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You Caught the Light, You Carried Mine

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Ryan gets hurt blocking a shot in a game against the Panthers on a Monday. Connor’s just started traveling with the team again, so he’s there to see it happen in person, but he can’t tell where the puck hit from the press box. When word finally makes its way up, it’s not good news. It’s his hand. It’ll probably need surgery—six to eight weeks recovery time.

They win the game, but in Connor’s opinion, that is not appropriate compensation for losing Nuge. Maybe if the game had been the difference between making playoffs or not…maybe not even then.

Taylor apparently agrees, because when Connor sees him after the game, the first thing he says is, “Fuuuuuuck.”

And that about sums it up.

Ryan gets on a plane back to Edmonton that night, and Connor almost wishes he were going with him. He knows what Ryan’s going through, is the thing, and waiting around for the surgery to happen is almost as bad as waiting around afterwards until someone says you’re healthy enough to play hockey again.

He and Ryan aren’t close like that, though, and it would have been weird for Connor to offer. He figures he can tag along with Taylor to visit when they get home.

That’s his plan, anyway, so he’s a little bummed out when he gets back from PT on Friday afternoon and Luke says that Taylor has already gone to Ryan and Schultzy’s.

He’s less bummed and more confused when Taylor comes home a couple of hours later with a very rumpled looking Nuge in tow. Connor’s not really the mothering type, but Ryan looks so miserable that he has to suppress the urge to tuck him into bed and spoon feed him soup.

He has a couple of bags with him, which Taylor takes and drops right in the middle of the entryway before announcing, “Hey guys, little Nuge here is gonna crash with us for a while.”

Connor ignores him in favour of herding Ryan over to the couch and then relocating the bags from the walkway to an out of the way corner in the living room.

“What’s the deal, Ryan?” Luke asks, and then adds, teasing, “Schultzy not taking good care of you?”

Ryan shrugs and settles his wrapped hand onto a throw pillow. “He’s not exactly great with sick people. I think I was freaking him out just being there.”

Luke laughs. “Dude, it’s not like you’re the Outbreak monkey. It’s a broken hand, he can’t catch it.”

“Yeah, well, my mom was here for the surgery yesterday, but she couldn’t take that much time off of work and before she left this morning, she asked Schultzy to take care of me. You should have seen his face. He looked like the Coyote right before the anvil lands on his head. Sheer panic.”

“I told him we were used to it,” Taylor says. “Davo’s been dragging his broken carcass around the house for months now.”

“Hey!” Connor protests. “Dragging my broken carcass around?”

“Some other way you want me to refer to your dark days, Davo?” Taylor asks, raising his eyebrows.

When Connor just glares and doesn’t offer any alternatives, Taylor takes it as permission to continue. “Anyway, I got plenty of practice taking care of you after your surgery, and I’m sure Ryan will be way less whiny and annoying than you were, so I volunteered to be his nurse.”

“His nurse, eh?” Luke asks, and Taylor is too busy looking proud of himself to notice when Luke grabs Connor’s arm and starts dragging him in the direction of the kitchen.

“Connor, why don’t you come help me with dinner?” he calls loudly over his shoulder.

“Yeah, of course,” Connor says, letting himself be pulled.

Once they’re out of earshot, Luke lets go of Connor and whispers, “Dude, Hallsy’s not responsible enough to play nurse for a houseplant.”

“What are you talking about, Gaz?” Connor whispers back. “He got a ton of practice taking care of me, remember?”

“I remember him trying to talk you into making him a sandwich two days after your surgery and laughing at you when you had trouble getting your shoes on one-handed.”

Connor laughs. “That’s Hallsy. He means well, though. Pretty sure we can keep him from inflicting any more damage on Nuge.”

From the living room, Taylor yells, “Guys, where do we keep the extra sheets and shit?”

“I think you may be overestimating him,” Luke deadpans.

Connor rolls his eyes. “You start dinner, and I’ll go get the foldout set up for Ryan.”

Taylor helps Connor make up the foldout and then sets Ryan’s toothbrush and other toiletries out in the nearest bathroom while Connor sets some fresh towels out so they’ll be easy for Ryan to find.

After dinner, Ryan is looking even more smudged around the edges, so Taylor kicks everyone out of the living room. Connor hears him wishing Ryan a good night’s sleep as he and Luke climb the stairs to their bedrooms.

Connor elbows Luke and grins. “Not so bad a nurse tonight.”

“Yeah.” Luke chuckles and shoves Connor in the direction of his bedroom. “There’s always tomorrow, though.”

 

 

When Connor comes down the stairs in the morning, it’s to find Ryan curled up on the foldout under a blanket. His eyes are closed, and he looks…peaceful, really, if it wasn’t for how he also looks more than a little pathetic. The blanket is only draped halfway over him, and his bandaged-to-hell-and-back hand is carefully cradled against his chest.

Connor stops short and stares, still half-asleep, and then remembers. He stands there for another moment before he realizes he’s essentially watching Ryan sleep, which is definitely not a very normal or bros thing to do. He’s careful to be quiet as he walks past Ryan to get to the kitchen.

He decides to forego making anything with the blender for now, since that would wake almost anyone from a dead sleep, and just pours himself a bowl of cereal and stands in the kitchen to eat it. It always takes him a few minutes and some food before he’s actually a functional human being in the morning, and it helps to stare out the window while his brain kicks it into gear.

He’s most of the way awake and almost done with his cereal when he hears Ryan moving around in the living room. Connor winces a little even though he’s fairly sure he wasn’t loud enough to actually wake Ryan up. He can hear that Ryan is talking, though it’s quiet enough that he’s not sure what he’s saying, and he shoves his last bite of cereal into his mouth and puts the bowl in the sink before heading back out to the living room.

Ryan’s back is to him when he peers into the room, leaning down to rummage in one of his bags and muttering to himself. “Fuck, where the fuck—”

“Hey,” Connor says cautiously, and Ryan straightens up and turns around quickly. “What’s up?”

Ryan looks a lot less out of it than he had yesterday, but now it’s replaced with a familiar pained expression Connor recognizes from looking in the mirror between painkiller doses after his surgery. He’s not exactly surprised when Ryan asks, “Have you seen my painkillers?”

Connor frowns and shakes his head. “No?”

“I could’ve sworn I had them right here,” Ryan says, turning back to his bag.

Connor starts toward him before he really thinks about it. “You sit,” he says, touching Ryan’s arm and guiding him gently back to the edge of the foldout. “I’ll look.”

Ryan just nods. Connor starts looking through all the pockets of Ryan’s bag, trying not to feel weird about it. Ryan’s right there, so if he doesn’t want him to touch something, he’ll say. His search doesn’t turn up anything, though, and he frowns to himself. “Are they maybe in the bathroom?” he asks, remembering Taylor putting some of Ryan’s stuff in there.

Ryan shrugs and then nods. “Maybe.” He makes to get up, but Connor puts a hand on his shoulder.

“I’ll be right back,” he says, and Ryan nods again. It’s a testament to how much pain he must be in to not argue every time Connor tells him not to do something.

Connor looks carefully twice over, but he doesn’t find any pill bottles in the bathroom. He returns to the living room empty-handed. He has to shake his head when Ryan looks at him hopefully, and he feels like the worst person on the planet when Ryan’s face falls, even though it’s not his fault he can’t find Ryan’s meds.

“I don’t know wh—” Ryan starts to say just as Taylor comes into the room.

“Morning, boys,” he says. “Hey, Nuge, how ya feeling?”

“Have you seen my painkillers?” Ryan asks.

“Yeah, dude, one sec,” Taylor says, ducking back out of the room. Connor and Ryan both look at each other questioningly and then shrug at the same time. Taylor is back a couple seconds later, and he tosses a pill bottle toward Ryan, who tries to catch it with his good hand and only succeeds in knocking it on the floor. “Whoops,” Taylor says, and Connor makes a move to pick them up that he quickly stops when he realizes Ryan’s got it.

“Where were they?” Ryan asks.

“Had ‘em in my room in case you woke up and needed them,” Taylor says, and all Connor’s self-loathing for not being able to help Ryan briefly shifts to being mad at Taylor.

Ryan shakes his head, but he takes it in much more calmly than Connor is currently managing. “Probably not the best idea when you’re such a heavy sleeper, eh, Hallsy?”

Taylor makes a face. “Probably not,” he agrees. “Sorry, man. You need me to open the bottle? Get you some water?”

“Yeah, please,” Ryan says, getting to his feet and following Taylor to the kitchen. Connor follows too, figuring he can make something that’s a little more well-rounded than cereal to eat now. Luke should be down pretty soon; he’s never in bed longer than Taylor.

True to his word, Taylor opens Ryan’s pill bottle and gets him some water to take it with. Connor starts on cutting up some fruit in one corner of the kitchen, and when he turns to put the unused parts back in the fridge, he realizes Taylor is currently poking around in the pantry for something to eat while Ryan stands awkwardly to the side.

The only meal Connor has ever seen Taylor prepare successfully is KD, so he’s not surprised when all Taylor comes out with is a protein bar, already shoved halfway in his mouth. He doesn’t offer one to Ryan, and Connor’s pretty sure the one he’s eating is the last one anyway, so he turns back and starts cutting up more fruit. If he makes enough for all of them, he won’t have to make anyone feel awkward about him making Ryan breakfast.

Luke and Taylor switch places as Connor is pulling instant oatmeal out of the microwave, Taylor announcing that he’s off to take a shower as Luke comes into the kitchen after his. Connor offers plates of fruit to both Luke and Ryan and fails horribly in trying not to blush when Ryan smiles at him as he’s taking it.

He divides the oatmeal up into two bowls and sticks a spoon in each before carrying them out to the table in the dining room, Luke and Ryan following after him. He lets them sit before giving them each a bowl and then goes back for his own plate of fruit.

“Thanks for breakfast, kid,” Luke says, reaching out to bump Connor’s shoulder with his fist. “You’re not gonna have any oatmeal?”

Connor shakes his head and spears a piece of pineapple with a fork. “I had cereal earlier.”

Luke hums and nods, turning his attention to his food, and Connor glances across the table at Ryan to find him watching him.

“Need anything?” Connor asks, and definitely isn’t a little disappointed when Ryan shakes his head and looks back at his plate.

A few seconds later, though, Ryan’s socked foot nudges Connor’s bare ankle. “Thanks,” he says quietly.

Connor nudges back and puts the piece of pineapple in his mouth to keep from grinning like an idiot.

Ryan is just finishing his breakfast when Taylor comes in, fresh from his shower. He takes the seat next to Ryan and then reaches across the table to steal a piece of cantaloupe from Connor’s plate. Connor doesn’t bother swatting him away, so Luke does it for him, gesturing toward the kitchen and raising an eyebrow.

“Go get your own,” he says, exasperated. “Connor made you a plate.”

Taylor grins and stretches even farther across the table to ruffle Connor’s hair. “Thanks, Davo.”

He moves to get up, but Connor waves him back down. “I’ll get it.”

He takes the empty plates to the kitchen and brings Taylor’s out. When he gets back, Ryan is asking if they have anything he can use to cover the cast on his arm while he showers. Connor puts Taylor’s plate down in front of him and then turns back around, going to get a plastic grocery bag from the stash in the drawer by the refrigerator.

“Maybe we can put some saran wrap on it or something,” Taylor is saying when he comes back out. “Connor, do we have saran wrap?”

“I was thinking this might work.” Connor holds the plastic bag up and waves it around a little. “But saran wrap isn’t the worst idea you’ve ever had. Maybe for an extra layer of protection underneath?”

“Yeah,” Luke agrees. “We’ll probably need a rubber band or something to seal it off at the bottom. We probably have one in the junk drawer.”

“We have a junk drawer?” Taylor asks.

Luke groans. “Just eat your breakfast and look pretty, Hallsy.”

Taylor rolls his eyes, but he does start eating his own breakfast. Luke nudges Ryan out of his seat, and the two of them follow Connor back into the kitchen to wrap Ryan’s arm up.

“I mean, it’s not pretty, but I think it’ll probably get the job done,” Connor says when they’re finished.

“It’s good,” Ryan says, giving them both an appreciative smile.

Taylor comes in and dumps his empty plate in the sink before wandering over to examine their handiwork over Connor’s shoulder. “You guys probably should have let him take his shirt off first, though.”

