Chapter 22: A Hard Rain Falling [Slapshot!]
It was still raining when Sebby got back to the hotel. The onslaught hadn’t even slowed; in fact, it was probably raining harder than it had been when he’d left his father’s.
He’d taken a long and winding road back to the hotel, driving almost aimlessly around the old neighborhood at first, noticing not just the no parking sign, but a new house, a house that had been completely renovated, new cars in driveways, a tree that had been cut down, a tree that had been planted, and a hundred thousand other things that loudly proclaimed he didn’t live there anymore. Things had changed; nothing was what it had been.
He didn’t exactly relish going back up to the hotel room, listening to his teammates, his father’s words echoing through his mind.
“I’ll talk to Brian,” he’d said. “We’ll bring you home.”
Much as it had pissed him off as he was standing there in the warm light of the kitchen, the dull sound of the rain, the cool of the air around him, and the heavy sky above made it seem almost tempting. He missed this. He missed rainy Boston days by the seaside. He missed the summer weather. He even missed the winters, harsh as they were.
He missed the familiar sights and sounds, he missed knowing the best hangout spots and all the bouncers, the lady at the café knowing him by name. Bumping into a teacher or a former classmate. He missed that.
DC was lonely.
He didn’t notice it as much now, but when he’d first moved there, it had been a shock. He knew nothing in that city, having visited it only a handful of times. He’d been lost almost instantly, and the people were cold and uncaring. Nobody knew him and nobody gave two fucks about who he was. He couldn’t wander into a café and ask the waitress for “the usual”; he couldn’t even find a café. When he did, he was just another nameless, faceless patron—the barista spelled his name wrong on his cup.
Even after months there, it was still like that. His only friends were his teammates; he only knew people outside of the team through his teammates. He had been so excited when the Bears came to town, but there was so much dizzying hype around the match-up, so much bad blood between all of them that he couldn’t possibly have invited them out for a night on the town. Even small talk during warm-ups had been stilted.
He’d lost everything—his friends, his family, his home. It hadn’t been long after he’d been traded that his mother had left Dad, and it hadn’t been long after that that Michel had stopped talking to him. He and Dad had never been close. Shortly after that, Mom stopped talking to him too; he got updates from her on Facebook and Instagram, where she was posting all of her adventures going around the world with her new lover, Ari. She’d replied to his texts at first, but over time, she’d simply stopped. It was as though she was trying to forget about her old life.
And then his friends from the Bears wouldn’t talk to him anymore, and now he was alone in this strange new city, with only his teammates for support. Sy had been as supportive as he could be; Sebby had gotten along well enough with Mike. But it was Brenden who had really been his savior.
Brenden was easy-going and accepting, open and inviting. Sebby didn’t feel closed out or isolated when Brenden was around. They’d spent countless hours hanging at each other’s houses, playing Call of Duty or just shooting the shit. Brenden was a transplant to the city too, so he felt out of place. He blended in a little better in Virginia, with his thick Southern drawl—better than Sebby with his sharp Boston accent, his strange French lilt, that was for sure. Sy and Mike stood out too, their Canadian twangs making them instantly recognizable as outsiders.
So Sebby and Brenden had explored the city together, been outsiders together. It had been comforting in a lot of ways.
But it still felt lonely. If Brenden wasn’t around, and even when Sebby went home in the summer, he felt lonely. He didn’t belong in DC, but he didn’t belong in Boston anymore. He didn’t know where he did belong.
He’d give almost anything for Boston to be home again. He closed his eyes and imagined a house near where he’d grown up, the mature trees all around it, the ivy clambering up its side, turning blood red in the fall. He imagined the garden in the summer rain, reveling in the raindrops sprinkling across his skin as he headed across the parking lot to the hotel door.
Mrs. Holland had lived there when he was a kid. He’d always loved her house; far away from his own grandparents as he was, she was like the grandma he’d never had. She always had fresh-baked cookies, and she’d give him tea with a spoonful of sugar. She had a delightful collection of toys and books, but best of all were her stories. She had plenty of stories about Boston, about her own sons who had grown up and moved away.
