Chapter 19: The Blues in Beantown [Slapshot!]
It was raining when they crossed the tarmac to board the plane. The wind was bitter and blowing from the north and the rain seemed to get heavier by the minute.
“Just a squall,” they were assured by the pilot. “Won’t even notice once we get up in the air.”
“At least it’s a quick flight,” Danny grumbled, flopping into the window seat. Dima settled in beside him, ducking aside as Brenden tossed his carry-on into the overhead compartment. Sebby and Ty were whispering to each other, all furtive looks and hushed voices, in the seat ahead of them. Mike lifted an eyebrow.
“What’s going on?” Mike asked, draping himself across the seat. Sebby and Ty both paled, then sat up straighter.
“Nothing,” Sebby said. Brenden sat down heavily. Timmo glowered at him, then popped his earbuds in.
“Hey!” Leo called as he tromped in. “Any of you guys seen Macks?”
Sebby and Ty looked about. Mike frowned. “Jake’s not here either.”
“Huh,” Leo snorted, stuffing his gear into the overhead, then taking up residence beside Nicky. “Well, can’t expect much from a two-bit drug addict, I guess—”
“Ahem,” Dima said sharply, and they all glanced up to find Jake returning their gazes.
“Mornin,’” he said, almost nonchalantly.
Leo whistled low. Nicky’s eyebrows lifted, and he looked away, judging but unwilling to say anything.
Dima elbowed Danny. “Ow,” he groused, turning to glare at his teammate, “what?”
Dima gestured with his head, nodding in Jake’s direction. His gaze darted back to meet Danny’s. “Say something,” he hissed.
“Hey asshole,” Leo shouted at Luke, “I dunno what’s acceptable in Minnesota, but here, you shower before you show up to work. Fucker.”
More hushed whispering from Sebby and Ty. Mike sighed loudly. “Too late,” he grumbled, “Leo has taken matters into his own hands.”
“It’s common courtesy!” Leo continued.
“Sorry,” Jake said with a shrug that made it clear he wasn’t sorry at all, “I was running late.”
“I wonder why,” Nicky said dryly, and everyone paused. They all knew. Jake reeked of sated omega, broadcasting to the world that he was an alpha that delivered.
Danny would have been quite comfortable without that knowledge, he was sure.
“Like you’ve never fucked a broad,” Jake sneered, turning around to glower at Nicky and Leo. “Or maybe you haven’t?”
“Boys!” Coach Q huffed as he stepped into the cabin. “Settle down. Save it for the game tonight –we wanna get this series started on the right note and that means kicking Bear ass tonight.”
The complaints tapered off, becoming little more than a rumble of discontent, a few glowers.
Hamish, one of the assistant coaches, was counting heads. He paused, brows knitting close together. “Where’s Mackinnon?” he inquired, glancing up.
“Here,” Luke said, clattering into the cabin, a torrent of rain following him.
“Late,” Coach Q remarked, “again. Macks, I don’t want to tell you again.”
“Sorry,” Luke all but panted. Danny frowned, then snuck a glance at Jake, who’d gone pale—not with fright, it seemed, but with anger.
He glanced at Dima, but the Russian was oblivious, plugging himself in and gazing out the window.
Danny inhaled, then settled back into his seat.
It wasn’t long before they were taxiing down the runway, then bouncing into the air, leaving Pittsburgh behind. They banked, setting their course. Conversation became quieter and quieter as they settled into the flight, some of them napping, some of them engaged with movies or iPods or games. The flight was barely an hour and a half; they’d be descending again before they knew it.
Danny closed his eyes, trying to swallow the illness that almost always accompanied take-off for him. He steadied his breathing, calming himself, willing the nausea, the tension away. Even after this many years in the league, he still wasn’t used to it; he didn’t think he’d ever get over it.
Dima smacked him, and he chomped down on his lip, blood spilling into his mouth. “Hey,” he spat.
Further retaliation was cut off by the pilot’s voice crackling over the intercom. “Guys, buckle up. We’re gonna start our descent shortly, and we’ll be arriving in about twenty minutes.”
Groans of protest followed by the clicking of seatbelts was the response in the cabin. Chatter erupted as they were pulled from their isolated worlds back into the social sphere.
“Hey, Sebby,” Brenden said, smacking the forward, “you’re not gonna choke this time, are ya?”
“Yeah,” Jake chimed in, “just ‘cause they’re yer old team.”
“Hey, hey,” Sebby said, “I didn’t choke. They were out for blood, man, I dunno what got into ’em.”
“Huh,” Jake snorted.
“Takes a choker to know one,” Sebby snarled at the blond.
The entire plane seemed to drop; they were silent as gravity was suddenly reversed.
“Fuck,” Mike said when they leveled out again, “I hate that.”
“Whoa, Ty, you doing okay?”
“Ha, the rookie’s gonna hurl.”
“In the bag, dude, in the bag, this sweater’s dry clean only —”
They dropped again. Ty turned decidedly greener. Danny watched until he couldn’t stand it any longer, let his eyes slide shut again. It was easier like this.
They started to descend again, and then the plane angled forward, as though it were gearing up to slam into the asphalt of the runway below. The engines roared, deafening them, and they fell silent.
