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Ryan Kesler hates Andrew Ladd on sight.

Andrew Ladd is the kind of guy who is loud and confident and a good hockey player. He and Ryan are two of only three freshmen who make the starting line up at University of Vermont. So sure, Ladd's also good at hockey, but he's definitely not as good as he thinks he is.

Ladd is good in the locker room, and all the guys like him. Kesler, who has always had trouble interacting with other people off the ice, automatically hates guys like that. It doesn't help that Ladd is also really good-looking, and he knows he's good-looking, too, which automatically makes him less attractive.

Ryan's seen him flirt with everyone he comes in contact with, like that's supposed to be charming and not just sleazy.

He's working up a rant in his head about it -- one he can't actually tell anyone because the only guys he really knows in this state are all on the team, and he doesn't want to be accused of poisoning the locker room -- when he hears Alex tell Smitty to "quit being such a fag, dude."

Ryan doesn't flinch when people say that shit, not where they can see it, but it still pisses him off. If he throws a roll of tape into his bag harder than is necessary, no one notices, except maybe the tape.

"Dude, cut that shit out," Ladd says.

"What?" Alex asks.

"The gay jokes and insults, man, that shit's not cool," Ladd says easily.

Ryan tenses, waiting for the inevitable cascade of insults and ridicule towards the freshman who thinks anyone cares about his political correctness.

But it doesn't come.

"Yeah, man, get more creative," Jonesy calls from his locker.

Ladd grins. "Call him a limp dick, sad sack, asswipe, douchebag, cum stain..."

"Hey hey hey!" Smitty cries, putting his hands up in surrender. "I thought we were friends, man. You're hurting my feelings over here!"

"Aww, want me to kiss it better?" Ladd asks, taking a few steps towards him.

All he gets is a balled-up sock thrown in his face before everyone laughs and goes back to suiting up.

It shouldn't make him mad that Ladd's not a bigoted asshole, but he finds himself grinding his teeth so hard he's giving himself a headache.

The one and only time Ryan had tried something like that had been with his travel team in high school. He'd said it easy and casual, just like Ladd did. Not like it really mattered to him or anything.

"We hurting your feelings, homo?" had been the response. He never got shit for it later, but he never tried something like it again.

But fucking Andrew Ladd says it, and suddenly everyone's on board. It makes Ryan want to hit something.

After practice he spots Eric holding a mini captains’ meeting with Tim and Alex. He doesn't mean to eavesdrop, but it's not like he can help it when they're less than twenty feet away from his locker.

"Ladd's right, that's a good habit to break," Eric says. "And I'm pretty sure my cousin Matt would appreciate it."

Tim nods. "For sure. Those Canadians, huh?"

"All progressive and shit. No gay jokes, free healthcare --"

"But the milk comes in bags," Eric cuts in. And they all laugh, like they didn't just have a big gay summit or whatever.

His life in the locker room will suck less than it used to, and he has Andrew Ladd to thank for that. What the fuck.

---

And that should be the end of it, but a few days before Thanksgiving break, after a long practice, Jonesy stops Ladd as he's hustling ass out of the locker room.

"Where you going, kid? You're always running out of here like we all smell or something on Tuesday and Thursday."

"You do smell," Ladd says.

"Ha fucking ha," Jonesy says. "Come on, you got a hot date or something?"

Ryan finds himself pausing as he's unlacing his skates, waiting for the answer, even though he doesn't care. He'd barely noticed that Ladd did disappear, except to sometimes be grateful he wasn't around.

"I've got a GSA meeting to get to." Ladd shrugs.

"GSA?" Jimmy asks.

"Gay straight alliance?" Ladd says, like Jimmy is stupid for not knowing what that means.

Ryan is kind of surprised that Jimmy doesn't know what that means, but it pales compared to the revelation that Ladd is apparently going to GSA meetings twice a week

"But you're not gay," Jonesy says, puzzled.

Ladd laughs, like the idea is just ridiculous, and Ryan fists his hand. "No, man, but there are a couple of other words in the name there. Seabs says it's important to promote awareness among jocks, and break down stereotypes and stuff."

Ryan has only known Ladd a few months, but he's already sick of hearing Seabs's name constantly. But it would make sense that Ladd couldn't come up with this stuff on his own.

"And," Ladd adds, "there are some really hot bi chicks."

That gets high fives from about half the room.

Ryan keeps his hand down.

---

It bothers the hell out of Ryan all week.

Ladd is talking about going to GSA meetings, and -- and everybody just laughs it off. If Ryan did that, he'd be found out in about five minutes. It's just so unfair it makes Ryan sick. Ladd doesn't need to worry about how it looks to everyone else. He doesn't have to worry about how he's gonna prove he's straight if it comes down to it. Not with people high fiving him for picking up bi girls he hasn't even picked up yet. Or maybe he has and can keep his mouth shut about it, Ryan doesn't know.

Ryan's slept with two girls in his entire life, when the pressure got to be too much, and guys really were getting suspicious. They hadn't been the worst experiences of his life, but it hadn't been awesome either. And both girls ended up never talking to him after, because he ended up being an asshole about it. He hadn't meant to be, but he hadn't known how to handle it. He'd promised himself he'd never do it again.

It's so unfair that Ladd gets to go to those meetings, that Ryan should be able to go to, without a care in the world.

When he goes home for Thanksgiving break, his mom figures out that something is up with him right away.

"Is everything going all right at school, honey?"

"Yeah, Mom."

"Your classes aren't too hard, are they?"

"No, they're all, like, introductory classes, and the professors are pretty cool about giving us time to do the assignments when we have games and stuff."

"And hockey's going okay? You like your teammates?"

It's nothing that he hasn't told her over the phone a million times.

"Yeah, Mom, everyone's great," Ryan assures her.

"Oh good." She smiles at him, and Ryan can't feel bad for lying to her.

She'd been so glad when he told her there were a couple other freshman on the team, and Ryan had been too, at first. It diffuses some of the teasing and mild hazing, but at this point, Ryan would trade not having to deal with Ladd for more of that shit.

"What time are Todd and Jenny coming by?" Ryan asks. The house always seems weird and quiet without his siblings.

"Not for another hour or so," his mom says, glancing at the clock.

"Cool, I'll be in the garage," Ryan says, grabbing a carrot stick from the platter.

The garage set up isn't quite as fancy as The Gut, but it's familiar and soothing, and it does have a few advantages. He can pick the music, for one, and there's no one else around to bother him as he fires pucks at the net.

Ryan's never been to a GSA meeting in his life. Not that he would have had time in high school anyway. He doesn't even know what they really do, so it's dumb to be getting all jealous.

He just can't help thinking that it would be nice to go somewhere and not have to worry about hiding, or pretending to be okay with dumb jokes, or attracted to girls.

Whatever, he's made it this far without that. He doesn't need it. He has hockey. He takes one hard, vicious shot that clangs off the left post and ricochets into the shelves. It makes an awful racket.

"Ryan, honey," his mom calls, "why don't you come inside? They'll be here soon."

---

The weekend passes quickly, and suddenly Ryan's on a plane back to school, rushing to get an assignment done before classes resume Monday morning.

There's a fair amount of assists happening in the living room that night, since Ryan's not the only one who forgot about school for four days.

Coach skates them hard at practice on Tuesday, to “burn off all that gravy.” They've got some important games coming up in the next few weeks, and Ryan's just dying to get going.

He can't help but notice when Ladd starts rushing through his change, and Ryan briefly considers following him, but Ladd's gone before Ryan even has his jeans on.

The next day at practice, Ryan finds himself standing next to Ladd, waiting to run a drill.

"How was the meeting?" Ryan asks before he can stop himself.

Ladd looks at him like he's nuts, which he very well might be. He and Ladd have made no secret of the fact that they dislike each other. The guys think it's hilarious. Ryan just looks at him,
expressionless, waiting for an answer.

"Fine," he says, and he skates off to run the drill.

Ryan tries again after practice, asking as casually as possible, "So, like, what do you do at the meetings?"

Ladd glares at him a moment and then leans in. "If someone's putting you up to this shit, cut it out right now, or, I swear to god, Kesler, I'll make you regret it."

"What?" Ryan asks, baffled.

"These are my friends, and if you're planning on fucking with them..."

"What -- Are you fucking -- Fuck you, no," Ryan says, shoving him back a few steps. "Are you really so conceited that you think you're the only one on the entire team that doesn't hate the gays?"

Ladd crosses his arms and continues to glare. "If you're so damn curious, why don't you come to the meeting tomorrow?" He looks smug, like this will prove that Ryan is actually out to gay bash someone or something. Ryan really hates it when Ladd looks smug.

"Fine." He shrugs, and tries not to look like just saying it terrifies him. "What room?"

"Student Union basement, room 8." Ladd has stopped glaring, and now he just looks suspicious and surprised that Ryan called his bluff.

"See you there, then," Ryan says, and the look on Ladd's face is totally worth the sleep he won't be getting tonight.

---

Ryan is on auto pilot most of Thursday, constantly debating whether or not he should actually go. What if someone there just looks at him and knows and then says something to Ladd?

But you can't tell just by looking, he knows that, even though that possibility haunted him in high school. And even if someone did know, Ryan thinks it might actually be nice to have another guy to talk it over with. Just someone that knew and didn't care.

Ladd ditches him after practice, because he's an asshole, and maybe he expected Kesler to wimp out. He almost does, when he’s standing right outside the door, but the image of Ladd's smug face propels him through.

He's pretty sure he's not late, but the small room is pretty full, and it feels like everyone is staring at him.

A guy leans down and whispers something to Ladd, who replies at a regular volume. "He's on the team, but I didn't bring him. If he's an asshole, it's not my fault."

That earns him a smack on the arm from a girl with brown pigtails, and Ryan realizes he's just been standing there in the door.

"Uh, hi," he says to no one and everyone before dropping in the nearest empty seat.

All the chairs are arranged in a big circle, and Ryan feels like everyone is staring at him. Looking around, that's because everyone is. Everyone except for Ladd, who seems pretty occupied with a guy and girl sitting on his lap, Jesus.

"What's your name, soldier?" the guy next to him asks. Ryan swears conversation dies down in the room.

"Ryan," he says. The guy smiles.

"I'm Jack. You are scrumptious!" he exclaims.

"Stop scaring the newbies, Jack," the girl sitting next to Ladd scolds. "We want to keep them around."

"It's fine," Ryan says, but he knows his smile is weak.

"See, Jane? He's fine! And I do mean fine." He winks at Ryan, and a few other people laugh. It actually is fine. Ryan can tell they're not laughing at him. And Jack is over the top, but he's kind of funny, and even though he's leaning into Ryan he's been careful not to touch.

"Okay, enough screwing around!" a girl yells. "Let's get this meeting started. First order of business: the last queer coffeehouse of the semester is coming up Saturday night, and Mike's gonna tell you what kind of help he needs."

A guy stands up and says, "First, we need another flier party. Volunteers?"

A bunch of people raise their hands, including Ladd. Ryan wonders how many people are volunteering because Mike is cute. If you're into that kinda look.

"Awesome," Mike says. "And I'm gonna need some people to help me carry equipment the night of."

Fewer people raise their hands, so Ryan finds himself lifting his arm in the air.

"You'll help carry?" Mike asks him.

"I'm a jock," Ryan says. “It's pretty much all I'm good for."

People laugh, and Jack says, "Not all..."

Across the circle, Ladd is looking at him. Ryan pretends not to notice.

---

The only thing that changes after the meeting is the number of friend requests he gets on Facebook between Thursday and Saturday. He's not sure what he expected -- something from the team, some reaction from Ladd. Just some acknowledgement of how huge that was. But there's nothing, other than status messages from names he doesn't really recognize.

He gets to the coffee house early, because in his experience from being the hosting team at a tournament, that's usually a good thing when you're setting things up. But he doesn't take into account the awkward standing-around phase, while waiting for Mike to show up. He recognizes some people, but he doesn't know names or what to say.

This shit's easier with skates on.

Ryan's not really expecting the girl who was sitting with Ladd on Thursday to approach him. He's kind of surprised she's here at all, because she's kind of small for set-up, but maybe she's tech support. Or maybe she's Mighty Mouse.

"Hey," she says, dropping her bag at his feet.

"Uh, hey," Ryan says. He's racking his brain trying to remember her name. He knows he heard it, but figured he'd never be talking to her, since she's friends with Ladd.

"Jane," she says, sticking out her hand, saving the day.

"I'm --"

"Ryan Kesler, I know." He must look surprised because she says, "It's not every day we get jocks at GSA. Especially jocks Andrew seems to have so many opinions about."

"Bad opinions, I'm sure."

"You are not wrong about that. Soooo, what's your deal?"

"What, hasn't Ladd told you all about me?"

"Well, he certainly said a lot of words, but I like to find things out for myself."

Ryan looks around for Mike, but he's on his own. "What, there can only be one unbigoted hockey player per school?"

"Touché," Jane says. "We grilled Andrew to find out his deal too, when he first showed up, so don't feel bad."

"What is Ladd's deal?"

Jane raises her eyebrows, but answers. "Straight but not narrow. He had no problem being Ben's pretend boyfriend when his asshole ex came to town, you know?"

"Weird," Ryan says.

"What, that he'd pretend to be a guy's boyfriend?" Jane asks. She's standing up taller, like she's gearing up for a fight.

"That someone would want him to be their boyfriend. He's an asshole."

Jane laughs, "He says the same thing about you."

"See, he's an asshole." Ryan shrugs.

"So what is your deal?" Jane asks again. "I told you what Andrew's is."

Ryan tries not to tense. "I'm not -- I'm not here to destroy your clubhouse, if that's what you're worried about."

Jane gives him a long look, but before she can say anything, Mike comes in and calls everyone together.

Ryan ends up lugging a lot of speakers and amps and boxes of things. He never knew so much had to go into what is basically an open mic night.

He plans to stand in the back so he can sneak out before the truly awful performances, but Jane corners him again and says, "Let me buy you a coffee."

"The coffee is free," Ryan points out. Jane rolls her eyes. "Well, then have a free coffee with me, and it will count as a voucher for me buying you a good coffee some other time."

Ryan should just walk away. She's Ladd's friend and doesn't even seem to really trust him yet.

"Come on," she says before he can decline. "It's going to be horrible, and I need someone to make fun of everyone with me or I'll go insane."

"You're persistent," Ryan says, and he's already walking over to the refreshment table.

"Yup," Jane says, proudly.

---

After that, Jane decides to adopt him. That’s exactly how she puts it, because, she says, he clearly needs help.

“Hey!” Ryan says, but she doesn’t listen; she mostly just starts bossing him around.

For one, there are suddenly standing lunch plans, and half the time she's got friends from her Women's Studies classes with her. The first time he sits down at the table with them, he gets a look like they think he's going to attack at any moment.

It's mutual.

"Everyone, this is Ryan," Jane says. "He's cool."

He doesn't feel very cool, as he sits mostly in silence while they talk about things he's never even heard of before.

He only makes the mistake of referring to the women's team as the girl's team once. "It's still weird being called the men's team," he says. "I wasn't trying to demean them or anything."

Jane beams at him across the table, and he relaxes a little. He likes having a friend who doesn't care about hockey. It'd suck to fuck that up entirely.

Ryan relaxes more at the GSA meetings, since they get more informal as the semester winds down, but Ladd keeps giving him skeptical looks from across the circle. Whatever, Ryan doesn't care, and actually he kind of enjoys bothering Ladd by doing absolutely nothing. He should've started coming to these earlier.

Another thing that happens is that in the midst of finals and games, when Ryan is so stressed out he's regretting his decision not to play in juniors, Ryan gets a friend suggestion from Jane on Facebook.

Jane suggests you be friends with Andrew Ladd.

"What the fuck?" he asks when she picks up the phone. "Is this some kind of joke to help me lighten up during finals?"

"I don't like rifts in the family," Jane says, not even bothering to pretend she doesn't know what he's talking about.

"Even if we were friends on Facebook, it doesn't mean we'd be friends in real life," Ryan informs her.

"You know, you guys might like each other if you ever stopped calling each other assholes long enough to talk."

"No, we wouldn't. Jane, we spend enough time together as it is. Don't you think we'd know by now?"

"Whatever, just do it, so I don't feel like I'm betraying one of you every time I talk to the other. I already talked to Andrew about this, by the way."

"Ugh, fine, whatever, don't you have finals to worry about instead of who I'm friends with on Facebook?"

"Yes, I do. Stop bothering me." She hangs up without letting Ryan say goodbye.

Ryan actually still has a friend request from Ladd from the beginning of the season, when everybody was just friending everyone on the team. Ryan hadn't answered right away, already sure that he wasn't going to like the guy. Eventually he just started ignoring it. He goes in and confirms the "friendship," then sends Jane a text in all caps: "THERE. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?"

He's already on Ladd's profile, so he pokes around a bit. Every other comment on his wall appears to be from Brent Seabrook - Michigan, and every comment seems to involve Seabs calling Ladd "babe" or "sugarlips" and once "muffin," which prompted Ladd to say, "DUNCS MAKE HIM STOP."

Duncan Keith - Michigan State replied with, "what do you expect me to do?"

Ryan scrolls away from that conversation. He doesn't care about how Ladd is still best friends with all the guys he played with before now. It's not like Ryan isn't still friends with a lot of the guys from the NDP, but they're not weird like Ladd's Canadians.

He scoffs a little when he sees that there are 652 pictures of Andrew Ladd. Ladd's probably drunk in all of them. He clicks through and discovers he's half right. Half of them are him on the ice, playing, but plenty of the rest are of the "don't ask what's in that cup" variety.

He's not perving on Ladd's friends when he clicks on an album called "LAKE HOUSE!!!" Except maybe he is. There are a lot of guys in swim trunks doing stupid shit, and Ladd's not in every picture, so Ryan can actually enjoy looking at them.

Brent Seabrook - Michigan is tagged in more of them than Ladd is, and that's okay because he's actually ... not bad to look at. He has a big goofy smile and a really nice chest, despite it being so pasty he's clearly a hockey player. The next picture is of Brent Seabrook in the middle of Ladd and another guy -- the Duncan Keith - Michigan State, apparently. They're all shirtless and leaning into each other with their arms around each other and smiling and ...

Ryan closes the tab as fast as his hand can move. He is not drooling over Ladd's friends. He's just not.

He has studying to do. He doesn't have time for this.

---

The semester ends, and Ryan flies home in a daze, just hoping he passed everything so he can keep playing hockey. He sleeps for pretty much 2 days straight, hangs out with his mom and his siblings and the few friends that are around. Only a week later, he has to head back to Vermont for practice.

The campus feels empty and weird without the rest of the students. Ryan finds himself missing Jane and even her Women's Studies friends. It's not that he doesn't like most of the guys on the team, it's just that they can be too much sometimes, and there's not much to do when they're not in practice with no class and no other students.

Jane's home in Massachusetts, and Ryan ends up texting her a lot. He should have known that eventually the other guys would get nosy about it.

"Who you texting, Kes?" Tim asks. He says it casually, but Kesler's aware of the fact that half the team's attention is on him.

"My friend Jane," he says casually. "She's in Massachusetts for the break."

"Is she hot?" Jared asks. Eric kicks him, but Ryan just shrugs.

"Yeah." She is, if you're into the sometimes angry nerd girl look. He's not, but he's not telling them that.

Ladd frowns behind Eric, but doesn't say anything as Eric asks, "Is she coming to the tourney?"

"Uh, I don't know," Ryan says. "Probably not, since the dorms are closed."

"Could let her sleep here," Alex suggests with a smirk.

"Not in the middle of a tournament," Eric says, shutting that line of conversation down.

Thank god.

"So I hear you think I'm hot," Jane says when she calls him a few days later.

"What?" Ryan leaves the living room and closes himself in his room. He has a feeling he doesn't want to be around the other guys for this conversation.

"You think I'm hot?"

"Um, I didn't mean anything by it," Ryan says. "The guys were like --"

"Aw, Ryan, you're breaking my heart." She laughs.

Ryan sighs. "I mean, obviously, you're very pretty, and if I was --" He stops when he realizes what he was about to say.

"If you were into girls?" Jane finishes for him.

Ryan needs to sit down. "Yeah," he says weakly. "That."

"Breathe," Jane says. "It's okay."

Ryan puts his head between his knees and wonders where the smelling salts are when you need them.

"You never told anyone before, huh?"

Ryan shakes his head, then realizes she can't see that and answers her out loud.

"Are you freaking out?" Jane asks gently.

"A little," Ryan answers, his voice small, because he feels like he can't breathe. It's weird, he feels like a weight has moved off his shoulders and onto his chest.

"I won't tell you not to be freaked, but I promise I won't tell anyone, not even the cute guys who have asked me about you or --"

"Don't tell Ladd," Ryan says suddenly. "Not that he's one of those guys." He wants to ask who they are, but there's no point. He's not out. He's not going to date anyone. "Just. Just don't."

"I won't, I won't tell anyone," Jane assures him. "But I'm glad you told me."

He hadn't planned on telling her, but now that he has, he is kind of glad she knows. "Me too."

---

The rest of the students finally start showing up the weekend before Martin Luther King Day. Classes will start on Tuesday, and Ryan can't believe he's actually looking forward to it, a little, just for something to do.

That doesn't mean he's not going to enjoy the hell out his last Sunday with no schoolwork and no practice, though. By early afternoon, he hasn't showered or put on clothes other than shorts and a hoodie, and he's packed into the den with most of the rest of the team to watch football on the huge HD TV. Smitty, Jared, and Mark are all raging Pats fans -- they’re entertaining as hell to watch.

By halftime, they're arguing over what takeout they should order and how many buffalo wings each of them can eat. The doorbell rings in the middle of one of Jonesy's rants about Ryan doesn't even know what.

