Shea is not calling him. He's not calling him because Ryan deserves as much space as he can get to make this decision, and that's that.
It's not like Sutes doesn't know how Shea feels about playing with him. He'd even told him again the last time he saw him, in Nashville the night after locker clean out, their dogs running around Shea's backyard together and Ryan and Shea sitting on the deck watching them, beers in hand and feet kicked up on the little coffee table that came with the patio furniture set when he bought it at Home Depot.
So instead of calling, Shea hits the weights hard even though it's pretty early yet in his summer training schedule, focuses on keeping his form perfect during his reps. He takes Dug out for a run every couple of hours, until the jingle of the leash just makes Dug lift his head up tiredly for a few seconds before setting it back down on his paws. He orders pizza and finds a marathon of Breaking Bad to keep on in the background as he organizes and reorganizes all the random crap he brought with him to Kelowna from Nashville. He grabs all of his unread back issues of The Hockey News from their rack in the bathroom, flops on the couch in the living room with Dug curled up against his legs and reads through the whole shebang in one sitting, the last third of the season or so condensed down to a few hours of scattered facts and opinions that don't quite make a coherent picture. He skips all the articles about the Preds, and all of the ones about the Devils, too, just in case. Shea is not a fan of how quick Parise is to talk about Sutes, even if he does have the good taste to recognize how great he is. The next day, he does it all again, only with Family Guy and Sports Illustrated.
On the third day of this, just as Shea is trying to convince Dug that he wants to go on one more run down by the lake, his brother calls him up late in the afternoon and harasses him until he agrees to go to fishing with him and his dad and Cody the next day. He's not really in the mood to see anyone, but he goes anyway, because, well. Family. He leaves his phone at home.
The four of them take his dad's boat out early in the morning, and they stay on the water all day, sometimes fishing and sometimes just pretending to fish. Shea takes a nap after they eat the sandwiches they brought for lunch, just stretches out in the sun on one of the seats, pulls his hat over his eyes, and lets the sound of the water lapping at the sides of the boat lull him to sleep. They catch enough for a good dinner, and afterwards Shea and Brandon and Cody head back to Kelowna from Sicamous. They spend most of the drive singing along to classic rock on the radio.
It's not until Shea gets home and sees his phone sitting on the coffee table that he remembers.
His stomach drops as he picks up the phone and the screen lights up to inform him that he has three voicemails. The call list shows one from Ryan, one from Poile, and one from Kevin, one of his agents. The sinking feeling gets worse.
He has a brief, mad moment of considering going to bed without listening to them—of suddenly wanting to never listen to them—but his fingers dial the voicemail system without much input from the rest of him, and he holds the phone up to his ear shakily.
"Shea," Ryan's voice says, and that's already wrong, Sutes almost never calls him Shea, and he sounds exhausted, like all the emotions have bled out of him and left only the tiredness, the tiredness and this odd edge of excitement, the sound of too much coffee and lack of sleep and some complicated emotion that's maybe disbelief.
"Shea, I signed with Minny. Thirteen years, ninety-eight mil." Shea's brain goes all staticky and he misses the rest of the message, has to shake himself out of it when his phone prompts him to either save or delete. After a second he just ends the call without doing either.
At some point he must have dropped down onto the couch, because he finds himself sprawled in a corner of it with Dug's head resting heavily on his knee. He spends about twenty minutes absently rubbing Dug's ears before dialing his voicemail again.
He gets through the whole message this time, the explanation and the "I'll miss playing with you" and the "call me when you get this, okay?" and the unspoken but obvious apology in his voice through all of it. And the thing is, Shea knows Ryan, knows him so well, and he knows the reason he didn't lead off with "I'm sorry" is that he's not. Or, well, he is, but he's more happy than he is sorry, wired with the promise of the future and the reality of a really good deal—an amazing deal, the kind of deal he absolutely deserves—and Shea can hear all of that and more in what he's not saying.
He listens to the other two messages with half attention, just the usual "let's talk soon" sort of thing; he can deal with all that tomorrow. He has a lot of thinking to do, but it can wait.
He calls Sutes.
Sutes picks up immediately, but there's a second or two before either of them says a word. Shea hears Ryan take a deep breath, and then another.
"Congrats on the contract," Shea says in a rush. "That's awesome, and you deserve it."
"Thanks, Webs." Shea can hear the smile in Ryan's voice, the relief. Ryan hesitates, then says, "We had six good years."
"Yeah, we did."
"Six really good years."
Sutes doesn't say "I wish things could be different," and he doesn't say "I wish you were coming with me," and Shea is glad. He's glad because they've never lied to each other, and maybe it means something that they're not going to start now. Sins of omission aren't the same thing—sometimes you need those just to live with yourself—but the words that actually get said, those need to be true.
So when Shea says "I'll miss you" and "getting to play with you was the best thing that ever happened to me," and Sutes says "yeah, me too," well, Shea's okay with the unspoken "yet" that goes with that sentence, because at least he knows they both really mean it for right now. At least there's that.
"So what do you think you're going to do?" Sutes asks him.
Shea laughs, short and humorless. "I have no idea. Ask me again at the end of the summer."
They both know he's going to have to decide a lot sooner than that, but Ryan just says, "Right," and starts talking about the trip up to Lake Superior he's planning for later in the month.
After they hang up, Shea slumps back on the couch and goes back to petting Dug's ears. He wakes up in the early morning when Dug jumps off the couch and starts licking his hand, asking to go out. Shea stumbles up and lets him into the backyard, then heads to the kitchen for some water while trying to work out the kinks in his neck, back, and shoulders from sleeping on the couch.
He lets Dug back in. They stare at each other for a few seconds before Shea says, "I'm going back to bed. You coming?" and turns and heads down the hallway. He stops by the bathroom to piss, and when he steps into his bedroom, Dug's already curled up on his dog bed in the corner of the room.
