It was a common joke within the athletic community that some coaches made their players take ballet classes. Said it helped with balance and flexibility. Ryan didn’t even know if that actually happened, he just heard laughs and rumours.
From a young age, Ryan knew what he wanted. He wanted to play hockey and only hockey. He didn't want to waste his time playing soccer in the fall, lacrosse in the spring, and hockey in the winter like other kids in his class. Some of them didn’t even want to play these sports.
He had a plan at 10 years old, he was going to achieve his dream of being the best hockey player in the world.
When the jokes about ballet classes came about he was intrigued, hockey players needed to be flexible and athletic after all. So he looked it up, spending hours researching and writing notes about the different exercises and how they could help him develop his muscles better.
After stopping short of making a full presentation, Ryan took his notebook to his parents and gave them a long speech about how ballet could benefit him in the long run.
Sharing skeptical looks, his parents finally caved and signed him up for a beginner class at the community center.
His first day of classes went as well as one would think. He showed up dressed in a t-shirt and sweats, even though his mom told him to change into shorts, and offered to take him to buy ballet clothes.
He followed along with the teacher, A tall and slender woman who wore her hair up in a tight black bun. She led them through simple stretches that Ryan was used to. Although when they spent a long time going over pointed and flexed toes.
Soon though the class was led to the barre where she explained first, second, and third position. Ryan kept up as best as he could but when they were told to lift their legs in the air he noticed that he couldn’t lift his leg as high as the others.
After the class ended he was covered head to toe in sweat and his legs already starting to become sore, but he felt happier, almost lighter, than he had felt before.
He walked up to the teacher and thanked her, telling her about his hockey dreams and how the class was going to help make it happen.
The teacher just laughed and ruffled his short hair a bit, telling him to keep his eyes up and his dreams close to him.
Her words and confidence in him stayed with Ryan no matter what he did in life. She had helped him through so much for so many years. From his first performance in front of other people, to his classmates finding out about his ballet classes and making fun of him, his teacher was always there.
He was a natural, she told him, and if he wanted to he could audition for an actual ballet company and would most likely get in. Ryan had considered it for a minute, the years of dancing he had grown a fondness for it.
But his dream was hockey and it would always be hockey.
He didn't go to the audition,he went to the ice rink, laced up his skates, and tried to do the most recent choreography he had learned on his hockey skates.
It didn't go well, skates unable to move and glide the right way his feet could. His teacher had suggested figure skates, but after face planting three times in a row, he stuck with his hockey skates. With perseverance and translation, he managed to pull off the choreography, stepping off the ice with a grin.
When he was drafted to the Rangers, he sent a letter to his teacher, thanking her for everything she had done for him and asking if she had connections in New York where he could continue with his classes. She responded quickly, putting him in touch with a few companies he could practice with, and a school he could attend.
While he spent a few years in New York, had a good base with the friends he made both on the team and in the small ballet school he signed up for, he never really felt rooted .
Back home everyone knew about his love for ballet, they let him talk for hours about being on the ice and being on stage. He knew who he could talk to without being laughed at for doing such a girly thing, discounting the amount of work ballerinas and ballerinos put in everyday.
But in New York, he had no one like that on the team. He kept his love for ballet hidden from his teammates, having to say no to outings when he had class, never really opening up.
Maybe that’s why when he was traded it didn't bother him that much. He knew that he was a decent defenseman, that he could really contribute to a team if they would give him a chance, and that he hadn’t put any roots down. No partner, no kids, just an apartment and some plants.
When the plane touched down in Colorado, a welcome text from the captain on his phone, he was determined to put some roots down, become a household name.
He was going to make friends with the team, he was going to be a key piece, he was going to enjoy his time on the team, and he was going to be himself .
“How are you so goddam flexible, Gravy?” EJ’s voice rang out from across the weight room.
Ryan looked up from where he was sitting on the floor, legs spread out in a front split with his chest resting on the ground and his hands out in front of him. “Um… I don't know, I just….stretched a lot as a kid, I guess.”
