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Open Ice Hit: Chapter 19


In hindsight, Noah should have known exactly what was going to happen, but he’d been thrown by the absolute, overwhelming feeling of victory after their first two wins. They were on a streak. They could do this. Henny was goddamn close to setting records, the second game of the first round was a fucking shutout because Kevin was on fire, and Zed seemed to have developed some sort of ESP with everyone, anticipating every move.

The Warriors won a single game on sheer luck, but the Phantoms swept the round like they were born to do it, and Noah finally felt like he’d gotten his bearings back.

He’d found that balance between life and hockey. And, well…maybe not love, exactly, though the warm feeling was there in his gut every time he saw Tommy’s name on his phone or opened his door to find him waiting—or hell, when he’d found a little bento box with sushi and a note reading, Tapeworm free sitting on the table during practice the day before the first game of the second round.

So, yeah, maybe it wasn’t love, but it sure as hell was something more than messing around, and he’d known that for a while. He’d known that since the night he tried to take Tommy by the throat and reclaim the antagonism and frustration they’d had at the start. But it had been so fucking unfulfilling, and seeing Tommy light up and melt under his rough hands and gentle praise had been almost too much.

Even now, he couldn’t let himself think of the man, because at random moments, he’d end up with a sharp memory of Tommy’s ass going rich pink and mottled under the smack of his hand. Only his jock saved him from the entire fucking team knowing something was up. So to speak.

But the pressure of the second round felt more intense than the first. The Hawks had played fucking well—according to the stats, better than the Phantoms. It wasn’t going to be an easy victory.

Tommy hadn’t balked when Noah told him he needed some space, and it was his soft, knowing smile over FaceTime that let Noah breathe a bit easier. He didn’t want to fuck this up—any of it. He didn’t want to fuck up with Tommy, and he didn’t want to let his team down. He wanted to prove to himself that everyone was right, that he could have more than just one thing.

He didn’t have to pay some sort of price for happiness in his life.

The first game was a fucking wash when Davesh took a puck to the face ten minutes in. It had knocked him hard enough he was spitting chiclets and rivers of blood, and when he tried to skate off, he wobbled enough that Takuya forced him onto the bench. It was enough to throw Noah off. He missed every single one of his shots, and the Hawks wiped the ice with them.

Noah tried to ignore the hot, ugly feeling in his gut, but he was starting to spiral when Henny crossed the room and laid rough hands to either side of his neck.

“Pull your head out of your ass before the next game, eh?” he said, his low rumble oddly soothing in the chaotic moment.

Noah swallowed thickly and nodded. “I just need a second, Cap.”

Henny didn’t let go. “We all do. They hit us where it fuckin’ hurt. But it isn’t over. We aren’t one man on this team.”

Noah clenched his jaw so hard it hurt, but he nodded again and squared his shoulders because Henny wasn’t wrong. They weren’t one man. They were cohesive and could survive, even when one of them was taken out.

He was still off-kilter, though, and he felt like an asshole, but it was easier to ignore Tommy’s texts that night and again the next morning when he drove over to Davesh’s house to ride to practice with Zed.

‘How is he?’ Noah signed as Zed let him in.

Zed shrugged. ‘Pissed.’ He exaggerated the sign for angry, screwing up his face, and Noah had no trouble imagining the man was spitting nails because Takuya wanted him out for another game. ‘No concussion.’

Noah moved through the house and into the kitchen where Davesh was sulking at the table, holding an ice pack to his jaw. He was bruised, all purple and black painting a scene of agony over his brown skin, and his eyes were a little heavy lidded from the painkillers.

‘Hurts to talk,’ he signed with one hand.

Noah waved him off and dropped to the stool next to him. ‘What did Doc say?’

Davesh rolled his eyes and leaned back, dropping his ice pack. He flexed his jaw, then looked around, but Zed had disappeared to God only knew where. “I can play tomorrow,” he said, his words gently slurred. “I had to talk him into it. He’s been weirdly overprotective.”

Noah had a feeling he knew why. The anniversary of Takuya’s accident was coming up, and he always got a little weird with injuries around that time. Normally he hid it better, but with the stress of playoffs, everyone was on edge.

Noah came back to himself as Davesh dropped a hand to the counter and let out a groan. “Not to be completely rude, but I need to lie down. You mind?”

Noah rolled his eyes and slid off the stool, offering his arm to his friend. “Get some rest. I want your ass back on the ice with me tomorrow.”

Davesh managed a lopsided grin in spite of the obvious numbness and swelling, and he shuffled off as Zed reappeared, his hand affixing his implant to the side of his head. He stretched onto his toes to snag a kiss from Davesh before he turned the corner toward his bedroom, then he gave a jaw-cracking yawn and twisted his back from side to side.

