Rating: PG-13, some swearing
Characters: Todd Bertuzzi, Markus Naslund, Brendan Morrison
Dedication: Happy birthday to frala!!!
Disclaimer: It's all lies!
Author's Notes: This is a sequel to Ice Cream Assassin, but it can be read without reading that. Todd Bertuzzi's POV. This is set during the 02-03 season. The title is from a Todd Bertuzzi quote.
Always Sunny In My World
That's what I am--fucked again.
And not in the good way, either.
It's just a matter of time.
Please, just one more minute. One.
If I pull the blanket over my head, will the world go away and let me sleep? Or will time stop for a while for me?
The blanket makes it all dark and quiet under here, and it smells like Markus. All those things make me want to go to sleep. So comfortable, so warm, I feel...
... my ass meeting the floor very suddenly and painfully. Dark's gone. So is the quiet, but I still smell Markus, only I think it's coming from the source, not the traces left behind on the blanket.
I open my eyes to see a very angry Swede glaring down at me.
"Morning, Markus," I mumble, rubbing my eyes blearily and trying to smile up at him.
"Don't you 'Morning, Markus' me!" And he slaps me. Slaps me! Maybe it wasn't that hard - okay, maybe it was more like a very hard pat - but still! That's just not right! He shouldn't be slapping me!
I stand up slowly, ready to lay the smack down, but he slaps me again and then - all in one breath - orders me to get my ass in the shower and take the quickest shower I've ever taken in my life because we're already really fucking late and he's got most of my stuff packed and he's sick of doing it for me and that I take advantage of him, and next time he should just let me sleep and miss the bus to the airport and get in trouble so that I'll learn my lesson and he won't have to deal with this bullshit anymore and that I should get going already, what the hell am I still doing lying there on the floor?
"I'm just listening-" Slap. Okay, I guess I wasn't supposed to answer that. I spring to my feet and sprint for the shower.
I'm out of the shower and towelling my hair dry at warp speed before I realize that I'd been so sleepy and disoriented that Markus had basically just intimidated me into doing what he wanted, and that he could have asked me to run out in the hall naked singing ABBA and I would have done it.
I stare at the blank section of wall my bag had been leaning against. I frown, turning my head and starting to complain to Markus that I need it when I'm hit in the face with a piece of white cloth. I lift it off my head and look at it, blinking a few times before I realize that I'm holding a pair of my underwear.
"Well, put it on!" he says, impatiently. "Or are you going commando today?"
I pull my boxers on quickly and I'm relieved to find that my suit is still hanging in the closet, and that my shoes and a pair of socks are in there as well. At least he didn't throw that stuff at me. Especially the shoes. Ouch.
Markus holds the door open as he looks expectantly at me, and I walk over, buttoning up my shirt, and pick up my bag, giving him a quick kiss. I smile at him, knowing that it might just annoy him more, but I can't help it because even when he's frowning, he still looks beautiful. Which is a dangerous thing, because that means that I don't really mind annoying him, which means that I might end up doing it too much.
I try to save myself by apologizing, then I give him another kiss, longer this time, and I want to tell him that he makes me happier than I've ever been in my life, and that I want to do everything with him, but all I manage to say is "thank you."
Markus looks at me, no longer annoyed but a little stunned, and then his expression eases into a smile, as he says, "I'm not going to keep doing this for you, you know?"
"I know," I answer, secretly convinced that he will keep doing this for me.
His lips curl into a smirk, and I get the feeling that my delivery was possibly not as heartfelt as I'd hoped. I grin at the sight of him trying to Be Serious with me as he runs his fingers through his curls, and he rattles on for a while about being taken for granted, and being taken advantage of. He finally runs out of gas and rolls his eyes at my non-response to his tirade, picking up his bag and turning away from me.
I dart forward to kiss the top of his head; his hair is still wet from his shower and it smells like apples. I just use whatever's in the little bottles in the hotel bathroom because I get annoyed with having to bring my own shampoo and either put it in a separate bag or worry about it leaking, but Markus always brings his own shampoo - yes, he bothers to put the bottle in a ziploc bag every time - and in my mind, Markus and wet hair and apples go together. They even make me smile a little.
I don't know how I'll ever be able to handle it if he changes shampoos.
"I'll try to be better," I say softly, and that I can do, and I will try. Because Markus is all I'd wanted for months, and even though we've been together - really together, not just fucking - for three months now, I still wake up amazed that I have him in the way that I want, that he's committed to me in a way he's never committed to anyone before.
