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Unbalanced Connection

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In 1984 the Montreal Canadiens became the first ever professional sports team in North America to draft a player without a soulmate. Goaltender Patrick Roy went 51st overall and made headlines nationwide. Since then, there have only been about 2 dozen un-marked players that have played in the NHL.

***

Statistics say that 49.8% of the population is born with a name on their wrist. Another 42.6% have the name appear sometime in the first 5 years of life; the name appearing when their soulmate is born. 7.3% have a name appear after the age of 5.

Only 0.3% of people never get a soulmate.

There is a stigma that follows the unmarked. They are seen as undesirable, unlucky or even cursed in some cultures and religions.

In the past hundred years alone things have gotten significantly better for those without soulmates, but it was still far from perfect.

***

Ryan had been born with a neat row of blue lettering on his left wrist that spelled out the name of his soulmate: Morgan Maddock.

There wasn’t anyone named Morgan at school and Yarmouth was a small enough town. Likely they lived farther away and he would need to wait until he was of age to sign up for the Soulmate Registry to find them. He wasn’t worried. That’s how most people met their soulmates.

To be honest, he wasn’t even sure if Morgan was a boy or a girl, but by the time he was 15 he realized it didn’t matter. He would be fine with either and the Universe probably knew what it was doing when it picked Morgan for him, so he stopped worrying about it. He had other things to worry about for now. Things like the QMJHL draft. And that English paper due Friday.

Mostly he didn’t think about Morgan too much growing up except in that nebulous way everyone thinks about soulmates; the comfortable knowledge that he was not alone because he had Morgan out there somewhere. He grew up knowing that their time would come and until then he should focus on other things. Usually hockey things.

He was 17 when Morgan’s name turned grey and faded from his skin. It took less than 48 hours for it to disappear completely.

He’s already in the Q at that point, playing in PEI and the team gives him a week off to get it together. It’s standard practice when a soulmate dies, whether the bond was finalized or not.

He misses a week of school and practice to hide in his bedroom. His mom tries to talk to him about it, but he shuts that down pretty quickly.

When he goes back to the rink the following week he’s wearing his wrist guard. Something that he never used to do before except for during games when it was league mandated. He can’t stand the sight of his blank wrist and he can’t take the pitying looks his teammates give him when they catch sight of the empty skin. Some guys even start giving him a wide berth in the locker room, like he’s contagious.

Nobody talks about it. He doesn’t want them to. They wouldn’t get it.

Morgan was his and he was Morgan’s… and now he’s nobody’s.

He tries not to think about it.

***

When the NHL draft comes around he goes to the Rangers. Lower than he had hoped, but he knew that would happen. Players without soulmates are rare. People born without a soulmate name are seen as undesirable. Like there must be something wrong with you if there isn’t a single person out of the 7 billion on this planet that could want you. People whose soulmates have died are not quite so unlucky, but they are often mistaken for the never marked. Those whose mark has faded with the death of a soulmate are often viewed as unstable and emotional and incomplete without a soulmate to even them out and play the yin to their yang.

It’s bullshit.

Ryan has always been a complete person all by himself. Just like Morgan would have been a person all by themselves. The two of them weren’t supposed to complete each other, they were supposed to understand and love each other.

Ryan doesn’t get angry about it. No matter how unfair it is. There’s no point and it would probably be used against him. Like, oh look, just another angry, unstable dude without a soulmate. The universe has screwed him over enough, he’s not going to help it along.

He plays another 2 years in the Q and he’s traded 3 times. It’s not ideal, but he makes it work.

He learned pretty quickly back in PEI how put off some of the guys are by him not having a name, so he wears his wrist guard permanently. It makes him a little weird, but he knows he’s a little weird in general. Either way no one comments. He assumes they all think he’s hiding a guy’s name under his guard, which is becoming much more accepted, but some people are still adamantly against.

Once he’s aged out of juniors he spends a few years working his ass off in the AHL before the Rangers decide he’s not worth their time and effort anymore. He’s traded at the deadline and ends up finishing the season with San Antonio.

The following year, the team gets moved and Colorado turns out to be another adjustment Ryan has to make. He starts the season in the AHL again, but midway through he gets the call for the first time. He plays his first NHL game with the Avalanche in Las Vegas right after Christmas. He’s fully expecting to be sent down at a moment’s notice. He knows his play is still too inconsistent and he needs more time to develop, but he’s happy with the direction things are finally moving.