"I'll get it," Tim says.

He comes back in a few minutes later with a tall guy with a goofy smile and a duffel bag that looks vaguely familiar.

"Seabs?" Ladd says, looking up from the other couch.

"I missed you, babe!" Seabs declares, and he doesn't get farther than that because Ladd launches himself off the couch and jumps on him.

"You fucking bastard, what are you doing here?" Ladd asks, but he's grinning like a madman and holding onto Seabs with his arms and legs.

"Christmas present," Seabs says into Ladd's shoulder. They're still not letting go of each other. They're practically humping in the doorway. Ryan can't make himself look away.

They don't stop, like, ever. They cram onto the couch, sitting half on top of each other and talking to each other like they're the only ones in the room. It's kind of rude, and Ryan's not like, trying to eavesdrop or anything, but it's basically impossible not to. It's not like he can tell half of what they're saying as they throw out names and places that he has no hope of following.

"Duncs?"

"Visiting Sharpy in Lethbridge," Seabs says.

"What, did your moms get you guys matching Christmas gifts?"

"Pretty much." Seabs grins. "You complaining?"

"No!"

"Oh my god, would you two shut up?" Smitty snaps. "You're like twelve-year-old girls. The Patriots are on."

"Testy ‘cause your boys are losing?" Ladd shoots back.

"Fuck off."

Ryan smirks. He's a Lions fan and is tired of taking shit about it, so he's fine watching Smitty's boys go down in flames.

Finally they take it back to Ladd's room, which is great, because no one actually wants to see that. But Seabs is apparently visiting until Wednesday night, so they're around all the time, groping each other.

Ryan swears they're not normal. No guys he ever knew were this handsy with each other. Not even the fact that they're Canadian can explain it, Ryan is pretty sure.

Seabs comes to practice with them and sits on the bench and chirps them, Ladd especially. Coach lets it go, because apparently he knows who Seabs is from scouting Michigan, and thinks it's a good opportunity for the team to hear what's wrong with them from someone else.

Classes start on Tuesday, and Ryan is glad to have an excuse to not hang around Ladd and Seabs for a while.

Except that apparently Ladd is in his Geology class, just his fucking luck.

He sits a few rows behind them and really hopes they don't turn around. It's kind of hard to pay attention to the professor when Ladd and Seabs are horsing around and whispering and generally being a distraction. Not like the professor is saying anything interesting, just passing out the syllabus and telling them they need to come to lecture, even though it's a big class.

The professor lets them out early, and Ryan hurries out, hoping he can pretend he didn't see them at all.

---

After practice that afternoon, Seabs is sitting in with them, joking around with a few of the guys. It's not like Ryan cares or anything, but Jesus, Seabs isn't on their team.

"What's going on tonight?" he hears Seabs asks Ladd.

"There's a GSA meeting," Ladd says, "but we can skip it if you wanna do something else."

"What? No way! Let's go to that!" Seabs sounds unreasonably excited, and seriously, what do they put in the water in Vancouver?

Ladd is usually out of the locker room before Ryan, but Seabs is slowing him down, so they kind of end up walking towards the student union together, but with a dozen steps between them. Seabs glances back towards Ryan a couple times, giving him a look and then elbowing Ladd.

Ladd just shrugs, but Seabs slows down until he catches up with them. "Laddy says you're going to GSA, too."

"Uh, yeah," Ryan says.

"That's awesome," Seabs says, grinning and slapping Ryan on the back.

"I guess," Ryan says. He doesn't really know what else to say, so he stays quiet while Ladd keeps talking to Seabs like he isn't even there.

As the three of them file into the meeting room, a few of the people already there just openly stare.

"Oh my god, they're multiplying," one of the girls says.

"Andrew, you are a joy," a guy sighs. Ben, Ryan thinks.

"Hey, guys, this is Seabs," Ladd says.

"Oh really?" Mike says, giving them both an appraising look.

"Have you been telling them about me, honey?" Seabs asks.

"Nothing good," Ladd says, grinning at him.

Ryan rolls his eyes and pushes past them. Jane's helping set up the chairs in the usual circle, but.

"Someone fucked up," she says. "Half of the chairs are missing."

"I can sit on the floor," Ryan tells her.

"I'll just use Laddy as a chair," Seabs declares and sits right down on Ladd's lap.

"Like hell you will, fatty," Ladd yells and pushes Seabs off.

"I am wounded, Andy. Wounded!”

"Oh my god, don't call me that." Ladd stands up and gestures to his chair. "You sit." Seabs does, and Ladd settles himself in his lap.

"Oof," Seabs says pointedly, but Ladd ignores him and rests his arms around Seabs' shoulders. The rest of the GSA is openly staring at them now.

"So freakin' cute," Ryan hears Lucy say.

Ladd and Seabs are not freakin’ cute. They are assholes. Just coming in here and being all over each other, while even the other guys here, the guys who are actually gay, don't do that. And the reason they don't, Ryan thinks, as he takes a seat at Jane's feet, is because they've had to be careful their entire lives. And it's pretty clear that Ladd and Seabs never had to learn to be careful of anything in their lives.

They think they're so cool for coming into the GSA and acting all open-minded when they have no fucking clue what it's like and --

"Down boy," Jane whispers, setting her hand on his shoulder.

Ryan sighs, leans back against her chair, and just tries to ignore them. He's the only one, though. No one's paying attention to Erin, who's trying her damndest to run the meeting, but it's spiraling out of control.

"No one's busy tonight," Ben hisses. "Why not?"

"Some of us have class in the morning," Lucy hisses back.

"It's the second day, no one will care if you're hung over," one of the juniors says. "Trust me."

"You're coming, right?" Jane leans over to ask him.

"What?"

"To the party? That everyone's been talking about for the past 5 minutes?"

"Yeah, sure -- wait," Ryan looks at her suspiciously. "No."

"Oh, come on, Ryan! It's a party, you can avoid them."

Ryan sighs. "Fine. There better be beer."

Jane beams, and Ryan wonders why he lets her talk him into these things.

Erin dismisses them shortly after that, since no one is even pretending to pay attention anymore. "Come back on Thursday ready to be serious!" she says.

"Since when are we ever serious?" Jack asks.

---

The party is at some guy's house just off campus that looks a lot like the hockey house, but probably neater, and it definitely smells better. It's crowded when Ryan gets there, but not hockey party crowded, which is actually pretty nice. Ryan grabs a beer out of the fridge and wanders into the living room.

Jane is having a spirited conversation with Erin and Lucy at the end of the hall, so Ryan just points to where he'll be and hopes she sees it. He takes a seat on the couch and pretends to be really interested in the movie that's on the TV. He's guessing that no one's going to let him change it to hockey.

There are a few other people on the couch, and Ryan sort of pretends he's in the conversation with them, just so he doesn't look so pathetic. Ladd and Seabs are, like, holding court near the kitchen, telling stories that make the whole group laugh and fawn over them both. It's disgusting.

They're also blocking the access to more beer, which is just rude.

When Ladd disappears off somewhere, Ryan takes the opportunity to cut through the group with one muttered "Excuse me," and grab a couple of beers from the fridge. They're not as cold as the last one, probably replacements, but he's not going to complain.

"Hey, grab me one?" Seabs asks from behind him.

Ryan passes him one without saying anything.

"Thanks, Kes," Seabs says. They haven't actually been introduced, but he's been staying in their house for the past three days, so it's not really a surprise that Seabs knows his name.

"No problem," Ryan says, slamming the fridge shut.

"So what's your deal?" Seabs asks.

"Excuse me?" Ryan asks. He doesn't get why Seabs cares -- he's probably just spying for Ladd.

"Are you queer, or doing the PFLAG route like Laddy?"

"That's a whole shitload of none of your business," Ryan snaps. It's one thing for Jane to ask when he's coming into her space, but Seabs is another story. Ryan doesn't owe Seabs anything.

"You're not missing much," Seabs says, shrugging. "Laddy's handjob technique is for shit."

"What? No. I don't care -- why --" Ryan sputters. "I'm not..."

Seabs's phone starts ringing, and he holds a finger up in front of Ryan's face. "Hold on. It's the Mrs."

Ryan tunes out after Seabs answers with "Hey baby," because the last thing he needs is to hear yet another dude getting sloppy over his girlfriend. But he can't leave -- Seabs is blocking him in against the fridge. Ladd spots them then, and Ryan has never been so happy to see him in his life, because at least he'll take Seabs away.

But Seabs slaps at Ladd's hand when he tries to pull him away and points to the phone. Now Ladd is standing there, blocking Ryan in even more. Fuck. At least he can get to the beer. He grabs another one because he thinks he's gonna need it.

"Tell Duncs hi for me," Ladd says, "but that it's my weekend. Your ass is his like, every other day you losers have off."

Seabs doesn't say anything to Ladd, but he wiggles his ass in his direction. Ryan has to rewind the conversation in his head to make sure he heard those pronouns right. Seabs laughs at something the guy on the other end says before saying, "Love you," and hanging up.

"He's agreed on possession of land below the waist, but says you can apply for a visitor's pass above. If he gets pictures."

"Been there, done that, got the t-shirt," Ladd says. Then he remembers that Ryan is there and glares at him like Ryan's done something wrong, other than getting stuck here with these assholes. "Come on," Ladd says to Seabs, "I want you to meet some cool people."

"But --" Seabs says, but Ladd drags him away. To find cool people. In other words, people who aren't Ryan. Well, good. If Ladd is avoiding him for the rest of the night, it will be easier for Ryan to have a good time. Also, he needs a good fifteen minutes to recover from whatever the hell just happened.

He spends the rest of the party with Jane, hanging out and trying not to be weird or antisocial while also avoiding Ladd and Seabs at all costs.

It works out well enough, and he's having a good time, until Ladd comes up to him, looking resigned. "I need your help."

Ryan is immediately suspicious. "With what?"

"Seabs tried to match Ben shot for shot," Ladd says, rolling his eyes. "He's still conscious, but I'm gonna need help getting him back to the house."

Ryan looks over to the table where Seabs is leaning hard on Ben, who's at least five inches shorter and thirty pounds lighter but is still laughing and smiling brightly. "Yeah, okay."

He says goodbye to Jane and discovers she's a very huggy drunk. "Someone gonna walk you home?" he asks.

"We'll go in a group in a little bit, don't worry," she says, hugging him again.

Ladd has Seabs standing by the time Ryan gets over to them, and Seabs appears to be putting his whole weight on him.

Ryan grabs one of Seabs's arms and slings it around his shoulders.

"Come on, Seabsie, we're gonna go home," Ladd says.

"'Kay," Seabs says. They start walking. Seabs is clearly trying, but it's mostly Ladd and Ryan dragging him as he mumbles things.

"Duncs gonna be there?" he asks.

"Duncs is in Lethbridge, buddy."

"I miss Duncs," Seabs says sadly.

"I know," Ladd says, rolling his eyes.

It's kind of a long walk, and it's cold, and Seabs is heavy, but he's friendly. He keeps petting Ryan's shoulder.

"You're okay, Ryan," Seabs says.

"Thanks," Ryan says.

"I like you," Seabs continues. "You have my blessing."

Ryan doesn't even know what that means, but he says, "That means a lot, Seabs, thanks," in his humor-the-drunk-person voice. Ladd is frowning, but whatever.

They finally get to the house, and Ryan is so grateful Ladd's room is on the first floor. They dump Seabs into Ladd's bed, and he immediately starts snoring.

"That's gonna be fun tonight," Ladd says. "Thanks for helping me get him home." He sounds constipated when he says thank you to Ryan, and Ryan can't help be a little satisfied at that. Now Ryan can go to bed and not deal with them for a good 8 hours.

But somehow, instead of leaving, he's opening his mouth and asking Ladd, "Is he the reason you joined the GSA?"

Ladd shrugs. "Yeah."

"Is he ... I mean, people know about him and, uh, Duncs? And it's cool?"

"His friends know," Ladd says, "but he just figures that people at a GSA party are gonna be cool." He glares at Ryan like Ryan's gonna call up the Canadian Junior team and tell them Brent Seabrook is a flaming queer.

"I'm not gonna tell anyone, Jesus!" Ryan says.

"You better --"

"Get over yourself, Ladd. I have better things to do than care about your friends' lives." He turns and walks out and upstairs. He barely gets his sneakers and jeans off before he's falling into his bed, exhausted.

---

When Ryan gets back from classes the next day, Seabs is gone, and Ladd is moping on the couch in the living room. If Ryan didn't know that Seabs was dating another guy -- in love with another guy, his brain supplies with the memory from last night -- he'd swear there was something going on between them.

But Ladd's straight, so it would be wrong anyway.

Ryan jogs up the stairs so he can get away from Andrew Ladd and his manpain. But when he gets to his laptop, there's an email from Facebook: "Brent Seabrook wants to be your friend!"

There's a message with the friend request, too.

If you ever need to talk, you can totally hit up me or Duncs.

Ryan slams the lid of his laptop shut.

He didn't get enough sleep last night, so he gets in bed, pulls his covers over his head, and tries to take a nap. But it's hard to sleep when he can't breathe normally.

That just can't mean what he thinks it means. There's no way that Seabs should be able to tell. Ryan didn't do anything -- unless maybe he did. And if someone like Seabs can figure him out, then maybe other people can too, maybe they already have, and maybe --

Ryan makes himself hold his breath for 30 seconds and then let it all out slowly. He has got to calm down. Nobody knows, except Jane, and maybe Seabs. And Seabs isn't gonna tell anyone; if anything, Seabs is just going to understand. And maybe Seabs doesn't even know, maybe he means something totally different. Okay, that's not likely, but it's not the end of the world if Seabs knows. They have a mutually assured destruction thing going on anyway, so it's fine.

And he doesn't even have to accept Seabs's friend request. Just because Seabs is freakishly friendly doesn't mean Ryan has to be friends with Ladd's friends. But, well, Seabs is the only other hockey player Ryan's ever met who's like him and it just ... it might be nice to know him. Just in case.

Ryan throws back the covers and opens his laptop again. He confirms the friend request, but sends a message back: "Thanks, dude, but I have no idea what you're talking about."

Seabs's profile picture is him and Duncs with their arms thrown over each other's shoulders as they toast the camera, and his relationship status is Married to Duncan Keith.

It doesn't mean anything, because half of Ryan's team is “in a relationship” with the other half, except the few guys that actually have girlfriends. But it does mean something, and Ryan knows it means something, and that's...he doesn't know what exactly.

He needs his nap.

He manages to fall asleep this time, and he wakes up an hour later feeling more like a person.

He has two emails. One is a Facebook message from Brent Seabrook that says, "It's called gaydar, dude. Don't worry."

The next is a friend request from Duncan Keith with a message that says, "Seabs says I have to be your friend. Um, hi, I guess."

Ryan rolls his eyes at both messages, but hits confirm for Duncan anyway. He gets the feeling that giving Seabs what he wants is just easier. Hopefully Seabs will forget about him in three days and get another project.

His stomach growls loudly then, so he shuts his laptop and goes to dinner.

---

Ryan didn't think it was possible, but Ladd actually gets more obnoxious after Seabs leaves.

Ryan is watching him, waiting for him to act differently in case Seabs lets something slip, but all that happens is that he mopes for two days and then goes into obnoxious overdrive.

At GSA meetings, it's like he's grown extra hands just to fucking grope people with. His lap has always been prime real estate, but now it's like Ryan can never even see his face because there are several people sitting on his knees at a time. And Ladd will pet them and nuzzle them, and it's actually fucking gross. Even Jack jokingly calls him "Handsy McGroperson" one night.

But when he's with the team, it's like he's suddenly turned into the asshole Ryan thought he was going to be at the beginning of the year. It's not that he never hit on girls before, but Ryan is pretty sure he was never this obnoxious about it. He hits on their waitresses at team dinner two weeks in a row. He makes out with a forward from the women's hockey team and walks around looking smug the entire next day.

By the time Ben's birthday party rolls around, Ryan is ready to kill him.

He can't skip the party, because Ben's been cool to him, and it's his birthday -- and he's afraid of the guilt trip that will be laid if he misses it.

"Oh, you brought Ben a present!" Jane laughs when he finds her in the crowd.

"Uh," Ryan says. His hands are empty except the can of beer he picked up.

"Tight shirt," Jane says. "It should appease him well enough."

Jane nods across the room to where Ben is wearing a crown of rainbow ribbons and demanding a kiss from Mike. "It's my birthday!"

"He's not, I mean, he won't --" Ryan starts, his blood running cold.

"Oh no, not you," Jane assures him. "You might get your ass grabbed, but he'll stick to the willing for his other gifts."

It sucks how much of a relief that is.

He does give Ben a hug as consolation, squeezing him tight and lifting him off his feet.
"Thanks, baby," Ben says, and he doesn't try anything else.

Ryan is actually having a good time. Jack shows up in drag and sings Ben “Happy Birthday” like he's Marilyn Monroe or something while everyone cheers.

He doesn't notice when Ladd gets there, but he does notice when Ben yells across the room, "Andy! Come here right now and give me my birthday present!"

Ladd makes his way to Ben. "Ready for the best birthday present ever?" he asks. Then he grabs Ben around the waist, dips him, and kisses him right on the mouth. The kiss goes on for a long time. Ryan is pretty sure he sees tongue. Everyone is cat-calling and clapping, but Ryan feels like he's gonna be sick.

After about forever, they come up for air. Ben fans his face and, inexplicably, Ladd looks right at Ryan.

Ryan slams his beer down on the counter and walks out.

It's fucking freezing because it's January, but the goosebumps and the way the cold air feels hitting his lungs are a good distraction.

He hears footsteps behind him and sighs. "Jane, go back inside, it's freezing out."

"I'm Canadian," Ladd says behind him. "I can deal."

Ryan immediately tenses again. "You're from Vancouver, not Edmonton; it's not that impressive." Livonia gets colder than Vancouver does.

"Quit being a douche," Ladd says. "If you can't handle two dudes making out, maybe you're in the wrong club."

"It's not 'two dudes'," Ryan snaps. "It's you, coming around here and kissing Ben and nuzzling Jack -- and then going out to dinner with the team, and if someone asks about the GSA you go falling over yourself at the sight of a pair of tits."

"It doesn't fucking mean anything!"

"Yeah, I know. And I'm sick of you using my sexuality like it’s some sort of party trick! Some of us can't just go and bang a chick if people start asking questions. Some of have to fucking live with this without being able to run away to heterosexuality if it gets too tough." Ryan spits the words out and shoves Ladd out of the way on his way back inside.

He makes it back to the kitchen where Jane is, riding his wave of righteous anger.

"What happened?" Jane asks, and he realizes what he just said. To Andrew Ladd.

"Oh god." He is so so screwed. He leans against the wall and tries to breathe.

"Ryan, you're freakin’ me out. What's going on?"

He briefly explains what just went down. "I'm fucked," he concludes. "He's gonna tell everyone."

"No, he won't," Jane soothes. "He won't. I'll talk to him, okay?"

Ryan nods, even though he still feels doomed. "Thanks. I think I'm gonna head out."

Jane nods and goes with him to get his coat.

---

Ryan sleeps badly that night, and he spends the next day waiting for the ax to fall. For the shouting and the questions and the shunning.

They probably won't kick him off the team outright, too worried about a lawsuit. But they can make him want to quit on his own, and once the news leaks out to other teams, it'll be even worse.

Even if he does make it through his college career alive and unmaimed, the Canucks will probably never sign him to an actual contract. If they do, he'll spend his entire contract in Manitoba, being given constant reasons they're not calling him up that will all add up to the same reason.

But nothing happens that day. Or the next.

Jane rolls his eyes when she sees him. "He's not gonna say anything. I told you."

But Ryan doesn't even start to relax until most of the way through the week, when their upcoming trip to upstate New York takes precedence.

He takes the week's anxiety and frustration out on the other team but only lands in the box for it once, so Coach just looks pleased between periods. Cam and Chris are feeding off his energy, too, and it ends up infecting the rest of the team.

By the end of the game, the Saints are making bad passes to avoid getting hit while holding it, and the Catamounts get a solid win.

After the game, Eric calls everyone to attention. "Despite the absolute beating we just gave them, our hosts are gracious enough to offer us an invitation to a party tonight."

One of Eric's cousins is on their team, so a party was kind of a given. Ryan hadn't really been looking forward to it, but after today, he's feeling pretty good, and a party with the guys doesn't seem like such a bad idea.

The party is at Eric's cousin's house. Eric has like, 3 million cousins, and they all play hockey at every level all over North America. And one in Sweden.

Technically Eric and the Saint Lawrence captain are supposed to be chaperoning them, but all that means is that they gave the teams a lecture about not overdoing it.

Ryan grabs a beer and let's some of the other team's guys smack him on the shoulder and yell "don't hit me!" One of them was also drafted by the Canucks, so they talk for a while about the team and how soon they might turn pro.

Ryan doesn't want to get too drunk, but he's feeling pleasantly buzzed, and he has to pee. Someone is puking in the downstairs bathroom, and he doesn't want to freeze his dick off outside, so he heads upstairs, even though it's supposed to be off limits.

He finishes up, splashes some cold water on his face, and walks out, straight into Ladd.

"You're not supposed to be here," Ladd says. He's not slurring his words, but his cheeks are flushed bright red, and he's blinking more than he usually does.

"Neither are you," Ryan says, and he tries to brush past him. Ladd stops him with a hand on his chest.

"Fuck you," Ladd says. Oh, Christ, Ryan doesn't want to do this.

"Let's not right now, okay? Let's just go downstairs."

"No!" Ladd won't let him by. Why do these things happen to him, Ryan wonders. "Fuck you. You're so superior. You think you know everything."

"Well, not everything," Ryan drawls, then sighs. "I really don't wanna do this right now."