"You'd better," he growls threateningly as he elbows me in the stomach. I double over, watching him walk down the hallway to the elevator as I try to recover, groaning more loudly than strictly necessary. He glances back at me impatiently, as if he's annoyed that I'm holding him up, and I pick up my bag and stagger out of the room, door swinging shut behind me as I try to contain my grin.
Oh yeah, and sometimes I wake up with my ass on the floor.
I'm staring at Markus, watching the sunlight glance off his hair, making it pretty and shiny, when suddenly it hits me--what the fuck is he doing with me?
I mean, Markus is Swedish. You can tell from the funny way he talks. He's European and sophisticated and I'm just, this big, clumsy Canadian oaf reaching over him to grab beer. Not right now. There's no actual beer around right now. He obviously hasn't noticed this because he's still with me - tells me he loves me, even - and seems to be perfectly content to stay with me.
Jarkko walks by just then, talking (in that funny Finnish way of his) about how he and Tuomo used to stage piggy mud wrestling matches whenever they visited their uncle's farm. Forget the thing about sophisticated Europeans.
Markus is his own special thing. He's got this way of being quietly strong. That's why people listen to him; that's why he's such a good captain. For all the yelling he does at me, I listen the most when he doesn't say very much. Like when he's drifting to sleep and he mumbles something about he feels "too good" around me.
How is that possible? What does that mean? What do I do to make him feel so good? I don't do anything. I play hockey. I play golf. I eat a lot. I like to sleep. Markus lets me get more sleep by packing my stuff for me on road trips. I could love him just for that. I'd better not tell him that.
Wait, what was I thinking about? Oh, right. Why is Markus with me? Besides the sex. Oh man, the sex. Those sounds he makes. His hair, damp with sweat, crazy wild after we've been fucking for a while. The way he grabs my ass and squeezes hard, like he can't help it because he wants me so much. And his hot, tight little...
Goddamn it, I was thinking about something important, wasn't I? Shit, now Markus is looking at me with a funny expression on his face. Did I say something I was thinking out loud? I'm pretty sure I didn't. He's still looking at me and he's frowning more. What? What?
"What?" I blurt. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
"I just asked you something and you had no reaction." Markus' frown relaxes, and the funny look goes away, and he goes right back to his usual beautiful self.
"You did? I didn't hear you, what did you say?" This happens a lot more than I'd like. I'll be walking along and then suddenly Markus punches me hard in the arm and snaps something about me not listening to him. That's not completely true, though, because as soon as I realise that he's been talking to me, I can recall what he's said, like I store his words somewhere in my brain without actually processing them until he gets my attention.
Markus sighs. "I asked you if you'd talked to Mo lately. He seems different lately. Quiet. Not really interested in doing stuff with us. Could he be depressed? Has he said anything to you?"
Mo is depressed? I blink at Markus in surprise. Why would he think Mo is depressed? The guy always seems happy enough, doing his Mo things, like fishing and golf and... uhh... fishing. We haven't hung out together that much recently because I haven't been playing as much golf as usual. You know, doing other stuff with Markus. Oh God, like the other afternoon...
"Todd! Are you listening to me?" Markus punches me in the gut.
"Ungh!" I bend over, acting as if I'm in major pain even though it barely hurt at all. "I'm listening, I'm listening!"
He rolls his eyes impatiently. "Well? Is Mo okay?"
"I think so. I mean, I don't think anything's different. I haven't really talked to him that much lately," I answer, starting to feel like I'm being interrogated. It's a good thing he's shorter than me or I'd have the sun in my eyes while I'm talking to him, and that would make it feel more like an interrogation. Because it would be like those bright lights that they shine in your eyes in interrogation rooms on television. Something like that.
"Isn't that weird, though? You guys used to talk all the time." Markus seems to be convinced there's something wrong with Mo. Well, of course there's something - maybe many things - wrong with Mo, but it's not depression.
"No, we didn't," I mumble. We never hung out and talked or anything like that. We'd hang out and do stuff together. Golf, most of the time, because we both like it. I'm better, though. He's better at fishing. Ha. Fishing. I'm better at the better thing. But the point is, we don't usually talk a lot. Pretty much the only thing we talked about before was Markus, and now that we're together, and everything's going well, there really isn't much to talk to him about anymore.
