Friday, February 12, 2010

Black Ice

Title: Black Ice
Authors: Rolf and Gayspankee

"We're going down to the library," Ricky said as he stood up and pulled his sister Kelly off the bleachers and down the aisle. 
Kelly turned and smiled shyly at Alex as she followed her brother. "Do you think they should be in the library?" Cheryl asked her husband Jack. 
"They'll be fine," Jack said, patting Cheryl's leg. 
"I can't believe they don't want to watch this game," Alex said to Jeremy, sitting beside him. "I mean, THIS is an exciting game!" 
"It is. But not everyone has hockey in their blood." 
"You don't have to have hockey in the blood! The eventual losers are fighting for a playoff spot against a team that is GOING to the playoffs. You can't get much more exciting than that!" 
The horn sounded and a few moments later the players skated out onto the ice to begin the second period. "Dipstick is eyeing you again," Nick said to Peter as they skated over to the bench. "I'll make sure the "D" keep him away from you." 
"Thanks, but I can hold my own," Peter said, settling down on the bench. 
"That's not your job. This IS the captain speaking," Nick said as he skated out to take the face-off. Peter was on the ice within two minutes. He accepted a pass from his winger and streaked down the ice, firing a shot on goal. The goalie stopped it and tossed it to one of his teammates to avoid the whistle. Peter turned quickly and bumped the guy before he had time to pass the puck, stopping it at the blue line. Peter had to swing around, and at the same time so did Vadim, so that when their sticks connected on the puck, the puck was sent into the stands. Peter went to skate away while Vadim made sure he bumped hard into Peter. 
"Your brother's a queer which makes you one too." 
"You're just jealous I stopped you," Peter snarled back as the refs separated them. 
"I see you don't deny it," Vadim retorted. 
"Trash talking stops here, or you can spend two minutes in the box for unsportsmanlike like behavior," the ref said, pushing Vadim back towards his bench. That effectively ended that conversation. 
"Looks like there's some trash being said, doesn't it?" Xander asked Jeremy. 
"I don't think they're exchanging recipes," Jeremy replied. "They've already had a LOT of hard hits. They need to get their defenses up to contain that turkey." 
"I agree." 
"Petey, next shift you go to the left," Nick said, giving more instructions to the rest of the guys on the bench. When Patrick skated in, Peter jumped over the boards and got set in the play. The puck sailed across the ice and Peter corralled it, taking a nice side step around the back defensive guy and going to the left. He passed the puck before he got to the blue line and his teammate shot it, the goalie catching and holding on. Peter had his head down when he ran into Vadim again, who had skated across to get in his path. Peter raised his stick sideways and used it to push Vadim back before the ref got in between them again. 
"Separate. Come on, neither of you want a penalty, this game is too important. Go. GO." Peter and Vadim both skated away, both steaming. 
"He's really giving you a hard time, isn't he?" John asked as Peter took a seat on the bench. 
"I don't know what his problem is, but it's going to be me real quick if he doesn't knock it off." 
"We'll get him for you," John said. And on the next shift, he did. He plowed right into him, a clean hit. John made quite sure that Vadim knew that was for Peter, and to keep away if he didn't want more. 
"Yay! You go get 'em Johnny!" Xander jumped up and yelled when Vadim landed on his tailbone. The incident happened with five minutes to go in the period. Vadim and Peter had continued to talk to each other, getting seriously under each other's skin. Vadim was furious that the other players were taking up for Peter and was looking for any chance he could take to plow into his target. Getting set on his tailbone did NOT do anything for his barely-controlled temper as he watched his team down 1-0, knowing that if they didn't do something to change the momentum, his senior season would end after the very next game. He had the rest of the world blocked out when the ice opened between he and Peter. He could tell Peter was demanding a pass. Putting on the jets, he centered Peter in his targets and steamrolled towards him.
Peter saw the puck headed his way and lifted his head to decide where to go with it. His view of things went in slow motion. He looked up to see the opponent's mascot, a black bear, coming straight at him. His eyes continued up from the bear and settled a moment on the nasty half-grin that his opponent was giving him before going up a bit farther and settling on a set of what appeared to be solid black, and angry, eyes. The crowd sounds, the other player's sounds, everything disappeared and all Peter could hear were one set of skates, cutting across the ice, and heavy, panting breaths. He was in the process of trying to figure out who's breath it was, his or Vadim's, when he felt the first contact. His breath left his body slowly as he was lifted clear of the ice. There was a split second when Peter didn't think he could catch his breath again before he heard a sickening thud and the world dissolved in black around him. 
Cheryl, Jack, Jeremy and Xander were just getting to their feet, having seen the collision coming, when Peter was thrown into the boards like a rag doll. They watched in horror as he seemed to land on his feet, tilting precariously backwards like a drunken sailor, before his feet slid out from under him and his seemingly lifeless body sprawled full length on the ice. The crowd all started to babble but quieted immediately when the first ref to get to Peter immediately started waving his hand to the bench for the trainer. 
Alexander was two steps out of his seat before Jeremy's hand yanked him back. "WAIT. Just wait." 
Cheryl was holding tight to Jack, watching. "I've got to go!" 
"No, Alexander, just wait," Jeremy said again, keeping a firm hold on his young lover. 
The trainer was next to Peter in an instant, and he too raised his hand to signal the doctors. You would hear a pin drop in the arena as all eyes were glued on Peter. His teammates stood in front of the bench, being retained by a linesmen. The doctors came onto the ice and examined Peter's motionless body. After he failed to respond to a number of stimuli, the ref signaled for what could only be an ambulance. 
"Oh my god! Peter!" Cheryl cried, as Jack held her. 
"It will be all right. Things like this happen all the time," Jack replied, trying to soothe his wife. 
"Not to PETER!" Xander snapped. 
Jeremy placed his hand on his shoulder, in an attempt to calm him down. "Of course not," Jack replied, exchanging glances with Jeremy. Within minutes, the paramedics were on the ice with the stretcher. 
