Ryan can’t let the moon get to him. He’s so careful about not having routines, about being able to play well in any situation. He has to be good no matter what he ate, how he slept, or what hurts. Playing around the full moon can’t be any different.
When they released the schedule for the second round, he knew the full moon was the same night as game two. He had braced himself for the distraction, but it got to him anyway. Everything smells sharper with the moon, and sound doesn’t seem to be moving fast enough. Hossa isn’t just on the other team, he’s from another pack, and Ryan can’t stand it. It's intolerable. He can’t be as good as he wants.
Game one was bad enough, even with the moon two days away. He wasn’t as sharp as he needed to be. But he managed to get it under control, they all did, and came back and played well.
Game two is just a mess. Ryan felt out of sorts from the start. When Stewart goes down and nothing gets called Mikko’s usual stoic alpha calm evaporates. Dumba’s got the nerves of a cub, trying to do a little too much. The bad energy from the wolves is enough to throw the whole team out of it.
On the day between games Mikko had pulled the wolves on the team together to talk about how they couldn’t let this happen. They needed to stay calm. They had all nodded along, and made promises to just play hockey that proved impossible to keep.
The Wild’s wolves aren’t a unified pack like some teams, but that night they acted like it for a couple hours. They piled on Mikko’s bed, to talk and stay close. There’s something good about being around other wolves, especially close to the moon. Ryan loves Zach with all his heart, but having a human mate means he misses things like this sometimes. It’s good to sit close to Mikko, who he trusts as much as anyone, and Stewart, who’s new, but still pack as much as any of them. Spurg and Scandi seem so self contained, but Matt keeps poking at them, making them laugh.
Sitting on Mikko’s bed with the other wolves Ryan felt good about their prospects. They had finished game one stronger than they started it, and can build on it. He thought it would be fine.
He shifted that night. He normally doesn’t on the road, when he can’t run, but he could already feel the moon calling. Instead of changing into his pajamas and getting into bed he undressed and shifted. Zach came back into the room from brushing his teeth to find a wolf pacing, sniffing out all the corners of their hotel room.
“Hey sweetheart,” Zach said, and walked over to pet Ryan’s back. Ryan pressed back into the touch. Zach got under the covers, and turned off the light. Ryan hopped onto the bed, circled, before settling along Zach’s side. They slept well together. Ryan didn’t shift back until the morning sunshine had chased the moon away.
Ryan can’t blame the late starts, but they can’t be helping. It’s easier to ignore the moon in the middle of the afternoon, not as it’s rising, reaching its fullest towards the end of the third period. It isn’t an excuse — Ryan should be able to play the same as always. But the late starts don’t help.
After game two Ryan wants to run. Instead he faces the press, taking responsibility for his night. He cools down, showers, and tries to appear calmer than he is.
He’s grateful that Mikko’s the alpha, the captain, there to talk down the rookie, make sure Stewart is actually okay, and generally take care of everyone. Ryan feels up to dealing with his own shit, and only barely.
He doesn’t know what he’d do without Zach. Zach is so familiar, and easy to focus on. He can zero in on how Zach smells, the sound of Zach’s heartbeat, the way Zach’s hand feels in his as they sit on the bus. Zach is his mate, and it doesn’t matter that he isn’t a wolf, not when Ryan can be with him like this.
The plane is miserable. Ryan honestly considers shifting and spending the flight as a wolf, but he doesn’t know what the altitude would feel like, and by the time they’ve eaten dinner he’s not sure there’s enough time to make it worth finding out. He also suspects that if he shifted, everyone would want to, and he can’t say that’s a good idea. He might feel better, but half a dozen wolves on a charter plane would be an adventure. And even if he did shift, he wouldn’t be able to run, so what would be the point?
Zach drives them home. Ryan generally hates being the passenger, but it’s for the best tonight, and there’s no one he’d rather have behind the wheel. Zach gets them home, and everything else can wait, Ryan needs to change. Their bags can sit in the trunk, Zach can look at the mail that’s come since Wednesday. Ryan walks through the house, opens the back door, strips, shifts, and takes off running.
Their back yard was chosen with times like this in mind. There’s plenty of room. It’s more fun if he has the dogs to run with, but they’re at the kennel until tomorrow, so Ryan will have to keep himself busy. It’s not so bad.
Everything else goes away. It’s just him, the wolf in the waning moon. It’s still nearly full, but getting better. The worst is over. It’s getting easier to breathe, and to concentrate. He runs until the game is forgotten, until his mistakes have disappeared. He needs to start over with a blank slate. He needs to keep going, to make the season last as long as possible. He’s already so tired, from the game and his restless day, but running makes him feel better.
He tires himself out, and then flops down in the dirt. He stares up at the moon, and the couple of stars he can see through the suburban glow. This isn’t true wilderness, but it’s good enough. It’s his home.
He picks himself up and starts trotting towards the house. He’s surprised to see a person there. Zach’s sitting on the back steps. He’s changed into sweatpants, and is wearing Ryan’s hoodie to ward off the night chill. He smells good, and looks sad.
Ryan stops in front of Zach, presses his face against Zach’s knees. Zach reaches out to scratch behind his ears, just right. It is very good to have his mate here treating him just the way he wants to be treated.
They stay like that for a while, but Ryan isn’t just the wolf, he wants more than this. He wants to talk to Zach too, maybe kiss him. He gets up, and presses his nose into Zach’s hip until Zach stands and allows himself to be herded into the house. Zach pulls the door shut behind them, and Ryan shifts back.
Ryan remembers the first time he shifted in front of Zach. They had been nineteen, and only just starting to figure out what it meant for them that Ryan was a wolf, and what it might mean for Zach to maybe his mate and a human. Ryan remembers how intently Zach had watched, how intimate and bizarre the whole thing had felt. Now it’s commonplace. Ryan lets it happen, his bones rearrange, the wolf retreats, and he’s on his knees in their back entryway. Zach isn’t paying the transformation any attention. Ryan stands, grabs his boxers off the floor, and puts them back on.
“Are those really necessary?” Zach asks. Ryan shrugs and smiles.
“Sorry,” Ryan apologizes for the loss of skin, “but we’re just going to go upstairs and sleep. It’s too late for anything else.”
“Yeah, but it’s never too late for me to stare at your ass.”
Ryan’s pretty sure Zach said that just to make him laugh, but it works. Zach makes it easy to be in a better mood.
“Good run?” Zach asks. “You clear your head?”
Ryan nods. “Yeah, I feel a lot better.”
Zach’s never going to understand it completely, not without being a wolf, but he understands every other part of Ryan as well as anyone could, and that’s the best anyone could want in a partner. Zach gets him. And when he doesn’t, he cares enough to keep trying.
There are things Ryan could say about how his focus is going to be better, how they’re going to play better on home ice, but that isn’t for right now. That’s important, but right now it isn’t about hockey, it’s about the two of them. Zach doesn’t care how Ryan is because it affects how he plays — he cares because he cares. Zach cares because they’re in love.
They go upstairs and get ready for bed. They brush their teeth side by side. Zach takes off Ryan’s hoodie, but the scent clings to him, and Ryan’s warmed by possessive pleasure. Zach is his mate, and his own person, and no one else’s. It’s only the two of them that matter, for right this moment.
In the morning Ryan will have to start thinking about the rest of the team again, and about the Blackhawks. There are plenty of things there for him to think about, to worry about, but he’ll be able to handle it all with Zach beside him.