This is also the coda to Hawks and Hands that I had plotted before I finished writing the story and then never managed to write. Until now.
Due South, hockey AU. Fraser/Kowalski. PG-13. 5,700 words.
Many many many thanks to brooklinegirl and iulia for beta and encouragement!
Ever since Ben had played his last game, six months before, they had exchanged glances in the direction of men who walked down the street, hand in hand and unmolested by passersby. There had been significant changes of channel regarding sitcoms, pointed clearings of throats over entertainment news... and now this.
The Future in Five Conversations
Ben was nearly asleep when Ray said, in a wide-awake voice and as if they were in the middle of a conversation, "I got on this scoring streak once. November of '87."
They were not, as far as Ben knew, in the middle of a conversation, but he made an interested noise anyway.
Ray sighed, shifted position, and punched his pillow perhaps more forcefully than usual. Ben lay still, watching the ceiling, and waited for him to go on, as he was the only one who knew what they were actually talking about.
"Never a hat trick, but I scored seven goals in four games, and we played the four between one Hockey Night and the next. Don Cherry talked about me during the second intermission, said to watch out for me. It was one of the greatest moments of my life."
Ben glanced sideways at Ray, who lay on his side, curled toward Ben, but had his eyes firmly closed. Ben shifted his nearer hand so that his fingertips brushed Ray's thigh. "Well, that explains at least one of the hand-labeled videotapes in your collection."
"Yeah, just a different kind of porn," Ray said, smiling a little but still not opening his eyes. When the smile dropped away, Ben returned his gaze to the safety of the ceiling.
"I just--Ben, I just can't..." Ray made a sound like a low growl, scrubbed his face against the pillow, and flopped over noisily on his back, slinging his arm over his eyes.
"I just don't want Don Cherry to call me a cocksucker on Hockey Night in Canada."
Ah. It was a conversation they were in the middle of, then--though not one which had erupted into words before this. Still, ever since Ben had played his last game, six months before, they had exchanged glances in the direction of men who walked down the street, hand in hand and unmolested by passersby. There had been significant changes of channel regarding sitcoms, pointed clearings of throats over entertainment news... and now this.
"I don't want him to call you one, either," Ray added belatedly.
Ben felt a slow, vile squirm of anticipatory shame at the idea. Even knowing it was wrong--even knowing what a reactionary relic Don Cherry was, that there was nothing to be ashamed of, that honesty was by far the best policy--still. Ray had a point. Don Cherry.
"I believe there are certain broadcasting standards..." Ben said, without much hope.
"He's Don Cherry," Ray said, waving his hands as if to emphasize both the inability of any known standard to limit what the man would say on the air, and also the unspeakable horror of having so great an authority sit in judgment and find one wanting.
He had a point. Still, it wasn't a permanently insurmountable problem. "Perhaps... someday he will retire." 1
Ray snorted. "People say that about Cheli, too." 2
Ben had to concede that point, though a touch of asperity leaked into his next words. "Well, surely eventually the man will die."
Beside him, Ray crossed himself and then knocked against the headboard, and Ben sighed and knocked as well. "Still. Eventually."
"Eventually," Ray agreed. "Well, so. So, eventually."
"All right," Ben said, finally turning onto his side to face Ray, reaching out his hand to take Ray's, only half from the need--as superstitious as Ray's knocking wood--to check Ray's knuckles. "We'll wait."
The first time Ray brought Ben to Thanksgiving with his parents, he'd explained it: Canadian Thanksgiving was different, Ben didn't know anybody to celebrate American Thanksgiving with down here, yada, blah. His mom had gotten all excited about having one more at the table, and made Ben his own batch of cookies.
By the third year in a row, she just assumed Ben would be there, and after dinner Ben got shooed out of the kitchen to watch football with Ray's dad while she made Ray help with the dishes.
