The locker room is loud with the sounds of a slump-ending win, because they’ve been off for five games and this shutout of a win against Detroit has everyone shouting and going on and on about knew we’d do it and so great and fucking finally! They’ve earned it, after the string of bad games and injuries and a fucking ton of bad luck, and Ryan could almost come to kind of appreciate losses for the way they make a win like this feel so good. The media has finally cleared out, leaving them to get dressed and talk amongst themselves in peace.
“Hey,” Ryan turns to Alex, who’s sitting on the bench next to him, buttoning up his jacket, “dinner?”
“Yeah,” Alex says brightly, “we could get food from- hmm.” Ryan turns to his stall to grab his phone and wallet, glances back over.
And he can’t breathe.
“Um- um- ah-” he can only stare, wide-eyed, heart suddenly pounding. “Alex?!” he nearly shrieks, and he knows he’d be made fun of that in normal circumstances, but these aren’t normal fucking circumstances,because Alex-
“What?” Kevin turns to him from down the bench, and his mouth falls open when he sees.
Alex is- he’s gone. He was right there, right the fuck there, and now he’s gone. His spot isn’t empty, though, far from it. There’s a little boy sitting in his spot in the bench, with mussed black hair and big dark eyes, wrapped in Alex’s coat and just looking at Ryan expectantly.
“What happened?” Kevin manages, and by now, their teammates are looking too, shocked expressions all around.
“Where’d that kid come from?” Mason asks, while Andrew just stammers out incomprehensible half-words beside him.
“Wasn’t- wasn’t Bur just-”
“Whose kid is that?”
“Where’d he come from?”
“Where’d Bur go?”
“Did he -”
Their voices are getting louder, more teammates chiming in, confusion spreading like wildfire as they figure out that the little boy doesn’t belong to anyone, and that Alex is nowhere to be found and that he was there just a second ago.
And then, the little boy starts to cry. He reaches his hands towards Ryan, tears streaking down his face. Ryan doesn’t even know how to hold kids – babies, really, this boy can’t even be three years old – but he bends to pick the little boy up and hold him against his chest. The little boy sobs into Ryan’s neck, and the locker room goes quiet.
“I think it’s Alex,” Lu says.
“He’s like, two,” David says when no one else speaks up, “And Alex, uh. Isn’t.”
“Ask him his name,” Cory suggests. Ryan looks down at the little boy, whose sobs have quieted into little sniffles.
“Hey,” Ryan says softly, “what’s your name?” The boy lifts his head a little, just looks at Ryan. “What is it?”
“Quoi?” he sniffles, and it’s not an answer, but at the same time, it kind of is. Ryan looks up to find that Lu is standing next to him.
“C'est quoi ton nom?” Lu asks. The little boy turns his face against Ryan’s neck again.
“Alex,” he says quietly.
“Well, there we go,” Lu says calmly. Ryan stares at him.
“Don’t you think there’s some degree of fucking concern to be had here?” he asks, feels Alex’s – Alex, oh, fuck it’s Alex – arms tighten around his neck when he raises his voice. “Sorry,” he adds softly.
“This happens every now and then,” Lu says, that same maddeningly calm tone.
“Well believe it or not, I’ve never seen someone become a two-year-old before,” Ryan snaps, winces when he remembers. “Sorry,” he says again, but Alex is pressing his hands over his ears; Ryan’s heart breaks a little. He rocks Alex a little, looks at Lu helplessly. “It happens?” he asks.
“I’ve heard of it,” Lu says, “I’ll ask around, okay? Don’t worry about it. You just take him, and I’ll try to find out.”
“What? Can’t- can’t you take him, and I do that?” Ryan asks helplessly, “I can’t take care of him!”
“Okay,” Lu says, holds out his arms. “Then I’ll take him.” Ryan hesitates, Alex squirming against him, holding on tight.
“Um, maybe I can keep him, actually,” Ryan manages, because suddenly letting go of Alex seems impossible, too close to a betrayal.
