Chapter 20: Sick All the Same [Slapshot!]
Matt shuddered and drew the blankets tighter around him. Why was he cold? He was almost never cold, not with Danny right beside him. Guy was like a furnace—
His arm crashed down against the empty mattress and he stared at the place where Danny should have been.
He curled deeper under the blankets, wracking his brain for the answers. He should know, he should have been able to remember …
But he didn’t know why Danny was gone.
Maybe he was just downstairs, Matt thought, flinging back the covers, gently descending to the floor. The carpet was rough against his feet; he frowned down at it, at the strange stain marring it.
Was he even in his own home?
He padded into the hall, peering around the corner. No sign of Danny.
He slid his hand along the wall, the uneven surface of the paint catching under his finger pads.
He stopped at the top of the stairs and stared down them, watching as the floor seemed to rise and fall, like the ebb and flow of a tide. He inhaled sharply and sat down as quick as he could, ducking his head between his knees as his body buckled with forward motion, a loss of balance.
That wasn’t Danny’s voice. It was a woman. He lifted his head a little and stared blankly at his sister for as long as he could stand the strange telescopic quality of his vision. Then he dropped his head again.
“What are you doing up?” Moira admonished, hiking up the stairs.
“What are you doing here?” he retorted, lifting his head again, then wincing at how hoarse he was. He sounded like he’d swallowed glass or something.
“I’m here because you’re an idiot,” she snapped, rolling her eyes. “I mean, lookit you. You’re out of bed—you shouldn’t be up.”
“I’m fine,” he replied. Seriously, he couldn’t see any reason he shouldn’t be up. He felt fine.
Well, aside from losing his balance and vertigo and whatnot.
Moira sighed. “In Boston.”
Matt furrowed his brow. “Boston? Why would he go to Boston?”
Her shoulders slumped. She glowered up at him, the corners of her lips dragging down toward the ground under the gravity of her exasperation. “Seriously. We went over this last night.”
“I’m sorry,” Matt snarled, “I don’t remember! How long have you even been here? Why are you here? Where’s Mel?”
“God, you are such a little—Mel’s gonna be here as soon as she can. What, am I not good enough or something? Danny called her first too, didn’t bother calling me, so—”
“Because you’re a bitch,” Matt snapped, unable to help himself.
“Oh, fuck you!” Moira spat. “That’s all you ever say! I’m a bitch, so what if I’m a fucking bitch, I’m here for you now, you ungrateful asshole!”
They stared at each other for a moment. Moira curled her upper lip in disdain, then stomped the rest of the way up the stairs. “C’mon,” she snarled, “you’re going back to bed.”
“I’m fine,” Matt huffed.
“You have another round of chemo at ten.”
Matt froze. “Chemo?” he asked, then glanced nervously over his shoulder. “You …”
Moira rolled her eyes again. “Danny told Mel, and Mel told me. You’ve got cancer. You’re doing chemo.”
Matt screwed his eyes shut. “Why did he tell you?” he managed after a moment, rolling his eyes skyward. His breath caught in his chest; pain throbbed through him, sticking in his ribs.
“Because.” Moira’s breath was a hiss, the word dripping with exasperation.
“I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to know, you don’t need to know, I’m gonna be fine, you don’t need to be here, you don’t need to worry—”
“Oh my god!” she spat. “How are you so fucking stupid, Matt?! How am I related to you—seriously, did you get hit in the head too many times?!”
She grabbed him by the back of his shirt, yanking him back. His knees buckled, and he stumbled about to face her, her eyes full of seething rage, her teeth set on edge. She looked like an animal about to attack. “You need help,” she growled. “Danny can’t be here for you—Danny needs help, you colossal twit. He’s in Boston right now, they flew from Pittsburgh two nights ago, they’re in the playoffs against the Bears now. You think of how he feels?”
Matt could only stare at her. His brows tented, crinkling his forehead. “But—”
She shook her head. “God, you’re so dumb sometimes. Danny feels like shit because you’re sick, and he’s the only one you told. Did you think of that? Think about how he feels, being the only one who knows? And he can’t help you.”
Matt lowered his gaze, stared at his feet. The ground seemed to rise up to meet him, then shrink away. He took a steadying breath; the world was still spinning around him, contorting, distorting. His perception was completely warped.
