Chapter 14: Bump in the Night [Slapshot!]
Luke was still flushed, his hair still wet from the post-game shower, when he breezed back into the condo, fresh off the Game 4 win. His euphoria was almost palpable as he flitted about, gathering up his things for the early morning flight back to Pittsburgh. The Stars had momentum with them now; the tide seemed to have turned as they won two in a row, while the Rockets had now dropped two in in a row. But tides turned easily in hockey, and they were heading back to the Rockets’ home ice.
That couldn’t have been further from Luke’s mind at the moment, though. Loss wasn’t a possibility; there was only winning. It was a decent enough attitude—why focus on potential negatives? Why draw on negative energy, nervousness and anxiety, the unspoken fears that haunted them all?
The only problem, really, was that it was driving Mason bonkers.
Over the last week or so, Mason had noted that he was becoming more and more sensitized to Luke. He was acutely aware of subtle changes in Luke’s scent, changes that wouldn’t have registered for him before. Now, even a slight shift in mood was signaled to Mason by scent.
Right then and there, Luke smelled pretty damn good. He still smelled vaguely of the game—sweat and hockey gear, which wasn’t usually a good odor, but it was mingled with competition and the exuberant energy of the win, the hope offered by that victory. Luke was happy, excited, and satisfied with his effort and his team.
It was a scent he wore well, and one that was making Mason regret making that stupid bet in the first place. He’d be damned if he was going to be the one to break it, though.
Although it was tempting.
He licked his lips as Luke dropped his gear at the door with a sigh of relief. The omega turned about, then froze, a deer caught in headlights. Mason shifted slightly, then looked away.
“Sorry,” he muttered. He knew exactly what he was doing, but it wasn’t like he could help it.
Luke sneered at him. “See? You’re always blaming me, but it’s you, you’re the problem—”
“Hey! I’m not doing anything, am I? I’m looking at you, but that doesn’t mean I’m gonna jump you. I have some self-control.”
“Yeah, but you’re thinking about it,” Luke huffed, “you’re looking at me like you wanna jump me.”
Mason held his hands wide. “So what if I wanna? I’m not gonna, and that’s what matters.”
Luke considered that for a moment, then said, “I’m going to bed. It’s an early flight.”
“Good plan,” Mason offered. The longer they stood there arguing, the less willpower he was going to have. He was willing to opt for diplomacy and cut the fight short. Under other circumstances, he might have kept prodding, got Luke really riled up, but neither of them wanted that. Mason didn’t want to lose the bet, and Luke didn’t want to break his superstition.
Luke was gone when Mason woke up. The condo was eerily silent, despite the birds chirping outside, trilling their mating songs. The sun was warm and bright as it cascaded through the window, and Mason laid there for a long time, staring up at the ceiling.
He had the place to himself for the weekend. He grinned broadly, then rolled out of bed. He had work to do.
With Matt out of the line-up, it made perfect sense that Q was going to mix things up a bit. Luke didn’t quite understand why that meant he needed to shake up room pairings, but there it was.
Ty ended up rooming with Danny, and Dima was moved to whoever Ty had been rooming with—Luke couldn’t really remember now, and he didn’t know, maybe things had been shuffled again while he’d been suspended—and then Luke somehow, somehow ended up on his own.
Which, he had to admit, was pretty sweet.
It didn’t last long, unfortunately, because Danny came knocking on his door around seven o’clock, a kind of frantic look on his face. “Could you please,” he asked breathlessly, “switch rooms?”
Luke started. It seemed like a really weird request. “Well,” he said, glancing over his shoulder.
“Please,” Danny said, and Luke looked at his pinched expression. Guilt snaked through his innards, wriggling and unpleasant, and he felt like throwing up when the thought crossed his mind.
Danny was in heat.
“Of course,” Luke said quickly. It all made sense—Danny was an omega and so was he, so Danny could trust him. Luke knew, Luke understood. And how could he deny Danny the private room when he knew exactly what he was going through?
They were both omegas, and they were in this together. They had to have each other’s backs. He started gathering up his clothes, tossing them hastily into the duffle.
“All yours,” he said as he jammed his shoes into the duffle. “What room are you in?”
“Just down the hall,” Danny said, handing over the key card. “Thanks so much.”