Cheryl turned and tried to get out of the row. "I have to go with my baby," she said, distraught. 
Jack, Alex and Jeremy followed in single file out of the stands, Cheryl trying to nod and say thanks to those that wished Peter well. "Ricky and Kelly! They don't know. They shouldn't see this. I better-"
Jack started as he guided Cheryl down to the ice entrance. "You should go to the hospital with your wife," Jeremy replied. 
"Jer I need-" Xander began to speak in a huff. 
"You go with your mom and Jack. I will see if I can find the little ones, and take them home." "Thank you," Jack said gratefully as he pulled out his house keys and handed them to Jeremy. "Call my brother, Steve, he can stay with the kids so you can be with Alex."
Jeremy nodded. Xander stopped for a minute as Cheryl and Jack hurried ahead of them. "I need you," Xander said, near tears. 
"And your mom needs YOU. I will be along soon. Promise." Jeremy kissed Xander on the forehead, and sent him on ahead. "Everything WILL be all right." 
Xander nodded, hoping Jeremy's words were true. Jeremy went down the hallway, looking for signs to the library. Finally he found the right wing and headed down the hall. He found the library mostly deserted, with no Ricky or Kelly in sight. Jeremy went directly to the checkout desk. "Do you know Ricky and Kelly Miller?" 
"The names sound familiar," the lady answered. 
"You wouldn't have happened to have seen them this evening? Ricky was wearing a red shirt, and Kelly had on blue?" 
The librarian's eyes lit up. "Yes, they were here about twenty minutes ago." 
"Do you know where they went?" 
"No, sorry." 
"There anyplace else in school here that they'd visit if they weren't in the gym?" 
"The only other room that should be open is the cafeteria. That stays open for drinks and study hall late." 
"Thanks," Jeremy said, turning away. He just as quickly turned back. "Which -?" 
"Down to the left, third door on the right," the librarian said, smiling.
Jeremy gave her a half-smile and left, saying thanks again. He found the right hallway and headed for the only door that had light emanating from it. He found Kelly and Ricky sitting on a table, talking to some friends. "Hey guys. We need to head on out of here," Jeremy said calmly. 
"Why?" Ricky asked without getting up. 
"I'll tell you on the way down the hall," Jeremy said, holding out a hand for Kelly to take to help her jump off the table.
Kelly and Ricky both responded to the commanding, though very gentle voice of Jeremy. Once he had them out in the hall and away from their friend's prying ears, he stopped. "Peter is on his way to the hospital right now -" Jeremy began. 
"Why?" Kelly immediately asked. 
"He took a hard knock on the boards. He's going to be just fine, they're just being extra cautious with him." 
"How do you know?" Ricky asked searchingly. 
"He wasn't hit with the puck, and he's not bleeding. Your father took Alex and your mother to the hospital, and I'll get you two home, and they'll call you with any information as soon as they get it. Let's go, so we don't miss their call."
Kelly had grown to love Peter as her brother, and she instinctively reached out to hold Jeremy's hand, needing the comfort. Jeremy squeezed it gently, and put his arm around the shoulders of Ricky and walked out to the car. They heard the ambulance's siren as it pulled away.
The drive to Jack and Cheryl's house was quiet, as all thoughts were on Peter. Jeremy tried his best to not look too concerned, but in his line of work, not being responsive was NOT a good thing. Jeremy soon made it to his destination, and herded the youngsters into the house. "Where does Ja- your dad keep the phone numbers?" Jeremy asked.
Kelly pointed to the table on which the phone sat. 
"He's going to be fine." Jeremy said reassuringly, waiting for her to nod in agreement. Jeremy then went to the phone and found Steve's number and dialed. Before pushing the last number, he spoke to Xander's stepsiblings. "Why don't you go downstairs and see what is on?"
They nodded, and left Jeremy to his privacy. He finished dialing and waited for an answer. "Hi, can I speak to Steve...."
Fifteen minutes later, Steve was at the door. "Jeremy Moralis, Alexander's partner," Jeremy said, holding out his hand. 
"Steve Miller," Steve said, shaking the proffered hand. 
"Thanks for coming so quickly," Jeremy said, holding the door open. 
"How is Peter?" Steve said, entering the house. 
"He was unconscious, and I haven't heard further. I'll have Jack call you as soon as they know anything. Kids are downstairs." 
"Let them know we're thinking of them, and that the kids are fine here." 
"Thanks. Bye kids!" Jeremy yelled downstairs, before heading out and over to the hospital. He found Alexander pacing outside the emergency entrance. 
"Where have you been?" Xander said accusingly. 
"I had to wait for Steve to arrive. Heard anything on Peter?" 
"No, they won't tell us anything," Xander said, heading back in, Jeremy in tow. 
"Hey Moralis," a nurse said, passing by. 
"Hi Jodi," Jeremy replied. 
"Do you know EVERYone?" Xander asked, as always, amazed that someone invariably said 'hi' to his partner wherever they went. 
"Not everyone, but in my line of work, I do see these people often. Where's your mom and Jack?" 
Jeremy wrapped his arm around Xander, and walked him to chairs to be with the others. 
"Did you get the kids home safely?" Jack asked, seeing Jeremy. 
"Yes. They weren't too hard to locate. Steve arrived quickly. Everyone's thoughts are with Peter." Jeremy said, extending eye contact to Cheryl. Jeremy walked over to her, and gave her a hug. "No news is good news. I find that cliché rings true very often."
Cheryl smiled through her tears, and kissed him gently on the cheek. 
"Let me see if I can't find out something." Jeremy offered, walking towards the front desk, leaving Xander in his mother's arms. 
"Hi Lydia," Jeremy said with all his charm. 
"Hi yourself, Jeremy; what brings you to these parts out of uniform?" the attractive brunette asked from behind the admit desk. 
"They brought in a teen male some time ago. Peter Hamilton. He was struck at a-" 
"Hockey game," the nurse finished. "Yes, I think they are still examining him." 