They surprise him by keeping him around for the remainder of the season and he plays 26 games with the Avalanche.

It’s almost perfect.

It would be better if he wasn’t alone.

He’s still trying not to think about it.

***

If there is one good thing to come out of the 2012 NHL lockout, it’s that the new CBA agreement says that players no longer have to publically disclose their un-marked status. Team management and medical staff still need to know, but the media can only speculate.

Currently there are only four players in the league that are publicly acknowledged as guys that don’t have soulmates. There are probably others like Ryan who keep that shit tight under wraps, most likely because they know that the media shit storm that Phil Kessel, Jonathan Toews and the others all deal with is not to be trifled with. Ryan certainly wants no part in it.

There is almost no one from his PEI junior team that made an NHL roster. As far as he knows it’s just him and Max Legace who occasionally gets a call up to play back-up for Fleury in Vegas. Legace’s a standup dude, so he’s not too worried about guys finding out about Morgan so long as he keeps his own mouth shut.

***

By the time playoffs have rolled around, he’s feeling pretty settled. He’s learned that Barbs is a great guy to sit next to on the plane and an even better D partner. He learns that Gabe is an amazing captain. He learns that Tyson Barrie is a disaster that should not be left alone in front of a camera…ever. And he learns that EJ is kind of a dick, but also definitely the team mom. And he’s really into soulmates.

It puts him on edge when those conversations start. Nobody ever out-right asks him about what’s hiding under his wrist guard, because that’s so fucking rude and you can’t just ask that shit. But he can see the places where they leave space for him to say something. The way that EJ will kind of trail off when talking about guys in the league who are notorious for hiding their names.

Ryan never gives in and is content to let them speculate. If they think he’s gay… well they’re half right and nobody’s been an asshole about it so he can’t be bothered to care that they might know.

***

When Cale Makar shows up straight after getting booted from the Frozen Four, someone needs to make space for him in the line-up and understandably it’s Ryan in the press box. He’s OK with it, really. He just wants to win and, if Cale’s game tape is to be believed, he’s definitely the guy better suited for the job. It helps that when Ryan gets to know Cale; he turns out to be a really nice guy and seems to feel bad for taking up a roster space.

Ryan is actually one of the first guys to meet Cale simply by way of still living in the hotel that the team stuck him in when they called him up. Cale is clearly running on very little sleep and Ryan is a little impressed the kid’s even upright after he hears about the ridiculous amount of travel and paperwork it took to get him here.

When Ryan introduces himself and shakes his hand, Cale just kind of gapes at him for a couple of seconds before seeming to snap out of whatever brain fog he was in. Cale blushes a deep red and apologizes, but Ryan waves him off.

“You must be exhausted, we’ll catch up later,” Ryan smiles at him. Cale gives him a shy smile back before he’s being herded off by the team staffer in charge of getting Cale settled in.

Like Ryan, Cale is permanently wearing a wrist guard. Ryan is pretty sure that it’s because Cale actually is gay. He caught him staring at Gabe’s shirtless chest in the locker room…twice. Which, OK, if Ryan is being fair, same.

***
They beat Calgary in the first round and even if Ryan wasn’t on the ice for any of it, he’s still super pumped. Nate looks like he may start crying tears of joy and Cale is practically glowing. Only 12 more wins to go.

***

They have a week off before they need to play the Sharks. So the whole team flies back to Denver for a few days to rest, refuel and practice. The guys that are living at the hotel are always going out to grab dinner together or playing video games in someone’s room. It gives Ryan a bit of time to get to know Cale.

He and Cale click almost right away, which is nice. Ryan can hang out with just about anyone on the team because if nothing else they always have hockey in common, but with Cale it becomes obvious pretty quickly that it’s more than just teammates.

He learns that Cale is from Calgary and now all his old buddies are giving him shit for beating the Flames in the first round. He learns that Cale was still doing finals when he first joined the team. And he learns that Cale blushes really easily, which has got to suck when you’re surrounded by hockey assholes all the time.

He and Cale never discuss their wrist guards or even soulmates in general, which makes for a nice change.

