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Willy’s friends with Mitch Marner, and he likes the guy a lot, but they mostly know each other through Auston, so it’s a little weird when Mitch summons both of them to his room on Tuesday night.

“You made it,” he says, all relieved, when he opens the door.

“We live literally across campus, it wasn’t hard,” Auston points out, dry, but he goes easily enough when Mitch grabs his wrist and tugs him into the room, and Willy follows.

“Just sit anywhere,” Mitch says, probably mostly for Willy’s benefit, because Auston’s already heaving himself up onto the bed. The guy spends most of his free time in here with Mitch as part of their weird codependent besties thing, anyways.

Willy crosses his legs, sits down next to Auston and watches him shake out a handful of skittles from the pack sitting next to Mitch’s laptop. Mitch perches on the foot of the bed, folds his hands like this is a business meeting or something.

“So,” Mitch says, all serious. “I need one of you to have sex with me.”

Auston chokes on a skittle.

Willy pounds him on the back helpfully, looks over at Mitch. “Which one of us?” he asks, because that seems like the logical next step, and Mitch shrugs.

“Dunno. Figured I’d let you guys choose.”

“Fair enough,” Willy says.

He doesn’t think much of it. Mitch has basically been all over Auston as long as Willy’s known them both; plus, like, on the list of people to bang, Auston’s probably only a little lower than Willy. They’re both tall and hot, and if Auston’s got Will beat in the sheer muscle department, Will’s got the sexy exchange student thing happening, and, not to brag, but he’s a sex god. So Mitch has good taste, is the only thing this really means in Willy’s mind, except Auston doesn’t seem to be on the same page.

“Hold on,” Auston says, eyes watering. His face is bright red, but Willy’s not sure if that’s because of the choking thing or the sex thing, or maybe just his wildly transparent crush on Marns acting up again. “Hold the fuck on, you’re straight.”

“I mean, I always thought, yeah?” Mitch says, holding out a hand for Auston to pass him the candy. “But it was recently brought to my attention that usually when guys are like, joking around, ‘I’d let Chris Hemsworth fuck me’, that doesn’t extend to legitimately jerking off about it?” He shakes a bunch of skittles into his mouth, talks as he chews. “Which was weird, because the Thor movies were basically boner city, so then I thought about it, and then I realized, woah, I for real want to fuck a dude.” He pauses, looks thoughtful. “Get fucked by a dude? Whatever, not important.”

“Not imp-” Auston squeaks, and his eyes are kind of bugging out, and Willy’s a little worried, but mostly just amused.

He offers Mitch a high five, because Chris Hemsworth is a pretty chill bisexual awakening, but it’s still a new development. “Proud of you, Mitchy,” he says, supportive as he can. Mitch beams at him.

Matts still looks distinctly tomato-esque. “Why would-” he tries, then breaks off. He seems to be having trouble forming full sentences. “You- why one of us?”

“Oh, yeah,” Mitch says, like he’s legitimately thought about this. “I mean, you’re my best friend, and you’re bi.” He turns to Willy. “And you’re my bi best friend’s gay best friend who sometimes hooks up with him and works out with me. I figured if I’m gonna be gay de-virginized it should probably be with someone who I trust or whatever. I trust you guys.” He smiles at Auston, nudges his knee, gentle.

“Makes sense,” Willy says, because this whole thing is pretty transparently an attempt by Mitch to get into Auston’s pants, which is adorable enough that he won’t call them out on it. “Well, my dick’s at your service, whenever.”

“Beauty,” Mitch claps him on the shoulder, real appreciative.

And see, it’s a nice moment, even if Willy’s pretty certain he’s not actually going to get to bang Mitch, because Auston’s going to be all up on that and Willy’s not about to cockblock his best bro, except then-

“Oh, hey,” Auston says, and he almost pulls off being chill, if it wasn’t for the fact that his face is still bright red. “Will, we had that thing, right?”

“What thing?” Willy frowns, confused.

“The soccer team thing?” Auston says, pointed. “With our soccer team?” He widens his eyes, almost imperceptibly.

“Oh,” Willy says, because he may have no idea what’s happening but he’s also a great friend and teammate, ride or fucking die. “Right, that soccer team thing, yeah. We’ll catch you later, I guess, Mitch?”

“Yeah, man, no rush,” Mitch grins at them both, leaning back on his hands as they get up. His lips are all coloured from the skittles. “Bye, Matty.”

Auston doesn’t run out of the dorm, but it’s a close thing.

There’re a bunch of people in the hall, walking the opposite way, so Willy has to squeeze past them after Auston, who’s got his hands in his pockets, walking so fast Willy nearly has to jog to keep up.

 “Dude,” he says, trailing Auston down the stairs. “Mitchy, huh?”

Matts barely glances at him.

“This is great, right?” Willy prompts. “I mean, you’ve been in love with him since, like, frosh week.”

Another group of people enters the staircase, and Auston veers off, pushes open the door and ducks into the nearest bathroom, wordless.

“Hey,” Willy says, a little concerned. He follows Auston into a stall and shuts the door behind them. “Bro, what-”

Auston sits down on the closed toilet seat, head in his hands. “This is,” he says, “the worst thing ever to happen.”

Willy- was not expecting that. “Wait, what?”

“Mitch is bi now?” Auston says. “What the fuck?”

“Why aren’t you happier about this?”

Auston’s shaking his head, distraught. “Before Mitch was unattainable, he was like- he was the straight best friend crush, and I did the fucking five stages of grief and I accepted it was never gonna happen, and we were fine, but now-”

“Now the guy you’ve been obsessed with forever just asked you to have sex with him, how is that-”

“He asked either of us to have sex with him,” Auston corrects, and he looks really genuinely miserable. “He likes guys in an abstract sense. He doesn’t want me.”

“No, see, that’s stupid,” Willy says, kneeling down so he can look Auston in the eye. “You guys are literal soulmates, he’s just trying to tread carefully and keep things like, accessible-”

That was maybe the wrong thing to say, because Auston looks stricken. “Oh my god, what, he’s going to fuck me by default because I’m the most accessible bisexual person he knows?”

Willy hesitates. “I mean, by the sounds of it, you’d be the one doing the fucking-”

“Will!”

“Okay, Jesus, calm down,” Willy puts his hands on Auston’s knees. “Like, deep breaths, or whatever.”

Auston does a deep breath, squeezes his eyes shut, hard. “You’re right,” he says, and drags his hands down his face. “You’re right, I need to go lift weights.”

“That’s not- that’s not the same thing as solving your problems,” Willy says, but Auston’s already getting up, squeezing past Willy and unlocking the stall door. “Matts-”

Auston doesn’t even look back.

Willy sighs.

He gets to his feet and leaves the stall, gets kind of a weird look from the random dude at the sink, which is fair, because Willy definitely was just on his knees in a stall with another person, except this wasn’t nearly as fun as the other times he’s been in that position.

The guy giving the weird look is kind of cute, though, and Matts is long gone, so Willy leans on the sink, gives his best charming grin. “Hey.”

So Willy’s got a new number in his phone by the time he gets back to his building, and Zach Hyman from two floors down holds the elevator for him with only minimal sarcasm, and all in all, tonight could’ve gone worse, Willy thinks.

---

The next few days are weird. Not bad, just. Weird.

Willy’s expecting something to change after Mitch’s request – his best bud basically got a green light go from the guy he likes, Willy’s so ready to be happy for them – but things stay completely, conspicuously normal. Auston seems intent on acting like the conversation in Mitch’s dorm room never happened, and aside from wearing a t-shirt that says ‘Bi, Bi, Bi’, Mitch doesn’t bring any of it up either. It’s some Twilight Zone shit, like there’s this giant elephant in the room shaped like Mitch Marner’s dick, and they’re all pretending it’s not a thing.

It’s a fucking thing, though, and it’s an annoying one. Two people want to have sex, Willy figures, there’s not a lot that means they shouldn’t.

“You know,” he says, nearly a week later, when he and Mitch end up alone together, waiting for Auston to pick up his drink at Starbucks. “If you’re into Matts, you should tell him.”

“What?” Mitch demands, too loud. “You’re- no, why would you think- Me, into- no, dude. What? No. What?”

“Mitch,” Willy says, because Willy’s an idiot about a solid eighty percent of life, but not about people wanting to bang.

For his part, Mitch caves, like, instantly. “Fuck, how did you know?” he asks, looking over his shoulder like he thinks Auston’s going to hear from across the building. “Was the Chris Hemsworth thing an obvious lie?”

That one throws Willy, a little. “No, I didn’t- wait, was Matts your bi awakening?”

“Don’t tell him,” Mitch orders, and before Willy can make fun of him for how cute that is, continues, “Seriously, don’t fucking- it’s just like, his personality but also his neck and his abs, Willy, I want to put my mouth-”

“Okay,” Willy interrupts, and pats Mitch’s hand. “See, this is the kind of information I think Matts would want.”

Mitch shakes his head, and it’s like his whole aura just droops. It’s sort of like watching a puppy get kicked. “If he wanted me he would’ve done something by now.”

A really, really fucking stupid puppy, apparently. “He thought you were straight,” Willy protests. “He’s literally talked about your smile while I was in the process of giving him a handjob before, how can you not do something, here?”

“I did! I straight up asked him to have sex with me!” Mitch retorts.

“With me in the room, Mitchell.”

“I needed a buffer!” Mitch says, all panicky. “Then he basically ran away, what the fuck am I supposed to think?”

And like, Willy can maybe get where Mitch is coming from, there, but- fuck, it’s so obvious. Matts is bad at anything resembling human emotions, that’s just him.

“Besides,” Mitch says, and his voice is all bright again, too intentionally, like he’s trying to convince himself. “It’s not- I’d be down to have sex with you instead. I’ll be fine if the first guy I have sex with isn’t him. Like, it’s just mostly to have the first time done. The ‘who’ isn’t a huge deal.”

“You can’t just have sex with me because you’re scared to talk to someone you actually want to fuck,” Willy informs him, and Mitch bites his lip, hard.

“Hey,” Auston says, coming up behind Mitch, coffee in hand. Mitch jumps, like a foot in the air.

Auston stares, like he can’t decide whether or not to laugh. “Are you okay?” he asks, and Mitch nods, fast, edges away from him.

“Yes! Obviously. Are you?”

“Yes?” Auston says, then looks at Willy, sharp. “Did you say-”

“Wait, what could he-”

“Nothing,” Auston interrupts, fast, and him and Mitch are both just staring at Willy like help, and it’s like Willy can see the fucking future, because he just knows, then and there, that neither of them is going to get over their shit. They’re too fucking alike, too scared to suck it up and make a move, and Willy’s going to be dealing with this until he graduates.

He sighs, snatches Matts’ coffee and takes a long sip.

“Hey,” Auston says, half-hearted.

“I deserve this,” Willy says, dark, and passes the coffee to Mitch. “Drink up, gay rookie.”

“Bi rookie,” Mitch corrects, but he holds onto the coffee with both hands while Willy leans in and messes up his hair, kind of automatically.

And this is the thing, right: Willy’s an affectionate guy. He does shit like this all the time and it never means anything, and there’s no reason this should be different, only Mitch ducks a little under his hand, smiling, and it’s totally just friendly, but Auston’s eyes flash with, like, blatant jealousy, and-

Willy gets an idea.

---

The good thing about having the approximate sleep schedule of an owl is that Willy can usually use the microwave without waiting, which is kind of a gift, in a communal kitchen scenario. The only person usually around on his two AM snack runs is Zach Hyman from two floors down, making tea and doing homework or something lame like that.

He’s a decent guy, Zach Hyman. Like- really snarky, most of the time, and he’s not a friend as much as a minor obstacle for Willy to deal with on his quest for late night popcorn, but Zach’s good for bouncing ideas off of. The more disapproving Zach is, the more fun the idea is, is how it works.

Zach doesn’t ask, but Willy fills him in on his Mitch and Auston plan while he’s watching his popcorn spin in the microwave.

“So,” Zach says when Willy gets through it all, frowning so his brow goes all scrunched up. “Just to clarify, here, you’re going to set up your best friend-slash-occasional hookup with his crush by... seducing said crush?”

“Exactly,” Willy says, swinging his feet from where he’s perched up on the counter. “Faced with my raw sexual energy, Mitch will realize he doesn’t just want any guy, and Matts will get competitive enough to do something about his pathetic emotions, and they’ll have to thank me at their wedding.”

It’s a pretty flawless plan if Willy does say so himself. More of a scheme, even. Really gets at their weaknesses.

Zach Hyman from two floors down, predictably, doesn’t agree.

“That’s a terrible idea,” Zach says, flat. “Poorly thought out in literally every way possible, William.”

“Well, you’re wrong,” Willy says. “So.”

“You’re an idiot,” Zach retorts. “So.”

“In a sexy way, probably,” Willy says. “Kind of a turn on, for you?”

Zach doesn’t react, not even when faced with the full glory of Willy’s flirty eyes and sexy voice, which he’s refined basically to perfection over the past couple of years. The lack of reaction is pretty impressive. Not in a good way. “Go away so I can study.”

“You go away so I can study,” Willy retorts, and slides off the counter as the microwave beeps. He grabs his popcorn, tossing the bag from hand to hand so he won’t burn himself. “The plan’s going to work.”

“It isn’t,” Zach says, and Willy blows him a kiss as he leaves the kitchen, and Zach Hyman doesn’t check out his ass even once, and doesn’t stop frowning, either.

So, yeah, the plan’s definitely going to work.

---

The girls’ soccer team is hosting a kegger at their house near campus, and it’s the perfect time for Willy to put things in motion. He goes hard for his schemes, and this one is no exception: he makes sure he looks his best, gels his hair back just enough that his eyes get centre stage, and makes sure Mitch’s team gets invited as well.

