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It's Always Midnight Somewhere

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"The thing is," Luc says, and she's drunk, which is funny because Ryan doesn't remember anyone actually giving the—okay, not a rookie anymore, but definitely still underage—anyway, Ryan doesn't remember anyone actually giving Luc a beer or maybe four, but she's definitely a little drunk.

If anything about Luc can be described as 'little', which is a stretch.

Anyway, she's leaning on Boone, which is adorable, because Jenns is normally an inch shorter than Luc is and half an inch shorter than Ryan, not that she'll admit it, except Luc's wearing heels because she hasn't totally bought in to the whole 'fuck the patriarchy' thing enough yet to refuse to wear anything but flats.

Not that Ryan's not sitting there wearing floral Docs, or anything.

But Luc in heels is a good four inches taller than Jenns, and they're both built; all muscle and solid mass and honestly Ryan's just glad they're both on her team because she doesn't even want to think about trying to get either of them off the puck, it's bad enough when they have battle drills in practice.

But Luc is definitely listing, and Jenns isn't exactly holding her own liquor much better—Ryan saw at least three tequila shots and that was just when she was looking—and honestly, Ryan's not super sure any of them are making it to midnight.

Which is a shame, because she'd like someone to kiss at midnight and even though they'd probably all laugh it off after, at least pretty much every woman on the team would be down for a New Years kiss if Ryan wanted one.

Well, the not-married ones would be, at least.

Fliggy and Janelle are all snuggled up in a corner with Bobs and her wife, which is cute as hell, and honestly props to them for not deciding they were too old for this whole post-game bar scene to start with. They might go out with the team more than Ryan does, come to think of it.

Ryan sometimes feels like she's secretly forty years old already or something, but part of that's the broken bones—it gets cold in Columbus in winter and sometimes her foot just aches—and part of that's the fact that she's just not all that daring, not really.

So maybe she wouldn't actually try to kiss one of her teammates at midnight.

It's still pretty fun to imagine.

"—and I think it's a good idea, anyway," Luc finishes up.

Ryan's not sure whether she should agree, since she zoned out in the middle of all that.

Generally speaking, Luc has good ideas; she's grounded and mature and fits right in with the rest of them, but she's also a hockey bro down to her bones and that means the sort of ideas that sound good three drinks in while you're surrounded by teammates sometimes end up in broken sofa beds and noise control ordinance violations and if you're really unlucky, both.

And while the league pays decently these days, it's still not enough money that they wouldn't all miss a couple hundred dollars if they had to pay out fines or security deposits.

Ryan's not exactly the designated sensible and mostly-sober person, but she keeps sliding into that role anyway.

"C'mon Murr, do a shot with me!" Jonesy carols, draping herself over Ryan's back to interrupt them all, and there's a lot of Jonesy and she's warm, and Ryan is only human, so she just says, "Sure" and takes the shot glass as it's offered.

It has something green in it, with a layer of what looks like cream on top, and Ryan eyes it suspiciously for a second. All the side-eye in the world isn't going to get her out of downing it though. The one saving grace, probably, is that Jonesy has too much taste to drink any of the truly vile options that come in 'alcoholic green', so it's probably just apple schnapps or Midori.

Seth lets go of her and steps up close enough to bump shoulders. They're hockey players, after all; this kind of thing is basically hard-coded into their DNA by the time they're in peewees: expressing friendship by shoving each other around and teasing, showing affection with pranks and casual touches and loaned headbands and stealing each other's stick tape.

If Ryan's teammates weren't roasting her at least every other day it'd be a sign something was wrong, and she gives it right back to them, too.

"Cheers," she says, and knocks the rim of her shot glass against the one Seth's holding, gently, just enough that she can feel the vibration through her fingertips although she can't hear it over the noise of the bar around them.

"Wait, I have a toast," Jonesy says, and gives her a broad grin, and Ryan's stomach flips again and she hopes it's not obvious on her face.

She's not drunk or sober enough to deal with the way Jonesy's attention gives her butterflies, it's honestly unfair of the universe to expect Ryan to deal with so many attractive women all the time, like: cut her a break already, okay.

"To blocking shots, and taking shots, and scoring in the New Year!"