Shea leans over to pet him for a minute, tells him he's a good boy, because he is, and Shea should tell him that more. Then Shea crawls into bed and sleeps for another six hours straight.
The next day, the talking starts. So. Much. Talking. So many promises, so many assurances, so much projection and belief and goddamn hope, but the problem is. The problem is that it all hinges on the one question Shea can't really answer, not even for himself.
What the fuck does he want? What the fuck does he want that he can actually get?
So he lets Kevin and Jarrett do their thing, because if he can't have what he wants, he might as well at least have what everybody wants, right?
Maybe there's some part of him that's secretly relieved when the Preds match, though. Maybe.
Shea spends the rest of the summer in Kelowna, training daily, hanging out with Dug, and playing a lot of golf with whoever's around. He talks to Trotz a couple of times; it's pretty clear Josi's the right choice to try as his new d-partner, so Shea touches base with the kid. Shea's not sure if Josi's really that calm or just playing it cool, but either way, it bodes well for their play together.
When the CBA implosion happens, Shea throws himself into the NHLPA side; it sucks to lose games to the lockout, but there's some tiny, bitter part of him that's glad to have a distraction.
The informal practices he and some of the other guys organize go pretty well. It's nice to be back on the ice with his team, or at least part of his team. As the lockout drags on, they add some other activities, too—the usual community events like visiting youth practices and children's hospitals and such, but also just your basic team bonding. They even covertly play tourist a couple of times, and maybe Nashville's nothing like Sicamous or Kelowna, but there's still a certain comfort in being there.
The weirdest thing about the lockout is the sheer amount of communication it seems to require. For something that's stuck because the League keeps withholding real intent to negotiate, there's an awful lot of talk involved. The PA leadership sends something to all the players just about daily, and there's often follow-up phone calls and sporadic flights to various meetings all over the place. They've been encouraged to talk to each other, too, so it's not just a top-down or center-out sort of thing. Shea's probably been on the phone with more players from more teams in the last couple of months than in his entire career to date before this. It's actually kind of cool.
When all the November games get the axe, Shea goes through and crosses them all out on the calendar in his kitchen, all the way up to the Preds hosting the Rangers on the 29th. He doesn't have to flip to December to know what the next game is after that, but he does anyway. "Home vs Wild, 7 pm" is what he has scrawled in the box for the first of the month. The likelihood of that actually happening, well. Shea isn't holding his breath.
He sees Ryan's comments about Leipold, and then his comments about his comments about Leipold, and he thinks about calling him, but doesn't. He hasn't heard from Sutes since late August, when Shea called to thank him for the birthday present he sent. They only talked for five minutes, but then, how long does it really take to say, "Thank you for the seriously awesome watch and also the treats for Dug"? Not that long, as it turns out, even with the awkward pauses.
The CBA finally gets resolved in mid-December, but everyone agrees that having training camp over the holidays would just be ridiculous (like nothing else about the lockout had already been ridiculous), so games don't start until the second week of January. Shea marks off that week of games, including "@ Wild, 7 pm," and glances at the present he's had sitting wrapped on his kitchen counter for three weeks. He picks it up, weighs it in his hand. Puts it back on the counter. He mails it to Wisconsin the next day.
Two days later, Shea and Dug get back from a run to find a package with "To Open On Xmas" printed across the side in Ryan's neat, all-caps handwriting sitting on the porch. Dug snuffles at the box momentarily, then barks, just once, before heading into the house and straight for his water dish. Shea brings it inside and drops it on the kitchen counter, next to the phone. Brandon keeps telling him to just cancel his landline 'cause it's a waste of money, all anyone needs is a cell these days, but Shea doesn't care. A landline means you're really living in a place. Without it, you're just occupying a space. It's bundled into the cable and internet, anyway, and it's not like he can't afford it.
Shea goes up to Sicamous for a few days to spend Christmas with his dad and brother. When he drops Dug off at Fish's the night before his flight, Carrie makes him stay for dinner. She's been experimenting with Indian food—maybe chickpeas and cauliflower aren't Shea's usual thing, but he's not going to turn it down, either. It's actually pretty good for something with no meat in it, and Carrie beams at him when he tells her so.
Dug's happily running around with the other dogs in the backyard, but lopes over for a goodbye scritch when Shea calls for him. He leaves Mike and Carrie their presents (these awesome matching super soft woolly blankets that he found at Costco, plus a huge set of weird spices for Carrie and a few rounds of golf at one of the local ranges) and treats for all the dogs, boxed and wrapped to go under their tree. He packs the box they gave him in his luggage along with the one from Ryan and a few from some of the other guys on the team.
The trip is good, comfortable. His dad builds a fire in the fireplace on Christmas Eve, and the three of them hang out around it and watch some TV. They collaborate on breakfast in the morning—Shea does the eggs, his dad makes pancakes, and Brandon fries up the bacon in the beat-up cast iron skillet that used to be their grandmother's—and open presents afterwards. Shea brings out the presents from the guys, but leaves the one from Ryan in his suitcase. Just… he'll open it later.
In the afternoon, Shea heads upstairs to take a nap and instead ends up staring at the present from Sutes for several minutes before finally opening it. Inside is a Madden PlayStation Vita bundle, plus a whole mess of accessories. Shea had been thinking about getting one but hadn't gotten around to it yet; he isn't that great at keeping up with new tech unless someone prods him. He never expected that person to be Sutes—the guy hates video games.
He sends Sutes a text thanking him and telling him exactly that, and gets back: "haha yeah, I figured you wouldn't have it yet, and you're welcome," "maybe the brain rot will make you easier to play against," and then, "oh hey, I'll open yours now." Five minutes later, "holy shit, this is amazing, thank you."