The party’s already in full swing when he and Matty arrive, music playing and people spilling out onto the porch, talking and laughing. They get a decent sized reaction from the people there – it’s not bragging to say that the two of them are a big deal for varsity athletics, and Willy’s got a drink pressed into his hand basically the second he’s through the door.

He eases into it, hanging out with the soccer girls for a while and laughing at the rugby team when they try and generally fail at increasingly creative kegstands. It’s fun and all, but Willy also stays focused, keeping one eye on Mitch and Auston, who found each other basically the second they arrived.

It takes ages for Willy to get Auston on his own, but eventually he swoops in.

“Matthews,” he messes up Auston’s hair, playful. “Playing the field, dude?”

“Yeah, right,” Auston scoffs, and he peers over the crowd, scanning the room. “Mitchy was getting more drinks-”

“Oh, I just saw him, he was waiting for you by the speaker,” Willy lies. “Wanna request some ABBA while you’re there?”

“You’re such a fucking weirdo,” Matts says, but he’s laughing as he leaves to go look for Mitch. He’s barely disappeared into the crowd of people when Mitch appears at Willy’s side, bouncing to the music, wearing a snapback with a bi flag on it, and carrying two solo cups.

“Yo, Willy, was Matts here?” Mitch asks, standing up on his toes and looking around the room. “I thought he’d be with you.”

“Sorry, haven’t seen him,” Willy says, and he can see Auston at the other side of the room, so he carefully shuffles over to block Mitch’s line of sight. He suspects it wouldn’t really matter at this point – Mitch has been hammered since like, his third sip of beer, and he’s currently at his usual excitement level times ten. “You having fun?”

“Ohmygod, yes,” Mitch enthuses, practically jumping up and down, so distracting him isn’t going to be a problem tonight. “Some guy said he liked my hat, and I think he was flirting?” He sounds thrilled with himself. “I like, flirted back. With a guy. This is so cool.”

“Wanna try dancing with a guy?” Willy asks, leaning in close so Mitch can hear him, and so Auston can see Mitch hearing him. He takes the drinks from Mitch, passes them off to the nearest person. “Like, level up from flirting?”

“With who?” Mitch asks, and Willy hooks a finger in Mitch’s belt loop, tugs him into the crush of people. Mitch goes easily enough, looking up at Willy kind of anticipating, like he’s waiting for his cue.

“The trick is,” Willy says, peeking over Mitch’s shoulder to make sure Matts is watching, “Hip movement.”

He gets his hands on Mitch’s waist and moves to the music a little, stepping into Mitch’s space. Mitch glances down at Willy’s body, and it’s not, like- it’s not a huge thing, but Willy’s pretty sure he just got checked out, and it’s enough of a visible moment that he thinks the plan’s off to a good start.

“You’re good,” Mitch says, that tipsy kind of too honest. “You should try my dancing though.”

“What’s your dancing?” Willy asks, skeptical, and regrets it about half a second later, because Mitch’s dancing is, apparently, an unholy mix of flailing and jumping to something that might be a rhythm but certainly isn’t the rhythm of the song that’s currently playing.

He stares, stuck between horror and amusement. “Tell me this is just because you’re drunk,” he says, loud so Mitch can hear him over the music.

Mitch shakes his head, and also his ass. “I do this shit sober, dude!”

And, like, based on what Willy can see, that’s not the kind of thing Mitch should be admitting to, let alone bragging about, but Mitch grabs his hands and tugs Willy in to dance with him, and it’s like- it’s extremely lame, but they’re close up, singing at each other and Mitch laughs when Willy grinds up on him, all playful, and it’s fun. Just a good time, and still effective for Willy’s fake-flirting purposes, because when they finally escape the crowd to take a breather, Auston’s at his side like he was summoned there, and he elbows Willy, sharp.

“What the hell was that?” Auston asks, and Willy looks at him, innocent.

“What do you mean?” he asks, all who, me?

Mitch hugs Auston around the waist, pressing his nose into his shoulder. “Matty,” he says, all drawn out, spinning around Auston. “C’mon, we gotta beat my lineys at pong, you owe me ‘cause we didn’t dance.”

“I would’ve,” Auston says, petulant, but Mitch is already dragging him away, and with one last what the fuck look at Willy, Auston goes.

Phase one, complete.

Willy’s standing there alone at a party, which isn’t how he rolls, so he figures his work’s done for the night, time to mingle. He throws back another drink and joins the nearest group of people. It goes how most parties go. He gets hit on by a bunch of girls from his major, which would be cool if he liked girls; then by a bunch of guys, which would be cool if he wanted any of them, but he doesn’t, but it sort of makes him want someone, and it’s not really Willy’s fault that he looks around and his eyes land on Zach Hyman.

Zach’s standing by the door, laughing at some story some girl is telling. It’s weird seeing him not in pyjamas or just in passing, like Willy kind of never realized that he exists as a person in the world outside of their few interactions. He looks good, settled into his space, participating in the conversation. More confident than Willy would’ve expected, which is kind of dumb, because Zach’s never been shy.

His arms look good. He’s just in a t-shirt, but his arms look good.

It’s pretty much that simple. Zach’s arms look good, and Willy’s definitely hooked up with worse looking people, and he and Zach have already got the familiarity of the midnight snacks thing, so he figures – why not?

He waits ‘til Zach’s friend gets drawn into another conversation, then sidles up next to him, speaking up so Zach can hear him over the music. “What’s up, Zach from downstairs?”

Zach jumps a little, but he retorts quick, “Can you still call me Zach from downstairs if we’re in a completely different building?” He seems relaxed enough, maybe a couple drinks in. Even gives Willy a smile. “What’s up with you?”

“Putting the plan into action,” Willy says, and holds up his hand for a high-five, but Zach leaves him hanging.

“The terrible plan that’s doomed to fail?”

“That’s the one,” Willy says, cheery enough. “It won’t fail, though. I’m a love expert.”

Zach leans back against the wall. “I’m sure,” he says, dry, and that’s as good an in as any.

“You,” Willy says, giving his best flirty grin, and looking up at Zach through his eyelashes, “underestimate the power of my magic dick. Rookie mistake.”

“Oh, is it?” Zach asks, and the night’s electric around them, bodies moving and bass thumping through the walls.

Willy nods, getting a hand on the wall next to Zach’s hip, just close enough that his fingers brush against the hem of Zach’s shirt. “I’d be happy to give you lessons,” he says, low, and Zach’s mouth drops open.

“Oh my god, you’re flirting with me.”

“And?” Willy asks, and he goes in for the kill, flicking his hair out of his eyes while maintaining eye contact.

Zach bursts out laughing.

Like, legitimately laughing, not flirty laughing. The ugly kind of laughing where he’s clutching his stomach like this is the funniest thing ever to happen.

“Did you just do a hair flip?” he gasps out, and he’s almost doubled over, he’s laughing so hard, and Willy... does not know what to do. This is very off script. “Do people really do that? Oh my god.”

“People don’t usually react like this,” Willy says, a little put out – it’s the fucking hair flip, it works – but Zach just wipes at his eyes, trying to get himself back under control.

“Alright,” he giggles, “Okay, you’re wasted enough to be hitting on me, you don’t get to be pouty.” He gets a hand on Willy’s elbow, steers him toward the kitchen. “Go get yourself some water.”

Water,” Willy echoes, incredulous, because, like- no, this is the point where Zach’s swooning and offering to fuck Willy in a bathroom or something, but instead he’s patting Willy on the arm and heading back into the party.

Willy stands there, floored, for a solid ten seconds.

He’s disoriented, thrown off balance, and not even because of the booze, because he hasn’t had enough to be really drunk, he’s just-

Zach laughed at his flirting. He laughed. Who even- people don’t do that, that’s not a thing that happens. Willy charms them, they fuck him and want more, he breaks it off before they get attached. This isn’t-

This is the worst party ever, he decides.

The walk home is a weird one, disgruntled and vaguely pathetic. Willy can’t remember the last time he left an event this early, this alone.

The building’s quiet when Willy gets back, most people either in bed or out on a Saturday night. Willy’s planning to just shower and go to bed so he won’t have to talk it out with Matts when he gets back later, but when Willy opens the door to the room, Auston’s already there, stretched out on his bed.

“Hi,” Willy says, tossing his keys in the general direction of his side of the room. “You’re back early.”

“So are you,” Auston says, and he looked up when Willy opened the door, but now he lies back down with a sigh and goes back to staring at the ceiling.

Willy kind of wants to ask why Matts is back so soon, but he doesn’t really feel like explaining why he’s back so soon, so he leaves it at that. “Mitchy?”

“With his hockey friends,” Auston says, and he scoots over to make room when Willy flings himself onto the bed next to him.

They lie there for a while, this easy sort of silence that comes when you’re used to living together. Willy’s mostly just dwelling on the Zach thing again – he’s never been rejected like that, not ever in his entire life – and it startles him a little when Auston speaks.

 “Were you flirting with him, earlier?” Auston asks, still looking upwards. “With Mitch?”

Willy shrugs, keeps his voice real light. “The kid wants someone to bang,” he says. “You clearly aren’t going to do it.”

Auston gets this constipated look, and Willy feels mildly shit for making his best friend feel like this, but – the plan, this is the plan.

“Do you think my hair flips are stupid?” Willy asks. He doesn’t mean to. Doesn’t even know why the question’s still bothering him in his head, except for that Zach Hyman’s the first person ever to not like his hair flips, and that’s- it’s stupid.

Matts shrugs. “Like, in a hot way,” he says, and Willy knows he means it, because Auston doesn’t bullshit with him. “I like them.”

Willy is, all at once, entirely full up with fondness for Auston Matthews and his emotionally clueless yet mostly well-meaning self, and he’s also more than a little tipsy, and needs some validation that someone still thinks he’s pretty, so he leans over and kisses him, nothing too heated. Just friendly, like a hey, I love you, bud, kind of thing.

Auston kisses him back, and it’s the kind of thing Willy could sink into, maybe, but then Auston pulls back, just a little. “Don’t actually fuck Mitch,” he says, or maybe asks; then, before Willy gets to respond, “Can I blow you?”

“Yeah,” Willy says. “Okay.”

They make out for a while, getting into it, and Willy’s head’s a little floaty but in a good way, and it gets better when Matts crawls down the bed and tugs down Willy’s pants.

“C’mon,” Willy goads him on, and Auston gets his mouth on Willy’s dick, spends ages just on the tip, wetting it and working the base with a hand ‘til Willy’s all the way hard, and then Auston takes him in deep.

It’s a good blowjob. They’ve been doing this too long for it not to be a good blowjob.

And that’s the thing, right. The friends with benefits thing is good – like, really good, Willy thinks, as he watches Auston bob up and down on his dick, going real slow, the way he knows Willy likes – but with Matts, it’s secondary to the actual friends thing, ‘cause he really is the best friend Willy’s ever had, whether that’s because they’re both studying in a country that’s not theirs, or because they’re the best starters the varsity soccer team has had in decades, or just because Auston’s too hung up on someone else to get any dumb ideas about being in love with Willy.

Willy trusts Auston with, like, everything, and Auston trusts Willy with all the weird Mitch-related freakouts that he doesn’t trust anyone else with. It’s like, a mutual thing, bros for life, and they also happen to have really good sex, and-

And Willy’s trying to seduce the guy Auston’s in love with.

He feels momentarily guilty, ‘cause it’s a shitty thing to put someone through, probably. But it’s also working: Auston’s already jealous, already noticing. Closer to doing something about his Mitchy-feelings than he’s been all year.

This is Willy being a good friend, technically. It’s for Matts’ own good. This is for, like, true love, which is the best reason for anything, really.

---

The semester goes on, and Willy sinks into a routine of soccer practice and cramming for midterms and other, less important stuff like going to class and pretending to take notes. He makes out with Auston at a weekend tourney; keeps up his midnight chats with Zach, who seems to have chalked the flirting thing up to Willy being drunk, and Willy enjoys having some illusion of dignity, so he’s not about to correct him. Besides, Zach reads over Willy’s English essay for grammar mistakes, so Willy can’t really hold a grudge. He’s got more important things to worry about, anyways.

He’s got the Matts and Mitch thing down to a fine art, by now. It’s a fine line to walk between hitting on Mitch without making him think he’s into him – not hard – but still being noticeable enough to make Auston as jealous as possible – extremely, comically easy.

It’s in the little things, Willy discovers. He talks to Auston about how good Mitch looked at his last game, brushes Mitch’s hair behind his ear. It usually gets a laugh out of Mitch, like he thinks Willy’s just joking around, and he starts looking at Willy with that fondness in his eyes that he usually saves for his close friends.

“I think I got it,” Mitch says, rocking back in his chair when they’re all in the library together, ostensibly studying. “It’s- köttbullar?”

“So good, man,” Willy grins at him instead of correcting his pronunciation, and Auston’s forehead vein bulges a little.

“Mitchy, you mind helping me with this?” he asks, way too obvious, and Mitch scoots his chair closer right away.

“’Course, dude,” he says, leaning into Auston’s side so he can look at his laptop. “Okay, so you want to take this column-”

Auston hooks his ankle with Mitch’s under the table, and Mitch stutters for the smallest of seconds, and when he starts talking again, he’s smiling, real small.

It’s baby steps, Willy figures. The plan is slow going, but he can see Auston being more assertive around Mitch, starting to push at the boundaries of platonic behaviour in these hesitant little ways.

Like Willy said: baby steps.

He remembers Mitch’s coffee order. Makes sure to accidentally-on-purpose be wearing as little as possible every time Mitch knocks on their door to see if Auston wants to hang out.

When he and Matts are running laps at their next practice, Willy says, all casual, “I was thinking I might take Mitchy for sushi later.”

“He hates sushi,” Auston says, and it’s like a switch flipped, how tense he is the second Mitch’s name is in Willy’s mouth. “We have an anatomy lab due tomorrow.”

