This was written for the Fandom Fights Tsunami compilation. It follows the same timeline as the first one shot... I know there were quite a few people interested in hearing Edward's side of the story, and the NHL playoffs left me a little inspired ;-)
Thanks to detroitangel for pulling beta duties and Lisamichele17 for stepping in a prereader. An incredible banner is linked on my profile... thanks to MsAmbrosia for making it!
Days of negotiation, a few hours on a plane, and one morning skate… it wasn't much but I couldn't let that affect how I played. Too many eyes were watching, most of them counting on me to single-handedly save the team. A lot of pressure for a guy running on about three hours of sleep and still suffering from a major case of jetlag.
I knew the trade was coming. Hell, I was counting on it. My agent had been working overtime to make sure it happened. It had begun to wear on me, playing and no longer enjoying it. I still loved the game, but sometimes a team and a player just don't fit together. That was exactly where I was—playing for a team whose style completely contradicted my own. I preferred a more wide open game with room to maneuver. They preferred hard hits that kept the league's best talents on the injured lists.
It didn't matter what they said—a cheap shot is a cheap shot regardless of whether the league recognizes it as an illegal hit or not.
So the chance to move on to a new city, a new franchise, a new opportunity? I couldn't wait.
It was that excitement that kept me moving up and down the ice, even though I knew as soon as the adrenaline wore off I'd pass out from both physical and mental exhaustion.
Everything passed in a hazy blur and the days I'd spent stressing out over how to plan a move when I wasn't sure which city I'd next call home were forgotten. The thrill of finally being able to play the game the way I wanted had me on a high until the final buzzer sounded. The roar of the crowd was deafening, but it didn't compare to the rush that accompanied the confirmation that I'd made the right choice.
Granted it was just one game and I'd been only in town a day, but I could feel it in my bones that I'd made the right decision. And not just for my career; everything about this move felt promising.
It didn't take me long to figure out that mid-season trades were a total bitch to deal with. Picking up and moving halfway across the country would be enough to drive anyone to the edge, but trying to do so with most of my belongings in storage in my old city while spending half my time on the road made it nearly impossible to get settled.
We had a brutal schedule, and if it hadn't been for the All Star break, I'd have continued living in hotel rooms—both on the road and at home—indefinitely.
But I'd found my groove. I felt like I'd slipped seamlessly into the team's fold as if I'd been there for years, not weeks. And the city was starting to feel like home. I'd searched so many neighborhoods for a place to live that I already felt comfortable here.
The fact that we kept winning didn't hurt anything either.
On the ice, warming up before another game, I found myself getting sentimental. I blamed my mother and her phone call earlier in the afternoon gushing about how much happier I looked and sounded. She made me more self-aware, introspective, to the point that my head wasn't on drills or stretches like it should've been.
I'd always blocked out everything beyond the glass. At best, the people were a blur of faces and replica jerseys. I had too many other things to focus on while on the ice to be concerned with who was out there. But tonight I was too contemplative, and when my thoughts turned to the way the city and fans had embraced me as one of their own, how they made me feel welcome, I couldn't help but look around. Really look.
And that was when I saw her.
I almost missed her. In fact, if she hadn't been laughing so hard I would have. Her whole body shook, her eyes crinkling as her mouth split into the widest smile. She was gorgeous, and I was breathless.
She began gesturing theatrically with the guy next to her, and I could see them playing off of each other. I wondered what they were saying, but more than that, I wondered if they were together.
I glanced over to see one of my teammates motion with his stick, wordlessly asking if I wanted to run some drills. I nodded, but my eyes were immediately drawn back to her. Her friend elbowed her, and fuck if she wasn't still beautiful while scowling. It probably shouldn't have been a surprise but it seemed I was busted. I was too busy watching her to notice that the friend had directed her attention my way. I could see her instantly sober—all the playfulness from moments earlier traded for perplexity as she watched me watching her.
