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Follow Me, I'll Be Right Behind You

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It just feels like the right moment, is all. The three of them on the couch - Whits having peaced to go see the girlfriend he still won’t introduce to them - Hallsy and Ebs ignoring the movie still playing in favour of teasing Ryan again about the signs a couple of people in the crowd were waving tonight calling him their ‘hero.’ Ryan is still watching the movie, sort of, but he can hear them talking unsubtly over his head and it’s a good feeling remembering his goal tonight - the game-winner, though he hadn’t known it when he’d scored late in the second. He has to catch his beer as Hallsy bumps his elbow and says, laughing, with the careful emphasis of someone asking the question a second time, “Shouldn’t the hero of the game be going out and getting laid?”

Ebs is laughing too. “C’mon, Nuge, you’re wasting your opportunities here. Who knows when you’ll score like that again? You have to take advantage of these things.”

Hallsy snorts, “For sure, Ebby, he’s just not paying any attention to ~scoring~ here at all, ifyouknowwhatImean?” They high-five over Ryan’s head, and collapse in giggles beside him, nudging companionable elbows into his ribs.

Ryan snorts, and rolls his eyes. “If you think it’s so important, do something about it. Threesome would be fun, eh?” He freezes for a second when he realises that’s out there in the open, like he can still hear it echo in the sudden absence of voices, but whatever, he can always pass it off as a joke if they’re not into it. He thinks he caught Hallsy mid-sip, he can hear sputtering coming from his right, but he keeps his eyes on the movie, though he’s not sure anymore which side he’s supposed to be cheering for in the on-screen gun-battle.

Hallsy coughs. “Uh, seriously?” he says, hoarsely.

“Why not?” Ryan replies, shrugging, “friends having fun, y’know? If you’re into it.” He’s pretty sure that Hallsy and Ebs are having some kind of unspoken couple conversation over his head, so he keeps on watching the movie. There’s no point in rushing things, and it’s not going to be a big deal if they say no.

“Um, yes,” Ebs says, eventually, his voice hoarse, “so, uh…”

Ryan leans back on the couch, so he can see them both better. He spreads his arms. “Awesome,” he says with a grin, “let’s go.”

Jordan and Taylor lean toward Ryan simultaneously, chuckling nervously, particularly when it becomes obvious he can’t kiss both of them at once. He turns to Ebs first, because he’s got to start somewhere, though he reaches behind him to blindly grab at Hallsy’s arm and keep him close. Ebs’ kiss is much less tentative than his voice. Ryan wants to move closer, linger there forever, but he can feel Hallsy becoming tenser and tenser behind him. Ryan turns back to Hallsy as he starts to pull away, yanking him close with the hand on his arm. Hallsy starts, then grins against Ryan’s mouth, kissing him enthusiastically. Ebs plasters himself to Ryan’s back and rests his head on Ryan’s shoulder to watch them kiss, and make low, appreciative noises in Ryan’s ear. Ryan shivers, making helpless noises into Taylor’s mouth.

They trade slow, lingering kisses for a long time. Taylor and Jordan are awkward touching him, brushing tentative hands across his shoulders, his ribs, his arms. They seem unsure of how to leave space for each other as they press closer to Ryan, one on either side.

Eventually the two sets of hands creeping under the hem of Ryan’s tee-shirt start to actually try to remove it, which seems like a fantastic idea, right up until Ryan remembers that there’s a chance Whits could come home at any minute. He croaks, “bedroom?” as soon as he can remember how vocal cords work. Hallsy stands up, a little clumsy. He offers Ryan a hand up, which works the second time, when Ryan and Ebs have disentangled their legs properly and managed to stop kissing for a second.

Ebs says, “mine?” and leads the way on what feels like the most awkward ten second walk of all time down the hall to his bedroom. They keep touching each other, hands brushing each other’s sides and walking a little too close, like they’re trying to make sure everyone is still there.

It’s apparently still too long a wait for Taylor who grabs Ryan’s wrist in the doorway of Jordan’s room and pulls him close to kiss him sweetly and firmly.

Jordan calls, “hey, assholes, get over here” from his seat on the edge of his bed. He looks up when Ryan tears himself away from Taylor to stumble towards Jordan.

“Um, is this-?” Jordan waves one hand vaguely, sort of gesturing at the bed, though his motion takes in the entire room and all three of them. He’s biting his lower lip and half-grinning and he’s a little bit flushed and mussed, and Ryan is very, very glad he decided to start something tonight. He leans over Jordan, cupping Jordan’s face with both hands and kisses him deeply, licking into his mouth and tangling his fingers in Jordan’s hair. Jordan takes advantage of the position to grope Ryan’s ass firmly with both hands, and Ryan doesn’t bother to hide the shiver that runs down his spine.

Ryan loses himself in the kiss and the feeling of Jordan’s hands until Taylor, sounding a lot closer than he was before, groans, “fuck guys, you look like really, really good porn.”

Ryan breaks the kiss to look at him, stroking a thumb over Jordan’s mouth and nudging closer between Jordan’s legs. Taylor’s standing beside the two of them, frankly staring, looking like he doesn’t know what to do with his hands. Ryan supposes that’s fair, if he was dating someone, he wouldn’t have put so much thought into choreographing a threesome either. This is going to be totally hot though, so he’s willing to step up and organise this shit if he has to.

“No free shows,” Ryan says, laughing, “it’s definitely my turn to watch by now.”

Taylor kneels on the bed next to them as Ryan lets go of Jordan’s face, running his fingers lightly over Jordan’s shoulders and chest, enjoying the smoothness of muscle and the warmth. Jordan turns to smile, gap-toothed and affectionate, at Taylor who pulls him close with a hand cupped around the back of his head. They stop, faces centimetres apart, to stare into each other’s eyes in a look that Ryan can’t read. He’s starting to wonder if he should maybe look away, when Taylor closes his eyes and leans in. Jordan’s eyes slip shut as well, his face turned upwards in Taylor’s hands. Ryan gulps, mouth suddenly dry. The kiss is slow and tentative; they feel each other out, carefully adjusting the angles of their heads to find a better fit. After what seems to Ryan like an eternity, there’s a flicker of tongue and they’re kissing more deeply now, Jordan’s hands digging into Ryan’s hips sharply when Taylor does something Ryan can’t see. Ryan is swaying close; he can’t stop staring. They break apart, panting, lips swollen, eyes locked on one another.

They’ve never kissed before. Ryan’s sure of it, as sure as he’d been earlier that they were dating, and he almost says it aloud in shock. He doesn’t know what to do with that information. He wants to know why they’re not, he wants to know why they agreed to his idea if they weren’t, he wants to know everything, suddenly unsure whether he knows what this night means as well as he thought he did. But he also doesn’t want to stop and talk, now, in the middle of pretty much the hottest thing that has ever happened to him. In the end – though it’s only been a half-second at most – Jordan and Taylor take that decision out of his hands.

Taylor reaches for Ryan, kisses him, murmuring against his mouth, “was that enough of a show for you?” It’s almost enough to make him forget his doubts, and the two sets of hands pulling him onto the bed with them finish the job.

“Fuck it, we all want this,” Ryan thinks crazily to himself in the heat of Taylor’s gaze and the firmness of Jordan’s hands on him, and then everything is hands and mouths and motion for quite some time.

--

Ryan wakes up tucked against Hallsy’s side with one arm thrown casually over his stomach, and a cold space at his back. He slits his eyes open to see Ebs dragging on a t-shirt and sweats, hair damp from the shower. Ebs looks half-asleep, his eyes aren’t all the way open and his hair is sticking up on one side, but he spots Ryan’s open eyes and mimes ‘breakfast?’ before leaving the room. Ryan supposes he should get up, though Hallsy looks thoroughly out for the count. He contemplates waking him, but he isn’t sure what he would say and he does want food so he finds his own clothes and follows Ebs to the kitchen.

Ebs is sitting at the kitchen table, leaning over his mug and inhaling, eyes barely open. He gestures meaningfully at the coffeepot and the open cupboard of cereal without taking his attention off his own cup. This part at least is familiar; Ryan has seen Ebs communing with his coffee in what feels like a million hotels, and it’s not exactly the first time he’s ever crashed at theirs. He pours himself some cereal and, by the time Hallsy wanders into the kitchen and lays his head on the table moaning, “coffeeeeee,” he and Ebs have woken up a little and are chatting quietly: Ebs insisting that the Roughriders have a real chance next season, and Ryan mocking his optimism, mostly on principle. Ebs doesn’t stop making his point about his team as he goes over to the coffee pot for a refill, shouting over his shoulder about how Ryan just doesn’t understand how close they came.

Ryan’s still laughing at him when he sits back down, but it stutters to a halt as Ebs pushes a mug at Hallsy who pulls it close and mutters, “yesssssss”, but doesn’t lift his head. Ryan hastily takes an overfull spoonful of cereal to cover the lapse, but Ebs doesn’t seem to have noticed. He’s still talking about the Roughriders, but he’s looking at Taylor and his eyes are soft. Ebs getting Taylor coffee, even looking at him fondly, is pretty normal really, but it’s weird now that Ryan knows they aren’t dating. He’d been so sure they were, never doubted it, his fantasies were all about joining them, but they can’t be, not if that was – and it has to have been, it was too awkward to be anything else – their first kiss. Unfortunately, there’s really no way to bring that up casually now.

If he’s a little weird after that, Ryan’s pretty sure that neither Hallsy nor Ebs notices. He leaves earlier than he has to, making the excuse that he needs to grab his stuff from home before practice, though he really doesn’t need as much time as he’s giving himself. Hallsy and Ebs are still sitting at the table when he goes to find his lost socks in Ebs’ room, though Hallsy has managed to lift his head off the table and actually drink his coffee. Ryan stops awkwardly in the doorway before leaving.

“Hey, so, uh, we cool?” he says, and goes on, before waiting to hear their answer, “we should do that again sometime, eh?” He’s pretty sure they won’t, but it seems like the sort of thing you should say. He waves, more for something to do with his hands than anything else, and tries to smile. “See you guys at practice.” He turns quickly and walks down the hall, Hallsy and Ebs shouting cheerful farewells after him, Hallsy’s voice still sleep-slurred.

--

Practice is normal. Ryan’s not the first one there, but lots of the guys are later than him. He’s chatting with Yak when Ebs walks in and they nod absently at each other. He doesn’t see Hallsy come in later because he’s taping his socks, but he hears him greet the guys and mumbles along to the chorus of responses. They’re fine on the ice. The drills are the same as always and they don’t have a lot of time to chat between them, but it’s not awkward when they do and Ryan’s pretty sure he’s not talking to Hallsy or Ebs differently than he is to any of the other guys. He battles Ebs for the puck in a corner, and checks Hallsy a couple of times, and it’s the same. He can feel their bodies against his, obviously, but it just feels like hockey, he can do hockey. It’s not different than yesterday; Hallsy and Ebs still seem to be the same with him and each other. After practice, Hallsy reminds him and Maggie that they’re still expected to show up Thursday for that CoD rematch, and Ryan can’t detect any trace of awkwardness in his voice. Nothing has changed.

