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Bear-Faced Lies

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Gabe surveys the store like he looks at unfamiliar rinks—cautiously, ready to own it but waiting to learn the lay of the land.

Of course, on most hockey rinks, there aren’t packs of children yelling excitedly and various weird sound bites underlying it all and bright yellow walls and way too many smiles. Rinks, he knows how to deal with. This is outside of his expertise. By a lot.

Still, he takes a step in. It’s stupid. It’s definitely stupid, he tells himself for the hundredth time, but—well, honestly, at this point, he’s willing to try anything, and Jeff said it worked for him. So Gabe takes another step in. No one really looks askance at him—every adult is busy herding kids around the various stations, and the employees are probably just thankful that he’s not going to rip anything, even if he’s definitely twice as old as anyone else in here without a kid attached.

He can do this, though. This is like, his responsibility as captain. To be a good captain he needs to put up points and break their streak, and he doesn’t do shit like this but he’s out of options, so to do that he needs luck, and to get that, apparently—

Gabe sighs, and goes to the tubs of stuffed animals labeled Station One.

He looks them over a little, leaning over the kids pawing through them. Even if he honestly believed a Build-A-Bear would magically give him luck and wasn’t doing this out of some last-ditch effort to not have another season like their last one, Jeff didn’t mention that the specific kind of bear matters, which means he gets to choose.

He paws through the bears and cats and dragons of bright colors and whatever else is in there. Maybe he should just pick something and get out, but also now he’s here, he’s not going to just get something bad.

His hand closes on something that he can’t see, but feels soft; he pulls it up to the top just as someone else gets a hand on it.

“Dibs!” the other person calls, fast. Gabe blinks. He’s holding onto a white unicorn with a sparkling silver horn, pink hooves and ears, and rainbow tail and mane; also holding onto him is a man about Gabe’s age.

He’s cute, is Gabe’s first thought. Shorter than Gabe and solid, with tight brown curls and glinting eyes and lips turned up into a wry smile.

Then he realizes what he said.

“You can’t call dibs,” he objects. “That’s not how it works.”

“We both want something, and I called dibs first, so I get it,” the guy retorts. “That’s exactly how dibs works.”

“But this isn’t a dibs situation,” Gabe explains, trying to remain calm and patient and not think about how he’s arguing over a rainbow unicorn in the middle of a Build-a-Bear with a cute guy. “Both people have to know dibs is on the table for dibs to work.”

“You snooze, you lose,” the other guy snorts, and tugs a little at the unicorn. “So she’s mine.”

“No, she’s not,” Gabe objects, tugging back. Thirty seconds ago, he would have tossed her back into the bin, but now she’s clearly the only stuffed animal who will work. “She’s mine.”

“If you wanted her so badly, you should have called dibs.”

“If you’d wanted her so badly, you should have found her first,” Gabe retorts, then takes a breath. He’s not actually going to get into this with some guy standing in a Build-a-Bear. Even if said guy is very cute. The last thing Gabe wants is someone taking a picture of him here. He’d never live that down in the locker room. “Okay. How about we see if there’s another unicorn in here? Then we’d each have one.”

“So then you’d just pawn off the lesser unicorn on me?” the guy replies, jutting out his chin and eying Gabe. It’s a little like he’s sizing him up to fight, but Gabe also knows what it looks like when someone’s just enjoying the view. He straightens as much as he can without being  too obvious. “Yeah, right. I’m not falling for your wiles.”

“Wiles?”

“Yeah, you’re being all—reasonable and hot and stubborn, it’s wily.”

“I don’t think wily is the adjective form of wiles.”

“That’s what you’re objecting to?” the guy rolls his eyes. “I can definitely overwhelm you with bad grammar until you give me the unicorn.”

“I could take it,” Gabe tells him. His tongue flicks out over his lips.

“I’m sure you could take a lot,” the guys says, then flushes. It’s a pretty sort of flush, the sort of thing Gabe wouldn’t mind seeing more of. “I mean—”

“I could,” Gabe agrees, dropping his voice a little lower. The flush deepens. “You won’t get the unicorn from me that way.”

“There goes my career as a Bond villain,” the guys shoots back, shaking his head. “And here I thought I’d finally found my calling.” He glances over his shoulder, where a girl of about five with brown curls like his is a few steps ahead with a woman about their age.  “Look, man. This is the most in demand stuffed animal among kindergarteners, and I need a power move with my niece.”

“You need this unicorn because it’s better than your niece’s?”

“I need her to understand the pecking order,” the guy clarifies, like this is a rational statement. Like Gabe is the one being weird for not understanding it. “Usually I’m just cool uncle Tyson, but now I’m actually watching her for a week, she needs to know I’m in charge. And the way you’re in charge in kindergarten-land is a unicorn Build-a-Bear.”

“So you need this unicorn to assert dominance over your five year old niece?”

“Yes, exactly.” The guy’s eyebrows are doing something amazingly expressive and super judgey, like the fact that Gabe is questioning means he’s missing something. “So—I can have it, right? For the sake of not having tantrums for a week? What more noble cause is that?”

“No,” Gabe objects. “You can assert your dominance over your niece on your own time, I need this unicorn.”

“Why?”

Gabe’s mouth opens. He definitely needs something better than ‘because my friend told me that maybe making a Build-A-Bear would be lucky and I need luck to break my point drought and our losing streak and then you challenged me over this one so clearly it’s the only acceptable one.’ He does understand that that probably won’t hold up. Also, that if that hits the internet he’ll never have dignity again. “I—”

“Sorry, gentlemen,” someone says, and both Gabe and the guy turn to look at the teenager in the Build-A-Bear uniform who’s standing a little exasperatedly and a little diffidently next to them. “But just so you know, we do have this unicorn in stock, if one of you would rather it.” She holds out another animal—another unicorn, though this one is light purple with a pink horn and rainbow feathering around her hooves and has embroidered eyes instead of beads.

Immediately, the other guy turns to Gabe. “Is that good enough for you?” he demands.

“Is it good enough for you?” Gabe snaps back. He’s not taking a lesser unicorn.

The employee—Jill, by her nametag—looks like she’s ready to hit them both over the head with it. “Well, if you could decide soon, we’d like to give other people room to choose.” She sets down the other unicorn, then steps back like she’s worried one of them might lash out.

“I can’t have that unicorn, this is the important one,” the other guy explains. “So you have to take that one.”

Normally, Gabe would fight him on this. He’s right, and also, if he has an excuse to keep talking to him, it’s not the end of the world. But he really doesn’t want a scene. Or to have to come up with a reason why he needs the unicorn.

“Fine,” he says, all the haughtiness he’s capable of in that word. “You can take the white unicorn.”

“Wow, way to make it sound racist,” the guy replies, but as soon as Gabe lets go of the unicorn, he snatches it to his chest. “You’re a lifesaver, though, seriously. My hero.” He’s grinning at Gabe again, that big smile that’s doing things to Gabe’s insides, and well. Gabe doesn’t need a scene but he’s not exactly cautious either. The guy hasn’t shown any signs of recognizing Gabe or taking a picture of him here and posting it to the internet. 

“Or, Gabe.” Gabe tells him, holding out a hand. “Unless you want to keep calling me your hero, that would be good too.”

“No, you only get that when you deserve it,” the guy retorts, and takes Gabe’s hand, shakes it. His hands have callouses on them that come from someone who works with his hands, or, in Gabe’s case, holds a hockey stick all day. “Tyson Barrie.”

Gabe keeps a hold of his hand longer than is necessary for a handshake. “Maybe I’ll have to work on deserving it more, then,” Gabe tells him, his voice low again, and watches as Tyson flushes. 

“Okay, we need to get these suckers dressed,” Tyson announces, and pulls his hand away, though it definitely lingers. “You probably have wrong opinions on that too, come on.”

Tyson clearly has some sort of expertise here, because he drags Gabe around the stations—first to the sounds, where Tyson refuses to pick anything—“I’m not giving a five year old the ability to make the same noise over and over again, I’m not insane or going insane”—and Gabe wouldn’t have chosen anything, except Tyson was so adamant it was a bad idea that he picks the Imperial March, just to be ridiculous. It gets a laugh out of Tyson, which Gabe definitely likes.  They skip the scents, which both of them agree creeps them out—“If I wanted air freshener I’d get it,” Gabe points out, and Tyson agrees—and move onto selecting a heart and getting it stuffed.

“This is probably the most important, right?” Tyson asks, pawing through the bin. Gabe grabbed the first one he saw, and is now just watching. “Not judging books by covers, and all that.”

“You think that a different color heart would change the unicorn?”

“Yeah.” Tyson selects a blue plaid heart, and tosses it to Gabe. “She needs a badass heart.”

“Badass?”

“Yeah. She’s a rainbow unicorn badass, clearly.” He grins as he holds her up. “Like me, can’t you tell?”

Gabe snorts. “And what color is a badass heart?”

“I’ll know it when I see it,” Tyson insists, then, “Aha!” he produces a red and blue striped heart. “This one, clearly.”

“Yeah, that one’s definitely you,” Gabe agrees seriously. “I don’t know how I ever doubted you.”

“You should never doubt me,” Tyson confirms, “That’s definitely the right plan. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise.”

“I never doubt a man with a rainbow unicorn badass soul,” Gabe tells him, in his most earnest captain voice. Tyson chuckles again.

“Now you have to kiss the hearts, to give it love,” the employee at the stuffer recites. He’s clearly been there too long; Gabe feels like something like that should be said with a little bit of drama.

He raises the heart to his lips. If this isn’t all the bullshit it probably is, this is where the luck comes from, he guesses. Except his luck is shitty right now. He doesn’t have luck to give to this unicorn.

“Here, you do it,” he decides, handing the heart to Tyson.

“Um. You want me to give your unicorn love?” Tyson asks, which makes the employee choke a little and try to keep a straight face.

“Well I’m going to take care of it, so it needs something from the outside to start its heart.” Gabe tries to channel all his captain, ‘don’t argue with me I’m right’ vibes he can.

“Okay.” Tyson puckers his lips, and, not breaking eye contact with Gabe, kisses the heart. Gabe swallows. He’s pretty sure that wasn’t supposed to be as sexual as it was. “Now do me.”

“What?”

“Come on, reciprocation is everything,” he says, and the employee does not seem bored anymore, is just busy snickering. If Tyson notices, he doesn’t pay any attention. Instead, he holds out the heart to Gabe.

“I do try not to be selfish,” Gabe agrees, and Tyson’s eyes are dark as Gabe kisses the heart and hands it back.

The employee holds the unicorns to the pipe in turn, stuffing them. Tyson apparently has a lot of opinions about the correct amount of stuffing—Tyson just has a lot of opinions, Gabe’s realizing, which is fair because he didn’t know he cared about the amount of stuffing going into his unicorn until this moment, but he definitely does. Or, possibly, Tyson is enjoying talking about whether or not it’s hard enough yet while waggling his eyebrows and making the employee crack up.

The kid grabs Gabe’s arm, as Tyson holds up the unicorn to his niece and presumably her mom, in triumph. “Hey, does this as a date actually work?” he asks. “Because I thought it’d be lame.”

“Um.” This is where Gabe says they’re not on a date. But, “Yeah, I think it works.”

“Huh.” The kid lets out a considering sigh, and lets go of Gabe.

“I think you might have misled the kid,” Tyson says, as they go over to the clothes.

“Hm?”

“I don’t think just anyone could pull off a Build-A-Bear date. Like it works for you because you’re hot and charming and have really great hair, but I’m not sure he could.” Gabe raises an eyebrow as he turns to him. Tyson goes red and keeps going. “Um, I mean. Not that this is a date, or datelike, obviously. Just, hypothetically, this could work for someone who hypothetically looked as good as you—”

“I’m glad you think it’s working,” Gabe cuts him off, though he wouldn’t mind letting him babble more compliments. He runs a hand through his hair anyway, which Tyson definitely watches.

Then he blinks. “Hey, I only said hypothetically.”

“And not hypothetically?”

“Not hypothetically, we still have to pick out clothes,” Tyson replies, his lips curving up into a smile that Gabe definitely wants to taste.

Instead, he starts picking out clothes. Gabe resists, manfully, getting the little Avalanche sweatshirt, because no matter how cute it is he’s trying to go under the radar here and also if he wanted a stuffed animal in Avs gear, he could get it from the gift store. Instead, he goes for a simply black sweater, which makes Tyson roll his eyes.

“Wow, boring,” he objects, as he selects a rainbow tutu.

“Says the man choosing rainbows on rainbows.”

“And she looks very pretty.” Tyson wraps the skirt around her. “Or are you against rainbows, Gabriel? Only people with no souls don’t like rainbows.”

“I don’t object to rainbows,” Gabe protests. He likes hearing his name on Tyson’s tongue. “Really,” he tries to stress, because they both definitely know what’s happening here but he wants to make it clear that he is all in on rainbows and what they stand for, especially when they come with guys who look like that and are funny and fun like this. Tyson’s lips quirk again, so he clearly gets it. “But that’s just—a lot.”