"Too fucking bad," Ladd says. "You don't know shit about me. You --"

"You know what? Save it," Ryan snaps. "Save the offended act for after you blow a guy, you enormous douche."

Ladd doesn't say anything. He puts both hands on Ryan's chest and pushes him back into the bathroom. Great, Ryan thinks, I'm gonna get beat up in a bathroom by a drunk dude. But Ladd doesn't hit him. He maneuvers Ryan until he's up against the sink, and then he drops to his knees.

Wait, what?

He's not even hard as Ladd undoes his belt and fumbles with the button on his jeans and yanks the zipper down. He's getting there, though, because he's eighteen, and there's a hot guy taking off his pants, and it's been a long time since that's happened to Ryan.

Ladd seems surprised or annoyed that Ryan's dick isn't ready right away, but that huff of air against his dick speeds things up considerably. Ryan wants to tell Ladd to just fucking touch him already, but he bites his lip instead. He doesn't know if he's supposed to be helping Ladd with this, or if saying something will scare Ladd off, or what.

Fortunately, Ladd figures it out quickly enough, maybe remembering what it's like from the other side. Ryan doesn't know or care, because Ladd's jerking him and licking his lips, staring at Ryan's cock like it's a play he needs to dissect. Ryan's probably not supposed to find that hot, but it really works for him.

And then Ladd opens his mouth and takes in the head of Ryan's dick. It takes a whole lot of will power to keep from pushing forward, or grabbing Ladd's head and making him take more.

He grips the edge of the sink when Ladd starts sucking, and he can't help the little noise that escapes his mouth. That seems to encourage Ladd, and he slowly takes more of Ryan's cock into his mouth.

It's pretty easy to tell that he's never done this before, and that shouldn't be hot either, but it feels so fucking good. After a few minutes, Ladd finishes exploring and gets a rhythm going, and that feels even better. Ryan will be so fucking embarrassed if he comes right now, from this, but it's been so long since he's had anything other than his hand. He grits his teeth and holds on.

Ladd's making these little sounds too, not even sexy sounds, just little "hmms" like he's figuring things out, but they hum around Ryan's cock, and he can't help the little stutter his hips give. Ladd pulls back a little and looks up at Ryan, but before Ryan has a chance to say anything, he goes right back to sucking Ryan's cock, a little harder and a little faster, and Ryan really really can't take much more of this.

"Gonna come," he manages to say, and Ladd gives his cock one last suck, then pulls off and finishes Ryan with his hand.

When Ryan comes back to reality, his pants are around his knees, and Ladd is still on the floor in front of him, looking at his hand covered in Ryan's come like he's wondering what to do with it. There's a bulge in his jeans and Jesus, he's hard from blowing Ryan.

Ryan tugs on Ladd's arm till he's standing. Ladd looks a little confused, and he sways until he's sort of leaning against Ryan. He starts looking a lot less confused when Ryan undoes his jeans and sticks his hand inside.

"Oh," he says, and reaches around Ryan to hold himself up on the sink, his head dropping down to Ryan's shoulder. It's a weird position, but Ryan can deal with it. Besides, it's only a couple minutes until Ladd's groaning into Ryan's shoulder and coming on his hand.

"Fuck, Kesler," Ladd says into Ryan's shoulder.

Ryan just jerked off Andrew Ladd. Andrew Ladd just blew him.

Nothing makes any sense, but there's come on his hand, so it's probably not a hallucination. He reaches for a fistful of toilet paper, but he has to shove Ladd off of him to get at it. He wipes his hand quickly before flushing the evidence away and pulling his pants back up.

Ladd's still blinking at him from the opposite wall, and Ryan -- Ryan just can't deal with this right now. There are two hockey teams downstairs, and he can't --

He has to go.

Ryan doesn't know what to say to Ladd, so he just doesn't say anything before he slips out the door, quickly closing it behind him again before heading back down to the party.

---

If Ryan had expected anything major to change after Andrew Ladd blew him in a bathroom, he would have been disappointed.

They don't talk on the bus back to Burlington, or at practice on Monday. The only real difference is that now Ryan knows what Ladd's mouth feels like wrapped around his cock, and he can't stop thinking about it.

Ladd acts like nothing happened, though. Ryan's not exactly sure what he thought Ladd was going to do, or even what he wants Ladd to do, but acting exactly the same isn't it.

After practice on Tuesday, Ladd is slower than usual getting dressed, and they end up leaving for GSA at the same time. They kind of walk together, because it would be weird not to, but they don't say anything.

"You hungry?" Ladd asks suddenly, as they walk into the student union.

Ryan turns the words over in his mind, searching for some sort of innuendo -- and if it is innuendo or some sort of invitation, what's his answer? He realizes he's been quiet for too long, and quickly says, "No."

Ladd just nods, and they walk in silence down to the meeting room. Jane raises an eyebrow when they come in together, but he's pretty sure it's just the appearance of civility between them. He hasn't even told her what happened yet.

Nothing's actually changed, though, because almost as soon as Ladd sits down, he's got a person perched on each knee, and that can't even be comfortable, so Ryan doesn't get what the big deal is.

Ladd waits for Ryan after practice on Thursday too, which is weird, but whatever. Probably Jane talked to him, or maybe someone on the team. He doesn't say anything as they walk, so that's fine. Ryan had been planning on grabbing a sandwich when he got to the Student Union, but now he feels weird just walking away from Ladd, because they've kinda been walking together.

"I'm gonna go get a sandwich," he says, making a vague gesture toward the dining area.

"Cool, me too," Ladd says, and okay, fine. They both get sandwiches wrapped up to go, and at the register, Ladd grabs Ryan's, and says, "I'll get it, I've got an unlimited meal plan."

Before Ryan can respond that he has an unlimited meal plan too -- he's a hockey player, for god's sake, his mom's not dumb -- Ladd has given the lady his card and handed Ryan back his sandwich. Ryan stares down at it, wondering what the hell is going on, until Ladd waves a hand in front of his face and says, "Meeting's gonna start. You coming?"

"Yeah," Ryan says. He is not going to think about Ladd saying the word “coming” in another context.

Ryan really doesn't want to think about what it means that Ladd bought him a sandwich. It probably doesn't mean anything. And that's just so like Andrew Ladd, to blow Ryan in a bathroom, and then go around trying to prove he can forget about it. Like he's so straight that giving another dude a blowjob is not a big deal. God, Ryan just wants to kick him.

The most infuriating part of the latest brand of dickishness from Ladd is that nothing he's said or done looks particularly dickish unless you have the context for it.

Context Ryan doesn't plan on sharing with anyone, if he can manage it.

So he has to suffer and fume in silence, because Jane gets tired of his "monotonous whining."

---

He gets a Facebook message from Seabs about a week after the bathroom incident.

Hey Kes, what's up? Heard you played a brutal game Saturday.

He's got to be implying something with the specific mention of Saturday, and Ryan glares at the screen. Of course Ladd told him. He probably bragged to Seabs about it.

At least -- at least Seabs already knew about him. Kind of. But still, fuck Andrew Ladd and his perfect gay friends.

"The game on Saturday was great," he types back angrily, "not that it's any of your business. If Ladd wants to fucking imply something he should do it himself, to my face," and hits send.

He fumes for a while, but he doesn't have time to work into a real rage because they have a game.

At the end of the second, the Catamounts are down 3-2, and Cam blocks a wicked slapshot by a New Hampshire D-man with his foot. He finishes his shift, but his face is white, and he needs to be helped off the bench for intermission. Shit shit shit.

After conferring with the trainers, Coach comes back into the locker room. "Cam's out for the game, maybe longer. We'll figure out what do in the long term if it comes to that, but for the rest of this game, Jared and Ladd, I want you two taking turns on Kes's wing."

Ryan bites down into his mouthguard. This is hockey. Nothing else matters.

His line plays okay, if not great, for the rest of the game. They don't allow a goal, at least. Ryan feels like his head is spinning trying to adjust his game to Jared, then Ladd, then Jared again, both of whom play different games than Cam does. He maybe even plays a little better with Ladd on his wing, honestly, though that's probably because Ladd isn't settled with Alex yet.

They push it in the third, but the bounces don't go their way. They end up losing 3-2, and the next day, they find out Cam will be out for weeks at least with a broken foot.

He sources his bad mood to the loss when he turns down Jane's invitation to movie night and ends up hanging out on his laptop killing little electronic men.

He dreads practice, and with good reason. The first thing Coach says to him is, "Kesler, I want to start Ladd on your wing today."

The worst part about it is that Ladd fits in almost as well as Cam did with him and Chris, after only six minutes of ice time together during the game and two drills during practice. Coach doesn't even suggest trying Jared there.

So that's how it's going to be, but just for a few weeks. Ryan can put on his big girl panties and deal.

And then he has to deal with wondering what bothers him more, that he has to play with Ladd or that his internal monologue sounds like Jane.

---

After practice the next day, they walk to GSA together, and Ryan tells Ladd about a play he's been wanting to try. Cam couldn't pull it off, but Ladd is bigger than Cam, so Kesler thinks he can do it. The walk doesn't seem as long as usual. And it's not bad, talking to Ladd. About hockey, anyway.

"Did I notice you guys talking to each other voluntarily?" Jane leans over and whispers during the meeting. Ryan rolls his eyes and resists the urge to look across the circle at Ladd.

"Yeah, about hockey," Ryan says. "I told you Cam broke his foot. Coach moved Ladd up to my left wing."

"Oh? How's that going?"

"It's fine. Why does it sound like you're talking about something other than hockey?"

"I'm just saying, you have to play together --"

"We've always had to play together. Now we have to do it more often. I still hate him, Jane."

"Really?"

"What the fuck do you mean, really?"

"Shut up!" Erin yells.

Ryan and Jane look down at their laps. When Ryan looks up, Ladd is looking at them and smiling. Oh, of course, perfect Andrew Ladd never gets called out for whispering. Ryan looks at the floor and goes over penalty kill plays in his head.

---

Saturday's game is actually kind of awesome. Ryan feels like he has the puck twice as much as usual because Ladd's helping win board battles and getting the puck back to him faster, and he’s more likely to muscle guys off the puck than get muscled off.

If his finish were near as good as Cam's, Ryan might have to worry about this move being permanent, but for now he can enjoy some of the benefits of his new winger.

Not that Ladd has bad hands or anything, because in the second period, Ryan has the puck on his stick and spots Ladd open near the net. It only takes a split second to decide to send
him a sweet pass that Ladd easily lifts past the goalie's outstretched leg, and it's a good goal, and it's great.

Ladd comes barreling into him and throws his arm around Ryan, and then everyone else is pushing them together. Even though there's all this equipment between them, Ryan can still feel Ladd against him, and it's like he's going to keep feeling him there for the rest of the period. Briefly, Ryan looks at Ladd's smiling mouth and thinks "my dick was in there" before he pulls back and skates quickly towards the bench

This is terrible. Hockey is for hockey, not thinking about bathroom blow jobs. Because he's not getting hard in his jock strap. He's not. Even when he glances over and sees Ladd shooting some Gatorade into his mouth.

After the game Ladd just keeps beaming at him and slapping him on the back and leaning in close, like one goal has made them BFFs or something. But it was the game-winning goal, and they did play well together, and Ryan doesn't want to fuck that up, especially not with Coach watching them approvingly. So he doesn't shove Ladd off of him, and he doesn't tell him to back the fuck off.

Ryan tries to sit as far away from Ladd as possible when the team goes to dinner later, but somehow he ends up wedged in right next to him. And Christ, their thighs are pressed against each other, and when Ladd puts his napkin on his lap and spreads it out, his fingers practically brush Ryan's crotch.

Ryan starts making plans to duck out early.

He goes so far as to text Jane for help.

Ladd leans over so far into Ryan's space they're practically breathing the same air. "Who're you texting that's so important?"

"Uh, Jane, we're doing a thing later," Ryan says convincingly.

"Jane? Gonna get lucky tonight, Kes?" Chris asks from across the table.

"That's none of your business," Ryan says.

The guys hoot and laugh at that, before losing interest in favor of making fun of Alex's crush on the waitress.

"So does Jane know she's your beard?" Ladd asks under his breath.

"Shut. Up," Ryan says very softly and carefully.

Ladd throws an arm around his shoulders. "Kind of hypocritical of you, isn't it?"

"Seriously. Shut up. You wouldn't know anything about it."

"You think I'm an idiot, don't you?" Ladd asks. "I don't know about this, I didn't know --"

Ryan digs his knuckles into Ladd's thigh as close as he can figure to where Ladd blocked a shot in the second. "Stop. Talking."

Ladd shuts up, thankfully.

Ryan presses hard once more and stands up, throwing Ladd’s arm off his shoulder. He tosses some money on the table and walks out without a word to anyone.

---

He paces outside Jane's dorm until she comes down to let him in. He must look pissed because she just walks with him silently up to her room and moves some pillows out of the way so he can crash on her bed. "Fuck Andrew Ladd."

"I'll pass," Jane says, sitting down next to him. "I think that's more up your alley."

"Fuck no, it's not," Ryan says. "I can't believe I ever --"

"Ever what?"

"He blew me in a bathroom in New York, and I jerked him off, and --" Ryan sighs and closes his eyes. He'd wanted it to happen again.

“I knew it! I knew you liked him!”

“I don't! I just wanted to get laid, and suddenly he was on his knees, and --” that had never happened to him before. “It was stupid, and he's an asshole.”

“He hasn’t really been an asshole lately, though, has he?” Jane asks.

“Only because we’re on the same line now. It fucks up the team if we don’t get along.”

Jane sighs and rests her head on his shoulder. "So what happened tonight, then? Bad game?"

“Well, no,” Ryan says. “Actually, it was a really good game.”

She still doesn't really care about hockey, but he describes it to her, getting really excited with all the details of their goal and how awesome it was.

"Yeah, what an asshole," Jane says, obviously confused.

Ryan tries to explain the argument he and Ladd had, but the only thing Jane says is, "Why did you wanna leave early? You love hanging with the team."

"What, I can't want to spend time with you?" Ryan asks.

"Not when you can be soaking up the testosterone or reliving your heroism on the ice, no."

"Ladd was...he was being weird, and I didn't want to deal with that," Ryan says, shifting on the bed uncomfortably.

"What kind of weird?"

"All buddy-buddy fake shit," Ryan says.

"You said you're on the same line now and you have to get along. Maybe he was just ... feeling the camaraderie?"

Ryan snorts. "Maybe he just wants to fuck with me."

"Maybe he just wants to fuck you."

Ryan shoves her a little. "Don't be stupid."

She shoves him back, hard. "You're the one being stupid. He blew you. In a bathroom."

"I'm not going to be his gay chicken partner, or whatever the fuck," Ryan says. "So that after, he can just go back to being straight and smug about how he's so tolerant he even fucked a poor, closeted jock."

"Ryan, I'm sure he wouldn't..." Jane starts, but Ryan cuts her off.

"I don't want to talk about him anymore. Can we just go to sleep?"

"Sure," Jane says, even though it's still early for a Saturday night.

---

Ladd and a couple of the D-men are in the kitchen of the house when Ryan gets home the next morning. He's wearing the same clothes from yesterday, and he knows his hair is all flat on one side.

"Wow, spending the night, Kes? That's a big step," Mark says with a smirk.

Ryan shrugs and pretends not to notice the way Ladd's lips are pressed into a line, or how he's staring at his coffee. Like he gets to judge Ryan at all.

"I'm just gonna go grab another couple hours," Ryan says, heading for the stairs. He doesn't need to hang around to hear the 'long night' jokes.

While he’s lying in bed trying to fall asleep, he gets a brilliant idea to get Ladd to leave him alone for good.

Ladd does back off a little in the next few days, which is good, but Ryan needs to be sure.

"Hey," he says to Ladd after practice, "we should talk a little bit about the line. My room after dinner?"

Ladd looks surprised, but he agrees with a smile.

Ladd drops onto his bed, like, the second he gets into the room and sprawls out on it. Ryan locks the door as subtly as he can and totally doesn't check out the way Ladd's shirt has ridden up to expose a strip of his stomach.

"So we have some...issues to work out," Ryan begins.

Ladd laughs. "That's one way to put it."

Ryan debates for a second whether or not he should drag Ladd to the edge of the bed and spread his knees, or if he should climb onto the bed himself. In the end he decides to save his own knees; he's gotta play hockey tomorrow.

He gets on the bed and crawls between Ladd's sprawled legs.

"Shove up a bit."

"Wha?" Ladd says, raising his head. Ryan plants his hands on Ladd's thighs and pushes him so they'll both fit on the bed.

"This will work better for me with less talking from you."

Then he goes for Ladd's zipper.

Ladd makes an aborted gesture, like he's going to stop him, but then realizes what's going on and just lets Ryan go, lifting his hips so Ryan can pull down his jeans and boxers. When Ladd opens his mouth to say something, Ryan wraps his hand around his cock and that shuts him up quickly.

“I'm going to blow you, and you're not going to say anything,” Ryan says as he jacks Ladd's cock until it's hard enough. “Except maybe 'oh god.’”

Ladd nods, his mouth hanging open a bit, and it looks so dumb, but Ryan also maybe wants to bite it. He leans down and licks Ladd's dick instead.

Ladd makes this sighing noise, and the muscles in his thighs all tense up. Ryan licks it again, a little more thoroughly this time. "Oh fuck," Ladd breathes.

Ryan doesn't have a lot of experience, but he does have some, and he goes about making this the best, slowest blowjob he can possibly give.

Despite his warning, Ladd is just talking up a storm -- a constant stream of "Oh god”s and "Oh fuck yeah Ryan just like that”s interspersed with inarticulate groans. Ryan would tell him to shut it, but apparently his dick thinks it's fucking great. He's so hard in his jeans he's almost tempted to speed this up so he can get off. Almost.

Ryan's lazily sucking on the head of Ladd's dick, his hand loose around the base, when Ladd reaches down and tangles his hand in Ryan's hair. Ryan almost bats it away, but Ladd doesn't pull or push Ryan's head, he just lets it rest there, kind of petting almost, and it doesn't feel bad, so Ryan lets it go.

"Ryan, fuck," Ladd says, and Ryan resists the urge to smirk around Ladd's cock. Choking would be bad right now.

He rubs himself through his jeans, just to take the edge off, and then reaches his hand up, pressing two of his fingers against Ladd's mouth.

“What, you said I could --” Ladd starts to say, not getting what Ryan wants until he pushes them inside. Then he catches on quickly, sucking on Ryan’s fingers like Ryan's sucking on his dick. Like he could make Ryan come from this. Ryan kind of worries that he could, so he pulls them out. They make a wet popping sound, and then Ladd's back to sighing and swearing.

He tenses up a little when Ryan circles his hole with one finger, but he relaxes quickly. Ryan's kind of surprised at how quickly, but there might have been some creative girls in this position before him.

Ladd isn't even saying words anymore, just groaning that sometimes tapers off into panting, and his hand in Ryan's hair is clenching and unclenching in the same rhythm that Kesler is using pushing his finger in and out of his ass.

He takes Ladd's cock deeper into his throat and adds a second finger. It takes some coordination, but he isn't an athlete for nothing.

Ladd's groans have mutated into whines now, which Ryan will totally make fun of him for later, provided they don't make him come in his jeans. Ladd's hips are moving restlessly, which makes it harder to suck his cock in rhythm, and Ryan is kind of out of hands. Instead, he relaxes his throat a little and crooks his fingers in Ladd's ass.

"Oh fuck, Ryan. Ryan Ryan Ryan," Ladd babbles. His hips thrust, and his cock throbs, and Ryan doesn't need his choked off "Gonna come" to know that.

He'd planned on spitting -- contemptuously even -- but he's so fucking turned on right now he's having trouble remembering what the plan is supposed to be. He swallows until he can't anymore, and Ladd's jizz is dribbling out of the corner of his mouth and down his chin a little bit.

"Holy shit," Ladd says, when he's done and Ryan has removed his mouth from his dick. He wiggles his fingers in Ladd's ass a little, just to fuck with him, but Ladd just arches his back and groans, and Ryan stares at his abs exposed by his rucked up t-shirt while he slowly, finally, takes his fingers out.

"Come here. Come here right now," Ladd commands, and usually Ryan would tell him to go to hell, but Ladd is grabbing his arms and dragging him, and then he's kissing Ryan on the mouth, and his tongue is licking up the come on Ryan's face, and Ryan finds himself kissing back.

Ladd's just kissing him, and holding onto Ryan's arms so he's pinned there, like his dick isn't right there with nobody touching it. He was supposed to be calm, cool and collected, not dry humping Ladd's thigh. At the very least, he hopes the denim is chafing Ladd, because he's pretty sure he's going to die if he doesn't get to come soon. And if he comes in his pants, he's going to have to kill himself.

Finally Ladd gets the message and reaches down to unzip Ryan's jeans, and Ryan scrabbles to help him, and he swears he can feel the bastard smiling against his lips. But before he can get too worked up about it, Ladd's hand is finally, finally touching him. He keeps kissing him slow and deep, like he's got all day even, while he's working Ryan's cock hard and fast with his hand.

For Ryan, it's the most complicated form of multitasking out there, and Ladd swallows most of his gasps and moans until Ryan digs his fingers into Ladd's wrist and comes in his hand. Ladd keeps stroking him through the waves of the orgasm, slower now, so Ryan can catch his breath.

Ryan keeps waiting for Ladd to pull away and say something douchey that will make Ryan want to punch him, but he doesn't. He just keeps kissing Ryan slow and deep, making satisfied little "hmms" into Ryan's mouth. One of Ladd's hands is in Ryan's hair again, and somehow Ryan has got one arm around Ladd's neck and the other hand resting on Ladd's ass.

