[identity profile] annabeth.livejournal.com in [community profile] osgood_asitgets

The argument never gets satisfactorily resolved. They spend the rest of that day cleaning up baby puke and worrying that there's something wrong with Carey, because he can't keep any of his formula down.

So, it's game day, Julie's watching Carey, even though Chris feels bad that he might still not be feeling well, and he and Helm are kind of avoiding each other in the locker room.

Maybe Helm feels panicky about the baby—that now that he's starting to bond with it, get close to him, he might wind up alone and not know what to do. Chris isn't sure exactly how that makes sense, but no matter the months he's been with Helm, he still doesn't really understand how his mind works.

It could be because he's so young. Chris might not be able to ever really understand him—but he's still not going anywhere. He's not going to jeopardise his relationship—one of the best things in his life right now—by letting Helm think he might actually break up with him again.

And then Nick enters the locker room, and the rumble of chatter dies down, their teammates turning to Nick. Nick gives the slightest nod, and all eyes in the locker room fall on him.

Chris gulps. He has a feeling he knows where this is going.

Nick must have told them, and he must have admonished them not to mention it until Nick said it was okay.

Howie says something first, maybe because he's sitting on the stool right next to Chris.

"I couldn't believe it, when Nick said something," Howie says, excitement thick in his voice. "You have a baby now?"

Chris casts a desperate glance towards Helm, but he's been mobbed by teammates as well.

"Yeah," he says, trying not to meet Howie's eyes. But Jimmy puts a hand on his arm.

"I still think—"

"No. No way," Chris says. "I have a responsibility for that child now, and I have a relationship with someone else and—"

Howie lowers his voice. "But your wife, she's having a baby too, right?"

"Ex-wife," Chris corrects automatically—the pain is fading a little more every time he has to say it. Being with Helm really helps with that, too.

"Please, Ozzie." Howie widens his eyes. "I just... I can't stop thinking about you."

Chris feels trapped. There's no way out of this, not really. He can't hurt Howie, and he knows he has to be careful, because not only that, but to alienate him means making his job as a mentor a lot more difficult.

"You got married too, Howie," he says tiredly. "Unless you're planning to risk your marriage too, I wouldn't suggest it, wouldn't risk it. And you already know I'm with someone."

"But why," Jimmy says, "why him? Why not me? I could've been there for you. I would've." He sounds absolutely certain and again, Chris feels guilty.

Because the real reason is he wound up with Helm because of that one-night stand. He might not be able to remember it, beyond drink after drink right up until they led into a blankness in his memory, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen, and since he woke up naked next to Helm the following morning, he's pretty damned sure of what had happened.

So he supposes if that hadn't've happened—or if he'd wound up drunk with Howie instead—maybe his life would be really different right now.

And that's what actually makes up his mind on the subject: he doesn't want to be without Helm, and he doesn't think he could ever live without that baby.

That's his family now: Helm and his son. He has his little girls, and he always will; he has the new baby on the way, but that's his old life, that's Jenna and the lie he'd lived most of his life, and finally, he's free.

He stands up, puts a little bit of distance between him and Howie.

"Because I'm in love with him," Chris says. "I'm sorry, Howie."

Howard looks terribly disappointed. "I wish things were different," he mutters, then turns away. Chris feels like the worst heel on the planet, but he's got to think of Helm, and what's best for them—the three of them.

Cleary makes his way over to Chris, looking excited. "I can't believe it," he says. Chris is glad for one thing—his teammates have gradually, over the months, come to accept him and his sexuality without giving him sidelong glances and acting vaguely uncomfortable every time he's around.

"Yeah, believe it," Chris says. He probably should sound happier, but Jimmy brought him down. He still feels remorse over that kiss, over ever giving Jimmy the impression that he was available.

"This is so crazy," Bear says. "Helmer with a baby. And the two of you! Shacking up and all that. I just can't get over it." Cleary shakes his head. "You are going to bring him in, right? You have to bring him in. Even Nick wants to see him."

"I think you should ask Helm—" and then Chris pauses. Well, it's supposed to be their baby now, right? What better way to show Helm that he has no intention of deserting them than by acting like he really is the infant's father. One of them, anyway. "Yeah, you know what? I think we probably will."

Kronner overhears them as he comes over, his pretty, fine-boned face cracked into a smile. "This is so unbelievable, but I want to see him, too. I'm so glad you're happy, Ozzie. Helmer sounds like he's over the moon about you."

"Does he?" Chris smiles too, Kronner's happiness infectious. "I don't think he's too pleased with me at the moment, but I'm feeling like that too, lately."

Pavs stops by his locker next, and slowly, the crowd is forming around him now. "This so amazing," Pav says. "You? And a baby? Plus Helmer. I am happy for this. I think you deserve this."

Chris gives Pavs a smile too. These are his friends. He should never have forgotten that. "I know, right? I am still getting used to this whole being a new father thing, but I've done it before." The pang that elicits in his chest is still much more muted than it used to be.

Helmer walks over, hesitation in his step, tentative when he speaks. "Chris?"

"Yeah?" he says, and his teammates melt away to give them some privacy. It would appear that the elephant in the room is no longer invisible—Nick must have told them all about him and Helmer, too.

"Are you still upset with me?" Helmer shifts on his feet, mostly dressed for the pre-game skate, but without his skates on yet.

Chris tilts his head and a smile peeks out. "No, Dare. I wasn't ever, really. I just... I was worrying about Carey."

"I was too. No, I was worrying about us," Helmer explains. "The three of us. I can't live without you."

