Chapter 1: Two Points [Slapshot!]
Luke stared at the clock, the bold red numerals glaring into the room, loudly announcing that it was 2:22 in the morning. Two, two, two. All they needed was two goddamn points.
He inhaled, then rolled over, twisting the sheets around him as he turned away from the clock and its mockery. If only they’d played a little bit harder, if only they’d won just one more tilt. If only he’d scored more, if only he’d played better. If only.
There was no use for regrets, for looking back at the rest of a lackluster season that left them in this predicament. They had done what they’d done; the games were in the books, all eighty-one of them. Now there was only one more game to play. There was only one score that mattered.
They could only move forward.
He turned over again. The clock had rolled over to 2:23. He shut his eyes.
He was exhausted; they’d played hard the night before, barely eking out a win in front of the home crowd. It had been a one-goal game through three periods, a tie right down to the last ten seconds when Sebby had hammered one home and nearly tripped over himself in his excitement.
Now they just needed two points and they’d get to keep playing hockey. If they won the final game against the Falcons on Thursday, they would make it to the playoffs. It would be the first time the Stars had been in years. All they needed were those two damn points.
The Falcons weren’t going to go down easily though—they needed the points just as much. If they won, then they were off to playoffs. The Falcons always played rough, but there was more on the line now that they were down to the wire. Back in October, they’d had all season to make up the points. Now, with the calendar turning over to April and the world thawing under a warm spring sun, they’d run out of time. If they lost Thursday night, it was all over. They’d pack their bags and leave DC for the summer, heading home to the places they barely lived in anymore.
If they won, they got to play the Rockets for a chance to go on to the conference finals—and then maybe on to the ultimate prize.
Luke took another deep breath, then opened his eyes and stared into the darkness of his bedroom. He could feel the aches and pains of an eighty-two game season catching up to him. It started in his toes, curled up through his legs, throbbing through his knees, into his back, up his spine.
He rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling instead.
He was sore, sure, but that didn’t mean he wanted to stop. He didn’t want the season to be over. Even though it was spring and winter was fading away, he wanted hockey season to go on yet. He wanted a chance to play for the Cup. This was the first year that he’d been in DC that the playoffs were even in reach. Every other year, their record had been too dismal. There’d been no chance in hell they were going to make it.
Which made it more maddening that they only needed two points. They were close, and yet so far. Two points might have seemed easy, but in hockey, where anything could happen, it was a tall order.
Luke rolled onto his stomach, buried his face in the pillow. Tomorrow morning, they had practice. Then they’d fly out, spend the evening in Philly. They’d skate on Thursday morning, just to get used to the ice, and then, they’d play the Falcons.
And of course they’d be without their best player, their captain. Sy had got run into the boards in the first period and gone down awkwardly. He’d had to be helped off the ice, and none of them had seen him since. They’d been told at the end of the game that he’d been sent to the hospital. His ankle was broken.
Even if their season didn’t end on Thursday, he wouldn’t be back. They were captain-less when they needed him most.
Q had already talked to Luke about moving up to the top line—he’d been there since the second period, owing to Sy being out. It made sense after all; he was their second-line center, and if they needed someone to fill the top spot, then Luke was the obvious choice. He was no Symon Tremblay, that was for sure, but then, not many people were. Sy was in a league of his own.
Most of the time, Luke was content to play second-fiddle to him. Sy was something else, a talent so beyond talented it was baffling. Luke had accepted that he would never be anything approaching Sy’s level.
But that made it more difficult when he was asked to try. Nobody was asking him to be Sy or anything, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that the game rested on him. On how well he stepped up to the task, how well he filled the superstar center’s skates.
He looked at the clock again. With a sigh, he sat up, pinching the bridge of his nose. He thought briefly about calling Danny. He knew Danny wouldn’t appreciate it, but he’d know what was up.
He was just reaching for his phone when it lit up, ringing out into the dark. He stared at it blankly for a moment, his heart leaping into his throat.
Had Danny read his mind and called him?
He picked it up, hesitantly swiping to answer. “Hello?”