Shea sends back: "just a reminder that Minnesota isn't the only place with lakes :)"
He'd spotted the photograph in a Nashville art gallery he'd been randomly walking past, and he isn't much for art usually, but as soon as he saw the framed print of Radnor Lake in autumn he knew he had to get it for Sutes. They'd walked their dogs there together countless times and hiked a lot of the trails; it's one of those places that, despite being so close to the city, feels innately natural and serene and free. It's probably Shea's favorite place in Nashville that has nothing to do with hockey, and he's pretty sure Sutes felt the same way about it when he lived here.
Maybe it's perverse to want to send Nashville's prettiest lake up to Minnesota to compete with their ten thousand, but Shea is okay with that.
Cody's back from Sweden, so they meet up in Kelowna for a day. Cody shows up with an armful of old-school wood-and-leather snowshoes, and he and Brandon convince Shea to come tromp around with them. It's kind of like being six years old again in the best way possible. Shea totally wipes the floor with them in a snowball fight, too, even when they join forces toward the end to try to take him out. Afterwards, they hit their favorite bar and just relax.
Shea thinks about maybe trying to convince Brandon and his dad to come down to Nashville and stay with him for a while during one of the Preds' longer homestands. It's been a long time since he got to spend Christmas in BC with them, and even though he always spends a good chunk of his summers up there, it would be nice to see them more throughout the year.
When he gets back to Nashville, he goes straight to the practice facilities and reacquaints himself with everything. He's kept up training steadily, of course, even making sure to run through his off-ice routines daily while he was up in Sicamous, but being in the team space again, it's important. It's hockey. And it's really great to see all the trainers and arena staff and everyone, all settling back into doing their thing.
Shea doesn't even want to think about how much he's missed this. So instead, he trains. He calls all the guys and starts a crash course in responsible team bonding to go along with the short, intense training camp that's all they get before the actual games that count begin. He marks the additional games they shoehorned into the schedule on his kitchen calendar. He and Josi spend a lot of practice time together that week, and it goes… okay. Better than he feared. And they'll get better. They have to.
He sends Sutes some snowshoes for his birthday, the super fancy high-tech kind they make these days. He gets a thank you text back, complete with a picture of Sutes's feet strapped into them, standing on a snowbank.
They play the Wild for the first time in mid-February, on a single-game road trip to Minny. They fly out at the crack of dawn that day, having just edged out the Bruins in OT at home the night before. Shea and Josi have found a pretty solid rhythm together—the kid still makes the occasional rookie mistake, but he learns fast.
It's fucking cold when they hit the ground in Minnesota, even in the sharp-edged midday sun, and Shea just eats a quick lunch at the hotel restaurant before burrowing under the blankets for his pre-game nap. The team gathers on the bus to go to Xcel, and Shea tries to concentrate on what Trotz is saying, but he finds himself looking through the window at St. Paul instead. They play the Wild several times a year, so it's a familiar city, and one that Shea usually rather likes—handsome, not too large, and a little bit quaint. But tonight, there's an uncharacteristic knot in his stomach, an undercurrent of bitter tension that feels almost like resentment.
The knot stays with him through all the usual pre-game activity, stretches and off-ice warmups and trainer visits and getting dressed and more last minute words from the coaching staff. He feels the pull to wander the halls a little right after they enter the building, but resists. Focused, he needs to be focused. He needs to lead his team.
He needs to not think.
They get onto the ice for warmups, and Shea skates around their end of the rink probably faster than he should. He concentrates on his stride, tries to let everything go but the flex of his legs and the feel of the ice under his skates. But he can't help but look up at the cheer from the crowd when the Wild take the ice, and his eyes find Sutes immediately. Shea could be watching a game on the shittiest broadcast feed ever, and he would still be able to pick Sutes out without even having to think about it, just from the set of his shoulders and the rhythm of his stride. Ryan spots him a second later, and the next moment, they're just to the left of center ice, clutching each other's forearms as they both lean in for a bro-hug.
Sutes still uses the same shampoo, his hair soft against Shea's jaw and catching slightly in Shea's stubble as they pull away. They stare at each other, and Shea's pretty sure he's supposed to be smiling, making small talk or at least saying hi, but it's all he can do to shove down the impulse to grab Ryan's shoulder and push him across the ice until his back hits the boards and then pin him there and kiss the shit out of him.
Shea lets go of Ryan's arm, slides back a foot or two. Sutes isn't smiling either, but for all that Shea thought he knew all of Ryan's expressions, he's not sure what that one is. Shea swallows hard, nods, and Ryan nods back, his eyes wide and anxious but the set of his jaw determined. They stare at each other for a few seconds more, before getting swept back into warmups by their respective teammates.
Toward the end, as everyone's winding down and about half the guys have already trickled off the ice, Parise drifts over to the red line, where Shea's talking to Kleiner as they do a few last stretches.
"Weber." Parise nods at him, and then at Kevin, briefly, before focusing back on Shea.
"Parise." Shea can feel his face go blank with annoyance, but he nods back.
Parise grins at him, and Shea can't quite tell if it's meant to be taunting or friendly. "You should come out with us after the game tonight," he says casually, like this is a totally normal thing to say when they've barely ever had an actual conversation before.
"What?" Shea knows he sounds suspicious, but well, he feels suspicious, so.
Parise's smile gets even wider. "You know, grab a drink." Parise glances at Kleiner. "Bring some of the guys."
Shea just looks at him.
"I'll text you with the plan. Bring whoever you want, it'll be nearby. Yeah?" Parise directs the last bit at Kevin, who shrugs.
"Sure, yeah." Kleiner sounds completely unfazed—not cold, but not exactly friendly, either. Shea's pretty sure his own expression is a hell of a lot less friendly than that, but Parise just grins at both of them again, then skates off the ice with a little jaunty bounce in his stride.
Shea glares at his back as he goes.
"Well, that was weird," Kevin says, still standing next to Shea and looking at where Parise has just disappeared down the tunnel.
Shea laughs, and it comes out half-bitter, half-incredulous. "Yeah. Weird is one word for it." He shakes his head. "C'mon, let's get off the ice."