"Eh, take the dog, will you?" Ray waved at Francois, who was sitting by the counter, staring fixedly at the turkey platter--just waiting for his big chance to trip somebody, break something, or choke himself on the little bones. Not that any of this had ever happened before, or anything.
"Bien sûr," Ben said, and then, "Francois, ici!"
Francois transferred his longing look from the turkey to Ray, who pointedly looked away and turned on the water.
"Francois," Ben repeated sharply, "venez ici, pitou poche."
Ray ducked his head to hide his smile--it still sounded so weird to hear Ben use any of the random Quebecois he'd picked up from Ray, especially since he'd mostly picked up the dumb shit Ray said to his dog. Francois finally moved, though. Ray listened to his nails clicking away across the tile, and then the thump of his wagging tail against Ben's legs as they walked into the living room together.
Ray's mother shook her head at something, and Ray wiped the smile off his face and accepted the plate she'd handed him. They worked in silence for a little while. Ray liked doing the dishes in the winter, because having his hands in a sinkful of hot water chased out the last of the little niggling aches that crept in in cold weather. His doctor said he'd probably have full-fledged arthritis in another few years, and he'd be lucky to hold it off that long. He might have to go snowbird like his folks had done for those few years, and spend the winters down south. Ben would miss the snow, though, and it'd be even harder to explain what both of them were doing down there.
"You're going to be forty," his mother said, and Ray grunted acknowledgement. She'd been saying that since he turned thirty-seven, but this year it was harder to argue with.
His hands looked older than hers did, he thought, and that was almost too much to hold in his head. He nearly missed what she said next.
"--thought about having children?"
Ray blinked, frowned at the plate he was scrubbing--his own, the gravy had set up like concrete around the bit of stuffing he'd left--and said, "Ma..."
"It could take time, Raymond," she said, and Ray's hands went still, wondering what the hell she thought she was talking about, except then she said, "I've looked into it a little, you know--it's harder for two men to adopt, but--"
Ray's hands jerked in the sink, banging the plate against the edge and slopping water on himself. "What?"
"You and Ben, dear," she said patiently. "I don't want to be the interfering old mother, but we really only see you boys together properly once a year, so I may as well take my one chance to bring it up."
Ray's mouth opened and closed and he should be denying it, he should be denying anything, everything--except his mom wasn't accusing him of anything except neglecting his responsibility to produce some grandchildren for her. With Ben.
"If you adopted older children, they might be about the same age as their cousins, and that would be nice."
Ray shook his head violently, marshaling his words, because he wasn't going to just spew word salad at his mom in the middle of this conversation, even if she wasn't letting it be the conversation it was supposed to be. "Mom, how did you--I never--"
His mom laughed, and Ray actually looked her in the eye and felt something unclench in his chest. She really was smiling at him. She really didn't seem to mind. "He talks to your dog exactly the same way you do, sweetheart. Stella never treated Frankie like her dog, but Ben does."
"Yeah, well, we--"
"Mm-hm," his mother said. "You and your dog spend five months of the year in the Arctic with this man, Ray. And don't try to tell me you ironed that shirt you're wearing."
Ray glanced down at his shirt--Ben had ironed it, in fact, but how the hell could his mom tell that by looking, never mind what it meant that Ben ironed it?
"So maybe the answer is no, but I'm just asking," his mother said gently. "Have you thought about children? I know you and Stella..."
Ray looked back down into the sink and started scrubbing again. Just answer the question, Kowalski. "No. Not like that. We'd have to be a lot more..."
Ray shrugged, spreading his hands underwater, and saw his mother nod stiffly at his side.
"Anyway, we're probably going to expand the hockey camp again next year, be up there six months, maybe even seven. We're up to eight towns in the circuit, you know? Three hundred kids all together last year. We're working on getting some people we trust with little ones so we can start having atom and novice--I mean, uh--"
"Squirts and mites," his mother translated, and Ray nodded.
"Maybe even mini-mites, in a few more years, if we can keep things going. So, you know, half the year I wake up every morning with thirty kids I gotta worry about, half the year it's just the dog."