On the whole, Ryan is feeling pretty great about his life at the moment.

***

They lose to San Jose in the next round because fuck the Sharks.

Most of the guys pack up and head back to their respective corners of the world pretty quickly. Ryan has a flight booked back to PEI within a fortnight of being eliminated.

Before heading out though, he gets together with a few of the other young guys to drown their sorrows in alcohol. The guys had been taking turns by beers for Cale who’s still underage in the US so by the time the he and Ryan get back to the hotel they’re both more than a little drunk.

Somehow they wind up in Cale’s room watching old episodes of Dance Moms. Ryan looks over midway through the second episode to find Cale staring a hole though the wall above the TV and fiddling with his wrist guard. It’s something that Ryan’s seen him do it a lot. He’s not sure if it’s just a nervous habit or if there’s some deeper meaning to it. He usually wouldn’t bring up soulmates — for obvious reason —but tonight he’s sad enough and drunk enough to go for it.

“You ever think about taking it off?” Ryan asks, nodding towards Cale’s wrist. Cale turns his head so quickly Ryan is a little worried for his neck and his eyes are wide as dinner plates.

Cal licks his lips like he’s nervous and unsure how to answer. He’s stopped fiddling with the cuff and instead seems to be holding himself as still as possible.

“Yes,” he breaths out like a secret, “I want to”.

Ryan nods, unsurprised.

“I haven’t been with the team long, but I think…they’d be good about it,” he doesn’t want to come out and say they would be fine with Cale being gay on the off-chance that’s not what’s happening here, but he’s usually pretty perceptive and that’s the vibe he’s gotten from day one. At this point Ryan is so sure that it feels a bit like an open secret between the two of them.

It’s silent for a moment before Cale clears his throat. They both turn back to the TV and Ryan thinks that’s it for the conversation.

“Have you ever thought about taking yours off?” And yeah, Ryan has thought about it. He’s wondered which of the guys in the room might start to avoid him if they knew. He’s panicked about it and had nightmares about it if he’s being honest. In PEI more than a few of his teammates had started leaving extra space around him in the locker room and his lab partner in biology had begged the teacher to let her switch partners. He doesn’t want to know which of the guys in Denver would start going out of their way to distance themselves, but he’s definitely thought about it.

“Yes,” is all he tells Cale.

***

Ryan keeps in touch with a lot of the guys over the summer through text and group chat. He even gets in a few days of training with Nate. He uses the break from hockey to catch up with family and old friends. He does all the fun things that he could never do during the season like fishing or golfing. And most importantly, he works out as hard as he safely can because he is not ready to be sent back to Loveland again. He is also not ready to sit out another 2 playoff rounds no matter how good the kids out of college are.

“Gravy boy!!” he hears someone yell when he’s waiting to pick up his luggage in Denver. He turns around to find EJ with his own set of suitcases. His flight must have just got in as well. Ryan can see other people around them side-eying the giant yelling, toothless man in their midst.

“EJ, hey! How was your summer?” He asks while bro hugging his teammate.

“Good, good. Did all the important stuff, you know? Worked-out, ate right, kept it respectable at my sister’s wedding, golfed… You?” EJ trails off. This is one of those conversations that is starting to put Ryan on edge.

“Congrats to your sister,” Ryan is sure to tell him as he makes a grab for his gear bag going past on the carousel.

“Yeah, for sure, her and Sarah are great together. It’s obvious why their soulmates”. So that’s where EJ is going with this. This Ryan can deal with a little better at least.

“Cool,-” Ryan starts, but EJ cuts him off.

“You know the team doesn’t care if you’ve got a dude’s name, right? Like you were up with us for a good chunk of last season and have you ever heard anyone talking shit about same-sex soulmates?” EJ is doing that thing where he tries to be chill, but is really just acting like Ryan’s mom. He appreciates it, really, but wishes that his wrist guard was not the hill EJ continues to try to die on.

“No, I know– I know you guys don’t care about that stuff. My mark is just…mine, you know?” Ryan is sure to keep eye contact with EJ as he says all this. EJ’s breathes out slowly like Ryan is testing his patience.

“We’d be happy to help you find them, you know?” EJ tells him.