That house, even more than home, had been home. Visiting Mrs. Holland was a treat; he and Michel would go almost every day in the summer, and she’d get them to help with the gardening, and then they’d drink lemonade in the gazebo in the afternoon sunshine. Mrs. Holland lived by herself; her sons had moved away, and her husband had died a long time ago. She had a vast fortune; Sebby had never really understood how rich the old woman was, until she died.
He still remembered the day the house had been sold; he remembered seeing the for sale sign swaying in the wind, the rain falling softly all around, pitter-pattering through the trees. He still dreamt about the house, about going home. If he ever moved back to Boston, he’d buy that house.
But he didn’t want to go back to the Bears just because his father groveled at the feet of management. He didn’t want to go back as some kind of favor to his father’s legacy. He wanted to go back with fanfare and celebration; he wanted the Bears to beg for him back, to be awed by his prowess as a forward, to admit the mistake they had made. He wanted to be the king reclaiming his lost kingdom when he returned.
For now, he was exiled in DC. Lonely as it was, that was where he belonged right now. His heart ached and he longed to go home, to go back to the places he knew so intimately, the places he dreamed about at night when he closed his eyes—the childhood haunts, the memories of secret places now so idolized and idyllic—and Dad’s offer was tempting, so tempting …
He wanted to go home. Badly.
But he couldn’t, not like this. He couldn’t come crawling back. It wasn’t in him to accept it. He couldn’t stand in his father’s shadow any longer. He had to prove himself.
The elevator dinged, and he opened his eyes. The hallway was deserted, deathly quiet. He made his way back to his room. He changed out of his wet clothes, toweled off his hair.
He turned on the television, listening to the local news. That familiar Boston accent, not like DC, not at all. The talk about lobster rolls and New England clam chowder. The weather forecast for the next few days. All of it achingly familiar.
He glanced at his phone. All he had to do was call Dad, apologize, beg him to talk to Brian, for the Bears to accept him back …
He knew they’d do it too. They loved Dad. They worshiped him. They’d do anything for him, anything he asked.
He chewed at his lip. It would hurt his pride, but he wanted to come home. He wanted to be back in the Garden, the familiar locker room. He wanted to wear the black and yellow again, to look up to the rafters and see his father’s number suspended there.
He wanted to talk to Gabe again, to roam the streets of his hometown, showing off his knowledge of all the best spots. He wanted to be the guru of fun again. He tried in DC, but he didn’t know …
He glanced toward the television again, caught sight of the orange container sitting on the stand. He stared at it for a moment or two, the bold black letters on the label—“Sutherland.”
Had Brenden left that there on purpose, or …?
He glanced to his phone again, shredding his lip between his teeth. Tonight was another game. He needed to focus. He needed to concentrate.
Danny darted out into the rain, pressing his phone to his ear. He headed across the way to a nearby café, ducking into the dingy establishment just before the rain picked up. He dripped water all over the welcome mat, the floor, as he made his way to a table. Water dripped out of his beard onto the plastic tabletop. A waitress swung by, pen and paper in hand, but he held up a finger, glanced up at her. The phone was ringing, and he couldn’t be worried about whether he wanted an Americano or a latte at the moment.
Moira picked up, fumbling the phone as she said, “Hey, asshole, how about you pick up your phone sometime?”
“Sorry,” he said, “I was busy. What’s going on, what’s happening?”
“What do you think?” she sneered, and then there was some awful static.
“Hey Dan,” Mel said, her tone awash with exasperation. In the background, he heard Moira yelling, “Give it back!”
“Hey,” he said, his heart sinking in his chest. “You got in okay?”
“Yeah,” she agreed, “flight was a bit rough and everything was pretty harried, but I’m here now.”
“Good,” he replied.
“Yeah, but …”
He’d been waiting for that. He inhaled through his nose. “Matt?”
“Is not doing so hot,” she said. “He had his second treatment this morning.”
“I know,” Danny said, “and?”
“Dan, I don’t know what to do. I think we might need to take him back to the hospital.”
“It’s that bad?” he asked. The waitress was hovering about in the background. He could feel her glaring at the back of his head.
“Yeah, he’s pretty bad. Cold, can’t get warm—but he’s running a fever. Shaking like a leaf. He’s completely out of it, delirious.”
“God,” Danny murmured, sinking onto his forearms. He laid his head on the table.