"Well," his mother said, and Ray scowled down at the dishes while she raised the dishtowel to her face for a second.
"Well," she repeated firmly. "You don't just worry about them when they're with you, do you? I've heard the way you boys talk."
He and Ben did talk a lot about the kids, if only to keep the conversation steered away from themselves--though apparently they hadn't needed to bother. But they told the fun stories, from the summer hockey camps.
His mom was right; they didn't just worry about the kids for half the year. The other half just wasn't about keeping the fights to a minimum and keeping them up on their skates--it was about writing college recommendation letters, lobbying parents to let them go and kids to stay in school, prepping for that trip to Ottawa in February to beg for grant money so they could keep the camp affordable for the kids who really needed it, traveling all over everywhere to beg donations from guys they used to play with.
They'd been awake til two last night trying to figure out what to do about Mia--because she oughta get a chance to go to college, only her parents couldn't afford it and knew every horror story in the book about what happened to northern kids down south. She was smart and a hell of a hockey player, but not the smartest or the greatest, so she wasn't going to get a scholarship anywhere. They could maybe scrape together the money to send her themselves, except then what about the next kid, and the one after that? As if she'd let them, anyway, proud as she was...
"Yeah," Ray said. "Well, half the year we get to give 'em back to their folks, anyway."
"You weren't any less my baby when I let you go every year," his mother said softly, brushing at his cheek with the dishtowel, and Ray bit his lip against a smile or something else.
"So," she added briskly. "It wouldn't kill you to bring pictures of them, would it? Let me put some faces with the names, and tell me if any of them are coming down here to play."
Ray laughed, startled more than anything. "Sure, Ma, we can--"
And then, lagging way back at the start of the conversation, the rest of his brain caught up, and his heart almost stopped. He couldn't talk for a second--he felt cold down to his bones, even with hands in hot water to the wrist. Staring down at the dishes, he said, "Does Dad know?"
"He has eyes, Ray," she said gently. "But he's never said anything to me, and I've never said anything to him."
And Ben was in the other room with him, watching football, and--
Ray jerked his hands out of the water. "I have to--we have to--"
"Dry your hands, first," his mother said firmly, pressing the towel into his grip. Ray dried his hands even as he felt the sweat breaking out on them, his throat getting tight--his dad, his dad, and Ben was sitting out there and didn't even know. There was no way Ray could trust his mouth to get the right words out, not to his dad, not all of a sudden like this, but he had to do something.
His mother took the towel away from him and kissed his cheek. "I'll bring you some leftovers tomorrow, if you forget them when you leave."
Ray nodded jerkily. She would call first, he knew--and when had his mom started calling before she came over? Had she known that long?
He took a breath and then put on his game face--an easy, neutral smile, not picking any fights ahead of time--and walked into the living room.
Ben looked up immediately, intent on Ray, and Ray wondered how much of that Ben had heard. Ray's dad stayed focused on the TV, though. They were in the middle of a drive. Just like going out for a shift, Ray thought; once you were over the boards it was just going to happen, and you'd catch your breath and worry about it afterward. It would all be over by the fourth down, one way or another.
"Hey," Ray said in his dad's direction, but it was Ben who responded.
"Yes," he said, "we'd better go. Francois."
Francois popped up to his feet immediately, but Ray had to do this. He opened his mouth to speak, but Ben raised a hand, mutely asking for help up--his back went funny on him sometimes, and Ray's parents' old couch was exactly the kind of thing that gave him fits. Ray couldn't ignore the silent request. He took Ben's hand and pulled him up, and Ben stepped a little too close, and kept his hand tight on Ray's even after he was on his feet.
Ray stared at Ben for a second, and then there it was. They were standing together in Ray's parents' living room, in front of Ray's dad, and they were holding hands. Ben's lips twitched, and Ray realized he was blushing like a teenager caught making out when he was supposed to be skating drills. He looked over at his dad just in time to catch his dad looking away from them, back to the game.