Driving home, Ryan congratulates himself for having been right. They totally could have a threesome and be cool afterward.

 

--

 

A couple of weeks later, after a short road trip, several home games, and Ryan hanging out with Jonesy, Schultzy, and Gags just as much as he does with Hallsy and Ebs (not that he’s counting), Ryan’s at a bar with a bunch of the guys, just hanging out. He’s a little tipsy, in a good mood, and everyone seems particularly witty, though he knows, dimly, that they’re probably not. Maggie is saying something about the music playing faintly in the background, and Ebs is teasing him about Euro dance music, retelling that story about the Swedish club he visited during Worlds last year. Ryan hadn’t gone, he’d been hanging out with some of the other guys at the hotel, but he remembers the pictures on someone’s phone in the dressing room the next day of Ebs dancing appallingly, but looking far more pleased about it than he’s now claiming to have been.

It’s a pretty chill night, and people start to slip away relatively early. Ryan’s one of the last to leave, but it’s still not that late, though it’s quite dark and fucking freezing when they get outside. He’s still a little tipsy when he hits a patch of ice on the sidewalk so he stumbles into Hallsy, windmilling his arms like an idiot. Hallsy braces him easily, laughing way more than Ryan thinks is really necessary, though he’s laughing at himself as well. Ryan turns around to earnestly blame the ice and the alcohol for all balance-related problems, but Hallsy drags on his arm: they’ve already fallen behind the other guys who are getting into a cab halfway down the block.

They wave as they drive by, and Hallsy rolls his eyes. “Whatever, we’ll split one, yeah?” He drops Ryan’s arm and punches his shoulder. Ryan realises he hadn’t noticed Hallsy was still holding on to him, and he’s drunk enough for that to be a confusing thought.

“Sure,” Ryan says, “to yours?” He lives a little further from downtown, he thinks, it’s not really convenient either way, but they may as well drop Hallsy and Ebs off first. As he turns to look at them, he slips again, and catches himself on Ebs’ arm, laughing.

Ebs’ eyes are very wide, he’s looking at Hallsy uncertainly. Ebs has good eyes, Ryan thinks, very… very… blue, which seems funny, here and now, on the sidewalk in the cold. He’s laughing again, leaning on Ebs and he can’t see Hallsy’s face, but he thinks Hallsy sounds a little strangled when he says, “Oh…” -dragging it out for a long time- “um, yeah? Ebs? Is that okay?” And then they’re moving off down the sidewalk and Hallsy’s found a cab somewhere and Ryan finds himself squashed into the middle seat in the back. He leans his head back on the headrest, comfortable and happy. They’re all quiet in the cab and Ryan isn’t really watching where they’re going so arriving is a little bit of a surprise. The cab pulls away from where he’s standing on the street outside Hallsy and Ebs’ building before he quite realises where they are. He’s about to ask what’s going on, when Hallsy flicks a nervous look both ways down the empty street and kisses him.

Which, okay, Ryan didn’t know that was their plan, but it seems like a pretty good one from where he’s standing. He can go with this. Ebs pushes Ryan and Hallsy inside, grumbling about lack of discretion, but kisses Ryan himself in the elevator.

They’re terrible at actually getting inside the apartment. Taylor hangs over Jordan’s back and noses at the back of his neck while Jordan tries to find his keys. Ryan eventually pulls Taylor off Jordan and is groped himself for his trouble. Taylor’s hands are warm, and very distracting; Jordan has to tell them twice to get out of the damn hallway and Ryan hadn’t even noticed he’d finally managed to unlock the door.

They fall awkwardly onto Jordan’s bed, the three of them tangled together. Ryan bites at Jordan’s collarbones and he moans and arches his neck toward Ryan. Taylor’s kissing Ryan’s ear, sending hot flickers of sensation down his spine. Taylor’s hands go to Ryan’s belt, and pants suddenly seem like the most inconvenient thing in the world, particularly when it turns out that trying to undress without any of them letting go means that Ryan knees Jordan in the side, and Taylor elbows Ryan in the jaw. He lets the blow roll him to the side, and lies flat on his back with his legs dangling off the bed, grinning like a loon.

Jordan kicks him lightly. “Dude, pants,” he says.

Ryan’s totally getting to that, honestly, he just got pleasantly distracted watching Jordan take off his own jeans, which is why he’s not prepared for Taylor’s hands on his belt. Taylor is kneeling in front of him in his boxers, grinning as Ryan slaps at his hands, then gives up and lifts his hips so Taylor can drag off his pants. Ryan sits up on his elbows for a better view when Taylor starts fighting with his socks.

Jordan hooks his chin over Ryan’s shoulder, looking down at Taylor, and drawls “hey, while you’re down there…”

Taylor leans in to where Ryan’s dick is straining at the fabric of his boxers, the friction of cloth a goad that’s nothing like enough. “Nuge?” he says, hands warm on Ryan’s legs. It’s really fucking hot. Taylor’s not even that close to him, but it’s a pretty fantastic view anyway, and his imagination is supplying more than enough possibilities.

“Fuck,” Ryan says, voice steadier than he expects, “anything you want.”

Taylor grins and licks Ryan’s stomach, a warm stripe of sensation, before unceremoniously yanking his boxers down to mid-thigh and taking Ryan’s dick in his hand. Taylor just goes for it, cheeks hollowed, not going down that far, but his tongue hitting all the right places and his hand more than making up for it. Jordan’s kissing Ryan’s shoulder and neck, breath hot in his ear as he whispers filth about Taylor’s mouth and Ryan has to kiss him, but it’s the briefest of pecks before Taylor sucks hard on the head of his cock, sending sparks through Ryan’s brain and making his toes curl. He can’t do more than breathe hard against Jordan’s neck, Ryan’s head on Jordan’s shoulder as Jordan pets his hair. Everything about it, the two of them, Taylor’s fucking mouth, Jordan running his nails absently over that spot in Ryan’s hairline, is just as hot as last time and totally beating the fantasies Ryan admits he’s occasionally had about this kind of thing. He groans a warning into Jordan’s neck, but he’s not sure Taylor hears because he doesn’t pull off, just keeps going until Ryan’s coming into his mouth. Ryan waves an apologetic hand and flops back onto the bed, boneless with the aftershocks. The bed bounces as Taylor climbs up to sit next to him and Jordan.

Ryan appreciates that, when Jordan pulls Taylor close and thoroughly kisses him, it’s where he can see it without having to lift his head off the bed, though he decides later that it’s an equally attractive sight when watched from below as he blows Jordan.

 

--

 

The third time is almost anticlimactic in its simplicity. The first two hook-ups were pretty fun, so Ryan asks them after a game if they want to come hang out at his later, and it seems completely natural that they end up making out as soon as they get in the door, barely able to keep their hands off each other long enough to take off their coats. They fuck Ryan thoroughly into the mattress, and all collapse exhausted. The morning after isn’t awkward in the least. They chat quietly over the instant coffee Ryan is frankly astonished he still has in his cupboard, and linger long enough that Ebs gets twitchy over how long they have until practice, and drags Hallsy home to grab their shit.

 

--

 

If they want to keep doing that, Ryan isn’t going to turn down casual sex on the regular, especially not the sex that occasionally appears in some of his very favourite fantasies. So it happens again, and again, and several times more, and it’s fine, it’s good, it’s awesome. If Ryan occasionally sees Taylor hanging all over Jordan in the locker room or Jordan stretching his arm across the back of the couch while they all watch one of Hallsy’s tv shows, it’s not like it’s because he’s watching. If they wanted to date, that would be totally fine by him. Ryan knows they weren’t before, but it’s pretty obvious they’re pretty into each other, so it’s probably only a matter of time. It’s also none of his business, so Ryan totally gets that they don’t need to tell him or anything. He barely thinks about it at all, what with all of the games and practices, and the hot threesome sex that is apparently now a part of his life.

The hot threesome sex is really great, is the thing. Why would they talk about it when everything the three of them do in bed clicks even more smoothly than it does on the ice? He’s not sure anything they’ve tried hasn’t been fun, though it turns out you maybe need a bigger bed than Jordan’s to try 69ing three ways and it was a little hard to keep track of all the limbs involved. Otherwise though, it’s pretty much all good. He fucks Taylor into a screaming, sweaty mess while Jordan watches, groaning hoarse encouragement. He blows Jordan slowly and tortuously as Jordan swears at him, and Taylor restlessly kisses and pets the two of them anywhere that he can reach. He watches the two of them make out desperately and hard, biting each other’s lips and only barely avoiding leaving marks; and sleepily after sex, eyes half-lidded and hands stroking through each other’s hair and across each other’s bodies. Neither usually lasts that long before they drag him in and gang up on him for some fucking great orgasms.

It’s not like it’s taking over his life or anything. Ryan goes bowling with Schultzy and Jonesy a few times, goes to see movies with the guys. They have a bunch of one, two game road trips, which always means too much time on planes, a lot of time spent napping in hotel rooms, but the good stuff too: team dinners, a couple of wins, some points in OT.

 

--

 

They hook up the afternoon before they leave for their two week road trip in February. It’s at Ryan’s for once, which has happened before, but not that often. Ryan thinks it’s probably just easier for him to go over to their place, even if Whits is there sometimes, and he’s got to admit that their videogame setup is way better than his, which is all they do half the time. Whits left practice announcing that he was tired as fuck and there had better be no noise in his house all afternoon though, so Taylor and Jordan invited themselves over to Ryan’s and it’s not like he minds.

It’s pretty relaxed sex. Taylor’s leaning on Ryan’s chest, moaning and swearing at them, as Jordan jacks him off and Ryan kisses Jordan slowly and thoroughly. He’s pretty sure Jordan’s slowing down purposefully because Taylor is always fun when he gets like this, flushed and pissy. Taylor bites at Ryan’s shoulder, leaving more of a mark than they usually do. “Hurry the fuck up,” he whines, “jesusfuckingchristholyshitMOVE.” Jordan grins into Ryan’s mouth and does, but only slightly.

After, they’re all eating dinner on Ryan’s couch before they have to leave for the airport. None of them have quite managed to put shirts on yet, though Ryan actually has managed jeans as he refused to be pantsless while boiling pasta. Taylor, unsurprisingly, finishes his food first and lies sprawled across Jordan and Ryan as much as possible, staring longingly and unsubtly at their plates. Ryan smacks his hands away from Ryan’s food and he shrugs, unbothered - “worth a try” - and cuddles closer.

Ryan realises after a while that he is absentmindedly petting Taylor’s hair. Taylor is making happy, sleepy noises into his shoulder and it’s very pleasant so he keeps on doing it, until Ebs groans and says, jabbing at Taylor’s side, “Fuck, dude, we’ve gotta go if we want to grab our shit from home and get on the plane on time.”

Taylor presses a kiss to Ryan’s shoulder, just over the mark he left earlier, and stands, stretching. Ebs is already in the bedroom throwing clothes at the two of them on the couch. He comes back into the living room doing up his belt and stands there, rolling his eyes, while Taylor finishes dressing as slowly as possible, looking up at Ebs with a smirk.

