Fandom: Hockey ‘verse
Summary: The Eagles are in the NHL bubble and almost ready to play.
Notes: Written for day 22 of my 23 Ficlets project to celebrate my 23rd anniversary in the community
Rick rubbed a hand back and forth between Wilson’s shoulder blades as everyone scrambled around them. The coach was on his phone. One of the trainers was trying to keep players from entering locker room while the ones already inside had been forced to the perimeter of the room. Everyone was nervous, on edge. And they all had excellent cause to be given the COVID-19 restrictions and procedures the league had put into place.
Though Rick was certainly worried about the fact that Wilson couldn’t stop sneezing, the one thing he wasn’t worried about was the virus. He knew people who’d attended events or gone to see friends. He knew people desperate for a haircut or a meal out. And he didn’t judge; he really didn’t. Everyone had to make the choices right for them. But he and Wilson had been extra careful. They’d been a bubble of two since March. They’d stayed in and got everything by delivery, disinfecting anything that entered their home. They’d been tested daily when the team bubbled together for training. And they’d been tested when the league bubbled up as well. Everything was contained, controlled, and carefully checked. There was no way Wilson could have caught it now. And, besides, a sudden fit of uncontrollable sneezing wasn’t exactly on the list of major coronavirus symptoms.
“Ahhh-SHDddshhh! HAH-Kshhhh! J’shhhh!”
Right now, he sounded to Rick kind of like he did when he was around cats for more than ten minutes.
Actually, he sounded exactly like he did when he was around cats for too long. Rick rubbed his back, standing beside his partner and teammate who was sitting hunched over on a bench in what was once the visiting team’s room. This place had been fumigated and professionally cleaned from top to bottom. There was absolutely no way a cat could be in here now or have been in here during the past few days even. And they were the first ones getting to use it, too. It’s not like a stray cat hair or two could have fallen off someone’s bag from earlier that day.
“hah… Ricky? I-hahhh! Ahhh-AHkkshhhh! Cad’t hahhhh-AHShhhh! Cad’t stob. Ahhh-HIPTshhhh!”
“I know.” Rick massaged his neck. “I don’t know why. They’re calling in the docs.”
Wilson lifted his head, alarm filling his expression even as his mouth dropped open again. “ahhh-Hidddshhhh!”
“I’m not going to leave you. No matter what happens, I’m staying by your side.” They’d never been the codependent type. Sure, they relied on each other as much as any couple, but they were also perfectly happy going off to do their own thing. That had changed when the pandemic started. Spending every second of every day with someone—every waking moment and every sleeping one as well—was the ultimate test of a relationship. There had been a couple rocky moments, but they’d grown closer because of it all. And if Rick now felt clingy and over-protective of his partner, that was to be expected. For months they’d only had each other, and Rick wasn’t about to lose him now.
“hahh-HIHDshhhhhh! Ahhkkshh!” He wiped his nose on his sleeve with a wet snuffle and tried to catch his breath.
Wilson could definitely use a tissue, but Rick was nervous about leaving his side long enough to track some down. And if Wilson actually did have something contagious, it was probably a bad idea for the person who slept with and kissed Wilson to go walking around the rooms touching things anyway.
Game time was in less than two hours. Two hours for them to figure this out and get Wilson breathing like normal again. Or two hours for them to get whisked away to the nearest hospital, and the Eagles would down two of their best players for their first qualifying game. Either way, Rick didn’t like the odds.
“I… hahh-AHKshuhh! Hahshuhhh!”
“I know. Don’t try to speak. Just hang on.”
“Let me through!” Rick heard Terry “Lamplighter” Laughlin arguing with their trainers. “Yeah, I know he’s sneezing, but I sat next to him at breakfast, and he was fine. And if he’s not, I’ve already got it. So I’ll take my chances now.”
There were more protests and, from the sound of it, more shoving. But Rick was amazing when he saw Terry emerge from the group of people bunched at the door. He was carrying a bucket stuffed full of cleaning supplies. Instinctively, Rick stepped in front of Wilson, ready to defend his partner physically if needed. What were they going to do; make him drink bleach? Wipe him down with disinfectant?
Terry set the bucket on the bench, further down, keeping a bit of distance between them. “This should be everything they used to clean the place,” Terry said. “Let’s figure out which is making Willy sneeze.”