"Well, like I said, could be the ignition's going," his dad said, picking up a conversation he and Ben had had about an hour ago during dinner. "You bring your truck over this week, son, and we can have a look at it. Whatever it is, we can fix it."
Ray blinked at his dad in stunned silence. Ben said, "Thank you, sir."
Ray's dad nodded, waving them away, and then Francois's tail was smacking at Ray's knees, and his mom said, "Yes, of course there's something in the bag for you, Frankie."
They were halfway home before Ray registered that he was in the passenger seat of his own car, a bag of leftovers in his lap and Frankie's head on his knee.
"That could have gone worse," Ray said, looking over at Ben.
Ben looked back at him with a grin like the shine of arena lights on fresh ice. "Indeed it could."
Ben had an excellent start on a crushing headache; the scribbled calculations in front of him were starting to writhe, and the voice on the other end of the phone faded in and out. Apparently it was harder than one might imagine to organize a fundraiser that raised more funds than it consumed.
"Okay," Mark said, frustration becoming obvious, "what about the third weekend in December?"
Ben ran down his mental list of necessary participants' availabilities, and made it nearly to the end before hitting the inevitable roadblock. "Oh. No. That's--Ray and I--"
He felt himself blushing, and thought faintly that it did at least make a change from the throbbing of his temples.
"What," Mark demanded. "You got a hot date? Ben, he's--"
"It's our anniversary," Ben said, glancing toward the couch. Ray was asleep in front of the hockey game, and all Ben could see was his feet, propped on the armrest.
Mark said nothing whatsoever.
"Five years," Ben added. He and Ray hadn't quite said it to one another, out of an instinctive fear of jinxing, and there had been no one else he could think of saying it to--but he had to make Mark understand. "On December sixteenth it will have been five years. So yes, we have a date."
"Well, damn," Mark said, but the frustration was gone from his voice, replaced with surprise or maybe something more. Ben's marriage hadn't lasted five years. He'd had longer friendships with teammates, and with Mark himself, obviously, but... there had never been anyone like Ray.
"Wait, your anniversary is in December?"
Ben sighed, bowing his head and pinching the bridge of his nose. The curiosity audible in Mark's voice had just veered sharply toward the prurient. "That's the official date, yes. That's when we were sure."
"Fuck, five years, when did it get to be five years?" Mark sounded almost plaintive, and Ben felt a little pang himself, wondering at the way time had accelerated--a hockey season had seemed an eternity, once. Now the time flew by, never enough of it to go around.
Mark took a deep breath, and his voice was on another tack when he spoke again. "Ben, I'm not gonna try to talk you out of Kowie now, but--is this really okay with you? I mean, you see this going on, ten, fifteen, twenty years like this, giving everybody some line about being just buddies crashing together? Pretending?"
Ray's foot twitched, and Ben stood and walked over to stand behind the couch. Ray had tugged a blanket over himself, but Francois, curled on the floor, seemed to have appropriated half of it, leaving Ray mostly uncovered. Ben fetched the Hudson's Bay blanket from the chair and spread it over Ray, all the time saying nothing to Mark, letting the silence stretch. He couldn't see that there was anything to say; there never had been, which was why he'd never broached this topic with Mark before.
It wasn't okay with him; he hated the necessity he and Ray were put to. It didn't matter that the necessity was created in various proportions by the law, by public opinion, by the attitudes of people close to them, by Ray's fears or his own. It was necessary that they live this way, and there was no point complaining about what was necessary. He had Ray, and he'd had nearly five years already, and he could look down at the face of the man he loved in the flickering television light and tuck a blanket over him to keep him warm, and...
The end-of-period buzzer sounded, and Ray jerked slightly and then opened his eyes, a smile appearing as soon as he saw Ben. He stretched slowly, arching his back until the blanket slid down.
