Cisco Reyes should be on top of the world. After seven years with the Alberta Abominables, he’s a first-line defenseman known throughout the league for his skills and his impeccable conduct on the ice. But when a questionable call sends him to the penalty box, he comes face to face with the past he never quite managed to forget--and the man he never stopped loving.
Leo Carrington isn’t proud of the way he cut Cisco out of his life after his breakdown. At the time, it was necessary, but the longer he went without contact, the more impossible it seemed to become. But when life brings him and Cisco together again, he can’t deny the feelings that are still there.
Cisco and Leo both want to try again, but this isn’t their college romance. The chemistry between them is still as electric as ever, but sex isn’t enough to hold a relationship together. And it seems like the harder they try, the more things start to fall apart.
Can Cisco overcome the hurt of the past and move forward? Can Leo stop himself from falling into old patterns? Or are they doomed to have history repeat itself?
Cisco takes a deep breath, lets it out, and heads for the penalty box. This is fine. It’s bullshit, and anyone with eyes is gonna be able to tell that it’s bullshit. But it’s fine. The Jackalopes’ power play unit is shit, nowhere near the Abs’ penalty kill. He’ll do his time in the sin bin, get back on the ice, and it’ll be fine.
Only a small fraction of his attention is on where he’s going. Mostly he’s watching the line changes happen, the teams facing off for the puck drop. He steps through the open door to the box without really looking at the man in the suit who’s holding it for him. Collapsing in an ungraceful heap on the bench, he pulls his gloves and helmet off, shaking his hair back out of his eyes. It’s getting long enough that he probably needs to cut it soon if he doesn’t want to end up back at his college length.READ MORE
“You cut your hair,” an unexpectedly familiar voice says from his right. “It looks good.”
Turning toward the voice is a completely involuntary reflex. Cisco couldn’t have stopped himself if his life depended on watching the ice. That voice reaches down into his nervous system, commandeers control, and if he could think right now, he wouldn’t care.
He tells himself he’ll see a stranger when he turns. Just like any of a thousand, a million times he heard an almost-familiar voice or caught a glimpse out of the corner of his eye, only to discover he was imagining things. There’s no way—
But no. There he is, familiar dark hair and solemn eyes, high cheekbones and a mouth that should be smiling. He’s watching Cisco warily, like he’s not sure what to expect, which makes sense. But he’s there. Really there. When Cisco reaches out with a shaking hand, his arm is solid, warm under the fabric of his suit.
“Leo.” He breathes the name, his voice barely audible.
The familiar mouth curves up just a little at the corners, like it always did when Cisco said his name. “Cisco.”
Oh, that hurts, the familiar sound of Leo’s voice shaping the syllables of his name. The slight Boston accent had always surprised assholes who expected him to be audibly Chinese instead of speaking the language of the city where he’d been raised. The warmth in his eyes, like they last saw each other yesterday, instead of—
* * *
Around one a.m. on draft day, Cisco gave up on sleep and reached for his phone. Pulling it under the sheets and duvet, he turned on his side, using his body to block the light before unlocking the screen. If his mom was able to sleep, he wanted to let her.
When he opened Whatsapp, his conversation with Leo was the first thing that pops up, obviously. He was probably asleep, like a normal person, but Cisco still tapped out a quick can’t sleep u up? before switching over to his latest time-wasting game.
He wasn’t expecting a response, but it still stung a little when he doesn’t get one. Like, he got Leo not coming with him. It was harder for goalies, fewer spots at the pro level, tougher to get noticed. If their positions were reversed, he didn’t know if he could come with Leo, smile and clap while his boyfriend got the thing that he wants most in life.
So he got it, but he still missed Leo, wished he were here now. If he was here, they might have been able to get their own room; even though his mom was kind of old-fashioned in some ways, she knew how serious Cisco was about Leo. She basically treated them like they were engaged already, even if Cisco hadn’t quite worked up enough nerve to pop the question yet.
But Leo wasn’t here. So he forced his mind away from the thoughts of what they could be doing if Leo was here, because like hell was he jerking off with his mom right there in the other bed. Even if she was sound asleep.
He played the stupid game until the letters were swimming in front of his eyes, until he couldn’t think of even basic three-letter words. He wasn’t sure when exactly he fell asleep, just that at some point he woke up with sunlight glowing around the edge of the hotel curtains, his phone lying a few inches away from his hand.
When he checked the screen, Leo still hadn’t replied.
* * *
Cisco’s phone buzzed in his pocket while they were eating an early dinner. His stomach was roiling, rebelling at the very thought of food, but his mom was right; this was going to be a long night. He needed to eat.
It was probably just his abuela or one of his cousins texting to wish him luck, he thought, and almost didn’t pull the phone out to check. It made him sick, when he thought back later on, thinking about how he almost ignored it. Although sometimes he thought it would have been easier, not to know until later.
But no matter how many times he played out the what-ifs in his head, there was no changing it. He fished his phone out with one hand, using the other to cut off a bite of the tenderest salmon he’d ever eaten.
When he looked down at the lock screen, the fork and the salmon clattered onto the floor unheeded.