"We haven't been able to get any information, could you see if you could find something out," Jeremy asked, eyes pleading. 
"Sure," Lydia  replied with a wink. "Give me a few minutes." 
"Thanks. You're a peach." Jeremy returned to the others, Xander standing up immediately. 
"I have someone checking."
Xander exhaled heavily, and landed in Jeremy's arms again. 
"I knew that game was dangerous! I just KNEW something like this would happen," Cheryl ranted angrily. 
"There is nothing wrong with the GAME. The only thing dangerous are-" Xander's ire was interrupted by a firm hold from Jeremy. 
"Let's try to concentrate on Peter right now, and forget the game. He needs our support, don't you agree?"
Xander couldn't help but agree. He subsided against Jeremy, grateful for the hand running gently through his hair.Jeremy looked up to see Lydia  nod her head. "Wait here," he said, standing up and heading over to the desk. "What did you find out?" Jeremy asked as he stepped up to the desk. 
"The doctors are still examining him. He is still unconscious, but the x-rays are all negative for broken bones. Stimulation tests show he's not paralyzed at all, so I think we're just looking at a serious concussion." 
"Know when they'll let us see him?" 
"I can imagine it won't be too long. Most of the tests are done, and I think they were looking for a room for him." 
"Thanks, Lydial I owe you one." 
"It's no problem," Lydia said before Jeremy turned and went back to the family. 
"What did you find out?" Cheryl and Xander asked at the same time. 
"He's not regained consciousness yet, but all x-rays are clear. No broken bones. Probably just a good concussion." 
"Thank goodness," Cheryl said. 
"What does a concussion mean?" Xander asked.
Jeremy didn't feel comfortable talking about things he wasn't sure of. "It just means the brain is bruised. We'll just wait for the doctors to let us know what they find out."
Just then, several team members and the coach entered the emergency room. "Mrs. Miller, hi. Any news?" The coach asked, holding out his hand to Jack. 
"Jeremy just told us he's not yet conscious, but there doesn't seem to be any broken bones." 
"That's great news," the coach said, before turning to his players. "Why don't you boys head on home. Peter won't be able to see you tonight, and I'm sure the hospital staff doesn't want to be walking around all of you. I have your numbers and will call you later for an update." The guys nodded and offered their support to the family before heading out, all but one. 
Nick decided to remain. "If you don't mind Mrs. Miller, I would like to stay?" Nick asked quietly, deep in thought. 
"Sure honey, I am sure Peter would like that," she replied sweetly.
Nick took a seat away from the others, immediately lost in thought. Xander leaned in and whispered to his mother. "Who's that?" 
"That's Nick. He and Peter spend a lot of time together practicing."
He's the, know," Cheryl motioned with her hand, unable to gather her thoughts. 
"Head of the squad." "Captain?" Xander helped. 
"Yes, that's it."
Xander nodded and sat back. He watched Nick closely, remembering that he used to "practice" a lot when he first met Jeremy. Xander had always assumed his brother was straight. But watching Nick's body language, Xander could sense there was something more to it. As Xander was about to comment on this to Jeremy, everyone's attention was turned to the long-legged, short-skirted blonde. "Mr. and Mrs. Miller! How is Peter?" 
"Hi Beth," Cheryl said as she and Jack stood up. She hugged Beth quickly. "He's still out and we're still waiting on word. No broken bones though." 
"That's GREAT news," Beth bubbled. "Can I see him?" 
"Not yet," Jack said, before spotting the approaching doctor. 
"Mr. and Mrs. Miller?" the doctor asked, walking up. 
"Yes, I'm Jack, this is my wife Cheryl," Jack said, offering his hand. 
"Robert Mendoza," the doctor said, shaking Jack's hand. "He's starting to come around, and asking for you Mrs. Miller." 
"Oh, thank God. I'll be back," Cheryl said, following the doctor down the corridor towards her son. 
"That's great news," Jeremy said, hugging Xander tight and looking at Jack.
Beth introduced herself to Xander and Jeremy, her eyes running thoroughly over both men, before she spotted Nick and headed over to hug him, settling down to talk.
Cheryl saw her son and her pace quickened. "Peter? Peter, I'm here, it's mom," she said, holding her son's hand tight. "He's not answering," she said, looking worriedly at the doctor as a nurse took his vital signs. 
"With a hit as hard as he took, it's going to take some time for him to fully come around. He'll be dropping in and out and will probably be quite frightened. We're going to continue watching his vitals and give him time to come to. Then we'll do a short battery of tests to determine the extent of the concussion." 
"Do you think there is any permanent damage?" 
"We won't know until we can run those tests, but everything points to him recovering fully," the doctor said as he looked over the vitals the nurse had written down. 
"Thanks. Tell my husband?" 
"Sure will," the doctor said as he headed out of the room.
Cheryl remained with her son, Peter waking up for a couple of minutes before the fog closed in again. After about an hour, she headed down the hall to the waiting area. Everyone jumped up and surrounded her. "Peter woke up for a minute, long enough to say thanks for sticking around," Cheryl said. "Then he asked what time it was, and why you all weren't at home, in bed," she finished with a strangled laugh that almost dissolved into tears.
Jeremy took some time to take a good look at Alexander and realized he was exhausted. "I think we'll take Peter's advice and head on home in a few minutes,"
Jeremy said. "Home? I'm not leav-" Xander started, but was interrupted. "That's a good idea kids. Peter's resting, and you should be too.
You'll all be more help to him if you're awake tomorrow when I hope he can have visitors," Jack agreed.
Nick and Beth said their goodbyes and headed out to the parking lot.
Jeremy took Xander with him to the cafeteria to get his mother and Jack some coffee before they left.
Jeremy managed to get Xander home without having to spank him. He understood Alex was having a rough time and was too tired to think logically. Once home Jeremy basically walked Alex through getting ready for bed before he did so himself, climbing in and massaging Alex until they both fell asleep.