“Don’t worry about it, bud. I’ll see you at Landy’s BBQ?” he asks, shouldering his bag and grabbing hold of his suitcase.

“Yeah,” EJ sighs, “Good talk Gravy”.

***

Ryan is not the only guy on the Avs that wears a wrist guard. Cale, Val Nichushkin, and Pavel Francouz do as well. Nobody says anything to Val or Francouz, likely because Val is huge and looks like part of the Russian mob and Francouz can be chalked up to goalies are weird. Cale seems to be in the same boat as Ryan though, fielding not so subtle hints from EJ and Tyson Jost.

Tyson Barrie used to be really bad about it last season, but he’s in Toronto now and while Ryan misses him, he’s also thankful that nobody is here to ply him with alcohol until he confesses his secrets. Tyson only tried that with Val once. Ryan’s kind of terrified of Val’s alcohol tolerance…and for the state of Tyson’s liver.

***

Ryan is already two beers deep and talking to Wilson when he spots Cale picking his way across Gabe’s backyard towards him. He’s got this pinched look on his face when he plops into the vacant lounger next to Ryan.

“Is it like a hazing thing?” His voice always throws Ryan for a second when he first hears it. It’s so much deeper than you would expect and certainly deeper than Ryan’s own. “Because I went to college, I get that. Or, like, is it because I took Barrie’s roster spot? I don’t– I mean, you–”, Cale huffs, he’s shoulders sag and he seems to runs out of words. Ryan doesn’t need him to clarify. He gets it.

“It’s not a hazing thing or a Tyson getting traded thing,” he tells Cale, reaching out a hand to pat his knee, “EJ’s just enthusiastic. He’s an Aries”.

Wilson snorts a laugh and walks off to get another burger, leaving Ryan to deal with Cale.

“Did he give you the speech about the team not caring about same-sex soulmates?” Ryan grins. Cale turns a lovely shade of crimson and Ryan laughs.

“He offered to give me tips. Told me he was adventurous in college,” Cale sounds vaguely horrified. Then, like he can’t help himself, he adds, “I panicked and told him that some of us still had all our teeth and any tips he had for giving head wouldn’t be helpful”. Ryan laughs harder.

“Oh, buddy,” Ryan would have loved to see that.

“How do you deal with it?”

Ryan takes a minute to consider. Mostly he just pretends it’s not happening when guys start hinting about his soulmate. It’s a careful mix of playing up the dumb jock stereotype and just pure stubbornness with enough polite Canadian to make it smooth sailing.

“I ignore it mostly. Plus the guys already know I’m a bit weird,” he shrugs, “It works for me”.

“You’re not weird”.

“Buddy, look around, the only people here whose star sign and coffee order I don’t know are Kadri and Burakovsky,” Ryan raises an eyebrow.

“Sammy is definitely weirder,” Cale mumbles.

“Sammy tries harder,” Ryan nods.

***

When the season starts in October the team is winning more than they’re losing which is always great. He gets shuffled around a bit, but they all do so he’s not worried. He gets to play a few games with Cale as his D partner which is awesome. Cale’s a great guy and they read each other so well on the ice.

Everything seems to be gelling until it’s not and they lose 5 in a row to going into November. Bednar is sure to tell them all how disappointed he is in the locker room afterwards. Ryan knows it’s just how these things go sometimes, but he hasn’t been playing spectacularly and he knows that being sent down is always a possibility.

After the second loss to Dallas in the space of a week he’s back in his hotel room and doing something he hasn’t done in almost a year. His wrist is uncovered and with a blue pen that he grabbed from reception he carefully traces out Morgan’s name on his inner left wrist. He tries to make it look as much like their writing as possible, all neat capitals and even spacing between the letters. He makes sure that the tops of the M’s and the A’s are rounded and everything just slightly slanted forwards. He spent 17 years memorizing the lines, but he’s never been able to replicate it just right.

He had done this a lot when Morgan had first died. It had helped him pretend he wasn’t so alone, even for just a few hours until the ink either smudged or washed off.

When he’s finished, he puts down the pen and looks over his work. The R and the K are too skinny. And he smudged the N. It’s not even the right shade of blue.

