans that are even worse than the ones Patrick is wearing. “What...what is this place?”

“It’s a Bass Pro Shop. We just have to cut through to get to the restaurant.”

“I think I might be ill.” David tightens his grip on Patrick’s hand, not wanting to become separated in this hall of nightmares

Finally, they make it through, emerging under the fluorescent lights of the shopping mall. In all honesty, David’s not sure that this collection of sad outlet stores is any better, but at least it’s less of an assault to his senses, including, most importantly, his sense of style.

Patrick guides him through the mall, refusing to let him stop for cookies and into a restaurant that looks like it mated with an aquarium. “Wait, you said this place serves seafood? They don’t eat their residents, do they?”

Patrick laughs. “I don’t think so, but do you want me to ask?” David grins and shakes his head, following their server to their table. It’s restful, seeing the tanks filled with fish and other creatures swimming beside their table. The server takes their wine order and leaves them alone in a back alcove.

Patrick opens his menu immediately. David watches him closely across the dark wood table for a moment, trying not to be distracted by the tacky seahorse shaped napkin holder in the center of the table. “What are we doing, exactly?”

Patrick cocks an eyebrow at him. “Having dinner? I think I’ll have the sea bass.”

“Patrick.” He knows that Patrick is trying to make this easy for him, teasing and cajoling away his tension, but he needs some direction, somewhere to point his uncertainty.

“David.” Patrick sighs and puts down his menu. “I hope it’s obvious by now that I like you. You’re funny and smart and gorgeous. Let’s just see where the night takes us, okay?”

He nods, his cheeks still warm from Patrick’s compliments. The server takes their orders. David takes a gulp of his wine, his right hand toying with the cutlery, still rolled inside the cloth napkin. “So, the people online have some interesting things to say about you.”

“Do they?” Patrick looks amused. “I never read any of that stuff. When I first started, I used to, but you can only read so many comments from ‘LeafsFan83’ and so many articles from ‘hockey insiders.’”

“So you don’t read any of it, then?” At least Patrick won’t be mad about the obnoxious comments on the articles.

“Nope, I’ve got better things to do.” David definitely wants to explore the better things that Patrick is doing, but he can’t let this go.

“But you read my articles.”

David’s statement hangs over the table and Patrick goes still before a smile tugs at the corners of his lips. “Well, you’re not a hockey insider, are you?”

“Is that why you read the articles? To see if I’d say nice things about you?”

“Oh, I never thought you would say nice things about me.” Patrick sounds like he’s never been happier at the prospect.

“I can be nice.” When people deserve it. And when they don’t have warm brown eyes that are eager to tease.

“That hasn’t been my experience.” David eyes Patrick cautiously, not sure if it’s a joke or a jab. He’s surprised at how relieved he feels to see Patrick’s smile, broad and warm.

“Fine. But there are more important things than being nice.”

“Oh, agreed.” The server interrupts them to bring their meals. David takes a big bite of his crab ravioli. Patrick was right, it’s delicious. Not fresh-caught from the south of France delicious, but adequately savory. He lets the cream sauce melt on his tongue, closing his eyes to relish the flavors.

“Despite the decor, you were right about this place.” The food is good and despite his reservations, he’s having fun.

“What’s wrong with the decor? You don’t like fish? I think they’re cute.”

“That might be the first time I’ve ever heard anyone over the age of ten describe fish as cute. The fish are fine. It’s this other situation I have issues with.” He gestures to the chairs, which have fake portholes cut into the backs of them. “They’ve just leaned a little too far into the nautical theme, is all I’m saying.”

“See? You’re definitely not nice.” Patrick smirks at him, an expression that David is coming to think of as belonging just to him. His stomach does a tiny backflip and he takes another bite of his pasta. The rest of the meal passes quickly. He tells Patrick about the time his behind-the-scenes story at New York Fashion Week had gone wrong. In return, Patrick tells him about a run-in he’d had with Ronnie several years before that had resulted in her getting into a shouting match with the team’s publicist.

“No wonder she doesn’t like you.”

“What do you mean she doesn’t like me?” Patrick sounds wounded at the idea that Ronnie might hold a grudge and David remembers Matt saying that Patrick likes to be liked.

“I think she called you a ‘cocky hot shot.’” Patrick pouts and it might be the cutest thing David has ever seen. He can’t resist twisting the knife even deeper. “No, that’s not quite right. I think her exact words were ‘I hate that cocky bastard.’” Patrick looks even more offended and it’s all David can do to choke back his laugh. He takes the final bite of his chocolate cake and waves his fork at Patrick. “You can’t stand it. You can’t stand that someone doesn’t think you’re charming.”

Patrick blushes, making his pouting even more adorable. “That’s not true. I know there’s lots of people who don’t like me. All those people online.”

“People on social media don’t count. You can’t stand it that a real live person met you and didn’t like you.”

“What about you? You don’t want to be liked?”

He shrugs, looking down at the empty plate. He sets his fork down, thinking about how much he wants to reveal. Fuck it. Patrick might as well see who he really is. “They don’t, generally. Most people.”

Something indecipherable flickers across Patrick’s face. He sets his napkin down on the table. “We should go, we don’t want to be late.” Patrick pushes back his chair and holds out his hand. Reluctantly, he accepts it, letting Patrick lace their fingers together.

“Late for what?” Of course there’s more. Of course Patrick has a surprise plan.

“You’ll see. Trust me, you will love it.”

“Nothing about where we’ve gone tonight makes me want to trust you.”

Outside the restaurant, Patrick guides them across the street to a small urban park. They walk for a few minutes until they come to the front of a sizeable building with a fake wooden front. David drags them to a halt. “Absolutely not.”

“David. Trust me.” Patrick pulls him forward.

David shakes his head disbelievingly. “I can’t believe I’m letting you do this.” Reluctantly, he follows Patrick through the doors of the Grand Ole Opry.