“What’s wrong, Chico?” His mom looked up from her grilled shrimp, her eyes widening at whatever she saw on his face.
He shook his head, unable to speak. His tongue felt clumsy in his mouth, like forming words is beyond him. He just handed her the phone instead, unlocked now to show the text from Leo’s sister Elaine, the three short sentences that turned his world upside down in seconds.
Leo had a breakdown. In hospital under observation. Dad didn’t want me to tell you
“Oh,” his mom said. The sound was more of an exhalation than a word. When she looked back up at him, her expression had firmed into decision, even though he could still see an echo of his own stunned grief reflected her eyes. “Do you want to leave? We can get a flight—”
“No.” Cisco forced the word out, even though every beat of his heart was telling him otherwise. “No, I—I want to, but—his dad won’t let me see him. I’m not officially—anything. And if I miss the draft, he’ll kick my ass himself when he gets out. No.”
She nodded slowly, setting the phone down and taking his hands in hers. “Okay. Then eat. You’ll need your strength. He’ll need you to be strong.”
Cisco nodded back, asked their waitress for a new fork with a smile that felt like it would break his face. Forked up another bite of salmon and forced himself to chew and swallow even though it feels like dust and ashes in his mouth.
He needed to be strong for both of them, now.
* * *
“—the Alberta Abominables are pleased to select, from the University of Minnesota, Francisco Reyes.”
Cisco shoved his phone with its too-blank screen hastily back into his pocket and stood, making his way to the stage. His mom held his hand the whole way, strong and solid as always.
He shook the manager’s hand, and the captain’s hand, and the coach’s hand—he couldn’t remember her name, but that was okay, he’d have time to get it. He put the snapback on his head, pulled the jersey over it without knocking it off. Smiled when he was told, looked into the camera when he was told, whent where he was told.
Everything was a blur, every second underlaid with the sick drumbeat of worry and fear quickly souring into anger. None of this mattered. Why couldn’t any of these people see that? The only thing that mattered to him was lying in a hospital bed back in Minneapolis, and Cisco was stuck here with this bullshit.
He managed, somehow, to make it through without saying something incredibly offensive to his new organization. Thank fuck for his mom, papering over the cracks in his silences with her usual charm. It seemed to take forever, but objectively he knew it was less than an hour before they escaped, before it wouldn’t be horribly rude to check his phone.
The screen was still blank.
* * *
Their apartment felt empty, aching with it, when Cisco came through the door. Even if he hadn’t been told, he thought he would have known something was wrong, just from the way the air hit his skin.
He dropped his bag on the floor, kicking the door closed behind him in the same motion. Pulling his phone out was reflexive, even if there was nothing there. Elaine hadn’t sent any other updates, and Leo’s father wouldn’t talk to him, even if Cisco had his number.
There was absolutely zero chance that Leo had his phone, but he sent a text anyway, adding it to the end of all the unanswered texts he’s sent since draft day, just because he couldn’t—he had to do something. Anything. He wasn’t giving up on them without a fight. Even if he didn’t know who to fight, how to fight, just yet.
Miss you. Love you. Talk to me soon, please.
He didn’t leave the first voicemail until much later, much drunker.
* * *
“Leo? Baby, I know you can’t get this now, I know you—just call me, please. I love you, I just—I just want to hear your voice. Please”
* * *
“Baby, it’s been a month. Elaine won’t talk to me, I don’t know if your dad got to her, but—look, if you need time, if you need space—I’ll give you whatever you need. Just—please—it doesn’t have to be you. I don’t—I need to know that you’re alive. Please, baby.”
* * *
“I have to go to training camp. I don’t know what to do with your stuff. I boxed it up and left it with Lightning—Seth. I hope—I hope you’re okay. That’s all I want, you know.”
* * *
“I—I’m not going to call again, baby. You know me—I’ve got a hard head, but I can take a hint eventually. Just—I love you. Always.”
* * *
Cisco knows he’s staring, but he can’t look away. Maybe he’s hallucinating, maybe if he takes his eyes off Leo, he’ll vanish again, gone for another seven years. Maybe this is just the ghost of Leo, of all the hope and love that he used to feel finally made into physical form.
Although he’s never imagined Leo with a dog before.
What does he say? What can he say, that he didn’t say in the texts or the voicemails or the emails that he sent off into the void, unacknowledged and unreturned. Like the Flying Dutchman, ghost messages coursing through the darkness.
“Leo.” He can’t stop repeating it, his voice hoarse. “I—”
Before he can come up with any more words, the buzzer sounds.
“Your two minutes are up.” Leo says the words slowly, never looking away from him.
When Cisco tears his eyes away, he sees the PK unit heading back toward the bench. He sees Stewie waving him back out onto the ice.
Every fiber of his being says to stay here, not to let Leo slip through his fingers again. But—
“Your team needs you.”
Cisco nods at Leo’s words, buckles his helmet back on and shoves his hands into his gloves.
Stepping back out onto the ice isn’t the hardest thing he’s ever done, but it hurts, just the same.
When he glances back at the box, Leo is watching him go.COLLAPSE