“Puking,” she continued, “can’t keep anything down, and he keeps trying to get up, keeps falling down. He bruises real easy, Dan—”
“Yeah, I know. Try to keep him in bed, he shouldn’t be up—”
“He’s confused. He doesn’t know where you are, and he keeps trying to get up to find you. Keeps asking where you are. He’s convinced he has to go find you.”
“You told him where I am, right?”
“Duh.” That was Moira. “We’re not getting through—he’s out of his mind.”
“Don’t you shush me, Mel.”
“What should we do, Dan? Do you think we should take him back to the hospital?”
Danny drummed his fingers on the table top, frowning at the rain outside, dripping off the awning over the café’s windows. “I dunno,” he murmured. It sounded bad, but …
“Can I try talking to him?” He fumbled about for the bond, but he couldn’t find it—Matt was mysteriously missing. Danny’s heartbeat thundered through his ears; he scarcely heard Mel mumbled, “Uh, sure, I guess.”
There was some scuffling, and then he heard Matt’s voice, weak and scared. “Hello?” the alpha asked.
“Hey Matty,” Danny murmured, a flood of relief rushing through him at the sound of his alpha’s voice. Matt wasn’t gone—but that left him wondering why he couldn’t find the bond.
“Hi,” Matt repeated, mumbling.
“How are you?”
“’m okay,” was the muffled reply.
“Hold the phone like this, Matt.” That was Moira.
“Mel told me you aren’t feeling so good,” Danny pressed.
“Dizzy,” Matt mumbled. “Cold. Feel sick.”
“Did you go to chemo this morning?”
“No,” the alpha replied. “No, I don’t think … who is this?”
That stung, and Danny winced. “You don’t know who this is?” he asked.
Some static, then Moira hissing, “You can’t shake your head—he can’t see you.”
“No,” Matt drawled, his tone pained and scared.
“It’s me. Danny.”
“Danny?” A little bit of hope in his voice.
“Yeah, it’s me. Mel said you’re looking for me.”
“Where are you?!” Matt puled into the phone, and Danny had to hold it away from his ear. “Danny, why’d you leave me?! ‘m sick an’ ‘m scared an’ I dunno what’s goin’ on—where are you?!”
“I’m in Boston, babe.”
A sob. “What are you doing in Boston? Why are you so far away from me, Danny, I want you here, I’m scared, I’m scared—”
“Babe. I’m in Boston because we’re playing the Bears. We’re still in the playoffs. We have Game 2 tonight, and then I’ll be home. I’ll be home tonight, I promise.”
“I want you here now.”
“I know,” Danny murmured, “I want to be with you now. But the team needs me here—they’re already missing you. We can’t afford to lose another player, right?”
“I’m scared, Danny, ‘m so scared …”
“I know. But why don’t you just lie down and relax? Take a nice, long nap … I’ll be home tonight, I promise. If you feel better, you can watch the game tonight. And then I’ll be home.”
“Come home now, please, Danny, I need you here—”
“It’ll be okay, Matty. Your sisters are there, and they’re taking good care of you, right?”
A sniffle. “Y-yeah.”
“And I’ll be home tonight. So just hang on a little longer. If you go to sleep, it won’t seem as long.”
“But I …”
Still nothing through the bond. “Matt, do me a favor. Open up the bond for me. I can’t feel you anywhere—and you can’t feel me.”
“’m scared …”
“Can you do that, Matt? Can you open up the bond for me? I’m scared too, I don’t know where you are …”
“I’m scared, Danny, where are you …”
“Me too, me too. Open up the bond, Matt, it’ll help, I’ll be able to find you, I’ll be right there with you—”
“I can’t, I don’t wanna …”
“No, you have a game, I can’t, you don’t wanna hear what’s going on right now, Dan, I’m so confused and scared and sick and—”
“Matt … Please. Just open the bond. Don’t worry about me—I’ll feel better if you open it for me. Then I’ll know where you are.”
“But I …”
He latched onto the bond the second he felt it, tore it open. He regretted it a second later as Matt’s jumbled thoughts, filled with terror and confusion, flooded into his consciousness with abandon. The world began to spin, round and round. He shut his eyes.
Okay, maybe that had been a bad idea. He choked back on it a little bit, slowing the flood, but leaving it so that he was getting a constant flow of thought from Matt.