He didn't want to admit to Erik that he had seen the girls in his classes as a teen, lifting their legs over their heads in a perfect straight line. Didn't want to say how jealous he was and how he would spend hours stretching until he was finally able to do a proper split.
“You’re more flexible than I am,” Grubi says from his spot, “And that's saying something.”
Ryan just shrugged his shoulders and stood up. If he had a curious audience, he was going to show off a bit. He repositioned himself and let his legs slide slowly out into a front split, lowering himself until he hit the ground, from there he leaned forward and let his head rest against his front leg.
He looked up with a smile, seeing Erik’s eyes and mouth wide with shock. “Holy shit.” He said before clapping slowly.
Ryan grinned even harder when the others in the room began to clap along too. He got up from his split and gave an over the top bow to Erik before heading out.
While the guys didn't know about his dancing, he still was able to use some of his skills to his advantage.
He already loved being on the Avs so much more than New York. They were a good group of guys who didn't seem like the most stereotypical hockey guys, which he could appreciate.
Ryan was collecting his things to leave when Cale came up to him and asked him something simple that would change everything. “Can you teach me how to do that?”
“The split thing you did earlier, can you teach me how to do it?” Cale asked, his cheeks turning redder than normal.
“It's not something you can really ‘learn’ you just gotta practice it,” Ryan answered with a light laugh, “but I can give you some pointers if you want?”
Cale nodded enthusiastically, and they were off. They went back to Ryan's apartment where he explained the proper ways to stretch and how a beginner should start off when trying to do the splits. The last thing Ryan wanted was Cale on the IR.
They spent a few hours talking about stretching and how it helps Ryan on the ice. Eventually they made their way to the couch, turning on a movie and just relaxing with each other and some takeout from Cale as ‘payment’ (Cale insisted).
Unable to decide what to watch, they ended up watching a Disney movie, but not one of the more popular ones. It was the one with the Rock in it. About a football player whose long lost daughter shows up and turns his world upside down.
They were watching the scene where the Rock’s character is convinced into joining the ballet school's performance by the teacher when Cale speaks up. “Do you think that ballet actually helps you?”
Ryan looked at Cale for a second, trying to see if his expression gave anything away, it didn't. “Um...maybe, I don't really know.”.
Cale wouldn't let it go though, “Some guys I played with in school would make fun of the dancers in our grade, said it wasn't a real sport.”
“Well I wouldn't say that…” Ryan trailed off, about to say how much work they do, but Cale wasn’t done
“One time there was this kid, in the grade below, he was a dancer and my teammates made his life hell.”
Ryan wanted to say something again, but Cale still kept talking, almost a tangent, “I always wanted to speak up, tell the guys off for picking on him but I never did,” Cale was looking at the screen intensely, “Didn't have to though, the guy got fed up one day and kicked one of them right in the balls, hard. Fell straight to the floor and they left him pretty much alone after that. He also did a pretty sick jump as he left,”
This was his chance Ryan realized. He could come clean to Cale about his ballet. He would finally be able to share the other part of him with someone. Cale would understand, he wouldn't judge him.
But the words wouldn't come out. It was like his brain was blocking him from speaking even though he wanted to.
Silence filled the room once more as the movie came to a close, the Rock choosing his daughter over the endorsement deal. It was a sweet movie, very much a Disney movie.
Cale got up and bid Ryan goodnight before leaving Ryan sitting on his couch as the credits played.
Ryan was left there with his thoughts. Thinking about Cale’s story, about the kid who danced at his school. That could've easily been him. Thinking about how he couldn’t make the words come out.
Although by the time he had made it to high school he towered over his classmates so anyone who would've tried to make fun of him were too scared to do so.
A few days later he was still going back and forth in his head about telling Cale, but had yet to come to a decision. On one hand he'd be able to share a part of himself that he had hidden from his teammates for years. On the other hand how was he supposed to know that Cale would keep his secret? He trusted Cale of course, knew that he was a good guy but the lingering fear just couldn't seem to leave him. If MacKinnon asked Cale, he would crumble in a second. Not that Ryan could blame him.
