A/N: I was cheering for the Pens tonight, but glad that Mike got to be the star of the Caps' show. He got his first goal in 19 games, and had at least .75 of another. (Nice work, Flower). Even got a go on the shoot out.
Halley paced the hallway outside her office. It was the second intermission of game 2 and the Caps were down 4-2. They’d made a goalie change and 18,000+ held their breath waiting for their offense to show up. The luxury box was too crowded and she was too amped up. Every time someone made a disparaging comment about the team she wanted to punch them, when they said something positive she almost cried. Her stomach ached as she waited for the 3rd period. She’d been hiding in her office, and decided to watch the frame from the concourse level. She’d just stand in a hallway with one of the ushers if she had too – the place was packed to the rafters, she wouldn’t find an empty seat. When the buzzer sounded she headed upstairs.
She had not spoken to Alex since the kiss. She had been hiding within a 10-foot radio of her desk and a door that she could close whenever she knew he wasn’t on the ice. Only when the games were on did she feel comfortable enough to leave her lair.
The Caps got 2 in the first 10 minutes to tie the game and Halley wondered if the building could collapse from so much noise. She’d chosen a section behind the Caps bench and it was a solid sea of red shirts all the way to the ice. Then, with 5 minutes left, it happened. The moment she’d been wishing for in a sick, twisted way caught up with her.
Mike gave the puck away. The crowd gasped collectively, a huge and fearful noise, as Mike made a sloppy pass in at his blue line. Cammalleri came up with it and went 2 on 1 with Plekanec, who put the puck in the net.
It was silent as a church. Mike’s head hung to his chest as he skated off the ice. Halley’s hand was over her mouth though she didn’t remember moving it. She spun on her heel and dashed into the bathroom, shutting herself inside a stall half a second before the tears came.
Fuck, was all she could think. Oh Mike. Hot tears rolled down her cheeks as she tried to be silent. She was so mad and so hurt, but she didn’t want this. Whatever part of her wanted revenge was so small compared to the part that loved this team, loved these guys. The part that probably loved Mike if she’d ever let herself listen to it. But there was no point in that now. She pressed her forehead to the tile wall and sobbed as quietly as she could.
She was still there three minutes later when a huge cheer ripped through the arena. The Caps had scored an equalizer with 90 seconds left. Halley smiled weakly as the roller coaster in her stomach sped on. She dried her face and snuck back to her office before the period ended.
“Thought I’d find you here,” Jeremy said. “You okay?”
“No, not at all,” she laughed pitifully. “But I’ll be better if we win.”
They did win. Backstrom locked up a hat trick just 31 seconds into the first overtime period. Halley barely had a chance to get riled up before it was over. Thirty minutes later her work was done and she headed gratefully to her car.
“Sorry,” she said, swinging through a two-way door. Someone on the other side caught it with one hand as it opened toward him. Mike.
Halley stopped in mid-stride, Mike still holding the door. He was in a gray suit with a light blue shirt, his hair wet from the shower. If little black clouds were real, he’d have had one over his head. His chubby cheeks and soft lips were arranged in a scowl that always reminded Halley of a sad little hound dog. Seeing him in this hallway, instead of near the players’ entrance, could mean only one thing: he was sneaking out.
She just about lost her mind right then. He took personal mistakes really hard – too hard, she’d always said. He could beat himself up for days. The Caps may have escaped tonight with a win, but Mike would be sulking and furious over that turnover until he took the ice in two days at Montreal. She knew he’d be sad, angry and that he wouldn’t talk to the other guys about it. Not the way he used to talk to her.
Two steps were all it took. She wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him hard. He smelled like Mike, felt like Mike. A moment later, his hands were around her waist and his body sagged into her embrace. They stood silently for two full minutes.
What am I doing? Her tears made round spots on his shoulder. She was so sorry she’d wished, even thought, about something bad happening in the game. Hate him all you want, she told herself, but not on the ice. She wanted him to realize his mistake, to be up nights thinking about her. If he cried until he puked or a bird shit on his head, fine. But not on the ice.
“Sorry,” she repeated, this time in a whisper. Then she peeled herself away and hustled out the door.
Sorry? Mike thought. She felt so good in that moment he almost chased after her. He really needed her now. But that would just lead to more of the same. I’m the one who should be sorry. He was still convinced he’d done the right thing – at least now he knew he didn’t have her, rather than wondering constantly which day could be their last. Summer was coming, no matter how long they played, and then it was game over for Halley and Mike.