He can feel the back of his eyes burning and god, he just wants a hug, or at least to be able to sleep in his own bed. Instead he has to make do with falling asleep alone in a hotel bed in Texas. The only comfort being that Morgan’s name looks closer to the real thing when the lights are out.

***

They win the next game against Nashville with a score of 9-4. Ryan had a goal and 2 assists. They go out afterwards because it’s a home game and they don’t need to worry about curfew or making the team bus in the morning.

Ryan ends up squashed in a booth at some bar Mikko picked. He’s stuck in between Sammy and Nate when sure enough the topic of soulmates pops up again.

Gabe’s daughter just had her name come in while they were playing in Dallas and the guys are giving him shit about the newborn Oliver Harding who Linnea is destined for.

Out of the corner of his eye, Ryan can see Cale slouching back into his seat, trying to physically distance himself from this conversation. Ryan isn’t really feeling up to this tonight either. He still feels a little raw from the other night when he recreated Morgan’s name with a blue ballpoint.

“I’m just saying, nobody loves you like a soulmate,” JT’s got a shit eating grin on his face.

“Nobody asked you to open your mouth, Compher. Literally no one,” Gabe grumbles and the boys all laugh.

“You know she’s gonna name all her teddy bears Oliver, don’t you?” Calvert asks jumping in with a smirk.

“Hey Gravy! What do you name your teddy bears?” EJ turns to him from across the table, with that unnerving toothless smile.

“Erik Johnson,” Ryan replies, dry as he can. The boys laugh and EJ rolls his eyes.

“What about you Caler? Give me something to work with?” EJ turns to Cale.

Cale seems to hesitate for a moment before starting to turn red. The whole table is turned to eye him now. He flicks his eyes briefly towards Ryan. Ryan smiles and tries to look supportive and it must work because Cale starts fumbling with his wrist guard. A couple of the guys start shifting in their seats like they’re not sure if they should be watching this. Ryan’s not sure they should be watching this.

When the black leather cuff snaps free, everyone can see the dark green lettering on Cale’s pale wrist.

Ryan Graves

***

His mind goes blank and all he can hear is his own blood rushing in his ears. He knows the team is watching him and he doesn’t know what expression is on his face, but it’s probably not good. He can feel the tension at the table and he doesn’t know what’s happening. He doesn’t even know if he’s still breathing. All he can do is stare at his own name on Cale’s arm.

“Um...” Gabe clears his throat, “I’m gonna call you guys an Uber”.

“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea,” EJ pipes up, likely regretting ever pushing so hard for Cale to uncover his name.

“My soulmate died,” Ryan can hear a few of his teammates inhale sharply. He watches as Cale’s face crumples. “I was 17 and– ”

“Uber will be here in 5. You guys should go outside,” Gabe interrupts, sounding a bit frazzled. Nate practically jumps out of the booth to let him out. Ryan slides out after him, still feeling a little like he was checked into the boards. He waits for Cale to re-clasp his wrist guard with shaking hands and to grab his jacket before following him outside to wait for the Uber.

***

They go back to Ryan’s apartment because Cale is still living with the Calverts. Ryan lets them in and kicks off his shoes. Cale does the same behind him as Ryan hangs up both of their jackets. They haven’t spoken since the bar and the air around them feels thick with tension.

For lack of anything to say, Ryan works at unbuckling his wrist guard to show Cale. Cale takes one look at the unblemished skin of his inner wrist and lets out a long breath. Ryan flops onto the couch because he needs to sit for this conversation. Cale follows him and takes a seat on the other end of the couch.

“I’ve never heard of names that don’t match, I didn’t even think– I thought just because– you know, because we’re on the same team… I’m sorry– You never seemed to care that they thought you had a guy’s name and… you said you’ve thought about telling the team,” Cale stumbles over the explanation.

“I’ve never heard of it either. I thought, because Morgan died, that¬…” he doesn’t even know how to articulate how fucked up this all is.

“What happened? With Morgan?” Cale seems hesitant to ask, like he’s not sure if he should. Or if he wants to.

“I never met them. I don’t even know if Morgan was a guy or a girl. I was in math class one day when I looked down and their name was grey. I didn’t even know, like what to do or who– like I needed to tell someone, but who do you tell? I just hid my wrist for the rest of the afternoon and showed my mom when she got home from work. She called my coach and the school and she took care of everything. They had to give me a week off to like¬…grieve, I guess. I spent a week in my bedroom trying to pretend it wasn’t happening.” Cale eyebrows are pulled together in concern. “When I went back to school and the team, guys were freaked out by it, so I hid it”.