Jonesy pitches her voice a little louder so Ryan can hear her clearly and Ryan's not the only one, either—Luc's ears must have pricked up at that, because she drags Boone closer to them. Both of them are teetering a little, although now they're closer Ryan's not so sure after all that Jenns is all that drunk. Jenns mostly looks smug about how her arm's slung low around Luc's hip, and she's definitely appreciating the eye-level view of Luc's v-neck.

Not that Ryan can't also appreciate that, but that's not the point.

"Hey, we can drink to that too," Luc insists, and she makes grabby hands in Seth's direction, looking around to see if there's somehow any more shots at hand.

"Pretty sure you're supposed to be drinking cokes," Jonesy says, raising an eyebrow.

Luc gives her full-on puppy-dog eyes, licks her lips—pink tongue, red lips, and very white teeth, and honestly she's just unfair, Ryan is pretty sure she can guess just exactly how Luc has managed to get drinks all night so far after all. And it's working again, too—Jonesy reaches back towards the bar and holds up two fingers for the bartender, collecting another two shots that she somehow picks up along with hers—it doesn't look like she's spilled a drop, talk about good hands.

(Ryan's definitely had a lot of thoughts about Jonesy's hands, and not just about how they're why she's leading the NWHL in points for defenders, and is third on the Kelpies overall. Some of those thoughts have definitely been the after midnight, glad she doesn't share a room at home with Boone type of thoughts. But Ryan's soft as hell for her team, and she knows it.)

"Right, okay, everything Jonesy just said," Boone says, almost solemnly, and they manage a four-way cheers that only tips a little of the booze over the rim of the glasses, sticky alcohol dripping down onto Ryan's wrist before they all throw back their shots.

Ryan swallows fast enough that she hardly even gets a taste, the liquor burning down the back of her throat with only the faintest hint of melon.

That seems safe enough, so she licks the remnants out of the glass before setting it down on the table beside them. And then she focuses enough to see not just Jonesy but also Luc and Jenns staring at her.

Ryan goes red, and wishes for the thousandth time that she could be one of those women who doesn't blush the world's most obvious embarrassed pink at the slightest provocation; it's hard to play anything off when people on the moon can tell that you're flustered.

Jenns and Jonesy exchange a look that Ryan can't read at all, and she feels left out for a moment—Jenns has been her best friend since they made the Kelpies, and Ryan can count on the fingers of one hand how many times she's been totally clueless about whatever's on Boone's mind.

And she doesn't like adding to that score.

Before that feeling can really settle, Jenns straightens up—and suddenly Luc isn't having as much trouble staying upright as she was before either, and Ryan thinks to herself, "Oh, is that that's happening?" and gets thoroughly distracted in trying to work out how much to chirp both of them about this later.

If Luc and Boone want to get all up on each other and maybe make out, that's fine, it's not like they'd be the first intra-team hook-up or even close to the last; this isn't Ryan's first rodeo, or more accurately, not exactly her first non-designated team sport filled with queer women. Ryan would still play roller derby every off-season if her contract didn't explicitly forbid it, thanks.

But really, Ryan thinks, they should just use their words like grownups if that's what they want, instead of pretending to be drunker than they really are and getting handsy with plausible deniability.

(No one's ever said Ryan is any good at listening to her own advice.)

"Wait, we forgot something," Jenns says, and Ryan shifts her weight, tilts her head to one side and waits to hear it.

Boone's eyes are glittering in the shifting lights, greener than usual, and Ryan swallows hard.

"Oh no, don't say it," Luc says, familiarly morose, and that's what makes it click for Ryan, too. The thing they're all being too fucking superstitious about, and that's probably making it worse than it would be anyway. It's the very definition of a no-win situation, except somehow—thank god—they are still winning without it.

"Fuck the power play," Ryan says, fervently, and she crosses her fingers behind her back that there's no way coach could've wound up at the bar to hear her say it. They're all thinking it, anyway, she knows that much.

"It worked out okay the other day," Seth says, trying to be positive about it, except, "—yeah, cos they gave Cam a penalty shot," Luc argues, and none of them have anything to say to that.

"Okay, you're right, I do want another drink now," Ryan says eventually, and this time she goes to the bar, hands over her card and comes back with a tray of mojitos. They've hit hard liquor and there's no going back to beer now even if any of them wanted to; Ryan's done that sandwich and paid the price for it before.