“Heya Macks,” was slurred in his ear.
He swallowed reflexively. “Mason?” he whispered. His heart settled back into his chest, thumping out a furious rhythm. One way or another, it was going to break free. He started to shake.
“’sup?” Mason slurred, and then there was muffled noise, crackling, and screaming, thudding bass.
Luke held the phone away from his ear, grimacing. “Are you … where the hell are you?” he asked, his nose crinkling in distaste.
More static, more crackling, then Mason’s fuzzy voice saying, “You still there?”
“Yeah,” Luke replied carefully.
“’sup?” Mason asked again.
Luke glanced at the clock again. “I asked where you are,” he said.
“At da cluuuub,” Mason drawled, and yeah, he was drunk. Luke sighed softly and adjusted his grip on the phone.
Mason never called him when he was sober.
Well. That wasn’t quite true. Mason called him when he was sober sometimes, but he always wanted the same thing.
He was just more obnoxious about it when he was drunk.
Luke rubbed at his eyes. “It’s two in the morning,” he said.
“Nope, not here,” Mason enthused. “Not even midnight! The night is young!”
“Maybe for you,” Luke muttered.
“Some of us need our sleep.”
“Ha! Yeah—you still have a game. Suuuuucker.”
Luke frowned. “Wait, does that mean—”
“We lost! It’s done, it’s over, I’m free—”
Luke wondered how Mason had ever made it into the IHA with an attitude like that. Then he reminded himself that Mason was drunk right now—probably precisely because his season was over and he wasn’t happy about it.
There hadn’t been much hope for the Knights anyway. They’d been pretty far behind in the points after a dismal first half of the season. They’d bounced back through February and March, but it had been too little, too late. There wasn’t enough time to close that gap. And then they’d done some backsliding last week. Even if they had won tonight’s game, their season was over.
It was sometimes better to just try to accept things. It didn’t make it easier, but at least Mason was trying to make the best of a bad situation. Or so it seemed.
“So yeah, book some tee times and—”
“I’m not done yet,” Luke said sharply. “I still have a game on Thursday.”
“Pfffft, okay,” Mason said. “But, like, after that, book some time and we’ll hit the greens and—”
“No,” Luke snapped. “I’m not counting us out of this yet, you jackass—”
“Oh come on, Luke. You guys have a do-or-die situation and your best guy is out. And your team is gonna choke.”
“Fuck you, we’re not.”
“You always choke.”
Luke wasn’t sure what he meant by that, so he said carefully, “Did you call me up just to insult me?”
“Surprisingly not!” was the earnest answer. “Actually, I was looking at flights and I was wondering if Tuesday was good for you and—”
“What are you not getting about this?!”
“—‘cause y’know, DC is pretty nice this time of year, or so I’m told, and—”
“You’re not coming here,” Luke ground out, crushing his hand around the phone as tight as he could. He wished it was Mason’s stupid face.
The call broke up, then someone said, “Who’s this, Jarhead? Booty call?”
“Hey, give it back, Duncs!”
“Hello!” the phone thief—Duncan McPhie from the sound of it—hollered at Luke.
Luke didn’t even dare to breathe.
“Mayday, are you even on a call?”
“I bet he’s just,” someone else said, their voice cutting out. “Pretend he’s important.”
“Give it back, give it back!”
Luke listened to the dial tone for second, then cut the call on his end too. Whoever it was had hung up on him.
He contemplated calling Danny again, then set the phone down gingerly on the nightstand.
Maybe he could get to sleep yet. Maybe he didn’t need the last resort.
The phone started to ring again. He gritted his teeth and glowered up at the ceiling.
One ring. Two rings …
With a sigh, he rolled over and picked up the phone again. “Hello?”
“Sorry about that, my teammates are dicks,” Mason said. It was quieter in the background now, though there was static or something. A whoosh.
“Are you outside now?”
“Yeah, it’s pissing rain,” Mason said.
“It rains in LA?”
“It is right now.”
“Did you call me back for a reason or …”
“I seriously want to know what day next week is good for you, I’m gonna book this flight right after I get off the phone—”
“Mason, don’t book travel while you’re drunk.”