"I don't even want to consider it," Chris says. He drops his voice. "I love you, Helmer. And I love that baby. I wouldn't want to be without either of you."

"So," Helm says. "Should we bring him in to show everyone?"

Chris feels a little shifty. "I kinda, may've told Bear that we would. I hope you don't mind."

It's like the clouds parting to allow the sun to shine through, full brightness, the expression on Helm's face.

"No," Helmer says. "I don't mind."

He's not speaking the words aloud, but Chris thinks they can both hear them: It is our baby, after all.

Helm is slowly losing some of the cluelessness that surrounds his relationship with his son.

Chris laces up his skate, then reaches for his mask and his blocker. Helm grabs his trapper and hands it to him.

Chris glances around, but no-one's paying attention to them any more—actually, most of their teammates seem to be studiously avoiding looking over this way—and blows Helm a kiss. Helm blushes, and it's so freaking adorable, Chris doesn't know how he ever lived without that blush, that face, this person in his life.

He takes his trapper from Helm. "You better get your skates on," Chris tells him. "Babs'll be frustrated if we start late."

Helm gives him once last longing look over his shoulder as he goes back to his own locker.

And then, in the time it takes Chris to look down and tighten the buckles on his pads, Nick is standing in front of him.

"I did as you asked," he says, and Chris stares up into gorgeous blue eyes. He risks trying to read Nick again, even though it's been so long and he's not sure he knows how to do it any more.

And if he's not mistaken, Nick is seeking approval. Which is so unusual Chris nearly falls off his stool. Nick never needs anyone else's approval. He's never cared what anyone else thinks—except maybe Chris, way back when.

Chris suddenly feels like a bleeding swimmer trying to navigate an ocean full of sharks. In this locker room, there's his ex-boyfriend, his lover, his best friend (with benefits, at least a couple of times) and his fellow goalie who just happens to have a crush on him.

Oh, it is a fucking good thing that Mac is retired and Ty has been traded, or this would be even more awkward.

"Thanks," Chris says carefully. "I appreciate it."

Nick seems almost disappointed too. "I still think it's a mistake," he murmurs. "You don't need another baby, and Helm is so young, Oz—"

"Nick," says Chris, cutting him off. "This is my choice. This is my life. You're not a part of my personal life any more, Nick, and that was by your own choice. This is what I want: I want Helm, and I want that baby. Please don't ask me to reiterate this to you again."

Nick sighs, then turns away. "Fine," he says, but Chris can tell—it hasn't been that long—that Nick still wishes sometimes that he hadn't done something so rash and broken up with him.

But that led to what might be the greatest love of his life, now that he thinks about it. Because as much as he loved Nick, Helm is the person that—oh shit God, what the hell?he wants to spend the rest of his life with Helm.

///

Chris goes through the next week in a daze. Practises, games, skating drills—he participates in all of it, but by the time those things are done, Chris can't remember any of it.

Even caring for the baby is a blur. He knows that they eventually take Carey to the doctor for a check-up, and he knows he wrote down everything the doctor said, but he's so preoccupied by his revelation that everything he does, he does with half his mind somewhere else.

It's a good thing that Helm has improved by such leaps and bounds when it comes to things like diapering Carey and feeding him, because Chris is now the useless one.

He wakes up Sunday morning—trending towards afternoon, actually, by the time he drags himself out of bed—and finds Helm asleep in the rocking chair, Carey cuddled up to his chest.

He vaguely remembers Carey crying and Helm groaning as he slid out of bed—mostly because he reached out for Helm a little later and the bed was cool and empty—but he's surprised he didn't get up with them.

He leans against the wall and smiles a little as he gazes at his lover and their baby. They look peaceful and contented, and that's a good thing, because Carey had been so fretful pretty much since the moment he'd arrived.

As he views them, feeling sort of soft and pleasant inside, Helm's eyelids flicker, and he opens them, blinking a couple times. He shifts just slightly as if his arm is tired from holding the baby, and smiles at Chris, even though the argument still isn't entirely forgotten.

But they've moved companionably around each other for a week, so Chris thinks maybe Helm's getting used to the idea, more and more, that Chris does want to stay with them.

"Hey, sleepyhead," Helmer whispers. "I don't know how you slept through the racket he was making."

Chris laughs into his hand as quietly as possible. "I don't know either. Maybe because I've been waking up with him for weeks now, and I finally got so tired I just couldn't get up?"

"It took me forever to get him to sleep," Helm says, but the look he gives Carey isn't annoyed at all; actually, it's pretty full of love, considering.

"Well, the doctor said—" Chris stops, chews his lower lip. "Uh, Dare? What did the doctor say again?"

It's Helm's turn to laugh a little. "Weren't you paying attention? It was your idea to take him!"

"Oh, right!" Chris puts his head in his hands. Muffled by his fingers, he says sheepishly, "We took him because I thought he might have colic."

"The doctor said he's probably just a fussy baby, but that the formula might be upsetting his tummy, which is why he throws up all the time."

Chris comes further into the room and kneels down in front of them, putting one hand on Helmer's knee and placing the other one on Carey's belly. The baby burbles to himself, head turning towards Chris even as he snuffles a little and settles back into a deeper sleep.

Chris grins. "Look, Dare. He's sleeping better already."

Helm rolls his eyes. "Not likely," he says. "You weren't the one driving him around at two in the morning to get him to be quiet."

Chris has to think back, but he does vaguely recall telling Helm about that, so he strokes his thumb over his thigh.