She pauses for a second before handing Luc a drink but fuck it, everyone but Jonesy's Canadian anyway and Luc's been legal to drink back home for years. Ryan's not going to feel bad about letting herself do something daring for once.

Luc gives her a sweet grin and then tosses the drink back in one long go, her throat working in a way that makes Ryan feel overheated in her plaid shirt, like she was still wearing the coat she'd left by the door. Ryan shifts again, and raises a hand to tug a button on her shirt undone. It's almost the New Year, it's getting warmer by the minute in the bar, and she's at least three buttons away from being indecent in public. Well, two. Ryan's not exactly stacked, but she's also not wearing a lot under the shirt, and probably it would be bad if she flashed half of downtown Columbus just because she's having some impulse control issues.

Everyone else is working on their drinks more slowly, and Ryan's just glad to have something to do with her hands, shoving the straw around in the crushed ice. The glass is cool, just starting to get slippery with condensation, and Ryan kinda wants to hold it up against her face just to cool off with. She can't quite bring herself to do that in public, though. Team parties are one thing; team parties in public are a whole different thing. She's already wound up deleting instagram a couple times this year.

"I've been thinking," Seth says, and Ryan's leaning in to hear her better before she can stop herself; eyes flickering from Seth's warm brown eyes down to her mouth, drawn back up again by the way the deep blue streak in her hair picks up the light, echoing the abstract wave pattern in her side shave.

A bunch of the girls had gotten their hair done before the Christmas break; half for the holiday season and half just to make a change, hoping it'd turn into some better luck on the ice. Ryan's seen weirder shit happen. She hadn't bothered with dye herself, mostly out of a desire to go a season without accidentally dying her own pillowcases different colors for once, or at least until the playoffs, but she'd definitely been tempted to follow Dubi's lead and get a mohawk. Maybe after her hair grew out a little more.

Jonesy was snapping her fingers in front of Ryan's face, and Ryan blinked, leaning back reflexively.

"Earth to Murr?" Seth says. "You in?"

Ryan really has to stop zoning out.

"In for what?" she asks, cautious as ever. Ryan likes to know the ground is steady enough to hold her up before she steps out onto it.

"We're gonna go back to my place and do a New Year's bonfire thing, you know, write down what we want for the New Year and then toss it into the fire to seal it."

"I don't think that's how bonfire rituals work," Ryan says, dubious. She's seen enough 90s sitcom re-runs in hotels from Connecticut to Burbank to have a vague idea of what Seth's getting at, though. "Wait, are you going now? Don't you guys want to do the whole, um, counting down till midnight thing here?"

Boone gives her a sharp look. "You got your eye on someone for midnight, Ry?"

Ryan's not sure where to look, which is probably a dead giveaway as far as those things go.

"I'm easy?" she jokes, which has the benefit of being true, sort of, and also self-deprecating enough that maybe they'll all just laugh and let her get away with it.

"Mmm," Boone says, and unease trickles through Ryan's stomach, because she can't read that tone, either.

It's bad enough being helplessly into Seth; Seth's gorgeous and one of the coolest, most devastatingly attractive people that Ryan's ever met. And Luc's hot too; all strong muscles and genuine warmth and a smile that lights up her face, kind eyes and a generous mouth that Ryan wants to taste. But if she lets herself look at Boone the same way; to notice how her best friend has a grin that gives Ryan a whole swarm full of butterflies in her stomach, that she's whip-smart and fun and so incredibly determined, and fundamentally incapable of doing anything but throwing herself in headfirst and a hundred percent…

Well, then Ryan really would be sunk. Because you can tell your best friend she has a great ass and loan her jeans that fit her thighs like a second skin and you can even tell her that her bra is cute, because that's just being friends and having eyes, but you can't—

You can't go back to that after hooking up. Not without some major rearrangements of the way you see your relationship. And it's twice as hard if you already live together.

And the worst part is, Ryan's about two seconds away from deciding for sure that she doesn't care about any of those facts.

The smart thing to do, really, is to try and get Seth alone and see if she's actually flirting the way Ryan wants her to be, because Seth might be Ryan's D partner most of the time and it would really suck if they fell out, but even that feels safer than upending the relationship she's depended on the most in the past couple of years.

And if she comes home to hear Luc's voice echoing through the wall from Boone's room, well, Ryan will just figure out how to deal with that if and when it happens.

So maybe New Years resolutions aren't a bad idea after all.