“You sound like my mom,” Mason sneered, and then they were both quiet for a moment.
“But seriously,” Luke said, “don’t you dare book a flight over here—”
“I’ll do what I want, and I want you, Macks, so tell me is Tuesday or Wednesday or whatever good—”
“Never is good,” Luke snapped.
“I thought we were friends.”
“More like fuck buddies,” Luke spat. “Seriously, you never even call me unless you want to whack off or something. And every time we’re in the same city together …”
“We don’t have to,” Mason countered.
Luke snorted. “Really? ‘cause it really seems like we do, every single time—”
“I can control myself,” Mason retorted. “Can you?”
“What?” Luke spluttered. “What kind of question is that?!”
“I dunno, seems like every time I’m around, you’re the one getting on your knees and begging me, oh please please please—”
“I do not beg—”
“—so I’m asking you, can you control yourself?”
“Of course I can!”
“Great! So I’ll see you on Tuesday.”
“Too late,” Mason sing-songed and then the line went dead again.
Luke stared at his phone for a moment, then tossed it aside in disgust.
Just what he didn’t need. More stress, more pressure. He had enough to worry about with the game ahead and Sy being out and needing to step up his game and just those two points, those two goddamn points—
And now, on the other side of it all, Mason threatening to invade his life, win or lose or whatever else happened.
Of course Mason would. Of course Mason would want to just show up, not even caring about all the shit he dredged up whenever he appeared on the scene, all the baggage that came with him—the invisible kind, which was the worst kind of all, because it weighed heavy on Luke.
He knew he could control himself around Mason. He could. It was just … difficult, because Mason was alpha and Luke was omega, so the temptation to simply obey was always so strong. It took everything Luke had to fight it, and he was only successful when Mason wanted him to fight it. If Mason wanted it, if Mason wanted him to give in, there was no way he was going to win out over the alpha.
If Mason didn’t recognize that Luke losing it was all his fault, he was blinder than a bat. When they were together, Mason dictated the situation. All Luke could do was react. The only exception was when they were on the ice, and that was because it had to be that way. If Luke wouldn’t fight him for the puck, if he wouldn’t slam alphas into the boards, then he wouldn’t be on the team much longer. Hell, he wouldn’t be in the league much longer.
Almost nobody knew he was omega, and he went to great lengths to keep it that way. As far as just about everyone else in the world was concerned, he was a beta. The only people who knew differently were his father, his pharmacist, his doctor, and Mason.
Well. There were two or three more, but Luke preferred not to think of them, because they weren’t supposed to know. They’d found out, but they were quiet. And as long as Luke didn’t do anything to garner attention or piss them off, then they were unlikely to say anything.
He didn’t need Mason showing up in DC, trying to crash at his house, especially not if they won Thursday’s tilt. He didn’t need Mason in his space whether he was preparing for playoffs or trying to lick his wounds from another failed season. And he most certainly did not need Mason in town while the rest of his teammates were still around.
He stared wide-eyed at the ceiling, his heart slamming against his ribs, his breath short and uneven. What was he going to do? There was no way he could talk Mason out of this—he’d decided. But he didn’t know—he might still be playing hockey come Tuesday, and what would he do if Mason was in DC, in his house, while he was trying to focus on playoffs, or—
And he needed to step up, play big minutes in a big way. He had to replace their lost leader. He didn’t have an “A” on his sweater for no reason, and now he had to prove he deserved it. That he’d earned it.
He dragged his hands down his face.
The night wore thin at last, the darkness graying a little as the first rays of sunshine broke free of the horizon. Luke watched them as they crept across the ceiling. He swallowed down sickness.
He had scarcely slept. He felt like shit—sick and heavy, tired and muddled—but he still dragged himself from bed. Practice was early today so they could get on their flight.
He rifled through the cupboards, dumped coffee into the machine. He stood there and watched as the machine whirred and gurgled, hissing as coffee began to dribble into the carafe. He blinked slowly, then turned to the cupboard, fetching out a mug.