“I’m sorry. That must have been–” he cuts himself off. There aren’t words to describe a loss like that.

“It sucked,” Is all Ryan says, before the silence can stretch too long. Ryan follows up by asking the one thing he’s been dying to since Cale put his wrist guard back on at the bar, “Can I see it again?”

Cale looks at him a moment before unbuckling his cuff again, hands much steadier this time. It’s still there; dark green on the thin skin of Cale’s inner wrist. It’s definitely his hand writing. He would recognize the sharp, narrow letters anywhere. Seeing it again doesn’t make it seem any more real.

“I don’t know where to go from here,” Ryan tells him honestly.

“I think– I think you need to be the one to decide. Because I’ve always wanted you,” Cale is flushed pink and looking up at him from under his lashes. Ryan feels the breath go out of him again, but he nods.

***

The next afternoon at practice, the team is aggressively not talking about it. He can feel some of the guys eyeing him. EJ looks like it physically pains him to not come over and say something. Ryan is pretty sure he does not want to hear whatever EJ is thinking, so he appreciates the restraint.

Ryan thought about not wearing his wrist guard this morning. It’s a closed practice and the whole team already knows he doesn’t have a name… he couldn’t bring himself to leave it behind though.

Last night, Cale had left not long after very clearly leaving the ball in Ryan’s court and now Ryan needs to figure this shit out. If he’s being honest with himself – and he does try to be – he’s never thought of Cale in any capacity other than friend or teammate or D partner.

He’s thinking about in now though. About how there’s someone with his name on their arm and that someone is Cale Makar. Fourth overall draft pick, Hobey Baker winner, all around great teammate Cale Makar. Ryan can’t wrap his brain around it.

He’s also thinking about the flush on Cale’s cheeks when he’s happy. Or the way his eyes look when he really smiles. Or the way his voice sounds when they have to be up ridiculously early to travel. Ryan has always felt a little weird about being attracted to people who are clearly marked for someone else, it’s why he doesn’t hook up all that often. But with Cale… well, it’s the first time a soul mark hasn’t been a deterrent.

The team wins the next few games at home before their 10 day road trip through western Canada with a final stop in Minnesota. Everyone is still not talking about it, which Ryan appreciated at first, but now it just feels like he’s waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The guys love Cale and he keeps expecting someone to pull him aside and tell him to give the kid an answer already. No one does. He suspects Cale warned them all off him, which makes Ryan feel kind of crappy if he thinks about it. This situation is doing his head in, but in a lot of ways, it’s so much worse for Cale. He grew up thinking that he and Ryan were soulmates and that somewhere out there Ryan was waiting for him only to find out that Ryan had been waiting for someone else entirely. It has him rethinking a lot of past interactions and seeing them in a new light.

He tried Googling one-sided soulmates and came across a couple of threads on Reddit and a bunch of sad sounding romance novels. He discards the novels immediately because he’s already living this shit, he doesn’t need a fictional tear-jerker version too. Reddit also proves to be about 95% useless shit that he spends hours wading through. What he manages to piece together is that yes, it happens. They don’t have accurate stats on how often because most people find their soulmate through the Soulmate Registry. If only one side of a soulmate couple signs up for the Registry – or if both sides don’t match –they won’t be paired. These people with one-sided bonds would then never know they weren’t part of a matched set.

He thinks about how when he was younger, there was a Morgan Maddock out in the world with his name on them and had Morgan lived, he never would have stopped hiding his wrist. Cale would have seen Morgan’s name when they met and likely never said anything. Cale would be the one left thinking he had no real soulmate. Ryan doesn’t know what to do with that information. At this point he’s just giving himself a headache thinking in circles.

***

EJ’s restraint finally gives out in Vancouver. They’ve been on the road now for 4 days and they just finished practice for the afternoon. They don’t play the Canucks until tomorrow and most of the guys were planning on going out for dinner. EJ ends up getting to him before he can head out with the others to whatever steakhouse Gabe has found. It’s just the two of them for dinner which means EJ is going to make him talk about Cale.

