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Man Advantage

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* * *

They all knew what the Internet said about closed door team meetings; the assumption that someone was standing up and ripping shreds off all of them, or that maybe they were just all getting really real with each other and sharing their emotions or whatever, and Ryan would probably have been the first to admit that every other time he'd been in a situation like this—more often than he'd like in those really bad years between the playoffs, when they'd all been hurt or broken or somehow just straight up fucking cursed—he would've expected that too. That when it happened for other teams, that's what he'd think they were doing as well.

Getting on the same page.

Holding themselves accountable.

Doing something concrete to fix the issue.

He wasn't expecting—

"—you want us to have sex on the ice?" Luc asks, sounding scandalized, which has to be a lie, because Ryan was in the CHL too and he knows the Q isn't any more strait-laced than the O.

Cam mumbles something, and gets punched in the thigh by both Josh and Fliggy. Well, at least the bruises will probably match.

"I'm just saying," he says, somewhat indignantly. "It's not like we don't all know Luc and Josh are already fucking anyway."

"That's different," Josh protests. "It's not like we're doing that for everyone else to watch!”

Ryan can't help but notice Zach's ears go a little red at that point, but he’s a good teammate and he isn't going to say anything. At least, not till he gets home and it’s just him and Boone, anyway.

"Well we have to do something," Dubi says practically, as if this wasn't completely insane and it wasn't like Ryan's bar for that was particularly low. "And this can't be related to the curse, because Zach pretty much took that one for the team last year, and I saw a couple of the concession stand people sneaking around with sage after the building was closed for the night and that didn't help either."

"So…" Boone says reasonably, because he's an assistant captain (sorry, Dubi, Ryan thinks automatically, even though mind-reading is probably bullshit). But Boone’s wearing a letter, and kind of responsible, at least for things that aren't emptying the dishwasher properly or making his own bed more than once in a blue moon, and apparently someone has to say it, because he adds, "So you think the next logical step is sex magic?"

"Well it's not like hockey is working," Dubi says, and Fliggy just nods, and, horrifyingly, so does Bob. Ryan wonders, for a brief moment, if he’s hurt worse than he thought and hallucinating this whole meeting. That would almost make more sense.

"I still think we should just shoot more," Zach says, in the monotone he keeps defaulting back to whenever he doesn't have someone jabbing him in the thigh to remind him to try and at least sound like a normal human being.

This time it’s Luc who mutters something about Zach shooting more than enough and Ryan tries to make himself go temporarily deaf.

It isn't that he begrudges the kids—and god, when had he gotten old enough to start thinking of them; of Josh and Zach and Bjorky and Luc and Sonny as kids—and it isn't like he’s in any kind of position to start throwing stones about guys who are hooking up with their teammates, but—

There are some mental images he doesn't need, that’s for sure.

"I think we should set fire to the whiteboard," says Bjorky, a gleam in his eye that Ryan doesn't quite want to know any more details about.

"Yeah, and then when the whole building goes up by accident and we get laughed out of the league?" Jack points out, and Oliver subsides, although he still looks like he’s thinking about it some more. Ryan’s mostly glad that they don't have to deal with him and Bits at the same time; Bjorky always tends to show off a bit in front of Paul.

"We could sacrifice a goat, I guess?" Motte says hopefully, and Harry’s the one who elbows him in the ribs and says, "You just want an excuse for barbecue."

There’s a suspicious silence from Motter's direction at that, and Ryan isn't the only one who snorts with laughter. Even Seth does, and he’s been uncharacteristically silent during this meeting.

Not that Ryan’s overly conscious of that kind of thing, or anything.

"Anyway," Nick says, glaring at all of them and trying to drag the conversation back on track. "None of us want you to do that if you're not comfortable with it, it was just a suggestion."

"Yeah, I think we're gonna pass on that one," Josh says easily, laid back and steady as he ever is off the ice. He pats Luc's thigh calmingly, and, Ryan is interested to note, Zach's. Well, good for Andy. That was one way to avoid having to pick favorites.

"Well, if that's off the table, then all I've got is, well, whatever it was that Sedsy suggested earlier. Please tell me your one didn't involve fire," Nick says, looking hard in Sedsy's direction. Sometimes Nick is such a dad, even if he’s only four years older than Ryan.