“I think it’ll properly impress a five-year-old,” Tyson agrees, surveying her with definite pride. “Here she is, my Mona Lisa. My Sistine Chapel. My My Heart Will Go On.”

“Your Heart Will Go On?”

Tyson’s eyebrows go up. “You don’t know Celine? We’re going to have a problem if you’re hating on Celine.”

“Celine?” Gabe asks.

“Dion.” Tyson pauses. “Come on, you know, Titanic.”

It registers, but also, Gabe keeps a straight face. “No, I don’t know who you’re talking about.”

“No one’s that out of the loop, seriously? It’s—” he starts to hum, then, when Gabe’s face doesn’t break, to sing, quietly and badly, “Near, far, wherever you are a fucking asshole,” he finishes, as Gabe cracks, then glances around to see if any kids heard them. “That was mean.”

“Your singing voice is very…enthusiastic,” Gabe tells him, not pretending not to laugh.

“I’ll show you enthusiastic,” Tyson mutters. “Your voice isn’t any better, I’d bet.”

“I have an excellent singing voice,” Gabe lies glibly. He pauses, then adds, “But I only give private concerts.”

“Really?” Tyson asks. He glances up at Gabe, and his tongue flicks out to wet his lips. “Are those only ABBA related, or—”

Gabe snorts. “That’s need to know information.”

Tyson glances around, then—“And if I really need to know?”

“Well.” Gabe inches forward, because they’re still in a Build-A-Bear but also this is definitely going where he wants, “Then that private concert could be arranged.”

Tyson’s mouth opens. Closes. Then, “Okay, we’re talking about a date, right? Because if I don’t clarify I would definitely accidentally end up with you slipping me a mix CD and telling me to look you up on Spotify and then my friends would make fun of me forever like with the catfish thing, so I just want to be sure.”

Gabe can’t help laughing. “Yes, it’s a date—you were catfished?”

“Only minorly, it’s not a thing.” Tyson waves his hand dismissively. “Online dating sucks, not that you’d know. Anyway, a date? That’s where we were?”

“That is where we were, yes,” Gabe agrees. He’s going to shelve the whole catfishing thing until later. Like on a date. “We—”

“Ahem,” comes a loud throat clearing behind them, as a mom taps her foot pointedly, three kids hopping at her feet.

“Oh, sorry.” Tyson laughs nervously. “We’re moving along.”

“Yes, sorry,” Gabe agrees, and tries for a charming grin. She doesn’t look impressed. Tyson’s chuckling as they head toward the birth certificate computer.

“Well, she wasn’t charmed by you.”

“Not everyone is,” Gabe says, maybe a little sulky. Just a little. “What do we do here?”

“Um.” Tyson leans over the little boy on the computer in front of them. “Come up with a name, apparently. Hm.” He holds up the unicorn. “She looks like a Celine Dion, eh?”

“If you say so.” Gabe’s not entirely sure how an animal can look like its name, but he gives his a look. “I have no idea what it looks like.”

Tyson looks like he wants to say something, but then bites it down, which Gabe’s already getting doesn’t happen often. “Well,” he says at last, “Who’s she for?”

“What?”

“I mean, unless it’s for you, then who’s it for? Is there a name they’d like?”

“I—” Gabe looks at Tyson. He’s smiling up at Gabe, very into choosing the correct name, and they’re going to go on a date and Gabe is already looking forward to it and the real answer sounds so stupid and he doesn’t want to make things weird with the whole minor celebrity thing and—“My daughter,” Gabe hears himself say.

“Your…daughter?” Tyson echoes. He raises an eyebrow expectantly. It looks a little like a challenge.

“Yes,” Gabe confirms, “My daughter. I wanted to make it for her. As a present. Because I travel a lot, and I wanted her to have something I made.”

Tyson’s face is doing a lot, none of which Gabe can quite understand. “That’s pretty adorable,” he says at last.

“I know.” Gabe grins at him. He is pretty adorable, if he does say so himself. Him and his imaginary daughter.

“So what name would she like?” Tyson asks, his fingers hovering over the keyboard. Gabe thinks for a second, to whatever his nieces have been watching lately.

“Elsa?” he tries, and Tyson makes an approving noise.

“A classic,” he says, and sits down at the computer with a flourish. They finish up the certificates, then head to the counter to pay.

“So,” Gabe says, as they get into line. “About that date.” He’s got a game tonight, but he’s actually in town for the next few days. He’s not going to just waste this opportunity.

“What about it?” Tyson asks, trying and failing for innocence.

Gabe rolls his eyes, but he can’t quite do it without a smile. “You should give me your number so we can set it up.”

“Right, that’s the next step,” Tyson agrees. Gabe digs in his pocket for his phone, then hands it over for Tyson to enter his number. 

“Aw, she’s adorable,” Tyson says as he gives it back, referring clearly to the picture of Zoey that’s Gabe’s background.

And he likes dogs. This is all coming up Gabe. “Isn’t she?”  Gabe smiles at the picture, because he won’t ever not smile when thinking about his dog. “She’s my best girl.” He opens the contacts, sees Tyson’s put his number in as Tyson (Bear Face )(Bear Face )ie. “Really?”

“I couldn’t let us get out of here without at least one pun,” Tyson informs him, as the line moves up enough that he’s at the cashier. He makes a face as the cashier tells him the total, but hands over a credit card. It’s probably inappropriate to offer to pay for his Build-A-Bear, Gabe decides, and doesn’t say anything; then he’s in line.

It’s the first time he’s clearly recognized here; the worker’s eyes widen and then go confused as she looks at his unicorn. Gabe winks, trying to communicate DL DL! as loudly as he can without anyone else noticing.

The girl—Sabrina—catches on quickly, at least; she nods and smiles as she tells him his total. Gabe flips over the receipt and scrawls, our secret! -Gabriel Landeskog, on the back of his copy in return, then hands it to her, which gets a deer in headlights look for a second before another grin, and Gabe thinks at least this’ll hopefully stay off social media and the entire league won’t be making fun of him.

“I’ve got my niece for the next week,” Tyson says, as Gabe tries to juggle the massive ridiculous house Elsa the Unicorn is in and put away his credit card. He’d been on his phone, apparently, because he looks up from it when Gabe’s attention turns back to him. “And I can’t really find a babysitter while I’m babysitting, so…”

After this week, Gabe’s on a week-long roadie. He’s not waiting two weeks. “We’ll figure it out,” he decides.

Tyson’s lips twitch. “Or we could do a playdate? My niece, your daughter? Then they could occupy themselves, and we could occupy ourselves.”

That makes a lot of sense. That would be a great idea. Gabe can find no logical reason to object to that. “Yeah,” he agrees. “That would work.”

“Awesome.” Tyson grins at him again. “I, uh. Should go catch up with my sister and niece, so—we’ll talk?”

“We will,” Gabe tells him certainly. “I would thank you for your help building a bear, but…”

“Without me you would have been lost, I know,” Tyson agrees. “I’ll see you later, then?”

“Later,” Gabe agrees, and he feels like he should make some sort of move, but it’s also hard to make any move in the doorway of a Build-A-Bear holding a cardboard house. “Looking forward to it.”

“Me too.” Tyson’s gaze flicks up him again. “And to meeting your daughter,” he adds, then he waves and trots off to where his family’s waiting.

Gabe watches him go for a second—Gabe sees a lot of nice asses in his career, but Tyson’s is definitely up there—then the words register.

“Oh, shit,” he mutters to himself, and ignores the look he gets from a mom walking into the store as he heads out.

///

“So, what are the chances I can convince you and the kids to visit me in Denver?” Gabe asks in Swedish into the phone. Zoey wanders into the kitchen to bump her nose against his leg; idly he leans down to pet her too.

“We could come,” his brother agrees. “It’s been a while, the kids miss you.”

“Any chance that could be in the next week?”

He hears the long exhale from Adam, which is really unfair. Gabe’s an adult, even if sometimes his family forgets it, given that he hasn’t really lived with them since he was a teenager. He is an adult, he is a NHL captain, he can handle his own shit.

Except when he has needs he needs to outsource, that is.

“Gabe, what did you do?”

“Nothing!” He takes a breath, then, “I mean. I just need to borrow one of your daughters for a little while?”

“You need to borrow my daughter?”

“Yes.”

“Gabe.”

“What? They love me, it’ll be fun. It’s for a playdate, really.”

“I can’t get away this week,” Adam tells him. “What do you think I do, that lets me just leave in the middle of the week for a week?”

“Help your brother in his hour of need?”

“Why do you need a child, Gabe?” Adam demands, sounding suspicious now. “What did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything!” Clearly this was a dead end. “If you can’t come, that’s fine. I’ll find something else.”

“Gabe—” Adam starts, but Gabe hangs up before he can say anything else, then glares at his phone.

That was, admittedly, not his best hope, but it would have been the best if it had worked. Adam’s daughters look enough like Gabe to be believable. It would have been better if Bea had kids, maybe, but she didn’t, and also she wouldn’t let him get away with not telling her shit. He was going to hear from her soon enough about this anyway.

Now that plan is gone, though. Gabe will need another plan.

///

Gabe looks around the locker room after practice. There are a lot of blondes here, he notices—not that he hasn’t before, but now it takes on a special significance. He knows that they have a young team and so there aren’t many kids around, but, “Hey,” he calls out, “None of you have like, nieces in town, do you?”

“That’s a really creepy question, Landy,” Willy informs him, around the confused chorus of ‘nos’. Gabe throws a sock back at him, then goes back to getting dressed. It was worth a try, he guesses.

Except he also forgot that his teammates are an incurably nosy bunch. “Why do you need a niece?” EJ asks, after the informal leadership meeting that afternoon which is mainly the three of them hanging out at EJ’s.

“I was just curious.”

“About a niece?”

Gabe considers lying again, but honestly, he needs help. “I need a kid to borrow for the next week.”

“What?” Nate sputters, as EJ just start preemptively laughing. Gabe scowls at him.

“This is serious!”

“Nothing is serious that starts with you needing to borrow a kid, what the fuck, Landy?” EJ demands, bent almost double over the counter with his laughter. “Why on earth?”

Gabe sighs, but these are his best friends, and if he’s going to humiliate himself in front of anyone it might as well be them. He tells the story. EJ doesn’t stop laughing. Nate starts. Because Nate isn’t quite so much an asshole, he doesn’t laugh quite so hard, and at least tries to look sympathetic.

“So you just—lied and said you had a daughter?” Nate confirms, when Gabe’s done.

Maybe he’s not not an asshole. “Yes, that’s what I said,” Gabe tells him.

“Because…”

“I don’t know, he was really cute and I panicked!” Gabe groans and runs a hand through his hair, this time more in frustration than to show off. “I couldn’t say why I was really there!”

“Which was?”

“Not important, EJ,” Gabe hurries past that, because while he trusts Nate and EJ not to spread shit that actually matters to him, he definitely does not trust them not to tell the entire locker room and probably ESPN about a lucky stuffed animal. Which he won’t know if it works, anyway, until tonight’s game. It probably won’t. “But the point is that I said it and now I have to find a daughter before we do our playdate!”

“Have you considered telling him the truth?” Nate asks, in a tone that says he knows it’s a pointless question to ask but he needs to ask it anyway. Nate, Gabe thinks sometimes, will be a very good father someday. Unfortunately, he isn’t already, though, so he’s no help.

“I’m not going to just tell him I lied to him before we even go on a date,” Gabe informs him. “I really like him. I’m not sabotaging it like that.”

“So instead you’re just going to pretend you have a daughter for the whole relationship?”

“Yes, exactly.” Gabe pauses, thinks. “Well, I guess I’ll have to tell him eventually, but I need a solid foundation before that. So he keeps going on dates with me after. Or,” he admits, because he’s not actually so caught up that he doesn’t understand reality, “He’s not actually as cute and funny as he was yesterday and it’s all a moot point.” Gabe doesn’t think it’s likely, but. It is possible, he supposes.

“This is going to go so badly,” EJ announces, but he’s on his phone. That could either mean he’s texting everyone he knows Gabe’s woes, or it could mean he’s actually helping. Gabe suspects the former.

“Have you set a time for your date yet?” Nate asks, because he is the helpful A.

“Not until I know when I can get a daughter,” Gabe explains.

“Have you been texting him at least?”

“Of course.” Gabe wasn’t going to do any of that waiting three days shit, not when they don’t have that long before Gabe’s gone for a week and anyway, he doesn’t want to lose the meet cute. They’ve been texting about nothing at all the whole day, and Gabe keeps getting pictures of Unicorn Celine Dion in increasingly unlikely places—sometimes with Tyson in frame too, sometimes not.

“And he’s not trying to set up a date?”

“He’s mainly complaining about how hard it is to watch a kid,” Gabe says. He’s not sure if, as a father, he’s supposed to like, offer advice, but so far he’s just been saying sympathetic and mocking things in turn and sending back pictures of Zoey, because those make everything better.

