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a truth so loud you can't ignore

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It’s not like anybody goes to the Olympics with the explicit goal of winning silver. Nobody ever wants silver, to be honest. It’s like, a consolation midget league tin trophy of the highest order. Silver isn’t good enough.

 

Ryan’s told himself all this a million times. It sucks, of course it sucks, to get so close and then to lose. Losing in overtime is always hard; the League tries to make up for it by awarding the losing team a point, but the League isn’t as real as this is. Silver is the singular point, Ryan guesses.

 

Anyway: he’s thought of all that long before they take the ice for the last time in Vancouver. Lanny had said it, in the room, told them their goal is gold, of course it is.

 

And of course they lose. They’re playing Canada, after all, on their home ice -- how can anyone be surprised by that? Ryan would have been surprised if they didn’t win, honestly. Would have been more surprised if golden boy hadn’t scored the golden goal.

 

That’s what sucked. That overtime goal, that snatching away of the hope.

 

Twenty-five seconds. Twenty-five seconds more and it would have been 2-1, end of story. No golden goal for Crosby, sure. But also no moment where Ryan’s pass gets spun up toward Luongo in a desperate attempt to shove the puck in; no moment where Zach deflects it and sees that it’s in before anyone else.

 

(No moment where Shea shoves Pavelski over, where Ryan meets his eyes as he speeds toward the crazed huddle and maybe it’s because they’re not used to playing against each other and he’s used to benefiting from all Shea’s on-ice anger, not having it directed at him, at the boy he crashes into, that it takes him by a heavy shock.)

 

Definitely no moment where Zach is looking at just him, it feels like. And everyone’s eyes are on Zach, and Zach’s eyes are on him.

 

It’s a lot of pressure.

 

Too much, evidently; Crosby gets his goal and they play the Canadian anthem and it’s all expected and it’s all narrative. Ryan’s a product of hockey narrative himself; he doesn’t think anything’s wrong with a game going how it should. It just sucks to be on the wrong side of it, this time.

 

That was. Hours ago. He’s not really sure what the feeling deep inside his stomach is -- there’s something harsh and cold about losing. He hates losing, but not this much, he didn’t think. He feels a little sick -- all the Canadian air, probably -- or the Canadian booze -- but writes it off, figures he should probably go downstairs, rejoin the half-party, half-wake happening on the first floor of the house.

 

He’s just getting up from his stupid twin bed, pulling on a ratty USA Hockey sweatshirt, when the door swings open. It feels kind of wrong to smile, when they’ve lost, but it’s kind of impossible not to.

 

“Hey,” he says, after he realizes they’ve just been looking at each other and grinning like a couple of idiots.

 

“Hi,” Zach says, and fucking giggles, shuts the door. Then it’s like he suddenly realizes he’s left something all the way in New Jersey. “Oh. You going with Pavs?”

 

Ryan just looks at him. “Pavs is going somewhere?”

 

“Yeah,” Zach says, “Gonna go party it up with Marleau and the Canadians. I think we’re depressing him.”

 

“He depresses me,” Ryan scoffs. Which doesn’t make any sense, but whatever. “Uh, no. I wasn’t planning on it, anyway.”

 

Zach’s face lights up. Ryan’s pretty sure the Canadians make beer wrong because he doesn’t usually feel this lightheaded when he drinks. Doesn’t Shea have Canadian beer at home?

 

Oh. Right. Shea.

 

“Should I go with Pavs, you think?” He asks. Oh, Jesus. This is his life now? He’s asking Zach Parise for advice on his -- on his. Life?

 

Zach just stares at him for what feels like a half hour but is really probably about twenty-five seconds. Goddammit. Twenty-five seconds. What a guy.

 

Ryan realizes a second too late Zach’s mouth is moving. He’s been looking at it, staring at it, but not really processing any words. “You what?”

 

And then Zach steps forward, slow, with too much controlled power and grace for a guy who’s drunk more than Ryan has, probably. “I think you should stay here,” he repeats, and then he’s all up in Ryan’s space and Ryan isn’t. Doing anything to push him away.

 

And then. And then.

 

Zach’s hands are on Ryan’s chest, like he’s going to push him back, and Ryan gets a grip on Zach’s hips, too hard maybe, and pulls him forward and then it’s like fucking U17’s all over again because he doesn’t have a split second to think, not when Zach’s mouth is on his, hot, wet, letting out a noise from somewhere deep in his chest and oh, God.

 

He’d wanted so much when he’d come to Vancouver and maybe it hadn’t been this, but. It was now, that was for goddamn sure.

 

Sitting down on the bed was probably supposed to be a much more graceful motion, but Zach kind of does shove him a little, so that’s his excuse.

 

It escalates kind of quickly from there. If there’s something Ryan’s learned about Zach it’s that he holds emotion for a long time, mostly the good stuff. It’s something he likes, a lot. Sometimes Ryan can’t hold onto the good stuff without stewing over the bad stuff, too, so he just makes the executive decision to let it go. He says he’s being zen; his brother says he’s being emotionally stunted.

 

Regardless: seeing Zach, so the opposite of that, not holding anything back, is. It’s like that moment in the game, up against the glass; it’s like every exchange they’ve had since they were sixteen years old. There’s something wild, some unrestrained electric current that Ryan can almost feel the shock of.

 

He thinks a good place to start looking for that is at Zach’s collarbone, and when he rakes his teeth across the skin, then does his best to start a bruise there, he thinks he might be getting closer. Zach has one hand so tight in Ryan’s hair that he doesn’t notice the other one, pressing hard, insistent at his lower back. And when Zach sits up, back on his knees, it’s too easy for Ryan to pull his own knees up, bend them so that Zach is just between them.

