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Stays on the Road

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Ryan settled into his seat on the plane and let his eyes close as his head hit the back of the headrest.

“Gonna need a seatbelt there too, bud,” Saader said, sounding infinitely too perky, especially considering that as far as Ryan could remember he’d been out just as late as Ryan and the rest of them had been.

Ryan opened his eyes just enough to try and glare at him, but it bounced right off without seeming to make any impact, so Ryan gave in, clipped the seatbelt together and determinedly closed his eyes again.

Maybe he could nap most of the way back to Columbus, he thought.

Maybe then he could figure out how to deal with his fucking life, because he was well aware that he had about eight hours of denial left.

The whole bad decision one night stand thing worked out significantly better when you didn’t already live with the person you had hooked up with.

But that was Ryan, putting the ‘incredibly bad decision’ in ‘bad decision hookup’.

* * *

“Go out and have some fun,” Torts had said, sounding cheerful—as cheerful as a man trying very hard not to move or breathe the wrong way when he was walking around with broken ribs could, anyway—and he’d distributed head pats and compliments as he saw fit on his way out of the room. “Bus at 10 tomorrow, get some sleep too.”

Ryan had managed two out of three on those, which under normal circumstances wouldn’t have been too bad.

Showering and getting out of the Saddledome hadn’t taken as long as usual, or so it had felt; that probably had a lot to do with how much better it felt with two points in the back pocket and back-to-back wins.

Maybe not their prettiest win, but they’d gutted it out, and Ryan was deeply, fiercely proud of how well they’d played. The second half of a back-to-back and three games in four days, and they’d got it done in regulation too. The sheer relief of playing well was almost dizzying, especially after how most of their season had gone so far, and Ryan had just been so happy, more than ready to take the opportunity to go out and have fun with his team, for them all to feel good about themselves for a change.

Of course, all that ice time added up fucking fast, and Ryan had also thought at the time that he wasn’t going to have much trouble going out and enjoying himself then getting plenty of sleep after; he’d sort of mentally planned to head back to the hotel after an hour, maybe two at the most. He’d gotten even more bruises from blocking shots, and with a long flight ahead of them, the idea of being able to get some sleep while horizontal and without an early alarm sounded almost as good as going out with the boys for a few drinks.

Almost.

* * *

Ryan wasn’t sure how much time had actually passed; they’d taken off and hit cruising altitude pretty quickly, and that was about as far as he was willing to state with certainty. He hadn’t actually managed to do more than half-doze, not all the way asleep despite the fact he usually had no trouble doing so. He was usually sitting next to someone else, though.

Some indeterminate amount of time later, he felt a light touch to his elbow, and opened his eyes again to see Saader studiously not looking at him, but holding out a Gatorade and a napkin and a couple of Advil.

“Figured you might be ready for these about now,” Saad said lightly, and Ryan knew he was older, knew they’d brought him in to be a veteran voice in the room and all that, but he couldn’t help a little knee-jerk resentment.

Ryan was the one who’d been there long enough that he was supposed to be a leader on this team, he shouldn’t need to be looked after. He hadn’t been determined enough to stay miserable to turn them down, though.

“So, hey, if there’s anything you want to talk over with someone later, you can hit me up,” Saad said a few minutes later, apropos of nothing.

Ryan went hot and cold all over.

He was pretty sure he remembered everything that had happened last night, and he didn’t think he’d done anything he shouldn’t have in front of other people. But it sure sounded like Saader was talking about exactly what Ryan had been trying to stop thinking about all morning.

“Call it advice from someone who’s been there,” Saad said, delicately. “I’m pretty sure you two crazy kids can work it out by yourselves, but just in case…”

Jesus. That’s just about confirmation he’d seen something last night, Ryan thought, and his stomach felt hollow in a way that wasn’t just down to the after-effects of dehydration and too many whiskey gingers the night before. But also:

Someone who’s been there?

Ryan turned to give Saad a long, hard look, which he gave back evenly, blinking just as slow as ever, the tiniest hint of a smile playing around his mouth. So maybe this wasn’t a bad story for Saad. That was nice. Good for him, Ryan thought, and went back to sulking.

Saad sighed, almost inaudibly, and the only reason Ryan could tell was because he’d felt his shoulders shift a little as he exhaled more heavily than usual. It might be a private plane, and significantly more comfortable than any commercial flight Ryan had ever taken, but the seats were still packed in pretty close together. Normally Ryan didn’t mind, because normally that just made it easier to have some plausible deniability when he inevitably fell asleep with his head drifting towards Boone’s shoulder.

There was probably not going to be a repeat performance of that any time soon.

“Well,” Saad said after it was clear Ryan wasn’t going to offer anything else. “You know where I live. Also, not gonna push you, but if you keep looking that green, you’re going to be the first dude to puke on a flight this year, and you know how long you’ll be hearing about it.”

He didn’t think he looked anywhere near that bad, but Ryan also hadn't been able to bring himself to turn the lights on when he’d crawled back to his own bed at six that morning, and he’d definitely strongly considered throwing up before deciding to just skip breakfast entirely. He did feel a lot better after a couple hours lying down in the dark napping rather than dwelling on what a fucking idiot he was.

“I think I’m good,” Ryan said, and then politeness compelled him to add, “Thanks, Saader.”

“Anytime, man,” Saad said. “You’re a cute drunk, at least. Very cuddly. Though much less grabby than Cam.”

Ryan wished he could crawl right through the floor and hide somewhere in the baggage compartment at that point, because fuck, that was almost more embarrassing. He vaguely recalled stumbling out of the bar with Saader on one side and Boone on the other, and he thought Hartsy and Matty had been around somewhere then, too, but the sequence of events got a bit blurry around that point.

He was very sure it had only been him and Boone in the elevator at the hotel, though.

Shit, he really hoped they didn’t have cameras in that thing.

“I’m gonna let you go back to sleep now,” Saad said, and Ryan tried not to make his relief at hearing that super obvious. “I’ll leave another Gatorade on your tray table when you finish that one, though. Pretty sure I promised you that much yesterday.”

“What are you,” he grumbled half-heartedly, “the Ghost of Hangovers Past or something?”

“That’s the spirit,” Saad said calmly, letting him have a little dignity. “Go back to sleep, Murrs.”

“Kay,” Ryan replied automatically, and somewhat to his own surprise, he did.

* * *

When Ryan woke up again, they were apparently somewhere over the Dakotas.

The window shade beside him was pulled most of the way down, with just a sliver of light coming through. He blinked cautiously a few times and decided that yeah, he was definitely feeling a lot more human, and bumped the shade open a little further. The landscape below was slightly too bright all the same, plenty of snow and not a whole lot else going on.

He startled a little at the “Good morning to you too,” that followed his movements, and when he turned his head—slightly too fast, oops—it was to see Saader was gone and Jonesy was sitting in his place.

“You are far too cheerful for,” Ryan paused to check his watch, shoving the cuff of his sweater back up his wrist, “one pm. It’s not even morning anymore, Jonesy.”

“Details,” Seth said with a shrug, and Ryan squinted at him, suspicious.

He’d been with the Jackets for almost a month now, by Ryan's count, and he seemed to be settling in fine. They’d clicked on the ice and off, which was almost better than he could have hoped in the immediate aftermath of the trade. And normally, Ryan was totally comfortable chilling out with Jonesy; they hadn’t had a lot of time in Columbus till very recently, but he and Boone had invited him over with the rest of the guys for movie nights, and video games, and he fit in like he’d been there all along.

Actually, Ryan thought, that was probably why he was suspicious.

No one sat there quietly watching their d-partner sleep—and probably drool all over themselves—unless they had some kind of ulterior motive, or were about to try and pull off some kind of prank. Ryan didn’t think Seth was quite that comfortable yet, but you never knew. Ryan tried to discreetly rub a careful hand over his chin at that thought before screwing up his face and rubbing his eyes, which still felt gritty, an unpleasant counterpoint to the faint ache just behind his temples, even if the rest of his hangover symptoms had, thankfully, fucked off already.

The Gatorade that Saader had promised to leave him was sticking out the top of the seat-back pocket, so rather than try to get Jonesy to spill whatever was on his mind he unscrewed the cap and downed a good third of the contents in one go. It still tasted pretty good, which was as strong an indication as anything that he was still dehydrated—flying probably wasn’t helping—but not nearly as bad as in-game, and definitely better than he’d been first thing in the morning.

Thinking about first thing in the morning was skating a little too close to things Ryan wasn’t ready to think about yet, and definitely didn’t want to talk about, so Saader was going to be waiting a while for whatever conversation he thought was going to happen there, Ryan figured. It was easier just to turn away from the window and tackle the much less threatening issue at hand.

“You have a good night?” Ryan asked. He hadn’t actually seen much of Seth after they’d settled in at the bar; he’d been at the other end of the booth that half the team had crowded into, talking to Matty and Cam. He thought Seth might’ve left before he did, even.

“Pretty good,” Seth said, stretching his legs out and nearly kicking whoever was in front of him; probably Will if Ryan was any judge of the hair he could see. If he wasn't in the locker room every day seeing just how built Seth was he'd think he was all leg. …and speaking of things Ryan wasn't supposed to be noticing, or thinking about. He hid a grimace and tried to listen to whatever Seth was saying. “It wasn't as good as yours, I hear.”

“Doesn’t anyone on this team have anything better to do than gossip?” Ryan asked, mostly rhetorically, but it wasn’t exactly a shock when Seth just snorted and said, “Nah.”

“I don’t normally,” Ryan started to say, and then trailed off, because he wasn’t even sure where he was really going with that. He didn’t normally drink? Didn’t normally drink that much? He’d sink a few beers with the guys, sure, no problem there. He didn’t usually drink much, mostly because it was such a pain in the ass with his nutrition plan, and he didn’t usually feel much need to overindulge.

He didn’t usually lean into his friends and rub his face over the sides of their neck, that was an honest one. That he didn’t really want to say out loud.

He didn’t usually kiss his teammates?

Also pretty honest, although, well, they are an affectionate team. Just look at Nicky and Bob, or Rychs and Will the other day, even.

He didn’t usually kiss guys?

That one would be a pretty big lie if he was going to tell it again, and he didn’t have the appetite for it right then.

Instead, he let himself sink back some more, like he was weighed down with everything that had happened over the last day or so, crowding up around his shoulders and punching him into the ground, hunched over in his seat.

Jonesy didn’t push him, didn’t seem to think his last comment required any kind of answer, and that was nice, Ryan appreciated that, it was very considerate. It was nice to have some company if he did want to talk, anyway; someone right there and present.

Someone to take his mind off how Boone had frozen at first, eyes wide and a little shocked, and Ryan had felt his stomach twist and sink, opened his mouth to apologize for getting it wrong, for making things weird, for all of it-

And then Boone had just kissed him back.

Ryan really wasn't ready to think too hard about that yet.

“So I’m guessing you’re not gonna go out tonight, huh?” Seth said, after Ryan had been quiet for too long, apparently. “No practice tomorrow, I think some of the boys want to go out and blow off some more steam.”

“I think I’ll pass,” Ryan said wryly, rubbing at his temples before going back to his Gatorade. “Think I have a date with my bed and another ten hours of sleep.”

“Fair enough,” Seth said. “We’ll do a shot for you, then.”

“Block one for me instead, huh, Jonesy?” Ryan joked weakly, and despite the fact he still felt pretty rotten, the way Jonesy laughed easily at the dumb joke was kind of nice.

“You think Jenns will come with?” Seth said, looking a little too poker-faced for it to be an honest question. He was fishing for a response, Ryan realized quickly, and so he plastered a fake, easy smile back on and said, “No idea, probably. You should just ask him.”

The phrase ‘I’m not the boss of him’ floated to the forefront of Ryan’s mind but he managed to dismiss it—too juvenile by far—which was probably for the best. Even if some of their teammates had clearly realized something was up, they didn’t need to know that he and Boone were—not talking? Fighting? Totally fucked up?

Ryan wasn’t even sure what they were; all he knew was that he’d woken up tangled in Boone’s sheets, half-panicked and horribly hungover, and when he’d scrambled out of bed to find his clothes—most of which were in a pile at the foot of the bed, mixed in with Boone’s—he hadn’t been the only one awake. And Boone hadn’t said a word when Ryan pulled a shirt that he hoped was his back on, followed by what were definitely his jeans, before stuffing his feet back into his shoes without bothering with socks. Ryan had paused with his hand on the door for a long couple of a seconds, but there’d just been frozen silence from the direction of the bed, and after a moment he’d let himself out and walk-of-shamed it back to his own bed.

'Crawl of shame' would probably have been more appropriate if he hadn’t been in the room right next to Boone’s anyway.

“Cool,” Seth said, letting it drop, and Ryan breathed a silent sigh of relief, slouching back into the seat. They were probably two hours out of Columbus still, maybe a little more, which meant he had that much time to figure out what the hell to do.

He was painfully, acutely aware that Boone was two rows behind him, hunched over in the window seat, with Dubi and Cam sitting next to him.

The three of them had been talking quietly when they’d all got settled on the plane earlier that morning, and Ryan hadn’t been able to manage not to catch the occasional comment that Boone put in, even if Dubi was doing most of the talking. The last time he’d gotten up and walked—very carefully—down the back of the plane to hit the bathroom Boone had been out cold too, fast asleep with his face smushed up against the side of the window, and Ryan had torn his gaze away before anyone could catch him looking, ducking his chin to watch his feet move on the carpet. It was better than making eye contact with anyone.

Ryan closed his eyes and tried to tackle it logically.

So he’d been drunk and things had gotten a little out of control. It wasn’t necessarily the end of the world. He hadn’t said anything stupid, or at least he didn’t think so, which meant there was at least some plausible deniability there. Ryan had done dumber things in his life than this, although he couldn’t quite bring any to mind right then and there. But still, if they both just pretended really hard that nothing had actually happened, maybe they could go back to normal in a day or two.

So they’d made out in the elevator, that was just alcohol and adrenaline.

Ryan had played on the national team enough years now to be well aware there were more than a few straight guys who’d kiss anyone if they got plastered enough. Or happy enough, and they’d sure been both of those things last night. It was easy enough to explain away.

It was a little less easy to explain how that had turned into Boone panting hotly against the side of Ryan’s neck and mumbling a reckless invitation, or why Ryan had said yes without even a second of thought. Incomprehensible how they’d wound up stripping off in Boone’s hotel room, muffling laughter into each other’s skin, too silly-drunk to do much more than kiss. Though Ryan had an awfully clear memory of how warm Boone had been pressed into him, a line of heat along his side after they crawled under the covers. Was far too aware of how easily Boone had slung his arm over him, hand resting low on his belly, and Ryan had just let him, had rolled back into him, wishing he could get Boone to move his hand down.

Even drunk, Ryan knew asking for that would be a bad idea; there was no way to walk that back and laugh it off afterward. The fact he could feel Boone hard against him even through the briefs that were all either of them were wearing didn’t mean anything, that was just proximity, habit, and a warm body on a cold night. Ryan wasn’t going to kid himself that anything more than kissing was going to happen. Although he did wish they’d done a little more of that.

If last night was the only time he was going to actually do more than sit too close and sometimes wish for things he shouldn’t have—well, it would’ve been nice to get more than just some virtually PG-rated groping and making out like they were teenagers getting drunk for the first time.

He’d probably gotten closer to third base with Boone when they were play-fighting over the Xbox, and wasn’t that just fucking sad?

“Hey, Murr,” Seth said, shaking Ryan out of that circular and wholly pathetic series of thoughts. “You should probably put your scarf on when we get off the plane. In case you forget.”

“I think it’s supposed to have warmed up?” Ryan said, blinking and confused. He was pretty sure they’d said it was in the fifties back in Ohio, a warm front before the next wave of wintry weather hit.

“Um, you’ve kind of got,” and Seth pointed to his collar, looking faintly awkward and also slightly amused, and Ryan felt his face flush hot, his stomach sink. He did also remember Boone nuzzling at the side of his throat before they’d fallen asleep, and apparently-“A really obvious hickey,” Seth finished, after a moment, and Ryan gave in to temptation and just let his head fall forward onto his folded arms on the tray table.

“Fuck,” he said, quietly, but with great feeling.

“Yeah, sorry bud,” Seth said, and Ryan knew him well enough by this point to hear the poorly disguised laughter in his voice. “Sucks to be you, apparently you picked up a live one along with the hangover.”

“I hate everyone,” Ryan said, and did his best to try and hide inside the collar of his jacket. Maybe everyone would leave him alone if they couldn’t see him. It worked for ostriches, right?

“Yep, you mentioned that,” Seth said, and he patted Ryan on the back, but then—thankfully—he followed that up by pulling his iPad out of the seatback pocket and immersing himself in whatever brightly colored game he was racing his way through that week, and Ryan was left to mull over his terrible life choices in silence for the rest of the flight.

Calling himself six different kinds of idiot for not having any self control whatsoever did not, it turned out, make the last couple hours of the flight go any faster or more pleasantly.

* * *

Ryan didn’t fall asleep again, which at least boded well for being able to get a full night’s sleep by the time they did actually get in, but also meant he was closer than he liked to admit to outright moping by the time they touched down at the airport, a full two weeks at home stretching ahead of them.

Normally, Ryan enjoyed being able to spend more time at home during the season; getting into a good rhythm with all their normal routines and familiar surroundings, and a five game homestand—especially with the games spread out—would usually be all to the good.

Especially now they were playing a little better in front of their fans.

Right then, though, Ryan thought he’d like nothing better than to be heading right back on the road again as soon as possible, if only because then he’d have a cast-iron excuse to spend time catching up on sleep in his own room, and they’d be busy traveling or playing or killing time in between doing either of those things.

There was nothing else to do but suck it up and deal by that point, though, so he shoved the vague feelings of trepidation as far down as he could and retrieved all the stuff he’d managed to spread out over seven hours on the plane and picked up his bags, following Jonesy down the stairs. Luckily, he’d made it back to solid ground before he remembered the other reason he would’ve preferred to still be on the road just then, which was that of course he and Boone had only bothered taking Boone’s truck to the airport, because why wouldn’t they carpool when they were coming from the same apartment and going to the same place?

Ryan’s life had been a whole lot easier a week ago.

There was nothing else he could do at that point other than suck it up and face things, or at least get a head start on the whole pretending nothing had happened thing, so Ryan swung his backpack onto his shoulder and walked over to join Boone.

Normally he’d knock their shoulders together or give him a friendly shove or something, but that didn’t seem like a very good idea, so instead he just stopped a foot away, and said, “Hey.”

He wasn’t sure whether making eye contact would make it better or worse, so Ryan kept his gaze fixed around shoulder height, and hoped no one would notice. When he did glance up quickly—peripheral vision was only giving him so much—Boone appeared to be doing the same thing, so they had that in common, at least. Ryan was secretly, sickly glad that at least he wasn’t the only one feeling weird about this. Hell, Boone might be hungover too; he’d certainly been keeping up with Ryan as they’d sunk a few rounds the night before.

Boone was the first one to break the silence, although when Ryan took another peek it was clear he was still staring somewhere in the vicinity of Ryan’s chin, and not looking up at all. “Ready to go, Murrs?”

“Yeah,” Ryan said, and with a few goodbyes to other guys in passing, he followed Boone back out to where they’d parked.

Boone dug his keys out of his pocket and unlocked the doors, walking over to toss his bags into the back seat. Ryan followed suit, shrugged out of his coat—it wasn’t all that cold, and they’d only have to walk up from the garage anyway—and tossed that on top, then climbed into the passenger seat. He pulled the seatbelt on and clicked it in place, and only then realized that Boone was still standing by the door on the driver’s side.

“You want to stick around and appreciate the scenery?” Ryan asked, automatically going for the chirp without really thinking about it. “I mean, uh. You feel okay to drive?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Boone said, after a long moment’s consideration. “Sorry, I was just thinking.”

“Well, don’t strain anything,” Ryan said, and gave him a weak grin, which Boone actually returned. Maybe this would be okay after all.

* * *

Things felt almost normal by the time they got home.

Boone mumbled “Later,” and headed straight into his room, which might have seemed like he was avoiding him if it wasn’t what he’d done pretty much every road trip since they’d moved in together.

Ryan dumped his own bags in the corner of his room and stretched out on top of the covers of his bed, feet dangling off the end, and thought quite seriously about just going back to sleep like that. The idea of showering first was marginally more tempting, so after another five minutes or so of wallowing he rolled back to his feet and went to set the water running in his bathroom.

He stuck his hand under the spray a few times to check it was warming up—sometimes their water heater in the apartment complex was temperamental—while he stripped off, and kicked the pile of clothes over to the corner by his laundry hamper before stepping into the shower.

The hot water felt even better than usual after seven hours on a plane and a night of broken sleep, and Ryan just let his head fall forward, letting the tension in his shoulders and back start to melt away under heat and pressure. It wasn’t the first time he’d been almost pathetically grateful to have gotten the fanciest possible shower with multiple water pressure settings installed. He could feel that his hair was starting to get damp too, water splashing up around his ears and the back of his neck. He considered washing his hair, but it seemed like too much additional effort when he was going to be napping again in five minutes anyway.

Eyes still closed, he reached out for the soap and turned to at least make a desultory effort at scrubbing down, which was all well and good until he got his hand on his dick. He didn’t always jerk off in the shower, but by then he was definitely thinking about it, and it wasn’t like that wouldn’t help him fall asleep faster.

He got his hand on his dick, slick with soap, just tight enough that it felt really good, and then the image of Boone huddled under blankets, back to him and radiating tension popped back into the forefront of his mind, and that pretty much killed the mood.

Since there wasn’t exactly anything else to do at that point he stepped out of the shower again and toweled off, taking his time and trying to get comfortable and relaxed again. He hung the towel up and shrugged on the robe hanging behind the door. It wasn’t like he was going to run into anyone in the twenty steps between the bathroom and his bed, but something about leaning over the sink to brush his teeth with everything hanging out just seemed weird, and the thing about a marble vanity was that it was fucking cold, even if you’d just spent twenty minutes in the shower steaming up the room. Thus the robe, even though Boone gave him shit for it sometimes, but Boone just shrugged the same clothes he'd been wearing to start with back on to sleep in half the time anyway, so Ryan didn’t think he had a lot of room to criticize.

And thinking about that again was just going to wake him up more, so Ryan spat into the sink, tossed his toothbrush back into the cup, and turned on his heel to go crawl into bed.

The room was dark when he woke up again; he hadn’t actually closed his curtains, and he felt almost the whole way back to normal, the last dregs of that lurking hungover feeling finally gone. He kicked his blankets down, too warm by then, and just let himself lie there in the dark, stretching out the muscles that were complaining after the past few games and inadequate sleep the night before, and started considering what to do with what was left of the day.

Unless he was feeling too hungover to even get out of bed again—unlikely, since he’d been fine to drive—Boone would have probably gone out with the rest of the boys again, so Ryan figured he’d have the apartment to himself.

Maybe he could order in and catch up on the DVR, there had to be something on there that he and Boone didn’t watch together.

Or maybe he could just get a movie on demand, something low-maintenance and easy to follow. The idea of a completely free evening felt a little odd after a week on the road, but Ryan was looking forward to the time to recharge, if nothing else. They might have a fairly laid back schedule over the homestand, but there were also a few other team events on the calendar that month, and Ryan figured he might as well get the alone time in while he could.

Of course, no plan survived first contact with the opposition—not that Ryan liked thinking about Boone as the opposition, but it kind of fit—because after he’d pulled a beat-up pair of sweats and comfortable shirt and sweater on to wander back into the living room it was to find Boone already stretched out on the couch in there.

“Oh,” Ryan said, a little dumbly, making eye-contact automatically before he could remember he didn’t mean to. “I thought you were going out with Jonesy and the boys.”

“Didn’t feel like it,” Boone said, with a half shrug that just made him slide a little further down the couch.

They probably shouldn’t have gotten the suede couch: it was okay in winter, if a giant pain in the ass to keep clean, but it was sticky and uncomfortable in summer, which Ryan somehow managed to forget until May every year. It had looked cool in the showroom, though, and neither he nor Boone had been able to bring themselves to admit it was probably a mistake yet.

Since there was obviously no way he was going to fit on the couch with Boone taking up most of it, Ryan stepped towards one of the recliners as if that had been his initial plan, and made himself comfortable.

The TV was on, but turned down a lot more than usual, and Boone’s eyes were only half open. If Ryan was going to make a bet, he’d put money on him only being about half awake by this point, and he pretty much confirmed that when Ryan asked him to turn it up and instead of doing so Boone just tossed him the remote and said, “Put whatever on.”

“Cool,” Ryan said, a little lamely, and flipped back to the TV guide, paging through their usual go-tos rapidly. He was pretty sure they’d seen that episode of 30 Rock the last time they’d marathoned a bunch, but it was on, so whatever. If Boone had a problem he could say something.

Ryan half-suspected that Boone was going to just fall asleep where he was, and if it had been any other day he’d have been braced and ready to toss a cushion at him if he started snoring, but when he looked over as the end credits were rolling it was to see that Boone was still awake, just staring at the TV as if he was watching silently.

That was so far from their normal that Ryan opened his mouth to say something just to break the silence, but in the end he couldn’t find the words, or bring himself to be the one who actually tried to have a fucking conversation about this whole mess, so what actually came out was, “Hey, do you wanna order in?”

They probably had some kind of food in the fridge, and they’d been doing pretty good with actually cooking for themselves, and making grocery orders on the regular, but Ryan was not at all in the mood to cook, and one night of takeout wasn’t going to do them much harm.

“Yeah,” Boone said, after a moment. “Sounds good.” He made his way into the kitchen, and Ryan heard the drawer open as he pulled out their stash of takeout menus, and then the fridge a few seconds after that.

Boone walked back into the living room with his phone and a couple of menus in one hand, and two bottles of beer dangling between the fingers of the other. He handed a bottle to Ryan without another word, and then dropped back down onto the couch, his feet up on the coffee table.

Ryan had taken the beer out of habit, but found himself picking at the label instead of drinking it. It wasn’t like he was going to get drunk—again—on just the one beer, but maybe this was a bad idea.

The sound of glass on glass as Boone put his bottle down on the table caught his attention, and Ryan looked over as he said, “You have any idea what you want?”

