Hockey Night in Chicago
Author's Notes: Slidellra, as usual, provided fabulous beta advice and made sure that the angst didn't spiral out of control.
Ray had never played at Johnny's before. He stopped by and looked around when it opened. He knew they had fast ice, and people told him there was Goose Island on tap and decent fries. But between the divorce and the undercover gig and the overall "my partner's got a death and dismemberment wish," he never found the time to actually try it out.
So when Dewey, who turned out to be even worse at comedy than he was at detecting, came in with a flyer for a new FOP team, Ray figured what the hell. He wasn't doing anything important with his nights off. And yeah, people thought it was funny, a scrawny guy named Kowalski (who used to be a Vecchio) playing hockey. But he could skate, and he'd been on one of those intramural teams in college. He definitely wasn't the worst player signing up. Wasn't the best one, either.
That spot belonged to Fraser. No contest. But it took a while for Ray to notice.
The first day Ray showed up to practice, Fraser was already there in an old Oilers jersey and a pair of blades that had seen better days. Ray wasn't surprised. The guy was probably raised on pond hockey, skating before he could walk, never mind his curling addiction and caribou tracking. All Canadians could play hockey. It was in their Constitution or something. Life, liberty, and a wicked slapshot.
So he didn't react, not even when Fraser pulled out a stick that was taped and worn and looked, oddly, like it belonged in his hands the same way that gun did on the Henry Allen.
Not that Ray was looking at Fraser's hands. Or thinking about how they looked wrapped around his stick. And even if he was, it was in a purely non-dirty and not-at-all suggestive manner.
Fraser's equipment was nothing like Ray's stick, the new one he'd bought the week before because it turned out that he'd left his old one behind when he moved out of Stella's. He could have asked for it back. Gone in, told her what was going on, listened to a lecture about midlife crises and grown men behaving like children. It was easier just to go shopping.
Anyway, on the face of it, Fraser looked like he had plenty of experience and was ready to give Ray a run for his money.
Which was good.
But chances were he was out of practice, probably a little shaky about the whole thing. He'd need time to loosen up. Ray went easy at first, getting a feel for everybody else, trying to find his spot. Trying to get a feel for his own game, because no matter what anyone said, stick handling was not like riding a bicycle. You did not just jump back in there, ready to fire off 90-mile-an-hour shots and turn on a dime. You had to ease back into it.
Well, you did if you weren't Fraser, who took to the ice like he spent his free time out skating rivers and slapping pucks into snow banks. While balancing a plate on his head. Which he didn't, because he spent most of his off hours sitting on Ray's couch, eating pizza and bitching with the wolf about the lack of quality television on Friday nights. Politely, of course.
But Ray was good, even without practice. It turned out that Fraser was just a little better, and, hey, that partnership thing worked for sports, too. Welsh, who was happy for the chance to yell outside the squad room, saw it and put Fraser at center and Ray as a right winger on the same line. He muttered something about hoping their "bizarre relationship" would work on the ice and left them to work out the details.
Dewey had no talent. He had, if anything, negative talent, in that he sucked the will to play out of anyone near him. It was sad, really, because he was enthusiastic but kept tripping on himself, or the puck, or Ray's stick, or the boards, or some invisible bump in the ice.
Welsh stuck him in goal, because the league needed guys willing to pony up for the extra equipment, and nobody took advantage of the chance to fire a puck at his head. Much.
And that was it for the first day. Mostly. Except for one thing.
Fraser kicked Ray's ass in drills. All of them. He could almost keep up, but Fraser was always a little bit faster, just good enough that Ray knew he wasn't going to beat him. They were the only ones still on their feet for the last ten sprints, and when Ray finally gave up, bent over and wheezing at his knees, trying not to throw up his lunch, Fraser still looked...sweaty and excited and really gorgeous, actually.
It was Ray's first clue that he was outclassed.
So hockey was good, especially once they had a name and a schedule. Sure, the schedule was screwy, with all these bizarre team names, and some weeks they played twice while other weeks there was nothing at all. Half the games lasted past midnight, not the best time for guys who had to be on shift at seven in the morning, but that tended to happen when the point was to have a good time.
And to beat up on firemen. Welsh was still pissed about the pounding they took at the annual softball game, so he made sure everyone knew that, ultimately, this was for the glory of the CPD and the torment of Commissioner Altman. It was sort of a win-win situation.