The auditorium is full. David looks out over the crowded seats, suppressing a shudder. He grasps Patrick’s shoulder and pulls him back towards him. “I think we’re the youngest people here.”

“That’s not true. Look, those kids are with their grandparents.”

“Oh my god. You might be the most impossible human being I’ve ever met.”

“C’mon, David.” Patrick holds out his hand. David scowls at him, but he slides his fingers between Patrick’s. “Look, our seats are right in the middle.”

“Of course they are.” He grimaces apologetically as Patrick forces a line of senior citizens out of their red velvet seats. The smell of baby powder and spearmint hangs in the air. They settle into their seats. “So who are we here to see? Willie Nelson? Toby Keith? Or god forbid, a Johnny Cash tribute band?”

“How do you even know who those people are?”

“My mom did a limited run with the off-off-off-Broadway play ‘I Miss My Truck: Stories of the Sons of Country Music’.” The stage is lit with red lights to highlight a familiar shape. David laughs helplessly. “You really brought me to a barn.”

“What?” He can’t explain his assumptions about their date. He shakes his head dismissively.

“Never mind.” The house lights come down and a spotlight lights up the microphone in the middle of the stage. It’s defiantly tacky, with a white base and red vertical lettering that reads ‘Grand Ole Opry.’ Just in case anyone was confused about where they were.

An opening trio of women in western shirts are warming up the crowd. Their voices are good, but their repertoire doesn’t seem to include any songs written after 1952. Naturally, the crowd applauds madly after every song.

David doesn’t applaud. Patrick runs his fingers slowly over the back of his hand, a feather-light touch that sets his entire body on fire. Patrick traces each of his fingers with infinitesimal slowness, up the side, around the tip of his finger and back down, lingering over the cool metal of his rings before repeating the same journey on the next finger. It might be the most intimate experience of his life and all he can do is sit still, back rigid against the red velvet theatre seat, and pray that Patrick doesn’t stop.

Patrick’s fingers reach the base of his thumb and David gives a small sigh of regret, expecting him to pull away. Instead, the tip of Patrick’s finger slips beneath the cuff of David’s sweater, tracing a slow, sensual path across the back of his wrist. Patrick hesitates for a moment on the far side of David’s wrist before starting again. Up. Around. Down. Distantly, as though through a tunnel, David can hear the music.

...don’t fence me in…

The audience claps for the opening act and Patrick pulls his hand away long enough to join them, leaving David with no choice but to do the same.

The house lights stay down, a single spotlight remains focused on the microphone at center stage. Achingly slowly, the light dims, casting the theatre into complete blackness. Patrick’s hand finds David’s again in the darkness, his fingers are sure as they weave between David’s, their joined hands resting casually in David’s lap.

The intimacy of the darkness presses in on him. He should say something, he should acknowledge what’s happening. But he doesn’t want to draw attention to it. Whatever it is. And Patrick will just tease him and smile that fond smile that gives him goosebumps. His thoughts are chasing in circles like a dog after its tail when the spotlight comes back on.

“And now, please welcome to the stage, a very special guest, Dolly Parton!”

A tiny blond woman in a sparkly jumpsuit appears before the microphone. Amid the raucous applause, David turns to Patrick accusingly. “How did you know?”

“How did I know that Dolly would be here tonight?”

David makes a head motion that’s partway between a shake and a nod, his head rotating in a complete circle. “Yes. No. I love Dolly, how did you know?”

“Everyone loves Dolly.” Patrick smirks at him as the first notes of ‘Jolene’ fills the theatre. “Especially people who love the best divas.”

David can’t contain his smile, so he tucks it into his cheek, feeling his face twist in response. Patrick gives his hand a knowing squeeze as they sit back to watch the show. Dolly closes out her main show with ‘9 to 5’. Two standing ovations later, they leave the auditorium slowly amidst the grey-haired crowd. As they wait for their Uber, Patrick’s hands find his waist, pulling David back towards him. “Do you trust my dating instincts now?”

“Anyone can get lucky once in a while.” No matter how much fun he’d had tonight, encouraging Patrick is asking for trouble.

“Okay, David.” Patrick presses a kiss to the top of David’s shoulder and David can feel the imprint of his lips through the thick sweater.

In the car, Patrick plays with his fingers again. There’s a restlessness to his touch this time, as though he’s building his courage for something. Patrick keeps hold of his hand through the lobby of the hotel, up the elevator and into the door of their room. Only as the door slips closed does he let David go. Patrick steps back, rubbing the back of his neck. “I guess this is our stop.”

“I guess it is.” He means for it to be a joke, but it comes out too softly and the words hang in the air.

“Okay.” Patrick gives him a sheepish smile and shrugs off his blazer, turning his back to David as he reaches for a hanger from the closet. Before he can stop himself, David runs his hands up Patrick’s biceps and across his shoulders. Patrick goes still beneath him as David presses his lips to the back of his neck. Patrick’s short hair tickles against his upper lip and skin is hot. With glacial slowness, Patrick tosses the jacket and the hanger towards the bed, reaching up with one hand to cup the back of David’s head.

“Is this okay?” He presses a second kiss along Patrick’s hairline and Patrick’s hand tightens in his hair.

“It’s more than okay.” Patrick tips his head back against David’s shoulder and David follows the line of Patrick’s shirt collar with his lips, nudging the thin cotton of his dress shirt aside and nipping softly at his collarbone. He feels rather than hears the noise that Patrick makes, a groan that comes from deep inside him, like the sound an old house makes in a windstorm.

His hands come to rest on Patrick’s hips. David pulls their bodies together, a hiss leaving his own lips as Patrick grinds back into him, the added friction bringing him fully hard. Patrick’s hand is still tangled in his hair, it’s pulling now and David’s hiss turns to a whine at the increased pressure. He slips his hands forward, across the crest of Patrick’s hips. The denim is stretched and taut as Patrick’s cock pushes against the already tight material. Patrick whimpers at the brush of his fingers, thrusting his hips forward and then grinding them back against David again, leaving them both breathless.