“Uh, not really.” Ryan decided not to pursue the other way he could have taken Boone’s words right then; there was no benefit in dwelling on it. Fuck it, he thought, and tipped the beer back to take a healthy swallow. “Whatever sounds good to you, just get my usual.”

“You got it,” Boone said, and took another swig of his own beer before picking up his phone and calling in their order.

They just let the TV roll over into the next episode without any further discussion, broken only by Ryan getting up to grab them each a second drink, and by the time the delivery guy buzzed their door Ryan was starting to feel good and mellow again.

Boone hauled himself up to answer the door and pay; they didn’t bother splitting bills when it was easy enough to just trade off, and Ryan was pretty sure it was his turn anyway.

There was no point in even pretending he was going to bother getting a plate dirty when they could just eat out of the cartons the food arrived in, so Ryan just grabbed cutlery from the kitchen and dropped a set onto the couch by Boone and kept a set himself. He’d intended to move back into the recliner, but without really examining his own motives he found himself settling on the couch next to Boone. It was easier than dragging one of the end tables over to the recliner, he figured, and didn’t let himself think about anything more than that.

Boone didn’t say anything for a few minutes, seemingly intent on eating, but Ryan had to work not to sneak glances over at him, and he was pretty sure he was more tense than usual, hands tight on his knife and fork.

Ryan leaned back into the couch and tried to subtly lean away from Boone to see if that would help. They weren’t touching, there was a good foot between them, and that more than anything else was weird, because Ryan was used to sitting a lot closer, or leaning against the arm of the couch, kicking at Boone’s thigh while they played FIFA or watched shitty TV or messed around with their guitars. Ryan gave his a guilty glance, set up on its stand by the TV. He hadn’t picked it up in a week or two, or through the worst of their initial slump, and he’d probably lost half the calluses he’d been building up by that point, which was going to be a pain later.

“Hey,” he said, thinking about that some more. “Want to get some guitar time in tomorrow?” Struggling with bar chords was less frustrating when he wasn’t the only one doing it, if only because laughing at each other made it more fun.

“Yeah,” Boone said after a moment, and Ryan didn’t want to turn and look to be sure, but he got the impression Boone had—finally—relaxed a little. “That sounds good. Hey, you wanna watch a movie?”

“Sure,” Ryan said, and since he was done with his food anyway, he leaned forward long enough to shove it to the far side of the coffee table, and put his feet up, just like normal.

Ryan hadn’t thought he was still hungover or anything, and arguably he’d been asleep for half the day as it was, but there was something about a dimly-lit room and being stretched out and comfortable that he was maybe too well conditioned to respond to. He remembered the movie starting, and putting his drink down on the floor by the sofa when the bottle was empty, but somewhere between that and waking up to the TV off and Boone slumped heavily against his shoulder he’d clearly fallen asleep again.

Ryan paused long enough to take stock of the situation.

He was wide awake, pretty much always woke up fast, unless he was sick. When he squinted at the DVD player they’d never bothered unhooking from the TV—even though they watched just about everything on demand or through the XBox anyway—he could see that it was after 9, later than he’d expected. Boone was fast asleep, breathing deep and slow and even, his mouth open, and his weight felt—

Felt really good against Ryan.

So, checklist time: Ryan was 1. Awake 2. Stuck and 3. Starting to get turned on. Again.

He knew he’d have to move soon, but Boone was so deeply asleep, he had to figure that it couldn’t really hurt to just sit there and let himself have a couple of minutes to appreciate this before Ryan woke him up and they went back to either avoiding each other’s eyes or just never talking about it. Ryan didn’t particularly want to have a conversation about the last 24 hours anyway; there was just no good exit strategy for a conversation where honesty would sound like “Hey, so I liked kissing you and can we do that again sometime where you actually get your hands inside my pants instead of just grabbing my ass through two layers of clothing?”

That wasn’t going to fly at all.

Although, come to think of it, Boone had been the one to grab Ryan first, and he’d been the one to escalate it from just kissing, which was an awful lot easier to explain away and had been all Ryan had really thought would be on the table. He’d made out with more than enough guys over the years who were only interested in getting off themselves and wouldn’t lift a finger to actually get near another dude’s dick. Ryan would never expect Boone to be that kind of asshole, but it didn’t make it any easier to understand his motivations.

Ryan’s own motivations were pretty fucking easy to understand, he thought ruefully.

Boone was ridiculously hot, fun to be around, smart and driven and oh, yeah, basically Ryan’s best friend, which was exactly why he’d never let himself actually act on that vague urge before in the first place. Drunk Ryan had a lot to answer for, Ryan thought, not for the first time, and then shifted a little so that his arm was around Boone’s shoulders more securely, shifting him so that he wasn’t straining his back by having fallen asleep on Ryan like that. They’d both spent too much time on IR last season for Ryan not to be acutely conscious of avoiding even the slightest chance of a re-injury.

Boone made a soft snuffling sound in his sleep and turned his face to the side, pressing his cheek against Ryan’s shoulder, his breath warm against the skin of his biceps, nose pressed into the sleeve of Ryan’s t-shirt, and Ryan froze, worried he’d woken him up by moving.

Long moments of trying to slow his own breathing saw Boone settle again, and Ryan let out a soundless sigh of relief. He was going to have to do something about this before he got himself into worse trouble, but for then it was easy enough to just let himself sit there and enjoy what he could have while he could still have it.

* * *

He hadn’t meant to, but Ryan must have fallen asleep again not long afterward, because the next thing he was aware of was pressure just above his knee and movement right in front of him, and Ryan didn’t think anyone could seriously blame him for the instinctive response of shoving whatever it was away.

“Fuck,” Boone yelped, and promptly tripped over Ryan’s feet, landing heavily back down on the couch—and on Ryan.

Ryan froze for a second, still a little disoriented just by the shock of adrenaline; it had been fine for months, sure, but he was still touchy about anyone going near his knee, too many bad memories of the previous year.

After a second he could at least reassure himself that his knee was still fine, but the rest of his body was reporting in with some displeasure about being essentially tackled by a good two hundred and twenty pounds of hockey player when he wasn’t braced for it at all.

“Are you okay?” Boone asked, after another couple of seconds while Ryan just tried to close his eyes and wish himself anywhere else but right there in that situation.

“Ugh, I think so,” Ryan said. “Um, can you—?”

“Right, sorry,” Boone said, and managed to roll off Ryan without much grace, winding up sitting next to him, their shoulders touching.

“Are you okay?” Ryan remembered to ask a moment later. “Sorry, I was—half asleep.” He shrugged a little, embarrassed.

“Yeah, I think so,” Boone said. “I really didn’t mean to wake you up like that.”

“What, you were going to leave me sleeping on the couch to fuck my neck up?” Ryan said, trying to play it off like a joke. He’s used to Boone kicking him—okay, nudging him—with one foot when he’s fallen asleep on the couch before, not trying to silently creep out of the room like—

Like Ryan had done that morning.

He should have realized it was going to make things weird.

“I was gonna wake you up,” Boone protested.

“Well, mission accomplished, I guess,” Ryan said, feeling the faintest flicker of irritation. He must’ve only been half-asleep really, he wasn't normally that pissy about getting woken up otherwise.

“Knee’s okay?” Boone asked, reaching out as if he was about to touch it again, just checking, and Ryan tensed up.

He couldn’t quite restrain the flinch at Boone’s touch, however lightly his palm was cupped over Ryan’s knee, and it had to be immediately obvious given the way that Boone snatched his hand back, mumbling, “Sorry, sorry.”

“No, I just—I mean, it’s fine,” Ryan said, stumbling over his words. He wished he was more awake, or more alert, or maybe just drunk enough that he couldn’t feel the creeping awkwardness of a moment that two days ago would have been unremarkable, or easy to brush off, if nothing else. “I guess I’m still kind of touchy about people touching my knee.”

He pulled a face at himself for that, knowing he sounded kind of stupid, but Boone would know what he meant at least. Boone had been right there with him, stuck in their apartment for half the last year, doing endless PT and hurting and watching their team slide down the standings without them all. Maybe Ryan would rather not revisit the past after all, actually.

“No kidding,” Boone said. “I thought you were gonna deck me at first, actually.”

“I’ll save that for on the ice,” Ryan said, and when Boone snorted, he elbowed him in the ribs indignantly without even stopping to think twice. “Fuck you, I could fight.”

“Yeah, that’d go well,” Boone said. “Torts would—actually, he might be happy. If you didn’t get hurt, anyway. Your mom would flip though.”

“This better not be an opening for a ‘your mom’ joke,” Ryan said, narrowing his eyes.

“I would never,” Boone told him, trying to look serious, but his lips were twitching in a way that told Ryan that he hadn’t been going there, but now he kind of wanted to.

“You’re a dick,” Ryan said, and tried to shove him again, but this time Boone caught his hand, fingers closing around his wrist lightly, like it was nothing, and Ryan’s brain locked up, mental wheels spinning fruitlessly. Boone was touching him, palm warm and dry, his fingertips rough against the thin skin on the inside of Ryan’s wrist, holding him in place like it was nothing; essentially holding his hand.

Ryan swallowed hard, and tried to find some words, anything. He was making it weird again and he knew it, but all he could do was turn his head to stare down at Boone’s hand on his arm, before looking back up helplessly to meet his eyes.

The living room was only half lit, the floor lamp in the corner on but the overheads off, the same way they usually watched TV in the evenings. And that meant that he could see just well enough to realize Boone was staring right back at him, could see the shadows painted over his skin from the flickering light of the TV, still stuck on, with the volume turned all the way down. Boone must have fallen asleep after he had, Ryan thought dumbly. He would’ve turned it down so Ryan didn’t wake up, because if Ryan had been the only one awake he would’ve just turned the TV off. And he would definitely have noticed if Boone was draped all over him before he fell asleep. Unless that had happened later, both of them slouching in the sofa, inevitably drawn together by habit and suede-covered memory foam.

There was just enough time for Ryan to start second-guessing himself, wondering if what he thought he could see in Boone’s expression was actually there or if he just wanted it to be. And apparently it was the former, because Boone lifted his chin, decision made, and said, “Fuck it, let’s just—Murrs—" the nickname trailing off into nothing as he leaned in to kiss Ryan again.

It was better that time, because they were both pretty much sober, and they already knew how to fit together; Ryan knew that Boone’s hands would slide up his forearms to settle at his shoulders, holding him in place, that he’d tilt his head and lean into the kiss, that he’d nip at Ryan’s bottom lip like it was a suggestion, a hurry-up-don’t-wanna-wait. And it was also worse that time, because they were both sober, which meant Ryan was sitting in his living room kissing his teammate, one of his closest friends, one of the people he was absolutely positively most meant not to look at this way.

And it was too fucking good to stop.

Ryan made what was, on reflection, probably an entirely embarrassing noise in the back of his throat, but even if he’d wanted to pretend otherwise, he didn’t have the willpower to deny himself any further after that.

He took the knowledge that this was a bad idea, and that he might regret it later—might regret it a lot—and then he balled that up and shoved it hard to the back of his mind. Better not to waste his time by worrying over that, not when instead he could open up for Boone; lips parted, the kiss an easy give-and-take that Ryan was very deliberately not going to extend as a metaphor for their friendship.

It was easy, though, and already so familiar, less than a day since the first time they’d done this, and Ryan hadn’t quite wanted to let himself believe he’d get this again. That made him all the more determined that if he was getting a second chance, then he was going to make the most of it.

“Hey, c’mon, come here,” he managed to say, after he’d pulled back just enough to catch his breath. Boone’s eyes were dark and intent, serious as he looked at Ryan and said, “Okay, yeah.”

Ryan laid back down carefully, and apparently their silent communication was working right again, because Boone managed to move with him, caught the thread of what he was trying to accomplish easily, and by the time they had themselves sorted out again Ryan was flat on his back, legs up on the sofa, Boone half on, half beside him. It was like nothing so much as the way they’d woken up that morning, except now Ryan felt more fortified. After more sleep and a good meal and some time to think, this time it was almost the easiest thing in the world to look up and see Boone’s face so close to his, meeting his eyes and smiling.

Ryan licked his lips, noted that they felt suddenly dry, and that was apparently all the invitation Boone needed to lean in again and go back to kissing him. It felt more serious, with Boone’s weight distributed evenly across the length of his body, their legs tangled together, hands moving over skin and clothing. Ryan got his hands under Boone’s shirt, spread his palm lightly over his side, up along the length of his spine, enjoyed the way it made him shudder against him.

That felt good for any number of reasons—heat and skin and breath-taking intimacy—and it made Boone lean in harder, made it absolutely obvious how turned on he was; his dick hard against Ryan’s thigh, hot through two layers of clothing. Ryan dug his fingertips into Boone’s skin, aware he was probably leaving marks, tiny bruises and crescent-shaped indents from his nails, longer than usual since he hadn’t remembered to cut them on the road. But if the way Boone bit his lip and groaned in response was any indication, he was into that, too. Rubbing off together like that was good, and if it was all he was going to get then Ryan was completely in favor of just getting off like that anyway, but if he got to pick-

“Fuck, that’s good,” he muttered, as Boone got his hand under the waistband of Ryan’s sweats, got a healthy handful of his ass, dragged his thumb across the indent at the base of his spine, and teased further down just to see how it made Ryan squirm. “Really good,” he corrected, and maybe they could pursue that later, Ryan was so fucking on board, but right at that moment, “I want to blow you, Boone, please.”

“Fuck,” Boone said, eyes widening, but not, Ryan didn’t think, in anything more than surprise. “Uh, yeah, of course—Murr, are you—?”

“Of course I’m fucking sure,” Ryan said, a little crankily. He knew what he was doing, dammit, and what he was asking for, and given the air of shock that Boone was wearing, he was pretty damn sure he was also going to blow Boone’s mind. Along with other things.

Boone rolled off him, sitting up against the back of the couch while Ryan got out from under him, scrambling to his knees beside the couch before turning to shove the coffee table away to give himself some more space, and by the time he was done with that, Boone had sat up enough that he was facing Ryan again, looking down from the couch to Ryan a foot below, eyes wide and just a little uncertain. He’d gotten his feet flat on the floor, Ryan between his spread thighs.

Ryan got a hand on Boone’s knee, didn’t push down, but let his palm catch on the fabric of his pants, pushing back up along the line of his quads, till his palm was teasingly close to where he could see the outline of his dick.

“Uh, this isn’t going to work,” he said a second later, and then nearly laughed at the comically horrified face Boone made back at him. “Not that,” Ryan rushed to assure him, because fuck, they were so close and he wanted this so much. “I just- you have to stand up first, your pants are too fucking tight, I can’t-it’s not going to work if you’re sitting like that.”

“Oh, right,” Boone said, cheeks darkening a little, eyes hot as he looked at Ryan. “Sorry, I didn’t think, uh—”

“Less talking, more getting your dick out,” Ryan said, interrupting him ruthlessly because fuck, he wanted this so bad, and Boone actually paused to roll his eyes at him before standing up just long enough to shove his pants down to his knees where he could step out of them, before he shoved the tangled mess away from Ryan’s knees and out of their way.

“You know, most guys don’t give me attitude when I’m this close to their junk,” Ryan told him conversationally, although he couldn’t quite tell how that comment landed, because he was too busy staring at Boone’s dick.

It was more of a confession, really, because Ryan had done this before and now Boone knew that for sure, because when he was that turned on Ryan was fucking terrible at being smooth or keeping secrets or even expressing himself all that well. It wasn’t like he hadn’t seen Boone naked before; he saw Boone naked twice a day most days of the week, and they’d definitely had accidental naked time together in their apartment, too. There was only so much extra effort you could be bothered expending, especially if you were hurting and stuck on IR for half a fucking season.

But Ryan had never been able to look before, and now that he was allowed, he was going to get his fill. He had a hand on Boone’s legs where they were either side of his shoulders, caging him in. Ryan’s thumbs swept in toward his inner thighs and then up, letting his fingertips trace lightly over warm skin and coarse hair, rubbing against the grain. He let his hands keep moving up, made Boone groan low and fervently as he cupped his balls, careful about the pressure he applied. He leaned in enough to breathe hotly over the head of Boone’s dick, felt and saw it twitch as he ran his index finger up the length, velvet-soft and deeply red, flushed with blood.

“Fuck, Ryan, fuck,” Boone said, and he sounded shaky; he sounded wrecked, and Ryan had hardly even touched him. It was incredibly satisfying, and he knew the smile he was wearing was smugger than he had any right to be as he leaned in and got his mouth on Boone’s dick.

He curled his fingers around Boone's cock and got his other hand on his hip so he could brace himself. It probably wasn’t the best position to be doing this in, with Boone sunk back into the couch cushions, caught between sitting up and lying down, but it wasn’t going to hurt his back to do that for a little while, and Ryan was fairly sure he was going to take care of that pretty fucking fast, really.

He let his lips drag over the skin, keeping his teeth covered, tongue moving over the crown of Boone’s dick. He knew he was kind of drooling everywhere at that point, but Boone seemed to like it, making another low noise before he got his hands into Ryan’s hair, thumbs pressing behind his ears, holding him tight and close.

Ryan pulled back—sucked hard as he was moving, and let heat curl and build in his stomach at the way that made Boone’s hips jerk in response—and looked up long enough to say, “Just don’t pull my hair, okay?”

“You got it,” Boone said, a little shaky, already starting to come undone in a way that Ryan couldn’t remember seeing before; not on the ice, not when they were rookies who didn’t know anything, not when he’d been hurt or tired or drunk.

It was incredibly gratifying, and Ryan leaned in a little harder, wanted to get a hand on his own dick, for something, anything, but no, he had a goal in sight there, and so he ducked down again, got his mouth moving, tracked every tiny motion and sound that Boone was making and let those cues guide him. Boone tugged at his hair for a half second and then caught himself, stopping before Ryan could even react and muttered, “Sorry, I just-I’m gonna come, Ryan, please, fuck.”

“'s fine,” Ryan managed to say, pulling off enough to speak, swallowing hard; his lips felt a little swollen, from pressure and movement, not to mention rubbing his face against Boone’s five o’clock shadow at some ungodly hour that morning and then again that night.

It didn’t make him want to stop though, and feeling the way Boone shook and cursed and totally lost it as he went back down made it feel even better. Boone was almost petting his hair by that point, smoothing it down flat and behind his ears, a constant stroking motion that Ryan wasn’t sure he should find as soothing as he did. He swallowed when Boone came, even if it had been a while since he’d done that, it just seemed easier. And maybe hotter; he’d been with guys who really liked that, although Ryan didn’t really care when it was him on the other end of it. He wanted it to be fucking perfect though, and the way Boone went all boneless and easy after he got off was rewarding as fuck.

“Wow,” Boone said, blinking hard, a minute or so later after he’d caught his breath, with Ryan still kneeling between his spread legs.

Ryan was starting to realize how the wooden floorboards were actually kind of painful to be on for that long in that position, and how his shoulder hurt a little, and how he was so fucking hard that he was starting to seriously consider just rubbing off against Boone’s leg, desperate and needy and kind of stupid with it.

“Ryan, fuck,” Boone said, staring down at him. “That was so good, I. Fuck.”

Ryan was still trying to get his breathing under control again, shoulders and chest moving while he tried to stop panting. He rubbed the back of his hand over his mouth, just to check he hadn’t missed anything, and the pressure against his lips felt good, so he closed his eyes for a second too, just held his hand up to his face. God, he wanted to get off. His mouth tasted like dick—like Boone’s dick, fuck—and he was going to scream if he didn’t get a hand or anything touching him soon. If Boone wasn’t going to step up then Ryan was about two seconds away from shoving a hand into his own pants, fuck dignity.

“That’s so fucking hot,” Boone said, his voice low and scratchy like he’d been the one giving head, and imagining that was not helping out Ryan’s situation one little bit.

Ryan let himself press his other hand over his dick, over the outside of his sweats, and even that tiny touch helped, made it easier for him to open his eyes again and look at Boone. He was still sprawled bonelessly on the couch, like he’d totally run out of gas, his hair mussed and face red and shirt rucked up over his stomach. He was breathing pretty hard too, sweaty and filthy, his dick going soft, vulnerable looking, skin still damp with Ryan’s spit and his own come.

“I guess we should, um. Move. Shower?” Ryan said, a little vaguely. He was definitely not firing on all cylinders again yet.

“Or we could just go to bed?” Boone suggested, and Ryan tried not to let the way that made his stomach sink show on his face.

It wasn’t like he hadn’t known this was how this could go; Boone getting what he wanted and then them never talking about this again, going off to separate rooms to pretend nothing had happened.

“Right, of course,” Ryan said, looking down at his hands. He’d tangled them in the pockets of his sweats, without even thinking, hid the way that they were shaking with the adrenaline come-down of exposing himself like that. It wasn’t doing a lot to make him forget how turned on he was, though, which was fucking embarrassing.

“Wait, no, Murr, I meant go to bed,” Boone said, and Ryan’s head shot up to look at him. “I want to—I mean, if you’re into it, I want this too, I’m just—sometimes it’s nice to fuck in bed. And I have a really nice bed.”

“You mean you want to just go straight to sleep after,” Ryan said, feeling much better about life and a little giddy with it. Maybe he hadn’t totally fucked this up. Maybe he was going to get some after all.

“Uh, I just got off,” Boone reminded him. “I’m pretty sure you were, you know, there. Let me return the favor somewhere a little more comfortable, yeah?”

“You bet,” Ryan said, and scrambled to his feet quickly, and without a whole lot of grace. The words return the favor were ringing loudly in his ears and making it hard to actually think.

Under other circumstances, watching Boone walk bare-assed back to his room as quickly as possible might have been funny. As it was, Ryan felt like he was two steps away from tripping over his own feet in his haste to follow, and he definitely didn’t stop to appreciate the scenery until after Boone had shoved the door closed behind him, crowded right into Ryan’s space and kissed him again.

It made it easier, somehow; Ryan could see how it could start to get weird if they let it. Too long a silence, or more than a couple of seconds to actually think and second-guess what they were doing and this fragile moment could splinter into awkwardness and regrets.

The door clicked shut behind him as Ryan’s weight fell fully against it, but he didn’t spare more than a thought for that, too distracted by Boone’s hands landing on his hips, starting to to work at the waistband of his pants while they kissed.

Boone kept his hands moving over Ryan’s skin after getting his sweats half down, sweeping his palms up over his ribs, his thumb rubbing over Ryan’s nipple in a way that made him gasp. It was hard to remember that Boone had already gotten off; he was still soft against Ryan, sure, but he hadn’t got slower or lazier or any less insistent in the way that he was kissing him, and that was just getting Ryan all the more wound up. He bit off a moan as Boone slid one hand back down to cup his dick, curled his fingers around Ryan’s length and squeezed.

Ryan pulled away then, let his head fall back against the door with a dull thud, and had to lick his lips a couple of times before he was able to speak.

“Not that this isn’t great,” he said, “But you said something about bed?”

Their apartment was too well-heated for it to be cold, really, but Ryan had his shoulders flat against the door, sweats caught around his knees, and mostly he was conscious of how unforgiving a surface that was. And how he’d really like to lie down again soon, actually.

“Right, right,” Boone said, and he reached over to slap the light switch on before he took a deliberate step back, letting go of Ryan. He reached back to pull his shirt over his head, dropping it right by the foot of the bed, and Ryan was distracted for another long moment just by looking, trying to memorize all of this. Boone cleared his throat meaningfully and Ryan felt his cheeks heat, swallowed hard—thought about sucking Boone off again, fuck—and shoved his pants the rest of the way off, peeling his own shirt off and letting it drop onto the floor.

“You need anything from the bathroom?” he asked, reaching out for something more normal to say, something to put this on the same level as any other hook up, any other time he’d been naked with someone else with intent.

Boone gave him a look that Ryan couldn’t quite read, and said, “You tell me.”

“What?” Ryan started to say, but he didn’t need Boone to answer as the obvious meaning dawned on him before he could finish the sentence.

He wanted whatever he could get out of this, sure, but he was also starting to get the impression that maybe Boone was up for more than just the night, just this, and it made him less greedy, made things feel surer and more certain. And what he was most certain of was that he wanted to get off already, wanted Boone to get him there. “Fuck, just—your hands, or your mouth, whatever’s good for you.”

Or maybe he was greedy, because he wanted everything, all of it all at once, he just wasn’t picky about the how.

“Wanted to do this last night,” Boone said, and Ryan didn’t have to wonder exactly what he was talking about for very long because Boone gave him a push in the direction of the bed, and Ryan could read that play just fine.

He yanked the covers down and shoved them to the end of the bed before getting a knee on the edge of the bed and climbing in. The mattress hardly gave under his weight, pleasantly firm, and the sheets were cool against his skin, wrinkled a little from where Boone had done a half-hearted job of straightening them after his nap that afternoon.

“Great, that’s it,” Boone muttered under his breath as he followed, his eyes glued to Ryan, and it was all kinds of satisfying to see that.

Ryan could feel his gaze like it was a physical thing, like it had weight, the featherlight touch sweeping from top to toes as he stretched out on the bed. It was probably only fair after the way Ryan had been trying to map out every inch of Boone that he could see, but something about it made him feel almost pinned, stuck in place while he waited for Boone to make the next move. He wanted to say something, although he wasn’t certain exactly what, and the words gummed up in the back of his throat, thick and hard to swallow, pressing insistently.

Ryan bit his own lip, hard, and told himself to get it together, to not get distracted. He was so close to getting what he wanted, so close to the heady rush and release, he just had to not say anything stupid before that. Or preferably after, but Ryan was going to take that job step by step.

“Boone, c’mon,” he said, trying not to squirm.

“Right, you got it,” Boone said.

That seemed to cover whatever it was he was waiting for, and Ryan couldn’t help the “Oh yeah,” or the way he was grinning up at Boone as he crawled onto the mattress to join him.

“Hey,” Ryan said, trying to play it cool, even though he was a hairsbreadth from losing it.

“Hi,” Boone said, grinning back, and Ryan’s stomach twisted in the most pleasurable way. “So, where were we?”

Ryan raised an eyebrow. “Jenns, you’re killing me here.”

“No idea what you’re talking about,” Boone teased, letting his weight settle firmly over Ryan, pushing his thigh in between Ryan’s, making it entirely obvious that there was no possible way he’d missed how Ryan was hard, desperate to get off.