It was a tense moment; landing always was. They hit the ground with a bump, leaping back into the air, and then the engines were slammed into reverse. The entire cabin shook, and they tilted forward in their seats, then back as they came to a crawl, creeping down the runway.
“Coach, can our next trade be for a better pilot?”
“Oy, shut up, Mike.”
“We’re alive, aren’t we?”
“Mr. Robinson, if you think you could fly the plane better, I invite you to try on the return trip.”
Laughter erupted in the cabin, and the tension was gone, evaporating as they taxied to their terminal.
They disembarked, then crowded onto the bus that was waiting for them. It was a short ride through humid Boston to the hotel. When they arrived, it would be a quick skate, then lunch, and pre-game naps. Puck-drop was at eight.
The Bears weren’t an easy team to face; they never had been. Even growing up, Danny remembered the Boys from Beantown as one of the top teams. He’d played them himself now, and he knew they liked to play a tight defensive game, low-scoring, plenty of cycling to keep the puck out of their zone, sweeping it out almost as soon as it was in.
He glanced at Sebby. He seemed all right—laughing and joking with Brenden and Ty—but Danny knew that facing the Bears always represented a low point for Sebby. He had been traded to the Stars two seasons ago, a deal that had widely been mocked as a rip-off for the Stars. Sebastien Montclair hadn’t been much of a player in Boston, a third-liner who bounced between the big league and the farm team.
Sebby had been heartbroken by the trade, though. He’d been drafted into the Bears organization. They had been his favorite team, his hometown team growing up. His dad had played for the Bears, and Lucian Montclair had been one of the greats on a Cup-winning squad. Sebby had a lot on his shoulders, sky-high expectations to live up to. And, ultimately, he’d failed—the Bears had traded him. To Sebby, to the son of Lucian Montclair, that was failure.
Adding insult to injury had been the fact that Sebby had to leave behind his best friend. He and Gabe had shared quite the dynamic all the way through juniors.
Gabe didn’t talk to Sebby much anymore; the seasonal schedule didn’t really allow for it, and Gabe seemed to have no interest in talking to him during the summer.
Danny thought the Bears were tough, especially in the playoffs; he had no idea what it would be like to play through that much emotional attachment to the team, the city, the players. If Sebby choked or didn’t play his best, well, Danny was pretty sure he could be forgiven for that.
Sebby yawned and stretched, rubbing sleep away from his eyes. He stared at the ceiling for a moment, allowing it to come into focus. He took a minute to remember where he was: in a hotel room in Boston after pre-game skate before facing the Bears in Game 1 of the second round of the playoffs. He blinked, then looked across the way at Brenden, who was already awake.
“Jesus!” Sebby cried, jumping, then lobbing a pillow at his teammate.
“You creep! Lying there watching me like a … creeping creeper that creeps!”
Brenden blinked slowly. “Huh?” he asked after a moment.
“You were looking at me.”
“No, I wasn’t.”
“Yes, you were.”
“I was not. I was contemplating the wall, and all of a sudden, you threw a pillow at me.”
Sebby gritted his teeth, rolled his eyes. “Creep,” he muttered under his breath.
Brenden evidently didn’t hear him as he rolled over, stretching out. “You ready for this?” he asked, turning back to Sebby.
“Huh? Why wouldn’t I be?”
Brenden contemplated for a moment. “Well. It’s just.”
Sebby shrugged. “That’s right. It’s just the Bears,” he said with a confidence he didn’t feel.
If Brenden hadn’t been looking at him before, he was now. He was evaluating, judging, watching Sebby, some kind of conflict playing out in his eyes, before he finally decided not to continue in that vein of conversation.
“Guess we should get up,” he said, kicking away the sheets. “Q will have a fit if we’re late again.”
Sebby almost sighed in relief. He was getting tired of having this conversation. Every time they faced the Bears, someone had to bring up the past. They’d ask him if he was ready to square off against his hometown team, his idols, his father’s legacy. They’d ask if he was ready to play his best against guys he considered his friends and family. And then they’d make fun of him for choking, as though it were somehow his fault for not being able to put the past to bed.
Sebby wanted to know how he was supposed to forget when everyone kept bringing it up at every turn. It didn’t feel good to walk into that arena, to see the Cup banner hanging from the rafters, his father’s retired number. It haunted him in a lot of ways. And it hardly felt good to play against the Bears—Gabe was his friend, and some of the other guys had been there when his dad was still playing. The captain, Jussi, was probably gonna retire in the next season or two, and Sebby’s dad had been captain when Jussi was drafted. Jussi was like an uncle to him, a second father. It was hardly nice to play against him.
Of course, Jussi wanted him to play and play well. Gabe wanted him to play his best. And Sebby wanted them both to play their best games when they squared off. He didn’t want them to go easy on him.
He was just tired of the hyped up drama around it. It had been two years, after all. It shouldn’t have been a big deal anymore.
Yet it still felt like it was.
“You … zoned out,” Brenden said, sitting up a bit.
“Sorry,” Sebby said, kicking away the sheets. The carpet pushed back against his feet as he crossed the room. He rifled through his bag, dug out his iPod.
“Hey,” Brenden said.
“Mm?” He didn’t lift his head, his gaze. His fingers lingered on the zipper.
A pill bottle hovered in front of his face, “Sutherland” written in all-caps right before his eyes. He glanced up at Brenden. “What’s this?”