Yeah, that's right--I'm together with Markus, and everything's going well. Really fucking great, actually. I don't know why I was thinking about all that crap earlier about why he wants to be with me. The why doesn't matter as long he does want to be with me.
"Well, I think something's up. He seems sad or something. You should talk to him." And now he's ordering me around, as if I'm supposed to just obey everything he says. Which I suppose I do, but that's not really the point.
"Okay, okay, I'll talk to him." I hold up a hand to let him know that's all I want to hear about Mo for now.
Jarkko comes back out and tells us we all have tickets for Dreamcatcher, which I picked instead of Piglet's Big Movie. All of us picked Dreamcatcher. I wonder if Mo would have picked Piglet's Big Movie if he'd come along, just to be retarded. But Mo hasn't been interested in coming to movies with us recently. I wonder if Markus could be right.
We follow Jarkko back inside to join the rest of the guys, and I watch Markus' hair shine brightly, right until it's cut off from the sun.
I'm driving to Markus' place, passing the familiar street of small stores along the way there. Cafe, dry cleaner, pet store, florist, convenience store run by the fierce little Asian woman.
Hmm. Florist. Flowers. Maybe I should get flowers for Markus.
I pull into a parking space and walk over to the florist, feeling a little strange. I've never bought flowers for Markus before. But I should. I need to treat him better, now that we're really together. Not that it was okay to treat him like crap before or anything. But it's different now, and things should change to reflect that change in status. Flowers seem like a start.
I wonder what kind of flowers he'd like. I walk into the store and look around. The stalks of red roses are the first things that attract my attention, but I don't know. They seem kind of girly.
Because there are flowers that aren't girly, of course. Damn it.
"Can I help you?" I turn to see the owner of the slightly quavering voice that greeted me, a tiny old lady with a wrinkled face and silvery hair fastened into a bun.
"I want to buy some flowers," I blurt, instantly feeling embarrassed.
"Yes, dear, we have lots of those," she winks. "Who are they for? What's the occasion?"
"They're for my-" The word "boyfriend" gets stuck in my throat, which is probably a good thing. The little old lady is staring at me expectantly, waiting for me to finish my sentence. Say something, Todd.
"Captain!" There. Said something. Fuck.
"Captain? So you're a military man, then? How wonderful!" she exclaims, as she shuffles over to a corner of the store. "Is he celebrating a special occasion tonight?"
Well, I probably shouldn't tell her what I'm planning to do with my captain (I said captain?) tonight. "Not really."
She blinks at me, looking a little confused. Right. Because giving flowers to your captain for no reason makes a lot of fucking sense. Damn it. Why did I think this was a good idea?
"How about these, dear?" she asks, pointing at a bouquet of red, purple and yellow flowers.
"Those are great," I answer hurriedly. Flowers are flowers, right? As long as they don't smell bad and aren't brown or droopy or fake, they're pretty much the same to me. "I'll take them."
"Wonderful," the old lady says, smiling brightly as she hands the bouquet to me.
I pay up and she waves at me cheerfully as I leave, and I feel a strange satisfaction, as if I've accomplished some task. This is a good thing, I'm doing. Because being with Markus - really being with him - means that I'm going to be doing new things, and this one of those new things.
When I get to his place, I pull out my keychain and look for the key that Markus gave me a little while ago. It's starting to feel familiar now, how easily it slides into the lock compared to the one at my place, the two turns I have to-
The door swings open and I immediately get a kiss from a gorgeous, blonde, smiling guy who I'm pretty sure is Markus, and not an evil alien clone. Damn, I think his smile could power the whole neighbourhood. He kisses me again and says, "I heard you coming."
I slip an arm around him and give him a hug, lowering the flowers to my side as I kiss him back, slowly, enjoying the way he tastes, the scent of apples from his hair, the way he tenses when I squeeze him hard, briefly, before relaxing and exhaling with a barely audible sigh.
"Hi." I smile at him, kissing his forehead. He's just the right height. I feel it every time we're standing close like this. It just feels right. He feels right. Can't do better at explaining than that. Rightness.
He notices the bouquet in my hand and nods in its direction. "Who are those for? Is somebody in the hospital?"
"Umm, no. They're uhh, for you!" I raise the flowers up, handing them to him proudly.
Markus stares at the flowers, his eyes widening as if he's never seen... fuck, the lady told me what kind of flowers these were and I can't remember. Anyway, Markus is looking at them as if they're bursting into song like flowers from a Disney cartoon.