They played a few practice games, had some laughs, and nobody fell down except Dewey, who at least had extra padding when he landed. It was great, and if Ray thought Fraser was only playing well enough to keep up, well, he couldn't prove it. It was just this funny feeling. Like Fraser was waiting for something.
Their first game was a blowout against guys who were playing because they wanted out of the house once in a while. They tried to keep up, but in the end even Fraser's sense of good sportsmanship couldn't hold the score down. Same thing happened at the next two games.
Ray and Fraser didn't talk about what they did. They just went out and played and it almost always worked. They'd win, by a lot, and it was mostly Fraser and a little Ray and then once in a while somebody else would come up with a play.
Yeah, Fraser was better at this than everybody else. Like that was a surprise.
It was a nice way to blow off some steam. Variety was a good thing, and Fraser was making friends, or at least not making enemies. Ray was getting out and doing something other than chasing punks with too much ambition and not enough sense. The veterans on the team didn't care about who he really was or what he used to call himself, and they acted like there was nothing weird about Fraser. Ray appreciated that.
The first week in October he and Fraser worked three days straight on nothing but coffee and power naps. Wednesday morning they broke the case wide open, shutting down a comic book smuggling ring on the West Side. That night on the way to pick up their gear he spotted Fraser yawning. Ray, because his brain had checked out sometime during night two, said, "Guess you won't have to act like you can't play this time. You can just be tired and slow like the rest of us."
Fraser didn't answer, but he got a funny look on his face, like he'd been caught drinking espresso or putting sugar in his oatmeal.
So it wasn't until the fourth game that Ray figured out just how good Fraser was.
Yeah, he'd heard the rumors, that Fraser played against Mark Smithbauer as a kid, that he'd even gotten out on the ice and played in a charity game years ago, before Ray was around. Vecchio's files even claimed that they'd gotten in some mess and Fraser outskated a car and a hail of gunfire. But what did Vecchio know?
That kind of stuff got exaggerated and the truth always turned out to be something less impressive. Only this time it didn't.
Halfway through the first period, still scoreless, this cocky kid got a breakaway and Ray finally realized how much Fraser was holding back. He watched Fraser, looked for a signal, and saw him decide to quit dicking around and really play.
Fraser hesitated, glanced at Ray, studied the kid for a moment, and took off. Shot up the ice like he had some sort of turbo button, and Ray found himself trying to catch up and knowing he couldn't and not caring because fuck, Fraser was good at this.
The little punk didn't know what hit him. One second he was closing on a panicky Dewey with clear ice all the way to the crease, and the next he was spinning in place and Fraser was 15 feet out, headed for the red line and smoking everyone in his path.
Everyone except Ray, who was waiting for the pass. Which he nailed with a one shot, all instinct and speed, and suddenly the score was 1-0 and Fraser was, unbelievably, grabbing him and yelling in his ear.
Fraser never did that. Fraser acted like he was on a curling rink, all "Thank you kindly, Lieutenant," and "That was a lovely shot, Ray," and "Why, Dewey, I believe you nearly caught that one." This guy, who had just smacked Ray on the ass and then skated off for the next drop, could not possibly be his buttoned-up partner. He was a complete stranger wearing Fraser's number.
Ray fucking loved hockey.
And it wasn't a fluke, wasn't a lucky break. Something had lit a fire under Fraser and Ray didn't care why it happened, he was just glad to be there to see it. The longer they played, the better Fraser got, until the other team knew they were losing and the guys on their own team were asking each other how the hell he ended up in this division. And Fraser kept making plays, kept racking up assists, kept counting on Ray to know what he was thinking. Kept jumping on him every time they scored.
It was really, really fucking hot. It was the best thing ever.
It turned out that, when he wanted to win, Fraser wasn't all that polite. He'd never dream of getting in a fight; there was nothing mean-spirited about the way he handled a puck. But he had a nice toe drag and he was fast, fast enough that by the time anybody realized he was coming he was already gone. And he didn't look even a tiny bit guilty for stealing a pass or knocking somebody against the boards or lifting Ray off the ground and violating all kinds of unwritten rules about personal space.
Ray was right there with him, playing better than he thought he could and always, always ready when Fraser needed to dump the puck to avoid an elbow. They were good, they were great, and Fraser had that look in his eye, the one from the first practice, the one that said he was having fun and he was damn glad that Ray was there with him. Glad that Ray was having fun, too. The look that Ray was pretty sure he was giving right back to Fraser.