David lifts his lips from Patrick’s neck just long enough to whisper in his ear. “What are your dating instincts telling you now?”

Patrick’s free hand scrabbles for purchase on David’s arm as he gasps his answer. “They’re telling me that Dolly Parton was an excellent idea.”

“Hmm.” David nips at Patrick’s ear in retaliation for his sassiness and brings his hands up to the button of Patrick’s jeans. “Okay?”

“Yeah.” Patrick releases his hold on David’s hair, making quick work of the buttons on his shirt as David undoes the button and gently releases the straining zipper. Patrick lets out a soft sigh as his cock springs free, he turns in David’s arms, his lips hot and eager against David’s as his fingers tug a touch too frantically at David’s sweater. He catches Patrick’s wrists in his own and Patrick surges into the added pressure.

“Hang on a sec.” Patrick whines wordlessly at him, making David laugh at his frustration. He kisses the tip of Patrick’s nose and carefully pulls off his sweater, folding it and setting it on the bed beside Patrick’s discarded jacket. Undoing the fastening of his pants, he lays them beside the sweater. Wearing just his underwear, he turns to meet Patrick’s gaze, his chin tilted defiantly.

“God. Look at you.” Patrick’s fingers ghost along the ridge of his shoulder, as though he’s suddenly afraid to touch him.

“C’mere.” David’s hands find Patrick’s hips again. This time, when he pulls them together, he can feel the outline of Patrick’s dick against his. He thrusts forward and Patrick meets him halfway. Cupping the back of Patrick’s head, he kisses him, deep and desperate, his other hand gripping Patrick’s hip as they move together.

It wouldn’t take much more and he could come from this, from feeling Patrick hot and greedy against him, relishing the drag of Patrick’s cock against his. “What do you want?” He pulls back just far enough to whisper the words between them.

“Bed. Now.” Patrick’s voice is rough and broken. He pushes David softly until his knees hit the edge of the bed, following after him as David shoves himself towards the head of the bed. Propping himself up on an elbow, Patrick trails his hand up the line of David’s thigh. He kisses David softly, chastely, letting his lips rest on David’s for a beat longer than David expects.

He can’t think about it. He’s used to sex that is fun or sometimes not fun but almost always meaningless. Already, the intimacy of what Patrick is doing to him threatens to consume him and he lets his thoughts shy away, following the path of Patrick’s fingers, anticipating the next touch.

“Can I suck you off?” Patrick’s tone is somewhere between prosaic and awestruck. David’s hips flinch off the bed at the words and he nods beneath Patrick’s lips.

“Yeah. Yes. Please.” Patrick’s hand cups him over his underwear and the unexpected touch makes David’s hips jerk even as Patrick’s mouth traces a slow line down his chest, stopping to nuzzle at the fold of his thigh, his breath hot against the band of his underwear. Slowly, so slowly, Patrick pulls his underwear down, tapping the top of David’s leg to get him to lift his hips and sliding them down and off. Before David can feel exposed, Patrick settles between his legs and in a single smooth motion, he takes David into his mouth.

Instinctively, his hands reach for Patrick’s head, one hand tangling in his thick curls as the other caresses his cheek. Patrick pulls back until just the head of David’s cock is in his mouth, his tongue stroking him gently as his eyes meet David’s. David licks his lips as the gaze stretches between them and then Patrick winks at him before engulfing him again. His hands are feverish against David’s hips, pinning him in place as David’s hips jerk, mimicking the rhythm of Patrick’s mouth.

The tension inside him builds and builds and builds. “Patrick—” He tugs at Patrick’s hair. “Patrick— I’m close— God—” With a strangled cry, he’s coming down Patrick’s throat, Patrick’s satisfied smirk is the last thing he sees as his eyes drift closed.

It’s only been a few minutes. He’s pretty sure. Or possibly longer. Or possibly he’s dead, Patrick has killed him. What a way to go. A soft giggle escapes at the thought and the hand that’s slowly stroking his chest stops. “You okay over there?”

He forces his eyes open, Patrick smirks at him, his grin a close cousin to the look he’d had as he’d given David one of the best blow jobs of his life. His one hand strokes David’s chest, while the other softly squeezes his still hard cock. David licks his lips, trying to force his mouth to remember how to form words. “Ye— Yes. Yeah. God.”

“I guess it was okay?”

David summons a reserve of strength from a hidden depth and rolls them over, trapping Patrick beneath him. Patrick’s grin doesn’t falter, but David hears his breath quicken. He gets a hand around Patrick’s cock. Patrick fumbles in the sheets, pressing a small bottle into his hand. Adding a generous dollop of lube, he grasps Patrick’s cock even as he thrusts his tongue into his mouth and Patrick surges up to meet him. He lets a rhythm build between the pull of his hand on Patrick’s dick and the searching of his lips and tongue. Below him, Patrick’s hips jerk upwards, seeking friction and pressure. David feels Patrick’s body stutter before he gasps his name, coming between them with a cry.

David presses his forehead to Patrick’s letting their breathing sync for a moment. He rolls off and pads to the bathroom for a washcloth. In the mirror, his hair is ruined from Patrick’s hands but a contented smile plays at the corners of his lips. He cleans Patrick’s come off his stomach, bringing the warm cloth back to where Patrick is sprawled across the bed. He pulls on his sleep clothes, tossing a pair of boxers and a t-shirt to Patrick so he can do the same. Patrick’s eyelids flicker open at David’s touch. As soon as David tosses the cloth off the side of the bed, Patrick tugs at him until they’re both snug beneath the covers, wrapping his solid body around David as they drift to sleep.

***

He wakes up tangled with Patrick in the middle of the bed. Patrick’s arm tightens around him and a pair of warm lips press onto his shoulder blade.

“Morning, sleepy.”

“Coffee.”