Ryan grumbled in response to that, but Boone lifted up on his elbows and pressed their mouths together again, and it was easy enough to get lost in that, distract himself a little longer. Ryan let himself touch some more, running his hands down Boone’s sides, back up again and around, tracing skin and bone and muscle.

Boone made a pleased noise into Ryan’s mouth, arching his back, and that was pretty fucking great for Ryan, too; gave him a better angle to try and rub off against Boone, gave him a chance to let his head fall back onto the pillow and just breathe for a couple of seconds.

“Just say if you wanna do something else,” Boone said, half an inch away from Ryan’s mouth, close enough he could feel the warmth of his breath, but before Ryan could ask what that was supposed to mean Boone was rolling off him, sitting up on his knees and shuffling down the mattress until he was level with Ryan’s shins.

“Oh,” Ryan said, breathing it out, almost soundlessly, and Boone gave him a quick glance. He seemed happy with whatever that told him, because he didn’t wait for a second invitation before leaning in and getting his mouth on Ryan’s dick.

He had to move around a little to get himself balanced in a way that he was happy with, it seemed like, but he had one arm slung low over Ryan’s hips and the other hand on Ryan’s dick, thumb and forefinger wrapped around the base. He stroked lightly and that was it, Ryan went completely nonverbal, just moaned, loud in the quiet of the bedroom as Boone lined himself up and went down.  

Ryan tried not to move too much, didn’t want to be an asshole about it, but Boone’s mouth was so hot, tight and wet around his dick, and he knew he wasn’t going to last long. Boone’s arm was heavy where he pressed Ryan back down into the mattress, his weight tilted and tipped heavily over to one side.

Boone’s chest was warm and solid over Ryan’s leg, pinning him from knee to thigh. Ryan had to move though, heel dragging over the sheets as he shifted restlessly. Boone just sucked harder, pressed his tongue along the crown of Ryan’s dick, and that made Ryan moan again, biting his own lip hard. It was getting more and more difficult to think and Ryan stopped worrying about what all of this might mean, or what they were going to do afterward and let himself just sink into the moment, focus narrowed down to the way that Boone’s fingers were firm and well-practiced as he just jerked Ryan off for a couple of seconds, his face smushed into Ryan’s thigh as he tried to catch his breath.

He could feel it as Boone got himself back under better control, his breath hot and humid against the crease of Ryan’s thigh, more pressure as he nuzzled into the skin and hair around Ryan’s dick, working his way back in. His grip was sure and easy around Ryan’s dick as he lifted up on his elbow and got his mouth on him again, sliding down to meet the loosened fist he had wrapped around the base.

The “Uh, fuck, oh god,” that prompted from Ryan was maybe louder than he’d intended it to be, and Boone laughed a little, his shoulders shaking with it. The way that felt made Ryan arch up, his shoulders coming up off the mattress, knee pressing into Boone’s side, every part of him trying to curl closer.

Boone just hummed a little—which also felt amazing—and kept his lips moving, not really doing anything at that point more than keeping his mouth soft and wet on Ryan’s dick.

Ryan got one hand free to curve around Boone’s head, fingers smoothing through his hair, kind of impressed in the back of his mind to note how it was still standing on end even then. He managed to regain enough self-control to say, “I’m really close, fuck, Boone, please.”

“C’mon,” Boone said, barely lifting off Ryan’s dick to speak, although he looked up to meet his eyes for a long moment too, and that went right through Ryan, throwing his equilibrium even more off center.

After that, it hardly took more than another few seconds for him to shudder and jerk under Boone’s hands and mouth, swallowing back the instinctive moan as his muscles locked up and the tension running along his spine coalesced into heat that exploded along every nerve, took him from almost there to coming hard. He relaxed back into the bedding a moment later, loose and happy, perfect, lazy contentment stealing through every limb.

“Wow,” Ryan managed to say, didn’t even bother to try to disguise the goofy smile that was plastered to his face after that. That had been even better than he’d imagined, and Ryan had a pretty damn good imagination.

Boone crawled up the mattress to collapse onto his side right beside him, his head sharing the pillow with Ryan’s. He rubbed a hand over his mouth, glance darting down to check the back of his hand before he let it fall back onto the sheets, and Ryan’s gaze focused on him again, realizing belatedly that he was checking that his face was clean, that he didn’t have Ryan’s come on him, and if Ryan had even a hope in hell of getting it up again any time soon, that thought was doing its best to help. And that was just making him think about doing it again, about waking up with Boone and—

And that was where his imagination ground to a halt, because what the hell had he even been thinking, this was a terrible idea. They were going to wake up the next morning and what, hang out like normal? Act like nothing had changed?

The fact that Ryan was going to have a pitch-perfect mental image of what Boone would look and sound like while he was jerking off now was—was not the point, was not going to be a problem. He didn’t need to make his life more complicated, they had enough on their plates just trying to drag their season back out of the dumpster.

They had the whole roommates thing down perfectly, everything had been just fine, and now they were—what?—friends with benefits? Not that Ryan was going to turn down no-strings-attached ridiculously good sex, but it wasn’t like he’d ever seen anyone manage casual sex with a friend without it getting messy.

And messy was the last thing he needed more of in his life right then.

Messy was the last thing any of them needed, and all the warmth that Ryan had been feeling earlier fled, leaving him tense and nervous and awkward.

“Stop thinking,” Boone said, mumbling into the pillow, his eyes closed. “Can you reach the blanket?”

“Sure,” Ryan said automatically, and then after he’d sat up long enough to pull the covers over both of them, he added, “That was okay, right? We’re good?” He might as well get a head-start on making this okay then and there.

“It was really good,” Boone corrected him. “Can we talk about this later?”

“Sure,” Ryan said again, although he wasn’t sure he was up for talking about it possibly ever. That seemed too decisive. Not that having sex was particularly ambiguous, but Ryan was belatedly seeing the advantages of continuing to pretend nothing had happened, which were, principally, not having to talk about it. At all.

“Murr, are you being weird about this?” Boone said, opening one eye to squint at him.

Ryan did his best to look like he wasn’t doing anything more than dozing, happily post-coital, but he wasn’t selling it, or at the very least Boone wasn’t buying, because instead of just falling asleep and letting Ryan worry to himself in silence, he rolled over onto his back, sighed, and sat up.

“Ryan,” he said carefully, and Ryan sat up too, because letting Boone lean over him like that was just making it harder to think. “Do you want to talk about this now?”

“No,” Ryan said, possibly too honestly. “Can we just—get some sleep? It’s been a—” He hurriedly edited out his first couple of options, because ‘weird’ seemed insulting and ‘long’ just seemed, well, weird, and lamely finished up with, “—kind of a day.”

“Yeah, okay,” Boone said after a moment, and he lay down again, deliberately keeping a couple of inches between him and Ryan, and as much as Ryan didn’t want to be weird, the idea of going back to his own bed and sleeping alone was completely unappealing. He could make sensible decisions tomorrow, it wasn’t like he could make things much worse at this point.

“That was… really good,” he admitted, voice low, after the silence had stretched on for even longer. He was pretty sure Boone was still awake, though. The lack of snoring was a pretty big clue, after all.

“Glad to hear it,” Boone said, just as quietly, and then as if that wasn’t quite enough, he shuffled closer and slung his arm around Ryan’s middle, playing big spoon again. Ryan felt all of the tension run out of him like water at that point, and even if he’d wanted to deny it, he couldn’t pretend that it didn’t feel good, having Boone pressed all along his side like that. “Go to sleep, Ryan,” he added, and even though he’d meant to spend at least some time making a plan for what the hell he was going to do in the morning, Ryan let his eyes close and his mind wander, and did just that.

* * *

The first time he woke up it was to Boone’s breath hot against the side of his neck and the faint whistling snore which he’d heard half a hundred times from another room or the other bed in their hotel rooms.

Boone made a disgruntled noise and tried to roll closer—just about on top of Ryan—when he tried to move, and well, Ryan wasn’t going to bend over backwards to try and pull away when they were apparently both pretty comfortable. He told himself he’d just take a few more minutes of that and then he could get up and shower, go back to his own bed.

It was still dark out, and Ryan’s body clock suggested it was probably closer to four or five; they’d got a solid amount of sleep considering how the cross-country flight and napping had thrown them all off. If he got up then he could still try to get a decent amount of sleep by himself to face the day, but Ryan’s eyes closed again almost without his conscious permission, and before he could quite firm up that decision he was blinking in the faint light that came in around Boone’s curtains, the sun well and truly up.

It was mostly better than the day before, as wake-ups went, if only because he had very clear memories of getting laid, instead of slightly confusing and mildly horrifying ones about hitting on his presumably straight friend. That, Ryan thought with a mix of satisfaction and more than a little trepidation, was probably an incorrect assumption, at least.

Nothing in the way Boone had touched him last night—either the passage of his hands over Ryan's skin or the incredible, incendiary confidence of his mouth when he'd gone down on him—fit the pattern of a guy who'd never done this before. Without asking, and Ryan wasn't too sure he wanted to do that ever, there was no way to know just how much of that Boone had done before, but it was certainly something.

And that just begged the question of why Ryan had somehow not had the faintest fucking clue about that.

He wasn't being fair with that, he knew; it wasn't like he'd come out to Boone at any point either, not even when they'd been at their collective lowest, worn to the bone and hardly leaving their apartment or seeing anyone else. But somehow Ryan had had no idea, had not even dared to let himself hope that Boone would greet an advance with kisses and stupidly hot blowjobs instead of awkwardness and blushing and maybe even demanding that Ryan move the fuck out.

Obviously, this was better.

Ryan lay there unmoving for a few minutes longer and tried to work out just why, exactly, he didn't feel happier about all of this.

On a sheer physical level, he felt pretty fucking great. They hadn't drunk enough the night before to get hungover again, Ryan's body was still coasting on the endorphins from getting off so spectacularly, from the sheer pleasure of getting to watch Boone fall apart under his mouth and hands, and the bruises he could feel faintly clamoring for attention were only about forty percent hockey related, little pinpoints where he could still feel Boone touching him, desperate.

But at the same time… this wasn't really a better situation than the one he'd found himself in a day earlier.

With reluctance, Ryan wiggled his arm out from under Boone's side, and rolled onto his back, staring up at the ceiling. Boone made a grumbling type of noise in response but didn't stir or wake up, so Ryan let himself start breathing again.

So, thinking through it logically: he'd had sex with Boone.

They'd—well, mutually assured destruction was a thing, it wasn't like Ryan hadn't wound up in that sort of situation before, either: the one where you knew neither of you would say anything to anyone else because you both had too much to lose to give the game away like that. So it wasn't like either of them was going to tell anyone else what had happened, whatever Saader seemed to think he knew.

And all they'd done last night was hang out on the couch—like bros—and fall asleep and then wake up and—let things progress, it wasn't like they'd talked about it. It wasn't like Ryan had done anything more than make sure he got consent; he didn't even know if Boone would want to do it again in the cold light of day. If Boone would want to wake up to find Ryan still in his bed instead of making a discreet exit so they could just never speak of it again.

He sure hadn't had any complaints about Ryan sneaking out the day before, so maybe this was just how Boone blew off steam when he wasn't drowning in a sea of cute girls from Ohio State frat parties. Ryan felt his face twist into an ugly grimace, stomach churning in a way that had nothing to do with what he'd eaten or drunk the night before.

Yeah, it was pretty clear he needed to leave.

It just really sucked to know exactly what he was missing out on this time.

* * *

It took a concerted effort, and his heart was in his throat the entire time, a miserable lump he had to try and breathe in slowly through his nose and just ignore, but Ryan managed to extricate himself from Boone's octopus limbs eventually.

He slid out from under the covers—froze for a second when Boone stirred at the slight draft Ryan's body moving away from his had created—and then swung his feet onto the floor, grateful that Boone had a couple of rugs scattered around the bed, making it easier for Ryan to creep out without the obvious sounds of bare feet on polished wood.

It took a few seconds longer for him to gather up his clothes, and that was an undertaking all on its own, trying to make sure he only wound up with his own stuff, since half of their shirts looked the same unless you were looking closely at the tags or the fit. And Ryan's clothes were, it turned out, scattered from beside Boone's bed all the way back to the couch in the living room. It felt like he was undoing a walk of shame, almost, picking everything up, and if he'd been more than a little less gloomy about this whole thing it would have even been funny. They had… really made a mess.

In more ways than one, really, and that dried up Ryan's urge to laugh fast.

He had no idea how they'd be able to put this in the past clearly enough that it'd never come up again, that no one would be embarrassed or start acting weird, and Ryan didn't want to get fucking traded just because he'd let himself think with his dick for about thirty seconds too long for deniability.

He was also going to continue ignoring the part of his mind that wanted to point out it wasn't so much his dick he'd been thinking with.

All of that effort—admittedly, most of it spent in trying not to let himself think about how much he'd fucked up—left him far too awake to actually follow through on his original plan of just going back to sleep in his own bed, though.

Ryan straightened up the cushions and throw rug on the couch, cleared a few things off the coffee table and then wandered back to the kitchen, more desperate than he liked to admit for something to do to keep his hands busy.

Of all the times for them to not really have any dishes, in the sink or even just in the dishwasher to put away, this was… not ideal, which Ryan also figured he should find a little more shameful than he did. It was definitely new, being mad at himself for having done too good a job in clearing things up before they went off on a roadtrip; the days they'd gotten back to find a fridge half full of disgustingly liquified vegetables and extremely questionable takeout containers were not exactly anything Ryan usually looked back on with any kind of fondness.

And they weren't even as far in the past as he wanted to admit, although he and Boone had done a pretty good job of hiding that fact from the rookies, at least. You had to at least sound like a veteran even if you were secretly just as worried as they were that you sucked at being a real adult.

Ryan made himself put down the mug he was fidgeting with before he broke it, and caught just enough of his own reflection in the fridge—fuck, why couldn't they have gotten a white one instead of that fancy stainless steel monstrosity—to stop in his tracks. The sheen of the metal distorted things a lot normally, but he was doing a shitty job of hiding how anxious the whole situation was making him, and 'jittery' wasn't half the word for it.

That was somehow enough to shake a better idea or two free; Ryan went back to his own room and mechanically got dressed properly, pulling on workout gear and, after a moment's glance out the window, adding another sweater as well as a hat. He stuffed his feet into sneakers, still not letting himself really engage with anything more than the vaguest plan, grabbed his keys and wallet, and headed out the door.

A couple miles run wouldn't hurt him, they didn't really have to be anywhere in the morning, and maybe by the time he got back the fresh air would've done what pacing in circles around their nice warm apartment couldn't, and he'd have some kind of idea how to deal with his apparent need to keep fucking up his perfectly nice life.

* * *

By the time Ryan got back, he was bitterly regretting not having stopped to find his gloves—it was crisp out, but not remotely warm—and he hadn't gotten even half of the sense of peace he'd been hoping to find.

It had probably been a bad idea all around, he mused, stretching out carefully; he didn't usually run outdoors once it got cold, because he was paranoid about re-injuring his knee, and all it'd take was one bad patch of black ice in the shade. He'd sort of hoped the cold would give him something to focus on—resenting the fact he was making himself run in the first place was not as distracting as it usually was—but what it turned out to do was just make him worried he'd made a terrible mistake while also being cold and cranky, so it wasn't exactly an improvement to his mood in any way whatsoever.

The door half-slammed behind him as he let himself back into the apartment, and Ryan winced automatically, hoping he hadn't woken Boone up. The continuing silence from Boone's room seemed to imply that he was safe on that front. Woken-up-too-early Boone was unapologetically crabby, no questions asked, and Ryan figured if he hadn't earned a "fuck you" yelled through the wall for that then he must have slept through it.

Two hours later, the silence no longer felt anywhere near so safe or reassuring.

Ryan was, admittedly, still just sitting in his own room, fucking around with his phone and trying to pretend like he wasn't craning to hear the slightest bit of noise from anywhere else in the apartment, and there hadn't been a peep out of Boone's room in all that time.

He hadn't even heard the pipes for a shower or anything else.

It was just—silence. What felt like the same silence they'd had on the plane, and this time Ryan had to deal with the fact that he'd known this was a possible outcome and he'd let himself kiss Boone anyway.

He'd let them do everything.

Ryan lay back down on his bed, pulled the pillow over his face and kind of wanted to scream.

He'd thought this was the easiest way to go back to normal, to silently reassure Boone that last night was—a blip, an aberration, something that they'd gotten out of their systems, and as awkward as it would've been to look at him across the kitchen counter while they made breakfast with all the memories Ryan now had… it would've been better than trying to pretend like nothing was wrong when they worked together and lived together and spent all of their time together, just about.

Ryan threw the pillow off the bed and stared up at the ceiling, considering hyperventilating.

How could he have been so stupid?

He'd known the day before that it was a terrible idea that they'd only narrowly avoided pushing each other into, and then he'd jumped in headfirst again instead of taking the W on almost getting back to normal again even after things had gotten shaky.

Thinking with his dick wasn't really Ryan's style, so it wasn't even as if he had a lot of experience in this kind of situation.

Which was all just edging up to the much bigger problem, because however much he tried to deny it to himself, Ryan knew full well that it wasn't his dick that had been in the driver's seat the night before.

And if fucking your roommate and best friend and teammate was a stupid idea that was only going to end in pain and shittiness and probably having to move out, then being helplessly in love with them was only about a hundred times worse.

"Fuck my life," Ryan said aloud, with feeling, and then he forced himself to get up and go actually do something rather than spending the rest of the day moping around.

With the vague feeling that it was probably polite to clear out long enough that Boone could get food or whatever and live his actual life without having to deal with Ryan being around, Ryan hit up the group chat and invited himself over to Jonesy's place, and hoped that the chance to totally destroy him at Madden and FIFA would distract him enough that Seth wouldn't ask any uncomfortable questions either.

* * *

Seth, who was a better friend than Ryan maybe deserved, didn't say anything when Ryan showed up at his place without even the courtesy snacks he'd usually pick up any time they were hanging out there, and he continued not to say much of anything other than chirping him through the first hour or so that they played.

Ryan had been braced for even the most innocuous type of questions about whether Boone was going to be joining them—he usually did, of course—but Seth had just shrugged at him and pointed to the couch and handed him more Gatorade, so Ryan figured he was actually safe after all.

His phone stayed in his pocket, a guilty weight that he felt dragging at his conscience every time he even started to think about maybe messaging Boone, maybe trying to talk his way out of this. There was an almost palpable nothingness to the feeling, a sinkhole that kept dragging his attention away from the conversation he was trying to keep up with Seth and made him somehow even worse than usual at FIFA. It was probably for the best that they didn't pick up the new version of 'chel, Ryan figured.

He excused himself to the bathroom after losing for the third match in a row and discovered what he might've seen if he'd been able to look himself in the eye earlier in the morning, which was that not only did he look like a guy who hadn't slept properly in a couple days, he also had another, equally obvious hickey on the other side of his neck.

Seth's eloquent silence seemed suddenly even more impressive.

Ryan lifted a hand to touch the newer bruise automatically, the pad of his thumb pushing almost masochistically down as he tried not to let himself dwell on how good it'd felt when Boone had mouthed over his skin, the way it'd set Ryan's nerves on fire, gotten him even hotter.

So Ryan made bad decisions, that wasn't news.

So Boone liked leaving marks on his hookups, that… wasn't news, either. Ryan’s two for two there, and he's seen the other side of more than enough morning afters over the years that he can't let himself feel too special.

On the plus side, he'd seen some of those women more than a couple times afterward too, getting drinks in a group with them and a few of the guys, so count that as evidence that Boone could also stay friends with his hookups, and probably once he and Ryan stopped having so many reminders of their poor decision making they would get back to normal after all.

Ryan wasn't going to let himself spend too long dwelling on how important that idea was to him, or how it was maybe the only thing stopping him from having a hideously embarrassing freak-out right then and there.

Seth didn't deserve to have to deal with that, he reasoned, and made himself go back out to the living room like nothing was wrong.

Seth let him get away with that for a couple hours, in the end. Ryan let himself relax at last, newly aware of just how tight his shoulders had been since he'd sat down, how stiff and awkward he must have looked.

He'd have worried about what Seth might be imagining to explain it, but Ryan was pretty sure that Seth at least had guesses that were more likely to be right on target. That should have made him more self-conscious, but on some level he'd kind of known that Seth wouldn't be a dick about it, and the confirmation of that was nice, almost made it easier.

Not that anything about the situation was easy, that was for sure.

Ryan started to believe that maybe he'd get through the bulk of the day without having anyone call him on his shit, but it turned out that Seth's mercy had limits. And those limits apparently ran right up to the point where he handed Ryan a plate of pizza—Ryan wasn't hungover, but he also wasn't going to say no—and without any preamble whatsoever, said, "I'm not gonna ask if you wanna talk about it, cos it's pretty clear that's a no, but I'd like you to listen at least."

Ryan tried to swallow around a mouthful of pizza that suddenly felt more like wood shavings.

Seth was apparently waiting for his response, though, because he didn't go on until Ryan nodded slowly. Not like he had much choice. This kind of thing was why Ryan was quietly pretty sure Seth was gonna end up with a letter on his jersey sooner rather than later, and he respected that and all, but that didn't mean he had to like it.

Especially not when all of that implacable patience was trained right on him. Ryan liked blending in with the crowd more often than not; or at least the only time he wanted that much attention on him was on the ice.

"You guys need to sort your shit out," Seth said. "I know neither of you wants it to be a problem in the room or whatever, but if I have to sit through another plane ride where you look like someone kicked every puppy on your block then I'm gonna scream."

Ryan thought that was a little unfair—it'd been one plane ride, and he'd been asleep for half of it, so he couldn't really have been driving Seth that crazy.

Then again, maybe Seth felt a little responsible. D partners were meant to look out for each other, right? Ryan could sure do with someone looking out for him.

"Right," Ryan said, "I'll, uh, bear that in mind?"

Seth gave him a look, and Ryan crumbled almost immediately. Damn, Seth was a little too good at that. Had he been taking pointers from Ryan's mom or something?

"Fine, okay, I'll get over it, it's fine. It'll be fine. It's not gonna affect anything."

Seth didn't look especially convinced.

"It's not—I'm not just talking about the team, okay Murr? You're allowed to be happy about shit." Seth paused and made a face that probably summed up quite aptly how they were all feeling about this season, in general, and Ryan could definitely feel that one. "And it kind of looks, uh, fucked up right now, but maybe it won't always. That's all I'm saying."

"That kind of depends on him," Ryan pointed out, because, sure, whatever Seth was saying sounded good, in theory, but thrown up against the wall that was Boone and what doing any of this for real would actually be like… it seemed a little scant. "I'm not, uh, driving the bus on this one."

"If that's a metaphor for something I don't wanna know," Seth said, the shadow of something in his face, but before Ryan could press him—it'd be nice to not be the one who was kind of being pushed to bare his soul here—he cleared his throat and changed tack. "I just think you guys should talk this out instead of, uh, jumping right back into bed."

Ryan blushed, couldn't help it. "We didn't—uh. You know what, never mind, fine, I'll—figure something out. Uh, can I stick around for a bit longer, though? I just. Need a bit of time first, you know?"

He wasn't sure how an extra couple of hours was going to give him any clue in how to handle this situation and make things normal again, but every instinct he had was telling him to let Boone be for a little longer.

Maybe he was hanging out with Golo or someone and telling them—well, okay, he probably wasn't gonna talk about this to any of the other guys on the team, Ryan amended hastily. Ryan was probably the person he would've been most likely to actually talk to about it if it hadn't, well, involved him in all the worst ways in the first place.

Fuck, Ryan was kind of an asshole for running out on him, however much it might've seemed like a good idea in the first place.

Seth seemed to get that Ryan had taken the hint well enough at that point, or maybe he wasn't doing a good enough job keeping a straight face while his stomach churned with that sick swirling feeling; guilt and concern and more than a little anger still. Seth let him change the subject for real, and then he put the TV back on—no FIFA or NHL 16 this time, just an episode of Curb that Ryan had honestly seen at least three times.

Laughing kind of mechanically at that was still better than being alone with his thoughts, and Ryan really did appreciate Seth being such a good bro about all of this.

He tried, awkwardly, to say something along those lines—it seemed like the right thing to do, however goddamn stupid he felt doing it—but Seth just shrugged a shoulder at him and then gave him a solid whack in the upper arm and said it was fine, really.

Ryan rubbed his arm—it wasn't exactly news or surprising that Seth was stronger than he looked—and figured that at least that meant things were still normal with him. And if the locker room was going to feel sort of strained until Ryan could get back on better terms with Boone, at least there were a couple guys he knew wouldn't treat him any differently even if they did know what had happened.

And that wasn't nothing to him.

* * *

By the time Ryan dragged himself home again it had been thoroughly dark for hours, and he couldn't quite shake off the chill coming in from the parking lot. He hadn't exactly picked the warmest gear, even if he'd been at Seth's place pretty much all afternoon, and even in the minute or so he was outdoors he could feel the wind finding its way through the gap at his collar where his scarf had slipped away from his jacket.

There weren't any lights on in the living room or the kitchen, but a thin line of light spilling from under Boone's bedroom door gave the game away there.

Ryan paused just outside his doorway, and raised his hand to knock, but before he could do that common sense reasserted itself. What was he going to do, anyway? Tell Boone, hey, sorry shit got weird, let's pretend it didn't happen?

They'd already tried and failed at that yesterday.

And Ryan definitely wasn't in the mood to talk any more openly than they already had; it wasn't going to change anything so what was the point? Plus, Boone had made it crystal clear that he didn't want to talk to Ryan, and Ryan would be a shitty friend if he didn't respect that, so.

Ryan went back to his own room, closed the door—loud enough that Boone would be sure he was home, if he had somehow missed the sound of Ryan's keys in the front door and the way he'd had to put his shoulder into the door to get it to close all the way; it stuck half the time and they never remembered to call their super to get it fixed.

The pointed silence from Boone's room continued, and Ryan let out a breath he hadn't quite realized he'd been holding and let himself go lie face-down on his bed. The cool cotton of his pillow felt nice on his face, and if the fact his nose was kind of mashed into it made it harder to breathe, well. Ryan had felt worse.

