Disclaimer: The characters belong to Ngozi.

A/N 1: Thanks to rickyisms (on AO3) for letting me play in their sandbox! This is a spinoff of their fic "This One Thing Is Always Supposed to Stay," from the series "it all started with 1 (one) twitter DM." The series is amazing but also really long. If you haven't read it, here's what you need to know for this fic: Whiskey (who took a couple years off between high school and college for hockey-related reasons and is therefore old for his class) started dating Kent during Whiskey's sophomore year at Samwell, following Kent seeing footage of Whiskey on ESPN and DMing him on Twitter. They dated for about three years, but things started going wrong when Whiskey graduated and wound up first in the AHL and then in the NHL, where he was pressured to play through an injury, which he did with the help of a whole lot of painkillers. Kent questioned Whiskey's reliance on the painkillers, so Whiskey broke up with him, a situation that became very awkward when Whiskey got traded to Kent's team. My fic takes place a couple months after Whiskey has been traded.

A/N 2: I did literally no research on what might make someone pass out and I really don't care if I'm off-base here. Please suspend your disbelief or just don't read the fic.

Whiskey asked to stay late today after practice, and Kent knew where that could lead. He didn't want to stay to babysit Whiskey—it was pretty near the bottom of the list of things he'd like to, actually—but he didn't want to rat Whiskey out to anyone else on the team to ask them to babysit him instead, and anyway it probably wasn't possible to ask anyone else to step in without admitting he knew Whiskey far better than either of them had been letting on.

He wished he felt comfortable just leaving Whiskey to his own devices and the consequences of his own actions, but Whiskey was strung out right now in ways no one else seemed to have noticed, probably because no one else knew him as well as Kent. Nobody had seen the bags under Whiskey's eyes or the stiffness in his movements, at least no one with the context to know what those things meant. So Kent stayed, alone, watching his ex skate in ways that looked too painful to be beautiful. Kent knew Whiskey was capable of beautiful hockey, but not today, not right now.

All of this meant Kent was alone when he watched Whiskey collapse on the ice.

Kent was in street clothes, including sneakers, having changed after his post-practice shower, but he ran onto the ice anyway, taking just enough care to make sure he didn't fall over, too. He dropped to his knees beside Whiskey, little chips of ice melting quickly and wetting the lower front part of his jeans.

Whiskey's eyes were closed as Kent knelt over him and pressed his hands to Whiskey's face. "Connor," Kent murmured, feeling himself tear up, "Connor, baby, please wake up for me. Please be okay."

Whiskey blinked his eyes slowly open. "Kent?" He reached one hand up and across his body in order to pinch his other arm. "I'm not dreaming?"

"I—no?" said Kent. "Why would you be dreaming? Are you okay?"

"You . . . did you call me baby?" Whiskey asked hesitantly.

Kent pursed his lips, nodding. Then he asked, "Is that . . . is that something you would dream about?"

Whiskey tried to nod and then winced. "Yeah. I dream about you all the time."

Kent frowned. "We need to get you checked out. Concussion protocol."

Whiskey winced again. "Fuck. Yeah, okay." He sat up, hands braced on the ice, and then said, "Sorry for admitting I dream about you, by the way. I get if that . . . makes you uncomfortable."

"Uncomfortable?" Kent echoed, standing and grabbing Whiskey's forearms to try to pull him to standing as well. "It makes me ecstatic."

"You're not acting ecstatic," Whiskey grumbled, standing.

"You're hurt," Kent pointed out. "I'm not heartless."

"So you . . . sorry," Whiskey said, rubbing his forehead. "You don't mind that I'm still hung up on you?"

"Baby, that's all I want," Kent said.

Whiskey teared up and choked out, "Have me, then? Please?"

"Shh," Kent soothed. "Let's get you checked out and then we can talk. I need to be sure this isn't just your injury talking, okay?"

"It's not. I promise," Whiskey said. "But . . . okay."

They made their way slowly off the ice together, and then to the team doctors' area. Kent hung back while the doctors asked Whiskey the concussion protocol questions and looked at his shoulder just to be safe. Hearing Whiskey answer everything correctly—no aphasia or memory issues—made Kent feel enormously relieved. Whiskey did have a headache, but he also hadn't had nearly enough fluids today, which (combined with collapsing from exertion and dehydration) could definitely explain a headache even without a concussion. After a while, the doctors released Whiskey to Kent, who offered to drive him home.

On the way to the locker room—Whiskey needed to shower and change before heading home—Whiskey asked, "Are you planning on taking me back to Bobby's, or can we go to yours to talk?"

"We can . . ." Kent cleared his throat; his voice sounded funny. "We can go to mine to talk, if you're up for it. Just talking, though. You passed out today, which I think is a pretty good reason not to . . ."

"Yeah, noted," said Whiskey. He took a long drink from his water bottle, removed his Under Armor, and then headed for the showers in a towel. He hesitated just before entering the showers. "Can you, uh . . . I don't feel like I'm going to collapse again, but just in case, could you, like, listen for that?"

