Chapter 40: (Not My First) Rodeo

Chapter 40: (Not My First) Rodeo


Luke glanced down at his phone, then at the name of the restaurant. Google said they matched, although …

He glanced about nervously. He couldn’t believe Sean would drag him to a rough-and-tumble cowboy bar in Texas, of all places.

Like, sure, when in Texas, make sure you hit up a steakhouse, but this …

Luke was pretty sure it wasn’t just a steakhouse—it was an Old West saloon, and all eyes were on him the second he walked through the door, slanted, furtive glances from behind menus, over drinks, in the mirrored wall behind the bar. A couple of people even turned to look at him.

Luke hurried to the back of the restaurant, past the bar front, the prick of lingering gazes spurring him to move faster.

Sean waved him over, and he glanced over his shoulder, feeling instinctively how dangerous this was.

He had no idea who was sitting out there. Who might overhear them. Who might recognize them. Who might hate them, decide to try to get into a brawl with them.

He slid into one of the chairs across from Sean, glanced up at the older man. Sean, for his part, was completely flip about the situation. He sipped a beer calmly, glanced down at the menu, and mumbled, “Took you long enough.”

“Presser,” Luke started, but Sean waved a hand in dismissal. He didn’t want excuses.

“Ready t’ order?” said the waitress who swung by a moment later, pulling out a notepad and a pen. She smiled at them.

Sean sat back with a sigh, glancing up at her. He looked at Luke. “Well?”

“I haven’t even looked at the menu,” he mumbled, glanced at the girl. “Sorry.”

“That’s okay,” she said, “we’ll be here all night. I’ll swing back by, give ya’ll a few moments with the menu.”

Luke ducked his head, skimming over the list of items. All the usual pub things—wings and burgers—along with a hearty selection of beef-based entrees.

He fixed Sean with a look as the other man took another swig from his beer. He waited patiently as the alpha set the drink down, finished swallowing. “So,” Sean said, leaning onto his forearms.

“What are you having?” Luke asked, feigning disinterest as he turned his attention back to the menu. “I never know about cuts of steak, like …”

“Just order the sirloin and be done with it,” Sean grunted, “or the filet.”

“T-bone?” Luke asked, lifting his brows.

Sean rolled his eyes. “If there’s one thing I can count on,” he murmured, “it’s that you’ll pick the most expensive thing …”

Luke’s lips quirked up in a smirk. “You know me,” he said lightly.

“Mm,” Sean said, but he was smiling now too. He dropped his gaze, bounced his fingers lightly off the worn, chipped tabletop. “So.”

Luke folded up the menu, glanced about for their waitress. He leaned back in the chair, stretching his arms wide. “The game was brutal,” he said. No sign of the waitress. Dammit, he needed her to come back.

“I know,” Sean replied. “I was there, I watched it.”

“I mean, three-zip. Poor Timmo. You know, he has a rivalry with the Longhorns’ goalie—guess they’re both Finns or something.”

“I’m quite aware,” Sean replied, lifting his brows. “Y’know, if you want to retire right now, I know someone at ESPN, can probably get you on the commentating team.”

“Ugh,” Luke huffed, crinkling his nose at the mere idea. “No thanks.” As if he wanted to be on television, out of his hockey gear, so that everyone could plainly see his face. As if he wanted to be a talking head.

As if he wanted to retire.

He glanced at Sean, which was confirmation that the alpha was indeed slowly steering the conversation exactly where he wanted to go.

“Well,” he drawled, “have you thought about what you wanna do when you retire?”

“No,” Luke all but spat. “I’m only twenty-seven. I got a few years of good hockey left in me yet.”


“I do!”

He let the chair fall back to all fours, slapped his hands on the table. The silverware jumped. “I’m not ready to retire, Sean.”

“I’m just saying,” the alpha replied, “you should probably think about it. After this all gets out—”

Luke rolled his eyes, shook his head. “This is exactly what I’ve been telling you since it happened—I don’t want it out in the open, Sean. Just drop this whole stupid charade. Forget about it.”

Sean frowned deeply. “I don’t know, I think it’s important—justice, retribution, all that. But really, won’t it give you some peace of mind if he goes to jail?”

“He won’t,” Luke said flatly. “He’ll cut a plea deal, pay a settlement, charges will be dropped. If he gets a judge like that one guy in California, then he’ll get a soft sentence at worst, probably less. I’ll get dragged through the mud. How is that peace of mind for me?”

Sean pursed his lips. “Well,” he started, then glanced up.