Ryan looks around the bar again, more carefully this time.

Zach and Andy are curled up together in one of the booths, which shouldn't work because neither of them is exactly tiny, and yet it is, go figure.

Olly and Duke are sitting at the bar, deep in conversation, and she almost misses Nuti beside them. Her hair's piled up under the Kelpies cap she's wearing, and it's only the familiar logo that catches Ryan's eye before she can place her by the set of her shoulders and the shape of her arms, silhouetted by the light-up North High Brewing sign on the wall behind her.

The married couples are still mostly just chatting to each other, spread out over a couple of tables. Cam's sitting at the end of a bench along the wall, running her fingers through Nat's hair where she's laid down with her head in Cam's lap; they have to be tired as hell with a newborn at home, but they're out with the team tonight at least, and Ryan has to give them credit; they're probably going to last longer than she is on that whole staying out and partying thing.

Over by the door, Alex and Felicia are deep in conversation with a blonde woman who looks a lot like—well, Ryan's not going to get into that one, nope.

But she can see all of their team as she glances around, and everyone looks happy and engaged in what they're doing, and no one's really going to miss them if they duck out now, so… why not?

"Actually, yeah," Ryan says, and stands up, patting her pockets to check she's still got her phone and her wallet, the only things she bothers to take out when they're at home in Ohio. "I'm in."

"Well then," Luc says, pulling her phone out of her bra—not that Ryan's judging, they've all been there—and opening up Lyft. "Let's go."

* * *

The four of them pile into the car when it arrives, concluding a silent conversation conducted entirely with their eyebrows that leaves Luc in the front seat and the rest of them trying to fit three hockey asses into the back seat of a Jetta.

At least they're all very good friends already, Ryan thinks, as she tries not to grope Seth by accident looking for the seat belt. She's not sure how she wound up in the middle, other than maybe the half an inch that Boone claims to have on her, or maybe just the fact she's less likely to argue about it.

…it's almost definitely that last one, probably.

And it's not that she's complaining about the experience of being jammed in between Seth and Boone, their thighs warm against hers, Seth's arm slung along the back of the seat and effectively across her shoulders, fingertips just brushing the back of Boone's neck, playing idly with the fine hair there. In her peripheral vision, Ryan can see Boone shiver almost imperceptibly, and she bites the inside of her lip.

The car turned up quick enough that none of them had time to get cold waiting outside, and the heater's cranked enough that Ryan's sweating through her coat, wishing she'd worn fewer layers. Wondering how much of a wreck she must look—sweaty, pink, just tipsy enough to know it won't take much to set her off into helpless laughter—takes up all of Ryan's attention, and she's grateful to tumble out of the car by the time they arrive without having said or done anything to make herself feel more self-conscious than she already does.

They all troop upstairs to Seth's apartment, and when Ryan digs her phone out of her pocket to check the time, they've got… about ten minutes.

"C'mon," Seth says, and they all kick their shoes off into a pile by the door, and Ryan's not the only one who gets a little pinker in the cheeks as Luc slips her heels off and makes a low, satisfied murmur of appreciation before wiggling her toes into the soft rug Seth has in the hall.

Ryan's still fighting with her laces, so arguably she's the worst off of all of them, but it doesn't stop her from chirping.

"You could just wear normal shoes," Ryan points out, peeling her right boot off at last.

Luc shrugs at her. "I like shoes," she says, and Ryan's seen Luc's closet—both in the insta live clip the Kelpies' social media team did about her shoe collection, and in person when she was still living with Savvy and her family, and that's an understatement to say the least.

"You like being tall," Boone says, smirking, as if she's not six foot herself, although she does look pleased to be closer to eye-level with Luc.

"Even without them I've got like three inches on you," Luc points out, matching Boone's smugness for a half-second, but she cracks up immediately at the dirty joke Boone makes without missing a beat about where exactly she could put those inches.

People misjudge Luc all the time; they think she can't possibly have brains as well as all that muscle, and even if they'll grant her that one they think she's uncomplicated, easily pleased and just as easily placated. They mistake her generosity of spirit and enthusiasm for a lack of insight, and while it's a benefit to be underestimated out on the ice, it kind of has to suck the rest of the time. They see that swinging ponytail, fair hair brushed out of her face carelessly and tucked up under her helmet, and they think they can guess everything about her.