Lukas just gives him a guileless smile. "No fire," he says, "no dead animals either, but no promises it works."

"I think we're ready to try anything at this point," Jack says, and Nick and Dubi both nod, creepily in sync, and Ryan isn't sure if that’s just another aspect of whatever imp of bad luck is currently hooked deep into their team game or just an indication they all spend way too much time together.

Probably that last one, really.

But that seems to be it, meeting-wise; there isn't exactly anything else they can say at that point, Ryan figures, and the rest of the guys seem to agree because conversation goes back to the usual pre-practice topics, the subject shelved for the time being.

* * *

Whatever Sedsy had planned, either he hadn't been able to track down the ingredients yet or it just hadn't worked, Ryan thinks, trying not to look too obviously frustrated in the pressbox as he watches another powerplay that seems to suck the life out of the building, the fans and team alike deflating as the seconds tick down.

It’s almost enough to make him reconsider that whole 'sex magic' thing. And, like, it probably doesn't need witnesses to work, right? Maybe he should just ask Fliggy what the plan had been.

It also turns out he wasn't the only one thinking along those lines.

* * *

"So this is awkward," Seth says an hour later, after he and Ryan and Boone are all back in the locker room, and everyone has their clothes on again and is pretending like it's absolutely normal that they don't make eye contact with each other.

"We thought everyone had left," Boone says, sort of apologetically.

Sort of not.

Ryan can see he's sneaking looks at Seth, trying to read his expression. Admittedly, Ryan's kind of doing the same thing.

"I did," Seth says. "But I felt like I'd forgotten something, so I…came back."

The word 'came' hangs awkwardly in the air for a moment, just a little too relevant.

"…what'd you forget?" Ryan asks, after a second. Changing the subject is probably a good idea.

"Um," Seth says, and Ryan squints at him.

Boone squeezes his hand comfortingly, and Ryan relaxes his shoulders just a little, just at that reminder that at least they're in this together.

Seth's eyes are definitely on their joined hands, and it's—obviously—not the most intimate thing he's seen them do even in the last ten minutes, but Ryan blushes again anyway.

"I, uh," Seth says, and wow, for a guy who doesn't say a lot and is pretty direct when he does speak, Seth is sure having trouble finishing his sentences. He bites his lip, which Ryan absolutely tries not to find cute, and then looks up again fast enough to catch Ryan noticing. Inexplicably, instead of looking the slightest bit fazed by that, Seth breaks into a slow grin. "That, actually," he says.

"I don't get it," Ryan says.

Seth isn't usually this fucking mysterious, and Ryan is not loving it. Boone's still tense, too, his thumb rubbing slow, silent circles over the inside of Ryan's palm, trying to calm himself and Ryan both down with that soft, easy touch.

"I like you," Seth says, simply.

Ryan's braced, waiting for the 'but', the exception, the one that's going to kick him and Boone in the teeth with how Seth was fine with them until he had to see 'that', but it doesn't come. Instead, there's just Seth, standing there tall and strong and silent, eyes dark and fixed evenly on the both of them.

And then Ryan gets it.

Boone's about a second later, and Ryan's sure of that, because he can feel the way Boone relaxes again all of a sudden, too, tension evaporating from the room like it never existed.

"Is 'you' Murrs, or…?" Boone asks, with more delicacy than Ryan thinks he'd be capable of.

Seth spends a ton of time at their place getting dinner or gaming or just hanging out; if Ryan had been guessing, before now, he'd think it's Boone that Seth likes, because Seth so clearly responds to all the same things Ryan does—the confidence, the drive, the full-throttle approach to life and enthusiasm for it all. But it's very clear, in that moment, that Seth means something bigger and much more all-encompassing.

Seth clears his throat. "Both of you? I tried not to, but, uh. I guess I'm not doing a great job of that."

"Oh," Boone says. "Well, that's lucky."

Seth blinks.

"We like you too," Ryan says, dropping Boone's hand to elbow him in the ribs. Sometimes Boone's sense for the grand gesture is a little more melodramatic than it needs to be. "Like, a lot. Like if you wanted to join in and not just accidentally watch, uh. That'd be okay."