They headed off for the second break, and Ray was flying, because the score was 4-0 and this was going to be a great fucking season. Fraser was laughing and trying to joke and the other guys were looking at him like he was Howie Morenz reincarnated. He looked happy, and that made Ray happy, and it suddenly clicked that he didn't just want Fraser (and Ray was okay with wanting guys. Plus, he'd had plenty of time to deal with the wanting of Fraser, specifically). He didn't just like watching Fraser have fun. He actually, maybe, kind of loved Fraser, if love meant he wanted Fraser to be happy more than pretty much anything else. And that was not okay.
That was definitely not okay, because love was huge, love was not the sort of thing you could shove down and ignore, love was well outside the realm of buddies. Love was not anything you figured out at 12:15 on a Thursday morning on the way to the locker room. Love was...well, whatever it was, it wasn't this. This was nothing but adrenaline and a killer snap shot.
Ray hated hockey.
Fraser kept trying to talk to him in the locker room. Ray blew him off, said something about needing to tape his stick and then hid in the shower until it was time to head back out. Fraser looked hurt, but he couldn't care about that. He needed to think, needed to figure out how to get out of this and get back to the parts where they were clicking and everything was good and nobody thought about it being more than that.
It was Fraser's fault that hockey sucked, because if Fraser hadn't been so damned happy and talented and gorgeous and smart, then Ray wouldn't be having this problem.
The third period finally started and right away something was off. Ray was pissed, he wasn't paying attention, and Fraser looked confused at first and then played harder, trying to make up for how much Ray sucked. He took chances, thought Ray would back him up, and then had to push forward on his own.
It was the worst kind of business as usual.
Still, they stumbled through it. Fraser took a few extra hits (no crosschecking, his ass. Fraser was getting nailed just because he was winning, and that was a shitty way to play) and got frustrated, body checked a couple guys hard and then spun away with the puck. Skated faster, but he wasn't smiling anymore. Ray figured he didn't have anyone to smile at, so he didn't bother.
Fraser was trying to play on his own because he didn't belong in this crappy league, with these crappy players, without anyone to watch his back. He had done what Ray wanted, gotten caught up in this and let it matter, and now he was twisting in the wind because Ray didn't want what he thought he wanted. Or he wanted it, he wanted Fraser, but he didn't want to. Something like that.
Fraser looked worried. He also had that determined look in his eye, like he was going to get through this particular hell and then there was going to be some explaining.
Ray felt sick.
But there were only ten minutes of play left, and then he could duck out and count on Welsh to give Fraser a ride home. He'd have time to think about everything, figure out what the hell he was going to do to get rid of the whole "maybe love maybe indigestion" thing, and it would be fine. They'd go on like before, they'd work, they'd play hockey and Fraser would knock him around during practice, and that would be enough. That would be plenty. He could live with that.
Ray was feeling better because he had a plan and it would work. It was a good plan. Right up until that defender, the one that Fraser kept pissing off, the one who flubbed two passes in a row when he saw Fraser barreling toward him in the second period, finally snapped. He crosschecked from behind and Fraser bounced off the boards and went skidding across the ice on his face. His stick slid away, spinning slowly across the ice and coming to rest behind the goal line.
Fraser didn't try to get up, didn't move, and Ray tried to kill the guy who took him out.
It wasn't much of a fight, because once he lost the element of surprise Ray was up against a guy with four inches and forty pounds on him. But he gave it a shot, dropped his gloves and pulled the asshole down with him. He wasn't trying to tear anyone's head off. At least, he didn't think he was. He just wanted to hurt somebody, and the jerk was convenient. Ray wanted to teach him a lesson, show the guy that he couldn't do that, he couldn't take Fraser down, couldn't blindside him and hurt him and leave him broken on the ice.
Nobody should be able to do that.
The refs broke it up. Ray took his knocks, wiped the blood off his split lip, and skated to the locker room with his ears ringing and a six-week suspension courtesy of the management. It was worth it.
Fraser was going to be fine, had some bruises that wouldn't match his uniform and a nasty goose egg, but the thirty seconds before they figured that out had been the longest of Ray's life. Longer even than the times that Fraser took off after some perp with a gun and a bad temper, because that was work and this was supposed to be fun. This was supposed to be a nice safe way to let off some steam, not another way for Ray to get his partner battered because he wasn't watching out for him.