“See you in an hour or so,” Jordan says, giving Ryan a peck on the lips, and then he and Taylor rush out the door and are gone. Ryan blinks, and starts packing his own overnight bag.

 

--

 

The road trip is long, and the team never really settles into a pattern. They scrape out a win against the Wild. Celebrations are nixed by the flight they have to get on later that night, but the mood on the plane is ebullient.

Ryan had been planning on sleeping on this flight, but the general good cheer is infectious. He ends up playing cards with Gags, Jonesy and Schultzy. Everyone is too busy chatting to notice their turns half the time so the game is taking a while, though it’s not like Ryan cares.

He can hear Ebs and Hallsy sitting together in the row behind him. Ebs sounds delighted, “-the angle, fuck, I didn’t think it was going to go in until it fucking did- barely fucking believe-” Ryan thinks they’re talking about Hallsy’s gorgeous goal in the first, which was pretty impressive, he’s got to admit.

“Thanks, man,” Hallsy says, and, his voice shading into laughter, “you know, I didn’t believe it either when you had that fucking awful turnover in the second-” He breaks off. There are scuffling noises that Ryan thinks means Ebs is going for the headlock, or at least an elbow in the ribs.

Ebs is laughing too. “Yeah, well, I can’t believe your awful face.”

It’s Ryan’s turn again, but he can’t actually remember what Gags just picked up. He puts something down at random, and regrets it at once.

 

--

 

They never hook up on the road. There are always roommates and team meetings and games to win and they’re just busy. If Ryan finds himself squished between Taylor and Jordan on his hotel bed in Detroit, well, they’re friends, they always watch movies together and Jonesy is taking up all of his own bed, headphones on and ignoring the three of them and their not very whispered commentary about the terrible action movie they found on some random channel.

Jonesy does eventually announce that he is turning off the light now so all non-napping people should leave at once. Ryan walks Hallsy and Ebs to the door because it seems sort of the thing to do, especially as Jonesy has turned off all the lights already. Just before they open the door to the hallway, Ebs suddenly gives Ryan half a hug and Taylor kisses him quickly. He freezes – did Jonesy see? – and they slip out and back to their own rooms without explanations, though Ryan has to admit that he doesn’t want to have that conversation in a hotel room with company and anyway, there’s probably no conversation to have. Taylor is always demonstrative and touchy, and they’re all good friends, and it’s probably just for luck or something, though it’s not like he isn’t going to see them again before the game.

He goes back to his own bed and falls asleep as easily as always. Napping’s just part of his routine, and anyway, it’s not as if there’s anything else to worry about.

--

 

Ryan feels fantastic for the first period of the game against New Jersey. The Devils score first, but he can feel the play finally click as he swoops into position to receive Jeff’s pass and send it to Ebs, waiting by the net, who taps it in to tie it up before the first intermission.

It’s all downhill from there though. The Devils don’t seem to be allowing any scoring chances at all. They struggle to keep it tied throughout the second period, and in the third, Kovalchuk snags a missed pass and fires one home behind Duby. Nothing seems to be working after that, and they’re trying really goddamn hard until the end, but the clock still runs down on a 3-1 game.

Ryan shuffles off the ice with everyone else. They’re all tired and sore and not saying much. At least they don’t have to go anywhere except the hotel tonight. There isn’t a ton of press stuff to get through, everyone knows they don’t really have much to say except that nothing worked, they just weren’t as good, and they have to fucking try harder. Not that Ryan says that aloud. He’s not really paying attention tonight, but he thinks he says something about the play in the first period and how they have to keep that kind of thing up throughout the whole game. The reporters leave him alone when they realise he’s not going to say anything more interesting, and it’s a relief to just start taking off his gear slowly, showering, and trying to move past it.

He ends up in the gym at the hotel on the bike, trying to empty his mind without working hard enough that he’ll regret it by tomorrow’s game. He’s zoning out, headphones in, and doesn’t notice that Ebs has joined him until Ebs is well into his own routine on the bike next to him. They nod absently at each other, and go back to their biking.

Ryan’s workout mix is starting to slow down when Hallsy wanders into the gym and asks if they want to watch a movie when they’re done. It sounds good to Ryan now that he’s relaxed enough to concentrate on something other than the game and Ebs is down. Hallsy settles down on one of the benches with his phone while they finish up. Ryan bikes slowly, can feel the tension in his shoulders easing smoothly, tonight’s game diminishing in importance, tomorrow’s game not quite looming yet.

Ryan thinks to ask if Whits wants to join them when the three of them are heading upstairs to Hallsy’s room. “Oh. Well, I think he’s talking to mystery girl again,” Hallsy says after a moment, pressing his hands to his heart and fluttering his eyelashes, before breaking off to snicker. It’s a terrible impression of Whits, but Ryan laughs anyway.

The three of them end up crowded over Hallsy’s laptop because his roommate’s using the tv, but Ryan doesn’t really care that much what they’re watching. Halfway through the second episode he catches himself as he’s starting to nod off onto Hallsy’s shoulder, jerking awake awkwardly. Hallsy nudges him. “You should go sleep, eh?”

Which is probably not a bad idea, though Ryan does have to elbow Ebs in the ribs when he tells Hallsy seriously that “I should probably walk him down the hall, make sure he doesn’t pass out in a plant or something.” Ebs smirks, unrepentant.

Ebs’ room is only a couple of doors down from Hallsy’s so Ryan actually leaves him there first. Ebs pauses for a second outside his door. “Don’t beat yourself up about the game,” he says, “we’ll make it work next time, yeah?”

Ryan is startled for a second because yeah, he’d been feeling shitty right after, but he genuinely hasn’t thought about it since working out. “Um, I won’t?” he offers lamely. Ebs grins at him anyway, and waves good night.

--

 

They lose the last game, so the mood on the plane sucks all the way home, but at least they’re home. It feels like they’ve been away forever. Most of the guys are half-asleep getting off the plane; they wave absent-minded good-byes, and scatter across the city to the comfort of familiar beds. Ebs bumps Ryan’s shoulder in the parking lot, says good-bye. Ryan’s response gets lost in his yawn, and he gets in his car to the sound of Hallsy laughing at him.

Ryan passes out at home, sleeps for something like twelve hours, wakes up with glorious plans to do nothing whatsoever on this rare treat of a free day. He hangs out mostly, gets some shit done around his place, buys groceries.

In the evening, Hallsy texts to see if he’s busy, though he and Ebs turn out to be well on their way to Ryan’s place as they’re leaning on the buzzer two minutes later.

“I told him we should have texted earlier,” Ebs says as they pull off their boots in the hall.

“We brought beer, it’s like calling ahead!” Hallsy shouts over his shoulder, disappearing into the kitchen with the liquor store bag.

Ryan shrugs. “I wasn’t doing much anyway.”

Ebs grins. “Should I make a bad joke here about you needing to have rested up for this?” he says, leaning in to kiss Ryan long and sweet, thumbs dipping into the waistband of his sweats to rub over his hipbones.

“Starting without me, you non?” Hallsy says, coming up behind Jordan to lean over his shoulder. Ryan breaks the kiss to take a breath and Taylor presses Jordan tight between the two of them, kisses Ryan himself, all tongue and teeth.

Jordan tugs Ryan even closer with the hands on his hips, leans forward to bite at Ryan’s throat. Ryan’s panting into Taylor’s mouth now, and his voice feels embarrassingly high pitched when he gets enough breath back to suggest that they move out of the hall.

“I guess we could,” Jordan says with one last full body roll against the two of them that makes Ryan forget what they were talking about until Taylor starts herding him and Jordan toward the bedroom door. Ryan considers giving Taylor grief for it, but decides that it’s not as if he doesn’t want to reach the bed himself.

 

--

 

Later in the week, Jonesy drags Ryan home for dinner, claiming that they never see him anymore. Jamie hugs him at the door and repeats the sentiment.

“After a full season of me taking up space, I’d have thought you’d be sick of it by now,” Ryan jokes.

Jamie swats at him. “After loudmouth over here” - she jabs a thumb at Jonesy, who swoops in and kisses her smackingly on the cheek - “you, quiet boy, are barely noticeable. You should come round more often. What’ve you been doing with yourself instead?”

Jonesy grins, arms still around his wife. “Oh, the kid line is basically merging into one person these days, eh Nugget? You’ve been hanging with them a whole bunch, yeah?”

Ryan stills for a second, his brain stuttering to a halt. He really doesn’t think they’ve been hanging out that much, have they? He opens his mouth, no idea what he’s about to say, and finds that he apparently defaults to talking to the press. “Well, you know, there’s always games, and practice – I really need to work on my face-offs, so I’ve been spending a lot of time-”

It’s a pretty terrible response, but Jamie does cut him off, making a face at him and claiming that hockey talk is still not allowed until at least after dinner because otherwise she’d never get any peace, so that’s kind of like a win. It’s just like last year: Jamie and Jonesy are still a million times chattier than Ryan himself, so he has plenty of time to psych himself out with the thought that Jonesy knows something, but also to calm himself down. He hangs with Taylor and Jordan a lot, but friends do that. He’s not going to get in their way or anything, and Jonesy probably doesn’t know anything really, and wouldn’t actually care if he did.

Ryan decides to forget all about it. Even if Jonesy does have the wrong idea, there’s nothing worth correcting him over. He lets Jamie and Jonesy’s chatter wash over him, and chirps back a little too, particularly when he discovers that Jonesy had failed to tell Jamie about the four separate occasions on which Jonesy’s laces had been cut on the last road trip, grinning smugly when Jonesy tries to wheedle the identity of the prankster out of him for the millionth time.

Helping Jamie do the dishes is familiar, and it’s nice to not talk about hockey sometimes. She tells him about the party Jonesy missed because he was away on a road trip, and she asks about his horse, which is cool: she’s not racing yet, but he’s pretty excited for this summer, and Jamie only laughs at him a little when he tells her all about it.

The three of them hang out for a while and Jamie proves yet again that she could beat Ryan or Jonesy at Guitar Hero with one hand tied behind her back. Ryan’s comfortable on their couch, laughing as Jamie racks up another high score and Jonesy makes increasingly unsubtle jokes about volunteering if she needs a groupie.

It’s not his home though in the way that it was last season, and it’s not just the obvious intent in Jonesy’s flirting that makes Ryan wave off their offer to crash in their spare room again when he stands up to leave. He really does mean to take Jamie up on it when she reminds him again that he should come by more often as they hug good-bye, but he’s pretty happy getting to go back to his own place. It is not, Ryan firmly reminds himself as Jonesy and Jamie kiss in the lighted hall while he pulls out of the driveway, entirely because it’s so much less awkward to have visitors now. He likes having some space, being able to do his own thing.

 

--

 

Hallsy crashes into a pile-up in what is luckily the last game of another road trip and gets a skate blade in his calf for his trouble. The trainers stitch him up and put him on the plane home with strict instructions to come see them first thing the next morning. Hallsy’s denying that it’s anything serious, but Ryan can tell that he’s leaning pretty heavily on Ebs for support when they get off the plane, not just being irritating, though Ryan hopes that that’s mostly just the effects of the good drugs Taylor had so he could sleep on the plane. He offers to drive them home before he remembers that Whits left his car at the airport too, but they accept anyway. Hallsy’s pretty cheerful the whole way home. He cuddles into Ebs in the back seat, explaining loudly, if somewhat incoherently, that his leg is totally fine and he’s not going to miss any games.