“Take one,” Brenden replied, shaking the bottle for emphasis. “I think it’ll help you.”
Sebby knocked his hand away. “I’m not gonna take anything before the game, Brenden. That’s stupid; it’ll just fuck up my game —”
“It’s for anxiety,” Brenden said, opening up the bottle, dumping out a capsule. He pressed it squarely into Sebby’s palm, folded Sebby’s fingers back over it. “I know how stressed you get, okay? This is a tough town for you, a tough game. I really think you’ll play better if you just take that.”
Their gazes locked, boring into each other. Brenden pressed his lips together. “Okay?” he repeated, glancing down at Sebby’s closed hand. “Just … hang on to it.”
“Okay,” Sebby murmured, pocketing the capsule, heaving a breath. He’d chuck it out when Brenden wasn’t looking.
“Shit,” Brenden said, glancing toward the clock, “we’re gonna be late for the bus.”
Sebby groaned. “Coach is gonna kill us …”
“You sure you’re okay to play?” Danny asked, glancing down at Luke. The dark-haired man was sitting at his stall, head down between his knees. His breathing was harsh, but he nodded anyway.
Danny glanced around the room, then looked at his teammate again. “You need water or anything?”
Luke shook his head.
“I dunno,” Mike said, “you don’t look okay.”
“I’ll be fine,” Luke all but gasped.
“I don’t think he should play,” Jake said very calmly.
“Yeah, you look like shit,” Mike said.
“You don’t seem okay,” Danny pressed.
Luke lifted his head at last. “I’m fine,” he almost snarled.
“Guys,” Nicky said with a sigh.
“The other team’s already on the ice for warm-ups,” Brenden reported from the doorway.
“C’mon,” Danny grumbled, shuffling Jake and Mike away from Luke, herding them toward the door. Luke followed them, his breathing giving him away.
They headed down the tunnel, emerging into the bright of the stadium lights, the sea of noise that was the crowd, the announcers, other men yelling at each other, the steady swish of blades across the ice, all to the incessant bass beat of the latest trance-techno-pop hit.
Danny paused, turning back to nod at the players behind him—Luke, Sebby, Ty. He waited, then followed them out onto the ice.
Ten minutes flew by; it seemed to Danny that he’d only just set foot on the ice, and suddenly the horn sounded, sending them back down the tunnel.
“You look even worse now,” Mike told Luke angrily.
Luke just glared at him, then flopped onto the bench, panting.
Danny heaved a sigh and turned away, just in time to see Sebby toss something into his mouth and swig water to swallow it down. Danny quirked an eyebrow.
“Uh,” Sebby said, glancing at him.
Danny shook his head. “Okay,” he said.
“It was nothing,” Sebby said.
Danny held up his hands in defeat. “Whatever.”
Tonight was not going well, not going their way, and the puck hadn’t even dropped yet. They needed to win this one; Danny didn’t want to drop the first of the series if they could help it. They didn’t need to go back to DC in a hole.
The buzzer sounded, summoning them back to the ice. Danny found the corners of his mouth faltering, and he knew his eyes were too serious, too fraught with worry and tension. He saw it reflected back at him in his teammates’ eyes as they passed him by, felt it in the way they met his fist, barely bumping, scarcely touching. There was no heart.
They’d already lost. They were defeated.
Danny grimaced, hating that he was thinking that already. They had to go out there and give it their all. They had to go out there and score goals, play good hockey, win.
They couldn’t go out like they were already losing, as though they were in a 4–0 hole in the last half of the third.
But they did. They were sloppy, undisciplined. They turned the puck over, again and again, deep in their own zone. Their passing was off, intercepted by the Bears all too often. They got frustrated, they drew penalties.
And then, in the middle of the second period, Luke crumpled to the ice in a heap. Play was whistled down, almost immediately.
“I didn’t hit him!” one of the Bears was yelling, his hands held high.
Jake was over Luke in a second; Danny barely trailed behind.
“Macks?” he asked, skating circles around Jake and Luke’s crumpled form.
“He’s fine, he’s fine,” Jake said.
Luke pushed up to his hands and knees. Jake leaned in closer. Danny glanced to his left, saw the trainers getting onto the ice now, making their way along the slippery surface as quickly as they could.
Hamish kneeled down beside Luke, pushing Jake out of the way. Danny didn’t miss the way the alpha all but snarled at Hamish, a feral animal, all of his teeth on display as the trainer put a hand on Luke’s shoulder and leaned in to talk to him.
Luke sat back on his knees, then slowly climbed to his feet, taking Hamish’s proffered hand. Jake skated in closer. Danny trailed them back to the bench. The crowd started clapping, cheering. The players were banging their sticks on the boards, on the ice.
Luke was whisked down the tunnel. Jake whirled on Danny. “I told him he shouldn’t be playing,” he growled, as though it were Danny’s fault Luke had been so insistent, so stubborn. As though it had been Danny’s idea to play him, as though Danny had made the decision to put Luke in the line-up tonight. “I did nothing, absolutely nothing.”
“Whatever,” Danny said, frowning deeply, “is he okay?” Seriously, that was probably more important now. Who was right and who was wrong didn’t matter. What was important was that Luke was okay—and Danny definitely wasn’t sure he was. He eyed Jake warily.