“Shit,” Luke curses. “We probably should have thought of that.”

“It’s cool, Gaz,” Taylor says, scooting around Connor to stretch the sleeve of Ryan’s shirt out so that it doesn’t disturb the wrapping when it comes off. “Just stand there and look pretty.”

Ryan huffs and edges out of the little circle that’s formed around him in the middle of the kitchen before Taylor can do any more damage to the shirt. “I can take my own shirt off, thanks.”

Taylor laughs and pats him on the shoulder. “Sure you can, bud. But what kind of a friend would I be if I didn’t offer to help you get naked in your time of need?”

“I can’t decide if you meant for that to sound dirty or not,” Ryan says. He pulls his shirt over his head and off of his good arm and then works it carefully over the plastic wrapped monstrosity on the other side before holding his hand out to Taylor for inspection.

Taylor looks it over and shrugs. “Looks good to me. And I absolutely meant for it to sound dirty,” he says, winking at Ryan.

Ryan rolls his eyes, tossing his shirt into Taylor's face before turning and heading for the bathroom.

Connor watches him disappear down the hall to the bathroom and hopes that Luke and Taylor don’t notice him staring. He tries not to think too hard about how smooth Ryan’s skin looked. He doesn’t exactly succeed, though, and he must space out a little, because the next thing he realizes, Luke and Taylor are heading for the door and Taylor is calling, “Don’t let Nuge drown in there, Davo!”

Connor manages a weak, “I won’t,” and promptly freaks out. It’s just started to hit him that he and Ryan will be alone in the house together for the bulk of the morning while Taylor and Luke prep for the night’s game.

He doesn’t exactly panic. Logically, he knows that Ryan isn’t going to drown in the shower, but he maybe paces back and forth outside of the bathroom anyway, worrying that Ryan will need his help. At one point, he hears a couple of thumps and a small crash and almost bursts in, but he makes himself tap on the door instead.

“Ryan, you okay in there?”

Connor hears Ryan’s feet squeak against the floor of the tub and there are a couple more thumps before Ryan calls, “I’m fine! Fuck, who needs this many shampoo bottles? Just go back to doing whatever you were doing, Connor. It’s fine.”

Connor’s pretty sure that Ryan doesn’t mean for him to go back to pacing, so he forces himself to walk out to the living room and turn the TV on.

When Ryan finally emerges, he’s shirtless and only half dry, and he’s taken the bag off, but he’s still got some saran wrap on his arm. Connor tries not to look, but he has to when Ryan sits down on the foldout and makes a little frustrated sound.

“Need help?” he asks.

He focuses on the hair that’s sticking to Ryan’s forehead and dripping water down his face and neck because it’s better than letting his eyes wander down to his bare torso. He absolutely does not want to reach out and brush a thumb over the beads of water sliding past Ryan’s temples.

Ryan, thankfully, is too busy picking at his arm to notice that Connor is weirdly fixated on his cheekbones.

“I just can’t get it…fuck! Only having one hand is total bullshit.”

Connor sympathizes, he’s broken a hand before. And his collarbone injury left him without the use of an entire arm for a bit. He doesn’t say it out loud, but it’s only going to get worse for Ryan the longer he’s out. He’s sure Ryan knows anyhow; he’s been on long term IR before.

He only hesitates a second before dropping down to a knee in front of Ryan and pulling his arm closer. He peels the saran wrap off, then goes to the bathroom to get a towel and dries off the skin around his cast to make sure no water drips inside.

When he finishes, he looks up and he can’t quite decipher the look on Ryan’s face.

“You okay?” he asks. He doesn’t realize that he’s been brushing his thumb over the inside of Ryan’s forearm until Ryan jerks his arm away.

“I’m fine. Seriously, just…go back to doing whatever you’d be doing if I wasn’t here. I don’t need you to, like, babysit me or whatever.”

His voice is tight—almost angry—and honestly, Connor is a little stung by it.

“Sorry,” he mumbles, shuffling back a bit on his knees and then standing up. “I’ll just…”

He gestures over his shoulder in the vague direction of the stairs, but Ryan shakes his head and makes another frustrated sound in the back of his throat.

“I didn’t mean you had to vacate your own living room, Connor.”

“It’s cool,” Connor says, shrugging in a way that he hopes looks casual and not like he wants to go hide under his covers in embarrassment for the next week.

It’s becoming evident that the tiny crush he had on Ryan at the beginning of the season has not, as he had previously thought, gone away. It’s becoming even more evident that having Ryan half naked in his living room is not going to help that particular situation. And apparently Connor has crossed a line and upset Ryan without even meaning to, so he’s just gonna…vacate his own living room, as Ryan had put it. As quickly as possible.

He takes a couple of backward steps. “I’ve got a couple of phone calls to make, but uh…let me know if you need anything.”

Ryan’s face gets even more pinched, but he doesn’t say anything, so Connor takes that as his cue to turn and run.

He doesn’t actually run.

Okay, maybe he jogs up the stairs, but that’s normal, right?

He manages to keep himself busy in his room until Luke and Taylor come back for their pre-game naps, and then he shuffles over to the room they use as a gym and does some PT approved exercises before showering and changing into a suit for the game.

When he comes down the stairs, Taylor is asking if Ryan is going to try to watch the game on TV.

“I don’t know.” Ryan shrugs and fiddles with the collar of his t-shirt. “I might just take another pill and crash.”

“You gonna be okay for food?” Luke asks, tying his tie while Taylor hunts around for his keys.

“I have a broken arm, not a concussion,” Ryan says, that same pinched look from before returning to his face. “I remember how to use the phone to order takeout.”

Luke chuckles and pats Ryan on the back. “There’s a list of numbers on the fridge if you don’t already have your favourites in your phone.”

Ryan mumbles a thank you, and Taylor finally finds his keys.

“I forgot how cranky you get when you have to let people take care of you,” Taylor says, tugging Ryan into a one-armed hug and turning it into a lazy noogie.

Ryan shoves him off and scowls and Connor thinks, ‘Oh.’ Maybe it hadn’t been the arm thing that had pissed Ryan off earlier, after all.

He makes eye contact with Ryan and chances a smile. He feels a tiny knot in his stomach unwind when Ryan smiles back easily.

He decides to test his theory and says, “Gazzy and I will be in the press box, so call if you need anything, yeah?”

He can’t help that his smile gets wider when Ryan’s scowl returns.

 

 

They drop the game against the Preds 4-1, and Hallsy is in a mood when he meets them in the parking lot after his media scrum.

“I’m just so sick of trying to be positive after games like that,” he says, his frustration bleeding into his words.

It’s the same frustration Connor feels at having to watch and knowing he could help, if only he were down there with his team. It’s probably the same frustration Luke feels at being scratched, yet again. They’re all feeling it. Ryan is probably feeling it at home on the couch, if he’s still awake. If he’s not, he’ll feel it tomorrow. It’s the nature of the game, of playing for a team that’s losing more than they’re winning.

Ryan is awake when they get back, and Connor doesn’t even have to ask to know that he watched the game, or at least part of it. He’s got the same look in his eye that Connor’s sure he had when his injury was fresh—a lot of pain with a side of disappointment and maybe a dash of irrational anger on top.

Taylor, apparently misinterpreting Ryan’s expression, storms through the living room on his way to the kitchen and snaps, “I don’t want to talk about it, Nugget.”

Ryan, to his credit, does not snap back, though he looks like he wants to. He waits until Taylor has cleared the room to say, “Guess I can’t blame him.”

“You’ve seen the score, then?” Luke asks.

Ryan shrugs, and it’s jerky and tense the way his movements usually aren’t. Connor wonders how long it’s been since he’s taken a pain pill.

He’s about to ask when Luke beats him to it. “Have you taken your meds since we left?”

Ryan shakes his head no. “I fell asleep for a little bit. It wasn’t bothering me before.”

“Okay,” Luke says, and puts a hand on Ryan’s shoulder to keep him from getting up. “Just sit tight, I’ll get it.”

Connor watches Ryan stew while Luke is getting his pain meds and a bottle of water and wishes there were something he could do to help. He wants to suggest that Ryan not watch the games for a while, but he pretty sure he knows exactly the kind of reaction he’d get for his trouble.

Ryan snatches the bottle of water from Luke when he comes back and ends up spilling all over himself because Luke had thoughtfully cracked the cap open for him. Luke tries to take the water back and offers to get Ryan a towel, but Connor can tell before Ryan even says anything that it was the wrong thing to do.

“Fuck, Gaz,” Ryan says, and he’s not yelling, but it’s the closest Conor’s ever seen him get to it. “I’ve got it! Just fuck off for a minute, alright?”

Connor is about to head to the kitchen to give Ryan a minute, but Luke shakes his head and calmly pries the bottle out of Ryan’s hand. He puts it and the pills that he’s still holding on the end table and drags Ryan up off of the couch, pulling him into a hug.

Ryan looks like he wants to fight it for a second, but then, like flipping a light switch, he just goes boneless. He sags against Luke, and Luke pulls him tighter against his chest and rubs broad stripes up and down his back.

Luke is speaking softly, close to Ryan’s ear, and Connor can barely make out the words when he says, “You’re gonna heal, Ryan. And then you’ll be back out there. And I know you don’t like it, but we’re your teammates and your friends, and if we wanna help you out when you’re not feeling so hot, you’re just gonna have to deal with it. Got it?”

“Got it,” Ryan mumbles into Luke’s shoulder.

Luke catches Connor’s eye, and holds out an arm. “You wanna get in on this cuddle action, or what, Davo?”

Connor only hesitates a second. When he gets over there, Luke pulls him in and Connor tucks an arm low around both of their waists.

“Hey, Hallsy! We’re group hugging without you,” Luke calls, and Connor hears an indignant squawk come from the kitchen before Taylor is a warm weight at his back.

Ryan endures it for a lot longer than Connor expects him to before wiggling out of the middle and going to take his pain pill. When he sits down again, Luke plops down next to him and slings an arm over his shoulder, and Ryan leans into it. He looks more relaxed than he has since he walked through their door yesterday. Connor takes note of the fact that apparently Ryan is a pretty affectionate dude—something else that will probably not help Connor’s medium-sized crush.

Later, Connor is trying to come up with the perfect comment to troll Marns with on his latest stupid instagram picture, when he hears Ryan’s voice over the TV that Taylor has blaring.

“Hey, Taylor, I think I’m going to go crash at Jordan’s tonight. You know, spread the love around a little bit.”

Connor looks at the clock on his phone and realizes that it’s late—like, really late. Taylor always takes a while to wind down after a bad game, and the living room where he’s chosen to camp out is currently doubling as Ryan’s bedroom. Ryan is probably exhausted and too polite—or likely too stubborn about needing any kind of help—to tell Taylor to fuck off to his own room, but there’s no way he should be driving to Jordan’s in the middle of the night, especially not looped out on painkillers.

Connor doesn’t really even think about it before jogging down the stairs and taking Ryan’s bag out of his hands. He spares a second to glare at Taylor for not doing anything to stop Ryan from packing up before wrapping a hand around Ryan’s good wrist and leading him to the stairs.

“Where are we going?” Ryan asks, but he really does sound exhausted. Connor doesn’t think it’ll be too difficult to convince him to stay.

“You can crash in my room,” he says, tugging Ryan up the first couple of steps. “I’ll crash on the couch whenever Taylor’s ready to go to bed.”

Ryan is easy to manhandle, clinging to consciousness like it’s a cliff’s ledge with sleep waiting at the bottom.

“You’re not giving up your bed, Connor,” Ryan protests.

“Sure I am.” Connor thinks he probably should have thought to offer it last night and feels a little bit like an asshole for making Ryan sleep on the foldout a day after having surgery, for fuck’s sake.

They make it all the way to Connor’s bedroom before Ryan digs his heels in, literally.

“You’re recovering from an injury, too,” he says with more coherence than Connor would have given him credit for. “They’ll excommunicate me from Canada if you fuck something up sleeping on that shitty couch.”

Connor laughs and tugs Ryan the rest of the way into the room. “So we’ll share, then,” he says, like it’s no big deal, even though he’s screaming at himself so loudly inside of his own head that he’s almost surprised Ryan can’t hear it.