When Ryan pulls up at their building, Ebs directs him to their spots in the parking garage underneath it, which makes sense, they’re going to need both him and Ebs if they’re going to carry all the bags and support Hallsy into the elevator. Ryan ends up offering Hallsy his shoulder this time around, and Hallsy is effusive about it, patting him vigorously on the back and informing him that he is “the greatest, man. So, so great. Ryan is the best, right, Ebby?” Ebs is also apparently so, so great, as Hallsy turns to remind him every few steps, so it takes them a long time to get anywhere.

They finally make it to the apartment and dump Hallsy on the couch next to Whits. Hallsy seems pleased by this as well. He throws an arm around Whits’ shoulders, announcing, “Whits, m’man! That was a very good game, right? So, so good. You’re so good. Right, boys? So good.”

Whits laughs in his face and disentangles himself. “I’m out,” he says, looking over at Ryan and Ebs, “you two deal with your boy’s drugged up ass.”

Ryan is only grateful that Hallsy waits until Whits has vanished into his own room before looking up through his eyelashes and saying, “you guys love dealing with my ass though. Who wouldn’t? I mean, I have a pretty great ass, for real.” His poker face is even worse than usual, and Ryan would bet anything that Hallsy would be standing up and shaking the ass in question if he was allowed to put any weight on his leg. He rolls his eyes and helps Ebs drag Hallsy into his bedroom.

Ryan’s pretty sure Hallsy could actually take off his own pants, but whatever, he doesn’t mind helping. He does feel bad about Hallsy’s long hiss of pain when he can’t avoid bumping the bandage on Hallsy’s leg, and presses an apologetic kiss to Hallsy’s knee. He was planning on leaving right after - their plane got in pretty late and there’s practice in the morning - but Hallsy pouts and demands cuddles as the least he deserves after being injured – “for the good of the team, guys!” – and Ebs shrugs and says that Ryan might as well stay and get some sleep before they have to be at practice, and it would probably be helpful if he was there to share Hallsy-supporting duties as well.

It’s kind of an awkward night. Taylor demands the middle of the bed, and does his usual affectionate and possessive sprawl across as much of it and the other two as he can manage, leaving Jordan and Ryan to try their best to avoid his stitches without his help. Taylor is also much sulkier in the morning, the drugs having worn off. He spends breakfast alternating between grumbling into his coffee, and insisting that nothing hurts, he’s fine, and he won’t miss any games.

He’s not quite right, as it turns out. The trainers tell him that it will probably be at least a week, and he’s damn lucky that it’s not as bad as it looked when he got it, though Hallsy is sullen as he tells the guys what’s going on. Even more irritatingly, Ryan drove the three of them to the rink, so Hallsy has to hang out off ice during practice. He’s supposed to be watching the practice, but Ryan’s pretty sure he’s on his phone, and when Ryan checks his own phone after practice, he finds that Hallsy has been sadly tweeting about his leg, and grumpily tweeting about the trainers who won’t let him do anything. Ryan is pretty sure this is overkill, as Hallsy is definitely supposed to be back to off-ice workouts by tomorrow, but Jonesy and Whits are already mocking Hallsy over it so Ryan figures he doesn’t need to say anything.

He drives Hallsy and Ebs back to their place, which sets the pattern for the next week. Hallsy is supposed to use his right leg as little as possible, which means no driving, and somehow Ryan and Ebs end up sharing chauffeur duty.

 

--

 

It’s later, when Hallsy’s leg is finally healed, that Ryan accidentally sees them in the parking lot, Taylor kissing Jordan quickly as they get out of Jordan’s truck. He keeps his head down, fiddling with his phone as he gets out of his own car. He’s so intent on it that Taylor flinging an arm around his shoulders is a surprise. Taylor and Jordan chirp him all the way into morning skate for his undignified leap away.

Ryan isn’t watching them specially during practice; he has to pay attention to them during drills because they’re on his line, and he’s just participating in the conversation in the dressing room like normal. It’s the usual conversation anyway. He doesn’t see anything different in either of them. Ebs is retelling some inside joke with Tubes and they’re both cracking up like crazy. Hallsy looks pretty intent on the stick he’s re-taping, but he laughs along with the crowd when Horc makes a bad joke at Jonesy’s expense.

Ryan carefully puts it all from his mind as he goes home and follows his pre-game routine. He tells himself that he doesn’t know anything, and shouldn’t leap to conclusions. Anyway, he knew this was coming. It will either make a difference, or it won’t, and in either case it doesn’t matter what he does.

Ryan is genuinely not curious if Taylor and Jordan are dating now. It doesn’t matter to him, so he’s just not. He figures they’ll tell him or stop or whatever if they want to quit hooking up, and they haven’t so he won’t. It’s convenient, and picking up is always a little awkward. It’s not that he doesn’t want to date, it’s just that he’s busy, so it’s cool that he’s still getting laid while he takes his time looking.

It’s not like they aren’t hanging out all the time anyway. They don’t play any fewer videogames than before, and they still hang out on the road. Ryan does try to give them couple time for like a week, but that just ends in the two of them manhandling him into Ebs’ truck after a game for bad movies, beer, and truly excellent sex, so he’s not sure what that means. He’d be totally happy for them and do it immediately if they asked for couple time or whatever, but they don’t ever ask so it’s probably okay, and anyway, it’s not like he’s at their place every night or anything.

 

--

 

It is a little weird, that time that Ryan wakes up still clothed in Ebs’ bed with both Taylor and Jordan stripped down to boxers and curled around him, one on each side. He thinks he fell asleep on the couch; he remembers that it was their round of NHL13, and then - he feels his face go hot - a hazy memory of being shepherded down the hallway, leaning heavily on someone who’s laughing. He’s not quite sure why they didn’t just leave him on the couch, but Ebs’ bed is warm and he’s pretty thoroughly pinned by Taylor’s arm stretched across his chest to rest on Jordan’s shoulder, and Jordan’s leg hooked around his own. It’s still dark outside and he knows Ebs always sets his alarm when they have practice in the morning, even if it’s at eleven and they never sleep that late, so Ryan shuts his eyes for a second. When he opens them again, Ebs’ alarm is beeping and Ebs is simultaneously prodding at it and holding Hallsy back by one arm. “It’s my bathroom,” he’s saying sleepily, “go shower in your own.”

“Mine’s all the way down the hall,” Hallsy whines. “So mean. Ryan agrees with me, right?” He turns to look at Ryan who is sitting up and rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. “Right?”

“Sure?” Ryan says slowly. “What are we arguing about?”

Hallsy rolls his eyes. “Jordan won’t share his bathroom.” He turns back to Jordan, raising his eyebrows and hip-checking him affectionately. “C’mon man, we’d make it worth your while. We have ages before we have to be at the rink, why do you set your alarm so goddamn early?”

Jordan leans into Taylor for a moment, squeezing his arm. “Mmm, stop it,” he says, laughing, “I’ve got shit to do before we go to the rink. Shoo.” He pushes Taylor to the door, smacking him lightly on the ass. Ryan can hear Taylor in the hall shouting, “cruel, Jordan, cruel!” until Taylor shuts his own bedroom door and cuts himself off.

Ebs is grinning at Ryan like they’re sharing a joke, and Ryan remembers that he’s still wearing all of his clothes in Ebs’ bed and it’s a little uncomfortable. Ebs waves a hand at him. “You don’t have to get up yet,” he says, “you can have the shower after me, I’ll be quick.” He disappears into the bathroom. Ryan lies down again; it’s awkward with the light on and in his jeans. It would be weirder to get up and turn it off though. He sits up, and sees someone’s put his phone on the bedside table.

Ryan’s still fucking around on Twitter when Ebs gets out of the shower and comes back into the bedroom, drying his hair. “Bathroom’s all yours,” he says, “you know where the towels are.” Ryan does, which isn’t surprising, he’s showered in Ebs’ room before. They’ve all showered in Ebs’ room. Hallsy had claimed the shower was totally big enough for three and he was mostly right, though the experience was an intermittently cold one as the spray was only really big enough for one and a half hockey players at a time, and Hallsy had unexpectedly lurched away from the cold tiles on his back halfway through a blowjob and knocked Ebs’ head into the taps, which had necessitated a stop, an apology, and had ultimately resulted in them moving the proceedings back to Ebs’ bed.

Halfway through Ryan’s shower, Ebs knocks on the bathroom door and shouts, “you can steal one of my shirts when you get out. I’m going to make coffee.” This isn’t really weird either; it’s just that everything about this morning seems a little off. Ryan doesn’t admit to himself that he spends too long looking through Ebs’ drawers before settling on a Oilers tee, one of the many they all have lying around. It’s just less awkward, okay? It could be one of his and this way he doesn’t have to worry too much about giving it back soon.

Ebs is cooking eggs when Ryan wanders into the kitchen, Hallsy leaning on the counter and watching. When they’ve eaten, Hallsy announces that Ryan didn’t get out of being beaten at NHL13 by falling asleep last night, so they play that for a bit, while Ebs does “important, real adult things!” at the table in the kitchen, where he can just see them through the doorway (Ryan thinks Ebby might have been paying bills at the start, but now he’s probably just fucking around on the internet: he keeps choking off laughter.) When Taylor wins a game, he elbows Ryan in the side and leans his head on Ryan’s shoulder in order to chirp directly into his ear. When he’s losing he swears uninventively, but continuously – “fuckyoufuckitfuckfuckfuck” under his breath – and Ryan has to bite back a laugh because it’s more or less exactly what he does in bed when he’s getting close. It’s comfortable on the couch with Taylor, and Ryan has forgotten that it’s not a normal morning after by the time Ebs leans over the back of the couch between him and Hallsy, fingers brushing the back of Ryan’s neck, and offers to drive them all to practice.

--

It’s only a few days later when Ryan finds himself yawning on their couch again. “You tired?” Hallsy asks after the second time, “you wanna-“

“Yeah,” Ryan interrupts, “you’re right, I should probably get going.” They haven’t even been drinking; it’s kind of sad to fall asleep on his friends’ couch just because you’re tired, especially if it’s going to happen nearly every other day. He stretches and stands up. “I’ll see you guys at practice tomorrow.”

“You sure?” Ebs says. He looks more concerned than is really necessary; Ryan’s tired, but not enough that he can’t drive or anything. “You can always stay, if you want? Mi casa, and so on. Our casa? Something like that.”

“Nah, ‘s cool, thanks though,” Ryan says. He’s a little surprised when Ebs stands and pulls him into a quick, one-armed hug, but he hugs back.

Hallsy follows Ryan into the hall and stands there as he puts on his boots, chirping him about going to bed early. There’s a moment where it feels like they’re waiting for something, as Ryan opens the door of the apartment, but he doesn’t know what it could be so he just says goodbye and leaves, Hallsy punching him gently in the shoulder as he goes.