“No problem,” Luke said, then paused. He studied the older man for a moment, musing. “Do you …?”
Danny paused, turning back to him, a frown on his face.
Luke averted his eyes, looked to the floor. He could feel the flush on his face, burning up his cheeks. “You don’t need any help?” he asked, stealing a quick look at the other omega.
“No,” Danny said sharply. “I’m fine—I don’t need any help.”
“Okay,” Luke said, then ducked out of the room, letting the door fall shut with a bang. He waited a moment, then turned and meandered down the hall.
He swiped the card and let himself into the room—424. He set his duffle down and toed off his shoes.
“Hey,” he called, “Dan and I switched rooms, so I hope that’s cool—”
“That you, Macks?”
Luke froze. Jake peered around the corner. “Dan switched rooms with you?”
“Yeah,” Luke breathed, “I got the single—he needs to be by himself though.”
Jake nodded, as though he understood. Luke glanced about. “I thought he was rooming with Ty,” he said after a moment.
“Coach switched us all around,” Jake explained, “put Ty and Dima together.”
“Weird,” Luke murmured. He wondered if it was too late to go back to Danny and kick him out.
But then, he didn’t want Danny to be stuck in a room with Jake. Not if Danny was in heat.
Luke figured if it had to be one of them, better him than Danny at this point.
“So,” Jake said, and Luke wanted to cringe, wanted to hide as the defenseman’s eyes raked up and down his form, “I guess it’s cool that you room here.”
“Great,” Luke said, his voice quavering. How much longer he could even put up with Jake on the same team was questionable, never mind rooming with him.
Jake turned away, and Luke slung his bag over his shoulder again, headed deeper into what felt like enemy territory.
Jake shouldn’t have made him so nervous, so jittery. After all, he’d been fine with Luke after Luke’s cycle had ended. It was only natural, only normal for alphas to be affected by omega pheromones. The fact that Jake had hit on him shouldn’t have bothered him.
But it did. Maybe it was because Jake reminded him of the way Jack had acted. Maybe it was because he was always paranoid, always afraid anyway. He really would have rather been invisible, ignored by alphas.
He hated feeling this way, especially about a teammate, but he couldn’t shake the fear, the anxiety that something was going to happen. That Jake was going to do something.
He dropped his duffle next to the empty bed, started unpacking. Jake had locked himself in the bathroom. The water was running. Luke rolled his eyes toward the ceiling; he had a short reprieve. He glanced at the clock.
Dinner would be soon enough, and he’d put space between him and Jake then. It was fine, he told himself, folding his clothes into the dresser, slamming it shut with his knee. Tomorrow morning, they had skate, then they’d come back for a nap, then they’d be on the ice again. Then it would be onto a plane, and they’d be home in the wee hours of the morning, back to their own beds. Q didn’t want to keep them in Pittsburgh any longer than he had to.
So it was just one night, really, and there wasn’t really an opportunity for Jake to do anything—they were so busy, needed to be so focused on the game. It would be just fine.
Jake stepped back into the room, toweling off his hair, then pitching the towel aside. Luke tried not to stare, not to look at his teammate. It wasn’t like he hadn’t seen Jake naked before.
But then the alpha turned his head just slightly and the light caught his eyes just right, and the hint of a smirk on his face—
Luke wanted to be sick.
Instead, he gritted his teeth. “Put some damn pants on,” he snapped, staring down into his duffle.
Jake snorted. “What, you turning into a prude now, Macks?” He complied though.
Luke ditched his bag on the floor, kicking it under the bed. He stole another look at the clock.
“Ready for dinner?” he asked, adjusting his collar.
“Hm, yeah,” Jake said, “I could go for something to eat.”
Luke tried to decide whether or not that was a pass, quirking a brow when he couldn’t. Jake just shrugged, then headed for the door.
They met Nicky in the hall. The Swede frowned at them a bit, then said, “Where’s Danny?”
Luke shook his head. “I don’t think he’ll be down,” he said.
Nicky seemed perplexed, but said nothing, just trailed along behind them to the elevator instead. They were silent on the ride down. Nicky stared straight up at the ceiling. Jake was fiddling with his collar in the mirror.
They passed by reception on their way to the conference room. A number of people were milling about, all of them formally attired—a wedding, Luke surmised. It was spring after all.