“I mean, Mitch is great company, can’t hurt to try,” Willy says, light and breezy. “Oh, hold on, did you guys have plans tonight, or-” He lowers his voice, leaning in close. “Wait, did you two finally decide to bang?”

No,” Auston says, all grumpy, and he picks up his pace. “I told you, he doesn’t want me.”

“Have you even talked about it?” Willy asks, and Auston glares.

“No, I can’t risk-”

 Coach blows his whistle, summoning everyone in to divvy up for a scrimmage. “Shirts and skins, boys, let’s go.”

“Let’s finish this quick,” Willy says, loud, taking off his shirt and flinging it in the direction of the sidelines. “I have a date after this.”

Auston’s kind of red again, and it occurs to Willy that he maybe should’ve avoided pissing Auston off before they have to play against each other.

“What the fuck did you do to him?” asks Brownie, kind of awed, as they stand at the edge of the box, panting, and watch Auston tear through the entire back end and score for the fourth time in three minutes, nearly taking off Freddie’s head with the sheer force of the ball.

Probably means the plan is working? If not, Willy reasons, at least Matts’ll be sexually frustrated enough to carry them to a national title.

He’s the only one who gets to that point: Willy turns down both of the randoms who ask him out, sleeps with one of them anyways that weekend then rejects him – again – when he asks him out – again – as Willy’s getting his clothes on.

“It could be fun,” the guy tries, and Willy sighs as he pulls on his shoes. He’s had this conversation before.

“Look, Bradley-”

“It’s Blake.”

“-this was fun,” Willy continues, undeterred, because he knows love, and this isn’t it. “Dating would be a couple months of a low-effort, highly un-fun relationship until I have to take you out for coffee and break your heart.”

“I could be the one to break your heart,” Brendan grumbles, kind of cranky, and Willy fixes him with a look, already halfway out the door.

“Very appealing, Brian.”

Clingy one night stands aside, things are going well.

Baby steps.

---

Willy’s not sure how much stock he puts in old sayings, but the one about March being in like a lion and out like a lamb seems accurate, tonight. They’re sitting in a row on one of the battered old couches in the lounge, Willy then Mitch then Auston, one group of many in the room. Zach’s over at one of the tables with his friends, and snippets of other conversations are audible, and the Leafs game is playing on the old TV. They’re losing 5-1, currently, which is probably as ‘in like a lion’ as anything.

“Who would ever want to play this sport?” Matts asks, all disdainful, watching a Leaf get checked into the boards for, like, the millionth consecutive time.

“Really awesome people,” Mitch says, stubborn, and then he leans his chin on Auston’s shoulder, grinning up at him. “I bet you’d be great at it,” he says, and it’s ribbing, but his eyes are all soft, and Auston rolls his eyes, but he also blushes, and really, this is practically a cry for help.

Willy fake-yawns, stretches his arm across the back of the couch and Mitch’s shoulders, then grins at Auston and waggles his eyebrows when Mitch snuggles closer.

Auston opens his mouth like he’s going to say something, then shuts it, then does that again a couple of times. Then – finally, thank god, progress – he reaches down and tugs Mitch’s legs into his lap. Glares at Willy as he does it, too, everything but a verbal ‘back off’.

Mitch takes all of it in stride. He’s got a tendency to be physical, anyways, and he’s the same amount of oblivious as he’s always been vis-a-vis Matts’ feelings. Not like it’s a hardship for Willy to cuddle with him. It’s nice to have someone to hold onto, and Mitch is an easy guy to get close to.

Willy’s gaze drifts to the game, then to Zach, who meets his gaze. Willy can see the moment he puts two and two together, realizes he’s witnessing the plan put into action, and mouths ‘you’re an idiot’, pressing his lips together like he’s trying to be disapproving and not quite managing it.

“Great game,” Willy says, loud, because he knows how to put on a show. “Thanks so much for watching it with us, Mitchy.”

Zach snorts a laugh, tries and immediately fails to disguise it as a severe coughing fit.

Mitch peers over at him, concerned. “You okay, man?”

“I’m fine,” Zach says, while Willy widens his eyes at him, don’t you dare. “Thanks, though.”

“Cool,” Mitch says, happy, and settles back against Willy’s arm.

“Cool,” Willy says, and plays with Mitch’s hair a little, on the side that’s closest to Auston. Flips Zach off with his free hand.

Auston sounds like he’s talking through gritted teeth. “Cool,” he says. “So cool.”

The Leafs get scored on again. 6-1.

Willy’s mostly expecting it – kind of looking forward to it? – when Zach gives him shit on his midnight snack run that night.

“I cannot believe,” Zach says instead of ‘hello’ as he walks into the kitchen, where Willy’s already waiting for his food, “You made me witness that abomination of an excuse for flirting with my own two eyes.”

“That,” Willy says, smug, “was a master at work. You’re welcome.”

 “You’re shameless,” Zach says. “And your friends have way too much unresolved sexual tension, that was honestly painful to sit through.”

“Let me take you out to make up for it?” Willy offers, half-teasing and all charming, in his opinion. He’d do it, too, actually take Zach out before he banged him. That’s like, a big deal.

Zach does not look amused. “Weird, that’s the second time you’ve made that joke, and it’s still aggressively not funny.”

Willy takes it in stride, like he takes everything. Doesn’t point out that it wasn’t a joke, really. “I think it’s more of a determined yet respectful-of-boundaries game of cat and mouse, except the cat and the mouse are both our penises.”

“How do you make words?” Zach demands, and he’s doing his whole righteous indignation thing, but Willy’s pretty sure he sees the corner of his mouth quirk up like he’s trying to hide a smile. “Where does a sentence like that even come from?”

“I’m ESL,” Willy says, defensive. “I’m not from here, Zachary.”

“You’re-” Zach says, and he stops really abruptly. It’s a weird moment, kind of – it looked like he was going to say something important, there – but it doesn’t get a chance to linger, because the microwave beeps.

“Mug brownie!” Willy crows, distracted from whatever that was by the promise of gooey chocolatey goodness.

Zach gets back to disapproving, which is comfortingly normal, in a weird way. “Just make real brownies, man.”

“The trick is nutella and minimal effort,” Willy says, taking his mug out and inhaling, appreciative. “Want to try some?”

“No.”

“You’re going to try some,” Willy decides. “I’m going to change your life, Zach Hyman from two floors down.”

“Waiting with bated breath, William Nylander from two floors up,” Zach says, but he takes the spoon that Willy offers, and they’re not exactly friends, and Zach also still apparently doesn’t want to bang Willy, but they’re the kind of people who can share a mug brownie at three AM, so that’s something.

---

Spending more time one-on-one with Mitch is an unexpected side effect of Willy’s plan, but not one he’s upset about. Mitch is a cool guy, cooler once Willy gets to know him more. Will can see why him and Matts clicked so fast, because they’re similar in a lot of ways that maybe aren’t obvious ‘til you know them – both kind of lame, both more comfortable with their sport than with anything real world. Both fundamentally decent guys, the kind it’s nice to have in your corner.

It’s one of those rare early spring days without rain or flurries, like a sneak preview of summer. There’re hints of green all around, the sun peeking out from behind a few clouds. Still not quite warm enough to be hanging out outside, really, but Willy’s sitting out on the quad with Mitch anyways, stretched out on the grass.

Mitch isn’t being super talkative, for once, just chilling on his phone next to Willy while Willy leans against the big maple tree and people watches. A bunch of people say hi as they pass, old hookups or friends from first-semester classes. Both he and Mitch are social guys, so they get a lot, but Willy gets more.

“Yo, I thought I knew everyone?” Mitch says, once Willy’s old calc TA leaves. “But you know everyone, it’s ridiculous.”

“I get around,” Willy says, grinning at him.

“But you’re still single?” Mitch asks, a little teasing, but also genuinely curious.

“My choice, not theirs.”

It’s the truth. People are usually kind of surprised about it, like- the line between sex and relationships is blurred for a lot of people the way it isn’t for Willy, and they expect him to be the kind of guy who’s got some boyfriend waiting around for him, like Willy’s going to waste his time on anything but the real thing.

Mitch takes his answer in stride, sitting up so he can meet Willy’s eyes. “How good are you, dude?” He doesn’t mean at being single.

“Reviews have been positive,” Willy says, which is about as humble as he gets. “Practice makes perfect.”

“I mean, my offer still stands,” Mitch says, and he’s staring up at the buds on the tree, a little too deliberate to be really casual. “If you wanted more, uh. Practice?”

It takes a second for Willy to realize that that was flirting, and another second to realize that he may have slightly underestimated Mitch’s responsiveness to his flirting.

This... is a minor setback.

He doesn’t flirt back. Duh. Hitting on Mitch is only for when Matts is watching, only for jealousy reasons, otherwise he’s just being an asshole. “Mitchy,” he reminds him, as reasonable as he can. “You’re very, very in love with Auston.”

“Right, but that’s a whole different thing than us banging,” Mitch agrees without missing a beat, and he looks over at Willy, thoughtful. “It’s like, I thought at first that me being bi was the kind of thing where I’m still mostly straight, and Matts was just my exception or something? Only it’s like, ever since I accepted that I was gay for him, my brain was like, hey, it’s okay to be gay for a bunch of people. Like I gave myself permission or something?”

“I get it,” Willy says, careful, and Mitch continues, eager.

“So like, what I’m saying is obviously I love him, romance-style, but I could also get a crush on and fuck a dude who’s not him and still enjoy it, hypothetically?”

“I don’t have a crush on you,” Willy informs him, because he needs to derail this shit before it goes any further. He knows love when he sees it and that’s Mitch and Auston, and he truly has no interest in fucking with their weird, wholesome adoration for each other.

Only Mitch gets this look on his face, all determined, and he lifts himself up and straddles Willy’s lap, one leg on either side of Willy’s thighs. Willy’s hands come up by Mitch’s hips automatically, steadying him, and like, it’s intentional, Mitch trying on purpose to be sexy to prove a point, so it shouldn’t be sexy, but-

“Don’t need to have a crush on me to fuck me,” Mitch says, light and quiet; he tilts his head just a little so Willy gets a close-up view of the tendons in his neck, the way the sun catches on his eyelashes.

And, like, Willy has to very firmly think of naked grannies and cold showers and Coach to avoid getting hard, which is to say, game recognizes game, if an almost-boner counts as recognition.

Willy squirms a little, ignores the part of his brain that was just briefly attracted to Mitch Marner. “You got potential, Marner,” he allows. “I will give you that.”

“Yeah, I know,” Mitch says, but he looks pleased. “It’s my boyish charm. It catches people off guard.” He rolls off of Willy and lays back on the grass, sighs all proud of himself. “You’ll probably want to fuck me eventually.”

Willy stares. “No wonder Matty’s obsessed with you,” he says, and Mitch shakes his head, back to that self-deprecating kind of denial that he defaults to every time Willy brings up Auston’s crush.

“He’s not.”

“Is too.”

“Isn’t.”

“Is,” Willy says; then, “I’m still not fucking you.”

Mitch laughs.

Idiot. Loveable, temporarily attractive idiot. But an idiot.

Idiot who apparently wants to have sex with him.

Shit.

---

Willy’s not expecting anyone to be in the kitchen at five in the morning, because it’s too late for midnight studying and too early for, like, anyone who’s ever been on a university campus. Zach’s there anyways, sitting at the counter with his laptop, and he looks surprised to see Willy.

“You look terrible,” he says, frank, which- yeah, Willy got, like, three minutes of sleep, he’s not at his best. “Why’re you awake?”

Willy pulls up a chair, probably rougher than he needs to be.

It’s not a thing, like, at all, because Mitch Marner is too loud and dweeby and has weird gangly limbs, but none of that stopped Willy from dreaming about Mitch stretched out in his bed, stripped out of his hockey gear and kissing Willy within an inch of his life, grinding down onto him slow and teasing until Willy woke up sweating and painfully hard. He jerked off, feeling absurdly guilty the whole time and listening to Matts’ breathing steady from the other bed, then tossed and turned for almost three hours before giving up on sleep.

“Munchies,” Willy says, short, because actually wanting to fuck Mitch Marner was not even remotely part of the plan and Zach’ll give him shit about it if he tells the truth. “You?”

“Paper due tomorrow,” Zach says, oblivious, or Willy thinks he’s oblivious, but then Zach fixes him with a look, not-quite frowning. “You’re lying about the munchies.”

Willy doesn’t bother trying to cover it up again. “I don’t want to talk about it,” he says, and rests his head on the counter. It’s a questionable decision, because the counter is objectively disgusting, but Willy’s a questionable fucking friend tonight, dreaming about getting down with the guy he’s supposed to be fake-seducing, with his best friend’s best friend, then avoiding it by sitting in a student kitchen with the one person in the world who apparently thinks he’s totally unattractive.

It’s an ego thing, probably. Mitch jokes about the two of them fucking and Willy’s brain wants to prove he could.

For once, Zach doesn’t push, and Willy’s absurdly grateful. He stays with his head down, listening to the clicking of Zach’s keyboard as he types, and he doesn’t feel better, exactly, but it’s something.

---

It’s not a big deal. It’s not even a little deal. The plan’s still on, because Willy doesn’t give up on his plans. He just needs to chill with the flirting, make sure Mitch gets his head back on straight. Or, like back on bi, just bi in the right direction.

Willy’s got to dial it back a little. That’s all. Only-

Dialing it back is easier in theory, he learns, when they’re warming up before their big game Saturday afternoon. He’s not changed into his gear yet, still in whatever he threw on to leave the room, but he can’t even focus, because he’s too busy trying to hear what Mitch and Auston are talking about over on the sidelines.

Auston’s leaning over the little barrier thing between the field and the stands, smiling at Mitch all jokey, and Willy- it’s not about the Mitch thing, not at all, because that would be stupid, but Willy very much does bend over to touch his toes, and yeah, he might slightly angle himself so that his... assets are pointed in Mitch’s direction, but it’s in a very dialed-back, normal way.