Jack went to visit Peter with Cheryl for a few minutes, then it was decided he would head home and allow his brother to head back to his own home while Cheryl stayed at the hospital. ************
Jeremy rolled onto his side and faced Xander. He gently brushed the hair out of his face. "Morning," Jeremy said softly, as he leaned in and kissed Xander on the lips. "Hey," Xander replied. "Sleep any better?" Jeremy asked, concerned.
Xander shook his head. "Not really." 
"I didn't think so. You were thrashing around pretty good when I came to bed." 
"I close my eyes at night, and I just see that vicious hit." 
"It was a terrible thing to witness. But Peter is all right, he's back home. There was no residual damage, other than not remembering the hit. Which I think is a good thing." "
I know. I just can't stop thinking, 'what if?' You know?" 
"I do. But if you don't start getting past this, and getting your rest, you are going to have a hard time achieving everything you have strived so hard to get."
Xander stared blankly at Jeremy, thankful for having the past few days off from the ice. Xander needed to change the topic. "What did you make of Nick?" 
"Petey's captain. He was the only player who stuck around." 
"Oh. He seemed nice." 
"Mom says they practice a lot together." 
"It's good to have someone that is an equal match for you. Helps you stay on your game, right?" 
"No...they *practice* together," Xander replied, emphasizing the word 'practice'. 
"I don't follow." 
"When I first started seeing you, I told mom I was going to *practice*." 
"Glad we broke that naughty little habit of lying you had." 
"Focus Jeremy," Xander replied with a smile. 
"What about Mary Elizabeth Wittaker? She seemed to be concerned." 
"The only thing she was concerned about, was who would take her to the prom if Peter was unable to," Xander said matter-of-factly.
Jeremy reached around and swatted Xander firmly on his rear. "Be nice! I think you are reading too much into it. She seemed like a lovely young lady." 
"Puhlease. She was nothing but pure sex! Did you SEE  that skirt? You could all but see her lacey underwear." 
"Since when were you looking?" Jeremy asked innocently. 
"A little hard to miss! I just don't see my brother going for that." 
"I know what you mean. ‘Cause teenagers never think with anything but their hearts." Jeremy replied, sarcastically. 
"So what if I wanted to fu...make love to you the first time I laid eyes on you?" 
"I just think you are trying to find a bond between you and your brother that isn't there. But, I DO think you should talk to him. Help you get back into your game, and get you on the ice," Jeremy said as he turned to look at the clock. "Speaking of which, you should get moving if you are going to make practice on time."
Xander rolled out of the bed and headed in for a shower. He had talked to Jeremy a little about what he was feeling, but he wasn't at all sure he wanted to be back on the ice himself. After his shower and a quick breakfast, he headed on down to the rink. 
"How's your brother?" Timo asked as soon as he saw him in the locker room. 
"He's fine," Xander said, started to get dressed up. 
"When's he going to play again?" 
"Doctor said two to three weeks before he could even consider it. Just depends on what the tests say at that point I suppose." 
"You said you were there. How vicious of a hit was it?" 
"The guy just flat bulldozed him. Peter's head connecting with the glass was the first thing of him that touched after being lifted from his feet by that asshole," Xander said, pulling angrily on his skates. Several other team members were gathered around, all having heard of hit and subsequent hospitalization of Peter. 
"Hit the ice. Coach is ready," the captain yelled into the locker room. The various team members all stood up and filed out towards the rink. Practice began with short skating sprints, followed by shooting. The coach yelled comments to help players through the shooting drills. "All right, have a seat," the coach yelled, tapping his stick on the ice.
When everyone was seated, he started handing out the line assignments. "The next opponent is the Florida Everblades. They have a strong first line and play a good defensive game. Timo, you're going to be paired with Boots and Bradley. Kelly, Hamilton and Maky. Linds, Ram and Hags. Gooey, Libs and Allen. The defensive pairings remain the same. Lines will go by number against theirs to begin and I'll switch in the game if I think it's needed."
The coach continued to talk about the upcoming game against the Everblades. When he finished, the coach sent them out in their new lines to run drills with each other. Another thirty minutes of that, and the team members headed off to the locker rooms or weight rooms, whichever they normally did. "Hamilton, can I see you for a minute?" the coach beckoned.

Xander skated over to the coach. "What's up, coach?" 
"Big weekend coming up. This is make or break for us clinching the division title. We could really use your skill this weekend. Are you up for it?" Coach asked. 
"I am ready, you can count on me." Xander replied, lying to please his coach. Truth be known he was petrified about getting back on the ice. 
"Glad to hear it. Go hit the weights," Coach replied, patting Xander on the back. 
"You still can't remember anything about the game?" Xander asked staring at his brother. 
"No. I mean, I remember the asshole that rammed me. But I don't, I can't recall what led up to it. It must have been pretty intense to see." 
"Intense? Peter it was downright frightening. I mean injury is a player's greatest fear." 
"No shit!" 
"But watching you lie there lifeless. That is something none of us will forget." Xander said, tears welling in his eyes. 
"All right, alright. I get enough waterworks from mom and Beth. Don't need more from you."
Xander sat quiet for minute in the chair. He stared at his brother sprawled on the bed. He looked around Peter's bedroom. Everything about it said bonafide heterosexual, but Xander couldn't shake his suspicions. "So has Nick been around?" Xander asked casually. 
"Yeah, once or twice. Why?"
Xander shrugged. "He just seemed concerned." 
"Good friends tend be concerned in times of crisis." 
"So what is the deal between you two?" 
"D-deal?" Peter stuttered, as he felt his face flush. 
"Mom says you and Nick practice a lot." 
"So? Is that a crime?" 
"No. But I used to 'practice' a lot too, when I first started seeing Jeremy."
Peter put his hand up. "Jeremy is a great guy, whatever. But I don't want to hear about the things you two do." 
"Good, because I don't intend to tell you. I was just..." 
"Are you and Nick involved? Romantically?" 
"WHAT!?!" Peter said, astounded. 