“What a shit show, eh?”

Noah laughed quietly. “Could be worse.” His gaze flickered down to Zed’s knee, and he wrenched it away but not before the other man noticed.

“Please don’t start. I thought you two…”

“We did. We are,” Noah said in a rush, not quite sure what Zed was going to say, but it didn’t matter because it was all true. They were…so much more now. “I didn’t mean it like that. It was just…” He stopped and licked his lips. “It was a close call.”

“So you two are…what?”

Noah didn’t have it in him to lie anymore, but he also knew his best friend wasn’t going to be cruel about it. “I don’t…I’m not sure what it is, but it’s good. I think it’s good. I like him, and I haven’t liked anyone before. I don’t want to fuck it up.”

Zed stared at him a long moment, then breezed past and opened the back door. “Come on. It’s too fucking nice out to waste the morning, and we have an hour before we have to be at the arena.”

Noah followed him, his feet sinking into the soft grass. It was still early, the sun not quite warm, but the humidity was making itself known. Everyone complained about it, but Noah liked the way it made the air feel almost tangible like he could reach out and draw patterns in it. He filled his lungs with a deep breath, then dropped to sit on one of the loungers as Zed stretched out with his legs spread on either side.

“Where’s Kevin?” Noah asked after a beat.

Zed cracked one eye open. “Long gone. That’s why I needed you to pick me up. His ass thought I’d be willing to get to the rink before the fucking sun rose.”

Noah snorted a laugh and shook his head, finally letting his body relax. “It might do us all some good to have that level of dedication.”

“I am dedicated. To sex. And sleep,” Zed offered with a prim sniff. “Anyway, you should be pampering yourself a little. It’s your fucking birthday soon.”

Noah bristled. The guys always did something low-key for him because his birthday was always right in the middle of playoffs. Even if they didn’t clinch a spot, things were too chaotic to make anything big of it. Not that he wanted it that way.

He’d never really celebrated growing up, and he didn’t understand the culture of big parties and ponies and cakes and hats. It just seemed so…garish.

“Is Tommy getting you anything?” Zed asked, and when Noah looked over, he saw his friend miming a blow job.

Noah smacked him on the thigh, then twisted so he could stretch out along the chair. “I don’t think he knows.” When Zed started to grin, Noah reached over and smacked him again. “Don’t you dare. Filling my stall with balloons is bad enough.”

A moment passed, then Zed sighed. “Are you happy with him?”

Noah licked his lips. “I want to be. I’m just not sure I remember how.”

His friend leaned over and gently touched his thigh, giving it a gentle squeeze. “You’ll get there. You’re too good a person not to.”

Noah wanted to believe that, he just wasn’t sure he could ever have that much faith in himself.

Noah stood just outside the locker room doors, his heart in his throat. He normally thrived under pressure, but this game meant a lot. No, it meant everything. It stood between them and moving on to the next round. They were on home ice, everyone was as healed as they could be—exhausted, but who wasn’t by now?

And he wanted to believe in himself and in his team, but something in his gut just felt…wrong. Cursed. Maybe because it was his birthday, but he didn’t want to assume the universe would punish them all just because he’d made another trip around the sun.

The day had been tense, though. He’d shown up to practice to find a small pile of birthday gifts waiting for him, but the mood was different this year.

They were inches away from losing, and inches away from winning—tied three games to three—and staring at the long road ahead with the Cup waiting for them at the end.

He’d been ignoring his phone most of the night, and ignoring Tommy most of the week. He’d composed about a thousand apologies for being a dick, but he didn’t want to send them over text. He wanted to show up in person, lay Tommy out on his bed, and show him with hands, and teeth, and tongue, and cock just how much he was going to try to be better.

After all this was over.

He briefly wondered what it was like for the other guys—the married ones, the ones in long-term relationships who weren’t on the team together. How the hell did they handle all this when the pressure of hockey felt like hands squeezing around their necks until the edges of their vision began to go dark?

Swallowing thickly, he took a step toward the doors, and just as he reached for the handle, his phone began to buzz. When he glanced down at the number, his heart settled between his teeth, and he could barely form a hello when he answered.

“Please hold for Johan Viklund.” The pinched, nasal Swedish of his father’s assistant sent a stabbing pain through his chest, but it was soothed just a little by the fact that his father was actually calling on his birthday. He hadn’t done that in years. Normally he just sent passive-aggressive messages about his choices in life.

He held his breath and waited.

“Noah.” His father sounded the same, maybe a bit older, but he was still cold and distant. “I hope I’m not interrupting.”

Noah bit his lip, then cleared his throat. “I have a few minutes.”

“Good, that’s all I need. I wanted to call to let you know I have a friend who can secure you a spot at Oxford this coming autumn.”