“And, dumbass, much as I’m a bitch—you’re my brother. I’m pissed neither of you assholes told me.”
“I’m worried, sure—you’ve got cancer, Matt, who wouldn’t worry? Danny’s worried, you’re worried—don’t even lie, you’re completely fucked right now, you know it. But, fuck, Matt, think about it. Think about how Mom and Dad would feel if you just like … if we had to call them up and say, ‘Hey, Matt’s really sick, he’s gonna die.’”
Matt choked on his breath. “I’m gonna be fine,” he ground out. He didn’t feel like he was gonna be okay, that was for sure, but it was the only thing keeping him going. He had to be okay. He had to be.
“But what if? Can you imagine getting that call? That’s not fair—they care about you, Matt. Mel cares about you, Danny cares about you.”
He glanced up at her, then back at the floor. “And you?”
“You’re an idiot,” she spat, “go back to bed. You look like you’re going to fall over.”
He grabbed her wrist and twisted. His knuckles were weak; she loosed him off easily. “They made it to the next round?” he asked.
She shook her head. “You jocks are all the same,” she muttered. “Yes, they beat the Rockets. They played the Bears last night, lost really badly. If they keep it up, Danny’ll be home soon and I can leave.”
She glanced at her Fitbit. “I have to go pick Mel up from the airport in twenty minutes. Will you be okay on your own?”
“I’m fine,” he muttered.
“Sure,” she said, “just … go lie down, yeah? Then Melly will be here and it’ll be okay, right?”
He sighed heavily, listening to the note of concern in her voice. She tried valiantly to hide it, but she was scared shitless. She always tried to act tough, but she was the youngest, the baby. She had always looked to Mel and Matt to reassure her.
“Yeah,” he murmured, “it’ll be fine.”
She nodded. He patted her on the back. “I’ll … go lay down,” he said, shuffling by her toward the bedroom.
“Thanks,” she murmured—but when he glanced back at her, she had already descended the stairs again. He listened to her banging about downstairs for a moment, then shuffled back into the bedroom, slowly closing the door behind him
Sebby picked up his phone, frowning at it. Brenden was right beside him, so the only person who could possibly be texting him was Sy—and he didn’t want to hear from the captain. He was probably going to chew Sebby out for shitty play last night. He always did.
Well, Sy always thought he was giving “pep talks” to his teammates, but really, it was hard to take. Especially when he was yakking at Sebby about ignoring his old teammates, focusing on the game and doing his own thing. Putting on blinders, like he was some kind of goddamn horse.
Maybe that kind of shit worked for Sy, maybe he liked that kind of talk. But all it did was piss Sebby off. Like he didn’t know that already. Like he wasn’t already trying.
He stared at his screen for a long moment, his heart thundering in his throat, choking him.
He swiped right, pressing the phone to his ear. “Dad?” He could hardly breathe.
“Salut.” His father still hadn’t lost his French ways, not even after living in Boston for all these years.
“Um,” Sebby said, biting his lip, “hey. Didn’t expect to hear from you, how’s it going?”
“I saw your game last night.”
Sebby’s heart sank, even as he finally cleared his throat, but dragging all his innards, all his blood with him, down to his toes. He felt like he was draining out onto the floor. “Um,” he said, hesitating. He couldn’t tell from his father’s voice alone—was it good or bad that he’d watched the game?
He remembered playing in juniors. Dad had never been there, only in the summer when he ran a camp, and Sebby was always his little bitch then—“Sebastien, do this! Sebastien, do that!” And he remembered being seven or eight years old, and all of the other kids with their dads in the stands, and Sebby had scored, scored his first goal ever, like really scored it—not like the five-year-olds who all just chased after the puck, even the goalies, and maybe one of them got lucky and the puck slid into the net. Not like that, an actual goal—a purposeful shot, just like his dad, just like Dad did on the TV, in Boston Garden, and Sebby’s teammates had cheered, and the adults had cheered, just like the crowd on TV, and Sebby had glanced over his shoulder to the whooping and clapping audience, and—
Dad had been nowhere to be found.