He almost got caught the other day at a team bonding night at Gabe’s. He was putting his gear into the trunk of his car when Erik came up to invite Ryan.
Erik was in the middle of talking about what Ryan should bring for the potluck when he paused, “What's that?” He asked.
Ryan followed where Erik was looking and his eyes widened. Right there next to his gear bag was his dance bag. It was opened and a pair of his black flats was sticking out just slightly.
“I...” He stuttered, trying to find an explanation when Erik just shook his head, and continued talking about food. They shared a few more words, Ryan agreeing to grab some dessert from the store before Erik walked off.
Ryan got into his car and let out a shaky breath. He took a few deep calming breaths, trying to get his heart to stop beating so fast.
He didn't think that this would affect him so much. Thought that he had gotten over his fear of people finding out. But that seemed to be wrong. He knew how cruel people could be when someone was different, and while his teammates all seemed like good guys on the surface, there could be more hidden underneath. The NHL was a rough place for people who stepped over The Line and were Different.
Ryan arrived at Gabe’s with a tray of cupcakes, his run-in with Erik earlier forgotten. He knocked on the door and was greeted by an already tipsy Josty. “Gravy! My guy, you’re here!”
As Ryan walked in, Josty yelled back into the room, “Guys, Gravy’s here!”
A small cheer came from inside and they both laughed. Placing the cupcakes onto the table with the other food, he grabbed a drink and joined everyone in the living room.
He looked around at the guys, most in their own little conversations. Gabe was holding court on the side with Nate and Tyson, and the rookie house on the other side looking like they were plotting something that Ryan definitely planned to ignore. He looked around some more before spotting Cale, standing with Erik and Sam.
Ryan took a sip of his drink before walking over. When he reached the group, Cale looked up at him and flashed him a smile which Ryan returned just as big.
They were talking about Erik’s horses when Ryan felt Cale lean against him a little bit. Ryan looked down at him, his cheeks red showing that the alcohol was getting to him a bit.
“You good bud?” Ryan asked with a laugh.
Cale grinned up at him, “I'm doing great, Sam made me a drink and it tastes great.”
Ryan raised an eyebrow at that. He took the drink out of Cale’s hand and tried it himself. He coughed for a second, the vodka burning his throat.
“Sam, did you put anything other than vodka in this?”
“I added some beer.” Sam responded, still engrossed in the conversation about Erik’s horses, something about shoes?.
Ryan rolled his eyes and wrapped an arm around Cale’s shoulders, “Let's get you some fresh air buddy.” He said before leading him out onto Gabe’s deck.
Ryan closed the door behind them while Cale wandered over to the edge of the deck, leaning against the wall and looking out into the yard, his eyes close as he feels the wind against him.
“Careful there, don't want to fall off.” Ryan said with a laugh.
“You’d catch me,” Cale said back, eyes opening, “Wouldn't you?”
They let silence wash over them once more, the sound of their teammates shouting fading into the background.
“Hey Ry?” Cale whispered.
Ryan looked down at Cale only to find that he was already looking back at him.
“I’m really glad you’re here.”
“Of course, Caler wouldn't miss a team night.”
Cale shook his head and reached out and grabbed Ryan’s arm. “No, I…” He paused trying to get the words right.
“It's like, when you, when you find that person who just gets you , on and off the ice.” Cale said, his other hand gesturing around them. “You’re my best friend Ry.”
“I think you've had enough to drink tonight bud.” Ryan said, his face heating up from Cale’s words.
“Am I your best friend?” Cale asked, staring up at Ryan with the biggest puppy eyes Ryan had ever seen.
Ryan reached out and poked Cale’s cheek, “Yes, you’re my best friend Cale.”
But instead of smiling and swatting his hand away, Cale pushed into Ryan’s finger, staring intently at Ryan, his eyes clear, looking stone cold sober. Ryan’s finger moved to almost cup Cale’s cheek, and Cale smiled a bit at that. Cale leaned up slowly, his eyes flicking back and forth between Ryan’s eyes and lips.