“Maybe he’s not actually into Gabe,” EJ suggests. Gabe scoffs.

“He’s definitely into me.”

“Yeah? He’s not the one person who can resist your charms?”

“No, he’s not.” Tyson has been maybe the opposite of subtle, because he apparently doesn’t really have a subtle bone in his body. It’s charming, and Tyson seems to have accepted and rolled with it, which is even more charming.

As if on cue, Gabe’s phone buzzes, and he opens it to a text from Tyson, with a picture of the little girl who must be Tyson’s niece looking grumpy and holding Unicorn Celine Dion and a rainbow triceratops while glaring down an ice cream cone larger than her head.

Gabe doesn’t know much about kids, but, bold move. isn’t that going to get her sugar rushed all day? He asks.

Another picture follows up quickly, which is a slightly-awkward selfie of Tyson holding an ice cream cone just as big—well, Tyson licking an ice cream cone. It’s probably just a normal way to eat a cone, but—well, Gabe can’t wait for their date.  You’re underestimating my sugar rush  

“Look at that smile, aww.”

“Oh, he’s cute,” Nate adds, leaning over Gabe’s shoulder. “Shit, that’s a lot of ice cream.”

“Pretty impressive,” EJ agrees, leaning over Gabe’s other shoulder. “Think he’s saying something about how much he can fit in his mouth?” Gabe elbows him in the stomach as Nate snorts. “What?” EJ raises his eyebrows. “I’m just looking out for you, Landy.”

“Shit, you’re going to have to come up with something soon,” Nate interrupts them, still looking at the phone. When Gabe glances back, there’s another text.

Running out of ways to entertain her, Tyson’s said. Considering reviving my balloon animals phase next. We need to do a playdate soon so I don’t end up choking on plastic.

“He’s definitely angling for the playdate,” Nate says. EJ whistles.

“He’s angling for something for sure.”

Gabe’s probably flushed, because, well. It’s not like he can not think about it, now.

“I need to find a kid,” he groans, and thumps his head on the table for proper emphasis.

“It’s okay, cap.” EJ pats his back. “We’ll figure out how to get you laid.”

“Do you think he can really do balloon animals?” Nate asks, sounding intrigued. Gabe groans again.

///

They light it up that night. Gabe gets a goal and an assist, and they win, and it feels like he can breathe again.

He eyes Unicorn Elsa, hidden in the depths of his bag, as he changes back into his suit to go home. She smiles serenely back at him. Maybe Jeff was onto something.

Tyson texts him on his way home, so Gabe looks at it as he lets himself into his house and kneels down to greet Zoey. Unicorn Celine Dion is lying on a pillow next to Tyson’s head. Gabe swallows. Tyson looks warm and cozy and Gabe is buzzing with a win and he wants to do something with it.

She’s in bed and ive been declared the best uncle. Celine is working. How’s Elsa?

Gabe looks at his bag. She’s working too, he says. One game does not a superstition make, but. Something worked tonight. It can’t hurt, anyway. It’s been a good night.

I’ll bet, Tyson says, then, is your daughter asleep too?

Gabe looks around. It’s late, he thinks. It would make sense. Yeah, he decides, then, for good measure, adds, at last.

He puts his phone in his pocket so he can take off his shoes, then go upstairs to change out of his suit. It’s probably too soon for a shirtless selfie, he decides, when he’s halfway there.

His phone buzzes before he can confirm that, and he grabs for it. But it’s not Tyson—it’s EJ.

Who’s your favorite teammate? he asks.

Mikko, Gabe answers without hesitation. He doesn’t give me shit

Fine then. Maybe you don’t want my lead on a kid to get you laid

Never say it like that again, Gabe informs him, but, how???

Who’s your favorite teammate?

Not you if you don’t give me this lead.

Fine. I have a friend who’s amused enough by this that she said you can babysit her daughter.  

Seriously? Gabe’s pretty sure that’s like, not good parenting or something.

She trusts me when I said you won’t let anything happen to her. EJ’s second text comes in fast and ominous after the first. I’m right, right?

Of course. Gabe just finishes typing up the message when a message from Tyson comes in.  

What are your opinions on the Bachelor? This is a test.

Yes to the show, but he’s a jerk, Gabe replies immediately, grinning when Tyson sends back a row of clapping emojis, then,

He’s not hot or interesting, Tyson adds, Kate could do so much better.

Kate’s not going to win. Michelle’s the one who could do better.

Michelle’s not going to win, but she deserves him. She’s boring too.

You’re mad she said made a joke about Canada.

It shows that she’s a bad person, and so is anyone who agrees with her. Do you agree with her, Gabriel?

I plead the fifth.

You aren’t American, you can’t plead the fifth.

Do you know that? Are you a lawyer?

Are you???? Tyson replies. If you’re going to trash talk Canada, I don’t know if this can continue. I don’t associate with people who have opinions that wrong

I bet I could convince you, then, because Gabe’s not sure it’s clear how sarcastic he’s being. But I don’t have anything against Canada. Some of my best friends are Canadian. And he has to add, for honesty’s sake. Most of the time. When Sweden’s not playing them.

Still sounds suspect, Tyson retorts. I might need convincing (Winking Face )

Then, before Gabe can reply, and I guess Sweden’s okay too. Even if you’re all too tall and blonde and hot. Even when you’re playing Canada, because that means we’re beating you.

Gabe snorts, and sends, When can I meet her? to EJ before he responds to that slight to national honor.

///

“You’re really okay with this?” Gabe checks with Emily again, as she kneels down to do up her daughter’s jacket. He just wants to check. This feels like a big ask.

“I get free babysitting and Avs tickets, seems like a win-win to me.” She grins as she straightens. She’s a small woman, dark-haired with bright blue eyes and a cute button nose that she passed on to her daughter, but whoever donated sperm to her and her wife—or however they got their daughter—must have been blonde, because her daughter’s hair is as light as Gabe’s. It could be believable that she’s his daughter, Gabe guesses. “And I get to help true love.”

Gabe considers debating that, but. He’s not going to second guess it.

“Okay,” She goes on, to her daughter. “Remember the game we’re playing?”

“Yeah!” Keira’s grin is toothy, minus her front one. “I’m gonna pretend Gabe’s my daddy, and then we’re getting ice cream.”

“That’s right.” Emily straightens her daughter’s hair. “And you’re going to be good for Gabe and his friend, right?”

“Of course,” Keira replies, looking angelic in a way that makes Gabe suspicious, but he’s not going to be a chooser.

“Okay.” Emily turns back to Gabe. “She’s not allergic to anything other than shellfish but she’s on an anti-red food kick, I don’t know why, it’s easier not to question. Her favorite movies are Up and Coraline, she doesn’t know about S-A-N-T-A, you can pick anything else up, and you’ve got my cell phone if anything goes wrong. Actually,” she adds, “Let me give you Bina’s, just in case I can’t get to mine.”

“You’re a lifesaver,” Gabe tells her, as she writes down her wife’s phone number. “Avs tickets for life, whenever you want them.”

“As long as the date goes well, yeah?” she laughs. “Anything to help fight NHL heteronormativity. Okay. Here you go. See you later, Kare-Bear.”

“Bye, mommy!” Keira waves, and her hand slips into Gabe’s as they leave, out to his car where he already installed the car seat, with copious instructions from Emily. It’s more complicated than hockey gear.

Keira gives him a frank look, as he lifts her into the car. “I’ve never had a daddy before,” she tells him, sounding a little worried about it. “If I mess up, can I still have ice cream?”

Gabe’s not entirely sure of the rules, but, “Yeah, of course,” he decides. “And I’ve never had a daughter before.”

“I’ll tell you how to act like mommy,” she decides. “You’ve got to make this face a lot.” She narrows her eyes and purses her lips. Gabe chuckles, and checks her buckles. He thinks everything is right.

“Okay. We got this, right?” he says, in the tone he uses when he wants to encourage rookies when they’re down in a game.

“Yeah!” She cheers, and smacks Gabe’s hand when he holds it up for a high-five.

“Go team,” he tells her, and gets in the front.

He’d been so busy being nervous about getting a daughter and whether Keira would be game that he forgets to be nervous about the actual date until he’s pulling into the Children’s Museum parking lot. According to Tyson, this is number four on his sister’s list of things her daughter needs to do in Denver, and he can’t do it alone. That had led to some innuendo laden-texting about how Gabe was always willing to lend a hand, etc etc, but now Gabe’s facing down the museum with a pretend daughter in tow and he’s going to be spending the next few hours amusing children and being charming to Tyson and what if Tyson doesn’t find him as charming in person this second time?

It’s unlikely, to be sure, but possible. This is, technically, a first date. Gabe leans down to check his hair in the mirror.

“You look good,” Keira informs him. “Mom says you’re dreamy, for a man.”

“Forgive me if I don’t trust your mother to know what men want,” Gabe tells her. He winks at her in the mirror. “What do you think? Would you date me?”

“You’re too old for me,” Keira explains. “And I don’t know if I’m going to like boys.”

“Fair enough,” Gabe allows, and decides he looks good. Well, he undoes one more button on his shirt, then decides he looks good. “Okay, let’s go.” He undoes Keira’s car seat, lets her hop out of the car. “Remember the game?”

“You’re my daddy,” she recites, then gets louder. “Daddy daddy daddy!”

“No, stop yelling, that’s—”

“Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”

“Stop it, Keira—”

“Bad time?” Tyson asks, coming up with his niece’s hand in his. Gabe momentarily forgets about the yelling child, because Tyson’s grinning at him and he’s just as hot as he was last time, wearing a v-neck that dips low enough that Gabe can see a hint of a strong chest. “I mean, usually when someone’s yelling daddy it’s a bad time.” His lips twist, and Gabe can actually see him try to keep in the innuendo.

Gabe grins. “It’s fine,” he says, and glares at Keira. She stops, smiles innocently up at him. “Right?”

“Yes, daddy,” she echoes, putting special stress on the last word. She looks at the other little girl holding Tyson’s hand, then grabs at Gabe’s, and swings it pointedly.

“Um, yeah,” Tyson says, eying her with a little confusion. “So, this is Ronnie, my niece. Ronnie, this is Gabe and his daughter…”

“Keira,” Gabe fills in. “Keira, this is my friend Tyson, like we talked about.”

She nods at him, then grins at Tyson and Ronnie. “Hi!”

“Hi,” Tyson smiles at her, though he’s clearly taken aback a little by her enthusiasm. “Want to say hi, Ronnie? Gabe and Keira are going to the museum with us today.”

Ronnie’s holding tight to her uncle’s hand, pressing into his leg. “Hi,” she mutters, fast.

Tyson gives Gabe an apologetic look. “She’s not usually shy. Come on, Ronster. We’re going to have fun, right? Or what will happen?”

“Mommy’s going to lock me up in a tower and never let me stay with you again,” she recites, giggling. Tyson grins back. Gabe’s not usually someone to get all fluttery over how good someone is with kids, but it’s cute.  

“That’s right,” Tyson agrees. “You guys ready?” he asks Gabe.

Gabe surveys Keira. As far as he can tell, that look ready. “Yeah.”

“Awesome, come on then.” There’s a moment where they can’t figure out how to arrange themselves—the kids on the inside probably makes the most sense safety wise, but the least sense date wise, and Ronnie’s still refusing to let go of Tyson’s left hand—but they end up staggered, which is probably the least satisfactory arrangement they could have. Still, a five year old’s pretty small; there’s not that much distance between Tyson and Gabe.

“Thanks for coming to this,” Tyson says, as they walk across the parking lot. “I know it’s not, like, the most exciting date, but—”

“I’m just happy we made it work,” Gabe tells him, and Tyson bites at his lip and goes red, but he’s smiling.

“So, Keira. Have you been here before?” Tyson asks. Keira nods excitedly.

“Yeah! My mommys took me. It’s awesome! It’s got experiments and you get to be really small and pretend to be a squirrel! You can be a squirrel too,” she tells Ronnie, sounding generous.

“I wanna be a raccoon,” Ronnie counters, but she’s sounding interested.

Keira makes a face, considering. “I guess that’d be okay,” she allows. “Racoons and squirrels are friends. Right?” she asks the adults, both of whom nod.

“Definitely.” Tyson grins. “What does that make us? Are we the monsters?”

“No!” Keira squeals. “You’re not monsters, it’s a backyard. There aren’t monsters in the backyard.”

“Of course not.” Tyson’s eyes meet Gabe’s, laughing. Gabe can’t hold back his smile. Definitely cute. “Maybe we’re bears, then? My friends call me T-Bear, sometimes.”

“My mommys call me Kare-bear!” Keira exclaims. Both she and Tyson look delighted by this information.

“Sick! Bears high-five!” He holds out his hand and she smacks it, hard. Ronnie is looking somewhere between amused and suspicious this kid is stealing her uncle. Gabe knows the feeling. His borrowed daughter is not supposed to be the star of this show.

“T-Bear?” he asks, once Keira’s distracted by looking at the little statuettes they have near the ticket booth.