The timing couldn't have been better; I had a pass to catch directly in front of her. I held her gaze the entire time I crossed the ice, watching her grow a little more embarrassed, blushing and averting her eyes, and I enjoyed the small amount of proof that I affected her.
She seemed nervous as I neared, and though I didn't want to turn around to catch that pass, I did. All the while I could feel the grin spread across my face as I imagined what her continued reaction to my proximity might be.
She didn't seem like the type of girl that would hang out in the parking lot waiting for us to leave after a game, but that didn't stop me from searching for her every time. I was preoccupied by her, watching during warm up and searching for her during stops in play. Fortunately, my distraction didn't affect my level of play. Quite the opposite, in fact. The need to impress her made me play harder than ever. Even on the road, knowing that she could be at home watching the game on TV was enough to motivate me to play my best.
When I took a bad hit into the boards that resulted in a concussion, my frustration with being unable to play had nothing to do with my stats and everything to do with not being able to see her.
For the first couple games I sat up in one of the luxury boxes, toying with the idea of going to find her. What would I say, though? She had me so twisted up and confused. I couldn't remember being so intimidated by a girl since my first crush as a kid.
I watched her enough to know that she wasn't with either of the guys she sat with, and the fact that she wasn't paired up gave me hope that there wasn't a boyfriend. I'd already ruled out fiancé or husband; it took a lot of work, watching and waiting, before I finally got a decent view of her bare ring finger.
I was fed up with sitting in the luxury box, though. After standing up and sitting down just to stand back up again in restless indecision, I worked up the nerve. I still had no idea how to approach her but I made my way down to the main concourse as I tried to work out what to say. I didn't have long, the game would start soon. Distracted by my inner thoughts as I neared her section, I didn't see her until it was too late. It only took a split second to process that she was the one who had just sped around the corner and crashed into me.
On instinct, I grabbed hold of her arms to keep her steady on her feet. She didn't move, too stunned from the impact, while I stood frozen and unable to form words.
She seemed so much smaller and more feminine this close. Her hair spilled over her shoulders, brushing my hands, and the softness I'd admired before was nothing compared to how it actually felt. I had to restrain myself from running my fingers through it. When she finally tilted her face up to look at me, I swallowed hard.
Fuck, she was stunning.
I allowed my hands to slide down her arms, unwilling to let go of her just yet. A dozen things to say passed through my mind but I settled on a simple "hi."
And that one word seemed to wake her up, scare her… I didn't know how to read her, but her eyes widened and she began rattling off apologies.
I tried to stop her, apologies were unnecessary when all I wanted to do was talk to her, find out more about her… get to know her. She wasn't having that, though, and as a few kids started to creep up and cut between us, I was ready to panic. I was helpless, unable to stop her as she retreated, looking for an escape, the kids in my path blocking any opportunity to go after her.
I absently scribbled my name on whatever was handed to me, but it felt like the more I signed, the more people that appeared. A crowd was building, separating us even further and I was unable to stop it. Security showed up, sending people back to their seats and insisting I follow them.
"Not yet," I told them before searching for her in the crowd and calling out, "Wait!"
Whether she didn't hear me or she was pretending not to hear me was irrelevant; she didn't stop. I watched, helpless, as she scurried down the steps to her seat with her head ducked to avoid eye contact with anybody.
I considered following her, but it was clear that I'd scared her off. The moment had passed and the only thing left for me to do was walk away and hope a better opportunity would present itself. I was so frustrated, angry at the entire situation, at being so close and having her slip from my grasp before I could even get her name. My mind replayed all the ways I could've convinced her to stay or have her come sit with me. I stared down the vacant spot where she once stood as security directed the last few stragglers back to their seats. I couldn't turn around yet—I knew the anger was visible on my face and in the way I kept tugging at my hair. I wasn't sure I'd be able to bite my tongue if someone said the wrong thing to me.
