summary: arnott eats dinner with petr. learns that he's not as loved as he thought he was. specifically, he's second place.
a/n: this is set in the future. jason and dina just had a baby, chase. jason fucked around while in edmonton, so he has a son from chick there. who uhmm.. by the way the press talks about chase being his FIRST child, he probably doesn't hang out with. this is influenced by fake world like whoa.
things from fake world: arkora happened. then it ended. petr slept with one of his Duck teammates; his lifepartner, marty, buys him robots; petr surfs; petr has ugly hair---oh wait, that's real world.
an2: the trade jason refers to is the one that sent him to dallas. quotes are at the end. arnott pov.
The thing is, you never expected to be here. But you are, and now you have to deal. It’s what you told him after the trade. He’d called you up, whining, crying, complaining, and you snapped at him: “Deal with it.” He didn’t say anything, shocked, so you followed it up with The List. The List was filled with the phrases you always used, time and time again, that were old and tired and cliché, but true which is why they always worked. They rolled off your tongue so easily, and it was true that he wasn’t the only one in the thick of this problem: you had to deal with the repercussions of the trade too.
But in actuality you had just wanted to pawn all the responsibility off onto him. “You deal with it.” You. You. You. Because you didn’t want to think about all the lonely nights, all the long distance phone calls, and the frustration, tension, and suspicious anger in the future.
He dealt with it by orchestrating a trade that sent him closer in conference and miles.
You didn’t deal at all; you moved into a house with Dina and bought some more hunting equipment. You let her decorate the house. Much the same way you let Petr call you, set up the airline tickets, pick you up from John Wayne airport. You were a stationary, malleable object and you let them do, say, see you as they willed. It wasn’t that you had no free will nor that you couldn’t stop it, only that it was easier to let them push you in the direction they saw fit.
It was easy to propose because you knew that’s what Dina wanted, and it was easy to get married, to ask Petr to be your best man. Things just fell into place, so easy, and before you knew it you were here--here, in Texas, married, adult, a dad.
Life was simple, simpler when you had nothing to do during the lockout but stay at home with the baby and Dina. Your first son and he overwhelmed you: the love you felt for him, and just that he was--that you had helped create him, this perfect little being and he was alive and breathing and had ten fingers and toes. It was nothing like before, the first time, when you fled and heard nothing, and had to guess and speculate and pretend and eventually tuck away into a place that was almost imaginary. You hadn’t forgotten, but when you thought about Edmonton it seemed almost surreal, as if it hadn’t happened to you. It had happened to a stranger; you saw it on TV late one night when you couldn’t sleep. And so when Chase was born, he was your first son. Even if he really wasn’t.
You were there when he was born, and that mattered.
You never wanted to put him down. You wanted to hold him forever. You made small concessions along the way: you had to sleep, he needed to sleep, Dina needed to breastfeed him. You held him less, but loved him more. Your little boy was growing up and you were letting go, albeit if only for a few hours.
Of course, your life changed after he was born. It became less of The Jason Show, but you didn’t mind. Going back to work wasn’t tough at all; it just made you appreciate your time with him more. It also gave you a break from the All Chase All The Time channel, and allowed you to expand your vocabulary which you’d noticed had been dumbed down to one or two syllable words. Conversations consisted of more than chanting, “Daddy. Say, ‘Daddy.’ Daa-dee. Daddy.”
You bought a toy at every city you visited while away on road trips. And life was good until today. Until you got here. Here, the place where you realized you’d been replaced. A simple dinner had led to a punch in the gut, the realization that while you were loved, while there was always that small place for you in a corner of a heart, in the back of a mind, you were no longer number one. That the person that you loved, that you love, no longer loved you quite as much. Not by any particular design of theirs, only that someone newer had come along. Someone newer who they loved, loved far greater than you, and so while their love for you had not diminished by any means, by comparison was not nearly as great.
And so here you are: second place.
Second place isn’t the worst place you can be. It’s not last, and sometimes, you even get a silver medal. There’s even a childhood rhyme: first the worst, second the best…
Unfortunately, you’re a hockey player so second place always, unequivocally, means loser. Loser. In big bold capital letters. Nobody cares about the other team that made it to the Stanley Cup finals. Nobody cares much at all.
You’re sitting in Mike Modano’s favorite restaurant, spearing your steak. You poke at it, stab it, tear it to shreds, and try to smile as Petr talks about his latest boyfriend. You play against him tomorrow night and you secretly wish for him to develop food poisoning. You tweaked your groin during the last game and don’t want the added pressure of having to play against his line.
He blathers on about language barriers and dating someone from his own country and the intricacies and the nuances that are so base and banal to any culture, yet mean the world when understanding just becomes implicit and how much that can add to a relationship, and you--you’re wondering why he ordered a baked potato. He doesn’t even like baked potatoes. Was that the influence of this new guy? New guy named so-and-so because you didn’t bother to pay attention during Petr‘s monologue. You figure you’ll meet so-and-so soon enough since he’s so great and so wonderful.