“Listen, Gravy,” EJ starts as soon as their seated, “I’m sorry about…” he trails off.

“Their name was Morgan,” EJ winces.

“No– well yes! I mean obviously I can’t even imagine what it’s like to lose a soulmate,” EJ says. He’s fidgeting with the cutlery on the table and looking like he would rather be just about anywhere else. Ryan can feel his eyebrows pull together in confusion. “I meant that I’m sorry I bugged you guys so hard about sharing with the team. I just wanted… Well I wanted you guys to be happy I guess”.

Ryan already knew that. EJ’s way of showing his love for his teammates could maybe use a little work, but Ryan knew EJ was a good guy and wasn’t out to hurt anyone. Ryan is sure to tell him so.

“Right, but—” EJ breathes out sharply through his nose, “You guys were covering your wrists for a reason and I should have respected that. I’m sorry”.

Ryan really didn’t need an apology, but he appreciates the sentiment.

“Thanks EJ. I know you were only doing it because you care. I was never mad about it. I don’t think Cale was mad either,” Ryan says, putting a hand over EJ’s wrist to stop him from continuing to test the point of his knife with his index finger. EJ releases the knife and straightens up in his seat.

“Speaking of Cale…”

“You just finished apologizing for being a nosy bastard and you want to start in again?” Ryan arches an eyebrow in part amusement and part disbelief. “What’s that saying about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?”

“Fuck off. I just wanted to say I think you two would be good together. We’ve all seen the way he looks at you when you’re not paying attention. That kid has been in love with you since he got here,” Ryan can feel his cheeks heating. He wasn’t expecting that.

“I feel… guilty. Like— like I’m cheating on Morgan. It feels disrespectful to call someone else my soulmate. People only get one soulmate,” It’s the first time he’s ever said any of it aloud. He’s tried not to even think about it if he’s being honest.

“Ryan,” he doesn’t think EJ has ever used his first name before, “I’m sure that Morgan would have been perfect. They were picked just for you and I’m sorry that— that you guys never even got a chance. But someone picked Cale for you too and wouldn’t Morgan want for you— I mean, if you had died instead, would you have wanted Morgan to be alone for the rest of their life?”

The answer to that is obviously no; he wouldn’t want his soulmate to be alone and miserable. And he wouldn’t them to ever feel guilty for being happy. If he and Morgan were supposed to be perfect for each other, he doesn’t think they would ever hold being happy with Cale against him. It’s just… he already knows he’s going to give things with Cale a shot. He thinks the only part of this situation that’s giving him pause and making him feel bad is how quickly he decided on Cale. He hadn’t even needed a moment to think about it. Cale gets him like nobody else and part of that is hockey, but most of it is just him and Cale.
He never knew Morgan, but he can’t imagine the two of them would have complemented each other like he and Cale do. That’s the part he feels worst about.

***

Dinner with EJ had stirred up all kinds of emotions that Ryan had been trying really hard not to lose himself in for the better part of the past week. Or the better part of the last decade maybe, depending on how you look at everything. Usually when he feels this shitty he finds a blue pen and writes Morgan’s name on his arm. He thinks that would be counter-productive today. Not to mention it seems like a shitty thing to do to Cale.

Instead, he thinks about calling his mom. He thinks about talking to EJ or Gabe or anyone on the team. He thinks about talking to someone professionally trained to help him sort his head out. In the end he calls his agent.

***

Ryan shows up to team breakfast in Calgary without his wrist guard on. He knows the guys have noticed.

Nobody says anything or is a dick about it so Ryan tries not to care. He sits down next to Cale and pulls a red pen out of his pocket. He hands Cale the pen and his blank wrist. Nate is sitting across the table watching the two of them with wide eyes, his fork paused in midair.

“Wha—?” Cale flounders, looking between the pen and Ryan.

“Write your name. So we match,” Ryan takes the pen back to uncap it before putting it back in Cale’s hand.

Cale blinks at him before smiling wide and beaming and grabbing hold of Ryan’s arm. He writes his name in neat little letters, being careful not to press too hard on the delicate skin of Ryan’s wrist.
Ryan takes his arm back when he’s done to look it over. Cale’s handwriting is small and boy-ish. The A’s aren’t fully closed and could almost be U’s and the M is wide with pointed tops. It looks nothing like Morgan’s name which is something that Ryan didn’t even think to worry about until it was right in front of him. He finds that he’s glad they look nothing alike.