"I don't care if you are. Obviously I am all for it. I know how it is to have things to tell, and no one else to tell them to. I just-" 
"You are just WAY off base! Alex, you're my brother and I love you. But I am NOT a queer. I am one hundred percent, grade A heterosexual," Peter replied firmly. 
"So..." Xander didn't know how to respond. He KNEW there was something more than friendship between Nick and Peter, but now wasn't sure what. 
"So what?" 
"You and Mary Elizabeth are for real?" Xander said disapprovingly. 
"And what does that mean?" Peter replied defensively. 
"She's just so, I don't know. She's like a total princess. Like it's all an act." 
"You don't know a thing about her! You saw her for what? All of ten minutes?" 
"I guess." 
"Well don't judge people by things you don't understand. You of ALL  people, Alexander, should know that!"
Xander realized he hit a nerve. "I'm sorry Petey, you're right. Is she the one?" 
"The one?" Peter said with a chuckle. "How the fuck should I know? Alls I know, is she is 'the one' when I am riding her." 
"You're not a virgin?" Xander asked. 
"Virgin?! I'm eighteen!! I've got needs." 
"Well, are you careful?" 
"I'm eighteen. I'm not STUPID. Are YOU careful?" 
"We're not talking about me, but yes, ALWAYS! And you remember that too! We don't need any more Hamiltons out there...yet!"
Peter smiled. 
"Nice to see you wearing one of those." 
"I heard you have a couple big games this weekend." 
"Yeah." Xander replied. 
"Don't sound so enthused." 
"Just, kind of nervous about...never mind. Hey I should be going. Jeremy will be going to work soon, and I want to see him before."
Xander patted Peter on the shoulder and headed towards the door. 
"Alex?" Peter called. 
"Win some games for me this weekend," Peter said with a wink.
Xander flashed half a smile, and left. 
Xander was nervous about taking to the ice. Seeing his brother still at home, still off the ice a week after leaving the hospital made it hard. The doctors still weren't giving Peter a time that he COULD return to the ice. They expected him to at some point, but whether it was next week, next month, or next year was uncertain. And he felt horrible for Peter, as there was only a maximum of a month left in his senior season. If he didn't get back out there soon, he was going to lose the best chances for the scouts to see him.
Xander kept to himself about how he was feeling. He wouldn't admit to his teammates he wasn't ready for a game. He wouldn't admit to Peter that he was afraid of the same thing happening to him. And he wouldn't admit to Jeremy that he was bothered by it because he didn't want Jeremy to worry MORE about him than he knew he already did. 
"Hello?" Xander said as he grabbed the phone right before the answering machine was set to pick up. 
"Hey Alex. All set for the game tonight?" Jeremy asked. 
"Yes.  When are you coming home?" Xander asked accusingly, seeing the time and knowing without being told that the phone call was a scheduling change. 
"I'm sorry, but I won't be able to make it tonight. The Chief's -" 
"Why does it always have to be YOU?" Xander spat. 
"That's not fair," Jeremy said, before getting cut off again. 
"That's right, it's not fair to ME!" Xander shouted, before hanging the phone up. He stomped off to get his bag packed for the game, ignoring the ringing phone.
Jeremy dialed immediately back. When Xander didn't pick up, he spoke to the answer machine. "Young man, you have one chance to pick that phone up and explain yourself. Xander? You're to go straight home after the game and you and I will discuss proper phone behavior tomorrow morning." Jeremy softened his voice. "I'm sorry I won't be there. Good luck, and I love you."
Xander stared at the phone, his hand hovering over it. In frustration, he slammed his hand on the table, causing the phone to vibrate. Xander grabbed his bag, and stomped out the door to his truck.
Xander's mind swirled as he drove to the arena. Tonight's game was going to be a hard fought one in it's own right. But Xander knew it would be even more difficult for himself. Now his rock wasn't even going to be in the stands to watch over him. Xander wiped at his eyes, as he rounded the corner to the arena. Xander parked in the area reserved for players, and grabbed his bag. As he walked into the locker room, Xander felt a feeling of dread. But he held it in and started prepping for the game, both physically and mentally.
A half hour later he took to the ice for warm-ups. Xander's eyes automatically moved up to where Jeremy usually sat before he remembered he wasn't going to be there. He tuned out the crowd, ignoring the fans he usually smiled at or waved to when warming up. He concentrated instead on the pucks, and making sure that he stayed out of the way of the net when the others were shooting. Xander was usually one of the last few off the ice, always wanting to get in that list bit of work before having to head to the locker room for the twenty minute wait for the opening puck drop. This time, he skated off the ice immediately after the minimum time needed to stay on the ice. He headed back to the locker room and sat with a towel over his head, trying to get his courage up to get back out on the ice. He was soon lost in deep thought, imagining every possible scenario that could go wrong.
Victor McGregor, the leading defenseman, took to his feet as the players started to exit the locker room. "Ice timeHamilton," McGregor said as he picked up his stick.
Xander didn't reply. "Hey, X-Man, to the ice," McGregor said again.
But again Xander didn't reply. McGregor walked over to Xander and removed the towel from his head, causing Xander to jump and gasp. "Dude, you don't look so good." McGregor replied. "Sure you're up for this?"
Xander took a moment to return to the here and now, and slowly nodded.
McGregor opened his mouth to combat, but nothing came out. He just motioned for Xander to get moving.
Xander slowly got to his feet and took a deep breath. He grabbed his stick, and slowly exited the locker room and headed for the ice. He skated directly to the bench, and took his spot for the National Anthem. As the singer of the night sang her heart out, Xander looked around the arena slowly. His head began to spin, staring at the people and the boards and the ice and the players. Before the last bar of the Anthem was sung, Xander reached under the bench for the emergency bucket. The sound of his heaves were concealed by the powerful voice of the young singer. He immediately sat down on the bench and tried to regain the little composure that he did have. 
The coach walked down to Xander and leaned in. "Are you well enough to play?" he asked. 
"Just something I ate," Xander replied, rinsing his mouth with water from a sport's bottle onto the ice. 
"Sure that's all it is?"