Ryan's not making that mistake though—she's seen well enough the way Luc gets frustrated when things aren't working no matter how hard she tries. She's seen Luc almost in tears over not being able to reliably win faceoffs for her line, like she wasn't a rookie who'd gone from a 'maybe' to make the team to their first line center in the space of about two weeks. Luc's taken a lot of people by surprise, but Ryan, who's been watching how hard she works and how much she throws herself into things; how deeply she considers everything that goes on around her and then comes out with insightful, profound comments that make people shut up and listen—

Ryan's not going to be one of those people.

Or at least, she'd thought she wasn't; she thought she had a good grasp on Luc's character and her motivations and how she does things, after a full season on the same team.

And Ryan thinks that right up to the point where Luc curls her fingers around Ryan's wrist and tugs her towards Seth's living room, Boone following them without—for once—commenting.

"I do know my way around Jonesy's place," Ryan says lightly, trying to find her footing again. This is—nothing about their night has gone the way she expected. She'd been expecting to have a couple drinks, joke around with the team, and then have to ignore whoever Jenns picked up at midnight until the next morning when she'd inevitably end up making breakfast for all three of them.

Ryan might fantasize a little about making out with some of her teammates, but she's also realistic; they live in a college town with a nearly-unlimited amount of incredibly cute queer-and-or-questioning people who are more than happy to hook up with professional hockey players, and without the baggage of potentially making things on the team weird.

And no one wants to get traded to the fucking Allegheny Undines, that's for sure.

"I know," Luc says, "but hurry up, it's nearly midnight."

Seth had vanished right after they got inside, but noises from the direction of her kitchen mean Ryan has a few solid guesses about where and why she's left them to sort themselves out.

Ryan's proven right when Seth comes back into the room just as Luc pulls her over to the sectional, directing Boone to her other side so that all three of them are sitting close together, right opposite the big open fireplace.

Seth dumps a handful of pieces of paper onto the coffee table in front of them, and a bunch of pens—"Did Kinetico pay you in pens for that endorsement?" Boone asks, grinning and spinning one between her fingers—and Seth fiddles with something to the side of fireplace rather than dignifying Boone's comment with a response.

A few clicks later the fire roars to life, the gas flames dancing over a fake log, but Ryan has to admit it's homey. Comfortable. And surprisingly warm; she pops another button of her shirt open without even thinking twice.

"Okay," Seth says, as she picks up one of the three different remotes piled in a basket on one end of the sectional, and turns the TV on.

They can at least see the vast sea of people milling around Times Square on the big screen, cameras tracking from face to face, almost oppressively crowded, and Ryan's glad once again to have been drafted to Columbus, and not a bigger city. There's a dull roar of building excitement that hums through the surround sound, thousands of people all talking and laughing at once, and it cuts out abruptly as Seth hits mute.

In comparison to the bar, the silence in the apartment feels like it's echoing, pressing in on Ryan's ears, and she shifts her weight uncomfortably, leaning into Luc for a second before feeling silly about it. She doesn't need to hide here; these are her friends, for fuckssake.

Boone taps her pen on the coffee table like she's calling a meeting to order, and says, "Resolutions, right? Let's do this thing."

"Leave the A at the rink," Ryan complains, but she picks up the pen and a piece of paper all the same.

There's silence as the other three follow suit, and then Boone asks, almost diffidently, and that's out of character enough that Ryan thinks it might be the first time she's ever heard her sound like that. "So are we reading these out, or…?"

"Fold it up and stick it in the fire," Luc says authoritatively. "It's like blowing out a birthday candle, right? Keep it secret."

"Sure," Ryan says, who isn't in the slightest. All the same, she stares at the piece of paper for what feels like an eternity and then thinks: fuck it.

They're burning these right away, so why not? She should be planning something that she can measure, that she can achieve, improving her life or other peoples', or more likely, should be resolving to fix their goddamn powerplay, which would hit the hat-trick on all three of those fronts, but instead, Ryan chews on the end of her pen for another second and then writes, in a scrawl that hopefully won't be legible even if someone else does catch a glimpse of it, make the bold choice for once, and then folds it into smaller and smaller squares.

Beside her, Luc's frowning over her own piece of paper, and Boone's already done, her piece of paper crumpled up in her fist, fingers tapping on her knee.