"So when do you want to bring him in to meet everyone?"

"Tomorrow's a mandatory practise," Helm says. "But I don't know who we could leave him with while we practise."

"Uh..." Chris is thinking, hard, when the door bell rings. It wakes Carey, who starts to cry, waving his tiny hands in the air. Helm shushes him, rocking the chair, but Carey's cries rise in strength and volume. Helm gives Chris a pained look and passes the baby over so he can get up out of the chair.

"Do you want me to get it," he says, "or do you want me to put him down while you get it?"

Chris feels confusion settle over him. He makes what Helm likes to call his thinking face—usually while laughing at him—and says, "It can't be Drapes, because he's usually prone to just barging in. Maybe it's Abby?"

Helm makes a face. "I hope it's not Abby, because I didn't tell him about the baby and I don't know if Nick did, since he didn't say anything to me that day."

"I better get it then," Chris says, handing Carey off to Helm again. "It might be my Jenna or something, though I hope it isn't."

"Would she really come here?" Helm asks, but whoever's at the door starts ringing more insistently. Carey's cries shift to ones more of distress and Helmer gives him a wary look. "I think I'm about to get thrown up on," he says ruefully.

Chris is just about to the door when Helm makes a noise and says, "Ugh."

Chris grabs the door handle and looks over to his boyfriend. Sure enough, Carey's just spit up all over Helm's shirt. Chris always thought he—and Helm—went through a lot of laundry, what with playing hockey and sweating all the time, but it's got nothing on their laundry loads now.

Helm is just crossing the room to leave and, presumably, clean them both up as Chris opens the door.

And finds himself rooted to the spot with shock. Malts is standing on the stoop, expression sheepish, one hand stuffed into his pocket.

"Hey, Oz," he says. "I thought I'd stop by because—" he stops. He cranes his neck to peer around Chris, then turns an incredulous face on him. "You know, I thought I was fucking crazy because it sounded like a baby crying in here, but... Ozzie, where did the baby fucking come from?"

Chris probably has that look on his face—the one he usually makes when he's just let in a soft goal. He steps aside to let Malts in the room and rubs his fingers together before wiping his palms on his pajama pants.

"Nick didn't tell you?" he asks feebly, wiping his hands again—he's getting sweaty. Damn, another shower, more clothes in the wash and—oops. He's not wearing a shirt. Way to go, Chris, he thinks; he answered the door in only his pajama pants and he's not even wearing underwear beneath them.

Worse, he probably has a bit of a boner from watching his boyfriend. Malts's eyes do take in his appearance, something he can't read turning up in their depths, but Malts recovers himself.

"No," Malts says. "I haven't had the chance to talk to Nick in days. I've been busy with my new job."

"Yeah, well, uh." He knows he's stalling, but... He's about to say something else—what, he's not sure of yet—when Helm comes back into the room empty-handed. Chris notices the crying has stopped, and Helm's wearing a fresh shirt.

Chris feels kind of like he's serving Helm up for Malts's disapproval, saying this while he's standing there awkwardly, but he clears his throat and manages to croak, "It's Helm's."

"You two have a baby. A fucking baby," Malts says. "I can't believe it."

"Yeah," Helm says. "It took a little getting used to."

"It's still taking some getting used to," Chris says. He directs his attention at his boyfriend for a moment. "Is he asleep?"

"No," Helm says, "but cleaning him up and changing him quieted him down. He's in his crib."

"Go get him, if you don't mind," Chris says. Helm shrugs and turns around, disappearing into the hallway again.

"So, Malts," Chris says. "Why did you stop by?"

"I thought you might need lunch," Malts says sheepishly. "I know how badly you cook."

Helm reappears carrying the baby, who's wearing a different sleeper now, and his eyes are half-closed, still gumming his fist like he likes to do, looking sleepy and content.

"Go on," Chris tells Helm, who gives him a confused look. Chris sighs a little bit inwardly. "This is Carey," he introduces, "Helm's son. Well, Helm's biological son and technically our son."

Malts is downright gleeful now. "Can I hold him?" He's practically bouncing on his feet.

"Be warned, he might start to cry or throw up on you," Chris says, but he stands back and lets Helm give Malts the baby.

"It's okay," Malts tells them. "I'm used to that. Two of them at once, remember?"

He tickles beneath Carey's chin, cooing at him in a way that no grown man ever should, not that Chris can really throw stones.

Carey, to his surprise, doesn't do either of those things. He actually brightens up, a big toothless smile on his little face as he waves his fists at Malts.

And, unsurprisingly, after that, Chris and Helm can't pry Malts away from the baby for quite some time.

///

"So you will?" Helm says hopefully, as Malts is leaving after dinner. Once he'd made himself at home, Chris and Helm had wheedled dinner out of him too, in spite of the fact that he kept saying he should be making it for his own kids.

"Yeah, of course," Malts says with a smile. "Bring him by my office tomorrow when practise starts and I'll keep an eye on him until it's over."

"Awesome," Helmer says, and Chris, who is rocking the baby back and forth in his arms, mumbles, "Good—bye," as Malts walks out the door finally.

"It's bedtime," Chris says, yawning hugely. Carey is about three seconds away from sleep, as is he.

Helm leans his head on Chris's shoulder for a moment, just breathing against his face. "I love you so much," he says softly, then wraps his arms around Chris and kisses his neck. "Let's put him to bed, and then, you can take me to bed," Helm whispers.

Chris nods and they do just that, putting the baby down, who yawns himself—which is so freaking adorable that Chris never gets tired of seeing it—and then Helm brushes his teeth and climbs into their bed.