“Well, I tried to get it to be T-Beauty, but that never caught on, you know how the guys can be.” Tyson shrugs. “Or Brutes, sometimes, but I never loved that one.”

“You can’t choose your nickname,” Gabe agrees solemnly. It’s something that every hockey player knows and has to accept, for better or worse.

“Says the man without any weird nicknames,” Tyson retorts. “And anyway, if you have a daughter nicknamed Kare-bear, you didn’t get her a bear?”

Right, that would have made sense. “She has plenty of bears. And a Care Bear!” Gabe decides. Hopefully that’s true, or Keira will have the sense to lie. “I wanted something different.”

“Uh-huh.” Tyson looks like he’s going to say something else, but then they’re at the front of the line, and he’s getting out his wallet.

This, at least, Gabe knows. “I’ve got it,” he says, and tries to step in front of Tyson.

Tyson raises his eyebrows. “I can get the two of us.”

“It’s fine,” Gabe informs him. It’s not like he can’t spare the thirty bucks for two tickets and look chivalrous doing it. He glances down at Ronnie, who’s listening to Keira list off all the interesting things to do here. “You’ve been entertaining her all week, I can do this.”

“Okay,” Tyson agrees, and puts his wallet back into his pocket. “I can pay for ice cream afterwards.”

“No, I can—”

“You’ve seen how much ice cream I can eat,” Tyson points out, and Gabe grins.

“Maybe I just want to see how much you can eat without a budget,” Gabe retorts, and gets a chuckle out of Tyson.

“That’s a challenge you might not want to give,” he informs Gabe.

“Excuse me, are you getting tickets?” the bored woman behind the counter asks, and Tyson and Gabe both start and Tyson starts mumbling something, blushing, as Gabe pays for their tickets. 

It takes a lot longer to go through the museum than Gabe expected—or, he thinks, Tyson, because they’re both getting pretty antsy as the girls run around the brightly lit rooms and play. But the girls also occupy themselves, and that leaves Tyson and Gabe to walk around together, drifting closer as the afternoon goes on. And it’s loud, so really they don’t have a choice but to talk close together, for Gabe to lean down and talk into Tyson’s ear, watch Tyson shiver a little; for Tyson to lean into him and pretend to look at him while he’s really watching Gabe’s lips. It’s very distracting. Gabe likes to think of himself as a competent person, but he’d like to see anyone who’s capable of paying attention to a child and a conversation when Tyson’s looking at him like that and then blushing like he notices.

They do, somehow, manage to carry on a conversation—mainly because it’s easy between them. Easy to talk to Tyson, like they’ve known each other forever. Tyson just laughs when Gabe teases him, laughs and flushes and needles him back; Tyson’s quick and funny and gives as good as he gets, even if it’s after sputtering. They’ve been texting for a while, of course, so it’s not like Gabe doesn’t know things about Tyson, but it’s different in person. Different to hear about Tyson’s job as a marketing assistant, to hear him jointly bitch about it and how little it pays and how much work it is and how bullshit marketing is in the age of social media and to hear him light up as he describes his work and watch him ramble on.

“Sorry, I’ve been talking too much,” Tyson says, when he winds down and they head upstairs. “I do that, when I’m nervous.”

“You’re nervous?” Gabe asks. Tyson rolls his eyes.

“Don’t even.”

“Don’t what?”

“You’re fishing, I can tell.”

“I’m not fishing,” Gabe retorts, even though he sort of had been. But it’s nice to hear, that Tyson was nervous too. It’s not like Gabe had thought Tyson wasn’t in on this, but the confirmation always feels good. His investment feels a little less embarrassing that way.

“You are fishing like off-season Instagram posts,” Tyson retorts, and Gabe snorts. Tyson grins, then, “Ronnie!”

“We’re waiting!” Ronnie calls back from the top of the stairs, looking impatient. Next to her, Keira is glaring down. 

“I know that look,” Tyson says in an undertone to Gabe. “I think Ronnie’s flagging. What do you think about Keira?”

“Um.” Keira does look more tired than she had before, and grumpier. “Yeah. Probably her too.” Tyson seems to be waiting for something more, so Gabe goes on, “So…we should get ice cream soon?”

Something flicks over Tyson’s face, then he grins again, big. “I like the way you think, sir.”

It takes them another half hour to herd the girls out of the museum—or to herd Keira, because Ronnie hears ice cream and immediately decamps to making Tyson carry her and discussing flavors very seriously with him, but Keira keeps insisting on one more exhibit and glaring when Gabe tells her it’s time to go.

“But I don’t want ice cream yet,” she scowls at him, her nose wrinkling. “I wanna see the bubbles!”

“You wanted ice cream earlier,” Gabe points out. Her face is getting red. What is he supposed to do with this? With rookies, this is when he can usually just intimidate them into submission when reason stops working. But he thinks that’s frowned upon with kids.

“But I want to see the bubbles now,” she repeats,. Gabe glances over his shoulder, where Tyson’s waiting with Ronnie. He’s making faces at her and she’s giggling. It’s all very cute. Gabe doesn’t want to cut this short.

He looks back at Keira. “I’ll get you two scoops.”

Her expression goes shrewd. “I want sprinkles.”

“And sprinkles,” Gabe promises. He feels a little bad about handing her back to her moms sugared up and bribed, but he’ll get them extra-good seats. “But—remember the game?”

“Yes, daddy,” she recites.

“We’re good?” Gabe asks, still skeptical. She gives him a sunny smile.

“Rainbow sprinkles,” she informs him, and then gives Ronnie another look, and lifts her arms up.

Gabe reaches down to pick her up too. He’s done this before, at least; his nieces and nephews like to climb on him when he’s home.

“We’re good?” Tyson asks, hitching Ronnie higher on his hip as he comes over. “Ready to go?”

“I can get sprinkles!” Keira announces. “Rainbow sprinkles.”

“I want sprinkles!” Ronnie immediately informs Tyson. “Can I have sprinkles, Uncle Tyson? Please?”

“Way to put me on the spot,” Tyson tells Gabe, but he’s smiling, and looks at Ronnie. “Yeah, for sure. What do you take me for? Ice cream without sprinkles.” He turns to Keira. “Was your daddy not going to let you have sprinkles?”

She pauses for a second, then clearly remembers the lie. “He said yes now,” she explains. “Rainbow sprinkles and two scoops!” She holds out two fingers.

“Two? Wow!”

“Uncle Tyson—”

“Yeah, of course.” Tyson shrugs, gives Gabe his wry smile. “Who needs sleep?”

“Overrated,” Gabe agrees, straight-faced. Tyson chuckles, and bumps the shoulders not presently holding five-year-olds together. Gabe feels about five miles tall.

They make it to the ice cream place that Tyson directed them to in separate cars, then get in line. Keira seems to have perked up for ice cream—had been discussing it the full ten minute drive—and she darts forward to look at the flavors while Tyson and Gabe wait, Ronnie still half-asleep on Tyson’s shoulder.

“Do you watch her a lot?” Gabe asks, nodding at Ronnie. Tyson shakes his head.

“Not really. My sister’s not actually based here—she’s back up in Victoria—so I don’t see this one that much. But Victoria had a work thing this week, and I could work from home, so.” He bounces Ronnie on his shoulder. Gabe’s not really someone who’s impressed by strength—he spends a lot of time with strong guys—but there’s something appealing in how easily he’s holding her, and how it makes his arms look.  “What about you? How often do you have Keira? I mean, assuming that this isn’t really something I think it’s not and you’re still married or whatever.”

Gabe chokes a little. “Not married,” he assures Tyson, because that part’s easy. Then he pauses.

Tyson raises his eyebrows. “Complicated custody arrangement?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Gabe agrees, because that’s a good explanation. “I don’t have her very often, though. I travel a lot, for work.” That probably makes sense.

“That makes sense,” Tyson agrees. “It’s got to be hard to have a kid, being away that much.” He’s still looking at Gabe.

“Yeah,” Gabe says. “I’ll be gone most of next week.”

Tyson hums.  “Where are you going?”

Gabe honestly has to think about it, but, “Minnesota then Dallas,” he says. It’s one of those weird trips that don’t feel efficient. “Then I’m back for a day, and then I’m off to Chicago.”

“That’s a lot,” Tyson says. “Travelling that much always seemed exhausting, to me. It’s sort of why I settled on something that would let me stay in one place.”

“It’s a lot, but I love it,” Gabe replies, simple but honest. He can’t imagine doing anything else. “You get used to the traveling, though.”

“I know, but still. It’s not great for the families, either,” Tyson says, biting at his lip. Then he shrugs. “But you have Elsa, so Keira’s all right.”

It takes Gabe a second to remember, but—right, that was his justification. “Yeah, exactly.”

“Do you know what you—Tyson, hi!” The girl behind the counter interrupts.

“Hi,” Tyson grins back, shaking Ronnie a little. “Can you say hi to Claire, Ronnie?”

“Hi, Claire,” Ronnie murmurs, clearly still tired.

“Your usual?” The ice cream girl—Claire—asks, already reaching for the scoop. Gabe raises his eyebrows. Tyson flushes, but, “Yeah, thanks. Ronnie, do you know what you want?”

She perks up. “Chocolate! And sprinkles.”

“Kid’s scoop of chocolate with sprinkles in a dish,” Tyson translates. Keira dashes over to them.

“Gabe! I know what I want!”

“Great. You can tell the lady when she’s finished with Ronnie’s.”

“I want it now,” Keira whines. “Why does Ronnie get to go first?”

“Because she was in line first,” Gabe explains.

“Why was she in line first?”

“Because—”

“So, Keira, which flavor do you want?” Tyson interrupts, and Gabe gives him his most thankful look. He did not know how to defuse that rising temper tantrum. Kids are so much easier when they’re trucked in for charity events and have other people in charge of them.

“Rainbow!”

“Rainbow flavor?” Gabe echoes, looking at the list of flavors. None of them seem to be rainbow.

“Like your unicorn?” Tyson suggests. Which, shit. Gabe should have told Keira about the unicorn.

Luckily, “I want one of every flavor, so it makes a rainbow,” Keira explains, ignoring Tyson.

“I know the rainbow,” Ronnie chimes in. “It’s red—”

“Orange yellow green blue indigo violet!” Keira rushes to finish with Ronnie. They grin at each other.

“Um, I don’t think you should have that many scoops.”

“But I want them!” Keira plays her trump card triumphantly. “Mommy lets me have them.”

Gabe is almost certain that he’s not supposed to do that. “We said two scoops,” he points out. “Two scoops and sprinkles.”

“I want them all!”

“Um—”

“All all all!”

“Is everything okay?” the girl behind the counter asks, handing Tyson Ronnie’s ice cream. She doesn’t seem particularly phased by the screaming child—she probably gets it a lot.

“All all all!” Keira keeps yelling.

“She wants a rainbow,” Tyson explains. Gabe looks at him, then at Keira, then at the ice cream girl, then at the ice cream.

“Could you possibly make her a scoop out of a bit of each of the flavors?” he asks, trying for a calm smile and not like he absolutely needs her to do this to save his date and his eardrums.

She blinks, then nods. “Yeah, um. I could do that.”

“Thank you,” Gabe tells her gratefully. “Hear that, Keira? You get your rainbow.”

She looks suspicious, but she stops yelling to watch the ice cream girl.

Tyson sidles up next to Gabe, sans Ronnie, who’s parked herself at a table and has already started on her ice cream. “Well now you’ve done it.”

“Done what?”

“She was my ice cream connection, and now you’ve stolen her with your smiling and your hair and your—thing,” Tyson informs him. Gabe smirks.

“Trust me, my thing isn’t—”

“You know what I meant,” Tyson retorts, definitely red now, but his lips are twitching. “You know perfectly well what you’re like with your charm on. And now you’ve spoiled my special ice cream relationship.”

“How special was it?” Gabe asks. He’s not jealous—the girl’s like eighteen. He’s just. He wants a special relationship.

“She knows my order, it’s very special.”

“How often do you get ice cream?”

“Hey, I can eat what I want,” Tyson retorts. He pats his stomach. “How I keep up this great bod.”

It’s said self-deprecatingly, but it means Gabe can’t help but glance down at Tyson—and for all Tyson’s joking, Gabe thinks it is a pretty great body, from what he can see of it, and he really wouldn’t mind seeing more.

“Then maybe you need more ice cream,” Gabe says, his voice rough, and Tyson swallows, his eyes going a little dark.

“I know you’re joking, but that’s honestly maybe the sexiest thing anyone’s ever said to me,” he says, then he flushes again, giggling a little awkwardly. Gabe grins, or maybe smirks.

“Well—”

“Here you go,” Claire the ice cream girl says, holding out a dish of ice cream that does indeed include a vast variety of colors. Kiera reaches up, but Gabe has to ferry it between them.

“Thank you!” Keira chirps, like there had never been a tantrum. Claire turns to Gabe.

“And for you?” she asks. Gabe looks at the flavors. He really shouldn’t get anything—unlike Tyson, ice cream really isn’t in his diet plan—but he can make an exception.