 “Gotta stretch,” Will says, loud, so they’ll look his way. “Get nice and limber.”

Mitch, bless his newly bisexual heart, is staring at Willy’s ass and thighs like they’re a beautiful sunset or something, trailing off in the middle of whatever he was saying to Auston. Willy walks his hands back a little, smug, and from the corner of his eye he can see Auston looking at Mitch, then at Willy, and then he gets this determined expression on his face. And Willy’s got to admire the chutzpah, here, because Matts just straight up takes his shirt off and rolls out his shoulder, putting his muscles on full display.

Asshole.

“Hey, Mitchy, you mind passing me a bottle of water?” he asks, real chill, except for how it’s not even remotely chill, and definitely not as chill as Willy’s thing was.

Mitch blinks, remembers to close his mouth. “Wa...ter.” he says, and shakes his head, fast. “Yes, I can- I can water.”

He books it for the bench, nearly crashing into the ref in his haste.

“Stop it,” Auston says the second he’s gone, and Willy crosses his arms.

“You stop it,” he says, petty, and then he tries to focus on actually prepping for their game.

And it’s like- it’s cool, right, because Mitch and Auston doing something about their sexual tension is what Willy wants, but it’s also, like. All due respect to Auston Matthews’ shoulders – Willy’s jerked off thinking of them, they’re great shoulders – but Willy’s thighs are a gift from god to mankind and they never get brushed off this easily, ever. It’s a matter of pride. Mitch being into it is secondary, really.

Mitch jogs back over, and Willy waits ‘til he’s close, then sinks into a full split.

Mitch drops Auston’s water bottle.

“Flexibility is a really underrated part of a soccer skillset, I find,” Willy says, and he very nobly ignores the fact that his pants very much did just rip along the ass. “It really helps to be bendy, don’t you think, Matts?”

Auston, his face doing something complicated, blatantly flexes, stretching out his arm and pointing at the sky. “Is that a bird up there?” he asks, not even a little bit subtle. The sky’s crystal clear, nothing but blue.

Mitch doesn’t even pretend to look up at the sky instead of at Auston’s biceps. “Yeah, that’s such a bird,” he agrees, bright red. “Wow.”

Willy’s considering stretching a leg over his head to get Mitch’s eyes back on him – he can, and he has it on good authority that it’s highly seductive, but then there’s a pointed cough from over by the bench.

“Afternoon, idiots,” Coach says, unimpressed, while Brownie sniggers behind him. “If you’d like to warm up with the rest of your team, at any point, feel free.”

Mitch looks suitably abashed, wishes them both luck before heading back up to the stands. Willy and Auston exchange a look, somewhere between defiant and mutually embarrassed, then jog over to join the guys.

They win, barely, and Willy sets Auston up for both their goals, but only one’s really important, because they’re both at fault for the only goal against. Ninety minutes seem to drag, and they both ran hard the whole time, but when the final whistle goes, Auston sprints to the showers, then up to the stands, and he’s leaving with Mitch before Willy can even be a jerk about it.

It’s highly annoying, but Willy also has slightly bigger issues, because he forgot that his pants ripped from the splits earlier, and his shorts are disgusting after a game, so he ends up trudging back to his building in cheetah print short-shorts from the bottom of his gym bag. Not his lowest moment? Not his best, either.

Whatever, he thinks, more than a little bitter. This is- he wanted this, honestly. He wants this. The whole point of flirting with Mitch is to make the two of them get it together. Mitch accidentally becoming attractive is a non-issue.

“Willy!”

Willy looks over his shoulder, adjusting his grip on his bag, and watches Zach jog towards him. He’s wearing the school colours, was walking in a group of other spectators, but he leaves them now to catch up with Willy.

Zach looks him up and down, raises an eyebrow. “Where are your pants?”

Willy sighs. “Long story,” he says, and Zach falls into step next to him as they leave the stadium. It’s that slightly tentative kind of quiet that comes the first few times you hang out with someone outside of class, or in their case, the kitchen.

“Want to talk about it?” Zach offers, kind, and Willy toys with the strap of his bag. He doesn’t even know where he’d start.

“No,” he says, then, after a couple more steps, “Actually, yes, I’m pissed.”

So, turns out he does know where to start. And where to continue, and to keep continuing, and by the time he catches Zach up, he’s sitting on one of the benches outside their building watching Willy pacing in full ranting mode.

“And like, woo hoo, I get it, you’re in love,” Willy finishes, “but he wasn’t even looking at me! Like, hello? Has he seen me?” Willy sits down next to Zach with a huff. “Say something.”

Zach just looks at him. “I genuinely can’t believe this,” he says, and this smile appears on his face, somewhere between amused and gloating. “You actually want to have sex with him.”

“That’s irrelevant!” Willy protests. “This isn’t about him, it’s about me!”

“Yeah, about you wanting to have sex with the guy you were supposed to be fake seducing,” Zach says, and then he giggles, and Willy crosses his arms and pouts. “I’m sorry, I’m taking this seriously, I just-”

“Shut up,” Willy says, but it’s half-hearted. “You’re supposed to be supportive.”

“You amaze me,” Zach says, which technically counts as supportive, probably, except for how he’s spluttering with laughter. “I thought I foresaw all the ways this plan would inevitably go wrong, and you somehow found a new, significantly worse one, this is incredible.”

Willy huffs out a breath, overwhelmed. “I didn’t think I’d actually make him want to fuck me,” he says. “Should I just bang him to get it out of his system?”

“He’s in love with your best friend,” Zach says, even, and Willy slumps back, lets his head hang over the back of the bench.

“I know that,” he says. “It’s not like I’m jealous of that, I genuinely don’t want him to be in love with me, I just- he’s hot. It’s inconvenient.”

“I’m sure,” Zach says, and it’s ostensibly an attempt at being sympathetic, but he looks like it takes a lot of effort.

 “You’re inconvenient,” Willy grumbles, but he can’t stay annoyed for long, because Zach laughs. He’s got a really nice laugh, when it’s not the sarcastic little ‘ha’ he usually does. Willy maybe stares a little.

He doesn’t know what the fuck they are. Like, obviously Willy’s attracted to him – obviously, the guy’s got arms like a fucking firefighter, Willy wants to mark them up with his mouth – but Zach clearly doesn’t like him like that, and Willy’s never been in this position before, wanting someone and not being wanted back and just sort of having to live with that.

It’s kind of- it’s new. Weird, because Willy doesn’t know how Zach sees him, how anyone would see him, if not as a friend or someone to fuck or both.

He bumps his knee against Zach’s. Tries to sound like he hasn’t been dwelling on this for months. “You’re the first person to ever reject a date with me, you know that?”

Zach looks at him, serious. “That’s... extremely sad.”

Willy makes a face, caught off guard. “It’s not sad. People just want to date me. I’d want to date me.”

“I bet,” Zach deadpans. “You ever hear the myth of Narcissus?”

“Don’t be a nerd,” Willy says; then, pushing, “Are you, like, asexual, or-”

Zach punches his arm. “William, you did not just assume that someone’s asexual based solely on the fact that they declined your joke of a drunken proposition-”

Willy scoffs. “’Drunken proposition’, okay, it’s not Pride and Prejudice, dude-”

“You know what I meant,” Zach chides, and yeah, Willy does, but-

“I wasn’t that drunk,” he says.

It lands heavier than he means it to. Kind of implies- he doesn’t know what. Something uncomfortably honest, and Zach kind of shifts where he’s sitting, like he feels it too.

“Is that even something you do?” Zach asks, after a second. “Like. Romance? Dating people?”

“I could,” Willy says. “Like. If I wanted to.”

“If Mitch wasn’t your best friend’s crush?”

“If I wanted to waste my time with a relationship that was inevitably not going to work,” Willy corrects.

“You don’t know it wouldn’t work,” Zach points out, all devil’s advocate, and Willy shakes his head.

“I’d know if it would,” he says, simple, and Zach looks like he’s actually thinking about that, and it’s quiet, just the noises of people talking across campus.

Willy could just stay out here, for a while longer. He doesn’t want to go back to the room. He doesn’t even know if Matts and Mitch are there, but he doesn’t feel like doing the plan more tonight. It’s kind of tiring, wanting to fuck people who are in love with each other.

Wanting to fuck someone who doesn’t want to fuck him.

Stupid Zach Hyman and his stupid arms.

“C’mon,” Zach says, and for a split second, Willy’s scared he read his mind. “I’ll let you annoy me while I make tea, short-shorts.”

“These were normal length shorts that shrunk in the wash,” Willy lies, and it gets another laugh out of Zach. Probably means something nice, that Willy can make someone laugh even when they’re not trying to get with him. Probably a first, kind of.

It’s weird.

Whatever.

---

Willy doesn’t let things stay weird. It’s inching toward summer, and he’s not the kind of guy to stay stuck in shit, and when he makes a plan, he follows through.

Also, he fucks a couple of Mitch’s hockey teammates. It doesn’t totally get the Mitch thing out of his system, but it’s enough to remind him how generally sexually inept hockey players are, which does wonders to help Willy avoid thinking about the whole issue. Smart move overall, he thinks.

He changes gears a little, with the plan. Takes a more refined approach, a softer touch. He flirts less with Mitch, backs off instead of pushing more when Auston steps in. Attempts to minimize how attractive he is to Mitch, too. That part is no easy task, but Willy tries valiantly. Hockey workouts and soccer workouts aren’t the same, different stuff to emphasize, but he and Mitch have been doing cardio stuff together all year because their schedules match up a lot, so next time they’re at the gym, Willy wears his rattiest leggings, his baggiest t-shirt.

“The guy at the rower was checking us out,” he teases, once they’re showering after, joking around. “I’ll fight you for him.”

Mitch laughs, “Yeah, fat chance.” He flicks water over the little barrier between their stalls, right at Willy, and it’s pretty ineffectual, but the message gets across. “Did you see his fucking shirt, with the-”

“The anime thing, yes, ugh,” Willy laughs. “You know what, you can have him.”

And it’s a lighthearted moment, friendly as anything, but bringing up anything even tangentially related to flirting was maybe a bad call, because Mitch sighs, not quite serious.

“I don’t even know how to have sex with guys,” he says, like he’s making fun of himself. “I dunno. It’s weird, right? I thought I dealt with all the stressful first time stuff before, with girls, but now...”

“Matts is pretty easy,” Willy says, soaping up his hair. “So. You’ll be fine.”

“I can’t just assume it’ll be him,” Mitch says, quiet so Willy can hardly hear him over the water.

Willy counts to ten in his head. Soft touch. No flirting. “Entertain the idea,” he says, careful, then, “I think you guys would be good.”

Neither of them talks for a little while. When Mitch does, it’s like- it’s not shy, not at all, almost too not shy, like Mitch is trying really hard to sound chill and not quite making it.

“What’s he like?” Mitch asks.

“Auston?”

“Auston.”

“Like for sex?”

“Like- yeah,” Mitch says, and Willy hears his feet shift on the tile.

The conversation’s going a dangerous route, and Willy knows that, right, but he can’t help but smile, because not kissing and telling has never really been his thing. “He likes kissing,” Willy says, ‘cause that seems innocent enough. “He’s a fucking good kisser. Don’t tell him I said that, though, he’ll get a big head. Or-”

Mitch refrains from making a forehead joke, which, if Willy hadn’t decided Mitch was worthy of dating his best friend a while ago, would pretty much win him over right there.

“I bet he’d be a good kisser,” Mitch says, all certain. “He seems like he would be. I never kissed anyone taller than me, is that-”

“That’s part of it,” Willy allows. “It’s like- Matts likes to take care of whoever he’s sleeping with. He sets the pace, kind of?”

“’cause he’s bossy,” Mitch says, and Willy doesn’t have to see his face to know he’s smiling.

“Him being bigger is good too, though,” Willy says, because fair’s fair, he’s not going to make Matts sound like a worse lay than he is. “Like- he’s careful with you, but it doesn’t feel like it. It feels like he’s just going.”

Mitch makes this noise, a little shaky, and his voice is closer to Willy than it has been, like he’s out from under the water. “That- that sounds really good.”

“He does this thing,” Willy says, leaning against the wall between him and Mitch. “Where he tries to play it cool, except you can tell from his voice how close he is.” He can hear it in his head, how Matts’ voice gets all low and husky, one of them pressed into the other and then he lets go of any pretense of keeping it together.

“Shit,” Mitch breathes, almost reverent, only it comes out kind of strangled, breaking the spell.

Willy coughs, comes back to himself. He’s standing on the nasty tiled floor, half-hard, his dick curving away from him, and he’s weirdly out of breath; by the sounds of it, Mitch is in the same boat.

The water in the stall next to Willy shuts off. “I’m gonna go, uh. Do homework now,” Mitch gets out, which Willy is pretty sure is code for ‘jerk off in my room’.

“...Okay,” Willy says, after a second, and he watches Mitch dash out of the shower, get dressed at the speed of light, and bolt from the locker room, shirt on inside out and only wearing one sock.

He can’t even- he’s got a hand on his dick before he even realizes what he’s doing, just instinctively trying to relieve some of the pressure; and he can imagine Mitch scurrying back to his room to do the same thing, Mitch jerking himself off all desperate to Willy’s words and the idea of Auston’s mouth and hands and-

Willy puts the shower as cold as it can go.

“Stop it,” he tells his dick, stern. “Naked grandmas. Coach in a speedo. Roadkill. Essays.”

And the good news is his Mitch related boner chills out, but the bad news is the essay thing reminds him of Zach, and then, completely without his permission, his brain’s full up of images of Zach licking into his mouth; Zach pinning him down, maybe fucking him against a wall or something, except Zach’d probably be the kind of guy to insist on doing it right, in a bed, on making sure Willy came first before he’d fuck him, even if Willy begged for it, and he might-

“Don’t masturbate about someone who doesn’t like you,” Willy orders himself, and he stares up into the freezing shower spray, shivers under it. “Don’t you dare, William Nylander.”