The alpha just nodded.
“Good,” Danny said, “then let’s get back out there and at least score a goal.”
They didn’t score a goal. They got shut out. Boston shut them down at every turn, turning each play they tried to make into a mistake, capitalized on every actual mistake they made. The Stars dropped the match, going down five-zip. Sebby was booed every time he set foot on the ice, every time the puck ended up on his stick. He looked tense, fraught, by the end of the game, his pupils nothing but pinpoints, lines tugging all around his mouth. He looked older, in a painful, ungainly sort of way, before they stepped off the ice for the final time that evening, the roaring of the crowd singing through their veins, adding insult to injury.
There was nothing to say in the locker room. They hadn’t even played well; they’d played like shit. There were no bright points, it seemed. Danny couldn’t think of anything inspiring to say, and he cowered before his teammates, their angry eyes, their harsh mouths. They were all pissed off, stewing about the loss. To say anything was to make himself the scapegoat. So he stayed silent, let them stew.
He was stewing too, of course, wondering where he’d gone wrong, if there wasn’t something he could have done better. Could he have skated faster, passed more clearly? Could he have yelled more encouragement to the boys, jumped up on the rush, passed the puck, shot the puck? Could he have delivered more hits? Should he have asked someone to dance, drop gloves with him?
Even there in the locker room, he didn’t know what to do, what to say. What could he say? He didn’t know. They’d lost and they’d lost badly. They all knew they had to improve. They all knew their playoff hopes were hanging in the balance.
The bus ride back was just about as silent, almost painful. The anger was thick in the air, almost palpable. Danny struggled to keep his breathing calm and even, his heart from pounding. He felt like a fight would break out any second.
Nothing happened. They pulled into the unloading zone in front of the hotel, and they filed off the bus. They clattered through the lobby, dragging in muck from rain-soaked earth outside, tracking it across the marble floor to the elevators.
There were a few murmured good nights once they headed into their rooms, but they were half-hearted, echoes of the words they usually said, and they rang hollow through the corridor. The slamming of doors was louder than usual, more poignant.
Ty glanced about nervously, hugging his jacket closer around himself. Sebby and Brenden were talking loudly in front of him; Mike was hunched up beside him, glowering at the stained carpet. Behind them, there was a group of drunk girls, staggering and giggling
Ty glanced about again, then swallowed nervously. Mike caught his eye. “Hey,” he said.
“Yeah?” Ty asked, looking up at the blond.
“Relax,” Mike said with a wink and grin.
“Trust me,” Mike said, nodding knowingly.
Ty took a deep breath, let his shoulders sag upon the exhale. “Okay,” he said, nodding his head, pursing his lips.
They rode the elevator down to the ground floor, then stepped out into the rainy night. The girls followed them to the curb, still giggling.
The Uber arrived a minute later, rolling up in a slick black SUV. “Montclair?” he asked when the window was rolled down far enough.
The girls stopped giggling. Sebby yanked open the door. “That’s us,” he said, gesturing the others in. Ty slammed the door shut behind them, peering at the group of girls through the tinted glass. They were staring at the car, their mouths slightly agape, anger written all over their faces.
They pulled away from the curb. “Where to?” their driver, a husky man with a beard and a sideways ball cap, asked.
“Vinnie’s,” Sebby said, and the guy gave him a curious look, but said nothing.
They arrived outside a dive bar in a dumpy-looking end of town, lit up by the glitz and glitter of twenty-something girls in cheap clothes they grabbed at M&H or Eternally 21. Ty could scarcely believe the line-up; the bar didn’t seem like much.
“Best place in town,” Sebby said, then went about paying the driver.
They stepped out of the car about the same time the line tugged forward. “Hey!” Sebby said, grinning broadly at the bouncer as he turned away from the vehicle.
“Oh my fucking god,” the bouncer said, clapping his hand around Sebby’s. “Look at you, you magnificent motherfucker. How ya been?”
“Good! How have ya been? I missed yer ugly mug, David.”
“These your friends?” David asked, turning his keen eyes on them, sizing them up. Ty forced himself to stand straight and tall when all he wanted to do was shrink away and hide forever.
“Yeah, yeah, teammates,” Sebby replied.
David nodded vigorously, stepping aside. “Please,” he said.
“Awesome, thanks,” Mike said. Brenden nodded, and Ty paused, glancing at the man, then ducking inside as quickly as he could, before David changed his mind and tried to check Ty’s ID.
They made their way through the dark hall, past coat-check, to an empty table near the bar. Ty glanced around nervously. He’d been to bars before, when they were in Canada, and he was legal to drink. Here, though …
“Let’s do shots,” Mike said, wriggling out of his coat.
“Of course you want to start with shots,” Brenden groused.
“Tequila!” Sebby shouted and darted off to the bar before anyone could stop him.
“Shots for the whole bar!” Mike hollered after him.
“Are you two already drunk?” Brenden grumbled, slinging himself into one of the chairs.
Mike just grinned at him. Brenden glanced at Ty, then nudged him. “Hey,” he said, “take yer jacket off. Stay a while.”
“Yeah,” Ty murmured, shrugging out of his coat, dropping it on the table with the rest of them.