“One scoop of the raspberry in a cone, please,” he tells her, and she smiles back and rinses the scoop in water as Tyson snorts.

“What’s that?”

“Fruit in dessert is just incorrect,” he informs Gabe. “I don’t know if I can look at you if you like it.”

“All fruit?”

“Yes. Fruit is healthy, the whole fun of dessert is it’s unhealthy. QED, ipso facto,  all those things.”

“Fruit isn’t necessarily healthy, though,” Gabe argues. “It’s all sugar.”

“It’s next to vegetables on the food pyramid, it’s healthy,” Tyson retorts.

“You know they don’t use the food pyramid anymore, right?” Gabe asks. Tyson rolls his eyes.

“Yes, but that doesn’t make it less true.”

“It does. It’s not next to the vegetables anymore.”

“Are you sure about that?” Tyson demands accusatorily. “Have you checked the new food pyramid thing recently?”

“Yes,” Gabe avers, even though he hasn’t looked at it for ages. Tyson snorts. “Do you want to look it up?”

“Definitely. You’ll see I’m right.”

“Here you go,” Claire says, handing Gabe a cone, then Tyson a cone of some chocolate concoction.

“Thank you,” they both chorus. Tyson immediately licks around the edge of the cone, making a small noise of pleasure. Gabe’s honestly not sure if he’s doing it on purpose—his pink tongue, the sounds—but whatever it is, Gabe can’t look away.

“Is that together or separate?” Claire interrupts, again, and Gabe drags his gaze away. She’s got her lips pressed together as she looks at them, clearly trying not to smile.

“Together,” Gabe announces, and edges Tyson away again as he gets out his wallet one handed.

Tyson bites at his lip. “You don’t have to—”

“We already had this argument,” Gabe points out. “It’s fine. I’m treating you.” This time, it seems like that’s the end of it; Tyson just licks at his ice cream again and hums.

“Should have gotten a bigger ice cream,” Tyson says consideringly. Gabe decides it’s probably too soon to promise him all the ice cream he wants as long as he keeps eating it like that.

They head back to the table with the girls, but there’s not much room to chat when most of their attention has to be taken up by supervising the girls as they eat and chatter and making sure they don’t get totally messy. Gabe’s definitely going to have to get Keira’s moms amazing seats.  He might be up to a box, at this point.

But there’s a lot of smiling at each other anyway, and Gabe watching Tyson really enjoy his ice cream a probably obscene amount, and then getting him back when the ice cream drips onto Gabe’s fingers and he has to lick them off, keeping eye contact with Tyson the whole time as Tyson goes bright red and his eyes go very dark and stay on Gabe’s lips even when he’s done.

Too soon, they finish the ice cream, and then there’s really no reason for them to linger, especially as Ronnie’s falling asleep against Tyson’s side and Keira’s starting to buzz.

“We should probably go,” Gabe says at last. He has to go home and work off the ice cream, and then he has some calls he has to be on. He finagled an afternoon off only through some creative scheduling and a lucky early practice. 

“Yeah.” Tyson looks as disappointed as Gabe feels, but they collect the girls, then drift towards their cars, parked next to each other. Keira seems resistant to getting into the car, but Gabe convinces her with a promise to see her mom as Tyson pours a mostly-asleep Ronnie into her car seat. Then Gabe turns to Tyson, who’s hovering by his driver’s side door, watching Gabe with his tongue slowly running over his lips, half-unconscious.

Gabe watches him back. Fuck, he wants to—he wants a lot, right now, very little of which is appropriate for a parking lot where anyone could snap a picture of him.

“I really wish we weren’t in public with kids right now,” Tyson announces, echoing Gabe’s thoughts.

Gabe snorts. “Same.”

“Well, if we weren’t, I’d probably be jumping you after that ice cream stunt you pulled, just so you know,” Tyson goes on, and Gabe gulps.

“Same.” Gabe glances around. No one’s there. No one except Tyson, who’s looking up at him with those sparkling eyes and flushed cheeks and the hint of mischief in his smile, and if this is a date Gabe’s not going to just let it fizzle out. He takes a step forward—Tyson tilts his head back and doesn’t move away—then he leans down to press his lips against Tyson’s.

He tastes like chocolate and makes a little sound, not like surprise but like relief, and then his arms are around Gabe’s neck and he’s kissing back. It’s chaste, more or less—maybe less more than more—but Gabe restrains himself, doesn’t let his hands wander down Tyson’s back to his ass even though he’s been thinking about it, doesn’t let himself bite at Tyson’s lips until he moans, doesn’t let himself taste the strong line of Tyson’s neck and see what sounds that gets. Even though Tyson’s pushing himself closer to Gabe, and he’s kissing him like Gabe suspects he does everything—like it’s the only thing in the world, without artifice, just like he wants Gabe. Gabe’s hands slide into Tyson’s hair, and Tyson’s breath hitches as they tangle into his curls, and Gabe can’t help the sound he makes at that, how he presses Tyson back into the door of the car.

The thump of Tyson’s back hitting the car drags them back to the present, and they separate, their breath loud between them.

“Now I really wish we weren’t in public,” Tyson says, before Gabe considered talking. “Of course you’re a great kisser.”

“Why do you sound disappointed?”

“I keep on trying to find an imperfection,” Tyson tells him, his gaze dragging up from Gabe’s lips to his eyes. He’s flushed again and his lips are a little swollen and his hair is messy and Gabe wants to drag him to the closest flat surface and show him just how good Gabe is at everything. Or vertical surface, Gabe’s not picky. “You can’t actually be perfect.”

God. He’s really not helping Gabe’s urge to just kiss him until he stops saying those too-honest things. “I’m not,” Gabe informs him. He doesn’t move more than a breath away from him. He doesn’t think he can.

“I mean, I know you have an abnormally large head, but other than that—”

Gabe snorts, and it breaks the tension. Gabe settles back on his heels, a safe distance from Tyson. Tyson’s grinning at him, a little sheepish, but a lot pleased. “My head is not abnormally large.”

“It really is,” Tyson retorts. “I bet your helmet is too big for anyone else.”

Gabe’s helmet is actually larger than most of the other guys’, but he doesn’t think admitting that is the right move. He’s also not sure he can think properly right now, but he’s going with his gut. “So is the head a deal breaker, then?” he asks, and reaches out to smooth Tyson’s hair out a little. And to watch Tyson’s Adam’s apple bob.

“Um. No. Very much not. You know.”

“Good.” Tyson’s just looking at Gabe, and it’s clear just how much he wants Gabe—how much he wouldn’t mind if Gabe did throw caution to the wind and kiss him again. If Gabe was someone else, maybe he would—but he also really doesn’t want to imagine the PR nightmare that would be pictures of him kissing some guy in an ice cream store parking lot. So then they’re just stuck looking at each other, and Gabe really doesn‘t want it to end.

“We probably can’t leave the girls in the cars forever,” Tyson says at last. He doesn’t look away from Gabe. “I think that’s like, a crime. You can’t do it with dogs, anyway, so I would guess you can’t do it with kids either.”

“Right.” Gabe nods, and finally actually steps away, looks away from Tyson. In the car, Keira seems to be watching them with interest. He hopes he hasn’t traumatized her forever. It’s not like he’s actually her parent.

Which is maybe one big reason that he’s not perfect, but also he can’t think about that right now.

“I’ll text you later,” Gabe goes on, trying to make it more of a statement than a question without being too intrusive. But Tyson just grins back.

“Good.” He pauses, then adds. “Um. Ronnie leaves tomorrow. Just so you know. I won’t have a kid to take care of then. I mean, I’ll be back at work, so I can’t do these daytime jaunts, but I’ll be free in the evenings.”

Gabe has a game tomorrow, then they leave the next afternoon for Minnesota. “I’m busy tomorrow evening,” he says, regretfully. “Then I’m out of town.”

“Yeah. But like. When you get back.”

“Definitely,” Gabe agrees.

“As long as you don’t have Keira,” Tyson adds, which, right.

“Yeah, of course,” Gabe confirms. “We’ll talk.”

“For sure.”

Gabe can’t think of something else to say, and given that Tyson isn’t talking, he probably can’t either. “So. We should go.”

“Yeah. Bye,” Tyson says, firmly.

“Bye.” Gabe can’t help himself—he leans down for one more quick kiss, which leaves both of them smiling stupidly when Tyson gets into his car.

Gabe goes around his car to the driver’s side, watching without bothering being subtle as Tyson pulls out. Then he gets into the car. He’s definitely still grinning stupidly.

“Are you and Tyson getting married?” Keira asks from the backseat.

“The—” Gabe cuts himself off before he swears. “What? No.” That’s fast. Even if he really likes him.

“If you do get married, can I be flower girl?”

“Um—”

“Terry was flower girl for her cousin, and she got to throw flowers everywhere. I wanna do it, but my cousins are all too young.” In the back seat, Gabe can see her frowning, her sneakers kicking up and down. “But you’re not. Can I?”

“Sure,” Gabe chuckles, pulling out himself. “If we get married, you can be flower girl.”

She eyes him suspiciously. “Not Ronnie?”

“You can share,” Gabe decides. He’s feeling magnanimous with a good date.

Keira thinks about it for a second. “Okay,” she allows. “I guess that would work.” Then, “Did I win the game?”

“Yeah, Keira.” Gabe tells her. “You did.”

///

They play the Sharks the next night at home, and it’s one of the rough, close games that despite himself Gabe loves—he’d like to sweep every game, of course, but there’s something about the adrenaline rush of the buzzer beater that just gets him like nothing else. Especially after their recent streak, a hard fought won feels like flying—like vindication. Fuck everyone else, this isn’t 2017.

He’s buzzing when he comes off the ice, throwing an arm around Nate’s shoulders and jostling him cheerfully about the game winning goal. The locker room is a rush of noise, as everyone compares notes, and some of the guys discuss going out.

Gabe’s pulled into the scrum, but with the game winner, Nate’s the one who’s really swarmed, and so he gets out fairly quickly and can finally pulled off his sweaty pads and check his bag.

He runs his fingers over Unicorn Elsa, like he has the last few games, then shoves her farther back into his bag so no one sees her before he strips out of the rest of his under armor. He’s got an itch under his skin, the kind that leads to him sometimes doing stupid shit, to getting into fights. He didn’t get into a fight tonight, but he kind of wishes he had.

“Okay, who’s in?” Kerfy asks the room at large. He’s already been in and out of the showers, a towel slung around his waist, but he’s holding up his phone. “I’m making us a reservation.”

“Wow, a res, we’re so special,” Comphy retorts. Kerfy ignores him, and instead starts tallying up the yeses.

Willy’s just coming in from the showers, so he gets pinned. “Willy? Bar, tonight, yeah?” Comphy demands.

Willy shakes his head, water still dripping from his hair. “Nah, got to get home. I’m grabbing a late dinner with Sarah before we leave.”

“Oo-ooh,” Josty coos, which makes Willy roll his eyes. “Getting dinner with the Missus?” 

“At least I’m getting some,” Willy throws back. “Are you?”

“Why do you think I’m going out?” Josty retorts.

“Okay, fine. Gabe?” Kerfy asks. “Coming?”

Gabe does generally go out—he’s still young, and he’s buzzing with a win, and he can definitely see the appeal in drinking and dancing and flirting and being with his boys. But—he glances at Willy, who’s getting dressed to go get dinner with his girlfriend. He doesn’t want to go out and dance, he wants to get that energy out another way. And it’s still early.

“Nah,” he tells them. “Not tonight.”

Josty boos. “Boring!”

“Well, he is getting old,” Nate points out, grinning as Gabe glares.

“I’ll show you old,” he retorts, and throws an arm around Nate’s head to try to get him into a headlock. 

That ends more or less in a tie—or in a mutual agreement that they both stink way too much for wrestling to be pleasant—and Nate heads to the showers as Gabe goes back to his stall, grabs his phone.

My thing ended earlier than I thought, he texts Tyson, under the message Tyson had sent him before the game, continuing their argument about the Bronco’s offense. Are you still free tonight?

Free as a bird, Tyson texts back, almost immediately. Ronnie’s gone and my schedule is wide open.

I can make you dinner. To counter all your ice cream. 

There’s a little more of a pause this time, and Gabe rereads the message. He doesn’t think it’s too much.

Sounds good, even if ice cream shouldn’t ever be countered, Tyson says at last, then adds a few ice cream emojis. When should I come over?

Gabe glances at the time. Nine?

See you then.

Gabe sends back a smiley face and his address, then heads to the showers. He needs to get dressed.

///

Tyson shows up at 9:05, which gives Gabe five extra minutes of wondering if maybe this was a bad idea, with all his energy buzzing beneath his skin, with how little he can sit still. But then he opens the door and Tyson’s standing there, in jeans and a grey Henley, also looking a little nervous as he smiles at Gabe and—no. This was definitely the right idea.

“Come on in,” Gabe says, ushering Tyson in and shutting the door behind him. “Let me take your coat.”

