Infected Universe Short – The Crawl

This is a small story involving Grey and Scott, two of the Seattle Falcons hockey team from the Infected series. If you’ve never read those stories, you can follow this, which is just a little character piece during a night out on the town. I just thought we could all use a little something nice, since reality’s been really shitty lately.

**

The Crawl

Scott started this thing a couple of years ago, so it was weird to call it a tradition. But it kind of was anyway.

Before the grueling training for hockey season began – and that window grew ever shorter, especially if you were in the pros – they all got together for what was essentially a marathon of drinking and eating foods they couldn’t touch while on a training regimen. Not that Grey worried about that too much. He was a big guy with a well honed metabolism, and little was off limits to him as long as he didn’t go nuts. That was probably true for the rest of them as well, but no one appreciated that, so Grey never said it. Well, he did once. But the evil looks he got were enough for him to not say it ever again.

Tonight was a rare Seattle gathering of former Falcons players, or at least those still in town or able to get here. A handful of them had pro gigs – himself, Scott, Hilly just got signed with the Kings, Richie was with the Flames – but the others were still in the AHL. But whether it was the pros or the semi-pros, playing hockey was a pretty rough gig, and mostly everyone enjoyed a good beer. Or six.

Ten of them started off at a fairly decent bar that went by the unfortunate name Launch Pad, and both he and Scott were sorry Tank wasn’t with them, but he and Fiona had gone to Japan for … well, neither of them was sure. It seemed like an impulsive Tank decision, but with a bigger budget. Goddamn Stanley Cup winning motherfucker.

So they started drinking and getting weird looks from the surrounding tables, because a bunch of young, boisterous, heavy drinking, mostly white guys was always a suspicious thing. They could be a bunch of frat boys wilding, or whatever the fuck those guys did. Grey was never sure.

Of course, the most wary looks were reserved for him, the biggest of the group, which seemed unfair. Just because he looked a bit like Frankenstein’s monster didn’t mean he was one. He wasn’t even wearing the fake bolts for his neck that Scott bought him from a Halloween store. Although, to be fair, he had considered it, before deciding he’d sweat through the glue and lose them at some point in the evening.

He also had the best alcohol tolerance of the group, thanks to his size, body weight, and the fact that he actually knew how to pace himself. Some of the guys, especially the kids, liked to think they could, but either wouldn’t or couldn’t. Grey knew Scott could, but sometimes chose not to. Grey knew right away he’d chosen not to because he ordered shots for the table, and they were tequila, guaranteeing Grey wouldn’t be joining them, as Grey disliked tequila, and Scott knew that very well. There was a millisecond when Cole tried to peer pressure him into having a shot, but Grey glared at him until he looked away. Seriously – did anyone think they could force him to do anything? Grey found the very idea laughable. Even his brothers stopped trying to push him into anything once he had his growth spurt. No one really had a prayer.

They’d planned the route of the crawl with each bar being a step down from the one before it, appropriate to the state of blotto they were most likely in. Although the last bar wasn’t really that dive-y. They didn’t want to be in a truly dismal bar, so stupid drunk they’d only belatedly realize how stabbity or shooty the weird guy in the corner actually was. If Roan was with them, he wouldn’t worry about it, but this was pretty much a player only crawl. Unless Scott had mentioned it to Holden, and maybe he “randomly” encountered them at one of the bars. But, Holden with them would definitely mean staying away from the lowlife bars, because Holden struck him as a guy who would want the fight.

He didn’t ask Scott if he had mentioned it, but Grey tried to stay away from the topic. Scott and Holden were on and off pretty continuously, which was, in his mind, kind of stupid. Clearly they were very into each other, and the fact that they were totally wrong for each other wasn’t a permanent deal breaker for some reason. Holden didn’t like that Scott was in the closet about his bisexuality, and Scott didn’t like that Holden was probably definitely a vigilante who had likely killed people, and would most likely die violently any day now, because this was real life and not a comic book or a Netflix series. Although, they all knew a lion man, so who were they to cast any aspersions on the weirdness of reality?

They tried to balance the liquor at the Launch Pad with some bar food items that were fucking terrible garbage foods that no one should eat sober, although fried mozzarella sticks were the work of the devil. Extremely tasty works. Goddamn. Grey was certain he could eat a barrel full, or however many it took to kill him with heart disease. Probably not that many. He made himself stop at three, and try the potato skins, but they just seemed to reinforce how much more satisfying the mozzarella sticks were. But, he stayed disciplined, and didn’t eat any more.

They moved on to a bar slash restaurant that served fried ice cream – not bad; the corn flake topping was an odd touch – and by the time they moved on to bar three, they’d lost Jeff, who had to go home because he was catching an early flight out. They lost Cole and Dino at bar three, because Cole didn’t pace himself at all and was dangerously drunk; Dino volunteered to accompany him home, just to make sure he got there safely.

Bar four was that weird pseudo-biker bar nightclub that had occasional tattooing on special nights, as well as absinthe shots for those who like liked disappointing booze. There was no tattooing or body piercing going on tonight, which was undoubtedly for the best.