"Jonesy?" she says, and Ryan looks over to see Seth's hand outstretched, waiting. With a sense that she might have bitten off more than she can chew, Ryan hands her paper over, and then Boone does, and Luc's done a second later, handing Seth her pen as well as the paper.

Seth's followed through too, Ryan can see, an unfolded piece of paper in her other hand, and Ryan's not trying to look, not really, but she can't help but see —do it, and then a creditable imitation of the Nike swoosh, and honestly, Jonesy is such a nerd.

Secretly, sort of, in the ways that a lot of people don't expect of her, and fuck them for that, in Ryan's opinion. But really, a fucking nerd. Ryan's absolutely gonna chirp her for that later, maybe.

"Here goes," Jonesy says, and tips everything into the fire.

Everything except the pen she's still holding, which she tosses onto the mantelpiece besides a picture from their playoffs win the year before, Matty's OT winner, the game before everything went from brilliant hope to complete sucksville.

It still makes Ryan happy every time she sees it: the twenty-something person hug pile that tackled Bob and Nicky behind their goal, every one of them beaming and alive with possibility, suffused with joy. One of these days they're going to get an even better picture than that, she vows. One with some hardware that no one can ever take away from them.

"Good timing," Luc says softly, as Seth lopes back over to the sectional and tucks herself into Ryan's other side, all four of them watching as paper crackles and folds in on itself, flames licking around the corners as it goes red-orange and smoky before the edges blacken and crisp, reduced to ashes in seconds. "There's about a minute left."

Ryan's never been a big resolution person before now; when she identifies a goal she starts working on it immediately and dedicates herself to it, no waiting. And almost more importantly, her life's been focused around hockey season ever since she can remember now, so December-into-January never feels like as big a change as spring into summer does.

Something about this New Year feels different, though.

She watches, almost unseeing, as the people on the TV and in front of the cameras start to mouth the countdown, chanting and cheering. There's champagne glasses and streamers, confetti ready to fall, a glittering ball and light-show, balloons and fireworks.

The camera zooms in on a couple wearing novelty 2019 sunglasses, anonymous inside a sea of others who're equally bundled up for the cold, equally decked out for the occasion. Ryan's struck, again, by the myriad arbitrary markers people create to reflect the passage of time, to separate this second from that, this year from the next.

The ball drops.

"Happy New Year," Seth says, so softly that Ryan turns to ask if she's okay, and Seth's face is—

Very, very close, all of a sudden.

Ryan's gaze drops to her lips, her mouth right there, lush and sweet, and this time Seth definitely catches her, her eyes—when Ryan's make it back up there—alight. At least she doesn't seem to mind, Ryan thinks, and opens her mouth to make a joke, to deflect, something.

"Ryan," Seth says, and Ryan's eyes widen and then flutter closed, because instead of laughing at her or with her or—anything like that, Seth's leaning that last crucial inch closer and pressing her mouth to Ryan's.

And it doesn't feel like a friendly kiss.

Or rather—it is friendly; it's warm and affectionate, familiar, easy. But it's more than that too. It's Seth's tongue tangling with Ryan's, their mouths moving in concert, reading each other just as naturally as they do on the ice.

Seth has a hand on Ryan's jaw and the other on her hip by the time that they surface, breathing into each other for a second that stretches out to near eternity, and it feels somewhere very close to perfection.

The grin that Seth crooks at her then is enough to wind it a tick closer to that, and then Luc's knee shifts against Ryan's thigh and she remembers exactly where they are and who else is there.

It's deeply awkward for a rushing moment, and Ryan's shoulders tighten, braced for whatever chirping they might be about to get and thoroughly deserve, but for once, neither Luc nor Boone seem to have anything to say.

And it's easy to see why not when she finally manages to tear her eyes away from Seth, because they're kissing, too.

Boone's halfway to climbing into Luc's lap as they are, kissing hot and wet and needy, and it makes Ryan's chest feel tight, however unfair that is. She was just—it's not like her and Seth were doing anything different, and it's truly not as if Ryan begrudges either of them that moment.

"Well, I guess we all saw that coming," Ryan tries to joke, looking back to Seth, who cannot have missed the other half of the show taking place on her couch, especially now that Ryan's been distracted into stopping kissing her.