Perhaps you’ll make the effort to try to learn his name then.
“The sex is great. It’s so hot,” he says and you want to say something like, “This is a family restaurant,” all outraged and horrified, only it’s not and instead you have to sit there, shifting uncomfortably.
“That’s fantastic,” you reply, and you think about sex with Petr. It had been, well, vanilla.
You’d had a threesome, had sex blindfolded, dabbled in bondage, turned down a foursome only because you’d had a game in a few hours, tried role playing, and had even worn costumes before you had ever met Petr. You were game for most anything and had plunged into each new relationship hoping to bring something new to the table and leave with a few new tricks as well.
Sex with Petr had been ordinary. No feathers, no cock rings, he hung up the phone the night you tried to initiate phone sex. You had sex in bed and always used a condom.
So vanilla it was profane, and you loved every moment of it. The thought of blue sheets turned you on, the crinkle of a foil wrapper made you shudder, and Petr’s grip on your shoulder was all it took to send you over the edge.
You once spent three weeks with him in Orange County. The two of you were lewd: grocery shopping together, buying a couch together, renting a movie every Friday night. You were practically an ordinary couple. All you needed was a socially acceptable pussy, a white picket fence, a baby, and you’d be set.
He dragged you to the beach to show you his new hobby: surfing. You looked at him like he was crazy, but you tried it anyway. You nearly drowned, not used to the invisible riptides beneath the surface of the water. You had a bump on your head from where the board had hit you. You were in a foul mood afterwards, cold and salty, and you growled, watching teenagers clad in wetsuits accomplish the task so easily. You could teach them a thing or two about how to wrangle frozen water, but you couldn’t compete with this water that was all movement.
Petr drove the two of you home, smiling, and gave you an ice pack. You whined about having a concussion while he made breakfast.
The next morning, the morning of your flight back to Texas, he was gone and so was his board. You called a cab and later, when you landed, he called you to apologize; “the waves were just too perfect” and he couldn’t say no. You expected him to call you “dude”. Surfing, highlights in his hair--he was practically a Californian.
You look at him now and he’s almost a stranger. You barely recognize him anymore. It’s been so long since you last saw him. Long, as in how many days have been torn off the calendar, because, really, it hasn’t been that long. The past year was mostly a blur anyway with the addition of Chase to your world. So it’s even more of a shock when you look across the table and barely recognize the man sitting there. Because he’s so very different from the man, the boy, you met in New Jersey.
He’d been so careful, so shy and reserved. Date a teammate? Never! He tried his best to just focus on hockey, but you knew what you wanted and you’d always been a stubborn asshole. It was only a matter of time and a few dozen faux teammate lunches and line preparation meetings before he finally caved.
He was your best friend. He was your best friend like Adam or Patrik, but more. You had sex and sort-of-dated for three weeks, and then someone on the team found out and he freaked. It hadn’t mattered what you’d said; he was worried about his career and, of course, scared shitless that somebody would call his dad. You thought he was ludicrous and acting like an idiot because Stevens was “a fucking fag too!” and wasn’t about to make any calls to the Czech Republic considering how high long distance rates were.
Eventually you were scared shitless because what if this was it? What if this thing with him just ended? Right there. Before it even began.
“I might not ever love anyone else,” you had said all those years ago, and it had stopped him from walking away. It stopped him from leaving you.
You had meant it too. At the time you couldn’t imagine loving anyone else ever again. He was it. You were certain of that.
You stare at him now, and you love him. But not with the fierce intensity that you knew that day. How could you possibly? He’s no longer that man, and neither are you. He’s just a glimmer of his former self. He’s changed, and so has your love for him.
You wonder sometimes what would have happened to you, to your life, if Petr hadn’t stayed. Just like you couldn’t imagine ever loving someone else, you can’t imagine what your life would be like without him. It’s a question you can barely ask, and probably one best never answered.
Because it doesn’t matter now. It’s too late.
You ask a silly question over dessert: “Do you love him?”
“Yeah. I do, Jay.”
You smile and ask for the bill.
You drove the two of you to the restaurant, and now you realize what a terrible idea that was. Restaurants are safe, public places. You’ll be trapped in the car--a tiny bubble where only the two of you exist, and you wonder if you’ll be able to drive him to his hotel without slipping up and opening your mouth. He doesn’t need to hear what you have to say, and you’re following your own advice now, years later: you’re dealing with it, and you’ll do it alone.
You were once told that people cause their own tragedies, and you think about Petr and how angry you were with him. You wanted him to move on, to forget about you and to find someone new. You hated how the engagement upset him. You wanted to make him realize how you had no choice--you had to get married. He was only making things hard on himself, you thought, believing that the engagement was just for show, that it would disappear soon enough. That it was something flippant and stupid and done rashly to hurt Petr after you found out he had slept with one of his new teammates.