“Cale,” Ryan whispered, not pulling back, not leaning in. Caught in the middle, which was a good way to describe his life, how he felt about Cale.
“I really like you, Ryan.” Cale put his hands on Ryan’s hips as he leaned up to connect their lips.
Ryan sighed into the kiss, his other hand around Cale’s back, pulling him flush.
He let himself get lost in the kiss, getting lost in Cale for as long as he could before he eventually pulled away.
He lent his forehead on Cale’s, both of them smiling softly at each other.
“What was that for?” Ryan asked, eventually breaking their little bubble.
Cale shrugged at him and smiled back, “You looked like you needed it.”
Ryan let out a surprised laugh at that and lent in to peck Cale’s lips again. “I did. Go out with me,”
Cale nodded, they got lost in each other's eyes again before a loud bang came from inside, destroying their fairy tale moment and bringing them back to Gabe’s party.
Ryan turned towards the door, pulling Cale inside with him, leaving the bubble that they were in to return to their normal world.
After that night Ryan had never felt lighter. He and Cale had gone on a date the next day. A little hole in the wall restaurant that Tyson had told them about. They talked all throughout the meal about anything and everything.
After that Ryan dropped Cale back off at the Calvert’s where he was staying for the season. They shared a collection of goodbye kisses, with promises of more and more.
It had been three blissful months of them being together, finding time between games and practices to just learn more about each other.
Ryan had never felt more happy in his life. There was something about Cale that just made him feel safe, as if there wasn't anything that could pop the lovesick bubble that they found themselves in. But Ryan knows himself, he knew that the other shoe was going to drop soon and when it did he just hoped that he and Cale would make it out okay.
And when the other shoe finally did drop, it dropped just as hard as Ryan thought. It wasn't even his fault really, his mom had sent him some stuff she found in his old room back at home, thinking that she was doing the right thing.
Of course Ryan doesn't blame her or anything. If anything he enjoyed looking back on his old performance pictures, seeing a few medals from the few competitions he actually went to.
She even sent him a copy of his senior year performance of the nutcracker where he was the nutcracker himself. It was one of his favorite dances, feeling light and floaty the whole time.
But when reminiscing on the past and being lost in the world of Cale he forgot momentarily about the real world.
It happened when Gabe told Ryan he was the next host of the team bonding night. Everyone had to do it, Gabe said, and Ryan did love when the team got together. It made him feel like he was a part of something special.
He went deep into planning, organizing food and drinks, made sure there were plenty of painkillers for his teammates when they woke up hungover, he got all his movies out and he was ready for the party.
The night of the party arrived, Ryan checked to make sure everything was ready. It was. The guys started piling into his apartment, most of them on time. All of them greeted Ryan, putting the food they brought with the rest. Ryan started mingling, making sure everyone was comfortable and had what they needed.
He was talking to Barb’s when he heard music start playing in the living room. His eyes widened when he realized what the music was from. He rushed into the room in time to see everyone standing around the screen, Nate holding the remote in his hand.
He watched in horror as he saw himself on the screen, wearing that dumb mask on his head as the other guys started to laugh around him.
He watched in fear as the next scene came up. This was the part where he no longer had the mask on, it was just going to be him and everyone was going to see.
Ryan felt Cale slip in next to him. Cale reached out and squeezed his hand tightly. When Ryan came on screen the room fell silent as everyone began to recognize him.
He wanted nothing more than to run and hide at that moment. Gabe was looking at him with pitying eyes, Tyson looked shocked, Erik was doing a terrible job of hiding his smirk. Everyone else just seemed uncomfortable.
Somehow he managed to unfreeze, rushing forward and yanking the remote out of Nate's hand and turning the tv off as fast as he could.
Ryan stood there with his back turned to his team, his hands shaking in fear. He figured that if he didn't turn around then it never happened.
He wasn’t sure who would throw the first stone. He prayed Cale stayed quiet. He didn’t know if he could handle rejection from him.
“What bet did you lose, Gravy?” Erik said, finally breaking the silence.