 

--

 

In late March, a stray stick splits Ryan’s lip badly enough for him to need stitches. He’s only out of the game for a few minutes, and it’s not like this kind of thing hasn’t happened a million times before, but it does swell kind of ridiculously and the guys chirp him about it a bit. On their way out of the locker room, Ebs slings an arm around his shoulders and says, “Man, the guys keep telling me you’ve got a fat lip, but I don’t see it, pretty sure that’s just your face. Sorry, Nuge.” He ducks away laughing as Ryan takes a lazy swing at him, but also hands Ryan another icepack and offers to drive so he can keep holding it to his face.

Taylor gets into the backseat behind them without explanations, and, more oddly, without arguing over shotgun. His hand brushes Ryan’s shoulder as he leans into the front seat, and says, “Our place, yeah?”

Ryan knows they had plans to watch a movie and probably fuck after this game, but his face kind of hurts - kissing is going to be zero fun tonight. “I’m pretty beat,” he says, “I’ll see you at practice tomorrow?”

Jordan’s turning out of the parking garage just then so it takes him a moment to respond. “If you’re sure, dude,” he says, finally. They’re mostly pretty quiet on the drive, except when Hallsy leans into the front seat again and gleefully sings along to the radio about the gap between someone’s teeth until Ebs instructs Ryan to punch him so that he doesn’t have to take his hands off the wheel.

Ryan waves off Hallsy’s attempts to get out of the car when they pull up at Ryan’s place. Hallsy looks at him suspiciously for a moment before slipping into the front seat next to Jordan and waving good-bye. Ryan watches them drive off, Taylor leaning in to say something to Jordan. He’s struck with a brief and, as he tells himself, foolish stab of jealousy. He doesn’t even really want to get laid tonight, just to sleep, there’s no reason to be jealous that the two of them are getting some. He’ll see them tomorrow.

 

--

 

Ryan’s stitches are barely noticeable the next day, whatever the guys say during practice, and even the lengthy tape session doesn’t dampen his good mood. He ends up going back to Hallsy, Ebs and Whits’ place to continue their technically ongoing MarioKart tournament and, more importantly, the argument about who’s winning on points.

Given Whits’ complete refusal to talk about it, even when he’s making goofy faces at his phone on the team bus, Ryan has to stop and remember who Whits is talking about when he looks up from his phone and says, “it cool if Jenn joins us for dinner?”

Judging by the expressions on their faces, Hallsy and Ebs are having the same problem.

Ebs recovers first. “Yeah, man, as long as she doesn’t care where… um, I think we were going to Earl’s?”

Hallsy catches Ryan’s eye where Whits can’t see him. Mouth open in a silent, gleeful – though possibly evil - laugh, he looks way more excited about this than he should be. Ryan has to stifle his own laughter.

“Finish this round first?” he says, determinedly looking away from Hallsy, and waving the controller at Whits.

It’s not a very good round. Whits is still preoccupied by his phone, and Hallsy keeps poking Ryan in the side and grinning at him like a madman. Ebs looks like he wants to laugh himself, but is trying not to, and keeps glaring at Hallsy’s complete lack of subtlety.

It’s not until Whits has to get something from his room while they’re all getting ready that the three of them can poke each other and speculate wildly about why the fuck Whits picked this moment to introduce her? They stop the second Whits comes back into the hallway and look at him innocently, but Ryan’s pretty sure he’s not fooled.

After all that, Jenn is understandably less exciting than the speculation, though it’s not like she’s not nice or anything. She obviously knows who they are, but she’s chill, and not only doubles over laughing when they tell their best embarrassing stories about Whits, but has some of her own. They’re pretty hilarious, though possibly not as funny as the goofiness of Whits’ face when he looks at her.

Jenn ducks into the ladies’ right before they leave, and Whits looks so hopeful when he turns to the three of them that Ryan has to laugh, though he punches Whits’ shoulder too and tells him he’s a lucky guy.

Whits and Jenn turn down ice-cream after dinner and head out, Whits stage-whispering apologies for his terrible friends loudly enough for Ryan, Taylor and Jordan to hear. Taylor gives Whits the finger, but he doesn’t see it, curled into Jenn's space, cheek pressed against her hair.

Ryan isn’t jealous all the way to Dairy Queen. He’s just thinking about the way Whits and Jenn looked at each other because he’s happy for his friend. He’d chirped Whits along with the rest of the guys when he’d spent hours on the phone on roadtrips, but Whits would probably have thought he was dying if they hadn’t. Ryan thinks it’s cool that shit’s working out for him, is all.

 

--

 

Ryan honestly doesn’t mean anything by it when he asks Taylor and Jordan what they’re going to be doing about living arrangements next year, now that Whits is pretty definitely moving in with his girl. It’s just post-coital chatting, it’s a bit early in the afternoon to actually fall asleep, though he thinks Jordan might be making moves in that direction on Taylor’s other shoulder. They were talking about golfing in the summer, and making vague plans for Taylor and Jordan to come out to BC for a bit when he goes back to see his parents. The question of next year’s apartment situation seems pretty related, though it’s not like he has his own shit together yet either.

“Mmm, dunno, what about you?” Jordan says sleepily. “You staying in your current place or what?”

“No idea,” Ryan says, “I’ll work something out, I guess.”

“You wanna move in here?” Taylor says abruptly.

Ryan levers himself up on an elbow to look Taylor in the eye. “With you guys? Uh, won’t that be a little awkward?” he says feebly.

“Nah, man,” Jordan says, sitting up himself, “half your shit’s here anyway, it won’t be that different. We like this building and we were kind of talking about maybe sticking around here, so you totally could.”

“It’s a three bedroom, there’s space for sure,” Taylor adds, and now it makes sense. Ryan can be their roommate and give them space whenever, it’ll be fine.

“Sure,” he says, flopping back down onto the pillow, “my lease is coming up and apartment hunting sucks. Why not?”

 

--

 

His lease is supposed to be up in August. Ryan doesn’t completely understand how it therefore makes more sense for him to move his stuff into Hallsy and Ebs’ place in chunks, moving a carload of boxes every time he’s in the city. It is true that he doesn’t have any furniture, or even that much stuff, but he’s pretty sure that this is taking more time than it would otherwise, and it’s not even like Hallsy and Ebs are helping all that much.

They have another week hanging around in Edmonton, playing the last couple of games, but the next time they see each other after that is at Worlds, which is sick. It’s easier than it was last year to get used to the larger rink, and, of course, he doesn’t need to get used to playing with his boys, though the coaches keep changing up the lines so the three of them only play together in some of the games.

They don’t have that much downtime, but they also don’t have that much to do except play so there’s a lot of hanging out with the rest of Team Canada, and some time to explore.

“You wouldn’t shut up about how amazing it was last year when I was injured,” Hallsy says one afternoon, contorting his face to emphasise the tragedy of his shoulder, “fucking prove it, eh?”

They spend the afternoon wandering around downtown Stockholm, but it is weird to realise how little Ryan hung out with Ebs last summer. They keep pointing out different landmarks. Ebs says, “Oh, it’s that club, you remember-” and Ryan feels really awkward when he has to remind Ebs that he doesn’t, because he wasn’t there. There’s other stuff he does recognise though, and Ryan has to admit that it’s really cool to feel this kind of familiar in a European city.

They end up in some café, watching passers-by in the sunshine. They start off talking about their opponents in the next match, but mostly end up laughing over Taylor’s running judgemental commentary on everything around them, particularly when that woman – with, to be fair, a completely ridiculous-looking dog – glares at him and Ebs says, “Oh shit, we’re probably not the only people here who speak English,” like he’d forgotten. Taylor laughs helplessly at that one, head on the table and everything. Jordan kicks him affectionately.

--

Worlds is a bit of a blur after that right up until the gold medal game, and then it’s a blur after that for different reasons. The party is pretty epic though, even if it means that good-byes in the airport are pretty subdued. There are hugs and reminders that Jordan and Taylor said they’d come hang out in BC this summer, but Ryan also spends a lot of time sitting very still with his eyes shut.

Ryan sleeps most of the way home, and he’s blinking sleepily at the baggage claim in the Vancouver airport before it hits him that he’s actually has no idea when he’s going to see Taylor and Jordan next. It’s weird after months of seeing them almost every day, to think that they’re not around, that they won’t show up at his place, and he can’t wander over to theirs. He shakes himself and chalks it up to getting stuck in routine, the typical fate of the hockey player. He’ll see them sometime this summer, he’s being ridiculous.

 

--

 

When Ryan and Ebs end up in Edmonton in May for some publicity thing for the Oilers, Ryan’s pretty much expecting to go back to his old apartment that night. The charity dinner feels like it goes on forever, but it’s actually only eleven or so when it ends. The few guys who are in town for this gig end up going for drinks, and it’s pretty late when Ebs drags Ryan into a cab and takes him home. Ryan starts to protest that he’s still got his place, but Ebs just makes dubious, if slightly blurry, faces at him, and points out how much of Ryan’s stuff they’d already moved into Hallsy and Ebs’ apartment. Ryan doesn’t know if it’s actually that much of his stuff, but Ebs seems pretty certain, and Ryan’s kind of drunk and willing to go with it. He remembers, as they stumble into the hallway, that sheets aren’t actually one of the things he’s moved into the apartment yet so his bed isn’t made, but when he voices that thought, Ebs squints at him and says, “Just sleep with me.”

It’s not like Ebs’ bed is unfamiliar, and they’re both out cold within seconds of lying down.

Ryan wakes up with Ebs curled into his shoulder with one arm very firmly holding Ryan in place. Not that Ryan has any desire to move. Half-awake, he tucks in closer, rubbing a thumb absently against the smooth jut of Jordan’s hipbone. He feels completely relaxed, half-awake and sleepily content. It’s comfortable sleeping with someone else, Ryan thinks dozily, though obviously not because he missed Jordan – Jordan isn’t his to miss. The thought of Taylor jerks Ryan all the way awake. Taylor isn’t here, and Ryan is in bed with Taylor’s boyfriend, and is this going to be okay? Jordan’s got a pretty firm grip around Ryan’s chest though so Ryan can’t really leave, and he can’t help dozing off again while he worries.

Ryan drifts out of a half-dream to the feeling of Jordan nosing softly at his neck and rubbing a thumb back and forth over the edge of his shoulder blade. He automatically pulls Jordan closer and buries his nose in the familiar scent of Jordan’s hair. Jordan hums happily into Ryan’s neck, kissing lightly up the tendons in Ryan’s neck and along his jaw. Ryan tilts his head to meet Jordan’s lips. Their mouths are both a little stale from beer and sleep, but Ryan doesn’t notice after a few seconds. Jordan’s hand on Ryan’s back is stroking more firmly now, long sweeps down his spine that make him shiver and roll into the pressure.