He dares.

He dares in the shower at the gym, then back in his room, then again in the room when Auston gets back from his seminar and Willy can tackle him onto his bed and ride him ‘til they’re both out of breath, and by that point he doesn’t even know what he’s imagining anymore.

---

They’ve got their calc exam at the end of the week, and it’s not the kind of thing they can really study together for, so Willy and Auston are just on their own sides of the room, redoing past exams. It’s a companionable thing, in theory – Auston’s got his headphones in, sitting at his desk, and Willy’s stretched on his bed with his textbook – but Willy can’t focus.

He’s been kind of a mess these past few days, full on middle school bisexual crisis style, this constant hair-trigger switch between horny and embarrassed for no good reason. His brain’s just on this neverending loop of Zach doesn’t like you, which is bad, but also Mitch does, which is good, but also bad, but then Auston doesn’t want you to like Mitch, which is bad, but also good because it’s part of your plan to get them to admit their love, except they still haven’t and Zach still doesn’t like you, which possibly just means you’re a failure at the only things you thought you were good at, asshole.

Willy’s internal monologue isn’t super fun, recently.

“Hey,” Auston says, and Willy jumps.

Auston’s looking at him, all concerned, one headphone out. “You okay, bro?”

“Hm?” Willy asks, hoping it comes off as light and breezy. “Yeah, why?”

“You’re, like, fidgeting non-stop,” Auston says. “Want me to get you?”

And Will can’t remember the last time he said no to sex, let alone to sex with Auston, but he does now, shutting his textbook and getting to his feet. “I- not now, it’s cool. I’m just gonna get some air or something.”

He barely has time to see the look on Auston’s face, raised eyebrows, before he’s escaping into the hallway, slamming the door shut behind him.

He takes a deep breath.

He doesn’t know what he wants. Stuff's never this hard for him, never.

He doesn’t mean to head two floors down, but that’s where he goes, mostly without realizing it.

“Hi,” Willy says, when Zach opens his door; then, without waiting for a ‘hello’ back, “Are we friends?”

“...Arguably,” Zach says.

Willy shoves his hands in his pockets, looks up at Zach kind of hopeful. “Friends enough for me to buy you frozen yogurt?”

Zach looks at him, and there’s something cautious about it, like he’s waiting for Willy to go ‘haha, just joking’, or to hit on him or something, but he doesn’t, and he’s not going to, and Zach maybe picks up on that, or on the fact that Willy just kind of needs this, tonight.

“Okay,” Zach says. “Let me save my work.”

---

It’s muggy out, weird, in-between weather, but they bus to the fro-yo place a few minutes from campus, the nice one with all the colourful, pop-art style ads about the new low-fat peach flavour, stuff like that.

“This is so pretentious,” Zach says, looking around like he’s in an alternate dimension. “This is, like, the distilled essence of the entire kinesiology department in one overpriced store.”

“I understood maybe half of those words,” Willy says. “Where do you study, nerdass, the library?”

“I’m biased towards kitchens at two AM, actually,” Zach says, dry, and Willy grins in spite of himself, skips ahead of him in line to look at the flavours of yogurt.

They find a booth near the back, away from the crowds.

“Is this the part where you tell me why you dragged me out of my room?” Zach asks, and Willy shakes his head, crams a spoonful of yogurt and sprinkles into his mouth.

“Nuh-uh,” he says. “This is the part where you talk so I can focus on something other than my internal angst.”

“You? Angst?” Zach says, skeptical, and Willy basically has to flip him off then, and Zach rolls his eyes at him, but he actually obliges the whole talking thing, and it’s actually-

It’s nice. It’s really, really nice.

There’s stuff you learn about someone, sitting at a restaurant together, that you don’t learn when you’re just talking in passing, both doing other things. Willy learns that Zach’s lived in the city his whole life, and that he’s graduating next year, and that he’s also, apparently, a published, best-selling children’s book author.

“That’s actually amazing,” Willy says, stunned. Like, he’s basically sitting across from J.K. Rowling, or something like that. “How do you just casually share that, man, I’d tell everyone.”

Zach frowns, a little. “I can’t tell if you’re making fun of me.”

“I mean it, dude, that’s incredible,” Willy enthuses. It’s a Zach thing, maybe, assuming the worst of people. “What other secret awesome stuff are you hiding?” He leans in across the table, lowers his voice all secretive. “Are you Batman?”

“Don’t tell people,” Zach says, dead serious. “I need to save the city.”

Willy laughs, caught off guard by Zach playing along – him being a goof isn’t something Willy would’ve put money on – and takes another spoonful of his frozen yogurt. “So what’re your books about?”

Zach shrugs the question off, all modest. ’“They’re just picture books.”

Willy flings a gummy worm at his Zach’s face. “Tell me.”

“Don’t throw food, you infant,” Zach scolds, picking the worm off and wiping at his face; but Willy waits, patient, and Zach sighs and gives in.

He manages to act reluctant about it for maybe ten seconds before he gets really enthusiastic, talking about each of his books. It’s like he lights up, this little kid kind of gushing all proud of himself, and Willy can feel himself smiling like an idiot but can’t make himself stop. It’s cute.

Willy relaxes without being really aware of it. It’s not even a conscious thing, really. They’re just talking about Zach’s books, and then they’re debating about whether the English department or the Kin department is more pretentious, and then they’re arguing about subtitled movies and reality TV and the Toronto music scene and a bunch of other objectively pointless stuff, but it’s fun, and Zach’s smart enough that Willy really has to focus on keeping up, and somewhere along the line he just- forgets to be stressed about everything.

He doesn’t realize they’re the only ones left in the restaurant until the cashier coughs, real pointed, and reminds them that closing time was twenty minutes ago.

“Oh my god,” Zach says, springing out of his seat and grabbing his long-since empty frozen yogurt cup. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t even- sorry.”

The workers are nice enough about it, minus a few dirty looks, and Willy maybe dawdles a little, but Zach rushes him all embarrassed, and then they’re standing on the doorstep in front of the neon CLOSED sign.

Some time in the last four hours, it started raining. It’s coming down hard, the air humid, one of those summer storms.

“Oh no,” Willy says, shrinking back into the entrance, one hand automatically flying up to his hair. Like, whatever, he’s protective of his number one asset, sue him.

“You gonna melt in the water, your majesty?” Zach asks, teasing, as he rummages in his bag. “It’s like, a five minute walk to the bus.”

Willy scoffs. “Firstly, rude; secondly, rude.”

Zach laughs, and it’s at Willy, but not in an asshole way; and then he pulls out a little compact umbrella that he apparently just carries in his bag, because of course he does.

“C’mon,” he says, holding it out for Willy, like some picture of some polite, prepared-for-anything boy scout, and Willy joins him under it, walks close by so they can both stay dry.

“Is this a Canadian thing?” Willy asks, conversational, as they make their way down the sidewalk.

“I don’t know, is being scared of weather a Swedish thing?” Zach shoots back, and Willy makes a face, all fake-offended.

“I can’t believe I actually liked you for a couple minutes there,” he says, snooty, and it makes Zach’s eyes crinkle when he laughs. Fuck, he’s got a good laugh.

“Yeah, you got pretty terrible judgement,” Zach agrees, good-natured. “Maybe avoid cult recruiting events.”

“Yeah, keep joking, funny guy,” Willy says, kicking at Zach’s ankle, light. “You’re gonna be my cult’s first virgin sacrifice.” And it’s like, a dumb joke, mostly just slips out, but Zach does that weird tense scoff again, like he does when he thinks he’s getting teased.

 “I’ve had sex,” he says, defensive.

“With what, two people, or-” Willy’s joking, but Zach looks away, fast, and it’s like- oh. “Wait, actually?”

“One,” Zach says, and he doesn’t sound embarrassed, exactly, just. Wary.

And Willy’s not about to give someone shit for only having fucked one person before – it’s sweet, in a kind of weird, conceptual way – but he just. Can’t compute people not wanting to sleep with Zach. “Dude, but you’re hot.”

“Some of us shake hands with people we meet instead of touching their dicks,” Zach retorts, and he doesn’t even miss a beat, but his cheeks are kind of pink, at the ‘you’re hot’ thing, or maybe just the topic in general.

“Fair enough,” Willy grins, because he can respect a good comeback when he hears one. He’s not planning on pushing the sex thing, because not everyone’s comfortable with the topic, but Zach looks over at him, curious.

“Why, how many people have you...”

“Uh,” Willy sticks his tongue out, thinking. “How long do you have?”

Jeez,” Zach says, and Willy doesn’t say anything – it’s ‘Jeez’, it’s not saying anything one way or another – but the moment’s loaded, because people have given him shit for sleeping around before, like he’s doing something bad, and he doesn’t think that’s Zach’s style, but there’s still this moment of ‘what if’.

Zach must pick up on whatever vibe Willy’s putting down, because he adds, fast, “That wasn’t, like. ‘Jeez’ in a weird slut-shamey way. It’s your choice what you do.” And he’s being sincere, Willy thinks, but because he’s Zach, he still has to throw in some judgement, but not in the way Willy expects.

“I just,” Zach starts, slow. “I guess – aside from the quantity of sex or whatever – it seems like asking for trouble, to be tangled up in that stuff with your best friend and the guy he likes?”

And Willy gets what Zach’s saying, he does. Even has to admit he has a point, maybe, because the whole reason Willy showed up at Zach’s door tonight was avoiding dealing with the Auston and Mitch thing, but that’s not- it’s trouble, maybe, but not in the way Willy thinks Zach means, like where he swoops in and steals Mitch away and everyone’s feelings get stomped on.

It’s not that. Willy knows where he and Matts stand, and he knows that the Mitch thing is just him wanting to do sex stuff with a cute guy. Like- they’re firmly in the friends category, and sex is a distinct thing from that, and from romance, and Willy doesn’t know how to put that separation in words without sounding like he’s averse to something he’s not.

“It’s just sex,” he settles on, finally. “I’m good at it. I like it. If anything’s weird, it’s not- the sex isn’t what makes it weird. That’s the easy part.”

Zach looks like he’s listening, but not like he agrees. “It complicates things.”

“It’s the other stuff that’s complicated,” Willy shakes his head, tries to find the words. “Like- okay, Auston’s the chillest guy I’ve ever met, usually? But the second he gets around Mitch, it’s like their dumb feelings turn them into the biggest messes in the world.”

Zach laughs, just small. “Being a mess is part of being in love, I think,” he says, and it’s how he’s looking at Willy, like he’s genuinely interested in what he has to say, or it’s the way their shoulders brush, or maybe it’s the rain, but Willy just- talks.

“My parents,” Willy says, kicking at a puddle to send up a little splash of water. “They’re, like. The perfect couple. Literally on magazine covers, back in Sweden. Together since they were teenagers, and they’re just- they’re so, so in love.” He bites his lip, kind of self-conscious at the way the conversation’s going. It’s not something he usually gets into, because it tends to feel like explaining himself, like asking to be psychoanalyzed. It doesn’t feel like that, after everything tonight.

“They just fit together, and that’s always been obvious. Same with Matts and Mitchy.” He meets Zach’s gaze, kind of shrugs. “I know what love looks like,” he says, simple. “I’m not going to waste my time trying to make it exist somewhere it isn’t. When I find it, that person, I’ll know. ‘til then, might as well have fun.”

Zach’s quiet for a long few seconds, like he’s digesting what Willy said. “That was... surprisingly rational?” he says, and it’s such a Zach response, so normal, that Willy has to laugh.

“I’m a surprising guy,” he quips, smirking up at Zach, who rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling too fond to really be exasperated. It’s kind of- Willy doesn’t like being the only one putting stuff out like this, so he prompts, “You like love.”

“Yeah,” Zach says. “Of course.”

Willy pries, a little. “But you aren’t in it?”

Zach looks like he’s thinking hard. He doesn’t answer the question, exactly, but gets somewhere close. “I think love is- it’s any other relationship, and relationships take work.” He’s talking slow, very considered. “Work takes time, and since I don’t have someone to put work into right now, my time goes to school, and my writing, and- and my future career. Which I think are good priorities to have. ”

Willy hums, acknowledging. “This is the part where I inform you that a five minute bathroom handjob would absolutely not take that much of your time, though,” he says, light, and Zach just shrugs.

 “I’m not really the kind of guy who wants to have sex without a relationship,” he says, simple. “Which means that for me, sex would mean work, which means time, which-”

“-which you don’t have, until the right person comes,” Willy finishes, and Zach nods, holds his gaze. “Very rational.”

They exchange small smiles. Not tentative, exactly. Just. Nice.

Willy meant what he said. He can see Zach’s logic. Can sort of fit it in with his own, except for the fact that they’re complete opposites.

They walk for a while, just listening to the sound of rain against the umbrella. It’s still a little weird, not bickering with each other. Zach’s arm brushes up against Willy’s, barely anything.

“It’s got to be some kind of paradox, right?” Zach muses, breaking the silence. “If you’re doing the logical thing by having tons of sex, and I’m doing the logical thing by having sex at a rate of one person every twenty-two years, maybe neither is really logical, after all.”

“Maybe it’s an averages thing,” Willy suggests. “Put us together and you get one normal, well-adjusted person with great hair-”

Zach smirks. “-And a weird nose-”

“-and a nice nose,” Willy corrects, because Zach’s an idiot if he thinks his face is anything less than stupidly pleasant to look at. Then, because the moment’s teetering on the edge of something serious, “And their name would be Zwilliam.”

Zach laughs, after a second, like Willy caught him off guard. “You can’t- you don’t just put one of my letters in front of your whole name, that’s not how it works.”