“Thought so,” Lu smirked, “I’ll see you Thursday, okay?” He heads out, and it seems like the cue for their other teammates to go back to getting their things together, still sending confused glances Ryan’s way. Ryan turns back to Kevin, who’s zipping up his jacket.
“I’m coming with you,” he says. Kevin arches an eyebrow.
“I don’t know how to take care of babies,” Kevin points out.
“Yeah, but you’ve got Lappy,” Ryan says, and Kevin kind of stares.
“Lappy had food poisoning, remember? He’s at home.”
“Which obviously really means at your place.” Ryan hoists Alex a little higher in his arms; Alex has taken his hands away from his ears, just laid his head on Ryan’s shoulder.
“I-” Kevin stammers.
“Look, we’ve been waiting for you guys to be ready to tell us, and we’re all happy for you, all that good stuff, now can I please have access to Lappy so he can tell me what the hell Alex is saying?”
Kevin’s still a little shocked, standing there speechless.
“Bobo,” Alex says in a little voice, looking up at Ryan. His eyes are filled with tears again, and he holds up an arm, sniffling. “Bec et bobo?”
“I, um,” Ryan stammers, “I’m sorry, I don’t-” Alex starts to cry again. “Oh, God, no, don’t cry, don’t cry, B-Alex – please, Kevin,” Ryan begs.
“Yeah, okay,” Kevin sighs, looks at the little Alex, who’s still crying quietly. “I’ll meet you at my place. You can walk.”
“Uh, what? Why would I walk?”
“It’s two blocks, you’ll live.”
“Do the words car seat mean anything to you?” Kevin rolls his eyes, “thank God you don’t have kids.”
“Car seat, right,” Ryan frowns; the thought hadn’t even occurred to him, and he kind of hates that he’s already proving to be so bad at taking care of Alex. Oh, God, it’s really Alex he’s holding. And he’s crying.
Ryan heads out of the rink, Alex in his arms. Alex is still sniffling, clinging tight.
“Veux mon toutou,” he whimpers.
“I’m sorry,” Ryan says helplessly, shifting Alex a little so he can open the door.
“Alex, I don’t- don’t know. I’m sorry.” It’s sort of jarring, the way he can tell it’s Alex, just from his little face. Alex lays his head on Ryan’s shoulder, starts sucking on his thumb. Ryan holds him closer, bundled in Alex’s jacket against the cold air.
The two blocks to Kevin’s seem farther, with the weight of Alex in his arms. When he finally gets there, Kevin buzzes him up. Alex looks up at the sight of the elevator, claps his hands together.
“What?” Ryan asks, as he presses the button to go up.
“Maison!” he chirps. He smiles through the trip up, but when they step out onto the fifth floor, his smile disappears. “Où?” he asks.
“What- did you- like the elevator?” Ryan asks. Alex isn’t happy anymore; on the contrary, it looks like he might cry again. Ryan curses silently and hurries to knock on Kevin’s door.
“Have a nice walk?” Kevin asks, smirks a little. Ryan frowns.
“He cried when we got out of the elevator.”
“I don’t have any idea,” Ryan says, and Kevin sighs, looks at Alex for a few moments. Alex hides against Ryan’s chest, cuddling into the jacket again.
“Well, c’mon,” Kevin beckons him to follow, and they go into the living room. Lappy’s lying on the couch, wrapped in a blanket, a movie on pause on TV. He looks up and his eyes go wide when he sees them.
“Can we talk about how you knew he’d be here?” Kevin asks, looking to Ryan.
“You guys are super obvious.”
“You knew?” Lappy’s eyes go wider, his expression shifting from shock to something more like fear.
“Yeah, it’s fine, me and Alex figured-” Ryan goes silent, suddenly misses Alex so much, even though he’s right here.
“Gimme,” Maxim holds out his arms, and Ryan hands over Alex. Alex cries out, reaches for Ryan as Lappy takes him.
“Ry!” he whimpers, “Ry, Ry.”
“He knows my name?” Ryan asks, watches Lappy rock Alex a little to quiet him.