He toed off his socks, then made himself get up again long enough to shed his jeans and change his shirt before crawling back into bed. So what if it was barely after dinner and not even close to any reasonable bed time? He had some catching up to do. And if he couldn't sleep, well, he had a TV in his room and there was plenty of stuff on cable he could mindlessly zone out to if need be. He didn't need to hang out with Boone to relax, he could manage by himself just fine.

At least, that was what he kept telling himself all the way up until he finally fell asleep a couple hours later, the TV still playing softly.

The volume set just low enough that if a door had opened across the hall, he would've heard it.

* * *

Despite feeling all kinds of miserable, and being categorically unable to stop thinking in circles about how screwed they were, Ryan eventually slept.

Avoiding Boone the next morning was completely impossible, and they both had to know that, but he would've been lying if he'd tried to tell anyone that he didn't stand frozen in front of his own bedroom door for almost five minutes, dreading what he was going to walk out to find.

What he found was remarkably undramatic; just Boone, sitting at the kitchen island, drinking coffee and staring at his breakfast.

If Ryan didn't have incredibly vivid memories of what he and Boone had been doing barely a day ago—if Ryan didn't have a dark, livid bruise on his neck exactly the shape of Boone's mouth—he'd think that nothing had changed. That Boone was just musing over his breakfast, or more likely, dozing over it like normal.

Of course, the fact that when Boone looked up to say 'good morning' he couldn't seem to meet Ryan's eyes, well. That wasn't quite normal.

It was still a million miles better than what Ryan had been expecting to deal with, though, so he went through the motions of getting his own breakfast ready, finished off the coffee Boone had left for him, and only hesitated for a second wondering if he was still allowed to do that.

Boone got up to stack the dishwasher when he was done, and there was only the faintest hesitation in his step as he walked behind Ryan, and Ryan let himself start to believe that maybe if they both pretended they couldn't see each other flinching this would all be okay. Maybe they hadn't ruined absolutely every part of their friendship, and this would, eventually, get back to being normal.

"You wanna drive in today?" Boone asked after a moment, and Ryan had to clear his throat twice before being able to say, "Yeah, okay."

So maybe. Maybe it would work out, he thought, and got up to finish getting himself ready for practice.

* * *

Their conversation in the car was more stilted than Ryan could remember it ever being, but he was trying, and he could tell that Boone was trying, too, so it only felt like it took ten times longer than usual instead of a small eternity. He was all in favor of taking the small blessings where he could find them.

Seth caught his eye when he and Boone walked into the locker room together, one dark brow raised in a silent question, and Ryan tried to telegraph back a combination of 'fuck I don't know okay' and 'I guess it's fine?'

He had to concede that he probably hadn't succeeded on that front when Seth stood up and started to walk over, but the panic response on Ryan's face must have been clear if nothing else was, because Seth sat right back down again and determinedly turned to say something to Jack. Ryan let himself exhale and tried to force his shoulders back down to their normal level.

They went through the motions of practice just fine after that, and by the time they were immersed in one of the battle drills, Ryan had almost entirely forgotten anything was wrong at all, caught up in the flow of the way they were all playing, confidence riding high and passes crisply going tape to tape.

He cradled a sweet pass from Boone just long enough to send it to Fliggy who tipped it past Mac—who yelled something unflattering at all three of them on general principle, if Ryan was any judge—and stood there leaning on his stick for a second catching his breath, looking forward to doing that in a game sometime soon.

Reality crashed back in when he turned to look at Boone, leaning into the boards and talking to Golo, his back to Ryan in a way that felt a little pointed, even if it was subtle enough that Ryan didn't think anyone else would have noticed.

Well, it would've been too much to hope they'd be totally back to normal again this fast, he told himself, and went back to listening to what Torts was yelling from the bench.

It was weird enough getting half their coaching from there for a practice, but not insurmountably so, and Torts sure didn't have any issues projecting loud enough that they could hear him the whole way across even the big sheet in Nationwide, so that was something.

They all filed off the ice an hour or so later in good spirits, splitting off in various directions to hit the gym like normal, and if Ryan dragged his heels long enough to get paired off with Hartzy in there then it probably didn't stand out to anyone. At least he didn't have to worry about keeping up any kind of conversation; all you needed to do was get Hartzy started and he'd be off and running.

Jonesy was lurking by Ryan’s stall when he came out of the showers, already dressed and ready. Ryan looked at him, raised an eyebrow, and then—despite himself—glanced over to Boone quickly to see if he’d noticed anything weird. He was pretty sure he’d done an okay job of acting just like normal in practice and as they were changing, and if Ryan had done anything that stood out to anyone who'd been in town a lot longer then they would've had something to say about it already. Most of Ryan's teammates weren't known for their subtlety or their ability to let shit go. So the fact he hadn't heard anything about how he was behaving—or how he'd been in Calgary—from any of the other guys probably meant he'd gotten away with it. Or so he hoped.

He was pretty sure that Jonesy would've given him a heads-up if he'd picked up on anything now they were in front of an audience, anyway.

If Seth saw Ryan shoot that little glance Boone’s way then he didn’t give any indication of it, he just leaned against the wall and said, “Hey, you guys want to hang out tonight?”

They’d spent enough downtime hanging out both at home and on the road that it was a pretty normal question, and it wasn’t like Seth had had much chance to meet anyone outside of the team yet, so Ryan couldn’t begrudge him that. Jonesy was good company, and he cleaned up after himself, which was more than Ryan could say for some of their teammates, not naming any names.

Ryan shrugged, and made a more deliberate effort to get Boone’s attention to check in with him too. “Sounds good to me,” Ryan said. “Boone, you up for video games or whatever tonight?”

It wasn’t like they could just stop hanging out with the rest of the team even if things were weird between them; leaving aside how that would be massively obvious if they started avoiding everyone else or never showing up anywhere together outside of games, they pretty much had all the same interests. And commitments. And friends, even if the line between teammate and friend tended to get real blurry when you were on the road and together as much as they all were.

Boone had to have been thinking along the same lines, because he didn’t even wait to think about it for more than a second.

“Sure thing,” Boone said. “Not too late, though.”

And that made sense because they had a game tomorrow and yeah, no one was going to do anything too wild or have too much of a late night before that. They’d lost every game so far against the Isles, and Ryan was itching to reverse that trend, especially since they seemed to be doing so much better that week.

“Yeah yeah, grandpa,” Jonesy said, chirping just like normal, and he didn’t even blink when Golo leaned in over his shoulder and asked, “Hey, what’s going on?”

“Video games at their place.” Jonesy said. “Open invitation, you in? Uh, that’s fine with you guys, right?” he added belatedly, almost too casual in a way that made Ryan faintly suspicious.

Ryan shrugged, though and said, “Fine by me,” while Boone just nodded his agreement.

“Cam, Dubi, you guys in?” Boone asked, getting their attention. Dubi thought about it for a moment before demurring, and Ryan didn’t blame him; it wasn’t like any of the guys with kids got enough time with them as it was. Cam said he’d show up after his nap, which from experience Ryan figured meant any time between four thirty and whenever they ordered dinner.

“Hey Saader, you keen?” Jonesy asked, turning back to where Brandon was pulling on his shoes, before smoothing out the nonexistent wrinkles over the knees of his trousers and running a hand distractedly through his hair.

“Say what?” Saader said.

“Video games, dinner?” Jonesy repeated.

“Oh, no, I’ve got dinner plans already, sorry,” Brandon said, and picked up his bag to head out. “See you guys tomorrow, yeah? Have fun.”

“You too,” Boone called after him, and then gave Ryan a look that he definitely couldn’t read.

“Ready to head back?” Boone asked a minute or two later, before pulling his jacket on and tugging at the hem so that it was sitting right, not bothering to zip it the whole way up while they were still indoors.

“Yeah, I was waiting for you,” Ryan said, and picked up his bag before slinging it over his shoulder. He looked over to catch Golo and Jonesy’s attention, belatedly included Matty as well. “See you guys this afternoon?”

“You bet,” Matty said, and Prouter leaned around him to call, “We might even bring snacks.”

“You do that,” Ryan said, although he wouldn’t be holding his breath on that one. Maybe the first thing he'd do when they got home was make a grocery order so they were covered for the point that someone inevitably decided they were starving well before anyone else had gotten around to figuring out what they wanted for dinner.

* * *

“This is fine with you, right?” Ryan asked again, once they were in the car, looking over at Boone who’d taken possession of the keys to drive them home.

“The guys coming over?” Boone said, looking up to check his mirrors again before pulling out into traffic. “Yeah, why wouldn’t it be?”

Ryan was aware of the potential for a really mood-killing reaction, and that was the last thing he wanted, so he paused for a moment to try and arrange his answer more carefully.

“I just—remember Saturday morning?” He said. “Things were kind of weird then, weren’t they? That wasn’t just me being hungover.” He didn’t think it was, but for whatever reason he felt compelled to offer Boone the out, just in case.

“Oh,” was all Boone said, and when Ryan snuck a quick look over at him his jaw was tight, like he was clenching his teeth a little. “Yeah, that was—uh. Complicated.”

They hit a stoplight then, and Boone turned his head to look at Ryan, reached over to rest a hand on his leg for a moment, warm and comfortingly solid. “I'd, uh. Rather not talk about it more, you know? I think we're good now, right?”

“Yeah, of course,” Ryan said. It wasn’t like he wanted Boone distracted while they were driving either. He wasn't disappointed at all; this was exactly what he'd asked and been hoping for, letting things just be normal again. Normal was good. Or at least it was good enough.

Ryan wasn't even convincing himself with that line, and Boone putting a firm stop on the conversation apparently didn’t mean Ryan could stop thinking about it either, so the rest of the drive home was significantly quieter than usual, and just the slightest bit strained. If the frown lines around Boone’s eyes while he dealt with midday traffic were any indication, he hadn’t stopped thinking about it either.

Ryan just didn’t know what to expect from the afternoon, or, really, from what they were doing at all. They’d talked a little that morning, sure, but they hadn’t really said much. Or at least, they hadn’t gone near any of the tricky things that Ryan could see just waiting to trip them up.

And how they were going to act around their teammates without the easy distraction of practice or a game was just one in a long laundry list of things that Ryan was starting to realize he would, in fact, have to think about and watch himself during.

Ryan had slept for at least nine hours the night before in spite of all the self-recrimination, and somehow he still felt exhausted.

* * *

Maybe it was the audience or maybe it was just that things couldn't actually get any weirder than they already had been, but by the time Ryan woke up from his nap and wandered out to the living room, it was to find a Boone who grinned at him no more and no less than he would've done a week ago.

Prouter was already there, his feet up on the coffee table as well with the confidence of a guy who spent a lot of time on their couch, and Ryan nodded hello to him as well before heading into the kitchen to grab some water.

He'd barely sat down on the other end of the couch—ready to offer some helpful advice to whichever of them was losing the video game on the TV—when the buzzer went from downstairs, which meant either Ryan had really overslept, or everyone was early today. And had forgotten the code to get in.

When the door opened a minute later it was Golo and Jonesy, looking a little sheepish, so Ryan mentally congratulated himself on calling that one perfectly.

The rest of the guys trickled in over the next hour or two, and Ryan let himself fall back into the rhythm of hanging out with teammates, talking and laughing and not saying much of anything to anyone.

As the afternoon went on, Seth caught his eye a couple of times and raised an eyebrow, just checking in, and Ryan managed to smile back at him, trying to make it obvious that he was just fine, thanks. The fact it took him aback each time—made his stomach flip a little, in a way that wasn't all bad, even—wasn't something he was going to focus on.

He didn't think anyone else would notice that he and Boone spent most of the night with at least one person as a buffer between them, and the fact that it was unusual just meant that he'd been letting himself get away with things for too long, even before anything more had happened.

Ryan knew better than to let himself get attached to a teammate, and if things sucked for a couple of weeks, well, better that than any of the other ways it could end badly for them all.

Things wrapped up relatively early after they'd all eaten, and Cam—for all that he tried to play it off like he wasn't that guy—was the one who got everyone moving and out the door.

"So secretly responsible," Ryan told him, not bothering to hide his grin, and then he ruffled Cam's hair just because he could, and because it really annoyed him. Ryan so rarely got to be significantly taller than the people he spent most of his time around.

"Fuck you," Cam said cheerfully, before shamelessly walking out with the last bottle of Ryan's favorite beer, unopened.

He hadn't even had a chance to drink one from that four pack yet. He'd probably had that coming, though, so he just took the L and locked up behind the guys as they headed off down the hall to the stairs with a blithe disregard for the volume of their conversation. Lucky for Ryan and Boone's neighbors that they were wrapping things up early, really.

Ryan moved to start clearing up—anything they dealt with then wasn't going to need cleaning later on—but for once most of the guys had picked up behind themselves, and all he had to do was dump a few plates and glasses into the dishwasher.

He turned automatically to ask Boone if there was anything else he could see that needed to go in, but Boone just called over his shoulder, "Hey, I'm getting an early night, eh Murr?" before disappearing into his own room again, and Ryan was left to his own thoughts.

It—hadn't been as awkward as it could have been, so Ryan decided to give them at least a B in faking normalcy and a C in actual steps back towards just being friends. Maybe a C+.

When he stretched out in bed that night, Ryan let himself indulge for a minute in wishing things could be different enough that he could have what he really wanted; Boone right there with him and probably snoring like a freight train, but all that kind of thought was going to do was to stretch out the period of time where things stayed weird with them, so Ryan told himself to get his shit together and rolled over to go the fuck to sleep already.

* * *

Breakfast the next morning still felt a little weird, but closer to normal, edging back towards the way they'd always been bit by bit, and Ryan congratulated himself for playing this the right way and having it work out. If it occasionally felt kind of hollow, well, he'd get over that with more time.

Morning skate and all the team mandated stuff after that kept them both busy enough in the morning, so they hit lunch time easily without a moment to themselves. Ryan had enough errands that had piled up after their western Canada swing that he didn't have any trouble finding things to keep himself busy after that, and with one thing and another, the day slipped away without him needing to spend much time alone with Boone until after they'd napped and were ready to get back to Nationwide.

Ryan couldn't argue that it had been their best game against the Islanders to date, but it still sucked managing to hold on till they hit the shootout and losing anyway. One point was better than nothing—he was never taking that for granted after October, fuck—but he could tell the loss was going to niggle at all of them.

By the next day's practice, Ryan could tell that he'd been right about that, but it felt like it was maybe working in the best possible way; extra motivation, a push that made it feel like he had a couple of extra steps to join the rush, some extra strength along the boards. And looking around the team, it seemed like everyone was feeling that same motivation.

Getting into the rhythm of having a game every other day was easier than it had been for a while, and Ryan's world narrowed down to just sleep and eating and practice and playing, fighting his way out through it all.

They got the results, too; putting four on the Ducks, and then four on Ottawa two days later, starting to actually feel like they'd found their feet again. It felt promising on the ice in a way that looking at their season points total didn't, so much, but Ryan was trying to avoid doing that, for all the usual reasons and a few others besides.

He didn't think the hiccup in their second-to-last game of the homestand—Boston walking in and waltzing off with the second point in OT after the Jackets had been able to hold them off the board for forty minutes—meant anything more than the more typical type of bad luck that happened throughout a season, but after a miserable game to close things out where the Sabres shut them out and poured four goals of their own on, Ryan was almost desperate to get on the road again and have a break from disappointing their fans at home; from seeing the same things go almost right and then wrong all over again.

Of course, he was a little nervous about going on the road; that was where everything had changed between him and Boone, and they hadn't been able to make the consequences of that stay on the road. But at the same time, it felt like they were never more in sync than when they were going into a hostile building and proving people wrong, showing exactly how good they could be, and it kind of killed Ryan that he could be equally talking about the team as a whole there or about himself and Boone specifically.

Whatever it was, he couldn't argue with the fact that it seemed like they were better away from home.

A decisive win against the Bruins only reinforced that, and Ryan yelled himself nearly hoarse when Boone potted two, and had a chance at a third, robbed at the last moment of the hat-trick if not the victory. Saader iced it for them, and it was a happy plane that made its way out of Logan and towards Detroit, the second half of the back-to-back feeling like it had to be within their grasp.

With the next game less than a day away, it wasn't as if anyone was going to go wild that night, and the Bruins hit hard enough and often enough that most of the team was going to be limping or icing bruises before bed. Ryan had just changed out of his suit and was prodding at a lump on his arm—fucking Beleskey hit like a truck for a guy who also had the hands to score—when there was a knock on his door.

He opened it without bothering to use the peephole, and blinked stupidly to see Boone there, a bucket of ice in his hand.

"Hi?" Ryan said, pushing his hair back from his forehead and wishing he'd put a shirt back on.

"Uh, I figured you could use this?" Boone said, not quite looking at him, sounding like he found this whole moment as awkward as Ryan did. "I mean, I saw that block you had on one of Chara's shots, no way that doesn't hurt."

"Thanks," Ryan said, leaning into the tiny bathroom to grab a towel to put the ice in. He'd iced his shin and his shoulder right after the game, and neither of them felt too bad right then, but a little longer probably wouldn't hurt. And if Boone was making a kind of peace offering, then Ryan wanted to take it.

"Cool," Boone said, and fidgeted with his hands, leaning against the door jamb like he had no idea what to do or say next.

Without Ryan really intending to or paying attention to it, the door had closed behind Boone, which meant they were in close proximity again, totally alone, on the road and coming off a win that had felt pretty fucking good even if it hadn't been against a divisional opponent.

Ryan played that thought back inside his head, vaguely conscious of the ice melting in the plastic bucket dangling from his hand and looked guiltily at Boone, half-hoping he hadn't been having the same thoughts.

Half hoping he might have been.

And if the way Boone's gaze dropped guiltily to Ryan's mouth was any indication… Boone was just as amped up as Ryan was.

Fuck.

Ryan made a heroic effort at grasping after self-control, but his subconscious knew exactly what it wanted, and his libido was ready and willing to join forces and gang up on his better impulses. He swallowed hard, opened his mouth—he wasn't even sure how to make the invitation that he wanted to, but that wasn't going to stop him.

And then Boone muttered "fuck it" under his breath and took one big stride forward, getting his hands on Ryan's face and his tongue in Ryan's mouth, and Ryan thought, "thank god," and dove headfirst into another set of incredibly bad decisions.

* * *

Boone didn't stay, that time.

Neither of them fell asleep afterward, but Ryan was definitely dozing by the time Boone took a deep breath and rolled out of bed, finding his shoes without bothering to turn the light back on.

Ryan thought that maybe he'd paused for just a second before putting his shirt back on, but even if it would have been a good idea, he didn't think he could have said anything.

Every nerve in his body was standing on end and trying to scream 'don't leave', but Ryan had enough sense of self-preservation not to open that particular can of worms.

Sleep did  not come quite so easily after the door closed behind Boone.

* * *

The two of them avoided each other the next morning, although by the time warmups rolled around Boone seemed to have worked through whatever he needed to, and he stole Ryan's bottle of Gatorade just like normal when Ryan was too slow to grab it after coming back down the tunnel before the anthem.

Maybe this was just…how things worked now, Ryan thought, and ducked away from an all too enthusiastic shot that Dubi had sent off the glass at about head height.

"Good reflexes, Murr," Dubi said, smirking, before he went off to bother Cam instead, and Ryan just shook his head. His team were a group of idiots, but he wouldn't change them—wouldn't trade any of them for the world. Fuck whatever the rest of the NHL said and thought about them.

* * *

Taking the lead early on against the Devils felt as natural as if they'd been doing it all season and not just on a frighteningly infrequent basis, and Ryan couldn't wipe the grin off his face, not when he looked up at the scoreboard or when he scooted along the bench and let his hip bump against Boone's. Through about eight layers of clothing and padding, sure, but it was good to feel that much in sync with him again.

They got the win—"Never in doubt!" Fliggy proclaimed, sounding more like his old self, too, and Ryan hadn't realized until then just how much their season was weighing on him too, all the more so as adjunct to his newly-minted captaincy.

Ryan thought, a little guiltily, that maybe he should've been worried about other people as well as his own stupid love life. Sex life. Whatever.

"Nope," Boone said, like he'd been eavesdropping on Ryan's interior monologue, "He just unclenched, you don't get to start stressing about it again instead, c'mon Murr, let's go get a drink."

Ryan shook his head but didn't bother arguing, just followed Boone up to the hotel bar and took the glass he was handed. By this point in their friendship, it would've been weird if Boone didn't know what he liked to drink, and the beer was indeed exactly what Ryan would've ordered if he'd done it himself.

They let themselves fold into the chatter and noise of the rest of the team celebrating the win for a while, shoulder to shoulder around the table that they'd all congregated at as one by one guys dumped their bags in their rooms and came back downstairs.

Ryan drank, quietly, although he didn't get a second drink. Not that it would've made a huge difference—his tolerance wasn't that bad, thank you very much—but he didn't feel much like even that faint bit of fuzziness, didn't want to be off his game.

Beside him, Boone was nursing his drink longer than usual too.

Ryan glanced around casually, not entirely to check if anyone else was looking at either of them, but that was part of it. He caught Savvy dropping his shoulder to stealthily drop peanuts into Dubi's glass and kept enough of a straight face to not give him away, but when his gaze moved further around it was to see Seth turning quickly to add something to Saader and Jack's conversation, all three of them hushed. Ryan frowned for a split second, wondering what that was all about, but then again, Saader was a quiet guy in general, and Jack wasn't exactly loud, that was pretty much their usual. He was definitely being paranoid.

No one else seemed to be paying the slightest bit of attention to him or to Boone.

And that was it, Ryan had to admit, to himself if no one else.

He was checking to see if anyone was going to notice the moment where one of them snapped and said something that might be friendly or joking or even vaguely antagonistic, but what it was actually going to be was an invitation.

Ryan could see the night unfolding before him inevitably; he'd wind up in Boone's room or Boone would end up in his, and they'd have sex again, and maybe even kiss, again, and they still wouldn't talk about it, not really, and then Ryan would wake up alone and maybe this time they'd ignore each other again the next morning or maybe they wouldn't; they'd skipped that part last time, for whatever that meant.

And the worst part was, Ryan knew all of that and he knew, whenever Boone asked him, he was still going to say yes anyway.

Cam got up to get another drink, bumping into Boone on his way out, and Boone swayed with it, as if Cam had enough heft to shift him that much—Ryan wasn't buying it, not when he'd seen half the guys in their division take a run at Boone and bounce right off—his shoulder pressing firmer into Ryan's.

Ryan just tried not to hold his breath.

It took less than five minutes after that.

Ryan was starting to wonder if he was going to be the one making the first move—it was probably his turn, and god, they were fucked up if he was thinking about it that way—and trying to figure out if he had anything smoother than 'hey, can I borrow your phone charger', when Boone's hand landed on his thigh, hot and heavy and sliding ever so slowly upward.

Ryan didn't jump, with an effort, but he certainly went tense all over.

All over, which Boone could definitely tell as the heel of his hand nudged against Ryan's dick through two layers of clothing. Jesus.

Ryan turned his head to look at him properly, and Boone was smirking, self-satisfied, hungry, and abruptly Ryan thought, 'fuck it'.

They were hidden well enough under the table that Ryan couldn't be even a little afraid anyone would see; no one looking at them was going to wonder if Boone's hand was wandering, it was too dark and loud and filled with guys who assumed everyone else was straight too for that to even be the slightest glimmer of anyone's thoughts.

Well, maybe that was overselling it, but Ryan knew hockey players, and he knew his team, and as fucking bizarre as it sounded, Boone's dumb flirty move felt… safe. Ryan slouched down in his seat, let his knees splay more open, letting himself get more comfortable.

He was just close enough to Boone to hear the approving growl from the back of his throat, almost subvocal, just under the volume of the bland music the bar had playing. Ryan shivered, and chewed on his lip. Yeah, this was—definitely happening. And maybe tomorrow he'd make better decisions, but then and there… he wanted to touch Boone, wanted Boone to touch him. He wanted to get laid and feel wanted and appreciated and even if that all went away again tomorrow, well.

That was tomorrow Ryan's problem, wasn't it?

Past Ryan had been getting him into a lot of trouble lately, Ryan thought, but lifting up his glass to finish the rest of his beer right as Boone's palm ground down over his dick, a faint and fleeting pressure—but there were definitely some tangible benefits to making terrible decisions.

"Yeah, so I think I'm done for tonight," Boone said smoothly, sliding out of the bench and away from Ryan. He raised an eyebrow, just a fraction, and Ryan rushed to join him, smooth as he could.

"Me too, eh, night guys," he said, and followed Boone out of the bar and back up to his room.

It was tape to tape, Ryan mused, trying to keep his hands and his eyes to himself in the elevator, while they were still potentially somewhere people could see them. Boone with the pass, and just like always, Ryan was ready and waiting for it, and—his metaphor broke down then, and he had to stifle a snort, because pretty much every goal scoring analogy he could think of just seemed like a bad euphemism, and not the kind of thing that was so bad it went right back around to being hot again.

"What?" Boone asked, head cocked to one side.

Ryan shook his head, grinning. "Bad joke, I'll tell you later, maybe."

And then Boone led him out of the elevator, down the hall and—one quick, and not all that subtle check of the hall later—inside his room.

And after that both of them were a bit too preoccupied to think about doing any more talking for the evening.

Ryan thought about it for a second afterward, lying wrung out and sweaty beside Boone, the sheets sticking to his back and too tired to move, but Boone's eyes were closed, and it really wasn't the time, especially if Ryan was only sixty percent sure they were doing well enough to be friends who fucked around together. Friends who joked about how they were fucking around together seemed like a whole other step they hadn't earned.

Ryan tried very hard not to add the word 'yet' to that thought, didn't want to let himself dare to hope to, and in between one thought and the next about how he really needed to do a better job of helping himself, he fell asleep too.

* * *

A couple of nights later, sprawled out on a hotel bed in New York with the Panthers in the rear view mirror and the Rangers ahead of them, Ryan thought that maybe he'd been even more right about that than he'd thought.

"Stop thinking," Boone mumbled, working his way across Ryan's collarbone, and scraping his teeth over his shoulder in a way that absolutely should not have been as hot as it was.

"Make me," Ryan said, which was either brave or stupid or maybe both, especially since Boone did just that, heading south to blow Ryan's mind by sucking him off again in record time.