“Okay,” he said, heaving a sigh, “that’s better. I can feel you now. Thank you. Thank you.”
“You’ll be home tonight?”
Aleks lifted a brow as Dima’s voice drifted across the line. There was an echo on the call; he heard, “Hello, Aleks,” followed by, “Hello, Aleks.”
He frowned. “Dima,” he said. Fedya glanced up from the magazine he was reading, lifting an inquisitive brow in Aleks’s direction. He held up a finger, silencing the older Russian.
“It is a surprise to hear from you,” he continued in English. Since Dima had greeted him in that tongue, he would reciprocate.
Dima switched back to Russian a second later; Aleks could hear a door squealing in the background, which indicated Dima may not have been alone.
“It is a bit surprising for me to call you, yes,” Dima agreed easily. “Although not unheard of. We are Russians, all of us.”
“True,” Aleks admitted, pacing about the lounge. Fedya considered him for a moment, then turned his attention back to the magazine. A stewardess was watching them from the bar, sipping a martini. She kept dunking the olive in the glass.
“And because we are all Russians, here in this strange land, it makes sense that we talk to each other. Because we understand, do we not?”
Aleks’s gaze narrowed. Dima wasn’t usually one to pussyfoot around—he could be incredibly direct. That was fine in Aleks’s estimation; he preferred it to Fedya’s more subtle, hinting speech. Aleks was not one for subtle; all too often, he was too obtuse and hints went right over his head, like a plane taking off. Occasionally, the landing gear clipped him on the forehead.
“I suppose we do,” he agreed. “Russians must stick together.”
“Yes, exactly,” Dima said. “And this means we must help each other.”
‘Ah-ha,’ Aleks thought, ‘here it comes.’
“Must is a strong word,” he said. “But I may be inclined to help.”
“I have a little problem,” Dima said, his tone wheedling. Aleks leaned back against the sofa, planting his hand near Fedya’s head. The older man didn’t even twitch, seemingly oblivious to Aleks now.
“Yes, and I was hoping that you could help. I think you are the best person to call for these … matters of the heart.”
Both of Aleks’s eyebrows lifted into his hairline. Dimitry Mironov was not noted for being an affectionate person. As far as Aleks knew, he’d never had a lasting relationship with anyone. One night stands, yes, but no romantic entanglements ever.
“Oh-ho,” he chuckled, “has the Ice King finally melted?”
Fedya frowned and looked up at him, slowly folding the magazine shut.
Dima sounded embarrassed. “You could say that,” he mumbled.
Aleks grinned wolfishly. It was no secret that he considered himself a playboy; his list of romantic entanglements was long and varied. He prided himself on his ability to seduce just about anyone. “You have called the right person,” he told Dima. “I think I can help you with this, yes.”
A sigh of relief. “I knew I was not wrong,” the younger man said.
“Now, what do you need help with?”
A pause. “I … do not want to talk about this over the phone,” Dima said, his voice full of fright. “Can you meet me for drinks?”
Aleks hummed, glancing at his watch. “I am about to board a flight for Moscow.”
“Please.” Desperation was evident in Dima’s tone. “I need this done now, before the summer, before we leave Boston …”
Aleks met Fedya’s questioning gaze. “All right,” he replied, “I will meet you in Boston.”
Mason darted through the airport, dragging his luggage behind him. He stepped out into the rain and the fog, flagging down the first cab he saw. A bright, yellow car pulled to the curb, and he yanked open the door. He tossed his luggage in, then glanced at his watch. “Boston Garden,” he said, “quick as you can. Triple fee.”
“Sir,” the cabbie said, and Mason slammed the door, buckled himself in as the car pulled away from the curb.
Mason ground his teeth, clenched his fists, and stared out the window into the gloom as they drove through the streets of the old city. He had about half-an-hour before puck-drop, which meant he needed to get down to the Garden, get tickets from a scalper, and get in as quick as he could.
He checked his watch again.
They arrived at the arena with just fifteen minutes to spare. Mason paid the driver hurriedly, then yanked his luggage out of the car, nearly toppling into a couple of hockey fans who were streaming to the game, bedecked in their Bears jerseys.
“Oy!” the man hollered at him, his red face going even redder. “Watch what you’re doing, you—”
The kid who was with him, probably his son who was like maybe seven or eight, stared at Mason for a moment, then said, “You play for the Knights.”