Kent nodded hard. "Yeah. Yeah, for sure. And come back if you feel dizzy. I'd rather have you functional than clean."

"Thanks," said Whiskey. Kent was worried, but Whiskey made it back, both clean and functional, a few minutes later. Once Whiskey was dressed, the two of them headed out of the arena to the parking lot. Neither of them spoke until Whiskey finally broke the silence. "So you, uh, don't hate me."

"And you don't hate me," Kent replied.

"Never. I couldn't," said Whiskey. "But I—but you—you were the best thing that ever happened to me, and I threw you away like you didn't matter. I hurt you and I broke up with you and I can never be sorry enough but I want you to know that I am sorry, and—"

Kent stopped walking and put a hand on Whiskey's arm. "Breathe, baby. It's going to be all right. I'm here and we're going to figure this out."

Whiskey knuckled his own forehead. "Shit, sorry. I'm sorry. I don't want to worry you or make you take care of me."

"Yeah, well, then maybe you should stay hydrated and obey your limits rather than collapsing after practice," Kent snapped. Whiskey's face crumpled and Kent immediately wanted to take it back.

"That was fair," Whiskey croaked before Kent could backpedal. "I'm trying to do better, I promise. Today was an outlier."

"Trying to do better how?" Kent asked.

"Can we get in your car?" Whiskey replied. "I know most people here know at least part of what was going on, but I'd rather have this conversation in private."

"Yeah, okay," said Kent, and the two of them resumed walking toward Kent's car.

Once they were in the car, Whiskey said, "Okay. I owe you an explanation. After you broke up with me, the stuff with the painkillers got worse. Also, I hooked up with people because I thought it would get the guys off my case, and it kind of worked, but I never fit in with them. And finally I realized I couldn't keep going the way I was, so I called Rachel and she talked me into surgery and Tango and Ford took care of me and all of SMH helped, and I have such good friends and I don't deserve them, but the point is that I got off the meds. I'm not on anything anymore. And I miss it, sometimes, and I feel like I shouldn't lie to you about that, but I'm doing absolutely everything I can not to get back on the pills.

"And I've been trying to listen to my body and obey my limits and all that shit, too. It's just. Last night's game, I wasn't good enough. And I know I'm still getting better from surgery and I shouldn't be too hard on myself, but I was on the ice every time we got scored on last night and it just sucks, and I wanted to be better. But I know that's a bad way to approach it and I won't do it again. It's the first time I've done something like that here and I'll do what I can to make it the last. Both because I don't want to worry you and because I want to be okay, for real."

Kent had still not started the car. He was gripping the steering wheel and not looking at Whiskey, though. "And you . . . you still have feelings for me?"

"God, Kent, I love you so fucking much," Whiskey choked out. "And I understand if you can't trust me ever again, if you can't afford to get close to me again. I get it and I'm not expecting anything. Having you once was a dream I never deserved to have come true."

Kent couldn't help the sob that tore through him. He felt on the verge of vomiting out his heart, both figuratively and literally. "Don't—don't you ever say that again."

"Sorry," Whiskey said, voice higher than usual. "Sorry, I'll go—I'll get an Uber—I'm sorry—" He got the car door open and was unbuckling his seatbelt when Kent's hand grabbed his wrist.

"Stay. God, please stay."

"But you—you don't want me to love you?" The confusion was evident in Whiskey's voice.

"No," said Kent emphatically, "I don't want you to say you don't deserve me."

"Oh," said Whiskey. "But—"

"No," Kent interrupted. "Connor, you dealt with my breakdown when you won the Frozen Four and I didn't win the Stanley Cup. You have kept me company for three off-seasons. You have been so good to me and made me so happy."

"But it's easy to make you happy!" Whiskey protested. "It's easy to keep you company! You're the one who had to put up with my parents and rescue me from my family and talk me out of destroying myself time and again, in college, in Michigan, even today. And I broke up with you and I've failed you and I have not been good to you. Not lately. Not for a long time. Even if I deserved you at one point, there's no way I do now."

"Maybe it's not about deserving," Kent replied. "I want you in my life. Desperately. I want you back. Please, can I have that?"

"Have me," Whiskey managed, voice sounding strained.

"Are you sure?" Kent asked.

"Kent, I'm in love with you," said Whiskey. "All I want is to give you myself, as much as I possibly can. But do you really want that?"

"With everything I am," Kent replied.

Then they were kissing, one tear-tacky face against the other, Kent's hands on Whiskey's face and Whiskey's hands in Kent's hair. It was tender and drawn out, but at last Kent pulled back and said, "So. My house?"

"Please," Whiskey agreed.

"Not for sex, though," Kent clarified. "You passed out earlier."

"Cuddling?" Whiskey asked.

"Absolutely," Kent said. "It's been so hard not to touch you, these past few months. I definitely want to be close to you."

"I want that too," Whiskey said. "I want that too."