He doesn't need to look right at Boone to confirm that; they've talked around it enough that Ryan's very sure of his ability and his right to speak for both of them in that. And Ryan has never felt lighter, less tethered to the ground and like he's about to float away on the sheer giddy joy of it all.

Seth likes them.

"Oh," Seth says. He pauses. "Well, that went better than I was expecting."

"Jonesy," Boone says, pretty impatiently for a guy who, technically speaking, got off like five minutes ago and should still be some level of post-coital, really. "Stop talking about it and come here and kiss us."

"Yeah, I can do that," Seth says, and he does.

* * *

The next team meeting they have is a lot more fun.

Well, sort of.

Nick looks pained in an entirely different fashion than he had the last time, and he doesn't seem to want to make eye contact with anyone but Bob, which is sort of their usual vibe and yet not quite in a way that even Ryan can't help noticing.

"So things have been better," Fliggy starts, which is both true and also such an understatement that Ryan is kind of awed.

"Long live the power play," Sonny mumbles, and gets immediately dog-piled by people demanding he touch wood (Josh, Seth, Bjorky) and or demanding he get fined for 'being a dumbass'. Admittedly, the latter is pretty much just Dubi, but in Ryan's opinion Dubi digging his toes in counts as a dogpile practically on its own. He digs his wallet out with minimal grumbling, anyway.

"Anyway," Nick starts again, after glaring at all of them to shut up already. "We've just gotta keep this train rolling, okay guys? And I think we can also call off any more, uh, curse breaking type activities that anyone has planned."

"Security have complained," Cam translates, smirking. "Apparently they would like to be able to walk around Nationwide again without worrying about seeing shit they can't unsee."

Ryan blinks, and scans the room to see a whole host of vaguely guilty expressions. None of them have a poker face worth a damn, except maybe Nuti and Luc, inexplicably, and they should definitely not let anyone wander off unchaperoned the next time they're in Vegas if that's true, because jeez.

"Keep it in your pants, guys," Jack translates.

"—or at least in the backseat of your cars," Cam adds cheerfully, and Ryan accidentally catches Seth's eyes and feels himself go bright pink.

When he looks over to the other side of the room, Boone is pretty much a matching color.

"Wait," Josh says, looking delighted and way too fucking observant. "When did that happen?"

At least six people say "what?" and Ryan tries to subtly hide behind Seth. God knows he's tall enough.

"Z, you knew about this?" Josh asks, zeroing in immediately on exactly the wrong person, because Zach just shrugs at him and doesn't answer.

Had that coming, Ryan thinks, but it's only a temporary reprieve.

"Use your fucking words, thanks," Wenny says, only a little sarcastic.

"Jonesy!" Josh says. "Him and Murrs just did a—thing. With their faces, and Boone looks like that—"

Boone looks mutinous, mostly, and that's more because he's almost never embarrassed and as a result hates being caught out on the incredibly rare occasions that he is. His shamelessness was practically legendary in the room before him and Ryan finally got their shit together.

"Ooh," Cam says, his gaze flicking from Seth-and-Ryan to Boone and then back again to where all the defensemen are clustered around their stalls. "I smell gossip."

"Nah, you smell Savvy's nasty feet," Jack says, which prompts a much louder and different argument in response, and honestly, Ryan is going to buy him a cake or something later. Apparently dman loyalty runs deeper than, well, letting Josh chirp them all to pieces in the middle of what's supposed to be team bonding time, at least.

Ryan gives Jack a pat on the back as he steps back towards his own stall and tries to finish getting dressed without making it obvious that he's not looking at Seth or Boone right now since apparently he can't keep a straight face either.

"Anyway," Nick says, loudly enough that it's probably not the first time, "If we're done paying too much attention to everyone's sex lives, I just wanted to say good work everyone, keep it the fuck up, let's keep this thing going. On the ice. And be glad you’re getting this from me and not Torts."

Ryan takes a moment to imagine that and it’s almost horrifying enough to distract him from the fact that half his team is probably imagining, at various degrees of accuracy, just what exactly him and Boone and Seth are.