Noah took a stumbling step backward, the weight of his past and his future almost crushing him. “Sorry?”

“Is the connection bad?” his father asked.

Noah squeezed his eyes shut as he let his back come to rest against the wall. “No, I heard you. I just…Why are you telling me this now?”

“It seemed as good a time as any,” his father said, now sounding almost bored. “Since your team has lost again…”

“We haven’t,” he choked out, then cleared his throat because he would not let this man do this to him again. “We haven’t lost. We’re playing tonight. In an hour. We’re in the playoffs.”

“Ah,” his father said. “Then I suppose you can give me your answer when your team is out.”

Noah swore he was trying to swallow past a boulder. “I thought…” he started, then trailed off with a laugh.


He debated whether or not he wanted to be brave because being brave meant being vulnerable, and his father hated that. But he supposed he was done trying to make the man comfortable. “I thought you were calling because it was my birthday.”

“Ah. So it is.” His father was silent another moment. “You’ll let me know, yes? At some point you have to think about your future, Noah. You can’t keep doing this forever.”

“You’re right,” Noah choked out. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go finish making terrible decisions.”

He hung up, then turned his phone off and shoved every aching stab wound into the dark recesses of his mind. They had a game to play—and if the universe was kind—a game to win.

The universe was not kind.

By the second period, Noah knew the Hawks had them thrown. The Phantoms had scored twice, but they were down by four, and everyone was getting tired. He could see the defeat in Henny’s eyes, in spite of his determination to fight until the very end, but as the third period came to a close and they were still down by three, he knew.

It was over.

It was finished this year, and he had no idea what the next would look like.

He was slightly buoyed by the crowd—most of them screaming the Phantoms’ name, banging on the glass, drowning out the cheers from the few Canadians who’d been brave enough to show up and sit in the stands. And Henny was pulling them all close and telling them what a good fucking game they had played.

If only Noah had been able to live up to his own expectations. If only he hadn’t proven his father right.

He went through the motions at the presser, then showered and dealt with more press after. But he found himself hanging back, and when Zed caught his eye, he gave him a sharp nod letting him know he understood Noah’s plans. He couldn’t leave. He just…needed something. He needed to strap on his skates and do laps until his feet wanted to fall off. He wanted to shoot pucks until his hands gave out.

He wanted to scream until his throat seized and he couldn’t speak for days.

He didn’t bother changing out of his jeans as he took to the ice again. One of the crew was kind enough to leave the lights on, and he made a mental note to send his apology to them since he was fucking with their schedule. But he just…He needed this.

His heart was somewhere in his feet, his stomach in his throat, and his hands were shaking as he tipped over a bucket of pucks and began to slap them across the ice. He wasn’t even aiming for the net. He was picturing his father’s face—his smug smile and narrowed, lifeless eyes. He imagined hitting him over and over until he cried and confessed why he found Noah to be so…so lacking.

He kept going until his arms burned, and he was unaware of anything around him until a hand touched his arm. He jumped a foot in the air and spun around, and then his eyes widened at the sight of Tommy in his sweats, an oversized hoodie, and a pair of black figure skates.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” Noah bit out.

Tommy snorted. “What does it look like? I thought I’d practice my triple axel for a while. Qualifiers are next week.”

Noah’s mouth opened and closed, and he knew he probably looked like a beached fish. “I…What…”

“Fuck’s sake, bud,” Tommy said very softly as he skated a few inches closer. “I was worried about you. You looked totally checked out after the game.”

Noah licked his lips, then skated out of Tommy’s reach. “I’m not in the mood to talk.”

“Of course not,” Tommy said, a hint of bitterness in his tone. “You’re never in the mood to talk when it counts.”

Noah felt a surge of frustration and rage welling in him. “What the hell do you want from me, Tommy? You know what this is like.”

Tommy let out a startled laugh, his eyes wide. “Yeah, bud. Yeah, I fucking do know what it’s like. When we were out—in the first goddamn round if you recall—what did I do?”

Noah’s heart sank lower. “Came to mine.”

“Mm. And you fucked me nice and long and slow, and you let me forget.”

Rubbing the back of his neck, Noah glanced around to the cut ice and strewn pucks, and he felt another surge of guilt for the mess he’d made. “I don’t want to fuck until I forget.”

Tommy laughed again and skated closer. This time, Noah didn’t back away. “I can tell. I’m not here for that. I’m here to take you home and tuck you in and let you sit in silence. Or maybe cry it out.”

Noah started to shake his head, but he realized in that moment, it was the one thing he actually did want. He wanted to be taken care of. He wanted soft, careful hands petting his arms and stroking his hair. He wanted Tommy’s low, rumbling voice to ease him through all the pain. He…shit. He wanted to confess to this man just how much he meant and how much easier he’d made the last few months.