The plan was toast. Fraser was already getting dressed because the league didn't piss around with concussions, no matter how minor, and there was no way Ray could avoid him. He was scheduled for one of those snippy Inuit stories, and he still wasn't sure what he had to say for himself.
He wanted to run his hands over Fraser, check for bumps and bruises he couldn't see and make sure he really was okay, but that wasn't a good idea.
So he headed for the back with nothing but a muttered, "Not now, Fraser. Not yet." He got in, thanked the hockey gods for private showers, and turned the water as hot as it would go. Once he had a decent cloud of steam, he stepped under the spray and leaned his forehead against the tiles. Stupid, it was so stupid to have this kind of thing for his partner, it was dumber than that time in high school when he joined the cheerleading squad for three weeks to spend more time with Stella. Ray swore at himself and grabbed the shampoo.
Hockey was a bad idea. They should have stuck to curling or something. Nobody got concussions while curling.
He'd stuck his head under the water to rinse his hair when somebody shoved him up against the wall. He wasn't sure how he knew it was Fraser (although who else would walk into his shower without realizing it was weird?) but he did. He was confused and nervous and still kind of queasy, but calm underneath it all because he deserved a dressing down. It wasn't Fraser's fault Ray was an ass. Fraser had even looked upset enough to yell about partners and sharing and what the hell did Ray think he was doing out there. Same old refrain, just louder.
Instead of the expected lecture (and what kind of relationship did they have, that a fight in a public shower was something he could expect?), he got Fraser's lips on his, Fraser's tongue in his mouth, and his own fingers in Fraser's pockets locking their hips together.
Yeah, Ray was shocked and confused, but his body was all systems go and dragging his brain along for the ride.
Fraser kissed the way he played, aggressive and talented, like he knew Ray would be there and see where they were going. He kissed like Ray hadn't let him down again, hadn't fucked it all up. He kissed like it meant everything.
And Ray loved kissing in the shower, loved the pounding spray and the rush of water and the steam that made it seem unreal. He had loved it even before he felt the thrill of kissing somebody strong and familiar, somebody who tasted like sweat and soap and fresh ice and other stuff that Ray couldn't identify but loved anyway. It was hot, it was fantastic, and Ray couldn't breathe without Fraser's mouth sucking at his collarbone and Fraser's hands in his hair.
Only he could, because Fraser was pulling back, putting the soap to good use and wrapping his hand around Ray's cock, sliding his fingers over suds and smooth skin. Holding on a little too tightly, but that was fine, that was good, because Ray wanted too much, too hard, too fast. He wanted whatever Fraser had to give. He wanted this, wanted cold tiles at his back, wanted hot slick skin under his hands and wet denim holding him up.
Fraser kept kissing him, demanding kisses, kisses full of lust and anger and regret and just a little bit of fear.
Ray knew the feeling. And he knew he wasn't going to last, knew he was going to break apart into whatever Fraser wanted. He winced at the drag of teeth against his lip, tasting copper and shivering as Fraser mumbled in his ear, nonsense and half-sentences and his name. Fraser whispered "god, Ray, what were you thinking" and "that was so stupid" and "sorry, sorry, sorry" until Ray grabbed him by the hair to shut him up and cracked his own head against the tiles. The room spun and Ray came anyway, pain and sex and need all thrown together.
Fraser gasped and tensed. Fraser shoved against his hip. Fraser fell to pieces.
Suddenly Ray was the one keeping them upright, which he was not ready to do, and they slid down the wall into a pile on the wet floor, all elbows and knees and shock, panting and staring at each other like the world had ended. Maybe it had.
After it all, years later, Ray would flash back to this moment, see this beginning. He'd watch Fraser's hand on him, Fraser's mouth, all that steam, and the look on Fraser's face when he reached up to touch Ray's face and his fingers came away red. Fraser had water on his eyelashes.
And, eventually, they would need to talk about all this. But right then, looking at Fraser in soaked jeans, with water dripping down his face and a bruise on his cheek and a smear of blood on his chin, there was nothing to say.
So Ray leaned in and kissed him hard, hard enough to say all the stuff they weren't ready to talk about, and thought about how much he fucking loved hockey.
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