Chris draws in a fortifying breath and says, "I'll be right there," walking towards the spare room, where some of his stuff is still stashed in the corner.

He fishes through his one toiletry bag—not filled with toiletries, actually—and finds his Stanley Cup ring from 2008. He looks fruitlessly for the '98 one, but he can't find it on one time through the bag and he doesn't want to leave Helm waiting too long.

So he closes the 2008 ring in his fist and pads to the bedroom, slipping into bed beside Helm, and then rolling onto his side and leaning up on his elbow.

"Dare," he murmurs, and Helm stretches up, one hand going around the back of Chris's neck, and he's about two heart beats away from kissing Chris when Chris ducks his head down. Before Helm can panic, he opens his hand.

"Chris?" Helm sounds confused, and when Chris peeks up through his eyelashes, Helm looks confused, too. "What's that for?"

"It's a ring," Chris says, stuttering a little, not quite sure how to do this any more.

"I can see that," Helm says. "It's your Stanley Cup ring. I have the same one. I don't understand."

Chris sighs, then huffs out a laugh. "You know, this is one of the reasons I love you," he confesses, stroking Helm's short hair and planting a kiss on the corner of his lips. "I haven't done this in so long, you'll have to forgive me if I do it wrong."

"Are you breaking up with me again?" Helm asks, brow furrowed, mouth open. He's breathing through his mouth, a little fast, though whether that's anxiety or arousal, Chris can't currently tell.

"Not at all," Chris assures him. "No, I'm saying exactly the opposite. I'm asking to stay for the rest of my life."

It takes a moment for the light to dawn, but somebody switches it on inside the lighthouse and Helm grins beautifully. "You mean...?"

"Yeah, that's what the ring is for, silly." Chris gives Helmer a proper kiss this time, complete with tongue, saliva running, and a lot of moaning. By the time they manage to separate, the ring is in the blankets somewhere and Chris and Helm have to paw around in the bed searching for it.

Chris finds it before Helm does and works it onto his left ring finger.

Chris isn't sure that Helm has ever smiled quite like that, not even when they won the Stanley Cup.

///

"Wade, really?" Helm says, incredulous. "She couldn't've come up with a better name than that?"

"Hey, she was your girlfriend," Chris points out. "Is there a middle name on it?"

"No," Helm says.

"Well, then, maybe we can have that added. And just not tell anyone about the name his mother gave him." Chris leans over Helm's shoulder and stares with a certain amount of morbid fascination at it.

They're standing in the parking lot of the Joe, Carey kicking his feet happily in his car seat, still marvelling at the horror that is his birth certificate.

Chris hasn't told Helm that it was Nick who suggested maybe they should acquire a copy, if they were going to keep the baby and not, for example, try to return him to his mother.

Chris suspects that Nick was hoping the suggestion would actually lead to them giving the baby up, but there was no way that was happening.

"Hey," Chris says, poking Helm in the ribs. "We gotta get moving, especially if we're gonna show him off."

Helm folds the notarised piece of paper and stuffs it back into the envelope. "I can't believe she named him Wade," he repeats for what is probably the twelfth time.

Chris reaches into the car and unbuckles Carey, lifting him out of the car seat. Carey burbles cheerfully at him. He's been so good thus far this morning, with no puking and not as much crying either, though he's also refused to eat the last two times they tried to feed him.

Helm's sure it will be fine. Chris is worried sick, not that he wants to dump those emotions on Helm.

Chris points to the trunk of the car with his foot, hands full of baby. "You gotta get out the baby seat and baby bag," he says to Helm, who nods and unlocks the trunk. "I'll meet you just inside," Chris finishes, not wanting to keep Carey out in the cold too long.

Carey's bundled into enough clothes—onesie, sleeper, snowsuit, and blanket—that it's a miracle he can kick his feet. He fusses a little when he tries to eat his fist like he enjoys doing so much and gets a mouthful of mitten instead.

"Quiet, baby," Chris soothes, "it's okay, it's just a mitten. I promise you can have your fist back soon."

Carey huffs like he's actually responding to what Chris is saying and not just the tone of voice. Chris grins at him as he passes security, leaving the guard staring wide-eyed behind him.

Yeah, Chris is pretty sure that no-one even knows about Jenna, much less that he and Helm have suddenly acquired offspring, at least so far as the staff is concerned.

He walks down the hallway where it's warmer and pauses to wait for Helm, who shows up a couple of minutes later, cheeks flushed from the cold, baby seat on one arm and the baby's diaper bag hanging from the other.

Chris grins and crooks a finger at his boyfriend. Helm steps right up to him, and Chris leans up and kisses him quick as a flash, too pleased by the flush on Helm's face and their baby nestled in between them.

"C'mon," he says. And then he grins. "My fiancé."

Helm turns his head a little to the side as if regarding Chris very seriously. He fiddles with the ring on his finger. His eyes are dark and there's confusion hovering within their depths. Chris suddenly feels very, very anxious.

"What's the matter?" he asks, and as if the baby understands the abrupt tension between them, he starts to cry. He tries gumming on his fist again but once more, he's foiled by the little mittens. Chris takes his attention off Helm for a second to carefully uncover Carey's little fingers. The baby immediately shoves one into his mouth and quiets.

"Good baby," Chris murmurs, adjusting his little hat. Helm, when he glances back, is standing awkwardly, the ring no longer on his finger, but in his hand.