As they make their way back to the visitor's dressing room, he hears Gaustad catch up to Kleiner behind him and ask him what the hell that was.
"Tell the rest of the boys we're going out after the game," Kevin says. He sounds amused, the fucker. "Can't leave our fearless leader to face the polite hordes of Minnesota alone."
"You assume I'm going," Shea tosses back.
"No?" Kleiner smirks. "Pretty sure you are."
Shea glares at him, but the fact is, he's probably right.
The game is a rough one, tightly played and physical. Shea can feel himself getting closer and closer to the edge, but somehow between them, Peks and Josi and Gill and Kleiner, and even the kids, to an extent, pull him back before things get really ugly. Not through anything said or even really acknowledged, just steady play and one or two reminders on the ice that if he doesn't set a good example, things get dicey. So he compensates for a few of Josi's mistakes, and Josi saves his ass a couple of times, too, and Shea doesn't let his temper get the best of him, even when Clutterbuck tries to run over Fish one time too many. He does manage the timing on a solid hip check at the blue line the next shift he has out with Clutterbuck, though, all without losing coverage.
In the end, they go to OT, and it's Smitty who grabs the chance Trotz gives him about two minutes in and runs with it, digging the puck out of the corner and shoving it out in front of Backstrom for Hornqvist's stick to find and poke in. As they all pile onto the ice to give Pekka his props, fistbumping Smitty on the way, Shea glances over at the Wild bench, where the team is filing out, shoulders slumped. He looks for Sutes, but he must already be in the tunnel, and while he can see Parise, he doesn't turn around. His back is uninformative.
Shea won't lie, some part of him is hoping Parise's too pissed off by the loss to text him about drinks. But sadly, the universe hates him. Or maybe that's just Parise.
So he goes. Kleiner takes it upon himself to round up as many of their teammates as he can to come with, but if Parise's surprised when they show up with a full three-quarters of the team in tow, he doesn't show it. Instead he just smiles widely, flashing all those unnervingly even, white teeth, and leads them to a cluster of tables in the corner already occupied by a dozen or so Wild players.
After a few seconds of everyone just staring at each other, Brodziak and Clutterbuck jump up from opposite ends of the group.
"We'll get the first round," Clutterbuck says, and they head over to the bar.
A couple of the other Wild players stand up as well, and shift around, and the two groups end up interspersed around the tables, some sitting, some standing. Shea stays standing, but somehow gets carried by the motion of the crowd to across the table from where Sutes is sitting, flanked by Dowell and Gilbert.
Sutes smiles up at him, and Shea reflexively smiles back, even though he can see that there's still an undercurrent of anxiety in Ryan's eyes.
"Hey," Shea says. He has to consciously prevent himself from making a dumb waving motion with his hand.
"Hey," Sutes replies. Gilbert echoes him, smiling cheerfully. Dowell raises his beer in greeting while giving Shea a measuring look over the rim.
"So, uh. You all know each other from Madison, right?" Shea remembers Dowell featuring in a couple of Sutes's more entertaining college stories, and he's pretty sure Gilbert was on that team, too. He vaguely recalls some press speculation when the Gilbert trade happened at the deadline last season about whether or not it would affect Parise or Suter in free agency. At the time, he'd thought they were full of shit, but in retrospect, well. Apparently those particular press guys were smarter than they seemed.
The mention of Madison gets a smile from Dowell, and he launches into a story about the first prank the upperclassmen had played on all the freshmen that year, and how he and Sutes and a couple of the other frosh got them back.
After that, the conversation flows without much input needed from Shea, which suits him just fine. Sutes and Dowell and Gilbert go back and forth easily, interrupting each other and finishing each other's stories like that one year of college together bonded them for life or something. Smitty slips through the crowd to stand next to Shea at the table and tosses in his two cents about Madison every so often. All Shea has to do is nod and laugh in the right places, and in between, he's free to drink his beer and watch them as they talk.
Sutes seems relaxed, comfortable. Except. Except he barely looks at Shea the whole time. He sounds completely normal, completely like himself, and he seems happy to see Smitty, and then happy to talk to Patric, David, Fish, and Sergei as they rotate through to say hi.
Shea is watching Sergei tell Sutes and the rest of them an elaborate story about his time playing for Omsk during the lockout when he feels someone throw an arm around his shoulder.
"Shea and I are getting the next round," Parise announces a second later, way too close to Shea's ear.
Shea shrugs Parise's arm off his shoulder and "accidentally" elbows Parise as close to the solar plexus as he can get while doing so.
"Yes," he bites out. "So we are." He pushes away from the table and eels his way to the bar, trying to lose Parise in the crowd.
It's futile, of course. Parise's there, leaning on the bar and grinning away, just as Shea reaches it. Shea flags down the nearest bartender, but Parise jumps in and rattles off their order before Shea even manages to open his mouth. Shea slaps his credit card on the bar first, but Parise's follows quickly, and after a brief back and forth the bartender just grabs both of the cards and tells them she's splitting it evenly, "so put away your dicks, boys."
While they're waiting for their drinks, Parise leans on the bar and gives Shea a long, thoughtful look.
Shea ignores him for the first minute or two, but eventually, he has to ask. "What?"
Parise shrugs. "I'm not a bad guy, you know."
"No one said you were a bad guy, Parise."
"Zach." Parise catches his eyes, stares him down. "Call me Zach."
Shea makes a noncommittal noise.
Zach looks amused, and something about the smirk on his face makes Shea glower at him before he can stop himself.
"No, really, most people like me. But you," Zach shakes his head, still with that stupid smirk on his face, "you've never really liked me. Even before this summer."
Shea folds his arms. "So what? It's not like it's against the law to dislike you, Parise."
"Actually, I kind of like it." His smirk becomes that trademark wide grin, perfect teeth and all. "It's refreshing." He turns and picks up one of the trays of drinks, gestures to Shea to get the other one. He meets Shea's eyes again, expression suddenly serious. "You should know, though. He misses you."