The waitress stopped alongside their table, pen at the ready. “All set?” she asked brightly. She looked at Luke.

“Two of the t-bones,” Sean said, and Luke closed his mouth. Sean was apparently going to take the liberty of ordering for him. “A bottle of the cab.”

“That’s all?” she asked, lifting her brows.

Sean nodded.

“All right then. Comin’ right up.”

She darted off again, and Sean leaned forward, his voice dropping low. “Look, Luke, I know you think you can keep hiding. But what is it really serving? I mean, you’ve been ra—”


“It happened twice. It’s not like hiding keeps you safe.”

“It keeps me safe from the sewers of public opinion,” Luke muttered. “I’m not out to make myself a target.”

Sean sighed. “But … are you happy? Are you happy hiding?”

“Mostly,” Luke replied, shifting in the chair. “Look, Sean, it’s not—it’s not really something I’m proud of or …”

He pressed his lips into a thin line to shut himself up as the waitress returned with the bottle of wine. She pulled the cork out, poured a bit into a glass for Sean to taste.

“That’s good,” he said, “thanks.”

She nodded once, poured two full glasses. “Enjoy!” she called as she headed back toward the bar.

“You were saying?”

Luke sighed heavily. “I’m just not … comfortable,” he admitted. “It’s weird to think about. It’s weird to be.”

He glanced about furtively, twirling the wine glass between his fingers. “You know? Like, I don’t … know if I can ever trust anyone.”

“Mm,” Sean said around a mouthful of wine. He set his glass down again. “I really don’t get it. I’m not ome—”

Luke gritted his teeth and something like a hiss emitted from his throat. Sean stared at him.

“I just … don’t get it,” the older man said, then took another mouthful of wine.

“I know,” Luke spat back, shut his eyes tight. Sometimes, he wanted to deck Sean. Hadn’t he been saying that right from the start? He knew Sean didn’t understand, probably couldn’t even begin to understand what being an omega was like.

Luke glanced up at the alpha. “Can we not talk about this?” he inquired quietly. “Not here?”

“Then where? And when? You keep avoiding me, Luke, every time I try—”

Luke took another sip of the wine. “Maybe,” he said, “maybe after this? Maybe, when we get back to the hotel, maybe.”

Sean watched him with those unnerving gray eyes of his, like a cat watching a mouse. Luke hunched his shoulders, trying to make himself smaller than he was. “I just …”

“Should you be drinking?”

He lifted his gaze again. “Huh?”

Sean’s gaze was still pinned to him. “How much did you take?” he asked.

Luke shook his head. “What are you talking about?”

“The pills,” Sean said. “How many did you take?”

“None. None—I didn’t take anything, are you—”


He flicked his gaze up. Sean’s eyes bored right through him, almost painfully, and Luke winced. “Not that much, honestly Sean, I just took a couple—just to get through the game, and—”

Sean sighed heavily, tossed down the napkin. “Sean,” Luke sighed.

“You’re high, we’re taking you back to the hotel—”

He grabbed the alpha’s arm as he walked by. “Sean,” he said. “I’m not high. Okay? I took two pills before the game because my back is bugging me. It’s out of my system now.”

They stared at each other for a moment. Slowly, Sean retreated to his seat. He picked up his napkin, folding it, then unfolding it again, shaking it out.

“All right, sirs, here’s yer steaks …”




Adrian wasn’t about to let a little loss get in the way of hanging out with old friends, with enjoying his time in his home state. True, he wasn’t a Dallas boy, but he was a Texas boy and Dallas was the only stop they had in the Lone Star state. He’d take it.

A number of his friends had moved to Dallas too. It wasn’t the capital, but job opportunities lured them to the big city. Others had moved to go to college. Whatever the reason, there were a number of people he knew in Dallas now, and his network got bigger every time he visited, as his friends introduced him to new people.

But the game had been a tough one to swallow—a three-nothing loss in front of his hometown fans. He knew his parents were watching back home. He knew a lot of his friends would be tuning in too.

All the more reason to get drunk, in his most excellent opinion. So he’d rallied up the boys and dragged them out on the town. One of his favorite things about Dallas was the sheer number of country bars—actually, that was his favorite thing about Texas, period.

Well, maybe other than the big open sky, the ranchers, the cowboy romance mythos, the proximity to really good Mexican food—

Well. He loved everything about Texas, really. He would have loved to be drafted to the Longhorns. If he had to pick where to be traded tomorrow, he’d choose Dallas.