Xander nodded. The coach patted him on the shoulder and resumed his normal position at mid-bench.
The game started. Back on home ice, he was one of the star players.
His line was called out within one minute of the opening faceoff. He skated out, his mind still on his brother. He played the first period very timidly, though ultimately it didn't have an effect on the game.
He was on the bench when the time ran out and they filed back into the locker room. Before Xander even had a chance to sit down, the goalie tossed his helmet on the bench beside Xander and confronted him. "What the hell are you doing out there?" Nagy said, bringing his stick down hard on the floor. "You look like you're afraid to hit a flea! I can only stand on my head for so long before they're going to score. Pick it up."
Xander nodded, knowing the lecture was more than deserved. Nagy sat down next to him as the coach filed in after everyone was situated in the locker room. "All right guys, we're still even on the scoreboard, but it's not going to stay that way unless we pick up the play. They're outworking us in the corners, out hitting us on the boards, and out passing us in the neutral zone. This is what we're going to do." The coach took out his marker and filled out plays on the board for the next five minutes, then headed back to his office. The guys then went for medical treatment if they needed it, to the bathroom, or settled back to focus on the rest of the game. Xander closed his eyes and settled back, trying to find his own focus.
The second period of the game, the home team played a little harder, but so did the opponents. They traded scores during the period, so at second intermission, the teams were tied 1-1. Everyone headed back to the locker rooms and were in the process of settling down when the coach roared in. "That was the second worst period I've seen you guys play, only outdone by the first period! You guys are relying too much on Nagy's play in the net. Just be damned glad that he's keeping you in the game! You'd better make that third period worth playing, or they'll be sprints for the next week!" The coach stormed back to his office, shutting the door. The assistant coach took over the short meeting and went over some of the things that needed to be improved, and places that the opponents were showing weakness. When he was finished and had gone, the captain walked over to Xander. "Xander, what's up with you? Still not feeling well?" 
"I'm all right," Xander said, his head still down. 
"You're not yourself out there. Get your head in the game before something happens."
Xander nodded his head once, never looking at the captain. He couldn't admit his feelings to anyone. Xander knew this was the make or break period for him as he entered the ice for the final period of the night. Unfortunately, knowing what he had to do, and actually doing it, were two very different things. 
Jeremy winced as he listened to the play by play coverage on the radio. He just tuned in as Xander missed a fateful pass that resulted in an opposing goal. "Sounds like Alex is having a rough night." Johnson said as he gave Jeremy a cup of coffee. 
"He's been having a rough couple weeks, actually. But I thought once he got on the ice all would be golden." Jeremy replied quietly, sipping the caffeine-free drink. 
"He'll redeem himself with the next line change." Johnson said optimistically. 
"Are you ready?" McGregor asked, as he leaned over, cuing the next line change.
Xander nodded, trying to convince himself more than his linemate. The ref's whistle blew as the opposing team took a dive. This was the chance for redemption, now on a power play. The previous line came in, and Xander's line set out for the face off in neutral territory. Xander took post on the right wing, and watched as the battle for the puck began. McGregor won the face off, and they raced down ice toward the waiting goal. McGregor passed the puck to Xander, who was open and waiting. As the puck sailed towards his stick, a brute of a player came barreling towards him. Xander's head jerked from the player to the puck and back to the player. He was dangerously close to the boards, a vision flashed in his mind of Peter's brutal hit. Suddenly his teammates no longer existed, his reflex was purely of matter over mind. 
"WHAT?" Johnson exclaimed. "No they must be fucking with us."
Jeremy hung his head. He knew the announcer was simply relaying the sight on the ice. 
It was split second reaction, and it was the wrong one. Xander turned away from the oncoming player, and puck, and ducked sideways to avoid the hit. His hard turn was too much for him to handle and he caught his foot on the ice and tumbled down, sliding into the corner in a very graceless heap. The vicious crowd erupted with a unison of "boos" and jeers as the opposing team accepted the puck so graciously left for them. With a five on four advantage as Xander was being slow to get up, they opposing team skated down the ice and set up shop in their offensive zone. Xander had just made it to the bench and his replacement just made contact with the ice when the team scored again, taking a 3-1 lead.The coach didn't say anything, nor did any of his teammates, but he found himself sitting for the rest of the third period. He knew he didn't deserve any better, and felt bad for contributing to his team's deficit. When they got down to two minutes to go, Nagy skated to the bench in favor of a sixth attacker. The team played hard and managed to score a goal, but the game ended in a 3-2 loss. 
"I don't know what that coach's problem is, but he's not helping himself benching Alex. He's the scoring machine!" Johnson said, slapping his hand on the table. 
"He certainly wasn't tonight," Jeremy said as he stood up to rinse out his glass. Just as he was putting his glass in the drainer, the radio crackled to life, followed shortly by the alarm. They were off to a possible car on fire on the interstate. 
Xander walked quietly back to the locker room, feeling horrible. As the rest of his teammates stripped themselves of their gear and headed for the showers, Xander did the same. He jumped as the normally cool Nagy kicked the bench in front of his locker. He felt the blame too, knowing that he was final defense for his team. Xander longed to say something, but he knew there wasn't anything he could say to make it better. He was going to skip his shower before he remembered they had to pass out by the fans this evening and sign a few autographs. He finished up with his quick shower and donned his suit, pulling uncomfortably at the tightness of his shirt. He walked out behind a few other players, went to one young boy who called his name and signed a quick autograph before zipping past his teammates and heading towards his car. The usual puck bunnies who waited for the team members outside the gates remained quiet, able to easily tell that Alex was in no mood to be approached. He jumped into his car, slammed the door shut and drove home to the quiet house. He sulked into the house, slamming the door behind him. Xander walked straight up to bed and flopped onto the bed, not undressing at all. Xander laid there, and the longer he laid there, the hotter he got. He knew deep down that it was solely his problem, but he didn't know what else to do with all that emotion other than push some blame to Jeremy. Jeremy should have BEEN at the game and if he had, maybe nothing would have happened. He looked at the clock and realized that Jeremy wouldn't be home for another three hours at the earliest, and that was just too long. Leaving his suit on, he got back in the car and headed over to Jeremy's station house to confront him. Xander parked out front, and headed in. 