He’s not sure if it’s the exhaustion or if Ryan’s really just not fussed about sharing a bed with Connor, but he nods like this is a perfectly reasonable plan and asks Connor what side of the bed he likes before climbing in and burrowing under the covers, just his face and his injured arm sticking out.

Connor turns the light off so he won’t just stand there and stare like an idiot, and then goes to the bathroom to brush his teeth. When he comes back, Ryan’s breathing is deep and even. Connor hesitates before getting in and leaves as much room between him and Ryan as he can without falling out of the bed. He’s sure he won’t be able to sleep, but he must drift off eventually, because the next thing he’s aware of is the sound of the blender going downstairs.

The next thing he’s aware of is the warmth pressed up along his side, and when he opens his eyes, it’s to see that—yep, that’s Ryan, his good arm slung across Connor’s chest and the other one on the pillow above Connor’s head, his face tucked against Connor’s shoulder. Connor tenses up, then forces himself to relax. He doesn’t want to wake Ryan up, because this is definitely weird, and there’s no way it’s not going to be awkward.

He does his best to lie very still, which means that the only thing there is to think about is how nice it is to have woken up like this. It’s not really a train of thought he should be riding, like, at all. Not if he wants to actually get over his crush, anyway.

He must doze off a bit, but he’s not so asleep that he doesn’t immediately wake back up when Ryan shifts and then rolls away. Connor watches as he stretches out his arms, winces, and then looks at Connor.

“Oh,” he says, like he’s surprised Connor is awake. “Morning.”

His voice is quiet and slightly raspy, and it kind of makes Connor want to die. “Uh, g’morning,” he manages, swallowing against the dryness in his throat. He’s half-expecting Ryan to apologize for the cuddling, but Ryan doesn’t say anything at all. It’s almost more awkward than if he did—at least, it is for Connor. Ryan doesn’t really look bothered at all. “How’s, um,” Connor tries, nodding toward Ryan’s hand.

Predictably, Ryan gets an annoyed expression on his face at that. “Probably need more meds,” he says begrudgingly.

“Are they up here?” Connor asks, already getting out of the bed and glad for the excuse to do so. “Or still downstairs?”

“Downstairs, I think,” Ryan says, and Connor doesn’t bother sticking around to see if Ryan’s going to get all affronted about Connor going to get them.

Ryan just smiles at him when he gets back, which is definitely not something Connor’s ever going to get tired of. “Brought you your phone, too,” he says after handing over the pills and a fresh water bottle.

“Cool, thanks,” Ryan says, and Connor nods. He hovers awkwardly for a moment, but Ryan is looking at his phone and doesn’t seem like he’s in any hurry to get out of bed—Connor’s bed, and Connor is now having a whole lot of thoughts that he doesn’t need to be having about that. He flees to the kitchen before it goes too far and he ends up doing something dumb like getting back in bed and cuddling with Ryan again.

Both Luke and Taylor are in the kitchen when he gets down there, and he realizes it was a bad idea when Luke asks where Ryan is. He ignores the question and mumbles something about having to shower before turning and high-tailing it out of there. Taylor can explain, because Connor sure as hell isn't going to.

He spends longer in the shower than he normally would in the spirit of avoiding an awkward conversation, and he doesn't have much time for breakfast before they have to head out for the skills competition, which Connor is honestly psyched to be getting to participate in. He’s gotten to skate in practice with the team, but that’s not the same as actually being out on the ice when the arena is full of fans. It’s not a game that actually matters or anything, but it’s something, and that’s infinitely better than nothing.

It ends up being a lot of fun. The fans are as crazy as ever, and he has a few good laughs with the guys. He's pretty tired afterward, sure, but it's the kind of tired that comes from a good skate, so he doesn't even want to complain about it.

He's considering napping before dinner—which Luke is making, because he's a hero and also good at it—but when they get home, Ryan is obviously grumpy, lying on the couch and watching TV. He says hi but not much else, and Connor sits down on the couch with him. He hated being left alone when he was first hurt, especially when everyone was out on the ice, and he can't imagine Ryan is much different, even if he does get annoyed when people try to take care of him.

Ryan had to move his feet to make room for Connor, and after a moment, he puts them in Connor's lap. Connor immediately dismisses any thought of going to nap. He's just going to sit right here until he absolutely can't anymore.

Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as long as Connor might’ve liked before Luke calls them all to come eat. He waits until Ryan has moved his feet and gotten up before getting up himself and following Ryan to the table.

There’s been a household rule about eating on the couch ever since an incident where Hallsy spilled half of the contents of a meatball sub on a cushion a couple of months ago. Connor had voted in favour of that rule, but he can’t help wishing they were eating on the couch now, where he would have been able to get away with maintaining his close proximity to Ryan. There’s an entire table between them now, and Connor misses the weight of Ryan’s legs in his lap.

Connor takes a second to appreciate how well and truly screwed he is before asking Luke to pass the green beans.

Dinner is good. Ryan perks up a little bit and becomes more animated, and Connor is dismayed to realize that, aside from being super attracted to him, he just plain likes the guy. Connor’s not a quiet dude, exactly, but he’s not boisterous like Taylor or as easygoing as Luke. He knows that the internet thinks he’s boring—Dylan once forwarded him a link to a twitter that just makes super dull tweets in his name—but Ryan actually laughs at his jokes and doesn’t let him fade into the background of every conversation like Connor sometimes tends to do. He probably spends most of the meal smiling like a dope, but no one calls him on it.

When they’re all done eating, Connor starts clearing the table, taking a couple trips to get all their empty dishes and the things that have to go back in the fridge. He starts running water in the sink so he can wash the pots and pans, and when he looks up from testing the temperature, Ryan has wandered quietly into the kitchen and started loading the dishwasher. It’s not that hard of a task for someone with one functional hand, but it’s a whole different story when said person is still high on meds most of the time. Connor suppresses a sigh. Taylor was supposed to keep Ryan occupied, not let him do manual labour.

“Uh,” Connor says, and then he realizes he has no idea how to put this in a way that won’t annoy Ryan.

Luke, who was moving things from the counter to the fridge, has no such qualms. “Dude, stop,” he says. “You don’t need to help clean up.”

“But—” Ryan starts.

Luke shakes his head and takes Ryan by the shoulders, marching him out of the room. “Nope. You’re here so you don’t have to do things. Let’s go sit on the couch.”

“Taylor can help instead,” Connor says loudly, walking over to the dining room. “Come on, Hallsy, come help me clean the kitchen.”

Taylor looks up from his phone, opening his mouth like he’s going to protest, but he must see that Connor isn’t fucking around from his expression, because he closes it again and gets up. He shuffles into the kitchen and over to the dishwasher, starting where Ryan left off.

“Sorry,” he says sheepishly when Connor continues to give him the evil eye. Connor’s not entirely sure Taylor knows what he’s apologizing for, but that’s fine. He’ll take it.

 

 

Connor has a Skype call with Dylan scheduled for that evening, so he goes off to his room when they’re done cleaning. Dylan answers with a huge smile on his face, and Connor immediately smiles back. Talking to Dylan always makes him feel better even when he’s not in a bad mood.

“Watched part of your skills thing,” Dylan says. “Only one event? You slacker.”

“Shut up,” Connor says easily, because even if Dylan wasn’t grinning when he said it, Connor would know he’s practically as relieved as Connor is that Connor’s cleared for full contact. “Not such a good game yesterday, eh?”

Dylan immediately scowls and launches into a long explanation of all the things the Otters had fucked up in their game against the IceDogs. Connor settles in to listen and weigh in with his opinion. It’s always good to talk hockey with Dylan.

Eventually they’ve beaten the game to death, though, and by the time Ryan shows up in Connor’s doorway, looking hesitant, Dylan is just telling Connor a story about something stupid Brinksy did, and Connor doesn’t feel bad about holding up a hand to get him to stop.

“What’s up?” Connor asks Ryan.

Ryan holds up his pill bottle. “Sorry to interrupt. I was just wondering if you could open this? I asked Taylor, but, uh…”

“Sure,” Connor says. “Hey, Stromer, I’m gonna go, okay?” Ryan makes a noise that Connor thinks might be protest, but Connor ignores it.

“Okay,” Dylan says easily. “Text you later.”

Connor waves as he hangs up the Skype call, and then he gets up off his bed and walks over to Ryan, holding out his hand for the pill bottle.

“You didn’t have to hang up,” Ryan says, handing the bottle over. “It only takes a second.”

“Yeah,” Connor agrees, cracking the lid open. “Just wanted to make sure you’re good. Don’t you need water to take them?”

Ryan just shrugs, looking uncomfortable. Connor takes that as a yes and heads for the stairs. He doesn’t have to glance behind him to know Ryan is following.

To get to the kitchen, they have to walk right past Taylor playing a video game in the living room, and Connor frowns. He waits until after he’s gotten water for Ryan and handed both it and the pills over before he says quietly, “So, Taylor wouldn’t pause his game?”

Ryan smiles ruefully around his mouthful of water. He swallows and says, “I think it was less that he wouldn’t and more that he kept forgetting I’d asked.”

Connor shakes his head. “Gaz was kinda right when he said that Taylor’s an awful nurse.”

“Yeah, well.” Ryan shrugs. “His heart is in the right place.”

“That’s what I said,” Connor agrees. “Still sucks, though.”

“That’s what I’ve got you for,” Ryan says, and Connor’s heart swoops in his chest. “Uh, and Luke.”

“Right,” Connor says, laughing a little. He’s in no way sad about Ryan adding Luke on to that. “Happy to help.”

Ryan gives Connor another one of those smiles Connor is getting way too fond of, and Connor makes the executive decision to end this interaction. “Okay, I’m heading back upstairs now that I know you’re good.”

Ryan nods, but his face falls the slightest bit, and Connor completely undermines the decision he made five seconds ago by saying, “You could come up and hang out with me if you don’t want to stay down here.”

“Sure,” Ryan says. “If I won’t be bugging you.”

“Nah,” Connor says, because he’s definitely not going to be bothered in the sense that Ryan means. “Watched any good TV lately?”

It turns out that Ryan’s been watching House of Cards, and Connor shrugs and brings it up on Netflix on the TV in his room, skipping to the next episode Ryan hasn’t seen even though Connor has never watched it. It works out fine, because Ryan keeps explaining parts of the plot right on cue when things that don't make sense without context happen. Connor spends more time with his eyes on Ryan's face as he talks than actually watching the show, and he doesn’t regret it at all.

They're sitting on the bed, but the way the TV is angled and how they've left space between them means that Ryan keeps shifting uncomfortably, and eventually Connor says, in the most casual tone he can manage, "You know, you can move over here. I don't think you have cooties or something."

Ryan snorts and scoots over. They're pressed together from shoulder to ankle now, and Connor immediately can't concentrate on anything else. Ryan's hand is right there, right next to Connor's, and Connor is struck by the desire to hold it or do something similarly sappy.

He can't, though, so he crosses his arms to take away the temptation and does his best to actually watch the show.

His best isn't very good, so he definitely notices Ryan eyeing him a couple times before he asks if Connor wants him to scoot over.

"No," Connor says too quickly. "You're fine, dude."

"It's okay if you do," Ryan insists. "I kind of forget about personal space sometimes."

"You're really not bothering me," Connor says, and then, before he can stop himself, "You could take up more of my personal space if you wanted, and I still wouldn't be bothered."

Ryan gets a devilish look on his face at that. "Oh, so this doesn't bother you?" he asks, leaning all his weight against Connor so that he's pretty much pushing him out of the bed, a shit-eating grin on his face.

Connor flails slightly and laughs, retaliating by putting his arm around Ryan and squeezing hard.

"You're pretty comfy," Ryan says, kind of breathless and still grinning. It's a blatant lie, because Connor is putting most of his strength into squeezing him. Connor snickers and relaxes his grip.

He expects Ryan to actually move away, if only a little bit, but he just settles in against Connor instead. "Actually, you really are comfy," he says. "I meant to tell you that this morning."

Connor's heart jumps into his throat. "Oh," he says. "Are we…talking about that now?"

"No," Ryan says, and he puts his head on Connor's chest, very deliberately going back to paying attention to the TV. Connor tries to do the same, but most of his effort is focused on trying not to actually die from how nice this is.