 

The look that they exchange is so wordlessly We’re doing this? that it takes all of Ryan’s self-control not to say Fucking duh aloud and just nod. His tongue has suddenly gotten really heavy; he doesn’t think he could have said it even if he wanted to.

 

He does manage to make a pathetic noise in the back of his throat when Zach slides off the bed, presses his sweats-covered legs together for the sole purpose of staving off the rush of cold air that seems to fill where Zach had been a moment before. When he sits back down on the bed, though, it’s only with a small plastic bottle that he leaves next to Ryan’s hip as he pushes Ryan’s sweatshirt up, follows the hem with his mouth.

 

That’s why Ryan’s too distracted to speak for a second, swallowing hard under Zach’s wet mouth. “I, uh,” he says, “Yeah. Olympic Village, dude. More condoms than there are people here. I think I have--”

 

“We don’t need it,” Zach says, so fucking plyingly Ryan almost agrees on the spot. Would agree to anything, probably.

 

But. Ryan has -- “But I have--” An abundance of Olympic condoms? A boyfriend? A vague sense of responsibility? “--enough. Just let me.”

 

Zach’s the one who leans over toward the set of drawers, yanks one drawer open, shuts it, picks the right one, presses the foil into Ryan’s hand, gets his mouth where Ryan’s jaw ends. “Happy?”

 

“Sure,” Ryan says, squirms more than he’d admit when Zach uses teeth there.

 

“Good,” he says, and then they’re both in a frenzy of movement, pulling shirts off, shoving sweatpants down. So reminiscent of Manitoba, Jesus.

 

Zach is really fucking lucky his mouth is so distracting, honestly, because he barely gives Ryan any warning apart from the sound of the bottle top coming off before he’s there, fingers wet and insistent and Ryan breaks the kiss to turn his head to the side, breathe hard.

 

It takes him a second, and a second finger, to realize Zach’s talking to him, low, heated. “That’s so good,” he whispers. “Baby, that’s so good, just like that--”

 

Maybe it’s the endearment, maybe it’s how Zach quirks his fingers right, but shit, Ryan’s hips are skipping up suddenly, and then he’s talking and that’s not how this goes, usually. “Fuck,” he pants, “Fuck, I want you to, you gotta--”

 

“I’m gonna,” Zach says, “I promise I’m gonna, just hold on,” and then he’s sitting back, tearing the condom open with his teeth, God, Ryan thinks he loves him, rolling it on, slicking up, pressing in --

 

The noise Ryan makes is enough for him to try and get a hand up to his mouth, and Zach catches his wrist for just a second before he lets him go; maybe he remembers their whole team, less one center, is downstairs, or maybe he wants to hear it less than Ryan does. At any rate, Zach’s suddenly quieter than he has been this whole time, just soft, ragged breaths into Ryan’s throat.

 

“Are you--”

 

“Just so I remember,” Zach cuts him off, and Ryan doesn’t even know what to say to that. Luckily, he’s spared by Zach rolling his hips forward, one long, fluid motion that sets everything alight, makes Ryan lift his own hips up off the bed.

 

It’s both nondescript and one in a million after that, and Ryan can’t really isolate why. Duh, he’s had sex before, and it’s not that this is way better than any other time, but at the same time it is somehow, in that they breathe in and out at exactly the same pace for so long, up until the end, almost, when Zach’s breathing speeds up.

 

He says something when he comes, but his mouth is pressed so close to the side of Ryan’s neck that he can’t quite make it out, can just hear himself making another pathetic noise when Zach pulls out, gets a hand around him. It’s Zach’s other hand, fingers trailing up and then pushing back in where it almost hurts, now, that shoves Ryan off the edge; he knows for sure he’s silent when it happens except for a rough exhale, but thinks he’s bruised Zach’s arm from how hard he’s held onto it.

 

And after, right after, when all there is is just Zach looking up at him from where he’s dug his chin into Ryan’s chest, when it’s just them breathing together, back in perfect sync, that’s when it’s still good. (Later he’ll wonder if it’s a good thing or not that when he came he only saw Zach, could only think of Zach, could only want Zach. He decides it is, that it must be.)

 

They don’t sleep in the same bed. Well, they do, but not in that bed; it’s too late, early, to do anything about the sheets and so they use Zach’s identical bed across the room. For practicality.

 

The next morning they’re off, all packing up and meeting friends at the airport. He does follow Pavs (who’d at least had the decency to make his walk of shame early in the morning so he could show up at the terminal with the rest of the team) this time, lets Shea sling an arm around his shoulder. He doesn’t realize that his henley had such an open neck until Shea’s elbow pulls at it just right and Marleau laughs.

 

“You said you were gonna try to miss him,” he says to Shea, who looks down at the bruise on Ryan’s clavicle.

 

He actually does look concerned and Ryan tells himself that he loves him. “You okay?”

 

Ryan nods, smiles, feels fake doing it. “It wasn’t you,” he says, then, “Mostly did it to myself, I think.”

 

“Maybe you checked Patty,” Pavs says, helpfully. “His head’s hard enough.”

 

“We all wear the same helmets, idiot,” Marleau says fondly, and Ryan readjusts his shirt. They’re flying back to Nashville direct -- he’s nervous the guys haven’t watered the plants and he thinks it’s nice of Shea to leave Canada right away to check on Ryan’s plants -- and so he only sees Zach from across the terminal as their flight is called.

 

He raises a hand to wave. Zach’s looking at Shea’s hand on Ryan’s waist, he thinks, and he doesn’t like it, doesn’t like that Zach has to see it. But then it’s back to normal and Zach is looking at him and he’s looking at Zach and he smiles and it finally, finally feels real.