That set the rest of the guys off. Laughing and poking fun at his costume, hair, the tights. Ryan tried to calm down, tried to get his emotions in order but he just couldn't.
He could feel tears threatening to spill out and he was not about to cry in front of his team.
“Where's your tutu Ry?” someone called out.
“Give us a prance Gravy!” someone else said.
More jabs and jokes were thrown out. Each one cutting deeper than the rest. His biggest fear was coming true, everyone was laughing at him. He thought he'd be able to handle it but his skin wasn't as thick as he thought it was.
“I'm just gonna...you guys can show yourselves out…” Ryan forced out.
He walked slowly to his room and sat down on the bed. He brought his hands to his hair, gripping the strands tightly, his breath was ragged and he finally felt tears start to drip down his face.
He didn't know how long he sat there staring at the ground in front of him. He was startled out of his trance by a hand running through his hair.
He knew that hand. Knew the way the fingers moved.
Ryan looked up through his fingers to see Cale looking down at him, his eyes filled with sadness and pity.
Ryan reached out and wrapped his arms around Cale’s waist, burying his face in his stomach. Cale carded his fingers through Ryan's hair, trying his best to calm him down.
“I made everyone leave, didn't feel like partying anymore.” Cale whispered into Ryan's hair.
Ryan nodded, slowly pulling himself away from Cale so that he could sit down next to him.
“Why didn't you tell me Ry?” Cale asked.
Ryan shrugged, not able to look Cale in the eyes, “I wanted too, I was just afraid.”
“You can trust me though.” Cale urged.
“I know, I know I can, it's just that…” Ryan paused, trying to word it right, “I just didn't want everyone to laugh at me, didn't want another thing to make me different in their eyes… and…
Cales eyes widened slightly, finishing for Ryan, “And that's exactly what they did. Assholes. I promise you Ryan, I am by your side, dancing when you were younger doesn't change anything about you.”
“I still do it.” Ryan whispered.
Ryan swallowed, “I still dance, nothing like I used to but I go to classes whenever I can.” He confessed.
“Still doesn't change a thing I promise you,” Cale tried to reassure him, “Besides, they saw how upset you got, I’m sure it’ll all blow over by practice tomorrow.”
Ryan sighed, hoping Cale was right. They got under the covers of the bed, Cale still holding Ryan close to him.
Ryan closed his eyes and tried to sleep but all he could hear was the guys laughing at him. It was a restless night for Ryan and all Cale could do was hold him tight and hope he was right.
Ryan walked into the rink with Cale at his side. He tried to keep his face calm and his head up, but dread was filling him from head to toe.
They walked in at the same time but Cale had to split off right before the locker room to talk to the medical team.
When Ryan entered the room the conversations didn't stop exactly but they did get a bit quieter.
He ignored everyone and made his way to his stall. He paused and stared at the pictures taped across it.
Dozens of pictures of ballerinas with his face photoshopped on them was what he was met with. He forced a laugh out and turned to the room where everyone was looking at him.
He tried to smile but was sure it resembled a grimance more, “Good one you guys.” is all he could say before tearing the pictures down and suiting up for practice.
This went on for weeks. Ryan would come into the rink to find his stall vandalized with all kinds of cruel dance themed ‘jokes' ', every time he would pretend that it didn't affect him as much as it did.
He stopped going out with the team as much, trying to distance himself from them. He didn't actually know who was behind the pranks but he wasn't sure if he wanted to find out.
He stopped going to his classes, not able to find the motivation to go. Instead he watched home videos and did old routines in the privacy of his own home.
He even tried to pull away from Cale, as much as it pained him he felt that he had to. That he would end up hurt again if he didn't.
Cale was persistent however. He would show up at Ryan's apartment with food or movies, ready to lend a shoulder or hug if needed. He would sit on the couch while Ryan ran through his stretches, clapped at the end of short spurts of dances that he went through. He even made them watch that performance of the nutcracker that started this whole mess.
“I don't know what to do anymore” Ryan confessed one night while they were cuddling on the couch.