“Uh,” Mason said, “no, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You’re Mason Green!” the kid all but shrieked.
“Sorry,” Mason said to the irate father, handing him a fifty. “Get the kid something nice.”
He tugged on his luggage and booked it for the arena, the father still yelling after him, “Jackass!” and the kid shrilling, “Can I get your autograph?!”
He headed around the arena, power-walking to the players’ entrance, where he was stopped by one of the guards. “Excuse me,” she drawled, her cornrows swinging side to side, “this is not a public entrance, sir—”
“Mason Green,” he said, “I’ve got a private box tonight.”
“Excuse me?” she said, this time confusion thick in her tone. “Can I see your ticket, I’m gonna need some proof—”
“He’s with me,” said a smooth, rolling baritone, and Mason glared at Sean.
The other alpha just tipped his head to the side, a silent challenge to Mason.
The guard glanced between them, clearly confused.
“C’mon,” Sean said, taking Mason’s luggage from him. “We have a lot to talk about. Contracts are such nitpicky things.”
“Huh,” Mason snorted, “says you. If you’d just give me what I want …” He glanced sidelong at Sean, hoping he got the barb.
If he did, he didn’t show it, staring straight ahead, dragging Mason’s suitcase along behind him. The puzzled guard stared at them, then shook her head. “Weirdos,” she muttered.
They rounded a corner, their footsteps echoing through the cement corridor. Rain was dripping somewhere, rapidly, echoing through the space. “I thought I told you to just stay home,” Sean snarled when they were out of earshot.
“And I thought I told you that Luke was in danger and that someone needed to look after him.”
“And I told you that Luke was just fine—and he is. He arrived on the bus twenty-five minutes ago, with the rest of the time, ready to play hockey. He’s fine Mason—and he doesn’t need protecting. In fact, I’d say the only thing he needs protecting from is you.”
“Listen, asshole, you don’t know what I know. And Mironov is not the kind of guy to let these things lie. If he knows Luke is omega —”
“If, Mason, if. That’s a huge if. Does Mironov even know? Sure, someone told him, but that doesn’t mean he believes it, or that he really knows—”
“I don’t think he’s the kind of guy to wait and find out.”
“You’d be surprised,” Sean huffed, opening the door and allowing Mason to step into the private box. The door slammed shut behind them.
“What the hell are you even doing here anyway? There’s no reason for you to be in Boston, even if you are planning on signing with the Stars to become part of their management team—”
Sean quirked an eyebrow. “What do you think I’m doing?” he asked coolly. “I did have a couple of business meetings, if you must know—but I’m here, keeping an eye on Luke. I was doing that before it even occurred to you that someone might need to do that. So thanks for your concern, but you can go home now, Jarhead.”
“I’m not going home, Sean. Not until I know that Luke is okay.”
“See for yourself,” Sean said, gesturing to the windows. “They’re out on the ice now, taking warm-ups. Look, there’s Luke—skating around with no problem, interacting with his teammates with no problem. Gee, he sure looks like he’s in imminent danger.”
“Oh, fuck you,” Mason spat, slumping into one of the seats. He glared at the wall, refusing to look at Sean. The older man gazed out over the ice, watching both teams take warm-ups.
“I just wanna know he’s okay,” Mason said after a moment. “Is that so wrong?”
“Considering he’s not your mate? Yeah. You wanna pull stunts like these, Mayday, you better hurry up and bite the boy.”
Mason glared at the back of Sean’s balding head for a long minute, then turned back to the wall.
“I’m going to go talk to him.”
“Nope,” Sean said, and Mason tried the door, but found it locked.
“Prick,” he snapped.
Sean grinned. “You’re just gonna sit tight and cool your jets, lover-boy. We’ve got a game to win—and the last thing Luke needs is you barging in and telling the whole damn room he’s an omega, so he better watch his teammates.”
Mason slumped lower in his seat. That was true, he thought—but …
“But nothing,” Sean huffed, sitting down in the chair across from him, pulling out a flask of cognac. “Drink? I’ve a feeling this is gonna be a long game.”
Mason watched him pour the rich, amber liquid into a glass, then nudge it across the table to him. He met Sean’s gaze, his smirk. He scowled, then reached for the glass.