Rick was a little surprised at this. “You think he’s allergic to one of the cleaning products?”
“Don’t know, but it’s a good guess, right? And they’re using some pretty heavy duty industrial cleaners here. Besides, I’d rather play the process of elimination game than stand around scratching my ass and waiting for the doctors to figure shit out.”
Rick couldn’t argue with that. “Okay.” He moved back to Wilson’s side and sat down on the bench next to him. “Think you can do us a favor and take a few sniffs of some things?”
Wilson looked skeptical, his eyes watery from so much sneezy. But he tossed his head up and down in a yes and then snuffled into his sleeve again to try to clear his nose a little. It was a pretty poor attempt, but Rick patted his back supportively anyway.
“Ahh-HIHShh!” Wilson sneezed as Terry held out a bottle of Windex. Rick and Terry exchanged a look. “Doe-hahh that’s dot it,” Wilson insisted. “It doesd’t tickle hihhh by dose hahhh-AHDddshhhh! Ady bore.”
“One down, a dozen to go then,” Rick said, doing a quick estimate of the number of products in the bucket. “You let us know if we hit the jackpot, all right?” He hadn’t really expected it to be Windex, anyway. They used that at home on the windows and mirrors.
Wilson’s head bobbed up and down again. His eyes were half-lidded. His mouth hung open. His nostrils twitched. But he also looked determined to figure this out as quickly as possible.
“hahhh… sniff! Gibbie the dext ode, Lighty.”
It wasn’t the bleach. Or the orange-scented spray. Or even the lemon-scented wood polish. It wasn’t the Lysol wipes or the foaming hand sanitizer. It wasn’t the tile cleaner used in the showers or even the soap or shampoo here, though Wilson hadn’t even had the chance to go near enough to those things for them to set him off. Rick was starting to get discouraged. He had actually thought this might work, and the fact that it wasn’t turning up anything meant that maybe there really was something wrong with Wilson.
But that was his thought before Wilson sniffed the all-purpose cleaner Terry sprayed into the air. Wilson’s eyes grew wide with alarm and recognition. He pointed to the bottle, stabbing a thick finger violently, repeatedly in its direction and then burying his nose in the crook of his arm. “HAH-CHIHSHFFFF! Ah-HAHSHHHHFFF! HEHSHFFFFFFF!”
“Ding, ding, ding! I think we have a winner,” Terry declared, looking at the bottle. “Tropical hibiscus blossom, whatever that is.”
Whatever it was, it was definitely the thing making Wilson’s allergies act up. Rick rubbed his back with one hand and fanned the air in front of them, as if he could dispel the lingering scent that way. What Wilson needed was to get out of this locker room, out of this arena, and into the open air outside.
Two of the NHL’s medical staff appeared just then, looking spooked but professional, trailed by one of their team’s doctors.
“He’s allergic to that,” Rick said, taking a turn pointing at the spray bottle. All-purpose cleaner. Damn, that could have been used on just about anything in this room. Maybe the bench even.
“Do you think we could get him some tissues and some fresh air while we figure out what the hell to do about this?”
The doctors agreed it would be a good idea, and the sea of concerned players and staff instantly parted for them to be able to do so. As Rick pulled Wilson to his feet and shuffled him out, he could already tell the sneezes were backing off. The guy could use a dose of Benadryl or something, still, but just getting Wilson out of there was doing wonders for him.
“Better,” Wilson whispered, blinking as they headed down one more hallway and emerged from the building. “It’s so much better now.” He rubbed a couple fingers under his nose, breathing deeply, barely even sniffling now.
“I’ll ask the coach to put in a request to bump the game time. Don’t know if we’ll get it,” their team doctor said. “But it’s worth a shot, given the circumstances. All this cleaning was supposed to keep everyone well and safe, not cause, well, that.”
“We’re going to check you anyway, just to make absolutely certain,” one of the NHL doctors told him.
“Here, you could probably use these,” another one of the doctors said, handing over a small pack of tissues. Finally.
Rick took the pack, peeled a tissue off, and gave it to Wilson. The first blow was fierce and wet but the next couple weren’t bad at all. By the fifth, he sounded like his normal self again. Rick still wasn’t about to leave his side, however.