All too soon, it gets to be too late to put off going to bed anymore, and they have to separate to go get ready to sleep. Connor thinks that maybe Ryan looks as reluctant to do so as he is, but then Ryan’s expression changes, and Connor thinks he must be making it up.

Whether it’s because it’s not nearly so late as last night or what, Connor doesn’t know, but Ryan doesn’t immediately fall asleep this time. He keeps turning over every so often, and at one point he tries and appears to fail at fluffing his pillow with one hand. Connor tries to ignore it, but he can’t exactly sleep either, and he can tell this is going to get out of hand and leave them both cranky if it keeps up.

He wishes it could be easy, and then he’s thinking about waking up with Ryan peacefully cuddled up to him and how nice it was to cuddle while they watched TV, and then he’s thinking about what it would be like to just roll over and pin Ryan to the bed.

In a totally innocent way that is just about cuddling and sleeping. Totally. Mostly. Connor’s not thinking about this anymore.

Except then Ryan audibly huffs and turns over again, and Connor has to do something about this. Cuddling is about the only thing he can think of, but he’s not entirely sure he’s…allowed, for lack of a better term. Sure, they were just cuddling, but it must be different when you're actually falling asleep, right? It has to be different. It feels like it would be different. But then again, if Ryan didn't like it, he wouldn't have initiated it before. He's obviously a cuddly kind of dude; he was the same with Luke, too.

In the end, it comes down to the fact that Connor is only one weak man, and there's no way he's not taking advantage of having Ryan right here, even if it's going to hurt later when he can't just touch Ryan whenever he wants. When Ryan shifts again and sighs slightly, Connor takes a deep breath and rolls over. He touches Ryan’s arm lightly and then just goes for it, putting his arm over Ryan’s side and tucking himself up behind him.

Ryan is tense, and Connor feels an intense regret for even trying this. But when he whispers, “This okay?”, practically already pulling away, Ryan catches him by the arm and tugs him back, relaxing into the cuddle.

“It’s good,” he whispers back. “Thanks.”

“No problem,” Connor murmurs into Ryan’s shoulder.

He’s not sure where he should put his hand and eventually settles on resting his palm flat underneath Ryan’s sternum. He’s rewarded with Ryan wrapping his fingers around his wrist. He tries not to pay attention to the way Ryan’s fingers are pressing into his pulse point because it only makes him want to tangle their fingers together again. He settles for pressing his forehead into the back of Ryan’s neck and makes himself close his eyes.

He doesn’t think it’ll take him long to fall asleep this time. In fact, he’s already beginning to worry that it would be all too easy to get used to this.

 

 

The next morning when Connor wakes up, he and Ryan are still tangled together. Ryan has apparently flipped over some time in the night and his face is pressed into Connor’s chest, his injured hand tucked up between them. Connor’s hand has somehow slipped under the hem of Ryan’s shirt and is resting on bare skin. When his brain wakes up enough to register this, he hurries to put the layer of Ryan’s shirt back between them, moving as quickly as he can without waking Ryan up. This has been minimally awkward, and Connor would very much like to keep it that way.

He’s not in any hurry to get up, but he does have to pee, so he rolls carefully away from Ryan and pushes the covers away. He’s just gotten both feet on the floor when Ryan cracks one eye open and reaches out to grab the hem of Connor’s t-shirt.

“Sorry,” Connor says quietly. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“You leaving?” Ryan asks, blinking his other eye open and squinting at Connor. He looks like he’s a half a second away from falling back asleep. It’s unbearably cute.

“Just going to the bathroom.”

“Kay.” Ryan lets go of Connor’s shirt and pulls the covers higher up over his shoulders, his eyes already slipping shut again. “Coming back?”

Connor had been thinking about it, honestly, but wasn’t sure how he was going to manage getting back into bed without waking Ryan. He guesses he doesn’t have to worry about that anymore, though. The damage has already been done.

He wants to ask if Ryan wants him to come back, but he bites his tongue and says, “That okay?”, instead.

“‘s your bed,” Ryan mumbles. Connor tries not to be disappointed with that answer.

He goes to the bathroom and brushes his teeth while he’s in there, because if he’s getting back in bed, he doesn’t want to breathe his morning breath all over Ryan. When he gets back to his room, though, he hesitates in the doorway. He doesn’t want to overstay his welcome with Ryan, and he feels like he can’t be objective about the situation with his giant crush in the way.

He’s still waging war with himself when Ryan’s voice startles him out of his own head.

“Connor, what the fuck?”

When he looks up, Ryan is holding the covers up for him, and Connor thinks it would be pretty stupid to turn down an engraved invitation.

When he wakes back up again later, it’s to his phone vibrating loudly on the bedside table. He reaches out and grabs it to shut the buzzing up. He isn’t going to pick it up, but when he sees that it’s Todd, he climbs out of bed and goes to the hall to answer it.

The phone call takes longer than he thought it would, and when Connor goes back into the bedroom, Ryan is sitting up in bed, fumbling with a bottle of ibuprofen. Connor goes over and rests one knee on the mattress to lean over and take it from him.

“How many?” Connor asks, opening the bottle and tipping a couple of pills out into his palm.

“Three,” Ryan says, holding out a hand to take them when Connor offers them over. “Thanks. Was that Coach on the phone?”

Connor ignores the question in favor of opening the bottle of water Ryan has sitting on the bedside table. “You out of the stronger stuff already?”

Ryan shakes his head and takes the water bottle, tossing the pills back. “No, just tired of feeling fuzzy and useless all day. Plus, I haven’t forgotten how terrible the first couple of days of rehab can be. If I take them all now, I’ll wish I hadn’t later.”

“That’s smart,” Connor agrees, resting his hip farther into the mattress, one leg still dangling off the other side. “I definitely had a few days like that.”

“Everyone expects rookies to make rookie mistakes,” Ryan teases, nodding sagely. “You live, you learn.”

He laughs a little. “That’s a lesson I hope I never have to use again.”

“Dream big, buddy,” Ryan says with a rueful smile, and Connor nods because he knows Ryan’s right. Injuries are an unfortunate reality of the game.

“Did they clear you to play officially?” Ryan tries again, and Connor can hear the tightness in his voice when he asks.

He’s been trying not to talk about it, because there’s no way he’s going to be able to hide how excited he is and he doesn’t want to make Ryan feel like shit, but Ryan’s asking, and Connor’s pretty much incapable of blowing him off.

“Not, like, officially-officially, but yeah,” he answers. “They want me to go out to Bakersfield and skate with those guys during the break, make sure I stay ready. So hopefully, next game…”

The smile Ryan turns on him is genuine, even if it’s a little sad. “That’s great. Really happy for you, Davo.”

Connor smiles back, letting a little bit of his relief and excitement bleed through, and gives Ryan’s sleeve a tug. “Come on, let’s see if we can get Luke to make us breakfast.”

Luke is already in the kitchen when they get downstairs, and the look he gives Connor says that they’d be having a conversation right now if Ryan wasn’t around. Connor wonders if he can avoid talking about it if he just never lets Ryan out of his sight for the remainder of his stay. Somehow he doubts it—actually, he should probably consider himself lucky that Taylor didn’t mention the new sleeping arrangement in front of the whole team yesterday.

Ryan, for his part, doesn’t seem to notice the curiosity that Luke is silently emanating. Connor should probably consider himself lucky for that, too.

Luke is making himself an omelet, and it doesn’t take much more than Ryan pouting and rubbing his still swollen fingers to get him to agree to make them one, too.

“That’s emotional manipulation, Nuge, and I don’t have to stand for it,” he complains jokingly, waving a spatula in Ryan’s general direction. “Isn’t Taylor supposed to be taking care of you, anyway?”

“Didn’t we already decide that Taylor is an unfit caregiver?” Connor asks, sliding around the counter to help.

“No, I decided, and you were all like, ‘He does his best, Gazzy!’” Luke mimics, raising his pitch an octave when he does Connor’s voice.

Connor shrugs. “He can’t help it if his best is kinda crap.”

“Who’s crap?” Taylor asks, choosing that exact moment to come in from the living room.

Connor and Luke laugh, but Ryan pats Taylor on the shoulder and says, “No one, Hallsy. You excited for the All-Star Game?”

That topic of conversation keeps Taylor occupied well through breakfast, and afterwards, he begs off to hang with Ebs.

“There goes my nurse,” Ryan laments, and then puts a hand on Connor’s arm. He completely avoids eye contact when he says, “Speaking of…I kinda wanted to take a shower. Will you help me with…” He waves his bad arm at Connor.

Connor grins. “Are you actually asking for help?”

Ryan laughs and gives Connor’s arm a squeeze. “Definitely not if you’re gonna give me shit about it.”

Connor smiles all the way through wrapping Ryan’s arm up.

He helps Ryan unwrap again when he gets out of the shower, and waves it off when Ryan says, “Thanks for this.”

Ryan shakes his head and helps Connor pick the last little bit of saran wrap off of his cast. “Seriously. I’m sure Taylor didn’t ask before he brought me over here. Sorry you and Luke got stuck with me.”

“We should have known, right?” Connor asks, taking the wad of plastic wrapping to the trash. “I mean, right after my surgery, Hallsy comes to my room—I’m still pretty out of it, like I had literally just gotten home from the hospital—and he asks me, ‘Is it your day to unload the dishwasher, or mine?’ Luke made him do it for an entire month after that, but honestly, I’m pretty sure the only thing he was thinking at that moment was, ‘fuck, I hope I didn’t forget my turn again.’ ”

“He really does mean well.” Ryan laughs. “Did I tell you about the time he forgot to pick Jordan up at the airport after a funeral?”

“He did not!”

Ryan walks to the couch and plops down and Connor follows him, sitting on the opposite end. “He did! They were living together at the time. I can’t remember who died, maybe an aunt or an uncle or something, and I get this frantic call from Taylor. He’s like, ‘Nuge, can you come pick me up? I was supposed to get Jordan from the airport, but I forgot and I dropped my car off to get detailed yesterday!’”

They both laugh, and when it dies out, Connor stretches his feet across the couch and pokes Ryan in the thigh with his toes.

“I really don’t mind, you know?” he says quietly.

“Mind what?” Ryan asks.

Connor shrugs and puts his feet in Ryan’s lap. “Being stuck with you.”

Connor can’t see Ryan’s smile from the angle he’s sitting in, but he can see his dimple just fine.

Ryan goes to the grocery store with Luke later that night. He says it’s because he needs to get out of the house, and Connor gets that—cabin fever is real, and it’s awful—so Connor takes the hour alone to ignore all of the Ryan-related feelings he’s got building up in his chest and skypes Dylan again instead.

Dylan knows Connor, though, and the second his face pops up on Connor’s phone, he says, “What’s up, dude? You’ve got that constipated look you get when you think you’re having a crisis.”

“Constipated?” Connor asks indignantly, and he squints to see his own face in the tiny box at the corner of the screen. “I do not look constipated!”

“You so do, bro,” Dylan says. “But if you’re not ready to talk about it, that’s cool. I can wait.”

Connor doesn’t plan on talking about it ever. In fact, there’s nothing to talk about. Maybe if Ryan felt the same way, but there’s no way he does, so. Connor’s fine. And he definitely doesn’t look constipated.

They talk for a while, about Bakersfield and about how excited Connor is to get back in the swing of things, and are just moving on to the topic of Larkin as the only rookie rep at the All-Star Game when Connor hears Luke and Ryan come in.

“Need me to come down and help carry anything in?” he yells, loud enough to be heard downstairs.

Luke calls back that they’re all good, so Connor doesn’t feel guilty staying where he is and continuing his call.

About twenty minutes later, he and Dylan are mostly just sharing random YouTube videos back and forth when Ryan shows up in his doorway. When he sees that Connor is on the phone, he mouths sorry and makes a gesture over his shoulder like he’s going to turn around and leave, but Connor shakes his head and waves him in.

What he isn’t expecting is for Ryan to climb into the bed and make himself comfortable with his head in Connor’s lap and then go right to playing Candy Crush on his phone like it’s no big deal.

Dylan obviously isn’t expecting it either, because he goes quiet and when Connor glances back at his phone, he’s wiggling his eyebrows elaborately, like Connor will somehow know exactly what he’s trying to say without hearing the words. The scary thing is, Connor kinda does. He’s fluent in the language of Strome Brow.