Game 3 in Montreal was a rout. This was the Capitals team that had won the President’s Trophy and dominated the League, the team everyone expected to see in the playoffs. The score ended up at 5-1. Mike closed his eyes on the bus to the hotel. Focus. Seeing Halley in the hallway at Verizon had almost undone him. For all his planning to be free of her, it hadn’t been working – if someone told you not to think of something, you’d immediately think of it. And so Mike thought of Halley almost all the time.
She was right, he was a coward. He couldn’t bear to hear her say that he wasn’t enough, that she had a life of her own and she wouldn’t be giving it up anytime soon because he got some silly summer vacation. And while he was gone… who knew. She hadn’t been seeing anyone else, but that was voluntary. He saw the way guys looked at her, the way they talked to her in bars when they thought she was alone. She never acknowledged it but the minute he was gone, the sharks would be circling.
He had no excuse for the bad pass in game 2. It was just a dumb mistake that he’d been reliving since the moment it happened. But no time was as bad as right after the game. Everyone knew they’d dodged a bullet and Mike had effectively fired the gun. So he was sneaking out, the coward again, when he’d seen her. He’d frozen, silent and still, but felt an ounce of pride because he could tell that she’d been crying. No one else would be able to tell because no one else knew her.
She should have yelled. Or slapped him. If she’d walked away without a word he would have deserved it. Instead, she hugged him. The same way he could tell there had been tears in her eyes, she knew exactly how he was feeling about himself. So she hugged him. She cared enough to care about him, even after what he’d done. And what had she been sorry for? Was it “sorry, life’s a bitch but I had nothing to do with it”? He didn’t know anything could make him feel worse, but she’d done it by being better.
His eyes were still closed. Focus. They had played their game tonight, brought the heat. If they could keep this up and get momentum, they could roll out of the first round. Mike told himself it would be worth it then, what he had given up for what he would get.
Halley was a mess. Seeing Mike in the hallway had completely undone her. Hugging him was like leaping into a bottomless pit - she hadn’t thought about the consequences until she was already plummeting. It wasn’t until she’d run away that she remembered Alex kissing her, realized she’d been apologizing for more than wishing him ill on the ice.
To watch Game 3 she stayed home alone. She started on the couch and ended up sitting on a cushion on the floor about a foot from the TV. The 4-goal lead did absolutely nothing to calm her nerves and when it was over, she had to take a sleeping pill.
She was no better during Game 4. The first two periods were tight and they went to the break tied 2-2. Mike had an assist in his second straight game. Halley was wound like a top at the start of the third frame, but the Caps opened up a 3-goal lead and ended up winning 6-3. Halley fell asleep during the post-game coverage and woke up cramped to a face full of morning sunlight.
Mike’s confidence rose. They’d played well a second time, which an athlete who has slumped will tell you is the ultimate prize. Anyone can have a good game. Back to-back strong performances build promise. He clung to the victories and their 3-1 lead in the series like a life raft. He had put so much weight on doing well he was afraid to drown it out of pure obsession.
As he reclined on the plane back to DC, he wondered if Halley had cheered their victories.
There was no time to think between games. The team was back in DC one day, one practice, before game five. Whenever Mike was in his condo he slept, the only way to keep every inch of the place from reminding him of Halley. It was bad enough that his bedsheets were the same as when she’d first visited - when he’d joked about showing her their color. He had no energy to buy new ones, so he lay down in the last place they’d been together and let himself dream.
She was always there, in the dreams, but never a main character. He dreamed he was in a train station, she walked past him and disappeared into the crowd. He was in a cafe, she was behind the counter though she never spoke. She never said a word, denying him the sound of her voice until he was man enough to really speak to her.
The afternoon of game five, Halley hid in her office. She was afraid to run into him, or anyone, in the building. They’d been around since the morning skate, preparing and focusing. Media attention during the playoffs was overwhelming and there was always a camera or a reporter waiting for a moment of a player’s time. She would have worked right through to the puck drop if Jeremy hadn’t interrupted her.
“You’re making yourself crazy. Let’s go eat and come back,” he ordered.