“Ça va aller,” Lappy’s cooing. “Ça va aller, mon grand. Tout va bien.” Alex hiccups a little.
“Bobo,” he whimpers.
“That, he said that before,” Ryan says.
“He says it hurts,” Lappy explains.
“Oh. Alex got hit during the game, probably has bruises,” Kevin explains, even as Ryan hurts at the thought.
“He said, uh, ‘may zon,’ in the elevator.”
“Oh, that means ‘home,’” Lappy explains. Ryan frowns; Alex must have lived in apartment building, and thought they were going home. His heart kind of twists at the thought. “T'as tu mal au bras?” Lappy asks Alex gently and Alex nods. Alex seems comforted enough, being in his lap, and Ryan tries not to be – fuck, he’s jealous. And maybe he always is, of Lappy, because when Alex speaks French to him, Ryan feels like Alex has to like Lappy better for that. And now, as a two year old, it feels like the same thing is happening, but even worse, because Alex can’t understand English.
“What should we do?” Ryan asks.
“I asked my neighbour for extra baby stuff,” Kevin says, points to a little bag of things by the wall, “clothes and shoes and stuff. She even had her daughter’s old carseat.”
“Je vais te trouver des vêtements,” Lappy says to Alex, shifts Alex into his arms and gets up. “Et puis, veux-tu rester ici? Ou aller avec Ryan?” Ryan doesn’t know what Lappy’s saying, but he kind of can’t stand the way Alex settles against Lappy’s chest.
“Mon Ry,” he says, a firmness in his voice that Ryan recognises.
“D’accord,” Lappy grabs the bag of baby clothes, wanders off in the direction of the bedroom with Alex.
“Think this means he wants kids?” Kevin asks, grins at Ryan, who just shrugs. “Come on, Alex likes you best, okay? Stop flipping out.” Ryan doesn’t even want to address the fact that Kevin can see that.
“I’m not flipping out,” Ryan insists, as Lappy comes back into the room. Alex is wearing clothes that fit him now, and he’s sucking on his thumb again, sleepy-eyed.
“He understands English,” Lappy says, “Alex’s parents tried to make him bilingual, not that you can tell, because he was stubborn about resisting it, but he understands, even if he doesn’t speak it. Also, he says he wants to go home with you,” Lappy says, and maybe Ryan feels a little lighter at that. Alex turns, and when he sees Ryan, holds out his free arm.
“Ry,” he whines around his thumb. Ryan gathers Alex in his arms eagerly, and Alex melts against him, closes his eyes.
“Sure you can do it?” Lappy asks. Ryan holds Alex defensively, because Lappy isn’t taking him away again, and nods. “Okay.” He rubs Alex’s back with two fingers gently. “Sois sage,” he says. Alex nods sleepily.
“Think Lu will figure out how to make him normal?” Kevin asks. Ryan looks down at Alex, and doesn’t answer.
Once at his own building, Ryan lifts a sleeping Alex out of the carseat. Alex whines, clings to Ryan as he starts to cry.
“Oh, no, please don’t,” Ryan pleads. He hurries inside, and Alex’s cries subside a little at the sight of the elevator.
"Maison?” he asks, in this hopeful, pleading voice.
“No,” Ryan hates to say, “not home. But- I’m coming. I’ll be there.” Alex slips his thumb back into his mouth, seems contented by this.
They get up to Ryan’s apartment, where Ryan encounters another problem – he has no idea where Alex should sleep. And Alex is getting fussy, crying weakly and squirming.
“We’re gonna go to sleep,” Ryan tries to soothe him, “don’t you want to go to sleep? You’re so tired.”
“Dodo,” Alex says tearfully. Ryan pauses in the hallway to dig out from his pocket the list of baby words that Lappy had scribbled down for him. Dodo- oh, Alex wants to go to sleep, he’s saying. Ryan pushes away the sharp feeling of failure, that he can’t understand Alex without a list. He's always wanted Alex to actually need him, and now that Alex does, Ryan can't do anything.
“Yeah, Alex. Dodo. Okay?”