He believed that the two of you were strong enough, in love enough to survive this predicament. That all he needed to do was wait it out and that you’d come to your senses and call the whole thing off. He even volunteered to be your best man.
You remember the stricken look on his face the day you told him it was time to get his tuxedo fitted. He looked like he was going to puke; it was actually happening and you were actually going through with it, and no, the two of you weren’t that strong, weren’t that in love.
It’s always easier to believe in what isn’t there. Because it’s so hard to disprove. Like God. Or love. Invisible, an abstract concept, and you can believe any which way you please because who’s to say otherwise, who’s to say it’s wrong? Believe in a person, a fallible person, and it’s so much easier to be let down.
You let yourself down as you let the motor run idle in the hotel parking lot, and Petr reaches over and grabs your hand, asking if everything is alright, and you open your big fat mouth.
“No, everything’s not okay. I haven’t had sex with Dina in months.”
“She’s always busy with Chase. Chase. Chase. Chase. Even when he’s sleeping. She sits in his room and watches him sleep. She won’t have sex with me because ‘mothers don’t have sex’.”
“I know, it’s crazy. And I’ve been replaced. I know that motherhood is a huge deal. I mean, of course, I know. Fatherhood is a huge deal. But I think she loves him more than me. No, I know she loves him more than me.”
“I love Chase too. More than anything in the world. But.. I still love her. I still want to have sex with her. Why doesn’t she want to have sex with me?”
“I even took her to that fancy schmanz restaurant-- Chez.. Something French. You know, to be all romantic. Chicks dig that shit still, right? Flowers? Chocolates? French restaurants? And I order this really expensive bottle of wine and right after it comes to the table--right after we’ve ordered, she starts freaking out about the babysitter. And then she tells me she misses him. We’ve been gone from the house for an hour tops and she already wants to go back.
“I swear, and that kid gets more action with her breasts than I do. She has those great bras--the ones for moms so that they can breastfeed with velcro over the cups. Perfect, right, for easy access? Only she refuses to wear it while we have sex. Not that we’re having sex anyway!”
“And now she’s talking about having more kids. How are you supposed to have more kids if you don’t have more sex? Did labor warp her brain? Has she forgotten how babies are made?”
“I was numero uno in my house. I figured the baby would be born, and I would still be number one. Only now I’m not. I’ve been reduced to second place, Petr. Somebody who can’t even stand is beating me, Petr.”
“Um, well, that’s unexpected.”
“No kidding, Petr. I never expected to find myself here.”
“In a parking lot talking about how a guy that drools is stealing all your action?” He cracks a smile and you can’t help but smile back. “I don’t think anyone plans that.” He pulls his hand away from yours, relaxes a little more into the leather seat. “She still loves you, you know.”
You fiddle with the steering wheel. “I know.” You try not to pout but you feel like a little kid, annoyed and frustrated, and why is Petr involving reason in the equation? You work much better with histrionics. “I guess, I mean… it just sucks.”
He laughs and you hit him across the chest. “Hey, shut up! It’s not funny.”
He holds up his hands to protect himself, still laughing. “Yes, it is.” You glare at him until his laughter dissolves your resolve and you join in, laughing as much at yourself as the situation. When laughter turns to sighs, you lean back, tired, against the head rest.
You sit in silence until quietly he says, “Second place isn’t so bad.”
You start to say, “How would you know?” but stop because he isn’t looking at you, he isn’t looking at you at all; he’s staring at the dashboard, earnestly, so you stop and hold the words in. Bulky and irregular, they stretch your mouth, and you feel awkward, sitting there with no reply other than the wrong one you’re currently trying to pretend isn’t on your tongue. Painting the world as you would like it to be, you pretend that you didn’t really mean for those words to form, that you really were aware all along of what you were doing, the affect your actions would have those two years that you let the two of them push you along, catering to what you called their needs, when really you fulfilled neither until you finally chose, finally molded yourself into what you wanted to be, which is what you are now, which is married and complaining, and the person who chose her over him.
You and he, attached, like a diptych, and when you finally slathered some paint onto your empty half, you spilled some on his, without so much as an “oops” or an apology because you‘d never really noticed.
It’s always worse when you look back on how you handled things and realize no matter what you do differently, things will still end badly.
You want to say sorry now, but you can’t. Too many words already in your mouth, and you’re taking too long to respond and soon Petr will look up from the safety of the dashboard and see you, sitting there with a mouth full of stupidity, and god, you’re such a fucking idiot.
He’s always been there to reassure you--when you were doubting your game, when you wondered if blue socks went with black pants, when you needed him to tell you that the two of you would survive your latest infidelity, when you were slightly shaking in the chapel in Toronto, and, now, when you couldn’t get your wife to sleep with you. And you never could return the favor. Too involved in your own world, only looking up to wonder about a baked potato here and there.