When security finally returned, I simply nodded at their instructions to follow them. I couldn't leave without one last look, though. It only took a moment to find her in the crowd below, and when I realized she was watching me, my heart started racing as hope replaced defeat. She looked away quickly, embarrassed at being caught. At least there was no revulsion there… maybe there was still a chance.
The end of the regular season drew nearer and another chance to speak to her had yet to present itself. Playoffs were unpredictable—it could mean anywhere from two weeks to two months left to play. By the time our final home game of the season was upon us, the knowledge that my opportunities were limited wore on me. I had to make something happen before the long summer break.
So when I took the ice to see all of her friends in their seats and no sign of her, I worried. Even though we were guaranteed a spot in the first round of the playoffs, it brought the fact that I was running out of time into sharp focus.
As much time as I spent watching her on a regular game night, tonight was worse. Every few seconds during warm-up I glanced over, hoping she'd be there, watching me, but she never showed up. Instead, an unfamiliar man sat in her place—a friend of the others it seemed by the way they all laughed. It was irrational, I knew, but I was annoyed by them… I was miserable, how could they laugh and carry on like everything was okay? Didn't it feel just as wrong to them that she wasn't there?
I couldn't remember much of the game aside from the fact that we won. I was still irritated, but mostly at myself for letting this drag on so long without taking action. I knew if I went home, I'd dwell on things. So when some of the guys mentioned going out afterwards, I accepted their invitation.
We ended up at a bar nearby, packed with fans who'd trekked over after the game. We were greeted with cheers and applause and, for the most part, left to ourselves aside from offers to buy us drinks. I was feeling a little better—resolved to find a way to track her down. I was guaranteed a minimum of two more home games, and if I had to send someone out into the stands to find her while I was out on the ice, so be it.
Standing at the bar and taking a long pull from a new beer, buoyed by my new determination, I nearly choked when my eyes caught sight of one of her friends directly across from me. Instinctively I searched the crowd, hoping she was here, even if she hadn't been at the game. I didn't see her. After a few moments of staring at her friend as if she'd magically appear by her side, I realized that she was animatedly talking on the phone and had definitely noticed I was here. She was grinning, a devious little smile, as she passed her phone off to one of the guys from their group. I stood a little straighter, not wanting to lose sight of her as she maneuvered through the crowd, and in moments she was in front of me.
"You," she said, drawing out the word and smirking as she poked at my chest, "like my friend."
"Maybe," I said, unable to stop myself from smiling. Aside from her being the one in front of me instead of her friend, I couldn't have asked for a better opportunity.
"No 'maybe' about it," she said. If it hadn't been clear before that she was tipsy, her sing-song response confirmed it. "You liiiike her. You think she's pretty."
I leaned down as if sharing a secret. "I think she's more than pretty."
Her widening grin let me know I'd said the right thing. She began to speak, only to be interrupted by a tug on the arm from the guy from earlier.
"She's going to kill you, you know that, right?" His voice was quiet, intended only for her, but I could still hear him over the crowd.
I was starting to worry, this girl was my best chance to find out more about the girl, and I couldn't let him talk her into walking away.
"She'll get over it," she told him then started pushing him away. "Now leave me alone. I have business to take care of here."
I laughed, not just out of relief but also the fact that she actually shooed him away.
"Okay, what do you want to know?" she asked.
I motioned to a barstool that had just opened up, and as she hoisted herself up, I put my elbows on the bar and leaned in. "Everything."
The guarantee Alice, as she'd introduced herself, had given me that Bella, a name that couldn't have been more befitting and that I repeated in my head on a constant loop, would be at the playoff games wasn't enough. I had to see her there before I'd be able to focus on the game. When I finally made my way to the ice before the first game and saw her, I was able to breathe easy. I didn't know when I'd get a chance to truly meet her, but just knowing everything I now knew—which was a lot since Alice was quite eager to sing her friend's praises—put a slightly different spin on seeing her. Alice had given me the confidence boost I needed.
My glances were a little more meaningful, smiles came a little more freely, and knowing that her hesitance and embarrassment stemmed from her own hang-ups and fear of a 'puck bunny' label and not me allowed for more open flirting. I loved seeing just how much it affected her.