"You don't like them?" I ask, feeling disappointed. Because he's supposed to like them, damn it. They're supposed to make him happy. Because our new life together is all about making him happy, so that he'll want to be with me for as long as possible. I'd do anything to make that happen. He's not reacting the way I expected him to.
"No, I like them, they're great," he mumbles, not sounding very enthusiastic. He takes the bouquet out of my hand gingerly and starts wandering off in the direction of the kitchen. I follow, closing the front door behind me. "I'm just wondering what they're for."
"They're for you," I explain. Then I realise I should probably explain some more. "Because I thought you'd like them. That's all."
"Well, that's very nice of you. Thank you." The smile returns to his face, and I get another kiss, a lingering kiss this time, one that makes me tingle, and now I'm the one sighing quietly as we move apart. He gets a vase from one of the cupboards and half fills it with water, carefully placing the flowers into the vase.
We have a game tomorrow night, so we decide to just stay in, order pizza, and watch the History Channel together. After dinner, we get into bed and we've barely had the television on for ten minutes when Markus starts kissing my neck, kissing his way up to my ear, and using his hands to convince me that I don't really want to be learning about the civil rights struggle when I could be dealing with a different kind of struggle altogether.
I turn the television off.
Later, when Markus is lying next to me, completely still except for the hand gently stroking my hair, I sneak a look at him, wanting to watch him without him knowing that I'm doing it, and I see that his eyes are still open, and he's staring at the ceiling, looking worried.
I should ask him what's wrong, but I'm too tired now. I'll do it tomorrow, I think, as I drift off to sleep.
Markus is cooking dinner for me.
Yeah. Markus. Cooking. Real cooking. Not like, putting popcorn in the microwave. Not even slapping some meat on the grill and flipping it over every now and then. He's got some ground beef, and he's adding things to it and mushing it all up and rolling it into little balls, like it's playdoh. Authentic Swedish meatballs made by an authentic Swede!
He's also boiling some potatoes, and I think he's making gravy for the meatballs. I'm just guessing from what I've glimpsed in the total of ten seconds he's allowed me to be in the kitchen before shooing me out, putting on angry Markus face if he catches me sneaking a peek.
Oh well, nothing for me to do but watch some TV until dinner's ready. Band of Brothers is on the History Channel, and I settle in to watch some tense WW2 combat. The show reminds me of me telling the florist that I was buying flowers for my captain, and I cringe at the memory. Damn flowers. Markus didn't even like them.
God, this is the best fucking scene ever. The paratroopers are in the plane, waiting to jump, and it's dark outside, and there's gunfire and screaming and absolute freaking chaos outside and planes getting shot up, and they all jump right into that. I mean, jesus, what the fuck must that be like? Hey, check it out! There's a million ways you could die or get fucked up outside this airplane. Ready to jump?
"Todd!" The sweet sound of Markus yelling at me gets my attention and I snap my head towards him. "Are you fucking deaf? I called you three times! Dinner's ready."
"What? You did?" I get up from the couch, feeling confused. Oh. Wait a second. That sound in the background while I was watching the jump scene? That was him. Oops.
"Sorry." I walk over and give him an apologetic kiss, tucking a stray curl behind his ear. "Thanks for cooking."
We sit down at the dining table. I have to hand it to him, the food looks pretty good. There's a huge plate of meatballs, a bowl of gravy, a heap of sliced, boiled potatoes, and a pile of baby carrots. Simple, but simple food's the best, right? Damn, I'm hungry. Good thing he cooked a lot. We're going to have leftovers for a few days.
"Okay, let's eat," he says, smiling nervously as he raises his bottle of beer to me. I clink it loudly with mine and we both take a swig. Damn, this fancy Belgian shit sure hits the spot.
I fill my plate with food, spooning a generous amount of gravy over the meatballs and potatoes, and pick up my knife and fork, practically drooling. Then I pop a gravy drenched meatball in my mouth, and just about die of excessive saltiness.
Jesus, what the fuck? The fucking Dead Sea doesn't have as much salt as these meatballs! Goddamn! I try to recover by draining half the bottle of beer, but I can't do this for every bite. This food is going to kill me, one way or the other.
"I think I put too much salt in the meatballs and gravy," Markus says, plaintively. I glance at him, trying my best not to make a face, and I see that he looks absolutely petrified. "I... I don't know how this happened! I followed the recipe exactly. Todd, don't eat any more of it, I'll uhh... I'll order delivery, or get take out or something."