Cale made a questioning noise, running his hand through Ryan's hair.
Ryan snuggled deeper into Cale, his head on his shoulder. “I just...I don't feel comfortable here anymore.”
Cale sighed sadly, “I'm so sorry, I wish I could do more for you.”
Ryan shook his head, grabbing one of Cales hand and pulling it close, “You’ve done so much for me by just being here, I wouldn't have lasted this long if it weren't for you.”
“When the offseason comes,” Ryan trailed off, he already made his decision but he didn't know how to tell his boyfriend, “I'm not coming back next season.”
Cale froze, “Are...are you sure?” he asked quietly.
“I am. I've thought about it for a long time and I love it here, I love being here with you but… I can't handle it anymore, the jokes, the jabs, the backhanded compliments, I just need a fresh start.”
Ryan looked up at Cale, tears welling up. Ryan sat up and brought his hands up to hold Cales face close to him.
“What does that mean for us?” Cale asked as tears started to fall.
Ryan placed a soft kiss to Cales forehead, “Nothing if you want, I love you Cale and I want to be with you no matter what.”
Cale let out a tearful laugh, “I love you too. And we will work this out I promise.”
That night they spent every second together, not separating for anything, just lost in love and each other.
When the offseason came Ryan talked to the front office and soon the news of his trade made its way through the team.
Many were confused considering the fact that he signed a three year contract last season. He answered everyone's questions to the best of his ability, not quite saying what the real reason for the trade was. He didn't tell anyone that he had requested a trade, instead playing it off like a shock like everyone else.
The day before he was to fly out to New Jersey Cale planned a date for the whole day. They went to as many places as they could.
The day ended at the same restaurant where they had their first date. Ryan laughed as Cale brought out a small red bag filled with devils themed items including a bernie stuffed animal wearing a devils jersey.
Moving into his new apartment was strange. It was pristine white, a direct contrast to his own in Denver. He walked around a bit before going out onto the balcony, taking in the view of his new home. There was a text on his phone from his new captain Nico, welcoming him to the team and offering to show him around.
He had similar texts from PK Subban, also saying that he now had babysitting duties now that he was one of the older guys on the team, that made him laugh.
He had come to Jersey a few weeks before camp started mainly to settle in but also to try a new studio. He had once again reached out to his former instructor asking for a studio and she had sent him one that was smaller and more discreet. A place where he could rent out private time if he wanted.
He walked into the small studio, his bag slung over his shoulder. He looked around and paused.
In the center of the room, standing in a small group was Nico and a few of the other Devil’s players.
He cautiously walked up, trying not to freak out. When he reached the group Nico looked up at him with a surprised look on his face.
“Oh Ryan! I didn't realize someone invited you, welcome!”
Ryan tilted his head in confusion, “invited? No, I came here on my own.”
“Oh! That's great, we have a weekly session here for the beginner class, Jack told us about it.” Nico explained, motioning to the infamous Jack who was stretching on the ground in a split, although it wasn't as wide as a seasoned dancer.
“I used to dance when I was little and thought it would be a good bonding exercise!” Jack called out from the ground, beaming up at Ryan.
Ryan laughed and joined in on the conversation, introducing himself to the others that were close by. He warmed up and slid into a split like Jack, only his was deeper and wider than Jack’s. The other guys started to laugh but not at Ryan.
They laughed at Jack who was pouting, joking about how he was supposed to be the best one there and now he had competition.
After the class he returned to his apartment with new numbers in his phone and multiple invites to dinners, lunches and more.
He called Cale as soon as he made it inside. When Cale answered Ryan started gushing about his new teammates about how he found them randomly at the dance class.
He talked for a long time, feeling lighter than ever, wanting to share his happiness with the man he loved who was in a whole other state.
On the other side of the phone Cale was sitting in the basement of the Calvert’s house in his room. Smiling at his boyfriend's words, feeling his joy. He was going to miss being next to Ryan so much but he knew that he was happy.
He knew that Ryan could finally be himself and he couldn't be happier for him.