Sebby returned to the table with a tray of shots. A quick glance over their shoulders told them that he had listened to Mike though; the girls at the bar were frantically filling shot glasses and setting out lemon wedges.
Sebby dropped the tray on the table with a clunk, alcohol leaping dangerously close to spilling over the sides of its containers. He lifted his shot glass. “To Boston,” he said.
Brenden rolled his eyes.
“To us kicking ass for the rest of the series!” Mike said, elbowing Sebby.
“I will drink to that!”
They swiveled to face the voice, which belonged to a tall redhead, who grinned wolfishly at them as he approached the table.
“Oh my god,” Sebby chortled, “Gabe.”
“Hey,” Gabe said, leaning against their table, “thanks for the shot.” He lifted the glass, then tossed it back.
Sebby turned to face him more bodily, grinning broadly. “What are you doing here?” he asked, clearly delighted.
Ty glanced at Mike, who waved a hand, almost dismissively.
“I am not allowed to party here anymore?” Gabe asked. There was a hard edge in his eyes, even though his lips were smiling. Ty sank back in his seat.
Sebby shook his head. “You know,” he said, spreading his arms wide, “I just … of all the bars in town, you had to walk into mine.”
“Hey,” Gabe said, “you do not live here anymore, Montclair.”
Sebby sneered at him, punched him in the arm playfully. “Says you,” he said, “why, I got a house just down the street from here.”
Gabe laughed. “I know, I know,” he said, holding up his hands, “I joke.”
“So, seriously, what are you doing here?”
“Celebrating,” Gabe said with a wink, pointing across the room, to a table filled with clearly inebriated hockey players.
That deflated Sebby a bit. He sank back in his seat; his smile fell.
“Oh,” Gabe said, slinging an arm around Sebby’s shoulders. “Don’t take it so heavy. You must lose sometimes, yes?”
“Yeah, but you don’t drop ’em all five-zip,” Mike huffed.
Gabe shrugged. “What will you do?” he asked. His gaze skipped over Mike, landing on Ty. They stared at each other for a moment, before Ty averted his eyes, staring down at the sticky tabletop, nicked and already covered in booze.
He didn’t like Gabe. The guy gave him bad vibes, like a snake in the grass. He glanced at Sebby, then to Brenden.
Brenden didn’t like him either; that much was obvious to Ty, from the way Brenden was clenching his jaw, to the way he had his hand wrapped around the shot glass as though he could crush it with ease.
“Come hang out with us?” Gabe asked. He sounded slick, like oil oozing down walls. Ty resisted the urge to shudder.
“Oh, why?” Mike asked, rolling his eyes. “Didn’t you guys humiliate us enough for one night?”
Sebby fixed Mike with a sharp look. “It is okay,” Gabe said, patting Sebby’s hand. Ty glanced at Brenden; the defenseman’s lip was curled up, his gaze pinned on Gabe, daring him to do more. Gabe was grinning at him over Sebby’s shoulder, that same wolfish grin he’d approached them with.
Ty wanted to go home. This guy was bad news; he felt it with every slam of his heart against his ribcage.
“It’s just a game, right?” Gabe continued, shrugging. “What’s done is done. We are all hockey players, we all know what it’s like.”
“Leave it on the ice, yeah?” Sebby said softly, almost glaring at Mike.
“Sure, sure,” Mike said, waving his hand. “Well, the least you guys can do is buy me a beer as a consolation prize, right?” He slid off his chair; his feet hit the ground.
Gabe laughed. “See?” he said. “It’s not all bad, beer is on us tonight. Don’t be bad losers.”
“I guess you’re right,” Brenden grumbled, but it was clear he didn’t like that the redhead was right. Nonetheless, he clambered out of his chair. Ty watched him, then followed suit, grabbing up their abandoned jackets and following them across the bar to where the Bears were seated.
“Oh-ho, look who it is!” cried Ryan Ward.
“It’s Montclair and his rag-tag team of No-Stars!”
“Ah, shove it,” Sebby said, shoving one of the guys over, shuffling into the booth with them. Surprisingly, they made room.
“What’sa matter?” Ryan asked, leaning forward, grinning broadly. “Here to drown your sorrows in alcohol?”
“Only if you’re buying,” Sebby replied coolly.
Laughter erupted from the Bears. “Oy,” Ryan called, “let’s get a couple of pitchers over here! Our guys have had a rough night!”
“I agree!” Gabe chortled.
“Shove over,” Mike said, and the guys shuffled further into the booth, shoulders jostling. Brenden draped himself over the side of the booth, leaning there, right at Sebby’s side.
Ty stared at them, feeling hopelessly awkward, his arms full of jackets, no more room for him to sit, and at a table of guys he scarcely knew.
“Somebody grab the rookie a chair!”
“You guys are awful,” Gabe said to Sebby, “make him carry your stuff around.”
“Hey,” Mike retorted, “that’s what rookies are for.”
“Oy,” said a burly guy with frizzy brown hair, “shut up. You were rookies once.”
“Ah, you’re just saying that Spencer, ‘cause you’re a rookie.”
“Is Spencer a rookie?” Sebby asked, almost contemplatively.
“Yeah!” Ryan enthused. “First year up in the big leagues!”
“But he’s been in the NCHL for so long …”
“Who asked you anyway?” Spencer said, smacking Ryan.