"It's uhh... it's a little bit salty. But it's okay, it's fine," I lie, trying to smile through it. "Hey uhh, I gotta go to the bathroom. I'll be right back."
I hurry to the bathroom, as Markus stands up, looking puzzled as he walks back into the kitchen. As soon as I get there, I close the door and lean heavily against it, fishing my phone out of my pocket and calling Mo. It goes straight to voicemail. Fucker. I decide to text message him instead.
answer u fucker
I wait a few moments then call him again. This time he answers.
"What?" Mo hisses into the phone, sounding very annoyed.
"Markus is trying to kill me!" I whisper, desperately.
"What?" Mo repeats, even more annoyed. "What the fuck are you talking about? I don't have time for this right now, Todd."
"What do you mean you don't have time for this? It's Friday night, man, you mean you're busy?" Shit. I should have brought that beer in here with me. I still haven't killed the fucking salty taste in my mouth.
"I am," he grumbles. "I have a guest at my place. Can you get to the point? Otherwise I'm going to hang up."
Guest? He has a guest? And why did he say it like that, as if he said guest but really meant something else? What else could he mean? Does he have a plumber at his apartment? Why wouldn't he want to talk to me just because there's a plumber there?
"Markus cooked dinner, but he put a shitload of salt into the food. It's so fucking horrible, Mo. I don't know if I'm ever going to be able to taste anything again." I shudder.
"How is this my problem? How is this a problem at all? Jesus, just tell him it's too salty and he won't put as much in next time." I hear someone talking to Mo in the background, and Mo responds in a calming, apologetic tone.
Man, it's pretty late. Would a plumber come by that late? I guess they'd have to, if it was an emergency and your place was getting flooded or something. Bet you'd have to pay through the nose for that, too. Why is Mo being so rude? He's never like this, usually, when I call him. What the fuck is wrong with him?
"What the fuck is wrong with you?" I ask.
"Nothing is wrong with me--you're the one who made me answer my phone and started telling me some dumb story about Markus trying to kill you!" Mo says, raising his voice. "Look, just... drink some water or something!"
And then he hangs up on me. Asshole.
I put my phone away and come back out to the dining room. Markus has cleared the plates and serving dishes from the table, and he's sitting on one of the chairs, grinning sheepishly at me.
"So umm, I thought that it said tablespoon in the recipe, but it actually said teaspoon," he explains, flushing a little with embarrassment. "Sorry. I ordered a pizza; it should be here soon."
"That's fine, you'll get it right next time," I say, trying to reassure him. I sit down and start polishing off the rest of my beer. "I mean, you know, if you want to cook again. You totally don't have to. Just if you want to. I'm glad you did. Cook. It was a nice thing to do."
His eyes light up a little. "Really?"
"Yeah," I say, cautiously, unsure as to why he seems so excited. "You went to a lot of effort."
He shrugs, cracking a smile. "It wasn't that much work. I'll try again. Less salt next time."
I laugh; I'll drink to that.
I call Markus on the way to his place and offer to get takeout. Just in case he tries to kill me again. I mean, just in case he tries to cook and it doesn't work out again. He wasn't really trying to kill me or anything, he just almost succeeded.
"We could just get something delivered," he says, in a sulky tone.
"I can just pick something up along the way. It'll be faster." He doesn't say anything, so I add, "I'm hungry."
"Fine. What are you getting?" he asks sharply.
"Uhh... I don't know, what do you want? I could pick anything up along the way," I answer, a little confused as to why he seems annoyed.
"You're the one who wants takeout." Man, the tone of his voice is really starting to annoy me.
I take a deep breath. "Fine, fine, you want delivery? Go for it."
"What do you want?" he asks. I stop at a crosswalk. The world's slowest grandmother makes her way across the road, eyeing the other side of the street like it's the finish line in a marathon..
"I don't know, what do you want?" I bark into the phone, not meaning to sound as harsh as I do.
Markus is quiet for a moment. "I'm not really that hungry."
Jesus Christ. "Jesus Christ, now you tell me you're not hungry?" The grandma is just about to the center of the road now. I feel like she should have people cheering her on, handing her cups of Gatorade or something.
"No, I'm not hungry anymore," he says, impatiently. "I think actually I'm pretty tired; I'm just going to go to sleep."