"I don't know," Helm says, sounding very young and unsure. "I didn't realise—" he directs his gaze downwards, staring hard at the ring as if it will provide some answers that he can't get from Chris.

"What? Really, what is it?" Chris bounces the baby a couple of times, worried he's going to get fussy and cranky if they just keep standing around, but Helm makes no move to head towards the locker room.

"I just thought—" Helm stops again, and Chris, if he didn't have a baby in his arms, might have just grabbed his collar and shaken him. Helm eventually goes on, though. "I thought it was just, you know, proof you loved me."

"It is proof that I love you," Chris says, his own brow furrowing. He's not sure what Helm's getting at—and it's always amazing to him that not only can Helm become confused, but he confounds those around him just as easily.

"You didn't... I didn't say yes," Helm says, sounding frustrated. Chris feels his heart pump as if to leap from his chest. No, no, no. Not when he's finally realised what he wants from his life—out of his life—in his life. Not when he sees Helm in the mornings and all he wants to do is see Helm in every morning for the rest of his life.

Wants to wake up and find Helm in their kitchen, trying to make coffee that always comes out awful, and with his slippers on even when he's wearing nothing but boxer-briefs.

"You didn't ask me," Helm says. "I didn't understand."

"It seemed like you knew what I meant," Chris says helplessly. "I said for the rest of my life!"

And then, in proof that Nick knows just how to ruin his life with the worst timing ever, their captain walks up and opens and closes his fist like he's nervous. Who knows, maybe he is. One thing Chris does know, though, is that Nick is not going to be an asset to this situation.

"Am I interrupting something?" he asks calmly, as if he doesn't know that's exactly what he's doing. Nick is very likely interrupting on purpose—sometimes Chris still catches Nick with his eyes on him, the yearning for Chris so powerful it makes his heart stutter through a beat as if he's still in love with Nick.

This is not a good time for Nick to intrude—it might scare Helm off forever, because Helm already feels inadequate enough when he compares himself to Nick, no matter how many times Chris tells him he doesn't have to compete with Nick.

That Nick's in his past, and Helm is his future, the person he's chosen to be with.

Helm never seems to get that memo, or else he keeps burning it or something.

"It's nothing," Chris says, inadvertently tightening his grip on the baby. Carey squirms, then whacks Chris with a tiny fist as he prepares for a truly dramatic tantrum. Chris immediately loosens his hold a little, hushing him, or at least trying to—but Carey peeks up at him, then screws his eyes shut and starts to yell.

Helm plops down the baby things he's carrying, then reaches over and stuffs the Stanley Cup ring into Chris's pocket, smart enough to try and keep it out of Nick's view, and then he cradles his arms under Chris's and takes the baby from him. He holds Carey up to his shoulder and rubs his back as he tries to blend into the wallpaper. Technically the grey concrete, actually.

"Is that the baby?" Nick asks softly, stepping into Chris's personal space. It reminds him of all the times he'd let Nick into his personal space because he wanted him there, all the times he invited him, dragged him down for heated kisses in the chill of winter or near the frigid temperatures of the rink.

"Yeah," Chris says shortly. He wants to makes this conversation as quick and painless as possible.

Nick says, without trying to keep his voice down, "I can't believe you're actually keeping that baby."

"Yeah, well, believe it," Chris says acidly. He knows how much that must have hurt Helm's feelings, and he's not sure he can forgive Nick for that. Actually, for that matter, there's a lot of things he doesn't think he can ever forgive Nick for.

"Don't be stupid, Ozzie," Nick says, voice low and intense. "Don't give up the rest of your life for—"

Well, better now than any other time, Chris thinks to himself with a mental shake to prepare himself. "Look, Nick, Jenna's pregnant too. I would've had another baby no matter what." He pauses, then figures, what the hell? "And you know what? If it weren't for you, I might still be with Jenna. I might be able to raise that baby, and I might not have had my entire life ruined, my personal life dragged through the mud and then inspected with a magnifying glass. You don't want me to throw my life away? Well, guess what, Nick?" he says, voice growing progressively louder. "I threw my life away over you, and you didn't even want it—want me. You bailed as soon as things fell apart for me, and so your perfect little life with your four kids and your pretty wife is still intact!"

He's heaving by the time he gets all of that out, and then he remembers that Helm is standing just a few feet away holding their baby.

He can't imagine what Helm might be thinking now.

Nick's standing there, looking stricken, a ruddy flush on his cheeks and down his neck. He doesn't speak to Chris again, just whirls on his heel and stomps off—a lot of emotion at once, for Nick at least.

Helm walks up to him. "I think maybe you have unfinished business," he says. He nods towards Chris's pocket where he stashed the ring. "I really thought you were joking," he confesses softly. "I mean, there aren't very many places where boys can get married, anyway."

Chris throws his hands up, not much unlike the flailing he does when a goal goes in, gazing up towards the ceiling as if it will aid in his explanation.

"Helmer," he says patiently, "I wasn't joking. And you never gave me an answer, you said so yourself. So come on, don't leave me hanging: yes or no?"

Helm presses the baby to his chest. "No," he says. And then he walks off down the hall, leaving Chris standing there, alone, too stunned yet to be heartbroken, his entire life following after Helm like a shadow.

///

Chris wanders into the locker room in a daze. He reaches his stall and when he manages to make his eyes focus on his surroundings, everyone is crowded around Helmer and their son. Their son. How can he do this? How can he lose them both—and go on living?

Howie is still on his stool, and he puts a hand on Chris's arm. "I'm sorry," he offers, as if he knows what's transpired between him and Helm.