Ryan returned the favor, making himself take it twice as slow as he wanted to just to draw it out, to repay Boone the best and worst way he knew how, letting the ache settle into his jaw as well as his chest, until Boone was cursing and coming all over himself, salt-bitter on Ryan's tongue.

Ryan rolled off just far enough that they weren't touching—it might still be winter, but he was too overheated to deal with any additional touch without an orgasm at the end of it right then. He lay there trying to catch his breath, wondering what other tricks he could come up with to keep Boone in bed a little longer and put off the point where one of them had to leave, starting the clock again on the part where they didn't acknowledge each other for a few hours.

The only saving grace about that was that it seemed to get shorter every time, now. Ryan was pretty sure Boone would be looking at him again by lunch, and wasn't that just incredibly fucked up of both of them?

"We can't do this again," Boone said, voice rough, and Ryan couldn't hide the wince.

Something about Boone being the one to verbalize it this time made it hurt all the more, and it wasn't just the horrible possibility that maybe this time he actually meant it.

"Well, that hasn't exactly worked the last few times," Ryan snapped back, more sarcastic than he quite meant to be.

"Uh," Boone said, sounding strangled, weirdly reluctant in a way that Ryan's never heard him before, and when Ryan whipped his head around to look at him, it was to see that Boone was bright red, blushing the way he did on the ice when he'd been out there for too long, over-exerting himself and giving everything he had despite that. "I, uh. I meant the part where we don't really talk for a while afterward, that part sucks. So can we skip it this time?"

Ryan didn't know what to say to that other than "Oh," because he hated when they didn't talk as well, but he still didn't know what he was doing or what they were doing or, well, anything. The deep well of things Ryan had no fucking clue about seemed to be looming a lot darker and a lot more present ever since they'd started this whole thing.

Boone shrugged at him before rolling out of bed and starting to getting dressed again, matter-of-factly. Ryan wasn't sure if he was allowed to look.

He looked, a little.

Kept trying to square away his familiarity with Boone, the way he knew him so well, with the Boone that he woke up with, the Boone who shared his bed without seeming to hesitate, without questioning anything in the moment, who touched Ryan like he needed him, kissed like he wanted him, but kept walking away in the morning all the same. Ryan had no fucking clue how he was meant to handle this, but if what Boone was offering was that they got to skip at least seventy percent of the shitty after-effects of the last few times they'd done this—and god, Ryan can't believe they'd done this so many times now.

Once could be an accident and twice was happenstance but three times—

That was a habit.

Shit, if they weren't careful, it was going to be a fucking tradition; up there with playoff beards and not touching the Cup.

Ryan stopped for a second, and thought back.

They'd hooked up every road trip since the western Canada swing now, and they'd got points at least in all of those games, won most of them, and Jesus Christ, Ryan hoped Boone wasn't just doing this because he thought it was helping the team.

He lost his head for a moment and actually said that, just blurted it right out, and was relieved when Boone laughed, genuinely, and touched his shoulder lightly before saying, "No, Murrs, I'm really not."

Boone paused for a moment and when he went on Ryan had the impression they both knew he was venturing out onto much less solid ground.

"It's fun, right?" he said, and Ryan wanted to agree—wanted to rush to agree, still riding high on the endorphin rush of getting to touch Boone, of having Boone's hands so familiar all over his body—but the pedestrian simplicity of it burned, too, stuck in the back of his throat and made it hard to swallow.

"I keep saying yes," Ryan replied, just barely turning it from a question into a statement. It was true enough, close enough to his feelings for Boone to hear the sincerity in his words, but it didn't quite give everything away.

"Yeah," Boone said, and he opened his mouth as if he was about to say something else, but while Ryan held his breath waiting for it, he shook his head fractionally, and that was that.

* * *

That conversation seemed to have settled some things for both of them, and while it wasn't like anything was still the same as it had been before, and there were certainly going to be landmines in new and unexpected locations sometimes, the really crushing awkwardness—and loneliness, Ryan had to admit—seemed to have stayed in the past behind them.

They didn't win in New York, didn't even get a point, but Ryan wasn't going to be superstitious about it.

Instead, they got home in the early afternoon, a slow travel day with the couple of days break they had ahead of them, and rather than going out to run errands, or collapsing onto the couch for an hour or two to catch up on HBO, Boone just raised an eyebrow at Ryan and gave him an incredibly unsubtle head to toe look that was the closest thing Ryan had ever seen to obscene. The fact he followed it up by dropping his bag right there in the hall—not even bothering to dump anything in the laundry first—before getting his hands in Ryan's hair and his tongue down Ryan's throat did a lot to reinforce the impression, too.

Something about all of that made him braver, so when Boone asked, low and hot, "Wanna go back to bed now?" Ryan didn't miss a beat before coming right back with "Yeah, but we should go to my room this time."

“Your room, huh?” Boone said, not even bothering to pretend like he wasn't going to go along with it. “What, you didn’t like my bed?”

“It was fine,” Ryan said with a shrug, letting go of Boone long enough to nudge him to start stripping off again, watching him shove his pants down to his ankles and step out of them. “I like my bed better.”

“Fair enough,” Boone put in, before Ryan interrupted to continue, “And I don't know if you actually changed your sheets since the last time we messed them up."

"Ouch, rude," Boone said cheerfully, which wasn't actually a denial, either, and Ryan shoved him in the direction of his bedroom with renewed vigor. It wasn't like gross sheets would've been a complete deal breaker, but Ryan had a very clear vision for what he wanted to do with Boone, and it was going to be a whole lot easier in his own room.

Besides, Ryan couldn't really throw all that many stones; if there was one thing they had in common with pretty much every other twenty-two-year-old guy Ryan had ever met it was that they both hated doing laundry. Not that Ryan wasn't going to take advantage of the fact he'd done his more recently than Boone, anyway.

“Besides, this way I don’t have to try and figure out where you keep condoms or whatever,” Ryan added matter of factly, straightening up after digging through the drawer of random crap that he had on his nightstand, condoms and lube in hand. He raised an eyebrow at Boone, questioning, and Boone just gave him a steady look and said, “Good plan, Murr.”

Ryan tried not to let his relief be too obvious. He wanted this, bad, but only if it was what Boone wanted too, and if the way Boone was shoving at Ryan’s clothing and trying to bodily drag him back onto the bed was any indication then they were both completely on board, and that—

That was just perfect, really.

Ryan’s clothes joined Boone’s on the floor in record time, and he had to be careful climbing into bed; his mattress had more give than Boone’s, and the way it shifted underneath their combined weight made Ryan realize that he hadn’t brought anyone home with him since they moved in.

In fact, he hadn’t had more than the odd one night stand or friends with benefits deals with guys who were only in town for a night or two in… a while, and maybe he should have realized that sooner.

And maybe the fact that he hadn’t even been missing that should have been a clue that he was getting just about everything he wanted at home already anyway.

That was a dangerous thought, and one that there was no benefit to exploring further at that point, Ryan thought, and firmly yanked his thoughts back onto a more productive path, a more pleasant one, into focusing on how Boone was touching him, confident and firm and easy.

“So,” Ryan said, doing his best to keep his voice steady, even as Boone kept shifting underneath him, making it abundantly clear that they were both getting off on this with the way his hips moved, the way he sighed in relief as Ryan shifted and pressed a thigh between his legs, gave him something to rub off against. “I was thinking—I mean, I want—”

“Spit it out,” Boone said, and maybe he was trying to sound impatient, but Ryan could see right through him, and all that he really sounded was intense and just a little needy.

“Can I fuck you?” Ryan asked, and he held his breath a little after asking, couldn’t help it.

Boone moved under him again, and bit his lip, and Ryan just kept his hands lightly moving over his sides, soothing long strokes from his ribcage down to his hips, mapping the curve of bone and muscle, the way his fingertips rasped over hair.

“Yeah,” he said after a long moment, and Ryan gave in to the impulse to lean in again and kiss him, heat and anticipation building up in his gut, wound up tight with tension because fuck, he wanted that so bad.

“Yeah?” Ryan said, raising up on his elbows to look at Boone properly, to look down the line of their bodies between them, the play of light and shadow over their skin, the way he could both see and feel Boone’s erection, pressed hot against his hip, could see his own dick hard between them. He took a brief moment to be grateful he’d left the light on, wanted to enjoy every moment of this, and unless something truly embarrassing happened, Ryan was pretty sure what happened next was going to go into jerk-off material for the next, well, forever.

“Fuck, Ryan, come on,” Boone said, and his hands were tight on Ryan’s skin, impatient and greedy.

“Right, right,” Ryan said, and they broke apart for a few seconds, rearranging themselves on the bed. Boone moved to shove a pillow under himself, wriggling until he was comfortable, matter-of-factly arranging himself in a way that told Ryan he didn’t actually need to ask if he’d done this before. Instead, Ryan reached over to grab the lube from the nightstand, and slicked up his fingers before dropping it back onto the mattress beside them.

He rolled onto his side, sat up a little, and then nudged Boone’s knee, pushing his thigh away, opening up space for him to move into between Boone’s legs. He looked up to catch Boone’s eyes again after that, just checking, one more time before they took this step. It wasn’t like they hadn’t already had sex, so maybe it shouldn’t be a big deal, Ryan thought. But there was friends helping each other out, and then there was this, unequivocally past the line of ‘just friends’.

They were going to have to talk about this more later, Ryan knew, and maybe it would be difficult, but it was too tempting to just ignore that entirely in favor of getting to experience this, getting to touch the way he wanted so badly to.

Boone was almost too still as Ryan trailed his fingertips over his dick, over the skin underneath, skirting around his balls, and when Ryan glanced up quickly he could see the way he was biting his lip, white around the imprint of his teeth. Tension was obvious in his muscles, wound up tight all over, and when Ryan brushed his palm up the inside of his thigh he shivered hard and made a sound that was close to a growl. It was all kinds of hot, and as Ryan stopped teasing and started to work his fingers inside, the noises Boone was making got even better.

Ryan couldn’t deny that was getting to him as much as enjoying how Boone was so tight and hot around his fingers was, and he fumbled the condom when he picked up the packet at first, fingers slippery with lube and nerves, too turned on to worry about looking stupid for a couple of seconds.

“Shit,” he said, and went to pick it up again, telling himself to slow down, it wasn’t like Boone was going anywhere.

“You need a hand?” Boone asked, getting up on his elbows, and giving Ryan his best smirk.

“I can’t, dammit—yeah, you know what, you open this, your hands are still dry,” Ryan said, letting Boone take the packet from him, trying not to drop it a second time.

Boone got a corner between thumb and forefinger, wiped his other hand off on the sheet first just in case, and tore it open before looking back up at Ryan, smirk still firmly in place. Fuck, Ryan was so into him.   

“C’mere,” Boone said, sitting up and urging Ryan to shuffle closer again.

Ryan held his breath and tried to hold still as Boone rolled the condom onto his dick, his fingers lingering just enough to make Ryan shiver, eager for more. He wanted to press forward, have Boone jerk him off like that, his touch steady and practiced even through the latex. Later, he told himself firmly, and let Boone lay back down again, knees up, making room for Ryan between his legs.

Ryan tried to wipe some of the excess lube on one hand off again on his own thigh, and then when that didn’t seem to help, on the sheet by Boone’s leg, but when he leaned forward to brace his hand on Boone’s hip his fingers slipped again anyway, leaving a sheer streak shining wetly on his skin, and Ryan caught himself just before he could fall forward.

“Real coordinated there, Murrs,” Boone said, breathless enough that it didn’t have any real bite to it.

“Do you want my hand back on your dick or not?” Ryan asked him, mostly hypothetically.

He trailed the very tip of his finger up the underside of Boone’s dick suggestively, let his palm slide over hot skin on the way back down. Boone went tense all over again, body trying to follow Ryan’s touch, and he shivered, a full body shudder that made Ryan want to just crawl back on top of him and touch him all over already. He told himself to chill for a second, just kept looking at Boone, talking himself down until he was more certain that he wasn’t going to pop the second either of them touched his dick again.

“Okay already,” Boone said impatiently, squirming under Ryan’s gaze, under his touch. “You’re all set, go.”

He shifted again, rocking up to try and encourage Ryan to move already, just as responsive then as he had been when Ryan had been fingering him, and Ryan couldn’t imagine how it was going to feel when Ryan actually got to fuck him, if it was already that hot to start.

“You still good?” Ryan asked, getting his hands back on Boone’s ass at last, letting his thumb drag at his rim, pushing just inside.

“Fuck, Murrs, come on already,” Boone gritted out, and Ryan wasn’t exactly feeling like a model of patience either, so he got a hand on his own dick, lined himself up carefully and pushed in.

He kept his motions slow and careful at first, until Boone made another impatient noise, and tried to wrap himself around Ryan, urging him on. That was enough for Ryan, and he let his hips snap forward faster, sinking into a rhythm that worked for him, and—going by the way Boone was moving with him—was doing good things for Boone, too.

Ryan could feel sweat breaking out along his hairline before too long, breathing hard, and he knew he was getting close. He shifted his weight enough to get one hand free to jerk Boone off, since Ryan was pretty sure he wasn’t going to last much longer himself.

Boone shuddered again as Ryan’s hand wrapped around his dick, just wet enough still that he could jerk him fast and easy, albeit shakier than he might like.

Ryan was used to trying to do six things at once on the ice, and he didn’t usually have much trouble multi-tasking, but that wasn’t quite the case in bed, and he wasn’t sure how much longer he could keep it together, not with how hot Boone was around him and the way he was moving under him.

“Fuck, Ryan, I’m gonna—” Boone managed to bite out, and with an effort of will Ryan froze for a moment, turned his attention fully to the hand he had on Boone’s dick, stroked him through it until Boone arched his back and shuddered hard, coming all over Ryan’s hand, over his own stomach, dick twitching with over-stimulation until Ryan let go, wiped his hand off on the sheets by Boone’s hip, and tried to count himself down, telling himself to wait, wait.

“You good?” Ryan asked, a little tensely, while Boone tried to catch his breath, shifting under Ryan in a way that was slowly driving him nuts.

“Yeah,” Boone said, sounding lazy and fucked out and satisfied. “That was—oh, yeah, right,” he added, and before Ryan could even open his mouth to ask what he meant by that, Boone shifted much more deliberately, clenching down on Ryan’s dick in a way that made him swear involuntarily.

“Uh,” Ryan said, struggling to put the words together. He wanted to ask if he could move again, aching to get off, too turned on to be able to come up with any nicer way to ask.  

It wasn’t like he couldn’t finish himself off if he had to, he’d just—rather not. Not when Boone was a much more attractive option.

“C’mon, Murr,” Boone said, some impatience starting to creep into his tone. “Can’t tell me you don’t want to,” and he moved again, pointedly.

“Fuck, fucking—fuck,” Ryan said, taking him at his word, and he shifted his grip on Boone’s hips, held him steady and drove into him, finding a fast rhythm. Boone made some more deeply satisfying noises, and he was so hot, Ryan couldn’t remember the last time he’d fucked someone he knew this well and liked so much; couldn’t remember the last time it’d been that good.

It didn’t take long at all for him to come: Boone was tight and hot and extremely enthusiastic; Ryan’s dick was thoroughly on board with all three of those facts, and it was all he could do at first to not just collapse face down onto Boone’s chest while he tried to remember how to breathe.

Instead, he moved carefully, got rid of the condom first, and then wrapped himself around Boone, spooning up against his back.

* * *

They had a couple of days at home after that before their next game, and by the third day they'd settled into a new routine. Ryan woke up in his own bed or in Boone's and got up to shower and start getting ready for the day while Boone was still fighting with the snooze button, and then they'd go to practice, run errands, come home and nap together more often than not.

Napping turned into hanging out—or sex, sometimes, but not always, and Ryan wasn't sure what that meant, and he didn't entirely want to ask—and then they'd get dinner, taking turns just like always at cooking or ordering in, and then they'd go to bed, and sometimes Ryan would wake up and feel like the walls were closing in on him, kind of, but he didn't always make himself leave.

Sometimes, Boone would roll over and sleepily wrap an arm over his hips, or push his foot between Ryan's ankles, and that would settle him, give him something to focus on.

Sometimes Ryan was the one who woke up to an empty bed and a dent on the pillow beside him, but that usually only meant that Boone had gotten up to take a leak, or had woken up craving bacon and had gone out to buy some rather than wait to order groceries at a more reasonable hour of the day.

It was comfortable, and domestic, in a way that was notable even by their standards after living together for that long, and Ryan was equal parts thrilled and dreading the point at which it would change again. Maybe Boone would meet someone he wanted to be with properly, or they'd finally run out of games and time and excuses, and then they'd head home for the off-season and this nightmare season—this all too-tempting dream come true on the side—would be over and done.

And they'd probably never talk about it again, if they could help it.

Ryan was starting to feel a little like he was hanging onto the passage of time by his fingernails, and he didn't know how to change that.

The only thing he could do was just keep on telling himself to chill out and just roll with it, and that was about as far as he'd managed to get by the morning of their next game.

Boone had seemed to wake up in a good mood, pulling Ryan on top of him so they could rub off on each other, slow and lazy and easy. It hadn't taken long to come like that, the early morning sun peeking around the edge of the curtains while Ryan mouthed his way down Boone's neck and ground his dick into the groove of his thigh. Boone had come wet and sloppy over Ryan's belly, but his hands had stayed frantic on Ryan's hips until Ryan could join him, biting back a hiss at every incidental touch of Ryan's thigh against his dick. Ryan knew by then that Boone got oversensitive after he'd come, and he'd have happily changed positions if Boone hadn't been so obvious about wanting that over-stimulation anyway.

They'd laid there panting for a good ten minutes after, ignoring their alarms and the call of food, but Boone had been the one to pull himself together first for once, patting Ryan on the ass and whistling before going to take a shower, and Ryan had grinned at his back helplessly, too fond of him to do anything more than beam.

He'd showered in his own room—sharing had been fun for about five minutes and then had just proven to be too inefficient and borderline dangerous, since apparently they were both too old and boring to want to have sex in a lot of new and exciting places.

Well, Boone had mumbled something about the kitchen floor not being as much fun as it looked like in porn, but so far Ryan hadn't managed to get that story out of him, despite the fact that up until very recently he'd thought he knew more than he'd wanted to about just about every hook up Boone had had since they made the show. Boone had relented enough to promise it hadn't been their kitchen, at least, which Ryan was still pretending he cared about for sanitary reasons more than jealousy ones. He wasn't sure if Boone was buying that, but he felt compelled to at least attempt to retain some of his dignity that way.

Breakfast didn’t take long to put together, although Ryan didn’t think Boone had to push past where he was standing quite so often as he did.

They sat at the table for once and ate in near-silence, focusing on refueling more than anything else. It was comfortable though, and not as awkward as it could have been considering what they’d just been doing. Ryan let himself look at his hands on his knife and fork while he pushed the last bit of egg around the plate, because that was easier than making eye contact with Boone while he was thinking about fucking him again, about how good it had been.

Ryan was tentatively hopeful that the casual breakfast and easy touching while they’d moved around each other in the kitchen was a sign that maybe this arrangement would last longer than he was afraid it could. And for the first time in a while, he let himself think about how badly he really wanted that.

He chewed on his bottom lip thoughtfully for a moment at that completely unsurprising admission. He tried not to get too caught up in his own head about, well, anything, really, because that made life too damn complicated more than anything else. So the easiest way to work around that was to be decisive, to check himself regularly and know what he wanted and why; being honest with himself solved most issues before they could become problems.

That didn’t really cover this whole situation with Boone, whatever it was.

It wasn’t like he hadn't known he was attracted to Boone; Ryan was attracted to plenty of people, most of whom it would be a bad idea to make a move on, so he’d figured that this would stay in that category forever. No difficult decisions to make, nothing to make it complicated, just a good friendship and a guy who was important to him. A guy that Ryan never expected to make a move right back, or to sleep with.

Boone’s refusal to stay where Ryan expected him to was also something new, and Ryan had to admit to himself that he wasn’t sure what to do with that. It was going to take some thinking, that was for sure. Thinking that he probably wasn’t going to get to do then, because as Boone got up to clear their plates and dump them in the dishwasher, he trailed his fingertips across the back of Ryan’s neck—Ryan shivered helplessly—and said, as casually as anything, “Want to go chill in the living room for a bit? We can catch up on the Walking Dead or whatever.”

Ryan was pretty sure that that wasn’t all they were going to do.

* * *

More sex turned into an afternoon nap so easily that Ryan was almost disoriented when he woke up an hour later, naked under the sheets and plastered to a warm body, Boone breathing loudly in his ear.

Ryan took a deep breath in and let it out slowly, inching away carefully until he was lying flat, a little further away from Boone. He managed to do it without waking him up, either, and that tiny amount of extra space for himself suddenly felt ocean-vast and degrees cooler. Ryan let his head fall back into the pillow, blinking slowly and staring unseeingly up at the ceiling while he took the opportunity to try and think.

So. This was, apparently, a thing that was really happening, and that was going to keep happening. Ryan was definitely on board with that. And whatever crossed wires they’d had in Calgary, things seemed easy and natural now they were back home, easy enough that Ryan was struggling to work up the same level of panic he’d had that first morning, sneaking out of Boone’s room at oh-dark-thirty. What had he been so scared of?

They were good together, that wasn’t news. They fucking worked, they made sense, they— well, they were also pretty damn good in bed, too. Ryan couldn’t see that getting old any time soon, appreciated deeply how responsive Boone was, how easy it was to get him off, the incredibly hot noises that he made when Ryan got his hands on him. The real challenge was probably going to be in not spending every spare moment they had in bed.

The team was the real potential problem, Ryan knew.

He wasn’t sure if anyone in the NHL had ever actually been traded for hooking up with a teammate and making shit weird, but it probably wasn’t unprecedented. And he definitely didn’t want that to happen. It wasn’t like he particularly wanted to make a big deal about liking guys, either, even if—he tried not to keep feeling unsettled and nervous even thinking about it—even if that maybe wasn’t going to be a surprise for all of them.

He was pretty sure he could keep his hands off Boone around other people, at least, that couldn’t be too hard. Ryan wasn't exactly an exhibitionist, and Boone was careful, even if he was nothing even remotely close to shy. They really could do this.

“You’re thinking too loud,” Boone said quietly, and he reached out to pet the side of Ryan’s hip, thumb digging right into the muscle where Ryan could feel it if he’d been skating too hard, overdoing it at all.

He'd been doing his best to avoid needing any more surgery any time soon, but he’d also spent too much time getting his hips massaged and stretching carefully to take chances with that. It said something about how much attention Boone must have been paying to him, too, that he went right to that, knew exactly where Ryan carried his tension.

And, realistically, sure, Boone getting his hand that close to Ryan’s dick again was nice, too, but Ryan had gotten off twice already and it wasn’t even dark out, he was pretty sure that he was done for a while. At least until after dinner.

“You good, Ryan?” Boone asked quietly, breaking the stillness of the room. Ryan could hear traffic outside, the occasional voice, muffled and blurry through the walls and window frame.

“Yeah,” Ryan said automatically, and wondered if he was.

It occurred slowly, a few minutes later, that he should ask Boone the same question.

For once in his life—in his life since he’d been in Columbus, at least—he wasn’t sure of Boone at all, didn’t have the faintest idea what he was thinking, what his plans were. It was almost more unsettling than the sea change in their relationship.

They’d become such good friends so quickly that Ryan had never stopped to question it, and finding that foundation unsteady—through his own fault and actions, no less—was more than a little alarming. No wonder his pulse kept racing despite his attempts to breathe calmly and slowly.

Boone shifted, turning to face him on the mattress, his eyes only half open, lips wet and parted. Ryan’s gaze dropped long enough to note that, and he felt the answering twist in his stomach, the dryness at the back of his throat before he marshaled his thoughts in response.

Okay, so perhaps there was more than one reason his pulse was racing.

“Hrm,” Boone said, a little skeptically, still looking at Ryan like he was waiting for something else.

Maybe it was cowardly of him, or something closer to that than he was quite comfortable with, but Ryan couldn’t find it in himself to say anything more. He just let his eyes close again and turned his face back into the pillow, into Boone’s shoulder. Maybe he could just fall asleep again and figure this all out later.

And for whatever reason, Boone let him.

* * *

Of course, even when Ryan let himself believe they'd found the right balance, other things happened to take it away from them.

Ryan walked into the locker room the next day with his head high, acting like he wasn't acutely conscious he was wearing Boone's marks again, like he doesn't know there was a livid bruise high on his hip, and another on his belly, where Boone had licked and sucked at the skin, worrying it between his teeth while Ryan lay there and shook and panted and tried not to come all over Boone's face, so close to his dick.

Boone had sucked him off, after that, hadn't let Ryan get him off at all, and Ryan wasn't sure how he felt about that, but it had felt too good to say no.

Which was essentially Ryan's entire problem in a nutshell.

It was a pleasant surprise that no one even chirped him for it, despite the fact that Ryan could think of about six times off hand that someone—Andy or Boone or one of the rookies, any of the guys who were single and shameless about it—had gotten razzed in the room about much less dramatically obvious bruises.

Of course, the way Ryan kept his love life quiet and never hooked up when they were all out as a team gave him some plausible deniability that the others couldn't claim, so maybe they really did think they were just bruises from blocking shots.

And then Ryan caught Jonesy staring—he looked away fast, but it was too fast and obvious enough that even Ryan couldn't miss it—and he had to recalibrate that thought.

At least two guys in the room knew, then.

* * *

Even the fact that they were apparently now sleeping together regularly on the road and at home didn't mean things totally changed.

Ryan still tapped out of trips to various bars at least half the time; he'd never been a big partier and he wasn't exactly going to start now. And they hung out with the rest of the team when they had time for it: game nights at their place or anyone else who volunteered and had a reasonably good sound system; trips to Cleveland for the Cavs or to support the Monsters, when they were asked; and sometimes just turning up at Wenny's place to watch soccer with him and Wild Bill, although the the time zones meant most of those games were at weird times when they had practice or no one really wanted to get up and hang out that early.

He and Boone weren't attached at the hip any more or less than they had been before, or at least that's what Ryan figured, so sometimes Boone went out with the boys and Ryan stayed home, too.

And the thing was, that worked, too.