Ryan kind of loses track of time waiting for Ladd to stop, but when Ladd starts kissing Ryan's neck, Ryan realizes he isn't planning on it.

This isn't how this was supposed to go.

Ladd reattaches their mouths before Ryan can come up with a new plan, and it's very distracting how his hand is stroking Ryan's hip.

Ryan finally manages to pull away and say, "I've got ... homework." It comes out way more husky and breathless than he meant it.

Ladd pouts, actually full on pouts, and says, "Do it later," and pulls Ryan back toward his mouth.

It would be so easy to go and just keep making out, but no. That's not what Ryan wants. That's not what he planned. He puts his hand on Ladd's chest -- and wow, it's really warm and solid -- to keep space between them.

"No." He clears his throat and tries again. "No, you should go."

Ladd pouts, and he should look ridiculous, but he doesn't. Ryan hates him. Really.

They clean up and put their pants back on, and then Ladd grabs Ryan by the neck and kisses him again, briefly.

"Later," Ladd says into Ryan's mouth, and it doesn't sound like he’s weirded out or planning to leave Ryan alone. It sounds like a promise of the exact opposite.

Ryan may have made a tactical error here.

As soon as Ladd is out the door, Ryan opens his laptop and shoots an IM to Jane.

Ryan: i think i made a tactical error.
Jane: Oh honey, what did you do?

He wishes he couldn't hear that exact pitying tone she'd say that in.

Ryan: had sex with ladd.

He stares at the screen. The words somehow reinforce what happened. He wants to delete them or something, but he hits send before he comes up with some stupid euphemism.

There's a long pause before Jane replies, and Ryan has a sinking feeling it's because she's laughing at him.

Jane: Not a tactic you were planning on employing?
Ryan: no it was it just ... didn't turn out right.
Jane: It was bad?

Ryan can't believe he's about to type this.

Ryan: no. it was good. um. really good.
Jane: And that's bad?
Ryan: yes!
Jane: Why?
Ryan: because he's going to want to do it again.
Jane: ...

That's all he gets for a minute.

Jane: Half the GSA wishes they had your problems.

Jane continues before Ryan can respond that they are welcome to his problems.

Jane: Look, what would be so bad about doing it again?
Ryan: it was supposed to freak him out and make him back off! i don't like him!
Jane: You kinda do though.
Ryan: i do not.

God, he thought Jane was his friend.

Jane: That's not true, and even supposing it is, does he annoy you when you're having sex?

Ryan glares at the screen.

Ryan: no but what if he starts thinking i want to hang out not during sex?
Ryan: i practically had to kick him out of my room tonight as it was.
Jane: Outside of sex like at practice?
Jane: Or during games?
Jane: Or at GSA?
Jane: or when you're living in the same house?
Ryan: YES. that's too much time!!

He doesn't see how she doesn't see the problem.

Jane: Or going to the same parties?
Jane: Or having the same friends?
Ryan: those weren't my ideas.
Jane: You could have said NO, Ryan.
Ryan: i gotta go do my homework

Ryan signs off without waiting for a response.

---

Ryan pretty much ignores everything for a few days. He goes to class, he goes to practice, and he doesn't really talk, and he's trying not to think. He skips the GSA meeting and goes back to his room. After the meeting, he gets a text from Jane saying, "where were you? everyone wondering. andrew asked about you."

"Just tired," Ryan sends back. He wants to know what Ladd said, but he can't bring himself to ask.

He realizes Ladd will be back soon if the meeting’s over, and he hurries to grab his coat and head to the dining hall for dinner so he can have a little while longer without dealing with him. But Ladd's trodding up the steps when Ryan opens the door.

"Oh, hey!" Ladd says. "Missed you at GSA."

"Yeah, I had -- other stuff," Ryan lies.

"Yeah." Ladd nods. "You going to dinner?"

"Um, yeah," Ryan says.

"Mind if I come with?"

"Free country," Ryan shrugs, and he keeps walking toward the dining hall. Ladd falls into step with him, but he doesn't say anything for a few minutes. Ryan knows it won't stay like that through dinner, but he can hope.

"Jane's worried about you," Ladd says eventually.

"Jane can tell me things herself," Ryan snaps back.

"So why is Jane worried about you?" Ladd asks as they load up on mashed potatoes.

"I have no idea," Kesler says. "She's just Jane."

"You been avoiding her like you've been avoiding me?"

"No! And I haven't been avoiding you. I've been treating you like normal."

"Do the blowjobs fit into that normal category? Because I'd be okay with that," Ladd says, so casually that the guy cutting the pork chops does a double take.

Ryan grips the edges of his tray so hard his knuckles turn white.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" he asks through a clenched jaw.

"What the hell is wrong with me? What the hell is wrong with you? You drag me into your room and give me the best blowjob of my life, then you --"

The guy cutting the pork chops is not even pretending to pay attention to his job now.

"I am not talking about this here," Ryan says.

"Fine," Ladd says, "let's go."

They wind up in the staff parking lot behind the dining hall, since it's the closest thing to private they're going to get. There's no way he's having this conversation in the house, or anywhere else someone else might hear them. Someone besides the guy with the pork chops and whoever was paying attention in line.

Fuck.

"Fuck you," Ryan says.

"We could have by now, but you keep blowing me off," Ladd says, crossing his arms over his chest. "It's been a hit parade of dick moves."

"Dick moves? Me?" Ryan says, outraged.

"Yes, you," Ladd says. "You left me in a bathroom after I gave you a blowjob. I keep trying to be nice to you, and you ignore it, and then you yell at me, and then you gave me a blowjob, and it was great, and I thought we had a pretty good time, but now you're treating me like I'm contagious."

Put like that, it does sound pretty dickish. Of course Andrew Ladd wouldn't bother to figure out the reasons why Ryan did anything.

"The blowjob was a mistake," Ryan says, crossing his own arms to match Ladd's. "I shouldn't have done it. This isn't going to be a thing."

"The blowjob was awesome," Ladd corrects.

Ryan wants to hit him.

"And why can't it be a thing? The sex would be great, we hang out all the time anyway. It'd be a great thing."

"It can't be a thing because I can't stand you! You fucking make me crazy and I just want to --" Ryan drops his arms and balls his hands into fists.

"Kiss me?" Ladd smiles in what he probably thinks is a charming way. "Blow me? Throw me down and fuck me? Because I'd be okay with that."

"And then when you get sick of that, or it gets too hard, and you decide to go back to being straight?"

"I'm not straight."

Ryan rolls his eyes. "Yes, you are."

"Okay, yes, kind of. But maybe not entirely. I can be flexible."

"What are you -- you can't just decide that!"

"Why not? I mean, I want to kiss you, and I liked blowing you, and I'd like to try all that other stuff, and that's not exactly straight, is it?" Ladd shrugs.

Ryan wants to kill everything.

"Fine, so when it gets too tough, you'll flex yourself right back to dating girls and pretending this is just a phase," Ryan says. "And I'll be right back here."

Ladd just stares at him. "Wow, you actually think I'm that much of a douche?"

Ryan doesn't say anything.

"You -- Fuck, you don't even know me, because you won't give me a fucking chance. You've just decided that I'm this way or that way, and you don't even want to find out if maybe you're wrong. And you are wrong."

Ladd actually looks angry, and Ryan shoves his hands in his pockets. It's windy, and they're getting cold.

Ryan doesn't know what to say, so he doesn't say anything. He wishes this conversation was over. He wishes he could just go to bed. He wishes he never met Andrew fucking Ladd.

Ladd makes a strangled sort of noise, and then Ryan is being pushed back against the wall of the building, hard enough that his shoulders twinge. He struggles, but Ladd's putting all of his weight into holding his shoulders, and he's glaring. Ryan tries avoiding looking at his eyes, but they're too close.

"Just give me a chance, Ryan," Ladd says. Ladd has never called him Ryan, except when they were in Ryan's bed, and it kinda makes his stomach do a weird plunge. Ryan wants to say "Fuck you." He wants to scream it, but all that comes out is,

"I can't."

Ladd sighs and looks down at his feet, but he doesn't let up on Ryan's shoulders at all. When he looks back at Ryan, he looks determined, and Ryan has a bad feeling about this.

"One week. Give me one week to prove to you that I am serious about this, okay? And then if you still don't believe me, we can break up, and I won't bother you about it again, I promise."

Ryan is already shaking his head.

"Please, Ryan."

Ryan stares over Ladd's shoulder, refusing to make eye contact. "One week, and then you'll leave me alone?"

"If you want me to," Ladd says.

Ryan rolls his eyes and accidentally ends up looking back at Ladd, who's grinning. He would be.

"One week."

Ladd smiles even wider, like Ryan just gave him the Hart and the Selke at once, and it makes him uncomfortable. He doesn't even realize right away that Ladd has stepped back, letting Ryan stand on his own.

"Well, come on," Ladd says, holding out his hand.

"What? Where?" Ryan stares at Ladd's hand like it might fall off at any moment.

"We still need to get dinner."

"I'm not holding your hand," Ryan says. "Just because we're going to pretend to date --"

"-- not pretending," Ladd corrects.

"-- doesn't mean I'm coming out to the entire school."

"Okay," Ladd says. "That's fair. I mean, I would, if you wanted me to. You should know that." He drops his hand back to his side, thankfully.

Ryan starts walking back to the door. He actually is kinda hungry now. Ladd falls into step next to him, close enough that their shoulders brush.

"The GSA, though," he says. "I can hold your hand there, right?"

"Yeah, sure," Ryan says. He'll deal with that when they get there. He can't believe he's having this conversation.

It's weird to realize that Ladd can be sort of nice, and really funny, when he's not being a giant jerk. This is apparently the guy that the rest of the team and the GSA love. This is Seabs's best friend.

By the end of dinner, Ryan's more okay with this week he agreed to. So it won't be horribly awful, and he'll probably get laid, and when it's over, Ladd will leave him alone.

There's really no way to lose.

---

Jane almost chokes on her falafel when Ryan explains it at lunch the next day. "Sorry, you what?"

"Shouldn't you be pleased? You were the one trying to convince me that I like him." Ryan glares at her.

"You do like him, Ryan," she says, when she's taken a sip of water and cleaned up the food from her lap. "Otherwise, you wouldn't have agreed to this. I'm surprised you agreed to it at all, and I'm worried that you're so fucking repressed about him that you're gonna end up making yourself even more miserable."

Ryan glares some more and stabs his shawerma with his fork.

"I admit that he's not as repulsive when he's trying to be nice so he can get laid, but you're wrong. I get laid for a week, and then I get Ladd leaving me alone: simple as that."

Jane opens her mouth to say something, and Kesler interrupts her.

"He's straight, Jane. You said yourself the first time we met: he makes a great pretend boyfriend."

Jane closes her mouth and looks down at her plate.

"Okay," she says. "Clearly I'm not going to change your mind. But promise me one thing, okay?"

"Sure," Ryan says, because he really hates it when Jane looks sad.

"Just, if you're gonna do this, then really do this. Go all in. No holding back. Promise?"

"Promise," Ryan says, and wonders yet again how she talks him into these kind of things. "I gotta get back to campus for practice. See you later?"

"See you at GSA tomorrow?"

Ryan remembers what Ladd said about GSA and considers making up some excuse. But probably neither of them will let him get away with that.

"Sure," he says, and gives her a pat on the head as he leaves.

When he gets to practice, Ladd is waiting for him outside of the rink.

"I am not coming out to the team," Ryan says when he walks up.

"No, I know," Ladd says. "I wouldn't ask you to. But..." He chews on his bottom lip a little and looks unsure. "You should tell them you aren't dating Jane."

"Why?" Ryan asks. "I mean, I never told them I was dating her."

"Yeah, but --" Ladd tries.

"And it would be really weird if I walked in and made some weird announcement about how I'm not dating her."

Ladd sighs. "Fine, but if it comes up, don't let them go on thinking the wrong thing."

"Yeah, fine, okay," Ryan says. It's not like his imaginary sex life comes up that often.

Practice goes well enough. Ladd's fitting in better and better on Ryan's line, and they even get a couple of approving nods from the coach during the drills.

Locker room talk after is the usual: Jared's failing attempts to pick up girls and Jonesy's latest crush. Ryan stays out of it for the most part, just focusing on getting dressed, until Tim asks, "Dude, what's that on your shirt? Jizz?"

"What?" Ryan asks, glancing down. There's a small stain under the 'y' in Hockey. "It's tahini sauce, you dumbass. I got lunch at that Middle Eastern place."

"Middle Eastern?" Tim asks, pulling a face.

"It's not bad," Ryan defends. "Jane likes the falafel."

"Your girlfriend has you whipped if you're eating that crap," Tim says, shaking his head.

"Just because it's not a hamburger or boiled potato doesn't mean it's crap, Timmy. Try branching out a little." He can feel Ladd staring at the back of his neck. "And she's not my girlfriend."

"No strings attached, that's the way to go!" Jared crows.

The conversation moves on before Ryan can correct him. Not that he tries very hard.

Still, he shrugs at Ladd, who gives him a weird sort of grin and shake of the head. He doesn't look pissed or anything, which is good.

Not that Ryan cares, except maybe he does, since Ladd's his temporary boyfriend and all.

Ladd is finished dressing before Ryan is, as usual, but he waits until Ryan's done and walks out with him.

"Did you do the geology worksheet yet?" Ryan shakes his head. "Wanna do it in my room after dinner? Jonesy's got night class."

"Sure." Ryan shrugs. He needs to get it done, and if he's reading it right, he might get orgasms out of it too.

"Awesome." Ladd swings an arm around Kesler's shoulder and pulls him in for a rough hug. Ryan knows it doesn't look any different from what guys normally do with each other. It’s not suspicious at all, but it still makes his heart pound.

Back at the house, Ryan gets his geology stuff from his room, takes a deep breath, and heads down to Ladd's. He's never seen Ladd’s room in the light before, but it doesn’t look much different from any other room in the house.

Ryan drops his notebook on the floor while Ladd closes his door. Ryan hears the lock click and feels a thrill run through his limbs. Stupid biological reactions.

He's about to settle himself on the floor when Ladd pulls him by the arm, shoves him against the door, and kisses him.

"I've been wanting to do that all day," he says after a few minutes.

"Oh," Ryan says. It's dumb, but it's all he can think of to say. He can't say he has been too, because he hasn't. Mostly he's been nervous and jumpy about the whole thing. The promise of orgasms had mostly been an abstract thing to calm himself down.

It's not abstract any more. He pulls Ladd back against him and catches Ladd smiling before their lips meet again. Ryan doesn't quite understand why he looks so happy, but it's kind of infectious. He doesn't even try to think of an STD joke to go with that.

Ladd pulls back when Ryan starts pushing his hips up against his, but he manages to avoid whining about it.

"The geology thing wasn't just a line to get you in here," he says, even as his thumb rubs a spot behind Ryan's ear. "We should probably do that before I blow out all my brain cells. Or before you blow them out." He actually waggles his eyebrows when he says that, and Jane would be so proud: Ryan doesn't even consider punching him.

Despite his words, Ladd leans in and kisses Ryan again. If he doesn't stop rubbing that spot behind Ryan's ear soon, they aren't going to get to geology. Ryan didn't even know that spot was sensitive.

"Geology," he says into Ladd's mouth without pulling away. "The sooner we do it, the sooner I can blow you."

Ladd pulls away and grins. "I like the way you think."

They sprawl on the floor with their books and notebooks. Ladd hooks his foot over Ryan's ankle.

"That's not conducive to getting homework done," Ryan admonishes.

Ladd leans his head close to Ryan's and whispers, "It's incentive." Ryan shivers, and he knows Ladd can feel it, but he doesn't even care.

By the time they're halfway done with the worksheet, Ladd is rubbing his foot up and down Ryan's calf, and Ryan is wondering why he needs to pass geology anyway. What does a professional hockey player need to know about volcanoes? Nothing, that's what.

Ryan finishes the third to last question and looks over at Ladd. His head is bent over his book, and he's biting his lip in concentration. His neck is right there, and Ryan officially cannot think about lava floes anymore. He puts his pen down, leans over, and licks Ladd's neck.

Ladd groans and turns onto his side, tilting his head back to give Ryan better access. Ryan can work with that. He shimmies closer and starts kissing his way up Ladd's neck to his ear.

"We're not done," Ladd says, but his hand has already made its way around Ryan and under his shirt, stroking the small of his back.

"Fuck geology," Ryan mumbles.

"Mmm, I'd rather fuck you," Ladd says, and flips them neatly so he's on top of Ryan.

Even though the idea speeds blood flow to his dick, Ryan snorts. "You've been gay for like three days and already you want to try the advanced stuff?"

There's no real malice behind it, and he keeps moving his hands over Ladd's skin, but he hesitates briefly because maybe he's not supposed to say that shit this week.

"Bisexuals exist, Ryan," Ladd says before tugging on Ryan's earlobe with his teeth. Ryan would respond, but he's busy swallowing the sounds that elicits.

Ladd is heavy and warm on top of him, and Ryan never expected something like that to feel so good. He's hard in his jeans, but he could probably spend all night like this, just making out, and go to bed satisfied.

Ladd moves his hips, and his dick brushes Ryan's and oh, maybe not after all. Ladd's hands are moving under Ryan's shirt, and the carpet is rough against his back. It feels almost good, because everything feels good right now, but it probably won't feel that great tomorrow.

"Bed," Ryan gasps.

“Yeah,” Ladd says against Ryan’s jaw. It takes another minute before he finally moves off of Ryan and drags him to his bed, ditching a few articles of clothing on the way.

---

He shouldn't be surprised that Ladd's really cuddly afterwards, because he's already experienced post-coital makeouts with the guy, but now he's just sprawled on top of Ryan, tracing patterns on his cooling skin with a finger and watching the goosebumps pop up in their wake.

It's -- it's nice. There's nothing overtly sexual about it, and that kind of weirds Ryan out, but he's being a boyfriend, so he tries not to tense up or be weird about it.

It's actually kind of comfortable, his arms around Ladd's waist, and his thumbs brushing the base of his spine. His orgasm made him sleepy, and Ladd's warmth on top of him might put him over the edge into a doze. Before that happens, though, Ladd sighs into his neck and says, "Jonesy's gonna be back soon," without lifting his head.

Ryan makes some inarticulate sound of unhappiness with the idea of moving.

"Wish you could stay here all night," Ladd says into Ryan's skin. "But unless you wanna come out to the team really dramatically..."

It's a good point, but Ryan is surprised how appealing spending an entire night with Ladd sounds. Without meaning to, he racks his brain for some time and place they could, but can't think of any, unless one of their roommates unexpectedly goes out of town. If they changed road trip roommates by two weeks from now, but ... Ryan puts that thought out of his head. There won't be any need, two weeks from now.

Ladd rolls off of him, and Ryan shivers, suddenly exposed to the cold air. He pushes himself up with one arm, but the other is still trapped under Ladd. Turning to tell him so means detouring to kiss him, and then he gets sidetracked.

Ladd pushes him away gently after a time. "Get dressed before I ravish you again."

"I think that was the other way around," Ryan says as he's searching for his pants.

"We can try both, next time." Ladd hasn't even bothered to put on anything more than his boxers.

"You might wanna open the windows before Jonesy gets back," Ryan tells him. The room smells strongly of jizz and sweat.

Ladd waves his arm lazily. "I'll just tell him I had a marathon jerk off session. He'll give me some grief, but nothing I can't handle."

"See you tomorrow?" It comes out as a question, even though Ryan knows he'll see Ladd tomorrow.

"Definitely," Ladd says. "Come here."

Ryan goes and lets Ladd pull him down for one more kiss before leaving. On his way up the stairs, he hears Jonesy coming in, but feels too blissed out to stress almost over being caught.

---

When Ryan wakes up and turns on his laptop the next morning, he has an email from Facebook.

Please confirm that you are in It's Complicated with Andrew Ladd.

There's a message with it.

You don't have to, but no one will think anything weird, I promise.

Ryan swallows and goes to take a shower without hitting confirm or deny.

He knows, objectively, that Ladd is right. No one is suspicious of Seabs and his Duncs saying they're married on Facebook. Tim's Facebook lists him as in a relationship with one of his teammates from high school, and Jared and Jonesy list themselves as in a relationship with each other. They do it all the time, and the guys on the team will probably think it's funny.

It still makes Ryan queasy. He finishes his shower and gets dressed, and he checks the rest of his email, and his blogs, and the assignment for his first class of the day, and the whole time his Facebook page is asking him to confirm or deny. He thinks about calling Jane, but he knows what she'd say.

Finally, when he absolutely has to leave or he'll be late to class, he presses confirm, slams his laptop shut, and walks out.

He gets four texts from Jane in the next hour even though he knows she's in Psych.

The first is just a series of exclamation points. The second soon after says 'I'm so proud'.

About half an hour later, he gets "how have I never realized how you jocks embrace the homoerotic subtext of everything you do?" He's not sure if she means the rest of the teams’ marital statuses or if someone said something about his status -- their status -- specifically.

"No seriously, I think I've got the next two years to work on my senior thesis."

He's tapping out a reply to all of them as he walks out of his world lit seminar, only to get yanked to the near wall.

"Hey, what the -- Jane? Isn't your class, like, across campus?"

"I wanted to talk to you," she says.

"So you teleported? Jesus. It's not that big of a deal."

"Um, yeah, it kinda is, when three days ago you were still insisting you hated him."

"I still hate him," Ryan says automatically, but even he can hear that it sounds perfunctory.

"Sure you do." Jane rolls her eyes. "Not to mention, I've been fielding questions from everyone in GSA all morning. You better watch out for Ben. He called dibs on Andrew if he ever decided to experiment."

"I think I can take Ben," Ryan says. Jane raises her eyebrows, and he realizes how that sounded. Fuck. "Besides," he says, "he already did that experimenting with Seabs."