He thought about the invitations and save-the-dates tacked to his fridge at home. He hated wedding season. He didn’t know why all of his friends chose to get married on the same three weekends in July and August, but it was stressful for him because he had to choose between them all.
“Hey,” Ty said, grinning at them as they entered the room. Dima was sitting next to him, staring off into space.
“Hey,” Jake said, hesitating a moment.
Luke dropped into the seat across from the rookie. All of them looked quizzically at Jake, who arranged himself in the chair beside Luke. Nicky quirked a brow, but sat next to Ty, who was frowning now.
Luke wanted to chew Jake out for it, but decided to hold his tongue. No sense in looking to start a fight. No sense in calling Jake on something that maybe wasn’t there—maybe Jake just didn’t want to sit next to Ty. It was pretty clear that the rookie was into Jake, thought there was something between them.
Nicky caught his eye, frowned a little deeper. Luke shrugged.
He didn’t like it, sure, but what could he do?
“Hey!” Mike said, slinging himself into the chair beside Luke, “how are ya guys?”
“Traitor!” Sebby hollered from across the way, which earned him a raspberry from Mike.
“Children,” Nicky said, his tone both exasperated and authoritative.
“He started it,” Mike murmured, turning back to the table. “Anybody seen the menu yet?”
“Chicken,” Nicky said, “it’s always chicken.”
“Maaaan,” Mike groaned, rocking back in his chair. “Wish they’d feed us something better, like—”
“Pizza and pop?” Dima asked, quirking a brow.
Mike flushed. “I wasn’t gonna say it,” he huffed, “I was thinking like, steak or salmon or something like that. Y’know. Not chicken.”
“The day they give us options will be the day hell freezes over,” Jake muttered, shaking his head a bit.
Sure enough, dinner was chicken—just like Nicky had said. Mike scowled at it, but he was just as silent as the rest of them as they ate. Food was food, after all, and besides, it wasn’t like it was bad or anything.
“So, what’s everyone up to tonight?” Mike asked when he’d cleared most of his plate, leaving only a few vestiges of salad behind, twirling them about with his fork. Luke winced at the sound of metal grating on porcelain.
“Going to bed with a headache if you don’t stop that,” he snapped.
Mike dropped his fork. “Touchy,” he drawled.
“Hm, bed sounds like a good idea though,” Jake said, leaning back in his chair, stretching his arms above his head. He gave Luke a side-long glance, and yeah, that was definitely a pass.
“We have a big game tomorrow,” Nicky said sagely, “everyone needs their rest.”
Mike rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah,” he muttered, “boring! We should go do something.” He turned to Dima and Ty. “You down?”
Ty was eyeing Jake, concern scrawled across his features. “I might stay in,” he said, clearly seeking approval from Jake.
The alpha didn’t react.
Breathing was suddenly much more difficult, Luke thought.
“God, you guys are lame,” Mike spat. “I’m gonna go talk to Sebby, at least he knows how to have fun.”
Nicky shook his head. “Youth,” he murmured.
“Like you’re so old,” Jake retorted.
“Old enough,” Nicky said and pinned the alpha with a look.
Jake squirmed a bit. “Yeah, well,” he started.
Luke glanced at Nicky, sipping water thoughtfully. Did the Swede know something, or was he just picking up on Jake’s signals? If he was and he was coming to the same conclusion …
“Anyway,” Jake said, getting to his feet, “I really do think I’m gonna turn in for the night. The last game really wore me out.”
“Yeah,” Dima agreed, “you made lots of hits.”
Jake nodded. “So, see you guys at skate. See ya upstairs, Macks.”
He clapped Luke on the shoulder as he made his way out of the room. Luke glowered at him, then took another swig of his water.
“Is he hitting on you?” Nicky asked, his brows tented with concern.
Luke choked on his mouthful. “God, I hope not!” he managed after a moment, glowering at the Swede.
Nicky still seemed concerned. A quick glance at Ty told him the rookie was upset by this prospect. He set his drink down, then said, “I’m gonna go for a walk. I’m definitely not ready to sleep yet. Anyone else?”
Ty shook his head. Dima considered for a moment, then said, “I wish, but my leg …”
“Yeah,” Nicky said, “you need to rest. You do not want to hurt your knee.”