Overflowing pitchers suddenly alighted on their table, two of the barmaids grinning at them hopefully, almost leering. Gabe winked at them, and they tittered, swaying their hips as they headed back to the bar.
“Here ya go,” Sebby said, offering up a stein to Ty.
“Oh, uh,” he said, blinking.
Sebby winked. “You’re good,” he said, smiling broadly. He wouldn’t tell.
Ty busied himself with his beer, trying to ignore the questioning look Ryan was giving him. There was tension in the air; Gabe was grinning lazily, most of the time watching Sebby, watching Brenden who kept shuffling closer, his body language all but screaming possession and jealousy. Ty wondered how he hadn’t noticed that before, or why Sebby didn’t seem to notice now.
But every so often, Gabe’s gaze would land on him, hard and evaluating, almost piercing and Ty wished he could disappear through the floor. Instead, he drank beer, letting it wash away his anxieties, his fear.
The pitchers were empty; the clock said after one. Sebby was nodding away at the table. Mike was grabbing their coats. Brenden was leaned over Sebby, concern on his brow. Ty felt dizzy, euphoric. The world spun a bit; he was hazy, drifting away to somewhere better than here. The noise was gone, a dull throb at the base of his skull instead.
Mike said something to him; he didn’t know what. A hand on his shoulders; then Mike was gone, heading toward the bar. Ty let his head bob, blinked slowly. Brenden was helping Sebby up; something was wrong with Sebby. He looked ill, not drunk or tired. He stumbled against Brenden.
Ty’s legs were numb, even as he moved to help Brenden with their teammate. “Hey,” he heard himself say, numb and strange. He was drunk. Too drunk.
Brenden didn’t even look at him. A hand landed on his shoulder again. He glanced up, expecting to see Mike, back from wherever he’d gone, here to gather their drunk asses up and take them back to the hotel.
Instead, he looked up at Gabe’s wolfish grin, his eyes glittering dark in the rum light of the bar. He leaned in close, whispered hot and heavy in Ty’s ear, “Want to get out of here?”
Ty didn’t know where it came from, the sudden knot of desire that tied his organs into one tight bow, the tension shuddering through every nerve ending, shaking him down to his core. He shivered against Gabe.
The next thing he knew, they were outside in the rain and the cold, Gabe hailing a cab with his free hand. His other hand was squarely on Ty’s shoulders, the only heat in the entire world, even with a jacket draped around his shoulders. His teammates were gone. Gabe’s teammates were gone.
A cab pulled over, its dim light barely visible in the torrential downpour the night had become. Gabe almost shoved Ty into the backseat, clambering in close behind him. He gave the driver an address—Ty tried to wrap his mind around the syllables, but it sounded like a foreign language, strange and slow—and then Gabe was kissing him, gently at first, then harder, demanding, desperately, his hands insistent on Ty’s skin, dragging them closer together.
“Do you know how good you smell?” Gabe panted when they pulled apart. The cab slowed to a stop. Ty was frozen, though, even as the cabbie turned about to ask them for payment. Gabe’s gaze held him to the spot.
“Hey,” the driver said.
Ty leaned up and kissed Gabe, hard as he could, a consent, a yes, a desire for this to be real and happening. Gabe broke the kiss, paid the driver. Ty stumbled out into the storm.
The cab pulled away. Gabe wrapped an arm around him, led him up the rain-slick steps of a dark house, a Victorian-era building on a quiet street. The cool air was refreshing, sobering. Ty shivered as he stood waiting for Gabe to unlock the door, looked around the silent neighborhood.
The door swung open. Gabe turned to him, ushered him into the darkness before pinning him against the wall, sealing their lips together.
The door slammed shut behind them.
Luke looked up through the curtain of his lashes, guiltily. “I’m sorry,” he murmured.
Danny just glowered at him. “Why did you play?” he asked after a long moment.
“I thought I was up to it,” Luke replied, hanging his head.
Danny sighed, shaking his head. “You’re running a fever. You’re lucky nobody figured out that you’re in heat.”
Luke was silent, swallowing guilt and regret. He kept his gaze on the floor; he could scarcely stand the tone of Danny’s voice, never mind looking him in the eye.
“Look at me.”
Very slowly, Luke looked up. He could feel tears edging at his eyes, and he hated himself for it. He ground his teeth together. He knew it was just his hormones throwing him off-balance, but it bugged him that he was so moody and weepy.
“I’m concerned about you,” Danny said, “okay? This isn’t normal, and you’re putting yourself in danger.”
“Okay,” Luke said. He knew it wasn’t normal—but he wasn’t about to tell Danny why he was in heat again. He wasn’t, in fact—Jake had slipped him something last night at dinner, but he’d apparently miscalculated the dose. Luke felt awful, but he knew it was going to get worse—coming down off inducers was even worse than heat in some ways.
He didn’t want to think about why he’d been late to the airport or how pissed Mason was going to be or anything else. He didn’t want to talk about any of it. Just forget, pretend like it never happened, like Jake hadn’t caught him in the hallway, hadn’t dragged him into one of the housekeepers’ closets earlier that morning, before they’d gone to the airport.