"Sleep? Now? It's nine o' clock! What are you going to sleep so early for?" I ask, even louder now. What's wrong with him? If he goes to sleep now we won't be able to spend any time together.
"I said I'm tired," he sighs. "I'll just you see tomorrow morning, okay?"
"Yeah, fine. Whatever." I hang up on him and scowl. Unfortunately, the old woman crossing the road happens to look at me at that very moment and her eyes widen in fear. She shuffles frantically along, possibly approaching her maximum speed of one kilometre an hour. I feel like I should smile at her in apology or something, but this is more fun.
Fun. Yeah. So much for fun tonight. Man, what's going on with Markus? He seemed fine, and then all I asked him was what he wanted for dinner and he gets all cranky on me. I just don't get it. What the hell am I going to do now? I guess I could go home and watch TV or something. Bo-ring. Hey, I'm pretty near to Mo's place. We haven't hung out in a while, maybe I'll drop by and see what he's doing.
I squeeze my hand into my pocket and get my cell phone out to call him, waiting for a few rings before he answers.
"Hi, Todd," he says, sounding a bit impatient. What, is he annoyed at me too? Is there some kind of weird celestial thing going on right now where I piss everyone off without actually doing anything wrong?
"Hey, Mo, I'm in the neighbourhood, and I was thinking of dropping by, kicking your ass at Madden or something." I pull up to a stop sign and now there's an old man shakily making his away across the road. Is there some kind of old timers' convention in Vancouver that I don't know about? What's with all these geriatrics?
Mo pauses, then says, "Sorry, it isn't really a good time right now--some other time, okay?"
"Huh? Why not? What are you doing?" I'm confused. What could he possibly be doing on a Friday night?
"I have a guest at my place right now," he says, meaningfully.
There's that word again. Guest. And he's still saying it the same way, like he's just saying guest, but really, he means something else. But what else could he mean? "What do you mean?"
"A guest. You know, I have someone over." Mo sighs, sounding exasperated.
I still have no idea what he means. "I still have no idea what you mean."
I can hear someone start to laugh in the background, a guy, laughing softly, more like chuckling, I guess. Mo hisses at me, "I'm on a date!"
"Oh!" Mo. On a date. Whoa. Mo. Date. Whoa. "Oh. Got it. Uhh, I guess I'll see you tomorrow, then?"
He sighs again. "Yes, tomorrow. Good night, Todd."
I squeeze my phone back into my pocket, feeling a little stunned. Wow. Mo's on a date. I don't know why it seems so weird to me, but it is. After all, Mo's a guy, just like anyone else - well, not like a woman, or an old person, or a kid - and that's what guys do, they go on dates - unless they're married, or in prison - so why shouldn't Mo be on a date?
The old man in front of me stops in the middle of the road and looks around him, an expression of bewilderment on his face. Finally, he starts heading back to the side of the road he came from, moving glacially past the front of my car. He has a sudden coughing fit, and somehow manages to cough his dentures onto the street. He starts bending over slowly to pick them up; I can practically hear his bones creaking.
Man. Mo on a date. It just seems so out of the blue. He's never talked about guys before. I mean, he has, I guess, but that was really just me talking about Markus. He never talked about any guys he was interested in. I just thought... hmm, I guess I never thought about it before.
The rest of my drive home is uneventful; I don't encounter any more old people, and I don't piss anyone else off. I settle down on the couch with a beer and watch the History Channel. There's some show about barbarians on, but I'm not that into it. Tonight sucks.
"Tell me!" I shout at Mo, even though I'm right next to him. He managed to avoid me during practice every time I tried to ask him about his date and the guy he's going out with, but he can't avoid me now. There's no escape; he's not leaving this room until he tells me everything.
"No," he says stubbornly, as he sits down and starts to remove his gear. God, the guy is pouting.
"Why not?" I cross my arms. He has to tell me. I'm one of his best friends; it's like a rule or something, he should tell me everything. He's always told me everything, even stuff that's really boring, like what he's going to order for dinner, or what the lake conditions are and when fish spawning season is. I have to listen to all his crap; he'd damn well better share the good stuff.
"Because it's personal." Mo tugs his jersey off and starts working on his shoulder pads. He sighs and peers up at me, looking annoyed. "I'd like to keep it private for now, okay? I'll talk about it when I'm ready."
I stare at him for a moment. What the hell is this "personal" and "private" bullshit he's talking about? Since when is anything private from me? He can't fucking be serious.