Alex nods, sobs quieting. Ryan’s too tired to think of a creative solution; he just heads into his bedroom. He tries to set Alex down on the bed, but this only makes Alex tear up and start whimpering, so Ryan scoops him back up again. He collects pillows to set up as a barrier around the sides of the mattress, like he saw in a TV show once.
“Okay, bedtime,” Ryan sets Alex down in the middle of the bed, but Alex bursts into tears before he can even straighten, let alone leave the room. Whatever, Ryan can just sleep here, then. “It’s okay, I’ll be there in a second,” Ryan says. Alex’s cries quiet a little, but he keeps whimpering as Ryan changes out of his suit and pulls on a t-shirt and sweatpants. “It’s okay,” Ryan pleads, turning off the light. He pauses, turns on a small light in the adjoining bathroom and leaves the door just barely cracked. Alex is clinging to a pillow, and reaches for Ryan as he climbs onto the bed. Alex squirms close when Ryan lies down, snuggles against him.
“t’aime,” he yawns, but Ryan doesn’t know that word.
“Night, Alex,” Ryan murmurs, and it has him blinking back tears, because Alex is here but he isn’t, and Ryan wants him back. He rubs Alex’s back until he falls asleep, little hands tight on Ryan’s shirt even as he sleeps.
Ryan wakes up to the sound of his phone ringing from the nightstand. He blinks awake, finds that little Alex is asleep on his chest, sleeping soundly. Alex is adorable, but Ryan has to fight away crushing disappointment; he’d been hoping to wake up and find Alex back to normal.
He flails an arm towards the nightstand for his phone, manages to answer.
“How’s the baby?” Lu asks. Ryan grumbles. “Well, apparently Alex pissed off one of the Slovakian guys last game.”
“This de-aging thing. It’s an old Slovakian curse.”
“A curse?” Ryan yelps. Instantly, he groans, because the sound wakes up Alex. Alex just yawns, though, and seems to just want to cuddle. Ryan wraps an arm around him gently.
“Yeah. But it seems to just wear off after a while.”
“A while? How long is a while?”
“Well, it varies.”
“It varies,” Ryan repeats, “okay, we can skip practice today, but there’s a game tomorrow.”
“If he’s not back by then, we’ll all figure something out,” Lu says, and Ryan doesn’t know how he can be so calm, when Alex is a baby, not the way he’s supposed to be. Lu isn’t looking at this adorable little baby and missing Alex so bad it hurts.
“Okay,” Ryan manages before hanging up. He tosses the phone aside, looks down at the baby on his chest. “Will you go back to normal soon?” Ryan asks.
“J’ai faim,” Alex replies, pushing himself up on Ryan’s chest. Ryan grabs the list off the nightstand, finds out that Alex is saying he’s hungry.
“Well, let’s go find breakfast,” he says, scoops Alex in his arms and gets up. He takes Alex into the kitchen, forcefully pushes away the memory of the last time Alex was here, eating all his food and talking nonstop. Two-year-old Alex is just as vocal, though; he babbles happily as Ryan pokes through the refrigerator, Alex in one arm. “What do you want to eat?” Ryan asks.
“Ananananane,” Alex giggles. Ryan has no idea if that’s even a word. There’s a bunch of fruit sitting in the drawer, so he grabs an apple and banana and heads over to the counter. He slices up the apple awkwardly, offers a piece to Alex. Alex shrieks and grabs it from him. He scarfs it down enthusiastically while Ryan cuts up the banana into pieces. Once Alex finishes with the apple, Ryan gives him a piece of banana. “Banananane,”Alex chirps, and Ryan glows with pride, that he managed to get something right. Alex shoves the banana in his mouth, makes happy little noises as it squishes through his fingers. After he finishes eating, he resumes babbling.
“What should we do today, hmm?” Ryan bounces him a little and Alex giggles.
“Go to the park?” Ryan guesses and Alex nods enthusiastically.
Ryan ends up taking Alex to a park nearby, after bundling him up in a little jacket and mittens and toque. Alex loves the swings, makes Ryan push him for over an hour, shrieking with giggles.