The lips move to the sensitive spot behind his ear. “I could make you coffee.” With a frustrated groan he rolls over, Patrick’s warm brown eyes are amused. He scowls at Patrick, refusing to kiss him back when Patrick presses a kiss to his lips. “Or the shower is big enough for two.” He tries to stay annoyed, but the spark in Patrick’s eyes is too much. Patrick slides out of bed and flips the covers off him. He whines in protest but lets Patrick pull him towards the shower.

The walk-in shower is lined with Romanian marble. Patrick flips on the water. While he waits for it to warm up, he puts his hands on David’s hips, backing him against the vanity. He leans close and David thinks he’s going to kiss him but instead; he tugs on the hem of David’s t-shirt and with one quick movement pulls it up over his head.

Once being naked in front of Patrick would have felt uncomfortable. But after last night, he stands motionless as Patrick runs his eyes over his chest. Without breaking eye contact he grasps the bottom of his own shirt and drags it off. David reaches out to touch him but Patrick catches his hands and presses them against the edge of the counter.

“No. Keep them there.” Patrick’s voice is rough. His cock responds to Patrick’s order and he tips his head back, wrenching his eyes from Patrick’s.

Patrick slides off his boxers. He’s half hard. David swallows hard looking at him. Casually, Patrick runs his hands along the curve of his ass before turning away from David to check the temperature of the water. “The water’s warm.” The ordinary words send a shiver up David’s spine and he grasps the edge of the counter even more tightly. Patrick smirks at him. “Guess I’ll just take a shower, then.”

He whines in response.

“Unless you want to join me?”

“Patrick…” He breathes out the words. He’s completely hard now. He twitches his hips, desperate for even the tiny amount of friction he gets from his feather soft sleep pants. Patrick runs a finger up the inside of his wrist and over his exposed bicep. He rests his fingers just briefly over the pulse point of David’s throat before drawing them down his body through his chest hair. David is panting, the sound lost beneath the hiss of the shower. He shouldn’t be this turned on. He’s been fucked by people and been less aroused. But this is Patrick. Patrick, who can take him apart with a single look. Patrick’s hand drifts to David’s nipple. He flicks it with his fingernail and David writhes against the vanity.

Patrick brings his mouth to the peak of David’s nipple. He licks it, just once and a soft moan escapes David’s lips. Patrick’s hands are back on his hips. The pressure makes his hips twitch again but Patrick holds him fast. Glacially slowly, Patrick slips his hands under the waistband of David’s pants sliding them down his legs until he can kick them away.

Before he can react, Patrick takes him in his mouth, swallowing him deeply and then releasing him so slowly David feels as though he can feel every millimeter of his cock passing through Patrick’s lips. He aches to put his hands on Patrick’s head, to feel his curls between his fingers. Patrick pulls off with a gentle pop. His hands pry David’s fingers from the edge of the vanity and pulls David with him towards the shower.

“I can’t believe you’re this cruel.”

“Am I cruel?” Patrick spins him around so his back is to the wall of the shower. The water is flowing over both of them, it’s beading on Patrick’s naked shoulders. He wants to lick it off.

“I still haven’t had any coffee.” His tongue chases the water droplets along the ball of Patrick’s shoulder, feeling him shiver at the touch.

“How dare I.” Patrick tips his head back to give David access to his neck. He obliges, dipping his tongue into the divet of Patrick’s throat. Without warning, Patrick crowds against him, his body is firm against David’s. He drops David’s hands and David grips his bare ass, pulling Patrick into him.

Finally, finally, Patrick kisses him. His lips are slick against David’s, wet from the shower. Patrick’s lips tease against his and David licks into his mouth. The kissing is almost enough to distract him from the pressure of Patrick’s cock against his. Patrick’s legs bracket his own, holding him in place.

Patrick turns in his arms to grab the shampoo bottle. Before he can reach it, David pulls his hips against him, groaning as his cock slides into the crack of Patrick’s ass. Patrick grinds back against him and David wraps his hand around Patrick’s dick. Patrick leans back into him and they get a rhythm going. With a cry, Patrick’s head falls back against his shoulder and he’s coming in David’s hand. The shudders of Patrick’s body and his ragged breaths in David’s ear are too much and he follows, leaning back against the wall of the shower and wrapping an arm around Patrick’s chest to hold Patrick against him so they stay on their feet.

“Morning, David.” Patrick presses a kiss to the left of his ear.

“You still haven’t provided any coffee.” Patrick chuckles and he squirts some shampoo into David’s waiting hand. David lathers Patrick’s hair and then his own. He rubs body wash down Patrick’s back, turning as Patrick returns the favor. He can’t remember the last time he’s done something this intimate with someone. There was that photographer he’d been paired with during last year’s Fashion Week spread. But they had both been looking for a good time with no strings attached. He’s not sure that’s what Patrick is looking for.

Not wanting to think about what Patrick might want from him, he follows Patrick out of the shower and pulls on his Tom Ford sweatpants and a Balenciaga sweatshirt. He finishes his skin care regime and steps out of the tiny bathroom. A pair of powerful arms surround him and Patrick nuzzles at his ear. “Are you coming to the rink?”

He shakes his head, his cheek scratching against Patrick’s. “I’m going to write.”

“Ooo, there’s nothing sexier than your boyfriend writing an expose about you.” Everything screeches to a halt, like in a movie when the needle scrapes across the record.

“What did you just say?” He murmurs the words against Patrick’s neck, wanting this conversation to evaporate into thin air, hoping Patrick will take the words back.

Sensing his tension, Patrick goes still against his back. “It was nothing, forget it.”

“Okay.” His voice is too soft, he’s lost the ability to speak above a whisper. There’s a loud knock at the door and Patrick releases him like he’s grateful for the excuse.

The hotel server wheels the room service cart into the room and Patrick signs the receipt and waits for her to leave. The sight of it reminds David that he still hasn’t had any coffee. “C’mon, David. I have forty-five minutes before I have to leave.” Patrick nods to a small table in the corner of the room. He sits cautiously on the edge of the chair, anxious about their previous conversation, but Patrick is his usual self. He arranges the covered plates to his satisfaction, laughing as David makes grabby hands for the carafe of coffee.