He furrows his own eyebrows and then raises them, kinda the eyebrow equivalent of a shrug. It’s a clear, we’ll talk about this later.

Thankfully, Dylan lets it drop and sends Connor a video of a guy who’s trying to use a leaf blower to make his swivel chair spin in circles. Just before they hang up, Dylan’s eyebrows clearly tell Connor, in no uncertain terms, that he isn’t intending to let the the Nuge situation go.

Dylan disconnects before Connor’s eyebrows have a chance to protest.

After that, he screws around on his phone for a couple of minutes, and doesn’t even realize that his fingers have found their way into Ryan’s hair until Ryan leans his head into them for more contact. Since he doesn’t seem inclined to pull away, Connor abandons his phone in favour of scratching lightly at his scalp.

“Feels nice,” Ryan murmurs, setting his phone down and closing his eyes.

Ryan’s hair feels soft under Connor’s fingertips, and he gets a blissed out look on his face every time Connor’s nails scrape behind his ear. Connor is so focused on what he’s doing that he’s almost startled when Ryan cracks his eyes open and says, “When do you leave tomorrow?”

“I have to be at the airport at 6:30.”

“So early,” Ryan complains, making a face that Connor absolutely does not think is adorable.

He tugs at the ends of Ryan’s hair and says, “You’re not even the one who has to be up!”

“When your alarm goes off at 5, I’m going to remind you you said that.”

Connor laughs. “Yeah, but you can roll over and go right back to sleep. Or you can go sleep with Hallsy, if you want. His plane doesn’t leave ‘til 4.”

Ryan grins and wiggles around like he’s making himself more comfortable, pressing the base of his skull more firmly into Connor’s thigh. “No thanks,” he says. “I’m good here.”

Connor’s face feels warm at that and he hopes he’s not blushing, but just in case, he tries to play it off, saying, “Yeah, that’s what I thought!”, in as teasingly cocky a tone as he can muster.

“You gonna stay here through the break? Let Luke play housewife for you?” he asks, mostly wondering if this is the last time he’ll get to share a bed with Ryan. It’s alarming how hard he’s hoping Ryan will say yes, that he’ll still be there when Connor gets back.

“If Gaz doesn’t mind, yeah,” Ryan answers, and Connor tries not to let it show that that’s the answer he was hoping for. “I want to make sure I’m mostly pain free and can do things for myself before I go back home. I don’t wanna send Schultzy into a nervous breakdown.”

Ryan rolls his head so that his forehead is almost pressed into Connor’s belly, and Connor lets his hand slip down to the back of his neck.

“Gonna suck going back to the couch, though,” he mumbles, his words a little muffled in the fabric of Connor’s shirt.

Connor gives his neck a little squeeze and says, “Dude, you can just stay up here.”

“That’s not gonna be weird?” Ryan asks, tilting his head back just enough to look up at Connor.

“I mean, it’s not gonna be weird for me, but if you’re worried about what Gazzy’s gonna think, it can’t really be any worse than what he’s probably already thinking.”

Ryan laughs and reaches up to wrap his hand around Connor’s arm. “So true. I saw him giving you the look in the kitchen this morning.”

“What?!” Connor squawks. “You little shit! You coulda said something to help me out!”

“Why would I do that when it’s so fun to watch you squirm about it?”

Ryan laughs so hard at the betrayed look that Connor knows he must be wearing that he ends up on his side, face pressed completely into Connor’s stomach, one arm gripped around Connor’s waist. When he finally settles down and sits up, his face is flushed and his hair's a mess, and he looks so beautiful that Connor wants to kiss him.

For a second, Ryan looks at him like he might let him, but then he looks away and the moment is broken. Connor thinks about that as they’re settling in for bed later, Ryan tucked up against him, and tries not to let himself hope too hard. He falls asleep with his hand in Ryan’s hair.

 

 

As much as it sucks to have to drag himself out of bed at five in the morning, especially with Ryan making adorable annoyed faces, Connor is excited to be going to Bakersfield. For one thing, it’s warm there, and for another, he gets to see all the guys he made friends with before the regular season started. The enthusiastic bro hug Chaser full-on runs to give him when he spots him in the locker room is pretty great.

It turns out people weren’t kidding when they said that AHL practices are intense. By the end of the second day, Connor is already exhausted. It’s the worst thing about having been out for a long time, and it just goes to show that it was the right call for him to come skate here instead of sitting around for days on end. He doesn’t really have a doubt in his mind that he’ll be able to play the first game after the break, but he’s not going to start slacking now and take the chance that someone will decide he’s not ready yet.

He and Ryan text back and forth, keeping each other updated even though there’s nothing much to report for either of them. Connor mostly just tells Ryan stupid things people said and complains about being tired, and Ryan sends him pictures of Luke’s cooking and sad emojis about having to start physio. They weren’t really texting friends before, and Connor wasn’t expecting them to start, but he likes it a lot.

A couple days before Connor is due to head back to Edmonton, he’s on the way to practice when Ryan texts him a selfie. He’s obviously in Connor’s bed, blankets tucked up underneath his arms, and he’s pouting at the camera, his hair soft and falling into his eyes.

House of cards is not as good as I remember it being anymore…, reads the text that Ryan sent with it, and Connor has to put away his phone before he screams out loud instead of just in his head. The damage has been done, though—Connor couldn’t forget that picture if he tried. He does his best not to think about it, but he still probably puts on one of his worst performances at practice.

After they’re done on the ice, Connor takes out his phone, absolutely does not spend more than a couple seconds looking at the picture of Ryan, and takes a selfie as he’s leaving. It’s at an awful angle so he could get the building in it as well, but he’s not about to stand here and take twenty pictures, so he just types, Gotta be more interesting than this, underneath and sends it.

Don’t think so, is Ryan’s prompt response. Is that a sunburn??

Connor frowns and looks at the picture again. His cheeks are kind of pink in it, but he has to look fairly close to tell—which means that Ryan was looking that close. It also means that Ryan cares enough to be worried about him having a sunburn, and Connor's not really sure how he's supposed to function with that knowledge. Besides, probably the only reason he doesn't have a sunburn is that he spends all his time either skating or texting Ryan. Fuck, he has it bad.

He doesn't really know what to say in response, but he doesn't want to leave Ryan hanging, so he just replies, lol, I don't think so?

He's in his hotel room, flipping through the room service menu that he pretty much knows by heart at this point, when his phone buzzes again. He unlocks it and nearly drops it when he sees that Ryan has sent him a picture of himself again—except this time he's not under the blankets anymore. And he's shirtless.

Connor wants to fucking die. He has no idea what prompted this or what the hell he's supposed to do with it. Ryan can't just send him shirtless pictures. That's not—what the fuck.

A minute later—or maybe two, Connor's not exactly sure how long he's been looking at Ryan's abs for—he gets another text that says, I could probably use a tan, eh?

Connor slowly exhales and types, lol yeah even I'm more tan than u.

Ryan texts back a string of emojis, which is much easier to respond to.

They’re still texting emojis back and forth, practically at random at this point, when Dylan texts Connor to ask if he has time to Skype. Connor texts back an affirmative and makes sure he’s signed onto Skype on his laptop, answering right away when it starts ringing.

“Hey,” he says. “Fair warning, I’m eating right now.” He holds up the plate of room service food he’d eventually got around to ordering in between careful emoji selection.

“Whatever,” Dylan says. “I’m just bored. And I wanted to ask you something.”

He’s got that look on his face that means trouble, and Connor immediately knows where this is going. “What?” he asks anyway.

Dylan raises his eyebrows. “What’s up with you and Nugent-Hopkins, huh?”

Connor sighs. He was thinking he was going to be able to avoid talking about this for a while yet, but of course Dylan always knows when to catch him out. “It’s nothing,” he says.

“Nuh uh,” Dylan says. “Don’t even try that with me. Nothing didn’t crawl into your lap the other night.”

“He’s injured!” Connor protests. “He was high on painkillers most of the time he was at our place.”

“Sure,” Dylan agrees. “Doesn’t exactly explain you inviting him to come lie down on you.”

Connor huffs. “I didn’t—” he starts, but Dylan’s eyebrows shoot up so high that Connor’s kind of afraid they might disappear off his face. He changes tack. “I’m a nice person, dude.”

Dylan just stares at him. Connor busies himself eating his food, but there’s only so long he can ignore Dylan for, and he eventually gives in. “Okay, so maybe I, like…think he’s cool.”

Dylan snorts. “Oh my God, Connor. You can just say you like him, it’s not that hard.”

“Shut up,” Connor snaps. “You asked.”

“God help me, I did,” Dylan agrees, sighing. “So what are you going to do about it?”

“I was thinking nothing,” Connor says. It’s not like he’s going to tell Ryan about his crush; that would just be awkward.

Dylan rolls his eyes. “You can’t do nothing.”

“Pretty sure I can,” Connor insists. His phone vibrates on the bed next to him, and he only has to glance at the screen to see that Ryan’s texted him an emoji of paw prints. He grins before he can stop himself.

“Oh God,” Dylan says, making a disgusted face. “He just texted you, didn’t he?”

“This conversation is over,” Connor decides. “I’m hanging up on you now.”

“Oh, fuck you, McDav—” Connor cuts him off by hitting end call.

THIS ISN’T OVER, pops up in Connor’s texts from Dylan a second later, but Connor ignores it. He doesn’t want to talk about his feelings, he just wants to ignore them and text Ryan emojis in peace, and not even Dylan can stop him.

He sends Ryan a cute looking caterpillar and gets a flower in return. It’s much easier than thinking.

 

 

It’s not unbearably cold in Edmonton the day Connor gets back—it’s kind of nice, actually—but it sure as hell isn’t as nice as it is in California. He takes a cab back from the airport, and when he gets home, Ryan grins at him from where he’s lying on the couch.

“Hey,” he says, sitting up. “Long time no see.”

“You look good,” Connor says before he thinks it through. He bites his lip, wishing he could take it back. Ryan really does look good, remarkably more alert than Connor remembers and eminently cuddle-worthy, but Connor didn’t need to say that.

Ryan just smiles wider. “Same to you. How was California?”

Connor is pretty sure Ryan knows how California was, considering all the texting, but he’ll take the excuse to sit down and talk to him any day. It’s not long before Luke wanders in, anyway.

“Davo, dude, you’re home,” Luke says, grinning and slapping Connor on the shoulder. “I thought Ryan might be out here talking to himself again.”

“Again?” Connor asks, eyebrow raised.

“I wasn’t talking to myself,” Ryan says, rolling his eyes.

“Sure you weren’t,” Luke says. “How were the guys, Connor? Tell us all about it.”

Connor has just finished giving them a play-by-play of his weekend—leaving out all of the parts where he skipped going out with the guys to sit around his hotel room and text Ryan—when Taylor comes in and talk turns to the All-Star Game. Connor doesn’t mind the shift in attention, especially since it means he can inch a little closer to Ryan and press their thighs together under the pretense that he’s making room for Taylor on the couch.

He feels something like contentment try to worm its way into his chest when he heads upstairs later and finds all of Ryan’s stuff commingling with his like it belongs there—like Ryan belongs there. When Ryan comes in after him and makes himself at home on Connor’s bed, it’s almost too much to handle.

He didn’t really realize that he missed sleeping with Ryan next to him, but he figures it out as soon as he gets into bed. He’s nervous about whether cuddling is going to be a go or not, but it only lasts a second, because Ryan immediately snuggles in close, sliding a leg in between Connor’s and using Connor’s shoulder as a pillow.

“Much better,” he mumbles, quiet enough that it could be to himself.

Connor agrees entirely.

 

 

When Connor gets home from morning skate, he finds Ryan in his room, watching TV. He looks up when Connor comes in. “Hey. Good skate?”

“Yeah,” Connor says, sitting down on the bed. He looks around, trying to figure out why the room looks kind of different. It takes him a minute, but then he abruptly realizes that Ryan must have done some packing—the room is back to looking like Connor’s the only one who lives there, and his bags are stacked neatly in the corner. Connor can’t say he’s a fan. “What’s up?”

“I was just packing,” Ryan says. “I figured I’d head home with Schultzy after the game tonight, but then he texted to tell me he’s sick, so I guess I shouldn’t expose myself to that.”