Shea freezes, then very carefully sets down the tray of drinks he'd just picked up. He presses both hands palm-down on the bar top as hard as he can, in an effort to not let them form into fists the way they really, really want to.
"That. Is none. Of your. Business." Shea has to grit the words out through his teeth, his jaw is clenching so hard.
"Maybe not," Parise says, and to Shea's ears his voice sounds obnoxiously cheerful. "But it's still true. Think about it." And before Shea can do more than growl in his throat, Parise walks away with the tray of drinks, heading back to the rejoin the guys.
Shea spends a minute just standing there, grinding his teeth together and breathing in and out through his nose as he tries very hard to not gouge lines in the wood of the bar with his fingers.
"Easy, tiger." The bartender's back, and she's eyeing Shea like she's seriously questioning his sanity. Shea would take offense, but at this point, he can't really blame her.
She peers at him for a few more seconds, then says, sympathetically, "You're with those guys over there, right?" She waves a hand vaguely towards the corner with their tables.
Shea nods. He lets his hands curl into fists, then forces them to uncurl so he can shove them in his pockets.
"Right," she says under her breath, then calls to one of the servers, "Hey, Casey! Take these over to the guys in the back corner, okay?"
Shea takes a deep breath, then fishes out his wallet and tosses a twenty onto the tray. "Thanks," he says gruffly.
The bartender smiles and pours him a shot of Jack. "One for the road, on the house."
Shea nods at her, downs it, nods again. "Thanks."
He makes his way out of the bar quickly. He spots Spaling chatting up a girl near the door and diverts briefly to tell him he's going back to the hotel. He doesn't look back.
The hotel's only a couple of blocks away, so even though the wind bites into him as soon as steps outside, he opts to walk, and walk fast.
He's just turning the corner when he hears from behind him, "Shea, wait."
Shea stops walking, turns around slowly.
Sutes stops, too. Opens his mouth. Hesitates. Closes it. Walks to where Shea's standing. He's got two coats bundled in his arms, both Shea's and his own.
"Hey," he says. That anxious look is back.
"Hey," Shea replies tightly.
"You, uh. You forgot your coat." Ryan holds it out to him, smiles like he's really not sure if Shea is going to smile back.
Shea unclenches his jaw enough to at least make an attempt, but he's pretty sure it doesn't reach his eyes. He reaches out to grab the coat. "Thanks."
Sutes nods. They both busy themselves putting on their coats, but that only takes a handful of seconds, and then they're standing on the sidewalk staring at each other again. Sutes drops his eyes to pull on his gloves, fiddling with the fingers until he's happy with how they sit. He looks back up to meet Shea's eyes.
"You're going back to the hotel?"
"Yeah." Shea's hands are getting cold, so he tucks them into the pockets of his coat.
"I'll come with you."
Shea starts to shake his head, but Sutes adds, "My truck's over that way anyway," and there's not much Shea can say to that, so he just shrugs.
They walk briskly and in silence to the hotel.
At the entrance, Sutes pauses for a moment, then follows Shea into the lobby. The area's deserted, just the night clerk with his head down doing paperwork at the far end of the reception desk.
They look at each other. They're only a few steps from the bank of doors and Shea can feel the cold seeping in through the glass. He rubs his hands together to warm them up.
"Did you want to ask me something?" Shea can't figure out why Sutes is here instead of in his car, driving away.
Sutes shakes his head. "No. No, I just." He shakes his head again, glances down, then looks up to meet Shea's eyes and smiles wryly. "It was just good to see you, Webs. Really good."
Shea's throat goes suddenly bone-dry. He manages to croak through it, "Yeah. Yeah, you too."
Sutes steps forward and engulfs him in a hug, hard. Shea's just shaken himself out of his surprise enough to lift his arms and pat Sutes on the back when Sutes pulls away.
"See you, Webs." Sutes is smiling his warmest smile, and there's something lurking in his eyes that looks almost shy.
Shea smiles back weakly. "Yeah, Sutes. See you." He gives him a dorky little wave, then immediately regrets it. But Sutes just waves back, and then flips around to push through the revolving door and back out into the cold Minnesota night.
After that trip, communication between them kind of… goes back to normal, which is weird, because for one thing, there never really had been a normal to begin with, and for another, he hadn't actually realized things hadn't been normal until they were again. But he feels a palpable sense of relief when Sutes starts texting him random bits of trivia about his day, and he sends him the same sorts of things back. They're careful not to talk about team stuff, but most other parts of everyday life are fair game. Dug gets used to having Shea's phone camera aimed at him. Ryan takes pictures of various street corners and snowbound parks around the Twin Cities and sends them to him. They discuss their current eating habits in detail, and their current TV watching habits, too. It's… good. And normal. Very, very normal.
A few days before the Preds are set to host Minny in March, Shea gets a phone call from Sutes. It takes Shea a moment to process that Sutes is actually calling him instead of texting, so he just barely manages to answer in time to stop it from going to voicemail.
"Hey, so I was thinking," Sutes says casually, without any preamble. "We get into Nashville Friday afternoon. Do you wanna hang out? Get take-out and rent a movie or something?"
Shea blinks. He has to keep himself from pulling the phone away from his ear to stare at it in surprise. "Uh, sure," he says. His mouth seems to have bypassed his brain entirely at this point. He clears his throat, tries to smile, and gropes around for something else to say. "Dug will be happy to see you."
"Cool." Sutes is grinning, Shea can hear it in his voice. "I'll text you later and we can work out the details." And then he hangs up.
Shea sits down on his couch abruptly, and Dug barks once before trotting over to put his head on Shea's knee.
"It's okay, boy, it's okay." Shea scratches behind Dug's ears. "You get to see Sutes soon! You'll like that, won't you, boy." Dug closes his eyes and wags his tail. Shea laughs. "Yeah, that's what I thought."