"Did you?" Seth says, enigmatically, and Ryan frowns at her, reaches out without second-guessing herself to rub at the corner of Seth's mouth where her lipstick has smeared just the tiniest bit. 'I did that', Ryan thinks to herself, and goes hot all over.

"I, um," Ryan says, too flustered to actually be able to string more than two or three words together.

Something about being in Seth's apartment makes this feel realer and more immediate, makes it seem like a bigger thing than it would be if they were just joking around at a bar and maybe exchanging kisses at midnight in a crowd of other people doing the same thing, just as friends. Being somewhere quiet and well-lit and much closer to sober makes this feel like it might mean something more than just friends.

Than just teammates.

"Mmmph," Luc says, mumbling something into Boone's mouth, and then she whacks Boone's biceps the back of her hand, gesticulating wildly and, Ryan thanks, maybe biting Boone's lip as they separate. Jesus, Luc.

"I was saying," Luc says, having obviously not been doing anything of the sort, on account of how her tongue was in Boone's mouth for at least the last minute solid, but they're all friends there, Ryan's not going to call her out on that. "That this was a good idea, and now it's Ryan's turn. Move, Jenns."

Ryan blinks.

Boone clambers out of Luc's lap and curls up against her side, legs tucked under herself and her eyes glittering as she watches Ryan closely. Ryan's sweating more—she'd love to think it was just because of the fire and it absolutely isn't—and totally bewildered.

"Hey," Luc says, her voice going soft, low the way it never is when they're on the ice or when they're around cameras or reporters. Luc's always confident, projects well, sounds poised and polished, and part of that is her innate sense of self, and part of it is very good media training, but Ryan almost can't remember the last time she's seen that slip. Not even for Luc's first game, or her first goal, or her first national broadcast interview. But now's one of those times, and the sheer vulnerability of it takes her aback.

"Hi?" Ryan says back to her, and then her breath catches at the back of her throat as Luc leans in and kisses her, too.

She's sandwiched between Seth's lanky, solid frame and Luc's everything, and Ryan's not used to feeling overshadowed or particularly small, but that'll do it.

Luc slips her tongue into Ryan's mouth easy as if they've done this a hundred times, and she's utterly relentless, confident and heated now that they're <em>doing something</em> instead of just talking about it, and Ryan melts into her.

Luc's hand slides over Ryan's hip and under the loose shirt to find skin, pausing for just a second to pull back and ask, breathlessly, "Okay?"

"Uh, yeah," Ryan says immediately, and then, "Wait, I mean."

She turns to look at Seth, who's smirking at her, and back to catch Boone's eyes, and Boone's expression is the mirror image of Seth's, and Ryan thinks—wait just a second here.

"What is this?" Ryan asks, trying to sit up straighter, although her shirt's rucked up halfway to her sports bra, and she's breathing too fast and trying not to look as turned on and totally confused as she feels.

"Making out?" Luc says hopefully, and utterly unhelpfully.

"There's kind of a vibe," Seth says. "By which I mean that I'm pretty sure we're all into this, and it seemed like something that didn't need an audience to negotiate."

"Uh," Ryan says again, and Boone talks right over her. "You remember half an hour ago when we all did shots?"

"Obviously," Ryan says. "And you were flirting with Luc, it was cute."

She's been friends with Boone for years now, she's had a front row seat for almost every relationship and hookup Boone's had ever since they made the team. If there was a Jeopardy category for 'Boone Jenner's flirting moves' then Ryan was prepped and ready to be the Final Jeopardy champion.

"Yeah," Boone says. "And with Seth. And with you."

Or… maybe Ryan's been overestimating her game-show winning chances.

"What?"

Boone grins at her, small and warm and so fucking familiar, the look Ryan's seen her wear on the other end of their couch at home for a couple years now. Hope and heat intertwine, prickling along her nerves and down her spine, making her shiver and hold her breath.

"Well it was pretty obvious that Seth wanted to do the same thing," Boone says, and Ryan takes a fraction of a second to be outraged that someone else is apparently reading her d-partner better than she is. "So we kind of… decided to go somewhere we could talk about making that happen."

"She messaged me and said we should all bone," Seth says, grinning broadly as she ruthlessly exposes Boone. "And I was extremely not opposed but the bar didn't seem like the place for that."

"I think she means we're not all exhibitionists like Boone," Luc stage-whispers, nodding.