Ryan leaves the ink exposed though breakfast so that it can dry, but puts his wrist guard on again before heading to the bus for practice.

He and Cale definitely need to talk about this.

***

They beat Calgary that night 3-2 and Cale follows him to his room when they get back to the hotel.

“Are we— Gravy, what was that this morning? With the pen?” Cale asks, before Ryan has even had a chance to close the door.

“I think that the Universe gave you that mark for a reason. I think we should give this a shot. Like, I Googled it and... We aren’t the only ones that don’t match, but it could still be good,” Ryan had thought a lot about what he should say to Cale over the past week. He’s done plenty of thinking about what a life with Cale might look like and it would be so easy to fall into it. Even with the media and the internet trolls and the shitty things guys might say on the ice, it would be good. He’s only known Cale a few months and the two of them had clicked as friends right away. There’s definitely something there.

“Are you sure? I need– I need you to be really sure, because like, this is a big deal for me. You’re it for me,” Cale is turning redder by the minute, but he’s keeping eye contact and Ryan knows he means business.

“I know– I mean, I wouldn’t have said anything if I wasn’t sure,” Ryan tells him honestly. He’s had almost a week to think this over, but he keeps coming back to the same conclusion; their wrists don’t match, but the two of them just fit. A part of him still feels bad when he thinks about Morgan, but he knows that Morgan wouldn’t hold this against him.

“Okay. I– Okay,” Cale lets out a long breath and the tension Ryan hadn’t even noticed in his shoulders seems to go with it.

“I spoke to my agent,” Cale blinks in surprise, but says nothing, “I’m going to keep wearing my wrist guard for now. Maybe I’ll change my mind later, but you don’t– you can—. It’s not about hiding us, I’m just not ready for people to know my wrist is blank, I guess”.

“Can I…” Cale trails off, looking unsure for the first time in this conversation, “I liked putting my name on you this morning. I’ll talk to my agent too, but I want people to know about us. Like if you want, I could stop wearing mine…” Ryan grins. He hadn’t wanted to ask Cale to do that for him if he wasn’t ready, but to have Cale offer it meant more than he could express.

“We should probably tell our families first,” Ryan says, thinking aloud.

“I mean, my family already knows about you. I was born with your name,” right, that makes sense, Ryan thinks. Cale smiles like he knows what’s going though Ryan’s head.
“We’ll figure it out,”

“Yeah,” Cale agrees and the two of them just stand there grinning at each other like idiots until Cale gets a look in his eye like he’s gearing up for an important face off. Ryan can feel his eyebrows pulling together and opens his mouth to ask, but he doesn’t manage any sound out before Cale has lunged at him. He’s so surprised that it actually takes a second for him to realize that Cale is kissing him. It’s not a great kiss. It kind of hurts and the angle is all wrong. Once Ryan’s brain is able to catch up, the two of them make the necessary corrections and then…Oh. Ryan was right, the two of them just fit.

***

Cale had gone back to his own room eventually, after the two of them had finished making out like teenagers, but not before leaving a rather impressive set of teeth marks on Ryan’s collarbone. And, Jesus, people say he’s a vampire.

When he goes down for breakfast, Cale is already there sitting with JT and Tyson. When he takes a seat next to Cale, Tyson actually does a double take.

“Holy shit, Caler,” Tyson laughs, “Gravy’s your soulmate, not your lunch”.

“Shut up, Josty,” JT pipes up with a smirk, “Gravy’s a whole snack”.

“Fuck off,” Cale mumbles and blushes burgundy.

Ryan ignores their chirping and pulls out a red pen to hand to Cale. Without further prompting, Cale carefully writes his name on Ryan’s inner wrist. Even if nobody but them will see it under his cuff, Ryan knows both he and Cale like having 'Cale Makar' inked onto his skin.

“Okay, that shit’s fucking cute,” EJ says from where he’s seated at the next table. Ryan looks up from where he and Cale have their heads bent together to see that half the team seems to be watching them. He’s too happy to even pretend to care.