David downs half a cup of coffee in a single swallow before removing the lid of his plate. Eggs Benedict, bacon and a side of fruit make his mouth water. He shoves a piece of bacon in his mouth before he realizes that Patrick hasn’t touched his own food. Anxiety washes over him. Not everyone appreciates watching him eat. But he and Patrick have had breakfast before. He puts down his knife and fork. “What?”

“I—” Patrick breaks off. “I hope we can do this again sometime.” It’s a strange thing to say, given that they’re destined to spend the next twenty-four hours living from this hotel room but before he can comment, Patrick scoops up a whole strawberry from his plate and presses it softly to David’s lips until they part.

Patrick’s eyes are fixed on him, warm and hungry. He takes a bite, a nibble, really, and Patrick pulls the rest of the berry away, popping it in his mouth. David licks the juice from his lips. Patrick smirks and then his mouth is on David’s, hot and demanding as he chases the strawberry from his mouth. He pulls back, offering the next berry to David, pressing it against David’s lower lip until he opens his mouth, the strawberry lush and plump against his tongue. Patrick pulls the stem of the strawberry away and David licks his lips more slowly than necessary, just for Patrick’s reaction. He flushes, the tips of his ears delightfully pink before he presses the next piece of fruit to David’s lips, his thumb pressing against David’s lower lip as he takes a bite.

They finish the fruit that way. Patrick moves from strawberries to watermelon without missing a beat, each bite followed with a bruising kiss or a soft brush of his tongue against David’s lips. Once they’ve finished breakfast, Patrick grasps the back of his neck, kissing him roughly. “I have to get to the rink. I’ll see you tonight?”

“Yeah.” The door slips closed behind Patrick and he pulls out his laptop and tries to write.

Maple Leafs superstar Patrick Brewer…has warm brown eyes…

Patrick Brewer doesn’t quit…and neither does his ass.

There’s a knock at the door.

Expecting housekeeping, he opens the door to find a young woman with a large black and white cowboy hat in her hands. “David Rose?”

“Yes?”

“This is for you.” She hands over the hat and before he can protest, she disappears down the hall. There’s no need to look at the card that’s tucked into the band of the hat. He knows who it’s from. He pulls it out anyway. It’s Boots and Hats night and I didn’t want you to be left out. -P.

With a snarl of disgust, he throws the hat onto the bed and goes back to his article.

Patrick Brewer is a fucking troll…

There’s an hour until game time and he’s written two hundred words, most of them about the Maple Leafs uniforms.

Leaving the hat behind, he gets to the rink and makes his way to the press box. It’s a familiar journey now, arriving early, showing his press badge, finding the team suite. When he gets there, an unfamiliar face is sitting in Matt’s usual spot. “Where’s Matt?”

The other man grunts at him and takes a handful of chips. “On the ice.”

This man must be one of Patrick’s teammates. The sixth D? Either way, he doesn’t seem friendly. David takes a seat at the other end of the bar and takes out his phone. On the ice, he can see Patrick, Matt and the rest of the team skating in their familiar warm-up choreography.

The players skate in circles. Patrick looks up at the press box every time he throws the puck at the net. Boyfriend. Eight hours later the word still screams in his ears. Surely Patrick had just let himself get carried away. Yes, the sex is good. Better than good. Some of the best he’s ever had, maybe. But guys like Patrick aren’t looking for guys like him. Not long term. Not for anything more than a casual fling. That’s all this is. That’s all it can be. His phone buzzes in front of him, making him jump.

Stevie: How’s the sports beat?
David: I hate it, no thanks to you
Stevie: Are you sure?

He frowns, Stevie might troll him for being here, but this isn’t like her. Where is she going with this? The horn sounds and the players line up on the ice for the faceoff.

David: Of course I’m sure

Stevie texts back. It’s a photo, grainy from the poor lighting of someone’s phone but showing him and Patrick, hand in hand as they left the Grand Ole Opry the night before. Fuck.

David: Where did you get that?
Stevie: Twitter

Fuck, fuck, fuck. This is bad. Ronnie’s going to kill him. She’ll probably fire him. She should fire him. Whatever this thing is that he and Patrick are doing, it’s wildly unprofessional. But something else is more important.

David: He called me his boyfriend this morning
Stevie: What did you say?
David: I didn’t say anything, what was I supposed to say? It’s not like he meant it

He expects Stevie to write back right away, but his phone is silent. On the ice, Patrick slips between two of the Nashville players and puts the puck in the net to a chorus of boos from the home crowd. He checks his phone. Still nothing. Stevie can’t possibly think Patrick was serious? It had been a slip of the tongue. Patrick had gotten carried away in the moment. His phone buzzes.

Stevie: You’re an idiot

Her insults are nothing new, but this is uncalled for. What is he supposed to do, tell Patrick he loved him and pretend they have a future together?

David: Has Ronnie seen the photo?
Stevie: Yep
David: And?

The horn sounds again as Patrick raises his arms in the air, celebrating another goal. He points his hockey mitten at the press box, shaking a finger at David in acknowledgment. A chill runs through him and he looks away, unable to bear the pressure of Patrick’s eyes, even from this far away.

Stevie: And she swore for fifteen minutes and now she’s in her office with the door closed.

Fuck. A text notification from Ronnie pops up on his screen.

Ronnie: Of all the stupid, amateur moves. I ought to fire your ass. You should know better by now.

He takes a deep breath. At least she’s not in the same room.

Ronnie: There’s just one rule, dumbass. Don’t get caught! And what did you do? Out in public on a goddamn date.
David: I’m sorry. I know I fucked it up
Ronnie: Yeah you did
David: I’ll send my notes to Stevie, she can finish the story
Ronnie: Don’t be an idiot

He’s sick of people saying that to him tonight. As though Patrick’s ‘boyfriend’ slip hadn’t made him feel stupid enough for wanting something that could never exist.