“Aren’t you a gentleman,” Tyson says, sounding surprised, as he hands his jacket over. Then he kneels down to greet Zoey, who’s barking excitedly at him, petting her head and cooing endearments.

“It’s called politeness,” Gabe retorts, already smiling, can’t help himself. Of course he’s good with Gabe’s dog, too. “I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it.”

“I’m Canadian, of course I’ve heard of it. I’m genetically polite.” Tyson informs him. He straightens up to follow Gabe from the entranceway towards the kitchen, leaving Zoey to go back to sleep, his eyes big and bright as they flick around the hall. Then they get to the kitchen, and Tyson snorts. “So this is making me dinner?” he asks, nodding towards the takeout containers on the counter.  

“I didn’t have time!” Gabe protests. He’d meant to, but then he’d gotten caught by coach in the locker room, and he couldn’t get out of it in time to cook anything. “Next time I’ll cook something for real.”

“Next time? That’s pretty confident,” Tyson points out. He wanders over to the island to lean against it.

Gabe gives him his most charming grin as he goes to find wine glasses. “I think I have reason to be,” he tells Tyson, dragging his tongue slowly over his lips. Tyson watches, his mouth falling a little open. “And that doesn’t sound very polite.”

“Yeah well, I only lived in Canada on and off, I’m a product of nature and nurture.”  

“Where did you live?” Gabe asks. Tyson’s referred to that a couple of times.

“Oh, all over. Philly, Cincinnati, Florida, Pittsburgh, LA, San Antonio; we always did summers in Victoria—that’s near Vancouver—but you know how it is.” Tyson shrugs. “I spent most of my time as a teenager in Kelowna, anyway.” He looks at Gabe. “You just grew up in Sweden?”

“That’s right, Stockholm. Though I moved to Ontario when I was sixteen.”

“That’s quite a move,” Tyson observes. Now it’s Gabe’s turn to shrug.

“Nothing compared to you.” He finally gets around to getting the wine glasses down, then turns to his cabinet to get a bottle. “Do you want some wine? Or I have beer, if you’d prefer.”

“Wine, please,” Tyson tells him. “I actually really don’t like beer.”

“Really?”

“Really,” Tyson repeats, in the tone of voice of someone who’s had to explain it a lot. “It tastes nasty. I’d rather be drinking something pleasant that gets me drunk even faster.”

“So you’re all about efficiency?”

“Only in alcohol.” Tyson says cheerfully. Gabe digs in his drawer for a corkscrew, concentrates on it as Tyson goes on, “Other things I’m much slower about.”

Gabe turns around to look at him. He’s smirking, clearly pleased with himself. “Yeah? You like to take your time?”

“Well, I have been known to be impatient,” Tyson admits. He’s still ostensibly leaning against the counter, but his whole body is vibrating with energy as he looks at Gabe. Gabe gets it. He wants to just screw this, to put the wine down and screw dinner and just take Tyson back to his bed, finally.

But he likes Tyson and how he looks at Gabe, and he wants this to last, and he promised dinner.

“I’ve heard patience can be a virtue,” Gabe says, and pours out the glasses of wine. Tyson’s giving him a confused look when he hands a glass to him, their fingers brushing like a bolt of lightning.

“Um, not to be—well. But this is a booty call, right?” Tyson asks. He swirls the wine in his glass, looking down at it instead of at Gabe. “I just figured—it’s late, and all. It’s fine if it’s not, I just sort of assumed…”

“It’s not,” Gabe says. Tyson’s shoulders drop, and that energy hums into something else. “I mean, it’s not that I don’t want to, I do, but—I want us to start right, Tyson. Not just booty calls and hooking up.” 

Tyson’s whole body does something at that, and he’s definitely red, but he’s smiling as he looks up at Gabe again, shy like he hasn’t really been thus far. “Yeah, that’s. Good. I want that too.”

“So, dinner.” Gabe takes a sip of his wine, then gestures towards the take out. It’s not the most interesting, because diet plan, but he thinks he has a good spread. “Help yourself.”

“Thanks.” Tyson starts dishing himself some pasta. He starts again, more slowly. “It’s probably especially important for you to be careful in relationships, right?”

Gabe makes a confused sound. It’s not exactly easy, being in the spotlight, and with the whole shitshow that is the NHL and the conservatism of hockey fans in general, but he thinks he generally has it pretty good.

“Because of Keira,” Tyson prompts.

“Yeah!” Gabe agrees. That makes sense. “Yeah, I don’t want to bring people into her life without being sure, you know? I want to make sure she has some stability.” He thinks he’s heard Z talking about that before.

“I get that,” Tyson agrees, his lips twitching a little. “Where is she tonight?”

“With her moms,” Gabe answers. That one he’d bet is true. Then he changes the subject, because Keira is the part of this he doesn’t want to think about with Tyson grinning at him from across the counter, all gorgeous and flushed and looking at Gabe like he’d rather eat him than dinner. “So, how was going back to work?”

“Ugh, the worst,” Tyson complains, and that takes them into complaining about shitty jobs they’ve had, and somehow about how Tyson ended up in Denver. Gabe’s still got the buzz of winning under his skin, and the wine isn’t helping, nor is how Tyson looks at him, but—he likes this too, how Tyson makes him laugh, the quick bite of Tyson’s wit and the way he so clearly never means it, how he sometimes accidentally babbles out compliments that make Gabe want to preen and make him keep thinking those things forever.

Gabe inhales his food, always hungry after a game, and even though Tyson takes longer he doesn’t take that long, then they linger over the wine and conversation, mainly because they got into an argument about the point of the biathlon in the Olympics and the only people Gabe’s ever met who are as stubborn and competitive as Tyson are professional athletes, including him. Zoey even wanders in at one point, confused by the shouting, but then she lies down when it’s clear that they’re not really mad. Even if Tyson is very, very wrong.

“Ugh, fine,” Tyson mutters, when Gabe’s finally shoved his phone into Tyson’s face to demonstrate that Wikipedia agrees with him. “Wikipedia isn’t a reliable source, you know. Not citable.”

“You’re just mad I’m right,” Gabe taunts back. He leans back in his chair, watching Tyson—his jaw set stubbornly, his color high, his eyes snapping. The wine’s stained his lips red.

“You’re not right,” Tyson retorts. Gabe snorts, and gets up to clear their plates. “You’re not!”

“Whatever you say. If you think you know more than the internet.”

“I know more than your face,” Tyson snaps back, which makes Gabe laugh and Tyson too, like he heard his retort and how ridiculous it was.

Gabe puts their plates in the sink to deal with later, then turns back around. Tyson’s watching him again, with the sort of half-embarrassed look of someone who was looking at his ass before he was caught.

“You know,” Tyson says slowly. “Technically speaking, we’ve been on three dates.”

“No we haven’t.” Gabe thinks he would remember that.

“Yes, we have,” Tyson says, stressing each word heavily. “Build-A-Bear, the museum, now this.”

“I can do better at dates,” Gabe objects. Listed like that, it doesn’t sound like the sweeping off his feet Gabe would like. “I don’t think you can count Build-A-Bear, that was just a first meeting, and this is barely—”

“Gabriel,” Tyson interrupts. Gabe likes how he says his full name, the way it sounds in his mouth. No one says his name quite like that. “I’m saying that even with your whole romance rule we’ve had three dates, so can you please get over here and kiss me?”

It sucks the air out of Gabe’s lungs, the frank way he says it, the thought of it. Then—“Well, when you put it that way,” he says, and stalks towards Tyson. Tyson doesn’t move away, just sets his wine aside and tilts his head up to look at Gabe, until they’re a breath away.

“Told you I’m right,” Tyson says, and Gabe’s still laughing in surprise at that when Tyson kisses him.

It’s not like their first kiss at the ice cream shop.  There’s no audience, and neither of them are pretending they don’t know where this is going, and Gabe’s been wanting this for what feels like years even if it’s technically a week. Tyson’s hands are everywhere, in Gabe’s hair, on his shoulders tugging him closer, down his back, over his ass, and Gabe shudders with it and nips at Tyson’s lips until he moans, melting into Gabe as Gabe tastes the wine off of his lips, into his mouth. As he keeps going, dragging his lips from Tyson’s mouth to his jaw, his neck, nipping and tasting as Tyson moans and mutters half-intelligible words and grips Gabe’s shoulder tight enough to hurt, which goes right to Gabe’s dick. 

“Come on,” Tyson mutters, his hips jerking against Gabe’s thigh. Gabe can feel him getting hard, and he buries his own moan in Tyson’s neck. He tastes like soap and sweat, like he showered before coming over. “Gabe, come on, just—”

“Bedroom,” Gabe pants out, yanking himself away from Tyson long enough to breathe. Tyson looks at him like that’s an utter betrayal, which makes Gabe have to kiss him again, then finally get his hands on Tyson’s ass. Tyson makes another cut off sound at that and presses himself closer, into Gabe, and he’s a really fucking good kisser, maybe a little sloppy and more enthusiastic than controlled but Gabe likes it, likes him. “No, come on, bedroom, now.”

“Or we could just stay here,” Tyson argues, rocking his hips into Gabe’s again. Gabe swears, as the heat spreads through his whole body. Fuck, he really could just get off like this, rubbing off against Tyson in his kitchen, biting his want and the win into Tyson’s skin.

But he’s not going to. “No. Bedroom.” He keeps a hand on Tyson’s wrist as he steps away from him, tugs him away from the counter. Tyson makes that betrayed look again, but then Gabe slaps at his ass to get him going, and he makes a very different sort of noise that goes straight to Gabe’s dick. “Bedroom now,” he orders. He is not going to do this in the hall.

“You’re bossy, has anyone told you that before?” Tyson informs him, as Gabe herds him upstairs with a hand on his hip.

“Yes,” Gabe replies. Being bossy is sort of his job. He reaches around Tyson to push open the door to the bedroom, then closes it behind him. Tyson’s already pulled off his socks and is starting on his shirt. “Stop it.”

“Oh, with clothes on? Kinky.”

“I want to do that,” Gabe retorts, and slides his hands under Tyson’s shirt, over his stomach. It’s not flat, but it’s solid, and he can feel Tyson quivering under him.

“You’re not very good at it.”

“I’m not very fast with it,” Gabe throws back. He takes his time getting Tyson’s shirt off, exploring the skin of his stomach and chest as he eases it off, ignoring Tyson’s admonitions to just go faster. Tyson looks good—softer than the hockey guys Gabe sees in the locker room all the time, in a good way, a way that makes him look real and comfortable.

Gabe pushes a little, and Tyson falls back onto the bed, grinning up at him as he leans back. “Okay, your turn.”

Gabe’s happy to do that. He keeps eye contact with Tyson as he slowly, teasingly pulls his shirt off, then throws it to the side and starts on the buttons of his jeans. Tyson’s mouth is gaping open a little, and Gabe can’t help his smirk as he ditches his pants too and Tyson just stares.

“Oh, fuck off,” Tyson says, when he notices Gabe’s expression. “You know what you look like.”

Gabe does, and he’s always happy to be watched, but also he has Tyson sprawled over his bed shirtless and touchable and looking at Gabe like he’s begging to be touched, which is a thought Gabe will take advantage of sometime later when he doesn’t think he’ll explode if he doesn’t get his hands on Tyson right now.

“I know what you look like,” he says, and Tyson’s smile flickers, a little uncertain but pleased. Gabe moves to straddle Tyson’s hips on the bed, to lean down so he’s braced over Tyson. “And I’d rather fuck you.”

“Next time, this time I can’t wait,” Tyson informs him, then when Gabe’s still processing that he yanks Gabe down to kiss him again. It’s even better when they’re skin to skin, when Gabe can drag his hands over Tyson’s chest and tweak at his nipple to make him moan, when Tyson can go on what appears to be an exploration of every bit of Gabe’s torso that Gabe very much approves of.

Gabe trails his lips down from Tyson’s mouth, takes a quick detour to the place on his neck he’d been sucking at earlier, then down his chest, to his navel. Tyson swears as Gabe keeps going lower, to his jeans.

“Fuck, Gabe, just—get them off, yeah—” Tyson keeps up a steady stream of babble as Gabe bats his hands away from where he’s fumbling at the button of his jeans, because Gabe’s right there. Tyson lifts his hips up so Gabe can take his jeans off, then he hooks his fingers into Tyson’s boxers, looks up at him, raises his eyebrows. “Yeah, definitely,” Tyson tells him. “You too.”

“Now who’s bossy?” Gabe retorts, but he tugs off Tyson’s boxers too, then takes a second to look.

“You,” Tyson repeats, kneeing him gently in the side. “Come on, my dick is not that interesting.”

“I don’t know about that.” Gabe looks at it again, then reaches out, trails a finger up the vein. Tyson shudders, his head falling back against the pillows. Gabe grins.

Tyson swears again, then he’s sitting up a little so he can pull at Gabe’s underwear, tugging it down. Gabe helps, until he’s naked too, and he can’t help preening as Tyson doesn’t pretend he’s not staring again.