"You can't fucking be serious," I say, incredulously.
"Yes, Todd, I am serious. I'm asking you to respect my privacy," he says, not blinking as he holds my gaze.
I snort. Respect his privacy? I'll respect his fucking privacy! I throw one arm around his neck and the other around his ribs, and drag him up halfway, putting him into a headlock, wrapping up his body tightly. He's so surprised that he only starts struggling when it's too late, and I have him firmly in my grasp.
"Argh! Let go! Let go!" He grunts, grabbing my forearm and trying to free himself. His efforts are completely futile.
"Tell me first, then I'll let you go!" I yell, tightening my grip. He's proving to be quite a handful, all that board work, I guess.
"No! Urgh!" He tries to elbow me in the ribs, but jabs past into thin air. Ha! Nice try, buddy.
"Wow, Mo's face is really red!" I turn to my side to see Jarkko watching, obviously fascinated. He nudges Sami Salo, pointing excitedly at us. "Look! Look!"
Sami looks up from unlacing his skates, a trace of concern on his face. I worry that he's about to come over and try to help Mo escape, but then he looks back down nonchalantly, and continues removing his skates. "Looks more like purple to me," he comments, calmly.
"Why won't you tell me who it is?" I grumble, trying to contain Mo's wriggling. "You're supposed to tell me everything, damn it."
Mo says something in response, but I think I'm squeezing his neck too tightly, so I can't make out what he's saying. I loosen my hold on him a little bit and ask him to repeat himself, but before he has a chance to, Trevor appears in front of me suddenly and orders me to stop.
I immediately let go and drop my arms to my side, not really knowing why I do it, but unable to refuse. It's like there's something about his voice that compels me to do it. It's that goddamn captain's voice, just like the one Markus has. Trevor's not even a fucking captain anymore and he still has it. That's so unfair; shouldn't it have expired or something by now? I mean, what if he ordered me to run around naked singing ABBA?
Free of my death grip, Mo scampers away gratefully, glaring at me. He starts removing his shirt, but eyes me suspiciously the whole time he's doing it, looking ridiculous in the process. Trevor, having accomplished his mission of rescuing Mo, shakes his head at me disapprovingly and departs with a warning glance.
"I tell you everything," I blurt at Mo, feeling very wronged. "I never keep secrets from you; you shouldn't keep any from me."
He considers this for a while, then gives me a small smile. "I'll tell you when I'm ready, okay? I promise."
I'm reluctant to give up, but he seems pretty insistent on keeping who he's dating a secret, and it's not like I'm going to try to beat it out of him (yet), so I nod grudgingly and sit down next to him, pulling my jersey off. He hasn't talked about seeing anyone before, even though I'm sure he must have. Got to have been getting laid, at least. Maybe he just doesn't like talking about stuff like this, not when it comes to himself, anyway, since he's always been happy to listen when I talk to him about Markus.
I glance at him and he still has the hint of a smile on his face, like he's thinking about something nice. He's one of my closest friends, and I always thought I knew everything there was to know about him, but maybe there's more to him, a secret side that I've never seen, that I never tried to find out about. Until now, I guess.
"Hey, so, are you happy then?" I ask, then add in a softer voice, "With him?"
His eyes light up and his smile widens, and he looks a little more relaxed, like the very thought of whoever he's seeing comforts him. Wow, that's really something. His expression is answer enough, making words unnecessary, but he speaks anyway. "I am," he replies, grinning broadly. "Very happy."
And that's more than good enough for me.
I don't really talk to Markus that morning, the day after we fight about--what was it? Food? Dinner? Something stupid.
It's not that I'm mad at him - and he doesn't really seem mad at me either - but I just don't really know what to say. We've had fights before, of course, but that was always about hockey stuff. Giving each other kicks in the ass, or figuring out problems we had, mistakes we were making, our expectations of each other, that kind of thing. But we've never really fought about things that aren't hockey. And I guess we didn't really have a fight, exactly, but it sure felt like one.
This not talking to him thing is really getting to me. I know it hasn't been that long, but I'm not exactly a patient guy. That's why I don't do so good with the fishing thing.
I catch up with him after practice, right when he's about to leave. "Hey Markus," I say, not really having anything better in mind.
"Hi Todd," he responds, a little uncomfortably. Now that's just wrong. He shouldn't ever be uncomfortable around me, not anymore.
"So what are you up to now?" I ask, putting my hands in my pockets.