DC was all right. It wasn’t really his thing though—too tight, congested, claustrophobic, and people on the east coast were weird, as far as he was concerned.

They played Dallas only twice in a season, and only once in Dallas. He was a little put out that their stop in the Lone Star state was so early this year, but, at the same point in time, he was glad to be home.

It sure felt like home when he walked through the door of the bar and a cheer went up from the sizable group of guys and gals already gathered there. “Hey!” he called back, sidling up to the bar, winking at the cute brunette, who giggled back at him. He hi-fived Miguel over her head.

“So good to have you back in town,” Miguel said, clasped his hand tight.

“So good to be back,” Adrian enthused. “Ain’t nothing like being home.”

“So, city-slicker, what’s new in the nation’s capitol?”

They clinked bottles, took matching swigs. Adrian deposited the bottle on the bar with a clink. “Not too much,” he said, “playing hockey, goofing off. The usual.”

“You play hockey?” the brunette asked, quirking a brow as she rubbed his arm.

“Do I know you?” he asked, then took another sip from his bottle.

“Well, sugar,” she drawled, “would ya like t’?”

“Sorry,” he said, extricating his arm, “maybe we should start as friends? Introductions go a long way or so I hear.”

Miguel choked on his beer, nearly spluttering it all over the bar. He grinned raucously at Adrian from behind the woman’s back.

Cal slid onto the stool beside him. Adrian tipped his bottle to him. “Good game, rookie,” he said.

“Was not,” the Australian replied tartly, “in fact, I’d say it was the bloody opposite of a good game.”

“I reckon yer right,” Talcott drawled. “Where you from anyway, son?”

“I could inquire the same thing of you, eh, mate?”

“Clearly, he’s from London,” Miguel said, nodding sagely.

“London?” the brunette asked. “Really? British boys are so cute.”

“Sorry t’ disappoint such a pretty Sheila, but I’m not one of them fops. I’m from down under.”

“You can get down under,” she murmured, lifting her brows.

Cal sputtered, turned bright red.

“Will you git?” Adrian snapped, swatting at her. She scooted away, sashaying over to another table. “Golly.”

“Was she …”

“Yeah,” Miguel sighed, answering Cal’s unfinished question. “This part of town’s really gotten shady lately.”

Adrian shook his head. “Really,” he muttered, “they’re so forward these days.”

A silence settled on them as they drew deeper on their drafts. There were a couple of TVs hanging over the bar, replaying the highlight reel. Cal groaned. Adrian put a hand over his eyes. “Don’t look, rookie,” he instructed, and Miguel laughed.

“You guys did shit,” he enthused, then up-ended his bottle.

“You don’t gotta remind us,” Adrian said softly.

He swiveled on his stool, threw his arms up as Dev and Felipe sauntered through the door. “Hey!” he cried. “Long time, no see!”

“That’s what happens when you move to the east coast,” Felipe sneered, giving Dev a smack in the arm.

“Howdy stranger,” Dev drawled, smirking at Felipe, rubbing his abused appendage. “How ya’ll been?”

Cal stared at Adrian. “What?” the goalkeeper inquired, lifting a brow.

“You all sound ridiculous,” Cal replied, leaning heavily on his hand.

“And you don’t?” Miguel chortled.

“I sound completely normal, it’s you lot that’s a bit off.”

Felipe and Dev shared a look, then took up seats on the other side of Miguel. Adrian cuffed Cal. “Behave, rookie, or I’ll take you home.”

“Ha, what’s yer bedtime, little boy?”

Cal glowered at them, tipped back his beer.

Adrian glanced down at his phone as it buzzed, the screen lighting up. He tapped at it, a frown marring his face as a message from his captain scrolled across the screen.

Sy was such a buzz kill sometimes. He slumped over his beer, sighing heavily.

“What’s up?” Miguel inquired, quirking a brow.

Adrian shook his head. “Trembles is coming down here.”

“Trembles ..?”


Adrian nodded at Cal, rolled his eyes. “Thinks he needs to babysit you.”

Cal scoffed, then glanced down at his beer. He grinned at Adrian. “Guess we need to go flat out, like a coupla possums up gum trees, yeah? Then we can nick off when that tosser gets here.”

Adrian blinked at him. “What?”

Cal flagged the bartender down. “I mean,” he said, “we should finish off a coupla brews before that goose gets here.”

“Oh. Right. Good plan.”

They clinked bottles and Cal tipped his back, as though he were attempting to down the drink in one go. Adrian watched him, then turned away.