Sutes texts Shea once the Wild get into town and are settled at the hotel, so Shea loads Dug into the truck to drive over and pick him up.
Dug goes kind of nuts when Sutes climbs into the passenger seat, licking at his face and wriggling all over and trying to vault into Sutes's lap from the backseat.
"Whoa, boy." Sutes turns most of the way around in his seat to scritch Dug behind the ears. "Calm down, boy, I'll be here for a while." Dug leans his head into Sutes's hands and wags his tail so fast it's a blur. Sutes tips his head down until he's nearly forehead to forehead with Dug. "Yeah, I missed you too, boy. I missed you too."
After several seconds of scritching, Sutes gives Dug one last pat and turns back around to buckle in. He glances sideways at Shea, grins. "Hey, Webs."
Shea does his best to keep an eye on the road while smiling back foolishly. "Hey, Sutes."
They pick up food from one of the places they used to get take-out from all the time on the way home. Shea has ordered from there once or twice since last season, but these days, when he eats at home, he usually just heats up one of the delivered meals he's taken to having around, or sometimes he cooks himself something simple. When he hangs out with the other guys on the team, he mostly goes over to their places, and they each have a different set of food-related defaults. Plus, Carrie's taken to inviting him over for dinner with her and Fish so often, he's even started catching himself thinking like a vegetarian sometimes when at restaurants. She looked so proud when he told her that he actually likes tofu now.
When they get to Shea's place, they settle on the couch with Dug flopped at Sutes's feet. They spend a while digging through Netflix Instant before opting to watch the third Indiana Jones movie. Sometimes the classics are the way to go. They eat, they drink beer—Shea stocked up on Ryan's favorite—they get through Indy III and switch to Indy I, and most of all, they just… hang out. Like so many things in Shea's life, that's a concept that seemed a lot easier last year.
Eventually, they end up slumped together on the couch, pulled in by gravity and inclination.
Shea can feel the sleep creeping up on him, the lure of it coming in waves, but he tries to push through to the end of the movie. There were definitely a few sections in the second half during which he probably spent more time with his eyes drifting closed and fighting that feeling than actually watching.
The movie ends, the menu starts to loop, and eventually Shea gropes for the remote control so he can turn off the television. Ah, blissful quiet. He thinks about getting up, about taking their beer bottles into the kitchen, about doing useful, grown-up things. But both Sutes and Dug seem to be fast asleep, and after a few moments of hazy indecision that might have been seconds or might have been minutes, Shea lets his eyes slip shut and his head roll back, and in the next moment after that, he's asleep too.
The living room is quiet and dark when Shea struggles awake what feels like several hours later. He's got a crick in his neck and a heavy warmth leaning on his shoulder, and something seems to be nudging his knee repeatedly—
He opens one eye, then the other. Then he lifts his head up to look down at his knee, but doesn't get very far because the top of Sutes's head is taking up most of his field of vision from this angle, and also making it impossible for him to sit up more. Sutes's hair tickles his nose, and Shea lets his head fall back again before his neck starts complaining even more. Besides, he recognizes what's nudging his knee now, and blindly reaches out a hand to pat Dug on the head.
Dug whines at him, low like he's trying to be quiet, and Shea says softly, "Hey, boy. I bet you want to go out, don't you?" Dug whines again, and licks Shea's hand. "Yeah, that's what I thought. Gimme a sec."
Sutes seems have curled onto his side while asleep, his head a heavy weight on Shea's shoulder, and some part of Shea really doesn't want to move. But Dug is sounding a little desperate, so Shea tries to figure out the best way of slipping out from under Sutes without waking him up.
But as soon as he shifts his weight to start the process, Sutes stirs, and Shea freezes. Sutes stirs again, and makes this tiny adorable questioning noise that Shea would totally make fun of him for later, except they seem to have kind of forgotten how to make fun of each other for things, so maybe not.
He can't keep himself from huffing out a bit of a laugh, though, and Sutes frowns sleepily and moves his head against Shea's shoulder, pushing his cheek against it like he's trying to figure out where he is by feel alone.
"Sutes," Shea starts, but then Sutes is staring at him, eyes sleep-dark and startled, and Shea forgets what he was going to say. Ryan has waffle-weave from Shea's henley imprinted on his cheek, and he looks, fuck. It's a good thing he's got most of the left side of Shea's body trapped, because it's all that's preventing Shea from lunging forward to kiss him, and Shea's pretty sure that wouldn't go over very well, considering.
They blink at each other, and to Shea's shock, Ryan's gaze drifts down to Shea's mouth for a second or two before snapping back up to meet his eyes again.
"Sutes?" Shea asks, but Sutes is pushing away from him and standing up.
"I," says Sutes, backing away toward the hall. "I'm just gonna," he gestures behind him, vaguely in the direction of the bathroom. "And you should probably take Dug out?" And then he turns and takes the last couple of strides into the bathroom really fast, closing the door behind him.
Shea stares after him until Dug nudges at his knee again. Shea glances down, and Dug whines and looks up at him beseechingly.
"Right," Shea says to himself, and hauls himself up to let Dug out into the backyard. He stands near the door as Dug whuffles around along the fence, waits for Dug to do his thing, then lets him back into the house and gives him a good boy treat.
Sutes comes back into the living room just as Shea finishes gathering up their beer bottles to take into the kitchen.
The uncertain look on his face makes Shea uneasy, so he jumps in before Sutes has the chance to say anything. "I made the bed in the spare room, if you wanna sleep there?"
Sutes hesitates, then nods. "Okay." He hesitates again. "Thanks."
Shea shrugs as best he can without dropping any bottles. "No problem. Just like old times, right?"
Sutes smiles a little at that. "Sure, yeah. Just like old times." He shakes his head, still smiling slightly. "Goodnight, Webs."
"'Night, Sutes," Shea replies. He takes the bottles into the kitchen and deposits them in the recycling bin. When he gets back out to the living room, Sutes has disappeared into the spare room, and Dug is sitting in front of the television, staring at him.