"I know," Jane says. "But you don't even sound jealous when you say it anymore."

"I was never --" Ryan cuts himself off. "There's no reason for me to be jealous. And besides, Seabs has probably proposed to Duncan by now."

Jane looks like she's trying not to laugh at him, and she pats him on the arm. "You have a break now, right? Let's get some coffee."

"Yeah, I mean, I have to do the last few questions on my geology homework."

"It's Rocks for Jocks, I'll see if I can help. Otherwise, just write something down, and I'm sure you'll get credit."

"So what happened last night?" Jane asks once they're settled at a table with some coffee.

"Nothing." Ryan shrugs. "We did homework, we had sex, then his roommate came back from night class, and I went to bed."

"And somewhere in there he convinced you to change your Facebook status?"

"He didn't talk about it. The request was there when I woke up. He just said no one would think anything suspicious, which they won't, I don't think. I haven't seen any of the responses yet."

Jane pulls out her phone, even though she knows he could check it on his, and hands it to him. It's already open to his Facebook page.

It's been liked twelve times, and the comments are mostly the guys from the team commenting with stuff like "Tell Laddy he can't fuck it up until Cam's foot gets fixed."

"Coach'll be so pleased."

"NOW YOU CAN JOIN US ON DATE NIGHT!!!"

So that's a relief. Out of curiosity, he clicks over to Ladd's profile, where a lot of the same theme of comments are coming from the guys, in addition to more from the GSA, and it's been liked by thirty people. He suddenly has a preview of what the meeting is going to be like.

"But Andy, I thought what we had MEANT something to you!!!! ;)" has been left by no less than six people, four guys and two girls.

Halfway through the comments, he finds one from Seabs that says, “I’m glad you’ve finally moved on after I broke your heart last year. I know I’m a tough man to get over, but Kes should keep you on your toes. ;) xoxoxo”

There's also more than one volunteer for a threesome, but it's all over the top enough that no one on the team will think much of the comments from the guys.

"Oh," Ryan says. "So I guess we're good, then."

"You're fine," Jane says. "I wonder how many of the other 'fake' gay marriages on Facebook are genuine."

She's got that 'making notes for subject headings' look on her face again, so Ryan knows he's not supposed to respond.

"Do you think it'll look weird if we take it down in a week?" Ryan asks.

Jane levels a look at him. "Ryan, if you did end it next week, I don't think that would count as uncomplicating it."

Kesler avoids answering by looking back down at Jane's phone and refreshing his Facebook page. Ben has added the comment "Homewrecker!!! :("

"Ben isn't actually gonna come after me, is he?" Kesler asks Jane, pointing out the comment.

Jane takes her phone back. "I'll keep him in line. Ryan --"

"Are you gonna help me with geology or what?"

"Fine." Jane narrows her eyes at him. "But only because I'm proud of you. And because I have an idea of what's coming for you at the meeting."

He's early to the lecture, so he grabs a seat in the usual row and pretends to flip through his textbook.

It's not a surprise when Ladd sits down next to him, but when he tears off a piece of Ryan’s bagel, it's so benign and coupley that Ryan just stares at him for a minute.

"What?" Ladd asks as he chews.

"Nothing," Ryan says.

Ladd grins, like Ryan said something funny. "Oh hey, you actually finished the assignment?"

"Yeah, Jane helped me," Ryan says, pushing it in Ladd's direction.

"How'd you land a smart chick?" Jared asks, leaning over Ladd.

"I didn't 'land' her," Ryan says, rolling his eyes. He pretends not to notice Ladd's little grin. "And crazy things happen when you hang out with people who don't play sports or pick you up at parties."

He throws insults back and forth with Jared while Ladd finishes copying his answers. Jared reaches for it when Ladd slides it back, but Ryan snatches it away.

"Do your own homework, dickwad," he says.

"What, you'll let Laddy copy, but not me?" Jared whines.

"Yes," Ryan says firmly, pretending that Ladd isn't grinning like a loon next to him.

"Oh, so that's how it's gonna be now?" Jared says dramatically.

"Shut up, Jared," Ladd says. "You can't come between our love."

The professor calls for attention then, and they all turn to the front. Ryan is paying way more attention than usual, hoping that he isn't actually blushing. Ladd kicks his ankle gently and flashes him a quick smile when he looks over. It shouldn't make him feel better, but it does.

---

He's really nervous as they walk into the GSA meeting room. It's stupid, but his palms are kind of sweaty, and his heart is racing a little, and he just -- he doesn't know why, he doesn't know what to expect. Jane said she did, and that actually scares him a little, but she's going to be there. Ladd's by his side, and the second the door shuts behind him, he takes Ryan's hand.

"Holy shit," someone says from across the room.

"Andy, baby, don't tell me it's true!" one of the juniors says.

"Interloper!" Ben shouts.

Ryan just works on not letting it affect him, like the taunts of an opposing team's fans as you walk into the tunnel, but Ladd's ducking his head and grinning as he tugs Ryan to a pair of open chairs.

Ryan sits down first, but before Ladd can sit next to him, Jane drops into the seat and grins at them both. Without missing a beat, Ladd drops onto Ryan's lap.

Someone in the room whistles, and Ryan is suddenly very glad Ladd is there, because he can hide the fact that he's blushing by pressing his face into Ladd's back.

Jane flicks him in the shoulder and smiles at him when he looks over. Ryan smiles back and tries to loosen his grip on Ladd's waist. It's safe here, that's the whole point.

Erin calls the meeting to order, and eventually everyone settles down and shuts up. Ladd rearranges himself in Ryan's lap so they're both comfortable and Ryan can actually see the rest of the room.

"Okay, so our first order of business tonight is next week's --"

"Excuse me, point of order!" Jack calls out. "I think I first order of business should be fair jock distribution throughout the group." He gets a few laughs. "I mean, come on, is it really fair for them to hog each other? Leave some jocks for the rest of us!"

Ryan doesn't even know how to respond to that, but Ladd just puts both of his arms around around Ryan and glares at the room.

"No. My jock."

"I'm my own jock, thank you," Ryan mutters.

"Sure you are," Ladd says, ducking down to kiss him quickly. Ryan can feel himself blushing when the room breaks out into a chorus of "ooooooohs".

"As I was saying," Erin tries again.

"What is this, the seventh grade? I want a real show!" Ben calls out. He's apparently decided that if he can't have Ladd, he'll take up voyeurism.

"That's what your porn collection is for, Benny," Jane says.

"I like you best," Ryan whispers once the room is finally under control of Erin. Ladd pouts and Jane gives him a smug look.

It's kind of nice.

Ryan's gotten used to speaking up in meetings, but he stays quiet tonight, just enjoying the unexpected pleasure of Ladd on his lap, and his hand stroking the back of Ryan's neck every once in a while, usually when he catches one of the other guys looking their way.

For the first time, Ryan understands why someone might want to come out. It would be nice to have this all the time. Well, not all the time, because Ladd is actually kind of fucking heavy, but it's good for now.

The meeting ends, but Ladd doesn't move, he just turns a little so he's almost straddling Ryan.

"I don't think I actually want to give them a show," Ryan says, but he doesn't move away when Ladd leans down and rests his head against Ryan’s.

"But what if I want to make everyone jealous of me? This is the only place I get to to do it."

"Jealous of me, you mean. I still think Ben might kill me in my sleep."

"I wouldn't let him. And no, I mean jealous of me. Do you know how many people asked me if you were single after your first meeting?"

Ryan never used to blush this much, he's pretty sure. "Shut up, they did not."

"They did. Didn't they, Jane?"

Ryan had kind of forgotten she was there.

"Sorry, Ryan, they totally did."

"I hate both of you," Ryan informs them.

"No, you don't," Ladd says, and kisses him so Ryan can't argue.

After the meeting, they're almost back to the house when Ladd asks, "So do you have anything wild and crazy planned for Saturday?"

It feels like a trick question, like maybe he's forgetting something. "No? I mean, I'm sure the guys will be doing something stupid."

Ladd snorts in agreement. Friday night games always make for interesting Saturday nights. "Did you want to do keg stands with Smitty?" Ladd asks.

Ryan shrugs. "I can pass on getting kicked in the face again til next time, I guess. Why?"

"I was thinking we could grab dinner off campus, maybe see what movies are playing." Ladd shrugs.

It's kind of weird that Ladd wants to go on a date, but it doesn't sound like a terrible time, and he's going to have to eat at some point. He'd almost rather stay in and have sex, because a date is -- it's just weird. But he promised.

"Yeah, sure, I mean, whatever sounds good."

"Cool," Ladd says with a wide grin.

---

The game on Friday goes great. Their line gets two goals, and Coach mentions wanting to give them some power play time. Dinner after is loud and cheerful, and Ladd is handsy, but no one thinks anything of it.

"Meet me in the south lot at six tomorrow?" Ladd asks quietly when they go their separate ways at the house. Ryan nods, and Ladd brushes his fingers against Ryan's waist where none of the guys can see.

At 5 the next day, Ryan realizes this is a terrible idea.

"This is a terrible idea," he tells Jane on the phone.

"Can't figure out what to wear?" Jane asks. Ryan is, in fact, standing in his room in a towel, hair dripping, and he has no idea what to wear.

"We're just going to the movies or something, it doesn't matter what I wear." Ryan really wishes he sounded like he meant that.

"Wear the jeans that make your ass look good," Jane instructs.

"Since when do you notice what my ass looks like?" Ryan asks, but he knows which jeans she means, so he pulls them out.

"I'm a lesbian, not blind. That dark blue button down. It brings out your eyes."

"Isn't that a little dressy?" Ryan asks, but he pulls it out anyway.

"Andrew will appreciate it. And I'd just like to point out the ridiculousness of a dyke giving a gay man fashion advice."

"I'm a hockey player. My idea of fashion is making sure my jersey fits right."

---

When he gets to the lot, Ladd is leaning against a RAV-4, and Ryan's glad Jane made him dress up a little. Not that Ladd's dressed up, he just looks really good. Ryan's almost tempted to push him back against the car right there.

"Whose car is this?"

"Ben's," Ladd says. "He said we can borrow it."

"Did you have to trade sexual favors?" Ryan asks. It's weird when Ladd opens his door for him, but kind of nice.

"Nah, but I didn't sweep the car for bugs, so I can't guarantee full privacy in the back seat later. But I'm sure he'd keep it for his private collection."

There's nothing they can do in the back seat that they haven't already, but Ryan can't help the little thrill that goes through him at the thought.

Ryan expects Ladd to take them to the strip of Burlington with the multiplex and a bunch of restaurants, but instead he drives them a few towns over and parks in the lot of a bar and grill.

"Is this okay?" Ladd asks when he turns off the car. "I just figured, you know, there probably won't be people from school here..."

"It's fine," Ryan assures him, and to cover up how awkward he feels, he leans across and kisses Ladd. Ladd opens up to him immediately, threading his fingers through Ryan's carefully gelled hair. Ryan really wishes the center console wasn't between them right now.

"Your ass looks amazing in those jeans," Ladd says between kisses. Ryan laughs.

"That's what Jane said."

Ladd pulls back a little and narrows his eyes at Ryan. "Tell Jane to keep her eyes to herself."

"Oh, shut up," Ryan says, and he kisses Ladd again.

They kiss like that, leaning over the console, until Ladd pulls back. "No, wait. I have a plan for the evening, and you're skipping things."

"So?" Ryan asks, leaning in again.

"No," Ladd says, leaning back against the door. "I'm taking you to dinner."

"Well, if you insist," Ryan says, hopefully with more lightness than he feels at the moment.

Ladd grins and opens his door. Ryan quickly gets out before Ladd has the chance to open the door for him.

The place is pretty much one step up from a diner, nothing too fancy, thank god, but Ryan notices the rainbow flag sticker on the door. Ladd really did plan this.

It's dimly lit, and the menu is simple, but Ryan stares at it so he won't have to look at Ladd. Now that they're here, just by themselves, Ryan feels even more uncomfortable. They have to get through a whole meal before they can go to the movie, or better yet, start making out again.

But then Ladd starts talking about their upcoming game against BU, and plays he thinks he and Ryan can pull off against them, and if there's one thing Ryan can always talk about, it's hockey. He's surprised when their burgers are set in front of them.

A few minutes later, Ladd's phone beeps.

"It's Seabs," he says with a smile. "He wants to know how it's going." He starts tapping out a reply.

"Oh," Ryan says, unsure of what to think of Ladd telling Seabs about their date. Maybe asking him for help in thinking of what to do. He's not jealous, but it makes it feel more real and serious, that Ladd asked his best friend for advice. "What are you telling him?"

Ladd grins. "I'm telling him it's going great, and if he knows what's best for him, he won't text me again tonight, because I'll be busy."

Ryan relaxes a little, like, he's glad Ladd thinks the date is going well. Ryan just doesn't have any frame of reference for this, because the only other date he's been on was a group thing in the eighth grade when supposedly he was going with Sarah Larson, but they barely looked at each other the whole time.

Ladd insists on paying when the check comes. "I invited you."

Ryan frowns. "I'm not the girl."

"Believe me, I know," Ladd says with a grin.

He buys the movie tickets, too, but Ryan steals Ladd’s wallet out of his hand so he has a chance at paying for the soda and popcorn.

"That was a dirty trick," Ladd says in his ear as their drinks are filled. Ryan has to pretend he's waiting for a face off to keep from shivering a little.

It's a Saturday night, and they're seeing some movie with lots of explosions, so the theater is pretty crowded. Which means no making out, even though they sit near the back.

When the lights go down, though, Ladd leans against Ryan's shoulder and puts his hand on Ryan's thigh. His hand is warm through Ryan's jeans, and even though he's not doing anything with his hand, Ryan can feel a low burn of want start in his stomach. He's going to be a mess by the end of the movie. He really should move Ladd's hand.

Instead, he covers Ladd's hand with his own. After a few minutes, Ladd curls his fingers around Ryan's.

It's nice not worrying about anyone seeing them in the dark, but Ryan wishes there were fewer people around. Ladd should've chosen some kids’ movie. Maybe -- no, no maybe, because there isn't going to be a next time.

Besides, they'd probably get caught and arrested for lewd behavior, and wouldn't that be a great way to get outed? He can see it on TSN: Vancouver Canucks prospect Ryan Kesler and Carolina Hurricanes prospect Andrew Ladd were arrested in Burlington, Vermont for lewd behavior in a movie theater.

And then getting released the very next day. That would happen.

"Hey, are you okay?" Ladd whispers.

"Huh? Yeah, fine," Ryan says. "This movie is really dumb."

"That's half the point," Ladd grins.

Ryan actually hadn't been paying attention to the movie at all, and now that he tries, he finds he can't follow what little plot it's pretending to have between all the explosions.

Ladd squeezes his hand, and Ryan squeezes back without thinking about it.

After what seems like eternity but is only 97 minutes, according to the movie information out front, the movie is finally over.

Ryan stands up the second the credits start rolling, and he pulls Ladd to his feet, too.

"Whoa, are we in a hurry?" Ladd asks.

"Yes," Ryan hisses. "Car. Now."

Ryan's not bold enough to drag Ladd through the lobby by his hand, but he wishes he was, because Ladd is just meandering along like he has nothing urgent to do, and Ryan clearly remembers saying “now.”

In the parking lot, there's less of a crowd, and Ryan gets Ladd by his wrist. Ladd had the great foresight to park in the back corner of the lot, and when they get to the car, Ryan pushes Ladd against the door -- kinda hard, oops -- and attacks his mouth.

Ladd doesn't seem too upset about it, though.

They kiss like that until Ryan's grinding his hips down against Ladd's, and Ladd pulls his head back to say, "Maybe, uh, maybe we should get in the car."

"Yeah. Yes," Ryan says, but he doesn't move.

"I need to get the keys out, Kes." Ladd laughs.

Ryan runs his hands over the front of Ladd's jeans, searching for them, and Ladd gasps. "Oh fuck, thanks, but uh --" He reaches into his jacket pocket and fumbles with the buttons until the headlights flash.

Ryan doesn't even bother with the front door, just reaches behind Ladd and pops open the back door.

"You know," Ladd says, "I was gonna try and be classy about this..."

"Fuck classy," Ryan growls. He crowds Ladd into the car, and onto the seat, and climbs on top of him. He turns and shuts the door without banging his head on the roof of the car, barely. Then he's back on top of Ladd, kissing him and running his hands over his chest, and fuck, it's good.

Not great, because the backseat is still not really big enough for two hockey player-sized guys, but Ryan doesn't even care -- Ladd is thrusting his hips against Ryan's and saying "Ryan, fuck, want you so bad," between kisses.

Ryan gets Ladd's shirt up to his armpits, figures that's good enough, then moves to his zipper. Ladd is trying to work on the buttons of Ryan's shirt, and is being impeded by his unwillingness to move his mouth from Ryan's.

Ryan seriously considers ripping them all off, but he doesn't have that many nice shirts, and he'd have to explain to his mom how he ruined this one. Finally Ladd gets the last button undone, and he pulls Ryan down to him so their skin is touching.

Ryan's hard-on is starting to be painful inside of his jeans, and he doesn't think his knees will ever be the same from being squished in here, and he doesn't care at all. Ladd's hands move to Ryan's fly and brush his dick, and Ryan can't even be embarrassed at the sound he makes then. He has to stop kissing Ladd and pant into his neck as Ladd works the button open and the zipper down.

"God, Andrew, please," he moans into Ladd's skin. Ladd's hips buck, and his dick brushes Ryan's, and oh.

"Like that?" Ladd asks. Ryan can't even make words anymore, he can only nod.

He fumbles to get Ladd's pants down until finally, finally their dicks are touching, and they're both smearing pre-come on each other's stomachs as they thrust against each other. It's fucking amazing, feeling Ladd's dick sliding against his own, but he wants so much more.

But they're in the back seat of Ben's car -- he'll probably be embarrassed about that later, but right now he doesn't give a shit -- and there's just no room, not to mention lube or condoms, so he has to make do. So he wraps his hand around both of their cocks and has to bite the inside of his lip when Ladd moans, "Oh fuck yes."

"You are so fucking hot," Ryan mumbles against his ear. "I probably shouldn't be telling you this, because you already know, but oh fuck --" he bites out as Ladd grabs his wrist and makes him twist his hand around them both.

"Ryan," Ladd whines, and that's it, Ryan is done, he's coming all over Ladd's stomach and his own stomach, and probably Ben's backseat, too.

He's barely even done when Ladd says "Oh, fuck," and wraps his hand around Ryan’s for just a few strokes, and then he's coming too. Ryan feels it on his dick and his stomach, and if he could get hard again this soon, he would, just from that.

Ryan collapses onto Ladd's chest, tucks his face between Ladd's neck and shoulder, and breathes in the mingled scent of sweat and come and Ladd's cologne. Ladd settles his arms around Ryan's waist, and they just stay there like that. In a few minutes, it's probably gonna be seriously gross, but until then, Ryan can't be assed to move.

Eventually it's too itchy to lay comfortably, so they have to move. They clean up as best they can with napkins from Ben's glove compartment. There is totally jizz on the bottom of Ryan's shirt. Hopefully it will be too dark on the walk back to the house for anyone to notice.

On the way back, Ladd drives with one hand and rests the other on Ryan's thigh. Ryan thinks about telling him to drive with two hands: what, does he wanna get them killed? But he's too blissed out from his orgasm to care, and it feels good and warm, so he doesn't say anything

They make out for a while in the parking lot back at school. It was just supposed to be a quick goodnight kiss that they can't really have anywhere else, but they get distracted.

Finally they pull away, and Ladd smiles softly. Ryan can't remember seeing him smile like that before. It makes him feel kind of weird as he tries to smile back.

"Tonight was good," Ladd says.

"Yeah," Ryan agrees. Because it was, it was really good.

They walk back to the house quietly, and it's almost the perfect way to end the evening. Ryan can't help wishing they were going to bed together.

The party has moved elsewhere when they get to the house, so they don't have to explain where they've been or what, exactly, is on Ryan's shirt.

"See you tomorrow," Ladd says softly at the bottom of the stairs, even though there's no one around to hear him.

"Yeah," Ryan says. He reaches out and brushes the back of Ladd's neck with his hand. It's a pretty stupid gesture, but Ladd smiles like Kesler gave him a winning lottery ticket.

---

Ryan wakes up the next morning to Tim's snoring, but not even that can dampen the overwhelming feeling of contentment. It's pretty strange -- Ryan's mostly used to an overwhelming feeling of anger -- but he can roll with it.

He brushes his teeth, throws on shorts and a hoodie, and goes downstairs to see if he has any cereal left.

No one actually does much cooking at the house -- they all have pretty big meal plans -- but almost everyone keeps snacks around. Ryan hasn't done any grocery shopping in a while, but he finds a box of Frosted Mini Wheats that's not too stale. He'll head to the dining hall later, when he feels like getting dressed.

He eats them straight from the box and wanders into the den, where anyone who's already up will have gathered.

"Seriously, Laddy, you should meet her. Tits out to here," Jared says. "And she's not obviously crazy or anything."

"Wow, what a stunning recommendation," Ladd says lazily from his chair. "Hey, Kes," he says when he sees Ryan hanging around the doorway.

"Seriously, though," Chris cuts in. "She's hot, and she asked where you were last night."

Ryan can feel the good mood he woke up with slipping away, even as Ladd rolls his eyes. "Thanks, guys, but I can pick up on my own. I don't need an assist on this."

Ryan doubts anyone else notices the lack of pronoun used.

"He just doesn't get it," Jared says.

"Not at all," Chris agrees. "You'll see, Ladder. And then you'll be thanking us."

"I really won't," Ladd says, then turns to Ryan.

