"You know," Cale says, looking across the table at the rest of them, sweet and cheerful, like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. "I can tie a cherry stem in a knot with my tongue, too."
Ryan does his very best to not choke on his own spit. Dying that way would be super embarrassing, like, they'd probably bring him back just so everyone could chirp him about it a second time. He manages, somehow, to inhale.
"Say what now?"
Cale favors him with a sunny smile, and Ryan tries not to believe it's personal, that it's meant just for him, however much he wants to. "Cherry stem, knot, you know. It's really not that hard, actually."
"This I gotta see," Gabe says, because he is a monster who wants Ryan to burst into embarrassed flames at their teammate's wedding, and not incidentally destroy half of the D-pair that he claims to believe is world-class, gonna get 'em next year world beaters. If Gabe's putting that many expectations on him, Ryan wants at least five minutes safety from Cale doing shockingly sexy things like no one's even noticing it.
Cale demonstrates, plucking a handful of cherries from the carefully arranged fruit bowl in front of them, going one-two-three in a row, pushing perfectly tied knots with the tip of his tongue out onto his lush lower lip.
Ryan is going to hell if he keeps looking and having these thoughts.
"You have the weirdest skills, kiddo," EJ says, ruffling Cale's hair, but he looks proud and amused and Ryan is actually so jealous he sort of wants to die anyway. Why did he think going to weddings filled with his teammates was a good idea again? He could have been at home, in his pool, without anyone looking at him. Instead of sweating in a suit and tie in July's sweltering heat, feeling his shirt stick to his back and under his arms.
Cale shrugs, and carefully picks the knotted stems up, laying them on his napkin and folding it over. God, Ryan thinks, unable to take his eyes off his long, steady fingers.
"One of the girls in my algebra class taught me," Cale says with another shrug. "It's really not that hard, I bet you could learn."
This time EJ's the one who laughs and then chokes and has a coughing fit that makes people at the next table look over with concern. Ryan can read the "do I need to come over there and sort you kids out?" in Matty C's raised eyebrow and just gives him a head shake in return. They're fine. And they're not terrible influences on Cale, whatever Matt might claim in the locker room.
Cale looks concerned as well, and Ryan bites back more envy. Everyone loves EJ, they would also be sad if he suffered some kind of summer-fruit-related injury, it's not that Cale's particularly dialed in on him. It's not. Ryan's his D-partner, a status he's worked his ass off for over the last couple months, he would know.
EJ drinks a glass of water, and then downs half the contents of his wine glass, and then swallows a few times, clearing his throat experimentally. Apparently this is the best entertainment going, because absolutely everyone at their table is staring at him, waiting for the explanation.
EJ does not disappoint his audience.
"Cale. Buddy. My pal."
Cale rolls his eyes, and Ryan feels a welcome rush of appreciation for him. It's nice that he doesn't let them run roughshod over him any more, if he's pushing back at EJ's hurricane charisma then that has to be a good sign. Ryan deliberately doesn't think about who that could be a good sign for. He's celebrating small victories today.
"EJ," Cale says, monotone, trying to match EJ's timbre and not doing a half bad job of it. Ryan fights the urge to applaud.
"Cale, you realize that girl was hitting on you, right?"
Cale just stares at him.
Ryan's not sure why EJ even bothered to point that out, because: duh. Everyone hits on Cale, he's a fucking hot ass with silky smooth hands and an eye for the game that makes Ryan more than a little breathless, and he knows he's not the only one.
"I doubt it," Cale says, and picks up his menu, as if he's not well aware the next course is salmon, which they all ordered, as if they don't get enough of that during the season anyway.
"No, really," EJ insists, and looks around the table for backup.
Ryan's desire to be a good teammate squares up against his desire to shove EJ's chair at least two feet further away from Cale so that Ryan can eel on in there instead. Fuck, Ryan just has to keep his mouth shut for like another five minutes until someone changes the subject. He's not going to start shit at a wedding, for fuckssake. His parents raised him better than that.
"Yeah, he's right," Josty says, because he is un-fucking-helpful, and Comph just nods, opens his mouth to say "Just like—" and then winces, like someone's kicked him under the table.
Opposite them, Sammy's trying to look as angelic as possible, which even Ryan knows by now is more suspicious than anything else.
"So," Sam says brightly, "How bad do you think the DJ is gonna be this time? Do you think we can get EJ drunk enough to do the chicken dance in public again?"
"You are my favorite monster," EJ says cheerfully, slinging an arm around the back of Sammy's chair, and—success!—leaning away from Cale on his other side. "And also no, not even this open bar is going to make that happen."
Sam just hums non-commitally, and says "You say that now."
Like it was clearly meant to, that changes the subject well enough that the chirping and shit-talking just moves on naturally from there, and Ryan relaxes a fraction.
He thinks he's gotten away with it right up until Cale turns those big hazel eyes on him and says, "Okay over there, Gravy?" He quirks a grin and Ryan thinks, despairingly, dimples and tries not to melt in his seat, as Cale goes on. "You're awfully quiet tonight."
Ryan gulps down some more wine and hopes his voice doesn't give away the fact that he is not even in the same zip code as cool by this point. "Just thinking," he says, and almost any of their teammates would jump right on that and tell him to not strain himself, to be careful he doesn't overheat his brain with it or whatever, but because Cale is actually nice he just nods and says, "Cool," before turning back to his plate.