Ronnie: You’re in it now. But if I see so much as a hint of cutesy lovey anything in your story, you’ll be writing ad copy for the rest of the year. Got it?
David: Yes ma’am
Ronnie: Oh for the love of god

There’s a loud groan from the crowd and suddenly hats are flying through the air towards the ice. The horn sounds and Patrick raises his arms again, obviously he’s scored another goal. Why are they pelting him with haberdashery? He leans over to replacement Matt. “What’s going on?”

“Brewer got a hat trick!” He holds up his hand and David taps it awkwardly with his fist.

“But why are they throwing things?” The ice is littered with hats now.

“Because it’s a hat trick.” David scowls at the other man’s attempt to make him feel stupid and he looks back at the ice. A team of young women are shoveling up the hats and dumping them into plastic garbage cans. Maybe he should have brought the monstrous hat that Patrick had given him, then he could have thrown it on the ice with everyone else. What is he thinking? He doesn’t take part in pedestrian sporting rituals. Just because he knows it would make Patrick happy. No. He can’t play into whatever fantasy Patrick is building.

He opens Twitter, searching for Patrick’s name to see if the photo has gone viral. The original post has a dozen retweets. It’s only a matter of time.

Forty minutes later, Patrick’s team wins the game 5-0. As soon as the final horn sounds, his companion leaves the suite, clapping David on the shoulder. “Gonna join us for karaoke, buddy?” He shakes his head. He’s done. He’s gone to the games, he’s written the stories and he just wants a few hours by himself. He gives replacement-Matt a tight-lipped smile before heading back to the hotel.

Alone in his, no, their room, he takes extra time with his skincare regime, which has suffered badly because of late mornings and the allure of sleeping Patrick’s bed. He packs his bags, setting out clothes for the morning and changes into his sleep pants before curling up on the bed and turning on a House Hunters marathon. He checks Twitter again. The post with the photo is up to thirty retweets.

He’s still up when Patrick comes in hours later, drunk and giggly. “David! I mish— missed you.” Patrick drapes himself around David, the brim of his baseball cap digs into his chest.

He grasps Patrick’s shoulders, holding him back, hoping to avoid the cloud of beer that surrounds him. He’s only partially successful. “You’re drunk.”

“I know.” Patrick giggles at him. “I brought you shumthin.” Patrick drags the hat off his head and offers it to him. ROSE VIDEO the bright red lettering reads. He hasn’t seen one of those in years. He’d only worn one once, as an awkward teenager in some advertising campaign when a hapless photographer had forced him to wear it. His resulting scowl had brought an abrupt end to that idea.

“You’re very funny.” Even drunk, Patrick is still trolling him.

“Not funny. It’s your name.” Patrick points to the hat. “Tha’s you.”

“That’s me all right.” Before the money had gone, before he’d turned his love of fashion into a job, before he’d ended up here, writing about sports in a Nashville hotel room. Patrick mustn’t know. Because he’s drunk or just unaware of David’s story, for him the name is just a coincidence. He sets the hat beside the TV.

“C’mon, it’s bedtime.” Patrick pouts at him, but he sits on the end of the bed and sullenly lets David tug off his shirt and pants. David pulls back the covers and pushes Patrick towards the bed. They’d woken up together but it’s not right to assume. He should take the other bed. Patrick’s drunk.

He hovers uncertainly as Patrick’s eyes crack open. “Whaddya doin’?”

“Uh…” Patrick’s hand latches on to his as he peers up at David from the center of the bed.

“Come to bed.” Even drunk, Patrick is surprisingly strong. There’s a tug on his wrist and the next thing he knows, he’s in bed on top of Patrick. “Tha’s better.” Patrick wraps his arms around him, pulling the bedspread over both of them.

The next morning, David wakes before Patrick. Patrick’s arm is heavy across his hips, pinning him to the mattress. He could get up. He could get up, he’d packed his things last night. He could get up and find some coffee and see Patrick on the bus to the airport. He tries to slide to the edge of the bed but Patrick’s grip tightens. “Naa—”

He can’t wait to go home today. Back to his apartment. Back to his job. Back to his life. Maybe he can convince Ronnie to put him back on the fashion beat. Maybe after the photo goes viral. Or maybe she still wants to fire him. Either way, he’ll be well away from hockey and hockey players and Patrick Brewer. Patrick snuffles in his sleep, his hand sliding under David’s shirt to rest over his heart.

He should never have let things get out of hand. The sex was one thing but the date had been a colossal mistake. Now there were expectations. And feelings. He’s got everything he needs for the profile. They’ll fly home and he and Patrick will go their separate ways and that will be that.

Experimentally, he tries to wiggle to the edge of the bed. Patrick follows him, cuddling closer and tucking his face in David’s neck. It’s cozy, intimate, even. It’s not the thing he should do hours before they say goodbye forever. Patrick’s so warm. Like a sunbeam. He closes his eyes, warmth soaking into his body.

When he wakes up again, Patrick’s still asleep. He’s moved away, one hand wrapped around David’s bicep. Maybe...he can just reach his phone. He fumbles for his phone on the nightstand, grasping it with his fingertips. He pulls up his article from last night’s game.

Brewer Bullies Preds

Star Patrick Brewer showed poor sportsmanship by destroying Goalie Rinne’s self esteem with a three goal game.

He reads a few of the comments, a little disappointed that most of the commenters seem to think bullying the other team is a wonderful thing. Whatever. Hopefully, it will be the last game day article he has to write.

He opens Twitter. 200 notifications. Fuck. The photo has definitely gone viral. He scrolls through his feed. Amazingly most of the comments are positive. Huh. Well, it doesn’t matter. Patrick will hopefully never see them and social media will be on to something else before too long.

“Whatcha lookin’ at?” Patrick’s voice is sleepy. He presses a kiss to David’s bicep. David flips back to the article.