He could count on a single hand the number of times his father had watched one of his games. And every time, he’d burned with the criticism after. You did this wrong, you did that wrong, why did you do this? That was stupid, you should have done this instead, I wouldn’t have done that, I would have …
And he had to sit there and take it, because his father was Lucian fucking Montclair, legend of the Boston Bears, going to the Hockey Hall of Fame someday, Cup winner, goal-scorer, so good, so damn good.
“Mmhmm,” Dad said. “It was a good game for the Bears.”
Sebby’s shoulders sank. “Yeah,” he said with a sigh. He picked at some thread on the bedspread. “They played … really well.”
“I am disappointed.” The French accent made the words harsher, even as they rolled together. “I did not think that my son …”
Sebby gritted his teeth. “It’s hard,” he said, “playing against Boston. Y’know? Like …”
“I also did not think I raised a crybaby.”
“If you have only excuses, then that is all you will ever be.”
“You’re not my coach,” Sebby spat, slamming his hand against the mattress. “I know, I sucked last night, I gotta play better. But leave that shit to my coaches—if that’s all you have to say to me, then—”
He lowered his head, a chided child again.
“Nous parlons maintenant, mon fils. Tu comprende?”
“Oui,” Sebby murmured, “I’ll see you in a bit.” He pulled the phone away from his ear, ending the call. He pitched the device aside and sat on the bed, staring at the worn carpet of the hotel room. He dragged his hands down his face, clasped them together tightly, until his knuckles popped. He pressed his lips together, looking around the room.
His gaze lighted on the orange bottle sitting on the TV stand.
Ty stared at the food on his plate, contemplating the lumpy mashed potatoes and overcooked greens. He wanted to feel hungry. He should have felt hungry, he thought, since he’d missed breakfast and he’d been out drinking last night and …
But he didn’t. He was full up on something, but he wasn’t sure what. It was vaguely uncomfortable; he didn’t feel sick, but …
He didn’t feel great, either. Ill in some way, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.
The closest thing he had was the time he’d got caught cheating on a math test, when he’d looked over at his friend Geoff’s paper and copied down a couple of answers. Geoff had been in trouble too; they’d both had to serve a detention or two.
It was like that, that strange, swirling emotion that had swallowed him up in the aftermath, made him tremble, made him shake.
Jake flopped down in the chair beside him. Ty crinkled his nose, then grimaced.
The blond alpha said nothing as he dug into his food, his fork scraping across the plate, over and over again, echoing down Ty’s spine, each repetition more unbearable than the last. The black emotion—whatever it was—rippled and swayed with the sound sensation, then solidified again, thicker, blacker.
“Do you mind?” he snapped at last.
The alpha turned startled blue eyes on him, and Ty stared back. “I’m sorry,” he spluttered a moment later, then ducked his head. That wasn’t like him.
Jake looked him up and down, his eyes raking over him, as though sizing him up. Ty stared at his clasped hands in his lap, kept his head bowed, a sure sign of submission. Jake turned back to his meal at last and the scraping resumed. Ty closed his eyes, bit his cheek.
“So,” Jake drawled around a mouthful a moment later, “who’d you fuck?”
Ty choked. “W-what?” he asked. How did he—?
Jake quirked a brow. “I’m not the only one who smells unpleasant,” he said, dropping his fork onto the empty plate with a clatter.
The alpha snorted. “Please, as if that helps. You’d have to scrub yourself raw and even then …”
Ty stared blankly at the tablecloth for a moment, his lips moving over syllables, but his voice failing him. Then he snapped, “Well, who’d you fuck?”
He sneered at the alpha, who just smirked and looked away, some kind of self-satisfied simper washing over his entire demeanor.
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” he murmured, then got to his feet and headed back over to the buffet.
Ty watched him go, then bit his lip and looked away. He glanced around, found Mike’s questioning gaze. He stared at the D-man for a second, then got up and left the room.
He didn’t know why it felt so much like a betrayal. The knowledge that Jake had slept with someone—anyone, really—broke that black feeling, shattered it into a thousand shards of pitch-black glass, sticking into his ribs, tearing through him, ripping him to pieces. He didn’t understand it.
It was anger, it was sick, it was despair, all singing through his sinew, and he didn’t know why or what to make of it.