"I know, boy, it's time for bed." Dug stands up at the word "bed," and trots to Shea's room to lay down on his dog bed. "Good boy," Shea tells him, and rubs his ears for a minute. He speeds through his usual nighttime routine, then crawls into bed and just barely remembers to set an alarm before passing out.
Shea wakes up five minutes before his alarm is supposed to go off. Dug is still asleep in his corner, but there's a faint scuffling sound coming from the kitchen. When he gets there, he finds Sutes standing at the counter with two empty mugs in front of him, watching the coffeemaker drip.
"Morning." Sutes doesn't turn around. "Coffee first, then I need to get back to the hotel. I can call a cab?"
"Are you kidding? I'll drive you."
Sutes glances at Shea, smiles tiredly. "Okay. Thanks. But coffee first."
"Yeah, of course." Shea grins at him, then opens the fridge to survey its contents. "D'you want eggs or something?"
Sutes shakes his head. "No, that's okay. I'll eat at the hotel. Thanks, though."
Dug wanders into the kitchen and Shea lets him out. By the time they're back inside, the coffee's done.
They drink their coffee in what seems to Shea to be perfectly companionable silence, and then Shea drives Sutes back to his hotel. Shea doesn't bother to change out of the sweats and tee he slept in; he's not due to be anywhere for a couple of hours, so he'll shower when he gets back. He does throw his coat on, though—sometimes it can take the truck a little while to warm up.
Shea catches Sutes watching him a couple of times on the drive over; he always looks away as soon as he realizes Shea's noticed.
When they pull up in hotel's front roundabout, Sutes opens the passenger side door and slides out quickly before turning back towards Shea. "Thanks, Webs."
"Sure." Shea smiles at him. "It was good to see you, Sutes."
"Yeah," Ryan says. He smiles back, but it doesn't quite make it to his eyes. He's got that anxious look again. Shea can't say that he's missed it. "See you at the game."
Shea nods. "See you at the game."
Sutes closes the car door and heads inside the hotel with just a single glance back, right as he reaches the revolving doors. He waves, Shea waves back, and then he's gone.
Game days at home are always the same, and the routine settles the uneasy feeling in the pit of Shea's stomach, at least partially. He does his best to clear his mind of everything but hockey.
During warmups, Shea can't quite keep himself from looking for Sutes across the center line. He finds him quickly in the group running shot drills, and when Sutes spots him looking, he nods. Shea nods back, and they both go back to warming up with their teams.
The game, well. The game sucks. Neither team seems to be able to get it together until the third period, and it's sheer dumb luck that lets Brodziak poke the puck past Rinne during a scramble in front of the net.
After the game, the mood in the dressing room is distinctly prickly. This kind of breakdown is literally everyone's fault, and they all feel it. Shea hadn't been on the ice for the Brodziak goal, but that hardly matters. He ends up doing an extra long cool-down workout after the coaching staff's post-game analysis (read: justified tirade), and by the time he leaves the arena, he's pretty sure Sutes and the rest of the Wild are already in the air, heading back to host the Canucks tomorrow. He sends Sutes a "good game" text anyway. He's not too surprised when he doesn't hear anything back.
When he realizes a couple days later that Sutes has apparently stopped replying to any of his texts at all, well, he's not too surprised then, either. He probably should be. There wasn't really any warning, nothing obvious happened, things had even been going pretty well for a while there. But, see, Shea knows Sutes. He doesn't always understand him, but he knows him. By instinct and by logic both, he knows him. He should probably be grateful he got as much as he did.
But Shea doesn't have time to think about Sutes and what Sutes is or isn't doing. Sutes doesn't matter anymore; Sutes is no longer team.
Shea throws himself even harder into practices and workouts, and he makes a point of touching base with each of the guys outside the rink, too. He and Josi develop a morning run schedule, and he accidentally gets himself included in one of Carrie's articles by showing up randomly for dinner on the wrong night. The reporter seems delighted to have a little extra hockey color for her story, and the seitan is extra-delicious that night, so Shea doesn't mind. He has lunch with Legwand and dinner with Kleiner and Pekka, visits the children's hospital, and even lets himself gets dragged to a couple of bars with the guys, and basically just makes sure that everyone's okay, everyone's good, everyone's still on board and at least saner than him.
Not that that's saying much, but whatever. The PR people show him a couple of pictures that have been floating around the internet; he actually looks kind of happy in them, and they tell him, more of that. He does his best.
The League shoehorns as many games as possible into the shortened season, and also tacks on a couple of weeks at the end, pushing forward the start of playoffs. The second to last game of the Preds' season is versus the Wild, on the tail end of a midwestern swing before coming back home for the final one.
They're both in the playoffs regardless of this game, but they're jostling for seeding along with everyone else, so a win could be key.
Shea's not going to kid himself, though. He'd want to kick the Wild's ass even if it didn't make one bit of difference in the standings.
The Preds have been locked in recently, mirroring his determination and focus, and tonight is no different. Shea keeps a firm grip on himself and doesn't glance across center ice even once during warmups. They play their system and they play it well.
The Wild… don't. Oh, they mostly play their system, but somehow the whole team seems more than a bit on edge. Shea doesn't get why until he happens to meet Sutes's eyes about halfway through the first period to find him glaring directly at Shea. He's practically crackling with anger, and it doesn't make any sense, because if anyone should be angry, it's Shea. But Shea's let all of that go. He just plays hockey.
But the Wild, the Wild kind of fucking implode. Sutes almost never loses his shit, but when he does, it tends to unmoor everyone around him. Sutes and Spurgeon have been developing a decent chemistry, Shea can acknowledge this, but the kid's attempts at calming Sutes down seem to just bounce right off, and when Yeo tries putting Sutes out with Gilbert instead, it only gets worse.