Chris gets a sinking feeling. "I'll bounce back," he says. "I always do."

"Come back and stay at my place. At least for tonight; give him some time." Howie looks so earnest, like he's genuinely trying to help—and Chris actually doesn't think Howie has an ulterior motive. So he nods tiredly.

"Yeah, sure," he says. And then he stands up, one skate in his hand, and sets the skate down on his stool. He walks up to the crowd of hardened hockey players who are basically all standing around cooing at Carey like a bunch of girls.

One or another they all keep reaching out to pat Carey, or touch his little head, or watch as he tightens his little baby fist around their fingers.

Chris wants to cry.

He takes a deep breath into his heavy chest and turns away.

Apparently that's not his life any more. Apparently it just isn't to be: Chris will never be happy.

He must have pissed off some gods other than the hockey gods as well, he supposes.

Howie steps up to him. "I think he'll come around."

"I am not sure it matters," Chris says wearily. "At this point, we've had so many ups and downs, broken up so many times, that even the make-up sex doesn't seem like it's worth the effort."

If Jimmy thinks that's too much information, he doesn't complain about it. He just pats Chris on the lower back, practically on his ass, though it's not congratulations this time, which would make it difficult to explain to their teammates.

"It is," he insists. "Love—real, lasting love—is always worth the effort. Trust me. And you just can't give up on him."

Chris lifts one shoulder. "I guess you're right," he says, trying to work up some enthusiasm.

"Of course," Howie says with a spark of that arrogance that tends to turn people off sometimes.

Chris looks longingly over towards the crowd, and Helm, and their baby.

And catches sight of Nick, who's standing well apart from them, his gear on, his skates laced, helmet under one arm.

He's staring at Chris.

///

Chris tries to pretend like he's not in Malts's new office because he knows that Helm is going to bring the baby there, but he supposes he's probably pretty obvious. He's not sure that he cares.

"So," Malts says, folding over a piece of paper and then opening up a manila folder, "what's the matter, Oz? I thought that you and Helmer were bringing in the baby today."

"We did," Chris says uncomfortably. "But, uh, I may have gone off on Nick in front of Helm, and I'm pretty sure he just broke up with me."

Malts shakes his head and looks up from his work, spinning his chair to face Chris, who's been messing with Malts's thumbtacks.

"I don't think I want to know what you said to Nick," his friend comments. He leans back in the chair, crossing his arms behind his head. "I'm sure Helmer's going to know why you're in here," he adds.

"I want—" Chris stares at the floor. "I just want to see that baby one more time." And Helm, he tacks on silently.

"Then you should have waited until Helm brought him to me," Malts says reasonably. Chris wishes his hair were longer so that he could hide behind it, or that his skin weren't so fair so that a blush of guilt isn't so obvious.

"I don't know if he's going to tell you this," Chris says, trying to change the subject, "but Carey's refused his last two bottles, and he's been getting sick since Helm's ex brought him over."

"Have you tried soy formula?" Malts asks. "That might help."

"No," Chris admits. "And I'm not going to get the chance to—I won't be there the next time Helmer feeds him. Could you just—"

Chris hears footfalls and freezes. And sure enough, when Helm rounds the corner and steps into the office, Carey in his baby seat and the diaper bag slung over his shoulder, he looks startled. And then his eyes narrow.

"I don't want to see you," he says, and Chris's heart feels like a wishbone snapped in two. "Please."

Chris almost has to touch Helm to get by him through the doorway, but he cringes in on himself to make himself as small as possible, and then he huddles in the hallway for a couple of minutes, even though he knows how upset Helmer will be if he comes back out of the office and sees him again.

"You should try feeding him soy formula," Malts says first thing. If Helm wonders where the suggestion is coming from—or why—he doesn't ask.

"I think Oz is still in love with his wife," Helm says, voice very small. Chris has to strain to hear him, and even though he feels a tiny bit of guilt over eavesdropping, he can't quite convince his legs to move enough to carry him down the hall, away from Helm, away from Carey.

"I doubt that," Malts says with assurance. "He's gay, Helmer. Even if he loves her—and yes, I'm sure he does love her—I don't think he was ever in love with her."

"But you didn't hear the things he said to Nick," Helm says, and now his voice sounds wet, as if he might be on the verge of crying. "He talked about how Nick ruined his life and how if that hadn't've happened, he might still be with her. Why would he care about being with her—if he wants to be with me so much?"

"I think you'll have to ask him," Malts says carefully. "But I do think he wants to be with you, Helmer. Maybe you're just overeac—"

"I'm not," Helm breaks in, and Chris doesn't even have to close his eyes to picture the fists Helm will be making, something he does when he's very upset.

Which is when Carey's cry soars through the air, drowning them out. Chris has a stern discussion with his limbs until he can make his escape, hoping that Helm doesn't realise he stood there and listened to their private conversation.

Why is he so stupid? He couldn't have said those things to Nick at any other time? Just last night he'd asked Helmer to marry him, and now he's blown any chance of that happening.

He's so miserable by the time he's got his gear on for practise that he doesn't even mind how badly he sucks; Babs takes him out of goal after only a couple of minutes and puts Howie in. Howie gives him a look filled with concern, but he nods his head so that his helmet slides down and covers his face and takes Chris's spot between the pipes.

Chris doesn't stay to watch the rest of practise, even though he's sure to get a lecture from Babs later; instead, he strips out of his gear, showers even though he's barely broken a sweat, and dresses in his jeans and black turtleneck.