They had salads at a place nearby, killing an hour talking about anything but Mike, the Capitals or hockey. Halley did feel better taking a break, but the Verizon Center loomed large outside the window and there was no escaping their return. Just before the puck drop, they claimed their usual seats in the arena staff suite - front row, Halley in the corner and Jeremy protectively next to her.
Montreal scored two in the first period. It wasn’t a runaway game, but Halley’s stomach was a solid, clenched knot of fear. In the second, Ovi scored. Halley’s heart fell remembering that he had kissed her. Really kissed her. She might have no idea how she felt or what she wanted to do but that was completely and totally the wrong thing. He’d called her twice but she hadn’t picked up. Every time the camera zoomed in on him she felt the urge to cry.
He’s supposed to be my friend, she thought. Fucking professional athletes. Fucking entitled sons-of-bitches who think they can get away with anything and fucking walk all over people. Now she was wondering if he’d been her friend all along with this in mind. It made her shiver.
The Caps fought hard for the 2nd and 3rd periods but couldn’t come up with an equalizer. It was a buffer game - they still lead the series - and they had played well. But the days of consoling themselves with “good game” were over. It was do or die time and they’d let an opportunity slip away. Halley put her head against the wall and stayed until the suite was empty.
Mike broke a stick in the hallway as he left the ice. They had come so close a hundred times - nothing was worse than a game of inches. They had 2 more chances to win one game. Just one more win.
Game six wasn’t for three days. Mike wished they would fly to Montreal and wait, but instead they practiced at home. He wanted distraction but most of the guys were still giving him a hard time about Halley. He couldn’t answer any questions, couldn’t let his focus waver for a moment. Such concentration did not come naturally and more than a few times it failed. He woke in the middle of the night, painfully hard, having dreamt he could almost touch her. “Halley,” he let himself say out loud. It brought the memory the surprise hug, with tears in her eyes and dark circles under her eyes. The smell, size and weight of her body in his arms... he gave in and finished himself off with her face in his mind.
When they landed in Montreal a day early, it was easier to relax. They skated, slept and finally game day came. They all wanted to season to last forever, but they were in a hurry to get back on the ice. In the morning, over breakfast, Alex helped himself to the chair next to Mike.
“Hey,” Mike said. They hadn’t discussed anything but hockey since Alex threatened Mike in the locker room. All off-ice life ceased in the playoffs, one of the biggest reasons Mike thought it would be easier to get through without Halley.
“Halley not answering my calls,” Alex said without looking up.
The fork stopped in midair. Mike had no idea what the say, no thing to offer. Alex was still calling Halley - of course he was, but Mike hadn’t really considered the idea. They were still friends. She was friends with a lot of the guys. Long after he was gone from her life, they would still be in it. He thought that unfair, they were his teammates for fuck’s sake, he should clearly get them in the breakup. But they hadn’t really broken up; he had dumped her. In so doing, he lost the right to pick the terms of their surrender.
“I hope she okay.” Alex pushed his plate away and left.
Me too, Mike thought.
Halley watched Game Six face down on the floor in her living room. It was the shortest distance between watching the TV with one eye and hiding her face completely when something bad happened. And it happened often - the Habs won 4-1. The series was tied. She was gut-wrenched and spent; if she’d been able to eat anything she would have thrown it up during the post-game recap. Her phone rang not ten minutes after the final buzzer.
“Are you dead?” Amanda asked.
“Halley, I’m worried about you. I know things are bad, and they are only getting worse. Tonight was...,” she didn’t finish because there was nothing to say. “Can I come over?”
“I don’t want to talk about Mike,” Halley protested.
Amanda waited a moment. “We should talk about Alex.”
Halley stared at the disconnected phone in her hand. How could anyone possibly know anything? Twenty minutes later she had barely moved when Amanda let herself into the apartment. She had Halley’s extra keys in case of a lockout or trip. Halley simply rolled over onto her back and looked up at Amanda from the floor. The blond dropped right down next to her.
“Did he make a pass at you?”
Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. “How do you know that?”
Amanda put her head in her hand. “Shit, Halley. You realize Mike is going to kill him. He may be Alex Ovechkin but Mike will lose his mind and honest to God tear his fucking throat out.”
“Wait, wait, wait. How do you know?” How much do you know? she really wanted to ask
“He said something really weird to Brooks, about making sure that you knew other people would take much better care of you than Mike ever could. He wasn’t specific, but Brooks said it felt like he was letting someone know he was going for it. Alex wasn’t asking permission, mind. Just informing Brooks that he thinks it’s open season on you.”