“Zwilliam,” Willy insists, stubborn, and Zach’s shaking his head at him, eyes bright.

“Wach,” Zach tries, and Willy elbows him, grinning, and Zach elbows him back, and they’re both laughing because it’s an objectively stupid conversation to have, the two of them crammed under one umbrella at god knows what time of night.

 “I didn’t expect you to be a romantic,” Zach says, a little out of nowhere, and his voice is still light enough, but there’s something there, Willy thinks. Genuine surprise, like Willy’s something he didn’t expect.

Willy gets the feeling. “I definitely didn’t expect you to be a romantic,” he says back, and Zach catches his eye for just a second before looking away.

They’re at the bus stop, so Willy steps under the shelter, watches Zach shake out his umbrella. The light from the streetlights is catching on the raindrops dotting the glass, making a backdrop of stars.

Willy shoves his hands in his pockets so he won’t reach out and do something stupid.

Zach turned him down before. Zach turned him down a bunch of times before, and Willy’s not about to be the creepy, insistent dude who can’t take a hint, but he’s just- he doesn’t even know what the feeling in his stomach is, here. Like, yeah, he wants to have sex with Zach, obviously, but it’s different from wanting to have sex with Auston or Mitch or, like, people in general, because Zach’s just- The whole thing’s incredibly stupid, honestly, because Will’s not about to lay himself open over something he can’t even put a name to, but he can’t not.

“I had fun,” he says, when Zach joins him under the shelter.

Zach smiles at him, and there’s something almost wistful about it. “Me too,” he says, and they’re just looking at each other, standing closer than they have to be.

Willy tries to sound nonchalant, like he’s making a callback to a shared joke. “Guessing you’ll say no if I ask you out again, huh?”

And he’s expecting another ‘no’, maybe a witty comment or something. He’s not expecting Zach to look down at the ground, to not-quite-flinch like Willy hit him or something.

“You’re not fair,” Zach says, quiet, and Willy wants to- to hug him or something, because Zach looks wrecked, but he just rocks back on his heels, uncertain.

“What does that mean?”

A beat, then Zach straightens his shoulders. “Nothing,” he says, and the moment’s over as soon as it began. He takes a step back, nods toward the road. “Bus is here.”

And it is, and they leave, Auston’s asleep when Willy gets back to the room, and that’s that.

---

Finals arrive with a vengeance, and stay with a vengeance, and generally just kick Willy’s ass, also with a vengeance, but he survives and so does Matts and he’s pretty confident they pull off the grades to stay on the team, which is what really matters.

Will’s got a couple days to kill doing nothing, before Zach leaves on his family vacation and Matts heads back to the US and Willy gets his flight back home, so he and Matts trek out to the field, empty with half the school still writing exams; put on their cleats and kick the ball around, just fun, away from drills and pro scouts and yelling coaches.

Willy thinks he was made to play on Matty’s wing sometimes. They read each other’s minds, out on the field.

“Aaand Messi Nylander with the header,” Willy leaps up, heads the ball into the net from Auston’s pass. “And the crowd goes wild!”

He mimics the roar of a crowd, and Auston jumps on his back, whooping and messing up his hair like they just won a world cup.

“Woahwoahwoah, not the hair,” Willy protests, but he’s laughing too hard for it to have any weight, and he smoothes his hair back down while Auston jogs over to the ball, grinning all proud of himself. It’s one of those perfect sunny days, the promise of months of no school and seeing his family stretched out ahead like something brilliant.

“I’m gonna miss you back in Sweden, loser,” he says, because it’s the truth, because even with all the Mitch drama, the weird competitiveness between them this semester, they’re still the dynamic duo, Willy and Matts.

“You gotta come visit Scottsdale,” Auston says, keeping up the ball on his foot, then his knee. “My mom would love you, oh my god.”

“Rude, your whole family would love me,” Willy says, and Auston returns his grin, sends him a perfectly placed pass.

They pass back and forward for a while, sending each other running ‘til they’re working up a sweat, ‘til they’ve got grass stains on their knees from sliding to take a hard pass.

“Will?” Auston says, and Willy kicks the ball his way.

“Yeah?”

Auston stops the ball under his foot, looks like he’s bracing himself. “I’m like- okay, this is going to be cheesy, so don’t be weird about it?”

Willy leans on his knees, catching his breath. “If you’re coming out to me, dude, I have to say, I figured you weren’t straight when you sucked my dick maybe the eighth time-”

“Shut up,” Auston rolls his eyes, but it breaks the tension enough for him to say what he has to say, which is what Willy was going for. “I know I’m like. Possessive, or whatever, and that’s shitty, ‘cause people don’t belong to people, I just- I get jealous?”

“Okay?” Willy says, not sure where this is going. He’s always known Matts gets jealous, that was kind of the point of the entire Mitch plan.

Auston exhales, and it looks like it’s tough for him to get the next words out, but he holds Willy’s gaze, real sincere. “But I’m glad if Mitch doesn’t want to be with me, he gets to be with someone as good as you.” He does this smile, this horribly sad little thing. “And, like, I’ll give him the same talk about you I guess, just- You both really deserve to be happy. So. Sorry if I was an asshole about it.”

He bends down to pick up the ball, really takes his time about it, like he’s scared to see Willy’s reaction.

Willy stares.

No fucking way. Just- no.

No.

“Jesus Christ, man,” he says, loud and appalled, and Matts looks at him all taken aback. “You- no, can you be a worse human being for, like, ten seconds?”

“What?” Auston asks, and he kind of laughs, bemused.

Willy can’t fucking do this anymore. “It was a scheme,” he says, willing Auston to understand. “A plan, I was flirting with Mitch to get you to be jealous enough to do something about your feelings but you’re too much of an annoyingly good person.”

He can see the moment that his words register with Auston, the moment his face goes from bemused to utterly confused. “Wait, you don’t want to fuck Mitch?”

“No, I for sure do,” Willy says, waving a hand, dismissive. “But that was an unintentional side effect, you’re supposed to have confessed your love by now, not be giving me your blessing to be with him or whatever!”

The confusion is most of the way to pissed now, and there’s something hard in the set of Auston’s jaw, something that makes Willy think for the first time that he might’ve slightly screwed this up. “I’m just trying to- hang on, you did a fucking scheme to make Mitch want to sleep with you? On purpose, you did this?”

“He was supposed to realize you’re the only guy he wants!” Willy says, pleading. “He turned out gayer than I expected!”

Auston throws his hands up, gaping at him, and Willy nearly trips over himself to continue, because he didn’t mean for stuff to derail like this.

“You’re just both so stupid,” he says, and Matts makes this disbelieving sound, which- okay, fair, that wasn’t Willy’s best apology. “This wouldn’t happen if you could just realize you love each other and bone like rational people, but you’re in your own heads about feelings and it makes no sense.”

“It’s not about boning!” Auston says, loud. “It’s never been just about boning, with Mitch, you know I would’ve dealt with it by now if that’s all it was! And,” he glares, picking up steam as he goes on, “and you can’t just try to scheme people’s problems into disappearing. Like, as if you don’t have your own hang-ups-” He throws the ball on the last word, full force so it stings Willy’s hands when he catches it, sends him staggering back.

“Right,” Willy says, annoyed, matching Auston’s volume. “So because I enjoy sex, I have deep-seated issues, really original-”

“No, Will, you have deep-seated issues because you’re a hypocrite who thinks he’s above having emotions and won’t let himself feel anything unless you have the upper hand!”

Auston practically shouts it, face twisted with anger, and he’s- he’s wrong, he’s obviously completely fucking wrong, but that doesn’t mean Willy’s less furious with him for saying all that wrong shit, and he whips the ball at Auston’s chest, hard. “You’re an asshole.”

“Takes one to fucking know one,” Auston snaps, throwing the ball right back at Willy’s head so Willy has to duck out of the way and only avoids a busted nose thanks to his reflexes.

The ball goes beyond them and rolls to a stop in the grass, almost anticlimactic. They’re just standing there staring each other down, and then Auston drops Willy’s gaze, stomps over to where they dropped their stuff and sits down to take off his cleats.

Willy stays where he’s standing, torn.

The righteous anger is fading fast, getting replaced with the unfortunate realization that maybe it wasn’t quite as righteous as Willy would’ve liked in the first place, that Auston... might have a slight upper hand here, morally, maybe.

Doesn’t give him the right to try to read Willy like that. Calling him a hypocrite, like- no. That’s stupid. Who says he gets to call Willy a bunch of stuff just because Willy interfered with his relationship and technically lied to him for the last few months?

That sounds bad, when he puts it like that.

Willy scuffs his toe on the grass. Looks over at Auston, then over at the empty seats in the stands, kind of squirms where he’s standing. He hates this so, so much.

He sighs, trudges over and sits down a couple feet away from Auston.

“I was just trying to help, you know,” Willy mumbles.

Auston keeps untying his laces real forcefully, doesn’t even look at him.

“I didn’t think you’d actually be mad,” Willy says. “So. Sorry.”

Auston glowers at him, kicks off his second shoe. “Good.”

Willy picks at the grass.

“Are we still friends?” he asks, and it doesn’t come out as cool and collected as he means it to.

Auston doesn’t answer, just stuffs his cleats into his bag.

“Matts,” Willy says, and he wants to pretend like he can’t hear the note of panic in his voice, but he can’t. He can’t lose Matts, he’ll- he can’t. “Are we-”

“Obviously we’re still friends,” Auston cuts him off, gruff, and Willy could almost faint, he’s so relieved. “I’m not gonna not be your friend, you’re-” Auston breaks off, zips his bag shut and kind of shrugs a shoulder. Sighs. “Like, you’re not my brother, because we’ve had sex a bunch of times, but. Close enough. We’re not gonna not be friends just because you’re a meddling asshole.”

Willy hugs him, flinging himself across the space between them and knocking them both to the grass with the sheer force of his affection, and also, like, his physical momentum.

“You’re my friend too,” he says, probably really pathetically, but he doesn’t even care, clinging as tight as he can. “You’re my best friend I ever had, I’m sorry for scheming.”

“Get off, you’re heavy,” Auston grumbles, even as he hugs Willy back, just briefly. “Now you’re gonna do the emotional vulnerability thing? Stupid.” And if Willy didn’t know him, it’d sound really harsh, but Willy does know him, and he hears the affection underneath Auston’s voice, knows they’re going to be okay.

He pulls back, just enough to let Auston prop himself up on his elbows. “I really did just want for you and Mitchy to be happy,” Willy says, sheepish. “I thought if you two could just have sex...”

“I know,” Auston says, tugging his hair down in front of his face and blowing out a breath, kind of exhausted. Helpless, a little. “I wish it was just a sex thing. I wish I could just make it like with you and me, not be so in my head about it.”

Willy frowns.

The thought forms in his head pretty gradually, as Auston speaks. It’s like- Willy’s been trying this whole time to make Mitch and Auston see sense their own way, using feelings to lead to sex, but their way is what got them in this situation in the first place. If he tries the William Nylander way, though, puts the sex and the feelings in reverse order...

He’s obviously not going to scheme all secretive again, because secretive scheming led to them yelling at each other on an empty field. Willy knows how to learn a lesson.

Scheming with permission, however.

“Matty,” Willy says, slow. “I might have an idea.”

---

Their room is kind of a mess, a year’s worth of stuff scattered around, half-packed for the summer. It’s not like the dorm was particularly large to begin with, but now Willy can hardly take a step without tripping over one of his suitcases. Still, he makes sure Matts is there and invites Mitch over too, ushers him in real friendly.

“’sup,” Mitch says, jumping up to sit next to Auston on Willy’s bed, and Auston shrugs, turns to look at Willy as he joins them on the bed. “You wanted to talk?”

“Skittles?” Willy offers, because he’s nothing if not a gracious host, and he’s also not averse to buttering them up via sugar. Mitch takes him up on it right away, shaking like, half the bag into his mouth.

“This feels familiar,” Auston says, dry, because they all know where the three of them in a circle on the bed went last time. Willy folds his hands, businesslike.

“So,” he says, very serious. “I need both of you to sleep with me.”

Mitch chokes on his skittles.

Auston’s just staring, eyebrows shooting up, because Willy told him he had an idea, but didn’t clue him in to the specifics.

Not the worst reaction Willy could’ve hoped for, honestly.

“I mean, realistically, we’re all attracted to each other, right?” he says, once he’s confident Mitchy isn’t legitimately choking to death on rainbow candy. “It’d be kind of killing two birds with one stone? I get to bang my really hot friends before two of us leave for the summer, Mitch gets the gay first time thing over with, you both get the full William Nylander experience.” He pauses, tilts his head. “That’s like, three birds, but you get it.”

“Will,” Auston says, all quiet. “Mitch doesn’t-”

“You don’t know that,” Mitch interrupts, and Auston’s stare turns to him, and so does Willy’s. Mitch blushes, a little, but he doesn’t sound shy. “You- I know you guys have had your thing, I just- is this more of that, or-”

“It’s not a big deal,” Willy says. “Just. Fun?” He looks at Matts, raises an eyebrow, questioning. Asking permission, maybe, because he thinks he’s onto something, here, but it’s not a one-man show.

“You’re just...” Auston says, and he’s putting audible effort into keeping his voice steady. “You’re just asking us to have sex, just like that?”

“To have sex with me, yeah,” Willy says, and he emphasizes the ‘with me’ part, because Auston and Mitch glance at each other when Auston starts talking about sex, and it’s nervous, wanting and trying to hide it and doing a terrible job of it. “You’re both obviously super into me, so. I’m doing you a favour, really.”

That one gets a laugh out of Mitch. A nervous, breathy one, but still a laugh, which is what Will wanted.

“I don’t even- I might be terrible, at sex with dudes,” Mitch blurts. “Seriously, I might be the worst in the world.”

“You actually want to do this,” Auston says, and he’s just staring at Mitch, and they’re both bright red, but Mitch holds his gaze.