“How are you even real?” Tyson mutters, and Gabe has to kiss him quiet after that. And if it was better half-naked, it’s the best all naked, when he can feel every bit of Tyson’s squirms against him, when their dicks brush with most of the squirming and Gabe’s getting so hard he can’t breathe with it, just from this.

 “Fucking hell,” Tyson mutters, and reaches between them to circle his hand around his dick. His knuckles brush Gabe’s dick as he does, and Gabe swears, drops his head back into Tyson’s shoulder.

“Tyson, come on, more—”

“Yeah,” Tyson agrees, mostly incoherent, and then he changes the angle so his hand wraps around both their dicks and he’s jerking them off together and Gabe can’t stop himself anymore, mouthing at Tyson’s neck as Tyson babbles words Gabe only half-hears and the heat rises in Gabe everywhere, tension and need and—

“I’m going to, Tys, I—”

“Yeah, come on, Gabe—” Maybe it’s the twist of Tyson’s hand or maybe it’s him saying his name or maybe it’s all of it together, but everything crests and Gabe comes, thrusting into Tyson’s hand and hiding his swearing in Tyson’s skin.

He collapses heavily onto Tyson as his muscles mostly give out. This is what he needed—now he’s settled. Now he’s floating, drifting on the endorphins and the feeling of Tyson warm under him.

Warm, and still squirming, and Gabe can feel him still hard against Gabe’s thigh. “Gabe, can you just—I’ll just—”

Gabe’s not going to be impolite, though. And he wants Tyson to keep looking at him like that, all hot-eyed and needy. He finds the strength in him to scoot down the bed, until he’s between Tyson’s legs, and Tyson’s watching him with big dark eyes again. “Yeah? Can I—”

“Fuck yeah,” Tyson cuts him off, then clenches his fists as if to get control of himself again. “I mean, if you need a condom we can—”

“Do I?” Gabe asks. Tyson shakes his head.

“No, I swear, you don’t, please, just—”

It’s probably stupid and Gabe’s only known Tyson a week, he has no reason to really trust him, but Tyson’s dick is right there and Tyson’s flushed and wrecked and Gabe’s cum is on his stomach and Gabe does trust him, whether or not he should, so he leans in and licks up Tyson’s dick. Tyson goes rigid and drops his head back onto the bed, throwing an arm over his eyes.

Gabe pulls back to ask, “Everything okay?”

“If I look at you I’m going to come right away,” Tyson grits out. “But yeah, everything’s good.”

“Come on, Tys. Look at me,” Gabe urges. He wants to see Tyson watching him. “Come on, babe, you can—”

Tyson moves his arm, and then he swears, as Gabe takes that as his cue to swallow Tyson down. It all turns into babble from there, as Tyson goes to pieces and Gabe takes him there, not bothering with finesse or tricks now that Tyson’s so close. It doesn’t take long before Gabe hears among Tyson’s steady stream of nonsense, “Gabe, fuck, I’m going to—”

Gabe pulls off, and wraps his hand around Tyson’s dick, and jerks once, twice, and that’s all it takes before Tyson’s coming, finally quiet.

Gabe jerks him through it, then when Tyson starts to whimper he sits back to survey his work. Tyson looks utterly wrecked, flushed and messy and boneless, and Gabe thinks he could look at this forever.

Because he’s had longer to recover, and he knows where everything is, he goes up to get a washcloth and brush his teeth. Tyson still hasn’t moved when he comes back, though his eyes are open and he watches Gabe as he wipes off Tyson’s stomach and then takes his hand to wipe that off too.

“I can go home,” he suggests, as Gabe finishes and throws the washcloth towards the laundry, but doesn’t let go of Tyson’s hand. “If you want me to. I don’t know how early you have to leave tomorrow.”

He should, probably—they have a morning practice and then not much time before they head out. But also—“You should stay anyway,” Gabe says, and wiggles around to lie down next to Tyson. “If you don’t mind waking up early.”

“Ugh I do not miss that,” Tyson says, then, “But I have to get to work anyway. Early’s fine.”

“Good,” Gabe informs him, and rearranges them so that they’re more comfortably cuddled together.

///

“Wow, what sort of E did you do this morning?” Kerfy asks, as they get back to the locker room after practice.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean you’re in a really good mood,” Kerfy informs him, loud enough that the whole locker room can hear.

“I’m always a ray of sunshine, what are you talking about?” Gabe retorts. He picks up his phone, and can’t help his smile—Tyson’s sent a picture of the bruise on his neck, with a

Are you secretly a vampire, Gabriel? Tell me honestly I can handle it.

Gabe hadn’t had a chance to really admire it, distracted as he was by waking up mostly sprawled over Tyson and then getting pleasantly diverted by some early morning making out before they both realized they were late and had to scramble to get ready until Tyson dashed out the door with another quick kiss that turned into a long kiss. But he’s pretty happy with it, in the part of him that wants to mark Tyson as his his his even though he knows it’s too early.

“Damn, look at that smile,” Nate says, grinning. “Someone had a good night.”

“I—”

“Captain got la-id!” Mikko chants, which gets picked up gleefully by the rookies.

“I thought you weren’t going out last night,” Comphy demands accusatorily.

Gabe raises his most imperious eyebrow. “I don’t need to go out to get laid. People I hook up with don’t need beer goggles.”

That gets some ‘ooohs!’ as Comphy glares, and then the conversation is diverted into chirping Comphy for striking out last night.

Damn you caught me, Gabe texts back to Tyson, then goes to take a quick shower. He can feel EJ watching him, but EJ doesn’t say anything—not then, not when they change and Tyson still hasn’t texted him back—he’s at work, Gabe reminds himself, he probably just can’t—and not on the bus, when they’re just getting off to get on the plane when Tyson finally does text back, excellent I always thought I would make a great Bella Swann.

Pick a real vampire story, Gabe retorts, grinning.

“Is this the Build-A-Bear guy?” EJ asks, swinging into the seat next to him. Nate’s dropped into the seat across the aisle—Gabe feels a little ambushed, even if Nate’s got his smile on like he’s pleased about his friends’ happiness.

“Yeah,” Gabe admits. He knows he’s still smiling. He can’t help it.

“Things are going well?”

“No, things suck, it was the worst night in the world.” Gabe rolls his eyes. “What do you think?”

“So you did get laid?” Nate asks. Gabe rolls his eyes.

“Yes.” He reaches over EJ for the requisite fist bump Nate gives him. 

EJ’s eying him, not quite as pleased, apparently. “Emily said that you and Keira did your little game.”

“Yeah, it was great, thanks.” Gabe will probably need to go to the tracks with EJ to repay this. But it was worth it, he reminds himself, as the plane starts to taxi. “Perfect solution.”

“And—he still thinks Keira is your daughter?” EJ clarifies.

“Yeah.”

EJ hums. It’s starting to sound judgmental. “So, you lied to him, then slept with him still believing that lie.”

Put like that, it sounds bad. “Well, yeah, but it’s not like I was lying to get him into bed or anything like that,” Gabe objects. “It just—happened.”

“So you’ll tell him?”

“No!” Gabe yelps. He can’t—if he tells him and Tyson gets mad, he’s not going to ruin it now. Not when things are good. Not when Tyson still makes jokes about how perfect he is. He doesn’t want that to go away. He doesn’t want to admit how foolish he’s been.

“But you’ll tell him eventually?”

“I guess.” It seems impractical otherwise.

“Do you have a plan for when?”

“I think the wedding sounds good,” Nate inserts. “I do, and also by the way I’ve been borrowing a child for our whole relationship.”

Put that way, it also doesn’t sound good. “I’ll do it before then, come on. We’ve gone on like three dates. I’m just not messing things up this soon.”

“So telling him later, after you’ve lied to him longer and slept with him more under false pretenses, will be better?”

Gabe rolls his eyes, even if that makes something shift uncomfortably in him. “I’ll tell him later when he knows me better and won’t just—” Won’t just leave, he fills in. Once he has other reasons to stay. Once he won’t laugh. “It’ll be fine.”

“Uh-huh.” EJ looks unconvinced. Nate looks like he’s trying hard not to judge and not really managing it.

“Are you getting laid? I don’t think you have a leg to stand on,” Gabe snaps at him. At them. “If you aren’t.” He doesn’t need this. He’s happy. Tyson’s happy, he thinks. They’re good together, so far. And it’s not like—it’s only been three dates. So what if Gabe has a good feeling about it, like it could turn into something. Like there’s a unicorn in his bag that says he’s been getting luck somewhere, from a heart Tyson kissed.  

“Well, I know that a relationship built on a lie can’t be solid,” EJ retorts.

Nate makes a surprised noise. “Where did you get that?”

“It doesn’t matter, it’s true.”

“Was it a romcom?”

EJ makes a face. “Maybe, but it’s also true. Take it from your elders, boys. Lying’s a shitty way to start a relationship.”

“I thought you were into this! You connected me to Emily!” Gabe’s voice is going up, both in pitch and volume, and the other guys are starting to look at them; Gabe makes the conscious effort to drop his voice. “What gives?”

“I was into it when it was you being ridiculous to get laid,” EJ tells him, shaking his head and leaning back in his seat. “Not when it’s you sabotaging a good thing and taking advantage of someone who sounds great.”

“I’m not taking advantage!” Gabe protests. That sounds worst of all.

His phone must have connected to the flight wifi, because it buzzes again.

Fine I could be a kickass Buffy. But you’re not broody enough for Angel and I don’t think you could pull off Spike’s jacket.

Gabe snorts despite himself. EJ sighs, loudly. Gabe ignores him to text back,

Not going for the Skarsgard comparison?

You wish. You’re hot but not that hot, Tyson retorts, and Gabe finds himself smiling stupidly again. Screw EJ and all of them. This is good. He’s not going to lose this.

///

They lose in Minnesota, and it sucks, like losing always does. It’s better, coming off a few wins,—this isn’t a streak, it’s just a loss, those happen and Gabe got a goal anyway—but it’s still not great.

It’s better, though. With Tyson on the other end of Gabe’s phone, making him laugh, jolting him out of the part of him that’s stewing on the loss. It can’t be that bad.

So they get into Dallas without momentum but holding strong, and then—the game is weird.

“Is it just me, or is Benn targeting me?” Gabe mutters to Nate, on the bench, watching as the second line goes on. He and Benn mix it up sometime—they’re both physical guys, and the sort of captains who know when to throw a punch to get some energy going—but Gabe’s got nothing against him, really, and he always thought that was mutual.

“No, he’s definitely out for blood,” Nate agrees, then they’re on, and no, Gabe is definitely not hallucinating how Benn crashes into him way harder than necessary.

“What gives, man?” Gabe demands, as play stops down by the Stars goal and the refs start arguing with Spezza about something.

Benn’s face is as set and a little blank as ever, but his glare is clear. “I don’t know what you mean.”

The whistle goes again, and then a few shifts later—

Gabe slams into the boards, and fuck this. He shoves back, getting into Benn’s face. “What is your problem?” he demands. The ref is coming over but he has a few seconds.

Benn shoves back. “Can’t lie your way out of this one, can you Landeskog?” he shoots back.

Gabe opens his mouth to retort, instinctively, then pauses. “What?” he asks. That doesn’t even make sense. How would he lie his way out of a penalty? How would he lie his way out of a hit? “How does that even—” And then the ref is there, pulling them apart, sending them off to their respective boxes.

Benn’s clearly simmering through the rest of the game, and Gabe can see him muttering things to Seguin on the bench, but he doesn’t actually do anything afterwards. They lose again, and Benn’s smug face carries Gabe back to the plane. It’s even late enough that Tyson doesn’t text back to his how were the appletinis? question about the drinks with his friends Tyson was getting. 

He unpacks his bag on rote, and takes the unicorn out—then throws her out into the laundry room. Apparently she wasn’t lucky after all.

///

They have practice the next afternoon, but it’s been four days and Gabe doesn’t want to lose the momentum they’ve been building and he wants something good after two losses, so he texts Tyson, promises him real dinner.

He delivers this time, too—he’s not a great cook but he’s a passable one, and Tyson seems to think so too, from the way he laughs when he sees the food set out on the counter and teases as they eat—at the dining room table, this time, with Zoey nosing around their feet and Tyson laughing at Gabe feeding her scraps under the table as they linger over their wine.

“She’s hungry, look!” Gabe says, turning her face to Tyson. Tyson rolls his eyes.

“You are such a pushover.”

“So you could resist those eyes?” Gabe asks, and gives Tyson his own best version of puppy dog eyes. He’s been informed on good authority they’re very effective, as are Zoey’s.

“Definitely. I’ve got a backbone, unlike some people,” Tyson retorts.

“So you won’t give me what I want?” Gabe asks, low and meaningful. Tyson licks his lips.

“Um. I didn’t say that, exactly.” Tyson mutters. “I mean, depending on what you want. You know what you look like, come on, it’s like—it’s just unfair. You can’t be sweet with dogs too, though. There needs to be some imperfections.”