"Hi Alex. Tough break tonight. I think that coach was outta line, not using you," Johnson said upon seeing Xander.
Xander half smiled and nodded. "Jeremy around?" he asked quietly. 
"Yeah, up in the commons," Johnson replied.
Xander nodded, and headed to the rear of the second floor. He entered the room the lounge room, that was referred to as the commons. Jeremy was sitting in the chair reading a magazine, while two other guys played cards while watching a basketball game. Jeremy glanced up from his magazine and did a double-take as he saw Xander. He looked on in confusion. "What's wrong? Is everything all right?" Jeremy asked, since Xander never frequented the firehouse with Jeremy on shift. 
"No. Everything is NOT all right! And it's your fault!" Xander replied, his voice raising. 
"Hey keep it down, some of the guys are trying to sleep. What's wrong?" Jeremy asked again, walking towards Xander. 
"You obviously listened to the game, since you conveniently couldn't make it." Xander snapped.
Jeremy turned his heads towards his coworkers, who were straining to overhear. He firmly grabbed Xander's arm, and escorted him into the hallway. Once in the hallway, Xander jerked his arm free. "I am working, I told you it couldn't be avoided. And I ALSO told you to go straight home after the game." 
"I know what you told me. I was there. Now I am here. You should've been there!" Xander said, his voice rising with each sentence.
Jeremy's gaze steadied and the eyes got sharp. "That's enough," he said firmly, before taking him by the arm and walking him down the hall towards the door. "You and I are not having this discussion here, period.  You are going to get back in the car and drive yourself home, carefully. You will go straight to bed, and I had BETTER find you there, and asleep, when I get home. We will discuss your behavior in the morning, not a moment before. Do I make myself clear?"
Xander knew he'd reached the level three warning tone, and that the next step was physical. Jeremy always tried to make any punishment or discussions between them private, but he also knew Jeremy would do whatever he thought necessary no matter who was within earshot or sight. Having tested that theory once, he wasn't about to try it again. He turned on the puppy dog eyes, said he was sorry and turned to leave. "
Come here, brat," Jeremy said, not unkindly.
Xander stopped, turned, and slowly stepped back towards Jeremy. He was crushed in a big hug, and responded to the long kiss Jeremy planted on his lips. "I'm very sorry about your game tonight, and that I wasn't there. Sleep well, and before you know it, I'll be there." 
Xander managed a small smile before turning and heading back to his car. He was back home within twenty minutes and in bed fifteen minutes later. He never felt Jeremy come home to bed, but somewhere during the night he felt a lot more comfortable and slipped deep into sleep. Xander woke up just passed eight. He stared at the ceiling as his fluffy dream faded, and cruel reality returned. As he attempted to get out of bed, he found that Jeremy still had his arm around him, as he did all night. Xander half smiled, and gently stroked the arm across him. A few minutes later Jeremy slowly awoke. "G'morning," Jeremy said, leaning over and kissing Xander firmly on the lips. 
"Hey." Xander said quietly, knowing it wouldn't be a good morning for long. 
"No practice today, right?" Jeremy asked. 
"Yes, but it's at two, something to do with the arena," Xander said quietly. 
"Why don't you go get cleaned up and I will start breakfast," Jeremy said, sitting up. 
"Not hungry yet, too early," Xander replied.
Jeremy nodded, knowing what they both had on their mind. "Get cleaned up anyway and meet me downstairs then," Jeremy said with finality.
Xander opened his mouth, wanting to combat, but couldn't. He shuffled out of bed and into the bathroom. Jeremy also got out of bed, stepping into his slippers and went downstairs. He went straight to the front door and retrieved the morning paper, sitting down in the living room to pull out the sports section. The write up on the game was neither kind nor untrue. Jeremy exhaled heavily and replaced the section with the others and tossed it to the side. Xander soon joined Jeremy, slinking into a chair. After a moment of silence, Jeremy spoke. "Why don't you tell me what is going on?" Xander shrugged and stared at the dark television screen. "Alexander?" 
"What!?" Xander barked in reply. 
"Let's begin with that. Do you EVER speak to me in that tone and fashion?" Jeremy asked, rising to his feet. 
Xander blushed slightly before emitting a soft, low "no sir".
Jeremy squatted down in front of Xander and took his chin in his hand. "I know you were upset with me yesterday when I called. But you know it wasn't something I could avoid." 
"I know," Xander said, staring into Jeremy's eyes. "I was just sc...angry." 
"Angry or not, I don't ever, EVER want to hear you yelling at me and hanging up on me in midconverstation. Am I clear?"
Xander nodded. 
"Am I CLEAR?" 
"Yes, Sir," Xander replied. 
"I will help you remember that later. Right now, I want to know what last night's visit was all about. Is this still about Peter?"
Xander's eyes fell to the floor as he shrugged. 
"Alex, what happened to your brother WAS a terrible thing. And it IS a constant risk in the game you play. But if you continue to fear it every time you step onto that ice, the fear WILL consume you." 
"Don't you think I KNOW that? I try not to think about it, but I keep seeing him crushed against those boards, and his lifeless body on the ice." 
"And he has recovered." 
"Is he back playing hockey? NO! He hasn't recovered yet!" Xander said, his voice suddenly hoarse.
Jeremy stood up. "Wait right there," he said, walking purposefully out of the room before Xander could ask why.
Xander sat on the chair, his stomach clenching. He didn't know if Jeremy had gone off to get an implement. He heard him upstairs and his mouth dried.
Jeremy picked up the phone once in the bedroom and called Peter's mother. "Hi Mrs. Miller, it's Jeremy," Jeremy said with extra delight. "I'm fine...yes Alex is too. I was wondering if Peter was at home?...Really? Is that something he should be doing so soon?....No, you're right, I do know those Hamilton boys.... Which one is it again?...Thanks...I will. Goodbye," Jeremy finished, hanging up the phone. He quickly pulled jeans and a shirt on, running his fingers through his still sleep-mussed hair.