He stuffs his things back in his bag and flumps down on his stool and waits for practise to be over.

It's not a surprise to him at all when Helm doesn't come immediately back to the locker room. Chris figures his ex-boyfriend probably went to get Carey first in an attempt to avoid Chris for as long as possible.

They haven't really spoken directly to each other since Helm shot that arrow of pain through Chris's heart earlier in Malts's office, and so Chris has no idea whether Helm realises he's not coming back to the house tonight, but he waits silently on the stool for Howie to shower and dress.

Some of his teammates are giving him worried or concerned looks—and they probably noticed something's wrong, since Chris isn't babbling at them like usual—but they also seem to sense that he wants to be alone. That for one of the few times in his life, he doesn't feel like talking.

Howie's feet appear in his vision and he says, "Are you ready to go?"

Chris raises his eyes to focus on Howie's face, surprised to find Jimmy's features blurry due to tears he didn't even know were in his eyes.

"Yeah," he says. "I wanna get out of here." Normally he'd linger at the Joe, either bullshitting with the guys or suggesting they go out drinking, but today, he just wants to hide like an ostrich burying its head in the sand.

He follows Howie out to his car, keeping his eyes trained to Howie's back so that he doesn't see Helm's Jetta in the lot, and he remembers how he hadn't even seen Helm come back to the dressing room.

He forces himself not to think about it.

And then, just as he's climbing into Howie's car, his eyes snag on something: Helm, unlocking the back seat door to strap Carey into his car seat, his lips red and swollen even at this distance, cheeks red. From the cold? Or something else?

Chris gazes at his lap the whole way to Howie's house. Jimmy is quiet for awhile, but finally he says,

"You might have to borrow something of mine to wear. Since I don't think you packed an overnight bag."

"No," Chris whispers miserably. "I'd finally thought—well, I haven't been living out of my bag any more. Though I guess I will be again soon."

"Do you want to stop by—"

"No," Chris says sharply, heart constricting. "I don't wanna risk it. He made it really obvious he doesn't want to see me."

"You're going to have to go back there," Howie says. He takes his eyes off the road briefly, touching Chris's hair. "You can stay with me, of course, but you're eventually going to have to try to work things out, or pick up your stuff."

Chris sighs. "Do you have hard liquor at your house?" he asks, knowing what he's about to do is monumentally stupid, but not really sure he cares any more.

Drinking never really does help, not in the long run, but whenever he feels this badly, it's awfully difficult for him to see that. So he brushes the thought away like an irritating fly and hangs on Howie's reply.

"Yeah, sure," Howie says, but he sounds uncertain now. "If you think that's best..."

"Trust me," Chris says. "You don't want me staying there unless I'm at least a little drunk, or else I'll just be horrible company." He doesn't mention the fact that he might be even worse company once he's had a few drinks.

He sinks down in the seat, and Jimmy doesn't say anything else for the rest of the drive.

///

It's very late, and Rachel has long since gone to bed, leaving Chris and Jimmy to sit and watch other hockey games being re-broadcast on the NHL Network as they drink companionably.

Chris left buzzed long ago in the rearview mirror and is closing in fast on trashed. Hammered, even.

Which is probably why, even though not so long ago he was pushing Howie away with all his strength, now he's being drawn towards him. Why he's pressing his thumb into Howie's cheekbone and angling his head to tip their lips together.

Jimmy sighs, like his equilibrium is being restored, his world suddenly feeling right to him, as they kiss. Chris doesn't have to urge Howie to open his mouth. It just goes easy, like they've been doing this forever.

In some ways, it feels easier and more natural than making out with Helm ever has; as if he'd always been trying too hard with Helm. Maybe he had been.

But that's past—he's kissing Jimmy, and he wants to be in the moment for it, to enjoy the present without it being tainted by the past, even the very recent past.

So he closes his eyes, Jimmy's lips soft and moving gently under his, and it's probably moving too fast—he doubts Jimmy has ever been with a guy before—but he can't help himself, he grazes the front of Howie's jeans with his palm, exulting in the feel of Howie's cock, just stirring with interest.

He strokes up and down through the denim, slowly working Howie up to full hardness, and his own dick is aching against the inner seam of his Levis. He breathes practically into Jimmy's mouth,

"Go on, touch me. I want you to. I know you want to."

Jimmy lets out another sigh, breath sweet and right into his mouth, as if he's been awaiting this invitation forever.

His hand is tentative when it comes to rest on Chris's dick, but that only lasts the briefest of seconds before he presses more firmly against Chris's erection. Chris shudders with desire, taken by surprise at good it feels—how different from Helm, and how utterly welcome.

He arches into the contact, and Howie is doing the same, grinding desperately against Chris's hand, and Chris skims their lips together again, his tongue feeling extra-hot in the warmth of Howie's mouth.

He pulls back a little, his mouth wet from kissing. "I want to—"

Howie's eyes are glazed over, pupils blown so wide he can't see much of the blue of his irises any more.

Jimmy scoots his ass backwards on the couch and leans his head against the armrest, lifting each leg and settling them on either side of Chris. He grips the buttons of his fly and starts to undo them one by one, and Chris finds himself entranced by the slow exposure of dark boxer-briefs, Jimmy's cock a thick, delicious line under the fabric.

Chris begins to get the idea, and so he helps Howie discard his jeans, then hooks his fingers into the elastic of Jimmy's underwear, carefully tugging it down over his cock.

He doesn't get much chance to appreciate it, though, because Howie covers Chris's hands with his to get him to hurry up and take his pants off.