Think you can lie your way out of this?, Gabe hears in Benn’s growl, and ignores it.

“It’s just heartless not to be sweet to her.” Gabe leans down to talk to Zoey. “It sounds like Tyson doesn’t like you, what should we do about that?”

“I like her!” Tyson protests. “I like dogs! I’m just not a pushover.”

“Bet I could prove that wrong,” Gabe grins, and Tyson raises his eyebrows.

“You talk a lot of game for someone who’s still on that side of the table,” Tyson retorts, and Gabe takes that as the challenge it is.

He can clean up later. Now he needs to get his mouth on Tyson and replace the bruise that’s faded since he saw him last. And Tyson seems to be very on board, given the way he shoves the chair back fast enough that it falls over and the sound he makes interrupting his stammered apologies when Gabe shuts him up with his mouth.

They manage, through some miracle, to make it upstairs again, though there’s a close call on the stairs when Gabe seriously considers just throwing caution to hell. He’s an athlete, he can probably manage stairs.

But they make it to the bedroom, if only just, and Gabe does as he promised, until Tyson’s  boneless on the bed and Gabe’s not much better.

“I’m gross now,” Tyson observes, without moving. He doesn’t look like he’s ever going to move again. Gabe thinks he’d be pretty okay with that, with Tyson moving into his bed.

“I cleaned up last time,” Gabe points out, but he’s getting up anyway. He gets a washcloth, but he pauses in the doorway when he gets back, just looking. Tyson’s naked and splayed out in Gabe’s bed, and he must see or sense Gabe looking, because he props himself up on an elbow and smiles at him, wide and welcoming and admiring and just a little nervous, like he’s not sure of Gabe’s reaction. Gabe wants him to be sure. Gabe wants him to be here a lot. Gabe wants this to work. And if the other shoe is going to drop—if Tyson is going to laugh, is going to get angry, is going to leave—he wants it to happen before it’ll break his heart. 

“I have something I need to tell you,” he says, throwing the washcloth to Tyson. Tyson’s expression does a lot, very fast, as he mops himself up. “It’s about Keira.” He pauses, trying to figure out how to say it—how to make Tyson not hate him. How not to stop Tyson from looking at him like that. “I—”

Tyson groans, and drops back onto the pillows. “I know.”

It stops Gabe in his tracks. “What?”

Tyson’s arm is over his face now. “I know, okay? You don’t have a daughter.”

Gbae’s mouth works silently. Then he grabs at his pants. This doesn’t feel like a naked conversation. “What?” he demands again.

Tyson moves his hands from his face. When he sees Gabe has pants on, he scowls a little, then squirms so that the sheet is covering his hips. “I know you don’t have a daughter.”

“What?” Gabe says a third time.

“I mean, I didn’t think you had a kid when I first met you,” Tyson starts, but—

“What do you mean, you didn’t think? You knew who I was?”

“Um, yeah?” Tyson tilts his head. “Of course I know what the captain of our hockey team looks like? Especially when he looks like you?”

That makes sense, but—“You didn’t say anything!”

“You didn’t know? I assumed you knew I knew that much?” Tyson’s brow is knit, clearly confused. “I mean, I figured—did you google me at all?”

“Why would I google you?” Gabe asks. He’s so confused. And angry, which he didn’t expect. Tyson knew, all this time?

“Because that’s what you do when you randomly meet a guy in a Build-A-Bear?” Tyson points out, like that’s the most rational thing. “I googled you as soon as we left. That’s why I was pretty sure you didn’t have a kid—I mean, I didn’t think so originally, but it’s not like I knew much about your personal life offhand.”

“Google doesn’t know everything about me,” Gabe protests. He’s not sure why—Tyson’s right, after all—but he wants that established. Even with Tyson knowing who he was, googling couldn’t have made Tyson sure. “She could have been a secret.”

“I know that.” Tyson rolls his eyes, like it’s obvious. Like he doesn’t quite get why Gabe’s hands are clenched into fists. “So I asked, to make sure.”

“Asked? Asked who?”

“You really didn’t google me, did you?” Tyson asks. He’s a little flushed. Gabe shakes his head. Why would he have? He liked Tyson, Tyson clearly wasn’t a serial killer, what more did he need to know? “Yeah, so. I thought you had. This makes more sense now.”

“What does?”

Tyson groans again, squirming nervously, and not in the good way. “My dad was in the NHL. That’s why we moved so much—he wasn’t a franchise player, he was all over the place. And I played juniors until I was seventeen.”

“You played in Juniors?” Gabe repeats, incredulous. Then, “Kelowna.”

“Yeah.” Tyson rubs at his thigh, almost instinctively—an injury? “So when this whole thing started, I asked Jamie, and he asked I think Seguin, who asked probably Hall, who I guess asked Nugent-Hopkins, and he confirmed that you definitely didn’t have a kid.”

“Jamie. As in, Jamie Benn?” Gabe echoes again. None of this is making sense. Least of all the NHL gossip chain.

“Yeah.” Tyson winces. “Sorry about him yesterday. He thinks it’s shitty. I talked to him after, that wasn’t cool.”  

He thinks it’s shitty?” Gabe repeats. He digs his knuckles into his thighs. “So you’ve known all this time, and you were just not going to say anything?”

“Well, at first I wasn’t sure!” Tyson protests, sitting up straighter. His jaw’s getting a little set now, stubborn. “I wasn’t going to call you on not having a kid if I wasn’t sure. Then I was sure, and—”

“And?” Gabe prompts.

Tyson goes red, but he shrugs. “And I kind of wanted to see how far you’d take it? I didn’t expect you to actually show up with a kid, but then you did, and it was getting really intricate, and I wanted to see what you’d do. And I mean, Gabe, you’re a shitty liar, I didn’t think you’d really believe I didn’t guess.”

 “Well I’m sorry I wasn’t as good as you at keeping my lie together,” Gabe spits. Tyson knew? Fuck, he feels so stupid—Tyson was just laughing at him this whole time, it was just a joke to him, it wasn’t—and Gabe had thought it was so fucking much.

Tyson straightens, and his eyes narrow. “Are you mad at me for lying? One of us here actually got a kid from somewhere to make their lie work, and it sure as hell wasn’t me. The high horse is galloping across the world from you.”

He’s a little too right there, but still, “I didn’t lie about who I was!”

“Neither did I!” Tyson snaps back. “Literally everything I just told you is public knowledge—hell, it’s on my dad’s Wikipedia page. You’re the one who told me he was a dad when he wasn’t!”

“You made me into a joke!”

“You would have played me if I hadn’t!”

“You did play me!”

“Well then I guess we’re both just bad people!” Tyson yells at him, “And you can take your Build-A-Bear and stuff it!” and then it’s just their breaths, loud in the room, and their locked gazes, spitting fire.

Then Tyson starts to laugh, little nervous giggles, and it takes Gabe too, until they’re both just laughing hysterically, Gabe braced against the wall.

“Fucking hell,” he says at last, when the hysteria’s faded, and comes in to sit down on the edge of the bed. It’s hard to keep up the anger through all that. Through Tyson’s self-mocking, hopeful smile. “You seriously knew the whole time?”

“Basically. I mean, Gabe, you really are a bad liar.” Tyson shrugs. “Even if I hadn’t asked Jamie—Keira called you Gabe, mostly, you have no pictures of her in this house, and your lock screen is your dog, not your daughter. It was super suspicious.” He reaches back, tugs at his hair, restless. “I really figured you’d googled me, or I’d mentioned hockey. I wasn’t trying to keep it a secret. You just clearly wanted the hockey thing lowkey, so I kept it there.”

“It didn’t even occur to me.” In retrospect, he guesses he should have guessed, but—who would have? “Do you google every guy you go out with?”

“You get catfished once, you get cautious,” Tyson tells him, and Gabe has to chuckle again, shake his head. “You don’t?”

“No?” Gabe considers. “But I mean, I don’t usually go out with guys I meet randomly.”

“Fair.” Tyson pauses, then. “But seriously, you were the one who was lying to me. That was shitty.”

Gabe lets out a breath. “I know, but—I liked you, and then it spiraled.”

“You don’t have to tell me, I know all about things spiraling out of control.” Tyson looks meaningfully down at his hands for a second, which is a story Gabe wants to hear, then up again. “But like—you’re lucky I knew all along, or I would be furious now.”

“I don’t hear you apologizing for letting me dangle,” Gabe retorts. “So all your talk about Keira was what, seeing how far I’d go?”

“I’m not going to apologize, because that was hilarious.” Tyson grins at him. “You just kept making shit up. I wanted to see how far you’d go.”

“You’re such a dick,” Gabe complains, but he can’t help what he knows his face is doing.

Tyson’s smile is a little on edge, again. “Yeah, well, it’s how I show affection,” he says, sounding cautious.

Gabe swallows. “I like that part,” he says, feeling like it’s a confession, which is stupid, because Tyson’s never made any pretenses about how much he likes Gabe. “It’s why—I just didn’t want to mess things up, when they were going well. I didn’t want you to stop thinking I was perfect.”

“Well, I don’t think lying is the way to keep a relationship going well,” Tyson observes, his lips twitching again. “But A for effort.”

“So this is a relationship?” Gabe asks. He hasn’t been—it’s been four dates. He doesn’t want to assume.

Tyson bites at his lip, but, “I mean, I hope so?” he says. “I’d like it to be?”

“Good.” Gabe grins, and scoots closer. “Me too.”

“Okay, but no more pretend kids,” Tyson says, and then starts laughing as Gabe rolls over on top of him, dodging him as he tries to get a hand over his mouth. “No, this is a rule we need! No pretend kids. Or pets. Or goldfish. Unless we make one up together, we could adopt a hypothetical child and see how long we could keep it going, I am definitely a better liar than—”

Gabe finally gets a hand over his mouth, even as Tyson keeps talking into his hand. Tyson’s still grinning up at him, he can see it in his eyes, his heart in his eyes and all pointed at Gabe, and Gabe grins back down, before replacing his hand with his mouth. 

///

“You’ll be okay?”

Tyson rolls his eyes, even if he’s got the pleased little smile on that means he is nervous and likes that Gabe noticed and wants to allay those nerves. “Yes, Gabe, I think I can manage to watch a hockey game, thanks.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Gabe tells him, tugging at his collar to straighten it. Tyson’s met a lot of the team before—at this point, Gabe is pretty sure Nate likes Tyson more than him—but this is his first time in the friends and family box, and once Gabe leaves his house, he won’t see Tyson again until after the game. “You don’t—”

“Stop it,” Tyson cuts him off. “You’re the one with a playoff game to win.” Tyson, Gabe’s learned, is actually very invested in hockey in general, and now the Avs in particular.

Gabe is actually trying pretty hard not to think about that too much. “Yeah, but I know what havoc you can wreak if you aren’t supervised, so—”

“Shut up,” Tyson retorts, shoving at Gabe’s shoulder. “I don’t wreak havoc. You wreak havoc.”

“That’s not—”

“Anyway,” Tyson goes on, “I’ve got a surprise for you.” Gabe’s eyebrows go up.

“A surprise?”

“Yeah.” Tyson bends down to dig in the overnight bag he’d brought over last night, even though it’s becoming less and less necessary, given how much of his stuff has migrated over to Gabe’s.

Gabe laughs when he sees what Tyson pulls out—Unicorn Celine Dion and Unicorn Elsa, rescued from wherever he had thrown it when her luck had run out. “What?”

“For luck,” Tyson announces, his eyes sparkling. “I know Elsa is a very important good luck charm for you, and so I am giving you Celine Dion too to make sure you get even more.”

“Because the only thing that’s better than one rainbow unicorn is two rainbow unicorns?”

“Exactly.” Tyson’s keeping somewhat of a straight face, but it’s close to breaking as he deliberately kisses each unicorn right above the horn. “There. And another helping of luck from me. So you get the trifecta.”

Gabe knows it’s silly, knows it’s mainly a joke, knows that it’s Tyson being silly to keep him from stewing, but—but Tyson’s doing that, and he’s so cute when he’s trying not to laugh, and Gabe is just so into him it takes his breath away for a second.

When Gabe doesn’t say anything, Tyson looks up, and the smile’s fading into something more nervous. “I mean, I know Elsa’s luck sort of ran out and we don’t know anything about Celine Dion, but I want you to have all the luck you can, so even if they aren’t lucky I wanted—”    

“I don’t know,” Gabe finds the breath to tell him, and tugs him closer by the wrist, until he can slide his hands up Tyson’s arms. “I think they’re pretty lucky. They got us here, didn’t they?”

“Wow you’re so cheesy, Landesnerd,” Tyson retorts, which is a nickname Gabe is not exactly pleased Tyson picked up on, even if it’s said dripping with affection. And it comes with Tyson giving Gabe a quick kiss. “Now go win a hockey game.”

“If you insist,” Gabe retorts, and doesn’t let Tyson go. “I’ll see you after?”

“The unicorns and I will be waiting,” Tyson promises, and Gabe laughs and kisses him again before he leaves to go take that luck and win a game.