He was just thankful to be safe in the room with Danny again; Danny wouldn’t let Jake in. He hadn’t last night. And Luke was thankful for that, even as shitty as he felt. He could ride out this high, this heat, in relative safety. Danny wasn’t going to do much to him, if anything at all, and honestly, Danny was better than Jake.
Danny drew the chain and latched the door. “Get some rest,” he instructed.
“Okay,” Luke murmured, curling up on the bed and closing his eyes. He didn’t need to be told twice. Maybe, when he woke up, this would all be over …
“Sebby, are you okay?”
Brenden’s face swam into view, hovering over him, looming large, some crazy hologram. Sebby blinked, then turned his head toward the clock. His eyes felt heavy. His breathing was labored.
Brenden’s voice was clearer now. Sebby looked at him again. “What time is it?” he murmured. He felt like he was swallowing his tongue.
“Four,” Brenden said. His brows were knitted together, worry creasing every line on his forehead.
“What happened?” Sebby asked, blinking again.
“You passed out,” Brenden said, heaving a sigh of relief. He relaxed back on the bed. “And I woke up just now, and you weren’t breathing and …”
He paused, giving Sebby a sorrowful look. “You scared me,” he murmured.
“Oh,” Sebby managed, because thinking was difficult and talking was even more so.
Brenden sighed. “I’m glad you’re okay. I’m so glad you woke up.”
“Yeah,” Sebby replied, pressing a hand to his throat. He was parched.
“Did you take the pill?” Brenden asked. Sebby nodded numbly. Brenden’s relief was almost tangible. “Okay. That’s why then. Okay.”
Sebby let his eyes fall shut again. “Okay,” he murmured, drifting back into the comforting embrace of nothingness.
When he woke up again, his phone was screaming at him. Bright sunlight was pouring into the room between the cracks in the curtains, splashing across the carpet. Sebby stared at his phone, the flashing screen, for a moment. He felt stupid, sluggish.
He reached for the phone. His fingers felt a bit numb, strange, as though all his blood had gotten stuck, turned halfway to ice and was now crawling through his veins, in no hurry to reach any of his limbs.
He stared at the screen. The phone stopped ringing; the screen went black, and then his voicemail rang.
It was Ty. Sebby frowned at the time; it was only six in the morning, so what was Ty contacting him about? They didn’t have morning skate or practice today; it was a rare day off.
So what the hell was Ty calling him about at this hour?
His phone buzzed again, this time with a text. ‘hey,’ it said, ‘im ok, just gonna get a cab back 2 hotel.’
Sebby stared at it for a long time, wondering what it meant.
Brenden shifted, rolling over, taking all of the blankets with him as he did so. He snuffled and snorted, then smacked his lips and settled back in to his dream. Sebby raised an eyebrow.
“Hey B-man,” he said slowly.
Sebby glanced over his shoulder again. “Brenden.”
“Jes five mur minutes,” Brenden slurred, drooling on his pillow.
Sebby rolled his eyes, then smacked the defenseman.
“Ow, what! I’m awake, what’s happening?”
“Do you know what this is about?” Sebby asked, handing him the phone.
“Ummm,” Brenden said, studying it for a moment. “That you forgot your mama’s birthday?”
“Huh?” Sebby grabbed his phone back. “Ugh, not that one—this one.”
Brenden’s eyes lit up. “Oh, thank god,” he breathed, “Ty’s okay.”
Sebby stared at him, waiting for a fuller explanation. Brenden ignored him, tapping out a reply to Ty instead. He handed the phone back to Sebby.
“Well?” the dark-haired man asked.
“Well what?” Brenden inquired.
“What happened to Ty?”
“Oh!” Brenden cried, sitting up. “Oh—you don’t remember?”
Sebby grimaced. “Not … really,” he admitted.
“We went to the bar last night, and we met up with the Bears.”
“I remember that much.”
“Then, when we left, we got back here, and Ty wasn’t with us.”
“Oh,” Sebby said, blinking. “Nobody knew where he went?”
Brenden shook his head. “But—he’s okay. On his way back. Praise be.” The blond man all but pitched himself out of bed. “I gotta go let Mike know, man, he was pissed that we lost him!”
The door had banged shut before Sebby even thought about speaking, but he glanced at the clock, then gasped in horror. “Wait!” he shouted, then realizing that Brenden was already gone, scrambled off the bed and out the door. “Brenden! Wait!”
He darted into the hall, only to see Brenden knocking at the door to Mike and Leo’s room.
“Brenden, don’t —”
Whoosh! The door flew open, just as Brenden turned to face Sebby, and Leo’s fist caught him fully in the face, smashing into his cheek, sending him stumbling backward across the hall.
Sebby cringed. “Sorry,” he said.
Brenden clutched at his cheek, mouthing, “Ow,” over and over again.
“What. The fuck?” Leo snarled. His eyes were barely slits.
“Dude,” Sebby said, “I think you knocked out some of his teeth.”
“It is my day off,” Leo retorted. “I was sleeping.” He rolled his neck, cracked his knuckles.
“Still,” Sebby continued, “was that really necessary?”
Snap! Leo’s knuckles replied for him.
“You know I’m not a morning person,” Leo said, his voice falling low.
“I just wanted to tell Mike we found Ty!” Brenden huffed, finally regaining his composure. He winced after, rubbing at his injured cheek.