Jeremy's feet on the stairs signaled his quick return. Xander tried melting into the back of the chair, only sitting up when Jeremy stood in front of him. "Come on," Jeremy said, holding out his hand. 
"What?" Xander asked suspiciously as he stood, too afraid at this point to disobey. 
"Get your jacket, we're taking a short drive," Jeremy said, getting his own jacket, his keys and his wallet.
Xander did as he was asked, not sure in the least where this was going. The quick ride was silent, Jeremy wondering if this was going to work, and Xander wondering where in the world they were going, but too afraid to ask. When they pulled into Peter's usual ice rink, Xander looked quizzically at Jeremy, but got no answer. Jeremy kept firm hold of his partner's hand and from long experience, went to the only open door to the rink and stepped inside, the door closing behind them. He kept Xander's hand and walked inside, finding a seat just inside the door, several rows above the ice. He pulled Xander down. "Look at your brother. Look at him. He's on the ice," Jeremy said. 
"What is he doing there?" Xander shot back in a low roar. "He's nuts! He's still got a concussion!" 
"He's ON THE ICE."
"But he's risking a far more serious injury!” Xander said, rising to his feet.
Jeremy pulled him back down. "Apparently, determination and stubbornness run in the blood. He's on the ice. He has every reason not to be. He's the one that got hit in the boards. He's the one that was in a coma. He's the one that has suffered from concussion symptoms and not been allowed back into the game. But there he is, eager to keep up his shooting skills so he can be ready WHEN, not if, but WHEN the time comes for him to return to the ice. Watch him, or talk to him. When you're ready, meet me outside." Jeremy gave Xander's hand a squeeze, and his lips a firm kiss before he got up and stepped across Alexander and headed for the exit. 
Jeremy stepped back out into the cool chill of the morning. He knew Alex's actions weren't just because he was misbehaving. He knew  they were seated deeply within the fear he was battling about being on ice. The hit to his brother was a bad one, and was having some serious consequences for Peter. It had been hoped that he could play in the final game of his senior season, but the doctors weren't giving them any hope of that. Without that, the scouts weren't going to get the best look at his playing, as they did come out in full force for the tournaments. He knew too, that Peter was going to return to the ice and that Alexander was going to have to face down his own fears before something more serious happened to him and his own career. Concussions were a definite hazard in the game of hockey, and if Alex didn't face his fear, his chances of injury skyrocketed, and his chances of making it to the next level would plummet. 
"I can STILL taste that soap," Xander groused as he shifted to find a more comfortable seat. 
"Did you not brush your teeth well enough this morning?" Jeremy asked as he handed over a plate of pasta with two boneless chicken breasts on top.
Xander stuck his tongue out and dove into his meal. At least today he could sit, he'd gone to bed having laid on his stomach for most of the day before. 
"Hi, Peter," Jeremy said with surprise. 
"Hi, Jeremy. Alex is looking good, isn't he?" Peter said as he settled next to him. 
"He usually does in warm-ups. How are you feeling?" 
"Feeling fine.  Just an occasional headache, but the double vision is gone. Now if the doctors would just let me play...." 
"They'll let you back out there when you're physically fit," Jeremy replied. 
"I know," Peter said, sighing. A few minutes later the lights dimmed and the team made their entrance onto the ice. Alex was on the first line and started the game, the coach thinking that Alex's problem was a one-off one. Xander played the first period as he had the previous game. He ducked away from as much physical contact as he could, and lost several opportunities because of it. The team went into the first period break, down 1-0, and the coach lost no time in telling Alex what he thought of his play. At the end of the blistering lecture, Alex was told he was sitting the rest of the game.
When the team skated back onto the ice, Xander took his place on the bench. Jeremy and Peter both noticed that he didn't start with his line mates, and within the first five minutes, they both realized he probably wasn't going to play.
Xander looked up and saw his brother sitting with his partner. He tried to keep his head up, both for his teammates and for himself. Sitting there, he watched his teammates play, faltering here and there because of the switch-up in the lines due to Alex's benching. He thought long and hard about what the coach said, what Jeremy had said, and most of all, what Peter had said. When they went into the lockerroom at the end of the second period, still down 1-0, he asked for a moment with the coach before they hit the ice again. "I'm ready to play," Alex said firmly. 
"Are you?" his coach asked. 
"Yes, sir. My teammates need me. But most of all, I need to play. It's my passion, sir." 
"You can stay on the bench tonight. I'll decide if you're playing in the next game." 
"Yes, sir," Xander said, going onto the ice with his head up higher. He'd serve out his punishment and show his coach what he could do. The teams remained at 1-0, the defenses holding up well on both ends. 
"Hamilton, line one," the coach yelled at the next whistle. Xander jumped over the boards and skated out to take up his post. He glanced quickly up towards Jeremy before the puck dropped and he was all business. Timo won the face-off and passed the puck to Xander who was streaking up the left side. Xander looked to the right and saw that Miller had a step on his guy, and was one step ahead of him. He also was very aware of Peterson, who was steam rolling towards him. At the last second, he passed the puck cleanly to Miller, and took the hit that Peterson laid on him, both players falling to the ice in a heap.
Miller, having been a step ahead of his guy was able to skate towards the net, basically unmolested, thanks to Xander tying up Peterson as they both tried to gain their feet. Miller shot just before his player tried to poke check the puck, and the goalie made a grab - and missed. The red light went off and the horn blared as the home team tied it up 1-1. Xander quickly skated over and hi-fived Miller, before skating back past the bench for the obligatory glove hitting after a goal. 
Peter and Jeremy had erupted from their seats and were both clapping hard. Peter's question to Jeremy about Xander died on his lips, leaving nothing but a silly grin as he realized that the X-man was back.  
~The End~
Copyright Rolf and Gayspankee 2010

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