He didn’t feel good about sleeping with Gabe. It felt wrong, like a manipulation. He’d wanted to in the moment, but now, it was a mistake, a wrong he wished he could blot out.
But even though he’d showered, the scent was still clinging to him, branding him, marking him, announcing to the world what he’d done.
He flushed hotly thinking about it. And worse, Jake knew, and he didn’t know why, but that hurt more than somebody like Mike knowing and winking at him, congratulating him for something he regretted.
Guilt. That was the black feeling, he could name it now. Guilt whirled through him, devouring him whole.
But he didn’t know why. He didn’t know why he should feel guilty. He’d slept with Gabe of his own accord, and he was single—free as a bird. He had no ties to anyone.
So why had talking to Jake felt so much like an accusation, a trial? He was up on charges, but he didn’t know what they were. He only knew he was guilty.
He glanced up as the elevator doors slid open to the fourth floor hallway. He stared at Luke, who returned the favor, his eyes wide.
“Uh, hey,” Ty said.
“Hi,” the older man replied, and Ty darted by him, guilt gnawing at his heels, making small talk impossible. What could he say to Luke? What did he have to say to anyone, other than he was sorry—but he didn’t know what he was sorry for?
He was an adult now; he was old enough to make his own decisions. And yet …
He stopped short, rearing back in horror. He pressed his tongue to the roof of his mouth inhaling deeply, torturing himself with scent.
He whirled around, but the elevator doors were closed and the light was off. Luke was gone, but his scent was lingering in the hall.
On Jake. Luke’s scent was all over Jake, and Jake was wearing it like some kind of medal, smirking about it.
Ty heaved with the knowledge, collapsed against the wall. He watched the patterns on the carpet meld into each other, shifting like some kind of hallucination as the deadly poison of knowledge burst through him.
Jake and Luke were fucking, and that made him want to puke. His stomach churned with the knowledge, a violent storm whipping up inside him, acid dissolving him from the inside out, until he was nothing—
He melted down, barely holding himself together long enough to make his way back to the room, hands scrabbling at the faded, bumpy wallpaper as he went, desperate to find purchase, something solid to hang on to as the storm threatened to take him under.
He slammed the door and sank down to the floor, unable to bear the weight of gravity, the pressure of being any longer.
Guilt and anger and despair were a strange mix, a potent potion designed to deconstruct him, and then there was nothing left but a sort of hollowness in between his ribs, where his heart had once been, when the storm had passed.
He knew this one too. It was called heartbreak.
Mason wasn’t enthused to see Linnea hanging around by the front door of the condo building when he got back from grocery shopping. He watched the tall blonde for a moment—her dress swaying as she shifted her weight from side to side. Her arms were folded over her chest. She turned her head from side to side, her long locks flipping over her shoulder, tangling in the breeze as she did so. Her sunglasses were perched atop her head, glinting every so often as the sun tried to break through the intermittent cloud cover of the day.
Mason put the car in park and pulled the e-brake. He folded up his sunglasses with slow, precise motions, pocketed his wallet. He checked his phone, but he had no new messages. Not even his teammates were harassing him this morning.
He stepped out of the truck, grabbed the groceries out of the back, slammed the door with his hip. He headed for the front door, intent on sending Linnea away.
He caught her eye as he approached. “Hey,” he said, lifting his brows like he’d only just noticed her.
“Hey,” she replied, the word thick with her accent.
“What are you doing here?” He punched in the code languidly, turning to face her.
“Is Lucas home?” she asked.
“No,” he replied easily, “Luke’s in Boston, with the rest of the Stars.” He paused, then let the door fall shut again. “Why?”
She shrugged, rolled her head to the side. She wouldn’t meet his gaze. “You know,” she said slowly, “I want to play with him.”
“I know,” Mason said.
She frowned. “Is he actually your omega?” she asked sharply. Her eyes bored into his. In that moment, she was terrifying—a warrior woman, a Viking of yore. She wasn’t going to take any more of his bullshit.
“Well, yeah,” he scoffed. “Why would I tell you he was if that wasn’t true?”
“Then let me play with him,” she purred. “As his alpha, tell him to do it. I am tired of waiting, Mason.”