Connor nods. Selfishly, he’s pleased that Justin is sick when it means that Connor will get Ryan for longer. “Makes sense.”

“I guess you’re just gonna be stuck with me,” Ryan says.

It sounds more serious than Connor thinks the words really are, and Connor laughs. “I guess so.”

“You excited for tonight?” Ryan asks.

Connor can’t even really put into words how thrilled he is to finally be able to get out there and actually play, and if he could, he wouldn’t want to lord it over Ryan. He settles for smiling wide and saying, “Yeah. Kinda nervous, too.”

Ryan snorts. “Don’t be,” he says. “You’ve been working hard, and you’re going to kill it out there.”

“Thanks,” Connor says, looking down to hide what he’s sure is an all too telling expression. It’s dumb, but Ryan’s encouragement really does make him feel better. “Anyway,” he says, standing, “I was gonna make sandwiches for lunch. You in?”

“Sure,” Ryan agrees. “Not like I’m busy packing anymore.”

Connor just nods instead of telling Ryan that he doesn’t want him to ever bother packing for real.

 

 

After lunch, Ryan flops down on the couch when Connor is heading up to his room for his pre-game nap. Connor hesitates at the bottom of the stairs, and Ryan looks up at him.

“Figured I’d hang out down here,” he says.

“Come up with me,” Connor says. Ryan’s eyebrows rise, and Connor can feel himself blush. Fuck, why did he say that? “There’s a TV there, too, and it won’t bother me.” The addition really does nothing to make it sound better, but he had to try.

“Okay,” Ryan says, easy as that. “Sure.”

Connor is still blushing all the way up the stairs, and he grabs the remote and turns on the TV as soon as they’re in the room. He tosses the remote toward Ryan, who, for his part, settles onto the bed and nonchalantly pats the spot next to him with his good hand.

Connor sits down on the bed, fiddling awkwardly with his phone, setting an alarm, and then finally convinces himself to put it away and lie down. He doesn’t lie down as close to Ryan as he really wants to, but it turns out not to matter, because Ryan slides closer himself. Connor squeezes his eyes shut and lays his head against Ryan’s side. His heart is beating double time. This was such a bad idea; he actually does need to sleep, and this isn’t going to help.

He does his best, trying to think sleepy thoughts instead of attempting to make out what the people on TV are saying or thinking too hard about how warm Ryan is. It’s somewhat effective, and he can feels himself getting close to dropping off when he hears the House of Cards opening theme start to play. He opens his eyes and looks up at Ryan. “Thought this wasn’t good anymore,” he mumbles.

Ryan laughs quietly. “It’s not so bad,” he says. “You sleep, though.”

“Okay, yeah,” Connor agrees, closing his eyes again.

He falls asleep with Ryan’s fingers softly combing through his hair.

 

 

It turns out to be a good thing Connor set an alarm, because when it goes off, it startles both him and Ryan awake.

“Whoops,” Ryan says as Connor leans over to silence the noise. His hair is adorably mussed, and Connor’s chest feels tight. “Didn’t mean to do that.”

“Must be a boring show after all,” Connor jokes.

“Must be,” Ryan agrees, smiling at Connor.

Luke is walking down the hallway when they leave the room, already wearing his game day suit, and he pauses at the top of the stairs to give them both a look. “Rested up?”

“Yeah, thanks,” Connor mutters. He avoids looking at either of them and heads down the stairs.

When he reaches the bottom, he hears Luke ask, “You gonna come to the game, Nuge? You could catch Connor’s triumphant return and keep me company in the press box. Two birds, one stone.”

“I didn’t bring a suit,” Ryan says. “But I guess we could stop by my place and get one. I don’t know, it’s ten minutes in the opposite direction. Seems like kind of a hastle.”

Connor turns around and peers up the steps at them. He wants Ryan at the game for purely selfish reasons, and he can’t stop himself from saying, “You should come.”

Ryan chews on his bottom lip like he’s thinking about it, and then nods. “Okay.”

For some reason, knowing that Ryan will be up there watching makes it seem even more important, and Connor is practically vibrating out of his skin by the time Taylor is ready to go.

Taylor takes one look at him and laughs. “Chill, kid, it’s just hockey. Same as it was before.”

Ryan rolls his eyes at Taylor and says, “Remember, you’re gonna kill it, Connor,” with such conviction that Connor can’t help but believe him.

 

 

The game is incredible. They crush the Blue Jackets 5-1, and Connors notches a goal and two assists. It’s absolutely unreal, and Connor isn’t at all lying when he tells the media he wasn’t expecting to be able to do that in his first game back. He knew he was ready, but the effort from the team really pushed them to another level—even if it was against a team at the bottom of the standings.

Luke and Ryan meet them after, both grinning. Luke pulls Connor into a bro-hug, slapping his back. “Atta boy, that’s how it’s fucking done!”

“Thanks, Gaz,” Connor says. He can’t stop smiling.

When Luke lets him go, Ryan immediately takes over—except he actually hugs Connor for real, both arms wrapped around him, and it’s all Connor can do to hug back. “What did I tell you?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Connor says. He tries not to mind when Ryan pulls back from the hug. It’s not like they can stand there like that forever.

“What about me?” Taylor asks, pouting dramatically. “I played hockey, too.”

“And you did a wonderful job, Hallsy,” Luke says, tackling him so he can give him a noogie. Taylor makes an indignant noise and shoves him off.

“That was a nice assist,” Ryan agrees.

“Thank you,” Taylor says, straightening his suit jacket. “At least someone appreciates me around here.”

Luke ignores Taylor’s pointed look at him and asks, “Boys got plans to go out?”

“Yeah,” Taylor says, conceding. “You gotta come, Gazzy.”

“Sure,” Luke agrees.

Ryan shakes his head. “Well, I’m out, then.”

“What?” Connor asks. “No, you should come.”

“I probably shouldn’t drink,” Ryan says. “I took half of one of the good painkillers during second intermission.”

Connor shakes his head. “So don’t drink, just come hang out.”

“Yeah, Nuge,” Taylor says, teasing. “Come hang out.”

Ryan rolls his eyes at Taylor, but then he looks over at Connor. Connor tries to pout, but he’s still kind of stuck smiling, so it doesn’t work very well. It must be effective, though, because Ryan shrugs. “Okay,” he agrees. “But only for a bit! Like, half an hour tops.”

Connor beams. “Awesome.”

 

 

Ryan stays for much longer than half an hour. Connor is very aware of this, because several times throughout the night, Taylor raises his eyebrows and says, “I thought you were leaving, Ryan?”

Each time, Connor scoots closer, as if his proximity might somehow prevent Ryan from going anywhere, and each time, Ryan smiles at Taylor and says, “I’m still good, Hallsy.”

Connor only realizes that he’s practically in Ryan’s lap because the fourth time Taylor asks and Ryan answers that he’s good, Taylor’s response is to leer in Connor’s direction and say, “Yeah, I bet you are.”

Connor thinks maybe he should be embarrassed about that, but he’s hit the level of intoxication where he’s still able to realize that something is a bad idea, he’s just too loose and happy to care.

He blames that for hanging all over Ryan in front of half of their team, and also for what happens when they get home.

They leave the bar earlier than Luke and Taylor, Ryan driving one-handed in Luke’s car. The ride seems to take forever, even though it’s probably only about ten minutes, and Connor hands his keys over when they get home so Ryan can let them into the house.

He leans against Ryan, letting him support his weight as they go up the stairs. He could probably do it on his own, but he’s enjoying Ryan’s arm tucked around his waist and his broad shoulders under Connor’s arm too much to let it stop. Everything just seems nice right now.

Ryan huffs slightly as he nudges open the door to Connor’s room and hauls him toward the bed. “Come on, you,” he says, depositing him on the edge of the bed. Connor maybe pouts a little about having to let go of him.

“Thanks, Nuge,” he says, because it feels important to say.

“For what?” Ryan asks, eyebrows furrowing slightly.

Connor stares up at him, confused. “For coming out tonight,” he says. “And dealing with me all…” He waves a hand to indicate his drunkenness.

“Oh,” Ryan says. “Nah, it’s nothing.”

“I don’t think so,” Connor insists. “Also, why are you—” He reaches out and grabs at Ryan’s jacket below his lapels instead of finishing his sentence. He intends just to tug him closer and get them both on the bed so there can be cuddling, but he misjudges his strength or the distance or both, and he startles Ryan. Ryan ends up nearly falling over on top of Connor, only just catching himself with his good hand.

“Whoops,” Connor says, but he doesn’t let go of Ryan’s jacket. Ryan’s face is suddenly awfully close to Connor’s. He could probably count Ryan's eyelashes from here if he wanted to, but it seems easier and more prudent to just kiss him, so Connor does.

It's not very long, just a press of lips that goes straight to Connor's head and what Connor thinks is the barest trace of Ryan kissing back, before Ryan gently pushes him away. "Connor," he says softly, his face still close to Connor's.

Connor feels too warm all over. He lets go of Ryan’s jacket, feeling like an idiot. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Ryan says, but he’s moving away, and Connor doesn’t believe him at all. “I’m gonna head home, okay?”

Connor shakes his head. Now he really doesn’t think it was okay. Fuck. “Don’t,” he says, sounding too desperate to his ears. He just wants to hold on to what they already have while he still can and ignore that he ever tried to go any further. “Please stay.”

Ryan hesitates, clearly debating, and Connor fidgets, pressing his mouth shut so he doesn’t say anything else. He feels like a five year old asking his parents not to leave him. “Okay,” Ryan says finally.

Connor expects things to be awkward now, for Ryan to try to sleep fully clothed, or on the floor or something. What he’s not expecting is for Ryan to strip down to boxers and an undershirt and climb under the covers like nothing happened. And when Connor does the same, he’s expecting Ryan to stick to his own side of the bed. He doesn’t.

The second Connor is under the covers, Ryan is rolling closer and pulling him in. Their legs slot together and Ryan shimmies up the bed a little so that he can tuck Connor’s head against his chest. Connor can hear his heart beating, and it sounds the way Connor’s feels right after a long shift—like it might beat right through his chest. He wants to ask Ryan about it, but he doesn’t want to fuck up again, so he just slips an arm around his waist and fists a hand in the back of his shirt instead.

If it’s possible, Ryan moves even closer, pressing the entire lengths of their bodies together and holding on. It’s enough that Connor maybe starts to think that everything will be okay.

“I’m gonna be so hungover tomorrow, aren’t I?” he mumbles, feeling his eyelids start to get heavy.

Ryan laughs, and Connor can feel the buzz of it against his skin. “Probably.”

Just as he’s drifting off, he thinks he hears Ryan whisper his name, but he’s too far gone to respond.

 

 

When Connor wakes up the next morning, he isn’t hungover, but Ryan is gone, and that’s enough to make him feel awful anyway. At first Connor thinks he’s just already up or something, but it becomes apparent that’s not the case when he goes downstairs and Luke asks him where Ryan is as soon as he walks into the kitchen.

Connor shrugs. “Must’ve left,” he mumbles.

Luke frowns at him. “Sit down,” he says, gesturing to the stools by the island. “I propose an exchange: you tell me what the fuck is up with you and Ryan, and I make you breakfast.”

Connor sits and puts his head down. “Can we skip the first part?”

“Definitely not,” Luke says.

“I didn’t think so,” Connor says, sighing. “Fine, I agree to your terms.”

He sits back up and sticks out a hand, which Luke shakes very seriously before turning to the fridge and starting to take things out. “Let’s hear it,” he says.

Connor is quiet, trying to figure out how to put words to how he ended up with this sick feeling in his stomach. He gives up after a moment and says, “I don’t know where to start.”

“Well,” Luke says, “you were sharing a bed. What’s up with that, eh?” He raises his eyebrows suggestively.

Connor groans. “It wasn’t—I mean, it was just because Taylor was a dick that one night, and it didn’t seem right to make Ryan sleep on the couch anyway.”

Luke looks at him skeptically, and Connor amends, “I mean, we definitely…cuddled, but that’s it. Not that that wasn’t enough, because it was really nice, and uh. We had time to hang out and talk, and he’s great to talk to…and uh. It’s not my fault he’s attractive?”