The cupboard was almost bare. He should do the dishes. He thought about that for a moment, then sighed heavily. He had neither the will nor the time to do chores.
He dumped coffee into his mug as soon as there was enough for a cup. He sipped it, crinkling his nose at the taste, swallowing it down and shuddering. He passed his tongue over the roof of his mouth, trying to dislodge the taste.
He meandered about the house, picking up various bits and pieces he’d need for practice—a stick. Stick tape. A pack of new skate laces. His jacket. His wallet.
He looked at his phone, checked his call log. Mason had called him back again, but hadn’t left a message. He hadn’t texted either.
He did have a message from Sebby, who wanted a ride to practice. Luke sighed. That meant he needed to drive downtown, then across the water to Alexandria.
He glanced at the clock, then headed into the bedroom, changing into his gear quickly. He gulped down the rest of his coffee, then dumped the mug in the sink.
Twenty minutes later, he was across town, waiting for Sebby. The younger man was, as usual, late.
“Sorry,” the brown-eyed forward said as he dashed out of the elevator of his building. “I couldn’t find some stuff, and—”
Luke waved a hand. “It’s cool.”
Sebby frowned at him, but said nothing. They tossed Sebby’s stuff in the back of the Cayenne.
“You feeling okay?” Sebby asked as they clambered into the vehicle, slamming the doors shut behind them.
“Yeah,” Luke replied, shifting into gear and pulling away from the curb. “Feel fine.”
Sebby considered him for a moment more, then said, “Well, ya look like shit.”
“Thanks,” Luke murmured, wheeling the car around a corner, “I didn’t sleep well.”
“Oh,” Sebby said. Then, “Well, you better get some sleep tonight.”
“I aim to,” Luke replied. He glanced at the clock. They were going to be late for practice.
Sebby followed his gaze. “Sorry,” he said again.
“Doesn’t matter,” Luke muttered.
Sure enough, they were late for practice—it was five after when they were pulling into the lot of the Iceplex. “How mad do you think Q is gonna be?” Sebby asked as they slowed to a stop, allowing pedestrians to cross. The lot was practically full, so they circled around to the underground parking.
“Oh, so pissed,” Luke said, nosing the Cayenne into a spot.
Sebby hopped out of the car. They grabbed their gear and headed to the elevator.
The locker room was deserted; they could hear the tell-tale swish of skate blades cutting through ice, the slap of hockey sticks against the puck. Pings off the crossbar, something rattling into the boards.
Luke felt tired just listening to it. His shoulders ached.
He changed into his gear as quick as he could, but his body was slow, unresponsive.
“See ya out there,” Sebby said with a grin, and then headed down the tunnel. Luke watched him, then returned to fumbling with his skate laces.
At last, he was ready and he headed down the tunnel himself, stick in hand. He stepped onto the ice—he didn’t have the energy to jump—and he heard someone hollering, followed by Q barking, “Mackinnon! You’re the last one here—late!”
He circled back to the bench. Q regarded him for a moment, then said, “I wanna see some fast laps.”
Luke pushed away from the bench, accepting his punishment. He took a leisurely turn through the first corner, then pushed into his legs, forcing himself faster, crossing his feet over as he skated by the net. Timmo glanced at him, and their eyes met, before the goalie turned back to his work—a puck flying at him, launched from the line by Sebby.
Luke opened up his stride, taking the straight-away faster. Over the center line, then a couple more strides, deep into the other end. He curled into the corner, wrapped around the net and shot out the other side.
Q pointed at the clock as he skated by the bench. Too slow. Luke inhaled, then ducked his head, gritted his teeth, and skated harder.
He ended up skating about five laps before Coach was satisfied that he’d done enough work, but even then, he was still skating too slow for Q’s liking. But he couldn’t skate laps for the entire time they were on the ice; they had other things to do, scrums to run, shots to take, passes to make.