Unfortunately the playoffs didn't leave me with much time to act on anything. If we weren't playing, we were travelling. If we weren't travelling, we were practicing. If we weren't practicing, we were in the gym working out or reviewing game tapes.
And before I knew it we were facing game seven in the final round of playoffs. Someone was going home with the Stanley Cup tonight. It was absolutely surreal. I was on such an adrenaline high that everything around me blurred into nothing except the puck, the ice, and the scoreboard. As soon as a moment had passed, it was forgotten, and I knew that by the end of the night I wouldn't be able to recall many details about the game until I watched a few highlights. But when the final buzzer sounded, and the Cup was in my hands—something I'd dreamed about as a kid but had never seemed attainable—I felt invincible. I'd spent the better part of this year thinking about, planning, hoping, but never actually doing anything about this girl. That was going to end. This wasn't like the urgency I'd felt during the last regular season game. One look at her as she stood at her seat, clapping and cheering, separated from me by half an inch of Plexiglas, and I was resolute—with my little partner-in-crime standing next to her motioning with a nod of her head, I knew this was it.
Well, as long as I interpreted Alice's ambiguous gesture correctly.
Back in the locker room I started to doubt myself, wondering if I'd misread her. But we hadn't been in touch since that night in the bar. Alice had been so toasted that night that she disappeared into the crowd before we could share contact information. So I could only assume that her signal meant that I would find them at that same bar. God, I hoped I was right.
And standing out front, flanked by three of my teammates, my reservations began to build again. They either didn't notice or didn't care, marching straight through the doors to raucous cheers and applause as I hesitated. There was only one way to find out if I was wrong, though, and after taking a deep breath to steel myself, I strode in behind them.
And there she was.
I located her instantly, elevated above the crowd and searching around in confusion. I could see the moment she spotted the other guys, the change in her expression as she frantically searched the crowd beyond them drove me forward.
Then she found me, her expression stunned as if she wasn't sure I was actually there. I pushed through the crowd, trying to close the distance when she turned around, lowering herself to the floor. I could see her there, just past the dozens of people offering their congratulations as she handed money to the bartender. Faster, I moved, not wanting to give her the chance to get away again. I reached her, turning her around just before she could pick up her drinks.
I had planned to say hello to her, introduce myself to her, ask her if she wanted to go somewhere quiet where we could actually speak. Instead, I acted on instinct and plunged my hands into her hair to tug her closer so I could kiss her. She froze when my lips met hers, and for a moment I wondered if she'd slap me. When I felt the tension leave her body and her hands move up to my neck I couldn't stop the moan from escaping.
Knowing she was receptive, that she wasn't going to shove me away, I moved to wrap my arms around her waist, needing to hold her closer. I was pushing it, I knew, but I had a primal need to taste her and instinctively ran my tongue against her bottom lip. When her lips parted and her head tilted to reciprocate, it took everything I had not to consume her right there. I just might have had the noise from the crowd around us not amplified, causing us to break apart. She ducked her head in embarrassment but didn't try to move away from me.
"Hi," I said, even if the order of events was a little backwards.
She was quiet, self-conscious, but her smile lit up her face. "Hi."
I wanted to hug her. I wanted to kiss her again. I wanted to hear from her everything Alice had already told me. But mostly, I wanted her to stay. Leaning in, hovering near her ear and taking a moment to inhale her, I whispered, "Don't be in such a hurry to run away this time, okay?"
I pulled back just enough to look into her eyes, the moment intimate despite our very public display. She laughed, and still feeling pretty confident due to her easy acceptance, I kissed her again. She threw herself into it with absolutely no hesitation.
Talking could wait.
A/N: Marking this complete for the time being. I'm planning an expansion for my next WIP, but I have no idea when it'll start posting. Thanks for reading, and thanks for all the reviews on the initial o/s. Hope to hear from you all again!