Ryan hooks his ankle around Jordan’s calf, pulling him closer, mouthing at his jaw and biting at his pulse jumping in his neck. Jordan moans, low and sweet, the vibrations curling through Ryan’s body where they’re pressed up against each other. They make out for a long time, trading kisses and bites, stroking their hands across each other’s bodies, hips rolling lazily with just enough friction to send sparks up Ryan’s spine, but no real urgency. It’s funny, almost, when Ryan realises that he hasn’t done this, just focusing everything on one person, in a long time. But the stray thought is swallowed up in the slick pressure of Jordan’s tongue and the sharp nip of Jordan’s teeth on Ryan’s nipple, and the feeling of Jordan’s hand on his dick which tips Ryan’s head back to gasp for air.

--

It’s only after, when Ryan’s lying with his head on Jordan’s shoulder, that he remembers Taylor and feels a brief stab of guilt. But, he reasons, Jordan definitely started things, and Taylor doesn’t mind when he’s there, and they never discussed not doing that, so it’s probably fine.

It’s not like he’s planning to steal Taylor’s boyfriend, it’s just friends, like always. It’s going to be fine. He’s definitely not being swayed at all by the fact that Jordan very definitely seems to be up for round two.

--

They have another day in Edmonton, but nothing much to do. Ryan goes over to his apartment and brings back another trunkful of stuff, but doesn’t do more with it than dump it in his new bedroom. Ebs is doing something on his phone, when Ryan comes back into the living room, he raises his hand absently and says, “Hallsy says ‘hey’, by the way.”

Ryan drops down on the other end of the sectional. “Tell him I say ‘hey’ back.” He leans back against the arm rest, swinging his legs up onto the couch, toes nudging into Ebs’ thigh. Ebs nods, strokes a thumb over Ryan’s ankle bone, and pulls Ryan’s legs over his lap without taking his eyes off his phone.

Ryan presses his calf against Ebs’ thigh in a parody of a hug, which makes Ebs look up. “What? You’re too tall is all,” he says.

Ryan laughs. “It’s okay if you feel inadequate, man, I understand,” he says, and Ebs turns pointedly back to his phone, though Ryan can see the corners of his mouth twisting into a smile.

They hang out for a while, Ryan checks his email, and reads for a bit. Jordan balances a paperback on Ryan’s legs. It’s so battered that Ryan can’t even read the title. He seems to be reading it only in between playing what Ryan thinks might be Words with Friends on his phone anyway.

--

There are more drinks with the guys that night which go sort of late, and Ryan is seriously unimpressed with himself for having booked a morning flight when his alarm goes off the next day. Jordan pulls the covers over his head while Ryan’s getting dressed, though he does wake up when Ryan hovers over him awkwardly, trying to see if he’s awake enough to say good-bye, for just long enough to startle Ryan with a peck on the cheek before rolling over and going back to sleep.

Ryan gets on the plane feeling like he didn’t get to say good-bye properly, which he tells himself is nonsense: there’s nothing else he could be expecting, and it’s not like he hasn’t seen Jordan’s aversion to mornings a million times before. Despite this, when he turns his phone on in the baggage claim in Vancouver and sees Jordan’s text – mornings are the worst, sorry. See you soon – he almost doesn’t mind how long it takes for his suitcase to show up.

 

--

 

When Hallsy and Ebs start reminding Ryan that he promised to show them BC, he isn’t quite sure what they’re expecting. They can totally stay at his place, it’s fine, but he doesn’t know if they want to, and he gets that his apartment isn’t that big or anything. They keep poking around at dates, it’s not like any of them are super busy, but they all have charity and family stuff to do, so it takes some time to find a few days that work for all of them. Ryan’s in a tournament that ends Friday, but that’s only two days’ notice, so he thinks it’ll probably happen in a few weeks because flights and shit take time to organise.

His buzzer goes off Saturday morning. It takes Ryan some time to work out what that noise is, and he seriously contemplates putting the covers over his head and hoping it stops, but he guesses it might be something seriously important.

It’s not, just Taylor whining, “Ryan, let us in,” over the intercom, but buzzing him up seems less annoying than leaving him there to lean on the bell some more. It’s only when Taylor and Jordan are actually standing on Ryan’s doorstep that it strikes him as weird that they’re there at all.

“Aren’t you supposed to be in another province?” he says sleepily.

Taylor flaps a hand at him. “Old news, keep up. Is there food? I need food.” He drops his bag and vanishes into the kitchen.

Jordan looks abashed. “Did he really not call you?” he says. “Seriously, he said he would call you.”

Ryan yawns. “It’s fine, good to see you guys.”

Taylor shouts from the kitchen that he’s going to eat all of Ryan’s left-over take-out. “You’d better go if you want in on that,” Ryan tells Jordan, and follows him into the kitchen to rest his head against the cool tile of the kitchen island and hope that things make more sense when he’s actually awake.

They don’t, not really, but it’s okay. Ryan has to laugh when Jordan starts apologizing again for not giving him any notice that they were coming. “Yeah, this is super inconvenient, you guys are giving me a ton of trouble,” he drawls, tipping his sunglasses down his nose to raise an eyebrow at Jordan, sacked out in a deckchair, feet up on the railing of Ryan’s balcony.

“What’s trouble?” Taylor says, coming up behind them and handing Ryan a beer.

“You, obviously,” Jordan chirps, scrunching up his nose to laugh.

Taylor perches on the arm of Ryan’s chair. “Just for that, no beer for you,” he says, clutching the two remaining bottles to his chest, “maybe I’ll give it to Ryan, he appreciates me.”

“I’ll take the beer anyway,” Ryan laughs, winding an arm around Taylor’s waist to balance him.

“Fine. I’ll just be over here, dying of thirst,” Ebs sighs, turning pleading eyes on the two of them. Taylor takes slow, smug sips from his bottle, eyes locked on Jordan’s, though he can’t keep a straight face for long enough and chokes on his beer when he laughs.

Ryan thumps him on the back as he coughs. While the two of them are distracted, Jordan leans in to grab at Taylor’s beer, which backfires spectacularly.

There’s the funny moment where the bottle spins wildly, spraying Taylor and Jordan with beer, but it’s unfortunately followed by the really inconvenient moment where it smashes on the concrete. Taylor and Jordan, as they turn to Ryan sheepishly, look like soaked puppies, guilt vying with amusement.

“Shit, sorry,” Jordan says, biting his lip.

Ryan shrugs. “It’s just a beer, and I think it mostly hit you guys.”

Ryan’s pretty sure his mom would be unimpressed by how long it takes the three of them to find the dustpan, but the beer does eventually get cleaned up, even if there is a long digression in the middle when Taylor and Jordan remove their beer-soaked shirts, and things get a little distracted.

 

--

 

It’s a good couple of days of hanging out, golfing, going to the beach. When they leave, Ryan finds he’d gotten used to sharing a bed again, wakes up a couple of mornings from the sheer shock of rolling over in bed and having space to do so, though the feeling lasts no longer than the visit did.

Ryan texts with Hallsy and Ebs quite a lot, random things about what they’re doing, gossip about teammates, but he only remembers the charity golf game in Ontario when Ebs texts him a terrible picture of him and Hallsy standing on the course, blinking in the sunlight. It looks like someone else took the photo, though they’re posing for it, Ebs leaning on a golf club and Hallsy with an arm around his shoulders, both of them grinning into the sun, despite what Ryan’s pretty sure is the beginning of a sunburn on Ebs’ nose. Ryan finds himself grinning back at them.

His phone vibrates again before he can finish typing a reply to Ebs, and Ryan cracks up when he sees that Hallsy has just Instagrammed the same picture and captioned it much better! :).

Ryan sends Sweet lens flare, man back to Hallsy, and Looks like fun, how’s the green? to Ebs. Neither reply, but he figures they’re still playing.

They text him a few more times throughout the game: another Instagrammed pic of Ebs taking a putt, one of Hallsy in the rough looking for a ball in a bush and giving Ebs the finger, a shot of the green, and final texts that come almost simultaneously: Ebs’ has the score of the game, and Hallsy’s just says if he tells u it wasnt luck hes lying.

With every text, Ryan finds himself becoming increasingly cranky and dissatisfied with his plans for the day: videogames and maybe making dinner later. He tells himself that he’s being stupid, if he’s bored by himself and wants to go hang out with people, he should make it fucking happen and sends some texts to whoever’s in town asking if people want to hang.

--

Partway through dinner with Adam and Joey, Ryan’s phone buzzes again. Hallsy this time, a photo of a hotel room with one king and a gorgeous view out the window. The text says pretty sweet set up eh? you doing anything this evening? ;) because Hallsy is as bad as always at emoticons.

At dinner with the bro and some guys Ryan replies, Tell me about the tournament tomorrow? He puts his phone away quickly, but Adam is watching him with raised eyebrows anyway.

“Something important?” he says, smirking.

“Nah,” Ryan says, “some of the guys from the team.” Adam looks suspicious, but lets it drop for the moment, and dinner passes in catching up and discussion of the golf foursome they have planned for the weekend with one of Joey’s buddies from uni. Ryan doesn’t think at all about Hallsy and Ebs and what they might be doing in that hotel room.

 

--

 

They don’t talk about it when Hallsy calls him the next day to chat about the tournament, though Ryan does get an invite to the cottage one of Hallsy’s friends is lending him for a week or so at the end of July.

Hallsy maybe goes a little nuts on inviting people. When Ryan makes it up there, it’s overflowing with guys Ryan vaguely remembers as having been on Hallsy’s team in Juniors. He knows Henny from the NHL Awards last summer, though mostly only through Calder press stuff, and he’s played against some of the others as well.

Taylor comes out of nowhere as Ryan walks into the cottage, slapping him on the back and handing him a beer simultaneously. “Good to see you, man!” he says cheerfully. “Sucks you couldn’t get here earlier, you missed Ebby by like two days.”

It feels like it’s been ages since Ryan’s seen him, he’s a lot more tanned than Ryan remembers, and he’s overcome by the urge to hug him, but holds himself back, telling himself that it’s more because Hallsy’s dripping slightly – he clearly just got out of the lake - than because it’s awkward with all of Hallsy’s boys watching.

There isn’t really a plan for the weekend, just guys hanging out. Ryan swims a lot, and lies around in the sun by the lake. There isn’t much of a beach, but the dock’s pretty big and there are a ton of ancient Adirondack chairs to lie around in. Everyone keeps making noises about going fishing, but they never get around to it, though someone unearths a canoe from under the house and it’s pretty popular, both for messing around on the lake, and because tipping over the guys in it from underneath is hilarious every time.

There aren’t enough beds, and someone else called dibs long before Ryan got there. He spends Friday night in a sleeping bag on the floor downstairs. Something feels familiar about it, which is weird for a place Ryan’s never been before. He realises as he’s dropping off to sleep that he can hear Taylor breathing on the fold-out couch.

--

They make a fire Saturday night. It’s kind of a failure at first, but eventually the wood catches and the ten of them sit around it, joking around and watching the wood pop and spit. Ryan goes inside to get another beer and bumps into Taylor in the dark. They stand there for a moment, Taylor’s hand around Ryan’s wrist. Ryan can feel where his pulse is jumping against Taylor’s fingers.

“Oh! I was- marshmallows?” Taylor says, waving a plastic bag that Ryan can’t really make out in the dim light from inside the house.