"Everything's fine," Ben said, without taking his eyes off Ray. "I have to go. Now. We can figure out the date tomorrow, right?"
Mark was still laughing when Ben hung up on him.
Ray put it off all the way through lunch, so he had to ask Stella to go for a walk afterward. She obviously knew something was up, and agreed right away, and then went right back to talking about work, telling stories like she used to to make him laugh. He traded back a few stories about the kids, and spelled Jordin's name for her so she'd remember to watch out for him in a few more years. They didn't get to the stuttering, awkward, talking-about-the-weather point until they were just about to start down the stairs for the underpass to the lake side of Lakeshore.
Halfway through, at the dimmest part of the tunnel, momentarily alone, Stella stopped walking and grabbed his hand. "Are you sick?"
Ray's guts lurched at the thought of describing it that way--God knew he'd thought of it that way enough, but to hear Stella say it--and then he registered the tone of her voice, the tightness of her grip on his hand, and realized she meant sick-sick, like dying, like that was what he had to tell her that was taking him two hours to work up to.
He squeezed back against her hard grip and snorted. "No, Stell, I'm fine. It's nothing like that."
She didn't let go of his hand, though, and he didn't let go of hers. The rest of the way out into the light, he wondered if he'd just lied to her, if she would think it was like that, or worse than that. If she would rather hear he was dying than... what he was.
Starts with b, ends with isexual--God knew he'd had the Talk with enough confused and scared kids over the last few years to know the words. But he also spent a lot of time telling them it was a perfectly okay way to be without being free to tell them that he was, so maybe it was no surprise if the message came out mixed.
Stella's grip on his hand tightened, dragging him as far as a little stand of trees, leaves gone all yellow and red and gorgeous against the bright-blue October sky, with a view of the lake through the last stubborn sailboats still out, and said in a bracing, professional tone, "Okay, so what is it, then?"
Ray squinted at the horizon and just said it, because he'd picked three words and practiced them and practiced them so he'd get it out right on the first try. "Ben's my boyfriend, Stella."
Stella didn't make a sound, and Ray didn't look over at her, just let his mouth run. "Not that--we don't call it that, really. My partner. But like that, you know? For a long time now. Since I got signed again, basically. Almost eight years."
He finally looked over at her--mostly just to make sure she hadn't turned and walked off. She was going red under her makeup and staring at him like he was speaking a foreign language, but he'd been speaking slowly. She still ought to have enough French to keep up with him that far, even if he had switched on her.
She slugged him, hard, in the arm, and Ray winced but didn't step back. "Yeah. I deserved that."
"You deserve a hell of a lot more than that," she hissed, and then it was her turn to look away, running a hand over her hair. "God dammit, Ray, I told Annemarie Gardino she was wrong, I told her you would never--you couldn't possibly--"
Ray winced again--that was a hell of a lot lower blow, though he deserved it just as much. God--Annie knew, or at least suspected, and never said a thing to him, was never anything but sweet to him. He'd just seen her last week, when he dropped in at Ryan's hockey practice. "When did..."
"Fifteen fucking years ago," Stella said, and her voice had gone thick, fighting tears. His own eyes stung, and his stomach turned. He hated making Stella cry more than just about anything in the world; he always had. Maybe the only thing worse was Ben looking disappointed at him, and hey, there was plenty of day left. He could probably work in both if he played his cards right.
Stella fixed her hair a couple more times, and Ray jammed his hands into his pockets to keep from reaching for her. It'd been a long damn time, and he still wanted to reach for her, hug and kiss her and say he was sorry and try to fix it. Half his life he'd been that guy, and he'd meant it as hard as he knew how, but he couldn't do that now. He couldn't even apologize, really. He couldn't be sorry about Ben, and he couldn't begin to fix what he'd done to her, the fact that Gardie was just the tip of the iceberg. He wasn't here to confess; there was no point to that now.