Luke shrugged. “All right,” he said, “I’ll see everyone later.”
“Be careful,” Nicky said, and Luke wondered why Nicky would say that, why he …
Like, he knew why, but Nicky didn’t need to mother hen him in front of the rest of the team. Didn’t need to treat him like an omega.
He strolled out the front door of the hotel, into the evening air of downtown Pittsburgh. Traffic had slowed off, and the night had crept over the city, the lights now dazzling in the dark. Luke jammed his hands in his pockets, wished he’d brought a jacket with him. It was spring and all, but it was still cool, almost frosty, once the sun went down.
He strolled north from the hotel, past towering cathedrals, their bells tolling out the hour. He headed past the arena, with its plaza all lit up, people milling about outside the doors even at this hour. He headed through the Armstrong Tunnel, toward the river.
He paused on the bridge, leaning over the edge, staring down into the murky depths of the water, watching the lights shimmering on its surface. A stiff breeze was blowing, freezing him as he stood there.
He sighed heavily, then turned away. He jammed his hands into his pockets, kicked a stone along the sidewalk.
He didn’t know what he was doing out here, didn’t know where to go or who to see. He had no reason to be out. He just knew he didn’t want to go back, didn’t want to be in the room with Jake.
He didn’t know how long he could stay away, wandering aimlessly like this, but he hoped it would be long enough.
He crossed the bridge, passed a few people along the narrow sidewalks running underneath the mountain’s shadow. The area was busy, full of girls in leather jackets and guys in hoodies and torn jeans. The shops were brightly lit, and Luke paused in front of an Irish pub, then ducked inside, figuring it was warmer there than outside.
He got a funny look from the bartender when he asked for water, but he didn’t care.
He wondered how long he could sit there without ordering anything else. He glanced about surreptitiously, then nearly jumped out of his skin when he spotted Q sitting in the corner with a couple of members of upper management and none other than Sean Flangan.
Luke gritted his teeth. He knew he didn’t need to pay for water, but he dropped a couple of coins on the bar and headed out as quick as he could, before anybody saw him. He hurried past the window, keeping his head ducked low. He walked a little faster, putting more distance between himself and the bar.
Sean was like the last thing he needed right then and there. After all, he had a bet with Mason to keep. He didn’t want to lose.
He ended up back across the water, in a park. There were a few couples out, a few people traversing the paths to get to where they needed to go. He sat near the water’s edge and watched the trains on the far side of the river, their lone headlights burning into the night as they slowly chugged out of the depot, heading off to wherever.
He pulled out his phone, played with it idly for a moment. Then, he dialed Mason. If he was going to keep his end of the bet, he might as well make sure they were still in competition.
He wouldn’t be surprised if Mason had already lost, actually. He glanced out over the water again as the phone rang.
Click, followed by a startled, breathless, “Y’llo?”
“Ha!” Luke crowed. “Caught you red-handed!”
“Red-handed? Who is this?”
Luke frowned. “Jarhead?”
“Huh? No—oh. I thought this was my phone. Just a sec.”
Luke’s eyebrows ascended into his hairline. He shut his mouth with a click, his lips settling into a frown.
“Luke! Luuuke, it’s you.”
“Who has your phone?” Luke asked sharply.
“Hm? Oh—sorry. That was Duncs.”
“Where are you?”
“At the condo.”
“And why is Duncs in my house? Seriously, Mayday—”
“I’m having a party, duh. Trev and Duncs and Halpy flew up here from LA, I think Dusty’s supposed to be coming and—”
“You’re having a party. At my house.” Luke wasn’t sure if he should laugh or cry. He settled for angry instead. He should have known better than to leave Mason alone, unsupervised for any period of time. He was such a dick. Of course he would have a party.
“Did I say you could have a party?”
A pause. “Oh, c’mon Luke! It’s just a little fun, and we’ll clean up and—”
“I’ve seen your parties, Mason, I know what they’re like! You invite like a billion people over and everyone just gets wrecked, and there’s strippers and booze and drugs and—”
“I said we’ll clean up! You won’t even know it happened—I’ll keep it small, jeez, Luke. It’ll be fine.”