“Sounds great, I’m just going to get another beer,” Ryan says, adding automatically, “You want anything?” before remembering that Taylor just came from the cabin.

“Nah, thanks,” Taylor says. He drops Ryan’s hand, and turns back to the fire. The warmth of his hand lingers on Ryan’s arm and Ryan stands there for a moment before he can drag his mind back to the beer he stood up to get.

--

Ryan’s a bit surprised when everyone clears out early Monday morning, packing into a couple of cars to drive back to Toronto, but Taylor says it’s cool if Ryan stays, he’s borrowing the cottage until Wednesday anyway, and what else does Ryan have to do in Ontario?

They swim together, lazily floating in the sun, and when Taylor paddles in behind Ryan to try to dunk him again, Ryan can lean back against the flat planes of his chest the way he’s been wanting to all weekend. He thinks Taylor’s bulked up again this summer as he trails a wet hand over the muscles in Taylor’s arm, tilting his head back for a kiss. Taylor obliges, though the kiss is over quickly, when they start to sink, too distracted to keep treading water. Ryan makes for the shore, stumbling slightly as his feet touch mud and slip. Taylor puts a steadying hand on Ryan’s arm and draws him in for another kiss, biting at his lower lip. Ryan licks at the place when Taylor releases him. Taylor’s eyes focus in on the motion, pupils wide, and he reaches for Ryan again, but Ryan twists away and walks up onto the grass, shaking the water from his hair.

He extends a hand to Taylor, who takes it, smiling wolfishly, and tries to topple him to the ground. Ryan hipchecks him, Taylor shoves him back and they do fall this time, onto the towels on the ground, kissing feverishly. Taylor pulls Ryan to straddle him, broad hands cupping Ryan’s ass and running along the backs of his thighs. Ryan groans and jerks his hips into Taylor’s. He bites at Taylor’s collarbone, worrying at the juncture of his shoulder and neck as Taylor squirms beneath him, every motion sending frissons to Ryan’s cock.

Taylor rakes his blunt nails against Ryan’s back and gasps, “fuck, man, just let me- here-” before rolling Ryan to the side and shoving a hand in his trunks to stroke Ryan’s cock. Ryan scrabbles awkwardly at Taylor’s own waistband for a second before returning the favour. Despite how damp they both are, Taylor seems to be radiating heat. Ryan can feel it all along his side, and shudders into the warmth of Taylor’s fist, hips moving jerkily to Taylor’s rapid pace. The rhythm of Ryan’s hand on Taylor’s dick stutters as Taylor kisses him.

Ryan can hardly breathe, kissing Taylor like he never wants to stop, he feels dizzy with lack of air and the feeling of Taylor lying against him, the warm smooth length of his cock in Ryan’s hand. Taylor’s hips are moving now, stuttering in frantic counterpoint to Ryan’s hand. He tilts his head back to groan and Ryan gasps for air before nipping sharply at Taylor’s exposed throat.

Taylor’s swearing now, getting close; Ryan can feel it rumbling against his lips more than he can hear it. Ryan feels surrounded, the smell of Taylor sun-warm and damp, Taylor’s warmth against his chest and the sun on his back. He can’t help twitching his hips closer to Taylor’s as Taylor’s hand on him slows and stops as Taylor comes, pulsing hotly over Ryan’s fist.

Taylor takes a few deep breaths to come back to himself; Ryan takes advantage of the moment to wipe his own hand on the towel beside him. He clutches at it involuntarily, old terrycloth rough against his fingers, when Taylor starts to move his hand again. They kiss hungrily, Taylor’s tongue flickering against Ryan’s, his teeth sharp against Ryan’s lower lip. Ryan moans into Taylor’s mouth, still gripping the towel as he tenses, spine arching, sensation flashing like electricity along all of his nerves. He thinks he makes more noise than he means to when he comes, and hopes that none of the neighbours are out on the lake right now.

 

--

 

Ryan goes back to BC to a busy August. He’s seriously training for the season now, and the first few days are exhausting. The only consolation is being able to lord it over Taylor who starts a couple of days later, when Ryan’s getting his breath back, and feels just as out of it. He does other stuff too, there’s golf, and the horse races, and he makes it up north to fish a couple of times, but it’s a good feeling, the summer running down, every day closer to starting again, seeing the team, being properly back on the ice to actually play.

Training camp starts in a week and Ryan happens to be the first of them to get back into town. Hallsy has some family thing in Ontario to go to so he’s a couple of days out, and Ebs is away at another charity golf game. It’s kind of weird being alone in an apartment that Ryan still sort of thinks of as theirs, but after a couple of days of hanging out and unpacking the last of his boxes – not that he has that much stuff, they were just kind of busy in the summer and unpacking is boring so he can only manage about five minutes of it at a time – he really doesn’t expect Hallsy to appear out of nowhere and hug him incredibly tightly while he’s eating breakfast.

“Dude, why didn’t you tell me your flight was in, I’d have picked you up,” Ryan says, when he gets his breath back.

“My plane in Toronto got bumped up a couple of hours, I wasn’t sure you’d be up,” Taylor says, slumping down on the seat beside Ryan, “you can help me carry all my crap in from the hall though, if you want.”

There turns out to be a lot of crap in the hall. Ryan has no idea how it’s this heavy - he’s seen Hallsy’s wardrobe and it’s got like six things. It’s nice to have someone around again though. They get take-out for dinner and eat it on the couch watching baseball. Hallsy is very excited about the Jays and their chances and some roster shifts Ryan really hasn’t been following, but Ryan’s wandering hands are enough to distract him from it eventually.

--

Ebs arrives a few days later, driving up from Calgary. Ryan is surprised to realise that the three of them haven’t been together since that last golf game in early August. It’s not any different though, the three of them fit together as easily as ever. Ryan was a little worried it would be awkward to try and fit into Whits’ place, but he isn’t, not really. It’s like home almost instantly, which is weird when he was only just getting used to his place in Vancouver by the end of the summer.

Training camp is as tiring as it always is. It’s great being back on the ice, seeing the guys again, but it’s also exhausting. Ryan thought he worked pretty hard before, but it’s not the same. The three of them barely speak for two days, they drag themselves home after practice, nap, eat dinner squashed together on the couch barely focusing on the tv and stumble, way too early, into Ebs’ bed, to pass out together.

--

By the first pre-season game though, Ryan thinks they’re getting back in the groove of the season. The work doesn’t seem as continuous as it did; he has actual time and brain space to think about things other than drills. Not a lot of brain space, just enough that he finds he can actually follow the baseball game on tv, and the sight of his own open door as the three of them troop half-asleep into Ebs’ room, reminds him that he hasn’t actually slept in his own bed in days. He stops abruptly in the hall, but that makes Hallsy bump into him and by the time Hallsy’s chirped him for it and crowded him handsily into Ebs’ room, Ryan doesn’t really know how to broach the subject, or sure that he wants to. He doesn’t want to sleep alone or anything, he just hadn’t quite thought that he’d be sleeping with Taylor and Jordan every night once he moved in. But it’s so comfortable here, even squashed in between them with Taylor’s leg pinning his hips to the bed and Jordan’s arm stretched over his chest so he can rest a hand on Taylor’s shoulder, and Ryan has never been one for insomnia.

--

A few days later, Ryan’s on the phone with his mom, just catching up. She’s complaining about the deer in the backyard who’ve eaten all her tomatoes when Hallsy pokes his head around Ryan’s door. Ryan waves, but Hallsy shakes his head and mouths never mind so Ryan goes back to his conversation. They end up talking for a really long time, she has to tell him about the latest thing that asshole at work did, and the funny thing that happened at the grocery store, which reminds Ryan of something Jonesy said at practice, and they go on like that for a while.

Ryan doesn’t look at the clock until his mom hangs up, but it turns out to be a lot later than he thought it was and – he finds himself yawning – he should really go to bed if he wants to be up for camp in the morning. Ryan strips quickly, and falls asleep almost at once.

It feels like no time has passed when Ryan’s alarm goes off, and he’s still yawning when he shuffles into the kitchen. He barely looks up as he pours himself a bowl of cereal, and is startled, when he turns around, to see Hallsy and Ebs staring at him.

“You want some?” Ryan shakes the box at them, like maybe they’ve forgotten how food works or something.

“…no, I’m good,” Ebs says slowly.

Hallsy elbows him in the side. He looks worried in a way that Ryan doesn’t really expect from him. “Is something wrong?”

“Nope,” Ryan says, “what’s up?” He’s not really sure he’s awake enough for this conversation; he’s definitely missing something. He yawns and scrubs a hand across his face. “Do I look mad or something? I’m just tired, passed out too late last night, talking to my mom, you know.”

The two of them look visibly relieved in a way that Ryan can’t really parse, but they insist that nothing’s wrong when he sits down, and go back to the discussion they were having last night about possible line combinations for the split squad game next week. Ryan’s sort of grateful that he can sit there with his cereal and let their familiar voices wash over him until he wakes up. He tamps down the sliver of guilt that whispers that he should push more, something’s probably wrong, and he could do something about it.

It’s otherwise a pretty normal day though. Ryan’s jazzed for the first preseason game tonight. He thinks the guys are feeling the same, there’s a lot more goofing around in the room, even if a lot of the prospects and rookies – Ryan’s kind of weirded out by how young they look to him – still look wide-eyed and uncomfortable with the chirping going on around them.

He’s drying his hair when an arm falls across his shoulders and Whits says, “So, how’s living in my old place? Your boys driving you crazy yet?”

It takes a moment for Ryan to get the towel off his head with Whits’ arm pinning it down, and he’s pretty sure his ears are red by the time he manages it. “It’s good?” he says. “I dunno, you know what it’s like. Plus, we’ve been busy-”

“Busy?” Whits interrupts, and he’s grinning even more smugly than before, which Ryan would not have thought possible.

“Yeah?” Ryan says. “You know, training camp? Where we spend all our time working our asses off? Remember that?”

Whits hums disbelief and smirks at him, but lets Ryan off with only a little hair-ruffling, and goes off to bother someone else. And, well, Ryan isn’t actually oblivious, he knows what Whits is implying. It’s just that Whits is wrong. It’s not like that. Well, it’s sort of like that, but not in the way Whits means. And Ryan is fine with it, he really is. He knew what was up going into this thing, it would be silly to complain now.

 

--

 

It’s not because of his conversation with Whits that Ryan goes out for drinks the night after with a bunch of the guys, it’s just that it does nag at him a little bit when he finds himself watching Whits and Jenn goofing around on the tiny dance floor. They’re not good dancers, but it’s dark in the pub and the cover band isn’t that good either, so they fit right in. Ryan’s zoning out a little, watching Whits shake it and Jenn laugh helplessly until she has to brace herself on his shoulder to stand upright, so Schultzy is well into his spiel on the hotness of those two girls at a different table and how Ryan should totally do him a solid and wingman him here before Ryan actually starts paying attention.

Schultzy’s right and all, the girls are pretty hot, but it’s kind of hitting Ryan that it’s been a while since he’s done this. He kind of wonders if maybe he should try though, so he’s nodding along, when Taylor comes back to the table with a beer, and drapes himself heavily over Ryan’s shoulder.