He paused half-way in his turn, watched in bemusement as his captain—and his entourage—all but burst in through the door. Sy’s expression was decidedly sour, and Adrian felt his lips quirking into a smirk as the green-eyed hockey player glanced about the room, before his gaze finally settled on them.

Like they were some kind of miscreants, criminals on the lam or something.

Sy took shit way too seriously. Adrian wondered how he’d managed to rope Mike, Brenden, and Leo into joining his little posse.

Well, actually, no, he didn’t wonder. He knew. Mike was like a puppy dog at Sy’s heels most of the time—although one that was often exasperated and cracking off-color jokes. Brenden was simply too laid-back to say no. And Leo, well … Leo had likely come for the beer.

Leo was usually adamantly opposed to Sy playing Fun Police, but he sometimes tagged along for shits and giggles, or as an excuse to go to the bar.

They fanned out as they marched up to the bar, Sy’s green glare boring a hole in Adrian’s head. “Oaks,” he all but snarled.

Maybe he would have been intimidating if Adrian had been an omega. Or maybe he would have been infuriating if he was alpha. As it was, Adrian didn’t see what they were doing wrong, so he didn’t think there was any reason for Sy to get his nose out of joint. And he was going to explain that, calmly and rationally, just like a good beta should.

He caught sight of Dima; the Russian must have been bringing up the rear. Adrian hadn’t seen him at first. The sniper’s brown eyes flashed with recognition, a mutual message—both of them thought Sy was being ridiculous.

Adrian wanted to glance at Mike or Brenden to see if they were on his side in this. Leo, he already knew, had no issue with it or with being here—he’d waltzed right up to the bar, shaken hands with Miguel and Felipe, an easy, slangy, “Hey guys, how’s it goin’?” as he ordered two beers. Brenden hovered near him; Adrian couldn’t help the furtive glance he took about the room.

There was a good mix of people here. He knew Miguel had probably chosen it for a reason; Miguel himself was no stranger to attitudes toward people like himself and Felipe. And Adrian was glad of that, especially now that Leo was here.

Not that Leo couldn’t hold his own in a conversation or a fight, whichever way the evening turned out, but there were times when none of them wanted to deal with the ignorance, the racism.

And on a night when they had been dealt a three-nothing loss, Adrian doubted that Leo had much patience for bullshit. Not that the burly defenseman had much tolerance for bullshit in the first place, but …

Adrian just hoped Felipe kept his stupid mouth shut; it wasn’t like he was completely immune from saying something ignorant or insensitive every now and then. He called Adrian gringo a lot and thought it was funny. Adrian mostly just laughed, but he chafed a bit because he knew Felipe got pissed if anyone called him anything—even a close friend, even in jest.

They’d gotten into a fight over it once, so Adrian let it lie. He didn’t like getting smashed in the face with fists. Hell, he hardly liked getting hit in the face with an errant puck, and he was a freaking goalie.

So far so good; Leo was grinning genuinely, laughing. Felipe seemed to be taking a backseat to conversation between the D-man, Dev, and Miguel. Brenden was mostly silent, watching them converse. He was a bit slow, never one to jump into the middle of a conversation. He nudged Leo’s beer to him and was silent.

Anybody tried to start any shit, Brenden would be right there, backing Leo up.

That was one thing Adrian liked about the Stars. They looked out for each other.

Even if some of them could be overbearing and overwhelming. He met Sy’s disapproving glare. “What?” he asked.

“You took the rookie to a bar,” Sy ground out.

“Yer point?” Adrian drawled, leaning on the bar. “Callum’s an adult, he can make his own decisions—”

“He’s underage,” Sy snapped, and Adrian froze.

“What?” he asked.

Cal froze, slowly set the beer down. Sy turned that viridian glower on him. “And you know it, don’t you?”

“Uh,” the Aussie said, grimacing.

“You’re only nineteen,” Sy accused.

“What,” Adrian spat. How the hell had Cal even got in?! He whirled on him.

“It’s eighteen at home!” the younger man cried.

“Pffft,” Mike huffed, “like you didn’t go to bars when you were underage, Sy.”

The brunet shot him a glare. “And do you remember how much shit we got in from Coach when we got caught, when we ended up getting kicked out of the bar with our IDs confiscated, and the cops threatening to come down on us?”

Adrian scoffed. “Please,” he said, “Sy. We ain’t hurtin’ nobody. Ain’t nobody here getting’ rowdy, ain’t nobody here gonna tell. Hm?”