As expected, he was bumped up to the top line. The rest of practice was spent working with Nicky and Ty, practicing their plays and their passes, trying to find tape. It could take a long time for linemates to warm up to each other—if ever—whereas others just clicked. Luke wasn’t Sy; he didn’t make the same passes, didn’t look for his wingers in the same spots. Nicky and Ty were different players too, not the guys Luke usually worked with, so every time he looked, they seemed to be in the wrong spots.
It was getting better by the end of practice at least, but it was scarcely perfect. Hardly how they wanted to go into the final game of the season, in such a do-or-die position.
They stayed on the ice longer than anyone else; even the goalies had packed it in. Luke lingered, in part because he’d been the last one on the ice, in part because he didn’t want to go. They needed work, so much more work before he’d feel confident that they’d be okay in tomorrow’s game.
Nicky, who was the elder statesman of their line, glanced at him, but said nothing.
Q signaled for them to come in. Luke wasn’t forgiven for being late, but Q saw no point in pushing them further. They also needed their rest.
Ty went ahead of them, leaving Luke and Nicky skating languidly along behind him.
Nicky glanced at him again, then said in his thick Swedish accent, “Is everything all right?”
“Yeah,” Luke said, “fine. Everything’s fine. Just … didn’t sleep well.”
“You’re sure?” Nicky asked carefully.
Luke nodded, then waited for Nicky to hop off the ice. He followed, banging the door shut behind him. They headed down the tunnel.
The locker room was a dizzying disarray of guys changing and media dogs crowding around a couple of stalls, trying to get soundbites for the evening news or their online outlet or whatever else. Q had gone to his morning press conference.
Mike elbowed Luke in the ribs. “You’re up,” he said, jerking his head toward the tunnel, which meant Luke was expected to go out and pacify the crowd that had come out to watch practice.
Luke wondered why they hadn’t closed practice today of all days. Instead, he turned about and headed back down the tunnel, still in all his gear.
He spent the better part of half-an-hour signing autographs for a rather reluctant crowd—he gathered that the rumor had been that Sy was going to be signing today, so a lot of people had showed up.
Of course Sy would break his bloody foot, so he wasn’t even there. Luke, as far as most of the crowd was concerned, was a sub-par substitute. Disappointment was most clear on the kids’ faces—one kid, probably about four years old, started bawling. A few others scowled and moped, and yet another refused to have anything signed. A few people left.
It was a little awkward to sign Tremblay jerseys and stuff, but it was even weirder to sign trading cards or pictures of himself. Few people brought that kind of stuff—he wasn’t Sy or even Mayday—but it was still strange to look at himself, see his bright blue eyes staring back at him, the dark curl of his hair, even the cut of his nose.
He was glad most people didn’t bring stuff like that. He couldn’t imagine how Sy put up with it. Mayday, he knew, basked in it; Mason was nothing if not a narcissist.
There were a couple of reporters who asked him questions, but overall, the interviews were short and, at long last, he was allowed to head back to the locker room and change.
The locker room was quiet, almost deserted now. The media scrums were over and most of the guys had left, heading home to pack up their stuff. They’d need to be at the airport for two.
Getting out of his damp gear was first priority. Then it was into the shower, and then, into street clothes.
He was just zipping up his duffle when there was a touch to his shoulder and he nearly startled out of his skin. He looked up at Danny.
“Hey,” Danny said, his grip on his shoulder becoming firmer. His gaze was soft, concerned.
“Nicky said you weren’t doing so well.”
Luke deigned not to answer that. He had told Nicky he was just fine. He just needed some sleep.
“You want me to bring the stuff?” Danny asked, and Luke stiffened.
Danny pulled back. “Y’know, just in case. I mean, I don’t normally bring it along on road trips, but maybe I should, and this time if you’re …”
Luke turned around. “No,” he said, shaking his head, “it’s fine, I don’t need it.”
“You sure?” Danny asked cautiously, looking him up and down.
“Yeah,” Luke replied shakily, offering a trembling smile. His muscles felt weak. “I’ll be fine. Don’t bring it—it’s just temptation.”
Danny nodded. “Okay,” he said solemnly. “Guess I’ll see you at the airport then.”
“Be there or be square,” Luke said and Danny groaned.