He'd wondered if he was supposed to feel jealous, and then decided that he shouldn't, they were both adults for fuckssake. So Ryan curled up on the couch and watched a movie, and then woke up a few hours later when Boone crawled into bed with him, smelling faintly of beer and sticking his cold feet on Ryan's legs.

Ryan just smacked him in the shoulder sleepily and told him to cut it out, and then they'd both gone to sleep and it had been—shockingly normal. And weirdly perfect, in a way that Ryan couldn't entirely explain even to himself.

The next time Prouter had called dibs on Boone for a fight night, Ryan had just told them to have fun and declined the invitation to tag along. Ryan really didn't care about boxing, at least not enough to fake it if he didn't have to, and while a few of the boys had given him shit for it, he'd gotten some unexpected support from Seth, who argued that he was bored with it as well, and before Ryan could think better of it, he'd invited Seth over to hang out with him and watch a movie instead.

He'd thought a few of the other guys might come over as well, but it wound up just being him and Seth in the end, sprawled out on the couch without needing to carry a conversation and letting the familiar beats of the movie wash over them.

They were half-way through Remember the Titans when Ryan stretched his arms above his head, suddenly conscious of not having moved in a while, and realized that the reason he felt so comfortable was that it really did just feel like having a movie night at home with Boone. He was that comfortable with Seth, felt like they'd known each other forever, even if it'd only really been a couple of months since the trade; and Seth just fit in like he'd been there all along.

Fit in a little too well, Ryan thought, newly conscious of the way that Seth was pressed solidly against his side, half his weight on Ryan, the two of them holding each other up. There was a metaphor he didn't want to examine too closely, that was for sure.

"You good?" Seth said, head tilted to look at Ryan, the reflection of the TV washing over his face, lights caught in his eyes, and whoa, Ryan found himself swaying a little closer, holding his breath.

Wait, Ryan thought, and tried frantically to get a grip on himself—preferably without it being obvious to Seth that he was kind of freaking out.

"Yeah," Ryan lied, by some miracle keeping his voice even. He felt like he was breathing too fast, and Seth was right there, solid and warm and—fuck, Ryan had enough problems with whatever the hell was going on between him and Boone, he didn't need to add fuzzy feelings for the only other person who even sort of knew what was going on with them to that.

There was only so much presuming on Seth's good nature that Ryan could let himself do, and confessing 'hey man I think maybe I want to kiss you too?' was going to be a solid six or seven steps past that line.

Fuck, what was wrong with him?

It wasn't like Ryan was exactly desperate for touch or for sex; he'd probably had more sex with Boone in the last few weeks than for a long while before that.

Maybe he should've gone out with Boone and the rest of the boys, he thought, from somewhere at the back of his mind that was almost manically calm, albeit being rapidly buried under an avalanche of conflicted feelings. He simultaneously wanted—ordered himself—to lean away, to back off, to act normal for fucking once, and to just give in to the insistent voice in his head that kept looking at Seth and saying 'yes, that one'.

Christ, Ryan was apparently a sucker for punishment, it was the only thing that made sense with how he was apparently determined to make his own life as complicated as possible.

It wasn't enough that he'd spent the last month or so muddling his way towards an almost-totally-satisfactory friends with benefits situation with Boone, now he was going to complicate things by flirting with another teammate?

Ryan called himself rude names a few more times inside his head and it finally seemed to stick, letting him casually lean back against the couch, away from Seth as he tried to get his breathing under control. His heart was still racing, but at least that wouldn't be so obvious.

He glanced over at Seth from under his lashes, trying to read the situation. Seth was acting normal, so that was a plus, that meant probably Ryan hadn't done anything that couldn't be explained away easily, it was fine.

And he was definitely just seeing what he wanted to see in that momentary flash of—disappointment?—that had crossed Seth's face.

"You want a drink?" Ryan said, getting up too fast and hoping that the faint flush in his cheeks wasn't actually visible.

"…yeah, okay," Seth said, and Ryan went to the kitchen and dug out a couple of bottles of beer—it was Boone's favorite, but Ryan figured they'd earned it—before heading back to the living room to hand one to Seth, and just like that, they'd smoothed it over and went back to watching the movie in near silence.

Ryan was just going to blame the condensation on the bottle for the way his hands were sweating, that was all.

* * *

Ryan wasn't sure when the balance of it had started to shift, but half the time when Boone went out, it was either with him or with Seth or with both of them; all the game nights and dinners and the other in-season hangouts that they tended to have slowly incorporating Seth much more than they did anyone else.

He'd have wondered if Boone was trying to avoid him if it hadn't been clear that it wasn't that at all; Ryan spent just as many nights in Boone's bed afterward as he had done ever since they'd silently moved the dial on their more-than-friends relationship from 'one off' to 'ongoing'.

But even when Ryan was busy, or didn't feel up to going out in a group, Boone would have Seth over for dinner, or the two of them would go back to Seth's place, or take him out somewhere downtown, showing him around the city some more and helping him settle in.

Ryan tried to tell himself they were being good teammates, helping Columbus feel like home—and they wanted that, for sure, wanted him to want to stay and to play his best. But it was hard not to get distracted sometimes, by the warmth and confidence he exuded, steady beyond his years. Hard not to keep noticing the quick grin that he flashed more and more often as he got used to the rest of the Jackets, or the soft-spoken words of encouragement on the bench when they were fighting their way through games that felt harder than they should have done.

Extremely difficult to stop noticing the way his arms looked in thin t-shirts, the muscular build that hinted at his strength.

Ryan would have been lying if he'd tried to tell anyone he didn't think Seth was incredibly hot, so thank god no one had asked, really.

He didn't realize Boone had been looking too, was the thing.

* * *

The first time Ryan looked up in time to catch the speculative look on Boone's face as he watched Seth laughing on the other side of the locker room at something Savvy was saying, he'd thought he'd been imagining it, or he'd misread it, or—something.

But it kept happening; Boone lighting up at things Seth said to him the same way he did when Ryan forgot himself enough to flirt in front of other people, and Ryan lost count of the times he'd looked over at Seth appreciatively and then had his eyes skip right to Boone who seemed to be doing the same thing.

It got to the point that Ryan had to admit he was kind of jealous—of both of them, somehow, and that was the part he really didn't want to think about too deeply. If he didn't know better, he'd think maybe they were…a thing. Like he and Boone were. They kind of had that vibe. But Ryan knew damn well that neither of them had time even if they'd had the inclination to act on whatever vibe there was between them. It still made things unsteady between him and Boone, no matter how much he tried not to let it. It was a new variable, another thing introduced to the delicate balance Ryan had been trying to walk for weeks now, and it felt like it might be the thing that finally knocked him flat on his ass.

The important thing was that at least he was managing to keep all of that from Seth, making sure that he didn't notice if things were getting weird, and despite the fact they hadn't exactly talked about it, Boone seemed to be doing the same thing.

It was weird, it felt like they were somehow on the same team—make Seth smile! Make him want to stay with the Jackets, have a good time, don't make things weird—and at the same time, some bizarre and fucked up kind of rivals. Every time Boone sat next to Seth at dinner and let their shoulders brush, let his hands linger while he handed him a glass, Ryan wasn't sure whether he wanted to yank Boone away or push Seth closer.

He wasn't hiding that part quite as well as he'd like to, though; he caught concerned looks from Seth in the locker room every now and then, although Ryan was pretty sure he didn't know that he was the new epicentre of whatever weirdness between Ryan and Boone was visible to him.

Worse than that, he got Saader and Fliggy both making worried-dad faces at him every now and then, and fuck, guys, Ryan wanted to assure them; he was fine, he was hiding this way better than they thought, and where did Saader get off anyway, being all… like that, he was basically the same age as Ryan anyway. For fuckssake.

Not, of course, that Ryan was going to express any of that out loud.

Instead, he kept shoving it to the back of his mind and trucking on forward, scratching and clawing his way through the remainder of the season with the rest of them. Sometimes he wasn't sure if their whole mess of a relationship was a metaphor for the season they were having or the other way around, but what he did know was that there was no way the current state of affairs was going to hold for much longer.

He just didn't know what to do about it.

* * *

Some of the tension started to bleed through in weirder ways.

The volume of pranks rose to a season high whenever they were on the road—and even around Nationwide, sometimes, although the chances of getting an innocent bystander were a lot higher there, and were also a lot more likely to backfire on the prankster.

Ryan was still sleeping with Boone more often than not, but they'd been actually sleeping and not doing much more than that, in a way that felt more like an expression of his own stress levels than any kind of specific rejection.

It was almost like things had been back at the start of the year; the tension hanging over the team and the knowledge that every day they were closer and closer to being mathematically eliminated, not that anyone but the most desperate gambler in Vegas really thought they'd be making the post-season after the start they'd had. The tension sparking between Ryan and Boone that they kept hiding under jokes and fights about stacking the dishwasher and any excuse to touch each other that wasn't actually sexual.

Ryan told himself all it meant was that everything was back to normal and that he was going to have to be okay with that; they'd had a couple of months of ridiculously good sex and they were still good friends, weren't going to ruin that just because they weren't actively going to bang any more.

And by the time Ryan realized he hadn't tripped and fallen on Boone's dick in at least a week, and that the most passionate discussion they'd had in that time had been the conversation that devolved into yelling about whose CFL team was dumber—and at least, Ryan thought ruefully, neither of them were under any illusion about their teams being actually good—he'd almost started to believe it.

So it was very much situation normal for them, and as much as part of Ryan still wanted to get everything he could with Boone, he'd managed to stuff the selfish needy parts right to the back of his mind where he didn't have to deal with them, and tried to just get on with life as normal.

Maybe he could spend some time moping in the off season; for as much as they only had the slimmest possible chance of making the playoffs, that tiny sliver of hope was enough to keep them all going; motivating entirely outside the realm of reason.

And then they went on the road again, just to Nashville, and it was hardly even a road trip; barely an hour on the plane and half as long again getting from the airport to the locker room. Ryan tried not to be obvious about watching Seth while they walked from the bus; it had to be weird for him to be back there again but heading to a different room, with a different group of guys.

If Seth was flustered, though, Ryan couldn’t see any sign of it, not in the way he was in the room or in the way he handled the mass of beat writers who descended on him for quotes and reminiscences.

There were enough fans in Union blue in the stands even with the year they were having that it didn't feel as much like an away game, either, so it shouldn't have been remarkable in any way.

And maybe it wouldn't have been, if the Preds hadn't handed their asses to them so comprehensively, the kind of beatdown that Ryan hated getting any time, and was getting particularly sick of that year.

Maybe it wouldn't have felt quite so fucking shitty if they'd been able to get Seth the win, his first game back against the team that drafted him in the first place, if Ryan hadn't looked across the ice to see Joey in the wrong color jersey and had the stuttering type of moment resenting the whole goddamn league that he thought he'd gotten over the first time one of his friends had been traded.

But most of all, it fucking sucked, and Ryan couldn't think of a time the plane afterwards had been quieter, not even after Richards got fired, not even after they'd come so fucking close in Minnesota and then lost their eighth straight game anyway.

* * *

They didn't get a chance to catch their breath after that shitshow of a game either; it was on to New York, and as much as the Islanders had kicked their asses this year, it was the Rangers that Ryan had started to take kind of personally, resenting their part in the slow slide down from the high of the pre-season.

It shouldn't have surprised him that they'd drop that game too, in the end, another regulation loss stinging and bitter, and another road trip where Ryan got sad and a little drunk.

This time, instead of hitting on Boone—which at least would've been the safer self-destructive impulse—he ended up hanging all over Seth in the corner of a bar, and breathing him in, all warm nice boy.

And he wanted, he wanted, but Ryan was just being stupid and drunk and maybe it was time for him to admit that being on the road made him make bad choices. It made him despair a little, there were so few people he could depend on right then, he couldn't mess things up with Seth. Even though he'd been leaning in, maybe about to put more of a move on him than just plausible-deniability accidentally grabbing Seth's ass, but then things had gotten a little fuzzy, and Seth had leaned back into him, eyes hot and hand warm on Ryan's arm, and Ryan thought 'yes' and 'oh no' at kind of the same time.

He'd gotten brave again, reached up to run his fingertips along Seth's jaw and stared into his eyes, and there was absolutely no way Seth could think this was anything but what it was—

And then Ryan had abruptly realized exactly what he was doing, and where, and basically run.

At least, he'd yanked his hand back and mumbled something and then taken himself right up to bed, ignoring the knock on his door ten minutes later, even though he didn't know if that had been Seth or Boone, and honestly he wasn't sure which one he would have liked it to be if he had opened the door.

Mostly, he hoped Seth had been drunk enough himself to forget about it, or to just think it was bros being bros.

Ryan hadn't had a whole lot of hope recently, so he figured he was allowed that one.

* * *

He tried to act like nothing was wrong after that, but it just made him kind of snappish and tense and that didn't translate well to his game, either, which just made him even more self conscious.

He wasn't sure if it was better or worse when he caught the end of a conversation Jonesy had been having with Torts where Seth was kind of sticking up for him, which—he appreciated it, but Jesus, that was kind of embarrassing, that he couldn't let his game speak for itself. Which was hard to do with the minutes he'd been getting, but still.

He wound up hanging out with Seth and Boone and the rest of the boys a bit more again after that, less awkwardly, maybe, since no one called him out on it, and it almost started to feel like he was finding a way back on track again. Though he couldn't help but notice, almost pathologically, every time that Seth and Boone brushed arms, or the way they kind of sat by each other most of the time.

(Ryan somehow didn't track at first the way that when Seth wasn't sitting with Boone he was with him, trying very quietly and subtly to split his time and energy exactly between them, nudging them closer together as well. He'd been careful enough with it that Ryan only saw it in hindsight, only saw it at the last moment when it was almost too late.)

Boone tried, one night, to actually talk to Ryan, just the two of them sitting around their kitchen table struggling to act like things weren't getting strained again. It didn't work at all, though, so exquisitely awkward that Ryan picked a fight about something completely unrelated and refused to engage in anything Boone brought up as a counterpoint until he growled something rude under his breath and walked out.

He wasn't exactly proud of that, and it couldn't be a great sign that he knew Boone well enough to know exactly which buttons to push and had done it anyway, but Ryan felt like he was drowning under all the pressure they had on them all, coming from every side, and if he couldn't get what he wanted then he could at least control some of what was happening in his life.

Ryan did apologize, at least, when Boone came home again later, but it didn't do much to shift the sick feeling in his stomach, the suspicion that he'd fucked up every good thing he could have had. They were officially in a truce after that, but it didn't do a single thing to step down the way that it felt so fraught any time they were watching TV at home or making a meal together or driving to the rink, this horrible thing hanging over them all the time and stretching them thin.

It was—bearable, was really where Ryan was coming down on the side of, and how sad was his life if that was an actual improvement?

But it was, somehow, despite himself, almost working out in a way that he thought he could live with, and then one night Boone came home from where ever he'd been, looking like he was about to puke.

He genuinely looked green enough that Ryan was about to ask about food poisoning, and was wondering where they'd left the bucket that had seen both of them through various hangovers, concussions and other activities that ended in throwing up, but the words that came out of his mouth instead were, "Uh, Ry—we need to talk."

The bottom fell out of Ryan's stomach and the whole nausea issue suddenly got much more personal.

Fuck, this had to be it. Boone had had enough of stepping around Ryan's feelings and Ryan's inability to be fucking normal about anything anymore and he was kicking him out, or maybe Boone was moving out, or—

"I, um. I kissed Jonesy," Boone said, looking miserable about it, which was stupid, because Seth was hot and Boone was hot and of course they'd be hot together, and if Boone was going to make some kind of serious exception to his previous commitment to public heterosexuality then Seth was entirely understandable, Ryan totally got it, which was definitely the only reason he was blindingly furious and painfully jealous and trying to choke it all back long enough to at least pretend to be a good friend about this.

Hell, if Boone was suddenly re-examining his sexuality for real, then Ryan probably should be a lot more understanding about it, it wasn't like he hadn't been there himself.

He didn't want to be nice about it, but he'd probably been pushing his luck in terms of getting things he wanted lately anyway.

"I don't know what you want me to say," Ryan said after a moment.

It's not 'thank you for telling me' or 'I hope you're both okay' or anything he'd like to think he'd say in that situation, but it took everything he had not to come out with 'Why did you stop kissing me, then?' and that was just too self-pitying for Ryan to even cope with.

"He sent me home," Boone said, and Ryan wasn't sure whether Boone had even heard what he'd said or not. "It, uh. I don't know if it was a mistake."

"Boone," Ryan said, words splintering through him, "you can't—I mean, you shouldn't, you know why that's not a good idea."

"Didn't stop us," Boone said, not missing a beat, and it felt like he'd taken a two-hand whack at Ryan's ankles when he was expecting a pass.

Ryan, with effort, did not throw anything.

He slammed his bedroom door behind himself, though.

Outside, Boone had nothing to add.

* * *

Unfortunately for all of them, the last road trip of the season started the morning after, which meant that Ryan and Boone were supposed to be driving to practice together, and then it was a bus to the airport and team bonding and togetherness time until they got home again four days later.

The weather had started to warm up, spring finally threatening to peek through the blanket of snow, but the atmosphere in the hall as Ryan ventured out of his room and started putting his coat on was positively frigid.

He waited for Boone to make the first move—Boone usually did, that was Boone's whole thing and all, wasn't it?—but Boone's jaw was clenched and his eyes were tired, deep set and darkly shadowed, and he didn't say a word, just followed Ryan downstairs and into the car.

"Boys'll wanna know what's up," Ryan said eventually, waiting for the light to go green a few blocks later. He didn't need to specify what it was they'd be wanting details of. It was probably going to be kind of obvious if Ryan couldn't look at one of his forwards long enough to pass to him.

Boone just shrugged at him.

"Do you… not want me to talk to you?" Ryan said carefully, hoping he was laying down enough neutrality there that it didn't sound paper thin. It sure felt that way to him.

"I never want that," Boone said, stung.

"Sure have a funny way of showing it," Ryan shot back, and refused to feel guilty about it.

"I don't—fuck, maybe this is what Jonesy meant," Boone said.

Ryan tried not to, but he couldn't actually resist pressing on the bruise.

"What'd Jonesy do, then?"

Other than kissing Boone back, apparently, which just made Ryan feel shittier and shittier every time he let himself think about it.

"He said I had to figure out what I wanted and then talk to him," Boone said, the words coming out slow, reluctant, as averse to being shared as they had been to hear, Ryan figured.

"Well that's obvious," Ryan said.

He hoped once they got through all of this it might be easier to see Boone and Seth happy together, instead of just wishing it was him.

"Is it?" Boone echoed. "It's not fuckin' obvious to me."

"I mean, it's Seth," Ryan said, thinking about how nice Seth's smile was, and how he was probably a great kisser and it was really fucking unfair that Boone had gotten to find that out and he hadn't. God, Ryan was a terrible friend. "Obviously you want to, shit, I don't know, date him or whatever if you're suddenly all okay with the whole guy thing. And it's clear he likes you."

Boone blinked, and Ryan reminded himself, forcefully, to watch the fucking road and not keep stealing little glances over at him. That was how people got in stupid car accidents, and god knew neither of them wanted to spend any more time on IR that season.

"I mean, I'm not saying that would be bad," Boone said carefully, "But you—we, um. There's something here, too, even if you don't wanna talk about it, and I just—I don't know what to do, Murrs."

Ryan wasn't going to touch that 'you don't want to talk about it' with a ten foot stick, it wasn't like Boone had ever wanted to stick around for that conversation, so what did he know? But he couldn't leave him with silence after that.

"You can't want both of us, though," Ryan pointed out.

It wasn't like he needed to get his feelings any more mangled while he waited for Boone to decide what he really wanted, although he had a horrible feeling that no matter what he was going to wait around to see.

Fuck his terrible taste, honestly, Ryan had started to wonder if maybe he'd be better off if he actually was as much of a monk as the guys had used to tease him about being, back when they were in the Dub and he never picked up when they went out.

"I do though," Boone argued. "And it's not like you don't want him too."

Ryan flinched a little; he didn't think Boone knew about that one time that Ryan had almost—had let himself sway in closer and think 'maybe' while staring into Seth's dark eyes and thinking that he could stay there a while.

"I—" Ryan started to say, a futile attempt to argue that he didn't, but it was one of those times where having been friends for years paid off in simultaneously the best and worst possible way, because Ryan could see the same thought dawn on Boone, see his automatic response track across his expression before he even opened his mouth, and he absolutely couldn't resist the urge to reply, snappy as anything, "Porque no los dos?"

There was a moment when it all hung in the balance, Ryan's words feeling too loud for the quiet car, for the strained mood between them. It felt like all his feelings tangled up in an incredibly dumb joke, but then he caught Boone's eye and that was it; they both burst out laughing, the moment too ridiculous to do anything else. Ryan pulled over—there were actually tears in his eyes, and he couldn't remember the last time he'd laughed that hard, at least recently.

Every time either of them managed to stop and catch their breath they'd look at each other and trigger another peal of laughter, and it took a good five minutes before Ryan could look away, wipe his eyes and take a few deep breaths, trying to get himself back under control enough to drive. And he had to do that pretty quickly, because they never left a whole lot of leeway for the drive to Nationwide, and if they didn't get their shit together they were actually going to be late and that wouldn't be funny at all.

"Jesus," Boone said eventually, his voice still shaking a little but coming under control more quickly as Ryan pulled out and started the remainder of their drive. "That was—it wasn't even that funny, but—"

"I guess we sort of needed that?" Ryan said carefully.

It felt less fraught, all of a sudden, even though nothing much had changed. But something about talking to Boone was definitely easier, after that. Was somehow a more manageable task than it'd seemed in weeks.

And maybe that had something to do with how Ryan had, in fact, finally voiced the tiny secret hope he'd been kindling at the back of his mind, almost too scared to approach it head on.

The elephant in the room, so to speak. The six-foot-four defenceman who may as well have been living in the apartment with them, given how often he was physically there or at least sitting in the forefront of Ryan's mind. And, he started to believe, maybe in Boone's mind too.

"Yeah," Boone agreed. He let the silence sit for a moment, a heartbeat, a breath and then another. "Would you—?" he started to ask. "I mean, if we—if he wanted it, too, would you want to try? To, uh, be three people in a thing."

Ryan wouldn't have made it in the National Hockey League for that long without a good understanding of when to pick his battles, so he didn't even blink at Boone's last minute swerve away from 'dating' or 'in a relationship' or anything even halfway normal sounding. He kind of sympathized anyway, it wasn't like he'd ever heard any good terms for a—three way relationship. Especially since he was pretty sure calling it a threeway put it more in the area of drunk college guys looking for a good time or something deniable. And if they were going to do this, he wanted it to be something more solid than that, something serious.

Maybe it should have been harder to admit to the guy that he'd—being brutally honest with himself—been in love with for years that he liked someone else too, that he would pick Boone right now if he had to pick someone, sure, that was pretty much a given, but the more time he spent with Seth, the harder that decision was going to be.

And if Boone felt the same—

"Yeah," Ryan said, finally. "I—if you're sure you actually want this, then I'm on board. If he is." He chewed on his lip for a moment and then decided that if Boone was going to be brave enough to talk about this in daylight, while they both had clothes on and no one was running screaming or crying, he could be brave too. "I'm still on board even if he isn't," he added. "Just in case that, um. Means something. I know you weren't super keen on, uh, this whole thing happening to start with, but I figure if you want to date two guys then maybe one would be okay, too."

"I don't—" Boone said, and then he shook his head, like he was trying to get rid of something particularly troublesome, "Murrs, I don't know why you're so fucking determined to believe I don't want to be with you."

"You—" Ryan couldn't say that Boone left, because it had almost always been Ryan doing the leaving, right up until that last time, so maybe Boone could be forgiven for thinking that was just how it was always going to be with them. But Boone had let him leave, every time, hadn't said a word or done anything to make Ryan think he was supposed to stay. "You never said," Ryan went on, a little more quietly. Not bothering to cover up the hurt any more. "Every time, it was just, like. It was as if nothing had changed and you didn't say anything, so I figured I was supposed to just, I don't know. Roll with it. Like it didn't mean anything."

Boone's voice was gravelly, low, and it sent a shudder through Ryan. "It meant something. Means something."

"Oh," Ryan said, trying not to let his voice shake.

Fuck, they were almost at the rink, and there were going to be people there, this was not a conversation that they could continue with an audience. But it was also not a conversation he wanted to just let go, not when they were finally getting somewhere.

He hit his turn signals.

"Ryan, what are you-?" Boone asked. "I mean, okay, I can guess, just, if we wind up on the highway—"

They were going to hit traffic, Ryan mentally finished, and it wasn't a bad point, so he turned again, looping back around towards the convention center instead. There was still going to be traffic that way, but there were at least a lot more cross streets they could cut down to get back, even with construction.

"Right, okay," Ryan said. "Where were we?"

"You were telling me what's going on in your head," Boone said, sounding at least fifty percent less annoyed about that than Ryan thought he maybe deserved, so that was a start.

"I didn't think I could stay," Ryan said. He owed Boone that much honesty, and something about driving—about not having to look at Boone, about having something to keep his eyes and his mind focused on—made it feel easier to talk about this, easier to confess. Easier to let himself be this vulnerable. "I wanted—I just thought, uh. You know, that you were straight."

"Ryan," Boone said, way too patiently, chewing on his lip like he was trying not to laugh."Straight guys don't—well, do most of what we've done the last couple months."

Ryan felt his ears go hot and hoped his cheeks weren't equally red.

"I know that, I just—" He shrugged, tried to wave his hand in a way that would adequately express 'sometimes they do and that's why they don't want to talk about it in the morning', but Boone seemed to get that, settling back in the seat and speaking a lot more carefully as he went on.

"I mean, okay, no, I guess I know what you were thinking now, just—that's not what that was. That's not what any of this was. I, um," he laughed shortly, no humor in it. "I wanted you, Ry, that's what it was about. Not any of the rest of that shit. But I didn't know how to say it, till now."

Ryan felt like his heart was about to beat out of his chest, and there was even, horrifyingly, a faint shake in his hands on the wheel. Fuck, why were they having this conversation now again? Ryan wasn't sure whether he wanted to find a dark corner to breathe into a paper bag for a minute first or whether he just wanted to throw himself at Boone and kiss him senseless for a while first. Although—

"Wanted?" he asked, trying not to hope too visibly.