He offered the captain a smile and his beer. “Since yer down here, why don’t ya’ll take a load off and enjoy?”

Sy inhaled sharply, but Mike brushed by him, wedging himself between Adrian and Cal. “Don’t mind if I do,” he said, flagging down the barkeep.

“Do they serve vodka?” Dima asked, startling Adrian. He’d forgotten about the Russian. He turned to face him slowly.

“Y-yeah,” he said, “pretty sure they do.”

Dima nodded silently, then glanced down at his phone. A frown marred his face. “I will be back,” he said, then headed for the door, his long strides carrying him back out of the bar.

“Weird,” Adrian murmured, then whirled back around.

Sy cuffed him. “Ow, hey—”

“Oaks,” the captain hissed. “Take the rookie back to the hotel.”

“Jeez, Sy, we’re just—”

“Now,” the captain snarled.

Adrian huffed, hunched his shoulders. He thought for a moment, then blurted, “Why don’t you take him back?! You’re the one who thinks he needs to be babysat, I’m visiting with my friends that I only get to see once a season—”

The green-eyed forward took a step back; shock colored every line of his face. Adrian gritted his teeth.

He didn’t care if Cal was underage or not. He didn’t care if they were gonna get in trouble. He wanted to hang out with his friends. Was there seriously something wrong with that? And honestly, nothing had happened, they hadn’t done anything …

Well, they hadn’t gotten in trouble, and they weren’t going to. Sy was making a big fuss about nothing, and if he wanted to act like an overprotective parent, then he could march Cal back to the hotel himself. Adrian was staying put.

Mike sighed. He turned about, leaned back on his elbows, slouching against the bar. “Sy,” he said, “take Cal and go. I know you don’t want him to get in shit his first night with the big team.”

The blond glanced at Cal, nodded once. “Drink up, get outta here. Captain won’t hurt you too much, but if Coach finds out, he’ll break you.”

“Mmmhmmm,” Leo chimed in from the other end of the bar, “you better believe it, get your punk ass out this bar, rookie. Sy’s a kitty-cat compare to ole’ Q, he’ll flay you alive.”

Cal’s eyes were wide and glossy now—whether it was fear or alcohol, Adrian couldn’t tell. Nonetheless, the rookie tipped up his bottle, drained it, and then slid off the barstool. To his credit, he didn’t seem all that tipsy—he didn’t wobble or stumble. He walked a straight line to Sy.

Then, if he’d been legally allowed to drink in Australia for a year, Adrian supposed that maybe he’d developed some kind of alcohol tolerance. Or maybe two or three beers just didn’t get him buzzed.

Sy met his gaze again, glared daggers at him, like some kind of warning. Adrian rolled his eyes and turned back around. He could still feel Sy’s glare pinned to the back of his head for a few more lingering seconds; then the sensation was gone.

Mike sighed heavily. “Sorry,” he said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “You know how he gets.”

“Yeah,” Adrian murmured, “I know. I know.”




Dima quirked a brow as Sy stomped by, all but dragging the rookie with him. The green-eyed center met his gaze, but said nothing. Still, his sour expression said all. He’d gotten what he wanted, but there had been reticence. Not everyone had simply agreed that Sy was right.

Dima watched him go, then dropped his gaze, kicked at the scuffed and pock-marked sidewalk with his shoe. He furrowed his brow as he listened to Katya’s breathless, excited chatter crackling through the speaker.

“So then,” she said, “I was not so sure he would like you, Dimushka, so I had to do some more research …”

“Mmm,” Dima replied, “I do not like the way you say this … ‘research.’”

He could practically hear her smirking. “But I am now reassured,” she says, “he will like you very much, I think.”

“That’s nice,” Dima murmured, glancing up as Sy peered back around the corner. The Canadian waved frantically at him. He frowned deeply.

“I think you will like him back, Dimitry,” Katya purred in his ear.

“I must go,” he said, then hung up and pocketed the phone.

Sy was good for something, at least. He’d needed to get away from Katya and her irritating …

Scheming. Plotting. Whatever it was she thought she was up to right then and there. He darted over to Sy, followed him around the corner to find the rookie doubled-over, puking.

Dima lifted a brow and glanced at Sy, who merely shook his head. Dima sighed.

“’m not drunk,” the rookie said, lifting his gaze to glare at the two of them. “We chugged those last coupla pops, didn’t sit right, y’know?”

“I don’t know,” Sy offered.