“Just my story from yesterday.” He shows Patrick his phone.

“Bullies? Really, David?” As he’d hoped, the story provides enough fuel for Patrick to tease him.

“I thought you were very mean.” He pushes himself up against the headboard, Patrick follows, nuzzling at his neck. David lets himself be kissed, wanting more, but knowing this is the last private moment they have together. “What time do we need to be downstairs?”

Patrick reaches for his phone. “Not until...forty-five minutes. Fuck.”

The rest of the morning follows a hurried but familiar pattern. Rushed showers. Rushed packing. A trip to the breakfast buffet, coffee for David and a breakfast sandwich for Patrick. And then, with mere minutes to spare, they’re on the bus, headed for the airport where it’s the same thing, rushing to the plane, a herd of well-dressed hockey players and David. A peacock amidst a pack of greyhounds.

He barely has his seat belt fastened when Patrick is holding his hand. He squeezes it gratefully, glad of the comfort and distraction during the flight. “Hey. I’m sorry about last night.” Patrick leans close, his head nearly on David’s shoulder.

“What? Why?” Apologies aren’t something he’s used to receiving.

“It was our last night. I shouldn’t have abandoned you to get drunk.” Patrick’s voice is sheepish, when David turns his head, his face is right there, his eyes practically shouting at him.

Our last night. Any remaining hope that he might have been clinging to evaporates. It’s for the best. It’s been fun, but there’ll be more fun with someone else. “It’s fine.”

Patrick’s next words aren’t what he expects. “What are you doing tomorrow night?”

“Uh…” He’s been away for five days, it’s not like he has plans.

“Let me take you out. On a proper date.” Patrick is determined to draw out the inevitable, to prolong the inexorable conclusion of their time together.

He wants to say yes. He wants to carry on the charade as long as Patrick will let him. “Okay.” The word slips out before he can stop it.

“Okay.” Patrick gives him a smile that lights up his face and squeezes his hand. Patrick spends the rest of the flight talking to Matt about the man advantage while David stares out the window, too wound up to even ask the obvious question. As soon as he takes his phone off airplane mode in Toronto, it buzzes with text notifications from his sister.

Alexis: David, you and your hockey player boyfriend are everywhere this morning
Alexis: It’s a cute look for you
Alexis: Is it serious?

“Something going on?” Patrick nods to his phone, clasping David’s right hand firmly in his own. It’s awkward, but he’s texted one handed under worse conditions than this.

David: He’s not my boyfriend
David: And what do you mean by everywhere?
Alexis: Carrie Underwood tweeted it, David

Ugh. He tips his head back against the seat rest as the plane taxis to a stop. “Everything okay?” Patrick squeezes his hand, concerned.

“Yeah, my sister thinks it’s essential I get the latest celebrity gossip.” He doesn’t tell Patrick that the two of them are the latest celebrity gossip. Someone will tell Patrick eventually. There’s no reason it has to be him.

He loses himself in the bustle of deplaning, following Patrick and the rest of the team onto the tarmac to retrieve their bags. He’s achingly tired, not just from the travel and the lack of sleep but from the anticipation of what’s coming. He waits for his bag and Patrick detaches himself from a group of players.

“I’ll see you tomorrow night.” His eyes are warm and loud, telegraphing everything he feels, or everything he thinks he feels at David.

“Seven o’clock.” He gives Patrick his best smile and Patrick kisses him on the cheek, a soft brush of his lips that burns against his skin.

Without looking back, he wheels his towards the terminal, letting it swallow him up, finally separating him from Patrick Brewer.

***

The next day, David sleeps until noon, exhausted and wrung out and not wanting to face the day ahead. He’d turned off the notifications on his phone yesterday afternoon. Between the texts and the tweets his phone won’t stop, the buzzing a perpetual irritant under his skin. He has a thousand new followers on Instagram, most of whom will be very disappointed when he shares the new Rick Owens collection next week and so many mentions on Twitter that he almost deletes his account.

Even if he believed Patrick, even if he thought Patrick wouldn’t grow tired of him, there’s no way he can meet Patrick for dinner now. The risk of being seen, of escalating the public scrutiny just makes things even worse. It’s a convenient excuse, but it’s better if things come to a natural conclusion instead of drawing them out. Patrick will resent him at first, but he’ll get over it. It will be easy for him to find someone else. Someone better.

He spends the day pretending to write his article and ignoring texts from Ronnie and Stevie and Alexis. Mostly, he stares out the windows of his apartment, looking out over the city, remembering the way Patrick’s fingers had felt on his skin as they’d traced his hand in the darkness of the Grand Ole Opry.

At seven o’clock, he goes out onto the balcony and looks down into the streets below. Patrick is waiting for him now, sitting at a table at the back of the restaurant, the single candle flickering against the white tablecloth. He’s checking the time, his fondness slowly fading to annoyance and eventually to resentment. Through the open patio door, his phone buzzes on the table, again and again before it falls silent.

His fingers clench the railing and the phone buzzes again. It’s better this way. He swipes away the tears that dare to slide down his cheeks, turning his face to the sun, hoping they’ll dry before they fall.

How long does he stand there? Long enough that the sharp press of his nails into his palm stops the tears. Long enough that the sun turns orange and soft. Long enough to construct a wall, brick by brick, and lock Patrick inside. A sudden banging on the door makes his eyes fly open.

“David. I know you’re in there. Open the door.” Patrick’s voice is muffled but the thickness of the door can’t disguise his determination.

He could just pretend he’s not here and eventually Patrick will go away. He’ll leave David alone, the way he’d wanted when he’d stood him up at the restaurant. He reaches for the door handle and pulls open the door. “What?”

“What? That’s what you have to say?” Patrick’s nostrils flare, his mouth is tight as he spits out the words. Whatever else, David doesn’t want to do this in the hallway. He’s had enough play from internet gossip in the past 24 hours. He stands aside and waves Patrick into his apartment. “What do you want from me, David?”