"I really did love you," Ray said quietly. Still loved her, in fact, but now was hardly the time to bring it up. She gave him a quick skeptical look over her shoulder and turned away again, leaving Ray to try to explain it to the back of her head, and, fuck, this was why he'd just meant to talk about Ben today. Should've known better than to hope she wouldn't make the connections right off the bat, though.
"I just--I loved Gardie, too, okay, I did." He'd only ever said that to Ben before, had never said it to Gardie, and it kind of wrecked him to say it now. But Stella deserved to know that, even if she didn't want to, so he kept going. "Best friends and then some, you always knew we were funny about each other. I was a dumb kid, we both were. I didn't--Stella, I never wanted to hurt you. It was never about not loving you or not wanting you, just... there was him, too. You gotta know that, you know I was crazy about you, always."
Stella shook her head, but finally turned to look at him, touching the backs of her fingers gingerly to the corner of her eyes, trying not to ruin her makeup. "Why are you telling me this? Why now?"
Ray took a breath, because that was the million dollar question, wasn't it? His mom had been telling him for three years that he needed to do this, and Ben gave him a significant look every single time he so much as talked to Stella, so why now? But he just got home from the summer up north, where his name was always spoken next to Ben's, and this year he'd started realizing how many people knew even if he could never actually say it to them, the kids and their parents both--they knew and just let it be. Then he'd come back to Chicago and thought about the neighbors and the people at the grocery store and the diner and he'd realized that maybe Don Cherry was the only one who didn't know. Him and Stella.
"I'm trying to tell you about Ben," Ray said, forcing his voice to stay even and calm, forcing himself to remember what he was doing here. "Because this is my life now, and we've kind of been friends, you and me. And too many people know for me to be sure nobody else is going to find out, and if anything... I just didn't want you to see this on SportsCenter."
The words were hanging in the air before he realized he'd said them because they'd been echoing around his head for weeks--because she'd said that to him, more than eight years ago, when she came to tell him Gardie was dead. She hadn't wanted him to see it on SportsCenter. Her face crumpled a little; she remembered that, too.
"I don't even watch SportsCenter," she said, and gave him an open-handed shove in the middle of his chest, leaving a smear of dampness on his shirt. He stepped back that time, his hands closing into fists in his pockets, and then stared out at the lake again, waiting.
"What about Ben?" she said finally, and Ray looked up, frowning.
"What about him?"
Stella sniffed, rolled her eyes, and said, "You said you loved me, you loved Gardie. You didn't say anything about Ben."
Ray stared. "I--Stella, it's been almost eight years. I figured all of this out so I could be with him, I spend my summers at the North Pole teaching kids not to fight on the ice--"
Her eyes went wide, and then filled up with tears again, but she was kind of smiling this time. "Oh, it's like that."
Ray snorted and looked down at his feet, shrugging. "Yeah. It's like that."
Ray was lying on the couch pretending like he hadn't noticed that Francois had hauled himself up to lay on top of Ray's legs. The dog's head was tucked between Ray's thigh and the back of the couch, and in Ray's peripheral vision he was just a blur of black, the gray of his muzzle hidden. Ray didn't reach down to pet him--it would destroy the illusion that he wasn't letting the dog on the couch--but he did pat his foot against Francois's rump, earning himself a few tail-thumps. It was late, and they were both old and tired.
Ben, meanwhile, was sitting perfectly upright in the chair by the couch, reading and pretending not to care that Ray was changing the channel on the TV every forty-five seconds. Ray could see his reflection in the window, though; he twitched a little when Ray changed channels in the middle of a sentence.
Ray cycled back around to the low numbers and braced himself for the unfunniness of SNL--except when he hit channel four, who looked out of the TV but Brett Hull. He was sitting behind the Weekend Update desk, wearing a suit and giving the camera his cheesiest grin. "I think so. I mean, with the basketball riots, the steroids in baseball, I think hockey's looking classier all the time."