“Do you?”

“We obviously don’t have to,” Willy says, because he’s not about putting people on the spot, even if he’s pretty sure he can see Matts tenting in his pants. “Like, we can just not, or we have all of next year to-”

Auston grabs Willy by the shirt, tugs him in and kisses him.

So, like. He approves, clearly.

Willy smiles against him, kisses back, getting a hand on Auston’s neck and holding him in place. He wasn’t lying, when he told Mitch Auston’s a good kisser, and Mitch-

Mitchy’s on the bed next to them, practically bouncing up and down. Willy gets it, because thinking about doing gay shit and actually doing it for the first time are two really different things.

“That was so hot,” Mitch says, sounding a little awed, but not too awed that he can’t continue, “Me next, someone come kiss me, now-”

“Pushy,” Willy says, and he can hear Matts laughing at him as he leans in to kiss Mitch. Willy goes slow, very aware that he’s probably the first guy Marns has ever kissed, only then it takes Mitch all of half a second to go in tongue-first, which- alright, Willy can roll with this.

He pushes at Mitch’s chest, testing, and Mitch lies back easily enough, dragging Will with him without breaking the kiss. It’s good, this affectionate, easy thing, and Willy can feel all three of them humming with energy, because they’re a bunch of twenty year olds who’ve wanted to bang each other for months, and weird pining shit aside, that’s a whole lot of anticipation.

Willy presses one last, chaste kiss to Mitch’s lips then pulls back once the big First Kiss moment is over, and nudges Auston. “Tag in.” It’s not his best as a tension breaker. Still- he handled the scary part, and this is the moment of truth.

Auston looks at Mitch, and he hesitates, like the reality of what they’re about to do suddenly hits and momentarily overcomes the fun sexy part, but only for as long as it takes Mitch to surge up and kiss him, and then after a second, Auston kisses back, getting a hand on Mitch’s back.

Willy can’t stop smiling, watching them, and not just because they’re both hot – this is like, a year of his life’s work coming to beautiful, slightly awkward fruition.

The kiss is over quick, and then Auston and Mitch are nose to nose, looking at each other all intense. It’s the cue for one or both of them to freak out and bolt, but that’s not what tonight is about, so Willy just leans in and kisses Mitch again before the moment can tilt into something scary, and then it’s easy from there. Easier, at least.

They build to something, not wasting any time on finesse, trading kisses between the three of them. Mitch gets probably more than his fair share of the focus, but Willy can’t begrudge him – he’s the novelty here, the one both Willy and Auston have been thinking about.

When Willy pulls back after kiss number a million, Mitch’s lips are all pink, and his hair’s sticking up in every direction. There’s a second where Willy wonders if maybe they should ease into the whole gay threesome thing a little gentler, but then Mitch is laughing, kind of giddy.

“More of that,” he says, eyes bright. “I want- tell me what to do, I want more of that-”

“Oh my god,” Matts says, and it’s so fond Willy has to shove him, knows he’ll get the chirp. Their eyes meet, and Willy raises an eyebrow. Auston grins.

And, okay. Will’s always known that Mitchy likes attention – understatement – so it really shouldn’t be a surprise how much having sex with two people does it for him, but, like.

It really does it for him.

It starts of sort of slow, just Matts getting Mitch pressed into the mattress, kissing him slow and wet and so fucking tenderly that Willy kind of wants to blush, but he settles for just watching for a few minutes, touching himself through his underwear. It’s like- it’s not like watching porn, but it’s maybe similar; better, because it’s the two people he’s stupidly attracted to about to have sex, and he’s here, and he can feel the heat coming off them, can get a hand on Mitch’s thigh and feel him tense up under him.

 “I’m gonna suck you off,” Willy informs him, and if he wasn’t most of the way to hard anyways, the sound that Mitch makes up against Auston’s mouth would do it, because god.

Willy moves down the bed, noses at Matts’ thigh to push him out of the way and get at Mitch’s pants. Auston gets the message and moves without even breaking the kiss. Willy goes for Mitch’s fly, pulls his pants down around his ankles and presses his lips to the curve of Mitch’s hipbone to make him shiver.

“C’mon,” Mitch breathes, and he’s already hard when Willy gets rid of his underwear and just kind of looks at him. Sex looks good on Mitch, all long limbs and surprising strength and pale skin flushed patchy red. Really fucking eager for it, and not even embarrassed, if the sounds he’s making are any indication. It’s pretty nice for Willy’s ego, and it’s a weirdgood combination of new and familiar when he leans down and gets his mouth on Mitch’s dick.

It’s like- it’s a lot, the sounds and the taste and the heat, all three of them pressed together. Willy’s aware of every little detail, it feels like; Mitch salty on his tongue, his up-close view of him and Auston making out. They’ve both lost their shirts somewhere along the way, and Matts has got one hand up by Mitch’s neck while the other finds its way down to clutch at Willy’s hair. It’s tight enough to be a little painful and a lot good, and they finish Marns off like that, all tangled up together.

“Oh my god,” Mitch gasps out, completely wrecked. “I like this so much, fuck, I’m gonna-”

Willy has to hold down Mitch’s hips so he won’t buck up when he comes, but he doesn’t pull off, just swallows around him. Drags his teeth along the length of his dick when he does pull off, just gently, because Mitch is all oversensitive and it makes him hiss and Willy knows how the fuck to give a good blowjob. He’s expecting a comeback or rambling or something, but it doesn’t come, and okay, Willy’s seen some pretty awesome things, but Mitch Marner speechless might be one of the best.

“Dude,” Willy says, proud of himself, and Auston returns his high five without complaining, because Willy’s dick is magical but it’s apparently more magical with the power of friendship, and this is maybe the hottest thing Willy’s ever been part of. Matts maybe thinks the same thing, because he tugs Willy in and kisses him, and he’s smiling while he does it.

“Will,” he says, and Willy brushes their noses together, fond, before kissing him again, really relaxing into it, still kind of high off of the reaction they got out of Marns. His mouth probably tastes like dick, but Auston’s clearly into it, because he’s palming at Willy, doing everything except jerking him off. Tease.

“Hey,” Willy says, breathless. “Hey, I want you to fuck me.”

“Solid plan,” Auston agrees. “Good concept.”

“And I want Mitch to watch.” Willy peers down at Mitch. “That sound good, Mitchy?”

“Ho-ly shit,” Mitch says, faintly, still lying there all boneless and kind of dazed-looking, and Willy’s laughing when he leans down to kiss him.

Mitch seems content to open his mouth under Willy’s, blissed out enough to just kind of go with it, which is good, because it’s objectively not Willy’s best work – it’s sloppy, gets sloppier when Matts finds the lube and gets a finger in his ass and Willy temporarily forgets how to breathe.

“You’re so tight,” Auston says, that matter-of-fact way he has.

“Do something about it,” Willy dares, and it doesn’t come out quite as easy-breezy as he’s going for but Mitch grins anyways, tugs him back down to kiss him again.

Making out turns into mostly just breathing into Mitch’s mouth while Auston works him open, two fingers, then three. It’s good, familiar – Matts goes real slow, twisting his fingers as he pulls them out; crooking them inside until he brushes against Willy’s prostrate and Willy keens.

“Mmph, god,” he says, and he’s pushing his ass back on Auston’s hand, desperate, using Mitch as leverage. “Matty, fuck.”

Auston laughs, kind of cocky, but he’s nice about it and does what Willy wants, picking up the pace until Willy’s panting, so hard it nearly hurts.

“He’s not gonna last,” Mitch tells Auston, and he’s been quiet for a while now, just watching with this amazed kind of look; Willy realizes belatedly that he’s been grinding up against Mitch’s thigh, this instinctive seeking out friction, but Mitch doesn’t seem to mind, pupils blown big and dark. “Can you guys- I want to see you.”

“Any day, now,” Willy adds, because actual spontaneous combustion if he doesn’t get fucked properly right this second is a real possibility.

Auston takes pity on him. There’s a little lull as they shift around, trying to get positioned right – Willy kicks a pillow out of the way, Auston rolls on a condom then kisses Mitch’s hand when he reaches down to help – and then finally, finally, Auston pushes into Willy from behind while Willy buries his face in the skin at Mitch’s shoulder.

“God,” he says, ‘cause Matty’s dick isn’t the kind of dick that you get used to, and Mitch makes this sound like he’s the one taking it, completely overwhelmed enough that Willy has to press a kiss to his jaw.

“I can’t even- You guys are really fucking hot, oh my god,” Mitch blabbers, stupid, and Willy laughs, at least in theory, but it mostly just comes out as a breath, because Auston fucks into him all the way and words in English are not a thing he’s going to attempt, now.

‘Intense’ is probably the right word, here. It’s a lot – Mitch reaches down to jerk him off, clumsy, and Willy could almost cry at the feeling, fucking into Marns’ hand while Matts fucks into him. It picks up fast, all of them already all strung out.

“On me,” Mitch orders, and Willy groans out loud and spills into the space between them, reaching down to move Mitch’s hand off his dick when it gets to be too much; Auston thrusts a couple more times and then his breath catches and Willy feels him come too, and they’re all just sort of collapsed in a pile, sticky with sweat and enough jizz to be a little gross, but also really hot – like, temperature-hot, but also sex-hot.

It takes a while for anyone to catch their breath enough to speak, and the first one is Mitch, because of course it is.

“Holy shit,” Mitchy gets out. “I can’t believe it took me this long to try this, holy shit.”

Auston laughs, noses at Mitch’s hair, stupid-affectionate, and rolls off of Willy so breathing is slightly easier.

Will can’t stop smiling, big and cheesy. He’s dog-tired in the best way possible, giddy in this way that he feels in his stomach and all through him. That was like, top five all time. Top three, maybe.

On me,” he mimics Marns, teasing. “You were so into it, man.”

“I was,” Mitch agrees, completely unembarrassed, and then he covers his face with his hands and laughs, this sunny thing. “We actually did that, you guys, oh my god.”

Will drags a finger through the pool of come on Mitch’s stomach. “I hereby gay baptize you,” he says. “Officially de-virginized, triple dicks edition.”

“That’s disgusting,” Mitch says, but it’s kind of undercut by how delighted he sounds, and he turns to beam at Auston, who beams right back.

Willy looks between them and grins, and this- they can’t not do it, now. “Yeah, I’m not the one in love with you, I don’t have to be nice.”

He watches his words impact, the moment both Mitch and Auston process them.

The world doesn’t end.

“I need to clean myself up, I’m filthy,” he says, keeping his voice really light, really intentionally. Neither of the other two even look at him when he gets out of his bed, too busy staring at each other.

Willy crosses the room to grab Kleenex – he wasn’t lying about needing to clean, he’s a mess – and sort of holds his breath, because this is the point of the whole thing, this moment right here.

“Are-” “Did-”

Mitch and Auston start at the same time then break off, laughing, and Willy knows he’s not imagining that they both sound a little nervous. Nervous is okay, though – it means they’re talking, and feelings are the kind of thing that it’s weird to be nervous about after you technically just had sex, or at least, that’s what Willy’s betting on.

It’s quiet. Willy doesn’t move, scared to break the spell. He can see the back of Mitch’s head in the mirror, Auston’s cheeks red in front of him.

 “Is he right?” Mitch asks, because he’s always been the brave one, here. “Are you- like, obviously if it’s just a sex thing, that’s- just, are you? With me?”

Willy can see Auston’s reflection looking at Mitch, all tentative. “You’re my best friend,” he says, quiet. “You kept talking about wanting to sleep with a guy, and I wanted- I just didn’t want to screw that up and lose you. It’s scary.”

“I’m scared too,” Mitch says, soft, like they’re the only people in the world. “I never wanted to do this much stuff before, but now I want to do all of it, and it’s like- I thought you didn’t want me-”

“You think I don’t want you?” Auston interrupts, and Willy has to look away from the mirror, because the look on Matts’ face is like nothing he’s ever seen before, just everything he’s feeling right there, exposed like Auston never really is.

Mitch shrugs, helpless. “Do you?”

Auston leans in and kisses him, this gentle, really deliberate thing. Better than words, probably.

And yes, Will does fist pump, but he does it in like, a subtle, classy way, so it doesn’t disturb them.

“I’ve been gone for you since the day we met,” Auston says, low, and Willy’s not in love with him, but his voice like this nearly does it. “Literally, first sentence you said to me, I- that was it, Marns, for me.”

He makes this muffled sound, and then it’s all quiet again, which means more kissing, which means-

Willy can’t stop smiling. This means that his plan worked, in a really roundabout way, and his friends are finally a thing, and he just had great sex, and the look on Zach’s face when Willy tells him is gonna be amazing.

He finishes cleaning himself up, finds a t-shirt to sleep in, then heads back to his bed. Matts and Mitchy are just, like, lying there staring at each other all lovey-dovey, but they both look up when Willy clambers over them to get under the covers on the other side of the bed.

 “No, no,” he says, yawning and fluffing his pillow. “You guys keep being cute, I’m just sleeping.”

“Dude,” Auston says.

“This is my bed,” Willy says, stubborn. “That’s what happens when you need my magic dick as incentive to talk about your feelings, you learn how to fucking share.”

“Oh my god,” Auston says, somewhere between exasperation and laughter, but Mitch turns around and hugs Willy tight.

“Thanks,” he says, serious as he ever is, in spite of the smile that hasn’t left his face yet. “For everything, Willy, seriously.”

Willy hugs him back, a little caught off guard. In a nice way, though – they passed the point of only being friends through Matts a while ago. “Hey, what’re friends for?”

And Auston rolls his eyes at that, because of course he does – and, fine, maybe having a threesome to make two of them admit their love isn’t traditionally what friends are for – but he also gets an arm around Mitch and squeezes Willy’s hip, which probably counts as communication, by his standards.

Willy gets the message.