It spreads beyond the defense, too. Shea bares his teeth at Parise when they battle along the boards in the 2nd, Parise snarls back. They jostle each other for the puck what seems like constantly that period, enough that they're probably lucky not to get called for matching roughing minors. He can't avoid the box in the third, though: he gets jumped by Stoner and forced to drop the gloves after a laying out Granlund with a big—but clean!—hit at the blue line. He's back on the ice in time for the Wild's futile last push with six attackers, and then the game is over. It's a satisfying win, but a strange one. Ryan shoots Shea one last glare from the Wild bench before turning to head down the tunnel with the rest of his team.
Shea takes his time with his post-game routine. The guys are talkative around him, flush with enthusiasm for the win, and Shea lets their warmth flow through him. The whole time, he feels… calm.
If asked, he wouldn't be able to explain at all what makes him decide to take a bit of a walk instead of heading directly to the bus. It just seems like a good idea at the time, winding through the back tunnels of Xcel, bag on his shoulder and dressed in his game day suit. He passes various behind-the-scenes people doing their thing; they nod back when he nods at them but otherwise seem unfazed by his presence. At one point he thinks he sees Scandella disappearing around a corner, but that's the only Wild player he runs into until someone grabs his arm from behind and pushes him against the wall. Shea blinks, and there's Sutes, looking pissed.
They stare at each other for a few seconds, Sutes's grip tight around Shea's biceps, fingers digging in hard enough to bruise.
"Sutes?" Shea ventures to ask. He's still feeling weirdly calm, like this is what he expected to have happen, even though he hadn't really been thinking anything at all.
Sutes jolts Shea against the wall again, and leans in close to glare. "What are you doing back here?" They're in one of the more deserted corridors of the X, and at this point, Shea's not sure if that's a good thing or not.
"I…" Shea blinks. He clears his throat. "I was walking?"
"Well, walk somewhere else."
Sutes has Shea's shoulders pinned to the wall, and it doesn't feel like he's planning to let go any time soon, so Shea opts to ignore that request. Instead, he narrows his eyes and asks, "Did I do something to upset you, Sutes?" He's taking pains to speak slowly and quietly, but he's unable to keep the edge out of his voice completely.
Sutes glares back. "After that hit on Granlund, you have to ask?"
"Bullshit, that hit was clean. You know it, Stoner knows it, Granlund knows it." Shea stares right into Ryan's eyes. "But that's not really what's bothering you, is it? You were already pissed, way before that."
Sutes closes his eyes, shakes his head. "Whatever, Webs." He lets go of Shea's arms and pushes away, backing up a few steps to the middle of the hallway. He rubs his hand over his eyes before opening them to meet Shea's gaze. "Just, go back to the Preds, Shea. Go audition to be backup purse holder some more."
All of the calm leaves Shea in one big whoosh, and the next moment he finds himself crowding Ryan against the opposite wall. They're not actually touching, but Shea's looming in Sutes's face, fists clenched at his sides so he doesn't do something he regrets.
"Fuck you, Ryan. You're the one who left. You can't expect me to just sit around all the time and think about how much I fucking miss you."
Ryan's face goes suddenly opaque, unreadable. "You miss me?"
Shea growls under his breath, then shouts, "Of course I fucking miss you. You fucking left. You were part of my life and now you're gone. You fucking asshole."
Ryan's eyes fly open wide, and when he grabs the collar of Shea's shirt, Shea's sure that he's about to get punched.
Instead, Sutes twists them around 180 degrees, presses Shea's back into the wall, and kisses the ever-loving fuck out of him.
Shea is not even a little bit ashamed of the way he melts into the wall as he kisses Sutes back.
After a minute, Sutes yanks himself a step back and away. "Fuck," he says, voice rough. "Fuck, Shea, we can't, this can't, this is crazy, we can't do this."
"Sutes," says Shea, taking a step forward with hands out in front of him like he's trying to calm a feral animal. "Sutes, it's already happened. We've already been doing this." He takes another step. He's standing right in front of Ryan, close enough to touch, but he keeps his hands to himself even though he's itching to reach out.
Sutes scrubs his hand through his hair. His eyes are anxious, but his mouth is flushed red, lower lip plump, and maybe this makes Shea a bad person, but he's thinking a lot more about that than about the anxiety at this particular moment.
"Fuck it," he hears Sutes mutter, and then Ryan is kissing him again, both hands sliding across the stubble of Shea's jaw, fingers curling around the back of Shea's neck and digging in a little harder than necessary to hold him in place.
Somehow Shea ends up with his back to the wall again, panting harshly as Sutes scrapes his teeth against that sensitive spot under Shea's ear while his hands fumble their suit pants open, first Shea's and then his own.
When Sutes wraps his hand around both of them, Shea makes a strangled sound, then buries his hand in Sutes's hair and pulls sharply to fit their mouths together. If they get much louder this corridor might become a lot less deserted in a hurry.
Afterwards, they slump against the wall, both of them breathing hard. Shea feels actually, literally weak in the knees, but pressed together as they are, it's obvious Sutes isn't exactly all that stable on his feet right now, either, so Shea figures that makes them just about even.
A minute goes by, then Sutes lifts his head up off of Shea's shoulder.
"I'll call you after the playoffs." Ryan's voice is raspy and low, serious.
Shea opens his eyes and tries to glare at him, but he suspects he's too blissed out from orgasm for it to be very effective. "You better," he tells him anyway, and pulls him in for one more kiss, just in case he doesn't.
Eventually they pull apart and push off the wall. Shea turns to make his way out of the arena, but before he gets more than a step away, Ryan grabs his wrist. When Shea turns back to him, he's smiling, and it's this soft, almost glowing thing.
"Webs," he says. "I mean it." He lets go of Shea's wrist, takes a step sideways towards the locker rooms without breaking eye contact. "I'll call you."
Shea nods. "Okay, Sutes." He smiles back, and it feels like something familiar, something he'd forgotten he knew how to do. "Okay."