"Oh, nothing much. The usual, you know, going to get food, then back home for a nap. You?"
Man, this is awkward. Fighting, or something very close to fighting, sucks. I just want it to be over, this weirdness between us. I want it to be over without having to talk, or do anything, but I guess that's not very realistic. Why can't we just give each other a manly hug and be done with it?
"Same thing," I reply. Then I give him a big manly hug. He returns the hug cautiously, looking a little puzzled. Crap. Well, I had to give it a shot.
"Okay, well, see you later then." Markus gives me a small smile and turns to leave.
"Wait!" I say quickly. I really, really don't want to talk about this stuff. I can't think of what to say. But I do want to start talking to Markus like we did before, so I guess this is something I have to do. "I uhh, I umm, wanted to talk to you. You think we could get some takeout and bring it back to your place and eat and talk?"
Markus considers this for a while, then slowly says, "Sure."
We drive back to his place separately in our cars, stopping along the way to pick up what should probably be sold in packages labeled "Hockey Player Meal, 1 Unit": chicken and pasta. The drive gives me lots of time to think of things to say, how to start the conversation, what I should bring up. Too bad I don't actually come up with anything.
I beat Markus there, but I just stand in front of his door, wondering whether I should use my key or not. These are the stupid things you think about when you're having a not-fight. He's not too far behind me, so as he's parking his car in the garage, I finish pretending that I'm having problems finding the right key and open the door.
The first thing I notice when I walk in is that the flowers are still there. I gave them to him over a week ago, so they're pretty brown and wilty and dead, but there they are, still sitting in the vase on the dining room table where he placed them that night.
"Hey, Markus, I think the flowers are dead," I point out, helpfully.
"So they are," he says, closing the front door behind him.
"You should throw them out." I walk over to them, setting my pre-game meal down; some dried petals have fallen off onto the table, looking brown and wrinkled and sad.
He hurries over and puts his food down as well, then whisks the vase away, disappearing into the kitchen. He returns with a look of immense relief on his face.
"Why didn't you throw those out earlier?" I ask, feeling curious.
"Well. You gave them to me," he says, not explaining anything at all.
"But they were dead."
"I know." Markus sits down and puts his elbow on the table, rubbing his forehead. "I didn't really know if I should; nobody's given me flowers before."
"Oh." I sit down as well. "I've never given anyone flowers before. You can do anything you want."
He's silent for a while, then he asks, "Why did you give them to me?"
I shrug. "I don't know; I was on my way to your place and I passed a florist, and I thought it seemed like a good idea. I wanted to do something nice for you. You didn't like them?"
"No, I liked the flowers. They were nice. I mean, they're flowers, and flowers are nice." Markus takes a deep breath, like he's ready to unload something. "But I thought they meant... something, you know? It was something new, different, and I don't know if--I feel a little weird about different."
I think about that for a while. "Well, things are different now. We're together, just us. Do you want to see other people again?" A knot builds in my stomach as soon as I say that, and his answer better fucking well be no, or I don't know what I'm going to do.
"No. No. I don't want that at all. I just don't know if I'm ready yet for things to change between us." Then his voice gets softer. "In the future, yes, but not right now."
"I don't want things to change, either. I like being with you. I got those flowers because I wanted to make you happy. I thought I had to, you know, do more now." I think I'm starting to get it. People usually don't do things without a reason, and Markus guessed my reason wrongly.
"You don't have to do more. What you were already doing? That's what I want." It's bright in the room, and his eyes are as light as I've ever seen them. "I want you."
I take his hand and squeeze it, and I think, I want you too, I've wanted you for months, and now I finally have you and it feels too easy, like I should be doing more to keep you, because you're the best thing that's ever happened to me, and I'd be an idiot to fuck that up.
But I end up saying, "I want you too."
Markus smiles, and I get my takeout box out of the bag. He gets plates and silverware from the kitchen and we start eating in silence, but not because things are still strange and we don't know what to say; that feeling is gone, thankfully, and it took more than a manly hug to do it, but overall, I'd say that wasn't too bad.
I don't know about him, but I'm also not talking because I'm fucking starving and I'm too busy eating to say anything.
"Hey, you know I don't need more from you either, right?" I say, when we're finished eating. "So no more cooking, okay?"
Markus blinks at me incredulously a few times, then starts to glare and punches me viciously in the shoulder--not once, but twice.
And everything is right in my world.