---

Willy’s bed was definitely not meant to fit three varsity athletes, but he sleeps decently enough anyways. Wakes up before the sun’s all the way up and just kind of lies there, relaxed, with one of Mitch’s legs flung over his, Matts snoring lightly a foot away.

The two of them, Mitch and Auston, are curled into each other like they fell asleep holding hands, which is vomit-inducing, but in kind of a cute way. It’s like- Willy feels like a plant tilting up to the sun, close up with this much unabashed affection. It’s like looking at his parents walking hand in hand in the market, this settled kind of certainty.

Willy feels off.

That’s not to say he’s not good, because he always feels pretty good after he has sex, and last night was awesome sex. He’s like, tired, physically, but he’s really happy for two of his favourite guys, and he’s good, honestly.

But something’s off.

It’s still bugging him, a little, the stuff that Matts said when they were fighting. About Willy being a hypocrite, not feeling stuff unless he has the upper hand.

It’s not like Willy doesn’t feel stuff. He’s pretty in tune with what he feels, usually, he just- his feelings are well sorted, is all. He likes to know what he’s feeling and what it means and where it fits in with the rest of everything. He doesn’t think it’s a bad thing, wanting to know stuff clearly.

He blows out a breath, sending his hair fluttering up. Mitch stirs, but buries his face back in his pillow, drifts back off without opening his eyes. Willy stares at him for a little while, at the way his fingers are curled over Auston’s wrist.

Willy’s mind goes to Zach. That’s happening a lot, recently.

He just- it’s throwing him off, kind of, because he’s trying to sort shit out the way he usually does, only it keeps not working. Like, he got laid, which is good, and he’s happy with his friends, which is good, and that’s friends and fucking in their own nice little boxes, and then Zach Hyman is just- there.

Zach doesn’t fit, and it’s annoying. It’s annoying, and it’s inconvenient, and it’s all the shit Willy thought about Zach back when he was just the uptight guy from two floors down. And see, they are friends, and yeah, Willy wants to have sex with him, but it’s not a Matts kind of situation, because there’s- there’s just more, with Zach, more that would be there even if Zach never ever wanted to have sex, more that wasn’t there when they first met, but that’s been growing and changing for months, this nebulous thing that’s new and scary and doesn’t fit into any of Willy’s categories.

He’s got this absurd desire to, like, ask Zach for advice about this and get something sarcastic but genuinely thoughtful in return; to sit in the kitchen when everyone else is asleep and tell Zach how he keeps wanting to tell him everything; to convince Zach that Willy’s a good person to talk to and laugh with and invest his time and work into, but not even only because Willy wants to have sex with him, because he-

Willy sits bolt upright before he can think the word.

Oh shit.

“Shit,” he says out loud, mostly a whisper. He’s so, so stupid.

He can’t stay here.

He squirms out from under Mitch’s leg, crawls across him and Auston to get out from under the covers, careful not to wake them up.

“I need to go do a grand gesture,” Willy informs their sleeping forms, because he’s a courteous hookup who doesn’t leave sans-excuse. “Take the bedding off before you leave, please, it’s very gross.”

He kisses Auston on the nose, then Mitch, then leaves the bed. And- shit, most of his clothes are already in his suitcase, he can’t go out with no pants.

“Whazappening,” Auston mumbles, and he lifts his head just enough to blink sleepily at Willy as he rifles through the laundry hamper for anything he can wear. “’re you alright?”

“Time will tell, Matty,” Willy says, grave, but Auston’s already passed out again before the end of the sentence, rolling over and tugging Mitch close.

Willy’s frantic but quiet clothing search ends when he finds his cheetah short-shorts at the bottom of his soccer bag, untouched since he had to wear them after ripping his pants. So- whatever, this is Willy’s life now. He makes a mental note to put some better emergency clothes in his bag, tugs on his shorts, and leaves the room.

He takes the steps two at a time, spins around the corners to get two floors down, and skids to a stop in front of Zach’s room.

He bangs at the door. “Zach,” he calls. “Zach, this is important.”

The door stays closed.

“Please,” Willy says, knocking again, loud, and leaning his forehead against the door. “You can even make fun of me for waking you up this early, I just- I need to tell you that I-”

“What the fuck?” One of the doors down the hall flies open, and this girl Willy recognizes from around the building pokes her head out, groggy and furious. “I have an exam at ten and you’re yelling in the hallway, what’s your problem?”

“Zach Hyman,” Willy says. “The guy who lives here, I need him.”

The girl scowls at him. “He left for the airport shuttle like twenty minutes ago, because apparently me getting woken up once isn’t- hey!”

Willy is sprinting past her for the stairs before she’s even done talking. “Good luck on your exam!” he yelps, sliding down the banister and stumbling into a run.

Campus is as quiet as ever – it’s early in the morning at the end of the school year, and the only people around are parents helping their kids move out, a couple random pedestrians. Willy gets some weird looks from pretty much all of them, which is fair, because he’s only wearing a pajama shirt and tiny shorts and is flat-out running as fast as he possibly can, which is pretty darn fast. His hair’s going in his face, all a mess, and he doesn’t even care, just entirely focused on getting to Zach before he leaves for the summer.

Willy probably breaks at least a few world records with how fast he moves; and he gets to the big inter-city bus terminal just in time to see the airport shuttle pulling away from the curb.

“Wait!” he hollers, tearing after the bus right into the road, ignoring the other bus drivers honking behind him. “Wait, stop the bus!”

For a second, he thinks it’s too late, and his lungs are burning, his heart about to beat out of his chest, and then the bus screeches to a stop maybe twenty feet away.

One of the windows near the back opens, and Zach peers out. The first thing out of his mouth is, “Why are you never wearing pants-”

“I’m in love with you,” Willy gasps, out of breath, nearly before Zach’s done talking. He stands there on the pavement, staring up at Zach, his words huge around them. Willy loves him. “I just realized.”

“I-” Zach blinks at him, and Willy can see him taking in his shorts and his bedhead and the hickey on his neck. That’s what he lands on, eventually. “Did you just have sex?”

“Yes,” Willy says, waving it off, doubled over to catch his breath. “It was amazing. I had an epiphany. Can we date?”

Zach stares. “Can- I’m sorry, what?”

Willy looks up at him, tries to summon up the words. “It’s like- you think with your brain, right?”

Zach looks completely and utterly at a loss. “Yes, the brain is where thoughts happen, for humans.”

Willy nods a bunch of times. “Okay, but- you think with your brain, and I do too, and it’s always worked for me because I just- I knew I’d recognize love when I saw it, only then you were there and it didn’t make sense, because I wanted to bang you, obviously, but then we didn’t and I thought you didn’t like me, but I still wanted to, like, emotionally bang you? Like, to bang your personality?”

“Um,” Zach says.

Willy tugs down the hem of his t-shirt, on a roll, now. “And then I was lying there looking at my best friends being stupid in love, and all I could think was how much I wanted to tell you about it, and make you laugh and do the thing where you pretend not to be smiling but you are, ‘cause it’s like, beautiful, Zach.”

He smiles, because his heart’s so fucking full, because everything’s finally clicked into place and yeah, because Zach Hyman is fucking beautiful. “And I realized that being in love is different than recognizing it in someone else, because this isn’t in my brain. It’s, like. In my heart.” He pauses, considers it. “Well. My heart and my dick. And they both say it’s you.”

Willy exhales, kind of overwhelmed. He thinks that was pretty romantic, and one of the other passengers on the bus even holds their phone up to take a picture – Willy turns a little so they get his good side – so they must agree, and then he meets Zach’s eyes, ready for adoration and an equally heartfelt return confession, except-

Zach looks pissed.

He slams the window shut and disappears into the bus, and a couple seconds later, the doors hiss open and Zach stomps down the steps and stalks up to Willy, right up close.

“Okay,” he says, clipped, dropping his bag at his feet and stepping forward so he’s looming over Willy. “Look, I don’t know why you think it’s funny to make fun of someone about this, but it’s really incredibly rude? Like, I get it, you’re you, but acting like you’re my friend and then chasing my bus and mocking me for having a crush on you, with whatever that just was? We’re aware that you’re out of my league, everyone gets it, William.”

“Zach,” Willy says, because not only is he incredibly, stunningly off base, but the bus doors just closed.

Zach ignores him. “So you can take your dick,” he jabs at Willy’s chest, which is not even close to where his dick is, but Zach keeps going before Willy gets a chance to correct him, “and take your heart, and maybe go make fun of someone who doesn’t have a flight in four hours, alright?”

Zach.”

“What?” Zach demands. “What else can you possibly have to say?”

“Your bus,” Willy says, mild, and Zach wheels around, but the bus is already pulling out of the lot.

The passenger who took the picture waves as the bus leaves.

Zach’s mouth drops open. “I...” he says, and he kind of reaches out, like he’s going to stop the bus like that. “They can’t just...”

Willy knows he shouldn’t laugh. He just can’t help it, because the whole situation is so bizarre, the two of them standing here in the middle of the road at some horrifying time in the morning, the look on Zach’s face somewhere between stunned and furious. Willy sniggers, and Zach’s eyes flash, and without another word, he picks up his bag, wheels around, and marches back towards campus.

That stops Willy laughing pretty quick. “Wait,” he says, trailing after Zach, fast. “Zach, you gotta- please wait, I think you’re confused.”

Zach doesn’t turn around, even picks up his pace. “Go away, I need to call an uber or something.”

Willy drags a hand through his hair, watches Zach’s retreating back. “You know I’m not making fun of you, right?” he calls, desperate. “Like, I’m for real asking you out?”

Zach pauses. The world’s still, it feels like. “What.”

Willy stares, kind of at a loss. He feels like Zach’s fucking with him, he can’t possibly have thought this whole time-

“I’ve never- I haven’t been joking about this ever,” Willy says. “I was legitimately asking you out, I have been for ages, I- I thought that was obvious.”

Zach’s still got his back to Willy, still carefully frozen in place. His shoulders are up, all tense. “Why?” he says. “Why would you...”

“Have you met you?” Willy says. “I mean, I get why you think it was a joke, because you’re, like, kind of on a whole different level-”

Zach turns around to look at Willy now, which is a plus, but he also actually physically flings a hand over Will’s mouth, effectively shutting him up.

“Shut up,” Zach orders, unnecessarily, staring all fierce. “Shut up, just- I’m supposed to believe you were seriously hitting on me this whole time?”

Will reaches up and moves Zach’s fingers off of his mouth, careful. “Uh. Yes?”

Zach narrows his eyes. “Are you high?” he asks, suspicious. “This is a legitimate question, William, are you on drugs right now, at this moment?”

“...No?” Willy says.

“Are you sure?” Zach pushes. “Because I once ate a pot brownie by accident and-”

Zach,” Willy interrupts, and he doesn’t even laugh at the frankly glorious mental image of Zach post-pot brownie, which probably means this whole love thing is, like, legit, which is great, except for how he thinks his heart might be slightly broken from how this is going. “I’m not on drugs,” he says. “I’m just really into you. And I thought you’d maybe be into that, but you’re like, mad. So.” He trails off, the reality sinking in for the first time.

And, yeah, that’s definitely heartbreak.

He shrugs, helpless, and stares at his feet, because he can’t handle how Zach’s looking at him right now. “So I’m sorry. For bothering you and everything, and for- for misunderstanding everything, apparently. I’ll stop harassing you about dating me now. Sor-”

It takes him a second to react when Zach kisses him, because it’s a dozen sensations at once: Zach kisses like he does everything else, like he takes it seriously, a hundred percent effort all devoted to pressing his lips to Willy’s like he can communicate everything he’s feeling through a kiss.

Willy arches up into it, clutches Zach’s collar and kisses him back with everything he’s got. And it’s clumsy, maybe not technically the ideal kiss, because he’s kind of a wreck and Zach’s clearly a little bit out of practice, but it’s also perfect and amazing and different than anything Willy’s ever done before.

Zach breaks off, leaving their foreheads pressed together, and his eyes find Willy’s, all disbelieving. “You- You’re serious? This whole time?”

“Duh,” Willy says, a little breathless. “You have a crush on me?”

“Duh,” Zach says, then makes a face like he wants to laugh at himself. “God, you make me so stupid.”

Willy figures that’s as close to an ‘I love you too’ as he’s going to get from Zach, and it’s maybe the best thing he’s ever heard, so he doesn’t think he can really be blamed for how he launches himself at Zach – full-on airborne, this is fucking thrilling – and kisses him, hard, getting a hand in his hair. Zach staggers back a little under his weight, but he catches Willy and steadies himself, and Willy can feel Zach smiling against his mouth when he wraps his legs around Zach’s waist and lets himself be held.

This one. This one’s the ideal kiss, technically and not technically and by every standard Willy knows, and he’s kind of an expert, so that’s saying something.

He gets lost in it, in Zach’s arms around him, their lips pressed together, the fact that Zach’s so gentle about it even now, that it’s so him. And fuck, Willy doesn’t know if the butterflies in his stomach are from the love or the kissing or some weird mix of both, but he wants to hold onto them forever.

“Go out with me,” Willy breathes, when he has to pause kissing for something dumb like oxygen. “Date me, I’ll even put on real pants.”

“You don’t have to,” Zach says, nudging his nose up against Willy’s. He’s grinning like he’s teasing, but in a good way, one thumb stroking along Willy’s thigh. “The shorts are growing on me.”

“You’re such a nerd,” Willy laughs. “Seriously, the biggest fucking nerd.”

“You don’t seem to mind it,” Zach says, and Willy returns his smile, does the best nonchalant shrug he can manage, when they’re all wrapped up like this.

“Guess you’re growing on me,” he says, and that’s enough oxygen for a while, he decides, so he kisses Zach again, and Zach kisses back. And Willy still doesn’t know as much about love as he thought he did, maybe, but he thinks this is probably a decent place to start.