Luke snorts, but Connor is on a roll. If he stops talking about this now, he might never start again. “We texted a lot when I was in Bakersfield, and that just made the whole thing”—he waves a hand—”worse? And then I think I fucked it up last night, because I kissed him, and I’m pretty sure he rejected me, so everything before that was obviously just normal friend stuff for him, right, and he’s just super tactile and nice. He can’t help being nice. It’s my fault that—” He cuts himself off before he can get any more hysterical than he already is.

Luke has stopped halfway through cracking eggs and is staring at Connor. “Wow,” he says.

“I know,” Connor says mournfully. “I’m an idiot.”

Luke doesn’t agree, but he doesn’t contradict Connor either. “Have you considered asking Ryan how he feels?”

Connor snorts. “Sure, Gaz, I’ll just call him up and be like, ‘hey, so when you pushed me away, was that, like, a rejection? I’m not positive you made yourself clear’.”

“It’s worth asking,” Luke says calmly, as if Connor’s indignation isn’t totally warranted. “Better than moping around based on one thing.”

Connor makes a face, and Luke shrugs. “But hey, just my opinion. Do whatever, dude.”

“Thanks,” Connor says. He feels better for having told Luke the whole story, but he also feels like even more of an idiot. God, everything fucking sucks.

Luke turns to pour the eggs into the frying pan. “By the way, I’m on waivers,” he says to the stove.

Connor stares at his back. “You’re…”

Luke turns back around, looking resigned. “On waivers,” he repeats. “They want to send me down to Bakersfield.”

“Fuck,” Connor says. “Are you okay? I can’t believe you let me go on about my stupid problems.”

“They’re not stupid,” Luke says. “And yeah, I’m fine. It’s a bit nerve-wracking knowing another team could take me, but I don’t think they will, and I’m cool playing for the Condors. More than I’m doing most of the time here, anyway.”

That’s true enough. Really, this isn’t that unexpected—Luke is often a healthy scratch, and the team’s ridiculous forward depth and the fact that Brandon is almost ready to be taken off injured reserve as well means they need the roster space.

Connor knows all that, and it does absolutely nothing to make him feel better. All that time spent in the press box together bonding is exactly the reason Luke is leaving now, and Connor fucking hates it.

“Fuck,” Connor mumbles again for lack of anything better to say. “We’re gonna—shit, we’ll miss you.” He bites his lip. He feels like he might actually start crying, which is just fucking dumb. It’s hockey; these things happen. They happened in juniors. Connor should be used to it.

“I’ll miss you, too,” Luke says. “You’re gonna have to keep me updated on what you’re eating. I worry, Connor, you know.” He grins, teasing.

“I will,” Connor says, a little too serious.

“Besides, we’ve seen what happens when someone’s left in Taylor’s care,” Luke jokes.

Connor laughs at that. “Yeah,” he agrees.

There’s nothing else to say, really. Luke goes back to cooking, and Connor gives in to temptation and puts his head down. Just when he thought things couldn’t get worse, they did. Of fucking course.

 

 

They head out on a four game road trip the next day, flying east to Ottawa. Luke gets on an entirely different plane, headed to Bakersfield—and thank God it’s just Bakersfield, but Connor feels his absence on the team plane acutely. He thinks everyone does, to a degree—Luke is well-liked and deserving of it—but Connor is especially good at feeling sorry for himself even when he shouldn’t be. Everyone mostly leaves him alone for the first half of the plane ride, but eventually Taylor comes over to where Connor is sitting by himself and drags him into a game of Crazy Eights.

His mood has improved slightly by the time they land, and it’s even better after they’ve crushed the Sens 7-2, which is the only explanation for why he feels optimistic enough to text Ryan when they get to the hotel after the game.

He goes back and forth a little bit about what to say. He thinks about taking Luke’s advice, but he can’t bring himself to send any of the texts he composes that mention the disastrous kiss.

Finally, he settles on, How’s rehab going?

It’s probably a thin excuse for texting, but he does actually care about the answer. It’s two hours later in Ottawa than in Edmonton, but Connor isn’t too worried when he hasn’t gotten a reply by the time he’s ready for bed.

Sometimes it takes a while for Ryan to reply, but he always does, so he’s not worried at breakfast the next morning either. At least, he’s not worried until Taylor starts teasing Jordan about the hat trick he failed to score the night before.

“The two goal curse strikes again!” Taylor shouts, coming up behind Jordan in line at the buffet and startling him into almost dumping his eggs down the back of Connor’s shirt.

“Fucking…jeez, Hallsy. Wear a bell if you’re gonna sneak up behind a guy and yell stupid shit at him before he’s had his coffee.”

Taylor laughs and leans over Jordan’s shoulder to steal a sausage link off of his plate. Jordan allows it and then allows Taylor to hang off of his shoulder the rest of the way down the buffet line. He’s still picking off of Jordan’s plate and going on about the curse when they sit down at a table, and Connor’s curiosity gets the better of him.

“What’s the two goal curse?” he asks, shoving his plate over so that Taylor can grab a triangle of wheat toast.

Jordan groans, but Taylor shoves the toast in his mouth and takes a big bite before answering with his mouth full. “Any time Ebs is on the verge of a hat trick, he starts playing like my blind grandmother.”

“You grandmother can see fine, Taylor,” Jordan protests. “He’s full of shit, Connor. Don’t listen to this slander.”

“No, seriously. It’s like he forgets where the net is,” Taylor continues, leaning all the way across the table to steal a piece of bacon from Leon. “It’s pretty hilarious, actually.”

Connor doesn’t remember it being that bad, but he can think of a couple of shots Jordan took towards the end of the game that probably should have gone in.

Jordan rolls his eyes. “Did you and Nuge have a conference call about this or something? He’s been giving me shit all morning, too.”

Taylor laughs and demands to see Jordan’s phone so he can read Ryan’s texts out loud, but Connor is having a hard time focusing on the conversation, because if Ryan is texting Jordan, then that means he’s actively ignoring Connor.

He pulls his phone out of the pocket of his hoodie and texts Luke a bunch of sad emojis because he doesn’t know what else to do. It’s not like he thinks Luke will be able to fix it, but he’s usually pretty good at making Connor feel better.

His reply comes back almost right away, and it’s predictably optimistic. maybe he never got your text, dude.

Connor would love to believe that, but his phone hasn’t been giving him any problems, and Taylor is currently reciting the evidence that Ryan’s hasn’t either. sure, let’s blame it on the phone :(

Luke’s response is maybe your phone doesn’t want you to be happy. maybe it’s an asshole. don’t let the assholes win, davo

That startles a laugh out of Connor and he thinks, what the hell? Can’t hurt to try again.

He says the only thing he can think to say that isn’t Did you get my text last night?, which is What’s this I hear about a hat trick curse?

When they land in Montreal later that morning and he’s still getting nothing but radio silence, he decides it’s time to face the facts. Ryan is definitely choosing not to speak to him, which means he’s fucked things up even worse than he thought.

He lets himself wallow self-pity until practice that afternoon, and then he shuts his phone and the non-hockey part of his brain down and makes himself focus on preparing for tomorrow’s game.

Unfortunately, they lose horribly. The fact that the Habs have only won 7 of their last 28 games makes it that much worse. Connor spends the entire trip to New York alternating between feeling shitty about the loss and feeling shitty about Ryan. He starts and deletes about twenty different text messages, most of them begging Ryan to talk to him again, each one more pathetic than the one before.

Aside from hockey, it sometimes feels like Murphy’s Law is the one true constant in Connor’s life, so naturally, the game against the Islanders the next day goes even worse. Connor takes a slashing penalty in the second when they’re already down by 3, and Okposo scores on the power play. He manages to net one later in the period, but it’s not nearly enough. They lose 8-1—a complete massacre.

The mood in the room afterwards is as defeated as Connor has ever seen it, and he can’t help taking some of that on himself. Maybe if he hadn’t let his emotions get the better of him, if he’d been more focused. The team deserves better, and he can’t help feeling like he’s let them down.

They have an entire day off between this game and the next one in New Jersey, which is unfortunate, because it leaves them all with plenty of time to sit around feeling sorry for themselves. He goes to dinner with Taylor and some of the boys, but it’s a sombre affair all around, and Connor kind of wishes he’d just stayed in and watched something awful on TV.

He tries to do that when he gets back to the hotel, but his mind keeps circling back to Ryan. The worst thing about the entire situation is that Connor has gotten used to talking to him about everything, and he’s aching to call him, just to talk about the game or what Ryan had for dinner or whatever.

When he can’t stand himself anymore, he shuts off the lights and gets under the covers. It’s only 9:30, but he’s emotionally drained, so he’s pretty sure it won’t be that hard to sleep if he just makes himself lay down and close his eyes.

He sets an alarm on his phone and his finger hovers over his text thread with Ryan. He opens it and scrolls through their last few text exchanges, but stops reading when he gets to the point where the conversation becomes one-sided.

Quickly, he types, sorry, and then hits send before he can change his mind. He knows better than to wait for a reply, so he shoves the phone face down onto the nightstand and rolls over. It doesn’t take long before he’s asleep.

 

 

When Connor wakes up in the morning, he checks his phone right away just to get it over with. There’s nothing from Ryan, and Connor rolls over and smushes his face into a pillow. Fuck, this is really not good.

Connor wishes, not for the first time, that they didn’t have an entire day off. No one is very happy about it after losing that badly, but they all agreed they would take the time to clear their minds and get back to it against the Devils with their heads on straight. Connor has no idea how he’s going to manage that with so much free time to be stuck in his head with his emotions about Ryan, but he’s determined to try his best.

He forces himself to get out of bed and spend some time in the hotel gym. It helps some to just let the familiar routines occupy him, but by the time he’s showered after, he’s worrying about what Ryan not talking to him means for the team. Sure, Ryan isn’t playing right now, but eventually he will be. Hopefully by then it won’t feel so fresh, and Connor can be a professional about it.

Or maybe he’ll get over Ryan entirely. That would honestly be ideal, which is why Connor thinks it’s probably not going to happen. It would be too easy.

He lies down on his hotel bed and stares at the ceiling. He’s supposed to go out with Leon and Darnell at some point, and he should probably text one or both of them to see when and where they’re going, but it seems like a lot of effort. He turns on the TV instead, flipping through the channels until he finds something suitably mind numbing.

By the time Leon and Darnell show up at his door to ask if he’s coming to get food with them, Connor is invested in being pissed at the home owners on International House Hunters for having unrealistic expectations for their budget, and his desire to go anywhere is even more nonexistent than before. He makes a show of checking the time and then makes an apologetic face.

“I promised Stromer I’d Skype with him right now,” Connor says. “I’ll text you and see what’s up later?”

“Sounds good,” Darnell agrees as Leon nods. Neither of them look particularly suspicious, which is a relief. Once they’re gone, Connor flops back down on the bed. He’s aware he’s being dramatic, and he feels kind of guilty for sucking at the whole clearing his mind thing, but he can’t seem to make himself stop.

By the end of the next episode, Connor is mad at the people in the show for making an obviously bad choice and mad at himself for doing the same. He shouldn’t be wallowing, he should be making an actual effort here.

The first step is getting out of his own head, and Dylan has a way of snapping Connor out of it that no one else even comes close to. Connor already said he was calling him, so he might as well actually do it. He opens FaceTime on his phone and tries for Dylan.

It doesn’t take long before Dylan answers, looking surprised. “Davo? Sup, dude?”

“Hey, what’s up?” Connor asks, and Dylan’s eyes immediately narrow.

“What did you do that you didn’t tell me about?” he asks. “Is this about Ryan?”

“Who says I did anything or that this is about Ryan?” Connor asks, immediately defensive. He must look like shit if Dylan is calling him out after five seconds.

Dylan rolls his eyes. “You didn’t text to ask if I was free before you called.”

“Are you free?” Connor asks.

“Yes, dumbass, because you only do that when you have something serious to talk about.”

Connor makes a face. “It’s not serious,” he protests.

“Sure,” Dylan agrees. The camera goes blurry as he moves and then resolves again to him obviously sitting down now. “Let’s hear it anyway.”

Connor takes a deep breath and cuts straight to the point. “I was drunk after our win against the Blue Jackets, and I kissed Ryan and he rejected me, and ever since then he’s been ignoring my text messages. And,” he adds, unable to resist the petty urge, “this is your fault, because you said to do something about it.”