You still can’t return the favor--not that you’re even sure he needs any reassurance. All you know is this feeling of awkwardness with a side of guilt and a tinge of shame.
This is so much better than second place.
And that’s it: simple and honest, and you can breathe and work your jaw, the words dissolving into your tongue. Because second place is looking so much better than this. You’ve never been one to face your old mistakes, even to own up to them. You dread the day a boy comes knocking on your door, looking for you, looking for answers.
“Yeah, I guess not,” you finally reply.
He looks over and nods, and you try hard to keep your breathing even. “Dinner was good,” and he reaches for the door handle. You still have time.
“Yeah,” you say, because it’s what you do best. You could mumble something about doing this again, but you don’t, because that was never necessary. Apologies, honesty--these were. Not that you were ever very good at either.
But Petr always was, and this is why you know he’s happy and in love and all the things you ever hoped for him, and so you justify your silence. And, yet, despite all this, there’s still time: Petr, pulling on the latch; Petr, opening the door; Petr, unfastening his seatbelt; Petr, standing; Petr, holding the door--slow motion and each presents opportunity after opportunity and each goes sliding by until you see the slow moving arc of your door closing.
“Thanks,” you say, and it’s the closest you’ll ever get.
“No problem.” Because it’s always been effortless for him to be Petr.
You wave goodnight and drive the long way home and climb into bed with second place on your mind. Dina curls up against you, and she smells like baby. Yearning and regret and desire: elements of a misery you are unaccustomed to, and it settles into your stomach.
You can see, of course, now the last two years as clear as if you had a video tape in front of you. Only, you don’t recall a thing. “Is that me? Did I really do that? Say that?” and smudging the screen with your thumb, rubbing it as if it’ll replace your face with another’s.
You hear Chase on the monitor and place a hand on Dina’s back, pushing her back down into the sheets, and making the trek down the hallway to his room on your own.
He quiets after a while, and yet you still hold him, pacing back and forth in his room. You’re rewinding the tapes over and over in your mind. You love him. Chase. Desperately, fiercely, and you want to be, and you wish you were, for him, better than you are. Fast forwarding through all the mistakes, all the thoughtless moments, the screen is blue with possibility and also the knowledge that had the two of you stayed together you would have disappointed him again and again, as you had before. This thought does nothing to quell the shame bubbling up inside you.
You could call him. You could apologize. It would be painfully awkward and stupid, but perhaps assuage the feeling in your stomach.
Your mind stumbles over that idea. How many times had you said that before and done nothing? You could count and put Chase to sleep, but he already is, and you put him down gently, and then stumble into bed.
This is your life: centered around one person, who is no longer you. Less time to berate yourself for past deeds in the dark, and so you reach for the phone to apologize.
Instead, your fingers find Dina. It startles you: your fingers ghosting over her body, and you let them linger. The implications of a subconscious act, reaching left instead of right, the knowledge of self and past behavior, and you're tired. Unaware three weeks from now that she'll roll into your body, that this feeling will be forgotten, that Chase will say your name, and you let your fingers linger. This is your life: these moments where you're lying still and letting life happen to you. Opportunities for action passing you by, as they always have, because you realize you're more content to be a spectator. Your coaches always screaming at you to take charge on the ice, and you lag behind in life, reacting a moment too slow, too late.
A sport of bounces, and a honing of effort to mitigate these circumstances, and yet, still, try as you might, the unexpected can rule a game, determine fate, determine a winner; skill and planning tossed wayward, and the better team can go home the loser. Despite this, you play. Everyone does. You can't explain the love, the desire, the need to play this game. Only that you must. Heartache--emotion and a physical pain that resonates in your chest--is always a risk, and academics ridicule the simplicity of the game, the intelligence of the players, because they never learn. Thrusting themselves out there time and time again, setting themselves up for failure, for the inevitable loss, and they never seem to learn.
Yet, and yet, performance has never had to reflect learning. You've learned. You know the risk. You know, and you play, and you hope you never end up in second place.
Linked fics where I could. All Everwood quotes are from the voice overs first season.
"I might not ever love anyone else" -- negativeerin's I Do
vanilla -- Bright/Laynie future fic
teach a thing; water/waves all movement -- brandon/dylan 90210 ficcage
not perfect, not heroic, not in control; cause our own tragedies -- julianne moore on bravo
"I could see that I would constantly disappoint her, as I surely had countless times." Lee Martin, From Our House
socially acceptable pussy -- rhiannonhero's The Contents Of His Fridge: Heroin, Mint Juleps, and Benjamin Fucking Franklin
i paint life as i would like it to be
it's always easier to believe in what isn't there
some questions are best never answered