Ryan misses having privacy, or at least the illusion of it.

Though at least when the rest of his team are being nosey assholes it's in, well, a nice way.

There are some small blessings, after all.

The rest of the room look like they're also having similar thoughts, so if what Fliggy was trying to do was to change the subject then he's succeeded for sure. None of them has said anything since either, so maybe he was a little too effective. It feels like someone needs to break the ice—so to speak—and just like the good guy in the room he's always been, that winds up being Boone, even if he's faking the assurance a little more than usual. And manfully trying to pretend like he's not the same color as their pants.

"Yeah, good talk, team," Boone says, standing up and glancing around the room, making eye contact with everyone. Well, everyone but Seth and Ryan. He's not dumb. "Now if we can all fucking go home, eh?"

Cam mumbles something in response to that which Ryan does his best not to hear, and if the look on Boone's face is any indication, he's doing the exact same thing. It seems to have done the trick, though, because the noise level in the room rises markedly again after that, guys chirping like normal and flicking tape balls at anyone who's dragging ass on getting ready, but Ryan feels a weight he'd hardly been registering that he was still carrying lift off his shoulders anyway. It feels lighter in there, like it's supposed to, the way it's felt every time they've gone on a run. He's got a good feeling about this.

Luc, who's stuck in between Fliggy and Dubi says something which gets their attention, and Ryan makes a mental note to buy the kid a beer at some point. Now that's the kind of defensive support that gets a guy Selke noms.

"Let's get out of here," Seth says quietly, now that the locker room is starting to return to normal, by which Ryan means he's mostly ignoring the way that everyone's broken off in their little cliques and is trying not to make eye contact outside of them. "I figure it's my turn to take one for the team, eh?"

Seth follows that up with a waggle of his eyebrow, just in case Ryan hadn't successfully translated his extremely high tech secret code, and Ryan gives in to his baser instincts—and to a locker room classic in its own right—and smacks him on the ass.

"You bet," Ryan says cheerfully, and like he's got radar for them, Boone's head comes up on the other side of the room and he grins, too, toothy and enthusiastic, before catching Ryan's gaze and licking his lips slow and deliberately.

Ryan's pants abruptly feel two sizes too small.

Yeah, they can definitely get the fuck out of there already.

They're probably the least subtle people in the world, Ryan thinks, as the three of them push outside the doors at the same time and head for Seth's car, as if the fact they'd all arrived together didn't mean anything more than the fact they live in the same building. It's not like they carpool with Josh and Z, either.

Then again, Ryan thinks, remembering that last team meeting, it sounds like Josh and Z are working a… three person carpool of their own.

"So do you think we really broke the curse?" Ryan asks, leaning forward from the back seat so that Seth and Boone can hear him better.

It gives him a pretty good view of Boone's hand sneaking up Seth's thigh, too. Not that Ryan can really throw any stones there; the back seat of his car has definitely seen some R-rated action of its own in the last month or so.

Boone pauses and looks back at him, and Seth glances up to catch his eyes in the rear vision mirror, and then they both shrug, with a degree of unison that would be kind of creepy if Ryan wasn't already used to how well the three of them can communicate without words.

"I dunno," Boone says eventually. "Definitely don't think it hurt, though."

"Better safe than sorry," Seth agrees.

"Teamwork makes the dream work," Boone adds, and Ryan groans and throws himself dramatically back into the seat, hand over his eyes and head tipped back onto the headrest.

"God, just take us home already," Ryan says, "before someone walks past and sees whatever you're doing up there."

"I have no idea what you're implying," Seth says, mostly because he's better at keeping a straight face than Boone is, and hasn't Ryan enjoyed finding that out.

Figuring they've sat there long enough without moving, Seth removes Boone's hand from his leg and puts the car into drive, heading back to their place at least. Ryan's more than ready to celebrate their win and the resurgence of the powerplay in significantly more privacy than they'd had in the locker room, that's for sure.

"Well, no one can say we didn't take one for the team, anyway," he says, as they pull out of the player's lot.

"One?" Boone says, in his most dad-joke worthy tone, and Ryan and Seth both groan this time, but it's not like they can argue with that.

Three's definitely the right amount of company.

[the end]