“I don’t want anything from you.” It’s the biggest lie he’s ever told. Bigger than the lie he’d told the Ugandan embassy to get Alexis out of the country, bigger than the time he told his mom that the Rick Owens crepe maxi dress looked good on her. He crosses his arms, protecting himself from what’s coming.

Patrick’s jaw clenches and David braces himself for his anger, remembering the way Patrick had lost control on the ice. Instead, Patrick lets out a ragged breath and sinks onto a stool at the kitchen island. “Is this about the photo? I know it’s a lot, but people will get bored eventually.” Patrick knows. And yet he’s here, in David’s kitchen, despite having their picture splashed all over the internet.

It’s laughable that Patrick thinks he knows what unwanted media attention looks like. That he’d been able to come to David’s apartment without being harassed by paparazzi, tells him that this isn’t serious. But he could say yes. He could tell Patrick it’s too much and maybe he’d go, leaving David with his memories and an article to write. “It’s not about the photo.”

“Then what?” Patrick’s voice cracks on the last word, his face is drawn.

“I just think it’s best that we don’t get in too deep. It was fun, I had a good time but it’s not like you don’t have better options.” Pulling off the bandaid always hurts, but it’s for the best.

“What if I don’t?” David frowns, shaking his head. He’s seen Patrick light up a room. People love him, they’re drawn to him. “What if I don’t want other options?”

He can’t stop shaking his head. Like one of those tacky bobblehead dolls that shakes and shakes. “Don’t be stupid. No one wants this when they could have something else.” He hugs his arms to his body. Letting Patrick in had been a mistake. If he’d ignored him, he would have left by now and David wouldn’t be rehashing all the reasons he wasn’t good enough for him.

“Jesus.” Patrick looks genuinely shocked. Roughly, he pushes the stool aside, standing in front of David. “You don’t mean that.”

“I know the sex was good. Great, even. But you’ll tire of it eventually and it’s not enough to build a relationship on.” Is that what he wants? A relationship? That’s never been something he’s even considered before. But a series of endless hook-ups with Patrick is a consolation prize.

“You think I’m here because the sex was good.” Patrick’s voice is flat but his eyes are narrowed and thoughtful.

“Yes?” Unless Patrick didn’t think the sex was good. In which case, why was he here at all?

David’s stomach twists as Patrick laughs. “I don’t care about the sex, David. I mean, I do, it was good, but that’s not why I’m here.”

“Okay?” The word is a twisted, tangled thing, barely a whisper.

“I’m here because I want you. Because you make me laugh. Because you’re like no one I’ve ever met before. I’m here because I like you, David.” He shouldn’t be crying because a cute boy tells him he likes him, but Patrick says it with such certainty and sincerity that it’s a promise of something more.

“Oh.” He’s crying again even though it doesn’t hurt like before, the tears trace the same tracks as they had earlier. Patrick wipes them away with his thumb.

“I’m going to kiss you now. And then, we’re going to order pizza because I didn’t get dinner.”

“Yes, please. I would like that very much.” He barely gets the words out before Patrick is making good on his promise, his hand on David’s shoulder, his lips soft and then demanding against his own. He falls into the kiss, he can almost feel the wind on his face as it accelerates, faster and faster. With a final brush of his tongue against Patrick’s he pulls back.

“So about what you said?”

“Mmm hmm?” Patrick chases his lips, but he uses his height to avoid him.

“Was the sex just good, because I think you’re underselling it.”

“You rocked my world, David.” Patrick’s hand is firm on the back of his neck this time and David laughs into the kiss, letting go of the last of his anxieties.

***

On the ice, Patrick Brewer is both controlled and emotional, his incredible skill allows him to disguise the uncontrolled anger that lurks beneath the surface. While Brewer leaves his anger on the ice, in person, he’s as cocky and insufferable as the weakest of the NHL’s goalies would like you to believe.

“I can’t believe Ronnie was worried you might be too nice.” Patrick tosses the magazine onto David’s coffee table, his face stares back at them from the cover.

Patrick Brewer: Cocky, Passionate, Determined. Meet the man who does his best work deep in the slot.

“I have journalistic integrity to maintain.” He waves the hand that’s not holding his glass of wine loftily in the air.

“Mmm hmm.” Patrick nudges the magazine with his toe. “And I can’t believe Ronnie let you use that story title.”

“I told you, I don’t write the headlines.” Officially, he hadn’t written the title. He’d just suggested very strongly to Ronnie that she should use it. She’d rolled her eyes, but she’d put it on the cover anyway.

“Yeah, you said.” Patrick runs a hand up his leg. “Are you sure you don’t like the clicks and attention that happen when you troll me?”

“That’s an added benefit.’ It’s been two months since the road trip, two months since everything changed. Ronnie has taken him off the sports beat, mostly, but he still writes the home game stories for the team since he’s at the games anyway. Cheering for his boyfriend. The word still sticks in his throat although it gets easier every day.

“My parents want to meet you.”

“Oh.” Patrick’s hand strokes his leg, soothing his suddenly jangled nerves as he teases over David’s inseam.

“I think my mom wants to know why you’re so mean to me.” He’s talked to Marcy Brewer a couple of times on the phone and she’s been alarmingly sweet to him. He dreads having to explain why his reporting is so hard on Patrick.

“Oh— I mean— She shouldn’t—.” He’s never met parents before. And now Patrick’s parents think he’s mean to their son. Nothing about this will go well. Before he can spiral, Patrick squeezes his leg.

“David. Relax. I think her exact words were ‘that she was glad I’d met someone who won’t let me get away with anything.’” Patrick’s hand drifts higher on his leg.

“Well, there is one thing I might let you get away with.”

“Oh, what’s that?” Patrick arches an eyebrow at him, his hand moving higher on his leg.

He drops his voice and leans close to whisper in Patrick’s ear. “You wanna get good wood on my stick tonight, baby?”

Patrick’s laughter rushes towards him. “I’ll give you all the good wood you want.”