Natasha needed to pinch herself, because she couldn't believe that she was sat at the opposite end of her sofa to Bo, drinking shots of brandy and sharing the large piece of cake. It was almost more intimate than it should be, and she had tried to lighten the mood. And whilst it wasn't too awkward, there was a tension between them that she could barely cope with.
He was tall, curled up on her sofa, his eyes, that warm hazel gaze was fluttering between her, and the cake. His long fingers cradled his glass, and his confidence was mesmerising. Bo Harding was larger than life, and definitely more than she could cope with in her small home.
"So, you wanna talk about tonight?"
Bo sipped at his brandy, then shrugged, "not sure."
"A Gordie Howe, hey?" That caused his head to snap up, eyes questioning, and she laughed, a goal, an assist and a fight made up the famed hat trick and had been a coveted thing in her watching days. "...a college players wet dream. Worth more than a real hat trick in those circles."
He smiled then, slumping back on the sofa and nodding, "that they are." Running a hand over his face, he sighed, "I'm not known for being a hard man. I'm not an enforcer, I'm skills."
"So what happened tonight?"
Shrugging he dropped his head for a moment, "something stupid...I should rise above it."
She could tell he was angry at himself, yet his team would all be slapping him on the back, she was sure.
"He wasn't a threat, it wasn't what the game needed."
Natasha turned on the sofa, tucking her feet under her, facing him, "dominance, aggression, fights...they are part of the game, don't know why you're beating yourself up over that."
He stared at her for a moment, "it wasn't worth it, HE wasn't worth it. And I'm angry that I rose to the bait."
As soon as he said that, she realised he hadn't intended to, he closed his mouth and dropped his eyes, "he said something?" She shrugged, knowing he wasn't going to answer, "well, at least you're in a place where you can instantly retaliate to a harsh word. Take it as a bonus and just let it go."
He eyed her for a moment, "that's it?"
She laughed, "it's nothing to do with me. But you are beating yourself up over nothing. So you got a bit aggro in a game."
She laughed, they both spoke English but the Atlantic seemed to create two very different versions, "aggressive. Bullheaded. But hey, as you get older your game changes, you're not a rookie now, so maybe you have to show a bit of attitude to find where you fit in the team. New league, new level, new you?"
"I wasn't protecting a teammate though, that's just it. This wasn't part of the game, I let a prick get under my skin."
She shrugged, "it won't be the first or last time, learn from it and move on, surely it's the only way? Otherwise this guy will bait you every time you play...and others might pick up on it. Next thing you know they'll all come at you."
They way he dropped his eyes, clenched fists, she knew he was still fighting internally. "Bo, either talk it through with someone, or ignore it. Hanging on to whatever he said...it's not helping you."
She was exactly right, he was letting a trivial snappy comment tear him into pieces, and it wasn't a lie or an insult, it was fact. He WAS an ex-NHLer, he was past his best. And he had to get used to it. But he still wasn't ready to admit how he felt, talk things through, he was still holding on to all that shit. Because he still couldn't begin to imagine how he'd deal with never making it back. Never reaching that pinnacle again.
Changing the subject, he topped up their brandy.
"What's the worst thing you've ever done?"
Natasha's eyes widened, "are you saying today was your worst?"
He shrugged, then tried to hide a smirk as he offered, "not my greatest moment."
She pondered for a minute, her finger poised at her chin, then her contribution was, "I took a packet of sweets from a shop without paying."
"Stole! You mean you stole?"
She laughed, "I was about seven and didn't realise, I don't think."
At his look of amazement, she both blushed and giggled at the same time, "I think every court in the land would understand. I'm not sure at seven I actually understood about money and buying things."
That made him even more incredulous, "now, THAT I don't believe!"
Relaxing back, she kept her eyes on him, but they were both a little more relaxed, it seemed there were some hard lines that neither was willing to cross, and as long as they were general, neutral, then they could actually laugh.
Natasha turned Spotify on and they both spent time directing Alexa to the music they liked, and at some point Bo ordered a pizza, uncaring that it was almost midnight.
"So, I didn't think we'd empty this bottle of brandy," Natasha offered as she waved it rather drunkenly at Bo.
He groaned a response, "can't remember drinking this much in ages."
She shrugged, "isn't about time you let your hair down?"
Running a hand through his short curls, he rolled his eyes, "think that's purely something for you."
"I like your hair," she grinned, hating that she sounded so tipsy.
His response was to stare at her, fighting the need to laugh, "I know!"
Laughing out loud, she reached across to punch his arm, "what's that, your Star Wars answer?"
"Nothing wrong with Han, he knew how to handle women."
It was her turn to roll her eyes.
"So you get your hair from your mother?" Natasha was fighting the desire to reach out and touch it. Hating that the need felt so great.
He shook his head, "she has platinum blonde, typical Scandinavian, straight to her waist. I am facially more like her, I suppose. My father is Jamaican, tall, dark...but my sisters are more like him, I am the most mother-like. Though none of us is anywhere near her colouring."
Pulling out his phone, he scrolled through a few images until he found one, "this is my youngest sister's graduation a few months back. They are what I call 'The Three Amigos'."
She stared at the picture of three beautiful young women as he carried on.
"They gang up on everyone. Greta graduated from UCLA a few months back. She's interning with my father," he flicked to another picture. "As you can see, she is the image of my father."