“It is not fine that you’re having a party at my house—”
“Just go play your game, mmkay? You need to focus, right?”
Luke ground his teeth together. His nails bit into his palm. “One question,” he snarled.
“Is Linnea there?”
He heard Mason inhale sharply and then—
Click. The line went dead.
“Fucker!” Luke spat, hanging up. He resisted the urge to pitch his phone into the river. Mason had some goddamn nerve, making that bet and pretending he was all on board with proving to each other that they could be celibate, and then throwing some stupid party and inviting—
It just didn’t even bear thinking about.
His feet set him for the hotel. He thought about wandering down to Market Square as he drew closer, but he couldn’t see the point. With a defeated sigh, he headed back into the warmth of the hotel lobby.
“How was the walk?” Nicky asked, joining him as they waited for the elevator.
“All right, I guess,” Luke replied with a shrug. He gazed down at the worn colors of the carpet, once a rich Persian design, now faded and dull. He didn’t want to make eye contact with Nicky.
Nicky was giving him this piteous look—he knew the one. He didn’t stop, even when the elevator dinged and the doors slid open. He finally looked away when Luke pushed the button for the fourth floor. Nicky leaned over and pushed the door closed button.
“You can switch rooms,” he said, “just ask Danny—”
“No,” Luke snapped. “It’s fine. It’s just Jake—it’s fine.”
Nicky pressed his lips together, a thin line, like he didn’t believe Luke or something. The doors slid open again.
“I’ll be fine,” Luke said sharply, stepping out of the car. Nicky said nothing to him. Luke held his gaze for a moment, then whirled about and stalked off down the hall.
It was just Jake after all. He could take care of himself; Nicky didn’t need to worry.
He opened the door, creeping into the already dark room. The door fell shut behind him, squealing on its hinges. He toed off his shoes, then crept around the corner.
“Hey,” Jake said, his voice barely a whisper above the slide of the sheets.
“What took you so long?” the younger man asked, his feet hitting the floor. He stood up, towering over Luke. Luke barely dared to draw a breath.
Jake’s fingers under his chin, tipping his face up. “You’re a really bad omega,” he whispered, “making me wait like that.”
“I,” Luke said. His heart was slamming in his chest, threatening to shatter all of his ribs, more so than the most bone-rattling hit he’d ever received.
“Shh, shh,” Jake said softly, “I don’t want to hear excuses.”
“I,” Luke repeated, unable to do much more. He wished he had more control, but fear had frozen him solid, turned him into a statue. He couldn’t hit Jake, couldn’t shove him away. He couldn’t even find his voice.
“You’re probably feeling it now,” the alpha murmured, “I’m glad you came back. Wouldn’t want you to be out there when it kicked in.”
“When what kicks in?” Luke whimpered, but the sinking sensation in his gut told him he already knew.
“Just a little something,” Jake replied. “How are you feeling?”
Luke swallowed tightly. “Warm,” he replied, his voice breaking over the word. He’d thought it was just coming in from the cold, but he could feel his blood throbbing through his fingertips now, a flush across his cheeks.
“Thought so,” Jake murmured. “Let’s get you undressed.”
Jake tugged at his collar, unbuttoning his shirt. “C’mon,” he said, pushing the shirt back off Luke’s shoulders, “don’t you wanna have some fun?”
“No,” Luke spat, “no, Jake, I don’t wanna do this right now—”
The alpha pushed him down on the bed. “That’s okay,” he said, “that’s why I gave you the stuff.”
“What stuff?” Luke asked again, desperation creeping into his tone. He knew, he knew—
“Oh, just a bit of inducer and a little bit of G.”
“Fuck you,” Luke spat, lifting his hands to try and push Jake away. He’d known it.
“I intend to,” Jake replied, pinning Luke to the bed.
“Please,” Luke whined, “please, Jake—”
“That’s right, beg me for it …”
Luke watched his face blur in and out of focus, heard his own breathing echoing inside his head. He was drowning, going under, and Jake just sat back on his heels and watched him fight to stay awake, struggling to stop this.
But he was so tired and warm, and everything was so heavy, so very heavy. His eyes slipped shut; everything was pleasant and soft, gentle, warm and calm and—
He could just slip away, away from all of this, all the pain and struggle and hurt, and—
Danny opened up his laptop, wincing as the light flooded through the room, filling it. He waited for Skype to load, then clicked on Matt’s name.