"Kes. Share the cereal love." He makes a sleepy motion with his hand. Ryan walks into the room and hands him the cereal box, even though he wants to say, “No cereal until you tell them you're taken.” Ladd's rumpled from sleep and sprawled in the chair almost bonelessly. Ryan is torn between wanting to kiss him and wanting to punch him. So pretty much like normal then, but he'd gotten used to the kissing feeling winning out.

"Keep it," he says, when Ladd tries to hand the box back. "I think I'm just gonna go to the dining hall." He scrams as quickly as possible without looking like he's running away. He changes into jeans and sneakers as fast as he can, and when he gets down the stairs, Ladd is dressed and waiting and smiling, like he's wondering what took Ryan so long.

Kesler tries to push the nagging horrible feeling away as he eats breakfast with Ladd. The guys on the team are morons, pretty uniformly, and they don't know any better. Ladd said no, and he isn't pretending to be interested in another girl or anything. It doesn't matter anyway.

Ladd kicks his feet under the table and asks what's bothering him. Ryan snaps, "I'm not awake yet, dumbass, oh my god, shut up," and Ladd laughs, then goes and refills Ryan's coffee.

Ryan is fine. And everything is going to be fine. He shoves some hash browns in his mouth and tries to believe that.

---

They have practice that afternoon, and then it's time to do all the homework they've neglected the rest of the weekend. Ladd and Ryan agree to do it separately so it actually gets done.

When they get back from dinner, there are a bunch of girls in the den.

Ryan feels awkward almost immediately. He's never been good at faking interest in these situations, so he usually just defaults to acting like an asshole or bailing entirely. But Ladd lets Jared wave him over to the couch.

"Ladd! Come meet Brittany."

And Ryan should leave, he should just go to his room and fucking....do anything but stand here and watch this all go down. He knows how it's going to end, there's no need for him to torture himself.

He sits down in one of the chairs that's supposed to be in the kitchen and pretends to watch NHL On the Fly instead of the Animal Planet or whatever the hell is happening on the couch.

But of course he can't help watching. Like a car accident or something, he just can't look away.
Ladd's standing by the couch smiling and saying hi to everyone. Ryan vaguely recognizes the girls because they hang around the hockey players a lot -- Jane lectured him last time he used the phrase “puck bunnies.”

He knows who Brittany is, despite missing the introductions. She has shiny hair and a low cut shirt, and she really does have tits out to there. And she's leaning toward Ladd, flashing her incredibly white teeth. Ryan makes himself look back at the TV when she pulls Ladd down onto the couch next to her.

He manages to concentrate on hockey for a few minutes while they're showing Canucks highlights. When he looks back at the couch, Brittany is leaning against Ladd, her tits pressed up against his arm, and Ladd is laughing.

Ryan gets up so fast he knocks his chair over. He rights it quickly, not looking at anyone, trying to hide his blush. He flees to his room and slams the door behind him.

He puts on his headphones and pulls up hockeyfights.com on his laptop. He gets through every Probert fight there is before someone knocks on his door. He ignores it, hoping whoever it is will just leave him alone, but after a minute, there's another knock, and Ladd pokes his head in.

"Hey, how loud do you have those things?" he asks, nodding to Ryan's headphones.

"Not very," Ryan says, barely looking up.

"Oh." Ladd sounds confused. "Everything okay? Did something happen?"

"Nothing happened. Nothing unexpected, anyway," Ryan says, still staring at the screen.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Ladd asks, dropping onto the foot of Ryan's bed.

"It isn't supposed to mean anything," Ryan says. "It just is what it is."

"Wait," Ladd says, "are you mad at me?"

"Why would I be mad at you?" Ryan asks tonelessly.

"You are! What the hell, dude?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Ryan says. He pulls up Gordie Howe's page and starts at the beginning.

"Ryan, will you at least look at me?" Ladd puts his hand on Ryan's shoulder, and Ryan jerks away. "Okay, seriously, what is going on?"

"Isn't there like, a party downstairs that you should be a part of?" Ryan very carefully looks at Ladd's shoulder.

"Is that what this is about? Are you mad about Brittany? I didn't want them to set me up, you heard me tell them. And nothing happened down there, and nothing is going to happen, okay?"

Ryan feels some sort of weird calm descend. "Maybe it should, though," he says, and it barely even feels like him talking. "This will be over on Tuesday, and then you might want her around."

Ladd kind of looks like someone hit him with a brick. "But..." he says. "I mean, I thought..."

"You thought what?"

"I thought you liked this, liked us," Ladd nearly yells.

"Keep your voice down," Ryan lectures. "And of course I like it, who doesn't like getting laid regularly? But it's just a fling, Ladd. Half the appeal is the expiration date."

He wonders how he manages to sound so calm and detached.

"What -- what is wrong with you?" Ladd asks, his voice straining.

"With me? Nothing. This whole thing was your idea, in case you forgot."

"Only because you were being insane and I thought..."

"That one week would make me fall madly in love with you?" Ryan asks. "You certainly aren't lacking in confidence, are you?"

"I thought if I could get you to get over yourself for a second, you'd realize that we're good together, and I'm serious about this," Ladd growls.

The familiar thrum of anger at Ladd is almost comforting. "We're not," Ryan says flatly. "And you're not."

"What is it gonna take for you to believe me? You're so busy being a fucking martyr that you're not paying attention!"

Ryan narrows his eyes. "Sorry you didn't get your way this time. That must be tough for you. Maybe Brittany can help you through it. Now I have homework to finish up. You can leave."

"No," Ladd says.

"Excuse me?" Ryan asks.

"I'm not leaving," Ladd says, crossing his arms. Ryan hasn't balled up his fist with the urge to punch him in so long, it's almost comforting. "You agreed to date me til Tuesday."

"I'm breaking up with you early," Ryan snaps.

"Then the deal’s off. I'm not leaving you alone," Ladd says.

"Fuck you motherfucking fuck cock son of a bitch," Ryan swears. "Fine, whatever, Tuesday."

"And you can't be mysteriously unavailable until Tuesday night," Ladd sneers.

"What the fuck do you care?" Ryan finally explodes.

"It clearly doesn't matter to you," Ladd says. He crosses his arms over his chest and glares. "But that's the deal. Unless you stick with your end, I'm not sticking with mine."

"Fucking fine!" Ryan says. "But unless you get out right the fuck now, you're gonna have to tell everyone you walked into a door."

Ladd walks to the door. "I'm leaving. But tomorrow morning --"

"Yes, I get it," Ryan interrupts him. "Leave."

Ladd slams the door behind him.

---

Ryan stews all night, and as he falls asleep, is reminded of that cliché "never go to bed angry." Like it fucking matters. He just has to get through two more days of this, and it's not like they have a real relationship or anything.

When he gets downstairs the next morning, two minutes before he has to leave for class, Ladd is waiting for him with an Eggo and a travel mug of coffee.

"What are you doing?" Ryan asks, eyeing the waffle suspiciously. He'd taken the coffee without thinking about it, and now nearly regrets it.

"Holding up my end of the deal," Ladd says. "Come on, we're gonna be late for class."

Ryan doesn't know how he just does that, how he can pretend last night didn't even happen. But if there's one thing he's pretty sure of, it's Andrew Ladd's ability to fake things, so it's not as surprising as it could be.

Ladd sits next to him in class and bumps his knee against Ryan's periodically. Ryan has to stop himself from pulling away. He just has to remind himself that he deals with this now, and come Tuesday, Ladd will leave him alone for good.

"I'm having lunch with Jane," Ryan says pointedly when class is over.

"I know," Ladd says. "I'll see you at practice, eh?"

"Yeah okay," Ryan says, and he hurries off to meet Jane at the Student Union.

"Sooo," Jane says when she sits down, "how was the rest of your weekend?"

Ryan drops his head onto the table.

He explains what happened in as few words as possible in between sips of his Gatorade.

"You're a fucking moron," Jane says when he finishes.

"Why, because I don't want to watch a straight guy set up a back up plan for when he gets tired of experimenting?"

"Ryan, he's not --"

"Not what? Straight?" Ryan scoffs. "He spent the first semester actively trying to piss me off in any way he could, and suddenly he's decided I'm worth redefining his sexuality for? He's had five months and plenty of willing guys in the GSA."

"I know, but..."

He flicks the cap from his bottle across the table. "Just because I'm not picking out curtains with Andrew fucking Ladd doesn't mean I'm going to die alone, Jane."

"Where are you gonna find a gay guy that puts up with all your hockey shit?" Jane asks.

"I'll marry a Canadian," Ryan says promptly, and Jane finally laughs.

"You really don't think you could give Andrew the benefit of the doubt? I mean, he's been a good boyfriend for the most part, hasn't he?"

Ryan sighs. "I mean, yeah, sure, this week, he has. But I can't trust that he'll be there when it gets tough. Isn't that important?"

"Of course, but --"

"Jane, I really don't want to talk about this anymore."

"Okay. Do you still need help on that World Lit paper?"

---

Ryan's supposed to meet a bunch of the guys in the weight room after class, but Ladd's going to be there, so he's already decided to skip and maybe just go hit the bike in the regular student gym. But when he gets out of class, Ladd is there waiting for him.

"Don't you ever have anything better to do?" Ryan asks.

"I want to hang out with you, it sort of goes along with --"

"Fine, whatever," Ryan says, cutting him off before he can say 'dating' or whatever he was going to.

"Besides, we're going to the same place." Ladd shrugs, and Ryan has to pretend he wasn't thinking about bailing.

Ladd carries on a one sided conversation the whole trip across campus, and Ryan mostly tunes him out once he figures out that Ladd doesn't actually expect him to respond. He just needs to get through a few more hours of this shit, and Ladd will finally, finally leave him alone.

He's still glad when they meet up with the other guys, and he can talk to other people, and it's totally acceptable when he just puts on his iPod and hops on the bike. But he swears he can feel Ladd watching him the entire time, like maybe he's getting turned on watch Ryan sweat.

Probably not, though, because that's treading a little to close into actual homosexuality for Ladd.

When Ryan's done on the bike, he goes to pee before starting with the weights. He's kept his headphones in, so he's taken by complete surprise when he's walking back to the weight room and Ladd ambushes him.

Ladd pulls him behind a row of lockers and pushes him up against them and kisses him hard. Ryan opens his mouth and lets him in without even thinking about it, then regrets it.

"We shouldn't --" he manages before Ladd bites his neck.

"No one's coming. No one will see. I checked," Ladd says. He's breathing heavily, and Ryan can't tell if it's from his workout, making out, or both. Ladd smells like sweat. Ryan's sure he does too. It should be gross, but instead Ryan is hard in his shorts, and his hips are starting to buck against Ladd's.

"Every time we're here together, I wanna drag you back here and blow you," Ladd says. Ryan can't even process that because then Ladd is dropping to his knees and pulling Ryan's shorts down.

It takes him an embarrassingly short time to come. Ladd gets up and kisses him after, and when Ryan offers his hand he shakes his head. "I'm good."

Ryan wonders how the hell he's supposed to work out now. Ladd has moved away and grabbed his water bottle -- he apparently jumped Kesler totally prepared. He takes a few sips and hands the bottle to Ryan, who drinks about half of it in one go.

"Come on," Ladd says. "I'll spot you."

Ryan doesn't even know what to say to that, and his brain still feels fogged and stupid from his orgasm, so he just follows Ladd back to the weight room and doesn't even consider letting a weight drop on his head.

The rest of the guys clear out before they do, for night class, for dinner, whatever. Eventually it's just him and Ladd, and they hit the showers together. Ladd doesn't say much, which works fine for Ryan, as they rinse off to the sound of the water echoing off the walls.

He glances over his shoulder, checking again that they're the only ones here, before shoving Ladd back against the tiles.

"Kes, what --" Ladd asks as Ryan wraps a hand around his dick.

"I owe you one," Ryan says, stroking Ladd as fast as he can.

"Oh, fuck," Ladd swears, letting his head fall back against the wall. The handjob is fast and frantic. Ryan loses the rhythm a few times when he keeps checking to make sure no one's walked in.

Ladd does a pretty good job of keeping quiet, which is almost a shame, but Ryan can appreciate the way he bites his lip and breathes heavily out his nose. The moan when he comes bounces off the wall, and it's like every fantasy Ryan's ever had of a locker room shower since he was fourteen come to life.

He rinses off his hand under the spray of water and grabs the shampoo while Ladd catches his breath.

Ryan finishes his shower first and cuts off the water without waiting for Ladd.

Ladd's not too far behind him, though, and he's ready by the time Ryan is, so they walk to dinner together in silence.

A few of the guys are still in the dining hall when they get there. They eat dinner and shoot the shit with the guys, and then Ryan announces his need to work on a paper and bails. Ladd, thankfully, doesn't follow him.

---

He falls asleep feeling uneasy and doesn't sleep well. When his alarm goes off, he slams it off, intending to stay in bed. Then he remembers his World Lit paper is due and groans. He stumbles out of bed and into some clothes.

After GSA today, Ladd will finally leave him alone for good, he remembers when he's putting his paper in his backpack. It doesn't fill him with the relief he thought it would. Whatever, he’s exhausted. He doesn't have the energy for deep emotions right now.

After World Lit, he forgoes coffee completely and buys a big Red Bull on his way to practice.

He feels slightly more awake while he's suiting up, but still off. Ladd's next to him at his stall, joking with the guys. Jesus, Ryan can't wait to just play some fucking hockey.

Practice is good. He doesn't think about Ladd, except when he has to pass the puck to him, and he's right there, waiting for it where Ryan's dished it to. The time passes quickly, and they skip any post practice deviations to head to GSA.

It's -- it's fucking weird. Ryan's kind of looking forward to it, even though he's 'breaking up' with Ladd almost immediately after the meeting. If ending this weird week even counts as a break up. But it's not like he's had a lot of opportunities to be out with another guy in public even a little before, so he lets Ladd take his hand when they walk into the room and doesn't even object when Ladd pulls him down onto his lap, instead of letting him take the free seat next to him.

People pay them a whole hell of a lot less attention than they did the last time. Well, mostly.

"Jesus, Andy, haven't you ever heard of Febreze? My entire car smelled like jizz," Ben says loudly, even though he's only sitting a few seats over from them.

Everyone laughs, and again when Jane says, "Oh, Ben, don't even pretend like that isn't why you lent him the car in the first place."

She gives Ryan and Ladd a look, and Ryan shrugs just a little as Ladd tightens his arm around Ryan's waist for just a moment. Jane rolls her eyes and goes back to talking to Lucy until Erin calls everyone to order.

Ryan lets his mind blank during the meeting. He pays not a bit of attention to the business or gossip going around. He doesn't think about what will happen after the meeting, when he'll go back to the house, and he won't be dating Ladd anymore. He just sits on Ladd's lap and concentrates on the feeling of Ladd brushing his thumb over Ryan's hip, right above his jeans. He lets his fingers rest on the back of Ladd's neck and scratch it lightly. He enjoys the lack of negative attention their displays garner.

Toward the end of the meeting, he starts paying attention again and realizes that Jane keeps shooting him these really worried looks. And she keeps shooting some other kind of look at Ladd, but Ryan can't see the look Ladd's giving her back, so he has no idea what it means. He makes a note to avoid Jane when the meeting is done.

When the meeting is over and everyone is just standing around talking, Ryan waits until Lucy is distracting Jane, then drags Ladd by the hand out of the room. He drops Ladd's hand in the hallway and starts walking back to the house. Ladd walks besides him, a good two feet between them.

When they're within sight of the house, Ryan turns to Ladd. "Okay."

"Give me til the end of the night," Ladd says immediately.

"No. That wasn't part of the deal. A week, Ladd."

Ladd steps into his space. It's dark and no one can see them, but Ryan's heartbeat picks up. "Ryan," Ladd says, "Just give me to the end of the night. I want you to fuck me."

Ladd says it very matter-of-factly, not in a sexy way at all, but all of Ryan's blood rushes to his dick.

"I --" Ryan says.

"Come on, Ryan," Ladd says, stepping even closer, so their chests are touching. And fuck it, Ryan’s only human.

"Okay," he says.

"My room," Ladd says, and he walks off to the house without waiting for Ryan.

Ryan just stares after him for a minute, maybe checking out his ass climbing the stairs, before following him. He doesn't know how Ladd knows Jonesy won't be coming back to the room any time soon, or if Ladd expects Ryan to spend the night, or what.

When he gets to the room, Ladd's already got his shirt off, and Ryan quickly locks the door behind him. "You don't have to do this, you know," Ryan says. He doesn't want Ladd to do this just to prove something to Ryan. That's a fucking stupid reason to do it and won't change anything.

"Fuck you," Ladd says easily, "I want to. I want your cock in my ass, I want you inside me."

Christ, that's just not fair. Ladd starts on his belt, and he looks like something out of a soft core porno, all built and clean-shaven and undressing himself. But Ryan steps towards him and catches his hand. He doesn't want to just watch. So he kisses Ladd and undoes his belt after rubbing his crotch through his jeans a few times.

Ladd just practically melts into Ryan when he kisses him. He's warm and heavy, and Ryan is almost the only thing keeping him upright as he unzips his fly.

"Mmm, yeah, Ryan," Ladd says, and his voice is already rough. Ryan nudges him back toward his bed.

"Come on," he says. "Sit down before I drop you."

"You won't drop me," Ladd says, but he sits on the bed anyway and toes off his sneakers.

"I might," Kesler says, but he doesn't mean it, and he's already grabbing Ladd's waistband and pulling down his jeans. The second they hit the floor, Ladd grabs Ryan, pulls him close, and kisses him, rough and sloppy.

"Too many clothes," Ladd says after a few minutes. "Off."

"Pushy," Ryan says, but pulls his shirt off and starts on his jeans, which feels fantastic because his dick is so hard right now. When he's down to his boxers, he pushes Ladd down onto the bed and climbs on top of him. He bites his way up Ladd's chest, listening to the choked-off sounds Ladd makes and trying to make them happen again. He spends some time on Ladd's nipples while he's there, licking and sucking and biting softly. Ladd is covering his mouth with his forearm now, trying to cover his moans. His hips are moving restlessly under Ryan’s. Shit. At this rate neither of them are gonna last long enough to fuck.

He moves back up to Ladd's mouth, trying to slow it down a little. Ladd seems perfectly content to kiss him, but he's not getting any less desperate. He wraps his arms around Ryan and holds them so they're pressed together from mouth to toes, with no space in between. He's kissing Ryan so deeply it feels a little like he's sucking out Ryan's soul.

And fuck, but it's hot.

After a few minutes of that, Ryan realizes that Ladd is whining a little in the back of his throat. He pulls away slightly.

"Want you in me now, Ryan, God, please," Ladd babbles.

"Yeah, yeah, okay," Ryan says, because what else can you say to that? "You have --"

"Desk drawer." Ladd points. Ryan sits up and pauses a second to look at Ladd. His lips are red and swollen, his cheeks red with stubble burn, his hair is standing on end, there's a bruise flowering on his collarbone, and his boxers are tented with a dark patch of pre-come.

Shit, Ryan has to press down on his dick and think of really unsexy things for a minute. He turns to the desk, hoping for bit of control.

There's lube and condoms in the top drawer. Ryan grabs a condom and the bottle, which has clearly been opened before. He wonders if Ladd used it on himself. If he stuck his fingers in his ass while he was jerking off, trying to figure out if he liked it. Or maybe if he bought it after Ryan fingered him. Christ, this isn't helping him regain control.

He takes a deep breath and turns back to Ladd. Ladd has shed his boxers, and he's looking at Ryan like ... Ryan doesn't even know what. Like affection and determination and something else that Ryan can't describe because only his lower brain is working right now. Ladd is rubbing his dick, not like he's trying to get off, but like he can't help it, and Ryan is done thinking for the moment.

He bats Ladd's hand away and replaces it with his own. Ladd's back arches, and his hips thrust, and he moans, "Fuck," all drawn out, and then Ryan stops because Ladd can't come yet. Ladd lays there panting while Ryan lubes up his fingers, and he says "Fuck yeah," when Ryan circles his asshole and pushes two in at a time. He should probably be more careful, but he really can't be, and Ladd isn't complaining -- he's thrusting down like he wants more right now.

Ryan’s only done this once, but he remembers what it was like to be fucked for the first time. It wasn't all that great, and it hurt a lot, so he really tries to concentrate on stretching Ladd. He presses his fingers apart, and he pours more lube on, and he adds a third. Ladd is panting and cursing and his hands are gripping his sheets, and he's practically begging, "come on Ryan, put your dick in me, god, fuck, Ryan please."

"Fuck, yeah, okay," Ryan says finally. He pushes his boxers off, and takes out the condom, and if his hands are shaking a little, it's probably because he's been so goddamn turned on for what feels like forever.

When he's lubed up and starting to push at Ladd's entrance, he glances up, and Ladd is just looking at him. He doesn't even look scared or nervous or anything, and Ryan has to kiss him.

"Now, Ryan," Ladd says into his mouth, and god. Ryan pushes in, probably a little faster than he meant to, but Ladd is relaxed. He just takes it with this low moan that makes Ryan want to hold him down and fuck him so hard. But he stops when he's all the way inside to let Ladd adjust, until Ladd starts bucking his hips a little and saying, "Fuck me, Ryan."

And that's one order from Ladd Ryan has no problem following. He tries to take it easy a little bit, but Ladd is having none of that, so Ryan fucks him hard, and reaches between them to jerk Ladd off, because there is no way he's going to last a long time.

He's watching Ladd's face when he tenses and comes all over Ryan's hand. Objectively, it's a really dumb orgasm face, but at the moment it's the hottest thing Ryan can think of, and his hips stutter as he thrusts twice, three more times and comes.