“I’m working on it,” he replied breezily, waving a hand. “These things take time, y’know, like I could just tell him to, but I’d rather him, y’know, kind of try to enjoy it?”
Her arms were folded again, her lips pressed tightly together.
“Look,” he sighed.
“Dima says he is not omega.”
Mason frowned. “Who the fuck is Dima?”
“Katya’s brother. He is also a hockey player.”
Mason rolled his eyes. “Sure, right, like he knows Luke—”
“Luke and Dima are teammates. Mironov.”
Mason’s face muscles gave up their tenuous attempt at a sardonic smirk, going slack and falling. He faced Linnea slowly. “Dima Mironov?” he asked cautiously.
She didn’t even nod.
Mason’s lips peeled back, baring his teeth. “You have got to be fucking kidding me,” he spat when Linnea said nothing more. “Mironov’s his fucking teammate, yeah, and that Katya chick is his sister, and you two are friends, and you—”
He inhaled, counted to ten. Or tried. He only made it to three before he spat, “And you fucking told Dima that Luke’s an omega.”
He punched the code into the door again, slamming his finger into the buttons. He shoved the door open, kicking it for good measure, then grabbing it and forcing it shut as Linnea tried to wedge her way in.
“No, no, no,” he said, “you do not get to fuck this up any more than you already have, you have done enough and now you can just go away and—”
Bang! The door shuddered and they stared at each other from opposite sides of it for a moment. Linnea grabbed the handle and tugged on it furiously. She banged on the glass, swearing at him in Swedish. He waved at her, then whipped about and booked it to the elevators, the plastic shopping bags smashing him in the calf.
He couldn’t believe he’d miscalculated the web of connection so much. He couldn’t believe that Linnea had managed to talk to one of Luke’s teammates—that her friend was the sister of one of Luke’s teammates, and now they had told Dima fucking Mironov that Luke was an omega and—
Luke was going to be so pissed. Not only did he try to keep this kind of shit quiet, not only did he try to hide, but there were also those on his team that would not be supportive of him if he tried to come out, even just to the team.
Dima Mironov was one of those guys. The Russian sniper had made his views on omegas very, very clear—Mason clearly remembered an interview with him on some right-wing alpha site, alpha male rights or something, and he remembered the pull quote, in huge black letters across his screen: “Omegas belong at home.”
He didn’t remember the rest of the interview, but he felt vaguely sick; Mironov wasn’t the only one on that site that had left him feeling vaguely nauseous when they suggested just what an omega’s place was, what their role was. To be jealously guarded, to do only what an alpha said, to be punished severely for disobeying.
Omegas outside the home deserved to be punished in the estimation of guys like that. If an omega dared to aspire to be anything more than a happy homemaker, an angel in the house, completely subservient to the whims of the alpha …
He took the stairs two at a time instead of waiting for the elevator. His heart was in his throat, and for the first time in a long time, he was sincerely worried about Luke.
Luke was …
He chewed on his lip.
Luke had been hurt by alphas enough.
He fumbled the key in the lock, then burst into the condo, pitching aside the grocery bags, kicking off his shoes. The door slammed shut, knocking him further into the condo.
Cam strolled out of the living room, bowl of ice cream in hand. “Oh hey,” he said nonchalantly.
Mason whirled on him, and he startled, ducking back behind the doorjamb. “Whoa, did something happen?”
“What the fuck are you still doing here?” he snapped, pitching his shoes into the closet.
“My flight doesn’t leave ‘til six,” Cam complained. “And I was gonna ask you, can I get a ride—”
Mason glared at him, then stalked down the hall. “I have to make a call,” he snarled.
“Jeez, fine,” Cam murmured. “God, who pissed in your cornflakes?”
Mason slammed the door to the master bedroom, then whipped out his phone. He hopped up on the bed.
Luke’s phone went straight to voicemail. He rolled his eyes, said, “It’s Mayday. Call me when you get this.”
He pitched his phone aside, hoping he sounded urgent enough. He sat up again, steepling his fingers.