Matt answered, almost instantaneously. Danny grimaced at how haggard the alpha looked, even though he knew part of that was the pixelation and terrible lighting. Still, there were deep, dark circles under Matt’s eyes, and he looked wan, drawn. He hardly seemed to be the same person that Danny had left in DC just hours before.
Danny chewed at his lip absently. It seemed to him that Matt had started going downhill really fast, ever since he’d received his diagnosis. He wondered—was it some sort of psychological effect, or was it just that Matt was sicker than they’d though initially?
“Hey,” Matt said, his voice garbled through Skype. It was a bit laggy. Danny sighed heavily; hotel wifi was always somewhat sketchy.
“Hey,” he said.
“How was the flight?” Matt ran a hand through his hair, tousling it even more. He stifled a yawn.
“Decent,” Danny replied. “Did I get you up?”
“Mm,” Matt said, “but I needed to get up.”
“Have you eaten?”
Matt’s expression soured. “Yes, mom,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“What’d you have?”
“Some toast,” Matt admitted, scratching at his cheek. “I wasn’t really that hungry.”
“I’ll make something later,” the alpha said confidently, lifting his head a bit. “Okay?”
“You’d better,” Danny replied.
“Don’t worry,” Matt said, offering up a half smile. “How is everyone? You got the room to yourself, that’s pretty sweet.”
“I had to trade with Macks, but yeah. It is. Everyone’s all right, I guess.”
“Ready for tomorrow?”
Danny sighed. “As ready as we will be. Did you hear from the doctor today?”
Matt shrank back from the screening, curling in on himself. “Yeah,” he said.
“They said it’s treatable,” Matt said. “Like. Really treatable. One of the better ones.”
Danny almost sighed in relief. “That’s good,” he said.
Matt nodded. “I … I still have to do chemo,” he said softly. “And something else, too. Both of them. Together.”
“Oh,” Danny said.
Matt kept nodding. He was looking down at his keyboard.
The alpha sniffed, then wiped at his eyes. “I’m fine,” he said, lifting his head. “Just … y’know. It’s a little scary.”
Danny nodded. “When do you start?”
“Sometime next week,” Matt replied, glancing to his left. “They wanted to start real soon. Said it was better.”
“It probably is,” Danny agreed. “Have you talked to your parents yet?”
Another wince. “No …”
“I know, I know,” Matt muttered. “I just—I’m really tired today, Dan. I went to the doctor’s and that was huge, I’m so wiped. I got nothing.”
Danny sighed. He wanted to push, because Matt’s parents need to know. But he also felt bad for Matt. He looked so tired, so sick …
“Call them tomorrow?” he asked.
“’course,” Matt murmured.
“And make sure you have something to eat. Something more than toast.”
“I dunno, you’re doing a pretty good job of mothering me.”
“You’re sick,” Danny said flatly, “and I’m worried about you. I’m miles away, and what can I do? Fuck, Matt, I’d rather be anywhere but here right now, just to be right there with you …”
Matt bowed his head again. Another sniffle. “I wish you were here,” he mumbled. “The house is so quiet, Danny, and I …”
Danny felt it, that sharp wave of fear shooting through him like an arrow. He gritted his teeth. “Matt.”
The alpha shook his head. “I’m fine,” he said. “You need to concentrate on the game tomorrow, I’ll be okay—”
“You shouldn’t keep this kind of shit to yourself, that’s why we’re bonded—so we can share with each other. Make it easier.”
Matt just shook his head.
Danny hated him for it, hated that he’d block him out like this. Matt was suffering, but he was blocking up the bond so that Danny couldn’t feel anything. He was hiding from him.
It hurt, to think that Matt would hide from him like that.
“I’ve got to go,” the alpha said sharply, “I should make dinner.”
Danny snorted. That was an excuse if he’d ever been given one. But he’d been bugging the alpha about having dinner, so how did he say no? How could he hold him back? “Fine,” he said. “But please call your mother. And … please. Please. Don’t hold back on me.”
He held Matt’s gaze for an unwavering second, before the alpha hit the button and ended the call.
Danny stared at the blank screen for a moment, then closed the laptop lid.