“You are so lame sometimes.”
They parted ways almost immediately; Sebby had hitched a ride with Brenden, leaving Luke on his own.
He drove back to DC in silence. The day was a gorgeous one, the sun shining brightly, reflecting off the water and the whole world turning greener and greener. He even cracked the window a little bit, felt the cool spring air in his face.
It still wasn’t enough to distract him from the game, from Mason’s impending arrival.
He made himself lunch and packed up. He did up the dishes, made the bed. He checked his phone only once. Mason hadn’t called or messaged again, which was good.
Or so he tried to tell himself.
He finished up his chores, tried to think of anything else he needed for the trip. He added a few things to his bag, then grabbed the phone charger.
The phone was flashing at him, announcing he had a new message. His breath came short. He knew who it was.
Sure enough, Mason had sent him three messages, most of them with details about his flight. The last one said, ‘Tuesday!’ followed by some emojis, and Luke knew exactly what that meant. He scowled at the screen.
‘No,’ he wrote back. ‘I don’t want u here’
The reply was instantaneous. ‘Make sure u r nice & clean 4 me :B’
Luke gritted his teeth. ‘wut r u not getting bout this ???’
He glanced at the clock. ‘also y r u up, don’t u have a hangover’
Luke sighed. Freaking twenty-four-year-olds.
‘still drunk actually,’ Mason wrote back a moment later, and Luke groaned, then pitched his phone into the bag. He’d rather show up freakishly early to the airport than continue talking to Mason.
He hated that Mason did this to him, got him so worked up and so flustered. He was livid that he’d do it now, of all times, like some kind of sneaking sabotage. Was Mason jealous that maybe Luke’s team would get to the playoffs, have a chance? Was he jealous that Luke was signed to a decent team, playing in a city where he had support and people to play with? Was coming to DC, announcing that he was doing so, his way of getting revenge? That he’d knock Luke so off-kilter that Luke would play like crap and fail, miserably, and then he’d be out of the playoffs, just like Mason?
Of course, this was Mason; Luke had known him forever. They’d grown up together in Thunder Bay. Luke had known Mason for pretty much Mason’s whole life and he’d never known Mason to be that … manipulative, that envious.
That wasn’t to say that he couldn’t be, or maybe that wasn’t his motivation, but just …
It was probably giving him too much credit.
Luke wondered if Mason had any inkling of how frazzled he was because of this. Probably not—and that made Luke angrier. Stupid Mason, couldn’t see past the end of his nose, couldn’t think of anyone but himself. All he knew was that he was out and he wanted to see Luke, to sleep with Luke, and whatever Luke was doing could be set aside.
Like Luke didn’t matter, like his career didn’t matter at all. It grated on him, because it was such a stereotypical alpha thing to think. Luke might have been omega, but he didn’t like to capitulate. And he certainly didn’t like to feel that his ambitions, his desires, needed to take a back seat to those of some dickhead alpha who wouldn’t even commit to him—
And that, right there, that was the root of the problem. Mason wouldn’t commit. Luke knew he was out there in LA, screwing around with models and actresses and songstresses and hot bits at the club and whoever else would go down on him—and Mason was good at convincing people to go down on him. He’d even had a couple of partners, for lack of a better word, since they’d been in the league.
It was like he didn’t even know that the only reason Luke put out when he came around was because Luke was horribly, shamefully holding on to the stupid hope that there might be something more than sex between them. And if he did know, then he completely ignored it.
Either way, it hurt, and Luke knew he was an idiot for hoping that Mason would some day come around. He’d been waiting for years now—ever since he was eighteen, really—and Mason hadn’t given him any indication that he even cared about how Luke felt. They fucked, and that was it.
Luke hadn’t been lying when he said they were more like fuck buddies than anything. Once, Mason had been one of his best friends, but these days, he felt like he barely knew the guy. They talked maybe a few times a year, and if they met up, it was a clandestine tryst. It was always amicable, but it was lacking. There was something missing from what they’d had before, as friends, and Luke kind of wished they’d never slept with each other in the first place.