Halley rolled back over and resumed her face-down pose on the rug.
“Halley, did he do something?”
Without looking up, she answered. “He kissed me.”
“After game one.”
“Holy shit. And since then?”
Halley’s voice was muffled into the ground. “Haven’t talked to him. Don’t answer when he calls.”
“He’s calling you?! For fuck’s sake, Halley.”
She finally rolled into a sitting position. “What am I supposed to do, Amanda? I didn’t give him any reason to kiss me. I didn’t kiss him back, or see him or talk to him afterward. It’s Alex - you know that he does whatever the fuck he wants like he’s King of Everything. But he’s also my friend, or so I thought. We have spent a ton of time together over the last six months.”
“Mike changed! Now I think this may have been Alex’s end game all along - waiting for Mike to fuck up. I swear... way back when Mike and I first met Alex tried to ask me out. Sort of. I told him no, he backed off. But maybe he didn’t, maybe he was just waiting.”
“Mike is going to flip out.”
Halley pulled her knees in. “What fucking right does Mike have to do anything?! I don’t give two shits what Mike thinks.”
Amanda was quiet, obviously not buying that line. Halley took a deep breath. “Mike gave up his right to have a say in my life.”
“Does Mike know that Alex tried to ask you out before?”
“You know what’s going to happen, right?” Amanda asked. Halley shook her head no. “Alex is waiting to see if Mike tries to get you back. If he doesn’t, Alex will keep coming to you until you go to him. Or run him off. But I guarantee you that Alex tells Mike about asking you out and about the kiss. These douchebags are too competitive not to. If Alex thinks he can win, he will fight dirty.”
Halley lay back down. “No one wins. Everyone leaves, summer comes and no one wins.”
There was nothing like the noise at the start of Game Seven. Halley felt nauseous looking out over the sea of red and white to where the guys skated loops and the carpet was laid for the National Anthems. The suite was packed to the rafters, as was every other inch of space in the building. People were hopeful - the Caps had won the President’s Trophy. They could score and they could win. Two losses had been rough and the Canadien’s goalie was a show-stopper. But surely tonight was the night they moved on toward the Stanley Cup.
Halley had never been to a more tense game. The Habs got one goal at the end of the first, and the second period was a back-and-forth nail-biter. Only 3.5 minutes were left in regulation when Montreal scored again. Blood pounded in her ears, louder than the desperate cheering of 18,000 fans. One minute later, Brooks put the puck in the net and Halley nearly fainted. They needed another goal in under 3 minutes, against a goaltender they had barely beaten in 420+ minutes of hockey. The Habs took a penalty with 1:44 left, giving Washington the man advantage. But as close as they came, as many times as they almost connected, time expired and the Washington Capitals were eliminated in the first round.
“Oh my God,” Halley said out loud to no one. It was silent as a crypt for a moment, the audience deflated and shocked. Eventually they recovered to give their team a round of applause for a season well played. Anyone in the house would have told you that all the regular season points in the world don’t mean shit when you fall in the playoffs.
Her hands were shaking as she scooped her purse from her desk and closed the door. It was five minutes of sitting in the car before she could pull out of the parking lot. Thirty minutes later she was stock still on the couch in her living room, still dressed, still wearing her Verizon Center staff badge. She refused to let herself process what had just happened until she was safely home.
That’s it. It’s over. The season is over. If she’d been able to eat at the game she would surely have thrown up. It was everyone’s worst nightmare - a worse performance than last year’s disaster. A heart-breaker, but her heart was already broken. Mike.
He’d given her up for the game. Given up on them, on himself, on everything except winning. Now that they’d lost, it felt worse to Halley than ever before. So fleeting, so uncontrollable - forget what they told you when you were a kid. Hard work and desire were not enough to achieve your goals. Dreams did not come true. Not for everybody.
She couldn’t stop the images of Mike from flashing through her mind. This would be the worst day of his life and he was alone. Embarrassed, furious, disappointed and all by himself. He wouldn’t want anyone to see him like this. Her chest burned like acid reflux as she felt the overwhelming urge to find him and hold him, put everything else aside and still try to be there for him. She knew he needed her.