Grey actually got left alone at the table for a bit, as Scott and Richie were doing their best with an unwieldy amount of drink orders, and some of the guys were drunkenly playing pool, while still others were chatting up equally drunk women. Grey was wondering if he’d paced himself too well, as he didn’t feel remotely tipsy, when Hilly joined him at the table.

Hilly was one of those guys who was probably going to be carded into his forties. He had a round, young face, and the fact that he was a goaltender meant it was probably going to stay that way, unmarred by most of the scars the hockey players without face masks picked up. Not that goalies were completely protected against facial injuries – Tank had had a couple of pretty memorable ones – but the odds were in his favor. And as a back up to Tank for most of his career, Hilly was a steady, unflashy goaltender, not inclined to do the weird, aggressive shit. And why would he? Tank did that. Hilly got to carve out his own quiet space as a reasonable alternative to lightning in a bottle.

He got a new haircut, in an attempt to look more or less his age, but it made him look younger, made his eyes seem too big. He was a good Midwestern Canadian boy who was probably never going to get this right. “Can I ask you something?’ he said, slurring his words slightly. Hilly wasn’t a habitual drinker, therefore when he did do it, he got hammered fast.

“Sure.”

He leaned across the table, basically falling on it, and whispered, “Is it true you’re asexual?”

Grey smiled, watching a blush of embarrassment start crawling up Hilly’s neck. “Yeah. Got a problem with that?”

“No, no. I just … what does that mean exactly? You’re afraid of sex?”

That startled a laugh out of him. “Ha! No, it means I don’t care about it. It’s cool if it’s your thing, but it’s not my thing.”

“Have you never had it?” The blush had now reached his chin, and was crawling up his face. It was a combination of being embarrassed and being very drunk, as Hilly had that pale Irish thing going on, where he’d get a bit red faced when he was sloshed.

“No, I’ve had it. I’ve also tried to have relationships, because society was telling me I had to do these things. I tried to play along, figuring the problem was with me, and all my girlfriends broke up with me because I never wanted to have sex, and they thought I was cheating or ‘roiding or something. Truth is, I’m asexual, and probably aromantic as well. Not sure. I mean, in theory I have no objections to a relationship, but in practice, I don’t care either. I don’t feel like I’m missing anything not having a romantic partner. I’m good.”

Although Hilly looked really drunk, he also looked deeply confused. “I don’t … could you be gay or something?”

Grey snickered. “I wish. Then I wouldn’t mind looking at naked dudes in a locker room. But no, I’m not. Can’t say I’ve ever been attracted to a guy.” Well, maybe Roan a little, but he didn’t count, because everything with a pulse was probably attracted to him. He was a literal beast after all, and goddamn if that wasn’t hot.

Hilly still seemed confused. A little line had formed between his eyebrows, and if you looked at him a certain way, he kind of looked a bit Vulcan. “I really don’t get it.”

“Don’t get what?” Scott asked, returning to the table with half a dozen drinks. He managed to put them all down while only sloshing a little, which was a minor talent.

“Me,” Grey said.

Scott snorted, picking up his drink. “You don’t get to be the scariest defenseman of the year by being easily got in any respect.”

Hilly, now red to the roots of his hair, whispered, “It’s the asexual thing.”

“What?” Scott obviously couldn’t hear him over all the ambient bar noise.

“The asexual thing,” Grey repeated, in a more conversational tone.

“Oh, that? What’s to get? He doesn’t like sex, which means more puck bunnies for me.” Scott gulped down his booze, which was probably whisky, judging by the color.

From the way his eyes widened, something must have just dawned on Hilly. “Holy crap. You’ve known for a while, haven’t you?”

“Of course, he’s my best friend.” Scott dropped the empty glass on the table, and patted Grey on one of his shoulders. “Actually, no, strike that. He’s my non-sexual soulmate.” Scott punctuated that with a kiss on Grey’s cheek, and a ruffling of his hair.

“Hands off me, you horny bastard,” Grey said jokingly, making shooing motions with his hands. Scott just laughed and walked off to join the guys at the pool table.

Hilly looked a little surprised, but not very. Everyone on the team knew how close they were. If anybody thought it was weird, they kept it to themselves after one deathly stare from Grey.

His relationship with Scott had all the hallmarks of a rom-com. When they first met, it was instant hatred. Grey thought Scott was a pretty boy center, intending to rely on defensemen to bail him out from puck selfishness, or from writing checks his skinny ass couldn’t possibly cash. Scott told him that when they first met, he thought Grey was a thuggish lummox who couldn’t skate, and was only there to cause trouble. But they quickly learned they weren’t who they thought they were, and they’d been best friends ever since.

Hilly sighed, and sagged forward across the table. “I don’t understand … anything anymore. Why is everything so complicated nowadays?”

“’Cause it just is. Gotta suck it up and move on, Hilly.”

He made a grumbling noise, and laid his face down on the table. Grey let him. Poor Hilly – he couldn’t hold his liquor. What the hell kind of a Canadian was he? He was letting his whole country down.

“Hey Grey,” Scott called, from beside the pool table. “I need a second so I can hustle these guys. You in?”

“Sure,” Grey said, gulping down the rest of his watery beer.

In retrospect, he did have a relationship. Scott was right – they were soulmates. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

**

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