“Can we go back to your place?” Noah asked in a small voice.

Tommy’s face went open and soft, and he nodded. “Yeah, bud. We’ll take my car. We can come back for yours tomorrow.”

For a split second, Noah felt a surge of worry that someone might see, but after a beat, he realized he didn’t care. Maybe he wasn’t ready to bring their relationship out into the open, but he knew, in that moment, it wouldn’t matter if the world knew.

He’d never deny it.

He wanted to say it right then, but the words tangled up and died on the edge of his tongue. He was left with Tommy’s outstretched hand, which he took, and the easy way the man guided him off the ice.

They took off their skates together, and Tommy didn’t press him to talk as they headed for the garage and made their way back to his place. It smelled a little bit like pizza and booze, and with the number of cups sitting around, he had a feeling Tommy had had people over to watch the game.

“Who were you cheering for?” Noah asked, his voice sounding a little raw.

Tommy scoffed and gave him a shove forward toward the bedroom. “Look, you know I’m gonna fucking represent our state now that we’re out. And so did everyone else. They were devastated.”

Noah was almost afraid to believe him, but the raw truth in his tone didn’t allow him to deny it for long. He let out a bone-deep sigh as they stepped through Tommy’s bedroom door, and he let the other man’s careful hands strip him bare.

Not for the first time, though it was rare, Noah didn’t want to pin him down and fuck him. He just…wanted to be close. He wanted to touch, to feel. He wanted to let Tommy ground him in the moment.

They slid between the sheets, which were freshly laundered and smelled a little floral. They were cool against his overheated skin, and he closed his eyes when Tommy began to draw lines along his sternum.

It would be too easy to sink into the moment just like this and let it all settle, but he knew it would fester. The wounds his father had left would get infected, and eventually they would destroy what little peace Noah had managed to finally—finally—carve out for himself.

“Today’s my birthday,” Noah said quietly.

Tommy’s hand stilled, but only for a second. He wrapped one leg tightly around Noah’s and squeezed. “I know.”


Tommy laughed. “You know it. He posted a photo of you this morning with all your presents.”

“Fucker,” Noah breathed out, but it was fond. “I don’t like celebrating. I never did it as a child, and Zed usually makes the guys decorate my stall, but it’s…it’s always stressful because of playoffs.”

“Wait, so,” Tommy said, his whole body tense, “you…never had a birthday party when you were a kid?”

Noah shook his head and let out a soft ha. “It’s never something I thought was important.”

Tommy pushed up on his elbow and carefully pinned Noah to the pillow. “Your birthday is important. The day you were born…that’s important.”

Noah held his gaze for a long time. He wanted to kiss him, but he didn’t. Instead, he cupped his cheek and dragged his thumb along the faint freckles just under Tommy’s eye. “It doesn’t matter.”

Tommy’s eyes narrowed. “Something else happened, didn’t it? It’s not just the loss.”

Noah bit the inside of his cheek, then let go and sagged back a bit. “It’s not just getting knocked out of the playoffs.” He fell into silence for a long moment, trying to gather his thoughts. “My father called tonight. I thought…” He let out a bitter laugh. “I thought maybe he was calling to tell me happy birthday. Turns out he wanted to offer me a place at Oxford because a friend said he could secure me one. He thought we’d already been knocked out.”

Tommy winced and then leaned forward, burying his face in Noah’s neck. He laid a few kisses against his pulse, sending little tendrils of spiraling pleasure up and down his arms. “He’s a dick.”

Noah laughed, a sudden feeling of joy and relief rushing through him. “Yes. Yes, he is.”

“I don’t want you to go to Oxford,” Tommy complained, his voice muffled by Noah’s skin.

Noah wrapped his arms around him and let himself become overwhelmed by this man—by how he felt, by how big it was, and how important it was. He felt like he’d just skipped a thousand steps of falling for someone, but it didn’t matter.

Fuck, it wasn’t important.

Nothing was, not when Tommy was right there in his arms.

Easing the man back, Noah cupped his cheek again and let himself get lost in Tommy’s eyes. They were wide and a little red-rimmed, and there was an entire universe waiting to be discovered in them. Noah dragged his tongue over his lip, then leaned in, though he didn’t kiss him. Not yet.

Jal älskar dig.” He was profoundly aware he’d never said those words to anyone before. He was profoundly aware Tommy might not understand the meaning, how much that I love you meant in those words, but he didn’t know how to say it any other way.

He repeated them again, those three words to this perfect man. And then again, until Tommy closed the distance between them. His kiss was just shy of desperate and more demanding than Noah expected, but it was perfect.

Tommy was perfect.

He was everything to Noah, and even if the world burned down around them, Noah would be content as long as he had this.


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