Natasha felt sick, he was trusting her, showing her his family, and that meant he was trying to get close to her, and that scared her. The three girls in the picture he'd shown her, were all tall, elegant and extremely beautiful. Then he showed her his parents, and she was mesmerised. His mother looked familiar, and she was exactly as he described, blonde, stunning, the stereotype of a Swedish beauty. A model. But then any of his sisters could be too. The mixture of their father's West Indian blood was far more prominent than in him, and she knew what he meant, his eyes, his skin, even his hair was lighter than his sisters'.
"Greta is the youngest sister?" She finally managed to ask him. When he nodded, she smiled, "you're right, her and your Dad, they are like twins." And they were, her jet black hair, high cheek bones and long eyelashes were shared features, as were their dazzling and friendly smiles.
He nodded, "Astrid is the oldest. She's three years younger than me." He pointed her out, the shortest of the three, but with a sleek power bob and a sharp suit.
"She looks like she can kick arse."
That made him laugh, she loved his laugh. He didn't do it anywhere near often enough.
"She has just started in the DA's office in Orange County. She's a lawyer. And loves prosecuting the bad guys. So kicking ass..." she smiled at the way they pronounced the word differently. "...it's her thing. But Mollie is the middle one. She's an Elementary School in Beverly Hills." He rolled his eyes, "we sound like the Brady Bunch, all happy and 'poi-fect'." He drawled the last work, almost mocking himself.
Natasha smiled at that, "you all look pretty perfect. Beautiful, successful..."
He grimaced, "things aren't always as they seem."
Sitting forward, she leaned towards him, "why are you so hard on yourself?"
Turning his head for a moment, he didn't answer. She had crossed the room to the kitchen when he finally looked up.
"Hot chocolate, for the road?"
His eyes were suddenly filled with pain, and she was tempted for a moment, to rush across the room to him, but she held herself back, instead watching him.
"I'm not hard on myself."
She placed the milk on the hob, taking that in for a moment, "seems that way."
Bo ran a hand through his hair and groaned, "you're right. They are so perfect, all of them."
Leaning in the doorway, she crossed her arms over her chest, he had his eyes closed, he obviously didn't want to continue the conversation. But that wasn't happening, "you spend your days playing a game you love. That's successful, that's amazing."
He shook his head, but silence reigned. More poignant than it had been between them all evening. Allowing that silence, Natasha filled the two mugs with chocolate and hot milk, then carried them into the lounge. Bo was sat, head hung, his shoulders hunched, his body tense.
"Is that not enough for you?" She finally asked.
Slowly he lifted his head, stared at her for a long moment, "no. It's not enough. It's nowhere near enough." When her eyes widened in shock, he added, "that perfect family? That same family put everything into me, my game. Pushing me, helping me, sacrificing for me, so that I could reach the NHL."
"And you did that."
He laughed, but this time there was no humour in it, "oh, yes I did."
Standing he reached for his jacket, "I should be getting home, got a gym session in the morning. Coop said you're coming to the game tomorrow?"
His sudden anger, his retreat, all meant that she was immediately, equally as distant, emotionally stepping right back. "He suggested it."
Bo's head snapped up, "You're not coming?"
She shrugged an answer.
"Come. I'd like to see you there."
She lifted an eyebrow for a moment, studying him, then gave a small nod, "maybe."
It was all she was offering as she watched him disappear into a taxi.
She hadn't come. Bo'd sat out the game, punishment for his ungentlemanly conduct and scanned the small arena with his eyes on an almost constant basis, and she was nowhere to be seen. He'd found Freya early on in the game, sat in a corner, her children around her laughing and clapping. Her brother and his wife arrived during the second period, nursing their newborn baby, a boy, if he believed a blue blanket as a descriptor.
Natasha's absence made him sadder than he imagined. But then what did he expect? Last night...he'd talked with her, shared a little more than he intended, then he'd frozen, clamped his mouth shut and run away. No explanation, no discussion.
And he'd quite obviously blown it, though what 'it' actually was or had been, was a mystery. He wasn't staying here, it was a stop cap, a means to an end, and he wasn't about to strike up a relationship for that reason. But some part of him couldn't accept that, she was intriguing. That was something he hadn't expected. He hated that it bothered him, that she affected him, but as he sat out the game, serving the time for his violent behaviour crime, he had not been able to get his mind off her, off this whole mess.
Bo wanted to avoid the team, the dressing room, anything to do with the game, he wanted to bury his head somewhere, maybe in the bottom of a bottle. Anywhere, any place, but here, with yet another reminder of the failures and fuck ups he was making in his life.
But he couldn't, that wasn't what was done. So he made his way to the locker room as the clock counted down. And was reclined against a wall, not letting his suit get too rumpled, when the rest of the team came in, hot, sweaty, buzzing from their game.
There was nothing worse than missing out, sitting out when the game was happening, even at this level. Vaughn had that knowing smirk as he clattered into the changing room, blades loud on the floor. His team mates filed in, all smug and euphoric, and he HATED it. Through gritted teeth he watched them come in, Coop, playing a huge part of the game that night, stood in the middle of the room and gave a rousing speech to his team, before declaring that drinks were on him at the bar.
Stripping, they all headed for the shower, and Bo, alone, made for the bar, his heart heavy, his loneliness growing by the hour.