He’d really fucked up this time. He’d thought he’d just been playing, that it would be fine to tell Linnea that he had an omega. He’d thought he’d introduce them, maybe at a party, maybe at a romantic dinner, or something, and then …
Not at his party, not with Luke walking in with a black eye and a horror story, not with all his teammates there and everyone staring in shock, not …
And he certainly hadn’t meant for anyone to find out. He’d blown the lid off Luke’s cover, and he could only hope everyone would drop it, but now Mironov knew too, and …
He debated a moment, then picked his phone back up. He hesitated for a long time, then finally hit dial.
It felt like defeat, but he had to keep Luke safe. And this was the only way he knew how.
Brenden all but bumped into Mike, looking down at the shorter player in surprise. “Hey,” he said to his teammate.
Mike craned his neck to look up at him. “Hey,” he said, “how’s your nose?”
Brenden touched a hand tenderly to his abused face. Leo’s punch was still singing through his nerves. “Okay,” he murmured, then glanced around the dining room. “You seen Seb?”
Mike shook his head. “Nah. You haven’t seen Ty, have you? He was here, but he took off like a bat out of hell.”
Brenden responded in kind. “Haven’t seen him, nah.”
“Weird,” Mike murmured, then grinned at Dima as he walked by. “Hey man, looking good!”
The Russian sniper just eyed him, wary and sullen. Mike withered a bit. “Jeez,” he murmured to Brenden when Dima had moved out of earshot, “what’s with him? Seriously.”
Brenden shrugged. “Looks like he didn’t get no forty winks,” he replied.
“Huh. He could at least say hi. Be civil.”
“Y’know what they say, if ya’ll can’t say somethin’ nice …”
“Yeah, yeah,” Mike said, “I’m gonna go see if I can find Ty.”
“Good luck. Lemme know if ya see Seb.”
Mike nearly ran into Luke as he tried to exit the dining room a second time, narrowly dodging to the side as the dark-haired man stepped over the threshold. “Whoa,” Luke said.
“Watch where you’re goin’, Macks,” Mike sneered, giving his teammate a friendly shove.
Brenden lifted a brow at the way Luke all but cringed. “Watch yourself, blondie!” Leo called from the other side of the room. “That there’s a bear, and you better not poke him!”
There was laughter from around the room—they all knew it was a reference to the disastrous fight Luke had had the other night in Pittsburgh. Mike waved a hand at Leo, dismissing him.
Brenden snuck a glance at Dima. The dark-haired Russian was scowling, his eyes narrowed and his gaze fixed on Luke. Brenden frowned a bit.
He looked up again and met Jake’s gaze. It took him a second, but he wasn’t as slow as people liked to think he was.
He took a sidelong glance at Luke, then clapped a hand on his shoulder, steering him toward one of the tables on the far side of the room—away from Dima and Jake. He tossed a glance at Jake over his shoulder, saw the other alpha watching them.
“The hell,” Luke snapped at him. He tried to throw Brenden off, but he just dug his nails in deeper. Luke winced.
“It’ll be nice t’ sit near the window,” Brenden said, his voice straining. “I love listenin’ t’ the rain, don’t you?”
Luke glared at him, ready to spit back some withering retort, but he wilted himself when he caught the look in Brenden’s eye.
“Yeah,” he said, “it’s real nice.”
Dima watched them as they passed by, his eyes dark, narrow, impossible to read. Brenden hated that his own teammates were making him nervous.
He guided Luke into the chair, glancing around surreptitiously, before he leaned in and hissed, “You fuckin’ with Jake?”
Luke started. “I …”
“He smells like ya. You smell like him.”
Luke held his gaze for a moment, all the color draining out of his face, until he said, “I don’t wanna talk about it.”
Brenden nodded. “All right,” he drawled, “and what ‘bout Dima?”
“What about him?”
“Well, I dunno if ya noticed, but he seems mighty pissed off ‘bout somethin’ or other.”
He waited as Luke glanced around him at Dima. Then the dark-haired man sank back in to his chair. “I don’t know,” he said. “I didn’t do anything, I don’t think …”
He glanced about again. “Well,” he said with a sigh, “why don’t you stay right here an’ have some lunch? I’mma go find Sebby … Call Danny down. Don’t talk to anyone but Dan, okay?”
“All right,” Luke said with a hesitant nod.
Brenden clapped him on the shoulder. “I’ll be back. You need anything, you call. Got it?”
Brenden nodded again, but even as he walked away, he knew he should have stayed right there.