He doesn't bother trying to keep himself off of Ladd when his arms can no longer support him. He just lays heavily on top of him, sweaty and sticky and not really giving a damn.

Ladd's hand comes around to rest on his back, but Ryan still has to pull out, which he does as gently as possible - he knows it feels weird - and ties it off before tossing it in the trash can.

He lays down next to Ladd then, knowing he should get up and leave. This is finally over, and he's sure he'll be glad about it once his brain is back online. But Ladd rolls over into his space and throws an arm across his chest. Ryan considers just shoving it off, but it's hard to be that much of a dick after sex.

He ends up dozing off, he doesn't know for how long. He rouses briefly when he feels Ladd move off of him.

"Go back to sleep," Ladd says softly. "I'm just telling Jonesy not to come back. I'll set the alarm, okay?"

"Mmm," Ryan grunts, and he turns over without really waking up. He feels Ladd settle in front of him, wraps his arm around him, and falls into a much deeper sleep.

---

He wakes up when the sun is just starting to rise and the room is filled with gray light. He's confused at first. The light is coming in at the wrong angle, and there's a warmth against his back and across his chest.

He's in Ladd's room, he remembers, as his brain wakes up a little more. And that's Ladd spooned up against his back, his face tucked against the back of Ryan's neck, breathing deeply.

Shit, he thinks.

It's over. This is done, and he can leave. He carefully removes Ladd's arm from around him. He doesn't want to disturb him. Not that he cares how much sleep Ladd gets, but if he wakes up, he'll probably make some big thing out of Ryan leaving, and he doesn't want to deal with that before 7 AM.

He moves slowly and quietly, gathering his clothes from the floor and redressing. He smells like sex, the whole room does, so instead of going straight back to his room, he hits the shower.

If anyone else is up this early, they'll think it's weird he's up and showered already, but at least he wasn't caught smelling like that coming out of Ladd's room. Fuck, they were so fucking stupid.

He gets more and more pissed at himself the more he thinks about it, until he's too riled up to sleep. He grabs a change of clothes from his room and his backpack. He's probably got some homework that needs doing.

On his way to the library, he changes his mind and heads to the weight room at The Gut. They have practice later, but Ryan hops on the treadmill and runs until his legs feel like jelly.

He showers, again, and the dining halls are open now, so he goes to get breakfast at the dining hall near the rink instead of going back to the house.

His phone rings while he's eating. It's Jane, but Ryan dismisses the call. There are no other missed calls or texts. Ryan wonders if Ladd is even awake yet. His first class starts in 15 minutes. Not that Ryan cares or anything.

When he can't stretch out breakfast anymore, he goes to the library. He has class now, but he doesn't feel like dealing with people, and it's a big lecture anyway.

He grabs a study desk in the corner, turns his phone on silent, and pulls out his books.

He wakes up when someone hits him on the back of his head, and he has to peel his face from his backpack to glare at them.

"Fuck off," he mumbles.

"You've got zipper marks on your face," Jane says. "And your answer to number three is wrong."

"No one asked you," Ryan says, shoving his papers back into his French book.

"I'm helping you, you're my friend. And as a friend, let me tell you, you look like shit."

"I maybe overdid it working out this morning," Ryan says, stealing her bottle of orange juice.

"You've got practice in an hour," Jane says. "Why are you working out too much and skipping class?"

"Because I couldn't sleep, and because I didn't feel like going. How did you even find me?"

"That would be telling," Jane says. "Maybe if you didn't ignore my calls and texts, I wouldn't have to come bug you in person."

"My phone's on silent," Ryan says.

Jane gives him a thorough look over, and Ryan feels kind of uncomfortable. He must really look like shit, because she doesn't even say anything else about it.

"We have time to get lunch before you have to go to practice," she says finally. "And you owe me another orange juice."

He ends up buying her entire lunch.

"You don't have to walk me to practice, I'm not going to risk the wrath of Coach just because --" He cuts himself off.

"Because?"

"Because Ladd's probably going to be acting all weird. It doesn't matter, things are back to normal now," he says.

"Sure," Jane says. She doesn't sound like she agrees with him, but she also manages not to sound entirely skeptical, which is nice.

They stop outside The Gut, and Ryan isn't stalling when he says, "So I'll see you at dinner?"

"For sure," Jane says. He's kind of surprised when she hugs him before shoving him inside.

Tim's only a few steps behind him. "Hey dude, glad to see you're not dead."

"Huh?" Ryan asks.

"You don't come home last night, you skip French this morning, the pot was split between 'dead in a ditch' and 'with your lady friend.'"

He almost corrects Tim, but realizes there's no reason to. Like, so what if Ladd's pissed at him? "Well, I'm definitely not dead."

Tim laughs and slaps him on the shoulder. "Way to go, Kes."

Practice sucks.

Ryan is exhausted and out of it, so he's slow and sloppy. Ladd is never there when Ryan tries to pass to him, and he's skating gingerly, almost like he's injured. It takes Ryan half of practice to realize that he's probably sore as hell from last night. As soon as Ryan realizes that, he plays even worse.

Coach keeps him back after practice and doesn't even yell at him. He looks concerned, which is worse.

"You don't look well, Kesler."

"I'm feeling a little under the weather," Ryan says, and it's not even a lie.

Coach pats him on the shoulder. "Get a good night's sleep tonight, and a lot of rest. Let me know if you need a note for classes. I want you ready to go for Maine this weekend."

"Sure thing, Coach," Ryan says, and he trudges back to the locker room.

The locker room is loud and boisterous, as usual. Ryan sits at his spot and avoids looking over at Ladd. When he's no longer drowning in gear, he pulls out his phone and texts Jane. Your dining hall for dinner? It's farther away, but Ladd won't be there.

"Texting your lady love?" Tim leers at him. Ryan doesn't even get a chance to tell him to shut up, because Jonesy stands up and shouts,

"Hey, boys, Kes isn't the only one who got laid last night! Ain't that right, Laddy?"

The guys whoop and holler, and Ladd says, "Shut up, Jonesy."

Jonesy doesn't listen to him, though. "I had to spend the night on Jimmy's floor, and there were condoms in the trash when I got back!"

Ryan concentrates on changing and tries as hard as he can not to blush.

"I told you you'd like Brittany!" Jared shouts.

"It wasn't --" Ladd starts, but he's hollered down by the guys.

Ryan shoves his feet into his shoes and grabs his bag. "Gotta go, see you boys later." He's out of the locker room before they're even done replying.

Jane must still be worried, because she sits him down at a table and fixes him a plate of food. With extra mashed potatoes. She uses his meal card, of course, but that's not important.

"I'm just tired," Ryan insists, spooning the potatoes into his mouth.

"So you were up late last night?" Jane asks.

"Jane," Ryan says.

"Ryan," she echoes back. "You got a pass this morning, but I'm done waiting."

"Nothing --" Jane snorts. "Fine. He asked me to fuck him, so I did."

"And?" Jane asks. "Was it any good?"

"It was fine, it was sex," Ryan says. "I fell asleep after, and then I left."

"So let me get this straight. Out of the goodness of your heart, you decided to fuck Andrew even though you knew you were going to break up with him..."

"Oh Christ."

"And then after you fucked him, you left while he was sleeping?"

Ryan glares. "If this is just going to be another 'Ryan is a dick' list, I could be sleeping right now." He starts to get up but Jane reaches out and grabs his arm.

"Wait, I'm sorry. I'm just trying to figure it all out so I can help you. Sit down."

Ryan sighs and sits. "I don't need help, okay? It's over. It's done."

"But you really do look awful. I'm telling you I'm worried about you, Ryan."

"Seriously," Kesler says. "I'm tired. I didn't sleep well the night before last, and then last night I fell asleep in Ladd's room, and I woke up really early, and I couldn't stay because if people saw me leaving his room, that would pretty much be that. And I couldn't fall back asleep, so I went to work out, and I had practice today too, and it sucked, and I really just want to go to sleep, all right?"

"All right," Jane says. "Finish up and you can go to sleep." And she doesn't say anything else. Jesus, Ryan must really look awful.

He's not really hungry, but he knows his body needs the fuel, so he eats. He listens to Jane talk about the cute girl in her Women’s Studies class and how she can't tell if the girl is queer or not.

She walks him back to the house, gives him a hug, and ruffles his hair. "Sleep well. It'll be better tomorrow."

"Okay," Ryan says, and he goes to his room, avoiding everyone in the house. It'll be better tomorrow, he tells himself as he gets into bed.

---

It's not better the next day.

He actually goes to class, so that's an automatic downgrade. Practice is a little better, if only because his legs don't feel like they're going to fall off, but the passes aren't any cleaner, and he and Ladd aren't clicking.

He must look better, because Coach actually yells at them before they head to the showers.

Ryan's halfway back to the house before he remembers the GSA meeting. He stands in the middle of the quad getting buffeted by the wind, debating whether or not to go, but fuck it. Andrew Ladd isn't going to keep Ryan from going to a club made for guys like him, not guys like Ladd.

He's a few minutes late, but Jane saved him a seat. He loves Jane. He wishes he could date Jane, and that either one of them would be into it.

"Hey, Ryan," Devon, one of the sophomores, asks during a break. "Where's Andrew?"

"I don't know," Ryan says. He doesn't. He barely even noticed Ladd wasn't there. Okay, he had noticed when he was trying to figure out where not to sit, but it didn't matter, and he doesn't care.

"Come on, really?" Devon asks. "I'm supposed to interview him for the paper."

"So call him." Ryan shrugs. "The team didn't outfit us with GPS or anything like that."

"Yeah, but --" Devon says, and Ryan really doesn't want to hear it.

"Do you need his number?" he asks, and he pulls out his phone like he really thinks Devon needs Ladd's number.

"No, I got it. It's fine," Devon says, and thankfully he stops bothering Ryan.

The thing is, he knows he could say, “We broke up, I don't even want to know where he is,” and that would probably make his life easier. But then the entire GSA would want to know what happened, and they would all have opinions, and they'd want to share them all with Ryan. Ryan is so not up for that right now.

He sleeps only marginally better that night, and the whole house is awake at 5 AM the next day, stumbling around, making sure they have all their equipment so they can make the 6 AM bus call and go to Maine.

Ryan collapses into a seat next to Jared. Ladd is sitting across the aisle with Jonesy. He looks about as exhausted as Ryan feels. Not that Ryan cares or anything.

They lose pretty pathetically. The only consolation Ryan has is that he and Ladd weren't the only ones who sucked. And they did suck.

After the game, he can feel Ladd's eyes on him from across the locker room. He can't help but look up to meet them, and he can see that Ladd feels as horrible as he does about the game. Then Ladd's jaw clenches, and he looks away.

Well, good. Ryan doesn't want Ladd staring at him.

No one is in a particularly good mood as they eat dinner, but that works for Ryan. He's not really in the mood to pretend to care about Jonesy's stupid jokes.

Conversation drifts around to the NHL, with everyone offering up the gossip about their favorite teams or teams they've been drafted to.

"Who’s got your rights now, Timmy?" Ryan teases. Poor kid has had his rights traded between four teams in the last two years.

"Hell if I know." Tim shrugs. "Just so long as I don't have to play with you assholes when I go pro."

And oh, jeez, there's a thought. But the odds of Ladd getting packaged up for Vancouver or Ryan being traded to Carolina are slim. Or so he tells himself.

And if they keep playing like they did today, no one's going to think their history of playing together is a good reason to do it.

Of course, if Ryan keeps playing like he did tonight, the Canucks aren't going to want his rights either.

He vows to himself right then and there that he'll really start concentrating on hockey. He's not here to date or join clubs or whatever else. He's here to play hockey. Coach has already called an extra practice for Sunday, and that's just fine with Ryan.

He goes back to the dorms they're staying in, feeling slightly settled for the first time in weeks.

---

For almost a week, Ryan thinks of nothing but hockey and keeping his grades up so that he can keep playing hockey. He practices hard, he works out. He still eats meals with Jane, but he stops going to GSA meetings in favor of practicing his shot on the back lawn of the house.

Practices get a little better. He and Ladd never manage to play as well together as they did before last week, but they manage to not play as awfully as they did in Maine. Cam is getting closer to returning to the team, so they may not even be on a line together for much longer.

The weirdest thing that happens is that some of the other guys notice his renewed focus and decide to follow suit. Coach notices and raises his eyebrows at Ryan in practice, but otherwise says nothing.

On Thursday it rains. It's barely above freezing, which makes the rain doubly uncomfortable. Not even Ryan and his renewed focus are going to be taking shots in the yard in that, so he and some of the guys have a brilliant idea to set up a net and some targets in the basement. This requires moving the beer pong table and the beer can sculpture, and somewhere in the middle of all that, someone shouts down the stairs, "Kes! You've got a visitor!"

He frowns before jogging up the stairs, trying to figure out if he forgot that he'd made plans with someone. He really hopes he didn't forget something, because Jane's standing near the front door soaking wet and looking miserable, and Jared's standing awkwardly across from her, like he doesn't know what to do with her.

"Hey, Ry," she sighs.

"Hey, what're you doing here?" he asks.

"I've been sexiled," Jane says. "And I have all this reading I need to do, and it wasn't sleeting like this when I left earlier, but I couldn't get in to get my coat or an umbrella, and I tried to call you, but you didn't answer, and I'm sorry for just showing up, but --"

"Hey, no, Janie, it's fine," Ryan says, approaching her with his hands out like he would a wounded predator. "You can hang out here tonight --"

"-- I don't know if they'll be finishing up any time soon."

"-- you can spend the night, it's cool. It's cool, right, Jared?" Ryan asks.

"Uh, yeah, totally," Jared says as he tries to slip away.

"And we've got a couple of washers and dryers. You can borrow some of my stuff, and we'll throw yours in there," Ryan suggests. The tension is bleeding out of Jane's shoulders with every suggestion. "And maybe we'll get you some coffee."

At that, she flings her arms around him in a fierce, desperate hug. "Thanks."

Ryan hugs back even though she's freezing. "No problem, you've dealt with all of my shitty days."

"I have," she agrees, letting him go. Ryan laughs.

"Come on. You want a shower?"

"Oh god, yes."

He gets her a clean towel, a pair of his shorts, and a Vermont Hockey hoodie, and shows her to the showers.

"These are the smallest things I have," he says. Jane shrugs. "Throw your wet clothes out to me, and I'll put them in the dryer and make you some coffee."

Tim comes in while Jane is in the midst of throwing her wet clothing at Ryan from behind the shower curtain, one piece at a time.

"Dude," he says.

"Don't even," Ryan warns.

"I can find another room to sleep in tonight, if you wanna, you know..."

Ryan wants to bang his head against the wall. From inside the shower, Jane starts cracking up.

"That's really not necessary," Ryan says.

"Okay," Tim says. "Let me know if you change your mind." He stands around awkwardly for a minute. "Dude, I gotta..."

"I know what peeing sounds like!" Jane shouts from the shower. Ryan laughs and raises his eyebrows at Tim before leaving with Jane's clothes.

He takes out the clothes that have been in the dryer for 3 days running now and throws Jane's in. Then he starts the coffee, washes a mug so she'll have something to drink out of that isn't disgusting, and gets out the sugar. There is no milk in the fridge that hasn't been there a frighteningly long time, so she'll just have to do without.

Jane comes downstairs when the coffee is almost done, looking completely ridiculous in Ryan's way-too-large clothes and bare feet.

"Shut the fuck up," she says when Ryan points this out to her. "Not my fault you're a giant."

"I am perfectly normal-sized," Ryan informs her loftily, "for a hockey player."

She smacks him on the shoulder and fixes her coffee.

A bunch of guys are in the den watching the Bruins on TV, and they clear out some space for Ryan and Jane. Jane brings her book and her highlighter and tucks her feet underneath Ryan's thigh.

When Ladd gets back, Jane has finished her reading, and the Bruins are up by 1 with 6 minutes left Ryan and Cam are trying to explain the intricacies of hockey with expansive hand gestures, despite Jane's constant fit of giggles.

Ryan fights to keep the smile from sliding off his face, but it must not work, because Jane turns around and says, "Hey Andrew."

Ladd clears his throat. "Hey, Jane, didn't think I'd be seeing you here."

"Sexiled." Jane shrugs. "So I'm imposing on Ryan."

"Oh," Ladd says. "You look good in the green and yellow."

She snorts. "Butch, right?"

"Your clothes are probably dry, if you want to change back," Ryan says, interrupting them.

"I'm probably going to have to wear them again tomorrow." Jane shrugs. "So I'll probably just sleep in these, if you don't mind."

"I've got like, eight of those, Janie, I can share."

"Ugh, don't call me that," she says, making a face. "I'm not one of your hockey bros, you can use my actual name." She turns to the rest of the room. “No offense.”

“‘Sall good,” Jonesy says lazily.

She glances back at the television then. "Wait, where did the blue goalie go?"

In the time it takes Ryan and Cam to explain the empty net strategy, Ladd disappears.

Jane has class earlier than Ryan, so they head up to bed after the game.

Tim's at his computer when they get there. "Are you guys sure you don't want me to leave?"

Jane snorts.

"Extremely sure," Ryan says firmly. They go to bed, and Jane curls up against his back. It feels nice, if not even remotely sexy.

---

Jane's phone alarm goes off way too early. Ryan grunts as she climbs over him and pulls his blanket over his head.

"You don't have to get up," she says softly. "Just tell me where the dryer is."

Ryan mumbles directions and dozes back off until Jane comes back and starts getting dressed. He opens his eyes to Jane's bare chest.

"Christ, Janie, warn a guy."

"Oh, like you care -- and stop calling me that."

"I'll walk you down," Ryan groans, and he throws the covers off. "I have to be up in half an hour anyway."

"Thanks again," Jane says.

"Any time," Ryan says. "I mean it." He does. He likes having friends outside of hockey who can help him take the blinders off every once in a while.

"See you later." She squeezes his hand and he tugs on her braid, which gets him a mutinous look before she finally leaves. It makes him smile.

"She didn't just leave while you were sleeping?" Ladd asks from the hall behind Ryan. "What a novelty," he adds under his breath as he pushes past him to the empty kitchen.

"Fuck you," Ryan says.

"Did that already," Ladd mutters.

Ryan glances over his shoulder automatically, but no one is around. "You're an asshole."

"There's a person attached to it," Ladd says cattily.

A thousand things he can't say in this house rest on the tip of his tongue. But he can't do this here -- he won't. He grabs a cup of coffee for himself and turns to leave the kitchen. What the fuck is even wrong with Ladd? He doesn't get his way, so he gets to try and ruin Ryan's life? Fuck him.

His exit is blocked by Tim and some of the other guys who share the same class. "Kes, I'm sorry, dude," Tim says, clapping him on the shoulder. "I didn't mean to, but --"

"Didn't mean to what?" Ryan asks. He should've let Jane see herself out.

"I totally saw your girlfriend's tits this morning. It was an accident!"

"She's not my girlfriend," Ryan sighs.

"Dude, you cuddled last night. Without even making out. She's your girlfriend."

"No," Ryan says, after briefly considering just throwing his coffee on them all and running for the stairs. "She's a lesbian."

"Oh shit, bro!" Jared says. "You're fucking a lesbian?"

"Way to go," Tim says, giving him the thumbs up.

Ryan just stares at them all. "I -- I have to get dressed."

He doesn't even realize that Ladd is following him until they're right outside Ryan’s door and Ladd speaks from behind him.

"So I guess it's okay for you to sleep with a girl, let her wear your clothes, cuddle with her. But when I fucking talk to a girl, it's an offense worth a break-up?"

"What?" Ryan looks around in panic, but there's no one in the hall. He pulls Ladd into his room and shuts the door.

"Okay, first of all, nothing is going to happen between Jane and me because we're both gay. Second of all, it's none of your fucking business -- we are not dating anymore. Third of all, we were breaking up anyway."

"What?" Ladd says.

Ryan levels a stare at him. "You blackmailed me into dating you. You didn't actually think it was going to lead to some fairy-tale ending, did you?"

"Blackmail?" Ladd hisses. It'd be hilarious how offended he sounds if it weren't so true.

"And I'd like to point out that you aren't holding up your end of it. You're supposed to leave me alone, not act like a jealous harpy." Ryan turns away from him then, and rummages through his dresser for something to wear.

Ladd's still standing there staring at him, but Ryan barely looks back. "You can leave now, your right to a free show has expired."

The door slams hard behind him, and Ryan takes a deep breath, easing the grip he has on his drawer. That's it. That should be the end. For real this time. He doesn't feel relieved, just tired.

Class, he tells himself. And hockey. These are the important things. They've got a game tonight, and it has to go better than last week's.

---

It does go better, sort of. The team plays well. Ryan plays well. Ladd plays well. They win. The problem is that Ryan and Ladd aren't playing well together. They keep missing each other's passes, and almost colliding, and by the third period Ryan is using Chris as a go-between just to limit the turnovers.

In the locker room, Ryan feels anxious, like he's waiting for something to happen. It's ridiculous. He turns to Ladd, because most things that are wrong with Ryan are Ladd's fault, but Ladd isn't looking at him. He's talking to Eric. Ryan realizes he can't actually remember the last time he looked and Ladd wasn't looking back at him.

Well, good. That's what Ryan wanted. Wants. It'll be better this way.

Monday after practice, Eric holds him back while everyone is leaving. He has his captain face on, and Ryan suppresses a wince.

"You and Laddy need to work your shit out," Eric says bluntly when everyone has gone.

"We're not fighting," Ryan says.

"I know," Eric says. "It was kinda better when you were. At least then you'd look at each other."

Ryan tries very hard not to react to that.

"Kinda hard to pass to someone you won't look at," Eric continues. And that's not fair. Ryan looks at Ladd on the ice. Or, at his number, anyway, if not his face. "What happened? Did he sleep with your girlfriend or something?"