“This is why I drink vodka,” Dima said, “is real man’s drink.”

Sy gave him a flat look. “You are such a stereotype sometimes,” he sighed.

Dima shrugged, then slung the rookie’s arm over his shoulder, forcing him upright. “All right,” he said, “we will take the baby player home.”

“’m not a baby!” Cal protested loudly.

“Sh,” Sy snapped. “You’re underage here, you’ve puked—we do not need any trouble tonight, rookie.”

“Just do as Captain says,” Dima chided, smirking.

Cal sneered at him, baring his teeth. Dima looked away quickly.

They helped Cal all but wobble back to the hotel. Sy was shifty as all get out, his eyes darting to and fro, constantly on the lookout. Dima could have rolled his eyes at him, but he focused instead on trying to get Cal to walk in a straight line.

Not drunk, his ass.

They made it back to the hotel without incident. Dima felt it, the nervousness, the oppressive atmosphere, the moment they stepped into the lobby. He checked himself as his gaze darted about the room—he was being almost as paranoid as Sy.

They stepped into the elevator and rode up to the third floor. Cal leaned over his knees again. Sy straightened up, held his hands in front of him. Dima watched him from the corner of his eye.

“So,” he said at last,” do you think Coach is still awake?”

“Wouldn’t surprise me,” Sy replied.

Dima pressed his lips together. “Waiting for us when we step out of elevator?”

“Guaranteed,” Sy said, just as the car jolted to a halt and the cheerful ding announced that they’d arrived. The doors slid open.

The hall was deserted, and both of them heaved a sigh of relief. Dima tugged on Cal’s arm. “Come on,” he said, leading the rookie down the hallway. Just a few hundred more yards, and they would reach their destination without incident …

They stopped up in front of the last door, glanced at each other silently. Sy pulled out his phone and texted Timmo; neither of them were going to risk knocking.

They were standing there waiting when the door across the hall peeled back, creaking on its hinges. Q leaned out the doorway, frown heavy on his face, one eyebrow lifted high, disdain in his eyes.

Dima could have sworn. Instead, he glanced at Sy, who looked up from his phone and made eye contact with their coach.

“Taking the rookie out drinking, huh?”

“Uh,” Sy replied, because he was always very articulate.

“And he’s underage,” Q said.

Sy grimaced. “Yeah,” he said.

The door creaked open, and Timmo blinked at all of them. He surveyed the scene, then sighed heavily. He held his arms opens. “American laws are stupid,” he said, drawing Cal into the entryway. “I will get him patched up.”

“I’m not drunk,” Cal protested.

“Yes, yes, and Dima is actually Ukrainian.”

Dima bristled. “Hey—”

Timmo waved a hand, and the door slammed in their faces. Dima curled his fists. “He should know better,” he huffed.

“He’s just trying to get you riled up,” Sy said, and Dima shot him a glare. Did the moron think he didn’t know that?


They both turned back to face Q, who was still leaning in the doorway, looking decidedly ticked.

He merely lifted his brows and turned away, however, sighing. “We’ll deal with you miscreants in the morning.”

“I didn’t do anything!” Sy barked. “I went to get him when I realized—mmmphff!”

Dima clapped a hand over the brunet’s mouth. Sometimes, their captain just didn’t get it. He was too much of a goody two-shoes to get it sometimes.

Q waved a hand, let the door fall shut with a bang. Sy glared at Dima, who slowly pulled his hand away.

“I’m not getting in shit when it was Oaks who—”

Dima did roll his eyes this time. “Syoma,” he said, watching the way the Canadian stiffened up, his fists curling instinctively, like he knew he was in for a fight or something. He wished he’d listened to Fedya on that one years before. “You must not throw our teammates under train.”

“Under the bus,” Sy corrected.

Dima considered. “Train is worse. Coach is more like train, I think.”

Sy heaved an exasperated breath. “Look, the point is Oaks did it, we did a good thing going down there to get the kid before anything else happened—”

Dima grabbed the brunet by the shoulders, turned him about, shoved him down the hall, back toward their own rooms. “Syoma,” he said as he marched his captain back down the hall, “sometimes, you must take fall for others. It is duty—you are Captain, yes?”

“Dima, don’t you even—”

He released the green-eyed man abruptly, then whirled to his own door, whipping out his keycard. “Good night now,” he said, flashing a smile. “We will deal with punishment in the morning.”

He swiped the card and pushed into the darkness of the stuffy hotel room, leaving Sy standing in the hall.

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