“Okay, no, you’re not pinning this on me,” Dylan says. “And holy fuck, have you just been moping around texting a dude that’s not texting you back? Connor, dude.”

“I didn’t call so you could make fun of me,” Connor whines, even though he kind of did call so that Dylan could make him feel even more ridiculous about this.

Dylan huffs. “So what did you want me to say?”

Connor pouts. “You’re supposed to know that part.”

“Fine,” Dylan says. “You said he rejected you, how did he do that?”

“Just, like, pushed me away,” Connor says. “And then stopped texting me.”

“Did he say anything when he pushed you away?”

Connor frowns. “Not really? He was going to leave, but I convinced him to stay.”

“He stayed? Wait, where was this?” Dylan asks, eyebrows furrowed.

“In my room,” Connor says. “And yeah, he stayed, but he wasn’t there when I woke up.”

“So he stayed in, like, a cuddling kind of way?”

Connor really doesn’t want to be talking about this anymore. He nods.

Dylan takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. “Okay. You drunk kissed him, he cuddled you, and then you went on a road trip while he stayed home, and he’s not answering your texts.”

“Yeah, Dyl, that’s what happened,” Connor says, exasperated. “It sucks. Can we get to the part where you make me feel better?”

“Well,” Dylan says, “Davo, did you actually tell him that you like him? Because he could’ve thought you just kissed him because you were drunk.”

Connor frowns. “Why would he think that? I think I was pretty, I dunno, obvious.”

Dylan waves the hand that’s not holding his phone dismissively. “How the fuck should I know? I think you’re obvious as fuck, but if he’s into you too, which he probably is, then who knows what’s going on in his head.”

“I feel like that was kind of an insult,” Connor says instead of actually acknowledging Dylan’s suggestion that Ryan likes him back.

“Good spot, Connor, you should get a medal for your observation skills,” Dylan says.

Connor rolls his eyes. “So why won’t he text me back if he just thinks I kissed him because I was drunk?”

“How the fuck should I know?” Dylan asks. Connor makes a wounded face, and Dylan sighs. “How did you feel when you couldn’t play hockey?”

“Like shit,” Connor replies promptly.

“Yeah, and was it fun to talk to the other guys on your team?” Dylan asks.

“Obviously n—…oh,” Connor says.

“Yeah, oh,” Dylan says. “I can’t believe I have to give you relationship advice. Except how I absolutely can.”

“Shut up, as if you’re any better,” Connor says.

“I’m a charmer,” Dylan says breezily.

Connor rolls his eyes. “Okay, so what am I supposed to do now?”

Dylan shrugs. “Figure it out yourself, dipshit. I’ve done my part.”

He hangs up as if to punctuate his statement, and Connor makes a disgruntled noise at his phone. He opens his text thread with Dylan and sends, Thanks, along with a bunch of heart emojis. Dylan texts back immediately with a different variety of heart emojis.

Connor really has been being a dipshit, that much is clear. The question of what to do about it, though…it’s difficult. He probably needs to talk it out with Ryan and let him know his feelings up front, but should he wait until he’s home for that? But that seems way too far from now. Should he try calling him? That would just be weird, but he can’t text to ask if Ryan’s okay with it because Ryan probably won’t respond.

That leaves actually sending his feelings in a text and hoping Ryan reads it. For lack of any better ideas, that’s what Connor decides to go with. It takes a long while and a countless revisions, but he eventually comes up with a text and sends it before he can fuck with it anymore.

Hey, just wanted to say that I get what it’s like to not be able to play and if you need someone to talk to about that or about NOT that I’m here. I also wanted u to know that I didn’t just kiss u because I was drunk, in case that’s what you thought. it’s kinda dumb but I miss u and u not talking to me sucks. Thanks for reading this tho.

He stares at his phone for a while after he sends it, but it stays frustratingly silent. It feels like an eternity, but it’s probably only a few minutes later that he picks it up and takes a snap of himself pouting to send to Ryan. It’s kind of a low blow, probably, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

He goes back to the TV then, but he’s only half paying attention, too nervous about what Ryan might say or if Ryan is even going to respond at all to really process what’s happening. He watches an entire episode and is halfway through another one before his phone vibrates, and he grabs it.

It’s a snap from Ryan, and when Connor opens it, he has to bite his lip to keep from making a noise at the selfie Ryan’s sent. It’s so clearly his just-woke-up face, hair flopping over his forehead, and Connor’s heart feels too large for his chest.

Call me when you’re free? Ryan texts him a few seconds later, and Connor fumbles to hit call.

“Hey,” Ryan answers after the second ring. His voice sounds quiet and rough from sleep and Connor almost apologizes for calling kind of early, except Ryan told him to.

Instead, he says, “Hi…” and his voice sounds almost as rough as Ryan’s, so he clears his throat and tries again. “Hi. Thanks for answering.”

There’s a pause and then Ryan asks, “How come you’re not out with the guys?” at the same time as Connor says, “Sorry if I fucked everything up.”

They both laugh a little at the awkwardness and Connor shrugs even though Ryan can’t see him. “Didn’t really feel like it, I guess.”

Ryan sucks in a breath and says, “Connor…you didn’t fuck anything up.”

“Doesn’t really feel that way,” Connor mumbles. He tries to keep his voice even, but he’s pretty sure he fails miserably.

That’s confirmed when Ryan says, “Hey…” so gently that it makes Connor’s chest hurt.

He opens his mouth to tell Ryan that it’s fine, or to say something flippant, anything to downplay how pathetic he’s been feeling, but Ryan beats him to it.

“I should be the one apologizing, Davo. I was a dick.”

“You weren’t,” Connor tries, but Ryan interrupts him.

“I was. I just…” Ryan huffs out a breath and Connor waits for him to finish the sentence. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings.”

“You didn’t,” Connor argues, even though it’s a lie and he and Ryan both know it. “It’s fine. Seriously.”

“Doesn’t really feel that way,” Ryan parrots Connors own words back at him.

Connor sighs, and is about to try to downplay it again when Ryan says, “It just sucks not being there, you know?”

Connor does know, and hearing Ryan say it reminds him of how crappy he felt when he was the one stuck at home while his team was off playing without him. When he thinks about it that way, he actually feels pretty dramatic and self-centred for assuming it was all about him.

“Yeah,” he says, sympathetically. “I know. That part blows. But you’ll be back soon.”

He’s not convinced it doesn’t have at least a little bit to do with the kiss, though, considering Ryan wasn’t ignoring all of their other teammates, so he says, “It’s totally fine if it was a little bit about the other thing, too. You know that, right? Like, we don’t have to talk about it or anything, just…”

Ryan sighs. “It wasn’t about that. At least not in the way you’re thinking.”

And that’s—Connor will take that, even if it’s kind of vague.

They talk for a few more minutes, but not about anything important, and when he hangs up, Connor feels better about the whole situation. Suddenly, sitting around the hotel watching crappy reality tv doesn’t seem so appealing, so he texts Leon and makes plans to meet up with him and Darnell for dinner.

When he texts Ryan a picture of his steak later, Ryan texts back pretty much right away, and Connor thinks things are probably going to be okay.

 

 

The next day, they lose to the Devils, their third loss in a row. They played better this time, at least, the score just 2-1, but defeat tastes as bitter as ever. The whole team is tired and ready to head home, and there’s a sense of relief as they board the plane to do so.

It’s a seven hour flight, and most of it is spent sleeping. Connor has trouble getting more than surface level rest, though he definitely fully drops off for a few hours. His thoughts alternate between the game and Ryan, drifting somewhere between dreams and consciousness. By the time they touch down in Edmonton, he’s groggy and sad and all he really wants to do is curl up next to Ryan.

He might not be thinking straight, because it somehow seems like a good idea to wander away from Taylor and instead ask Schultzy if he can hitch a ride home with him. Justin gives him a scrutinizing look, then shrugs and agrees.

Connor second guesses himself the whole way there. Despite their promising phone call, he doesn’t even know if Ryan would want to see him, especially this early in the morning and unannounced. It’s too late, though. Connor can always take a cab home if he has to.

The house is quiet and dark when Connor trails in after Schultzy. Schultzy raises his eyebrows and gestures expectantly in the direction of Ryan’s room. Connor flushes and goes.

He knocks lightly on the door, then feels stupid and opens the door to peer in. He can see Ryan curled up in the bed, and he takes a step into the room. As much as he would love to just crawl in next to Ryan and sleep for a few hours, he doesn’t want to presume anything. He crouches next to the bed and carefully reaches out to shake Ryan’s shoulder gently. “Ryan,” he whispers, then repeats it louder.

Ryan blinks his eyes open after a moment, squinting at Connor. He looks adorable, and the inside of Connor’s chest feels like mush. “Connor?” he asks. “What are you doing here?”

It’s a good question. Connor shrugs. “It was a shitty night,” he says. He feels abruptly stupid, and he’s opening his mouth to say that he’ll just leave when Ryan shifts backward in the bed and lifts the covers, a clear invitation.

Connor sheds his coat and sweater on the floor along with his pants and shoes and crawls in before he can overthink it or Ryan can change his mind. Ryan wastes no time in pulling Connor against his chest, tangling their limbs together in the way that’s already familiar. It’s exactly what Connor was thinking about for the whole flight home, a perfect fit.

Ryan presses his forehead against Connor’s chest and sighs contentedly. “Missed you,” he mumbles, and Connor’s heart skips.

“Missed you, too,” he manages. He squeezes Ryan slightly with the arm that’s wrapped around him in a hug and is gratified when Ryan hugs back. Connor is, all of a sudden, much more awake than he was before.

Being awake doesn’t mean he wants to move, though. The opposite, really; he could lie here with Ryan forever. Ryan doesn’t seem inclined to move away, either. Connor can tell he’s not asleep, his breathing not quite even enough, but neither of them move for what feels like a long time.

Eventually, though, Ryan moves just slightly away so he can look at Connor. Connor misses the body contact, but Ryan’s good hand is still on Connor’s side while the other is propped on the pillows above them. “Rough game last night,” Ryan says casually. “You decide misery loves company, or what?”

Connor frowns, confused. “What? No, I just…wanted to see you.”

Ryan smiles, but his eyebrows say he’s skeptical. “See, I don’t get that,” he says, “because whenever I’ve had a shitty day, I don’t want anyone to see me.”

“Yeah,” Connor says, thinking back to how snappish Ryan was in the first few days after his surgery, “I’ve noticed that.”

“But,” Ryan says, biting his lip, “I think I’ve gotten past that with you.”

Connor nods. “Like you’re past it with Taylor and Jordan,” he says.

Ryan huffs slightly. “No, Davo, not like Taylor and Jordan.”

“Oh,” Connor says, slightly taken aback. “I didn’t mean I thought we were, like, suddenly best friends or whatever, I just…” He trails off, feeling like an idiot all over again.

“God, you’re so stupid,” Ryan says, rolling his eyes, and Connor is about to apologize when Ryan leans in and kisses him.

It’s not a great kiss, mostly because Connor is so surprised that he freezes for a moment, and by the time his brain has caught up, Ryan is pulling away again. That’s just unacceptable, and Connor chases his lips so that they can kiss properly. Ryan slides his hand up to the back of Connor’s neck, threading his fingers into Connor’s hair as he kisses him gently, and Connor’s heart feels like it might well sprout wings and burst free of his chest.

It’s a long moment before they pull apart, both of them catching their breath. “I don’t want to do that with Taylor and Jordan,” Ryan says.

That startles a laugh out of Connor. “You don’t?” he asks innocently. “Because…”

Ryan snorts and smacks Connor in the shoulder. He tries to kiss him again, but Connor is smiling so hard that it’s hard to do, and that makes Ryan smile, too, and it takes a moment before they can do anything but grin against each other’s mouths. Eventually they manage, though, and it’s another few minutes of kissing before Ryan pulls away again.

“Hey,” he says. Connor stares at how red his lips are and nods absently. “I don’t think I ever said thanks for taking care of me.”

Connor tears his eyes away to make eye contact. He smiles dumbly and carefully brushes the stray hair on Ryan’s forehead back. “Don’t worry,” he says quietly, sliding his hand down and ghosting his thumb over Ryan’s cheekbone. “I’m not done yet.”

Ryan beams, blinding, and kisses him again.