"Want," Boone corrected. "I—kissing Jonesy didn't change any of that, I just, well. I thought you were going to move on anyway, if you weren't up for anything more than just casual hookups, and I was, uh, jealous, so I just kind of—went for it."

"Just so we're clear here," Ryan said, "You made out with Seth because you knew I liked him, or because, uh, no, fuck, I'm lost again."

"Turn there," Boone said, and Ryan reached over and punched him in the thigh, not all that gently.

"I didn't mean that kind of lost, fuck off," although Ryan turned, anyway, because they did actually have to get to the rink on time and there was only so much circling they could do without risking that.

"Because I like him," Boone said, proving that he had in fact known what Ryan was asking and was just being kind of a dick because he could.

Ryan would've judged himself more for being into it anyway if he hadn't already accepted that virtually every one of his friends would have done the exact same thing.

Boone wasn't, done, though. "And I like you," he added. "So, like, a little of both, really."

"Right," Ryan said, trying to put off the moment where he had to actually respond to what Boone was saying.

The silence held for a second before Boone broke and added, a little desperately, "So that's—? You gotta give me something here, Ryan."

"I'm working on it," Ryan protested, and there was Nationwide right in front of them, too big to miss, and overshadowing everything Ryan was feeling, everything he wanted to say.

He turned into the player's lot, turned the engine off, and twisted in his seat to look at Boone.

Boone was tense, carrying lines of stress in his shoulders and the way his hands were clenching and releasing, fidgeting on his thighs, and Ryan had to shake himself to stop staring and start talking again.

"If we were at home," Ryan said, "I would kiss you right now. But, uh, I guess we gotta put that on pause for a bit."

Boone exhaled, fast and shaky, and Ryan was pretty sure that if it hadn't been for both of their seatbelts Boone might've jumped him on the spot, regardless of whether anyone walking by could totally see them.

The enforced stillness at least served to cool both of them off, and Ryan just stared back at him for a long minute before shaking it off and starting to get out of the car.

"We're gonna talk about this more later," Boone said, and Ryan nodded, agreeing.

He was pretty sure that talking was also going to include some other activities, too, and frankly Ryan couldn't wait.

"Head in the game now, though," Ryan said, and Boone nodded immediately.

"We're gonna figure this out," Boone said, and Ryan shuddered, the feeling working its way slowly through him. "You and me and Jonesy. But yeah, now… practice."

"Let's go," Ryan agreed, and followed Boone out of the car and inside.

* * *

Somehow, Ryan managed to put it all out of his mind during practice, much more successfully than he had done any time in the last week or two, and if the approving nod he got from Torts about halfway through was any indication, he maybe hadn't been hiding his distraction quite as well as he'd have liked.

They were too busy after that for Ryan to think even if he'd wanted to; the rush to get themselves and all of their gear out of the room and on the road was as much barely-managed chaos as it ever was. And by the time they were on the plane, Ryan was mostly looking forward to a nap more than anything.

Boone's hand brushed his a couple of times while they were getting themselves settled in their usual groups, and Ryan hugged that warm feeling to himself, but took care not to let any of that show on his expression while he did his best to keep listening to the story Hartsy was spinning from the row in front. Ryan wasn't entirely sure any of it had actually happened, but it felt refreshingly normal to listen to his teammates talking shit and to have Boone sitting beside him, putting in his own commentary and making Ryan laugh.

Seth added a few comments as well; wry and quiet, and Ryan grinned at him as well before remembering that he was—

Well, he wasn't actually mad at Seth, was he?

Not really. Not for doing anything that Ryan wanted to do just as much, and absolutely not for not doing something that Ryan was pretty fucking sure Seth had wanted to do.

But Seth had sent Boone home to Ryan, and now he was sitting on the other side of the plane from them, looking surface-level normal and ever so quietly miserable underneath it all, and it made Ryan's chest ache to look at him.

There was an uncertainty in his posture that Ryan didn't think he'd seen in weeks, maybe not even since the day that Ryan had almost—

He made himself finish the thought, deliberately.

Seth looked kind of the way he had when Ryan had almost kissed him, and Ryan was maybe flattering himself, but he didn't think it was just the way Seth looked when he'd had a chance to hook up and hadn't gotten to close the deal. They'd spent enough time together now that Ryan knew that look was unusual, that Seth was often quiet and generally quick-witted and dry with it, but he was holding himself back then in a way that he hadn't before, not even when he'd landed in Columbus a few months earlier, freshly traded and more than a little off balance with it.

There wasn't anything Ryan could do or say then, though; not with that many people around, and certainly not before he'd had a chance to get his own thoughts settled, or even to check in with Boone that he and Ryan were still on the same page. So he settled for giving Seth as warm a smile as he could manage, and mentally promising himself that he and Boone were going to talk about all of this as soon as they got a chance.

* * *

The rest of the afternoon was weirdly normal, too.

They got to Toronto, got stuck in inevitable traffic from Pearson and then milled around the lobby of their hotel waiting for their room keys. Ryan managed to put everything he needed to think about on hold long enough to nap, and then dinner with the rest of the team was sufficiently distracting that he couldn't do more than hold the most generic of conversations with anyone, sticking to shit-talking the Leafs and Toronto sports in general, which inevitably turned into chirping Prouter and Andy when they tried to defend the Raptors' chances.

It felt like any other roadtrip; team meetings and a schedule that kept them going from point A to B without much time in between to think about anything other than hockey, and Ryan kept almost forgetting that he and Boone had put something on pause hours ago.

That changed the moment they locked the hotel door behind them, though.

Boone's room was two doors down from Ryan's, but without saying anything he just followed Ryan in, his own keycard still clearly outlined in his pocket because his suit pants were way too tight, and whoops, Ryan was staring again. Even if he was probably allowed to.

He dropped his wallet onto the top of the dresser, shrugged off his coat to dump beside it, and turned to look at Boone, who was more or less looming in the doorway, kind of—

"Are you staring at me?" Ryan blurted out.

Boone shrugged, but looked a little sheepish with it, so Ryan took that as a yes.

"It's not like there's anything you haven't seen before," Ryan added, and on reflection, that comment was truer than it had probably ever been any other time he'd made it, seriously or in jest. Boone really had seen, well, all of him, in essentially every situation.

It was hard to argue with knowing someone right down to the bone like that, and now that they were on the precipice of agreeing that they were really something, Ryan couldn't quite understand how he'd managed to deny it to himself for so long.

"Well yeah," Boone shrugged. "Doesn't mean I don't like looking, though."

Ryan felt the pleasure of that steal through him, warming him from toes to scalp, and couldn't wipe the dumb grin off his face. God, he was so easy for Boone.

"You gonna do anything about that, then?" Ryan asked, unable to resist poking the bear. The elephant in the room. Whatever this whole thing was.

Boone gave him another long, slow look; head to toe this time, smirking all the while. Ryan knew exactly what he was doing and he still couldn't quite manage to hide the appreciative shiver.

"I mean," Boone said slowly. "The problem is you know all my moves already. So they're not exactly impressive."

"To be fair, your best move isn't quite so relevant if you're in bed with me."

Ryan had sure as hell heard enough extremely happy women through the wall between their bedrooms over the years to know what Boone was very, very good at.

Boone raised an eyebrow.

"That's not necessarily true."

Ryan blinked, and then got it, and this time the blush was all-encompassing, because Boone was suggesting that he'd—that they could. Well, he figured, it probably served Ryan right for slipping into typical straight dude bullshit, however much he wasn't one, and he couldn't help grinning stupidly at Boone.

So maybe he was giving everything away, everything he was feeling right there and visible on his face. So what?

Maybe, Ryan told himself firmly, this was just how it was going to be and how it was supposed to be, and Jesus Christ he wanted to stop standing around this hotel room flirting and just get his hands and mouth on Boone again. This time without having to keep worrying about when Boone was going to freak out and call it quits on him, even.

"Okay," Ryan said, "Okay, yeah, that's—yes. I'm into that if you're, well. You about it."

Boone licked his lips, slow enough that Ryan knew it was a deliberate tease.

"Fuck, okay," Ryan said. "Just fucking—come here already."

"All you have to do is ask," Boone said, but he went all the same.

Ryan sighed under his breath and let himself sink into the hug, leaning into Boone's warmth, opening his hands and his mouth and his heart to believing that this was going to work.

Boone let him off easy to start, just light, gentle brushes of their mouths together. That wasn't enough though; it wasn't like they hadn't done this already, and Ryan wanted to do it right, not slower.

"Boone," he mumbled, and their off-ice communication was apparently working again just fine, because that was all he needed to say for Boone to push back harder, making the kiss deeper and dirtier.

Boone's hands were at his waist, heavy and warm and not still in the slightest, moving restlessly up and down and back and forth as they swayed into each other. Ryan grinned to himself, enjoying the heat, the faintest touch of desperation coloring it as they kept kissing without doing anything else.

He began to feel like his own shirt was too tight, constricting around his shoulders, and realized with delight that it wasn't even just getting turned on and feeling too big for his skin to contain that was to blame for that sensation; it was Boone winding his hands tighter and tighter into the fabric, pulling it down and closer and, by virtue of him being inside it, getting Ryan closer too.

"We can go to bed," Ryan pointed out, half-slurring the words against Boone's mouth, unable to resist the urge to sweep his tongue along Boone's full lower lip as he inhaled. "You don't have to, to fucking strangle me, okay, just take my fucking shirt off, Boone."

"Pushy," Boone noted, but he did let go of Ryan's shirt, too, a little sheepishly, hands lingering.

And Ryan had to admit that he had played himself to an extent by bringing it up like that; it turned out that Boone carefully running his palms up the center of Ryan's chest and thumbing open the buttons of his shirt one at a time did… not exactly do much to make it easier for him to breathe.

"Boone," Ryan said again, higher pitched, some of the desperation that was making his hands shake starting to bleed obviously into his tone. "Boone, please, just—"

"Yeah, yeah," Boone said, leaning in to nuzzle the side of Ryan's neck, his stubble painting a trail up the column of it that made Ryan hyper-conscious of every move he was making. "We're getting there."

"We could get there faster," Ryan said tightly, and he could have kicked himself when Boone's smirk got even more pronounced before he leaned in to kiss Ryan again.

Of course Boone was going to be contrary about this. Ryan couldn't really blame him, he was feeling raw and off-balance himself from the amount of talking and emotional vulnerability and everything that had lead them to this point; he wasn't exactly doing his sharpest and smoothest job of easing the transition from friends with benefits to something more.

And Ryan also had to admit that if anyone knew him well enough to know when he was complaining for the sake of it and when he seriously meant it, well, that person was Boone. And it wasn't like Ryan wasn't enjoying everything they were doing.

Wasn't like Ryan wasn't trembling faintly at Boone's touch, aching for more, and melting against him in response to every little touch and caress.

Boone was playing him expertly, and it was essentially just Ryan's impatience that wasn't totally on board with all of that.

Of course, Boone wasn't the most patient guy himself, and if Ryan had been a touch less overwrought—maybe a little less distracted, at the very least—then he would've guessed exactly what happened next, which was that Boone himself ran out of patience about forty seconds later.

"I guess you've got a point," Boone said, pulling away reluctantly.

His hands were still on Ryan, under the opened sides of his shirt, thumbs rubbing circles over his hips, occasionally sliding up towards his rib cage. It was odd to be half undressed like that and stuck, not getting more naked or less, and Ryan was definitely done with it. If Boone wasn't going to get there any time soon, then Ryan was damn well going to take the lead.

"You should take your pants off," Ryan said, curling his fingers in to the top of Boone's waistband and tugging illustratively. "And then everything else."

"Mmm," Boone said, "Yeah, let's—let's do this."

It wasn't the talk Ryan knew they should be having, and maybe it was cowardly of both of them to continue putting that off, but Ryan was turned on and more than a little overwhelmed, and since there seemed to be very little chance this day was ending without him and Boone being something officially, well. It didn't seem like the worst idea in the world to let themselves have this first.  Take the edge off, so to speak.

Ryan had always been very good at using his edges.

Boone leaned in to kiss him one more time, and then his hands slid down to tug at Ryan's zipper, yanking it down and shoving his pants down to follow.

Ryan had time to think 'yes' while his own hands moved to start helping Boone undress as well, and then Boone was murmuring in his ear, "you showered after your nap, right?"

Ryan blinked.

"Yeah? You know I always shower after we've been stuck on the plane."

Ryan wasn't scared of flying, and he didn't mind it or anything, he just always felt kind of grimy when he'd been traveling for long, whether it was a bus or a train or a plane. Showering it off felt good, even if it was a day where he'd had to shower twice already. And then he got why Boone was probably asking that, flashing back to their conversation before, and made an incredibly embarrassing enthusiastic noise.

"There ya go," Boone said, looking up from unbuttoning his own shirt—wow, Ryan really had lost track of what his own hands were supposed to be doing—and grinning at him, all teeth. What teeth he had in, anyway, and god did Ryan have it bad that he found that kind of hot all the same. "Get on the bed, Ry."

Ryan stepped out of his pants, considered trying to hang them up again for tomorrow and then as Boone slid his own pants off his hips, decided he really didn't care enough to wait any longer. Not when Boone was looking at him like that, intent and determined.

Ryan yanked the covers down off the bed—they were still rumpled after his nap, and the top sheet was tangled enough that Ryan just kicked that down too, and shuffled around until he was in the very center of the mattress, a pillow stuffed behind his head, looking over at Boone and waiting for him to make the next move.

Boone didn't disappoint him.

While Ryan squirmed a little, conscious of the way he was starting to sweat again even in the air-conditioned room, nerves and arousal blending together to hike up his heart rate, Boone bent over to dig through the pockets of his pants, bare-assed and perfectly confident. And didn't Ryan appreciate that view, fuck.

That only took Boone a couple of seconds before he straightened up again and crawled onto the bed to fit himself against Ryan's side, finally skin on skin, and god, Ryan wished it hadn't taken them this long to realize this was what they both wanted. The idea of sex without having to worry about holding back was almost dizzying.

Ryan reached out for Boone, wrapped his arms around him and sank back into a kiss, lazier and slower now that they were lying down, letting it draw out enough that anticipation had every muscle in his body trembling. He got his hand on Boone's ass and let his fingers curl around the muscle, rubbing and kneading and enjoying the hell out of how that made Boone groan against his mouth as his hips pushed forward automatically.

"You're a menace," Boone mumbled, and Ryan didn't have time for any kind of comeback before Boone followed that up with a sharp nip to his lower lip, his fingertips trailing along Ryan's spine, warm calloused skin, and then the faintest scrape of something that wasn't his nails catching on Ryan's skin before Boone moved his hand away. "You wanna roll over?"

Ryan inhaled sharply; there was no use denying it, he wanted this so bad, and here Boone was, offering him everything. It was almost too much to take.

He pulled away from Boone and shifted around, trying to get comfortable, too turned on to get flat on his stomach like he thought Boone might want him to.

He settled halfway there in the end, face down on the sheet, his back arched and knees bent, ass out, dick curving up towards his stomach, precome smearing on his skin and dripping onto the bed below. He shoved the pillow away so he could turn his head and half-watch over his shoulder, feeling the pull in his neck.

Boone was up on his knees, right by Ryan's hip, looking down at his hands as he ripped a small packet open, and Ryan bit his tongue, felt his dick twitch and squirmed as Boone made an approving noise at him.  

"Hey, we should—" Boone said, and he reached over Ryan, his chest pressed to Ryan's back for a moment, dick nudging his side, and fuck, Ryan had had Boone's dick in his mouth, more than once, he shouldn't be this giddy about that relatively simple touch, but god, he was.

He was hungry, starving, and just so fucking sick of waiting to have what he wanted.

Boone was after the pillow Ryan had tried to get out of the way, it seemed, and he shoved one-handed to get it under Ryan, and okay, that made sense, and Ryan just reminded himself to breathe as Boone hummed out "okay, good," before sitting up and then shoving at Ryan's ankles until he had space to kneel between them, his palm running down Ryan's back and over his ass, making him shiver again.

"You want this, right?" Boone said softly, his thumb trailing lightly down the crease of Ryan's ass, making it explicitly obvious what he was offering. "I really wanna eat you out, but we can do anything you want."

"Yes, please," Ryan gritted out, "just—do me already Boone, come on."

"I can stop any time you need," Boone added, which Ryan appreciated, even though he was fairly convinced all he'd be able to say was going to be 'don't stop'.

It took maybe a second longer before Ryan felt something soft and cool like gel against his skin, and Boone's thumbs digging into his ass, spreading his cheeks before ducking his head. And then Boone's tongue was dragging over his ass, warm and wet even through the barrier, and Ryan bit his tongue, screwed his eyes closed and whimpered as everything went white-hot inside his head.

Ryan lost track of time, squirming under Boone's mouth, gasping when he pushed the tip of his tongue inside Ryan's body, and when he licked warm concentric circles over and around his hole, his stubble scratching against Ryan's skin where it wasn't covered, and probably leaving marks that made Ryan's face flame red to even imagine.

Boone very obviously knew exactly what he was doing, and by the occasional sound he was making against Ryan, was getting off on it just as much as Ryan was. Ryan wasn't sure what words were actually coming out of his mouth and what were just breathless sobs, begging for more, harder, faster, but Boone seemed to be responding to everything he said, sucking and licking until Ryan was ready to beg, so desperate to get off.

"Fuck, fuck," Ryan managed to say, hoping like hell that his noises weren't carrying through the no-doubt thin hotel wall, and god, he couldn't let himself think too much about that or it would really ruin the mood, "Boone, please, just—fuck, I'm so close."

"You got it," and Boone somehow managed to up the intensity, his tongue pushing and stroking over Ryan's skin, winding him up past the point of comprehension, face buried in Ryan's ass so that even where his tongue and fingers weren't, all Ryan could feel was the warmth and humidity of his ragged breathing between them, the heat of another body so close to his own.

Finally, Boone let go of Ryan's ass with one hand and reached around to curl his fingers around Ryan's aching dick, giving him a long, slow stroke, his fist tight and wet with, Ryan realized, the combination of his own precome and Boone's spit, and fuck, that was the last straw; he came hard, in long pulses over Boone's hand and over the sheets and himself.

His knees kind of gave way at that, and when he tipped forward Boone came with him, his right hand trapped against Ryan's belly, all his weight going onto Ryan before he slid slowly off and rolled onto his side, still pressed right up against Ryan.

Apparently that was all Boone needed, too, and Ryan had barely mustered the energy and clarity of thought to turn his head to look at him before Boone was grinding his hips forward, rubbing off against Ryan. Boone's hand spasmed once where it was trapped between Ryan's stomach and the bedding before Ryan could feel him coming as well, spilling over Ryan's hip and thigh, panting through it.

The two of them lay there for a few minutes just catching their breath, barely able to move let alone start to clean up or talk anything over, and Ryan felt almost drunk with it—fuck, endorphins were amazing—when he finally managed to roll off Boone's hand and look at him, flushed and sweaty and filthy, and god, Ryan could hardly believe he was allowed to have this.

"So, uh, you're good at that," Ryan said, because he had to say something, and Boone deserved the compliment, however much his ego maybe didn't need the help.

"Thank you," Boone said, a little wild around the eyes still, and Ryan fucking loved that he seemed to have just as much of an effect on Boone as Boone did on him. "You too. Uh. You know what I mean."

Fuck, how had he missed this enough to think that they were just fucking around like bros with benefits earlier? Ryan was an idiot.

Ryan reached over to lace his fingers through Boone's—a little gross, sure, but they both were, and he wanted the connection. Boone seemed to agree, if the way he squeezed Ryan's hand and then just lay there quietly holding hands with him was any indication.

"That was good," Ryan reiterated, rubbing his thumb in soft arcs over the back of Boone's hand. He'd always liked Boone's hands, and god he couldn't wait to see what else Boone could do with them, now that they were doing this for real. "We, uh. Should probably talk now, though, instead of putting it off again."

"You're right," Boone said quietly, tucking his ankle over Ryan's so they were touching even more, but still giving them both a chance to cool off and relax a little. "So, yeah. This is—I want this, with you."

Ryan relaxed a little, even though by that point he had been as certain as he could be that Boone was going to say something like that. Actually hearing it was even better.

"Same," Ryan said, and then he jumped as the air-conditioning creaked into life all of a sudden, loud and cold considering they were both still lying there naked. Fucking hotel rooms, he thought.

"Uh," Boone said, awkwardly, as he reached out to try and grab the blanket at the foot of the bed and missed. "This is, um. You wanna get dressed and go to my room? It might be—"

Less cold and involving fewer wet spots for either of them to be lying in, Ryan finished inside his own head. Boone wasn't wrong.

"Okay, actually, yeah."

Ryan clambered out of the bed without a whole lot of dignity, and figuring first things went first, went straight into the bathroom to clean up a little. He wasn't disappointed when Boone followed without hesitation, although the two of them trying to maneuver around each other in the small space was closer to comedy than it was anything approaching sexy. Ryan appreciated the help scrubbing his back, at least.

Once he'd dried off afterward, Ryan picked up his clothes from the floor and pulled them back on, making a face at the idea of getting back into his suit for even another five minutes.

He probably could have gotten away with just pulling on his pajama pants, but knowing his luck, someone would've walked down the hall at the exact wrong time to see him following Boone into his room half dressed, and however good friends they were, there would probably be questions. Questions that Ryan really didn't want to deal with just yet. So: clothing.

He tossed Boone's shirt and pants to the other side of the mattress where he was sitting, towel loose around his hips while he shamelessly watched Ryan get dressed before getting up to follow suit.

Ryan didn’t mean to return the favor quite so obviously, but when his gaze landed there he didn’t see any real reason to turn away. It wasn’t quite as entertaining as the other way around, sure, but it was kind of hot to see all that skin that Ryan was newly and intimately familiar with covered in turn, hidden away along with the marks and bruises and memories of everything they’d done, until Boone was standing by Ryan’s bed in a collared shirt and dark suit pants, looking perfectly normal, his bedhead the only real giveaway.

“Enjoy the show?” Boone asked, raising an eyebrow, but there wasn’t any bite to his tone, so Ryan just grinned at him and said, “Sure did.”

"Come on," Boone said, digging his room key out of his pocket, and with his backpack over one shoulder—hurriedly filled with his toiletries and pajamas and phone charger—Ryan followed him down the hall.

* * *

Neither of them said much of anything while they settled in Boone's room, wordlessly taking the time to get changed out of their suits and back into more comfortable clothing—sweats worn thin at the knee and a t-shirt with holes in for Boone, and just flannel pants for Ryan—before picking up the conversation again, and Ryan felt a low thrum of nervousness as he sat on the too-low couch in the corner of Boone's suite, the furniture barely big enough to fit both of them.

It seemed easier than having the conversation sat on the two queen beds in the room, at least.

“I—” Ryan started to say, and then ground to a halt, because he really didn’t know what he was thinking. He should’ve taken some time to himself earlier in the day, spent five minutes not wrapped up in Boone to actually get his thoughts in order, because it still felt like all he could put together was a confusing mess of feelings that he wasn’t sure he should be sharing.

He’d never been worried before about talking to Boone about anything they needed to talk about, because the stakes had never been quite like this.

“I don’t know,” he admitted, and let his head drop forward, stared down at his hands clasped over his lap, not sure what to do with them. He dared a glimpse over at Boone through his lashes, trying to read him. He didn’t want to make direct eye contact then, because he wasn’t sure he was ready to hear what Boone thought about all of this yet, either.

Maybe just going on the same way they had been was actually the answer after all; laughing and talking and touching easily, fucking around in the privacy of their own apartment, not pushing to make it anything bigger or smaller than that. It meant something to Ryan, and he knew it meant something to Boone, too, but that didn’t mean they needed to put a label on it, did it?

"Right, me either," Boone said, picking at a loose thread on his inseam, at his own fingernails, hands restless over his knees. "I guess we could start, uh. Where were we before? When we got distracted. You know."

“Shit,” Ryan said, almost impressed. “You are incredibly bad at this whole talking about it thing.”

“Oh fuck off,” Boone said, sounding refreshingly much closer to normal. “I don’t see you being the first one to lay all your cards on the table either.”

“I kissed you in Calgary,” Ryan pointed out, and whoops, that wasn't the conversation he'd meant to start at all.

“I’m pretty sure I made the first move there,” Boone said, and it wasn't like Ryan could really argue that point, because he wasn't sure; they had both been drunk enough to make perfect recall a sketchy proposition. He could argue a different one, though.

And it was absolutely a thing that they needed to talk about, given the way that it still stung for Ryan, even now, even after he had almost every guarantee possible that Boone wanted him just as much as Ryan wanted him. Feeling good now didn't do a whole lot for how much it had hurt at the time.

“You basically blanked me after that, though,” Ryan said. “You wouldn’t even look at me on the plane back.”

Boone broke eye contact again then too, looking down into his lap, at his hands.

“I—yeah, no, you’re right, that was shitty. But I was kind of freaking out, you know?”

“There’s no way that was the first time you’d hooked up with a guy,” Ryan said, flatly, very sure of himself on that. Enthusiasm could do a lot, sure, but Boone had clearly known what he was doing, was confident and practiced when it came down to the mechanics, and Ryan had fooled around with enough curious mostly-straight guys to be very certain of that difference.

“Not that,” Boone said, screwing up his face in a way that Ryan refused to find charming or even, god help him, kind of attractive. Jeez, he really had it bad. “Just, it was you and I never thought, I mean. I didn’t want to mess this up, you know?”

“Pretty sure that ship has sailed,” Ryan said.

“Well yeah, that was what I figured when we sobered up and you felt me up again anyway.”

Ryan narrowed his eyes at Boone. “You basically fell into my lap.”

This was, Ryan realized, exactly the conversation they should have had the day after Calgary, if not before they'd fallen into bed a second time then at least after. God, they were really incredibly stupid. Or—no, he corrected himself, especially given what Boone had just admitted. Not stupid at all. Just too afraid to lose what they had, and too scared to see that maybe they could have more if they wanted it.

Boone was still talking though, still answering a question that Ryan probably wouldn't have asked even now, and maybe it was more for his own benefit than Ryan's, even, which Ryan couldn't exactly complain about. It wasn't like either of them needed the plausible deniability with each other any more. They just needed it for other people.