Ryan just hopes he hasn't managed to sweat the whole way through his shirt by now. Who even decided summer weddings were supposed to be formal wear occasions after all?
Dinner limps on from there, with approximately b-grade chirping from everyone who isn't too polite to talk with their mouths full, and it would probably be worse than that normally, but mostly they haven't seen each other for a couple weeks and everyone's out of practice. The jury's out on whether that's a good thing or not.
The DJ who takes over the sound system once all the toasts have been drunk and the speeches given is only slightly less terrible than they usually are at this sort of event, and Ryan just slouches in his seat, discreetly tugs his tie looser and unbuttons the top of his shirt underneath it and sits back to watch everyone else make idiots of themselves on the dance floor.
It is, he will grudgingly admit, actually a nice evening, the low hum of cicadas outside a backdrop to the sun ever so slowly sinking towards the horizon and the lingering heat of the day giving him an excuse to shrug out of his jacket and hang it over the back of his chair. They've probably got at least another two hours before the dancing gets to the 'all the guys going shirtless' point, which Ryan will appreciate aesthetically while also laughing his ass off. He's a complex dude that way.
"Not gonna dance this time?" Cale asks, scooting his chair closer to Ryan's while half the table beeline back to the open bar and the other half go to see if any of the bridesmaids feel like getting hit on by hockey players. It's so familiar that Ryan could've sketched it all out in advance, and that familiarity lulls him into a false sense of security, enough that he forgets that he's only really known Cale for like a year at this point, and not the lifetime that it sometimes feels like. In the good way, of course.
"Not really my thing," Ryan says lightly. "You should, if you want."
Cale shrugs. "I'm pretty bad at it. I'd rather not have everyone looking at me, you know?"
"You look good in the spotlight, though," Ryan says, and bites his tongue.
Maybe that last glass of wine has gone to his head a little. He doesn't usually let himself be quite that honest with people, not in public. But Cale does look good with everyone's eyes on him, performs well under pressure, pulls Ryan and everyone else along in his wake and makes them all look ten times better in the process. It's kind of wild that he doesn't think that's true off the ice, too.
"I like it better when things are a bit more private," Cale says, and he doesn't break eye contact with Ryan.
Ryan's tongue feels like it's stuck to the roof of his mouth. He cannot be implying what Ryan wants so badly for him to be meaning.
Cale chews on his lower lip, and Ryan can't stop himself from watching, knows that there's no way that Cale didn't track where his gaze went, and apparently subtlety is out the window and he's just surrendering to whatever happens next. He had a good run, Ryan thinks, and tugs at his collar again.
"I don't think Julianna was flirting with me," is what Cale says next, and it's enough of a screeching subject change that it takes Ryan a moment to catch up. "But I was flirting with someone, and it wasn't Josty or EJ."
There's a roaring in Ryan's ears that sounds remarkably like the Pepsi Center in playoff overtime; expectant hushed possibility exploding into a joyous racket. He swallows hard.
Cale's still looking right into his eyes.
"Wanna go find somewhere quiet, Gravy?" Cale says, and fuck, they've all been underestimating him still. He might be half a foot shorter than Ryan, and he might be compact and relatively quiet and enough of a sweetheart that even their media team have given up on trying to get him to wind up his teammates, but when he turns the full weight of his attention onto flirting he's like a goddamn supernova.
And Ryan's absolutely going to let him burn as hot as he wants.
"Fuck yeah," Ryan says, eyes wide, heart beating twice as fast as normal, and he matches Cale's steps the whole way out of the reception and up to the hotel room that Ryan is now desperately glad he'd decided to book after all.
They get away from the crowd of people downstairs and are stuck waiting for the elevator in the brilliantly lit foyer, the doors tucked away discreetly behind some enormous potplants and a couple of decorative columns, and Ryan gives in to the urge to push his luck just a little further, turning so that he's standing right in front of Cale, right up in his space. If there was any kind of plausible deniability to what he thinks is about to happen then that's really gone by now.
"You are hitting on me, right?" Ryan says, hoping it sounds more suave than it probably does. He wishes he'd worn his glasses just for something to fiddle with, for a reason to not reach out and run his thumb along Cale's jawline, daring this touch where anyone could see them, if anyone else came along.
Cale leans into his touch, absolutely beaming, and oh, Ryan is completely sunk.
"I'm about two steps away from asking Gabe where I can order an engraved invitation just so you realize I am," Cale says, which throws a whole lot of moments earlier in the year into a new light for Ryan, and while he's taking all of that in, Cale huffs out an impatient breath and says, "Fuck, Ryan, come here already," and tugs his face down into a messy, off-balanced kiss.
Ryan gets with the program a lot faster then.
"You know," Ryan says, as the elevator doors ding open, and they break apart at last, both flushed and unsteady, Cale's mouth wet and pink and the almost complete and total focus of Ryan's attention at that point, "Your mistake was trying to talk about it first." He pauses, lets Cale step into the elevator before him and then shamelessly runs his hand down from Cale's hip to palm his ass, indulging himself completely. "I learn a lot better by doing, you should know that by now."
Cale reaches up to kiss him again, blindly poking at the button for their floor around Ryan's shoulder as he does so.
"Okay then," Cale says, "Let's go back to your room and you can do me, then."
And Ryan is absolutely fine with that play.