“Oh,” Mike chirped from behind the door. “Is he okay?”
Brenden and Sebby nodded.
Leo considered that for a moment, then glowered at them. “Was it necessary to wake me up at six in the morning on my off day, just to tell us that?”
“I thought it would help you sleep easy,” Brenden retorted.
“Nice,” Sebby said.
“I was sleeping just fine before you came along,” Leo snarled. “Now, do you have anything else to bother me with, or can I go back to sleep?”
Brenden glowered at him. Leo matched the look, then slammed the door shut.
“You okay?” Sebby asked when the echoes had died away.
“Yeah,” Brenden murmured, picking himself up off the floor. “I might have lost a tooth.”
Sebby sighed. “He’s such a dick before his morning coffee,” he grumbled.
“I heard that!”
“Aren’t you supposed to be sleeping?!”
“Oh, leave him alone, Sebby. Let’s just get back.”
“Yeah,” Sebby muttered, trailing Brenden back down the hall.
Ty crept out of bed cautiously, rolling away from Gabe as gingerly as he could. He slipped on his clothes, grimacing at the feel of them. Walk of shame time, walk of shame.
He grabbed his wallet, his phone, from where they’d fallen, then tiptoed down the stairs, wincing with every creak. Upstairs remained silent, however.
He picked his way across the landing, rescuing his jacket from the floor, shrugging it over his shoulders. He stuffed his feet into his shoes.
It took him a minute to figure out the lock, but when he did, he stepped outside. He closed the door harder than he meant to; the frame shuddered and the sound echoed in the early morning stillness.
Everything remained silent. With a relieved sigh, he made his way down the walk to the curb, where the cab was idling, waiting for him.
He clambered into the car, shutting the door. He handed the cabbie a card with the hotel’s address. The driver considered it, then nodded. Ty took the card back, settled in his seat, shutting his eyes, trying to ignore the pounding of his head and the swirling of his stomach.
He felt like he’d been dragged back from the dead and served up warmed over, black and blue, bruised and nauseous, and he knew it wasn’t just from being hung-over.
More than anything, he wanted to forget, but there was an insistent ache in his muscles, a reminder of what he’d done the night before. His skin throbbed with bruises, and if he closed his eyes, half-remembered snippets flashed before his eyes, a strange, silent film playing out before him.
He regretted it now, so much. He didn’t know what had overcome him, but in the moment, he hadn’t been able to say no. It hadn’t been bad, but it hadn’t been … good, either. Maybe it had just been drunken sex, but in any case, regret had dawned on him like the coming day, guilt blooming in his gut.
He felt like an idiot for being seduced by cheap beer and Gabe’s dark gaze. He felt dumb and young, confused and somehow ripped-off. It wasn’t like he was a virgin by any stretch, but he still felt cheap and smutty in the aftermath.
Maybe, he thought, it was because they’d played such a shitty game, had given it up to the Bears all night long, and then he’d given it up to one of them too. Spoils of war, another present for the victor.
The cab jerked to a stop. “Here we are,” the cabbie said, turning about, his hand held out.
“Sure,” Ty said, turning over his card. He watched as the cabbie punched in the info, swiped the card. He wondered if he knew, if he’d guessed that Ty was coming from a shameful tryst. He hadn’t showered; he probably reeked like sex, like Gabe. It wouldn’t be a stretch for the man to figure it out.
He handed the card back to Ty. “Thanks,” Ty said, then hopped out of the car, glad to be away from him.
The car sped off. Ty stood there for a moment more in the cool air of the outdoors, sighing heavily. He didn’t want to face his teammates. If he was lucky, he wouldn’t encounter any of them, would be able to sneak back into his room without waking Dima. If he was unlucky …
He shook those thoughts from his mind, then strode into the hotel, through the lobby, past the questioning look of the concierge.
He took the elevator to the fifth floor, bouncing impatiently. His nerves were starting to get the better of him. He watched the numbers click by, one at a time.
The elevator dinged. The doors slid open, and he stared at his teammates. His heart sank, dissolving in his stomach acids.
“Hey,” Brenden said, “you made it back.”
“Uh, yeah,” Ty replied, fighting the blush that threatened to overtake his cheeks. He ducked his head, trying to hide from prying eyes.
“Where were ya?”
“Guys,” Leo huffed, whirling about. “How’s about we let the kid get in and get some sleep, get changed? We can bug him about his night later. We’ve got plenty of time—breakfast, bus ride, plane trip home.”
“Leo’s right,” Mike said, nodding. “We can grill him later. Right now, breakfast is calling my name.”
“Ugh, I am starved.”
“Out of my way.”
After some pushing and shoving, most of them were in the elevator.
“Mike, you coming down?”
“I’ll wait for the next car,” Mike replied, turning to grin at Ty.
“Pfft, suit yourself,” Brenden said.
“I’m not saving ya anything,” Leo said, and the doors slid shut, preventing further conversation.
Mike turned to Ty, his face serious now. “Just don’t think that this lets you off the hook,” he said sharply.
“N-no,” Ty stammered, “of course not.”
“Go,” Mike said, his grin returning. “Get changed. And shower, you reek.”
The elevator doors opened up, and Mike stepped inside, pressing the button. The doors closed, and all Ty could do was stare after him.