Ryan loves spending the day with Alex, who babbles and giggles and isn’t altogether much more noisy than the real Alex is, but by the time it’s evening, Ryan misses Alex, his Alex. Baby Alex loves to snuggle, though, and he sits on Ryan’s lap happily as the sports highlights play on TV. Ryan lies down along the couch, and Alex cuddles into his side between him and the couch cushions, dark eyes fixed on Ryan.
“Dodo,” he yawns.
“That’s right, Alex.” Ryan doesn’t really want to move, somehow exhausted after spending the entire day with a baby. He pulls a blanket over them, tucks it around Alex carefully.
“T’aime,” Alex says, and Ryan hasn’t asked Lappy what that means, but Alex says it to him a lot. Ryan switches off the TV, just watches Alex for a few moments. Alex snuggles close, yawning as Ryan pets his hair and rubs gentle circles into his back. “P’tite poule?” Alex asks sleepily.
“I don’t know what that is,” Ryan says apologetically. Alex looks up at him, pouts.
“P’tite poule grise, qu’ll’t p’nd’r dans église,” he sings, and it sounds like a lullaby. Ryan bites his lip, hates that this is yet another thing he can’t do for Alex.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers. Alex looks heartbroken, but he cuddles against Ryan’s chest, quietly repeating the one line of the lullaby to himself.
“P’tite poule grise, qu’ll’t p’nd’r dans église,” he sings softly, little hands fisting in Ryan’s shirt.
“Poor baby,” Ryan murmurs, as Alex yawns, holding onto him tight. “You’re adorable,” Ryan whispers, “but I really want my Alex back, okay? I miss him.” He blinks back tears, and Alex presses a little hand against his chest, like Alex can tell he’s upset. “I love my Alex, and I miss him.”
“T’aime aussi,” Alex mumbles before he falls asleep, his mumbled lullaby slowly fading into peaceful silence.
Ryan watches him sleep for a long time, wishes so much that he had his Alex back again. When he finally sleeps, it’s to nightmares of never seeing his Alex again.
Ryan wakes up when he almost falls off the couch. He makes an annoyed noise and scoots back. It’s kind of hard, because there’s not enough space for him and-
“Alex!” he cries out, because Alex is back, he’s really back, he’s the way he’s supposed to be. Alex is half asleep, one arm flung across Ryan, pressed against him. He yawns, looks up at Ryan.
“Hi,” he says, and Ryan could cry from how happy he is to hear English from Alex again. He hugs Alex tight, can’t manage any coherent words.
“You’re back,” he says against Alex’s neck, never wants to let him go, “oh, thank God, you’re back, you’re back.”
“Missed me?” Alex asks, and Ryan just nods fervently. Alex is quiet for a few moments. “Did you mean what you said last night?” he asks. Ryan looks up.
“You- uh- remember?” he pulls back a little to meet Alex’s gaze. Alex flushes kind of pink, nods yes.
“You said you love me,” he says quietly, and Ryan can hear a little bit of familiarity in his tone, the way Alex whimpered as a baby. “Do you?”
“I- yeah,” Ryan whispers, “yeah, I do. Is that- okay?”
“Ryan,” Alex surges forward and kisses him, and Ryan can’t help a surprised little moan.
“Really?” he asks hopefully when they part. Alex nods, smiling so brightly.
“I love you too,” he says, kisses Ryan again. “Je t’aime,” he murmurs in between kisses, and Ryan can’t even speak for how happy he is, to have Alex back, to suddenly have everything with him. “Maybe it wasn’t a curse,” Alex muses, “maybe that guy wanted me to be happy?”
“Alex, you crosschecked him face-first into the boards. I doubt he was thrilled with you.”
“Guess I got lucky, then,” Alex leans in to kiss him again.
Maybe there are things Ryan can’t do, like how he didn’t know the lullaby and he can’t speak French to Alex, but there are things he can do, things Alex needs him for, wants him for, and making Alex this happy, Ryan is so happy that’s one of them, because that’s everything.