Sean had been around the league long enough that his predictions about games were often very accurate. It was a long game. The Bears came out fighting, much to the cheering and roaring of the crowd. The Stars went down two-nothing by the time the horn sounded.
The Stars rallied in the second, tallying twice to tie the tilt. Danny was the hero, scoring their first powerplay goal and opening up the scoring, getting them on the board. Timmo stood on his head in net, stopping twenty-six shots rifled off Bears’ sticks. A rebound bounced to Dima, who carried the puck up the ice, then passed to Luke, who banged the puck home.
Dima bristled—fucking omega, celebrating like he’d done anything useful—but hugged Luke nonetheless, knowing this was the perfect in to start his little plan. He grinned up at Luke, who knocked him on the bucket with his mitt.
“Nice feed,” he enthused, grinning.
“Nice shot,” Dima offered back, hoping he seemed sufficiently breathless and flushed.
If he did, Luke didn’t seem to notice.
The Bears scored at the start of the third, taking back the lead. Gabe grinned infuriatingly at them. For the next fifteen minutes, they battled back and forth, the puck bouncing wildly over the uneven ice.
Kovac drilled Ty into one of the stanchions, knocking the rookie out. There was blood all over the ice, and the arena went deathly silent as the paramedics helped pick Ty up.
The Stars watched, their sticks clutched tightly, as their unconscious teammate was loaded up on a gurney. He moved a bit like a ragdoll, flopping from side to side, even as the EMTs tried to stabilize him.
Finally, he held up a hand at the prompting of the paramedics, and the arena erupted in cheers. Applause echoed to the rafters. Even if they were enemies on the ice, nobody wanted to see someone get seriously hurt. Even the Bears were banging their sticks off the boards in front of the bench, on the ice as Ty was wheeled out.
Kovac was ejected from the game with five minutes left and his team up one. The Stars went back on the powerplay.
This time, Brenden was the powerplay hero, taking a nifty backhand pass from Sebby as they charged up the ice, into the zone. The lanky defenseman caught the puck on his blade, traveled across the blue line, grapevining across it as he looked for an opening, a pass.
Dima was down near the net, banging his stick on the ice—he wanted the puck, but he was covered by three, four black sweaters. Brenden danced back the other way. There was no gap—the Bears were playing a tight defensive penalty kill.
With an inhale and a leap of faith, Brenden lifted his stick and slapped the puck as hard as he could. The puck pinged off the crossbar, shooting up high. Brenden gritted his teeth, snapped his stick over his knee.
In the confusion, the puck—which hadn’t hit the netting, hadn’t gone out of play—dropped back behind Boston’s goalie, and creaked across the goal line.
The buzzer blared, astonishing everyone in the building. The arena erupted in boos; the Stars’ bench erupted in cheers.
The refs skated to the call box to phone New York. They needed to have that reviewed—it was probably one of the flukiest goals ever.
Brenden waited on the bench, watching the Jumbotron to see if there was any decision. Replay after replay showed the puck simply dropping back to earth, as objects deflected high were wont to do, and sliding across that line.
The question was if it had gone out of play before dropping behind the goalie, and there wasn’t a very clear angle.
Finally, the refs finished their call and skated to center ice. “After final review,” the ref yelled, almost drowned out by the jeering of the crowd, “the call on the ice stands, good goal!”
The bench erupted, and Brenden cheered, grinning broadly as his teammates smacked him repeatedly on the head, cheering. The arena was alight with boos and hisses. Someone was smacking the glass, calling for the ref’s head.
They played the first period of overtime, and it was scrappy, chippy play, full of nail-biting moments—almost goals, turnovers, breakaways, and breathtaking saves by the goalies at either end of the ice.
They were exhausted, dripping sweat by the time the second overtime period started. The Bears looked just as bad, just as beat up, but they had more jump in their legs, and Ryan Ward smirked at Sebby as he skated around him, took a feed from his teammate, and slapped the puck high, over Timmo’s glove.
The buzzer screamed; the lights turned red and flashed, and the entire arena danced with victory.
Just like that, it was over. They skated off the ice as quickly as they could, waddling down the tunnel. They rushed their interviews, took their showers, then piled onto the bus, ready to sleep. Ready to get back to DC. Ready to right the record on home ice—and win.