“Ebby’s telling terrible things to the rook-ies,” Taylor sing-songs in Ryan’s ear, “Ryaaaan, come confirm that it’s all lies.”

Schultzy trails off, raising his eyebrows at Ryan. Ryan shrugs. “Sorry,” Taylor says insincerely, “but terrible injustice is happening over there. You understand.”

Schultzy shrugs. “It’s cool, I’ll make Linus do it.” He turns away to poke at Linus, and then Taylor is ushering Ryan over to the other table with the arm around his shoulders.

Taylor pushes Ryan into a seat next to a rookie whose name escapes Ryan and shoves in beside him even though there isn’t really room in the booth and he has to keep his arm around Ryan’s shoulders for balance. “Ryan will now prove your lies wrong,” Taylor says seriously into Ebs’ laughing face. The rookies look uncomfortable.

--

None of them are that drunk that night, but Taylor’s definitely skirting the edges of it, leaning into Ryan’s space all night, head on Ryan’s shoulder as he laughs at the story the rookie – Josh, his name turns out to be – is telling them about some failed prank in midget hockey. “So we’re stuck in the bags,” he says, laughing, “and then someone’s kid brother sees all these moving bags and freaks the fuck out, so all the parents come running, and it was awful.” He winces. “My mom still shows people the video of that.”

Overall, the rookies seem okay. Ryan is pretty pumped about this year and their team and everything, though when he tries to tell this to Taylor, it comes out kind of weird, and Ryan might be tipsier than he thinks. He leans back in the booth, Taylor warm and heavy against his side. Jordan is looking at Taylor fondly from across the table, and Ryan has a brief pang of jealousy before Jordan is tossing some cash on the table and telling the rookies that he’d better take his roomies home before they embarrass themselves any more.

Jordan follows the two of them outside, laughing pretty openly at the way they’re leaning on each other just a bit, but whatever. It’s only when they get to his truck that Taylor narrows his eyes at Jordan and says suspiciously, “You’re barely drunk at all, aren’t you?”

“Someone has to watch your backs,” Jordan says, shoving them gently into the backseat.

They do manage to get their seatbelts done up because they’re really not that drunk, but Taylor’s leaning into Ryan again as Jordan pulls out of the parking space. This time he kisses him, long and slow. Ryan’s happy to lose himself in the feeling of Taylor’s tongue, the softness of his lips. They only break apart when Jordan says, sounding strangled, “Jesus, you fuckers couldn’t wait until we got home?”

Taylor only laughs, nosing against Ryan’s neck, licking a warm stripe against his pulse. Ryan can’t stop the helpless noise he makes in the back of his throat. Jordan mutters, “hate you both” from the front seat, and Ryan sort of feels bad, would stop except that he has his hands in Taylor’s jacket now, skimming under the hem of his shirt, Taylor warm and solid under his hands. Taylor twitches away from his cold fingertips, swearing at Ryan; Ryan grins, and smooths his hand along Taylor’s ribs, kisses him again.

Jordan’s muttering death threats from the driver’s seat, and Ryan would really prefer not to die in a car crash, so he tries to be quiet all the way home. He’s not sure it works all that well, Taylor seems to be taking a particular delight in running his fingers through Ryan’s hair until he leans into the touch, licking his way into Ryan’s mouth and kissing him until he has to break away and gasp for breath.

Taylor and Ryan pull apart as Jordan pulls too sharply into the garage at their building, slams on the brakes in his space. He grumbles, “I hate you both,” but when he leans into the back seat, gear shift jabbing him in the side, seatbelt still twisted around him, to fist a hand in Ryan’s shirt and kiss him, Ryan can’t help but be pleased that he didn’t go talk to those girls with Schultzy. That he’s here, for this.

 

--

 

After the excitement of the home opener, the first month of the season settles in comfortably, despite the usual locker room changes: summer trades coming in, rookies going up and down. Ryan thinks he’s getting used to having roommates again. It’s a little weird at first that they’re always around, but it is actually kind of nice to have people to share grocery shopping with, and who will take turns cooking, or at least picking up the takeout. Getting laid all the time doesn’t hurt either.

When Ryan gets back from dinner at Jonesy’s, he’s mostly thinking about the rookies Jonesy’s hosting again this year. He knows they’re only a year or two younger than he is and yet they look so worried about almost everything. Jamie had confided in him, while the rookies were in the kitchen doing the dishes, that she just wants to pinch their cheeks because they’re such babies. “Of course,” she’d added, scrunching up her nose with laughter, “that’s pretty much still true for you too,” and then actually pinched him while Jonesy laughed and threatened to call the rookies in to watch.

Ryan goes to tell Taylor and Jordan that Jamie sent him home with leftovers, if they want them. He’s all the way into the living room before the noises he can faintly hear actually register. He freezes when Jordan groans, “fuck, Taylor…,” his voice catching, because he is intimately familiar with that voice and – shit – he didn’t mean to interrupt.

Ryan isn’t sure how long it takes him to move. His mind whirrs over the fact that he knew this kind of thing was going to happen when he moved in with them, and he thought he was okay with it, and he is going to be okay with it because he has to be. They can do what they like.

Either way, it takes too long. Taylor pulls himself to his feet from where he was hidden by the couch and spots Ryan. “Heyyyy, Ryan,” he says, voice rough and self-satisfied in the back of his throat the way it always is after he gives a blowjob, “when’d you get in?”

Ryan gapes for a moment. “Shit, sorry!” he says, “I was just- I mean- I’ll go.” He waves a hand desperately at his bedroom, which seems too goddamn far down the hall right this second. And then Jordan’s head is popping up over the edge of the couch, and it’s all way, way more awkward than Ryan can deal with.

He doesn’t actually run away, but he is halfway down the hall by the time Jordan says, “Ryan? Wha-?”

Sitting alone in his room just seems like the least awkward option. Whatever, right? Everyone has stories about walking in on their roommates. Ryan has stories himself from Junior. He doesn’t know why he’s so worried, it’s not like they’re actually going to be mad. He’s going to hang out here for a bit, and it’ll be funny later. It’s his own fault really, he knew he should have moved on, but he didn’t.

There’s a sound in the hall, and Taylor barges into Ryan’s room, Jordan right behind Taylor with a hand on his arm. “-maybe we shouldn’t…” Jordan trails off. “Hey, Ryan?”

“Sorry?” Ryan tries.

Taylor’s forehead furrows. “Is something wrong?” he says, leaning against the doorway, “um, you booked it pretty fast? You okay?” Jordan winds his arm around Taylor’s waist, and Ryan has to grit his teeth against the twisting feeling in his gut that he has absolutely no right to.

He forces himself to smile. “Sorry I came home early, and, uh, you know…”

“Dude, what?” Taylor says.

Ebs pokes him in the side. “Look, Ryan, do you need more space or something? Because we can do that, probably? I mean, moving in together is…” He looks awkward, and Ryan feels so fucking stupid, for thinking that moving in with a couple would work, for letting himself forget over the summer.

He steels himself. It’s his own damn fault, he’ll have to live with it. “I just, um, thought, you know, you guys, time alone…? It’s cool, honestly, I understand, don’t worry about it…” Ryan trails off, Taylor and Jordan are both looking at him like he’s nuts. “Uh, you know, ‘cause you’re dating? So if you need space, it’s fine.”

“But we’re dating you. And each other, but also you.” Taylor looks at Jordan. “That makes sense, right? It made sense in my head.”

Ryan freezes. “Are we?” he blurts out, and is instantly sorry.

“Are we what?”

“Dating. I mean, you guys, for sure, but um, I thought we were a casual thing?”

“…I was dating you.” Taylor says, biting his lip, “Jordan?”

Jordan looks hesitant. “I wasn’t sure for a while? But you moved in, so…” He’s trying to smile, but his forehead is still furrowed and it looks a little forced.

“Well, no one told me.” Ryan knows he sounds petulant, can’t help it.

“But you started things?” Taylor says, “You told us.”

“The first time? I thought you two were dating, okay?” Ryan spits.

“Ooh, Nuge hittin’ on a couple,” Taylor drawls, sounding impressed. Which is both infuriating – because that’s really not the point here – and so exactly like Taylor that Ryan can feel laughter bubbling up behind his teeth. He puts his face in his hands to cover his smile and muffle the sound, though his shoulders are shaking.

The bed bounces as someone sits down beside him, puts a tentative hand on his shoulder. “Ryan?” Jordan says nervously, “sorry? I, um, you know Taylor and I, we weren’t, right?”

Ryan sighs, rubs the heels of his hands into his eyes. “Okay, you weren’t, but then you were, and I thought I could do this, but maybe it’s not a good idea,” he mutters.

When he looks up, Taylor’s standing over him too. “Shit,” he says, eyes wide, “are you breaking up with us?”

“Is there something to break up?” Ryan hears himself say, and wants to kick himself, wishes he could take it back, the tone of his voice far too hopeful, too desperate, too much like he cares.

“Of course!” Taylor says emphatically. He stops, hands in the air. “Wait, not that we should or anything. But, you know what I mean…? Like, we could, if we wanted to? It would be a thing?” Jordan starts to laugh, and Taylor swipes at him absently. “Back me up here, you non.”

The corners of Jordan’s mouth are still twitching, but Ryan can’t tear his eyes away from Jordan’s solemn gaze. “I mean, Taylor’s terrible at this, but yeah?” Jordan says slowly, “only, like, we thought you wanted this? You asked us first, and you moved in? Um, so, do you? Because if we’ve been doing what you didn’t want, we could stop?”

Taylor sits down on Ryan’s other side, leaving a careful gap between them, and it feels horribly wrong that Taylor should suddenly stop touching him, not get in his space – anyone’s space – on the slightest provocation. Taylor’s focused on Jordan too, looks like he might interrupt him, but Jordan goes on, faster now, like these words are less painful to say. “But if you do. We could keep going? Because this is what I want, what I’m pretty sure Taylor wants?” – Jordan glances over to where Taylor’s nodding along anxiously, though he doesn’t stop speaking – “So if you want it, we could have it. Only we’d all know, so it would be better?”

Ryan’s mouth feels dry, and he has to lick his lips before he can croak out, “yes? Yes. We should do that.”

Jordan’s groan of “oh, thank fuck” is gratifying. They all fall silent; Ryan can hear the three of them breathing in tandem.

Relief is thick in Ryan’s throat. He just doesn’t know what to do with it. He sneaks glances at his…boyfriends? He guesses? Something else they maybe should have talked about, though he feels exhausted, like he’s used up all of his ability to have serious conversations for the next little while. He thinks Jordan might be doing the same thing, but he can’t catch him at it.

He starts when Taylor slumps heavily against his side. “Sooo…” Taylor sing-songs, “you wanna make out?” And it’s falling backwards on the bed to laugh hysterically while Jordan leans across him to try to put Taylor in a headlock, and the curl of sheer pleasure in his gut as he watches the two of them kiss, Taylor’s hand tight on Ryan’s wrist, keeping him there, that makes Ryan think maybe things don’t have to change, and he can do this after all.