Tears came then, for the whole mess. Six months of the season had been bliss - they’d been living their own little fairy tale. But there was always a monster at the end, a big fight, someone usually died. Just because she felt like the star of her own story didn’t mean she’d have a happy ending.
It was so faint that she froze, listening. It came again: a knock on the door.
Halley didn’t care who it was - she jumped the coffee table and whipped it open without looking through the peephole.
“Alex,” she whispered, pulling him into the apartment and into a hug. They stood there, holding onto each other, for ages. He didn’t cry, just ached. In his arms, Halley’s shoulders shook gently with the force of her own tears. He looked exhausted, beaten and defeated. That cocky smile and easy arrogance were crushed. She didn’t care about the kiss, about whatever had happened the last time she saw him. He was her friend and he was suffering. Those big arms were warm and steady around her - she craved comfort too. After a while, Halley’s heart stopped racing and she lifted her head from his chest.
He moved to kiss her right away. Just before his lips could touch hers, she got a hand between them and he kissed her fingertips.
FUCK, she thought. “Alex, don’t. Please. Goddamn it, you are my friend and I can’t....,” she went from devastated to angry in a heartbeat.
Another knock at the door interrupted them. Halley gratefully scrambled out of Alex’s embrace - aware that without help she was in a very compromising position. Her brain reeled as she pulled it open.
Mike’s suit looked like it had been at the bottom of a hockey bag for a week. His tie was crooked and his hair was a mess. Tears brimmed in his eyes as he brought himself to look at her for the first time in almost two weeks.
“Oh God,” she said. His face held such despair - what was left of her heart slipped free and shattered on impact. She didn’t bother to fight the urge, she just reached for him. He fell against her and pressed his face into her hair. They’d have stayed there in the open doorway forever if Alex hadn’t come up behind Halley.
“Mike,” he said gruffly. It was part greeting, part commiseration and part announcing his presence. Like he had more right to be in her apartment.
Mike and Halley’s heads both snapped up. She had honestly forgotten about Alex the moment she saw Mike’s face. Suddenly he towered over her possessively and she felt Mike’s arms slip from her waist.
“Alex,” he said darkly, like things were clicking into a very ugly picture in his mind. He looked at Halley, his face streaked with tears and his pouty bottom lip trembling, spun on a heel and marched toward the stairs.
“Mike wait!” she made to follow him. Alex grabbed her from behind as Mike reached the stairwell door. It slammed and Halley rounded on Alex.
“What are you doing?! Let go of me.” He did, instantly. Halley shoved him away and took of running.
“Mike!” she shouted when she hit the sidewalk. He was three car lengths ahead of her and walking away as fast as he could. She ran. “Mike, please.” He beeped the alarm on his Escalade just before she caught up. “Mike.”
“How long has that been going on? Did you wait till my side of the bed was cold or did you call him the second I left?” He stepped off the curb before turning, making their heights almost equal.
“Nothing is going on! He’s my friend, he was upset, he came over. You know he doesn’t like you guys to see him hurting.”
“I don’t fucking care what he likes! Except I never knew it was you. Makes sense though, you two always hanging out, making fun of me. Have you been with him this whole time? Since that fucking Bon Jovi concert? Played hard to get with me and give it right up to the great Alex Ovechkin!”
Halley’s open hand connected with Mike’s face so hard she hurt herself. Should have closed my fist, she thought, I’d have knocked him out.
“You really are an asshole. I had a choice way back when we met - you or Alex. Maybe I picked the wrong guy - my first mistake! My second mistake was falling in love with a coward.”
She just said she fell in love with me, he thought. Mike was reeling more from her words than being slapped, but he was furious and confused about Alex.
“Choosing means picking one, Halley. You obviously got the best of both worlds.”
I just told Mike I fell in love with him, she thought. But she wasn’t done.
“I didn’t get the best of anything! I got a guy who dumped me so he could win a game. How’d that work out for you, Mike? All of this and YOU DIDN’T EVEN FUCKING WIN.”
He knew Alex was still upstairs. Even if there was nothing going on, he was driving her right back to him. As quick as he’d been to call her a liar, Mike knew that Halley wouldn’t cheat on him. Or else he didn’t really know her at all. his anger started to crumble, fear flooding the open spaces. “Halley, I...”
But she was already leaving. “Go home, Mike. Go be alone and focus on whatever else you have left in your life. Because this season and I are both done with you.”