Now they're all sitting normally again Ryan can see that Luc's casual hand-under-the-shirt move must have been inspired by one of Boone's; the neckline of her shirt is sitting just off, enough that Ryan can see the Kelpies-blue lace of Luc's bra peeking out as well as the curve of her breasts.

"Hey!" Boone protests, but almost immediately shrugs, grins—the missing tooth standing out even more than usual, and fuck Ryan has it bad that she kind of thinks that's hot—and adds, "Nah, actually, that's fair."

"Did you know about this—plan?" Ryan asks Luc, brows drawing together. She wants to be flattered by this whole thing, and it's definitely hot, but the horrifying potential of it all going wrong seems exponentially higher than even just hooking up with Seth would be.

Ryan's learned to go with her gut this season, to trust herself to know what moves to make, instead of playing things with too much caution, and more than anything, she wants to step right into this pass and take the one-timer.

Except she also wants it to be a lot more than just one time, and Ryan's not in the business of lying to herself, either. Losing a playoff series last year had been heartbreak enough, Ryan doesn't want to lose one or more of her closest friends just because they were all there and queer and then that wasn't enough.

"Nope," Luc says with a shrug. "I mean, I was hoping this would be a make-out party, and I like all of you a lot. But I wasn't sure until just now."

As the words 'make-out party' come out of Luc's mouth, Seth mutters something that Ryan thinks was "What the hell do you guys even get up to in the Q?" but Luc pointedly ignores the comment and no one else presses it, either.

"I want to say yes," Ryan says honestly. "But I'm—"

"—worried about what'll happen?" Boone finishes for her. "There's kind of only one way to find out. And I'm willing to take the chance."

"Same here," Seth says, and "Me too," Luc chimes in.

"This is a dating thing and not just a getting laid thing, right?" Ryan asks. She chews on her lip, nerves crowding up the back of her throat.

It feels like a lot just putting that much out there. Ryan's hooked up with friends before and it's been fine, but this feels different. And she wants more than just that, enough to ask for it explicitly. If it was just Boone, she'd—be pretty sure of that, actually. She's not sure she trusts herself to be reading Luc and Seth that accurately, not when it's something this important.

"I swing both ways," Boone says, her eyes daring the rest of them to make the obvious joke. "But yeah, Ryan. I'm in if you're in."

"I'm in," Ryan says, the words out of her mouth almost before she's even consciously decided.

"Me too," Seth says.

"I wanna kiss Seth now," Luc says, and then hurriedly, as Ryan elbows her in the ribs. "I'm in, I'm in."

"Switch places?" Ryan suggests, looking at Luc, although Seth and Boone are both crowding them enough that there isn't going to be a particularly graceful way to do this.

"Cool," Luc says, climbing right over Ryan—big, Ryan thinks again, almost nonsensically, as Luc perches above her for a heartbeat before landing on Seth in turn.

Seth's hands go to Luc's shoulders to brace her, and the two of them fall right into a kiss that is definitely getting Ryan hot under the collar and not just because she's been where they both are now and can't wait to do it again. She's not opposed to getting to watch that happen a lot more, that's for sure.

And however nervous she is about it, with the two of them occupied like that, it means it's just her and Boone now for a few seconds.

Ryan shuffles sideways and twists in place so that she's facing Boone, so it feels like it's just the two of them in the room for a hot second, and everything is in Boone's eyes, wide and steady and fixed on Ryan like she's been waiting a while for this, like she'd wait forever.

"So, hey," Ryan says. Winces internally because she's just not good at this part and she never has been.

"Can I kiss you?" Boone asks, her hand coming up to echo the line of Ryan's jaw, half an inch away from touching her, but waiting, still waiting.

"Yeah," Ryan whispers.

Boone brushes a strand of hair back over Ryan's ear, fingertips lingering, and then she leans in.

Maybe this is the kind of thing that seems like a good idea at midnight, Ryan thinks deliriously, eyes closing as she and Boone kiss and kiss and kiss. And maybe sometimes the things you yearn for in the dark come true even better than you'd dare to hope.

Outside the window, fireworks burst in the sky in wheels of color and joy, interlocking and expanding, lighting up the New Year.

"This is our year," Ryan thinks fiercely, and she kisses Boone again, reaching out blindly, and Seth hooks her ankle around hers to anchor them, and Luc's hand finds hers, fingers intertwined.

—THE END—