“Ryan, I’ve seen you flirt with people,” Boone was saying, “You have, like. One move. And it got a lot harder to tell myself I was just imagining it when you started giving me the same look I could see in the mirror, you know? So I, uh.”

“Went for it?” Ryan suggested. It wasn’t like he could really argue with any of that; Boone was right and they both knew it.

“Yeah,” Boone said. “I figured, you know, you were into it when we were half-cut, and you were still into it after sleeping it off, so… fuck it, why not?”

“And that plan’s never backfired horribly, has it?” Ryan said, a touch more acerbic than he probably needed to be. Why couldn't Boone have said any of this four or five weeks ago?

“Well, someone had to make the first move since you apparently weren’t going to,” Boone said, stung, and Ryan sat back, because that was true, and it hurt, and he really didn’t know what to say to that.

Sometimes wanting it wasn’t enough, Ryan knew that, but he wasn’t sure if Boone did. And he didn’t want to be the lesson that taught him that if he didn’t. And maybe that was what he'd been afraid of all this time, too.

“I woke up in bed with you,” Ryan said quietly. “And you didn’t say a word, and you didn’t ask me not to leave, you just let me go. Of course I was going to assume you hadn’t meant it, or that you’d realized what a huge mistake we were making. I thought that would be easier for you, if we pretended that nothing was, you know, different.”

“Excuse me for freaking out a little when I realized it apparently only took like two beers past drunk for me to want to jump you,” Boone said, after digesting that. “I mean, for me to try to. It’s not like I didn’t know I wanted to, but when nothing happened our rookie year I figured it was just me, you know? I was trying not to be a dick about it, and it was—” He trailed off, his hands stilling in his lap, still not looking at Ryan.

Ryan nudged Boone with his elbow, leaned in to bump their shoulders together, gently and affectionately. “What? C’mon, Boone, I’m not gonna—I’m not judging, I’m kind of right there with you on this.”

Boone looked up, turned his head to meet Ryan’s eyes, and Ryan swallowed hard. He was good at reading Boone’s expressions and body language, could usually pick up his mood from the way he walked or skated, the angle of his jaw, but Boone was saying an awful lot with his face just then and it was almost more than Ryan would have dared hope for.

“It felt so good I wanted to roll over and spend the rest of the morning doing whatever you wanted,” Boone said. “I wanted to blow off the charter home and just, um, blow other things.”

Ryan couldn’t quite restrain the grin that spread across his face at that confession. “Really?” he said, not even trying to school his expression any better. There was something ridiculously hot about Boone being too shy to actually outright say the dirty things he usually wouldn't hesitate to. The fact he was apparently more likely to blush talking about sex with Ryan than he had been talking about any other sex he'd had, ever was—something. Ryan wasn't quite sure exactly what it was, but he was certain of that much.

“Do you, uh, did you remember making out in the elevator?” Boone said, giving him a hot look right back, much closer to his usual boldly confident exterior.

“Yeah,” Ryan said, and willed himself not to blush. It had been hot, knowing how they were pushing it, the possibility of getting caught making it sharper, even though his rational mind knew what a stupid idea that had been. “And you definitely started that.”

“After you grabbed my ass walking back to the hotel and told me you liked it when I got all bossy?” Boone added.

“Oh,” Ryan said, and the blush was a lost battle then, because he had not, in fact, remembered that part of the evening. It sounded familiar enough that he could definitely believe it, though. Shit.

“In front of Saader and Matty and Cam,” Boone added, clearly giving up entirely on any kind of delicacy, and Ryan thought 'oh shit' twice as fervently, because oh, that explained a lot and was also deeply fucking concerning on several levels.

He didn’t think the strangled noise he made in response to that really counted as a reply, though.

“Did they notice?” Ryan managed to ask, and the look Boone gave him at that was withering.

Okay, yeah. Of course they’d noticed. Ryan wasn’t under any illusions about how subtle he was when he was actively trying to be; it shouldn’t be any kind of surprise that he was even worse after a few drinks. The fact none of them had said anything to him—other than on the plane, and god that was ten times more embarrassing now Ryan knew what Saader had seen—either meant that they were much better friends than he might give them credit for, or that he'd somehow managed to get a lot better at being subtle in the last couple of weeks.

…probably it was the first of those options, Ryan had to admit.

For lack of any better coping strategy, Ryan slid down on the couch, reached over to grab a cushion and held it over his face, while he groaned and tossed up the idea of asking Boone to stand between him and the rest of their teammates at all times so he didn’t have to look Matty or Cam in the eye again any time soon. Possibly ever again. It might make passing to them more difficult, but he was a professional, he’d figure that out.

“I don’t know if Cam was sober enough to remember it either,” Boone said a moment later, and Ryan wasn’t sure whether it was a kind lie to make him even slightly less mortified, but whatever it was, he’d take it.

“Yeah, Saader said he was drunk-sitting him,” Ryan said, remembering, and let the cushion drop back down onto the couch beside him.

“He had his hands full,” Boone agreed. “And you know Matty’s not going to say anything to anyone else.”

That was also true, Ryan figured, but it didn’t mean squat for any time he might not have witnesses. Then again, if a little friendly teasing was the worst thing that happened to Ryan after all of this then, well, he’d take that. And Matty hadn't said anything to him yet either, so give him points for a lot more sensitivity than most hockey players were blessed with.

“So,” Ryan started to say, trying to get back to the matter at hand and stop letting himself get distracted worrying about who—other than Boone—he might’ve made a complete idiot of himself in front of, “does he have anything else to chirp us about, then? Like. Going forward.”

“It sort of sounds wrong if I say I hope so, huh?” Boone asked, and Ryan could feel a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth, relieved and pleased all at once.

“I don’t know,” Ryan said, and reached over to interlace his fingers between Boone’s again, squeezing his hand tightly. “I agree, so. You know.”

“Glad to hear it,” Boone said, grinning right back at him.

“Anyway," Boone went on, "I want to keep doing this,” and Ryan felt the last of the tension in his back drain away at that, relief chasing warmth, creeping through his chest and stealing his breath. “This has been good, right? Until we fucked it up again?” and this time it’s Boone who sounds ever so slightly uncertain, and Ryan couldn’t believe he didn’t know, thought he’d been entirely transparent all this time.

He reached out, covered Boone’s hand with his own, squeezing lightly. “Yeah. It’s good.” Ryan stopped, cleared his throat and tried again. “We’re, uh. Pretty good together, I think?” He glanced over again, carefully, trying to read Boone’s expression. He looked pleased, Ryan thought, or at least like he agreed.

“So you want to keep it up?” Boone asked, and Ryan didn’t have to think at all to answer that. It helped that Boone had broken it down into something that he could answer readily, into the smallest practical definition. It seemed simpler, sitting there in that hotel room, in comfortable clothes and with most of the day behind them, to just say what he felt; to admit that he wanted this, to let himself look at Boone and ask for exactly what he wanted.

“Yeah,” Ryan said, and he threaded his fingers through Boone’s where they were basically holding hands over his knee, squeezed his hand and rubbed his thumb over the back of his knuckles. “I don’t want to go back to pretending I’m not looking when you’re, you know. Hot. There. Up for it?”

“Hot singles in your area?” Boone teased, with a grin, but the grip he had on Ryan’s hand was completely serious, tight and not joking at all.

“Something like that,” Ryan said, grinning back at him, but his stomach was still unsettled, nerves fluttering in a way that he hadn’t felt in a long time. He wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or not. “Seriously, though. I, uh. I want to try this. With you. Officially.”

Boone squeezed his hand again, and when Ryan looked up at him again he looked happier, too; wearing his usual confidence more naturally this time. “Me too,” Boone said.

“So we try… dating?” Ryan ventured, not sure if that was the right word. It seemed too juvenile, or maybe too normal, and as much as they tried to keep routines and stay grounded, the truth was that their lives weren’t exactly close to what anyone would call normal, weren’t likely to be for a while. For as long as possible, Ryan hoped. Although maybe that would help; at least they both understand the pressures they were under in a way that someone outside maybe could not.

"Yeah," Boone said. "That sounds good to me."

He turned a little so he was facing Ryan, and then let go of his hand, but it was only long enough to get his hand on Ryan’s face instead, fingers pressing lightly against his jaw while he leaned in for a kiss.

Ryan let his eyes close and kissed back, relieved to be doing something easy, something he felt totally comfortable doing and confident about. It was a lot easier and less embarrassing than trying to talk about their feelings, that was for sure.

Boone let his hand fall away after a few minutes, and Ryan took that as a cue to pull back a little and open his eyes.

“Still good?” Ryan asked, daring to tease just a little about it. “Nothing to freak out about or anything like that this time?”

“I think we’re good now,” Boone said, giving Ryan a hot look which boded extremely well for whenever they were going to have a stretch of uninterrupted time together next. Well, when they weren't supposed to be sleeping, anyway. “Let’s see how this goes, huh?”

"Works for me," Ryan said, and took a moment to be glad they weren't rookies any more and were about as safe as they could be from both curfew checks and guys breaking into their rooms for pranks these days.

* * *

Ryan woke up the next morning sprawled half over Boone, taking up more than his fair share of a bed which wasn't exactly big to start with, and couldn't help the instinctive grin that put on his face, or the surge of joy that came along with knowing better where they stood with each other.

Boone grumbled sleepily and tried to turn his face away into the pillow, but only got as far as mashing his nose into Ryan's biceps, which woke both of them up, mostly because Ryan started laughing at his disgruntled expression and then couldn't stop.

It was kind of trippy to think that they'd gone from guilty furtive hook ups to—this, in the space of like a month. And it was even trippier when Ryan let himself remember what they'd done last night, the intimacy and care of it all, the way he should have realized they were both on the same page the first time they'd done more than just sleep together.

There was no use regretting that any further now, though, just moving on, and Ryan let himself catch his breath before wriggling down the mattress to line himself up enough to kiss Boone good morning.

It was quick and closed-mouth, but it still made something warm kindle in his belly, felt like a good start to the morning before they had to separate long enough to make it look like Ryan hadn't slept in Boone's room, before going downstairs to meet the rest of their teammates and pretend like they weren't anything more than friends and roommates.

And then Ryan felt like the cold shower he should probably be taking instead of lingering in bed with Boone had been dumped over his head anyway, as he remembered exactly what they hadn't talked about last night, too wrapped up in each other and the fact they could finally have this.

The teammate who would know all too well that Ryan and Boone hadn't slept alone last night, because he was too damn good at reading both of them. Because while Ryan had been crushing on Boone to a greater or lesser extent practically since they'd first met, it hadn't taken him long at all to realize he liked Seth just as much.

And fuck, Seth had been the catalyst for this whole conversation that he and Boone had finally had, and they'd just—left all of that to one side. Ryan felt guilt creeping in around the edges of his mind again, and fuck, he had not missed that part at all.

"Ryan?" Boone said, squinting over at him, still kind of sleepy but clearly waking up fast as he realized that whatever was in Ryan's expression was more than just typical morning fuzziness. "What's wrong?"

"Did you mean it, yesterday?" Ryan blurted out.

Boone blinked at him, trying to catch up. "When I said I want to date you? Yes."

"No, not that-I mean, that too," Ryan grimaced. "In the car. When we were talking—"

"Oh," Boone said, and Ryan could see the exact moment he remembered, too. Could see the defensive shell come up again a little, the way that his shoulders hunched before he made himself relax, reaching over to rub Ryan's back gently.

Despite himself, Ryan felt calmer almost instantly. That was either tremendously unfair or something that was going to come in handy in future, if he was that easy for Boone's hands and voice.

"Yeah," Ryan said softly.

Either sleeping on it had helped him process more than he'd quite realized, or he'd somehow gotten very in touch with his feelings in the space of about two minutes, but whatever the reason was, he was suddenly very sure that as much as he wanted to be with Boone, and as good as they could be for each other, there was no way he wanted to choose between Boone and Seth.

The more time he spent with Seth, the surer he was that there was something there, a potential that felt too good to pretend he was unaware of it. And he hoped desperately that Boone and Seth would both feel the same.

He didn't want to have to choose. And he didn't want to make Boone choose. And now they just had to find out if Seth wanted them.

"If it's what you want, then yeah," Boone said. "And I—you know I like him too."

Boone was, Ryan had no trouble remembering, the only one in the bed who had actually kissed Seth, however close Ryan thought he'd come. It was more difficult all of a sudden to feel any sort of envy that wasn't just based on wanting to be right there watching it, though.

"Would you, though? Would it be okay with you if it's okay with him?" Ryan repeated, compelled to check.

"I'm not saying I know what I'm doing in the slightest," Boone admitted. "But yeah, if he's into it—if he wants it too, then yeah, I'm in too. On board. However you want to call it."

"I…don't really know how to ask," Ryan said, trying to be practical about it. Maybe this was the sort of thing that should wait for the off season. For when they didn't have to deal with the tail end of a season that had already been fucked up beyond all comparison, even by their standards. Then again, maybe that was argument for just going for it anyway.

"I guess we just have to play it by ear," Boone said finally.

Ryan made a face at that, but he couldn't disagree, and he also couldn't really put off getting up any longer. They were going to have to get moving, and all the questions in the world about the complete mess they were considering making of their collective love lives weren't going to help them avoid that.

"Figure it out when we get home?" Ryan suggested, and Boone just said, "Yeah," before rolling closer to kiss him, quick and dirty enough to make it clear he didn't give a shit about Ryan's morning breath, before pulling away and going to get dressed.

Ryan would have regretted the fact that once again they weren't in a position to indulge in morning sex, but it was obvious that he wasn't going to have to wait all that long now until they were, and that made it significantly less disappointing than it would otherwise be.

* * *

By mutual agreement, they didn't bring anything up with Seth while they were still on the road.

It wouldn't be fair to any of them, Boone pointed out; too much chance of being overheard by the wrong person, and more importantly, it didn't give any of them a way to get away for some privacy if they needed it, whether that was the 'and now we're all gonna bone' kind of privacy or the kind you needed to pull yourself back together again after a potentially embarrassing come-on from one or more of your teammates.

Ryan was still pretty sure that Seth was more likely to be on board with it than not, just going from the way he'd handled things with Boone, but pretty sure wasn't the same as certain, and Ryan was in no hurry to have any more deeply fraught conversations until he absolutely had to.

They gave it a day after getting back to Columbus, and then Ryan invited Seth over for dinner—figured the invitation had to come from him since he was the one freaking out visibly earlier—and tried not to look like he'd be crushed if the answer was no.

If Seth told them no then Ryan would respect it, of course, he just—hoped that wasn't how it would work out.

* * *

It was one of the rare completely free days they had towards the end of the season, just a couple games left on the schedule and then they were done, about to wipe the slate clean before next season.

Seth let himself in exactly on time, punctual as ever, and even handed Boone a bottle of wine which made his eyebrows lift a fraction of an inch before he pulled his usual charming smile back into place.

Ryan wasn't sure exactly what that interplay had meant, but he was sure it had meant something.

They'd tried to come up with a gameplan for asking Seth out, but it had kind of descended into ridiculousness about three minutes after Ryan had gotten the whiteboard out, since even Ryan didn't want to ever have Seth—or worse, anyone else—ask exactly what Operation Bang It Out was meant to be referring to.

Boone wasn't allowed to name anything ever, Ryan insisted, even if they did wind up caving to one of the animal rescue places they did charity work for sometimes and adopting a dog together. And god, if Ryan had told himself at the beginning of the season that he'd be dating Boone and considering getting a pet, maybe, and also hitting on another of their teammates, well. Ryan would've been checking himself straight into hospital for an MRI, probably.

"So what are we celebrating?" Seth asked as they sat down at the table, his tone a little too light, shifting in his seat like he wasn't comfortable, the awkwardness Ryan could feel creeping in around the edges apparently obvious to him, too. The fact they were at the table instead of on the couch like normal was probably a dead giveaway on that front all on its own. "I kind of thought some of the other guys would be here too?"

"Nope, just you," Ryan said, and hoped that wasn't too weird. He couldn't help but see Seth clearly noticing the way Ryan kept touching Boone for reassurance, his eyes going from one to the other of them fast enough that Ryan could practically build the conclusions he was jumping to right along with him in real time.

"We, uh, wanted to talk to you about something," Boone said. "That is, ask you a question."

Seth nodded slowly, his gaze flickering quickly between the two of them, like he wasn't sure who to look at first, or to keep watching.

"I, uh. Kind of wondered about that when you went out of your way to make sure Prouter knew he wasn't invited."

Ryan kicked Boone under the table. "I told you that you weren't actually more subtle than me."

Seth gave a rough, half choked bark of laughter. "Murr, I hate to break it to you, but neither of you guys are subtle in the slightest."

Ryan shrugged. It wasn't news to him.

"Anyway," Boone said, pointedly. "We, um, wanted—"

Ryan interrupted, partly out of the sheer need to at least get this over with faster than Boone seemed like he was going to draw it out, and also because Seth also looked kind of like he wanted to sink into the floor with tangible embarrassment. "We want to ask you out," Ryan said, and then, "What, I was just getting to the point. I mean, it's okay if you're not interested or if you don't want—" and he trailed off then, because Seth was shaking his head emphatically, immediately denying that option.

Ryan shut up again, wanting to give Seth a chance to talk for once.

"You're good, okay," Seth said, relaxing all at once, a broad smile breaking across his features. Ryan just stared for a moment; fuck, he was so good looking. "I don't want, I mean, I don't need the option, I wanna hear you out."

"Okay, the lack of surprise is either a good thing or means maybe we need to think about the witness protection program," Boone joked, still sounding a little brittle, but he calmed down the moment Seth reached over to cover his hand with his own, thumb tapping gently at Boone's wrist. Ryan stared, a little fascinated, and wasn't sure if he'd ever seen anyone shut Boone up that fast or effectively. Without it involving sex, anyway.

"I was kind of hoping," Seth said. "I mean, in a way which isn't creepy or, like, assuming stuff about you guys and your relationship, uh—"

Ryan grinned at him. "Oh good, we're all bad at this."

Boone and Seth gave him a fairly identical narrow-eyed glare, and Ryan just grinned dopily at both of them, unconcerned for once.

"We're dating," Boone said, and Ryan's heart kind of seized up in his chest for a second when he realized it was the first time either of them had said it where someone else could hear them.

"Officially," Ryan added, "As of, uh, the other day."

"But you didn't just, um. This isn't new for you guys, right?" Seth asked.

"I haven't dated two people at the same time before," Boone said, and then when Seth shook his head, a clear 'that's not what I meant', he clarified further: "It took us a bit of time to sort of get our shit together. So we only hooked up, uh, this year, but you know."

Seth blinked. "This year—? But you, uh. I kind of thought it'd been longer."

Ryan dared to reach over and take Seth's other hand, linking their fingers together, his heart beating faster at the way Seth let him, the way he could feel his pulse thudding steady and even against his fingertips when they brushed over his wrist. "Like I said, we're kind of bad at the talking part."

"Oh," Seth said a little shakily. "I guess that makes sense. So you're, uh. What are we talking about here, exactly?"

"We want to date you," Ryan said. "And I think you want to date us too, but if not you should probably say something before this gets more awkward."

"Oh," Seth said again. "Yes, I mean—if it's—if you both want this, then yeah."

Boone took a deep breath, and then spoke again.

"Part of why it took me and Ryan weeks to get on the same page about how we both wanted this was because we kept not letting ourselves see clearly what was going on. I didn't realize for weeks that it wasn't that he didn't really want a relationship, it was that he thought he couldn't have it."

Ryan jerked his gaze back to Boone at that, his mouth falling open. That was—they'd gotten better at talking, lately, but he'd never managed to put it together in quite those words. He couldn't really argue, though; he hadn't believed he could really have that with Boone until they were on the verge of losing it. "I really do want to be with you," he said earnestly, and Boone's smile in response was so sweet it made Ryan ache.

"I know, Ryan. I just… took a while to catch on."

"And," Ryan added, for Seth's benefit. "I really want to be with you, too. I think it's worth trying, if you want us."

"Fuck, I really do," Seth said, "I just—I didn't want to get between the two of you, especially since every time something nearly happened it was clear you guys were, uh. Kind of fighting. And I felt like maybe I was leading you on, kind of—" Ryan made a protesting noise at that, but Seth shook his head and kept talking, not getting distracted. "—but I couldn't make myself stop, and I didn't want to. And I couldn't pick between you, so, uh, thanks for not making me."

"The fighting wasn't because of you," Boone said, ruefully. "That was just, uh, bad timing. But don't think I forgot that you wouldn't let me fuck things up with Murrs either. You're a good friend, as well as, uh, everything else that I'm into."

"Okay, good," Seth said. "And on that note, can we maybe, uh, try something that's not just talking?"

Boone let go of Ryan's hand and of Seth's, gave them both a little shove towards each other. "I think you guys have earned this." He paused for a second. "And I wanna watch."

Ryan snickered a little at that; typical, but he stopped laughing again almost immediately, leaning in towards Seth, finally able to believe that this was actually happening.

It was awkward, with the table in the way, but Seth's lips were soft and his mouth was warm, and encouragingly insistent when Ryan swayed closer and opened his mouth, and then it got hotter and dirtier very rapidly.

Ryan's eyes fluttered open again when Seth finally pulled back, and he was delighted to see the pleased grin on Seth's face, satisfaction warring with desire, and an almost identical expression on Boone's face when he turned far enough to see him, too.

Yeah, Ryan thought, this really felt like it was going to work out.

"I have to admit," Seth said carefully, "I don't really know how this kind of thing goes either."

"I think it starts with you kissing Boone properly," Ryan said. "But we can take slow no matter what, you know?"

"Slow's good," Seth agreed, but he didn't move slowly at all when he tugged Boone closer, and it was Ryan's turn to squirm in his seat as he watched them kiss, caught in a hot place between envy and pure arousal, not sure if he wanted to watch that all day or get right back in the middle of it.

A little of both, he figured.

Ryan wasn't going to make the same mistake he'd made with Boone of falling right into bed before making sure they were all on the same page this time, but kissing around the dinner table was a little too prim even in those circumstances. Luckily, both Boone and Seth were easy to convince to shift things back to the couch, and they didn't even bother to put the TV on long enough to pretend like they were doing anything but touching carefully, kissing more easily.

There were jokes mixed in with it, half conversations whispered between each other's mouths, in between kisses, hands shoving at each other occasionally in a way that lingered too long to be even a little bit confused with just teammates joking around, and that all stayed light right up until Seth got Boone underneath him, half hanging off the couch, and Boone was laughing helplessly and making jokes about needing to make sure Seth didn't knock him off the couch, it wasn't like that'd get either of them more ice time, c'mon man.  

For the sake of d-man solidarity, Ryan tried to tease Boone right back by joking about how he better not choke on his dentures, and without even a pause Boone replied that some things were better without teeth, eh Murr?

It was just honest enough and just ridiculous enough that all three of them froze in position for a second. Ryan could feel his lips twitching, the relieved laughter pressing against his teeth, and he knew if he made eye contact with either one of them he was going to lose it. Knowing that and not doing it weren't the same thing, though; Ryan broke a second later, and Seth and Boone were right beside him, howling with laughter.

Somehow that turned right back into more kissing—and Ryan couldn't help himself, let his tongue brush over Boone's teeth pointedly and nearly got bitten for his troubles—but everything was so warm and good; Seth's hands and Boone's mouth and Ryan was overwhelmed in the best possible way.

And after that had gone on for a while longer it could have gotten awkward for a minute, it teetered on that edge, and then Boone made a joke about how it was good that Ryan was in the middle of him and Seth so he couldn't run out on them at 5am.

It was a joke, but it also wasn't, and it was in that quiet moment that Ryan truly realized for the first time how he'd hurt Boone doing that, probably just as much as Boone not speaking up hurt him. It was easier for him to understand then that as hard as it was for him to ask if he could stay, Boone had been struggling with figuring out how to say he didn't want him to go. And then Ryan had left and it was like the decision was made for them, especially when he left again and again, and so no wonder Boone had figured that was just how it was gonna be for them.

And that was why he'd left, and Ryan had misread that so catastrophically.

Ryan blurted out another apology for that, even thought it was probably going to ruin the mood now they were supposed to be just having fun, or at the very least not scaring off Seth in advance. Once he got his words untangled enough for both of them to understand what he was getting at Boone just touched his face gently and said, "It's fine, okay, we worked it out eventually."

The mood still felt a little fragile, though, and Seth could pick up on that just as well as either of them, so he tried to break it by pointing out they were both ridiculous. "Seriously," he said, "no one ever taught you how to use your words?"

There was a beat after that where Ryan could see in his eyes the worry that maybe he'd misjudged the moment, but then Boone muttered "strong words from a man who was gonna just pine in silence", which shocked a laugh out of Ryan. Seth just ducked his gaze and mumbled "shut up", but there was a little grin there, an appreciation that he felt comfortable enough in that moment—in that relationship—to push back and give them shit about that, especially when it was such a dangerously tentative subject.

Seth rallied after that, though.

"Whatever," he said, dismissing any further argument with a wave of his hand on its way back to a much more enjoyable position on Ryan's leg, "the important point is that we're all here now, this works, right?"

He tried to sound firm and free of all doubt, but it wavered a little on the dismount, and Ryan was kind of holding his breath, they all were.

And then Boone just shrugged—his shoulder brushing Ryan's—and grinned broadly at both of them before saying, "Yeah, I think so. Though if this is what we're doing, then one of us is going to need to get a bigger bed."

That made Seth snort, and was an effective enough change of the subject that it seemed easy to just let the rest of the evening go smoothly; shifting from the couch back to the kitchen long enough to eat dinner, and drifting back to the couch again to touch and kiss some more, not quite approaching sex but getting close. Seth did stay the night, warm between Ryan and Boone, the three of them managing to fit in the bed somehow, even if it was more cramped than usual.

It wasn't in anything any of them were going to complain about, anyway.

So, Ryan thought, drifting off to sleep; they'd gotten most of the way there in the end.

They still had to work on figuring out how to navigate their teammates, and they still had to figure out exactly how the whole relationship thing was going to work for the three of them. Who was going to stay where, who might move, who was sleeping exactly where and with whom on a nightly basis.

But then and there, all they had to do was keep talking to each other and make sure what happened between them stayed between them, whether they were at home or on the road.

And Ryan had faith that they were going to get there.

-fin-