Chris obliges breathlessly. It's looking more and more like Jimmy wants him on top. Him. He hasn't gotten to do this since Helm—his mind wanders briefly, remembering Helm's lips, looking kiss-bitten, his cheeks covered with what could only be a sex-flush, and he decides that he's really going to do it, fuck Howie on his couch. And he's not going to feel guilty about it.

He does blink though, squinching one eye shut to try and eliminate the double vision from too much liquor, though it's little help.

"Please," Jimmy whimpers, and he raises his ass up, cock jerking against his belly, pre-come spreading in an uneven splotch across his slightly rounded, soft stomach.

Chris finds himself, for some reason, incredibly worked up by the idea that Jimmy's not in as good shape as Helm is.

He makes quick work of his own jeans to please Howie, then holds up his empty hands. "Lube? Something?"

It seems his life is a farce. For the second time in as many months, someone—Jimmy this time—pulls lube out from underneath a couch cushion.

Then again... Chris shrugs, takes the proffered lube, and pops the cap. He spreads it liberally over his boner and then, using his now quite slippery fingers, he trails his fingers down the length of Howie's cock, down, cupping his balls for a moment before dipping underneath them, tracing Jimmy's perineum, and then pausing with one fingertip just barely making contact with Jimmy's tight hole.

Another virgin. Chris has the drunken thought that he's somehow become a deflowerer of virgins, but then he forgets all about it because Jimmy shoves back against the pressure of his finger and the tip of it is forced inside.

And Howie cants his hips again, which sends his finger inside his body up to the second knuckle.

Chris tries to be patient, to stretch him enough—two more fingers go the way of the first—but he's too wasted, ultimately too impatient, and retrieves his fingers and replaces them with his cock.

Jimmy doesn't hesitate though. He just as eagerly pushes back against the head of Chris's dick and Chris's head snaps back, his body practically vibrating loud enough to make music, and he can feel the inches of his cock as they are swallowed by Jimmy's body, and each one that fits inside is another bit of his hard flesh being encased by sweltering, smooth inner walls.

He finally bottoms out, his lower lip almost chewed to an open wound between his teeth, and Howie makes a sticking, choking, gasping sound and begins to squirm on his cock.

Chris thinks at first it's hurting Jimmy—he's fucking damn tight, holy Christ—but it becomes evident rather quickly that, instead, Howie's just trying to dictate the rhythm himself, and he's never, as far as Chris knows, done this before.

Chris puts both hands on Howie's pelvis, bracketing his dick without touching it—knowing the heat of his hands will soak into Howie's cock even without full contact—and halts his frantic movements.

"Go easy," Chris slurs. "'s your first time. Should go slow."

Jimmy's eyes are glassy when Chris manages to bring them into view again. Chris sighs longingly and snaps his hips forward, filling Jimmy up as much as it's possible for him to do.

Howie squeaks quietly, and Chris takes it as encouragement—he's too drunk to actually try and decipher what it really means.

He spreads his palms out over Jimmy's hipbones, then curves them underneath till he's got a strong grip on each one, and he slides out a little, then brings Jimmy's pelvis upwards to meet his, slamming his cock back home again.

His rhythm isn't much better, being so uncoordinated, but Howie doesn't seem to mind—he keeps making needy, growly noises followed up by grunts, as Chris continues to enjoy the rich softness of the inside of Jimmy's body.

He lets go of Howie's hips to brace his hands on the armrest on either side of Jimmy's face, dropping down carefully so that their chests meet together, slickness of sweat mingling, and he licks Jimmy's puffy lower lip, Howie's dick now snugly between them, and he speeds up his movements, being careful that every thrust drags out the friction across Jimmy's cock.

So it's not really a surprise to him when Jimmy's mouth suddenly parts in an 'o' underneath his as he gasps, spilling sex noises out through his open lips, his jizz hot and sticky as it coats Chris's belly.

He reaches down in between them, levering up just a little, and strokes Howie through the last of it, fingers barely touching the sweet, soft roundness of his stomach. It makes his cock twitch and throb, jerk within the encasement of Jimmy's body.

Which is probably why he goes off right after, creaming Jimmy's inner walls, realising at the last second that they hadn't bothered with a condom. Oh well, he thinks, even his thoughts slurring together, it's too late now.

And his cell phone rings. He's not thinking clearly as he digs it out from between the couch cushions damp with sweat under Howie's ass, flipping it open and mumbling, "'Lo?"

Nick sounds just as drunk as he is when he says, "'m so sorry, Ozzie," the esses even more pronounced now that he's intoxicated. "I shouldn—shouldn't have made a scene. I need to see you. Please, let me see you, please. I still love you, Ozzie, it's too much, I can't—I left Annika months ago, but we hushed it up, and I was stupid, and I jus' keep hopin' you'll change your mind. So I was selfish and vindi— vindict— spiteful when I saw you and Helm together. Please let me see you."

Chris is apparently too intoxicated himself to break into Nick's impassioned, drunken speech.

The come on his belly hasn't even cooled yet before he's saying,

"I'll meet you somewhere. Where?"

Nick mumbles the name of a motel, then hiccups, then tells him to hurry, please.

Chris doesn't even realise what he's doing as he slips back into his jeans, pulling his shirt down until it sticks to the jizz on his stomach.

He zips up, grabs his bag and his phone, and calls a cab, leaving Howie strung-out and freshly-fucked on the couch, looking shell-shocked, clearly too caught up in the aftermath of his orgasm to protest Chris disappearing abruptly through the front door.


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