"She's not -- No. Nothing like that. We just. We don't get along."

"But you were getting along for a while there?" Eric makes it into a question, and Ryan doesn't even know how to explain it. "Well, look," Eric says when Ryan's silence goes on long enough, "we can make the playoffs if we play well from here on out. And this team needs you two working together if we're gonna do that. Whatever it is between you, you can't let it affect the team anymore. Got it?"

"Got it," Ryan says.

Eric slaps him on the shoulder and smiles. "You're a good kid, and a damn fine hockey player. I know you can do it. Now let's go get some food."

---

The next day, he's having lunch with Jane in town again, and she seems a little subdued.

"Is Andrew mad at me?" she asks finally.

"What? Why would you think that?" Jane and Ladd had always got along, since before Ryan knew Jane.

"I don't know, I saw him when I was leaving campus earlier, and I waved and said hi, and I know he saw me because he looked right at me, but then he looked away and pretended he didn't. But why would he be mad at me?"

Ryan clenches his jaw. "He's not mad you, he's mad at me. And if he's taking it out on you, he's an even bigger asshole than I thought."

Jane nods, but she still looks unhappy about it.

"Maybe you can talk to him at the meeting today?" Ryan can't believe he's suggesting Jane actually make an effort to be friends with Ladd. "You can tell him he's an idiot. It always makes you feel better when you tell people they're idiots."

Jane smiles. "Maybe I will."

The next morning, he heads to the student union to study for a French quiz -- there's too much going on in the house, and the library just makes him sleepy, so he grabs a table in the union and spreads out.

He's halfway through his list of irregular verbs when a voice interrupts his study flow.

"Uh, hey, Ryan, is anyone sitting here?"

Ryan looks up, and Mike is standing behind the empty chair on the other side of the table. "Oh, no, go ahead."

Mike sits and sets his bag down. "Haven't seen you around lately."

"Yeah, things got a little crazy, had to focus more on hockey." Ryan shrugs.

Mike nods and pulls out a chem book. "Gotta find your balance."

"Exactly." Ryan nods. "Fortunately, my course load isn't quite as heavy as that."

Mike rolls his eyes. "Yeah, I probably spend as much time on this as you do hockey."

"No offense, man, but I think I made the better choice," Ryan says, glancing at the open page of Mike's book.

"It's not all bad," Mike insists. "Sometimes we get to explode things."

Ryan laughs. "Remind me to stay on your good side."

Mike grins. "I think you’re safe. So, sorry if I'm prying, but you and Andrew..."

Ryan grimaces.

"Yeah, okay," Mike says. "Don't have to say more."

"Thanks," Ryan says, picking up his French notes.

"Sorry, didn't mean to interrupt your studying."

"No, don't worry about it, it's just a quiz," Ryan says.

They both study in silence for another half hour before Ryan looks at his phone. "I gotta go."

"Good luck," Mike says, removing his highlighter from his mouth.

"Thanks," Ryan says, stuffing his stuff into his bag.

"Do you maybe wanna grab some coffee after your quiz?" Mike asks. He's biting his lip like he's a little nervous.

Oh.

"I -- I'm sorry, Mike," Ryan says, shrugging his backpack on awkwardly.

"No, don't worry about it."

"I'm just not in a place for any of that right now, you know?" Ryan tries.

"Oh, totally," Mike says. "Good luck on your quiz."

Halfway through French, when they're done with their quiz and going through some dialogue, Ryan wonders why he didn't just say he'd go out for coffee with Mike. Mike is nice, and good-looking, but Ryan didn't even think of saying yes.

Maybe he's just too used to being in the closet. But Mike seems cool, and he'd probably understand Ryan's reasons for not wanting to come out. Jane probably has his number, and he could call him up, and they could have coffee, and maybe Mike would be a good kisser. He thinks about it, but the idea doesn't stir anything in him except a vague sense of unease.

He has to focus on hockey anyway. The next few weeks are important if they're gonna make the playoffs. He doesn't have time to start dating anyone.

The professor calls on him then, so he reads out loud and doesn't think about Mike anymore.

---

Ryan doesn't actually talk to Ladd like Eric wanted before Friday's game. He tries once, but there are other guys around, and it's not really a conversation they can have then. And they're never actually alone together the rest of the week. Which Ryan appreciates, so he works on looking at Ladd when appropriate during practice, and things click a little bit more. They can do this, they've been just teammates before. Hell, they've been teammates who hate each other before -- they just needed time to get back to that.

The Red Hawks are giving the fits, but there's no way they're dropping two in-conference games in a row. Everyone on their bench is pushing for it, while both goalies are making insane saves.

So the hits start coming a little harder and a little faster, and it's not that surprising when the giant defenseman wearing #12 slams into Ladd and sends him crashing into the boards.

Ryan passes back to Brian, waiting for Ladd to get up so they can reorganize their breakout. Ladd isn't getting up.

Shit.

Ryan's about to skate over there when Ladd makes it to his knees, then his feet, but he's still leaning on the boards like they're what's holding him up. Ryan glances to the bench and meets Coach's eye. Jonesy and Jared already have a leg over the boards, waiting to change.

But it will be easier if the puck's in Lowell's zone, so he takes a look at their positioning, taking special note of where big #12 is, calls for the puck, and skates it through the neutral zone. He blows by two of the forwards, passes to himself around the second defenseman, and wrists it toward the net. The goalie stops it with his pad, but the rebound comes right back to Ryan. He can hear Jonesy and Jared on the ice and in the zone now, and he passes it to Jared while the Red Hawks are still trying to figure out what's going on.

He sets up in front of the net while Jared and Jonesy play keepaway and look for a good shot. #12 comes over and gives him a little bump to remind him to stay out of his goalie's way, and that is what Ryan was waiting for. He shoves back. He's smaller, but #12 wasn't expecting Ryan to shove so hard and he wobbles.

"What the fuck?" he yells, and shoves Ryan back when he regains his balance.

"Shove it up your ass, dickweed," Kesler sneers.

"What, you wanna go, pipsqueak?"

"Bring it on." And Ryan throws off his gloves.

He doesn't remember specifics of the fight, just trying to not get killed, and the cheers of his teammates and the fans. They both lose their helmets at some point, and #12's meaty fist gets his cheek, but Ryan gets a few of his own in, and in the end they fall over together before the refs break it up.

The team really starts clicking while Ryan's in the box, and he's just waiting for the puck to go into the net. It's Eric who finally does it, chipping it top shelf, blocker side. Ryan yells so loud the official sitting next to him looks a little alarmed.

But when he glances over at the bench, he notices Ladd's still not back. It's only been four minutes, but still. He drinks a little more Gatorade as he waits for the okay to hit the ice again.

He and #12 hit the ice again at the same time, but Ryan jumps into the play while the asshole skates back to the bench. He manages a shot on goal that rings off the post before skating back to the bench. Everyone slaps him on the back, even the coaches, but he doesn't get a chance to ask what's going on with Ladd.

The period ends before his next shift, and Ryan's glad. The intermission will give the trainers a chance to tape Ladd up or whatever so he can get back on Ryan's wing for the final period. Because Ladd's going to be fine. Obviously, Ladd is going to be fine. He skated off under his own power. He's probably just rattled and winded.

The guys are flying high in the locker room, and the coaches can barely make them pay attention. Ryan can't get his heartbeat under control. It's racing with the adrenaline from the fight and the goal. It would be really bad for the team if Ladd was seriously hurt. They can't afford to lose Ladd. Especially not with Cam still out.

Tim shouts when Ladd walks back into the room, drawing everyone's attention. He smiles and waves grandly to everyone, even though he's walking carefully. He's been stripped to his waist, and his ribs are taped. Peeking above the tape, Ryan can see the start of bruising, red and angry against the pale skin of Ladd's chest.

Ryan looks down at his skates quickly.

"Ready to get back out there, Laddy?" Coach asks.

"You bet, Coach!" Ladd calls, and the guys all shout their encouragement.

"Then get suited up! You're gonna be back on Kes's left. Carry this momentum, and let's finish them off, boys."

Lowell has some good chances in the opening minutes of the period, but they're able to shut them down. And when Jonesy wrists a shot in from the top of the circles, Ryan swears he can see the guys in red deflate.

During the final scramble with the empty net, Ryan blocks a shot off his shin, and it hurts like a motherfucker, but he doesn't care. They've won, and no one was seriously injured. The fuckery from last week hasn't completely screwed the team.

The locker room is hopping after the game, so it's not a surprise that the second they're left alone by the coaching staff, someone yells, "We're gonna fucking rage!"

It's Friday night, they've got the whole weekend to recover, and Ryan thinks it's a fucking awesome idea.

By the time Ryan gets back to the house, it's already crowded, music blaring and kegs in the kitchen. Ryan has no idea how they pull that off, but he's not gonna complain. He grabs a beer and immediately gets called downstairs to be on Tim's team in beer pong.

He's back in the kitchen half an hour later considerably tipsier, and he fills up his beer and wanders into the den. It's crowded. A few people are moving a little to the music, but nobody's really dancing. He recognizes a bunch of the puck bunnies on the other side of the room and steers clear, even though he's offended most of them by now and they leave him alone. He literally bumps into a goalie from the women's hockey team, and they get into a spirited, drunken conversation about the game earlier and the Bruins' chances this year.

When he looks back across the room, he sees a flash of shiny hair and big tits and yeah, it's Brittany, and there's Ladd, leaning against the wall in a way that clearly telegraphs the pain in his ribs. Ryan watches as Brittany reaches out to touch Ladd's chest, and Ladd bats her hand away before it can touch him. She says something, and Ladd rolls his eyes and says something back, and she pulls away, stung. Ladd pushes himself off the wall and walks into the hallway toward his room. Brittany wanders back to her friends, her arms crossed over her impressive chest.

"Earth to Kes," the goalie, he thinks her name is Sarah, says, snapping her fingers in front of his face.

"I'm here," he says. "You were saying?"

"You all right there, kiddo?" she asks.

"I'm fucking great," Ryan says, and smiles.

He throws himself into the rest of the party, taking up another round of beer pong and losing on purpose. The guys just keep feeding him drinks and recreating his fight -- though they usually trip before the actual fight ended. But it makes him laugh, even though Jonesy seems pretty set on referring to the fight as "Kes defending Laddy's honor."

He catches Ladd's eye one of the times it's said, but Ladd doesn't hear it, or doesn't care. Or maybe Ryan's too drunk to try and read any in-depth facial expressions.

---

Saturday morning -- or more accurately, Saturday afternoon -- Ladd's not the only one moving like he's been hit by a Mack truck. Alex lets out an impressive litany of curses when he stumbles into the kitchen, and the blinds are open with the sun streaming in. Ryan doesn't actually mind, and that gets some disgruntled looks thrown his way.

"I know you drank at least as much as I did," Tim bitches. "Why do you look so damn cheerful?"

"It's a beautiful day, Timmy." Ryan grins. He's not really sure himself, but he's willing to go with it.

"Oh my God, what happened to your face?" Jane yells when they get together to study later. Midterms are coming up, and Ryan really wishes they didn't have to be right before the playoffs.

"Fight." Ryan grins. "I'll show you. The footage should be up on Youtube now."

"Why are you in such a good mood?" Jane asks suspiciously. Why do people keep being weirded out just because he's cheerful?

"We won the game, I had a good time at the party last night, and now I get to spend time with you." Ryan smiles charmingly. "Why wouldn't I be in a good mood?"

Jane doesn't look convinced, but she does open her books, so that's good enough.

---

Ryan's good mood lasts straight until Monday morning, when going back to class brings him back down to earth.

They have practice that afternoon. Changing in the locker room beforehand, Ryan catches sight of Ladd taking off his t-shirt. The tape's been taken off his ribs and the bruises are darkening to deep purple from his pecs to his hips.

He doesn't even realize he's maybe staring until Ladd says, "What? Ryan snaps his head up, and Ladd is looking right at him.

"Um, nothing," he says. Then, "Your ribs feeling okay?"

"Sure," Ladd says, giving him a confused look.

Ryan notices that Ladd's skating a little gingerly without the adrenaline of a game to help him push through the pain. Ryan can't help wincing with him when he takes a hit from Smitty during a drill, and when he skates over to see if he needs help up, it's just a team thing. Ladd gives him a weird look, but Ryan just shrugs it off.

Jonesy's being Jonesy -- a dick -- towards the end of practice when he goes to poke Ladd in the side with his stick. But he's reaching across Ryan, so he slaps the stick down after it brushes Ladd's jersey. "Don't be a dick," Ryan snaps.

"Worried someone's going to steal your title?" Jonesy laughs. "Relax, man, Ladder doesn't mind. And we have to toughen him up a bit."

"He's plenty tough. Just let him heal, fuckface," Ryan says. But when he glances back to Ladd, there's only an empty spot on the ice. Ladd's at the other side of the ice, talking with Eric and Alex.

They have a weight training session Tuesday afternoon, and Ryan is surprised when Ladd shows up with the rest of them.

"Should you be lifting weights with your ribs?" Ryan asks softly in the hallway.

Ladd throws him a look. "I've been cleared by the trainers."

"Okay," Ryan says, but he keeps an eye on him anyway. He's taking it easier than he usually does, which Ryan approves of, but toward the end of the session, his face is lined with pain. He stops before Ryan can decide if he should say something, so that's good.

"Do you need some ice?" Ryan asks Ladd when they're all getting dressed.

"I'm good."

"Are you sure?" Ryan asks. "Because I could grab some and --"

"I'm sure," Ladd says, a little too loudly. A few of the guys give them weird looks, and Ryan focuses on tying his shoelaces. He dawdles a little, and pretends to search for something in his bad so that he and Ladd are the last ones out.

"Hey," Ryan says, "do you feel --"

"What is your problem?" Ladd bursts out.

"Wha --?" Ryan says, taken aback. "What do you mean?"

"You! You're fucking hovering," Ladd says, jabbing a finger at him.

"No, I'm not!" Ryan protests automatically.

"Yeah, you are," Ladd snaps. "Stop it. Stop pretending like you care."

"I'm not pretending. We're..." friends is a gross overstatement and probably a lie. "We're teammates," Ryan finishes lamely.

"You never hovered over Cam like this, and you actually like him," Ladd says. "So whatever it is you're doing. Just. Just stop."

I like you, Ryan almost says. But the truth of it startles him into silence.

"I'm leaving you alone, okay? It's what you wanted, so how about you return the favor?"

Ladd is right. Ladd is totally right, and Ryan should leave him alone if that's what he wants. But he's also suddenly certain that he can't let Ladd walk away.

"We're linemates," he insists. "I'm supposed to watch out for you."

He really isn't expecting Ladd to to grab him by the shirt and push him against the wall. "Since when?" Ladd growls in his face. "Since when does it even matter to you?"

Ryan reaches out and grabs Ladd's shirt, to push him away, he thinks. But what he actually does is pull until Ladd is falling against him, and then he kisses him.

Ladd makes a startled noise, and Ryan lets go of his shirt to wrap his arms around Ladd's waist and pull him closer, careful of his ribs. Ladd starts kissing him back then, hard, and Ryan swears muscles he didn't even know he had relax, and he opens his mouth to let Ladd's tongue inside.

After a minute, Ladd tears his mouth away and pushes until he's an arm's length away from Ryan. "What the hell are you doing?" he asks. "Anyone could walk by."

"I don't care," Ryan says.

"Yes, you do. What the fuck?"

Ryan licks his lips, and he can see Ladd's eyes follow the movement -- and maybe he has a point. "Maybe we should go --"

Ladd hauls him into one of the trainers’ rooms, where someone's left an Ace bandage out on the table.

"Explain," Ladd says, taking a step back from Ryan.

"I -- I want you," Ryan says.

Ladd frowns, which wasn't really the reaction he was expecting. "Yeah, well, I want Datsuyk's takeaway numbers, so tough shit."

Ryan huffs. He's not saying this right, and Ladd's just not getting it.

"No, you don't get to be huffy just because I won't be a place for you to stick your dick and then leave when you're done," Ladd says.

Ryan winces. Okay, yeah.

"I'm sorry," Ryan says. Ladd's eyes widen. "I, uh, I was kind of freaking out, and I didn't think you'd care that much, but I shouldn't have left like that, and I'm sorry."

"You're apologizing? To me?"

"Yes," Ryan says more firmly. Jesus, trust Ladd to make this as difficult as possible. "And what you said before, I do like you, okay?" He swallows. "I like you a lot."

Ladd just stands there, looking at him, and Ryan sighs and pushes his hair back from his face. "I'm not saying this right."

"Are you fucking with me?" Ladd asks finally.

"What? No!"

"Because if you're fucking with me --" Ladd points at him, "I will beat you to a pulp."

Ryan grabs the hand Ladd's pointing at him and uses it to drag him around and up against the table. He leans in close to Ladd's face.

"I am not fucking with you, you dumb fuck! I like you. I think about you all the time, and I worry about you, and I fought a giant for you, and I hate it when other people touch you, because I want to be the only one touching you. I. Like. You." He gentles his grip on Ladd's arms and steps back a little, takes a deep breath. "And if I've already blown it, then I guess that's my fault, but just fucking tell me that, instead of letting me make a fool of myself all over the place here."

"I kinda like it when you make a fool of yourself."

Ryan squeezes his eyes shut. "Andrew --" Ryan lets go of Ladd's arm, only to have Ladd grab his wrist.

"It just seems fair," Ladd says, his voice no longer tense. "I've been acting like an idiot over you for weeks now."

"No, you haven't," Ryan says. He's pretty sure he would've noticed.

"Yeah, I have," Ladd says. "I like you. I think about you all the time, and I hate it when other people touch you, because I want to be the only one touching you. I get jealous of lesbians, for fuck's sake."

Ryan laughs a little at that, and Ladd grins, and holy shit, he hadn't realized how much he missed seeing that directed at him. "So, we're good?" Ryan asks.

"Almost," Ladd says, tugging Ryan towards him by his arm until he can just lean in to kiss him.

God, Ryan missed this, and it's such a relief to finally be able to admit that. He kisses Ladd slow and deep, and it's so damn good his knees feel a little weak with it.

He makes a small whining sound that he will never admit to when Ladd pulls away.

"We really shouldn't do this here," Ladd says, and then kisses Ryan again like he just can't help himself. Ryan knows he's right, but he thinks if he doesn't get to touch Ladd soon he's going to go crazy.

"My room?" he suggests, hoping like hell that Tim isn't around.

"Yeah," Ladd says, and Ryan has to duck in and kiss him again because he can.

Tim isn't there, thank god, and Ryan throws his bag down, flops on his bed, and pulls Ladd on top of him.

Ladd kisses him frantically, and Ryan kisses him back just as frantically. He tugs at Ladd's shirt until he can get it up and off and runs his hands over Ladd's bruises.

"Are you really okay?"

Ladd rolls his eyes, but he's smiling. "Yes, Ryan, god."

He reaches out and touches the bruise on Ryan's face. "Are you okay?"

"I'm great," Kesler says.

Ladd kisses him again and starts working at getting his pants off, an admirable plan of action in Ryan’s opinion. Then his phone starts ringing in his pocket and whoa, that's an interesting sensation, compounded by Ladd reaching in and pulling it out. Ryan would've preferred he ignore the phone to pull out something else.

"Hey, Jane, he's kind of busy right now...Yeah, tomorrow's probably best," Ladd says cheerfully into the phone.

Ryan can hear her laughing on the other end of the line.

"You could've let that go to voicemail," Ryan points out.

"Where's the fun in that?" Ladd asks, tossing the phone on the floor and returning his attention to Ryan's pants.

---

They just lay there, skin to skin, for a while after, Ryan tracing the line of Ladd's spine with the tips of his fingers.

"So, I'm pretty dumb, huh?" he says softly.

Ladd huffs a laugh into his neck. "Yeah," he says, "but I like you anyway."

“Shut up,” Ryan says, and smacks him lightly on the ass. Ladd's hips shift when he does, and, oh shit.

"We really don't have time for that," Ladd says, a little breathlessly.

"Yeah, Tim'll probably be back soon," Ryan says. Someday, though, he promises himself, they are coming back to that.

"Ugh," Ladd says, and he burrows back into Ryan's chest. Ryan can't think of a single reason to protest.

A few minutes later, they hear Tim shouting downstairs, and then it's a mad scramble to find their clothes and get them all in order. Ryan ends up in Ladd's shirt, and they don't have time to switch.

When Tim comes in, they have their books out and are the very picture of diligent studying, except for the blush that Ryan is probably sporting. Tim doesn't seem to notice. He just gives them a look and declares, "You guys are weird, you know that?"

"You're weird," Kesler shoots back.

About 10 minutes later, Ladd gets up.

"I should go," he says. "I gotta call Seabs."

"Tell him I said hi." Ryan smirks. Ladd hovers over Ryan for a second, but they can't exactly kiss goodbye with Tim right there, so Ladd just says, "See you tomorrow?"

"Breakfast?" Ryan suggests. It'll mean getting up earlier, but it won't be very crowded.
"Yeah," Ladd smiles, and he lets himself out.

Ryan finishes his reading and moves to his desk to screw around on the internet for a while. Jane IMs him immediately, and he spends a while explaining that yes, he's back with Ladd; yes, for good this time; yes, she's a genius, and he should listen to her always.

He gets an email about 45 minutes later from Facebook. “Brent Seabrook wrote on your wall,” it says. Ryan opens up his Facebook page, and in all caps, Seabs has written, ABOUT TIME, FUCKHEAD.

Ryan laughs. Then he looks around his page. He's been pretty much ignoring it for the last week and a half. It's complicated with Andrew Ladd, it still says. He clicks on edit and changes it to In A Relationship.

It’s not exactly shouting it from the rooftops, but it works.