Ben actually lowered the book for this; they both hung on any news relating to the NHL lockout3, even from as unlikely a source as Brett Hull on Saturday Night Live4.
"Very true," the blonde woman said, and then went on without missing a beat. "Brett, you're Canadian. What do you think of this new gay marriage law passing in Canada?"
Ray was suddenly sitting bolt upright with Francois in his lap, and Ben on one side of him and Ben's reflection on the other were equally still, waiting for the inevitable awful joke, eh Goldilocks, eh Koseau...
"Well, that's what happens in Canada when there's no hockey," Brett said, still grinning, and there was a roar of applause from the audience, or maybe just the pounding of Ray's heart. "Guys have more time to hang out, talk about their feelings. Next thing you know, they’re in love with each other. I’ve got nothing against it, but I’d rather be playing hockey."
Ray's mouth opened and closed a couple of times, and the blonde woman gave a brilliant smile and said, "You heard it here first, Brett Hull would rather play hockey than marry a dude."
The television abruptly went dark, and Ray realized he had dropped the remote, and that Ben was kneeling beside him, holding it, looking up at Ray, wide-eyed and pale. Ray stared back, fighting the temptation to lock the doors, pull the curtains, unplug the phones--to take the dog and run, hide, like somehow the fact that Brett Hull had mentioned hockey and guys in love in the same sentence meant that everyone was going to know and--and--
Ray looked toward the TV, remembering the applause, the smiles--remembered Brett Hull grinning through that--I've got nothing against it--and blinked a couple of times. He looked down and Ben was still on his knees, still watching him. Ben was worried about him. Worried about how he would react. Not scared, not fucked up like Ray.
"Fuck it," Ray said, which maybe was not exactly what he'd wanted to say here, but he and Ben had this down now, and Ray knew he could keep talking and wait for the words he did want to find their way out.
"Fuck this, Ben, I'm so fucking sick of--" Ben went paler, and Ray shook his head quickly, grabbing Ben's hand and clutching it tight. "No, I mean, fuck them, fucking--it's been nine years this week, so fuck it. Will you--fuck--"
Ray turned and pushed Francois gently away, settling him on the couch before he slid down to his knees facing Ben, still holding tight to his hand. "Marry me, Benton Fraser, because if Brett Hull can do that then I can do this. Let's go get fucking married already."
Ben blinked a couple of times, looking like he'd just had the wind knocked out of him. Ray leaned in and kissed him, just to feel him breathing, just to save either of them from trying to say anything else for a few seconds, and Ben kissed him back, squeezed his hand so hard Ray felt his bones creak.
"You really--" Ben murmured, and Ray nodded quickly, banging his forehead lightly against Ben's in the process.
"I mean it, I'm going with my gut but I am dead serious, Ben, let's do it. We can drive all day tomorrow, find a courthouse in Windsor on Monday. And then on Tuesday--"
Ray felt his lungs kind of seize up at the thought of Tuesday, but Ben kissed him this time, coaxing him out of his freeze, lips brushing over his mouth and then his cheek, his eyebrows, until Ray said, "Tuesday we give Frannie Vecchio a call and see if she thinks the Trib can spare a few inches for a wedding announcement, okay?"
Ben didn't say anything, and Ray realized that he hadn't actually answered yet. He pulled back far enough to look Ben in the face, only to find him smiling like--well, like he'd had all the wind knocked out of him by a pack of happy kids on skates and Ray had finally quit laughing long enough to help him up.
1. As of the 2008/09 NHL season, Don Cherry continues as the inimitable host of Hockey Night in Canada; both he and the show are Canadian institutions. back
2. As of the 2008/09 NHL season, Chris Chelios is the oldest active player in the league. At age 47, he is older than several head coaches, including the one he has played under for the last three seasons. back
3. The 2004-05 NHL lockout, a labor/management conflict which eventually resulted in the cancellation of the entire hockey season. back
4. December 11, 2004: Transcript. back